It was 1942. She joined the military—an uncommon action during this time. She served in American Intelligence overseas. She is 88 years young today.
Yes, “Wow!” is right.
When Bernita ‘Bonnie’ Baker Shelton quit her job as a secretary to enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in December 1942, she had no lofty goals.
Born in 1918 in Troy, Indiana, Shelton had completed two years of courses at Lockyers Business College after high school. She was working for a business in Houston when she decided to enlist in the American military. She was the only female among her girlfriends to do so.
Why did she choose to join the military? “I wanted to serve my country,” she said.
Her mother was not happy with the decision, but her father felt differently. “He was proud of me,” she said. “My brothers reminded Mom that I was 21 years old and could do as I pleased.”
The small town girl who wanted to help had no idea what she would be assigned to do. She definitely had no ideas of serving her country in top secret missions.
The WAAC was created as an auxiliary unit for regular Army in May 1942. It converted to the simpler Women’s Army Corps in July 1943.
After finishing basic training at Orlando Beach, Florida, Shelton, like other WACs, underwent lengthy testing. When military officials asked her to serve her country in England, she agreed to go overseas. Shelton left the U.S. on a ship for Norwich, England in August 1943. She was assigned to work as a secretary with the 8th Air Force in the map-making department. “My official title was stenographer in the office of the director of intelligence,” she said.
Shelton usually worked regular office hours, though late nights and weekend shifts were common. She stayed in a 30-girl barracks with other WACs. As part of their training, the women practiced fire drills.
Though she felt relatively safe in her area of the British Isles, Shelton was constantly aware of her situation and purpose in England. “We saw American planes leave our base at night for bombing missions,” she said. “The Brits flew during the days.”
Shelton, a Catholic, often visited the magnificent Norwich Cathedral for church services. During a furlough to Paris with another WAC, she toured Notre Dame. Shelton had no complaints about military food but often made her own provisions. A non-smoker, she traded cigarettes issued to her in exchange for eggs from local farmers.
Sergeant Shelton stayed in England until the end of the war with Germany in May 1945. With her discharge papers she received a certificate of merit for ‘conspicuously meritorious and outstanding performance of military duty,’ signed by Brigadier General Walter R. Peck.
Shelton used the GI bill to attend the University of California at Berkley where she earned an Associate of Arts degree in business. In 1952 she married Captain Arthur Shelton in Evansville. He had served as a B29 pilot in the Pacific with the Army Air Corps. They became parents to four children. Arthur died in 1988.
Bonnie Shelton has participated in the Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana. Today, Shelton is proud of the fact that she comes from a long line of World War II family members. Her brother, Peter, served with General Patton in North Africa. Another brother, James, served in the Coast Guard.
Another brother and a sister worked in military factories on the home-front during the war. “Mother hung three blue stars in our window during the war to show she had three members of the family currently serving in the military,” she said. “We were raised to be patriotic and religious and that continues to stick with me today.”