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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Gladys Lunsford Dimmick

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Object ID: WV0055.5.001

Description: Documents Gladys Lunsford Dimmick’s time as a control tower operator in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) during World War II, as a student at the University of Florida, and as and employee of The University of North Carolina (UNC) and Judge J. Dickson Phillips.

Summary:

Dimmick mainly discusses her time in the WAVES and the jobs she held after WWII. She details her family’s reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor, her reasons for joining the WAVES, boot camp at Hunter College, her control tower duties, President Franklin Roosevelt’s death, her opinions about women in combat positions, and social life at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk.

Dimmick also describes her long-distance relationship with James Dimmick, stationed with the army in Western Europe, and their subsequent marriage. Post-war topics include her education and employment at the University of Florida and her work as a secretary for the UNC School of Law and Judge J. Dickson Phillips.

Creator: Gladys Lunsford Dimmick

Biographical Info: Gladys Lunsford Dimmick (1923-2011) of Cedar Grove, North Carolina, worked in air traffic control with the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from December 1943 until February 1947. She was also a longtime employee of the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Collection: Gladys L. Dimmick 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:

I am Eric Elliott, and I am here today in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It's March 18, 1999, and I'm at the home of Mrs. Gladys Dimmick. Thank you for joining us today, Mrs. Dimmick. This is part of the UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro] Women Veterans Oral History Project. Thank you again.

GD:

It's good to have you here.

EE:

I'm going to start out by just asking you a few questions about your background, your family, where you were born. Where did you grow up? Where were you born?

GD:

I was born in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, just north of Hillsborough.

EE:

A long way from here [chuckling].

GD:

A long way from here. On November 8, 1923.

EE:

Any brothers or sisters?

GD:

Oh yes, there are ten children. I'm third from the oldest. There are five girls and five boys, and they're all still living, and the youngest one is sixty-two years old.

EE:

Great. What about your folks? What did they do?

GD:

My father had a self-service grocery store in Durham, [North Carolina]. My mother didn't work. She had her hands full at home with the children.

EE:

I'd say so. And did you stay in Cedar Grove the whole time growing up?

GD:

No, we moved away from Cedar Grove when I was probably five or six years old. We moved to Hillsborough, and there my father worked at the Latta's Dairy. He worked at the dairy for many years, and then —

EE:

You said Latter, L-a-t-t-e-r?

GD:

L-a-t-t-a, Latta. Harold Latta, to be exact, Harold Latta's Dairy. And then during the Depression, the latter part of the Depression, I guess, he got a job at American Tobacco Factory in Durham, and he commuted to Durham from Hillsborough until 1936 [when] we moved to Durham.

EE:

So you went to high school in Durham?

GD:

I went to high school, Bragtown High School, in Durham.

EE:

What was your favorite subject when you were in high school?

GD:

Would you believe geography? [chuckling]

EE:

Oh, it comes in handy for later in life.

GD:

Geography. And we only had eleven grades at that time, and I think that was probably the last class that had eleven grades at Bragtown.

EE:

So you graduated from high school when?

GD:

In 1939. I skipped a grade or two somewhere along the way, in grammar school.

EE:

What happened to you after high school?

GD:

After high school I worked at various jobs, and then finally I got a job at Liggett-Myers [Tobacco Company], and I worked there for a couple of years and then I joined the navy.

EE:

So Liggett-Myers in Durham?

GD:

Liggett-Myers in Durham.

EE:

What kind of work were you doing for them?

GD:

I don't remember what I did.

EE:

On the floor, the factory floor?

GD:

I was on the floor. Around some machinery.

EE:

You said your dad was working the factory already?

GD:

My dad quit about that time and opened his own grocery store.

EE:

Oh, so he started that back up, okay. Thirty-nine—the war was starting in Europe in thirty-nine. It's not affecting this country yet, or do you remember anything about it?

GD:

Oh yes, I remember very well, but I could not join until I was twenty years old.

EE:

So you wanted to join?

GD:

I wanted to join, I wanted to, but I couldn't go in until I was twenty. So I joined shortly after my twentieth birthday in—

EE:

Forty-three?

GD:

December of '43.

EE:

Where were you when Pearl Harbor happened?

GD:

At my home in Durham, sitting around the dining room table when we heard it.

EE:

That would have been—was it early Sunday morning? Well, it was early Sunday morning then, but when did the—

GD:

Well, it was Sunday, sometime Sunday. Whether it was lunch or not I don't remember; but we were eating, I remember, when we heard it on the radio.

EE:

What was the reaction at the household?

GD:

Very quiet.

EE:

Did people understand what that meant?

GD:

My father did more than anybody else. But no one said anything, it was just very quiet.

EE:

You were the third from the oldest. Did you have older brothers?

GD:

Two older sisters—no older brother.

EE:

Two older sisters, okay.

GD:

My brothers were younger.

EE:

So, shortly after Pearl Harbor is when you started thinking about—that you'd like to try for military service?

GD:

I decided then that's what I would like to do.

EE:

Had you thought about going to college after high school?

GD:

Not really, not really, no.

EE:

You wanted to get out and make some money?

GD:

Well, there were ten kids in the family, and at that time I didn't think there was any possible way of going to college. I didn't know about scholarships or whatever, or even if they were available, so I didn't—

EE:

Well, it was a different—

GD:

There was no incentive for me to get out and look for them.

EE:

You just went out and worked.

GD:

You went out and got a job.

EE:

Right, and especially because of the Depression and things were tight.

GD:

Yeah, and most of the girls got a job and worked a couple of years and got married. That was not the route I wanted to take.

EE:

So you were trying not to get married? [chuckling]

GD:

Well, I wanted to get out and do something, and after the war started I wanted to get involved in that in some way.

EE:

Had you ever been outside of the Durham area, the family area, much before?

GD:

Not a lot, but I had been down to Florida and Washington, Virginia Beach.

EE:

December of '43 is when you joined the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy].

GD:

That's when I joined. I went in in January.

EE:

Of '44?

GD:

January of '44.

EE:

What was it that attracted you to the WAVES? There were other services.

GD:

I don't know. I don't know whether it was the sailors or what. [chuckling] I just wanted to go in the navy. I wasn't really interested in any of the other—

EE:

Had your dad been in the military?

GD:

No, he was not.

EE:

So there was no family connection to it?

GD:

No.

EE:

Well, what did they think of you wanting to join the military?

GD:

They did not object. Now there was one neighbor that told my father if I was his daughter he would disown me. That only made my father mad, but no, I think they were sort of happy for me. It gave me a chance to get out and do something, and—

EE:

How was the pay? Was it was going to be paying as much as a factory job?

GD:

The pay? Oh, I think I got probably fifty dollars a month. But with the fifty dollars a month, they took care of your room and your board and your medical.

EE:

So it was basically fifty dollars spending money and everything else was taken care of?

GD:

Yeah, that's right, that's right, and every three months you got a little something for clothing allowance—not very much, but a little something—because we did buy our own uniforms after the first, when we first went in.

EE:

What were some of the things that you think contributed to you thinking about the military? Was it just the fact that everybody else was joining in, or was there—Was it seeing posters? Was it somebody, a friend? Did you have any other friends that went into the service?

GD:

No. I tried to talk one other girl into going in with me, but she didn't go. But I think it was one thing I wanted to—I wanted to get out and do something, and I wanted to get out of Durham, go someplace else to do something. And there was this patriotic feeling that was sweeping the country then. People were lining up to join the services, and I think that probably had something to do with it. It just gave me a good chance to get out and do something different and then feel good about what I was doing.

EE:

Now you had to be twenty to join. Is that twenty to join without your parent's signature, or just twenty to join?

GD:

Now that I can't remember, but I think when I joined, I think my father signed the paper.

EE:

Okay, I think under twenty-one I think you had to get a signature.

GD:

And my father signed the papers.

EE:

So your mom didn't want to make that trip. Where did you sign in? Was it at the recruiting office in Durham?

GD:

Durham, yes. Downtown Durham.

EE:

And where did you go from? When you signed up, where did they take you? You reported down to Durham, and then where did you go? Did you have a boot camp?

GD:

Oh yes, yes, I went on the train from Durham to Greensboro, and there I changed trains and I got on a Pullman, and my first time in a Pullman. I went to the Bronx in New York, to Hunter College. That's where I had boot training, and I stayed there for the six weeks of boot training. I think it was six weeks, maybe four or six weeks. Anyway, I was held over two extra weeks until my billet was ready. I did not know at that time exactly what it was going to be, but they just told me that it wasn't ready.

EE:

What do you remember about that first day? Obviously it was a long train ride up to the Bronx. What were your impressions of boot camp?

GD:

My impressions of boot camp, first going? It was rather exciting until evening and then it got a little bit lonely. The first few nights I cried softly into my pillow, “What the heck am I doing here?”

EE:

You had not really had communal living with strangers experience like some of those college girls had.

GD:

No. And there I was up there. I would not call home but once a week. I made myself do that.

EE:

Did you make any friends when you were up there?

GD:

Oh, lots of friends, lots of friends. I enjoyed it. Well, I enjoyed it all the time.

EE:

What was a typical day like up there?

GD:

In boot training?

EE:

Yes.

GD:

Oh mercy! You know, you'd do double-time down to the mess hall, and it was cold.

EE:

What time? This would have been wintertime.

GD:

In January.

EE:

Oh yes.

GD:

And then we had classes, we had calisthenics, and we had drill.

EE:

Were your instructors mostly women?

GD:

Yes, they were all women. And we did our marching and so on and the drilling in Kingsport Armory there at Hunter College. Lived in dormitories. The dormitories were apartment buildings, but we couldn't use the elevators.

EE:

Just to make you tough? [chuckling]

GD:

So if you got on the fifth floor you were stuck. And you got up at 5:30 in the morning, and bed check was at nine o'clock, but we didn't go to bed at 9:00. [chuckling]

EE:

During the time of boot camp, you had to stay right there on the grounds?

GD:

You could get a pass a couple of times. I remember once going into New York City.

EE:

You had never been to New York before?

GD:

I had never been to New York City.

EE:

This was probably your longest period of time away from home?

GD:

It was. It was the longest time I'd ever been away from home.

EE:

When you signed up, did you have any discussion about where you might be assigned, your preferences?

GD:

Oh yes. Oh yes, I asked for the West Coast.

EE:

So you were looking to go away from home.

GD:

Yes, and so I got Norfolk, Virginia. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, it's a coast. [chuckling]

GD:

But that was good, though, because I was near enough home that I could get home easily for the weekends.

EE:

Right, and Norfolk was a pretty busy place.

GD:

Naval Air Station Norfolk, it was very busy.

EE:

What was your assignment there?

GD:

Air traffic control.

EE:

Now, did you have any special training for that before you went?

GD:

No, but I did work in Flight Operations for a couple of years. And had on-the-job training for the control tower.

EE:

Radar is not developed—except during the war it gets developed—but you're not doing this by looking at a radar screen?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me about that job. How does that job work?

GD:

Well, it's been so long ago, and I was not in there for a very long time.

EE:

I remember seeing women with headphones moving little—

GD:

We had the headphones. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, taking these—looks like at a craps table where they take the things and move the chips, where you're moving the airplanes.

GD:

That's right, that's right, and they had ground control approach. But I don't remember a whole lot about it.

EE:

How long were you—

GD:

About a year.

EE:

Let's see, you were there probably about March of '44 when you got down to Norfolk?

GD:

Yes. I didn't go up in the control tower, though, until the last year. I remember when I took the exam for the control tower, that was the first time in my life I ever made 4.0 on an exam. [chuckling]

EE:

Wonderful! Wonderful!

GD:

But I don't remember a whole lot about the work up there. I know we didn't have jet planes.

EE:

I know a lot of worry about submarines during the war. I mean, you see all the ships that were sunk right off the Outer Banks here in North Carolina. By that time, by the time you joined, was it pretty much secure, the coastline? What was the mission then?

GD:

They still had the Coast Guard Air-Sea Rescue patrolling. The coast guard patrolled the coast every day. And from Norfolk I don't know how far north they went, probably up around Chincoteague, Virginia. But they'd go down to Elizabeth City, [North Carolina], and down the coast from there, but that's the area.

EE:

That's the area they'd cover?

GD:

You could go out on the beaches and get oil on your feet, this crude oil.

EE:

The position that you had there, that normally would have been held by an enlisted man.

GD:

Yes, and most of them were enlisted men still.

EE:

Still? So there were not that many women who were doing what you were doing?

GD:

No. There were women at that time.

EE:

So you were one of those who were literally freeing a man to fight.

GD:

That's what they say.

EE:

You didn't have any pause about that or worry about it?

GD:

No. You know, you don't worry very much when you're twenty to twenty-three years old, something like that.

EE:

That's true. Whatever time in history, at twenty-three you're kind of independent.

GD:

Yeah, you didn't worry a whole lot about things then.

EE:

Right, right. How many folks were in the tower? How many co-workers did you have, do you remember?

GD:

Gee, I don't remember.

EE:

But your supervisor was a man?

GD:

Not always.

EE:

Not always?

GD:

We had some female officers in the tower also.

EE:

So there were some WAVES officers. As an enlisted person at that naval air station, they had their own women's barracks?

GD:

Oh yes.

EE:

How many women were at that?

GD:

Around fifteen hundred.

EE:

That's a lot.

GD:

Yes. The naval air [station], that's a big place up there.

EE:

Right, right. I was going to say, out of how many would have been fifteen hundred, out of ten thousand stationed around there?

GD:

I don't know. I don't know.

EE:

Fifteen hundred? I'll have to go back and look at that, because it would be—

GD:

I don't know, but I know we had these barracks. They were two-story barracks and there were three or four or something—I don't remember how many we had right there at the air station, and some at the naval operating base, but I don't really remember.

EE:

There were enough women around that it was not unusual for an enlisted man to see an enlisted woman?

GD:

Oh no. No, that's right. There were more men than women, but—

EE:

How do you think the men treated the women?

GD:

Very nice. I never heard any harassment. I never heard any derogatory statements from the men, never.

EE:

As long as everybody was doing their job, it didn't matter.

GD:

That was something that you didn't hear about—I didn't. Everybody seemed to just get along well, and you had some good times.

EE:

What was the social life like for you? Did you stay pretty much on the base, did you go up to town, or what?

GD:

Well, you could do either. Now we had to wear uniforms when you went off the base. We had to wear uniforms all the time, until the end of the war. Then we had a civilian clothing pass. When you went off the base in civilian clothing, you had to have a pass with you giving you permission to wear your civilian clothes.

EE:

What was the work week like for you? Six days on?

GD:

No, no, no, my working hours were very good. I worked eight hours on and twenty-four off.

EE:

That's very good. If you could do that the rest of your life it'd be all right, wouldn't you? [chuckling]

GD:

I would like that.

EE:

And that's because of the very intense nature of your job when you're on the job.

GD:

As far as I know, that's what it was for.

EE:

And air traffic control, was that a twenty-four-hour—all the time?

GD:

It was in operation always. The control tower and the operations was always open. And by the way, I was up there two years ago and went over to the naval air station. The only building on the air base that I recognized was the control tower where I worked, and it's still standing. And not only is it still standing, it's still in use as an auxiliary. But it still has the same number on it, LP1, as it was fifty-some years ago.

EE:

Wonderful. How much about airplanes did you have to learn?

GD:

Oh, we had identification. We knew most of them, I guess, the navy anyway, and a lot of the army planes. But we had that in boot training.

EE:

Did you hear any talk about radar?

GD:

No. I don't remember it.

EE:

It was too secret.

GD:

I don't remember it.

EE:

Were you at the naval air station till the end of the war?

GD:

Yes, I was.

EE:

So that would have been from—I guess March of '44 through VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

GD:

Oh, I was there from before March of '44. I went there in January—Oh, well, January or February.

EE:

February.

GD:

February, that's right, until—

EE:

February. December of '43, six weeks, okay.

GD:

Yes.

EE:

So December of '43 is when you joined. Did you immediately go up? You spent that Christmas at home?

GD:

I was there in January. The twenty-fourth of January is when I got to Norfolk.

EE:

Okay, so you spent Christmas at home in Durham in '43 and then—

GD:

Yes.

EE:

That was your last Christmas home?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

Were you thinking about making a career in the military?

GD:

No. I didn't give it much thought.

EE:

Did anybody ever encourage you to do that?

GD:

No. After the war, though, I did sign up for another hitch. But I got married, so then if you get married you get out. You could not stay in if you were married.

EE:

The terms of your original enlistment were that you would serve—What was it, open-ended till the end of the war, or like every year, or?

GD:

Till the end of the war.

EE:

Okay.

GD:

I think that's what it was. I do not recall it being anything different.

EE:

And then you signed up again, you say?

GD:

I signed up again for three years, but I didn't stay in that long.

EE:

Do you remember where you were on VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

GD:

No.

EE:

Or VJ Day?

GD:

I was on the base, but I don't remember.

EE:

You don't remember anything?

GD:

I just remember that the ships, the big horns on the ships, the foghorns were blowing and there was a lot of noise, but I don't remember exactly what I was doing on those particular days.

EE:

Did you see your folks much when you were in service?

GD:

Oh yes, oh yes.

EE:

Did they come up to see you?

GD:

They came to see me frequently and I went down to see them. And I could easily get a flight down there.

EE:

That's one benefit of working with the air station folks.

GD:

Because the pilots, they could always get in a little extra flight time and they could fly a round-robin from Norfolk down here.

EE:

That would have been nothing at all to fly from there, would it?

GD:

And we could easily find my folks' house in Durham, out south of Durham, and we'd just buzz the house a couple of times and my daddy would come out in the yard. If we went west he'd come to Chapel Hill and pick me up, if we went east he'd go to Raleigh-Durham and pick me up. [chuckling]

EE:

Oh, that's great! A nice way to give him a sign. “Can't call, Dad, but just watch the wings!”

GD:

Well, we had the signal there.

EE:

Oh, that's wonderful, that's wonderful. I know that probably gave him a big thrill to see his daughter up there in the sky.

GD:

Oh yes.

EE:

I guess that war experience really made everybody aware of airplanes, didn't it?

GD:

I think I was fascinated with airplanes before I went in.

EE:

There wasn't a lot of passenger travel before then, was there?

GD:

No, but I was fascinated with it. And I asked for this work. And I didn't think I'd get it, but I asked for it. I did not know how to type, and that was good, because had I known how to type, I would have been sitting behind a desk.

EE:

You think you would have been just delegated to secretarial?

GD:

I would have been sitting behind a desk, and I could have done that at home, but I didn't know how.

EE:

Instead you got to use your voice and your brain and do some other things. That's wonderful, that's wonderful. What was the hardest thing you had to do in your military experience, physically or emotionally?

GD:

Gee, I do not know.

EE:

Was it being away from home that first time out?

GD:

Well, that didn't last very long. That was just at night a little bit. I don't remember anything really that difficult about any of it, really.

EE:

How about getting along with other—How many were in your barracks? There were fifteen hundred stationed—

GD:

Oh, there was a lot of them in the barracks, but I guess—

EE:

You found a few friends to pal around with?

GD:

Oh yes, yes.

EE:

Do you still keep up with those folks?

GD:

I keep up with about five or six of them today, still. I see a couple of them frequently.

EE:

Well, now what rank were you when you were discharged?

GD:

A Specialist X. That's a control tower operator. No, excuse me, Specialist Y, First Class.

EE:

Do you have a special insignia for being a radio—

GD:

That was not radio. It was the control tower. It was just a Y in a little square. Or a triangle, I think it was.

EE:

Well, if you can't remember something hard, almost everybody can remember something that's embarrassing. What was the most embarrassing thing?

GD:

Yes. [chuckling]

EE:

What's a funny story that sticks out in your mind from that time period?

GD:

A funny story? Oh yeah, I have a funny story. There were two young men from Durham that came up there, they had just joined the navy. One was a friend of my brother's, and they came over to the control tower. They wanted to get a flight, a ride in a plane. They had never been in a plane. So I got them rides in a PBY-5A. That's an amphibian plane, and on the rear end of the amphibian plane there's a big blister on each side back near the tail of the plane, and you could sit right in that little place just inside and you could look out, look everyplace. So I went with them, and there was a doctor, a flight surgeon, and he was getting some flight time, and the pilot, and there was the Air-Sea Rescue. The pilot flew down around Elizabeth City, and he was out over the water and he decided he would give these kids a thrill. So he feathered one engine. Then he started that up and then he feathered the other one. Then he really got down close to the water and he feathered both of them, but he didn't get the engines going quick enough, so in the water we went, and broke the Plexiglas windshield out, and water came in the plane. And we were all alright. They had to send a plane down from Norfolk, Virginia, to rescue us. [chuckling]

EE:

So showing off government property. Did they save the plane?

GD:

Oh yes. Oh yes, they saved the plane. And I don't know about the pilot. [chuckling]

EE:

He may be back with another career after that.

GD:

I do not remember what happened to him.

EE:

I think Plexiglas was sort of a new thing too back then, wasn't it?

GD:

Probably.

EE:

I think it came out when?

GD:

It probably started in World War II.

EE:

Yeah, with the gunners turrets and stuff like that.

GD:

But I recall that they said that.

EE:

Well, that's funny.

GD:

Then we had some funny things happen. They had a sailor steal a plane one time right off the field.

EE:

Had you ever flown in an airplane before going in?

GD:

No.

EE:

Did you ever have any trouble? Did you ever have problems with your ears?

GD:

No.

EE:

You just loved it from the beginning?

GD:

I loved it from the beginning. I flew in all kinds of planes from there.

EE:

And you still fly a lot?

GD:

Not a lot.

EE:

When you do you enjoy it?

GD:

Yes, I enjoy it.

EE:

Were you ever afraid anytime?

GD:

In a plane?

EE:

No, anywhere.

GD:

Not a lot.

EE:

As a result of your service, or?

GD:

Not while I was in the service, I don't think so.

EE:

You position didn't have maybe as much physical danger as some of those other folks.

GD:

Oh no, no, no. And I didn't have the responsibilities there that these officers had. They were the main ones there. I was really sort of a backup.

EE:

What was the deal with the officers? Did they have to be college women to be an officer?

GD:

I think they did.

EE:

What did you do for fun, social life? We can get the edited version anyway. [chuckling]

GD:

We could check out a bicycle and go to Virginia Beach. There were lots of movies and USO [United Service Organizations] shows on base.

EE:

Did you see a lot of movie stars come in?

GD:

On campus. I don't mean campus, I mean at the air station.

EE:

Right, on the base.

GD:

Lots of movie stars. In fact, I have a picture back here that was made with Bob Hope when he was there. He was there with Skinny Ennis and Frances Langford. They had quite a few of the celebrities coming in with the bands and different shows. Oh, I don't know, there was just always something to do there.

EE:

It sounds like everybody worked hard, but they also played hard too.

GD:

That's right. I can truly say I really enjoyed it.

EE:

Any favorite songs, movies, memories from that time?

GD:

Well, I was just going to say Night and Day.

EE:

Night and Day

GD:

Night and Day.

EE:

You Are the One. Cole Porter. It's a great song.

GD:

That's right. That was it, that was it. My future husband and I sat on a park bench and decided that after we went to a movie. We went to see the movie Night and Day.

EE:

That's great. Was your husband in the service? Is that how you met?

GD:

He was in the army. We met years ago. He came down from Buffalo, New York, and he lived up near Cedar Grove, near where my aunt did, and I met him up there. We were thirteen and fifteen years old.

EE:

Oh, so you were longtime friends. Were you longtime sweethearts, or just—

GD:

Eight years.

EE:

Eight years.

GD:

Of course, we'd each cheated on the other one a little bit.

EE:

Well, you know, that's growing up.

GD:

But eight years.

EE:

Eight years. So you got married in '45 or '46?

GD:

Forty-six.

EE:

Forty-six. You say he was in the army?

GD:

He got out in May 1943.

EE:

Where was he stationed?

GD:

He was stationed in Europe, Western Europe.

EE:

Western Europe? So he was infantry?

GD:

Infantry. [whispering] Hold it right there.

EE:

Okay, we'll stop right here.

[Tape paused]

EE:

Maybe it's because I'm interviewing a lot of WC [Woman's College, now UNCG] grads up to now, and a lot of them don't have a boyfriend during the war, and it's got to be a different emotional experience when you do.

GD:

Oh, I did here at home and I did there. [chuckling]

EE:

How did you keep in contact? When did he join the infantry? Was he drafted?

GD:

No, he joined before he was drafted. In fact, he joined before he was eighteen years old.

EE:

So he joined a long time before you did.

GD:

Yeah. Not a long time, though, because he was two years younger than I was. He was a couple of years earlier.

EE:

He went in in '43?

GD:

Yeah, he went in in '43.

EE:

Okay, but he was not even eighteen?

GD:

Not even eighteen.

EE:

I'm sure he had to have a parent's signature to do that, didn't he? So when he signed up, he had a feeling he was going to be sent overseas? He kind of knew he was going?

GD:

Oh yes, he knew he would go overseas.

EE:

Did you talk about that with him?

GD:

No, he was in Florida and I was up here.

EE:

Were you pretty serious then or—?

GD:

We were still just kid sweethearts.

EE:

So you were just pals?

GD:

Yeah, real good pals.

EE:

Nice memories and real good pals, okay. But you were thinking one day of getting married at that time?

GD:

Oh, I was. [chuckling]

EE:

Okay. I think I recall those kind of relationships, where one partner is more interested than the other at that particular stage, okay.

GD:

I was.

EE:

Okay. What's his name?

GD:

Jim Dimmick.

EE:

I have to ask, I should have it somewhere, what's your maiden name?

GD:

Lunsford.

EE:

L-u-n-s—

GD:

—f-o-r-d. It's on here.

EE:

Great. So he's overseas. Did you keep in correspondence throughout the war?

GD:

We did. We corresponded all the time.

EE:

What did he think about you joining the WAVES?

GD:

Oh, he thought it was great. He thought it was great.

EE:

But you didn't see each other until after the war was over?

GD:

We didn't see each other till after the war. Hadn't seen each other for quite a while before the war either because he was then living in Florida.

EE:

So when did you first see him after the war?

GD:

On May 3.

EE:

Forty-five?

GD:

Forty-five? No, '46.

EE:

Forty-six? So it was almost a year after the war was over then?

GD:

Yes. I was on my way to Philadelphia on the Naval Air Transport to go to a WAVES' wedding, and we had developed some kind of mechanical problem and had to land in Washington, and there I had to take the train from Washington to Philadelphia. And as I stood in line to get my ticket, the first person in front of me in a uniform wearing the ruptured duck, indicating that he was discharged from the service, was my future husband, that I had not seen for about three years or more.

EE:

You recognized him?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

And he recognized you?

GD:

Yes. [chuckling]

EE:

That sounds like a place where the music swells. That's wonderful.

GD:

No, he was talking to some other girl.

EE:

Oh, okay. [chuckling] That's a different kind of music. Oh, that's great. So did you catch his attention and talk to him that day?

GD:

Oh yeah, we talked, and then he came up to see me as soon as I got back from Philadelphia, and we got married in December.

EE:

So that was six months later?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

How soon after May did you decide you were going to get married?

GD:

When he came up to see me two weeks later. [chuckling]

EE:

You mean up in Norfolk?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

That's great. Did he want to stay in the military?

GD:

No.

EE:

He was ready to get out? What did he want to do?

GD:

He wanted to get out and go to school.

EE:

So you got married in December of '46.

GD:

Yes.

EE:

When did you leave the WAVES?

GD:

February of '47.

EE:

And this whole time you were at the air station?

GD:

At the air station the entire time.

EE:

And were you still in the control tower?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

And they didn't have radar by the time you left in '47?

GD:

No. We did have two jet planes fly around the field, though, before I left.

EE:

Yeah, that was another innovation. Where did you go after you got married?

GD:

After we got married, we lived in St. Petersburg, Florida.

EE:

You said he wanted to go back to school?

GD:

He wanted to go to college. He had not been to college. So we both went to college then.

EE:

So both of you went on the GI Bill?

GD:

Well, we didn't go that year. We didn't go until about two years later.

EE:

So '49, '50, something like that?

GD:

We went in '50.

EE:

Where did you go to school?

GD:

The University of Florida. And we had a little girl at that time. She was probably a year and a half old.

EE:

What was her name?

GD:

Teresa, Terry.

EE:

She was born in '48?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

So you're a mom going to school.

GD:

Yes.

EE:

After being a woman in the military.

GD:

Yes.

EE:

Sounds like a trailblazer to me. Or out of your mind, as the neighbors would have said. [chuckling]

GD:

Probably so. We lived on the campus at the University of Florida in the Flavet Village.

EE:

How do you spell that?

GD:

F-l-a-v-e-t, Florida Veterans Village. They were barracks. We lived there, and we really couldn't afford a babysitter, so we had a little red wagon and a bicycle with a basket on it and we would meet each other between classes. One would take the baby and go back home and the other one would go to class. And we did that for two years.

EE:

There might have been some other folks doing that too, I would guess.

GD:

A lot of them. A lot of them did.

EE:

There were a lot of vets going back to school then.

GD:

Oh, lots of them!

EE:

The college campus got older.

GD:

Absolutely. Forty-eight was just so many veterans there, '47 and '48.

EE:

What were your degrees in, both of you?

GD:

I did not finish. I had one more year to go and I went to work so he could go ahead with his master's degree down there. He was in history and political science and I was in business administration. Before I went to college I went to business school, and I worked in the University of Florida law school after I quit college.

EE:

It started then?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

So that would have been '52, something like that?

GD:

Yeah. We came up here in '54, the summer of '54.

EE:

That was so he could take a position with the university?

GD:

He had a teaching position here at the University [of North Carolina (UNC)].

EE:

Okay. And he stayed there ever since, until?

GD:

Yes, until he retired in—Until he retired. I don't remember what year that was. He passed away in '89.

EE:

Did you have any other kids?

GD:

Just the one.

EE:

Well, let me ask you a few more questions about the wartime. Do you feel that you contributed to the war effort?

GD:

I think I did contribute. I was there and I worked and I enjoyed it and I was a pioneer. I really feel as though I served well. You sort of get the feeling you are sort of special. I guess most girls in the service felt that way.

EE:

Did the other women share stories about what it meant, being in the military? I mean, did you talk about how you felt?

GD:

Oh yes.

EE:

How people looked at you different because of the uniform, or how people treated you?

GD:

Oh yes. Yes, but I think —

EE:

And I guess when you walked around anywhere with the uniform on everybody knew you were in the military.

GD:

They were aware, but you know, we felt good about it. Most of us, the ones that I knew, felt good about wearing that uniform and being in the navy. We looked pretty sharp. [chuckling]

EE:

I've heard that from a few folks.

GD:

Well, we really did, and the navy was very particular about the uniforms and how we wore them, and the hairstyle and things like that.

EE:

The services are so integrated with men and women today, and yet they are very strict on fraternization policies. What was that like back then? Did they give you any kind of warnings or limits, boundaries?

GD:

No, no, we just couldn't go to the officers' clubs, I found out. [chuckling]

EE:

You found out the hard way? And that was because you were enlisted, that wasn't because you were a woman?

GD:

That was because I was enlisted. And besides that, it was over at Langley Field. That was air force. But the same thing would have happened at the navy.

EE:

In everybody's life there are always interesting characters who stand out. Are there some interesting folks who stand out? And I say characters, it may be prejudiced. Are there some interesting people you met in the military, whether they were commanding officers or personalities, or just people who had memorable life stories that you ran across?

GD:

I just remember many people, but I don't remember any really specific things, I guess. But I did meet a lot of people.

EE:

In a situation like that you meet a lot of folks who are very different from you in their background.

GD:

Yes, I met a lot of pilots and a lot of WAVES. I met more pilots than I did the enlisted people because I was there working with them. There were some really great people in there that I knew, WAVES, a lot of them. I don't know anything really that outstanding.

EE:

Well, you joined in '43, you stayed there through '47. What did you think of [President] Franklin Roosevelt?

GD:

Oh, I guess when he died I cried like everybody else did up there. I remember that day very well.

EE:

Did it come close enough to the—

GD:

No, we didn't see it, but it was sort of declared a holiday that afternoon and it was—

EE:

Did you hear about it through an announcement?

GD:

I don't remember exactly how I heard about it, but it was very, very solemn up there.

EE:

Were there folks who you thought were heroes during that time, people that stood out in your mind?

GD:

I don't know.

EE:

We hear about a lot of heroes from that time afterwards. You know, they make movies about [General George] Patton, of course [Dwight D.] Eisenhower is a—You've got the leaders like the political leaders, and yet the other people—

GD:

I don't think so. I don't think so. Just a lot of people, a lot of people. And they were nice people. They were, you know, people that you'd meet that you knew from home and wherever, but—I don't remember any bad things, really, or anybody getting in really bad trouble that I knew about.

EE:

What was the mood of the folks you were working with? Were they ever afraid, were they determined, patriotic? Of course '43, it's not sure in '43 what's going to happen.

GD:

That's right, but we were over here instead of over there. You knew what was going on over there, but it wouldn't be as it is today where you see everything on TV.

EE:

Did Jim write you letters back giving you any details?

GD:

No, he had a lot of places blacked-out on his letters.

EE:

Oh, so the censors took care of that.

GD:

If he said anything even about where he was or anything that hinted, they'd black it out.

EE:

So every piece of mail you got from him was censored?

GD:

It was always censored.

EE:

And knowing that, he probably wasn't quite as effusive as he might have otherwise been. [chuckling]

GD:

Besides that, I don't think he was talking a lot about the war. [chuckling]

EE:

True, you don't have time to write out in the midst of a war.

GD:

Get a little note off in a hurry and that was it, but he did write.

EE:

And did he get your letters?

GD:

Yes, he did. Yes, he did, and I sent him cigarettes, cartons of cigarettes that I could buy quite cheap. I thought I was just doing him a favor, but the trouble was that he could also get them cheap, so he sold the ones I sent to him. [chuckling] But as for heroes and people that really stood out, I can't say there was—Anybody that worked with this many ladies up there, I guess you could call them a hero. And kept things in line, too.

EE:

But it seems like the group of folks you were working with did not treat women as second-class.

GD:

Oh no, they did not. They did not.

EE:

They respected the work you did and treated you accordingly.

GD:

I can honestly say, everybody always treated me with respect. I never heard anything about sexual harassment.

EE:

Right. Well, it is a different—You didn't hear of that, yet you can understand what it was.

GD:

Oh yes, oh yes.

EE:

Then it was somebody just went across the line.

GD:

But still I don't know of it happening to them. I don't know about it—

EE:

There was still enough of a gentleman/lady concept that people kept in line.

GD:

Oh yes, yes, yes.

EE:

What was the age of the folks you were working with? They were mostly your age?

GD:

Most of them were about my age. The pilots were just about my age too, most of them, but we had some older ones there. In fact, my commanding officer, Mr. Al[fred] Bennett, was from Durham. I did not know him before I went in. Commander Bennett was older than I was.

[End Side A—Begin Side B]

EE:

He was not in his twenties? He was a little older?

GD:

He was older. He was probably in his forties, I would think.

EE:

What was his rank?

GD:

He was a full commander, and when I got back home eventually to Durham I saw him several times. He was an officer at Wachovia Bank, so I kept in touch with Mr. Bennett then the rest of his life. He died several years ago.

EE:

Did either you or your husband have a tough time adjusting back to civilian life?

GD:

I don't think so.

EE:

“I was ready.” [chuckling]

GD:

Well, you know, newly-married couples are young, happy-go-lucky. We didn't. No.

EE:

I guess even after all this you were, what, twenty-four when you got married?

GD:

I was twenty-three.

EE:

Twenty-three!

GD:

He was twenty-one.

EE:

And the world was wide-open, and yet you'd seen so much already.

GD:

Oh, I know.

EE:

What kind of impact do you think the military service has had on your life?

GD:

Oh, I think it had a lot of impact on my life. Well, I learned a lot there. You learn how to live with people. Yes, I think, the main thing was how to live with people. But then I made a lot of friends. I used the GI Bill to go to college, which I had not been able to do before. My husband and I went to college at the University of Florida [UF]. From there I went to work at the law school at UF, which was another big step in my life. When I moved from the University of Florida to Chapel Hill I got a job in the law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. And from there I was asked to go with Judge [J. Dickson] Phillips when he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals, and stayed with him for twenty years. I think the navy had a big influence on my life, because it was just like a steppingstone, from one stone to another.

EE:

Was Judge Phillips military?

GD:

He was in the army. He was a paratrooper—a captain.

EE:

So you met veterans all the way through your career, I assume.

GD:

All the way.

EE:

And with every one you had a good conversation. That's great.

GD:

All the way. And at my age, most of our friends were veterans.

EE:

That's right, had some experience.

GD:

Some connection some way with the military, during World War II mostly.

EE:

And at the law school and with Judge Phillips what was your position?

GD:

At the law school? I was secretary for Dean Brandis for ten years and then Dean Phillips for seven years, and then I was director of placement and alumni affairs for the last seven or eight years I was there.

EE:

And then with?

GD:

Then with Judge [former Dean] Phillips. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals, and he asked me to go with him as his secretary, which I did, and I traveled to court with him and worked as his personal secretary.

EE:

And that was in the Fourth Circuit or—

GD:

Yes.

EE:

So that's what, eastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina?

GD:

The Fourth Circuit consists of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.

EE:

So you traveled a lot.

GD:

Yes.

EE:

All from this fool decision to go off to the West Coast. [chuckling]

GD:

Yes, yes, yes.

EE:

“I want to see the West Coast and I've traveled all over the East Coast the rest of my life.”

GD:

Well, we went to court in Richmond most of the time, but we also went to Baltimore and Wilmington, North Carolina.

EE:

Wonderful. Well, now if you're going all these places, where is the family when you're traveling? [chuckling]

GD:

Well, my daughter was old enough that she could take care of herself then, and my husband took care of himself.

EE:

So you would see each other on weekends?

GD:

I traveled once every other month for a week. The other secretary in the judge's office went the other month.

EE:

And then his home office is in Raleigh?

GD:

His home office was here. His office was here, but we had an office in Richmond also for court.

EE:

So the circuit courts judge didn't have a—I guess it's like most judges, they literally ride the circuit. They don't have a home office as such?

GD:

Well, our home office was right here. This is where we worked, in Chapel Hill, Durham first and then over to Chapel Hill.

EE:

So the home office is wherever the judge—

GD:

But where we sat most of the time was Richmond.

EE:

Okay. This seems like a silly question after that line of questioning. Would you do it again, joining the military?

GD:

I would indeed. Had I not gotten married, I would have probably stayed in. And I would have liked for my daughter to have gone in.

EE:

What does she think about your military service?

GD:

Oh, she thought it was great, I guess.

EE:

I was going to say, she was born in '48, she probably would have been coming at the right age about when Vietnam was going through.

GD:

Yeah, and that wasn't the time she would have wanted to go in probably, I don't know, but she was too busy with school and boys and so on then.

EE:

That happens. Do you think the military made you more of an independent person, or were you pretty independent to begin with?

GD:

I was a little on the independent side, but it certainly made me more independent, much more so.

[Interview interrupted, tape paused]

EE:

Well, we're going to try to press on through the lawn blower out here. Did you then or do you now consider yourself to be a pioneer?

GD:

I guess so. I guess so.

EE:

Hold on just a second, we'll answer that question in just a minute.

[Tape paused]

EE:

We're going to get through this question yet.

GD:

Okay.

EE:

Tell me about that. You think you were a pioneer?

GD:

I think so. I was not the first, but I was among the first to go in. In the few years there at the beginning of the war when women started going into the military service, I was one of the pioneers.

EE:

Did they ever write up anything in the paper about you when you were in the service?

GD:

There was something in, I think—not sure.

EE:

You were the only women in the family go into the service?

GD:

Yes, yes.

EE:

And I imagine that if you come from a family of ten that there's probably lots of relatives to talk about, and if you're the only one, you are an object of conversation.

GD:

[chuckling] I was then. But they came up to visit me frequently. I think all of them came at some time.

EE:

Did you find a way to get all of your brothers and sisters on an airplane for a ride at some time period?

GD:

No, I couldn't get civilians on a plane. The two young men I was telling you about earlier were in the navy. But civilians could not ride naval air transport.

EE:

But I'll bet they wanted to. [chuckling]

GD:

Some of them did.

EE:

Some people have said, looking back, in terms of being a pioneer, that the women who joined the military, and in a sense proved they could do a man's job, were really the forerunners of the women's movement, pushed for liberation and equal opportunity in the workforce. Do you think that's so?

GD:

I think that certainly had a lot to do with it. I think that was really the real beginning of it.

EE:

It may have redefined it. You know, they made that Susan B. Anthony dollar for the right to vote, but it's another thing to have the right to have a job that's the same caliber.

GD:

That's right. And since then women have gone into all types of jobs they did during the war, i.e., Rosie the Riveter. It was a song, but there was a lot of truth in that.

EE:

Well, you yourself said you didn't want a woman's job. You didn't want to have the secretarial job.

GD:

I didn't want the secretary's job.

EE:

Right, and yet you ended up doing that. Now was that because of society?

GD:

Well, later on after I went to business school I decided that I enjoyed typing. Because of society? Maybe.

EE:

Once you got there you decided it wasn't that bad?

GD:

Thats right.

EE:

Right, even with triplicate copies with carbon paper.

GD:

That and filing. And I did not know how to type, so I didn't get into that.

EE:

You joined after this happened, but in the spring of '43 there was a, come to find out later, a pretty active slander campaign by the army against the WAACs [Women's Auxiliary Army Corps], about the fact that the women weren't really up to participating. Do you remember that?

GD:

I don't remember much about that.

EE:

That didn't affect you or deter you in any way?

GD:

No.

EE:

A couple months ago when they had the operation in Iraq, for the first time they had women flying combat missions. What do you think about that?

GD:

If that's what they want to do, they can do it. I think if they really want to do that, and I think some of them really did, or really do want to fly in combat, let them do so.

EE:

Do you think that our country is ready for the consequences of what would happen to a woman shot down and captured?

GD:

Well, would we ever be ready for that? I don't think so, but I think they could take it a lot easier now. Just take, for instance, the policewoman that was shot down this past weekend.

EE:

That's right.

GD:

You can't say you were ready for it, but it's—

EE:

But you accept it.

GD:

You accept it because she was doing her job and it was what she wanted to do. And she knew at the time, and everybody else knows, that it's a dangerous job. And the women that are on the ships, the nurses—The nurses when they went in, several nurses were killed during World War II. They were on ships, they were in Guadalcanal, they were in all these places —and some were killed.

EE:

And I guess through the air station there you probably had the opportunity to see—Did you have much contact with women who were not WAVES but were in the other branches?

GD:

Not a lot. Very seldom, really.

EE:

I guess a fair number of transport ships came out of Norfolk, did they not?

GD:

Yes.

EE:

But I guess you were at the air station.

GD:

I was at the naval air station, which just adjoins the naval base.

EE:

They didn't have the capability to have planes leaving to go across to—They could have a plane detachment now fly out of there to go across to the Middle East.

GD:

Oh, absolutely.

EE:

They refuel in-flight, and they just didn't have that technology then.

GD:

They had a lot of ships, but there were not the women on there. We had a ship once that came in that had some Wrens—that was from the navy in England—so we were very excited to see them and have a chance to talk with them. And they stayed in our barracks.

EE:

Get a different experience of what the war was like.

GD:

Yeah. I don't know, I feel like if a woman wants to do the work and can do it, even if it's flying—

EE:

Just a second. We'll come back after this.

[tape paused]

EE:

Sorry about the interruptions, but I wanted to get to a couple more questions. Where were we when we left off just then? Talking about you had visited with other women from the Wrens.

GD:

The Wrens, yes.

EE:

But there wasn't a lot of interaction between the branches there?

GD:

No, not at the naval air station or the naval operating base in Norfolk.

EE:

Is there something that I have not asked you about that you'd like for people who weren't there to know about that time and place?

GD:

No, I don't think so. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed being in the navy. And I don't know how it is today, but if it was anywhere near what it was when I was there, I would recommend to any girl to go in if they were really interested in it.

EE:

Do you think as a country we've lost something by not requiring military service, having the draft?

GD:

Maybe so, maybe so.

EE:

The draft had a different connotation after Vietnam.

GD:

Yeah, and I don't know, it'd be hard to answer that question right now from that part. Years ago it was such a good disciplinary thing and it kept the country so well prepared, but I don't know what you would say about it after Vietnam. Attitudes changed—it seems as though they did—especially for people younger than I am. [chuckling]

EE:

That's about the end of the formal questions that I have. Thank you.

[End of the interview]