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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Betty Hyatt Caccavale, 1999

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Object ID: WV0095.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Caccavale’s childhood in rural South Carolina and her service in the U.S. Navy WAVES as a cryptographer in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

Summary:

Caccavale discusses her family background and awareness of current events in 1940, and then comments on World War II, including her decision to join the military after hearing about Pearl Harbor and going to dances at Camp Croft in nearby Spartanburg, South Carolina. Service related topics include her reasons for choosing the WAVES; homesickness during basic training in Iowa; failing a swim test; corresponding with and dating soldiers; social life in the WAVES; train travel; meeting her future husband at Camp Croft and learning that he had been wounded.

Topics specific to Caccavale’s work in the WAVES include being warned not to talk about her job in the communications department of the Office of Naval Intelligence; working a swing shift; decoding methods; the security system; and working forty-eight straight hours to decode a Japanese code book.

Caccavale also comments on her opinion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt; her and her husband’s military medals; telling her son about her WAVES experiences; her opinion of women in combat positions; and “parenting” Japanese students at a local college.

Creator: Elizabeth Hyatt Caccavale

Biographical Info: Elizabeth “Betty” Hyatt Caccavale (b. 1923), of Walnut Grove, South Carolina, served as a cryptographer in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from February 1943 to May 1945.

Collection: Betty Hyatt Caccavale 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:

Testing, one, two, three, four—

BC:

It's me, Betty Caccavale, sitting right here.

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and today is June 18. Are we moving on?

BC:

I think so.

EE:

June 18, 1999. I'm in Brevard, North Carolina, at the home of Betty Caccavale, who you've already heard introduce herself. This is going to be an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Mrs. Caccavale, I will start you off with the same question that I start everybody off with—I hope it's not the most difficult one—that is, when were you born and where did you grow up?

BC:

I was born January 6, 1923, on a frosty morn in Dixie, down in a little place called Walnut Grove, which is in the county of Spartanburg, South Carolina. My parents were farmers and stayed as such through most of my childhood.

EE:

So you were born at the home place?

BC:

At the old home place, which no longer exists. It was an old house at the time.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

BC:

Yes, I was the oldest of six. And I was born a mother; I took care of them. Till this day I am still a mother; I have to check on them all the time.

EE:

How many brothers, how many sisters?

BC:

I have three sisters and two brothers.

EE:

That's great. Most of them live around this area?

BC:

All of us. Well, one lives part time in California. She's usually back and forth. I have a brother who was a chaplain in the army, that was his career, and he lives in Greenville, South Carolina, and another brother in Spartanburg, he's been there all his life. And I have two sisters in Spartanburg, who have lived there all their lives.

EE:

Great. Everybody worked on the farm? That means you're used to getting up early, used to doing hard work, in addition to everything else. What kind of farming did y'all do?

BC:

Cotton. That was the main thing. Of course, we raised all our own food that we needed in the house. During the Depression, that was the only good thing about it, was the fact that we had food to eat most of the time.

EE:

Farmers came out a little bit better.

BC:

A little bit better. The only thing that was missing was money. They didn't have any money. If the crops didn't do well, we had none for a whole year. So money was a hard thing to come by. I remember my mother talking about no sugar and no coffee because those things you had to buy at the store. But I don't remember ever being hungry like I heard some of the city people later on telling me when I went to New York to live, that it was horrible in the city. They had to stand in line and wait for food and all of that. Of course, I never knew what that was about.

I just knew that I didn't have new clothes exactly like I wanted and we wore a lot of hand-me-downs. I had some cousins who lived in the city and obviously they were faring better, so we used to get their leftovers, hand-me-downs, which, actually, was good, but I kind of resented it at the time. My mother would sew a lot and she'd make new clothes. Then I had a aunt who also would make me new outfits at beginning of school year. So, actually, I think we fared very well. I never, of course, was hungry. I don't remember ever being hungry. I met, later on, people who said that they knew hunger from the Depression.

Then cotton, the boll weevil came, that's what happened. It took me many years to figure that out. The boll weevil came and destroyed the crops. Then it had something to do—my father quit farming, had something to do with [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt's plan. I remember one year they had to plow up the cotton and got paid for it a certain amount of money.

EE:

Right. You got paid for not growing cotton.

BC:

That's right. And I remember my father objecting to that terribly. He couldn't understand why. He had the crop growing already and he had to plow it up in order to get the money. But they made them do it. He had no choice in the matter. It was either that or this boll weevil that came. That was the last year, I remember, that he—

EE:

When did he get out of farming? Was it mid-thirties?

BC:

Yes. Then they tried to get a job anywhere they could get one because farming was just out then. So he did get a job in a textile plant eventually. I remember him leaving the house and being gone for a few days into Spartanburg, into the city itself and looking for work. Of course, they weren't trained for anything but farming. All the way back for generations they had been farmers. That's all they were. In fact, we can trace our family history back to Charleston, [South Carolina], and two brothers that came from England, and it all started from those.

EE:

Your maiden name is Hyatt?

BC:

Hyatt. So I understand that all the Hyatts in this country are from those two brothers. One of them went out West and one stayed in this area here. But they were farmers and that's all they did. Of course, before the Civil War they were big-time farmers and all of that. We have some documentation to that effect, too. We have some papers where they had slaves, and one of them granted freedom to a maid that was a slave at the end of his wife's life, and she should be set free. Things like that. So we have a lot of papers.

EE:

A lot of good family history.

BC:

A lot of that, if you can call that good. [chuckles]

EE:

Well, good in the sense that you have a complete family history.

BC:

That's right.

EE:

Where did you go to school?

BC:

Spartanburg High School. I graduated in 1940—of course, I went to elementary school, so many different ones around. I graduated from Spartanburg High School in 1940.

EE:

Did South Carolina have an eleven-year or twelve-year high school?

BC:

That was eleven years.

EE:

Did y'all go eight months of the year?

BC:

We went from first of September, if I recall, to end of June.

EE:

So it was nine months.

BC:

Yes. What they did, another thing they did that was strange there, when the cotton was ready to be picked, they closed the schools down for two weeks. So all the kids, unless you were in a wheelchair, you got out and picked cotton. Even if you didn't have a crop yourself, you had to pick somebody's cotton.

EE:

When did cotton come in?

BC:

You mean ready to be picked?

EE:

What time of year?

BC:

I don't know. I'm not quite sure. I know we just got into school sometimes—

EE:

It must have been late September or October.

BC:

It had to have been, or first of October. Seemed to me it was different every year according to the weather. They just waited till it was ready. Then, of course, it was usually followed by a rainy season and sometimes too close in. So they wanted to make sure they got all that cotton out before the rain started. So that was the reasoning, I guess, for it. But I didn't mind it. It was fun. We were all out together doing it.

EE:

Would you say that you liked school when you were young?

BC:

I loved school. I loved school. I love reading and I read—one year I read thirty-six books, I remember, mostly fiction, nonfiction. Of course, I was from a very religious family and I had required Bible reading daily by my father, which I loved, too. I still do. It was wonderful. I wouldn't change a thing about my childhood, not one thing.

EE:

What was your favorite subject? What was it that you wanted to be when you grew up?

BC:

Well, I wanted to be a missionary at one time. Then I wanted to be a nurse at one time. Then I found out I couldn't stand needles, so that was out. I don't know why I never became a missionary. I loved anything to do with people. Later on, I proved this to myself. I don't know if I should tell this at this point, but I went to college at the age of fifty, after my children—my daughter had already graduated and gotten married, and then my son, I think he had another year or two. I asked myself, I had this empty-nest syndrome, you know, and I said, “What would you really like to do?” Our business was doing all right and I still worked in it every day, but it was doing okay and we had help. So I said, “I think I would like to go to college.”

So I sneaked off without anybody knowing and did an application out at Queens College in Queens, New York. I thought, “If I'm approved, I'll tell it, but if I'm not accepted—” So I was accepted in every aspect, except I had to take a preparatory course in algebra, I think it was. That was okay, so I did that. I took five years to do it. I got an associate degree first and then I went to Queens College—both were fairly close by.

My son sat me done and explained to be how after the age of forty your brain cells begin to die off. I'll never forget the lecture. “Mom, don't be too surprised if you just don't do well. Just be happy that you're learning and enjoying it. That's the main thing,” he said. I said, “Okay. I understand. Don't worry. I'm just doing this for myself, and it doesn't matter.” It's funny, I wouldn't tell him this now, I don't think, but I ended up with—I believe it's a 3.55 average, and it was more than his. And I enjoyed every minute of it with all my dead brain cells. I enjoyed every minute of it.

EE:

We use such a small percentage of them that you'll never have them die out completely.

BC:

Let's hope. [chuckles] Let's hope.

EE:

You don't need to worry about that. Well, you graduated in '40. A lot of things were going on in the world. Of course, you were a teenager. Teenagers are teenagers, but did you have any inkling about what was going on in Europe when you were in high school? Were people getting worried about war?

BC:

Yes. I was aware that things were not right, but I did not understand the depth of the problem. I knew that it wasn't right. I knew that something was going on. I kept hearing people talk about this, much more so than newspaper readings, I think. I don't know where they got their information. Of course, there was radio by that time. We got a radio when I was about, I guess, eight or nine years old or something like that. I remember the first day that we got it. But it seemed to me that I picked this up from my parents and other grownups talking about it. I really think that most of us did not know really what was going on in Germany and Europe.

EE:

Did you know [Adolf] Hitler by name?

BC:

I knew Hitler. I knew he was in charge of Germany and that he had some strange ideas, but I wasn't quite sure what those ideas were. I just knew that it was strange character and we needed to watch it. That seemed to be what was being said. “We've got to watch that situation.”

I'll never forget, after the war, though, when those pictures started coming out of Germany, I remember at that time I was living in a Jewish neighborhood. I would say that that neighborhood where we lived and where I raised my children was about 75 percent Jewish. If I'm not mistaken, that's what it was. I remember seeing those pictures of bones, of these mass burial scenes, where they had excavated and brought out all these—I'll never forget what I thought when I saw it. If I were Jewish, I think I would get out of this house and start shooting every Christian person I could find. That's how I felt. Of course, that went away in a hurry, but that was my first rash reaction to those pictures.

EE:

How dare you do that.

BC:

It was just more than your mind could absorb. Now, of course, we're seeing the same thing in Kosovo, isn't it?

EE:

Sure.

BC:

You just wonder, no wonder there's such hatred back and forth, but then when you use the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” you know, that just creates it.

EE:

It doesn't end.

BC:

It doesn't end. So that's not the right attitude, and I realized that a few minutes after my first impression of the pictures.

EE:

Did you come back to the farm after graduating, or what did you do?

BC:

Well, by the time I graduated, we were already in this Fairview Heights area, which is right outside Spartanburg city. My father had gotten a job in the textile business there. He had worked his way up pretty good. So we weren't suffering anymore for anything. My other brothers and sisters below me had a much better experience than I did, as far as that money was concerned. They had money when they went to high school. They got allowances and all, which I never heard of. I never head of that.

Then I got a job, because the last two years of high school was what they called Occupational Diversity for those not going to college. Diversified Occupations, that's what it was. They helped you decide. I took shorthand and typing, knowing that I was not going to college. That was out of the question, even though I really wanted to at that time, and I kind of envied two or three of my friends that I knew were going to college. They had this D.O. program set up which was wonderful.

The last year, you got a job working two or three hours after school for—I think it was the last six months before I graduated. Anyway, the man who gave me my job, which was two hours a day after school, gave me a full-time job when I graduated. He had a secretary who was number one. So I was more or less her assistant. It was an insurance company. So I think maybe when school was out in June or whatever, before the fall set in, anyway, another insurance man in town heard about me and that I was looking for a full-time job, and he hired me, so I had a full-time job and I was the only girl there. That was the first real job, I felt. He was very good to me and taught me what I didn't know about insurance. Then he didn't want me to go into the service, so he gave me a pretty hard time on that.

EE:

Did you stay with him until the time that you went in?

BC:

Yes, I stayed there.

EE:

Were you living at the house?

BC:

Yes, I was living with my parents. Oh, nobody lived anywhere else in those days.

EE:

You got this idea to join the service how?

BC:

When I heard Roosevelt's words, “This day will go down in infamy.” We were attacked at Pearl Harbor. That was a Sunday morning, I believe, wasn't it?

EE:

Yes.

BC:

I can just hear it now. I said, “Oh, this is awful that they did this to us.” I knew in my heart that we were going to have a hard time, I mean that the war was going to just take over everything. I just felt that, that this now is the most important thing in the world, because I had always been taught God and country and your family next, in that order. That kind of all blended in together to me as one big cause. I knew at that moment if there was anything I could do, I would do it. If it meant changing my job, I'll go in to work somewhere else, doing something else. But I can't remember time-wise when it was that I found out that women could go into military service.

EE:

I think they started—that was December and they started the following spring with the WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps].

BC:

I had heard, yes, that they were going to take—or read in the paper, I guess, or radio or whatever, that women were going to be accepted into the military. Then by the time I knew it was available, I decided to go into the navy more than the army. The reason, I think, for that was my father had run away from home when he was a young kid under age and joined the navy. Then my grandfather, of course, went and got him and brought him home. My dad always talked about that. He was always—I think he would have been a good military man if they had only let him. But Grandpa had a different idea and he brought him home. Of course, he was under age anyway. So I just thought, well, I adored my father, and he was a wonderful man. My mom, too. That's why I went in the navy, because by the time I found out that it was available, the navy, too, except they didn't know what to do with me at that point, still.

EE:

Still sorting out what to make of it. Your mom, your family, what did they think of a woman joining the service? Because some people were a little concerned about what it would do to a woman's character.

BC:

Oh, yes. I got many lectures on that, that maybe we would not be treated well or that we might be put in—people think of you not a good person anymore or not a moral person. I was given all of that. My mother—see, my father had to sign for me to go in, because I was twenty years old, and you had to be twenty-one on your own. But my father had no compunctions about that. Oh, he was just glad for me to do that. My mother—I think I told this to somebody recently—she would never have signed for me if I'd have been forty-two, but she made the best of it. But I'll tell you one reason I think that she hated to see me leave, was because I was her right arm in raising six kids. I had been really, I realized that much later on, and she was not well at that time, too, so I think that she just felt that she had lost her right arm along with her daughter.

EE:

Sure. She needed you.

BC:

She really did. That was part of it, I believe. But she was that way with all of her girls, anyway. They were never ready for anything.

EE:

That's a hard thing to be as a parent. To let them go, whatever it is.

BC:

It is. It is. Of course I can understand that. Later on, I think that kind of helped me with my own children to be more understanding and let them go easier, because I realize how it made me feel guilty at times that I had done that, that I had left my mother. And I didn't want my kids to feel that way. But I think I made one mistake by doing that, too, I often told me kids, “You are not responsible for each other. You're only responsible for yourself.” But, see, I was responsible for six, and I didn't want them to feel that they had that added responsibility. And I think that maybe I kept my daughter and my son sort of apart from each other maybe a little too much. They're okay now, but for a few years there—

EE:

You can never get the balance right as a parent.

BC:

I know it. I know it.

EE:

From generation to generation, it goes back and forth.

BC:

Isn't it something.

EE:

You joined right there in Spartanburg. You have the nice photo. You were the first to enlist at the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] office there. Had any other friends who were going down with you, or did you decide to do this on your own?

BC:

No, but it's funny. No, nobody. Everybody thought I was a little crazy, I think. But there was a girl in the office at the same time I was there. In fact, that's how I first discovered color-blindness. She and I were standing up. They made us look at, goodness, there were all kinds of test, but there was a picture on the wall, you know, of dots and dashes, that's what it looked like. They asked what numbers did we see. I said, “I see—for example—forty-two.” And this girl standing next to me said, “I see thirty one.” Completely different number. So I looked at her and she looked at me. We couldn't figure this out.

So this man says, “One of you has a problem,” and he left the room. I said, “I don't have a problem. I see forty-two.” She said, “I don't have a problem. I see thirty-one.” So I didn't know what he meant by “One of you has a problem.”

So he came back and he told her that she was colorblind and they could not accept her into the navy. I don't know why that would have had—my husband is colorblind and I've lived with that ever since.

EE:

He can stand and take a bullet and everybody else—

BC:

He was in the army and colorblind.

EE:

But they were looking for the WAVES. I've had somebody else who said she was rejected from the WAVES. She had polio when she was younger and could not march fast enough, so she wasn't good enough for the WAVES. So she joined the Red Cross and ended up going all over the world serving coffee and doughnuts. But they were looking for—you all had to be the best of the best, is what they were looking for because you were the first women. They wanted you to be a certain look.

BC:

Somebody thought about that?

EE:

Somebody thought about that.

BC:

See, I was never aware of that, really, that that's what they were doing.

EE:

You did not go off right away. We talked before we started the tape, the fact that you joined in February of '43 when they were still trying, I think, to get their act together on what they wanted to do with you all. So you ended up staying in the Spartanburg area. How did you get associated with Camp Croft [outside Spartanburg]?

BC:

Well, the whole town was wide open for Camp Croft. This was the war effort. We're training soldiers there.

EE:

Was Camp Croft just built for the war?

BC:

Yes. They built it right away, overnight, almost. They had—I think it was thirty-five thousand soldiers there at all times, training.

EE:

This was army training.

BC:

Army training. Basic training. They did thirteen weeks and then over. They called it—what did they call that? Fodder. Producing fodder for cattle. I don't know. They got them ready for the war and right on over.

I belonged to a club of girls that, I think this club came into existence at that time for that purpose of going down to the club house that they had there for their soldiers.

EE:

Had you been part of this club before you joined?

BC:

I think I was, but, you know, I wouldn't swear to that. It seemed to me like it happened—

EE:

It must have been probably pretty close together, but my guess is that you probably would have done it before.

BC:

I think so. I think you're right about that. I think that's the way it was, but I wouldn't swear to that. But anyway, we started going down there to dance with the soldiers, and there would be two or three busloads. It was a big—through the Chamber of Commerce, something to do with that. And our mothers would go. They had a mother each for about every six kids, girls. So the mothers would all sit up in the balcony and watch what was going on down below, see. My mother didn't like the idea much, but if I was going, she wanted to go, too, so she volunteered to be a chaperone. We did that, and that's how we met all of the soldiers. Of course, they weren't allowed to—we weren't even supposed to really date them that much. This was just to go for the—

EE:

An evening's dance.

BC:

Yes.

EE:

Just to be somebody to dance with, get their minds off of what's going on.

BC:

That's exactly it, but they couldn't control what you did later. So I dated quite a few of the soldiers and got to know them pretty well, corresponded with them all, but, of course, there's just the one that—

EE:

So this is the one, you're referring to your future husband. What's his name?

BC:

Phil. Philip.

EE:

You met him. You had already signed up to be a WAVE?

BC:

Yes, yes, but somehow or other our dates don't quite work out according to what our memory was of it. So I guess we had just forgotten.

EE:

As long as you don't get into an argument about it, you're allowed to differ. [chuckles]

BC:

No, we have more important things to argue about. [chuckles]

EE:

So you all met, and you ran into him his first day in the camp and went to a dance with him. You were having live bands?

BC:

Yes, we had beautiful music. Good bands. Beautiful ones.

EE:

A little jitterbug action?

BC:

Oh, that's what it was. Jitterbug was the thing at the time.

EE:

You were a good dancer?

BC:

Well, yes, I think so, because I loved it and we both still do. And we still love dancing.

EE:

It's amazing how that's come back into big time now.

BC:

Yes, isn't that something.

EE:

How often did they have dances there, every Friday night or something?

BC:

It was once a week. I think it was Friday night.

EE:

Were the men allowed to go out on dates other than that during the week?

BC:

Yes, if they had time off, they could do whatever they wanted to do. But they were not all off at one time. Everybody had a different schedule or different—depended on what their—a lot of times they couldn't come because they had KP [kitchen patrol] duty. That wasn't a punishment always, but they just had to do it.

EE:

Just their turn to do it.

BC:

It was their turn to do it. So I can remember sometimes dates having to be broken because they had KP duty or some other kind of duty came in that they had to do. So everybody had a different schedule but when they had their free time, actually, they could do anything they wanted to.

EE:

He went away before or after you went away to Cedar Falls, Iowa? He left before?

BC:

Yes, he left before. We think it was within two or three days. This is what we can't figure out. It had to be a little longer than that. I think it had to be several—I guess what it was, I knew I was going by that time and I knew where, and that's why it seemed so close together. But at that time I had no intentions of marrying him. That thought had never occurred to me. We just were friends.

EE:

When you signed up for the service, did they have certain kinds of jobs which are available for women? Did they tell you or did you request a certain kind of work at that time? Did you say, “Send me anywhere but South Carolina?” Did you want to see the world or did you have any preference?

BC:

They never asked me anything and I never told them anything. I went in as a yeoman because of my secretarial skills at that time. When we were in Cedar Falls, Iowa, taking our basic training, our military training took place in the morning hours. Got up early, you know, and marched around the roads and everything, with these navy men who hated their jobs. They were brought in—

EE:

Your instructors were navy men?

BC:

Navy men. And they were brought in from ships. They were the old salts, the ones who had signed up for a lifetime, and they did not like being there and they let us know about it. They were insulting, they really were.

EE:

So did you learn the sailor language? [chuckles]

BC:

No.

EE:

Were they restricted to some extent?

BC:

Women were women, I think, at that time.

EE:

They still treated you somewhat as ladies?

BC:

Oh, yes. They had to. They couldn't mistreat us openly. It couldn't be. But it's just that you got the message.

Then in the afternoons we had our vocational training. I went in and got my shorthand up to par, I mean really. I was doing real good. I was about the best one in the class. I was fast. I could always type fast. This instructor used to laugh at me, he said, “We have a Southern girl here and she's faster than anybody.” He made a joke out of it.

EE:

Were you the only Southerner?

BC:

I was the only one in that class.

EE:

I don't understand how it is. This is about the twentieth time I've heard “I was the only Southerner.” We're not that small a part of the population. [chuckles]

BC:

I didn't think so either, but I never knew one. I never knew anybody from the South. The whole time I never had a girlfriend. No, there was a girl I was friends with from New Orleans. That's the only one I can remember.

EE:

What was the most difficult thing about basic for you? You're from a big family, but living in dormitory life is a little bit different, barracks life, when you're all together, not a lot of privacy.

BC:

I didn't find that to be any problem. I found the biggest problem, I think, was marching and doing all that military stuff. And it was cold weather, much colder there than I had experienced in South Carolina. I remember being very cold and marching and my nose would be running and freezing, and you couldn't touch it. You couldn't even wipe your nose off. Things like that. [chuckles] But I really got along very well with rules and regulations.

EE:

So the physical exercise level wasn't too bad for you?

BC:

No. The only thing I couldn't do was swim. I had a problem with that. We were always out in the pool, and I hung onto the side. I had had an experience the first time I went to the beach, I almost drowned. I got scared of water and I wouldn't try anymore. I wouldn't have my face covered in water. This never occurred to me that it might be a problem. So the day they tested everybody, I'm still hanging on the side of the pool, which nobody had noticed until they started testing. They tested everybody in the pool, everybody went out, and I'm the only one left there. This guy says to me, “Swim!”

And I said, “I can't swim.”

“What? You can't swim? Swim across the pool and back.”

I said, “I can't swim.” Just like that, I kept saying it.

He said, “I never heard of such a thing. You joined the navy and you can't swim?”

I said, “Yes, I never thought about that.” And I didn't.

And he said, “Well, we can't have this. You can't be in the navy and not swim.”

I said, “Well, I guess you'll have to send me back home.” That's the only thing I knew to say. I think that shocked him when he saw I was just that determined.

He said, “You wait right here and I'll go somewhere else.”

EE:

I bet that did get their attention. [chuckles]

BC:

I guess he went to ask somebody else what to do about this. So he came back a little later and he says, “Okay, get dressed,” and come to a certain room. So, I did, and I went there.

There was another male officer in there and he says, “I hear you don't want to swim.”

I said, “It isn't that I don't want to swim; I can't swim.” I told him my problem.

He said, “Well, I never heard of this, but I'm going to give you a special dispensation. This is probably the first time it's ever been done,” like that.

I said, “Well, I understand. I'm not concerned about that because I understand that I have signed up as a member of the United States Navy where my duties will be performed within the continental limits of the United States. So that means I probably will never be on a ship. So my life will never be in danger from that, and neither will the navy have any problem with me on that.”

So I can remember him looking at me like, “What is the matter with her?” or something, you know. But that was how I felt about it. What is the big deal? It's my problem that I can't swim.

EE:

The problem is that the government let these women in and they don't have to swim and we know they don't have to swim, but it's going to ruin our traditions, is what it is. That's great. Was this the first long period of time you've ever been away from home?

BC:

It was my first time I was ever away from home except maybe for a few days with my grandparents, which lived in like the next little town anyway. I was very homesick. I really missed my family and my brothers and sisters. I think I missed my duties there with them, too, as well as just being there. We had a home that was maybe lacking in a lot of things, but it was full of love and concern for each other and faith and all the good things. I missed that, but I never forgot it.

I remember my first leave. After we finished our basic training there, before I went to Washington, we were given a furlough to go home, and that was one of the happiest times of my life, I think, when I walked in the house and there everybody was, exactly like I had left them. So I really was homesick.

Then even during the time that I was in Washington, I got to go home quite often because I worked the swing shift. Every three weeks I would have forty-eight or more. I think it's forty-eight plus twelve hours that I had off. And I discovered that I could go to Spartanburg on the train, but traveling was bad, you know, during that time.

EE:

Everywhere you're going, you're wearing your uniform?

BC:

Yes, you had a uniform, and people were kind to you because you were in uniform. They were wonderful, really. But most of the time, in going to Spartanburg I had to sit on my suitcase between cars if you were lucky to get a spot where you could put your suitcase and sit down on it. It took about twelve hours in those days to get from Pennsylvania Station to Spartanburg. But I got a chance at least to see them, my family. On the trip back, there was this old conductor. He was pretty old and he was black. But somehow I got to know him, and he knew that I had to go to work as soon as I got back. He knew my plan, my schedule. So he would put me in the ladies' room and close the door and put an “out of order” sign.

EE:

On the ladies' rest room?

BC:

Yes. So other people had to go to the next car. He closed the door, and there was a couch in there. He said, “You go get some sleep, honey,” and I did, you know. I think because of him I was able to go home more than I would have otherwise, because I got enough sleep to be able to go on and go to work. So that was really wonderful. But that was true anywhere you went in uniform in those days. They seemed to cater to you a lot. It was the war effort and everybody was involved in it.

EE:

A couple of weeks ago on a TV show I was watching, talking about how things were different in the World War II times than today. Back then everybody was patriotic. Was that true?

BC:

Everyone. Everyone.

EE:

You didn't hear anybody saying—was anybody ever afraid that we might not win the war?

BC:

I don't think anybody ever thought that was possible. I really believe that they thought the cause was right and that you had to be for the war effort. There was just no other way of thinking. It seems unreal now. Right now it frightens me a lot. If we get into real trouble, I wonder if we'll have enough response to take care of it. I don't know.

EE:

Well, we were definitely attacked in World War II, and when you're on a strong defense, maybe that's a difference, too. We knew we were under a threat.

BC:

Yes. Even though Germany didn't really come out and attack us, but we knew that we were definitely on his [Adolf Hitler's] list.

EE:

Were you one of those people who when you joined, were you freeing a man to fight? Was that part of your thing?

BC:

Yes. Oh, yes. Well, yes. And that's why we were not that popular. When I got to Washington, I began to realize that fact. The men who had had—some of them were in their thirties, forties, they seemed much older to me, old men—they were career people and now suddenly they had to leave and go on a ship somewhere and fight, whereas before that they had this very comfortable job which was more like, was not very military in its background, really. They had been there. Most of them had been there from the beginning of their enlistment. So they didn't like the idea of being disturbed, and they'd say it to us.

EE:

You'd come into the office and you're working with somebody and that fellow may be the next one to leave, to go to the front.

BC:

That's exactly what happened. I remember when we first went in there, there were quite a few men still there. They kept disappearing little by little by little, until finally about the end there were very few men left in there, except high-ranking risers.

EE:

You graduated. How long was the yeoman's course at Cedar Falls? Six weeks, eight weeks, something like that?

BC:

I think it was more than that. I believe it was about the same as the basic military and the army. I think I stayed there about two or three months.

EE:

Were you picking up some additional—as you got to the end of your training there, were you doing—I know they had supply school, they had specialty schools going on. Did you have special training for the kind of work you were going to be doing in Washington?

BC:

No, I had no inkling. See, they didn't—

EE:

They just said you're going to be doing something with dictation or secretarial?

BC:

Exactly. And I never wrote a word of shorthand again and I never saw a typewriter after that. But, see, they brought me right up to par. I mean, I really was at the top of the class there with my shorthand, anyway, and never used it again. But, see, in fact, none of the girls that went to basic training, none of them went to Washington with me.

EE:

You were the only one from here?

BC:

I was the only one. I did not know a soul when I got there. And I don't know where the others went. I don't know. I don't know why, but somehow I think that that's why I got that dispensation for swimming, because I was already picked to go there, I believe that.

EE:

In other words, had you not been picked out for some special assignment to begin with, they would have said, “Go home.”

BC:

I believe that. I only believe that now, thinking back over it. But I remember another thing, when I took my IQ test, and till this day I do not know what my IQ is or was, or will be. It's not important to me. But when I did an IQ test, I know that's what it was, and I was scared because I never had anything like that, to my knowledge. Probably did in school or something, but I don't remember it as such. So when he came back, he went out of the room with it, he came back in and I said, “Did I pass?” and he said, “You sure did.” Like that, you know. So I wanted to ask him what was the grade, but I don't know if it would have mattered to me or meant anything to me then. The reason I'm saying this, I have two children who were special progress children in school. They have IQs, one has 148 and one was 149, I don't know which is which.

EE:

That's good.

BC:

Maybe they had it from my husband, I don't know. But I'm putting it all together somehow, you know. It's funny how these little things stand out in your mind.

EE:

Well, a lot of things in life you don't see till you're at the rearview mirror and looking back.

BC:

And I don't know what intelligence even would have to do with the work that I did, because it would take more of an idiot to do the work.

EE:

You ended up at the naval barracks in Washington [D.C.]. Is this the set of temporary buildings that's along south of Lincoln Memorial?

BC:

No, this was out past Georgetown. If I remember correctly, it was when you go out toward Georgetown, you had to go right from there. It was close to the Maryland border.

EE:

So it's up past the Observatory, [the] Naval Observatory up on the hill, up past there?

BC:

I don't know anything about that.

EE:

Okay. Well, that's just north of Georgetown. Near the National Cathedral or past it?

BC:

Past it. It was close to the Maryland border. It was a school, a college of some kind, obviously.

EE:

American University or something?

BC:

I have no idea. I don't remember. I just don't remember. They had built barracks on the property for us to sleep in. We walked across the street and there were huge fences all around and security guards and everything. We had to pass security every time we went in or out. We ate over where the barracks were. That was the dining room.

EE:

So within this closed compound you were housed and went to work as well, all within this. You told me before we started this tape, about a friend of yours was reminding me of apparently when you got there, they took you to a church. Tell me about that again.

BC:

Okay. That was on the property of this school.

EE:

The little chapel.

BC:

The little chapel that was there. That was the first day that we got there. We were taken in there and told what we were going to do. There must have been maybe thirty-five or forty of us by that time. We were given as much as we needed to know about the background of what was going on there. We were told that we were going to be involved in naval communications with the Japanese. We knew that much. Then they told us that this was so highly secretive that our lives would be in danger. I remember them telling that because—“But the important thing is, don't talk about what you're doing to anybody, especially your family members and all that. You are not to say anything and not even to each other, because you will each be doing different jobs at different times and you don't need to know what the other person is doing. In fact, the less you know,the better off you will be, because—”

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

BC:

Later on we had an apartment with this girl I mentioned, who was in Philadelphia. We had an apartment nearby, which was so much better. We could sleep then, you know. It was so noisy in the barracks. That was the biggest problem, women coming in and out all hours.

EE:

This was a twenty-four-hour operation.

BC:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have the same shift or did you rotate?

BC:

We had the swing shift, they called it. One week you worked eight to four. The next week, four to twelve. The next week, twelve till eight in the morning.

EE:

Six days on. How many on, how many off?

BC:

Three weeks on. No, we worked six days a week. We had one day off.

EE:

Kind of a rotating day off?

BC:

Yes, that's what it was, one day off. At the end of three weeks, we had this big change, forty-eight hours. Then you started all over again every three weeks. You'd just about get used to sleeping one way and then it was time to change to another. That's when I started drinking coffee. Of course, you can't be in the navy without drinking coffee to keep awake. At nighttime it was just as busy as it was in the day time. Twenty-four hours a day, it didn't matter when you were working.

EE:

Your CO [commanding officer] was a man or a woman?

BC:

Man. We had one woman, and I can't remember what her rank was. She had been the president of a college somewhere, but not at first; she came a long time after I was there. I only remember her being there for a short time before I left. So I have no idea of how she got there or what or why. That's the only woman in charge that I remember. The rest were men.

EE:

You were living with how many folks in your barracks?

BC:

Oh, goodness, there must have been about, I'd say, maybe twenty-five or thirty in each building. But, see, it kept growing after I got there.

EE:

They kept adding more and more WAVES coming in?

BC:

Yes.

EE:

Were all the WAVES doing this?

BC:

Yes, WAVES.

EE:

Were there men housed on this facility as well or just WAVES?

BC:

Just WAVES. As the men were leaving, they were adding more women. This is what was going on, really.

EE:

What can you tell me about the details of your work? When you were doing the job, were you listening on a headset and decoding or did you have a special machine or what were you doing?

BC:

No, they had no machines at that time. There was nothing. We had to do it all by hand. They would give you a page. This is what I started doing. They would give you a page of five sets of five numbers, and sometimes letters of the alphabet worked in. But you had to go through that page and find out how many times that same set of five numbers appeared. You wrote it out. It would drive you nuts, you know. Then how they figured it was, the more often you saw the same set, that had to be a very common word. And that's how they worked it out.

EE:

Now they put it in through a computer and do all these mathematical things, but you were just doing—just basically trying to break it apart one word at a time. What could this word mean? You didn't have to know Japanese?

BC:

No, you didn't have to know anything like that, no. But that's the way they were doing it and they were actually breaking the code, too.

EE:

Were you called a cryptographer, or was that a different job title?

BC:

We were called that.

EE:

Cryptographer school.

BC:

No, we had no training at all. We were actually being used as a computer would be now. That's exactly what it was, only they didn't have the computers, they only had people. See, then these would be taken to maybe a real cryptographer and he would notice how many times a certain letter—then he would try to piece that out and work on it.

At first they had a wonderful setup. When I first got there, I had only this room that I worked in. I could only go in there. I couldn't go anywhere else. You wore a tag around your neck with something about that size with the color on it, and that's the door you could go in, the one that was painted that color.

Then as I got promoted—and I took every promotion that was available—I read the stuff, did the work, and got promoted right straight along, as you can see on one of those. So then I would be allowed to go into another room after a while. Sometimes I would go in there to get material or to take material or whatever, so eventually, though, I got to where I could go into just about every room in the place. But you had to be wearing that color tag, and I wore a whole bunch of them at the end. Then one night—did I talk about the capturing of this code book?

EE:

Yes, that was in the Women Recall the War Years book [by George McDermott].

BC:

That was a big, big event of my whole navy career.

EE:

Was this in '44 when this would have happened?

BC:

Yes.

EE:

You started in the summer of '43.

BC:

This had to be in '44.

EE:

This was before D-Day—do you remember that—when the code book was captured?

BC:

I think it was. I think it was, but I would not swear to that.

EE:

To some extent, you were in a different theater of operations, so your mind is sort of focused—

BC:

I never really thought about what was going on in Europe much.

EE:

Did they debrief you on what the status of the war was, sort of get inside information?

BC:

No.

EE:

You're just focused on your task?

BC:

Yes, just what you were doing. Just what you were doing. In fact, it was only because I got promoted and was allowed eventually to go into these rooms that I was able to take those precious messages that night that I got so upset. I was told to take them to an Admiral So-and-so, Admiral Lee. I think his name was Lee.

EE:

You were working second shift or third shift, I guess it was?

BC:

It was at night. I was getting ready to go home. It was eleven o'clock. They came in and said that this man had arrived from California, from Los Angeles, and it had taken him a long time, like seven or eight days to get from L.A. to Washington because he was traveling as a businessman, with a briefcase.

EE:

To avoid attention.

BC:

Yes. And in this briefcase was a code book. See, what happened, the Japanese had a plan worked out. I found this out later, maybe during this time. If Americans start reading, then we jump to this one, and whenever higher-ups decide, then you switch to another one, so they kept switching because we were breaking the code more than they wanted us to or thought we should. What they did then, they did not follow their usual procedure that was worked out in advance. They skipped around. So even their own people then didn't know what was going on for a while. So it was kind of strange in a way.

But anyway, they got this code book and this man came in. So they came in and told us this. They said, “You don't have to stay, but we would like for you to stay because we're going to need all the help we can get, because this is very important.” They made us understand that this is probably the most important event in the war there, as far as consequence is concerned. “But if you're tired or sick or don't feel well, then don't stay. Because when you stay, we want you to stay till the completion of this and we don't know what it is, how long that will be.”

Well, of course, I stayed, you know, and I went home two days later, two nights and two days later. But by that time, and I could hardly stay awake anymore, but, you know, you remember technically you could be shot for falling asleep on duty.

EE:

It keeps you awake.

BC:

Yes, it wakes you up in a hurry. But I remember being afraid to go to the ladies' room, that if I sat down— [chuckles]

EE:

It would be all over. [chuckles]

BC:

I was afraid to go. But we got it all done and then everything, what I was doing then, at that time, of course, we had the code book there and it was coming out in Japanese words, letters. I mean, I was putting them all together. I was given a whole stack like this to take to this admiral down the hall. Well, I believe that was about the first time I'd had any reason to go into that room, although I was allowed to go. I walked in. It was just as you'd see in the movies later, these big tables out like that, you know, and ships all over and they're pushing them back and forth with sticks. I walked in. Now, we had been taught that anything Oriental is your enemy and you cannot trust them, and this place could be invaded at any moment. You have to be aware at all times who you're talking to, what you're saying to that person, and don't trust anybody. The walls have ears. When I opened the door to go in, he was anticipating my coming, I guess, with these messages. He started to approach me, and he's Japanese. Well, I just stood there and started to back out of the door, because it hit me, he's the enemy. What am I doing giving these, this precious stuff, to him?

And he looked at me and I guess he realized my concern. He started to laugh. He said, “It's okay.” Still. And he says, “I am an American.”

You know what I said to him? “You don't look like one.” That's what I said.

So he laughed, really. He said, “Believe me, I am an American.” Well, then I looked around and I saw the other people were working. Nobody was—

EE:

Nobody's making a big deal about it. He's probably not going to walk in here unnoticed if he's from the other side. [chuckles]

BC:

I guess if they let him in, I'd better trust him. if they don't seem concerned about this enemy here, I guess I'd better give it to him. So I did. He said, “You did the right thing, though. You have to be cautious.” He was nice about it. But I thought it was a terrible answer, “You don't look like an American.” But we had been brainwashed to that effect and it took me a long time to get over that.

EE:

What was the name of this outfit that you're working with? It says “naval barracks.” That's the location, but what's it called? Was it a special division of naval intelligence?

BC:

Naval Intelligence. U.S. Naval Intelligence. In fact, I worked in the communications department of the Naval Intelligence office.

EE:

The men that you did work with, as opposed to those that were heading off and grumbling about it, did you feel that they treated you professionally?

BC:

Yes. I never had any—

EE:

No problems with—

BC:

No problems.

EE:

—with harassment?

BC:

Never. Never.

EE:

Do you ever feel that you got special treatment being a woman?

BC:

No, no, I never felt that either. But I never felt any—maybe it was because I didn't recognize it, I don't know, you know, at that time, but I never had those feelings, ever, that I was taken advantage of in any way by being a woman or the work I was doing or anything like that.

EE:

With the kind of schedule that you had at this job, did you have time for any kind of a social life?

BC:

We did. Like if you were working days, you had your evenings off. That week I remember that we would get together and go to a movie, a whole bunch of girls. Usually we traveled in a group like that.

EE:

Safety in numbers.

BC:

Safety in numbers. But, you know, it was a different world, like I keep saying.

EE:

Did most of those girls have boyfriends overseas like you?

BC:

A lot of them did. A lot of them did. But, see, really I did not consider Phil my real boyfriend at that point, because we just left as good friends.

EE:

An occasional letter?

BC:

That was it, yes. In the meantime, though, I think what happened there was Phil's sister in New York came down to visit me and I got to know her. In fact, on a furlough, I took her to Spartanburg with me because she wanted to go. She stayed with my mom and all, and I was there a week. We went to a dance from the same club that I belonged to, and she met a lieutenant and married him. Then it was time for me to go back to Washington and she stayed on with my mom, because she'd met this man, see. [chuckles]

EE:

You didn't realize you were obligating yourself already, did you?

BC:

Oh, absolutely. So in the meantime, she invited me to New York to visit her family, her mom and dad, and Phil's father was really wonderful. He would get Broadway play tickets or whatever was available, you know, for me and for her. So I got to know his family, not that I really planned it that way, but it just happened. So when he came back from overseas, well, my mother always adored him, she thought he was the nicest one in the world, and he looked like—gosh, the actor. What's his name, that everybody loved in those days. Gee whiz, how can I ever forget him? I don't know. The one who played in Gone With the Wind.

EE:

Rhett? I mean Clark Gable.

BC:

Clark Gable. She thought he looked like Clark Gable. Anyway, when he came back on the ship, his ship brought back all the wounded soldiers to Charleston, South Carolina, and he called my mother first, from there. And she was just thrilled to death that he was alive.

EE:

Was that the first you knew he had been wounded?

BC:

Yes. In fact, I called my mother that night for some reason and she said, “I knew, I knew, I knew that you would call me the minute that you heard.”

I said, “Heard what?”

She said, “Phil is back.”

I said, “What are you talking about?” I had been at work and I didn't know anything about that. So she told me that he was in a hospital in Charleston. So then they took him from there to upstate New York. Mitchel Field [Uniondale, New York], I think it was.

EE:

Shrapnel injuries?

BC:

He was caught in between two mortar shells and both arms were just knocked out. In one arm he has no elbow at all. It's all wired up in there, in this position. He can't move it or straighten it out. The other one is bad off, too, but he can straighten it out. But that was about the third or fourth time he had been injured. But everything else, they patched it up and sent him right back out.

EE:

This is when he was in Germany or close to Germany?

BC:

He was close to Germany at the time. He was at a place called Belfort Gap in France. Anyway, it's about eight miles from the border. That was in October of '44. So he didn't get out of the hospital until August. Then he was discharged in about August '45.

EE:

Do you ever think about making the military a career?

BC:

No, I don't think so. See, I think my full focus was the war, just getting this war over and winning it. I don't think I ever gave that a thought. And once I saw that the war was being won, my focus was lightening up somewhat.

EE:

Were you making trips up to New York to see Phil?

BC:

Yes, I did. I was there the first—no, I was not there the first time that he was able to come to the house, to his home. They had a big, big party, the whole neighborhood. This was in Brooklyn. The whole neighborhood came in for the occasion. But I couldn't come to that one, but I think it was maybe a week or two later when he was allowed to come back again for the weekend or something like that. I had Tuesdays off, so it had to be on a Tuesday. He worked it out somehow and I went and saw him there. Then he could come down to Washington, and so he made several trips down there. This girl and I had this apartment by that time, so he stayed in our apartment, which we would never admit to, see, in those days. But believe me, he stayed in the other room. I mean, there was no nothing like that.

EE:

Yes, that's what it meant back then.

BC:

That's right. Exactly.

EE:

He had a room and you had a room. [chuckles]

BC:

Yes, and, boy, you didn't meet anywhere unless you were fully dressed, either, not even anywhere in the apartment. But it was another world. If you said “no” to a man, it was “no.” He understood it and you understood it and that's all there was to it. Like you said before, harassment, I never—no. I've had several men who weren't supposed to ask me for a date, officers and whatnot, and they weren't supposed to, and we were not supposed to go out with them. I think once or twice I did had a date and went to dinner or something, but it was not harassment.

EE:

Did you have an NCO [noncommissioned officer] club, I guess, you went to?

BC:

No, I don't recall any. There was nothing like that. There were things like that in the city of Washington, but somehow we never went there.

EE:

You didn't go to like special USO [United Service Organizations] things?

BC:

No, no.

EE:

Washington's got a lot of things culturally.

BC:

It has a lot of things, and we used to ride bicycles a lot around the memorial areas, you know. Girls just did all these things together, you know, with or without men. If some of the men there wanted to go, they could, but it would be groups of people doing things together. So we had a good time and we stayed as busy as you could want to be.

EE:

What was the hardest thing about your work? Was it the secrecy?

BC:

I think that was one of the hardest parts. I hated the lying part, you know, where I had to actually tell something that wasn't true. I hated that.

EE:

Someone told me they had a stock lie for what your job was. If somebody asked you, what were you supposed to say?

BC:

Secretary to general—not general. I think he was—I've forgotten, commander of something, so and so, and his name.

EE:

You made up a name?

BC:

I have forgotten it. No, I was told a name to use.

EE:

You were told a made-up name?

BC:

I was told a name to use. I guess the reason for that was maybe they wanted you to be at least consistent with what you said. That's what I said, and nobody ever questioned me.

But we were interrogated quite often at work. We were brought in and said, “Has anybody asked you anything about your work, what you're doing here? Anybody, a civilian of any kind, anybody at home questioned you?”

“Nobody.”

“How about your co-workers? Do they ask what you're doing?” Because we were told not to talk about it.

This woman from Philadelphia, she and I had an apartment together, She never knew what I was doing there for the two days and two nights that I didn't show up. She knew I was working, because she had asked. I didn't show up at home. So she asked where I was, I guess in the main office there or something, and they told her I was on duty. But she never knew what I was doing, because she wasn't there at the time that this happened.

EE:

When was it that you moved from the barracks to the apartment?

BC:

It was pretty late. We were not allowed—

EE:

You weren't allowed to until a certain time.

BC:

Until you reached a certain—

EE:

Class level?

BC:

Advancement. I don't remember what it was.

EE:

Specialist first class, second class?

BC:

I can't remember. It wasn't long. We did not live in the apartment very long.

EE:

You mentioned something about this earlier. A question I asked some folks, were you ever in physical danger or ever afraid?

BC:

No, I never thought about it, but they kept telling us that we could be in danger of the place being taken over by the enemy or we would be kidnapped and interrogated in that respect. That's why it was important for us not to discuss anything.

EE:

Did that experience of not trusting, did that have any lasting effect with you? Did you suspect after that, either about what the government says or about human nature in general?

BC:

No, I don't think so. I think I understood that was all part of this unusual situation which we're in, this war thing. I felt that most everything I was doing there was contained within this war effort thing and that rules there were made for the war effort and that it was like playing a game, it's not the real thing that you do in life. It's just what you have to do right now because of the war.

However, when I got out, it took me a long time to realize that Japanese people are just people, too, and I had a hard time with that. It's strange how it's turned out. My first—

EE:

The book says that has a happy ending, doesn't it?

BC:

Yes. We have been “parenting” Japanese students here at the college, been doing that for about eight years now. I got a call from the chaplain over there, who's a friend of mine, I knew him, and he had this girl, and he said, “She's ending up her semester here. She's never been in an American home. She's ready to go home and didn't have good experiences here. I wish that you would do something with her.”

I said, “Wonderful. Fine.” So I got to know her and, man, we showed her everything in about four or five weeks' time. And I loved that girl. She was just wonderful. And I began to realize that she had nothing to do with this no more than my kids had to do with it. Why not like her? I couldn't help but love her. She was just wonderful. She didn't come back here to school, but she went to a college out in Washington and she flew out twice to visit us after that, during her time off. She has since graduated, and she's working in Honolulu, [Hawaii], at a college there.

Then I enjoyed that so much that I just picked up kids on my own and got to know them. Then I had two together after that, Nazomi and Kaoru [phonetic], and I'm still in touch with them. Nazomi is married and moved back to Japan and lives with her husband there. I know the parents of these kids. When she graduated, I knew her four years. Her parents came for the graduation and they stayed with us for about five days. We had this huge house out there, so they thought it was a hotel, the space. After that, I also had another one named Yuri. Yuri is in Japan right now, but she'll be back to Campbell University [Buies Creek, North Carolina], in October. She's coming here in August to stay. They become part of your family.

EE:

Sure.

BC:

She will come and stay a week with me before she goes to camp. Along with her, when I picked her up, I picked her up at church one Sunday because she was there and she was Japanese, so I just went over and started talking. With her was this Haitian girl, Suzette. That was four years ago. Suzette just graduated now from four years here. She was sponsored by a church up in Spindale, North Carolina, and she's up in Spindale right now trying to get a pink card to stay another year because things are bad in Haiti. She has to go back, but she'd like to have a little money before she goes back. So anyway, that's the story of my life now, and now I have this past year also a Japanese boy. I figured maybe it's about time I try a boy, you know. Yosake Seke. I've known him a year. What a wonderful experience. He is a brilliant man. He made Phi Beta Kappa in the first year at college in a second language.

EE:

That's great.

BC:

Gosh! Imagine. Well, he's so happy, he called me one night when he didn't know what it really was at the time. He said, “It's P-I something or another, but we're having a thing tonight and I want you to come.” So we went. I called the college then first to verify what is it that we're going to. He didn't really even understand it, you know, what it was. He didn't care much, he just knew it was something to do. He was so proud that we came. We helped him buy a car and get insurance and stuff like that, that they need a little help on. That's really what we do with them. Well, of course, I feed him a lot and they love to eat American food, and I love to cook, so it works out really good. I had forgotten about all that stuff through them.

EE:

That's good. I've got about ten more minutes' worth of questions for you if you can bear with me for just a second.

BC:

Oh, sure. It's fun.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing moment? Do you have something? Maybe not necessarily with you. Maybe there's something, you know, when you're in the service, you mix with people from all over, you run into characters. Is there something that stands out?

BC:

I can tell you two or three situations. First of all, I was embarrassed when I spoke to the admiral like that. I was really embarrassed.

And on the train going to Cedar Falls, Iowa, I met a girl who got on the train somewhere. Or I met her—I think our train stopped in Chicago, that's what it was. A group of us got together who were all going to Cedar Falls, Iowa. How we identified each other, I don't know. I don't remember. But I remember a conversation with this girl and I remember—see, living in Spartanburg, I thought the whole world was just like me. I had no idea. I'm a WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant], you know, and I didn't know the word at that time, but that's what I was, and I thought the whole world was like that. I had no idea that—I mean, I'd heard about Jewish people, but I didn't know what they looked like. I wasn't aware that I ever had met one. But, of course, I had because quite a few Jewish people were living in Spartanburg and they had stores and everything there, but I never knew them to be Jewish.

I remember saying to this girl, “I wonder what a Jewish girl looks like,” and she turned out to be Jewish. She told me, “I am one.” But she got very angry with me. I tried to apologize to her. I said, “You know, I just didn't know. I just thought that maybe they looked different in some way that I would recognize them.”

I hadn't met a Catholic either, except one in high school, and I remember very well how I met her, because the teacher was—we were doing English literature and we came to a poem, and he was going to read the poem. The name of the poem was My Rosary. He said, “Do you know what a rosary is?” Of course, nobody but one little girl in the back raised her hand. He said, “Can you explain to the class what a rosary is?” This little girl, I still remember her name. Let's see. Her name was Clifford Clarence Russell. Three boys' names. Russell was her last name. Clifford Clarence Russell. She and I had been friends, were friends. She said, “I'm a Catholic, and a rosary is a pair of prayer beads.” And she explained the whole thing. I had never in my life knew anything like that at all. My first introduction.

So I didn't even know what a Catholic looked like. But I didn't know what I expected Jewish people to look like. But later on I lived in a Jewish community, and my best friends are Jews now, some of them my best ones. In fact, I had a telephone call yesterday morning, forty minutes we were on the phone, one of my neighbors who is Jewish and we speak on the phone.

EE:

Sounds like those military years really were the start of opening your eyes to a lot of things.

BC:

Exactly. Exactly. My introduction to the world.

EE:

Made you a lot more independent maybe than what you were beforehand?

BC:

See, I had learned how to be independent. Not only that, my mother always was proud that I could solve problems. Whatever she would assign me to do, I'd find a way to do it and I knew that that's what I should do, is try to find out a way to solve this problem without bothering my mother again. So I felt that I had sort of conquered my own little world. I knew very well how to live in it and how do and be productive. That seemed to be a very important thing for me all of my life, that I have to be productive in one way or another.

EE:

You were in Washington. You got married in February of '45, is that right?

BC:

Yes.

EE:

But you didn't get out of the service until May of that year. You were in the service for two events in the spring of '45: Roosevelt's death and VE [Victory in Europe] Day. Roosevelt was not a family favorite with your dad.

BC:

Only because of the cotton.

EE:

Only because of the cotton.

BC:

He did a lot of things.

EE:

What did you think of Roosevelt when he passed away? What did that—

BC:

I thought he was the greatest thing going. I really was so heartbroken that he died, and wondered—see, all I remembered about him from childhood was that he was turning everything around. The Depression was going to end. And it did. It took a while, but it did. I think maybe the war had a whole lot to do with it, too, though, when you think back on the economics of the whole thing. The war came along right at a good time, I guess, maybe economically. I don't know. But anyway, I was so sad when he died, because I looked up to him, that he had just saved the whole United States as far as our economy was concerned, in spite of plowing up the cotton. [chuckles] I felt that way about it and I think my father did too by that time. I think we had gotten over all of that. My father just could not see how in the world you could work so hard and yet plow it up. The money was irrelevant, even though he needed it, but he just didn't understand the common sense in that.

EE:

Why would you destroy a product of your labor?

BC:

That's exactly it. I swore, when I was a kid, living on a farm and watching all that, I would never, ever, marry a farmer. I didn't care what happened. Never. We did work hard, I mean everybody. You can't live on a farm without working. And then stand out there and watch for the weather. Is it going to rain when I need the rain? Or are we not going to get the rain when we need it desperately?

EE:

I was glad we saw the rain the other week. I was thinking, what would the farmers think.

BC:

Oh, I know it. And that was awful.

EE:

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

BC:

I adored her. I really did, because I thought she was brilliant. She spoke—I liked her causes, the things that she worked hard on. I think most everything she did I really approved of in my own childish way. I though she was—in fact, sometimes I used to think was she smarter than he is, I think. And that maybe she ought to be President. Of course, that was only a fleeting thought. Didn't think a woman could.

EE:

It's funny, I don't know if you've been to D.C. to see the Roosevelt Memorial—

BC:

Yes. Roosevelt. Now, which one is that?

EE:

This is the one across from the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson [Memorial]. There's a series of little rooms and in the last one they have a statue of him with his dog at the side, but they also have a statue of Mrs. Roosevelt at the memorial, which I think somebody thought very highly of her as well.

BC: Yes.

EE:

Do you have any favorite songs or movies from that time period that take you back?

BC:

Gone With the Wind. That was, of course, prior to my time in the service. I think that was—

EE:

For a Southerner, that's— [chuckles]

BC:

That's the movie of all time.

EE:

Do you think that you—not every woman in their work felt they did as much as they could have. Do you think you contributed to the war effort?

BC:

Yes, I think that I did the best I could. I think I did the best that I could and I was pleased with what I did.

EE:

You were pleased with how your service was utilized? We talked before, it struck you when you were analyzing the name WAVES. Can you say what you said again for virtue of this tape?

BC:

Okay. I just got to thinking about it. I was asked to make a little talk in my Sunday school class, can you believe it? After this book came out here, everybody became involved in that, so they wanted me to talk for fifteen minutes and I did. I couldn't remember at first what WAVES stood for. So I thought to myself, I'd better find out, because somebody's bound to ask. Then when I started looking at it, WAVES, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service. Well, the more I kept saying that, the more insulted, almost, I felt, because it seems to me that the word “accepted” is sort of demeaning in a way. “Well, we will accept you as a volunteer, but don't take this permanently or seriously or anything, because it's an emergency that we're in here and we need all the help we can get right now.”

EE:

Maybe it should have been Women Grudgingly Accepted as Volunteers. [chuckles]

Do you have any special memories of VE [Victory in Europe] Day or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day? You were out of the service then and your husband—

BC:

I just remember everybody being so happy. It was like there was not another problem in the whole world. Everything had been solved. That's exactly the way I felt about it, like, okay, our problems are all over. It's done, it's finished, it's over. Little did I know, though, that it was not. And it never will be.

EE:

Life goes on.

BC:

Yes. And never will be. I guess we'll always have wars and problems. But that's how I felt that day. It was just wonderful that everybody had the same feeling, just one big feeling for the whole world.

EE:

You left the D.C. area and moved to New York?

BC:

Straight from there.

EE:

Went back to your husband's old holding grounds. He started a business, you talked about—

BC:

He had been a plumber and he was going for his master's or whatever you call that.

EE:

So you helped him build a business together. You then had two children, is that right?

BC:

Two children.

EE:

So, busy doing all that. Tell me how your son found out that you were in the service.

BC:

He had a little friend over one night. He was about twelve years old, and a little friend down the street having dinner with us. I don't know how the subject came up but I said, I mentioned that I was in the navy during World War II. My son stopped and looked at me and stared. “Mom! You were in the navy?”

I said, “Yes, I was. Didn't you know that?”

He said, “No, you never told me this!” And I realized that there was just no reason to talk about it, it seemed, you know. He knew that his father had been in the service, of course. There was more evidence of that around, exactly. In fact, my son did that. He wrote and got all these medals himself and built that thing and sent it to his father.

EE:

So he had to write for the medals. He wasn't given the medals.

BC:

No. You know, they don't do that. They didn't just send it to you after the war; they just put it on your records. I never knew that I had a Presidential Unit Citation for that two days we worked there with that thing. We were all given that. I never knew I had anything like that. I never knew about it.

But anyway, now, Phil did not know that he had—see that thing up at the top, that French—I mean that rope that's around there? I've forgotten the name of it, but that is the highest award that France gives a non Frenchman for liberating all of their towns. In fact, he gets—I don't know if you want to use this on your tape, but Phil gets letters from a Frenchman, Pierre Kaufman, who was twelve years old at the time of the invasion, and that man just worships American soldiers. He writes letters like you would not believe. He calls him, “Dear Phil, my dear liberator, because of you I had a second birthday. My life began when I was twelve years old.” Things like that.

EE:

Did any of your children ever join the military?

BC:

No.

EE:

Ever have any interest?

BC:

No. In fact, my son—they were against the Vietnam War. This was a problem with us. My son was against it so much, and I didn't know at that time that it would be possible for an American to be against any war that the United States says we're in. I just didn't know you could do that. My son said he would not go. He was in college at the time and had a low draft number. He kept saying to me, “I am not going, Mom. I am not.” And he said, “I'll go to Canada or whatever, because this war is wrong.” But, see, I didn't see it that way until, of course, much later. So I don't know what would have happened if the war had not ended—I mean, they quit over there, or whatever, before he was actually called, being that he was still in college, I guess. So I don't know what would have happened if he had gone to Canada.

EE:

What if your daughter had come to you and said, “I want to join the service?” Would you have said, “Good idea?”

BC:

Yes, I think I would have.

EE:

We just sent as a country the first female pilot into combat in a mission over Iraq this December. Do you think there are some jobs in the military that women shouldn't do? How do you feel about that?

BC:

I think there are some things that women are not built for, and I as a woman would not want to do it. Some things. But I think we're better qualified for other things, and I think that we should remember what we do best and stick with that. I'm not against anybody who wants to do that, though. If a woman wants to do that, I think she should be allowed to do whatever she feels capable of doing. But I think that she should take the bad with the good and whatever if that's what she wants to do.

EE:

You were a WAVE. There was Rosie the Riveter. There were a whole bunch of women during the war doing things heretofore only men had done, or they were doing “men's jobs.” Some people have said that was the start of women's lib[eration]. Do you think it was?

BC:

I believe that it probably was. Or I think it has opened eyes that women should be recognized maybe more than they are.

EE:

What did you do when you came back, work wise? Did you come back and raise the family, work with your husband on getting the business going, was that what you did?

BC:

I did, I worked from the day we got married. Even before. I went to work on Wall Street as soon as I got out in May 1945. I got a job on Wall Street right away. They needed help so badly. I worked there and did a good job. I got a lot of promotions, made a lot of money.

Then when he started back in plumbing, he was doing fine, but his arms gave him trouble. He had to go to the hospital a lot, but he was just determined to do it. Then he found out—see, they were changing from coal to oil in the furnaces. He saw that every time they did this conversion job with the furnace that they would get a customer, an oil customer, for somebody. So he said, “Gee, I think I could do this.” So he kept his job, but we kept doing this on the side. So we just had weekend work on our business.

EE:

I have two uncles who were in the fuel oil business after they got back from World War II, and that was a booming business.

BC:

Booming is right. And we got the thing going and he quit his job in no time, and so did I, and we had our family. It went on and served us well. I tell you, we had a wonderful life, we had plenty of money, more than we ever dreamed of. We took our kids and went to Europe several times, went to the Middle East another whole summer and traveled. Went to the Caribbean often on vacations and we took the kids wherever we went.

EE:

That's great.

BC:

They say that was the best thing we ever did with them, because they didn't want to go to camp or anything.

EE:

You've been retired for twenty years now.

BC:

Yes.

EE:

“A wonderful life,” as Mr. [Jimmy] Stewart would say.

BC:

Yes, yes. I think everything has been more than I ever figured, to tell you the truth, more than I ever asked for. I'm very happy with my children. My daughter's a schoolteacher out in California, and my son is in business for himself.

[End of Interview<]/p>