1. LIBRARY CATALOG
  2. DATABASES
  3. JOURNAL A-Z List
  4. SUBJECT GUIDES
  5. LIBRARY SERVICES

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ruth White, 1999

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: WV0089.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Ruth Matthews White’s experiences at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro); her service in the Philippines and Japan with the Red Cross during World War II; and her life after resigning from the Red Cross.

Summary:

Pre-war topics include working at Belk’s Department Store in Greensboro; involvement in campus activities at the Woman’s College (WC); political awareness at WC; dances at WC for men from the nearby Overseas Replacement Depot; rationing; starting a marching group at WC; and hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She also talks about her living arrangements, teaching duties, and social life in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the early 1940s.

White recalls joining the Red Cross with her roommate; her admiration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt; Red Cross training; and the social life on the USS Marine Shark. Topics related to her service in the Philippines include being housed with recently-released female prisoners of war, including nuns and Eskimos; rudimentary showers and toilets; club entertainment; volunteering to go to Okinawa; and collaboration between the military and the Red Cross.

Topics related to Okinawa include camping out until Quonset huts were built; the desolation of the island; security precautions; nutritional deficiencies; geography and landscape of Okinawa; club entertainment, including United Service Organization shows and bingo; visiting Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan; and almost dying from pneumonia.

Other topics include starting Camp Awaniko with a friend after leaving the Red Cross and White’s opinion of women in military combat positions.

Creator: Ruth Matthews White

Biographical Info: Ruth Matthews White (d. 2003) of Greensboro, North Carolina, served in the Red Cross from 1945 to 1947.

Collection: Ruth White 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:

[Note: Ruth White's roommate, Nancy Wrenn, joins the interview at the end]

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott and today is June 2, 1999. I'm here at the home today of Ruth Matthews White. Thank you, Ms. White, for having us here. This is going to be an interview for the Women's Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG].

The address says Asheville, although the woods tell me we're not really in Asheville proper. Maybe the mailing address is Asheville. But this is a pretty place out here.

Got a few questions to ask you today, Ms. White. The first one hopefully isn't the hardest. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

RW:

I grew up in Greensboro and went to Greensboro High School, which is now Grimsley High School. Graduated from there. I didn't do very well in high school.

EE:

When did you graduate, '39?

RW:

Thirty-nine, correct.

EE:

Was it an eleven-year high school then?

RW:

It was eleven, eleven years, yes. I just sort of played most of the time.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters growing up?

RW:

Yes, I had two sisters and a brother, and the two sisters went to UNCG [then the Woman's College (WC) of the University of North Carolina]. They were younger than I. I think they're both graduates of UNCG.

EE:

What's their name?

RW:

Laura White Wolfe and Pauline “Polly” White Dodson.

EE:

You had an older brother?

RW:

Younger brother. I'm the oldest. His name was Richard Paul White.

EE:

What did your folks do?

RW:

My father was with Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company. He started with them in 1920. He had been a school principal and went with Julian Price when they started the Jefferson Standard Company, and he stayed with them for fifty years. He ended up as escrow officer for them.

EE:

What about your mom?

RW:

She stayed at home. Back then most women didn't work.

EE:

You were not the trailblazing star in high school you said.

RW:

No, I was not. I was not. My father said, “You don't have to go to college, I'll get you a job and you can work.”

I said, “Well, that'd be good.”

So he got me a job at Belk's Department Store. He had a good friend who ran Belk's. Well, I worked down there on Christmas Eve selling toys, and I cried, I was so miserable. I thought to myself, “I'll never do this again in my whole life.” But that taught me to straighten up right fast.

So I had a Scout leader who said, “You should major in physical education.” I'd never even heard of physical education, because we didn't have it. So I said, “Well, I'll do anything you tell me to do.”[chuckles] So I entered WC and signed up to major in physical education, not knowing one thing about it. I'd never even seen a basketball game. Isn't that strange?

EE:

WC you picked out of all the possible places, because it was there close by?

RW:

It was close by, that's right. I lived at home the first year. I lived on West Bessemer Avenue and it was a long way to the college. We only had one car, and so my daddy had to either let me have the car, or take me, or I had to thumb. [chuckles] Mostly he let me have the car. It made a real imposition on everybody. So after the first year they decided it would be better for me to stay on campus—and I did, too, because I had so much extra work in the afternoons and at night over there.

EE:

My guess is you probably were doing a lot of activities outside of classes.

RW:

We really were. A lot of athletics.

EE:

Did you have to participate in a certain number of sports?

RW:

Yes, you did. You did. Then eventually you had to officiate at like hockey games and soccer games and things like that. So you had to be there, and it just was not a real good thing to be a town student. Plus, I loved being there, and I fitted real well in there. Found my little niche.

EE:

What was the dorm that you stayed in when you were there?

RW:

I stayed in Woman's, which is no longer there. It was a small dorm, there's a big amphitheater there now where it was, right near the cafeteria. But it was a real good dorm.

EE:

So you did a lot of things on the hall and had good experiences and stuff.

RW:

Oh, we had good fun. I got into the politics and ran for recreation, head of the recreation business, and ended up being the head of that, the Recreation Association. I was active in the Y[WCA, Young Women's Christian Association].

EE:

Is there a Y right there on campus?

RW:

Yes, they had a Y group, and I ended up also working on the annual.

EE:

So you got plugged in a lot more than most town students I've talked to.

RW:

Yes. Well, I was not a town student then, I was living on the campus, so I got elected to Who's Who and finally made the dean's list the last two years and that was really something after I'd almost—well, I'd flunked two subjects in high school. But I really found what I liked to do and I did it, and did well.

EE:

Good. Do you remember any professors or any subjects in particular, either as pleasure or pain?

RW:

Well, we had a lot of good professors there, really sharp, sharp professors. One of the hardest teachers we had was Maude Williams, who was a real stickler for grades. She used to give us a test every Monday, thirteen questions, and if you answered ten of them that was fine. But it was really hard and everybody thought it was just awful to have take that anatomy and physiology course with her. But boy, she really taught it to us. I mean, we really had to learn.

EE:

Did they make all PE [physical education] folks take the required education classes to be a teacher?

RW:

Oh, sure. Yes.

EE:

So that was what you were thinking you were going to be doing with this afterward?

RW:

Yes, with this. Well, that's what I did for two years after I graduated.

EE:

You graduated in '43.

RW:

Forty-three.

EE:

Most folks at any time in history, if you're college-age or you're in school, you're not really concerned about the world. And yet the time you're in school there are major changes in the world. Following your freshmen year the war starts.

RW:

That's right.

EE:

How politically aware were you and your classmates?

RW:

We were real politically aware and everybody we knew, just about all the men we knew, boys, had gone overseas or gone into the service. So there weren't any local boys. They had the ORD there—which was the Overseas Replacement Depot—and we used to have dances with those fellows, and they'd come out by truckloads to the campus.

EE:

They usually weren't there that long, were they?

RW:

No, they weren't, so you didn't get involved with them. You just had somebody to have a dance with. That was about it. But no, we were really—we really knew what was going on and listened to the news. The war effort was so intense. Everybody worked towards that war effort.

EE:

I assume you all had to deal with rationing and things like that up there, too.

RW:

Oh, sure. Yes.

EE:

How did that work?

RW:

Gasoline rationing, tire rationing, sugar rationing, all those things. We even had a group of girls who would march. I got a Major Minnette, who had been a neighbor of ours and he was retired, and he came over and taught us to march military style. There were about, I guess, a hundred girls in the marching group, and we just did it to be ready to march, which we thought was—strange, it sounds strange right now.

EE:

So it was sort of like ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] without being ROTC.

RW:

That's right, it was ROTC without it, and that's all we did. We learned to march and to obey orders—like “turn right,” “turn left,” or whatever. I've forgotten what the commands were, but anyway it was a—

EE:

See, I didn't know that. That may explain why so many WC girls started out when they went to basic that they were platoon leaders and stuff.

RW:

That's right, they were.

EE:

They knew how to march.

RW:

Well, they also looked for leaders. Most of them were leaders and they'd been taught leadership and we certainly did. Because if you're going to be a teacher, you have to be a leader.

EE:

That's right. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor day?

RW:

Yes, I do, I was at the Little Pigs. There was a drive-in, Little Pigs, and they had the radio on, and I was with some Greensboro girls in the car that belonged to one of them. When we heard it, we just quit eating and went home. I was living on the campus then, but I wanted to go home.

EE:

You knew that that meant things changed right there.

RW:

That's right, December 7, '41. We knew that that was the beginning of the war for us.

EE:

You graduated in '43. Tell me what you did after that.

RW:

In 1943 I graduated and was offered a job at Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, Tulane University, New Orleans, [Louisiana]. Sophie Newcomb was a woman's college of Tulane, and they had had a WC PE person there and she had resigned and gotten married. They liked her, so they wanted some more, and they got me.[chuckles]

EE:

So they contacted the school and the school recommended you.

RW:

Yes, and the school recommended me. Ms. [Mary Channing] Coleman recommended me, she was the head of the department. So I didn't know a soul in New Orleans, not one person, and so they found a place for me to stay in a boarding house. The boarding house was run by Mrs. Roberts. She had an upstairs of a two-story house and in the upstairs there were four bedrooms, one bathroom, a large dining room and a kitchen and a living room. She had a black lady who would cook for her. She and the black lady served breakfast and dinner to six girls who lived there and six medical students who came in to eat, male medical students.

So we had a real good situation. I roomed with an FBI agent who was living there for the year. The other girls were social workers in the School of Social Work at Tulane. When I first got there not knowing anybody, I was only two blocks from the gym, and so it was real convenient. I paid fifty dollars a month for room and board and I got paid one hundred dollars, so I saved half of my salary. At that time fifty dollars was a lot of money.

I bought two suits, full suits, Harris tweed wool suits, for forty dollars. We rode the trolley for a dime. I ate lunch for twenty cents. So that was it. I mean, it was just a real good time. I had some good people to work with at Newcomb and finally learned a lot of people and had a real good time.

EE:

Were you teaching and coaching there? Is that how it worked?

RW:

No, they didn't have coach, except we did have a tennis team and I had to coach the tennis team. I had the women's, the Louisiana champion, woman champion, the top tennis player on the team. My tennis is very poor. [chuckles]

EE:

So you're saying she may have gotten there without a lot of help from you.

RW:

I didn't play with her at all, I just watched her play. She was good. No, but I did a lot of swimming. Swimming was my forte. Also did remedial gymnastics and a lot of that. Soccer and hockey and they had a dance teacher, and another person my age who did some of the sports like basketball, archery.

EE:

Sounds like Tennessee Williams may not have had it all covered in Streetcar [Named Desire] when he talks about New Orleans life.

RW:

No, but New Orleans in 1943, '44 and '45 was full of service people. But it was not a dangerous—

EE:

It was different from what Bourbon Street's become today, all that stuff.

RW:

Oh, Bourbon Street now you don't go down there. Well, a bunch of girls we used to walk and it was about four miles from where I lived down to the coffee place at the French Quarter. We'd walk down there and have a cup of coffee and walk back at night, and think nothing of it. I mean, it was just so free and easy.

I had a sailboat, another friend and I bought a sailboat and kept it on Lake Pontchartrain. We worked four days a week and sailed two or three days a week. That was a fun time to be twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and twenty-three.

EE:

I'll bet. Well, what's impressive is that you got that kind of position right out of school. That's a lot of responsibility.

RW:

Well, it was a responsibility and it was a good job and it was one of the better jobs offered. Other people that went into college worked, too, in my class, but it was a real good position.

EE:

Well, how was it that you left that position?

RW:

In 1945 my roommate, Mary Ellen Emerson, who is a WC graduate, but she was in the class of '44. She was an interesting person. Her uncle was Alger Hiss. I don't know if you know who Alger Hiss is.

EE:

Yes, the little pumpkin patch fellow [referring to the later spy case in which microfilms of government documents allegedly supplied by Hiss were hidden in a pumpkin].

RW:

Right. Right. Every time we went to the movies and saw Alger Hiss we sat through the newsreel twice. Anyway, Mary Ellen had grown up in the Boston area, the Massachusetts area, and she came the second year to Newcomb. We decided we weren't doing anything for the war effort and we'd do well to—at that time the Red Cross had an age limit of twenty-five, but they lowered the age limit to twenty-three. So when they lowered the age limit to twenty-three we went down and signed up. I knew I didn't want to be around sick people. I knew that I was trained in recreation.

So they had an area called recreation for able-bodied troops and that's what I went into. They also had hospital Red Cross people who worked in the hospitals.

EE:

Red Cross appealed to you because you could do what you were trained in as opposed to, say, joining the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] or the WACs [Women's Army Corps].

RW:

It appealed to me, too, in that they only took college graduates. So I knew it was a little more elite group, a little more trained group. Hence, the popularity was—plus I liked the uniforms better, too, and that was important. [chuckles]

EE:

Was it blue? I'm seeing [in the picture before me] a blue wool one.

RW:

They're sort of a charcoal gray, the winter uniforms were and the summer ones were Palm Beach. Then they had the little gray seersucker, which we called Orphan Annie dresses. They were serviceable, that's all you can say for them. But that's what we had.

EE:

Did they have, I guess, a recruiting place for Red Cross?

RW:

Yes, they did. They did in New Orleans and you just went down and signed up. So I signed up and they said, “Well, we'll be in touch with you.” This was like in April that we signed up.

EE:

Had [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away yet?

RW:

What?

EE:

Roosevelt passed away I think at the end of that month.

RW:

Oh, yes, he passed away. In fact, I was sitting on the archery court, watching the archery people shoot when we found out that Roosevelt had died. I can remember that like yesterday. Everybody just folded up and got their arrows and the bows and we went inside, they went on back to their business. Everybody sort of went into mourning about that, it was just a real shock. It was like [the later assassination of President John F.] Kennedy.

EE:

It was right at the end of the war.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

He's led it through the whole way.

RW:

That's right. That's right. He was sort of a god figure for my generation, at least he was for me, and I was a died-in-the-wool Democrat and still am. But I never realized that a lot of people hated him. I mean, I had no idea that he was not revered as I revered him, but found out later he was not—not everybody liked him.

EE:

What did you think of Eleanor Roosevelt?

RW:

I thought she was wonderful.

EE:

Were you there—I think she came to WC at one time.

RW:

Yes, I was, and I don't think I saw her. I'm not sure, but I don't think I did. In fact, I'm almost sure I didn't see her.

EE:

I saw the Roosevelt Memorial last week when I was in D.C. and it's impressive to walk through.

RW:

I'll bet it is.

EE:

She's got a statue, they've got a statue of her there, as well.

RW:

Oh, that's great, they should. They should. I've been to Hyde Park [New York, the site of the Roosevelts' home]. That's impressive. Have you been there?

EE:

No, I've just had people tell me that it's a great vista up there.

RW:

It's really beautiful.

EE:

You're in New Orleans, you're waiting for the word to come back on whether they want you and where they want you.

RW:

That's right. So on July the thirtieth I reported to the headquarters in Washington and was assigned to the Farragut Club, which was a private home taken over by the Red Cross to billet people. It was a three-story building, private home, and then I stayed in there while we were trained. The training involved military etiquette about which rank was over us. We didn't know that.

EE:

Who was in charge of who.

RW:

Yes. Was a major above a lieutenant or was a captain above it, or whatever, and the different navy designations, too. But we learned that and we learned protocol of what you did and didn't do.

EE:

How many women were in this training with you?

RW:

Eric, I don't really remember, but there were, it must have been about seventy-five or a hundred.

EE:

That many.

RW:

It may have been more. But they had classes in the morning and in the afternoon at the American University. This went on for about two weeks, we were talked to about all the things you needed to know about the—and also the history of Red Cross, which I didn't know anything about, and about security. That was a big thing, that you didn't talk to people and didn't tell secrets if you learned any secrets. Then business management, and how clubs were managed, because this is what I went into, the club management and operating Red Cross clubs, which were for the able-bodied servicemen.

EE:

Did you express when you went in a preference for being stationed stateside or overseas, or did they give you that option?

RW:

I wanted to go overseas. So they didn't tell us where we were going to go, but they trained us in different things. We went from American University down to Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia and worked in a club there for two weeks. These were men who were coming back from overseas and they were so glad to get back and so glad to see American women, it was like you were queen for a day. [chuckles]

But we learned how to fix the coffee urns and the way you got your doughnuts and what pinochle was, because it was a big game in the service. All the little intricacies of learning the club we tried out there. Played ping-pong and had craft shops and stuff with this club.

So we stayed there two weeks and then we went back to Washington and worked on the [National] Mall serving, at noontime serving lunch to the servicemen who were working in the Mall.

EE:

There were a lot of temporary buildings and stuff up there, wasn't there?

RW:

Oh, a lot of people working and there wasn't anyplace for them to eat, and so we served meals and a lot of times we served stew. I remember once I got called down for calling stew hash.[chuckles]

EE:

The truth hurts sometimes.

RW:

Yes. [chuckles] But one day you'd serve drinks, like Cokes and tea, and the next day you'd serve sandwiches and you'd serve stew, hash, or whatever they were serving. But you learned how to dish out and how much to give people.

EE:

Where did they house you all when you were doing this work, in apartments?

RW:

This time we were housed—we came back and we were in the Annapolis Hotel until we went to the west coast.

EE:

[Camp] Stoneman, [California]?

RW:

Yes, it was Stoneman. We came back to the Annapolis Hotel, which was an old hotel that was taken over by Red Cross for that purpose. Then they put us on a train for five days, no air conditioning. It did have upper and lower berths in it. I think we had about five or six cars, so we must have had at least a hundred people.

EE:

You're going out, as I imagine a lot of the folks were coming back. A lot of things have changed since the time you applied to the Red Cross.

RW:

That's right.

EE:

The war's over in Europe and then in the middle of training you've got VJ Day [Victory in Japan Day].

RW:

That's right, exactly.

EE:

What was that like?

RW:

VJ Day was just wonderful, but we didn't know whether we'd be used or not. But they said, “Yes, you're going, too, because they're plenty of men still over there and we need to have clubs.” So we got on the train and we went from Washington, didn't have the slightest idea where we were going. When we got to Chicago, we knew we were going to the west coast. Some people thought we were going to Europe. Mary Ellen went to Europe, because she spoke French, and so I guess they took the people who could speak French and stuck them over there. But we went to Camp Stoneman, and then from Camp Stoneman we got on a ship, the [USS] Marine Shark.

EE:

Was that a passenger ship that had been converted to troop or that was military all the way?

RW:

It was a military all the way. In the meantime we'd had all the shots for overseas at the Pentagon and had to do all that kind of routine. We did stop in Chicago and got off the train and went to the Old Heidelberg to eat, and then got back on the train and stayed on the train except for meals, we'd get off and eat at the train station. No bath. We kept the same clothes on for five days. With the soot and stuff there was no point in changing clothes. You can imagine what those clothes looked like. [chuckles]

EE:

Let me ask you a question. Of course, you've been down in New Orleans for a couple of years, but how did your folks feel about you going overseas? That's still kind of a dangerous thing, isn't it?

RW:

Yes. They didn't say anything against it, but I think they kind of wondered why. But they never did say you shouldn't do that. Anyway, got on the ship, the Marine Shark, and there were 3,432 people on the boat. Three thousand. Of those, I think 150 were women.

EE:

How long was this trip?

RW:

Eighteen days. Eighteen days. One of the things about Red Cross you could not date enlisted men.

EE:

Had to date officers.

RW:

Had to date officers. On the ship we were segregated, of course, one whole area was for Red Cross personnel. We had men with the Red Cross, too. Two of the most wonderful men were lifesavers for us. One of them was a black man from Cincinnati that had owned a whole bunch of movie houses. His name was Larry, and I've forgotten his last name. But he had an in with the mess people, and they got Coca-Colas to him and he got Coca-Colas for us. We'd sit on the deck on the—they didn't have chairs or anything, so you just sat on the deck on your life preserver, and we'd sit there and drink Coca-Colas and play cards and stuff on the floor. But he was a wonderful man. He was in the field service. Eighteen days without any kind of hot or cold things to drink, so it was just wonderful to have that.

EE:

Had you had much interaction with black folks before?

RW:

Never. Never, except as in my house we had a black maid who worked. Only as a servant, so this was an eye-opener to me. I'd never even seen an educated black person before.

EE:

Having owned a series of movie houses, he was doing quite well.

RW:

He was well educated. The other man was a social worker and he had more education than any of us had. I think he had like a doctorate in social work or something, I don't remember, but he was a married man. We respected both of them and they were so nice to us.

So anyway, we landed in the Philippines. The Philippines had been heavily bombed and we were put in the Women's Replacement Depot, which was a bunch of barracks with all kinds of women there. They had nuns, Eskimos. These were women who had been Japanese prisoners of war, and were being returned to the States.

EE:

I knew there was some nurses that were released after the war.

RW:

Yes, there were nurses there. But the Eskimos were the most pitiful. Of course, the heat in the Philippines was awful and they would sit beside the fence that was along the one part of the compound where there was a little bit of shade. They sit there, squat sort of like the Orientals do and just sort of pant like dogs, it was so hot.

EE:

So they'd been captured in the Aleutians [Alaskan islands] and brought back?

RW:

They were captured in the Aleutians and brought down, that's right.

So anyway, it was a real interesting thing. They had open showers where the top was open. So of course we had a lot of people flying over.

EE:

Our boys in—

RW:

They had a toilet that had a trough that went down them. They had seats over the toilet and for about fifteen seconds it'd flush. It would flush. [chuckles] So you'd be sitting there next to a nun—all you could see was the nuns on them and then all of sudden this thing would “swoosh” and everybody'd hop up. [chuckles]

But we did get people, the little Filipinos would wash your clothes and iron them. So that was one thing we changed clothes about two or three times a day it was so hot.

EE:

Somebody was telling me who worked there that they did a—I don't know if they called it “jungle time” or something, where you'd only work in six-hour shifts or something because of the heat.

RW:

The heat, yes. Well, for a while we worked wherever they wanted us to work. They were opening a club called the Roosevelt Club, and it had been a great big jai alai compound where they played jai alai, but it was like a six-story building. So we went down there and worked until they opened it and then went to the opening of that. I'll show you some pictures of that after a while.

EE:

When you were doing this work, my understanding is that Red Cross personnel basically served at the pleasure of the local military officers.

RW:

That's right.

EE:

You did not have field COs [commanding officers] that were Red Cross. Your COs were always military.

RW:

We did have people in headquarters, Red Cross headquarters, that were our bosses, but they obeyed the military. If a general said to the Red Cross people, “We need a club here.” Then the Red Cross said, “We'll do that. You build the building and we'll supply the people.”

EE:

So you got your initial orders from Washington, but on a day-to-day basis your local CO was the military person you were working with.

RW:

Yes, that's right. Each club had a leader, had a head. The responsibility of that person was to be sure they had everything covered, like somebody for the snack bar, maybe two or three people for the snack bar. Somebody for the craft shop, somebody for the game room, somebody for the photo lab. Whatever they had you had to have it covered with somebody.

EE:

Was that supplied through the local military supply officer or did the Red Cross have its own supply chain?

RW:

The Red Cross had a lot of supplies, but the military also had a lot of supplies. They had a lot of band instruments, which was wonderful, because we had—I'm getting ahead of myself right now, but—we had a lot of good musicians and good bands.

EE:

You tell me what you've got, because you've got a good outline there.

RW:

In Manila, [Philippines], most of Manila had been, of course, bombed heavily. So the Jai Alai Club, which was the Roosevelt Club for the Red Cross, was still standing. They redid the inside of it. It was beautiful. It was like a modern hotel. So we were there for the opening of that and they had all the big brass from the military and the big Red Cross personnel there. It was a lovely thing.

EE:

What month was this, September?

RW:

It was October. They asked in the Red Cross people, they said, “We need people to go to Okinawa who have had some kind of camping experience,” because Okinawa was so badly bombed and they just finished having a horrible typhoon. There wasn't anything left. “We need people who don't mind living in tents and who don't mind roughing it.”

Nancy and I both had done a lot of camping and I had worked in camps all during college. Every summer I worked in camps in Maine, in New Jersey, in North Carolina, all around. So I really enjoyed the camping business. So we volunteered to go to Okinawa with fourteen other girls, or fourteen others altogether.

So in November, November the third, I got on a plane and [bird whistle]—that's that clock.

EE:

I know all about bird clocks. About every third home I go in has got a bird clock in it. My mom does, too. [chuckles] I'm going to learn all the species this year, I think.

RW:

I wish we could remember which one is which. I know the morning dove.

So anyway, I went to Okinawa and stayed there for seventeen months, which is the longest anybody ever stayed on Okinawa. Nancy and I both did. But it was an interesting place. As I said, nothing was left there, so we first lived in tents with no floors. How devastated it was—a dog brought in a human skull. Just walked into the tent with this human skull in his mouth and you can imagine that was something to see.

We walked outside in the mud and it came up over your shoes, so you had to wear high-laced boots. They issued us a bunch of suntan, men's suntan, pants and shirts. Just regular men's clothes, six pants and six shirts, and boots, socks and we wore those while we were living in the tent, because there was no way to wear a uniform and go anyplace and do anything.

So finally the Red Cross headquarters built Quonset huts, or had them built, and we were moved up to the Red Cross headquarters, which was sort of in the middle of the island, into the Quonset huts. Girls were assigned then to different clubs as the clubs were built. Some of the clubs were Butler buildings, which is straight up and down buildings, and some of them are Quonset huts. My first club was with the NOB, the naval operating base. It was on Buckner Bay, which is the big bay there. It was a huge Butler building with a stage and compartments for library and craft shop, game room, ping-pong tables.

EE:

Was the library on top of the game tables area? Was it was a two-story?

RW:

No, this was all one-story.

EE:

One-story?

RW:

Yes. It was just one little section off. Well, anyway, I worked there for, I guess, six or eight months. We lived right next to the admiral and the officers. The navy had tablecloths, white tablecloths. The army had mess kits. There's just a big difference in what they had. They had food that was well served and well prepared and they didn't dump it altogether like the army did on top of each other.

EE:

Didn't serve stew as much as the army did.[chuckles]

RW:

No. [chuckles] But they were so nice, the admiral, and he would have [these] little parties and invite us over to the parties. All the officers were just as nice as they could be.

We would go down to the club where the enlisted men were and they were just as nice as they could be. They were just so bored by sitting there waiting to go home that the Red Cross Club gave them something else to do, besides movies. That was all they had, movies and the Red Cross Club. So the Red Cross, it was really appreciated to the fact where every time they had any kind of time off they would come there, which was good.

EE:

You all were open seven days a week?

RW:

Seven days a week, that's right.

EE:

Your shift, a normal day for you, was how many hours?

RW:

Was from like nine o'clock in the morning, or ten o'clock in the morning, to ten o'clock at night. We had one day off and that day you got your laundry done and all the little things that you needed to do. Whenever we went anyplace we had to have two armed guards take us wherever we wanted to go, we couldn't drive.

EE:

No fraternization with Japanese.

RW:

No, the Japanese had surrendered, but some of them hadn't surrendered, and so they would hole up in the ground, in underground caves and stuff. In fact, one whole group of Japanese were pulled out of a hole right behind the compound where Nancy lived. They were all white from being down there in the ground for so long. They had no idea the war was over. It was just amazing that they—they had men and women and children that had been born down there. They had food, enough rice to last for—underground streams and so on. But then we had a lot of—you stop and think about it, a lot of people on an island like that with nothing much to do is always one or two are going to get in trouble. So we had to have two armed guards wherever we went. If you had a date with an officer, you had to have two guards.

EE:

Armed chaperone.

RW:

Armed chaperones. There wasn't any hanky-panky. No hanky-panky going on.

EE:

That could put a crimp in the social life.

RW:

There wasn't any social life, except just to go and have a meal someplace. When we first got there a group would invite all the Red Cross girls down there to their place and say, “We have hot water.” There was no hot water where we were. So we'd take all of our clothes, clean clothes, and go down there and take a bath and put on clean clothes. It was wonderful the way they shared the hot water with us and then fed us real much. It was just really good. They looked after us real well, being sure that we finally got hot water.

The Seabees made our furniture, which was really great. They made bunks with shelves underneath to put your clothes in and little dressers with the mirror and little drawers that would pull out and everything. They were just great. Regular furniture, which, of course, nobody else had. I mean, the men didn't have anything like that. [chuckles]

EE:

They were giving you all special treatment.

RW:

Oh, they were.

EE:

I'm curious, what did the fellows drink at a service club, was it Cokes? Could they give them beer or what did you have?

RW:

No, they had coffee. Coffee and—

EE:

I know coffee and doughnuts were everywhere the Red Cross was.

RW:

That's right. That's right, coffee and doughnuts, and sometimes we'd have—no, we couldn't serve beer. The commanders in some of these areas would have a beer party for the men, and they could get beer at the NCO clubs, noncommissioned officers' clubs, but we couldn't. The officers' club served hard liquor. We had a liquor ration, too. Once a month you'd go down and get your liquor ration, which would be cases of bourbon or gin or whatever you wanted.

EE:

So that was one thing that the military—I've heard a lot of people say, well, at least in the military we didn't get rationing. Maybe that was one thing that was rationed then.

RW:

The liquor wasn't rationed. We couldn't possibly drink up all that liquor, so we used it to barter with. You could barter and you could get most anything you wanted. Like one time a hospital ship came in and they had real milk there. You talk about something that—we emptied everything we had to get a quart of milk. [chuckles]

EE:

A testimonial.

RW:

I know it.

EE:

I imagine powdered eggs probably got tiresome, too.

RW:

They turn green. Green eggs and powdered milk. The food was not bad, but it was not—it was the lack of fresh vegetables and milk, green vegetables. When we got back we had to take vitamin B shots for a year, because we were so malnourished. Not that we were skinny, but we were just not—

EE:

Right, didn't have the right stuff in it.

RW:

Didn't have the right stuff in it. I'm sure the men were the same way when they got home, they didn't have—they had to have them.

EE:

Your six months at this naval operating base, where did you go after that, on Okinawa?

RW:

To the air force.

EE:

So you've taken a tour of the services in your stay there, didn't you?

RW:

Yes, we did. The air force club was called Club Doolittle, named for Jimmy Doolittle. It consisted of three Quonset huts. The middle one was the snack bar and the one on the right was a craft shop and the one on the left was the game room and the library. I ended up being the head of that club. Nancy was finally—she had been with the Seabees for a while, for a long while, and they were a neat group because they could make anything. Anything you wanted made they'd make it for you.

The army got so they could do things, too. I mean, they got so we had tools for them to work with and they made furniture and things for the club. It was a nice club and we spent a lot of time with the Okinawans. We had four Okinawans that worked there. I'd spent a lot of time out in the boonies getting ferns and palms and so on and bringing it in and transplanting it around the barren.

EE:

Did you get to see the whole island?

RW:

Yes, we could go with an MP [military police] or somebody—we could go most anyplace.

EE:

Was there a problem with mines?

RW:

Yes, you didn't wander off away from the roads much. Eventually, of course, the vegetation came back. There was no vegetation there when we first got there, it was just like somebody had bulldozed the whole place down below. Now, this was the bottom part of the island. The top part of the island wasn't so badly bombed, but the bottom part was. This area [pointing to map], this is the bottom part, the northern part was not bombed, but this over here. The city of Naha, which had—I've forgotten how many thousand people there—it was the capitol. There was not anything standing there. You couldn't tell where a road had been. You couldn't tell where buildings had been. There was one church that was still standing and the rest of the places were gone. Buckner Bay was one big bay where a lot of the ships came in, and then the air force, Kadena Air Force [Base], was up in the middle part of—

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

EE:

Where is Kadena, up here?

RW:

Kadena's right in here, yes. You can see that around the island were beaches and the water was full of tanks and things that had sunk there as the landing craft came in and didn't make it. So swimming was real interesting. I mean, you could swim along and it was like snorkeling, you could look down and there'd be a big old tank under the water. The island, being coral, you didn't dare put your feet down on there, you always wore sneakers with swimming, because the coral would cut you to pieces.

EE:

So you can see why they [the Japanese] invented flip-flops, is that the idea? [chuckles]

RW:

Yes, right. Right. We had a good time of going out to the little islands, the little islands out from there in the ducks, the military things that went on water and on land. That was a fun thing to do. One day we went out to one island and an Okinawan had caught a moray eel. It was only about that long, and was showing it to us. We'd been swimming and we decided we didn't want to go back swimming. [chuckles] Found out later they weren't so bad. So that was what we did there.

The air force, we had two Quonset huts side by side with a living room across to live in and on one side the Red Cross personnel and on the other side civilian personnel. But by then they had brought women in as secretaries that worked in the army, and so they lived on one side of this compound and we lived on the other. There were four Red Cross girls living at Kadena. We had a guard that walked around the whole area twenty-four hours a day.

Every once in a while the water would go off and so they put a great big latrine out back. We call them here in the mountains privies, but they put about an eight-seater out back. Which was real handy, because when the water went off we didn't have any recourse but to go about six miles down to another Red Cross place to go to the bathroom. It took one MP all day long and all night to get people back and forth. So that proved to be a problem. It eventually got so we could drive and they let us have that privilege, and that was a good thing, too.

But we'd send somebody down to get the doughnuts every day at the doughnut factory and then we'd start making coffee, you know, like gallons, like fifty-gallon urns, two of those going full blast.

EE:

Would the schedules there—other than the ones who were going back to get their “52-50” [Fifty dollars a month for fifty-two weeks, offered to veterans at war's end] and getting out, there is a fair number of—there's a lot of activity, because the services are building bases there for their own use, are they not?

RW:

That's right.

EE:

So there's a lot of hustle and bustle. I assume they're kind of working on shifts so you know when the wave's going to come in and needs a bunch of coffee.

RW:

That's right. We also, every night we had some kind of program for them. It could have been just a game of bingo.

EE:

Ever have the USO [United Service Organization] tours?

RW:

Yes, we did, but the USO didn't stay, they didn't perform in our clubs. They performed usually outside, because the clubs weren't big enough to hold them. Bob Hope came, and I can't remember who else came. But they had those a lot. But we had wonderful shows there, because these men had talent. I mean, some of them had been with Glenn Miller or a lot of the big band people had men in the service. So we had wonderful shows.

We had people, I know one man who was a sword swallower and one was a fire-eater and one guy chewed up light bulbs. [chuckles] So they put on a show. I mean, and some of them were comics. They put on a real cute show. Red Cross, we'd sometimes perform or do whatever we could do. I couldn't do much, but we'd put on some little skit or something. But every day had to be planned for. That's what the personnel did. We had plenty of help.

EE:

Were you all given just sort of an independent hand—“okay, we're going to count on you Red Cross folks to do the program”—or did you have to check in with the CO?

RW:

No, the Red Cross did its own and you had to submit your program for the week, every week, to the Red Cross headquarters and they had to check it out to be sure we were doing something.

EE:

So you did have regular communication back with headquarters?

RW:

Oh, yes. Yes, we'd go up there to the headquarters.

EE:

Where was the headquarters?

RW:

It was in the middle of the island. Right here.

EE:

So there's the headquarters and you had what looked like maybe half a dozen, how many bases altogether for Red Cross? All these are stations that are Red Cross.

RW:

These are all stations. I don't remember how many.

EE:

So it looks like there's fifteen or twenty.

RW:

Fifteen or twenty, right. None up here.

EE:

At each one of these stations is probably about four women.

RW:

Four Red Cross girls, yes.

EE:

Okay.

RW:

They each did their thing and it was pretty much the same. I mean, if you went from one club to another you just about do the same thing.

EE:

The headquarters is your field director's office.

RW:

That's right.

EE:

Okay.

RW:

The field director also they were in charge of seeing people who needed to go home. Like if a fellow's parents had died, or his wife had died, or something horrible had happened, they would get in touch with the fellow and make arrangements for transportation for him to go home. So that was one of their jobs that they had, we didn't do that.

EE:

Did you stay then at Kadena until the end of your time in Okinawa?

RW:

No, after seventeen months in Kadena, I had pneumonia. We had an R&R [rest and recuperation] in Shanghai, [China], which was wonderful. But then I had had pneumonia there, so we decided, it was so wet on Okinawa, so damp all the time you were prone to get bronchial trouble. So we decided to go to Korea, Nancy and I both did. So we went to Tokyo, [Japan], on the way to Korea and I got pneumonia again and went to the St. Luke's Hospital there. I nearly died, and if it hadn't been for Nancy Wrenn I would have died, because nobody—the officers didn't pay any attention. I was in a ward with a bunch of WACs and they said, well, one lady had already died—the bed I was in, the lady had died from neglect.

EE:

That's encouraging, isn't it?

RW:

Isn't that awful? Isn't that awful? [chuckles]

EE:

Welcome to the hospital, you're on your own. [chuckles]

RW:

Yes. Well, they didn't bother to even have a doctor come and look at me, so Nancy went finally—we knew this general who had been on Okinawa—he was a good friend of ours—so she called him and he got in touch with the doctors. Boy, they started shooting me with penicillin right fast, and I got out of there in a hurry. But that was all scary. So I decided that maybe I didn't want to go home in a box and so we resigned from Red Cross. You had to be in there, we'd been in long enough to have served our time.

So we came home and we both decided we wanted to build a girls' camp over there. We got home and five days after we got home I got to Greensboro and she called from Southern Pines. She was from Southern Pines. She said, “Would you like to go to the mountains and look for some land?”

I said, “Sure.”

She said, “Well, my stepfather has some property up there near Asheville.”

Well, we'd thought about Blowing Rock, [North Carolina], because she'd gone to Yonahlossee and Blowing Rock. So we came up here and he said, “I'll rent this land to you, 110 acres for one dollar a year.”

We said, “Well, we can't fight that.”

A whole family lived in this house down here, a tenant family. So we pitched a tent up here in the pasture with a cow and started building this house right here. We chopped out with a mattock.

EE:

Good gracious, pioneer women right there at the start.

RW:

Yes. So we built a house here and then we built—

EE:

So you had the camp here?

RW:

We have a camp here. Those little cabins are up here. The big building you saw down here was that large dining room.

EE:

What was the name of the camp?

RW:

Awaniko.

EE:

Spell that one for me.

RW:

That's Okinawa spelled backwards. A-w-a-n-i-k-o.

EE:

How did you meet Nancy, was she in your class in Washington?

RW:

Yes, because we were both “W”s. Nancy Wrenn and Ruth White. She knew a lot people that I knew from camp. She knew a lot of my good friends. So we've been here ever since. So the first year we stayed here, we'd saved our money, and we had saved up and together we had saved four thousand dollars. So that was a lot of money and you could buy nails for eight dollars a keg. You could buy lumber for fifty dollars a thousand. That may not mean anything to you, but—

EE:

No, I just bought some to fix up something at the house, that's pretty good.

RW:

So we did pretty well that first year. Then we didn't have running water here so I got a job teaching swimming at the Y, and so we'd go in there twice a week and Nancy'd go with me and have showers.

EE:

That gets old.

RW:

We had a little spring over here, so we could, in the summertime we could just go in and pour water over ourselves. So finally we had a well drilled. We couldn't get electricity out here, because of the war. There were no transformers. So for about two years we had no electricity and no water.

EE:

But you all were veterans of this. This really must seem like Okinawa. [chuckles]

RW:

Yes, right.

EE:

Let me ask you—

RW:

All right. Then I want to show you these things.

EE:

Yes, because I want to see them. What was the toughest thing about your time in the Red Cross, either physically or emotionally?

RW:

I don't remember any really tough times, I really don't. I remember being dirty and hot.

EE:

Just inconvenience.

RW:

Inconvenience, right. But there wasn't any—

EE:

So did you ever feel in physical danger or afraid?

RW:

No. No, I was with a Time-Life photographer one time in a weapons carrier. We went up to a leper colony to take some picture, and they'd put on a performance for us, the school children did. Coming back we came through a pass and there was shooting over that and they just pushed us down in the bottom of the weapons carrier and speeded up a little bit and went on. That's the only time I ever—well, I'll take it back.

One night we had a prowler, an American prowler. [chuckles] He was trying to get in the back door of the Quonset hut and that was scary. But the guard came around and got him, and he got away, the man got away. Thank goodness. But he was, I think, there on a dare.

EE:

It was more like a fraternity-type prank than it was—

RW:

Probably so. They couldn't shoot, because it was going towards the officer's club and the people were standing around up there. I'm sure they were seeing if he could get away with something. [chuckles]

EE:

So you didn't—and I don't guess for Red Cross folks—there wasn't really a career in the Red Cross option was there?

RW:

No.

EE:

The way it was structured. Although I did meet one woman who did come back after a time of service and basically served as, I guess, a field director back stateside.

RW:

Yes, right. Well, I'm sure there were several who could do that, but that was not one of our options, or what I wanted to do.

EE:

Would the people that you worked with—sounds like you all were treated fairly professionally.

RW:

Oh, we were. Real professional.

EE:

That you didn't have any problem with harassment or being treated as second-class folks.

RW:

No, no, no. No. We got propositioned once or twice, but that was handled real nicely. There's no problem with that. I remember one proposition. One girl who was my director of the club, a boy came and said, “I'd like to make a sexual date with one of these girls.”

She said, “Come into my office.”

Well, he thought. “Okay.” She said, “Do you have a sister?”

He said, “Yes, I do.”

She said, “Well, I have a brother.” She said, “What would you say if somebody said that about your sister?”

He said, “I don't know.” He started crying. [chuckles]

She handled that so well.

EE:

Very good.

RW:

Yes, just right. It was really good. But being older than they were—and this was the case of most of them, most those boys were nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, and we were twenty-three, twenty-four, and we'd been teaching or whatever, working, and so we didn't have—let me show you.

EE:

Yes, go ahead.

RW:

You want to cut—

EE:

Well, actually what we'll do, we'll take a pause here, because I wanted to ask you a couple other questions.

RW:

Okay.

EE:

More longer term kind of things. Do you think this experience made you more of an independent person than you were before it?

RW:

I know it did, yes. Yes, it sure did.

EE:

The very fact that you came back and named this place after that place said it meant something to you.

RW:

That's right. That's exactly so.

EE:

Do you remember what was your most embarrassing moment? When I've asked that of some people they get kind of pickle-faced on me, so I said, or “an embarrassing moment,” something lighthearted. Although sitting next to a nun as the toilet washes under you is pretty good. [chuckles]

RW:

Well, that was one of them.

EE:

You kind of lose modesty in a sense, don't you? You can't have—

RW:

Oh, right. Right. I really don't—it's been so long ago I really don't remember.

EE:

Well, at the service club, are there some songs or some things that were favorites from the fellows, or from your experience there? When you hear something it takes you right back to your time there?

RW:

No, not really. Not really. It should, but it doesn't. [chuckles]

EE:

Just a couple of months ago, for the first time, the United States sent a woman into combat as a fighter pilot. The first time, in December, I guess, to Iraq. What do you think about that?

RW:

I think it's great. I think it is. I know Nancy's a pilot and I know a lot of the women pilots are in the military that are in her flying group in the mainlands. They are as capable as anybody, or more capable than most men, because women who have reached the place of being a captain on an airline have had to struggle for it, compared to a lot of—well, I won't say compared to me, but they really—you know, if you have a woman pilot, you've got a good pilot.

EE:

Did she come back and do that professionally?

RW:

No, not professionally, just for fun.

EE:

Just for fun. So you're not of the opinion that there's certain jobs that just shouldn't be allowed—

RW:

No, any more than I think that there's certain jobs that men shouldn't do. Men can cook, they can sew, they can do anything women can do, and vice versa.

EE:

We're going to exorcise that from the tape so my wife doesn't hear it. [chuckles] I do it already, I've got two kids at home, so it's nothing new.

RW:

I hope you know how to iron, I hope you know how to cook, I hope you know how to wash clothes, change diapers.

EE:

Oh, we had no gender differences in our household.

RW:

That's good.

EE:

One thing that some people did not feel, I guess, who joined for similar reasons as you—they wanted to do something for the war effort. Not everybody felt their job gave them the chance to do that. Do you think you had a chance to contribute to the war effort?

RW:

Yes, because these men would have had nothing to do at all on that island if it hadn't been for Red Cross. It really was. It kept them busy and kept them happy. Well, not happy, because they grumbled a lot, but some of them were so miserable about being there when the war was over. We had one man who sat and sewed buttons on his legs. He'd pull the skin up and put the needle through and trying to get a discharge for being nuts. [chuckles]

EE:

Getting a little “Klinger”[the M*A*S*H army character who tried to get a discharge through feigned insanity] on us.

RW:

Yes. But he didn't get sent home. He had buttons going up and down his legs when you pulled his pants leg up. [chuckles]

EE:

Who knows, he may be a great tailor by the time he gets back.

RW:

Maybe.

EE:

Well, that's funny. Transcriber, we will end our formal interview here then. But what I will do—I have learned from past experience that it helps me keep this going when we go through pictures, just so I'll remember what things are. Because we are trying to collect photographs and things. And if there's some of those I can take with me, or at least make copies of—

RW:

Yes, I'd be glad to.

EE:

That'd be great.

RW:

All right. Now, this is a building in Manila that was falling, they said two inches a day. The odor in Manila was awful, because of the rotting people that were under there that we couldn't get out, the dead people.

EE:

The dead bodies.

RW:

Yes. This is some of the Filipino—

EE:

That's a good picture.

RW:

—Filipinos that were—

EE:

Was [General Douglas] MacArthur—MacArthur, I guess, was already—what'd you think about him?

RW:

Yes, we saw him in Japan. Well, we went out in front of the building that he was in, the “dai ichi” building, I think it was, he would come out and the Japanese would stand out there and bow, and we'd stand there and we'd bowed along with them. [chuckles] It was like he was God.

EE:

That's right. But it just transferred from [Emperor] Hirohito to MacArthur.

RW:

Right. Well, he came out and he stood there, he just kept on, and all these people bowed down. I guess he stood there a good thirty seconds.

EE:

He kind of enjoyed that, I bet.

RW:

He did.

EE:

It was his personality, I think.

RW:

Yes, it was. You couldn't help but bow down. This is in a churchyard in Manila. This is the ship we went over on, the Marine Shark.

EE:

Thirty-two hundred people. You all really were packed in there, weren't you?

RW:

Yes. The poor men were down in the hold and they were really packed in.

I thought I had these in order, but I don't. This is the opening of the NOB Club, and this was before the director, I'm not sure if it was field director. Yes, I guess it was. The four girls that were there at the opening. I thought it would give you an idea of the—

EE:

Okay.

RW:

Called the [unclear] Club. This was Christmas, it opened right before Christmas, and this was, I think, on opening night, I'm not sure.

EE:

So tell me, what do you think of doughnuts these days?

RW:

You know I couldn't eat a doughnut for about three years after we got back. I like them now, but we didn't have those glazed doughnuts, we had the ones just were—>

EE:

Cake doughnuts.

RW:

Cake doughnuts, yes. We had also in our building—they had mass there on Sunday.

EE:

It's funny when you take away the pews how much it looks like Muslims up here, doesn't it? [chuckles]

RW:

Yes, it does, doesn't it. [chuckles]

This is my birthday in February. They had a cake and everything.

This is when we first got there and they'd invite—this was Thanksgiving Day. One group would invite us down to have a shower and then eat dinner and then sometimes we'd serve the meal to the men. That's just one of the times there.

EE:

That's great. That looks like decent food that day, too.

RW:

Yes, it was. They had turkey and everything. That's the Red Cross headquarters.

EE:

On Okinawa.

RW:

Yes, on Okinawa. These were the barracks and the headquarters were up here at the top, I think, or the bottom. They're up here.

EE:

So you're kind of fenced in for the barracks.

RW:

Yes, we lived behind—fenced in. After we first came up here, every time we went to town at night I took a pistol.

EE:

Old habits are hard to break.

RW:

Yes, they really are. This is the inside of one of the clubs. That was Nancy's club, I think, down here. But you can sort of see.

EE:

Now, this is what you call a Butler building?

RW:

Yes, that's a Butler building.

EE:

As opposed to the Quonset huts?

RW:

Here's a Quonset here. We had some of the best ping-pong tournaments. We had people come from other islands, like from Samar or Leyte or someplace. The ping-pong champions of those islands would come and play and I've never seen ping-pong like that. I mean, these men would stand twenty feet behind the table and hit that ball. It was beautiful.

EE:

Is that you to the left?

RW:

Yes. This is one of the ping-pong [tournaments]. But that's not showing how big they were. We had a little dog, and the men would have baseball games and football games and we'd decorate the dog up and take him down and cheer.

EE:

Now, you had a decent camera. Your camera's got better, bigger pictures than a lot of the ones I've seen.

RW:

Some of these other people took. Of course, over the years these things have faded a whole bunch. This must have been Christmas.

EE:

I tell you, black-and-white fades less than color does.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

You'd be surprised to see some of the color pictures.

RW:

There's one of the ball games. There's some ping-pong games. We spent an awful lot of time playing checkers and pinochle. This is a good shot.

EE:

This looks like one of those guys who might put the buttons on his legs. [chuckles] “I want to get out of here.” That is a good shot. Now, this is the coffee and doughnut line.

RW:

Yes, that's the coffee and doughnut line.

EE:

That's you carrying the cups there?

RW:

Yes, it might be, I'm not sure. We had some of the cutest shows. The men would dress up as women. That's one of them, I think with the Red Cross uniform on.

EE:

That's great.

RW:

That's Club “Dolittle,” which was the Red Cross—

EE:

“Do-Little” as opposed to just one word, we want to “Do-Little” at this club. [chuckles] This is your summer seersucker?

RW:

Yes. It was Orphan Annie.

EE:

Oh, yes.

RW:

These are the Okinawans that worked for us, and they were wonderful.

EE:

They knew English?

RW:

No, but they learned real fast.

EE:

You said something before we started this about Italian POWs [prisoners of war]. Did you have Italian POWs working here?

RW:

No, that was at Patrick Henry. This shows a better picture of the Butler building.

EE:

Oh, yes.

RW:

This is one of the stage shows and one of the bands.

EE:

That looks like an early Elvis Presley.

RW:

Yes, that's what he was doing, I'm sure. We had a Christmas pageant. I don't know where they got these costumes. We must have had a—

EE:

You must have had an in with somebody someplace.

RW:

Somebody must have. Isn't that cute?

EE:

Why do I think of Luther Billis [a Seabee in the play South Pacific] when I see that? [chuckles]

RW:

This is where we had the milk party when we got the milk. That shows inside the housing.

EE:

All the food and stuff that you all supplied was free.

RW:

That's right. We didn't charge anything. This was the official [unclear].

EE:

This is the milk that's coming in that you all enjoyed?

RW:

Yes, that we traded a whole bunch of stuff for. The milk party. [chuckles] Talk about a treat, man, that was a treat.

EE:

Who are these over here?

RW:

These are the people that lived in there.

EE:

Right there, yes. Was this done before in D.C. before you—

RW:

Yes, that woman here. That shows the library. We had lots of books. See, we got real uptown outside of the—

EE:

Now, did the Seabees make all this furniture?

RW:

Yes, they made—I don't know where we got the awnings from, the [unclear].

EE:

That's pretty nice.

RW:

Yes, it is nice, isn't it? Well, that was so this was about fifteen months later after we'd been there. This is coming home, the last Sunday on shipboard. That's with the summer uniforms.

EE:

You came home—what time in '47 was that when you came home?

RW:

It was in June of '47, May or June. May and June, '47. We came up here in the latter part of June.

EE:

Where's Nancy on this one? I see you, you're the third up here.

RW:

She probably took the picture. [chuckles]

EE:

Yes, you're probably right about that.

RW:

This is going to Shanghai on R&R. We got so much stuff we thought the plane couldn't take off, could hardly take off coming back. [chuckles]

EE:

That's great. Did you all—you only had one day off a week, you really didn't have the opportunity to take a plane ride to someplace else very often, did you?

RW:

Oh, you couldn't go anywhere. I mean, there was no way you could go, unless you went like for R&R. This is some pictures from Japan here.

EE:

Now, is this a postcard shot or pictures you took?

RW:

Those are postcards.

EE:

Okay.

RW:

Some of those are pictures. None of those we took, I don't think. I think somebody gave them to us.

EE:

Now, you were just here on your way to—

RW:

Korea.

EE:

Korea?

RW:

Yes. Stayed there about two years, I mean two months in—

EE:

In Tokyo.

RW:

In Tokyo. Went down to Kyoto, [Japan], for a little while, and that was a fun thing.

EE:

That's beautiful. Yes, this, the old building.

RW:

This is Nara, which is a beautiful park, near Kyoto.

EE:

That's pretty. Where is that, that Shinto Temple, is that what this is called?

RW:

Yes. Beautiful temple.

EE:

This would have been—

RW:

Kyoto wasn't bombed, so it was intact. It was gorgeous.

EE:

This would have been wintertime of '47?

RW:

Forty-seven, yes, I think. No, it was '46, I think.

EE:

Okay. Did you go see [Mt.] Fuji?

RW:

Didn't go up Fuji, saw it from the train.

EE:

Are you in this picture?

RW:

No. I don't know what day it is. Nancy and I were looking at that last night and we couldn't figure out what it was. I thought it was—

EE:

It doesn't look like a postcard.

RW:

It looks like Nagasaki. Tour of Nagasaki, atomic bomb site. [unclear] hotel.

EE:

Okay. That was pretty “hot,” wasn't it? Did you all turn—

RW:

We didn't go there. I don't know where we got that picture.

EE:

Yes, that would have been pretty “warm” [radioactive] ground.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

This is Tokyo after the bombing.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

Good gracious.

RW:

Yes, it was—parts of it were still recognizable. Let's see what this is right here, I've forgotten. I think we stayed in this hotel.

EE:

In the city?

RW:

That's outside the city.

EE:

This is at a service club in Tokyo?

RW:

Yes. That was a Japanese restaurant someplace. I think we were in there someplace, but I don't know which one's where.

EE:

My guess is that that's your head right there.

RW:

Might be. [chuckles]

EE:

That's got your hairdo, right there behind it. A lot of Red Cross girls there.

RW:

Yes. There were a lot of Red Cross people. I was looking at how people sit, and a lot of those women couldn't sit cross-legged. I can't sit cross-legged. I noticed some of the men are, but it's just hard. So some of them had their legs sort of sideways backwards.

EE:

Side-saddle on the floor, yes. It is a different experience.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

Different culture. That's you at the temple here.

RW:

Yes. That was at the temple. I was kind of picky looking.

Now, you want some of these pictures for anything?

EE:

Yes. Yes. Actually this one right here is a good one of your face with the Japanese people. Is that one I can borrow?

RW:

If you want to have that one, you can have it. You can have anything you want.

EE:

Anything that I can—obviously our first preference is to keep it, that way we don't have to make a copy of it.

RW:

Well, you can have that one, because that's an official photo there.

EE:

All right.

RW:

Now, you can look through these and see whether you think—

EE:

This is kind of a sample shot of the different kind of things that are—

RW:

Somehow they didn't wash too well, wash the print. It faded a whole bunch.

EE:

I always—look at their belts. In South Pacific—that's the reason that reminded me of that. That was my coming out party in high school.

RW:

Oh, was it? [chuckles]

EE:

An introverted intellectual, and all of a sudden he's got a coconut brassiere on. It changes people's opinion of you.

One of the things that's hard to get is pictures of people doing their job.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

You got a number of these there, really good of you doing your job, which is really nice.

RW:

I have about five thousand other pictures downstairs if you want to go through them all.

EE:

Well, this is a pretty good sample I've got right here.

Let's see, that's you doing your job there. Well, just on the first run through, I'm just looking at these right here.

RW:

Okay.

EE:

Because they've got you in them, and of you doing work or you in a particular spot, or it shows something about where you were stationed, about life there. I'll leave Luther Billis with you here. See, that's just my bias there. What that shot shows is, you know, the truthfulness of that story. [chuckles] Okay. Well, maybe if I can have these.

RW:

You can have those.

EE:

Where's that book on Okinawa, I'll just—yes, the Red Cross there and the experience. This is sort of like a yearbook that you all got, everybody that served there.

RW:

The headquarters did that. I don't remember what—

EE:

January '46. Here's what you're talking about, just the stuff and the beach.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

Lots of cemeteries?

RW:

What?

EE:

Cemetery, big cemetery?

RW:

Yes.

EE:

You were stationed in places, unlike the folks who worked with the nurses, I think that you got to see, in a sense, some of the best of the people walking through. You didn't see a lot of the—

RW:

Well, that's why we didn't want to work with the sick people either.

EE:

Yes.

RW:

The nurses did a marvelous job. When I was in the hospital on Okinawa—of course, the hospital was a Quonset hut, too, like everything else, but—they were really good.

EE:

Five thousand and sixty [unclear]. Here's doughnut—this is the doughnut factory, I guess.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

So they'd have one central doughnut making station.

RW:

And everybody's going to get them every day. They'd send a driver down. We'd send a GI or somebody down to get them. They were fresh, and they all disappeared. A lot of times we had sandwiches, too, we served sandwiches. If we got real ambitious we'd cut the crust off.

EE:

That's great. I know a woman down east who's very pleasant. She's a WC grad. She wanted to join the WAVES, and was rejected because she had polio as a child and had a limp and she couldn't march. So she talked to Dean Elliott, who said, “Why don't you talk to somebody at the Red Cross.”

So she said, “Okay, Red Cross.” She said, “Well, they wanted me to work at Club Mobile.” She thought she was going to Mobile, Alabama, but she was sent to Patrick Henry and they put her on a boat and the boat kept on going a long, long time before they told her where they were going to go. She says, “This isn't going to Alabama?” [chuckles] She ended up going to Morocco, working in the clubmobile, driving around to wherever the Third Armed Division that was fighting in North Africa was to feed doughnuts. She said, “I never would have thought I was going overseas.” [chuckles]

RW:

Well, after clubmobile we'd go down and meet the ships.

EE:

I thought it was pretty funny.

RW:

Yes. We had a parade, and they had a beauty contest. Nancy was in the beauty contest. Nancy was beauty queen at Duke, so she got picked right away to be in the beauty thing here.

EE:

That's great.

RW:

We had parades. Anything to take time and do things.

EE:

Five-and-ten-yen store. [chuckles] This is the kind of thing that also tells about work that I think they would enjoy having something like this.

RW:

Good. We've got another one, I've got another one of those.

EE:

Okay. That's great. What's the—

RW:

Now, this is the Roosevelt Club.

EE:

Oh, okay. This was in—

RW:

The Jai Alai Club.

EE:

They just changed it, so it was a fancy facility.

RW:

Yes, it was real fancy. Jai alai was big, big business there. They'd bet on it and everything.

EE:

Just like in Miami or something.

RW:

Yes, they certainly do.

EE:

[reading] “Grand opening, October 17, 1945.” Now, you were there for the grand opening?

RW:

Yes, sir.

EE:

That's wonderful. That had to be a good time, just the fact the war's over.

RW:

Yes.

EE:

It had to be a wonderful thing.

RW:

Well, it was. It was. I can't remember any of the bad things.

EE:

Guess who this is? Okay. Right here? Who is that?

RW:

That's Nancy. [chuckles] Yes, that was opening night.

EE:

Did they have in this club places for you all to stay in the club?

RW:

No. Well, we did the replacement depot still with the nuns. I don't know where the girls who worked there [stayed]—see, the staff was there. I mean, they were assigned there.

[Roommate Nancy Wrenn (NW) enters the conversation]

NW:

Sounds like you're just goofing off now.

EE:

Yes, we are. We are.

RW:

Looking at pictures.

NW:

Looking at pictures.

EE:

Yes, but we caught you at the opening.

NW:

You did.

RW:

At the Roosevelt Club.

NW:

Oh, yes.

EE:

She said it took her about a year to recover from not wanting to see a doughnut again after getting out. How long did it take you?

NW:

I still like doughnuts.

RW:

But for a while we didn't eat doughnuts, did we?

NW:

Well, we didn't have access to them.

RW:

I know, but we didn't think about doughnuts, did we?

EE:

Is there a Krispy Kreme [doughnut shop] place in Greensboro when you all went to—

RW:

No. Krispy Kremes came on later. They were just old—

EE:

Just cake doughnuts.

RW:

Cake doughnuts, yes. I don't remember ever having Krispy Kremes. Do you, Nancy, before?

NW:

No. Just plain doughnuts.

RW:

Yes. We didn't even have chocolate doughnuts. Didn't have chocolate doughnuts.

NW:

No. If you wanted a powdered doughnut you dipped in powdered sugar.

RW:

Yes.

NW:

When you got it at home.

RW:

Right.

EE:

Now, this club you got x'ed here, are these folks you knew?

RW:

Let's see.

NW:

Is this my book?

RW:

Yes, that's your book.

NW:

I think so. People in—let me see here.

RW:

Nancy has a lot better memory on this stuff than I do.

NW:

This girl was from Pinehurst, [North Carolina].

EE:

All these were people that came over in the same class that you all—

NW:

No, this is some of the new—as the war winded its way from the islands in the South Pacific, the Solomons, and then turned to the Philippines. People were transferred as clubs were closed in the other places, they were transferred, like say for the opening of this club.

EE:

Which would have been sort of like the feather in the cap for these folks who'd been out so long.

NW:

Yes, been out in the jungle.

RW:

Of course, yes, we had one girl that moved to the Quonset hut, to the headquarters when we were there. She had with her—

NW:

She'd been in New Guinea.

RW:

She'd been in New Guinea. She had a Primus stove [camp stove] and she had all this food and she just proceeded to start the Primus stove and we sat there and watched her and she cooked her meal right there. I mean, she'd been doing that for months and months out in the jungle. That was her way of life. We were just amazed. Gosh, look at her. Look at her.

NW:

She was an old-timer.

RW:

She was an old-timer, real, real old-timer.

EE:

You get the feeling of being a rookie very fast. [chuckles]

RW:

We saw that.

EE:

“We don't know a thing.” [chuckles]

RW:

We didn't know a thing. She had all these little pots and stuff and we were just amazed.

EE:

But most of the women that you all worked with, were a little bit older than you, or about your age?

RW:

Well, she was older. Yes, we came in last. They had lowered the age.

EE:

I guess earlier twenty-five was—

RW:

Twenty-five was the lowest thing, so they were, most of them were older.

EE:

Right.

RW:

Then some of them were the same age.

EE:

Of course, when you're in your early twenties five years older is a lot older.

RW:

That's right. That's right.

EE:

Boy, that gets old. [chuckles]

RW:

I can remember when sixteen was old. Can you?

EE:

Oh, yes. My oldest boy has just turned nine, and he thinks sixteen is way older.

[End of Interview]