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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Sabourin, 1999

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Object ID: WV0100.5.001

Description:

Primarily documents Mary Sabourin’s career in the Women Marines, but also mentions her early life and her Marine Corps service during World War II.

Summary:

Discussion of pre-service life includes working in the defense plant where her father was employed, being the only woman in the drafting department, and seeing a female Marine and deciding to join the military.

World War II topics includes witnessing segregation in the South, basic training at Camp Lejeune, and the duration of her service. Sabourin also recalls reenlisting; the opening of training at Parris Island; bringing in new recruits; working at the Marine Corps Institute in the engineering department; and being sent to administration school at Parris Island. She recalls recruitment school at Parris Island, visiting high schools, and interviewing candidates for enlistment. Discussion of her illness includes being placed on the temporary disability list; continued pay from the Marines; treatment at the naval hospital in Camp Pendleton; and not being active during the Vietnam War. Sabourin talks of her work in Europe, including taking a position that was below her rank; rarity of Women Marines in Europe; traveling with her mother; and seeing Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Sabourin also discusses the changing role of women in the Marines. She recalls the restrictions placed upon women, including required discharge if one became pregnant or married a man with a child; the push to remain single; and inability to list a husband as a dependent unless he was 100 percent disabled. She recalls the push in the 1970s to open up new positions for women in the Marines and to remove outdated policies. Sabourin also mentions her post-retirement work with various veterans’ organizations.

Creator: Mary Amanda Sabourin

Biographical Info: Mary Sabourin (1922-2008) of Ogdensburg, New York, served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserves from 1945 to 1946 and in the Women Marines from 1949 until her retirement in 1976.

Collection: Mary Sabourin Oral History and Uniform

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

Full Text:

EE:

Today is June 25, 1999, and I am in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at the Onslow Inn with Mary Sabourin. Ms. Sabourin, thank you for sitting with us today—and is sharing much with us and giving us some information about the Women's Marine Association. You are a woman Marine, and we are going to talk about your time in service today. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Ms. Sabourin, we start out everybody with the same basic question, which I hope is not the hardest one for you. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

MS:

I was born in Ogdensburg, New York. That was on the Canadian border, St. Lawrence River.

EE:

That really is upstate. That is as up as you can get.

MS:

That's as far as you can go or we'd be in a foreign country. It was December 28, 1922.

EE:

Wonderful. So you always had trouble with birthday presents as a Christmas baby.

MS:

Yes. I didn't get anything. [chuckles] Got all the same presents at the same time.

I went to school in Ogdensburg and graduated in 1940.

EE:

When you were at school, was that a twelve-year high school?

MS:

Yes, it was a twelve-year high school.

EE:

We were slow in North Carolina; it wasn't twelfth until the late thirties, so I always ask people. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

MS:

I had one sister that was older than myself.

EE:

And what did your folks do for a living?

MS:

My father was a barber and my mother was a homemaker.

EE:

You graduated at Ogdensburg. Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

MS:

I liked school. I had fits when they made me stay home when I was sick, because I was afraid I was going to miss something.

EE:

What was your favorite subject when you were in school?

MS:

I think I had trouble in school because I couldn't spell very well, so I didn't really think that I liked anything. But I think that I liked history.

EE:

Did you have an answer to that question in high school? What did you want to be when you grew up?

MS:

I think I had many ideas. I think as a child growing up, I always wanted to be a missionary and I wanted to go to China. Then sometime in high school I think I wanted to be a nurse. I guess that was about it, you know. And then when I got out of high school, I was working, say, in a drugstore. I liked drawing, and in 1943 I took a drawing course, an engineering drawing course. So I was interested and I became a draftsman for a while.

EE:

You were working at that drugstore. You were living at home, I guess, at that time? Were you still at Ogdensburg?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

When you graduated, a lot of things are going on with the world and most teenagers really don't think about what's going on the world, unless it affects them. But were you aware of what was going in Europe?

MS:

I think so. Very much so. Because I think that I can remember way back in, what was it, '37 or so, the war was in Spain.

EE:

That's right.

MS:

And that bothered me. I think I always wanted to go. I think I was a Joan of Arc or something. I wanted to go off and be part of it.

EE:

Did you have a lot of fellows in your graduating class in high school go in the service?

MS:

I think they did, because by the time most of them were joining, I was doing something else. I wasn't interested in. But now I know there's an awful lot with the class of '40. I mean, we went into war in 1941, so that most of them all served.

EE:

Do you remember where you were Pearl Harbor Day?

MS:

Yes. I was working at the drugstore, and people come in and said the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and I said, “You're crazy. They wouldn't do that.” They did.

EE:

Did anybody know where Pearl Harbor was before that day?

MS:

Oh yes. Yes. One of my classmates, her brother was in the navy and he was serving at Pearl Harbor.

EE:

So you might have thought immediately of him.

MS:

Right.

EE:

When you heard that, did you know what that meant for our country, that that meant that we were at war?

MS:

I don't think so, and I don't think anybody else did either. I think that we were all very naive to think it will be just two days and it will be over. I don't know whether you want to say we had a superiority complex, but we thought, “Well, we'll beat the Japanese in weeks.” It was a long week.

EE:

You were working at the drugstore. You took this drafting course. Did you change work then in '43?

MS:

Yes. Then I went to Syracuse, where my father was working in a defense plant, and I was a junior draftswoman.

EE:

Did he help you get that job?

MS:

Well, sort of. He just said, “My daughter is taking a drawing course and she could be an apprentice anyway,” so that's what I was and I worked with Photostat machines and things like that. Not really doing much drafting, but I was the only woman in the department.

EE:

So you were doing something different than a lot of women. That made you feel better, for sure.

MS:

That made me feel different.

EE:

Well, at some point you wanted to feel even more different, because you wanted to join the service.

MS:

The thing is, all the time that I was working at that defense plant, that was from '43 to '45, I saw the woman recruiter, the Marine recruiter, and I said, “I want to be that.”

EE:

She was stationed at the defense plant?

MS:

No, no, no. She was standing on the corner always, since I would go by. She was going to be the recruiter. I said, “I want to be a Marine.” And so I think one of the men in the plant said, “No, you won't. I bet you you won't be.” He bet me ten dollars.

EE:

Don't tell me you joined the service to win ten dollars.

MS:

I won it. Do you see? Sometimes it's a matter of just having enough push, you know, to—the piece of straw that broke the camel's back.

EE:

I've been married long enough to know that I don't tell my wife, “I bet you can't.” Because that's a sure way to get her to do it.

MS:

I joined in 1945.

EE:

Did you ever have any interest in any of the other branches of service, or just seeing that woman on the corner?

MS:

No, it was just the Marines. You know, I always thought Marines were the greatest.

EE:

And you told me your father had been in the service.

MS:

He was in the army.

EE:

He didn't begrudge you?

MS:

No, no. Not at all.

EE:

When you joined in '45, I guess you had passed that age where you had to have your parents' signature. What did your folks think about your idea?

MS:

They really didn't want me to go, but they felt that if this is what I wanted to do, that I was old enough to make up my own mind to do it.

EE:

When you were in Syracuse—

MS:

I was in Syracuse.

EE:

Were you on your own in an apartment?

MS:

No, I lived in a boarding house where my father was.

EE:

So your mom was back home with the other sisters?

MS:

She was with my grandmother, taking care of my grandmother. It was one of those things in the war, you know, some families can't—they have to be separated for reasons of health of parents.

EE:

And that your dad was probably—the defense plant is a thing that they need him for national security. He can't get in and out of a job easy in those days.

MS:

No. And during that period of time, you have to remember that during the thirties and everything, you know, we were still in a Depression. Only because of working for the war effort did we come out of the Depression.

EE:

Do you have any rationing memories or stories from that time?

MS:

No, I don't. I don't seem to even remember. I remember saving, you know, how your toothpaste and all the different things that came in tubes, it was the metal and we would save the metal from that. But that's about the only thing I could think of. Because I had no car, so I didn't have to worry about ration, gas rationing.

EE:

Were you dating anybody who was in the service?

MS:

No, not at all. I wasn't that interested. And I never have, because I never married.

EE:

You entered the service there in New York. You went in in spring of '45?

MS:

Yes. I was recruited in Syracuse and I joined there, and then I had to go to Buffalo to be recruited and then I went to—it's a train ride down to Camp Lejeune.

EE:

That's the first time you'd ever been far away from home?

MS:

Yes, it was.

EE:

And everybody's first experience in the South is always an entertaining one. [chuckles]

MS:

It was. Especially from the far North. [chuckles]

EE:

My first trip to the far North was an entertaining one myself, so I could say that. It works both ways.

MS:

I would get into the “colored” dining room or I would drink from the “colored” drinking fountain.

EE:

It was a difference, wasn't it?

MS:

You didn't even think of this. You didn't even realize there was this separation of different things. And I have, I have drank from the—it said “colored.” I said, “Well, I don't know.”

EE:

Water is water.

MS:

Right.

EE:

You were coming down and didn't know a person coming with you. You're all by yourself.

MS:

I came by myself.

EE:

How long was basic training?

MS:

I can't really remember. I think it was six weeks.

EE:

You're in a barracks with, what, twenty, thirty other women?

MS:

I'm not sure whether it was around fifty or sixty in a company that we were in.

EE:

What's a typical day training like for a woman Marine?

MS:

It's hard now to even remember. Of course, I was later as a DI [drill instructor]. It's hard because all you have to do is—for the most part, during that period of time, it had nothing to do with weapons, or you didn't have any combat training, so you went to classes and you'd be learning the history of the Marine Corps. You'd be hearing the history of the military and rank structure. You'd have first aid and then you'd have just all the courses that you should be taking.

EE:

Is PT [physical training] as tough for the women as it is for the men?

MS:

It wasn't then, but I think probably PT for most of the women would be a little difficult if some of them were sort of—you know, they'd stay still. But as a child growing up, I wasn't that active in sports, but I always swam a lot.

EE:

Did you make any fast buddies there in basic, do you remember?

MS:

I guess, but I can't remember them now.

EE:

You spent a long time in the Marines. It is a distinct memory for you. You've seen many folks in your time.

MS:

I think this makes a difference between the women that were there for a short while. They remember those people, but when you've been your whole life in the military, you have so many people that we can't remember beyond last week.

EE:

Had you finished basic before [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away?

MS:

I think he passed away while we were in basic.

EE:

April of '45.

MS:

Right.

EE:

Do you have any memories of that?

MS:

No. Sometimes when events are happening and you're going through some sort of training, you're so involved with that period of training that you're not even thinking of what this is going to mean or anything.

EE:

So basically at that stage in your life, this is as close to survival course training that you've ever had. Plus, you know there's a different standard. Are you finished with basic before VE Day in May?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

Where you were on VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

MS:

I'm not really sure now whether—when I got out of boot camp, we had thirty days of mess duty, so I may have been on mess duty.

EE:

So you stayed there at Lejeune for thirty days.

MS:

And I stayed there after. I was stationed at Camp Lejeune.

EE:

I assume they had tests to see where everybody would be.

MS:

Oh yes, but I worked in the PX [post exchange] because I had been a salesperson. By that time, most of the jobs were pretty much taken, you know, in the 45s. So I worked in the PX from—I think it was May of '45 until June of '46, I worked in the same place. I stayed after.

EE:

So you were on the base when VJ [Victory in Japan] Day came?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

A decent celebration, I guess?

MS:

Oh yes, it was. [chuckles] Most of the time you don't even realize what it means, you know. You're just happy the whole war's over. And then after that, everybody's thinking of now when can we go home, men and women. Only there was period before they could go home.

EE:

I'm trying to imagine, in 1999, I could see how people might celebrate just driving up and down [Highway] 17. How did people celebrate in North Carolina? This isn't a big-city mentality.

MS:

There was nothing outside. I mean, you didn't leave. We celebrated on the base.

EE:

I've heard that from several people, in the cities they had all the military report to the base from wherever they were, because they didn't want them out getting in trouble celebrating. They wanted to keep everybody right at home.

The war ended very fast because of the bomb, which nobody knew about. Everybody assumed we were going to have to invade Japan like they'd invaded Europe. Do you have any feelings about the bomb, one way or the other?

MS:

No, I don't, because the thing is, maybe it's because when you spend you life in the military, you're thinking of, well, maybe you just think of body counts. They figured—and I think I probably knew or heard—that they figured that they would lose a million men.

EE:

In that invasion.

MS:

A million Americans.

EE:

So you compare that with what happened and it becomes—

MS:

And you probably would have had even more Japanese die, because they would have been fighting for their homeland. So the thing is, it could have been just mass slaughter. So, I mean, sometimes it doesn't seem right and maybe we learned a lesson from it, that dropping something like that, we should have—well, I think they would have still have done it. They were trying to avoid future casualties.

EE:

Of course, hindsight is always brilliant. “Oh, if we'd just dropped it off to show them, they wouldn't have done anything.”

MS:

No, no. I don't think it would have.

EE:

I don't think so either. Did somebody come up to you after the end of the war and say, “Well, your career plans may have to change now”?

MS:

No, don't think so. We sort of knew that it wouldn't be the end of our service right away, because when you came in as a reservist, you would serve the end of the war and you could serve six months thereafter.

EE:

Duration plus six.

MS:

Duration plus six. So, it's a matter of you're not thinking, “I'm going to get right out.”

EE:

You are reserve women?

MS:

We were the women reserves.

EE:

[U.S. Marine Corps] Women['s] Reserves. WRs.

MS:

WRs.

EE:

How did the other Marines treat you? We talked before we started to tape, about the fact that not everybody in the service was real thrilled to have women going. The Commandant said, “If they're going to join the Marines, we're going to call them Marines,” as opposed to some other fancy name. How did people treat Women Marines at that time?

MS:

I think, for the most part, they treated us all right. The thing is you're always going to find some people that, you know, they resent you. And some of the men resented them because we took their place and they had to go fight.

EE:

I've seen Women Marine posters where it says, “Be a Marine. Free a Marine to fight.”

MS:

Yes.

EE:

How did you feel about it?

MS:

Well, see by that time, by the time of the end of the war, I think a lot of the feeling that earlier women felt was sort of settled down. I think that during a period of time in '43, when the women first come in, the Commandant said he did not want any of his men being disrespectful to the women, and he was really annoyed with them. He said it will not happen anymore. They would have their wise remarks to you and all of the rest, and he felt that this was no way to handle other Marines that were serving with you.

EE:

Did they teach you in basic how to handle the occasional Marine who would talk about a “BAM” [broad-assed Marine]?

MS:

No, no. Most of the time—well, I won't tell you what I would call them back. [chuckles]

EE:

You can just abbreviate.

MS:

I would say, “And you're a HAM.”

EE:

What's the “H” stand for?

MS:

“Half.” [chuckles]

EE:

Good response. I like that.

In June '46, you're discharged.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

Did you stay in this area or you go back to—

MS:

No, no. I went back to New York and by then I had dreams of being an engineer. So I went to Syracuse University for a year in engineering school, only I didn't do very well in math.

EE:

Yes, I think that's why I became a historian of science rather than a scientist. It's easier to talk about it rather than do it.

MS:

Science, especially calculus and a few others that, it's a little difficult. And during that period of time, then I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. By '48, when the time came, we knew that the women then could join the regular Marine Corps. I thought, well, I'll try that for a couple years and see what it's all about.

EE:

So you—

MS:

I came back in in 1949.

EE:

When you went back to New York—

MS:

I was with my mother, mother and father. I'd be with my mother for a while. I went even back to high school to take science courses that I hadn't taken before. When I was in high school, I took a classical course where I took all languages, so then I needed some of the science. I had some science. I didn't have all the science and math. Five years after graduation, I was back in high school.

EE:

One of the points that today's Marines—in fact, women and men say, “We'll teach you a career. We'll train you not just in the service, but your life thereafter.” You were eligible, I guess, for the GI Bill?

MS:

Oh yes, I was in school in the GI Bill.

EE:

Was going back to the Marines a way for you to get some skills in that area?

MS:

No, I don't know, you know, how you figure. I didn't do very well in school, so I guess I have to change. I did not be an engineer, so I figured, well, I'll see what the Marine Corps has to offer me.

EE:

And you went back to—

MS:

I came back to Washington, D.C.

EE:

So you reported back at Syracuse and they assigned you back down—

MS:

No, no, no. When you're in the reserves, you come right back. We all came back in. We went down to New York to be sworn in again, and most of the women in 1949 came all back to Headquarters Marine Corps [in Arlington, Virginia] where we had to wait until some of the bases opened up for us.

EE:

Let me ask you a little bit about that time period as a reservist. What were your obligations?

MS:

There were none, when I was an inactive reservist, nothing.

EE:

Inactive reservist, you didn't have a regular two weeks' training like they do now?

MS:

No, no, no.

EE:

Did you get any kind of pay?

MS:

No, no, no.

EE:

You just were inactive reserve.

MS:

Your name was on the list that you were a reserve.

EE:

You joined in '49. This was before they had an active call-up of women. You're in Washington. You had told me before we started this interview where your career took you, and maybe what I'll do now is just sort of let you give me the overview, because I want to go back and then ask you some of these general questions, but this part about how you made a career of it is different from most of our folks. So why don't you share what your career was.

MS:

I came back as a corporal. And the corporal is lance corporal of today, I think. I worked at headquarters for a short period of time, and then they decided that they would send some of the women back to Marine Barracks [in Washington, D.C.]. They had women there during World War II. That's the Marine Corps Institute. I was working there as a drafting instructor, or engineering, architectural drawing. During that period of time I was in the engineering field. I was in the 1400 field, which is the occupational field for engineers. And then once again, the Marine Corps is beginning to think, “We have two women that are in the engineering field.” And during that period of time that I was in this engineering field, I was promoted to sergeant, staff sergeant, and tech sergeant. I received three promotions in the engineering field.

EE:

In very short order.

MS:

So by the time when we were beginning to be senior and staff NCOs [non-commissioned officers], the Marine Corps decided, “Well, these two women, I think we'll put them back in the administration field.” So I went to administration school, to Parris Island [South Carolina], and from Parris Island I went to Cherry Point [North Carolina], and there I worked in the administration field, both with a woman's detachment and also then I worked with one of the male squadrons.

EE:

Let me give you some dates associated with those moves. You joined in '49. You were in Washington and then you go to Marine Corps Institute. When do you leave that to go to Parris Island?

MS:

1952. I went to administration school. I was at Cherry Point until about, I think, '55, when I went once again to Parris Island. Our schools are at Parris Island, recruiter school. Then in '55, I went on recruiting in Baltimore, Maryland. Then after Baltimore, they figured probably after I was recruited, then maybe I'd be a good DI, so they sent me to Parris Island.

EE:

You had done the soft sell. Now you do the hard sell? [chuckles]

MS:

That's right. [chuckles]

EE:

How long were you in Baltimore then, a year or two?

MS:

No, no. About three and a half years. I went to Parris Island and I was there two and a half years. Then I was sent to El Toro, and at El Toro I worked in the classified files.

When I was in El Toro in 1961, 1962 and 1963, I had a seizure and my blood pressure was out of sight. I was two weeks from my reenlistment date.

EE:

That's a terrible place to have blood pressure problems. Everybody tells me California is so pleasant.

MS:

Yes. So then I was placed on the disability list in June of '63. I came back to the New York area, lived for four years, and then came back in in 1967. Once again, I went back to Headquarters Marine Corps, and when I was at Headquarters Marine Corps, I worked in—I'm trying to think—classified files—No, special correspondent, which is congressional correspondence, where you're working as an administrative person in that field.

Then I got an opportunity to go to Europe. I went to the European Command, which was in Stuttgart, Germany, and I was there three years.

EE:

Let me ask you some follow-up questions on these stages along the way, because the different jobs make me think of different questions. You're interacting with the public in different ways and your life is changing and the world is changing around you. When you were in D.C. at the Marine Corps Institute right at the start, Korea is changing. There's a very high security awareness in this country in the early fifties, with the communist scare, and people worried about what's going on. Were y'all housed on the barracks there at the Marine Corps Institute?

MS:

No, we lived out for a while and we were paid, given subsistence to live out.

EE:

There really wasn't enough number of you all women to do it.

MS:

No, because that period of time, '49 and '50, we were just organizing. In 1949, the women started training down at Parris Island. See, during that period of time, we didn't have any new women come in at all, only women that had served during World War II. So in 1949, the summer, they started training at Parris Island. So then we started to have new women come in, and a lot came to Washington. But then we started opening up all our bases, so therefore the bases were being opened, we had barracks to live in, and we could then start being transferred to those bases. But before that, we couldn't. But there were women at Headquarters Marine Corps. Halfway between our tour at Marine Barracks, they took us off and they quartered us at Headquarters Marine Corps, but we were assigned at Marine Barracks. There's no spot down there that they [unclear].

EE:

The security consciousness would make everybody really anxious if anybody was living off the area. You did this job till '52, until you go to Parris Island.

MS:

And Cherry Point.

EE:

You go to Parris Island for administrative school, then you go to Cherry Point. Was that your first time to Parris Island?

MS:

Yes, I think it was.

EE:

What did you think of Parris Island the first time you saw it?

MS:

I don't know. I mean, most places I just accept them the way they are. I think I'm not surprised at anything.

EE:

I just wondered if you have any special feelings—because as a Marine, that's a special place for Marines—if it was a special place for you.

MS:

Well, see, because most of us, we had been trained at Camp Lejeune, so, therefore, Parris Island was just another base. It was not that new training place, you know.

EE:

And they were training just women there or anybody?

MS:

No, no, no. They started training women there when we went there. Then most of the Marine schools were down there at Parris Island, so we had men and women going to school. We went to school with men and women. We didn't go to school with just women. We went to school with men and women.

EE:

How was that experience?

MS:

I just don't seem to think that—I guess maybe I just didn't pay any attention to what men said or thought, you know. I'd accept the person the way they were.

EE:

Tell me about the job at Cherry Point. What were you working in back there?

MS:

Well, I worked in the administration office. The administrative office that was the women's detachment, you worked in a position like a first sergeant.

EE:

You are asked to do recruiting. Now, not everybody has a personality that can move seamlessly from administration to public relations or from engineering drafting to public relations. There's a different skill in talking to people than there is in working with stuff. How did you feel about that? Did they give you that option?

MS:

No, no, they didn't. They said they were going to send you to recruiting and I guess if you really don't want it that much, they probably figure you'll be a bad influence, so we won't send you out there. I had worked as a salesclerk, so I dealt with people all the time, so I don't think it was a big change.

EE:

How difficult was it to get people to—what I've read about women in the service in the fifties is sort of a mixed mind. After Korea, there was, again, an uncertainty of, “Well, do we want to keep them? How many women do we really want to have in the service in a peacetime situation?”

MS:

Well, we had quotas, and it seems as if we made it. But I guess I wasn't this forward [unclear] look. I would feel if somebody comes in and asks me about the Marine Corps, I will tell them the truth and I would tell them whether I thought that they would like it or not. I'm not a hard-sell person.

EE:

So you all didn't do speaking at high schools?

MS:

Oh yes. We went to high schools.

EE:

Tell us what the recruiting was like in the fifties then. What did you do to recruit people?

MS:

Well, we did, we went to the high schools near the end of the year and also we sent out mail to the high school students, telling them the opportunities to be in the Marine Corps. Here at the headquarters of the recruiting station and then you have substations out around; we have Marines working out there. If they felt that there was a candidate that they'd like to have you interview, they would tell me to come, and I would maybe go by the bus or something to go. I had no car.

EE:

With no previous experience, you were made head of the recruiting office.

MS:

Well, for women. You know, you're just a recruiter. I mean, I wasn't the head of the office.

EE:

So what that means is that you would be referred women that other men in the field, as their jobs as recruiting officers would find and say, “Why don't you talk to our woman Marine.”

MS:

Yes, right. Well, because in some of the areas, you know, we all go out to wherever the areas are—out in Hagerstown; out in Cumberland, Maryland; over in Salisbury—you know, all outside of Baltimore.

EE:

And you all have would share an office with other armed services recruiters?

MS:

No, no, no. We had a separate office, a Marine office there at the post office in Baltimore.

EE:

You do that job for, what, two and a half years?

MS:

I think that, once again, about three and a half years. The thing is, often in any job that I would go in, I would also—if it was just not recruiting of the women, I mean—a lot of times if some of the men were absent and they were administrators, I am an administrator so I would also maybe step in and do their job if they had two or three days off, they were on vacation or leave. So it's the same way. The sergeant major, he would be the senior enlisted. If I was almost the senior enlisted in that office, then I would have to sit in and do his job.

EE:

By the time you're recruiting folks in 1955, you had spent six more years in the service. Are you pretty much set on making this a career by this time?

MS:

Yes, sort of. Well, see, in 1952, my father died and my mother became my dependent. So I felt, well, I think I maybe will have to stay in the military now, because I have a dependent and I have somebody to think of. So that was one of the factors that I reenlisted and stayed in.

EE:

Because your initial reenlistment was for three years.

MS:

Well, from '49, it probably was two years. It was during the Korean War that we had to reenlist. I can't remember the time period of reenlistment. But you see, then you start thinking, “Well, maybe I've had so many years, and this doesn't sound too bad, maybe I'll just stay with this.”

EE:

I guess that means that your mom followed you around in all these places?

MS:

She didn't at first. She didn't until 1956, because my grandmother was still living.

EE:

What were you doing when you were at El Toro? My father-in-law was at El Toro. I'm curious.

MS:

I worked in the classified files.

EE:

And that was for people who had security clearance?

MS:

No, no, no. We had all the classified files. [chuckles]

EE:

You were the classified files.

MS:

We were the classified files.

EE:

And everybody had to get security clearance to get to your files. The health problems you talked about, were you treated for that at a VA [Veterans Administration] hospital?

MS:

No, no. A naval hospital. I was still on active duty, so I would be in a naval hospital at Camp Pendleton.

EE:

This brings up access to realizing what all they [women] had as veterans.

MS:

There was another woman right behind me that served during World War II, and she's in WMA [Women Marines Association].

EE:

You take the time off, '63 to '67, the time you're on inactive duty, I guess.

MS:

Yes. Well, you're on a temporary disability list. So I'm still getting money from the Marine Corps.

EE:

You are out because of a blood pressure problem. You have to sit and watch the Vietnam War.

MS:

Yes, right.

EE:

That can't be good for your blood pressure.

MS:

No, it wouldn't be. [chuckles]

EE:

How do you feel about that time period and what we were doing?

MS:

Well, it's hard. Most of the time I don't talk about it, because sometimes I'm not politically correct. [chuckles]

EE:

You wouldn't be the first person I've interviewed who's dared to not be politically correct. It is frustrating.

MS:

It is frustrating.

EE:

Because you are trying to do a job. You don't define the job; the job is defined for you. You're trying to do a good job.

MS:

The thing is, even if I had been on active duty, I might not approve of the situation, but I would have had to go and do it. And this is what I felt with most of the military that went over there, they may be disapproved of what the politics had done, but they still had to do a job. They were assigned to do a job and they had to go and do it.

EE:

You did get back in the service in—

MS:

In '67.

EE:

You were at the Naval Academy?

MS:

No, no, no. I was at Headquarters Marine Corps.

EE:

And you were working with special correspondence.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

I would imagine that the politically-charged atmosphere, that was probably an interesting position, because everybody had to have their hand held and [unclear].

MS:

Yes, or their parents or somebody would call and “Why should my son have to go here or go there?”

EE:

How long were you doing that before you go to Europe?

MS:

Let me see, I think '67 to '69—about two, over two years.

EE:

And then in '69, you get to go to Stuttgart.

MS:

To Europe for three years. When I was in Europe, I was working in the Military Assistance Directorate. They're the ones that are taking care of military assistance all over Europe and the Near East.

EE:

You're seeing the world now.

MS:

I did the see the world. I saw Asia, Africa, and Europe.

EE:

I know at different times the military has been reluctant to let women out of the country in different branches of the service. Was that ever a problem with Women Marines? Were they required to be stateside?

MS:

No, the thing is, when I went to Europe, during that period of time, most of the time, the women that went, they had a woman officer and a woman enlisted, which was probably working with the generals that went into the European Command. My monitor had asked—there was a male position open, and she asked me if I wanted to take it, and I took it. It was below my rank, but I didn't care. I wanted to go to Europe. [chuckles] I would probably have taken a PFC's [private first class] job.

EE:

And the nice thing is you get to take your mom with you.

MS:

And my mother went with me.

EE:

If you get to see beautiful places, it's nice to have somebody to see it with. So you have a memory to share.

MS:

That's right.

EE:

You were in Stuttgart for three years?

MS:

Three years.

EE:

So you come back in '72?

MS:

Seventy-two. And I was back at Headquarters Marine Corps.

EE:

Had they signed the Paris Peace Accord before you came back home? That was '73, I guess it was.

MS:

It was still going on in '72.

EE:

You talked, before we started the tape, about Cold War experiences. You and a busload of your buddies were going to take a tour of the Eastern European countries, and lo and behold, you discovered October isn't the time to do it, because the Soviets are on maneuvers. They caught wind of you guys. What was the most different thing about being in Europe? One thing from my own experience in Berlin is that that tension that at any point, World War III might start right here.

MS:

Yes, that's right. No, really. And I mean, as far as when you're right there in Germany, it could easily have started at any time, you know. I don't know how far Stuttgart is from the border, western border, but it's not far. My mother was of German ancestry, so the thing is, when we were there, I guess we didn't realize that we were German until you get there. You know that you're German. [chuckles]

EE:

All these meals you grew up with, you say, “Oh, that's what I got spaetzel from.” [chuckles]

MS:

In some areas, if you're short and sort of stocky—

EE:

“You must be Slavonian or something.” What did you do when you got back from Stuttgart, from that tour of duty?

MS:

I went back to Washington. For a while, I was at Headquarters, I forget what office, and then they decided that they'd send me over to be an administrator for the B Company, which is the officers' company of Headquarters Marine Corps, and we had 1,300 officers.

EE:

And you told me ten enlisted?

MS:

And ten enlisted.

EE:

And that's right here in the D.C. area.

MS:

Yes.

EE:

You did that work for about how long? A couple of years?

MS:

Yes. In 1945, and prior to 1952, women could be assigned the jobs as sergeant majors, and there were three positions they could be in: recruit training, women recruit training, women officers' training, and sergeant major of the Women Marines. And those are the only positions they could wear the stripes of being a sergeant major because women could not choose whether they could be a first sergeant or sergeant major up to that period of time. And they had asked all E-9s, who are master gunnery sergeants, who wants to be redesignated. Several of us said, “Sure we will. We'll go wherever you want to send us.” And they redesignated nine of us. So after that, we wore sergeant major stripes no matter where we were. Whatever our job was, we were still sergeant majors. So I mean, it had taken the Marine Corps almost thirty years to acknowledge that women were capable of doing these jobs.

EE:

The early seventies is a time of turmoil for the military because Vietnam is ending. It's also time of integration talks again—entering the military academies and trying to open as many different jobs as you can to women. What did you think about that? What was the inside dope on that from the Marines' perspective, on involving women more in the service?

MS:

Well, I think for the most, if we were career women, the thing is that with most of the women that did stay in—now I'm speaking only of the Marine Corps and the women I know—most of the women were single women, officers and enlisted. You always had a few that were married. So we were there trying to open all kinds of positions, because we felt this was our career and we were willing to give up a whole lot of things, husbands, children, to be able to maybe—maybe we were trying to prove something. You know, it's hard to say.

EE:

That ten-dollar bet was still lingering. [chuckles]

MS:

[chuckles] That's right. And so I mean, anything that was being opened up, we were welcoming it. I don't know whether other women had told you that prior to—well, even in the seventies, when women became pregnant they had to get out. For the most part, even in the fifties and sixties, most of the women, if they got married, the military, especially in Marine Corps, encouraged you to get out. They said, “We will not transfer husband and wife together.” And nowadays, I think, for the most part, they're trying to keep families together.

EE:

The whole issue of dealing with families from that perspective, they have barracks near the camp, but just a question of having the woman be the Marine.

MS:

Once again, some things I'm saying, I don't know whether other people have mentioned it, the thing is, if a woman was married to a civilian, and she was to have him as her dependent, she was not able to have him as her dependent unless he was 100 percent disabled. And if a married woman married a man that had a child, but the child was not hers, she had to get out. There was a child in her household. Do you see how some of the things were very oriented against the woman? It was the world that we are living in, a man's world. A man is the breadwinner.

EE:

So there's no reason for that, other than the fact that they basically were saying, “We don't want women in the service.”

MS:

That or the man is the breadwinner.

EE:

They're trying to reinforce social—again, for those who would argue that having the women in the service was holding up a social policy, at the end of the day it was a social policy keeping the women from doing their military job.

MS:

That's right.

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

EE:

You were at B Company for how long before you switched and came back?

MS:

From '72 to '75.

EE:

Then you came back to Lejeune.

MS:

Came to Lejeune and was here a year. I was at Base Materiel Battalion and I was their sergeant major, and I was assigned to B Company. I was the only woman assigned to B Company.

EE:

Was that your last duty?

MS:

It was my last duty station.

EE:

So you—

MS:

Retired.

EE:

Retired in '75.

MS:

Seventy-six. One year. I was sergeant major a year there.

EE:

And then you decided to stay in this area.

MS:

Yes. I owned a home here, so I stayed in this area.

EE:

How long was your mother with you?

MS:

She lived for two more years, until '78.

EE:

[unclear]

MS:

I wanted to retire then because I felt, you know, your mother is getting a little older. You'd better spend a few years with her. I had spent four years, as far as being on the disability list, but then I felt I had a few years I had to spend with her so we could travel together. Then I would go back and forth to New York, to my sister's, until 1991, when she died. I'd spend six months here and six months in New York. But then when I came back in '91, then I started getting involved with all the veterans' organizations.

EE:

And you've been now working with the Women Marines Association since 1991?

MS:

Yes, really working. Because I was a member, I guess, in 1979 or so, but it was just, you know, your name is on the list.

EE:

And now you are Chairman of the National Committee for ROTC.

MS:

Yes, and I'm the area director for six states.

EE:

Six states in the Southeast.

MS:

Yes. I'm in other veterans' organizations, American Legion, Marine Corps League, Fleet Reserve Association.

EE:

I'm going to ask you a question, which when I ask it of people whose military service is fourteen to eighteen months, it's not a difficult question. It may be a difficult question for you. What's been the hardest thing you've had to do in the service, either physically or emotionally?

MS:

Gee, that's hard to even try to figure out.

EE:

In other words, what's the hardest thing in your life? Because that's what your life has been. But of what the work was.

MS:

No, I think some of the hardest was, I think, going to Parris Island. I really did not want to be a DI, but I went. But I really didn't.

EE:

Do you have to assume a different personality?

MS:

Well, I told somebody I really think it were the military, for the most part, were a bunch of actors and actresses, because we have to put on a different face for almost every job that we do. You know, when you have a recruiter, you have a different face than when you are a DI. You know, same way if you're a first sergeant or a sergeant major. Each is a different face and a different personality, almost. But I think that was the most.

EE:

Did you have special instruction on just to be a DI?

MS:

No, when we went, we don't. But now they go to DI school.

EE:

That's surprising that you would not.

MS:

I went down there in late fifties and sixties. It's still at the period of time that I guess they did not want us to treat the women the same way that they're treating the women now.

EE:

It wasn't a pressure on you to be as tough as the men? It was still more of a “lady first, Marine second,” that kind of thing. When you were going through your basic, were your instructors men or women?

MS:

No, we had women. You see, most of the time, in most places, you always had a male DI that would teach you drills. When I came in in '45, I think the women before that, same way. And when I was a DI we had male DIs for drill. And we were their drill instructors from then on.

EE:

So you were working with other. You were working with men as a DI?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

How was that?

MS:

It was fine.

EE:

You were all a team then? You stuck together as a team?

MS:

I always felt that I was a team. I mean, for the most part, maybe I don't pay any attention to what the men say. You know what I mean? If they're trying to get my goat, I don't say it or something.

EE:

It'll either get to you or it won't. And if they know it doesn't, then they stop messing with that person.

MS:

Yes. Right.

EE:

In a whole career spent in the service—this is another one of these questions that sixteen months is no problem. For a whole career, was there a particularly funny or embarrassing experience you had in the service in your official capacity?

MS:

No, I don't think so. They weren't funny, but the thing is, as far as uniforms, when we were in Washington, they used to ask us women on the street, “Are you Girl Scout leaders?”

EE:

Women would ask you this?

MS:

Yes. And when I was in Baltimore recruiting and I was riding going back and forth to New York and I was in dress blues, I had a woman ask me, “What time does the train leave?” Like a porter or something.

EE:

There just weren't enough of you all that people knew.

MS:

Right. And then another time in Germany, I had a German come and he looked, and I had a green uniform on and green stripes, “Russky?” [chuckles] He didn't know about Marine uniforms. They saw [U.S.] Army uniforms, you know. But I mean, that was, “Hi, how are you?”

EE:

Were you ever in physical danger or doing anything to make you afraid during your work in the service?

MS:

No. No, I guess about the only time I was afraid, not afraid, but a little leery, was when we were in Israel and we were touring Jerusalem, I guess. I sort of got away from the rest of the crowd, and some little kid is going to direct me and he's directing me in the wrong way, and I'm following him, and then it dawned on me that this doesn't look right. And I said, “I'm going the other way.” And I caught up with the—that's the only time, that you know, you felt, “Lord, I think I'm in the wrong spot.”

EE:

I was in Jerusalem one day, and that's one place I did feel afraid myself. You can't be by yourself there. It gives you a funny feeling. One of the questions I ask folks who did serve in the Second World War was what they thought of the Roosevelts, which is a question I'll ask of you. But then I'll ask you another question in general, since you were in there for a lot longer than most of us. What do you remember about the Roosevelts, of either Franklin or Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

MS:

Well, I think Mrs. Roosevelt—I have more of a thought, because I think she did an awful lot of things both for the blacks and for women. She was one of the reasons why a lot of things were done, you know, for the women, because she wanted it done that way. I respected her very much. I may be a female chauvinist. I'm afraid a lot of the men—you know, Presidents, they come and go. I really think of all the Presidents in the period of time that I was in and out; I think I had more respect for [Harry S.] Truman than any of them. Historically, I think I had more respect for him.

EE:

Just because of the circumstances?

MS:

The circumstances that he was thrown into something and maybe how well he handled it, as far as with the experience and all the rest that he had. He was kept in the dark. He didn't even know what it was all about, and that certainly wasn't a fair situation.

EE:

Well, that was my next question. You read my mind very well.

MS:

Some of the other Presidents, I think they're actors, too.

EE:

They're doing a role?

MS:

They're doing a role.

EE:

Some of them, we know, really practice in the role. As a military person, the general public can't think of, at least since Vietnam, can't think of the military in action without thinking of the politics. Yet for military personnel, it is just what they're called to do. It is the job. How difficult is it to keep politics out of things, or is there a political undercurrent that's always talked about in the service?

MS:

Well, I think there is. Say, for a lot of times, you know, you have to go along with whatever the situation is. As far as politics, Republican or Democrat, it doesn't matter. I think most military should be apolitical. We should have no politics. We have to do what the President tells us to do, whoever that is. Whether we like their political or private lives is none of our business. We have jobs to do. The biggest thing is, you know, it's the Constitution we defend, not the President or the Congress.

EE:

Is there a Women Marines song?

MS:

Yes, but right now I don't know it. But there are. The Women Marines had their songs.

EE:

Well, I won't ask you to sing it in public, but one day I'd like to hear it. [chuckles]

MS:

The Women Marines had a band, a WR band, and they still meet and keep in contact with each other all these years.

EE:

That's great.

We just sent, our country, in December of last year, the first woman soldier into combat as a fighter pilot. What do you think of that? Are there some jobs in the service that women should not be allowed to do?

MS:

As pilots, I think that's a great deal different than, say, an infantry job. It's a hard thing about this infantry training, you know, combat training, hand-to-hand fighting. I'm not sure whether women should do it. Women can do it. I'm not questioning their ability to do all this, because I think women for many years—and it still may be, a woman holds the record at Parris Island for the best shooting record. So women are capable of firing any kind of weapon that was handled, and I think we can handle jobs, but just realistically. I'm afraid that American men, for the most part, have been brought up to be very protective of women, and that's the thing that scares me. The men might be too protective, that they may risk their own life for a woman, and I don't think that's right. I know you do, you risk your life for your buddy, for—but it's a little bit different when you're talking about a woman. It's just that we have brought our boys up that way.

EE:

Right. There's something in the psyche that says men today—maybe there's not that extreme in the women's psyche. Folks who were in the World War II experience for a while and then went back and really had not other exposure to the military. It's a different question than it is for you when I ask, do you think the military experience made you more of an independent person than you would have been.

MS:

I think it does. I think it does. I think it affects most of the women's lives in a lot of the things that they've done, whatever they've done. I think because they've had the experience in the military, the discipline of the military, the military treats people as if they can do something. You know what I mean? I tell my niece and I tell other people when they talk about their child that's nineteen or so, a child is no longer a child, he is a man. And we treat them like men and women, and just us treating people like men and women, give them the experience that they will accomplish a job. You see, you know, we don't spoil them and say, “All right, dear. I'll do it for you.” We say, “Do it yourself.”

EE:

It's a bad question to ask a recruiter, but if you had a daughter and she was interested in the military, would you recommend that she join?

MS:

For maybe for two or four years.

EE:

That's a good experience for most folks?

MS:

I think it is. And the same way with men.

EE:

In my generation, we didn't have the draft.

MS:

And that made a difference.

EE:

A sense of community commitment.

MS:

Or a sense of camaraderie that you have with people of all races, all creeds, that you share something.

EE:

Well, we have come pretty darn close to exhausting all of my thirty questions, plus a few more which I made up along the way, just because you've had such a long and interesting career. Is there anything I have not asked you about your experience in the service that you would want to share with folks?

MS:

I don't think so.

EE:

Good. If there is, we'll talk about it off the tape. Transcriber, thank you. And thank you for putting up with doing this on short notice.

[End of interview]