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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Geraldine Muse Phillips, 1999

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Object ID: WV0129.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Geraldine Muse Phillips’s background; her experiences in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in the late 1940s; and her family life after her military service.

Summary:

Phillips discusses moving frequently as a child; her mother’s mental breakdown; raising her younger brother; her father’s experiences in the army with the 36th Field Artillery, including actions that earned him the Purple Heart; her parents’ educational backgrounds; learning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while at Fort Bragg; and having difficulty with her studies at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina.

Phillips also describes some of her experiences in the WAC. Topics include learning to live with women of different backgrounds; living conditions in basic training; meeting her husband, Jack Phillips, at Fort Lee; reactions to women in uniform; homosexuals in the WAC; segregation and integration in the military; meeting Jeanne Holm; social life for the WACs; popular music from the 1940s.

Personal topics include marching in an American Legion parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; taking care of her mother; her sons’ experiences in the military; and her opinion of women in combat positions.

Creator: Geraldine Muse Phillips

Biographical Info: Geraldine Muse Phillips of Birmingham, Alabama, and North Carolina served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from February 1949 until 1950.

Collection: Geraldine Muse Phillips Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today is December 6, 1999, and I am near Carthage, North Carolina, two miles to the east, and I'm at the home of Geraldine “Gerry” Phillips.

Ms. Phillips, I appreciate you and your husband letting me come visit with you this morning.

GP:

You're welcome.

EE:

We ask everybody the same thirty or so questions, and the first one I ask folks, I always worry if it's the hard one, and that is, where were you born, and where did you grow up?

GP:

I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, March 19, 1927. I lived there until 1932, I guess, '33, and my dad was the company commander for the CCC camp—Civilian Conservation Corps. We moved to Monticello, Georgia. We lived there three months. We went from there to Milledgeville, Georgia, and we lived there three months. We went back to Montgomery, where my father was raised, and were there a couple months.

Then we went to—by 1935 and '36, we went to Oxford, North Carolina, and a while after that we were stationed in Franklinton, North Carolina. Eventually we went back to Birmingham. My brother was born in 1936. We went back to Birmingham and, in 1939, started building a new house, expecting to be there. My dad worked for the Birmingham Electric Company, and we expected to be there for a while. Then [Adolf] Hitler marched across the Dutchland and Dad was called up to service to go to Fort Bragg, [North Carolina], to study. Mom and I stayed in Birmingham, and then Dad was ordered to the field artillery officer course in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He picked us up on the way out, and we lived there. I think it was a six-month course. We lived there until he finished the course.

Just a side thing. At the time, my mother had a mental breakdown, and a week before Daddy was to graduate from the course, we had to drive back to Birmingham and commit her to a mental hospital in Tuscaloosa, [Alabama]. Then a week later we went back to Oklahoma, and Dad did all of his tests and said he didn't know how he ever passed it, but he did.

EE:

I'll tell you, you guys went through—let me go back. That's certainly the longest answer I've had yet to the first simple question. You didn't have a simple answer to that kind of question.

GP:

No. This was a period of what, from 1927 until 1940, '41. Those were major things that happened.

EE:

What had your dad done before '33?

GP:

He was an electrical engineer with Birmingham Electric. He had worked for a time in Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Edison Company and had married my mother, who was a teacher. She had gotten her degree from Bowling Green [State University] in Ohio, and he came through going to New York and stopped to see her, and she told him if he didn't marry her, she was going to marry somebody else. She had been his only girl all his life. They had lived on the same street. So they got married and went to New York.

EE:

So were they both from Ohio, or where were they both from?

GP:

No. She was living with her sister in Ohio, and they were both Montgomery, Alabama, people. Dad graduated from Auburn [University], and Mom graduated from—it seems to me as I look back it must have been like a teaching degree, not a degree like you do now, but what do they call it, a certification or something where you got—almost like a teacher's aide, I imagine. She taught a one-room schoolhouse. They were both college graduates.

EE:

And yet when the Depression came, it hit them both hard.

GP:

Yes. Daddy managed to work all the time. During the Depression he would cut down to a half a day, but he worked and managed to keep food on the table and whatever. But it was hard times. I didn't realize it.

EE:

That's right. Well, as a kid, the comparison is not there for you. You mentioned a brother was born in '36. Did you have any other brothers and sisters?

GP:

No, just the two of us, ten years between us.

EE:

Kind of rough getting an education for yourself, I would think, with all the shifts.

GP:

I made my grade every year. I made excellent grades. In fact, I got into Dad's papers the other day. They were given back to me from a friend, and he had saved all my report cards, and I was really shocked as an adult to look at my report cards and know what I had gone through and really had a little idea that the year that mama went to the hospital and we came here, we put her in and came here, and my grades kind of fluctuated a bit there because—

EE:

You have relatives here, here being Moore County?

GP:

Yes, right, Moore County. We had a little house back over in the woods that had been my granddaddy's, and we fixed that up, Dad did, thinking that we would live there while he was in service.

EE:

How far is this here from Fort Bragg?

GP:

It's a forty-five minute drive through the reservation if you know how to go. Otherwise it's about an hour and ten minutes if you go over to state road on [Highway] 87 and down Fort Bragg Road, but there's a way to go through the reservation that's a forty-five minute drive.

EE:

That's a lot of stuff for your family to go through, and it sounds like you did it quite well. I guess the draft started, probably—the draft started before Pearl Harbor, in '40.

GP:

Yes, in '40.

EE:

That's when he went in.

GP:

Well, actually, that's when he was called for active duty. He had been keeping up his promotions by the two weeks every summer coming to Fort Bragg for reserve officer training.

EE:

Oh, so by being in the CCC, he was already a reserve officer?

GP:

He was a reserve officer when he graduated from Auburn.

EE:

Okay. So he went through with the—

GP:

Yes, ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] through Auburn.

EE:

So he had not served, then, before '40. He had just been in the reserve.

GP:

Right, and the CCC work.

EE:

You did well in school. Where did you end up graduating from high school?

GP:

I graduated from Pineland College, the high school department of Pineland College in Salemburg, North Carolina. It was a private school, religious oriented. It was run by Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Jones. They were fine, fine people and ran a good school. It was Edwards Military Institute and Pineland College, and the women were in Pineland, the men were in Edwards Military. It happens to be the place where the highway patrol have their learning place now.

EE:

Did they take over the facilities or something?

GP:

Yes. After the Joneses died.

EE:

You liked school. What was your favorite subject?

GP:

English.

EE:

Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

GP:

I thought I was going to be a journalist. I took voice lessons, and I had always sung everywhere, in choirs. Every church I went to I sang in the choir. Pinky Thompson was my music appreciation teacher there at Greensboro. Is he still there? Is he dead now?

EE:

I don't know. I have to check that one out. As always, people drop a lot of names, and then when I go back and share their people they say, “Oh, yes.” It usually leads to stories about everybody, kind of conspiratorial.

GP:

He was quite a character.

EE:

You were telling me before we started the interview that your dad eventually had a heart attack while he was in service. Where did he serve? Did he stay the whole time at Fort Bragg when he was in service? What happened to him once the war started?

GP:

Let me see if I can put it in context. We came here in 1941. I was a freshman in high school. He was ordered to Europe, left the first day of August 1942 and made the landing at Oran, North Africa. He was with the 36th Field Artillery. He chased Rommel across North Africa with his unit and went from North Africa to Sicily to Italy.

He had been out getting supplies for his company. He was a supply officer. He was pinned down by a 109 Messerschmitt at Kasserine Pass, [Tunisia], and he got pinned down by overs and shorts of ammunition, as Daddy explained, and he got a graze across the top of his head which drew blood. So he was awarded the Purple Heart for this action.

At this time, his father had died in Alabama. It took the Red Cross a month to find him [Dad], they were moving so fast. Mother was in the hospital still. My brother and I were at Pineland College.

EE:

Who did you all stay with? Did they have a dormitory down there at Pineland where you lived?

GP:

Yes, in a dormitory. We were both at Pineland. We had moved to Fayetteville, [North Carolina], and then my relatives decided that I should go to private school. It was sort of a finishing school. So we were both there. Tommy was in what was called junior barracks.

Dad had quite a bit of stress, to say the least. So he found out that he could be rotated, because he'd gotten a purple heart, and he was the first officer rotated back to the States out of his company.

EE:

Was this in '43 or '44?

GP:

This was in '43. He came back to Fort Bragg, was an officer in the replacement center at Fort Bragg teaching people to go overseas and had a massive heart attack. He was a week in a tent-oxygen tent.

EE:

How old was he?

GP:

How old was he at the time? Forty-five. And this was my high school senior year, and he came back at Christmastime. They moved him from Fort Bragg down to Oliver General Hospital [in Georgia] for recuperation. He had the whole rear half of his heart destroyed, but he was living. As soon as he was able, by the time I was graduating in May—it was the first time he had gotten out of the hospital and moved on his own, and he came to my graduation. One of the things I remember the most, I sang My Hero from The Chocolate Soldier as part of the graduation ceremonies, and he cried like a baby.

EE:

And he got [unclear].

GP:

Yes, he did. It was quite a time. So then we came back here to Carthage, and he was prettying up the house and doing things to it because we were going to live here, and he lived three years.

EE:

That's what you were telling me before we started. He had asked you to wait to go to college.

GP:

Yes, because he knew he had three to five years to live. They told him. That was his prognosis. He knew that he probably wouldn't make it and that I would get his GI Bill and my brother would, too. So he asked me to wait. Part of the reason I think that I didn't do as well in college was I had gone through all this. I was nineteen. I was in a dorm with young people my own age, but I felt I was being judged by the WACs [Women's Army Corps] [that were enrolled there] that had been overseas and experienced and whatever.

EE:

You went in in '48?

GP:

Forty-nine.

EE:

Forty-nine, fall of '49.

GP:

Yes. And the women that were coming back from overseas or that had been in the service were older women, and even though I was four years out of school—maybe that's just an excuse, but all things considered, I was not a very good student.

EE:

It just didn't fit right for you where you were.

GP:

No. No.

EE:

When did your dad pass away?

GP:

In 1947.

EE:

Let me ask you a question. Given that, which is a lot, you had a busier war years experience than some folks I've interviewed, because of what was going on in your household and your heart. Your dad had joined in '40. Do you remember where you were as a teenager Pearl Harbor day?

GP:

Yes, just exactly.

EE:

Where were you?

GP:

Everybody does. I was at a tea dance at Fort Bragg at the NCO [noncommissioned officers] Club in the afternoon, on Sunday afternoon, and my dad was officer of the day that day. He came by into the tea dance, and I was dancing with some young soldier, and he says, “I've got to get you the hell off of this base.” He said, “They've just bombed Pearl Harbor, and they're doubling the guard.”

I said, “Where's Pearl Harbor?” We were all like that. So he took me over to his barracks, and I stayed in his barracks, in his room, and then into the officers' charge of quarters office until he could get off duty, and he brought me home. That's the extent of it. I mean, they doubled the guard and they put up gates around Fort Bragg. You know, it was a whole new world.

EE:

That's right. And one day changed everybody's life pretty quickly.

GP:

Yes, it did. Yes, it did.

EE:

And I guess at your household you sort of knew something was going to come, but you didn't know it was going to be that dramatic and that soon, probably.

GP:

Yes. Yes, that's true. Well, from December '41 until August 1 of '42 there was a lot of training on his part getting ready to go and whatever.

EE:

And all that training was done here at Bragg?

GP:

Yes. He's buried in Fort Bragg, by the way. That was nice of them.

EE:

I wanted to double check the time table. When he rotated out in '43—

GP:

He was retired as a captain, and the week before he died he was promoted to major.

EE:

How long was he home before he had the heart attack?

GP:

Home from overseas?

EE:

Yes.

GP:

Well, he came home December of '43, and he had the heart attack in March of '44.

EE:

I'm trying to do the math. Your brother's about—what, nine years younger than you?

GP:

Yes.

EE:

How was it that you decided on WC [Women's College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, now UNCG] as a place to try anyway?

GP:

It was a state-supported school.

EE:

Price was right.

GP:

Yes, and with Dad—you know, I didn't have to—I got the GI Bill, which paid for my books and tuition and everything, and it's close to home. My brother Tommy, we had decided—we had been living uptown with a Mrs. Baker, who had a boarding house. The family didn't want us living out here by ourselves. I felt we were perfectly capable, but they didn't think that was a good idea. So we lived up there.

Then when I decided to go to college, the administrator of Daddy's estate, who was a cousin of ours, thought it would be a good idea if we put Tommy in an orphanage. He was ten or twelve at the time, and he went to the children's place in Winston-Salem, [North Carolina]. Greensboro was close so we went there. I would go over to see him as often as I could by bus.

EE:

This was '47, then, when you went off and he went to—

GP:

Forty-eight or '49 when he went, yes.

EE:

When you went to WC, were you thinking you'd do something with English and journalism still? What had you been doing for work in the meantime?

GP:

I wrote for the Moore County News, which is now the Pilot. What else did I do? I did some volunteer work. I really didn't work anywhere per se. I didn't have to. That was why. That was why. I mean, I didn't know where—I floated.

EE:

Well, given all you'd been tossed around with, I'd say that was probably a natural response. The mind can only take so much.

GP:

Right.

EE:

You say you didn't feel comfortable at WC because of the social situation and it kept your mind off of studies. How was it that you decided then to think about the service?

GP:

Well, as I say, I floated. I floundered. I don't know. I heard about the service, and I guess I had had that sort of an experience, being around the service all my life, and I felt like it probably would be a good disciplinary action.

EE:

Had your dad ever mentioned to you his opinion about women in the service?

GP:

No. No. In fact, I doubt if there were very many in the service at the time.

EE:

I've talked to a few who were civilians that worked at the service at Bragg and an army dietician who was stationed there, but I didn't talk with any WAC. I don't know if they had any WACs down there.

GP:

I don't think so. I don't think he would have had—

EE:

Well, given the background, I guess there was—was there any option that it would be anything other than the Women's Army Corps?

GP:

For me?

EE:

Yes.

GP:

No. It was army. [laughter] Dad was army, and that's all I knew. I think it was just that I realized I was floundering and I didn't have a solid base. I wasn't too sure about how I would have—well, I had the world by the tail, and yet I could have floundered more easily than I wanted. I didn't feel good about myself inside, because it was a matter of time until I was going to get into some major trouble, just the nature of the things, having the money and the car.

EE:

Being in a luxury yacht, you could see the Niagara Falls up ahead.

GP:

Right.

EE:

You can be in the luxury yacht only so long.

GP:

Right. And it was a matter of time. I was a popular girl. I could date anybody I wanted. I could go anywhere I wanted. For a lot of people, it could have been—in today's world, with the drugs and the whatever, I could have really gotten into a lot of trouble, I think. I didn't, but I could have. It was there.

EE:

For a lot of folks, the steps to join the service is one that requires a lot more independence, maybe, than they've had before. You had to be pretty independent for a long time so that wasn't that traumatic for you. Did you ask for, or did they give you some choices about the kinds of work you would be doing in the service when you signed up?

GP:

No. I went directly into basic training with the purpose—I was in the first class that went into the service with the purpose of going into Officer Candidate School {OCS], and I was also told—

EE:

This was a change in regulations that they could do that?

GP:

Yes, but this was brand new. If I could pass a two-year college exam, or equality exam, I could go directly to basic training and directly from there to Officer Candidate School. And if I didn't make it, I could get out. But as it turned out, I washed out after four months, and I had the option of getting out or taking a job as a platoon sergeant. I washed out because of lack of experience with troops and immaturity, which I definitely had, both of them, and I took a job as a platoon sergeant in a 405 [Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)] company, which was clerk typist, which I knew how to type and that sort of thing. I'd done that in civilian life. Mainly it was drilling them back and forth to class and general platoon sergeant.

EE:

Let me ask you a couple of things about locations. You were here in Moore County. Where did you sign on for joining the service?

GP:

I did all the work, testing and whatever, in Fayetteville, but I went to—

EE:

There was a recruiting office down there?

GP:

Yes. I went to Camp Lee, Virginia.

EE:

That's now Fort Lee outside of [Washington] D.C.?

GP:

Fort Lee out of Petersburg, Virginia.

EE:

Isn't that where the army WAC museum's going to be?

GP:

Yes. They're going to put it up there, they're fixing to.

EE:

It was down in Alabama, I think, for a while.

GP:

Yes. It was at [Fort] McClellan [Anniston, Alabama].

EE:

So you joined it—it was '49, I guess, that you joined?

GP:

Yes.

EE:

What time of year was it?

GP:

I think it was February. I should know that, but I don't.

EE:

What I have down here is February '49.

GP:

February '49, yes.

EE:

Like I say, for some folks, joining the service takes them on their farthest trip away from home. You certainly had traveled around a lot. Was that your first extended time away from family?

GP:

Yes. It was probably—that thirteen months I was in service is probably the best years of my life at that time, as far as knowing what was expected of me, having a good disciplined faith that I knew—I knew what the rules were and I had to go by them. I was thrown in with women of all cultures, and the girl that slept next to me had been a wrestling champion in Mississippi, hard as nails. Another girl was black, and I mean, I was a Southern girl, and you know.

EE:

This was a new world here.

GP:

Yes, sir. I found out there was a lot of different folks out there. It was something.

EE:

What do you remember about basic? I know folks that I've talked with in their forties, I got the feeling sometimes that they knew about as much about what was going on on a given day as their superiors did because they were kind of doing it by the seat of their pants when women first joined.

GP:

Basic wasn't too—you know, I was part of the group. I enjoyed it.

EE:

Well, how many women were in a barracks?

GP:

About fifty, I guess, forty-five or fifty.

EE:

One long barracks room?

GP:

Yes, old wooden barracks just like they had, you know, in that—

EE:

So no privacy, group showers and all that stuff?

GP:

Yes. That part didn't bother me. I didn't mind that. That was good, but it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

EE:

Were all your instructors women?

GP:

Yes, they were all women. In fact, the WAC Training Center was locked up at night. For basic, you were confined after Taps in the basic area for eight weeks, I think it was. Of course, you could go to the various service clubs inside the base, and you could have dates and meet the fellows and whatever.

EE:

Could you go off base on the weekends?

GP:

Not for the first six weeks, not until you got your full dress uniform, but we were confined. And there comes in Jack, and not at the time that I was in basic, but he was stationed in the WAC Training Center in the fire department. He was an electrician inspector, and he had to go into all of the—if somebody blew a plug or a fuse or something, he had to go in and repair. He was an electrician's mate, and he had to do all of that. Then he had this ambulance. He had it four days and then his help, the other fellow, had it four days. It was called the meat wagon. He never would let me get in it. That was later on. [laughter]

EE:

So he was there when you went through training. You just didn't know him then?

GP:

Yes. I didn't know him at the time.

EE:

How long had he been in service?

GP:

About a year, I think. He was stationed there in Fort Lee. He said that's the best duty he ever had—thirteen hundred women and I think there were nine or ten men in the fire department.

EE:

Yes, those are good odds, I would say.

Now, I guess your brother's still down at the children's home. He graduated from high school, then, while he was at the home. Did he go to Reynolds High, I guess, when he was there?

GP:

No. No. Let me see. When I went to the service he was at Winston, and then when I got out—how did it happen? He graduated from high school here in Carthage. He wasn't old enough. When I got out we took him out of the children's home. Of course, I was married when I got out, and we came here. We took him out of the children's home and brought him to live with us, and we lived here for two or three years. Then Jack wasn't so sure. He was only nineteen. I'm four years older than Jack. And he wasn't so sure of what it took to be a man and what it took to earn a living, because he had been raised in Boston, and he was a damned Yankee down here in North Carolina.

EE:

[laughter] Just open his mouth. He could say, “Good morning,” and that would be it.

GP:

Right. You know, he had a hard time. So he decided to go back to Boston. He went and got a job, and we stayed here about two months, I think, before—I had one child by that time, and Tommy was living with us. Because of his money situation, being in trust and so on, I could not take him out of the state. All that legal stuff hadn't been done, and the bank was his guardian. So we couldn't take him out of the state and take him with us, which we were going to do and couldn't. So he lived with my Uncle Mell, who lived in the little house right down here, my grandfather's brother, and from there he went on through school and graduated from high school here in Carthage.

EE:

You were at Camp Lee for basic, which was eight weeks.

GP:

Eight weeks.

EE:

And then you immediately went to Officers Candidate School also at Camp Lee.

GP:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

And that was supposed to run for how long, another eight weeks?

GP:

It was supposed to be six months, and I—

EE:

Six months because of this accelerated program.

GP:

Yes. And I got in four.

EE:

And then you became a platoon sergeant. And where were you stationed at that time?

GP:

Fort Lee—Camp Lee.

EE:

Same place. So your entire career you spent right there?

GP:

At Fort Lee, yes.

EE:

So when did you start being familiar with this fellow?

GP:

Well, when I took the job as a platoon sergeant I was in Company K, and it was a 405 school, which is clerk typist school. The fire department was right across the street from Company K, and Jack ate in our mess hall. So he looked good over the breakfast table, and one thing led to another. [laughter]

EE:

You look good over breakfast, that's [unclear].

GP:

Right. The first time I ever saw him he was running down the field playing touch football, carrying a football, and his red hair flying in the wind. That was the first time I remember seeing him. Then another time I was marching a platoon down the street, and he and his friend was standing on the side of the road, and he looked at me and said, “I wouldn't spit on the best part of her.” [laughter]

EE:

You were being talked about [unclear].

GP:

And the next time, I saw him down at the service club. We were dancing. We danced, and one thing led to another.

EE:

That's great.

GP:

I think we knew each other maybe a total of six months.

EE:

So when did you all get married?

GP:

February 18, 1950.

EE:

And then you left service a month later, and he left in—

GP:

May. And let me tell you why he left.

EE:

All right.

GP:

His mother had ten kids, and he was the sole provider. She was getting an army pension, and Jack was getting something like eleven dollars and a half in his hand, because his pension was going on to Mother. He asked her to relinquish the pension because he was now married and he felt like he should support me, and she couldn't do it. She was living in a housing project in Boston and raising eight girls at the time, and she wouldn't do it. So he got out of the service on a hardship discharge, and we moved down here. At the time it was a bitter pill, but, you know, things work out.

EE:

Well, now, what was the service's attitude when you were in to people who got married? Did they want you to leave once you got married?

GP:

No.

EE:

Because there was a pressure when they first started.

GP:

I had to have permission to get married. I went to my company commander and had permission. She told me that she thought it was a good idea. Then when I got out—she counseled me about getting out—I went to her, and she said that she thought it was a good thing for me to do, that I was more of a homemaker and a—

EE:

So for you, you never really thought about making the military a career, then?

GP:

No. As I say, I foundered, I floated.

EE:

But by doing it in their structure, it gave you some sense of direction, of where to go from there?

GP:

Right. Right.

EE:

When you were working with this 405 class, it's all women that you're working with so your COs [commanding officers] are women?

GP:

Women.

EE:

Just half a dozen years before a woman in uniform would have been a curiosity, and not everybody was thrilled about it.

GP:

No, they weren't.

EE:

When you were in service, what did people think about seeing women in uniform?

GP:

I never got any bad vibes from anybody because of my service. It was my first experience with “perverts.” I had never been around people like that. There were quite a few. In fact, my company commander and her friend were “perverts.” Everybody knew who they were.

EE:

That was the rumor, that either you were that way or you were loose and willing, when you first started.

GP:

Right. Right.

EE:

You're saying that, at least in your experience, that seemed to be tolerated.

GP:

It was, yes. I didn't have any problems with it as far as civilians or anything, you know. I went on and led my life.

EE:

Right. Everybody got to do their own thing.

GP:

The only experience I had with that phase of it was being a platoon sergeant. When I got a new platoon in—I think I had two white platoons and one all-black platoon. When I got—I was told who was coming in and who was different and to watch out for.

EE:

Oh, so they didn't make a note of that?

GP:

Yes.

EE:

But they didn't keep you—in other words, it was kind of like what they formally say now, don't ask, don't tell.

GP:

Right. Exactly. But for the most part, most people knew who they were. One particular girl, I guess I tried to find out why they were like that. I never experienced or I never saw any indication that she was like that, but it was known that she was, and I befriended her. At one time, I think I was probably—they wondered if I was that way, and because I was dating Jack and all that, it proved that I wasn't. But it was merely that I was trying to find out what made her tick.

EE:

Hadn't been around anybody like that before.

GP:

No. No. And she was a dyke. I mean, there's no doubt about it, but she never bothered me as far as—never approached me.

EE:

You said that in your basic there was a black woman in your group. So there were already some integration—

GP:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

EE:

—even though you had one company, as a platoon sergeant, that was all black.

GP:

Yes.

EE:

How was that for you? Being around a black person was a different thing in that way.

GP:

That was interesting. I think my company commander thought because I was Southern that I would understand them more, the black women, and she gave me this platoon. They were a sharp bunch, and I found out early on that if they liked you, they would work for you, and if they didn't, boy, you were in trouble. They were a good platoon. They were sharp. I had no problem with them, but I think it was because I was Southern that I treated them with respect the way I always had.

I had also been raised—when we came from Alabama to here, we had had a black maid that worked for us when we were building the new home. Her name was Priscilla, and Daddy had found her picking up coal on the car tracks in Birmingham, and he asked her to come and live at our house and help Mother with the new things in the house, cleaning windows and planting bushes and all these things. So when Mother got sick, he brought Priscilla with us up here to North Carolina, and she took care of us and Dad came home on weekends from Fort Bragg. So Priscilla was my mother. I mean, she'd just as soon give me a licking as look at me.

EE:

I think that's the way a lot of Southern folks had their exposure and realized on an individual basis folks were folks.

GP:

Yes. I mean, I loved her as good as I—I mean, she'd always been in our life, you know. She was the cutest—she was a good woman.

EE:

You went through a lot more than most kids ought to go through, but about your time in service—what was the hardest thing for you about your time in service, either physically, which I know for some folks that's a hard part, or emotionally? What was the toughest part?

GP:

I guess the failure at the time—the sense of failure at the time of washing out of OCS. Going through OCS was a hard tim,e because these women that were in OCS had been in the old WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps]. They were women. I was still a kid. I was still eighteen or nineteen. They had experienced an awful lot more than I ever had. I think that probably—the buddy ratings we had to fill out—I didn't know who I was, maybe. That probably was the hardest part of the service for me.

But then, as I took the job as platoon sergeant, I began to find out why I had failed, so to speak. And yet, here again, I went on, you know, a day at a time. [laughter]

EE:

That's right. But you had—this is what I think—You picked up that lesson earlier on than most folks. You do what you do to get through.

GP:

Yes. Right.

EE:

You mentioned before we talked that you had run into Jeanne Holm. Where did you meet her?

GP:

She was my company commander in my basic training company, and it was the last platoon that she served in the army before she transferred to the air force. She later became a brigadier general in the air force, but she was my company commander. The thing I most remember about her was, when we got our uniforms we had to sew on all the equipment that went on them and we had to wash and iron—

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

GP:

I had to wash and iron six shirts three different times and starch them and not have any wrinkles in them, and every time I did them, I had to take them over and let her see them, and she'd make me do it again. So, you know, I'd missed some things growing up. I'd never had to do that before. So I remember how that felt, mainly. But she was well respected. I certainly did. She was sharp.

At the same time I got picked in her platoon to go to march in the American Legion national convention in Philadelphia, and she was the leader of the WAC detachment at that parade. So that was quite a thrill. I felt good being picked. I was the lead woman, the point woman, on the first platoon. So it was quite a thrill. I felt a sense of accomplishment. Evidently I was a pretty good soldier, plus I learned to iron my shirts.

EE:

You talk about her, and you meet so many kinds of people when you're in service, no matter where you're stationed. Is there a particularly funny or embarrassing moment with some of those folks that you recall?

GP:

No. I guess that one would probably be the most humiliating thing I had to do.

EE:

Back and forth, back and forth?

GP:

Yes.

EE:

It doesn't sound like your work was ever one that actually put you in physical danger.

GP:

No.

EE:

Were you ever afraid being around these folks who were here?

GP:

No. I've never been afraid of anything.

EE:

I believe that.

GP:

I like people. My mother used to say I'd walk up to—well, I always have—walk up to a stranger and start talking. It annoyed her no end, but it's just my nature. I've never seen a stranger, and I enjoy people.

EE:

Your mom was in the hospital. How long was she there?

GP:

From 1941 until 1965, I think. She was manic depressive, and she came to live with us after we moved to Florida, on a six-month trial basis to see if she could live outside the hospital. This was when they were deregulating all these hospitals. And that was an experience in itself. I had five children, and my husband and I, and his sister came out of the convent to get her teacher's—well, she already had her degree in college from the convent, but she had to get certification in Florida to be able to teach and support herself. We were all living in a three-bedroom, one-bath house. I could write a book on that part.

EE:

That sounds like something that would put the Waltons to shame.

GP:

It was something. I used to take Mother over to the doctor to get her medication checked, you know, and I'd be telling him something. He talked to me more than he did to her. And I'd be telling him something funny that had happened that week, and he said, “I don't know how you do it.”

I said, “Well, when I get so I can't laugh about it, you'd better find me a place over there.”

EE:

Really. You had five kids. How many boys, how many girls?

GP:

I had a girl and four boys.

EE:

You had the girl first?

GP:

Yes. Yes. And one of those children had lead poisoning when he was twenty months old, and we had brought him down to Florida. We moved from Massachusetts to Florida, and a while after that we brought him down to Florida out of an institution in Boston. He was mentally retarded. So we had all of those social events going on at one time. You just roll with the punches, you know.

EE:

That's right. You told me how you met this fellow. What was social life for you as a WAC before you started dating him? Did WACs go out together as a group, or does everybody sort of know—

GP:

Well, I dated fellows. I wanted no part—I never went to a woman's club or women— not to this day, I don't have very many—well, I have friends, but I don't go out shopping with the ladies or I don't go to clubs.

EE:

You don't identify yourself by lady, feminine kind?

GP:

No. No. I guess I didn't realize my daughter gets it from somewhere, but [unclear]. [laughter]

EE:

You're a self-starter, is that what that is?

GP:

All right.

EE:

I think that works for work as well as your social time.

Do you have any memories of songs or movies from back in your time in service that when you hear the song or you see a movie, you say, “That reminds me. I'm back at Fort Lee when I hear that”?

GP:

Yes. Not so much—yes, two songs that come to mind. When I was in college at WC, I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover was very popular, and kids used to go walking down the aisle behind Kirkland Hall singing that at the tops of their voices. I can remember that. And then the day I washed out of OCS, I was in the officers' office, and a radio was playing You'll Never Walk Alone from Carousel, and I never hear that I don't think of it. But music has been a vital part of my life. I've always wanted to sing.

EE:

It helps you get through a lot of things.

GP:

Yes. Movies so much, no, I don't—when I see them, I—not so many movies stand out.

EE:

You both served in the service. When I talk to folks who were in during World War II, everybody is of one opinion, that the country was so patriotic, everybody was so gung-ho. You're serving at a time that's after the war. How did the country feel about the military when you were in there?

GP:

Well, it was winding down, and people were coming back home and picking up their lives. The girls that I knew from high school and that I'd gone to church with and sang in choirs with and so on were getting married and starting their families and whatever. That was about it, I think, as far as the service is concerned.

EE:

Did any of your children join the military?

GP:

Yes. David spent nine years in the air force. He's my second child. He was stationed in Lackenheath, England.

Douglas was in the air force. He was in Desert Storm. He was in what's called a Prime Beef unit. His unit was the first unit that went into Desert Storm. They didn't even know where they were going until they got there. He's in air conditioning and heating. They built the three-layer hospital tents and all the tents that were air conditioned for Desert Storm. He came home on the plane with the men that had had their ear drums punctured from that barracks being blown up. His was one of the first units to come home. As soon as it was offered, he took an early out and has retired.

My son Dean, who is—let's see. Doug was born in '56, and Dean was born in '64. So Dean went into the Marine Corps and served eight years, and he was a crypto tech. He got out when they started changing all that—you know, not giving—what were they not doing? They were not giving promotions and, you know, decelerating the military. He has a real good job now. He builds computer controls for—well, he just changed work this past week, but he built controls for AGVs [Automated Guided Vehicles] instruments that move all sorts of equipment, automated guided vehicles, and he does all the computer work on those. He got a real good career out of it. None of my boys graduated from college.

EE:

Did your daughter ever express any interest in the service?

GP:

No. No. My daughter graduated from the University of South Florida. She went to be a nurse and changed her major and became a teacher. She is the—I don't know what her title is now, but she's a clinical technician with the Mecklenberg County, [North Carolina], school system dealing with the grants for special needs children.

EE:

That's up in Charlotte?

GP:

Yes, in Charlotte. She has her master's degree from Georgia State [University] and has a fine job.

EE:

You came back out of the service and you raised a family. Did you work outside the home as well?

GP:

No.

EE:

Of course, your husband was doing electrical—

GP:

No.

EE:

What did he end up doing?

GP:

He went to Boston and took a job as a seam trimmer for the Green Shoe Company that makes Stride Rite shoes, and he worked there for fifteen years. And then we went to Florida, and he took a job as a—he's mechanically inclined. He took a job with the Industrial Lift Truck Company and then went from there to Goodyear Tire Company, put himself through diesel mechanic's school in Miami and got a job with the Metro Dade Transit Authority and—

[Recording interrupted]

GP:

—Industrial Lift Truck Company and then he went to Goodyear and then he went to Metro Dade.

I went to London, England, for a month to visit my son. The boys were all out of school, going their separate ways. Dovie [GP's daughter] was in college. They were essentially raised. And in going to England, I realized what a different life it was living in Miami compared to here. I really got homesick for here. I went back. After I got back home to Miami, the Fourth of July came along, and none of the kids were there, and I was lonely. Jack and I decided that we'd move back up here. Here again, we didn't know what we were coming to, but we had the land, we'd always had the land. We came back to Fayetteville to a family reunion and talked to my brother, and we decided that we'd separate the land. It had never been divided. Jack got a promise of employment with a company there in Fayetteville.

We went home and put the house up for sale and sold it in a week, packed up everything, and came to Fayetteville, came to Moore County. I had a cousin living in Fayetteville, and she found us a house. We rented the house and unpacked everything. Jack went down to take the job, and they'd hired somebody else the day before.

He'd worked for a concrete company, most of it driving a concrete truck, and then he became a batcher, a computer batcher for the concrete company, and loved it, loved that work. So this was with a company like that in Fayetteville that hired somebody else. So he went down to the Transportation Department there in Fayetteville, and they hired him on the spot because of his diesel mechanic work, and he went to work for them. We decided that we would buy this old farm house and move it and live here on the land.

EE:

And that's been how many years ago?

GP:

That was 1979.

EE:

Twenty years.

GP:

We lived twenty years in the house. As you see, we're still moving.

EE:

You said your daughter didn't—you had three sons that went into the service. Would you recommend, given your experience and your family's tradition in the service, would you recommend to a woman today that she join the service if that's what she felt like doing?

GP:

No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't. I've seen some of the—it's a different service than when I was in. I've seen some of the women down at Fort Bragg, integrated, and they're—I've only just seen them.

EE:

They're not treated as special as they once were.

GP:

No. No. Only just seeing them. I don't know any of them. I haven't talked to any of them, how they feel about it, but I would not want to be in today like I was then. It was a different—

EE:

Do you think that women lost something when they were fully integrated with the men?

GP:

Probably. Probably.

EE:

You know, we just sent, as a country, I think in December, the first woman combat pilot into action in Iraq, on a bombing mission. What do you think about that? Are there some jobs that—

GP:

I think that's great.

EE:

You like that?

GP:

I think that's great, because—well, to be fair about it, depending on the women, whether she would—if it's her meat in life, that would be fine. It depends on the woman. Dovie would be—my daughter would be probably a colonel, really, with the work that she does. She would probably be something in training and teaching and so on.

We've lost all our Christmas stockings, and we've been hunting the house over for three days now.

EE:

I'll tell you a story after this. I've got one other question for you.

GP:

Let me say that, depending on the woman and the way life is today, it probably would be very good for a lot of women. It's not the same service that it was when I was in. That's the only thing I can say. The soldiers that I've seen in Fort Bragg don't have the feminine woman demeanor.

EE:

They're trying to get things gender neutral.

GP:

Right. Right. Right. They're tough.

EE:

They've lost something in addition to gaining something.

GP:

They're tough. They're tough. I mean, they're not woman—like that I've met.

EE:

Yes. Okay.

GP:

Here again, I—

EE:

You're not the first person that's told me this, so don't worry about it.

GP:

Well, here again, I would want to be an officer if I were in. Some of the paratroopers I saw down in Fort Bragg were not women, you know, nice-appearing women. I probably have the same attitude about women in the service today that they probably had when I was in. [laughter]

EE:

You get cynical on the outside.

GP:

Yes.

EE:

Well, your time in the service was a lot of changing, for no other reason than you found a fellow and spent fifty years together.

GP:

Yes. Right.

EE:

But what impact do you think the service life had on your life, long-term?

GP:

It bought me some time to grow up. Considering that I didn't have a mother and a father and a home, it bought me some time. I had the genes and I had the morals and the good upbringing, but I floundered. Naturally, anybody would, but the main thing was that it was a good experience for me. I grew up a great deal. I found out that there's a world out there and I had to become part of it and be on my own. That was the main thing.

EE:

Well, speaking as a fisherman, if you're a flounder, then you're a good catch.

I appreciate your sitting down and doing this for the school and for our project today, and I'd like to say thank you for your service and for this contribution.

GP:

It was a pleasure. It makes you kind of analyze your life a little bit.

EE:

Yes, it does.

[End of Interview]