Carmen Contreras-Bozak

WAC, Codebreaker, Pathbreaker

"Oh, I had to go. I thought, it'll be a change. I'll get to travel. I was so happy that I did join, that I got a good job."~Carmen Contreras Bozak, VOCES Oral History Project, 2002

Born on New Years Eve 1919, in Cayey, Puerto Rico, near San Juan, Carmen Contreras was the oldest of the three children of Lila Baudilia Lugo Torres, a seamstress and single mother. In 1919, the residents of the territory of Puerto Rico, had only been considered U.S. citizens for two years.

As a child, Contreras moved with her family to New York City. After graduating from high school, she took the Civil Service exam and became a payrollcerk in the Wark Department Office in Wasington, D.C. She was there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and her work for the War Department encouraged her to join the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942. Contreras became the first Hispanic woman to join the WAAC, recruited for her bilingual skills.

In January 1943, Contreras sailed to Europe wih the first cadre of WAACs, the 195 women of the 149th WAAC Company. Stationed in Algiers with the signal corps, Contreras worked as a telephone operator, sending and receiving coded messages from the battlefield. Not far from the action, Contreras recalled four air raids and a bomb dropped near her barracks during her 18 months of overseas service. From Algiers, Contreras was transferred to Caserta, Italy where she had the opportunity to meet the pope while on a pass. She was discharged honorably with the rank of Technician 4th Grade in July 1945. 

After the war, while recovering from an eye infection in a VA hospital, she met and married Army veteran Theodore Bozak with whom she raised two sons and a daughter. Although she never felt that she suffered any discrimination because of her gender or Puerto Rican heritage, Bozak did say in an interview that she regretted not teaching her children to speak Spanish and about her cultural heritage. 

Later in life, Carmen Contreras Bozak remained devoted to the U.S. Army, volunteering at the Oakland Park VA Outpatient Clinic and attending Veterans of Foreign Wars meetings. She started a chapter of the WAC Vets in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1989 and founded a chapter of the Society of Military Widows in 1998, seven years after her husband's death.