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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Muriel Coykendall Kiser, 1999

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Object ID: WV0078.5.001

Description:

Documents Muriel Coykendall Kiser’s childhood; her education at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in the early 1940s; and her service in Europe with the Red Cross during World War II.

Summary:

Kiser talks about her childhood, including the death of her father in France in World War I; moving between Montana, California, and Florida; and her relationship with her mother. Comments about her time at the Woman’s College days focus on her career aspirations as a teach; living with her mother as a day student; and attending dances. Kiser also briefly mentions her pre-war teaching career.

Topics related to Kiser’s World War II service include being unable to meet the weight requirement for the Red Cross; working on the Red Cross fundraising campaign; and being sent to Europe on D-Day. Kiser recalls the Red Cross uniforms; getting lost on route to her second assignment in Europe and landing near the front line; buried bombs in French forests; booking entertainment and trips for the troops; and Glenn Miller performing his final show for her base. She remembers being in London for VE Day; buzz bombs in London; and recruiting local women for dances.

Postwar topics include Kiser’s wishes to teach school in South America; resuming her teaching career in North Carolina; and meeting her husband, Glenn Kiser, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, in 1972.

Creator: Muriel Coykendall Kiser

Biographical Info: Muriel Coykendall Kiser, a North Carolina school teacher, worked in European service clubs with the American Red Cross from 1944 to 1945.

Collection: Muriel Coykendall Kiser 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:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and today is May 18, 1999. And I am told I'm in Salisbury, North Carolina, but I'm looking at the river, so I must be near Salisbury, North Carolina, at the home of Muriel Kiser. And Mrs. Kiser, thank you for letting us come here today and ask you a few questions. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project with the university.

The first question I've got is maybe the hardest, I hope it's the hardest for you, and that's simply: Where were you born and where did you grow up? [chuckling]

MURIEL KISER:

Well, my father and mother were homesteading a ranch in Montana, and my father decided to enlist. He thought it was his duty, and so he enlisted and was sent to New Jersey. Then my mother decided that she did not want to have me born there by herself, so she went back to her mother's in New York state, which was upstate. We stayed there, I guess, until—maybe a year or two, something like that. I was a premature baby, and very delicate, [they] didn't think I was going to make it. So, as soon as she could travel, she went back to Montana and then to California, and so I partly grew up or mostly grew up, I'd say in the West. My father was killed in France. Of course, she couldn't do anything about the ranch, but we stayed with neighbors that adjoined our ranch. And those were very happy days.

EE:

Did you have brothers and sisters?

MK:

No, I was an only child.

EE:

Just you. So you got lots of good attention.

MK:

[chuckling] Yes. My mother never remarried.

EE:

And your maiden name was Coykendall, is that right?

MK:

Yes.

GK:

That's a Dutch name that means—The head of Davidson College was a cousin of this Coykendall. The Dutch name means “keeper of the chicken,” but they pronounce it Kirkendall. And then she was called Coykendall, but the people that know almost always routinely say Kirkendall. That's what he said, and it means “keeper of the chicken.” I'm the chicken. [laughter]

EE:

That means that she rules the roost then. [chuckling]

GK:

She went to school in the South, in North Carolina.

EE:

Well, I was going to say, you grew up out West, out on a ranch in Montana, then you came back. Where did you go to school, mostly in Montana, or a little bit—?

MK:

Well, a little bit in a lot of places. I started school in Miles City, Montana, and then when it got cold my mother took me to California because I couldn't stand the cold weather, and I finished first grade there. And then I came back to New York State and went a while. And the cold winters were too much, so we went to Florida and I went to high school partly down there. Then when it came time to go to college, we had driven down through North Carolina, along the coast, and I decided I liked North Carolina. So we investigated Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina, now UNCG] and Duke [University]. Really, I thought I wanted to go to Duke, but they told me that if I wanted to be a teacher that I should go to Greensboro.

EE:

That's sort of what you had your heart set on?

MK:

So that's what I did.

EE:

So you were somebody who liked school, even though it seems like you went to a lot of different places?

MK:

Yes, I loved school.

EE:

That's great. So you had no inkling or friends or anybody else, word of mouth about WC [Woman's College] as it was, I guess, when you were there?

MK:

No, I don't think I did.

EE:

When did you go, in '39?

MK:

I graduated in '39.

EE:

Right, graduated in '39. So when you graduated, I guess, from high school, was it eleven years or a twelve-year high school in Florida?

MK:

Twelve years.

EE:

Twelve years? Because in North Carolina it was still eleven years then.

MK:

Yes, I know.

EE:

So you were an older freshman then?

MK:

Yes. [chuckling]

EE:

Where were you staying? What dormitory were you in when you were at WC?

MK:

Well, I was a day student for three years. My mother came down and stayed with me. We had an apartment on Walker Avenue.

EE:

What was your mother's name?

MK:

Anna May Mckie was her maiden name.

EE:

Okay, it sounds like you guys were just good friends in addition to being mom and daughter.

MK:

Yes. [chuckling]

EE:

Did you have any favorite subjects when you were there? What do you remember about professors and subjects when you were at WC?

MK:

Well, I was going to say that my last year I stayed in Woman's Dormitory.

EE:

For most folks, a question I ask is: Was going away to school the first time you went away from home? But in your case it seemed like you were all over the country for home, so I don't think moving to a new place was very traumatic for you, or am I wrong?

MK:

No, it wasn't, because I had been in Florida and in the South before, and so it wasn't. And I liked it so much, too.

EE:

Did you have to declare, I guess, as an education major when you first got there?

MK:

I don't know that I did. I probably did because I had planned to be a teacher. I knew when I got through I had to go to work, and that was the only thing you could get a job at for girls.

GK:

You know, back then women became nurses or teachers, or a stenographer.

EE:

That's right.

MK:

We didn't have much choice. [chuckling]

EE:

That's right. Are there professors that stick out in your memory, some folks at the university?

MK:

Yes, if I can think of their names. Right now I can't.

EE:

Did you ever have Harriet Elliott for any classes?

MK:

No, I didn't.

GK:

Was she some of your folks?

EE:

No, she's not, although I've been asked that. She was a dean of the school.

GK:

Any kin to Bill Elliott of Bessemer City?

EE:

Oh, Bill's out in another branch. My folks come through Union County and then Anson County, but—So you were an education undergrad major?

MK:

Major, yes.

EE:

And then you said the last year you lived in Woman's Dorm. Do you remember much about social life on campus? Now I know present company excepted, of course.

MK:

[chuckling] Oh yes, we had wonderful dances every Saturday night. [chuckling] And the girls that had boyfriends would bring them to the dance, and then those that didn't have any would cut, you know. It was wonderful.

GK:

You probably had to be in by ten o'clock then.

EE:

Well, did you?

MK:

Oh yes, we had to—I believe it was eleven anyway.

EE:

Well, I know that the dorms built in that era, they have—Of course, now you know it's a coed university after '63, but some of the dorms that were built at the time I guess you were there, you could tell the distinct parlor areas that are down at the front you know, Gray Dorm and all those of that section of campus. Were you [in] one of the societies there, like the Cornelian or the—?

MK:

Yes. I can't even tell you what that was now. Really, I didn't take any part in it and it didn't mean that much to me. Really, they weren't very important at that time.

EE:

So what did you end up doing after you got your—Well, let me ask you before we do that, most folks in college, whatever age—thirties, forties, fifties—they enjoyed being teenagers and having fun. But when you were in school, there was a lot of things going on in the world. Do you remember being aware of what was going on in Europe with Hitler and things like that?

MK:

Yes, I think I did. I was a political science minor and so I was interested in world things.

EE:

Do you remember, did the Depression affect your family as much as it did others with moving around?

MK:

Well, in a way it did, in a way it didn't, because—My mother didn't work, but she had her insurance from my father's death, as well as a pension. So I guess we had a little more than some people did at that time.

EE:

Well, what did you end up doing after you graduated?

MK:

I stayed here and taught school. I've been here ever since.

EE:

Did you stay in Greensboro? Where did you get a job?

MK:

Well, I started out in Concord [North Carolina], or in Hartsell School in the county, lived in Concord. And then I wanted to get a place in the mountains, or near the mountains. So I had Mr.—Names escape me.

GK:

Phillips?

MK:

Phillips, yeah. Phillips, told him that I'd like to get up there, and so he found me a job in North Wilkesboro. So I stayed there, I guess three years, till the war started, I think. And then I went to Greensboro and I taught from, say, September or August till January, and stopped and went in the Red Cross. But I couldn't get in right away because I didn't weigh enough. [chuckling] They had restrictions. So I went to Miami and just lay around on the beach and ate popcorn and—

GK:

Bananas.

MK:

And bananas, [chuckling] and milk shakes, and finally I gained a little but not as much as they wanted. But anyway, I thought it was time to go back through Atlanta. That was the [Red Cross] headquarters. So I went to the office every day. I got a job, by the way. [chuckling] I was out of money by then, and I got a job with the Red Cross campaign.

EE:

In Atlanta?

MK:

In Atlanta. Got off the bus, went to the headquarters—Oh, before I got there I got a newspaper and looked through the ads to see what I could find to do, and found that the Red Cross needed some people in the campaign headquarters. So I got off the bus, went to the headquarters, they gave me a job and said, “Do you have a place to stay?” And I said, “No.” [chuckling] So they found me a place to stay even.

EE:

That's pretty good.

MK:

So I stayed there, I guess, a couple months till the campaign was over, and then I still wasn't in. I'd go by the office every day and get weighed and say, [chuckling] “Well, I think I weigh enough.” And they wanted me to weigh about 125, and I said, “If I weighed that much I'd be rolling in the aisles.” [chuckling] So, when the Red Cross campaign was over, the Jewish [fundraising] campaign started. So I went and worked for them for just a few weeks. By that time they decided they'd let me go. They'd let me go for training. So then I went to Washington [D.C.] and trained for—I don't know, six weeks, I guess, about that. Then they shipped me out right away to New York.

EE:

All right, now let me fill in some details before you get shipped out.

MK:

I take that back a little bit. I forgot I went to Virginia, to Blackstone, for just about two weeks.

GK:

For some sort of course in Red Cross, wasn't it?

MK:

No, it was just for a little experience, because I'd had the course, but—waiting for a ship, I guess.

EE:

Now, I have discovered through extensive research that you did go to England.

MK:

Yes, right.

EE:

This is from the alumni magazine back in 1940-something.

MK:

He's got that picture I was trying to find.

EE:

But I want to ask you a few things about how you get there, just so I know more fully how the thought process is going on. What were you teaching when you first started out? Were you teaching—

MK:

The primary grades.

EE:

Primary grades, okay. Then, you were in Concord at Hartsell School for what, about a semester or for a whole year?

MK:

A whole year.

EE:

Did your mama come down?

MK:

Eight months. It was eight months.

EE:

That's right, eight months of school. Did your mom come down from Greensboro, or did she stay up in Greensboro?

MK:

Well, she came down from New York State. She had gone back up with her mother, and she came down just for a visit, then went back.

EE:

And then in North Wilkesboro you were teaching primary grades again?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

You were there probably from—I guess that's '40 to '43?

MK:

Yeah, let's see—

EE:

About three years? Were you there when Pearl Harbor Day happened?

GK:

You went over on D-Day, didn't you?

MK:

I went over on D-Day.

EE:

I know, but were you in North Wilkesboro? Do you remember where you were on Pearl Harbor Day?

MK:

Let's see, where was I?

GK:

I think you were. You had to be.

EE:

You said you were teaching about three years at North Wilkesboro, then you were just a short time—

MK:

In Greensboro.

EE:

In Greensboro, waiting to get into the Red Cross.

MK:

Yes.

EE:

From about September of '43 to January of '44. That's when you headed south to Miami to gain some weight and then came back to Atlanta. Does that sound about right?

MK:

Well, D-Day was before that.

EE:

Right. D-Day was June of '44, which is about when you—

MK:

Was it in '44 or '43?

EE:

Forty-four.

MK:

Forty-four? Yeah, I guess I came back. That was in June, wasn't it? I must have been—

EE:

Pearl Harbor Day is the day that they bombed Pearl Harbor. Really, that was the day that everybody said, “Okay, I guess we're in the war now.” It was uncertain up till that time. Do you have any recollection of where you were when you heard about that?

MK:

It had to be either North Wilkesboro or Greensboro, and I'm not sure which it was.

EE:

When you were in Atlanta and you said you were working for their campaign, that was just their regular annual fundraising campaign, I guess?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

And then United Jewish Appeal? Was that the campaign you were with?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

And then you finally gained enough weight, they let you in, you go up to Washington, and then you were down at—you said Blacksburg, Virginia?

MK:

Blacksburg.

EE:

Okay. Well, what made you choose—Of all the different ways that you could have gotten involved, what made you choose the Red Cross over any of the other services or the other ways that women were joining in? Do you remember?

MK:

I guess it just appealed to me, for some reason. I don't know why I chose that. Maybe somebody else was going and I—

GK:

Was Emily in it before you were?

MK:

I didn't know Emily was going, though.

GK:

You didn't even know Emily till you got back.

EE:

Emily Pryor?

MK:

No, Emily McCoy. She lives in Charlotte now.

GK:

She was in school with [unclear].

MK:

Emily Pryor was in my class.

EE:

She was Emily Harris back then. Do you know a woman named Vera Jenkins? It would have been Vera Rackley, I guess, in your class.

MK:

No.

EE:

I talked to her Friday. She was class of '39. But she was a dietitian, so you probably wouldn't—It's a big school, you wouldn't have run into each other.

MK:

I probably knew of her at the time, but she was not particularly a friend or anything.

EE:

When you signed up for the Red Cross, do you remember anything in particular that you wanted to do? Did they tell you the kind of job you were going to do, or was it basically “I'll help however you need help”?

MK:

Well, it was more or less like USO [United Service Organizations], and I guess they told us that. It didn't really matter to me. It was exciting, and I was out for the excitement. [chuckling]

EE:

Now that's the real answer.

GK:

What she was saying, she was in charge of the clubs and entertaining of the troops. One of the people she got in there was Glenn Miller, and he—I think, I'm not sure—

MK:

I didn't get him, honey. I didn't get him.

GK:

Well, they sent him in, but you had charge of the party and so forth.

EE:

Was that something that you immediately stepped in? Was your first job after Blacksburg—You were just there for a couple of weeks, and then you were sent overseas?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

And you were sent over to run one of these clubs or to assist in it, or what were you—?

MK:

I was an assistant first.

EE:

What was your first post as an assistant?

MK:

Boxstead, England.

GK:

That's in Anglia, East Anglia, near Colchester.

EE:

And this was next to an air force base or an army base?

MK:

It was at an air force base. I was with the fighter groups all the time in England. Then when I went to France I was with a light bomber group.

GK:

And in Belgium what were you with?

MK:

The light bomber groups. That was the 9th Air Force over there, and I was with the 8th Air Force in England.

GK:

She was in Belgium, not far from the Battle of the Bulge.

EE:

So you went over in about—it sounds like June of '44. Did you go over before the D-Day invasion, or right after?

MK:

The very day.

EE:

The day of?

MK:

We set sail the very day.

EE:

And I guess it sounds like that every air force base had a Red Cross attachment with it.

MK:

They did.

EE:

Or a service club kind of attachment.

MK:

Or service clubs, okay.

GK:

A service club. She was in charge of the service club.

EE:

I talked with a woman who worked at a stateside service club down at [Fort] Bragg [North Carolina], and she was transferred to a couple of places, and hers was where the enlisted men hung out. Is that the way it was?

MK:

Yes, it was just for enlisted men.

EE:

Just for enlisted men. The officers' club was—?

MK:

They had their own.

EE:

But this was a special thing, and you guys—Now, were your clubs over there like the one she was talking about, that maybe you had a recreation area downstairs and a library upstairs and kind of a place to drink?

MK:

We had Nissen huts over there, [laughter] no upstairs or downstairs.

EE:

No upstairs. You were kind of on the move.

GK:

She was on the move, right in the thick of things.

MK:

Yes, just Nissen huts, and of course that was all on one floor. One would be the kitchen, one—Now, in England the kitchen was taken care of by an English staff, because they had all kinds of rules and regulations.

GK:

The kitchen for the service club, you mean.

MK:

Yes. Rules and regulations from the government, so that we didn't have any idea what they were.

EE:

Well, you had the help and the regulations they took care [of]. But it was only American servicemen at that base?

MK:

Yes. So we had an English girl who was secretary for that purpose.

GK:

And they visited us many times, and we visited them after the war.

EE:

Right. Were you assigned—I guess you had a CO [commanding officer] who was regular military?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

Was he a man or—?

MK:

Well, he was regular military.

GK:

Her boss was the CO of the unit, wasn't he?

EE:

The whole—?

MK:

Well, we were not controlled by the army. We were attached to it, but we had a Red Cross headquarters over there that sent you out and did all the book work and so forth.

EE:

Did you have an official uniform over there?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

It looked like the army uniform, kind of army green?

MK:

No, it was—

GK:

That's what she's going to give the college.

MK:

[chuckling] Yeah. I've got one I'll show you.

EE:

Oh, great.

MK:

Of course, that's what I've got on in that picture.

EE:

Black and white, it's hard to tell what it is. It's dark. Is it a blue?

MK:

No, it's more charcoal. We had blue shirts, light-blue shirts and white shirts that went with them. And then we had summer uniforms. Those were wool uniforms. We had summer ones of seersucker, which we didn't use much because it's so cold over there.

EE:

That's true. You don't realize it till you get over there. Southern Italy is 45 degrees latitude. That's the same latitude as Vermont. [chuckling]

MK:

In the winter, there wasn't much heat. We burned bomb rings in these little round pot-bellied stoves. Of course, that went out after a while. It was cold in the morning.

EE:

How long were you in England before you moved over to France?

MK:

Eight months.

EE:

Eight months? And I think you told you were at Verdun in France?

MK:

No. Well, it was out in the country, near Liege, Belgium, and—When they sent me from England, I wanted to go to France, and so they wouldn't send me until—Well, I guess maybe I didn't apply till after the worst of the war was somewhere else. It was very, very cold in France. Everybody that we got word from said, “Don't come over yet, don't come over yet, because it's so cold and we don't have any heat.” So I went over in April. They left me there three weeks unassigned. I don't know why.

EE:

This would have been April of '45?

MK:

Yes. The day we left, they finally assigned me to a place in Belgium. A girl and I took a jeep up, rode a jeep up, and it snowed. But I got to spend April in Paris, [laughter] most of April. And we drove up, didn't know exactly where we were going, and we kept watching the signs to see if the language changed, you know? And finally it did. We said, “I don't believe we're quite right.” And we found out later we ended up with a bomber group or something up in Belgium—where we didn't intend to go, of course—and they told us the directions then from there and said, “Well, you're about fifty miles from the front line.” [chuckling]

EE:

Yeah, I think you'd better get the map straight.

MK:

So I'm glad we paid attention to the language.

EE:

Well, I guess that's the part of Belgium that's—Is that in the Flemish part of Belgium, Liege, or is it the French there?

MK:

No, it's Flemish.

EE:

And then you were there till the time that you left the Red Cross in December of '45?

MK:

No, we moved around several times, different outfits. One place I had to build from scratch, and about the time we got the Nissen hut up and things going, they shipped us out again. So I never got to use it. But we went back to France, near Liege, or Namours, where I was staying, at Namours, and stayed there a while. One place was real scary, I remember, because they had buried a lot of bombs in the woods, and the woods caught on fire, and off went the bombs. [chuckling] Boom, boom, boom. But we soon left that place.

EE:

Really? Was this the enemy had buried bombs, or the—?

MK:

We had.

EE:

We had, okay. So didn't plan on it catching on fire, okay.

MK:

Didn't plan on that.

EE:

Well, tell me what a typical day was like for you doing that kind of work.

MK:

Well, let me see, in England we got up pretty early and checked out the English staff to see that the place was clean, and the kitchen, to see that everything was going right there. And then there were no GIs in the morning there. Occasionally one would come in in the afternoon and go to the library, but most of our work was at night, so that we planned entertainment for them. Sometimes we planned trips during the day. There were usually two of us on duty.

EE:

Did you work seven-day shifts, did you take a rotating day off, or how did that work?

MK:

I think we worked every day. [chuckling] I don't think we had a day off. I don't remember.

EE:

I think most of the folks who were as close to the line as you, I think that was the case. No time to take a vacation.

MK:

But now in France we served—well, we served a light lunch in England at night, and then in France we just served coffee and doughnuts.

EE:

So England was where you got to help schedule the entertainment, book that as they'd come in for the—

MK:

We had lectures. Sometimes we had lectures.

EE:

Basically were you told what was coming through, or did you have any choice in the matter of who you could book yourself?

MK:

We usually booked ourselves. There was no one to book anything. We did all that.

GK:

Except maybe Glenn Miller. You hadn't done those things like that.

MK:

Well, that was in the hangar, that was not in the club. That was an army thing. Officers, I guess, chose that.

EE:

Did he get there right after you? It must have been not too long after you were there. I think his plane went down at the end of '44 or beginning of '45.

GK:

Right about the time she saw him and got his autograph. We think maybe he took off from there and got lost.

EE:

It was right thereafter?

MK:

It was right after he visited us.

EE:

So your place was the last concert he gave then?

MK:

I think it was.

EE:

Didn't you read in the paper recently where they found some diary of a pilot who unloaded his bombs over the [English] Channel, and they think he may have dropped it on Glenn Miller's plane and that's what happened to it?

GK:

Yeah, I saw that.

MK:

Oh, goodness, I hadn't heard that.

GK:

A lot of stuff comes up in retrospect that—

EE:

To put it together. Well, there was so much going on at that time, it's hard to piece things together.

GK:

Yes. Of course it's been so long too.

EE:

Sure. [What] did your mom think about you joining the military effort and going overseas?

MK:

Well, she didn't much like it, but I always had a mind of my own, so I did it. [chuckling]

EE:

I was going to say, if there's anything your mom probably taught you, it was to be independent, I think by example if nothing else. And I'm sure this experience only made you more so.

MK:

Yeah, I guess it did. I was adventuresome.

EE:

Then in France and right there near Belgium, that's where you ended your service, in December of '45? Do you remember—I guess VE [Victory in Europe] Day, which would have been right here in May? Do you remember what happened that day?

MK:

Yes, I was in London. I had gone to London for something and was upstairs in this hotel, and I heard all this noise outside. Fellows were throwing bags of water out on the cars that went by. [laughter]

EE:

It's the old water balloon stuff, okay. [chuckling] So that was their way of celebrating?

MK:

Yeah.

GK:

And of course London had suffered so much.

MK:

It really did.

GK:

She was buzz-bombed in London, when you first got over there, wasn't it?

MK:

Yes.

GK:

You'd go down six floors and—

MK:

Yes, we'd try to sightsee, and they took us to a shelter about seven stories down, and that's where we slept. They gave us a blanket and a pillow, that's all we had, and these hard old—

GK:

Concrete.

MK:

No, they were just the springs, you know, on cots is what it was, just cots with the springs. You had your blanket, your pillow, and that's it. [chuckling] We slept there I guess about a week before they sent us out on assignment. But then afterwards I got back to London a good bit. But we tried to sightsee. I was just young, you know, didn't know any better, and we'd try to sightsee. We said, “We might never get back to London again.” And so we'd just run around here, take a taxi there, and see all the things, and the buzz bombs would drop right behind us or something. You know, they were just like flies. They'd just drop all around you.

EE:

Did you pay this taxi driver well or something? What kind of taxi driver was out driving in that stuff? [chuckling]

MK:

Well, they were used to it over there. They had gotten used to it by then. They didn't pay much attention. But on the base they had concrete block—they called them shelters. I don't know what good they were. They had no roof or anything over them, just the wall. And at night when the buzz bombs would come over I couldn't sleep, so I'd get up and go out and get in the shelter, you know, and watch them. It was like fireworks. They were like red balls, you'd see them coming over, and then this little motor. They went pretty low, about treetop level. So when the motor cut out, then you knew they were going to fall.

EE:

So they were appropriately named. You could hear the buzz, and as long as you heard the buzz they were going past you. But when you stopped hearing the buzz, then you were in trouble. [chuckling]

MK:

There was like a little red fire [that] came out of the back of them, so you could see them going across the sky. And they went very slowly, they didn't go fast. And then you'd listen for the motor to cut out, and start ducking [chuckling] if they were close.

EE:

Did you ever feel afraid because of that?

MK:

Well, I was afraid at night. I don't know why. The girl in charge of the station, of our club, she wouldn't even get up. She'd sleep right through it. I'd say, “How in the world do you sleep through this?” Well, she'd been over there about a year before, and to me it was kind of new. I hadn't gotten used to it.

EE:

When you moved from England to France, did they move everybody in your group, or they just reassigned you?

MK:

Just individually.

EE:

And your assignments came from a central office in London? Where was the central office that assigned you?

MK:

I expect London. I don't quite remember where they came from.

EE:

You mentioned Glenn Miller, were there some other famous folks that you got to meet?

MK:

No, I don't remember any.

EE:

Did you get to go to any USO shows, or did they bring any to you?

MK:

I think they did more to the army. The air corps, we didn't have too many there, so—

GK:

They didn't have the great big bases that the army had.

MK:

No, they were small bases, very small.

GK:

They were all small, and everybody knew each other.

EE:

Well, now you can confirm this for me. I had a woman who said, “Well, the thing about the—” She was stationed at a base in—I guess southern Italy, and she said that there was only a small number of women there working with her group in the Red Cross. But whenever they had half a dozen women, they said, “Time for a dance.” [laughter] Because they didn't know—

MK:

We had dances about every Saturday night, and what we did was recruit women from the small town nearby. They'd send out buses. [chuckling] The English were always out for a good time, especially during the war, and they just loved to come to the dances. So we'd send a bus out to the town and load it up and then take them back.

EE:

This was something the Red Cross did for the servicemen then, they went out and got the bus?

MK:

Yes. Oh, we probably used an army bus, I guess. [chuckling] An army something.

GK:

Even though she's not considered a veteran now, had she been captured, you would have been considered an officer.

MK:

A captain. Thank goodness I wasn't captured.

EE:

Now, did you tell me that you got a little booklet about that as well, that you might be, or—?

MK:

Yeah, we had information like that.

EE:

So, when that was given out, did you think, “Mom, I hope you don't know about this. You may be right, Mom”? [chuckling]

MK:

No, you know, fear didn't enter my mind too much.

EE:

You ended your service in December of '45. Did you ever think about staying longer with the Red Cross, or was it just time for you to come on back home?

MK:

No, I think I never considered staying.

EE:

Did anybody offer you the chance to stay and work longer with them?

MK:

No, you were just on your own after that. [chuckling]

EE:

Right. You told me about VE Day. Do you remember anything about VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

MK:

Let's see, I kind of mix the two up.

EE:

Because once the war was over in Europe, it wasn't—only in retrospect was it just a few months till the end of the war in Japan, because everybody thought there was going to be an invasion of Japan just like there had been in Europe.

MK:

I kind of think, I'm not quite sure on this, when the bombs blew up it seemed like I was on that base when it happened. I believe I was.

EE:

I guess nobody had any inkling the bombs were going to—

GK:

Were you at Boxstead on VJ Day, too?

MK:

No, I was in France. I remember wanting to go to South America after VJ Day, I guess it was. I had been given a job there teaching right before I entered the service, so I couldn't take it. And I wanted to hitch a ride to South America where the planes went that were going to Japan, I guess. They went there and then—And the army wouldn't let me do it, or something like that. So I came on home. But I was really wanting to hitch a ride to South America. Because before the war I was applying all the time to someplace in South America. I had a double minor in Spanish and political science, and I wanted to go, because that would have been another adventure. [chuckling]

EE:

That's right. Are there some songs or movies that you see or think about that take you back to that time?

MK:

Songs do.

EE:

Any in particular?

MK:

Lili Marleen. [chuckling]

GK:

Along those lines, may I interrupt and say that even before the war she went to the University of Mexico on a bus or driving.

MK:

On a bus.

GK:

On a bus all the way down, by herself, to Mexico City.

EE:

Good gracious! Just to practice that Spanish?

MK:

Yes. [chuckling]

EE:

Yo hablo poquito. [chuckling]

GK:

She had Spanish America on her mind then, and I think she would have sort of liked to got it, being in the service—I mean, what were you in, the State Department, wasn't it?

MK:

Well, that was later.

GK:

Oh, well, that was later after that, though. But anyway, you went down there twice, didn't you, to Mexico?

MK:

Yeah, I went to Mexico twice, two summers.

GK:

She thought nothing of getting on a bus by herself, little old frail gal, you know?

EE:

Right.

GK:

Well, I want to interject one more time then I'll keep my mouth shut. We went to a reunion of the 8th Air Force, what, ten years ago, down in Florida, and so many of the guys remembered her. Every one of them came up to me and said, “Nothing happened to her. She had too many brothers there.” [laughter]

EE:

Well, people do get pretty protective about things. That's great.

GK:

I believe every one of them came up to me. [laughter]

EE:

That's great. Did you come back to North Carolina then after December?

MK:

Yeah, I came back right before Christmas of '45, but it was almost '46.

EE:

Well, back here it says you were in from June of '44 to December of '45, so that would have been about right.

MK:

Eighteen months.

EE:

Right. And did you come back to work in the school system, or what did you end up doing?

MK:

Yeah, I came back and got a job in High Point in January, and then this girl who was a real good friend of mine was being sent back. She was married over there and she wanted a job until her husband could be sent back, so I got her a job at the same place. And then she wasn't there but a few weeks and he wrote and said, “Come on back.” [chuckling] So she went back to England. I guess he wasn't getting out or something. I've forgotten why.

EE:

How long were you in High Point then teaching?

MK:

The rest of that year, from January to June.

EE:

And whereabouts after that?

MK:

Then, let's see, I believe I went back to North Wilkesboro then.

[End Side A—Begin Side B]

EE:

So you taught in Wilkesboro the rest of your career?

MK:

Well, let's see, did I?

GK:

Until the fifties when you went to Chapel Hill for a couple of years.

MK:

Yeah, I taught at Cary, just outside of Chapel Hill for two years. And then I taught near Asheville. But I always come back to North Wilkesboro, it seems like. [chuckling]

EE:

Right. Now, you told me that you met this fellow in '72?

MK:

Yeah, in Blowing Rock [North Carolina].

EE:

That's great.

MK:

I built a log house up there to retire, I thought, eventually. And it was just a block or two from town. It was right near the hospital, between the town and hospital, and we met at a party. [chuckling] That's a partying place up there.

EE:

Oh yes. What's that series of books that woman has come out with about . . .

GK:

Mitford series.

EE:

Mitford, all about Blowing Rock. Well, is that fairly accurate? [chuckling]

MK:

Yes, it is.

GK:

She was a neighbor of ours the last year we lived up there.

EE:

Oh, that's great. Now, Glenn, were you in the service as well?

GK:

Oh yeah.

EE:

In Europe, or where were you stationed?

GK:

I don't think you want to hear all that. [chuckling] I was in all services in all ports. I was in the U.S. Public Health Service, assigned to the Marines, the Public Health Service, the Coast Guard, the Maritime Service, the training service. King's Point, which is the West Point north academy, I was in two of their schools as the chief medical officer.

EE:

It sounds like you guys might have met in a luggage shop. [chuckling]

GK:

I was in almost six years.

EE:

That's great. You had the experience of being right there close to folks who were putting their lives on the line every day. Just a couple months ago we sent a woman into combat for the first time. We had a fighter pilot go into Iraq on a bomber mission. What do you think about that? Are there jobs that women should not be doing in the military?

MK:

I don't think they need to be unless it's an absolute necessity, a shortage of men or something, because it's pretty rough. You have to be awfully strong physically and mentally, I think, to take a bomber out or a fighter.

EE:

Yeah. Well, you saw that kind of up front. Do you think of yourself and the other women who got involved—During the war, this was not only you out there traveling the world, but you had a lot of women who were in the workforce doing jobs that were mainly men's jobs up to that point. Do you think of that time as sort of a pioneer time for women?

MK:

I guess it probably was, for women that were not independent.

GK:

She was independent, though.

MK:

I was always so independent that it didn't make much difference to me. If I wanted to do it, I did it. [chuckling]

EE:

I know that folks who had children in the regular services could display back home a flag in the window with a star on it. Could Red Cross folks do the same thing?

MK:

It seems like Mother did have something in the window, didn't she?

GK:

Yes, I think so.

MK:

Now I can't remember what.

EE:

Because it seems like you were out there doing as much work or more than a lot of those folks who were out there. So your mom got to acknowledge that fact, as well?

MK:

Yes.

EE:

That's good. I'm trying to go back over where you—make sure I've got the English Air Force base where you were is Boxstead? What was the name of that?

MK:

Boxstead, B-o-x-s-t-e-a-d.

EE:

Was that an RAF [Royal Air Force] base before the war?

MK:

I don't think so. It was put up in a field.

EE:

Oh, so this was just for the war?

MK:

Yeah, something just for the war. All of them were that way.

GK:

That's the way the other base, Raydon—

MK:

Yeah, Raydon.

EE:

Did you have a rank within—? You said that if you had been captured you would have been treated as if you were a captain, for purposes I guess of—Did you not have a rank within the Red Cross? Did they not give rank?

MK:

No.

EE:

Everybody was just the same level?

MK:

Right.

EE:

Where were you housed when you were at Boxstead? Were you in a dormitory for women who were working there?

MK:

There were only two of us. We were in a Nissen hut.

EE:

Just by yourself?

MK:

Yes, with the other girl.

EE:

Okay. And what about in France, the same situation?

MK:

Yeah.

GK:

Well, in Belgium they had a house.

MK:

Well, in Belgium we were transferred around right much. Sometimes I was in a Nissen hut, but sometimes they would put us up in a small hotel near the base, as near as possible.

EE:

They, meaning the army would put you up, or the air corps?

MK:

I think the Red Cross did it.

GK:

You said one time the house you stayed at one place in Belgium was such a nice house. The army had confiscated that house.

MK:

Yes, now and then they did it.

GK:

I mean the army. The Red Cross couldn't do that. The army had done that, or the military maybe we should say.

MK:

Yeah, that's right. In Nemours we stayed in a very nice house that belonged to a—

GK:

Nazi sympathizer.

MK:

A sympathizer, yeah. They just threw him out. And he was staying in town somewhere. I don't know where.

GK:

Well, most of the time she was right on the base with the men. I mean, you know, within a Nissen hut.

EE:

Well, this is important because where you are, most of the folks who get as close to the front as you are, there's not a lot of other women there, whether that's with the nurses or with the Red Cross folks.

MK:

That's true.

EE:

And it's usually just the nurses and Red Cross people who get as close as you all—Most of the other women are not near that close to the front.

MK:

No, they were town people or people that, say, did the cooking or the cleaning. They were just local people.

EE:

Well now, when you got to Belgium, did you use that same old doughnut mix and mix up the doughnuts and cook it up? Was that part of your job, too?

MK:

No, we had French help to do that.

EE:

So you guys were basically—

GK:

They were executives [unclear].

MK:

I remember one place we were, it wasn't a Nissen hut, it was a building I guess they had taken over, and I had this old Frenchman who cleaned the floors or cleaned up afterwards, and I kept after him all the time, “Wax the floor, wax the floor.” So [chuckling] finally he learned that much English. He'd laugh and he'd come around and say, “Wax de floor, wax de floor!” [laughter]

EE:

When you think about that time, do you have heroes or heroines that come to your mind?

MK:

Heroines? No.

GK:

Jack Rose [unclear].

MK:

[chuckling] They were friends.

GK:

A fighter pilot and his wife. She put on a reception for them at the Red Lion Inn in Colchester [England], a Red Lion Inn that was built in 1300 and something. We went back there on our honeymoon and saw the same place where she put on a party for the wedding party and so forth. Both of them, the husband and the wife, were both friends of hers. A lot of that type of stuff went on.

EE:

What was his name again?

GK:

Jack Rose. He was a West Pointer.

EE:

He was a pilot in your—?

GK:

He was a pilot when it was still in the army, an army pilot. They didn't have the—The Army Air Force they called it then, you know.

EE:

Right. What did you think of the Roosevelts? Were you at WC when Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt came by?

MK:

No. I remember being in France when he died, and everyone felt bad over there.

EE:

That was so close to the end of that war. I remember my mom talking about it. My mom is from Cabarrus County, and she said she went with her mother, who worked at Cannon Mills, and they went out to the train yard as the train came through with his coffin on the back of it.

MK:

I liked him.

GK:

I just had a friend to die here who was on the congressional committee that looked into the Pearl Harbor situation, and he told me things that I don't like him as well. [chuckling] He says he knew it all the time, and provoked it. But I was sure—most nearly everybody was sorry to see the man die.

EE:

Well, the Japanese had the opportunity to warn, and they chose not to. That was their choice. Their ambassador was sitting right there in Washington as it was getting ready to go off. Did you have any thoughts when Roosevelt passed away about who in the world was Harry Truman? Roosevelt had been president for so long.

GK:

I remember saying that, yes.

MK:

No, I don't think I did. It was just pretty much a mystery, I guess, what was going to happen next.

EE:

There are obviously a lot of things that we could cover today, and I appreciate your [taking] the time to sit down and do this with us. Is there anything about that time over there that we haven't gone over that you want folks to know about?

MK:

It's been so long ago. [chuckling] You forget.

EE:

To me, it's amazing, I go through and I ask folks to remember in chronological order. Nobody remembers in chronological order, they remember about what means the most to them. But it's amazing to me how much folks do remember from sixty years ago. But I think for everybody it was a time that meant a lot to them.

GK:

You know, I was thinking about that, that question you said. I remember seeing another officer [unclear] when Roosevelt died and Truman—I said, “I don't know about Truman. I wonder if he can do it.” And this other officer, he was way up in rank, he said, “He'll be all right, he'll be all right. He's been on that Truman Commission.” But I remember having some doubts about him.

EE:

Was he the head of that commission that looked into Pearl Harbor?

GK:

No, this was the Truman Commission, which had something to do with military. But this other commission that this other man was on [was] the congressional committee that looked into Pearl Harbor. And he said so much of it still has not been published, what they've found.

EE:

Well, yeah, I'm sure, because it's probably still politically sensitive. Look at the kid glove treatment we're giving to the Chinese right now, and goodness knows what's going on with that. I'm going to ask you a question we ask everybody, but I know the answer. The question is: Do you think you contributed to the war effort?

MK:

Well, I hope I did, [chuckling] a little bit anyway.

GK:

About everybody I know did, a lot. Not just a little bit, but a lot.

EE:

Somebody I was watching on TV the other week, and talking about the difference between now and sixty years ago, and he said back during that war everybody was patriotic.

MK:

They sure were.

GK:

Yeah, that's what I was talking about.

EE:

And everybody wanted to do something. And the neat thing is that just about everybody found something to do to contribute in some way, either stateside or overseas.

GK:

That's right.

MK:

I took a class before I went, in sheet metal work or something like that. But I wasn't good at it, so I decided that's not for me.

EE:

So, I was going to say, it wasn't going to be Muriel the Riveter. [laughter]

MK:

I wouldn't want a plane to go down because of my riveting. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, again, thank you for doing this today. Now, you said you had some things you wanted to show me for taking back?

MK:

Well, did you want to take that uniform today?

EE:

I would love to. We don't have a Red Cross uniform. And I've talked with several folks, and the Red Cross and the dietitians frankly have the best stories because they've been the most places and they're really exciting to talk to.

[End of Interview]