JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A pioneering Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps volunteer turned 100 on July 20, clinging to her bed railing as she recounted her time as a typist behind the American World War II effort.
Anne Butler, who grew up in America and Poland, has just her memory and several colorless portraits to remind her of the years she spent stationed in old New York City offices. She typed her way through World War II, donating her time to make some, any, helpful impact.
She joined the Army at the war's beginning and left after its violent end.
During WWII, over 150,000 American women joined the Women's Army Corps (WACs), initially formed as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, according to a U.S. Army Center of Military History publication. Those women were the first, after nurses, to serve formally within U.S. Army ranks, and many took on repetitive, detailed tasks that freed up more men for combat.
Butler said she never desired to go to the front lines herself, because she didn't think that was her place.
Still, when war broke out and Butler inquired about volunteering to help in some capacity, she was told there was no position for her.
“They said no, no, you don’t even belong in this,” Butler told the Florida Times-Union.
In her early 20s, wide-eyed and ready to work as hard as anyone else, she declared that, in fact, there would be a spot for her.
"I'll make one," she responded. "I came here to volunteer and, by golly, I'm gonna do it," she said.
Butler said she was finally stationed with a small group a couple of blocks down from New York's Collingwood hotel, in what looked like an old post office.
WAC volunteers filled that hotel, four to a room. Men guarded the women, some of whom, including Butler, did "secret" work, she said.
Butler recalled few specifics about her "secret" work but said she took any assignment that crossed her path. Those mostly involved typing; she was high-school educated and studied business and secretarial work before the war began.
Although Butler was supposed to keep her work confidential, she said she "kind of told everybody." The caveat, she said, was that she never really knew exactly she was doing.
When Butler first volunteered, she worried about that uncertainty. So, she moseyed across the street to Macy's and made a purchase.
"I didn't know what I was supposed to do," Butler said. "I decided that I better get a nice-looking hat to wear."
She soon learned the Army-green hat she picked out was reserved for officers' use.
Butler said she never really knew what was expected of her. Before she joined the Army, she might have joined a convent, since she grew up around nuns and went through the Catholic school system.
Her excitement about rallying around the flag and helping as much as she could overrode that.
There was another reason Butler said she joined the Army, which was to travel. Butler wanted to see India; she had not seen much of the world and had a schoolmate stationed there.
"That was so selfish, wasn't it?" Butler wondered. "I joined the service to go to India."
Butler didn't make it to India, bound to a woman's clerical assignments in the post-office-like building where she balanced higher-ups' instructions.
She remembered one sergeant whose commands resembled lectures as he urged the "girls" to stay true to their Army roots and stay out of trouble, mainly with men.
"Everything was secret those days," Butler said, "especially the men."
Men were not allowed in the women's metropolitan hotel, but Butler said they snuck them in anyway, hiding them on the second floor. They all were a "tight military squad," she said, playing tricks on guards and marching to and from work, all in good spirits.
"It was the funniest thing," she said, revealing a rosy smile.
Butler said otherwise, there was little ruckus among her group, and that the only trouble came from traveling women who made military pay while she did not.
When the war ended and Butler left the Army, after rejecting a discharge deal to accompany war brides coming to America, she married Timothy Butler, an Army man coming back from Italy. They moved into a Jacksonville home in 1950.
She might have worked in a factory after leaving the Army, said her son, Larry Butler. He added she volunteered with a children's hospital about 20 years ago and was always active, doing yardwork and tending to her orchids.
Still holding onto her bed railing, Butler once more downplayed the feat of reaching her centennial after helping an American war effort, completing tasks higher-ups expected of her without relying on a surplus of remarkable skills.
"Anybody could be 100 years old," she said.
Butler said she's not sure what lies ahead for her as she marks her 100th year.
“I guess whatever’s expected of me,” she said, in her humble fashion.