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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Elna Allran Jones, 1999

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Object ID: WV0023.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Elna Allran Jones’s early life; her service with the Cadet Nurse Corps and Army Nurse Corps (ANC); and her post-World War II career as a nurse.

Summary:

Jones discusses her parents and her background, then comments on her decision to join the Cadet Nurse Corps and subsequent training and decision to join the ANC. She describes basic training at Camp Rucker; her assignment to Battey General Hospital in Georgia; and her duties at Fort Benning, Georgia. Of particular interest is her description of treating German prisoners of war and American soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Other topics include riding troop trains with wounded soldiers while stationed at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey; hospital facilities and staff; her hours, uniform, and off-duty activities as a member of the ANC; and her reflections on the general climate and culture of the United States during World War II.

Jones also describes her employment as a nurse at many facilities, including Harborview Hospital in Seattle, the Children's Home in Winston-Salem, Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, and the Greensboro School for the Deaf. She also describes her personal life, especially her conversion to Christianity.

Creator: Elna Violet Allran Jones

Biographical Info: Elna Violet Allran Jones of Hickory, North Carolina, served in the Cadet Nurse Corps and Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in the 1940s, followed by a twenty year career in nursing.

Collection: Elna Allran Jones 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:

HT:

[My name is Hermann Trojanowski] and today is February 12, 1999. I'm at the home of Mrs. Elna Jones in Greensboro to do an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Oral History Project at UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro].

Mrs. Jones, if you could tell me your maiden name and where you were born and a little bit about your childhood, and we will use this as a test to make sure that this thing is working properly this morning.

EJ:

My maiden name is Allran, Elna Violet Allran. I was born in Hickory, North Carolina to Annie Lee Rowe Allran and Austin Murphy Allran. My father died when I was two years old, leaving my twenty-six-year-old mother a widow with four children, [ages] five, four, two, and one. She struggled really hard to raise us. My father was a veteran of World War I. He was in the navy where he contracted tuberculosis while he was in the submarine. Tuberculosis was the cause of his death. Back then they didn't have penicillin or antibiotics. My mother did get a widow's pension from the government and so much for each child as long as we continued in school. I graduated from Hickory High School in 1940. I worked in the McIlans [McKillans?] 5&10 store after school, and I did a lot of babysitting to make spending money. I went one year to Lenior-Rhyne College [in Hickory, North Carolina], and then I went to Charlotte Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. I think it was my junior year that the Cadet Nurse [Corps] program came into existence. I joined the Cadet Nurse program, which finished paying for our education. Not all the students in our class joined the CNC. I graduated from nurses' training in July of '45. Well, you said something about childhood, I'm going on and on—

HT:

That's fine.

[tape paused]

HT:

Mrs. Jones, you mentioned that you had gone into the Cadet Nurse Corps for training. Do you recall when that was, what month and what year?

EJ:

Oh, goodness, no.

HT:

Was that in 1945, perhaps, sometime?

EJ:

No, because I graduated in '45. So it must have been in '44, '43 or '44.

HT:

And how long did the Cadet Nurse program last?

EJ:

Well, till I finished training. I don't know if it went on—Yes, I think it did go on for students under me, because I remember some of them that were in it.

HT:

How long was your training?

EJ:

The nurses' training was three years, so it must have been a year and a half I was in the Cadet Corps. I went to CMH School of Nursing in 1942 and was sick—had pneumonia twice—they thought I had TB because my father had died of tuberculosis, and kept me in the hospital testing me. I coughed a lot. So I missed a lot of classes and I dropped out for six months and came in with the next class.

HT:

And I think you said the Cadet Nurse Corp training that you received was in Charlotte, North Carolina, at Charlotte Memorial.

EJ:

Yes.

HT:

And after you finished your training, what happened next to you?

EJ:

I went right into the service. I thought I was signing a paper that said I would be interested in the Army Nurse Corps, but I must have been signing one that I wanted to join [chuckling] because I got a telegram—You know, I've still got that telegram. Would you like to have that?

HT:

Sure.

EJ:

I believe that's in there in another scrapbook, a telegram telling me—to report to a certain place for a physical and so forth. There were four girls from my class that were cadet nurses who went in at the same time I did.

HT:

And so you joined—?

EJ:

In July '45.

HT:

Well, I guess willingly, but you didn't really know that you were joining.

EJ:

Well, I was interested in joining, but—[chuckling] I thought I had signed something saying that I was interested. When I got the telegram my mother said, “No, this is not if you are interested. You're in. This is an order from the government to go.” These other friends of mine got their orders also, so we all went in together. We reported to Camp Rucker, Alabama. We were there for a month's basic training, when the war was over! When did they declare the war was over? Was it—

HT:

VE [Victory in Europe] Day was in—I think it was May of 1945, and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day was in August. I believe that's correct. Does that sound right?

EJ:

It must have been August then, because we entered in July. We had finished basic training, and we were having a cocktail party celebrating graduation, when the captain came rushing into the room and screamed, “The war is over!” And everybody yelled. But we had to stay in the service at least two years.

HT:

Right, you were committed for two years then.

EJ:

Right, committed for two years. So my first assignment was Battey General Hospital in Rome, Georgia. I don't remember how long I stayed there, but then I was sent to Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. I don't know how long I was at Ft. Benning—oh yes, it was in December because it was my first Christmas away from home. When Bing Crosby sang White Christmas we all got so homesick. Then I was transferred to the New York Port of Embarkation.

We checked in up there and were stationed at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. There we were assigned wards on the post and did train duty and ship duty. I wanted to get a trip to Germany to pick up wounded and bring them back, but I was assigned train duty. When I came back, there was a note on my pillow from my roommate saying she was going to Germany. So she got the trip to Germany while I was gone so I missed that one. At the New York Port of Embarkation we picked up carloads of wounded servicemen as they were being shipped home. The Red Cross helped with all engineering of that. But each nurse had one carload of wounded. They were in bunks, and we had the drawing room. We took wounded from the New York Port of Embarkation off of the ship to hospitals nearest their homes. I took some to Dallas, Texas, some to St. Louis, Missouri, others to Atlanta, Georgia. And let's see—where else did I go? It seems like I went to New Orleans, took a group down that way. Anyway those were some of the trips that I took—plus working on the post at Camp Kilmer when I wasn't out on a train.

HT:

How many wounded guys were you responsible for on these train trips?

EJ:

Oh, let me see. Goodness, I don't remember. How many would a carload hold? It had to be at least twenty.

HT:

And did you have any kind of help from corpsmen or—?

EJ:

Yes, we had corpsmen and WACs [Women's Army Corps] that helped. We had some that were getting IVs [intravenous therapy], some that were in splints and some that were in casts, and some that were emotionally disturbed.

HT:

Were there doctors along as well?

EJ:

Yes.

HT:

Do you have any idea how many of these trips you made? I mean, was this constantly? You'd finish one—?

EJ:

No, you would do one, and then you would work there at the hospital until another trip would come up and they would assign you. Probably about six.

HT:

That's very interesting. So this would have been in 1945 and '46 that you did this sort of work?

EJ:

Right.

HT:

And when did you get out of the service?

EJ:

Forty-seven, July of '47. After two years I was promoted to a first lieutenant, and if I had stayed in eighteen months longer I could have been a captain. And I wonder what life would have been had I made a career out of it.

HT:

Did you ever think about making it a career?

EJ:

Well, no, I was anxious to get out because at that time I was in love with a fellow that I had written to the whole time I was in the service—I must have had a stack of letters. I wanted to go home because he was out. He had already been discharged from the air force.

HT:

If we could just backtrack just a little bit, why did you choose the Army Nurse Corps as opposed to the Navy Nurse Corps?

EJ:

I think because they were in need at the time. I don't think they were enlisting nurses in the navy or the air force at that time. But after I was in and out, I regretted that I didn't go into the navy or air force.

HT:

Really? So you did have that option?

EJ:

I'm not sure if I had an option or not. At that time I think they were just taking them into the army.

HT:

Do you recall anything about your basic training days? Like what was it like to have—Of course, you were regimented, and as a cadet nurse I'm sure you had certain [regimentation]. But I'm sure boot camp in the army must have been even more regimented.

EJ:

Oh yes! We had to get up early in the morning, 5:00 a.m., and take calisthenics, which was great for us. We had to go on long hikes, marching, in cadence count—1, 2, 3, hup. And we had a gas mask and had to go through the gas chambers. It seemed like it was this big old building that we went in one side and came out the other, and had to learn how to put a gas mask on, kneel down and put it on. Oh, what else did we do? That's about all I can remember. [chuckling] This is not on there, is it?

HT:

Yes.

EJ:

Oh, is it? Oh, my goodness.

HT:

Yes. Now, you were already a registered nurse by this time?

EJ:

Right. We just learned the basics of army life.

HT:

And you were a lieutenant, I think you said?

EJ:

Right, registered nurses were inducted into the service as officers, second lieutenants.

HT:

As a lieutenant. And I think you had mentioned before we turned the tape recorder on that during basic training you had drill sergeants who were enlisted men.

EJ:

Right.

HT:

Did you have any female officers or female drill sergeants at all?

EJ:

No, not at that time.

HT:

How did the drill sergeants who were men treat you ladies? Was that strange to be ordered around by a man, or—?

EJ:

No, they were really nice. I think they kidded us a lot, but they were nice. There were two of them and one showed the right way to do things and the other showed you what happens when you do it wrong.

HT:

Now, of course you were already registered nurses, as I said earlier, so you didn't have to go to classes or anything like that?

EJ:

No, not for the nursing part.

HT:

Did you have to learn how to shoot a gun?

EJ:

No, we didn't. They didn't teach us that. I guess by being nurses we would be in the field taking care of the wounded, and hopefully not in battle.

HT:

Did you say that basic lasted a month?

EJ:

Yes, a month.

HT:

Did you ever have any free time while you were in basic training? Did you go out on the town for dancing or movies or anything like that, or was it basically all day long and all weekend long?

EJ:

We had movies and an officers' club where we had snacks, drinks, and played cards—or whatever you wanted to do evenings.

HT:

And was this the first time you had been away from home?

EJ:

Yes, except for while in nurse's training.

HT:

Of course, you had been—I think you had done your cadet nurses training in Charlotte, North Carolina, so—

EJ:

Yes, Charlotte was where Charlotte Memorial Hospital School of Nursing was located, and that's close to Hickory, where I was born and raised. As a matter of fact, I believe the first time I'd ever ridden a train was when I rode the train to go down to Camp Rucker, Alabama. No, Mother said she took us when we were little on the train to Oteen. My father was in Oteen, North Carolina, with his tuberculosis, and she took us on a train to go to see him when we were little. But I think that's probably the first time I had been anywhere away from home.

HT:

How did that feel?

EJ:

[chuckling] I was probably glad to get away from home, being out on your own. And of course I was only eighteen, so—No, wait a minute, I had to be older than that. I had to be twenty-one, I had graduated by then.

HT:

So your mother did not have to sign for you to join the Army Nurse Corps?

EJ:

No.

HT:

How did your mother feel about you serving in the Army Nurse Corps? Do you recall?

EJ:

I think she was kind of proud.

HT:

And family and friends?

EJ:

Yes, they were all excited. My brother was in the air force—he was a major when the war was over. As a matter of fact, my mother used to keep clippings out of the paper. Every time I would come home for a visit. She had all these clippings in her scrapbook. When she died and I was looking at it, I noticed all these clippings—“Seen Along Main Drag” in the Hickory paper. “Lieutenant Elna Allran, home for a weekend visit,” or something like that was always in the paper. [chuckling]

HT:

Do you remember anything specific about your first day in boot camp? Other ladies have said they remember getting injections and being issued their uniforms and that sort of thing. Anything stand out in your mind?

EJ:

Well, I think as nurses we had already had our injections. I know in nursing school when I first went in, they drew blood out my arm, the first time that had ever been done, and I fainted. So that wasn't new to us in the service. But I remember those boots, that we had to wear when we marched, really felt heavy and big. [chuckling] But the fatigues that we wore were completely comfortable.

HT:

Well, speaking of clothing that you were issued, do you recall what the uniforms looked like, and were they comfortable and that sort of thing?

EJ:

Oh yes. The hospital uniform, you see in those pictures, was a little wrap-around seersucker dress, cool and comfortable. But of course when we were off duty, our uniform was a dress suit which was sort of a olive drab—probably gabardine. It was really neat, like most of the service personnel wore. We had our lieutenant bars on the shoulders and the caduceus [symbol of the medical profession] was pinned on the collar of both uniforms.

HT:

And were they nicely tailored and fit real well?

EJ:

Yes, I thought so.

HT:

Because I've heard some ladies mention that sometimes the uniforms didn't fit real well if they were real tall perhaps or something like that.

EJ:

Well, our uniforms looked nice, I thought. I wore an average size 14 back then and it seemed a perfect fit to me.

HT:

Did you enjoy your work?

EJ:

Yes, I loved it. I loved taking care of the wounded. [chuckling] A funny thing happened—I probably shouldn't tell this, though. On my first assignment in the service, I was new and very naïve, as I was making rounds through the wards to meet my patients, I walked into a ward that had seventeen beds in a row down both sides of the ward—thirty-four patients in one ward. All young GIs. As I got right in the middle of the group, one of the GIs said, “Hey, lieutenant, can you touch your elbows behind your back?” And I thought, “Well, sure.” So I stretched back and touched my elbows behind my back. All 34 GIs chorused, “Hubba hubba!” [laughter] I was so embarrassed, I know my face was red. I was so embarrassed. I learned my lesson fast that day. And that was my first experience of what guys were going to be like.

I used to be real shy, and I thought my nose was too long. I wanted it to be turned up, so I'd tape it up at night with tape when I'd go to bed. [chuckling] My mother used to say, when I was a little girl, “Poor little Elna, she looks just like her Aunt Chancey.” And my Aunt Chancey was not a very pretty woman. So I thought I was so homely. And when I went into the service, some of the guys coming back from overseas hadn't seen American girls in a long time and they thought I was the cutest thing on two feet! So I got to thinking I was really cute! That got me out of my shell. [chuckling]

HT:

So that was a very good experience for you.

EJ:

I guess—[chuckling]

HT:

Were there any men in the same position as you in the Army Nurse Corps, or was it all women?

EJ:

All women then. I don't think they had male nurses back then; if so, very few.

HT:

So they just had men corpsmen.

EJ:

They had corpsmen, yes.

HT:

Which was sort of like a nurse's aide, I guess, that sort of thing.

EJ:

Nurse's aide, right. And they were good. A lot of our patients were on penicillin, and the corpsmen gave the penicillin shots. As a matter of fact, I was assigned to five wards, and the corpsmen took care of them. I just made rounds and kept records and was in charge of it.

HT:

So you were in charge of the corpsmen?

EJ:

Right.

HT:

And then, of course, was there a doctor in charge of you, or was there a head nurse?

EJ:

Right, there was always a doctor. And there was a head nurse over the whole thing, but we were over so many wards. I had one ward of garrison prisoners, one which were German prisoners, one psychiatric ward, and—

HT:

Oh, German?

EJ:

German prisoners. We had a load of those. I remember schlafen. One of them wanted a schlafen, a sleeping pill. I don't know why I remember schlafen, but some of them we could understand.

HT:

What's a garrison prisoner?

EJ:

Garrison prisoners were our own prisoners.

HT:

Oh, I see. And this was at Camp Rucker?

EJ:

No, it wasn't at Rucker. That was just basic training at Rucker. I was only there a month, and then I went to Battey General, which was a little hospital in Rome, Georgia. It was real interesting. There is a place in Rome, Georgia, called—Knox Berry Farm? I think that was the name. It was some kind of a school where students ran it. They worked the farm and managed the village and shops. We would ride bicycles over there on our time off. I don't remember how long I was there. They closed Battey General Hospital when we were sent to Ft. Benning. That must have been at Fort Benning. Yes, I believe it was at Fort Benning where we had the garrison and German prisoners. Because Fort Benning was and still is one of our main army bases. This was the time I had five wards. I had garrison prisoners in one ward, German prisoners in another ward, and a psychiatric ward. Now that was really sad. There was a little eighteen-year-old boy climbing the fence—They were in a cage-like room and locked in. They would climb up on the fence and cry out. And the poor little fellow had just lost his mind. Some of the others were more normal.

HT:

I guess it was the result of battle fatigue and that sort of thing?

EJ:

Yes, I think so, it was sad.

HT:

How were the German prisoners of war treated?

EJ:

Oh, they were treated well. And, you know, they were nice. They were nice young people. It was sad. Some of them were doctors. They were either in doctors' training or—I mean going to be doctors or they were doctors. Some of them could speak English. Some spoke broken English, some of them couldn't speak English at all. They were well treated.

HT:

Did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination because you were a woman while you were doing your duty as an army nurse?

EJ:

I don't think as a nurse you would, because nurses are different, by that I mean have always been nurses. I think as WACs or WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] it would probably make a difference. That was a new field altogether. But no, we were nurses to them and we were called “angels of mercy” many times.

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing moments, funny, hilarious?

EJ:

Well, that one about the “hubba hubba” was embarrassing.

HT:

That was pretty good. [chuckling]

EJ:

That was an embarrassing moment, and my first experience. Let's see, what else happened?

Oh, I remember one time, which was kind of ugly I guess, what you might say pulling my rank. One time I was making my rounds and went into the prison ward. The door was open, the door was unlocked, and I walked in. The sergeant that was supposed to be taking care of that unit was in there. He had left the door open, and they were sitting there playing cards or something. And I could just walk up and grab his gun out of his holster. And I really let into him for leaving the door unlocked and open like that. I think he really got upset at me because I let into him for leaving the gate open, and sitting there so vulnerable. Anybody could have come in, or escaped, or taken his gun.

HT:

Speaking of these wards, were these hospital wards? I mean were they temporary barracks, or what were they?

EJ:

They were sort of a temporary barracks hospital ward. If I remember right, as you come into the corridor, there were some offices on each side, like the nurse's office, the corpsmen's office, the treatment and medicine room, and the doctor's office. At the end of the corridor was a huge gate, or double doors, with bars, that opened into the prison area. In there was sort of a day room, and then there were cubical rooms for patients and latrines on both sides. Meals were served in the day room. These prisoners were hospitalized for minor problems.

HT:

And so there was just one building like this?

EJ:

Well, the whole hospital had sections like these. It was a long, long barracks, and they had different sections depending on types of patients. Medical and surgical wards did not have locked gates. They were open into the long room with rows of beds and at end was a screened-in porch and doors on the sides opened into the yard areas between wards, like Ward A [Medical], Ward B [Surgical], etc.

HT:

I see, so it was not like a civilian hospital where you had different floors for various wards and that sort of thing?

EJ:

No, there were no upstairs. It was all on ground level.

HT:

It was more like an army barracks?

EJ:

Probably so.

HT:

Had to be converted probably.

EJ:

I guess. Anyway, it was long sections separated into various wards.

HT:

What was a typical day like for you? What time did you have to report for duty, and how many days did you have to work straight, and that sort of thing?

EJ:

Let's see, I remember one time—Night shift back then was 7:00 p.m. at night till 7:00 a.m. in the morning, and day shift was 7:00 [a.m.] to 3:00 [p.m.] and 3:00 [p.m.] to 11:00 [p.m.]. And sometimes we worked the night shift, and sometimes we worked the day shift. I worked 7:00 to 3:00, I think, most of the time then.

HT:

And then did you work a regular forty-hour week, or was it longer than that?

EJ:

I expect it was a forty-hour week. I don't remember. I don't know when the forty-hour week started.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically? This could be either basic training or it could be while you were a cadet nurse, or it could be when you were in the Army Nurse Corps.

EJ:

Physically? I don't know, I guess we were pretty well—You know, we always had corpsmen, we always had orderlies in the hospital, male orderlies that came and took over the heavy stuff. I really don't remember doing anything strenuous. Sometimes we would help lift patients from stretcher to bed or vice versa, but we always had help.

HT:

What about emotionally? What was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally while you were in the service?

EJ:

Oh, seeing the suffering and the hurt that young soldiers were going through. You wanted to hurt for them. Some of them were so badly wounded that you just—wanted to cry for them. I don't know how to express it. It was very emotional, to see these young men come back home—some with a limb or two missing, faces disfigured, blind, paralyzed, and even shell-shocked. In some cases, death may have been welcomed. It was sad.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid?

EJ:

[pause] No, not other than afraid of dark corridors or something like that. I wasn't afraid of anybody or of anything I had to do.

HT:

Were you ever in any kind of physical danger?

EJ:

I don't think so. I guess if I had been overseas during battle—This was after the war.

HT:

Can you tell me something about your social life and what you nurses did for fun when you weren't taking care of the patients?

EJ:

[chuckling] Well, we went into town and shopped. They had bicycles on the base, so we used to do a lot of bicycle riding. And I used to sit and write a lot—my hobby is writing. During that time I sat and wrote a lot of poetry. I loved movies, and they always had good movies on the base. They had the officers' club where we could go for snacks and play cards and fellowship, stuff like that.

HT:

Now, you were an officer. Were you allowed to date enlisted men?

EJ:

Then we could, yes. Yes. During the war that was a real strict thing. You couldn't date noncom[-missioned] officers. But soon after the war was over they let that ban down. And we wore civilian clothes when we went out, too, if we wanted to.

HT:

Oh, you did? Because I know it was real strict during the war. I've talked with several others and they said you wore your military clothes all the time.

EJ:

Yes, while you were in the service I think you did all during the war, and during the first year I was in. But after I got up to the New York Port of Embarkation about—in '47 or so, they lifted that ban. They might have continued to be strict in some places, depending on the base where you were.

HT:

You talked earlier about going to movies and that sort of thing. Do you recall what your favorite movies and favorite songs and dances were from those days?

EJ:

Oh, yes. All the Shirley Temple movies I loved, all of the Jimmy Stewart movies I loved. A couple of my favorites were The Glenn Miller Story and the Spirit of St. Louis. And of course all of those musicals we loved with Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Liz Taylor, and things like that. They were my favorite movies. And Frank Sinatra, of course. Back then, he was the one our age was squealing at! The bobby-sockers!

HT:

Did you ever have a chance to meet any of these people in person?

EJ:

No, I didn't. But when I was in New York City at a nightclub once, someone approached me and asked if I was Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters. They thought I looked like Patty Andrews. Twice I was asked if I was Patty Andrews. They did a lot of singing in uniform during the war, entertaining troops overseas. Yes, I loved those good old songs back then, Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me, and White Cliffs of Dover, and Coming in on a Wing and A Prayer. Those were good old songs. They brought back memories when I went to the meeting for women in the service at the UNCG alumni house.

HT:

The luncheon?

EJ:

Yes. They played all that good old music. Oh, it was wonderful just to hear all that good music again! They don't know what good music is today, do they? Begin the Beguine. Great band music!

HT:

Do you recall what the mood or feeling or the climate of the country was during the war and then right after the war?

EJ:

Well, that's something we are missing so much today, patriotism. I mean, we loved our country and we fought for our country, but people don't seem to have that feeling anymore. It was sort of like—I don't know, I guess—We were proud of our servicemen and proud of our country. There's just not much “love of country” expressed anymore. The Vietnam War probably caused a lot of that. I don't know. I worked at Camp Dogwood for the blind in the summertime as a camp nurse since '79 for five years, and then I went back when I retired. The campers are blind people from all over North Carolina ranging in ages from six to a hundred and one. We have college students that work as counselors. And through a program called “Camp America” we have several foreigners. Last year we had three from England, one from Finland, and three from Russia—

[interview interrupted, tape paused]

HT:

I think we were talking about the mood and climate of the country when the phone rang.

EJ:

Oh, the campers and the counselors that came over. They said that Americans had a double standard, that we preach one thing and live another, and that our country has lots of killing and a lot of crime over here. They would rather live here than in their own countries but it was interesting to hear them give their opinion of what they thought of us. But in spite of our weaknesses and shortcomings and double standards, I still think we've got a great country.

HT:

I agree with that.

EJ:

And I wish that Americans would respect it more.

HT:

That's so true. Well, do you feel you made a contribution to the war effort? Of course you went in rather late, but you were sort of in the transition between the war and afterwards. Can you tell me your feelings about the kind of contribution you made?

EJ:

Well, I don't know much about what contribution I made, but I hope I helped and comforted those who needed me. I do have some letters that were written. They wrote them to the CO [commanding officer] of the hospital, and he gave us copies of what the wounded wrote. He sent copies to the ones whose names were mentioned in the letters, of how much they appreciated the care we gave them. And I got letters from mothers whose sons were home and had told them about me, and they would write and thank me. That made you feel good. It made you feel like you had done something. Of course, I love people. That means a lot. We all need to be loved and we all need to be needed or wanted. So I felt like that might be a contribution.

HT:

That's true. Can you tell me something about some of the interesting people you met? They don't have to be famous, just some interesting people you met while you were either a cadet nurse or in the Army Nurse Corps?

EJ:

Well, let's see. I can't remember the fellow's name, but one of my patients had gangrene in his leg and they were going to remove it. I remember changing his dressing and almost threw up. I can still see it. But he would smile and he would try to keep a calm brave face, while underneath he must have felt fearful. He was only eighteen. Well, he was interesting because of what he was going through and how well he was trying to take it. And I remember Sergeant Berry. He was an older man who was an army career man who was badly wounded and was awaiting a medical discharge. He had a wonderful attitude and was so grateful for anything we did for him. His mother wrote a very nice letter to me for taking good care of him. He was probably in his late thirties.

I remember a doctor that was interesting. He was an ear, nose, and throat [ENT] specialist, a captain who was so gruff and rude. He talked to the patients awful. He was superior as far as his work was concerned. He was often flown to other posts to do ENT surgery because he was so brilliant. But half of my time working with him was spent soothing the patients, comforting them or apologizing for him. [chuckling] He was a brilliant man, but he had a terrible bedside manner.

HT:

Well, speaking of doctors, what was the general caliber of the doctors with whom you worked?

EJ:

Most of them were very good. I guess I was young enough then—Now I look at doctors different from what I did then. I thought they were all pretty good. Oh, I was thinking of something—it's slipped my mind now.

HT:

That's fine. What did you think of Franklin D. Roosevelt? Of course he died about the time that you entered the service.

EJ:

Was it about the time I entered the service?

HT:

He died in early '45.

EJ:

Did he die in '45? I thought he was a great man. I really thought he was one of our greatest presidents. I liked him.

HT:

And what about Mrs. Roosevelt?

EJ:

I think she was okay. I remember they were always jokes about her on the radio. They used to say—somebody would imitate President Roosevelt and would say, “I hate war, my son John hates war. My wife Eleanor, wherever you are, please come home.” [chuckling] She was always out doing her stuff. She did a lot of good, a smart lady.

HT:

And what about President Harry S. Truman?

EJ:

I loved him. I think he was a better president than most people realized. After he's been gone, they're appreciating him a lot more. He told it like it was and was just a plain down-to-earth man, but I think he was a good president.

HT:

Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were in those days?

EJ:

Oh, my, did we have them? [chuckling] Heroes. I don't know that I particularly had any heroes or heroines. Of course, in those days we idolized Frank Sinatra, but he wasn't a hero really. And a great lady? Who would be a great lady? I don't know.

HT:

Well, we'll just go on to another question. [chuckling] If you think of somebody, just let me know. Now, you got out of the Army Nurse Corps in 1947, I think you said.

EJ:

Yes.

HT:

And so were you encouraged to return to a traditional female role after that, like getting married and having a family and that sort of thing? Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life? After having been in the Cadet Nurse Corps, which was regimented, and then you were in the army and a lot of regimentation, that sort of thing, what was it like to get out? Did you go to work at a regular hospital?

EJ:

Yes, I had the travel bug by then. I wanted to travel, so I decided I would—Well, first I applied to work at a hospital in Panama Canal Zone, a government hospital. But I never did hear from them. Then, I got a postcard of Harborview Hospital from a friend of mine that was out in Seattle, Washington—it's a huge, big hospital. So I thought, well, I'll just go out to Seattle, and while I'm out there I'll visit Alaska and Hawaii and California. So I wrote and applied for a job and applied for a Washington state RN [registered nurse] license, and got the job out there. Oh, I'd been out there about a month, when the position opened up in Panama for me. Too late! I'd just accepted that position in Seattle, so I certainly wasn't going to leave it. So I didn't go to Panama, and I've often wondered what it would have been like if I had waited a little longer and gone to Panama. But I went to work at Harborview Hospital, which was the King County hospital, affiliated with the University of Washington. They had the University of Washington student nurses working there, and interns and residents from the University of Washington medical school. And I enjoyed the work there. I joined the Little Theater and did some amateur acting. Also went ice skating, boating, and skiing, and just had a great time in my early twenties.

I got married while I was out there and had a son, Richard Scott. That marriage didn't last. So, when he was about two and a half, I moved back to North Carolina and went to work at the orphanage in Winston-Salem, called the Children's Home. It was a Methodist children's home, and I enjoyed that a lot. I still hear from some of those kids. I still hear from those kids. They're sort of my kids, the ones that didn't have parents, and now they have grandchildren themselves.

HT:

And how long were you at the Children's Home in Winston-Salem?

EJ:

I was there for about five years. And my little son was able to live with me on campus. I was a housemother first to fifteen- and sixteen-year old boys. The second year I was houseparent to eight-, nine-, and ten-year old girls for two years. My last year I was houseparent to fifteen- and sixteen-year old girls. I left Winston-Salem because my son wanted a home of his own. He just didn't like living over there. He was about seven then. Cone Hospital was a newly built hospital in Greensboro, so I came over here and applied for a job, and got it, and moved to Greensboro in 1960. Later, I wanted to be a school nurse, so I applied for a scholarship at [The University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill. I had to go to Grimsley High School and take the college entrance exams—the SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test]. Then I went to Chapel Hill and took another college entrance exam, passed that, got accepted, and got the scholarship. But I had to work in the state of North Carolina anywhere they needed me for two years if I accepted the scholarship. And they were going to let Scotty, my son, go to the elementary school on the campus at UNC-Chapel Hill. Well, in the meantime I had met this man over here in Greensboro whose wife had died, and he had two sons, and we were dating during this time. We decided to get married. And if I accepted that scholarship, I'd have to work anywhere in the state of North Carolina. He didn't want me to work, just stay home and be with the kids. My little boy and his little boy were the same age, and his older boy was eleven. So I decided to get married again after six years, and gave up that scholarship for public health nursing. [chuckling]

[End Side A, Begin Side B]

HT:

So you were a school nurse after you gave up the scholarship?

EJ:

Yes.

HT:

And that was here in Greensboro?

EJ:

Well, no, after I gave up that scholarship I didn't work for—Let's see, I got married again in 1961, and that marriage lasted eleven years. We won't go into the details. Anyway, when I left him I went back to the Children's Home. The kids were grown then and they were on their own. So I went back to the Children's Home and worked over there again for about four years, as the director of health care. The other time I was a house parent back in the '50s. The nurse that had been there for forty years was retiring. And the superintendent knew me because I had worked there back in the '50s, and he called and wanted to know if I'd be interested in her job. So, yes, I was interested and accepted the position as director of health care [infirmary nurse]. This was in April 1973. When the boys were in high school, I went back to work part time at Moses Cone Hospital in the emergency room until I took the position at the Children's Home in 1973.

In the meantime, while I was at the Children's Home, the Central North Carolina School for the Deaf was built in Greensboro. I met the head nurse at the School for the Deaf and we got to talking about our jobs. Her work was very much like my work. Her evening nurse was leaving, and she wanted to know if I'd come and work as her evening nurse. My home was here in Greensboro and my son was living in it while I was gone. I was coming back and forth, checking on things and felt a need to get back to my home. So I left the Children's Home and came to the School for the Deaf, and I worked at the School for the Deaf here in Greensboro for the last twenty years.

Actually, I worked there thirteen years and retired, and got two years' retirement for my two years in the service, brought that back. And then they kept calling me back after I retired in June 1990. They gave me a great big retirement party after thirteen years and made a video all over campus with the kids talking to me, and the kids all came to it. Then as soon as school started in September, one of the nurses was out so they called me back. The children came into the infirmary, signing, “Finished retirement? Finished retirement?” [chuckling] Because here I was back after retiring. So I kept working. And then the nurse that took my place went on maternity leave, so I worked three months for her while she was gone. And they just kept calling me back. So this is the first year I haven't been going back. I've just been too tired.

HT:

Well, what impact do you think the military had on your life, immediately after you got out and in the long term?

EJ:

Well, I have a lot of respect for the servicemen. I get to thinking sometimes of the veterans—handicapped—that are here and gave their lives for their country. Are we doing enough for them? I don't know. I just have a lot more respect for my country and those that served it than I would have had probably otherwise, because I saw what they went through. Young people today don't realize the seriousness of it. Well, I also think, being in the service, it brought me out of my shell. I was very shy and quiet, and—I don't know. [chuckling]

HT:

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

EJ:

I think so.

HT:

In what respect?

EJ:

Well, I think any experience you have broadens your knowledge of life. I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything in the world.

HT:

So you'd definitely do it again?

EJ:

Yes. I might even stay in. If I had it to do over, I'd just stay and make a career out of it probably.

HT:

Well, do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

EJ:

Very much so now, because I've had to be. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, do you think the military made you this way, or do you think you were that type of person before you went into the service?

EJ:

Oh, let's see. I guess, maybe being in the service did make me independent. Maybe I would have been otherwise, I don't know. I guess, anytime a young person goes out on their own away from home they have to become independent.

HT:

Well, did you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you first went in?

EJ:

I never thought of that. No, they had army nurses in World War I.

HT:

So I guess it's a little bit different if you had joined one of the—

EJ:

The WACs or WAVES, yes.

HT:

WACs or WAVES, because that was fairly new.

EJ:

Right.

HT:

Well, do you consider yourself and other women who joined the military, it didn't matter which branch, to be forerunners of what we call the Women's Movement today? Do you think they've had an impact?

EJ:

Well, yes, I suppose women in the service were probably the forerunners of the Women's Movement. Of course, I always thought that the WACs that worked with us were like the nurse's aides in the hospital. It wasn't that much difference. I think the women that stayed home during the war and held men's jobs and worked in factories opened up new fields to women, also.

HT:

Speaking of the WACs, do you recall what the general perception of the WACs was during that period of time? I know in '43, right after the WACs started, there was a slander campaign started by men in the Army against the WACs, and it gave the WACs sort of a bad reputation. I think the British women and the Canadian women had the same problem in their armies. By the time you went in in '45, did you ever see any of this, where women were not thought of as well as civilian women? Or perhaps there was some sort of discrimination against women who were in the WACs? The thinking was that women's place was in the home and this sort of thing. Did you ever run across any of that?

EJ:

No. And see, there again, I think this is because in the hospital it's different. To me the WACs that worked in the hospital wore their WAC uniform and they were like nurse's aides here at home. I wasn't aware of any of the—

HT:

So the male corpsmen didn't give them any problems or give you any problems that you can recall?

EJ:

No. There may have been some things going on where I wasn't aware.

HT:

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

EJ:

No. Oh, yes, Reed [Jones], my stepson, joined the Coast Guard for six months and graduated and was in the reserves.

HT:

I think you mentioned you have three sons and no daughters, right?

EJ:

Yes, two stepsons, and one my own.

HT:

Well, how do you feel about women in combat positions? I know recently women flew combat missions over Iraq. Do you approve of this sort of thing?

EJ:

No, I don't! No. I think that men and women are different, and I think that they've carried some of this too far. Women are built different. They don't have the strength that men have and they shouldn't even be driving these big semi trucks. Women are also more emotional than men. Well, I think a woman's place is in the home, but in many cases they have to work because of financial reasons, and that's sad. I think that's probably what's wrong with a lot of our children today, not having a mother at home, or both parents. I think I'd like to fly an airplane, but not in battle, just for pleasure. And why? I don't know why I feel that way. Maybe because I'm from the old school. Because if they can fly one and want to go into battle, maybe it's all right, I don't know. To each her own! I have mixed feelings about it, I guess.

HT:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your military service while you were in the Army Nurse Corps that we haven't covered?

EJ:

[chuckling] No, I can't think of anything.

HT:

Is there anything you'd like to add about your life since you left the Army Nurse Corps in 1947 that we haven't covered, your time at the Children's Home in Winston and the School for the Deaf, or anything like that?

EJ:

Well, probably the most important thing that has ever happened to me is my relationship with Jesus Christ. At the end of my second marriage I felt hopeless, helpless and a failure. A friend of mine asked me to go talk with her pastor. [edited]

So, I went to talk to him, and I was crying and said, “You know, all my life I've tried to be good and do the right thing, but everything I do is wrong, I never do anything right.” Because I was thinking back to the time I could never please my mother. She was a perfectionist, and the only thing I ever did to please her was to clean my plate. I was the best eater she had, so you see how that turned out. [chuckling] I got big and fat. But anyway, Roy Putman said to me, “Elna, God doesn't expect you to do anything right.” And I thought, “Here's a preacher telling me that God doesn't expect me to do anything right?” He said, “He wants to do everything through you.” Well, I had never heard that before. I started going to his church and I started listening, and he prayed for me. I had heard when I was a little girl that Jesus lived in your heart. But I didn't realize that when you say God wants to do everything through you—that when you accept Jesus Christ through faith—he lives within you and you have a personal relationship with Him, and through His Holy Spirit He lives his life through you. You have to be totally surrendered to him for this to happen. I started going to Bible studies, and the first one I went to, they were studying in John where Jesus was praying for His disciples and he said, “Not only do I pray for you, but I pray for those who believe because of you and have never seen.” And I realized then, that Jesus was praying for me way back then!

So a few days after our separation and I was alone, I was sitting in the living room in the La-Z-Boy chair. I sat in that chair and I said, “Lord, I'm going to sit here and I'm not going to get up until you tell me what to do; what do you want me to do from now on? I want to do only what you want me to do. If you tell me to go out there and scrub the street with a toothbrush, I would do it if I know it's you speaking to me. I need you to speak to me like an earthly father speaks because I need to hear what you want me to do.” My life was starting over and I was going to sit in that chair until God spoke to me. I sat there reading the Bible and crying and praying for three days. The morning of the third day a vision appeared to me at the arched doorway. A voice said, “Elna, I only want you—one day at a time—follow me.” I heard that as plain as I would hear you speaking to me, but it must have been my spiritual ears that heard it. A figure appeared like a mist and just faded away. A perfect peace came over me that I had never felt before. My tears dried up and I understood that the Lord was not going to tell me what to do. He just wants me to follow Him, one day at a time, and He will lead me into what He wants me to do. As soon as I got up, the telephone rang, and it was the Children's Home superintendent calling to ask if I would be interested in that job over there. From that day on, I try not to do anything. I walk with the Lord and He leads me.

The job at the School for the Deaf, that enabled me to have a retirement that I wouldn't have had had I not worked for the state. That job was also handed to me. I didn't apply for it. The same down at the blind camp [Camp Dogwood], also. The manager was a blind camper when I worked there back in the forties, and then became a counselor, and is now the manager. She heard that I had retired. She called and asked me if I would be their nurse in the summertime. Jobs have just been handed to me. I haven't had to apply for them. God has provided for me. He has taken care of me. He's given me joy and peace that I've never had before in my whole life. So these last ten years have been the happiest years of my life.

HT:

That's wonderful. I don't have any other questions for you today, but we do appreciate you talking to us about your military service and about your life since the military. It's been very, very interesting and I appreciate it so much. Thank you so much again.

EJ:

Well, you're welcome.

[End of interview]