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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Bernice Moran Miller, 1999

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Object ID: WV0104.5.001

Description: Miller primarily discusses her military service, especially as a member of the 2nd Mapping Squadron

Summary:

Miller details caring for her invalid mother as a child; difficulty of finding a job during the Depression; listening to speeches from Europe in the early 1930s; boarding with a woman whose son she later married; and her parents’ deaths.

Topics related to World War II include trying to join the WAAC as an officer, but being denied; a cold winter during basic training; advantages of being older than most recruits; men enlisting in the WAAC; failing a “dot and dash” test; being respected and harassed by different soldiers; traveling with soldiers and sailors and competition between the services; mapping the United States for defensive reasons; planes outfitted with cameras; a civilian party in Colorado Springs; WAC friends, including Elsie Ribiero; a commanding officer who didn’t believe women should outrank men; being a corporal for only one day before being made a sergeant; working with Germans to analyze photographs of German factories; advantages of her military service; showing her slip to a sailor; hiding civilian clothes during inspections; her opinion of women in combat positions; and World War II atrocities.

Other topics include her post-war teaching career and her extensive travels.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Bernice Moran Miller 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, the Women Veterans Historical Project. Today is October 13, 1999, and I'm in Brevard, North Carolina, at the home of Bernice Moran Miller. I want to thank you, Mrs. Miller, for sitting down with me this morning, and we're going to talk about your time in the service. With most folks, we always start with the same simple questions, just to get a little background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

BERNICE MILLER:

I was born in Dunnstown, Pennsylvania, which is just outside of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. I grew up there, went to a rural school, eight grades, from there into high school in Lock Haven. My mother asked one day what I liked about the school, and I said it was all right, but there were so many girls. I grew up with seven or eight boys. [chuckles] And from high school, I went on into Teachers College at Lock Haven and graduated from there in 1931.

EE:

What subject were you looking to teach? Was it elementary school, high school?

BM:

I specialized in English, social studies, and French for high school. But I never got a job in that, because I came out of school during the Depression time in '31 when they were hiring all the men who had worked in banks or someplace else and had lost their jobs. Most of them hadn't been back in the classroom, you know, since they left it. But anyway, they were getting the teacher's jobs. I did two years of waiting on tables from north to south and finally got a job teaching a rural school in Lycoming County, which was just outside of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

BM:

I have a sister, who is three years younger than I.

EE:

Did either of your parents go to school or were you the first one to go off to Teachers College and go past high school?

BM:

No, my parents never went beyond the eighth grade. Fact is, my father always said he never attended much of eighth grade. And it's one of the things that makes me wonder about college education, because my father could figure how much it cost to build a house. Now, I have a college education, and I gather you have, and I don't think either one could do that.

EE:

It's different skills.

BM:

But he was a carpenter, and one of the things that he did was to give the estimates on their jobs. Now, he had to know what he was doing or he wouldn't have kept his job, I'm sure.

EE:

How difficult was it—if you were going to Teachers College, I guess it was a state-supported school. I guess you were in school, then, in '29, when the Depression started?

BM:

Yes. I graduated from high school in '27, and that fall I went to the Teachers College. I wanted to be a nurse, but my mother was an invalid and I was necessary to help run the house at home. And added to that, I got a four-year scholarship from the Kiwanis Club, and believe me, when you think about it—the scholarship was for a year, $75. It paid my tuition, bought my books, and paid everything else that I had to pay at the college. Of course, I lived at home.

EE:

Still, $75, that seems pretty light compared to today.

BM:

Today, $75 probably wouldn't buy one of their books.

EE:

That's right. If you graduated in '27, it was a four-year high school. And the school was an all-girls' school at Lock Haven Normal School?

BM:

Oh, no. Our class was about half men. And I was also with the first group that went in as freshmen for the four-year college. It had been changed from a normal school to a teachers college the year before, but they did not take in a freshman class during the year, so that we went in as the first freshmen class. There were forty of us, and most of us went straight through and graduated as seniors four years later.

EE:

The school that this interview is for started as a normal school and became a teachers college, as most women's institutions started out that way. And then it was the late twenties that it became Woman's College, so there're a lot of changes going on. Was it called Lock Haven Teachers College?

BM:

Yes, at the time.

EE:

What is it now, do you know?

BM:

Lock Haven University. It is much broader in education now. We were afraid at the time during the four years, because of the Depression, that the school was going to be closed, and now they have taken over, I insist, half of Lock Haven and built many, many big buildings, in comparison to what we had.

EE:

With the Depression, that sort of makes everybody focus on home matters. You weren't aware, probably, of a fellow named Hitler at that time.

BM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

When did you first hear of this fellow named Hitler?

BM:

I don't remember when I first heard of him, but did you know that they used to put on radio speeches that we would get? And I remember getting up in the morning, because these would be given over there late afternoon or evening and we would get them in the morning. I was up at five o'clock on occasions listening to the speeches that were being given from Europe.

EE:

When you got this job in '33, the name of the school that you worked at, the rural school, where was that?

BM:

Allenwood. I was out in the country, but the address was Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

EE:

You were teaching, was this junior college-age folks or high school? What age was it?

BM:

I was teaching first grade through eighth. It was a rural school—one room, outside toilets, teacher responsible for the fire to keep us warm and for keeping the buildings clean. I also shoveled snow in the winter. The reason I got the job was because I had gone to a rural school and because I had had experience with older students. There was seven or eight boys and two girls that were in the older grades—very few students in the younger grades. I taught there four years, and then I went into Montgomery, Pennsylvania, and taught in fifth grade. I had three or four boys who went into the high school when I went into the grades. They said they were smarter than the teacher. They went to ninth grade, and the teacher only went to fifth. [chuckles]

EE:

[chuckles] I'm sure they'd give you some ribbing about that.

Probably teaching and nursing were two of the professions outside of the home that were probably acceptable for women, my guess is, back then. There weren't as many acceptable places for women to be outside of the home in that time period, were there?

BM:

No.

EE:

Did you live in a boarding house or have your own home? Where did you live?

BM:

Oh, I had to live in a boarding house. No single woman would have lived alone in those days. I had to be chaperoned. [chuckles] They weren't really boarding houses. I simply boarded with a family.

EE:

You were in Montgomery, then, when in '39, Hitler invades Poland and the war starts, is that right?

BM:

Yes, I would have been in Montgomery.

EE:

Were you still in Montgomery, then, Pearl Harbor Day?

BM:

Yes. I was in Montgomery when I enlisted. I taught there for ten—no, I didn't teach there ten years. I had taught ten years before I went into service. I had taught four years in the country, so I was there for about six years.

EE:

And you were still teaching fifth grade then at Montgomery when you went in?

BM:

No. I was in high school, because one of the women had married, who was teaching in high school in subjects that I was prepared to teach. She married a soldier, and so she left, and they promoted me to high school and hired a fifth-grade teacher. I was teaching English and social studies in high school when I went into service.

EE:

In social studies, you probably were working with some maps; my guess would be, not knowing probably where your future was going to lie in that area. Did you know where Pearl Harbor was when Pearl Harbor Day happened?

BM:

Well, we quickly found out where it was.

EE:

A lot of people quickly found out.

BM:

I don't know that I'd ever heard of it before.

EE:

It was a Sunday. Were you at the home of the folks you were living with? Where were you when you heard about it?

BM:

I was at the home, and I did not know what was going on until later in the afternoon because I hadn't had the radio on. I was working, doing some other work. There were only two of us in the house. The woman who owned the home was ill, was in bed, and technically I was taking care of her. Later in the day, her son, who was working, told us what had happened.

EE:

So he was early twenties, age to join the war, I guess.

BM:

Pardon?

EE:

The son, how old was he?

BM:

Well, the son never got into service. He was in his late thirties and was a foreman for Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, and he never got into service because of his job. He was deferred, and later became my husband. [chuckles]

EE:

So you're saying it wasn't too bad living in this house. [chuckles]

BM:

Well, I didn't become engaged until after I had been in service.

EE:

Were you dating him at the time of Pearl Harbor Day?

BM:

I had dated him a bit, yes.

EE:

Well, that's nice. And what was his name, his first name?

BM:

Herbert.

EE:

Pearl Harbor Day changed a lot of people's lives. A lot of people sort of thought the European war was their problem. There were some folks who didn't want to get involved with it, but we couldn't stay on the sidelines after Pearl Harbor. How long after Pearl Harbor Day did you get to thinking about what you could do for the war effort? What got you interested in the WAACs [Woman's Army Auxiliary Corps]?

BM:

Well, personally my mind was not on the war too much at this time, because my father was ill and died on the 19th of November, when Pearl Harbor was on the 7th of December. So you can see that my mind was not too much on the war. I had an estate to settle. I had a house in another section of the country that I couldn't live in. My sister wasn't interested in the house and lived in another section of the state.

EE:

Had your mother already passed on by that time?

BM:

Mother had died before that, yes. She died when I was in college. I had other cares and responsibilities. I think I've always wondered why I enlisted, and I really think it was because I was at loose ends, having no home anymore, no feeling of an anchor.

EE:

Had you stayed close to your dad those times when you were teaching?

BM:

Dad and I were very close, always had been. When he died, I think the world kind of just fell apart, because I had no home to return to. I was living in a boarding house, you know. Come summer, I didn't want to be there. I wanted out, I wanted away.

I rented the house and kept a section of it. I could get in the back into a section that had been built on, and I kept the back section for myself. I went home and lived in that in the summertime, and that's when I really got to dating the man who became my husband, when I moved out of my boarding house.

EE:

And this would have been the summer of '42.

BM:

Yes.

EE:

It was in that fall—October, I believe—that you joined the WAAC.

BM:

That I went into service, yes.

EE:

So you made the decision that summer that you weren't going to go back teaching, it sounds like. Or did you start off teaching?

BM:

Oh, yes, I went back to teaching. I was still teaching at that time.

EE:

There's an article you had clipped out and saved, that I was browsing through before we started this interview, about WAACs recruiting. You must have been one of the first recruits. Did you go down to a recruiting station? What were the mechanics of how you joined?

BM:

I had to go to Harrisburg. There was nothing locally. I might have enlisted in Williamsport. That I don't remember—where I really enlisted. You see, I enlisted first for OCS.

EE:

Officers' Candidate School.

BM:

Yes. I had my physical in Harrisburg, and it was a day, I can assure you, it was a day. [chuckles] We had both a mental and a physical.

EE:

So you had to take a paper test, a written test.

BM:

Oh, yes, we had to, and I came out very well as far as the mental side of the deal was concerned. Later, when I was in Denver, the officer there came to me one day and said, “Bernice, you are the one in the fifty women that are here who is closest to me. We have the same score, the same mental score, the same college education, and we each have a husband who isn't in service.” She said, “I'd like you to retake the test to see whether you could improve it.” If you retook the mental test that the army gave and increased it, they would change your number. If you fell back, they wouldn't change it. She said, “I can't do this, but would you go do it and see what you can do?” I took the test and increased it one point. [chuckles]

EE:

I guess it was pretty accurate. [chuckles] That's good.

Did you actually enlist, then, in October? You were talking about beforehand that although you were looking for Officers' Candidate School, they didn't call you up.

BM:

Well now, this was in the spring that all of this happened.

EE:

So the spring you had started testing, before you moved out, and then the deal is that they were going to call you back when—

BM:

Later, yes. And you see, they didn't take me for Officers' School, so I had to re-enlist then for the WAAC, just as a buck private. Then I went in, the 25th of October in '42.

EE:

And your boyfriend had no problems with you leaving town?

BM:

Well, basically we were just dating, I guess. Besides, he wouldn't have had any authority over me.

EE:

It's nice being in your twenties and independent. What did your sister think?

BM:

Twenties! I was already in my thirties! My sister was already married, and her husband was in service, in the navy, and she had two children. She wasn't interested particularly in what I did. I mean, she would have had no authority over it.

EE:

You went to Des Moines for your basic.

BM:

I went to Des Moines. We had a nice “warm” winter without clothes. It was 25 to 30 below zero, and we were wearing civilian clothes under that beautiful coat I showed you, because the army did not have clothing in sizes that fit the women who enlisted. I wore that men's coat for months. [chuckles]

EE:

Was that your first big trip away from home? You sound like you were pretty much in the same neighborhood—

BM:

I lived just about thirty miles from where I taught.

EE:

Outside of the state. Had you been outside of the state much before that?

BM:

Well, my first trip outside of the state was when I was probably seven years old. We went to Niagara Falls to visit the family for Christmas for a week one time. My father took us to Niagara Falls. And I had worked—I told you I worked in hotels as a waitress. I had worked from Maine to Florida as a waitress, so I had been out of the state and was accustomed to being alone, often by myself. I have always been able to move without a feeling of being alone.

EE:

Your work, you had to be independent?

BM:

I was an independent individual all my life. I think part of it was the fact that my mother was an invalid, and I never remember of her walking. By the time I was four years old, she was an invalid, and it was, “Bernice, get me this.”

EE:

Was it polio? What was her cause of her disability?

BM:

She never walked properly after my sister was born. Something happened. And later, the same thing happened to a friend of hers, about seven, eight years later, and they took care of it differently. But they told my father at the time, if he took my mother home with two children, she'd learn how to walk, and she didn't. Something happened in her spine, and the nerves in the spine were killed by the time they found out what was going on.

Anyway, it was, “Bernice, get me this. Bernice, go to the attic. Bernice, go here. Bernice, go there,” and I had to assume responsibility as a child, and I learned to keep on moving, I guess.

EE:

When you went out to Des Moines, were you going out there with other women, I guess, who were on that train headed that way? You were probably one of the older ones out there, I would think.

BM:

I was, yes. As this gal said to me one day when I was with the 2nd Mapping Squadron, that I was much too old to be doing the things. She couldn't see how I could. And, of course, I was only in my mid-thirties. A person in their mid-thirties isn't old, but in those days, kids twenty-one thought they were heading toward old age next week.

EE:

Kids still do, I can tell you. [chuckles]

BM:

Not at twenty-one they don't anymore.

EE:

You have been independent, and yet the military isn't a place to be independent, not at the front. You are in communal living. You're in, I guess, a barracks with forty people or so. What do you remember about that experience of living together with those women?

BM:

Well, you see, when I was doing the waitress bit, we used to live more or less in dormitories. I had got accustomed to that in a way. Probably there was never as many of us. I've lived with seventy-five, eighty women in one room in the army. But I don't know, I've always been able to draw my own circle and stay within it. And being older, I was not upset by a lot of the things that they were. I could read a book and not listen to what all was going on.

EE:

You were able to focus your attention.

BM:

I could focus my attention on my letter-writing or my reading.

EE:

What was a typical day at basic like for you?

BM:

[chuckles] Well, it was get up; get dressed when the bell ran or somebody screamed, whichever. Usually somebody screamed at you. Get up, get dressed, and fall out, and once you fell out, that was it for the day. You were pushed around. I think the fact that I had had to assume responsibility and do what my mother told me to do as a child, I learned to accept and take orders easier than a lot of these people did, although I was older. But when someone said, “Get up. Do this, do that,” I was not accustomed, as my kid sister got to be, of doing what I wanted to do without being disturbed, and I simply fell into the army life pretty good, I think. I managed.

EE:

I think you were telling me earlier you got up at about 5:30. How early were you getting up in the morning, 5:30, 6:00?

BM:

You mean, in service?

EE:

During the service time.

BM:

In service. Well, in different areas, you see, when I went to work with the 2nd Mapping Squadron in the afternoon, at five o'clock we didn't have to get up in the morning. But the others did, and lights would go on somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00, depending on what was going on.

EE:

When you were at Fort Des Moines, I think that was the old cavalry base, wasn't it?

BM:

I think so.

EE:

By the time you were there in October, were all of your instructors women or were there women and men?

BM:

Oh, no. We had 100-and-some men who had to enlist in the WAAC, and they weren't too happy about that. They were some of the original men who had trained the first women as officers.

EE:

They had to enlist in order to be instructors?

BM:

All of the men who were on the field when I went in had enlisted in the WAAC, and there were 100-and-some men on the field who were still bossing the deals that went on, and they were WAAC, W-A-A-C.

EE:

I hadn't heard about that. That's interesting. So they were doing things like drill. Were they teaching you the courses, too?

BM:

In some cases yes, and in some cases no. They were drilling in some cases, and there were different things that they did. But there were a number of women officers, because a number of women had been graduated by this time, and a number of them were beginning to assume responsibility under the direction of the men.

EE:

You were there for, I guess, about eight weeks for basic. Is that about right? Apparently, you stayed longer than that.

BM:

October, November—well, November, December, January.

EE:

You had a series of pictures. We were talking about your uniform, the travails they had the first eight weeks with basic. Was there a special school that you attended after that in Des Moines?

BM:

I went to a school where they were preparing us non-commissioned personnel in companies. That's what we were pulled out of in order to go to these various areas.

One of the funny things, I took the test one day for the “dot and dash” bit. They explained about the dot and the dash, and we listened to them and so on. We did fifty, seventy-five of them down a sheet of paper that we were given, and then we were told that we were to begin back up on the other edge of the sheet, and we were given another test. Well, after the first five or six, I realized they were exactly the same, and I thought—schoolteacher, you know—that can't be. They wouldn't be giving us the same. And I changed it, and, of course, I flunked the darn thing. They were supposed to be the same. Otherwise, I never would have hit photography school. [chuckles] And I often wonder where I would have ended up if I wouldn't have changed my dots and dashes.

EE:

Let's say the demand for that skill has decreased over time. So you failed that test.

BM:

Oh, yes, I failed that widely.

EE:

Did you have to take a photography test then to get into photography or was that just where you were assigned?

BM:

No. I was still in this other course, and they were pulling out girls. As we would come back at noon, they would pull out ten, fifteen, twenty, and take them for some place. I came home at noon one day and was told to have my bags packed by two o'clock, and I was taken over to an area where they were organizing groups. I was moved into another dormitory, and that's where they organized the group. They brought women from different areas. And then I was sent to Dayton from there. They didn't check me on photography. [chuckles]

EE:

How long were you at Des Moines? Was that just for a couple of weeks?

BM:

Just a short time, yes. I don't remember. Ten days or so.

EE:

And then from Des Moines, you were transferred out to Lowry Field in Colorado.

BM:

Then we went to Lowry Field.

EE:

Was the training at Lowry Field something that regular army folks would go there for—their photography training—and then they had a special class for WAACs?

BM:

Yes. It was a photography school, and there were classes for men. We weren't the only ones there, but our classes were separate.

EE:

That's what the article refers to, the first class of WAACs.

BM:

Yes.

EE:

Graduating.

BM:

And when we left, they brought in fifty new women. There was another group when we were sent out.

EE:

The slogan that was popular at that time was, “Free a man to fight.”

BM:

Yes.

EE:

Is that what you assumed you were doing by being trained as a photographer? You were freeing some man who was doing that job so that he might be assigned to duty?

BM:

Well, we figured we were accepting a job, maybe not one that the man had already been doing. But let's remember, we were going into things that were widening as far as the service was concerned, and the women were accepting jobs maybe that a man hadn't had, but that a man would have had to have taken. We weren't necessarily freeing a man.

EE:

But because the army was expanding its scope of things, you were keeping a man from having to be assigned to that. That's a good point. So as a result, though, my guess is that some of the people who might not have welcomed you probably felt that way because it meant that they were more likely to go to the front.

BM:

Well, I hadn't thought about it from that angle. That's possible.

EE:

Tell me again the story that you related about—and I assume this happened while you were in photography school—about the fellow coming up to you on the street. You were walking with a buddy.

BM:

Two of us were walking down the street of Denver one day, and some soldier came up, walked between us, took a hold of our arms very tightly, and started calling us everything but ladies, and wanted to know why on earth we were in uniform. He frightened us. We were near one of the big hotels, because he would not let us go. We walked into the lobby, and when we got into the lobby, he left us. We stayed into the hotel for a little while, and waited till he got away.

But now, other times when I was traveling, other soldiers were very nice to us. In fact, the day that we went, that I went out to Des Moines—of course, I was in civilian clothes and a group of us met in Harrisburg and got on the train. There were soldiers on the train, sailors, Marines—I happened to sit in a seat with a soldier. When they got on a train they always took a window seat if possible. We were talking, and all of a sudden the conductor came in and announced that the women who got on at Harrisburg did not belong there, they belonged in one of the sleepers. We were going to be there overnight, and we did not belong in the regular coach.

Well, we all had our suitcase, of course, and our traveling things, and some of the girls were sitting with sailors. The soldiers did not approve of the sailors taking us and our suitcases. They immediately sprang to their feet and took us to the place where we belonged.

EE:

That's interesting, because a couple of people have mentioned the little competition between the services.

BM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Were you considered army's property?

BM:

We were army women, and the navy could just stay away. I traveled back and forth, see. I ended up on the West Coast or in Denver area or Dayton, Ohio. Therefore, when I would go home or travel from one section to another, I was on the train, and this train bit was really interesting to me.

Once when I was coming east on the train, I got on in Spokane [Washington] and was seated with a group of men who had been out training on the desert and were heading to Europe. There were twenty-three of them who were traveling under a corporal, and they were all on their way east for a furlough before they went overseas. To keep these men dressed and sober, he made them go to the dining room with me. When we went into the dining room for breakfast, he'd make them get up, get dressed, shaved, and looking decent in order to take me to the dining room by seven o'clock. So I'd go trailing into the dining room for breakfast with twenty-three soldiers. [chuckles]

EE:

When you were out there working with 2nd Mapping, were you all housed in separate barracks? They had to set up for that. But were you able to fraternize, to attend functions with the men? This is a new social arrangement, I would think, for on base, this first group of women.

BM:

We always had our own barracks and mess hall but we could entertain men in our mess hall and social areas. Well, you see, when I was with 2nd Mapping Squadron, we were a family. When work was scarce we would use a truck and go on an exploration of the area. The large number of 2nd Mapping Squadron men never saw us, because they were stationed in South America, Mexico, Alaska, and Canada.

EE:

Your division of labor was such that you didn't run into one another.

BM:

No. We didn't see each other because we were in Spokane. Now, they knew that we were there, but they did not see us any more than these, the pictures that we would take and send back and forth. Some of the men really, once we got to having reunions, didn't even remember about our being there. So that we were not overpowered by men. The few men that were with us were overpowered by us, because there would be maybe fifteen, twenty men that would be working with us, but there were ninety-some women of us in the lab, plus the women that were running the company.

EE:

Not everybody trained at Lowry went to 2nd Mapping.

BM:

No. We were divided in five different ways. There were four mapping squadrons, one in California. We were in Washington, one in Massachusetts, and one in Florida. The fifth was in D.C. working on map construction.

EE:

You clarified something. In fact your squadron was working with folks flying over South America, Alaska, Central America, and I assume that those on the East Coast probably were doing something with Europe, and different theaters of operation were assigned to these squadrons. Is that how it worked?

BM:

No one was working in Europe. They were checking Canada, areas of the U.S. and islands near the U.S. The area maps were poor and the U.S. wanted good maps in case they had to protect the areas. They had started re-mapping areas before the war started and were simply doing it faster with our help.

EE:

When they finished mapping your areas, your squadron went to the Philippines?

BM:

Yes. My group, the 2nd Mapping Squadron, went to the Philippines, and we all wanted to go with them. They wouldn't take us. The colonel said that his wife would not allow him to take ninety women with him when he had to leave her at home.

EE:

That was just talk. What was the colonel's name?

BM:

Don't ask me.

EE:

The Lowry training was a couple of months? How long were you in Denver?

BM:

Three.

EE:

Three months. And then you went to—what was this place in Washington?

BM:

We went to Felts Field in Washington.

EE:

And that's near Spokane?

BM:

Yes. It was eight, ten miles or something outside.

EE:

So you could go into town if you wanted to.

BM:

We had a public bus service which went every half hour.

EE:

By then you were dressed and you could go into town. They would let you. [chuckles]

BM:

I had a few GI clothes then. We could go down to the entrance of the field and pick up the bus to Spokane. A navy outfit that was further out in the country than we were used the same bus system. Anyway, when we would be waiting in town to come out, there would be a lot of sailors there. One of the gals came home in the middle of the night one night, and she said, “Oh, what a night I've had.” She was one of the older women, too.

I said, “What was wrong?”

She said, “I was walking the streets with a nineteen-year-old who had just been sent here, and he was homesick. And I reminded him of his big sister.” [chuckles] And he had picked her up when they were waiting for the bus.

EE:

When you got out there, you say you worked two shifts, the women who were out there, the ninety women. Your shift was mainly from 6:00 to 2:30 in the morning? Or did you rotate?

BM:

Sometimes we rotated. When we were there in Spokane, we mainly worked one shift. It was after we got to Colorado Springs, where the men were getting ready to go to the Philippines that we worked two shifts. See, the planes did not have to have guns when they were in South America and Alaska, but when they were heading toward the Philippines, they had to have a gun and they had to have a gunner. So the men had to be trained, as well as the planes had to be changed. Now, our planes had five cameras on them. They used a B-25, and they had five cameras—one straight down, one straight ahead, one straight back, and one on each side.

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

Five cameras.

BM:

We had the five cameras, and they took quite an area. They always flew at the same height—I think it was 20,000 feet—and five cameras would snap at the same time.

EE:

How many square miles could you see at 20,000 feet?

BM:

I couldn't tell you. I don't know.

EE:

Pretty good ways, I imagine.

BM:

They flew back and forth in straight lines. We made the pictures from the film, and those were sent to Washington, D.C., where there was a group who took the pictures, found the checkpoints, and overlapped these photographs and made the maps. Now, there was also a geodetic outfit that went into the mountains or the areas that were being mapped and came up with certain things, measured the height and distance between mountains photographed.

EE:

Your outfit was processing these films. You said that they would fly back with containers of film that they had shot.

BM:

They developed them. The men developed them, because they had to know whether they got what they were after. They were all developed, as a usual rule, when they came back to us. We did not develop the rolls of film that the men did, because they had to know they had it. For instance, they spent three months in Mexico one time because of the fog, in order to get the filming that they needed. They couldn't get it. It was like it was here this morning. You're not going to go up above and do any mapping today.

EE:

Was their task then primarily cataloging what they had mapped?

BM:

We made the pictures, and then those pictures were sent to Washington.

EE:

So they would have the developed negatives. You'd come back and shoot off the negatives the size of the prints, and the prints would then be shipped to Washington.

BM:

The negatives were nice little things. I think one was 15 by 15 inches.

EE:

Big-sized. Well, the bigger the negative, the better to tell. That makes sense.

BM:

Well, but they covered a larger space.

EE:

This activity, you said, was seven days a week sometimes.

BM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Depending on the urgency.

BM:

Yes. We had that much work that we would work seven days and have one off.

EE:

You were there from springtime of '43 in Spokane till what time did you switch bases?

BM:

We left Spokane after Christmas on a troop train, and that was something else. [chuckles] We had two coaches, one for the men that were there, and the other one for the women. There were over a hundred of us women, and we were in the one coach, so you know that they really packed us in. I slept on an upper berth with another woman. She wasn't any larger than I. The car where they fed us was in between the two.

We, of course, were five days going down, because, you know, troop trains had to be worked into the normal schedule. We went from Spokane almost up to the Canadian border before we headed down to Colorado Springs. As we went down we would stop every now and then on the siding for a few hours.

And in order to get off the train, we had to look like ladies and gentlemen. So we'd have to get dressed, for we wore fatigues while traveling. And this was winter, so we had to wear our topcoats, and we'd just roll up our pant legs, but the men would have to get dressed. When we'd get off the train, they knew we weren't dressed. One place, they rolled us in the snow and made sure that our pant legs came down, so that we were a mess until we got back on. [chuckles]

EE:

You said that working out there was like a family, the way that you all worked.

BM:

Well, we were. We knew each other, we worked together, and basically we got along just fine.

EE:

Most of your socializing was in town or at the base?

BM:

Both. We had parties for holidays. One of the things that we had one time after we got down into Colorado Springs was a civilian party. This was just the women. We were fined if we mentioned anything GI, and we couldn't wear anything that was GI. We had to dress in civilian things. So you can imagine, our digging around in the little bit that we had. Elsie, the gal that I ran around with, and I went in town and we bought a pair of shorts and a bra that matched, and that's what we wore. Now, we wouldn't have been caught dead out on the street in those times. Nowadays, you'd be overdressed on the street in that much. But we would never have shown up on the street the way we were dressed for the party.

EE:

You met Elsie in training at Lowry? When did you first meet her?

BM:

She was one of the ninety people that came from Florida to Spokane, and she and I soon became very good friends and we're still friends.

EE:

What was her last name?

BM:

Ribiero. She was married. Her husband was in Puerto Rico. He and his father had a business in Philadelphia in refrigeration. He was working with the government in the supplying of the Atlantic ships. They took supplies from the United States to Puerto Rico, and the ocean liners would come in there and fill up with whatever food and supplies they needed. He was in charge of this because of his ability in refrigeration. He never did basic training. He was in service three days until they flew him out there because of his knowledge.

EE:

How long were you in Colorado Springs? Was it late '44 when you got to Colorado Springs?

BM:

No, the beginning of '44, because I was angling for time to go home to get married. I had become engaged when I was home in '43, and I wanted a furlough to go home. I had been born on my father's birthday and decided I should be married on my mother's, and that was the 28th of January. I got a furlough and went home to be married on the 28th of January.

EE:

Was this in '44?

BM:

Yes, in '44.

EE:

That part in Mr. [George] McDermott's book [Women Recall the War Years] is very nice; about how you wanted to make sure you were in the receiving line. You fed everybody so you could say hello to everybody.

BM:

Yes. We did not send invitations. The church I was married in was the church that I was baptized in and the church that my mother and father probably had been baptized in. My mother lived just catty-cornered across the street from the church. It was a beautiful night and warm. I left my uncle's home, which was the one my mother had lived in as a child, and went to the church just in my wedding dress. They had put an awning out over the front of this church. It was very small, just one room. And I stood under that awning and received all the guests that were there, and most of them then went to the reception, which was at my uncle's home across the street. I wanted to talk specially to everybody, so I insisted on cutting the wedding cake and serving it. That way I could talk to everybody as they came and got their wedding cake after they had eaten their other things.

EE:

You were only home for a couple of weeks before having to report back?

BM:

I had a two-week furlough. We rented an apartment for two weeks in Williamsport so we could entertain and visit friends and family.

EE:

Were you planning on getting out pretty quickly, then? Was that your expectation, that you would soon be leaving the service?

BM:

I had no idea.

EE:

I guess once you signed on, you were in for the duration, weren't you?

BM:

I was there for the duration, yes, as far as the army was concerned.

EE:

And in '44, they don't know when the duration was going to be.

BM:

No.

EE:

You went back to Colorado Springs. How long before you went to Dayton?

BM:

I'm trying to think when we went to Dayton. We weren't in Colorado too long. I left for Dayton in July.

EE:

So about six months.

BM:

Yes.

EE:

You finally left service in the fall of '45, December of '45?

BM:

Yes. I came out on the 17th of October and had gone in on the 25th of October, so there was only a few days' difference. I came out of service because I was an old lady over 35. [chuckles] I was put out on age. My husband said—and he had just married me, remember, a short time before—he said that if I was too old to be of any use to the service, he felt they should have sent him home two of the young things rather than me. [chuckles]

EE:

I hope you didn't let him get away with that one. [chuckles]

Some of the women I've talked to, in their jobs they did not exactly feel that they got a fair shake. In Spokane, it sounded like you all did pull together in teamwork and that the men treated you fairly. You related to me a little bit earlier trouble when you got to Dayton. Maybe you could tell me about that. Not everybody was charitable toward working with women.

BM:

No. Actually, as far as the basic treatment, I would say that there was only one person of authority that I had—and I didn't have any problems with him, but I never got to be any more than a sergeant because of that man. He did not believe—and he was the one, the man in charge of us from 2nd Mapping Squadron in Spokane area, Felts Field. He did not believe that women should be in service.

Now, when we went, we were WAAC, and we had our own table of organization. In a table of organization, there should be so many of this and so many of that as far as rank is concerned. Now, when we had our table of organization, we could have gone right on up as high as they were, because there weren't any in the company before us. But he did not believe that the women should have any rank above his men. Well, the main men that he had, had sergeant and corporal rankings. He did not believe that women should have anything above that. He kept us at low rank—and those of us that came from Dayton were PFC [private first class]. We got a PFC when we graduated from photography school. We came in with PFCs. The ninety women they brought from Florida were buck privates. We stayed that way.

One day, a long time after, there were seven or eight of us that were made corporals. It so happened that the next morning the colonel from Washington showed up, and he had been visiting our other organizations and found that some of the girls had one and two ranks in the sergeant area. He only saw corporals. He asked why, and the dear lieutenant said—which he said in the hall and it was heard by somebody, one of the women—he did not know which of us could be trusted with responsibility. And the colonel told him that he'd better know within a week or there'd be somebody from Washington out who could tell.

When we went home that night, all of us had gone up one grade. I was now a sergeant, along with the ones that had been made corporal, and as I said, I think we had the shortest in rank pay time in service: one day. I was one day a corporal, and the other women were one day in whatever their rank had been.

So from there, you see, I went into Dayton, Ohio, where practically everybody in uniform there had had foreign service. We were working, they said, not on this war, but the next war. We were working on equipment, improving equipment, and working with captured equipment.

There were fifty people upstairs on the third floor of the building—this big building that you saw I was working in—that were engineers and scientists from Germany that had volunteered, either before they were captured or after they were captured, to come to the United States. And they were working on the information that had been photographed in the factories and buildings in scientific areas in Germany as they were captured.

When they captured a factory or a scientific outfit, everything was photographed on microfilm. And it didn't matter; if it was a sheet of paper, it was photographed. And these people were taking that information and identifying scientific matter. Now, we weren't the only ones doing this, of course. Other labs were doing the same thing throughout the U.S. Who they were, I don't know. But when we didn't have anything else to do, we would do some of that microfilm work and take it upstairs to these fifty scientists. Now, they lived on the field. They had dormitories in a section of the field. They were brought to the lab in a bus that had the windows blacked out so that they couldn't see whatever was on the field.

EE:

Was this classified work? Did you have to have security clearance?

BM:

I don't remember of anything special other than we were told not to talk about what we did.

EE:

After you left Colorado Springs, were you still part of 2nd Mapping?

BM:

No. That's when I worked at the lab in Dayton.

EE:

Did it have a formal designation? You said it was at the field. Was it Dayton Field? What was the name of the field in Dayton?

BM:

It was Wright-Patterson Field.

EE:

And you were at Dayton through the end of the war?

BM:

Yes. I was discharged from Dayton, and I worked in this lab for the rest of the time that I was in service.

EE:

This was where the fellow kept you from doing color work because he didn't want women competing for the job after the war.

BM:

That's right. And that's how I got into this other lab.

EE:

This is where you reunited with Elsie.

BM:

Yes. She had been sent to an area where units were being formed for overseas work but could not pass the physical. She wired me to ask for her—Our Major did so we were only separated for a few weeks.

EE:

What was the hardest thing during your time in service for you physically or emotionally?

BM:

Hmm. I can't remember anything that was unusual physically. As you can see, I'm fairly good physical condition, and I'm going to be ninety in six weeks. I still hike. I still travel. I had two serious operations in the last six months, and I'm still able to fight you. [chuckles]

EE:

Yes, you are. I'm proud for you. I think you've got it together.

BM:

I was in very good health. I did whatever anybody else was able to do. The fact is I could do a lot more than some of them could do. I have always been active. I've had good health.

EE:

So physically wasn't—was the separation from your fiancée/boyfriend/husband, was that the toughest part emotionally? I assume he was still working at the steel mill when you went back.

BM:

Oh, yes. He worked in the steel mill until he died, had a heart attack and died at the plant shortly after our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He would have retired in another year and a half.

EE:

Was that the hardest thing emotionally, then, the separation, or what was it about the work?

BM:

I seemed to have been an individual who could adjust fairly well. You know I'm in a retirement center now, and some people who come here can't take it. They leave in a few weeks. I have changed. My husband died of a heart attack at work, and I taught two more years, had a fight with my boss, decided I wasn't going to starve to death if I quit, and the next day they were minus a schoolteacher. It was the end of the year, and I did not go back. I sold my house, and in January, when the new people took over, I left Pennsylvania with an automobile full of things to start an apartment with what I had saved in storage. Started off for North Carolina, not knowing where I was going and not seeming to care. I seem to be able to handle things.

My time in service, to me, was something I seemed to want to do, I enjoyed it, and I can't say that it was either an emotional of physical hardship—I put up with whatever I had to.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military a career or were you ever even encouraged to do that?

BM:

No, I never thought of making it a career. Several of the girls did. One of the women visited me just a couple weeks ago. She is living in Oklahoma City now. She's retired, of course, but I think she was in service for thirty years.

BM:

It doesn't sound like, from the nature of the work, that you were ever in physical danger or afraid—except maybe that fellow taking you by the arm on the street.

BM:

Oh, no. I was in the United States the whole time, and I can't say that I was ever in any danger of any kind.

EE:

A question which I'm supposed to ask you, which I'm never quite sure how to phrase it, the question is, what was your most embarrassing moment?

BM:

Oh, dear.

EE:

If not you personally, is there an embarrassing moment? You've told me some interesting stories already. Is there a particularly humorous event that you recall?

BM:

Embarrassing. I can tell you a funny one. I don't know that it was embarrassing. I went to a dance. You know, the big-name bands showed up here and there. This one was in Denver. One of the GIs had taken me to the dance, and I was the only WAAC in the place. There were lots of uniforms, but I was the only WAAC. This was shortly after we arrived in Denver. Of course, there were only fifty of us, and I was the only one that was invited that night by a GI to go to the dance.

I was stopped in the middle of the floor by a sailor whose sister had just joined the WAAC, and he was highly interested in my pocketbook and whether my GI underwear was really the color that she said it was.

EE:

And what color was that?

BM:

Well, our underwear, the pants and the slips that we had—not the bras, they never got to the bra—were the khaki. They were the tan. And I pulled up my skirt and showed him my slip, and we stood in the middle—his girl and the boy I was with, the four of us, stood in the middle of the floor while he questioned me and he went through my pocketbook and checked my slip color.

EE:

Well, that explains it. I had somebody tell me—I had not heard the reason, but I'm putting it together now—some woman who was in the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service-Navy] told me that she was so tired of wearing blue that she just loved getting fancy bras and underwear.

BM:

Well, we could wear whatever we wanted underneath our uniforms but we didn't have too much space to keep things.

EE:

You could wear whatever you wanted to?

BM:

We always had a foot locker but sometimes instead of a wall locker we just hung our uniforms under a shelf. Anything that wasn't GI had to be hidden under GI; therefore, you didn't keep too much that wasn't GI. You were issued so many of each GI apparel. When you had inspection, your footlocker was opened, and there was to be so many of each thing in there. Now, you could account for one that you had one or one that was dirty, was in the wash, but if you had to have five pairs of pants, you had to account for them, you see. You couldn't just have the regular things. Those regular things you had to hide. You couldn't have those in existence for inspection. Now, what we did was to put civilian things in our laundry bag or in the bottom of our footlocker. We all had civilian things. You would put them underneath. The inspectors knew that they were there. They had them, too, in their area. But you would put your other things either on the bottom, or if you knew inspection was coming, you could always put them in the bag that you kept your laundry in. They didn't go through that, and you could stuff things in there.

EE:

Are there some favorite songs that you recall from that time period? Are there some favorite songs or things that, when you hear, take you back to that time?

BM:

At the moment, I can't think of any.

EE:

Did you feel that you contributed to the war effort?

BM:

Well, I certainly tried to. Yes, I do. I feel that the work that we did in mapping certainly was very necessary. We didn't need the maps probably during the war, but I'm sure they have been used since. But as far as protection was concerned—unless in maybe Alaska they might have used some of our maps, but they would have had to be done sometime. And had we had to protect the United States, which there was always that possibility, we sure needed those, not only the United States, but North and South America and the islands.

EE:

What impact do you think your time in the military had on your life?

BM:

Basically, I'm a nosy individual. I want to see; I want to do. I feel I understand what happened during the war better by being part of it than if I would have been in the classroom. I feel it broadened my life, my understanding of people.

EE:

Did I read it right that you've been to 146 countries?

BM:

I have been a traveler. I ran away from home when I was less than three years old and had the whole neighborhood hunting me. Anyway, I have traveled widely. I've been in all the continents, including Antarctica, some of them many, many, many times, and 140-some countries I think I can account for very quickly.

I've traveled since I quit teaching. I've traveled as high as six months of the year. Up until recently, at least four months of the year I've been on the road. So you know I had to do something. I didn't definitely go back to most places. Some people go to the same place year after year after year after year. I can't understand them. Anybody that ran away from home before she was three years old isn't about to go back to the same place very often. Now, I have, London and places like this—particularly when I've been going through London to go to another area I would stop over for a few days.

EE:

That's right. There're plenty of places you have to go to on a regular basis to get anyplace else.

BM:

And you spend a couple days there, or I have spent as high as a week in London on my own. I've also spent two months in Australia and New Zealand on my own. I don't always go on tour. I like to stick my nose in other people's business.

EE:

What do you think about women in combat? Do you think that there are certain things that women should be kept from doing in the services or do you think everything should be opened to women in all positions?

BM:

Well, I don't know. I can see this thing of sexes—I've always been able to handle what I would call a sexual attack.

EE:

Harassment.

BM:

Harassment. I've always been able to handle it. I think I could live in close contact with strange men, as long as they could live in close contact with women. I think part of it is the fact that I don't think most men can live in close contact with women. I have wondered what I would do. I have looked at the situations that I've seen on TV and wondered what and how I could handle some of it myself. I think I could, personally. But the idea of actually going into battle, if I were trained for it, I probably could do it. I wonder at times why we need to go into battle. There's where I get lost, is to why we have to continuously fight. But they do.

EE:

You have a longer life span than most of the folks I've talked to on perspectives and you're able to present it just so wonderfully cogent. Most people said that if there was ever a war we needed to fight, it was World War II. Do you feel that way? Do you feel there was a special—that somehow that time, whether it's through patriotism or a sense of duty, that that was a different situation?

BM:

There were things certainly that needed to be stopped in World War II. I have often wondered how we held out of the European war as long as we did and why there was not more done to stop some of the things that were going. I have been in Auschwitz [concentration camp, Germany]. I have seen. Have you?

EE:

I've been to—what's the one outside of Munich?

BM:

Well, you've been in one of them and have seen. When you go through and see a room of hair that they've cut off and gold teeth that they've pulled out and the furnaces that they stuffed people in, and think of the graves that they simply lined them up on the edge of and shot them, I can't imagine my doing those things. I can hardly slap somebody. I guess I could, if necessary. I have. But the idea of taking a gun or forcing people into doing the things they were forced into and being put into boxcars as they were, I just can't see it, and I think it should have been stopped. Maybe we should have gone in before we did. Sorry.

EE:

In retrospect, I think a lot of people have that opinion.

This has been a longer conversation than I promised, and far too short, I can tell already. But I appreciate you sitting down with me for these few hours, and perhaps we can do a little longer next time. I don't know what your schedule is like. But I certainly, on behalf of the school, want to say thank for this today, and we'll get back with you.

[End of Interview]