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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nancy Riddle Hinchliffe, 1999

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Object ID: WV0064.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Nancy Riddle Hinchliffe’s service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, particularly her time in the European Theatre of Operation in 1944 and 1945.

Summary:

Hinchliffe briefly discusses her life before the war. She talks about attending beauty school, her first job, and signing up for the WAC. Hinchliffe also recalls basic training, code school, and working as a teletype operator in the States, but she focuses her discussion on her time spent in Europe. Hinchliffe’s memories of London include the fear of being bombed and living next to German prisoners’ housing. The discussion of her time in France includes talk of bike rides, the beautiful countryside, and her marriage. Hinchliffe also recalls being given a tour of a concentration camp in Germany.

Postwar topics include returning to North Carolina, working while raising her daughters, and her life after her husband’s death. The interview ends with a discussion of some of Hinchliffe's photographs from the war.

Creator: Nancy L. Riddle Hinchliffe

Biographical Info: Nancy L. Riddle Hinchliffe (b. 1916) of Graham, North Carolina, was a teletype operator in the Army Air Force Signal Corps while serving stateside and overseas in the Women’s Army Corps from 1943 to 1945.

Collection: Nancy Riddle Hinchliffe 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:

Well, today is April 17—two days after tax day, that's how I remember—1999, and I'm in the home of Nancy Hinchliffe here in Greensboro, North Carolina. Thank you, Mrs. Hinchliffe, for—

NH:

It's not “cliff”, it's “liff”.

EE:

Oh, is it “liff?” Well, okay.

NH:

There's no C in the last part.

EE:

Well, then so noted. I have a C. Somebody marked it through. That's it. Okay, Hinchliffe, great. And your maiden name was Riddle?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Great. Well, Mrs. Hinchliffe, thank you for having us today. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project, and this is for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And we're going to start this interview, Mrs. Hinchliffe, the same way that we do with everybody, with two very challenging questions: Where were you born, where did you grow up?

NH:

I was born in Graham, North Carolina.

EE:

Alamance County?

NH:

Alamance County, September 26, 1916. So I'll be eighty-three this year.

EE:

Wonderful. Do you have any brothers and sisters?

NH:

I had one sister. She died at seventy-four, in '82, I believe it was. No brothers.

EE:

Was she older or younger?

NH:

Two years older.

EE:

So you were the baby. Did you get along good with your sister then?

NH:

Yes.

[EE and NH discuss EE's children]

EE:

Well, let me get back to talking about you. What did your mom and dad do in Graham?

NH:

My mother and father were divorced, but I couldn't tell you what year, and my mother stayed at home. When I went into the army I made her an allotment. And we had built a house right before I left, and that took care of my house payment. The house is five bedrooms, a living room, dining room, breakfast room, basement, two baths, and we paid five thousand dollars for it.

EE:

Oh, my goodness.

NH:

We had an architect to draw up the plans, bought the land and everything.

EE:

All for five [thousand].

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Times have changed.

NH:

My house payment was fourteen dollars a month. [chuckling]

EE:

So did you stay in Graham then the whole time, or did you all move around, or—You were in Graham when you went to high school, graduated from high school?

NH:

Oh yeah, graduated from high school. I went to High Point [North Carolina] to beauty school. Guess what? It cost a hundred dollars then for the whole course. [chuckling]

EE:

My sister did that. How long was your beauty training?

NH:

Nine months.

EE:

Nine months? Okay, so it was pretty intense. Now were you planning on coming back to Graham afterwards and working there?

NH:

I did. I went back one day and went to work the same day and liked to die. My trunk hadn't come and I worked in high-heel shoes.

EE:

Oh my. What did you do, you worked with somebody who owned a store and you just rented a booth? Is that how it worked?

NH:

A man and his wife owned the shop, and I worked for them for twenty dollars a week and thought I was rich.

EE:

This would have been—

NH:

I graduated from high school in '35, so it was '36.

EE:

So your mom was raising two girls through the Depression, right?

NH:

I was born in '16 and the Depression was '29?

EE:

Right. So you were thirteen?

NH:

My mother had a sister who lived in Ohio, and during the flu epidemic she came home to help to tend to them. So therefore she lived with us and she helped my mother out all the time. It was between her and my mother.

EE:

That's great. So you were working. Did you work in Graham up to the time that you joined the service?

NH:

Yes. There was a couple that lived in Burlington, supplies were getting low and they were going to move the shop to Burlington and I didn't have a car. So when I crossed the street to the drugstore and bought the Ladies' Home Journal, opened it up in the middle of it and it said, “Join the WACs” [Women's Army Corps]. So I did.

EE:

Just because you needed a job, you needed something that—What year was this? Forty-two, when they first started?

NH:

[Pause] I've got it all in a nutshell.

EE:

All right. Oh, that's great.

NH:

There it is. [sound of EE turning pages]

EE:

January of '43.

NH:

And when did I get out? Does it tell that?

EE:

Let's see, day of separation, September 6, 1945. Had you heard anything at all about the WACs before opening the Ladies' Home Journal?

NH:

I evidently hadn't heard much. But I went down there, and boy I heard a lot, and when I came back I was in the thing, ready to go. In two weeks I left.

EE:

You were—let's see, twenty-seven, I guess, when you joined? Or almost. Twenty-six probably.

NH:

What month did I join?

EE:

January of '43.

NH:

Yes, I hadn't had a birthday.

EE:

Twenty-six, right. How did your family feel about that? Was your mom still living?

NH:

They thought I was crazy. [chuckling] We had just built that house and I had bought all the draperies and the blinds and everything in that house and we was all settled, and I took off. Just felt the urge.

EE:

Where was your big sister at this time? Was she still living in Graham?

NH:

My big sister was a genius. She graduated from Guilford College, she went to Chapel Hill, and she ended up professor of library science at James Madison University in Harrisonburg [Virginia]? I believe it was James Madison.

EE:

Right. So she was not around to give her opinion directly then. Well, you went down to—Where did you sign up? Did you sign up in Graham at the post office? Did they have a recruiting office? Where'd you go?

NH:

No, never heard of such a thing at that time. I went to Fort Bragg [North Carolina].

EE:

Oh, you just went down to the—Okay.

NH:

I don't remember how I got down there because I didn't have a car. I probably went on a bus.

EE:

What did you do, have to end up taking a test or something when you got down there, or did they—

NH:

I don't remember what kind of test they had there, but later, you know, you took all kinds of tests to see what you was in. And I turned up to be the best in radio and something else. There's two of them. I forget what the other one was.

EE:

So did you do your boot camp there at Fort Bragg? Where did you go in for basic training?

NH:

Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. I'll never forget that place. [chuckling] I went back there for overseas training, too.

EE:

How long did basic training last for you? Was it six weeks, eight weeks?

NH:

Something like that.

EE:

What do you remember about the typical day down there?

NH:

Typical day? Hot. Did have summer uniforms. I remember the day I went through the line and got six shots at one time, three on each arm, out in the sunshine. Some of the girls just laid down on the sidewalk after it was over with. [chuckling]

EE:

Just couldn't take it? Too much at once?

NH:

Yeah. It was rough down there. Glad to get away from there.

EE:

Were your instructors men or women? Do you remember?

NH:

I can see the commanding officer, which was a woman, of our company.

EE:

Well, January of '43, I guess the WACs were started the year before and it was the WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps].

NH:

Yes, then we were sworn in the army. I've got a picture of that.

EE:

Then I think Miss [Oveta Culp] Hobby was the head of the WAACs. They reorganized. They was some scandal in '42. Did you hear—

NH:

Let me show you a tootsie I've got in this book [sound of pages turning]. [Chuckling] Our commanding officer, a graduate of UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles], Margery Hall. You think she wasn't something!

EE:

Oh, my goodness, that's great.

NH:

All the men officer [unclear] were after her. She had that long hair down her back, you know. Of course she got it up real good in her pictures.

EE:

And what's Margery's [last] name?

NH:

Margery Hall.

EE:

Hall, okay.

NH:

Graduated from UCLA and went straight in.

EE:

And she was the woman you remember from down there?

NH:

I remember her from everywhere. No, she didn't go overseas with us.

EE:

Were you doing a lot of marching when you were down in Fort Oglethorpe, or book time, or getting yourself physically ready?

NH:

Book time and KP [kitchen patrol] and marching and parades—You got to be on time, your skirt's got to be the right length, and everything has got to be right so when you get in there everybody will be the same.

EE:

Was this the first time that you had spent a long time away from home, outside of that time in High Point?

NH:

Oh yeah, sure. I'd always been at home.

EE:

How was that for you? You know, one thing about—

NH:

It was so different, yeah.

EE:

It was, because you're suddenly around people who are from all over the country—

NH:

And, you've got a rule for everything. [chuckling] You know, hang your barracks bag up so when something —But, and sometimes they don't tell you, it's against the rules to have any paper in there. The officers inspecting go around and feel to see if you've got any paper in there. In other words, you can't use it for a trash can.

EE:

Do you feel like they were making up rules as they go along half the time? [chuckling]

NH:

Yes, they do.

EE:

Just to get your goat, huh?

NH:

Yeah, just to get to you.

EE:

You were in a barracks with how many other women?

NH:

Well, the barracks always had two floors. Generally I was on the top floor with—twenty-five, I'd say.

EE:

And all twenty-five in one long room?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Common shower?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

A different experience for a lot of women. [chuckling]

NH:

Yes. Everything, you know, tended to be normal after a couple of weeks. [chuckling]

EE:

In other words, you got adjusted to it.

NH:

Oh yeah.

EE:

Some of the posters back then—you talked about opening up that Ladies' Home Journal—some of them would say, “Free a man to fight.” That's what a lot of these women service—

NH:

I never saw that one.

EE:

You never saw that one? So for you it wasn't anything—

NH:

I heard a lot about it, though.

EE:

Did you?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Well, when you joined, did you join wanting to do a specific job? Or did they tell you you were going to be doing a specific job? Or did you just—

NH:

I joined. They test you for everything to see what you're suited for, and you go there. And I went to the Signal Corps—eventually, you know. It was like on one side of my uniform I had to have an air force thing, the other side had to be the signal corps. And if an officer met you on the street from the signal corps and you had two air force, you was in trouble.

EE:

[Chuckling] Well, tell me, after you left Fort Oglethorpe, where was your first assignment?

NH:

Selfridge Field, Michigan. And boy was it cold.

EE:

Yeah, you left in January, so it was probably March I guess you were getting up there? How do you spell that?

NH:

S-e-l-f-r-i-d-g-e, right outside of Detroit more or less. Mount Clemmons, Michigan, is where it really was.

EE:

And what was your job when you were up there?

NH:

Teletype.

EE:

So did you work in an office with men and women, or just women?

NH:

Oh, a man was the boss and the women did the work.

EE:

Why am I not surprised?

NH:

The boss was real capable, though. He could type faster than any man or anybody else I've ever seen, before or since.

EE:

What was the teletype used for in those days? Between-base communications, or general stuff off the wire, or how was that used in your office?

NH:

Between companies, at that time. Overseas it was different.

EE:

How long were you at Selfridge Field? Most of '43?

NH:

We've got to put Langley Field, Virginia, in there somewhere. And I loved that! Oh, that was [unclear]!

EE:

So that was where you went after Selfridge Field? Langley's a big—

NH:

Well, I've got a story between Selfridge and Langley. [chuckling]

EE:

All right, tell me about it, tell me about it.

NH:

I went to code school at Mitchell Field, Long Island. Okay, the guy—the captain who was conducting it said who wanted a transfer and where did they want to go? So of course I didn't volunteer for too many things at this time, but I held my hand up that time. He said where did I want to go? I said, well, somewhere south, North or South Carolina. And he transferred me to a company in South Carolina that didn't even have any WACs. When I got there, they couldn't believe it when they read my order. So they transferred me right out of there—I didn't even spend the night—to Langley Field. I went out of there fast. That guy, that captain, didn't like that at all.

EE:

Now were you assigned from the beginning—When you left basic training and you went to Selfridge Field, were you then immediately part of the Army Air Force Signal Corps? Is that where your assignments were all the way through, or were you just—Or Selfridge Field was just a regular army base?

NH:

Regular army.

EE:

And then this code school at Mitchell Field was—

NH:

Selfridge Field was.

EE:

Selfridge Field was regular army?

NH:

[Whispering] Yeah, and it was all black except us at that time.

EE:

Okay, because it was—

NH:

Which kind of scared us sometimes.

EE:

Well, yeah, because you're not used to being around a lot of black males. Was your CO [commanding officer] in the teletype office, was he black too?

NH:

CO in the where?

EE:

Was your CO in the teletype office, was he—

NH:

No, he was white.

EE:

Okay. When you went to code school at Mitchell Field, was that to become part of the signal corps and part of the army air force?

NH:

Yeah, it would have to be.

EE:

And then you transferred—

NH:

Boy, did we have a good time there. Guess what?

EE:

What?

NH:

We had to memorize it, you know. You couldn't have a pencil and paper. And since we didn't have any homework when we got out of class, we got on a train and went straight into New York, come back at two o'clock in the morning, fell into bed, and got up to shower at 7:30 and was at class at 8:00. [laughter]

EE:

I can tell you were young, because it takes a young body to do that. [chuckling]

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

You'd never been to the big city up there before, had you, before that trip?

NH:

No, but I'll tell you, I had a good teacher. My best friend was from Philly [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] and she knew all the ropes.

EE:

What was her name?

NH:

Elizabeth Lillig, L-i-l-l-i-g, and she died years ago. She had Lou Gehrig's disease, whatever that is. She did come back to the States and get married, though, and then—I don't know how many years, but it's been a number of years she's been dead. I'd say fifteen, maybe twenty.

EE:

So she was a big-city girl and you were a small-town girl.

NH:

Yes. She taught me the ropes. She taught me the ropes.

EE:

You were twenty-six when you went in. Were most of the women who were in the WACs older, younger, or about your age?

NH:

We had one woman that was a nurse in the First World War! She must have just got in by the skin of her teeth. It didn't take her long to get enough, though. She got out when the first time they said we could get out, she got.

EE:

How long did you sign up for? Was it just for the length of the war, or did you have a set period you signed on for? Do you remember?

NH:

No, you just went in. You didn't sign up for any special period.

EE:

How long were you at code school? Was that a couple months?

NH:

[Pause] I have to get up and look at it.

EE:

I just think we probably should have done this at the table. It looks like that where all the stuff—Just hold that on your lap for you—

NH:

No, that's the history of the company [sound of pages turning]. Well, I've got it somewhere. Maybe that was it.

EE:

Okay. Wait a second, here you go, this has it right here on this one. This says that you were a teletype operator for two years and one month.

NH:

Oh, does it?

EE:

When did you go to Nacogdoches, Texas?

NH:

Nacogdoches, Texas. When I first went in, that was the army business school.

EE:

Okay. You went to that then before going to Selfridge Field?

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

Okay, so you go from Oglethorpe to this Nacogdoches, Texas. It says “Administrative course, six weeks of training.”

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Then you go to Selfridge. And it says you were at Selfridge for two years and a month. Do you remember being there during D-Day? Do you remember? D-Day was June of '44.

NH:

I don't even remember D-Day. I must have been somewhere then. Forty-four?

EE:

Yes.

NH:

Where does it say I am?

EE:

Well, just looking here it doesn't say. It says that you were a teletype operator for two years and one month. Were you doing teletype when you were at Langley? Was that part of what you were doing at Langley? What was the work?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Okay, so you could have been at Langley then.

NH:

Oh, I'll never forget Langley. One day somebody called me up that was in my company and said, “Hurry up and go to work. I've got news for you.” That's all she told me. At work was our orders to go overseas, with winter clothes, and we felt sure we were going to Alaska.

EE:

And that was—I'm just looking here, because you've got this one page of information. Then you've got here that—Well, let me just go over these dates to make sure I see what this says for you. You enlisted in January of '43, entered service on Valentine's Day of '43—

NH:

Really?

EE:

At Fort Bragg. That must have been when basic training started. You signed up on the 28th of January, and two weeks later you went to Fort Bragg. You were a teletype operator. It says that on the 2nd of May 1944, which apparently is when you were in Langley, you were sent to the European Theatre, central Europe.

NH:

Yeah, I was at Langley when that happened.

EE:

You arrived in the European Theater 14 May of '44. Well, D-Day doesn't start till June 6th of 1944, so where did you go?

NH:

Yes, when we really landed there, guess when that was? That was Mother's Day.

EE:

Where did you go? Did you go by ship, I guess, in a convoy?

NH:

We landed at Gourack, Scotland, and nobody ever heard of it, and we went by train down to London, right outside of London, and then we were regrouped and sent to different places.

EE:

You were there for a little more than a year overseas. Is that right? From May '44 through August of '45.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

You had served for one year and three months and ten days. It says here that you were in the central Europe and northern France campaign, and Germany, that you got a European-African-Middle Eastern service ribbon with three bronze stars, a WAC service ribbon, and a good conduct medal. So European-African-Middle Eastern service ribbon, tell me about that. And tell me, you went down to London and you were working as a teletype operator in London? Is that what you were doing?

NH:

In Stanmore, which is the last stop on the tube when you come out of London, they put us there so we could go in, you know. Yeah, Stanmore.

EE:

S-t-a-n-m-o-r-e?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Was the blitz over, I guess, when you were there, or did they still have the V-2s?

NH:

When we first got there we had a big warning sign, and that was the sign that the buzz bomb was coming over us. And it came, but it hit up on the corner in a field and didn't bother us at all. We never had really a direct hit. And that was interesting when you could hear one coming and you'd get up at night and look out the window, and you knew when the light went off it was going to fall. You hoped the light went off before it got where you was. And I don't think my roommate, who was this Lillig, ever missed one coming over that she didn't get up to see if it was going to fall on us. She spent half her time at the window in the night.

EE:

Just worrying about those?

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

So you two met each other back at code school.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

But you went all by yourself down to Langley, but you got together again in London.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

So she was assigned there. Was it unusual for WACs to be overseas? I know they wouldn't let WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] overseas. WAVES, you could only go to Hawaii and Alaska.

NH:

Well, I don't know. We didn't think it was unusual, and I didn't hear anybody ever discuss it.

EE:

So there were a number of other women who were there with you in London?

NH:

Well, we went to a place called S-t-o-w-e, Stowe, and that was a distribution center for the WACs. When you got there, you knew you was going somewhere else with somebody else anytime. They formed companies out of whoever they wanted in that company.

EE:

That's where you met up with Elizabeth again?

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

Did you all live in an apartment or in a barracks? Where were you when you were in Stanmore? Where were you housed?

NH:

Two streets, big houses both sides. Here was the company orderly room in a house, and the mess hall was there. Then they skipped three or four more houses and we would live in that house. So on down the street and across—I think, as far as we could tell, it was the houses that had—Say it for me. Air raid shelters. Air raid shelters. Because we had a house that had an air raid shelter. And there was an English woman across the street that didn't have one, and she came and stayed with us at night a lot of times.

EE:

I have a good friend who's from England whose family talks about that time, about how everybody would pull together down in the shelters, and you got to—

NH:

Yes. The first time they told us we had to go to the air raid shelter, you ought to have seen us. We gathered up everything that we ever owned, plus the candy bars and our money and everything, before we ever got down there. But when we got down there we were [unclear].

EE:

How long would you have to stay in the shelter?

NH:

Well, I'll tell you something, that night that we took so long to prepare and we went down there was the only night we ever went. They made a rule we didn't have to go if we didn't want to, so we never went again. Nothing ever bothered us.

EE:

You could tell that everything was landing far away, probably closer to downtown in London, I would think.

NH:

We was at this tube station one night and there was an officer standing there with us, this group of girls. We generally went in four, maybe two. There was either two or four girls. We were standing there and over she come. He said, “Girls, it's time to go.” We flew down in that station and hit the floor like nobody's business. But it missed us. But you see that thing coming, you kind of wondered about where you was going if it was going to hit. Of course it warned you. The light went out before it hit.

EE:

Well, you would have arrived in London then just before D-Day. That's probably why they were bringing you all over, because they needed more people to staff that office, they were doing the invasion of the continent.

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

I know that they had the command center that governed a lot of the traffic—one command center was underneath Dover Castle in Dover. Where did you all work? Was it above ground, below ground? Where were you?

NH:

Below. In the basement of a big hotel.

EE:

Do you remember what the name of the hotel was? Or is that confidential, classified information? [chuckling]

NH:

Yeah [chuckling]. I don't remember.

EE:

Did you have to have a security clearance?

NH:

Did I—?

EE:

Did you have a security clearance?

NH:

Yeah, and guess what? I had a date that night, and I was coming on work at eleven o'clock. And I rushed up to the gate and the guard challenged me, and I couldn't even think of my name. He said, “I'll give you one minute to find out who you are.” [laughter]

EE:

He got you flustered.

NH:

Oh! Yeah, they guarded us like mad there. You know, I guess they had to.

EE:

It's one thing to talk about being a spy in America, but that's a long way from Europe. That's pretty close.

NH:

And guess who lived beside of us? A house where they had all the German officers they had captured. We would pass by sometime and they would be bringing them out on the porch where it was sunny to take their pictures. But we didn't tarry long when we saw them.

EE:

What did you think of the Germans?

NH:

Well, after we went into Germany I didn't think too much of them. I mean, I was leery. I didn't want anything to do with them. Now, one of the girls would talk to them, but she was the only one I know of that really would talk to them. You know, we just left them alone.

EE:

How long were you in London? It looks like here—Did you stay in London or did you physically move to Germany or to—Where all did you go in Europe? Did you stay in London the whole time you were overseas?

NH:

We went to Europe this time last year. I took my daughter for her birthday present. Her birthday was March 22nd. That's a picture of a house across the street in Versailles [France], and there it goes, and I lived on the other side in a first-story room. And my daughter took that picture. She said she wished that blooming bus hadn't been there. See, the bus? It would have to be there.

EE:

Oh yeah. So you lived at Versailles?

NH:

Yeah, right across the street from the palace.

EE:

This is where they housed all the WACs who were working with this group?

NH:

Yes. And the mess hall was there, and guess where it was? In the stables where they used to keep the horses.

EE:

Well, they were pretty fancy stables for the king, I would think.

NH:

Evidently.

EE:

That's like Reynolda Village, a little shopping center over in Winston-Salem [North Carolina]. That's basically the barn and the stables for the Reynolds family seventy years ago.

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

That's great. Well, now when did you go to France? How long after you were there, do you remember?

NH:

[Pause] Have you got it on that paper?

EE:

Well, it doesn't say. It says central Europe, northern France, and Germany were the campaigns. My sense probably is you were in London because they were coordinating the D-Day invasion following that then, and then after they secured France they moved you all closer on up. So you were in Versailles, and then I assume after—

NH:

We were in Vittel [France].

EE:

Vittel?

NH:

Because Vittel is right up there—If you did that much more, you'd be in Switzerland. Right up in the right-hand corner, almost in Switzerland, just as close as you can get, and the coldest place in the world. We arrived in October, there was snow on the ground; we left in May, and I think it was still there.

EE:

So you were only in this Versailles place for just a short period of time?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

And then you went to Vittel. This would have been —You say you arrived in October and you left in May.

NH:

Yes. Cold! Cold!

EE:

And again this was doing teletype work? I do see that you eventually end up doing cryptography. It says here at Nacogdoches Field you went for the administrative thing, Mitchell Field is cryptography. That's your course.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

You spent seven months as a cryptographic technician.

NH:

Ah me! Let's see.

EE:

Was that part of what you were doing overseas?

NH:

Well, I tell you, I was teletyping most of the time. I'll ask you this question to see how smart you are.

EE:

Uh-oh, uh-oh. No fair, I'm supposed to ask all the questions. [chuckling] Okay.

NH:

Everything I ever see come over a teletype machine was in code, except one message. What was it? It was in the clear.

EE:

What, VE Day, the war is over, or what?

NH:

Oh, come on, think!

EE:

Merry Christmas? [laughter]

NH:

No, [chuckling]. Think.

EE:

One message? I give up. What is it? What would it be?

NH:

The day Roosevelt died, Franklin D.

EE:

That was straight?

NH:

Yes. It's the only one I ever saw that wasn't in code.

EE:

You were in Vittel then?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

What do you remember about that, getting that message? And especially being not in code, I guess that sticks out that it was—

NH:

That'll freak you out when everything is in code and you finally see something in the clear. Well, you know what I probably said? “The poor old fellow died.” Although I thought he was a good one.

[Discussions of President Bill Clinton and Roosevelt's home in Warm Springs, Georgia, omitted]

EE:

Well, now, when you were in Vittel, is this where you met your husband? You said you were married in Nice [France]. That's sort of not too far from the neighborhood.

NH:

No, I met him in England. Guess what he was doing?

EE:

What?

NH:

And I wasn't very good at it. Teaching the girls to shoot. Because when we went overseas, every seventh girl had to carry a gun. So the ones that could shoot the best carried the guns.

EE:

Were you one of the seven?

NH:

No! [chuckling] Guess what I did?

EE:

What?

NH:

And this roommate Lillig, we went by the company room a lot, you know, and checked the schedule to see if we was coming up for everything. And when we come up to go out to shoot, we got a pass and went to London and we never did go. Us two could figure out a way to get out of anything, really. But we go off to London on a pass. When we come back to our house where we were living, all of our friends are gone. They went on the first shipment over.

EE:

Over to France?

NH:

Yes. They had notes on their beds: “We left you. Goodbye.” We caught up with them later, though.

EE:

You were all stationed together and kind of go as a group? Everybody is doing the same job?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

So the whole office, it sounded like, just moved to this location in France.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

You say you were there through May. This says that you left in August. So after May did you go to Germany for a while?

NH:

What year are we in?

EE:

Forty-five.

NH:

After we left Vittel?

EE:

Or did you come back to the States then? It says here you—

NH:

Oh no, I didn't come back to the States then. Somewhere in there we went to Luxembourg. I don't know.

EE:

Then afterwards, where was the last place you were stationed before you came back home?

NH:

I flew from Germany to Paris and from Paris to New York, so I was in Germany.

EE:

So you flew back. You take a ship over and you flew back?

NH:

Yeah, I took the long way around over there. Shoot! I flew back.

EE:

When you're in the Air Force Signal Corps, at all these places there's a bunch of women doing the teletype work, but your commanding officer—

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

EE:

The answer to that question on the other side was yes, you were going back to—

NH:

Not necessarily, though. In Vittel our commanding officer was a woman, and the commanding officer of the men, they really liked each other. Oh, we had it made then. When they wanted to have a big party, they had a big party, and we all got to go. [chuckling]

EE:

What did you do for social life overseas? Did you all pretty much have to stay on the barracks, or were you allowed to go out in the countryside? It is right in the middle of the war, you're pretty close to the front side.

NH:

Wait a minute, I can answer that quick. You weren't allowed to go in the countryside unless you had a man with a gun. If you wanted to go bicycle riding, you had to find a man with a gun and a bicycle. Of course they furnished the bicycles. They took bicycles everywhere we went.

EE:

So did you go riding on a bike with a man with a gun a lot, or—

NH:

Yeah, I did. The countryside is so pretty! Oh, it's so pretty! Oh, it's so clean! This country looks like a trash barrel according to the way it looked then. It was just spotless.

Discussion of NH's recent trip to Rome omitted]

EE:

These are all places you had not seen when you were over—when you were there for military, you didn't get to be the tourist. This is all the first time?

NH:

I didn't get to see Rome. Then we went to Florence, and the two that was with me loved Florence because it was easy to get around. We found a good outside cafe, a sidewalk cafe that we liked, and the museums were a whole lot better than Rome, they said. So we really got along in [Florence]. And then we went to Nice, where I was married. Would you believe the hotel just disappeared? It's not to be found anywhere.

EE:

Was it right there on the beachfront, or where was it?

NH:

No, it was two blocks back.

EE:

The old part of the town of Nice is very pretty. That little courtyard around there, it's very nice.

NH:

Yes, and the Negresco Hotel. That's a fancy hotel where the chaplain lived when we got married. We had to go there to get our—

EE:

I took my parents there, and I believe I can still recall the ladies of the night standing in front of that hotel [laughter].

NH:

Yeah, I expect there's plenty there.

EE:

It's a different view.

NH:

I've never seen as many rocks in my life.

EE:

Oh, it's different.

NH:

As they had on the beach. I mean, I just—I don't know how they call that a beach with those rocks [chuckling].

EE:

It's water and it's the end of the land. I guess that makes it a beach. But it's not a beach like you think of like Myrtle Beach.

NH:

We were sitting out there one day watching everything and a mine floated up. It didn't take us long. Of course the navy came along real quick and got it, but we got out of the way.

EE:

So when you went to Vittel, you kept up with your husband that you had met while you were in London? He stayed back in London? I'm trying to figure out how the—

NH:

He went over before I did because I got left that time.

EE:

So he went ahead with the first group?

NH:

Yeah. I was in the same company that he was, so we would always catch up with him.

EE:

So he went over to France with you. Was it encouraged or discouraged for fraternization between the men and the women?

NH:

Well, he was a tech[nical] sergeant and it was legal for me to go with him, but the officers and enlisted men weren't supposed to. But they did. When I went down to get married, I stayed in a WAC hotel and he stayed at the men's, you know. And in the room with me was a girl that I knew that had come to meet her future husband, and she was an enlisted woman and he was an officer. He never showed up. But guess what? He was a pilot and he got shot down that day. But she married him later in a hospital somewhere. But that was just—you know, you couldn't depend on anything for sure at any time.

EE:

Our country has not been in a war—Tthere probably won't ever be a war like that again because of the way war is different now. You know, you see what's going on now overseas where they just press a button and shoot off a missile.

NH:

If you had seen what I saw—I'll never forget it. When they bring the boys in on the train who had been shot, and all their equipment still hanging on them, you know? I was there in a hospital when they brought a train in full of those. It was terrible. You'll never want a war again if you see that. Never! Never! No matter how they have it! Just don't have it!

EE:

See, that's just it, you go for a long enough time and people forget that war is never something anybody should want.

NH:

You should want to stay out of it, that's for sure.

EE:

That's right, that's right.

NH:

No matter where it was.

EE:

Were you a corporal by this time?

NH:

I was a corporal shortly—probably after I had that business course and passed it, I think.

EE:

That's what made you that rank, okay.

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

Did you get married in Nice before you left Vittel in May of '44? Not May of '44. Before you left Vittel, which would have been I guess in May of '45. Did you get married in Nice while you—

NH:

I got married June 28 of '45.

EE:

Were you planning on staying in the military after getting married, or were you looking to—

NH:

No, but I got pregnant on my honeymoon, so that settled that. And I tell you, my husband had three brothers. The last brother was in ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] in college. When it came for the younger brother to do something now or they're going to catch you, so he talked him into joining the air force. So he got in right before. What did you ask me?

EE:

I just said were you planning on staying in the military after getting married?

NH:

Oh, no, I don't think so. And you couldn't have talked him into it for a million dollars.

EE:

He was ready to go? How long did he stay in?

NH:

Five years.

EE:

So he started—When did he—

NH:

He started before the war started, I guess.

EE:

He was in before Pearl Harbor Day then?

NH:

I think so.

EE:

Do you remember where you were on Pearl Harbor Day, how you first heard about the war?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Were you at home with your folks, with your mom and your aunt?

NH:

I was in Haw River, North Carolina, with a boyfriend in his car and it came over the radio. We was getting gas at a gas station, it came over the radio.

EE:

Did you know what that meant immediately?

NH:

No. But of course they drafted him, and he went off and left his car with me. That was nice. [chuckling] But I later gave it to his sister. I didn't need a car. I lived right in town. I don't know—

EE:

Most people when they heard about it didn't know—“Where's Pearl Harbor,” you know? But it did change. The world changed after that day for us because we could no longer say it was their war because we were attacked. You got married in June of '45? You left to come back to the States in August and you were discharged in September.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Which probably is about as quickly as you could do it. You gave your notice that you wanted to—Did they automatically ask you to leave after you were married, or I guess you had that option, didn't you?

NH:

Yeah. After I got pregnant I had to, more or less, I guess.

EE:

After you got pregnant you had to. Did your husband stay in longer than '45, or did he get out about the same time?

NH:

I was discharged September the 6th and I came to North Carolina to see my mother, and he called me up on September the 9th and he was coming down there. He had been discharged.

EE:

What was his name?

NH:

Roger. So that was only a couple of days apart.

EE:

Just before you leave, you're not in Vittel when you leave. Where are you?

NH:

I'm in Germany because I flew from Germany to Paris and Paris to New York.

EE:

Did the whole company get transferred to Germany?

NH:

Oh yeah. I didn't go by myself, that's for sure.

EE:

Right. So were you in Berlin or Frankfurt? What part of Germany were you in?

NH:

Near Heidelberg, a town you never heard of, Schwetzingen. I don't even know how you spell it now, S-w-e-i-n-g-e-r, something like that.

[Interview interrupted, recorder paused]

EE:

Well, actually I did some studying over in Germany, so I can find out on a map where in fact it is.

NH:

Did you go to Heidelberg, the University of Heidelberg?

EE:

No, I went to Friedberg.

NH:

Where is that?

EE:

Just about an hour south. It's in the Black Forest.

NH:

Oh, really?

EE:

Yes, it's very pretty.

NH:

You know how pretty it is then, too.

EE:

It is gorgeous. Gorgeous!

NH:

That country is so clean!

EE:

Now the thing is when you were there, had it not been bombed? How much bomb damage? Heidelberg may not have been as bad as the other places.

NH:

I can remember riding those bicycles into a little town, a little gathering of houses, and the minute the children would see us coming they'd run. They'd run to the back of the house and get in the house.

EE:

They were afraid of Americans.

NH:

Yes, they were scared of us.

EE:

Well, you were the ones who had bombed their home.

NH:

Yeah, I guess so. Yeah. What did you ask me?

EE:

Where you were and for how long you—the whole company moves to Schwetzingen just outside of Heidelberg. And when you're there, are you—The war in Europe ends in May, I guess when you're still in —probably just before you got married, I would guess. May 12, I think, is when it ended. Do you remember where you were when VE Day happened, since you were already in Europe? Do you remember when the Germans surrendered?

NH:

I don't know where I was.

EE:

Hitler killed himself, I think the 6th, and they surrendered on the 12th.

NH:

I remember going and looking up where he lived. No, I don't remember. If you're over there, things get entirely different. You know, things just go by you. What happens here just goes right by you over there.

EE:

Nowadays—and it may be just the way it's always been—when you think of fighting against Iraq, you think about fighting against Saddam Hussein. Today [in] Kosovo, it's about that guy [Slobodan] Milosovic who's in charge of Yugoslavia. Were people thinking this war was against the Germans or against Hitler? How personal was it?

NH:

[Pause] Hitler. That's all you ever talked about.

EE:

Was Hitler?

NH:

Old, mean Hitler [chuckling].

EE:

And of course it wasn't really till after the war that people really knew how evil he was, with all the stuff with the—You didn't hear things about concentration camps when you were over there, did you?

NH:

[Pause] Where he killed all those people?

EE:

Yes. Did you know about that when you were there?

NH:

Guess what? We had a tour that went there. They showed us the places.

EE:

This was while you were in service?

NH:

Yes, yeah. I can't tell you exactly when it was, but—

EE:

Before you got out?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

That's terrible.

NH:

This girl that just came to see me can tell you about it. She went with me.

EE:

What was the hardest thing that you had to do, either physically or emotionally, while you were in the service? You said seeing those guys on that train in the hospital was not a very pleasant thing for you.

NH:

No, that was it. As far as war goes, that was it. No more wars.

EE:

That was the first time you—That was where you got war—

NH:

No more wars for me, no matter when. That would make you realize just how horrible it was.

EE:

Maybe I should ask this question differently. The question says, “What was your most embarrassing moment?” But can you remember an embarrassing moment, a funny story from things that happened to you? You mentioned a couple already about things that happened to you, about the fellow who said, “I'll give you a minute to remember who you are.” [chuckling].

NH:

Oh yeah, yeah, one minute, shoot! That was fast, wasn't it? [chuckling]

EE:

But is there any other embarrassing things?

NH:

You know, there were so many places that were—Well, every place was guarded, but I think that was the only time when it was pitch-black at night that I got challenged.

EE:

Were you ever afraid or in danger during your time in service?

NH:

No, it didn't bother me. Guess what? I went to come back. I don't think some of them did. Like my roommate who was constantly aware of every little thing that was happening, it didn't bother me. I knew I was coming back. I thought I did. I've got a picture in this book of one of the prettiest girls I knew in the service who went to the Pacific, and she got killed right away, but she's the only one I know that—Of course, many of them did probably, but that's the only one I knew that got killed. Let me see if I can find her picture in here. [sound of pages turning] There she is, and she was the prettiest girl. Got killed shortly after that picture was made.

EE:

Larl, L-a-r-l, Treuter, T-r-e-u-t-e-r. Secretary to the adjutant general at headquarters. And she was killed. She's pretty, you're right.

NH:

Yes, she was a pretty girl. Treuty. We all called her Treuty. You know, everybody had a nickname.

EE:

Oh yeah. You told me a little bit about your social life. I was talking to one woman who—She was in the Red Cross but she ended up working in an army air force base in Manduria, Italy, the southern part of Italy, and she was talking about that there were so few women on her base that every time they had a sufficient number they'd call a dance. [chuckling] “Okay, we've got ten girls in town, let's have a dance.”

NH:

Okay, the company living room would be about from this to the end of that living room in there, and about as big as my whole house is, almost. You got a victrola that you wound up. And one of the boys who was dating one of my friends, is the winder. He likes to wind that thing, so he winds that thing all the time. And guess what we got on that thing? We got Deep Purple and Sentimental Journey. That's the two that was played most—three-fourths of the time. And he didn't mind winding, so, boy, it's a wonder we didn't wear those out.

EE:

Let's see, Sentimental Journey, is that the one that Dinah Shore— Did she do that version of that, or who was the singer on that?

NH:

I don't know.

EE:

Those two got wore out. Are there any other songs or movies? Did you see movies when you were over there? Probably not. You probably didn't. Or did they show movies for the folks on base?

NH:

I remember going with Roger before I married him to movies somewhere. I don't know where it was. Well, yeah, they must have had movies for us, but not all the time.

EE:

Did you keep up with your mom back at home, V-mail and all that stuff?

NH:

Yeah, sure I wrote letters. You know, to get some you've got to write some, and boy I wrote them [chuckling].

EE:

I had somebody who told me that her mom got a letter from her son or something. The first time she got one of those V-mail things, you know they shoot it down, and she said, “Honey, where did he get a typewriter that types that small?” [laughter]

NH:

Oh golly! [chuckling]

EE:

She wasn't familiar with what was going on. [chuckling]

NH:

Yeah, they were cute, you know. You'd get it all in a nutshell in a little space.

EE:

You told me a couple folks already. Can you think of some other interesting folks, you mentioned this woman who was killed, interesting people you met while you were in the military? Because you're meeting people from all over. Are there some characters that stand out?

NH:

This gang I hung out with—Well, let me say there was only two southern girls in my company.

EE:

So everybody gave you a time about it.

NH:

One of them was from Alabama, yeah.

EE:

Oh, well, you didn't have an accent compared to the girl from Alabama, I'm sure.

NH:

That was the only two in the company. I'll tell you, they was all Yankees, and I mean they was Yankees. There was a Jewish girl that roomed with us a lot, Lillig and Riddle and Risku. You always knew everybody—

EE:

By their last name.

NH:

Because when you stood in line to get your pay, you was in the Rs if your name was Riddle, and you got to know in front of you and back of you and everybody that began with R.

EE:

Risku was R-i-s-c-u-e?

NH:

R-i-s-k-u. She's from Holland, Michigan.

EE:

Of course, now you're there with a group of women who obviously are patriotic and determined to do their job. Is that the general mood of the country, you think, during this time, during the wartime, or how would you describe it? Were people afraid of losing?

NH:

I went to an airplane hangar when I first got in with this boy from Selfridge Field. At the end of that hangar they had a flag that went all the way across. And you were not patriotic if you could stand up in that place with all the music going and the tears not go down. It just broke us up. Where was that? I guess that was Selfridge Field. I'd say all the girls I knew were patriotic. If they hadn't been, they wouldn't have been in there—you know, more or less.

EE:

Well, I know some women said that the fact that they probably could make more money as a WAC than what they could do was a contributing factor to them joining. But certainly once they got in there, patriotism became probably as much as anything a motivating factor, “We've got to pull together.” That's something that maybe is different. Do you think we're different today in how—our attitudes about patriotism? Do you think people have the same love of country that they used to?

NH:

I'd say it was half and half. I think some of them don't, definitely. But there's a lot of them that do, a lot of them that do. The last patriotic thing I went to was out at Coventry Park and I wore my dog tags. And this guy came up to me and he said, “I sure am glad to see those. Where did you get them?” I said, “I got them the same place you had yours, I guess.” [laughter]

EE:

He didn't think they were yours, did he?

NH:

No. That was an interesting day, but nobody said that nobody ever heard of a woman being in the service.

EE:

Well, that's just it, you all were the first. Some people have said, thanks to women in the service and a whole bundle of other jobs that used to be just for men, you know, the Rosie the Riveters, that that really is the start of the women's lib[eration] movement was World War II.

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

Did you feel you were part of something like that, something that made things better for women?

NH:

No, I didn't care at that time. I was just doing it because I wanted to do it. [chuckling]

EE:

But looking back you could see where it might have had that effect.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Do you feel yourself that you contributed to the war effort?

NH:

I know I did. By golly!

EE:

I know you did too, listening to you. [chuckling]

NH:

You know, there's plenty boys that do, too. I used to go to see a—and I often wondered what in the world happened to that boy. He had one leg off and he was in the hospital close to where we were, and I went to see him all the time. His name was Utley and he was from Chapel Hill [North Carolina]. I've often wondered, you know, if he's around here now. I never knew his first name, just knew he had one leg off.

EE:

I think some of the things that I've heard from folks who said for many women the time they spent in the military was some of the best years of their lives because they got to see so many places, do so many different things than they'd ever done before. And for the men, their time in the military was some of the worst times in their life.

NH:

Right, it was.

EE:

And it's just hard to talk about that.

NH:

Mine was the best, you know.

EE:

And you two, by being married while you were in the service, it kind of—Was your husband ever on the front lines, or was he—It was a different experience for him?

NH:

He was on the front lines. Guess how much?

EE:

How much?

NH:

He had charge of the signal corps office and he also worked in the orderly room. And when some of the officers wanted to go up to the front, he used to drive them. But they didn't stay long. [chuckling] But I don't know—

EE:

So they were good times for both of you?

NH:

I don't think he'd a liked it up at the front much.

EE:

No, I don't think many people did. Are there some heroes that you have from that time, or heroines, some people who you really remember with admiration?

NH:

I admired all the women officers because they had a lot to put up with. There's a lot—Like when we got overseas, where did you go get your hair done? See, we've got to have a permanent and we've got to have this and that. Okay, they got to set up a beauty shop somewhere. Okay, who's going to run it? And how are you going to get your hot water? When you go to a beauty shop overseas, you have to carry your hot water with you and they mix it and wash your hair. So we never did figure that one out. But we carried our hot water when we went to the beauty shop. One time in France—I guess it was right before I was married or right afterwards—Roger went to the beauty shop, to the French beauty shop with me, and of course you've got to pick up a little French. You can't help it, you know. And you had your high school French, and you know a few words to get along, you can surely order in French. And we went in that beauty shop and I thought we'd never get out. They wanted to give Roger a permanent too. [laughter]

EE:

You know just enough to get yourself in trouble.

[both speaking French]

EE:

Well, when you came back stateside, you settled in North Carolina? Where was your husband from originally?

NH:

Right outside of Providence, Rhode Island. Well, it was like this: my sister was an old maid; she was not going to have any children. I'm it, I'm going to have the grandchildren. So I said, “Let's go to North Carolina and have the grandchildren, and when you want to move back to Rhode Island I'll go.” Well, he liked the weather. He said he was tired of laying in the bed in Rhode Island and his mama opening the windows and when he got up in the morning there'd be snow on his feet. And boy, he liked North Carolina. He never did want to go back, never. So we—

EE:

What did he do when he came back? What kind of work did he do?

NH:

You heard of Western Electric and Burlington [Industries]?

EE:

Yes.

NH:

Okay, he was an Englishman. His father came over to this country when he was twenty-five and got in textiles up in Rhode Island. He had the same kind of temperament. He listened a lot and he didn't say too much, but when he did it was funny. He had a wild sense of humor. What did you ask me?

EE:

What work did he do? He worked with Western Electric?

NH:

He went over to Western Electric to apply for a job. They sent him back home, said he wasn't dressed up enough to apply for the job they was going to give him. So he came back home and put on his navy blue suit and went back, and they gave him the job. Well, being an Englishman and not talking much, they really hit him wrong. They gave him the job of calling up these people to ask them why they didn't send the supplies there. So that didn't last too long. That didn't last too long. So he went to Burlington Industries, and Burlington Industries had a place there in Graham close to where we live, and he got a job there. He was quite an artist. Like my daughter has got a picture in her house that he drew of Yankee Stadium, and he's got every seat in there the whole way around.

So, after he got rid of that Western Electric job and went to Burlington Industries, they gave him a job in the print shop. He had charge of that. And oh, that was some job. He had eight girls working for him. He said he stood at the door every morning and took all their excuses and then went inside to see who was absent. So it was always somebody. One girl had worked for him three months and hadn't been there but two, so there was that kind of thing. Well, they passed an exam around to see who wanted to go into computers. And guess what? He made the highest score. He got the thing the next day and they sent him to Endicott, New York, to IBM. And from then on, well, he had some kind of operation one time, and right in this room at that time was a purple couch. And they couldn't do without him at work, so the three boys come over here and worked, and I had to serve them lunch every day. He was writing the first computer program that Burlington ever had. And these guys were guys that had graduated from State, their first job. So we entertained them a while here till he went back to work. I've forgot how many—Like the first program was for sixty thousand people, I believe.

EE:

It was a payroll program?

NH:

Yes, everybody that was in mailing distance of Greensboro.

EE:

So he went to work. Did you get a job, or did you stay back home and raise the family? How many kids did you have?

NH:

I had two daughters. One of them is fifty-three, and that makes the other one fifty. Off and on. When we moved to Greensboro I didn't like the way this house looked. That living room was dark, dark green, almost black, and I had to do some fixing. So I told Roger one day when he came home for lunch, I said, “I believe I'll go to work.” He thought that was the funniest joke he had ever heard. When he come home at suppertime I had my job. I called up the man I used to work for in Burlington and he called up a man he knew in Greensboro and I had a job that afternoon and went to work. But I only worked when the kids was gone. Like I'd get them off to school and go to work and come home at 2:30. And guess what? The bus just come to Guilford Hills. All that time I walked from Guilford Hills home every day.

EE:

That is a haul. So you did that till the kids left home, I guess? You said you moved in this house in '53?

NH:

Fifty-five.

EE:

Fifty-five, okay. What impact did the military experience have on your life? Long-term it got you a husband.

NH:

It did this to me: I found that everybody has rules and you've got to go by them if you're in any organization.

EE:

Did it make you more of an independent person than you think you would have been otherwise?

NH:

Yes. Like now my husband has been dead since '82, and by golly, I've looked after myself and this house and everything else.

EE:

Almost twenty years, that's right.

NH:

Yes, and did what I wanted to. I said, “You know, there's a certain—”

EE:

And you weren't afraid to do that because you had been on your own before.

NH:

“—a certain satisfaction,” telling my daughter, you know, “a certain satisfaction you get living by yourself. I never knew I'd like it. I can do what I want to, I can eat if I'm hungry, I can go if I want to. I can do exactly what I want to.” So guess what she said back to me?

EE:

What?

NH:

“Yeah, and that'll get you in a rut. And if you don't mind that, it'll make you old.” [chuckling]

EE:

Well, my mother-in-law lives with us now. She lived seven years by herself. But she's there when she wants to be. She's got her own schedule.

NH:

How old is she?

EE:

Oh, she's probably sixty-five. But she helps out with our two [children], her two grandchildren. But every weekend she's got something going on. She's got this activity and that, so it's not like she's sitting around collecting moss here. She's out there doing her stuff.

NH:

Well, I'll tell you, I'll be eighty-three in September. I play cards all day Wednesday, I go out to lunch with one of the neighbors on Tuesday, and I go to the senior citizen in Guilford Park Presbyterian Church on Thursday once a month, and the rest of the time I do what I want to. I'm looking for something today. I'm going shopping this afternoon and it better be there [chuckling].

EE:

It's a beautiful day to go do that.

NH:

I want two strands of pearls that come up here about the length of this necklace. I don't want three, I want two. I don't know where I'm going to get them, but I'm going to try. I'm going to try.

EE:

One of these questions that nobody can—you can't do it, so I guess it's an easy question. If you had it to do over again, joining the military, would you do it again?

NH:

Yes, I would. If somebody came to me and said they're taking old women, I'd go with them today.

EE:

Did you ever encourage your daughters to join the military? Both you and your husband were in the military. Did they ever have any interest in it?

NH:

No, and the oldest one complained and said, “You don't tell us much about that.” I said, “Well, what do you want to know?” And of course I've got this book, they can look through there and see from the day I started.

EE:

That's right. And maybe this tape today will help them a little bit, too.

NH:

Do you want to see the day I started? Let me show you.

EE:

Show me the picture. Because one of the things I want to do after we finish this is to see if there's maybe a couple of those pictures I can make a copy of so we can have—We like to have a copy of—

NH:

You're going to laugh when you see it. Look how many sizes I've gone up [chuckling].

EE:

That's a great picture! I'll tell you one thing that has not changed is that you've got a great smile, and that smile has been there—

NH:

Well, that's about all I've got left [chuckling].

EE:

Well, no, that—Oh, now here you're way too serious for this picture [chuckling].

NH:

Yeah, that's my first day in.

EE:

Oh, that's great. And the thing is that everybody has something they were—They did a good job reporting it. My folks have a scrapbook just like this where you wrote in a white pen on a black background. That must have been the fashion.

NH:

Well, you know what?

EE:

What?

NH:

I didn't have a thing to do with that. I sent all that to a friend and she did it.

EE:

That's great. But that must have been the fashion of doing it back then.

NH:

Yeah, I guess so. Go ahead and look through it if you want to. I don't know whether there's anything in there.

EE:

I will. Let me finish asking these one or two questions and then I'm just going to let that run, because our tape is probably about on the end of this side and I'm going to switch out tapes anyway. They just in December had the first woman fly a combat mission in Iraq. Do you think women ought to be allowed to fly combat missions?

NH:

No. There's some things you leave up to the men, and I don't especially think they ought to do it. I'm not going to have war. I'm going to be in peace with everybody.

EE:

The last question I have, is there anything you'd like to add on your military service? And I guess that's what this is going to—

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

NH:

—people had a lot of bad experiences, and all mine were good, so I don't mind talking about it.

EE:

Yeah, that's part of it, I think. And the other thing too is that I think for—I had a couple women who had their husbands—if not in the room during the interview, nearby, and that affects how much they say [chuckling]. And I should know better by now.

NH:

Yeah, I imagine it did.

EE:

But you get a different experience because one or two of them, their husbands had terrible times, you know, front-line fighting. One of them I interviewed the other day, the husband was a prisoner of war in Bataan. So just awful experiences.

NH:

I've got a question. Who am I doing this interview for, and what are you going to do with it?

EE:

We're going to take this and do a thing about all these experiences of women in the military. So we have some WAVES, we have some WACs, we've got a SPAR [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from “Sempar Paratus—Always Ready”] or two. We're still trying to find a few SPARs. All the WASPs [Women Airforce Service Pilots] seem to be out somewhere in Texas and Oklahoma way [chuckling]. We have interviewed a few folks who were Red Cross, because even though they weren't military they were right there with the people overseas. I even have found— We've got army nurses, army dietitians. army dietitians, I would never have guessed, went overseas. But anytime there was an army hospital you had to have an army dietitian. I had a woman, an interview with her, who was stationed in Naples and was there when the volcano blew up, and had anti-aircraft fire at night. You know, different experiences all over. And so we're going to take these stories and—You're the first person I've had who was in London, who had that experience and who was with a group of people who moved as the front moved. Because most of the women that I've talked to either were stateside, or if they were overseas, they were back a good deal from the front and did not—

NH:

During the Battle of the Bulge when we were in France, we had to stay packed up all the time. We might leave any minute.

EE:

For fear that they may break through.

NH:

We might leave any minute. Although we were still working underground in the hotel, but we had to stay packed up in case we had to go right fast.

EE:

Because that was a dicey time. That could have turned the war back in favor of the Germans if they'd broken through and kept that.

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

That's just it, it's not—

NH:

It was a dangerous situation if you sat down and thought about it. But you know what? We never even talked about it. We just went on with our life, you know. That was our life at the time.

EE:

And if you worried about everything that you heard, you wouldn't be able to do anything. Like you were talking about your friend from Philadelphia who was up every night.

NH:

You'd have been a Section 8 [mentally unfit] for sure.

EE:

You've got some wonderful pictures in here [chuckling].

NH:

What is it?

EE:

Oh, my goodness. Where is this picture?

NH:

Oh, that's in the laundry room downstairs where we do our laundry and do our gossiping and do our eating and everything at night.

EE:

This is in Nacogdoches?

NH:

It's in the barracks.

EE:

In Texas. What about here?

NH:

They're all that same place.

EE:

All being goofy. Well, these are precious, precious pictures. [Reading] “This is my third address. When we arrived the band was there to meet us [unclear]”

NH:

Where were we? Where did we arrive?

EE:

This is was at Selfridge Field. And it said, “The name of our barracks here is the 'WAC Shack.'” [laughter]

NH:

And you know what? They treated us royal there, oh boy. We arrived, and psshew!

EE:

Well, this is great. I can tell you already—since you're in Greensboro, is there any chance that I could take this over to the college to let them look at it for a little while and take some copies of the pictures? You've got some wonderful things in here.

NH:

You know what? There's just one thing, it's the history of my company that I never made a copy of. If that disappeared, I'd panic.

EE:

Well, that's just it. Because it's so well-documented, that's the kind of thing I think we'd like to have documented. And if we can make a copy of it—

NH:

Okay.

EE:

Or figure out how to—I'm not sure how they would do it, but the people who do the archives —it might be that what you could do is untie it and then just take a photograph of each page, or, you know, have it where—and I think that would be easier than trying to like redo the pictures, because—

NH:

You see that thing right there? Read that. That one. You've got your hand on it.

EE:

This here?

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

[Reading] “Dear old England is not the same. We dreaded the invasion when it came.” Where did you find this? This is what they made up?

NH:

Well, look on the bottom. Does it say anything?

EE:

No, it just says— [mumbling]

NH:

Okay, go ahead, read it. Read it to me.

EE:

Oh, great! Oh my, great. The bottom line says, “We speak to them, they just look hazy. They think we're nuts, we think they're crazy. If they're our allies, we must be nice. They have us, yes, like cats have mice. They say that they can shoot and fight. It's true they fight, yes, when they're tight. I must admit they're shooting fine. Yes, they can shoot a damn good line.” [chuckling] “They tell us 'you've got teeth like pearls,' they love your hair, the way it curls, your eyes should dim the brightest star, your complexion competition for Lamar. You are their love, their life, their all, and for your mother they would fall. They'll love you dear till death do part. If you leave them you'll break your heart. And then they leave you brokenhearted. The camp has moved, your love departed. You wait for mail that does not come, then realize you're awful dumb. In a different town and a different place, to a different girl with a different face, 'I love you, darling, please be mine.' It's the same old Yank with the same old line.” [laughter]

NH:

I thought that was cute. I don't know where I got it.

EE:

Oh, that is great! It must be something that the English girls wrote about the army guys coming over.

NH:

Yeah, probably so.

EE:

Oh, that is just precious.

NH:

That's the history of my company right there you just passed over.

EE:

Oh, this right here?

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Did you write this up?

NH:

No, a graduate of UCLA Journalism School wrote it.

EE:

There you are, Nancy Riddle, Graham, North Carolina.

NH:

But of course she had to write it on old teletype paper and had to sneak and do it. Wasn't supposed to be doing anything personal, you know.

EE:

This is all the details of things you just told me, some of the stuff. So this is certainly something I'd like to photocopy, if it's okay with you.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

Then we'll keep a copy. Again, because we're right here in town, it would be easier, and I don't want to—

NH:

But you know what? There's a lot of errors. But when you're typing where you're not supposed to be typing, and on their paper, you can see where there would be some errors [chuckling].

EE:

Oh yeah. And one of the things about this list, and we'll go over a few names, and I can check against here. And when we do the transcript of this thing, that's where you can help me by checking it and make sure that I've got it spelled right. This is from the drill field —

NH:

Selfridge Field or somewhere? Let's see.

EE:

Yeah, you're right across from Windsor, Canada, I see here. Mr. Boswell.

NH:

Yeah, he was my next-door neighbor. I want you to look at that. Two fifty.

EE:

Two fifty for a hotel room.

NH:

What year was that?

EE:

Nineteen forty-three, October. That's what you did with Elizabeth Lillig. This is in [unclear]

NH:

Yeah, she was always along.

EE:

This is Colonel Boyd?

NH:

Yeah.

EE:

Now, you have all these photographs. And my question is, did you have your own little Brownie camera or something that you were taking these pictures with, or how did you get all these pictures? I don't have a lot of women who have pictures from this time. Pretty good photographer.

NH:

Pictures like that of us, and pictures like that and like that, they made and we got copies of.

EE:

Oh, okay. This is your swearing-in ceremony? Are you in this picture?

NH:

Yeah, I'm in there, but I don't know where. Third row?

EE:

It says, “I'm in the third row from front, second from left, and all you can see is my feet.” [laughter]

NH:

Yeah!

EE:

Oh, Mrs. Hinchliffe, this is great, these pictures here.

NH:

This is all in the day room.

EE:

You all look stressed-out. [laughter]

NH:

No, we weren't stressed-out. We were having a good time.

EE:

Oh, my! [Reading] “Day room with WACs. Many are the times I have scrubbed this floor.” [laughter] Oh, you got to Radio City Music Hall. Now is this you, somebody's tying the waist around?

NH:

No, I didn't wash dishes if I could get out of it. That was after a party.

EE:

[reading] “I'm under the ironing board.” That's you right here?

NH:

No, the next one.

EE:

Right here?

NH:

No.

EE:

Oh, back here. In the back, okay.

NH:

That's when the good old times were. You relax with your friend and say anything you wanted to and— [chuckling] at night after everything else had happened. Some of the tour. What does that say?

EE:

[Reading] “A little late but good. The WACs are here, we extend a welcome. They are but few, but you must admit they're lovely. This small group that has caused the epidemic of head twisting are signal corps troops attached to the air corps. Their day room is a quiet, comfortable spot, but like most day rooms there are rules. The most important rule is that G.I. Joe must be homeward bound by 2245 or be embarrassed by a guard with a loaded carbine.” [chuckling] “Sad Sack.”

NH:

Who did that? Gomer Pyle? Gomer Pyle, I think.

EE:

[Reading] George Baker. It looks like that—

NH:

Who was that guy?

EE:

Pyle was his name. I forget his first name.

NH:

Ernie Pyle.

EE:

Ernie Pyle. So here's the woman coming in, taking the man's place, and the man gets to go off, and his job is to guard the women. [Laughter] This is a priceless little collection here. This is great. And again, most folks—I mean, I'm very impressed. I can't remember when—

You've remembered a lot of great things from sixty years ago. And what's wonderful is that you've got this record to always refresh your memory.

NH:

Yeah. This is in England. Of course, you see we're in Paris over there. Marie, that Marie, her picture right there, is one that just came to see me not long ago. And we're in France in a flower garden there. You know, they have a flower market over there.

EE:

I wish we had. We don't have those like that over here.

NH:

This picture is not picked up.

EE:

[Reading] “Holiday greetings from the First Tactical Air Force, somewhere in France.” Is this the group that you were with?

NH:

Whose name is that? Mine.

EE:

It says, “Nancy.”

NH:

Yeah, that's it. I don't know who I sent it to. There's some from the English. That girl is from England.

EE:

Okay. I was going to say, you didn't have a lot of folks from back home coming to the wedding, did you?

NH:

Not right offhand [chuckling].

EE:

That's a good picture.

NH:

Yeah, that's one of the best, I think. I think I had that made in France somewhere.

EE:

I can tell you were a happy woman that day.

NH:

Yes.

EE:

This is your husband? This is the wedding pictures? Is this on the day you got married?

NH:

It's on the airplane going down to there. And guess what? We came in off the Alps onto the beach. I said, “Roger, just let me die. Let's don't get married. I've got to die, I'm so sick,” coming in, you know?

EE:

With all that turbulence and everything?

NH:

Oh, I was sick!

EE:

Yeah, I've had that coming in to Chicago a couple times. They drop so fast and you get every bump.

NH:

Yes. What does that say at the top?

EE:

[Reading] “Headquarters, Ninth Air Force Public Relations Office.”

NH:

Oh, that's Roger's.

EE:

That's Roger's?

NH:

Medal.

EE:

Is this the two of you?

NH:

You know what? All we did was stand around waiting for a plane at these odd airports, you know, [unclear] overseas.

EE:

And everybody had to [unclear].

NH:

Except there we were traveling by truck and we'd just been in the woods to do you know what and we're coming out.

EE:

[Chuckling] Oh my!

NH:

What year was that?

EE:

Forty-three. A picture of the field chapel. [Chuckling] “Guide for Lead Troops.” Aha! So here's where you can go in Paris, but boys got to do this, and you've got to be back home, and no fraternizing with the neighbors. Okay. Your discharge certificate.

NH:

Yeah, I just skipped and—

EE:

What is this right here?

NH:

What does it say?

EE:

[Reading] “Will you write? Sure, why not.”

NH:

Who signed it?

EE:

It doesn't say. These color pictures in the back, are these some of the people that you were in service with?

NH:

Okay, that one is Marie, the girl I just showed you who came to see me. And that one was another that went in, but she got out and she lives in Raleigh. And there's all three of us.

EE:

Wonderful!

NH:

When she was down here we got together.

EE:

One of the things I'm looking for is if there are some names of some other folks that we might could interview who are in the state. So—

NH:

Who what

EE:

If there are some other people that we can interview who were WACs. We have a lot of WAVES because of the school connections. We don't have as many WACs.

NH:

Yes, they have a chapter here.

EE:

Well, I think we probably finished formally the interview with the first tape. But I'm glad we had this second tape where you could go through and show me this thing here because this is the kind of material that I think the people—this collection is through the archives. I'm going to stop the tape for right now, but —

[End of Interview]