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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Rosemarie Spagnola Dodd, 1999

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Object ID: WV0020.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Rosemarie "Marie" Spagnola Dodd’s service with the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1944 to 1946.

Summary:

Dodd discusses her decision to join the WAVES in the spring of 1944, including her failure to meet other branches’ weight requirements; her family’s and coworker’s reactions to her enlistment; basic training at Hunter College in New York; and her responsibilities and activities as a aircraft mechanic at Mercer Field in New Jersey. She provides details on her uniform, work schedule, social life, and the reaction of men to female mechanics.

Other topics include Dodd’s work as a teacher and education after the war, including the influx of GIs at Youngstown State University; the influence and activities of her family members; her take on her role as a trailblazer for women’s rights, and general reaction of Americans to women in the military.

Creator: Rosemarie Spagnola Dodd

Biographical Info: Rosemarie "Marie" Dodd served with U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Rosemarie Dodd Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Hermann Trojanowski:

[My name is Hermann Trojanowski, and today is January] 21, 1999. I'm at the home of Mrs. Marie Dodd to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection.

Marie, thanks so much for meeting with me today. I really appreciate it. Could you please tell me something about your life before you joined the military in World War II?

Rosemarie Dodd:

Well, I was a graduate of Scienceville High School in Youngstown, Ohio, which is now called North High School. I wanted to go to the university, Youngstown State University, which was called Youngstown College then, but the war came along and I went to work in a defense plant. And I saw so many people leaving to go into the service, and then I was engaged to a young man from Philadelphia who was stationed near my hometown, and when he went overseas, I was just at loose ends. And I thought, “Well, heck, this is our war too,” and so I wanted to go into the service. Well, I went down to join the Marines, and the young man there told me that I wasn't big enough to join the Marines, because I only weighed ninety-six pounds. He said I had to weigh 115, and I got pretty insulted about that. So I went right across the hall and joined the navy. I enlisted in the navy, and they told me that they would call me and let me know when I had to go to Cleveland for my physical. So, when I was nineteen years old I was sent to Cleveland for my physical, passed it, which they told me I had to weigh a hundred pounds before I could get in. And I thought, “My god, what am I going to do? I only weigh ninety-six.” So a friend told me if I ate a lot of bananas on the train going up there I would pass, which I did. [chuckling] And that was how I decided to go into the service.

HT:

What did your family think about you entering the service?

RD:

Well, my mother wasn't real pleased about it. She wanted me to stay home and go to college, and I figured that I had time for that. I was young, I had time for that later. I wanted to get this mess over with. I had a kid brother that was going to be taken into the service, and I thought, well, if we could get this thing over with before he had to be called or before something terrible happened, then that would be that. I could go to college later. I didn't even think at that time about the GI Bill of Rights, but you know that was a wonderful thing! That was the best thing the country ever did for us. [chuckling] But then when I came back from the service, I of course went to school on the GI Bill.

HT:

And where did you go to school?

RD:

Youngstown State University.

HT:

Did you have any reaction from your friends and coworkers about joining the navy?

RD:

No, I didn't, not really. I mean, a lot of them were very surprised, because I was such a little thing, you know. Of course, I'd always been very athletic. They just couldn't understand why. In the first place, they said, “Nobody is going to take you, you're too little.” [chuckling] Which I thought that might be true. Then I had a girlfriend of mine that was in high school with me, and I was—I don't know what I was doing one day. We met, and anyway she said, “Are you going to school?” And I said, “No, Ruth [Stewart], I've enlisted in the navy.” She said, “You did? I'm going to go with you.” So she went down too and she enlisted in the navy. And it just so happened that both of us were sent to Cleveland for our physical at the same time, so she and I went to boot camp together.

HT:

And where did you go to boot camp?

RD:

We went to Hunter College [in New York City].

HT:

Hunter College, okay. Do you recall when this was? The time of year, month, that sort of thing?

RD:

Let me think. I think it was in the first of June 1944 or the last of May 1944.

HT:

And how long did you stay in?

RD:

Two years.

HT:

Two years? Do you recall what the climate or the mood of the country was during World War II? Were people very patriotic?

RD:

Oh yes, I found it, in my hometown anyway, and all my friends and everybody, they were very patriotic. They would do anything to help the servicemen, to help get the war over with, to beat the Germans at that time. Japan hadn't declared war. Or they may have, I can't remember for sure. But anyway, they were going into the defense factories. We had one in my hometown, the General Fireproofing. They were going into the defense factories and getting jobs and working long hours. And really, they all pulled together. I never saw anything like it. Some of them were people that had come from the Old Country before the war started, couldn't even speak good English, but they were in that defense factory to help the United States to win the war, because they said this country gave them what no other country would.

HT:

When you entered the service, do you remember your first day at boot camp or basic training?

RD:

Oh, do I ever! Well, the first day, we arrived in New York. And it was kind of like at 1:00 in the afternoon or something like that, because we went by train and the train went around and picked up women from all over. We just didn't go straight up the Erie Railroad into New York, we just kind of wound around. We picked women up all over the place. I remember sleeping on the train, the first time I'd ever slept on a train. We got up in the morning and we had breakfast, and we had to carry all our baggage. When we got to New York and then we had to get on the subway, by the time we got to Hunter College, there were lines everywhere. And the favorite saying was: “Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait.” I carried those suitcases till I thought my arms would fall off. [chuckling] And that was an experience. I had never been away from home before.

HT:

Never at all before this?

RD:

No, I mean outside of a little trip maybe to Steubenville, Ohio, to see a cousin, or up to Cleveland to shop, and that was it. I had never been out of the state of Ohio.

HT:

What did they have you do at boot camp? Can you describe some of your experiences there?

RD:

Oh, my goodness, yes. We had to go to classes. We had identification classes of ships, aircraft. We had to know all the rules and regulations of the navy. We drilled for hours, and every Saturday morning we had a full dress review, and the people would come out from all over—you know, we were right in the middle of a neighborhood, because it used to be Hunter College, and they had all these big buildings, you know, with apartments. People would get up on the roof and hang out the windows to watch us every Saturday morning pass in review. That was quite an experience. I mean, we had to be precision, you know? [chuckling]

HT:

And how long did your basic training last?

RD:

It lasted—I think it was eight weeks.

HT:

And did you enjoy it?

RD:

Oh yeah, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed a lot of it. I mean it was tough, because half the time you were running everyplace you went—they marched you but you went at a run. And lots of times you didn't even have time to finish eating till the next bunch was coming in, and they'd tell you to get up, you're finished. I carried part of my lunch in my pocket a lot of times so that I could finish. [chuckling] Especially if it was fruit or something, you know, I'd just grab it and stick it in my pocket and eat it between classes.

HT:

Well, after you finished basic training, where were you assigned?

RD:

From basic training I went to Mercer Field, Trenton, New Jersey, which was a naval air station, and we pulled checks and worked on the fighter planes for the fleet—I mean for the aircraft carriers.

HT:

And did you stay there the entire time?

RD:

I did.

HT:

Can you describe some of the work that you did while you were in the service?

RD:

Yes, I pulled checks on aircraft. I mean, I pulled the oil stringers out and rechecked them, fixed the brakes—you know, sometimes they'd come from the factory and maybe one wheel would pull more than the other. They had to be perfect. You can imagine landing on that little bitty postage stamp. [chuckling] They had to be perfect, and we'd check those. They even had the guns checked. The test pilots would come in after we pulled the first check and would take the planes up and go out over the bay and they would check everything. They put it through what they called a thirty-hour check, and even tested the guns and everything, and then they would bring them back and we would check them a second time. Then they would take them up and bring them back, and that time we put the gun racks on. Toward the end of the war, they had just come out with the wing rockets, and we'd put those on. That time you would gas it up, oil it, check the brakes and everything, and the ferry pilots would come in and fly it to the fleet. Usually they took it to a base, like South Carolina or someplace, and then down to Florida, and then to the fleet.

HT:

And you did this the entire time you were in the service?

RD:

Yes, until I went up to New York—they decommissioned our base, like they did a lot of other ones, and I went to Floyd Bennett Field [in New York City] for about four weeks and worked there on the aircraft. And then they decided to take the old Mormon Temple in New York and make that a separation center for WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services—U.S. Navy], and I was sent there to work until it was time for me to be discharged.

HT:

Getting back to the work you did at Mercer Field, it sounds like you really enjoyed that work.

RD:

Oh, I did, I enjoyed it. I didn't know a monkey wrench from a screwdriver when I got in there, but when I got out I did.

HT:

So you were well-trained.

RD:

Yes, I was.

HT:

Well, it sounds like you were almost a mechanic. Is that correct?

RD:

I was. I was an aircraft mechanic, exactly. I was going to stay in the service, but my mother had a fit. She didn't want me to. But I passed my examination. I was a seaman first class, what they call an aviation machinist mate striker, which meant that I was going for my third class rate. And I remember going in and taking the examination for third-class petty officer, and I thought, “Oh god, I've got to pass this now, that's all there is to it.” And I did. And I was so elated. I passed with 3.7, which was one of the highest grades. Of course, some of the fellows didn't like it very well. [chuckling] But anyway, I thought, “Oh good, I'll get my third class rate.” But it always took three months for it to go through. Well, in the meantime the war was over and they decommissioned the base, and I never got my third-class rate. So I was a little disappointed in that, but I knew in my heart I did it.

HT:

You mentioned earlier that you had thought about making it a career but your mother was against it.

RD:

Yes. Oh, my mother was very against it. She didn't like it.

HT:

What about your fellow workers? Did they try to encourage you to stay in?

RD:

No, nobody really—you know, a lot of the girls, they were anxious to get home. Nobody really talked too much about re-upping [re-enlisting]. Some of the girls that were officers did. Some of our officers stayed in and went to other bases and made a career out of it—not too many of them, but a few of them.

HT:

Well, do you feel that you made a positive contribution to the war effort?

RD:

I surely hope so. [chuckling] I sure tried.

HT:

It sounds like you did. Many of the recruiting posters at that time mentioned that if women joined one of the services they would free a man for combat. Did you feel like your enlistment helped free a man for combat?

RD:

I imagine that I replaced somebody that was sent to an aircraft carrier to be a mechanic. I believe that that was what my job was.

HT:

Did you have any guilty feelings about possibly sending a man into combat because you might have replaced him?

RD:

I worried about maybe somebody losing their life because of that. But I also knew that if we didn't have enough men to man the ships and fly the planes, we weren't going to win the war. Especially in the South Pacific, I think our planes are what really—the aircraft carriers and the pilots are what really ended that in a hurry.

HT:

Since you basically had what many people would consider a man's job even today, do you think that you were treated equally with men who had the same position?

RD:

Boy, that's a hard one to answer. I'd say in some cases yes and in some cases no.

HT:

Did you work with men?

RD:

I sure did, a lot of them, and they resented us. They resented us for the fact that they had to clean up their act in the crew's room and they had to quit using bad language, and they had to—because our officers got on them about that. Because they were free and easy. I mean, they worked with little cut-off pants and no shirts and all. Well, they couldn't do that anymore. So I think we kind of put a crimp in them. But after we got on base and they got to know us and they saw that we could do the same job that they could do, then it was all right. It was fine.

HT:

Did you ever run across any discrimination, what we call discrimination today, because you were a female?

RD:

Well, I think in the beginning, until we proved ourselves, they kind of resented us. Especially when one of our girls got a rate, you know, and the guys thought that they should have had it. Now we had what they call flight skins, which means that when you worked on a plane—you could do so many hours in the air with that plane on the test flights, and you got extra money for that. Well, they resented that so much, that they took it away from us. So, we didn't get that. But everything else was fine.

HT:

Did you ever receive any special treatment because you were a woman?

RD:

I can't say honestly yes or no to that one. We were all one big happy family where I was. I mean, of course we had—you know, you have your bad apples everywhere, but on the whole, I think we all got along pretty good.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

RD:

Physically? Help take an engine completely off the ship and lower it to the floor, tear it apart, put it back together, and then hoist it back up. I think that was tough. [chuckling] Of course, you had little pulleys and things, but still you had to use a lot of strength.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally?

RD:

When I lost my boyfriend and I was away from home, and I got the letter telling me he was killed in Germany. I think that was the hardest thing, emotionally, I'd ever gone through.

HT:

I'm sure that was very, very hard. Did you have any embarrassing moments while you were in the military?

RD:

[chuckling] Yeah, I supposed I did, but I can't think of one just [snaps fingers] right off. Yeah, I can remember one, not only for me but for all the girls. We had a tennis court between the women's barracks and the Marine barracks. The Marines had a barracks to themselves, because they were our guards and they did all that kind of work. And then on the other side of them were all the navy boys. Those guys were something else, I'll tell you. You know, we had no curtains. All we had were open windows. We thought we were far away, that they couldn't see anything. We discovered that they were using spyglasses to watch us through the windows. Thank god that in our bathroom we didn't have windows, you know? But they could see us dressing and undressing until somebody said something to one of the girls and she reported it to the WAVE officer. [chuckling] Then they got called down about that. But they were trying to watch us through those binoculars. They would do crazy things like they would get red lanterns from the railroad and they'd swing them out the window at us. All kinds of crazy things. All in good fun. I mean, nobody was ever accosted, not really—not on our base.

HT:

You mentioned something about that you had Marine guards. Did they actually guard you?

RD:

They guarded the base.

HT:

They guarded the base? Not specifically the women, though?

RD:

Not specifically the women. No, they guarded the base. Because we were on the coast, and if aircraft would come through, or maybe I think at that time they were worrying about spies and different things coming in and blowing up the field or doing something like that. I think that's why they were stationed there and guarding, because they did all the perimeter. We even had them in the hangars. We had one or two of them in the hangar at all times.

HT:

What type of clothing or uniforms did you wear on duty?

RD:

On duty I wore bell-bottom dungarees—as you see, I like dungarees [chuckling]—and a dungaree shirt, and I had to wear the little square white cap, unless I was getting in under the ship or something and I'd take it off and throw it in my toolbox. And I wore heavy shoes. That was it.

HT:

Were these clothing specifically made for women, or were they things you had borrowed from the men?

RD:

No, no, these were the same things the men wore. I wore the smallest men's size they had. In my uniform, at that time I think I wore a size eight. They didn't have an eight, so they had to alter my skirts and everything to fit properly. And if I turned around real fast, my skirt would turn. [chuckling] But the uniforms that we had, our dress uniforms and our seersucker uniforms, what we called our summer uniforms, they were all made special for the women. But your dungarees and your work clothes were the same as the mens. Unless you were a secretary or something and wore the uniform at all times, you wore your bell-bottoms and you worked just like the man did and you dressed more or less like him in the hanger.

HT:

What kind of shifts did you work?

RD:

We used to work from 6:00 in the morning until 4:00. And then they said we'd work from 6:00 till 3:30, because the bus left at 4:00 to go to town. If you didn't have stand-by duty, you were off from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. You had two days of duty, night duty, and then we had one at stand-by, and then the rest of the time you could go into town if you wanted to. That gave us a half an hour to get dressed and get on the bus. But a lot of times, if we had problems with some of the planes that came from the factory, because we had to go over those and make sure that they were perfect before they went to the fleet, we would have to work more hours.

I remember one time we got a batch of bad engines in and we had to pull every one of those engines, as I was telling you, with block and tackle. You had to take them off and put the new ones on. We worked three shifts, around-the-clock. And of course when we had a lot of snow and ice on the runway, they'd turn us out at two o'clock, three o'clock in the morning to shovel that runway off, so that the planes, if there was any that needed to come in, could come in. And then our planes that took off and came in to be tested—we had to get them ready for the fleet—when we'd have ferry pilots come in and take them off, we had to keep that runway clean at all times.

HT:

So your job was not what you'd call an eight-to-five type of job at all.

RD:

Oh no. Whenever they needed you, you were called on duty.

HT:

And did you have set days that you worked and then were off a certain number of days?

RD:

We were off one and a half days. After ten days, I think, we'd only have a day and a half off. Sometimes we would get, after so many months, we'd get a weekend off, like Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Because I remember my mother coming up to visit me, and I told her when to come, I said, “Because I'll have a long weekend that weekend.” But it would be just every so many months, like a month and a half or so.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid while you were in the military?

RD:

I was scared to death every minute that I sat in that crew's room and one of my planes were in the air, and I knew that I had that pilot's life in my hands. I sat there and I prayed, “Dear God, don't let anything I did cause somebody to lose their life.” I mean, that was frightening to me. And thank goodness I never had a plane that had anything wrong with it. [chuckling]

HT:

And do you recall ever being in any kind of physical danger?

RD:

No, not really. I think the only real physical danger was when we had a terrible hurricane come up the coast, and for three days and three nights we had rain. Oh, my god, that's when I hurt my knee. I was up on one of the planes. We would go out in groups, like five of us or six of us would go out to check the tie downs. All our planes had taken off to come down to Cherry Point, [North Carolina], to miss it, and they all came back but one. One got through. The rest of them came back, they couldn't get through the storm. And we had to tie them down on the tarmac. And you had to go out every so often. The wind was so fierce and it would shake them. And if one of them got loose—it had planes on either side of it—it would wreck three planes. So we had to go out and check those pad eyes and check the tie-downs, to make sure that those planes were not coming loose. And I was checking my line, and I saw one of the planes had the cockpit open. And brave little old me, I thought I was doing a good job, I climbed up on it and closed the cockpit. And when I turned around to get off, the wind threw me off the front of the ship. And I landed on both feet, but this left knee twisted, when they picked me up my foot was turned around, and I just tore the whole knee up. So I was in the hospital for a little while and they worked on it—I never would let them do surgery, though. So someday I might still have to have it. Every once in a while it'll swell and get bad, but, you know, that went with the job.

HT:

That's true. Can you tell me something about some of the interesting people you met while you were in the military?

RD:

Well, let me think. I met Gypsy Rose Lee [actress, burlesque entertainer]. She came to do a commercial, I think it was, with our singing WAVES, for selling bonds and things. And I met Carmen Caballero, the pianist. My roommate's uncle was on a Liberty ship [cargo boat], he was a captain. Before the war he was with the Cunard Lines, and then they converted over to do a lot of the transporting and everything. His ship came into New York, and he took [Rosilin] Murphy and I down to see him and to dinner at the hotel—and I can't even think of the name of it. But I met him. And he was the nicest guy, just as friendly as he could be.

And of course, standing on the train station in Trenton, a train came through that was bringing a bunch of players and actors and everything through to go to—I can't think of the name of the army camp that was there in New Jersey, but they were going there to put on a USO [United Service Organizations] show. And there was Jerry Colonna [comedian], Bob Hope, and Frances Langford [singer, entertainer], and a few other ones standing on the station. And I just looked at them. I couldn't believe that I was seeing these people in person! [chuckling] But they were waiting, and Bob Hope was cutting up, you know, with smart cracks, and Jerry Colonna was, and they were having a good time. But you didn't want to go up and introduce yourself. I was a little in awe of them, you know. But we watched them and we laughed, and we had a good time watching them.

HT:

Well, speaking about good times, what did you guys do for fun, and what about your social life? Anything—

RD:

Well, we'd have dances occasionally on base. We had church every Sunday morning in the rec[reation] hall. We'd have three services. We'd have the Catholic service, then we'd have a Protestant service, and then we'd have a Jewish service. I don't know, we went to town and we had a place we used to all hang out, and they had a little dance hall in the back. It was called—it was down on Front Street, and you know I can't even think of the name now. Oh, it was Paul's, I think was the name of the place. And you could go in there, and beer was a dime, and I didn't drink. So I would go in with the girls and the fellows, you know, because I liked to dance—I loved to dance—and we'd order beer, or we'd go back and get a table and order a beer. Or we'd sit at the bar and cut up and joke with everybody, you know. I'd order one beer, and it would sit in front of me practically all night. In fact, the bartender there began to call me “One Brew.” That was my nickname. [chuckling] But we had a lot of fun in that place. They even served pizza. That's where I really learned to eat pizza—I mean, bought pizza. We made pizza at home but not like that.

HT:

You said you enjoyed dancing. Do you recall any of your favorite songs and dances from that era?

RD:

Oh god, yes! All of the old ones back in the wartime, like White Cliffs of Dover. And I'll Be Seeing You was one of my favorite songs. Lord, all of Glenn Miller's. God, we played his records in our ship service. We played his records so much that they had to replace them three or four times. I mean, the needle would go right through them [chuckling] because we played them over and over. And the worst thing was when we lost him. That was the biggest shock. That was awful. Everybody, everybody on our base was very cut up about it. They couldn't believe it. I had seen him in person in my hometown. He came to play at Idora Park [in Youngstown, Ohio], and it was so packed with people, you couldn't dance. You just stood there and just kind of went like this, back and forth, you know, shoulder to shoulder. And he played on and on because he knew that we came all that way just to see him. And he was a great guy, too. [Swing musician] Woody Herman, he was another one that came to my hometown. But all the songs back in the forties, those were—in fact, some of us still have records.

HT:

What about the movies? Do you have any special movies from that period of time?

RD:

No, I can't remember—White Cliffs of Dover, of course, that was one of them. Mrs. Miniver was another one. There were a lot of them, but I can't remember. They'd bring them on the base. I can't remember the name of them. You can tell you're getting old when you can't remember, you know? [chuckling]

HT:

What did you think of Franklin D. Roosevelt?

RD:

Well, at the time, I thought he was a pretty good president. I mean, he seemed to be getting the job done, just like this one.

HT:

And what about Mrs. Roosevelt? What was your opinion?

RD:

I thought she was a wonderful woman. I just admired her. I thought she did a lot for the country. I really did.

HT:

Do you recall who were your heroes and heroines from that period of time?

RD:

Well, I was a great fan of [General George] Patton's. [chuckling]

HT:

That's General Patton?

RD:

Yes. A lot of people didn't like him, but I thought he was one heck of an officer. Of course he wasn't navy, but that was all right too. [chuckling]

HT:

Do you recall where you were when you heard about VE Day, that's Victory in Europe?

RD:

Yes, I was stationed in Trenton, New Jersey, on the naval air station there. It was called Mercer Field. I had never left there, you know, only for short trips. One time I went to California on a flight, we were taking some officers there and back, but that's the only time I was off the base. But I was stationed there the whole time.

HT:

Were you also stationed there when VJ Day [Victory in Japan Day]—

RD:

Yes, and that's why I didn't get my rate, because right between that and the other one I—let's see, I'm trying to think of the date that they told us we were being decommissioned. I think it was two days after VJ. I can't remember the exact date. And they told us to get ready, pack up, we were moving out. And who was going to be sent where was on the board, and we knew where we were going to be sent from there. I went directly to Floyd Bennett Field, like I said, for four weeks, and then I went to the separation center at the old Mormon Temple on Seventy-sixth and Broadway [also in New York City]. And I worked there helping discharge the other girls until my discharge came up. I don't know why they called it the Mormon Temple.

HT:

Do you recall when that was, when you were discharged?

RD:

I was discharged in March of 1946. I can't remember the exact date, but it's on my discharge papers somewhere around here.

HT:

Can you describe for me your adjustment to civilian life after you left the navy? What type of work did you do, and—

RD:

Oh, let's see. Well, I came home, and I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do for sure. I knew I was going to college, and I worked for a dress shop that my mother worked in, part-time. I worked on Thursday. They were open two nights a week, and I worked Saturdays and those two nights a week, waiting to get into school. I applied to Youngstown State University, which was called Youngstown College at that time. I really didn't do anything but keep house for my mom and dad until—it was time for me to get ready to go to school. Of course, I did some—you know, work, like I worked in the library and things like that, but nothing really that you got paid for. The factory was closed by then. They didn't need airplane parts anymore. [chuckling] So I waited, and I was ready to go to school, and I went to school that year.

HT:

So that was the autumn of 1946?

RD:

Yes.

HT:

And I think you said that you took advantage of the GI Bill.

RD:

I certainly did, as everybody in my class did, I think, because we were all a little older.

HT:

So both men and women?

RD:

Oh yeah. Oh lord, I don't know how many of us were at Youngstown College at that time, all ex-GIs. They were all older, and that was the best thing that ever happened. Some of us would have never had our education if it hadn't been for that.

HT:

Can you describe college life in the postwar times?

RD:

Well, the people that were in my class were more serious than the younger ones. We didn't have a lot of gaiety, as far as parties and things like that, sororities and everything. We didn't do that. We had our own little group and we would meet in the cafeteria at lunchtime. Or sometimes we'd get there early in the morning before our first class and we'd have breakfast there. And we even had old Quonset huts that we were going to school in, because the university was growing fast with so many GIs coming there. We didn't have any room. The university wasn't building fast enough. It's a huge place now, but at that time we used those buildings that they were getting rid of in the service, you know, from different bases. I think some of them came from the Shenango Valley Base there not too far from us, and we went to school in those until they began to be able to build up the university. And it's a big university now. I went back to see it, what, three years ago? God, I didn't believe it, the library was so big. And the business school—I went to the business school the first year I went there in a old house that somebody had donated right on the edge of the university, because it was almost right downtown in Youngstown. You'd just come up over the hill and there's the university. It was a big, beautiful home that some woman and her family had owned. I think they were steel people, I can't remember their names, and they turned that house into the business school. Well, now the business school you wouldn't believe. [chuckling] It's a huge building and they've got everything.

HT:

So your degree was in business?

RD:

No, I changed. I went into teaching. I wanted to teach, and I decided I didn't like the business school, so I transferred into the liberal arts.

HT:

And what subjects did you teach?

RD:

Well, I took physical education. That's what I wanted to be, a physical education teacher, but I took my minor in elementary ed[ucation], and I taught elementary school.

HT:

For your entire career?

RD:

Well, what little career I had. [chuckling] I got married, you know, when I was in college, and I worked four years full-time. I worked in Cobb County, Georgia, because my husband and I moved to Georgia. I took a job with the Cobb County School Board as what they called their “permanent substitute.” I was called out practically every day. [chuckling] But I had a little girl and I figured that would be the best thing. Because I felt so obligated when I had a full-time job that I had to be there, and there were lots of times when she was ill and I didn't really want to leave her. So this way, if she was sick I could say, “Well, I can't come today, but I can come tomorrow or the next day.” And so I worked, with 180 school days, I would work 140, 150. So I didn't lack for work if I wanted it. And I enjoyed it. I did that up till 1965, I taught full-time that year. That was the last year I taught.

HT:

Do you think your being in the military had an impact on your life, immediately after the war and in the long term as well?

RD:

Well, that's kind of a hard question. There are so many things that shape you, and I think yes, in a way. I think it taught me discipline, I think it taught me how to work with other people. It certainly taught me how to be responsible. Because when you've got somebody's life in your hands every minute of the day, you learn to be responsible. You learn not to take chances, not to fool around with their life or yours. And I think it helped a lot that way. It didn't change me personality-wise. I mean, I still like to cut up and carry on and have fun, and I still love to dance. That's it.

HT:

Let me regress just a second. Do you recall why you became a mechanic? Was that something you were able to choose, or was that something you were assigned to do?

RD:

No, they had something up on the board and I signed up to go to—what did they call it? Corpsman school. And they were so full, and there were so many people wanting to go to corpsman school, that those of us who couldn't get in were sent someplace else. Not of our choosing, I mean. I didn't choose to be a mechanic, but they assigned me that, with a few other of the girls that were at boot camp with me, but they were sent to different fields. I think there were four of us from boot camp that went to Mercer, and some of them went other places. Some went to Floyd Bennett [Field]—some of them were lucky. I signed up to go to Florida when I joined the service, and I never got to see Florida. [chuckling] Some of them went down there to the big air base. My first pick was corpsman school. I wanted to go into the medical field.

HT:

Has your life been different because you were in the military?

RD:

That's a hard question. I think the thing that made the difference because I was in the military was that I could get my education, and I think your education has a lot to do with what goes on in your life after that. So I will have to thank the government for that. Like I said, that was the best thing they ever did for us. I think we were the most responsible and the best-educated generation because of that. And I think they're going to start doing the same thing again. I think they're going to start helping our kids go to school, which is wonderful. I mean, I don't mind paying a few dollars more taxes if I can know that the kids who are in the service right now are going to get an education and take care of themselves, learn to take care of themselves and their families.

HT:

If you had to do it over again, would you join the military again?

RD:

I would join the military again, and I wouldn't let my mother talk me out of making a career out of it, to tell you the truth. [chuckling]

HT:

That's wonderful. Do you consider yourself to be an independent person? And do you think the military made you that way, or were you this type of person before you went into the military?

RD:

That's hard to say, because we were a close family and we kind of all depended on one another. My immediate family wasn't large, there was just my brother and I, but I lived with my grandmother for my first five years, and I had aunts and uncles. In fact, I have an uncle that's only eighteen months older than me and one that's three and a half years older than me, and we were raised like brother and sister. And then, of course, my Aunt Jean was about six years older. I mean, the last four of them and me, we were more like brothers and sisters because I stayed with my grandmother a lot. Every weekend I had to be at my grandmother's house. I wanted to go see my grandmother. [chuckling] We were very close. Because she took care of me up until I was about five, and then I went to school. So I would say that way we were close. I don't know that they had a great deal of influence, as far as my going into the service. I don't think so. Of course, I had my Uncle Tony [Stevens], my Uncle Charlie [Stevens], my cousin Anthony and I, four of us were all in the service at the same time from the same family. So we all felt that we needed to do our duty.

HT:

I think that was quite common in those days.

RD:

Yes, I think so too.

HT:

Well, do you consider yourself a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the service? Looking back, do you consider yourself any of these?

RD:

Do you know, I didn't think about that until I went up to the memorial service that they had for the women's veterans memorial [on October 18, 1997], and I had this young officer run up to me and put her arms around me and say, “Thank you, thank you.” And I said, “What for?” And she said, “If it wasn't for you women going ahead of us, we'd have never got this opportunity.” That's the first time I realized that, well, maybe we did do something good. Maybe it was for good. And I am thrilled to death to see all these young people that we met in Washington—we went up to the dedication—I mean, well-educated, just as dedicated as they could be. It just thrilled me to see them get that opportunity and make something of it. So I think that that was the first time I realized what I had done or if I had done anything good. [chuckling]

HT:

That's great. Do you consider yourself and other women who joined the military during World War II to be front-runners or forerunners of what we call the women's movement today?

RD:

I think it helped a great deal. I really do.

HT:

Many women who joined the military during World War II, how were they perceived by the general public and by their family, by men? I remember reading recently there was a slander campaign against the WACs [Women's Army Corps] in the spring of 1943, and it was started internally by army men, to sort of put down the women and start bad rumors about them and that sort of thing. Did you ever hear anything about that, or did you have any kind of feelings about that?

RD:

I resented that. I resented that because we didn't have too much of that, as far as the navy was concerned. One time, in all the time that I can remember, I went home on leave, and my brother and his girlfriend and myself and my Uncle Tony and my Uncle Charlie, we all went to a dance. And somebody evidently said something. My brother was dancing close to this fellow, he made a remark about me because I was in uniform and I was dancing with my Uncle Charlie when he made a remark, and my brother called him on it. They were going to fight right there. I don't know what he said, my brother never would tell me, but he was going to knock the “bejeebies” out of that guy. And the guy started backing up and apologizing, and apologized to me, and I didn't hear what he said. But that's the only incident that I can remember that I ran into. Now, as far as the other girls were concerned, I don't know.

But it was funny, I was the youngest girl on my base, and the Marines and some of the sailors and my chief, they all treated me like a kid sister, like they were all watching out for me. I never got into any trouble. Or if I happened to be associating or talking to somebody in ship service that they didn't think was savory or just right, they would come and tell me, “Stay away from that guy. No, don't have anything to do with him.” I mean, I can't complain. They kind of looked out after me. And I appreciated that, because that was the first time I had been away from home. Who knows what kind of trouble I'd have gotten in, you know? [chuckling]

HT:

Well, have any of your children ever been in the military?

RD:

No. My son-in-law, he was in the navy.

HT:

Well, how do you feel about women in combat positions? I know recently in December of '98 women flew in combat missions in Iraq. Do you approve of this?

RD:

Well, they wanted equal rights. They can't have equal rights if they don't do the same thing the fellows do. If they can do it and they're good at their job and they want to go into combat and they feel it's the thing to do, God bless them. I think it's wonderful. I hate to see any of them shot down, the girls or the fellows, but if they want to be equal, then that's it.

HT:

Is there anything else that you would like to add about your military service that we haven't talked about?

RD:

No, not anything I can think of. I had a wonderful time, I learned a lot. I can say that our pilots, our officers were great. I don't think we had but one that wasn't utmost, and that was one of our women officers, I'm ashamed to say. [chuckling] But she had a drinking problem, and you know how that goes. And she was the only one. The rest of them were—they were great. They were sincere in what they were doing, they wanted to do the best job they could do, and they wanted us all to get along. Our captain made the boys, like I said, quit swearing in the crew's room, quit going around half-dressed and all. I don't think he wanted us on the base, but when he saw that we could do the same job, he respected us for it.

HT:

So he sort of came around.

RD:

He came around, and he really did, he upheld us, and we didn't have any problem after that. I think it took about three or four months, and that was it.

HT:

Can you tell me something about your life since the military? You mentioned earlier that you went to college, that you got married, taught school—

RD:

Well, I have one child and I have two granddaughters. My daughter is a dental hygienist here. She works in Asheboro, [North Carolina]. I have two granddaughters who graduated from UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro]. One went on to get her master's degree in social work. She's working for a kidney center in Georgia. She got married two years ago and her husband is teaching German there. My youngest granddaughter I'm very proud of too, because she is going to graduate from Campbell [University, in Buies Creek, North Carolina] with her law degree in May. And that's the extent of my family. I have a brother I'm very proud of. He served in the navy. He served on the [USS] Henson. And I have a nephew here in Greensboro that came down here to stay with me and decided this was a lovely place, and he is now a detective on the police force here.

HT:

Well, Marie, I think those are all the questions that I have for you right now. I really appreciate this very much. It's just been wonderful listening to your stories. Again, thank you so much.

RD:

You're welcome.

[End of interview]