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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Margaret W. Reeve, 1999

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Object ID: WV0021.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Margaret "Peggy" W. Reeve’s service with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1944 to 1945 and her career as a secretary.

Summary:

Reeve discusses her decision to join the WAC in the spring of 1944, including her failure to meet other branches’ height requirement; basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; drilling and marching; her uniform; her reflections on being in the South for the first time; experience as a married woman in the military; and details of her work in the personnel unit at Westover Field, Massachusetts, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, including the protection of payroll cash.

Other subjects include Reeve’s employment as a secretary before and after the war and her post-war education.

Creator: Margaret Wierum Reeve

Biographical Info: Margaret “Peggy” W. Reeve performed secretarial work in the Army Air Forces while serving with Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1944 to 1945.

Collection: Margaret (Peggy) Reeve 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:

Herman Trojanowski:

Today is January 22, 1999. I'm at the home of Mrs. Margaret Reeve to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection. Mrs. Reeve, could you say a word or two to see what your voice sounds like on this recorder?

[Tape paused]

HT:

Could you please tell me something about your life before joining the military, such as where you were born, where you grew up, where you went to high school, a little bit about your family life, and, if you worked before you went into the military, what type of work you did?

Margaret Reeve:

Well, let's see, before I went into the service, I was living in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with my mother. I had gotten married in 1941, and my husband was overseas—oh, he'd been there for two years—and I was living with my mother in Pittsfield. And I was doing secretarial work, and I guess kind of maybe a kind of boring job, [chuckling] and got this idea of going into the army. So, much to the horror of my family and my husband, I went on and went in, and got accepted, which was—I'm only four-eleven, and when I went for my medical exam the doctor said, “Well, you're perfectly healthy,” and so he passed me along in. But it was really kind of a disadvantage, because when I got down to basic training I couldn't keep in step, I was way behind; they didn't have shoes that fit me. But we made it all right.

HT:

Do you recall when you went into the military, the month and date perhaps?

MR:

It was March 30, 1944. And I got out on October 26, 1945.

HT:

And you say you worked in the secretarial area before you went in the service?

MR:

Right.

HT:

For whom did you work, do you recall?

MR:

I worked for Eaton Paper Corporation in Pittsfield.

HT:

Do you recall why you chose the branch of service that you did? I think you said you were in the WACs [Women's Army Corps].

MR:

Well, I tried the Marines and I tried the [U.S] Navy and I tried the Coast Guard, and I was too short for all of them. And the [U.S.] Army accepted me. [chuckling]

HT:

Now, by the time you went in, was it called the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps [WAAC] or was it just the Women's Army Corps, do you recall?

MR:

Just the Women's Army Corps. But then when I got in, then they started the Women's Army Air Force, it was called, and those were people that were assigned to air bases, and I was sent to Westover Field in Massachusetts.

HT:

So you were actually in the Women's Army Air Force.

MR:

Yeah.

HT:

What type of work did you do?

MR:

I still went on doing secretarial-type work. I think a Clerk 202 or something like that it was called.

HT:

Do you recall your first day of basic training? And what was that like?

MR:

Terrible. [chuckling] Well, let's see, we left from Pittsfield, and I think there were about six girls, I didn't know any of them, and we went on a troop train to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. And I think that probably took overnight at least. Let's see, it was in May, April/May, and it was hot down there in Georgia, and I was not used to hot weather. It was hot and muggy. I figured that six weeks, that basic training, was the worst thing I ever went through. As I look back on it, I think it was probably pretty valuable. It was a valuable experience to get.

HT:

Was this the first time you'd ever been away from home?

MR:

No, I had gone to boarding school. I had two years of boarding school.

HT:

Oh? And where was that?

MR:

In Lincoln School, in Providence, Rhode Island. But it's quite a cultural shock to find yourself in a barracks with fifty other women and two feet between your bed and the next bed.

HT:

I can imagine so. And was that your first time that you'd ever gone south?

MR:

Yeah, it was my first experience in the South, too.

HT:

Do you recall what your reaction was to the South at that time?

MR:

Well, of course, it was new to me. I remember that one of the first leaves we had we were near Chattanooga [Tennessee], and I went there. I was by myself and I was walking around the town, and evidently I'd gotten into the black section, and some lady there said that I shouldn't really be walking around in that area of town.

HT:

Were you afraid at that time, do you recall?

MR:

No, I wasn't. I guess maybe I should have been, but I wasn't. [chuckling] And then one time, I remember the first time I had gotten on a bus. There were seats in the back, so I went to sit in the back, and they said I couldn't sit in the back. And that was a new experience.

HT:

Do you recall anything unusual happening to you while you were in basic training in—I think you said it was in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia?

MR:

Well, I had a terrible time marching. I couldn't keep in step, and my shoes didn't fit, and I finally got absolutely enormous blisters on the bottom of my feet. So I had to go on sick call and I was excused from marching, which I think everybody was glad. Because the poor corporal that was trying to train us, why, she'd take me out after five o'clock at night, you know, out to practice by myself, to see if I could learn to march. [chuckling] And I think they were all very glad when I got blisters on my feet.

HT:

And you said that you were already married when you entered the service. Is that correct?

MR:

Yes.

HT:

How did your husband and family and friends and co-workers feel about you doing this?

MR:

Well, I think they were all surprised or something. My husband, I wrote and told him. I asked him about doing it, and he wrote back and said, “For goodness sakes, no.” And I had already done it by then, so that was a little late. [chuckling]

HT:

I assume your husband was overseas at the time?

MR:

Yeah.

HT:

And he was in the military?

MR:

Yeah, he was in the air force. He was stationed in Britain, in England.

HT:

Do you think his being in the air force had any influence on you joining that particular branch of the army?

MR:

No. It was the only one I could get in. My grandfather was very proud of me. I remember he wrote me a very nice letter and was very proud of what I had done. But my mother was kind of saddened. My father had died when I was five, so he wasn't in the picture at all.

HT:

At that time, many of the recruiting posters mentioned that if a woman joined a particular branch of the service it would free a man up for combat. Did you view your enlistment in this particular way?

MR:

No, I don't think so.

HT:

And I think you said that you entered the military in Massachusetts? That's where you actually—?

MR:

Yeah, I went in.

HT:

And then were you sent down to Georgia right away?

MR:

Yeah, went directly from Massachusetts to Georgia.

HT:

Do you recall anything specific about your first day that stands out, other than the heat?

MR:

Oh, I guess just general—I don't know what you'd call it, bafflement or something. You were just rushed around from one place to another, and this pile of clothes given to you and a bunk assigned to you. It's just kind of hazy in my memory, really.

HT:

And after you left basic training, where were you stationed for the rest of your career?

MR:

From Oglethorpe I went up to Westover Field in Massachusetts, which was right near my home. It's near Springfield, Massachusetts.

HT:

And what type of work did you do when you were in the service? I think you said secretary?

MR:

Secretary. I went into this office, a personnel group, and I was with them the whole time I was in the service. See, we were even moved as a unit down to Seymour Johnson in Goldsboro, [North Carolina], as a separation center. In '45 that must have been.

HT:

Can you tell me something about the type of work you did?

MR:

Well, it was, oh, mainly typing out forms. And it happened to be a pay office, which was kind of amusing. The soldiers were paid in cash, actual cash, and the money would be piled on the desk. And the chief, there was a chief warrant officer, and myself, and this gun on the table. [chuckling]

HT:

You actually had a gun on the table next to the cash?

MR:

Yeah, next to the cash. I think the soldiers would come in and get paid.

HT:

And why was the gun there, do you recall?

MR:

Well, I suppose in case somebody decided to run off with a bag of the money. I suppose that was it.

HT:

And did you have training with guns?

MR:

No, none at all. It was mainly for the chief warrant officer. But they used to kid me about the gun. [chuckling]

HT:

And do you recall what your rank was at this time?

MR:

I got up as far as a corporal.

HT:

Corporal?

MR:

I took the exams to officer training, but I was too short. They wouldn't accept me for officer training, but I got up to being a corporal. And they were a real nice group of men that I worked with.

HT:

So you enjoyed your work?

MR:

Yeah, I enjoyed the work.

HT:

Do you think that you were treated equally with the men who had the same position?

MR:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination because you were a woman?

MR:

Not that I remember, no.

HT:

How about any kind of special treatment?

MR:

I think I was treated very well. You know, I was the only girl in that group of men. They all treated me very, very nicely. They were a nice bunch of—In fact, I found out after a few weeks in that office that the man, the lieutenant in that office, and I had been in kindergarten together in New York City. [chuckling] I don't know how we discovered that.

HT:

And do you recall how long you were in the military?

MR:

Well, it was from March of '44 to October of '45. It was about a year and half.

HT:

Do you recall what the food was like in those days?

MR:

It was terrible. Terrible. And then you had KP [kitchen patrol]. Every once in a while you'd have to go on KP. And something you had to do was called “cleaning out the grease pit,” and that was awful. I mean, they had these enormous pots and pans and things that you'd have to wash. So you hated to be on KP. I guess you maybe got it once a month. And then when we got assigned to that permanent base, you did some marching. Every once in a while they'd take you out kind thing, but it was probably some regulation that they had to do a certain amount. And you had to keep your barracks absolutely immaculate. And they'd have inspection on Saturday morning. You had to learn how to make your bunk so tight that they could bounce a quarter on it and it would bounce up, if the sergeant or whoever was doing the inspection would come along and drop it.

HT:

Were there many women on base with you?

MR:

Yeah, there was quite a—I guess there were about three or four barracks, I think, of women. Westover Field wasn't a very big installation.

HT:

What type of military base was this?

MR:

I think it was probably a—I don't know what we could call it, where the air force went overseas—well, whatever you would call that. It was a base where they flew from there to England.

HT:

Was it a training base, do you recall?

MR:

Well, I don't think it was exactly a training base, because it was more for soldiers that were going overseas. Seymour Johnson down in Goldsboro, that was a separation center, so that was soldiers coming back from overseas. And we had to fill out all these—we sat at desks and filled out all these papers for them. That was another hot experience in the South, because I was there in the summertime and it was really hot, and we had to wear our full uniforms.

HT:

What did you think of your uniforms?

MR:

Oh, I was looking at some pictures, and we really had quite a variety. We had a really nice dress that we could wear, and they had a winter dress, and then kind of a silk shantung tan dress that you could use for the summertime. And then we had different weight uniforms, a lightweight and a heavy, and a heavy overcoat. Yeah, I thought the uniform was great.

HT:

I've talked to several ladies who were in the navy during the Second World War and they are always very complimentary about their uniform, it fit so well, and it was designed by a New York fashion designer. Do you recall if your uniform was as fitted as the navy uniform?

MR:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I thought they were very nice-looking uniforms.

HT:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

MR:

No.

HT:

Do you recall what [was] the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

MR:

Marching. [chuckling] Marching well. And then we had exercise. We had exercise every day, but I kind of liked that. I didn't mind that.

HT:

Did you have to exercise in basic training and exercise once you got to your permanent duty station?

MR:

Yeah, even when we got to permanent we still were called out for exercise.

HT:

And I'll bet that was really tough during the heat.

MR:

Yeah, people would faint right and left, more when we were marching and had—well, what did they call—while you were waiting for something to happen? I can't think what it was called.

HT:

Well, I can remember being on parade.

MR:

Yeah, being on parade and people would faint.

HT:

—when I was in the air force, and it was rather hot in Charleston, South Carolina, where I was stationed. So I can relate to that very well. It's not the easiest thing to do, especially when you have—

MR:

All that full uniform, yeah.

HT:

We had our full-dress uniforms on and that sort of thing.

MR:

Yeah. I never did faint, but I've seen—people around me did.

HT:

Do you recall what [was] the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally?

MR:

I guess that first six basic weeks. I mean, there were some girls that just didn't make it. You know, it was a real culture shock. I guess that was the—you know, to keep going and stay in.

HT:

What was your most embarrassing moment while you were in the military? Do you recall?

MR:

No. I can remember a funny incident, but it wasn't—[chuckling]

HT:

Well, that will work.

MR:

Every time you'd change bases you had to go and get a medical exam. So when I went up—I think it was the time I went to Westover Field. You had to and get a—so I went to the medical place to get my exam. They gave me my little nightgown and put me up on the table, and I laid there for hours and hours and nothing happened. And I began to think, “Well, this is getting near supper time, and I've been waiting for hours.” I know you had to wait for everything, but—After a while, I thought, “Well, this is a little wild.” So I finally got up and trailed down the hall in my little nightgown. And they were completely surprised. They had forgotten I was there. [laughter] They had forgotten I was in the room, and they were absolutely flabbergasted. So they gave me my exam.

HT:

Do you recall how many hours you had to wait?

MR:

Oh, I'll bet I was there three hours.

HT:

Good grief!

MR:

Because it began to get late in the afternoon, and I thought, “This is a little beyond reasonable.”

HT:

Well, tell me a little bit about your social life. What did you ladies do for fun during your free time?

MR:

Well, there were movies and reading. I don't know, I can't really remember too much about it.

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite movies were from that period?

MR:

No.

HT:

What about your favorite songs?

MR:

No, I don't remember.

HT:

Do you feel that you made a positive contribution to the war effort?

MR:

Yeah, I would say so. Yeah, it was a worthwhile unit.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood or the climate was of the country during World War II? How did people feel about the war, and how did you and your family feel about the war?

MR:

Oh, I think they were in favor of it.

HT:

Many ladies have said that it was a very patriotic period of time.

MR:

Yeah, it was. I think that's one of the reasons you went in.

HT:

Right. Can you tell me something about some of the interesting people you met while you were in the military? And they don't have to be famous, they could be just some of your fellow workers who were interesting.

MR:

We had a real variety. One man was really very elegant, [chuckling] I'll say, from New York City, and he was very—and so entirely different from—Another man was an Irishman from Boston, and, you know, just entirely different people.

HT:

Were these fellow enlisted personnel?

MR:

Yeah, in this group that I worked with.

HT:

Have you kept in contact with any of your co-workers from this period of time?

MR:

No, I haven't. Right after the war, there was one girl that I did keep in contact with. Her husband and my husband, we all lived in the same area, near Manchester, New Hampshire, and I kept in touch with her for a while, but then it kind of fell off. We moved away and we didn't keep in contact.

HT:

Do you recall what you thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president?

MR:

Oh, he was wonderful.

HT:

Did you ever, by any chance, see him?

MR:

No.

HT:

What about Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt? What did you think of her?

MR:

She was wonderful, and I had met her. She was down here at Guilford College [in Greensboro, North Carolina] in nineteen—gosh, when was it? I worked for the American Friends Service Committee, and she was talking at Guilford College.

HT:

So you met her after the war?

MR:

Yeah. Oh, it must have been about 1957, I would say, or '58.

HT:

Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were during World War II?

MR:

I don't think I had any, really.

HT:

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

MR:

Yeah, I was up at Westover Field. We were very quickly—that was in June, wasn't it? I think it was June.

HT:

It might have been May.

MR:

Might have been May. And then we were transferred very quickly as a group down to Seymour Johnson. At the same time, my husband came back from England. He got back. He was sent to a separation center in Charleston, South Carolina, so we saw each other that summer quite a lot. And when he got his discharge, I was eligible to get mine. So I got mine in October.

HT:

So that was October of 1945?

MR:

Yeah.

HT:

After the war, were you encouraged to return to what people would call the traditional female role, married life, housewife—?

MR:

Yeah, back to being married life and back to being secretaries. [chuckling]

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after the regimen of military life?

MR:

I guess it was all right. I guess I enjoyed it.

HT:

What type of impact did the military have on your life immediately after the war and then in the long term, or did it have any kind of impact?

MR:

Well, I guess I appreciated non-military life, you might say. But as I look back on it, I thought it was a very valuable experience, the discipline and—it was a valuable experience.

HT:

And did it help you live the rest of your life in a different fashion than it would have been if you had not been in the military?

MR:

Oh, I think I always thought, “If I could live through basics, I can live through anything.” That was rough.

HT:

Do you think your life has been any different because you were in the military?

MR:

I don't think so. Maybe I learned more about discipline.

HT:

Would you do it again?

MR:

Yeah, I would do it again.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person, or did the military make you this way, or were you independent before you went into the service?

MR:

I think I was independent before, and I have been since. [laughter] I don't think I ever would have gone in if I hadn't been independent.

HT:

Did you consider yourself a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the military? Looking back now, do you consider yourself any of these?

MR:

No, I don't think so.

HT:

Do you consider yourself and other women who joined the military to have been forerunners of what we today call the women's movement?

MR:

Yeah, I think in a way they might have started it a little bit.

HT:

I've read recently that there was a slander campaign against the WACs in the spring of 1943. Do you recall what the general public and family and men—the perception of women who were in the military was at that time?

MR:

I don't think so. I know some people were a little surprised when I went in, but, you know—because we did hear some rumors. Of course, my husband was very against my going in, but—

HT:

You did it anyway. [chuckling]

MR:

I did it anyway. [chuckling] See, that's independence.

HT:

That's right. And that took guts. Have any of your children ever been in the military?

MR:

I never had any children, so I didn't have that problem.

HT:

How do you feel about women in combat positions? I know recently, in December of 1998, some women flew combat missions over Iraq. Do you favor this sort of thing?

MR:

Yes, I think if you're going to be in, you might as well be able to do—not get favored treatment.

HT:

Is there anything else you'd like to add about your military service, any kind of stories, anything unusual that might have happened while you were either in basic or at one of your duty stations, an interesting story? It can be about anything.

MR:

I think I've told you quite a few. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, that's fine. Well, can you tell me something about what your life has been like since you left the military? What type of work did you do and where have you lived?

MR:

Well, let me see, after our discharge, we were up in Boston, Massachusetts, and then we went—My husband was with a textile company, so we got transferred to South Carolina, Anderson, South Carolina. I went back to college on my military—

HT:

Under the GI Bill.

MR:

Under the GI Bill, yeah.

HT:

So your being in the military helped you in that way.

MR:

Yeah.

HT:

That was very nice. Were there many women who—Let me backtrack just a second. Where did you go to college after the war?

MR:

It was Anderson Junior College in Anderson, South Carolina.

HT:

Were there other men and women veterans there at that time, do you recall?

MR:

Yeah, I think there were quite a few.

HT:

And what did you study?

MR:

I just took a regular college course, a liberal arts course.

HT:

And did you get your bachelor's degree?

MR:

No, it was just a two-year college, and my husband got transferred. I think I did about a year and a half, then he got transferred, so I didn't—Then I went back to college here in Greensboro at UNC [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro] when I was fifty-one. [chuckling] I don't know, I didn't go on the GI Bill then, I think I just paid.

HT:

So do you have a degree from UNCG?

MR:

No, I went through the catalogue and would take courses. I got about forty-eight credits, but I've never finished. I got down to the point where I was going to have to take math or science or something, so I quit. [chuckling]

HT:

And what type of degree were you working toward at UNCG?

MR:

If they had offered a liberal arts degree, which they didn't at that point, I would have. But I would have had to have taken a required math course and a required science course. And somebody offered me a nice secretarial job, so I went and took that.

HT:

So you worked as a secretary after that?

MR:

Yeah.

HT:

For a number of years?

MR:

Yeah, always have. I like being a secretary. I still do it volunteer. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, Mrs. Reeve, I don't have any more questions right now. I really do thank you for talking with me today. Is there anything you'd like to add about your military service that you can think of that was outstanding in your mind?

MR:

I enjoyed it, I guess. Parts of it were very difficult, the first six weeks, that basic training. But when I got up to Westover Field and all, I was near home, it was a nice job, and, you know—

HT:

I know that there is a WAVE [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] unit here in town, a group of ladies who were in the navy during that time, and they sort of have monthly meetings and that sort of thing.

MR:

Yeah.

HT:

Are you aware of a WAC organization like that?

MR:

No, there isn't any.

HT:

Do you know of any other WACs in the area that we should contact, perhaps?

MR:

No.

HT:

Well, again, thank you so much. I really appreciate this. Thanks so much.

MR:

Well, you're welcome.

[End of interview]