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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Cugini Necko, 1999

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Object ID: WV0094.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Mary Cugini Necko’s early life in Massachusetts; her experiences with the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1944 to 1946; and her life in the years following World War II.

Summary:

Necko discusses going on welfare during the Depression; her parents’ backgrounds, including her mother’s Italian childhood; conflicted feelings about her American citizenship and her Italian heritage; social life in Boston, including dances and dating.

Topics related to the military and World War II include joining the Women Marines to “free a Marine to fight”; her family’s and friends’ reactions when she joined the military; her father’s opinion of Mussolini; her guilt at leaving her parents; training in military etiquette and procedures; social life; her work in Arlington, Virginia, and living next to Arlington Cemetery; visiting a friend who was wounded at Iwo Jima; worrying about the war and her Marine friends; meeting her future husband at a USO picnic; security at Marine Corps Headquarters; having tea with Eleanor Roosevelt; and going to church on VE Day.

Other topics include her favorite musicians, including Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller; religion and political correctness; her five marriage proposals; her consideration of becoming a nun; worrying about her husband when he was serving in the Korean War; patriotism; her opinion of women in combat positions; and her involvement in veterans’ groups.

Creator: Mary Cugini Necko

Biographical Info: Mary Cugini Necko (1924-2009) of Brighton, Massachusetts, served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from November 1944 to May 1946.

Collection: Mary Cugini Necko Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

Today is June the 17th, 1999. My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and I'm at the home today of Mary Necko. Thank you, Mary, for already entertaining me royally this afternoon, you and your husband, Val. We're going to be doing this interview for the Women Veterans History Project at the university. There are about thirty questions which we'll filter your life through, which we ask everybody, and the first one I hope is not the hardest question. That's, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MN:

I was born in Brighton, Massachusetts, on November 14, 1924.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

MN:

I'm the oldest of five children. There were three girls and two boys.

EE:

What did your folks do?

MN:

My mother took care of all us children. My father, when he came to America, he came from a rich family. They would shoot pheasants out in the property. He came to America, didn't know how to work. So consequently, you know, we suffered because of that—Not that he didn't know how to work; it's just that he was spoiled.

We had a hard time during the Depression. Actually, we went on welfare. That's the first time I ever heard the word “welfare”and I'm always interested in how the welfare system in America is helping. You're not helping the parents who maybe are not so very good. You're helping the children, you see? When the Depression was on—and Val will tell you the same thing—they would give everybody flour and canned meat and oatmeal and clothes. But anyway, it was very hard for us. But besides that, we had a proper upbringing.

My mother was educated in Italy and was going to be a teacher, but when she met and married my father—actually, she was supposed to marry a royal—well, actually, the story goes with my mother, her father did mosaic art in the king's castle.

EE:

This was in Naples, or where was this?

MN:

In Rome. King [Victor] Emanuel had a companion. The companion had a son. When Ma would go to the castle, because her father was there, she had a romance going with the companion's son at the castle, and they were supposed to get married. But what happened is, he got somebody pregnant, and my poor mother, I think she carried that heartache for the rest of her life.

EE:

What might have been.

MN:

What might have been. She was well educated, her father also knew Latin. He could read and write Italian. He sang at St. Peter's in Rome, where my mother was christened. Her family, which is the last name, Gallo—not related to the mafia or the wine people—go all the way back to St. Anthony. When Pope Gregory was concerned about St. Anthony, he sent a devil's advocate—what do you call them? Another word. Mystic theology. The priest's name was Gallo.

So why was my grandfather in the church? Why was Ma there, right? So I feel like there's something there. So that's interesting. When I used to listen to midnight mass, coming from the Vatican in Rome, I would sit there and cry like as if I was there before. There were times in America I used to feel all of Italy going through my veins and I'd sit down and cry “I don't even know if I belong in this country”and become so emotional and I didn't know why.

VN:

Have you ever been to Italy?

MN:

I was conceived there.

VN:

But have you ever been there?

MN:

No. I never got a chance. I hope our son takes me. I can't go alone. But that's a feeling, and I don't know where it came from.

EE:

Well, you grew up in a community that was all immigrants from Italy, in that area?

MN:

We were from a certain town, Brighton, Massachusetts, of the greater Boston metro area, and we all knew each other. My mother and another lady were the most intelligent in the neighborhood because they'd been educated. My mother would read letters from the old country for neighbors, and she could read and write. She had a beautiful voice, and was accompanied by all the guitars and mandolins.

EE:

Did she help influence you in your attitude towards schooling and learning?

MN:

Yes, she did. “This is America. You can be anything you want, Maria.” My name is Maria. My teachers changed my name when I went to school. They changed all our names to English. “Now children, you must speak the King's English.” I could hardly understand.

My mother could have worked at the embassy. When she was fifty years old, she had to go to work, Bond's Clothing Company. I'd get home from school, do my babysitting, then come home and cook supper for everybody to sit down and eat. There were five children, mother and father. I'm the oldest.

EE:

How old were you when your father passed away?

MN:

In '72, when my father died, we learned the reason why my father couldn't work. We found out after they did an autopsy on his brain. He had a clot on the brain. When my father was born, he was a twin, and one died, and they had to feed him wine with an eye drop to make him live. Isn't that interesting? And I think that's what was wrong with my father, why he really couldn't do like he thought he should. But he was a very distinguished-looking man.

EE:

You went to parochial school in Boston, or public school?

MN:

No, my mother couldn't afford to send us to parochial school. All the Irish children went to parochial school. My mother couldn't even buy us a pencil. I remember the boy next door used to make fun of us. “You're not going to parochial school?” They used to call it “sister school,” with all the nuns. And I would hang my head, and I was ashamed that I couldn't go. But I met him at a class reunion ten years ago, and he was there, and I told him how I felt. Well, he's an eye doctor out in the seashore. Let me see, where? Virginia Beach.

EE:

That's something that I think myself when I moved to Philadelphia, I didn't realize just how important that was for people, because there wasn't a strong Catholic community around here, but up in Philadelphia, it's very strong. So you finished public school.

MN:

I finished public school. After high school, I took a civil service test and I went to work for the United States Government—U.S. Department of Commerce—as a statistical clerk.

EE:

You graduated in when, '42?

MN:

I graduated in '42, even though I was going to work for the federal government in Boston, I attended Boston University at night, and supporting the family.

EE:

How did you have the money to do that? You were working to make the money to go to school?

MN:

Yes. And I'd give the rest of the money to my mother.

EE:

You graduated in '42. That meant probably a lot of the folks you graduated with, the boys, were going right into the service?

MN:

Yes. I used to go dancing when I was eighteen. My cousin, Virginia, and I would go dancing at the—it was not a USO [United Service Organizations club], but it was big bands, in Boston. Oh, I loved that. See, for me, that was another world, because music used to just turn me on, and then I'd come and everything was sad in my house, you know, and burdensome. But anyway, I knew that I was going to have to make it for my family, and I did. I did for those two years, but then I had to do something else with my life.

EE:

You got the idea that one of the things that you wanted to do was to join the service.

MN:

Well, yes.

EE:

And you ended up going to the Marines.

MN:

Well, I had a boyfriend in the Marine Corps then. He had been wounded and he was in the hospital, and we'd correspond. He wasn't my boyfriend. You know, we liked each other. And then the romance grew as time went on. I joined the Marines because it says, “Free a Marine to fight.” It was these big banners up, “Free a Marine to fight,” and that's what I did. I did free a marine to fight, and I often wonder who it was, if he's still alive today.

EE:

That meant something to you. That's how you could do something.

MN:

Yes. Free a Marine to fight, because we were running out of men. They were beginning to take married men towards the end of the war, but we didn't know it was the end of the war, it was coming. It was forever. It was there, the young fellows in my neighborhood were gone. Who were we dating? Our parents were strict. We were dating the fellows we used to meet at the dances. Ma would want to meet them. And who are these fellows? “Well, come on home, we'll eat spaghetti and meatballs and then go in the living room and play music.” They watched us very closely.

EE:

So you were living at home, going to work, and then school at nighttime?

MN:

Yes, Boston University, when it was just one building. Did you see it today?

EE:

Goodness gracious, that was early, wasn't it?

MN:

It was just this one building, and you see it today? All the way down Commonwealth Avenue.

EE:

And what were you studying at Boston University?

MN:

Accounting. You know why? Because I knew that's where the money was, and there were not many women in the accounting field in those days. Did you know that? That was a man's field.

EE:

When you were joining, were you thinking that's what you'd do in the service?

MN:

No, I had no idea what I'd do in the service. I had no idea.

EE:

You didn't have any purpose?

MN:

Oh, no. You just go in and train and then you're given a battery of tests, intelligence tests, and I scored pretty good because I was recommended for OCS [Officer Candidate School], and then you're interviewed. And then they give you a number, a code number. That was like bookkeeper at Marine Corps Headquarters, troop movements.

EE:

The different branches had kind of assignments that women were allowed to do, whether it was office work or guardhouse duty or parachute riggers or whatever it would be.

MN:

Yes, right. I didn't do all that. Or truck drivers, or women that—some of them that went to Hawaii did mechanics on planes. There was a variety. You read the book, it'll tell you. Women Marines—or let me see.

EE:

Why did you pick the Marines as opposed to the other branches?

MN:

It was a challenge. I don't know why I did that. I wasn't even sure I was going to make it.

EE:

Did you have any girlfriends who were joining the service?

MN:

Are you kidding? No. I was the only one in my neighborhood. I was scolded. My Aunt Rosa, “What are you doing going into—” She called it the army. “Only bad girls go in the army.” And I said, “Oh, no.” I just held my head high and said, “I'm in the Marines!” But that was a rumor, you know. You'll find it in the book—that they did research on. It was the wives of the men who were in the service, the girlfriends, who were putting out the word, bad words. Of course, there's always a rotten apple in the barrel.

EE:

One rotten apple will confirm everybody's worst suspicions, yes.

MN:

But we, the Marines, were the elite.

EE:

And your folks? Their response to you going?

MN:

Wonderful. My mother said, “Oh, Maria, if I was a young lady like you today, I'd do the same thing.” They needed me to help support the family, and I was getting promoted in my office work in Boston. Every semester that I finished college I'd get promoted, and I thought, “Oh, how nice.”

I worked with statisticians from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], graduates from MIT. I was doing all the little work, and they had these big worksheets where they had to keep track of powdered milk that we were sending to Russia during the war, and the army, and all that stuff. One of the statisticians, she'd walk in to our door; she didn't know where she was going. I used to have to keep their files and work as a statistical clerk.

EE:

What was it like coming from a family that's from Italy, and knowing that we're fighting the Italians?

MN:

No, I never thought about that at all. It never occurred to me that we were enemies, but I knew my father and mother came—my father, especially—I don't know what the real reason is, but my father's people were activists. This is an American word. I don't know the word to use. You know why? My father's people helped overthrow King Emanuel and I've got it on tape, my mother telling me. They put Mussolini in power and then Mussolini didn't do too good. My father belonged to an organization called Five Hands. I'm not sure. Because when my father came to America, he'd pound his fist on the table and say, “Abasa Mussolini,” which means “Done with Mussolini.” I'd say, “Ma, why does Pa do that?” In my mind, we were fighting Mussolini.

EE:

It's Hitler or Mussolini is who we were fighting.

MN:

Yes. And besides, we never heard much about Italy during World War II. You'll see it on TV now, Anzio. That was just a pawn, and you don't know how many hundreds of thousands of our GIs that died there. You can hear a story from my friend that just called me about Anzio. I wish I could write his story.

EE:

I interviewed a couple of army nurses who were at Naples, and same thing.

MN:

To trace my father's people, they lived in San Donato. Then you have Bologna, Italy, go back to Spain, but I don't remember the city, then you go down to Sicily, and go to North Africa. They were Christian Moors.

EE:

That's very interesting.

MN:

So how come I'm not olive complexion? How do I know I'm not Egyptian? Look at my nose. How do I know? You look at my brother, Pat, he's got this nose and looks Egyptian. We all look at each other. And my mother would bring company home. She'd say, “Oh, [Italian phrase].” “This man is French.“ We always identify you by your nationality.

EE:

Just by how you look.

MN:

Yes, and by your nationality. [Italian phrase.] And I do that. I do the same thing.

EE:

When I was in Germany doing graduate work, I thought it was a real compliment when they called me Danish. I didn't look American.

MN:

Yes, Danish, yes. You are Danish?

EE:

No, I'm not. I'm actually Scotch.

MN:

Oh, a lot of Scotch.

EE:

A lot of Scotch here, right.

MN:

They're strong people. They've got their own history.

MN:

So why do I want to join the military? I mean, why am I the way I am?

EE:

When you joined the Marines, it was going to be stateside?

MN:

I didn't know that.

EE:

You didn't know that?

MN:

I didn't know what the setup was. The girls who went to Hawaii were older. They were twenty-three, twenty-five.

EE:

And you were right at twenty. You told me before we started this; you had just enjoyed your [twentieth] birthday.

MN:

I was the youngest one in the squad room; everybody looked after me because they knew I was so darn naîve. I didn't even know some of the words in English. I carried a dictionary with me all the time, even when I attended Peabody College later.

EE:

I guess you report somewhere in Boston and then take a train down to Lejeune?

MN:

I have a picture of us, printed in the Boston Globe, all us young ladies wearing hats and gloves and a pocketbook at South Station.

EE:

They didn't issue you a uniform yet?

MN:

No. We got orders, “January 9th, you will report to South Station,” at such and such a time.

EE:

This was January 9, '44?

MN:

1945. But I enlisted in November [on my twentieth birthday].

MN:

This is a story that is interesting. My mother gave me a little get-together the night before I left to go to boot camp at Camp Lejeune, NC. My mother and father next morning are sitting at the kitchen table, it was cold outside, the snow was this high, and there was ice on the sidewalks. And I'm very apprehensive. I felt guilty, you know, I'm leaving my parents and they need me. I really felt terrible. For years after that, it hurt me.

Well, I'm sitting there and I'm getting my suitcase, and my mother says, “Maria,” in Italian, “always remember the things I taught you in this house.”

I said, “Of course, Ma. I mean, of course. What else am I going to do? Okay?” So I grab my suitcase and I went down the back stairs into the backyard and down the street crying, and slipping and sliding and falling. I didn't look back. I just had to run down the street and get that streetcar to Boston. I took the streetcar to Park Street. I could hardly find my way to South Station because I was crying so much. I finally got there. The Boston Globe newspaper reporter snapped a picture. The Sergeant had roll call. We were billeted on the train, to sleep and all. I bonded on the train; I was a new person already. There she was, our Women Marine officer, in that nice hat and her jacket and the red stripes on her jacket sleeves, she walking up and down the train, and I went up to her. I asked, “Miss, Miss, could I try on your hat?” She let me try on her hat. I felt so good. So, my life changed. And I felt free.

EE:

That's a great thing of being accepted right off the bat. Had she said no, it might have been a different thing.

MN:

On the train after an all night trip, the buses are at the train station to pick us up. And, “All right!” Now they're shouting orders. “Put your gear in the truck!”

EE:

This is the first time you've been away from home for a long period of time?

MN:

I think that's the second time in my life I was on a train. And then I'm trying to get on the bus and I looked at my suitcase there. “Pick up your own suitcase!” All right, I picked up my own suitcase. Oh, man. Well, anyway, that was it and I was ready. I was good, I obeyed commands. I was good at it because I obeyed my mother and father.

EE:

How long was basic for women?

MN:

Six weeks, and every day. You go through the whole process, your health, your shots, uniforms, everything. And at boot camp, if you didn't measure up every day—because we had classes in military etiquette. They teach you to be a Marine, a Woman Marine. You learn all about the Marine Corps, what's expected of you, your conduct, how you're supposed to behave. You know military canned language.

EE:

That list of jargon.

MN:

Anyway, and so that when you graduate, you're going to be a Marine. You will know what's expected of you, and you will behave. You will measure up every day, even at boot camp. If you couldn't perform PT [physical training], 5:30 in the morning, early in the morning, in January, with your gym pants on and all that stuff, to the count of thirty-five, you're going to have to do it over again, in the wintertime.

EE:

Who ran your PT? This wonderful drill sergeant?

MN:

A girl. No, no, no. No men.

EE:

The women. The women did this.

MN:

They still train them separately today, which they should do, because a woman needs to know how to stand on her own two feet and know military order before you put her in with the men. That's where they fouled up. Those women are in Congress, Senate, “Oh, we want to train them together.” No, first you teach the girl military rules and to get to know herself, then put her with men. Because if I'm behind a guy, you know, I mean, if he's handsome, I'm going to be intimidated. Naturally, he's handsome.

EE:

Eighteen, twenty-one, sure.

MN:

Especially today. We were twenty, but these girls are eighteen.

EE:

Even younger, right.

MN:

You know what they do today at boot camp? They teach them etiquette.

EE:

Well, they have to, yes.

MN:

Morals. They go to church pretty good—when I was at Parris Island—Go to Parris Island. Would you like to go?

VN:

Yes.

MN:

You would?

VN:

Yes.

MN:

Okay. All right, I'll be in touch with you. That's in February, and they have the educators, people in the community who want to know what the Marine Corps is spending their money on. I went three times in row.

EE:

Charleston's always a beautiful place to go anyway.

MN:

Parris Island is in South Carolina.

EE:

I know. It's just south of Charleston. Well, your instructors were all women. You were separate. You had drill and then you had class work?

MN:

Not drill, we had the man teach us—

EE:

You had PT first.

MN:

Well, he was teaching us drill because we were going to compete against each other, and my platoon won. Not that it was my platoon, but I was a platoon leader. Every once in a while I'd march the girls to chow or wherever—“chow” is eat—Once in a while.

EE:

What was the facility you showed me a picture of? You lived in a brick barracks.

MN:

We were the only ones housed in a brick barracks, as were the Dutch Marines. They were training Dutch Marines below us at the time. We were there with the women, and they were not cussing and swearing at us. We didn't do that. They didn't do that to us.

EE:

Marines have a reputation for being tough.

MN:

Well, this man Marine, our drill sergeant, he used to call us “knuckleheads” and “stupid stumps” and he'd call us names. I didn't think they were nice. Of course, now today, the marine corps, they can't cuss and swear at you anymore, even at the men, but they do in their own area, I think, one on one in another room.

EE:

An officer and a gentleman.

MN:

I think that's disgusting.

EE:

When did you first hear that “WAM” expression?

MN:

WAM?

EE:

Yes.

MN:

No. BAM [Broad-Assed Marine].

EE:

BAM, yes.

MN:

Beautiful American Marine.

EE:

[chuckles] Good, good.

MN:

I've had that come to me, and I'll stand firm. When I was on liberty in Washington—it was a warm day, I was walking by a nightclub—and all the nightclubs, bars and restaurants had shore patrol, Marines patrolling—So I was going by. I don't know where I was going in Washington. I walked by this nightclub, and I might have had a date.

The dates never came to our barracks because if he [serviceman] comes from Fort Belvoir or Annapolis and you're from Arlington, well, we're going to meet at such and such a hotel. It isn't what you think today, we're going to meet at a hotel.

EE:

The lobby.

MN:

It's like a big living room. You sit there and you wait for your date and you have, maybe if there's a bar, you'll have a Coca-Cola. I always drank Coca-Cola. And you waited for your date. Well, that's probably where I was going. A Marine comes staggering out of the bar. He's coming diagonally to me. “You BAM.” I got scared, and I just walked a little faster and got away from him. The Marine MP [military police] was right behind him and he grabbed him and pulled him away.

When I was at a meeting in Greensboro we had a convention for the Marine Corps League, one of the older men, like myself—I am older, I color my hair. I'm not going to get old. I'm going to live to be the oldest woman Marine alive, with God's help, if He wants me to, if God wants. Do you remember that expression? [Italian phrase.] “If God wants.” That's what my mother used to say. See, you're reminding me of so much stuff. I'm not going to send you home; you're going to have to stay here.

EE:

Well, this will help you tell your story, I'll tell you.

MN:

I know it. So this part I never told. You know, you read my—did you read my book?

EE:

Yes, that's why I'm asking some of the questions.

MN:

Oh, this is different. Okay, every day at boot camp, if you didn't measure up, you were sent home.

EE:

So some people were going home. You didn't know if you were going to make it through till the end of boot camp.

MN:

Right. That's why I didn't go to OCS [Officer Candidate School]. I didn't think I was going to be able to make it. See now, I didn't know I had this Mediterranean blood disease at the time.

EE:

So you were feeling tired during this, and you didn't want to admit that you were tired.

MN:

Well, as women, we just do what we have to do anyway. If the world is falling apart—

EE:

It's got to get done, just do it.

MN:

—you keep the family together, you keep the house together, you look after who's sick, and it didn't matter if I was sick. I'm the one that likes to do that, and it took its toll ultimately.

EE:

You finished basic. I saw the obstacle course in there. That's part of basic, I guess, and that's the one you said you were frightened. You didn't know if you could do that again for officer training.

MN:

No. In a way, I'm glad because I liked my duty, and what was happening to me at the time was interesting.

EE:

Several people tell me that they're so glad they weren't officers because the enlisted people had the more interesting jobs.

MN:

I think so, because my officer, she was a lieutenant and her job was dull and boring. Mine was too, in a way, but you know, we used to get chair borne fatigue because everything was repetitious down at headquarters.

EE:

I talked with a woman who set up the library system at Lejeune. I don't know if I told you that.

MN:

Oh, she's smart.

EE:

Charlesanna Fox. I don't know if you would remember her.

MN:

No.

EE:

But did you all, when you were at basic there, get to go to the NCO [non-commissioned offciers] club? Is that where you hung out?

MN:

You mean, not at boot camp training? No.

EE:

You were pretty much isolated. But then when you were back to Henderson [Hall, Virginia].

MN:

Oh yes, we went to nightclubs, a bunch of girls. We always went out in a group. I hardly ever went out alone, although by my pictures, you'd think I did. But no, we had buddies, we stuck together.

EE:

And starting at boot camp was this ten o'clock lights-out rule?

MN:

Absolutely.

EE:

And then the only time you had off was the weekends. That was the case at your boot camps as well?

MN:

Not at boot camp.

EE:

Boot camp, you were locked in for six weeks.

MN:

Oh yes, we were there.

EE:

Then you graduated from boot camp.

MN:

You know boot camp training. Okay, the night before our graduation, the men Marines graduating from officers' training school, OCS, invited us to their graduation dance. My girlfriend, Ginny, and I hightailed it over there. I don't know if we went by bus, we marched—I don't know what it was. We were invited, so we went, because we had our uniform, full uniform, by then, because, see, we're going to graduate the next day, and we were so proud. We had our uniform on, and that emblem, we earned it. I still have my hat. Oh, that emblem is from my boyfriend. Bougainville. Dick. We exchanged emblems, you know, like you used to exchange patches. We were young, and life was interesting for a lot of us. Well, anyway, we went to the dance and, golly, my heart was pounding a mile a minute and I'm thinking, “Whoever thought I'd be here doing all these wonderful things?” because I'm thinking about home. That's always there and I'm thinking, “I wish that I could share this.”

Every time I do something wonderful, even today, I wish I could share it. I wish I could embrace them and, “Come on and see this, come on. You know, come and see this.” I don't want to enjoy it by myself. I want to share it. My mother did that.

But anyway, boot camp. Okay, that night at the dance we had to go to the restroom. My girlfriend and I asked for instructions, and they said, “Well, take a—.” I don't know if the guys misled us or not but, you know, “take a right down the hall,” and we did, and then we take another— and it was dark, and I said, “Gee, I wonder where we're going,” and the next thing we knew, we fell flat on our face. You know who was in the hallway? They were Marines reassembling their machine guns at night. [chuckles] They were being punished. They couldn't go to the dance.

And then it was time to go back. All the girls were leaving and I said, “Ginny, you better come.” She said, “Oh I'll catch up with you later.” She never followed me, okay? So I got here just on time, and then Ginny comes in late and she was penalized. “What did they do? Did they give you a demerit?” She had to scrub the entrance of our barracks with a toothbrush. But she was mischievous. When we went to New York together, I had to look after her.

EE:

What was her name, her full name? Where was she from?

MN:

Well, her dad was at Fort Meade, regular army, so she was an army brat. Don't you mention her name, Virginia, Ginny. Oh, are you kidding? As a matter of fact, my bunkie, she was from Boston. When her parents came down to visit her, you know, we went out together, and she said goodbye to me, she says, “I want you to look after my Rosie.” I said, “All right.” She was my bunkmate and she was on the top bunk. This was at Henderson Hall. When she'd get up in the morning, she could barely make it into the shower and put on her uniform, and if both of our bunks weren't right, we'd be penalized—scrubbing the deck all around there. I was doing it.

EE:

You had to make hers up because she couldn't do it.

MN:

Yes. I promised her mother, okay, because she was from Boston. I'm not sure if she was one of the girls—I think she was with me at Camp Lejeune. I don't remember now. I said, “All right,” so I looked after her. I was doing all her work. You know what, later on, if she didn't get pregnant, and you never heard of that. We didn't know why she left till later, but we never heard of the girls getting pregnant. We never had that going around in the barracks, and that was the first one I heard. But it was after the war was over and it was later. But I thought, “Pregnant, gee.” You know to us, that's a sin. My mother would kill us.

EE:

You went from basic after six weeks right to Henderson Hall?

MN:

Yes, but you know what I did the day we were graduating? They have all of us, Women Marines and men. I have a picture of the drill field, and I don't know if it was us marching or not, and the women were in front and you pass and review. I was so proud and so excited and then sad, because these Marines were going to go overseas right away. They were going to ship out, and we knew how the war was going. And here we are marching, pass and review, and here I'm wearing all this, and I was so proud, and I didn't think I was going to make it. I thought I was going to faint from over joy.

EE:

Sure. You did it.

MN:

Yes, that I did this. Can you imagine? We were the banner platoon so we went first.

EE:

You bring up something there. One of the things that I've had a couple people say to me when they talk about—they had such a good time in the service, and if they had anything that they feel bad about is that they had such a good time while some of the guys had such horrible times.

MN:

Oh, I knew they were having a bad time. I knew it. My girlfriends, their boyfriends and brothers were being killed. You hear “Mail call,” and you hear screaming or you hear somebody is sobbing down in the barracks. You hear this. And I knew it was going on, because I had a special badge at headquarters that I could go into the files. I mean, as long as from here down the street, files of every single Marine.

EE:

You could find out where they were.

MN:

And I'd look up my neighbors and I found out where my boyfriend was—that he was in a hospital in New Hampshire. One of the fellows in my neighborhood was wounded at Iwo Jima, shot right over here. He died not so long ago, and every time I'd go to Boston I'd say, “Hi, Tommy.” He's a paraplegic, flat on his back. His mother and father turned gray overnight. I always remember him screaming when myself and Joseph, from Quantico—we got a weekend pass to go up and see Tommy at the hospital, the navy hospital, Charlestown Navy Yard, right outside of Boston. They had just brought him in from Iwo Jima and we asked permission to see him. There's this long ward. It's a ward, and all the GIs—I say “GIs.” I don't know if they're Marines or [U.S.] Army. We call them GIs. That's a term. You can hear the screaming, and all these doctors and nurses around this bed. I said, “Joseph, I think that's Tommy over there, screaming in pain.” And we were just squirming in our chair. Because that's why we took liberty, we wanted to take liberty to come to see him. And so, “All right now, you can come over.” The doctors and nurses, corpsmen they were. He was on like a hammock and I think they were trying to—you know, you can't lay on your back, so they were trying to swing him on his stomach.

EE:

The bedsores, right.

MN:

So I walked over and Joseph is behind me and said, “Hi, Tommy,” and I wanted to kiss him. You know, that's normal. Someone pulled me back, just like that, like as if I was doing something bad. “You can't touch him. He hurts. You can't touch him.”

EE:

So that had done nerve damage so that he couldn't be touched.

MN:

Whatever. “You can't touch him.”

EE:

That's terrible.

MN:

So when I'd go to Boston, I'd go to visit him in the house. My father's cousin helped build the house where the rooms were wide and a water pool room where you can have therapy. You know, he was at church every Sunday. He'd put you to shame. Well, anyway—

EE:

You do reevaluate blessings in a different way, don't you?

MN:

I'll always remember him screaming, to this day. So if you think you're in pain—

EE:

The work you did, you talked about it, were the people you were working with mainly women, or did you have male COs [commanding officers], or how did that work?

MN:

We had civilians and military together.

EE:

And this was at the naval headquarters?

MN:

This was at the Marine Corps. Well, wait a minute, it was the Navy Annex Building.

EE:

Marine Corps Headquarters.

MN:

It was Marine Corps Headquarters. You have to say that, because I think we had another building in D.C.

EE:

But this was in Arlington.

MN:

Arlington, Virginia.

EE:

So your boss was military but your co-workers might have been civilians.

MN:

Yes. I have a picture of it to show you.

EE:

Yes, you showed me. Was the senator's daughter a civilian?

MN:

Oh, naturally. I don't know if it was the embassy, because I was invited to their home. You know the embassy homes.

EE:

I was in Georgetown just the other week, yes.

MN:

She took a liking to me. I got the sweetest letter she wrote me when I was leaving the Marine Corps. Looking back, I think they realized that I was naïve, as the word goes, because today I don't know what you want to put to that. Naïve, oh, you're dumb. No, I was naïve and I was good.

EE:

There was an innocence.

MN:

Innocence, yes.

EE:

You were allowed to still be innocent.

MN:

Yes, I was.

EE:

Nowadays, we don't allow people to be innocent, I'm afraid.

MN:

No, you don't have that. You know what? You look at the brides in the newspaper today. Do you see sweet innocence there? I don't see this beautiful, happy face.

EE:

That's why I enjoy having a nine-year-old and a five-year-old. I still see sweet innocence.

MN:

I know it.

EE:

Trying to keep it as long as possible.

MN:

It's very difficult in the world today. I know. I've got kids myself—forty-three and forty. Hey, I know it's hard.

EE:

We don't make it easy for them. But when you were doing your work, was your CO a woman Marine or was it a man?

MN:

No. Lieutenant, and then above her was a colonel. No. There was me and then there was a sergeant, a lady sergeant, and a lady lieutenant, and a Marine colonel, and he was an older colonel. Nobody liked him.

EE:

Did he have trouble working with women?

MN:

Oh, no. He was an old man. You had to get permission to leave to go to the bathroom. I used to have to leave because I had trouble because I was anemic and that gave me a lot of trouble. And, “Yes, you may go,” and I'd wind up in sick bay for two days. It all tied in to my anemia, but they didn't know anything about stuff like that then.

EE:

You were housed right across the street from where you worked.

MN:

Yes, thankfully.

EE:

But still you worked, was it five days a week, six days a week? What was your work schedule?

MN:

Myself? Five days a week.

EE:

That was a pretty good wartime schedule.

MN:

Eight hours, I think. I'm not sure.

EE:

And then were you free to be out on the town until ten o'clock?

MN:

No.

EE:

Only on the weekends.

MN:

Only on the weekends, that I remember, yes.

EE:

You started this job—it must have been, what, probably—

MN:

But half of the war was over. It was different.

EE:

You got there at about, what, March of '45, something like that?

MN:

No, February, beginning of February.

EE:

And the war wasn't on, but I guess [Franklin D.] Roosevelt died probably two or three months after you got there, April.

MN:

Did he die April '45?

EE:

April '45.

MN:

Okay, you know what? I saluted his caisson when it went by. In the news, you see the military people saluting as the caisson goes by—History.

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

MN:

Our barracks were located next door to the Arlington [National] Cemetery, so I heard Taps all day long. I did interesting things—I can't say I had fun, like my girlfriend says, “Oh, I had a wonderful time.” And I'm thinking, “Well, didn't you know the war was on?” because I'm hearing Taps all day long. I spent Sundays at the cemetery. My girlfriend—who was my maid of honor when I married—we'd go to the cemetery. There's a chapel on the cemetery, I believe, and then we'd just walk. It was so quiet and peaceful, and Taps all day long, and my heart was sad. I can't say I was happy.

EE:

You told me before we started this tape—I want to make sure this story is on there—that your work was basically reimbursing those soldiers coming back, who were getting home and had to pay out of their own pocket to get home.

MN:

Reimbursement. Reimbursement. Yes, that's all it was.

EE:

Tell me about what you and your friend did, pulling letters out.

MN:

Oh, don't tell anybody that.

EE:

Okay. Let's put it this way. But you did it with a heart, and you couldn't help doing that job without having a heart.

MN:

Oh yes, I know it. She was Italian, too, my girlfriend. I was looking after the underdog. She always looked after me and she was like five years older than me. She was always watching me.

EE:

Were you worried about the war when Roosevelt passed away?

MN:

Was I worried about the war?

EE:

The Battle of the Bulge was kind of a scary moment, because they weren't really sure what was going to happen there, but after that—

MN:

Was I worried about the war?

EE:

Yes, were you worried about the war?

MN:

I was always worried about the war. I was right there at Headquarters. See, we were given information that you wasn't given to the public. They'd update us on the war, and it was bad. Our Marines were dying and I was a Marine. I had a Marine boyfriend and my girlfriends—we hardly ever had Marine men stateside. If you saw him stateside it was because he was wounded. That's the only time he came here. Then they send them back when they're well. You hardly dated a male Marine. You hardly ever saw Marines. Of course, Quantico was nearby and the Marine barracks at 8th and I [Streets] in D.C. I used to date somebody from there. You know, “Hello, goodbye.”

EE:

Where did you get your jitterbug practice?

MN:

You don't kiss goodnight. I have a letter that one GI wrote to me and he said, “Next time I say goodnight to you, I'm not going to ask you for a kiss, I'm just going to take it.” I've got a letter in there. “I'm just going to take it.”

EE:

What was the hardest thing about your work?

MN:

My work? The work that I was doing, well, I'd have to say the whole thing, because even in the barracks you can't do what you want.

EE:

And you are just in your early twenties.

MN:

I still have the discipline, all the time. The reason why I used to go dancing so much, and the girls used to say—you know what they used to call me? “USO Commando.” “We're going to tie you in your bunk tonight, Cudgy, Cugini, Cudge. We're going to tie you in your bunk tonight. You're always going out dancing.” And if nobody will go with me, I'll go by myself. Sometimes I'd just sit there and watch and listen to the band play. We were the bobby-sockers generation.

EE:

Is there a USO club in the city?

MN:

We had to go into D.C.

EE:

What, did they take over a hotel, or what did they do? Or it was just a permanent building?

MN:

I don't know. The Knights of Columbus used to have a dance. That's a Catholic organization. I guess a hotel. I don't know. It was nice places, always patrolled. There were always MPs, SPs [shore patrol-Navy and Coast Guard], always, all over Washington. There's one thing we didn't have to do in Washington, salute—Too many officers.

EE:

Well, tell me, jitterbug is coming back into style these days. For the young people, it's a big thing. What are your favorite pieces of music? What songs do you remember?

MN:

Big bands. Romantic.

EE:

Artie Shaw or Glenn Miller? What's your favorite of those two?

MN:

I like both. I like Artie Shaw, he's got more beat. And Glenn Miller is more smooth. I have all of their records. I have all of Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Vaughn Monroe. He used to have a band. You name them. We have all those oldies, Val and I—

EE:

Do you all have a favorite song?

MN:

A favorite? Near You. “There's just one place for me—near you.” We met at a USO picnic and they were playing Near You. That's our song. You know where it is? See that cupboard in the living room? Right in the corner. I was dusting there the other day, and I said, “What the heck is this?” Because he hides things.

EE:

Who sang that?

MN:

I'd have to go and look. My husband thinks I'm still a bride, the way he treats me.

EE:

That's nice. Don't complain about it.

MN:

I'm not.

EE:

Washington is a different place today than it was then. Were you ever in physical danger or did you ever feel afraid when you were in the service?

MN:

No, I never had that feeling.

EE:

I've talked with some people who talked about they didn't think a thing about walking downtown in D.C., eleven o'clock at night, coming back.

MN:

Oh, I was never out that late. If I was dancing with someone, they would come to the bus stop and put me on the bus. No, I didn't feel that way, but I'll tell you what; we were always warned about communists, the communists.

EE:

Even then?

MN:

All the time. Be careful who you talk to, what questions are asked you and how you answer them, even if it's just a GI.

EE:

There was that “loose lips sink ships” idea, wasn't there? Did you have to have security clearance for your job?

MN:

Well, I guess so. There was other security. I had security to go into the records room. I had a special badge, just for that room.

EE:

What was your rank when you were doing this work?

MN:

When I left? Corporal. I was supposed to be sergeant, but they froze the ratings. I was promoted, but they didn't give me the rating because they were frozen. And then I was waiting for my replacement so I could get out, and I should have been sergeant. If they made me sergeant, who knows, I might have stayed in and gone to San Diego.

EE:

How long were you in Henderson Hall, then, through fall of '45? February of '46?

MN:

February of '45 to May of '46. I have the exact dates in the book.

EE:

Had you not run into those two fellows who told you about—well, had you run into those a little bit earlier, you might have—I don't know.

MN:

I don't know. There's no telling what I was thinking. Aunt Edith was living in Alexandria, Virginia. They moved away from Boston, and she encouraged me, she always encouraged me to do better with my life. They were Quakers, they were Friends, and she and her husband were my other parents. It was a new life for me. They were very nice people. They loved me. She had blond-haired, blue-eyed children and I was dark-haired and dark eyes and maybe a little darker, and she introduced me as her daughter.

EE:

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

MN:

I loved her. You know why? When I was attending Strayers Business College, I hadn't met Val yet and I was living with Aunt Edith. After I got out of the Marine Corps, I wanted to say hello and goodbye to my parents and everybody, and I went back to Aunt Edith, who let me live with her while I attended business college. She was always opening doors for me. She didn't open them; she showed them to me. She showed me, but I had to go and do it myself. Like when I had to go and take my civil service test, she showed where to go but I had to do it, and I was scared to death. I was still afraid because I had to do this. I was very shy and I was leery of people.

Okay, so, Strayers Business College. I went into this class, accounting, and guess what? Myself and another girl were the only girls in that class because accounting was not for women, and it was a room full of GIs, and I just came out of the Marine Corps and they spoiled me rotten. And my professor used to make fun of me. “Now men, you must watch your language. We have two ladies aboard.”

Of course, the other one was older and they voted me like the most popular girl in the class. They used to take me bowling with them because, see, they had to take me. And we'd go out for coffee and who would pay for my coffee, and all that. You know, it was cute. See, I always felt protected. When I was in the service, I always felt protected. Somehow or other, wherever I was, I felt protected with the GIs.

EE:

So how did you find Mrs. Roosevelt at this business school?

MN:

I was a member of the honor society. I don't know how I got on it, but I did. I always made honor rolls, but college was very hard, hard. Do you know that when I was taking my tests at Strayers, I was so nervous my pen used to fall out of my hand, and the professor saw that because he was walking up and down the aisle, and he'd start the sentence for me and then I was all right. That's how I was—my brain. It was there, couldn't get it out.

Well, anyway, I was invited to afternoon tea with Mrs. Roosevelt, the honor society.

EE:

This was what, '46, '47?

MN:

Forty-six, because I started college right away. I went home. It was summertime, I was already in college. It was hot. I didn't waste any time. So we went to this afternoon tea. At the time, Mrs. Roosevelt was involved with United Nations. The war was over and we're going to do this great, wonderful thing so we'll never have another war again, and we'll have all the countries in the world assemble in—I think New York they started.

So all right, and I knew this. And besides, Aunt Edith lived in this wonderful community of wealthy people. She didn't think she was wealthy, but she was, because all these brick houses and in the community were people—husbands who were working at the United Nations already in New York. So this is the environment I was in. And they all had libraries, and when I babysat, I read the books. I said, “Ooh, I wonder what this is.” I'd read it, but I didn't understand. But I still said, “Hmm,” put it back, you know. I said, “Well, maybe I'll go back and read this someday.”

Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, she was like this. She was oblong, like this, standing up. Her head was big, and she smiled, from here to here, and she had big teeth. But you know what? I was real close to her, real close to her, and I was talking to her and I said, “Mrs. Roosevelt, I'm so proud of you that women are taking part in the United Nations, and you're going to do something wonderful for the world, so we won't have any wars.” And you know what I felt from her? This nice, soft, kind-hearted woman. You have to get next to her to feel it. I don't know why I feel people. Not many people can do that. If I'm close to someone, like when I'm close to someone and I feel danger, I back off, and I don't know why I can do that. I can do that.

EE:

Well, that's a sense that you have about people that you can't turn off, but you get those feelings around her. But she was there.

MN:

Yes. Oh, so kind and gentle. I wanted to hug her. I wished she would hug me. She was like motherly and she looked in my eyes and she talked to me, and I had a warm feeling when I left. It wasn't that she's stately. No. She was serious, a very serious lady. If it wasn't for her, Roosevelt wouldn't have done the things he did. Have you ever seen the biography?

EE:

I was very impressed. If you get a chance to go to D.C., they have built the Roosevelt Memorial in the last few years, and they have a statue of her in the memorial. Somebody had the same thinking that you were thinking.

MN:

I used to go to the White House.

EE:

We've talked about all different things that people have experienced in that war. Do you have any people that stand out, either men or women, as heroes to you from that time?

MN:

Heroes? Oh, they were all heroes. Because I've heard the men that have been in battle talk about how they felt, so you can't compare that with a general. The generals over here, you know, “oh, he did a wonderful job.” It's these guys. They're the ones.

EE:

Where were you when you heard about VE [Victory in Europe] Day? What do you remember about that? Did you stay out later than ten o'clock?

MN:

Well, we went to church. We knew it was coming.

EE:

You're the second person I've talked to who went to church on VE Day. They remember that.

MN:

We knew it was coming all day long, but we had work. I mean, there was no time out. They were telling us over the loudspeaker any minute that we were going to call a cease-fire. So we had to work at the office, at Headquarters, and then we'd go back to the barracks and nobody went on leave. We were still waiting for the news.

The company officer was there, Lieutenant McWelthy[?], I think was her name, and she's telling us. Then we get the news, but she called us together first before we were given liberty, and she warned us that, “When you go out, there will be a lot of people celebrating. We don't want anything to happen to you girls.” She was like a mother, believe it or not. She told us that we didn't have to go through the ranks to get to her, and I always remembered that because, you know, maybe your corporal don't like you in the orderly room, or maybe that sergeant, or maybe that captain. We could go over their head. We were told that. And I knew that, and to this day, I still go over everybody's head.

EE:

You do remember the people who do the unexpected, whether it's the woman who let you wear the hat, whether it's the person who says, “Come to me,” no matter what the rank.

MN:

No matter what.

EE:

You appreciate people who go out of their way.

MN:

I even was a captain of the head. Do you know what that is?

EE:

Oh, yes.

MN:

The bathrooms.

EE:

Thank you for the honor. [chuckles]

MN:

And I wasn't being punished; it was just my turn. It was my turn to wash the windows; it was my turn for KP [kitchen patrol]. I never lasted on KP, my back gave out.

EE:

Was it the same kind of lockdown deal for VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

MN:

Then a bunch of us girls, we went out down by the gate, and the buses weren't coming, but this car came by and there was a lieutenant, an officer, and some other military people and they gave us a ride. But they brought us to the church; we went to the Catholic Church because the bells were pealing. [Imitates the church bells.] And it was sad. I don't know, I felt sadness because of the GIs that died.

See, I was aware of it all the time. I had an interesting time in the service, okay, but I was always aware of that. So, yes, I had a wonderful time, but the time was different then what I knew in Boston. But it was sad and we prayed and then we went out—I have a letter that explains it—out where the people were, and they were going crazy. [Brief interruption.]

EE:

What did you think when you heard about the bomb? Because working in Marine Headquarters, I assume everybody thought that we were going to be invading Japan like we invaded Europe.

MN:

I was out of the Marine Corps.

EE:

This is what ends the war, the A-bomb.

MN:

What ended the war?

EE:

When we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

MN:

Somehow or other, we had to end the war. It seemed like we had to end the war, because the Japanese were torturing our GIs, they weren't living by the Geneva Convention. Neither were the Nazis. [Telephone interruption.]

EE:

Something I heard the other day on a TV show was that the big difference between then and now—in the population, the way people feel about the military—everybody in World War II was patriotic. Is that a true statement?

MN:

Absolutely a true statement. Our country will never be any more patriotic than that, unless we teach our children in the schools. If they're not learning it at home, they should be taught at school, they should pledge allegiance to the flag at least once a week. We did it every day. And we read the 23rd Psalm. I mean, I lived in a Jewish community and we read the Psalm and nobody said anything. They say today, well, America is not Christian anymore. We have this Islam and all these other religions, but we're still a Christian nation. God—They all believe in their God. There's still God. It's still God.

EE:

There's a difference between—you can still be Christian and tolerant. I agree, I agree.

MN:

Well, we have to be tolerant.

EE:

That's right, that's right.

MN:

I mean, we're all different. Who knows what our kids are going to marry. After all, he wasn't supposed to marry me. You're not suppose to marry someone out of your nationality. That was a no-no. I broke the ice.

EE:

Risk-taker, as always. Tell me—you could probably answer this question. Some of these people I can't ask this question to—What was your most embarrassing moment?

MN:

In the service?

EE:

Yes.

MN:

Let's see. Well, I don't know, I was in the swimming pool. I was in the swimming pool.

EE:

This was at Henderson?

MN:

Henderson Hall. And my girlfriend was dating a Marine, and I was just with a buddy, and we were swimming, we were in the pool. Actually, I wish you could see my picture. I was the first to wear the bra top and the thing.

EE:

Oh, a two-piece.

MN:

When I got married, I wore this here [photo of low cut dress]. I mean, you know, that is a no-no. And then now, my daughter, when she was wearing a little bikini, I said, “Oh, my God.” Well, I did the same thing.

EE:

It's whatever is in fashion.

MN:

You have to remember when you're with your children that you remember that age—how you were thinking and feeling at that age—and that's how you communicate.

EE:

That's how you get through it.

MN:

And especially the teenagers. You have to really try hard.

EE:

I'm not looking forward to that.

MN:

What did you ask me now? I was learning to swim and I could go halfway, because I knew that if I wanted to rest, I could touch the bottom and come back up. So I was almost across, and someone, this male Marine, jumped in the pool and he grabbed a hold of me and he pulled me down under, I opened my eyes because the water was clear and I could see down yonder, so I just grabbed a hold of his trunks. And then we both went up. I said, “I can't swim, I can't swim!” and so we heard a whistle blow, the guard blew the whistle. He grabbed a hold of me and we went to the side of the pool and he helped me out. I guess it was embarrassing because I could have taken his trunks off, but I grabbed what I could. [chuckles] I grabbed him under here. I mean, I wasn't going to drown. He couldn't go back in the pool. They pulled him out.

EE:

You went away from home because you needed to do that.

MN:

I wanted to be an American.

EE:

But you wanted to do that.

MN:

I did.

EE:

Do you think that being in the service made you more independent than you would have been otherwise?

MN:

Absolutely. It gave me opportunity. I learned. Of course, I've always had people showing me. There were people always showing me the way. I was lucky.

EE:

We talked a little bit before we started the tape about how you and your husband met. He was in the service. You were out of the service at the time you met?

MN:

I was just out.

EE:

Tell me that story again, for your mother. That's pretty funny.

MN:

My mother? Well, my mother came down to Washington. My mother would have come to boot camp if you let her in. She came to see how I was doing. This is the second time. First for the wedding. She never met Val. I introduced Val to my mother over the phone. But first, I had a date with a GI from Fort Belvoir. He was really nice. He called his mother and told her he was going to marry me, and I said, “You did what?” I said, “I'm not going to marry you.”

Katherine Crim, that was the daughter of the chief administrator of the White House at the time, she came with me. In fact, when he died, his name was in Time, where they give you the deaths of the dignitaries. I used to go into the White House. You know that big room where they entertain, the Blue Room? That's where her father worked. She'd go there to get her allowance so we could spend the money. And so I got her to go into the USO in Alexandria, because they closed the one in Washington. See, everything was going down. I was allowed to go out Saturdays, because I had to study.

And my mother came down. “Maria, what are you going to do?” I said, “Ma, I'm planning on going to Catholic University,” because I had gotten out of Strayers and I was working for the finance company. It was a wonderful job, right across the street from the White House. I used to sit there and watch everybody come and go during my lunch hour. You know, I'm there. I always wanted to go to Washington. Yes, I'm always looking and saying, “Well, how about that.”

MN:

My mother came down. I had a date with what's his name, tall, nice-looking guy, but he was more like my brother. Everybody to me was like my brother. So I'm sitting there with him, and Ma is over here and she's watching the GIs dancing. I introduced her to the hostess, a former priest, Mr. McCann, who was in charge. You know, we were protected. We were being watched. So Val came over, this GI, and asked me for a dance. And I said, “Thank you,” and I got up and I danced, and we jitterbugged.

Now, usually when you're dancing with a guy—I couldn't find a dance partner, only once in a blue moon, that he could lead me. Now, this one here, when he holds you you've got to go where he takes you because he knew how to dance. He had taken lessons from Arthur Murray. I didn't know that.

So it happened to be a jitterbug. I was used to grabbing the guy by the shoulder and halfway leading him, you know, because I want to go my own way, but I had to go with him. So when we were jitterbugging and he turned me around and he grabbed me, he pulled my finger back and then turned me around and grabbed me again and brought me in and I said, “This guy knows where he's going.” That's when I thought, “He knows where he's going,” because the other guys, you know, they're wishy-washy.

EE:

It's the equivalent of having a limp handshake. Here's the same way with your dancing. If you're going to dance, dance.

MN:

If you're going to shake hands, please do it. For crying out loud, don't give me—I want to know you're there, right? And then I knew. Then I met him over and over again, at different times, but I didn't know it was the same GI. I didn't know it was the same soldier. I'd meet him coming in and out of St. Mary's on Sundays a couple of times.

EE:

So he was still in service?

MN:

He had reenlisted again.

EE:

What year was this, '47?

MN:

Early '47.

EE:

So when did you all get married?

MN:

Forty-eight. Didn't take us long to know that we belonged together.

EE:

When it's right, it's right.

MN:

But I was dating him, and I still didn't—he had to chase me, because I kept running away. I said, “Just another GI, wants to marry me. When he asks me, I'm just going to say no,” because I always had an answer. If he asked me, I'm going to say no.

EE:

How many men asked you to marry them?

MN:

Five. [chuckles] You know, they'll say, “When I come back, I'm going to marry you,” and this is just a handshake. How do they know they want to marry me?

EE:

They just throw that line away; see if they can get anything.

MN:

Maybe, or maybe they meant it, and then never came back. And maybe they said, “Oh, I want to marry a girl like her.” Who knows what they were thinking? But I never paid any attention to them when they said that because I figured it was just a line, okay? Now we knew that. We knew you've got to be careful when the GI's giving you a line. See, we were well prepared. We knew how to protect ourselves. We knew how to get away from a clinch.

EE:

How many kids did y'all have?

MN:

Kids. Children? Here? Wait a minute, I didn't tell you about the dance.

EE:

Oh, okay. I had you married and having kids. [chuckles]

MN:

Poor Val, I was always running away from him. I had a luncheon date with him because I was going to go to Catholic University.

VN:

She kept saying to me, “Go away, go away.”

MN:

No, I was still carrying a broken heart, from my Marine, and I told him, “I'm going to go to Catholic University because I think I want to become a nun.” Serious. I'm very serious. Because when my mother came down, that's what I told her, “I'm going to Catholic University, because I want to become a nun, Ma. I'm going to take care of all those poor men that can't take care of themselves.” See, in my hometown, and I don't know if this was because of my father or not—

VN:

We didn't finish the dance.

MN:

Well, anyway, the dance.

EE:

Yes, he's taking your mom out.

MN:

Oh yes, my date took my mother. Did you take Ma?

VN:

I did.

MN:

He wound up with my mother and I was—

VN:

Me and what was his name?

MN:

John. No, it wasn't a Marine. It was [U.S.] Army. Tall guy. Him and my mother, they went across for a beer.

EE:

You, being a gentleman, said, “Sure, I'll take you.”

MN:

Yes, and I'm off there dancing with the other GIs.

VN:

And I came in and she came and grabbed me for a dance.

MN:

But then he was gone. Later I invited him to my girlfriend's, whose dad was chief administrator of the White House. She had a slumber party and we could bring a date, and so I called him up at the camp and invited him.

VN:

Where was their house at?

MN:

Katherine Crim.

VN:

Where was their house at?

MN:

Down by the Potomac. And each side of the house was like a forecastle, like a forecastle, and the water would lap up against their rock garden that was over here.

EE:

They had some dollars.

MN:

Those were people that had the dollars. But I was exposed to this, okay. I was exposed to all this, where other people live. To me, it was another world. But you know what I found out? They're just people like you and me.

EE:

True. But you can't come in advance and pick where you are.

MN:

Just like my mother, she can talk to the King of England and she's on the same footage. I could do that. Well, what were we talking about?

EE:

Well, I was trying to find out how many children you have.

MN:

Two.

EE:

Boy, girl?

MN:

Our son, Val Jr., is forty-three and Teresa is forty. I told you, Val Jr. is senior advisor for Hospital Information Services.

EE:

Either one of them in the military?

MN:

They don't want to go. I said, “Teresa, go into the military. Look at all the opportunities you have.”

VN:

There's the daughter and there's the son.

EE:

Oh, yes, good-looking group. Very nice.

MN:

What's that, the family? La familia. There's Teresa, there's Val Jr. and his wife. That's the daddy, and me and Lauren and Cameron.

No, they didn't want to go in the military at all. I said, “You can get your college education free, Val.” He wanted to go in the air force. He wanted to be a pilot, but for his eyes. So he had to work his way through college. Borrow money from the bank and go to school, that's what they did. If your kids have to do that, let them do it.

EE:

They'll appreciate it.

MN:

They did better. Look at how well they did.

EE:

They'll appreciate it. That's great. So you would not have had any qualms with your daughter wanting to join the military?

MN:

I wanted her to join the Marines. She'd stand there washing the dishes. I said, “Teresa, keep quiet and wash the dishes.” Because they had to make their beds when they got up in the morning. That's a good notation. And she'd say, “Ma, I know one thing, if you were in the Marine Corps, they'd have made you general by now.” So I said, “Keep quiet. Wash the dishes.” Because I was working then.

EE:

We just sent the first woman into combat, I guess in December, in a combat mission. Do you think there are some jobs that women shouldn't do in the military, or how do you feel about it?

MN:

Absolutely, absolutely. I know they can fly the helicopters, but not to get shot at.

EE:

Sure.

MN:

Okay, now, there are women that can do a man's job, and you can prove it today. Even today's women are in construction, doing heavy construction. This is not old-fashioned; this is the truth that women are made to nurture. I pity the woman who doesn't have a chance to nurture either her husband, because we nurture each other.

EE:

I had somebody tell me that back in their day, you could join the service but you were a lady first.

MN:

That was our motto, “First a lady.” I know the army has that out, but we had it first. First you're a lady—we were taught this at boot camp—and then a Marine. You can write that down. First you're a lady, then a Marine. They didn't want us to be tough like the men, rough and tumble. But there were some that were. There were some women who were driving the trucks that were, but I didn't come in contact with those women, okay? I was just with these women. We were in the office. We were pencil-pushing the war, and they had a lot of paperwork.

EE:

Val was in Korea?

MN:

He was in Korea. We were married. Jeez, we were married only two months and he was gone. What happened is I stayed in Washington—well, I say “Washington.” Alexandria. I stayed at a room and board. What was I doing? I was working for the Navy Department at the time, and my boss was a captain, navy captain. I loved it there. He used to send me up to the Navy Department to bring the reports, and there was a male lieutenant who used to keep me sitting there. I'd say, “May I please be excused?”

I was married already. All these guys over here were electronic technicians and they had to re-describe all the navy components that go into the ships, because they had trouble during the war, to replace parts in your ships.

So my girlfriend was in charge of the typing pool and I was secretary, junior secretary to a Navy captain. He was so good, he was so sweet. I guess he knew I was naive, too. But anyway, I worried about Val. He was in Korea. In my mind, I knew something was going wrong because the guys were all radio—what do you call them, radios, they could radio overseas. And they couldn't get across the 38th parallel, because I wanted to talk to Val who was in the army. They couldn't get across. Must be something going on over there. But Val never let me know.

So he was gone. I cried all the time. I cried my heart out because I found somebody I loved and cared for and I didn't want to be separated. I was attached. I had the tendency to attach myself. I found that out later. And I cried so much, I ran myself down and I became ill.

EE:

One other question. How's your life been different because you were in the military?

MN:

It's been different in a hundred different ways, in thousands of different ways. I just can't say. It's held me steadfast. Stand firm.

EE:

Do they tell women marines “Semper Fi”?

MN:

Semper Fi. Always faithful. We do that.

EE:

You have just shown me today, with the stuff that you're still involved with at the VA [Veterans Administration] Hospital and the Women Marines Association, you're still Semper Fi.

MN:

Oh, yes. They accuse me of that. In fact, when I go to the VA, to the women's veterans support group, they don't like me because I'm a marine. I feel it. And I reach out, you know. I don't care. It's okay. For years, I would never tell anybody that I was in the service, because I'd get this feedback from the guys, like up at the Federal Building. I was a meteorological technician at the Federal Building.

EE:

I read that interesting detail, yes.

MN:

That was fascinating work for me. So they knew I was a veteran, and then when they found out that I was Italian, they'd say, “Oh, Mary, I spent some time in Italy. You look like the Italian girl that I met in Italy.” And I don't know what kind of relationships they had with the Italian girls, but I know a lot of them went to bed with them so they could eat, and that's a fact. Okay?

I says, “No, no, I'm not that girl. I was born and raised here in America.” But they'd always try to date me even though I was married, because it would remind them. Oh yes, that's a fact. I had two of them in the building that—and then there was a third one. I said, “No, thank you, I'm married. I go to lunch at The Three Brothers if you want to go. I'll meet you there.” The next thing I knew, he's at the door, waiting for me to come out. And I says, “Well, I only have a half hour.” He said, “Well, I was figuring maybe an hour.” I said, “No thank you.”

EE:

Your mama said, “Always remember the things I taught you.” I think you did.

MN:

Oh, yes, I did. She was always there. I couldn't do anything wrong. She was always watching me. I felt like she was always watching me, but that was not something wrong. Even when I was tempted, I couldn't do anything wrong, because the temptations were there.

EE:

That's true. That's why you teach them early. Well, I'm going to let us end right here, because we've had such a good talk, and I want to say thank you very much.

[End of Interview]