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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Joycestane Brant Malcolm, 1999

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Object ID: WV0126.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Joycestane Brant Malcolm’s service in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1954 to 1957, and her life after the war.

Summary:

Malcolm recalls growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, near a Marine Corps base; her parents’ jobs; her awareness of World War II; discussing current events in high school; and limited job opportunities in South Carolina.

Malcolm chiefly talks about basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and working at the Naval Communications Station in New York City. Topics related to basic training include joining the WAVES on a dare; her relatives’ disapproval of her military service; doing very well on preliminary tests; a typical day of classes, marching, and training; living on a base with men; nighttime fire alarms; learning to swim; and communal showers. Topics related to the WAVES and New York City include living at a naval hospital in Queens; her WAVES friends, including Winnie Kuehn; special clearance levels for her work with coded messages; relationships with male and female co-workers; uniform regulations; and her social life, including movies, dances, music, and a noncommissioned officers’ club. Malcolm also briefly mentions integration in the navy and being the only African American in her barracks.

Other topics include the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; the Malcolms subsequent retirement; two nieces who had careers in the military; and Malcolm’s opinion of women in combat.

Other topics include the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; two nieces who had careers in the military; and Malcolm’s opinion of women in combat.

Creator: Joycestane Brant Malcolm

Biographical Info: Joycestane “Joyce” Brant Malcolm of Beaufort, South Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from September 1954 until 1957.

Collection: Joycestane Brant Malcolm 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:

EE:

I'm sitting on a beautiful deck out here at the home of Joyce Malcolm in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. My name is Eric Elliott.

Thank you, Ms. Malcolm for first of all, having us out here today. We ask everybody about the same thirty questions and then we kind of go from there. The first question I ask of everybody—I always get worried if it's a tough one because it shouldn't be, and that is, where were you born and where did you grown up?

JM:

I was born in Beaufort, South Carolina.

EE:

As opposed to Beaufort, North Carolina.

JM:

That's right.

EE:

It's spelled the same, but we'll get there.

JM:

It's spelled the same, but the pronunciation is different.

EE:

Beaufort, South Carolina. Okay. And—

JM:

That's where I grew up.

EE:

So all your schooling was in Beaufort, too?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

How many?

JM:

One sister, one brother.

EE:

Now, were you—

JM:

The middle child.

EE:

My sister's told me all about being a middle child. You seem pretty well adjusted.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

What did your folks do?

JM:

My father worked as a handy man more or less until he went blind of untreated glaucoma, we later learned. By the time I was nine years old, my father was blind. My mother, before she got married, was a schoolteacher or sorts, but once married was more of a domestic in that she took care of children in the homes of various families.

EE:

Was it Beaufort High School? What was the name of—

JM:

Robert Smalls High School.

EE:

Robert Smalls High School. Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

JM:

Yes. Yes, I did.

EE:

What was your favorite subject?

JM:

Probably the sciences.

EE:

Interesting. I was a science person myself. Did you have an idea in high school what you wanted to do when you grew up?

JM:

Not really, no.

EE:

Some people say they do. I've found there's a very precious few that actually do know what they want to do.

JM:

Because I took academic and commercial both in high school.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

JM:

1953, May 13th.

EE:

Let me ask you, because you're going to give me a different perspective than some of the people I've asked, although you're going to talk about your time in the service in the fifties. You grew up and a war was going on. What do you remember hearing about the war and the military when you were younger?

JM:

Well, living in Beaufort—which is right outside the gates of Parris Island Marine Station—we heard everything about it, but we were removed from it because we didn't see anything except the men themselves coming and going, you know. And that—when we saw, say, large groups of them leave at any time and come back at any one time, then we knew there was either something going on bad or good or, you know. And usually, when all the husbands would leave, if they'd take them all out or put them on base and wouldn't let them off, we knew something was amiss that wasn't quite good. We knew about that.

EE:

Did anybody in your family serve in the war?

JM:

My brother-in-law was in the Second World War and Korea. My husband was in the Second World War and Korea.

EE:

When you finished school in '53, what did you do after that?

JM:

I came to New York and worked clerically. My mother had five sisters up in New York at that time. So I lived with one of them and worked for about six to eight months, something like that, because I wasn't old enough.

EE:

Now, when you say “because I wasn't old enough,” that means you're thinking about doing something other than this. So were you thinking about going in the service?

JM:

Well, it was mentioned to me. In fact, it was a dare. One of the Marines that I used to go out with used to tell me that he dared me I couldn't get into the [U.S.] Navy from South Carolina. That's what he told me.

EE:

Oh. That sounds like a challenge worthy of taking up.

JM:

It was.

EE:

Was this when you were in high school still, he was telling you this?

JM:

Yes, my last year of high school.

EE:

Oh, my. Some dares stick with you. Now, what did your folks think about it?

JM:

My mother was dead set against it. But I was only sixteen at that time.

EE:

And how old did you have to be?

JM:

Eighteen.

EE:

Eighteen? Did you have to have a parental signature at that time?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

So if you were under twenty-one, you had to have your parents sign for you.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

What about your dad? What did he think about that?

JM:

He followed my mother's lead, but quietly. My mother was the heavy.

EE:

Yes, that sounds like my wife's family, actually. My [unclear] parenting, but I know that situation quite well.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

Well, now you're in high school, Korea's going on—

JM:

Right.

EE:

And I suppose the Second World War, I imagine—are you following this in the papers? Are you reading about what's going on?

JM:

Well, no more than when we—I would say we were assigned, because in high school we had American history and we had ancient history and current events was a regular assignment. So it was that you had to read—trying to read the New York Times, which was the acceptable and only paper. We had gotten so good with it we had used Crayola, black crayons, and as we read the articles and absorbed them, we crossed them out, because we had to have so much read and absorbed and be able to discuss anything that the teacher would ask. She knew what was in there, see, so you couldn't fudge it.

EE:

Yes. I had a Sunday school teacher like that at one time. It was rather annoying. [laughter]

JM:

You learn to appreciate that when you get older.

EE:

You do. You appreciate folks who ask things of you because they're really looking out for you.

JM:

Yes, they are.

EE:

You were in New York for six months doing this clerical work?

JM:

Let's see. I came up—I got out of school in May. I think I came up in June, and I stayed until maybe November. I wasn't up past Christmas so it was before Christmas when I went back home.

EE:

So you came back home. What did you do when you got back to the house?

JM:

Just every day I worked as a—I did babysitting. If my mother was working somewhere, we did that, and then I was also like a clerk in a store downtown. You realize, living in South Carolina during those days, there wasn't very much that you could do.

EE:

Well, I imagine that sort of made you realize how different it was when you went to New York. Was that trip to New York your first time up to see those relatives?

JM:

No, I had—had I been there before? No. I think that was my first time—that was my first time being away from home. So it had to be my first time being there with them. We saw them every year because they visited us, but I'm sure that was my first time.

EE:

In my generation, I'm too young to know all the particulars of how things were. I can imagine that things were different when you went from New York—you're talking about job opportunities. Just interaction with people and society was different in New York from South Carolina, wasn't it?

JM:

Well—

EE:

Or not as much?

JM:

[Unclear]. I was always around people that I knew, both at home and in my leisure time, in New York. There were my aunts, uncles, my cousins, and tremendous family. When I was employed the job was gotten for me by my aunt and by a friend of hers who was employed in the same store. So as a rule, there was always something familiar there for me. It was sort of having a little comfort zone wherever I was. I honestly can say that I was not treated any differently, either at home or in New York, when it comes to, say, one-on-one personal relationships. We knew—because I was born and raised in South Carolina—we knew where to go, what to do, and how to say it. We said and did the same things in New York as we did in the South. It is a statement of fact that you can tell people a lot of stuff with a smile that you can't with a frown.

EE:

Yes. I understand.

JM:

And that's how it works.

EE:

The first time, when I went to Philadelphia, what struck me about going north was the difference between big city and not-big city. That's the same for everybody, I think, the transition, the way people interact. You get the straight face.

How long were you home before you decided to join the service? You joined right after work?

JM:

I joined September of '54.

EE:

That's in '54?

JM:

September of '54. Right.

EE:

Right there at your birthday?

JM:

Well, my birthday's in July.

EE:

The navy, that's purely—

JM:

A dare.

EE:

Your only reason is a dare.

JM:

Was a dare.

EE:

You couldn't pick any other branch of service because somebody said—

JM:

Yes, because it definitely was not going to be a Marine.

EE:

Right. You'd seen that too much.

JM:

Yes. I lived with that for too long.

EE:

Were you still in contact with this fellow to call his dare?

JM:

I collected. I collected. [laughs]

EE:

Very good. Where did you go to sign up for service? Was there a recruiting office here?

JM:

A recruiting office was in my hometown. I think a man came once a week or twice a week, a fellow down at the post office. So I went down there to sign up. And then about a week later they called me and told me to go to Savannah, Georgia, because there was a recruiting whatever there. I went to Savannah, and I was given a battery of tests, and I came on back home. About two weeks after that they called and said I should go to Columbia, South Carolina. So I went to Columbia and had another battery of tests, and then they told me, “You're going to be in the military, in the navy, and the train will leave at six o'clock this afternoon.”

EE:

Lots of notice.

JM:

Luckily they told us to bring certain things with us and that kind of thing. So I had time to call my mother say, “I'm going.” Of course, she didn't believe it. She thought I was coming home again. But they took me right from there to Bainbridge, Maryland.

EE:

Now, when you joined, when you signed up, did they give you some options about the kind of work you wanted to do in the service?

JM:

They may have. I don't necessarily recall. I was surprised to get to boot camp, and after I'd been processed in and they had my records, one of the COs [commanding officers] said to me, “Why did you have so much testing?”

I said, “I don't know.” Because I didn't know anything about the military.

She says, “You've been tested on everything that we cover in the first two weeks of boot training,” she said, “and you did marvelously.”

I said, “Well, gee. Thanks a lot.” I didn't know. I thought it was customary, but apparently it wasn't.

EE:

Well, that's good. Did you know any other woman who had joined the service at the time?

JM:

I had one cousin who was in the army. She was an officer.

EE:

So when you got on that train in Columbia, you didn't know anybody from Eve.

JM:

No, nobody—myself and there were two other girls with me, the three of us. And I had never heard of Bainbridge. I'd heard of Maryland.

EE:

Where is Bainbridge?

JM:

That's right.

EE:

Is it near Baltimore? Is it on the shore?

JM:

Aberdeen. You know where Aberdeen is?

EE:

Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

Okay.

JM:

We were in Aberdeen.

EE:

Okay.

JM:

Birds don't even fly over that [unclear].

EE:

So you tell me there's not a lot of socializing in Bainbridge?

JM:

Oh, let me tell you.

EE:

Made Beaufort look exciting.

JM:

Oh, yes. Yes. [Laughter]

EE:

You get to Bainbridge. What do you remember about boot camp?

JM:

The doors that I walked in when we got there: “Through these portals pass the most important women on Earth.” That I'll always remember.

EE:

That's a nice way to make you feel first thing, isn't it?

JM:

Yes. It was really, really nice. I'll never forget that.

EE:

What was a typical day like for you? In the forties, I think sometimes—when I hear people talk about basic, I think they didn't quite know what to do with women in basic, frankly, and that they were learning.

JM:

Yes, I think so, too.

EE:

But what about you?

JM:

The reveille was at 5:30, and then we had one hour, from 5:30 to 6:30, to get showered, get dressed, to get your bunk in 4.0 order, have all that is required for the day, which included “uniform of the day,” which was piped in about twenty minutes before you get ready, and you got that on, and you'd be out on the parade ground at 6:30. That was every morning. You marched to breakfast, and from breakfast you marched to classes. Classes all day long except for lunch and maybe one break in between for fifteen or twenty minutes, but you went to school all day. Then you marched to lunch, you marched to supper, and then you had free time from supper until maybe 9:00, 9:30, unless you had duty somewhere. And then Taps was at ten o'clock.

EE:

Did, I guess, everybody take turns leading the platoon hither and yon?

JM:

You had to earn the right.

EE:

So it was an honor to do that. Were your instructors men or women?

JM:

Women. I think we had two men, but the majority were women.

EE:

How many were in a barracks then? Was this facility in Bainbridge, did it have—

JM:

It had barracks.

EE:

Was it just a training facility, or did it have some other—

JM:

I think it had training and schools. You know, schools are done in basic training.

EE:

Just for women or the navy?

JM:

No, no. In the navy, men and women.

EE:

That's what I was getting at, because in the beginning they had separate. They had facilities just for the ladies. And I think after '48, as they integrated them more fully into the services. Then you got this—

JM:

Yes. Yes. They had us way, way, way over, but we were there.

EE:

So far you weren't even sure the guys were there.

JM:

Oh, we knew they were there.

EE:

How often did you see each other? During the evening?

JM:

Every day was saw them because we had to march through where they were to get anywhere where we were going, and they were always, if they had any time at all—

EE:

Any catcalls at all?

JM:

Oh, and if they called fire drill at two or three o'clock in the morning, those guys would be hanging out of every window, because you had to grab your raincoat with your nightgown and run, and they weren't going to miss that, not for anything in the world.

EE:

Well, nice to know young men are still the same after all these years.

JM:

That's right. And we learned, too, to put on our best nightgowns if we thought there was going to be a fire drill. We took advantage.

EE:

So you say there might have been a little show going on at the same time.

JM:

Yes, there was.

EE:

Well, I guess you're there for about what, two months?

JM:

Nine weeks.

EE:

At some point, I guess, they probably give you some more tests and figure out what they're going to do with you.

JM:

Oh, yes. Well, you have all of the military history and everything, they give you that, and you're scored on it. And of course, then they had evaluations by psychiatrists and psychologists and the whole nine yards.

EE:

Where did you end up going from basic?

JM:

Well, when I left there, I—

EE:

I guess you'd come out as an ensign?

JM:

No. What do you call it? Seaman.

EE:

Seaman.

JM:

And I had chosen three places to go because they gave me three options. You're not going to get them, but it makes you feel good. And I had picked three places in California, and I got New York. And I had just left New York.

EE:

Right. Welcome back. Can't get away if you tried.

JM:

No.

EE:

Were you near the city or upstate or where were you looking?

JM:

I was stationed at 90 Church Street in Manhattan.

EE:

90 Church Street. I talked with somebody this morning who was stationed at 90 Church Street.

JM:

Really?

EE:

They were with Command East, Eastern Sea—

JM:

Eastern Seafront.

EE:

Is that where you were?

JM:

I was in communications, both Eastern Seafront and Naval Communications Station 3.

EE:

[Unclear]. Well, you need to know this woman. Her name is Winnie Kuehn.

JM:

I knew Winnie.

EE:

Yes. She was there.

JM:

Yes, I knew her very well. She's the one that brought me in.

EE:

Oh, my goodness. All right. Well, tell me more about it. Was it the same kind of work? I guess when you're joining—I guess Mr. [Joseph] McCarthy is probably off the scene by then, but the people still were concerned about communists and everything else, what the Russians are doing.

JM:

Right. We knew about it. I was stationed at the naval hospital in St. Alban's, Queens, so we had to take a bus—

EE:

[Unclear] house—

JM:

Right. There were no official barracks for females. St. Albans had a barracks which was used for female barracks. We had to take a bus and a subway to come into downtown Manhattan every day, and that was a ride, about an hour-and-a-half ride.

EE:

I think she said that when they were there they had to find their own house, that they were given a check and—

JM:

Yes, she did. We did have the option of living off base. We were offered what was called “full subs and quarters” and we could have our own apartments if we could afford one with what we were given for this purpose.

EE:

How many WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Service—U.S. Navy] were stationed at that particular place?

JM:

At 90 Church Street?

EE:

Yes.

JM:

I would say about seventy-five or a hundred.

EE:

Okay. A pretty good number.

JM:

We had the fourteenth floor, the fifteenth floor, and the fifth floors. And the fifth floor was Communications and Command Post, Eastern Seafront. And we all had to have clearance. I had top secret G[reen] card clearance, because we handled very sensitive stuff, and that was during the height of the Korean War.

EE:

I was going to say, it's all coded messages, I guess, that you—

JM:

Yes. We were on teletype at that time. You know, we didn't have the fancy stuff we have now, but we had the teletypes, and they would come in from all over the country. And if anything was going down in Korea, of course, it came through. If you heard the bells that meant that it was high priority and only people with the clearances that matched the message types could handle the incoming messages for rerouting and/or delivery to the specified destination.

EE:

What was a typical day like for work for you there?

JM:

Normally very easy. My hours were, I think, 8:00 to 4:00 or 9:00 to 5:00. Unless there was some kind of crisis, those were the hours I worked, Monday to Friday. I had every weekend off.

EE:

That sounds wonderful.

JM:

It was.

EE:

Surely they would have run a twenty-four hour shift at some place.

JM:

Oh, yes, there were three shifts, but I was on the day unless there was a problem. Now, there had been times when I was assigned a two-section watch, twelve hours on watch and twelve hours off, when there was trouble going on. And, of course, when they call it you have to do it, no questions asked.

EE:

How long were you there at 90 Church Street?

JM:

The whole time.

EE:

From '54 till the time you got out in '57?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

And you stayed at St. Alban's the whole time, or did you—

JM:

Yes. I lived at St. Alban's the whole time, because I was there when I got married, still living in St. Alban's.

EE:

When the women are joining in the forties, they're freeing a man to fight, but by the time you're there, I assume that women are doing this kind of work on a regular basis, the kind—that you're there. Are your supervisors men or women with this work?

JM:

The supervisors were all men as far as I can remember. I don't recall having a female officer at 90 Church Street when I was there. If we did there were very, very few. I remember men. The admirals and the captains, as far as I can recall, were all men.

EE:

Was there a WAVES officer that may be in charge of a region or something that would come by for inspection now and then, or was it clearly you're assigned to this group and they're the ones that you—

JM:

Yes, there was a WAVE officer occasionally, but only as a visitor, never stationed where I worked or lived—although there were WAVE officers in evidence at the St. Albans Naval Hospital Complex.

EE:

When you were at this location—you were there two years—how did the men basically get along with you all? Did you have any trouble, or were you pretty much accepted as coworkers and equals?

JM:

I didn't have any trouble. I was pretty well acquainted with the other girls that worked upstairs and down, and I don't recall—unless it happened to be some kind of personal relationship, you know. I don't recall anybody ever complaining about it.

EE:

Did the nature of the work change in that three-year period, because Korea is cooling down as a hot spot. At least they're getting more settled, with the DMZ [de-militarized zone] being set and knowing where to go?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

Does the work change a lot over the three years?

JM:

Well, there was not as much urgency, you know, not as much—I would say not as much classified material. There was still a lot going on because we had the whole Eastern area. So there were still troops and movements and all that that we still had to monitor.

EE:

You're in the city, and you've got relatives there. What was life like for you off work, social life? How was that, being in New York? It's not the worst place in the world to be. I mean, if you can't be in California, at least there's something to do in New York.

JM:

It was all right. We got along well. Our leisure time was spent in the barracks of course. I saw my relatives on occasion. None of my mother's sisters were too pleased that I was in the military, just that, but no problems.

EE:

When you signed on, was it for a three-year—

JM:

Four years.

EE:

Okay, a four-year tour. What was the hardest thing you had to do in the service, either physically or emotionally?

JM:

In boot camp I had to learn to survive in eight feet of water. That is, jump in a pool containing eight feet of water, swim or float to the other side of the pool and get out without any assistance. That was the hardest.

EE:

[Unclear] when you think about WAVES, Navy. Now, they didn't have women on ships then, did they?

JM:

Yes, there were women on ships. The service was MSTS [Military Sea Transport Service] and their jobs there were as military nurses.

EE:

They finally let some—

JM:

Yes. They were like nurses, you know, MSTS, but that's [unclear].

EE:

But they threw you into eight feet and said, “Swim.”

JM:

Everybody.

EE:

Everybody.

JM:

In boot camp, if you didn't survive in eight feet of water and get yourself out, you could not graduate from boot camp.

EE:

Did they give you any advanced swimming lessons?

JM:

Oh, you have it the whole time you're in boot camp. It's up to you. They show you what to do. They even put on Mae West's—is that what it's called? And I told them, I said, “I can sink in this. I can drown with this on.”

They said, “No, you can't.”

But when I was going down for the second time, they took the pole and pushed me out and said, “You can, can't you?”

I said, “I told you I could.”

But unfortunately, if you don't graduate with your company, there's a two-week gap before you can come up again for graduation, and nobody wants to stay very long in boot camp if they don't have to.

EE:

Right.

JM:

So on graduation day I had earned the right to be honor recruit of my company, the troop company commander of my company, and battalion staff guidon bearer, but I couldn't graduate if I couldn't survive that water. So on graduation morning I jumped in that pool, did the back float, and came out of that pool and graduated. That's been forty-five years ago, and I've never been in a pool, never been in a pool again, and no intention of going in one.

EE:

You strike me as a woman who knows her limitations.

JM:

That's right. I know my limitations.

EE:

That's it, no more, I've had it. Take a shower from now on.

JM:

That's right. I do. I'm the only sailor, I think, that does not know how to swim. [Laughter]. That's my worst moment.

EE:

Well, that's [unclear]. If you had all those offers, you were pretty good in the books.

JM:

Oh, yes. I had one of the 3.95. I was 4.0, but I couldn't swim.

EE:

Well, they had a swimming test at [The University of North] Carolina that somehow I got out of.

JM:

You didn't. I couldn't get out of the [unclear].

EE:

I'd be doing the back flip [unclear].

JM:

I was the only one in the pool that morning.

EE:

Oh, my wife swims just like a fish. It's aggravating. I make sure the kids know how to swim, because I'm not going to teach them.

Were you ever in a position, being in the big city and your work—were you ever afraid or in any physical danger with the kind of stuff you were doing?

JM:

In the military?

EE:

Yes.

JM:

No. No, I wasn't.

EE:

I guess you had to be in dress uniform to and from work.

JM:

No.

EE:

You did not? Oh, okay. Different. What happened? I guess that was a blessing, then.

JM:

It certainly was.

EE:

You could kind of blend in and not get attention.

JM:

That's right.

EE:

That was the point of the whole thing.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

So did you have a locker there at the place and change?

JM:

Yes. We could wear them if we wanted to. If we didn't, we didn't do it. It wasn't mandatory. In the building it was. Out of the building it wasn't.

EE:

So people outside of work may not have known you were in the service.

JM:

Most of them didn't.

EE:

In the Second World War, they talk about how patriotic everybody was. Were people patriotic?

JM:

I would say so, sure. We were, too. We just didn't want to dress the part. And there were all kinds of questions asked about what kind of work we were doing, you know. Some fellows would be turned off if they saw the uniform. So we just didn't wear it. [Laughter]

EE:

Now, that leads me to an important part. You've already alluded to the fact that you met your intended while you were there.

JM:

Yes, I most certainly did.

EE:

Was he working there?

JM:

He was a civilian. I didn't date sailors.

EE:

Ah. You knew too much about them.

JM:

I was one so I knew what to look for. [Laughter]

EE:

You had higher standards. Okay. He was a civilian. How many people at that place were civilian versus military, because I think Mrs. Kuehn mentioned that.

JM:

Well, I think about three times as many civilians.

EE:

I guess because it was all the radio equipment and everything. So he was working there. When did you meet up with him? Was it '56, '57?

JM:

We were married in '57 so we must have met first at the beginning or middle of '56. I had seen him around since we both worked for the same branch of the navy, although in different offices and on different floors. We both worked in communications. He was a teletype operator.

EE:

Was he from that area?

JM:

No. He was born in Georgia and raised in Baltimore, then he came to New York for that position.

EE:

Well, you're surrounded with people from all over the country, and I guess you were-in boot camp and in your tour, the military was really ahead of the country, I think, in integrating African Americans at that point.

JM:

A little more. The navy was the last bastille then. They held out the longest. But I think they were more—at least getting to be more forward looking at that time.

EE:

So all of your training and your stations, it was an integrated experience for you.

JM:

Yes. Usually I was the one doing the integrating. At the time I was in and the places I happened to be at the time, I was one of very few African American women in the offices where I worked. In most instances the only one.

EE:

That's impressive, because you're doing this, you're making these great grades in boot camp, and there was a lot of pressure, I think, on those who had to take charge and do the integrating, that they had to be not just okay but better than okay. Was there pressure on that for you?

JM:

Well, not pressure for me because I'd always been the one—my mother and father always said to us they didn't care what we did, they wanted the best for us; that they didn't care what we chose to do as long as we chose to do it the best that we could do. That's what they taught us. So I graduated from high school at fifteen, valedictorian. My sister graduated valedictorian. We were not going to be outdone. So the same thing when I got to boot camp. It was written. I read it. If I read it I just did it. They gave a test, you passed it. Simple.

EE:

It was old hat for you.

JM:

Yes. You know, it was easy for me. That's what happened. I didn't feel any pressures at all except when they told me to jump in that pool.

EE:

Other than that one, I had a question. See, this question I'm supposed to ask everybody. [Laughter]. I guess that was it. Let me rephrase it, then. See, most people, if I ask that question, they'd refuse to answer it. They'd have a really embarrassed look and say, “Well, let me tell you another story.” When you're out there with people from all different walks of life, their different experiences, you run into some interesting characters. Are there some stories you can tell about people you met in the service?

JM:

Sure. My friend, the one that I remember foremost, is a Chinese girl. I can't remember her name now. But where we [unclear] boot camp, we had, I think, six shower stalls—it was six or eight shower stalls, for 205 women. And we had twenty minutes in which to shower and get out. So there was never a possibility of taking a shower alone. There just wasn't. It couldn't be done. There were usually four to six people, and the shower stalls were big enough, you know, for them. But this Chinese girl and myself rediscovered that because we liked hot water, everybody that came in if we were in a shower stall would not come in with us because the water was too hot. So for ninety days she and I would get up together and never got bothered, because they'd see the steam coming over the top and they'd say, “Those two are in there.”

EE:

Yes. You're playing the system. You learned to work with it. All right. Good.

JM:

Yes. That worked beautifully.

Another time we had this young lady, I think she was from Arkansas—I think Arkansas, I keep thinking Arkansas—and we didn't mind too much the nightgown that she was wearing, we didn't mind that too much, but she had a habit of going into the ladies room and not taking a shower.

EE:

Yes. You found out those people eventually, don't you?

JM:

After a while it became obvious that she wasn't taking a shower, and we slept four in a little cubicle, two up, two down. So if anybody else in there—you know, if anybody was in any way not doing what they was supposed to do, everybody had to live with it. So the girls in her cubicle told her about it, and of course, added to it, and it was embarrassing for her. And then the next week I was made recruit company commander. So we waited about two nights after that, and when it was free time, eight of us got her with brushes and some good brown soap, and we washed her hair, from head to foot. I mean, we scrubbed her good. She was just as fresh and clean when we finished as she'd ever been, and we bought her a new nightgown and gave it to her. When she got up the next morning she says, “You know, I slept so good after,” and we wanted to kill her.

EE:

I might do it on a regular basis then.

JM:

We didn't have any trouble out of her after that, though. She was really a nice kid, but she just didn't like to take a bath or shower, you know, didn't care.

EE:

Reckon she was just embarrassed about around other people [unclear]?

JM:

I don't know whether it even dawned on her until after we started to scrub her up. She just—but she didn't hold it against us.

EE:

You had already stated you didn't date sailors, but was there any organized place for men and women in the service to socialize together? I guess there probably were officers clubs. Were there clubs for enlisted folks to go?

JM:

Yes. At St. Alban's Naval Hospital in St. Alban's Square is where we were billeted. They had an NCO [non-commissioned officers] club and movies, a liberty house, all on the hospital grounds. So everything was available there.

EE:

I had my own songs from the fifties. Is there a particular song or movie that if you see a rerun on TV takes you back to your time in service?

JM:

I don't remember too much about movies. [Unclear]. I loved R&B, you know, and we went out a lot. We went to dances and clubs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or to Revival concerts given by James Cleveland, wherever the big names were having concerts.

EE:

And that was—doo-wop was early fifties, wasn't it?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

So I guess this is really the start of rock and roll in the mid-fifties.

JM:

Yes. That's right. In the mid-fifties. So we had all of those groups that we—everything was in New York so you didn't have to go anywhere, just get on the subway, you know. We had everything. We saw everybody. We saw Basie. In fact, we lived in—living in St. Alban's, Count Basie lived there, and Brooke Benton lived there, and just everybody lived there. So it was just a matter of taking a walk through the neighborhoods. You could walk a few blocks and see some of the R&B stars who were in their heydays at that time.

EE:

I see this jazz album over here. You must be into that.

JM:

Yes.

[Conversation about internet radio stations redacted.]

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military your career, or did your romantic life interrupt that possibility?

JM:

Yes, it did. Three years and seven months after I was in there I got married, and they had just given me orders to Paris, which is what I'd asked for for a few years, but I was only going to France—

EE:

Oh, my goodness.

JM:

I received orders to Paris when I had less than one year left of my first four years, and should I accept the orders I would have had to re-enlist for an additional six years, which I did not do since I was already married.

EE:

So you really were looking at making it a career?

JM:

No. I would have if they had given me—When I asked for it it would have been an extension of, I think, eighteen months to my first service term, but they kept me where I was until—I would have had to ship for six to go that distance, from New York to Paris.

EE:

So if the issue [unclear] every time—“I gave up Paris for you.”

JM:

I'd tell them about. I'd tell them. Yes. But then he made up for it because he sent me to Paris anyway.

EE:

Oh, I think you got a sweetheart.

JM:

Oh, I do.

EE:

So I guess at that time, now, for a long time in the service, once you got married, that was basically the time to leave the service as a woman, wasn't it?

JM:

Well, right after I got married I got ill, and so then I had surgery in a military hospital. When I recuperated from that, which took quite a while, we sort of guessed that I'd get out. I was short time.

EE:

Okay. So you would not be forced to get out at that time?

JM:

No. I wouldn't have been forced, but I got out with—there was four months left on my four-year terms, I got out.

EE:

Did you all stay in the New York area?

JM:

Yes. I lived there for forty-one years.

EE:

Wonderful. What brought you back down to the Greensboro area?

JM:

Retirement. I had my parents in South Carolina, his family in Georgia and Baltimore. So we were constantly coming up and down the Eastern seaboard. So we would stop in towns all along the way and look around. He never said that he would retire and come south, never. We would just look. I didn't think he would ever retire, but he was in the World Trade Center when they bombed it, February 26, 1993.

EE:

I'm sure you remember it exactly.

JM:

Oh, every minute of it, every minute of it, and when he finally got out of that building he said to me—he was past retirement age anyway—he said, “I'm going to retire.”

So I said, “For as long as you retire and you stay in New York, I'll work,” because my retirement date was 2001, which is the year after the next one coming up. But I said, “If you want to leave New York, then I will retire, too.”

So it was coming up and down, and friends of his would tell him about various places where they were born here in the South and we should look at them. So when he started to be serious about moving from New York, a young lady told him about Wilmington. So when we came down on one of the trips to visit my parents in South Carolina, we stopped to look at Wilmington. As luck would have it, a hurricane hit that night. So needless to say, the next morning we were up and out of there like jack flash. I said, “No way.” The lights went out, the trees fell down.

EE:

You don't want eight-foot walls of water coming in here.

JM:

No, I'm telling you. So we called them back, and we told them what happened. We said, “We're going to—since we're this close, we're going to the other place you told us about, Winston-Salem.”

So she said, “Well, if you're going to Winston-Salem,” she says, “Then the little town that you have to go through before you get to Winston-Salem is called Greensboro. Why don't you look around there?”

And we never got to Winston-Salem. But we didn't know anybody here.

EE:

That's great.

JM:

It's a lovely town and lovely people. No complaints.

EE:

Good. I'm glad you feel that way.

JM:

It's home. When I walked in this door to look at this house, I said, “This is home.”

EE:

Well, I can see why. Sitting out here, I think I could—this is a nice place to retire, just sitting like this.

What did you do when you got out of the service and you recovered—you said you retired. What line of work did you do when you got out of the service?

JM:

Well, I went back to school. I went to Brown's Business School in Lynbrook, New York, and I graduated from there, and then I took adult courses at New York College. Then I applied for positions as an administrative assistant or something like that, and I got it, a job with a watchmakers and jewelers supply house, Hammel-Riglander. I worked for them. I also worked for the State of New York, and when I retired I was working for the City of New York as a patient account manager in a hospital in Elmhurst, Queens.

EE:

What impact do you think your time in the military had on the rest of your life, other than getting you close to a man?

JM:

Yes. It was good. Everything was good for me. I have two nieces now. I have one niece who retired from the military two years ago, the army, at forty-two. She had put in twenty years. I have another niece who is currently in the military at this time, and she is a lieutenant colonel, and she is commander of a base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She's just been selected to go to the War College. So when she comes out she'll probably be a brigadier general.

EE:

Good gracious. That's wonderful.

JM:

So now I think I kind of inspired them to go after me a little bit.

EE:

Did your folks ever warm up to your being in the service?

JM:

Oh, sure. Plus my mother realized that it's not where you are, it's who you are. No problem. She knew that all the time, but I was going and she wouldn't see me every day.

EE:

Well, you miss your baby. No matter how old your baby is, you still miss your baby.

JM:

That's right. You miss your children.

EE:

Do you think being in the service made you—I'll ask a natural follow-up to that question—made you more independent than you would be otherwise?

JM:

If it's possible for me to have been more independent, that would help.

EE:

In other words, you think you might have taught the military about being independent. Okay.

I guess, based on those nieces, I know the answer to this question, too, which we ask folks: Would you recommend to a woman today that she join the service?

JM:

If you have to have a job, why not? It's a job like anything else. Do it, and do it well.

EE:

There are folks who are not really all that happy about the role of women in the military anymore. We sent our first woman combat pilot into action in Iraq in December. What do you think about that? Are there certain jobs in the military that should be off limits to women?

JM:

No. Anything you can do, I can do better.

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

EE:

So as long as it's the woman's choice—

JM:

That's right. As long as you stick to it, and you do have those options when you get there for something like that. Nobody will push you into it. You'll always be asked.

EE:

Some people have said women in the military is what started all this business about women doing different kinds of work anyway. Did you ever feel like you were a trailblazer being in the service?

JM:

Well, when it comes to my family I believe so, at least where the women were concerned.

EE:

Gave them another option of what they were going to do with their life?

JM:

Yes. They saw me do it, and I felt so good about it. I think that's one of the reasons why they started to think, you know, to try it, because they did have more options than I did at the time they chose it. [Unclear].

EE:

I've gone through the “have to” questions. Are there things about your time in service that—you know, I have not, in my interviews, because of the time period I'm looking at, there are very few African Americans who were in service.

JM:

There were very few in the navy. I was the only one in my company, and I think, if I recall, there were two companies to a barracks and we had two barracks and there was four companies of about two hundred each, and there may have been a total of four, one maybe in each company, maybe two. But I don't recall more than one at that time.

EE:

I just wondered what the feeling was in the African American community about you being in the service. Did you ever get any static about that?

JM:

Oh, sure, that we were there to serve some specific lewd purpose and the usual fairy tales, you know.

EE:

That's been going on, apparently, as long as women in service.

JM:

Yes, absolutely. It had no impact on me whatsoever, not after living in a town where there were fifteen thousand Marines walking up and down the street.

EE:

Well, see, I think you came into it with your eyes wide open from that experience. You knew the tall tales and you knew—

JM:

Yes, everything there was to know about it they'd tell you.

EE:

Well, I appreciate you sitting down with me this afternoon. I'm going to go over a couple of these spellings and things.

On behalf of the school, thank you very much.

JM:

And on behalf of the WAVES, we thank you for doing it.

[End of Interview]