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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Marie Kevensky, 1999

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Object ID: WV0113.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Marie Kevensky’s experiences in the Marines Corps Women’s Reserve from 1951 to 1954 and her duties in Europe with the Department of State Foreign Service.

Summary:

Kevensky discusses her reasons for joining the Marines; physical and classroom training at Parris Island; attitudes of the male Marines towards Kevensky female Marines; social life in the Marines, including dances and movies; living quarters at Camp Lejeune; and the Marines as a learning and growing experience. Topics not related to her service with the Marines include meeting Pope Pius XII in 1956; her love of traveling; meeting politicians and diplomats, including Clare Booth Luce and John Foster Dulles; and her opinion of women in combat positions.

Creator: Marie Kevensky

Biographical Info: Marie Kevensky of New York City served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1951 to 1954. She also worked for KLM Airlines and for the Department of State Foreign Service.

Collection: Marie Kevensky Oral History

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:

HT:

My name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Marie Kevensky, in Raleigh, North Carolina, to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Mrs. Kevensky, if you would give me your full name, please, for the record. We'll see how your voice sounds on this tape recorder.

MK:

Okay. My name is Marie Kevensky.

HT:

Mrs. Kevensky, if you could tell me something about your life before you went in the service in 1951, about where you were born, a little bit about your family, where you went to school, and if you worked prior to entering the service, even a little bit about that.

MK:

I was born in New York City, Manhattan, but I was raised in the borough of Queens until I was about twenty years old, and when I was twenty-one, I went into the Marine Corps, so I worked a little bit after I got out of high school, before I went into the Marine Corps. I went in the Marine Corps in Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp, and the rest of the time, just about, was in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

HT:

Do you recall why you decided to join the military?

MK:

I had the desire since I was a teenager, but I was too young to go in then, and I had to wait until I was twenty-one, and then I could sign myself in. My parents had died, so when I was twenty-one I could sign myself in. My aunt wouldn't sign me in when I was eighteen.

HT:

And what did your family think about you joining the military?

MK:

Well, as I said, my parents were deceased, and my aunt didn't like the idea, so she would not let me go in, so I had to wait until I was twenty-one to get myself in.

HT:

Did you have any brothers and sisters who would have been in World War II?

MK:

No. I had one brother, and he was not in the military.

HT:

Do you recall, did you happen to see any recruiting posters or anything like that, that might have influenced you to go in?

MK:

No.

HT:

What actually made you—you said, as a teenager, you had the desire to join the military. Was this during World War II?

MK:

Yes. And then a neighbor, who had moved in by us, had been in the Marine Corps during the war—she was older than I am, of course, and I thought, “Well, that would be nice. I'd love to go in the Marine Corps.”

HT:

You say you were—you did your boot camp training in Parris Island, South Carolina?

MK:

That's right.

HT:

Can you tell me something about what that was like? What were your reactions to—

MK:

I don't remember too well, but I know I liked Parris Island. I was down there in the winter. I'd come down there in January, so it was for, I think, six or eight weeks. I don't remember exactly. Before I went to Camp Lejeune, and it was nice down there.

HT:

Do you recall what the days were like, of training, and what you had to undergo?

MK:

Well, we didn't have any excessive physical training, as you see them nowadays. It was mostly just marching and learning, you know, just correspondence and things like that—military correspondence and things like that. I sometimes thought we were just like civil service workers in uniform.

HT:

So you did have some training and you had some classroom training as well?

MK:

I think so, yes.

HT:

And do you recall any hilarious moments during basic training that stand out in your mind?

MK:

No.

HT:

You said the training lasted about six to eight weeks?

MK:

Something like that. It's either six or eight.

HT:

And then after basic training, you were shipped directly to—

MK:

Camp Lejeune.

HT:

—Camp Lejeune. And what type of courses did you take during basic training?

MK:

I really don't remember.

HT:

After you got to Camp Lejeune, what type of work did you do there?

MK:

Well, then I was assigned to motor transport, but I did not drive a jeep. I did not drive at all. I was secretary in the motor transport office.

HT:

Had you had some secretarial training, civilian—wise?

MK:

Yes, I had done—when I went to work after high school, I had done clerical work and secretarial type.

HT:

How long were you at Camp Lejeune?

MK:

Most of the time in my Marine Corps—I was in the Marine Corps from January 26, 1951, to January 25, 1954, and most of it was at Camp Lejeune.

HT:

And this was at the height of the Korean War?

MK:

Yes.

HT:

Were you involved at all with people who were sent overseas to Korea or anything like that?

MK:

No.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood of the country was like? I've heard many ladies speak that during World War II, there was a very patriotic mood in the country. Was it like that during the Korean War, that you recall?

MK:

I don't recall. I don't recall that it was that way.

HT:

Did you enjoy your work at the motor transport?

MK:

Yes, it was interesting. Actually, the Marine Corps was a very good experience. I mean, I learned so much in the Marine Corps, not about military, but about people, and each day was like a year, and you learned something, you know, because you learned so much, and it was very interesting.

HT:

Did you work with civilians, or all military people?

MK:

No, there was also a civil service worker, a woman, in the office I was in, as well as me. That's why I sometimes felt like an underpaid civil service worker.

HT:

And I assume you worked with some men?

MK:

Oh, yes.

HT:

Were they officers or enlisted?

MK:

Well, I was secretary, and the motor transport officer, and I think he was a colonel. I don't remember exactly. Major or colonel. Lieutenant colonel, something like that.

HT:

And how did your fellow Marines treat you, both men and women? Did you ever notice any kind of discrimination or anything like that?

MK:

Well, some of the guys were a little bit crude, let's put it that way, but not all of them.

HT:

How did you deal with that sort of thing?

MK:

Just ignored it.

HT:

Do you recall the hardest thing you ever had to do physically, either in boot camp or at Camp Lejeune?

MK:

No, there was no real physical hardship. As I said, the most physical thing we did was marching.

HT:

Did you find that difficult at all?

MK:

No.

HT:

How about emotionally? Did you ever have any emotional—anything that upset you emotionally? I've heard nurses say, you know, dealing with patients and that sort of thing, could be very emotional.

MK:

No, I didn't have anything like that.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid while you were in the military?

MK:

No.

HT:

I assume that this was your first time south. You say you grew up in New York, and then when you went to Parris Island, that was the first time you'd ever been in the South?

MK:

Yes, that's right.

HT:

Do you recall what it felt like, being away from home?

MK:

No, I was just glad to get in the Marine Corps.

HT:

Do you recall any hilarious or embarrassing moments?

MK:

Not really.

HT:

Tell me something about what you and your fellow Marines did for a social life and fun, what kind of movies you went to see and what their favorite songs and dances were at that time.

MK:

Well, there were dances at the base and we used to go to dances at the base. I don't recall what the music was, whatever the going music was at the time. And we'd go to the movies, whenever the movies were playing. There was a movie in town and a movie at the base, I think. And that was it.

HT:

Did you ever get a chance to go home during this time, and visit relatives and that sort of thing?

MK:

Oh, yes. Often. We used to often go on weekends up to New York.

HT:

And do you think your family was proud that you were in the military? You said that your parents were dead, but you said your aunt—did you ever convince her that this was the right thing to do?

MK:

Oh, I guess she thought it was okay then.

HT:

What type of impact do you think the military had on your life? Immediately after you got out, and in the long term, do you think it changed you in any way?

MK:

Oh, I think, yeah. As I said, I think I learned a lot about people. I think there were three hundred women then, at the time, at Camp Lejeune, and each one was entirely different. No two stories alike. And it was a learning experience, learning about people.

HT:

Where did you live on base?

MK:

In a squad bay.

HT:

You had barracks?

MK:

Yes.

HT:

How many women do you recall were living at one of these barracks?

MK:

I don't really recall. Maybe about—in a squad bay, maybe about fifty to a squad bay, but don't quote me on this. I don't really remember.

HT:

These were open bays, because I remember being in basic training and it was a long building. Gosh, I've forgotten how long it was. But it was just open bunks. I mean, it had bunks just lined up.

MK:

Yeah, well, we had also, we had dressers to sort of separate the—

HT:

Oh, okay. But no separate cubicles or rooms or anything like that?

MK:

Oh, no, no. Just makeshift separations.

HT:

And did you guys have inspections?

MK:

Oh, yes.

HT:

Can you tell me something about what that was like? Undergoing inspections, and things like that?

MK:

They just came around, you know, with a white-glove inspection.

HT:

Do you think your life has been different because you were in the military?

MK:

Oh, I think so, yes.

HT:

In what way?

MK:

Just as I said, the experience I had, and I sort of grew up, you know, a learning experience, because I did grow up.

HT:

Did you ever think about making it a career?

MK:

No.

HT:

And when you signed up, did you have to sign up for a certain length of time?

MK:

Yes. I had to sign up for three years. That was the minimum. That's why I spent three years in there.

HT:

And then once your three years were up, they didn't try to convince you to stay in?

MK:

They asked, yes, but I didn't want to stay in anymore.

HT:

You didn't want to. And after you left the military, what type of work did you do, and tell me something about what life was like after you left the military.

MK:

Well, after I left the military, then I went back up to New York and I got a job with KLM Airlines and I was stationed at Kennedy Airport and while I was there, sitting behind my desk, I had a telephone—I was only there a year and shortly before the year was over, I was sitting behind my desk and I had a phone call from Washington, D.C. Somebody had given my name. I never found out who—to all this day, I never did—that perhaps I would be interested in joining the Department of State Foreign Service, and I said, yes, I would. And that started a bunch of paper work, and I then was called to Washington for clearance and then I went to Europe, to the embassies and consulates in Europe, with the Department of State Foreign Service.

HT:

What type of work did you do in the Foreign Service?

MK:

Clerical. I was Foreign Service staff, not Foreign Service officer.

HT:

How many years were you in the Foreign Service?

MK:

About three years.

HT:

And where were some of the places you were stationed?

MK:

My first assignment was the embassy at Rome [Italy] and then I went to the consulate at Rotterdam [The Netherlands] and then back to Rome and then up to the embassy in Oslo [Norway] and then a temporary assignment to the embassy in Vienna [Austria] and then back to Oslo, and then back to Washington, and then I quit.

HT:

That's quite a bit of travelling in three years, isn't it?

MK:

Yes.

HT:

Sounds like a wonderful tour, though.

MK:

It was terrific. Oh, that was really an experience.

HT:

And you traveled by train all over Europe, I guess?

MK:

Train, plane, whatever.

HT:

Did you have any unusual experiences while you were overseas? Do any unusual sightseeing or anything like that?

MK:

Well, I had a special audience with Pope Pius XII. Had my picture taken with him.

HT:

Oh, that's wonderful. And what did that feel like?

MK:

Terrific. I can still see that picture. That was terrific.

HT:

That would have been, what, about 1955?

MK:

Fifty-six.

HT:

And how long did the audience last, do you recall?

MK:

Well, we had to get there a half hour before the scheduled audience, and then when the Pope came, it was the inner—it was in a chambers, the living room inside the Vatican, and we had to get there a half hour before and then we were with him, I guess, easily forty-five minutes.

HT:

So this was a group audience?

MK:

Well, this was a special audience. A special audience, I believe, is thirteen or fifteen people, and I had tried to get an audience with the Pope and then finally I succeeded because I could go in with this group that was short two people, and so I could take a friend of mine with me, and we were included in this audience, this special audience.

HT:

And how did you go about doing all this?

MK:

I don't remember. I know whatever you had to do, I did it.

HT:

Because I would imagine it was rather rare.

MK:

I know. I just pursued it, and whatever I had to do, I pursued it, and I just succeeded.

HT:

Did the Pope actually speak to you?

MK:

Oh, yes, he spoke to us. We were introduced.

HT:

Personally?

MK:

Yes, I was introduced, and I kissed his ring three times—when I met him, when I left him, and in between somewhere. And he was very, very nice, very concerned about people, very nice to talk to. He spoke to each one of us.

HT:

Now, did he speak in English?

MK:

He spoke in English.

HT:

Anything else unusual happen to you while you were overseas, during that time?

MK:

No.

HT:

That's quite a substantial amount of traveling.

MK:

The ambassador at the time in Rome was Claire Booth Luce, and she was a very interesting ambassador.

HT:

She was the wife of the founder of Time magazine, is that correct?

MK:

I think so. She was an actress, also.

HT:

Right. And did you ever have any dealings with her personally?

MK:

No. I met her, but just—

HT:

What was Europe like in those days?

MK:

Terrific, terrific. Very nice.

HT:

Does one place stand out in your mind more than some of the others?

MK:

Well, they all stand out, but I prefer—I liked Rome the best. I liked Italy, in general. But Vienna was terrific, too.

HT:

Did you go to the opera or anything like that?

MK:

Oh, yes.

HT:

In Vienna?

MK:

Oh, yes. In Vienna and in Rome. Holland. Not up in Scandinavia.

HT:

After you left the Foreign Service, after three years, what type of work did you do?

MK:

Then I came back to New York and I had various—I was in and out of jobs, because then you could get a job easily and I guess I wasn't—I didn't know what I wanted to do. And then finally I had a job that was quite interesting, in New York City. I went to work for George A. Fuller Construction Company, in the jobsites, and I went all over New York City to various jobsites, working as secretary to the construction manager, and it was very interesting work. But then I got assigned to the main office, and I didn't like that.

So then I decided to go to—a friend of mine said, “Why don't you come to KLM?” so I went back to KLM. Because then I wanted to start traveling again anyway, so when you work for the airlines you have the travel benefits, so I thought, “Okay, it's about time I go back to the airlines,” and that's where I went and stayed. That's where I retired, from the airlines.

HT:

So how many years, all total, did you work for KLM?

MK:

Well, all together, with the one year at first, all together about—just short of twenty—five years.

HT:

What type of work did you do for KLM?

MK:

Secretary.

HT:

So you were stationed at the headquarters, I guess?

MK:

At first, when I went back to work, I went—well, KLM headquarters is in Holland, no—I was in the New York City office and then we were transferred out to Kennedy Airport and I worked most of the time at Kennedy Airport.

HT:

So you saw quite a few changes at Kennedy?

MK:

Yes.

HT:

It wasn't called “Kennedy” in those days, was it?

MK:

No. Well, it was when I went then, but before that it had been called Idlewild. When I was there, it was a bunch of Quonset huts, and that changed. They named it Kennedy after the assassination of President [John F.] Kennedy.

HT:

Of all the jobs, at KLM and the Foreign Service, which was your favorite, and why?

MK:

Well, I liked working for the Foreign Service because I got to go all over, but I also liked working for KLM, not job—wise, but because I had travel benefits.

HT:

And do you still have travel benefits?

MK:

I still have travel benefits.

HT:

Wonderful. Did you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the service in 1951?

MK:

No, because there were so many women in during the war.

HT:

Right. Because during the Second World War, they sort of—

MK:

Yeah.

HT:

You had mentioned a couple of famous people that you have happened to work with—Claire Booth Luce and Pope Pius XII. Can you think of anybody else from the early fifties to the mid—fifties whom you met in your travels?

MK:

Well, when I went to Washington, D.C., for clearance first, before I went to Europe, to the embassies, I was assigned—usually, the people that go through clearance get assigned to the passport office because nobody wants to work in the passport office, but I, fortunately, got assigned to the Foreign Service for their promotion boards. And because I was assigned to that, I got to go to a cocktail party at [the] Blair House with the secretary of state, at the time, John Foster Dulles, so I met him.

HT:

Did you get a chance to chat with him for any length of time?

MK:

Very briefly. Briefly. Very briefly.

HT:

Right. Because I'm sure he would have had to make the rounds, I would imagine, that sort of thing. Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were, from either your childhood or later on when you were in the military?

MK:

No.

HT:

Recently, women have been allowed to go into combat positions, and I think during the Gulf War in the early nineties, women even fought. Piloted planes and that sort of thing. Do you approve of the service—I mean, do you think that women should be allowed to participate in combat and fly aircraft?

MK:

No, I don't think women belong in combat. Not at all. And I know that when they first started to accept women like at [United States Military Academy at] West Point, [New York], along with the male cadets and all, that they—I heard and I think this is true that they had to even—women are physically not on the same level as men, as a rule, and they had to even give them lighter weight rifles to carry because they couldn't carry the same weight rifles as the men. So physically, they don't belong on the same level as men. They don't have the muscle power.

HT:

But do you feel that they should have the same opportunities in other areas of the military as men?

MK:

Oh, if it's an office position or something like that, where either sex can do the same job, why not?

HT:

Have any of your children ever been in the military?

MK:

I don't have any children. I have a dog and a cat. They haven't been in.

HT:

They haven't been in the military. Well, do you have any papers or letters or any other material relative to your military time that you might be able to share with us—photographs or something like that?

MK:

I've been looking for them. I'm having difficulty finding them. I don't know what I did with all of it.

HT:

You've moved around so much, that makes a difference, doesn't it? Can you recommend anybody else that we should maybe contact for interviews? I think you mentioned earlier that you belonged to the local—

MK:

Sea Gals.

HT:

Sea Gals, which is a WAVE [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] organization.

MK:

Yes. And they say the Marines are allowed in because they're a department of the navy, but when you're in the Marine Corps, you don't consider yourself a department of the navy.

HT:

But they really are, is that correct?

MK:

That's it, sure.

HT:

They really are.

MK:

They are, that's why, yeah, sure, that's why the Triangle Sea Gals have me as well as another—there's one other woman who was in the Marine Corps.

HT:

What was her name, do you recall?

MK:

Her first name is Jean. I don't know her last name. I could get it for you, if you wanted it.

HT:

It's not Jean Weingard, is it?

MK:

I don't remember.

HT:

I tried to called a lady the other day and I couldn't get a hold of her. Well, is there anything else that you can think of that we haven't covered about your Korean War days or KLM days or Foreign Service days that you'd like to add?

MK:

No, we did the highlights.

HT:

So there are no unusual humorous stories that you recall from that period of time?

MK:

I'd have to really think about it. I don't just recall.

HT:

Well, thanks so much for talking with me this evening. It's been a real pleasure.

[End of Interview]