Lt. Colonel Waddy: Nearly Forgotten, Newly Honored

Written by Parker Philpot
Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
Editor’s Note: In honor of Military Awareness Month and Memorial Day this is the third installment in a series of articles featuring local veterans, spotlighting military women and “hidden history.” The Las Vegas Tribune honors military women for their courage, dedication and active role in helping to shape the U.S. military positively in myriad ways before, during and after WWII. There are still many stories to be
uncovered about local resident veterans, as well as those where a posthumous honor is overdue. Thank you, to active duty members of the military and to veterans for contributions to our country and our community.
A military woman is finally getting a proper service commemorating her
distinctive service and accomplishments. LTC Harriet Hardin West Waddy died in Las Vegas on Feb 21, 1999 and was interred in Boulder City at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Feb 26 without any
recognition. Twenty years later, veterans and volunteer supporters are giving LTC Waddy the honors she deserved.
On May 24, 2019, a full Military Burial Service and graveside ceremony will be held at 10:40 a.m. at the cemetery, complete with a chapel service, a rifle salute and the folding of the flag and its presentation. The public is invited.
She served in WWII, Korea and retired from full-time duty in 1952 and then served as a member of the Army Reserves until 1969, according to an obituary from Eugene, Oregon, where she relocated to in the early 1970s.
During her WWII-era service, she was awarded the Women’s Army Corps Service Medal. Waddy, then — Harriet West, was among the first 39 Black women to graduate in the army’s first Officer Candidate School class on August 29, 1942 at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
Waddy was the first and one of only two Black WACs promoted to the rank of Major during WWII.
She is recognized for eventually  becoming the highest-ranking Black WAC. In 1945, she was selected as a military aide to Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the first director of the WACs.
Working alongside Hobby, she gained insights on the problems that military women faced. Working in proximity to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune — two other staunch fighters for civil rights and women’s right to serve in the Army — Waddy was able to significantly effect, enhance and improve the treatment, equality and status of WACs, especially Black military women.
Waddy’s service in the army and surrounding years in advocacy had forward-reaching benefits for women in the military and, in many ways, was responsible for wider acceptance and better treatment of Black military women.
“As a [Black] woman, there is not a single door that I can walk through [in Washington, D.C.]… as a Major in the WAC, there is not a door I cannot walk through,” Waddy was reported to have said when encouraging women to join the army.
Among the area organizations scheduled to attend the service are members from the host organization, Women Veterans of Nevada; the Tuskegee Airmen – James B Knighten Chapter; the U.S. Army Honor Guard, along with several other groups.
SFC Dixie Thompson of the Women Veterans of Nevada wrote about Waddy in a written release: “Her position as an adviser to the Army on racial issues meant having an amplified voice for spotlighting  inequality in the armed forces.                                         To that end, Waddy recruited Black women into the army. Her assignment included gathering information from [them about their treatment] in WAC installations across America.”
Waddy was born on June 20, 1904 in Jefferson City, Missouri. She worked in the capitol and ultimately relocated to Las Vegas in her final years.
After working for the Federal Aviation Administration for 25 years in Los Angeles, Waddy retired in 1969 and moved to Oregon (The Seattle [WA] Times, March 1, 1999). The obituary further stated that she was “raised by a strict grandmother in Kansas City…,” which is where she graduated college at Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. It was reported that Waddy had been married more than once, and she had no children or close living relatives at the time of her passing.
Waddy and Other Women Served Despite Disparity In May of 1942, the enactment of Public Law 554 formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Women could serve in the military but without pay or benefits and could only serve in non-combatant
positions. On June 1, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation removing the word “auxiliary” and established the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), which gave women military status, equal pay and the same benefits as men.
On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act. This ensured that women would have a presence in all military branches. It wasn’t until several decades later, on October 20, 1978, that General Order 20 disbanded the WAC and integrated women into the army.
The historical perspective is provided by Carlton Philpot of Kansas City, Missouri, who serves as the chair and project director of the Buffalo Soldier Educational and Historical Committee. He will address the significance of Waddy’s service and share at the memorial service why he helped initiate the efforts to honor her.
Military women who paved the way for the women serving in the military today are remembered, and LTC Harriet M. Hardin West Waddy is commemorated as one of those women.
In the interest of having a more complete and accurate historical record, anyone with additional information about Waddy and her time in Las Vegas is invited to share it. For more information about the memorial service, please email sgtdixie@gmail.com or call the Women Veterans of Nevada office at 702-436-6796 or 702-401-4238.
* * * * *
Parker Philpot is a Las Vegas-based independent writer, researcher and commentator. She can be reached via FromParkersPen.com or philpot@usa.com.

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