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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Martha Redding Mendenhall, 1999

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Object ID: WV0087.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Martha Redding Mendenhall’s experiences at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now University of North Carolina at Greensboro), her service in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II; and her postwar work in communications.

Summary:

Mendenhall recalls imitating Adolf Hitler in Woman’s College (WC) pageants; political awareness among WC students; and memorable WC faculty and staff, including Harriet Elliott and Louise Alexander.

Topics related to her military service include comparing the army and the navy; basic training; duties as a Link Trainer instructor; lasting friendships with other WAVES; and social life and dating in the WAVES.

Other topics include her father’s experiences in the army; working in radio in Whiteville, North Carolina; and producing the first telecourse for college credit in Washington, D.C.

Creator: Martha Redding Mendenhall

Biographical Info: Martha Mendenhall (b. 1920) of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) as a Link Trainer instructor from 1943 until December 1945.

Collection: Martha Redding Mendenhall 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:

This is an interview for the Women's Veterans Historical Project. I'm in Alexandria, Virginia, at the home of Martha Mendenhall, class of '41, WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]. Thank you for letting us come by and say hello and do this right quick, and augment what you've done for us on the videotape. Because this is a different product from the others, I want to go over a few things. You were born, you said, in Asheboro, [North Carolina], then moved to Winston-Salem is that right?

MM:

Well, no. I was a military child for a time. My mother came home from Fort Benjamin Harrison, [Indiana]. We lived first with the Mendenhall grandparents in Greensboro, [North Carolina], then her homeplace, Asheboro. But then she worked in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the Children's Home [United Methodist orphanage], and we lived there for ten years.

EE:

Great. Did you go to Centenary [United Methodist Church, Winston-Salem]?

MM:

Sure did.

EE:

Well, I'm a member of Centenary, so I know a lot of folks who went down there and came up [to church], they took them by the busloads or whatever it was, they walked [back] up to school.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

MM:

I had a sister, Cynthia, who did not go in military service.

EE:

She was younger than you?

MM:

Two years. She was the class of '43.

EE:

I think in those days the Children's Home had a school right there on campus? Or where did you go to school?

MM:

We went to R. J. Reynolds High School.

EE:

So that's where you graduated from. Did you like school? Were you somebody who liked school when you went to school?

MM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

What were your favorite subjects?

MM:

I can't tell you that I had any great favorites. I was not a real great student. C was not a bad grade when I was young.

EE:

That's true. Well, there's such grade inflation now.

MM:

My mother died my freshmen year in college, so I was lucky to have gotten along as well as I did that first year. She died in the spring, after I had started in the fall.

EE:

Had she been ill?

MM:

Oh, she had a dreadful, dreadful malignancy, really horrible stretch. But it was really funny, because there was a Mendenhall Scholarship, so I took math for a major, which was a disaster. I'm not any good at math. [chuckles] But I love literature and I love a lot of things, and so I majored in English.

EE:

When you went in in '37, was it eleven-year high school then still in North Carolina?

MM:

It certainly was.

EE:

Eight-month year.

MM:

Nine months.

EE:

So when you're off to college, it's a big change. How did you pick Woman's College [of the University of North Carolina (WC), now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)] out of—

MM:

Oh, I wanted to go to Duke [University], and Sis loved to chide me. Because of Bill Murray, I wanted to go Duke. He was our hero.

EE:

This is a football player?

MM:

Oh, yes, [and later] the coach of Duke. He was our Children's Home coach, and we had the best team anywhere. But anyway, Duke was too expensive. You could go to Woman's College for three hundred forty dollars, and you got everything, you got tickets to the theater. I mean, you got everything, practically.

EE:

Did they not give the Methodist Home folks a break? Children's Home was run by Methodists back then, wasn't it?

MM:

Well, they might have at Duke. I had a grandfather who was able to send us to college.

EE:

That was nice. So both you and your sister ended up going to school?

MM:

Sure.

EE:

Where did you end up staying in dormitory when you were at WC?

MM:

I was in Gray my freshman year. This was a great experience. Then Kirkland, and that's when we did all the pageants about Hitler. I had this little black moustache here, and I was standing up with the “Heil Hitler” sign, and all the others were down on the floor. We talked and talked and talked about sex and about Hitler. [chuckles]

EE:

[chuckles] Well, let's see. I guess we're—well, I'm glad you mentioned this, because one of the things that's been hard as the dickens for me to find out from women who were at WC is that they all want to say they were apolitical until Pearl Harbor, and I'm glad to hear someone say that mixed in with the college fun, that there was some folks who were aware. But I know some of the administrators there—

MM:

That was my sophomore year when we were really worried about the people in Europe.

EE:

So this is before the Poland invasion? Thirty-nine was when Poland was invaded.

MM:

I went there in the fall of '37, and this was the '38-'39 year. We talked a lot about Europe. I can't remember that anybody was taking European history or current affairs or anything like that. I was a history minor, but I don't think I had a thing like that. We were proud of the role of Dr. [Harriet] Elliott and Miss [Louise] Alexander promoting her national role.

EE:

Did you have Katherine Taylor for any classes?

MM:

No, I didn't. She was a dorm counselor at that time, as I recall.

EE:

I know she had strong political opinions.

MM:

I don't think she was a faculty member until after that for a stretch. I'm not sure when she became a faculty member.

EE:

But y'all did then make fun of folks. Were you active in the—what was it—Adelphia, Cornelia, those kind of societies? I know everybody was assigned one.

MM:

I would not call those things active. They were just merely a way to divide everybody up for a formal dance. I suppose it had been thought of as some kind of—to appease people that were hearing their other friends talk about sororities, but they did not serve that function at all. I was very anti-sorority all my life until I got in grad school at Michigan State. As you may know, the Big Ten are just so mammoth, that one of my cohorts in the communication department had taken on—not a house mother, but—a second house mother with a very few duties, and she invited me over there for dinner. I realized that those girls were able to maintain decent manners, and it meant a lot to have their core group on a campus that large. So I cooled off on being so anti-sorority.

EE:

You saw the function of it on a bigger scale.

MM:

I hadn't thought much of it at [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill, but of course, the year I got my master's at Chapel Hill, there were only about three sororities, and by then I wouldn't have given two hoots for a sorority anyway. And I never was interested in that particularly. At the Children's Home I always thirty sisters, so, you know, I didn't need that.

EE:

So you, your sister and your mom, y'all didn't live in a separate apartment? Y'all lived with the other kids?

MM:

Well, Sis stayed to help Mother. When we were little, we all stayed together in Mother's apartment, but it was attached, of course, to the house she was in charge of. When I got to high school, I went to the dorm, but Sis helped Mother all the time Mother was working.

EE:

What was your major at WC?

MM:

English, that and history, and I took stuff to have a teaching degree.

EE:

As most folks did. Whatever it was, you had to have that education certificate to get out.

We talked about—I can't remember from your tape—where were you when you hear about Pearl Harbor?

MM:

That particular day does not stand in my mind. I'm sure it did. But I was teaching in Wagram, North Carolina, which is a country crossroads town.

EE:

Is it down east?

MM:

And I do not remember people running around like crazy, because I don't—

EE:

There'd sort of been the buildup already, had they not?

MM:

I just don't remember that as a great particular day. I know that everything about it comes back almost as if you remember that day, but I don't actually remember that day all that vividly.

EE:

Do you remember the day that the war became alive for you then? What was the event that—

MM:

No, no, everything's not based on cataclysmic—same thing as the church. Have you had any great one experience?

EE:

No “born-again” experience for the war?

MM:

I mean, you do things all your life. They're gradual. That's my experience.

EE:

Your mom had passed away when you were in school. Did you have any opposition from family and friends and concerns when you joined the WAVES?

MM:

Well, my grandpop was the patriarch of our family, the Reddings—that's my middle name—in Asheboro. He said it was all right if I didn't ask to go overseas.

EE:

He was trying to be nice and give you permission not to volunteer, because he really didn't want you to go?

MM:

Well, I don't know whether he didn't really want me to go. See, I had three uncles, and the youngest one was just three or four years older than I, and he had already gone in the quartermaster corps. He had been at State College. So it wasn't entirely an alien thing that somebody in the family would get in the military service. I was surprised when I found in my scrapbook that I was the first WAVE from Asheboro. I don't know whether I was the first military person or not, because I had not been to high school in Asheboro, and I only spent college summers there. My major friends there were old family friends. There were three of us from there at Woman's College then.

EE:

What did your grandfather do at Asheboro? He had a farm?

MM:

Grandaddy, papa had a flour mill.

EE:

When you went in with the WAVES, did you go in with anybody else from the college or were you going off totally by yourself?

MM:

Not at all. My buddy, Laura Kline and I became fast friends because we became roommates when we both took a job in Wagram, North Carolina. In 1941, you were so darn insecure that you, at least we did, took the first job offered. It was in this boonies town, in a certain respect, although they thought they were awfully blue-blood. If you were a Baptist or a Presbyterian there, you were considered really it. If you weren't in a certain group of families, you weren't considered too it, although they accepted teachers.

Laura had gotten excited about going in the WAACs [Woman's Army Auxiliary Corps] and left. I thought it was not the thing to do, to leave mid-year, because in those days, you thought you'd been fired if you left even after the first year. But anyway, our second year there, in Wagram, she left mid-year to go to the WAACs, and I don't know who or which, but everybody was considering. You didn't feel you were in on it unless you had a job related to the war. If you graduated '41, that was the thing to do, was to get in the war effort.

EE:

Well, about '43, I think there was getting to be less stigma. Forty-two was kind of a transition year, where they were introducing the idea of women. I know there was the slur campaign against the WAACs, what would it mean for your morals as a woman to go join the military.

MM:

I wasn't aware of that.

EE:

It was a big one.

MM:

Well, I know that we thought that the army might be a little more—you know, you might get into more situations that might not be too pleasant if you were in the army just because it was larger, I think, and because they had such dreadful uniforms. Everybody wanted to wear our uniform; it was gorgeous.

EE:

That's what I've heard.

MM:

Yes, that's right. The uniform had a lot to do with it, because my uncle was in the army. My daddy had been in the army. He was heartbroken because he couldn't get back in the service for the Second World War. He'd been to France in the First World War. Asheboro had this National Guard that went to the Mexican border and then straight to France, and all that stuff, and Daddy was sent to OCS [Officer Candidate School], made captain in no time at all. There was a whole bunch of friends there that did that, my Mother and Daddy's crowd. But it was really funny, not only that, the navy very soon got a good reputation for placing you where you were talented.

EE:

That's one thing, the navy, you asked to do something and a lot of times they let you do it.

MM:

Well, it wasn't that so much as that they didn't give me my first choice, but they were really wise. My first choice was to be a control tower operator. I was kind of heartbroken when I didn't get to go to officers' training school. Mildred Millsaps from Asheboro got to go to that. I think she'd been a home economics major. But English majors were a dime a dozen. But later I was really glad I hadn't, because our choice of jobs to do were so much more—

EE:

A lot more diverse, a lot more interesting?

MM:

Much better. I mean, a large percent of women in the officers' training had to come right out and be assistant to assistant commissary officer or some pitsy job, really. But anyway, a Link Trainer [flight simulator] instructor was right for me. It really was. I had not been the world's greatest teacher at Wagram, North Carolina, but I come from a long line of teachers, and my talents lie in that sort of thing.

EE:

That was a separate—I know that they kind of divvied off folks in the WAVES, you had your supply officers, you had your cooks and bakers. Was there a special school then for Link training officers?

MM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Did you have a special insignia?

MM:

Oh, yes, you had a specialist T little badge on you as a noncommissioned officer. It was just a T; other people have a quill and scroll or whatever it is for yeoman and other things. But we were specialists third class when we graduated from Atlanta. That was a great school, for ten weeks, very concentrated.

EE:

Were your instructors men or women?

MM:

I think both. I'm not real sure. They've got that question on there, whether you were discriminated against because you were a woman. We didn't feel discriminated against because we were women. But, I mean, maybe some of the groups did.

EE:

Right. Well, if you're busy and if you've got a job that you're training for specifically, I think there's less opportunity for such business. I know where that question sometimes comes up is, say, if folks had male drill instructors, they somehow thought they were getting an extra runaround than—

MM:

Well, now back to the very basic, you had three weeks of basic training up at Hunter College [New York]. Drill itself is just anti-feminine. It nearly killed us to wear those—now kids like that kind of shoes, what we considered old lady shoes that they made us wear, and your hair had to not touch your collar, all that stuff.

EE:

Did they have that expression, “My mother wore army boots,” back then?

MM:

I never heard that one. [chuckles] Anyway, we did not like drilling, and the only way I got through that school was to just be a buffoon. That was really a lot of fun, our whole company. Somebody named Bob Hawke came. They used to send people out of the media to entertain the troops. Anyway, Bob Hawke, and, of course, he sold Camel cigarettes. See, when I was young, Camel—oh, it's breaking my heart, it has absolutely broken my heart what's happening to the Reynolds Tobacco Company, because the Children's Home benefited from the largesse of Reynolds Tobacco Company executives all the time.

EE:

I'll say it did.

MM:

And I do not believe what that book I read said that they knew it in the thirties. I don't believe it. I do not believe Mr. James A. Gray knew. He was a member of our church. I do not believe that he knew any shenanigans that were going on the way they did later. Anyway, Bob Hawke sold in the area: he was a hawker of Camels. So anyway, he came to have one of his shows at our Hunter College campus. So every company was to send somebody up to ask a question. So naturally since I've been a funny person, I was a real tomboy for a long time. Anyway, they pushed me up and he asked what was the difference in a profile and silhouette. Well, I don't know, but anyway, I said something, so he gave me all this carton, like this, of cigarettes. It was enough for every single girl in the company to have a pack, the whole company.

EE:

Back then most of them smoked, too, didn't they?

MM:

Well, I didn't smoke. My mother thought it made you smell like a man and she didn't want me to smoke, so I would not smoke. But some girls would put a cigarette on a bobby pin and stick their head out the window and try it.

EE:

Cigarette holder. At the Link school in Atlanta, what was the dorm like there? Were y'all still in barracks?

MM:

Every dorm wherever you were. In Hunter, they rented old, old apartments, but every room was totally cleaned out and it had bunks in it. Every room. There were four to six bunks in a room, according to the size. Then in Atlanta you had long barracks that have been just thrown up, and the whole floor was—they made them in little groups of six. Same thing at Corpus Christi [Texas], Pensacola [Florida], when we got down there to work. Same thing, huge, long, narrow barracks and they bunk, bunk, bunk, six gals, each little sort of cubicle with your little closet to hold your clothes backed up in one side.

EE:

Was Pensacola a base that was started just for the war?

MM:

Oh, no. No, it's an old navy base. Our particular field, Whiting Field, fifty miles out, where we were sent in the true boonies of the red clay of west Florida, was, I'm sure, a war installation. They hadn't even had hot water but about three weeks when we arrived, and everybody's shirts looked sort of red. But it was just thrown up near a place called Milton, Florida.

EE:

Your rank was a specialist T?

MM:

That's right.

EE:

Your immediate CO [commanding officer] when you were at Whiting Field, was that a man or a woman?

MM:

I don't know who was immediate. We had flights and you went in to teach, and there were two hundred. I think that there were two different big hangars full of two hundred; I'm not real sure whether it was one hundred and one hundred or two hundred and two hundred, but there were two big hangars. You were not allowed to listen to the radio signal too long. It was not considered good for you, over four hours, so your schedule was four hours on, two off, then two on, or vice versa. That protected you against hearing sound for six hours solid. Wish kids thought about that now. Our periods were fifty minutes.

EE:

They were concerned about ear damage as opposed to attention fatigue.

MM:

I thought that that was the reason the schedule was made that way. When you explain a flight pattern to somebody for about five or ten minutes, then he practices. This whole thing was a fifty-minute period. You get somebody up in the little trainer, and he flies it. On your desk is this little thing that crawls and shows him where he's flown. It's not too hard to stay attentive, to give him the little signals at the right moment. I didn't think anybody had trouble with attention, not at that age. [chuckles] I think it's when you get older that happens.

EE:

Most of the woman who were doing this work were about your age then?

MM:

Oh, all of them, I would say.

EE:

There were some older.

MM:

Well, that's later. Airlines were the same way in that day. Nobody had an airline associates job that wasn't young.

EE:

It wasn't a career, right. Right. The industry just getting going. I know that before the war, I guess [Franklin D.] Roosevelt had started training civilian pilots. There was some program to train civilian pilots, basically to get them ready to do wartime stuff. Was there ever a problem of a shortage of people coming through, or were they able to bring guys in pretty quickly?

MM:

You mean men cadets?

EE:

Yes.

MM:

Everybody wanted to be a pilot. They didn't have any trouble getting people: they ate carrots to improve their eyes; they stretched to get another half inch. I mean, there was no problem of getting people to be navy cadets. At least I don't think so. I wasn't dealing with the recruitments or anything like that. All that jazz on that questionnaire about recruiting question—none of that. I mean, it's personal influence. I mean, my communication studies are now from the early sixties, and I kept up very perfunctorily since then, but there is nothing in any media like personal influence.

EE:

Well, that's how you get a job normally. You know somebody.

MM:

If you respect someone who thinks it's great, you'll try it.

EE:

We've only had one really nasty letter come back from somebody when we asked about helping us out with this thing, and it was from a nurse who said, “You know, the problem with the WAVES and the WACs is all they really were in there for was to get a man. It was us army nurses that did all of the work.”

MM:

Well, they did have it rough, but I'll tell you one place that certainly honors the nurses and that's the Women's Memorial [Women in Military Service for American Memorial (WIMSA)]. I heard nurses more the day that we dedicated the Women's Memorial than they ever were heard about in the war days. It's true. They worked terribly hard. It's just like the Red Cross. I'm on the Red Cross Board here in Alexandria now, and these places like Kosovo and everywhere else, it's just overwhelming the Red Cross. It was an overwhelmingly bad job for the nurses when people got really badly hurt.

EE:

I don't think I realized the extent—because we haven't been in total war in my lifetime—but the extent to which Red Cross folks were all over the place and the things they did.

MM:

Right.

EE:

How long were you at Whiting?

MM:

Actually, really only about a full year of work, I think it was. That's where I made my lifetime friends. We still have a round-robin and we still keep up with each other. Only one out of the core six has died, and we've had three reunions. I took them to Nags Head [North Carolina] one time years ago.

EE:

Most of them from the Southeast or from all over?

MM:

No, no. One's West Coast, one's St. Louis, one in Memphis, one in Newport News, [Virginia], and the other one was from Pennsylvania. I mean, in her married life she was from Pennsylvania. Her daughter and I are close friends now. She lives forty miles away, and we're real dear friends. I'm the godmother of her son.

EE:

That's great.

MM:

We just really love each other, that little group. I think it's almost better than—well, I know it's better than my college group. My closest college friend has died, Vallie Anderson Brown. She was in the military, but she was a physical therapist.

EE:

Physical therapist? Army physical therapist, they were like army dietitians, they went in as trained.

MM:

She's the only friend I had at Woman's College who got a D on practice teaching. A lot of us didn't do too well. [chuckles] Anyway, she didn't ever teach. She was going to be a physical therapist and they had a wonderful woman there who was interested in that field in the phys[ical] ed[ucation] department. She was the most un-phys ed type, Vallie was. Anyway, she and I were in archery club for a stretch, and we were in plays and realized we couldn't get through college if we continued to try to be in plays. All they had was flunkie work and bit parts. But she and I were very, very dear friends, and she ended living in Charlotte the longest stretch. But these people from the navy, we just think the world of each other. Sadly, the one husband has died last year. I went when they brought his ashes up to Arlington Cemetery.

EE:

Were you there through '44 then, or did you leave just before the end of '44, from Whiting?

MM:

No, I was sent—that's the reason it's such a miracle that we've stayed close, because the rest of them stayed in Pensacola. I was sent to Celestial Link Training School up at Quonset Point Port, Rhode Island, and then I didn't come back to Pensacola. We had silos for celestial navigation and there were some at Pensacola, but I was sent to Robb Field, and there I spent most of my time on the swim team. I've always loved swimming.

EE:

So you were there in Rhode Island when Roosevelt passed away?

MM:

I don't remember that.

EE:

That wasn't a clear memory for you? That was in April of '45.

MM:

I know everybody was heartbroken. Have you been to the Roosevelt Memorial?

EE:

No, that's something I do want to see. You said this was a happy time. What was the best thing about being in the service?

MM:

It was just a ball. You just had such great friends. The guys were real exciting. They were all on their p's and q's, because their wings were just dangling there in front of them. Instrument stage was all they had to go through. [chuckles]

EE:

You held the key. [chuckles]

MM:

No, we didn't hold that key, I mean, unless they really goofed on ours. This little navigational training was part of the instrument stage training at Pensacola.

EE:

Did you have a bomber jacket?

MM:

No, I never did get a jacket. I got some nice dog tags. [chuckles]

EE:

Did you want a bomber jacket?

MM:

No, I want a bomber jacket now, wouldn't mind having one, but that wasn't what we were looking for. You know how you want somebody's Phi Beta Kappa key or something like that?

EE:

Yes.

MM:

You shared dog tags, most of us did. See, we weren't supposed to date. Well, they had two or three things. You weren't supposed to date ensigns or commissioned officers on the base. You had only every eighth day off, and you went on that rotation pattern of every eighth day free. You'd go on this old horrible like a school bus at fifty miles in from Whiting to Pensacola. Pensacola Beach was just lovely. There'd be a place, this old one hotel, it was really funny, because they had rooms where about five or six of us could sleep in single beds. They had all these house detectives watching you. I mean, we took such good care of each other, we were not in the slightest danger. You didn't hanky-pank in those days. It wasn't done.

Anyhow, it was really funny. So usually one person would meet somebody nice on that same pattern, but, see, they were gone so fast. I think they were there three months. And by the time you got to know anybody, at least one month or two were gone. Three of us that were closest and had the same thing, and there was another bunch of these friends I was telling you about, we stayed close to, we would go off on holidays like to Mobile, [Alabama], or New Orleans, or something like that. But if one started dating a guy, sometimes he'd just bring a couple of buddies or that kind of thing.

There was this Baptist preacher who was there, a chaplain, and he took us on Sunday nights in his same old school bus, to the Milton, Florida, Baptist Church. I had never heard people testify and all that kind of stuff before. Donna, one of my closest friends, was dating an instructor. He was there for a stretch. I actually dated one of his buddies from Maine who was a Marine instructor. But anyhow, we would go over there to this church, because it gave us another time to be dating these friends. Every Sunday night we'd go and we just put up with whatever the Baptists did, because we liked to be out with everybody.

I learned to jump a trampoline. We went to almost all the movies. As soon as the movie started, the cadets would come over and sit with us. You couldn't flagrantly walk in. You could take a picnic outside the base. The only place you had to get a picnic was that awful stuff they had in the mess hall. It usually rained if you did that. But anyway, it was something. They wouldn't let you teach the same cadet twice, just to prevent any alliances.

EE:

When did you get out of the service?

MM:

Forty-five. December of '45.

EE:

You had no compelling interest to stay in the military?

MM:

No, I didn't.

EE:

How did you meet your husband?

MM:

I didn't ever have a husband.

EE:

Oh, I had Redding down here. Oh, that's your mama's maiden name.

MM:

Right.

EE:

Okay. So you went back and you said, “I'm going to go back to school”?

MM:

Not immediately. I worked. It wasn't a good time to even go back to teaching, and I needed to go back to school. The GI Bill was available to get a master's, but it wasn't a good time when I got out in December for either one of those. So I stayed and worked for a stretch as a civilian.

EE:

At the base?

MM:

Yes. Well, I had to actually change from being a Celestial Link Trainer instructor—this was in Corpus Christi, Texas—to being back to the radio navigational Links, small Links.

EE:

Then you had to move off the base, too, I assume.

MM:

Oh, that was horrible. Couldn't find housing.

EE:

Everybody was coming back, so nobody could find housing.

MM:

Well, they never had enough housing in Corpus Christi, Texas, not for everything that was going on near there.

EE:

You chose Chapel Hill, of all the places in the world, to study for your master's.

MM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Or did they chose you?

MM:

No, I chose it. They were very left-handed. They made me go a whole summer to prove I could do it, because I didn't have very good grades in college.

EE:

What was your master's in?

MM:

English and education.

EE:

And doctorate at Michigan State [University]?

MM:

I don't have a doctorate. I went there to get one in communication. I had gotten interested in educational television, and I was really challenged by that. I had started in producing around town. I did a little bit of production work for a few sort of starting shows at the Greater Washington TV Association, and I helped them some as a volunteer. Then we had a marvelous producers' group with the Council of Churches, National Capitol area, so about 1954, see, I'd come up here to teach, because I'd gone into radio down in the boonies. I went to Chapel Hill and talked it over with Earl—oh, that wonderful man at the radio school. Why can't I say his name?

EE:

It wasn't [Jim] Shoemaker, was it?

MM:

No.

EE:

Journalism.

MM:

Wynn. Isn't it Earl Wynn?

EE:

Okay.

MM:

Anyhow, he said, “Well, you've got to learn the field of radio. It's going the same route as radio, and we don't have any television courses at Carolina here, but you can either take courses here at Carolina or you can go and work and learn the field.” He told me about the job. And I had already spent every dime I had going to summer school that year, and so I went to work. I mean, this was the true boonies, Whiteville, North Carolina. [chuckles]

EE:

Gosh, it still is.

MM:

Well, they just had some really great people from there. But anyhow, I had a great time learning radio in Whiteville, North Carolina, [at TV station] WENC for two years.

EE:

So you moved up here, you didn't know anybody, had no connections personally?

MM:

No. No, I moved up here because of my dear friend from Woman's College, who I knew well when I was at Carolina for my master's degree, Martha Register. She had many, many more military experiences than most of us, both she and Laura Kline were army, and they're both dead. Martha had come up here to teach and she wrote me, she said, “Well, why don't you just”—because I wasn't going to get into educational television from these boonies radio. I did work for a little tiny, a short time, in Wilmington, but that was because a station owner wanted—his business went belly-up and he wanted my job for his daughter, and the manager felt so rotten that he got me the job in Wilmington. [chuckles] But none of these were going to lead into educational television. So Martha said, “Well, why don't you just come up here and teach and make $1,000 a year better than North Carolina.” So I did. Both of those jobs, that radio job in Whiteville and that one up here, I was given those jobs sight unseen on the telephone late at night.

EE:

Great.

MM:

I probably was unsmart, because I did get an offer of a job in Greensboro, but they were having labor problems. In those days I thought that if anybody was having labor problems, there was something wrong with management, and so I wouldn't take it. My name would have been very good in Greensboro, you know. It might have eventually led to educational television.

Anyway, at the end of that summer that was a disaster to take seventh grade. End of that year I decided, no, and I didn't care if I never taught another day, and I didn't for thirteen years. I did not. So I got a job just for eating-money at the Academy of Sciences, and started helping as a volunteer production assistant and then producer. In 1958 I did something important, I started the first telecourse for college credit in Washington.

But in those days they had to give religion a certain amount of time. So after two years of push-pull and doing other little shows all along the way, I got this, and to beat was a wonderful professor from American University [Washington, D.C.]. He was excellent. It was just clearly successful from the very beginning. We had five hundred people show up for the first field trip at the [Washington National] Cathedral.

EE:

How long was the course, six weeks?

MM:

September through May. Just on Saturday morning, one hour on Saturday morning. I'd had to show AU [American University] in a trial run of that, of six or more, with another minister teaching it. Thank goodness I didn't have him, because he wouldn't organize—in those days you didn't have any graphics. You had to get it all printed on out on big cards. It was live. Of course, you didn't have tape then. Every Saturday morning. But luckily the Academy was sitting right there on Constitution Avenue, and I could run all over town and pick up all these beautiful art pieces and stuff that I had to add to it. Ed was very good about having his outlines early for us to get it visualized well. It was excellent.

EE:

How long did you end up working in that?

MM:

Two or three years, and then I went to Michigan State. I was trying to get a PhD. I didn't ever want to be talent, not after my first 1954 experience at Michigan State. First ETV [educational television] workshop there was. See, the “cow colleges,” land grants, they had a step ahead of everybody else in communication, by far. If we'd have had any sense, we would have transferred that. When all the black people flooded up to the cities, we should have transferred that program to help them in their—not to cram in housing, to know how to live in a different situation, learn to do with what you have and make the best. It was just crazy that we didn't do it, because agricultural leaders were already ahead in that. Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, all them were way steps ahead of anybody on the East Coast, and we'd been looking down on them. It was stupid.

But anyway, I got started knowing by that workshop that I would prefer not to be talent on the air. I wanted things to be taught well on the air, but I'm very happy as a producer. That was against my nature to have myself on that video. I like to do voice-over, but I don't do on-the-TV-talent.

EE:

There's a satisfaction in putting it together and seeing it come about that you don't have to see yourself. You just love to see the product.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Well, I know you want to swim, and the main thing I wanted to do was to fill in a few things about how you got into the service, and what happened after, and that's sort of there. Thank you, again.

[End of Interview]