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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Ellen West, 1999

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Object ID: WV0059.5.001

Description: Documents Mary Ellen West’s time at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro); her service in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II; and her employment after the war.

Summary:

West discusses her immediate family, recalling her family’s farming past and her mother and sister’s education; attending the 1939 World Fair in New York; and summers spent earning money as a typist. She also describes her time at the Woman’s College. Topics include Spencer and Mary Foust dormitories; the park; her professors; the difficulties of being a transfer student; and hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

West recalls her decision to become a WAVE in 1943 and discusses basic training at Hunter College, including the train ride to New York, drills, being quartered in apartments, and the uniform fitting. She also mentions her time at Whiting Field in Florida and living in the barracks there. Topics related to Officer Candidate School in Northampton, Massachusetts, include the trip there, her studies, the dorms, social life, and being a veteran in a school of new recruits. War-related topics conclude with discussion of West’s time stationed in Washington, D.C, her living quarters there, attending cocktail parties and VE and VJ Day celebrations.

Post-war discussion focuses on West’s employment with a contracting company. Broader discussion topics include the treatment of women in the service, the Roosevelt family, and the effect her military service had on her life.

Creator: Mary Ellen West

Biographical Info: Mary Ellen West (b. 1922) of Dover, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1943 to 1946.

Collection: Mary Ellen West Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

EE:

I am Eric Elliott, and I'm here today in Kinston, North Carolina. In Lenoir County?

MW:

Lenoir County.

EE:

And I'm at the home of Mary Ellen West, who is a Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina, now UNCG] graduate, class of '43, I think?

MW:

Right.

EE:

And this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG]. And thank you, Miss West, for having us today. As I told you, we're going to ask you the same kind of questions that we've been asking a lot of folks, and the first question I have is a very simple one: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

MW:

Dover, North Carolina.

EE:

That's not too far down the road, as I recall.

MW:

About thirteen miles.

EE:

That's east of here.

MW:

Right, between Kinston and New Bern. On a farm.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

MW:

I have two sisters, one older and one younger. Both went to Woman's College [WC].

EE:

Wonderful. Tell me about your folks. Were they from this area? What did they do?

MW:

Yes, Mother and Dad were from the area. Mother was from Craven County and my father was from Lenoir County. And when they married, they moved onto a farm, and they moved there in 1920 and lived there until they died.

EE:

Had they both been from farming families?

MW:

Yes, both were from farming families.

EE:

What were they, tobacco?

MW:

Tobacco farmers, after tobacco came in. When they first got married there was a little tobacco and cotton going. And Mother had lived in Lenoir County prior to her family moving down to Craven County, and she taught school before she married.

EE:

Had either one of them been to college?

MW:

Mother went to Woman's College.

EE:

This was back, I guess, when it was Normal [North Carolina State Normal and Industrial College]?

MW:

Yes, and then she was there one year and went to East Carolina [University]. And she felt that her daughter should go to Woman's College versus East Carolina.

EE:

So her actual degree was from East Carolina.

MW:

She did not get a degree.

EE:

She went to Woman's College for—well, I guess it was Normal. When was it, was it after—?

MW:

Nineteen fourteen, along in there.

EE:

Nineteen fourteen, around there? What was her maiden name?

MW:

Gladys Taylor Hodges. I said '14. It was probably '17. She was up there during the war, anyway.

EE:

Okay. Yeah, we didn't join except—Probably have been right, because it would only have been for a year. Where did you go to school?

MW:

Where did I go to school?

EE:

High school.

MW:

Dover, elementary and high school, Dover High School. I finished in '39. Then I went to—

EE:

Was that an eleven-year or a twelve-year?

MW:

Eleven years at that time. And I had two years at Louisburg Junior College before transferring to Woman's College.

EE:

Louisburg—?

MW:

Louisburg, North Carolina.

EE:

Is that still a junior college, or has that become something else?

MW:

It's still a junior college, Methodist.

EE:

That's north of Raleigh, isn't it?

MW:

Right. It's one of the older junior colleges.

EE:

So you went there even though your mama thought you ought to go to WC?

MW:

Yes, she didn't think I was mature enough to go to Woman's College.

EE:

Oh. Okay.

MW:

So I went there two years and then transferred.

EE:

But now your older sister was already at Woman's College?

MW:

She had finished, two years ahead. She went to Louisburg, then Woman's College, and had finished.

EE:

Oh, so you were basically following her footsteps then.

MW:

Following her footsteps. And then my younger sister went to Woman's College as a freshman when I went as a junior.

EE:

So, by the time you went to Louisburg, your big sister had already left to go to Woman's College.

MW:

Right.

EE:

So you didn't have the benefit of there being another family [member]. Was that your first time away from home, going to Louisburg?

MW:

Well, to be away from home for any length of time.

EE:

Did you live there on campus? Did they have little dormitories?

MW:

In a dormitory.

EE:

Okay. Did you have a major there?

MW:

Oh yes.

EE:

What was your major at Louisburg?

MW:

Oh, I didn't major there. Times were hard, so I found out if you took the proper courses you could transfer and not have to go to summer school at Woman's College. So I did not get the BS [bachelor of science degree, or] the associate's there.

EE:

Right. You just simply got enough hours to transfer.

MW:

To transfer.

EE:

So you took courses in the summer as well?

MW:

No, I didn't want to go to summer school, so by taking the proper courses—If I had taken the right courses to have gotten my two—year degree at Louisburg, I would have had to have gone to summer school to make up courses. I found out that because of my sisters.

EE:

Did you like school?

MW:

I enjoyed it okay. Not too exciting. [chuckling]

EE:

It was preferable to going back and working on the farm. [chuckling] Did you work in the farm or have another job while you were in high school or college?

MW:

No, we did farm work. That was considered all right for you to do for your family. You didn't go out and do it for other people. But you worked on the farm. And then after I went to Louisburg I had typing there, and that summer I worked at the agricultural office in New Bern and did stenographic typing.

EE:

Did you have your own car? How did you get around?

MW:

No, I didn't even drive. Mother and Dad would drive me down to Cove City, and I had a ride from there to New Bern, and they would pick me up each afternoon. And the next year after I had finished at Louisburg—no, it was after I had been at Woman's College one year—I worked down at Camp Lejeune. I made fifteen dollars a week when I worked in New Bern and made twenty-seven fifty when I worked in Camp Lejeune.

EE:

I think I'd make the extra drive. So '39 is when you graduated from high school?

MW:

High school.

EE:

You got your course work finished from Louisburg in '41.

MW:

Yes.

EE:

What does a girl think in 1939 about—Where were you and what was going on in the world back then? Were you worried about anything going on in Europe at that time?

MW:

Somewhat. I can remember reading the American Magazine and the Reader's Digest and hearing the farmer on the next farm that was a relative, we always would call him “Uncle,” and I can remember how upset he was about it, that we didn't know what would happen and that sort of thing. I was concerned. And then the summer I worked in New Bern, just before I left, they were bringing in people for the base at Cherry Point, [North Carolina], for the establishment of Cherry Point [Marine Corps Air Station]. And the federal building where I was working, all the offices were filled wall—to—wall with desks, with men working on building Cherry Point.

EE:

So, even though this was all before Pearl Harbor, preparations were already being made?

MW:

Oh yes. Yes, this was long before Pearl Harbor. This was the summer of '41. I can see all those engineers at or near their desks working all for that.

EE:

I know the mood of the country at the time before Pearl Harbor, half of the people didn't want anything to do with it. It seems like it just—

MW:

Right, it was too far away. But we did not realize how narrow the Atlantic Ocean—and with all the submarines that were coming in, and people were not telling things and it was kept quiet. Until now we realize how many of the submarines came on our coast and how dangerous it was. So we cannot be too thankful for England being between us and Germany.

EE:

Fighting the good fight to give us time to get ready.

MW:

Right.

EE:

I have heard tales of people who went walking on the beach and they'd see oil come up from subs that had been sunk out there.

MW:

And having had a friend from Hatteras, [North Carolina], when I was at Louisburg, she could tell things that you didn't get in the paper.

EE:

I'll bet. You went to Louisburg with the intention of going to Woman's College?

MW:

Right.

EE:

From the beginning?

MW:

From the very beginning. I charted my courses for my first year, first and second year there, in preparation for Woman's College with their book as to what courses I should have.

EE:

When you were at Louisburg, were you pretty book—minded and didn't do a lot of social stuff, or did you enjoy the fact that you were eighteen and out away from home, too?

MW:

Sort of a combination.

EE:

Combination? So you did have fun while you were there, too?

MW:

Oh yes.

EE:

When you went from Louisburg, which is what, about an hour and a half? How far is that to drive?

MW:

Oh, it was about two, two and a half hours, at that time.

EE:

At that time. And then you transferred in '41, the fall of '41. Now Hitler invades Poland in '39, so things have heated up, and in the fall of '41 you go to Woman's College as a junior transfer. Did you have to declare a major?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

What was your major?

MW:

Business, business science/secretarial administration/teacher training.

EE:

Is that what your sister had done, or was this your—

MW:

Oh, my sister majored in English and French, but Mother insisted that I get a teacher certificate. I was not interested in teaching.

EE:

That's sort of like, if nothing else, college women ought to be able to teach.

MW:

She felt that that was sort of a safety, that if you couldn't do something else you could teach.

EE:

Right. What do you recall about your time at Woman's College? Special professors or classes?

MW:

What was that first?

EE:

What do you recall about that time? We've got people who have different memories. Where did you stay on campus?

MW:

Mary Foust and Spencer [dormitories]. Mary Foust—

EE:

They weren't still worried about the wiring when you were at Spencer, were they?

MW:

What?

EE:

Were they worried about the wiring when you were at Spencer? Did they tell you not to cook in the rooms, that kind of stuff?

MW:

Oh yes, you couldn't do any of that. Spencer had been remodeled a few years before I was there, and so that was sort of upgraded. You weren't supposed to have coffee pots and that sort of thing in the rooms. Some did. They didn't want to get up for breakfast.

EE:

And Mary Foust was still a relatively new dorm then.

MW:

Right, Mary Foust and Guilford were relatively new.

EE:

Right across from each other.

MW:

And the park, you see, was still open down there, and they had that—what was it, a little “Y” cabin or something down there?

EE:

When you were there then, Mary Foust was right there, the last dorm before the park?

MW:

Right, Mary Foust across from New Guilford. And they had a little cabin down there that they would have meetings in, and the park was still there.

EE:

Yeah, I've heard lots of people talk about rowing little boats across the lake down there.

MW:

I don't remember that. Of course the science building was down there. That was one of the newer buildings.

EE:

Right. Do you remember any professors, any classes you took?

MW:

Oh yes. Dr. [McKee] Fisk was head of the [business] department, and being a transfer, he was the business guidance for me there. Jeanette Sievers was there. She is deceased. Miss [Mathilde] Hardaway, Dr. Hardaway, Dr. [Vance T.] Littlejohn, Miss [Elsie] Leffingwell, Miss Sprewell [Patty Louise Spruill], Miss [Maude L.] Adams. Oh jeepers, I can't remember the accounting fellow's name. I thought I never would forget that one.

EE:

You and math didn't always get along? [chuckling]

MW:

I was looking forward to taking accounting because math had always been my good subject. But he turned me off about the first week I was there, because he said, “If I come in one morning and my wife and I have had a fight the night before, you all will have a test.” Well, that did not go in my philosophy of life. And so from then on I might as well not have gone to class. I mean, I just didn't like his attitude towards [us].

EE:

It's a shame how one person can do that, isn't it?

MW:

Isn't it? Isn't it awful?

EE:

But generally your experience with the teachers there was a good one?

MW:

Oh, basically.

EE:

It's hard as a transfer, isn't it?

MW:

Right, because the others have already made the adjustments. And you weren't in the same class, because here I was taking American history when they had already had it their sophomore year.

EE:

Now as a transfer, all your grades transferred as a C, didn't they?

MW:

They transferred on the basis that when you made a certain grade there they would transfer in. They had just changed the rules and regulations at that time.

EE:

Okay, so it was a little easier. And who did you room with when you were there? Did you know the person you were rooming with before you went there?

MW:

No. I roomed with Jean Von Cannon my junior year [1942] because my sister had known her and she needed a roommate. And then the next year I roomed with Laureen Highfell, who was a business major. She's now deceased.

EE:

Did you get involved socially with any of the societies or anything else that was going on there?

MW:

Not too much. I went to all of the concerts and things of that type. I thoroughly enjoyed the concerts.

EE:

Yeah, a lot of people talk about the music program. It was a really nice variety of things.

MW:

They were really good. I wouldn't have missed a concert for anything.

EE:

Somebody said they never knew opera until they went to Woman's College, and they've loved opera ever since. They never would have suspected it, coming from the little town they came from in North Carolina.

MW:

And ballet.

EE:

Ballet is another one for you.

MW:

And so I thoroughly enjoyed all of the concerts.

EE:

Did you know Harriet Elliott or Katherine Taylor when you were there?

MW:

Yes, Miss Elliott was selected to go, of course, with the cabinet, and I can remember some of her lectures when she came back. And of course Katherine Taylor was—what was it, a French teacher or something? I don't remember. I knew her by sight on the campus, and then I knew her at Officer's Candidate School.

EE:

So you probably knew her better after Officer Candidate School that you did—

MW:

Well, I really can't say that I know her, but when I was there I went up and introduced myself and that sort of thing.

EE:

You're there on campus, your first semester at a new school, and probably right at exam time Pearl Harbor happens.

MW:

That's right.

EE:

Where were you? Do you remember anything about that day? What did you think?

MW:

Well, I've always been one to sleep a lot, and that was a Sunday afternoon, and I can remember having my nap and my sister came in and told me that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and my thought was, “Where is Pearl Harbor?” And she admitted recently that she didn't know where Pearl Harbor was either.

EE:

So you were back at home that weekend?

MW:

No, I was at the college.

EE:

Oh, that's right, your younger sister.

MW:

My younger sister. She had a radio in her room and so she came and told me, and of course we were very concerned about that.

EE:

Those two years you were there, did you find yourself playing big sister with your younger one there and hanging out, or did you kind of do your own separate thing?

MW:

We did our own thing.

EE:

Yeah, that's what happens usually with brothers and sisters, they kind of do their own thing. So something had changed, but you didn't probably fully know what that day. Did the mood on campus change as things developed?

MW:

Well, Monday was sort of blue for everybody, and I can remember the economics teacher—oh, what was his name?—talking to us and trying to calm us. Everybody was wondering what was going to happen next, where would the bombs go and things.

EE:

Was that the day that [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt gave his speech, or was it the next day? I don't remember.

MW:

I don't remember.

EE:

“A day that shall live in infamy.” Someone was telling me that that speech was piped in over the PA [public address] system in their school. I guess that made a big impression.

MW:

I don't remember that.

EE:

You were there in '41, then you graduated in '43. During that time, your thinking was, “After I get my degree I'm going to do” what?

MW:

At that time I wanted to join the service.

EE:

When did you decide you wanted to join the service? After Pearl Harbor, or how early do you remember thinking about that?

MW:

Oh, my senior year I felt like instead of teaching I wanted to join the service, if I could pass the physical.

EE:

Did it matter to you which branch?

MW:

Yes, I wanted to go in the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy].

EE:

And the compelling reason for joining the WAVES was—

MW:

I just felt like it was a more acceptable position for a lady.

EE:

And judging from the comments I've heard about the uniforms, certainly maybe it was the most ladylike-looking one.

MW:

Right. We were the best—dressed women at that point.

EE:

Who was it, Mainbocher?

MW:

I don't know.

EE:

Some famous designer who designed that uniform.

MW:

Well, it was supposed to be the best-designed uniform, and they were a comfortable uniform. I can't say that the summer blue uniform, which was a skirt and jacket and a white blouse, was very comfortable. It was sort of a stiff material and it didn't wash well. And the next summer we had the seersucker uniforms, and that was very nice, and the other ones were passé and I never saw them anymore.

EE:

Did you have other friends who were joining the WAVES?

MW:

Did I have any friends?

EE:

Who were joining the WAVES?

MW:

No.

EE:

I believe at the time, if you were under twenty—one, you had to have your parents' permission, didn't you?

MW:

That's right.

EE:

So what was the conversation like in your household when they found out you were interested in joining the service?

MW:

Well, when they found out I really wasn't interested in teaching after they had insisted that I apply at several places, which I refused to do, I just didn't follow through on it, I was going to be twenty-one, and I said, “I need to go ahead and get going with this. Let's go ahead and get it signed.” And Mother said, “Well, ask your father to sign for you.” And of course with no sons he was very happy to sign for me to go in, and was very proud to think that I was willing to go in. So there was no—

EE:

So you didn't have to fight that fight?

MW:

So I didn't have to fight the fight, and they carried me to Raleigh for the examinations and—

EE:

Did you apply before you graduated then?

MW:

No.

EE:

This was right afterwards?

MW:

Afterwards. And so I went to Raleigh to the naval recruiting office there and made my application, and they did the physical, and I came out and I told them I had been sworn in and I was on temporary duty until I got home and then my reports would come for me to go in, and my mother got sick immediately. [chuckling]

EE:

This was '43?

MW:

[Nineteen] forty-three.

EE:

When was your birthday to turn twenty-one? Was it that year?

MW:

Yes, 9/2.

EE:

So September?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

But you needed to get that signature beforehand. So you didn't want to wait till September and then go?

MW:

That's right, and so it was back up in—

EE:

In May?

MW:

No, it was sort of July, August, along in there.

EE:

And then your mom got sick? What happened with her?

MW:

Oh, that was just a little flare-up.

EE:

Did it delay you?

MW:

Just a little flare-up that she had, I think, that was nervous excitement about it. [chuckling]

EE:

“It's my baby.” No matter how old you are, you're always mama's baby.

MW:

That's right.

EE:

What about your sisters? What did they think of it? What was your older sister doing who had already graduated?

MW:

Oh, my older sister was teaching in—I believe that year she was teaching in Ahoskie, [North Carolina]. I'm not sure, I think it was Ahoskie that she was teaching. And of course my younger sister was going back for her junior year at Woman's College, and she was majoring in biology.

EE:

So this was July/August of '43. You came back home. Now you joined as an officer or as enlisted?

MW:

Enlisted. They said they didn't have any openings for officers. So I was determined to join, so I just went in as enlisted.

EE:

So you were waiting on your orders to go to what, Hunter [College]?

MW:

Hunter. I went to Hunter in New York.

EE:

That's where? The Bronx or something?

MW:

Right.

EE:

Which has quite a different feeling today than it did then.

MW:

That's right. So that was my first trip on a Pullman [train car].

EE:

Where did you board? Wilson? Where did you get on?

MW:

Goldsboro, [North Carolina]. I went to Goldsboro and boarded.

EE:

And your folks saw you off at the station?

MW:

That's right, they saw me off at the station.

EE:

I'll bet you remember waving 'bye. That's a long trip.

MW:

Waving goodbye. [chuckling]

EE:

That's as far as their baby has ever been gone. You'd never been out of state before that, had you?

MW:

Oh yes, I had.

EE:

Where had you been?

MW:

When I graduated from high school, my parents let me go to the New York World's Fair.

EE:

Oh, so you had been to New York before.

MW:

I had been to New York.

EE:

And looking forward to going back. For the World's Fair in '39?

MW:

In '39.

EE:

Oh, that was a big World's Fair!

MW:

That was a big deal.

EE:

That was the biggest World's Fair, I think, there'd ever been.

MW:

That was the biggie.

EE:

Yes, that's where the “World of Tomorrow” was.

MW:

Right, and the sphere and all of that. To me, that was much bigger than the one in Seattle.

EE:

I was going to say, it was seen as the biggest event because it had so many things that really were—Did you see the television? I guess it was up there. Wasn't it there?

MW:

I don't remember seeing the television, but I remember seeing how they made the roads, like the cloverleaves like we have now and all that. Oh, it was just great.

EE:

So you're on the train. Did you know anybody else from the school who was going up there then? You didn't?

MW:

I didn't know anybody.

EE:

So you get on there with a bunch of strangers, and all you know is you have to be at Hunter, and it takes, I guess, a day or two to get up there.

MW:

Oh no, it was an overnight trip.

EE:

Overnight train? Tell me about your first day at Hunter and what that experience was like.

MW:

Okay, we get to New York, and my thought was, “How do I get from the train station over to Hunter?” And when I got off the train, there were the sailors there that—apparently they knew how many were on the train to get you. On the train I had met a girl from Richmond, [Virginia], who was going, and the two of us were selected, because we had ridden on a subway before, to take the group out from the Grand Central Station to Hunter College. And we get to Hunter College, each of us had one suitcase, and—

EE:

You weren't issued a uniform at that time, were you? Or were you?

MW:

Oh no, we were in civilian clothes, all of us were in civilian clothes, no identification tags of any sort. And they grouped us in little groups and you got on the subway, and they told us how many stops approximately it would be there, and we got off. I don't know how we did it, but we got off at the right stop. And they had vacated big apartment houses where we were billeted, and I can't remember which one I was put in, and from there on we were put in little platoons and it was navy life from then on. [chuckling]

EE:

And you learned all about drilling, didn't you?

MW:

Oh yes.

EE:

You had never drilled before, had you?

MW:

Oh no.

EE:

I heard that's sort of the first thing of the day and the last thing of the day.

MW:

Right.

EE:

Would you have classes in the morning after drill?

MW:

Oh, it would depend on what you were doing. You know, they sort of varied it around.

EE:

How many people were in a room? Did you just have two to a room in your apartment?

MW:

No, you see, these were apartments. So like if you had—Like in the apartment I was in, there would be like two bunks in the living room and two—they would be double-decker bunks, and I guess there were about six or eight of us in that apartment. And I don't know how many were in the whole apartment house.

EE:

What do you remember about your instructors? Were they men, women?

MW:

All the instructors were women basically that I remember, except the drillers, and they were men, platoon drillers.

EE:

As I recall, most folks, they did not get a—You had to be custom-fitted for this [uniform].

MW:

Right.

EE:

So you didn't get your uniform. You're out there in whatever clothes you brought for a couple of weeks, aren't you?

MW:

About two weeks. And you hoped that it didn't rain. I can remember one day that it rained—because you had no umbrellas, no nothing—this girl had on a dress, and when it rained it drew up about twelve inches. [chuckling] It was one of those rayon dresses. So I mean it was just hilarious. We had a good time. We laughed about everything.

EE:

Did you have much free time to explore the city when you were there, or [were you] pretty much just confined to the—

MW:

Oh, you were confined to what we considered our area, except for the last weekend we were there we had leave on Saturday and Sunday. And on Sunday I had contacted my college roommate, who was at Bridgeport, Connecticut, with the General Electric Company where she was working. She and another friend came over and spent the day with me in New York.

EE:

Was this Von Cannon or Highfell?

MW:

This was Highfell, Laureen Highfell. So we had a nice outing. So there again I was sort of on my own to get down and meet her at Grand Central Station, and then after she left to get myself back out to Hunter.

EE:

All before curfew.

MW:

All before the dinner hour.

EE:

Well, when you joined, did you ask for a specific assignment, or did they suggest what your assignment would be after you joined?

MW:

They would ask you what you were interested in doing. They told you the billets that would be open, probably be open, and for you to suggest what you would like to do, and then of course they sent you where they wanted you to go.

EE:

Consider people who had wonderful conversations about the West Coast and ended up being two hours from home. But you didn't have a particular strong preference, you just wanted to be in the service?

MW:

That's right.

EE:

So your motivation was—it sounds like primarily patriotic, and also just “I want to see the world.”

MW:

[chuckling] That's sort of what it was. And I didn't think I was qualified to teach school.

EE:

You wanted to do something other than what was expected that a girl would go back and do.

MW:

I just didn't feel like when I had finished Woman's College that I was trained and qualified to go into a classroom and teach. I had not been—I just didn't have it. I could do it now but I couldn't have done it then.

EE:

How long were you at Hunter, six weeks, eight weeks?

MW:

I don't remember. I was there—

EE:

Most of it's six to eight. One of them is six, one of them it's eight, I think.

MW:

At Hunter I was only there a few weeks because we went on to Indiana, and I left Indiana in December, so it must have been about six weeks.

EE:

So this was about—Had you had your birthday before you finished?

MW:

Oh yeah.

EE:

So you had your birthday up in New York?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

Okay, so this would have been sometime in September.

MW:

I can't remember. It was still warm weather when we got to Bloomington, Indiana, because I can remember how warm it was in Indianapolis while we had to wait for the train, the tracks to clear.

EE:

So it was either late September or early October, it sounds like, still nice weather.

MW:

So I went to storekeeper school.

EE:

And that was an assignment that you received at the end of—Everybody is made an ensign. Or not an ensign. You come in as a yeoman?

MW:

No, I went in as—

EE:

What was your first rank when you came out of Hunter?

MW:

When I went in it was—What is it? The very lowest rank you have, seaman. And then I went to storekeeper school, and when I finished that I was a storekeeper third class.

EE:

And this was school was held at Bloomington, on the campus of Indiana University?

MW:

Bloomington, Indiana. Right.

EE:

Did you stay in a dormitory there?

MW:

Oh yes, the men's dormitories were vacant because they were in service, and we occupied the men's dormitory, very nice housing quarters for us.

EE:

How long was storekeeper school, another six to eight weeks?

MW:

Oh, I was in, I would say in August, and that ended up in December because I got home just before Christmas, and I had to leave and I was in Whiting Field, Florida, for Christmas.

EE:

Whiting Field?

MW:

Whiting Field, which Pensacola is the main station, and then this was out at Whiting Field [Naval Air Station, Milton, Florida].

EE:

Let me go back just for a second. You had mentioned before we started this talk about the fact that the woman who came, Lieutenant Commander [Mildred] McAfee with the WAVES, had come to speak at Woman's College while you were there, the first fall you were there, '41?

MW:

I think it was the fall of '41. It was for the fiftieth anniversary of the college, it seems to me.

EE:

And she just addressed the general—

MW:

Yes.

EE:

I don't think she was a graduate of the school, but I think she later received an honorary degree from the school.

MW:

Right.

EE:

And that made a favorable impression on you, that talk? Or do you remember anything about that?

MW:

Yeah, she made a favorable impression on me at that point in time, but not that—

EE:

That wasn't what tempted you into to coming?

MW:

No, that didn't.

EE:

Just as things developed, you just want to. Did you have friends or acquaintances that you knew who were already in the service from back home?

MW:

No.

EE:

So nobody you knew was in the service?

MW:

Nobody from my community. As far as I know, I was the first one from my community to enlist in any of the women's branches.

EE:

Did the folks back home say anybody gave them any dirty looks or any snide remarks?

MW:

Oh yes. I can remember when I was at Hunter having a letter from my mother, and Daddy's aunt, that was just a farm lady but a person who loved people, thought it was perfectly horrible that I was in service, that I would never come back the same. But you didn't want to come back the same. You wanted the experiences of life before you came back.

EE:

But now were they concerned for your morals or for your—

MW:

Your morals. My life was gone.

EE:

Just written off. You were wayward now.

MW:

That's right. Completely.

EE:

Don't worry about the men in the same situation. But the women, oh my!

MW:

Yes. But I must say, I was never treated any better than when I was in service, by the men and women.

EE:

Very professional.

MW:

They were very professional, no vulgar language, no dirty jokes or anything. And the way that men treat women, and the way women allow themselves to be treated in an office now, is not acceptable in my book.

EE:

From what I've heard from other folks, I wish we had more experiences like what you all had then. Now it's a different place, it really is.

MW:

I mean, it was just very different. A very, very wholesome life.

EE:

Some of the recruiting posters back then talked about that we needed women in the service to free a man to fight. Do you remember those posters?

MW:

Right.

EE:

Was that part of your motivation?

MW:

No.

EE:

You just wanted to get in and have the experience?

MW:

My thought was keep the people at home, and if we could do it and save a brother from going, or somebody else, it was that, but not to relieve them to fight.

EE:

You were getting in there to hurry up and finish it so you wouldn't have to send anybody else to fight.

MW:

That's right.

EE:

After you went to your supply school, again with folks around the country—Not supply school, storekeeper school—Tell me the difference between supply school and storekeeper school. What was storekeeper school supposed to do?

MW:

Oh, I really don't know that there was a real difference at that point in time. At storekeeper school you took shorthand, you took your typing and you took your bookkeeping, and they were the basic things that you did, and you got a few principles of how they did their bookkeeping and their supply keeping.

EE:

And were most of the people coming out of there to be assigned to places like the post exchange? Where would you be working from that kind of training? What kind of—

MW:

Believe it or not, when I got to Pensacola it was at Christmastime, and it was a time of flu and colds and all that sort of stuff. And I was sick on Christmas Day, and the next day we were supposed to go for interviews to where we would be sent. And I thought, “Don't go to sick call because you've got to have that interview.” And I was sent out to Whiting Field. And at Whiting Field this chief came in, and he was sitting behind the desk and he was talking to those of us who had been sent to Whiting Field, and a WAVE officer came in and he stood up. She said, “Just keep on. You know more about what you want than I do.” And so he found out I had been to Woman's College and had had bookkeeping. So he wanted to know what I'd had. And as you've found out, I didn't care for the bookkeeping there. So he selected me and two others to help him open an office at the housing project that was just opening up at Whiting Field.

EE:

This would be for housing the families of the servicemen?

MW:

Yes, renting apartments to the service people, and the community center that was at the housing project and operating the office.

EE:

Was that one of the innovations of that wartime experience, to actually have families living there on the base?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

Because I guess that really changed the way the military thought of it, rather than just the man, taking care of the whole family when you were in there.

MW:

The housing project was on the outside of the little base there, and where the officers and enlisted people had a certain number of houses for the officers and a certain number—And at the community center we had a doctor's office and a little nursery.

EE:

Who was your CO [commanding officer]?

MW:

I've forgotten who the CO was down there at the time.

EE:

But it was a man? You directly reported to a man?

MW:

Right. I had a chief petty officer which was—Oh jeepers, his picture is in there someplace. I can't remember his name offhand. They had brought him back from retirement. He had been in the navy and they brought him back in.

EE:

So he was there and then he was in charge of this office staff that included you and two other women.

MW:

Yes.

EE:

And you were all coming out of storekeeper school?

MW:

School at the same time. One had worked in an office. Violet Nagle from Brooklyn, New York, had had office work, typing, bookkeeping, that sort of thing. And E. Leona Schadle from Pennsylvania, I can't remember exactly which town, was selected because she had been looking after children and she would be good at the nursery out there.

EE:

Where did you all actually stay?

MW:

We stayed in barracks.

EE:

In the barracks there, okay. With a whole bunch of other women?

MW:

That's right.

EE:

So all the WAVES, enlisted folks, whatever their job responsibilities were on the base, stayed in the barracks.

MW:

Right. The enlisted people had their barracks and the officers had their barracks.

EE:

How many women altogether were at that facility?

MW:

I don't remember how many there were. I wouldn't even guess. I can remember we had two big barracks filled.

EE:

More than you would be able to know by name.

MW:

Right.

EE:

Probably fifty to a hundred, or more than that?

MW:

I have no idea. You would go in—

EE:

You had what, kind of Quonset hut barracks, or what was the barracks like?

MW:

Just regular barracks. Just think of the building, like coming in here, just a big open barracks, and you took your bunks and you took double—decker bunks, put one here and one here, and then you put your—where you put your clothes, your storage cabinets, and you scaled-off rooms. So there were about six of us in little cubbyholes, then we put a door, and we rearranged them so that you would have privacy. We made our rooms by—

EE:

Just the way you arranged the furniture.

MW:

Where you put your clothes closets, they were wooden and they were straight up, and you had a little place about like that and down, and that was your clothes, and then you had your double—decker bunks. And so there were about six of us to a little cubbyhole like that up and down. It was, you might say, just a big warehouse sectioned off with bunks. And on one end they had a little recreational center with tables and chairs and a lounge.

EE:

Were men allowed in this area?

MW:

Men were permitted to come into the lounge room only.

EE:

How long were you in Florida?

MW:

Oh, I was there from December until the following July, I think it was.

EE:

Till July of '44?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you go in July of '44?

MW:

I came home for two or three days and went to officer's candidate school.

EE:

Did you say, “I want to be an officer,” or did somebody say, “We want you to be an officer?” How did that work?

MW:

Well, I told you that the WAVE officer came in and told the chief to continue, and she found out that I had been at Woman's College and had my degree, and she said, “When you have been in service a certain length of time, come and talk with me about applying for Officer's Candidate School.” And so after that I had some contacts with her in between—

EE:

Do you remember what her name was?

MW:

It was in some of those papers that I sent to Woman's College.

EE:

Okay, I'll go take a look at it and see.

MW:

It's in there. And I know in one of the letters that Violet Nagle wrote me, she went to Hawaii ahead of Violet and she's listed in that.

EE:

Okay. So you had somebody looking out for you, which is always nice to know.

MW:

I've always had somebody looking out for me. You really don't realize it until you get back and look—

EE:

You look back in your life and somebody has been looking out for you.

MW:

Right. Just like I said, I came home and was going to officer's candidate school. Well, there again I was spending the night in New York. I had made reservations with the service unit in New York for a billet for the night, and again I had a Pullman from Goldsboro to New York, and when I came home Mother said, “Would you consider letting Myrtle Rose go to New York at the same time you do?”

EE: This is your younger sister?
MW:

No, this was a little girl in Dover. She was about twelve, thirteen years old, and her uncle lived in New York. And I thought, “How do I chaperon somebody in New York when I hardly know how to get around myself?” But I said yes, I would be happy, if she could get the same Pullman that I had. And she was fortunate enough that we were in the same Pullman going to New York. And we get to New York, and I thought, “I hope her uncle meets her. I do not know who her uncle is. What will I do?” Believe it or not, her uncle met us at the Pullman door when we got off.

EE:

That's great.

MW:

And he said, “Where are you going?” And I told him. He said, “I would like to take you there.” So he hailed a taxi and carried me right to the place. And he said, “I've been to many a function at this house.” And so then I thought, “Well, where do I go for now?” And they immediately told me that I could not be billeted there, I would have to go out—I would say like 49th Street. It was someplace way out that I thought, “Well, how will I do that?” And I looked around, and there were two from Whiting Field that were going to officer's candidate school at the same time I was going. So we all went out together and we had a nice night in New York.

EE:

Wonderful.

MW:

So I've been looked after. [chuckling]

EE:

This is another summer up in the Northeast, July of '44, and you're going to—I guess it's where, Smith now?

MW:

Smith College.

EE:

So you take the train, I guess, out of New York to go to—

MW:

Right.

EE:

Where is it, Northampton, [Massachusetts]?

MW:

Northampton.

EE:

And that's another six to eight weeks.

MW:

A ninety-day wonder.

EE:

But you come in, unlike a lot of—

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

EE:

I was just saying that a lot of the women who were coming to officer training had not had any military experience, and you come in there as a veteran.

MW:

That's right. [chuckling]

EE:

So you're showing everybody, I guess to some extent, the ropes. Are you giving them a little advance knowledge of what it's like?

MW:

That's right, I could teach them to tie a square knot. We had to tie our ties with a square knot, so I could do that.

EE:

What kind of courses did you have? It was a different course of study from enlisted to officers, wasn't it?

MW:

Yes, you studied about the battleships, you studied about the cruisers, you studied about the airplanes, and just the general things.

EE:

So you felt maybe like you had an advantage because you'd already had a little bit of this all before?

MW:

Yeah, but you didn't use it so you forgot it. If you don't use it you lose it.

EE:

That's right. Instructors there are mainly female again?

MW:

Right.

EE:

And were you actually on the campus at Smith College, or were you one of those who got the beachfront apartments or something, I think somebody said.

MW:

Well, I never heard about beachfront apartments.

EE:

There were some who got better accommodations.

MW:

When I was there it was the hotel, the Northampton Hotel, or you went to Smith College. Well, they had billeted me first at Northampton, and of course they never really knew where to place me. So if they put you in a hotel, I immediately got transferred somewhere else. So I got into Smith College dorm, and I don't remember which dorm it was. If I went on campus I would probably know. But one of the things that always intrigued me about my room, which I've never had a chance to test—because you wanted to get shipshape As on your room all the time—they had escape ropes, fire escape ropes, and I always wondered if that rope was long enough to get me down to the ground. Because it went out over the tramway between the two dorms and I didn't know whether it would have been actually enough to have gotten me down to the ground.

EE:

But you never had to find out.

MW:

I didn't find out, and I was always afraid to undo that rope.

EE:

May I ask you a question? Most of these women are coming with no uniform, you've already got a uniform, did you wear your uniform from the start there or did you have to go back to civilian clothes?

MW:

Right, no, uniform.

EE:

So you stood out whether you wanted to. People knew you were already in the service.

MW:

Right. And of course—

EE:

Were there a lot of other women like that there, or was it—

MW:

I really don't know. I don't remember.

EE:

You don't remember seeing a lot of other—

MW:

I just don't remember. I know I had a roommate that was right out of college.

EE:

Were there any other WC women in that group? You said you ran into Katherine Taylor at some point. Where was that?

MW:

Well, she was in midshipmen's school when I got there, and her class finished and then she was assigned as assistant company commander at Smith College in the unit that I was in, in the company I was in.

EE:

So she was one of your instructors, I guess? Or she was in charge of the drilling, or what was she doing?

MW:

I don't remember what she did. I don't remember that she ever conducted anything while I was there. And of course we marched down—And while I was there we had a hurricane that delayed us breakfast at one time, and an earthquake. They said something happened, there was an earthquake. I don't remember any shaking—

EE:

Not enough to have a war going on, let's just have a hurricane and an earthquake too.

MW:

But regardless of rain or whatever, you marched down from the campus in platoon formation for all your meals.

EE:

What do you remember emotionally of '44? Did people have a sense that—Let's see, June 6 was just before you went up there, D—Day. You went in July of '44 to officer's school.

MW:

Yes.

EE:

What were people you were working with thinking about the progress of the war? Did everybody know that D-Day was something really big and that this was a very good thing, that we were finally in a position to do this, or were they worried about it? What was the mood of the folks you were working with? Were they concerned about it or optimistic, or—

MW:

I don't remember. It didn't really make an impression on me at that time.

EE:

Everybody was just too busy to really stop and think about it. Until it was over, it was still to be done?

MW:

Well, this was '43? That was a little bit later. When did you say?

EE:

June of '44, June 6 of '44 was when the D—Day invasion happened. And I'm just wondering, that's just before you go up to officer [candidate school]. Is there a noticeably different mood?

MW:

Not that I remember.

EE:

After you were at [Northampton], where were you assigned?

MW:

Washington [D.C.]. Bureau of Aeronautics, Publication Division. What they did was to procure publications on our airplanes, the instructional repair manuals and that sort of thing.

EE:

And you were working in an office with other WAVES?

MW:

WAVES and men.

EE:

Well, did you actually free a man to fight when you took that position?

MW:

Not that I'm aware of.

EE:

Where was this office? Was it down on the Mall, or where was this?

MW:

You know where the War Department is, or was?

EE:

Yes.

MW:

It was around the corner from the War Department, 2210 E Street, or something like that, not too far from Constitution Avenue.

EE:

Somebody was telling me the other week about a whole complex of buildings that were just kind of thrown up there at the end of the Mall, just all temporary stuff but all for this—

MW:

Well, you know those temporary buildings on Constitution were put there for World War I, and so they were still there in World War II.

EE:

Where did you live when you were in Washington? You didn't live on base.

MW:

No. That was another experience. I never had had to go out and find a place to live. So you get in to Washington on a Sunday and they give you two nights in a hotel to find yourself living quarters.

EE:

You've got two days, go for it.

MW:

Yeah, go for it. So on Sunday, of course, you just get in to Washington, and on Monday morning you finally get your assignment, and then you get out to find a room. And I found a room out on McComb Street off of Connecticut Avenue, and roomed with a girl that I met at the hotel who needed a roommate. She hadn't found a place and I had found a room that had two beds, and so we decided to share the room. So that lasted a while, and then I found—She wanted to be near her work. Since she was in communications, she didn't have straight work and so she didn't like that business of going to work at midnight at the distance she was. So then I got another room in an apartment, this couple had a room, so I lived by myself.

EE:

Did you like the work better that you were doing?

MW:

Not really. As I say, I don't think they ever found the right niche for me in the navy. [chuckling]

EE:

So you were waiting for them to do something more with you. You were frustrated. Did you talk to your commanding officers about that?

MW:

Yeah, they would shift me from one place to the other, wherever they needed me in publications and procuring stuff.

EE:

Did you feel, even though you felt uncomfortable with what you were doing, did you still feel you were contributing to the war effort somehow?

MW:

Right. You felt like you were doing what they were asking you to do.

EE:

How long were you in D.C.?

MW:

Oh, about a year, I guess.

EE:

Were you there on VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

What do you remember about VE Day?

MW:

I'm trying to remember what we were doing on VE Day and VJ [Victory in Japan Day]. Everybody was very jubilant at that time. We were very happy.

EE:

Did you go out with other people in the office, or—

MW:

Oh yeah.

EE:

Washington, I have heard, was not a bad place to be during that time because there were so many things going on, a lot of cultural events, a lot of social events, a lot of—In other words, it was about as alive a city as you're going to have at that time period. Did you feel that way?

MW:

Well, except for going to work, you didn't realize there was a war on. There were so many things to do. Of course things were rationed, though it didn't affect me because if I wore out a pair of shoes you just went down and got another pair of shoes. And you could get some more clothes, and you ate out, so you didn't feel that rationing part. There were a lot of social things to do. I had civilian friends there, college friends, and we would go like to the North Carolina Society dances. One of my friends worked in Hoey's office, [North Carolina] Senator Hoey. I had civilian friends and I had my neighbor friends, so life was filled with a lot of things to do. Never a dull moment.

EE:

At your work, did you feel like you were treated the same as with men, as far as you didn't get any special treatment or special favor?

MW:

No special treatment.

EE:

So your general impression, it was very professional the way you were treated?

MW:

Very professional the whole way.

EE:

Were you in Washington on VJ Day too, or had you moved on?

MW:

I was there until the end of the war.

EE:

Until the end of the war. Which I guess VJ Day was another good party.

MW:

Yeah, I can remember VJ Day more than I can the VE Day. I had been home the weekend before, and I went back, and I wanted to go get a new iron frying pan for my mother because I found out that she had done something and broken her particular one. And this couple called me and wanted me to celebrate with them, and I said, “No, I've got to go downtown in Washington to do this—” and blah, blah, blah. They said, “No, you don't want to be downtown in Washington because it's going to be such a crowd down there. You don't want to get banged up.” [chuckling] So I finally went on out to their place and we celebrated.

EE:

And that one, I guess, caught a lot of people by surprise because no one knew the atom bomb was in the wings.

MW:

That's right.

EE:

People had expected we were going to have another long invasion like we had in Europe.

MW:

Right. And I can remember the newspaper the following morning when I walked out, that the [SS] Indianapolis had been sunk. And that made an impression on me because one of the young men from home was on the Indianapolis. And I knew that, because when he had been home I had seen him. So I felt like his life was gone, and it was.

EE:

I think the tragedy with that one is that because they were under radio silence they didn't send out a Mayday or anything like that.

MW:

I remember that very well.

EE:

Did you lose a lot of friends that you knew or folks from back home? Was there a lot of loss of life from families?

MW:

No.

EE:

You were lucky in that sense.

MW:

We were very fortunate in our community.

EE:

You stayed in Washington to the end of the war. Did you continue in the service after that?

MW:

No, I stayed on until—You would make application for your release from the service, when you resigned. And so I went in for the duration, and so I felt like it was time to go back to civilian life.

EE:

What rank were you when you were released?

MW:

I was an ensign, and I had I've forgotten how many days, and during that time I made jg [junior grade].

EE:

When was it then that you were discharged?

MW:

Oh jeepers, I think I am right on this one. This is my identification card when I was released, [reading] “Date issued: 1 July '46.” So I can't remember exactly whether that was the date she did that or whether that was the final date that I would be in service.

EE:

And so you were in Washington through the time of your discharge?

MW:

Right.

EE:

So you were back home for VJ Day, and—

MW:

No, I wasn't home. I was there the weekend before. I was in Washington.

EE:

The weekend before VJ, right. So you were back—

MW:

I was just visiting. You see, I could leave Washington like five o'clock in the afternoon and be in Wilson at ten [o'clock].

EE:

Just take the train, yeah.

MW:

Take the train, and my parents would meet me in Wilson.

EE:

So you got to spend a number of weekends home then.

MW:

Yes, I could do that.

EE:

That was nice.

MW:

That was very nice.

EE:

Yeah. A lot of folks when they went up there didn't have that kind of connection to get back home.

MW:

No. I would come home every two or three months, something like that, you know, depending on what was going on. And I could take the train back from Wilson in the afternoon and be back by 10:30 at night.

EE:

I used to live in Philadelphia, and it was so nice to be able to hop on a train and in two hours be in Washington, two hours be in New York. It was very pleasant.

MW:

It's too bad we don't have that sort of transportation now.

EE:

They keep talking about doing it across the state. I wish they would, because I get tired of driving on the interstate. Did you ever think about making the military your career?

MW:

No.

EE:

Or were you encouraged to make it a career?

MW:

No.

EE:

They said, “Go home, we don't need you”?

MW:

That's right. Looking back on it now, I should have. [chuckling]

EE:

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

MW:

I don't know. I don't remember having any especially hard times. You know, people talk about getting homesick when they go off to college, I didn't have any of that.

EE:

I've had some people talk—You know, they haven't talked too much about how the time was for them in the service because they had such a good time in those years, and so many of the men had such an awful time, that they almost feel guilty talking about it.

MW:

Well, particularly when you say that, when we were at Indiana, the food that we had in the WAVES barracks was delicious. And we were asked when we went to dances on Saturday night with the service people not to say anything about our food.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing moment during that time? Now, when I ask that, people—their immediate thing is, “I'm not going to tell you my most embarrassing—” [chuckling] Can you remember an embarrassing moment, if not yours personally, something funny that happened while you were in the service?

MW:

I don't.

EE:

Okay. Were you ever afraid at any time while you were—all this stuff away from home and places and people different? You had to learn how to deal with people, didn't you?

MW:

You had to learn how to deal with people. When I got to Washington they talked about some murder down at Hanes Point and that you shouldn't do things alone. And one evening I thought, “Here I am, up here by myself, I'm going to have to be out at night by myself. I'm not going to go stick in a room right by myself.” And so you got out and did things regardless. I can remember one night, I don't know where I'd been, catching a streetcar. And one of my college friends said, “What are you doing out here?” I said, “Where are you going?” And she was just before getting off, and she was the one that was working in Senator Hoey's office, and I didn't know that she was there. And somebody said, “You can't go out by yourself because you remember that murder at Hanes Point?” And I said, “But just be careful.” So that's what my rule was: just be careful.

EE:

And I think Washington had a reputation as a little bit safer place then than it probably does now.

MW:

Right.

EE:

So you don't think you were ever in physical danger then while you were—

MW:

No, I don't think so.

EE:

Do you have any favorite songs or movies from that time?

MW:

Oh, I guess that Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats. Because down in Florida I can remember—That was the air base for training pilots, and I can remember how the cadets would be singing that all the time. That was one of them. I can't remember any particular movie.

EE:

I can't imagine the men going around singing that.

MW:

I know. Well, you just couldn't imagine a man sitting there crocheting or knitting, but there was one who did it, and I figured he was going to be a doctor. He had to learn to keep his stitches—

EE:

He was just getting his hand and finger skills right.

MW:

Right.

EE:

What did you do for fun when you were in the service these places? Did they have dances at the base for people on the base?

MW:

Right.

EE:

Did you have a USO [United Service Organizations] groups coming through? What kind of things did they have for you?

MW:

Well, like in Florida they would have dances, they would have picnics, we'd go to fish dos [?]. There was something going on all the time. And of course they always had the canteens that you could go in the afternoon, if you could stand the beer that the nics were drinking. [chuckling] The mechanics, we said “nics.” They were the mechanics.

EE:

Were there any affectionate nicknames that people called WAVES? Were they called WAVES? Any other names? I haven't heard anything else, but—

MW:

I never heard them called—If they did, they did it behind our backs.

EE:

Okay. All right. Because it's different with women in the service, I just wondered. Were there any folks that you—You know, you're meeting people from all over the country, all different backgrounds, were there some particularly interesting characters that stand out in your mind that you met in that time?

MW:

There were quite a few, you know, that were different. I guess my friend Violet Nagle that I worked with stood out as much as any because she had an Irish background. She had a philosophy of sort of looking after people, doing things and caring for people a great deal.

EE:

So a much more outgoing personality kind of thing?

MW:

And an outgoing personality, and—Like you would say, “Well, what am I going to do? I've got to go to this cocktail party and I don't want to drink.” And she'd say, “Don't worry about it. Take it, and you'll get rid of it. You don't have to drink it.” She was always that—And when I was going to Officer Candidate School she said, “Now Mary, you must always remember you've got to go to the cocktail parties, you've got to participate. But if you ever get caught short, always order a claret lemonade.” [chuckling] She always had the right answer for you.

EE:

So you were encouraged, especially at officer school, to participate in the social side of things, but not necessarily to compromise your moral standard or anything, but just you were encouraged to participate?

MW:

Not when I was in there. I understand that's the rule today, from my niece who was in Officer Candidate School, but we weren't encouraged. We were encouraged to participate in things in the communities that we worked in and that sort of thing, but I never was instructed on anything at the officers club to do—

EE:

Well, the reason I asked is that one of the—We've had very good response to this solicitation of the WC community folks who were in the service, and one of the things that was unfortunate in our little brochure, when we talked about the luncheon last year it did not mention army nurses, although we have contacted several and have interviewed several. We got a response from one army nurse who said, “Well, we did all the work, and all the WAVES did was chase men.” [chuckling] Was that a rap that was on the WAVES, or was that just somebody disgruntled because she wasn't listed? [chuckling]

MW:

I really don't know because I didn't have the contact with the navy nurses. But I didn't see WAVES chasing men. The group that I ran around with, we were there to do a job and we weren't chasing men. You would go to a dance and you'd go home, and that was it, you know. If you wanted to date a fellow later on, that was your privilege, but you didn't have to, you didn't feel compelled to or anything.

EE:

Well, you had to be back to work the next day. What was your work—week like? Was it six days? How many days a week?

MW:

No, it was like seven days and off a day. It rotated, seven days and off a day.

EE:

So you probably had a lot of leave time at the end of the time that you—Did you have a lot of things built up, leave time, with a seven-day work schedule, or you just—?

MW:

No, you didn't build up leave time, as far as I can remember, at that time. That was when I was at Whiting Field that it was like that. And when I was in Washington it was five—Well, you worked on Saturdays at first.

EE:

We talked about the mood of the country before the war, that some people didn't want to have anything to do with it. You were places—would you say most folks were, during the wartime, afraid? Were they determined? Were they just in a patriotic mood? What was the mood of the country, do you think, generally during that time?

MW:

Well, I thought they were basically patriotic in the areas that I—and with the people I worked with. Now the couple whose apartment I had the room in, she worked with the—Let me see, she was at the Pentagon and she was in—had a very responsible job, and she got honored for her work that she did. They had no children, and I think her husband worked at some big garage parking deck or something. I really didn't see them. I left my check once a month and that was it. [chuckling]

MW:

You know, you just didn't see them.

EE:

You were in Washington when Roosevelt died.

MW:

Right.

EE:

What do you remember about Roosevelt or his wife? What did you think of them?

MW:

I thought they were very, very fine at the time. And I think it's great that they had privacy that the presidents do not have this day and time. And I have always been an admirer of Eleanor because I think that she made it that women had a place in this world besides just being the wife and the mother of the children.

EE:

She really was sort of his eyes and ears for what the country was doing. She was the one that did all the tours, going around and seeing people, and—

MW:

Right, because let's face it, how many people knew that he was a wheelchair person?

EE:

My parents didn't even know. Here he sounds great on the radio, all the pictures you see are from the waist up.

MW:

His fireside chats, the nicest voice—

EE:

And it's amazing that the press respected him enough to never take those pictures of him in the wheelchair, which they could have.

MW:

Right, and the privacy that they gave at the time of his death—

EE:

Yes, with where he was and—Did you have heroes, heroines from that time period?

MW:

Did I have what?

EE:

Heroes. Who were some of your heroes from that time?

MW:

I don't really have heroes, [chuckling] as such.

EE:

After you left in '46, the service, what did you do?

MW:

I came home and I spent the summer. My parents thought I was never going to do anything. And I came into town, and the first fall I worked for the Imperial Tobacco Company. And as I say, I have always been looked after, and one day the boss said, “There's a man who wants to interview you,” because it was a temporary job I had. And I said, “Okay.” And they let him come into the office where I—and use the extra office for the interview. And I wasn't particularly interested in that job. Then either that day or the next day they said, “Somebody else wants to interview you.” And it was a contractor, and I have always been interested in building, so I went to work for a general contractor, bookkeeper/secretary, and I worked with him for about ten years. And then I went to Greensboro to work with another contractor, and they sent me to Raleigh to work on the post office building, which was the federal post office building that was built, and that took about two years, I guess. And they were sending me back to Greensboro to work on a big project they had there, job site. And I was driving back and forth there at the end of one job, taking on the other one, and I said, “Hey, Raleigh is halfway home. Why am I coming back to Greensboro?” And I picked up the paper and changed jobs and went to work for Electrical Equipment Company, which was an electrical wholesale and repair company. So that's where I ended up my work.

EE:

And the Greensboro contractor—

MW:

Believe it or not, it was Mike Weaver's father, W.H. Wheeler Construction Company.

EE:

You did that in the late fifties?

MW:

Let's see, I was here—I went to Greensboro in '56.

EE:

In '56, and then you went with the electrical wholesaler. When was that?

MW:

Twelve years later.

EE:

In '68.

MW:

Roughly.

EE:

And you stayed there till you retired?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

When did you retire?

MW:

[Nineteen] eighty-five.

EE:

And the electrical wholesaler, was that out of Kinston?

MW:

No, Raleigh. Across the street from the state college.

EE:

So why did you get back to Kinston?

MW:

Why I came back to Kinston?

EE:

Yes.

MW:

Okay, when I was working with Mr. Shackelford [?], I had this built. My father had passed away and my mother was still down on the farm, and her health wasn't too good, so I came back to Kinston.

EE:

Are your sisters still living?

MW:

My younger sister is at the home place now. She is a widow. My older sister is in Clinton, and so all the family—

EE:

So you've got folks close—by.

MW:

You know, cousins and aunts and uncles and everything all around. Of course the aunts and uncles have passed away, but now the cousins are here.

EE:

How would you generally describe your transition to civilian life, pretty painless?

MW:

No problem.

EE:

No problem?

MW:

A lot of people thought it would be a problem, but it wasn't. The main thing was I missed the activities that I had.

EE:

Did you feel like you were coming back to—In the military it seems like you were treated pretty equally in that sense with men. Did you feel that same way coming back, or did you miss that special—?

MW:

Well, fortunately, the man I worked for here, Mr. Shackelford, had a daughter about my age and she had attended Woman's College, Mary Alice Shackelford. She was an outstanding music major there. And so therefore he gave me more equal treatment, I felt, than if he had not had a daughter who had aspirations. I did not feel put down. If the men got a raise, Mary got a raise, and that sort of thing. I didn't have to go in and ask for raises, they came automatically—economics.

EE:

Looking back, has your life been different because of your time in the military?

MW:

I can't say that it has. Among my friends, I can't see that it made any difference.

EE:

Do you think it made you more independent than you might have otherwise been?

MW:

Definitely so.

EE:

You're not afraid to speak your mind maybe? You had to speak your mind when you were moving around a little bit, didn't you?

MW:

Right. [chuckling]

EE:

If you had a choice, would you do it again?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

A lot of people, when they look at how “Rosie the Riveters” and WAVES and WACs [Women's Army Corps]—World War II is the time when you really had the first influx of women into jobs that were not women's jobs, and a lot of people consider that time really to be a pioneering time. Do you think of yourself as a pioneer?

MW:

No, I don't. You know, the era, you do what you have to do, so to speak.

EE:

So you don't count yourself as one of those who see this as like the beginning of the women's movement? You don't think of yourself as a women's libber in that sense?

MW:

No, I never liked that NOW [National Organization for Women] group. I felt like that you should do things a little more ladylike, do it slowly and not make a fight over the issue.

EE:

I guess just a couple months ago in Iraq, it was the first time they sent women flying combat missions. What do you think about that? Should women be in combat positions in the military?

MW:

I think it's okay for them to be. I think they are qualified to be.

EE:

You say you have a niece who is in officer's training now, or—

MW:

Well, she has been. She's a very independent young woman. She wanted to join the service, which she did. She went into the WACs, she got what she wanted, she got out, and then she got into the air force and got her officer candidate—And she missed her music, so she resigned and got back into the air force musical stuff, and unfortunately she let her weight get out of control and so she could not stay in due to her weight condition. But she's very independent, very, very independent.

EE:

Well, would you recommend to young women today a time of military service? Do you think that's something that would be good for them?

MW:

I think it depends on the individual. I think it's an individual thing. I don't recommend it for everybody.

EE:

Back in '43, the spring of '43, there was actually an active slander campaign against the WACs, started by members of the army. What was your sense of the way people perceived women being in service when you were in it? Did you have relatives who had second—You talked about your dad was very proud of you, and your mom was—it sounds like maybe proud with a little worry mixed in. [chuckling]

MW:

Very worried.

EE:

And you talked about the one letter you got from an aunt, but generally did people know later on that you were in the service? Is that something you talked about, or did you keep it to yourself?

MW:

I always feel open about it. I feel like there is nothing to hide. I had done nothing wrong, so what—

EE:

You were proud of it.

MW:

I was proud of it. For example, when I went to work in Raleigh, I did not say that I had been in service, but the word got out that I had been in service. So they knew where they stood.

EE:

Was it seen as something that you could be proud of, or did you have to explain it?

MW:

No.

EE:

So people were generally supportive of that?

MW:

Yes. In other words, “She's not going to take any guff off of you. She was in service. She was an officer in service.”

EE:

That does make a difference. “She has given orders before.” [chuckling] That's generally the questions that I have been asking folks. Is there anything that you'd like to add about your time in service that I have not touched on today?

MW:

There is one little thing that I think might have happened to me that didn't happen to too many people, and I'll show you what I'm talking about. You know, we had identification tags, and we wore them around our necks or around our arms. Well, this is the first one that I had as an enlisted person. And you will see there that my type blood was type O. When I went to Officer Candidate School we had to have another physical, as though you had never been in, with more blood tests and what have you. And I came in from classes one day and I had a message to report to the infirmary for another blood test. And I thought, “Good golly, what's happened?” So they established then that I had type A blood.

EE:

How did they miss it the first time around? [chuckling]

MW:

I don't know. I just thought that was interesting.

EE:

Oh, my. [reading] USNRA and then USNRP, okay. Were you in the naval reserves after you got out?

MW:

Yes.

EE:

How long did you stay in that?

MW:

I can't remember. Just a short time.

EE:

I had one woman who said she was in there, and then the Korean War started and a buddy of hers said, “You know, you might want to get out of that because they could call you back in.” [chuckling] And she dropped her naval reserve check then. That's neat. So everybody had to wear those, just like the guys?

MW:

Yeah.

[dicussion of MW's donated materials]

MW:

Well, I was sorry that I did not have my raincoat. But my younger sister in Raleigh wanted the raincoat, so when she came home one weekend Mother said, “Oh, it's upstairs, go take it.” And I never got that back. But I did have my officer's overcoat. I had like the skirt of the uniforms that I told you about that I did not like. I did not have a jacket left, but I had one skirt left that was in that. And I think I've got a tie, the long-type tie that I had. If I can ever put my fingers in it, I'll get that up there. And I will get these up there eventually. I would have taken one of each, but I don't know where the other one of that is, and so I—And then it seems to me that I have got my discharge papers, I think they're at the bank, and I will try to get copies of those made sometime to send, the actual discharge things.

EE:

Great. Well, for the benefit of the transcriber, I think we will say thank you to Miss West today and we'll get a copy back to her, and I appreciate you again for sitting through and doing this. It's been fun. It's nice to get to know you.

MW:

I hope I haven't bored you with it.

[End of Interview]