Until 1941, the United States military was open only to men. As the country became further involved in WWII, and more men were sent to the front lines, the military opened voluntary enlistment to women. Over 400,000 answered the call of duty. One of those volunteers was Lafayette native Aline Arceneaux.
Arceneaux, 96, a retired commander of the U.S. Navy, has thirty years of military service, including three and a half years of active duty in WWII. When asked why she enlisted, she answered that she had made the decision after paying a visit to her brother, then stationed on the naval base in Corpus Christi, Texas. If the military ever opened to women, she would follow in his footsteps. True to her word, she enlisted in the Navy in 1941.
One of her most vivid memories from her years in service occurred during basic training in North Hampton, Massachusetts. Her unit was marching on the parade grounds in the sweltering heat and suffocating humidity when many of the women began falling out. Arceneaux, however, had no problem adjusting, thanks to her south Louisiana roots. “The girls were passing out right and left, but I was fine,” she proudly noted.
During the war, Arceneaux worked for the Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C., to ensure timely delivery of submarine parts and equipment to their destinations. Having a latent interest in engineering, she enjoyed the role, which was fostered by working with submarine parts. Her favorite aspect of the job was reading the patrol action reports, which recorded war events that occurred during ship patrol. That was how she kept current with the progress of the war.
After the war, she returned to south Louisiana to resume her career as a schoolteacher, but was not ready to break completely from the military. She enlisted in the Navy Reserves, serving as “acting” commander until her retirement. When asked why she chuckled about her role as an acting commander, she explained: “Women were not allowed to be commanders.”
But don’t expect Arceneaux to be bitter about it. She’s proud of the role that she and other women served during their tenure: “I’m glad they gave us an opportunity to serve.”