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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Virginia Gardner Becker, 1999

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Object ID: WV0053.5.001

Description: Virginia Gardner Becker primarily discusses her early life and her time in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II.

Summary:

Becker details her family background, including the early death of her mother; her experiences at Chowan Junior College; difficulties of transferring to the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in the late 1930s; and working at Thomasville Chair Company in the early 1940s.

Becker chiefly describes her experiences in basic training at Smith College and duty as a supply officer at the Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Topics include reactions she encountered when she joined the WAVES; social life at Quonset Point, including dancing with Henry Fonda at the Officers’ Club; rationing; courtship with and marriage to Bernie Becker; her resolve to continue her service until the war ended; the mood of the country during World War II; and her opinion of the current opportunities for women in the military.

Creator: Virginia Gardner Becker

Biographical Info: Virginia Becker (1919-2013) of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, a longtime bookkeeper, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from June 1943 until October 1945.

Collection: Virginia Gardner Becker 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:

EE:

Well, this is Eric Elliott, and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and I am here today in Martinsville, Virginia, at the home of Mrs. Virginia Becker for the Women Veterans Oral History Project at the university. Thank you for having us, Mrs. Becker.

VB:

You're very welcome.

EE:

And Mr. [Bernie] Becker is here as well. I wanted to say that because I have a feeling he may not be a totally silent participant in this [chuckling]. Mrs. Becker, I want to start out by just asking you just a few get-to-know-each-other questions, and that's where were you born, where did you grow up?

VB:

Murfreesboro, North Carolina, which is east.

EE:

So down east.

VB:

Down east, that's right.

EE:

And that's where you were born. Did you grow up there, go to high school there as well?

VB:

I went to high school there and I went to junior college there for two years at Chowan [College, in Murfreesboro], and then I transferred to Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina (WC), now UNCG] in the fall of '38, and finished my two years there in 1940.

EE:

Tell me a little bit about your family, your mom and dad, your brothers and sisters.

VB:

My mother died when I was fifteen. I had one brother, who is now deceased, and I have no family left. I am it. Well, my brother died when he was seventy-one.

[Telephone rings—recorder paused]

EE:

We took a little break there with a phone call. But let me go back and ask you a few questions about your family. So was your brother older or younger than you?

VB:

He was younger than I.

EE:

Younger than you. Were you at Chowan when he passed away?

VB:

Oh no, he just passed away three or four years ago.

EE:

Oh, okay.

VB:

As an adult.

EE:

As an adult, okay. So what did your dad do for a living?

VB:

He was in the hardware business. Before that he was a traveling salesman, and then he became a partner in a hardware business in Murfreesboro.

EE:

So was this just a small businessman? It wasn't part of a chain, he just owned his own store?

VB:

He was a partner in a local business.

EE:

Were your parents both from that area, or are they from—

VB:

In that general area. My father was from Virginia originally, and my mother grew up in Murfreesboro, went to Chowan also.

EE:

Oh, I was going to say, so you weren't the first one to go to college in your family, your mom had gone to college there.

VB:

Yes.

EE:

And she was the one who encouraged you to—Well, she passed away before you—

VB:

No, she passed away when I was fifteen. When I started at Chowan in the fall of 1936, it was a four-year college. But that was the last year it was a senior college. 1937-1938 was the first year it operated as a junior college, so I had to go somewhere else.

EE:

So you knew going in that you were going to only be there for two years.

VB:

That's right. And Chowan has now become a four-year college again. It is a Baptist school.

EE:

Did you know what you wanted to study when you went off to college?

VB:

Yes, I studied business. Secretarial administration it was called then.

EE:

So you were thinking about going back and helping your dad?

VB:

No. No, that wasn't in the plans. Actually, Woman's College, which is what it was when I was there, found me a job at Thomasville Chair Company, and I worked at Thomasville Chair Company for two and a half years and went from there into the navy.

EE:

So you did that while you were in school, or this was the job you got right after school?

VB:

No, right after school, but it came through the placement office at Woman's College.

EE:

So when you transferred from Chowan to Woman's College, you were transferring as a business major?

VB:

Well—

EE:

Or what did they call it?

VB:

They called it Bachelor of Science in Secretarial Administration, BSSA, but I had an emphasis on accounting.

EE:

So they didn't have a separate accounting degree? You couldn't be a CPA [Certified Public Accountant] through your training then?

VB:

I don't think so. I don't recall that.

EE:

Were you the only person from your area going up that way?

VB:

No, actually I went with three other friends from my high school and from the junior college.

EE:

So you took your neighborhood with you [chuckling].

VB:

We went from first grade through high school together, through two years of junior college, and then went to Woman's College together.

EE:

Well, now at junior college were you living on campus?

VB:

No. I was a day student.

EE:

You were a day student for two years attending Chowan. So the first time you experienced dormitory life was at WC?

VB:

Yes, and I was very young and naïve [chuckling]. From a small town.

EE:

But you were coming in two years older than some of those people in the hall, right?

VB:

Well, no. I only went to high school for eleven years, so I was sixteen when I finished high school and I was eighteen when I went to Woman's College in the fall of '38.

EE:

So you were very young.

VB:

Well, no, I guess I was nineteen by that time. Yes, I was nineteen in August of '38.

EE:

So you were a very young junior.

VB:

I was a young junior, right.

EE:

What are your recollections of WC? You said you felt naïve, so obviously that was a disadvantage of your youth there.

VB:

Well, I feel that transferring was not the best thing for me. Woman's College was large, compared to what I had come from, and I never really felt associated with my class. And of course I think knowing the people that I had gone there with may have been a factor in that. I had a tendency to stick with them.

EE:

Right, there wasn't a need to go out and make a whole lot of new friends, just stay together.

VB:

That's right. But I do think I missed something in transferring, and I didn't want my children to do that.

EE:

It's not a short drive from Murfreesboro to WC.

VB:

No, we used to travel by bus. They had bus travel in those days, and that's how we got back and forth.

EE:

So what, about a ten-hour bus ride?

VB:

Oh no, no!

EE:

How long did it take to get there?

VB:

Oh no, just four hours.

EE:

Okay, so you scooted across. It must have been a more direct route than—

VB:

Oh no, it's not that far.

EE:

Okay. So did your dad come to see you when you were at school, or were you pretty much —

VB:

Yes, occasionally. I did not go home very often.

EE:

Did you get involved in any of the clubs or anything, or were you pretty much there, you think, to do your schoolwork?

VB:

Well, there were four societies at Woman's College at that time, and you were in one of those four, and I really don't recall very much about it.

EE:

Those were honorary societies, right?

VB:

No, these were just four societies, or groups, and you were automatically, I think, in one or the other of them. I don't remember and I can't tell you the names.

EE:

Do you remember which dorm you were in?

VB:

I was in Mary Foust Dorm. I remember that very well [chuckling].

EE:

Yes, well, that was a pretty central location, I guess.

VB:

Yes, it was a good location.

EE:

That was the farthest I guess you had been away from home up to that time, wasn't it?

VB:

Absolutely.

EE:

Were you an independent person before going to WC?

VB:

Probably.

EE:

You said the college got you your first job at the Thomasville Chair?

VB:

Well, no, I found a job at the telephone company in Tarboro, North Carolina, immediately after I finished college.

EE:

And this was in 1940?

VB:

Nineteen forty. I think I went to work in Tarboro about June, but in December the placement office offered me a job at the Thomasville Chair Company. So I left the telephone job and went to Thomasville in December of '40, and I was in the purchasing department there.

EE:

And you had no interest or inkling in going into the military at that point?

VB:

Oh no, not at that point.

EE:

What was the mood of the country just before, in 1940? This was before Pearl Harbor, before the war. The war is just in Europe and overseas. Were people worried about the war?

VB:

Not that I remember. I'm afraid my memory is not as good as it should be about some of those times. That's been a long time.

EE:

It's been a while, it's been a while.

VB:

That's been almost—

EE:

Almost sixty years.

VB:

Almost sixty years.

EE:

So you were at Thomasville Chair Company starting in December of 1940. How long did you work there?

VB:

I worked until I left to go into the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] in June of '43.

EE:

What was it that made you decide to join the WAVES?

VB:

Well, I had met Bernie. He had come to work at Thomasville Chair. Did you come in '42?

BB:

Forty-two.

VB:

He went into the army and was discharged, and then he left Thomasville and went to work for the government in Washington, D.C. And when I heard about the WAVES, I decided that that would be an interesting thing to do. I didn't see a great future where I was, or anything very different from what I was doing, so—

EE:

At Thomasville what were you doing?

VB:

I was working in the purchasing department as assistant purchaser.

[Telephone rings—tape paused]

EE:

You're at Thomasville working as assistant purchasing agent there.

VB:

When I went there I replaced a man who had gone into service.

EE:

A lot of times the services had that as an advertisement, you know, join the WAVES, let a man go off to the front, go off to war.

VB:

Yes, but the person who had been before me had gone into service. That was why there was an opening.

EE:

Right. Why did you pick the WAVES?

VB:

I guess I knew more about that than any of the other services.

EE:

Were there more advertisements about that? Was that more socially acceptable for a woman to join the WAVES? I know the WAACs [Women's Auxiliary Army Corps], when the WAACs first started, there was really a smear campaign against them in '42, when they were the W-A-A-C.

VB:

Well, the WAVES just seemed more attractive to me, and also I could apply to go in for basic training as an officer, and I was accepted in that program.

EE:

So did you go to Smith [College]?

VB:

I went to Smith.

EE:

Did you like the uniform?

VB:

Oh yes!

EE:

Every WAVE loves the uniform [chuckling]. So this was what, June of '43?

VB:

I was at Smith, on the Smith College campus in Northampton [Massachusetts] in June and July of '43, and the WAVES were one year old at that time. I graduated as an ensign on July 27 of '43. And then from there I went to Scotia, New York, to the Naval Air Depot for temporary duty.

BB:

What did you do up there?

VB:

I worked in the supply area until I went to Supply [and Disbursing] School in October. I was at Scotia for August and September.

EE:

Okay. What did your family think of your joining the WAVES?

VB:

Oh, I shocked everybody. I came from a small town, and they couldn't believe I was doing it. But I did [chuckling].

EE:

Did it make the paper?

VB:

Oh yes, and I spoke to the Rotary Club when I went home. And I'm not a very good speaker.

EE:

Did you know a woman by the name of Rama Hillman? Or she was Rama Blackwood, I guess, at that time.

VB:

No.

EE:

She was a recruiting officer for the WAVES, worked out at Charlotte, who I talked with the other day. She had a similar experience—go back home and it was in all the papers [chuckling].

VB:

Oh yes, I was a curiosity, and I was probably the last person that they would have expected to do something like that. It was a pretty big step.

EE:

What did this fellow [Bernie] think of you doing it?

VB:

Well, he didn't try to talk me out of it. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, now at that time, I believe, they did not let you go overseas. It was going to be strictly stateside duty.

VB:

That's right, and that was one reason my father was willing for me to go.

EE:

Right. Some of the other branches, there was a possibility that you might.

VB:

Right. He knew I would not be going out of the country.

EE:

What do you remember about your first day at Smith?

VB:

I can't remember. Sorry.

EE:

Did you take the train up?

VB:

I must have, I'm sure, but there are too many blanks, I'm afraid. There are things I wish I remembered and I don't.

EE:

Do you remember the drill instructor?

VB:

I remember falling down. No, that was in Cambridge, [Massachusetts], that I fell down. I remember that we marched from the dorms down to some inn for our meals. And we had wonderful food. That I remember. [chuckling]

EE:

And women were from all over the country at this?

VB:

Yes.

EE:

Did you know anybody when you went up there? Did you recognize anybody, or were you just totally in—

VB:

I was totally on my own.

EE:

On your own?

VB:

On my own.

EE:

She is an independent type, isn't she? [chuckling]

VB:

I've had to be.

EE:

Yes. Yes, you have, you have. You said you took over that spot at Thomasville after a man went away to service. Did that ever give you trouble, that the kind of jobs you were doing were sending a man off to fight? Did you ever feel guilty about that?

VB:

No, because at the time he went, I'm not sure that he was drafted. I think he probably went of his own volition. I'm not sure about that.

EE:

But the other kinds of work that the WAVES were called to do, a lot of those were jobs that—

VB:

You were replacing a man somewhere.

EE:

What was the typical day like at Smith, do you remember? Drill in the morning, drill at night, class in between?

VB:

Classes. Classes and drills.

EE:

And everybody came out of there an ensign.

VB:

That's right.

EE:

And then you came out and were assigned all over the country.

VB:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have any say-so on where you wanted to be sent?

VB:

Well, I had asked for disbursing duty because I was interested in accounting, so they assigned me to Supply School, Supply and Disbursing School. But the class was not going to start until October 1, so that is why I went to Scotia, New York, for temporary duty.

EE:

And where was the Supply School held?

VB:

On the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass., and we lived on the Radcliffe [College] campus.

EE:

Not bad accommodations. [chuckling]

VB:

Not bad accommodations. It was a beautiful, beautiful—

EE:

The Charles River is a very nice place to walk along.

VB:

I can remember marching down by the river, and it was a gorgeous fall, and a really happy time.

EE:

How long did that last, two months?

VB:

Three months.

EE:

Three months? So were you there at Christmastime?

VB:

October, November, and December. Yes.

EE:

Christmas of '43. Now, did you ever see this man in the interim? How did you communicate, just by letters?

VB:

[Speaking to her husband] When did you go to Deep River, Connecticut?

BB:

Sometime in the summer of '43.

VB:

See, he was in Connecticut, and I knew that.

BB:

Yes, we corresponded a little bit.

EE:

But now this was the days of gas rationing, was it not? In '43 did gas rationing start? Was it going in '43? Gas rationing? Didn't they have the coupons, you were limited?

VB:

Well, I know they had them in '44 because I worked in the commissary store. I can tell you about the rationing then.

EE:

Right, right. Is that the job you had after you left?

VB:

When I left Supply School I was assigned to Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island. And I did not get disbursing duty. I was assigned as assistant officer in charge of the commissary store, which proved to be a very interesting placement because I got to meet many people on the base. And we lived in bachelor officers' quarters on the base. The women lived on the third floor.

EE:

So you had to go through two floors of men to get upstairs?

VB:

Right.

EE:

[Chuckling] There's a wearied look in your face when you said that.

VB:

Oh, it worked fine. And we ate there, of course. It was a little bit of a country club life. There was an officers club on base, and of course we could walk to that. Some people had cars.

EE:

What was the role of the naval air station at that time? Were they doing patrolling of the coastline right around that area, to make sure if there were submarines and things like that?

VB:

No. Well, it was a port for the destroyers.

EE:

So there was a lot of traffic coming into that.

VB:

There was a lot of traffic in and out, yes.

EE:

Are there some personalities that stand out in your mind from that time? Are there famous people that came through there?

VB:

Oh, Henry Fonda was there one time, and I danced with him. [chuckling]

EE:

You hear the competition here. Now did she tell you this when this happened?

BB:

Yes, I've heard all this before. [chuckling]

VB:

David Niven was at the base at one time. I do not remember when.

EE:

And he didn't favor you with a dance?

VB:

No. I don't remember why he was there.

EE:

How did you end up with Henry Fonda? Was he just dancing with anybody?

VB:

It just happened at the club.

EE:

At the club? So he was a guest at the base? I guess he was touring all the—

VB:

I don't remember why.

EE:

Was he in the service?

VB:

I don't think so.

EE:

I remember he was in Mister Roberts. I don't know if he was actually in the real service. [chuckling]

VB:

I don't remember, but I do remember dancing with him. I said, “That's my claim to fame”, such as it is.

EE:

That's great. You said the rationing was something you had to live with in your job. Tell me about that.

VB:

Well, food and gas were rationed, but I was very fortunate because I was in the commissary store and I could get things without ration tickets. So I was a welcome guest off base.

EE:

So everybody courted your favor, in other words?

VB:

Yes, “Come and bring meat.” [chuckling] “Come and bring meat.” And I can remember gas was about twenty-nine cents a gallon.

EE:

Yes, it's—Although I hear lately gas prices are going back down, so—

VB:

The gas station was under the supervision of the commissary store.

EE:

Well, that's unusual.

VB:

One of the men who worked for me worked at the gas station.

EE:

So you were supervising naval personnel?

VB:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have anybody who took umbrage at that fact, that a woman was their CO [commanding officer]?

VB:

I don't know. I have since wondered what they thought of me. I was still probably very naive, and they may have been laughing at me, but they were very nice to me. There were two or three girls who worked in the store, and ten or twelve men. And the officer in charge of the store, my superior, was a very eligible bachelor on the base. So I did a lot of the work while he was playing [chuckling].

EE:

It's hard to keep a relationship going when you're surrounded by all these hot-blooded sailors, I would guess, is it not?

VB:

Well, yes, but he came up, too.

EE:

Close enough to keep an eye on you?

VB:

He came. Deep River was not very far and he would ride the train up. Or did you have a car at that point?

BB:

No.

VB:

No, you rode the train.

BB:

No, I rode the train for two years.

EE:

Now what were you doing in Deep River? It wasn't with the army then?

BB:

I was working with a company that was building gliders.

VB:

Pratt Whitney.

BB:

The big troop gliders that they towed behind airplanes and dropped them off in France when they made the invasion. The company I was working for was making those gliders.

VB:

That was Pratt Whitney.

BB:

No, Pratt Reed.

VB:

Pratt Reed? Okay.

BB:

No relation to Pratt Whitney.

EE:

Yes, that's the engine folks. That's great.

BB:

Pratt Whitney, that was engines.

VB:

Oh, okay.

EE:

Well, now is that where you finished your military career, or did you have another stop after Rhode Island?

VB:

No, we were married when I was still in service in April of 1945. He was still at Deep River. I chose not to ask to be discharged at that time, because I had gone in of my own free will and I wanted to stay until I felt that there was no need for my job. So I waited until after the war ended in August, and then I applied to be discharged, and I was discharged October 31, 1945.

EE:

So you got married just before VE Day [Victory in Europe].

VB:

VE Day was just about the time we were getting married. It may have happened just the week before.

EE:

Had [President Franklin] Roosevelt died before you were married, because it was the end of April, I think. I think Roosevelt died in April and the war ended in May, something like that, of that year.

VB:

Yes, I thought VE Day and Roosevelt's death happened about the same time. We were married on April 20.

EE:

And then VJ Day [Victory in Japan]?

VB:

Came in August.

EE:

I imagine there were two pretty good parties on those two days.

VB:

I don't think I was there for the VE Day party, but I was for the VJ party.

EE:

Did you get any time off for a honeymoon?

VB:

Oh yes, I was off for about two weeks, one week before we were married and one week afterward.

EE:

That's good. And were they surprised that you were going to stay on? I know a lot of people, once they got married, they immediately applied for that discharge.

VB:

Yes, I think I was the exception. Most people would have said, “We're getting married, we're getting out.” But I felt very strongly that I wanted to wait until I felt there was no need for my service.

EE:

So it was never in your mind to have a military career as such? You just wanted to be there to do what you could for that particular time, for the wartime.

VB:

That's right. No, I had no intention of staying in.

EE:

Were you ever encouraged to make it a career?

VB:

Not that I recall. I was urged to stay in the reserve, but I didn't follow through on that. I found in my papers last night letters from a reserve office in Norfolk, Virginia, urging me to continue to participate.

EE:

What was the hardest thing you had to do while you were in the military, physically or emotionally?

BB:

She didn't have a hard day. [chuckling]

VB:

I don't remember anything that was particularly hard.

EE:

What was the most fun?

VB:

The association with people.

EE:

Have you still kept in contact with those folks over the years?

VB:

I kept in touch with a few of them for several years, but I have not heard from my closest friend in three or four years now, which makes me think she is no longer living.

BB:

Who's that, Charlotte?

VB:

Charlotte.

EE:

You said something about taking a fall at Cambridge. I have a question that I'm supposed to ask: What's your most embarrassing moment?

VB:

Oh, my most embarrassing moment was when I was leading the platoon down near the Charles River and I stumbled and fell flat on my face. The platoon walked on.

EE:

Walked right over you?

VB:

That was my most embarrassing moment.

EE:

Everybody takes a day being the leader?

VB:

I guess. But that I remember.

EE:

So even at Supply School you were drilling every day?

VB:

Yes.

EE:

Did purchasing agents and supply people normally drill? I guess they have to have everybody with an attitude of readiness—is what they're looking at.

VB:

Right.

EE:

And that's part of the discipline, too.

VB:

That was part of the discipline of the service. I didn't do any drilling once I got to my assignment at Quonset Point.

EE:

Your living quarters were on the base, did you spend much time away from the base, or were you on the—

VB:

No, I spent very little time away from the base.

EE:

Some folks have talked about they had—it was an all-work time, six-day workweeks. What was your workweek like?

VB:

Six days, I suppose, but I could get away for weekends. I had a college friend in New York and I used to get on the train and go see her for the weekend.

EE:

Now this should be a good answer because I've got both of you there. What's your favorite songs from back in that time period? Have you got any favorite songs or movies?

VB:

Well, I don't have any favorite songs, but we did go to see Oklahoma! when it first opened on Broadway.

EE:

When it came out in New York?

VB:

Yes.

EE:

That was right in the middle of the war, wasn't it? Forty-three maybe, or was it—

VB:

I think that was '43. I heard something about Oklahoma! and Broadway. I believe it was—no, '44. It would have been '44.

EE:

Did you wear your uniform when you went off base?

VB:

Yes.

EE:

How did people react to [that]? Did you feel different with that uniform on? Did people treat you different?

VB:

Yes, I think so, and at that time there were certain privileges that went with the uniform, reduced train fares. And it was very easy to go away for a weekend. You didn't have to take a lot of clothes. A small bag and off you could go.

EE:

Do you feel you contributed to the war effort?

VB:

Yes, I think I did. I mean, I filled the spot that they gave me.

EE:

And it sounds like you supervised—there were fifteen, is that about right? About fifteen folks?

VB:

About fifteen people, I think.

EE:

And everybody to whom you brought meat knows you contributed to the war effort [chuckling].

VB:

I kept in touch with some of those people who worked for me for a little while after I was out of the service.

BB:

For a few years, yes.

VB:

One of the people who worked for me was an Italian whose family had a grocery store in Rhode Island, and the first Christmas after I was discharged he sent me this big box of Italian food [chuckling].

EE:

Oh, that's great, that's great. Just some general questions about the mood of folks at different times. I think Pearl Harbor surprised everybody. Did you sense that people were ever afraid? What was the mood of the country like during that time, as you recall it? Were people more determined, or were they worried? What was the attitude?

VB:

Well, I don't know. I can't tell you that because I was in—We were in the service, and—

EE:

And within the ranks was it an all-positive attitude?

VB:

As far as I can remember. I don't remember any specific worries or people being anxious. As I say, I think we were sort of living in our own little world there on the base, really. And I think back now, and maybe that's my poor memory—There are things that I don't even remember happening. I'm not sure how aware I was of what was going on outside the base.

EE:

Did you read any newspapers other than the base newspaper?

VB:

I don't remember that.

EE:

I have a feeling that you're probably right because everybody is so focused on their tasks you don't have time to really do a lot of other things. Well, who were some of your heroes or heroines from that time?

VB:

I don't have any.

EE:

Don't have any?

VB:

No.

EE:

Were there other WAVES that you admired, other folks in other offices or positions or people you kept in contact with? Who was your direct supervisor, the base commander at the installation?

VB:

No, my superior was a Lieutenant Tom Saunders, who was the head of the commissary store, and we were part of the supply department on the base. The former head of the supply department at Quonset Point was here working for DuPont.

BB:

Who, Tom?

VB:

No, Dick Culbertson. He was a good friend of ours after we moved here.

EE:

So your immediate commander was there on the base. Would you have gotten other assignments —had you gotten them from Washington, I guess, directly, or how would that—where would your assignments [come from]?

VB:

It would have come from Washington, I think. I never asked to be transferred. Some people asked to go other places.

EE:

Well, you were only an hour from your boyfriend, so that makes pretty good sense [chuckling].

VB:

That's right, and we had planned for a long time to be married, we just didn't know when.

EE:

Right. What did you think of the Roosevelts?

VB:

I admired them.

EE:

Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

VB:

Yes, I admired her too, in a way.

EE:

She was a different kind of First Lady by then.

VB:

Right. I'm sure she was. She was a leader in being independent, I guess [chuckling].

EE:

The reason I asked you earlier if you were an independent person is that a lot of people, although they may have had an inkling about being independent, it was really in their military experience, by being in jobs either that were originally for men or working with men and being treated because of their status in the military with a different level of respect, that they were encouraged to become more independent in their life, and they look at it as a turning point. Did it influence you that way? Did it make you more independent? Or were you encouraged to, felt like you needed to go back to a more traditional role after the military experience?

VB:

It probably made me more independent, but I had no desire to continue in the military.

EE:

Probably I should be asking him that question. Did it make her more independent? [chuckling] You knew her before the military and after the military.

BB:

I can't answer that. I don't know.

EE:

How do you think your life has been different because of your service in the military?

VB:

I don't know. I often think, I wonder what would have happened if I had asked for duty somewhere else. I asked for duty in the Northeast. I think there was an opportunity maybe to go to Hawaii.

EE:

Right, I think the WAVES were allowed to go.

VB:

And I thought afterwards, “Why didn't I ask for that?” [chuckling] But I didn't. What was the question now?

EE:

How has your life been different because of the military? Certainly you saw a lot of places and you met a lot of different kinds of people.

VB:

I met a lot of different people. Honestly, I think that my experience in the WAVES was more important to me than my college. I made more friendships and I enjoyed the experience. Also when I was in college it was a little bit of a struggle adjusting to a big campus with that many people, having come from a very small high school, a very small town, and a very small junior college.

EE:

Well, you get into—there are in-groups and out-groups, and if you're not part of a group then you feel left out.

VB:

But in the WAVES I felt a part of a group. I felt very close to the people I associated with, and I frankly enjoyed my time in the service.

EE:

Great. So the answer to this question, would you do it again, is yes.

VB:

Absolutely.

EE:

Some people have said, on the same line, that the folks who joined the military were really the forerunners of the women's movement. Do you think that's true?

VB:

I'm not sure of that. I think a lot of them were just looking—There may have been some patriotism involved in their joining, but I think a lot of them were looking for something different to do. It was new and exciting, and a challenge.

EE:

Well, tell me about what happened after October of '45 with you two. Where did you go?

VB:

Bernie's job in Connecticut ended immediately after the war, and he found a job in Louisville, Kentucky. So that's another reason that I applied for a discharge. Had he stayed in Connecticut, I probably would have stayed in the service longer. But he was in Louisville, Kentucky, and so that is when I asked for my discharge. And I left Quonset Point and was discharged in Memphis, Tennessee. I went to Chicago, Memphis, Tennessee, and then to Louisville, Kentucky. I never went home.

EE:

Did you ever see your dad in all this time?

VB:

Oh yes, but I mean at the time of my discharge I did not. I left Quonset Air Point and went directly to Louisville, Kentucky.

EE:

And did you get a job when you went to Louisville?

VB:

I half-heartedly looked. I think one of the mistakes I made was not getting more education and taking advantage of the GI Bill of Rights, but I did not do that.

EE:

And that was offered to you in the WAVES?

VB:

That was offered to me. We did not stay in Louisville very long. Bernie was not particularly happy and wanted to make a change. When did we go to Pennsylvania? In the spring of '46, probably. Spring or summer of '46 we left Louisville. Which was another reason why I didn't really pursue the job hunting.

EE:

You had to have him stable before you could go out looking or anything.

VB:

Right.

EE:

And so did you go to Philadelphia—Pittsburgh? Where were you in Pennsylvania?

VB:

In a little town called Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, which is between Allentown and Pottstown, in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country.

EE:

And what was the work up there?

VB:

He was the superintendent of a small furniture factory, and I worked with him doing clerical work.

EE:

And you were there and then you moved to Martinsville in '50?

VB:

No, no.

EE:

You had another stop on this tour?

VB:

We had another stop. We went from Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, to Hagerstown, Maryland, in December of '47.

EE:

Did you ever unpack your suitcases? [chuckling]

VB:

Oh yes. We did a lot of moving for the first five years, and then we came here in 1950 and we've been here ever since.

EE:

You said, “That's it.” [chuckling]

VB:

He came here in May of 1950.

EE:

And what were you doing when you came here?

VB:

He came to work for a furniture company, Gravely Furniture.

EE:

And then you worked at that same job?

VB:

No, he worked for Gravely, American Furniture, and then Hooker Furniture. He retired from Hooker.

BB:

Thirteen years ago.

EE:

Thirteen years ago? Wonderful.

EE:

Did you go down to High Point for the markets?

BB:

Oh yes, a few times. I just went as a visitor, never just in business.

VB:

He was not in sales. He was in manufacturing.

EE:

What do you feel about women in military service today? Just three months ago they had the first women piloting combat missions in Iraq. What do you think about that?

VB:

I think they are capable, and if that's what they want to do it's fine. I'm not sure I would want to do it, but I respect their decisions.

EE:

Do you have any children?

VB:

Yes, we have three children.

EE:

Three children. Any of them in the military?

VB:

No.

EE:

No interest?

VB:

Well, my son had navy ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] for one year and he wanted no part of it. He is definitely against war, and I don't know what would have happened if he had been drafted.

EE:

It is a different time, because now it's an all-volunteer army and I think a lot of folks look at military service now as the way to pay for their education. That's the first and foremost thing, and it is a great way to do that.

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

VB:

Had my son wanted to join, I would not have pushed, but I would not have objected. And I would have favored the navy over the other services.

EE:

Well, what if your daughters wanted to join? How would you feel about that?

VB:

I don't think I would have objected.

EE:

I know what his career path was after you got to Martinsville, what did you do after coming to Martinsville?

VB:

Well, I have worked, and I am still working part-time as a bookkeeper. I have worked for many, many organizations. I had a long career as a bookkeeper for a tobacco company; and since 1981 I have been working as the bookkeeper or financial secretary for the First Presbyterian Church here in Martinsville. And while I'm definitely old enough to retire, I'm still working. And enjoying it.

EE:

Anything that you'd like to add that I haven't asked about? You've got some materials here. You want to show me what those are? Let me ask you this, I'll ask you as a final question if there's anything else that you'd like to add about your military experience that I haven't asked about.

VB:

No, I am sorry I don't remember better, but I did enjoy it. And last night when I went upstairs into the attic and pulled out the box, my memory was jolted a little bit to remember some things. And I have a few things that you might be interested in looking at.

EE:

Great. This will be the end of our formal interview, but I'm going to leave the tape running because I discovered after turning it off one time that some of the best stories are when people go through and tell me about their photographs. So, just so it'll help my memory, we're going to leave the tape running for right now.

VB:

This is my WAVES pocketbook. You may have that.

EE:

No, no.

VB:

If they don't have one, you may have that.

EE:

Oh, well, thank you. This will be great. Because what we are doing, we're making a real concerted effort to have all the uniform elements of different folks.

VB:

Well, I can make that contribution.

EE:

Well, thank you.

VB:

Here is the graduation exercise for my Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School.

BB:

What month did you go in the service?

VB:

June '43.

BB:

June of '43? Well, it was sometime in the summer of '43 that I went up to Connecticut, but it was after you had gone up there.

EE:

Let me ask you two questions that I may be able to find somewhere. Your maiden name was Gardner?

VB:

Yes.

EE:

And your rank when you left the military was—

VB:

Well, I was a lieutenant jg, but they discharged me as a full lieutenant. I didn't find my discharge papers. Here's my diploma for Supply School.

EE:

And McIntosh, was this captain a woman or a man? It must have been a man, a navy retired officer.

VB:

Yes, that was a man.

EE:

Were the people leading your classes, were most of them male instructors, or were there some female instructors?

VB:

No, we had some women. I just realized that Mildred McAfee, who was the first commanding officer of the WAVES, is a UNC graduate—WC graduate.

EE:

So the fall of '43 you were a Radcliffe girl.

VB:

Right. I lived on the Radcliffe campus, and went to school on the Harvard campus.

EE:

Not a shabby transition there.

VB:

Not a shabby transition.

EE:

I'd say there's not too many folks from Murfreesboro who got that.

VB:

Here's information about the U.S. Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island. It tells about the base there.

EE:

Do you want all of this stuff back? You said that we could have this purse?

VB:

You may have the bag. I think I would like the other stuff back. You can copy this.

EE:

Sure. Okay, that's what I was saying. If you've got kids, you'll probably want to share some of this stuff with them sometime.

[End of interview]