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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Helen Allegrone, 1999

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Object ID: WV0062.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Helen Allegrone’s experiences in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), both at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and in Washington, D.C., where she worked in cryptography.

Summary:

Allegrone discusses her decision to join the WAVES. Topics include learning about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; her invitation to join the WAVES; reactions when she joined the WAVES; her father’s encouragement; and the song, WAVES of the Navy.

Allegrone also talks about her service experiences. She describes a typical day of basic training; testing for mistakes in cryptography machines; cryptography methods; her involvement in the Pearl Harbor trials; and her social life in Washington, D.C., including dances, museums, and concerts. She discusses President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death; her opinion of Eleanor Roosevelt; meeting her husband on VE Day; fraternizing with enlisted men and WAVES; and attending a Communist meeting in her uniform.

Personal topics include Allegrone’s family’s political background; her involvement in America First; working hard to pass her college classes; volunteering at New York settlement houses; flying to California to get married; the Vietnam War; her opinion of women in combat and leadership positions; running for Congress; and teaching in a segregated Greensboro school.

Creator: Helen Russell Allegrone

Biographical Info: Helen R. Allegrone (1921-2009) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, served in cryptography in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from March 1943 until 1945.

Collection: Helen Allegrone 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 with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project. Today is April 12, 1999, and we're here in Greensboro at Mrs. Allegrone's home, and I just want to say thank you for agreeing to do this. I think you'll find it to be enjoyable. I'm going to start with a very complicated question to you, the same one I start with everybody. Where were you born, where did you grow up?

HA:

I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1921, and for the first fourteen years of my life I lived in Massachusetts, and then I went off to college in New York for one year. And my father, who was very interested in politics and all, he didn't like what I was learning at this college and he said, “You're going to come home, live at home, and go to Radcliffe.” So I ended up coming back for the next three years and going to Radcliffe. And so one of the reasons I went into the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] was that in my last year I was majoring in sociology, I wanted to be a social worker, and they didn't need that in the wartime at all, as far as I knew. So I got a note or a letter from the government asking me if I would take a course in cryptography and join the WAVES.

EE:

So you were especially invited.

HA:

[chuckling] Well, you might call it that. My father had another way of answering it. I said, “You know, Dad, I want to switch over to Massachusetts General Hospital and become a public health nurse.” I didn't want to be just a do-gooder, I wanted to have something to give. “But I've gotten this letter from the government. What shall I do?” Well, he had four daughters, no sons, had been in World War I himself, and very interested in all that was going, and his answer was, “If anybody wants you anyplace, do that.” [chuckling] So I went into the WAVES.

EE:

Nothing like a vote of confidence from home, is there?

HA:

Oh, right, yeah.

EE:

Let me go back and fill in a few things because you're not from North Carolina. And for the benefit of the folks who listen to this, you say your dad was into politics. What did your dad do?

HA:

Well, he and his father and his grandfather were all mayors of Cambridge, and my grandfather was a Democratic governor of Massachusetts.

EE:

And what's your maiden name?

HA:

Russell, R-u-s-s-e-l-l. And then my father was mayor of Cambridge, and then a congressman, and ran for governor but lost at the governor level, but he was in Congress for a while.

EE:

And what was his first name?

HA:

Richard. He was Richard Russell, and his father who was the governor was William E. Russell.

EE:

What about your mom? What did she do?

HA:

Well, my mom was of another vintage, another generation. So I was rather surprised because she was very much in the forefront of things that I'm not particularly interested in, such as women's rights. I mean, for instance, we grew up but she was on the board for the prisons and she always helped my father with his campaigns, and—

EE:

Was she a big lobbyist for the suffragette movement and trying to—

HA:

No, no, I don't think so. At least that was before my time, and so I don't think so, no. She stayed strictly—fairly conventional till she married father, when she became a Democrat, and she became a stronger Democrat than anybody around, [chuckling] and helped him in politics. No, and funnily enough, I don't think she was—I know she wasn't a suffragette, and she didn't belong to the League of Women Voters. She belonged to some local thing in Cambridge, which was an organization that she thought would help her, some sort of Democratic organization that she thought would help her husband. And let me see what else? When my oldest son, of whom I was very proud, got to know his grandmother, he came to me one day and he said, “Mother, I don't understand, why is Grandma so much smarter than you and she never went to college?” [chuckling] So she was a very great reader. She was a good reader and understood—kept on top of things.

EE:

That's great. You said that you had three sisters.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

Were you the oldest, youngest, in the middle?

HA:

No, I was one of the ones in the middle.

EE:

Did they all go to school, go off to college, or was that a new thing for you leading the way?

HA:

No, my older sister did one thing I didn't do, she got kicked out of school. So they sent her to boarding school in England where we had some relatives. So she went to boarding school for a year in England. It was during the Depression and I don't think she—she took a stenographic course or secretarial or something. She did not go to college. My two younger sisters both went to college.

EE:

What was the name of the school you went to in New York State?

HA:

Barnard College.

EE:

Were you somebody who before you went to college did you like school? Did you like academics?

HA:

No, I was not academically talented [chuckling] and I did not like school. I grew up—I don't know if this is important, it may be too personal, and just shut me up—but I grew up in a very puritanical family and we never seemed to be able to do anything right. We weren't given the idea of self-assurance, any of that stuff that people get nowadays, and so I didn't like school, I felt I had no friends. I struggled through college when I came to get my—well, I had so much lack of confidence that I thought the only reason I graduated was because my father was the mayor of Cambridge. Now I know he wouldn't have done anything like that, but I thought, “I don't see how I could have passed. Somebody must have—” And he would not have done that because he didn't liken to that kind of thing. But when I took the oral exam I had to sit outside, and then the people who had given it to me came out and I said, “Well, did I pass?” That was my idea, you know, not, “Did I do well?” And their answer was: “Well, I guess so.”

EE:

That doesn't sound very confident. [chuckling]

HA:

No, so I never did have much self-confidence at that time. And also I wanted to take a job during the summer months, other kids did, and my family wouldn't let us do that. I don't know why, but we weren't allowed to do that while I was still in school.

EE:

Was your major sociology, you said?

HA:

Yes, it was in college.

EE:

Is Barnard a woman's college as well?

HA:

It has sort of the same relationship as Radcliffe to Harvard did.

EE:

Okay, it's a sister school?

HA:

Yes, it's a sister school. At Barnard we had the—we didn't take the same exam, I don't know why that was, but we are part of Columbia [University]. At Radcliffe we not only had the same exam as the Harvard people but our professors were Harvard people too. They were all from Harvard, so it was a little bit closer at Radcliffe.

EE:

You graduate in—when, 19?

HA:

Well, I'll tell you what, I didn't exactly repeat a grade, [chuckling] but I graduated from high school at the age of nineteen. I went to private school. And I finished at Radcliffe in January of 1943. It was wartime and I wanted to get through and become part of the war. I knew I wanted to do that, and that was kind of the influence of my father. So—

EE:

So, actually, when you started at Barnard it was just before the war?

HA:

It was 1939, the fall of 1939.

EE:

The fall. So that fall is when Hitler invades Poland.

HA:

Exactly, yes.

EE:

So from the beginning of your college career, did people have great worries right off the bat that we're going to be in a war, or is it just a European war at that time?

HA:

No, my family felt wonderful about Churchill, thinking we ought to go in, and he was in the National Guard. He [her father] had been in World War I, but in World War II he had organized the National Guard. I remember we had horses on picket lines and things in my back yard. And he was quite old at that time. I don't know, maybe fifty-something, I don't know how old, but he was—doing all this stuff and practicing in case they'd need him, but as the National Guard. Now I've gotten off track. I think I want to know that question again.

EE:

Well, the question is just it's the sense that I think you can help me give of the feeling of you being—you know, it's a time that most folks at nineteen or twenty are very carefree, but you all have this burden of history that for your time how carefree can you be? Or is it the fact that nineteen and twenty wins out and that a girl going off to college, even with the war starting, is still thinking about college things and not worried about the war in 1939?

HA:

No, I was completely absorbed by the war. And much to my father's chagrin, one of the things I became was part of America First! We didn't want to go to war. And that was when he just yanked me out of—

EE:

For a political family, for you to be that up-in-front about it was controversial, I'm sure.

HA:

[chuckling] Yes, it was, and he didn't like the idea at all. He wondered how I was getting those ideas.

EE:

You know today we have the idea that the Buchanan wing and the Republicans seem to be isolationists. Of course that's when isolationism was a big thing. Was that assigned to a political party, or did it go across the parties? Was it Democrats or Republicans?

HA:

I wasn't conscious of the Democrats or Republicans at all.

EE:

It was just on that issue you wanted out?

HA:

Yes, for a while. I mean, he didn't let me last thinking that way very long. But the only thing he did bring me up with was a strong feeling of—well, he never labeled himself anything. I know he was a liberal, but he never called those words at all. But I've been very strong in all my political life since then for the [American] Civil Liberties Union, and I think he wanted me to try to think these things through for myself. He was a lawyer, so he'd sit down and talk with me and let me have my say. So that was a real influence to me, and I never felt that I couldn't do what I wanted to do until he said, “Enough's enough.”

EE:

Were you very active in college in organizing things like America First?

HA:

Not at all. I was struggling to get through. I'd stay up all night trying to get ready for my exams. I was absorbed in only one thing at that time, which was to pass. I wanted to pass, and the other thing was that I wanted to volunteer, and I did in the settlement houses down in New York. Matter of fact, I ran a little camp of about five of them from New York, brought them up to my house, and then they'd let me sponsor a little camp in our yard there.

EE:

Great!

HA:

Yeah, so I did that. But no, I was political only in the interest of my father. We went around door-to-door and I would campaign for him when I was growing up. I always worked in campaigns but didn't know much about it.

EE:

You don't know until you actually get into it, I'm afraid. [chuckling]

HA:

No, right.

EE:

There's a lot that never gets reported.

HA:

No, that's true.

EE:

You finished with your degree in '43.

HA:

Yes, I did.

EE:

January of '43.

HA:

January of '43, yes.

EE:

And were you thinking that you were going to get a job, or did you immediately want—you said you wanted to become a public health nurse.

HA:

Yes, but before that—that decision was made in 1942, because that was when I got the letter from the government.

EE:

In '42?

HA:

Yes, in '42. And so I had taken that course in cryptography and finished up on that so I'd be ready when I graduated in January of '43 to go into the WAVES.

EE:

Was that letter from the Department of [the] Navy?

HA:

You know, I think it was, because we were told that we would be commissioned officers in the navy. So it must have been from the navy. That's just a guess. And I'll tell you, some people know this stuff much better than me. Like Virginia Mattson, she really probably knows this stuff better than me.

EE:

Well, it's interesting, were you then?this is the time, '42 when you get this letter, they're just organizing the WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps]. This was W-A-A-C at this time, then they reorganized it again.

HA:

Right.

EE:

That wasn't uniformly met with great favor, especially by the male members of the army.

HA:

Oh, well, that's interesting.

EE:

Do you remember where you were on Pearl Harbor day?

HA:

Yes, I know exactly where I was.

[recorder paused]

EE:

Let me ask this again, because we took a nice little tea break. Where were you on Pearl Harbor day?

HA:

I was at our home. We had a very old home, built in 1684, and we used to go there in summers. But then we started going year-round, I think because of gas and different things, I forget. So on Thanksgiving Day, which was I think Pearl Harbor day—no, it wasn't.

EE:

Just after.

HA:

Yes, just after, yes. I'd invited a young fellow, I don't know where I'd met him, a naval officer who was stationed at Newport, I believe, Newport, Rhode Island. He had come up and we had gone off for a long walk in the woods, and it was one of these beautiful days, and when we came back my father was right there at the door because he was very, very interested in everything that was going on. He said, “Jamie,” that was the boy's name, “Jamie, you've got to come in! They're trying to get hold of you.” Because of course they always have to let them know where they are. “You must call immediately. They've bombed Pearl Harbor!” And so, psssh! just like that [chuckling] he did, and got up immediately and left, he didn't stay for lunch or whatever it was, and went back to his base. But it was rather interesting because it was a very exciting time.

EE:

Everybody knew that at that point we were in the war.

HA:

Yes, sure. I think he even announced it on the same day, didn't he, or not, [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt?

EE:

It might have been the next morning, because it was early in the morning Hawaii time, which meant later in the day our time.

HA:

Yes. But they were collecting everybody right back to their bases. So that's what happened to me on that day.

EE:

The letter that you got in '42, which would have been shortly after that, that they were thinking about organizing—did they say WAVES then, or just said, “We would like your help in cryptography”?

HA:

No, it was specified that I would be commissioned an officer in the WAVES.

EE:

Okay, and you were going to be in the first group, you think?

HA:

No, I wasn't in the first group. I didn't go in till March, for two reasons, and I think this might be historically interesting. I made my application, did everything I was supposed to do, and about a month after I made it I heard from them and they said, “Well, we don't have your birth certificate.” Well, I thought I'd certainly sent my birth certificate. So I went and got another birth certificate. And then a month later I got a letter from them, “I would like you to enlist and go in,” he said, “and for some reason we have two birth certificates.” In other words, I had put one in and it got lost or something. [chuckling]

EE:

Government efficiency even then.

HA:

Right.

EE:

What was it that made you in the end want to join the military? Was it just the patriotic feeling of “I've got to do something in this war?” A lot of people, you know, they had the specific advertising campaign, “Free a man to Fight,” that stuff, did that have any impact on you, or were you pretty much set?

HA:

I was very driven to want to be a help in that war. I wanted to screw a nut into an airplane or whatever, I didn't care what. And cryptography was not my thing, I think it takes much more of a mathematical mind, but I apparently did okay at it. But that was where I was asked, and as my father said, “If anybody wants you anyplace, do it!” [chuckling]

EE:

That's right. Your parents didn't have to sign, because you had graduated.

HA:

Oh no.

EE:

Yes, I think under twenty-one you had to sign.

HA:

Yes. No, I don't remember any of that. They were just thrilled to get me in there.

EE:

Your dad was thrilled. Was your mom or the rest of your family thrilled you were going in the service?

HA:

All of them, all of them, just so glad to get rid me, glad I could find a place to be. [chuckling]

EE:

Now did any of your sisters join as well?

HA:

No, they didn't. The one younger than me—the older sister didn't. She married a navy man and went to England with him, I think. And the one younger than me went to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. She already was going to be a teacher, a kindergarten teacher or something, but wanted to do something for the war effort. So she went to MIT and was given radio training and so forth and went to train people in Florida, I think, on those kind of machines. And the youngest one—

EE:

So you didn't have any obstacles from family at all?

HA:

None whatsoever, just thrilled. Well, I wanted to go, but it was a big wrench for me. I'd never been away from home.

EE:

You had been off to college, but you hadn't really taken any big trips away from home, certainly not with a bunch of people you did not know before.

HA:

Right, that's right.

EE:

Okay. You actually are taken in March of '43. Did you go to Smith [College]?

HA:

Yes, I did. And I went on the train with someone I didn't know, but I sat beside her on the way up. And I haven't kept track of anybody else that was there with me, but we've been lifelong friends. She's in an old folks' home or something now, and she's quite poor—I don't know why, you know, but she is—but she's able to pay to be in this home. And she keeps track of—she couldn't pay for WIMSA [Women in Military Service for America Memorial], that's our—but she's kept track of everything, and I sent her some WIMSA stamps and different things.

EE:

Well, that's great.

HA:

But she lives up in Connecticut.

EE:

So did you stay on the college or in the apartments down at the beach? Where did you reside at the college?

HA:

Oh, at the college. There's no beach there, is there?

EE:

Somebody was telling there's some apartments that are near there that some of them—they didn't have room for them all at one time.

HA:

Oh. No, we lived right in the dormitory. And we had one fun experience, if I can bring it up. You had to lead the troops behind you some days, and so we were learning to do that, and left, right—my father, before I went in, he'd taken me out to our barn and he put a book on my head and he said, “Now you're going to practice this: Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four!” [chuckling] So I should have known better.

EE:

You were drilled—

HA:

Yes. And when I got in there, there were two of us, I guess, that led the troops, I'm a little vague about that, but this truck driver kind of blew his horn at us and he said, “Make up your minds, women! Which way do you want us to go?” Apparently I was saying stop and she was saying go or something. [chuckling] But otherwise I wasn't very conscious that people didn't want women. I didn't have that feeling at all, one way or the other. And I didn't even feel it that way, I just thought I was stupid not to know.

EE:

Were most of your instructors there men or women?

HA:

Women. Completely women. And I had never particularly liked women. After all, I was one of four girls, went to girls' schools, all that stuff, and I loved men but didn't know very many. And they were all women. And if I have to bring out the most extraordinary experience, or one, or two, or three, of the most extraordinary experiences in my life was the tremendous respect I had for these women that led us. I mean, we were there—we were terribly patriotic. I know I'm silly, I go for all the frills, but I loved the songs about taking the place of a man so he could go to war and all that.

EE:

You might know the tune for this song?

HA:

I do, WAVES of the Navy?

EE:

No, this is a song that says, “I don't need a man, except to tie my tie.” Do you know that song?

HA:

[chuckling] No, I don't know that.

EE:

I've got to find the lyrics for you, because I bet when you see the lyrics you will remember the tune. I've seen it in some publications from the school. Are there many other songs that come to your mind from that day?

HA:

Oh yes, WAVES of the Navy, I love that. Hup, two, three, four—

EE:

Can you sing a few bars?

HA:

Oh sure. [singing] “WAVES of the navy, there's a ship sailing down the bay. And she won't come back again until”—I'm fudging here a little—“victory day. Carry on for that gallant ship and for every hero brave who has gone ashore, gone to sea— Well, darn it. It had a nice punch line there. We took the place of the guy.

EE:

You put the girl in instead of the guy then.

HA:

Yes, we let them go to war and we stayed behind the desks.

EE:

Oh, that's great, that's good!

HA:

Yes. Oh, I'm mad I can't remember it right this minute.

EE:

Well, think about it—

HA:

At least I have the voice. [laughter]

EE:

That's right. Well, now what I hear, and it's probably the same in March of '43, you all were not issued uniforms when you got there. Everybody is kind of a ragtag assembly of what they're wearing and what they brought.

HA:

Oh, that's right, that's right.

EE:

Some people wished they had better shoes. [chuckling]

HA:

Yes. But we got uniforms when we got there afterward. Yes, we were issued uniforms—not immediately, but—

EE:

Were you one of those women who were just absolutely taken by the uniform?

HA:

[chuckling]

EE:

Some people said they joined just because of the uniform.

HA:

No, I don't think—I grew up—we were all brought up like boys. I wasn't really conscious of uniforms or anything else.

EE:

You just wanted to get out there and do. You didn't care about what it looked like, you just wanted to go do.

HA:

No, I didn't. I just wanted to help.

EE:

Were you joining thinking that this is your way to see the world, in a sense? This is going to take you to different places, different experiences?

HA:

Well, I hoped it. I asked my boss. My boss was Captain [Lawrence] Safford, who was in charge of research and cryptography and did a great deal of things that way, and so I asked. The only place they were sending the WAVES, I think, at that time was to Hawaii. So I asked if I could go. Well, I think he knew I was very immature, my guess is, and I think he got hold of my family—that's my guess anyway—and he said, “You don't want her to go, do you?” I don't know what they said. They never have told me anything.

EE:

They didn't confirm that he had talked to them?

HA:

No, but they didn't send me there. I stayed in Washington, D.C.

EE:

What was a typical day like for you at Smith? What do you remember in that training?

HA:

Oh, in that training? Got up, I think making your beds, delicious food, [chuckling] good food, and I guess we had—well, I was very conscious of the fact that when one of our—We weren't officers at that time. But when people came in, you popped out of your seat and did your salute, you know. And it was interesting learning about the navy, and the submarines and what the complement was. We had to learn all that sort of language and everything. So that's about all I remember of it. I don't remember—

EE:

Did you have a lot of free time, or were you pretty much confined?

HA:

No, no free time at all. No free time.

EE:

You were closer to your home than a lot of the North Carolina women I've been interviewing.

HA:

Yes, sure.

EE:

Did you get to see your family during that basic training?

HA:

Not at all, no.

EE:

No? That was just stay away and we'll see you at the end. Did they come down for graduation?

HA:

We didn't have a graduation.

EE:

You didn't have one?

HA:

No, I don't remember a graduation. What they did was—my friend that I love so, I think she had to stay on. I only went for a month, sort of like a ninety-day wonder or something. But because it was very secretive and because my father was, you know, pretty well known, and when I wrote down recommendations I wrote down kind of prominent people. I think if they knew anything about me, they didn't—the only thing they knew was that I was very dedicated, very much caring about our country, and so I was in very secret stuff.

EE:

What was your dad's position at the time you went in? Was he mayor then?

HA:

Let's see, that was 1933?

EE:

Forty-three.

HA:

Forty-three. Hmm, let me think. No, I don't think so. Let's see, '43? He was mayor in '32 and '33, mayor around then—no, he would have been out of that. I think he would also have been congressman already and out of that. I think he devoted himself to the military, becoming part of the—what did I say he was?

EE:

Did he work with Ambassador [Joseph P.] Kennedy?

HA:

Not Ambassador Kennedy. No, he didn't like Ambassador Kennedy. [chuckling] But I don't think he was political at that time. I think he was oriented completely to the war. Yes, and he was training troops—yeah.

EE:

Well, I'm preparing the ground for the question: A lot of these women from little towns in North Carolina, their paper plays up very big, “So-and-so is now an ensign in the WAVES.”

HA:

Yes.

EE:

Because you come from a prominent family, my guess is that could have also made the paper. Did it?

HA:

It did in a funny way, and I'm very sentimental of it still. I love animals, and the photographers came around the day before I was supposed to leave. And we were going to go in civilian clothes and everything. And I don't know why it happened, but I was saying goodbye to my dog, my little dachshund, and he put out his tongue and licked my face, and that's the picture that came out in the paper. [laughter]

EE:

That's great, that's great.

HA:

But I don't remember any others, except that people someplace got wind of this and I got—and it scared me to death. I got a letter from somebody I didn't know, an enlisted man, and he was saying, “What do you women think you know about all this?” And I was so frightened. I thought, “Gosh, I don't know if I know anything.”

EE:

Well, and this is the thing, I think a lot of WAVES—one of the reasons I think stories have maybe been slow for—women have been not forthcoming with them in some sense because this was the start of some of the best years of these women's lives, and this was the start of some of the worst years in the lives of the men they cared about.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

And it was two different experiences at the same time.

HA:

Right.

EE:

Is there a feeling of guilt associated a little bit with that for you, or maybe for some other people that you knew?

HA:

Well, I was not involved with any man. I didn't have any boyfriends then, so I didn't know men.

EE:

And that “Free a man to Fight” didn't—you didn't think about—

HA:

No, I just thought of all the men. I loved them all. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, thank you, I appreciate that very much.

HA:

Yes, I did love them all. But I felt badly about this fellow. You know, I just felt maybe I'm being naughty, you know, just that. No, I never saw my family. I think I went home after that month, just—

EE:

Just briefly?

HA:

Yes.

EE:

And then did you have to go to a special school for the cryptography?

HA:

No.

EE:

Or the fact that you'd already had the course—

HA:

I'd had the course, and I went down—

EE:

What was your next assignment after Smith then?

HA:

Oh, my first assignment was right into this research department in cryptography.

EE:

Was that in D.C.?

HA:

Yes, in D.C., where I was stationed the whole time under this Captain Safford.

EE:

What was his name?

HA:

Captain Lawrence Safford, S-a-f-f-o-r-d. The first thing he'd done was take the first submarine—now this was before the war—submarine to the Philippines. He was not a people person. He was not a good officer that way, but he was a real brain, and I believe—For a while I never even talked about it because it was supposed to be so secret. I don't really know what they used, but we had a huge machine in there, in our office, and we would run messages through it and try to find weaknesses in it, and I believe it was his machine that was doing that.

EE:

Was your group concentrating simply on messages from, say, the Germans, or from the Japanese, or was it all different?

HA:

No, it was all different things. I was such a guilty person then. I really was very dedicated, but I was really quite sick one time and I didn't come to work—I mean I called them up and didn't come—and my boss Captain Safford came over to see me. I don't know whether he thought I wasn't sick or what. Anyway he said, “Helen, I've gotten this message in that's supposed to be for the president. I'd like you to see if you can break it down.” So he left, I stayed up all night, and I kept thinking about the poor guys that were jumping into foxholes with snakes and all that and I thought, “Well, if they can do it, I can do it.” And for some reason, I must have believed in a god at that time, I said, “Please let me be able to break this message.” And I was able to break it, which I was very pleased about because I did not have much confidence. But it was some crack woman writing to the president in some sort of—I forget what it was even, but I was able to break it. So that gave me some confidence anyway. So we had messages from people writing cryptography to the president. Actually, ours was much more theoretical. I think if they had really important things they wouldn't have fooled with us.

EE:

So the calculations that you were doing, the messages were, you say, to the President of the U.S., to Roosevelt?

HA:

Yes.

EE:

And these were messages that were sent from whom?

HA:

Oh, I think from some citizen to the president, and then they turned it over to us. But mostly what I did, or what we did, was to try to crack our machines.

EE:

In other words, to see if there was a fault in your own?

HA:

Yes.

EE:

You were testing like they're doing now on security for computers.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

Was the Eniac machine at Penn up then?

HA:

Well, the only one I know that I can even mention was the Hagaland, which was a little machine that they used, and we worked on that too. But what his machine was called has either left my mind or I don't remember. But in general what we worked on—There were only four officers, WAVES, and about six enlisted WAVES, and then there were two chiefs, and then Captain Safford our boss, and a commander-in-chief—these were both male—and that was the extent of our office.

EE:

So you had three male supervisors, basically, and then a staff of ten women altogether, the four female officers in charge of the six enlisted.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me again the name of this research center. Was it at the Department of [the] Navy Headquarters, or was it at the temporary buildings from World War I down at the end?

HA:

No, not at all. What it was, it was the main navy building. It wasn't intelligence, that was separate, but we were—

EE:

You had a security clearance.

HA:

Yes, we had a security clearance, all that. And we were just about three rooms. The machine's—quite a big machine it was. And we were testing these machines really, that was what we were doing, so I don't know if I ever had my hands on anything very important. I think this thing from the woman was probably some crackpot woman and he just wanted to see if I could—

EE:

All right. Your math background obviously helps you in this.

HA:

I don't think so. I think math people seem to like crossword puzzles and that sort of stuff, and none of that had ever interested me at all.

EE:

So how do you solve a—

HA:

Well, I can tell you a little bit because it's so—You get a frequency chart. You find out—if we're talking about English, you need to know—

EE:

How many times a letter—

HA:

Exactly. Yes!

EE:

There would be E's, you know—

HA:

Yes. It might be a sunshine or something else, or—but you got frequencies. That's the way we always began.

EE:

So do you play theWheel of Fortune game on TV, because that's basically what you're doing, isn't it?

HA:

I don't know, I never watch Wheel of Fortune.

EE:

Watch it. It's this game like Hangman, where you basically guess from the letters. Then you say, “How many E's are there?” And they turn it up, and then you can figure—

HA:

Yeah? Well, that's interesting. I didn't know that because I don't watch it. But that was how we began it. That was the main way of doing it. It was interesting.

EE:

I mean, you came out of Smith and you were an ensign?

HA:

Yes, I was an ensign.

EE:

And you were at this main navy building from about April of '43, April or May of '43?

HA:

Yes, around there. But then we didn't stay there forever, and I forget how long it was after that. They had those temporary quarters, and we were in Building K.

EE:

And the end of the Mall?

HA:

Yes, and they eventually put us—yes, we were right next to the Lincoln Memorial. That was Building K, and that's where I eventually went with the same group. All the people were there.

EE:

They just moved you all down that way.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

You had women and men in the office, so maybe you can answer this question. Within the service, do you think—Were they treated professionally? Were women treated professionally, or did the men treat you different because you were women?

HA:

Oh, not at all. I don't think they treated us differently at all. We were just human beings. But I may be that kind of person. I didn't think of them as males or females or anything. And I never really thought of myself as a female. But I knew that if somebody came in I saluted and that sort of stuff. [chuckling] But I will have to tell you in all honesty that the lieutenant commander called me in after we were going to be getting out of the war and he said, “You know, I want you to know something. You don't have any ability of being a self-starter.” That crushed me, but I hadn't thought of myself as a self-starter. But he thought—I mean, I could pay attention to the rules, but I wasn't one that—You know, I needed to be told the rules and be told what to do. So I never thought of myself as a very good WAVE, but at least I was honest. And then I worked a lot at that time because it was the Pearl Harbor trials and my boss was very much involved in that. So he had me going down to those Pearl Harbor trials, and gave me openings to the State Department, and I could go into the files and all. And I was to try to—I think what he wanted me to do, he didn't tell me quite what he wanted me to do—

EE:

This was a senate hearing about whether or not they were—

HA:

Prepared.

EE:

They let their guard down and that's why it happened?

HA:

Yes, right, but he sent me to that for a while. So I was allowed to go in the State Department, and I was supposed to come up with what I'd gotten out of it. And I hate to tell you this, [chuckling] but I think I did okay on the cryptography. I'll give you a final thing that made me think I did all right in cryptography. But in this thing, I went into the files and I listened to what the ambassador said and everything. When I came back I was to write a little report on it, and I told my boss in my report that it was obvious that they weren't going to go into Pearl Harbor, they had really thought of going in the other way. Well, whatever it was, it was not the answer he wanted at all—I'm not sure what the answer was—but in all honesty, that's what I thought I read and heard in there. So that was a little bit—I don't know what that was, but anyway—

EE:

That was just a temporary detour?

HA:

Yes, it was.

EE:

Then you went back to the cryptography work?

HA:

Yes, right.

EE:

Do you remember the D-Day invasion? Did that change your work when suddenly it looked like we were going on the offensive into Europe now finally?

HA:

No, it didn't change our work at all, but we were terribly interested in what was going on, but it didn't change our work at all.

EE:

I've had many people tell me that Washington at that time was a great place to be. There was so much going on. After hours there was always something—

HA:

Well, I don't need to tell you we worked around the clock.

EE:

So your shifts were sometimes in the middle of the night?

HA:

Oh, sure. We worked from 7:00 in the morning till 3:00 in the afternoon. You did that for three days and then I think you had a day off. And then you worked from 3:00 to 11:00, and that was—

[Interview interrupted, recorder paused]
EE:

The first shift is 7:00 [a.m.] to 3:00 [p.m.], you worked three days and off, and then you rotate to a 3:00 [p.m.] to 11:00 [a.m.] shift.

HA:

Yes, for three days.

EE:

For three days, and then off?

HA:

And then off one day.

EE:

And then you'd get the graveyard shift?

HA:

Right, 11:00 [a.m.] to 7:00 [p.m.].

EE:

So everybody is working crazy hours.

HA:

Yes. And of course we worked Saturdays and Sundays. We don't have any days like that off, or no vacations or holidays or anything like that.

EE:

So you all don't have the opportunity for much of a social life, do you?

HA:

No. A little.

EE:

You worked hard to get what you had.

HA:

Yes. We used to go to some of these things. Yes, they used to have dances for some of the soldiers that would be in town or something, and we'd go to—If you could have time off and take that—

EE:

So you heard Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller? Were they around?

HA:

None of those, no. No, nothing like that.

EE:

They were all on USO [United Service Organizations] tours, I guess, if they were doing anything.

HA:

I guess so, yeah. No, we didn't have anything like that.

EE:

Did you get access to an officers club? Did they have an officers club?

HA:

Well, actually that's where I met my husband. Yes, there was an officers club, but that was—I don't know, I guess it was after the war. Do you want to hear about that, or not particularly?

EE:

Oh, we'll get there. We'll get to the end of the war and then we'll—

HA:

All right.

EE:

Well, give me this answer, when did you get out of the WAVES?

HA:

I got out of the WAVES—Let's see, before Christmas? About two or three months after the end of the war. Let's see, the end of the war was August 6 [1945], was it?

EE:

Yes.

HA:

As soon as I could after that I got out.

EE:

So you were home by Christmas of '45?

HA:

Yes, I think I was.

EE:

All right, let me fill in just a few things between '43 and the end of the war. You were in Washington at Building K from the main navy building, still doing cryptography.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when Roosevelt passed away?

HA:

Yes. Yes, I do. I was living with a group of WAVES. We lived in private homes and I had a nice room and I liked it. When we found out he died, like I'm sure everybody else you've talked to said the same thing, I thought it was the end of the world. We'd known Roosevelt for so long. We were really very saddened by that. Now, I know that I went to Wainwright's coming back from the Pacific, but I'm not sure—And of course I went to Kennedy's, but that was years later. So I'm trying to think what I did for Roosevelt's. Wasn't he buried down in Georgia? Didn't he go down there for—

EE:

Well, he died in Georgia. The train brought his body back up to the Rotunda.

HA:

Oh yes, right. I don't remember much about that. I guess we were just still working, so that we—And I think we looked out a window.

EE:

Because of your family's connection, had you had a chance to meet Roosevelt earlier in your life?

HA:

No, never did.

EE:

How about your father?

HA:

He knew James Roosevelt because I think they were in Congress together. Let's see, who did I know? James Roosevelt. Yes, I met him. But I never met either Eleanor Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt.

EE:

What did you think of Eleanor. She was a different-drummer woman.

HA:

I know she was, yes. Well, I've been reading some biographies about her. I guess she was quite a magnificent woman, but I—At the time, I just thought she was wonderful. When she'd go down into the coal mines and all that sort of thing, I just thought that was wonderful. But I didn't have too much—I usually concentrated on the men, frankly, and always have. I'm interested more in men than women, but I thought she was a wonderful person, yes. But I don't remember—I didn't go to—

EE:What about VE [Victory in Europe] Day? That was about three weeks—Roosevelt dies, and within a month the war in Europe is over.
HA:

Yes. VE Day, what do you suppose I did? Let's see, that was August 6? Oh, I know what I did.

EE:

No, that was in the spring, in May.

HA:

Oh, that wasn't the falsie—

EE:

VE is the Victory in Europe, so the war has still got—

HA:

Yeah, that's right, and I thought it was going—That's how I met my husband, as a matter of fact. I went down to the White House, just outside, and I wanted to see what was going on. And it was VE Day, and I thought it was the end of the war. And it wasn't was it? No. So I wondered why we weren't seeing—I wasn't being hugged by soldiers. You know, you'd seen that in World War—[chuckling]

EE:

That's right.

HA:

So I went over to the officers club—I don't know if I'd ever even been in there before—and I walked into the—I think it was called the junior officers club, maybe something like that. Yes, that's what it was. And I walked in and there was a young man, a navy man, and it looked to me like he was flirting with the hat check girl, I didn't know. But anyway he turned to me and he said, “Are you alone?”

And I said, “Yes, I am.”

He said, “Would you like to play some ping-pong?”

And I said, “Sure, I'd love to.” So that ended up to be my husband, eventually. So that's when we first met. And then he was stationed in Yards and Docks. Well, he'd been over in Oran [Algeria] and Africa and there, but he came back. So that's how I met him, and eventually married him.

EE:

So he was working in D.C. when you met him at the club?

HA:

Yes, I did. And I used to go from the K Building, meet him halfway on that bridge there, whichever that one is, the one with the towers on it. It's the one that takes you over to the—I forget what the bridge is called. So we met, and married in February.

EE:

Of '46?

HA:

Yes, in '46. He was sent out to San Diego, and so I announced to my family I was going to marry this guy, and they said, “Helen, you don't have to rush into marriage. You're only twenty-six years old.”

I said, “Well, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going out there to marry him.”

They said, “Well, can't he come here for a wedding or something?”

I said, “No, I don't want a wedding, I just want to go out there and marry him.”

So my family said, “Well, all right, we're going out with you.” [chuckling] So they went out with me, and when we were in the airplane still, I didn't usually do anything like put on lipstick. You know, I just don't do those things, but I put on lipstick and I thought, “Oh, I think I see him right down there!” And so when we got out, it wasn't him at all. There was no one there to meet me. And it was so embarrassing. I thought, “Oh, my god, he's jilted me, and here's my family all the way out here.” [chuckling] So we went to the hotel and I called up his office and I said, “Charlie, where are you?”

And he said, “Well, you must have gotten mixed up on the change of time or something. I didn't know you were coming in right now!”

I said, “That's all right, just get over here in a hurry.”[chuckling]

EE:

Just prove that I'm not telling a story to my folks. [chuckling] Well, was he from that area? Where was he from?

HA:

No, he was from Massachusetts too. He was from the western part of the state and I was from Cambridge. But I had never known him before.

EE:

So you met around May of '45?

HA:

Yes.

EE:

Yes, that was VE Day. A lot of people are kind of caught by surprise that the war ended in August so quickly. Nobody knew about the atom bomb. What were you doing on VJ [Victory in Japan] Day? Do you remember that?

HA:

VJ Day?

EE:

That was in August.

HA:

Yes. I'm trying to think what I was doing VJ Day. Now how did we know it was the end of the war? Did it come over the radio?

EE:

No, I think that was when MacArthur got the Japanese to surrender on the [USS] Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

HA:

Oh yeah. I have a plank off the [USS] Missouri.

EE:

You do?

HA:

Yes. When my husband was stationed out in Hawaii, why, somebody gave us that as a gift.

EE:

Then you are discharged just after that?

HA:

Yes, as soon as I could after that. It might have been a couple of months later.

EE:

What was your rank when you were discharged?

HA:

At the time I was being discharged, I was a second lieutenant.

EE:

Okay.

HA:

No, excuse me, a full lieutenant, you call it, don't you?

EE:

You were what, ensign, then lieutenant j.g., and then full?

HA:

Yes. But that was just as I was getting out.

EE:

Did you ever think about making a career of the military?

HA:

Never.

EE:

Never? It never crossed your mind?

HA:

No, I wanted to get married and have children.

[chuckling]
EE:

Okay. That sounds good to me. What was the hardest thing that you had to do, being in the military away from home? What was it? Physically or emotionally.

HA:

Well, I think finding myself housing for the first time. We were just let off and I had to go find myself a place to live. I'd never done that.

EE:

Was that hard? I imagine people in your shoes, it might have been hard to find a spot.

HA:

Well, I just never had handled my own life at all. So I did it. It wasn't hard. I mean I was able to find a place, but that seemed like a—and I didn't know anybody down in Washington, and I didn't go down there with anybody, so I just kind of walked the streets by myself and tried to find a place.

EE:

Of course Washington is a different place now than it was then. You don't ever consider yourself to have been in physical danger or afraid when you were down there?

HA:

No.

EE:

It's also, I think, the fact of being younger you don't think about those kind of things.

HA:

[chuckling] No.

EE:

Can you remember, either—

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

HA:

—questions you ask makes it such fun for people.

EE:

Well, it is fun. It is fun to hear about. I was asking if you had an embarrassing moment, or if you didn't personally, one that you could share with us, a funny time.

HA:

Yes, I had duty from 11:00 to 7:00 one night, and you're in there pretty much by yourself quite often. And I was in there by myself, in our office, and the telephone rang, and someone got on and he said, “We're cleaning out the telephones. Would you please get a paper bag and put it over the end of the telephone.” I said, “Oh, oh! I don't know where a paper bag is, but—” [laughter] Well, of course it was someone from the office just—They giggled and laughed the rest of the—

EE:

That's pretty good.[chuckling]

HA:

So anyway it was terribly embarrassing, and everybody laughed their heads off the next day. Just one of them putting me up to a joke. And of course I should have known. How could you blow out a telephone? But I didn't.

EE:

Well, I made reference to the fact that a lot of people thought Washington was a good place to be for a social life. Were there any things that you remember, fun things that you all did, movies, dances, that kind of thing?

HA:

Sure. Well, one, I wanted to have some social company, and I paid no attention to some rules, which was the only company I could find were enlisted men. And I had a sister that eventually lived down in Alexandria, and she called my family up. She said, “You've got to get hold of that sister of mine. She's dating enlisted men!” And I thought it was none of my sister's business, but anyway I was told I wasn't supposed to do that. But I did it. They couldn't boss me by that time. So I went out with some of the enlisted—and I loved the enlisted WAVES in our office, so I did a lot of things with them. And I guess you weren't supposed to do that, but I did it anyway.

EE:

Well, this is an interesting thing that you mention that because there's a collegiality among women that's just different from men anyway.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

And this is the first batch of women officers, and as a military esprit de corps, officers do not fraternize with the enlisted people.

HA:

No, and we weren't supposed to either.

EE:

But you went ahead and did it anyway.

HA:

Yes, absolutely. [chuckling] And I loved them. And my boss was not that type, Captain Safford. He was interested in all kinds of things in the brain and he didn't pay much attention—

EE:

If you did the work, I don't care about your personal life. Do what you want.

HA:

Exactly, yes. Well, I liked the officers too, but the other officers who were there lived together and I didn't. I lived with some other officers. I hadn't been invited to be with them, and I didn't, I just found some other officers and lived with other officers.

EE:

You obviously like music and things. Do you have some favorite songs from that time period, or movies?

HA:

Yes. I saw the opening of Oklahoma! And I did that with a fellow who was—I don't know whether he was an officer or not, he was with the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] and he took me to this thing. And he also reported to my older sister because he happened to know her, that I was dating enlisted people or whatever. But anyway, we went to the opening of Oklahoma! And they had Claire Booth Luce, who I don't like at all, but she was there, a big shot there, because it was the opening night of it. And of course it was a great musical anyway, so I loved that.

EE:

Well, when it came out, it was a different kind of an experience because they hadn't had a musical before Oklahoma! like that.

HA:

Yes. That's probably true, yes.

EE:

And go back to Gilbert and Sullivan and that's likely as close as you got.

HA:

Exactly, yes. And then I did love the Watergate concerts. I found an awful lot of things were free if you had free time. You could go to the museums, and we'd go to band concerts put on by the military. And, you know, we didn't have to pay for any of these things, and that was wonderful.

EE:

I've heard that from so many people. You just show up—and you wore your uniform about everywhere, didn't you?

HA:

Oh yes, oh yeah, everywhere.

EE:

But if you showed up in uniform, free tickets, somebody will buy them for you or treat you for lunch.

HA:

Another embarrassing experience was only after I thought about it. There was one guy who wanted to take me to a—oh, some sort of a Communist meeting. And I thought, “Why not?” But as you know, I had to wear my uniform. I forget whether he was a civilian or who he was. We went down to this thing. “And now do you want to be a Leninist, or do you want to be a—” And I thought, “Oh god, I don't think I'm interested in this at all.” But I thought they must have put somebody on me after that for a while for me to be in uniform. I didn't see any other people in uniform there at this Communist meeting. [chuckling]

[Discussion of Communism in Germany not transcribed]

EE:

Do you think you contributed to the war effort?

HA:

I only think so from something that my boss said to my family after I had gotten out of the WAVES. I had introduced them. My father had come down, and so I introduced him to my boss and all those people, and so he felt he knew them. And my boss's wife had been commissioned to paint the interior of Hyde Park, so they were very interested in meeting her too because they wanted her to paint their house. So anyway, they were good friends and went up—After I was married, my husband was still in the navy, he was in the navy and we were stationed in Newport, I was not in the WAVES at all then, and they came down to see me. I got sick down there and my mother and father came down to see me. They said, “You know, we've just seen Captain Safford, and, you know, he said that you did some really great things in that war effort.” And my only answer was, “My, that Captain Safford's a nice guy!” [laughter] So I'm not real sure what I did, but anyway that's what they told me.

EE:

I had somebody call me one time, and I was in Europe. A guy from work called me and said, “Your boss tells me that you're the best in your field.” And I hung up the phone thinking, “I wish he'd told me what my field was.” [laughter]

HA:

How lovely. How lovely. [chuckling]

EE:

You're there, and of course you're in Washington, which has always had a different focus because of politics.

HA:

Sure.

EE:

And you're from a political family, I can ask you a question that I can't ask many people. Did the war lessen politics, or just change the way politics was done?

HA:

I think it lessened it completely. I think what came first was the United States government and our war effort. I don't remember any—

EE:

One country, one voice.

HA:

Absolutely, yes. I don't remember even my father talking much about anything but the war and getting over it and how great he thought Churchill was and, you know, that kind of thing.

EE:

Were there some heroes from that time for you?

HA:

Let me think, who were my heroes?

EE:

Or heroines.

HA:

[chuckling] I never think of heroines.

EE:

I ask that—

HA:

No, I don't have any heroines. I guess Captain [Mildred] McAfee, who I didn't know. I'm sure she was a wonderful person. And I did love the people that trained us up at—I thought they were wonderful women. But who were my heroes in the war? I just felt very much, we were trained in that way, that our commander in chief was our boss. And that was, when it was Truman or whoever it was, he was our boss. And that was ingrained in me, and it's been one of the things I've taken away with great pleasure from that training and being in the war when I get into things now.

EE:

I think that's probably something that my generation misses, because there's not—People don't have the shared military experience, and I'm thinking that women now have it a lot more than they did then. But just the attitude of respect, that you're part of a tradition. And some new person moves in, and there is an aura, a shield that tradition brings around that office, that you treat it with respect.

HA:

Exactly. Yes, exactly. It made life simpler for us than for you, because you have to—

EE:

Yes, it does. We're too confronted with the human who's in office rather than the office.

HA:

Yes.

EE:

What impact do you think the military had on your life, short-term and long term? I think long term it got you a husband.

HA:

That's right! [chuckling] In fact, my three sisters and I said we never would have gotten married if it hadn't been for that war. We would not have. We just wouldn't have met—We would have met Bostonians, none of us liked Bostonians. You know, we wanted to meet people around, different people and all. And we've often said that to each other. Because I've often said to people—They say, “Well, I'm against wars.” And I said, “Well, it does some good things, it mixes up people.” And I loved that. I wanted to get mixed up, you know.

EE:

That's right. You're taken to places you would never go otherwise.

HA:

That's right, sure.

EE:

So in that sense your life has been different because of the military. Do you think the military—

HA:

And of course I stayed in the military till my—

EE:

How long was your husband in?

HA:

He was in for twenty-three years.

EE:

Okay, so you were traveling—

HA:

Yes, a lot with him.

EE:

Did you go all over the world?

HA:

Yes, not all over the world, but he was a civil engineer and we—we always went quite a long distance each time we moved. We moved thirteen times. We got married in—where did we get married? Oh, we got married in San Diego, and then we were moved to Newport, Rhode Island. And from Newport, Rhode Island, we went to Hawaii. And in all that time I had four children. I had the first one in San Diego, the second one in Newport, Rhode Island, then two out in Hawaii. And then we went from there to Norfolk, [Virginia], and from there to Spain. And we could always go with him because he wasn't on a ship, he was a civil engineer. And then from there I guess we came back to Boston or Washington, D.C., and took the tour in Boston and then back to Washington when he got out, and I of course was already out, and then he moved down here. And that was about 1964.

EE:

And down here was—

HA:

Because he got a job down here. I never had been south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but I had a lot of friends that I'd met in the navy that were of course from down here.

EE:

He was in for—

HA:

He was in twenty-three years.

EE:

He got out just before or during Vietnam?

HA:

He got out during Vietnam, much to my chagrin, because I had been brought up—He wasn't in Annapolis but he was trained by the navy and got all that, that you never would do that, but he did not believe in the Vietnam War. He didn't ask my opinion, he never did, but he told them he wanted to get out. And that was after twenty-three years in. In fact, my own children don't understand it. They said, “Mother, you weren't going to be happy unless one us went over to Vietnam and died, were you?” And it wasn't that way, but I felt very strongly if we were in a war we had to back it up right now. I'm a little clearer than most people about what I think we should be doing over there. I hate it, I wish we weren't there, but I think we—

EE:

You don't do it halfway if you're going to do it.

HA:

No, you don't. I sort of feel like [John] McCain. I know he's a Republican, but— [chuckling]

EE:

Well, and you don't tell them in advance what you're not going to do.

HA:

Well, that's true. Yeah, that we don't do. We've made some mistakes, but we always have, and I think we're so well-intentioned.

EE:

Well, and the problem now too that it's not just America, we're trying to do it by committee, which makes it tough.

HA:

I know. Yes, and it's not only America, we can blow up the whole world if we don't try to settle this thing.

EE:

I know, if we're not careful.

HA:

I know. Now ask me something.

EE:

You did try to encourage your kids to be in the military?

HA:

No, I never encouraged them in any way at all.

EE:

You just stayed neutral?

HA:

No, I didn't stay neutral. [chuckling] No, but I tried—One son was at [North Carolina] State [University] at the time and he was not—He was eligible for draft but was not drafted, so he didn't go in. My oldest son—let's see, what did he do? Oh, he was puzzled about it, but he went into the navy. And I don't know whether because he was puzzled by his views, but he was stationed in the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and was not sent over to Vietnam. And I kind of felt, you know, well, he should be where the difficulties are. But I don't think I ever said anything like that, because I would never—I adored more than anything else in the world my family, and it was a tough decision they were going to have to make, but sometimes, you know, I thought, I don't know where they picked up on that, but they said, “I think you would be happier,” because a lot of their friends did go over. I mean, you just hated to—

EE:

Well, it's the way to get advancement in the military is to be—

HA:

Oh, not for that reason. The fact that you're risking your life.

EE:

But that didn't bother you as much as just that that was the sense of if you're in the military that's what you need to be doing?

HA:

Yes, I kind of felt that way.

EE:

And you had daughters as well, two daughters?

HA:

Yes, I had two daughters.

EE:

And you didn't encourage them to join the military?

HA:

Well, they were a little bit too young. But they did marches, all that sort of stuff, against the war.

[chuckling]
EE:

A lot of people look at that time and they say that really is the first time that women are in the workforce doing male jobs, both in the military and outside, and that time period is really the start of the women's lib[eration] movement. Do you think of yourself that way, as a pioneer in that?

HA:

No, I think women are so stupid not to know when to leave well enough alone. Why can't they let a man open the door for them if he wants to? I don't like a sex war, and I hate it, so I've never felt that way.

EE:

How do you feel then because of that? You know we just sent, I think in December, for the first time we had a woman flying in a combat mission in Iraq. What do you think about that?

HA:

Well, again I think I think like a man. I'm not so sure I want—If women are so wonderful, and I'm not feminine and all that stuff, but if they're going to raise families and all of that, I don't know if I want them in there. Actually, I have to say to you [chuckling] I do not support women, period. I don't vote for women most parts. I have women that I admire, but I think men do a much better job. Maybe I'm only just judging by myself. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, I'm interviewing for a woman's college, I'll be quiet. [chuckling] Yes. How has your life and your view of life been different because of the military? I mean, for some people it is what makes them independent, in a sense. And it sounds like for you, certainly going to D.C. and fending for yourself, there were parts of this that really made you more independent than you'd ever been before.

HA:

Yes. Well, except that when I said I wanted to get married, one thing my family said to me, “If this doesn't work out, don't come back to us!” So I think they wanted me to branch out and be independent. I don't think they were clingy at all, really. They were just overprotective when we were young, but they felt that I was responsible for my life.

EE:

One of these questions, which of course no one can ever answer—

HA:

Oh, I'll answer it. I've got an answer for everything. [chuckling]

EE:

Since you can't do your life over again, but if you could, would you join the military again?

HA:

Well, I certainly think so, because of all the things I told you about why I went in. If they were still in play, yes, I think I would. There was no reason why I wouldn't have joined the military, none whatsoever, if that was where I was needed. That was sort of the main thing I wanted to do, I wanted to be where I was needed or where I thought I could do a good job.

EE:

Are there some personalities in the military that stand out in your mind, some characters? You've told me a few things about Captain Safford, are there some other people that you worked with who made an impression on you? Because what happens is in the military experience is that you are exposed to a greater variety of people from all over than you have ever been and will ever be probably in your life. Of course, you had a life where you did that for twenty years with your husband, but it is a different way of living and you have to be adaptable. But were there some people in that time that made an impression on you?

HA:

None that I can particularly remember, no.

EE:

It sounds like with that schedule maybe on the work experience you might have been a little more isolated than some of the people I've talked to.

HA:

Right, yes.

EE:

Well, is there anything else that I have not in these bazillion questions asked you about your military service that you'd like to add?

HA:

When the war was over I thought, “That's behind me. Life goes on.” And even though I belong to this WAVE group, it's nothing that particularly I'm interested in. I've gotten very interested in my own life, and especially after my husband died, which was eleven years ago, which really doesn't have much to do with what we're talking about, but then I really branched out on my own. And I ran for Congress. I don't know if you know I did, but I did, yes. I got defeated by Howard Coble, but that was a great experience.

You were talking about the military and the different types of people, and I wanted very much to know the black community, which I didn't know. Coming from Boston I didn't know them very well. So when I came down here, I joined the Democratic Party because it was very integrated. And then I got a teacher's certificate over at UNCG and taught school. And the first year I went where they told me, which was over at Claxton. The next year they asked if anybody would like to volunteer in the black schools, they were not integrated yet, and I said yes, I would. So I went over and taught at Hampton [Elementary School]. And it was a wonderful experience. I was the only white teacher there, and there were no white students. And I thought, just like something you mentioned about the military, I thought, “People are people wherever you are. I like this one, I don't like that, this one's courageous, that one's got a sense of humor, and they're just human beings.”

EE:

That's right, and their skin color has nothing to do with those qualities about their personality.

HA:

Exactly. So that's been with me something—And I would have suspected, my husband being of Italian background—For instance, if he watched a boxing match, I noticed he was always for the white guy. I didn't say anything, but I thought—It's just something I kind of noticed, that he felt more familiar with white people, I guess.

EE:

Well, this is something that the military changes for some people, too. I had a woman who said where she was stationed that she was with black—She was in the WACs—black and white WACs together in their housing. And I said, “I can't believe that.” She said, “No, that's the way we were in this particular place.” And it really opened up her eyes, that “maybe there's not as much difference in people as what I thought before.”

HA:

I know, yes.

EE:

Were you exposed to any blacks in your military experience?

HA:

No, there were none in this. I'm just trying to think if there was any enlisted WAVE in there that was black. If there was, I just—For instance, to this day if someone asks me something about somebody and then they'll say, “Well, were they black or white?” and I'll say, “Gosh, I can't remember.” I don't really look that way now.

EE:

Well, it sounds like your personality, because you didn't think of people in terms of officer and enlisted.

HA:

No, I didn't. No, none of that.

EE:

You go right to the heart of the personality rather than any labels in between.

HA:

Have you seen my license plate?

EE:

No, what does it say?

HA:

HUMANITY.

EE:

That's nice.

HA:

Yeah, it is nice. People say, “I think it's a little arrogant, Helen.” But I just know that I like humanity.

EE:

That's right. Yeah, it's hard to do that. Well, I have some other questions, but I don't think they relate to this interview. So maybe we'll end the formal tape, and thank you for doing this.

HA:

Yes. Oh, it was lots of fun. I loved doing it.

EE:

This is great, and I think you'll have fun listening to it too.

[End of Interview]