Sunday, May 25, 2014

Keystone Radio School in WWII

My mother was a WAC. According to her “Report of Separation,” she enlisted on February 3, 1943 in Los Angeles, California. She had been a comptometer operator in civilian life, working for the Soil Conservation Service in Columbia, Missouri.[1] The Army trained her as a “radio operator” at the Keystone Radio School in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

After my mother died, I found a photo album she had created of her time in Hollidaysburg. There is curiously little written about this place. In several years of searching, I have found only one newspaper mention of this school:


Mom’s album says she arrived in Hollidaysburg on April 7, 1943 for Class 1-W. The first photo in the album is labeled “Highland Hall, Ye Olde School.”

She labeled a photo of Duncan House as “Barracks-Keystone Style.”

From the photos in the album, it’s clear that this radio school wasn’t exactly all work and no play. There are lots of candid photos of her classmates, both at the school and visiting the town, a carnival, and on various outings. This photo is labeled “WAACs resting in front of Highland Hall.”


There’s also a whole series of photos of the women marching.....

But most of the photos in her album are of the women she trained with. In one photo, she identifies the women in her unit. I have tried to track down these women, with very little luck. I thought I had found down one of them who appeared to still be alive in northern California, but I got no response to the letter and photos I sent her. 
Caption: Room 1 – Early June ‘43
Marion Sterne                   Nancy Swicegood
Coral Howard                    Genevieve Long
Olive Wicker                      Viola Noirot
Dorothy Smith                   Mary Sparks
Sue Wills                             Mary Strome


Both Fold3 and MyHeritage have recently added the U. S. World War II Army Enlistments database to their search results. I found my mother listed in these records as “Nancy S. Sharp”, born 1917 in Missouri, residence = Los Angeles, CA, enlistment = Aug 6, 1943 at Hollidaysburg, PA, Technician 5th grade in Women’s Army Corps.

There are several odd things about this enlistment record. First, it suggests that she didn’t enlist until after she had already graduated from radio school. Second, she’s listed by her married name, which she didn’t obtain until June 1944. And in the above record, it said she was divorced, not married. Weird.

Searching this database for other people who supposedly enlisted at Hollidaysburg on Aug 6, 1943 generated 23 additional women’s names, 21 of them were listed as “married”, one was single and one divorced. I could not match any of the names to the women identified in my mother’s photo album. I doubt that any of them were married when they enlisted in the Army and attended the Keystone Radio School.

There were clearly more women in this group than show up in the enlistment records. I believe that this photo is of the women at graduation:

There appear to be about 50 women in this photo. My mother is in the first row, 4th from the left.
I would love to know more about this school and where the women went from here. The US Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle, PA, claims no knowledge of the Keystone Radio School. It also isn’t identified in any of the Signal Corps records that NARA has put online. Highland Hall is now a National Historic Site and is currently used for Blair County offices. I don’t know what became of Duncan House. If anyone who reads this knows more about Keystone Radio School or any of the WAACs who trained there, please contact me through the “Comments” button below.

[1] 1940 US Census, Columbia, Boone County, Missouri; Roll T627_2086; ED 10-16A, page 9B.
[2] The Daily News, Huntingdon, Pa., Monday, April 5, 1943, pg. 6,


  1. My uncle, who was killed in Germany only days before the surrender, and as far as I know was a Texas Division infantryman, obtained a Keystone (Radio) pillow case. ??

  2. My father also served in WWII as a radio operator (US Army Signal Corps). I have a few photos of him at the Keystone School in front of Terrace Hall Dormitories. My email is I can send these photos to you, if you would like to see them.