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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Violet K. Caudle, 1999

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Object ID: WV0066.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Violent Kathleen Caudle’s early life; her service with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1945 to 1949; and her career as a librarian in North Carolina.

Summary:

Caudle recalls her life before the service, including frequent moves necessitated by her father’s career as a tenant farmer; being in high school on Pearl Harbor Day; being unable to attend college; and local attitudes toward women entering the service.

Caudle’s discussion of army life includes the daily routine of basic training; the WAC scandal; the war ending during her basic training; her work as a librarian; and moving from camp to camp as they shut down. She also remembers her first time on a plane; being sick in Japan and subsequently returned to the United States; an embarrassing story of being briefly jailed in Japan; a WAC song; women being barred from USO shows; and race and integration in the army.

Postwar topics include her struggles at Lenoir-Rhyne as an older student; continuing negative attitudes towards women veterans in Hickory, North Carolina; working in various libraries; and combining the libraries in Statesville, North Carolina.

Creator: Violet Kathleen Caudle

Biographical Info: Violet Kathleen Caudle (1925-2011) of Iredell County, North Carolina, performed library work in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1945 to 1949, and then spent over thirty years as a librarian in North Carolina.

Collection: Violet K. Caudle Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and I'm here today in the home of Violet Caudle in Statesville, North Carolina. Thank you, Miss Caudle, for having us. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. And I see you're already doing a good job of letting me know what that picture was and when it was. I'm going to start with a few questions for you, Miss Caudle, that I ask everybody, and they're terribly rigorous. Where were you born, where did you grow up? [chuckling]

VC:

Well, I was born in Iredell County. I grew up all over North Carolina.

EE:

How so?

VC:

My father was a tenant farmer and we moved all over North Carolina. Then when I came back to the States, back to North Carolina, I again lived all over the state.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

VC:

Five brothers and sisters.

EE:

Five brothers and sisters? You were the oldest, youngest, in the middle? Were you the oldest?

VC:

The oldest.

EE:

Yes, I'm the oldest of three and my mom is the oldest of seven. There's a little pride of place there. [chuckling] What did your mom do? She was basically —

VC:

Housewife.

EE:

Housewife and mom, because your dad was moving so much with his work.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

When you say tenant farmer, was it a particular crop that he was helping out with, or just wherever he could—?

VC:

Wherever he could tenant-farm.

EE:

Right. So you guys were always on the move.

VC:

Right.

EE:

That means you were in and out of different schools all the time. How did that make it for you for being in school? Did you ever get a sense of connection to schools at all? Were you good in school?

VC:

I would say average, but my grades say above average.

EE:

In other words, you felt like had you been able to stay put a little longer you could have done a lot better even.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

But your grades said you were still pretty good. That means you were pretty smart to begin with. What were your interests growing up? Was there something you wanted to be when you grew up?

VC:

I wanted to be a teacher.

EE:

You wanted to be a teacher. That makes sense. Somebody who likes schoolwork, I think that's an early thing they want to do. You were born in Statesville and moved all over the place.

VC:

I was born in Iredell County.

EE:

In Iredell County.

VC:

It's about twenty-some miles from Statesville.

EE:

You were growing up in the middle of the Depression. Is that why your dad was moving so much, or did it have anything to do with that?

VC:

We were tenant farmers before.

EE:

Before, okay. Was his family that way as well?

VC:

Yes.

EE:

How aware were you of changes growing up? You were in elementary school as the world is getting to know a fellow by the name of [Adolf] Hitler. Did you realize that big things were going on in the world as a child?

VC:

I think I vaguely was aware that something was going on.

EE:

In 1939 Hitler invades Poland. You would have been what, fourteen, I guess? That was the start of a war in Europe. I know at that time there were folks in America who said, “We need to be involved in the war,” and others who said, “We don't want a thing to do with it. It's their problem.” Did your folks talk about the war overseas? Did you get a sense of what was going on?

VC:

My people didn't, but somewhere along the way some of my teachers talked about it.

EE:

Did you take a foreign language in high school?

VC:

I took French.

EE:

French. You didn't have German, probably.

VC:

No.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

VC:

Well, it happened on a Sunday, so I wasn't aware that it even happened until Monday when I went back to school.

EE:

What did you hear from the teachers? Some folks have said that in their schools they even piped [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt's talk in over the PA [public address] system. You just remember your teachers telling you things? For many folks, they knew instantly that we were in a war, because once you were attacked, that means it's now your war even though it's still halfway around the world.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

Did your parents' attitude change? Did their worries change? Did the ability to get a job change?

VC:

I don't think it changed.

EE:

Well, how was it that you get interested in the military? You finished high school in, I guess what, '42?

VC:

Forty-two.

EE:

And what did you do after that?

VC:

Well, I kept house for a lady for a few weeks, then I tried to find a job in Elkin and North Wilkesboro [North Carolina]. The minute I said I was going to college, I was not accepted for a job in Elkin and North Wilkesboro. But a friend of mine was working in a little village called Alamance, and she told her foreman that I was trying to find a job but I said I was going to college and that was it. He said, “Well, tell her to come on down here. She has a job waiting for her.”

EE:

That's nice.

VC:

So I was hired in Alamance because I was going to college.

EE:

And what was the work you were doing there?

VC:

Well, when I first went there I was a seamer, and then I became an inspector, and then I was a clipper, and when I left the mill I was a P.W. knitting machine operator.

EE:

So you were there how long?

VC:

From—

EE:

From '42 to the time you left?

VC:

Three years.

EE:

Three years, okay. Now, you said you were headed to college. Was there anything that kept you from going to college? Were you just waiting to get the—

VC:

Money!

EE:

Get the money, that was the big obstacle. And they didn't have scholarships then like they do now for everybody. You had to just find the money. Going to college was not considered to be the thing that you went to.

VC:

It was a disgrace.

EE:

For women especially?

VC:

In Wilkes County it was a disgrace to have gone to college. In the place that I finished, it was a disgrace to have gone to high school.

EE:

So you graduated from high school in Wilkes County?

VC:

That's right.

EE:

So everybody there, the idea was you finished college, you came back to work on the farm or you worked—

VC:

You didn't go to college.

EE:

You didn't go to college? But you finished school and you came home?

VC:

You didn't even finish high school. You went to work on the farm or in a mill when you finished the seventh grade, but you sure didn't go to college.

EE:

Did any of your brothers or sisters have the same idea, to go to college?

VC:

Well, my brothers didn't, but my sisters came along much later. By that time it was the thing to do, to go to college, but it was not when I was there.

EE:

When you were thinking about being a teacher when you were younger, did you have to go to college to be a teacher?

VC:

Oh yes.

EE:

Well, I guess that's why they started the Normal School to begin with at WC [Woman's College, now UNCG]. Pearl Harbor Day happens, you're in Wilkes County, you graduate from high school, you get this job that's offered and turns into something that you enjoy doing, and then the war is going, more and more progressing. You start hearing that there's opportunities out there and some day you get the idea that you want to join the military. How is it that you decided that you wanted to join the service?

VC:

I think simply because there was a war going on, and it was quite the thing in Alamance. You heard about it more in Alamance than you did on the farm in Wilkes County.

EE:

I guess it was closer to where the troops were stationed. Weren't there troops over at Greensboro? Weren't there some at the ORD [Overseas Replacement Depot]?

VC:

Well, there was air force in Greensboro, but in Alamance itself quite a few of the boys were either overseas or in the military.

EE:

So there was a lot of family discussion about it. One thing that was an obstacle maybe, I don't know when you first got the idea, was it a poster that you saw, or just this conversation, I guess, that was in the air that said, “I want to join”? If you were under twenty-one you had to have a parent's signature, didn't you?

VC:

Yes, you did. At that time you did.

EE:

Was that one of the things that made you maybe delay in doing an entry into the service, or—?

VC:

I had to wait until I was old enough.

EE:

That's right. You had to wait till you were twenty-one.

VC:

That's right.

EE:

So you had told your folks, “When I'm twenty-one that's what I'm going to do”? You didn't tell them?

VC:

No, they were in Wilkes County and I was in Alamance County.

EE:

So you didn't have much to do with them at that time?

VC:

No.

EE:

You were just waiting. And you didn't want to have to go back to them to ask permission, you were just waiting for the clock to turn and you get to twenty-one?

VC:

When I got twenty-one I took the papers for them to sign. That was it.

EE:

And they didn't say, “Violet, what are you doing?”

VC:

They did in so many words, at least my father did.

EE:

[chuckling] That's a polite way of putting it, “in so many words.” [chuckling]

VC:

Such as, “If you get in trouble you can always come home.” I'd been on my own for three years.

EE:

Right, it's not like you hadn't been able to take care of yourself.

VC:

But “you can come home.”

EE:

Was he afraid that you were going to learn things about the world going in the military that he didn't want you to learn?

VC:

It was a disgrace to join the military. If you were a woman, it wasn't the thing that was done. He was afraid of what the neighbors would say.

EE:

So when you joined the military, you became less of a woman.

VC:

That's right.

EE:

You gave up your femininity, you weren't a lady anymore. That was a real strong negative.

VC:

When I got to Fort Des Moines the first thing we were greeted with, “Just because you put on a uniform is no reason you cease being a lady.”

EE:

Quite the opposite then of what they told you. So you got on a train? Where did you leave from, from Greensboro?

VC:

I left from Durham. I was sworn in in Durham, spent the night there, and left for Fort Des Moines from Durham.

EE:

That's where your basic training was held?

VC:

My basic training was Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

EE:

What was that, about a six- to eight-week basic training time?

VC:

At that time it was supposed to be eight weeks. It was cut down to six.

EE:

This would have been what year, '45?

VC:

Forty-five. I went in between VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day.

EE:

And of course VE Day comes, and in retrospect you could say, “Oh, we've only got a couple more months left in the war.” But that's not the way people saw it, was it, because nobody knew the atom bomb was there, everybody expected an invasion of Japan. So everybody was happy things were over in Europe, but there was still a lot of anxiety in the air. Did you sign in with a particular assignment in mind or request a particular thing? Did you want to go far away?

VC:

At that time you signed up for the duration of the war plus six months, at the convenience of the government.

EE:

Okay. Were you anxious to go far away from home or stay close to the state?

VC:

I didn't think anything about it.

EE:

You were going just to serve.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

However you could help.

VC:

That's right.

EE:

Tell me about a typical day at basic. One of the problems with our UNCG group is that we've got a lot of WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] so I hear a lot about Smith College. I haven't heard a lot about Fort Oglethorpe or Fort Des Moines. Tell me about a typical day there in basic.

VC:

Well, a typical day, you were roused by the tune of a whistle. [chuckling]

EE:

No reveille, just “pssss”!? [chuckling]

VC:

Oh, reveille came later. Then you had to fall out for reveille—in uniform.

EE:

Now, were you issued uniforms before you went to Des Moines, or did you get them after you got there?

VC:

We got them after we got to Des Moines.

EE:

Then what did you have, drill after that during the first of the day?

VC:

After reveille you went back and cleaned up your quarters, made your bed, all of those things, then went to eat. And I think you marched to class after that, then you marched back to the mess hall for lunch, and you drilled that afternoon—if the weather permitted. If it got to be above a certain degree you didn't have to drill. But you normally drilled in long cotton stockings.

EE:

I was going to say, was there a summer weight to this uniform or was it pretty much—It was pretty heavy material.

VC:

Well, we wore physical training uniforms, but the class A uniform, it was long-sleeve shirts, ties—

EE:

And this is the summertime in the Midwest, which is not exactly cool.

VC:

Most of the time you wore the PT [physical training] dress, which did have a short sleeve. It had some shorts so you didn't have to wear the underwear, but it did—Now the class A uniform, and that was drill, you had a review drill at least once a week.

EE:

Like on Fridays or something?

VC:

Boy, it was hot!

EE:

Did everybody take turns leading the platoon for the day or the drill, or did you have certain drill instructors and they did all the drilling?

VC:

The drill instructors did that. Now, if you were in OCS [officer candidate school] or something like that, you did have to take turns drilling.

EE:

Was there a difference in who went to Oglethorpe and who went to Des Moines? Was one for officers, one for enlisted, or it just depended on where you signed up?

VC:

Well, by the time I went in, Oglethorpe was closed. I was in one of the last World War II outfits. Fort Des Moines was closed in December, I had finished clerk school in the early part of November.

EE:

So it was one of those facilities that was set up just because of the war, it was not already in existence before?

VC:

Well, Fort Des Moines had been a cavalry post. In fact, part of our receiving was in the old stable down on Stable Road. And then the boomtown, or Charity Adams [first female African-American U.S. Army officer] called—It had another name [Winn Area], but I never heard it. Until I read her book, I never heard it called anything other than that. And incidentally, do you have Charity Adams' book [One Woman's Army]?

EE:

No, I was just writing her name down. Is this about—

VC:

I'll get it in a few minutes.

EE:

Okay. When you went, you didn't know anybody? You weren't coming with anybody from North Carolina, no friends? This was all new people. Was this the first time you had gone out of the state for any extended period of time?

VC:

Yes, it was the first time I'd been out of the state.

EE:

How was that experience?

VC:

Well, I found out that the grass was no greener on the other side of the street.

EE:

A fewer trees maybe? It's amazing when you start traveling away from North Carolina that places don't have as many trees as we do. It's not always as green as what we are. How were the living arrangements for you there? Were you all in one big room, or did you have any sort of privacy at all?

VC:

In basic training, straight open barracks. The non-coms [noncommissioned officers] and the cooks, a few people like that had private rooms. But the trainees, open barracks.

EE:

Open barracks, group showers, all that stuff, did that not affect your sense of privacy after—?

VC:

I hadn't thought about it.

EE:

Didn't think about it?

VC:

No.

EE:

This was just part of the adventure.

VC:

Everybody else was going through the same thing.

EE:

What kind of class work did you do? Were you learning about the enemy, or learning about the mechanics of the way the army worked?

VC:

You were learning such things as how to read a map, the military uniform. You had to learn to recognize insignias, you had to learn to recognize all sorts of things. You had classes on gonorrhea and syphilis, and they usually arranged to have that right after lunch.

EE:

[chuckling] Well, I guess that's better than before lunch maybe, I don't know.

VC:

Then you had first aid training, you had gas mask training.

EE:

How much did they talk about fraternization?

VC:

There was no fraternization between officers and enlisted people.

EE:

That was a hard and fast rule for you all.

VC:

You could be discharged for conduct unbecoming an enlisted person, and that would definitely be conduct unbecoming an enlisted person.

EE:

That's right. Did everybody who started out in your basic training group stay with it, or did you have some people dropping out?

VC:

At that time you did not drop out unless it was a convenience to the government. You might wind up in the psycho ward, you might wind up doing all sorts of other things, but you sure didn't become a civilian.

EE:

The ads back then had “Free a Man to Fight.” In fact, I think that special we were talking about, that was the title of it, “Free a Man to Fight.” Was that part of your thinking about why you might be joining, to help?

VC:

No, it wasn't.

EE:

Just that you personally wanted to do something to help out. Because I think that sense of personally wanting to be involved is what motivates almost everybody I've talked to. You know, you talk about a team effort and everybody's got their team, but they needed to have a sense of they themselves doing more than what they were. Now you were in basic training, then you said you actually stayed beyond basic training at Fort Des Moines for—

VC:

Clerk school.

EE:

Clerk school. Now, tell me what would be the job—Clerk school, what was that preparing you for? What kind of work?

VC:

Office work, clerk—You had day reports, you had all sorts of things.

EE:

So you had to be familiar with all the forms. Of course, this is all before the age of the Xerox machine and everything—How many copies did you have to make of everything?

VC:

Five.

EE:

Five, with four sheets of carbon paper?

VC:

Or was it seven? Anyway, it was five or seven.

EE:

Way too much. So I imagine your hands were probably black for most of '47 to '48. [chuckling]

VC:

Well, actually, I was one of those people—I had been assigned to clerk school. I wanted to go to motor transport, but that's beside the point. You went for the convenience of the government. So I went to clerk school. And I was called down to the commanding officer's office one day and asked, “What's the matter, private, don't you like clerk school?” [chuckling]

EE:

Did you get a sense that they were anxious to put you in clerk school because it seemed like, well, that's what women are supposed to do, that was a woman's job?

VC:

Well, my company was divided up into threes. Part of them went straight on duty, part of them went to cooks and bakers [school], and part of them went to clerk school, and I was in the segment that went to clerk school.

EE:

So that was pretty much what happened with every group, they split up in those particular categories and things. Now WACs [Women's Army Corps], were you all limited to stateside service, or were there people who—

VC:

The WAACs [Women's Auxiliary Army Corps] were never limited to stateside service. From the very beginning, when it was still WAAC, there were women in North Africa. I think the first five that went overseas, their ship sank, it was torpedoed, and they wound up in men's uniforms reporting in. [chuckling]

EE:

Right, because they didn't want to be—well, something bad has happened to those girls, we can't send them off again. Did the scandal about the WACs affect your opinion of them? I mean, joining the service is one thing—

VC:

My personal feeling did not, because the nicest women I've ever met I met in service. But the feeling of civilians, it did affect them, but it did not affect women in service.

EE:

So that didn't factor into any decision-making about why you chose the WACs as opposed to the WAVES or any other branch of service?

VC:

Well, probably the only reason I chose the WAC was that they had a recruiting station nearby.

EE:

So, had the sign around the street said WAVES or said SPARs [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from “Sempar Paratus—Always Ready”], that have been probably what you'd become?

VC:

Probably.

EE:

Just because that would have been the closest way for you to get involved in the service. They had that inside the post office, or where did they have recruiting stations back then?

VC:

I'm not sure where it was. I know I went to Durham. It may have been Durham was the closest WAC recruiting office, because I don't remember one in Burlington. The nearest one may have been in Durham.

EE:

So you had to go to Durham to sign up. I know I've talked with some people who were recruiters for the WAVES and they said they would go and physically set up a table for a day in a post office. Like if they were coming to Statesville, they might go and set up a table in all these little towns in Iredell County. And they would actually go talk—Rather than talk to women's groups, they would talk to the men's clubs, like the Kiwanis or Lions Club or whatever, trying to convince dads to let their kids join.

VC:

Well, it's through the men that that scandal on the women in service started, such as the men would write home, “You may be a WAC but you're not my girlfriend anymore.” The scandal was so great in 1944 that there was a congressional investigation.

EE:

And that's just before the time you signed up.

VC:

And see, Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt, Colonel [Oveta] Hobby, the dean of churches, and I don't remember who else it was who went to Fort Des Moines to find out the scandal, supposedly, and they found out there wasn't one.

EE:

So just rumors.

VC:

It was coming from the men.

EE:

Trying to spread rumors about, what, the women were always getting pregnant, or trying to—or not behaving themselves.

VC:

That's right. As a friend of mine who was in the WAVES said, “If we had had as many babies as they said we did, we would have had at least five apiece. If we had drunk as much as they said we did, we could have floated a battleship.” But since we did neither, no one knew what it was all about. No, the women in service did not believe the scandals because they knew better.

EE:

Well, it's one thing to talk about this atmosphere of rumor. When you were in the service, how did the men in the service treat you personally one-on-one? Were you treated professionally?

VC:

It all depended on the area or the place you were stationed, and it came from the higher-ups and it went down.

EE:

So if the CO [commanding officer] was professional, everybody under him was professional the way they treated women.

VC:

Right.

EE:

But if not, there was not attitudes that filtered down. You were at clerk school, so clerk school immediately followed. That must have been a couple or three months. If you were in the summertime, you had joined the service June or July of—

VC:

June 30.

EE:

June 30th, and then you were at clerk school through November. Where was your assignment then after clerk school?

VC:

Camp Croft, South Carolina, right out of Spartanburg.

EE:

I should mention, because there's something that's happening in the background while you were in clerk school, you're there June of '45, I guess it must have been during basic training that the war ended.

VC:

It was. VJ Day came along.

EE:

Right. How was it to experience VJ Day in basic training? Did you stop and have a party, or how was it marked?

VC:

We were aware that VJ Day had happened and we didn't have to—There was a part of the map reading section that we didn't have to go through, and that was about the only—

EE:

So you didn't have to learn all about the Japanese. [chuckling]

VC:

That's about the only thing that we did not have to do.

EE:

So that was the big change, no more map reading?

VC:

At that time we had learned to read a map, but the actual application of it we didn't have to do. Usually, part of basic training they would give you a map, put you in a closed weapons carrier, take you out in the boondocks and say, “We'll see you back in camp at such and such an hour, and you with your map found your way back. We didn't have to do that.

EE:

Fortunately. [chuckling] That's a real test, when you have to show that you can get back. You were going to Delta Cross right outside of Spartanburg?

VC:

Camp Croft.

EE:

What were your duties when you were there?

VC:

When I first got to Camp Croft I was a receptionist in a hospital, and the only time you were busy was when all three phones rang at the same time. But I was fortunate, I had a CO, or the head of the hospital, did not believe in you learning how to sew or sewing on the job. You could write letters, you could read, you could do all sorts of things, but you could not sew. So I learned to embroidery so I could get out of the job. [chuckling] It worked. I got to work in a library from then on.

EE:

So you weren't doing that receptionist job for very long.

VC:

Not more than a couple of months.

EE:

And the library job you started was right there at the camp?

VC:

At Camp Croft.

EE:

Were you put in charge of the library or working with somebody? How did that get started?

VC:

Well, a friend of mine was in charge of the hospital library. I'm sure that there were librarians somewhere, but we never saw the librarian. So one of the WACs was in charge of the library there and I worked with her.

EE:

Was your CO a WAC, or was it—

VC:

Yes.

EE:

Okay, so you were in this position while you were at Camp Croft, and I guess at basic training was it all women who were the instructors?

VC:

In basic training, by the time I came along the instructors were all women. In the very beginning they were men.

EE:

The same with the clerk school, you had women instructors?

VC:

Yes, including women typewriter repairmen.

EE:

Which would have been very important. The facility at Camp Croft, you were in the hospital library, which I imagine is getting reading material for all the patients, doing requests like that, probably handling—every library probably gets the same certain kind of publications?

VC:

Probably.

EE:

So you were basically learning a job that, as it turned out, would become your life's work.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

Did you really start to enjoy it as you were doing it then, almost immediately, or—?

VC:

Well, I went back to my high school and decided at that time I didn't want to be a teacher, I wanted to be a librarian.

EE:

There was a little less stigma maybe with being a teacher. You wanted a little more prestige with a librarian?

VC:

Well, actually, I went to school with my sisters, and one of their teachers wanted to impress me. So she asked a kid what made a motorcycle run, or what made that brand of motorcycle run. And right then I decided I didn't want to be a teacher, I wanted to be a librarian. [chuckling]

EE:

You can get an overdose of dealing with other people, and there is something that's very comforting about library work. You can kind of restrict those annoying interactions with people, to some extent. [chuckling] How long were you at Camp Croft doing that work?

VC:

I got there before Thanksgiving one year and went to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, I guess in January of the following year.

EE:

So by December of '45 you were in South Carolina, and then in January of '47 you started at Moultrie, I guess?

VC:

No, in '46 I would have been at Moultrie.

EE:

Okay, so you were not at Camp Croft for very long then?

VC:

No, the camp was closing.

EE:

Okay, another one of those. So basically you were following the—As the army was shrinking, you had to shrink back where you were. So just a couple months you were at Camp Croft. Were you doing the same kind of library work at Moultrie?

VC:

Yes. When I first got there a friend of mine was working in the library and she was leaving in a couple of weeks. So if I were willing to work in the special services office in the daytime and the library at night, then after Henderson left I could have the job.

EE:

Was she leaving because she was just getting out of the service?

VC:

She was getting out. By that time—

EE:

A lot of people, I imagine, were decommissioning.

VC:

Many people were getting out of service.

EE:

Were you told that was likely to happen to you? Or because you had just joined in, they sort of had a sense of those who had been in longest they were getting out first?

VC:

They were getting out first. It wasn't until after I got out that I found out that there was danger of our not being in existence tomorrow. But when I was in, you didn't have that feeling.

EE:

It wasn't like, oh, the war is over, we don't need these women around anymore, let's get rid of them? But you still were—

VC:

Some of them were getting out.

EE:

You were at Fort Moultrie for how long?

VC:

Till the camp closed. [chuckling]

EE:

I'm just trying to imagine, here is a woman who grew up her whole life moving from place to place, and you're stable by yourself, for three years you're on your own. Then you join the army and you say, “Good gracious, these folks are no better than back home. We're moving every three months.” [chuckling]

VC:

I don't remember how long I was at Camp Croft. At least several months, but I'm not sure how long.

EE:

So you went from Fort Moultrie to Camp Croft?

VC:

From Croft to Moultrie.

EE:

And then from Moultrie to where?

VC:

Fort Bragg [North Carolina].

EE:

Okay. Well, that one's still in existence, so you didn't close down that one.

VC:

They shipped me out of there real fast. [chuckling]

EE:

I was going to say, you start going to these places and they close every one down, you get to wonder if you're a bad luck charm after a while. [chuckling]

VC:

Maybe that was the reason they shipped me out so fast. [chuckling]

EE:

So it was just a short time, even though you had counted on staying in this library job because your friend was leaving, then lo and behold they pull you down to Fort Bragg. Now what rank are you by this time?

VC:

By that time I was a PFC [private first class].

EE:

You go to Bragg and you're doing library work there, or what are you doing?

VC:

At Fort Bragg, library work in the training center for the men.

EE:

Now, my first impression is they're probably trying to—They need a library. What are they doing with the library? What kind of services are you offering these folks? Is this for recreational reading, or—

VC:

An army library is the closest thing to a public library I know of.

EE:

Since these folks are restricted and can't go off base—

VC:

In some cases the post library will have books for children. I know at Fort Monmouth [New Jersey] we had books for children.

EE:

That's because their families are there and this is where they go to.

VC:

That's right.

EE:

And I guess probably having families on base is something new with the war, isn't it? Didn't that just start in the Second World War when you had the families living on base, or had that been part of the tradition?

VC:

Well, it was part of the tradition of the older army. When the war was going on, you didn't have too many living on the posts, because in many instances the post was new and it was built for men only.

EE:

So you had to leave the family behind wherever they were. You could not bring your family with you. How long were you at Bragg?

VC:

A few months. And I don't remember how many months.

EE:

Did you ever unpack your suitcase? I mean, I've heard of the “hurry up and wait” syndrome of the armed services, but this is kind of the reverse. It's that way when you're resting. I don't know where my orders are, I'm getting on a boat and they tell me where my orders are, I'm getting on a plane and they tell me where my orders are. I guess you kind of got that feeling for you, that “Okay, I'm here for awhile, but I don't know if I'm going to be here tomorrow.”

VC:

When I left, a friend of mine packed my suitcase for me because you had to, between your suitcase and your musette bag, be able to live out of it for at least thirty days. So she packed my suitcase. She was an expert in packing. [chuckling]

EE:

Yes, I think I've still got my dad's duffel bag at home from his time. They had to do it all in that little duffel bag and that was it.

VC:

Musette bag.

EE:

Was that what they called it?

VC:

A musette bag was different from a duffel bag. Usually you hung your duffel bag on the end of your bunk. No, it was a laundry bag you hung at the end of your bunk. A duffel bag was what you used in traveling.

EE:

Right. So you go from Fort Bragg to Fort Monmouth, you say?

VC:

Fort Bragg to Camp Stoneman, California.

EE:

Now wait a second, you've moved within a very tight circle, but now you're moving all the way across country. How did you greet that news?

VC:

Well, Camp Stoneman, California, was the embarkation center for Japan.

EE:

So you knew what that meant, you were going overseas.

VC:

That's right.

EE:

Were you keeping in touch with the home folks and letting them know what was going on at this time, or had they pretty much written it off saying, “Well, we'll catch up with you when you get through with this nonsense”?

VC:

Well, they knew where I was all the time.

EE:

So the idea of going to Tokyo or to Japan, did that make you excited you were getting to travel someplace totally new?

VC:

It didn't make any difference to me.

EE:

It didn't make any difference, just another place they're going to keep me for two months and I'll go someplace else. [chuckling]

VC:

Right.

EE:

Moving so much, did you have a chance to have some good relationships with folks in the service or friendships with people you met? This woman, you said Henderson down at Fort Moultrie, apparently you had seen her at some other station before?

VC:

No.

EE:

You just got to know her?

VC:

I still keep in touch—in fact I owe her a letter right now—with a person I met at Camp Croft. I haven't seen her since she left Camp Croft. She's in Seattle, Washington, now. And the librarian at Fort Moultrie, her husband was head of the V.A. [Veterans Administration] hospital—at least he was head of the V.A. hospital in Durham. They moved to South Carolina. The last I heard from her, she was with the university down there. She was a civilian librarian.

EE:

Camp Stoneman, how long were you at Stoneman before heading off?

VC:

I don't remember how long I was there, but I do know that it took us thirty-one days to get to Japan. It should have only taken not more than fourteen, but it took us thirty-one days.

EE:

Let me make sure I'm getting my dates right. You're at Moultrie for just a few months, so it's springtime, say, of '46 when you go to Fort Bragg. You're at Fort Bragg for a few more months, so we're talking maybe late summer or early fall is when you head out to Stoneman.

VC:

Right.

EE:

And you're going cross-country by train, I would guess?

VC:

No, we had our tickets to go by train, but our commanding officer made arrangements for us to fly out. So we flew from Pope Field up to Bolen Field in Washington, and again a WAC officer came along and managed to get the three of us on a passenger plane for officers not under the rank of major, and we were PFCs. [chuckling]

EE:

Kind of in among the stars, I guess. [chuckling]

VC:

So we went out by plane rather than—

EE:

Was that your first trip on a plane?

VC:

Yes, it was.

EE:

No queasiness? You did all right then?

VC:

Well, a friend of mine decided I would die of seasickness, and so she gave me a great big handful of Life Savers [candy] and chewing gum and all that stuff.

EE:

Just something for your ears or for your nausea or whatever.

VC:

And it didn't bother me a bit, but the two WACs I was with, they got airsick. [chuckling]

EE:

This was not a nonstop flight, was it?

VC:

We stopped in Kansas, I think it was, to refuel.

EE:

Then flew on out. So how long were you at Stoneman before you left, just a few weeks?

VC:

A few months or weeks, I'm not sure which.

EE:

Thirty-one days? Bad weather at sea? What caused the delay?

VC:

Well, our crew got in a fight and got in jail in Hawaii. [laughter]

[End Side A—Begin Side B]

VC:

At Korea troops lined up to get off the ship three days, and on the third day they finally made it.

EE:

Gracious!

VC:

Then we got to Japan on Christmas Day of—I guess it must have been '46. And we were supposed to be quarantined, but the commanding officer of the WAC outfit in Tokyo was waiting at the dock with buses, jeeps, cars to take us to Tokyo, and they informed her she couldn't because we had to be quarantined. She said, “They can be quarantined at the Mitsubishi main in Tokyo.” So she took us home with her. [chuckling]

EE:

Was that standard procedure to make you guys be quarantined?

VC:

Oh yes.

EE:

Oh my.

VC:

You were supposed to be quarantined at least ten days.

EE:

So what did you think of Japan?

VC:

Well, all I can say about Japan is if the person who gave me an A in high school because of a doll that I had dressed in a kimono and wrote a paper on Japan, if she had ever been to Japan she would have given me an F.

EE:

That different?

VC:

But as far as Japan itself, it was fine.

EE:

How long were you there?

VC:

I got there Christmas Day of '46 and I think I left in August of '47. It seems that I managed to pick up every disease coming and going, and they figured it would be cheaper to send me back to the States. I was in and out of hospitals, so they sent me back to the States.

EE:

What was it, just things that were peculiar to Japan, or just—?

VC:

Well, one of the problems I got was—I don't know what it was called, but I had a disease in my eyes from the dirt of Japan. And the other problem was I had picked up an ailment which the doctors could not identify. So the commanding officer said, “Well, if you can't identify it, send her back to the States. Maybe they can identify it.” So I was sent back to the States. And then they didn't know which hospital to send me to.

EE:

Where did you end up?

VC:

One of them wanted to pick out Walter Reed [Army Hospital], and another one said, “No, she'll be used as a guinea pig at Walter Reed.” [chuckling]

EE:

They were probably right about that.

VC:

So they sent me to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. So I was used as a guinea pig at Valley Forge.

EE:

I was talking with somebody who actually was a dietitian at the Valley Forge hospital, but at the time she was there it was sort of like a—it almost seemed like a triage thing, where they'd have army hospitals that were maybe this, hospitals all for people who were blind, all for burn victims, all for amputees. And I don't know if that was the burn hospital or the blind, but anyway everybody there had all the same [ailment].

VC:

At Valley Forge they had everything, everything from lung disease to the blind, surgery—everything.

EE:

My wife used to work in Valley Forge and I used to live right over the hill in Wayne, Pennsylvania, if you know where Wayne is.

VC:

No, I don't.

EE:

There's King of Prussia and Valley Forge, and Wayne is just on the south side. So how long were you at Valley Forge? Were you still recovering from this?

VC:

From August to January of the following year.

EE:

And they're still trying to figure out what's wrong with your system?

VC:

They didn't figure out what was wrong until after I got out of the service.

EE:

And treated, hopefully, accordingly?

VC:

I was treated for all sorts of things, but they didn't find out definitely until after I got out of service.

EE:

What did they find out?

VC:

I had a nerve condition, and it wasn't found out until I'd been to college for one semester and then I went to—

EE:

Then you had it flare up again?

VC:

They lost my medical records when I got out of service, so the only way I could force them to find them was to apply for admittance to a V.A. [Veterans Administration] hospital. And it took them from July to the following—I think it was February—

EE:

Nothing like bureaucratic efficiency. [chuckling]

VC:

I went up to—I think it was Richmond, Virginia, to the V.A. hospital there.

EE:

And that's where they had the records?

VC:

Yes. That's when they found them.

EE:

It wasn't taking thirty-one days to get back across, hopefully, this trip back.

VC:

No, it only took—Well, I flew back by hospital plane. I don't know whether it took us—I know that we landed at Kwajalein [Atoll, Marshall Islands] and managed to get something to eat and took a shower, and then we spent the night in Hawaii. So I'm not sure how many hours it took us to get back. [chuckling]

EE:

It kind of was a haze to you anyway, my guess is, if you were already under the weather.

VC:

And then we went from Stoneman to Fairfield Suisan, California, went into San Francisco and spent the night at Letterman General [Hospital], and then from Letterman General I came across the States to Valley Forge. We spent the night in Texas, then we spent the night in Georgia. That's where there was a jeep up front saying, “Follow me.” Well, the pilot did, to the detriment of one wing tip. So we had to stay in Georgia a few more hours while they flew in another plane for us. And then we went up to Pennsylvania, and I'm not sure where we landed, but ambulances came from Valley Forge to take us back to Valley Forge.

EE:

Is that where you got your discharge then, from Valley Forge?

VC:

No, from Valley Forge I went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. At Valley Forge I was assigned to go back to duty about six weeks before I actually went back to duty. But they had assigned me at that time—They had no women in the 82nd Airborne Division, and I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. So I went in and—

EE:

And, what, you go from the hospital to the paratroopers? [chuckling]

VC:

I went in and told the personnel sergeant that they didn't have women in the 82nd Airborne. “Yes, they do. I don't make mistakes.” The only way I could get my orders changed was to threaten to come in dressed like a paratrooper. [chuckling] So it was another six weeks before I actually was sent back to duty.

EE:

Well, if it says so on the paper it must be right. We know that. So you go back to Monmouth?

VC:

Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

EE:

And this had to have been, what, early '48?

VC:

Yeah.

EE:

Because it says here you were discharged in August of that year. From Fort Monmouth? Is that where you were last stationed?

VC:

I got out in July of '49.

EE:

Okay, that's right here. August of '47 is when you left Japan, that's right, got back in August of '47. And then June-July of '49, July is the first month out, okay. What was your work at Fort Monmouth?

VC:

I worked in libraries, all types of libraries. A hospital library, helped set up a library, and worked in the main post library, and supervised the moving of a library.

EE:

In '49 did the military ask you to leave, or did you say, “I want to get out, time to go” ?

VC:

In 1948 we had a choice of signing up for the regular army or staying in an additional year and getting out. I signed up for the additional year to get out. I had to stay in thirty days beyond that because they were still trying to find my medical records. But the decision was made in '48. By that time Congress had passed the regulation that we did not have to stay in six months thereafter. Because the war was not declared over until 1953, or 19—somewhere along there, '50-something.

EE:

Even though the hostilities had ended in '45.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

So what did you do when you got out of the army?

VC:

I went to library school, went to college. But first I taught myself how to type. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, you probably had a little bit of practice in that over the years, though.

VC:

Well, in clerk school I managed to learn how to type, eight words a minute. The librarians had told me at Fort Monmouth that if I didn't know how to type when I went to library school, you'd learn with no credit. So I taught myself how to type.

EE:

And this is where you started back at Lenoir-Rhyne [College, in Hickory, North Carolina], you said?

VC:

Yes.

EE:

Did you get a degree from Lenoir-Rhyne, or did you switch to Appalachian [State University in Boone, North Carolina] for the degree?

VC:

No, I went to Lenoir-Rhyne for two years and then switched to Appalachian.

EE:

They had a library science degree. Then you said you went to Emory [University] for graduate work? Did you do that right afterwards?

VC:

No, it must have been about four to six years after I finished library school at Appalachian before I went to Emory.

EE:

When you went back to Lenoir-Rhyne to go to college, you lived on campus in the dormitory?

VC:

Unfortunately, yes. It was the worst experience of my life.

EE:

Because socially you were out of sync with those folks?

VC:

Socially. I asked that I be given one of the older students to room with. I was given roommates who had never been away from home before, roommates who went through the pangs of homesickness. And, since I had been in service, I was an outcast. We had teachers at Lenoir-Rhyne who were not about to mention that they had ever been in service, because if they had they would have lost their jobs.

EE:

These were female teachers?

VC:

Yeah. And one night a kid was—I was talking to her and she had been in Japan, and I was wearing my ruptured duck emblem [indicating honorable discharge], and this kid was telling the lady from one of the churches that was giving a reception for the incoming students that I had been in Tokyo, and the lady started in: “Well, was your father in the military?”

“No.”

“Was he a merchant?”

“No.”

“Well, what were you doing there then?”

I said, “I think that being stationed there entitled me to be there.”

“Well, I saw the discharge emblem you were wearing, but I thought it was your boyfriend's.”

“No, it isn't his, it's mine.” And the minister of that church came up and was talking to one of the teachers who did not—she bragged about having been in service, and he was talking to her and asked her how she was getting along. She said, “Just fine. We found out that all three of us were stationed in and around Charleston at one time.” He dropped her hand and turned around and walked off. The other WAC that was there, or ex-WAC, was working in the business office, so it was a teacher, a clerk, and myself. The clerk later started working for that minister, but as long as he lived she never let him know that she had ever been in service. Because in Hickory it was a disgrace to have been in service.

EE:

Again, time back they assumed—it said something about your reputation as a woman if you were in service.

VC:

That's right.

EE:

That has changed.

VC:

The attitude was like that all over Hickory. At Appalachian it was right the opposite: “You were in service? That's wonderful.” And you were treated accordingly. But in Hickory you were not. I heard more lies, more deceits, more everything, worse people, than I met in the full four years I was in service. And I had to get permission to do all sorts of things. Now here I was, at the age of twenty-four, having to get my mother's permission to smoke and all sorts of things.

EE:

Oh my, well, I see why you transferred. You made the right move.

VC:

I sent Mama the form, and she didn't do a thing but turn it over and write on the back of it, “My daughter is an adult. She can do what she wants to.” I had to meet bed check at Lenoir-Rhyne. The attitude in the dorm was so bad at Lenoir-Rhyne that I vowed I would never live in a dorm again.

EE:

Was it an all-girls' dorm, I guess, then?

VC:

At that time, yes.

EE:

It wasn't an all-girl school, though, was it?

VC:

No, it was coed. But it was supposed to be a church school.

EE:

So that may have added the extra layer of strictness and stuff. So you're at Appalachian. Where did you come back to work afterwards? I think we talked about this earlier.

VC:

I went from Appalachian to Gaston County.

EE:

Well, you know, I graduated from high school in Gastonia.

VC:

You did?

EE:

Yes. Well, actually the old Ashley High School, which was the old Gastonia High School, became when I was there Ashbrook High School. So I graduated— I was class president at Ashbrook in 1978.

VC:

I went to Gastonia in '53. So I lived a little ways—a few blocks up. Well, the Lutheran church was down that way, and I lived about two and a half blocks up that street.

EE:

This is the one that's on York Street?

VC:

On York Street.

EE:

How long were you in Gaston County?

VC:

Two years.

EE:

Two years? And then you moved back to this area?

VC:

No, after I left there I went to—

EE:

That's right, you were the vagabond.

VC:

Greene County and Snow Hill [North Carolina] in Greene County.

EE:

That's right in the middle of tobacco farming country, isn't it?

VC:

It is.

EE:

And you know if Snow Hill is your county seat, you don't have a lot of folks in the county.

VC:

Snow Hill is the county seat, and people say, “What's the biggest town in Greene County?” Snow Hill. [chuckling] It had less than a thousand population, but it was the biggest town in Greene County.

EE:

That's right. I went to college with a fellow whose father was the editor of the Greene County newspaper, whatever it was. It wasn't called Snow Hill something, but we had to go look up where is Greene County. [chuckling] That's how I know about Greene County. And then you were there for how long?

VC:

I was there four years. I was the last librarian in Greene County before they joined the regional system, and then I came here and I was the last librarian before they merged libraries. So I came here in '59.

EE:

That's how you met Miss [Charlesanna] Fox?

VC:

No, I met Charlesanna when I was still working in Gastonia. She and Barbara Heafner went to college together, and Charlesanna used to come up to Gastonia to see her. Then when I went to library conventions I met Charlesanna.

EE:

Well, that's good. So you, after Greene County, came back here, and you've been with this system until you retired?

VC:

I was one of the ones that helped get the present library. I was with the county altogether thirty-three years. Because the city librarian and I said, “This is stupid to have two libraries within a town no larger than this.” And two separate libraries. Now, if one of them had been a branch of the other one—

EE:

But don't they still have three school systems in this county? Mooresville has a school system, Statesville—

VC:

No, it only has two now.

EE:

Two. Because Statesville was separate from Iredell [County]. It's a very unusual county in that respect.

VC:

It's only been the two systems, or the Iredell and Statesville together, not more than three or four years.

EE:

Yeah, it's not been very long.

VC:

But Mooresville is still a separate system. Mooresville still has its own libraries.

EE:

System separate.

VC:

Iredell is one of the counties in North Carolina with no branch libraries.

EE:

Okay. Lots of bookmobiles? Is that how you get around that?

VC:

There was a bookmobile, but I tried to get branch libraries years ago.

EE:

Just that the people aren't willing to spend money on it?

VC:

Well, when I first came to Iredell County, see, Iredell County is not a county of readers. Iredell County, the people were taught to work, and that was it. So you had that to combat, and they did not see the necessity for libraries. That was a luxury.

EE:

I think I've experienced that same tragedy being a North Carolina boy and having all my folks working in—I guess they grew up, my mother's side, in Cannon Mills, and my dad's was in Louise Mills in Charlotte. You know, you just got a job, and that was the mentality.

VC:

That was it.

EE:

Well, it sounds like you've found a way to have a richer life. I know the clock is getting on, so I wanted to ask you just a few general questions about your service. What was the hardest thing you think you had to do during your time in the military, either physically or emotionally?

VC:

I never really thought about it. I don't know.

EE:

Thirty-one days on a ship wasn't too pleasant.

VC:

I guess the hardest thing was when I got land sick. [chuckling]

EE:

Land sick?

VC:

See, I did not get seasickness, but I got land sick. After I got to Japan I kept having all the symptoms of seasickness, but it wasn't seasickness. So finally I went on sick call. Before we went over to Japan we were told that if you got sick you would go on sick call. We hadn't been in Japan more than a few days when we had a company meeting in which we were told, “If you get sick and you don't want to go on sick call, that's all right.” Because we were treated as if we were draftees. All women were volunteers, but we were not treated as volunteers. So I went on sick call and described my symptoms and the doctor started laughing. “I don't think it's funny.” He asked me how long I'd been in Japan and I told him. He said, “You have land sickness.” [chuckling]

EE:

I didn't know there was such a thing, but after thirty-one days I guess that makes sense.

VC:

I'd never heard of it before. [chuckling]

EE:

That's funny. Did you ever feel afraid or in physical danger during your time in service?

VC:

No.

EE:

This question says, “What was your most embarrassing moment?” And when I do that, people get real—Can you remember an embarrassing moment, a funny story from your time in service?

VC:

The time that I wound up in the police station in Tokyo.

EE:

Tell me more. [chuckling]

VC:

Well, at that time, anyone in the vehicle was responsible for the errors of the driver. The driver had passed a vehicle on the wrong side, and all the people were—We were going from Tokyo down to Yokohama. So all of us were taken to the police station. And the officer of the Ernie Pyle Theater where I worked, I worked in the library there, and he had to come and bail us out of jail. [chuckling]

EE:

Good gracious. Did you have much chance to interact with the Japanese people while you were there, or did they keep you all pretty—

VC:

No, there was no fraternization. We were not—

EE:

They were very concerned about that, I'm sure.

VC:

Yes.

EE:

As I mentioned, they were going through—I know in Germany they were going through de-Nazification; I guess they were going through a similar process with the Japanese people.

VC:

Now my roommate, she went to Japanese shops, she went to a Japanese hotel, she did all sorts of things, but there was a no-fraternization policy. And you did not eat the native foods.

EE:

So you didn't learn to like sushi when you were in Japan?

VC:

There was no such thing. Down in the Ginza there were a lot of fish that hadn't seen water in a long time. [chuckling] And all you had to do was walk down the Ginza and you smelled fish.

EE:

It may have had the opposite effect on you. You may not want fish after smelling it. Well, what did you do for social life for fun when you were over there?

VC:

I guess I went to the movies, went to concerts.

EE:

Did they still have USO [United Service Associations] shows coming through?

VC:

They had USO shows, but women were not greeted with great enthusiasm. Such as at Valley Forge when entertainment came, if you were a woman you went down and got the refreshments and went back to your ward. You did not stay for the show.

EE:

Because in a group setting like that you'd get jeered or harassed or—?

VC:

The women in charge did not want other women coming, and they let you know that you were not welcome. We did go to the Red Cross and took a few tours. Before we were assigned to duty we took several tours, but you did not go to the Red Cross building any more than you had to because the Red Cross workers did not greet women.

EE:

Do you have some favorite songs or movies? You said you saw some movies, do you have some favorite things that stick out in your mind from that time period?

VC:

The only song that I really would think about is Duty, which is sung to the tune of Colonel Boogie March. But since Duty was the WAC marching song and Duty was, well, the national anthem of the WAC, you'd better be able to recognize it. Since I'm tone deaf, a friend of mine taught me to be able to recognize it by the beat of the drum. If you notice, in the Colonel Boogie March there's drumbeats constantly. And you can learn to recognize a song by those drumbeats.

EE:

So you're not going to favor me with a rendition of it today? [chuckling]

VC:

No.

EE:

All right, I'll go back and check that. Because I wondered if there were songs like that. I'm sure the WACs had their own song just like the WAVES did.

VC:

Yes, Duty.

EE:

Dutywas the big one, okay. Two presidents, Roosevelt and [Harry S.] Truman, I guess, are two folks who—

VC:

Roosevelt had died just before I went in.

EE:

Roosevelt passed away just before? Was that a concern of yours and everybody's? I know everybody was saddened by that. In fact, didn't the funeral train come up through the state with his coffin on the back of the train? I think I remember my mom talking about going to Concord after the—

VC:

Yeah, it did. It went from Warm Springs, Georgia, up through North Carolina. I'm not sure what the line was in North Carolina.

EE:

What about Truman? What did you think of Truman?

VC:

Well, I think the greatest thing he ever did was the integration bit. If the service got nothing more than the integration, I think that that was extremely important.

EE:

That said that you were here to stay, in a sense, didn't it?

VC:

Well, not necessarily the integration of the WACs, but the integration of the army, the races.

EE:

Just from black to white, right. Which actually the army, I guess, led the country in that, didn't it?

VC:

Yes, it did. Friends of mine later on, I was stationed at Fort Monmouth by that time, one of them was from California and I'm not sure where the other one was from, but they had been taught to associate with one another on the post. They made the mistake of going into Petersburg, Virginia, and sitting on the same seat, and they were taken to the police station.

EE:

For violating the local ordinance.

VC:

And a friend of mine—we were stationed together at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey—if we had wanted to eat together in Ocean Port we wouldn't have been served, so we got stuff and made sandwiches there in the barracks.

EE:

I've had a couple people who tell me that they had their first experiences really with African Americans in the military, and it did change the way they viewed them. You see them as people as opposed to just a color. I think nowadays my generation worried about—I see resegregating all the time and nobody seems to be worried about it.

VC:

Well, it was not until Tex was, by that time, was stationed in California, and I was down at Snow Hill. I went out to California and we were finally able to eat in a restaurant together. And she came to Fort Monmouth, and three weeks after she got there she was called into the commanding officer's office and told, “On your shoulders rests whether or not other people of your race will be sent to Fort Monmouth.” She didn't know she was going to be used as a guinea pig.

EE:

So basically, “Don't make any waves, don't venture out in public like this”?

VC:

She had been asking since she went in service to go to photo school. It was not until after the integration came about that she was finally allowed to go to photo school. Well, I told the barrack sergeant off one day and they decided to make me assistant barrack sergeant knowing that she was going on furlough the next day. [chuckling] So the last four weeks I was in the army I was barrack sergeant, and I was supposed to see that she stayed in bed. And she was in bed when they came around to check. She had bed check. She was in bed when they came around to check, but that didn't mean that five minutes later she was in the day room talking to me. And she told me some of the experiences that—As she put it, “When you get back down South you will be doing so and so,” based upon the experiences she had had when she was living in Texas.

EE:

You probably knew she was right.

VC:

Unfortunately, I found out when I came back to North Carolina that she was right. Because she told me a lot of things that people experience in North Carolina.

EE:

What was her name?

VC:

Elizabeth Williams. She's in Los Angeles now.

EE:

Let me ask you just a few because time is getting short. Do you think the military made you more of an independent person than you might have been otherwise? You sounded pretty independent to begin with.

VC:

I think it did. I wasn't aware of it, but I think it did.

EE:

That's probably what irked you about going back to Lenoir-Rhyne, all of a sudden you were treated like you weren't independent.

VC:

And another thing, I think the army taught you—I was taught to do a job, and there was no getting around it. For a day's pay you did the work of two days. [chuckling]

EE:

Right. A lot of folks when they look back, because women were doing jobs that heretofore had only been done by men, whether it's in the military or Rosie the Riveter or whatnot, they think of this time, the forties, as really the beginning of the women's lib[eration] movement. Do you think of yourself that way, a women's libber? Certainly a trailblazer anyway.

VC:

Well, I know that when I first got out I was referred to quite often as a pioneer. And women were pioneers, and are pioneers. But the commanding officer at Fort Des Moines, when he found out he was coming to Fort Des Moines rather than going overseas, he was disgusted with the whole thing. And then he found out that that was the best assignment he'd ever had. [chuckling] He would assign a WAC to do something, thinking it would take her two or three days to do it. In a few hours she would come back and say, “That job is finished, what do you want me to do now?” And he found out that women could do the job.

EE:

Would you counsel a woman nowadays to go into the military?

VC:

Well, I have a niece who keeps insisting she wants to go in service, and I say, “Yes, go ahead. But the minute you talk back to somebody, I hope they'll put you in the guardhouse.” I do think that if a person would go in service they should have the support of their family, which many of us who went in did not have.

EE:

That's something you missed, not having a support system to help you. I know just in December our country for the first time sent women into combat. They had women flying combat missions in Iraq. How do you feel about that? Are there certain jobs in the military that should be off-limits to women?

VC:

I personally do not think so. Because of sanitation purposes and so on, they might need to be; but the job itself, no.

EE:

It gave you a career. What other impact did the military, you think, have on your life, long-term, short-term?

VC:

I think you learn to be more understanding. As I said, Tex taught me about the races. Another friend of mine taught me about religion. I know that she was a Jew from Hartford, Connecticut. She taught me—

EE:

You didn't meet a lot of Jews in North Carolina, did you? [chuckling]

VC:

No. After all, Catholics were just unheard-of, and Jews, that was even more so! Because Rita was extremely understanding, I learned quite a bit about the Jewish religion, about other religions, and I think more understanding than anything else.

EE:

That's a good lesson. It probably served you well, even over the library system here, I would think. We've gone through a lot, the time is drawing short, is there anything that I haven't asked you about that you wanted to add about your time in the military?

VC:

No, the nicest women I ever met in my life I met in service. I know that they were not supposed to be but they were.

EE:

It sounds like you've got some friends there who showed some real caring.

VC:

Yes. A person told me one day, “You're not smoking now, you're not going to learn. If you take a drink, we'll hit you over the head with a bottle.” And they would have, too. I've been to any number of celebrations and had all the drinks lined up in front of me, and one Coke. [chuckling] Because you're not drinking now, you're not going to learn. And they insisted on that.

EE:

That's good.

VC:

No, many people say, “Well, you learn to do those things because people insist.” Well, my friends didn't insist. “You don't do it, you're not going to do it.”

EE:

So you had peer pressure the other way, in a good way, to keep you from having—That's good friends. That's good friends, who valued you and what you stood for. Well, thank you for this. It has been a real pleasure to get to know you and to share this with us in this effort, and we'll get a copy back to you, like I say. And maybe you can show me right quick that other book that you had back here before you get out of here.

VC:

I want to.

[End of the Interview]