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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Winifred Kuehn, 1999

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Object ID: WV0127.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Winifred E. Kuehn’s experiences in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) while stationed in New York City and Wahiawa, Hawaii, during World War II.

Summary:

Kuehn discusses her reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; being measured and fitted for her WAVES uniform; having to find her own quarters in New York City; learning to ride the subway; being quarantined after arriving in Hawaii; the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; celebrating the end of the war; the isolation of Wahiawa; a surprise meeting with her sister, an army nurse, in Oahu; social life in the WAVES; and learning to identify ships and planes.

She also talks about teaching English and biology; meeting her husband, Ralph Kuehn, at a party; working at the University of Delaware; and her opinion of women in combat positions.

Creator: Winifred Taylor Kuehn

Biographical Info: Winifred E. Kuehn of Wilmington, Delaware, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 until 1945.

Collection: Winifred Taylor Kuehn 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:

Note: Winnie Kuehn's husband, Ralph Kuehn, was present during part of the interview.

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today I am in Greensboro at the home of Winnie Kuehn. Thank you, Mrs. Kuehn, for having us out today.

WK:

You're welcome.

EE:

This should be a fairly painless exercise, and the question I'm going to start out to you is the same one I ask of everybody so I hope it's not too hard. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

WK:

I was born in Riverton, Maryland, moved to Wilmington, Delaware, when I was about four, and lived there until I went off in the navy. I even commuted to college so I still lived there.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

WK:

I have one of each.

EE:

Are you oldest, youngest, in the middle?

WK:

Youngest.

EE:

What did your folks do when you were younger?

WK:

What do you mean, do?

EE:

What did they do for a living?

WK:

Oh, my mother was a mother. My father ultimately was a representative of Travelers Insurance Company.

EE:

So all your schooling was in Wilmington city schools?

WK:

Well, city schools, and then I went to the University of Delaware, and that's it.

EE:

They like to call that the northernmost Southern university, I was told.

WK:

[laughs] I remember that.

EE:

I was there. I had a friend on campus there. It's got a beautiful quad right in the center.

WK:

Well, the whole thing is so different. For my birthday this year we made the pilgrimage, and we got lost.

EE:

Well, if you went to college, I guess you were somebody who probably liked school, then, growing up.

WK:

Oh, I loved it.

EE:

You were telling me before we started that you did more than loved the learning part, you wanted to be a teacher. You did that early on.

WK:

I fully expected to be a teacher all my life until the navy came up.

EE:

And this was something you—every time they played school you wanted to be the teacher, is that what it was?

WK:

Yes.

EE:

So did you have a favorite subject in school?

WK:

Well, it wasn't math. I guess English.

EE:

And then you went to the university. Had your brother and sister already gone to college before you, or were you the first one?

WK:

Yes, I was the first one, although my sister eventually, while she was in the army, got her bachelor's and then her master's.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

WK:

Nineteen thirty-seven.

EE:

Now in Delaware, was it an eleven-year or twelve-year high school?

WK:

Twelve.

EE:

So you went to Delaware. What was school like there?

WK:

I loved it. I commuted, which I think diminished my joy because going and coming and arranging for a ride— the bus service is much better today than it was then.

EE:

Well, the university is in Newark so it's about, what, ten or fifteen miles from Wilmington?

WK:

About. It depends on where you start in Wilmington.

EE:

True. Did you major in English at Delaware?

WK:

I think I majored in French. Yes, I did.

EE:

Were you thinking that you would be a French teacher, then, when you got out of school?

WK:

I wanted to go on with it, but I also had a minor in English; and the job that was available was to teach English. So I made a transition very quickly in my heart.

EE:

I've talked with people who were on campus here in the late thirties. How political were things? You were there at a time when war starts in Europe, when they were talking about calling up, starting the draft for young men in college. What was the conversation?

WK:

We were a little bit ahead of that. I graduated in 1937.

EE:

From high school or from college?

WK:

From college.

EE:

Oh, okay. I was thinking '37 was when you graduated from high school.

WK:

It is. Now, would you state your question again?

EE:

Yes. When did you graduate from college, '41?

WK:

Nineteen forty-one.

EE:

Well, the four years that you were in college was a very interesting time in the world politically, and usually teenagers, which I count college folks as, teenagers, aren't really so concerned about the world—it's social life and studies. But it was a very interesting time. Was there a lot of political discussion on your campus?

WK:

Not a great deal of it. The dean of women had great sympathies with the English, and she was about the only one who was too political.

EE:

Because she would mention it in her teaching?

WK:

Yes. But we didn't have too much contact with her. And by commuting, I didn't get in on any of the evening discussions.

EE:

Right. You graduated in '41. That would have been in the springtime. Had they already started the draft for men in the service by then?

WK:

I don't know.

EE:

But you felt fortunate, you told me before we started, that you had a job waiting for you, which was important.

WK:

I did. There weren't any other vacancies advertised.

EE:

And where did you end up taking a job?

WK:

Henry C. Conrad High School.

EE:

Was that right there in Wilmington, or where is that?

WK:

It's in a suburb of Wilmington. Awkward to get to if you didn't have a car.

EE:

And you were teaching English at this job? How long did you end up teaching there, just one year?

WK:

Just one year. And basically I loved it. I had a wide variety of students. I had one kid who had—I was his third teacher, and he would ask if he could do something for extra credit, and I thought anybody who is really anxious to do it I'm going to help. So I kind of pushed him along.

EE:

Good.

WK:

And he joined the navy and let me know that he had, and his ship was sunk—he was saved, but I didn't know for a long time. I thought, “My word.” He was probably the biggest problem I had, and here I was practically weeping over him.

EE:

What grade did you teach?

WK:

High school.

EE:

Was it all different grades?

WK:

No, it was ninth grade.

EE:

I guess you were teaching—you had to come into class the day after—where were you Pearl Harbor day? You were at home, I guess, on Sunday?

WK:

I was home, and I had been to some kind of sporting event, and I heard it over the radio, and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. So when it really hit me is when they broadcast President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt's speech. I can still hear his voice.

EE:

You were in school then? Did they put it over the PA [public address system]?

WK:

Yes. Yes. I don't know whether it was right away, but it was soon after the thing.

EE:

What was the mood with the kids there?

WK:

I don't think the kids really understood what was going on, but the school soon showed its effect. We got involved in taking a first aid course and issuing—what do you call it?

EE:

Ration books?

WK:

Ration books. I seem to forget those, don't I?

EE:

People don't want to remember that part.

WK:

I never had any because I lived at home and my mother got them. So I never had to deal with them. I've lost my train of thought.

EE:

You were talking about changes that happened because of the war at school. You took the first aid, and you gave out ration books.

WK:

Oh, yes, and they were bound and determined they weren't going to cheat the kids, and so if a game was scheduled, we had it; if there was a dance scheduled, we had it; you know, and it was a long, long time to the end of the school year.

EE:

I imagine that even in the school environment you were already probably losing teachers and folks to join the service.

WK:

Not particularly at that point. I think I probably was the first one to go, although I'm not sure of the men. There weren't too many men, and I think they might have been later.

EE:

What got you interested in joining the service anyway?

WK:

I was a Girl Scout and a Girl Scout Mariner, and I'd learned to tell time by bell time, and I learned to tie knots, and I did all kinds of things like that, but I still don't know how to sail.

EE:

Really?

WK:

No. Well, I didn't have any chance to do it. This is all theory. I did have an experience when I was with this group. The Mariners or Girl Scouts—I don't know which—in New York had rented Captain Irving Johnson's ship. Do you know about him?

EE:

No.

WK:

Oh, he was wonderful. He and his wife took passengers—that was their profession. They would take a two-year voyage with paying passengers and then they'd come home and spend two years writing a book, and they're good reading. The Girl Scouts of New York had decided they needed a little help financially so they opened the chance to others, and our group made belts out of knotted ropes, and we made seabags and belts and we sold them, and we got enough money for, I think, four of us to go.

EE:

Well, now, what made you interested in the sea? Had your father been in the service?

WK:

My father was a little bit of a man. He would not have passed the navy—

EE:

The physical?

WK:

No, I don't think so.

EE:

But now, '42, they start with—the WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] was the first thing that they were discussing starting.

WK:

They beat the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services—U.S. Navy].

EE:

Right. You didn't think about joining the Women's Army Corps [WAC]?

WK:

No, never thought of it.

EE:

Because what interested you was the nautical stuff.

WK:

My brother had been a Sea Scout.

EE:

When you got down to—I guess, would you have reported to a recruiting office in Wilmington, or did you have to go up to—

WK:

Philadelphia.

EE:

They were in the same—the post office or something, the recruiting station?

WK:

I hadn't the faintest idea what the address was, but I didn't see anybody but the navy.

EE:

What did your folks think about you joining the service?

WK:

They kept pretty quiet.

EE:

Which you took to mean—

WK:

That they were not going to interfere, though I wasn't sure that they really wanted to part with me.

EE:

Well, if you'd been living at home, I can see, yes, they enjoyed that.

When you went down to the recruiting station, did they tell you what kind of work you might be doing?

WK:

Oh, heavens no.

EE:

Did they tell you that in the WAVES you would not be allowed to be on a ship?

WK:

No.

EE:

So you assumed that might be a possibility for you.

WK:

No. I didn't really think. I just wanted. And since I embarked on it, I didn't want to fail. So we spent a whole day with kinds of exams and interviews and things like that.

EE:

This was before the school year started in the fall of '42?

WK:

No.

EE:

When was this? When did you go down there?

WK:

When did the WAVES get started?

EE:

Forty-three, wasn't it? Forty-two was when they got the authorization for the WAAC.

WK:

Well, that's kind of funny because—wait a minute. I may be wrong. Let's see. I graduated from college in '41. I taught until '42. It was right after Pearl Harbor.

EE:

Yes. I think they had actually started talking about the WAAC in '41, before Pearl Harbor. Then after Pearl Harbor, I think in May of '42, they said go ahead with it. And it wasn't until September of '43 that they switched to WAC, by which time they'd already started the WAVES, and they had the WAVES early in '43, and it could have been that you signed up in late '42 [WAVES were established in July 1942]. You were part of the first group?

WK:

I was part of the first group.

EE:

That's what it was. I'm sure that they wouldn't have had a station in Wilmington. They were going for the big cities like Philadelphia to see what was up there. So you were part of the first class of WAVES?

WK:

Yes.

EE:

That's exciting.

WK:

I think so.

EE:

So I guess they didn't really know what to tell you, they said, “Come over. We'll see if we can use you.” Were you freeing a man to fight? Did that appeal to you at all?

WK:

I wanted to get the war over with, and that seemed to be the way to do it. I didn't have any desire to fight myself. I don't think I'd have been a good sharpshooter, for instance.

EE:

So you came to Philadelphia. You told me before we started that there was a little bit of a lag before the time you went down there and the time they called you back to say that you were in.

WK:

No. I was sworn into the navy that day.

EE:

That same day that you went down there?

WK:

That very same day.

EE:

But you weren't called back for basic—

WK:

But I was called back for basic—well, whatever you called it then. It was an experience for the navy as well as for us, because—

EE:

Where did you go?

WK:

Northampton, [Massachusetts], which had been a Smith College area; and when they moved into the new buildings they were willing to, I guess, rent the thing to the navy. So they said they'd let us know, and they did, and that was after I had my little flirtation with the biology class and had—on a dare. I put my hand in to prove I wasn't afraid. Ha! I put my hand right in with a snake, and he didn't seem to mind one way or the other, and so I won. I'll never forget that. I told them, I said, “I've never had biology as a study.”

They said, “Well, you can do something.”

And when I walked into that room I knew what I was going to do. My predecessor had either been in charge of it or had just abandoned it or I don't know what, but there was a display of stuffed animals, you know, the kind that I would be afraid of.

EE:

Right.

WK:

I found out that the class textbook was in two different editions. That's rough.

EE:

When you have to teach and people have two different page numbers and everything.

WK:

Yes. So I didn't want to get involved. And the first chapter, anyway, was on how to use a microscope, and the only thing I ever saw in a microscope was my eyelashes. So I didn't look forward to it. But anyway, I don't know how I got involved in it, but some kid brought a snake in, and all the girls ooh'd. I said, “Oh, he can't hurt you.”

They said, “Would you touch him?”

I said, “Well, I don't particularly want to but I will.” And so I did.

Somebody said, “Are they cold?”

I said, “Well, not terribly. No.”

He said, “How do you take a snake's temperature?”

So I said, “Well, I don't know. Let's make that a project. Who can find out?”

So I came home and asked my Boy Scout brother. I said, “How do you take a snake's temperature?”

He says, “You don't have to. They assume the atmospheric—”

EE:

Cold-blooded. Right.

WK:

Right. So I knew the answer when I came back, and fortunately somebody else had the same answer. But anyway, I was kind of glad to get my orders.

EE:

Did they make a big deal out of it? I would think that you probably were in the paper as being one of the first WAVES. Was that a big production?

WK:

It may have been. I don't remember. Oh, I think we do have some clippings someplace, but I don't know where they are. I have a scrapbook someplace, but I'm sorry I found all this stuff and I can't find that.

EE:

You took a train from Wilmington to Northampton. Was that your first big trip away from home?

WK:

And I had to change trains. I came up on the one train and switched to the—

EE:

Did you switch in the city, New York City?

WK:

Yes. And I went by taxi and found out later I could have done it inside the building free, and I think I paid four dollars a taxi for there.

EE:

Four dollars then was a lot of money.

WK:

It was a lot of money. But I just didn't know, and I just thought it would be safer to tell them to take me to the—I forgot the name of the station now.

EE:

When you joined, if you joined that early, really, you know, I've heard some women say that they joined because they loved the WAVES uniform. Did they have a uniform? I guess they told you to bring your own clothes to train, didn't they?

WK:

Yes. But they were going to work on the deal, and there's a story behind that. We marched wherever we went, and to ease the boredom and keep the cadence, we sang a lot, and we eventually got to where we were supposed to go to get measured for our uniforms. Well, when they got through to measuring me, I wouldn't have dared go near a magnet I was so full of pins, and believe you me, they prickled when you walked, and I had to walk all the way back. Anyway, when we came to get the actual measurements for the thing, they gave me an entirely different size, a smaller one. So I still had some pins, but not as many. But we did not get our complete kit. In December I was detached for duty in New York City. I still didn't have an overcoat. That was cold.

EE:

And I imagine you couldn't go out without your proper uniform on.

WK:

Well, I had—

EE:

You didn't put a regular coat on top of it did you?

WK:

No, but I did have the raincoat, which had a lining, and that was my saving grace.

EE:

Now, if you went to Northampton, you went in as an officer, I guess, by being a college graduate. Is that right?

WK:

No, midshipman.

EE:

And at a later point they sent officers to Northampton and enlisted to Hunter [College], I guess it was. But you're saying that everybody went to—

WK:

Hunter did not exist at this point. And we got our orders at just about Christmastime, because I remember the treat we had. Instead of marching down to the Hotel Northampton to get our breakfast we had orange juice and sweet rolls and coffee, and it was good.

EE:

Sounds good right now.

WK:

Yes. I can fix a cup anytime you want.

EE:

That's all right.

WK:

I don't have the rolls. Anyway, we were just glad to get—can you imagine marching in the cold weather, and for a while I kept thinking, “Why do we have so many scallops?” which I did not like and which you were not supposed to eat. Later I found out that the Hotel Northampton had let out its contracts for scallops when they were expecting lots of different people to eat their scallops.

EE:

Lots of visiting folks. Right. Somebody told me that they had lobster for the first time up there at that place.

WK:

I didn't at Northampton, but I had it in New York City, and I worked so hard at it that a waitress came over and gave me a few tips and a bib.

EE:

Basic was how long for you then, two months, eight weeks?

WK:

Well, we went in in early October, and before the end of December—I don't remember the exact dates—we had our orders. And there's a story, too.

They had called back to duty a lot of retired chiefs, and bless their hearts, they were our greatest allies, and one of them said, “Don't put as first choice where you really want to go. Put it third choice. You're more likely to get it.” So I really wanted to go where it was warm. So I got sent to New York, and it was cold. As I say, I didn't have an overcoat, but I did have the raincoat with the lining, bless its heart.

EE:

What was your work in New York?

WK:

I was assigned to the Eastern Sea Frontier. The enemy had been making shortchange out of the coastal area, and we just wanted to stop it.

EE:

So the shore patrol was really important.

WK:

Our coast was divided into four: ComEast, ComSouth, ComGulf, and it seems to me they had one over on the West Coast, but we didn't have much dealings with them. And Eastern Sea Frontier was already in operation and had a full crew of male officers, who were doing a good job, and, bless their hearts, they could have said, “I wish you hadn't come, because this means we'll have to go to sea.” They were already skilled at communications so all they had to do was a little—the difference between sea operations and land. But they were already experienced in communications. I was in the Code Board, and I was not the first WAVE there. I don't believe I was. But it was early on, and some of the people thought it was because I was a poor typist at this—I'm wasting your time.

EE:

No. This is exactly what I'm looking for.

WK:

Well, I don't think when we went there they knew exactly what they were going to do with the WAVES. So the first part of our indoctrination had to do with recognizing the types of ships and—

EE:

They didn't send you to a separate school. You basically learned on the job.

WK:

Yes. And we had such a naive contestant, so to speak. One little girl, one WAVE, thought it was terrible that big ships like battleships had only sixteen-inch guns and she wanted something done about it.

EE:

She didn't realize that was the size of the barrel.

WK:

Well, a lot of us didn't. Well, after about eight weeks, something like that, they decided that what we really needed to do was to work on communications, because there was a great need for communicators. So they decided we'd all learn to type. Well, we had some people who had earned their living typing. So they were the top ranking ones. Then there were those who had never typed, and those like me who had fiddled with it, but I was not a typist. And there are those who went to Eastern Sea Frontier who would have thought that I was made a watch officer so soon because I was a poor typist, but it was a question that I was one of the early ones.

EE:

This Eastern Sea Frontier, was it based—

WK:

Ninety Church Street.

EE:

Where were you all housed?

WK:

Hah. Eventually they set up Hunter College as the entry point for the WAVES. We came with checks for money, to spend money, in order to report to our duty stations.

EE:

You had to find your own housing?

WK:

Own housing, everything. We had to find where our place of work was going to be, even. And it was not the happiest arrangement.

EE:

It doesn't sound very military to me.

WK:

And not only that, but I was assigned to the midnight watch the very first time that I worked there, and I think they were thinking that the load was lighter on the mid watch and it might be easier to break me in, but that meant that I had to go on the subway from the temporary housing that I, myself, had found. I found two other girls that were straying. They needed help, too, and we stayed together for about a month or so, but their watches and mine just didn't match and so we lit out for separate quarters. But anyway—

EE:

This is the first time you had taken a subway?

WK:

Just about. But what really threw me—it wasn't so bad for midnight except I was afraid being out at midnight—it was the day watch, and when the day watch was on, that's when a lot of people were going to work. So I kind of picked my train carefully and pulled back several times, and finally, this little old lady said, “Honey, you want to go someplace on that train?”

I said, “Yes, but they're all so full.”

She says, “Next time follow me.” And when she got on, she just kind of shoved, a little bit of a lady. She says, “Now, you do that and you'll always get a seat on the train or at least you'll get on the train.” “Follow me. Follow me.” That's what I did.

EE:

Tell me, you say “watch.” Is that the equivalent of— an MP [military police] making sure that the base is secure? What do you mean by watch? Are you listening in on the communications?

WK:

Oh, watch is your duty time. That first watch was from midnight till ten.

EE:

When you say “watch officer”

WK:

That's an officer who's in charge of that particular shift.

EE:

So you're in charge of other people who were working during that shift?

WK:

Yes.

EE:

And these are the women who are either, what—typing or communicating or what?

WK:

Breaking codes.

EE:

So they're trying to make sure that everybody out there is our guys, not the other side.

WK:

Yes.

EE:

Did they put all the WAVES doing this kind of work, or are you supervising men as well as women?

WK:

Oh, when I went to ESF, we just supervised whoever—well, when I went I wasn't a supervisor. I was just one of the gang. But when I was made a watch officer it didn't matter who was on duty, male or female, I was in charge of the office. However, I had my superiors, and I didn't have to call them unless I needed to.

EE:

Were all your superiors men?

WK:

Yes. Eastern Sea Frontier [ESF] was primarily former employees of—I can't think of the electric company.

EE:

[Unclear] or—

WK:

It was one of the big ones, but I'd hesitate to say which one. And the fellows originally hadn't had all—my watch officer hadn't had com training. He was just dragged in from the streets.

EE:

And I guess it makes sense because we had not had a shore patrol or a sea frontier before the war. This wasn't like you were taking over a job that normally had been done by men. There wasn't this job before the war. This is a totally new thing.

WK:

The Eastern Sea Frontier didn't begin with us but it wasn't very old.

EE:

How long were you stationed, then, in the city?

WK:

That was from December—oh, golly. That was Eastern Sea Frontier so I know where—I was sent to Hawaii.

EE:

So you went from New York, where it was cold, to where you really wanted to be, which was warm.

WK:

Oh, yes. I had been there long enough that I had seen some warm weather in New York, too.

EE:

And they didn't let folks [WAVES] start going to Hawaii until '44, I don't believe. What time of year did you have to [go to] Hawaii, do you remember?

WK:

I can pinpoint it exactly. We had finished the voyage to Oahu, [Hawaii], landed in a pouring rain that the newspapers made much of, and were promptly put in quarantine because one of the girls had displayed symptoms that might lead to—oh, I forget what specific—

EE:

Something communicable.

WK:

Yes. And so instead of getting our orders we were penned up in this one building, and of course, the enlisted gals had just seabags, and they had limited what they had to put in because it was too heavy to lift. So you don't think we had a whole lot of books or anything like that. We were just high and dry. They had a free movie at night, and I walked out on a couple of them. We were there when President Roosevelt died, and we were very happy to get—

EE:

You were in quarantine when—

WK:

When he died.

EE:

And of course that was a shock to everybody.

WK:

Oh, yes.

EE:

What did you think of the President or Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt, who was very active?

WK:

Oh, bless her heart, I thought she did a wonderful job. She helped in the formation of the women's groups. I don't know just how she did it, by influence or, you know, specific acts, but she was all right.

EE:

So how long did you end up having to stay in quarantine, a month or so?

WK:

Oh, not that long, no. It seemed that way, but it probably was only a week or ten days, I think, then.

EE:

What kind of work did you do in Hawaii?

WK:

Well, they knew I'd been a communicator so I was sent to communications, and that's what I did the rest of my career, really.

EE:

Did you stay in Hawaii till the time that you left the service?

WK:

Well, yes. Our base was, I think, by the way it looked—was in peacetime the kind of base where they sent families, or the people that wanted to have their family with them.

EE:

What was the name of the base, do you remember?

WK:

Well, it Wahiawa, Navy Radio 41, but the nearest town was Wahiawa.

EE:

Somebody had told me that, especially after Pearl Harbor, that they would have listening posts at different parts of the island. Was this one of these listening posts, then?

WK:

No. This was an established—it was kind of a headquarters. It was located just opposite where the Jap[anese] bombers flew. There was a gap in the mountains.

EE:

That they came over on.

WK:

Yes. And they flew over Scofield Barracks itself, which sustained some damage, but it didn't get to ours. But the reason I say this—nobody had told me but we had houses; and the enlisted outfits—there was a definite demarcation line. They had the post—where you buy things.

EE:

The PX [post exchange].

WK:

The PX, yes. My roommate and I—one of my roommates and I, wanted some slacks. I don't think I should tell you this.

EE:

It's okay. We can edit it out.

WK:

Well, it's nothing except that I hadn't really thought too much about the difference between men and women.

EE:

It's true. Anatomically they might not necessarily fit right.

WK:

They did not fit right. I did not buy them. And that's the only time I ever saw the PX. I did get into the area where the girls were quartered because we had duty assignments to go over and make sure that everything was as it should be and take a ride through the area with guard for the night, you know, that sort of thing.

EE:

When you got to Hawaii, were you working with more women or fewer women than you worked with in New York?

WK:

More men. And the men kind of piled up, simply because it was good duty, and there were people there that had been there before the war started, including the first two fellows who were sent from our office back in ComEastSeaFront. And they were glad to see us.

EE:

You were doing the same kind of work in Hawaii that you did back in New York?

WK:

I was not in a supervisory job.

EE:

What was your rank by the time you got to Hawaii?

WK:

Let's see. I was still a [lieutenant] jg [junior grade] by the time I—I think I was a jg. I was a full lieutenant by the time I came home.

EE:

So you were working at Radio 41 when the war ended?

WK:

Yes.

EE:

What was that day like?

WK:

Oh, well, we had heard a false rumor first. So some of the gang had celebrated early, and they had run out of anything to drink. But I don't drink anyway so it didn't matter to me. I thought coffee was great. But it happened to be my day off right after that, and we decided that—one of the fellows had access to a jeep. That was very important there.

EE:

Cars were important to everybody, yes.

WK:

And we decided that we would join the crowd, the rest of the world, because we did feel isolated. At the end of the station driveway there was a short stone road leading back to the village of Wahiawa, which now is a big city, but then it was a village, I think. As far as we could see was a solid row of cars. So we came back and drank toasts to victory with coffee.

EE:

That's great. The way it ended so quickly really caught everybody by surprise because everybody assumed we'd be invading Japan like we had to Europe. Hawaii was a spot where a lot of people were processed back out. As somebody told me, everybody wanted their 52/50, fifty dollars for fifty-two weeks, and just forget about it, I want to go home. You were probably given the option to go home right away, too, I would think.

WK:

Well, we had so many old timers on the base, and the skipper was just as anxious as they to go home, I think he processed a few too many, which meant that everybody else was going to have hard pickings to go. Well, it's hard to say no to somebody, and he was a wonderful guy. So I don't think anybody begrudged the thing except the result was we were very shorthanded, and we had what was more or less—we were on a watch, we were off a watch, we were back on a watch, you know, that sort of thing.

EE:

And had to pull double shifts a lot more than often.

WK:

Yes. And they were mostly girls because the fellows had pretty much gone. And we weren't quite up to it physically. Even I got sick.

EE:

That brings up a point. Because of the kind of work—obviously you're running three shifts a day when you're working the Eastern Sea Frontier doing the same thing you had—that's a twenty-four hour job. Would you work the same shift for a week and then rotate off, or how did that work?

WK:

I take it back. I started to shake my head no. I think it was for the week, but I'm not sure.

EE:

So you'd work the first shift, basically, for a week. Was it a six-day or seven-day work week?

WK:

Seven.

EE:

So you didn't have a weekend off.

WK:

No.

EE:

Would you ever get time off? How structured was it?

WK:

Oh, we had time off, but there we were. If you didn't have a Jeep or access to a Jeep—and I didn't even drive. So I'd have to find somebody who had the same shift off who wanted to go to Honolulu who wouldn't mind taking me along. So I stayed there. We didn't have anything to buy. I told you I couldn't find a—so I put my money in coupons and forgot—I don't know how many I had, but I got them all back, I'm sure.

EE:

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

WK:

Gee, I don't know.

EE:

Being away from home? Was that tough?

WK:

No. I never was really homesick. I can tell you something good, though. I came home from work and got a message that my sister had called. Well, my sister was an army nurse stationed, as far as I know, in Numea, [New Caledonia], and I was to call her. I said, “How?” It turned out that she was on Oahu at one of the air fields. And she was free until the next morning at thus and such a time and could we get together? Well, our skipper was getting his farewell party, a luau, and I'd never been to a luau, but luaus are luaus. This is my sister. And the guy that I was dating at that point had a jeep assigned to him. His name was St. John, and I kind of thought of him as St. John that night because he really sacrificed the whole luau to our needs. I had never dated him before either. He was just that kind of a guy.

EE:

Was he somebody you worked with at the station?

WK:

Yes. And his name was Wiley—

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

WK:

After he delivered us [my sister and me] back to the station he disappeared, and I don't know—I hope he had a pleasant evening because we had a ball. And she could spend the night as long as we got her back, and he guaranteed that he would get us there. I'd never dated him before, and he was this nice. That's the navy for you.

EE:

Good folks. Both in New York and in Hawaii, was there a lot of social activity between the WAVES and the other men in the service?

WK:

I don't know what you mean.

EE:

Well, I mean, you were in New York, for example. It's a city of I don't know how many millions of people, but did you tend to hang out socially with other navy people?

WK:

WAVES.

EE:

Mainly groups of women socialized more than women and men mixing together.

WK:

Yes.

EE:

I guess in New York you have the opportunity potentially to see a lot of entertainment and learn about the city. Did you take advantage of that?

WK:

Well, yes, I did. I fell asleep at a movie that was going to be out of the area, and I had come off of mid watch, and I don't remember what it was or anything about it. I didn't go to movies.

EE:

Did you catch the Tars and Spars show?

WK:

No.

EE:

I think that played for a long time in the city.

WK:

Tars and Spars.

EE:

It had Victor Mature in it, I think, at one time, but a whole bunch of people where they would basically—the Hollywood types would come in and have a show for the troops.

WK:

I happened to be on duty for every blasted Red Cross show or thing that came to wherever I was.

EE:

So you didn't see a lot of movie stars?

WK:

No. I didn't see any of them.

EE:

But by being stateside, you got a sense of what the sense of the country was like. We talked before about at your school, when the war started, immediately things were different. People were more patriotic. Do you think people were genuinely that way? Were people ever afraid that we weren't going to win the war?

WK:

I never heard anybody express that opinion. I think there probably were some that wondered, but no, we were all gung ho. Particularly the WAVES. We were going to win the war.

EE:

Personally. Right. When you were housed in Hawaii, were you in a separate little—you said there were houses there for families. Is that where they put the WAVES, in those individual houses?

WK:

The officer WAVES and the station nurse, and there weren't a whole lot of houses.

EE:

Right. So it would be about what, six or ten women in a unit?

WK:

Oh, let's see. I can only find five.

EE:

You're housed with people from all over the country and all over—different backgrounds and different ethnicities. When you get around people with that much variety, there's got to be some embarrassing moments or some characters that stick out in your memory. Can you think of anything from people that you ran into that was essentially humorous?

WK:

There was one who—it was a question of size of things. Oh, I can tell you, while we were still up at Northampton—this is a doozy—they started us off with identifying planes and ships and stuff like that. And then they went into some detail about ships like the big ones, the battleships. I guess you notice I have a little bit of trouble dredging things out sometimes. But anyway, this one girl was absolutely upset while we were learning about battleships, and come to find out, her complaint was, she thought that any ship as big as a battleship ought to have bigger than sixteen-inch guns.

EE:

Because she was thinking long-wise. I agree with her. Did you ever feel afraid or in physical danger doing the work you were doing, other than maybe coming in in the middle of the night in New York?

WK:

I had an interesting experience that I don't know whether I should tell you or not. I got off the subway a stop too soon, and the train had gone by the time I realized I was in the wrong place, and this was Harlem. But I was going to a concert, and I knew that it was roughly by the Hudson River, and the Hudson River was over there, and certainly I could get to it. So I set out. It was just an eerie feeling. The people were looking at you. Of course, it might have been the uniform. I don't know. It might have been because I was white. I don't know.

EE:

Were there any black WAVES in any of the groups that you were with, or were the WAVES—

WK:

Not at first. We eventually got them. In fact, one of my dear friends here is black, and she's a WAVE. But she came in after the war. We don't count the ones that come after the war.

EE:

I don't think they integrated until '44.

Well, when did actually you come out? Was it '47. When did you come out of the service?

WK:

I've got it written down someplace.

EE:

But you were there for a full year or so after the end of the war.

WK:

If you could tell me the date that they had the big, unusual storm—

EE:

The one where they had the tidal wave?

WK:

Pretty much of a tidal wave.

EE:

On Hilo, [Hawaii]?

WK:

On Iwo [Jima, Japan]?

EE:

No, I was thinking that they had a tidal wave on the city of Hilo. That was caused by an earthquake.

WK:

Oh, no. This was a just plain ordinary—it had some kind of weird storm that had whipped up a lot of things, and I think they postponed the sailing of the ship one day.

EE:

That was the one you were supposed to be on.

WK:

The [USS] Fremont. It's an APA-44.

EE:

Okay.

WK:

And it was rough. I don't remember too much about it.

EE:

When you think back to that time, are there songs or maybe movies you see that, when you hear or see them, you say, “Ah, that's where I was”?

WK:

Yes. Well, movies. I remember an incident at a movie. I kind of forget the artist, but I was at an evening performance sitting between the chaplain and the first lieutenant, who was big. Anyway, whatever the movie was, all of this guy's sins showed up in his picture.

EE:

It sounds a little bit like [The Picture of] Dorian Gray. Was it Dorian Gray?

WK:

I think it was. And I screamed and reached for one of them. Guess which one? The first lieutenant.

EE:

Well, he'll protect you.

WK:

Well, it was just some horrible—I only paid a nickel admission, but it was worth it.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

WK:

No.

EE:

You wanted to get back to teach.

WK:

I wanted to, and my university, alma mater, had been contacting me with the idea that they were setting up a very special reorganization of the alumni and public relations department, and they were going to have a man to be the top guy, and they wanted a woman alumna to be the assistant—would I be interested in it? And I wasn't terribly interested at that time because I'd been transferred—my final duty station was down in Honolulu itself, was “plain language,” and the plain language concerned Bikini Atoll, [Marshall Islands], also. It didn't really need me. So my mother kept saying, “When are you coming home? You said you were coming home after the war was over.” And I thought, “Well, yes, I did.” So I made arrangements to come home. I had a train ride back to—I forget where.

EE:

So you took the train across country back to—

WK:

Well, I was just thinking, how could I have done this because I sailed home.

EE:

Did you come back to San Francisco?

WK:

No.

EE:

Could you come all the way around to the east side and take the train to the—did you go through the [Panama] Canal coming back to the east coast?

WK:

Not that I know of. Of course, I was incapacitated.

EE:

Nausea will do a lot to you.

A question that I ask everybody is, do you feel you contributed to the war effort?

WK:

I do.

EE:

I think you should.

WK:

I think the WAVES did.

EE:

Some folks, when they look back, they say that it was really women entering the service in such large numbers that helped set the stage for women's lib[eration] and that you had people realizing that women can do more than possibly—

WK:

That might be true, but I wasn't particularly concerned with women's lib. I wasn't a libber. I wasn't against it.

EE:

And when you came back, how do you think then the military affected the rest of your life, your time in service?

WK:

Well, I told you about the job offer. Well, I got it, and it was good to be home. I saw my family. It wasn't in the same town but it was within reach. But I kind of burned out with the idea. I had full charge of the alumni, the gals, and I got dead sick of arranging to have the silver and the punch bowls ready for yet another meeting. Then I took over when my boss had a chance to go political. So I actually ran the place for some time, and then we got a new man. I have nothing to criticize about the new man except that his whole background was newspapers, and he had no experience whatsoever with fundraising or like that. He was a quick learner and a real nice fellow, but I had run the place while they were—let's see. The first boss went off to Congress, not as a congressman but as a congressman's person. I had handled everything from his departure into the fundraising for the thing and into the publishing of one issue of the magazine. I'll never forget that because my feelings were hurt. There was a problem with publishing time, and so they saved space for me, and I wrote to fill that space, and I wrote it with my whole heart and soul—

EE:

And it didn't make it?

WK:

And he wrote down, he says, “Looks like a woman did it.” You know, he had tried so hard to be masculine.

EE:

Well, now, when did you meet your husband?

WK:

The first year I was there he came to teach electrical engineering, and I didn't do too much about his newspaper introduction. I more or less took the facts they had sent me, and I didn't really meet him until later. In fact, it was the end of the school year. And they were having a party.

EE:

I like him right now.

WK:

I was just in time to come to their party. And I agreed to go even though I wasn't faculty if they'd let me help. So he came in late to the party, and it turns out that the university had a very neat rule: if you didn't have your grades in, you didn't get a paycheck.

EE:

Kind of gives you a nice incentive, doesn't it?

WK:

Yes. And so he got his paycheck. And he was leaving the next morning to go to graduate school at the University of Illinois. So we just kind of met and that was it. I thought he was kind of cute. When he came back in the fall, I had had some horrible experiences with eating. I had a room with a couple, and they were kind to invite me to special things but not every day. So the first restaurant—let's see. They thought that if you put enough salt and pepper on something, if you seasoned it highly, nobody was going to know whether it was good. Let's see. The next one was just a diner and reputed—the owner was supposed to have some kind of connection with the race tracks, which were not in great favor at that time. But I knew him otherwise. He was the one that kids could turn to if they didn't have anything to eat and no money. He'd give them a stint, help them get a job or at least feed them. And I had lessons from tablemates on football plays and things like that. So I kind of enjoyed it.

The next place was a tea room, and it was the kind of place that my father had lunch there once. He said it was fine. He said what they had was good but not enough. And then the last one was the one that was forbidden to females unless they had an escort, because they sold liquor. So when I had a chance to eat with the fellows in the college dining hall, I grabbed it, and it wasn't long before the seat next to Ralph was consistently empty. So we got pretty well acquainted. Anyway, I decided that I would solve my problems by going off with the GI Bill and getting my degree in library or I would go back to the navy if they'd take me. I wrote to both of them, and the navy never, never, never answered, and I think now it was because of the changeover to the new system. But they could have at least told me that, but they didn't. So I was not feeling very friendly towards them. The dean of the School of Library Science sent me an airmail special delivery saying, “You sound like exactly the person we want.”

EE:

My heart is saying that's right.

WK:

I accepted her invitation.

EE:

So that's what you made your career of after that?

WK:

Well, I started to. But, you see, I had met Ralph, and pretty soon we knew we wanted to get married so we did.

EE:

When did you all come down to North Carolina?

WK:

Well, we came down twice. The first time he was working for IBM [International Business Machines], and they had a policy of sending engineering help to assist [North Carolina] A&T [State University], which probably doesn't need it anymore. So Ralph came. We stayed three years, didn't we, honey?

RK:

Yes.

WK:

Yes. And they were so pleased to have him. He was a bona fide professor, and they were having him at IBM's expense. So after the third year we went back with IBM, and I forget what we did next. We moved an awful lot.

RK:

Alexandria, [Virginia].

WK:

Alexandria. Well, let's forget Alexandria.

EE:

Well, I've got one other question, then. I wanted to ask you about the service because something that we—you know, we mainly interviewed, I guess, veterans from the Second World War, and we hope to continue it to talk about the—

WK:

The third?

EE:

All right, the third. Well, we've had enough in between. But the role of women has changed considerably, and in fact, last December the country sent its first female pilot into combat, dropping bombs in Iraq, and I was wondering how you feel about that.

WK:

I'm not up to it.

EE:

Well, personally, do you think women should be allowed to do anything they want to in the military?

WK:

I think there's a rule of good sense. I don't know whether prohibiting it might make them want to even more. I don't know. But I can't imagine really wanting to do stuff like that.

EE:

There's certain jobs, maybe, are not for women, is what you're—

WK:

I'm not militant. I just served in the military. When you said the changing role of women, when they had the anniversary for the——they had a big to-do out in the park with different outfits being assigned to different places to show off things, to talk, and they were going to have a military band, and everything was going to be gung-ho, and of course, the weather kind of spoiled things. But one of the ladies who did come to look at our exhibit—I was there, rain and all—she asked me to come to speak to her class at UNCG, and that was the topic, the changing role of women. It sure has.

EE:

I'm with you.

[End of Interview]