Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, as men throughout the country signed up to be shipped out to Europe and the Pacific, 26-year-old Betty Somppi, of Erie, Pennsylvania, would do the same. She became one of the first women to be a part of the Women Auxiliary Army Corp — a women’s branch of the United States Army before female soldiers were integrated into the male units.
Now at 102 years old, Somppi was one several women recognized Saturday, March 10, 2018, during the dedication of the Monument to Women Veterans at Veterans Memorial Park in Las Cruces, NM.
Somppi — then Betty Jobes — was a first-grade teacher in Texas when she met her husband Jim, who was a senior graduating from high school. He was six years her junior. In 1942, Somppi left her job in Cincinnati and joined the war effort. She was a trainer, adding that she trained soldiers to do what she wanted to do but couldn’t. Women were not allowed to fire weapons. When she first joined, there were three jobs that women could do: cooks and bakers; motor transport and secretaries, Somppi said. After a year, the WAAC would become the WAC — Women’s Army Corps — and there would be 274 different jobs available.
“We (in WAAC) were designed for one purpose, to release one man from active duties to serve overseas,” Somppi said.
Jim, her husband, was also in the military serving in the Army Air Corps. In 1943, while on leave from China, he and Somppi would wed and would remain married for 72 years until he died in 2016. Together they have three daughters and six grandchildren.
Somppi remained in the Army until 1945, when she became a “professional volunteer” as Jim continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force. She said she spent 50 years volunteering for Girl Scouts. In her civilian life, Somppi, who now resides in El Paso, was a devoted military wife, moving so many times she said she cannot remember how many. She said her children were in 12 different schools before they graduated high school.
Somppi, who is described as “one of a kind” by her friends, helped pave the way for women in the armed forces, when it was illegal for women to be a part of the military except in times of war. Somppi said she, and many women like her, proved that women can be of great value to the military, adding that she believes that all people should be allowed to serve in any capacity that they desire. Somppi said she hopes the new monument will encourage women and young girls to join the military, adding: “It’s going to be the best career you’ve ever had.”
We honor you, Betty Jobes Somppi.