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Edna Columbia McQuain
Glenville Mercury, May 29, 1945

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Edna Columbia McQuain

"Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women�. This was a people�s war, and everyone was in it."

Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby

Edna Columbia McQuain was born on July 21, 1903, to Thomas and Jessie Lewis McQuain. The family was noted in the 1900 Federal Census as living in the Troy District of Gilmer County. Mr. McQuain was a farmer. The family had already welcomed sons Thomas B. and George. An infant daughter was recorded, but without a name. The 1910 census taker found the family again in Troy, and farming. In 1920, the family was found in the Troy District, still farming. The children were listed as Thomas, George, Eunice, Clemmie, Edna, Helen, Myra, and Perry. Mr. McQuain was a farmer, and the sons who worked were farm laborers. The oldest daughter, Eunice, was a teacher. According to Edna McQuain's obituary, her father was at one time a Gilmer County sheriff, who later farmed, but the dates were not specific. In 1940, Thomas McQuain died of a myocardial event while he was ill with pneumonia.

In 1930 and 1940, Thomas and Jessie McQuain were still in Troy, but only two children, Myra and Perry, were at home. Edna McQuain had attended Troy High School, and then Glenville State College, 1923-1926. She was a member of the college newspaper, the Glenville Mercury, staff. After graduation, she taught several years at Barrackville High School and then Fairmont Junior High School. At both schools, she taught English and Latin. ("Pfc. Edna McQuain Is War Casualty; Reported Drowned in New Guinea," Glenville Mercury, 27 February 1945; "WAC Overseas Dies; Soldier Killed - Luzon," Sunday Times-West Virginian, 25 February 1945.)

Edna McQuain's name could not be found among census records, but the obituary written for her notes that before she joined the Women's Army Corps (WACs), she was a teacher in Marion County. Edna McQuain and two of her sisters joined the WACs and two brothers, Thomas and Perry, served in the Navy and Army Air Force, respectively. At the time of Edna McQuain's death, Eunice McQuain Wise served in Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, and Lt. Lois McQuain served in Washington, D.C.

Edna McQuain entered service in October 1943. She was a recruiter based in Bluefield until August 1944. During the time Edna McQuain was in Bluefield, the Bluefield Telegraph mentioned her several times, announcing her promotion and noting her trip to Marlinton to administer aviation cadet exams and her trip to Clarksburg on a three-day pass.
Army recruiting station opening

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph (May 2, 1944) featured a photo of attendees at a ceremony opening their Army recruiting station. Edna McQuain is the first seated at the right.

Edna McQuain then went to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the major training center for the WACs. She trained for overseas duty and then was attached to the Air Force in the historical section. She was stationed in New Guinea.

The WACs organization was formed in 1943. Its basis was in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which was formed in 1941. According to the U.S. Army website that chronicles the history of women in the Army,

In January 1943, U.S. Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced identical bills in both houses of Congress to permit the enlistment and commissioning of women in the Army of the United States, or Reserve forces, as opposed to regular enlistments in the U.S. Army. This would drop the "auxiliary" status of the WAAC and allow women to serve overseas and "free a man to fight."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation on July 1, 1943, which changed the name of the Corps to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and made it part of the Army of the United States. This gave women all of the rank, privileges, and benefits of their male counterparts. ("Creation of the Women's Army Corps," Women in the Army, accessed 21 January 2019,

WACs were assigned to Army Air Forces, Army Ground Forces, and Army Service Forces. They served as radio mechanics, weather forecasters, sheet metal workers, photo interpreters, and in the Signal Corps. They were cryptographers and cryptanalysts. They provided a wide range of administrative services, including scheduling and recordkeeping, as well as tracking equipment and inventory. They tracked finances. WACs were in the Pacific by January 1944, and WACs were on landing crafts in Normandy in July 1944. They served in Oro Bay, Hollandia, Casablanca, and in the China-Burma-India theater, as well as in camps and headquarters in the United States.

Since Edna McQuain was stationed on New Guinea, it's likely she was at Oro Bay.

According to Mattie E. Treadwell's United States Army in World War II: Special Studies: The Women's Army Corps (U.S. Army, Center of Military History: Washington, DC, 1991),

The Oro Bay area proved generally suitable for women, with WAC camps, carved from the jungle, lying along the seashore, with beaches for front yards and palm trees for shade. Swimming was permissible under certain conditions. Barracks were made of wood and screens, with a large recreation hall and mess hall already built nearby. The staff director, Colonel Brown, accompanied by Captain Reebel, had visited and slept in these barracks before the arrival of the women, and had checked with the Base B staff on other necessary preparations.

Since Oro Bay was principally a major supply base, much of the Wacs' [sic] duties concerned the stock record reports and other paper work necessary to get materiel forwarded to combat troops. The Distribution Office was almost entirely staffed by Wacs [sic], who kept track of the ships and supplies in New Guinea, whether mobile or at bases or consigned to the area from Australia or San Francisco. Army service command units to enter Leyte with the next wave of combat troops included men pulled out of offices at Oro Bay and replaced by Wacs [sic]. (Chapter XXII: The Southwest Pacific Area, p. 425.)

An obituary for Edna McQuain, quoted above, says that she was assigned to the historical division. Though research did not reveal Pfc. McQuain's duties, someone in the historical division would have contributed in the way described below. Perhaps Pfc. McQuain contributed to this knowledge.

A comprehensive Air Force historical program, established early in World War II, has resulted in a regular flow of documents into the Center since 1943. Approximately one-half of the Center's holdings consists of World War II documents, chiefly unit histories and supporting documents compiled by field historians serving with commands, air forces, wings, groups, and squadrons; these constitute the most important part of the collection. Taken as a whole, this record of the Army Air Forces in World War II is surprisingly complete and of unusually good quality. Although the histories are not all of equal merit, most of them are filled with data of importance and of historical significance. They abound with human interest stories and reports of combat experiences; lessons learned in many phases of Air Force planning, training, operations, supply, etc., are emphasized. Supporting documents to the narrative histories include general and special orders, intelligence reports, operations summaries, mission reports, target folders, bomb damage assessments, messages, maps, charts, photographs, plans, evaluations and analyses, correspondence, statistics, and other types of records pertaining to modern military organization and modern warfare. (Lawrence Paszek, A Guide to Documentary Sources, U.S. Air Force: Office of Air Force History [Washington, DC, 1986], accessed 4 February 2019,

While stationed on New Guinea, Edna McQuain died of drowning on February 19, 1945. As noted in United States Army in World War II: Special Studies: The Women's Army Corps, the WACs were allowed to go swimming. A record of the circumstances of the tragedy were not found. Word was sent to her brother George, a lawyer in Clarksburg, according to the Times-West Virginian death notice.


Marker for Edna McQuain in the Manila American Cemetery. Courtesy Steve Schwarze, on Find A Grave

Edna McQuain was buried in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
American Flag at Manila American Cemetery

American Flag at Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
February 2019


Edna Columbia McQuain

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