What It’s Like To Be A Military Spouse Now vs. The 1940s

Tiffany Smiley and her husband, combat-wounded vet Scott Smiley, are strong advocates for VA reform.

The 1940s were a tumultuous time in our history. The pressure was on military spouses more than ever, as homemakers, parents, and the backbone of the war on the homefront.

Due to the sheer number of men called to war, there were more military families than ever before. By the end of 1945, 50 million men had registered for the draft, and over 10 million had entered the Armed Forces.

There are some things about being a military spouse that never change; things like long separations, being left to fend for yourself, and often worrying about your loved one who’s serving.

But in the almost-eight decades since World War II, a lot of things have shifted, as well. Here are 7 major differences between military spouses in the ‘40s and the military spouses of today.

 

1. Chances are, you might be a man

According to a 2014 issue of Military Spouse Magazine, 14.6 percent of military spouses are male.

These statistics roughly line up with how many women serve in the U.S. military — they currently make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and around 9 percent of the Marine Corps.

When you take into account the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010, and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the likelihood of coming across a “MANspouse” is even higher.

During World War II, around 350,000 women served in the military. Most of them were nurses in the Women’s Army Corps, though some served as pilots and in other roles as well. At the time, any married woman in the military likely had a husband serving too.

Today, you’ll notice the language and culture around the term “military wives” changing. More than ever they are referred to as “military spouses” to include all the men who sacrifice to support their service members.

We see you, fellas!


John Oliver, a popular late-night host on HBO, is married to Iraq veteran Kate Norley. Credit: Heavy.com.

2. Spouse ≠ Homemaker

The women’s workforce got its start during WWII, when women replaced the drafted men in industrial jobs.

While their roles in society were changing, military spouses were, first and foremost, considered wives and mothers — whose place was in the home and not making it as career women.

Today’s military spouses face a whole new world of opportunities and challenges. It’s true that it’s harder for them to keep jobs and develop their careers, with constant cross-country or international moves. But they also have new advantages, like online education and remote work from home.

Some spouses may choose to stay home and raise a family, but oftentimes they are just as career-oriented as the soldier they stand beside.

 

3. The days of snail-mail are no more

Military love letters might be cute to read, but the same yearning scrawl that traveled the Atlantic a million times in the 1940s, is not seen in today’s mail.

With the invention of telecommunications like email and Skype, there is no longer the same need for letter-writing. If you’re wonderfully sweet or nostalgic, you may send one with your care packages, but otherwise they’re pretty much extinct.

There’s a lot of upside to these technological advances. It allows the spouses and children of service members to stay up-to-date on their wellbeing. They can hear their voice and see their face when they’re missing them most.

It makes a deployment just a little bit more bearable. And every bit counts.


A love letter from WWII. Credit: The Apricity.

4. Divorce rates are higher

Divorce was still a taboo subject in the ‘40s.

The rate of divorce spiked after 1945, which is attributed to the hardships of war; many husbands came back disabled or traumatized, and many wives had found new freedom in working.

However, that didn’t make divorce OK by societal standards, or even easy to obtain. For a civil court to grant a divorce, one party must have undoubtedly “wronged” the other, through adultery or by other means of breaking their vows.

Now, with “no-fault” divorce laws having been in place for decades, divorce is a regular practice in America. You can even apply for one online.

In the U.S., close to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. About 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce. And because the military lifestyle presents unique challenges to a marriage, you can see why it might be easier for these relationships to disintegrate. Service members also tend to marry at younger ages than their civilian counterparts.

For reference, the military’s divorce rate was around 3.1 percent in 2017; similar to the national crude divorce rate, which hovers around 3.2 percent.

 

5. Military death rates are lower

In times of war, it’s not uncommon to be a widower. Especially in World War II, when almost half a million soldiers died.

This left half a million mothers and fathers without sons, and hundreds of thousands of military spouses without husbands. With the lack of accessible information and quick communication, it would often be weeks or months before a spouse would even be notified of their husband’s death.

Today’s America looks a lot different. As of 2018, 2,305 service members were reported killed in action in Afghanistan alone. However, these deaths span over 17 years, with the highest concentration being nearly 500 in 2010, and 17 deaths in 2017.

Even though we are at war, the likelihood of death is much lower; many MOSs don’t come with much risk at all.

 

6. PCSing is just a fact of life

Since the ‘40s, the military has introduced:

  • More duty stations
  • A higher chance of families relocating with service members
  • An average PCS rate of once every 2-3 years

It’s very rare to talk to a military spouse who has not gone through at least one PCS. Unfortunately, this can make it hard to have a career of your own, or a solid support system.

As the Marines say, you must be able to “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome”.


Credit: Funny.

7.  Someone’s always got your back

Even though military spouses are often uprooted from their families and friends, there’s a whole other kind of support within the spouse community.

Social media makes it easy to access military spouse resources, and talk to other spouses who have the low-down on your new post, or just insight on military life in general.

Installations now offer FRGs (Family Readiness Groups), MWR centers (Morale, Welfare and Recreation), as well as the benefits of free counseling and education opportunities. Organizations like Gold Star Wives also contribute to the feeling of togetherness you may seek as a military spouse.

At the end of the day, you can always find others who are going through the same thing, who understand how to empathize and help you. These are the kind of people that make you proud to be a military spouse.

If you’re dating a service member, or new to the spouse life, read about what you need to know before becoming a “Milspo”.

 

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