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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Elizabeth Williams, 1999

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Object ID: WV0058.5.001

Description: Documents Elizabeth Williams’s family history; studies at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, UNCG); service for the Red Cross in the United States and abroad; and post-war work with the Junior Red Cross and as a teacher.

Summary:

Williams discusses her family history in detail, mentioning that her sister attended UNCG and both her grandmother and mother were also well educated. She briefly mentions her own time at the Woman’s College, including the dorms, Katherine Taylor, and social or extracurricular activities.

The majority of the interview covers Williams’s time serving in the Red Cross from 1943 to 1952. She recalls being rejected from the U.S. WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service); poor treatment and housing conditions at Camp Patrick Henry; and the train rides between locations. Discussion primarily focuses on her time spent abroad. Williams extensively documents club work in Morocco; being stationed in a combat zone in Manduia, Italy; serving in China during the war between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung; and finishing her time abroad in Japan. Anecdotes include rides on the SS Mariposa; transferring supplies to Italy; seeing friends and relatives in Italy; attending dances; the birth of her nephew at the time of Roosevelt’s death and VE Day; VJ Day in Washington, D.C.; bonding with the GIs; vacation time in Europe; and seeing Chinese women’s bound feet.

Other topics include working for the Junior Red Cross in Kentucky and Virginia and her teaching career. Williams also comments on famous figures from the wartime; servicemen with wives and girlfriends; the pain of losing soldiers; and her feelings about women in combat.

Creator: Elizabeth Williams

Biographical Info: Elizabeth Williams (1916-1999) of New Bern, North Carolina, served primarily overseas as a Red Cross club director from 1943 to 1952, then had a long career as a teacher in New Bern.

Collection: Elizabeth Williams 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:

My name is Eric Elliott, and today is March 29, 1999, and I'm at the home of Elizabeth Williams. Tell me, is this pronounced “Glou-cester” or “Glou-chester,” or how do you pronounce it?

EW:

“Gloster.”

EE:

“Gloster,” just like they do in England.

EW:

Like Dr. Foster.

EE:

Sounds good. Well, I'm at the home of Elizabeth Williams in Gloucester, North Carolina, and thank you for having us here today. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG]. Miss Williams, as I told you, we're just going to go through about thirty questions, and I have a feeling in the course of our conversation I'll probably have a few more just to follow up. But I'll start out with you like we do with everybody, and just if you could tell us a little bit about where you were born and where you grew up.

EW:

I was born in New Bern [North Carolina], and I grew up in New Bern and Gloucester.

EE:

New Bern, in Craven County, up the road. Tell me a little bit about your family. Did you have any brothers and sisters?

EW:

Well, I've outlived just about everybody. My sister died a couple of years ago. I had no brothers.

EE:

And she was an older sister or younger sister?

EW:

She was an older sister. She was the one who went to North Carolina College for Women [now UNCG]. So that's the third name.

EE:

They've gone through about half a dozen, I think.

EW:

I went to North Carolina College for Women, then Woman's College [WC]. I didn't change but they changed the name. [chuckling]

EE:

Tell me about your parents for a minute. Where were they from, what did they do?

EW:

They were from New Bern.

EE:

They were both from New Bern?

EW:

My father's people came from down here from-I think they all moved to New Bern about 1850, and left one aunt, my daddy's—I think it was my daddy's great-aunt, down here. She was a tutor and a companion to an invalid lady. The lady died, and the man married her to keep her on with his little surviving son. And the man died and the son inherited. Then the son died and he left everything to my aunt, my great-great-great-I don't know.

EE:

And that's this piece of property we're sitting on right now?

EW:

That's this piece.

EE:

So this property is in the family at least back to the 1850s then?

EW:

Yeah, before 1850.

EE:

Before 1850. So your dad met your mom in New Bern?

EW:

Yes, they grew up in New Bern.

EE:

Okay, so they knew each other growing up and got married?

EW:

I've always thought it was rather interesting because it was not an elopement, but they apparently—I don't know whether my father's family didn't want him to marry her, or my mother's family didn't want her to marry him, but they sent him to Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

EE:

This was in New York State?

EW:

Yes, and sent her to Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, where she had an aunt. And when they came home they got married.

EE:

So they sent them to two different parts of the country and it still didn't keep them apart. ]

EW:

No.

EE:

Well, that's just like young people, you can't tell them what to do.

EW:

You can't tell them what to do.

EE:

What did your dad do for a living?

EW:

My dad was part of a family company called Meadows Company. He was superintendent of a fertilizer factory which is part of Meadows Company.

EE:

Okay, what about your mom?

EW:

Mother was a homemaker until the Depression, and then she worked at Belk's. And then she went with a church and established a tea room, which became a little restaurant, which she ran the rest of her life. She died in '38.

EE:

You told me that she went to NCCW. What was it when she went? She went to Normal [State Normal and Industrial College]?

EW:

Her sister went to—Let's see, my daddy's sister went to the school when it was founded. I don't think she was in the first class, but she was in about the first group.

EE:

What was her first name, do you remember?

EW:

Elizabeth. I was named after her.

EE:

So you're named for her, okay.

EW:

Elizabeth Temperance Williams.

EE:

Temperance? Are you Methodist, by any chance? [chuckling]

EW:

She was. I'm Episcopalian.

EE:

I was going to say, that sounds like a Methodist name for that time period. [chuckling]

EW:

Well, it came over with her—I think it was her great-aunt, about 1840 from England with Thomas Williams, who became the founder of the Williams side of my family, her son. And they lived on the corner of Craven and South Front Street.

EE:

So your folks both went to college. Your sister—Let's see now, when did you move to Gloucester? You said you were born in New Bern, when did you move back to here?

EW:

Well, they kept this place—Well, they set it up in 1900 after my great-great-great-aunt died. They set it up for the men. They brought horses down and they hired a huntsman who took them hunting in the winter. And then, I think in 1900, they refurbished it. They built the kitchen. It was an old house, so it didn't have any kitchen.

EE:

Right, it would have been outside in another building.

EW:

And so they built the kitchen wing on in 1900. And after that the men came down with the children and left the women and the children down here in the summer. And each family had one month.

EE:

So that was the way it was until you went off to school?

EW:

Well, the Depression. In the Depression they lost it. My uncle, my daddy's brother, had a job with a steamship company, and he bought it to keep it from going out of the family. He bought it and then he gave it to one of his daughters. And I don't know why she couldn't keep it, I think she had a sorry husband, and she was about to lose it, and my sister—I was still in the Red Cross, my sister found out about it and asked me if I wanted to buy it. I did. So I bought it in 1952. Well, it was before that because I kept—I bought it, but I couldn't get it because she didn't want her husband to have any part of the property. She certainly didn't want him to have any of her cash. And so every time he got hooked up with a woman, he'd call her and say, “Have you divorced me yet? Well, don't divorce me because I don't want to marry this woman.” [laughter]

EE:

I think I've got some relatives like that. Having too much fun. [chuckling]

EW:

I thought she would never get rid of him. [chuckling] Oh my.

EE:

Well, let's see, how much older was your older sister than you?

EW:

Four years.

EE:

Four years? So she went off to NCCW in '28?

EW:

She went to St. Mary's [College, in Raleigh]. See, we were affluent in 1928, or '25. She went two years at St. Mary's, and then she went the last two years to Woman's College, NCCW.

EE:

So she did not want to voluntarily go to NCCW? That was just something that the Depression brought on that she had to do?

EW:

Well, she probably would have gone there, because where else would she go after? She'd have to have gone somewhere.

EE:

Oh, St. Mary's was just a two-year back then?

EW:

Two years.

EE:

Okay. Because I had talked with some other folks who were transfer students into—I guess WC later on, and they said it was always tough on them being transfers. They didn't know anybody coming in. Socially it was hard

.
EW:

She felt that way, too.

EE:

You went to high school, I guess, in New Bern. Did you like school?

EW:

Yeah.

EE:

What was your favorite subject in school, do you remember?

EW:

Talking. [laughter]

EE:

You're like my sister.

EW:

I didn't have a favorite subject. I just couldn't stand math. I never have been able to do math, but I liked to read. I liked all the social studies, and that's what I taught.

EE:

You sound like you, because of your mama's situation and your family's, you might have been predisposed to go to NCCW all along. Or were you? Did you think of anyplace else to go to school?

EW:

I had never even thought about it, because when the time came to go they didn't know whether they could send me or not. They didn't have any money. Somebody, a friend of my mother's, gave her the money to send me the first year.

EE:

It was very important to them that you did go to college?

EW:

Yes.

EE:

They didn't want their troubles to affect you in going to college.

EW:

Well, they felt like they had been educated. My grandmother went to college, my mother's mother.

EE:

Very unusual.

EW:

Well, I think my father's mother was, too, because she taught school. So I think they felt very strongly about education.

EE:

What did your dad do after the Depression wiped out the fertilizer business?

EW:

He got a job with the state as an inspector for—We used to tease him because we called it the “Lord Privy Council.” He inspected all the new privies that were being built, septic tanks, and that sort of thing.

EE:

Let's see, you would have headed off for NCCW in '33?

EW:

Thirty-three to thirty-seven.

EE:

You stayed on campus when you were there? Which dorm, do you remember?

EW:

Didn't have them yet. I stayed the first year in Mary Foust. The next year—

EE:

That was a new dorm, I guess.

EW:

Oh yes.

EE:

What's the one right across? They built two of them together.

EW:

New Guilford. I stayed there my junior year. Sophomore year I stayed in Cotton, and my junior year I stayed in New Guilford, and my senior year I stayed in Woman's [dormitory].

EE: What was your major when you were at NCCW?
EW:

I majored in social studies and an English minor.

EE:

Do you have any favorite professors or classes you remember?

EW:

I always remember Miss Taylor, Katherine Taylor. I had her-I don't think I was much younger than she was when I had her in French. And they always teased me because she said to me, “You are innately lazy!” And I said, “No, I'm not, I was just born that way.” [laughter] And they said, “She didn't do anything to you about being sassy because she knew you didn't know any better.”

EE:

Just born that way. [chuckling]

EW:

I liked her. She was the house mother in New Guilford the year I was in New Guilford. And the last time I saw her—The last time I went to Greensboro I stopped by there. She was dean of women, and I stopped in to see her. She said, “Come out here, I want to show you the ugliest building in the state. It's our superlative.” And we went out and [she] showed us that building, McIver. She said, “That's our superlative, and it is ugly!” [chuckling] I think New Bern competed on a couple, but—I enjoyed Woman's College.

EE:

Had North Spencer already had the fire when you were there? They were awful worried about having cooking in the rooms and fires. Did you all have the same speech about don't cook in the rooms, that kind of thing?

EW:

They were scared to death of Spencer for the whole time I was there, but I don't think anything happened till after I was gone.

EE:

What did you all do for a social life back then? It was a little different, the campus being all women.

EW:

Didn't have any social life. Every now and then one of the societies, the Adelphian or—I can't think what the other one was. I was an Adelphian because my aunt was an Adelphian. And they'd have a party. Well, they had something maybe once a year. [chuckling]

EE:

Not enough.

EW:

Well, the boys didn't have any cars. They didn't have any money for buses.

EE:

That's true. Well, yeah, you were—

EW:

They had to be really struck to come up there.

EE:

So you didn't have any that were really struck on you at the time?

EW:

I didn't have any problems. No, I don't remember ever feeling the lack of parties or anything like that.

EE:

You graduated in '37. Your degree was in social studies, or what was the degree in? Do you remember what it was?

EW:

Oh, I've forgotten. I guess it was in social studies and a minor in English.

EE:

What were you planning on doing with that? Were you going to come back to New Bern? Were you heading out to the world? What did you want to do?

EW:

I had no plans at all. As far as I was concerned, I'd have been just as happy to stay home with Mother and Daddy. I loved my family.

EE:

Did you get to see them much? You probably didn't get to see them too much.

EW:

No, I wouldn't see them from September till—

EE:

Christmas

?
EW:

If we were lucky we got home for Thanksgiving, otherwise at Christmas. I roomed with a girl from New Bern our freshman year, and we were up there when they had the '33 storm, which washed New Bern—all this area covered with water. And they had a big headline in the Greensboro Daily News: Hurricane Does Million Dollars Damage, New Bern Completely Destroyed.And my roommate read that laughed. She said, “Poor old New Bern, it's at least worth more than one million dollars.” [laughter]

EE:

I guess one of those things when the newspaper tells you stuff, did you call your folks to make sure they were still okay and everybody was all right?

EW:

I think they called us to tell us they were all right because we couldn't have gotten through. Besides that, we didn't have any money.

EE:

So you roomed with a woman from New Bern up there your first year. What did you do when you finished school? Did you come back to New Bern? Where'd you go?

EW:

I came back. I came back to New Bern, and my daddy and my sister and I went on a boat trip with friends from—oh, down near Carolina Pines. If you pass there, when you pass there and you get to Carolina Pines, look on your right and you'll see Stately Pines. They lived down that road there.

EE:

Okay, this was between New Bern and Morehead [City].

EW:

Between New Bern and Morehead. It's probably about ten, twelve miles east of New Bern. A friend told me not too long ago who went through there, beautiful pine trees, which is why it was named Stately Pines. They went through there and clear-cut it. I mean they cut it right down to the ground. They're going to build a shopping center in there. And the folks that live down that road at Stately Pines named it “Stately Stumps.” [laughter] Go a little farther down.

EE:

I will. I remember seeing Carolina Pines coming down here.

EW:

Well, Carolina Pines is a development, and Stately Stumps is also, but it's got a green state sign. You pass Carolina Pines, and then on your right you will see Stately Pines, and then Flanner's Beach. If you pass Flanner's Beach you've passed it.

EE:

You came back and went on this—?

EW:

We went on this trip from Stately Pines to around Cedar Island through Core Sound then around. This is the straight side here and my uncle was here, my daddy's brother, so we stopped there at the head of the road. I think we spent the night, visited with him, then we went on up through the inland waterway. And when I got home they told me I had a job, and I didn't want to leave them. [chuckling] I didn't want one.

EE:

They had gotten one for you. [chuckling]

EW:

That was in Madison.

EE:

Madison, up north of Greensboro?

EW:

Just north of Greensboro. I stayed there two years, and then I went to—

EE:

What were you doing up there?

EW:

Teaching. Social studies and English. I've forgotten why I left Madison. I went to Sumner and stayed there, then I joined the Red Cross.

EE:

Sumter in South Carolina, or what did you say?

EW:

Sumner.

EE:

Oh, Sumner, okay.

EW:

On the way to Asheboro [North Carolina].

EE:

And that was another teaching job?

EW:

Teaching. It was a county school.

EE:

So you were teaching in Madison till '39?

EW:

Yes.

EE:

Thirty-seven is when you left. So '37 to '39 you were in Madison. Then you went to Sumner. And when did you join the Red Cross?

EW:

Right after that. In '43 I joined the [Red Cross]. I'm probably a little different from anybody you've had, because I joined the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] and was accepted, the first class, and was all ready to go, had given up my job, packed up everything, got a letter from the navy saying that I wasn't to report in September, I was to report in January. Well, that was not very satisfactory when you didn't have any mother and father and your sister was gone and you had nowhere to live and no job. They had canceled the job. So I went to Washington where my sister was, and saw Miss [Harriet] Elliott to see if she could help me. And she took me over to see Miss—what's her name, who was head of the WAVES?

EE:

McAfee was head of the WAVES.

EW:

McAfee, Mildred McAfee. Then they sent me to the Navy Department to the Bureau of—See, I'm crippled, and I had passed everything and was sworn in. I was Apprentice Seaman Williams. [chuckling] That tickles me now. But they kicked me out. That was it.

EE:

Now is it because of your legs, or what was it?

EW:

Because of my leg.

EE:

And the leg condition is something you've had your whole life?

EW:

Oh yeah, I had it when I went. I had it through Greensboro. I had it when I was six, polio.

EE:

Polio. So that left you unable to use that one leg?

EW:

I think they thought I wouldn't be pretty when marching. And I wouldn't have, but I don't think you did too much marching.

EE:

So how did you get through with the school? This was all before. So you just had a brace on that one leg? Is that how you did it?

EW:

No, I didn't have a brace. I wore an Ace bandage or I wore normal shoes. I just limped. Somebody told me later if I had gone and gotten another opinion from another doctor that they couldn't have thrown me out, but I—

EE:

But you were probably early enough they wanted to have a certain look.

EW:

I was in the first class.

EE:

So you went in in—You were trying to get in in '42 then, that fall of '42.

EW:

Yeah, I applied. I applied.

EE:

How did you find out about it to be in the first class?

EW:

I think it was word of mouth.

EE:

Word of mouth? You think it was faster among Woman's College folks, or-?

EW:

Well, it could be that I found out about it through that head, I don't know. She [Harriet Elliott] left and went up to play around with her politics, and she knew McAfee and all that bunch.

EE:

Let's see, let me back in and fill in a little bit just on how you got from there. You were—

EW:

I was at Sumner when I applied.

EE:

When you applied, and you quit the job in '42 to apply.

EW:

I didn't quit then, I quit in '43. Yes, it was in '42.

EE:

Forty-two, something like the fall of forty-two. Were you trying to get in as an enlisted or as an officer, or how?

EW:

I was going in as an officer.

EE:

So you were going to be heading toward Smith [College, in Northampton, Massachusetts].

EW:

Smith, the first class. The first class at Smith. And they threw me out—

EE:

And you went to see McAfee, and then they—

EW:

And I'll never forget that old fat captain told me I had adjusted very well to civilian life, he suggested that I stay there. That's not at all what I thought about him, but I didn't say it. [laughter]

EE:

Well, now tell me, it is not an everyday thing for a woman to want to join the military. So how did you get the idea to want to join the military?

EW:

Well, I think that it's not everybody that has—females had the opportunity to join the military until World War II.

EE:

That's right.

EW:

Some did, some joined in World War I, but—

EE:

I mean was it out of patriotism, or more money, or you knew some friends who were doing it, or—?

EW:

I don't think I ever had money in mind. I think it was patriotism. Everybody, all the boys I knew, all the boys I grew up with were all in the service.

EE:

How did your folks feel about you going?

EW:

Well, my mother was dead.

EE:

That's right, she died your second year in school.

EW:

She died the year I got out. She died in—

EE:

In '38, you said.

EW:

In '38. I graduated in '37, so I had about four months before she got sick. And that was ironic. She had pneumonia, and they developed penicillin that summer. But anyway I was just as glad, as it turned out, because I certainly got around the world.

EE:

Right. Well, tell me then, this was in forty—When did you go to D.C.? Was it in the fall of '42?

EW:

My sister and her husband were living in D.C. So when I started to try to do something about being reinstated in the navy, I went up and stayed with them. He was in the navy.

EE:

What was your sister's name?

EW:

Amy, Amy Guion. She used to say she was called everything from “Jones” to “Onion.”

EE:

Okay. So they were in D.C., and they let you stay with them?

EW:

I stayed with them. And I was in D.C., I guess, for the Red Cross from probably March until June.

EE:

March of '43 till June of '43? You joined the Red Cross that March then?

EW:

I joined before that, but I was in training. I did the clubmobile, and I was so ignorant I went home and I said, “Well, they're going to send me to a club in Mobile, Alabama.” And of course it was a form of their service to the armed forces, and I was sent to North Africa instead of Alabama. [chuckling]

EE:

So when you joined, you thought you were staying in the States.

EW:

I thought I was—

EE:

Did they say anything about going overseas?

EW:

I knew I was going overseas.

EE:

Now wait a second, they wouldn't let WAVES go overseas, and you weren't good enough for the WAVES, and yet they sent you to North Africa in the Red Cross.

EW:

Yeah, I went all around the world before I got through with that.

EE:

Well, we're going to get around the world. Let me get you there. I want to make sure we're going through and getting details.

EW:

No, the WAVES, I couldn't march.

EE:

Well, I know they liked to drill at Smith. I've heard more stories about drilling in the morning and drilling in the afternoon. That was the farthest you'd been away from home, I guess, going up—Of course your sister was there, so it really wasn't like going too far away. You had somebody to talk to up there.

EW:

And I had nobody. I had an aunt, an uncle, and cousins, but I had nobody the first class right off in September. My sister was gone, Daddy was dead, Mother was dead.

EE:

You joined the Red Cross in Washington. Whose idea was it to forget about the navy and join the Red Cross?

EW:

I was out of the navy.

EE:

So you just on your own said, "Well, let me try the Red Cross"? Did you think about any of the other services?

EW:

Well, I had two friends who were in England. One was a man. He was a field director from New Bern, a good family friend, and he told me, “Try to get in, and I'll see if I can get you to England.” And the girl was in social services, and she was in a big hospital in London. I went to school with her, grew up with her, went to church with her.

EE:

What was her name?

EW:

Eleanor Nunn, as in Catholic [nun] with two Ns.

EE:

Right, right. So you joined, and what did you call it? Clubmobile, was it?

EW:

Clubmobile. Where I was it was just a little panel truck, and they put coffee and doughnuts and cream and sugar in the back of it and you went around and greeted—took coffee and doughnuts to serve. It was mostly for missions.

EE:

Where did you train? What kind of training did you have for the Red Cross?

EW:

I don't remember anything about it, being in training. We went to classes.

EE:

And you did it right there in D.C.?

EW:

Yeah.

EE:

And then were did you first get sent after there?

EW:

I got sent to Bayside in Maryland.

EE:

This was after June of '43?

EW:

Bayview.

EE:

Bayview. This should have been June of '43.

EW:

It was a Merchant Marine group, where they took care of them. And then I was sent to New York, Midston House, and I was there when they sent me to the most awful camp I've ever—there's no excuse for it—Camp Patrick Henry, outside of Portsmouth and Norfolk [Virginia], in that area.

EE:

And at all these places you were doing the same thing with this-?

EW:

We were just riding around with volunteers. And I remember setting fire to one poor Brooklyn woman's suit, a Red Cross uniform. I threw my cigarette out the window and it came back and landed—[chuckling]

EE:

Wreaking havoc. [chuckling]

EW:

I tell you, don't smoke. I have never been more embarrassed. Oh, it was awful.

EE:

Tell me about the role of the Red Cross. Now, because it's so much more people, more organization—I think most folks are familiar with it in the emergency context. In a wartime situation, of course, that was more involved. How was your structure? Did you have sort of like a commanding officer structure, like a military structure?

EW:

Let's see, when I went to North Africa, headquarters was in Algiers [Algeria], and I went to Casablanca [Morocco]. They sent me from there to Rabat [Morocco], and I worked out of a club in Rabat with men who had just come out of Kasserine Pass [Tunisia] and all through that North African Campaign.

EE:

All right, let me get to North Africa with you. You were in Bayview. How long were you in Bayview?

EW:

Oh, about two or three weeks.

EE:

Two or three weeks? Then in New York for—Where were you in New York?

EW:

Midston House.

EE:

Pittston House?

EW:

Midston. I've got something wrong with my ears. It comes and goes.

EE:

That's okay. Midston, was that in New York, too?

EW:

I've forgotten where it is. It's in downtown New York. It's respectable. [chuckling]

EE:

It was respectable. Camp Patrick Henry you could have left off the face of the earth.

EW:

Camp Patrick Henry—

EE:

Patrick Henry, and that was in Portsmouth.

EW:

The army, whoever was in command of that place, should have been court-martialed for the treatment he gave the Red Cross. Listen, I'm not kidding. It was so awful that the boys told us when we got on the ship that they cried over us marching five miles. They'd pass us in trucks, being carried, and we had our pocketbooks, which—Have you ever seen a woman's pocketbook? Musette bag, and a suitcase, and a gas mask, and some of the girls had portable typewriters we had to carry for the army. And we had to march—We didn't have to march, but we had to walk two miles to get a beer at the officer's club. And we got up there and were told that the commanding officer had said not to serve us more than one beer. So I've never forgotten that man [at the officer's club]. His name was Lanny Ross, and he was a UFO—a USO [United Service Organizations]—[chuckling]

EE:

He [the commanding officer] may have been a UFO [unidentified flying object] too, really. [chuckling] It sounds like he was inhuman.

EW:

Yeah, he [Lanny Ross] was a tenor, and he heard about it and he said it's the most awful thing he'd ever heard of, and if any Red Cross came up there and asked for a beer, or anything else, let them have it and put it on his bill, so there was no question. The army couldn't question, the bar couldn't question—

EE:

Did you live on the base, on the camp?

EW:

Yeah.

EE:

And were you all rooming with other—just Red Cross people, or all different?

EW:

Just Red Cross, about eighty of us. And we came down from Washington on a train, no air conditioning. But we came down. Of course, we had no air conditioning and the trains were powered with coal. We were streaked—And we were met—This was the beginning of our ordeal. We were met with trucks they carried cattle in, and they had not been cleaned out.

EE:

Oh, come on!

EW:

I'm not kidding.

EE:

And you all had to get up in that?

EW:

We had to get up and stand up there I don't know how long. And they drove us up to our barracks, and I think the barracks held sixty.

EE:

This is how they treated folks who were coming to help?

EW:

So in these places was just a long line of cots, and out on the back side we went into the head. And none of us had ever been in a man's latrine. And to walk in there and to see all those toilets with no seats, and all the heads, and eighteen to a shower, with people who—

EE:

And no privacy whatsoever.

EW:

Nothing.

EE:

And up till then your accommodations, I guess, had been more dormitory-like almost, hadn't they?

EW:

It really was appalling.

EE:

And then you had not been given any advance warning as to what this would be like?

EW:

No, I don't think the Red Cross really knew about it. I don't know why they didn't.

EE:

Well, it sounds like you were the first group assigned there or something?

EW:

No.

EE:

And this would have been in the summer of '43?

EW:

The summer of '43. The middle of summer of '43.

EE:

Right in the heat of the summer, yeah.

EW:

Yes! We went aboard ship and we were at sea on Bastille Day [July 14].

EE:

So that's where you came to be sent out to North Africa. So you were only at that camp for just a few weeks?

EW:

Two weeks. I couldn't have stood it any longer.

EE:

Two of the worst weeks in your life, it sounds like.

EW:

I think I'd have been down and murdered the commanding general.

EE:

Well, now you had access to the officers' club even though you weren't military.

EW:

We could go in and stand at the bar. I don't even know that they would have served us a glass of water. We could walk in and walk out, and that was it.

EE:

When you came to that camp, did you know then you were going to North Africa? You were just waiting for orders?

EW:

I didn't know where I was going. When we first got to the ship, after our five-mile walk, one of the girls said, “I think that's the Mariposa.” She said, “That ship, if I'm correct, went from San Francisco to Australia, and I went on it with my mother twice.” And we got aboard ship, and it was the Mariposa. The same purser was aboard and he remembered Mimi, and he said, “Certain hours of the day I'm not in my quarters, take your friends and go in there and take a freshwater bath and get yourselves cleaned up and then go sit down on my deck.”

EE:

Oh, that was great.

EW:

That was the first nice thing that happened to us.

EE:

So what they'd done is they had commandeered a passenger ship for purposes of transporting you all.

EW:

Right.

EE:

Now were they transporting troops plus Red Cross?

EW:

Oh yeah, there were troops. See, the people that we had been passed by were—The men that were on the ship watching us come aboard were the ones that said that some of them had cried because they felt so sorry for us.

EE:

Knowing what was coming ahead for you all?

EW:

No, just what we were going through.

EE:

Just what you were going through, yeah. I've heard some other folks talking about being on ships that were passenger ships that were re-outfitted and they'd take a room that was designed for two and put ten. How many were in your—

EW:

We had eighteen. See, I went several times. Eighteen in the Mariposa.

EE:

You had eighteen in a room that was built for—?

EW:

And one bathroom, and that was saltwater.

EE:

And originally these were cabins designed for how many folks?

EW:

A pair, a couple.

EE:

So they just basically hung hammocks all throughout the thing?

EW:

They made bunks. Because I remember I slept this way and Molly Wheeler slept that way, so her toe was right up—[laughter]

EE:

I take it you got to know everybody very well then.

EW:

Yeah, we got to know them.

EE:

You mentioned the woman's name was Mimi who had been on this thing before?

EW:

Who was that?

EE:

Mimi was the name of the woman?

EW:

Mimi had been on the Mariposa as a passenger on a beautiful South Pacific cruise, not on the transport. See, the Mariposa was a transport when I was on it. When Mimi was on it, it was a cruise ship with two people, Mimi and her mother.

EE:

In that room that you had eighteen in. Now, you don't know when you're getting on the ship where you're headed

?
EW:

[No.]

EE:

I assume you're going in some sort of flotilla, because there's still submarine traffic out there, isn't there?

EW:

We went over—just zigzagged. We didn't go—

EE:

You didn't have any kind of an escort?

EW:

No. And when we got to Casablanca, after we were put in our staging area, they brought in a shipload of nurses who had been on a boat that was sunk. That was my first experience with people being victims of the war. I don't know whether there were any killed or not.

EE:

But their boat was sunk?

EW:

But they were all—they were army nurses. And as far as I know, the Red Cross and the nurses were the only ones that really went overseas.

EE:

I thought that too, and I interviewed an army dietitian who ended up being in a Naples [Italy] army hospital and was bombed. So it was the medical people who basically—

EW:

Well, I had been in a hospital in Tientsin [now Tianjin], China, and they put me in a French hospital operated by nuns, and I asked them why they did that to me, because they couldn't speak English, I couldn't speak French, and they had the worst—They had darning needles for hypodermics. [chuckling] They'd have to stick these nice little needles in, and when it would come out, you'd come out with it. And I did get them some new needles.

EE:

I'm sure many people thank you for that.

EW:

I told the doctor, “Get these people some needles!” [chuckling] It's awful what they had to go through. But they said they couldn't put me in the daily hospital in Tientsin because they didn't have any nurses. They had nurses in Shanghai but they didn't have them in Tientsin.

EE:

All right, well, let me get you out of North Africa. You're in North Africa, and you arrive I guess, in what, August of 1943?

EW:

August.

EE:

And you're not driving a “clubmobile.”

EW:

I didn't do anything. I was in a club north of Casablanca and south of Rabat. I'll see if I can drag that up. About fifteen miles“-”

EE:

This would have been a club run—This was sort of like a club where folks would come to relax after being on the front line?

EW:

It was for the First Armored Division to—The men who'd been in the Kasserine Pass and all the North African things, fighting [German field marshal Erwin] Rommel, is where they would come to go in the ocean. And nobody could go in it because it was so damn cold. [laughter]

EE:

It's a great view, but nobody bother sticking your foot in the water. [chuckling]

EW:

I stuck mine in and I said, “I've had my one bout with cold, cold water, and I'm not going above the knee.”

EE:

That's the thing with California, the beaches are so beautiful-looking. If you put your foot in there, it's freezing to death.

EW:

Oh, this had cold currents, Canary Currents and things going up. But that place the GIs took me down, it looked over the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful spot! They had GIs there who were responsible for running the club, and we were there to give the coffee and doughnuts and any comfort articles and so forth. They took me out and said, “Now here has got nothing between us and the United States. Have you ever shot a pistol?” I said, “Yes, my daddy taught me how to shoot guns when I was growing up.” And they said, “Well here, try this. This is an automatic weapon, and you just put it up and fire it like you would a .22.” I put it up and fired it like a .22, and they switched something on it—[laughter] Absolutely no warning!

EE:

And people scattered? [chuckling] Were you shooting out over the water?

EW:

I started out shooting out over the water. [chuckling] They grabbed me and—

EE:

I can imagine the kick on that thing if you're not prepared for it.

EW:

I wasn't prepared. But I stayed there for a while, and the 1st Armored Division asked for us to go with them. But I'm glad we didn't go. And then they sent me to Algiers, and that's where Red Cross headquarters was for the Twelfth Air Force. That's where [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower was at that time.

EE:

Who was in the 1st Armored? Was that [General George] Patton? No, that wouldn't be the 1st Armored. What was he?

EW:

The 1st Armored Division was there, and it had been through the—

EE:

Who was head of the1st Armored Division, do you remember?

EW:

Major Foster. I remember Major Foster. He was from North Dakota, the nicest guy he could be. I never saw him after they pulled out for Sicily. It wasn't Patton.

EE:

And then you were in Algiers, that was the Red Cross headquarters, and you say Eisenhower was there, based there too?

EW:

At Algiers. By the time I got there he was being sent to England, and things became—

EE:

You went to Algiers. Now tell me where did you spend Christmas '43? Were you in Rabat or were you at—

EW:

I spent it in what the men called “Manuria,” Manduria [Italy]. They called it “Manuria.”

EE:

That's in Morocco?

EW:

That's in Italy. I went from Algiers to Hamamet [Tunisia], which is probably one of the most beautiful beaches. It was on the Gulf of Hamamet, and it was a lovely little Arab town.

EE:

This was in Algeria?

EW:

No, that was in Tunisia. I was jumping around, but after all—

EE:

Well, tell me, how did you get these changes of assignments? The word wouldn't come down from Washington, would it? Who gave you this—?

EW:

It would come to headquarters, because I remember I told the Stevensons—Bill and Bumpy Stevenson were the head of the Red Cross in Algiers—

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

EW:

So I was sent to Hamamet, which was on Cape Bon, and they had just evacuated it from Rommel's people. And I was on Cape Bon and somebody said, “Hey, would you like to go to” Where is it they were that the Romans got the salt? Anyway it was—

EE:

Carthage?

EW:

Carthage. They said, “Would you like to go to Carthage?” I said, “Yes! I certainly would like to go to Carthage.” So I went to Carthage. And I wore a pith helmet, which was the last time I ever wore a pith helmet. About two weeks later they came and said, “Come on, we've got the pictures of Carthage.” We were going through the pictures of Carthage and they said, “Who's that old ruin?” [laughter] It was me in the pith helmet. So that went in the waste.

EE:

It sounds like you were there in Morocco for a couple of months and then moved to Algeria probably in October or November, and then a couple months later you end up in—

EW:

Hamamet.

EE:

Hamamet, Tunisia, which is—

EW:

It was probably weeks rather than months, because I think it was October that I went to Italy, and that's when—I had some young cousins in Durham [North Carolina], and their mother told them that they had a cousin who had flown the Mediterranean in a jeep. And they were dying to meet me. I was practically an old woman going on a cane before they met me, but I did fly the Mediterranean in a jeep because it was the only place to sit. [chuckling]

EE:

So you were in the back of one of these transport planes and you were sitting in a jeep?

EW:

It was a transport, and I was responsible for all of the—They didn't tell me where I was going. They just told me to be at the airport at ten o'clock and that I was responsible for everything aboard the plane.

EE:

So you were shipping out a whole bunch of supplies from North Africa?

EW:

I had all of the social services officer's goods, including his jeep. And those two good-for-nothing lieutenants wanted to get rid of me when we got to the airport because they wanted to fly back to Algiers with the jeep. But we were over Sicily, getting ready to go over Italy, when I said—

EE:

I was going to say, was that hostile territory?

EW:

Yes. I said, “What are those little puffballs out there?” They said, “Oh, my god, we forgot to answer the password. That's flak!” [chuckling]

EE:

So you're being shot at.

EW:

They said, “Where are we going?” I said, “I don't know where we're going. You're flying the plane.” I wasn't told. And so we got to Rottaglia and landed.

EE:

And is this in Italy?

EW:

This is Italy. This is like that.

EE:

Right over the corner of Naples. You're right there—

EW:

We were right over the Gulf of Taranto. But I don't know how they got there. They must have picked up somebody who told them, because I didn't know. They kept trying to get rid of me and I said, “I'm not getting off here till I get this jeep off, because I'm going to be in the jeep. I'm not going to be left here.”

EE: “No, you're not going to stand there. You're going to—”
EW:

Nothing. So I said, “There's a sergeant from the 47th Bomber Wing, right now get him.” They had it on the jeep, his jeep. So they got it. And I went up to what was [headquarters]. The place was blown all to bits. It was an Italian air base and they had blown it all to pieces when they were coming in. And I saw this major and I asked if he was in charge. I said, “Where is the restroom?” He said, “Look around.”

EE:

Anywhere you want to make it. [chuckling]

EW:

Anywhere you—I said, “I can't—”

He said, “Well, you are not equipped like we are, so we can stand right up against a building. But this is it.”

I said, “Well, tell me how to get to the headquarters and I'll take this jeep and go.”

He said, “No, you won't.”

I said, “Why not?”

He said, “Because they haven't un-mined the roads.” So I went all day long with nothing to eat, nothing to drink, and no bathroom. And Jack Mill came in. He was the wing messenger, and he said, “I'll take you. I'll take you to headquarters, but I've got to go to Foggia [Italy] first.” So we flew up to Foggia, which is a hundred miles north of where we were supposed to be, which meant two hundred miles. We got back finally at dark. We landed in Manduria, and I had—

EE:

This was your Christmas experience?

EW:

Yes, I'm getting up on Christmas. I haven't even gotten unpacked. We got out and got in the jeep. There were no lights on the thing, no nothing. I mean it didn't even light up when we landed. We landed about dusk. No restroom, no nothing. And I got to the quarters, they took me down to where my roommate was. I said, “Where is the restroom?”

“Restroom, hell! There's not even any water.”

I said, “Well, would you please help me get my bedroll open? I've got a can of tomato juice in there, and that's going to be poured out the window.” That was my first-all day long.

EE:

It sounds like this was the first time, though, that you really were in the combat area.

EW:

I was, yeah.

EE:

You had been behind the scenes, getting ready to come over—

EW:

I had been where they had been.

EE:

You had been where they had been, but after it was safe and secure. Now you're right there, right as it's coming in.

EW:

It really was. They dug a trench right outside our window. And it's the only building I ever saw—You see, it ran parallel to the creek bank there, and it must have been a football field long, and there was only one door. That was in the middle. Not anything on the other side, just one right in the middle. So, in order to go to the bathroom, after I got there and used my tin, you had to walk half the length—we were almost the whole length of the building—half the length of the building to go out, walk back this way, that way, that way, and there was the tent. So I built steps outside our window. [laughter]

EE:

Just forget that! [chuckling]

EW:

And you'd get in the tent—it was a parabola tent—get in the tent, and grab the post and hold yourself over the slit trench. Shall we say primitive conditions? [chuckling]

EE:

I was going to say. Now I imagine having a tent was their accommodation for being female, because I doubt if the men had that.

EW:

They didn't have a tent. No, they either had to go out the window or jump out and go against the side of the—[chuckling]

EE:

The tent was for the women, a little privacy for them, that was it.

EW:

Right. And everybody stuck his head out the window to brush his teeth, and we'd wave to each other just brushing your teeth, and so you had to have—They said the Germans had damaged the water mains, and they didn't have—

EE:

So they were sabotaging it on the way as they were retreating? Is that what they were trying to do?

EW:

They tore down the aqueducts is what they did. They took all the flour and all the food. We couldn't go to a restaurant without going to the commissary first and getting food, to take it and have them prepare our food.

EE:

Because they didn't have any or because—

EW:

They didn't have any.

EE:

And this was the environment in which you lived, in what you called “Manuria,” in Christmas of '43?

EW:

I was at Manduria till April of '45.

EE:

So that was basically where you camped out for a while, till almost the end of the war—

EW:

It was during the war that I went home to be with my sister when her baby was due. She had so many people there to help her have the baby that there was hardly room for me. And when I went home, President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt died the morning I got home. And Ed was born on the day after VE [Victory in Europe] Day.

EE:

A pretty event-filled month, it sounds like, for your family. All right, well, that gets me there. Let me do a little back and fill, because you've taken me to some new places and I want to make sure that the folks listening to this—Just for somebody listening, you get your orders and then you go down from your local commander, whether it's this Bill and Bumpy Stevenson in Algiers who tell you to go—

EW:

They're the only ones in the Red Cross I ever really knew, Bill and Bumpy.

EE:

Okay. Tell me how assignments were made. Was it you and your group/company of women, or just everybody had an individual assignment and you were assigned individually?

EW:

I think it was individual. I had a couple of friends who went together, but they were told they were going with the troop carriers. I didn't know where I was going. They just left me.

EE:

It sounds like they used Red Cross personnel just almost like you'd use—kind of like a caulking gun. You'd patch and fill. Wherever you needed somebody, you'd put a Red Cross person.

EW:

Yes, that's right.

EE:

We need somebody to support staff, we need somebody for the nurses, we need somebody to help in whatever you needed to, and so you really weren't under a hierarchical structure with a commander and had to do as a group, but you were just assigned.

EW:

The Red Cross paid my salary when I was in Italy because the wing would not let them pay my room and board or anything like that. They said I belonged to them and to hell with the Red Cross. [chuckling] They paid my salary, that's it. But if I had orders to go anywhere, it was the army. See, it was the Army Air Corps.

EE:

So your assignments were almost exclusively-Well, your first one was in Rabat. You were helping out with the Armored Division. But then after that—

EW:

That was a club. I was under Frank Cleverlee in Rabat.

EE:

So he was a—?

EW:

He was director of the club, and he also directed the people in the vicinity.

EE:

In Rabat did you all live in an apartment or at the club?

EW:

I stayed at the Beach Club. They had quarters there.

EE:

And you just described in wonderful detail the quarters in Manduria.

EW:

Well, that was—Manduria, they told me when we went through it one time, “Guess how many people live here.” I said, “I can't begin to believe.” They said sixty thousand people. It wasn't much bigger than Gloucester when you went through it. They'd pack everybody in one little building. You couldn't believe that there were sixty thousand.

EE:

Was it like Quonset huts, or what kid of material?

EW:

No, they were houses. It was a regular—

EE:

And they just built it all up from the ground when they got there?

EW:

It was there. And it was so filthy, the Manduria base, Italian. When I went in the doughnut place, the man that operated the doughnut place would pick up a mosquito net and come over and put it over me and surround me. Flies!

EE:

That bad?

EW:

If you see a picture of anybody in the Mediterranean area that's not rich, they'll have flies crawling on them because of the way that—They don't have good—

EE:

Sanitation?

EW:

Sanitation. And we'd been there two weeks, the GIs had got it cleaned up and it was not bad, no worse than here. But it was awful.

EE:

You had a very busy first year in the Red Cross, it sounds like, getting from—I mean, I'm just trying to imagine the changes in your life, you coming from North Carolina and you go up to the big city with your sister.

EW:

I went to Woman's College. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, I'm just saying just in that one year from '42 to '43. Now you either have to be carrying an atlas with you or you had to be pretty good with geography, don't you?

EW:

I'm good with geography.

EE:

Well, I'm impressed. And I guess this is the thing is that everybody is so mobile. I mean, I've heard so many things. This is when America really discovers the world, because you have to, you're going all these new places and—

EW:

I said to somebody one day, this was in North Africa, I said, “Gee, the Arabs must have been awfully glad to see the Americans.” They said, “What are you talking about? They're the perfect neutral. They hate everybody.” [laughter]

EE:

That's true. Well, was Morocco French then?

EW:

Yeah.

EE:

They were all French, I guess—Morocco, Algeria, all French.

EW:

It's just after Vietnam that they lost their heads. They should have kept control of them. [chuckling]

EE:

I'm just wondering, do you ever look back at Casablanca, the movie, and think, “Well, that's not really what it was”?

EW:

That's when I first saw it was when I was in Italy, saw Casablanca. And I had just been to Casablanca. Well, I was going to state about the sorry scene on this road in North Africa. It didn't make any difference whether it was in Algeria or Spanish Morocco or French Morocco, Oran or what, you'd see this pile of twigs, this pile as big as this room walking down the road, with four little legs sticking out, and a male walking behind it and female walking in front of it. And the GIs called them the A-rabs and the B-rabs. The A-rab was the woman. She was walking in front, so if there was a mine she'd blow up before the donkey did.

EE: Oh, gosh!
EW:

The donkey was covered with twigs that they were taking home for her to cook, and the man was walking behind the donkey. He probably had on a barracks bag which he'd cut holes in for his feet, and it might have “Ellis” or “Jackowski” or something on it.

EE:

So you'd pick up on this—

EW:

Well, they did, they called them A-rabs and B-rabs, and you'd see it. You couldn't believe it.

EE:

You're thrown together in this war, so many different people who have had no contact. Everybody is winging it, aren't they?

EW:

Yeah.

EE:

Just you know you've got something to do.

EW:

Well, one thing they had in common, every place I ever went that had a ship pull into port, they struck up the band and [played] Roll Out the Barrel. That's one thing they had in common. It didn't make any difference where you went, it was Roll Out the Barrel.

EE:

[hums tune] [laughter] This Manduria base, is it there on the coast in Italy or is it back inland a little bit?

EW:About five miles from the Gulf of Taranto.
EE:

I'm just trying to imagine in the boot shape of Italy, is it down on the toe or is it closer to Naples?

EW:

This is on the heel.

EE:

It's on the heel, back on the back side.

EW:

Yes, it's on the inside of the heel. You go across to the Adriatic. By Brindisi. Do you know where Brindisi is?

EE:

Yes, it's just right there. Brindisi is at the top of the heel.

EW:

It's twenty miles southwest of Brindisi.

EE:

Okay. You're there, and your job at that camp-You said you were going back doing some of the—You were there to set up a club like you had set up—

EW:

We didn't set up a club. We met the missions that flew over the Alps and over to Ploesti [Romania], the first of the B-24s that we had. They were B-25s, then they changed them to B-24s. They were the ones that did the low-level raid on Ploesti in Romania.

EE:

And this would have been in '44?

EW:

They told me, although they didn't get the credit for it, that they had to advertise the fact that they were going on a mission for half an hour because they had to circle over our field to gain altitude to get over the Albanian and Montenegran Alps to go to Ploesti and those fields so the ack-ack [anti-aircraft artillery] placed just east was ready for them when they came over.

EE:

Your job then was to meet those? And so people would be coming into the area and they would be at your base. They would be flying in from other places, and that would be the takeoff point for these raids?

EW:

Well, I was on the field—We were just off the field at Manduria, and it was the home of the 349th Bomber Wing, bomb group—they had four groups—and we were supposed to be there—When they flew on a mission, we were supposed to be there with coffee and doughnuts when they landed. And the general, they had a new general, and he decided—That was when southern France was coming off. We didn't know it, but we knew there was a big thing coming. And he wouldn't let them tell us anything, so we didn't meet the mission when it came back from southern France. And the men, friends that were in the general's office said that he was beside himself because the switchboard was all lit up, and the commanding officers of every group were on there raising hell because there hadn't been any Red Cross. Well, we didn't know it. We didn't have any doughnuts, we didn't have anything. He never did that again. We had nothing to do with it. He just wouldn't let it be. Because we had access to everything. They knew who we were, we were part of them, we ate breakfast with them, lunch with them, dinner with them sometimes, so we thought of them—But southern France really got him.

EE:

And this was when the Vichy government, I guess, was collapsing?

EW:

Yeah. I had a friend—

EE:

It sounds like you were—it's almost like it's the base for a three-front campaign, if you're talking about France, Italy, and then the Balkans.

EW:

When it was D-Day.

EE:

But you were coming in right there. So that was your base just before—

EW:

This was a diversion for D-Day, to try to pull troops down.

EE:

So you were attacking southern France as the diversion, so that-Okay.

EW:

Right out of Italy. And I had three friends who were in the navy, and one of them is a first cousin, and I knew he was on a 505 LST [Landing Ship-Tank]. So he wrote me and said his mother said it was a good thing that he got on an LST because he had a yeoman to write for him, because nobody would be able to read it otherwise. [chuckling] Evidently his yeoman wrote me that he'd be in Naples around his birthday. He could say Naples because he was at sea and they didn't know when his birthday was. So I started out to find him. I got word that I had another friend who was in Brindisi. He was on one of those like President John F. Kennedy—ran across from Manfredonia [Italy] over to rescue the flyers that were shot down. And another one was on the Augusta, which was the flagship of the fleet.

So I went out for dinner with a whole bunch of them, took us out to Taranto, and we went to aboard and met Commodore Ziroli. And I told him I had three people I had grown up with, one was a relative, one was my best friend, could he tell me where they were. And he snapped his finger and here came an orderly. In a few minutes he came in, Tom was in Brindisi, “Ecky” was in Naples, and Stanley was in Sicily. And they told me when the Augusta would be in Naples and told me where Tom was in Brindisi. And I went over there, and he came up from below and he said, “My god, how did you find me? I didn't even know where I was myself.” [laughter] I said, “You have to know the commodore.”

EE:

Really.

EW:

But I did, I got to see them all.

EE:

That's wonderful. I know folks when they were doing letters back and forth every letter was—

EW:

V-mail.

EE:

V-mail, and it was all censored. You couldn't mention places and stuff. Did you write letters back to—Was your dad still living? When did he pass away?

EW:

In '41. He was like your daddy, he was building up things to make oil right out of automobiles that were making fog and all sorts of stuff.

EE:

Right. But you were writing back to your sister?

EW:

Yes.

EE:

So you were able to get letters out then?

EW:

I didn't have any trouble with the V-mail. I have—I think it's a funny story. The girl that tried to get me to go to England, that really was responsible for getting me in Red Cross, her mother had never seen V-mail, and she was noted for not being widely read or anything like that. And so she got a letter, a V-mail from Eleanor, and she looked at this little thing and then she said, “Where in the world did Eleanor get a tiny little typewriter like that?” [laughter]

EE:

Yeah, some folks are a little slower than others, I think.

EW:

Well, I came home from Italy when Franklin Roosevelt died, and then when my nephew was born, and then I went to China.

EE:

Did you get special dispensation to come home because your sister was pregnant?

EW:

Because she was having the baby.

EE:

And you said that she needed your help?

EW:

Right. I don't know, I never have understood it, because my aunt was there with her son, and she had a good friend of ours, hers and mine, who was there with her two children. I couldn't see where I was needed, but I was needed, so I went home.

EE:

Were you anxious to get home?

EW:

No, I really was not. I didn't object, but I wasn't anxious.

EE:

I guess after the first couple months when you arrived there you weren't really in danger. The place was secure.

EW:

Oh no.

EE:

You didn't have any worry about them losing-falling back in positions? You were in a secure area.

EW:

You didn't have it with the air force like you had it with the ground forces. For one year they swapped. They had so much flak from the ground forces that the air force had it easy, and the air force [thought] the ground forces had it easy except the trenches, and so they swapped. They sent a whole bunch of officers and put them in this plane and closed them in and took them up to twenty thousand feet, froze them to death. They said, “Get us out of here. We'll not say another word about trenchfoot or anything else, but get me out of this mess.” And the same thing with the air force. They couldn't stand the trenches. They couldn't stand that, so—

EE:

So everybody got used to their own stuff. Day-to-day, it sounded like you were in a position where somebody was looking forward to seeing you every day. Because if they came back from a run, that means they got home safe.

EW:

I can tell you a story on that. They put through while I was with the Red Cross in Italy a thing that said you [returning pilots] could just have a drink rather than anything else from a clubmobile. So I was told, “You won't be here very long.” I said, “Why won't I?” They said, “Because they're not going to give up the possibility of a drink for a cup of coffee.” And I said something to one of the men, and in fact he said, “Are you crazy? When we come out over the head of the Adriatic Sea, we can see the red cross on that clubmobile sitting in our field and we know somebody is waiting for us. There's no way we're going to let them trade you for an ounce of whiskey.” Then they saved it up and had a party. [laughter]

EE:

So they kept the ration and they—

EW:

Well, when they got a quart, because in those days they had a quart, when they got a quart they had a party.

EE:

That's wonderful.

EW:

But they said they absolutely, “No sir, we could see-” I didn't realize you could see that far! That's all the way up to Switzerland, and that was all the way down to the foot of Italy.

EE:

That's right. Well, in your position, and it was different from others, it sounds like there wasn't any problem with the way women as such were treated.

EW:

No.

EE:

You were treated with respect, you weren't—Some of the folks, you know, have had experiences where they didn't quite think they were treated with respect, especially the WAVES. You know, the drill instructors would kind of giggle or made a little light of the fact, “Okay, sure, let's try it again, ladies.” But you were taken seriously in what you did and valued for what you did, you felt?

EW:

I don't remember ever feeling anything but friends.

EE:

You worked at Manduria with the same group of men and women the whole time you were there?

EW:

Well, actually, I only worked with one full-time. She left and then I got two more, but for the most part just the same. I was the only Red Cross girl on the field.

EE:

Now your job was to prepare the coffee and the doughnuts, as well as to serve them? And you had to do this—How many flyers would you service in a day?

EW:

It could be three hundred, it could be just one company. If they didn't have a mission, we'd go to the mess halls and just hang out.

EE:

What was your work week? Was it six days a week? Did you get a day off?

EW:

Seven days a week.

EE:

Seven days a week?

EW:

I had so much leave when I came home to my sister because I'd never taken any.

EE:

Right. Seven days a week, and you were working daytime, nighttime?

EW:

Mostly daytimes. If they had a party, if the enlisted men had a party, we were invited. And we were asked to come at a certain time, and at a certain time the first sergeant came to us and said, “It's time for you to go home now.” [chuckling] They'd get so much to drink and they'd have the Italian girls, so they'd send us home so we wouldn't, we wouldn't—

EE:

Okay. Was there a lot of socializing between the enlisted folks and you all?

EW:

Yes. That's funny, too, because they'd say, “Are you going to the dance tonight?”

“No.”

“Why aren't you going?”

“Nobody asked me.” They've got three hundred, you know. Nobody wanted to be turned down, so they wouldn't ask you.

EE:

[chuckling] The male ego is a tough thing, isn't it?

EW:

It was just ridiculous. So finally it just came down to Rick Carter, a real nice guy. He was married and had children, I knew it and he knew it, I guess his wife knew it. He would take me because they needed the women.

EE:

Right. So just somebody had to have the courage to get you there. You'd dance with any and everybody once you got there.

EW:

And I'd just as soon go with him as anybody around. But we had a problem, too, with the Red Cross. We were accused of selling the Red Cross articles. And I can tell you an experience I had in Italy. I got a message from the sergeant in charge of the recreation, and he said that he had gotten his supply of cigarettes for the month, and that every single one of them was a Red Cross cigarette, that it was not for sale by the [U.S.] Armed Forces, but he would be forced to sell it if I couldn't do something about it. Because that was his share; that's all he was going to get.

So I got the wing to fly me up to Naples and told them the situation, and they sent the equivalent of the Armed Services cigarettes. We took the rest and kept them. But that's what happened. I asked that sergeant. I said, “Why is that we are always accused of selling Red Cross supplies when we don't?” He said, “Well, for one thing, it's the Red Cross.” He said, “You see that great big red cross you know it's comfort. It's raisins, it's shaving lotion, it's chewing gum, it's candy, it's food, it's cigarettes. And when they see it they go and steal it.” Now that's what would have happened if I hadn't been friends with the sergeant. He made the effort to—

EE:

Did you have a rank within the Red Cross? Did they give ranks?

EW:

We had a rank, if we were captured, of captain. That was it.

EE:

And otherwise everybody was the same level?

EW:

Well, I was the assistant club director, or something like that, but no more than you'd have as a teacher.

EE:

You said “no more than you'd have” in terms of what, salary, or in terms of rank, or in terms of just whatever? It didn't matter what the job was, you had about the same—the same rank, same benefits.

EW:

Yeah. I got the same thing with the Red Cross for the first two years that I got when I taught, $150 a month.

EE:

An obvious question, it sounds like you enjoyed your work.

EW:

I did. I had nice people to work with.

EE:

You were working seven days a week, so this is probably not—You didn't take leave, you didn't get a chance to be a tourist while you over there, did you?

EW:

[chuckling] Yes, I did, because I drove the clubmobile. I went hundreds of miles.

EE:

Visiting the area?

EW:

The area where our airfields were.

EE:

Let me ask you a couple questions that you could tell me about, just general [questions]. You were there when was Mussolini killed?

EW:

I was there. I don't remember exactly, but I was there.

EE:

But you remember when he was killed?

EW:

I remember when.

EE:

Because I think wasn't he strung up and just beaten to a pulp basically by the folks who—He shot himself, and then they took his body out and they just basically—

EW:

They mutilated him. But he was in northern Italy, and I was as far south as you could get without drowning.

EE:

Did you have much interaction with the Italian population around you, or were you pretty much confined to the base? You weren't allowed to fraternize?

EW:

The southern Italians, for the most part, were like the peons of old. It was an absentee landlord society, and they would almost touch their brow to us. A lot of the men, when I first got over there, were Italian, southern Italian, by family, and I did get invited to their homes, but it was terrible. I mean they were nice, but it was just not—It was like an old frontier.

EE:

You were in school at NCCW in the thirties. When was the first time you remember hearing about Hitler?

EW:

I think I had some friends who went to Europe who were college-age, in '35 probably.

EE:

Were they worried, because Hitler was a great salesman.

EW:

No, they thought—

EE:

He beefed up their economy. It was like—

EW:

The train was on time, they didn't lose any time, they had paid for it, and that was all they got. I remember [Charles A.] Lindbergh making his—

EE:

That train was on time. Why, it got him a lot of popular PR [public relations], because I've heard that from so many people.

EW:

Well, that's what I heard back when I was in New Bern from the people who had been to Europe during the thirties.

EE:

So he wasn't seen as a threat then.

EW:

No, I don't think he was until—Like The Waltons. [chuckling] You know, The Waltons pretty well hits when he was seen as a threat.

EE:

You came home in '45, April. You said the next morning Roosevelt passed away. What did you think about Roosevelt?

EW:

Oh, I thought he was wonderful. Anybody who'd been down to the bottom of the barrel, and if somebody provided you with a job—

EE:

Did you hear much about him overseas?

EW:

Not overseas. I heard—

EE:

I know folks would hear him here with the radio. You didn't get his radio broadcasts overseas?

EW:

No.

EE:

Who did you listen to? Did you listen to Armed Forces Radio?

EW:

Didn't have a radio.

EE:

You didn't have radio to listen to. So for entertainment you would have these dances, what, once a week or something?

EW:

Whenever they could find enough women. [laughter]

EE:

Three hundred men, if we've got three we can make a dance.

EW:

There was a hospital over in San Pancrazio [Italy], and I understand there are some British nurses over there. No, the American nurses were in San Pancrazio, the British nurses were in Taranto, so we'd have a party. When I quit and I went home, they gave me a medal that they made for the—to carry the missions for the generals—the general officers' hostesses without making a mistake. I took them to the general's quarters to go to the bathroom. [laughter]

EE:

And you got a medal for it. [chuckling]

EW:

I don't think I ever finished a dance with anybody. Somebody would come and tap me and say, “Would you take her to the general's—?” So I'd usually go up with a lot of girls.

EE:

Good gracious. What was the hardest thing you had to do during that time period, physically or emotionally?

EW:

I don't remember anything. I guess during that time period it would be Casablanca, when I had to eat frozen eggs.

EE:

Eat frozen eggs? Hard-boiled? Soft?

EW:

Scrambled. They looked like sweet potatoes, the texture and everything, color. And when you bit into it you wished you were somewhere else. [laughter] Just awful! Absolutely!

EE:

This must have been before they perfected things like freeze drying. This is supposedly dried like a freeze-dried egg and it didn't work out well.

EW:

It was just awful!

EE:

It sounded like your first day in Italy wasn't exactly a piece of cake, so that was—[chuckling]

EW:

Oh, that's the worst! Nobody should be put—

EE:

Although it sounds like that and Camp Patrick Henry rank up there with you, as far as maybe the toughest things. [chuckling]

EW:

If I could get my hands on that general today! If I meet him where I expect to go—after 2000. I've decided I'm not going to go until after 2000.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing moment over there? Do you remember some?

EW:

Oh, I can't tell you. [laughter] The most embarrassing thing? I really can't tell you. And it was embarrassing. My lord!

EE:

It didn't have anything to do with that tent, did it?

EW:

No, this was in China.

EE:

Oh, all right. Well, let me get through '45, April, and get you to China then. You were there, you came home—

EW:

I went in August.

EE:

So you were actually home for the summertime.

EW:

I was home for the summer.

EE:

You were home for VE [Victory in Europe] Day. You were in D.C. on VE Day. Was that a pleasant experience?

EW:

I was on the streets of Washington with my friend Pat Pattison on VJ—August, VJ [Victory in Japan] Day.

EE:

So you stayed in Washington the whole summer, from VE—

EW:

No, I stayed in New Bern.

EE:

In New Bern? Oh, you came back.

EW:

I met her up in Washington in August. We were walking down the street, she said, “Oh, my lord, it's VJ Day! Let's get in that place before they close the door.” And that was a bar, getting in to buy a bottle. [laughter]

EE:

Because it would be wiped out, huh?

EW:

I remember that.

EE:

So VE Day, were you at your sister's on VE Day?

EW:

VE Day was my sister, and VJ Day was my good friend Pat.

EE:

So you stayed at your sister's for a couple weeks, then came back to New Bern?

EW:

I stayed at my sister's for the summer. I still have property in New Bern that she has right next door. We had a family feud, so I don't seem to be able to bond to anything that's not fighting. I was there, I'd say, from April 12 to August 12, something like that in there.

EE:

And of course nobody knew that the A-bomb was coming, so that was a real shock to have that war—Because I think all anybody could see was another invasion of Japan and knew that was going to be a mess.

EW:

Well, I was there in—I was going to Okinawa with my wing when she wrote me.

EE:

With your wing? You were assigned to this—This was with the same-?

EW:

I was with the 47th Bomber Wing for, I guess, nineteen months.

EE:

And this was the assignment you got in August?

EW:

I got it in Algiers.

EE:

Okay, so that was the group that went to—So that's the assignment that got you first to Italy, and then that group was taken out of the European theater and sent to Okinawa.

EW:

To Okinawa.

EE:

And while they were going over there, you were in Washington and you were supposed to join back up with the 47th Bomber Wing.

EW:

I went to New Bern and stayed the summer, then I went back.

EE:

So you had not gotten released from the Red Cross—

EW:

I never did get released from the Red Cross until 1952.

EE:

You were signing up to stay to the end of the war, or what was your original idea when you signed up?

EW:

My original idea was to get a place to sleep, eat, and pay the bills. [chuckling]

EE:

So you were just looking for right now, just going ahead and staying—All right, you come back, the 47th Bomber Wing is in Okinawa, and you get the word. But you're not going to Okinawa?

EW:

I didn't go to Okinawa because I went to my sister instead. But they had told me they were going to go to Okinawa, and if I wanted to go to let them know because they'd have to get orders. I had two friends, and they came home right after I did.

EE:

Did you tell the Red Cross that you're ready to go or they said it's time for you to go, in August?

EW:

No, I told them, and then they told me to go. And the funny thing was I went back on the same ship I went over on.

EE:

Back on the Mariposa?

EW:

Yes.

EE:

Except this time it's going—

EW:

This time I went with the USO. And I want to tell you, there was quite a difference.

EE:

[chuckling] A little better accommodations?

EW:

No, no better accommodations. But the Red Cross women were educated, they weren't showgirls. And all the time I was in Italy, I'd say, “When you take me to Naples, please take me to Pompeii. I want to go to Pompeii.” I never got to Pompeii. And when I got on the Mariposa with all these showgirls, I found out why. They had been to Pompeii. They had gone to every single red light house in the whole of the city, and they had photographs to show it, and postcards. They said, “Here, look at my—” And I was just as embarrassed as I've ever been.

EE:

So they were looking forward to living it up in the old Roman lifestyle.

EW:

[chuckling] I'll tell you, I never saw such things in my life

.
EE:

And this was the USO entertaining our troops.

EW:

This was the USO. I'm in the room with them—

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

EW:

We went to China on a navy transport.

EE:

You left the Mariposa out of Portsmouth again?

EW:

Naples.

EE:

Okay. I'm trying to figure out where you—

EW:

I went from Portsmouth on the Patrick Henry to Naples—no, Casablanca.

EE:

That's on your first trip over. You're back in D.C.—

EW:

When I came back to be with my sister, from Italy, I left from Naples.

EE:

You were on the Mariposa coming back to see your sister.

EW:

I was on the Mariposa going and coming.

EE:

So even though you had to leave out of Naples, you didn't get down to the—Now let's see, the volcano had calmed down a little bit by then. Didn't the volcano blow up in '44?

EW:

It blew up in—I think that was '44. I didn't see it blow up, but I sure saw the cloud.

EE:

You could see it from the other side?

EW:

I went to Naples two or three times, and it was active and flowing, so I saw it.

EE:

You know, in the midst of a war to have the volcano blow up—[chuckling] It isn't like you don't have enough going on in life, let's just add Mother Nature—

EW:

That's another big noise. [chuckling] That's Vesuvius.

EE:

Did you have earthquakes down there from that?

EW:

I never had an earthquake there. I had earthquakes in Japan. I think I've been through everything but a tsunami.

EE:

My goodness. Well, tell me, you're in D.C., the word comes to go to China. Is there where the 47th is? Is this where the bomber wing is now stationed, is in China, or were you just relieved from that bomber wing assignment?

EW:

I was released. I just was Red Cross, and we went through the Mediterranean, and—

EE:

You left out of Portsmouth again to go over to China?

EW:

No, I don't really remember where we left.

EE:

You remember coming back with a bunch of USO girls on this Mariposa, where the women were—a lot different standards than the other women you were with. And you came back, you were with your sister, then down in New Bern, then back up with Pat for VJ Day, and—

EW:

Right, and then we went to—it must have been New York. So we went to—

EE:

Did you go around to San Francisco, or—?

EW:

No. I came in that way but I never went out that way. Yes, I did go out that way, too. That's when I went to Japan. We went to Calcutta [India], and we went to—

[interview interrupted, recorder paused]

EE:

We just took a little break—We're going to go back to China now. This was August of '45. Did you take a train across country to take the ship out?

EW:

No, we went some way out of Washington—New York, probably.

EE:

And you say you went to Calcutta.

EW:

I went to Calcutta.

EE:

That was your first stop?

EW:

The first stop.

EE:

That's a long trip on the ocean, isn't it?

EW:

That was a long trip. We passed Mount Sinai.

EE:

Did you get one of those little certificates for crossing the equator?

EW:

No, I didn't cross the equator. I got it for crossing the International Dateline. I threw that out not too long ago. I didn't think anybody would be interested in it. But we got to Calcutta, and they flew us from there Kunming [China].

EE:

To where?

EW:

Kunming. Kunming is six thousand feet above sea level, Calcutta is three, and you talk about a shocked bunch of people when we got off the—

EE:

You can't breathe.

EW:

Can't say anything. It was really something.

[interview interrupted, recorder paused]

EE:

Well, you go to Calcutta and you were talking about everybody had a loss of breath when they got to Kunming then.

EW:

Yeah, they flew the hump.

EE:

That's in southern China, right across Tibet?

EW:

That's southern China, right across from Vietnam. It was Indochina then. The GIs would request Armed Services Radio to play Song of India. And what's the other one? Oh, Hong Kong Blues. I was sent to Tientsin. I was first sent to Yangkai [China], which is southwest of Kunming, and that's when we were real close to Hanoi [French Indochina, later Vietnam]. I think probably the worst experience I ever had was when I was sent from Kunming to Yangkai on a good road—rock, full six-foot, a nice, nice road. I was sitting by two GIs in what they call a six-by-six truck, and we were riding down the road, going lickety-split, and I saw this woman walking down the side of the road, and we obviously were going to hit her, and I said, “What are you doing?!”

They said, “It's fun to hit them, to see their feet—to see their bound feet—”

I said, “You hit her, brother, you're going to hit the commanding officer at the post because I'm going to report you.” And I said, “Don't think anything about tearing me up because the Red Cross knows where I'm going and the army knows who I'm going with.” We didn't hit her. Nobody bothered me, but that was terrible. It was awful. To see those little feet like that, and they walk—You can't miss them because of the way they walk.

EE:

This was because they bind their feet when they're little?

EW:

They bind their feet from the time they're babies. And they were going to hit her so her wrappings would fly off.

EE:

You had never been in this part of the world before. Did you know anything—With this assignment, did you know about it before you got on the—

EW:

Very few people ever saw it outside of the Chinese. We flew over it mostly.

EE:

Were you assigned to another air force base then? Is that what this was?

EW:

No, this was an air force base by chance, and it was a base in south China where they were “pickling”—they called it “pickle”—B-26s. And there was acre after acre after acre of these planes that had been stripped of everything that was useful, and then they were oiled and greased so they wouldn't rust away. And as soon as they got that closed we were sent home, or sent—I went from there to Tientsin and stayed there for a year.

EE:

And this was at another base then?

EW:

No, this was just a club.

EE:

So it was a base where your job was again doing service—?

EW:

That was a base out of Kunming.

EE:

And then at the club you were back doing hospitality work?

EW:

I was back playing pool and ping-pong. [chuckling] Word came down one day and said, “Go upstairs to the commodore's office”—he's the one that ran the food exchange—“and ask him about the twenty-year-old flyer from back in the country.” I don't know how many steaks he ate, and twenty-two eggs. [chuckling]

EE:

And you didn't have him in the hospital the next day? [chuckling]

EW:

No, it didn't bother him a bit. It bothered me, actually.

EE:

I think when you're a certain age you've got an iron stomach and it doesn't bother you.

EW:

But going back to New Bern, my house in New Bern was right next to my sister's, and one of my best friends was renting my house while her husband was in China. And when I went to China I asked everywhere I went if anybody knew Dick Johnson. “No, didn't know him.” I landed at Tientsin where I was supposed to stay, I said to the field director, “Do you know Dick Johnson?”

“Do I know Dick Johnson?! I went through the whole South Pacific with him.”

I said, “Well, where is he?” He said, “Right here in Tientsin.” So there was Alma at home, mad as hell with me because—[chuckling]

EE:

Because you're seeing her husband and she's not.

EW:

Yeah, I had her husband. We had a real nice time. I met some nice people through him. Then he went home. Of course, they're all gone now.

EE:

Well, these folks were over there, and I guess the war ends in '45, but people have to close up and have to make sure that people are secure. [snapping fingers] It doesn't end like that.

EW:

Well, I guess north China opened along in '48. A lot of them went from Tientsin and Shanghai down into Hanoi, went into what later became the Vietnam War.

EE:

Did they close in '48? I know China has its big revolution a year later when Mao [Tse-tung] comes in. Was that the reason they were closing? Were they worried about that?

EW:

I was mad that I didn't see the Great Wall of China. See, we were in more danger in China than we were ever in Italy and North Africa, because it was active war with the Nationalists.

EE:

So Chiang Kai-shek's group was fighting Mao when you were there. In '49 is when they won.

EW:

He was fighting Mao the whole time. And if we went anywhere, we had to go with an armed guard.

EE:

So it really was like being back in the front again.

EW:

It was. And “Beta Ho” they called it, was right near the Great Wall, and we couldn't go to the Great Wall because the Communists had it. And on the way to Beta Ho, which was probably a hundred miles from Tientsin, they had to protect their engines, the trains—you didn't go by car, you went by train—protect the engines by putting two or three flatcars out in front to blow up the bombs before it killed them.

EE:

It would trip it off? It was sort of like the A-rab. [laughter]

EW:

It was no fun being the B-rab either. [laughter]

EE:

But you had that going out in front.

EW:

We would be held up for hours. I went about three times with some Red Cross friends, girls, and a couple times a Marine encampment along the way would send us food. We didn't have anything to eat on these trains. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, the next question I have is were you ever afraid? It sounds like that was a scarier time than—

EW:

It was scary, but we were so busy—you were never scared.

[interview interrupted, recorder paused]

EE:

Do you think you were in physical danger when you were in China, or you were where you wouldn't be aware of it?

EW:

Yeah, we were in physical danger on those trains. We didn't know about it.

EE:

And that's the trains that everybody was taking. It wasn't just reserved for military, it was—You just got on a civilian train and trusted Chiang Kai-shek's troops to—

EW:

And it was protected, supposedly, by the military on the sideline. We had a Marine encampment here thirty miles down the road.

EE:

Was the facility at Tientsin, was that originally a Japanese base or a Chinese base?

EW:

It was Chinese.

EE:

And you were there from '45 till when? Did you stay a year?

EW:

A year. I think it was just about the end of '46, then I went to Japan.

EE:

Where were you in Japan?

EW:

I was, for the most part, in Yokohama.

EE:

That's a naval base there?

EW:

It's across the river from Tokyo. Yokosuka is the true naval base for Yokohama and Tokyo.

EE:

And this was an assignment again with another Red Cross hospitality club?

EW:

It was a club. I was the assistant club director.

EE:

When you were at these facilities, the clubs, were they—The one in Italy I have a good sense about because it was active on the lines. In China, was it associated with a hospital facility as well, or simply just an active air base where folks were?

EW:

It was deactivating an air base in Yangkai, and then it was with a club in Tientsin.

EE:

And at Tientsin it was an air base, but was there other facilities there?

EW:

No, it was the 1st Marine Division. And the 2nd Marine Air Force was there, but we didn't have—We had very little to do with them.

EE:

In your three assignments you've been with the 1st Armored Division in the Army, then you've been with basically the Army Air Force, the 47th Wing in—

EW:

In Italy.

EE:

In Italy. And now you're with the Marines. So you're not in the military, but you've already seen three branches of the service. Is there any difference in the enlisted men you're working with? Can you tell—? I assume that's where you heard about the women Marines, from the Marines over there. [chuckling]

EW:

No, there weren't any military in China. If there were, they were in Shanghai. Because when I got to Tientsin—My aunt and uncle had a bed and breakfast, we call it now, tourist home for officers down at Camp Lejeune [North Carolina]. I think the major number of the officers out of Camp Lejeune were sent to Tientsin at the same time I was. And Colonel Frisby, his nickname was Snow White, he was grizzled, gray, and just as nice as he could be. I said, “Colonel Frisby, why do they call you Snow White?” He said, “Because when I was a shavetail I had the whitest laundry in the company, and they nicknamed me Snow White.” [chuckling] And this had carried him through here, you know, just about to be a general.

EE:

And he's still Snow White.

EW:

And he's still Snow White. But he was in charge of recreation material for the 7th Service Regiment and he came down to see the club, and we didn't have anything. We didn't have a decent turntable, we didn't have any PA [public address] equipment, anything like that. Well, he got that club into A-1 shape. He sent the whole regiment down there to fix it up. That was for the Marines.

EE:

When you were at Tientsin, did you stay at—Were there rooming places on the—

EW: No, we stayed at a hotel. And then they got a home in a compound, and we—
EE:

I was going to say, you had to hopefully have someplace secure, it sounds like, with all the insurrection going on.

EW:

It did have high brick walls. I always got a kick out of the way-One of the times I was in Tientsin in the hotel, I got word that Clyde somebody from Rocky Mount [North Carolina] was coming, a big wheel in the political arena. And he found out there was a North Carolina girl in the group, so he had to have dinner with her. And I was sick. I had dinner with him but I was sick. And he went off and left me with the ticket. [chuckling] It wasn't much. It couldn't be much. I mean, once I got stuck with a ticket for a million dollars. Everything was so wild, but it was probably a dollar and a half.

EE:

Just the inflation rate was bad.

EW:

I had a good friend here who was named after him. He could hardly wait once he heard about it. He wanted to know exactly how much it was and where it was and so forth. He said he was going to get him. If he got him on the House of Representatives floor, he was going to get him but good. [chuckling] I don't know what he did with him, but he got him.

EE:

Was it Clyde Hoey?

EW:

No. Oh, Clyde Huey? Hoey! He was the speaker when I graduated. And my dear friend Judy Ulrich, she just died a couple months ago, she was going to have to make the speech for the class of 1937. And she said, “I'm no silver-tongued orator. Oh, this is terrible! This is awful! I am just a wreck!” Well, with his tie and his hair and his wild look, he got up there at Woman's College and said, “I like women. I admire women. My mother was a woman.” Well, it brought the house down. [chuckling] It put Judy at her ease. I thought my daddy would die.

EE:

[chuckling] Oh, my goodness. You were in Tientsin from '45 to '46, you go to Yokohama in—was it summertime of '46? When did you go?

EW:

I went in the fall, I think. I went on the hospital ship Comfort. And don't believe it. [chuckling] It erupted every week. Fortunately for me, I was on the top bunk. You'd wake up, and here would be the whole Pacific Ocean washing around. Your clothes, suitcases, shoes, everything washing around. Call the plumber. He was union. He came when he felt like it. And he always brought part of a paper cup, which he had claimed to have gotten out of the toilets that we had flushed down.

EE:

So, in other words, he always had an excuse. In other words, he never looked at it. He said, “Oh, well, this is what you did. You girls caused this.”

EW:

It was our fault. We never had a chance to get any cups like that. It was just the Comfort.

EE:

Did you take the ship out of Shanghai?

EW:

It took us two weeks out of Seattle to get across to Japan.

EE:

So you actually came back to the States after going to Tientsin?

EW:

Tientsin and came home.

EE:

To New Bern? Okay. And then you went on the Comfort out of Seattle? How long did you stay in New Bern before you went back to Japan?

EW:

I didn't stay very long, probably three weeks to a month

.
EE:

And then you took a train across country?

EW:

Yes.

EE:

You're a traveling woman. How did you do all this at this time?

EW:

It wasn't easy, because New Bern didn't have any better facilities for travel then than they do now. [chuckling]

EE:

I was going to say this is before I[nterstate]-40 is built, and the interstates aren't there.

EW:

Oh, my lord! Worse than [Interstate?] 10.

EE:

Did you take the Seaboard Line, take the train up to Raleigh and—?

EW:

No, somebody would drive you there. Wilson is where we'd go, Wilson or Rocky Mount is where we'd go.

EE:

So you go down to Seattle, you're going back to Yokohama. Is this the last tour of duty you had for the Red Cross?

EW:

No, “In Yokohama you get your mama, and then your troubles increase. In some pagoda you get a soda. Milk shakes, milk shakes, ten cents apiece.” [laughter] Oh boy, I can remember that.

EE:

Was that a song they sang?

EW:

That's a song they sang.

EE:

“Yokohama Mama.”

EW:

“In Yokohama you get your mama, and then your troubles increase. In some pagoda you get a soda. Milk shakes, milk shakes, ten cents apiece.” They were.

EE:

That's something.

EW:

Well, I didn't have a really exciting time, but I liked Yokohama. I didn't have an exciting time. The person who I loved had been killed and I was pretty well glad to go home.

EE:

Tell me about that. Was this somebody that you—

EW:

Somebody I knew in China.

EE:

China? Was killed in China?

EW:

I didn't know about it. I got word roundabout.

EE:

You had come back to the States before you found out?

EW:

No, I was right there in Yokohama.

EE:

He was killed in Yokohama or killed in China?

EW:

China. I knew him in China, and he was killed in China after I got to Yokohama.

EE:

Was this a Marine?

EW:

Yes. 1st Marine Division.

EE:

Where was he from?

EW:

I hate to say, I'm sure his wife's dead, but he apparently joined the Marines at quite an advanced age for going into the military as a private. I didn't know him, I knew of him, and I knew about his service in the islands of the South Pacific, Guadalcanal and all through there. And he went from private to captain when I knew him, but that was all field promotions. So the GIs and the Red Cross people that knew him all liked him, and knew he was married and knew he was unhappily married and knew he didn't want to go home. I met him, I didn't even know who he was. That was not a happy period of my life. The rest of it was.

EE:

So you knew each other for the time you were in Tientsin?

EW:

Just in Tientsin.

EE:

So he was killed before you left to come home?

EW:

No, I got word of his death through a letter from a friend in Chicago. She didn't know that I didn't know.

EE:

Did he die in a plane crash, or how did it—

EW:

I was in the kitchen, with Dinah. I was in the kitchen.

EE:

Someone's in the kitchen and you were there.

EW:

I was at work, in the morning, and somebody came in with the mail and they said, “Here's a letter for you.” So I read it and that's where I got [the news], and I was all to pieces. And I went up to the Red Cross director of the club, and she as much as called me a liar and said I couldn't have gotten any mail, she got mail when it first came in, and no I couldn't go home. So I didn't say it to her, but I said, “To hell with you, I'm going home right now.” I went down the steps, bumped into the head of the Red Cross in Yokohama, and she said, “What in this world is wrong with you?” And I started to tell her, and she said, “Get in the car, we'll go home now.” She took me home. I was over it very quickly. But it's not one of those things that you enjoy talking about.

EE:

No. Well, this is the thing, there's so much going on, and as much as is going on with you, the geography happens to your heart, too. You're changing, and people that you're there for a very short time with, and you can just feel so bonded with people, and the next day they're out of your life.

EW:

I learned when I went to Italy—I had a real good memory, and I said, “I'm going to learn every man's name.” This was my headquarters, about three hundred people. And I learned them. And I went in line one day and I said, “Where is Joe?”

“He didn't make it.”

In a little while I said, “Where is Eric?”

“He didn't make it.”

So I said to myself, “I shall not learn one more name. I don't want to know. I can't take it.”

EE:

Your heart.

EW:

These young men, seventeen to twenty-two or twenty-three, just shot down for nothing. I remember one, he came up and he said, “Look! Look at what happened to me!” A piece of flak had come right through, hit him right dead-center here, go around his helmet and come out the same hole. And it didn't touch him. He had a bad headache. I saw the hole, I didn't see the flak, but—He couldn't walk, he couldn't do anything, he couldn't operate, but he'd been saved.

EE:

Some of the people who I've talked with, WAVES especially, are folks who did not—You were in combat. I mean, you were there where people were actually fighting. I know some of the people have felt—Some of these people have said, “This was the best time of my life, but, you know, I could never talk about it because for my husband it was the worst time.” Or, “I lost my boyfriend.” And I think a lot of the stories from women have not gotten out because of that, because they know they were in a different role. And yet you were there, right there with everybody else.

EW:

I came home, and they could hardly wait to get me to all the clubs to talk to them. And I'd get started and I'd find out that they all were sitting around saying, “Well, what did you do with your formula?” I wasn't there to talk about [that]. So I just said, like you were talking about, I just quit. They weren't interested. They were interested in their babies, they were interested in where their husband was. Now, if I'd been after their husband it would have been a different story. [chuckling]

EE:

Right, right. It's the kind of thing that you know, and yet you can only live your life. And all the things that made your life, all the different—I mean, for women your age, you're still very unusual. You are one of a very few number who did all the different travels in the time you did. I guess at the time you were doing this you were mid-twenties, late twenties?

EW:

I don't even remember.

EE:

You graduated in '37, this was seven years later, so about twenty-seven, twenty-eight when you were doing this stuff. You were in Yokohama when you got this news, and you apparently got this pretty quickly after getting in Yokohama. How long did you stay in Yokohama?

EW:

I stayed there the whole time, a year.

EE:

A year. And then what—

EW:

I came home and went into Junior Red Cross, which is traveling—I traveled in Kentucky and West Virginia.

EE:

You say it's called Junior Red Cross? Are you organizing Red Cross—

EW:

You organize and try to build up interest in Red Cross through the juniors, through the young people. Now that's the most embarrassed I've ever been, was in Kentucky. The Red Cross chapter contacted a school, and they had the student body come in and sit in the bleachers and I was to talk to them. And what I had were my notes and a microphone that stood on the floor. And here was the whole—absolutely the whole basketball court, and all the bleachers, everybody standing there staring at me and my knees knocking. [chuckling]

EE:

It didn't sound like you were doing a lot of public speaking before this.

EW:

If I had had a table to lean on or something. Just nothing!

EE:

I've been there before. They say the two things people are most afraid of are dying and public speaking. [laughter] Yes, I've had that experience myself. That's when you feel like you're totally naked in front of everybody.

EW:

It's awful. I think I would rather have men because I would have known what they were looking at. [chuckling] It was just awful.

EE:

How long did you do this with the Junior Red Cross?

EW:

Let's see, I came home in-four years.

EE:

So that was from '48 to '52? And you were doing this all around the Southeast?

EW:

No, I had the eastern area headquarters, and I was in the—Atlanta was the southeast. Alexandria [Virginia] was the east. That's where I was.

EE:

Alexandria, Virginia? That was where your headquarters were? Did you have a home there?

EW:

I had an apartment. And most of us who were with Junior Red Cross there were former Red Cross field directors. As a matter of fact, one of the girls was in Great Britain and she said—she was clubmobile—that they had taken her clubmobile to France and buried it, and she was operating it the second day after they landed.

EE:

So they hid it for her to be ready to—

EW:

They put it so that the GIs could go in and out, and so there wouldn't be any possibility of bombs. It was D minus two, and she said this GI came in, and she said he was perfectly awful-looking. And she finally said, “Well, now what can I do for you?”

He said, “I don't think you can do a thing for me. This place hasn't got anything in it.”

She said, “Well, it's got everything I can think of.”

He said, “Well, it doesn't have any of that tobacco that you get out of a pouch.” He became her best friend and protector, but he was going to mark her off the list. She didn't have anything to make—like the cowboys.

EE:

Roll up your cigarette, yeah.

EW:

That was something else. I didn't know her till we went to the eastern area with Junior Red Cross.

EE:

Were the people in the Junior Red Cross, were the men and women, mostly women?

EW:

Mostly women.

EE:

Mostly women? And you had a supervisor, I guess, then who would—

EW:

A man was the director, Lee Krebs, and a woman named Lyle Williams was our supervisor. And then there was a man, I can't remember his name, who took Krebs's place. I didn't like him. I guess that's why I don't remember his name. He didn't like me either, so—[laughter]

EE:

[Nineteen] fifty-two is when you retired. You quit the Red Cross and came back down here?

EW:

I came back down here and I taught school. See, I didn't teach the first year.

EE:

So this was in '52 you came back down to Gloucester?

EW:

Yeah, they had a man from Sparta-at that time the Sparta School went from first through twelfth—and he came over here and asked me if I'd go over there and teach French. I said, “No, I don't teach French.”

“Well, we need a French teacher.”

I said, “Well, I'm not a French teacher.”

“Well, you can try. As it is, we don't have anybody.”

I said, “I'm not going to go over there and let those children think that they know how to speak French from somebody who's—”

Well, I had Katherine Taylor two years, and I can't think of the name, Nita, a beautiful woman, who taught me really French classics, but I couldn't speak French. I couldn't teach that. I went down to Atlantic [North Carolina]. Have you been to Atlantic? Well, in those days, 1954 I believe it was, '53, I went down there and taught one year. Somebody said, “How did you get along?”

I said, “I really don't know. It took six weeks for them to understand me and me to understand them.” Because every single one of them came from a different section of down east and they all had a different brogue. And I had been exposed to it. But if you throw some idioms in there, you've had it.

EE:

If everybody has the same IQ level, it's one problem just to get to know the brogue. When you start talking about trying to deal with people who don't understand, plus the brogue—

EW:

Oh, it's something.

EE:

And that's where you—

EW:

That's my first year after coming back. I was in New Bern, and they came to me and said they needed somebody to teach the fourth grade. Well, that ended anything that I would ever have to do with primary. [chuckling] One of the teachers came, and she was a real good first-grade teacher, and she said, “Betsy, I really think you belong in high school.” [chuckling] “You don't belong in this.” I said, “No, I don't. I can't stand those children to come running, grabbing me by the pants and wanting me to—dragging me into the bathroom. I don't want to sit down and eat with them. I don't belong here.” So that was 1954, following [Hurricane] Hazel, I went to New Bern High School, which is now Grover Cleveland Fields [School]. My grand-nephew goes there.

EE:

How long did you teach there?

EW:

I think twenty-some years.

EE:

And you retired from the system down there? So you were actually living in New Bern all that time, or you were commuting?

EW:

I was living here, here and there. [chuckling]

EE:

That's a long haul going up to New Bern every day.

EW:

I didn't, though. I stayed here when I was at Atlantic, but I went to New Bern every weekend.

EE:

And you still had the house up there then?

EW:

Yeah, and I had a sister.

EE:

You had your sister. So you stayed with your sister while you were teaching, and come back here on the weekends?

EW:

Sometimes I stayed there. When I had the house I didn't, I stayed on my own—with my dogs. I've always had my dogs. [chuckling]

EE:

Wonderful, wonderful. You've told me so many interesting stories about folks that you met while you were—

EW:

Oh, I met Jimmy Doolittle. He was commanding general of the—

EE:

That was when you were in Tientsin?

EW:

No, that was when I was in Italy. He was commanding general of the Twelth—

EE:

This is the Doolittle who did the Tokyo raid, right?

EW:

This is the Doolittle, yeah. The B-25s.

EE:

Oh, so that was his wing that came over to Italy then?

EW:

No, he had been sent on to the Eighth Air Force in Britain, Great Britain. They were in North Africa and Italy. And then General Twining was—Nathan Twining, was the commanding general of the Fifteenth Air Force, which took over from the Twelfth.

EE:

Any other celebrities that folks might know? Any other folks you met?

EW:

No, I didn't know anybody else. They were the two most important ones.

EE:

Did you ever have a USO group come by to where you were stationed in Italy?

EW:

No, I had—I think the funniest man, I can't think of his name now—Joe E. Brown. He came by. I was told by some of the men—I didn't go, I wasn't allowed to—that he was telling these stories. Anything he said was funny because he was so funny looking. They said he was standing up there talking and someone said, “Tell us a dirty story! Tell us a dirty story!” They said finally he put his hands on his hips and he said, “If I have to make my living telling dirty stories, I'll quit living. I'm not going to tell a dirty story.” And they said the place erupted with men that didn't want dirty stories. I got to know him vaguely. He came in the doughnut shop in the morning to get coffee.

EE: You're talking about some things, when you're in that war experience it'll do one of two things to you: You either hold on for dear life to civilization and doing the right thing, and standards, or you just say, “To hell with it.” [chuckling] You know, "I'll live for today and I don't really care." Is that sort of what happened to folks?
EW:

I don't know. I had a cousin I thought was kind of a—She said she had been by this place in New Bern called Adolph's. Well, Adolph had been the father of a young man that I liked very much in high school, and so I was talking to Sue about it. She said she was going to take a car—I said, “Well, go and get to know Paul. He was one of my favorite people when I was teaching in high school, just as nice as he could be.” And so she went, and he—I don't know how she brought it up, but anyway he said, “Yes, I had three women that I just love dearly.” He named me, I don't remember who the other two were. And Sue said, “Why did you like her?”—meaning me. He said, “Because she was always a lady.” And I think that we carried that through. I don't think it had anything specific. I don't remember.

EE: But it made an impression.
EW:

I didn't like Elvis Presley or that group, and I had girls come to me and say, “Miss Williams, I don't like him. Do I have to?”

I said, “No, you don't have to. If you don't want to feel different, just don't say anything about it and you'll be all right.” But I don't see anything different.

EE:

That happens. Every generation it's something like that, somebody that the crowd likes and—

EW:

And somebody doesn't.

EE:

And somebody doesn't. And I think you just—I guess for some groups it was probably Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were probably that in the thirties. [chuckling] You do Sing, Sing, Sing [song by Goodman] for twenty minutes, and—[chuckling]

EW:

What's his name, I loved him dearly, Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye. But Glenn Miller was the one. He was my“-”

EE:

Now when did his plane go down? Was that '45?

EW:

It was in the forties. I don't remember.

EE:

Was there any other music or movies you remember back from that time? You said you were in Italy when you saw Casablanca.

EW:

I didn't meet her, but the woman who was—

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

EW:

—insisted on going to the bathroom with the men.

EE:

This was Margaret Bourke-White insisting?

EW:

Yes.

EE:

I think she did all the photos of Gandhi, I remember, and—

EW:

She was a wonderful photographer, but a—

EE:

She was a pioneer, but she just wanted to be one of the boys.

EW:

She wanted to be one of the boys, and they didn't like it. As I say, I didn't meet her. But I will remember Pat Pattison at one of the air bases over at Rottaglia. The rail line ran right through it north and south, and there was a road that went over the top of it and then turned left, for vehicles. And Pat was coming out of the air base, and she said just as she started over this railroad track that went up and then down, she realized that there was a GI sitting on an outdoor facility that had nothing in front of it. [chuckling] And she said she went over the top, and when she came down on the other side she hit the horn. [laughter]

EE:

Just to watch him jump? [laughter]

EW:

And she said, “I never would be able to tell him that I didn't do it on purpose.” [laughter]

That brings up another one. She went to Naples, and I think I told you that we weren't allowed to eat anywhere but in regular messes sponsored by the army. So she saw the sign, and she was hungry and she got in it. And she's real tall, she's almost six feet, and so she stood out like a sore thumb. She said this GI came up to her and said, “Miss, I think you're in the wrong line. This is for prophylactics.” [laughter]

EE:

Yeah, that's probably the wrong line. Was Pat from New Bern?

EW:

Pat was from right around Rochester, Minnesota.

EE:

When was the first time you ran into her?

EW:

When I went to North Africa.

EE:

And then did she follow you to Italy, or did you just keep in touch?

EW:

She and Molly went with a troop carrier wing, and then they were sent back to Italy, taken back to—That was in North Africa before they came to Naples. I knew the leader, he was the head man then in Naples, and so he knew I needed somebody for company, so he sent Molly and Pat. And we had a wonderful time.

EE:

That was nice. It's good to have buddies in a couple places, isn't it?

EW:

Oh, Pat. Pat had a boyfriend and he was divorced. He really wasn't. She didn't particularly care for him. But in any event, I knew that he had a thing that he had for her. So it was about the time I was getting ready to go home, and so I went to all the men in the 47th Bomber Wing headquarters, the officers, and told them I'd be glad to get in touch with their families or their wives or girlfriends, just give me the addresses if they wanted me to do it. So this one, Bruce Besor, loved Pat. He said, “No, he didn't have anybody.” He didn't have a soul, didn't want me to get in touch [with]. And when I was in China I got a letter from him, and he said that he and his wife had just had a baby. I didn't know he had a wife. And I was so pleased for him I wrote him a letter. I got a poison pen from his wife.

EE:

She thought you were—

EW:

Because he had had a wife the whole time he was in Italy.

EE:

Oh, so she thought—

EW:

And she thought I was one of his girlfriends. And she wanted me to know that they had children that were in high school, and then this little surprise package.

EE:

You were getting into something over your head before you knew what you were getting into.

EW:

Pat was asked to be the head of the local radio station, and she said her most awful problem was one GI came in and said, “Pat, what am I going to do? I sent a letter to my girlfriend and a letter to my wife at the same time, and I got them mixed up.” [chuckling] She said, “Just don't go home.” [laughter] She said, “You will never straighten that one out.”

EE:

This is a problem that more than one person has run into.

EW:

Well, we were going down between us a little place called—it wasn't San Pancrazio. It was called Oria. And Pat and I were driving a jeep. I think I was driving. Pat was, as I said, over six feet, so she sat right up. It was a narrow road, probably thirteen to eighteen feet, and I said, “Pat, look what's coming.” And it was about five Italian farmers on bicycles. I said, “I'm going to tell you right now what's going to happen. They're going to see you, they're going to see a woman driving a jeep, and they're going to ride right straight on, and the second one is going to hit the first one and they're going to collapse right in front of us.” That's exactly what happened. [chuckling] As they passed us, every single one of them. I could watch in the rear-vision mirror. Every single one of them, flat-out. She was so tall that we never had to worry about losing her in one of the local taverns. The men were not as tall as I was.

EE:

Well, six foot is tall now, it was really tall fifty years ago.

EW:

We just said, “Okay, we don't have to look any further, there's Pat.”

EE:

Let me ask you a few general questions about the time, because you've just been very generous with your time, and I appreciate that.

EW:

Oh, I've enjoyed it.

EE:

Well, and I'm glad you are because I am, too. What impact do you think the time that you spent around the military with your Red Cross service, what impact do you think that had on your life, long-term and short-term?

EW:

I just couldn't say because I was with it for so long. Five years of your life at any time is going to make a change.

EE:

Do you think it made you more independent than what you were, or were you always pretty independent?

EW:

No, I think it made me be able to get along with people, males.

EE:

You had to get along with rapid change, I can tell that already. [chuckling]

EW:

But somebody was talking the other day about getting along with people. I never had the first insult. It was like Paul said, “She's always a lady.” Apparently that carried over. But they didn't ask, they didn't expect and didn't ask, and I certainly didn't push it.

EE:

Some people have looked back and said, you know, the fact that there were so many women in and around the military that that was really the start of women in the workforce, in a sense. You know, that and with Rosie the Riveter coming on and all these changes, do you consider yourself a pioneer in that respect?

EW:

No. I don't think that World War II brought women into the workforce, because they were already there. When I was in Italy, they sent a man over to be in charge of the group that I was with, and my men wouldn't have anything to do with him. And he had to leave. Because they just sent word back they didn't like him, didn't want anything to do with him, weren't going to give him a damn bit of information. Take him back. Didn't want him.

EE:

So you had already gotten equal respect over there already.

EW:

I belonged to them. That's different, because usually they'd want to get rid of the woman for a man.

EE:

But you proved yourself over there, it sounds like.

EW:

But as far as being a change, the whole world changed with World War II.

[End of Interview]