Women's Air Raid Defense

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Women from WARD share a laugh.

Women's Air Raid Defense (WARD) was a World War II civilian organization that worked with the military to provide air defense for Hawaii. It formed in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Several days after the attack, Una Walker awoke to an urgent phone call at 4:00 a.m. from 51-year-old Army Air Corps Brig. Gen. Howard C. Davidson, who commanded a wing at Wheeler Field. He asked her to assemble “a list of twenty bright, reliable women to be the nucleus of a secretive Army job.” Una immediately awoke her husband Sandy with whom she compiled a list for General Davidson, which formed the initial roster of the WARD in Hawai`i, based at Fort Shafter. Davidson and Una met the recruits at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki the day after Nimitz’s arrival, Christmas 1941. Davidson explained that the “women were needed to relieve men ordered to forward combat areas and the duties and demands that the secret work entailed.” [1] WARD was the only civilian organization employed by the military for the purpose to replace men in active duty.[2] It was disbanded after the end of WWII.


The Women's Air Raid Defense (WARD) organization was started on December 26, 1941, when a small group of women in Honolulu met at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.[3] The meeting was led by Una Walker and Mrs. John Howard, who were military spouses and commanding general, Howard C. Davidson.[3][4][5] The WARD would "relieve urgently needed men for combat duty" and allow the women to operate the air defense center.[3] There was a call for 100 women and all slots were filled.[6] Women chose to volunteer after experiencing the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7.[4] At first the women involved came from Hawaii, but later, women from the "mainland" were brought in.[7]

Recruits for WARD were required to be between the ages of 20 and 34, without children and had to pass an Army intelligence test.[8][9] Training classes were held at Iolani Palace and first started on January 1, 1942.[3][5] WARDs would have two weeks of training before starting.[10] WARD volunteers learned how to plot the positions of airplanes using radar, which was experimental at the time.[5] After training, WARD started to work in shifts at Fort Shafter, staffing the air defense center 24 hours a day.[3] Each WARD would work a six hour shift on and six off for eight days, after which they had 32 hours off.[11] WARD recruits would plot the position of the aircraft on a large, gridded physical map of the Hawaiian Islands.[5] WARD also worked with army officers who knew the locations of friendly aircraft and helped find lost planes.[5][7] All of the women plotters were known by the code name, "Rascal" and the radar operator was coded "Oscar."[5]

The organization was part of the 7th Fighter Wing, considered a detachment of Company A, Signal Aircraft Warning Regiment.[3][8] Executive Order #9063 gave the organization powers to recruit and consider the volunteers civil servants for the federal government.[8][12] WARD chief supervisors were under the command of Brigadier General Robert W. Douglas, Jr.[6] The first chief supervisor of WARD was Mrs. R. T. Williams.[6] She was followed by Catherine Coonley.[6] Quarters were provided to the WARDs on Fort Shafter and the women moved into them on February 1, 1942.[11][6] During the war, there were around 500 WARDs.[11] They contracted to work a year at a time and were paid between $140 to $225 a month.[10]

Other WARDs were established throughout the islands: Maui on July 30, 1942; Hilo on August 10, 1942 and Kauai on September 14, 1942.[8]

WARD was detached from the Signal Corps on June 13, 1943 and named the WARD unit of the 17th Fighter Command.[8]

WARD was disbanded in 1945, after the end of World War II.[3] Some members of the group stayed on in civil service roles in Hawaii.[3] Official records documenting the work of the WARDs was lost in a 1983 fire.[2] A book by Kam Napier and Candace Chenowith, Shuffleboard Pilots, documents the history of the organization and was based on the personal experience of women who worked as WARDs.[2]


  1. ^ "Nimitz at Ease", Capt. Michael A. Lilly, USN (ret), Stairway Press, 2019
  2. ^ a b c Taylor, Lois (5 December 1991). "These Women Were WARDs of Oahu's Defense". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Women's Air Raid Defense Organization is Disbanded". The Honolulu Advertiser. 30 September 1945. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ a b "The Women's Air Raid Defense: Protecting the Hawaiian Islands". HistoryNet. 12 June 2006. Archived from the original on 2 March 2017. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Taylor, Lois (10 December 1986). "After 40 Years, Friends and Memories Remain". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. C-1. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ a b c d e Morgan, Juliet (27 January 1944). "Wards Celebrating Second Anniversary". The Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ a b "Women's Air Raid Defense". The Honolulu Advertiser. 28 March 1945. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ a b c d e "The Women's Air Raid Defense of the Hawaiian Islands". The Women's Air Raid Defense of the Hawaiian Islands. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  9. ^ "Mainland Girls Play Big Role, Defending Isles". The Honolulu Advertiser. 25 August 1943. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ a b "Cross Country". Air Force. 27 (5): 3–4. May 1944 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ a b c Taylor, Lois (10 December 1986). "Memories Remain". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. C-3. Retrieved 2018-04-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "Executive Orders Disposition Tables". National Archives. 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2018-04-06.

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