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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nina M. Greenlee, 1999

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Object ID: WV0041.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Nina M. Greenlee’s education at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in the late 1920s; her service in the United States and Italy with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II; and her career as a teacher overseas after the war.

Summary:

Greenlee discusses attending Woman’s College during the Depression. She briefly mentions faculty members, curfew restrictions, and the trolley system. She also discusses her experience as a teacher during the Depression, including her salary.

Greenlee also describes her World War II service, particularly her time in Italy. She discusses basic training routines and details her duties in the finance office. Of note is her description of processing returning prisoners of war while at Fort Bragg and processing certificates of credit issued by the Allies to Italian prisoners of war while in Italy. Greenlee tells anecdotes about meeting Frenchy LaRue, Al Capone’s number one gunman; traveling to Italy on the USS Barry; the USS Howse breaking down while returning to the U.S.; and a WAC being washed overboard. Greenlee also mentions the poor quality of the food, talks briefly of political leaders during the war, and describes post-war Italy.

Post-war topics include a brief mention of her missing the service. Greenlee talks in further detail about teaching American children abroad and her travels while there.

Creator: Nina M. Greenlee

Biographical Info: Nina M. Greenlee of Old Fort, North Carolina, served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1943 to 1948 and then taught school at overseas bases for the Department of Defense for seventeen years.

Collection: Nina M. Greenlee Papers

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

Full Text:

HT:

My name is Hermann Trojanowski and today is February 19, 1999. I'm at the home of Miss Nina Greenlee in Old Fort, North Carolina. I'm here to do an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Miss Greenlee, if you could tell me where you were born?

NG:

Right over there. [chuckling]

HT:

How far is that?

NG:

About a half a mile. You can see the corner of the house from here.

HT:

So you've lived here all of your life?

NG:

Oh, yeah.

[Recorder paused]

HT:

I think we're ready to get started. Where did you go to high school, Miss Greenlee?

NG:

Marion.

HT:

Is that Marion High School?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And is that in Marion, North Carolina?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And can you tell me a little bit about your family life, growing up, what life was like in the thirties before you went to Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina (WC), now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro]?

NG:

Well, [chuckling], I guess you might say we were poor, but nobody told us and we didn't know it. We had to work. We had to struggle to get along. I'm the youngest of eight children, and with four in college at the same time, it was a struggle for my parents. But we always had plenty to eat and plenty to wear. My mother made our own clothes for us, and living on the farm we had plenty to eat. We didn't go hungry and we didn't go cold, but we didn't have many luxuries in life. But we were happy. As I said, we were poor, but nobody told us and we didn't know it.

HT:

You said you had some siblings who also went to college?

NG:

There were four of them.

HT:

Where did they go?

NG:

Maryville College in [Maryville] Tennessee.

HT:

And why did you choose Woman's College in Greensboro?

NG:

It was the least expensive place that I knew of.

HT:

And what year did you graduate?

NG:

Nineteen thirty.

HT:

What was your major while you were there?

NG:

English.

HT:

And do you recall what life was like on campus in those days?

NG:

Well, we didn't consider it strict then, but by today's standard it was strict. We couldn't be seen in a car with a man after six o'clock at night. As a matter of fact, I got campused the last two weeks I was at the college for being seen getting out of a car three minutes after six o'clock at night with a man. And everybody knew the man because he had ran the drugstore right off campus and everybody knew who I was riding with. It never occurred to me that I was—[chuckling]—. But it didn't matter, I had a good time while I was at it. But if we had a date, we had to sign in and sign out. They were very careful about our morals then.

HT:

And which dorm did you stay in?

NG:

East [Residence Hall] most of the time.

HT:

And do you recall who your housemother was?

NG:

No, I don't. I don't remember who she was.

HT:

And do you recall any of your professors from those days that stand out in your mind?

NG:

Oh yes, Mr. [J. Arthur] Dunn, Dr. [Benjamin] Kendrick, Miss [Vera] Largent, and Mr. [William Raymond] Taylor, Mr. [Alfred] West. I don't remember who my—I guess I can't remember any others right now.

HT:

Any one that was your particular favorite?

NG:

I liked all of them.

HT:

And were all these people in the English Department, or were they varied?

NG:

No, Miss Largent was in the History Department, Mr. Dunn was in the English Department, Dr. Kendrick was in the Sociology Department [sic-Department of History and Political Science], Mr. West and Mr. Taylor were in the English Department.

HT:

Did you know any of the people in the administration at that time, like Dr. Foust? He was there at that time, I believe.

NG:

I knew the registrar, and I can't think of her name right this minute.

HT:

Was that Mary Taylor Moore?

NG:

No, it wasn't Mary Taylor Moore. Now wait a minute, she might not have been registrar. I knew Miss [Clara Booth] Byrd. She was one of them. I don't remember now what the other woman's name was that I knew. She was matron over Spencer [Residence Hall].

HT:

Was that Miss [Minnie Lou] Jamison, perhaps?

NG:

Miss Jamison, I knew her. I've forgotten those names now.

HT:

Was Dr. [Walter Clinton] Jackson there at that time?

NG:

Dr. Jackson was the vice president.

HT:

That's W. C. Jackson.

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And I understand he also taught history.

NG:

Yeah, Dr. Jackson. I remember I had a course with Dr. Jackson, too.

HT:

And from what I understand, he was quite beloved by everybody.

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And was Miss [Harriet] Elliott [dean of women] there, by chance?

NG:

Miss Elliott, I believe she was the one that taught—She was in the English Department, am I right?

HT:

Yes. And what did you girls do for fun on campus?

NG:

What did we do for fun?

HT:

Yes.

NG:

I guess the same thing college girls do now. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, in those days there were quite a few traditions, I understand, more so than there are today, such as—Did you have the daisy chain back in the late twenties?

NG:

Yeah, that was May Day, I think, when we had some kind of—I don't remember now what it was. I remember making the daisy chain.

HT:

I understand that May Day was quite—There was a May Queen and—

NG:

Oh yeah, there was a May Queen.

HT:

And do you recall there being an amphitheater where the golf course is now?

NG:

Where is the golf course, in relation to the dorms?

HT:

Okay, remember where the quad is? If you are looking north toward Market Street, it's to the left. The golf course is behind Rosenthal Gymnasium. And there was an amphitheater there at one time.

NG:

No, the amphitheater at that time was down in the woods. That area, I don't suppose the old Mendenhall [Residence Hall] dorm is still there, is it? It was an old building when I was there.

HT:

No.

NG:

It was left and east of Cotton [Residence Hall]. That area in front of Cotton and east was woods at that time, and the amphitheater was down there in the woods.

HT:

Right. Was that called Peabody Park at that time?

NG:

I don't know. If it was, I don't know. I never heard it called Peabody Park.

HT:

Do you recall a trolley system running on Spring Garden Street at that time?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever ride it?

NG:

Sure.

HT:

Do you remember how much it cost to ride the trolley?

NG:

A nickel, I think. I don't remember exactly.

HT:

Is that how you girls got downtown, to downtown Greensboro?

NG:

If we didn't walk, we took the trolley.

HT:

I've heard other ladies say that during the height of the Depression, when they were there in the mid-thirties, that they could not afford the seven cents it cost to take the trolley.

NG:

I don't know what it cost to take the trolley, but it ran in front of the [Brown] Music Building. Is the Music Building still there, near the [Aycock] Auditorium?

HT:

Yes. It sure is, on Tate Street.

NG:

On Tate Street. Ran in front of the auditorium down and, oh, four or five blocks, and then turned right.

HT:

What was the academic life like on campus in those days?

NG:

I don't know how to answer that question.

HT:

Were the teachers very strict?

NG:

Some were and some weren't. I don't know exactly which one I could say was. All I ever had were not—They were not—I wouldn't say lenient, but they weren't as strict as some of the others were. I never had any that I didn't like or any that I was afraid of or any that I would—I can't think of any of them that I would consider really strict. I think the strictest rules were about our life out of class. It was stricter than in the classroom.

HT:

Can you tell me about some of those restrictions that you girls had? You mentioned earlier that you could not be seen getting out of a car after 6:00. I imagine you had a curfew as well.

NG:

Yeah, we had a curfew. I think lights had to be out at ten o'clock.

HT:

And what was dorm life like at that time? I guess you had roommates?

NG:

Yeah, everybody had a roommate.

HT:

After you graduated from WC in 1930, what kind of work did you do?

NG:

Well, I started teaching. It was during the Depression, and I graduated in 1930 when jobs were hard to find, and I didn't have work until February. After I graduated in June, I didn't get work until February and I taught for three months. I finished out a year for a teacher that got sick in Newland [North Carolina]. I taught three months in Newland, then I came back to the county and I taught here.

HT:

In this county?

NG:

In this county, yeah.

HT:

And which county is this?

NG:

McDowell.

HT:

And you taught English all that time?

NG:

I taught English and history.

HT:

Do you by any chance recall what the salary was?

NG:

Ninety dollars a month.

HT:

Oh, wow. [chuckling]

NG:

And I didn't get paid for the three months that I taught in Avery County [North Carolina]. I got paid in September for the month of March. And I don't remember when I got the other two checks.

HT:

How did you survive all those months without pay?

NG:

Over at the farm. [chuckling] I had a place to come home to.

HT:

Those were really rough days, weren't they?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And you taught all during the 1930s, I guess, then?

NG:

I taught until 1943, I guess it was, when I went into service.

HT:

And what made you decide to go into the service?

NG:

Adventure. [chuckling] I guess you would call it that, adventure.

HT:

And which branch of the service?

NG:

I was in the WAC [Women's Army Corps].

HT:

In the WAC? That's the W-A-C?

NG:

Yes. It was W-A-A-C [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] when I went in.

HT:

Oh, it was? Okay. Because I know it did change at one time.

NG:

Yes, it changed.

HT:

And then became the WAC. And do you recall what month and year that was that you entered the service?

NG:

Yeah, in June of '43.

HT:

And where did you enter the service?

NG:

In Marion.

HT:

And you say you went in because you wanted some adventure? Did you see any posters or any type of—

NG:

Oh yes, they were all over the places. [chuckling] You couldn't help but see them. Actually, I had to go to Asheville for the induction, but I registered here in Marion. I put in my application, I guess you would say.

HT:

How did your parents feel about you joining?

NG:

My father was dead at that time, but my mother was all for it.

HT:

And what about the rest of the family?

NG:

They were all for it, too.

HT:

And co-workers and friends, everybody?

NG:

Oh, yeah.

HT:

We mentioned recruiting posters a little bit earlier in our conversation. Sometimes the recruiting poster would say if women would join various branches of the service you would free a man up for combat. Did you view your entering the service in this respect?

NG:

I don't remember.

HT:

Do you remember anything specific about your first day in basic training? And where was your basic training?

NG:

Fort Oglethorpe [Georgia, near] Chattanooga, Tennessee. Yes, I remember that they didn't lose a minute. [chuckling] After we got there, we were doing something. We didn't lose any minutes, any time at all.

HT:

And how long did your basic training last?

NG:

Six weeks, I think.

HT:

And can you describe a typical day, the best you can remember?

NG:

No. We'd get up at six o'clock. I think it was 6:00. If I'm not mistaken, we'd get up at six o'clock and fall out for roll call, then go back in, make up our beds, clean up our area, go to breakfast. Then we'd have about an hour of drill, then classes, then more drill. We marched everywhere we went, to the meals, to our classes. We went in formation everywhere we went, everything we did.

HT:

Do you remember anything specific that happened that might be funny or hilarious in those days during basic training?

NG:

Yeah, I remember one girl didn't get her clothes on and she fell out for a fire drill with a blanket wrapped around her. [chuckling]

HT:

I guess that was quite a change from civilian life to being regimented all day long.

NG:

Oh yes, it was a change.

HT:

Because I can remember my basic training days, what that was like too. It was unbelievable. After you left Fort Oglethorpe, where was your first permanent duty station?

NG:

Then I went for six weeks to [Sul Ross State College in] Alpine, Texas, for administration school.

HT:

And what was that like?

NG:

We were studying different branches of administration, what went on in different branches in the army, and some of the army regulations and things of that kind.

HT:

Now, were you an officer or an enlisted person?

NG:

No, I was an enlisted person. I didn't have any ambition to be an officer.

HT:

And then after Alpine, Texas, where did you go?

NG:

Then I went to Camp Davis.

HT:

And where is that?

NG:

It was out of Wilmington.

HT:

Wilmington, North Carolina?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And what type of army camp was this?

NG:

It was a tow target installation.

HT:

Tow target? Can you explain what that is?

NG:

At night—well, in the daytime but particularly at night—they would fly with some kind of target behind the plane, and ground troops would shoot at that target, tow target.

HT:

So was this an army air force base then?

NG:

No, it was just an army base.

HT:

Just an army base? Because I know there were some—

NG:

There were planes there, yes.

HT:

Right, but it was not considered army air force, okay. And what type of work did you do there?

NG:

I worked in the finance office, computing enlisted personnel's pay.

HT:

Oh? Was that interesting?

NG:

Rather tiring, because we didn't have the adding machines. We had to do it by hand. It got kind of boring at times. I did that for a while, and then I worked in commercial accounts for a while.

HT:

And were there all WACs there? Were there some men as well?

NG:

No. There were, I guess, maybe a dozen WACs in that department, the rest of them were men.

HT:

And how did the men feel about having women there?

NG:

I guess they felt all right. They treated us well.

HT:

Because I know sometimes there might be some resentment against WACs in places, I've heard. But you didn't encounter any kind of discrimination because you were a woman, or anything like that?

NG:

No, no discrimination at all.

HT:

Did you receive any kind of special treatment because you were a woman?

NG:

No, no special treatment.

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing moments while you were stationed at Camp Davis?

NG:

I recall one but I'm not going to record it. It didn't happen to me.

HT:

Oh, that's fine. Well, I'll leave it up to you.

NG:

I didn't happen to me. Thank goodness it didn't happen to me, but it was a terribly embarrassing situation and I'd rather not mention it. [chuckling]

HT:

That's fine. Can you recall any hilarious moments that you can put down on the recording?

NG:

Yes, I can remember one hilarious moment when the payroll had come in, and the tables, most of the tables in the finance office were covered with bills, money.

HT:

So you actually got money, real money?

NG:

Actual money. That's one time when I saw a million dollars.

HT:

That was a lot of money in those days.

NG:

That was a lot of money, yeah. Anyway, one of the fellows in there picked up a bunch of the bills and began throwing them around. He said, “Take this and go so and so, and take this, take this, and take this and go to hell.” [chuckling] Even the officers laughed about it. He didn't lose any while he was throwing it around.

HT:

I guess you were making up pay envelopes. Is that how you did it in those days?

NG:

No, we counted it out and gave it to the officer—gave it to the commanding officer of each unit, as well as I remember. We might have clipped it together, each man's pay, with paper clips, but I think we just counted it out and gave it to the company commander and he paid the fellows.

HT:

And how often were you paid?

NG:

Once a month.

HT:

Just once a month?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically while you were in the military?

NG:

I don't know. I can't think of anything that was difficult for me to do.

HT:

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

NG:

I guess the hardest thing emotionally is when I went overseas. My mother was all for it when I told her that I had a chance to go overseas. She was all for it, but somebody got hold of her and talked to her about it and painted a different picture for us. And when I came to tell her goodbye, she was very emotional and didn't want me to go. But there was nothing I could do about it because it was—

HT:

And speaking of going overseas, where did you go?

NG:

Italy.

HT:

And do you recall when that was?

NG:

It was in the fall of 1946. I was there for a year.

HT:

So the war was over by that time?

NG:

Oh yeah, the war was over by that time.

HT:

And where were you stationed in Italy?

NG:

At Caserta, C-a-s-e-r-t-a, and Leghorn. I was six months in Caserta and six months in Leghorn.

HT:

And where in Italy are these places, the middle?

NG:

Caserta is about twenty miles north of Naples, and Leghorn is in northern Italy.

HT:

And what was it like to be in a foreign country right after the war?

NG:

Well, there were times when it was depressing because the Italian people were struggling to get on their feet, and we saw a lot of poverty. They hadn't restored much of the damage. Much of the damage hadn't been restored, buildings hadn't been restored, and we got a good look at what it was like, the damage that was done. And then again, we did a lot of traveling, a light of sightseeing while we were there, which was very nice. But I enjoyed my year there very much, in spite of seeing so much destruction.

HT:

And what type of work did you do when you were there?

NG:

I was still working in finance, but I guess that was the most interesting assignment that I ever had. During the African Campaign, the Allies left Africa in such a hurry that they could not or did not pay off the Italian prisoners of war that had worked for the Allies. They gave them a certificate of credit. My job was processing certificates of credit. The army had spread the word over the radio and in the newspapers that anyone that had a certificate of credit could surrender it to us and we would pay them what they had earned.

HT:

This was sort of like an IOU then.

NG:

Yeah, it was an IOU, what they had earned in North Africa when they worked for the Allies. There were something like ninety thousand of those and this tremendous number of soldiers. No, I take that back, fifty thousand, something like fifty thousand of them, and my job was verifying those certificates of credit. I was constantly interviewing ex-prisoners of war.

HT:

Was there a black market in these things?

NG:

Oh gosh, black market in cigarettes and black market in just about everything you could think of.

HT:

So you had to verify that these were the certificates—

NG:

Oh, you mean in the certificates of credit?

HT:

The certificates, right, yes.

NG:

No, there was no black market in that. There was no black market in that. It was strictly on the up-and-up.

HT:

I thought maybe somebody might have come in and—

NG:

No, and I don't ever remember anybody ever trying to.

HT:

So did you learn to speak Italian a little bit?

NG:

No, I'm not a linguist. [chuckling] I'm not a linguist.

HT:

That does sound very interesting. So you did that the entire time you were in Italy?

NG:

Yes, the whole time I was there I was processing certificates.

HT:

And do you recall the names of the unit you were with at that time?

NG:

No.

HT:

Well, sometimes you hear something about the Eighth Army or something like that.

NG:

No, I don't. I can't remember what the unit was. Mediterranean Theater of Operation is the only thing I can think of.

HT:

And did you live in a barracks while you were over there?

NG:

No, we lived in a hospital. The army—what's the word I want to use? Took over this hospital as a barracks for the WAC.

HT:

Requisitioned perhaps, or something like that? Just taking it over?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

And so you lived with nurses, I guess?

NG:

No, it was all only WACs in the building.

HT:

And then what did you ladies do for fun when you were not working?

NG:

Traveled around, did sightseeing.

HT:

And what are some of the interesting places you saw?

NG:

Oh gosh, we went to Pompeii and climbed Mount Vesuvius, went up to—climbed up in the mountains to the old town of Caserta. Sightseeing mostly.

HT:

Did you do this by train?

NG:

No, one of the girls that I palled around with bought a jeep, so most of the time we were traveling in her jeep.

HT:

So it wasn't difficult to get gasoline or anything like that?

NG:

I don't know. That was her problem. [laughter]

HT:

I would have thought it'd have been rationed and rather difficult to get.

NG:

It probably was, but I don't remember what she did. She was the one that bought the gasoline. I didn't worry about that.

HT:

Well, did you meet any interesting people along the way? They could be famous or not so famous.

NG:

Yes, I did. I met one famous person, Al Capone's number one gunman. [chuckling]

HT:

And what was his name? Do you recall?

NG:

Edigio—

HT:

You'll have to spell it, probably.

NG:

E-d-i-g-i-o R-o-m-a-n-o. He was known as Frenchy LaRue. He was not known by his Italian name, he was known by his name of Frenchy LaRue. One afternoon the finance officer came down to my office, and this little man, he was about my size, very neatly dressed, his clothes were beginning to show wear—

But before I went overseas I had a friend in—From Camp Davis I went to Fort Bragg [North Carolina], and I had a friend in Fort Bragg that I often babysat for him. He had a little boy and I'd go down and babysit for him so he and his wife could have a night out together. And when I found out I was—He had been in Italy, in Caserta, and when I found out that I was going to Caserta I went right straight to see him. And he told me that one time while he was over there they were having trouble with their telephone lines, and he decided one afternoon he was going to—Somebody was cutting the telephone lines. He decided one afternoon he was going to try to find out who it was. So he got a jeep and he went out into the country, and he came to a crossroads, open space, no trees around anywhere. And he was sitting there in his jeep trying to decide whether to go to the right, whether to go to the left, and while he had his head turned, somebody approached from behind and said, “Can I help you ?” in perfect English. And it was Frenchy LaRue. He had been deported, but he served as a spy for the Allied forces. And Colonel Williams told him what he was after and he said, “Well, you go down here to so-and-so, so far down the road, and you will find out.” Frenchy was correct.

Well, anyway, getting back to the finance officer. He brought this man down to my office and he said, “Sergeant, this man is not a prisoner of war, was not a prisoner of war, but I want you to see if you can help him collect the money that's coming to him." The U.S. paid volunteers for their service. While he was spying for the U.S. and British armies, Frenchy received money for food and clothing. What he came to collect was extra. And the man handed me this huge folder and asked me to look at it, and he went over and sat down and was talking to the GIs in the office, and every once in a while I'd catch a word that he was saying. And there were letters of recommendation from General [Harold R.L.G.] Alexander, who was—I think his name was Alexander—he was the English officer there—General Mark Clark, various officers that he served under, and every one of them praised him highly for the work that he had done for the Allies. And right at the end there were pictures of him in civilian clothes and officer's uniform, noncom's [noncommissioned officer] uniform and what have you, hobnobbing with the big brass. And a letter from Mark Clark to the immigration department recommending that Frenchy LaRue be allowed to return to the United States. And when I looked at that I said, “What were you deported for?” And he said, “Oh, I was one of Al Capone's gang.” [chuckling]

And about a year later after I got out of service, I was leafing through the newspapers one night and I saw this little article about so long about Al Capone's Henchman Commits Suicide in Trieste [Italy]. And I read it, and it was Frenchy. He had been summoned to appear in court for some minor something or other offense, to appear in Italian court, and rather than face the court he committed suicide.

But after I called around and found out where he should go, I took him down there because telling him how to get there was just almost impossible: “You go through so many doors and you turn right so many doors and you turn right again”—you know, that sort of thing. So I took him down to the—I've forgotten now what office it was that I took him to, and he thanked me very profusely. And in about a half-hour or so he came back and thanked me again and said that he would get his money the next morning. So the next morning after he got the money, he came back and thanked me a third time. His manners were impeccable. He was cultured, his English was perfect. He was just an admirable person, to tell you the truth.

HT:

So he never made it back to the United States, as far as you know?

NG:

No, he never made it back. I asked him what he was going to do. I meant to tell you, the government was paying people who had volunteered their services. The government was giving them a small stipend of some kind. I never asked him how much he got, but he said he was saving it till the time he got back to the States. But he didn't make it.

HT:

I guess that was the most interesting person you met?

NG:

I guess it was probably the most interesting person that I met while I was over there, because he was such a controversial and yet admirable person. You couldn't help but like the man.

HT:

You said you were at one time stationed at Fort Bragg after Camp Davis. Did you do the same kind of work at Fort Bragg?

NG:

Yeah, I was in the finance department. All through my service I was in the finance department.

HT:

And while you were in the service, were you ever afraid?

NG:

No, I was never afraid.

HT:

Or in any kind of physical danger?

NG:

I didn't meet any kind of physical danger.

HT:

We had talked a little bit about your social life while you were in the service, about going on excursions out in Italy and that sort of thing. Did you ever go to dances and movies and things like that?

NG:

Oh yes, we had movies and dances at the service clubs and that sort of thing.

HT:

And do you recall what some of your favorite movies and songs and dances were from those days?

NG:

No, I can't remember any favorites ones.

HT:

And when did you get out of the military?

NG:

Nineteen forty-eight.

HT:

What was your rank?

NG:

Staff sergeant. My last assignment was at Fort Jay, New York, on—

HT:

Is that spelled J-a-y?

NG:

J-a-y. On—what's that island out there, right off Manhattan, right off Battery? Governors Island.

HT:

And did you ever think about making it a career?

NG:

I thought about it, yes, but I had reached the point where I just couldn't eat in the mess hall.

HT:

Oh really? Was the food not good?

NG:

It was good, but after eating food cooked in quantity for five years, it began to get tasteless. And I would be hungry, and the minute I'd go into the mess hall and get that odor of cooking food, then I lost my appetite. But if it hadn't been for that, I would have stayed in.

HT:

So you didn't have the option of eating off base, I guess?

NG:

I didn't have the money to eat off base. [chuckling] You didn't make enough money to eat off base.

HT:

And was the food any better while you were in Italy?

NG:

No, because there we had a lot of dehydrated food.

HT:

And do you recall what the climate of the country was during World War II before you went into the service? Because you went in—I think you said 1943, so—

NG:

In 1943. Well, one time when we was at Camp Davis we did have a blizzard, but it wasn't terribly cold, I don't think. I guess the coldest was when I was in New York, when I was at Governors Island. Of course, that would be colder.

HT:

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

NG:

Yeah, I think so.

HT:

What did you think of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president at that time?

NG:

Well, I admired Franklin D., to tell you the truth. I think he was a great leader.

HT:

And what about Mrs. Roosevelt?

NG:

I liked her, too. I think she was a very charismatic person.

HT:

Did you ever have a chance to meet her or him?

NG:

No, I didn't.

HT:

What about after President Roosevelt died? Harry Truman became president. What did you think of him?

NG:

I liked Harry Truman, too. I wish we had some more Harry Trumans around. [chuckling] There's one thing I can say about [President Jimmy] Carter and Harry Truman: They were honest men. Or at least I think they were honest. And Harry didn't let anybody push him around.

HT:

What about some of the military men of that time, like Douglas MacArthur, and you mentioned Mark Clark and General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower? What did you think of those gentlemen?

NG:

I have my reservations about both of those men. I think MacArthur got a little bit—I don't know hardly how to describe him. I think MacArthur was a little egotistical, to tell you the truth.

HT:

And what about General [George S.] Patton?

NG:

General Patton again was—By the way, that reminds me, there's somebody here in this county that was in, and I want to find out who it was, that was in the presence of Patton when he slapped that soldier. He was there and saw him slap him. I've got to find out who it is.

HT:

That would be very interesting. I've seen the movie Patton and I remember seeing that incident. That's quite something. Well, do you recall who your heroes and heroines were in those days?

NG:

No, I'm not much of a hero worshipper. [chuckling]

HT:

Where were you when you heard about VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

NG:

When did that happen?

HT:

That was in May of 1945.

NG:

I don't remember VJ [Victory in Japan] Day but I remember VE Day. Oh, after VE Day, I was down at Fort Bragg and I was still in the finance department and we were processing returning prisoners of war.

HT:

These were American prisoners of war?

NG:

American prisoners of war. And we were working in an abandoned barracks building, no air conditioning. And you'd go to work in the morning, by nine o'clock you'd be wet. And we worked from eight o'clock until twelve and one o'clock at night. We'd work our eight-hour shift, go eat supper, and go back an hour later and work until twelve o'clock at night. And that went on for weeks and weeks and weeks because they were bringing them back by the trainloads, just one trainload after another. Anyway, every month before payday, we had to have a sort of a physical examination where we'd lie on our cot with a sheet over us and the doctor would come around and give us sort of a physical examination. During that time, I went to sleep before the doctor came to me, and I waked up the next morning at seven o'clock.

HT:

You were so tired.

NG:

I was so tired. The master sergeant said she came over at two o'clock and tried to wake me up, and I turned over and went back—and I just turned over, and I didn't wake up till the next morning at seven o'clock. And after that they began giving us a half a day off.

HT:

So how many days straight did you have to work those—just seven days a week?

NG:

It was weeks and weeks and weeks, as long as they were bringing those—not only prisoners of war but returning soldiers.

HT:

And I guess these soldiers were being discharged.

NG:

Some of them were, but others were being readied to go to Japan, to the Pacific.

HT:

Yeah, Fort Bragg can be very, very hot.

NG:

Yes, it was very hot. But we worked down there. As a matter of fact, during that time I got a fungus infection on my hands and on my feet from—A lot of those returning prisoners of war came back from the South Pacific where a lot of the soldiers contracted fungus infection. But I got it on my hands, and from being wet, constantly wet, because we'd perspire. That was the only way we could take the heat up there.

HT:

So there were no fans or anything?

NG:

No fans, no air conditioning. And you'd perspire and get wet, and then you could work. But it was tough.

HT:

If we can just backtrack just a second, when you went over to Italy, I assume you went over on a boat of some sort or a ship.

NG:

Yes.

HT:

Do you recall the name of the ship?

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

HT:

—we were talking about the name of the ship that you went over on to Italy, and you mentioned the name of it was—

NG:

Barry, USS Barry.

HT:

Could you spell that for me? Is that B-e-r-r-y?

NG:

B-a-r-r-y.

HT:

And how long did it take you to go over?

NG:

About seven or eight days.

HT:

And was this a converted cruise ship?

NG:

No, it was an army boat. I don't know what kind it was.

HT:

What was life like on board ship, do you recall? Were you in a room with a bunch of other women?

NG:

Oh yes, I think there were four or five of us in one room.

HT:

I guess it was a troop carrier, basically?

NG:

A troop carrier I guess is what it was, probably.

HT:

Was there anything outstanding on that journey that you recall, like dances or—

NG:

No, nothing happened to us. But when we were coming back, part of us went over on the Barry and the rest of the company was to come later on the Howse, H-o-w-s-e, and they got somewhere in the vicinity of the Azores Islands and the ship broke down. So they had to be towed back to New York. And they worked on the ship and the rest of our company got on board again [chuckling] and they had to be towed back a second time. They finally got there about—just before Christmas. Now, we went over in October, the middle of October. And they were supposed to come two weeks later, and they didn't get there until just before Christmas. And coming back, the second load—Our ship didn't have any problem getting back. But on the second load, one of the girls got washed overboard in a storm. They had a storm and one of the girls got washed overboard And she was a good swimmer, and she—what do you say when you paddle, you stay afloat? What do you do? What's the word I'm trying to use? Well, you don't swim but you stay afloat. You know what I'm talking about?

HT:

Yes.

NG:

The first thing they had to do was to get all the girls and get everybody in the boat to their quarters, make a roll call and find out who was missing. Then they had to go back. And they rescued her.

HT:

And she was alive?

NG:

She was alive.

HT:

Now did you not have to wear life vests?

NG:

Oh yeah, we had [life vests]. But she and another girl were just walking, and one of the GIs was just walking around the deck, but they weren't wearing life jackets and this wave hit the ship. The first girl turned around to say something to her and she realized that she wasn't behind her, that she didn't come in the door. The hatch, I think it is. It's not a door, but what do they call them on a ship?

HT:

I think hatch is correct.

NG:

Well, she wasn't there, and she reported her as missing.

HT:

That was one lucky person.

NG:

She was one lucky person. But she was a good swimmer and she knew what to do.

HT:

Do you recall if this happened during the day or the night?

NG:

At night.

HT:

Oh gosh. And how long was she out there?

NG:

She was out there about forty-five minutes.

HT:

Oh. But still—

NG:

The day that I reported for duty at New York, she was all over the front page of the New York paper. [chuckling]

HT:

And she was on board your ship or the other one?

NG:

No, she was on board the second ship.

HT:

The second ship? And did you come back on the Barry?

NG:

No, I don't remember what boat I came back on.

HT:

So I guess that was the most interesting thing that happened, either coming or going.

NG:

Yes.

HT:

That's unbelievable. When you decided to get out of the service, can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after being in for, what, about five years, you said?

NG:

I missed something, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I missed the crowd, yes. The camaraderie, I missed that. It was terribly lonesome over there at the farm [chuckling] with just my mother and my sister and me. But there was something else that I missed, and I couldn't put my finger on it for the longest time. And I went to Asheville to get some clothes because I didn't have any that would fit me, and the minute I put on a hat I knew what I was missing, because I had been wearing a hat for five years. And when I bought a hat and put it on, I knew exactly what I was missing.

HT:

And what type of work did you do after you came back?

NG:

I taught school for another year. I got out of service mainly to take care of my mother. She had Alzheimer's disease, and it took two people to take care of her. There were no nursing homes to put her in. You had to take care of her.

HT:

So you and your sister took care of her?

NG:

So my sister and I took care of her. I took care of her at night and my sister took care of her in the daytime. It was a struggle because she—I took care of her at night and taught. A lot of time she'd have me up all night long. She lived about a year after I got out. After she died, then I went to work in Charlotte [North Carolina]. I worked in Charlotte for a year at a—as a sort of an office gal, a “gal Friday” for a farm equipment company, and then I went overseas to teach, and I taught overseas with the dependents schools.

HT:

And how long did you do that?

NG:

Seventeen years.

HT:

And where were the places you were stationed?

NG:

I was in the Azores Islands for a while, and then I taught in England for a while, and then I finished up in Spain.

HT:

And these were all civilian schools? No, I guess not.

NG:

Department of Defense schools. Yeah, military personnel.

HT:

I guess you got to do a lot of traveling.

NG:

Oh, yes.

HT:

And that was probably very enjoyable.

NG:

Yes.

HT:

Did anything interesting happen to you during those seventeen years, that you can recall?

NG:

Well, other than the places that I was able to go to while I was there—I went to Russia and I went to Saudi Arabia and I went to East Africa, among other places. I took a boat trip up the coast of Norway, which was a very enjoyable trip.

HT:

Did you come back to the States from time to time?

NG:

About every two years.

HT:

Every two years?

NG:

Yeah, we got a vacation and got our way paid every two years. So the summers that I didn't come home, I was traveling.

HT:

So you only taught nine months of the year and you had summers off?

NG:

Yeah, nine months. No, we taught ten months.

HT:

And you taught all American kids, I guess? They were American children, right?

NG:

Yeah, all American kids.

HT:

And were these children of military people?

NG:

Yes.

HT:

That sounds very interesting. Which subject did you teach?

NG:

I taught first grade and fourth and fifth grades.

HT:

That's very, very interesting. Do you recall what kind of impact being in the military had on your life immediately after you got out, and what impact it's had on your life in the long term?

NG:

No, [chuckling] I can't think of any particular impact it had on me.

HT:

Well, has your life been different because you were in the military?

NG:

I don't know.

HT:

Would you do it again if you had to do it over again, join the military?

NG:

Yeah, I'd go back into the military again.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

NG:

Oh gosh, I'm as independent as all get-out. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, did the military make you that way?

NG:

No, my mother made me that way.

HT:

So you come by it naturally. [chuckling]

NG:

I came by it naturally. No, my mother taught me to be independent.

HT:

Did you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the military?

NG:

Not particularly.

HT:

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

NG:

Yes, I do. Because when I got out of school, you had about six choices of what you could do. And anybody who was out of those six choices was a pioneer, you might say. When I got out of school, you were still limited to what you could do, what a woman could do. I envy young women today who can do what they want to do.

HT:

Because that was not an option for women of your generation.

NG:

It was not an option when I got out of school. There was just no place to train for anything else. You could either be a teacher, you could be a nurse, you could be a secretary, or something like that. There were no training places for anybody else.

HT:

There were very few women doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.

NG:

Very few, very few. I didn't know a single woman doctor when I was a young woman, or a single woman lawyer. And now they can do what they want to do, and I envy them.

HT:

It has changed considerably in the last fifty years.

NG:

Oh gosh, I'd say yes.

HT:

Well, do you recall how women who joined the military were perceived by the general public?

NG:

It was sort of—you know, some thought it was fine and some thought it was terrible.

HT:

Did you hear anything about the—There was a scandal in the spring of 1943 and the summer of '43 started by army men against the WACs. Do you recall anything about that?

NG:

Well, I know one thing, the GIs flocked to our day room. [chuckling]

HT:

Who? The men?

NG:

Yes, they did. Evidently it wasn't as bad as they made it out, because they certainly flocked to our day room. You very seldom went into that day room that there weren't some GIs there, and never at nighttime. There was always men in that day room. So I think they rather liked the idea.

HT:

Well, how do you feel about women in combat positions today?

NG:

No. They're not physically fitted for it.

HT:

Even flying airplanes?

NG:

They can fly airplanes. That doesn't compare with combat duty. But not combat duty. They're just not made for combat duty.

HT:

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

NG:

I don't think so.

HT:

I don't think so.

NG:

One thing I do want to ask you is about the uniforms. What did you think of your uniforms?

HT:

It didn't bother me. I didn't mind wearing a uniform.

NG:

So that wasn't difficult at all?

NG:

No, not difficult.

HT:

My next question was what have you done since the military, but I think you've already covered that, because you taught for a number of years and that sort of thing. Well, I don't have any more questions. Is there anything else you'd like to add about your life at Woman's College or your military service or your life afterwards that we haven't covered?

NG:

No, I think you've covered it pretty well.

HT:

Well, Miss Greenlee, I really appreciate you talking with me this morning. It's just been wonderful listening to your stories. It sounds like it was such an interesting time in your life. Thank you so much.

[End of the Interview]