LaMar Turpin: A Profile of Service
World War II ushered in many changes for women of all backgrounds. As you might have heard, women had the chance to do everything, from working in factories to playing on baseball teams. Women who wanted to do their part to serve their country in the military finally had their chance. Organizations like the WACS (Women Army Corps), WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and WASPS (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots) were popping up in the early 1940s, which allowed women to join the military effort. African American women had fewer chances of being accepted into these branches, as the military only allowed 10% of black enlistments. For Poughkeepsie native LaMar Turpin, it was no doubt exciting to be accepted into the WACS officer training school.
LaMar Turpin was born LaMar Yvonne Wood in 1914. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wood of Pershing Avenue. She attended Poughkeepsie schools and had a great interest in athletics and poetry. She excelled at tennis and joined the Poughkeepsie Net Club, where she won several trophies. Some of her poetry was published in the World’s Fair Anthology in 1938. In 1935 she married Raymond Turpin, who had worked as a chef at The Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck. Sadly, their marriage was brief; Raymond died in 1941 after a long illness. It appears that LaMar moved back to Pershing Ave with her family after the death of her husband. She kept busy by getting involved with various organizations like the Catharine Street Community Center, the Women’s Democratic League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
LaMar enlisted with the WACS in 1943, and was the first black woman from the county to do so. It should be noted that there was still segregation in the armed forces, and civil rights leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune were working towards integrating the WACS and other military branches. At the beginning of the WACS training programs in 1942, black women would have trained, ate, and slept in barracks that were separate from their white counterparts. However, by the time LaMar experienced her basic training at Fort Devens, MA, these practices appear to have stopped. After her first military training, she was sent to Officer’s Candidate School at Fort Oglethorpe, GA. The Poughkeepsie Journal outlined her Commission as Second Lieutenant and her distinguished service in an article from July 23, 1944. During the course of the war she was sent all over the country, where she learned many different skills; from statistical clerk to airplane mechanic. She even ventured into the medical field while training and working as a laboratory technician during her deployment in Washington.
After the war, she continued her duties in the WACS and made her way to Fort Benning, GA where she became the commanding officer of the WAC detachment and was promoted to Captain in 1946. She appears to have served during the Korean War as well, and remained a WAC until her discharge in June of 1952. By 1960 she had moved to California where she remarried and lived out her days until her death in 1981.
1940 US Federal Census
Poughkeepsie Journal – 3 Aug 1942, 7 May 1943, 7 May 1944, 23 Jul 1944
Chicago Bee – 29 Jun 1947
Arizona Sun – 19 Dec 1947
The Mississippi Enterprise – 20 May 1944
California US Death Index – 1940-1997 Ancestry.com
US Department of Veteran Affairs – Ancestry.com
LamarTurpin – Photograph from 1943 showing LaMar Turpin as a private in the WACS – Poughkeepsie Journal Archives
LT-LamarTurpin – Photograph showing LaMar Turpin as a Lieutenant – Poughkeepsie Journal Archives
PJ-Jul-23-1944 – Clipping from the Poughkeepsie Journal showcasing Turpin’s Commission.