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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nina Wiglesworth, 1999

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Object ID: WV0132.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Nina Johnson Wiglesworth’s background; service with the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1943 to 1945; and her life after World War II.

Summary:

Wiglesworth discusses her parents' musical talents; the draft; leaving home after high school; living in Washington; and her desire to help the war effort.

Topics related to the Women Marines and World War II include the slogan “Free a Man to Fight”; her parents’ reactions when she joined the Marines; meeting Ernest Wiglesworth on the train to Camp Lejeune; her husband’s experiences in the Marines; serving as platoon leader; duties and superiors at Camp Lejeune; a memorable instructor in basic training; seeing big bands play in Washington, D.C.; the treatment of Women Marines by the men; social life, including dancing, dating, and trips to Boston and Cherry Point; patriotism; and Franklin Roosevelt.

Wiglesworth also comments on her sons’ experiences and one’s death during the Vietnam War; Norrie’s disease; women in combat; being a military wife; and the military’s effects on her life and family.

Creator: Nina Johnson Wiglesworth

Biographical Info: Nina Johnson Wiglesworth, of Raleigh, North Carolina, served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from October 1943 to 1945.

Collection: Nina Johnson Wiglesworth Papers

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

Full Text:

[Note: The volume level for this interview is low. Every effort was made to provide an accurate transcript. Where this was not possible, [unclear] is noted in the transcript.]

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott. I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project of the University. Today I'm in Greensboro. It's December 8, 1999, and I'm in the office of Nina Wiglesworth.

NINA WIGLESWORTH:

Nina.

EE:

Ms. Wiglesworth, thank you. I have a friend of mine who's “Neena” and one who's “Nyna.” Well, it is Nina, and Wiglesworth, we'll get you on the flip side. But thank you for sitting down with us this morning and looking back at your career. I'm going to start with you the same question I ask of everybody, and that is a simple one. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

NW:

I was born in Reidsville, North Carolina, Rockingham County. I grew up in Raleigh.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

NW:

I have a brother in Raleigh and I have a brother in Pinehurst.

EE:

Are you older, younger, in the middle?

NW:

In the middle.

EE:

What did your folks do?

NW:

My parents did various things. They sang on radio for a while. As I was growing up, they were on, I guess, the only Raleigh station at that time, as the “Sunshine Twins,” and they sang. They also sang and traveled with some of the church groups who traveled over the state.

EE:

Was it gospel singing?

NW:

Not gospel, but they were Methodists, so I'm assuming it was that type, camp meeting type, that they had back in the twenties. Later, of course, my dad and his two brothers used to sing at hotels. I had an uncle who played clarinet, one who played coronet, and my dad was a pianist. Later he did various things. My father was totally blind from birth, and he had his own mattress manufacturing company in Raleigh. He was also a piano tuner.

EE:

Sounds like a fascinating childhood. I bet you had lots of music in the house.

NW:

We did. My father was wonderful pianist. He played alternate for the churches in Raleigh for a number of years, and as he got older, his hearing got very bad and so he had to give that up. Mother was a housekeeper. She was partially blind. My dad was a very talented gentleman.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school when you were younger?

NW:

Yes, I enjoyed school. I remember only one time that I was sort of a bad girl, and it was in the fourth grade, I think. Parents used to visit just to see how kids were doing, and I guess they still do. I did for my children.

EE:

Oh, yes.

NW:

But I think the only problem I had in school was talking. I did that all my life. And I was so embarrassed, so hurt, because my mother came to visit the school one day and I was standing in the corner. That was one of the punishments. I think I quit that after fourth grade.

EE:

Sort of a “straighten up and fly right” speech.

NW:

I tried.

EE:

So you graduated from high school, then, in Raleigh.

NW:

Right.

EE:

What was the name of the school?

NW:

Hugh Morson.

EE:

When did you graduate?

NW:

1941.

EE:

I think by then North Carolina had converted into twelve years.

NW:

Right. I was in the first conversion group, because we went to high school, and we had to be sub-freshmen and then freshmen and sophomore.

EE:

When you're a teenager, no matter what's going on in the world, you're concerned with teenager-type stuff, and yet your senior year you're in high school, I believe the country starts the draft and people are getting worried about what's going on in Europe because it's not here yet, but I think the country's already planning for it. What was the talk about what was going on in the world in high school, do you remember?

NW:

I think we were all very concerned at that time. That was the year our high school boys were drafted, and we lost several. A lot of them we kept up with more or less. I remember one of my close girlfriends lost her husband. They were married just before he went into service.

EE:

You say folks were drafted. Were they allowed to finish high school first?

NW:

They were.

EE:

But then they were to immediately report after finishing.

NW:

Yes.

EE:

This is all before Pearl Harbor?

NW:

That's right.

EE:

1941.

NW:

That's right.

EE:

So people already know that the world is changing and it's cutting in on being a teenager, being a youngster. Do you remember where you were Pearl Harbor Day, what you were doing?

NW:

I was at home. When I finished school, I worked at W.T. Grant Company. I think I must have made about twelve dollars a week. I did that at the end of school and applied for civil service—what's it called, working for the government?

EE:

Civil service.

NW:

Civil service. All right.

EE:

You had to take a civil service exam, I guess.

NW:

That's right. I did take that exam that summer and went to work in Washington, D.C. I don't know what part of '41. This was the time that we all wanted to do what we could, whatever it took, for our country. We were very geared to that in that period.

EE:

This idea of doing civil service work, did that come on you as a senior?

NW:

Well, I felt like that was serving the best I could at that time. I wasn't particularly interested in the service, the military, at that time. But on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, I was home. I had come home for a visit. So I was at my mother's home then, that day that I remember the president speaking and I remember the announcements he made. I worked for the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C., which was just across from the White House. I worked there for two years.

I really think that my main reason for deciding to go into service at that time was that there were so many people there and there was so much time wasted. I've just always had that in my mind, that there was plenty to do, but it was depressing. I worked at the Veterans Administration. We handled insurance claims.

EE:

So you were seeing what the cost was right up front.

NW:

That's right. So I felt like I could serve more if I went into the Marine Corps, and I picked the Marines because I felt like they were the last service to offer service to women, to let women come in. I couldn't go until I was twenty-one, so I had to wait till October.

EE:

October of '43 was when you went into the service.

NW:

That's right.

EE:

You'd already made a big step in going away from home. How did your folks feel about you, first of all, going away to D.C.? That's a pretty big move for right out of high school.

NW:

Well, they hated for me to go, but I had to get out of my home at some point.

EE:

Was that the farthest you had been away from home?

NW:

Yes. I don't think I had been anywhere except Johnston County. There's so many things I thought yesterday, being Pearl Harbor Day. I was thinking about when I left home and went to the service; we had very little money for anything. At times I said I made $12 a week, dressing windows at W.T. Grant Company, but the civil service job offered $1,440 a year, and that was big money. I didn't have any money saved up. I couldn't ask my dad. I had an uncle who was a banker, and I called him and asked for a $50 loan.

EE:

$50.

NW:

But he wired the money to me. Of course, I had to pay for the wire, I remember that, but I borrowed fifty dollars from him until I could get lodging somewhere. But it was very easy because everybody else was doing the same thing. I think four of us girls, a girl from Tennessee and a girl from New York and a girl from Vermont, I don't remember how we got together, but the four of us rented rooms in a home just outside of Washington—I don't remember the town—with a woman and her son.

EE:

More people took in boarders back then.

NW:

They did, and you had shuttle buses going into Washington. I think we started off on a second shift.

EE:

And I imagine the VA, because of the wartime, was running multiple—was it twenty-four hours a day?

NW:

Twenty-four hours a day. They were.

EE:

You talked about that you could join the Marines. It sounds to me like you were joining because you wanted to see another side of [unclear].

NW:

Well, I felt like—you know, the Marines advertised “Free a Man to Fight.” And I felt like I could do an office job and relieve in that way. I mean, if that's what we needed, we needed more men to go—we couldn't go overseas, so we needed more men to fight.

EE:

Right. If you had to use your office skills, you'd rather use them in a place that would help us more directly in the war effort?

NW:

Right.

EE:

Did you sign up there in D.C.?

NW:

I signed up in D.C., but I was ordered out of Raleigh. It was like my orders shipped me from Raleigh to Camp Lejeune [North Carolina].

EE:

So you had to come back by and say bye to the folks. Women in the service is a new enough idea that some folks aren't exactly happy about it. They worried about the character of folks.

NW:

Well, you know, I've always thought about things like that, because I think anytime you have a group together, a group of nurses or a group of whatever, they're going to think, “Oh, [unclear].” My mother was very trustworthy, felt like I was very trustworthy, so she didn't worry about me. She brought me up right. I knew right from wrong. I had to make my own way. And they were very pleased about me going. They were concerned about the war effort. My brother went in, and he had some physical problems, some back problems, and he didn't stay in there long. He went into the army. But they were no more concerned about that than if it had been somewhere else.

EE:

Did you come down from Raleigh and ship out to Lejeune? Is that where your basic was?

NW:

On the train. Military train, the long way around.

EE:

What do you remember about basic?

NW:

About my trip on the train? I met my husband there.

EE:

Right off the bat?

NW:

Well, I just thought he was about the most handsome Marine I'd ever seen, you know, and he was a—I guess he was a staff sergeant at that time, but, you know, I was twenty-one years old.

EE:

What's his name?

NW:

Ernest.

EE:

Was he working here or training, living in the—

NW:

No. He had just come back from New Zealand. He had been on Wake Island. He was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, and he was on Wake Island, he was on Guadalcanal [Solomon Islands], and after Guadalcanal he went to New Zealand for R&R [rest and recuperation]. So they were there for about a week, went home to visit, and then he was transferred to Camp Lejeune, and I'm not even sure what he did there. I know I worried him a whole lot. I called him in the night. But he only stayed there a few months and transferred back to San Diego and back to Peleliu Island. So he went back to the Pacific. I think he was in the Marine Corps seven and a half years and he spent five years overseas in the Pacific area.

EE:

So when did he finally come home?

NW:

We were married in November of '45 so he came home a week before we were married. He got back from Peleliu and spent a couple weeks in California before they shipped him to North Carolina.

EE:

So you actually first met him in basic.

NW:

When I was in for basic training.

EE:

Tell me what was your—

NW:

He was so nice. He carried my bag off the train and I was in love.

EE:

Right off the bat?

NW:

Yes.

EE:

It sounds like a script.

NW:

I'm not sure who was pressing who. It worked anyway.

EE:

Well, this is interesting. I guess with your job at the Veterans Administration, you probably mostly worked with women, I would think, and yet this—

NW:

Well, and a few men.

EE:

When you signed on to join the marines did you ask or did they tell you the kinds of work that you would be doing?

NW:

I had a very good working relationship with the supervisors there at the VA. I just went in and talked to one of them. Her last name was May. And I ran across something about her the other day; but I don't remember the people too well. I do remember the head supervisor in the department, but I just talked with him about what I wanted to do, and they certainly—they went along with that, which is something I thought was very commendable. They'd assist me in any way.

So I had a corresponding relationship with them after I went in. A letter I was reading the other day, it's congratulating me on being recommended for Officer Training School, which I did not go to, by the way, but they wrote a letter of recommendation to them.

EE:

I know that in certain branches of the service they sort of had prescribed roles for what women could do, and I assume that the Marine Corps probably had certain types of jobs for women.

NW:

They did.

EE:

Did the Marine Corps give you some options when you signed up as to the kind of work you would be doing or could do?

NW:

You know, I don't remember if I had an option or not, being classed as a secretary or whatever. I was assigned to Quartermaster and went to Quartermaster School. It probably was about six weeks.

EE:

That was immediately following your time in basic?

NW:

Yes. I had finished basic training.

EE:

Was Quartermaster School also at Lejeune?

NW:

Yes. I stayed at Lejeune the whole time.

EE:

So you never left Lejeune.

NW:

I did get over to Cherry Point a couple times to visit. I traveled a little bit during that time, but I stayed there.

EE:

How many women were in your company during basic?

NW:

I have no idea.

EE:

More than you expected?

NW:

Well, I know that our barracks was full. I don't remember how many barracks there were in the women's area.

EE:

Were most of the women in your group about your age, or were they all different ages?

NW:

Most of the women were about my age. I had a very good friend all through my two years at Lejeune who was ten years my senior, and we were just very close friends. She was the only one who came to my wedding; the only one I invited to my wedding, but the majority of them were, I think, in their early twenties.

EE:

If you were doing basic in the fall of '43, I guess that really was, too, the first year of doing women in the service, in the Marine Corps. The [U.S.] Army started in '42, and I guess the other services started in late '42 to plan how they would use women in the service. Were most of your instructors women, or were there women and men? Who taught you?

NW:

Well, the drill instructors were men. I never had any problem with them. We just did what they said. We marched when they said march and did what they wanted us to do.

EE:

Did they change their demeanor because you were women, or did they still [unclear]?

NW:

They still had a few choice words that they used, but you just go with the flow I guess. And of course, our COs [commanding officers] were women officers. When I was in Quartermaster School I remember I was platoon leader, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, marching my platoon from my barracks to the mess hall to the Quartermaster School, to the mess hall there, and I enjoyed it. They were good. The only problem I ever had there was I dismissed my platoon one afternoon and walked into my barracks, and my CO called me in, and she said, “Private, we do not chew gum while directing our platoon.”

I said, “Yes, ma'am,” and I didn't do that anymore. I don't know why I did it. I'm not a gum chewer, but for some reason I had that gum one day, and she didn't like the way I counted the cadence, I guess, while I was chewing gum.

EE:

What was your job day to day in the service once you got through with your Quartermaster School? What kind of work did you do?

NW:

I was assigned to shipping and receiving department. We handled all the personal effects of the Marines coming from overseas and the Marines leaving the base as they shipped out. We also handled gear coming back for those who didn't come back. So it was sort of a mixed bag. Handled correspondence for the CO.

EE:

Parts of it sound very similar to your work in Washington with the VA.

NW:

Well, it was. We had a wonderful working group there [at Lejeune]. I was the secretary of that department and did correspondence for the captain. I worked for Captain Diaz. A lot of my correspondence and things have been lost. I had a trunk, footlocker, with a lot of things in it—one of the newsletters from the base that I'd get throughout the years. When we moved at some period over the years, I guess in '68, and that trunk got lost. It just didn't get moved with us. When I finally was going back to get it, it wasn't there. So apparently people who moved into the area either threw it away or—

EE:

Didn't know what was in it.

NW:

We tried. My daughter tried to locate it a year after that but couldn't.

EE:

The kind of work you were doing, was it 8:00 to 5:00 work, one shift, this office?

NW:

Yes. It was a regular thing.

EE:

Weekends off, five days a week? And you had a house there on base, didn't you?

NW:

Right.

EE:

I interviewed a woman who helped set up a library just for the women Marines. They had to have a library down there for them at Lejeune that was separate from the men's. Your immediate supervisor—you said you wrote letters for Captain Diaz. Were the folks who were your immediate supervisors, were they women Marines of higher rank, or were you assigned to an office that was regular Marines?

NW:

It was regular marines. I made corporal right after Quartermaster school—I guess I made PFC [private first class] after Quartermaster School and I later made corporal. But the Marine who was there that I worked most closely with, she was a corporal, but we were all more or less the same. We did have some civilians. We had one civilian, a woman. I don't really know what she did—I mean, I don't know what was different in what she did and what we did. We all worked together in doing it, you know. But we had one civilian [woman] there, and then there were some civilian men in the warehouse and they had to do crating and that sort of thing.

EE:

The men that you worked with, how did they treat the women Marines in the office, you personally?

NW:

Oh, we had a great bunch of men. There were four or five Marines who were there. We had a very congenial group. Everybody got along well. Some of the men left while we were there.

EE:

I guess the work that you were doing would have been done by a man before the war. You really were freeing someone up to fight. Did you get any sense of people's attitudes about that? Were they glad to see you there? You know, some people had resentments even from people who themselves didn't look forward to going to the front or from their girlfriends or their family members who were saying—

NW:

I never did. I never sensed that at all at Lejeune. I'm sure there was a lot of resentment, but—yes. I remember one new person coming in and I don't remember who it was, and when that person came in, well, one of the male Marines knew he was going to get his orders. But there was no resentment. Maybe it was just that particular group of people, but I never sensed that in any of them at all. They really didn't.

EE:

I guess you were close enough for you to come home to see your folks while you were stationed at Lejeune? Did they come down to see you?

NW:

Yes. My friend from New York who was my buddy all through those two years, we went home on weekends. We went to Cherry Point with a friend of hers who was stationed at Cherry Point, and we went over there to visit. We were able to hop flights going up to Washington and to Boston. We went to Boston one weekend and up to Rockaway Beach.

EE:

It helps to take [unclear], doesn't it?

NW:

Yes.

EE:

Now, you already had a boyfriend then, I guess. Did you think you were pretty serious with Ernest before he shipped out, or was that something that developed over time?

NW:

Well, I was out of basic training before he shipped out again. So we had occasion to meet on a couple of times. We went into Wilmington one weekend, or one day, with a couple of other girls who—he had friends who—somehow we all got together. There were about three couples who got together. We dated on a couple of other occasions, but we talked a lot on the phone, and somehow we just sort of got engaged. I think he says he never did ask me to marry him, he just asked if I'd wait. I said I'd wait for a while. But it was sort of understood. And after he went back overseas I got a furlough and went to visit his family in Kentucky and got to know them. I guess I decided I guess I'd wait and marry him. I liked his family so it must be all right.

EE:

So you all had one of those V-Mail relationships, then, for a while?

NW:

Yes. I even got my engagement ring in the mail.

EE:

A lot of times people don't know where their boyfriends are overseas because, you know, the censors won't tell them. And yet some folks do have connections and find out. Did you know where he was?

NW:

I knew that he was in Peleliu, but—and I think, you know, I think I knew before he left that he was going to Peleliu, his orders. He could tell me where he was going. So he stayed there six months. So he must have left about March.

EE:

How long did it take from the time you sent a letter to the time he got it?

NW:

I don't think it was a real long time. I'm sure it must have been in the beginning when he was at Guadalcanal, but I remember reading some notes in his hometown paper that his family had finally heard from him. So I knew that it was a long time. I guess that Peleliu—I don't even know what islands that was in, but it seems like I would get a letter within a week.

EE:

That's pretty fast.

NW:

Yes, knowing that it had to go through censorship, too, you know.

EE:

That's right. Given that you had a good part of your heart now invested in this war in addition to your patriotic duty, what was the toughest thing about your time in the service, either emotionally or physically?

NW:

What do I think?

EE:

What was the toughest thing you had to do about your time in service?

NW:

I don't know. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like I was doing a job and I felt like I was helping. We've been very patriotic in our family. You don't want to know about that now, but we had a son in the navy in Vietnam.

EE:

That's one of my questions, actually.

NW:

My first son wore his dad's Marine uniform from the time he could fill about half the pants and drag the rest, and he wanted so much, as he was growing up, to be a Marine, and when he was seventeen he tried joining. They wouldn't take him until he was eighteen so he joined the navy. He was killed in Vietnam. I can't help but wonder would it have been any better if—actually, I felt like Nam was just not one of the things a lot of us agreed with. When he went into the navy I felt like, you know—they don't [unclear] combat pilot maybe as much as—and he wanted sub duty. He didn't get sub duty. He was [unclear].

EE:

What was his rank?

NW:

He was an ensign three, close to three, I think. He was on a ship that carried supplies to the lines, and he was killed on Quan Tre. They converted those small ships to mine sweepers, mine searchers, because they could get through there, and he was killed on the first shift when the boat was hit. I think there were twelve men on board, and they were all killed but one, and he suffered a lot of injuries. I had correspondence with his wife at the time, and she said it would be at least a year before he could be out of the hospital. I really don't know what happened after that. That's the down side of my life.

EE:

So your service life was a—

NW:

After he was killed my number two son felt like he needed to serve. He didn't feel like he needed to go to Vietnam, but he felt like he needed to serve, and he did join. He joined the army. He let his wife think he was drafted, but he wasn't; he wanted to. But he felt like he needed to do that, and he went in and had his basic training at Fort Bragg and then was sent down to Texas somewhere. He called and he said, “You know, the training is getting very heavy. It sure does look like we are getting ready to go somewhere.” He did not want that to happen. We had two other sons, but they were both blind. This is an illness—the same thing my father had, Norrie's disease, and it's something that affects the males in the family, or it can or cannot. You know, it does or doesn't. But he would have been my last son who could be drafted so we worked a little bit to be sure that he didn't get sent to [Viet]Nam.

So he was transferred from San Antonio, or wherever it was he was training in Texas, to West Point [New York, United States Military Academy], and he worked at the TV and training area. He worked on films for training purposes. He had been with WFMY-TV [in Greensboro] before he went into the service.

EE:

It's funny, I guess. After this year of interviewing everybody, Pearl Harbor Day—I was thinking about that yesterday myself, thinking about folks and— Did you ever think about making the military a career yourself?

NW:

No. I guess I just was a family person. I was just—after both wars were closed down, I was ready to do something else.

EE:

How about your husband? If he served seven years, he was in well before Pearl Harbor.

NW:

He went in in '39.

EE:

Had he thought about making it a career?

NW:

Yes. And we discussed it. We discussed his shipping over back when he was in—after we were married we went to Norfolk, Virginia, were stationed there until—let's see. We went out to Texas, were transferred out to Texas, and he was at Texas A&M, College Station. So we lived there from, it seems like January or February until August of that—

EE:

'46?

NW:

Yes. And he was on recruiting duty. Then his time was up, and we about decided—our son was born in September, and we about decided that he was going to ship over, and then, I don't know, he just ran into a lot of things that—he just didn't feel like it was the thing to do, with a new job and traveling and that sort of thing. I think there were times when we were sorry we didn't. Things get tough and new jobs and that sort of thing—

EE:

But certainly he did have the experience, I'm sure. What was his rank when he left the service?

NW:

He was a gunnery sergeant. He was two stripes.

EE:

Of course, Korea was just beginning. Korea was around the corner, and he would have been—

NW:

Well, he was in antiaircraft guns, and of course then he did recruiting the last year, but his training was in antiaircraft guns.

EE:

So when he left the service he left from College Station then?

NW:

Yes. We came back to Kentucky, and because I also was a veteran, we got a GI loan and bought a farm—we were talking about that last night. We bought a 116-acre farm. Didn't have the money to put equipment on it, and we lived there for two years, and we finally decided we just needed to sell it because it was too big for us to handle. So we sold the land, moved back to North Carolina, and he's been in construction.

EE:

And you say you had four sons altogether?

NW:

Four sons and two daughters.

EE:

Any of your daughters ever express an interest in joining the military?

NW:

Well, my youngest daughter—whether they wanted to go in? I think there comes a time in young people's lives now that they have to find themselves, and so she tried to find herself. She considered the military but realized it was going to be too strict for her; but they've always appreciated what—they've known that's what I did.

EE:

Well, from your own experience would you say that, for either a woman in that position or somebody else, would you recommend that a woman try military experience?

NW:

I would. I think you have to really want to have—I think it's wonderful training for a person. I think for both of us, man or woman, the military is wonderful training. I don't know if it's good as a disciplinary—if you're already in trouble, I'm not sure that that's the way to solve it, but I think the association of the majority of people is a wonderful experience. I really do. I think it's very rewarding.

EE:

It was for you, it sounds like.

NW:

Yes, it was for me. I think sometimes how naïve I was when I went in. I was still pretty naïve about a lot of things when I came out. I didn't go in there to learn about people altogether, but thinking back, I think about certain individuals, and I maybe know more about them now than I did when I was with them. I don't know them anymore, but I think, you know, “Why didn't I [unclear]?”

EE:

That's what experience does for you. It doesn't sound like you came from a military family.

NW:

I didn't.

EE:

So you tried to experiment, maybe, in your household. Your generation, maybe, but [unclear].

NW:

Right. Yes, that's right.

EE:

And your family has been a military family since both of you were in?

NW:

Right.

EE:

And your sons. What is it that you would want people whose families have not been military families to know about the military?

NW:

Well, I think maybe—my impression of what people think about the military is negative. They don't have as good an impression as I have. And I think back years ago, back, maybe, in my teenage years, I didn't think much—I think at that time maybe you thought, well, if you couldn't do anything else, you could go into the army, and it's not bad. I think the military is—they have some great minds in there. They have well-trained people doing teaching in the military schools on bases. We had a wonderful teacher in Quartermaster School, and I've tried my best—I've got pictures somewhere—I've tried my best to think of his name, and all I can think of is John. He was a big German, maybe—their names start with a “V” but you pronounce it as a “W”. Is that German?

EE:

Yes. Start with a “W” but pronounced with a “V.”

NW:

Right. I can't remember his name. While Ernie was still overseas, in one of his letters he told me that Lieutenant So-and-so, who had been his CO, either at Guadalcanal or one of the islands, was at Lejeune. He said, “See if you can contact him.” Well, I was a noncom[missioned officer], and you don't associate socially with an officer. But I did give him a call, and I did meet with him at the—not the Officers' Club, but one of the places where families come to visit friends, and we had a nice evening playing pinochle or something, just chatting there with him, and he thought very highly of Ernie and Ernie thought very highly of him—

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

—wanted to ask you a couple of things which are a little on the more light-hearted side.

NW:

Okay.

EE:

Because, you know, when you—anybody when they join the military, you're thrown in with people from all parts of the country, all different experiences, backgrounds a lot of the time different from your own, everybody has a few characters they've encountered. Are there any funny or embarrassing stories that you have about people that you met in the service or maybe that happened to yourself, for that matter?

NW:

Not really that I can think about, but one of the most interesting people that I can recall, just because I spent a lot of evenings with him, and right now the only thing I can call him is Rebel, but he and I were dance partners, and we'd go to the dances on the base, we'd go to the slop shoots—

EE:

Slop shoot, a recreation club?

NW:

On the base; and we loved to jitterbug. He was a real heavy-set fellow, and it seems like he's from South Carolina. From the South, anyway, but he was also a poet. He wrote a poem to me, which I kept over the years, which was just very nice, very flattering as far as the character of our relationship together. But we won jitterbug contests. He was very interesting. I don't know if we were an interesting couple on the dance floor or not, but I know we enjoyed it whether anyone else did or not. But really, the people I met were just the same as all of us. We were just—

EE:

Just good folks.

NW:

—just, yes. There were a few people that I sort of steered away from, but I think we do that anytime.

EE:

In whatever work you were doing. You were a dancer. There had to be some songs that you can think of that take you back on the floor, or listening to, you're thinking about Ernie overseas. Are there some songs that take you back to that time?

NW:

Yes. I guess Pearl Harbor Day yesterday sort of reminded me of a lot of the things. One of the things, when I was in Washington, was the advantage in working in Washington at that particular time of our era. I worked at the time of the big bands. Now, we loved the big bands. And working and living right near downtown Washington, we had access to the movies, and all the big bands played at the theaters. You'd have a movie, and then you'd have a big band or a big show or something. This was during the [Frank] Sinatra time. Sinatra was young, sang with Tommy Dorsey.

EE:

So did you hear Sinatra?

NW:

Yes. I was not one of the ones who wanted to grab his tie or anything, but that was that time. That was the time of all the big bands, and I think all those songs were really—you know, you got the Carmen Miranda days, too. I'll be Seeing You.

EE:

What was your favorite band?

NW:

I think the Dorseys, both of them [Tommy and Jimmy]. I just always appreciated their music.

EE:

Do you think the country was a more patriotic place during the time you were in service than it is now?

NW:

Much more. Much more. I don't know if the disaster of Vietnam has caused that. Maybe we don't trust the leadership. I don't know. But I think much more.

EE:

How did you feel personally about Vietnam? I know that's one of the—there's reservations nationwide about what we got into there, and yet your household had a different perspective on things.

NW:

Well, we felt like it was something we needed to do. I didn't want to give that much to it, but I think basically we've been patriotic from World War II, and I think if we—as things progressed and we kept on and on and on, I think maybe we—my views changed because I felt like, you know, how many people do you have to lose before you gain nothing? But originally we did. We just felt like, you know, if your country calls you, you need to go, and my husband would do that right today if he were able to.

EE:

You probably would, too.

NW:

Well, I probably would. The one thing I do not think the military is for, and that's strictly my opinion, is for a man and a woman both to be in the military and raise a family. I don't see who looks after the household.

EE:

That happens now. Women are much—there was a time when, I guess, as soon as you became pregnant you were asked to leave, and they discovered during the Gulf War—

NW:

You certainly weren't to marry, I know, at the time I was in there.

EE:

People who were called up during the Gulf War were sort of surprised that they had to go and who was going to take care of the children? And I think this last December we sent for the first time a woman combat pilot in action in Iraq during our problems with Saddam Hussein. Should there be limits on how women are utilized in the service? Should there be some jobs off limits?

NW:

Well, I think so, but again, that's my personal opinion. I don't approve of women going into combat, and I'm sure that's my upbringing, not the way I was brought up but the era we were brought up in. I enjoy having a man open the door for me when I get in the car. My daughter married September a year ago for the fourth time, but she married a man that I was so impressed with the first time I—we had Thanksgiving dinner at my son's house, and he kept standing around, standing around, and I finally said, “Lynn, would you please sit down so that he can sit down?” And I appreciate that, waiting to sit down, but I had not seen that in so many years.

EE:

That's right. Simply the act of holding the door open is kind of a rare thing these days.

NW:

It is. It is. And I think one of the reasons they do it is because we ignore it. I think if a man holds the door for you, if you don't take time to say thank you, he's going to say, “What the heck. Do it yourself, lady.” So I think maybe the women have not encouraged that enough. I'm just from that school.

EE:

It is something we have lost, I think. There was much to be gained in getting access to equal pay for equal work, and yet we've lost a lot of social graces in the process.

NW:

We have. We've lost a lot of that. Men being men of the household: I don't mean you've got to bow down and worship him, but I think it should be that way.

EE:

Do you have an opinion or memory about [Franklin D.] Roosevelt?

NW:

About Roosevelt?

EE:

About Roosevelt, what you think of him or his wife as First Lady for that matter?

NW:

Well, I'm also from that era that just adored President Roosevelt. One of the women who shared an apartment with me in Washington was in the secretarial pool at the White House, and she occasionally took some dictation from the president, and she was just so impressed with him. So I guess that's partly why I am, too. But I felt like he was a wonderful leader. My husband did, too. And I know we were all so sad when he died.

EE:

That was on a Sunday, too, wasn't it? When did the word come through? He died in April, I guess, of '45, just before the war.

NW:

Yes. I remember we were—

EE:

Were you working that day?

NW:

I was still in the service. I remember that, and I remember both of the wars ending—Europe and the Pacific Theater.

EE:

[Unclear]?

NW:

Yes.

EE:

Did they have a big celebration at Lejeune that day?

NW:

Seems like when we heard that it was late in the evening, wasn't it? It seems to me like it was because I can remember us going out almost in our nightclothes walking up and down or running up and down the sidewalks at Lejeune. But that was all we did. We just blew a few whistles, I guess.

And I think Eleanor Roosevelt was a fantastic lady. I think she was really concerned about the people. I much admired the stance she took on a lot of issues.

EE:

When you think back to that time, and maybe [unclear] at that time, did you have any heroes or heroines?

NW:

I don't know. I guess they would probably be the hero and heroine if I had any. It would have been the Roosevelts.

EE:

I have talked to a lot of folks, and most women, I think, who joined at the time that you went in had an experience like yours where their military career was a short one, an enjoyable one, a meaningful one. How did that short time in your life change your life? How has your life been different because of that time in the military?

NW:

I don't think it has.

EE:

Aside from the fact that you met your husband, of course. That was a pretty big change.

NW:

That changed my life. Well, you know, I didn't let that bother me a whole lot because I enjoyed my time. I enjoyed my time off. I went out in the company of young men and some of the experiences I had there. My bunkie was dating a mess sergeant, and they always had the best foods on the picnic, you know. I mean, they had the best steaks, and he had an associate that always went with us. So I think there were about six of us who used to ride LCP and go from Hadnot Point around to another area on the beach there. Of course, I fell asleep in the sun one day for quite some time. I spent a week in sick bay.

EE:

Gracious. That was a serious sunburn.

NW:

It was. I was burned with serious blisters all over my face. Of course, I paid for that. I had a couple of surgical procedures, and I probably will again. But it was just—but I don't know. It was fun. I enjoyed it. I was doing a job that was helping somebody and eventually I was there helping the country. And I don't know, I think maybe my experience with the discipline that we had, maybe I've been a better housekeeper. But I was, I really was, when I was first married, when my children first came along. I'd work all day because I always worked. I worked, and I'd get home and feed the children, then I'd clean house and I'd dust and I'd worry about things like that, and, you know, I've sort of outgrown it now.

But I think it helped a lot in my discipline as far as discipline in my life, I've got to do this and I've got to do that, because you had to get your shots on a Friday and you had to clean the barracks on Saturday. That way you didn't hurt so bad.

EE:

When you get into the discipline, the discipline isn't a problem. It helps structure a lot of other things.

NW:

That's right.

EE:

I have gone through all the thirty questions that I was supposed to at least touch base with. Is there anything that I haven't asked you about, about your military service that you might think?

NW:

You know, I can't think of anything right now. Let's say I haven't dwelled on it a whole lot in fifty years.

EE:

It surprises me, but in the other people that we interviewed, I think that you are one of the few people that I have talked to that really experienced the military in about as many ways as you can, from being in it to being married to it, being the mother of it, to being saddened by it. So thank you.

NW:

Thank you.

[End of interview]