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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Betty Baker, 1999

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Object ID: WV0042.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Betty Baker’s education at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (WC); her service with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in Miami, Florida, and Karachi, India, during World War II; and her personal life after the war.

Summary:

Baker describes getting an education near the end of the Depression and having to work four jobs to pay for college. She also comments on WC campus life; social life; academics, including creative writing and English; and campus figures such as Harriett Elliott and Walter Clinton Jackson.

Baker briefly discusses her decision to join the WAC and the reaction of friends and family; the process of enlisting; basic training; her work as base historian at Miami Army Air Field; and her frustration about not being sent overseas sooner. She also describes her service in Karachi. Topics include her plane trip to India; living near a Parsee burial ground; the living conditions; and the lack of social life.

Baker also discusses her rebellious nature and her desire to leave the military because it was not a good fit for her; the perceptions of women in the armed forces; lesbians in the WAC; and her opinion that she did not contribute much to the war effort. She also describes her various post-war jobs, including as a literary agent assistant in New York and as news director of WKBC Radio, executive director of the Community Action Agency, and an assistant in the library of Wilkes Community College in Wilkes County, NC.

Creator: Betty Baker

Biographical Info: Betty Baker of Culpepper, Virginia, was an air base historian and a troop information and education specialist with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Betty Baker 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 here at the Wilkes Community College [in Wilkesboro, North Carolina] library to do an oral history interview with Betty Baker for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Miss Baker, if you could tell me where you were born and where you grew up, we'll consider that our test for your voice on this machine.

BB:

Okay. I was born in Culpepper, Virginia, which is up in northern Virginia. My father was a small manufacturer, my mother taught school there, and I think maybe we lived there about eighteen months after I was born and then we moved on.

HT:

Thank you so much for talking with me this afternoon, in spite of the weather, it snowing outside and all that. [chuckling]

BB:

It's pretty.

HT:

Could you tell me where you went to high school, please?

BB:

Well, I went to high school first at Greensboro High School, which is now Grimsley [High School], and went there freshman, sophomore, part of my junior [year]. And then we moved out to forty miles west of Nashville, [Tennessee], to a little town called Dickson, and I finished high school out there, my last year and a half.

HT:

And where did you go to college?

BB:

You know where I went to college. [chuckling] I went to college in what was Woman's College of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro [now UNCG]. [chuckling]

HT:

And what years were you there?

BB:

I was there from '39 to '44. My family was totally out of money, and I dropped out after the end of my sophomore year and went to Baltimore to work in what was then Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Factory, saved enough money, and came back and started my junior year then and finished in '44.

HT:

And what was your major?

BB:

My major was English, literature and—We had some wonderful writers on campus at the time teaching.

HT:

Do you remember anyone specifically that stands out in your mind?

BB:

Hi Hayden. Hiram Hayden was just everybody's dream of a creative person. He was my faculty advisor, and he was a great man to work under. He's now deceased, been deceased for some time.

HT:

What was his specialty?

BB:

His specialty was creative writing.

HT:

And do any of the other professors stand out in your mind from those days?

BB:

I can't remember. There were some good ones, and I just—Names do things as I get older, they just kind of skitter out the window.

HT:

What was social life like on campus during the early forties?

BB:

Man-hungry. Man-hungry. [laughter] Men were only on campus on weekends, and that included military and civilian, and women would hang out of windows and whistle and clap and do everything else when a man crossed the campus. Just too many women, that's all. Far too many women.

HT:

So what did you guys do for fun in those days? What kind of social life was there, since there were so few men?

BB:

Well, there wasn't a whole lot of social life. You studied. Woman's College, at the time I entered, had the second-highest academic rating among women's colleges in the United States. And it was rough. I mean it was rough! The big thing was eliminate those who were not going to study as quickly as possible—I lost my roommate—and they really put it to you, which I appreciated because that's what I wanted.

HT:

We've talked a little bit about the academic life, what about the administration? Do you recall Miss [Harriet] Elliott [dean of women] and [Chancellor] W. C. [Walter Clinton] Jackson?

BB:

Oh my, yes! Oh my, yes!

HT:

Can you tell me something about those people?

BB:

They were outstanding beyond hope, particularly Harriet. She brought with her an aura from the Roosevelt days that was out of this world, and we just worshipped her. Dr. Jackson had a heart that was at least three times the normal size. He was generous beyond hope. I can give you a little for-instance. We, as I told you, had no money. We'd lost everything, my family, and it was going to take seventy-five dollars to get me enrolled. And my mother, who could charm a billy goat's horns off, went in to talk to Dr. Jackson. “My daughter is going to enter. I don't know where I'm going to get the money.” He said, “Be sure that she comes to me as soon as she gets here.” And it was a godsend. I held down four jobs while I was enrolled, in order to keep things rolling.

HT:

What type of work did you do to help finance your education?

BB:

Well, I worked for the then Greensboro Daily News [now Greensboro News & Record part-time; I worked for what was then Meyers Department Store, if you recall that; and I pulled a little red wagon of Sunday newspapers—heavy Sunday newspapers—all over the campus; and I was the official photographer for the art department.

HT:

So you were quite busy with all these jobs.

BB:

I was really busy, and got reprimanded a number of times because I was letting my grades go, supposedly. I said, “I have no recourse right now. Bear with me.”

HT:

That was rough.

BB:

It was rough, yeah.

HT:

Did you ever do any traveling while you were in school, to Chapel Hill or any of those places like that?

BB:

Not really. Not really. I didn't have any money to travel.

HT:

And was ORD [Overseas Replacement Depot] already in existence when you were there?

BB:

Yes, ORD was very much in existence.

HT:

And did you and your fellow classmates go out there for dances?

BB:

No, they came to us. [chuckling]

HT:

Okay, so you had dances on campus.

BB:

Yes, we had dances on campus on weekends.

HT:

And where were they held?

BB:

Whatever was the—

HT:

Was it the Rosenthal Gymnasium, maybe?

BB:

Yeah, I think that's where. I had so little time for social life that it doesn't stand out in my memory.

HT:

Well, what with working four jobs and studying, that kept you busy twenty-four hours a day, I would imagine.

BB:

Yeah.

HT:

Which dorm were you in, do you recall?

BB:

Mary Foust [Residence Hall] was the upper-class. I was in—I can't think of the freshman dorm name. It was along what was then the tennis courts, one of them. Anyway, Mary Foust. And my roommate was a fantastic person named Jean Jorgenson. And she's lost. The Alumni Association cannot find her. Jean was born in the Far East and her parents were missionaries. And she had developed sleeping sickness as a child, and I would have to wake her up with cold cloths and everything in the morning. She made straight As, and it would make me so dad gum mad, because she slept through all this stuff. [chuckling] But she wrote for the old Saturday Evening Post and Liberty magazine, both now extinct, and money just rolled in. She was extremely talented.

HT:

What was dorm life like in those days, do you recall?

BB:

Loud. Not as loud as it is today. But we didn't have any scandals and we didn't have any—I can't think of anything that I recall, except for one day when somebody took a wheelbarrow up to the top floor and about three o'clock in the morning let it go. And all these screaming women thought the end of the world had come with that noise. [laughter] They poured out of their rooms. But really it was simple fun. I mean it wasn't—nothing like today. The only thing we had was some who drank excessively, but there wasn't any such thing as drugs, of course, in my day.

HT:

Right. What about smoking?

BB:

Yeah, we smoked.

HT:

That was very fashionable in those days, I guess.

BB:

It was fashionable. And if you knew somebody was going to monitor and coming along, of course you did everything you could to get the smoke out of a room.

HT:

So it was not allowed in the dorm?

BB:

No, it wasn't allowed.

HT:

But it was done anyway.

BB:

It was done, yeah. Very risque. [laughter] Very innocent fun.

HT:

Very innocent, huh?

BB:

It really was. It was fun.

HT:

What was the dining hall like in those days?

BB:

The food wasn't that good. They would sit on the same menu day in and day out. And I didn't have enough money to eat every meal anyway there, but I would try to eat breakfast. And it was in Spencer [Residence Hall].

HT:

Of course this was at the height of the war, so maybe rationing affected the quality of the food.

BB:

Everything was rationed.

HT:

Everything was rationed, right.

BB:

Yeah, everything was rationed.

HT:

Everything was in short supply, I guess, right.

BB:

Right, and no cars on campus. Nobody had cars.

HT:

So, if you wanted to get around, you had to walk, I guess.

BB:

Take the bus. The Duke Power [Company] bus system was excellent in those days.

HT:

So the trolley system was gone by that time, I guess?

BB:

Yeah, there wasn't any trolley system.

HT:

Did you ever have occasion to go downtown for entertainment or fun or anything like that?

BB:

Dinners sometimes, if somebody's parents were in town or something like that. But we had to be very careful. If we drank wine, we had to hide it under the table.

HT:

Why was that? Was it forbidden?

BB:

Forbidden.

HT:

Oh, I see.

BB:

No alcohol—at all.

HT:

On or off campus?

BB:

Either/or.

HT:

Either one, right.

BB:

If you were caught off campus drinking, you had a severe reprimand when you got back.

HT:

Do you recall anything about the concert/lecture Series in the early forties?

BB:

Excellent! Excellent! We had renowned artists who came on campus. And the plays were good. Those were enjoyable things. They were the main things that were enjoyable.

HT:

Do you recall any of the people who came on campus for performances or plays or—

BB:

No, I don't. We're talking about years and years ago. [chuckling] I'm sorry.

HT:

That's fine. I think you told me earlier that you graduated in 1944.

BB:

In '44.

HT:

And what happened next? Did you go to work, or—

BB:

No, I graduated in June of '44, and I had been offered a fellowship at North Carolina State [University, in Raleigh] in, of all things, aeronautical engineering. And why that, it had to do with the fact that the year that I spent in Baltimore between my sophomore and junior year I worked not only for Glenn L. Martin but I worked for a firm making ultra high frequency radios, and I was a tester. Somebody screened my application, I guess, and I was offered the fellowship. But patriotism had—Oh, we were bombarded with armless, legless wonders who came to speak to us. And you couldn't help but be patriotic, and two weeks after graduation I was in uniform.

HT:

Which branch of the service did you decide to join?

BB:

The Women's Army Corp, the WAC.

HT:

The WAC. It was the W-A-C by that time?

BB:

It was W-A-C. It was no longer W-A-A-C.

HT:

And what made you decide to enter that particular branch?

BB:

I guess I had been convinced that I could get overseas pretty quickly, which was my prime interest. As I say, two weeks after graduation I was on the way to Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia for basic training.

HT:

What did your parents, friends and—think about this?

BB:

My mother was totally behind anything that I would do that was legal. My father was of the old school that thought that an unmarried female should stay home until she married, and he was horrified that his daughter was going into a male-dominated military service—until the first time I came home on leave, which was right after basic training, and he said to my mother in my presence, “I saw some dignified-looking females get off the train in uniform. I think I've changed my mind.” But he was of the old school.

HT:

And I guess he wanted to protect you a little bit as well.

BB:

Oh my, yes. Oh, he was a delightful person.

HT:

What about classmates and friends? What was their reaction?

BB:

”You're going to throw your life away.”

HT:

They said this?

BB:

Yes. And I wasn't listening. I wasn't listening at all at that point. I knew what I wanted to do and I was going to do it.

HT:

And so you went in—I guess it was about June something or other in 1944?

BB:

Yeah, late, late June.

HT:

Did you have to sign up somewhere? Can you send me through the process of how you got in?

BB:

Okay. I went down to a warehouse in Charlotte, [North Carolina], to be—I guess it was inducted. I filled out all the forms, signed all the forms, and then I was given, in the mail, my orders to go to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Got there in the hottest of hot summertime. They issued high-top shoes, woolen socks that came to your knees, and a heavy uniform. At least they were—By that time they were out of men's uniforms. Earlier they were forced to wear men's uniforms. They didn't have anything for WACs. And we burned up practically. And by the time I finished basic—and I don't recall how many weeks it was, but it was a long time—I had filled out an application to be a photo lab technician, and I thought I was approved. I was assigned to the Miami Army Air Base, Miami, Florida, under that classification. And I got there, and to be told that there was no way that I could do that specialty, and instead I was designated as the army air base historian. And there were three full large offices full of data, and I was told that I would have to bring it up-to-date. And it was frightening because I wanted to get overseas as quickly as possible, but I was soon informed that there was no way until I brought that history up-to-date.

HT:

What did you have to do to get it up-to-date?

BB:

I had to go through each designated section's daily accounts and then combine all that into, say, a month-by-month history. And it was slow going, very slow going, very frustrating going. I was flattered that I got an assignment like that as an enlisted person, but I got frustrated.

HT:

What type of air base was this? What did they do there exactly at this Miami Army Air Base?

BB:

This is now the Miami International Airport. It was where troops came in and out and dignitaries came in and out to the U.S. at that—

HT:

So it wasn't a training center or anything?

BB:

No, it was an entry and exit thing. I never will forget walking through the terminal the day that [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt died, and all these men were crying, and it just tore you to shreds to see. The announcement came on, and the whole shebang broke down into tears.

After I had shown my frustration, I had a real—I'm sure you understand the term “butch”—butch commanding officer. She was a former judge, and real tough, and I was her oddball problem. And I kept complaining, “I've got to get overseas. This is why I came in. I've got to get overseas.” “You're not through.” Finally, she got tired of my complaining and she put me in a completely different assignment of meeting and greeting dignitaries coming in. And I thought, “Oh no! I'll never get out of here.” So I did that for a while.

HT:

Did you meet any interesting people?

BB:

If I did, I didn't know who they were. [laughter] I was so frustrated.

HT:

Did you have to chauffeur these people around or just have to greet them?

BB:

No, I'd just welcome them to the base.

HT:

Welcome them and that sort of thing?

BB:

Yeah. It was an unnecessary function, and I know she knew it was an unnecessary function. But I was the bane of her existence.

HT:

So did you ever finish that other assignment?

BB:

No, I never did.

HT:

Somebody else had that privilege.

BB:

Somebody else, yeah. But the first sergeant, who was a very close friend, did everything she could, and she got me on assignment to what was then Karachi, India, and it's Karachi, Pakistan now. And I was in seventh heaven when I got over there.

HT:

And do you recall when that was?

BB:

Well, let's see, it would have been probably early '45.

HT:

So you finally had your prayers answered.

BB:

I did, and I was assigned as a troop information and education specialist. I had two TV stations and twenty-seven unit newspapers to keep up with, and also I counseled military personnel on education choices. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had my own jeep and I was in seventh heaven.

HT:

It sounds like it was a wonderful job.

BB:

It was.

HT:

If we could backtrack just a minute, how did you get over to India? I'm assuming on a boat.

BB:

No, we flew.

HT:

Oh, okay. So you got over there in just a couple days.

BB:

Yeah, we flew. It took a couple days. First we went up to Governors Island, New York—don't ask me why, but we did—and then we went from there to Manchester, New Hampshire, and then we flew out to Fort Lewis, Washington, and we left from there.

HT:

That's Fort Lewis, Washington state.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

That's a strange route, isn't it?

BB:

Very strange, very strange.

HT:

And then after you left Fort Lewis, how did—

BB:

Let's see, we flew direct to—I guess we probably went into Tokyo first.

HT:

But the war was over by that time, I guess.

BB:

No.

HT:

It wasn't?

BB:

Not the Far East, because that's a story unto itself. [chuckling]

HT:

Okay, we'll get to that one later then.

BB:

Then we flew on to Karachi.

HT:

What were the accommodations on a plane flight this long?

BB:

Just bucket seats along the walls of the plane.

HT:

No berths or anything like that?

BB:

Oh, lord, no. You've seen it in movies, just one beside the other, right down the side. No seats, per se, just bucket seats.

HT:

And so after you got to Karachi, life was much to your liking, I think, the type of work you did.

BB:

Very much so.

HT:

How long did you do that?

BB:

I did that until early '46. The war was over by the time I came back. But the funny thing was, there was a false end to the war, false rumors, false date. And one of the things that you were not allowed to do was fraternize with officers. And if you tell me I can't do something, I'm going to do my damndest to do it. So I would get in the staff car and hide on the floorboard in the back, and we'd go on in. So we went on into the officers' club—because we'd been told the war was over, we were going to celebrate—and I hid on the floorboard and we went on in. And we went into the officers' club, and we got the colonel who was the head of the thing. And there were about five of us, and we threw him in the pool. [chuckling] Well, it turned out the war was not over, so—[laughter] We had a ball, though. It was fun.

HT:

Did you ever think about becoming an officer?

BB:

No. I was offered a chance to go to OCS [Officer Candidate School] and I said no.

HT:

But you had found your niche and you were quite happy?

BB:

Yeah. I mean the military is not for me, and there's no point in wasting the government's money.

HT:

Can you relate any other interesting stories about your time overseas, interesting people you might have met?

BB:

There were a lot of interesting people, but names, no. One thing that I recall—I love India. I just think it's marvelous, with all its different religions and everything. But between the city of Karachi and where we were, out —oh, I guess we were ten, fifteen miles out, there was a Parsee burial area.

HT:

How do you spell Parsee?

BB:

P-a-r-s-e-e. And what they do with the dead is what the Indians in this country did at one time. They just put them up aboveground and the vultures and so forth got the body remains. Well, you can imagine the odor as you got close to this place. And newcomers would come to the base for the first time, “How do you stand the odor?” And I'd look at them and say, “What odor?” [chuckling] You know, you can get used to anything. But it was awful. The odor was awful. But it was a great experience.

HT:

Did you have a chance to do any traveling around Pakistan or India?

BB:

Not really, not really. Right before I came to Wilkes County, [North Carolina], I came to Wilkes County in 1960, I took a long, long trip and I covered one end of India to the next, just simply because I had not been able to see anything during the war, and I tried to make up for what had not happened during the war. But I came back—I was discharged at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, January 16, 1946.

HT:

So you were in about a year and a half, something like that?

BB:

About nineteen months or so. Not long. I got out as soon as I could because I was a misfit in the military service. I rebelled at everything that came down the pike. And they loved me. You know they did. [laughter]

HT:

If we could just backtrack just a minute about when you first went in. Can you describe what a typical day was like in basic training, do you recall? I know you said it was hot at Fort Oglethorpe.

BB:

It was hot, and we had a lot of calisthenics. Fortunately, I was a tennis player. I played tennis every day of the week and I was in good condition when I went in. If I hadn't been, I would have been bad off. But calisthenics were the big deal. The food was good. As I say, it was extremely hot. And everything was so new. I wasn't at the point where I was saying, “No way am I going to do this,” because I didn't know what one thing led and how one led into the other.

HT:

So how did you and the other girls adjust to military life?

BB:

Some of them adjusted a whole lot better than I did, because if I didn't like it you heard about it. That's just my way.

HT:

Of course that's not the army way.

BB:

That's the thing. [chuckling] That's the thing. You know, it's like this former major that I had before I went overseas, and I came back and I went through her office eventually to get to Dallas. I walked in and she said, “Oh, no, oddball again.” [chuckling] “Thank you, ma'am.”

HT:

Were there many oddballs in the service?

BB:

If they were, I don't know about it. I really don't. I was just rebelling because it was such a mistake. I really can't say that I wasted that time, but I could have done so much more that would have fallen in line with patriotism.

HT:

And of course once you sign up, there's just no way to get out until the war is over.

BB:

That's it. No, not until some—or, you know, unless you do something ugly that they kick you out, and I wasn't about to. I'd go almost to the brink and back off. It was just not my cup of tea.

HT:

Well, did you enjoy your work, though?

BB:

I did. I did overseas.

HT:

Right, especially overseas, yes.

BB:

Oh yes, I did because I—

HT:

That's a marvelous assignment.

BB:

Yeah, and I worked under some marvelous people.

HT:

And do you think you were treated with the men with whom you worked?

BB:

Yes, yes.

HT:

By this time, were you a sergeant or—

BB:

[chuckling] No. I never got beyond PFC [private first class]. If I had, they'd back me off real fast because I'd do something they didn't like.

HT:

PFC is a one-striper, is that correct?

BB:

One stripe, yeah. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, as a woman, did you encounter any kind of discrimination at all that you can recall?

BB:

Not that I was aware of. I'm fortunate. Through all my work, in life and everything, I haven't been discriminated against.

HT:

Did you ever get any special treatment because you were a woman?

BB:

If I was treated specially, I wasn't aware of it.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

BB:

Physically? Pushups.

HT:

I've heard that before.

BB:

Pushups! Awful! I had done all sorts of exercises and everything, but I had never done pushups. [sighing] It just wasn't for me.

HT:

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

BB:

Emotionally? Not very much of anything. I had worked away from home before I got in service. It wasn't like leaving home for the first time or anything like that. I don't know of anything emotionally.

HT:

Do you recall any hilarious or embarrassing moments?

BB:

Oh yes, there were plenty of those.

HT:

Would you share one or two with us?

BB:

Well, I had what was called cellulitis. I'd never heard of it before.

HT:

Could you spell that for me?

BB:

C-e-l-l-u-l-i-t-i-s, cellulitis. It's apparently medically one step above cancer, and it was on the top of my big toe on one foot, and I couldn't wear any shoes on that foot for months. And I took a lot of hoots and howls every time I walked anywhere because I—You know, it was as if I had done something wrong. But they cleared it up. Very strange.

HT:

Did you have sandals or open-toed shoes?

BB:

I had one sandal and a regular heavy big old high-topped shoe.

HT:

So nobody ever called you down for being out of uniform?

BB:

No, no, no. [chuckling]

HT:

I'm sure you looked rather strange.

BB:

I did look rather strange, and I felt rather strange. And like I say, I got hoots and hollers and everything.

HT:

And where was this? Was this in the States?

BB:

This was in the States. I've heard of this since, but I really don't know much about it. But it causes the joint to swell beyond all hope, and it's so painful.

HT:

Sort of like gout, I guess, maybe?

BB:

I guess. Probably like that. I never have had gout, but I guess it was.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid, especially when you were in Karachi, India, which is such a strange culture from what you'd been used to?

BB:

There were one or two occasions when we were aware that there was somebody stalking us outside of the barracks.

HT:

Natives, or—

BB:

Natives.

HT:

Were they beggars or—

BB:

No, they were probably thieves that were ready to—

HT:

Do you think you were in physical danger at that time?

BB:

We thought we were. There would be like four to a room, and the room was—The only thing that separated us from the outside was a screen with a mosquito netting that came down, and you had no protection from—If somebody wanted to get in, they could easily get in. And we heard this for about two or three nights. We reported it, and the military didn't see fit to do anything about it.

HT:

The compound you were in, was it inside a base or—

BB:

It was inside a base, but not a solid wall, you know, anywhere. And of course when we wrote home we weren't allowed to say where we were or anything like that.

HT:

So you weren't allowed to tell them that you were in Karachi?

BB:

Yes.

HT:

Your family knew you were overseas and that was it.

BB:

Yeah, that's all. That's all. Of course, we wrote regularly. Except one time [chuckling] I don't know what happened, just this gap took place in my letter writing, and my mother went to the Red Cross. And I was so embarrassed because I was contacted by the Red Cross because I hadn't written home. And that was embarrassing because I'm usually a regular letter writer. I didn't do anything like that again, ever.

HT:

How long did it take for letters to get back and forth?

BB:

Oh, it would be a week at least.

HT:

That's not too bad.

BB:

That's not too bad, no. But my mother was a very tolerant woman. He wasn't, my father wasn't.

HT:

What did you girls do for social life and fun in Karachi?

BB:

We didn't have anything, except hiding in the back seat of a staff car. [laughter] We didn't have any social life.

HT:

No dances or movies?

BB:

No. Oh, we had movies, but they were phhht! movies. [chuckling] Sad movies.

HT:

So you don't remember any favorite songs, movies, or dances from those days?

BB:

No. All of it's coming back, though, into popularity.

HT:

The swing and that type of thing.

BB:

Yeah, Frank Sinatra and all that. No, we didn't have any outstanding social life. We read a lot and talked a lot, and that's about it.

HT:

I see. So you worked quite a bit, it sounds like.

BB:

Really worked a lot.

HT:

What kind of hours did you keep?

BB:

As long as I was needed I was there.

HT:

From what, 7:00 in the morning on?

BB:

Not quite that early. Maybe 8:00. And if you had appointments with men who wanted some advice on what to pursue with what experience they had, what to pursue in education with their experience—

HT:

So you were a career counselor, it sounds like, almost.

BB:

Just about. And then I would put on my men's clothes and board a helicopter and go up into danger zones to monitor unit newspapers and the personnel.

HT:

And where were these posts?

BB:

They were up north of Karachi. We didn't go east. We went north. Karachi was kind of an—it was like an outpost but it wasn't. The action in what was then the China-Burma-India Theater was farther east, and there were some nurses, female nurses, who got combat medals who were over farther in Calcutta, [India], that area. We were kind of protected by distance. But it was enjoyable. Not that war is enjoyable, but it was enjoyable.

HT:

And you said you never ever thought about making it a career.

BB:

Oh no, no, no, no, no.

HT:

Were you ever encouraged by your first sergeant or anything like that?

BB:

No, not after they knew me. [laughter] No. No, no, no, no, no. They knew by that time, although I enjoyed the overseas assignment, uppermost in my mind was: “How soon can I get out? How soon can I get out?” And when I got out, like I told you, I was discharged in Dallas. I had planned to go to the University of Mexico, and of course I didn't have any money, and I dyed my uniform kind of a brownish because I was going to have to wear it for a long time. And I chickened out at the very last minute and went home. I don't know why. I think I'd had enough of everything.

HT:

So you could have used your GI Bill if you'd wanted to?

BB:

Oh yes. I did use my GI Bill. I lived in New York City for a couple of years, and I went to the New School for Social Research and I used my GI Bill then.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood or climate or feeling of the country was during the Second World War?

BB:

Oh, everybody knew why we were fighting. Everybody knew the purpose of the American involvement in World War II. There was none of this marching against, like Vietnam. Nothing! Nothing like that. It was like when I started out, patriotism was it, and it overrode every other reaction.

HT:

Was there fear in the country, do you recall?

BB:

I don't think so. I wasn't aware of it.

HT:

So patriotism was the main feeling, right.

BB:

Patriotism, yeah. There was annoyance over rationing of sugar and rationing of gas and that sort of thing, but otherwise everybody was behind the whole thing, that I was aware of.

HT:

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

BB:

No, I really don't. I wish I could say yes, because I spent enough time to have done something. I've made my contribution in life to other ways of life, but that wasn't one of them, no. It was a sad mistake on my part.

HT:

What did you think of Franklin D. Roosevelt?

BB:

Franklin Roosevelt could do no harm, in my eyes. I had not had the occasion to study his politics, I just knew that he was a magnificent leader and he could do no wrong. It was only later that I realized the manner of the man, and I still am a Roosevelt enthusiast.

HT:

And how about Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt?

BB:

Oh, now that's another story. When I lived in New York, I lived in Greenwich Village, and so did she. And Fala, [Mrs. Roosevelt's] dog Fala, was still alive, and she would walk Fala in the morning. And I would pass her every once in a while in the morning and I'd say, “Good morning, Mrs. Roosevelt.” Graciously she'd say, “How are you, my dear?” And take the dog on. But she was something.

HT:

She was a neighbor of yours then?

BB:

Not too far away. She lived right on—What is the main square there? I can't remember it.

HT:

Is that Washington Square?

BB:

Yeah, Washington Square. She had an apartment on Washington Square, and I was about three blocks away. She was a pioneer in so many different social causes, and she fronted for him when he was still alive quite a bit. With Roosevelt and [President Harry S.] Truman, this country had leadership that it has not had since.

HT:

I was just going to ask you about President Truman and your thoughts about him.

BB:

We haven't had such leadership. It's too bad, because in their own inimitable way they were statesmen. Truman was crude, but Truman was a true leader. Roosevelt was too smooth at times, but he was a leader. And we haven't had it with LBJ [President Lyndon B. Johnson], and we certainly—I mean, [President John F.] Jack Kennedy, he had charisma, and that's about the only thing he had going for him, in my eyes. But what we have since has been questionable, questionable.

HT:

Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were from the World War II period?

BB:

Well, [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower, and of course Roosevelt. There weren't many.

HT:

Did you have any feelings about General Douglas MacArthur?

BB:

I am opposed to anything at all that has to do with MacArthur. The man was a megalomaniac. I mean, again my opinion, nobody else's.

HT:

Do you recall where you were during VE Day, which is Victory in Europe [Day]?

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

BB:

I remember reading the bulletin board about the atomic bomb being dropped and being horrified with everything I read. And then there was no celebration, because we were in the Far East and we knew that the war was going on in the Far East.

HT:

Right. And what about VJ Day [Victory in Japan], which happened, I think, in August?

BB:

Yeah, VJ Day the second [chuckling], not the first for us. It was kind of anticlimactic because we had celebrated months before, the false VJ Day.

HT:

Do you recall when that was exactly?

BB:

No, I don't, but it seems to me it was in the summer.

HT:

Because I've never heard of that. Was that worldwide or just in the Pacific area?

BB:

You know, I can't honestly answer that. But we were convinced and had been—Everybody was convinced that the war in the Far East was over. I mean, people got drunk and, oh, everything, you know, celebrating, only to be told, “Sorry, we made a mistake. Go back to work.” [chuckling] So, anyway, it—It was an experience that I'm glad I had. You know, in retrospect I'm glad I had it. I certainly didn't enjoy all of it. And I would have done much more had I not gone into service.

HT:

Do you have any idea what you might have done if you hadn't gone in?

BB:

I would have taken that fellowship, for one thing. I don't know, but I would have had more self-satisfaction, probably, if I hadn't been in service. The college here did something like you are doing, only they photographed it. There were eight veterans that they did an oral history of.

HT:

These were men?

BB:

No, these were women. And I was the only sour note in the whole bunch. Everybody else was just, “Oh, it's such a wonderful experience!” and on and on—And I said, “Ugh!” [chuckling]

HT:

You said these are on videotape?

BB:

Yeah. A local attorney put this thing together, and then they photographed it here. That's the second thing that I—The college has an oral history project. Oh, they've got several hundred tapes of what they call local characters, and I'm on one of those. [chuckling] I bought a farm when I came to Wilkes County, a twenty-three-acre farm, a rundown farm. And I don't do well with money, and I ran out of savings. There was only one radio station here at the time, there are two now. I went to it and was interviewed and got a job as a news director, and I enjoyed that thoroughly because these are wonderful people here. These are people that are unique, they are. Well, you've run into it in Watauga County, [North Carolina]. There's a similarity here: independent, proud, and delightful people, just themselves. And I fell right into it. I didn't know a soul when I came here.

HT:

When did you come here?

BB:

Early '60.

HT:

So you've been here a number of years.

BB:

Yeah, thirty-nine years.

HT:

Thirty-nine years. If we could just backtrack for just a minute, can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after you got out in 1946?

BB:

When I got out, I went home briefly, when I chickened out on not going to the University of Mexico. And I answered an ad in the New York Times and I went and was interviewed for a literary agent assistant. And Gideon Ish-Kishor was my interviewer, a very Orthodox Jew, a delightful person. I was being interviewed without realizing it, until I got in the middle of the interview, as a Dictaphone operator. I'd never even seen a Dictaphone before. [laughter] And he gave me this—it was an old wax-type spindle thing, and said, “Now transcribe this.” Well, I wasn't about to tell him I didn't know what he was talking about or what do I do. So he left the room and I figured out how to cut the thing on. About two hours later he came in and he said, “Are you through yet?” I said, “No, sir, I'm not.” “You've got the job,” he said. “Why? I'm not through.” He said, “Persistence.” [laughter] I stayed there almost two years with him. He was delightful.

HT:

And what type of work did you do there?

BB:

I critiqued beginning writers that were paying a fee to be serviced by a literary agent. As I say, Mr. Ish-Kishor was a delightful person. He left one day and he said, “Now, the editor of the Saturday Evening Post is calling and I need for you to get the message straight,” and it was some writer in his stable. I took the call and the editor said, “And where is Gideon?”

And I said, “You really want to know?”

He said, “I wouldn't have asked if I hadn't wanted to.”

No, I said, “He's gone to a circumcision ceremony.”

And there was this long pause, and he said, “His own?” [laughter] And that was an experience. That was great.

HT:

And then what was the next thing you did?

BB:

The next thing I did was to take a job as an assistant manager of what was called a sporting camp in Maine. We had two seaplanes that flew our guests out of Boston, and the manager didn't know what he was doing, and I certainly didn't know what we were doing. A very expensive new layout, the whole thing was. And we made so many mistakes, but I enjoyed it.

HT:

That was quite a change from being a literary agent assistant, completely different.

BB:

Oh yes. Oh, the story of my life is job-hopping and let's try this and let's try that. Well, my years in Wilkes County are typical. I was the news director of WKBC [Radio] for four years, and then I decided I wanted to start a weekly newspaper. I'd always wanted a newspaper, and I started one. And I didn't have the money, and I ran out of all kinds of assets, and so that didn't last very long. But I enjoyed doing it because I wanted to do it. And then the Great Society was coming into being and there was what's called a Community Action Agency was being set up here, three counties, Wilkes, Ashe, Allegheny, and I was the first executive director, and was the only director for twenty-eight years until I retired four years ago. And I decided that I would shop around for something that I really wanted to get my teeth into, and I didn't want do-good work, and I can't do do-good work. And I stayed home for a year and got fat, until Dr. [Fay] Byrd, who is the head dog here [the Wilkes Community College Library], said, “Come to work for me.” And I've been here for a little over three years now as a volunteer.

HT:

And you really enjoy it?

BB:

Yes. Oh yes. I'm doing genealogical work on the way-old issues of the newspaper. I've got forms to complete, and then they are computerizing what's on the forms.

HT:

So you are doing the research?

BB:

I'm doing the research.

HT:

And filling out the forms, and then somebody else is filling the database.

BB:

Yeah, the student workers do the computerizing.

HT:

It sounds like you're almost creating an index of some sort.

BB:

Yeah.

HT:

That's wonderful. That's great.

BB:

It's fun, because I like newspapers anyway, and so it's right down my alley. And she's a delightful woman to work for. She appreciates everything you do. That's about it for now.

HT:

Well, if we can get back to your military—

BB:

Oh yeah, that's why you're here. [chuckling]

HT:

Just very briefly. I don't have any more questions, but do you think the military had any kind of impact on your life immediately after you got out or in the long term at all?

BB:

Well, I had to live down—When I came to Wilkes County, I had to live down the fact that I was that rich, retired military person. There was an article in the Winston-Salem Journal that I was a retired military—

HT:

Which was not true.

BB:

Which was not true, but that was my reputation. See, this is a small county, and when you're on radio and your voice is heard four times a day, there's very little you can get away with, you know. I don't know what did it, but I was that retired military person.

HT:

Well, do you think people looked at it in a negative light?

BB:

Both. In between. What is she really doing? Because I lived at the end of a hollow. There was nobody in that hollow but me, and I raised German shepherds, and what is she doing back there? She's not married, she's got these vicious dogs. They weren't vicious. They have an awe of German shepherds in this county. And I had come out of the service eventually, you know, and it had to be this: She's a retired military person with a big income. [laughter] Very funny.

HT:

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

BB:

Oh, that's all I've got going for me. [chuckling] Yeah, I'm independent, but I'm extremely dependent on friends. I love my good friends. The reason I left my twenty-eight-year job was my health broke down. And if my friends hadn't rallied, I'd have been dead today because I was given up. I had a brain hemorrhage and a stroke and you name it.

HT:

Well, do you think the military made you that way, or were you an independent person [prior]?

BB:

Oh, I was an independent person from scratch.

HT:

Right, so it was just reinforced that probably.

BB:

Yeah, it reinforced it. Yeah, I was independent from scratch. I went to thirteen public schools, and I had to be independent because I had to adjust to a whole new—I skipped the first grade and I skipped half of the third grade. My mother was an excellent elementary school teacher and she taught me at home in the days before they didn't know about home schooling, and it was inbred.

HT:

Well, did you consider yourself a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the military?

BB:

No. Oh, I knew that there weren't—you know, it was new. That's all I knew. No, I didn't consider myself a pioneer.

HT:

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

BB:

No, I do not. They were not looked upon with that much favor.

HT:

That was my next question: How were women perceived who joined the military in those days by the general public?

BB:

Oddballs. What are they doing that for? Who needs 'em? No.

HT:

Did you ever hear about the scandal that was started, I think it was in the spring or summer of 1943, by men in the military against the WAACs?

BB:

No.

HT:

I think the British and the Canadian women in the army, those particular armies, had the same sort of problem. I think it was probably a little bit of jealousy, a little bit of fear: “These women are coming in and taking our jobs, and we're going to have to go overseas and fight and be killed,” and this sort of thing. And so they started—

BB:

There were a lot of lesbians in the WAC. That scared me to death. I had never heard of nor seen anything like that before, and there was a lot of buzzing about that sort of thing.

HT:

Right, that sort of thing. So bad reputations and that sort of thing.

BB:

Yeah.

HT:

And I think the WACs probably had a little bit of a harder time with that than the ladies in the [U.S.] Navy and the Coast Guard.

BB:

They probably did because there were more WACs than there were WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] and the others.

HT:

And SPARS [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from the motto “Sempar Paratus-Always Ready”]and Marines and that sort of thing.

BB:

There were more women in the WAC.

HT:

Right, and also they were the first to get started, so therefore they sort of took the brunt of all this criticism and that sort of thing.

BB:

I'm not sure that the screening was that good, because I recall after I got overseas being told that they were going to screen more carefully on the next go-round for those who would be sent overseas. Because they must have had troubles with some of them, and this reflected poorly on the American way.

HT:

Sure.

BB:

I never saw anything overseas, but I certainly did in basic. I guess I was naive and just never had known anything like that.

HT:

Would you see people behaving rather badly?

BB:

Yeah. Like I said, there were a lot of lesbians, and they were indiscreet. And I just wasn't aware that that existed even.

HT:

Weren't they called down for that sort of behavior?

BB:

Well, nobody reported them, you know. Unless they were caught by a noncommissioned officer, there was nothing done. It was a blotch. It was a blemish. That is too bad.

HT:

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

BB:

I think that's fine. I think that's fine. When I was in, which was not too long after they started accepting women, they didn't know what to do with us. They really didn't. They did not know what to do with us. And that frustrated me more than—a whole lot. Now they utilize their backgrounds and experience, and I think there's more awareness of what a woman's place is from an equal standpoint.

HT:

I think individual skills can be utilized a little better these days than they were in those days.

BB:

Oh yes, I'm sure that's the case.

HT:

I mean, in your case your skills were not utilized to their fullest potential at all.

BB:

No. No, they didn't know what to do with me. They didn't welcome me at all, but they didn't look very carefully at what I was capable of doing. But I've had a marvelous life in Wilkes County.

HT:

It sounds like it.

BB:

I really have. I own a little home up on top of one of the mountains south of here, which isn't very far, and I have a lot of good friends who have stood behind me. I've said many times I wish I had some grandchildren, but I sure don't want any children. [laughter] I don't know how you achieve that without children.

HT:

I don't know, unless you adopt some grandchildren somewhere. [chuckling] Oh, that's great. Well, is there anything else you'd like to add to this about your military service?

BB:

I can't think of anything. It was part of my experience, and I appreciate your good questions. I'm aware of a good interviewer because I've been one myself.

HT:

Well, thank you. Is there anything else you'd like to add about your life since the military? We've covered that somewhat briefly, I guess, but it sounds like it was a marvelous life.

BB:

Oh yeah, it's been a good life. I'm seventy-six, and I have done, up to this point, almost everything that I said I would like to do. I bought an old log cabin, and I love log cabins, and I worked on that for a while and brought it up to modern strides, and I raise dogs, and I had a weekly newspaper, and I did radio news, and I worked here at the college. I've done about everything that I said I would like to try to do. I haven't succeeded at a whole lot, but I'm glad I tried. But the twenty-eight years with the Community Action Agency is where I have left my mark in these three counties, because that's everything, that's Head Start, that's jobs, that's everything to do with the disadvantaged.

HT:

So that's part of your legacy, it sounds like.

BB:

I feel that it is, and I've been made to feel that it is.

HT:

That's wonderful. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you seeing me this afternoon, on this wonderful snowy afternoon.

BB:

Well, I'm sorry the weather is so bad.

HT:

Well, we need the rain, so that's wonderful.

[End of interview]