Sonia Visser manuscript
Scope and Contents
The Sonia Visser collection contains one folder with a 24-page typed transcript of an oral history interview and another six page document with questions and answers from Sonia Visser.
Sonia Visser served in the Women's Army Corps from 1943 to 1945. She experienced public discrimination as a WAC in rural American towns. She served overseas in the Pacific in base port command at Hollandia, New Guinea. While in New Guinea, she experienced attempted sexual assault on two occasions and witnessed the prevalent threat of sexual assault against other women soldiers. She went home and discharged in October 1945, and later married a soldier who had proposed to her on the ship going to New Guinea.
- Created: 2008
- Other: Majority of material found within 1943-1945
- Other: Date acquired: 2008-02-18
- Other: Date accessioned: 2009-08-23
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to all researchers.
Conditions Governing Use
All requests for permission to quote, publish, broadcast or otherwise reproduce from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Florida State University Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.
Biographical or Historical Information
Sonia Visser (née Basset) was born May 20, 1922, in Long Island, New York. She had two older sisters and an older brother. She grew up in New York City. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she waited until she was 21 and eligible to join the Women’s Army Corps. She joined summer 1943. She chose the Army because she was more familiar with it than the Coast Guard or WAVES and because her older brother was in the Army in North Africa and Italy.
Sonia completed basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. The Army was not prepared to accommodate the women, giving them mismatched uniforms and only a brief lesson on self-defense against male assault. From there, she went to typing school in Des Moines, Iowa, and later to Camp Grant, Illinois. The general public held a poor opinion about the WACs and refused to serve them in restaurants or shops. Sonia was not allowed in the local USO; only local women were allowed in to entertain the male soldiers. On one occasion, a woman spat on Sonia when she was in uniform. Public opinion did not improve when she was at Camp Oglethorpe, Georgia, for overseas training camp.
Sonia trained at Camp Stonemason, California, to prepare for overseas duty in the Pacific. While there, she had a benign breast tumor removed, and was delayed from shipping out with the outfit she trained with. On the ship to New Guinea, the soldiers hung out on the deck for fresh air and to play poker. A friend of Sonia met a soldier while playing poker, and introduced him to Sonia; he proposed to Sonia a day after meeting her. He disembarked their ship at Finschhafen, New Guinea, and patrolled the jungle looking for the Japanese.
Sonia disembarked at Hollandia, New Guinea, and worked at base port command. She typed ship manifests for the American campaign in the Pacific. The Army did not provide the WACs with the proper uniform, so Sonia traded a soldier a crate of beer and some cigarettes for his old khakis. Sonia lived in a leaky tent, and the hot, humid, and muddy living conditions contributed to cases of jungle rot. They only ate fresh meat twice a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and lived off of SPAM and dehydrated vegetables.
On two occasions, Sonia was targeted for assault. The first incident happened when Sonia’s boss had one of his soldiers drive her back to her tent. Instead, he drove them into the jungle and pulled a gun on her, telling her to treat him nice or he would shoot her. She looked him in the eye and told him to shoot her because she would do no such thing. He took her seriously and drove her home; Sonia immediately reported the incident to her boss, and that soldier was shipped to the Philippines as punishment. The second incident involved a truck of G.I.s stopping and jumping out to chase and grab Sonia as she walked to work alone. She outran the men, told her boss, and he assigned her an escort to walk with for her own safety.
Sexual assault against women was a concern for the WACs in Hollandia. The women soldiers were told not to walk alone anywhere, even going to the latrines at night, or to the showers during the day, because men would hide behind fences waiting to jump a lone woman. At one point, Sonia witnessed a group of women considering beating a soldier to death with stones because they caught him hiding in the women’s showers. She heard of one WAC purposely becoming pregnant to be sent home.
The Japanese surrendered in August 1945 after the United States dropped the two atomic bombs; Sonia recalled soldiers not thinking about or reacting to the atomic bombs because they were focused on getting home. Sonia went home October 1945. She returned from New Guinea much thinner, and with skin tinted yellow from drinking atabrine to prevent malaria. She discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey. She married the soldier from the ship December 16, 1945. They had two daughters. At the time of the interview, Sonia was very happy about the way women in the military today are appreciated for their service, unlike how she was treated as a WAC in small towns during World War II. She died June 16, 2015, at the age of 93.
Language of Materials
Transferred from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience to FSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives in July 2022.
Source of Acquisition
Method of Acquisition
- Breast--Tumors. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Camp Grant (Ill.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Camp Oglethorpe (Ga.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Camp Stoneman (Pittsburg, Calif.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Fort Des Moines (Iowa) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Fort Devens (Mass.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Fort Dix (N.J.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Jayapura (Indonesia) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Malaria Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Oral history Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), Attack on, 1941 Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- San Francisco (Calif.) Subject Source: Lcnaf
- Sexual assault Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Uniforms, Military Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- United Service Organizations (U.S.)
- United States. Army. Women's Army Corps
- V-J Day, 1945 Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--New Guinea Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Pacific Ocean Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- World War, 1939-1945--Prisoners and prisons, German Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Sonia Visser manuscript
- Gillian Morton
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note