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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Eleanor Steinhebel Gurney, 1999

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Object ID: WV0131.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Eleanor Steinhebel Gurney’s memories of growing up during World War II; her experiences in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina; and her married life, particularly after her husband, also a Marine, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Summary:

Gurney talks about a 1943 race riot in Detroit; recycling and rations during World War II; patriotism; the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and her fear of an atomic bomb being dropped on the United States.

She also discusses her military service at length. Topics include her family’s reaction when she joined the Marines; living conditions at Parris Island; negative treatment from male Marines; watching weapons demonstrations; classification tests; barracks inspections; losing her sea bag and uniforms while on leave; cultural differences she experienced in the South; desperate measures some Women Marines took to get out of the military; social activities; singing the Lord's Prayer at night; clothing regulations; courting and secretly marrying her husband; and driving to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., during Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Personal topics include her relationship with Joe Gurney; living in the Jacksonville community; favorite books and movies from the 1950s; her husband being diagnosed with schizophrenia; dealing with her husband’s illness and visiting him in Veterans Administration hospitals; and new opportunities for women in the military.

Creator: Eleanor Steinhebel Gurney

Biographical Info: Eleanor Steinhebel Gurney of Detroit, Michigan, served in the Women Marines from May 1953 until 1954.

Collection: Eleanor Steinhebel Gurney 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 is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university, and today I'm at the home of Eleanor Gurney in Lewisville, North Carolina.

Ms. Gurney, thank you for having us here this evening. Today is December 8, 1999, day after Pearl Harbor Day, and I'm going to ask you the same simple question I ask everybody I interview, Ms. Gurney, and that is where were you born, where did you grow up?

EG:

I was born in Detroit, Michigan, stayed there all of my life until I went into the military, and that was in 1953.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters growing up?

EG:

Yes. I'm from a family of ten, five brothers, one of which was in the Second World War, and two sisters. All of them are gone except for one brother and one sister.

EE:

Does that mean you're one of the younger ones in that group?

EG:

Yes. They always refer to me as “the little one.”

EE:

The little one. All right.

EG:

Even though I'm not.

EE:

What did your folks do for a living?

EG:

My father was a cartage driver. He drove trucks for different companies and made deliveries. My mother was a homemaker.

EE:

What high school did you graduate from?

EG:

Northeastern High School in Detroit.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

EG:

Oh, yes, very much. I enjoyed it.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

EG:

Nineteen fifty-two.

EE:

As an elementary school kid, middle school kid—I guess it was junior high then—you were a child during the Second World War. You had an older brother in it. What do you remember about that war?

EG:

An awful lot. There was Fort Custer, which was a military base not too far from Detroit, and I can recall there was a riot in 1943, a race riot, in Detroit, and a blackout, but we saw the military trucks from the base because they were called out to curtail the problems and driving up and down the street. I can also remember—that's my first big remembrances, is the trucks. I can remember we also had scrap drives and paper drives, and we had our picture in the paper one time because we had the biggest pile of scrap in Detroit. When my brother, the one that went into the army, left, he had a car, and one of the last things he did was just drive that car to death. But we still had the car in the backyard, and it was nothing but scrap.

We're talking about recycling now, that's not new. We grew up doing that. I can remember cutting both ends of the can off and flattening the can, put the cut ends inside because that's how we recycled the metal for the war drive. Savings bonds, buying stamps at school to collect them until they accumulated enough for a bond.

EE:

Elementary school kids were doing that.

EG:

Yes, we'd have paper drives at school. Everything for the war effort. Victory gardens at school and home.

EE:

And I guess you all had ration books as well, didn't you?

EG:

Oh, yes, by far, and I can remember going to the store, and being denied butter because we didn't have ration coupons in it. We didn't have a car after my brother's was demolished, but we traded our tire tickets with my uncle for his meat tickets, you know. And we wouldn't buy meat. Well, first of all, you couldn't because it wasn't available. It all went into the war effort. But I can remember my brother was coming home on leave and my mother had sent me to the store to get some butter, real butter, and real meat because my brother was coming home. It wasn't anything special to him, and we were so disappointed. We thought we were doing something special, but he had had this and he had been accustomed to this while in service.

EE:

Where was your brother stationed?

EG:

In Germany. He was stationed at Fort Bragg first, and then he went over to Germany, and he drove a Jeep. We've got pictures of him standing beside it.

EE:

Must be right there after the occupation. Is that when he was there?

EG:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you pick up ration books? I'm curious about that. Did you go down to the post office and pick them up?

EG:

I don't know that it was the post office. I'm thinking there was like a center that you went to that you received them.

EE:

Distribution center.

EG:

Yes. They were not mailed to you. I do know you had to go pick them up.

EE:

Because I imagine the black market would have been pretty rampant.

EG:

Oh, yes. And people hoarded. My uncle hoarded, and, oh, we disliked him for that.

EE:

It was a very patriotic time in many ways, wasn't it?

EG:

Yes, very patriotic. Everything in the schools were geared around it, and of course everything was focused on it. It wasn't the instant news that we have now, but you were keyed to everything. You listened to the radio for everything, all the happenings. Everybody in the neighborhood was affected, and the flags in the window with the stars. The lady across the street had five sons so she had five stars, of course, on her flag. And then as one was missing, the color of the star changed. I think they all started off as white, and I couldn't tell you now, remembering, the color of the missing in action and also the color of the killed, and I remember at the end of the war all five of those stars were for killed. She had lost five sons in the war, two in the navy. I can remember that. And you sympathized. You knew what was going on with everybody. Everybody was real attuned to it. It was a sad time. But there were a lot of joyous things going on, too.

EE:

As a kid, this is all you know as a kid, that there's war going on.

EG:

Oh, yes. But that's everybody's norm, you know. Everybody was involved in the norm, in the war. Patriotic parades.

EE:

You might even remember President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passing away.

EG:

Yes, I remember. That was a sad day. I can remember I was ironing. That was one of my chores. And I was ironing, and we were listening to the radio, and of course they announced that he had died in Warm Springs, Georgia, and we all sat there and just cried. You didn't know him, but you did know him, you know.

EE:

You heard him on the radio so many times.

EG:

And I can remember the atom bomb being dropped, and we were told about that. All I can remember is—I don't know how it was said, but such a fear was instilled in me that it was going to happen to us.

EE:

That if we had it, somebody else probably had it, too.

EG:

Oh, yes, that we could go the same way because we were talking about the devastation that it had created and the number of people killed—could that happen to us?

EE:

And then the war ended, though, right after that. What kind of memories do you have of the end of the war?

EG:

I don't remember my sister coming home. My sister was nine years older than I so, let's see, she was-I was born in '34, so she must have been born in '25. So she was twenty, twenty-one. In '45 she was—oh, she was heck on wheels as far as my father was concerned and too much freedom, too much freedom, and I remember him locking her out of the house because she celebrated too long. A couple of days she celebrated, didn't come home. Oh, he was just bent out of—but everybody celebrated. But she just went too wild with it as far as my father was concerned, anyway. Only one brother actually went into the service. The other brother that was older than him, that was eligible to go into the service, had a heart murmur so he couldn't go, but he worked in the defense plants.

EE:

You, I guess then, were about twelve when the war ended, something like that?

EG:

Yes.

EE:

When you were in school did you have an idea about what you wanted to be when you grew up?

EG:

No, no, not in elementary school. In high school I knew I was going to go on to college, but we didn't have money for me to go, and so I managed to get a scholarship for one semester. Of course, instead of going to a reasonable school, I went to a—I don't want to call it a private school, but it was a more costly school. I probably could have done better with the scholarship that I got had I gone to—at that time it was Wayne University or Wayne College.

EE:

It was Wayne State [University, in Detroit] eventually.

EG:

Yes. But I went to Marygrove [College], which was a Catholic college in Detroit, and I only stayed there one semester, though, had to go to work.

EE:

This would have been—when did you—?

EG:

Fifty-three. Well, that would have been, actually, September of '52. And I went in the service May of '53.

EE:

So you were just out from college for a little while before you decided to do something else.

EG:

Well, I got a job with a chiropractor when I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay in college, and I worked with him, and I thought—well, I wasn't getting very much satisfaction as far as what I expected at home. I didn't think the rest of the family was contributing—that I was carrying the load of it. My mother had passed away. She passed away in '48. My dad and brothers were there, and of course, they worked, but I didn't think they were contributing to the house and that I was carrying the load—not only did I have to contribute my pay, I also had to do the housework and the cooking and the laundry and stuff like that. I thought, “This is ridiculous.”

So I was going to move out and go live with some girlfriends. The brother that was in the army, my father went to him, and he came to me. I'm not listening to my father but I'm listening to my brother. And that's how it always was in the family. My brother Lenny came and talked to me one time, and I knew he meant business. The one that was in the army, which was Norby, “You're not moving out. You're not going anywhere. You're going to stay here, and you're going to do as you're supposed to.” I'm thinking, “Well, this is ridiculous.” Then the Korean War broke out. All my friends were going into the Marine Corps, the guy friends, because we hung around in groups.

EE:

This was '50, I guess, when the war broke out.

EG:

Yes. That broke out in '50, but it was in '52 that two real close friends were over in Korea, and I thought, “Why not?” So I went, and I talked to the recruiter, and I couldn't believe how easy it was. See, I wasn't twenty-one yet to go ahead and go in on my own yet. I was going to have to have my father sign for me. Well, so I went and I asked my father if he would sign for me so I could go in, and he said, “What does it mean?”

I said, “Well, it's like a job. You get paid, and they provide a place for you to live and uniforms and everything.”

“Oh, if you're going to get paid, okay.” And he signed not realizing that he was giving me permission to go off for three years, and when I came home on boot leave he was real angry with me. “You didn't tell me what you were doing.” But then before I left from boot leave everything was fine, but not at that point. I think my reason was dual. It had to do with a need to get away and to do something else, but also the patriotic spirit was right there at that time.

EE:

That was an aggravating conflict, wasn't it?

EG:

Oh, yes. Well, but it wasn't as aggravating as Vietnam was. You know what I mean? It was called a police action, but I think people were still thinking of it in terms of war, the Korean War. I know that's what we thought of it as, the Korean War.

EE:

And there was a lot more concern about what in the world the Chinese were doing behind all this because by about '52 they had already crossed the Yellow River and had stopped—

EG:

Yes, and there was a lot of loss. There was concerns.

EE:

But when you went down to the recruiter's office, was there a special recruiter for women or the same person was for men?

EG:

No, it was all one—they had a separate office for each branch of the service, but the recruiters talked to male and female alike. But when you made a determination that you were qualified, that you could go in, then you were directed primarily—it was still a male Marine, but he's the one that directed your attention to going into the service.

EE:

And because you don't come from a Marine family, what decided for you to go to the Marines instead of something else?

EG:

I never liked the army, and I sure was too afraid to fly, and I didn't know how to swim well enough to go to the navy. So the Marine Corps was—and besides, one of the friends said the Marine are the best. There is no branch of service that is equivalent to the Marine Corps. And of course, once you get in boot camp, that's what they tell you very definitely, and they will tell you right up front, even if you go to boot camp with any other branch of service—if you switch branches of service or get out and come back in, you still go back then to boot camp because their way is not the right way, it's only the Marine Corps way that's the right way. And they do indoctrinate you.

EE:

Yes. Now, you were telling me before we started this tape that when you went in, you went in as part of the Women's Reserve.

EG:

Yes. When I went in and talked to the recruiters, that was still what they were offering. They were USMCR [United State Marine Corps Reserve].

EE:

Right.

EG:

And then I think it was the beginning of their new fiscal year, the first of July, that—well, the act of Congress had been passed to redesignate them as part of the regular Marine Corps, not just the Women['s] Reserves. So actually, by the time I got sworn in and was in boot camp I was a regular Marine.

EE:

And what month of the year did you go in in '53?

EG:

May of '53.

EE:

That was when you started boot camp.

EG:

Yes, seventh of May.

EE:

Where was that, at Parris Island, [South Carolina]?

EG:

At Parris Island.

EE:

At one time for women the boot camp was at [Camp] Lejeune [in Jacksonville, North Carolina], I guess. So you were down there. You had your own facilities?

EG:

Yes. It was called the 3rd Battalion, which was nothing but women, and they were a group of six buildings, and they were far removed from the rest of the base. They had a headquarters building, and then they had what they referred to as recruit barracks on this side, and then they had permanent personnel barracks on the other side. And across the street from Headquarters was the mess hall, and across the street from permanent personnel barracks was a barracks of nothing but training rooms and classrooms. Across from the recruit barracks was recruiters school, male Marines who would go out and recruit. That was considered the elite section of Parris Island. The facilities were the newest facilities, supposedly the best mess hall, and they treated the recruiters with kid gloves, and they laughed at us. Oh, did they laugh at us.

EE:

They weren't fond of having women in the service?

EG:

Oh, no, siree. And our drill instructors would call us to fall out, and of course, when you fell out, when you came onto the barracks you had to run. There was no walking. And you ran out like nobody's business and had to get in line, and you had to shape up and get in formation. First of all, there's a bunch of females here, and they see a bunch of guys across the street, so they're trying to do their best, to look their best for these guys, and these guys are laughing their heads off at these recruits who are being harassed by the drill instructors. Now, we had mostly female drill instructors except for the male drill instructor who taught us to march.

EE:

Now, was he a true male drill instructor?

EG:

Yes, he was a staff sergeant.

EE:

Complete with the language and everything?

EG:

Well, not with us.

EE:

He did wear some kid gloves.

EG:

But I became permanent personnel on the base after graduation and found out that when he did drill the male recruits—very colorful. They even gave him the nickname of “Staff Sergeant Jawbreaker.” He caught a Marine, a recruit, looking at somebody else's mail or opening somebody else's mail and broke his jaw—“Sergeant Jawbreaker.”

EE:

He had a reputation that you want to be on his good side, then.

EG:

Yes. But the language was colorful on that side of the fence but not on ours, but we did everything that everybody else did, you know, as far as—we went to the gas chamber, had to take the mask off. We went to the rifle range, but we didn't handle weapons. We saw them. We never fired anything. We sat in bleachers and watched weapons demonstrations. That's not the case now.

EE:

Most of the early women I've talked with didn't handle weapons, but at some point in the fifties it changes, because I've talked with some women who have at least gone to the range.

EG:

Yes. We went to the range. We saw them, but we didn't have to put that week of training, learning and familiarization.

EE:

How to break it down and put it in—

EG:

That's right. Never knew how to break down a weapon. We saw them, we handled them, we felt them, and we knew the weight of them. Never were taught how to use them, because there was going to be no need for us to.

EE:

What were you told when you signed up? Were you given some options as to the kind of work you would be doing or were you given some preference of where you'd like to be stationed?

EG:

When I went into boot camp none of those were presented beforehand. No bonuses for coming in. I'm sure there were quotas that had to be met, but, you know, we were never enlightened as to what they might be. What determined where you worked was determined when you went to classification. Very early on in your boot training you were all marched to the battalion area where the males were at, to what was referred to as “main side.” This is where the PX [post exchange] was and the commissary and the headquarters building and the theaters and all the parade grounds. We were marched there, and then we were sent to classification, and we took a battery of tests, and based on your classifications and how those test results came out, then you were assigned different areas. You were given numerical ratings and—I want to say “GST testing.” You were given a numerical rating similar to an intelligence quotient test.

EE:

How long was basic when you were there? Was it two months?

EG:

Yes.

EE:

Well, now, you're from a big family. So living with lots of people isn't necessarily a problem, but that was your—was that your first real dorm experience?

EG:

Yes.

EE:

How was that for you?

EG:

I didn't have such a big problem with it, but some of the girls really had very big problems with it. It didn't bother me to have to take common showers, which is what they were, and it didn't bother me to take showers, but yet we had some who were not at all familiar with it, and then our drill instructor gave us permission after a while to go ahead and give a sand shower to a couple of the people to show them that you'll either shower or we will shower you.

Cooperation was the thing that some people found difficult. I know in a big family you had to share. Some were not accustomed to it. “I'm not going to sleep in that bunk.” You were put in a bunk alphabetically. It didn't make any never mind if the person below you was someone you didn't like or the person across the aisle was someone you didn't like.

The funny part about it was we would have inspections, and if you passed the inspection, great. We always got marked down on the inspection because of one particular individual. Her last name was King, Naomi King. In those days you had a locker box, and everything was kept in the locker box. Then there was this clothes rack on the wall behind your bunk that had a pole on it. You hung your uniforms. You put your hats above, you put your shoes below—everything. The boots were laced and tied, come heck or high water. If you had a fire, it didn't make any never mind. They had to be laced and tied. All the buttons had to be buttoned. The belts had to be buckled and everything. Everything had to be a certain way when it hung on the rack and in a certain order.

When that locker box was opened at the foot of your bunk and everything was inspected, everybody's locker was supposed to look identically the same. It was folded the same, put in the same order. We always got gigs because of Naomi King—her coat unbuttoned, shoes untied, always some kind of infraction. When the bunks were inspected the mattresses were folded over, and of course they would go along with the white gloves and rub it along the springs to see what they could get off of it. She was always written up for one thing or another. We almost hated her. And there was nothing you could do to make her change, to get her to change, and the funny part of about it is when I went to join the Women Marines Association [WMA] in Jacksonville in the seventies, one of the women there in Jacksonville happened to be Naomi King, and we became best of friends, and we talked about that stuff. She said, “I never could get the hang of it.”

EE:

How long did she stay in the service?

EG:

I think she stayed probably two years longer than I did, but she was transferred up here to Camp Lejeune, and she married a Marine—his name was Malone, Jim Malone, and they both worked in the comptroller's office, and she married him. When I left Jacksonville to move here, she was still there. She was still married to him. She worked as a teacher's assistant in the school system in town. But the funny part about it is I met her through my best friend, Ruth Hayes, who got me interested in the Women Marines Association, and we had gone to a meeting, and she said, “I want you to meet Naomi.” And we talked and we talked. I think we probably knew each other for about six months before we started discussing when we were in, where we were stationed, and I said, “I was Platoon 9A.”

“Well, I was in 9A.”

“No, you weren't.”

Well, then I bring my picture out, and there she is. I went, “You're the one.” Like I say, we became best of friends. What a small world.

EE:

That's good. Eight weeks. Rank. What are you when you come out of basic?

EG:

Normally you're supposed to be a private. I came out of boot camp a PFC [private first class].

EE:

How did you manage that?

EG:

I don't know. I guess I kept my nose clean enough that I didn't have any problems with making the rank. Everybody got their orders, and I know we were getting uniform fittings when they started to distribute our orders to us, and they read everybody's orders out but mine, and I'm kind of concerned. But you don't question; you just wait until you're told. And then finally my drill instructor came to me later on that afternoon. She said, “Your orders just haven't come through yet, but they probably will in the next batch.”

I'm not realizing at that minute that I'm the only one without orders—I'm thinking others have not gotten their orders either because I'm not listening to the others' orders as much as I'm waiting for mine to come up. And then I later find out that I was the only one, and I'm staying at Parris Island. Everybody's going everywhere else. Joined the Marine Corps to see the world and I go to Parris Island and I stay with Parris Island.

EE:

Were you there the entire time of your career?

EG:

Yes, the whole time of my career, because, you see, I met my husband down there. I went home on boot leave, took all my uniforms with me because the weight did this, it fluctuated. In the beginning, boy, I gained weight like nobody's business, and then I started losing weight. Well, the uniforms, we got fitted and they were all—I was sized according to the hefty weight, and then by the time I left boot camp they were all big and baggy. So I took everything home in my duffel bag. My sister-in-law and my brother had a cleaners, and she did the alterations for him. So she said she would take care of the alterations for me while we were on leave. So she did. She fitted all my uniforms for me and tailored them and everything. When I go back to Parris Island from boot leave my sea bag doesn't come with me. We changed planes in Philadelphia, and my bag doesn't come with me.

EE:

Oh, no.

EG:

I get into Charleston, [South Carolina], which is where my plane lands, very late at night because we had bad weather—missed the last bus back to Parris Island because it had already gone-and there I am, stranded with just my raincoat over my arm and my purse and in uniform because we had to travel in uniform, knowing not a soul, wondering what in the world have I got myself into. I see a WM [Woman Marine]. She's on a date in Charleston, and she sees this forlorn little kid sitting over there. So she comes out asking me, “Are you just coming back from leave?”

I said, “Yes, and they tell me the last bus has gone.”

She says, “Well, we're going back to Parris Island, but we won't be going for about a half an hour. Is that all right by you?”

I said, “Well, I've got to be in by midnight.”

She said, “So do I. We'll get you there.”

So they give me a ride back to Parris Island, this lonely little kid. She takes me to my barracks where I'm supposed to go and turns me over to the duty officer. The duty officer checks me in so I'm not AWOL [absent without leave], gives me a set of sheets and a blanket and a pillow, and with a flashlight takes me upstairs to my squad bay, which is one huge room that's got a bunch of bunks all over the place. I had nothing to wear except the clothes that I've got on my back, which I'd been traveling in all day.

So I go put them on a hanger at the edge of the bed, and this is what I'm going to have to wear tomorrow. That's all there is to it. And I get up in this bunk and I throw the sheets on it right now because it's dark and fall asleep. All of a sudden there's something in my face, and it's a flashlight. The rest of the kids who lived in the squad bay had come in from liberty, and they wanted to see who the new kid was. So they woke me up, took me into the laundry room, and I'm telling them about my luggage, you know. Before I know it, I've got everything I need to go to work the next morning. I've got somebody else's uniform to wear, nice and clean. They show me the ropes as far as calling the airline terminal to get my luggage and my bag and everything brought in. They take me out on the town that night. They give me some of their civilian clothes and everything.

I met my husband that very next night that we went out, but I didn't even realize who he was going to be. But they took me with a whole clique of gals, and we went to a place down in Beaufort [prounounced “Bu-fort”], South Carolina, and it's Beaufort down there, not Beaufort [pronounced “Bow-fort”] like it is up here [in North Carolina], and we met a whole group of people. Of course, they introduced me as the new kid on the block, and it was Eleanor Steinhebel, but they gave me the name “Stinky,” and that stuck. So I was Stinky for the whole time that I was down there.

EE:

But that's a nice way to get welcomed. Tell me what this group was that you were assigned to. You didn't tell me what—

EG:

Disbursing.

EE:

Disbursement. So all the women that you were housed with were in disbursement.

EG:

No. It was all the females. All the females lived in that one barracks. They were the permanent personnel. That was in the building on the other side of headquarters.

EE:

And when you talk about disbursing, that's for all the operations at Parris Island?

EG:

That's right. That's for all the financial payments, for paying the recruits, paying the officers, paying everybody.

EE:

For everybody, both women and men?

EG:

Yes. See, they may have had us segregated as far as where we lived, but where you worked you don't—a bus came to the area every morning and picked everybody up after inspection and took you mainside to where the jobs were, and if you worked in warehouses, if you worked in commissary, if you worked in the PX—

EE:

Had you ever done any of that kind of work before?

EG:

No. I've always been comfortable with figures and money, and I did accounting for the chiropractor when I worked for him, kept his books. I just always had been strong with figures. So my aptitude showed in the classification testing.

EE:

You were given a job, though, that sort of sounds like they listened to what you did before you came into the service.

EG:

Yes. I guess that classification showed that this was my strength, was in numbers, and that's what we always thought, that that's why we got assigned where we did. And, of course, the girls that I worked with, the WM's that I worked with at disbursing—they kind of took me under their wings, but then when we got back to the barracks permanent personnel where we lived, you made friends with people who worked in other areas, like people who worked in the motor pool or down in the mess halls or what have you. And then according to personalities and everything, your friend might be whomever.

As it turned out, one of my best friends—well, I still correspond with her—I worked with her in disbursing. She was from Ohio, and we did end up becoming very good friends, and she had probably eight months on me, six or eight months on me as far as being in the Marine Corps [unclear].

EE:

A couple questions about your joining before I leave and go to something else. Was that trip to Parris Island, was that the farthest you'd ever been away from home?

EG:

Yes. I'd never been out of Detroit, never been on a train. I was put in charge of the company. There was one other WM and myself, and we were traveling together, and we had to meet at the train station, and they gave me her orders and my orders together, and our tickets, our meal tickets. We get on the train—we make our bunks up together. I think we started traveling probably nine or ten at night out of Detroit. So we were on the train through the night, and all of a sudden the train stopped, and they left us in a yard until we got hooked up the next morning or later on in the night we went on further. And I remember sitting on the train during the day and seeing—we came south, I guess, through Kentucky and then down to Georgia and then came from Georgia in—and seeing houses just stuck on the sides of the mountains. Like Harlan County, Kentucky, the coal mining country—

EE:

Yes. It is a different way of life, isn't it?

EG:

Oh, yes. I was totally amazed. We get down to someplace. They had given us tickets for everything that we did along the way, and we stopped in this one little restaurant at the bus station or at the train station. We ultimately changed to a bus.

And we sat down there, and I see this man at the counter eating breakfast, and they asked what I want, and I said, “Well, I think what he's got except make my eggs over medium,” and they bring me this beautiful dish, and I take a big forkful of mashed potatoes only it ends up being grits. And to this day I hate grits. I had never had grits. I had never even heard of grits. The bacon I knew, the eggs I knew, and I thought, “Oh, mashed potatoes with breakfast. Well, if that's how they eat it down here, I'll eat it too.” But it was not.

EE:

The first time I went to Philadelphia someone tried to get me to try scrapple.

EG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

I had a similar experience. “Thanks, but no,” is now my common response.

EG:

Oh, yes. They transferred us from the train to a bus, and then that bus took us to Yemassee, [South Carolina], and that's where the Marines met us. We all came into Yemassee, everyone of us from wherever, to make up the company. There were men and women.

EE:

So this was about a three-day trip down?

EG:

It was a day and a half. Yes, a day and a half. Of course, the Marines there, the drill instructors, were very stern. Fun was over for everybody. Because we were talking, jabbering up a storm, laughing and giggling with the guys and everything. No. The guys over there and the females over there, and we got on the buses separately, and that's when everything changed. Reality set in.

EE:

You talked about the circumstances of your joining were showing up at the recruiting station and—okay. Ten years earlier they had this campaign, “Free a Man to Fight,” because of wartime, and there is a war going on when you joined.

EG:

Yes.

EE:

Was there any special recruiting effort toward women?

EG:

No, I don't think so, and I don't remember one—I did hear it on the radio, you know, women in the military.

EE:

Just for women. Okay.

EG:

And I thought, “Yes. That doesn't sound so bad.” See, that festered a while. “Oh, yes. Maybe that's what I can do. They'll feed me, they'll clothe me, they'll house me, I won't have to worry about anything, and they'll pay me besides.” I'm not hearing, also, that I will be responsible to somebody.

EE:

You'll have no control over what you do.

EG:

Yes. And if I go in for three years, I cannot get out. I couldn't quit and leave.

EE:

And that was your commitment, was three years.

EG:

I couldn't quit and leave. Yes, I signed up for a three year enlistment.

EE:

Did any other women that you knew serve in the military? Did you know anyone that was in the service?

EG:

No.

EE:

Other than your dad, who was initially ticked off, how did your friends and family react to you being in the service?

EG:

Friends take it like the kids usually do, “Oh, you're going to go in the service? Okay.” But my family gave a going away party for me, my older sister did at her house, and the brother that was in the army, he came up to me and he slapped my face. He said, “I hope this wakes you up to what you're doing.” Of course, I don't know what he's talking about, because I don't know what it's like for military women or women in the military or how they are looked upon by the men, and they were not looked upon very well at all.

EE:

Even in the time that you were joining?

EG:

You were just here to get a man. That's all you're good for. There was no respect. You really had to earn it. You had to prove to them why you were there and that you were there for a serious reason. Now, there were—and I will admit there were several—in our platoon, one particular—I can't remember her last name but I know Nancy said, “I'm going to get a guy. That's what I came for. [Unclear].” She made no bones about it. When she went to her duty station that's what she was going to look for. She didn't necessarily say a husband as much as getting herself a guy. There were some rude awakenings for a lot of the girls in boot camp. I know we had one that cut her wrists she was so desperate to get out. This was a big mistake for her. But that was an eye opener for a lot of us. I didn't take anything that desperate, you know. Okay, maybe this wasn't what I expected, but this was what I committed to so this was what I lived with.

Like I say, we had—one girl did take a bunch of aspirins but all she did was make herself sick. Everybody said yes, she was trying to commit suicide. The one did cut her wrists, and we knew that she had psychological—they said that she had psychological problems. Now, the one that took the aspirins, we don't know if this was just copycat or what.

EE:

But you didn't personally feel that kind of pressure.

EG:

No. There was no desperation about mine.

EE:

Did you enjoy your time there?

EG:

Some things were very, very good. I can remember at night because it was warm weather and of course all the windows were open—we had some fans but not a lot because it was not supposed to be comfortable. You know, “You're not here for luxury.” And I think it must have been the second night—no, the first night that we were there in boot camp, we heard the Lord's Prayer being sung way off in the distance, and then we heard it again. It was a little louder. And then it became a little louder. And then finally our recruiter came to our door, and she said, “I think it's your turn.” So there were four platoons going through boot camp at one time, and they were a week apart coming in. So it was started by the senior platoon at that time, and everybody sang the Lord's Prayer before going to bed. Lights were out, and then all of a sudden it started. And then finally it was our group. I mean, that was a very emotional—first time you heard it, the hair kind of stood on your arms, you know.

Now, there was a “bunkie”—she wasn't my bunkie, she was next to me. She had been in the convent, and I don't know what her inspiration was or what prompted her to join the Marine Corps, but she came in with that condition in her contract that should she feel the calling to go back to the order, her obligation to the military was up. That was the only way she could get out of the military. And she did. She ultimately did go back into the convent before her three year obligation was up. Everything she did she did right. She was very exacting about everything. She wanted to make sure that everything she did she did well, took a lot of pride in everything she did. When the uniforms came and we had to learn to starch and iron our own uniforms, she already knew how to do stuff like that. She had to teach us stiff starching and stiff ironing.

EE:

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

EG:

I don't really know the toughest thing. I know there were many times that I did enjoy it, and when I look back now, mostly the things I remember are the best parts about it. You know, you always remember the good things, I guess. Probably being so far away from home. When we were in boot camp there was no contact except through mail. No telephoning. You couldn't ask for anything. You couldn't call anybody—you couldn't talk to anybody. You could talk to a chaplain if you needed to, but boy, you really needed to have reason to talk to that chaplain. I couldn't say that I was totally isolated, but I was away from my family, and that was the first in my life that I was ever really away from them and that I knew that I was away from them. But again, the light was at the end of the tunnel. You knew it wasn't a permanent thing. You could put up with it. And you knew that you were going home at the end of boot camp.

EE:

Did you ever feel afraid or in physical danger at any time?

EG:

Oh, no.

EE:

So that's one advantage, I guess, of being in that place. You probably feel protected.

EG:

Oh, yes. When I got out of boot camp and became permanent personnel, we had a lot of camaraderie. You know, you made friends with those you either work or live with. Then after a while when I met my husband and became serious about him, my work and everything was still the same, but then I had diversion after hours. I had other things. You know, I had him. I didn't have to rely on them.

EE:

At your work in the disbursing office, was it mainly women personnel, a mixture of men and women?

EG:

No. I think there were only three females in the whole office.

EE:

Out of how many folks?

EG:

I want to say fifty. And then we did get a WM officer that came in, oh, probably—I want to say four or five months after I became permanent personnel we got a WM officer. Now, I want to say she didn't have any more control over us than what was already there by the male officers or the NCOs [noncommissioned officers] who were in charge of us, but we did feel we had some support to make sure that we weren't being put upon. But I don't really think that we were. I don't ever remember—

EE:

You didn't really, on a regular basis, report to another women, then. Your regular CO [commanding officer] was a man.

EG:

At my job, yes. But in the morning, we all got up with reveille. We went to mess hall. We all fell out for inspection. And everybody stood at attention in front of the barracks, and you were inspected for appearance.

EE:

By a woman, an officer.

EG:

Yes. Because this was right there in the WM company. It might be a staff sergeant. You had a WM CO And the commanding officer of-there was a separate commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, which was all female, Nita Bob Warner. She's in here, still very active in WMA. That's her love. She never married. I guess she married the Marine Corps. But she had her officers who were in direct contact to us.

But in those days the hose had seams so seams had to be straight. Everyone wore a girdle, and they flicked your backside to make sure you had one on. If you did not, you were written up. Your hair while in uniform could not touch your collar. No earrings. There wasn't any pierced earrings in those days. The only jewelry that you were allowed would have been a class ring. If you got engaged then you could have another ring, but while in uniform you couldn't wear it. So you'd have to wear it on a chain around your neck. If you were called down for anything about your appearance, whether shoes were polished—and they had to be very stiffly polished—then you were reinspected, and if you failed inspection enough times, there went your liberty. You didn't go out that evening or you didn't go out that weekend. You were right there in the barracks.

EE:

You worked, I guess, an eight-to-five shift, something like that?

EG:

Pretty much.

EE:

Five days a week?

EG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

So then you had evenings free, and you had to be back at the base at midnight, I guess, and then every weekend you had a chance to go off base.

EG:

Well, you had to be back at the base at midnight if you were my rank. I was a PFC. But if you became a sergeant, then as long as you were there for inspection the next morning, you were free.

EE:

You could stay out overnight.

EG:

Oh, yes you could. But you couldn't live off base. That wasn't allowed. That was one of the things that DACOWITS [Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services] got for the female, that if the male could live off base with a certain rank, so could the female. One of my drill instructors, not the marching drill instructor but the one that taught me customs and courtesies and what have you, she was engaged and she was going to get married and have a big wedding. So we gave her a bridal shower and everything when she went off to Texas where she was from to get married. But there was a big group of friends. I don't want to call them sisters, because I don't think we were that close, but you did have some that you did confide in.

EE:

How much socializing after hours did you do with other women Marines or with this fellow that you met pretty quickly?

EG:

Well, I met him quick, but I didn't start dating him until later on. But we went out, I want to say, just about every night, you know, somewhere. As long as somebody had money, we went, because there were the movies on the base. You didn't have to go off base. You could go to the movies on the base, but you still had to pay to get into the movie, maybe a dime. There was the club. We had a club in our area. Oh, and boy, rank was a thing. When I did go off for the first time with Joe, he took me to his club because he was a sergeant, and the staff sergeant WM who was in my area came over to our table and told me that I had to leave. Joe at that time, he said, “Why?” And he said, “She's with me.”

“She doesn't have the right to be here.”

He said, “I have the right to be here, and she is my guest.”

Well, it's similar to that enlisted-officer fraternization. Well, he challenged her. Now, he was a sergeant, and she was a staff sergeant, but we were in civilian clothes, but she recognized that I was a WM, and he challenged her, saying that, you know, I have the right to be there as his guest. So she didn't say anything more about that evening and she let me stay there, but boy, did I hear it from her the next day, “Who do you think you are? You're just a little PFC. You're out of your category. You have a club over here. You can bring him here, but you stay out of that club.”

Of course, I told Joe. He said, “Did you hear anything more from her?”

I said, “Oh, yes. She is letting me know that I don't belong there.”

So we definitely went there again because he was that bullheaded. She never said anything to me again in front of him, but she always let me know that I was out of my class by going to their club.

EE:

You went in in '53 in May. When did you start dating Joe?

EG:

Probably in September we started getting serious about each other. Well, it was the funny part. One of the girls—she didn't work with me in disbursing but she worked mainside with me—and we were riding to work, and she wanted to know if I wanted to double date with her that evening, and she said, “You remember when we went to the casino?”

I said, “Well, I remember going there.”

She said, “Remember Joe?”

I said, “Oh, that jerk.”

She said, “You like him?”

I said, “No.”

And she says, “Well, can you call and tell him that we can't make it tonight?”

I said, “Okay. I will.” She gave me the number, and of course as soon as he got on the phone I recognized that I had him confused with the other guy, that he wasn't the jerk, that the other one was the jerk, and I told him yes, we would be able to go out. So then we did go out, and then there wasn't very many places to go down there, especially on the base, and mostly when you wanted to date you didn't want to date on the base.

EE:

Right.

EG:

The only time you dated on the base is when you were broke. Because if you dated on the base—

EE:

Everybody knew about it.

EG:

Oh, yes. And if you went to certain places you should go in uniform. Like if we went to the movie at the parade ground, we had to go in uniform, we couldn't go in civilian clothes. And I don't know why. I never understood that. It was a big open screen at the end of the parade ground, and there was a bunch of benches in front. It wasn't even a theater or anything. I mean, it rains, and you got your uniform on and you get saturated. Now, when you went into the Lyceum, which was a theater, you get to wear civilian clothes.

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

EE:

What was his job in the service?

EG:

He was a drill instructor of male Marines, and he had been one—the MOS [military occupational specialty] that he had was tractors, Amtracks, and that's what he did when he was overseas in Korea. His duty station from there was Quonset Point, [Rhode Island], as an MP [military police], guard duty, and then he had to go in the drill field if he was going to expect to make any rank. So he came down to Parris Island as a drill instructor, and he stayed as a drill instructor until—well, after we were married he was still a drill instructor on the field, and when we came up to Camp Lejeune here, and he went with Amtracks out at Courthouse Bay—that was his field, what he belonged in, and then he made staff sergeant.

EE:

When did you leave from Parris Island to Lejeune?

EG:

The day [Hurricane] Hazel hit in 1954.

EE:

Another great day to be on the road.

EG:

Oh, yes. But he had a set of orders, and we had to go. There was not a drive-in theater standing. I think we came up Highway 17 all the way up in order to Lejeune—because everything had been—you know, Hazel had knocked everything down—totally devastated everything along the way.

EE:

That's right. That was the storm by which they're all measured, I think.

EG:

Yes, they are.

EE:

In your work place with that many men and only three women, how were you treated at work—professionally, or did you have any flak that you had to put up with?

EG:

Well, some. Some idiots, you know, they always test you. But most of the time—and it depended upon your caliber of work to what degree of respect you got, you know, as far as the work was concerned. It had some idiots. Everybody wanted to date you because you were female, like it or not.

EE:

They thought it was their right to be able to date you.

EG:

Well, yes. Are you a snob? My staff sergeant, he was of the same religion as I was, and I had made mention one day that Advent was coming and I wanted to go to a special Advent service. He said, “Well, I'd go and pick you up and take you.”

I said, well, I didn't want to cause any trouble.

He said, “No. I come right by the WM area,” and he said, “Check around if there's anybody else that wants to go.”

So he said he would pick up three of us WM's, and we'd all go to church together every day. Every day of Advent he would stop by and pick us up and we'd all made mass—because they had an Advent mass—and then bring us into work together. And I don't know if that kind of put a little coating on—don't mess with your sharp-nosed friend, or you've got him as a protector. Now, they knew he was a married man with several children, and they knew there was no hanky-panky. And they all knew that we were all going to church together, but it kind of—I don't know if it gave us a little protection. I don't know.

There was a lot of babysitting on the base. Frequently the officers would call the WM barracks to see if anybody was available to babysit. I know I babysat—because, see, they had quarters on the base for officers, and I babysat for a number of the ranking officers there, for their social functions. You saw how the other half lived.

EE:

Yes.

EG:

Because, see, that was provided, [they] provided quarters, provided furniture, everything.

EE:

How pleasant.

EG:

Some are bratty kids, but some are nice. Some are very nice.

EE:

You already mentioned a number of stories. You've got some wonderful recollections of those times. Do you have any particular songs or movies from those times, either that you saw outside or elsewhere, that when you think back and when you hear them you say, “Yes, that's where Joe and I were,” or, “That's where I was”?

EG:

Yes, there are a couple. From Here to Eternity was not allowed to be shown on the base. Ernest Borgnine, the brutality that he showed—

EE:

Yes, they didn't want to model that.

EG:

That's right. So everybody had to go see it, we had to go out in town to see it. I remember Joe and I were going to go see the movie, and of course we couldn't get in, it was sold out. So I made him take me to The Student Prince, and he said till the day he died, “And I had to go to that dumb Student Prince with you.” But those two things—it was Mario Lanza singing in there. Well, he was singing, but it was—I think Edmund Perdue was actually the actor who performed.

EE:

Right.

EG:

But From Here to Eternity. And still when I watch—and I have the video of From Here to Eternity—I recall the fact that we could not watch that on the base, that that was banned from the base. Now, as far as books are concerned, Battle Cry. Of course, that was about Marines in the Second World War, and Joe had gotten the book, read it, gave to his father to read, and then his father sent it back and finally I got to read it. I'm reading the book, and I'm laughing because some of the things are so very familiar and very funny in the book, and he's like over my shoulder wanting to know what I'm reading, and like he wants to read the book again. Well, I hurry up and finish the book so he could read it again. Now, that always makes me think of that period of time.

My daughter was born at the Beaufort Naval Hospital down there, and in those days you got money for having babies. His pay was increased by number of dependents. I remember my pay when I was in boot camp was $78.80 a month as a private. It was seventy-eight dollars and became $85.80 when I became PFC. I thought, $85.80! This is what we lived on for a whole month. And I had a bond taken out of my paycheck to send home to my sister for the care of my brother. How did you do that on such little amounts of money in those days.

EE:

Sure.

EG:

Joe's salary was increased when Kathy was born, and then Joe's salary was increased again when my son Bill was born but then no more after that. They'd pay but not for too many kids.

EE:

How many children did you have?

EG:

Six. We had six.

EE:

And you started dating him in September, and you got serious enough to say, “Let's make a date”?

EG:

Yes. We started dating serious in December, really.

EE:

It doesn't take long if it's the right one.

EG:

No. Well, first of all, you've got to realize there's nobody else there. There's no distractions. You don't have boyfriend's family, other things, you know, and you kind of depend, really depend, on that one person. We went to a justice of the peace in Pocatello, South Carolina, and got married. And that never, never sat right, because he was Catholic and I was Catholic and we should get married in church. So finally, the following June, we got married in the church down there at Parris Island.

EE:

When did you get married in Pocatella?

EG:

December.

EE:

So it wasn't long after you started dating.

EG:

Three months, probably, from the time we started really dating seriously.

EE:

And then in June of '54 you got—now, you were telling me as a married women in the Marines you were not supposed to be in there.

EG:

That's right. See, they didn't know that I was married because we got married by a justice of the peace. But then, lo and behold, when I got married in the chaplain's office—

EE:

That was a pretty bold statement. And I imagine there was some discussion as to whether or not you should do that or when you should do that, wasn't there?

EG:

Well, see, he had to go to my commanding officer and get permission to marry me. Then we went to the chaplain, she sent him to the chaplain, and then, “Yes, okay.” At first the chaplain was really bent out of shape with us because we had gone to a justice of the peace to begin with. “Are you sure you want to do this,” you know. We were already pregnant with Kathy, so we knew we were going to do something.

But his commanding officer stood up as his best man, well, and gave me away, and then one of his staff sergeants that he worked with was his best man and one of the girls I worked with in disbursing was my maid of honor. When we came down to Jacksonville, he had already been retired, probably, three years. We saw this couple in the church, and lo and behold, if it wasn't our best man. Larry Risley and his wife had retired to Jacksonville, and they were there. And Joe died on the fourth of December, and his best man died on the eleventh of December.

EE:

About the same age, then.

EG:

Well, the best man was about five years older than Joe, I guess, but Joe died from a brain tumor, and Jim Risley, who was also retired, he was running—jogging—and had a massive heart attack and died. It was so funny that so close together they passed away.

EE:

And he was in Jacksonville at that time?

EG:

Yes.

EE:

You never really had thought seriously about making the military a career at the beginning.

EG:

No.

EE:

But you ended up staying pretty military the rest of your life afterwards, didn't you?

EG:

Yes, we did.

EE:

How long was Joe in service?

EG:

Well, he was in for twelve years when he was retired on total disability, but I worked in the federal government, and he wasn't able to work because he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in—I guess it was '63. Yes.

EE:

Were lithium treatments coming out? My father-in-law was diagnosed. He was one of the first people on lithium, I guess.

EG:

Yes. Well, he got Stelazine and Haldol and oh, I couldn't begin to tell you the number of different medications—and I remember when he was in the VA [Veteran's Administration] Hospital at Salisbury, [North Carolina]—because he would have ups and downs until he finally kind of leveled off, and when he was well he was sick, and when he was sick he was well. When he was taking his medicine he was well, and he admitted that he was sick and that he needed to take medicine. But then if he didn't take his medicine—

EE:

Nothing was wrong, which meant something was wrong.

EG:

Yes. And one of the times I went to visit him in Salisbury, it was after a real bad episode, because he got violent, and he struck out at me and then he also struck out at his doctors in the hospital. In the beginning when he struck out at me, I'm doing these “You only hurt those that you love,” you know. But then when he hit his doctor, and I thought, well, he doesn't love his doctor—

EE:

Yes. He just was—

EG:

Well, see, but I'm wondering, you know, who's he going to strike out at next? Were the kids in jeopardy and what's going to happen next. When he first got sick and they sent me the telegram—well, actually he was in Okinawa when he got sick. He was still on active duty, and he was stationed over there, and they sent me the telegram telling me that he had been hospitalized, and they gave me his diagnosis, and of course I went right away to the encyclopedia because I knew nothing about schizophrenia. I had heard it was split personality.

Then, of course, I talked to a friend whose husband was in a—it was Joe's commanding officer, actually, before he went overseas, and they had a going away party, and I remember a colonel saying—you know, we were staying in Jacksonville—“If you ever need me and the wife and I are here, don't hesitate to call.” So when I get the telegram I call him, and I said, “This is such and such, and I don't know what to do, I don't know where to turn.” I had four kids at the time. So he called me in his office, and I came out and we talked, and I said, “Now what happens to Joe? What does this do to his career?”

“Oh, nothing. This is no worse than if he'd had a case of pneumonia. Once he's recovered, he's recovered. No effect at all.”

Well, that's not the case. Of course, they said with schizophrenia there's no way he could have stayed on active duty.

EE:

They probably wouldn't, but did they attempt to have kind of a precipitating cause for this, or was it just something—

EG:

Well, we got various opinions on it. You know, his parents divorced when he was a teenager, and he expected to go with his father and didn't go with his father. They didn't know whether the environmental effects of it caused it. They really didn't know what—sometimes they thought it might have been a chemical thing, a biological thing.

One of the things—like I say, when I went to the hospital, they were using nothing but—everything he ate had pimento in it because they said there was something in the pimento that his body lacked, all of them, not just him, any of the schizophrenics. They were doing this therapy. That wasn't the answer either. I guess to this day they still don't know.

EE:

No, they don't.

EG:

But what they did say was at the end of the fiscal year he was the regimental finance officer. Of course, he had to close the books and balance the books. And he worked five days and night straight to get it done. They had come out the best that they had come out in years as far as balancing the books and meeting their bills and everything. But he spent himself, and they said they found him in a—became a loner and was so busy he didn't have time for anybody else and totally exhausted.

They found him in an Okinanwan village sitting in one of the houses with a single light bulb not knowing who he was. He had his ID card on him, and he was a warrant officer by this time, and the Ryukyuan police asked for his identification. He gave them the identification, showed them who he was. They took him back to the base. Joe's roommate happened to be the duty, and this was over Labor Day weekend.

So they took him—he was an officer so they couldn't lock him up, or they wouldn't lock him up. So they put him in a room and secured the room, and they would take him over to the hospital on the first of the week, you know, because this was a holiday weekend. Well, when his roommate goes to check on Joe, Joe is gone. He's taken all the screws out of the window frame and booked. The Ryukyuan police find him again behind a sea wall, and they give chase, and he ran. So this time they took him over to the hospital and they put him in a ward and locked him up in a ward where they can keep him secure until they can get him over to—they took him to sick bay, rather, until they could get him to the hospital, and then they med-evaced [medically evacuated] him to the—well, the day that they were going to transport him, morning colors were going, and Mr. Joe is being walked to the truck that's going to take him over to the hospital, and everybody stops for morning colors, and Joe takes the opportunity to pull a pistol out of the guard's holster and bolts with it.

So they realize that there's something seriously wrong with him so they take him over to the hospital, and that's when they evaluate him and make a determination that he was schizophrenic.

EE:

So he gets that discharge that year, then?

EG:

Well, he was put on five years of temporary disability until they made a determination that lost a leg, you're never going to grow another leg, and this, you're never going to get well. They air evac[uat]ed him from Okinawa to Japan—Yukosoka, Japan—and then they med-evaced him to Travis Air Force Base [in California], and then they finally brought him to Philadelphia because it was the closest naval hospital with a psychiatric ward.

EE:

A long ways from Jacksonville.

EG:

Yes. And I had an old '55 Chevy, and one of our good neighbors, and he checked it out for me to see if I could drive up there, and he checks the oil line and the gas line, and he said, “Go. I've got to let you know that that's the condition that the car's in.”

EE:

You had to probably leave the kids with somebody.

EG:

Yes. His wife took care of the kids.

EE:

You had to rely on some Marine friends to do a lot of things, didn't you?

EG:

Yes. See, in Jacksonville the community is nothing but Marines. The community actually is there. I mean, I'll grant you the town was there before the base came, but—

EE:

But not anywhere—

EG:

No, it depends so much on the Marine Corps, and so many Marines have since retired to that area that a lot of the authority in Jacksonville now is retired Marines, and they depend upon it. They depend upon the income, they depend upon the base. When [Operation] Desert Storm hit and they pulled all the military, that place was like a ghost town, literally. Auto dealerships closed up. And it didn't last that long, but yet they felt that pinch right away. But then again, when the troops came back, you never saw such a warm welcome as with those troops. The town had never, and I mean never, turned out to the degree that it did. It was one of the—

EE:

Well, I know it was frustrating, when was it, in '83, when the Beirut [Marine Corps barracks was bombed]—

EG:

Oh, yes, and see, when you go over there they've got a Beirut memorial.

EE:

Oh, yes. It's beautiful.

EG:

It is. And again, the whole community rallies around that base. Highway 24—I guess they call it Marine Boulevard—from the town of Jacksonville to the main gate, it's Bradford pear trees planted in that—beautiful, absolutely beautiful, and the town really works around the base as far as the support that they provide for them. Now, every once in a while they forget who's there and those feelings that they had from the time, but that whole community is Marines. I remember when Joe was over in Rhodes, Greece, and I was expecting Mary—she was my third—and his stepmother was supposed to come down and take care of the other two kids while I had the baby. Well, she found out that her brother had cancer and she couldn't leave him, and it was [unclear] they said. So anyway, I went to the chaplain. I said, “I don't have anybody to take care of these kids. You've got to bring him home.”

He said, “If we brought all the husbands home whose wives were pregnant, we wouldn't have anybody out there.”

I said, “What am I supposed to do?”

He said, “You've got neighbors. Just depend on them.”

And I thought that was the coldest hearted chaplain that ever was. That's not the answer I wanted from you. I wanted to hear that you were going to bring him back home. Well, we did, and Betty and I became really, really good friends, and she took my kids over to her house and took care of them and some of the best friendships that we've made through the years have been because of the support that we had—

EE:

That's extended family or whatever at the time, wasn't it?

EG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Now, one of the other questions that I ask people is if their time in the military made them more independent than they would have been otherwise, and it sounds like at least maybe the time of you as a military spouse made you as independent as anything, doesn't it?

EG:

Oh, yes, and he did not like that. First of all, he's gone on a cruise, you have to do everything. You have to make the decisions. Suddenly he comes back and you have to stop making those decisions.

EE:

That's a tough gear to shift, isn't it?

EG:

Yes. You discipline the kids.

EE:

What, the kids can come in and—

EG:

He come in—yes.

EE:

He was gone a lot, it sounds like.

EG:

Oh, he was. He was gone all the time. He was with Amtraks, and when my Bill, who was—we had counted one time. Joe was home eight months out of his twenty-three months. He was twenty-three months old, and his father was with him eight months of that time. He was gone all the other time. He would be home for three months; he would be gone for six months, or he would be home for six months and gone for three.

EE:

That's just the special nature of that Amtraks work.

EG:

Oh, yes. The story is—and he used to say this and I'd get so aggravated, “If the Marine Corps had wanted me to have a wife, they would have issued me one. I was a Marine when you married me. You knew what it was like when you married me.” And I did. I did. But that doesn't help you at times.

EE:

No.

EG:

And you're supposed to understand and accept the circumstances, but he loved his Corps and he [unclear].

EE:

How long was he at Philadelphia, and you say he died in '89. Did he ever come back home?

EG:

Oh, yes. He was at Philadelphia only, I think, two months at that time, and then they transferred him to Salisbury, the VA Hospital there, and we lived in Jacksonville so I would go see him in Salisbury. In the beginning I went twice a week. I went on Wednesdays and then went on Sundays. But then it got—five hours there to see him for an hour and a half and then five hours back home. So then we got it just to Sundays when the kids could go with me. And in the beginning he couldn't visit with us because he was on lock up because he was still unpredictable. They didn't know what he would do.

So for safekeeping purposes they kept him under lock, and that's an eerie thing. You walk into the building—now, Salisbury has got tunnels that connect all their facilities because it was a totally psychiatric facility. They had Oteen, which was TB [tuberculosis], and then, of course, they had Fayetteville and Durham. They were the only four VA Hospitals in the state. But he had to go to Salisbury because of the fact that he was neuropsychiatric, and everywhere they went, they took them down through tunnels. The tunnel went to the chapel, the tunnel went to the main building, the tunnel went to the store, went to the gym, everything.

So I would go in the building. The aide would meet me, take me to an elevator and unlock the elevator with a key, get on the elevator, he would move the elevator with a key, unlock the elevator, get me out on the floor, unlock a door and put me in a room and lock me in the room. Then Joe would come in through another door that would be unlocked. Well, the first visit, he's over there and I'm over here. There's windows over there, and you could tell, at least suspect, that somebody was watching, and it was very, very tense.

He had hit me before he went in. Was he going to hit me again? You didn't always know whether you could trust him or not, and I can remember the aide then coming in and saying—you could tell when they were tense with each other. The visit was over. He didn't know if I was finished or not, but he felt that Joe needed to go back on the ward. But each time that I came it got better and better. And then I could take the kids, and they had a nursery, and the kids could stay in the nursery, and then again, a few more visits, and I could sign him out and we could take him out on picnics with us, and then ultimately he was allowed to come home.

Then he stayed home—he had about, I would say, six trips back to Salisbury. He hated Salisbury. That was the very first psychiatric hospital he was ever admitted to, and any time he felt like he needed help, he would go somewhere else. He would go to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and he went down to Gainesville, Florida. He went down to Bay Pines in Florida.

EE:

Somewhere that didn't have that association.

EG:

Yes. See, he was entitled to the hospital, and he could go to the VA Hospital, but it was the only—he wasn't ever going back to Salisbury. He went to Fayetteville a couple of times, and all Fayetteville had was the top of the building. No, that was Durham. Excuse me. Fayetteville had a whole wing for him. But he hated all the hospitals here. He even left in '67 and went out to California, drove the car across the country to go to his sister's in California to go to a VA Hospital out there. He knew he needed help. Sometimes he wouldn't admit it. Sometimes he wouldn't go.

And I can remember coming home from work wondering what I was going to find. I remember Kathy was thirteen at the time and Kevin was a year and a half, and I remember saying to him—we had gone to visit some friends at the church once, and on the way back home—he had been drinking with his friends up there, and on the way back home all of a sudden the tone of his voice and everything, and he was just very argumentative again. I would say something right, and it was, “So you say. Is that what I understand?” Everything had an innuendo about it. I wasn't faithful to him. The only two kids that were his were the two boys. He always denied the girls. “And I doubt that the one that you're carrying is mine.” All that kind of stuff and nonsense.

But this was beginning to start that evening on the way back home. And of course, I went to work the next morning, and when I came home, it hadn't changed. He kept getting up during the night and looking out the sliding glass door. He knew someone was in our house, and he knew somebody had broken the windows out, and he was afraid that they were going to—

EE:

Paranoia is all part of it.

EG:

Oh, yes. That's how he was diagnosed. But I remember I talked to Kathy one day when I came home from work, and I said, “You know, your dad's sick.”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “I don't know what he's going to do. I don't know if he's going to strike out at everybody, but Kevin's a year and a half old. You have to be responsible for him. If Daddy starts acting up, you just chase all the kids over to the Purles,” which was our neighbor behind us, “and you've got to get Kevin. You've got to get Kevin and take him.” And she and I stood there and cried. And I'm thinking afterwards, here's this thirteen-year-old kid. Should she be bearing this burden? Should she have this weight? Did I make her grow up too soon? You don't know.

EE:

You don't know, but it's due for you, too.

EG:

Yes, and then you look back, and you wonder, did you make mistakes [unclear]?

EE:

I'm sure you did, and I'm sure everybody else did.

EG:

Sure. They needed to know, or did they need to know? Did they know that he carried a .22 in the trunk of the car? I get a call from Syracuse VA Hospital because he went there one time. It's a policeman, and he's at the hospital picking up a weapon that had been confiscated in jail at the time he turned himself into the hospital. He told them he had the weapon in the car, and he said, “It's a brand-new weapon. I'd like to know what you plan to do with it.”

I said, “I didn't know he had it. I have no idea what he planned to do with it.”

“Well, I'd like to buy it.”

See, their instructions are to go and destroy them when they confiscate weapons like that.

So I said, “It's his. I'll have to find out and see how he feels about that.” So next time I talked to Joe, I told him that the sergeant had called me and had found the gun. I said, “I didn't know you had that. When did you get that?”

He said, “Oh, I've had it for while.”

I said, “Where did you get it?”

He says, “I got it at such and such shop in Jacksonville.”

And I'm going, here he's mentally ill and he's allowed to buy this. “What were you going to do with it, Joe?”

“Well, I was going to use it.”

“When were you going to use it, Joe?”

“Well, I was going to use it.”

“On who?”

“All of us.”

“What do you mean on all of us?”

He said, “If I'm going, you're all going, too.”

And that's the sickest feeling. Anyway, I tell him that the guy wanted to buy the gun, what's he going to do? He says, “Give it to him. The only thing I'd like is if he will send you a release that he has it in his possession, releasing us of responsibility, with the serial number and everything on the weapon.”

So the policeman called back a couple of nights later, and I told him what he had said, and he did. He sent back the release. But I don't know how long he had that weapon. I mean, he said a while.

EE:

Was he here at home, I guess, when he got sick?

EG:

No, he was in Okinawa when he got sick.

EE:

I mean, it started with the [unclear].

EG:

No. Well, see, he was in Jacksonville with us, and he was having problems over vision and went to have his eyes checked, and they sent him to a neurosurgeon—I mean a neurologist, and he said that—he called me, and he said I needed to take my husband to the hospital in New Bern, [North Carolina], because he had just discovered a massive tumor. He said he must be having massive headaches from the pressure that he's determining.

I said, “Well, he takes a lot of medication because of his psychiatric problems.”

He said, “No. It would have to be morphine or something. Morphine wouldn't even hold the headache.”

So I take off work, and I go pick him up, and he's standing out in front on the building with this big grin on his face. He said, “Did he tell you what was wrong with me?”

I said, “Yes. They said you've got a tumor in your head.”

He says, “Yes. All these years they've been telling me I'm a nut. I'll be so glad when they cut this thing out of me and I can go on with my normal life.”

Of course, when we get up to the hospital and talk to the doctor, that's one of the first things he asks him about the tumor, could that have caused it. Of course, the doctor said no, there was no relationship. They removed the tumor in June, and then he had radiation all the month of August, and then he died in December. They said that they had gotten it, but obviously they didn't. But they did say that it came from some other source. The tumor in his head, he said that he felt sure that he had gotten all of the tumor, but it didn't originate there; it came from somewhere else. They hadn't determined the source.

EE:

It was [unclear]. They didn't have MRIs [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] like they do now.

EG:

Oh, yes. He had MRIs, and they gave him complete checks. They said that they didn't know if it was his liver and his lungs or where, but when he died, they said the tumor had metastasized, or the cancer had metastasized, and it had just invaded his whole body. And he died at the VA Hospital in Fayetteville. They had taken him up there.

EE:

Had you started back working outside the home then?

EG:

Well, I started when he was put on temporary disability in '63, and the same colonel that had offered his help told me to go out to the civilian personnel office and check with him, and even though there wasn't anything in disbursing, which was the area that I had background on, they did have nursing assistant. But at least it was a foot in the door with civil service.

So I went to work for civil service as a nursing assistant, and then in a year's time I transferred over to keypunch operator. And then from there I went to disbursing, back to where I initially was, and I stayed at disbursing as a travel clerk for, oh, probably twelve years, and then I went to dependent schools. I became an accounting technician with them, and then I worked my way up to budget analyst with them. And then I went as a budget analyst to Greensboro, [North Carolina], to the Department of Justice, and I'm still crunching numbers now.

EE:

You have six children. How many girls?

EG:

Four girls and two boys. There they are.

EE:

Have any of those joined the military?

EG:

No. And you know, it's funny. When they were growing up, I told them, “You're not going in the service. None of you are going into the service. You go off to college if you want to live someplace else and away from home, but you're not going in the service.”

“Why?”

“Because you've got a commitment. You have to stick with it. You can't get out of it. You can't change your mind if you've made a mistake. I don't want you to go through that.”

The youngest one now, we've talked several times. I thought, “Colleen, you sure you don't want to go in the service?” Now my thoughts on it are different, especially because of the service being as different as it is now.

EE:

You think it's a better place now for women than it was when you were there?

EG:

Yes. I think there's more opportunities for the female now.

EE:

Some people aren't too thrilled about it all now.

EG:

There's a lot of freedom that they have now that I'm not so sure that that's good. But that freedom is everywhere now.

EE:

Yes. It reflects society at large that women are able to do things, for good and for ill, that they weren't before.

EG:

Yes. That's exactly right. The discipline is not there like it was.

EE:

You know, we sent as a country the first women into combat, I guess, just last December when a combat pilot had to bomb Saddam Hussein.

EG:

Yes.

EE:

Do you think there are some jobs in the service that should be off limits to women?

EG:

Well, are there jobs in civilian life that are off limits to women? Those same—I think if there are in civilian life then in military yes. I don't think the fact that it's military should make the difference. I think if there are off limit jobs to the female anywhere it should be anywhere.

EE:

Okay. You have been very gracious with me this evening in sharing of your time and your family.

EG:

I didn't realize we were going to get this deep.

EE:

Well, you never know sometimes. Simple little thirty questions, but what happens in your case, see, you were only in service for a year, and I thought well, this might be a short interview.

EG:

Yes, and I did, too.

EE:

But in fact your whole life was determined by that fateful decision to go join the service because you became wedded to the service, and for many reasons different from what you originally thought, I'm sure, it's endeared itself to you. So one of the questions I end up with is, what impact did the military have on your life over the long term?

EG:

Well, it determined what my life was going to be.

EE:

I think you're exactly right.

EG:

And so many times, you know, I've discussed the turns that your life takes, what—if's, you know. If I hadn't gone in the service, what would I be doing now? Most of my family—all of my family except myself—are still back in Detroit. So many times I tell my kids that, “Well, if I were back home, you know what I'd be doing? I'd be one of those little old ladies that cater to Polack weddings,” because that's what everybody in my age group is doing back there. You know, they all get together. They have a little cadre of people that they can call on. We're going to do such and such's wedding. They're the little cooks and the clean ups. Their weddings and showers are their social life.

EE:

There's a sense of predictability there. Many people enjoy a life that is very predictable. And when you're in the service, one thing you don't get is predictability.

EG:

That's exactly right. And the things that my life has led to, you know, there is no way that I would ever have any of these kinds of exposures had I stayed at home, I'm sure. Of course, I might have had all kinds of ones. I don't know. But with the school system, I think it was a real tremendous experience. I went places, just on trips, you know, school system trips. People I met, a lot of the good friends I have are because of the service, not necessarily willingly.

EE:

Not necessarily your particular years with it but your association with it afterwards.

EG:

Now, the Women Marine friends that I had through my Women Marine Association in Jacksonville are some of my closer friends than even some of the people that I've met at the church or things I've gotten involved in.

EE:

When did you get involved in the Women Marines Association?

EG:

I'm a charter member, so that must have been back in—I would say '72. I'd have to look at my card to see when I became chartered with them. Ruth Hayes, she's still in Jacksonville. She's a good friend of Mary Sobert's. And Marian Reagan is also back there. They're the two that really got me involved in Women Marine Association. Now, there's an awful lot of people in here that do things—are really, really dedicated to the organization. I don't know if they've got the time or what. I'm in this area because my kids are here and my grandchildren. That's my primary—but there's an awful lot of things that—it brings up the esprit de corps again and the fellowship that you have.

EE:

Once a Marine, always a Marine.

EG:

Oh, if you've got it, you've got it.

EE:

Semper Fi isn't just for a year. It's for a lifetime.

EG:

That's right. I went up to Washington, D.C. I didn't want to go see the White House and the Smithsonian. I wanted to see the Iwo Jima Memorial. I wanted to go to 8th and I [Streets] for a sunset parade.

One of my drill instructors is in here. Now, when you read her little description about what she has done, I didn't do anything. Yes, Miltonburger. She became a nurse and all the other kind of good stuff down there. I think that she's in the bottom corner down there. But she was one of my drill instructors when I was in. I didn't like her, didn't like her at all, didn't even like her as permanent personnel.

EE:

[Reading] Known as “The Singing Sergeant.” Sang with USO [United Service Organizations] troops. Good gracious. Delaware's Woman of the Year. She's a nurse, graduated with honors.

EG:

They have [unclear] children. I don't know how many husbands did she have.

EE:

Did you know something that this process has confirmed in my mind, as if I didn't already know it, is that, you know, some folks make a great resume and others just make a great life, and there are many ways that you can contribute in this world, and I really appreciate the variety of contributions.

EG:

I guess you remember always the good things much easier than you do the bad parts of things.

EE:

Well, I've exhausted my thirty questions and probably a few more. Is there anything in the world possibly that you have about your time in service or your experiences that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share with us at this time?

EG:

Oh, I don't know. Let me think. Not in any of the time that I was in service, I think. I know I enjoy going back there and visiting it, Parris Island, that is, and just looking it over and remembering.

EE:

A question I asked somebody today I'll ask you because you've had such a different look at the service for many reasons, different from the model in light of your longevity. If there was something that you'd want to tell people whose families have no association with the military about the military that you think they need to know, what would that be?

EG:

The military or the female military?

EE:

Either one.

EG:

Well, I know my view of the female military is the camaraderie. First of all, we were a smaller group. We always thought we were a more unique group. So we tended—even though like I didn't like Miltonburger I'd defend her to the hilt because she was a sister to me—is a sister to me. My husband's stepmother was in the army. She was a switchboard operator during the Second World War. She was a WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] when she was in, and she tells me about their Women's Army [Corps] organization similar to the Women's Marine Association, but I don't hear it and see it as the same. It doesn't seem to have the—not the esprit de corps—well, yes, I guess it is, or the patriotism doesn't seem to be as ingrained or as deep. They do brainwash you when you go in the Marine Corps, and well that they should.

EE:

In other words, your experience, it's lived up to the brainwashing.

EG:

Yes.

EE:

You're not disappointed. You say it's as advertised.

EG:

Yes, and it's more so. If you want to have that patriotism pulled out of you, and it's there. It may get buried with time, but then it will always resurrect itself at a parade, anything. Stars and Stripes Forever, I've watched it a billion times and cry every time. It's always there. It's deep.

EE:

That's great. Well, thank you on behalf of our school and for many other reasons. Thank you very much.

[End of Interview]