For this upcoming Veterans Day, we tell the stories of two people with Inland Empire roots — William B. Lingley and Anna Walker Wilson — who in World War II found themselves given responsibilities they never imagined they would ever have.
CAPT. WILLIAM B. LINGLEY
Capt. Lingley found himself in one of those unexpected assignments when he first arrived in Europe in late 1944 and was assigned as a platoon commander for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The 442nd, then fighting in southern France, was one of World War II’s most famous and highly decorated Army units, with its members earning 21 Medals of Honor. It was special in another way as it was composed of Japanese Americans, many of whom were recruited from internment camps where they and their families had been locked up because of their race.
Lingley, who would spend his retirement years living at Big Bear Lake, was not Japanese American, but got his assignment because most of the 442nd was directed by Caucasian officers.
“This was due in part to the small numbers of Japanese American officers already in the service,” wrote James M. McCaffrey in his 2013 book, “Going For Broke,” about the 442nd in Europe. “And in part due to the same race attitudes that dictated Black soldiers should have White officers.”
Lingley’s son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Carol Lingley of Upland, who have researched his life, said they thought he had no difficulty working with the soldiers under his charge because he probably grew up with many Japanese Americans in his native Salinas.
Before the war, Lingley had been an athletic star at Salinas High and earned a football scholarship to what today is Arizona State University. He was there for one year but had to drop out following the death of his father and the need to support his family in the bleak days of the Great Depression.
He later came to Hollywood with hopes of trying his hand at acting (he had acted in local productions in Salinas and Monterey). He was managing a Standard service station in Pasadena in January 1942 when he enlisted following Pearl Harbor and was assigned to officers candidate school. Later, as a lieutenant, he served as an instructor at various mainland bases before getting his orders to ship overseas.
Lingley met up with the 442nd at an especially pivotal time in southern France in October 1944. It was involved in a desperate attempt to rescue about 275 members of the 141st Infantry surrounded by enemy troops. The so-called “lost battalion,” composed of Texas National Guard infantrymen, was finally freed from its situation by the 442nd after days of difficult fighting. That rescue came at a cost of about 800 casualties for the 442nd.
In the midst of that battle, Lingley was injured and spent some time recovering in a field hospital. He rejoined the 442nd after it was assigned to the French Maritime Alps. In April 1945, it was sent to central Italy to root out the last remnants of the German Army.
It was in one of the 442nd’s great battles, at Italy’s Mount Folgorito, that Lingley earned a Bronze Star. In the midst of the battle, more supplies were desperately needed at the front. He led several volunteer drivers in Jeeps along mined roads being swept by enemy machine gun fire and mortars. When some of the drivers were wounded, he rendered first aid before finally leading the convoy of vehicles to the front and delivering the needed supplies.
After the end of the war, Lingley helped process captured German soldiers in northern Italy and was later promoted to captain. In October 1945, he received orders to return home to his wife Dorothy and family.
He rejoined Standard Oil in 1946 where he worked until his retirement in January 1973. Lingley retired to the Big Bear Lake area and worked as a real estate broker until age 80.
He died Nov. 1, 2000, and is buried with his wife at Riverside National Cemetery.
LT. COL. ANNA WALKER WILSON
In 1941, Wilson, then a physical education and health teacher at Beverly Hills High, responded to the call to serve in World War II.
Wilson had received bachelor’s and master’s degrees (in 1932 and 1938) at Pomona College in Claremont and taught in Claremont schools for three years, before going to Beverly Hills High.
Wilson was one of eight recruits in the Los Angeles area chosen for the first Women’s Army Corps training program at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Given her academic background, she was soon promoted to captain and later lieutenant colonel and named director of all WAC personnel in Europe. Through the end of the war, she oversaw more than 4,000 women assigned as clerks doing stenographic and communication work, serving in military hospitals and many other key support tasks.
“We have young women from every walk of life and from all parts of the country and I have yet to find one who is sorry that she joined up,” she said in a wire service article. “Women are more serious by nature than men, and I have not met the WAC who is not conscious of the responsibility which rests upon her.”
Wilson, whose first husband died in an accident prior to the war, faced the inevitable questions about women in a largely male environment.
“I am not so old-fashioned as to think that women’s place is solely in the home, and it is for this reason that I feel it is not up to only the men folk to fight to preserve it,” she said.
Lt. Col. Wilson noted in a May 1945 news article that few WACs worked regular hours. “Ninety-five percent are in such jobs that long hours and long weeks without time off is a military necessity,” she said.
Early in 1945, as the fighting in Europe was drawing to a close, she briefly returned to the U.S. on a recruitment tour. One of her stops was to give a March 1 talk to women students at Pomona College, where she painted a true-life picture for potential WACs.
“The girls live in everything from Park Lane mansions to chateaux in France or sometimes in tents or barracks,” she was quoted in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin of March 3. “They wash their hair in helmets one day and in the lavish bathroom of some great countess the next.”
After the war ended in Europe, Wilson remained there assigned to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff. A year later, she married Loyd V. Steere, another former Claremont resident and also a graduate of Pomona College, in Bad Nauheim, Germany, reported the Los Angeles Times of Feb. 15, 1946.
In later years, the couple returned to Southern California where she rejoined the staff at Beverly Hills High, teaching language and social studies. She retired about 1967 and lived in Pacific Palisades until her death on June 15, 1999.