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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mildred Curtis Scott, 1999

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Object ID: WV0092.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Mildred Curtis early life in North Carolina and her experiences in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Military Police (MP) from 1943 to 1946.

Summary:

Scott discusses working on her family’s farm and in factories; hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the need for women to take over men’s jobs; and dating her future husband Claude Scott.

Topics related to the WAC and World War II include her parents’ and male friends’ reactions when she joined the WAC; the train ride to Daytona Beach; living in Tent City, the barracks, and hotels; a typical day in basic training; MP training; and her MP duties, including patrolling bars and hotels. Other war-related subjects include her quarters in Boston and Seattle; soldiers’ attitudes toward the WACs; social life, including the noncommissioned officers’ club, drinking beer, and traveling; disciplining WACs; President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death; seeing General Jonathan Wainwright in a parade; the impact her military service had on her life; and her opinion of women in combat positions. Interview also covers her post-war education and employment, including a civil service postal clerk position.

Creator: Mildred Curtis Scott

Biographical Info: Mildred C. Scott (1918-2006) of Liberty, North Carolina, served as an MP in the Women’s Army Corps from February 1943 until February 1946.

Collection: Mildred Curtis Scott Papers

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

Full Text:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

I am going to ask you questions. I am Eric Elliott, transcriber, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project of the university. I am at the home today of Mrs. Mildred Scott, who's here with her daughter, Sara DeLuca [SD]. It says Siler City, but I can tell you that we're in the woods somewhere near Siler City. This is not downtown Siler City.

Thank you, Mrs. Scott, for having us here today. We ask everybody about the same thirty-odd questions and go from there. The first question, I hope, is not the hardest one. That is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MILDRED SCOTT:

Liberty, North Carolina. August 22, 1918.

EE:

Great. So, let's see now. Liberty is in Randolph County.

MS:

Right.

EE:

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

MS:

I have two sisters, no brothers.

EE:

You the youngest, oldest, or in the middle?

MS:

I'm the oldest and—

EE:

Oldest and smartest. That's good. [chuckles]

MS:

My two sisters, one of them lives around Liberty and the other one lives in Burlington.

EE:

What did your folks do?

MS:

Farmed.

EE:

So you grew up on a farm?

MS:

A farm, yes.

EE:

That means you grew up getting up early and doing lots of chores.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

So you went to elementary school and high school in Liberty?

MS:

No, I went to Walnut Grove for seven years of my schooling. And then they closed that school and consolidated it with Liberty High School, and I graduated from there May the 5th, 1935.

EE:

'35. That would have meant you were probably in eleventh grade when you graduated.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

And I believe you got to go to school just eight months of the year, I think, back then, too, right? It was a shorter school year.

MS:

Well, when I went to Walnut Grove, we didn't go but six months.

EE:

That's pretty good. [chuckles]

MS:

Well, you see, that was farming community and had to get the cotton and tobacco—

EE:

Is that's what y'all raised?

MS:

We raised cotton and other crops, corn and wheat. We didn't have any tobacco land.

EE:

Did the Depression hit y'all pretty hard, being farmers?

MS:

I didn't know it. Well, you see, we raised everything we ate, except coffee and sugar. We had to buy that. And Daddy was the only—well, my grandmother drank coffee some, but Mother didn't drink coffee, so sugar was the main thing, and the rest of it we raised.

EE:

So you might have been better off than some folks.

MS:

Oh, yes. I know I was.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school?

MS:

Oh yes. I cried whenever I graduated, because I knowed that I'd have to work on the farm.

EE:

What was your favorite subject in school?

MS:

Well, I don't know as I had a favorite. The reason that I cried was because I knowed I'd have to work in the field. [chuckles]

EE:

On days like yesterday when it's 97, I could see why you cried. [chuckles]

MS:

Yes. And then I helped Daddy farm from '35 to '37, I believe it was. Two years, anyway. Then I went to work. There was no jobs, so you had to beg and plead for a job. Well, this relative of mine was working at Gregson Chair Factory in Liberty, and they had the sewers in their homes. They had sewing machines in their homes and they worked out of their house, you know. Home sewers.

EE:

They were doing the upholstery work for the chairs.

MS:

Yes. So she said that they were going to take the machines out of the home and they would need another employee or two. So the boss man came out and interviewed me, and so he put me to work and I worked there until '40, I believe it was. 1940. Liberty Hosiery Mill had built a plant there at Liberty and they were hiring, and they hired school children after they got out of school if they was old enough to go to work.

So I went for an interview one day. I was tired of the chair factory, and they didn't pay but 27 cents an hour and then I was making 30 when I went to Liberty Hosiery Mill to see about a job—and so they put me on the knitting machines, single hose. They were starting up these knitting machines, and they put women on them because the men were so scarce, you know. But we did have a man that was a mechanic, and the rest of us was women. There was four of us, I think, they put on those single knitting machines. They were circular and it done everything except the toe. Then they had girls that sewed up the toe.

EE:

You worked first shift? Did they run the first shift?

MS:

Second shift. I started on second shift and then I finally got on first.

EE:

Were you living at home still?

MS:

Yes. Yes, I lived three miles from Liberty.

EE:

So you took that job in '40. Is that what you were doing up till the time that you joined the service?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

And you said you joined in '43.

MS:

'43, yes. Yes, worked there until—well, I heard about Pearl Harbor, you know, on the radio on Sunday afternoon.

EE:

Were you at the house?

MS:

Yes. And so they started talking later after they gave the news report about they needed women to take the boys' places because it was getting really busy over there. So it gave an address in Winston-Salem, so I wrote to them.

EE:

This is where the recruiting station was, I guess, up in Winston?

MS:

Yes. So I got a letter the next day, and they didn't have the air mail. [chuckles] Well, they had air mail. It was just for the service. I got a reply the next day after I mailed it.

EE:

What did your folks think about you wanting to join the service? That wasn't exactly something the average girl went up to do.

MS:

Daddy didn't—he didn't say anything. And Mama, of course, she didn't want me to go because she didn't know where I was going at first, except to Fort Bragg. But she didn't say too much. But anyway, I—

EE:

Your relatives or your sisters, they didn't—

MS:

No, they was tickled to death.

EE:

You freed up a room. [chuckles]

MS:

Well, my youngest sister she was graduating that year and she wanted me there for graduation, but she was glad I was doing it. Well, I had thought about going to Glenn L. Martin airplane factory in Maryland. A friend of mine in the church, she had gone up there. She had some people that lived up there, so she got a job there, and she wanted me to come up there and get a job. So I talked to her about it, and then she told me later, or wrote me, that it was so hard to find a place to live and she was living with her relatives. So then after I heard that on the radio, I decided, well, shoot, I'd rather do that than go to a factory.

EE:

So it was a program you heard on the radio saying they were needed that.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

Some people talked about it was a recruiting poster or they had a friend who'd heard something about it. But that “Free a Man to Fight” was a very compelling thing. So you thought it was a part of your patriotic duty then to go do something like that? Was it patriotism or was it excitement about doing something different, going someplace else?

MS:

No, my boyfriend—well, it turned out to be my husband later, about seven years later—but he was in the service, saying all our friends were in the service. No girls; they were all boys. And I thought, “Well, I think that's what I'd like to do.”

EE:

And what did your boyfriend think about his girl going into the service?

MS:

Oh, he didn't have nothing to do with me. He wouldn't write me or nothing. And another boy that I had dated, he was stationed at Fort Bragg and, oh, he was so mad. They'd heard a tale or two that, you know, they had these girls in there that weren't what they were supposed to be, you know.

EE:

Yes, WACs [Woman's Army Corps] especially got that, I think, because there were some even in the army who were intentionally spreading rumors about their character being something less than desirable. And so your beloved was a little worried about that.

MS:

Yes. If it hadn't been for his mother, I don't think he'd ever written me. [chuckles] She kept after him, because they thought a lot of me, and so she kept writing him and telling him, you know, that half of that or the biggest part of it was not true. And I never saw anything out of the way of any of the girls that I was stationed with. Of course, you know, they drank beer.

EE:

They were probably the only women in America drinking beer back then. [chuckles]

MS:

Right. [chuckles] Yes, you could get it, you know.

EE:

That's true. They were the only ones who could get it. That's why they were drinking it.

Why do you think that started? Do you think there were some people who didn't want to have women in the service?

MS:

Yes. Oh yes. There were some officers, that were over the companies and things, that didn't exactly like to tolerate women. But then they got so many and they needed the men so bad, they had to change their way of thinking.

EE:

When was it that you picked the army as opposed to the navy or SPARS or anybody else? Why did you pick the army?

MS:

Well, the army was the first that really done recruiting.

EE:

True.

MS:

The SPARS [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from “Semper Paratus-Always Ready”], you know, weren't made a part until later. And the Marines, they were recruiting Marines down at Fort Bragg and they talked to me when I had already joined the [U.S.] Army, but they had recruiters there at Fort Bragg recruiting.

EE:

Trying to get people to join Women Marines.

MS:

Right.

EE:

So they asked you. And you said?

MS:

Oh, they painted a rosy picture, you know. But the Marines have a name for being very rough and tough, and all this.

EE:

Even the Women Marines.

MS:

Well, they just started, but after they got started and recruited a lot of Marines, they did have a name for being tough. But they were just trying to get enough women to sign up for Marines at that time.

EE:

Well, you said you reported to [Fort] Bragg in March of '43?

MS:

I enlisted in February.

EE:

Then you went in '43, in March. Is that where you had your basic? I think you told me you went from Bragg to Daytona [Beach, Florida], didn't you?

MS:

Right. To Tent City.

EE:

Was that your first big trip away from home?

MS:

Well, yes. Well, I'd been to Charlotte. [chuckles]

EE:

Did you take a train ride down there?

MS:

Yes, it took us several days, seemed like. Because we was on one of those trains where you stopped at every pig's path, especially in South Carolina and Georgia. [chuckles] And hot! It seemed hot, but it was springtime. But it seemed like it was so hot down there in South Carolina and Georgia.

EE:

So when you got to Daytona, were you on the train with other women going down to basic?

MS:

There were several on there but I didn't know any of them.

EE:

Because you didn't have a uniform when you got on that train, did you?

MS:

No, no. You were still in your civilian clothes.

EE:

Did they just tell you to bring your flat shoes and be ready to march? [chuckles]

MS:

Yes, they had certain things that you was to bring. But I got acquainted with a girl from Asheboro.

EE:

On this train trip? This was Ms. Moffitt?

MS:

Esther Moffitt, yes. And we talked the rest of the way. I don't know where we got acquainted. Somewhere in South Carolina. [chuckles]

EE:

Waiting for the train.

MS:

Yes. We'd sit there on the track till the train come by.

EE:

Tell me about when you got to Daytona. You were in the Tent City.

MS:

Yes, that was the orientation where you got all your information that they needed to tell you about. We spent, I believe, two nights there in Tent City.

EE:

And then they moved you to barracks?

MS:

And then moved to the barracks. We were assigned to an outfit. There was two or three barracks of us. I know there was two.

EE:

What's it like living in a room with how many other women, twenty, thirty? How many were in there? A bunch.

MS:

There was about thirty-some in each barracks. And you had curfew, you know. It was kind of rough and different from what you'd growed up in.

EE:

Yes, it's a lot more than having a couple of sisters. [chuckles]

MS:

And, you know, you had to take turns taking a shower and everything. And you had your laundry to do. Of course, a lot of them, when we first went, they would send theirs to the laundry, but most of them done their own laundry.

EE:

What was a normal day like for you? How early did y'all get up? What did you do during the day?

MS:

Six o'clock. They'd blow the whistle at six o'clock and you rolled out. I mean you didn't lay there and say, “Oh, I'm going to take another nap.” But they meant for you to roll out, and they didn't want to have to come back and blow the whistle again. So, you dressed. You fell out in front of the barracks and had roll call. And you better be there. Then you went to breakfast. And after you had breakfast, you marched back to the barracks and you made your bed and finished dressing if you had to do something to your hair or makeup or something. Your hair was supposed to be collar-length, no longer.

So then I think it was seven o'clock, seven or seven-thirty, we went for marching and exercises. PT [physical training], they called it. And we went through all of that.

EE:

Did y'all have any marching songs that y'all marched to?

MS:

Oh yes, plenty of them. I've got a bunch of them here. [chuckles] And then I think it's twelve o'clock we had lunch, and you had to stand in line so it took thirty minutes to get inside the mess hall because you take, well, two barracks with thirty, it was about, I'd say, a hundred, you know, standing in line, trying to get in the mess hall, in the hot sun. It was hot down there in Florida.

EE:

Were your instructors women or men?

MS:

Women. Shoot, we didn't want no men.

EE:

I know when it first started, all they had was men to start off with. I guess by the time you were in, they were all women.

MS:

In Des Moines and Oglethorpe they had men, because they didn't know what to do, because the women had never went through anything like that. The officers and everything that was in charge, they was training them, the men were, what to do and how to be a first sergeant and how to be a clerk and all this.

EE:

Basic for you lasted, what, about six weeks or something like that?

MS:

Six weeks.

EE:

And you were telling me before we started to tape that they were trying to divvy y'all up and decide who was going to do what.

MS:

Yes. Right.

EE:

Tell me how they picked you to do what you did.

MS:

Well, I think they about run out of jobs. [chuckles]

EE:

Did they give you some tests to figure out what—

MS:

Well, yes, you did that. You took those tests when you went to the barracks, you know. They had a certain time they give you these tests to see your coordination, you know, if you could do things faster than somebody else. What did they call it? I can't remember what they called it, but—

EE:

This was typing and shorthand, or what was this?

MS:

Well, they had typing and, you know, you put blocks in holes.

EE:

So it was an IQ kind of test.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

So you ended up being selected to be an MP.

MS:

Military Police. And I didn't like the thoughts of that, but I was down at the bottom of the pole so I had to take it.

EE:

Did they assign you to MPs because you looked like somebody who'd command attention?

MS:

Well, they called me “Hawkeye.” I got that name. [chuckles]

EE:

You got that name before you were an MP?

MS:

No. After I got my training, they called me “Hawkeye.”

EE:

Were you trained right there at Daytona for doing your MP?

MS:

Yes, we moved out of the barracks into a hotel on the beach, and they had it set up so many in each room and, of course, we had bunk beds.

EE:

All of you were learning how to be MPs?

MS:

There was twenty, twenty-five, I believe, of us that were chosen as MPs.

EE:

Were y'all the first class of MPs?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

Again, they were trying to figure out how to do it, I guess. [chuckles] There were no procedures because y'all were the first.

MS:

Right. Well, see, there was two of us that marched together, you know, on the patrol, and there was always a navy and an army man. They would be somewhere around. They were patrolling the bars and things. Of course, we went in the bars too, to see if there was any WACs in there and if they were behaving, and sometimes we had to take one out and take her to the, well, “brig,” they called it.

EE:

Did you work pretty close then with the men MPs on trying to police things?

MS:

Well, yes. But we didn't just follow them around. But we had certain patrols. We had Ormond Beach, which was outside Daytona Beach. That's where the racetrack is now, in Ormond Beach, and we patrolled out there. There was a few hotels out there then and a few bars and maybe a restaurant or two. But that's all there was in Ormond Beach then. You worked six hours and off six hours.

EE:

So, part of what you were doing was patrolling to make sure that the WACs comporting themselves right. You were doing guard duty as well?

MS:

No.

EE:

So you were basically just on patrol for watching others.

MS:

On patrol.

EE:

Who was there, other than WACs being trained? Were WACs stationed there in addition to those being trained? It was just a training facility for the WACs.

MS:

Just for WACs.

EE:

I guess if you were there for eleven months, you probably saw half a dozen classes come through, I guess.

MS:

Oh, yes, but we didn't have no more Military Police at that time. Whenever we left there, there was no other Military Police training.

EE:

So the twenty-five that trained with you at that training, you say it was for about four months? How long was that training for?

MS:

I expect it took us about six months. I believe it was about six months.

EE:

It was sort of on-the-job training, it sounds like. You went and go did it. That's how you learned what you were supposed to do? [chuckles] What would a WAC do for entertainment? Did you get a weekend off?

MS:

Yes, you rotated and you'd have so many Saturdays off or so many Sundays off during the month.

EE:

Is it tough to enjoy the weekend if you're supposed to be an MP and people know that? You had to act differently. Sort of like a preacher's dilemma. “I can't go out.” [chuckles]

MS:

Yes. You were supposed to set a good example, you know. But there was some in our outfit that you know, they were in charge. We had a sergeant and a corporal. Of course, you start out as a private and then you go on to PFC [private first class] and then it was corporal and then sergeant.

EE:

What rank were you when you finished your MP training? Were you PFC?

MS:

I was a private and I made PFC and, I believe, made corporal before we left to go to Boston—before we was shipped out there. I think I was.

EE:

You leave for Boston in February of '44.

MS:

Right.

EE:

Promotion dates. You made PFC July of '43, and corporal September of '43. So that's right. You were corporal before you left to go to Boston. Tell me where you went in Boston.

MS:

See, they assigned us on the fifth floor of the Franklin Square House.

EE:

All you WACs spend your time at hotels across the country.

MS:

Yes, I did. And the boys would make fun of us, you know. We had it easy, lived in hotels.

EE:

Was it hotels or did they do like a lot of times—I've heard they stripped all the good stuff out of the hotel and you just got the bare roots?

MS:

No.

EE:

You had a nice room?

MS:

It was first class. We had all the fifth floor and we were the MPs. There might have been a few more WACs that worked there besides the MPs.

EE:

Living at the hotel, you were working at the port.

MS:

Port of embarkation. But, you see, we lived there and we had an allowance. They gave us—I don't know if they started out with 75 dollars a month, I believe it was, for two meals a day and our board.

EE:

What was your shift like when you were in Boston? Was it six days a week? How long did you have to work?

MS:

Well, we, we rotated just like we did—

EE:

Same thing like at Daytona, where you'd work six hours a day, six off? Or six days on, six days off?

MS:

When I worked there in that building at the gate giving out passes, we worked eight hours there. But the guards on the gate, they worked six and off. There was two of us WACs and one army guy, he was from Germany and he didn't tolerate WACs too much, but he had to—

EE:

Put up with you.

MS:

Put up with it, yes. While I was there, I made Soldier of the Month, and he was up for it, too. I forgot how long they run it, but he was up same time I was for Soldier of the Month. Then he told later that he gave it to me. [chuckles]

EE:

That was nice of him.

MS:

The general and colonel were the ones that chose who was to be the soldier but he said, well he just give it to me because I was a woman. [chuckles]

EE:

Do you think most of the men that you worked with, were most of them like that or most of them giving you credit for what you did?

MS:

Well, at first, well, there was a few, you know, but most of them let you know right off that they didn't like it too well, but then they got to accepting us.

EE:

This is the commendation right here. Excellent. Brigadier General DeWitt.

MS:

And he said he gave it to me. [chuckles]

EE:

Well, that's great. When I ask about how men treated you, you're doing different kinds of work than you might be allowed to do sometimes in civilian life. So maybe you are in different situations in the military working with men than you would be normally.

MS:

Oh yes.

EE:

Did you feel like you were asked to do things that were not “feminine”?

MS:

No, no, no.

EE:

You had no problem doing what you were doing, did you?

MS:

No. [chuckles]

EE:

Although they asked you to come in to free a man to fight, some people I've talked to said they could tell that they weren't welcome in some areas because some folks knew that they might be next to be freed to go fight and they weren't looking forward to go in and fighting. [chuckles] Did you ever run into that?

MS:

Well, not that I know of, no.

EE:

You were at Boston and in this Franklin Square Hotel from February of '44 to, I guess, April of the following year. You were there for fourteen months. The war changes pretty dramatically during that time. At the port where you're working, what are they doing at the port? Are they building ships? Are they processing soldiers?

MS:

They were loading.

EE:

Loading supplies.

MS:

Loading and unloading.

EE:

Could you tell the pace getting faster?

MS:

Oh yes, you could tell. There would be more activity, more jeeps coming in with soldiers and trucks and things, and you knew that things were picking up.

EE:

Did they do anything to formally debrief y'all about what was going on in the war, or did you just have to read the papers?

MS:

No, they let you know a little bit about it. I mean, you weren't completely in the dark.

EE:

So they'd say, “Don't plan on taking a leave this weekend. We need everybody here. We've got a lot of stuff we've got to do”?

MS:

Or you may have to work some extra time.

EE:

What was the hardest thing you had to do at your job as an MP?

MS:

Well, I don't know.

EE:

Physically or emotionally, either one. When you got to Boston, you weren't dealing so much with the WACs, it doesn't sound like, checking up on them, or were you?

MS:

No, it wasn't like it was in Florida. We weren't on patrol.

EE:

You were working more with men and with the civilians?

MS:

They had a motor pool there and we had certain girls that worked on vehicles if they needed work on. And then they had a mess hall. Well, it wasn't a mess hall but that's what they called it, where we could eat one meal a day there. You had to pay for it, because they gave us that allowance. You could eat two meals at the Franklin Square House and one meal at the port, didn't matter if it was breakfast, it all depend on what shift you were working.

EE:

Did y'all have a club for NCOs [non-commissioned officers]? Did you have a place to gather in Boston?

MS:

NCO Club. That's where all the beer bottles— [chuckles]

EE:

So there was a better price on beer at the NCO Club than out on the street?

MS:

Oh yes.

EE:

Okay. There were some discounts.

MS:

I didn't drink any of it. I don't know.

EE:

Did you spend a lot of time with other WACs, or what did you do when you had free time?

MS:

Well, you know, your friends, it's just like out in civilian life. After you got in the service, you made friends and you more or less stuck together.

EE:

Did you have to carry a pistol being an MP?

MS:

No, we had a club. [chuckles]

EE:

My goodness, I didn't know that. “Mom knows how to wield a club.” Did they teach you how to restrain people?

MS:

Yes. Judo and all that.

EE:

Did you ever have to use that training?

MS:

No, we never did.

EE:

Only on your children. [chuckles]

MS:

No, we never did. I've used it on children, so my son says. [chuckles]

EE:

But you didn't have to do that. So your job never put you in physical danger, then.

MS:

No.

EE:

You didn't have to wrestle anybody to the ground or do anything like that?

MS:

No, the physical danger was running into a bunch of sailors that was on leave. [chuckles] They would talk and carry on and stagger around on the street or around the bar, but they never bothered us.

EE:

You were in Boston through April of '44. Were you there in Boston when [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away, or were you in Seattle?

MS:

Yes, I was in Boston.

EE:

Do you remember anything about that day, how you found out about that?

MS:

Yes, I remember it very plainly. You see, we had just voted. I never had voted before. We voted by proxy, what they called proxy. You know, he died in how many months. It wasn't many after he was voted in again. So it touched us, really did, because we didn't know what was going to happen. You didn't know who was going to take his place. Of course, you knew the vice president would, but how things would turn out overseas with a new commander-in-chief. Everybody, I think, liked Roosevelt.

EE:

What did you think of Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

MS:

Well, she done a lot of good, but she wasn't the most likable person. [chuckles]

EE:

She was opinionated, wasn't she?

MS:

She was like myself. She didn't have the looks.

EE:

I think you're being too hard. You left from Boston and then went to Seattle. Were you in Seattle on VE [Victory in Europe] Day when the war ended in Europe?

MS:

No, we were on the train five days. We got to Boise, Idaho, and somebody got off there and got a newspaper and that was the headlines. There was celebration. Of course, we just hollered and clapped.

EE:

That's a mild-mannered version of that story. How late into the night did you holler and clap?

MS:

You know, we didn't have any beer or anything, no drinks on the train.—

EE:

You had to wear a uniform, I guess, just about everywhere you went.

MS:

Absolutely. You wore it to sleep in, almost.

EE:

Did you ever get any special treatment being a woman in uniform?

MS:

I don't know. I was just an ordinary person.

EE:

So you never had anybody on the street say anything to you about being in uniform?

MS:

No, I don't think so. When we were in Daytona, there wasn't too many soldiers down there, you see. Navy base was close. I forgot the name of the base, but anyway, it was a navy base that wasn't too far, and they could ride the bus to come up there. I don't think there was any bars or anything close to where they were stationed.

EE:

When you got to Seattle, you showed me the picture of the place you worked, which was another port of embarkation. Were you doing similar kinds of work? What were you doing out there?

MS:

Yes, I worked for this captain. He worked in the counterintelligence office. I was his gopher, more or less. [chuckles]

EE:

You were captain then, or had you made sergeant? You got a promotion, I think.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

September '45 you made T4, sergeant. That was while you were working with him.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

What was his name, do you remember?

MS:

Captain Stieger, S-t-i-e-g-e-r. And he was a real, real jewel. They sent me to typing school to work with him, because I had to type up a report and send it in to Washington every morning at eight o'clock. It had to go into Washington. And he tolerated my typing.

EE:

What were you reporting on? The war is over. Of course, it's not over yet. After the war in Europe is over, everybody assumes we're going to take a while to invade Japan because they don't know about the bomb.

MS:

That's right. We didn't.

EE:

What did you think about that when you heard about the bomb?

MS:

Well, we didn't know too much about it, you know. Just knew that it went off and then it wouldn't be long until there'd be victory in Japan.

EE:

Were you near a bottle of beer when VJ [Victory in Japan] Day happened? [chuckles]

MS:

I didn't, but a lot of them did. But they had a parade there in Seattle. General [Jonathan Mayhew] Wainwright, you know, he was a prisoner of war, and so he had gotten back to the States in August and they had a convertible and he was riding in it. He was nothing but skin and bones. Everything stopped in Seattle when they brought him through in the convertible, and all the dignitaries and everything.

EE:

Were you in another hotel situation in Seattle?

MS:

Yes, we were at that time. But they moved us later after the war was over in Japan. They moved us to a barracks. Well, it was a hospital, an old army hospital, and they had closed it down. So they opened it up and put us out there on that base. Fort Lawton.

EE:

You were about to do the four corners. If they had just moved you to Los Angeles, you'd had seen all four corners of the United States. Did you get a chance to travel out? Everybody talks about how beautiful Seattle is.

MS:

Yes. We went to, some of us, wherever you wanted to go if you had time off. In Bremerton, Washington, we got—it was like a cruise ship now, but Moffitt and I went to British Columbia. We also went to Miami and Portland, Oregon.

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

What was it, Butchart Gardens, were those out there then, the gardens on that island?

MS:

Yes, I think so.

EE:

You were in Seattle then until the time you were discharged, which was February of '46.

MS:

Right.

EE:

Did you ever think about staying in the military as a career?

MS:

You know, you can't see ahead. If I had knowed I would probably have stayed in, because when you come back it was different. I mean, the situation was different. The jobs were scarce because all these boys were coming back. Of course, you were guaranteed, but it didn't always work out that way. You were supposed to be guaranteed your job back.

Well, I went back in May, I believe it was. I went back to my old job. Well, the boss man, he was a mechanic whenever I went in. He was my mechanic. Well, when I came back he was the boss man, and me and him didn't get along. Well, I should have felt sorry for him. He lost his dad when he was young and he was the oldest child. He had three sisters, and his dad was dead. But he was overbearing. Then his son ends up as the pastor of our church [in the 1970s]. [chuckles]

EE:

He's haunting you everywhere. [chuckles]

MS:

That was fifty years later when he ended up the pastor of our church. But his father is dead now. He had cancer and he died several years ago. But he was just overbearing, and nobody knowed how to do anything but him. They sent him to Pennsylvania, I believe it was, to learn those machines, how to set them up and everything, and he thought, because he had been up there, that he knowed more about the machines than anybody else.

EE:

Did they give WACs the 52-50 option? Fifty dollars a month for a year, you got? You didn't have that payout?

MS:

We got the payout whenever you got out, you know, which was what 150 dollars or something like that.

EE:

Well, the money wasn't too bad.

MS:

No. But I did go to school under the GI Bill at King's Business College in Greensboro. I worked at the mill for a month after I came back and I couldn't tolerate Glen, so I went to see about going to school. I took a business course. Of course, I should have had more sense, but there wasn't too much to choose from. I was no good at typing nor shorthand, either one. I can peck but I couldn't hold down a job when somebody is dictating shorthand and then you had to type it and all this. But I didn't graduate. I went about ten months, I think, eleven, and then I just give it up. I got married instead. Then I moved to Siler City and could not find a job nowhere. There was no jobs. And especially if you were from another town and moved in, you know.

EE:

They took care of their own first, in other words.

MS:

Right. They didn't know you and they didn't know what your capabilities were or anything. I took the test they was giving at the post office for a postal clerk. Well, there was thirty of us who took it. Now, you can imagine. So I passed it. One of the girls from Siler City there, she took it, too, and she made the same grade I did. Well, you see, I had five extra points because I had been in the service. Her husband got killed in the service so she had five points, and so that made us have the same grade.

EE:

And she was from Siler City.

MS:

Yes, right. So the postmaster liked her, and she felt sorry for her because she lost her husband and she had a little girl. I know that didn't pay for it, but she got $20,000 insurance because he was killed. So when the time comes to hire the new employees at the post office, there were several carriers that were put on, and there was two clerks.

Well, the assistant postmaster came and talked to me one day and he said, “Miss Helen will be out to see you.” He said, “I'm pulling for you.” But said, “You know Miss Helen Siler is over me.”

And so on Saturday of that week, Miss Helen came to see me, and she talked and just asked questions and things. Then she said, “Well, I'll be in touch with you.” She left, and she gave it to the other girl. I can't think of her name now. It's left me, what her name was. But anyway, she worked there until her health—I don't know how many years, probably twenty-five or thirty, she had to give it up.

EE:

Did you end up working for her?

MS:

I worked eight years as the substitute at Christmastime. That's as close as I got to a job.

EE:

Did you start having kids in the meantime?

MS:

Well, I did, didn't I? Ronnie was born in '50 and then Cynthia was born in '52, Sara in '53. But I had all three of them the last year when I worked.

EE:

Tell me about this fellow that didn't want to write you because you were a WAC. Why did you put up with it and get married to him? [chuckles]

MS:

Well, I don't know. I've wondered that.

EE:

Did his mama make him come back and keep writing you after you got back? Or how did y'all get back together?

MS:

Well, he finally decided he'd write me. But he was overseas, over in the Philippines or over there somewhere. He was over there four years over in the Pacific, just about four years. He decided he'd write to me, I reckon. But anyway, then when he come back—he got out in August of '45. Well, he didn't let me know that he was back, and he started dating these other girls. I didn't know that, though. And then when I got out in February, I didn't let him know I was home.

EE:

Turnabout is fair play, seems to me. [chuckles] I guess there were conversations between your mama and his mama.

MS:

So his sister had got married, and I took her a wedding gift down there in July, after I got out in February. I hadn't seen him or anything, you know. His girlfriend was just leaving his mother's when I drove up. But anyway, he finally decided maybe he may have made the wrong choice or something and left the other girls, I don't know. He had two I know that he was dating.

EE:

Well, four years in the Philippines is a long time. What was his name?

MS:

Claude Scott.

EE:

So y'all officially got together in '47, I guess it was?

MS:

Yes. April of '47.

EE:

How long were y'all married?

MS:

He died in '94.

EE:

Forty-seven years. That's great. That's great. And he didn't hold being a WAC against you at the end of the day, then?

MS:

No, not really. I guess he forgot about it.

SD:

She was a higher rank than he was. [chuckles]

EE:

That could be a sore point. Actually, there's a woman who said that she was scheduled to be discharged the following Monday, but if she'd stayed in to that date she would have been discharged at a higher rank than her husband, so she left a week early because she said, “I knew he could not live with that.” But they were already married. So you didn't have that obligation.

MS:

Well, if I had stayed in I would have been up for a promotion. I had made T/5 [technician fifth grade].

EE:

That was the rank you were in when you were discharged then?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

You said the fellow you were working with, Captain Stieger, he was counterintelligence. What kinds of reports were you typing up, just the activity that was going on?

MS:

We had to report on the personnel, if they were there and if they were out. I had to find out why they weren't there at work.

EE:

So you were doing a little internal spying?

MS:

Yes, I spied a whole lot.

EE:

When you think about those days, and you probably watch TV and see old movies and stuff, are there some movies or some songs from those times that take you back to places in your past?

MS:

Oh yes. White Christmas. I've got a sheet of songs there.

EE:

This is your ID when you were—secret and confidential. You had to have a security clearance to do this job as opposed to the other ones. Did they come back and ask your folks if you were a fine, upstanding citizen and make sure you didn't have any affiliations? That's great.

MS:

They investigated you.

EE:

Well, you, at least, are a little more forthcoming. Some of the people I've talked with, “I worked with intelligence. I can't tell you what I did.” [chuckles] That makes for a short interview.

I asked you if you were ever in danger. Is there a particularly embarrassing incident that comes out in your mind? You know, you're thrown; everybody's thrown in, in military, with people from all over the country, all different backgrounds. Sometimes funny things happen when that happens. Is there something like that that happened to you?

MS:

I can't remember one. Right now I can't.

EE:

How about characters? Are there people who were just different kinds of people that you ran into?

MS:

Back then they screened you. You know, then after the war got picked up so, there were some that weren't as desirable. But in the police, the Military Police you were checked, your background and everything, and they just didn't have just anybody in the police.

EE:

How do you think your life has been different because of your time in the military?

MS:

I wouldn't take anything for my experience.

EE:

What's the thing that's changed the most in your life because of that time? Was it just seeing other people? What changed about you as a result of being in the military?

MS:

I don't know. But it irritates me sometimes when people take it so lightly. You know, they just don't think it's anything because you were in the service. I don't want no crown or nothing like that, but it was an experience that you'll never forget and you feel like you done a little good.

EE:

Did you feel you contributed to the war effort?

MS:

Yes. Right.

EE:

Did your dad get to put a flag in the window with a star on it? For people who had children in the service, they flew a flag in the window with a star.

MS:

My husband's good friend, they grew up together, went to school together, she had five in the service at one time and not a one of them got hurt or killed.

EE:

That's great. She's lucky.

MS:

One of them was in a tank that was blown up over in Africa or somewhere over in there, it blowed him out of the tank. And he said he was running all the way. But he has a nervous stomach—they call it at Durham, at the Veterans Hospital, he's been over there so much. But they called it a nervous stomach because of all the stress.

EE:

Do you think that being in the military made you more of an independent person than you would have been?

MS:

Yes. Oh yes, because I was very withdrawn. I mean, back then you didn't have no chances to go places and do things, see things, and especially if you lived on a farm in the country, you were different from what children are now because you'd been nowhere. You'd been to Greensboro. I did go to Charlotte. My daddy's sister lived up there and they came home one time and they took me back with them. I was a teenager, I reckon. That was, you know, a big thing.

But see, what ruined us—there was five or six of us that went from that country school to the high school at Liberty. See, we knew all the ones, there wasn't but very few that went to that country school, and then you throw us in there with these city, mostly city children. They were in their teens. It was eighth grade. There was fifty in that eighth grade and they divided up in two separate groups. Well, there was twenty-five of us that made it to the end, out of the fifty. You see, they were older, most of them. They were older than we were because they had worked, went to school, and they didn't start when they was six. Maybe their parents had died and they had to go to work, just things like that, so there was twenty-five of us that made it. A lot of them got married. But they were older than I was.

EE:

Did any of your children serve in the military?

MS:

No.

EE:

If Sara had come to you and asked, “Mama, I want to join the service,” what would you have told her?

MS:

Well, I had a granddaughter that talked about it before she graduated. It was in her senior year. She was trying to decide what she was going to do, and she talked about enlisting in the service. Well, I would love for her to, but the way things are now, it's different from what it was when I went in, because of the dope and everything. So she didn't do it, and she's had every job in the country. She's had experience in different jobs.

EE:

America just sent the first woman into combat as a pilot last December. Do you think there are some jobs in the military that women shouldn't do?

MS:

Yes, there's a few, yes. And, you know, I don't think they really need to put them in those jobs.

EE:

But you were doing a job that freed a man to fight. In World War II, there were more women doing men's jobs, whether it's Rosie the Riveter or—

MS:

Well, they worked in these here plants, airplane plants and Newport News Shipyard.

EE:

Do you think—even though for most of those women that was just because of the war and they went back and did other jobs—but do you think that might have been the start of the women's lib idea?

MS:

Yes, I think so.

EE:

So you felt maybe part of that, as far as changing the way that people looked at women?

MS:

Well, yes, I think so.

EE:

Were most of the women that did your kind of work, were they about your age, mid-twenties, or were they younger?

MS:

They was all ages. There was one woman, she lived in Chicago, Illinois, and she worked as a detective, I guess, in one of those big department stores in Chicago. She was thirty-eight years old and she looked like she was fifty-eight. [chuckles]

EE:

Well, when you're in your twenties, people in their thirties do look ancient. [chuckles]

MS:

Well, I was twenty-what? Twenty-three? And just to look at her, she had gray hair and she was a big woman and she could make you hide if you was shoplifting. But she loved her drinks. Of course, a lot of them did love their drinks.

EE:

That was one way they knew you were a Southerner.

MS:

Well, at home, you know, they had their wine and their beer.

EE:

Different way of living.

MS:

It was just natural for them. And we had one Indian girl when we were in Seattle. She loved the service and she didn't want to get out, but they finally had to discharge her. I don't remember what state she was from, whether it was Oklahoma or out there somewhere. She had her friends and they would go out for a beer. And, you know, Indians cannot drink. There is something about their blood that they can't. They do it but they go wild. She would have her a beer or two, and the commanding officer would tell us, you know, that she wasn't supposed to do that. Well, we'd have to take her in a lot of times because she'd have one too many.

EE:

Literally. One too many. [chuckles]

MS:

So finally we had to keep her, well, in the brig. It was a room off to itself, and we had to stand guard to see that she didn't—well, she'd slip out. She'd slip out the window. She was a likeable person, but they finally had to discharge her—she just cried because she wanted to stay in, but she would get with the others and she'd have a beer or two.

EE:

I'm always impressed that people can remember things from fifty years ago when I can't remember things from five weeks ago. I've gone through the main questions that I ask everybody. Is there anything about your military experience that I haven't asked you about that you want to share, that you want to talk about?

MS:

Well, yes, when I was in Boston, I thought I was living it up. [chuckles]

EE:

You had your own tea room.

MS:

We had our friends, we had our room. The Moffitt girl and I had a room and we would, you know, go to plays and movies and all this stuff. We was right at the trolley line, and you'd take the trolley and then you'd get the subway wherever you want to go.

EE:

Big city life's definitely different. Did you see a lot of USO [United Service Organizations] stuff, a lot of shows and bands and things like that?

MS:

Yes, yes. And that hospital ship—she died with cancer. What was her name? She lived in Chapel Hill. You know, she sang with the USO.

EE:

Yes, I know who you're talking about. Kate Smith.

MS:

Yes. We saw her. She was on this hospital ship and it docked there at the port. She sang several songs.

EE:

God Bless America.

MS:

Yes. God Bless America.

EE:

Oh, my goodness. Were you on the WAC softball team?

MS:

I didn't know they had a softball team.

SD:

That's what I'd have been on, the softball team.

EE:

[Referring to photograph] This is the woman, Esther. She went to Seattle, too?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

So y'all just pretty much stayed together from basic all the way through.

MS:

We were roommates the whole time except for about six months. She was sent from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. She stayed up there and she got her discharge a week after I did at Fort Bragg.

EE:

That's great. You've got so much nice things to browse through, I tell you. What's that little song? Did you sing, “Duty is calling out to me”? I interviewed the brigadier general of the WACs, who retired in '75, Mildred Bailey. She's from North Carolina. She said that they sang a song to the Colonel Bogey March, called Duty. “Duty is calling out to me,” and they would march. What did you sing? You said you had some songs. Was there a WAC song?

MS:

Yes, there was all kinds of WAC songs, and we'd sing all the way from the port back to the Franklin Square House. We never made a trip, I don't reckon, that we didn't sing.

SD:

She actually has a book, a little book that had songs in it.

MS:

There's my chief clerk. [chuckles] INS Division.

EE:

This was at the—

MS:

Seattle.

SD:

I see all kinds of plays that she went to.

EE:

Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. I'm going to leave this tape running, but this will be the end of the formal interview, but I'm going to leave this running so you can tell me about these things as we're doing. Because what I'd like to do is maybe take some of this stuff back with me and make copies and I'd get it back to y'all.

[End of interview]