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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Matties Osborne Spicer, 1999

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Object ID: WV0107.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Mattie O. Spicer’s experiences in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.

Summary:

Spicer recalls her family’s reaction to her decision to join the WAC; the “Carolina Platoon”; being ordered to keep an eye on mail delivered to and sent by suspicious military personnel; a hurricane at Fort Wright; the slogan “Free a man to fight”; social life at Fort Wright, including dating, winning a bowling championship, dances, and getting lost in New York City on leave; hearing the news about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death; admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt; her wartime heroes, including Audie Murphy and General Dwight Eisenhower; celebrations on VE Day and VJ Day; a friend who was an Army Ranger; patriotism; getting a mistaken call that her mother had died; and a poem she wrote for one of her brothers while he was stationed in Africa.

Spicer also discusses her life before and after her military service. She recalls about growing up in Wilkes County and working in the cloth department at Chatham Manufacturing Company. She also talks about meeting her husband, Tom Spicer; her children and grandchildren; her opinions of Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, and George W. Bush; getting involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary; a trip she later took to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and her opinion of women in combat positions.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Mattie Osborne Spicer 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:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Today is Tuesday, October 26, 1999, and I am here somewhere in the suburbs of Austin, [North Carolina]. Is this Wilkes County?

MS:

Wilkes County.

EE:

Wilkes County, North Carolina, at the home of Mattie Spicer. This morning we're doing an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina.

Ms. Spicer, thanks for having us here today. We're going to ask you the same tough question that I ask almost everybody first thing. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

MS:

I was born in eastern Wilkes County on our farm, Wilkes Farm. I'm fifth in a family of seven.

EE:

Fifth's sort of an interesting place to be. Had your folks been farmers in Wilkes County for a long time?

MS:

All their lives.

EE:

Where did you graduate from high school?

MS:

Elkin [High School], '38

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school?

MS:

Oh, I loved school. I loved school. My mom and dad, well, they were very poor, and none of my brothers and sisters graduated from high school but me. But I was so determined that I would at least get a high school education that I kept working at it, until I finally graduated. I could have graduated much earlier if my parents had been able to send me to high school, but they just weren't able to do it.

EE:

They needed everybody's help on the farm, I would guess. It was an eleven-year high school back then, so in '38, you were seventeen when you graduated high school?

MS:

No. I could have graduated when I was fifteen, but believe it or not, I was twenty-one years old, because I worked my own way through high school.

EE:

That's great.

MS:

I went to school when I'd get a chance. See, there was years between, you know.

EE:

How did you get down to school? Did you all have your own car?

MS:

Oh, no. Well, I went to Ronda [North Carolina] school the first two years, and then I moved in with my sister. My older sister was working in public works, and she had a son. Her husband had died when the baby was only thirteen months old. So I went and lived with her, looked after the baby and did her housework and all, and walked from where she lived to Elkin High School.

EE:

What was your favorite subject in school?

MS:

Well, I liked English. I might not sound now like I liked English. But I liked English, and I had a one-year course in journalism. I really liked that. I was good at math back then, but that was a long time ago. Well, in fact, I graduated in 1938, sixty-one years ago.

EE:

Do you all still have your high school reunions?

MS:

We kept having them until we passed our fiftieth, and it slowed down now. Everybody is like me. They're older and—

EE:

Got their own things to worry about.

MS:

And they just don't care about it or something. And they're scattered around. Some we don't even know where they are.

EE:

When you finished high school, what did you do after that?

MS:

I worked in Rose's dime store for a while, and then when the war was threatening and boys were going in that back in a year, you know, I went to work at Chatham [Manufacturing Company]. I worked there, till finally the war was—we were at war. My younger brother, he was always sort of my favorite in the family, you know, and he had to go, he was drafted. Well, my father had died, and my brother older than me had a job, and he was the support of my mother, so he was exempted from service. My oldest brother went into the navy, but my youngest brother was drafted. My older brother, I should have said, volunteered. And then my younger brother, I felt almost like he was too young to have to go out like that.

EE:

How old was he?

MS:

Well, as soon as he was old enough.

EE:

Twenty-one.

MS:

Draft age.

EE:

Was he drafted in '42?

MS:

Let me see. Yeah, I guess he was, because I went in in '43. I volunteered in '43. I thought, “Well, if my little brother has to go, I'll just go, too.” But I was glad, I was glad to go, and I'm glad I did go, because it meant a lot to me. And it was broadening for me, because I got to see a lot more than I ordinarily would have seen and participated in things.

EE:

For folks who don't know Chatham, I guess still then they made blankets and woolen goods.

MS:

Originally they were a blanket mill, but then they went into automotive upholstery.

EE:

They were doing that during the war?

MS:

They switched from automotive back to blankets during the war, because we made blankets for the [U.S.] Army and [U.S.] Navy and Marine Corps and put their—the Army, we had U.S. Army on that; and the Navy, I believe it was a white blanket with a blue border, and in the blue border, in white, had U.S. Navy; and then the Marine Corps, in big letters USMC. That was sewed in with a machine, and then when the blanket was napped, it made it look real pretty.

EE:

What was your job at the plant?

MS:

I worked in the cloth department, until finally, when they quit making the blankets, they closed the cloth department down. Then they weren't doing much when they filled all the military orders. And then I went to the weave room, and I didn't like the weave room. I could see the other people over there. It seemed like they could just go about taking care of six looms at a time, and I couldn't keep it up. I'd get so disgusted. That's when I decided to go in the service. So I had a talk with my supervisor and told him how I felt and that I wanted to go in the service. So he asked me if I would come back to Elkin, and I said, “Well, I will come back to Elkin.”

“Because,” he said, “you know, now, some of our boys won't come back, and you'll be needed when the war is over and we start building up again.”

I told him that I would come back, and I did. I went in the service in April of '43, and I came out January of '46.

EE:

Some manufacturers, because they were providing stuff for the war, it was very difficult to leave the job. They kept you on the job because you were needed for the war effort. Were some of those people in that situation, and you had to ask for permission to be able to leave?

MS:

No, I did that as a courtesy to my company, to the company and to my supervisor.

EE:

Were you working at Chatham in '41, when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

MS:

No. I didn't go to work till—let's see. I went to work at Chatham in '42, I guess. No, I don't even remember. But anyhow, I had been working about a year, I think, when I decided I'd go in service. No, I wasn't working, but I remember that, and I remember how shocked I was.

EE:

Were you at home that day?

MS:

When the president announced on the radio that—I mean, when the announcement came and then President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt announced that a state of war exists between the United States and Japan. By the way, I've been to Pearl Harbor. I visited Hawaii. The Japanese, if their intelligence had been a little stronger and if they had any idea how they crippled the United States military, they could have struck the West Coast—they could have come on and struck the West Coast. They apparently did not realize how much damage they had done to the military—navy, at least the navy. Well, they struck Scofield Barracks, but the damage there wasn't anything like it was at Pearl Harbor.

And by the way, when I visited Hawaii, we took a boat ride up to Pearl Harbor, and it was really touching for me because, when we passed the USS Utah, I believe, was on one side of the island, and then went on around and the [USS] Arizona was completely submerged. But part of the Utah was sticking up out of the water. The captain of the boat we were on stopped and dipped the colors. He said he didn't pass that one or the Arizona, either one, without stopping and dipping the colors.

I'm a pretty emotional-type person, and I wish I was stronger in that respect, but that was really something.

EE:

Was your brother in the navy, your older brother who joined, was he already in before Pearl Harbor?

MS:

No. But he was in the Pacific, and my younger brother was in the European unit.

MS:

So your family was all over the world.

MS:

All over the world, yeah.

EE:

That's what happened to a lot of folks from places out in the rural area, ended up being—

MS:

At one time, my mother—of course, my dad had already died. He died in '39. My mama had two sons, two sons-in-law, and a daughter in the service all at one time.

EE:

You were the only woman, though, in the service, and although a lot of women, more women, I guess, joined the service in World War II than ever had done before, but still it was sort of a new idea. How did your family feel about you joining the service?

MS:

Well, my younger brother, he had been in training and everything, and he had kind of seen—he didn't much want me to go, and my mother didn't much want me to go. But I was going on my own personal feelings, and I went.

I went in in April, and then, you know, in the fall, I think it was in September, they dropped one of the “A”s. It was WAAC, and they dropped it [and became the WAC, Women's Army Corps], and they gave the girls, all that wanted to, a chance to get out if they didn't want to go into the army. See, we were in the auxiliary, Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Some girls that I knew came back to North Carolina. I was home on furlough, and we were talking about the switch, dropping one of the As, and my mama asked me if I could get out. She said, “Could you get out?” I was going, like I said, by my personal feelings, and I said, “No, Mama, I can't get out. I'm going to see it through.” So I did.

EE:

I guess when you signed on, you were signed on for the duration, whatever that meant.

MS:

Yeah. My mind was made up that, as long as I was needed—well, you know, when the war was over, they started discharging us pretty fast, because we just weren't needed anymore, except that I had a chance to go to Germany, but I had my younger sister, as I said. Well, I saved my furlough time and came home and looked after her when her baby was born, and then I told her that I would come back. I said, “I'll be getting discharged pretty soon, I guess. I'll come back and take care of you.” And I did. I came back and went back to work at Chatham and took care of her for about four years.

EE:

You joined awful early. For most folks, I say, why did you pick your branch of service as opposed to some other one? But April '43, it might have been just the WAACs out there. I guess the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] were getting started in '43. Forty-two, I guess, was the start of the WAACs.

MS:

We were the first. I'm pretty sure we were the first group. And then, of course, the [U.S.] Navy and Marines followed. I don't know whether in that order or not. Of course, there's a lot more of us in now than there was in the Marines or the Navy. We had a pretty good number in all of it.

EE:

Did any other women that you knew sign up?

MS:

There was a recruiter in Elkin, and we had a group that went, we went to Charlotte and we had some tests in Charlotte, and then we went from there to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. There was several—well, three or four; that wouldn't be very many—girls that I knew that went in. So far as I know, out of the groups that went—they called us the “Carolina Platoon,” because there was a good number. I've got a picture, but I don't know where it's at right now, of us arriving in Fort Oglethorpe.

EE:

If you were one of the first, I imagine they probably played it up pretty big, that every home state was sending this many women out to help in the war. Did you get a write-up in the paper about it?

MS:

You know, I don't remember about that, whether we did or not. We probably did. But to brag on myself a little bit, when I went through the tests at Charlotte, this girl said to me, she looked at me and she said, “You could go straight into OCS if you want to, Officers' Candidate School.”

I told her, I said, “No. I believe I would prefer to come up from the ranks. If I should be an officer, I would rather really know how it was for the enlisted woman so I could feel more about them, be more interested in their welfare and all than I would if I went on and was an officer—turn right around and go into it as an officer—go to officers' candidate school.” So I didn't go, but I'm not sorry.

EE:

Was joining the service, did that take you farther away from home than you'd ever been before? Had you traveled many places?

MS:

I think I had been to Virginia before, and this—of course, I went to—I trained in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and then—don't ever, when they ask you what you would prefer, where you would prefer to go, I put down either Washington state or Colorado. So I went to New York. [laughter]

EE:

In other words, whatever you put, you're going to get the exact opposite.

MS:

You can just count on that. We went to New London, Connecticut, and there was ferry boat service from there over to Fishers Island in Long Island Sound, and Fort Wright was on Fishers Island. It was post artillery base.

EE:

R-i-g-h-t, Right?

MS:

W-r-i-g-h-t, Fort H.G. Wright.

I went to work in the post office, and I really enjoyed it. I said that if my country wasn't at war, that I could really have enjoyed the whole thing. But there's always in back of you mind, you know, your nation is at war. One thing, as I think of it, I kind of get a kick out of, the officer over the post office—a man, of course—Captain Formhals, a German, I think, F-o-r-m-h-a-l-s, Formhals. Anyhow, he was also the intelligence officer at Fort Wright. At first, we had a man, a sergeant, as the head of the post office there. It's a branch of New London, Connecticut, post office. So he got shipped out to the Pacific, and I was promoted to in charge of the post office.

EE:

So you literally did free a man to fight.

MS:

Yeah. He was really a nice man. I hated to see him go, but when the army calls, you go, you know. But I wanted to say this. Captain Formhals called me into his office, and I thought, “What have I done?” They had suspicion of a WAC and a man, a soldier—well, WACs, we were soldiers, too. But they had suspicion then—and the girl was an artist. You see, this island, oh, there's beautiful scenery all around the edge, around the coast and everything, and she had been seen sitting out on the coast sketching, you know. Well, she could have been outlining it for the enemy, you know. I had to make a list of every letter that she sent out, and every letter that came in to her, I had to make a list of. Not only that, but we had a warrant officer, a man—he had one of these foreign names, a very long name. I was to, the same way, I was to check all of his mail going out and coming in. So for a while I was a spy, I guess you'd say.

EE:

You weren't opening the mail. You were just checking to see—

MS:

No, just the address, and return address. That soon blew over when—well, it ended when they found out—I think maybe they questioned the girl, and she was making Christmas cards to send home at Christmastime. She was sketching, you know. That was her Christmas card.

EE:

Well, but you just don't know in those times.

MS:

You never can know. In wartime—well, for that matter, even in peacetime, when you see something that arouses your suspicion, you should follow through on it. I mean, the law should. Now, he was head of the military police, because he was an intelligence officer. We had MPs [military police] on the base.

EE:

Let me get you to there with a little detail, because everybody that we talked to has a basic training experience. How was basic training for you? Did you like basic training?

MS:

I did not mind basic training. In fact, I went in with what, to me, was the right attitude—take it, you know.

EE:

You're from a big family, so living with a lot of people probably didn't bother you too much.

MS:

No. But one thing that made me feel good, one day we were out—in the mornings, you know, we would go out and drill, and if you know anything about North Georgia, it can get hot down there sometimes.

EE:

Yes.

MS:

We were there during the summer, summer of '43. And we'd go out and drill, and we would sweat, till when we came in at noon for lunch, a lot of us, our shirts would be wet. We had khaki shirts, you know, and khaki skirts, and it was our everyday uniform. And, of course, we had a little better. I'd like to show you a picture of me in my dress uniform.

EE:

Okay. We'll stop while she gets set.

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

This is a good picture. In fact, this is the kind of pictures that I think we—we like to get at least one picture of everybody in uniform, if they've got it, and anything else. We make copies of it down there, but we can get that back to you. So maybe when we're finished, I can borrow one of those.

MS:

This one is the one—well, this is a lawyer, Jim Moore, in Wilkesboro. He went to the library to pick up his wife, who was a volunteer at the library, and he saw that little paper. He picked it up and was looking at it and saw that picture, and he got the idea, “Well, why don't we do something for the women veterans in Wilkes County.” Nothing had ever been done or anything. So he got in touch with—

EE:

Fay Byrd? Was he the one that talked to Fay?

MS:

No. Fay learned about it through what they did for us. Well, he might have talked to Fay, I don't know. But anyhow, he talked to the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] Auxiliary, and they helped him and they located every one of us that they could find. Well, they had a big lunch for us at the Elks Club in North Wilkesboro, honored us with a luncheon. Our state auxiliary president was there. They not only gave us lunch, they gave us a free membership to the auxiliary for a year. And the local paper, the Journal-Patriot from North Wilkesboro, a photographer and reporter was there, and they made pictures of us. They had a huge article in the paper, and they had “then and now,” you know, and this was my “then” and “now,” we won't talk about that.

Betty Baker, I think she had already joined the auxiliary. I don't know how long she'd been a member. But you see, now here it was over fifty years after I came out of the service that we were getting all this attention all of a sudden. So I went to the meetings—I drove. You know, it's about twenty miles, and every month I went to the meeting. Well, I've just been in three years, three years last March.

EE:

So this has changed your life, getting all this recognition.

MS:

Oh, yeah. I went to a free year, and then I joined the second year. Now, last year they elected me as first vice president, and then so this year at the election in April, last April, two of them got after me, “I want you to be president. I'll nominate you.” I kind of hesitated, but I thought, “Well, they'll help me. Why not?” And so I was elected president of the VFW [Veterans of Foriegn Wars] Auxiliary Post 1142.

EE:

Wonderful, wonderful.

MS:

The Blue Ridge Mountain Post.

EE:

So you've had a lot of chances the last three years to think about all this time in the service and what it meant to you.

MS:

I told this little girl that writes that magazine, I said, “You know, I've had more attention over the story that—

EE:

That one little story.

MS:

That one little story. Excuse me.

[Telephone interruption]

EE:

What was a typical day like for you in basic? You all drilled in the morning and had classes, I guess, in the afternoon?

MS:

Well, we had, like I said, we did have drill, and I started to tell you that, because I wanted to tell you one thing. We started in for lunch one day, and the platoon sergeant, she was going along beside us, calling all this. All of a sudden she said, “Osborne, take the troop back to the barracks.”

You know, I'm going along. I just sidestepped and took them on in, got them in, hollered to them and dismissed them. That was fine. I thought, “Well, if I could get to be a non-commissioned officer, that I could be a platoon sergeant.”

Then another thing. This is painful. I had never had a smallpox vaccination. Of course, that was one of the first things, I got a smallpox vaccination. Well, that thing took, and wouldn't you know, I was listed for KP [kitchen patrol duty], and my arm was swollen. We had what they called our PT [physical therapy] dresses, a little seersucker dress, just a plain little old dress that we wore like when I had PT or when we had KP. I went to the First Sergeant and asked her, I said, “Could I put my arm in a sling? It's hurting so bad.”

She said, “I can't let you do that unless you go on sick call.”

I said, “No way. I'm not going on sick call unless I have to.”

So, you know, I hung my thumb in the belt of my little PT dress. That was my sling. And I went through my KP right on with everybody else one-handed.

But now, that was a painful experience. That's the most painful experience I had.

We had classes, and I remember one told us, she was talking to us about our character and how we behaved and everything, and she said, “You know how it is. One rotten apple will spoil the whole barrel.” What she meant by that, she said if you are seen walking down the street or in a bar or something like this, you know, and the civilian people see you—well, that's how they behave.

EE:

There were a lot of bad rumors about the WACs.

MS:

Like she said, one rotten apple could spoil the whole barrel.

Our detachment, the WAC detachment, they had built three buildings for [us] separate from the men, and we had to walk, oh, I guess a quarter mile or half a mile. I'm not very good on distance. I walked to the post office. It was down on—well, the ferry boats came in and docked there, and the post office was right here, right on the dock.

I always saw the ferry. I knew when the ferry was coming in, when the mail would come in. I'd sit at my desk and look out, especially when—see, the water, the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound and a big river coming in, and sometimes that would really act up. I'd watch those big ferry boats coming in, and they would hit one wave and then you could see rear up like this, you know, and then the next thing you know, it would go down. You'd think that, well, he's going to go to the bottom, but he was so used to it, I reckon, that he'd just bring it on in. And sometimes, you know, he'd have to go—he couldn't come in straight like he did when it was smooth. He'd either have to go way around this way or way around this way in order to come into the dock.

A hurricane came up one time while we were there. It seems like it was Diana. But they had to go down to the dock, and those ferry boats that were docked there, they had to fasten cables to them and to the post, utility post out here, to keep them from floating right out on the dock, you know. They had to tie them down because the tide got so high with that.

EE:

Did you learn the postal job there at Fort Wright or back at Fort Oglethorpe? Did they teach you your job at Fort Oglethorpe?

MS:

Fort Wright. I went right into it.

EE:

You were at Oglethorpe for what, about two months, and then you went directly to—

MS:

Yeah.

EE:

Were you at Fort Wright when you had the option to re-enlist?

MS:

Yes. Well, like I said, you know, I had saved my furlough time and come home and went back to my sister when her baby came, and I told her that I felt like I'd be getting discharged pretty soon. But then I went back, and then a sergeant in the personnel office called and said, “Mattie, pack your bags. You're going to Germany.” That's the way he broke it to me, you know. He said, “Pack your bags. You're going to Germany.”

Well, that just floored me, but I told him, I just told him the story, how it was all about. He said, “Now, Mattie, this is something. You can't just say, 'No, I don't want to go.'” But the next day he did tell me, he said, “Don't worry about it. We'll see what we can do.” And I think it was the very next day he called and said, “Mattie, you're off the hook. There's a girl in Boston that wants to go.”

EE:

So you were at Fort Wright, then, all the way through the time you got out.

MS:

All through. I did not go overseas. Some people think I did, but they just take it for granted I did. But we joked about it, because we were nine miles from New London out to Fishers Island. They said we deserved overseas pay.

EE:

When the weather's wet, the water's pretty choppy out there, I bet.

MS:

And, oh, the cold in the wintertime.

EE:

There were three barracks of women out there?

MS:

Three.

EE:

How many men stationed out there?

MS:

I don't have the least idea.

EE:

A lot more men than women?

MS:

Oh, a lot more. A lot more.

EE:

This was an army fort, not navy.

MS:

Army base. Well, now, let me tell you. We had a navy school. Now, this Fishers Island, I believe they said it's something like three miles wide and twelve miles long or something like that. But anyhow, it was a summer—well, resort. The big people around had summer homes over there on the northeast end of the island. We were on what you'd say the southwest, I guess, the army base was. Well, okay. Then they had a navy sound school in the big hotel. They were based there, the navy. And we had a lighter-than-air detachment, and that was the blimps, you know.

EE:

Right.

MS:

They were based there. They patrolled—I guess you'd call it patrolled—

EE:

The coastline?

MS:

The coastline, looking for—

EE:

Subs.

MS:

Subs, German subs. I got acquainted with one of the pilots. He would come down and get the mail. And I asked him, I said, “Would you let me take a ride on that?” He said he would if he could pull strings if he had to. But I never did get to go.

EE:

Your instructors at basic, were they all women or did you have some men, too?

MS:

All women.

EE:

All women. But when you got to Fort Wright, your CO [commanding officer] was a man, you said.

MS:

No. Our WAC commander—

EE:

Did she make the assignments for you?

MS:

She was a captain. That's the highest-ranking woman we had, but we had a couple of colonels, men. We had a captain and two or three lieutenants and then first sergeant. Before the sergeant left for the Pacific, I was made corporal. Well, then that job that I had, he was a sergeant, and that job called for a sergeant. But the war was winding down then.

EE:

So you left as a corporal?

MS:

I left out as a corporal, and I was supposed to have been a sergeant.

EE:

That was '44, I guess, when you took over from him, or was it '45?

MS:

You know, I don't know why in the world I didn't keep a diary of all that. I don't remember, but it probably was—

EE:

Before or after D-Day, do you remember that?

MS:

Forty-four.

EE:

It was before D-Day?

MS:

That was in '44.

EE:

Yes.

MS:

I really don't remember.

EE:

You remember a lot more than a lot of folks. I appreciate that.

MS:

Well, when you get me started, I don't know when to stop.

EE:

You know, they had that slogan, “Free a man to fight,” and you're one of the few people I've talked to who knew the person who they did free to fight. Most of the folks had cleared out the jobs, but it was pretty clear that they moved him out because they had somebody—you—trained to do the job. Did you ever feel guilty about sending him off to fight?

MS:

No, no. Now, a lot of the wives of servicemen and the mothers of servicemen, they resented us, a lot of them did, because, “Well, if you hadn't gone in, he wouldn't have had to go overseas,” you see. So I just took it with a grain of salt and let it go at that. And some of the men had their idea about why we were in there, too.

EE:

They weren't necessary patriotic?

MS:

Weren't necessarily. [laughter] And they weren't necessarily nice to women, either.

EE:

Well, how did you get along with the folks, because you were surrounded by a bunch of men? Did they treat you on the up-and-up or did they give you grief?

MS:

I would have to say that I had very—in fact, right now I can't recall but one man that wasn't nice to me, because all the others, we worked together. And we had a bowling alley. Everybody liked the bowling alley.

EE:

I was going to say, if you're on an island, that kind of cuts into the social life, doesn't it?

MS:

Yeah. Now, this could be off the record, but it's funny to me. We had a tournament. In fact, that's where I met the man that I sort of planned to marry. We were unofficially engaged.

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

MS:

I won the tournament. Well, this one sort of below smartie, he was a nice kid. He was from Connecticut. He challenged me. He said, “We'll have a match, and the loser takes the winner.”

Now, we just called it “up on the island,” but there was a cafe, a restaurant. Now, talk about feeling guilty. I feel guilty about going up there and getting any kind of steak I wanted or anything like that, and the family back home couldn't even get meat, you know, the way it was. But whichever lost had to take the other one up on the island and buy them a steak supper. Well, I did not buy the steak supper. [laughter] I remember that with kind of a sort of self-satisfaction. Well, I proved that I was the champion bowler on the island.

EE:

What did you all do, other than bowling? I guess you had furlough on weekends.

MS:

We could go to the mainland on Sunday if we wanted to, ride the ferry boat over and back.

EE:

You worked a five-day week or six-day?

MS:

Six. Well anyhow, we had two colonels, like I said, and one of the colonels, his wife, now, she was all for doing for the girls, you know, so she organized—we had a tea dance on Sunday afternoon at the—oh, shucks. Anyhow, I can't even think what the building was called.

EE:

Did you all have a service club?

MS:

I guess service club will do. But we had an excellent band. We had a good, I mean orchestra, band. So Mrs. Greenwood, Colonel Greenwood's wife, well, we'd have the dance, and we'd have refreshment. And then there was a movie; we could go to a movie. We had three boys. They were concert artists—a violinist, a cellist, and a pianist. They'd give concerts, and the ones, you know, would go to the concert, just like you'd go to concerts today. Well, maybe an ensemble or whatever group like that. But those three boys were A-1. I remember one time after I came home, I had the radio on. That was before television. I had the radio on, and I heard them. They announced the pianist was Robert Layton, and that's the one that was there.

EE:

It doesn't sound like that with the kind of work you did—save for the occasional storm that would blow through or the rowdy GI—that you were in physical danger during your work.

MS:

Not at all.

EE:

Were you ever afraid, being up at the big city and up in that neck of the woods?

MS:

You won't believe this. Now, this could have given us a big scare.

I have to have a drink of water.

[Tape recorder paused]

MS:

We could take a three-day pass. You know, you got three passes. And we could go to Boston or New Haven, Connecticut, or New York City or northern New Jersey on a three-day pass. One day, there was a sailor out on a ship out in the Pacific. I don't know whatever happened to the boy, but he sent out a message that the Japanese had surrendered.

EE:

Which obviously wasn't true.

MS:

No, it wasn't true. But a friend of mine from Maine and I, we had gone to Palisades Park in New Jersey, spent the day on Sunday in Palisades Park. We went back over into New York, and we went to this little restaurant on Times Square. They already had the windows boarded up, a bit like a two-by-six or something like that, you know. I don't mean a board. I mean, they had those big windows boarded up because they knew that, when they did surrender, that there'd be such a celebration in Times Square. You've probably seen celebrations there. So we went in this little restaurant and ate supper, and when we came out, Times Square was filling up. Of course, we looked up at that running around the Times Building, and this boy had sent this message out. But then right on the heels of it came that it wasn't so, that he just sent it out. But they already had excuse enough to celebrate, you know.

We stood there against this big two-by-six, or something like that, but the big one across the window of the cafe, and my friend said, “Mattie, we better try to get out of here,” because we had to get back. She had a sister that had an apartment on 121st [Street], close to Columbia University. Well, we went out, and I was depending on her for the subway, because I didn't know anything about it. Well, we got on the subway, and when we got to 121st Street, we were in the middle of Harlem, in the middle. We had gotten on the wrong subway.

EE:

In the wrong direction.

MS:

Now, she was smaller than I am, but she said to me, “Mattie, I dare you to show a bit of fright.”

There was a flashy black girl, and she walked up to her and she said, “Can you tell us how to get back to—we got on the wrong subway.” She told her where we were going, just casual conservation.

She told us to go back to 96th Street and cross over and get on Courtland Park, look for the name, get on Courtland Park subway. We were on 7th Avenue subway. So we went back to 96th Street and crossed over to the other line, and when Courtland Park subway came, we got on it and went on to 121st Street, got off, and went on to the apartment. It was quite an experience, and it was a little scary in a way. Now, it would have been a lot different today.

EE:

Yeah. One thing, especially with North Carolina, I've talked to folks who really had had no contact with black folks until they went to the service. The service was the first time that they'd actually been in with them.

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

MS:

Well, basic training physically, and especially the incident with my arm. But I didn't mind it. I didn't mind going through what I did with my arm, because that was just a part of it. I knew my arm would get sore and everything, but I just thought—well, I was hoping it wasn't like this all the time, because I couldn't straighten, it just hurt so bad and it was all swollen. But that was nothing.

Oh, there was a personal experience. Are you interested in—well, this was awful. My mama was not well. I mean, she was just old, but she wasn't as old as I am now. And I had a girlfriend. We were bosom buddies. Her mother was old, like mine. I went home with a girl that lived in Eddington, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. So I went home with her. We went on a three-day pass. And we had gone out to a movie or something. Anyhow, when we got back, there on the table was a note, “Mattie, call operator so-and-so in Philadelphia.” I thought, “What on earth is going on?” I called, and the operator told me that she had got a call from my captain, Captain Wallace, that my mother had passed away and that I was to go directly, just come on to North Carolina from Philadelphia.

EE:

Was this '44?

MS:

Yes. Well, I come on home. But then Amanda, my girlfriend, had sent me a wire that her mother had died, and they thought it was my mother. They thought that was my sister. They thought it was my mother. Well, then Amanda sent another wire about the funeral arrangements and she wished that I could be there, and, of course, I wished I could be there. But then Captain Wallace realized what she'd done.

EE:

So your mother had not passed away?

MS:

No.

EE:

And you got all that upset.

MS:

And here I came all the way home.

EE:

Did you get all the way home?

MS:

From Philadelphia. I ran into a boy that I knew from Elkin who was coming home on furlough, and we got a cab together and went to my sister's house first, where my mother was living, and went there first. He wouldn't go to his home first. He was going to, you know, out of courtesy to me. I got there, and the house was dark. It was about midnight. I said, “Well, it's strange that there's no lights on. Maybe she's at the funeral home.” I got out and went in and went through the hall to Mama's bedroom. Well, I went straight there the first thing, and I turned on the light, and Mama sat up in the bed and she said, “Child, what in the land's the matter?” because I had sent a wire home that I'd be there by midnight.

EE:

Good Lord, that must have dropped your heart out.

MS:

All this time, they were wondering what had happened to me that I was coming home, and all the time I thought my mother was dead. Well, then the next morning I went down to the telegraph office, and I told the lady that I wanted to send a wire. She said, “Well, Mattie, that's what those flowers were for that I got a call yesterday.” The girls had sent flowers from—

EE:

From your base.

MS:

From my base. I sent the wire. I said, “There's been a terrible mistake. Mother alive and well. Returning immediately.” I can remember it just as good.

EE:

Well, I guess you gave your mama a good hug that night.

MS:

I sort of went hysterical.

EE:

I bet. That's terrible.

MS:

I kept telling her, I said, “Mama, nothing's wrong. It's fine. It's fine.” And finally, when I settled down, I told her. And just as quick as I could make arrangements, I headed back, you know, because my three-day pass was up.

EE:

I bet your CO was awful apologetic when you got back.

MS:

Well, when I got back to New London and I started from the train station down to the dock, I ran into one of my lieutenants. She knew what had happened. She'd been over to New London. So when I handed my MP my pass, it was two days over. I've even forgotten the lieutenant's name, but she said, “Now, it's all right. She's with me.”

I told her, I said, “Well, now he thinks that I'm under arrest,” because I went without leave.

When I turned in at the office that I was back, Captain Wallace, here she came, and she said, “Mattie, I am so sorry,” and I just bawled. I was scheduled for KP the next day, and she turned to the first sergeant and she said, “Osborne will not do KP tomorrow,” and she gave me the day to rest the next day.

EE:

How was Amanda after finding out about her mama?

MS:

Amanda was with her mother. My girlfriend, she was with her mother, and when her mother died, she sent me a wire.

EE:

They just read it wrong back at the base.

MS:

I was on leave. I was in Philadelphia. They tried to call, because they knew where you were going. They tried to call and they couldn't get me, and so this operator called. My girlfriend's mother left a note for me to call Operator 80, I believe it was, in Philadelphia. Now, she went on back to the base, and I borrowed twenty dollars from her mother to pay my train fare home because I'd blown all my money. Well, I said I couldn't see why they didn't check my record to see if it was me.

EE:

I don't understand. There's so much bureaucracy with everybody moving different places.

When you think back to that time, are there some favorite songs that come to mind or favorite movies? When you flip on a TV and you see AMC [American Movie Classics, TV channel] and you say, “Oh, my, I remember where I was when I saw that.”

MS:

You remember To Each His Own and Racing with the Moon, Vaughan Monroe singing Racing with the Moon.

Well now, on the Sunday afternoon that President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt died, we had a radio, one of the girls had a radio, and on Sunday afternoon we always listed to Sammy Kaye, Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye. The announcer said, “We interrupt this program to bring you a message,” like they do, a special message. He was kind of jovial, you know, but then when he looked at the message and started to read it, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president is dead.” He had died at the “Little White House” in Georgia. Then everything changed. The music was somber, and all us were, I guess we just idolized President Roosevelt, you know, and all of us were just in shock.

EE:

It was so close to the end of the war, too. People could see it finally coming to a close.

MS:

That was a bad time, and that incident about my mother, that was worse, of course. What could be any worse?

EE:

Well, more pleasant thoughts. Usually everybody has a funny story that either happened to them, an embarrassing moment, or that they witnessed. Is there a funny or embarrassing [moment] that you recall from your time in the service, other than putting a shine on that guy at the bowling alley?

MS:

No, I don't remember anything just very, very funny.

EE:

Did the WACs, when they went to dances or out of town, did you all usually go in groups or did you go with the other male servicemen? Did you do a lot dating or was it more a group thing?

MS:

Well now, I had a friend. They had come home from the Pacific. You know how they do that. They would send the boys as best they could to a base nearest to where they could discharge. He was from Boston. Well, Cambridge, rather. I went home with him. I didn't go home with him, but I went with him, and I remember the name of the hotel I stayed in, he stayed at home, Hotel Bradford. I didn't want to give any impression that we both stayed at Hotel Bradford. Most of the time, though, we would, girls—some of the girls lived close around, like this one in Philadelphia.

EE:

Were you about the only Southerner in that group?

MS:

No. There was a girl from Gastonia, [North Carolina], one from Jonesville, [North Carolina]. Well, there were several when we went in together, but we went in all directions. I guess there were fifteen or twenty of us, you know, so we went in all directions after. And then I met this girl from Gastonia after I got up there.

EE:

You talked about Mr. Roosevelt. What did you think of Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

MS:

I'll tell you the truth, I had great admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt. You know, anymore, it seems now, even that far back, after the President goes out, somebody can dig up dirt about him. So now, you see, President Roosevelt was at the “Little White House” with this—

EE:

Secretary or whatever.

MS:

Medford [Lucy Mercer]. Anyhow, gossip had it that that was his girlfriend or his mistress, whatever you want to call it. I don't know, to me that was more or less between him and Eleanor, you know. I don't think that that had any effect whatsoever on his ability to do his job as president. I kind of feel like, I've heard people say that about this [President Bill] Clinton mess, you know, that a man's personal life and how he does his job, and what we were interested back then was how President Roosevelt was doing his job. I know Clinton has done things that's almost unforgivable in a way, but I judge him by the way he runs the country, you know.

EE:

I marvel that sometimes he is able to get up in the morning, the way—after last year. I think I would have just cashed in the chips and said, “I'm going to retire now.”

MS:

How could a man know all that was going on and everything and then get up before a TV camera just as composed as you please?

EE:

That's right.

MS:

We won't get into that.

EE:

Well, everybody's got their own problems.

MS:

We all have our own problems. You know, here George [W.] Bush now, I've got a feeling George Bush will be our next president. But somebody brought it up on him smoking marijuana or something. And then just yesterday, I think it was, or maybe the day before yesterday, here somebody was on to Bill Bradley, thought he'd smoked marijuana. He said, yeah, he smoked a time or two, admitted that he'd smoked marijuana. But now, you talk about a man that's got a lot up here, that's Bill Bradley. I said I'd vote for Bill Bradley, but I don't know whether I will or not. I'll wait and see.

EE:

At least you'll have the choice, I think, with that one.

When you think back to that time, are there heroes or heroines for you in the wartime?

MS:

Well, everybody knows about Audie Murphy, and I think everybody had Audie Murphy on a pedestal. Well, as far as I'm concerned, General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. I think probably I looked up to him more than I did any other officer. I felt—well, this was after the war. I felt a little sorry for [General Douglas] MacArthur, the treatment he got. But he had his own mind and had his own way of doing things and everything.

If I had a big hero, it would be General Eisenhower. I mean, General Eisenhower, to me, he had a feeling, he had a feeling for his troops. And even though he had to order them, you know, D-Day and all that and lost as many of the dead, but he couldn't think about that. He had to push on, because he had a war to win. I bet you, if you knew, there's no telling how many bad nights Dwight Eisenhower had over his men that were lost, that got killed.

EE:

You talked about where you were when you heard about President Roosevelt passing away. Where were you on VE [Victory in Europe] Day or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day? Do you remember those days, when the war ended in Europe and in Japan?

MS:

Well, I was still in the service.

EE:

They let you off early, or make you get back to barracks quick?

MS:

No. We just went on.

EE:

Who is there?

MS:

This is my husband, Tom.

EE:

Eric Elliott, nice to meet you.

MS:

We've been talking for about an hour.

EE:

Yeah. We're about finished here. We got her to VJ Day, so we're getting close.

MS:

He's been out mowing yards. Eighty-four years old, and he still mows yards.

EE:

Mowing yards is why you are able to do it at 84. You keep going out there and working. That's great.

So you were on the base at VJ Day?

MS:

Yes.

EE:

Big celebration?

MS:

It was like I said in Times Square. A lot of the people in Times Square that night that I was there were service people, and then, you know, they just got started and they just celebrated in any way, because they knew that the war was winding down. So there were just about as many there then as there was when it really ended, you know.

EE:

You showed me, before we started, this poem that you wrote. I guess that was when your brother was away in North Africa.

MS:

Well, that is dated about 1943. They think it was 1943, and I'm really not sure.

EE:

But you were in the service when you wrote this?

MS:

I was in the service when I wrote it.

EE:

Did you write pretty regularly to your brother, both of them?

MS:

Well, you know, we could use those little free—

EE:

V-Mail?

MS:

V-Mail. So it wasn't too much of a job to just write a few words and seal it, put it in the mail.

EE:

That's great.

MS:

I had a friend from Elkin that was, he was a Ranger. Do you know anything about the Rangers?

EE:

Army Rangers?

MS:

Yes, the Rangers. He was a Ranger. I don't know how many battles, or whatever you call them, he was in, but I didn't hear from him for a long time, and I worried. I was afraid he might have been killed. But when I heard from him, he said he'd been in the hospital forty-four days. He said that they left shrapnel in his back because they were afraid that, if they tried to get it, they could sever his spinal [cord].

He come on back home, he made it back home. But he got a job as a security officer at the Capitol [Washington, D.C.], and he worked there. He married a German girl and brought her home, and they had a child. The baby was a hemophiliac, bleeder, you know, they call them bleeders. Well, he had that to deal with. And then later, his wife developed muscular dystrophy, and they said he even had to brush her teeth. She couldn't even brush her teeth. And then he developed cancer, and he committed suicide.

EE:

It seems in life that some people have a lot more things, all that stuff to go through.

MS:

After he'd been through all of that.

EE:

Like the woman last week who walked into the pawn shop on Friday and kills herself. Her daughter had survived that shooting out in Colorado, and finally getting to where she was walking, and she said, “I've had enough. I can't take anymore.” You just don't know.

MS:

She walked into a pawn shop and told them she wanted to look at a gun. They left her alone.

EE:

Just for a second.

MS:

It's too bad they didn't think, “Well, something's wrong with her.”

EE:

I've got three more questions for you, and I've got one question for you, since you're in here with her. This poem, “It's our own armed forces fighting all over the world that the Star Spangled Banner may remain unfurled.” Do you think that America was a more patriotic place back there in those days?

MS:

Oh, yeah. When you get down to it, our nation, as a whole, well, I'd like to think that we're as patriotic as ever. I've said this more than once. God made this world, and it's not our nation's fault. It's some of the people that live in our nation that have done this to our nation. Well, like in the big city, this so-called mafia and all. Every time I hear about one getting arrested, I always say, “Good,” because the people—

EE:

Sometimes the enemy is ourselves.

MS:

It's not the nation; it's some of its people.

EE:

Do you feel you contributed to the war effort?

MS:

I did what I was told to do. I went in. I took every order that was given me. Oh, I had one serious order, and I'll tell you this. I'll make it as short as I can. When that hurricane—I told you a hurricane came up. Well, some of our girls, the ones that worked in the motor pool, here they were out—there were civilians on our island, and some of their little old houses, you know, weren't that strong, and they began bringing them in to our detachment, because our buildings were just built, you know, and they were strong. This woman, she was Portuguese, and her little granddaughter. There wasn't anything I could do. I was lying there on my bed, you know. I was letting everything just go by.

I was about half asleep, and my sergeant said, “Osborne, get on the top bunk and let this lady have your bunk.” I didn't listen to her; I didn't pay any attention. I didn't get up. When I didn't get up, she said, “Osborne, this is an order. Get on that top bunk.” I got on the top bunk. But that's the only time that I ever was what you would call reprimanded or anything. She gave me a definite order, and when she did, I didn't say a word. I just crawled up on the top bunk.

EE:

How has your life been different because of your time in the service?

MS:

Well, I think, for one thing, I have more respect for the military. Our church, like the Fourth of July, they'll recognize the veterans, you know.

EE:

It's been a lot different the last three years because of your time in the service. Ever since somebody writes an article about you, you're in trouble now. Your husband doesn't see you as much.

MS:

This man, he owns a heating and air-conditioning business. I know one time—they want us to say something, you know. One time when they recognized this man, he said, “Well, if I wasn't too old and too heavy, I'd go back in a minute.” And that's the way I feel. I feel that if my country needed me, I have felt like it all the time, that if they [my country] needed me, I'd go back. I'd go back in a minute.

EE:

Today, women can do so many more different kinds of work than they did when you were [in the service]. Do you think that there's some jobs in the military that women should not be allowed to do or are you pretty open to whatever they feel like?

MS:

I've been faced with that. Did you know—now, they told it, this Kosovo business. You know they sent two of the stealth bombers over there, and I've been wondering about that, and all the other bombers and all. A woman flew a bomber to Kosovo. Did you know that?

EE:

No. I knew that some had flown in Iraq.

MS:

I heard it on the TV. I forgot what her rank was, but she was right in that formation. She flew one of them. How many young boys do you think like the idea of going out here with a rifle, getting shot at themselves and killing people? I think if there's a woman that thinks she could handle it, let her go. I believe that. Because there is women that can shoot a gun as good as a lot of men can, and I think that there are those who would be level-headed enough that they wouldn't go off the deep end or something. I may be wrong. And especially, every time I see one of them big planes flying over, whether it's a military plane or some of the other planes, I always have a good feeling, it gives me a good feeling.

EE:

Well, we talked about your time in the service, and I appreciate you doing that. How did you all get together? Did you all meet in the service or afterwards?

MS:

I came home, and like I said, I was taking care of my sister and her two children. I put a roof over their head, clothes on their back, and food in their stomach. Well then, she got better and she got to dating. Her husband had deserted her, and, of course, they got a divorce. So she got to dating again, and the Pepsi-Cola plant over here used to have square dances over there on Saturday night. And so this man that she was dating wanted me to go with them. Well, I stayed at home with her kids. So one weekend her kids were with my older sister, and I thought, “Well, I'll just go with them to the square dance,” and got over there.

When I got over there, Tom came in with one of his sisters-in-law. He'd had about the same trouble with his first wife that my sister had had with her husband. My sister said to me, “There's that Spicer man that his wife took off with another man.” Well anyhow, during the night my sister told me, “Tom wants to take you home.” I was with them.

I said, “Well, if he wants to take me home, he can ask me himself.”

So we went on to a, there was a restaurant close by, went on to the restaurant, you know, and was just making a night of it. I was sitting there in a booth, and the first thing I knew, right behind me, here he stuck his head up there and he said, “Can I take you home?” That's how we met.

EE:

Well, it pays to ask sometime. You can get what you want if you ask.

MS:

I said that if he wanted to take me home, he could ask himself. And we've been together now, come the thirtieth of November it will be forty-nine years.

EE:

That's wonderful. I see some pictures up here. You have some kids and grandkids?

MS:

Up over your head there, that's my stepson, his son, and his two children, and they are our great-grandchildren.

EE:

That's great.

MS:

Now, these two over here are on my side of the family. Well now, over here on the TV, this one on the right side over here. She's one of our little great-grandchildren.

EE:

What's she about fourth grade, fifth grade?

MS:

She's fourteen years old. No, this over here on this side's fourteen.

EE:

Okay. I don't see behind me.

MS:

You can't see her. She's behind there. Now, the wedding picture there is our grandson. He's all of thirty years old now and been married three years. And they're expecting, and we're going to have another great-grandchild.

EE:

All of them close by?

MS:

Yeah. Well, his daddy's been sick over the weekend, just coughing his head off, and yesterday he [our grandson] called—no, Sunday he called three times, checking on him.

EE:

That's good. It's good to have them close by.

MS:

Well, I like to see families close, you know. But we've all had our troubles. Tommy and Missy, he's the only grandson we've got. His daddy—it's just so sad. He's such a fine young man, just a good Christian boy and just good to us, as good as you can be, and his daddy died of an overdose when he [the grandson] was little.

EE:

In this life, you see a lot.

MS:

Are we still taping?

EE:

I think we are. I think, though, that we're about at the end of the tape, so if we don't call it quits, the tape's going to go out on me in just a second anyway. But I certainly have enjoyed it. Thank you for sitting down with us today.

MS:

Once you get me started, I don't know when to stop. I am proud of my record as a woman soldier.

EE:

Great.

MS:

And I'd do it again in a minute. Of course, I'm eighty-three years old now.

EE:

It might take more than a minute.

MS:

Like I said about this man that said if he wasn't too old and too heavy he'd go back in a minute. I would. Of course, certainly common sense tells me I wouldn't go now.

EE:

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your letting us sit in your home today.

[End of Interview]