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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Reva Ingram Fortune, 1999

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Object ID: WV0034.5.001

Description: Documents Reva Ingram Fortune’s early life in rural North Carolina; her military service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and later the Women in the Air Force (WAF) from 1943 to 1952; and her experience as a student at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from 1954 to 1958.

Summary:

Fortune discusses growing up on a farm outside Greensboro, North Carolina, during the Depression. She speaks about her parents’ backgrounds, high school secretarial classes, her father’s Model T Ford, playing the violin, and life on the farm.

Fortune talks at length about her military service from May 1943 to 1952 in the WAAC, the WAC, and with the Women in the Air Force (WAF). She describes basic training at Daytona Beach, especially the clothing, physicals, drilling, officers, food, and barracks. She also notes the WACs’ social life, pranks, and opportunities for fun, including her trips to Cuba and Sanibel Island. Fortune also describes her duties as a first sergeant; the types of work deemed appropriate for women; friends who did overseas duty; gunnery training over the Gulf of Mexico; her impression of public attitude towards women in the military; train travel, dealing with WAC deaths; deactivating squadrons after the war; VE Day and VJ Day celebrations; and President Franklin Roosevelt’s death. Topics related to Fortune’s service in with the WAF include training pilots in peacetime and Air Force Blue uniforms designed by Madame Schiaparelli.

Fortune also recounts her memories of the Woman’s College from 1954 to 1958, including working to pay tuition; assignments; field trips; and the McIver Building. She describes her impressions of many faculty members, especially Dr. Archie Shaftesbury and Dr. Richard Bardolph; the daisy chain tradition; and the school’s decision to become coeducational.

Other topics include Fortune’s husband’s experiences in the military; working for Social Security; and her opinion of women in combat. Fortune also discusses her impressions of many famous people, including President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Jacques Cousteau, Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, and Chuck Yeager. She also mentions some of her military friends, including Lee Allmon, Alice Faye, and Eloise Husmann. Fortune also describes being a special guest at Randolph Field for the celebration of the U.S. Air Force’s fiftieth anniversary.

Creator: Reva Pauline Ingram Fortune

Biographical Info: Reva Pauline Ingram Fortune (b. 1917) of Greensboro, North Carolina, served with the Army Air Force while in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1943 to 1948 and with the Women in the Air Force (WAF) from 1948 to 1952. She then spent twenty-five years as a Social Security Administration employee in High Point, NC.

Collection: Reva Ingram Fortune 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:

[Today is February] 8, 1999. I'm at the Special Collections/University Archives Reading Room with Mrs. Reva Ingram Fortune, and we're here to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection. Mrs. Fortune, if could you say a word or two, like what was your maiden name and where were you born and where did you grow up?

RF:

My maiden name, Reva Pauline Ingram. I was born in Colfax, Illinois, out in the middle of a big cornfield. I came to North Carolina when I was three years old and grew up here in Greensboro, went through the school system, and later to the university here, the Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina].

HT:

Mrs. Fortune, thank you so much for meeting with me this afternoon. I really appreciate it. It's very kind of you to do this. Could you tell me a little bit about what your family life was like before you entered the service, and where you worked, if you did work, before you joined the military?

RF:

Well, it is a pleasure for me to be here. I'm just happy to be part of this, and I hope that future generations will appreciate what you're doing. Our family was made up of six girls and one brother. We were ordinary folks. My father was a farmer, and he also worked sometimes at public work. When we first came to North Carolina about 1920, he got a job working for the Southern Power Company, which was the forerunner of the Duke Power Company. He was the foreman in the boiler room, and I remember standing outside, possibly when we went to take a lunch or maybe to meet him to walk home, that his job was to keep the boiler firemen shoveling coal into those hot furnaces. And there was a big open door that would allow us to see inside. He was a hard worker. My mother was from the Ozarks in Missouri. In fact, both my parents had about, I would say, a maximum of six years schooling in a one-room schoolhouse. Both were very intelligent people, they worked hard. Their language was—I would not say impeccable, but it was very good. They did not use slang, they did not use profanity. My mother had the most beautiful penmanship of anyone that I think I've ever seen. So we children tried to emulate them as best we could.

We worked on the farm. I used to love to run along behind my dad when he'd be plowing the fields, and my feet, my bare feet, loved those furrows. [chuckling] I also did my share of helping replant corn. I even helped him with shucking corn. Since I was the oldest child, I think I got the lion's share of a lot of the hard work. My brother next to me was small. He didn't even reach my shoulder when I graduated high school. But then afterwards he started growing. He's now more than six feet, but I think that was the big excuse that he had: he didn't have to work hard, he was too little. So I learned how to shuck corn. I also milked a cow. We had three or four cows and one was assigned to me to milk, and I did that religiously until one day she almost cut off one of my toes. My younger sisters worked in the house. Some of them worked helping in the garden, too. But generally we all had a lot of fun. Being a farm family, we didn't live near to anyone for a long time. We all sang, and we entertained ourselves singing. At school we each learned possibly a different song every week. So when we came home every day we loved to tell everybody what we had learned, and everybody else learned all the songs that each of us knew. So we had quite a repertoire.

We were pretty fair students, most of us. And none of us, until my youngest sister, was able to go to college at the appropriate time. The rest of us, at some time or another, with the exception of three girls, did not go to college. Say, for instance, my brother and I both went to school under the GI Bill. My younger sister, we all helped to send her, and another sister with to the Eastman Kodak School under her GI Bill. So we tried to take advantage of a lot of the things that were available to us.

HT:

And so you did not go to college before you went to the military?

RF:

No.

HT:

Did you work outside the home or outside the farm before you went in?

RF:

Yes, I did, after I graduated high school. I had a business course, or that served me as a business course in high school, and I could do secretarial work. For instance, I started at Greensboro High School, GHS. I believe we were about the second year after it was built. It was a beautiful, beautiful—and still is a nice school. It was completed before the stock market crash, so it was a million-dollar school. And by the time I was in the tenth grade, teachers in North Carolina weren't even being paid, they were given scrip because of the Depression, so the class of shorthand, bookkeeping, and typing were put to work to help administer the school. Mr. Charles Phillips was the principal at that time. He had no secretary, but all the girls—and boys—in the business school did work for him. I remember taking his letters in shorthand and then going back to the class, and we'd all check it over to see, to make sure that I had the right—we thought we had the right phraseology and everything, typing the letter and taking it to him, and he would sign it and mail it out. So we were getting some real good training early.

HT:

And this was in the mid-thirties, I guess?

RF:

I graduated in '33 from GHS, so it was '30, '31, and '32.

HT:

So this was at the height of the Depression. Can you tell me what life was like in those days?

RF:

Well, we lived in a rural setting. We lived on a farm part of that time, and we raised practically everything that we ate. Sugar and coffee and tea and peanut butter and things like that we did have to buy. My father got a job at Pomona Mill, which was a cotton mill, as a maintenance man and artificer. So he had a little income in that area, and at other times he would find work helping install telephone poles. I remember one time there was an ice storm and a lot of the poles came down, so they hired a lot of people just for short-term to put these poles back and do that kind of work. So he was always looking and working at something. He was not idle, never. The only time I remember seeing my dad idle, when he'd come in from work he would sit down and almost immediately he would go to sleep while we were fixing supper or whatever. But he was a hard worker.

We did not have a lot of the—Well, we didn't have any more than the bare necessities, really. I remember they would order our shoes from Sears Roebuck, and they would be the little leather—[chuckling] They had a high cut up over the ankle, and there would be no heels on them. Now, my dad had an—What is it, an anvil? No, not an anvil. A shoe last, that's what it was. A shoe last, and he would take all those new shoes and take some of the scraps of harness from his team, some of the old harness that had worn out, and he would make heels. And he would sole those, half-sole them if we needed—if we wore through the original sole. Dad kept our feet off the ground like that. And we didn't mind wearing those shoes to school because a lot of kids didn't even have that.

We walked to school most of the time. We were too close in to ride the school bus, but we were at least a mile away. But the school bus, when I was attending the first grade, went all the way to the Battleground, and once in a while we might be able to get a ride part of the way home. But walking was just part of our life, a big part of it.

HT:

And did your family own an automobile at that time?

RF:

Yes, before the Depression hit and while Dad was working at Southern Power, he saved enough money to buy a Model T Ford touring car, a brand-new one. It was about six hundred dollars, something like that. Mother and Dad drove that old car until it just gave up, really. The top was frayed. We looked like the Toonerville Trolley [dilapidated cartoon trolley], but we looked like a lot of other people too. [chuckling] But we didn't know that there was another way, I guess.

HT:

Because everybody was in the same boat in those days.

RF:

Everybody was in the same boat. And we had plenty to eat. My folks saw to it that we had milk, we had cows, we had a garden. My mother canned and canned and canned all summer long, and we girls learned how to do it too, and I still can. We had tomatoes and beans and corn and greens and onions and everything that you raise in a garden. And she canned everything that she could, that we knew how to can. I know she didn't can green beans because it was not thought to be safe, really. Botulism was something that was rampant, so she didn't attempt that. But we dried beans, we dried apples—We dried apples like you wouldn't believe, bushels of them. So we had plenty of food.

And I remember my fifth-grade teacher, as a project for us, she asked each of us—And I think it was more than a project, I think she wanted to find out how many of us were going hungry, really. She wanted us to go home and check our mother's pantry and see how many cans of food we had canned that summer. Everybody canned. Well, I counted and counted and counted, it was something like five hundred and something that we had in our pantry. Well, she didn't believe it, she thought I was telling her a falsehood. But it was true. I think my mother wrote her a note and told her that I had given her a correct figure.

But a lot of the kids would bring a light-bread sandwich to school, and I thought, “Oh, how wonderful to have light bread, and here I am eating a ham biscuit.” [chuckling] And they were wishing they had my ham biscuit, I'm sure. But you don't realize those things until a long time afterwards to get the full meaning.

Times were difficult, but our family hanged in there together. We sang. And the nearest neighbors to where we lived were a quarter of a mile, and they would hear us singing in the evenings. We'd sit out there on the steps, and all seven of us—six of us—seven of us—and they opened their windows or they'd come outside and listen to us, because they could hear us all the way.

HT:

Did you have musical accompaniment?

RF:

No, we didn't. We did not have a piano, anything like that. None of us got any musical training from piano, but we did with the violin. I started violin when I was in fifth grade, at school, and I finally—I did play in the high school symphony. I was second violinist, and we did pieces like—Now, this was at GHS in '30, '31, '32, and '33. We won the state contest three years in a row, playing Finlandia one year, Schubert's Unfinished Symphony the next year, and Oberon by von Weber the next year, those pieces. They were great. And Mr. Slocum, Earl Slocum, was our director. What a wonderful person. He taught us how to play the instruments, in addition to directing us. We did not have any special teachers for violin or oboe or whatever it was. He just knew how they—and taught us as we were playing.

HT:

After you graduated from high school and before you entered the military, what type of work did you do?

RF:

I was a secretary. I worked at Pomona Terra-Cotta Company, which was a brick and tile, vitrified clay concern. They were shipping loads and loads of drain tile, huge sewer tiles to the military bases, building all those bases preceding the war years, all over this part, to the marine barracks at Camp Lejeune [North Carolina], to Holly Ridge [Camp Davis, North Carolina], Fort Bragg [Fayetteville, North Carolina], up and down the seacoast to the naval bases. I took dictation from all of the staff and I helped with invoices and, well, just whatever needed to be done. And I left there and joined the military after our brother was called up in November of '42. I went the next spring.

HT:

So you joined in the spring of 1943?

RF:

Yes.

HT:

And which branch of the service did you join, and why?

RF:

Well, I joined the WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] because it had just become an organization. Edith Nourse Rogers had presented that bill in Congress on May 14, 1942, to establish a women's army corps, or an auxiliary corps. Anyway, it was established as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. So my sister June [Ingram] had signed up earlier than I had. She had already left. She left in November of '42, shortly after my brother, and I went the next May of '43, and I was sent to Daytona Beach, Florida. This was a new area that had been built especially for the WAAC basic training. June, in her training, was sent to the Coquina Hotel on Daytona Beach. They converted a lot of those resort hotels into military dormitories at this time. And she was given driver instruction on Daytona Beach. She had never driven anything in her life, and they put her out on the beach learning how to drive. And a lot of it was blackout driving too, at nighttime. So, at every turn there was something exciting happening.

HT:

So you went to Daytona Beach for basic training?

RF:

Basic training, yes.

HT:

And how long did that last?

RF:

I had four weeks of training, and you saw the picture of all of us sitting there. That was a fantastic bunch of women, I tell you. Everybody was there because they wanted to be there. You heard no complaining, no griping. Everybody, when they'd say, “Fall out,” we fell out. We'd be out and gone from our barracks area all day many days. They just put us through the paces. I mean, four weeks of extensive training.

This was interesting. [chuckling] I got to the point that whoever was in front of me, I was just following that head. I didn't think what I was doing; I knew that I had to follow whoever was in front of me. I even went to the parade the first anniversary of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. We rode in a bus from the cantonment area to the staging area in Daytona, and then got off and marched. And if I had been told we were going on a parade, I don't remember it. But anyway we wound up at the band shell on the beach, where we heard a general give us a speech. And I looked off to my right at the ocean, and there was a convoy going past, going south. As far as I could see, there were ships. I was just so—I guess you would have to say that was sensory overload to the extreme. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and here I am sitting, hearing a speech. I really had not connected it with the fact that it was the first anniversary of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. So it was kind of like that through most of basic. They didn't give us time to do thinking for ourselves. They did every bit of it.

We lined up to get our clothing. They took us into town. They didn't have the facilities out at the cantonment area. That's what they called our area. We went into a huge framed building, and there were nobody but men in the place that were issuing the garments. As we walked through the front door, on either side there was a GI and he handed each one of us three pairs of khaki-colored underwear. They had long legs. He says, “Go to the restroom and put on one pair of these.” [chuckling] We didn't know—we did as we were told. And we later learned that it was a pretty smart thing, because all the walking that we would have had to do, up and down and up and down, it kept us from chafing our legs. [laughter] And I thought here is this guy throwing us three pairs of pants. The next guy handed us a duffel bag. “Put the other two in here.”

HT:

I have a quick question about your underwear, please excuse me. But were they all the same size?

RF:

No, they managed to look at us and kind of get an idea. But another thing, they were supposed to have had elastic in the top. And it was not elastic, it was braid. There was no elastic available. All the rubber was going into tires and things like that, so we did not have elastic in the waist. [chuckling]

And from then on we went from station to station to station, up into about four stories in that huge old building to get—Everything was khaki-colored: pants, slip, bra, shirts, ties, skirts, cap, everything. It was a scream. And when we got to the top floor we had a full duffel bag. Then we had to carry it down on our shoulders, you know. There was nobody there to help you carry it like the little girl who helped me a while ago. No sir. And those duffel bags became—they were just like our right arm. They stayed with us from then on, until we got to our permanent base.

HT:

Did you have some sort of physical exam or get shots and that sort of thing?

RF:

Oh yes. We had to have a physical, of course, before, with our family doctor. Then, yes, we had a physical. And another time here they are, one on either side of the door, with hypodermics. And they'd grab you, and you're stuck before you know it as you go through that door, two or three shots. I've still got my old immunization record somewhere. Typhus, typhoid, tetanus—I forget what the others were, but we got three the first day. And then they were renewed every couple of years. The people who gave us the shots, there were no women anywhere to be—who assigned anything to us. They were all men, of course. Not enough women had been trained yet. The only trained people were officer personnel.

HT:

Do you recall what a typical day was like in basic training?

RF:

Yeah. We'd get up after the corporal had blown the whistle, usually at six o'clock. We had to fall out, have our beds made, [be] in class A uniform in formation in front of the barracks at 6:30. And there the corporal of each platoon would give the first sergeant a report, “All present and accounted for.” And boy, they meant it. There was nobody saying, “Oh, so-and-so didn't feel like coming today.” That never happened. [chuckling] We had one tall girl. She was so tall, I know she must have been seven feet tall. And one day she started out and she tripped, and she just fell, fell, fell.It looked like she was just falling in sections. And she landed right in front of her platoon. But anyway, when they said “Fall out,” we fell out.

We were in formation when we went to the mess hall, and lined up; this was the only time that we were in a semi-formal arrangement, you know, in the chow line. We'd get our tray that had all its sections in it, and our silverware, and go have—whether it was French toast or scrambled eggs and toast or whatever, coffee usually. We didn't have great big bubbling breakfasts, no. We had to eat it and get out of there and get back. We were given about a five-minute break to go back to the barracks, use the latrine if we needed to, and then be off to a class, all of this in formation. You didn't see any stragglers anywhere, everybody in a formation.

And the ones who were not in class would be on the drill field. And the drill field was a huge area. It had been constructed of beach sand, which in that part of the country has a whole lot of shells in it and morel [?]. Well, you do an about-face in a pair of slippers, and all of us had been issued a pair of brown slippers that had a heel about three-quarters of an inch high, you do an about-face and you wind up with a shoe full of sand and shells. Well, that went on for I guess maybe a week after we were there. They issued us a man's high-cut shoe, and we called them “Li'l Abners”. I still have my Li'l Abners. [chuckling] And we were issued a GI-colored—a khaki-colored sock to go with it, and we'd wear those Abners with our lisle cotton stockings in Daytona, hot as it was. We never could go without our hose, wearing the Li'l Abners. We had to have them on with our socks and our lisle hose. And I don't know how a lot of the girls held their lisle stockings up, really. I guess maybe some had garter belts. I think I did. But if you sat down with those lisle stockings, when you stood up you had a great big ball on the front of each knee. So you were always pulling and trying to get yourself in order. [chuckling]

HT:

Why did you have to wear both stockings and socks?

RF:

I don't know, for the same reason that we had to wear our long sleeves down and our neckties, too. [chuckling]

HT:

For appearance's sake, I guess.

RF:

Yeah. Those were orders of the day. Listen, it was not until I got to Buckingham [Army Air] Field [Fort Myers, Florida] that we were able to take off the neckties. We had what they called cantonment mittens. Our hands would be just as brown as they could be. You should see the outfit when everybody undressed at night, brown hands and a brown face, and the rest of you was white. [chuckling] They called these cantonment mittens.

So, yes, we did not like a lot of those regulations, but we didn't complain because we were in the army then and we knew it. And they knew they had the upper hand. We didn't mind that a bit. We loved our CO [commanding officer] and the officers that she had to help her, and the cadre. They had gone through the class just ahead of us, so they weren't too trained either. And then every now and then somebody would come back from a noncommissioned officer school where they had made corporal and were given a job to be part of the cadre.

HT:

What is the cadre?

RF:

The cadre were the enlisted people in the squadron. You had the officer personnel, the commanding officer, the adjutant, and the supply officer. The enlisted personnel in the cadre would be the first sergeant, and possibly three corporals that would be platoon leaders, and maybe a couple of PFCs [privates first class] that would be squad leaders, and that would be it. But through the channel of command, you know, everybody had a job to do. The squad leader had to make sure that all her twelve people were present, accounted for, and doing what they were supposed to be doing. And the corporal above her responsible for those three squads. All the way to the first sergeant. The first sergeant then would make her report to the squadron commander. And there was all this going on every morning at reveille.

Then, after we had spent the day drilling—and if it was raining at Daytona Beach and we were on the drill field, we continued right in the rain and drilled. We didn't run to the side and try to get under a tree or anything, we just—because it was like it was programmed. The sun would come out in about a half an hour, and it would be so hot it would dry us off. By the time we got back to the squadron area at five o'clock, we would be dry. After we had finished at five o'clock, as I recall, we were free to go to the mess hall on our own. I believe that was the way it was. But then there would be classes at night and we'd be back in formation again. The day was—we kept so busy that it went by in a hurry. And if we had any spare time, why, we were usually sitting. [chuckling]

The water was terrible there. I think they had put down wells in the area. It was brackish, and so there were Coke machines everywhere. And I remember I drank so many Cokes while I was there that I started having terrible kidney pains in my back. I reported to the commanding officer, and she in turn apparently had had this same problem with a lot of others. She said, “Well, you cannot drink any more Cokes. You'll just have to leave them off.” And that took care of it. But there were too many Cokes. But you can imagine down there in a temperature of 110, it wasn't unusual for it to be that hot.

HT:

What time of year was this?

RF:

This was in May. So I says to myself, “They cannot send me any farther south, that's all there is to it.” [chuckling] And I said, “I'll be out of this hot weather before too long.” Well, when June came after our four weeks were up, and every day was just about the same as what we'd had there, I got my orders, along with thirteen other stenographers, to go to Fort Myers, Florida. There were thirteen of us at one time. So the hot weather continued.

But let me tell you some of the crazy things we did. Now, in the evenings, if we weren't in class, I remember the first weekend a lot of the girls went to Daytona. I think I was on KP [kitchen police] that weekend, and so I had to be there in the area. And I'll tell you about KP a little later. But anyway, this particular weekend five or six of us were left in the barracks. It was a new building. All these barracks had not—they hadn't been cleaned, you know. They just had the carpenters' sawdust and that sort of thing in a lot of areas. So a couple of us, after having been assigned, we volunteered, which was the last thing I was supposed to do. Somebody told me when I left home, “Don't volunteer for anything.” Anyway, we helped to clean a new mess hall. And they had to have it cleaned because the rafters and everything had dust and so forth. We had to clean, sweep, dust—however we could get the dust and dirt out of that new mess hall. So we got the bright idea to get—and we had a hose, a garden hose—to use that hose to clean all the dust and debris that was in the shower room, in the bathrooms, and that area, and we just had the best water fight you ever knew. [chuckling] It cooled us off, you know.

Well, we were into mischief for sure. So we decided we were going to short-sheet a bunch of beds that night. And we did. Each of us had an old folding army cot, we had two sheets, and we had this nice thick comforter. Well, there was also a mattress cover. We didn't have a mattress. We were supposed to put the comforter in the mattress cover to make the mattress. Well, there was one girl in our squadron whose name was Alice Faye, and she was from Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, a real socialite, and just a wonderful person. And we had just all kinds of folks that were representative of womanhood in the USA, so we felt like we could get away with this. We took all the comforters from about twenty beds and put them on Alice's bed. Made her bed about this tall, you know. She was out and enjoying the town. We took another mattress cover and filled it full of paper, newspaper, just wadded it up real good. We knew this girl would be the last one in—and she was—and we, of course, had to stay awake to hear what went on. One bed we moved out completely. I don't know how we came up with so many different ways to mess up those beds. We short-sheeted a bunch of them, too. But the ones that we thought would make the most noise, we really gave them a good going over. So when Alice came in, and here is her bed, she said, “Oh, this is heavenly!” [chuckling] She had all these nice comforters, and we asked her if she needed some help to get up in it. And Pitkin was the last one to come in, and her bed was the one filled with shucks and papers. And she rattled around all night long. I don't think anybody could sleep. [chuckling]

HT:

Did she ever complain?

RF:

No, she didn't. And we knew that we were going to be next on the list if we left the barracks on a weekend. The ones of us who had done that were going to catch it. We did. But it was a lot of fun, really. I don't remember too much about some of our other antics, but there were some. Some of the girls went to the beach and enjoyed themselves. When we had inspections—What was her name? We had a wonderful major who would come around. She was the motherly type, but she was tough. Julia Moses lived at the end of one row in the barrack. Right outside her door was the mop rack, and there were eight slots on it and there were eight mops. Well, she was putting some finishing touches on something with one of the mops and she didn't get it on the rack. She just threw it under the barracks. [chuckling] So when the major came, of course she caught that, you know, and Julia got a demerit for not having the mop where it was supposed to be, and so did the squad. But these were about the most hilarious things that happened. We didn't have a lot of time for hilarity.

HT:

This was all during basic training?

RF:

Basic training, yeah.

HT:

Was this the first time you'd ever been away from home for any extended period of time?

RF:

Well, with the family, we went to Illinois and Missouri in 1932, I think it was, and visited my mother's family. She had five sisters and three brothers, and her mother was living. Her father had died, I think the year before, so we didn't get to see Granddad. But we spent maybe a couple weeks out there. From Missouri we went up into Illinois, Pontiac, and past the place where I was born. My dad was from here, Mom was from the Ozarks, so she didn't get to see her family too much. But when they did, they were just the most gregarious bunch of people. Those girls loved each other. I wish that we could have had the same kind of feeling among us. We just didn't have that that Mom and her sisters had. But we all sang. I mean, not that we didn't get along, but it wasn't just as pronounced as they were. They were so happy to see us and we were happy to see them.

I guess it was a couple of weeks, and we came across the mountains. It was a Model A car that time. The Model T had bit the dust a long time ago, but there were eight of us. My brother didn't go on this particular trip, but eight of us in that Model A Ford going up through the mountains. And there were no places to stop and spend the night, maybe a few around some of the towns, but we knew that we couldn't afford it, to find a motel or—They didn't call them motels then, they were cabins, little cabins, and maybe five or six of them in a place. So we slept in the car because somebody told us there were bears up there in those mountains. [chuckling] And we slept in the car, all eight of us.

HT:

That must have been tight.

RF:

It was. It was cozy. [chuckling] But at the same time, those mountain roads were not paved either. A lot of them were not. The Cumberland Gap was one area that we went over, and I remember seeing mules pulling drag pans where they were making the road. We came down the New Found Gap, that area, through the Smokeys [Great Smoky Mountains], and that was certainly under construction in 1932. And this was somewhere about the same time that the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, was doing all its work in the mountains, so there was a lot of road building going on. I don't know how long it took us to get out there, but it was eight hundred miles. So you can imagine a Model A that would go about thirty-five miles an hour. [chuckling]

But we had a great time. I remember crossing the Ohio River at Paducah [Kentucky]. And the ferry was one that you pulled yourself across. There were pulleys on it, and the men would pull those pulleys till we got to the other side. You know, we just took it in stride. This is the way things are, you know. I wish I had a lot of pictures of those days, but film was not something that we could afford either too much. We did have a little once in a while. But that, I guess, would have been the longest spell away from home. Then, when I got down there, oh, goodness.

HT:

But joining the military was the first time you had been away from home on your own?

RF:

Yes, and I want you to know I did not realize just how much my mother meant to me until I was there. And everything that happened to me I had to be responsible for. Nobody to say, “Mom, can you press this for me? Mom, would you mind washing this while I'm out?” Everything, you know. Boy, it hit you like a ton of bricks. It did me anyway. And I did a lot. I seldom had anybody doing for me at home, but it really made an imprint on me that here I had been dependent on other people a lot more. So that made me wake up and say, “You have to pay attention. You're on your own from here on out. Whatever happens to you, it's your responsibility.”

HT:

Well, what did your family think about you joining the military?

RF:

Oh, they were happy for us. You see, our brother had left in November of '42. And believe it or not, my attitude was that we had to go to help him. And I put on my application that I would be glad to cook, scrub, do anything like that, if it would help get my brother home. And of course that didn't make any imprint with them, but this was the attitude that I had, that we owed it to him to help get him home. If it would do it one day earlier, it would be worth it.

HT:

And what about your sisters who joined other branches of the military, did they feel the same way?

RF:

I think they did, yes, because we did not sit down and discuss this thing in a group; it was just something that each of us did on our own. Mom was happy for us. She had a flag in her window that had five stars on it. And it wasn't that we were trying to be different from anybody else. There were other women, a few others around here, who did go—not too many. You'll notice in that paper there are not very many. But that didn't make any imprint on me at all, the fact that—what other people thought about it.

HT:

I think you said earlier that the reason you joined was because your brother was in the service. Do you recall ever seeing recruiting posters advertising for women to join?

RF:

Yes, I'm sure we did. There was one with Uncle Sam pointing that said, “I want you!” [chuckling] And I believe I can still see that in the back of my mind.

HT:

The feeling was that if a woman joined it would free a man for combat. Did you have any feelings about that?

RF:

No, I didn't. But it really came to light when I was in Florida, and it was when they were sending a lot of troops over. And I remember we'd go to the train station—a lot of us girls would—to see the fellows off, some that we had known through the different organizations. And some of the boys were crying, I'm telling you. They didn't want to go. Absolutely they didn't want to go. And I didn't feel any remorse or anything at that. I just felt like, well, we're all in this together. And when they kept taking and taking and taking the men away from Buckingham, we saw that the girls were more and more and more running that base. The motor pool was practically manned by the women. The only place that we were not assigned was in ordnance. That was just too heavy for the women to do that kind of work. We wrote to a lot of the guys, and we'd hear from them. I have a few letters that came from Germany and Australia and places like that, the troops—and they had gotten over their initial anxieties apparently. But no, it did not make me say that I'm glad to release somebody to combat, because we had sent a lot of our girls from Buckingham—

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

RF:

Some of the girls that we sent to Europe were not too far behind the troops in Normandy. They bivouacked in apple orchards, we heard from several. There were several cooks among that group, and some medics. I guess that was the main emphasis then, to have food and medicine for the troops that they needed. We'd hear back maybe a month or two afterwards, you know, that they'd made it. We didn't know whether they made it safely or not. We didn't know, really, whether the ships would even make it, because so many of them were being blown out of the water by those U-boats. And a lot of the troops did not get to their destinations.

HT:

Your permanent duty station was at Buckingham Field?

RF:

Buckingham Army Air Field.

HT:

And that was in Georgia?

RF:

Fort Myers, Florida.

HT:

What was your job there?

RF:

I was a first sergeant of the WAC [Women's Army Corps] squadron.

HT:

Okay, and can you tell me what some of your duties were in that capacity?

RF:

Okay. Well, as I went down with the thirteen stenographers from Daytona, we were all assigned to duties there on the base, and I was assigned to the squadron. That's all I heard. They said, “You're assigned to the squadron.” Well, I couldn't imagine. The word squadron was new to me to be an assignment. I thought of airplanes in a squadron, you know. Of course, this was an air base and the basic unit was squadron. So they sent me down to the WAC squadron, and I was assigned as company clerk. And that job was just keeping the morning report and letters home to people who asked about their daughters and doing whatever the commanding officer had for me to do.

The first sergeant was a little girl. She wasn't very popular with some of the troops, and apparently was not popular with the officers. I didn't know that. You know, I just felt like everybody was accepted. So, after about two weeks, the squadron commander called me in and told me she wanted me to be her acting first sergeant. Well, I didn't ask her any questions. I said, “Yes, ma'am,” you know. [chuckling] It wasn't my business to ask her. We went out in the back area where we parked our supply vehicle and she gave me some voice and command training and a little bit of close-order drill training, and that was all the training that I had to be firstsergeant, other than what I had under my hat. [chuckling] So the next morning I took the roll call and gave it to the company commander from the corporals. And from then on I was first sergeant. Wherever I was stationed, I was the first sergeant of the squadron, all the way through the Army Air Corps and through the [U.S.] Air Force for the next almost ten years.

My job was to be a liaison between the troops and the squadron commander. I was responsible for discipline, for their presence on duty, for their presence at formations, for their health, for their well-being, for their food, for everything. I mean, it had to come through me. If there was something wrong and if I saw something wrong, I had to correct it. It was a pretty big job. I was kind of a mother away from home to these troops. And really, some of them needed that kind of attention. [chuckling]

HT:

How many girls were under your command?

RF:

Well, when I first got to Buckingham Field, I guess we probably had 150, and they were just building up that base, building up that squadron. I would say that the biggest number was right at three hundred. This was an aerial gunnery training school. We trained the gunners that flew in the B-25s, the B-17s, the -24s, and all the big bombers. And there were thousands of gunners going through that training school every week, so the amount of—Most of these girls were clerical technicians. We did have some girls who had been to airplane mechanic school, gun camera technicians, medics. Well, we just covered a wide expanse.

They said there were 237 different job descriptions that the WAC could fill. Well, we filled a bunch of them, but we didn't do 237. There was a lot of administration with handling that many troops. So our girls worked in payroll, in classification, training; we had girls who worked in the Link Trainer projects training officers in flying. Then, of course, our own cadre, we had our mess hall right in the same area where we were located with our two huge clapboard barracks. In our mess we had a mess sergeant, ordinarily six cooks, and then we supplied KPs who did all the dish washing, pot washing, potato peeling, and that sort of thing.

It was a very industrious and busy time. You know, at certain times you'd go out, you wouldn't see anybody out of their area because everybody was working, either in training or in a situation of marching to and from. We were between the base and the hospital, so there were forever and a day troops in marching formations going to the base hospital for shots, examinations, and so forth. They all had to be A number one before they could go overseas to be shot at.

There was not a whole lot going on outside of Buckingham Field. It was secluded almost there in the edge of the Everglades. They just built a base in the edge. I'm sure they drained a lot of it, they had to. And it's grown up again now. I was down by there October of '97. The only thing that's left that I could see of Buckingham Field—and I had to really put my imagination to work—is a scrap of the runways. And they're now used for mosquito control. They have a bunch of old—looked like C-47s to me sitting there that are doing mosquito control in south Florida. But we talked to a fellow who was standing there at the gate. He didn't even remember or know anything about Buckingham Field. Then we kind of refreshed his memory a little bit and he said, “Oh yeah, they trained pilots here.” [chuckling]

HT:

Well, it sounds like you really enjoyed your work there at Buckingham.

RF:

I did. It was a miserable place. We slept under mosquito nets eight months out of the year. And we knew they flew in formation and—[chuckling]

HT:

The mosquitoes?

RF:

The mosquitoes did. And they were big ones! [chuckling] No, we had to have the mosquito nets. Yes, I enjoyed it. Once in a while I would get to go to Miami, or one time to Sarasota, or to Tampa. Well now, Cuba was friendly then. And some of the men had been able to get passes to go to Cuba. And so a couple of us thought, well, maybe we could do the same thing. We did. The mess sergeant, and one of the technicians who worked in our family doctor's office in the hospital, and myself, got a three-day pass to go to Havana in 1944. And we caught a Pan-American plane from Miami and got off at José Martí [Airport] in Havana, and just had a marvelous time.

The people there were overjoyed to see us. There were a few military people stationed there but they had not seen WACs. We just didn't have any special itinerary planned, but we no sooner hit the street in front of the hotel that we stayed in, the Hotel Nacional I believe it was, when we were besieged by an army of little urchins. I have never seen so many little tiny boys in my life, and all of them wanting a penny: “Give me a penny, give me a penny!” Well, I think we gave out all the pennies we had. [chuckling] And there was one bigger boy among them who said he would like to be our guide, asked us if we had a guide, and his English was very fine. We said no, and he said, “I will show you where to go.” So he took us to a lot of places. We went to the capitol, we went into some of the entertainment areas. They seemed to have gambling for everything. Girls were hitting tennis balls at what they call—I believe it was Boleto, which—B-o-l-e-t-o, I think, was the name of that establishment.

There was another one. They took us to a Cuban cigar factory. And that was the most fascinating thing I believe that I have seen. It was a big square building. The people sat in a big circle on the floor, well, on a low stool, but they were in a big circle, rolling cigars. In the center was seated, on a high stool, a reader, and he was sitting there reading to them as they worked. You know, they were absorbed in their work and listening to him read. And they had a pile of tobacco here and they'd just roll, roll, roll. Every now and then, though, and this got my goat, they would spit on that cigar that they were rolling [chuckling] and make a finished Cuban stogie out of it. And I understand that's how they make them. I don't know whether they have changed any of that, but when I saw that happening I thought, “Oh well, if you're going to smoke cigars you have to put up with the whole bit.” But that was interesting. And they'd have a glass of water to replenish their saliva. But apparently that is one of the secrets to the Cuban cigars. But I thought that was the neatest place, really, just as quiet as it could possibly be on one of the main streets there. But this reader sat up high. I don't know what he was reading, but stories, and he'd go read the newspaper and keep them apprised of what was going on.

HT:

That is amazing. Did you do any other trips while you were stationed at Buckingham?

RF:

Oh yeah, I went to—Wait a minute, Buckingham? No, nothing but Miami and to Cuba. I didn't even go to Key West. I would like to have. That would have been a good—but I don't think anybody was there but [Ernest] Hemingway then. [chuckling] I didn't get to Key West until '97.

HT:

Well, other than trips, what else did you ladies do for fun on your spare time?

RF:

Well, the men trainees, aerial gunner trainees, would be taken up in a medium-size plane, like a BT-13 or maybe—They didn't have B-25s there, but they were a medium-size plane, eight or ten gunners at a time. They would shoot their colored bullet at a tow target that was being pulled by an AT-6, a trainer plane, and some of the WASPs [Women's Air Service Pilots] were piloting those planes. Of course, some of the other pilots were too, but the WASPs did that, pulled tow targets. Now, when they came back down to the ground, their tow target was taken off and they could check by the color of the holes in it whose bullets went where.

Every now and then a planeload of gunners would go down in the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes they'd come too close to another plane. We had a B-17 to go down one time when a fighter plane hit it. A pilot had come back from North Africa and he was showing off in his plane. He took the wing off a B-17 and everybody in it went down in the gulf. They had crash boat crews, crash boats and crews that would cruise up and down underneath the area where the training was taking place, and they would pick the guys out of the water. Well, we could go out to Captiva [Island] or Sanibel Island [Florida] and catch a crash boat and spend the day on board the boat. It was just a nice boat ride, really. Not much to do, but it was certainly a diversion from what went on. And every now and then there'd be another planeload go down. Sometimes they'd be lost, sometimes they wouldn't.

Also, I did one such trip, went out to Sanibel Island. Now, if you've ever been there, or heard about it maybe, it's one of the famous shelling places of the world. At the time I went, there was not a thing on that island but a little shack, I guess it was about six by six, that a writer had constructed, and he was living there in seclusion, writing. It wasn't Hemingway, but somebody about like him. Nothing else on that island. And I did not go out on the boat, I went looking for seashells. And I found quite a number in a couple of places, but I didn't go too far from our dock because I didn't want to miss the boat and be left out there. But some of the other girls would go out, and did go out on the boats that cruised up and down. When I tell people that I saw Sanibel when it had just one little six-by-six shack on it, they say, “You ought to see it now.” There's a road from the mainland over there. There was no road then, of course. You had to catch a boat to go over there.

Some of the girls would go up to Tampa or Sarasota. I went to Sarasota one time and visited the Ringling Museum and just enjoyed being in a different place. That was about it. There was not much doing. There were no young people, no young people around at all in any of those places. We were the young people that were there. Everybody else was gone to war.

And then let me see what else. What else did we do? [chuckling] We had a cottage, yes. Special Services rented a cottage for the WAC on Fort Myers Beach, and our girls could get three-day passes to go out there and spend the time. Now, I never was able to do that. I mean, the first sergeant, you've got to be on duty. You don't always have an understudy. I didn't. So the things that I did were limited. A lot of the girls would go every weekend somewhere. But I enjoyed what little I did do.

But that was a very, very isolated place. They had to have it so they could have the shooting range over the water, they had to have a place where they could build the dormitories or the barracks for the troops, and that had to be on the edge of the Everglades. And then there was a fighter base at Naples [Florida] on down the way where they had the fighter planes. Oh yes, those were interesting days.

HT:

Did you ever encounter any discrimination because you were a woman while you were in the military?

RF:

Did I ever what?

HT:

Encounter any discrimination because you were a woman?

RF:

No, I've thought of that. The only time that ever would have happened, and it wasn't because I was a woman, or maybe it was, was back home, one of our neighbors. And my mother straightened her out in a hurry.

HT:

What happened?

RF:

Well, she apparently was not very careful in what she was saying, and she said something to my mother about her daughters being out in the military service for the benefit of the men. Well, I didn't know that she had said that, my mother never told me, but Mom laid her out but good over that. And I noticed that when I would come home on furlough she would avoid me and not have anything to say. So, you know, I didn't run her down to find out what went on, and Mom never told me until a long time later. But that was the only time. I think it's remarkable, I really do, because there were a lot of folks out there who probably had some feelings like that. I think the fact that there were not more women from—well, from Greensboro. I know of only two other people besides my sisters who went into the military. One of them was Peggy Idol, who was the daughter of the principal of the high school at Pleasant Garden, her father was principal, and the other was one of our next-door neighbors, Mary Edwards. So there were others, but I didn't know who they were.

HT:

What was the general perception of women who joined the military at that time, do you recall?

RF:

I think that it was very good. In my church, every time I came home on furlough—Well, I had been active in the youth work there, and when I would come home, of course, I didn't have anything else to wear, I wore my uniform. We were not allowed to wear civvies, and I never dreamed of wearing civvies after I was in the military until they said we could. I was always greeted. And if I were in town, I've been saluted more times than you can imagine—GIs that would be there.

And even on the trains, the troop trains that we were on, we were not hustled or anything. We rode from Boston to Washington [D.C.] when I went from Fort Myers up to Boston to meet [my sisters] June and Laura. They were both stationed in that area, and then we three came home together. We rode in an old 1918 wooden passenger car of some kind. It had no screens on it or anything else. Stood up all the way from Boston to Washington. GIs were lying in the aisles, they were so tired. Most of the GIs were sleeping anyway, and I would not dare even think of asking one of them to move for me. I had the feeling that I may not be your equal in some areas, but right now you need the rest. You're probably going to combat, I'm not. We stood, and I got a cinder in my eye. It was one of those old steam engines, puffer-bellies, and cinders were flying everywhere, windows were open—It was pandemonium almost inside those cars. Hot! Oh, great day. But never, never—I never had anybody to make a wild pass at me when I was in uniform.

HT:

I was reading recently that I think it was in 1943 there was a scandal that was started by army men against the WACs, and the British military women and the Canadian military women had the same problem. Do you recall that at all, or hear anything about that?

RF:

No, but I'll tell you, Drew Pearson was a [newspaper] columnist in Washington—I believe it was Washington—and he was the one who propagated this idea, like when Miss Hiteman[?], our neighbor, had said that we were there only for their benefit. Well, Eleanor Roosevelt took care of him in a hurry. Yes sir, she came to the aid of everybody. And I think Drew Pearson tucked his tail and left. [chuckling] I don't know what happened to him, but anyway he—You know, the radio was full of this kind of thing for a little while.

HT:

Right. You don't know why Drew Pearson would have started something like this, do you?

RF:

I don't know. I don't have any idea. But I thought one day I would like to research that and see if I can find out what was going on. I never heard of anything that would even indicate that. Now let me tell you, at Buckingham I told you we were away. The base is here and the hospital here, and we're here. Our area is open on the front. We have barbed wire all the way around on the back and the sides, but we have a pretty good-sized area. We have a day room, supply room, and cadre in one building. Then we have two big barracks, and we slept double-deck, and then we have the mess hall. Well, GIs would get into our area every now and then, and some of them, I'm sure, were trying to get in. And some of them did get into the barracks. But we were ready for them. My cadre room—Now, say the barracks is built like this, my room was right here. Here was the door, and right here was a whole row of beds, and over here beds. But I had a room here, and then there was a room down here, supply sergeant, then back here were the latrines, then upstairs was all bunks. I have chased more guys out, and I had a baseball bat in my room. [chuckling] If I caught them—And I wasn't the only one. Some of the other girls would do the same, too, the supply sergeant especially. I'd grab that bat if they said, “There's a man in the house” or trying to come in. And if I got him going this way toward the fence, I could hear him groaning and his clothes ripping as he went through that barbed wire. I'm telling you! But we discouraged that. [chuckling]

HT:

I can imagine. You said you chased them to the fence. Did you ever catch any of them?

RF:

Well, not in that I—They outran me, and I was a pretty fast runner then, I guess. But this was interesting, one time we had an inspection team come from Maxwell Field [Alabama], and this was a base inspection. They had a warrant officer and a captain and a major, and they had flown down. Well, here's the base, here's the hospital, here's us, and right here is the officers' club. So the officers apparently had spent the evening after they got there at the officers' club. And the warrant officer—mind you, I want to think that he was just mistaken where he was, he was not familiar with the base, but he got in. He came into one of our barracks. And he was drunk. He was a great tall guy, a redhead. Well, the charge of quarters called the MPs [military police] right quick. We cornered this guy, about six of us, and we got him out of the barracks. And we were in our nightclothes. We had flannel pajamas and a red maroon corduroy robe. I remember that's what I was wearing.

And the MP came. We loaded him up and took him to headquarters, the three of us in our night robes and the MP, this redheaded chief warrant officer from Maxwell Field, Alabama. And the officer of the day was Captain Pittinger, who was a white officer in charge of the black troops. Well, he laced that guy up one side and down the other. You know, we had done our duty. We had the MP take us back to the barracks. The next morning before daylight, that inspection team was out of there on the way back to Maxwell Field. They weren't about to do an inspection. I don't know what happened to the warrant officer, he probably got a demerit of some kind, but they turned around and went right back. And I really think that he was just lost, but it didn't look that way to a lot of folks. [laughter] Sitting in the back of that pickup truck, the MP at that time had a pickup truck, this one did, and they had the warrant officer in the front seat and we three WACs in the back, and—[chuckling]

HT:

That must have been quite a sight.

RF:

Yeah, I think it was. I really think so.

HT:

Well, sort of in the same vein, do you recall any embarrassing or hilarious moments?

[Tape paused]

HT:

I think we were talking about hilarious and embarrassing moments, and you were going to tell me another story about—

RF:

Well, that was embarrassing for the warrant officer, I'm sure, very much so, and for the inspection team, because that apparently—I mean, it had to be reported to the base commander. The officer of the day, why, he was so flabbergasted, he didn't know what to think of it, really. And he did, I'm sure, read the riot act to that warrant officer.

Well, I don't know, there were not too many embarrassing things, I guess. Maybe I just didn't see them or they didn't embarrass me. I thought that generally overall, the whole time I was in, that I was with some of the best people that I could possibly never in my life in any other way have ever met or managed. I had never been in a group of people where there were Italian, Polish, French, English, Russian, any nationality—you name it, Bosnian, Croatian. My squadrons, the names looked like an international roster of some sort. And I knew every one of them. My first squadron, I even memorized their numbers. You know, we had the name and number together, and it just became part of it. The army serial number is what I'm trying to say.

We had girls from every state in the union, and some of them were very different from others. Some of them had strange ideas. I left a lot of superstitions at home, I think, when I left, ways that I had done things and understood things. Well, I'm sure that it was the same with them. We had socialites in our group, Alice Faye, for instance. We had the wife of one of the editors of the Washington Post, I think, in my squadron. And we had people of means that could have anything they want. And they didn't have to be in this terrible, mosquito-infested place in Florida, but they were there because they wanted to be there. And it was just such a wonderful group of people. The thing that I liked, I guess best, was the fact that everybody was a buddy of everybody else, one for all and all for one.

My supply sergeant, Lee Allmon, was from Blooming Grove, Texas. [chuckling] I never will forget her. She was one of the toughest critters I think I've ever known. She walked with a decided limp, but she had had both her legs broken. I believe she said she was riding on the back of a truck and somebody rammed the truck. She had her legs hanging off, both were broken right mid-wise, and they were misshapen and scarred. She had a time getting in the military, I mean a time getting in, but they finally let her come in after they put her through extensive tests. She was our drill sergeant, she was our supply sergeant, and general philosopher, I guess you'd say. She was just a wonderful person. She had had some college. She left when Buckingham closed. She went to physical therapy school, that's what it was. She became a physical therapist and became a lieutenant, and then after she got out she worked in the coal fields in Kentucky as a therapist, a lung therapist. She was just a fantastic person. Plain, down-to-earth, a Texas drawl that you could hear a mile away. Just somebody that I really kept in touch with for a long time. I don't know whether she is living or not. If I didn't have her current address, I'd just write “Lee Allmon, Blooming Grove, Texas,” and she'd get it. So it must be just a little hole-in-the-wall out there somewhere. But just like she was, it's pretty important.

Some of my officers—Well, now all those at Buckingham I didn't get to know too well. Lieutenant [Louise] Smith left us after about six months. Her husband had come home from somewhere, I think it was North Africa, and she became pregnant. And you couldn't stay in then, she had to get out, so she went back to West Palm Beach, Florida. Our second-in-command then was Eloise Husmann, who was from Chicago, and she was a great person. I visited her when we went on one of our trips to Illinois later, she and her mother. I don't know if she's still living. She may or may not be. Of course, I was younger than most of them, and I'm eighty-one, so you can imagine. They're all in their eighties if they're around.

I never thought of embarrassing moments too much. I really didn't. We were so focused on what we were doing, and we really were. I think you get embarrassed when you become unfocused sometimes, and so there was just not room for it.

HT:

Well, on another vein, what was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically, either in basic training or while you were at a permanent duty station?

RF:

The hardest thing? Well, I think I was in pretty good shape when I went in. I had been a secretary. I wasn't a 100 percent perfect specimen but in pretty [good] shape. I had gone on hikes and that sort of thing, belonged to the hiking club and so forth. Basic was difficult, yes, there was no question about it, but I really think—Now this is from a physical standpoint you're talking about?

HT:

Yes.

RF:

Well, I learned fast not to volunteer after I did that first time. That mess hall that we had to clean from one end to the other, including the rafters, was not any child's play, I can tell you. It was a new one, and the mess halls were made to feed maybe a thousand people at a time. We had those huge tables with the benches built to them, and we had to move and tug those things around and put them in place. We had to leave that mess hall ready for the troops to come in and the cooks to get in the kitchen. I guess that was the hardest physical job that I ever tried to do, and there were about eight or ten of us girls who were doing it. We'd have to hold each other while one is up here reaching and raking. We didn't turn the hose on it like we did in the latrine. It would have been easy. [chuckling] They wouldn't let us do that. But I guess that was probably the most strenuous activity that I had to do.

HT:

And what was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally?

RF:

Go to the morgue and identify one of the girls that had been killed in an automobile wreck. But that happened at Randolph Field [San Antonio, Texas]. Really, that was the one thing that shook me up. I guess the next would have been, and it pertained to death, we had a B-29 to go down at Randolph Field and all the crew was killed. And my squadron sang at the funeral, at the memorial. And that was almost impossible, really, because we knew some of those troops. But to identify Wanda Halstead was the hardest thing that I think I—I didn't know if I wanted to do it or not. My squadron commander, Arlene Goodridge, she was wonderful. If she hadn't been there, I don't know if I could have done it. But to go to the morgue at Randolph and identify that child. And she was killed in an automobile wreck. They were just driving too fast, on the way to an outing, to a squadron party.

HT:

I guess that was very, very difficult. Well, do you ever recall being afraid while you were in the military?

RF:

Afraid?

HT:

Or being in physical dangeer?

RF:

Let me see, yes. Our softball team from Goodfellow Field [San Angelo, Texas]—this was another base—we were flying to Phoenix to play the softball team at Edwards Field. And I had not flown very much, really, at that point—later on I did, I flew a lot—but there were no seats, no safety belts, or anything else in that plane. We all just piled in, parachutes, our bags, and everything in the back. And there were a couple of GIs along with us. And I thought I smelled gasoline, and these guys were sitting over there smoking, and I just knew we were going to go boom! It may have been that I overreacted, but I was scared at that moment. We had a whole softball team. There were total, with captain and supernumeraries and so forth, about fifteen or twenty people in the back of that—it was a C-47 cargo ship, and we were just sitting on the floor, no way to be battened down if we did run into a problem, no seat belts or anything. That, to me, I guess, would have to be. And I know that I voiced my concern to those guys to stop smoking.

HT:

And did they stop smoking?

RF:

Yeah.

HT:

Well, you say you were on an outing for a baseball team.

RF:

Softball team.

HT:

Softball. I'm sorry, softball team. What other things did you guys do for fun, social-wise and that sort of thing?

RF:

Okay, we didn't have a softball team in Florida or at basic, but there was a basketball team in Florida. I didn't play on that, but we did have softball at Goodfellow Field, San Angelo, and at Randolph Field, Texas, Randolph Field in San Antonio. We also had and did go to Trinity College [San Antonio, Texas] for night courses. Of course, in San Antonio there were many, many things to do, really. This was my last big duty station, too. I went many times to the auditorium. The Metropolitan Opera sent four operas to San Antonio one weekend. I sat there through three of them, I couldn't manage the fourth one. [chuckling] Carmen was one, Tristan and Isolde was another one, and Aida. Can you imagine three of those? Two on Saturday. I got the first one on Sunday, but the second one I just simply couldn't make it, and that was the Marriage of Figaro. I heard Arthur Rubinstein [pianist], I heard Sir Thomas Beecham [English conductor] directing the San Antonio Symphony. I don't know how many other greats, but I went to the symphonies a lot there.

HT:

And when was this?

RF:

This would have been in 1946, '47, '48, that area. It was after the war. In San Antonio. To tour San Antonio then was a charm, really. None of these crisscrossing highways. It was plain and simple. The Mexican influence was so prominent everywhere, the old missions and all, all the old buildings, and the old eating places, the Buckhorn Saloon. There was just a world of things to do there. You couldn't do everything you wanted to do in one trip to town; whereas, you know, Buckingham was so little to do that we'd get out on Sunday afternoons and just imagine that we were doing something interesting.

HT:

Now you were stationed at Buckingham for the duration of the war, until the war ended?

RF:

Yeah, I went there '43 to '45, right.

HT:

And where were you when VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day came?

RF:

Well, I was at Buckingham.

HT:

At Buckingham. And then after the war ended, you were stationed—?

RF:

Okay, we closed Buckingham Field. We didn't need any more aerial gunners. And my squadron, we had to bring it up-to-date and then close it. And so I was transferred then to Turner Field because the first sergeant there went home. You could either go home—As soon as the war was over, a lot of the troops did just go right home. But I didn't. I went to Turner Field, and that's where I ran into the German POWs [prisoners of war], and I was there about six months and then we closed that base, closed the WAC squadron anyway.

HT:

And where is Turner Field?

RF:

That's in Albany, Georgia. We just closed the WAC squadron. And then from there I was transferred to San Angelo, Texas, to the WAC squadron, and that was deactivated in about three months. So I got in on the closings of three. But it meant that you had to bring everything else up-to-date administratively, and a lot of things were left dangling, you know, and we had to turn in all equipment. There's a whole lot to deactivating a squadron. So then after I left San Angelo, I was transferred to San Antonio. Now I think it was kind of hit-and-go. They didn't really know what was going to happen. The squadron fell way down to less than twenty people, and then they started building it up. And then the Korean War comes along and they build it up again.

[End Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

HT:

We were talking about, I guess, the end of the war years. What made you decide to stay in the army? Or I guess by this time it was the Army Air Force. What made you decide to stay in, as opposed to getting out like most of the people?

RF:

Well, we go back to Buckingham for that, because I was there when VE Day and VJ Day—I really liked parts of what I had been through. I mean the whole idea of the war was not very palatable, but I liked the fact that I had been able to do something, and certainly a whole lot more than I had thought I would do. I liked the people that I worked with and I thought, “I can't leave this right now. I want to stay here some more.” And some of the other girls had the same feeling.

I had gone [on] another trip to see Laura and June on furlough, and I was on the train—Wait a minute now, on the train from New York to Boston. Let me see, yeah, New York to Boston—this was the second ending—when the A-bomb was dropped. And like everybody else, I didn't know what it was. I had no idea. We were sitting in the station, my train is going this direction, the other one this way. This train that is going west was loaded with GIs, and their window was as close as that to my window, but you couldn't hear, you know. So I drew on the window backwards so they could read it. I could see they were the 28th from Pennsylvania, and I drew my number of my squadron, and North Carolina and so forth. You know, we just corresponded like that while we were sitting there in the station.

And I looked at those guys and I—Now this was before I knew the A-bomb had been dropped. I looked at them, and here they had come back from Europe and were on the way to the Pacific. And I thought, “How sad. How sad.” I just couldn't believe it. Even before the war when they were having the maneuvers down at Southern Pines [North Carolina], the 28th Division was here, so was the Yankee Division, the 26th from New England, and the 78th, the Rainbow Division from New York, and so I recognized their insignia. I knew who they were and what they were: infantrymen. Well, you know, that left a weird, terrible feeling. And then by the time we got to Boston we'd heard that the A-bomb had been dropped. We still didn't know what it meant. But I have thought of that many times. I wonder where those guys were when they learned that they were not going to be needed any longer to go to the Pacific.

HT:

I'm sure they were very grateful.

RF:

Don't you know they were! And while we're on this topic, in New York, several times I made that trip, and another time I went with one of my troops to New York on furlough. I didn't get very many furloughs, but the few that I did, why, were pretty lengthy. I went in Grand Central Station, the door off the street one day, and it's—You drop down into the concourse. I have never in my life seen so many GIs. It was solid khaki. Well, I have seen that many too in parades. But it was interesting, everybody in that place was in uniform, solid khaki, waiting for a train or just gotten off a train. But that's the way it was everywhere you went then. You seldom saw anybody moving about unless they were in a uniform.

I was home on furlough when Victory in Europe happened, and of course that was a good feeling, too. When I got back to the squadron, I had learned that the girls in the upper decks had taken the mattresses off their beds and had slid down the stairs on mattresses celebrating. [chuckling] I can imagine carrying that mattress back upstairs to slide. It didn't tear holes in them or anything, I don't suppose. But there was quite a celebration, I guess.

HT:

I can imagine, everywhere.

RF:

Yeah, but when the A-bomb was dropped, oh boy. Yeah, it was interesting to be in New York. On one of my trips, and it must have been—I can't remember when, but the 82nd [Airborne Division] had landed the day after I had to come back home. I didn't get to see a parade down Fifth Avenue.

HT:

A ticker-tape type parade?

RF:

Yeah, the 82nd. Well, you can't have everything, and I missed that one. [chuckling]

HT:

That's true. Speaking about special events and that sort of thing, do you recall when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt died?

RF:

Yes, I do.

HT:

And where were you at that time?

RF:

I have a picture of my squadron in formation in these pictures that I brought. I was at the NCO [Non-Commissioned Officers] Club when we got the news. We had a little band there and we had a young man named Johnny Granato from Watervliet, New York, who was a tenor, a singer, and he was singing. And someone came in, they had gotten a telephone call, and said that President Roosevelt had died. And so Johnny stopped the song and told us. And I believe, I'm trying to remember, but I think he sang Ave Maria.

Well, we immediately got word in the squadrons that there would be a parade the next day, and everybody was to be there and in formation. My squadron was far away from everything way down here. The field that we paraded on was just a field, and I don't know that it had ever been used for anything else. It was just a spot that held the world together. But there was no audience, but everybody on that base was in formation that day and we paraded before the reviewing stand with the base commander and the band. There was, you know, a real feeling of gloom, probably not as much as there is in Jordan with King Hussein's death, but people were very, very subdued about it.

HT:

Speaking of President Roosevelt, what did you think of him in general terms?

RF:

I thought, well, almost that the sun rose and set in him. [chuckling] You know, he had helped to turn things around a whole lot even before the war certainly with the things that he had done: the National Recovery Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and all those great organizations, getting people back to work. We still had a long way to go, but he showed a lot of concern, and I believed he was as sincere about the future of America as anybody has ever been. The one thing that really, I thought, was just so terribly outstanding was when he went to Africa. And here we didn't know it. Nobody knew it until he landed there. Here he is riding in a jeep, reviewing the troops in Africa. And I can imagine how they felt. I can just imagine.

HT:

Did you know that he was crippled?

RF:

Yes. We all knew that. I don't know where all this story comes about that nobody knew he was crippled and so forth. Sure, we knew he had polio. The March of Dimes is something that he instigated. You know, “Everybody give a dime to help to find the cause of this dread illness.” But that was an open door to the fact that he had polio, because he was the one who instigated that.

HT:

What did you think of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt?

RF:

Well, she was a very plain-looking lady, but she was a very smart lady, a very smart lady, and I felt that—I just felt they were happy. All this stuff that we hear lately about his girlfriends and so forth, you know, that never crossed my mind. I just thought that here were two people that are working for the good of this country. She worked as hard as he did, probably harder. She came to Greensboro, I don't remember exactly when. I didn't see her. And I think the family, the ones that were here, went down to the train station when the—I believe his coffin went through here. I think it did. I'm pretty sure. Anyway, our family—my father just thought Roosevelt was about the best thing that could happen to the country.

HT:

Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were from this period of time, in the 1940s?

RF:

Yeah. Well, preceding that my hero was [Charles] Lindbergh, another flyboy. I guess I would have to say he was. From the forties on—how long of a period is there? [chuckling]

HT:

Well, the war years.

RF:

Well, Roosevelt had to be. He had to be my main hero, yes. And let me think now. There are some others. You know, we just didn't talk about people as heroes then. I guess my high school principal, Mr. Charlie Phillips, was one because he taught us so many things. He taught us how to make do with little, really, and I learned that in high school and home. We knew that from home, but it was just carried through right on. I have other heroes later.

HT:

Well, go ahead and mention them.

RF:

And up to this time, yeah. One of my favorite heroes of all is Chuck Yeager, the West Virginia pilot who broke the sound barrier. After reading his book, reading about him, he was just such a plain ordinary person. He didn't have college, and he was able to assimilate the demands of the job, and got the job done, but he paid attention to what the smart folks knew. One guy that had been at Cal Tech was one of his good buddies and helped him to understand some of the physics that was involved. Yeah, Chuck Yeager is one.

HT:

Did you ever have an occasion to meet him?

RF:

No, I haven't. When I went to Randolph Field, he came here to Greensboro. I missed him. No, he was in Winston[-Salem, North Carolina]. But maybe he'll be back someday, I hope. And he also took one of our officers who worked at the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph—She was studying the effect of high altitude on the inner ear. This woman was a scientist and a lieutenant in the WAF [Women in the Air Force], and I guess one of the experiments was—Of course she had to know about it from a first-person angle, and Chuck Yeager took her up in a fighter plane and apparently wrung both of them out, the fighter plane and her, so she could get her material, some of the material that she needed for the experiment. Yeah, he was at Randolph. And when I went to Randolph two years ago, in the vestibule, the very first picture I saw was Chuck Yeager. He was a handsome dude. He still is.

Yes, some of my other heroes, Jacques Cousteau is one. Was one. He's still. And very much so. He saw what we were doing to the world a whole lot better than most folks, and has tried, did everything he could to make things better. I don't know how long the world is going to be able to tolerate us. He was a fantastic person.

HT:

And he started exploring underwater back in the mid-forties, wasn't it?

RF:

Yeah, he constructed the first scuba—self-contained underwater breathing apparatus is what scuba means, you know—with some very plebeian, ordinary things. He almost lost his life too a couple of times using that, but he's the one who got that to the point that it is now a successful way to explore, yeah. And the Calypso, of course, went down in Singapore Harbor a couple years ago, but it has been pulled up and retired now as a training vessel, and they have the new Halcyon which is a turbo wind-driven machine. But they are still doing great things everywhere in the world, even though he died last June 25.

HT:

Can you recall any other heroes or heroines?

RF:

Yes, of course Mother Theresa, of course. Nobody could top her for what she did. And there are a lot of women. Of course my mother is my chief—My parents really are my main heroes, really, when you think about it. And I think everybody should feel that way if it's at all possible. In many cases maybe it's not. Let me see, I'll have to think about that and come back. My mind, I'm just sort of overloaded at the moment. [chuckling]

HT:

That's fine. If we can just kind of backtrack a minute, getting back to World War II. Do you recall what the climate or the mood or the feeling of the country was in those days during the war?

RF:

Yes, at least from my vantage point, I thought everything was on a high—a high, high level. When December 7th happened and our navy went down at Pearl Harbor, eight ships on the bottom, it hit a low spot, a real low spot. But it didn't take but a little while until everybody was clamoring to get going to do something, whether it was join the [U.S.] Army or the [U.S.] Navy or the Marines or whateverr, or whether it was to get to work in a factory. I wish I could remember the numbers, but it seemed to me like the Boeing Aircraft at River Rouge Plant [Michigan] put out a B-24 bomber every fifty-three minutes. And that was thousands of them in a year. Well, we had to do it that way or we never would have won this war. I forget how many fighter planes we built, one hundred eighty thousand, I think. It was totally, absolutely unbelievable the amount of work. And everybody was on a high, I mean, and they stayed on that. GIs, at least the ones that I knew—there were a few crybabies as I said, but they got over it—were anxious for this thing to end and to end with [Adolf] Hitler in his grave or wherever it happened to be. Hitler and [Joseph] Stalin both, for that matter. Stalin didn't have—He was probably as bad if not worse than Hitler, but I don't think there was the attitude that we feared him as much as we feared Hitler. I know who my World War II hero was, Winston Churchill, the real main one, above Roosevelt.

HT:

Oh, really?

RF:

Yeah.

HT:

Can you tell us why?

RF:

Well, because he was able to get the staid, complacent Englishmen fired up to the point that nothing could stop them, really. And if it had not been for Winston Churchill and what he was able to accomplish, we would probably have been speaking German right now. You would already know it, but I would be answering you in German. [laughter]

HT:

We'd be conducting this interview in German. [chuckling]

RF:

Yeah, don't you think? It could have. I don't know how they did it, I really don't. I've been to London a couple of times, and how in the world the British were able to hold them off as much as they did—Of course, they had big balloons up there. They didn't have much of an air force, but they were smart enough to engage the Germans and bring them back to England, so that if they fell they'd be on English soil, you know, and they wouldn't have as far to go or maybe not be taken prisoners or whatever. I really think that if it had not been for Churchill, the leadership that he gave—You see, the king was just a figurehead, that's all. I mean, the people didn't rally—They did rally behind him because of Churchill's influence, but I think we would have been in for it but good. But those stubborn—They were more stubborn than they were, I'm sure. I just think it's amazing that they were able to hold them off.

And when you read and think about Dunkirk [France]—Well, they lost a lot of people there, that's for sure, but they also let the world know that they had something, that they had grit. And when everything that would float went out to get them, to get these people that had been stranded, it's a wonder to me that they weren't all mowed down. They would have been if the weather hadn't changed and the air force couldn't fly. That was part of it. And just like after the Germans encircled the British and the French—this was before December 7—while they were fighting, I guess in '40, '39 and '40, when they started, they had the British Army and the French Army surrounded. And [Heinz] Guderian and his panzers were in a position to annihilate them. But because of the politics back home and because of [Hermann] Göring's feeling of superiority, he talked Hitler out of letting the panzers go ahead and destroy the people. He said, “Let my air force do it.” And his air force couldn't fly because the next day the weather turned bad. And that was the only way that those troops could get out of there. But the vanity of Hitler and his generals was too big. It cost them a lot.

HT:

You talked about the contributions that the English made, and particularly Winston Churchill, in winning the war, do you personally feel that you made a contribution to winning the war?

RF:

In a small way, yes, indeed. I think that our leaders had set forth the plans. And as I look back at it now, I'd say we really had some great leadership, General [George C.] Marshall for one. They knew what we needed to do. We didn't know. Whose bright idea was it to put a gunnery school down there where they could fly every day of the year, and bring these boys down there and have them over the gulf so if they fell they might stand a chance of being saved? I mean, that was just a real gem of some smart thinking. The fact that I was there and I helped to keep young women on the job, doing their jobs, and doing it good, not that I was personally involved, but I had a responsibility to see that that was done. Yeah, I feel that I helped, absolutely.

HT:

I think that was the feeling of most people, that if they worked either in a factory or if they were in the military, be it men or women, they felt like they made a positive contribution toward the war effort.

RF:

Absolutely. The fact that we were able to follow instructions, and that we did follow instructions, that we were focused on what we were doing. Nothing entered into that focus that shouldn't have when we were in it.

HT:

And after the war was over, I know you continued on and made the military a career, but were you encouraged to perhaps return to the traditional female role of going back home and perhaps starting a family and this sort of thing by your family and friends?

RF:

No, I wasn't. Of course, some folks would say, “Well, when are you coming back?” And I'd say—Well, my term of enlistment with the U.S. Army was for the duration plus six months. Well, I never received any notice of that until we got the separate air force. Of course, there was no set time, the duration plus six months. I guess we could pinpoint it, but I never thought about it or looked for it. I had enjoyed the air force, from the standpoint that it was a fighting outfit. But then when peace came, I felt I would like to see it from the standpoint of a peaceful application and what it can do in time of peace. Well, we trained a lot of pilots again, and a lot of those pilots have been piloting U.S. airlines, Delta, all those all over the world and for all countries. Of course, some of the pilots that we trained went into combat for their countries. Like at Randolph we had Turks and French, Italians, Swedes, Danes—I don't know how many different nationalities of pilots we trained at Randolph, and so some of them, I know, went into combat in other areas. But I liked it. Number one, I love planes. I guess that's a big part of it. It just instilled something in me that I couldn't—I wouldn't have been happy if I had come home and gone back to sitting in front of a typewriter—at that time anyway.

HT:

And how long did you actually stay in?

RF:

I stayed in nine years and almost—Wait a minute, September—My tour of enlistment, I enlisted for four years with the [U.S.] Air Force. That was from August— well, criminy, I can't even think—'48 to '52. So I had '43 to '48, almost six years there with the Army Air Corps. And then when we became a separate Air Force, then I enlisted for that. I thought about, yes, maybe making a career, doing twenty years.

HT:

Twenty-two years plus, right.

RF:

I had turned down a couple of jobs. One was to go to work with what is now—would have been the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] in embassies. I think that was how it was. Anyway, they were looking for first three-graders to go to American embassies. Now that I did not—I didn't feel like I wanted to do it certainly at that time.

HT:

What made you decide not to continue in the air force after nine years?

RF:

Well, I got married, and that took care of that, I guess. [laughter] I was stationed in Washington then. I had left Randolph once again and had been sent to Fort Myer, Virginia. And at that base I had the biggest squadron, but just for a brief time, nine hundred troops. We were in the process of breaking it up into three, that's what we did. But anyhow, I had met Roy Fortune at Randolph Field at Air Force Day in 1950, before he went to Korea. Now, he had come back from Germany and from Bastogne [Belgium] and all that. So we got married when he came back from Korea in 1952, and he was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and I was at Washington. So when my TOE [term of enlistment] came up, I just went to Fort Campbell.

HT:

So, after the Second World War, if a WAC or someone—a woman in the military did not automatically have to leave if they got married? Because I think that was the case during the war. Is that not correct?

RF:

No, wait a minute—

HT:

Because I think I've talked to a lady who said that she got married in 1944 and was automatically discharged or something like that.

RF:

I am not sure. I didn't have anybody in my squadrons that that happened to. I had some married girls in my squadrons whose husbands were elsewhere. If they got pregnant, yes, they had to leave.

HT:

Maybe that's what I was thinking about.

RF:

That was it, yeah.

HT:

That was it probably, not married.

RF:

But you did not have to, no, or at least I don't remember that. That was the whole thing. Because I did have a few that got married in Florida, and they were there when we closed up. Yes, that was the reason.

HT:

Well, that was a good reason. [chuckling]

RF:

Yeah.

HT:

Do you recall what impact the military had on your life immediately after you got out, and in the long term?

RF:

Well, I tell you what, it had been ten years that I had been responsible for a lot of people, around people and responsible in a big sense, yeah. And all of a sudden, here I am responsible for nobody but me and my husband of sorts. And he was hither and yon, gone to Alaska, gone to other places.

HT:

So he was in the military after you got married?

RF:

He was in the paratroopers, in the 11th Airborne, and had come back from Korea. I did not realize at the time fully, but he was not all there by a long shot. He'd had too much combat, World War II. And I'm still not real certain how much in World War II, but he said he was at Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge, and the paratroopers were there. And then to go to Korea, and he was a squad leader. His unit had a howitzer and they pulled it up and down. They were surrounded two or three times by Chinese with their banzai attacks, and it was just entirely too much. And eventually—It might not show up immediately but it does later.

HT:

The mental strain, I guess.

RF:

Yeah, too much mental strain, that's right. Well, first of all, the things that happened to me: I left the military, here I go to a new surrounding, I'm married, a whole new way of life, I'm not working and being responsible for a lot of people. It just about got me down, really.

HT:

I imagine it was quite an adjustment for you.

RF:

Oh, it was a terrible, terrible adjustment. I wouldn't want to go through that again, no. One thing at a time is enough.

HT:

Well, how did you get through it?

RF:

Well, I got a job at the base there in the billeting office, and I would assign quarters to the troops coming in and listen to all their complaints. [chuckling] And we had complaints because they had taken a bunch of old World War II barracks and split them up into four apartments. They used coal to heat, and the places were dirty and grimy. And some of the people, to keep the grime out, would stop up the heating elements and no heat would come in. Oh, it was just terrible! Then another job I had was to assign garden plots. They had a section they'd let people have a garden on the base, and so I assigned the garden plots. And I had to make sure that the same guy who had it last year got it this time, you know? I did that for more than a year, worked in the billeting office. I was back in touch with people. Then my daughter—Well, Roy went back to Japan. Well, my daughter was born in January before he went in February back to Japan. Well, we were living in the married housing, and I couldn't continue living there if he wasn't there, so I had to pack up, and I came back to Greensboro to my folks. And so that was kind of—That helped me to get through it, really.

HT:

Being with family again, I guess?

RF:

Yeah, and then I had a baby, a little girl, and she was—You know, a whole lot of bringing me back to life. And my folks, my father just absolutely adored her. So I didn't have to worry about babysitters or anything like that. And in August, after she was born in January, I enrolled here at Woman's College, and I went four solid years here.

HT:

And when was that?

RF:

That was August of '54, and I graduated in '58.

HT:

And what did you study?

RF:

Well, when I looked at the curriculum, I said, “I want—” And I looked over in the senior year curriculum. I said, “I want that and I want that,” meaning physiology, the top physiology courses. I took practically everything that there was in the biology field. I didn't have bacteriology, that was one thing. But I had Dr. [Archie D.] Shaftesbury [Professor of Zoology], and you've heard of him, I'm sure. Dr. Shaftesbury, and Dr. [Maude] Williams [Professor of Physiology], Dr. [Virginia] Gangstad [Professor of Biology], they were all teachers that I really—I don't know that I enjoyed every one of them every minute, but I really learned from them.

HT:

Did you know Dr. Laura Anderton [Professor of Biology]?

RF:

Yes, sure! We went on a field trip down to Beaufort [North Carolina]. Yes, she was over here at the time I was. Let's see, Gangstad, Williams, Shaftesbury, Anderton, those were my main teachers. I just went with Anderton on a trip, I didn't have her. And then Dr. [Richard] Bardolph was my history teacher, and Dr.—Oh shoot, I forget names now. This is terrible. Anyway, I enjoyed this, and I carried as many courses as I possibly could.

HT:

I imagine that was rather difficult. Here you had a family and full courses. How did you do it?

RF:

Well, I got a small check from the government. I think they paid me $134 a month to go to school on.

HT:

Was that part of the GI Bill?

RF:

Yeah. My mom and the family kept my daughter. I mean, they wouldn't have it any other way. You know, we were living there and they just—Well, she didn't get to enjoy her own children like she did that one grandchild. And Daddy just was wild over her. [chuckling] So there was no question about who would take care of her. She would be in good hands. I didn't have a worry there, not a particle.

Uncle Sam gave me a little money, and I worked in the library and a few places while I was here, and I forget, in a couple of the labs I helped. I didn't have much of anything, but I was able to get my books and to get a degree, period. I majored in biology. I had four years of Spanish and a minor in Spanish and general science. And so when I started getting letters from hither and yon about coming to our school, North Carolina was paying teachers $311 a month. Well, I was staying there with Mom and Dad, and Roy was still—He by this time was out of his—He'd been in psychiatric wards at Letterman and places like that. We could not maintain a home. Anyway, I did not see how I could go off to Salisbury [North Carolina]. They had a new school, a new library, everything that you needed, laboratories and all, for $311 a month. So I said, “I just cannot do it. I have to maintain a household.” There was no way. So we stayed here with Mom and Dad, I went to work for the Social Security Administration, and I could stay home to do that, work in High Point [North Carolina], twenty-five years of that. And that was a tough, tough job, really one of the toughest jobs I ever—Well, nothing worse.

HT:

Oh, really? Even tougher than being in the military?

RF:

Oh, the military was a dream beside Social Security. In Social Security, of course, you're dealing with a lot of people. Yes, once again people, which is great, but Congress writes the law. Every day that they meet they make a change or something, and we had to read continually. You had to keep—Well, when I first went, there were no computers in the office. In the whole Social Security organization there was one set of computers, and that was in Baltimore [Maryland] where the earnings records were kept. Everything else had to be done manually. We had to figure by two or three different formulae what a person would receive from their benefits, based on, oh, all kinds of things. It was very difficult. Eventually, not while I was there, but computers were beginning to be part of the act. And now everybody has one on their desk.

HT:

Right. Well, we've got several here, as you've probably seen. [chuckling]

RF:

Yes! We did have one computer. After a long while they got one computer in the office. They built a separate room for it, air-conditioned specially. Nobody could go in there but the operator. And then I left in '84, and the next year everybody got a computer on their desk. [chuckling] I said, “Well, I'm a computer illiterate, that's for sure.”

HT:

If we could just backtrack for a second to your days here at Woman's College, do you recall anything specifically that happened while you were here from 1954 to '58 that left a lasting impression on your mind?

RF:

Well, let me see.

HT:

I guess you were a day student, so—

RF:

I was, yes.

HT:

You weren't really involved in a lot of the campus-type activities that the typical college-age kids would have been involved in because you were what today we would call a mature student or adult student or something like that.

RF:

Yeah, a town student. No, I think just the excitement of being here. For me it was a great, great—It was as great an adventure as the military had been. In fact, the two things, I guess, are pretty close on a parallel, because I learned to know people in the military. I just had an education of ethnic—Well, of all the ethnic groups, I think. I learned so much from being there and how people under pressure can operate. And then here I learned that I'm under a whole lot more pressure here, really, than I was in the military, because I had to learn how, number one, to read and assimilate. I don't think I had read a book, a whole book, in the ten years before I came here. And when I went to my first history class, here goes his name again, my history teacher, 101—I'll think of it later. What did he do but assign us Plato's Republic for our first lesson, our first report. [chuckling] I read and read and reread and reread. And eventually some of it began to sink in, but it took a while. Dr. Bardolph would assign us one thousand pages of outside reading without batting an eyelash, and think, you know, you can do this. Dr. Shaftesbury would be sending us to the library all the time to look up National Geographics of 1920, to find out something about an earthworm. And that particular magazine was so dogeared. [chuckling] So the pressures were greater here.

HT:

I'm sure they were.

RF:

But the idea of being here around people that—I had almost given up hope that I would ever get to college. And then to hear him. He did our—

HT:

Randall Jarrell?

RF:

Yes. He did our sophomore lecture and he read his poem, The Witch of Coos. And I had admired him from afar for so much. I just thought it was absolutely—I felt like I was in the presence of royalty.

HT:

Did you have classes with him, or was this—

RF:

No, I did not. My English teacher was Gene Gagan. He did a lot of creative writing, and I didn't have time to do much creative writing outside of the biology area. But that's what I wanted to teach, biology, I really did, and I was prepared for it. It wasn't all in vain. I used a lot of it with Social Security in teaching disability to the people in the office. We had to know all the disability conditions and all the body conditions. It helped. So yeah, the years here were something that I had dreamed of and didn't think I would ever get to make it. I remember as a kid out on the farm the girls from Woman's College—or it was North Carolina, NCCW, [North Carolina College for Women, Greensboro] or the [State] Normal School [and Industrial College] would come and pick daisies.

HT:

Right, for the Daisy Chain.

RF:

For the Daisy Chain. And I thought how wonderful it would be.

HT:

And they actually picked daisies on your farm?

RF:

This was the Ballinger Farm. They actually picked daisies there, yeah. It's where the new Harris Teeter [grocery store] is right now out on Friendly [Avenue]. Yeah, I remember seeing a couple of carloads of girls come, and there were a lot of daisies there. Dad didn't farm all that land at that time, so the daisies had a chance. But I thought, “Oh, this is just so wonderful.”

[End Tape 2, Side A—Begin Tape 2, Side B]

HT:

—we were talking about traditions, the Daisy Chain and the jacket. Did you participate in any of those while you were here?

RF:

Well, of course I had a jacket, yes. I still have it. It's a little tight on me now. [chuckling] But I participated in as much as I could as a town student. I was not in the Daisy Chain, no, but I appreciated it very much for all those who had been and had worked on it, because to me that was just this place, really. That Daisy Chain just meant so much to me.

HT:

Speaking of the school, do you remember any of the administration, like [Dean] Mereb Mossman or—I think [Dean of Women] Katherine Taylor was here at that time.

RF:

Dean Taylor, right.

HT:

Dean Taylor, right. And who was the chancellor or the president of the school when you were here, do you recall?

RF:

[Dr. James] Ferguson was here a while and then Mr. [William] Pierson was here. I believe he was an interim. Dr. Ferguson—Was it Pierson? I believe that was the name. Yes!

HT:

I think Dr. Pierson was here twice as interim president.

RF:

Yes, right. Well, he was here when I was here. Wait a minute, Dr. Frank—was it Graham? I mean Edward Kidder Graham, he was here when I first came. And I remember we freshmen all were herded into Aycock Auditorium and he gave us a lecture. And he says, “Look to your right and to your left.” He said, “One of those people will not be here after Thanksgiving, will not come back after Thanksgiving.” And I guess maybe that was true.

HT:

At that time the school was an all-women's college.

RF:

Right.

HT:

Can you give me your feelings about how it felt to come to an all-girls school?

RF:

I really liked it. I just simply thought that it was wonderful. I thought that, from my little experience up to that point, I didn't see how it could be any better, I really didn't. And I was really hurt when it was no longer a woman's college, because I thought that it served a great purpose as a woman's college. I could see where the men needed to have a place to go at home to school if they wanted to, but I still—and I still feel that it was one of the greatest schools. Somebody told us, I don't know who it was, that we ranked with the Ivy Leagues schools, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, all those great schools. And that was just a good feeling to know that we were getting a topnotch education, and I'm sure that it's topnotch now. But I just felt real good about being here at a woman's school. And I had been around women so much, you know, in the military there that—It wasn't that I had to be around them, no, but I felt right at home.

HT:

And you mentioned the academic standing was very high at that time and it had a very good reputation.

RF:

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Yes, Dean Mossman was here. [chuckling] I had to go in to talk to her one time. I took the marine biology course in the summer of 1957. That was down at Beaufort with Dr. Shaftesbury, and there were only five of us in that class. We stayed at Dr. Shaftesbury's father-in-law's cottage on the causeway, and Dr. Shaftesbury stayed at the lab. The next year I wanted to go back, and Dr. Shaftesbury asked me if I could go and be an assistant and help him, and because I had a little background in working with women. We had managed to take care of all the meals at Pappy Cox's place. We would cook for Pappy Cox, who was a diabetic, and Dr. Shaftesbury. So all our meals were right there. I was more or less the chief cook and bottle washer, and the girls helped. Well, Dr. Shaftesbury kept the money and he'd go buy groceries, you know. So we had a thing all worked out, but it was great.

So the next year he had eleven women who wanted to come, and he needed somebody to help him, really he did, because with that many and then to have the cooking and all that. So we managed to find enough places there at Pappy Cox's place so everybody could have a bunk. Dr. Shaftesbury was still up at the laboratory but he'd come down to Pappy's to eat. So I came back the next summer. But when my schedule was arranged, I believe it was preceding— I don't know, it might have been after—Anyway, I got six hours credit for that work. Well, Dean Mossman said that I had too many credits, that I could not take over fifteen credits. And I believe she cut three of them off, even though I had completed the work for six. But I didn't really care because I had plenty anyway. I had more than enough credits to graduate. But I did have to go in to talk to her about that. That was the only time.

But my first year, I can't remember the lady's name who was my advisor, and she called us all in and we talked about our grades. I told her I was concerned about mine. I said, “You know, I don't know, really, how I'm doing.” And she said, “Oh, you're going to do all right.” I had a B-plus average, you know, and I think I had a B-plus all the way through. She wasn't at all upset about it, but somehow or another I just had a feeling I wasn't doing what I really should be doing. I didn't feel totally adequate. But I guess I got over that feeling.

HT:

Do you recall a building on campus called—I think it was called the Students' Building? Was that still here at that time, or had it been torn down by the time you were here? It was right out here in front of the library almost. It was an old Victorian building, and I think maybe Elliott [Hall] had been built by that time, so—

RF:

The McIver Building?

HT:

McIver Building.

RF:

McIver, and it was the other side of the administration building. That was the one that was torn down, McIver. Yeah, I had classes on the second floor, English and Spanish, and one day a big chunk of the ceiling came down in the stairwell. But I think it was built without a bit of steel in it. So they took it down. They've surely reinforced the other buildings that were built at the same time. McIver is the only one that I can think of.

HT:

Okay, that's probably what I'm thinking about, too. Do you recall any other interesting times during those college years, from '54 to '58, that you'd like to tell me about?

RF:

Well, let me see, let me see. You know, being a town student I did miss some things. But it was not something that limited my growth, because I'd already been through a lot of that, you know. But I really don't know anything too outstanding. Dr. Bardolph was one of my teachers. You know who he is?

HT:

Yes.

RF:

I admired him. I just thought he was one of the smartest people I knew. I met him out on the campus one day, and I was going to biology and he was going in the opposite direction, and he said, “Well, where are you headed for?” And I said, “Oh, I'm going down to biology to dissect a cat.” And he said, “Hmm, me, I'd rather skin the president.” [laughter]

HT:

He was referring to President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower?

RF:

In 1954? It would have been Eisenhower. Yeah, that's right. [chuckling] He would come in the classroom, especially if it was a—on all test days, not especially, all test days. After he had given us instructions how we were supposed to do it, then he'd put his history book down and he said, “Now, maybe by the process of osmosis some of it will slip out.” [chuckling] And I said, “Oh, don't say that!” to myself. Yeah, well, we did, we just had—I felt that I could not have gotten a better college education anywhere, absolutely. All things being equal as they were at the time, the situation that I was enduring, a sick husband and a baby at home, a pittance of income really, but I managed, I really did. And the fact that I had left the chance that I could have gone—If I had stayed in, I could have gone to OCS [Officer Candidate School] probably. I could have been a—who knows, a major or a general even, because that's where they chose their people from, from the ranks that had had some time during the war. But I don't look back at it too much to even think about that.

HT:

So you don't have any regrets that you didn't stay in?

RF:

No, I wouldn't trade anything for my college, coming here. Absolutely. It's probably the best thing that happened to me.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

RF:

Yes, I do.

HT:

Well, do you think the military made you this way, or were you independent before you went into the military?

RF:

Well, I had a certain degree of independence before, because you be the eldest of seven children and you be a girl, you get more jobs than you can imagine. Now, I helped my mother raise all the rest of the kids, I'm sure of that. I know I was left in charge I don't know how many times. And if something went wrong, I was the one responsible. That was the beginning of it. And my folks were pretty stern disciplinarians. If they told us to do something, we did it. We didn't complain and say, “I don't want to do that.” When mealtime came, everybody was at the table. We didn't say, “I don't want to eat now, I'll eat later.” You ate then or else not at all. [chuckling] We were not independent in that department, no. But we learned independence, I think, from Mom and Dad, a whole lot of that. But then I also had the added attraction of being the oldest and being the one that got blamed for a lot of things. [chuckling] And no, I think I just paid attention as I went on, and when I saw something that needed to be done, why, I did something about it.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the military? Did you consider yourself to be any of these things?

RF:

No, I didn't, I really didn't, because I looked at this as something that everybody was involved in. You didn't ask anybody, men, you didn't ask which branch. You just said, “Where were you in the military?” You didn't say, “Which branch?” No, women—I did not. I did not let that enter into my thinking at all. I felt that this was something that I needed to do. I had already decided that my brother—We only had one brother and we wanted him to come home, and I said, “If one day I can help him in his return, that's it.”

HT:

Well, do you consider yourself and other women who joined the military during World War II to be forerunners of what we today call the women's movement?

RF:

No, I don't. I really don't. I think we have maybe a whole lot better understanding of women totally than a lot of the ones in the forefront of that, I really do, because sometimes I get a little discouraged at some of the things they are saying and doing. It could be my upbringing, my Victorian grandmother and my stern folks, but nevertheless—No, I am not going to jump and run at every whim that some of them come up with. If they make things easier for us, which I doubt, I don't think they have. And besides, life is not easy, and I just don't like looking for the easy way out.

HT:

Have any of your children ever been in the military?

RF:

No. I have the one daughter.

HT:

Just the one daughter, and so you never encouraged her to join?

RF:

No, but she has been so excited about this after going to Randolph Field with me the year before last. She was like a lot of other folks, you know, I would try to tell her something and she'd say, “Oh, that's ancient history, Mother.” [chuckling] I was talking one time about being in the war, and she said, “What was it, the Civil War?” [laughter] No, she has not. But she engineered all of the deal of my going to Randolph Field to be at that celebration and to be one of the inspectors of the Thunderbirds, to meet the Thunderbirds. She was just enthralled with it. And she is now—If she were military age, she'd be in the service. She really would.

HT:

So she has sort of come around.

RF:

She has. Yes, she has. She has seen that it's exciting in a way, yes.

HT:

Well, how do you feel about women being in combat positions these days?

RF:

I do not like it. I don't like it a bit. I really don't think that we ought to put women in a place where they could be harmed. Somehow or another it goes against my grain, really.

HT:

Well, women these days have a variety of duties in the military. There's not much that they're not allowed to do.

RF:

Yeah, that's right. They're helicopter pilots, bomber pilots—This girl in Minot, South Dakota, a big B-52 pilot, a big, big bomber. I just can't assimilate that into my thinking. I don't like the idea of women being placed in combat. It's not a natural situation, for one thing. It's not that the woman has got to protect somebody. That is my feeling about it. I was all for it back—Not all for combat, no, back in World War II. I was for us doing what we had to do, and I felt like we had to do it. We had more than five hundred thousand women in the military, and I know that that made a difference. It made a big difference. Because we were not the buck privates in the rear ranks. No, a lot of us were in jobs that were real, real meaningful.

HT:

Speaking of jobs and World War II, was there a difference in the type of jobs that women did during the war and the types of jobs they did after 1945?

RF:

Yeah. We didn't have to have aerial gunners trained. They still could do pilot training, they could still do the link trainer, but that may or may not—I don't know, I don't think that job was something that wouldn't be acceptable either way. Air Force mechanics—I think there were enough men that could keep the planes going. And the women, there were two little girls in one of my squadrons at Buckingham that were so tiny they could put them inside the big wings of the bombers to buck rivets. Well, can you imagine being down there on the runway, and the heat's 100 degrees, and you're inside? That was pretty terrible duty, I think. No, not too many women, I think, are automobile mechanics or airplane mechanics or something like that. That job has kind of gone by the way. All the medical jobs, they're okay. I don't know any of those that a woman couldn't do. The clerical work they could still do. We didn't do the one job, working in ordnance. That was the shells and all that business, and I don't think that's a place either. I think women can pilot, yes, but I think—It's kind of touch and go there with me. I know there are a lot of women in the commercial pilot business and piloting their own planes, so I think that probably that's where I would draw the line. But I don't like to hear that they are helicopter pilots picking up people down behind enemy lines.

HT:

I don't have any more questions as such, but is there anything else you'd like to add about your military service? Nine years is a long time to spend in the military, and I may not have asked all the questions, [chuckling] so I'll just let you mention anything that you want to that I haven't asked.

RF:

Well, you have sure asked a bunch that I hadn't thought about in a long time, or hadn't thought about, period, ever. Some few, like the women in combat, that's been on my mind a lot. That's one that I had, and I definitely have some opinions about that. I know this new military is different. I brought with me today a handbook, I don't know whether this is it, but it was given to me in 1950. Yeah, Senior Personnel Specialist, that's what my name would be now.

When I came back from Key West in 1997, two years ago—I have a friend who lives in Valdosta, Georgia. He was at Randolph when I was there and he was an airplane mechanic and a crew chief and up and down the scale. And his son was retiring from the Air Force in October. Well, I was there in the first of October. He was stationed out at the base, Moody Field [Georgia], and he asked me—I told him that I'd been to Randolph, and he said, “Well, would you come out to our base and talk to a leadership class? We've got NCOs that have to go through these leadership training classes, and they want to get a feel of a little bit what it was like back in World War II.” I was on the way down to Key West, that's when it was, and I said, “Gee whiz, I don't know whether I can.” He said, “Yes, you can. Sure you can.” And my friend Ann [Gallagher] that I was with, she said, “Sure, you can do it, Reva.” So I said, “Well, okay then, that'll give me time to think about it this week that we're in Key West. And when we come back through then, I'll go out to the base.”

Well, I didn't have any clothes to wear. I just took things to wear for going on the boat. So I called my daughter and had her send it to Ann's mother, my clothes, so I could be dressed decently for it. I go out to the base, and the class is sitting there waiting because we were a little bit late. There are five or six sergeants. There is a young woman who is the first sergeant of a big squadron that the day before half of them had left and gone to Turkey, planes and all. She's a first sergeant. Well, she lives in a two-room quarters with another sergeant. They have everything imaginable in the way of appliances that they need. They don't even have to think about what they're going to have to eat or anything. They have a microwave oven, TV, computers, everything you can imagine. This is the army today. They couldn't believe what I was telling them about, some of the things we've talked about. They simply couldn't believe it. And they wanted to know, “Well, how did you know what you were supposed to do or when you were supposed to do things?”

I said, “Well, we worked on schedule, just like going to work today. I mean, you go to a job. We lived in an area that was set aside for us.”

And one fellow said, “Well, I don't understand how you could do that.”

I said, “Very simple, they just built big old barracks and put all of us in it.” [chuckling]

They had some of the dumbest questions, and maybe my answers were dumb too. I said, “We were confined in an area that was the WAF area. No one else lived there. We had food, shelter, clothing, administration, everything that we needed.” They wondered how we could get along if we didn't have vehicles to move around. I said, “We walked everywhere.” We did, we had a jeep assigned, but it was for only business. You couldn't just run up to the PX [post exchange] in the jeep, no. If you wanted to go to the PX, you walked. [chuckling] And so they couldn't understand how then what we did amounted to so much compared to what they're doing: “Did you have to do things like this? Did you have to go on TDYs [temporary duties] to foreign countries and so forth?”

I said, “Absolutely not. There was no way that we could do that.”

So one girl said, “Well, I just don't understand it, not compared to what we do today.” And I said, “Well, let me tell you this, I believe if we had messed up, you wouldn't be here today.” And I think that's true.

HT:

That is true.

RF:

Absolutely. They couldn't assimilate the idea that everything was so simple, so basic, so minimum. We had to use what we had, or make it do, or manufacture something. We couldn't call engineers and have it immediately delivered. I said, “The times have changed. Fifty years has made a whale of a difference.” But at least we got a bunch of questions out of them. They looked at me as though I were a freak of some kind, you know? [laughter]

HT:

From another time, right?

RF:

Yeah, from another time. They didn't think anything like this had endured. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, do you think you made an impression on them?

RF:

Oh yeah. I think so, yes. Then they got up and marched out and went to phys. ed. after they talked with me. But that young sergeant, I spoke with her a little bit. Her job is nothing at all like what I had, you know. They are all independent, very independent, but she does have a certain responsibility. They've got to have the channels yet, you know. And she said half of her group left by C-130s [airplanes] to go to Turkey the day before. And she didn't know if she would be going even. So, anyway, it has changed tremendously, there's no question. But they were sharp. I mean, in their realm they are sharp, there's no question about it. And I didn't see any of the troops dozing off or high-fiving or anything either.

HT:

So it sounds like you were favorably impressed by them.

RF:

Oh yes, very much so. Yeah. And I think that it was worthwhile for them to hear. I did tell every one of them, I said, “There's something I think you ought to do while there are still some of us around. You go out here and find yourself a gentleman who was a GI—navy, marine, or whatever— uring World War II, and sit down and ask him a lot of questions. Make a friend out of him and find out something. You'll be surprised.” I said, “There are still some of them around.” Now this young man's father is one of them, and he was sitting on Eishima [Japan], south of Tokyo, when the A-bomb was dropped, in a B-24 crew that was waiting to take off to bomb Tokyo. Now that was a pretty close call.

HT:

It was.

RF:

Yeah. So I said, “You need to get out and find out some of these people and find out what they have done. It may seem very plebeian and juvenile to you, but it did what had to be done.”

HT:

I do have one more last question I'd like to ask you, and I know you've talked a great deal and I really don't want to wear you out, but could you tell me a little bit briefly about your experience at Randolph base a couple years ago?

RF:

Oh yes.

HT:

You went down for a special event. Could you tell me what that was all about?

RF:

Okay. My daughter was surfing or whatever it is on the Internet and she said—She had remembered that I talk about Randolph Field every now and then, and she thought, “Well, I believe I'll just check and see if they've got a page on here.” And sure enough. It was about the first of October, yeah, or maybe even mid-October, and she said that she found out that they were having an air show on Labor Day the 2nd day of September, a big air show commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Air Force. And so she thought, “That would be great! Maybe Mom and I could go down there.” So she called me and asked how I felt about going to Randolph Field. And I said, “Well, Julee [Fortune], it sounds great to me. I think we could probably manage it.” So she got some more material, and then she called the public relations officer at Randolph, a young man, Lieutenant Lynam [?], I believe his name was. Anyway, she told him that she and her mother were planning a mother-daughter trip to come to Randolph, they wanted to go see the air show. And he said, “Well, does your mother like airplanes?” And she said, “Well, yes, sort of. She was in the Air Force during the war, and she was stationed there at Randolph.” And he starts asking her questions: When was she here, and so forth and so on. And she gave him what she could as answers. She wasn't too sharp on it right at that time. So he said to her, “Ma'am, let me call you back. I'll call you tomorrow.” She had given him my name and a whole lot of information.

So tomorrow he calls back. Now he's public relations. He's responsible to help get the air show going, you know. So he apparently had talked to the colonel and protocol, and the colonel said yes, he wanted me to be there. I was there when we were transferred from the army to the air corps, fifty years ago. Well, Colonel [Richard A.] Mentemeyer is his name, and he was up for brigadier general, and he made brigadier general, yes. So he said, “Yes, absolutely, we would like you to be here and to be a guest at the show.” Okay, so far so good.

So Julee got busy and made a reservation at one of the motels, and they had already told her, public relations, they would send her a pass so we wouldn't have to worry about getting in the gate. Okay, so the next day she got another call, and the young man says that “Colonel Mentemeyer wants you to be his special guest, and there will be quarters on the base for you.” So Julee called me and she said, “Mom, we can't stay at that motel in San Antonio.” [chuckling] And I said, “What do you mean?” You know, here I'm losing it too: “What do you mean we can't stay there?” She said, “Because the base commander wants us to be his guest and be in the VIP quarters.”

Well, I was just about floating around. I didn't do a thing in the world to this. I said, “Okay, you go ahead and tell them we will be happy to be there, yes.” Okay, so another day goes by. There are five days in a row here, every day she got a call from Randolph. The fifth day, protocol, Sharon McDaniel, called and said—Now, Julee had already told her my age, and of course she had figured that out too a little bit, I guess, with it being fifty at least. [chuckling] She said, “Do you think your mother would be able to walk out on the ramp in the inspection team to meet the Thunderbirds?” Well, she just about lost it then, Julee did. And when she called me,I almost did too. I said, “You are joking! You made this up.” And so she told McDaniel, “Oh yes, she'll do it, she'll be able to do it!” [chuckling]

So anyway, here we are, we've already got our ticket on Continental [Airlines], we're going to be there on Saturday. On Sunday we just have a little day around the base. On Monday is the air show, and then on Tuesday of course we come back. Well, I tell you, I thought I was in seventh heaven or something. Everything just went beautifully. We flew down there. We had a car reserved for us— I mean we did that, not the Air Force. Went out to Randolph Field. And I had a book, Julee's got that. I've got to bring that and let you see it. It was a yearbook, the second one that I ever got while I was in the service, and it was at Randolph Field. My picture and my squadron is in there, individual pictures. A white book with the Taj Mahal [nickname given to headquarters building at Randolph Field] on the front. So I had that in my hand, and protocol told us to go to billeting and get our assignment. We did, and our quarters were in one of those huge, beautiful old Spanish-style barracks that the troops used to live in that had been converted into these quarters. Two huge bedrooms, a living room that was as big as this whole area, [chuckling] kitchen and all with it. It was absolutely astounding. So we called her when we got into the quarters and she came over. We hadn't seen each other, we didn't know—and I guess she wanted to welcome us, and we wanted to see her, of course. So we had a little visit, and she told us that—Now this was Saturday, that afternoon that she would take us up into the tower at the headquarters, which she did.

Well, anyhow, this book that I had, it's absolutely amazing. Her husband was an A-10 pilot, a Wart Hog pilot in the Gulf Wars, and he had been to a flea market somewhere around there in Texas and had picked up this book that was a yearbook from Randolph Field, the same one that I have exactly. And they apparently had looked in that. They had already contacted the base commander. But I thought there are too many coincidences in this thing. They had that book with my picture in it, so they knew apparently that I wasn't a charlatan or trying to get away with something.

Anyhow, we spent some time going—She took us through the office, took pictures inside and out. While I was stationed there, I was in that headquarters building one time. You didn't go tooting around and going in buildings unless you had some reason. The only reason I ever had to go in there was I had a teletype operator who worked in that building and I had to deliver something to her, and it was just right inside the door. Well, I could see the big round beautiful vestibule. Nothing in the world, it was just painted white, nothing, no rug or anything on the floor. When we went in it this time, there were four of the most outstanding gorgeous pictures of airmen that had been done, a huge circular carpet with the insignia. It was just almost too much. And all the pictures of all the generals that had ever been there, and Chuck Yeager's was the first one. So I'm still not believing all this is happening.

The next day, though, Sunday, we went to the chapel that I used to sing in the choir there, taught a Sunday school class of little girls, and we met the chaplain and told him our little story. He had mentioned the air show. He was at Ramstein [Air Base, Germany] the year before when a French plane had crashed at the show. I don't know, there were a bunch of people killed, I don't know how many, but anyway in his prayers he made something of that too. Well, we visited the Alamo and went to a fine restaurant, came back, and that night—It was late when we got to bed. That was when Diana [Princess of Wales] was killed. And Julee came into my bedroom after I had gone to bed and told me that Diana had been in a terrible wreck, and she woke me up the next morning telling me that she had died.

Well, Monday was the air show. We got out there early. I didn't get to see all the old planes that I'd like to, but I did get—I had to walk the whole distance, and it was pretty much to do. Julee took on the new planes, the big ones, and the Stealth Bomber and the Harrier and all that. And our turn came at 3:30 when the Thunderbirds were supposed to do their entrance. The four F-16s painted like a thunderbird, really, red, white, and blue, the underside looks like a thunderbird. They taxi up in formation. The first one comes in, gets his place. The pilot sits and waits. The others taxi in, the same formation. Then all together each man raises his hood, or the canopy top, an arm goes out, a leg goes out, it was just like precision if I ever saw it. And they had on red jumpsuits. And they lined up and came up on the tarmac. There were six of them. Yeah, that's right. I said four, there were six planes. Came up on the tarmac and waited there till we—Now this was the base commander who headed this entourage, the mayor of Converse, Texas, the mayor and chamber of commerce president of another little town, and then a fourth man was a gentleman who had been shot down over Berlin in 1944 and had been a prisoner of war, and they had awarded him the Air Medal that morning, and then me at the tail end of that. We had marched out and lined up, and the Thunderbirds came from their formation and shook hands with each of us and introduced themselves to us. Well, I was still, you know, just floating around. [chuckling] And they knelt then in a half-kneeling—It wasn't kneeling totally, but you'll see a picture of it, the position that they were in, in front of us. And then a picture was made of this, and each one of us got a copy of that.

Well, after they departed back to their planes, then we moved off back to our seats on the ramp, and then the air show began. Oh, it was something, I'm telling you. Those six planes—Well, my heart was up in my throat the whole time, really. It was just so beautiful. One figure said there were two hundred and fifty thousand people there, and I believe it. Each of us had to wave to the crowd, you know. The base commander was leading us out, and the airman in front of me, he didn't look like he was too well, he was having a little trouble. Actually, before I got in the line, there was a woman there. I don't know who she was associated with, but she had been a nurse, she said. Well, she wanted to escort me out. And Julee said, “Mother, this woman is going to drive me crazy.” She kept talking to Julee, “Don't you think I ought to help your mother get out there?” And Julee said, “No, she can do it herself.” Well, anyhow, she called over the young man who was the one who gave us all the instructions from the Thunderbirds and said, “Jason, will you lead my mother out there?” And he did. [chuckling] She did that to keep this other person—So Julee said, “No, my mother can do that all right.”

Their crews, oh, the young men on the crew, they all have to go through a rigid, rigid testing to even get to be a crew member. Now there is a crew member of one of those jet fighters that is a woman, too. She was there. I can't remember her name, but there are two Hispanics, a he and a she and they have one ship. Well, after the show was over we went to the officers' club and they had a fantastic little meal out there for everybody. And then the Thunderbirds came again. We had a booklet, each of us, and I had all of them to sign my book. And we had some small talk, but I was just tongue-tied most of the time, really. They were just so wonderful. Absolutely.

HT:

It sounds like a marvelous experience.

RF:

Yes, and they gave me a Thunderbird pin, and the base commander gave me—Oh, I've got a big coin that he gave me, he gave me this, and I'm also an honorary member of this 12th Training Fighter Wing. [laughter] Oh yeah, I'll have to show you this picture.

HT:

Okay.

[Tape paused]

HT:

We were talking about the Thunderbirds and you mentioned that you were there fifty years ago and you were going to tell me just a little bit more.

RF:

Well, I was at Randolph Field fifty years ago, in 1947, September 19th, when the Air Force became a separate unit of the U.S. military forces. Up to that time the Air Force had been part of the U.S. Army, and there had been a lot of confusion and dissension because the army didn't want to lose a lot of its strength or a lot of its authority, and the Air Force needed to have a separate unit, needed to be controlled by airmen. So, in 1947 this became a reality, and my first Air Force uniforms were issued to me at Randolph—

[End Tape 2, Side B—Begin Tape 3, Side A]

HT:

Mrs. Fortune, before the other tape ended you were talking about the fiftieth anniversary of the [U.S.] Air Force and about Madame Schiaparelli, I think?

RF:

Oh yes, our blue uniforms, Air Force Blues, designed by Madame Schiaparelli, who was a prominent world-known designer at that time. Our base shops crew were the ones who fitted the uniforms to us. They did have to have some alterations, but we were all very pleased to be at last wearing an Air Force Blue uniform. Mine is still in pretty good shape, I think. I've kept it away from the moths, tried to, and I've had it cleaned several times. The only thing wrong is it's just a little bit too small for me right now, but maybe by the end of the year I could get into it if I keep up a little program. [chuckling] Anyway, it's a thrill to think about it, to think about those days and what it has meant to me to have been involved in this great undertaking, not only from the standpoint of the excitement that I got out of it, but also from the fact that I did some good, I do believe.

HT:

I think so too, yes. You were talking about when the Air Force split from the army. Could you give me a little background on that? Do you recall anything about those days, why it came about, and was there much opposition, and that sort of thing?

RF:

Well, I know a minimum about it. I have read, and am reading, General [Alexander P.] De Seversky's book, Victory Through Air Power. General [William “Billy”] Mitchell, of course, was one of the advocates for a separate air force, and I'm really not up to the whole picture at that time, but he was court-martialed apparently for his views. But I did hear and read some time ago that Josephus Daniels, who was secretary of the navy at that time, in the twenties or whenever this court-martial came about—was secretary of the navy, yes—and he testified in the Congress of the United States, I believe it was, that he would stand on the deck of any ship and let an airplane come over and try to bomb it, that he didn't think—that he knew that it could not be effective. And I guess that he was surprised, really, when we found out that we had to have long-range bombers to go out and deter the German subs. That was the only thing that we were able to do to curb them. We had no long-range bombers, the little ships couldn't do it. But we have seen over these years that the air force does a pretty good job of hitting its mark.

HT:

That is so true. Well, Mrs. Fortune, I have kept you here way too long. I know you must be awfully tired. I do appreciate—

RF:

No, I'm not tired a bit. I'm just happy. [chuckling]

HT:

You're so sweet to have done this this afternoon. I just appreciate it so much, and I know the university does too.

RF:

Well, this is my second love, my university.

HT:

Well thank you so much again.

[Tape paused]

RF:

One fellow was caught in there, and he had on one of the girl's robes. He had on a robe, thought he was hiding, and the MPs brought him out wearing that robe. [chuckling]

HT:

Was he a—?

RF:

A GI.

HT:

He was a GI in the women's barracks?

RF:

In the clothesline area. He hadn't gotten into the barracks yet, but he thought he was going to, I think. Yeah, that was real funny. [chuckling]

HT:

So you had to spend quite a bit each day to wash your clothes and that sort of thing, right?

RF:

Every day the laundry rooms, and sometimes up until midnight. And thank goodness we were in sunny Florida and we didn't have prolonged periods of rain and clothes were dry every day just about. If you had them out at two o'clock in the afternoon, you could count on them getting rained on, though. And as it was, my mess sergeant and I had to go to some leadership training classes every day and be there at two o'clock. Well, we didn't leave at 1:30 or whatever, we left in time to walk from there the mile to get to the class. And it would rain on us every day. Every day we knew we were going to get rained on, and we did.

HT:

And of course you couldn't use umbrellas.

RF:

No. And so we'd sit there in the wet class, but it would be warm. Sit there in the class just wet, and then walk home, we'd be dry. If we were out drilling, as I said, you'd just go ahead and drill right through it, and then turn around and the next thing you know the sun is out and you're dry again. [chuckling] You won't be the same after hearing all this.

HT:

Mrs. Fortune, do you realize that it is 8:05?

RF:

Is it?

HT:

I have kept you here all night, practically. [chuckling] Again, thank you.

RF:

That's all right. Listen, I thought, gee whiz, we can get this over with in an hour. [laughter] No way!

HT:

We may have to get together again.

RF:

Well, I hope. We may, because I'm sure there are a lot of things that I hadn't thought about, you know.

HT:

Well, once you read the transcript, we'll get together again.

RF:

Okay.

[End of the Interview]