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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ellen Tarlton Jordan, 1999

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Object ID: WV0130.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Ellen Jordan’s childhood in Greensboro, North Carolina; her work at Camp Wolters with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II; her religious beliefs, and her life after the war.

Summary:

Jordan details her family life as a child. She talks about helping her mother keep house and tend to ten siblings; early-twentieth-century Greensboro businesses, including the California Fruit Stand and the Greensboro Winery; her education through 7th grade; working at a cigar mill and at Cone Mills' Proximity plant; and keeping a cow and chickens in Greensboro. Other topics include her Christian faith; gender roles and women in the workforce; her negative opinion of women in the military and changes in family life since World War II.

Topics related to the World War II and the Women’s Army Corps include learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor and destroying any Japanese-made goods the family owned; the Greensboro recruiting office; fear of her parents’ reactions when she joined the WAC; living in barracks and walking to the latrine at night; missing her sister-in-law’s funeral while in basic training; learning to obey orders; social life in Texas; using oranges to practice administering shots; sterilizing needles; being the object of affection of a German prisoner of war; celebrations at the end of the war; movies of the period; patriotism in the 1940s and today; regret that she did not make a career in the military; American prisoners of war; and a memorable supervisor.

Creator: Ellen Tarlton Jordan

Biographical Info: Ellen Tarlton Jordan of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, served at Camp Wolters, Texas, in the Women’s Army Corps from the spring of 1944 until the fall of 1945.

Collection: Ellen Jordan Oral History

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

Full Text:

EE:

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 is December 8, 1999, and I'm at the home today of Ellen Jordan here in Greensboro. Thank you, Miss Jordan, for agreeing to do this. I want to start today's interview with you the same way I start it with everybody, by asking you two simple questions, and that is, where were you born, and where did you grow up?

EJ:

I was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and I lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for nine years and Greensboro, North Carolina, the rest of my life up to now.

EE:

How old were you when you moved to Greensboro?

EJ:

Nine.

EE:

So you graduated from high school here?

EJ:

No, I didn't graduate from high school.

EE:

So you finished your schooling here?

EJ:

Yes. I went back and went to Central and Winston. I stayed with my older sister for about a year and a half.

EE:

You were telling me before we started the tape that you come from a big family. How many brothers and sisters did you have?

EJ:

I had eleven brothers and sisters. One passed away as a baby. Mama and Daddy had twelve children and raised eleven.

EE:

And what did your folks do?

EJ:

Daddy was a weaver with a company, textile.

EE:

And your mom was home with the kids. That was a full time—

EJ:

Yes, full-time housewife.

EE:

When were you born?

EJ:

I was born October 25, 1922.

EE:

When you finished school in Winston, what did you do after you left school?

EJ:

I didn't finish. I went to the seventh grade, I believe, seventh. I never paid it no attention. I took some GED classes.

EE:

You told me that pretty early on, because of the number of kids in your family and tough times, that you guys early on were babysitting, watching kids, doing things for odd jobs.

EJ:

Washing and ironing, grabbing up as many clothes as you could gather up in a bed sheet and wash all day long with a wash pot, iron all day long with a potbelly stove. And, you know, back then we would wash our curtains at least once a month, stand and iron them, put them back up. Then when we got lace curtains, we had those stretcher things with the nails, and we'd stretch them all on that. Then when they'd dry we'd hang them up. Well, we used to keep house, but we don't keep house anymore. You know, I wonder if that's not why women and men divorce a whole lot, because women don't enjoy housekeeping. See, they don't keep house like you used to.

So Mama would—she'd say, “Everything out today, pretty.” We'd take all the chairs out, turn them wrong side up, and take all the straw ticking from the bed, everything out, and leave it outdoors, you know, clean that. And we would wash the bed down with special things she'd make up, because sometimes we'd get cinches. Well, we just enjoyed it. Get out and just wash on an old washboard, just rub and stand, and starch everything, and made our own starch, too, out of old flour. And I could make it to where it would be so nice, when I would take Daddy's shirts like that and his collar and his cuffs and put them down in there, and then when we'd iron them, they'd be just as pretty and smooth. But we used to keep house.

EE:

That was a big imprint when I was growing up, my mom talking about how everybody—if you worked at the mill, that was one of the big things you did, had pride in where you're living.

EJ:

Yes, and under the house was as clean as the—

EE:

That's right.

EJ:

See, you kept under the house clean because, you see, you didn't have any underpinned and all [?]. And you could see all up under there.

EE:

What kind of work did you do after you left school?

EJ:

Well, now, I've done a whole lot of things. When I first left I worked in a—the first job I ever had was in a cigar factory, box factory, cigar box factory, and I would open the box and put the name—like El Riso's, I would label that box and finish that box so that it could go out to stores full of cigars at the cigar plant. But mostly for our cigars here. You know, we had a cigar plant down on—

EE:

In Winston?

EJ:

In Greensboro.

EE:

Oh, Greensboro. Okay.

EJ:

Down there around, well, we called it Jim's Launch, and the California Fruit Stand right there at the little point, right down from the Carolina Theatre.

EE:

That area has changed so much.

EJ:

Oh, I know they put the big high rise down there and all. I can still see all those places. A lot of people don't know it, but we had a winery here, too. It used to sit right there on Walker and going down [unclear]. It sat right there. Had a little porch at the back of it loaded with wine. Greensboro Winery.

EE:

I guess when you were seventeen, eighteen—I guess at eighteen is about the time that they started the draft. Did any of your brothers get called up in the draft?

EJ:

No. No. I had one brother that joined the navy. Yes, my brother Clinton was drafted, Sam Jordan. He was in the army.

EE:

Do you remember where you were the day you heard the news about Pearl Harbor? It was on a Sunday.

EJ:

I sure do.

EE:

What were you doing?

EJ:

We lived in a little house on Hayward Street, and when that happened I thought the world had come to an end. It was so pitiful. My ex-husband, he was in service, and he was home at that time but he had to leave and go back. Now that was sad, that Pearl Harbor Day. I was right there at the house, and I think we cried, and I think we just were so sad. We had a whole lot of things was made in Japan, and we destroyed all of them because we didn't like it, you know. We never buy anything made in Japan.

EE:

Today, to this day, I know people who still have that because they—

EJ:

We had a whole set—we had a whole set of that Blue Willow. You could set a table with that whole set of Blue Willow from Japan, the real. We destroyed it. I didn't want to do nothing else. Well, we hurt over it, and we didn't know—you know, we just didn't know what to do.

EE:

Yes. It was out of the blue.

EJ:

Yes. And, you know, we did that.

EE:

Your husband's name at that time, what was his name?

EJ:

Garland Talbot.

EE:

So you were worried about him being called up and going overseas, I guess.

EJ:

No, I didn't worry about him. We was already separated then. I was already living back home helping my mama and daddy.

EE:

What were you doing at the time? Were you working at the cigar plant then, or where were you working?

EJ:

At that particular time, I was putting those labels on the boxes. And then I went to work—they built a new mill at Proximity. You know, we had the Cone mills here, three of them, like White Oak, Revolution, and Proximity, and at that time they had built a new mill there at Proximity, and I went to work over there with them.

EE:

So you were living at home with your folks and working at the mill?

EJ:

Yes. I always stayed home with Mama and Daddy.

EE:

You were working there, and then at some point you get to thinking about joining the service. How did that idea get into your head?

EJ:

Well, we lived in this little section called Glenwood, and being a dreamer sort of like, you know, when I'd start towards town, to go to town, we'd go down by UNCG, used to be old Greensboro College, I mean off down in that section there, and I'd go up Market Street to go to town. It was just better walking. You could see better, prettier things and things like that. It was just—we'd go down by the college and walk up that way.

I was by myself that day for some reason or another and was walking up by the post office there. I don't know, I just—there was that sign said “Uncle Sam Wants You” sitting right out there on the street. The recruiting office was just inside the door of the post office there, and that was our big building then, you know, main building downtown. We didn't have all that stuff that's down there now. But I don't know, I just walked right in there and just went right over to his office, told him I want to join the army. So then I filled out some papers at a school desk.

EE:

So this was 1944?

EJ:

Yes.

EE:

Had you known any other women who had joined the service?

EJ:

No. Didn't have any idea about anything.

EE:

Now, you told me before we started this tape that you thought your folks were going to pitch a fit and say no, you can't do it, when you got home. But they didn't, did they?

EJ:

Well, when he told me I had to get Mama and Daddy [to give permission], you know, I thought, “Uh-oh.”

EE:

You would have been twenty-two when you joined?

EJ:

Yes, but they were still my boss. You know, you just didn't get away from Mama and Daddy back then. You know, you didn't move out in apartments, things like that.

EE:

That's right.

EJ:

No, siree. Now, they might fix you a little private room in the house and, you know, let you have little personal things, but you didn't go moving away from Mama and Daddy too quick.

EE:

No. No. They needed you. So when you went in there, it said “Uncle Sam Wants You.” The fact that you joined the [U.S.] Army was just the luck of what that sign said that day. You really didn't have a preference over the [U.S.] Navy or didn't think about the Marines. That's what spoke to you that day when you walked down the street?

EJ:

Yes, the Marines or the [U.S.] Navy or anything, no WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots], none of that. I didn't think about that. I was just walking toward town.

EE:

Tell me something, because you joined and you had time being out from home before you joined for a while, being out from school time. Rationing has gone on. Tell me a little bit about ration books and rationing and how that affected your house. Do you remember anything about it?

EJ:

No. You know, it didn't bother us.

EE:

Didn't bother you?

EJ:

It didn't bother us because we were not extravagant people. And you see, my mother [was] a little bitty woman, and my daddy was a nice big man, you know, but Mama kept a cow and kept chickens. When the city started taking over, you know, and they told her she couldn't have a cow, she told the judge, she said, “I have to have a cow. I can't do without a cow. I got children.” So he told her, he said, “You just go home and get the neighbors to sign this, and if they say its okay, you can keep your cow.”

So we kept cows and chickens up till we were all gone, right downtown, lived right downtown. My mama did it, my mom. We had plenty of eggs, plenty of milk, plenty of fresh milk, churn and we'd make butter. We had flapjacks, what we used to call them, pancakes today. And she could get in the kitchen and make us the best syrup you ever put in your mouth. She could just take water and sugar and maple flavoring and just make us the best syrup, and she'd just—you know, she'd find a pretty piece of material, and she'd just say, “Come here, Ellen.” And I'd walk over to her, and she'd take a piece of paper and start measuring me. First thing you'd know, she'd have her a pattern cut and make me a coat or a dress or something. My mama was smart.

EE:

I was going to say she sounds like it.

EJ:

Yes. And we took back a whole lot after her, you know, just take a hold and do, even with no education.

EE:

But she had smarts and gave it to you guys.

EJ:

My mother didn't have any education.

EE:

You had not been away from home when you signed up, and the first thing they do is put you on a troop train and say, “See you in Fort Oglethorpe”?

EJ:

Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Yes.

EE:

Tell me about what you remember of basic training. What was that like for you?

EJ:

Well, I was just a little green girl away from home. Lord have mercy.

EE:

Growing up fast.

EJ:

Scared. You wake up at night and have to go to the bathroom. They called them latrines. And I'd have to go down a catwalk as far as you can hear. Seemed like a city block to go down to the latrine, and that was a long latrine. Scared to death. Scared to death. Yes.

EE:

You're in a barracks, and I guess from a big family, you're used to being around and sharing a bathroom with folks. I guess that's not a big deal. But these are strangers.

EJ:

Yes. Well, yes, you know, and they'd be in the—well, we all slept in the same room. It was just back, back, back, and bed, you know, bunk beds. But you see, you had to come out of my barrack, and you come out and got on a little catwalk, and then you had to get on the big catwalk that went all the way down to the latrine. Yes. And we had duties to do. Now, that was a fearful thing, that getting up in the middle of the night and going to the bathroom scared.

EE:

Did they tell you when you signed up what kind of work you might be doing, or did they ask you what kind of work you wanted to do in the service?

EJ:

No. Only thing they ever said to me about anything like that, after I graduated, after we graduated, my sister-in-law, my brother Sam's wife, died giving birth to a baby, and I wanted to come home for the funeral, you know, and they just looked right at me. That's the first harsh thing I'd ever had from them, really, and they said, “Well, if you go, your orders could come and you might have to wait six months for your orders.” And I thought, “Hang around here for six months?” Having no idea where I might go. “Well, I'm not going anywhere.” So I didn't come home. I stayed there to get my orders.

EE:

How long did basic last for you, about two months?

EJ:

I believe it's thirteen.

EE:

Thirteen weeks?

EJ:

No. No, it's not either. It's about two and a half or three months, something like that.

EE:

Most of your instructors then, were they women or men?

EJ:

Oh, women.

EE:

All women.

EJ:

There were no men in that detachment, no way, shape, form, or fashion. They didn't even allow an MP [military police] to come on the grounds hardly.

EE:

Really? So Fort Oglethorpe really was a WAC [Women's Army Corps] location. No other men stationed at the fort?

EJ:

Oh, men was all around us, but they wasn't allowed—

EE:

They weren't in your area.

EJ:

Oh, no. They used a big old place out there at Camp Wolters, but our little place was just the little—you know.

EE:

When you left Fort Oglethorpe where did you get stationed?

EJ:

At Mineral Wells, Texas, at Camp Wolters.

EE:

And what was your job out there?

EJ:

I just went right into medical work.

EE:

At the base hospital?

EJ:

Yes, at the local—you know, that they'd set up for Camp Wolters.

EE:

At that unit, the ward that you worked on, it was just you and one other fellow who was staffing on a regular basis, and then what, you shared—physicians would kind of rotate around to different places and just check on people? Is that how it worked?

EJ:

Yes. He was my orderly. And I had the sixteen-bed—I had a sixteen-bed ward.

EE:

You told me before that Camp Wolters was a training facility for the army. What kind of training were they doing there? Was it artillery?

EJ:

Infantry.

EE:

So this was serious physical stress.

EJ:

Yes, boy, ready to go. Soon as they finished they was on that troop [train] and gone.

EE:

How long would men stay there for training before being shipped out?

EJ:

I really don't know. See, like I told you, I never took to anything like that. I just did what I had to do.

EE:

You were there at Mineral Wells from—I guess you graduated, that picture says, June of '44 from Oglethorpe. So you were there from the late summer—

EJ:

Went right on out there.

EE:

—to the time that you left the service?

EJ:

Yes. Yes. Stayed right there at Mineral Wells.

EE:

And you left the service in '45?

EJ:

Yes, when the war ended. When the war ended. Now, I believe our camp—I'm almost sure that our camp was the first camp closed in the infantry. All over America, we were the first camp to close. They had set it up just to train, and they trained.

EE:

The advertisement was “Free a Man to Fight.” Before the war, your kind of job had been done by a man?

EJ:

I have [unclear] that men had to do all of that. See, when we first went in, the men didn't like it too much. I didn't know that. I didn't know they didn't appreciate us. I didn't know that. But after I got in there, I began to hear the rumor, you know. But you see, our commanding officer, she would look at me, and she would say to me, “Now, you're not Ellen Tarlton. You are a uniform, United States Army. So you take care of the uniform. That's what you answer to, the uniform.”

EE:

So if you want to do something, you'd better check with the uniform and make sure it's okay for you to do?

EJ:

Yes. It was like, what we had to do then was obey. So we were not our personal own self. You know, we had to do—we had to walk like they told us to walk. We had to respect the uniform. We had to salute officers. We had to “Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am,” you know, and an important thing, too, was wearing your name tag.

EE:

You were working. You've got the picture of you and the one orderly. Your immediate CO [commanding officer], was that a man or a woman?

EJ:

It was a woman.

EE:

What was her name? Do you remember?

EJ:

Will you let me see that picture? It might come back to me. Now, over our detachment we had Catherine Galloway.

EE:

That particular unit went out all together, out to Mineral Wells?

EJ:

Oh, no.

EE:

Oh, it split and went all over then.

EJ:

They went everywhere. A couple of these are foolish, but, you know, like this [unclear] is a four-star general. But, so that was our main officer right there, and that was her sidekick. And then this one was next, the rest of them.

EE:

You told me that one of the physicians out there who worked with you closely was Captain M-c-C-u-e.

EJ:

Yes.

EE:

He was in charge of overseeing the patients that were on your particular ward. You were telling me a little bit before we started about you worked with a lot of folks who had upper respiratory problems?

EJ:

Yes. That was my ward.

EE:

That's what, your ward was assigned for people who had—

EJ:

Upper respiratory therapy.

EE:

And this was not uncommon because of the strenuous nature of the training that was going on out there, wasn't it? There was a lot of folks who were having trouble.

EJ:

Yes.

EE:

There were sixteen beds in your ward. Were you working just a regular eight-hour shift, or did you have to pull double shifts? What was a regular work week like for you?

EJ:

Got up in the morning, went to work, and went home at night. That's it.

EE:

Not much time for play or relaxation in between?

EJ:

No.

EE:

There wasn't a lot to do around where you all were stationed, was there?

EJ:

No. No. No. We'd go to that Crazy Water Crystal Hotel, and they had a ballroom. People come from all over the world there in wheelchairs and everything. They claimed that that Crazy Water Crystal they drank, Crazy Water Crystal water, and they swam in it, and they took it home with them.

EE:

Is that right?

EJ:

Yes, it's so.

EE:

So it was like a mineral springs that would make you better.

EJ:

Yes, just like Hot Springs, Arkansas, or something like that. Mineral Wells is like that. And they had a big ballroom, and they had a big stage and they put on—and they had bands. It was really something out there.

EE:

So that's what you all—when you got time off—

EJ:

In fact, I was into Crazy Water. I had been on leave when the war ended, and they had given me some extra days because, see, I lived in North Carolina. But I didn't come to North Carolina when I went on leave. I went to San Angelo, Texas. So when we came back, my friend that I went out with her family, she had to report back in because she didn't get that extra time. So I had a couple days. So I stayed at Mineral Wells. And I was there. In fact, I was asleep. I was taking a nap. And all this noise, and when I went downstairs they said the war had ended. Horns are blowing and people are hollering and whistling and carrying on, you know. It was something. And they told me the war had ended.

EE:

That's great.

EJ:

But I had spent the night there at the hotel, and I was going to report in the next day. Well, if I had gone on back it would have been all right, you know, but I just didn't.

EE:

What you did probably today would be called a physical therapist almost, as far as helping the people—

EJ:

No. Now, they just called me a medical tech, but all I would call myself is like a nurse's aide. That's what I would have called myself if I would have given myself a title. But I'm almost sure that the army, if I had gone for training, that I would have had the tag of medical tech.

EE:

You told me that you had been recommended for getting further training and your captain didn't want to let you go.

EJ:

He wouldn't let me go. He just told them no.

EE:

Tell me for the tape the story you told me earlier about the orange and what he said he needed you to do.

EJ:

Well, I don't know how long I'd been there, not too long, and he just come in to the ward, and he said, “Private Tarlton.”

I said, “Yes, sir?”

He said, “Come in here. I want to show you something.”

So I walked into the utility room, and when I did he reached over in the basket and—see, every morning about ten o'clock I would squeeze oranges and lemons and grapefruits and make a drink for my men that was ill. About ten o'clock we would do that and give them all a big glass of juice. He reached over and got that orange, and he had—right there was everything, you know, the needles and everything. He reached over, got a little cotton thing, stuck it in the alcohol and wiped off the orange, and he laid the needle on there and let the needle go in, you know. So he said, “Now, you do that.”

So I reached over and got the needle and syringe and pulled the stuff out of the bottle like I was supposed to after I wiped it off with the alcohol. Then I wiped off the orange, and then I laid the needle down there and put it in the orange, and I sat there—and he said, “Now let's go down the hall and give some shots.”

EE:

That was as much training as you had to do at that.

EJ:

That's what I got.

EE:

And yet, with that training you apparently did it pretty well, because folks preferred getting the shot from you if they were going to have to get a shot, didn't they?

EJ:

That's right. Well, you see, I give shots now. When you pull, draw that in, you see, then the thing you've got to do is you've got to take that little plunger and push it up to be sure there's no opening there. But the first thing, back then, you see, we really had to—not like today, see. We had to sterilize our own needles, our own syringes, and we didn't have any throw-away anything. We kept a clear glass sitting there, and we would take that little ball of cotton, and we'd run that needle over it. If there was a little prick on that needle anywhere, you see, we would take it on that glass and smooth that little prick out until we got it out. Then we'd drop it over into the [unclear] and we would sterilize them, a little thing sitting there with the sterilizer with all the needles in it. So we had to work on them, you know. It was not—you know, today you go and get a shot, they just throw the thing away. They put it in a—like that and it's gone. But back then—and we had to sterilize our own thermometers, we had to keep everything.

EE:

It sounds like with Captain McCue, at least, he treated you very professionally. You were talking about there were some people who didn't like having women in the service. Did most of the men that you worked with there, most of them treat you okay?

EJ:

Oh, yes. I was treated—I never had a one to say anything to me ugly. Always nice to me. I worked closely with the men, too, because, you see, I did a lot of CQ [charge of quarters] work. I took care of the barracks a lot, and I was over my barrack. I had to wake up a lot of the girls, you know, and things.

EE:

How many other women were out there with you at Mineral Wells? Was there a fair number of folks stationed there?

EJ:

Oh, yes. I guess we had about three hundred come and go, women, you know. See, we had a big hospital. That was a big old hospital. It had surgical wards and see, each ward—

EE:

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

EJ:

Didn't any of it bother me, you know. It was a job, and I did it. I can't—you know. I guess one of the things that upset me more—but see, at that time it didn't. I could cry, you know, when things would happen, but as far as it just upsetting me and bothering me, no. Like me getting perturbed about it, you know.

But we brought the prisoners of war to Camp Wolters, they did, and they began to work in our laundry and in our mess halls. They were Germans, good-looking men. One of them got struck on me, and the fellow never did anything, never did anything at all. But when he would see me coming, he would turn up my chair and set fresh milk at my place. And when he'd see me finish he would light my cigarette. He liked me. They called me in on that. They couldn't understand why he would do that. I never spoke to him, no, but he liked me. There was something about me, you know, that he liked.

EE:

Yes, they were worried about you, that somebody liked you.

EJ:

I don't know, you know, I could never figure it out, but they called me and asked me about it. I said, “I don't know.”

Oh, well, not only that, but, see, when he was behind the counter and I would get my eggs and things, he'd fix mine just right and bring them to the table, too. Well, they just didn't like that or something. I don't know who did it, but somebody reported it, that he did that. I didn't know the man. I had no idea. Evidently I must have reminded him of somebody or it must have made him feel good to do that for me. He didn't do it for nobody else. But he'd turn my chair up against the table. He knew that I liked to sit at that place, you know, so he'd clean that place—

EE:

He reserved it.

EJ:

And then he'd start serving.

EE:

How did that make you feel, having prisoners there working with you. Did it make you feel different about the Germans?

EJ:

We didn't work with them. We didn't work with them. They had their quarters, and they just brought them right there. They brought them on a truck and they took them away on a truck. Now, that little incident happened. That was one of the little incidents that happened in my service time that now I wish I had known more about it. But, see, I was too young.

EE:

You didn't know enough to ask, maybe, more about it.

EJ:

No. And, see, I—and I didn't smoke a cigarette every time because I was not a smoker. I just smoked occasionally. And if I would take out a cigarette he'd be right there with that lighter thing and light it. He was a nice-looking man, but I didn't know his name. I didn't know a thing about him or anything, just a young man.

EE:

For social life, you were talking about at the end of the war you were visiting with a friend at her home in San Angelo. Did you hang out with a lot of the other WACs, or was everybody sort of on their own free time? Did you date a lot of other soldiers? What was social life like for you out there?

EJ:

Well, we really didn't have any. We had all kind of girls. We had girls that would go off and get drunk, and we had girls that would—all kinds of girls, all kinds of girls. We had all kinds. And yes, the MP would call me from town and tell me they had my friend that's in that picture with me, and I'd say to her—he'd say, “What do you want me to do with her?”

I said, “Bring her on home. I'll take care of her.” See, he wasn't even allowed to get out of that police car. He'd just bring her. I'd go out to that car and get her. I'd tell her, I'd say, “What in the world are you doing?”

She'd be high as a Georgia pine. But she was a good girl. You know, she'd just get off and start drinking beer. I don't know whether she drank anything else or not. But, see, I never drank, never drank a beer in my life, never took but a couple little swigs of alcohol. I drank a mixed drink on my twenty-fifth birthday.

EE:

But that just wasn't a common thing around here for most folks, you know.

EJ:

Yes, but I never did. My daddy didn't allow that. Now, the men folk could take a drink, but the women couldn't.

EE:

You were talking about that you were afraid when you were going out in the middle of the night to the latrine out there down in Oglethorpe. Was there any other time that you felt afraid, or did you ever feel in danger physically when you were in the service, being out there so far from home?

EJ:

Oh, yes.

EE:

The war ended in August of '45. When did you actually get discharged? Was it right before Christmas?

EJ:

Yes.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

EJ:

No. When I come out I didn't even bother to join the—what do you call the—

EE:

Reserves?

EJ:

Reserves. You know, and after I got some age on me I began to think, “Why, Ellen, you stupid thing.” And see, like I've told you, being uneducated, I've held some good jobs. I worked for Southern Bell Telephone. I could have retired with them. I worked for Western Electric. I finished up on the communications for Wesley Long Hospital [in Greensboro] for over seventeen years. So I've had some good jobs. Not—you know, now, Wesley Long was not a good paying job. Bell was all right and Western Electric was all right. And then, in my retiring years, I taught at GTCC [Guilford Technical Community College] in creative crafts.

EE:

What type craftwork?

EJ:

Creative crafts. That was my teaching.

EE:

Are there any songs or movies that you remember from back in those days that make you think of Mineral Wells and your time in service?

EJ:

No, but I'll tell you, I thought—like I said, I was kind of a little dreamer, and I always would pick me out a character in the movies, and I played that part. A lot of times I'd stay in the part for a while, but after I got older I dropped a lot of that, you know. But when I was young I used to be Deanna Durbin or I used to be Katherine Hepburn or— [laughter]

EE:

You'd have a pose or an attitude about you for a whole day or so.

EJ:

See, today the movies don't have anything like that. The movies today are stupid, but you take those good old movies like Katherine Hepburn movies or Bette Davis—

EE:

You really did have characters, Philadelphia Story or something.

EJ:

Oh, yes. I'd just see it over and over and over and just play the part, you know, and just enjoy it. And just think how many times you've seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And we still want to see it.

EE:

That's right, because it's good.

EJ:

Think how many times we've seen Wizard of Oz.

EE:

I'd do that again. It was on the other night.

EJ:

Look at old Andy Griffith, to see him over and over again. But, you know, today—you know, people's minds is not even good today. Something's wrong.

See, when I was a little girl, I never went to a movie till I was grown, and we had so many movies in our town. You know, movies was something. Movies were something. When you start—we had the Carolina Theatre, and we had the State Theatre, we had the Criterion Theatre. And right uptown on—one of them I can't name. I don't know. I can't remember the name of it. But we had the Carolina, the State, the Criterion, and the Martin. And then they come in and built the Victory down there at the college. I mean, you know, a movie was a big deal, when you'd go to the movie. And then they did things, you know, in the movies, just have continued stories, you know?

EE:

That's right.

EJ:

Yeah, and you know, it was something. And like down at the college they'd have plays, and you could go to those plays and just enjoy it so much. Today it's—I mean, I don't even want to go. They've got one now on something about the North Carolina mountains or something down at the college, and I thought, I think I'll look into that and go, you know. It's been a long time since I went to the college to a play. But it's just—

EE:

Different stuff.

EJ:

You know, it's not like it used to be. And I very seldom ever watch a new movie. No. But once in a while I'll catch an old movie and sit and watch it.

EE:

You know, you're talking about how it's not like it used to be. I've had a lot of people tell me that America just isn't as patriotic as it used to be. Do you think that's so?

EJ:

Oh, I get so mad. I'm going to tell you something. I guess the thing that would cause me to fly up and get mad, anybody that don't appreciate America, I say put them on a slow boat to China, and I'll pay their way. I'm not kidding you. Can you imagine? And people don't want to pay tax. I said, “Live in a place like America, and you don't want to pay taxes?” I mean, work and make—just think, in some of these Third World countries, doctors don't even make as much as we make an hour in a whole month, a whole month.

EE:

That's right.

EJ:

Boy, it can get next to you when you've been patriotic all your life. I can remember when just raising the flag would just make me cry.

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

[conversation about EJ's religious beliefs not transcribed]

EE:

You know faith changes the way you look at life. Did your time in the military change how you look at life?

EJ:

No. No. It didn't do no more than—the only thing that I can—now I wish that I had had training enough, had background understanding enough, that I would have stayed in, made it a career.

EE:

They really didn't encourage many women to do that, though, because they were just trying it. I think they—you were talking about Mineral Wells being the first one to close down? There were so many people wanting to hurry and get home that they really weren't interested in keeping a lot of women after the war.

EJ:

Well, you know, the United States to the—I doubt very seriously if—you see, about the only thing, I guess, that the women would have been good for in the service would be just—well, to tell you the truth is, I don't think they even needed us. I just think it was just the turn or something. I don't think they really needed us. I think the United States Army and Navy and Marines and everything should have stayed male, M-a-l-e. I just think that it's just something that—

Now, we did our job. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to say nothing like that. But I think the women are so out of place today. See, what hurts so bad—now, I'm seventy-seven years old, and I'm on the outside looking in, and I can see a lot better than the people that's in there. I think what's wrong with our children, what's wrong with our homes, what's wrong with all of this, I think its women. They're out of place. And you see, with the women out of place, the men are out of place. And today a man, you know, don't want to commit. It's sad. Not all of them are like that, but the majority of our lower-class people.

EE:

It's easier to be that way, and maybe it shouldn't be easier.

EJ:

Well, I think a man—you know, Haggy said this week, he said, “Men, God has called you to be the head of your house and the priest, and you'd better get at it.” And all this shooting in the schools and things, now they don't know. They say that little boy out there in Tulsa that just did it, they said fine little boy, straight-A student, everybody liked him. What was he doing with a gun? That asked him why he did it, and he said he didn't know why he did it. He don't know why he did it. You know why he did it? He didn't have no mama and daddy. That's what's the matter with him. I'd tell the mama and daddy to their face he didn't have no mama and daddy.

EE:

That's right.

EJ:

So that's what's wrong with them: they don't have a mama and daddy. Mama's got to work and Daddy's got to work, and see, them women—I know. I think about it. I really do, I think about it because, now, I'm going to tell you something. When a woman works on a public job, she's got to have extra clothes, she's got to have a way to get to and from work, she's got to do all those things, and it takes money to do those things. She don't want to learn to can anymore; she don't want to learn to garden anymore; she don't want to learn to make clothes anymore. And we don't have mamas in the kitchen. We don't have grandmas. Our grandmas are younger than the grandchildren. It just makes you sick to look up and see that, and to see the children don't have it. And then I read in the paper this week where they say that children, they don't want to take part in family activities. They get a certain age, they don't want to be bothered with going to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's or at Aunt So-and-so's.

EE:

There wasn't a choice at my house.

EJ:

You know what's wrong with them? The person said just what I always say: They've never been made to do anything. Let them set that table. Let them make that salad.

EE:

That's right.

EJ:

Let them clean up them dishes. And I want to tell you something. Back when I was a child, we got involved because you know what? When all them people got through eating and I started boiling that water because I didn't have any hot water, I had to boil my water, and I had to wash them dishes. Sometimes it would take you a long time to wash a bunch of dishes. And I want to tell you something. When I was a child, I had a lot of respect for Daddy because you let the men folks eat first. Always fix that table pretty and put all of them men folk in there, and we all fed the men folk. And then when we got through with the men folk, mamas and all of us children, we would be fed. Most of the mamas would start fixing their children's plate and seeing to it they had the right thing. She'd be just as busy doing for that child and fixing her children around the table, and then mamas would go get their plate and sit with them. So, you see, we don't have that no more.

EE:

No. It has changed.

EJ:

So we've lost touch. So the little old children, they're trying to find themselves.

EE:

We have gone through—because I was going to ask you how you feel about women in combat, and I think you just told me your answer. Is there anything about your time in service that I haven't asked you about that you think is important and want to share with us?

EJ:

Well, I've told you everything. I went in to be patriotic, and I went through my training. It was tough, and I mean tough. I'll tell you, when you're walking with a group of women, and they're passing out on the ground, and you just have to step over them and stay in one, two, three, one, two, three, you've got to keep right on marching over top of them but the ones in the back drag them off, you know, and you've never been used to anything like that. It was strictly—I went in there strictly to do a job. That's all. I went in there to see if I could help them, and I did. We'd go for orientation and see those old bad things that was happening to our men folk, and it would make us hate to any man. I remember one time I saw a roll in the orientation class. I always will believe that it was—are you from Greensboro?

EE:

Yes.

EJ:

We have a doctor here, Dr. Baumgartner, a heart specialist, beautiful doctor. He's retired now, but he was my daddy's doctor for years. He writes articles every once in a while for the editorials in our paper. He was a prisoner of war. And I believe—I was sitting there in the orientation class, and I didn't know at the time that Dr. Baumgartner was a prisoner, but I thought I saw him. You know, they had a roll of the barbed wire that the prisoners were and showed it to us, and that was terrible.

EE:

To show you what the enemy was doing.

EJ:

Yes. Yes. One time while I was in service, they brought some men over from Puerto Rico to our camp. It was about the time that we found syphilis to be so bad. They gave me—well, I didn't do it in my ward. I had to do it in the—see, it was the heart ward, upper respiratory ward, and then bad disease. So it fell my lot—and like I said, we had to really work. We worked hard. I had all those boys' names on a piece of paper down by the side of the door. That's when we was given old penicillin in a needle almost three inches long, two-and-a-half inches long, a big, big old needle, and it fell my lot to give them boys that shot. Well, I had my experience. They had no meat on them.

EE:

So you give it in the hip?

EJ:

Yes. They were such thin boys you could just pick it up like that and pull it out away from them, put that needle in there and then let go of it. By that time, the shot would be in. I'd tell them, I'd say, “Now, mark it.” They had their little block, you know. I said, “If you don't mark it every time, you get two.”

EE:

That's right. [laughter] I'll bet everybody marked it.

EJ:

I put them to work. But I had some good experiences. I really did. I just—like I said—I remember one time, see, you could go out my back door, right where we were standing in those pictures, go out my back door and just cross the little old drive and high fence. And I'm telling you, some of our boys would go off completely. I mean they would just go off completely. Pitiful. Captain McCue was standing there on that sun porch. See, when I would work on my patients, I would work for them from the rooms and into a ward and out on that sun porch, and then I discharged them. See, I didn't know a lot of times exactly why they were in my ward. Some of them had pneumonia. Some had bronchitis. Some of them had [unclear]. Some of them had a fast heart rate. I can remember the fast heart rate, bad, but it came from an upper respiratory, like a congestive failure sort of. Anyway, Captain McCue called me, and we stepped outside that back door, and he told me, he said, “Now, see, Tarlton, what we do is easy.” “But,” he said, “Now that, that's bad.”

I said, “What's that, Captain?” You know, I was so young I didn't understand.

He said, “Well, them people think they're sick. Now, our boys here on my ward, we know they're sick. They're running a fever, they're fighting something, and we're fighting with them. But,” he said, “them, you can't do a thing for them.”

EE:

They're fighting by themselves, is what's happening.

EJ:

And they had instilled in me that mental was a bad sickness. So I always knew that people with any kind of a nervous mental condition, it's more serious than people without. They can get sick and be doctored and brought back to health. Somebody with a mental condition, you just can't hardly—you can just work with them and work with them and work with them, and unless God heals them, they're just—you'll think, “Oh, boy. We're making progress,” and they'll be right back again. So I learned a lot of things working with Captain McCue. He was one of the finest men.

After I come out of service, you see, I had fallen in love with Texas. So I come out in '45, and so I just went back to Texas to live. So I went to work in San Angelo, Texas, in a clinic, and I worked for Dr. Aubry, who was a rectal specialist in San Angelo. And see, he didn't know that I didn't have an education. He didn't know that. He thought, and he just was on me all the time, that I needed to go over to Shannon Hospital and get my degree. He was always telling me that I was a natural born. He would say, “You know, it wouldn't mean anything, Ellen, for you to do it. You're so smart. You just pick up on anything.” And there'd be an operating room so we did a lot of tonsillectomies and things.

Sometimes we'd have so many, but we'd have to take a break and some of us would get us a malt shake and stand outside with that blood all over us, where it just spattered all over, with that shake so we'd have enough strength to do the rest of them. He was on me about every day. He would say, “You know, Ellen, it wouldn't take you long before you got this training behind you. You wouldn't even have to go to junior. You would just go right on in and start.” But see, he didn't know I didn't have the basic training to go. See, then you had to have nursing then. Now, today, it's book, it's mostly book. Back then it was work.

EE:

My mom was trained in—she's a nurse. She trained in, I guess, the Baroness Memorial Hospital because they used to train nurses right there in the hospital as opposed to sending them off to college. That's how it was.

EJ:

Oh, yes. That's the way we trained. But, see, today it's mostly book, and you go to the hospital—I watch the nurses. They're pitiful.

EE:

I appreciate you sitting down with me and going over your career. On behalf of the school, thank you for sitting with us today.

[End of interview]