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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Judith Bullock Nisbet, 1999

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Object ID: WV0056.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Judith Bullock Nisbet's early life; time at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro); and service in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Emergency Service during World War II.

Summary:

Nisbet provides a brief overview of her childhood in Red Springs, North Carolina, and her education at the Woman's College in the early 1940s. She describes campus life, her social activities, and her studies.

Nisbet also describes her interest in the service and her experiences in the WAVES. Topics include the Red Springs service club and her volunteer war efforts; WAVES entrance requirements; training at Mount Holyoke; her work in Washington, D.C., delivering messenges, assigning bunks, assisting with the planning of fleet attacks, and gunning turrets for airplanes; feminism; patriotism; and the positive effects of her military service on her life.

Additional topics include Nisbet's courtship and 1943 wedding, VE and VJ Day events, and singing in the choir at Peter Marshall's Presbyterian church in Washington, D.C.

Creator: Judith Bullock Nisbet

Biographical Info: Judith Bullock Nisbet (1919-2012) of Red Springs, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) from 1942 to 1945 in the maintenance department of the Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C.

Collection: Judith Bullock Nisbet 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:

Good afternoon, this is March 22, 1999, and I'm Eric Elliott with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and I am in Charlotte, North Carolina, this morning at the home of Judith Nisbet, a UNCG grad, and this interview is part of the Women Veterans Oral History Project at the university. Thank you, Mrs. Nisbet, for letting us be here with you today.

JN:

You're welcome.

EE:

We're going to start off this interview like we do everybody, and that's basically [with] a little getting-acquainted questions, and so I just wonder if you could tell me where you were born, where you grew up?

JN:

Well, I was born at home in Red Springs, North Carolina.

EE:

That's down east, Robeson County?

JN:

Robeson County. That's where the Robesons lived.

EE:

So was your family from that area?

JN:

My mother was. She had grown up right outside of Red Springs at a historical place called Mill Prong, which is a house that's now being preserved. Her mother and her father's families were in that area since the 1770s or so. Let's see, I was the youngest of five.

EE:

What about your dad?

JN:

Oh, my dad was from Vance County, an old family up there too, and their name was Bullock. His name was George Bullock, and he went to State [North Carolina State University] very early. He went to college when he was fourteen because his older brother was going. He was an agronomist. He was a specialist in raising tobacco. These people came to my mother and said she should not marry somebody that had anything to do with tobacco because it was bad. Cigarettes were called “coffin nails.” [chuckling]

EE:

And this was long before the Clinton administration. [chuckling]

JN:

That's right. They were married in 1906, so—

EE:

So how did your parents meet? Did they meet in—

JN:

He came to Red Springs to help the Johnsons start tobacco raising, but that's how they met. And he was a Presbyterian and he was earning his living, and a nice young man, and so her parents approved, much to her surprise. [laughter] They had turned down several others, I guess. She went to Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina, now UNCG] for one year in about 1898, but she was so homesick they brought her back to go to what became Flora MacDonald College, which was in our town.

EE:

So, after your folks were married, your dad set up the farm in Robeson County?

JN:

Well, he did in about 1917, but before that he went to South Georgia, and he and his brother had a—Do you want to know all this? This is long.

EE:

Yes.

JN:

Anyway, he had a farming concern, and they didn't have enough capital and it was discouraging, so they got jobs with the American Tobacco Company and went to Puerto Rico. They were there until about 1917, when they came back with enough money to start again, which was around Red Springs. So then along came a big depression in '22 when cotton went down, and he lost that business, had to sell out and sell the farm. Then he went back to Puerto Rico and worked in sugar cane, and he stayed there until the Depression and the company went under. [chuckling] It was not his company, though, he was just employed. And he went to Cuba and spent the rest of his working years in Cuba.

EE:

So you didn't see your dad much, did you?

JN:

Well, we lived in Puerto Rico for several years with him, but I didn't go to Cuba. But he'd come home for long vacations in the summertime, so—

EE:

So he was sending home enough money where your mom didn't work, or did she work?

JN:

Yes, in fact, all during the Depression we perhaps were better-off than a lot of people. My father tithed, and I heard them say that the preacher in town could not have been paid, the Presbyterian preacher could not have been paid if my father hadn't paid his tithe. And you see, he didn't have to pay any taxes if you work outside of the country, so he had no income tax to pay. We were not rich by any manner of speaking; in fact, I thought we lived rather sparsely. But compared to a lot of people whose fathers didn't work for years or were farmers and doing very badly—

EE:

So you stayed in Red Springs until you graduated from high school and went to college?

JN:

Yes, except for those years we lived in Puerto Rico. We came back in '30, so I was ten years old when we came back.

EE:

What do you remember about high school? What were some of your favorite subjects? Did you like school?

JN:

Well, I didn't cotton much to math. I think people scared me about it. I was scared of it. Anyway, it was music that I was mostly for. And there was a lady in town who was a pretty good artist, and I took lessons from her because I liked art too. When I got ready to go to college, I couldn't make up my mind. So I went to Peace College [in Raleigh, North Carolina], where I didn't have to make up my mind—for two years anyway. [chuckling] And then I went to WC [Woman's College] and made a major in art. And somebody accused me of having to go there because they had music at Flora MacDonald and I would have had to come back home. I was voted most likely to succeed when I graduated from high school, and I said, “Well, I succeeded in getting out of Red Springs.” [laughter]

EE:

So was that high on your priority list for your higher education, simply to be out of town?

JN:

[chuckling] I guess so. I don't know really know, but I was excited about being away. It was a small town, but it had a lot of culture there because of the college. It was an unusual small town.

EE:

So was your mom pushing WC, do you think?

JN:

Well, I don't know that she was. I chose WC because it had a good art department. I really wanted to go to the University of Iowa, but Mama couldn't see me going that far away. She made most of the decisions because Dad was in Cuba most of the time. I thought about going to Carolina [The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill], but you had to have math to graduate and you didn't have to at WC. I had already made a stab at college algebra and I decided—

EE:

In your letters there's still some worry about math. That is a consistent theme, isn't it? [chuckling]

JN:

But finally after I graduated, I hung around Red Springs and couldn't seem to get a job. By the way, I graduated in art, and there were, I think, two jobs for art education in North Carolina available, and there were eleven of us graduating. And I didn't even get called for an interview. I wrote to several—

EE:

And you were not going to leave the state? You wanted to stay close by?

JN:

Well, you know, it wasn't easy for a girl to get up and move somewhere in those days. You were still sort of close to home. I tried getting a job over at Fort Bragg. I couldn't do anything but file. I couldn't type, and I wouldn't type. Even then I was sort of a feminist. I mean, I always have been a feminist, but even a little bit more then, and I just didn't want to be a stenographer or something. I had gone to college and graduated, and I ought to be able to get a job.

EE:

Several ladies have had that same impression, yes.

JN:

But I guess I was too young to get the jobs that I applied for, which were in Fort Bragg entertainment, the service clubs. Which is probably a good thing. I was sort of boy-crazy anyway, so—So I went to [North Carolina] State College and took a defense course in the summer of '42. I had applied to be an airline hostess but after I had joined the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] and was waiting to be called I got a notice to have an interview! [chuckling] So that was too late. And I thought that was—In those days, by the way, there were only a few airlines that would take somebody that wasn't a registered nurse.

EE:

Let me ask you a little bit about your college days. You're the second transfer student I've talked to.

JN:

Is that right?

EE:

Tell me about how it was transferring to WC.

JN:

Well, it was fine. There were a lot of other people—I roomed with a girl that I transferred with who went to Peace, Sally Cobb Andrews.

EE:

Did you feel at home? You lived on campus, right?

JN:

Yeah.

EE:

Which dorm, do you remember?

JN:

I lived in Shaw the first year. The second year I lived in one of the new ones. I lived in B, whatever B became. [chuckling] Weil or Winfield, I don't know which it was. Anyway, it was the one that was on the right-hand side. If you're going down the quadrangle, it was the one that was on the right. I didn't have any trouble. There were a lot of people I already knew there.

EE:

Did you know some of your art instructors before you even went there? Had you ever gone up to meet them or something?

JN:

No, I didn't. I knew some of the musicians because I had gone up every year of high school to the high school competition, for solo chorus and so forth, because I was a soprano.

EE:

That's right, you were a soprano. So when you said—

JN:

Well, I was familiar with the campus for that reason.

EE:

Anything in particular you remember about your days on campus?

JN:

Oh, loads!

EE:

Okay, wait a second. Just do one.

JN:

I never got in trouble, I will say that.

EE:

You never got in trouble. You never got caught, in other words. [chuckling]

JN:

Well, I was pretty good. But it was so much more freedom than I had had at Peace. I could go out of the dormitory and go somewhere without signing out, and they really didn't check up on you very closely. We were not supposed to date on Monday night, and I did have a date once on Monday night because it was a real cute boy that had asked me. I had turned him down one time, and I thought, “He'll never call me again.” [chuckling]

EE:

Who were you dating, just people in the community, or boys from other colleges, or how was it?

JN:

Oh, anybody that I knew. There were boys from home that would come up, and there were—Well, I really didn't date many boys. There was a good friend of mine who had a brother at Carolina, and I dated him. Well, you dated a lot of people, just whenever you were asked, if it was not somebody that was too crummy or you hated. [chuckling] They might be boys in the area. I dated a boy from Thomasville for a while.

EE:

Well, I guess when you were coming in as a junior, social life for you was more individual and dating than it was anything with a group of girls in the hall or something like that?

JN:

Yes. We had social things. We had things like dances. Well, I'll tell you one thing, I learned to dance well. The girls danced with each other in some of the rec rooms, and that's where I learned to dance better than I had learned before I came. And then the summer of '40 I went to summer school at Carolina, and then I really dated Carolina boys after that.

EE:

What were you studying at Carolina that they'd let you come over?

JN:

Oh, I went over for summer school to get some extra credits. I made real good grades at Peace, but I didn't make that good a grade when I came, and everything that I made good grades on had all been put to a C when I transferred. That was the big problem of transferring, because I made a lot of big effort the first two years. The last two years was lots of fun. [chuckling] And I had some bad luck, too, with—One teacher gave me a D, one of my majors, because she had four in the class. So I guess she said “eeny meeny miney mo” and she had to—

EE:

Right, she had to have a curve.

JN:

She had to do it on the curve. And I thought that was terrible because I think we all deserved at least a B. I might not have deserved an A, but anyway—So that gave me some trouble with points and with quality points, so I went over to get some extra credits at Carolina. I took an education course and so forth.

EE:

Well, that was in '40 and you graduated in '41.

JN:

Yes.

EE:

When did you meet Shorty Thomson?

JN:

Oh, well, that was after I had finished school, a year after. I had been knocking around Red Springs a little over a year when I went to North Carolina State in the summer of '42. And by that time—Well, a lot of people had gone in the service. Starting in about '41 they started going. And it didn't much affect us when I was in college, but I understood it affected the classes after that tremendously. But when Pearl Harbor came, everybody got very serious. And my brother was in the National Guard to begin with, and had already been gone for a year before that. He was in Coast Artillery, and so he had been to officer's training school and had been assigned to go overseas in the summer of '42. So I went home from Raleigh to see him that weekend, and my first husband, Shorty, was at Fort Bragg. He and the boy next door that I had grown up with, Tommy McLean, had been good friends. So they had gone to White Lake and couldn't find a place to spend the night, so they had come to Red Springs to stay with Tommy's mother, and so he called me up. He said, “I have somebody I want you to meet.” So I hopped out to the car and we went over to somebody's house and had a party, had a good time.

EE:

So he was not a native? Was he a native of North Carolina?

JN:

Yeah, he was from Charlotte. That's why I came to Charlotte after the war.

EE:

You say everybody started getting serious in '41 after Pearl Harbor, or '41-42. When did you first get the idea about doing something in the military?

JN:

Well, being near Fort Bragg, I saw we had a service club in Red Springs. And they'd send truck loads of kids over there—they were kids then—and we would dance with them and entertain them, and then they'd get in the truck and go back off again. And I met quite a few that way. And I was interested—Everybody was so—their hearts were really into service people and about the boys, and you did things that you wouldn't think of doing now with strangers, boys that you didn't know—you know, entertaining, taking them to your home, picking them up and giving them rides if they were bumming. Of course a lot of people bummed in those days. Not girls, but boys. And I was a spotter. They built this little platform thing out on the little golf course, and you were supposed to watch airplanes and call Fort Bragg if you saw anything. Well, of course there was a lot going on around and I thought, “Oh, I'm just wasting the government's money calling them because I can't identify this—” [chuckling] I hated that. I was a volunteer.

EE:

Did they give you any sort of training at all?

JN:

But we'd do anything to help. They sent a bus around every Tuesday night, and we'd dress in evening dresses and go over to Fort Bragg and dance. They gave us a pin, and I still have it somewhere, and it says: “I Danced for Defense, Service Club #1.” [chuckling] And a friend of mine wore hers upside-down because her grandfather didn't approve of dancing. She was trying to keep him from noticing.

EE:

I was going to say, how many preachers on Sunday morning in the Baptist church did you rile up with that kind of campaign? [chuckling]

JN:

Well, I was a Presbyterian. [chuckling]

EE:

Presbyterians, I guess you were all right. I know the Baptists had a tough time with that.

JN:

Just so you didn't dance on Sunday, that was all.

EE:

Okay, that was all right. “I Danced for Defense.” Well, that still doesn't get me from landlocked Fort Bragg to a woman in uniform.

JN:

To joining the WAVES? Okay. Well, here I was in Raleigh taking this defense course, and friends of mine that had taken the course before me had gone to places like Baltimore, to the Martin [Company aircraft] plant, and to places like Norfolk, [Virginia], and so forth. So I assumed I would do that kind of thing. So the announcement came out in the paper before I finished the course—it was about the last two or three days in July 1942—that they announced that there would be a WAVES. WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] had been going on for quite a while, but they were considered auxiliary. They were not regular army until the WAVES came along, and then they decided they would do for their servicewomen what the WAVES had done. So I applied. There was a navy recruiting office in Raleigh and I applied there, and so I got—

EE:

You didn't have to have your mom's permission, did you?

JN:

No.

EE:

I guess once you turned twenty-one you're okay.

JN:

Yeah. How old was I? I was twenty-one then. I didn't think about it. I made a lot of decisions for myself. I did tell Mom about it, but a lot of times I didn't. Well, you know, you had so much attention in a small town that you didn't want, that you really— sometimes you kept things close to you.

EE:

Well, I notice they did put it in the paper after you got your ensign status there.

JN:

Yes, they did.

EE:

But you didn't want it broadcast until you got to that stage?

JN:

Well, you know, something that's rash like that, to suddenly decide to join the navy—Well, I was sort of crazy about the navy because—See, I had just met Shorty, but I was still sort of—I had a bunch of friends that were in the navy that I had known that had gone to Carolina, and I had dated a lot, and so my heart was sort of in the direction of the navy anyway. So they announced this, so like I said, I went to the recruiting station and they said I had to have a physical. And I want you to know—And three letters of recommendation, character. It cost me five dollars to get this examination, a physical examination. [chuckling] Now that's news. And so I had to scrounge around. One of my teachers gave me a character reference, and the father of a good friend did, and I had a cousin that was in the government in Raleigh and he gave me one too. So those were the three recommendations. So they called me to come down to Charleston, which was the area headquarters for the navy district. So I went down there and had an examination, went down on a bus. By that time I had taken a course—I think this is why I was able to get in the navy. I had taken a course in shop math, shop arithmetic, and all of a sudden I found out that math was just common sense and that it wasn't all that hard. I made straight As in it and just no problem. And so I borrowed a book to crib up on algebra that I had had in high school, and so I passed.

EE:

Now, you were taking an exam then to be an officer?

JN:

Yes, to go in for officer's training, that is.

EE:

Right. You could have been regular enlisted, and I think you had to be a college graduate to be an officer, didn't you?

JN:

Yes. Well, we did anyway.

EE:

So for you the decision was because of personal acquaintances who were in there. Did you know anything about the fact that the woman who was the commander of the WAVES was a WC grad? Did you know that?

JN:

Well, I knew of one that had a lot to do with it, but I didn't know that the head of it was.

EE:

I think you mentioned that you did run into a couple of—

JN:

I knew Katherine Taylor. Is that who you're talking about?

EE:

No, Mrs. McGee, I think.

JN:

Oh, really? I didn't know that.

EE:

Then you also mentioned that you had run into a couple other WC women.

JN:

Well, I ran into one that was a class ahead of me. Her name was Sarah Kellar, we called her Sally, and she was the one that I met later on when I got up to WAVE training. By the way, if we hadn't passed WAVE training we would have taken a noncommissioned position, or resigned, I'm not sure which.

EE:

Were you worried about training before heading up that way? Had you done a lot of physical exertion beforehand? I mean, did somebody tell you to look out for it? You got great details in your letters, but were you worried about it?

JN:

No, that was like a college gym course when we got up there that was so strong. I couldn't believe they were giving us all those. I really felt for the people—See, I was right young and agile. I played a lot of tennis and a little golf and I was real active. Doing a lot of dancing, you know that's a lot of exercise. But I really felt for those who were in their thirties and forties that were in training. I thought that was real hard on them, I would think.

EE:

Most of the women up there about your same age?

JN:

No, they were all ages. I don't guess there was anybody over fifty, but I don't really know, to tell you the truth.

EE:

When you signed up, did you sign up with a particular assignment in mind? Did you request like to be close to home or far away from home, or doing a certain kind of work?

JN:

No, I didn't really know what it would be. I had no idea. Out of our class they took some to be recruiters and sent them all over the United States, sort of alone with—I thought that wouldn't have been too good for me. I'm glad they didn't pick me. I mean, I didn't need that.

EE:

You weren't persuaded then to join to—I think they had the campaign that the WAVES were the ones who had the “Free a Man to Fight” slogan. That was part of it for you?

JN:

Yeah, we were going to get the war over. We were going to do what we could.

EE:

So that was a motivating factor?

JN:

Yeah. I didn't expect to go overseas or anything like that. But our hearts were really in trying to get this war over. Yeah, it was all patriotic.

EE:

Well, tell me about your first day. You've told me a lot of details there. Was that the first time on a long train trip? How did you get back and forth from Red Springs, taking a bus or driving a car?

JN:

Well, we'd catch a ride with anybody that was going that way. You know, when I was at Peace I wanted to go home for the weekend, and I heard the governor was going to speak in Lumberton, and I called up to see if I could get a ride. [laughter] But they turned me down.

EE:

Those were different times then, yes.

JN:

I didn't talk to the governor, though.

EE:

That's pretty good. So had you ever been on a train before? Did you go up there by train, I guess?

JN:

Oh yeah, I had been on trains before. Well, actually, when I was called I had gone to—I didn't tell you this. I was real anxious to get out of Red Springs, and I needed to pay back this money I had borrowed to go State that summer. I had borrowed two hundred dollars from the bank, no interest, for education purposes. My cousin was the president of the bank, maybe that had something to do with it. Anyway, I was determined to pay that money back, so I worked a little bit around Red Springs for a doctor that was—his specialty was taking out tonsils. Then I left Red Springs. I just packed my suitcase and left.

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

JN:

Because they said they were not going to call us until February, and so I thought, “Well, I'm just going to get a job and work at what I know how to do.” So I went looking for a drafting job, and I went to Raleigh and they offered me a job with the highway department for something like seventy-four dollars a month. And they were doing me a favor, because they generally took only engineering college graduates for that job with the highway department as a draftsman. So I went on to Norfolk where I had a friend and stayed with a friend up there. And she was working in Portsmouth at the navy yard, and I got a job in Norfolk as a draftsman, and worked there until they called me in the navy, which they called me a lot earlier than I expected because I only worked there about—

EE:

So you signed up in July of '42, and when was it that you were actually called?

JN:

Well, I signed up in August, actually. They didn't call me—I think it was about the tenth of August, something like that, so they let me know about the first of December. So I had worked there for only six weeks—

EE:

Did they tell you it was going to be a wait? I mean, was that a normal delay?

JN:

Well, I thought at first I'd be called right away, and then they let us know that they'd call me in February. So then they called me, and I went in, two days before Christmas.

EE:

Of '43?

JN:

That was '42, still in '42. So I was in Norfolk and I wanted to see Shorty. [chuckling] I had the tickets from Red Springs. The navy had sent me tickets to Red Springs, vouchers or whatever they were, to go through New York out to Smith College in Massachusetts. But I decided that I would go out to see Shorty, so—

[Interview interrupted, tape paused]

JN:

Let's see, I was taking the train from Norfolk to St. Louis, and then out to Rollo, Missouri, to spend the weekend.

EE:

This is where he was stationed?

JN:

Yeah, he was in the army. By that time he'd gotten his officer's training and he was in the 121st Infantry of the 8th Division, and that's where they were stationed at the time. And so then when I left there I went to New York on the Pennsylvania Railroad. I hadn't been through most of those states. I got out of the train in Cincinnati, because I had to change in Cincinnati going out, to look out at Cincinnati from the train station. Because I always loved to travel and wanted to know all about places.

EE:

I was just there this summer. They've converted the train station to a couple of museums now.

JN:

Oh, they could. It was a glorious great big station, like a lot of them were. [chuckling]

EE:

Did you go through the Philadelphia station when you were there?

JN:

Well, we didn't stop in Philadelphia. I'm not sure. I know we went through Pittsburgh. I remember looking out. Pittsburgh was real smoky in those days and had a bad rap.

EE:

So, rather than coming from home, you came from the boyfriend directly to Smith.

JN:

Yes, and I never did get any recompensation, except from New York out to Massachusetts. I met a couple of GI guys on the train that were going back home to New York, and I never had been to New York, and, oh, they thought that was so funny. So I went from one station to the other in New York, and so they got me a taxi with the roof open so that I could rubberneck. [chuckling] They were so cute, they were. Because we were on the train for ages, it seemed like. I don't know how many hours we were late, because in those days they shuttled passenger trains off a side track while a lot of boxcars and stuff went by, trains and trains and trains. I think we were something like twelve hours late.

EE:

Were you late showing up the first day?

JN:

No! No, no, I had time to get there. I got there okay. So we got to the town that Smith's in, Northampton, and they put us in buses and took us over to—Oh, what's the name of it, college?

EE:

Smith?

JN:

No, they took us away from Smith. A lot of people were being trained at Smith, and that's where I thought I was going to be, but they took us over to South Hadley to—

EE:

Mount Holyoke.

JN:

Mount Holyoke, yeah. So there we were, and you know all about that because that's in that story from then on.

EE:

Yes, in the stories here.

JN:

So do you want me to go on from there?

EE:

Well, now this here, it looks like you've got, in addition to things, you've got some of these photos that some of your friends took of you. I see you've got the important notice that came through. Apparently, just as you arrived they changed the regulations on getting married.

JN:

Yeah. [chuckling] Everybody had tried to get us to get married when I was out there at Rollo.

EE:

Well, the way I understood it is if you got married that was pretty much your ticket out of having to stay.

JN:

That's right, you couldn't—

EE:

But you were looking to get married and still go off to service because your—

JN:

Well, if we might have gotten married, it would have upset my mother so not to be invited to her daughter's wedding, I'm sure. But it was wartime and we were crazy. I might have married him out there if I could have, but I already knew that if I got married I'd be out. But I didn't find out until I was there for several weeks that we got this “All-NAV” [Navy-wide bulletin] that had been approved just before I went.

EE:

And this is the training camp newsletter?

JN:

Yes. And my friend Sally Kellar had a lot to do with writing it.

EE:

“Wavelengths.” So this is the one that the students put together.

JN:

Yes.

EE:

I've seen copies of the ones that the—I guess the staff put together, the formal one that's a newspaper. And this may have been the predecessor to that, it sounds like, '42, Volume I, No. 4, it was just getting started. Now, tell me, do you remember the tune, because I have seen the song, do you remember the tune of the song that talks about “I don't need a man, except to tie my tie?”

JN:

No, I don't. I don't remember that one. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, I know that several people have talked about that song.

JN:

But I remember the one about “Don't make my girl a sailor.” [singing] “'Don't make my girl a sailor,' the dying mother cried. 'Make her a WAC or send her back to Lockheed's plant instead. She's always been a home girl, she's never been to sea. A man in every port is not the life she learned from me.'” [chuckling]

EE:

And the people all said, “Amen.” Thank you. That was very good, very good. Oh my. We already made mention of the fact that I thought at Chapel Hill even we had a few folks who we called in our own way what you called—Did you call them D-A-Rs or just DAR?

JN:

[chuckling] I hadn't remembered that until I found it in a letter.

EE:

Folks who threw the curve off, in other words.

JN:

Yeah.

EE:

Nobody wanted to study. It sounds like you went up there to—I guess from Red Springs —You didn't have a lot of snow at Red Springs, did you?

JN:

No.

EE:

That was probably the biggest snowfall you'd ever seen when you got there.

JN:

No, and I never had been in bitter cold that way.

EE:

I guess they told you, to some extent, what to bring.

JN:

They told us to be prepared, and I thought I was prepared because I had gloves. [chuckling] But they were not lined and they were—And I didn't have galoshes or anything.

EE:

So you didn't have a uniform as such issued to you until after you had been there for a while.

JN:

That's right.

EE:

There wasn't any standard-issued clothes. Everybody was dressed differently for drills and everything?

JN:

That's right, yeah.

EE:

So some girls had comfortable shoes, and I imagine some didn't?

JN:

That's right. And then too some girls had what they called stadium boots, which were nice, way up the leg, the kind of boots that fit over your shoes. And generally I would have something like galoshes, but that wouldn't have mattered because galoshes only went up, say, six inches, and the snow was two or three feet deep. It was the craziest thing out there on that field. I didn't even know it was a field. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, it's hard to imagine nowadays, of course, the women are fully integrated into the services and you figure when you join the service they're going to have a standard issue of everything from the beginning. But I could just imagine you all from all over the country coming in, probably most of you have never drilled before, and you're out there and everybody's got their own different outfits on and you're all trying to learn how to drill first thing in the morning.

JN:

Well, this was early, and I guess they didn't want to get you into uniform until you had gotten at least halfway through.

[Interview interrupted, tape paused]

EE:

Well, here we are back in Massachusetts. Are most of your instructors female, or male, or how does it work?

JN:

Both. The people that drilled us and so forth were mostly women, but our teachers were men, for the most part. See, the early class mostly was for administration of the WAVES, so the first class and the second class were mostly administrative kind of people and teachers. I expect anybody that was a phys[ical] ed[ucation] major, for instance, would have been in an earlier class.

EE:

You were taking classes in naval history, naval customs, ships, gunnery, planes. Did you have a head start, having already spotted planes? Or did you realize what you didn't know at the time?

JN:

Well, actually, a funny thing happened. I had taken a little local course in—a Red Cross course, I've forgotten what it was, some kind of defense course given by the Red Cross at that time, and this man came and talked to us and told us all about radar, how the coast was being protected by radar and so forth. At that time, you know, there were a lot of submarines off the coast, and anybody that went to the beach was coming back and talking about black tar and gasoline and stuff on the beach. But anyway, so I get up there and they say, “Now this is confidential, this is top secret, and we're going to tell you about radar.” So they did. I said, “But I knew about it already.” They were shocked. [chuckling]

EE:

That was a new thing during the wartime, they were developing radar.

JN:

Yes.

EE:

So you ended up staying how long? Was it six weeks or eight weeks that you ended up staying at Smith?

JN:

It was about six weeks, because we got out of there about the tenth of February and I had gone two days before Christmas.

EE:

Well, now you give a much fuller picture of—You know, most folks' impression of boot camp and basic training is rather stern, isolated from the rest of the world, and it sounds like that you all at least had a little bit of a life in addition to that. Did they let you go out in the evenings or weekends, or when did you get to see some of the other places?

JN:

Well, we went around on the weekends. We had time off. And we had part of the afternoon probably, in which we could go to town, into the little town there. Well, Mount Holyoke is part of the town, it's right in town, so we didn't have far to go to get a Coke or—And sometimes we'd go over to Smith, over to “Hamp,” they called it, and we took a bus then.

EE:

Yeah, the pictures to improve your posture makes me wonder about them. [laughter] Those were done by men or by women?

JN:

It was a man that took them.

EE:

Oh, I'm sure it's all in the name of science, I'm sure.

JN:

Well, it was strange.

EE:

It does sound strange.

JN:

But I understood they did it—They took those nude pictures, front and side, for the Smith students and some of the other colleges up there, and later on they were dickering about the negatives. Some famous people that had gone to school there were trying to find their pictures.

EE:

Oh yeah, I'm sure. You couldn't do that in today's day and age.

JN:

No, no.

EE:

How do you pronounce that designer's name who designed the WAVE uniform? Mainbocher [pronouncing it Main-bocker].

JN:

Mainbocher [pronouncing it Mine-boshay].

EE:

I haven't talked to anybody who did not like the uniform. I think everybody liked that uniform.

JN:

Oh yeah. It still looks good—I mean without any alterations, because it had padded shoulders in those days.

EE:

And I think you donated your dress white.

JN:

Yes, I sure did.

EE:

That's great. Well, thank you for that.

JN:

It was sort of—got little age spots on it, like my face does now. [chuckling]

EE:

And I must say that I very much agree with your song selection, Embraceable You. It's a great song. Do you remember any other things, any other songs or things that stick in your mind from then? It's different when you go into the war and have a—

JN:

Well, I have memories of songs about—I mean, I think that hearing songs can make you have an emotional feeling about a place so easily, and I can tell you when a lot of songs were popular, exactly when they were, because popular songs were real important in that time. You didn't hear a song until the movie was released, and then they'd let the song be known, because they were keeping it a secret until the movie came out. And so you would associate songs with things, but I don't remember any songs associated much with school, except things that I had known already. Because we were so busy, so filled up, I don't even remember listening to a radio. Maybe we didn't have one.

EE:

Well, you were not assigned to engineering, like you were afraid. What was your assignment after you finished?

JN:

Well, actually, they put me in Public Works, in the maintenance department of the Bureau of Aeronautics.

EE:

This was down in Washington?

JN:

Yes, because I could read blueprints. That was one of the things that they had asked for. Well, I never read a blueprint ever after that.

EE:

But somehow that implied some skill that they thought was important.

JN:

Yeah, I thought that they might use that skill. But as for being an engineer, toward engineering professionally, I was not competent because of the math, and never would be.

EE:

So what actually was your job at Public Works then? You said you didn't want to be a typist.

JN:

Well, what I was, was a messenger. I was an “expediter.” I took the place of a guy named Ellison. His nickname was Tor, I don't know what his first name was. He went to the University of Tennessee. His girlfriend was from Raleigh, a real cute gal, whose name I can't remember. But anyway he was being relieved. I was taking his place and he was leaving Washington. He went with MATS [Military Air Transport Service], actually, the navy transport, and went down to Patuxent River, Maryland. So he was in and out of Washington from then on. But he said, “This is just a great job. You're just going to love it.” But I was gung-ho to get the war over, and what it turned out to be was the very social business of my taking these directives around to get them signed so they could make contracts for the things that this office handled, which was to do with furnishing navy installations in the way of furniture and so forth. So they'd give me these directives and I'd go around to all these offices, rather than sending it through the mail system, which would take several days. And because I was young and sort of cute, they were real glad to sign things. [chuckling]

EE:

You got their attention.

JN:

I went in and I went up to the admiral's office, actually, Admiral Radford was his name, and they all smiled at me and signed it.

EE:

So Admiral Radford was the one in charge of this bureau?

JN:

He was in charge of the Bureau of Aeronautics. So I went up to the front office. We were in a temporary building behind the temporary building that had been built for World War I, which was—The Navy Department and the Army Department were side-by-side to begin with, right on Constitution Avenue. And they've all been removed now. It seems like a dream that this really happened, but there were all these buildings, and I was in Building N. I was on the same side of the reflecting pool on Constitution Avenue, so I didn't have that far to walk. And then after that they gave me a job of allocating double-deck bunks for BOQs [Bachelor Officers' Quarters] and stuff like that. And the girl next to me, who was also a WAVE who was in a later class, had fire extinguishers. And we wrote letters about them and allocated them here and there.

EE:

Now this was all done out of the Washington office?

JN:

All done out of the Washington office.

EE:

How long did you have the first job, messenger?

JN:

Oh, well, until I got really upset about it one day and they decided maybe they'd give me something a little more important to do. I guess maybe three or four months.

EE:

And then this other job of—Well, you were still an ensign? There was no change in your—

JN:

Yeah. Well, at that time promotion came by what they called “All-NAV”, and so that meant a bulletin to all the Navy. And in the “All-NAV” it would say, “Everybody that was commissioned as of February 10, 1942, is hereby raised in rank to the next level.”

EE:

Sort of like a seniority kind of thing.

JN:

So I got to be a jg [junior grade] later.

EE:

How long did you do the allocating bunks job?

JN:

Until an empire builder in another part—He was in maintenance but he wasn't in Public Works, he—I call him an empire builder because he was building up this department. He had three of us WAVES who were art majors doing presentations for—visual presentations. We could have been in any of those big magazines that had these beautiful graphs. We'd do things like that. And I was a jg by that time. I don't remember when I was raised in rank, but anyway the only really exciting and important thing that I ever did in the navy, professionally in the navy, was at that time they picked me out of there to go to an office off in another building with two admirals, a Wall Street guru, and a WAVES secretary type, and we worked on a plan to bomb Japan. It was a fleet plan. And I had these acetate sheets, and the admirals did the planning and it was decided where things would be, and so I put on these sheets of film-plotted where the fleet was and the air strikes and so forth. So each day I'd do another, laminate another one, for each day of the fleet action. And I never knew if it was ever used. I know that I was investigated at that time.

EE:

To make sure that you had clearance.

JN:

To make sure, yeah.

EE:

So you had top secret clearance?

JN:

Yeah, I had to have secret clearance, I guess. I never knew about it, I mean definitely, but I think I did.

EE:

You didn't hear tales from people back home saying, “What are you doing? They asked me about you”?

JN:

Well, no, I didn't see people from home much, although people came through. I lived like on the beach. I didn't tell you about living.

EE:

No, you didn't. So tell me about what your living accommodations were.

JN:

Oh, well, we had a great time in New York. We had to be in Washington in four days, was the thing. And we were put up in a hotel in downtown Washington, the Harrington, and we got together, started looking for a place to stay because they said we could get our own accommodations. So we fell in love with this section of—I say “we,” Sally Kellar was one of them, and I had a friend from Illinois and a friend from California and a friend from Florida, and we all got one room for five people in a rooming house on 16th Street. It wasn't the one we wanted to be in, but it was a real good-looking place.

It was a real funny bunch of girls, and one of them was real sort of—she was real cute, but she was real—she did things without thinking sometimes. So the girl from Florida didn't much approve of us because of this girl and because she thought we were silly. So she made arrangements to go somewhere else, and then we went into another house that was on New Hampshire Avenue, which was a couple blocks over toward Dupont Circle, for four of us in a front room. And we had a hard time getting this one girl to pull the shades down. We were on the first floor and it was sort of an L-room out from the house. And I found out later on it was well-known for peeping Toms in that area. It's all right, you didn't need to peep. You could see. [laughter] Well, we stayed there for a while. The girl from California's father died, so she got transferred to Alameda Naval Air Station, and so there were three of us left. The two other girls went over to Arlington and got an apartment, and I had a cousin from Lumberton that was up there. She was not a WAVE, she worked at the Senate, Senator [Josiah] Bailey's office, and so we got an apartment right off Dupont Circle on 20th Street, 1515 20th Street.

EE:

Great. So the four of you stayed there together. Did you stay in Washington the whole time of your WAVES service?

JN:

Yes, and some people put in to go—Later in the war you could go to Hawaii, and some people put in to go there, but otherwise the WAVES stayed in Washington. Now the navy nurses did not. They went where combat was happening, and they saw a lot more action. I felt that they were closer to the war than the rest of us.

EE:

So you were a couple months in—I guess you finished at Smith in what, March of '43? February? Probably February.

JN:

Uh-huh, it was February of '43.

EE:

Then probably by May you had switched out of being a messenger and were in this job assigning the bunks. And how long was that job until the next one with the fellow who was kind of pulling together the resources?

JN:

I don't know, it was probably eight or ten months. I don't know.

EE:

So you were working with the admirals and the Wall Street fellow on this bombing project in '44?

JN:

Yeah, '44 probably.

EE:

And all this time you were keeping in contact with your sweetheart?

JN:

Oh, well, I didn't tell you about that.

EE:

No.

JN:

Oh yeah. Well, after he left Rollo they went out to desert maneuvers, because things were still going on in Africa at that time and so they were training in the desert near Yuma, Arizona. He was sent back to school at Washington and Lee [College in Winchester, Virginia], so he got in touch with me on Tuesday and we got married on Saturday. [chuckling]

EE:

This was when, '44?

JN:

No, in '43.

EE:

Forty-three? Well, tell me about that.

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

EE:

All right, well, you are—April of '43.

JN:

Yes.

EE:

Did you invite your mom?

JN:

Oh yeah. [chuckling]

EE:

Okay. So you had time to get her up there, and you already had a cousin in the neighborhood. What about your brothers and sisters? You had one brother who was overseas?

JN:

One brother was in Panama by that time. He hadn't gone very far but he was in Panama. And you know, after I got in the navy I never saw or went on any kind of boat. I did fly on a shuttle plane to New York and back, and down to Patuxent River one time and back, but I never got on a ship after I got in the navy. But my brother had a fleet on Gatun Lake, [Panama]. He was in charge of supplies for these outfits, and he had all these boats. They weren't big ones but they—But we laughed about that: He joined the army and he had all these boats, and I joined the navy and never saw a ship. [laughter] But anyway I was telling you I found out Tuesday, and so I didn't know where we were going to get married. All of these telephone calls—

EE:

This was obviously a short-term course at Washington and Lee for specialist training or something.

JN:

Yes, it was for a month. He was there for a month, so we had a four-weekend honeymoon.

EE:

Two days at a time? Had to go back to work?

JN:

Yeah. [chuckling] I would go down to Lexington, or one time we met in Winchester.

EE:

Great. And your CO [commanding officer] wasn't worried that you were about to leave, or you were saying, “No, we're in the service till the end of the war”?

JN:

Yeah. Well, by that time it was all right to get married, see. So I got married in that uniform that I sent up to you.

EE:

That's right.

JN:

Yeah, that was my wedding dress. I haven't found that picture. I'm going to send you a picture.

EE:

Was your CO at the wedding?

JN:

No, the only people there—Now, Sally didn't go because her grandfather was retiring from the Lutheran ministry and she had already planned to come down to Gastonia. That's where he was, in Mount Holly. But the other two came. The girl that I was talking about—I'll call her Portia, that was her name, the one who the other girl thought was silly—Portia had been a photographer and so she took pictures with this big camera. You know the kind you slide plates in, that big box thing. They were real, real sharp pictures. So I'll have to find them.

EE:

This is the same woman who didn't know what INF [infantry?] was back at—

JN:

Yeah. [laughter]

EE:

So she had gotten a little bit better—[chuckling]

JN:

Well, she was good at the camera, the way she handled it. She was excellent, just excellent!

EE:

Well, that's great.

JN:

Yeah. So she and the one that was from Illinois were there, my WAVE friends. And a good friend of mine that I had stayed with in Norfolk, she came, and my mother and my sister came up from Red Springs. It was hard to get gas, see, so they had to—And I had a cousin from—oh, what's the name of the place? I can't say. Anyway she lived nearby, and her husband had been at VMI [Virginia Military Institute] and they were very familiar with Lexington, Virginia. So she and her sister-in-law came over and put on a real good dinner for us. And the minister's wife was from Red Springs, the Presbyterian minister, the Murrays. So we were not entirely alone. Because that would have been sort of sad to get married that way, really. I'm glad that we didn't get married in Rollo.

EE:

Well, now you had four weekends together?

JN:

Yes, and then he went back to the desert. So we saw each other on a ten-day leave at the end of the summer.

EE:

So he was not shipped overseas by the end of the summer?

JN:

No, he was shipped out the fourth of December. But before that he was in an infiltration course and a machine gun caught him in the arm. They were crawling through—He was a safety officer and he was the last one to go through, and this gun had been dropping rounds, and it's a wonder that somebody hadn't gotten killed. Anyway, he said he got four days leave. He came to Washington and he had four days leave. He said if he'd gotten killed he would have gotten five. [laughter]

EE:

Yeah, that sounds like military efficiency.

JN:

So he called me when he found out he was going overseas. He said, “Meet me in [New] Brunswick, New Jersey.” So I went up and we had a night in New York, took in all these nightclubs and stuff, and he was gone the next morning. I didn't see him until the war was over.

EE:

Where was he shipped out to?

JN:

He spent quite a bit of time in Ireland. They were on this estate, billeted on an estate, and then they went in to Omaha Beach—I guess it was Omaha—on July 4. So they weren't in the first wave, but they were in combat for ten months after that.

EE:

Did he have a chance to write to you during that? I guess they didn't really have time to write much, did they?

JN:

Yeah. He got a typewriter, by the way, somewhere along the way right when they first got into France. He said he “captured” a typewriter. It was an Underwood, I guess it was, and it had all German characters. It had the little umlaut and things on it. Back shift was in German and stuff like that. [chuckling]

EE:

So it really was a captured typewriter?

JN:

Yeah. And so he would write on that. He wrote real often, and they came—you know, they were V-Mail. But he never told me anything.

EE:

That's the Victory Mail? Victory Mail, where they reduce it down—

JN:

Yes, it was filmed and you got a copy.

EE:

Did you have the problem, like some people have said, about everything being blacked-out?

JN:

No, in fact, he was an officer and he blacked-out the people that he—He had to look at his men's mail.

EE:

In other words, he had to black-out his enlisted men's mail.

JN:

And so he never told me anything. And then after a bit he'd say, “I guess you know all about what we've been going through.” Well, I didn't know what army he was in because they were assigned to different armies from different times. So I just didn't know anything, until every now and then somebody would come back, either one of the officers had been wounded and came back and was in a hospital, Walter Reed for a while. And another one had been hit and had recovered and came back. He was at the Pentagon and he let me know when they were assigned to come back. He told me that. But you had to be careful what you were saying to people. We were well aware that loose tongues—

EE:

Loose lips sink ships.

JN:

Loose lips sink ships, yes.

EE:

On your work front, did you—It seems once you got to the last spot—did you enjoy your work in the military?

JN:

Well, now I didn't finish. Later on I was sent to another—I was in another office, where I was assigned to gun turrets for airplanes.

EE:

All right, I'm trying to imagine the bureaucracy that gives you this varied career path here.

JN:

So there were real engineers in this office.

EE:

You were still in the Bureau of Aeronautics?

JN:

I was still in maintenance, but this was in the maintenance of aircraft. So I had gotten out of double-deck bunks, and the empire builder had been reduced. [chuckling] So they needed somebody in this other office, so that's where I went.

EE:

And you stayed in that position until the end of the war?

JN:

Yes, that's where I was till the end.

EE:

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

JN:

And the day that the war ended, paper stopped coming across the desk. [chuckling]

EE:

Really?

JN:

Yeah.

EE:

You could tell?

JN:

Yeah, it was amazing.

EE:

This is the war in Europe or just the war in Japan?

JN:

The war in Europe.

EE:

Do you remember where you were on VE Day, the parties afterwards?

JN:

Oh yes. By that time—VE-Day, yeah—I sang in a choir, in Peter Marshall's choir at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, because I couldn't get a seat in church, so I joined the choir.

EE:

To make sure you'd get one.

JN:

Yeah, because he was a very great speaker, very, and he was wonderful. So we were told that if—We all knew it was coming. When VE Day—when it came, we were to come to church and there was going to be—Both choirs, they had two choirs, both choirs were to be there for the service. And so when it came, we went to church [chuckling] to give thanks for it being over.

EE:

That's great.

JN:

I remember mostly the day that [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt died, which was very shortly before that, which was a terrible occasion for all of us. I was right near where I lived and crossing the street, and somebody had been to this drugstore where I was headed and they said, “We just heard the news that Roosevelt died.” And, oh, it was a terrible feeling. It was about like your father had died. You know, everybody felt that way.

EE:

Well, it was so close to the end of the war, and people knew it was coming.

JN:

Yeah, and people were so fond of him, all except for certain financiers in New York. [chuckling]

EE:

Any of your Wall Street courier friends?

JN:

Well, they took his body through Washington, I guess to the White House, and then they went up to Hyde Park. But just everybody got out there, crying and everything, as it came through and went down Constitution Avenue. And I had a terrible cold, my roommate was in the hospital, and it was a terrible day, just a terrible day.

EE:

When you and your husband got married, did you go back to living with your roommates or did you go get a place of your own?

JN:

Well, he wasn't there any time.

EE:

Right, so you just went back?

JN:

Well, when he came back from overseas, he came back in July, he had thirty days leave, so they gave me thirty days too, let me take my thirty days.

EE:

This is July of '45?

JN:

Yeah. And so the day that we got back, we were having dinner at my apartment—my roommate had gone to stay with friends while he was there—and we were having dinner there with another guy that was in the army with him. They were going out to Fort Meade the next day to go back to Rollo and then on to the Pacific. They were all ready to go. This was coming next, they were going to invade Japan. So we were sitting there, and all of a sudden there was all this traffic noise. How unusual this time of day. You heard traffic at rush hour but you didn't hear it any other time because people didn't drive around anywhere unless they had to. So we went and turned the radio on to find out what was happening. Because people were actually driving fast enough around corners to squeal the tires. Nobody did that, because if you gave out a tire you were out of tires till the end of the war.

EE:

This was the announcement that VJ [Victory in Japan] Day had come?

JN:

You parked your car if your tires gave out till the end of the war, because you couldn't get another tire.

[Interview interrupted, tape paused]

JN:

I don't know whether I can tell you, this is my second husband standing here.

EE:

That's all right. I want to ask you about church. I haven't met anybody who was in Peter Marshall's church. You were Presbyterian, so that part—

JN:

Well, I was a Presbyterian, and I knew of him, I'd heard him speak before. While I was in high school, I guess, he came to Flora MacDonald to something there, a week of enrichment, and I had heard him talk. He was just fascinating. He had a way about him that he brought you to laughter and to tears in every sermon. He had dramatic training when he was younger, and so that was sort of how he did. And he had this beautiful Scottish accent, too.

EE:

And you were trying to go to his congregation on a regular basis, and decided to join the choir just so you could make sure you'd get a seat?

JN:

That's right, and I'm sorry I didn't join the church, because—I didn't. I still had my membership in Red Springs because I thought they needed me there, my name there.

EE:

Well, you had been a soprano, so—

JN:

And so when I came to Charlotte and got my letter transferred, they didn't know who I was in Red Springs. [laughter]

EE:

Been away so long—

JN:

I could have said I belonged to this New York Avenue Church, and I can't ever say that now. But I was in the choir. The choir was in the back of the church, by the way, like the balcony, part of the balcony, and we faced Peter Marshall. He would come in, and when we would sing an anthem before his sermon, he sat there with the expression on his face that you knew your singing was inspiring him. It was just a wonderful feeling, it really was, to be there in that church.

EE:

He gave this service at the end of VE Day, and you said you were with your husband, with friends, on what sounds like VJ Day.

JN:

On VJ Day, yeah.

EE:

And heard the squeal of tires and knew that people were ready to celebrate something. And I imagine this was a great relief for you, knowing that he was about ready to go over there.

JN:

Yeah.

EE:

That was what everybody—and I guess people did not know, the public did not know that we had developed the atom bomb. Everybody assumed they were going to be going.

JN:

Well, you and I say to ourselves, “How horrible to blow up these cities and all these women and children and old people and everything, how horrible.” But people like Mac and his brother, “Let it happen. It saved my life,” they say, because they were out in the Pacific. They were in the navy.

EE:

And the casualties would have been a lot higher, sure.

JN:

And it saved my first husband's life, too, because invading that island would be perfectly terrible.

EE:

Every inch would have been a mess. That happened in August, I guess it was.

JN:

That was in August.

EE:

I think the first bomb was the sixth, the second was the ninth, and I think by the fourteenth they had given up and said that was it.

JN:

Right, it was about the thirteenth, I think, wasn't it?

EE:

The thirteenth. So I imagine it was a pretty good celebration that night, I'm sure.

JN:

Oh, yeah.

EE:

I imagine you may not have gone to church that night. [laughter]

JN:

No, I don't think that we had that planned. I don't remember that. I had been gone for thirty days anyway, because we had come down to North Carolina. But after that he got out.

EE:

Pretty quickly?

JN:

Yeah, he had a lot of points, of course, and you got out by points. And they let me get out, compassionate leave.

EE:

So the folks with the most points got out the quickest?

JN:

Yeah.

EE:

What was his rank when he was in?

JN:

He was a full lieutenant, and I was a jg. Well, I went to get out of the navy, and if I had waited—I got out on Friday. If I had waited till Monday I would have outranked him. See, I was a jg, and I would have been a full lieutenant, so I would have outranked him. So I thought, “Well, it's just as well.”

EE:

Did you remind him of that in future years, “I could have, but I chose not to”? [chuckling]

JN:

No, but I know it would have not been good. It would have sort of hurt. A lot of people went out—

EE:

He was discharged in when, September of '45?

JN:

No, it was October, I guess.

EE:

October? And then you left?

JN:

And he came to Washington and we came home. Well, he had come home and got a car.

EE:

And you were discharged in '45 as well?

JN:

Yeah. It was about November. November 8, I think it was, something like that. So I didn't have enough leave or anything that would go over that “All-NAV”, so out, kaput. And actually I didn't get discharged, I was put on reserve.

EE:

So did you ever think about making a career out of the military?

JN:

Well, no, but I was afraid I was going to be called in in Korea. And I was pregnant at the time, so I asked somebody what I should do, laughing, and they said, “You'd better get out because they're liable to call you in.” So I did. I had a first cousin that was called in, but she was single.

EE:

And your husband was not thinking about making the military a career?

JN:

He said, “I'll sign anything that says 'out,'” because they were giving higher ranks to anybody that said they might stay.

EE:

I know I was talking with somebody, I guess, who was at Pearl Harbor, and she said all the guys over there could talk about was 52/50 [$50 for 52 weeks]. They didn't want to go to GI Bill, they didn't want to get any advanced training, they just wanted to go home for fifty-two weeks and get fifty dollars. It was fifty a month, I think, or something like that. It was obscenely low, but just enough to pay expenses. And then that's all they wanted to do was just take a break. When you were in the service, do you think you were treated equally with men? You replaced a man in your position.

JN:

Yes, and I had the same salary and same rank, and I was treated very well, I thought. Maybe girls today wouldn't think so that much. But when I got out I expected women to take their place where I had been. And I was so surprised later on. See, I got out of the workforce and I came home and raised three children. And I was very surprised, even as late as when I went back to work in about '67. I got a job when my youngest child was sixteen or seventeen, and I was surprised. They said, “A woman be a draftsman? How strange!” And everywhere I went, “Do you type?” This was before computers were important.

EE:

When you got out of the service, what did you do, go right back to another job? What kind of work did you do after?

JN:

When I got out of the service I came home and started raising children. I got pregnant right away.

EE:

So you got out of the labor force then.

JN:

I had a baby in August of '46.

EE:

What's the hardest thing you had to do, either physically or emotionally, when you were in the service?

JN:

Well, I don't remember anything being all that hard in service. It was all the concern about my husband overseas. The hardest thing was living in Washington and the heat in the summer. That was hard. Particularly the first summer, because they had us in a twill uniform. It was a shirt with a tie at the neck.

EE:

In the summertime.

JN:

In the summertime. It was lighter than the wool uniform, at least, but it was just hot enough to make you faint. You'd get out there, try to get on one of those buses outside the Navy Department, all that bus smell and all that heat, and it was so hot. That was the worst part. And it was bad, too, because it was very damp. I'd roll my hair up, and by the time I got into the Navy Department the curl would have come out, and we were not supposed to have our hair over our collar. [chuckling]

EE:

I've heard that one before. I mean, there had to be some rule about that. Now the question I have to ask is: What was your most embarrassing moment?

JN:

Well, actually I was embarrassed about this. While we working in this special deal with the two admirals and so forth, the other WAVE that was in there was an ensign, and she always went to lunch early and I went late. And so one day I went early and I said, “Well, I am going to be an ensign and go and go to lunch early.” So I grabbed the wrong jacket. I really did pick the ensign jacket. And I didn't realize it till I got out. I felt like such a fool. [chuckling] That was an embarrassing moment.

EE:

Did you have an officers' club right there in the complex that the Naval Personnel—

JN:

A club?

EE:

Yes.

JN:

No, they didn't have a club. I never went to any, except—No, no club.

EE:

Were you ever afraid?

JN:

No, it was just so—I was too dumb, I guess. But we went out any hour of the day or night and didn't feel afraid. I'll tell you something I haven't mentioned, the culture of Washington, how great it was, all the things that were available to me there to go to. I had enjoyed the concert series when I went to Peace and when I went to WC, and here was a concert series every day of the week there.

EE:

World-class as well.

JN:

Yeah, all these great things coming to—So I got symphony tickets and went to all the symphony concerts.

EE:

After you got married, did you go out socially with the other women you were with, or did you go pretty much on your own? How did that change?

JN:

Yeah. Well, people would be coming through, and I'd go out a lot with people that came through Washington, whether it was male or female. I didn't have any prying eyes, so nobody said I couldn't. Actually, I was having a ball that way, especially before I got married. In fact, I had two other invitations for the same weekend that I was to get married. [laughter]

EE:

You said, “I've got to prioritize here my social calendar.” I guess getting hitched probably goes to the top. The food's better, anyway. [chuckling]

JN:

Something interesting, the weekend we met in Winchester right after I'd gotten married, it was the first time I'd ever seen television. And there was a sort of a jukebox kind of thing that had these—what we call videos now, I guess, on it. It was sort of corny dancing to the tunes that were popular then. I remember String of Pearls was one of them. It was sort of a Rockettes kind of thing, dancing to them.

EE:

Did you see any of the big bands when you were in D.C.?

JN:

Oh yeah, the movies. You'd go to the movies and they had some kind of big performance in between. But the big bands by that time had all gotten in the service. There weren't any big bands around.

EE:

I know Glenn Miller was overseas—

JN:

They would—but I saw—Let's see some of the things that I saw—

EE:

Artie Shaw?

JN:

Well, they were gone. I didn't see them.

EE:

They were all USO [United Service Organizations][?].

JN:

Either the people had gotten in or they were giving USO shows. A lot of time during the war they didn't do any recordings either because of the ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] fiasco, whatever that was. In fact, churches had to be blanked out. Churches broadcasting had to be blanked out if they played an ASCAP number, if the choir sang an ASCAP number during a broadcast. They had to dub in something else during that time. And about the only new records you had were Ink Spots because they didn't have any other instruments with them. And Dinah Shore. It seems to me like that's all the new records you ever got. [chuckling]

EE:

It was Dinah Shore and the Ink Spots, huh? [chuckling]

A simple question, do you think you contributed to the war effort?

JN:

Well, I don't know. I had a good time with it, and I felt like I was doing something, but all the way through I felt like I could be doing something more important. And I had a good friend that had gotten into being an instructor, a naval instructor, had been at naval air stations instructing aviators, you know, and I thought that was more important than what I did.

EE:

So you think maybe the WAVES could have used you and other women better?

JN:

Well, I don't know. This was the attitude when things got slow around, and I got this from a guy that had come up, that had been commissioned. He had been a noncommissioned officer and he had gotten commissioned, and he said, “Well, I'm here to do something if there's something to do.” And this was the attitude sometime. I felt like there was a lot of slow time.

EE:

Well, “Hurry up and wait,” has been standard military procedure for some time, I recall.

JN:

Yeah. And he said, “I'm sitting out my twenty.” [chuckling]

EE:

Yeah, that too. Who were some of your heroes or heroines from that time period?

JN:

Well, of course, we heard of the first guy that lost his life. His name was Kelly, Purdy Kelly or Kelly Purdy, or something like that. He was an aviator and had a little son. Of course we went to movies. They were the heroes, too.

EE:

So movie stars?

JN:

And I saw a few movie people around Washington. Eddie Albert, I passed the office he was in. We'd go in through the Navy Department to get to my building every day, and I saw him occasionally. Oh, Robert Montgomery opened the door for me one day entering, like a gentleman, because he worked in the Navy Department. Henry Fonda came to work in the Navy Department at one time, but they moved him out very shortly. He didn't stay there long. He went over to the Bureau of Personnel like we all did, to leave his papers, his transfer papers, and people came out of offices and followed him down the hall and stuff. That was just so silly.

EE:

Well, I had a woman last week I was talking with who, except for her husband was listening to our conversation and kind of surprised us, “Oh yes, I danced with Hank Fonda.” [laughter] She didn't reveal any details in front of him, but she said she remembered that.

JN:

Oh well, I'll bet she would, I'll bet she would.

EE:

Do you think the country's mood—I mean, how would you describe it most of the time? We asked about yourself, but do you think most of the folks were afraid, were they determined, anxious? What do you think most of the country was feeling during the wartime?

JN:

Great anxiety for the local boys who were in combat and so forth.

EE:

You just really didn't know what was going on, did you?

JN:

No. Couldn't know. There'd be information about the battles and so forth after they were all over, but like I said, we didn't know who was where or whether they were in it.

EE:

Having gotten married in the service and then so glad it was over with, I imagine you had a pretty easy transition to civilian life. You were ready for that?

JN:

Oh yes, we had a great time. We were early back, so we bought a house right away.

EE:

So you moved back to Charlotte?

JN:

Uh-huh, moved back to Charlotte. So we moved into this house the first of January, so we had—

EE:

Of '46?

JN:

Of '46. And then people were coming—My husband was from here, so he knew so many people, and we'd all get together on Saturday nights and have a grand time and welcome people back. And they were having trouble getting clothes. My husband had to get a brown suit. He never liked brown because he couldn't get anything else. And it was hard getting appliances. We had an old drink box that we used for an icebox on our back porch that we put a blanket and a tarp over to keep it cool for a long time before we could get a refrigerator. Then we got a secondhand refrigerator.

EE:

Right, just everybody was coming back and wanting to get—

JN:

Yes, didn't have a stove. We had a two-burner kerosene stove, and didn't have an oven for a long time. But—

EE:

But compared to where you were, it was pretty good.

JN:

Oh yeah, we were glad to be back. But other people had such a hard time getting places to live. Actually, a neighbor had wanted to know if we would rent a room for her son and his wife, which I would have been glad to, but Shorty was not for it. Ed was not for it: “No, don't want anybody in.”

EE:

What kind of impact do you think the military experiences had on your life? In the short run and long run.

JN:

Well, of course I had a lot of confidence. I expected a lot of myself. Also, it's always given me some pride to say that I had been in. People are impressed when they hear it.

EE:

When you came back, were there a lot of folks in the area who had been in?

JN:

Not a whole lot, not a whole lot. Most of the girls—wives had stayed home during the war, that were married. There were very few, comparatively speaking, that were in the service. They have a little museum in Red Springs now and they wanted to do something about all the military, and I couldn't think of but one other person that was in the military, and she was in the WACs—from Red Springs, that is.

EE:

So your life has been different because of your military experience?

JN:

Yeah, it has been different.

EE:

In a positive way?

JN:

Yes.

EE:

So would you do it over again?

JN:

If I were that age, yeah, I'd do it again. I sure would. I'll tell you, I didn't want to be back home. I wanted to be doing something. Get this war over!

EE:

Some people have said their experience made them more independent. It sounds like you were pretty independent to begin with, and the military gave you a vehicle to be productive with.

JN:

Yeah. The only thing that hampered my independence was the lack of money. [chuckling]

EE:

That gets most of us, I'm afraid. I think a lot of us would be more independent if we had more cash.

JN:

As soon as I got enough money, I started going to things.

EE:

Well, you were doing it before you could get in trouble. See, now folks just use their credit card. Then they just get in debt.

JN:

Yeah, that's right, that's bad.

EE:

You've said once or twice today that you had a little bit of maybe a feminist in you. Do you consider yourself a trailblazer or a pioneer when you think about what you did in the military, being a woman going into a man's world?

JN:

Yeah, I do. And actually I come from independent women. My mother was pretty much independent. And my grandmother was, too. It's funny to explain how they were independent and yet talked such subservience to their husbands, particularly my grandmother.

EE:

Maybe that's the key, talk subservience and be independent after.

JN:

Well, yes. But when she got married she gave up a teaching career that had been pretty strong. In fact, my grandmother had been in the first summer school that admitted women at Carolina.

[Interview interrupted, tape paused]

JN:

Oh, I'll tell you something, by the way, that might be interesting, too.

EE:

Go right ahead. Well, you can tell me a lot of things if you want to.

JN:

I was so sick of navy cloth that I wouldn't wear it for a long time after—I guess it's maybe in the last ten years that I allowed myself to have something that's navy blue. But during the war I would buy all these bright and interesting-colored underclothes. [laughter]

EE:

Something to go against the drab.

JN:

Because you never went out of uniform. It was sort of against the law. And also unless you were on recreation of some sort, like playing tennis or swimming. So I had a yellow slip with —[chuckling]

EE:

Just anything for variety.

JN:

Rosebuds on it and all sorts of things. [laughter]

EE:

Did any of your kids join the military?

JN:

No.

EE:

How did they feel about the military?

JN:

Well, they were glad that their numbers were high when Vietnam came along. They lucked it out, they really did, because they could have been in.

EE:

What did you feel about your daughters? Would you let them join the military? Would you be approving of that?

JN:

I would have been glad if my daughter had, but she ran off and got married when she was eighteen. So I would have been glad if she'd run off and joined the navy. I think that'd be better. [chuckling] But everything turned out all right. Everything turned out all right.

EE:

You can't do it for then, unfortunately.

JN:

That's right.

EE:

Just about three months ago, for the first time in the history of the military, our government sent women in to fly combat missions in Iraq. What do you think of that?

JN:

Well, I think if you join the navy and you take that kind of training, you should expect to use it. And I think they're much less likely to use it if women—I've been sort of shocked at some of the decisions that our secretary of state has honed in on. But I think that women in general would be more cautious about combat.

EE:

We'll find out with Kosovo.

JN:

Yeah. I had another thought about women. Well, go on.

EE:

Well, I was just wondering, when you came back to Charlotte, you were out of the workforce basically after that point?

JN:

Yes.

EE:

So you raised your—How many kids altogether, three?

JN:

Three.

EE:

Three, two boys and a girl?

JN:

Yes.

EE:

And then your first husband passed away?

JN:

Yeah, he passed away in '87.

EE:

And you got married about what, five years ago? How long ago was it?

JN:

Three years ago, three and a half.

EE:

Wonderful.

JN:

Actually, I had met him and knew him before I met my first husband, and he had found somebody else, much to my disturbance.

EE:

So it took a while, but you—Did you stay in contact with him?

JN:

But I didn't mourn for very long. [laughter] Because that's about the time I met my first husband.

EE:

Well, one must do what one must do. So did you keep in contact in the intervening years?

JN:

[No.]

EE:

How did you find one another?

JN:

Well, I knew where he was. [chuckling] We had mutual friends.

EE:

Okay. That's a nice—

JN:

But I hadn't seen him.

EE:

So when I ask the question, “How would your life be different without the military?”, there's a really big difference. That's two husbands right there.

JN:

Yeah. Well, everybody was in the military. I couldn't have married anybody that wasn't in the military hardly, I don't think. By the way, I really felt that what I did was less important than what men did during the war, because they were in combat and places of danger. And for a long time I wouldn't have told these things, I wouldn't have been interested in telling them, because what I would get—My first husband never talked about the military. He had been through hell and he never wanted to talk about it. He might have told me something one time, never repeated it, and if I said anything about what had happened to me in Washington, it would be like, “Duh, now you had a hard time,” kind of attitude from men. And so I felt that what I had done was not that important. And I was very happy about this women in military monument in Washington.

EE:

That might be one of the reasons it's been a while since we've—We've not gotten the stories of people in World War II, I think, because there's been so much, and rightfully so, so much has been made of all the sacrifices that the men made that that story really hasn't been told. Did you go up there for the dedication?

JN:

Yes, sure did. Right there. [chuckling]

EE:

So you punched your name in and they have your picture up there on—

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

EE:

Thank you, Mrs. Nisbet, for being with us today and sharing so much of a wonderful life with us.

[End of the interview]