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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Edith Kimsey League, 1999

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Object ID: WV0061.5.001

Description: Primarily documents League’s experiences at the North Carolina College for Women (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro); her various duty stations with the Women’s Army Corps during World War II; and her marriages.

Summary:

League details her parents’ education and work history; playing basketball at Biltmore High School; playing on her class athletic teams at the North Carolina College for Women (NCCW); NCCW professors, including Mary Channing Coleman, Walter C. Jackson, Julius Foust, and Harriet Elliott; and the 1929 stock market crash.

Topics related to the Women’s Army Corps include segregation, the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, the way she and other WAC women were treated by servicemen, her duties as a recruiter, a Keesler Field WAC becoming pregnant while League was the commanding officer, being in the Air Corps at Keesler Field, and her favorite songs during the war.

Concerning her life after the war, League discusses working for the Black Mountain News, her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, and her opinion of current opportunities for women to be in combat positions.

Creator: Edith Kimsey Benedict Whisnant League

Biographical Info: Edith K. League of Asheville, North Carolina, served in the Women’s Army Corps from 1943 to 1946.

Collection: Edith Kimsey League Papers

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

Full Text:

Eric Elliott:

My name is Eric Elliott and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and I'm here today in Durham, North Carolina. We're here, as part of the Women Veterans Historical Project of the university, at the home of Edith League. You're Mrs. League now, and she was Edith Kimsey.

Edith League:

Whisnant.

EE:

Whisnant, but at the university you were actually Edith Kimsey, right?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So Edith Kimsey Whisnant is now Edith League, and thank you for having us here today. Well, Mrs. League, what we do for everybody is start off with two very simple questions: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

EL:

Well, I was born at the Asheville School for Boys in Asheville, [North Carolina], where my dad was secretary, and I grew up in the Biltmore area and Asheville area. The school in Asheville was a private school, and I changed to public school, to Biltmore, and from there I went to college and so forth. But I grew up in the Biltmore section.

EE:

It's very beautiful. Was it as pretty then as it is now?

EL:

Well, it's pretty much the same. This was the Fairview Road out from Biltmore, and I've been back there many times.

EE:

Were both your parents from that area?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

What did your mom do? Was she employed?

EL:

Well, they both taught school for a while, and then they found out there had to be a better way to make a living and they got into government service. And they both worked at Oteen, [North Carolina]. Mother had charge of the outpatients coming in, Dad was what would have been in the army the quartermaster. It was called custodian, but that has come to mean sweeping floors and janitorial work, and that was not the purpose.

EE:

What was the facility at Oteen? That wasn't the TB [tuberculosis] hospital?

EL:

Yes, it was.

EE:

Was that? I was thinking that was Black Mountain, [North Carolina].

EL:

No, Oteen is the one. Black Mountain has a state institution, but it's not government connected.

EE:

So Oteen was the TB hospital.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Okay. My grandfather ended up being up there for a while at that place.

EL:

Really?

EE:

Yes. Did you have any brothers and sisters?

EL:

No, I was an only child.

EE:

Was your mother from that area, you say?

EL:

Yes, Mother grew up in Asheville. My dad was from Macon County, a little bit farther west, but he came to Asheville when he was a young man and worked there.

EE:

Did both of them go to college?

EL:

No. Well, yes and no. My dad, when they went into the teaching business, came to [the University of North] Carolina one summer to get him accreditation to teach. My mother had been to the Asheville Normal [School], which was—I'm not sure that it was a four-year college, but she was prepared there for teaching.

EE:

Do you remember much about school? Did you like high school? Did you enjoy going to school?

EL:

Well, I went to a private school in Asheville for several years, and I loved it. And then my parents decided that I had better get with other people because this was—Oh dear, I don't know how to say this without sounding snobbish, but it was mostly wealthy kids who went to this school. And we were not wealthy, we were just comfortably off, comfortably well-off. But I changed to Biltmore High School, and I loved that too. That's where I finally decided that I was going to get into some sort of athletics for a career. Of course we didn't have pros at that time, but—

EE:

What was your specialty? What sports did you enjoy?

EL:

Well, of course I knew more about basketball because that was about the only thing there was for girls at that time.

EE:

That was a half-court game then?

EL:

Half-court, that's right. My, how it has changed.

EE:

In just the last twenty years, because it was still a half-court game twenty years ago.

EL:

Oh yes, yes.

EE:

So you played on the team for the school?

EL:

I played on the team. I was All-Buncombe County, whatever that was. [chuckling]

EE:

Is that what got you thinking about going to school? Were you going to get an athletic scholarship to school? Is that how—?

EL:

Well, there wasn't any such thing at that time.

EE:

There wasn't such thing?

EL:

No, and my parents—and as far as I remember, we didn't have any counselors at high school. Mother and Dad gave me a choice of where I would like to go, and we looked all the possibilities over for a degree in physical education, and decided that Greensboro, it was called NCCW [North Carolina College for Women] at the time, was the place to go. So that's what I did.

EE:

This would have been in '27? When was this, '27? When did you graduate from high school?

EL:

I finished high school in '26.

EE:

That's right, it was eleven years then as opposed to twelve?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So you entered Greensboro in the fall of '26?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Was that the first time you were on a trip away from home of any length?

EL:

Is that the first time—

EE:

The first time you were on a big trip away from home?

EL:

No, not particularly, but we didn't do a great deal of traveling outside the state. I had never been to Greensboro. I didn't know what it was all about, but—

EE:

Did you have any friends who went to that school with you?

EL:

Yes, one Biltmore High School graduate came and went into the secretarial school. But my roommate was a neighbor girl, and so I knew her and I knew the one from high school. That was about all I knew, the only ones. No, I take it back, there was another one who lived near me. She was my Big Sister. She was a junior when I was a freshman.

EE:

It's good to know older people on campus to help you get oriented, that first year especially.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you stay? What was your dormitory?

EL:

West was my dormitory from beginning to end. I liked it way back there in the woods. [chuckling]

EE:

That's right, they had the park down there then, didn't they, down at the end?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Had they built Mary Foust and New Guilford by then?

EL:

No.

EE:

That was the early thirties when they built those?

EL:

I don't remember any new buildings going up during my time there at all.

EE:

Well, tell me, what do you remember about your college life? Now, in West did they have the same worry about the wiring that they did with Spencer, about fire, don't cook in your rooms, that kind of stuff?

EL:

No. No, not that I know of. Of course we had drills like everybody, I guess, but no, I can't remember there being any fire scares.

EE:

What about the classes? Do you remember anything about—How difficult were they for you? Was school tough there, or was it—?

EL:

Well, I guess I didn't find it any tougher than anybody else did. I came out from a high school that probably didn't supply as good background as some of the larger schools, and I had trouble with sciences that we had not had preparation in labs of any sort. So I did not have an easy time. After about two years, though, I finally got onto it. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, now were you playing sports for the university when you arrived? Were you playing on the university team?

EL:

Was I what?

EE:

Were you playing on the university basketball team when you got there?

EL:

Well, there wasn't any such thing.

EE:

There wasn't?

EL:

It was class teams. The physical education department at that time was under Mary Channing Coleman.

[Interview interrupted—recorder paused]

EE:

We just stopped there for a second to let the phone ring. When you say “class teams”, that meant the freshmen had their own class, and the sophomores, and you played against each other?

EL:

Yes. Yes, classes against each other. The physical education department did not like the system whereby high schools played against each other, competition against each other, because they said that just specializes a few people in a school. You should do more class sports and involve more people.

EE:

In other words, it makes the focus only on the highly gifted athlete and doesn't get everybody else involved in physical activity.

EL:

Yes, that's right, that's right. Of course it was such a set thing, that when you went out to teach and thought about what you had been taught, you just had to go along. There was no way you could change it. Of course you could have class games, we did that, but we had the interscholastic sports all the time, too.

EE:

Did you do any other sports when you were there, other than basketball?

EL:

Oh yes, we did soccer and softball, we always had a May Day program. Now are we talking about after I finished school?

EE:

Well, what about at school?

EL:

Oh, I'm sorry, I'm way ahead of you. My mind is jumping ahead.

EE:

Did they have other organized sports? Were there sports that you could do at NCCW that you had never done before?

EL:

Yes. Yes, I had never played soccer before, or field hockey. I had played tennis. I could swim, we did that. But you were encouraged to go out for some sport that was not your specialty. In other words, it was all right for you to play basketball maybe one year, but go out for something else to vary your accomplishments.

EE:

And this would have been helpful if you were training to be a physical education teacher. You needed to know more than just the one sport.

EL:

Right, that's it.

EE:

Because likely you were going to be coaching more than one sport if you got to that stage.

EL:

Yes, that's right.

EE:

You mentioned Miss Coleman. Were there other professors or instructors that you remember from your days at—

EL:

Well, I remember several of them, but of course they're all gone now, but yes, I remember several of them. I remember the dancing instructor.

EE:

Now was dancing part of PE? Was it a physical education course, or just something that was—

EL:

It was just a part of the physical education course.

EE:

Did all the women at the school have to take physical education?

EL:

Not as a career.

EE:

But did they have to take one class or so?

EL:

I think probably they did, yes. I'm pretty sure they did.

EE:

I know, to this day, at [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill you still have to pass a swim test. I don't know if they had a swim test at the college or not.

EL:

I don't remember that in particular. Of course the Red Cross, we all had to get into that since we had to teach PE.

EE:

What was the social life like at Greensboro? It was an all-women's school. Were there a lot of boys around, or—

EL:

Oh, there were a lot of boys around there. People from Carolina and Duke [University] always came to the campus. Of course, these are people who probably went to high school with them. And Guilford College was nearby. There were plenty of men around.

EE:

But you had to meet them in the parlors. Were they pretty strict on where you could socialize?

EL:

Well, you could have permission to go to the movies. That's about all.

EE:

So there was a curfew for you? You had to be back at the dorm?

EL:

Yes, right.

EE:

Was Dr. [Walter Clinton] Jackson in charge of the school then? Who was in charge of the school?

EL:

Dr. Jackson, I remember him well. I can't remember who was—

EE:

I'm trying to think, was it Dr. [Julius I.] Foust that came—

EL:

Dr. Foust and then Dr. Jackson, or the other way around?

EE:

Right, I think it was Foust and then Jackson. Was Dr. Foust then in charge of the school when you were there, when you first started?

EL:

I think so. That is something that escapes me right now. I just don't remember.

EE:

Do you remember, was Harriet Elliott there?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have her for political science?

EL:

No. I was trying to think of the name, the doctor who was there. I'm sorry, I just don't remember.

EE:

That's okay. Well, let me ask you this, you got your degree and you were—How many people were getting a degree in physical education?

EL:

Only eight was in our class. A very small class. It was a stiff course. There were a lot of people who started out that fell by the wayside.

EE:

Did the university help secure jobs for you with the school systems?

EL:

Not that I know of.

EE:

So you were on your own in finding where to go?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Now, you graduated in '30—'30 or '31?

EL:

Thirty-one.

EE:

Thirty-one. So it was a five-years' program for you?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And where did you go after you graduated from school?

EL:

Well, my first school was Wadesboro, [North Carolina]. And the funny thing was that that was not the place that I thought I was going. [chuckling] I had applied for a position and talked to the principal at Marion. Marion was right near my hometown.

EE:

Right close to you, right.

EL:

And he gave me a job at Marion. And then he was promoted and moved to Wadesboro and he took me with him. [chuckling]

EE:

He must have liked you to want to take you with him.

EL:

Well, I guess he made a promise that he would give me a job, so he did.

EE:

Good. Were you working in the high school?

EL:

Yes, in the high school at Wadesboro. I believe I taught one class in geography. That sounds funny, because it was a high school and that's not usually a high school subject, but no, that was—

EE:

So you had to teach geography plus the physical education courses?

EL:

Probably.

EE:

Let me ask you a question, because you're in a time frame just before some of the people that I've talked to. And it's a question that I can't ask them, but you were there before the stock market crash and after the stock market crash. Do you remember the mood on campus changing?

EL:

I remember the stock market crash, and calling home and asking Mother and Dad if they wanted me to come home. I remember that, so I was still in school.

EE:

So that made an impact on you. You knew there was going to be bad news for a lot of people when that crash happened.

EL:

Well, probably yes.

EE:

And maybe it sounds like it might have affected some of the families of people that you went to school with.

EL:

It probably did. Not any of my immediate friends, but it probably did.

EE:

A lot of the times the women have told me that, you know, “Well, the world was out there, but we really didn't pay much attention to it because we were teenagers.” And yet certain events like that stock market crash can cut through and they know the world's out there. Some of the women who were on campus when Pearl Harbor happened, something changed that day. And I'm just wondering if the crash had the same—You know, you don't have the instant news of it. Do you remember what time of day it was? You said you went home and called—You called your parents at home. Did you find out about it that evening?

EL:

I don't know how I found out about it, because we didn't have radios or TV, and I'm sure nobody from home called about it. But anyhow everything was all right, as far as my staying at school. I was not to come home, and neither did my roommate or anybody that I remember on our hall. So we got by that.

EE:

When the boys weren't there, what did you all do, with no radio and no TV, for entertainment at school? Or were you all studying all the time?

EL:

Well, we played a lot of tennis. The tennis courts were open to everybody, and I guess that was the season. Whenever we could, we played tennis. I can't remember anything else. We played setback a lot. That was before bridge. No, I take it back, I take it back, because I always say when people—Later in life people say, “Do you play bridge?” I said, “No, the day I finished college I gave that up. I decided there had to be a better way.” [chuckling]

EE:

[chuckling] To spend your time.

EL:

There had to be a more profitable way—not to make a living, but to spend your time.

EE:

That's right, but I know people who are addicted to that.

EL:

Well, it changed from auction to contract [bridge] sometime along the way. So that influenced me, too, because I just didn't think it was worthwhile to change my—

EE:

Your style of play? You needed to learn a new game, really, is what it amounted to.

EL:

That's right. So that's when I gave up playing bridge.

EE:

In '31 you're in Wadesboro, you don't know anybody in town, but judging from that article you soon met somebody in town. Isn't that where you met your husband, in Wadesboro?

EL:

Yes, he was a teacher too. In fact, he had coached the girls, and didn't like it much that a woman came in and took his place.

EE:

That was you?

EL:

That was me.

EE:

So the woman who boots him out of a job is the one who later he marries. [chuckling]

EL:

Right. Well, that's a funny story, but I met him in September and married him November—Broke an engagement to my college sweetheart and married this man. And he was a Carolina graduate. That was the selling factor, as far as I was concerned: He was a Carolina man, he had to be tops.

EE:

Sometimes that's true. [chuckling]

EL:

Sometimes, I guess. Well, he was a fine man. He was a fine man.

EE:

But you say you had had plans with somebody else?

EL:

Yes, my Guilford College sweetheart, the captain of the football team and all those good things. But that seems to be the pattern of women in our family. It was the same way with my mother, the same way with my daughter.

EE:

You have something long-term, and then all of a sudden something switches and it's just—you know that's it.

EL:

That's right.

EE:

My sister had a similar—

EL:

Makes us sound like a bunch of fickle women. I was not mature enough to get married at that time. That's a good enough excuse, I guess. We were married for nearly thirteen years, which is, these days, a good length of time.

EE:

You'd get the brass watch or whatever. [chuckling]

EL:

Yeah, at least we tried. We tried.

EE:

Right. So after you got married, you both still worked in the school?

EL:

Well, I was in Wadesboro only one year, and then we moved to Gaston County [North Carolina].

EE:

I graduated from what used to be Ashley High School, it's now Gastonia Ashbrook High School.

EL:

Is it really? Well, we went to teach in Gastonia.

EE:

Were you at the main high school there, at Gastonia High?

EL:

What?

EE:

Were you at Gastonia High School? Is that where you—?

EL:

Yes, and that was the most wonderful high school in the state.

EE:

A huge building.

EL:

A huge building, and the only high school in the state with an Olympic-size pool, furnished by the wealthy mill owners. Firestone Mill was great there, and maybe others I don't know. But that was just a piece of cake, as far as I was concerned, with all that nice equipment.

EE:

That sounds like a physical ed teacher's dream.

EL:

That's right, and a nicely equipped gym, with all sorts of rings and horses and mats and things.

EE:

The building was on York Street, wasn't it?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Well, you know about fifteen years ago, because the town so loved that building and so many people had good memories of it—it had become a junior high school when they built the new high school, but they didn't want to tear the building down—they converted it to condominiums, and sold out.

EL:

It is a gorgeous place. Those condominiums are out of this world.

EE:

That's right.

EL:

I don't want to get ahead of my story, but I go back with the class of 1940 in Gastonia. That was my class. I sponsored them, they sponsored me.

EE:

So you go to their reunions down there?

EL:

Go to their reunions, and their reunion committee meets once a month with any graduates that want to come and have lunch with them.

EE:

That's wonderful.

EL:

And since I moved here, one of my former students lives in Apex, which is just a hop away. Well, when she was told that I had moved here, they told her to get in touch me and bring me to one of these committee meetings. Well, we've been about a half a dozen times since I've moved here. She's taken me every time.

EE:

That is great. Then you know about all the things that are happening. That's wonderful.

EL:

Oh yes, yes. That was one of the reunion times we went through the building. But they had covered over the pool sometime during a school year when they needed more space, and it became a section for the secretarial students. They covered the pool over, it was gone.

EE:

What's bad is I went to church at First Methodist downtown, and in their youth building in the back they had a pool, which they covered. A church with a pool, now.

EL:

Oh, mercy.

EE:

And then they tore down the building. So just again, I think because of the largesse of the wealthy people who had given to the churches and to that high school—but as a public school teacher, to have that kind of facility, that really was something.

EL:

It was.

EE:

And this was during the middle of the Depression, to have that kind of facility.

EL:

Yes! Well, we were ahead of the Depression, as far as that's concerned, because—

EE:

So when Gastonia hired you, they hired both you and your husband?

EL:

Beg your pardon?

EE:

They hired both you and your husband?

EL:

Yes. He was in the high school for several years, and then he was moved to be a principal of one of the grammar schools. But I stayed on.

EE:

That's wonderful.

EL:

I guess it was in '45—Yeah, it was in '45 that I decided I needed to get away.

EE:

Well, now that says '43. Was it '43 or '45?

EL:

What says '43?

EE:

That little article says you joined the WACs [Women's Army Corps] in '43.

EL:

Forty-six. Well, I was in there three years, but I thought I—

EE:

Forty-three to forty-six? Is '46 when you got out?

EL:

I think that '43 is not right, because I got married in '47.

EE:

Was that right after getting out of service?

EL:

Yes. I was married in '47. Of course after I went into service I no longer was interested in teaching. But I was in Gastonia for nearly fourteen years.

EE:

Let me ask you about that, because there's a lot of things that are going on. You're teaching, you like your work, you love the kids, I can tell from your voice. That's always what makes a good teacher, you know, the kids. The class of '40, you're the class sponsor, you're the advisor. How concerned are you and your kids about what's going on in Europe and the rest of the world? Are you all worried about war? In 1940 were you worried about war?

EL:

No, I don't think so. In 1940?

EE:

Yes, the Germans had just invaded Poland the year before.

EL:

Well, evidently we were concerned, or I was. Since my parents were government employees, I was—[chuckling] I wanted to go into the service. My husband had had a touch of—What fever is it that makes people exempt for army service? [rheumatic fever] He was not eligible.

EE:

Scarlet fever?

EL:

No, it wasn't that, it was—I don't know, I just remember that we were concerned about him for a while, and it eventually caused him to not go into service. Of course that isn't why I went into service, just because he couldn't go, but I wanted to go. I didn't know anybody else who was going. It's one of those times in your life that you just strike out by yourself, and I did.

EE:

And you'd been in a career for ten years. That's a pretty big move for you.

EL:

Well, it was, yes, because I loved Gastonia, I loved the school, and I loved the kids. The Ashleys were just my best friends, and I just had everything going for me there.

EE:

Did you have your daughter then? Did you have any kids at that time?

EL:

No, we had no children. My first husband and I had no children. Had we had children, I could not have gone in the service at that time.

EE:

Right.

EL:

So that worked out fine, too. And I was in the service for three years.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

EL:

Yes. No, wait a minute, I'm thinking about when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt died, I remember. That's not what you asked, though. Pearl Harbor?

EE:

I know it was on a Sunday.

EL:

Well, I'm sure—

EE:

You had obviously been thinking about joining the service, but what made you think about the WACs, as opposed to the other branches of the service?

EL:

I really didn't have any preference. Mother had wanted me to go into the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service], and for some reason I just thought that the Army would be better. And they had a recruiting office in Charlotte, and that's when I contacted them.

EE:

And you think the fact that your dad worked for them didn't hurt either?

EL:

No, I'm sure it didn't hurt. It may not have helped, but it didn't hurt either. [chuckling]

EE:

So you go to the recruiting office in Charlotte. Now, are you still married to your husband when you did this?

EL:

Yes. We were separated when I went into the service.

EE:

And when you go to there, do you tell them that you have any preference on where to go, what kind of work to do?

EL:

They don't give you any choice.

EE:

They don't give you any choice? Now, did you sign up for the duration of the war or for—

EL:

No. In fact, I don't remember anybody even asking that. I suppose we just assumed we'd stay until the war was over.

EE:

Some people have said that the—Of course now the WACs are different. You joined the WACs in '43. When the WACs first started, I think it was W-A-A-C [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps].

EL:

Right.

EE:

And there was kind of—the army wasn't too thrilled about having the women.

EL:

Right.

EE:

There was a big smear campaign against them, I think in '42, which caused them to be reorganized.

EL:

Definitely.

EE:

What did you think of that?

EL:

It made it rough for women going into the service to have all these slurs. I remember a remark one of my best friends made, and I thought, “That is really just going out of their way—” I realize parents who were told that the WAC was to replace a man for active duty was not a popular slogan, and I can understand that.

EE:

It was not a popular slogan? Now why do you say that? Because that is the popular slogan people remember: “Free a Man to Fight.”

EL:

That's right, that's right.

EE:

But you say it wasn't popular?

EL:

Parents just—women in particular resented the women who went into the service, because they thought they were replacing their son, sending him off to combat and them sitting behind a desk.

EE:

In other words, you women were basically sending their sons to their death, or the fear that—

EL:

Well, that sounds like a good explanation, although I'm sure—I don't think any work I did in the army replaced any man. [chuckling]

EE:

It is funny, though. I have only met one person who actually knew the man who she freed to fight, and they kept in contact for fifty years.

EL:

Is that right?

EE:

And it was in a supply office in Hawaii. He went to the front, but it went fine and they just—I just wondered if that was in your thinking, that you were going—Because some people said they felt a real patriotic need to join. Was that part of it for you?

EL:

Well, I think that was ultimately my thought. I wanted to do something, and it seemed that the army gave me the best opportunity to do something.

EE:

Did you join as an officer or as an enlisted person?

EL:

No, as far as I know, no WACs at that time were given direct appointments.

EE:

I think in the WAVES you could take a test. If you were a college graduate, they routed you toward the officers.

EL:

Well, I'm sure that's what got me into officers training eventually, but I had to go through basic training just like everybody else.

EE:

Where was basic training for you?

EL:

Fort Oglethorpe.

EE:

Georgia?

EL:

Chattanooga, [Tennessee].

EE:

Oh, okay. What did you do, get on the bus in Charlotte to go over there?

EL:

Got on the train.

EE:

On the train?

EL:

Yes, the train sent me all the way to Chattanooga.

EE:

That's a long train ride.

EL:

It is.

EE:

What do you remember about that?

EL:

And, see, this was something I'd never done before. I never traveled alone, never—

EE:

Never traveled alone? Had you been on a train before?

EL:

No, not that I recall. I don't believe I'd ever ridden a train. Yes, I had. We used to ride the train to college, Biltmore Station. [chuckling] So I had been on a train before, that was not a new experience, but traveling alone was a new experience.

EE:

Were your parents supportive of you doing this?

EL:

Oh yes, yes, definitely.

EE:

You said a best friend wasn't too thrilled and gave you a snide remark that you didn't like, but generally were your friends and family supportive?

EL:

Was it what?

EE:

Was generally your friends and family supportive of you doing this new thing, going into the service?

EL:

Generally they were supportive. In this case I think it was maybe jealousy, envy. She couldn't do that. Her parents would never let her join the service, even if she had wanted to. So at least I excuse her on that score, because we were lifelong friends. But I didn't like that attitude. And later on a civilian, a man, said something, and I said, “You know, that's what hurts the most, when civilians make remarks that make you question your choice, make you question the reason in back of it all.”

EE:

They wouldn't do that same questioning for a man in uniform that they would for a woman.

EL:

That's right. Well, this man said, “Do you realize that they do that, and don't you know that it's because your organization can stand it?” I thought that was kind of a lame excuse, but I thought, “Well, I guess they can stand it. What choice do they have?”

EE:

Right. What do you remember about your first day in boot camp?

EL:

I don't remember that much about the first day. It was all a big blur. [chuckling]

EE:

You were glad it was over with? Now you were probably in better shape than a lot of these folks coming in, I would think.

EL:

Yes, probably so.

EE:

Had you ever drilled before? Did they make you all get out and drill on a regular basis?

EL:

No, I'd never drilled before. But I learned how, and I learned how to direct it myself later.

EE:

Were your instructors men or women?

EL:

Women. At Fort Oglethorpe they were, they were women. And that was a great experience. We had a good many colored people, colored women.

EE:

So you all trained together?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

That's unusual for those times, isn't it?

EL:

Yes, it was. But you know I can't recall any unpleasant incidents because of racial problems. I don't remember any.

EE:

That's great. Did you all share the same barracks?

EL:

The same barracks. The same barracks, same dining room, same everything, yeah.

EE:

That's very unusual. I talked with a woman who was at Camp Lejeune when they were setting it up in the early forties. She worked with the libraries, and they had a library for women, a library for white males, and a library for black males.

EL:

Oh, for heaven's sake. How silly.

EE:

And she had triple staffing.

EL:

Well, there was no—

EE:

Now, of course there were no blacks at College for Women.

EL:

No, and none in the high school either.

EE:

And Gastonia High School was segregated. What was the black high school in Gastonia then?

EL:

I don't know, but I can't remember having any black students.

EE:

Gaston County doesn't have as many as some other counties in the state.

EL:

No. I've never even thought about it.

EE:

See, that's just it, I don't think people really thought in those terms.

EL:

No.

EE:

Because if you weren't around people of other races, you didn't think about them generally.

EL:

No, you didn't.

EE:

But that was a positive experience for you?

EL:

We got along fine in the service. We got along fine.

EE:

How long were you at Fort Oglethorpe? Was it six weeks, eight weeks?

EL:

I'm not sure.

EE:

It was about that time?

EL:

About six or eight weeks.

EE:

What was a typical day like? Did you have drilling and then classes, and then more drilling and that kind of thing? I know at the time, or right until the very end of the war, WAVES were only allowed to serve in the continental U.S. They could not go overseas, could not go to Alaska or Hawaii. What about the WACs? Were they allowed to go?

EL:

They were allowed overseas if they were lucky enough to get an appointment of any sort.

EE:

Is that something that you were thinking you might want to do?

EL:

Yes, I wanted to. In fact, when the war was over, or when the first treaties were signed and when the WACs were coming home from overseas, I applied to be a transport officer. In other words, go over and come back.

EE:

Help bring them back, right.

EL:

But I didn't get it. Too many other people wanted it. I didn't have any pull. [chuckling]

EE:

Yes, unfortunately that's been constant throughout life. It's not always what you know but who you know. [chuckling]

EL:

That's right, that's right. I wrote something one time on a form I was filling out. It said, “Where would you like to be? Where would you like to serve?” I'm not sure whether this was after I finished officer's training or not, I guess it was, and I said, “Anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.” And that was not a very diplomatic thing to put on a government—So they kept me south of the Mason-Dixon Line, which suited me fine. [chuckling]

EE:

Where were you assigned after you left basic training?

EL:

After I left basic training, to Des Moines, to officer school.

EE:

In Iowa? Des Moines, Iowa?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So you immediately went to officer school.

EL:

Yes, right from basic training.

EE:

That's an interesting approach, to have everybody, enlisted and officers, with the same basic experience. It's probably a good way to do a chain of command.

EL:

Yes, it is.

EE:

Everybody has a common start.

EL:

That's right.

EE:

But immediately you went to Des Moines. How long were you in Des Moines? Another two months?

EL:

Not long, six weeks, eight weeks, whatever.

EE:

About the same thing? And immediately—

EL:

Now along about that time there was a concentrated drive to enlist WACs, and they particularly needed WAC officers. So all of a sudden there were a lot of WAC officers eligible to be stationed—

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

EE:

So you said there is a surplus of officers because they've recruited, said, “We need officers.”

EL:

That's right.

EE:

Lo and behold they got officers, but now they don't have anyplace to put them.

EL:

That's right, no place for them. So the first thing they did with—I don't know what happened to the other people from my basic training or from our WAC officers, but I know that I was sent to motor transport school in Florida.

EE:

Right out of officer's training?

EL:

Yes. Now let me think a minute. Let me be sure about that.

EE:

Well, let me help you a little bit, because I need to know the time—What time of year was it? Was this '43 that you decided to join? Was it summertime, fall? When was it?

EL:

It was in the middle of a school year.

EE:

Middle of the school year in '43?

EL:

Yes, '43 or '45.

EE:

Was it before D-Day?

EL:

Oh yes.

EE:

Okay, so it would have been '43 then.

EL:

Oh yes, D-Day I was in the service.

EE:

D-Day was June of '44. So it was in '43, the fall of '43.

EL:

All right, that's better, because I was at a loss there.

EE:

You were in service when D-Day happened.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Okay, so that's a way to anchor it. So this was fall of '43 that you went into the service.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And you go to Chattanooga for six to eight weeks, then immediately to Des Moines for six to eight. Now what's amazing to me is that the military made you learn very quickly that you had to learn to get along with people you did not know. You know, you had to learn how to deal with people right off the bat.

EL:

Right.

EE:

You were rooming with people you had no previous association with.

EL:

That's true.

EE:

I imagine you had to get over embarrassment, you had to just be who you were. Well, now you were going in—Were you one of the older people going in? Were a lot of people coming in right at a younger age? Because you had been out in the work—

EL:

There were a lot of younger people coming in, yes.

EE:

You had ten years in the workforce.

EL:

Right, right. Then when I finished motor transport school, they still didn't have anything special to do with me or for me. But this is one of the things that I enjoyed the most, and remember all of it. They sent me to Johns Hopkins [University] for a course in what in the army we laughingly called “Birds and Bees” [sex education]. Of course, that was right down my alley. It was no big surprise for any of the course. And so when I finished it, now that's when they asked me where I wanted to go and I said, “Anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.” That's when they did, because I remember one of the friends I had made said she wanted to go out west. She had never been out west, so she requested to go anywhere out west. But that was the nicest experience. They sent me—

EE:

Had you ever been to that area before?

EL:

No, I'd never been to Johns Hopkins [Baltimore, Maryland], or in that area even.

EE:

Were you housed there on the campus?

EL:

Yes, we were on the campus, and I've forgotten how many days we stayed there. I don't remember. But we had a final test, and some made it and some didn't.

EE:

And what would be the result? Now, I'm trying to figure out what birds and bees had to do with transport school.

EL:

Oh, nothing.

EE:

Nothing at all?

EL:

Nothing at all, that's right.

EE:

It's just something to do while they were waiting on figuring out what to do with you.

EL:

I just was able to get an army driver's license, which I used later. But after you finished this course at Johns Hopkins, then they assigned you to go to different air force bases, and mine were all somewhere in the South, for a lecture course.

EE:

Oh, so then you would be informing—Were you to lecture the men and the women?

EL:

No, just women.

EE:

Just the women?

EL:

Just the WACs on base.

EE:

In the birds and the bees?

EL:

Birds and the bees.

EE:

So you were to be an instructor on basically all those hygiene problems and—

EL:

That's true. That's right.

EE:

Because that's what happens anytime there's military conflict, people have a live-and-let-live attitude. Tomorrow you may die, we might as well enjoy ourselves, that kind of thing.

EL:

Yeah.

EE:

At that time, the air force was part of the army, wasn't it?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

It was not a separate branch.

EL:

That's right.

EE:

Motor transport school, that was in Florida, you said?

EL:

That was in Florida.

EE:

Whereabouts? At Pensacola or—

EL:

No, it was in Daytona Beach.

EE:

That's a good place for motor transport. [chuckling]

EL:

Oh, it was a great place. Yes, a great place.

EE:

Were they still driving on the beach then?

EL:

Yes, yes. In fact, the Coast Guard patrolled the beaches at night because there were too many people trying to get in. Oh yes.

EE:

Well, I can imagine that. So you were stationed and you basically had a traveling assignment.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

It wasn't to any one base.

EL:

No.

EE:

It sounds like it was setting the stage for you being a recruiter, because it says, “Your assignment this week is this place—” How long did you give a course, for a week? How long were you stationed?

EL:

No, no, it was only a one-night course.

EE:

A one-night course? So you might be in one town one night and another town the next night.

EL:

That's right, you moved on, and at your own pace. I was given transportation, of course, by bus, but I was not pushed. In fact, as far as I know, nobody ever checked on where I was.

EE:

What rank were you when you came out of officer school?

EL:

I was a second lieutenant.

EE:

So you're going around from places as far away as—Were you as far as Texas?

EL:

No, no. Let's see—

EE:

Mississippi, Alabama, Florida?

EL:

Birmingham—Yeah, Mississippi. Yeah, Keesler Field, [Mississippi], in particular I remember, because I later went back there. But Keesler Field and Maxwell Field [Alabama]. There must have been five or six, and now I cannot list any because there wasn't an awful lot memorable.

EE:

How many women would be at each of these places?

EL:

Well, however many were in their squadron.

EE:

Would that be about—

EL:

Fifteen or twenty, twenty-five. I don't remember any big crowd.

EE:

It wasn't a big, big number then?

EL:

No.

EE:

What would be the job of women assigned to the bases? Were they doing office work?

EL:

They were doing secretarial work and—I suppose that was it, basically.

EE:

Were the women doing control tower operator work for the Army Air Force?

EL:

No, not that I know of.

EE:

That was still men? I know some of the WAVES were assigned that job for the naval air stations.

EL:

Oh? That would have been an interesting job, but I don't remember anybody in the WACs doing that.

EE:

How long did you do this job? In adding it together, if you started fall of '43, where were you that Christmas? Were you at Johns Hopkins or were you in Daytona Beach? Do you remember where you spent that first Christmas as a WAC?

EL:

I believe I was at Daytona Beach in motor transport school.

EE:

You didn't get to come home for Christmas?

EL:

And they pulled me out of that to go to Baltimore. But I had gone home on a leave for Christmas.

EE:

For Christmas, in a uniform.

EL:

And therefore I didn't have everything with me. So I had a friend—She was a doctor's wife, but I've forgotten what she was doing. Well, she was in motor transport school too, like I was, but I had her to send all my stuff to me at home, and from home I went to Johns Hopkins.

EE:

How long did you do that job of lecturing, do you remember? Were you doing that when D-Day happened?

EL:

No, I wasn't doing that D-Day.

EE:

So probably the first couple or three months? Well, now you would have been home—It wouldn't have been more than a couple or three months because you were at Johns Hopkins in the wintertime of '44 and then came back and did that job that spring. And then D-Day happened in the first part of June.

EL:

Yes, so evidently most of that summer I must have been doing that lecture course. What did I do after that? Oh, I went on recruiting.

EE:

Were you recruiting when D-Day happened?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So you had gotten that?

EL:

No, wait a minute.

EE:

Or you were still doing the lecture?

EL:

No, I was through with the lecture course. I was trying to think, because I was on recruiting for—it must have been at least a year.

EE:

And you were recruiting through the time that you finished your service?

EL:

No, I was doing something else.

EE:

So you were recruiting from '44 to '45. You were recruiting when Roosevelt died?

EL:

Yes, because I was in St. Louis, and was in a bar when it came on. I remember that so well.

EE:

That was kind of a scary time.

EL:

It was.

EE:

Because I remember people telling me, “Now, who is Harry Truman?”

EL:

Yes, it pulled your security blanket out from under you. [chuckling]

EE:

The other thing that's so sad about the timing of that is that within a month the war is over in Europe. That close.

EL:

Well, after they pulled me off recruiting—That was a nice job. I enjoyed that.

EE:

If you were in St. Louis, you were doing more than just the Deep South. You were recruiting all over the Southeast, or where were you recruiting?

EL:

No, no, just the state of Missouri.

EE:

Oh, so they pulled you off of this assignment and then they said, “The whole state you get to do”

EL:

No, it wasn't even the whole state. There were several of us out of the St. Louis office.

EE:

Were you the northern half or the southern half of the state?

EL:

From St. Louis and around the St. Louis area, and I went as far north as Hannibal.

EE:

Did you go out west to Springfield?

EL:

Oh, I went west as far as—I believe it was Truman's hometown, Lamar.

EE:

Oh, Independence?

EL:

Independence.

EE:

And you had never been to that part of the country, had you?

EL:

No, no, that was new.

EE:

That was exciting, I'm sure.

EL:

Yes, I liked that.

EE:

Now did people in Missouri say that people from North Carolina had an accent?

EL:

Oh, definitely, definitely. But that was a nice experience, because I had a room out of St. Louis, in a private home, and with a nice family. I enjoyed my time there.

EE:

So you were living with a family?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me how the recruiting works in the WACs. Do you have a central officer that you get your assignments from?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And they tell you to appear—When I was talking to a WAVES recruiter, it was interesting that she would speak before men's clubs—not women, but men's clubs.

EL:

I did that.

EE:

Is that the way you all focused, too? You had to convince dads to let their daughters go to the service?

EL:

I don't know what it had to do with the recruiting, but I spoke to some men's club. Sometime after I spoke, why, they had the pianist to play Carolina in the Morning. Of course, I had to cry. [voice choking with emotion]

EE:

That's right, that was home. That's home. That's a great song.

EL:

But after recruiting, and we'd work out of the St. Louis office and we'd report in there and get—Oh, I think we probably met every week, I don't remember that. But that was, I guess, my last assignment off a field. Then they sent me to Keesler Field, where I had, oh, one or two jobs that I didn't know and didn't like because I didn't do them very well. But they had me there and they didn't know what to do with me.

EE:

And this is in Mississippi?

EL:

Keesler Field, yeah, Biloxi, Mississippi. So after working on registering of incoming troops, I did that for a while, and I worked in the finance department for a while. And I said, “For a person that can't balance their own checkbook, please give me something I can do.” [chuckling]

EE:

You know, they've proven my incompetence. Thank you. [chuckling]

EL:

So they did, they gave me a job that—it was the best job I had in the whole service and the one that I remember the service best about, and that was they made me commanding officer of the WACs at Keesler Field.

EE:

That's great.

EL:

And that was the job I loved the most because I worked with women, we got along fine, it was the best troop.

EE:

You had not been working with women in your jobs—

EL:

Except on the recruiting.

EE:

Except on recruiting?

EL:

Yes, two of us would—

EE:

But then you weren't working as—You had co-workers? Were you supervising their recruiting?

EL:

I beg your pardon?

EE:

When you were doing recruiting with those two other women, were you supervising them or did you basically all have the same job, when you were recruiting?

EL:

When I was recruiting?

EE:

You said you worked with another—there were two women who were doing that?

EL:

Well, I worked with one WAC—not an officer but an enlisted girl—for a while, and then I worked with a man, a sergeant, and then I worked with a man officer. So I don't know how long I worked with each one. I don't remember that.

EE:

Do you think you were treated pretty equally with the men? Did they treat you okay?

EL:

Oh yes, definitely.

EE:

Although some people may have derided you outside of the service, within the service you felt they treated you with respect.

EL:

Yes. Yes, definitely. I don't remember any unpleasantness caused by anybody in the service.

EE:

I want to linger for a second on the recruiting, because I have had somebody else who did that and I'm just curious. You don't know anybody in this town that you're going to.

EL:

Right.

EE:

I assume they give you a schedule and you are to speak at this place on this day, at this place on that day. Is that how it works?

EL:

No, they don't do that. In fact, I don't know how I happened to be speaking before this men's group. Evidently they asked me, for some reason, but I don't know—Yes, I do too, because I had a recruiting office in the little town, and I suppose that was how I happened to be invited to the men's club. I also went into—it seems to me there was a university in Independence, and I worked at a desk in the hall for a while trying to recruit people. Of course they didn't like that very much, to be taking people out of classes and recruiting, so I didn't do that much.

EE:

So you had your own recruiting office. Did you set up in post offices and that kind of thing too, recruiting tables and—?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

You came back and you were at Keesler Field, and all of a sudden—It doesn't sound like you've had any experience supervising other women, but you were [told], “We want you to be the commanding officer.” That's got to be exciting, to be selected.

EL:

It was for me.

EE:

Did they up your rank and give you a pay increase?

EL:

Yes, I was promoted. And I've forgotten where along the way I got my first lieutenant bars, but it was certainly before that time.

EE:

It was before.

EL:

One of the nicest things I remember about that time was that I got the only ribbon I got during service, and I suppose everybody who served a certain length of time got one for good behavior. [chuckling] But I thought it was real sweet, the general—We always had this joke about how your commanding officer pins your—not your bar but your ribbon on—and so here he was, fumbling around pinning my ribbon on. I could hardly keep from giggling.

EE:

He was going to stab you some. [chuckling]

EL:

But he said, “You are,” or “have been,” I've forgotten which he used now, I was still commanding officer of the squadron. He said, “I've never had any worries since you were given this job.” And I thought that was as nice a thing as anybody could say.

EE:

That's great.

EL:

Because I had no worries with it. I thought it was great.

EE:

How many women were you in charge of?

EL:

Fifty? Seventy-five? It was the only WAC squadron—

EE:

It was one squadron?

EL:

Just one squadron. And they did all sorts of things, from hospital work to—Of course we had our own kitchen and our own cooks, some did that, worked in offices—

EE:

Now, as the CO [commanding officer] of this group, were you responsible for giving the assignments out for what these women were to do?

EL:

No. If the squadron did that, it went through the first sergeant. I don't remember having anything to do with it. I had a first sergeant from Charlotte, and she was a crackerjack. She was great, and I always give her credit for making the squadron—

EE:

I want to make sure I've got the times right of when you did these changes, and maybe an easy way to do that is ask you some questions about—You say you were in St. Louis when Roosevelt died.

EL:

Yes, and I was in Keesler Field on D-Day. Now, was that the first time I was in Keesler Field?

EE:

That was the first time you were in Keesler Field, on D-Day, when you were doing your tour of talks.

EL:

Well, there's something about that that isn't right, but I can't put my finger on it right now.

EE:

Because you were at Daytona Beach in December for Christmas of '43 and came home.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And then you left from there, and so in January you were in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And you were probably there for what, six weeks, or how long was that?

EL:

At least.

EE:

And then you come back, probably late winter or early spring, you're in the South doing these lectures.

EL:

The lecture tour.

EE:

And then you get the assignment to be a recruiter, but that's in Missouri. So if you were in Keesler Field in '44, in June, that probably was on one of these talks.

EL:

Could be, could be. I was thinking that I was with the man I later married, but I don't think that's right.

EE:

Let me ask you about that, because you're moving all over the place. How easy is it or how difficult is it for you to have a social life, moving to all these places? You're basically in a different town every other day.

EL:

It was not difficult for a woman.

EE:

You were an officer?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

You were in the officers' club.

EL:

Yes. It was not difficult for a woman to establish social relations at all. In fact, you had more opportunities than you could take advantage of. Maybe I shouldn't say “take advantage of.” That sounds—[chuckling]

EE:

[Chuckling] Well, that's a diplomatic way of putting it. In other words, that was not a worry.

EL:

No, it was not a worry. That's right.

EE:

There's a woman I talked with who was stationed—Actually, she worked with the Red Cross, but she was assigned to serve doughnuts and coffee to the bombardiers or bombers as they were flying their missions. She was in Italy.

EL:

Mercy!

EE:

And there was only about half a dozen women on the base, and she said that every time they had about—Once they got to half a dozen women, then they'd have a dance. You know, anytime they got enough women they'd have a dance. Let's have a dance. [chuckling]

EL:

I know, it was really great. You didn't have to worry about dates at all. [chuckling]

EE:

Well, I think about for you probably it was a—You're in a situation where you have left—you've left a world behind, really.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

You've left teaching, you've left a relationship, and all of a sudden it is just a breath of fresh air to be doing something new in new places, meeting new people.

EL:

Yes, it was a great experience. I wouldn't take anything for my army experience, regardless of how civilians felt about us. [chuckling]

EE:

What did you think of the WAC uniform?

EL:

I didn't like the first caps, hats, with the little stiff—not brim but crown and visor. I didn't like those. I thought they were most unattractive. But the ones that we got later, I liked those. And I loved the dress uniform. In fact, while I was at Keesler Field I had a white dress uniform made, which was not the general run of—In fact, when I put it on nobody knew what service I was in. [chuckling] But I loved the gray.

EE:

Did you think about making the military a career?

EL:

No.

EE:

You said you met a man in the military who would later become your second husband. Tell me about that. This was after you were a CO?

EL:

No, before. He was at Keesler Field when I was transferred there, and then he went overseas. The reason I got out of the Army at the time I did was that the WACs were being transferred to Illinois, and I did not want to go north of the Mason-Dixon Line. [chuckling]

EE:

Certain principles, I understand.

EL:

They were being transferred, so I applied to get out. Now the man I married was an army man, original army man, and he—He was overseas, I don't know how long, but he was a CO [commanding officer] of colored troops, and the stories he told about the colored men were really interesting. But he came home and we were married. My parents sometime during the interim had retired. My father retired on disability and they bought a place out in the country. It was between Chimney Rock and Black Mountain right on [French] Broad River. So when we got out of the service we bought adjoining property, so that at one time—It sounds like a real huge place, but I have to qualify that by saying it was—In acreage it was around five hundred acres, but most of it was rocky, mountain land. It wasn't good for anything in this world except to say you had the original source of your water supply. [chuckling] But this property adjoined that that my parents had bought.

EE:

But that same piece of property now, if you'd subdivide it, lots of Floridians would have come running.

EL:

Well, now some of this property was about fifty cents an acre.

EE:

Good gracious. Fifty cents an acre?

EL:

I wish we could have held on to it, just for the sake of owning that much land, because it was from mountaintop to mountaintop and we owned the valley between. It was great. It was a beautiful place, very isolated, and after army life it was such a relief.

EE:

Well, again let me make sure I've got some dates right, because you were—You were recruiting when Roosevelt dies.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Were you still doing that job when VE [Victory in Europe] Day happens? Where were you on VE Day, in May?

EL:

What are you asking?

EE:

Where were you when the war ended in Europe, on VE Day, do you remember?

EL:

I am pretty sure that I was in Mississippi.

EE:

So you had been transferred by then?

EL:

Keesler Field.

EE:

And the man who would become your husband you had met in '44, and he shipped out overseas. Was he fighting in Europe, or where was he?

EL:

He was not fighting anywhere. His troops were—This was after D-Day.

EE:

So this would have been '45 is when he shipped out.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So it's after you come back to Keesler Field for the second time is when you meet him.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And what's his name?

EL:

Benedict. John Benedict.

EE:

So you're there and he leaves and he goes over to Europe, leading this group of colored troops. That's kind of unusual, isn't it?

EL:

I think so. Or maybe there was a lack of colored officers, I don't know. But he liked it, he thought it was great. They got along fine.

EE:

And so they were stationed, I guess, helping to—Did they go to Germany, is that where he was at?

EL:

Germany, yes.

EE:

So he's there, and where are you then? VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, are you commanding officer at Keesler Field when the war ends?

EL:

Could be, I don't know.

EE:

You don't have a clear remembrance of that time when it ends?

EL:

I remember, but I don't associate it with anything happening there.

EE:

I know for some folks almost everybody remembers where they were when Roosevelt died. A lot of people remember being surprised that we had the atom bomb, that the war ended that quick. Because I think everybody expected us to have to go invade Japan like we did Europe, which would have been another year or two.

EL:

Probably. Now, see, those things really never touched—We didn't know what was going on.

EE:

That's right. You could not know in advance that in six months it would all be over.

EL:

That's right, that's right.

EE:

So it's still uncertain how long it will last. But now the war ends in August of '45, you are CO of this group at Keesler Field, and then in—So you're there for a year and a half, two years doing that job?

EL:

Well, now that's what puzzles me. I was in the service three years total, and I just don't know. I mean, it seemed to me I was on WAC recruiting longer than I was at Keesler Field.

EE:

Maybe you were at Keesler Field then in '46.

EL:

Could be.

EE:

That way you would have been recruiting from '44 through '46, and then that summer of '46—

EL:

That long? Could be.

EE:

You said the war was over when John Benedict took those troops over.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And when you think it's over, that probably means it's all over. Because if it wasn't over in June, he probably would have been going to Asia rather than to Europe. My guess is that they needed troops.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

But in any event, you're there and that's the job that you have. You're CO until the end of your service and then you said you wanted to get out.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

How much longer after that did you get married?

EL:

Well, let's see, I went home and—I don't know, it was several months before he came home. We were married in '48, I believe. Or late '47 it could have been.

EE:

Let me ask you a few just general questions about that whole wartime. What was the hardest thing that you had to do, either physically or emotionally, when you were in service?

EL:

The hardest to accomplish, or the thing that threw me emotionally, or what?

EE:

Either one, either one.

EL:

Well, the one thing I remember that happened when I was CO that I wish had not happened at all, and certainly I didn't wish it happened to me, but we had a pregnancy, unmarried. So this was something new to me. I didn't know what happened, didn't know what to do. There was no way they were going to get married, we did not want her to stay in the service, so evidently the first sergeant knew what to do, thank goodness. I certainly didn't. It just threw me, really, and so—

EE:

So she knew a doctor in the area who would do something to help?

EL:

Beg your pardon?

EE:

Did she then have an abortion? Is that what she did?

EL:

No, no, we sent her somewhere—

EE:

To have the baby?

EL:

To have the baby.

EE:

And she gave it up for adoption?

EL:

I have no idea. That wasn't up to us.

EE:

But she left the service. Was that one of the things that—I know some of the WAVES said that they were accused of just chasing men, and they didn't like that, the fact that—Sure, they enjoyed their time in the service, but they were to do work other than just being social. Was that something that—As you were a CO, when you said that you had that happen, was that—What made that hard was dealing with the individual, the person there? Was that what made it hard, trying to counsel that person?

EL:

Yes, it made it hard because I didn't know her all that well, didn't know her personally, and her attitude was hard to cope with, because she was just, you know—

EE:

“So what?”

EL:

Yeah, “So what?” That was it, kind of. I'm glad that that was what we did. As far as I know, I never heard of an abortion in a case like that. I think that would be something you'd tread very lightly before you would suggest or initiate.

EE:

Right. Yeah, that was a lot different time, in those terms. I'm just wondering how that kind of issue—if that issue came up a lot for women in the service.

EL:

I don't know. That's the only time in my three years I ran into it, but mainly, I guess, because I was in the position.

EE:

You had to decide by being CO.

EL:

I had to know about it. But generally there was no problem with the conduct of the women.

EE:

It doesn't sound like you were in positions where you were actually in physical danger at any time.

EL:

No, never.

EE:

Were you ever afraid?

EL:

Afraid of what? Of who? [chuckling]

EE:

It sounds like, and I don't know, do you think of yourself—You probably thought of yourself as an independent-type person before doing this anyway.

EL:

Definitely, definitely.

EE:

So this probably just made you more independent, if anything. It didn't make you afraid.

EL:

Yes, that's right.

EE:

Do you remember an embarrassing time?

EL:

Yes, I remember a most embarrassing time. When I was at Keesler Field I was in the air corps, and we had the privilege of taking trips with the pilots when they were sent out on practice missions, practice runs, and I had never done this before. I was told to go to a certain place and pick up my parachute and get to a certain place where they would make contact and tell me when the plane was to go. So I was standing there waiting and holding this parachute, and I thought, heck, I don't need to hold the thing in my hand. And so I flipped it like this to lay it down, and here it billowed out all around. Oh, you talk about being embarrassed! Oh!

EE:

[chuckling] Well, fortunately, I guess you're here, you didn't have to use it that day, so—

EL:

We had to wait until I got a replacement, which I handled very carefully. Nobody had told me how to handle one. I'd never had one in my hands before. But here I flipped it. That didn't make me very popular with them. [chuckling]

EE:

Oh, I'm sure that story probably went around for a week or two. Your assignment, when you were assigned to the air corps, is there any different chain of command? Do you get a different—A WAC is a WAC is a WAC?

EL:

That's right.

EE:

It would have been different had you been an enlisted man. You would have had a different chain of command, different uniform probably? Were the uniforms different for the air corps?

EL:

No.

EE:

Because that's still part of the army. It's just a specialized branch. It's sort of like being supply corps or anything else.

EL:

The only thing different is your patch.

EE:

Different insignia and patch. That's the only thing different.

EL:

That's right.

EE:

Okay. My question, “Tell me about your social life, what you did for fun,” you've already told me that that was no problem, having a social life in the service.

EL:

No, no problem.

EE:

Do you remember some favorite songs or movies from that time period?

EL:

Oh yeah, Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats.

EE:

“And little lambs eat ivy.” What's that next line? “Diddly, diddly, divy do,” or what is that? [chuckling]

EL:

Oh, that was the silliest thing.

EE:

Did the Andrews Sisters sing that? Was that an Andrews Sisters song?

EL:

I have no idea. [chuckling]

EE:

I think Andrews Sisters did Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree.

EL:

Yeah, that was popular. Oh, what was that one, “Fifty-two bottles of beer” [chuckling] I've forgotten the rest of it.

EE:

The Mairzy Doats song, that wasn't something you danced to, was it? Or you just sang for fun?

EL:

No, it was just a fun song.

EE:

Did you watch movies a lot, or did you go to the movies while you were—

EL:

No, I don't think so.

EE:

When you were traveling around, you probably didn't have the problems with gas rationing that civilians did.

EL:

No, we didn't. My dad brought my car down when I thought I was going to spend some time at Daytona Beach, brought my car down. And then I got shipped out to—

EE:

Baltimore?

EL:

No, I went to Denver just for a few days, as just—I don't know, I never did figure the object of the trip to Denver. But then I came back and was sent somewhere else. So I just stored my car. And it looked like eventually I was never going to get back there to claim it, so I just left it for storage. I mean, I wrote to them and told them the car was theirs to keep for the storage, I was not going to pick it up.

EE:

You were in the service, and yet you were watching—As a recruiter you were out there gauging the mood of the country. What were people thinking about in '44? This was before the war's over. Were people worried about the war? Were they patriotic? Were they just determined? What was the attitude of folks?

EL:

I don't know.

EE:

Not everybody wanted to get into a war, before Pearl Harbor anyway.

EL:

That's right.

EE:

A lot of people said it's not our business. Pearl Harbor sort of made it our business.

EL:

It was our business after Pearl Harbor, that's right.

EE:

But it wasn't always sure that we were going to win the war. I think D-Day helped a lot of people's minds, thinking that finally we're invading Europe, it might be turning the tables our way. But you joined out of a patriotic sense. Do you think most people felt that same way?

EL:

Well, now maybe I should be honest and say it was an escape for me at the time.

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

EE:

Well, you said, and I appreciate that, that you thought, to be honest, that for you joining was not just patriotic, it was a way to escape.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

And that happened then, too. We can't just whitewash it and say everybody was patriotic and did the wonderful thing.

EL:

No.

EE:

People are people.

EL:

That's right.

EE:

But Tom Brokaw has got a book out now he calls The Greatest Generation, and he talks about people in your generation who went through World War II. And what he means by that is that you all responded to challenges—the Depression, the war—of a magnitude that no generation since has had to go through, and came through with flying colors. As a country you got us through it. Some people have said that it takes tough times to bring out—You don't know how good you are until you've had a crisis, you don't know until you've been tested.

EL:

Yes, right, right.

EE:

And you all were supremely tested. And maybe the difference in generations is that generations afterwards have not been as tested. Do you think that's true?

EL:

Yes, I think so. I think so.

EE:

Were there heroes or heroines from that time for you? Were there people that you really looked up to?

EL:

Oh, I'm sure there must have been.

EE:

Were there some interesting characters, people that you remember from the military experience? You saw a lot of folks.

EL:

Yes. Yes, there were, there were a lot of interesting people, and recruiting put you in touch with some. Of course, the lectures at the different air bases put me in touch with those people, but that was something that was just temporary, here today and gone tomorrow.

EE:

Did you all, at your different assignments, especially with the bases and maybe at Keesler Field, did you have USO [United Service Organizations] shows coming through or entertainers coming through at these places? Did you see a lot of entertainment?

EL:

You know, I'm not sure, although somewhere I got in with some women from the USO and got to know them personally. Now I've forgotten just exactly where I was, whether that was in St. Louis or—I don't remember. No, I can't remember any of the shows that were ever brought to Keesler Field in particular.

EE:

When you came back to the mountains and got married, did you go back to work? Did you go back to work as a teacher, or what did you do?

EL:

Oh, well, let me see. I had two offers to go back to teaching. But I knew John was coming home and we would be out in the country where it would be a little bit hard to do, and so for the time being—And besides, I was getting up in years, I wanted to have a family. So there's a period there after we were married and on up until, oh, six or eight years afterwards that the girls were in school and I had a chance to go back to work at a job I had never had before. I was asked to fill in temporarily for the Black Mountain News, which was a weekly paper. Gordon Greenwood owned it then. Gordon was a great man in the state politically, so you may have heard of him. So I worked for Gordon Greenwood, and the temporary job became a permanent one. He finally decided that maybe I wrote well enough I could be doing something else, so he gave me a personal column called Town Topics, and I went around over town collecting all the interesting human stories. That was fun, I enjoyed that, and it was no big burden once a week. In the meantime, I did editing and proofreading and all the things you do when you're on a newspaper.

Then later Gordon sold the newspaper. Gordon and Garnet were close personal friends, and they sold the newspaper, and the people they sold to brought their own workers in. So that was the time for me to move on to something else. So I had a few more years I needed to put in before I could retire, and the people who had the Ford agency in Black Mountain were close personal friends and they needed somebody to help out as a secretary for the company and for cashier and for insurance work, and so I went to work for them. I worked for them about ten years, and that's when I retired.

EE:

So it sounds like some of the women, I think, had—a fair number of them were like you, they started families. Some of them never got back into the workforce. And a lot of them when they got back, were really kind of encouraged to do more traditional women's jobs. Being a newspaper reporter at that time, I can just tell from you talking about it, that was an exciting thing for you to do.

EL:

It was, it was very interesting.

EE:

And I can see that that is a—I mean, your people skills from being an advisor and a teacher and a CO and doing that, you just become very aware of people's stories.

EL:

That's right. I didn't really string it all together in particular, but before we left—When we were trying to sell our home in Black Mountain and before we moved to Tennessee, the young woman who was doing the selling of the house was a neighbor, and she came in one night and said, “I have a connection with a newspaper and I'd like to write an article about you before you move away.” Well, we started in and I told her all these things, and realized all of a sudden I had about four careers in my life. And no two of them were alike, really. Different, entirely different. So she made up a nice article. I thought that was real nice, and it made me realize that I was something besides just a schoolteacher.

EE:

Although, to this day, those people to whom you were a schoolteacher remember that the most, [chuckling] and they thank you.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

What impact do you think your military service had on your life, short-term and long-term? It sounds like short-term it did what you wanted it to do, which was to get away from where you were and gave you something else to think about.

EL:

What influence? Well, it brought me out of a rut. It made me in contact with people that I probably would not have met otherwise. I kept up with my squadron at Keesler Field for years after I left—in fact, on a trip to Florida once I went by to see one of the girls—and so that stayed with me. Then of course the teaching in Gastonia, the interest there has spanned all these years. In fact, I didn't know how in the world they got in touch with me, because I was back in the mountains there for, oh, fifteen—maybe ten or fifteen years before they ever found out I was there. Then I heard from somebody all of a sudden, and come to our next reunion, and that's how it started.

EE:

Did you already have the two girls before you went to Tennessee?

EL:

Oh yes, they were both married and away from home when we moved to Tennessee. In fact, we didn't move to Tennessee until '94.

EE:

So you were a Benedict in the fifties?

EL:

No, I married Ed League—

EE:

Oh, so John Benedict was the fellow who went overseas.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

Okay, but you did not get married?

EL:

What?

EE:

You did not marry John Benedict?

EL:

Oh yes, he's the father of my girls. We were married for twenty-four years.

EE:

So did he pass away in the seventies?

EL:

No, we divorced.

EE:

Okay, divorced. That would have been in the early seventies? Twenty-four years? You got married in '48, you think, '47 or '48?

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So '72, something like that?

EL:

Yes. And in '75 I married Ed League. We were childhood sweethearts, from age four years.

EE:

Oh, my goodness. Did you keep track of where he was all along?

EL:

Our families were friends, and he was from South Carolina, and there was a period of time that Mother and Dad were in South Carolina, they lived there and taught there. That was long before I started to school. But I had known his family all these years, and when Mother and Dad died—Well, no, that has nothing to do with anything, but he was with a mortuary in Asheville and he contacted us and his mother came up and visited him and visited us. So we kept in touch, not close personal touch, naturally, but in the meantime he had married twice and—So when his wife died—in 1970, I believe it was. Anyhow, I had been in St. Louis, and when I came back and saw it in the paper his wife had died, I called and asked him what went on, what happened, because she was young. And he told me, and we began seeing each other then for, oh, I guess three or four years. And we decided we needed each other, after all this time. [chuckling]

EE:

It's funny, I've heard stories of people who had been apart for fifty years, some of them had met in the war, didn't act on it, had talked about it, or maybe not even talked about it. Then after they'd married other spouses and come back in their life they said, “You know, let's get together.” Well, that's wonderful how that works sometimes when you find somebody.

EL:

Yes. Well, I would not have married Ed twenty years before that. He was just not my type of person. He was extremely serious, of course, being—

EE:

In the right business to be serious.

EL:

In the right business for that, yes. But as I said, our families knew each other. He was just really a good friend, and that's the kind of man you should marry.

EE:

Yeah, marrying your best friend never hurts.

EL:

That's right, that's right.

EE:

If you marry them for their beauty, that ain't going to last. If you marry them for their heart, that will.

EL:

Well, we had eighteen years together, and I thought after we both—We married when we both retired, so we thought maybe we'd do well if we had five years, because he had a heart problem all the time. But we had eighteen years, which they were the best years—Well, I won't say they were the best years, but they were some of the best years of my life.

EE:

You don't know in advance when those years are going to be, do you? [chuckling]

EL:

That's right, you certainly don't. And it surprised both of us that we had that many years.

EE:

So he passed away then in—

EL:

In '94. We had just moved to Tennessee in May, and he died the first week in August.

[Discussion of the details of Ed Leaugue's death omitted]

EE:

That's the way it happens. I appreciate your sharing that. When you think back about your military experience, if you had it to do over again, would you do it again, joining the service?

EL:

Given the circumstances, yes. Yes, I would.

EE:

Would you recommend that your daughters join the service? Did you? Did you encourage them? Did they have any interest?

EL:

I didn't encourage them and they weren't interested.

EE:

A different time, wasn't it?

EL:

That's right. That's right.

EE:

What do you think about women in the military in general? I think just in December, for the first time ever, the U.S. sent women into combat as combat pilots in Iraq.

EL:

Yes, they did in the Desert [Storm] war.

EE:

That's right. What do you think about that?

EL:

Well, I think that's fine if they want to do it, if they can do it, if they're capable. And of course they wouldn't use them if they weren't capable. No, I think that's where they should be.

EE:

Some people have thought, looking back, that the time period you joined the service, that women joined the service en masse, that was really that time period, you had that happening, you had women joining the workforce doing men's jobs generally that they had never done before, that's the start of the women's lib[eration] movement.

EL:

It certainly was, wasn't it? I hadn't thought about that.

EE:

Do you think of yourself like that, as a pioneer?

EL:

No, I didn't think about that. I didn't think about it at all. Of course I knew that we were the first women to ever go into service, but I didn't consider myself as being a ground-breaker in that respect. [chuckling]

EE:

I think I've gone through about all the questions I had—You've been very generous with your time, and I'm sorry for taking so much. We get into a conversation, like you say, you start thinking of things you have not thought of for years.

EL:

That's right, that's right.

EE:

And I hope it's been a pleasant experience. Is there anything that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share about your time in the service?

EL:

I can't think of anything right now. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. I feel like I have taken more of your time than you want to use.

EE:

Oh, no, no. It's an honor for me. And I thank you for your service. And I know the college thanks you for doing this interview.

EL:

Well, I appreciate their taking time to do this. I didn't realize it was such a big job, that you were covering all sorts of fields there. Do you know my friend Mary Jane Sockwell?

EE:

No, that was something I was going to ask you, if there are some other people that you might know of that we haven't talked to.

EL:

No, Mary Jane is just a personal friend from college days, and she's president of the alumni for our year and she lives in Chapel Hill.

EE:

Oh, okay. Was she in the service?

EL:

No.

EE:

She's just the person who handles you guys for getting together and things.

EL:

Yeah.

EE:

Well, see, one of the problems is when they originally laid out that school, they had had space for a museum or a gallery. Well, they don't have a museum at the school. [chuckling] They don't have a dedicated gallery space. That's why I say I think what we'll take from this is that we're going to create something that we can take around to the whole state and let folks see. And I think it'll really be enjoyable. And I know that people will be using this stuff, and I think your family will enjoy having this conversation.

EL:

Yes.

EE:

So thank you.

[End of interview]