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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Edna Painter Searles, 1999

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Object ID: WV0106.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Edna Painter Searles’ experiences with the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in the legal office at Camp Lejeune during World War II and her professional life after the war.

Summary:

Searles details her father’s work at Kingsport Press; her family’s reaction when she joined the service, particularly her brother’s opposition; basic training, including drill instruction, gas mask training, and obstacle courses; her involvement in courts martial; the women’s barracks at Camp Lejeune; her work at Camp Lejeune, including taking shorthand and typing transcripts; fraternizing with officers; social life, including sailing, USO shows, and trips to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina; and a Woman Marine who died after drinking moonshine. Remainder of the interview discusses her admiration of President Franklin Roosevelt and the shock of his death; working at Stetson University; work for the Fish Trust; her retirement; benefits of her military service; and her opinion of women in combat.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Edna Painter Searles 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:

Good afternoon. My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Today is Tuesday, October 26, and I am somewhere near Linville, North Carolina, although the P.O. Box says Montezuma. But don't go looking for that on the map in California because you won't find Montezuma. You might find Linville. Anyway, I am at the home of Edna Searles this afternoon, and I appreciate you having us here today for an interview. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university.

Miss Searles, the one question we start off everybody with, that I hope is not the hardest one I'm going to ask today—I don't think there are going to be any hard ones—is where were you born and where did you grow up?

EDNA SEARLES:

I was born in Roanoke, Virginia. I grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, right across the border.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

ES:

One of each.

EE:

You were middle, oldest?

ES:

I was the youngest.

EE:

Spoiled rotten. [chuckles]

ES:

Right.

EE:

Yes, I'm one of three myself, and I got the oldest tag, unfortunately.

ES:

But I was not only youngest, I was the smallest, so, yes, I was spoiled.

EE:

You were special. So that's okay. What did your folks do?

ES:

My mother was a housewife my father was a printer. He worked at the Kingsport Press.

EE:

Did he mold the type and then set it?

ES:

No. Of course, that was back in the days before all these modern presses. But, yes, they had to set type and do color. His plant did prose and poetry books which were textbooks. [Visitor interruption]

EE:

All right. Well, let's see. So the printing house at Kingsport did books. It was not a—

ES:

It did books and they also did binding. It was the largest complete book manufacturing plant in the world. I mean, they go from the paper, the raw paper, straight through to the finished product.

EE:

And the name of it was—

ES:

Kingsport Press.

EE:

Wonderful.

ES:

They did really wonderful work.

EE:

So after you moved to Kingsport, is that where you spent your time growing up?

ES:

Oh, yes, they went to Kingsport when I was four or five.

EE:

So you graduated from—I guess it wouldn't be Kingsport High School. What high school was it?

ES:

Dobyns-Bennett High School.

EE:

You were somebody who liked school growing up?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

ES:

No, I don't think so. But mostly in high school I liked the commercial subjects.

EE:

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

ES:

I knew I was going to be a secretary.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

ES:

'39.

EE:

Was Tennessee an eleven-year or twelve-year state?

ES:

Twelve.

EE:

Okay. North Carolina was a little slow.

ES:

We had a very fine school system.

EE:

What did you do after you graduated?

ES:

I took business courses at business school. Then I went to work for a law firm.

EE:

Right there in town? Still living at the house?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

Were you still working for the law firm in '41 when Pearl Harbor happened?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember that day?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

What were you doing?

ES:

Well, it was Sunday. I wasn't doing anything special, but I know the shock.

EE:

Were you with your family then?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

How was it going in to work the next day? I think the next day, on Monday, was when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt made the speech.

ES:

Right. Well, of course, all of us—you were too young—all of us were thinking, hey, this was going to change our lives.

EE:

'39, when you graduated, the war had already started in Europe. Do you remember a sense of it? Was it their problem or were you worried for a while?

ES:

I wasn't particularly worried about it. I'm still a teenager.

EE:

Kind of hard to worry about the world.

ES:

It's hard to worry about Europe when there's so much going on, you know, and I was having too much fun. I wasn't particularly worried about what was going on in Europe, although I was aware of it, of course. We all were. But we all knew that change would— [Searles crying.] Excuse me.

EE:

That's okay. What changed the most for you?

ES:

[Searles crying.] My brother went in the service first. I get really emotional about it.

Actually, I had a very good job. I worked for the attorney [Frank Kelly] who was the attorney for Eastman-Kodak.

EE:

Right there in Kingsport?

ES:

Tennessee Eastman it was. And we had an office at Tennessee Eastman as well as one in town. He was a brilliant man. He wrote the contract between the government and Eastman for the operation of Oak Ridge, for the development of the atomic bomb.

EE:

Oak Ridge is, what, about thirty miles from Kingsport?

ES:

It's further than that. Oak Ridge is 100 miles, around Knoxville. I know he had a fit when I told him I was going in the service. He said, “But you're already doing your part.”

EE:

That's right. You're already helping.

ES:

And he said, “You're contributing more here.” But it wasn't the same. But that was more my claim to fame than anything else.

EE:

When did your brother go into service? Was he drafted? Did he volunteer?

ES:

I think he volunteered before he got drafted.

EE:

Saw it coming and thought—

ES:

Yes. He was young and single and—

EE:

So this was '42 that he signed on?

ES:

I think so. And did not want me to go. Did not want me to go.

EE:

When was it that you joined?

ES:

Well, let me think. I have to think about it. The war was over in '45. I went in '44 because I should have gone in before, but I just couldn't defy my family.

EE:

Your folks didn't want you to go into it?

ES:

No. [Searles crying.]

EE:

What happened to your brother in the war?

ES:

He was flying the hump. He kept saying, “Don't, don't. You should stay home with Mother.” And I did for a long time, until I just had to go.

EE:

You were—I guess you had to be twenty-one to go. You didn't have to have a parent signature when you signed on?

ES:

No.

EE:

What made you decide to go to the Marines instead of something else?

ES:

Well, my father didn't like the reputation the WAACs [Woman's Army Auxiliary Corps] had.

EE:

They did get one early.

ES:

They got one early, and he didn't like that. He didn't like that at all. I don't know I just liked the Marines.

EE:

What did your other sister do?

ES:

She stayed home.

EE:

So y'all go off, be brave.

ES:

She was—what was she doing? She was working at Tusculum College, I think, at that time. She went to Tusculum and she was working there as alumni secretary. And she was there, but, still, I was the only one at home with Mother.

EE:

When you left the house, where did you go for basic?

ES:

To Camp Lejeune.

EE:

They had a separate facility there, I guess, for training the women?

ES:

Oh, yes, separate area.

EE:

How many folks were in your platoon or your basic group?

ES:

Gee, I don't know. There must have been thirty girls in my platoon. See, you're asking questions that I've long since forgotten.

EE:

And I'm asking them in part not because I expect an answer, but maybe to jog your memory.

ES:

Yes, that's right. Well, you're doing that a little bit.

EE:

Wasn't it the Commandant of the Marine Corps who said, “There aren't going to be any women auxiliary. If they're going to be here, they're going to make them Women Marines.” So you were a Marine. You weren't an auxiliary. You were in there. Wasn't an emergency about it. You were Women Marines [Marine Corps Women's Reserve].

ES:

That's right.

EE:

Was going to Lejeune the farthest away from home you had been?

ES:

No, I had traveled around a little bit from place to place.

EE:

Did you know anybody else who was going in the service?

ES:

Not there.

EE:

You told me a little bit before we got to talking, that you joined but at the time you joined, you had started a correspondence with the follow who would eventually become your husband. Is that right?

ES:

No, I knew him before I went in. Of course, we did correspond all the time. He was in Europe, in the air force.

EE:

What did he think about you joining?

ES:

I don't know. [chuckles]

EE:

One thing about women Marines that probably should be said, I think they had to be stateside. They didn't receive overseas assignments.

ES:

They did, to Hawaii.

EE:

And Alaska.

ES:

And Alaska, I think. Our motto was “free a man to fight.”

EE:

Free a man to fight. And that meant something to you?

ES:

Yes. I didn't have any desire to go overseas.

EE:

I guess basic was about two months for you?

ES:

Twelve weeks. Gosh, I don't know. I really don't remember those things.

EE:

Do you have any strong impressions of basic, what you did? I guess y'all drilled in the morning, drilled in the afternoon, drilled in the evening.

ES:

Oh, we drilled and we drilled and we drilled.

EE:

What time of year did you go in? Was it summertime?

ES:

March.

EE:

March of '44. Somebody was telling me, who worked down in that area, in fact, the woman set up the library system down there. There was a library for the women, a library for the white Marines and a library for the black Marines.

ES:

They were all separate at that time.

EE:

Were there black women Marines as well as white women Marines?

ES:

No.

EE:

Just white. She said that—I think it must have been '44, that there were a whole bunch of Dutch Marines, Dutchmen that came and trained at Lejeune. Were you there by that time?

ES:

I don't remember that.

EE:

After you were at Lejeune—and I assume most of your instructors, if not all of them, were women, weren't they?

ES:

No, not all of them. In fact, our DI [drill instructor] was a man.

EE:

A Marine DI. How was that experience?

ES:

He was a rough little fellow, but he was also the brother-in-law of the man at Eastman who had an office next to ours.

EE:

Oh my.

ES:

But he never acknowledged it. Never.

EE:

He didn't want to give you a break. He wanted to have your fear and attention.

ES:

Wasn't giving me any breaks. However, when we were through with basic, then he did, and he was great. But he was tough. Oh, he was tough on all of us.

EE:

When my generation thinks of tough drill instructors, we think of that movie Officer and a Gentleman, and it's “Expletive, expletive, expletive.”

ES:

No.

EE:

So this was different. There was different language toward women?

ES:

Well, they didn't use the curse words. They were firm and they were demanding, but they did not—

EE:

It was more psychological intimidation than anything?

ES:

Right. And they didn't have to intimidate. They just told us what they expected and we darn well better do it.

EE:

I assume you probably had some testing or something. Or did you go into the women Marines and say, “I'd like to do this kind of work,” and some were parachute riggers or whatever?

ES:

No, I didn't. After basic we were assigned. Of course, I had gone from being a legal secretary straight into the legal office in Lejeune, and I became a court reporter and eventually the NCO [noncommissioned officer] in charge of the legal office. My brother said, “I never heard of the service putting someone where they knew what they were doing before.”

EE:

[chuckles] I was going to say, that's very unusual.

ES:

Yes. I went straight from making a darn good salary to making fifty dollars a month doing the same thing. [chuckles]

EE:

Well, that's good. That's good.

ES:

Yes. I didn't mind. I enjoyed it. Of course, I knew what I was doing. And I did court-martials. Of course, it gets to you after a while, too, you know, the kids, you think, gee, they got in trouble.

EE:

They're just kids.

ES:

Yes, all kids, and they're court-martialed. They're sent away for a few years or they're dishonorably discharged. And that broke my heart.

EE:

Is that the kind of work that you did till the end of your time in the service?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

When did you get out of service?

ES:

I got out in October of '45, and that was because my husband came back from overseas. We got married in July, and they dropped the atom bomb. He said, “I want you out.”

EE:

And you said, “Yes, sir.” [chuckles]

ES:

So it took me until October to get out, yes.

EE:

Wonderful. What was your rank when you left the service?

ES:

Sergeant. I was assigned to the next class of OCS [Officer Candidate School]. Then when he came back and we were getting married, they deferred me to the November class. Of course, then I got out and I never got to OCS.

EE:

Neither one of you thought, then, about making the military a career?

ES:

Well, he did. Oh, yes, he was a career man. He had over thirty years in when he retired.

EE:

But it's hard to have two people who have a career in the military.

ES:

In different services, yes. A lot of them now do.

EE:

What branch was he in?

ES:

He was in the air force. It would have been very hard to have two different services. He was on his way to the Pacific when he came back from Europe. After the war in Europe was over and he was on his way to the Pacific, and I will say this, if he had not come back, I would have stayed in. [Searles crying.] But of course he wanted me out so I could be with him. So I got out.

EE:

What has he doing during his time in service?

ES:

He was a war planner, is what he was.

EE:

I know sometimes people now might look back and say “Well, the war in Europe's over. Time to get ready to celebrate.” But nobody knew the atom bomb was coming, did they?

ES:

Oh, no. Oh, no.

EE:

Everybody was thinking it would be another year or two to invade Japan.

ES:

See, he was on his way to the Pacific as they rotated the men home, and, of course, he was regular air force. As they brought them back from Europe, they were rotating them on into the Pacific. So this is what we thought.

EE:

Do you remember where you were on either VE [Victory in Europe] Day or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

ES:

Well, VE Day, of course, I was in the service. I don't remember anything specific about that, except I knew he'd be coming back.

EE:

They didn't keep everybody on base that day at Lejeune?

ES:

No. Well, they might have. I don't remember that.

EE:

Some of the people I know when they were stationed there, were still worried about the service people going into town and partying so hard, that they just said, “Everybody stay on base for a day.”

ES:

I don't remember that. It's possible. It's entirely possible. Of course, we were on our honeymoon on VJ Day.

EE:

That's nice.

ES:

Down in Gatlinburg.

EE:

That's a nice way to spend a honeymoon. You say, “It's over,” and life looks good.

ES:

Yes.

EE:

That's good. When you finished your basic and you were there for your regular job at Lejeune, I guess you went to a regular barracks for women when you were stationed. How many other people were in your barracks?

ES:

We must have had—we had a huge barracks, up and down, two floors, two wings for beds. There must have been at least one hundred in each wing, so that would have been four hundred in the barracks.

EE:

Wow.

ES:

And then the offices and the desk and all the ancillary things were in between.

EE:

Just the one central barracks for women? That was just a women's barracks?

ES:

There was more than one. There must have been five or six barracks for women.

EE:

That's a lot of people.

ES:

That's a lot of people. We had quite a group.

EE:

Most of the folks who are on a place like Lejeune—I know, talking to some people who were down there—it is basically a processing plant. Just as you get to know somebody, they're out.

ES:

And I stayed.

EE:

You stayed, which is a different feeling, but also the people that you're seeing are people who are definitely going out, but not the way you want to go out. When you were doing that work, what was a typical day like for you? Like normal court, where you might not have court for a week?

ES:

Oh, yes. And in between—of course, I took shorthand. I didn't use a machine. I took shorthand. Between cases, of course, then I'm typing transcripts. We did a lot of work besides just court-martials. I mean legal work—other things, too. We had three or four—I'm trying to think how many officers we had. We had three or four legal officers in the office. Some of them handled the court-martials. Some of them did other things, too. But we did regular legal work.

EE:

You're sort of in a pool of people, or were you assigned to a particular—I guess the function would be the attorney function, I don't know, there's probably a different name for it in military parlance, adjutant or whatever.

ES:

There were about four of us who took the cases. One of them, I think, used the machine. The rest of us used shorthand. We sort of rotated when the cases were due.

EE:

There were a lot more people coming through that place. Of course, it started, I guess, just before the war, built out of nothing.

ES:

It did. And it's huge now. Well, it was huge then.

EE:

In that year you were there, how many cases would you say you were in? A hundred?

ES:

At least. As I recall now, there were about 30,000 Marines there and about 2,000 women.

EE:

Did you free up a man to fight in doing what you did?

ES:

Oh, I think so, yes.

EE:

But you didn't know who it was?

ES:

No. No, no.

EE:

I know some of the people, only a few people really have met the person that they freed to fight.

ES:

This is correct.

EE:

And most of those, it was a pleasant experience. I think the only ones that got grief were the ones who knew something about the wife or the mother [unclear], and that wasn't too popular.

ES:

But there were some. Let me say this, there were some men who, I think, resented us. Mostly not. Mostly they were real good. They accepted us.

EE:

So you had a good working relationship with the people day to day?

ES:

Oh, yes.

EE:

How were the assignments made? Was a woman commanding officer over your particular group, or were the four of you simply assigned to that office?

ES:

We were assigned to that office, but basically we were under the woman who was in charge of the women on the base. But we answered to the officers in our office.

EE:

When they said you were ready for OCS—

ES:

I took a test.

EE:

You would not have been a legal secretary after that.

ES:

Oh, no.

EE:

What were they looking to have you to do?

ES:

I don't know. You don't know.

EE:

Something other than what you were trained for. [chuckles]

ES:

Probably

EE:

Ready to move on up. What is Murphy's Law corollary? You get something good and then they promote you past what you can do. [chuckles]

ES:

Right. I didn't have any idea what I would wind up being. And it didn't really matter because I just thoroughly enjoyed the service.

EE:

How were you treated when you went off base? I assume you wore your uniform everywhere. How did people react to you in uniform?

ES:

Very good. Always good.

EE:

Did your folks get to have a better feeling about you after you went?

ES:

Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes. First time I went home, my father just couldn't let me out of his sight.

EE:

Right. I think didn't all the parents of servicemen and women get to put a little flag in the window?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

So he had two.

ES:

Yes.

EE:

That had to make him feel good.

ES:

Oh, yes.

EE:

It doesn't sound like you were in the kind of work that gave you physical danger. Was PT tough for you in basic?

ES:

No, it wasn't, because I was very active anyway. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed marching. We did not train with rifles. Other than that, we did everything.

EE:

The obstacle course?

ES:

Oh, yes. And the gas masks. We did it all except we didn't train with rifles. And it was hard. I mean, they pushed you. But I was young and in good condition, you know.

EE:

Sure. In your early or mid twenties, it's not too bad. Were you ever afraid about being away from home or being in new places?

ES:

No.

EE:

Again, that's a function of being in your twenties, too. You don't know what to be afraid of anyway.

ES:

That's right. It's an adventure. It was a big adventure.

EE:

Social life. Did the women kind of hang out together on the weekends, or was everybody sort of in search of individual things?

ES:

We had our friends in our little group that did things together. Lejeune also was an OCS for men, and the young men going to OCS there were eager to date the women. We did not lack for dates with 30,000 Marines.

EE:

You didn't have a prohibition against dating officers?

ES:

We did, yes, but see, these were not officers.

EE:

Thank goodness for legalities. [chuckles]

ES:

And I had friends from home who came through. When they came through and they knew I was there. I had to get special permission to be seen with them. Of course, I had a car. After boot camp, I came home and got my car and took it back. So if I wanted an officer in my car, I had to have permission to do that. And I had several good friends from home that I had known before who were officers, and they came through. This is one reason I applied for OCS. I didn't really want to be an officer. I was happy with what I was doing. But this was one of the reasons that prompted me to apply, was that, hey this is a pain in the—I have to get permission to see my friends. And when he came back, he came back before we got married. He had to come back for school in Denver. And I had to get special permission and carry it with me for him to be on base and he stayed at the BOQ [bachelor's officers quarters], but still to be seen with me on base and to drive my car, which he did. They were strict about it, but they were willing to grant it, too, when you applied.

EE:

There was a procedure, but they didn't hassle you over the procedure.

ES:

No, they didn't hassle us about it. But you had to have that permit or they would have hassled you.

EE:

There's a way.

ES:

Oh, yes.

EE:

You having a car. You probably were in the minority on that subject.

ES:

Yes, right.

EE:

Very popular. [chuckles]

ES:

Yes. Especially when we went down to the beach, you know.

EE:

It's not too far.

ES:

Not to Wrightsville [Beach], no. And we spent a lot of weekends at Wrightsville.

EE:

So you had a five-day work week? Six? What was your work week?

ES:

Five.

EE:

That's pretty good.

ES:

Yes. And we had a lot of things available at Lejeune without going to Wrightsville, although we loved to go to Wrightsville. They had a great recreation area on the water. They had sailboats and beaches on the base. So we had plenty of things to do on weekends.

EE:

They probably had something like a service club or something?

ES:

Yes.

EE:

Where you could have dances and things like that.

ES:

Yes.

EE:

Any particular songs or movies when you hear or see that remind you of that time?

ES:

Not especially, no. I'm a great flag-waver and I loved all the music.

EE:

What was the hardest thing about your time in service, either physically or emotionally?

ES:

That's a hard question. I had no physical problems at all. Probably when I first went in. [Searles crying.]

EE:

It's okay. It's okay. It's a very intense time because you're young. In retrospect, I think people in my generation, when they sit and listen and look at what life was like for you folks at our age, are humbled.

ES:

Well, of course, I was eager to go. I got my orders and I went by bus from Kingsport to Jacksonville, where I was met. And I thought, “What am I doing?” [chuckles] It was a long bus ride. I thought, “My God, what am I doing?” But I think the thing that made me question that at the time was that when my daddy put me on the bus, he cried like a baby. [Searles crying.] I'd never seen my father cry before. And I wondered, “What am I doing to them?”

EE:

But it worked out okay.

ES:

However, he was pretty proud when I came back.

EE:

It worked out okay.

ES:

But that was the hardest time for me. Other than that, I had a great time. I really had a great time. Actually, right even today, I would encourage girls to go in the service.

EE:

Did either of your kids have an interest in joining the military?

ES:

Our son had an appointment to West Point and an appointment to the Air Force Academy.

EE:

Wonderful.

ES:

But he couldn't pass the physical, so he went to military school in Tennessee and went to University of North Carolina.

EE:

Wonderful. When you think back about that time, were there any heroes or heroines that stand out for you? There were a lot of people doing very unusual, wonderful things.

ES:

Well, of course, we enjoyed seeing the celebrities come through and put on shows.

EE:

You had the USO [United Service Organizations], I guess, coming through.

ES:

Yes.

EE:

Who were some of the folks that you saw?

ES:

I don't remember.

EE:

Did you ever see Bob Hope?

ES:

No, he took himself overseas. There's better publicity going overseas.

EE:

I'm sure.

ES:

He was a publicity hound.

EE:

Somebody showed me a picture of Jane Wyman came to their place [unclear].

ES:

And Ann Sheridan.

EE:

Ann Sheridan.

ES:

But mostly they went overseas, you know. Local stuff.

EE:

Did you ever see Kay Kyser?

ES:

No.

EE:

You'd think a North Carolina fellow—he might get back that way.

ES:

He might have, but I don't remember. But we had a lot of dances and we had a lot of bands. Maybe not the well-known ones, you know. Mostly when the celebrities went to entertain, they went overseas.

EE:

What did you think of the Roosevelts, the President and Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

ES:

Oh, I thought he was probably one of the greatest—I think he will go down in history as the greatest President we've ever had. There's no doubt in my mind about it.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when he passed away?

ES:

Yes, I was at Lejeune. I thought, “Oh, my God.”

EE:

“Who's Harry Truman?” [chuckles]

ES:

Yes.

EE:

I think he was an afterthought added on.

ES:

I fell like the whole bottom fell out. I really did. I thought, “Oh, what are we going to do now?”

EE:

And I think within the month, the war was over in Europe.

ES:

Shortly.

EE:

I said what was the most difficult. In everybody's experience in life, and it seems particularly true of military experience, is there are people who are characters who stand out, who give you some funny memories. Is there a funny or embarrassing moment that you recall?

ES:

No, not particularly. We had a traumatic thing happen in our squad room. We had a girl that—I don't even remember where she's from and I don't remember her name now, but she was wild. She'd come in drunk every night. Well, most of us, when we'd go out on weekends, would take a drink. We'd go out for dinner, we'd have a drink, but I don't remember ever getting drunk. I was usually driving, so I couldn't.

EE:

You wanted to keep the car in good shape. You were smart.

ES:

But this girl came in rip-roaring drunk every night. Every night. We got to where we'd just say, “Just shut up and go to sleep. You're keeping us awake.” As I said, there were about a hundred in the squadron.

And one night she came in and she was moaning and she was groaning, and same stuff, you know, things we were used to already. And she carried on that way most of the night. The next day they took her to the infirmary and she died. She had been drinking white lightning and it just absolutely—

EE:

Ate her stomach up.

ES:

Ate her stomach up. She was in pain, and that's why she was groaning so.

EE:

She must not have been from around here.

ES:

I don't know where she was from. I don't remember. I don't even remember her name, but I remember how shocked I was that this could happen, that this could happen, you know. But it did happen, and that's what they told us, that she'd been drinking white lightning, moonshine, regularly for months. That was about as bad as anything that happened in the squadron, because we were all crushed then and wondered how we didn't realize what was happening to her and try to stop it.

EE:

Well, you were together, but unless you make the effort, you're not necessarily together. You're physically together.

ES:

She was not a friend.

EE:

She was a loner?

ES:

She was at the other end of the room and my friends were right around me, you know.

EE:

It's not a sure thing. We talked about, even when your husband came home from Europe, it was going to take a while to do something with the Japanese. What would you say was the mood of the country? You were there stateside on the base. From your perspective, were people largely patriotic?

ES:

Oh, yes.

EE:

That was the general—

ES:

Oh, yes. This was my feeling. Of course, there were a few that were coming back, some of the younger kids that were coming back and getting in trouble. They always did that. They always did that. They is always a certain element that gets in trouble. But by and large, we were all in there for one purpose. This was my feeling about it.

EE:

It was not every man for themselves kind of time. It was everybody together for the cause.

ES:

Yes. This was the way I felt about it and I think most of them did. That's why they were there.

EE:

Was there ever any time that you were afraid that we might not win?

ES:

Oh, no. Oh, no. We had to win.

EE:

Just a question of getting the job done?

ES:

That's right.

EE:

The job was going to get done.

ES:

Oh, sure. We had to win. There's no question in my mind but that we'd win.

EE:

When you came back, you ended up becoming immediately—your husband stayed in the service, so you didn't really return to civilian life, did you?

ES:

No, I didn't.

EE:

You had a different role, but you were still a military person.

ES:

Right.

EE:

Where all did y'all travel around the world?

ES:

When I first got out, he was assigned to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was—you asked me how far I'd been from home. That was as far as I went from home. And, God, it was cold. Oh, it was cold up there. But anyway, we didn't stay there too long. He was put in charge of setting up and operating a separation center to get these kids out. The war was over. They all wanted to go home, so it was his job to get them out of there.

EE:

Somebody told me that everybody was looking for their “52-50.” That was the phrase they said for 52 weeks you get $50 a month. “I don't care what I've got to do, I just want out.”

ES:

Yes, this is right. Everybody wanted out, wanted to go home. By this time it was over, see, and they just wanted out. They had done their duty and they wanted out—thousands of them in Sioux Falls at the processing center. Some of them helped the farmers till their ground to have something to do, you know. They were just all in place like fleas. This is when they decided to make a separation center out of it, so he set that up, and thousands of them went through there and got out.

He used to say that he'd call up and say, “I need some clerks,” and they might send him a cook or an MP. They just sent anybody to do the job. Then he said they'd get in the line—it was the production line, really. So they set up the line and then they'd put themselves in the line, and the next day they're gone and he'd have to have some more people. So they had a hard time getting everybody processed, but they eventually did.

Then we went to Kansas. Where did we go after Kansas? Then we went to Panama City, Florida. Then we went to Germany and came back to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Then we went to Hawaii. Then we came back to Orlando. He retired from Orlando. In the meantime, we had bought a little orange grove in Deland, so we had that for several months before he got out. In fact, a couple of years.

EE:

You moved up here in '80. You said you had property since '80?

ES:

We bought property in '80 and we used it for vacations. We had a motor home and we would come up and park it on our lot and vacation there. I was still working in the meantime.

EE:

What kind of work were you doing?

ES:

I had two of the best jobs anybody could possibly want. I worked for—I was the administrative assistant to the president of Stetson University [Dr. J. Ollie Edmunds] for ten years. Of course, I loved him. I just adored him. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. I stayed with him until he retired. Then I stayed with the new president one year. It wasn't the same.

EE:

It never is. Once you've gotten a relationship, it's best to retire with them or move on.

ES:

That's right.

EE:

So what years were you doing that? Was that in the seventies?

ES:

You have to give me time. I'm not good with years.

EE:

Kids were already up and grown?

ES:

No, they weren't grown. My daughter was in college. My son was not yet. It was about '67, I think, '68 when he retired. Then as I said, I stayed one more year. I don't know if you've heard of Francis P. Whitehair. Probably not. He was the Under Secretary of the Navy under Truman. He was from Deland. He was brilliant, as was Dr. Edmunds, both brilliant attorneys. I had a friend—and he ran a little hospital. He was the president of a trust, the Fish Trust, and Judge Fish had been ambassador to Egypt, among other places, but his last assignment was to Egypt. He died there, so they set up a trust in his name, and Mr. Whitehair had been his law partner. So he was the president of the trust, and they operated a little hospital called Fish Memorial Hospital.

They had another second hospital in New Smyrna Beach, which is about thirty miles away. This was in Deland. My friend told him that I as very unhappy with the new president, and he sent for me and said, “We're going to build a retirement center. How would you like to come work with the trust?” So that one dropped in my lap.

EE:

That's nice.

ES:

And I helped him build that building and managed it for seventeen years.

EE:

That's wonderful. That's wonderful.

ES:

But anyway, my husband, in the meantime, had not only retired from the service, but he taught. Then he got tired of public school teaching and went into ROTC teaching at Stetson. He eventually retired from that. I wasn't ready to retire, so I worked for twelve years after he retired. In the meantime, we had bought property up here and we'd come up here and vacation.

EE:

When actually did he leave the service? Was that mid-sixties? He had twenty years?

ES:

He had thirty. A little over thirty.

EE:

Okay. Early seventies. If he started out in wartime in the forties, thirty years would have put him in the early seventies.

ES:

He ran away from home and joined the service. He started when he was seventeen.

EE:

Okay. Probably was the late sixties.

ES:

Yes. Anyway, then we sort of went back and forth from there until he finally talked me into retiring. Actually, I guess I'd had a hysterectomy along about '87 or '86. He said, “Don't you really think it's time for you to quit?” And I said, “No, I don't.” [chuckles] Because I loved my work.

EE:

But you're not inactive now. I had to get you out of your job last week to call you about this. Are you still working at the golf course?

ES:

Yes. We close next week for the winter.

EE:

Well, if you're doing all this stained glass up here, I imagine you've probably got the skills to sell this stuff to other folks, too. Do you do it?

ES:

Once in a while. Mostly I work for my daughter who gives it to her friends. [chuckles]

[Discussion of stained glass redacted]

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

ES:

I have to be busy. That's when I went to work for the golf shop, and I've been working there now for the ten years that we've been here.

EE:

Did you all build this house?

ES:

No. No, we did not. We bought it from the people that built it originally. They decided that they wanted to go into a retirement home. Why they ever decided that, I don't know, because two months and they were out again. He was a DuPont engineer and he designed this house and had it built. It's got more advantages than any house I've ever seen. We built a house in Florida, but it wasn't like this. They've got all kinds of stuff in this house that most houses don't have.

EE:

Little gadgets and things like that.

ES:

Yes.

EE:

An engineer, you'd figure he'd be used to having the right trinkets at the right places.

ES:

He did. It's so well built that, well, we love it.

EE:

Well, the next two questions I have, I have to ask together for you because I have a feeling they're kind of a little silly to somebody who maybe left the military after a year, but ended up spending the whole life as a military spouse. What impact did the military have on your life? Ignore the thirty years through your husband, because that was pretty big. But what do you think it did for you and to you?

ES:

My service?

EE:

Yes.

ES:

Oh, it just increased my self-esteem no end.

EE:

Seeing your dad proud for you being in the service, I know as upset as you got, it must have got him upset. That had to be wonders.

ES:

It was traumatic. But he was proud.

EE:

Do you think it made you more of an independent person than you would have been otherwise?

ES:

Well, I was pretty independent anyway. I always have been. I mean, I do my own thing pretty much. I've always been independent. That served me well in the service, too.

EE:

Especially to keep from having the feeling of being dragged around.

ES:

Right.

EE:

If you're a self-starter and not dependent on somebody else to make you feel like you're plugged in, that helps.

ES:

Right.

EE:

Some people, when they look back at that time period that we talked about, World War II was really the—I think they had some Marinettes and some [U.S.] Navy folks who were women in World War I—but really World War II was the first big place—

ES:

Yes. The women who were in the service in World War I mostly were nurses, medical personnel.

EE:

So it really was a different experience for a whole society. A lot of folks, when they look back, have said, you know, if you want to see where women's lib started, it started in the forties with everybody going into the service.

ES:

It might have, might have been the beginning. I've never been a women's libber. I think the movement had to come, but I always figured if I want to do something bad enough, I can do it, and I still do.

EE:

In your time in the service, did you feel you were contributing to the war effort?

ES:

Oh, yes.

EE:

That's part of the satisfaction, I would think, from it, is that you helped. That's great. Just, I guess, in December they had a woman for the first time fly a combat mission in Iraq. We ask everybody, because it's an interesting perspective, having been in there a long time ago when you were not very many—

ES:

And we were not in combat.

EE:

And not in combat, but how do you feel about that? Are there some jobs in the military that women should not be allowed to do, or you say it's up to the woman?

ES:

I think it's up to the woman, really. Let's face it, there's a difference between men and women, you know. I can't do manual labor. I'm not strong enough and I'm not physically able to do it. This is why women, they'd say, “I can do anything a man can do,” this is not true. This is not true. If I have to think, I can think as well as they can. [Telephone interruption.]

We were in a number of hurricanes in Florida and at Eglin, you know, on the Gulf Coast, too, at Panama City and Eglin we had direct hits, so we've been through a lot of hurricanes, but not like that. Not all that water.

EE:

I have gone through my questions. Is there anything I have not asked you about that you'd like to share about your time in the service?

ES:

I think you've just about got it. You've asked me things I really couldn't answer, and for that I apologize. I have to stop and think about the year I was married, you know. [chuckles]

EE:

As long as you remember who you married, that's the important thing. [chuckles]

[Discussion of memory redacted]

ES:

I remember those conversations. I remember a lot of those things. However, I can really say it was a wonderful experience. I wouldn't want to have missed it. I would do it again.

EE:

Great. Well, on behalf of the school, I want to say thank you.

ES:

It's a pleasure.

EE:

And on behalf of everybody else who came afterwards, I appreciate all you did.

ES:

Thank you.

EE:

Thanks.

[End of Interview]