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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Marthalou Hunter, 1999

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Object ID: WV0105.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Marthalou Hunter’s college years and her experiences in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 to 1947.

Summary:

Hunter discusses her education at three universities, including a negative experience at Duke University School of Nursing; a conversation between her mother and Eleanor Roosevelt; and her pre-war work in the serology department at the State Laboratory of Hygiene.

Hunter talks chiefly about her service in the WAC. She remembers learning about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; attending OCS at Fort Des Moines, forgetting to wear her exercise bloomers one day; preparing WAAC facilities in Daytona Beach; not having much to do at Fitzsimmons General Hospital; chance meetings with old friends while in the army; and reactions to the WACs from male officers and soldiers.

Topics related to Hunter’s overseas duty include traveling on the Queen Elizabeth; getting assignments at a Replacement Depot in England; working in serology and bacteriology in Salisbury; hearing Yasha Haifetz play in the Salisbury Cathedral; losing papers she was supposed to deliver to the Surgeon General in Paris; trying to get to Darmstadt to fulfill her original orders; trading two cartons of cigarettes for a plane ticket from Darmstadt to Paris; experiencing buzz bomb attacks in London; President Franklin Roosevelt’s death; and social life overseas.

Hunter also details her education and career after the war, including her attempt to return to Johns Hopkins but attending UNC School of Public Health instead; working at VA hospitals in Swannanoa, NC; Dublin, GA; and Atlanta, Georgia; and working with the Centers for Disease Control.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Marthalou Hunter Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

Today is the thirteenth of October. My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today I'm in Brevard, North Carolina, at the home of Marthalou Hunter. Is it Doctor Hunter?

MH:

No, no. Just Miss.

EE:

You've been through a lot of education, I noticed that.

MH:

I say don't put “Miss” on my tombstone. I haven't missed as much as you think I have. [chuckles]

EE:

Miss Hunter, thank you very much. We're here today to do an interview for the Historical Project. The question that I ask everybody to begin with I hope is not the hardest one, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MH:

I was born in Weaverville, North Carolina, in 1914. My father [Hiram Tyram Hunter] was a teacher, and we moved around every couple of years, until he went to Cullowhee, where he became president of Western Carolina University, it is now. It was Cullowhee State Normal Industrial School then.

EE:

Sort of like UNCG was a State Normal for a while.

MH:

Yeah, it was. This is the way history develops.

I grew up there. I wanted to be a doctor. I took all of the science I could get at Cullowhee. They did not have pre-med there, because it was a teacher's college. But I had the opportunity to go to the University of Arizona, and father scraped every cent he could and wrestled with his checkbook and sent me to the University of Arizona, where I had friends. The university did have pre-med. By the time I finished the two years there—that meant I had a total of four years—I realized it was ridiculous for me to think of medical school. I was already washing dishes to put myself through those two years out there. You can't wash dishes through medical school. And Father had two daughters coming along. He couldn't send me. The idea of borrowing vast sums of money was just out of my world. So I thought, “Oh, well, what will I do? I'll go to nursing school.”

Do you want me to tell all this?

EE:

Your life is what I'm here to hear about.

MH:

All right. Well, here you go. I'll just tell it like it was.

Without asking anyone's advice, I thought, “Oh, well, I'll just go to nursing school.” I didn't want to be a nurse. But if I did go to nursing school, I'd like to go in the South. Duke University was just three years old then. Duke University, previously Trinity College, after Mr. [James B.] Duke gave them all the millions of dollars. So I proceeded to write to the superintendent of nurses at Duke University and explain to her my situation and ask if I could maybe have an interview when I came back east after school. Got a letter. Very nice. “Yes.” So when I arrived home, I told Daddy I had a little business to tend to in Durham [North Carolina]. Well, Father was always eager to do whatever he could to help us do what we wanted to do. Now, he didn't tell me what to do. He didn't give me advice unless I asked for it. So we went to Durham, and I saw Miss [Bessie] Baker, who was superintendent of the School of Nursing. I was accepted to the School of Nursing. Well, I lasted one year before I got kicked out.

EE:

This would have been '36, '37, something like that?

MH:

And I did not have my bachelor's degree, because when I transferred from Cullowhee to the University of Arizona, I took all the chemistry and physics that I could at Cullowhee, but I got out there and I hadn't had my foreign language. That was a lower-division subject that everybody else had done in their freshman/sophomore year. I had to take more chemistries out there and biologies and the like. So I had more than enough total credits, but I didn't have enough upper-division credits to get my degree. At any rate, when I got to Duke the plan was, at Duke, that with two years of college and your three years in nurse's training, you would come out with your bachelor's degree and your nursing certificate. So I was way ahead in the game.

Well, I got there, found out that there were only about three or four of us in that class who had college work. The rest of them were high school kids, fresh out of high school. The ones that washed out—and if you know anything about the School of Nursing, there's a lot of washing out—went home before Christmas. So I had no trouble with my class work. The only thing new to me was History of Nursing and Materia Medica. Chemistry, they scratched the surface of chemistry. I pulled the whole class through chemistry. There was no problem. I never saw a patient I minded working with. I really enjoyed the work. But I stayed mad all the time. They treated us like we were kindergartners, and I thought, “They are trying to train us to be professional women, and they treat us like kindergartners.” So I just stayed mad.

And furthermore, even with Mr. Duke's millions, I thought the schools of nursing and hospitals would pay the students a little bit. Not Duke. You paid them two hundred dollars a year. And I had borrowed that two hundred dollars from my aunt. I didn't want to ask Daddy for any more money. So I borrowed that. We finished classes in the spring, and then I worked on the wards all summer. We worked full time then, nine hours a day, running back and forth on terrazzo floors, all summer, in Durham, North Carolina. No air-conditioning. And then fall came, and we paid another two hundred dollars for that year. So I borrowed that from my aunt, and we started in.

The School of Nursing had a plan that the sophomore class would welcome the freshmen in and call them their little sisters, and they would be big sisters to them. When we came in, our big sisters had run down the hall to welcome us, and that was the last we saw of them. They were off with their dates with the med students. We never saw them again. We were on our own. So we said, “Now, we are going to be really big sisters to these girls.” We decided we'd have a little party. The nurses' quarters at Duke Hospital were very nice, and there was a very nice large upstairs sitting room. So we were going to have the party upstairs. We invited our teachers and maybe some of the head nurses, and got our little peanuts and Cokes and whatever we were going to have. Well, Miss Baker, the superintendent of nurses, called the president of our class in to her office. The president was a really pretty girl from South Carolina, just so sweet. Miss Baker said, “Miss Black, I understand there's going to be a party over there.”

Miss Black said, “Oh, yes. We're going to have a party for our little sisters.”

Miss Baker tapped on the desk and said, “Miss Black, I want you to know that when there's a party given in this School of Nursing, I will give it.” Well, that stopped our party.

She said, “Furthermore, your class is getting a little too smart. I'm going to have to send somebody home from your class as a lesson to the rest of you.”

Well, Frances came home and told us what she had said, and we were all just aghast. It was so civil and innocent. Good grief! Well, we all got our peanuts and Cokes and gathered in mine and Julia Wooten's room and ate them. Didn't know what to do about it. Just had to un-invite everybody, teachers included.

I had a little session with the Lord one night. I said, “Now, I got myself into this without asking your advice or anybody else's, and I'm not going to quit. If you don't want me to be a nurse, you're going to have to get me out. I won't do it. And furthermore, I'm going to be happy about it.”

So I went to work the next morning happy for the first time. I was just going to ride with the punches and finish. During the summer, I had a very good chief nurse. She was in the first class. They had had time to graduate one class. And she was a Southern girl. I worked all summer on that ward, a GU [genitourinary] ward, running, carrying bedpans back and forth all summer. One day she said, “Miss Hunter, you don't look very happy.”

I said, “Well, I'm not.”

“Well,” she said, “why don't you quit? Why don't you leave and go and do something else?”

I said, “No. I got myself into this. I'm not going to quit. I'll finish if I never nurse a day in my life.”

This was very amiable, and she was really trying to help me. Well, Miss Baker had said, “These Southern girls are lazy; they're not good.” That was their attitude—hers, certainly—and it didn't make it any easier for us.

At any rate, after she called Frances Black in and told her that she was going to have to send somebody away for a lesson to the rest of them, one morning I was on seven to eleven, seven to eleven. I came off duty at eleven o'clock, and the woman at the desk said, “Miss Hunter, Miss Baker wants to see you in her office at two o'clock.”

I said, “All right.”

So I went upstairs and I took a shower and put on a clean uniform. I starched over there at two o'clock. I thought, “I bet this is it. I bet I'm the one she's going to send home.”

That's exactly what it was. She said, “We're asking you to cancel your reservation.” All my chief nurses and all the teachers were there in her office, and she had a piece of paper in her hand. She read my titles clear. I think the worst thing I had done, I had given a patient a wrong tray. Of course, that could have been serious if he was on a liquid diet and I had given him a full diet. I gave him a regular diet; he was on a soft diet. It wasn't—

EE:

It wasn't critical.

MH:

And she said that I had pinned a bandage to a man's knee. I couldn't believe I had done that, because we were taught how—those were the days of safety pins, no Velcro. I had changed the bandage on that knee, and we were taught to put our finger underneath the bandage, and if anything got stuck with that pin, it would be me. I was perfectly aware of that, and I did that every time. I couldn't believe I had done it. Incidentally, the patient with the knee bandage told one of my classmates that he had himself re-done that bandage. His leg had no feeling in it so he had not felt the pin. But I didn't argue with her. She said, “Do you have anything to say?”

I said, “No.”

She said, “Will you write a letter of resignation?”

I said, “No, ma'am. If you want me to leave, I will leave. But I am not going to ask to leave.”

“Very well.”

I said, “I'll have to get money from Daddy.” I didn't have enough money to get to Asheville from Durham. So I wired him—Daddy and I corresponded with telegrams in those days—to send me fifteen dollars for bus fare and meet me in Asheville.

EE:

You didn't tell him by wire why.

MH:

No, I didn't tell him why. He and Mother met me, and they didn't ask any questions. They were glad to see me. It was just like a little vacation. The next morning, I sat on the couch and Father paced the floor, with his pencil and paper, and I told him everything that had happened, everything I had done, said, everything anybody had said to me, had done. The day that I left there, we had a classmate from Florida. She went home, and we begged her not to go home. She said, “No, I'm not going to stay at a school that will treat a student of your caliber like that.” And she left.

Father wrote a letter then, with everything that I had said in it. He didn't write to Miss Baker. He wrote to Dr. [William P.] Few, the president of Duke University. You see, he was a college president, and Dr. Few was. They knew each other. He sent a copy of the letter to Miss Baker and to my roommate and to the president of the class and to the girl who went home and to the teachers and asked all of them to write him and tell him of anything I had omitted that was pertinent or anything I had misrepresented. He received not one contradictory letter.

I had asked Miss Baker after our interview, when I saw her in the elevator, “Miss Baker, will I get my two hundred dollars back for this fall?”

“No. Not unless you resign.”

She had already told me that they had thought about sending me home in the spring, but they had allowed me to work full time all summer. You see, free labor. And then they struck, after I paid the second two hundred dollars and started the second year. Well, I got my two hundred dollars back. We brought that subject up again—Daddy did, for me.

EE:

It probably didn't hurt having your dad—you know, your dad was president of a college then.

MH:

Oh, yes.

EE:

That didn't hurt.

MH:

No, it didn't hurt. And he knew how to attack this. He went to the top.

Miss Baker said, no, I had to resign before she could release two hundred dollars. So I wrote the damn thing, and I sent it to her and got my two hundred dollars back, which I had borrowed from Aunt Pearl. So that was the story of that.

Well, then I got home, and what was there to do but to go ahead and enroll in Western Carolina College and take up the classes that I needed to get my degree, then teach high school science, which I did for two years.

EE:

Did you get your degree from Cullowhee?

MH:

Yes, I got it from Cullowhee. But I had all those credits, and I just had to take a few education courses.

EE:

So you ended up teaching there in the Cullowhee area?

MH:

No. I taught in the Celeste Hinkle High School, right outside of Statesville, North Carolina. I was there two years, 1936 to 1938. Father knew I really didn't want to teach. But I was doing all right. It was a country school, and I enjoyed it. But he went down to Raleigh on business, had to go to the legislature, and he went over to the State Laboratory of Hygiene and talked to Dr. Hamilton, who was the head of the state laboratory. He told Dr. Hamilton about my situation and that I really had aimed for medicine, but I had given it up. He asked Dr. Hamilton what he would suggest. Daddy was not a scientist. Dr. Hamilton said, “I can use her.” So he wrote right away and offered me a job. But I had already signed on for the second year of teaching. It was close to the time for school to start, and I didn't feel like just resigning right then at the beginning of the year. So I explained that to him and thanked him for his offer. Well, the next summer he offered me a job in plenty of time, so I accepted.

EE:

You started working with him in '40 or '41?

MH:

[In] '38. I went down to the State Laboratory of Hygiene in Raleigh and worked there until 1942. When I got there, I discovered that what now is [The U.S. Department of] Health, Education and Welfare offered state laboratories scholarships for their employees to upgrade the state laboratories, and the number of scholarships depended on the size of the state laboratory. North Carolina—all the state laboratories had at least one a year. So I went to Dr. Hamilton when I learned about that. I said, “I know I'm the newest one here, but when it comes my turn, I'll be interested in going to further graduate work.”

He said, “The older people around here are really not interested in it. I don't have anybody to send this year. You can go this year if you want to.”

You could go anywhere in the United States, and these federal funds paid your tuition, bought your books, and paid you a stipend. My stipend was five dollars a month more than my salary at North Carolina State Laboratory! And so I selected Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health [in Baltimore, Maryland], and had a wonderful year. Oh, my goodness, it was wonderful, and all these wonderful, famous professors. Most of my classmates were MDs, coming back there for public health training. I was so naïve and ignorant, I didn't realize that I could have borrowed the money and gone back the next year and gotten my master's right then. But I was so happy and delirious over getting the one year's scholarship.

I went back to Raleigh to the state laboratory, and they put me back to doing the same tasks that you could teach a fifth grader to do in one afternoon. It was in the serology department. All doctors in the state sent in serology specimens for syphilis.

EE:

That was part of the blood test for getting married, wasn't it?

MH:

Oh, yes. And then the draft came along, and all of the draftees had to have a test for syphilis. We working tooth and nail.

EE:

Overtime.

MH:

Yeah. But I just was so bored. I thought, “Why did they send me up to Johns Hopkins and give me all that expensive training and come back and put me doing the same doodley thing?” It was important. It wasn't that I didn't think the work was important enough or that I thought I was the smartest thing that ever came down the pike. But I just was bored.

I found out they had a School of Welding in Charlotte, [North Carolina], and I was going to resign from the laboratory and go to Charlotte. Now, I was obligated to work two years for the lab after that scholarship. My two years was up. I was going to go to welding school, do something fun for a change.

Someone said, “Oh, well, if you're going to do that, there's this Women's Army [Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)] thing that's just started. I saw it in the paper today. Why don't you try that?”

I said, “I never heard of that.”

Well, I went down to the recruiting office and found out that, sure enough, there was a women's army that had just been established. And he said, “Why, certainly you can apply for that.” So he put in my application, and, bless them, I was accepted.

EE:

You would have been about, let's see—were you thirty then?

MH:

No, I was still in my twenties.

EE:

Late twenties?

MH:

Yeah. I had to take out my retirement money from the state. I think it was sixty dollars that I had in there. I got that out to pay my way to Des Moines, Iowa, which is where the first WAAC training center was. I didn't know what I was going to. The recruiting sergeant had realized I had the education and the background to be an officer, so he put in for Officer Candidate School [OCS].

EE:

And didn't tell you about it.

MH:

No. I didn't know officers and enlisted personnel. I didn't know anything about it, anyway.

EE:

You didn't have any military background in your family?

MH:

No.

EE:

What did your dad think about you joining the WAACs?

MH:

Well, they were pretty shocked at first, but then he got proud of me.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

MH:

I have two sisters younger than I.

EE:

A lot of households that didn't have any sons said they were more than happy to have a daughter join.

MH:

Yes they were. Oh, yes, they were interested in it.

EE:

They probably got to put the star in the window, didn't they?

MH:

I don't know. Well, we were up on a hill, out there in the woods. Nobody would see it.

EE:

Let me ask you a couple questions, because I'm going to get back to basic training. Your dad became the president of the college. Your mom, was she also a college graduate?

MH:

Yes. She had been a teacher. They had met when they were teaching. She had gone to Weaver College in Weaverville.

EE:

That merged to become part of Brevard College, didn't it?

MH:

Yes, it did. See, she was a Weaver. John Weaver was my great-great-great-grandfather, and he was the first white settler in the Reems Creek Valley. She graduated from Weaver College and taught. She met Father, who was from Madison County, which is right outside of Mars Hill [North Carolina]. He had gone to Mars Hill College. All of his brothers and sisters went to Mars Hill College. He was the only one that went further and got post-graduate work. He went on to Wake Forest [University] and then to Harvard [University] for his doctorate

EE:

So both of your family have a lot of education tradition. Your sisters, both of them went to college, too?

MH:

Oh, yes.

EE:

So you're joining the military. You're not one of these women who's joining to free a man to fight. You're joining because you're tired of where you're working.

MH:

Well, I was bored, yeah. That was it. It wasn't that I was so—

EE:

Overwhelmed with patriotism.

MH:

I was patriotic, too. Oh, yes indeed, I was. But down deep, that was—

EE:

Did that add to the boredom, because after Pearl Harbor day, a lot of things changed.

MH:

Well, I didn't know what it was before, see.

EE:

Do you have distinct memories of Pearl Harbor day?

MH:

Yes, I certainly do.

EE:

Where were you?

MH:

I was in Raleigh. It was Sunday afternoon. My friend, Jessie Parker, and I had gone downtown to a symphony concert that afternoon. When we came out, it was a bright, cold winter day. We went on up Hillsboro Street to where we lived, a boarding house. We stopped in the corner drug store to get a Coke. The drugstore didn't have any customers in there. The man was just standing there looking out the window. We went back and ordered a Coke, and a friend of Jessie's came in, recognized her and came back, and I was introduced. Jessie said, “What's Frank [her husband] doing now?”

She said, “He's just finished his classes.”

Jessie said, “Well, good. What are you going to do now?”

She said, “Of course, we don't know what we're going to do now.”

I started listening to the music. The man had the radio going sort of low. They went on visiting, and there was an interruption in the music and there was a man talking. It was so low, I couldn't understand everything he said, but he said something about the Japanese, Pearl Harbor, something. I couldn't really make sense of it. Well, the friend went on. I said, “Jessie, did you hear what that man said on the radio?”

She said, “No, I wasn't listening to that.”

I looked at the drugstore man. He was still standing up there, gazing out the window, smoking a cigarette. I don't think he was listening to it, either. And that was the announcement of Pearl Harbor. We finished our Cokes and paid our bill and went across the street to our boarding house. The girls met us at the door and said, “We're at war! We're at war! We're at war!” They had heard the message, and they understood what was going on. And that's how I found out about it.

EE:

You had been to Arizona, so when you went to basic, that was not your first big trip away from home. You had been away from home. You'd been to Baltimore.

MH:

And Father had been—we traveled around a good bit. When they married, he was teaching in Virginia at a woman's college, a female institute there.

EE:

So he had been to other places outside of the state, and come back.

MH:

Oh, yeah. And he had taught at Baylor University in Belton, Texas, and Dallas, something at Dallas, whatever it is there.

EE:

Well, SMU [Southern Methodist University] is in Dallas.

MH:

Yes, that was it. They had been moving every two years, until they went to Cullowhee.

EE:

So a typical academic cycle. Just go with it.

MH:

And then he was there the rest of his life. He died in '47.

EE:

What do you remember about basic training?

MH:

I didn't take basic training.

EE:

You went because of officer—

MH:

I went straight into Officer Candidate School.

EE:

Was that down at Daytona [Beach, Florida]?

MH:

No, that was at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. You see, they needed to train officers, and we had men, army men, teaching us.

EE:

Were you in the first class?

MH:

I was in the third OCS class. I remember we were standing retreat one afternoon out in front of the barracks and standing at attention or at parade rest. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some WAACs that were off duty. See, there were some basic training WAACs that had already finished and were working there on the post. I saw them go by on their way to the PX [post exchange], and I recognized a friend I'd been in college with at Arizona. Well, as soon as we were dismissed from that, I flew up there to the PX and found her. We were so happy to find each other. She had joined up and gone to basic training. She later went to OCS and became an officer. We weren't together ever in the army after my time there.

EE:

Were you in class with a woman named Mildred Caroon, or Inez Caroon she might have been known by?

MH:

I don't remember. I don't remember that name.

EE:

She was either in the second or third class at Des Moines, and she later became head of the WACs [Women's Army Corps]—the next-to-last director of the WACs before they merged into the army. She was married to a Bailey. Mildred Bailey.

MH:

You know, she may have been in my class. That name is so familiar, and I read about it in army things.

EE:

She retired in '75, I think.

MH:

She may have been in my class.

EE:

She was from North Carolina.

MH:

One of my friends was from North Carolina. She was a lawyer, but she died after the war.

EE:

So you were at OCS there for about two months, then?

MH:

Yeah, about the last two or three months.

EE:

Where did you go after OCS?

MH:

After OCS, we were given a couple of weeks' leave to go home and visit. There were three hundred of us sent on the same order to Daytona Beach, where we opened up that second WAAC training center.

EE:

In the tents.

MH:

Well, no. You see, Daytona was drying up because there weren't any tourists. Nobody was going to Daytona. We took over the hotels and put our troops in the hotels. We officers, three hundred officers, got on our fatigues, and we scrubbed those hotels and we arranged them. And then it was several weeks before we got —well, we had to do all that. This was physical labor. We had a few men, officers and enlisted men to help us. We had a living allowance, and we got our apartments or houses or something, but we got those hotels ready for the troops. I was down there for several months. The troops came. We trained them.

EE:

What was your responsibility in training? Were you leading drill or what were you doing?

MH:

I was not a company commander. I was one of the junior officers. We had to teach the recruits classes, map reading and physical training, etc.

EE:

You were routed that way because of your previous teaching experience?

MH:

No, because they needed teachers. It didn't make any difference.

EE:

You could have been a plumber, but they needed a teacher.

MH:

That's right. An army man explained that to me. He said some of that in the army is deliberate. He said, “If you take two men, an engineer and a lawyer, and they're in battle, and they need a bridge thrown across a river, the army has a manual on how to build a bridge for immediate use. They don't put the engineer in there. They put the lawyer to do that, because he doesn't know anything about engineering.”

EE:

And he'll follow the book.

MH:

He will follow the book. If you put the engineer, he would start thinking out better ways to do it to make it better. And it made sense. I think a colonel explained that to me. No, the army didn't care what you did. They knew what they wanted you to do, and they'd have a manual and tell you how to do it, and you jolly well better do it. [chuckles]

EE:

How long were you down at Daytona then?

MH:

Let's see. We went down there before Christmas, and I think I left there that March.

EE:

What was your rank when you came out of OCS?

MH:

Well, we were still in the WAAC, Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, and we were called first officers, second officers, third officers. I was the equivalent of a second lieutenant. We weren't taken into the army until I left Daytona. I took the first company out of the Daytona Training Center as the company commander. That's where we had tent city, where we got companies ready to go out into the world, into the United States. Nobody was going overseas yet.

I took the first company that went into the 8th Service Command, which was headquartered in Denver, and consisted of about eight states. We went to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Fort Frances E. Warren. Fort Warren was a quartermaster training center, and we were assigned to the headquarters company. There was a general in charge of the training center there, but a colonel was the commander of the post.

It was an old, old post. They had a rule that was still on the books, they said, that you were not allowed to shoot Indians from the barracks window. [chuckles] That's how old it was. And the people in Cheyenne, they had no use for the soldiers. They were very uppity about soldiers, until their brothers and sons began to be in the army and they began to change and think a little bit more of us. So it was hard for us.

EE:

If they had no use for soldiers, what in the world did they think of WACs?

MH:

Well, they didn't think too much of us.

EE:

Did you get a lot of verbal abuse?

MH:

I didn't, but I did have a thing that happened there. The girls were assigned all over the post to do all sorts of things. They were secretaries. They worked in the hospital as nurses aides. They worked in the motor pool, and they worked as mechanics. They drove trucks. Whatever they needed done, the girls did. I was simply their company commander, and I had two officers under me. They were nice women.

EE:

Were you a second lieutenant then or were you a higher ranking?

MH:

I was second lieutenant. I got my promotion to first lieutenant while I was there, and then we were taken into the army there.

EE:

At Cheyenne?

MH:

Yes, at Cheyenne. And I was doing all right. I was getting along fine. I bought a bicycle, and I bicycled around all over the post. We had a WAC major from Omaha, [Nebraska], come to visit us and inspect to see how we were getting along and what was going on up there. She interviewed the women, then she interviewed we officers. She looked at my 201 file, which was your military history and gave all your background. She said, “You look like you ought to be a laboratory officer instead of a company officer.”

I said, “Oh, well, I thought that was what I was going to be doing. But this is what I'm assigned to do, so I'm doing it the best I can.”

She said, “I'll see what I can do about that.”

Well, it was only a few weeks before I got orders to go to Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, and I was in laboratory work from then on.

EE:

When did you finally leave the service? Stayed in for the duration, I guess.

MH:

In '47. I was two years in the United States. They sent me—well, at Fitzsimmons the laboratory was crawling with officers, men officers. I think they sent any man that they didn't know what to do with, they'd send him there for a job. And there was nothing to do! I didn't have anything to do. I used to sit there and read a book all day.

Well, they put me in charge of the serology department. I hadn't been in the lab for years. But I was replacing a man there, an officer who was head of the serology department. Fitzsimmons was a pretty big hospital. In that lab there was a woman civilian and two sergeants, army sergeants, under the laboratory officer in charge. Now, I was not in charge of the whole lab. There was a major in charge of the lab. It was just like any diagnostic laboratory.

Our chief of the lab sent a questionnaire around, what we thought of things, and I answered it the best I could. We were to describe what we did each hour of the day. There was a place for comments. I went into his office, and I said, “Sir, I have a comment. I didn't write it down. I thought I'd talk it over with you before I wrote it down.”

He said, “Yes? What is it?” I had only accounted for 80 percent of my time.

I said, “You know, I have two perfectly healthy men in there, and the idea of the Women's Army Corps, as I understand it, was to replace men for active duty. I can do everything they do. I can do it.”

And Miss Meek, who was the civilian there, had worked there for years. She knew where every bottle and every box was in that lab and what it was good for. She taught me how to read colloidal golds. I'd never done them. That's a serological test. And then the next week, because I was an officer, I had to read them down to her and she wrote them, and we both thought that was funny.

EE:

Using an ultramicroscope? What were you using?

MH:

No. It was a biochemical test.

I said I could do anything those sergeants do, and I really didn't have enough to do.

“Oh, indeed not!” He said, “Officers are not for routine work. Officers are for research and command.”

Well, I couldn't argue with him about it. It wasn't but a couple of weeks I got orders to get out of there. He got rid of me and sent me to Daytona Beach, which was where WAC officers who were out of a job went. Miss Meek wrote me and let me know that he never replaced me with another officer.

EE:

Back to Daytona.

MH:

Yeah, to Daytona. So I had a fine time there. We marched and drilled and took some more map reading and stuff like that, and just filled time. I was assigned then to—

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

EE:

You say you went to Mobile, [Alabama], before you went to Daytona for a short stay, as well?

MH:

I went overseas from Mobile. I think at Daytona, they found me a job down at Mobile, and also there were lab officers crawling around there, too.

EE:

When you went overseas, was that before the end of the war?

MH:

Oh, yes. I started to go home early one afternoon, to sneak off and go back to the barracks, and it was a good job I didn't, because about twenty minutes after four I got a telephone call to come over to the adjutant's office. So I went over there. He said, “Would you like to go overseas?”

I said, “Yes, sir!” I said, “Now, hold on. Not as a company officer.”

He said, “Oh, no. No, no. A laboratory officer.”

So I was sent then back to the WAC headquarters. That was really great. I was glad to get out of there, because they didn't need me. They had too many officers as it was. They were sitting around behind doors reading newspapers all day. Well, I had told the officer there that I could put down reading Dorothy Dix columns when he said, “You haven't accounted for 100 percent of your time here.” Well, that's when he got me out of there. I went to Fort Oglethorpe, which had been established in [near] Tennessee.

EE:

In Chattanooga [across the Georgia border].

MH:

That was for companies that were getting ready to go overseas. So where was I put? I was put in charge of a company! Well, I wasn't too surprised. I was the company commander of this newly formed company that was going overseas. And so we stayed there a couple of weeks, two or three weeks, and then we were sent to Camp Shanks, New York. Stayed there a week or so until our ship left, then went down by train to New York and boarded the ship. We went over on the [RMS] Queen Elizabeth, which was a troop ship then. We arrived, on the Queen, in Greenwich, Scotland, on D-Day, June 6. We didn't know anything about D-Day. We'd been on the water. The Queen could have made it in three days, but it took six days because we zigzagged, because we were unescorted and we were dodging the German submarines.

EE:

I was going to say, that's a pretty big target to be unescorted, isn't it?

MH:

But she was fast, and she was faster than the submarines. There was a plane that escorted us out of New York Harbor for about an hour, and then he turned and went back and we were alone. That night, it was cold. We were up there near Labrador, [Canada]. The next morning, it was hot as a match. We were down at the Azores. See, the German submarines didn't know where we were going.

EE:

Right.

MH:

And so we made it. On that ship, the first night I was down in the officers' lounge after dinner—it's a British ship. It was owned by Great Britain, but it was used by the Americans as an American troop ship. So they had a British crew running the ship, but American crew in charge of the passengers. One of the officers came into the lounge there, and we were talking. I said, “What's your name? I'm Lieutenant Hunter.”

He said, “I'm Lieutenant [George] Pascal.”

I said, “Where are you from?”

He said, “Wake Forest, North Carolina.”

His father was the Greek professor at Wake Forest College when Daddy was there. Daddy had started the summer school for Wake Forest. Lieutenant Pascal's sister, his older sister, was my age, and I'd been in their home many times. He was just a little old kid then.

EE:

That's great.

MH:

So we had a good time. He told me a funny story. See, he was just on that ship, just going back and forth across the Atlantic on the Queen. In Scotland, where they landed, liquor was rationed, hard to get, so they'd stock up in New York to tide them over for the trip. Well, his friends kept saying, “Pascal, we want some of that white lightening down there.”

“Oh,” he said, “you don't want that.”

“Yes, we do. Bring us some.”

If he had time, when they put in at New York, he'd run down home for a visit. So he went down, and he bought a half gallon of white lightening in a fruit jar. They all had a taste of it, and that's all they wanted. So it had been rocking back and forth in his closet for several trips. They took on a British colonel who had been in the Pacific. He still had his Pacific clothes on, his shorts. He was a wiry, little man, and a hard drinker. They came to George Pascal and said, “George, he's drunk us dry. We're out of anything, and he's wanting something else to drink. Don't you have anything?”

He said, “Yeah, I've got something. Bring him up.”

So they took him up to George's quarters, and he got out his white lightening. He put out a water glass, and he said, “Now, say when.” The colonel didn't say when; so George just filled her up. He said the colonel drank that down like a glass of water.

EE:

And lived?

MH:

They landed the next day in Scotland, and they took a picture of the crew on deck. He said, “You didn't have to see him coming. You could smell him coming.” [chuckles] But he lived through it. He was ready to get off.

EE:

He didn't ask seconds, I imagine, did he?

MH:

Well, no, he didn't. I don't know whether he finished that glass, but he took a good big slug of it. He may have drunk it all up, I don't know. George ought to have been whipped for doing that.

EE:

How was your experience with the soldiers, the male soldiers? Were you given any special treatment or special grief, being a WAC?

MH:

No.

EE:

Most folks were professional in their interaction?

MH:

They were. When I was in Cheyenne, they asked me to come over and talk to a class of the men over there in the quartermaster training and tell them about the WACs, and I did that. They just wanted me to tell them what we were all about, because we were new to them. When we arrived in Cheyenne, nobody had ever seen a WAC, and they were hanging out windows and up in trees and everything, watching us march from the station to the post.

I had to bring some funny things into my talk. I just can't give a speech without telling something funny. Well, later this very stern officer came to me, and he said, “I want to apologize to you.”

I said, “What for?”

He said, “Those officers laughed, and I want to apologize for them, and I'm going to give them a good, stern lecture.”

I said, “But sir, they weren't laughing at me. They were laughing with me. I wasn't insulted at all. They were perfectly polite.”

In Paris one day, I was walking down the street. There were a couple of GIs standing there, and they saluted me and I saluted back. They said, “Ma'am, what is that big old building over there?”

I said, “That's the Louvre. It's a wonderful museum, probably the best one in the world; and if you go over there, you'll see things you've seen in your textbooks in school.” So they came with me, and we went through it. They just watched. They were awestruck. They had never seen anything like that. We saw the Mona Lisa and we saw the—

EE:

Venus de Milo.

MH:

The Venus de Milo, everything. We came to a painting of peasants at the supper table, and one of the boys said, “Oh, gosh, that looks like home!”

But, no, I never had anybody be impolite to me. I didn't have any difficulty with any officer or enlisted man.

EE:

Let's take a break for a second.

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

You land in Scotland, and you go down to London. You're not a CO [commanding officer] in London, are you?

MH:

Oh, no.

EE:

You're back in a serology lab?

MH:

Well, first I stayed three weeks in the Replacement Depot in northern England. All the WACs—see, I was in charge of this company, one of the companies. There were three companies of us, all on the Queen. The Queen had thousands of men and six hundred WACs, and we were divided into three companies, and I was company commander of one of those three, just for the trip to Europe. They met us at the harbor. A train was there, and they put us on the train, the WACs. We got off the ship first. They took us down to this replacement depot in northern England, where we were then assigned and the companies were broken up. I mean, that was just an ad hoc situation. And so everybody got assigned—

[Telephone interruption]

EE:

So they split up the companies, and you're working—

MH:

I was finally assigned. I thought they were going to send me back home. They sent a WAC officer up from London then to check on everybody. The WACs would be sent, say somewhere in England had asked for thirty WACs and they sent them, certain kinds of WACs that were trying to do certain things, and officer here, an officer there, two or three. I just hung around, waiting to get the next order, and I thought they were going to send me home. This WAC officer came up from London to see how we were getting assigned and everything. So she interviewed me, and she said, “You look like you're a laboratory officer.”

I said, “Oh, yes, ma'am, I am.”

“Well, we may have to assign you to the surgeon's office in London.”

Well, that was like throwing Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. That was great. And that's exactly what they did. They sent me down to the chief surgeon's office. Well, he didn't know what to do with me, either. He sent me to the First Medical General Lab, which was, well, the First Medical General Lab for the ETO [European Theatre of Operations] in Salisbury, [England], and that was a wonderful assignment. I was there for—

EE:

For the entire ETO?

MH:

Yeah, for all the ETO. They had field officers, field medical officers, in the field, in the battlefield, and all over, and they were bringing in troops, you know, thousands and thousands of Americans and Canadians. The southern part of England was just solid troops. I don't know how they could stand us. But England was just crawling with troops. They were getting ready for the push, you know.

EE:

What was the work that you were doing there? I imagine, as opposed to the screening work you had done earlier, was it diagnostic?

MH:

It was diagnostic, yes. I was put in serology and also in bacteriology. I worked in bacteriology, too.

EE:

There were men and women working together in that laboratory, then?

MH:

Yes. I was the only woman. I was the only WAC. The only women in the service were nurses, army nurses. A number of these people had been over there before we got into the war, before the United States got into the war. They just joined the army from wherever or whatever they were doing over there. The buildings that we were in had been a gift to the British Ministry of Health. The Boston Red Cross had given them these temporary buildings, and they're there to this day, as far as I know. It's called Harnham Hill, just outside of Salisbury. Then when we got into the war and we came with troops to help the British, they loaned us back these buildings.

EE:

Was it on the Stonehenge side [west] or the London side [east] of Salisbury?

MH:

I guess it was on the London side, because I bought a bicycle and when we bicycled out to Stonehenge, we had to go through town to get there.

EE:

Salisbury's cathedral's a great spot.

MH:

Oh, yes.

EE:

I'd sit there under their cedars of Lebanon right there in the courtyard. That's beautiful.

MH:

So you've been to Salisbury?

EE:

I took a class in college on cathedrals and castles, and the first place we studied was Salisbury, because it's one of the oldest and it's one of the most complete cathedrals.

MH:

It's the only one that was built in one century.

EE:

In 1120 to 12-something.

MH:

Yeah, that was sort of my home. I heard Yasha Heifetz play in that cathedral.

EE:

Oh, my goodness.

MH:

I had not liked violin music. I just didn't like it. But I knew he was a famous violist, so I went to hear him.

EE:

Was that a USO [United Service Organizations]-sponsored thing?

MH:

I guess it was. They had a lot of entertainment for the troops, because there were so many troops around there. They had plays, a good play.

EE:

Was that area bombed?

MH:

No. It was off the path, the German bomb path to London, so we didn't have any bombs down there. I decided I'd go to the concert. I thought, “I'm going to give this violin one more chance, and if I don't like Yasha Heifetz in Salisbury Cathedral, I just don't like violin music.” It's squeak and it's squawk and scrape. Well, he squeaked and squawked and scraped, and I thought, “Well, forget it. I don't like violin.”

Well, then a few years ago, not long before I came up to Brevard, I had a physical, and my doctor said, “Have you noticed you have a little hearing loss?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “It's not much, but you test lower than it did last year.”

The first thing I realized, I'm enjoying violin music! I had been hearing too much. I was hearing overtones that I wasn't supposed to hear. And so I like it now.

EE:

Just go back and get Heifetz in Salisbury and you'd be all right.

MH:

Yeah. I'd like to do that again. That's funny. I never have told an ear doctor about that.

EE:

Were you then at Salisbury—Harnham Hill—through the end of the war?

MH:

Yeah.

EE:

Did you stay on through '47?

MH:

I left there and went—well, see, we were the laboratory for the ETO, the whole European Theatre. Then when France fell, we took France and the laboratory moved over into France. They left me behind, because I was the only woman assigned to the laboratory, and the boys didn't want me in Paris with them, I think. At any rate, our laboratory in Salisbury became the United Kingdom Laboratory. I was still in charge of the serology department—not the whole lab. And so I stayed there.

And then Germany fell, and they moved on to Darmstadt—the laboratory did, the Theatre laboratory—and they wanted me to come there. And so I got a request to come to Darmstadt. So I asked my officer if he would give me a couple of days in Paris so I'd have a chance to see it—I hadn't been over there—en route to Darmstadt. He said, “Oh, yeah.” He said, “I've got some papers that have to go to the surgeon general over there in Paris, and you can deliver them.” So he gave me orders to be a courier, and then I could get on the train and use my other orders and go to Darmstadt.

So I did, I delivered the papers. No, I didn't. We went over on a boat across the [English] Channel, got into Paris at night and loaded everything on a truck, put me up in the cab with the driver. We got to my hotel. I had a little bag, a little soft zipper bag that held everything important. It had those papers I was to deliver, my 201 file, my dress pumps [which we were allowed to wear when we dressed—the nurses hated us, because they couldn't wear pumps] and my first issue of silk stockings, first silk stockings I had had since the war began.

EE:

Paris is a good place to put them on.

MH:

Everything was in that bag, and it was gone. The GI that was sitting back on top of the baggage said, “Oh, I saw something rolling around in the street back there.”

EE:

Thanks for your concern.

MH:

Well, we went back and looked, but anything rolling around on the street in the middle of the night in Paris was not there long. It was gone. So I lost the papers, and I had to go to the surgeon and say, “Sorry, sir, I lost the papers.”

He said, “That's all right. Just have a seat. Have a cigarette.”

He came out and gave me some orders to go to Le Havre, [France]. I said, “But sir, I have orders to go to Darmstadt.”

He said, “You were assigned to me, and I need a laboratory officer at Le Havre. And so you are going to Le Havre.”

EE:

Taking advantage of your misfortune.

MH:

Yeah. I was assigned to his office, and he could do anything he wanted to do. He said, “I know that officer.” He knew the officer in Darmstadt.

EE:

He won't mind, right?

MH:

Besides that, he outranked them both. So I went to Le Havre.

EE:

How long were you there?

MH:

It seemed forever. A couple of months, I guess. Three months, maybe.

EE:

Were you there when VJ [Victory in Japan] Day happened? Were you there that long, until August?

MH:

When was VJ Day?

EE:

Germany fell in May, and Japan surrendered in August.

MH:

August. I guess I was over at Darmstadt by that time.

EE:

There was probably a pretty good party both on VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ Day. You probably couldn't remember, unless they kept you at base.

MH:

No. I was in Bournemouth, [England].

EE:

For VE Day?

MH:

I guess it was VJ Day that I was in Bournemouth, that night. Oh, and the town went wild. There was an officer from that Darmstadt lab who was on his way home, and Le Havre was a small hospital unit that took care of whatever troops came in. See, it was a port of embarkation and debarkation.

[Telephone interruption]

EE:

You were at Le Havre. Did you ever get to Darmstadt?

MH:

I finally made it. There was an officer from Darmstadt that was on his way home, a captain, medical officer. And so he knew—they were looking for me.

EE:

They wondered where you were.

MH:

They wanted me to come on. They needed me. They really did. After work—I say work—that lab was a very small operation—he was waiting for the boat. That's all he had to do was just sit there and wait for the boat. He was ready to go home. We'd go to the officer's club and drink a little bourbon and visit. I said to him, “I'm sick and tired of this. I'm going AWOL [absent without leave].” I had never before been tempted to go AWOL.

He said, “Really? Where are you going?”

I said, “I'm going down to the Riviera. I've heard so much about it, I want to see what it's like. I'm going down there.”

He said, “If you're going AWOL, why don't you go somewhere where it'll do you some good?”

I said, “Like where?”

He said, “Like Darmstadt. Go over there. You've got a ticket from Paris to Darmstadt in your pocketbook. Why don't you go over there and tell the colonel to get you out of here. He can do it. All you have to do is get a three-day pass to go to Paris.”

So I did just that. I got a three-day pass, went to Paris. I had my ticket to Darmstadt, took that to the train station, got on the train and went to Darmstadt.

EE:

It sounds like, more than you ought to have had, you had to fight the army to get where you need to be.

MH:

Well, I did.

EE:

This is like the third or fourth time you've had to tell them what to do with you.

MH:

He saw a laboratory officer come through. He needed one. He snagged me. He didn't care what Darmstadt needed.

EE:

But see, for lesser likes of us, we wouldn't have had the nerve to say, “Get me out of here.” You did have some nerve to say, “I want out.”

MH:

Well, they wanted me there, too, in Darmstadt. They were upset, too. So I went and said to the colonel, “Get me out. I'm going stir-crazy.”

He said, “I can do it. It'll take two or three weeks, but I think I can do it.”

I said, “How am I going to get back to Paris?”

He said, “I don't know. How did you get here?”

I said, “Well, I had my orders that sent me here.”

He said, “You're not assigned to me yet. You're assigned to Le Havre. I don't have the authority to give you orders to go anywhere. I can't send you back.”

EE:

What's a girl to do?

MH:

There was an officer there who had been in England, and I knew him. I didn't know he was there until I got there. So I said to him, “Bill, what in the world am I going to do?”

He said, “Have you got any cigarettes with you?”

I said, “Yes.” I smoked then, but I didn't smoke much. There was a big black market then. I was not into the black market, but I did have some extra cigarettes just in case, because Germany was really hot in the black market. They were worth about eighty dollars a carton, and they had been more than that. I had two cartons in my exempt bag.

He said, “How many do you have?”

I said, “I've got two cartons.”

He said, “That'll do it.” He had a government car. He said, “I'll take you out to the airport, and you just speak with the man there at the desk [I don't know whether he was a GI. He was American. I guess he was a GI] at the ticket window, and tell him on the side that you need to get to Paris and you have some cigarettes.”

I did that. It worked like a charm. He said, “I'll see you out back in ten minutes.” [chuckles] I gave him the cigarettes; he gave me a ticket.

EE:

Where's that medal for enterprising, because, see, I think that's very enterprising.

MH:

Well, I had help all along, you know. I couldn't have thought all that up by myself.

EE:

Like I say, to accept those kind of thoughts, you had to be cagey yourself, I think.

MH:

Yeah, you had to learn the ropes. So I had no trouble. Coming on the train from Darmstadt, there was a French girl in my compartment, very pregnant. I had the lower berth, and I said, “Well, I know who's going to sleep in the upper berth tonight.”

“Oh, no. No, no. My ticket says upper berth. No, I have to have that.”

I said, “No, you don't.”

Well, she insisted, yes, she had to. She said it's not as bumpy in the upper berth and next to the wheels. Well, she probably was right, and her doctor may have told her that. I woke up in the night, and she had climbed down out of that berth, gone to the bathroom, come back. I saw her feet as she was going back up over it. I never had to wake up. She was as agile as—more agile than I was.

EE:

War does strange things to people, I guess.

MH:

She was married to a GI and he was in Darmstadt, so she was going there. I was glad to turn her over to him, because I was worried about her. There were some nurses on that train, in the car, and I was going to call them.

EE:

You were doing the same kind of testing work in Le Havre, then back at Darmstadt, that you were in London. So in a couple weeks, you did get transferred to Darmstadt.

MH:

I went to Darmstadt. Well, I never worked in London. All I did was stop for orders.

EE:

You were going to Harnham Hill.

MH:

Yeah.

EE:

How long were you at Darmstadt? Until the time you came home?

MH:

Just a few months. And then the wives began coming over, and the whole thing sort of changed. There was nothing bad about it, but the attitude, the camaraderie was not there.

EE:

Once the war was over, it was a different thing. There was more tension.

MH:

And when the families began coming over. I had a good buddy there, Henry Weinstein, and he was big on the cigarette market stuff. I liked him. I went up to the beauty parlor or somewhere one day, up the street, and I saw this beautiful carved horse in the window. I went in to ask about it. This man had carved it in the Black Forest. It was beautifully carved, and it was for sale. So he came out, and I talked to him. And he told me how much he wanted in cigarettes, and I gave it to him, thirteen packs, at 5 cents apiece. That's what I paid for them in the canteen, in the PX. Now that was chicken feed, so I bought it. I told Henry, “I bought a beautiful horse up there in wherever it was I was.”

“Oh, I want to see it.” So he came around my apartment that day. “How much?”

I said, “Thirteen packs.”

“Aah, you was robbed.”

EE:

He was judging the black-market value, not what—

MH:

I said, “No, I wasn't. I could have Jewed him down.”

He said, “Please, don't use that expression.”

I said, “Oh, Henry, I'm sorry. I beg your pardon. I didn't mean anything by it.”

He said, “I know you didn't, but a black person would not appreciate it if you said, 'That's mighty white of you.'”

I said, “Now, that expression, I don't use it much, but it has no racial significance to me at all.” But I was careful not to talk about Jewing somebody. I said, “I'm sorry. I should have said I could have talked him down.”

He said, “Boy, I could have.”

I almost said, “See, see, see.”

EE:

Where did you go after Darmstadt?

MH:

I came home. I decided that I'd been over there long enough, two and a half years, and it was time for me to get home and get on with my civilian life. They wanted me to stay. They wanted to give me a month off to go home and visit.

EE:

And come back.

MH:

Come back, or be discharged and come back as a civilian. They would hire me in the same job; or stay and they'd give me a promotion.

EE:

Because there were still lots of troops in Germany before the occupation.

MH:

Yeah.

EE:

So this was spring or summer of '47 when you came home?

MH:

I got home in December, so I got over there, late summer and early fall I was there. I had one trip to Switzerland while I was there, just a trip other army folks were on.

EE:

Even though you were there after the war for a while, you never seriously thought about making the military a career?

MH:

No, I really didn't. I was discharged up there in New York, maybe Camp Shanks—stayed there a couple of days and got discharged there, and then I came on down the coast on the train and stopped in Washington and visited a friend or two, and then came on home.

EE:

During your time in the service, did you ever feel physically in danger or were you ever afraid?

MH:

Well, the first day I got to London—see, I'd been up there in that replacement depot for a couple of weeks. An officer had gone down to London and come back, gone on a little trip, and he was telling us, he said, “Now, I'm not supposed to talk about this, but there's something coming over London. The Germans are sending something over.”

EE:

What, the V-2?

MH:

It was the buzz bombs, the first ones. And, we're not supposed to be talking about it, because it's not in the papers and they don't want the Germans to know where they're hitting. Of course, the Germans had spies. They knew where they were hitting. But he said, “It's something.”

I had not been there long, so I didn't know whether he was playing scaring the girls or not. I just listened. I thought, “Well, this may be. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't.” I didn't know anything about the war over there.

Well, when I got to London, I found out he was right. It was something. I went to the Red Cross, the women officers' billet, and they gave me a bunk, and they showed me out in the back yard this crater where a bomb had dropped when Jerry was flying. It had just hit in the garden. It didn't hit the house. They told me where the bomb shelter was, down under the basement, and if you hear the siren, you go down there. I said, “Do you have to go down there?”

“No, you don't have to go, but that's where it is.”

I said, “I believe I'll take my chances above ground.” I didn't want to be blasted underground.

So I snuggled down in my cot, and I kept hearing this hum overhead. I thought, “Oh, those blessed boys, they're going out to watch for those things and fend them off.” Well, it wasn't. It was the buzz bombs coming in. All of a sudden, whack, one hit about a mile away and darn-near knocked me out of bed. I jumped up and I said, “Damn!” [chuckles]

EE:

Where is that bomb shelter?

MH:

I guess I was scared. No, I never did go down there. I guess I was scared, but I certainly was surprised and I was irritated. Oh, God. That's the closest I guess I got.

EE:

They didn't tell you, when it stops buzzing, you better be out of the way.

MH:

Well, you know, it was praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, and then praise the Lord and keep the engine running. George Cox, who grew up in Cullowhee, was on General [Bernard?] Montgomery's staff. He was a captain, I guess, or a major. I guess he was a major. That afternoon I called him up, and he got a taxi and came over and took me all over London and showed me the things I ought to see—Parliament, everything. We were coming across the Tower Bridge, and the cab driver stopped in the middle of the bridge. He jumped out and he looked up, and he said, “There's one.” And it was a buzz bomb. It was not a hundred feet over us, just like a little Piper cub, just hmmm, and it went on over there to about Piccadilly and its motor stopped. Pow.

EE:

That low to the ground?

MH:

Oh, yeah.

EE:

Did anybody try to shoot them out of the air?

MH:

Yeah, they did.

EE:

It was so low, it probably could hurt somebody else.

MH:

Yeah. There wasn't anybody in it, so they weren't killing people. They wanted it to get on away from them. Nobody wanted to shoot it down. After a while, we went on and had dinner, and then we walked over there to Piccadilly. George could tell where it had hit. The British had got the street cleaned, all the rubble cleaned up, piled up neatly. It had hit an apartment house, a corner of the apartment house, and I don't know how many people it killed. But they were all taken care of, and the rubble was tidied up. They'd had lots of practice on that.

George said that one had hit right out in the yard beyond General Montgomery's office, and he had glass splinters in his back. He jumped under a table, and it broke the window in. Well, I would go up there on the weekends to visit people. I thought, if they can stay up there and work, I can jolly well go up for the weekend. So I did.

EE:

And buzz bombs came seven days a week?

MH:

Oh, yeah. They didn't pay any attention to Sunday.

EE:

Nighttime, daytime, it doesn't matter.

MH:

At any time. My father's secretary, Dorothy Moore, was working for the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] in London, so I looked her up and I went up to spend the weekend with her one time. Got on the train from Salisbury, took off my overcoat. I had forgotten to put on my jacket! I was out of uniform! There I was, in my shirt sleeves. I said, “Dorothy, we can't go out to dinner.” She had plans to go out to dinner. I said, “I can't go anywhere. I have to wear my overcoat all the time.”

She said, “Yes, we're going.”

So we went to a little restaurant, ate around the corner, and I took my overcoat off and sat there in my shirt sleeves, scared to death somebody would come and see me.

EE:

Kind of pales in comparison to buzz bombs.

MH:

She said, “Don't write your father. I want to write him about it,” because he was an absent-minded professor from way back.

EE:

Daddy's girl.

MH:

She said that's exactly what he would have done.

EE:

What was the hardest thing you had to do, either physically or emotionally, when you were in the service? It probably wasn't going away from home. You had lots of practice with that.

MH:

No, that didn't bother me. I was looking ahead. I never thought about that. I haven't thought of anything real hard. I hated to see them all going over to France to set up the lab over there and leave me in England.

EE:

Being left behind.

MH:

Yes.

EE:

And you knew the only reason you were is because you were the woman.

MH:

That was it.

EE:

I guess the people that you worked with generally were not ones who were going to be on the front line.

MH:

Oh, no. No, they were professional scientists.

EE:

Was there a particularly funny or embarrassing moment that you recall? Most people have a lot of them, but they don't want to tell them.

MH:

I don't think I had as many as Bernice [Miller, a neighbor interviewed for this project] did.

EE:

Bernice is creating them even as we speak.

MH:

One time—this is nothing. I was in a pub, and they all had dartboards there. I took to playing darts, and I was standing up there shooting darts and shooting darts. I looked down, and this Englishman that was sitting there was looking up at me, grinning. He said, “Do you like ale?”

I said, “It's all right.”

I was standing there drinking his drink just as hard as I could go. [chuckles]

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

EE:

There are a number of folks, when you have an experience like that, it's so different from your normal everyday life. Did you have any heroes or heroines from that time? Were there people that, either in a big way, like the Roosevelts or generals, or were there just people that you worked with, who you watched and admired?

MH:

Yes, there were a lot of them. You know, when [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt died, the English would stop us on the street and express their condolences when he died. That interested me.

EE:

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

MH:

I wasn't as keenly aware of her during the war. She visited Cullowhee one time, and she and Mother—I have written this up. I'm calling it “First Ladies,” she and Mother. She was the First Lady of the land, and Mother was First Lady of Cullowhee. They were at dinner together, and Mother was absolutely intrepid. She would tell a joke and tell anybody anything. She told this to Mrs. Roosevelt. The story was that President Roosevelt was giving one of his fireside chats. There was an old man sitting in the back of the auditorium that didn't like him, and he kept muttering. When President Roosevelt said, “And my friends, I want you to know that when I have a very heavy problem, I always take it to a higher power.” The old man jumped up and said, “Yeah, and I don't like her, either.” [chuckles]

Mrs. Roosevelt thought that was funny. I don't know where Mother heard it.

EE:

She'd gotten up with the chickens, I think, to be able to do that with Mrs. Roosevelt.

MH:

Yeah, that's right.

EE:

What was the social life like for you? Was there a lot of fraternizing with people that you worked with outside of the office, or was that two different—

MH:

Just the officers. We didn't fraternize. Well, it was against the rules to fraternize with enlisted personnel.

EE:

But the officers' club was an important part of—

MH:

It was the only recreation. Well, we could go down to the movies, down into Salisbury.

EE:

Are there some favorite songs or movies from that time that kind of mean something to you?

MH:

I like The Third Man. That's really haunting for me, and that Third Man Theme. Of course, that didn't come out until after the war.

EE:

But you were there after the war, too, so maybe that's part of it. You saw a little bit afterwards. We talked a little bit about this at the dinner table, that most folks, when they look back at the World War II generation, and say that that really was a trailblazing time, maybe not for the folks who really didn't feel it that way, but it became a trailblazing time for women in the military.

MH:

I guess so.

EE:

Do you feel like you set a path, you blazed a trail?

MH:

I guess I did, I don't know.

EE:

Did the military make you more independent than you would have otherwise been?

MH:

I don't know. I don't know. I think I was always a little bit independent.

EE:

I think you were, too. [chuckles] Do you think women should be able to serve in any capacity in the service or are there some jobs that should be reserved just for men?

MH:

Well, women do not have the physical strength that men have. Now, they may think they have, but they really don't. I had a first sergeant who was a cousin of Sergeant [Alvin C.] York from East Tennessee. Well, she played that to the hilt. She was tall. She was over six feet. And she was tough. She was a nice-looking girl, but she really tried to be the tough sergeant, top sergeant. I had to reel her in every now and then. Sergeant York.

EE:

Did you feel, at the end of things, that you had contributed to the war effort?

MH:

Yes, I guess I did. I did what I could. And I know why it was hard for a lot of people who were in the service to get along after they got out, because they had been told everything to do. And when they got out they had to make up their minds themselves, and they weren't accustomed to that.

EE:

That wasn't your problem, because you were told what to do and then you tried to figure out how to get around it. [chuckles]

MH:

I figured out how to do what I wanted.

EE:

In the [George] McDermott book [Women Recall the War Years: Memories of World War II], there's reference to the fact that you took your military experience and then it worked for you, because you then went to grad school on the GI Bill.

MH:

Yes, I did.

EE:

Tell me a little bit about that, because that's sort of the end of my questions on World War II, and if there's anything else that I haven't asked you about. But I'm curious to know what happened to you after you got back from service.

MH:

Well, when I got back, Mother and Father met me at the train. My sister was working in Raleigh, I think, at the time, and Mother let her know what train I was coming through from Washington on up to Asheville. It came through Greensboro in the middle of the night, so she got on that train, unbeknownst to me, and told the porter to look for a WAC lieutenant and let her know, call her in the morning. He came back. He said, “I can't find a WAC lieutenant. There's a WAC captain. Would that do?”

She said, “Yes, I think it will do.”

And so I woke up looking into the eyes of my sister, and it was so wonderful!

EE:

I bet.

MH:

Well, of course, we had a good greeting in there, and she rode on with me to home. After breakfast, we were in the club car. A couple of men were sitting across the way talking, and finally one of them introduced himself. He was the manager of the VA [Veterans Administration] hospital out at Swannanoa, [North Carolina]. He said, “I couldn't help but hear you talking. What do you do? What did you do?”

I told him. He said, “Oh. Well, what are you going to do now?”

I said, “I don't know. I'm just going home. I'll see what happens.”

He said, “When you get ready to go to work—rest as long as you want to. When you get ready, get in touch with me. I may have something for you over at the hospital.”

So that's what I did. I went over there, and he gave me a job at the lab. I was over there. I was always so dumb and innocent, just walking around. There was a man my age there who had the GI Bill, and he went off to graduate school. I thought, “I guess I got some GI Bill.” The GI Bill was a new thing, you know. I wasn't really sure what it was. I applied to Johns Hopkins, since I already had the one year of graduate work there. They said they were full up for two years. But they suggested that the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina was sort of a—they worked together. And so I went down there and got my degree, master's there. It was a two-year program. And then my chief wanted me to stay on and work on a PhD, and I said, “No, I don't want a PhD.” I'd seen too many PhDs hide out in graduate school from the world.

EE:

And once you've been heavily into the world like you have, it's kind of hard to go back.

MH:

Yeah. And I didn't feel like I was the smartest thing, but I knew enough to have a good job, good enough for me. I wasn't trying to raise a family of kids, just take care of me. So I was always glad I did that.

EE:

How did you end up in Atlanta?

MH:

Oh. The manager of Swannanoa, he was very pleased with me and my work in the laboratory, and then I went to Chapel Hill from there. Well, I got a letter from him one time, and he had left the VA there. By that time the hospital had been combined with Oteen [Veterans Administration Hospital]. They had closed it, Swannanoa, and a new door opened. He had gone down to Georgia. And so he wrote me a letter and offered me a job down there in his VA hospital in Dublin, Georgia.

I still had another year to go at Chapel Hill, because it was a two-year program instead of a one-year program. So he asked me again the next year, and I decided I'd just go. So I went down there and worked in that hospital in Dublin, where he was also manager.

I enjoyed Dublin. It was a small town, and I had good friends. That hospital had been built by a congressman or somebody from down that way who wanted it built in his territory, and it was a big, fine—have you ever been down there to see that? It's fine, beautiful buildings and beautiful borders and everything. Well, that was a political thing. But at any rate, I enjoyed it.

But I decided that I really would like to get up to Atlanta, where the Center for Disease Control [CDC] was, because I was sending specimens that I couldn't identify up there for identification, and I wanted to get up there closer where the academic world was, because Dublin was strictly a county seat town. Very pleasant, very nice people. And so I applied for a job up there and got it, with the VA, and I was nine years with them. Then I went over to CDC and worked, and then I retired from there.

EE:

Well, I tell you, I appreciate you sitting down with me today and going through this. Now, is there anything that I have not asked you about, about your wartime—I know there's a zillion things we could talk about, but anything—you said that you left out some things from that story.

MH:

I don't think I mentioned that I was from Cullowhee, I don't think, did I?

EE:

Your dad being president there.

MH:

Did I in there? [pointing to the McDermott book] There's something I didn't mention.

EE:

No, I don't think you did mention that in there, because I don't think he would have picked up on that.

MH:

Something, as I read that, I realized I hadn't told him something that was really part of my life.

Did I tell you about the day I forgot to wear my bloomers in Officer Candidate School in Des Moines?

EE:

No. That sounds like an embarrassing story.

MH:

That is an embarrassing story. Well, we had our Class A uniforms and then we had fatigues, fatigue pants and everything. But we also had an exercise suit. It was a brown-and-white striped seersucker golf dress, buttoned down the front just like a golf dress, and it had matching bloomers, a hat, socks and tennis shoes. We would march from class to class in Class A uniform all the time, and the last part of the day we would march back to the barracks, be dismissed, be given ten minutes to run up to the barracks and change into that exercise suit, and then come back, fall in, and march to the drill field and have PT [physical training]. Well, I did that. I happened to be platoon commander that day for my platoon. I got them turned, column left, march, and I started off and I realized I had forgotten to put on my bloomers. Well, I got them in place on the field. I went around and took my place at the rear of the unit, and I could do this and push-pulls and all that. And then the instructor said, “Now we'll do the bicycle exercise.”

Well, I just sat down cross-legged and tried to go under the ground. I just leaned over cross-legged, like this. It didn't work. The instructor was standing up on a pedestal up there. She came swinging back there, and she looked down at me. You weren't supposed to get sick after seven o'clock in the morning—you know, sick call.

She said, “What's the matter with you?”

I said, “I forgot my bloomers, ma'am.”

Well, I had her there. She said, “Oh, dear, that's not very military.” [chuckles] She couldn't do anything to me.

EE:

That isn't in regulations yet, is it?

MH:

What to do when you forget your bloomers. And the men, you see—we still had men officers, and they were standing over under a tree, watching, smoking cigarettes.

EE:

That's great. Well, let's see, I've had Bernice today and her bra and shorts, and maybe I'll end with bloomers with you. And my wife will worry what I'm doing up here in the mountains.

MH:

You're talking with some pretty risqué characters up here.

EE:

Well, I got some characters, that's for sure. And I just say, on behalf of the school, thank you again.

MH:

Well, I'm glad to have helped you out.

[End of Interview]