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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Estelle Garner Ptaszynski, 1999

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Object ID: WV0033.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Estelle Ptaszynski’s nurses training; service in England with the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War II; and personal life and nursing career after the war.

Summary:

Ptaszynski discusses her decision to become a nurse and training at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the late 1930s. She also describes her basic training Fort Bragg in North Carolina and her preparations for overseas service at Fort Kilmer in New Jersey in 1943.

Ptaszynski chiefly describes her service in England. Topics include living conditions and social life during her voyage to Liverpool on the SS Mauritania; the Nissen huts and tents that comprised the 305th Station Hospital at Longleat Castle in Warminster, England, in 1944; hospital shifts and uniforms at the hospital in Southampton in 1944 and early 1945; taking care of American patients after D-Day; treating German prisoners of war; and her social life and traveling while stationed in England. Ptaszynski also provides her opinion on patriotism during the war and how the perception of nurses differed from that of women in the army.

Personal topics cover Ptaszynski’s courtship during the war and marriage in early 1946 and her life in Connecticut and North Carolina after serving in the military.

Creator: Estelle Garner Ptaszynski

Biographical Info: Estelle Garner Ptaszynski (1917-2006) of Seagrove, North Carolina, a member of the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1943 to 1945, also served as a surgical nurse for many years at hospitals in Connecticut and North Carolina.

Collection: Estelle Garner Ptaszynski 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:

Mrs. Ptaszynski, if you could say a few works such as where you were born and what your maiden name was, we'll continue that as a test and see how this sounds.

EP:

My maiden name was Estelle Garner and I was born in Seagrove, North Carolina.

[Tape paused]

HT:

Mrs. Ptaszynski, thank you so much for talking to me today. We really appreciate it. Could you tell me a little bit about where you went to high school, your family life before you did the military and World War II?

EP:

I went to Elsie Academy in Robbins, North Carolina. Then I went to Campbell College [in Buies Creek, North Carolina]. It's Campbell University now; it was Campbell College then. And from there, I went to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, [North Carolina], to nurses training. And I was there, in training, for three full years and I worked—when I got out of training, I worked in the operating room.

HT:

At Baptist Hospital, what years were those?

EP:

I graduated in 1940.

HT:

And what type of work did you do at the hospital?

EP:

I was a surgical nurse in the operating room.

HT:

Did you enjoy that type of work?

EP:

Very much. I didn't know what I was going to do when I came out [of college], but I knew I wanted to be a nurse. So I took nursing training.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit about what nursing training was like in those days?

EP:

Well, there were long hours. Of course, they had done away with the twelve-hour shifts when I went there, so they only had eight—hours. But we had classes, and we worked on the floors, too. All the ER [emergency room] training. And we were in different departments at different times. We had to go through them all. We had the classes mostly in the afternoon and evenings. Certainly a good education in nursing.

HT:

After the war started, which one of the branches of the service did you decide to join and why?

EP:

Well, I was working at Baptist Hospital, as I said, and I had never thought about going into the service, and one of my classmates worked at a hospital close to home—not too far from the hospital. She called me one day and she said, “Garner, we're going in the service.” I said, “Maybe you are, but I'm not.” And she said, “Well, let's just go down to the recruiting station.”

HT:

Recruiting station?

EP:

Yes. And we went and had a physical. I passed the physical, and she did not. They found a little growth inside somewhere, and she had to have surgery. She did not go and I went in the service. I was called into the service—Army Nurse Corps—on January 1, 1943. New Year's Day. I went to Camp Butner, near Durham, [North Carolina]. And I stayed there for, I think it was, eight months. And then I went to Fort Bragg, [North Carolina], and when I went to Fort Bragg, we went through all kinds of rigorous calisthenics and everything you could think of. We knew then we must be going overseas and we would be doing that. And just so many things that were very strenuous. But we were young; we didn't mind. I had three brothers in the service, so I thought, “Well, I'm in the right place. I should be here, too, if they were there.” I had one in the Marines and two in the [U.S.] Army. So, we stayed at Fort Bragg with the rigorous training for one month. And then they told us to pack everything we had as compact as we could pack it. That meant the barracks bag, you know? We were being shipped out someplace else. You never knew where you were going. So, we went to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and we knew then, for sure, we must be going overseas because that was just a camp where they all came before they went overseas. So we stayed there for one month and had much training—what to do and then we'd climb on top of a ship and go over with the barracks bag for your parachute or whatever.

HT:

Can you explain what a barracks bag is? I'm not sure what it is.

EP:

Well, that's just a big olive-colored sack.

HT:

Like a duffel bag?

EP:

It's a duffel bag, yes. Same thing. So we knew we were going someplace. We didn't know where or when. And they came around at one o'clock in the morning, and we had to be out of there by three o'clock in the morning. So we had to have everything together by then. So we left and went at three o'clock in the morning to the New York Harbor, got on a ship and the ship was the Mauritania, and we were on the ship for seven days, and we didn't know where we were going, out in the middle of the ocean. We were all wondering, but didn't know where. So, finally, the day before landing, they told us that we could send an airmail back to the U.S. and tell them that we would be somewhere in England, but didn't give us a place. And that's the only thing we could put on the airmail.

HT:

Was this a troop ship that you went over on?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

The Mauritania—it was probably a passenger line.

EP:

Oh, yes. It was a passenger liner and made into a troop ship. And there were thirteen thousand in my unit that were on that ship.

HT:

Men and women?

EP:

Men and women, yes. And ours was the 305th Station Hospital from Fort Bragg.

HT:

Were all thirteen thousand stationed at this 305th?

EP:

Yes. The 305th Hospital. I think there were 105 nurses.

HT:

What were the accommodations like? I've heard other ladies talk about their accommodations which were not the greatest.

EP:

No, they were not the greatest. We had hammocks stacked up in the rooms on both sides. You could just about move. I think there were about three or four hammocks on each side, and that's where we slept.

HT:

Now, would you say that was a stateroom of some sort?

EP:

Yes. They used all the staterooms, yes. It was pretty elaborate what we had, compared to what a lot of the others had. It slept just about most everyone it could sleep. And then we'd go to the mess hall. A beautiful big dining room. I'd love to have been there in peace times. A beautiful big dining room. We had two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. The only time that I had had seasickness at all—I went down to eat dinner one evening and they had little guardrails around the tables, and they were up that night. I knew it was going to be locked, so I sat down to the table and it started going. The plates were going. That did me in. I couldn't eat a thing. So I was seasick just that one time, that's all.

HT:

Do you have any memories of what you guys did for fun on board the ship? I've talked to other ladies who played bridge and they even had some dancing.

EP:

Yes, we did have dancing. Yes, we had a big ballroom. The 305th Station Hospital was a good-sized hospital. We had a regular band and it went with us while we were overseas. And we had dances and we played and sat out on deck, you know? We'd sit up there most of the day. We enjoyed it. It was nice.

HT:

What time of year did you cross? Do you recall?

EP:

September.

HT:

And when you finally landed in England, where did you land?

EP:

Liverpool.

HT:

And then from there, where did you go?

EP:

Liverpool. Then we got on the troop train and went for hours and hours. I think it was all day and half the night, it seemed like. I don't remember just how long, but it was a long time. The trains in Britain were so small. They were smaller than ours. But they were nice. They had the two seats facing. They were nice trains. And from there, we went to our first base. It was all set up when we got there. It had a hospital. A Nissen huts hospital and all the barracks. It was on the estate of Longleat Castle [Warminster, England]. It was just up the hill, and it was gorgeous. Our camp was on the land of the estate owner. So we stayed there for a good while. I don't remember how long, but it was several months. And then we had a hospital. Of course, we served the GIs. No matter what they were, you know? If they came through the battlefield or if they were just sick or whatever. We had about thirteen hundred patients, I think, there. And we kept busy all the time, working and operating, too. And we had such a nice group of nurses and doctors. They all got along real well and we enjoyed what we were doing, and felt we were doing the best we could. And then one day we had a notice. An officer came around and told us, “Get ready to leave in a hurry.” And we found out later—you know the buzz bombs?

HT:

Yes.

EP:

Well, it was rumored that there was a buzz bomb in the vicinity, so we had to pack up and leave in a hurry. Our next hospital hadn't been set—up, wasn't finished. So, we stayed in Oxford. That was a nice place to go. It was close to the university, and we stayed in homes.

HT:

So it was a hospital. You probably remember seeing M*A*S*H on TV.

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Everything was set up in tents. Was yours set—up this way?

EP:

Well, I'm getting to that. Our next one was the tents, yes.

HT:

Okay, sorry.

EP:

So, we stayed in homes for maybe three or four weeks. And then we went to Southampton, and that was nice, too. Certainly went to nice areas. There we had Nissen huts for all the hospital facilities, the operating room and all the beds, and we could accommodate—I think it was several thousand. But we—the nurses, and the men, too—we lived on one side of the camp, and on the other side were the men. We lived in tents. For thirteen months, we lived in tents. There were four of us in a tent.

HT:

How did you survive the winter the next time?

EP:

You know, I don't ever remember being discouraged. You just thought about what you were doing. We had snow, as I remember. Once we had a big snow. And we had a door on the tent, and it covered the door. We couldn't get out. So, we had to wait for the GIs to come around and dig us out. And then we had one big bathroom—latrine—that we walked to. That's where you had your shower. We would take a shower at night. Cold as ice. You had your bathrobe and you'd run back as hard as you could run, and go back to the camp. There were four nurses and a little stove in the middle, and that was our room. We had everything else under our bed.

HT:

And you stayed there for thirteen months?

EP:

Thirteen months we lived in tents. And we were there at our hospital. They evacuated all of the patients at the general hospital. We were the station hospital, and they came from the battlefields to the station hospital. And we knew something was going to happen because they were evacuating our hospital. There were no patients. They shipped them all out. They were getting ready for D-Day. I have a picture somewhere that shows all the planes going over and they just thought then, “That must be it. That must be it.” The invasion. We didn't know it as D-Day. But it must be the invasion that you had thought about all along that might be. And sure enough, it was. We didn't have patients for two days, and we couldn't understand why. But they stopped at the evacuation hospitals and were treated there—first aid.

And then, I think it was—I don't remember if it was the second or third day—but we saw the ambulances coming, all the ambulances with a big red cross on them, coming around the bend. And as far as you could see, there were ambulances and wounded patients. And where they started getting out of the ambulances, we'd see one man with a right leg off, holding up a man with the left leg off. They were walking together. Things like that, that was what you saw. It was really something getting everybody in a bed. We had all the beds—oh, I don't know how many we had. We had forty in a barrack and Nissen hut. We must have had forty on each side. Then we had—I don't know how many we had—we had a lot of them. Forty on each side and we were near to the operating room. But you went anywhere where they needed help. Whoever needed it most. We were busy for, I think it was, six days. We were twenty hours on duty and four hours off. Twenty hours on, four hours off. And sometimes when you had four hours off—I had done it many times—we'd go and sit by some of the beds of the soldiers, wounded soldiers, and write letters to their parents for them. They appreciated it so much. And many times we'd get off duty and that's what we'd do. And then after five or six days, we went back to normal. We'd work twelve hours per day.

HT:

You had mentioned something earlier that the hospital where you were was called a station hospital.

EP:

Station hospital.

HT:

What is the difference between a station hospital and a general hospital?

EP:

That's the third step. The evacuation hospitals were first. They were on the fields, you know? The paramedics did those in the fields. And then they sent them to the station hospitals, and we did the surgery and all that stuff, you know? And then you'd go—when they'd get able they would go to the general hospitals. That was just a step up. Usually, then, they either went home or went back to their unit.

HT:

I'm assuming a general hospital would be in a more permanent building.

EP:

Yes, yes. They were. Yes, they were permanent buildings.

HT:

That is just unbelievable. If we could backtrack just a minute to when you first went in the service, did you have to go through something like basic training?

EP:

Yes, we did that at Fort Bragg for one month. That's where we had all the strenuous exercises, calisthenics.

HT:

Do you recall anything specifically about your basic training that was uncomfortable?

EP:

Yes. Crawling out on the fire—what would you call it?

HT:

Firing range?

EP:

Firing range, thank you. Sometimes I forget. My name, too, sometimes. We'd get on our stomachs, just like the GIs. We had the very same training they did. And they shot—it was real bullets. They were shooting over you. And that scared the living daylights out of me. [laughs] And then, oh, there was all those kind of things that we had to do, you know? To build ourselves up, we had to be able to do anything. I can't remember anything else we did there except, “Hup, two, three, four.” We did a lot of marching there. And when we got to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, we were there for one month, and then we had more training. That's where we went on top of the ship. They had a big building with a big pool and a big ship there, and we'd jump off as if we might have to do something.

HT:

Did you take any type of classes while you were in basic training?

EP:

No, I don't remember that we did. Because we were nurses already. We were supposed to know what to do.

HT:

You had mentioned earlier that the reason you went in the service was because a friend persuaded you to go along and she failed.

EP:

Yes.

HT:

What did your parents think about you joining the military?

EP:

Well, they didn't think much about it, didn't say too much about it. They had three boys in service, you see? And I know it bothered them terribly. But they were very patriotic, like everyone was during World War II.

HT:

So, were all your siblings in one branch or another of the military?

EP:

One was in the Marines and the other two were in the [U.S.] Army.

HT:

Three boys and one girl in the family?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

So, you had no sisters?

EP:

No, I had no sisters.

HT:

What did you think of your uniforms that were issued to you? Do you recall what those were like, those uniforms?

EP:

They were nurse's uniforms.

HT:

That's right. You were in the Army Nurse Corps.

EP:

Army Nurse Corps. We were all registered nurses.

HT:

Right. So you were not part of the WAC [Woman's Army Corps] at all?

EP:

Oh, no. We had nothing to do with the WACs or the WAVES [Women Accepted for Emergency Volunteer Service—Navy]. We had German prisoners of war for thirteen months. And that was a real experience. You felt the Germans were allies, of course, and they thought we were their enemies. But it was just amazing how, when you get together—I remember thinking myself, “I'm here because I'm serving my country. They're here because they're serving their country.” And we just got along really fine.

HT:

Did you ever learn to speak German?

EP:

No, very little, but I'll tell you one of the most memorable times I've ever had in my life. I've told this before. When we had German prisoners, we didn't do as much surgery then because they had already been stationed in hospitals before. But we made rounds every hour on the hour. And the corpsman had to go with us. They'd go with us each time. My corpsman—I can't remember his name—when I got to Block E—they were all Block A, B, C, D, et cetera—and we got to the door, the corpsman would always call attention. They'd stand there, and those that could stand would stand, and those who had to lie in bed, stayed in bed, of course. But when he called attention, they sang Silent Night in German at midnight.

HT:

This was at Christmas time, I guess.

EP:

Christmas. And I thought that was the nicest thing that happened to me. It really was nice.

HT:

Were these permanent German prisoners, or did they move on?

EP:

We had German prisoners. They'd move them out as they got better.

HT:

They were all wounded?

EP:

Yes, they were all wounded.

HT:

So, this was on a POW camp or just a hospital?

EP:

No, no. As they got better, they moved out, moved them someplace else. For thirteen months we had German prisoners. One morning, a German officer had hung himself over the door. That was a horrible thing to see.

HT:

Did they ever find out why he did that?

EP:

Well, I imagine because he was captured. Because he was captured. I expect I would have done the same thing.

HT:

The prisoners of war—were they all men or did you ever have any women?

EP:

No, they were all men. Officers and enlisted men. These were captured prisoners. So they [the Germans] probably took care of the captured Americans.

HT:

Right.

EP:

I felt sorry for them, just like I would if some of my fellow Americans came in. It was the same thing.

HT:

Was this the general attitude with the other nurses and doctors, as well?

EP:

Yes, yes. I remember we had a Jewish doctor. I can't remember his name. But they had different wards, you know, where they took care of—he was a nice man. And we had German prisoners, just like our American prisoners. When they got so they could get out of bed and do things, why they would—if they weren't injured too badly. They would sweep the floors and run errands for us and do a lot of things, you know? Just like ours did. So, this German prisoner—he was the nicest man. He was just so young. He said he didn't like the doctor. I said, “Why didn't you like him?” I don't know just how we talked, but we got through to each other. “Because he's Jewish.” They had been taught that, you see?

HT:

Yes. That was the only reason why.

EP:

That was the only reason. But when I told him he was such a nice man—I said, “He thinks just as much of you as he does his other people that he knows.” I said, “He's not like that.” He couldn't believe it. But do you know, they were good friends. Of course, the doctor had always been nice to all of them. They were very nice. They were like I, that they felt we were there to help our country, and they were there for the same reason. But I told this doctor about it, you know, and he made it a point to go over and be nice to him and talk to him. So before he left he liked this doctor.

HT:

You were a nurse and all nurses were officers, is that correct?

EP:

Yes. I was a first lieutenant.

HT:

Was there a nurse in charge of the other nurses?

EP:

Oh, yes. We had a nurse and an assistant. She was a captain. And I thought, “That's not very high. When you get up to first lieutenant, that's the next thing.” [laughs] Her name was Captain Williams. Capt. Williams was our director of nurses. And she had an assistant. I've forgotten her name.

HT:

While you were a nurse overseas, did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination because you were a woman?

EP:

I never did. No, I never did.

HT:

Did you ever receive any kind of special treatment?

EP:

Because I was a woman?

HT:

Yes.

EP:

No, I was treated just like the GIs.

HT:

Do you recall the hardest thing you ever had to do physically, either in basic training or while you were stationed inland?

EP:

Jumping off the side of that ship. That was terrible. [laughs]

HT:

Now, you were fully clothed with battle gear and everything on?

EP:

Oh, yes. Battle gear and everything. Just as though we had a shipwreck going overseas. This is before we went, you know?

HT:

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

EP:

Emotionally? I guess seeing that German prisoner hang. That was tough.

HT:

Do you recall any kind of embarrassing moments that could be funny or hilarious?

EP:

We had a lot of funny moments. I can tell you how I met my husband. [laughs]

HT:

Okay, sure.

EP:

We got up one morning and looked out the tent and there was snow on the ground, and it was just gorgeous. Beautiful all over. I said, “Oh!” I had a camera but no film. I said, “I wish I had film and I'd make pictures today.”

Somebody said, “Well, why don't you go down to the motor pool and see Ptaszynski.” They said, “Ptaszynski.”

I said, “Nah, I'll call him on the phone.” So, I called him. I said, “Is Lieutenant—” I couldn't say it. I did that three times. [laughs]

So this girl told me, “He always has film because his parents”—they were rationed back home, and when they were rationed, they could get so many, you know? And they'd always get them and keep them for Ed, my husband.

So I said, “Oh, the heck with it. Let's just go down to the motor pool and we'll find him and we'll ask him.” I couldn't say his name. So, we went down and I said, “Is Ed here?” I didn't know who in the heck I was talking to. I couldn't say the last name so I just said, “Is Ed there?”

He said, “Ed!” Ed came out of the back and he looked at that man and he said, “That's the one I told you about.” He had told someone. He had seen me at Ft. Bragg and said he was going to marry me. [laughs]

HT:

Really?

EP:

Really. [laughs]

HT:

Your husband had seen you at Fort Bragg?

EP:

At Fort Bragg when we got off the troop train.

HT:

Oh, for heaven's sake.

EP:

Yes.

HT:

But he didn't approach you at that time?

EP:

He never did, no. He had never seen me before. Then we met again. I didn't remember seeing him, but he saw me. He said that he had looked for me ever since I got off the troop train at Fort Bragg.

HT:

Where was his home?

EP:

Connecticut.

HT:

So, did you start dating at that time? Or were you allowed to do that sort of thing?

EP:

Well, yes. We didn't do much. We'd go down to the club once in a while. And, as I said, we had a dance. We had dances because we had an orchestra. And then—I guess I had known him for about a month or two, a couple months—they called me in with a whole bunch of nurses [and said] that I was going to be transferred to a general hospital. We didn't like that much, but we were going to be separated. In 1945, I think. When was the war over in Japan?

HT:

I think it was August of 1945.

EP:

It was before that because we were going to a general hospital, and the unit was being made up then to go to the Pacific, and I was in that group to go to the Pacific. So we had rigorous training again there, for the Pacific [theater]. The snakes and everything, that's the only thing I minded. I got home and—oh, I can't look at a snake. I can't see the picture now on television. That's all I'd see over there. Some of the nurses have written back to us and told us she'd get up in the morning and there would be a snake in her shoes. [laughs] But we were supposed to come home and stay for one month and go to the Pacific. And the day that we left to come back to the States, the war was over in Japan. So we didn't go.

HT:

Do you recall where you were on VE Day, which is Victory in Europe Day, which is a couple months prior to VJ Day [Victory in Japan Day]?

EP:

Yes. We were down in Southampton at the camp down there.

HT:

Where did you nurses and everybody else relax and that sort of thing? What did you guys do for fun at Southampton? What kind of a social life did you have?

EP:

Well, as I said, we had the dance and the orchestra. But we could go—we'd get days off. I enjoyed being up there because we worked very, very hard. And then you'd have two to three days off, and then we'd go to see all the cathedrals or anything in London. We'd just go where we wanted to go. And we'd go out to the air base and ask if they had a plane going to anywhere. It didn't make any difference where it was. So, we'd hop on the plane and go.

HT:

Oh. Can you tell me some of the stories about where you went?

EP:

We went to Ireland once. So we went, got a commercial plane and flew to Ireland. It was the ricketiest, racketiest, noisy thing you've ever seen in your life. We couldn't talk. Two of the girls and I, two of the nurses and I, we couldn't hear a thing. We couldn't talk all the way, it was so noisy. We got to Ireland, to Belfast, and when we landed, this man came out. We were at the airport. He said, “I thought in the last ten years she'd never make another trip, but she made it again.”

We couldn't get a boat [back]. So, two air force officers walked out of the restaurant and I went over. I said, “Where are you going?” He said, “I'm going back to England.” I said, “Okay, we're going with you.” He said, “Good. Let's go.” So, we got on the plane, and it was a plane with no seats. It was a bomber. That's what it was, a bomber. So, we sat on the floor and came back home. So, we did a lot of nice things. I went to Scotland while I was there. When we had two or three days off, we'd always go to all the nice places, you know? I went to London. There were always things to do in London.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid?

EP:

No. No, I don't. When we came back, we spent the night in London.

HT:

Can you tell me what a buzz bomb is, exactly?

EP:

Missiles they sent over during the war. That's what did so much damage to London. There were no pilots, you know? They just came and bombed everything. Beautiful cathedrals, beautiful buildings over there that they bombed.

HT:

And you felt like you were in physical danger when these bombs were going off?

EP:

So what are you going to do about it? You can't even think about it. I'm not a worrier. I never have been. So, I didn't worry about it. So, if they came, they came.

HT:

Was your hospital complex ever bombed?

EP:

No, but when we were evacuated from that one—the first one we went to on the estate—it was bombed. Of course, that's why we left. They said it might be, and they said a corner was taken off of it. But we never saw any of the barracks ever again that we had lived before.

HT:

You said you left England in August of 1945?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

And you came back to the United States at that time?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Did you leave the service at that time?

EP:

No. We stayed at Fort Bragg, I think, until November. We came home in November.

HT:

And you were discharged then?

EP:

Discharged in November, yes.

HT:

Did you ever think about making it a career?

EP:

No, not really.

HT:

So you weren't encouraged to make it a career?

EP:

No. I could have, but I didn't.

HT:

Do you feel you made a contribution to the war?

EP:

Yes, I really think I did. I think I helped save many lives. There were some days, you know, after D-Day, when we didn't have enough doctors to stitch wounds. So the nurses did the things that the doctors were doing. We had to save lives.

HT:

Did you have enough medical supplies?

EP:

Yes, we had a lot of medical supplies. Yes, we did.

HT:

You had mentioned earlier a feeling that the country was very patriotic at that time.

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Do you have any feeling as to why this was so?

EP:

I don't know, but I think it was—the patriotism in our country was so high, I think, because we'd never really had a war that was so extensive, you know? It was for our country because the men—they didn't talk about the war, that they were sorry they were in the war. Because you were helping your country. We felt it was either help the country or not have a country.

HT:

So everybody wanted to do their part, I guess.

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever meet any interesting people—they could be famous or not famous—while you were in the military?

EP:

Well, we met the generals, like Patton. General [George] Patton came around. He was from the 3rd Armored Division. The 3rd Armored Division were not too far from us.

HT:

Did you ever meet General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower?

EP:

No. I'm sure he was in the vicinity, but I never saw him.

HT:

Do any of your fellow nurses or doctors stand out in your mind as being particularly interesting?

EP:

Well, I just lost touch with most of them after a few years, you know? You keep in touch for so long, and I don't anymore. I thought we had some real good doctors in the service.

HT:

Did you ever notice that—others were working with you at all, I guess?

EP:

We had Red Cross.

HT:

You had Red Cross?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

And was everybody American, or did you have some British people?

EP:

No, they were all American.

HT:

How did the Americans get along with the British, from the British army or British civilians in the surrounding areas?

EP:

Very well.

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

HT:

You mentioned that it was a sad day when President Roosevelt died.

EP:

It was.

HT:

Even overseas?

EP:

Oh, it was, yes. It was a big letdown.

HT:

Who were your heroes and heroines in those days?

EP:

I don't know. I guess I was so young, I never thought about it. I never disliked anyone. I can't think of anyone that I really disliked. [laughs]

HT:

When you returned to the United States in the fall of 1945, can you describe your adjustment to civilian life?

EP:

Well, I went home and I stayed at home and at home. Before going in service, I was in a big three—story house. We had an attic. I think it had twelve rooms, with all the gingerbread around it and everything. But it had burned while I was away. I remember dreading going home to see my former house. But they had built another house and it was okay, so I stayed there until I went back to work.

HT:

And so the house could not be rebuilt?

EP:

Oh, no. No.

HT:

That's hard. You were not married at this time, I guess?

EP:

No.

HT:

You were still single?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Where did you go to work when you got back?

EP:

Baptist Hospital.

HT:

Did it feel strange to have been away for several years and then go back?

EP:

No, I don't remember it being especially strange.

HT:

Having been in the military, did it have any kind of impact on your life immediately after you got out, in the long-term?

EP:

No, I don't think so. Some people had nightmares, you know.

HT:

And do you think your life would have been different if you had not been in the military?

EP:

Yes, I wouldn't have married my husband. [laughs]

HT:

[laughs] A major difference. Well, speaking of your husband, how did you two finally get together? Can you tell me that story?

EP:

Oh, he had films.

HT:

Right.

EP:

He said, “Yes, he had films, but he had to make the pictures. I'll have to go with you to make the pictures.” So, he went. Two more girls and I—the three of us—went with him, and we went around the camp and made pictures with him. And that was it.

HT:

When did you two decide to get married?

EP:

We decided to get married after I came back home.

HT:

Where was he stationed at that time?

EP:

I came home in August. He didn't come back to the States until I think it was January.

HT:

Of 1946?

EP:

Yes. We kept in touch all the time. He would call. Then we got married in February. And then we lived in Connecticut.

HT:

For how many years did you live in Connecticut?

EP:

Twenty-nine.

HT:

Oh, so you were away from North Carolina for a long time.

EP:

For a long time, yes.

HT:

That must have been hard on you, being a southern girl and being away from family.

EP:

Well, we came home every summer. But I was happy in Connecticut. I like Connecticut and I liked my in-laws. We built a home up there. Then, when he retired, we came back down here. He always said, “I want to take you back home some day.” And when he retired, we did. And we had this house built. He lived ten years after that.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Do you think the military made you that way, or were you independent prior to joining?

EP:

I think I grew up that way. I lost my mother when I was ten years old, and I think you have to carry on when you don't have a parent. My father worked in the country store for over fifty years.

HT:

So you learned at a very early age to be independent?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

I can't remember if I asked you this before or not, but what made you decide to go into nursing in the first place? Do you recall?

EP:

I don't know. I just wanted to help people. That was the only thing I wanted.

HT:

And I'm assuming that you had helped your father, probably, and your brothers, when you were growing up.

EP:

I don't know whether that had anything to do with it or not.

HT:

Do you consider that to be a pioneer or trailblazer? Not that many women in the military, you know. And so, do you consider yourself to be any of these?

EP:

No, I don't think so. I just did my job.

HT:

Would you consider yourself and other women who did join the military either as nurses or as physical therapists or as regular WACs to be forerunners of what we call today the women's movement?

EP:

Yes, I suppose so.

HT:

We touched on this very briefly earlier. Did you ever witness any discrimination against you because you were a woman? In 1943, there was a slander campaign against the regular WACs started by men in the army. Do you recall how women were perceived who joined the army in those days?

EP:

You know, I never heard of anything with the nurses. Never. They didn't resent nurses then. But I think when the WACs and the WAVES came along, I think that was the end of the World War. I don't know if they were in World War II or not. Or was it just Vietnam?

HT:

No, the WAC started, actually, in 1943, and the WAVES came just a little bit later. But the WAVES didn't have as many problems as the WACs did with slander.

EP:

No.

HT:

And I have heard that the British women and the Canadian women had the same problem in their military—slander and that sort of thing.

EP:

I never heard of that. Now you hear so many things about women in the service. But we didn't have any problems then.

HT:

I guess nurses were perceived differently because they were nurses.

EP:

They were nurses, and we had been trained to do what we were supposed to do. We didn't just go in, not knowing what we were doing. But we didn't have a problem.

HT:

Have any of your children been in the military?

EP:

My oldest son was in the Vietnam War.

HT:

Did he join because you had been in the military?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

Do you approve of women in combat positions? Recently, since December of 1998, women flew combat missions over Iraq, and they've done that in the past, as well. Do you approve of this sort of thing?

EP:

Well, I think it's up to them if they want to do it. I don't believe they forced them to do it. Do you think? They wouldn't be good on the front lines if they forced them. But for people that want to do it, I think it's okay.

HT:

Are there any other stories that you can recall from the time that you were overseas, around D-Day, that you haven't talked about that you'd like to?

EP:

I don't remember anything. I told you about the planes. We knew the planes were going over.

HT:

Right.

EP:

That's when we had so many patients come in all at once.

HT:

Did you feel almost overwhelmed when you saw these battered and bruised bodies come in?

EP:

Yes. But you were so busy you just did what you could.

HT:

Do you recall what a typical day was like? Not around D—Day because that was atypical, I'm assuming.

EP:

Yes.

HT:

But how many hours you worked, how many days you had to work and that sort of thing?

EP:

Well, after D-Day, I told you, you worked twenty hours on and four hours off. So that was a busy time. But any other time you had a normal day, and it was like working in the States, at a hospital in the States.

HT:

And you always had military uniforms on?

EP:

Yes. We had uniforms. We had regular dress uniforms, but we had our working uniforms. Brown stripes, I remember.

HT:

Seersucker?

EP:

Seersucker. Of course, when you graduate from training, you wear the cap from your own hospital. Each hospital has a different cap. There's some little difference in them. But they were all the same.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit of something about what your life has been like since you left the military in 1945?

EP:

Well, I don't know. I don't dwell on the past. I haven't thought too much about it.

HT:

You came back to North Carolina originally, and then you got married and moved up to Connecticut. Did you do nursing up in Connecticut?

EP:

Yes. I worked at the hospital for years.

HT:

And so you retired from nursing, eventually?

EP:

Yes. I worked down here—when we moved back down here, I worked five or six years.

HT:

And you raised a family and what else? I'm sure that can be quite busy, being in nursing and raising a family.

EP:

Oh, yes. I didn't work. My husband never wanted me to work when they were small, and I didn't want to work. I didn't work until they went to first grade. And then I started working nights. So when they went to school, I would sleep. And when they came home, I would be up. I was always with them.

HT:

And at that time, were you a surgical nurse, as well?

EP:

Yes.

HT:

It sounds like you really must have loved surgery.

EP:

I did. Well, when I came down here, I was not a surgical nurse. I worked on the floors.

HT:

How has nursing changed from the time you remember, when you first went into it in the 1940s, until recently? Do you think it has changed?

EP:

Well, I don't know. Now, I haven't been in nursing for a long time, so I really don't know whether it's changed that much or not. So, I can't tell you that.

HT:

Can you think of any other questions that I've failed to ask and that you'd like to cover, perhaps—about your military service, in particular?

EP:

No, I can't think of a thing else.

HT:

Well, I certainly appreciate you talking to me today. It's been marvelous listening to your stories.

EP:

Well, thank you. I hope I've made sense. [laughs] I don't remember all of it.

[End of interview]