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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Joan E. Gerichten, 1999

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Object ID: WV0109.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Joan Gerichten’s experiences in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1954 to 1961 and her experiences as an officer’s wife after marriage.

Summary:

Gerichten details her early desire to join the Marines; boot camp training; scoring badly on a typing exam; officer ranks in the Marines; reactions she encountered after joining the Marines; taking a road trip to California with friends; living conditions at Parris Island; her duties in San Diego; being treated with respect by male Marines; social life in the Marines, including dating and sports; the attitude of the country after World War II; meeting and marrying Bill Gerichten; and being forced to leave the Marines in 1961 because she had step-children.

Gerichten also describes her experiences in the Marine Corps Reserves during the Vietnam War; her husband’s duties during the Vietnam War; involvement in the officers’ wives club in Georgia; planning activities in Wilkes-Barre as the Senior Hostess; attitudes toward the Vietnam War; her opinion of women in combat positions; and two of her children’s experiences in the military.

Creator: Joan E. Gerichten

Biographical Info: Joan E. Gerichten, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1954 to 1961 and joined the reserves in 1974.

Collection: Joan E. Gerichten 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. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University.

Today is October 29, 1999, and I'm in Kernersville, North Carolina, at the home of Bill and Joan Gerichten. Thank you all for having us over today. Mrs. Gerichten, I'm going to ask you, I guess the same question that I ask everybody at the beginning, and I hope it is not the most difficult one I ask you, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

JG:

I was born in Camden, New Jersey, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

EE:

I went to grad school at Penn [University of Pennsylvania].

JG:

Did you?

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

JG:

Two brothers and one sister.

EE:

You're the oldest? Youngest?

JG:

I'm the oldest. My sister and I are the first two, and then the boys.

EE:

What did your folks do?

JG:

Well, my dad had his own business. During the war years, he worked three different jobs—his business, plus he worked as a shipbuilder at the Cramp Ship Yard in Philadelphia—was out of business years ago. And then he also held down a job at Heinz Manufacturing.

EE:

This is the food manufacturer?

JG:

No, it's another—I'm not sure.

EE:

It's spelled like the food?

JG:

It's spelled the same way.

EE:

What about your mom?

JG:

My mom was a voter registrar for the city of Philadelphia. That was during the war years. Of course, after the war, Dad's business picked up and we moved to Levittown, Pennsylvania.

EE:

Is Levittown where you graduated from high school?

JG:

No, I graduated from Philadelphia.

EE:

So this was—

JG:

Long after. I graduated in 1950, and we moved in '55.

EE:

What high school did you graduate from?

JG:

Olney [High School].

EE:

It's been a while since I heard that name. Occasionally I hear KYW [Philadelphia radio station] late at night.

JG:

Oh, really?

EE:

Yes. Were you somebody who liked school?

JG:

No.

EE:

To be honest.

JG:

No, not really. It was something that I had to do. I didn't care for it.

EE:

You graduated in '50.

JG:

In 1950, in June.

EE:

About the time the Korean War is beginning. But as a teenager, my guess is you probably weren't into world events. Or were you?

JG:

Well, during the Second World War, I was really hot to trot to follow what the Marines were doing. I don't know why. It was just one of those things. I read the paper about the Marines and what they were doing, and kept tabs on them. Of course, I announced to my parents after I got out of high school I was going to go join the Marines. Well, that didn't work. “You're not going to do that until you're twenty, twenty-one, anyway. You're just not old enough to do that.”

EE:

You had to have parental permission, I think.

JG:

I think definitely, right. Women could not get in the service when they were eighteen. They had to be twenty-one.

EE:

But that was your idea right from high school that you wanted to go into—

JG:

Yeah, that's what I wanted to do.

EE:

That was something that came about on your own, or did you have other friends who were talking about the service?

JG:

No, I didn't have any friends that were in the military. It was something I wanted to do.

EE:

But you did not do it right at eighteen?

JG:

I couldn't, no. My folks would not sign for me.

EE:

What did you end up doing after you graduated?

JG:

I worked for a company called Leeds and Northrup. They made electrical measuring instruments, and I was in the office. I processed orders. People order ahead of time, and I would keep the records and make sure that the shipment was sent out at the proper time.

EE:

How long did you have that job?

JG:

Four years.

EE:

You went from that job, then, to the service?

JG:

Right.

EE:

During those four years, we're back at war again. Did that make you more anxious to join?

JG:

In a way, yes. I thought I would be part of it, but I was on the tail end of it. We didn't get credit for that at first, and then after a period of time, they came out with the medal that showed that we were part of that.

EE:

You joined in fifty—

JG:

August of 1954.

EE:

August of '54. How did your employer feel about that?

JG:

He was all right with that. I threatened that I was going to do it anyway.

EE:

Was there any talk about, when you tire of that, come back to work with us?

JG:

They did say that, if you get tired, or when your tour's up, there'll be a place for you.

EE:

How long was it that you signed on for?

JG:

Initially, it was for three years. From there, I went to San Diego, [California], from boot camp, and I liked it. I was having a wonderful time.

BG:

Where did you go to boot camp?

EE:

A lot of the services in the fifties were really cutting back, after Korea, on the number of women. They didn't want a lot of women. Did you have to go down and find a recruiting office? What were the mechanics of you joining?

JG:

Well, I had to find where the recruiting office was, and that took some doing, because I didn't know downtown Philadelphia.

EE:

Was there a separate office for women?

JG:

No. I just went into the recruiting office, and there was a woman there.

EE:

She was a recruiter just for the Marines?

JG:

She was working with the male Marines, and I guess she, yes, basically took care of the women.

EE:

When you joined, did you have a particular job in mind that you wanted to do?

JG:

Believe it or not, I wanted to be a drill instructor.

EE:

You missed having brothers and sisters.

JG:

I don't know.

EE:

That's good. That's good. And you told them as much?

JG:

Yeah. They said, “Well, you go down there and see what it's all about.” Then I changed my mind. [laughter]

EE:

How long was basic for?

JG:

I don't know if it was ten or twelve weeks. I can't remember that. Let's see, I went in in August and came out sometime in October.

EE:

What was a typical day like in basic for you?

JG:

We got up in the dark and went to bed in the dark. Mostly it was classes on military, what is it, all military-related things, military subjects.

EE:

Learning rank and protocol and those kind of things.

JG:

Exactly. We also had a thing on grooming. Everyone had to have their hair curled in almost a certain way.

EE:

No hair touching the collar?

JG:

Yeah, right. Well, everyone got their hair cut, and then you had to go get your hair done. My hair was kind of “touchy,” so they permed it, and I came out with a frizzy head. There was nothing I could do but let it grow out.

But military subjects—it was nothing combat-related. The only combat thing that we did get out of it was going through the gas mask.

EE:

Did you work with rifles or with any arms?

JG:

No, we had nothing to do with rifles. No weapons at all. A lot of drilling.

EE:

That's one of the things that changes over time.

JG:

That's what I went for. Boy, I thought that was great. I read before I joined that the women in the WACs [Women's Army Corps] wound up going on these bivouacs, they're called, where you're camping out and you're doing all this wartime stuff. Well, the Marines didn't do that. They wanted their women to be women.

EE:

Were your instructors women or men?

JG:

Women. Our main instructors were women. They were sergeants. We had one male, and he was the “troop and stomp.” That was the drill—you know, marching.

EE:

In different times in the services' histories, there were only certain categories of work that women could do. Were you given a list of categories of things that you could do—special schools to apply for, or was there a series of tests you took to determine what you might do?

JG:

We took a series of tests, and that was a fiasco. There were only a handful of jobs that women could do at that time, and then they gave us this testing. It was typing, a lot of clerical things, which I had experience in, working those four years before. So they gave us a typing test, and I had a machine where someone must have put their fist in all the keys, and they were just one big massive glob up there on the platen. And I [said], “Oh, gee, how can I take a test?” I'm pulling all these keys down one by one. My score wound up being nine words per minute.

BG:

One word a minute.

JG:

Nothing words per minute. I thought it was unfair, but you didn't dare tell anyone that you're ranking me wrong here. You didn't do that in those days. So I just took that score. They gave me a supply MOS [military occupational specialty].

EE:

You weren't asking to be a drill instructor?

JG:

No. No, I thought, “I don't like their hours,” and the responsibility. They gave me a supply MOS, and then I was transferred to my first duty station, which was San Diego.

EE:

Sent to the main base?

JG:

Marine Corps Recruiting Depot. And then those people put me in the 0-1 field, which was the administrative.

EE:

So you were getting closer back to the kind of work you were doing before.

JG:

Exactly, yeah. It was still nine-to-five hours, except when you had duty.

EE:

How long did you do that work there?

JG:

I got there in 1954, November of 1954, and I transferred out of there the end of '56, December of '56. I had gotten transferred back to Philadelphia to work with the women officers selection team. We traveled to different colleges to recruit women for officer's training.

EE:

What was your rank at the time?

JG:

I think I was a corporal, a corporal or a sergeant. Back in those days, it was sergeant E4.

EE:

Was this throughout the Northeast?

JG:

Yes. We went through Ohio. Western Pennsylvania and Ohio was basically where we traveled. That lasted for six months, and then I went back to the Marine Corps Supply Depot, where I was stationed. Actually, it was the Fourth District, Fourth Marine Corps Reserve and Recruitment District.

EE:

This was in Philadelphia?

JG:

Philadelphia. It was at 1100 South Broad Street. You should know that.

EE:

How long were you stationed up there?

JG:

Four years, I think.

EE:

Was that through the time of your active service?

JG:

Oh, yes. I had seven years and one month in active service.

EE:

And then you were detracted by other interests.

JG:

Yeah.

EE:

Sitting across from us.

BG:

Almost.

JG:

Almost. He sat in the back office and would phone me during lunch, because I ate my lunch at my desk.

EE:

This was an on-the-job site romance, then.

JG:

I guess so.

BG:

But we weren't in the same job or the same section or anything.

JG:

No.

BG:

We could be divorced. I worked in the reserve aspect of the headquarters and my wife was in administration.

JG:

The administrative section.

EE:

How long had you been there? Were you there from the beginning of her time there?

BG:

No. Joan was there before me. I got there in November of '60. You were already there.

JG:

I was still there, right.

EE:

And then you left in October of '69?

JG:

Well, I left active duty while I was in Philadelphia for about three months. I was going to join the Philadelphia police force, and they just took so long getting around to setting up a date for me to take the test and everything, I just went back into the Marines. But this time I had to go back in as a corporal, which was a E4. The ranks changed at that time.

BG:

It didn't matter. You were still a corporal.

EE:

You left as?

JG:

I left as a sergeant, but came back as a corporal E4. I left as a sergeant E4. And then when I was promoted, I got promoted to sergeant E5, which used to be staff sergeant.

BG:

After she came back in, she found she was selected for police officer. She would have been an officer in Philadelphia.

EE:

And the pay would have been?

JG:

I don't know. I have no idea.

EE:

Starting at the bottom. When you came back in after your three months, did you come back in to the same kind of work?

JG:

Yes, the same place.

EE:

Same position?

JG:

The same place.

EE:

I'm going to go through the whole part of your career, and then go back and ask you some specifics about it, just to find out where you're going.

So you came back in the Philadelphia office, and you are there for how long?

JG:

Well, Bill and I met.

BG:

That was after you came back.

JG:

After I came back in.

EE:

So after you came back in, you decided to get serious about Bill.

JG:

Well, then he was stationed—I was still there, and then he came.

BG:

I came in in October of '60, October/November '60.

JG:

And then he pursued me.

BG:

Which is another story.

JG:

Yes. And I was transferred out of there and went to Parris Island. I said, “Well, I started my career here, and I might finish it here.”

EE:

Was it '62 that you were down at Parris Island?

JG:

Sixty-one, wasn't it? October of '61.

BG:

We got married in '61, and you went down, and you were still in active, finishing. It was '61.

JG:

October of '61 is when I got offered that.

EE:

That would have been a good place to be a DI [drill instructor], but you weren't a DI then.

JG:

No. I was acting first sergeant for a period of time down there for the Women Marine Company.

EE:

And you held that position for?

JG:

Let's see, I got out in October. I think I went down in March of '61.

BG:

It wasn't long. The reason it was a short time frame is because they were telling her she had to get out, because now she had children. It wasn't by choice; it was by law.

JG:

Yeah. They were his children, but I had to get out and give up my career. I didn't think that was quite fair. But it was all right. I didn't really want to stay at Parris Island.

EE:

So that's when you left active duty?

JG:

Yeah.

EE:

But then you stayed as a reservist.

JG:

No. We had a child and his three children. Thirteen years later I found out they had a reserve—well, Bill retired in '73, and then I found out they had a reserve unit over in Greensboro, and I went in there in '75.

BG:

I think it was in '74.

JG:

In '74.

BG:

In '74, she went back in the Marines, but as a reservist.

EE:

They weren't concerned then about children at the home or anything like that?

JG:

Well, they were still concerned, but they made sure you had a backup to take care of your youngster. The youngest one was thirteen at the time, and Bill had retired, so there was someone here. There was no problem.

EE:

Let me go back and ask you a few things about some of these. When you finally did join, four years after you told your parents you wanted to join, were they resigned to you? Did you get their support?

JG:

Yes.

EE:

You had done what they asked you to do, which was to wait.

JG:

I waited.

EE:

How did your brothers and sisters feel?

JG:

They're brothers and sisters. They could care less.

BG:

Well, your other brother went into the air force.

JG:

Well, my oldest brother, who is younger than I, went into the air force. He liked the military, too.

EE:

Ten years earlier had you joined, you would have turned a lot of heads just because it was a new thing to have women in the service. What was the reaction of other folks when you went out in uniform?

JG:

Actually, I didn't go too many places in uniform. But the neighborhood, it was kind of a close-knit neighborhood. German and Irish is what it was, and we're all friends. Everybody just wagged their tongues about, “Oh, my goodness, she's such a good girl. She's going to be corrupted,” and, “Oh, that's not the place for women to be.” You know, all that kind of stuff. I kept saying, “I'll be the same person. Don't worry about it.”

EE:

But it was a concern, even ten years later.

JG:

It really was, yes. It really was. Only whores or people looking for a husband joined the military. “You're not that kind of a person. You shouldn't be there.” “I know what I'm doing.”

EE:

When you left to go to Parris Island, was that your first big trip away from home?

BG:

No. You made a trip across country.

JG:

That's right. No, it wasn't.

BG:

She had made an incredible journey.

JG:

Four of us went all the way from Philadelphia clear across—we drove clear across country to California. Actually, we had an accident. I ran the car off the road. It was a miracle that we weren't killed. We were two hundred feet above the bottom of this ravine, and the car was teetering.

BG:

Where was that at?

JG:

It was in California. We'd just finished driving up a winding trail into Yosemite [National Park]. I don't know what happened. But anyway, we wound up going off the side of the road, and this giant cliff and one wheel hanging on this pinnacle that's standing there and the rest, back wheels over here and climbing out. But anyway, we all lived. One person had a slight concussion when she popped her head on the car when the car landed on this pinnacle.

EE:

The Marine Corps was a piece of cake after this.

BG:

But the point is, they did travel a great distance.

JG:

We went all the way to California, and then we came back home again, and in a new car.

EE:

So you weren't shy about new places, is what I'm getting at.

JG:

Oh, no. I loved to travel. That was fascinating.

EE:

Was going into a barracks in Parris Island—was that your first time in group living?

JG:

Yes. That left a little bit to be desired, but I survived.

EE:

How many women were in there?

JG:

Oh, God.

EE:

Forty?

JG:

At least, yeah. Black and white.

EE:

It was mixed?

JG:

Yeah.

EE:

Some of the women I've talked to, the first time they actually had any extended contact with black people was in the service.

JG:

Yes.

EE:

What was the communal living like, was it a generally positive experience?

JG:

We were all feeling the same way, like, “Oh, my God.” We had double bunks, and so you had to flip and see who was going to get the top or the bottom. Well, you just had to work together, that's all.

BG:

But you did have private showers.

JG:

Yeah, shower stalls and toilets. It was private.

EE:

That was high living compared to some places.

BG:

We had pipes coming out of the walls.

EE:

Get a trough and that's it.

You've already talked about how you'd follow the papers and saw what the Marines were doing back when you were a kid, so it wasn't, for you—recruiting posters and concerted efforts to attract women in the Marine Corps wasn't a big influence to you, was it?

JG:

No, not really. But I did follow it, because there was talk that they were going to do away with the military, the women in the military, and I went, “Oh, no, and I never even got into it.” I was so disappointed. But then I found out that they were coming back, and I thought, “Well, that's it. I'm going to jump on the bandwagon before they change their mind again.” But my folks wouldn't let me.

EE:

That was '48 there was a concern that they might just let it go, and then Truman signed the bill to put them back in the service.

JG:

Put them back in. They found they were useful.

EE:

Your job while you were in the service, it paralleled in a lot of ways with the kind of work that you were doing outside of the service. It sounds like most of the time your immediate CO [commanding officer] was a man.

JG:

Yes.

EE:

How was your experience with that? Were you generally treated with respect and professionalism? Did you have trouble with individuals?

JG:

Well, actually, the women at that time were in their own group. They had women Marine companies, and that was commanded by women officers and first sergeants and so on. Now you're commanded by anybody. But the people I worked with, it was all men.

EE:

Your assignment to your particular job, was that done through your woman CO or through your immediate supervisor there at the department?

JG:

Well, it was the needs of the Corps, as they used to say. We reported in to headquarters battalion, and they needed somebody in the file section. It was a civilian woman that actually ran the files. In fact, she was two months shy of her 100th birthday when she came out here a couple years ago.

BG:

She kept up with her all these years.

EE:

That's great.

JG:

Yeah, we kept in touch. But anyway, she was in charge of files. I hate filing.

EE:

Come look at my office.

JG:

But anyway, I did what I could do there. And then these two, a staff sergeant and a sergeant, ran this guard mail. It was like interbase mail that was packaged, and you had to move it around to different battalions, all over the base in different places. So anyway, these guys were leaving, because they were just fluffing off and not doing too much. So they put me back there, because they knew I was unhappy with filing. So I ran that whole thing myself for three years. No, whatever length of time it was that I was in San Diego. That was a chore.

EE:

When you were in San Diego, the recruit depot doesn't sound like it's in a base. It's just a regular—

JG:

That's where they trained the recruits.

EE:

So you were living on base?

JG:

Yes. There was no off-base living at that time.

EE:

What about Philadelphia?

JG:

I was living at home.

EE:

With your folks?

JG:

With my folks. I was commuting.

EE:

Save some money that way.

JG:

Oh, yeah.

EE:

You had stayed past your first tour of duty of three years. Were you looking at making the military a career for you?

JG:

Yes, I really was. I was very happy with it.

EE:

Did you get encouragement to do so?

JG:

From whom?

EE:

From your supervisor, “Please re-enlist. We need you.”

JG:

Well, yes and no. They said they wanted me to stay there, but they knew how re-enlisted[s] are always going to get transferred somewhere because you had a choice. My time was up, and they wanted to send me over to Hawaii—Camp Smith. I was a little homesick at that point and decided I'd rather go back to Philadelphia if anything's open over that way. And that's where that Officer Selection Team job was open, and when that finished, I was able to stay at the headquarters, continue there.

EE:

You signed back on. The first tour was three. The second tour was another three. Is that what you ended up doing?

JG:

Yes.

EE:

And so you actually had two types of enlistments. You know, when they first started having women in the service, the slogan was, “Free a man to fight.” That wasn't the compelling need when you joined.

JG:

Exactly.

EE:

Did you get the sense that your folks had an idea of how they were using women personnel? Was it just to do “women's work,” so to speak, or were they opened up to different things?

JG:

I don't think they really knew what to expect, but they knew there was paperwork to be done. There's always paperwork. And they knew I could handle that. Yeah, I would have liked to have gotten in motor transport. I like to tinkle around with cars and get my fingernails dirty and greasy.

EE:

Was that an option open for you?

JG:

No.

EE:

See, now that was during the war.

JG:

Yeah. Well, I was an administrative person. I had worked in administration before I got into the military, and I was good at it, I guess, and they wanted to keep me in that, in that line of work.

EE:

You talked about that they wanted you to go to Hawaii. I know that at one point that women Marines and WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] were sort of restricted to the Continental U.S., plus Hawaii and Alaska. Was that still the case when you were in, that you couldn't get an overseas assignment?

JG:

I think that was, yeah. Well, that was a plumb choice for me, they said, but I didn't want any parts of it. I didn't want to go that far. I wanted to stay right here. I wanted to stay in the Continental United States so I could get back to my family once in a while.

EE:

Being across county, being in a different environment, surrounded by a lot of fellows, were you ever afraid at your work?

JG:

No. All the men who I had contact with treated the women with great respect. They really did. We weren't one of the guys. We were “a woman.” It was just a guy and a girl. When you were asked out on a date, you went to the club, whatever it was, enlisted club on a date, or he took you in town. It was very up and up.

EE:

When the Marines, when they had social things, did they hang out together, or was it pretty much everybody on their own?

JG:

No matter what group you're with, you form your own friends, and basically I found a handful of people that enjoyed the same things I [did]. I had a car, so I didn't have problems.

EE:

That sounds like a social life.

JG:

But, yeah, it was a handful of women.

EE:

What kind of car did you have?

JG:

I had a '53 Chevy BelAire.

EE:

What color?

JG:

Carolina blue and white.

EE:

I'm jealous.

JG:

I also later had a '57 Chevy, and now I'm thinking, gee, I'd love to have that thing again.

BG:

What about athletics?

EE:

Was that part of your social—did they have sports?

JG:

Yes, they had teams. We played other services, the navy, the air force. I was on the softball team, basketball, volleyball.

BG:

She was very active in the sports line, so that created friends in itself.

JG:

Yeah, right.

EE:

This was something that was done—

JG:

After hours.

EE:

After hours, but the service would pay for you to play.

JG:

Oh, yeah.

EE:

And transportation to places and whatever?

JG:

I even got on the rifle team, and I was the driver to take the team back and forth to—where was it? Camp Matthews [San Diego, California], I think, is where the rifle range was.

EE:

So you had no arms training at basic, but they had a rifle team?

JG:

Right. Just shoot at these little private sessions.

EE:

You'd take it up somewhere. When you think about that time for you—I guess you were mid-twenties when you were out in California and coming back to Philly—any particular songs or movies that you recall from that time period remind you of your days in the service?

JG:

Yeah, and they're bringing one of those songs back, and I can't for the life of me, now that you've asked, can't think of it. Was it All My Love or something? Unchained Melody.

EE:

Unchained Melody, okay. I don't think many people can hit that high note like the Righteous Brothers can.

JG:

Well.

EE:

It doesn't much sound like you were in, at least in your day—to—day work, you were not in the kind of work that would put you in physical danger, and if you were that active in sports, my guess is that basic was not as physically demanding to you like it might have been for some folks.

JG:

No, it wasn't. I enjoyed it. They think that I was crazy. “You like this? You can handle this?” The girls would go nuts in the barracks. You'd have to calm them down and reassure them, “It's just a game. Play their game and go through with it. No sweat.”

EE:

I've asked a couple of people about this, because Marine drill instructors have a reputation that precedes them. Whether or not you're in the military, everybody knows about a Marine drill instructor. What was it like as a woman in front of a Marine drill instructor? Do you think they were changing their behavior because you were women? They might have changed their language a little, maybe, I don't know.

JG:

Well, I don't know what their language was with their male troops, but for the women, it was very—of course, we only had the one male, and he would bark orders, right turn, left turn, whatever, left face. It was all very professional.

EE:

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

JG:

The hardest thing? I don't think I had much of a hard time. I guess the hardest time was just having to get out of the military because I had married a man with children.

EE:

And that was a rule you all did not know about before?

JG:

I knew it. I just kind of resented it.

BG:

It was disappointment.

JG:

That's why I went back into the reserves later, so I could finish.

EE:

In the service, your commander-in-chief during most of that time, I guess, was Dwight Eisenhower. What did you think of Mr. Eisenhower?

JG:

I thought he was fine. I thought he was a great president, a great general.

EE:

Usually, because you meet so many different folks from around the country, you will run into characters during your military service. Any particular character that stands out in your memory?

JG:

I think I was the character.

EE:

Your husband's not going to give you any argument on that.

JG:

Oh, gee.

EE:

Not a particularly embarrassing moment or funny story that you can recall?

JG:

Not off the top of my head right now. You should have prompted me.

EE:

You'll think of one later.

JG:

Yeah, I know.

EE:

During World War II, it's one thing to ask the question, what was the mood of the country? In the fifties, what was the mood of the country toward the military?

JG:

I don't know. Complacent? I really don't know. Didn't follow the orders. I was living my life. I didn't care what the country thought. I was doing what I thought I needed to do.

EE:

Particularly, was it more patriotic, perhaps, than now? Complacent is an interesting word choice.

JG:

I think it was a little more still a residue of the World War II.

EE:

But it's also, “Let's get beyond that and do something else”?

JG:

Yeah, “Let's move on.” “Why do we have to have a war every four or five years” type thing.

EE:

Did that affect the recruiting, do you think?

JG:

I wouldn't have any idea.

EE:

When you went on that tour of all of you trying to get recruits, how easy was it to get recruits?

JG:

Very, actually. But everyone that were interested in getting in it were nurses, and so we had to tell them, “Go see the navy recruiters. Marines don't have the corpsmen nurses.” At times, it was difficult trying to find people that were interested, but we did find a lot of young men who'd come up and talk to us who were in the platoon leader's course, where they were going to college and also taking training during their summer vacation.

EE:

You left, I guess, before really Vietnam started getting going. How did you feel about—you were in the service at that time?

BG:

She was in, also.

JG:

I was in the reserves.

BG:

In the reserves, and they were always on this “readiness” thing, too.

JG:

Yeah. We had a lot of mobilization drills and things like that.

EE:

You were forced to leave the military before you wanted to. How was that transition for you? Did you stay home with the kids? What did you end up doing once you left active duty?

JG:

Just staying home with the kids.

EE:

Were you moving because of your work in the service? Where did you all go after you—you were down in Florida for a while.

BG:

We left Philadelphia in '63.

EE:

Parris Island, sorry.

BG:

After she left Parris Island, she went back to Philadelphia, because we were living there.

JG:

Because he was still stationed there with the children.

BG:

But we left there in the beginning of '63 and went to Albany, Georgia.

JG:

That's when we had our son, December 31, '62. You said, “We need this tax deduction.”

BG:

Her mother had this huge New Year's Eve party set up, but she was in the hospital. She missed it. I was eating the shrimp.

EE:

I have a good buddy of mine from college who had a son that was born on January 4, and he thought later, “I could have paid them to induce labor and made the money back.”

BG:

We went to Albany, Georgia—what was your involvement there? The wives club?

JG:

The wives club, yeah, the officers' wives club.

BG:

It was a very good place, because there were only a hundred officers there, and it was just good people.

EE:

What was the name of the station?

BG:

Marine Corps Supply Depot, Albany, Georgia—a very nice place.

EE:

Were any of the other officers' wives former Marines?

JG:

I don't think so. None that I know of. They were all college girls.

BG:

For the most part, yeah.

EE:

A different view of it, having been in it, isn't it?

JG:

Yeah, it is. Oh, yeah. And then from there, you went overseas.

BG:

We left Albany, and I went overseas, and my wife went back to New Jersey, right across the river from—

JG:

It used to be Willingboro, New Jersey, and they changed it to—

BG:

It was Levittown.

JG:

It used to be Levittown, and they changed it to Willingboro.

BG:

Levittown, PA, was on one side of the bridge, and Levittown, New Jersey, was on the other side. My wife stayed there and took care of the kids.

JG:

Took care of the kids. They were a handful.

EE:

How long were you stationed overseas?

BG:

I left in—

JG:

Yeah, you were back in '66.

BG:

Back in '66.

JG:

Was that when you went up to Wyoming [County, Pennsylvania]?

BG:

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

EE:

You were there until you retired?

BG:

No. Anyhow, while we were there, I was the senior officer there, and my wife was the senior hostess, they called them then.

JG:

Well, that's what they called them, but I was instrumental in getting the women together, both the reserves and the active-duty people, because there were so few active-duty people and we didn't know each other. They'd have these functions, and everybody would go off on their own little thing.

BG:

But the thing is, it was the enlisted and the officers. They were all together.

EE:

That's unusual.

JG:

Yeah. And so the women, we all got together on our own nights and played volleyball. You know, coffee and go to different—well, actually, we spent most of our time meeting at the teservereserve center. That was the easiest place for most people to get to.

BG:

Our kids were involved in scouts and other activities.

EE:

Were there other Women Marines at any of these stations that you all were at?

BG:

The reserves had a major.

JG:

A woman?

BG:

Yeah, a major.

EE:

My sense is that there was a while, after the fifties, where the numbers did drop, and that it wasn't until after Vietnam kicked in that they started to come back up again. I'm just wondering when that might have been, and your all's personal experience at different stations.

BG:

I was the casualty officer. Besides being the instructor of the unit there, I had forty—five people die, people coming back from Vietnam. I was the one that knocked on the door. I was the guy that came back when the body came back, buried him. I was the guy that came back later and filled out all the forms, and I was the guy that came back the last time with their personal effects, their clothes and everything else. Sometimes you had two funerals in one week.

EE:

Did you know most of the folks that you were coming back to their families to talk to them?

BG:

Most of them. See, I wasn't in recruiting. I was in reserve training, training the reserves. Recruiting is a different side of the house. The guys that recruited these guys and sent them away came back to us to bury them, and we did. And that's not just those that died. There were some that had their legs blown off, people that were in very, very bad shape but didn't die. We had to go knocking on their door.

EE:

That had to be a tough time for somebody, for a family that was a career military family, as upset about Vietnam grew. And you were seeing that side of it. Did you ever question your commitment to the service?

BG:

Oh, no.

EE:

I know in our family, I guess I was the first class that—when they redid the draft in '78, I was the first group that went down there. My parents were seriously wondering at one time in Vietnam whether or not it was worth sending their son over there.

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

EE:

You were at Wilkes-Barre, then, for how long?

BG:

We were there from the end of '66 to about the middle of '69.

EE:

And then you went where?

BG:

We went to Camp Lejeune, [North Carolina].

EE:

Neither one of you had never been stationed there before.

BG:

I'd been there many times. That was my fourth tour. My wife, she became the senior hostess again. She was in charge of all the wives. I became the battalion CO, and we had all those wives. My wife was the senior hostess. They came together each month.

JG:

Made sure we did different things together.

EE:

You were there from '69, and that's about the time, the early seventies, when you got back into the service.

JG:

In '74.

BG:

I left then.

EE:

Did you retire as battalion CO?

BG:

I got there in '69, '69 till '71. The end of '71, I went back overseas again, and my wife just moved off the base to the town of Jacksonville, [North Carolina] while I was overseas. After I came back, that's when I could retire.

EE:

Where were you stationed overseas?

BG:

I was in Iwakuni, Japan.

EE:

You hadn't done the drill instructor job, but you have gone through a lot of different associations in this twenty years of the military. You're with the troops, you're in the office. I just imagine there's got to be a funny experience, being the wife with all these other wives, you're the only one that has the inside knowledge, “Well, I was a Marine.” And then you're waiting at home as he's going overseas, not once, but twice, with all that anxiety built into it. Support groups, I guess, were pretty important.

BG:

And they were support groups.

JG:

The wives all stuck together when their husbands went off. If they stayed in that area, we stayed friends. Yeah, we really loved each other.

EE:

For most folks, it's an easy question to say—an easier question—when I ask what was the impact that the military had on your life—they were usually only in for a year or two. The military was your family's life.

JG:

Definitely.

EE:

And you've got children that show that to be true. In your experience, do you have any qualms recommending that life to others?

JG:

I think it would be great if, right after high school, everyone has a year or two in the military.

BG:

Especially now. And if there's never a war, you never use them. But also, the things you learn that you can use later in life.

EE:

And I think you learn a lot about teamwork and pulling together.

JG:

Exactly. That's it. Have respect for the next fellow, where it seems like you don't have that anymore.

EE:

I guess just at the end of the last year, we sent, as a country, a woman combat pilot into action over Iraq. Do you think there's some aspects of the military that a woman should not be involved in, or do you think it's kind of up to the individual person?

JG:

Well, if they're going to be ground-force troops, I think they're foolish. They shouldn't be allowed to do that. But if they're going to pilots and things like that, I guess it would have to be their choice.

EE:

So you're not concerned about pilots being captured, as a woman?

JG:

As a woman, yeah, I am concerned, because there are a lot of things that can go wrong for them.

BG:

One was captured. She was tortured, too.

EE:

Some folks have said that, when you look at things like women's lib[eration], we were talking about equal pay earlier on, it was basically all the women who joined the military who helped start that—and you're at a time period where it's not new, but it's certainly not common. Do you think of yourself as sort of a trailblazer in that time, doing something different?

JG:

No, because there were so many more that did it before I did.

BG:

Well, you did in your neighborhood.

JG:

Well, yeah.

BG:

You were a trailblazer there, “Hey, look who did it.”

JG:

No one else joined that I knew.

EE:

You were all alone on the trail.

JG:

They came and visited me.

EE:

And you say you've got two sons?

JG:

Yeah.

BG:

That are in the service, yes.

EE:

Do you have any daughters?

BG:

We have four children.

JG:

Two boys and a girl are his.

BG:

The oldest graduated from Chapel Hill in '74, NROTC [Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps] scholarship. He went in '74 and went on to be a successful Marine officer. Married a girl from Great Britain, and while he was over there with the British Royal Marines, had a really great career, and he just retired in September.

The other guy, he went to Chapel Hill and graduated in three and a half years. He was so eager to be a Marine that he just couldn't think of wasting summers. And the other summers that he wasn't taking summer school, he went to Fort Benning, Georgia, to jump school, as did the first one, all gung—ho to be in the Marines. He's still in. He's got two more years to go before he retires.

JG:

But he was a Marine since he was three years old.

BG:

Like Joan. She was watching the Marine stories. That's how he was.

JG:

He had a little cammy [camouflage] outfit. We have movies of him running around with a rifle and a doctor's kit and his helmet on.

BG:

My second child is a daughter, Karen. She's the vice president at Centura Bank, a very, very hard worker. Always involved in the community. You name it, you need help with anything, she's there. You wonder how she gets time to sleep. She's such a concerned individual about everything.

And then the last one, our child, he's about thirty-five, thirty-six. He's a musician.

But I was married and I had three kids, married a girl from Philadelphia. In 1960, my wife died in an accident. She was carrying a baby. I lost, of course, my wife and the baby. And the Marine Corps was good enough to send me to Philadelphia back to my in-laws so we could help each other and the kids.

EE:

That's great.

BG:

Which it was. It was during that time frame I married this lady here.

EE:

One thing I've heard from folks about the military is that, unlike a lot of other jobs, that you are a family in the military.

Had your daughter been the one that was gung-ho about joining the Marines, would you have supported her?

BG:

Of course.

JG:

Oh, yeah. In fact, we even tried to get her a naval scholarship to go to the Naval Academy. She didn't want any parts of it. She had her own goals and desires.

BG:

If she had gone into the Marine Corps, it would have been a tough thing, because when they were growing up, there was only twenty-one months between them. So the competition between the older one and then the other one, who was just twenty-one months difference, thought “I was as good as any man.”

EE:

I've done a good tour of twenty years of your life, and that's not going to do justice to it. But it does do justice to my questions. I was wondering if there's anything else about your time in the military that I have not asked you about that you think it would be important for us to know about.

JG:

If you're thinking of joining the military, do it. It's a great challenge. Especially this day and age is a challenge. They put those kids through the wringer.

BG:

You said it.

JG:

We were down there with our reunion, and we saw the crucible that they go through. Whew.

EE:

I think you guys are proud.

JG:

Yeah.

EE:

You should be. Sense of pride means a lot to a lot of folks. I know it means a lot in this house.

JG:

Yes, it does.

EE:

That's the kind of thing we want to make sure people remember always. So thank you for sitting down with me today to do this. If you think of anything else, be it the name of that song in the fifties or those characters who conveniently left you a Bible while your husband was in the room, let me know. But again, thank you so much on behalf of the school.

[End of Interview]