1. LIBRARY CATALOG
  2. DATABASES
  3. JOURNAL A-Z List
  4. SUBJECT GUIDES
  5. LIBRARY SERVICES

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary McLeod Rogers, 1999

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: WV0134.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Mary McLeod Rogers’s family, education, and pre-war life in North Carolina; her experiences in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve at Camp Lejeune and Arlington, Virginia, during World War II; and her personal life after the war.

Summary:

Rogers describes her mother’s death of tuberculosis; her love of school; her sisters working to pay college tuitions and the difficulty of educating the family's nine girls; learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor; living with her sisters in Charlotte; volunteering with the war effort there, including going to army dances and assembling machinery; and breaking off an engagement to secretly join the Marines.

Topics related to Rogers' World War II service include her feeling of independence when she joined the Women Marines and why she did so; her fathers’ and fiance's objections; social life at Camp Lejeune; breaking her knee in an obstacle course, her recovery, and repeating basic; basic training experiences, including drill instructors, communal showers, and lifelong friends; social life in Arlington, including dances and movies; celebrating the end of the war in Washington; her opinions of President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; and memorable songs.

Other topics include her correspondence with Marine friends; Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation ; changes in women’s roles in the military; and women’s contributions to winning World War II.

Creator: Mary McLeod Rogers

Biographical Info: Mary McLeod Rogers of Taylorsville, North Carolina, served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from April 1944 until February 1946.

Collection: Mary McLeod Rogers 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 am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today is December 20, 1999, and I'm in Mullins, South Carolina, at the home of Mary McLeod Rogers.

Ms. Rogers, thank you for having me here today. We're going to talk with you about your time in the service, and I'm going to start with you the exact same way I start with everybody else, with two simple questions, that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MR:

I was born in Taylorsville, North Carolina, Alexander County, and I grew up there until I went away to college.

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

I had eight sisters, no brothers.

EE:

Somebody was trying. You were somewhere in the middle, I would guess.

MR:

I was the last one, the youngest one.

EE:

You were? Okay. What did your folks do?

MR:

My father was a farmer. My mother died when I was five years old. She had tuberculosis when there was no cure.

EE:

Then I guess your older sisters helped raise you, didn't they?

MR:

My older sister did raise me, the second one, the second oldest, and she's the one that is now ninety-six. I helped care for her. I had her for several years, but now we have a care-giver.

EE:

What's her name?

MR:

Her name is Edith McLeod Keller.

EE:

So you were in the City of Taylorsville. Were you inside the city limits?

MR:

No, we were on a farm.

EE:

So you when you were growing up, were you somebody who liked school?

MR:

Oh, I loved school. I always loved school.

EE:

What was your favorite subject in school?

MR:

I can't remember that I disliked anything. I don't know if I should say this or not. I was valedictorian of my grammar school and my high school.

EE:

Excellent.

MR:

And it was just never hard for me. That's why I loved school. Plus it was a chance to get off the farm and be with my peers.

EE:

Well, now, you said that you went to school after you—when did you graduate from high school?

MR:

In 1937.

EE:

Was that eleven year high school then or twelve?

MR:

Eleven years.

EE:

And where did you go after you finished high school?

MR:

I went to Brevard College for just a business course.

EE:

Had any of your sisters gone to college?

MR:

Well, they had all had some sort of education enough to get a job. They did different things. Another one went to Brevard. One went in nursing, and they just did different things. But we all got what was then considered an education. Of course, it was hard on my father to send nine girls.

EE:

I was going to say, during the Depression. And did any of them stay around and help your dad with the farm?

MR:

This one that I go back for, she always, even when she was married, she stayed there and helped. She raised us and looked after him, and she still lives at the home place.

EE:

How long were you at Brevard?

MR:

Just one year.

EE:

Was that your first big trip away from home?

MR:

Yes, it was.

EE:

That's a pretty place down there. I believe that was a Methodist school, wasn't it?

MR:

It was a Methodist school. I don't know how I got there really, but it was a place that you could work and pay part of your tuition.

EE:

So it had an opportunity for—money was tight for everybody, and if you didn't live close enough to be a day student, you had to have a job, didn't you?

MR:

Right. And what I did was wash dishes. You know, they just assigned you certain jobs. But the way our family got this education, because our father really could not afford it, the first ones went up and were waitresses at Blowing Rock, I think. You know, that's a big resort there. And they saved money to get themselves a business course. That's usually what women did in those days.

EE:

Right. And they would be training to be an office secretary?

MR:

Office or that sort of thing. And then each one, as they got a job, would help the next one.

EE:

That's great.

MR:

That's the way we all learned. Whatever we did for our careers, that's how we learned it.

EE:

And most of your sisters stayed near Alexander County?

MR:

Well, two now live in Charlotte, and I have worked in Charlotte at two different times, and another sister has. In fact, I would say half of us worked in Charlotte, because you had to leave Taylorsville to get a job then. There just was not employment for you. Very few people, you know, they got a job and held it forever.

EE:

When you finished your year at Brevard College, where did you go after that?

MR:

I went to Charlotte and lived with my sisters. We had an apartment together, and I think that had something to do with my joining the Marine Corps, because I being the youngest, everybody just—they still assume they can just give me orders and that's it. You know, the youngest gets that.

EE:

That's right.

MR:

And going in the Marine Corps was the first thing that I had ever done on my own, and it was just a real good experience for me.

EE:

You went to Charlotte, I guess, then, in the fall of '38. Would that have been about right?

MR:

I didn't actually find a job in Charlotte until maybe '39 or something like that, because jobs were hard to find then, and I started to work for $12.50 a week and thought I was real lucky to get that.

EE:

Well, where did you get a job?

MR:

My first job in Charlotte was at Hardware Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and I worked there five years before I went in the Marine Corps.

EE:

So when did you actually join the Marine Corps?

MR:

In '44.

EE:

Do you remember where you were the day Pearl Harbor happened?

MR:

Yes, I do. We had been to Taylorsville for the weekend, and we went back to Charlotte and heard it on the radio. We didn't know it until the evening of the seventh.

EE:

Did that immediately make a big impact on you? Because they'd already started the draft, I guess, by earlier that year in '41.

MR:

Well, they had started it earlier. There was a lot of talk. After the war in Europe started, everybody was scared—I guess you could say that—or very nervous about the whole situation, and the men, of course, were facing the draft.

EE:

And I guess you might have been dating even by then.

MR:

Yes, I was.

EE:

And I guess that might have been a topic of conversation.

MR:

A lot, yeah. Before I joined, we were doing some kind of volunteer work, and I really don't remember exactly what it was that we did. I mean, we assembled something. You know, there was that kind of thing going on for the people at home.

EE:

I know some people talk about knitting mittens for Britain, that kind of thing.

MR:

Well, this wasn't knitting, but it was something. We went to some building and assembled some parts. I don't think we actually knew what the overall thing was for, because there was a lot of secrecy. They didn't want you to give out a lot of information and everything. The boys writing home, it was censored if they told you where they were and that kind of thing. But I know we went out to Morris Field, which was an air corps—

EE:

I think it was army.

MR:

Was an army, for dances at night. You know, whatever you could do for the war effort. And for some reason, I cannot remember how I met him, but I had dated a Marine who came up from Camp Lejeune [Jacksonville, North Carolina] just for the weekend, I guess. I mean, it was not any big love affair or anything. I just admired him so much, the way they looked in their uniforms and how proud he was of—you know, the esprit de corps.

EE:

Right.

MR:

I thought, “Well, I'd like to have that. I'd like to do something, and that's what I'd like to have.”

EE:

They started having women in the service as early as '42 with the WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps]. Did you ever think about joining any other service, other than the Marines?

MR:

Never. Never anything but the Marines once I got the idea of a Marine, that was that spirit of the Marine Corps. Now, this letter that I've gotten today, our own term is Semper Fi, but this man has signed—well, somewhere. He had “Semper Fidelis” on there, but we'd just say, “Semper Fi.” And our private joke was that Semper Fi means “I got mine. To hell with you.” [laughs]. But we always sign our letters now “Semper Fi.” Any Marine that has communication with another signs “Semper Fi.”

EE:

Now, you had to be—let's see. I guess you had to be twenty. So you were okay as far as the age to join the service.

MR:

I was twenty-three because I had worked for five years.

EE:

How did your employers think—what did they think about your joining?

MR:

Well, I don't remember that they objected. I just announced I was doing it. But everybody wanted to do something for the war effort. The people were the most united then that I have ever seen in the country. There might have been a few—what did they call them? They had a name for the people that wouldn't go—conscientious objectors?

EE:

Yes.

MR:

But they were really looked down on. I mean, you just did something for the war effort.

EE:

A lot of people have told me that they thought that we were just a lot more patriotic them.

MR:

I think so, definitely.

EE:

Did you ever hear anybody express fear that we might not win the war?

MR:

I don't know that we ever put it in words. We certainly weren't sure that we were going to. I mean, you worried about your friends, you know, whether they'd get back, and of course, some of them didn't. Of course, we didn't have TV then, but we listened to the radio all the time, listened to the news.

EE:

How long was it from the time that you got the idea in your head to join the Women's Reserve that you actually went down to the recruiting office and said, “Sign me up”?

MR:

I can't remember that. But I had to go over to Raleigh. I had to get on the bus and go over—

EE:

So they didn't have a place in Charlotte for you to sign up?

MR:

Not for women, I don't think. Or maybe I went to the Charlotte recruiting office. I can't remember that. Anyway, I rode the bus and I spent the night over there. I remember thinking that night that ordinarily I would be very nervous about that kind of thing. I just felt good about the thing. I felt, you know, “I've made a big step in my life, and I'm looking forward to it.”

EE:

And you didn't know a soul else who was going into the service.

MR:

I did not.

EE:

You were being independent.

MR:

For the first time in my life I was independent, and I liked it. Of course, it wasn't really independent because, you know, they told us where to go and what to do and all that, but it was different.

EE:

You went to—

MR:

That was in February, and they called me in April. That was 1944.

EE:

So when you go to Raleigh, did they give you—I know some folks, they'd get a speech about, “Well, here's the kind of work you might be doing. Do you have a preference?” Did you have any preference, or did you just say, “Wherever you want me to go”?

MR:

You know, I can't remember that. But on one of our conventions we were talking with the others, somebody who had done something, maybe went to Hawaii or maybe some of the things that were really different, she said, “Everything that they put down as a preference, I didn't ever put down what I meant. I put down what I wanted to do.” But I'm sure that I checked that I had been doing bookkeeping work. You know, I just checked it like they told us.

EE:

In other words, she was saying, “Don't let on what you've done, because you might get stuck with it. If you want to do something different, put something different.”

MR:

Right. She did that, and that didn't even occur to me to do that. I filled out the form like they had it, and they put me in exactly what I'd been doing.

EE:

Had you been doing payroll at the insurance company, or what kind of work—

MR:

I did accounts receivable, posting. In fact, it was all a matter of figures, but that—you asked me what was my favorite subject. I guess that was, because that's the work I've always done, and I've always enjoyed it. Sometimes it's gotten boring. The civil service job that we did was boring, but it was the people that made life worthwhile, your friends, the experience. It was not the work.

EE:

You go to Raleigh to sign up in February. Did you go back to Charlotte to live with your sisters?

MR:

I worked until April, and they called me.

EE:

How did your family react to your newfound independence?

MR:

My father didn't want me to go, of course, you know, but I didn't ask anybody. First time in my life I had never asked anybody anything, but I was—well, this is—I don't know if you want all of this background or not, but the boy I was supposed to be engaged with—but it was just—he had gone off in service, and he came home, and brought me a ring. He never asked me if I wanted a ring or anything, and because he was a soldier, I hated to hurt his feelings. So it wasn't really an engagement that was going to work anyway. But he said, “If you go in the service, I am through,” and I wrote back, and I said, “Fine.” You know, because women had a bad reputation then.

EE:

I was going to say, you say your dad was against it. Was he against it because—it wasn't because you were going to go fighting. It was—

MR:

He didn't know much about it. No. He didn't know much about the bad reputation. He just didn't want his baby to leave.

EE:

Well, that makes sense.

MR:

But this friend who was in service said, you know, “I'm just not going to have anything to do with you if you go in the service.”

EE:

So it was a nice way to end that relationship without being personal about it.

MR:

Yeah, well, really it was, but you know, I wouldn't want that.

EE:

Right. But that's a realistic thing, because I've had several people who said that—you know, I've had [unclear] said that if it hadn't have been for the fellow's mother, he wouldn't have written her again when she joined the service, because some people really felt strongly.

MR:

Oh, they did.

EE:

And yet the people went ahead and joined even though there was that reputation out there. But you saw—

MR:

I really did it because I was patriotic. I really did. Now, I have heard stories about the women in Camp Lejeune that would go down to Wilmington and drink, pass out, and all that. I did not. And they had things to do on the base. They had—they called it the rec hall, where we could go to dance. I remember the boy that I dated, I was walking to church with a friend of mine, and he was walking to church with a friend that she had dated, and they introduced us, and we just did that kind of thing on the base.

EE:

So you met going to church.

MR:

Right. I met going to church. That was at Camp Lejeune, and he went up to Quantico for officers training, and I was assigned to headquarters at Arlington, VA. So I would meet him down at—is it Central Station? What is the name of that train station?

EE:

In D.C.?

MR:

Yes. And we'd ride the train up to his home in Philadelphia and spend the weekend with his parents. So the girls weren't all bad, I can tell you.

EE:

You went down in April of '44, and did you get on a train in Charlotte, or how did you get down to Lejeune?

MR:

I went by bus to Lejeune, I think.

EE:

What do you remember about your time in basic? You told me a story before we got started. You probably want to relay that again on this tape.

MR:

What was said about going to the shower.

EE:

About your knee.

MR:

About the shower.

EE:

Well, first day that was—yeah, that, too.

MR:

Oh. I think boot camp was supposed to be six weeks. I'm not sure of that now. But I broke my knee on the obstacle course, and I don't really like to repeat that story because I think that I was just out of shape. I think it was just lack of physical training that made me not hold on to the monkey bars.

EE:

Is your knee all right today?

MR:

No, I have a lot of arthritis, I know, left.

EE:

I was going to say, that's probably from it.

MR:

Yes, it is. But, you know, that's a small thing. Lots of people gave more than that.

EE:

That's right.

MR:

Let me see. What do I remember about boot camp? I remember that we had heard all the stories about how the drill instructors [DI] talked to the recruits at Parris Island [PI]. The men then, most of them had trained at Parris Island, and the way we described them, “the DI from PI,” we wondered when we were going to get the same kind of treatment. Camp Lejeune was made from a swamp. They just dug up the swamp and made roads through it, and we learned to march on those roads with water on each side of us. One day he told us if we didn't do any better, he was going to march us into that swamp, and we felt like we had arrived. We were on equal status now. We were getting the same treatment the men do.

EE:

He was going to give you the same grief. So he was a male. Were most of your instructors women?

MR:

The instructors, the drill instructors, were men, and they treated us—I mean, we were expected to be good, and we were good. In that parade, by that time, we were good. I was in [the parade honoring Gen. Chester] Nimitz on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1945.

EE:

But the language maybe not as colorful as to the men.

MR:

Oh, no. That was about the first thing that was said to us, I think.

EE:

All right. But the instructors were women. So you drilled in the morning then had classes in—

MR:

Yeah, in the barracks we had women officers, you know, women sergeants and all that. But the drill instructors were men.

EE:

The time you were going in, in '44, how many women were stationed at Lejeune or going through basic at any one time?

MR:

I really don't know. This book might tell you, but I just don't remember that kind of thing.

EE:

You were in one big long barracks, and you told me before we got started that after you broke your knee you were in the hospital for eight weeks.

MR:

I was in a cast for eight weeks.

EE:

In a cast for eight weeks.

MR:

So I was out, I would say. Then I couldn't walk on—I mean, it was stiff.

EE:

Did you live on the base then?

MR:

I stayed in the Naval Hospital quite a while.

EE:

And then you came back out for boot camp again, and then this friend that you would eventually be friends with for fifty years later—

MR:

Was in the second class.

EE:

Was in the second class. What was her name?

MR:

Her name was Frances Stir. She now is Frances Steube and lives in Canal Winchester, Ohio.

EE:

And what was it that got Frances's attention about you the first time she saw you?

MR:

She said that the first night they were there they were all new and didn't know what to do, you know, they just didn't know how to go about the routine of the barracks and that I just undressed and went to the shower. I can't remember that at all, but I know that we had to leave our clothes—we had a double bunk bed with a locker at the foot, and that's the only thing we had to put our clothes in. I'm sure we had to take our clothes off at our bunk and put a towel around us and go to the shower. And now, that's what she means. She says I was bare naked, but I don't think I was. I don't think I ever—

EE:

Anyway, she was appalled the first day the first time you—

MR:

Yeah, really. And she said in a few days they were doing the same thing and thinking nothing of it. But that was the only thing we could do. There were lots of people in those showers, and we had no place to hang up our clothes and get dressed.

EE:

I guess probably coming from a family with eight sisters, not having a lot of privacy wasn't a new thing for you.

MR:

Well, I don't remember that it bothered me that much, really, you know, not having privacy.

EE:

What was the toughest thing about basic for you, other than obviously this injury, which would have upset anybody, I think?

MR:

Well, I don't remember that I thought it was tough. Maybe learning to keep time with my feet.

EE:

So you adjusted pretty quickly to the discipline of military life, then?

MR:

I liked it, yeah. I didn't object to the discipline.

EE:

When you're there for, I guess, the second time through for six more weeks, by the time you finish basic it's summertime, early summer?

MR:

It was summertime, and then they assigned me to Paymasters' School, which was at Camp Lejeune, and that took, maybe, six more weeks. I don't remember that exactly.

EE:

Were you in Paymasters' School when D-Day happened?

MR:

D-Day was June 6, 1944. No, I was in the Naval Hospital. I remember sitting up. I had to sit with—my cast went from my thigh to my foot—just my toe was sticking out, and so I had to have my leg out like that, and I was sitting on the edge of the bed when I heard it on the radio in the Naval Hospital.

EE:

Did your family come down and see you when you were in the hospital?

MR:

Well, they weren't in a position to do much traveling. I remember a sister coming.

EE:

You didn't have a car. Not many folks had a car in those days.

MR:

No, they didn't. They would have had to ride the bus. Well, in boot camp you couldn't have visitors. So I think she came—if I'm right, and I just can't remember—but maybe the six weeks that I was at Paymasters' School. Then I was sent to Arlington. I remember her coming up there because she was there when Franklin Roosevelt died.

EE:

You went to Arlington, Virginia, and you were stationed at Henderson Hall.

MR:

Henderson Hall and worked in the Navy Annex.

EE:

What was the work, then, you were doing at Henderson Hall?

MR:

Auditing payrolls.

EE:

This was payrolls just for Marine personnel or—

MR:

Yes. You see, the payrolls were made wherever the units were, and then they had to be sent to headquarters to be checked. I mean, they checked them after they were paid, you know, but if a mistake was made—

EE:

So you were auditing payroll not just for Henderson Hall but for all across the service?

MR:

All the Marine Corps.

EE:

You must have been pretty good at what you were doing to get that assignment.

MR:

Well, it wasn't that difficult, but, I mean, you had to be accurate with figures, yes.

EE:

Were most of the women who you served with about your age or older or younger?

MR:

I would say that most of them were about my age. Now, this friend that we've talked about was just out of college. She had just graduated from Ohio State.

EE:

That's Frances Steube.

MR:

Yes. So I think she probably was a little younger. I don't know. But I'd worked five years. I would say within a matter of a few years they were about my age. I know somebody, maybe a few were in their thirties, but that was considered kind of old at the time.

EE:

On your day-to-day work, you were in an office of, I guess, one big room with a lot of women stationed at desks?

MR:

Yes.

EE:

Was your supervisor a woman or a man?

MR:

Our supervisor was a man, and he was a civilian. See, this was civil service work.

EE:

Okay. So you weren't freeing a man to fight, or were you freeing a man to fight when you were doing this work?

MR:

I was supposed to be freeing a man to fight, but I guess they didn't—well, this particular type of work, they didn't have somebody who would be subject to transfer, I guess.

EE:

So your supervisor was a civil employee, and did you get your daily assignments, then, from that civilian employee, as opposed to having a higher officer within the Women's Reserves giving you your assignments?

MR:

Well, we got our assignments from him, but lots of the other girls did get theirs from Marines, women.

EE:

When you came back to Henderson Hall in the evenings, did you have an officer who led the platoon, or did you have some kind of a—

MR:

At Henderson Hall we had women officers.

EE:

But from Henderson Hall you might have had women working all over Washington in different positions, is that right?

MR:

No, I think they mostly worked at Navy Annex, because that is where Marine Corps Headquarters was located then. Some of them had different assignments. Now, this friend that we're talking about stayed on at Camp Lejeune, and she was in the Motor Transport, and she has some really good stories to tell.

EE:

Your work, was it 8:00 to 5:00, five days a week, or did you work extended shifts?

MR:

I think it might have been six days a week. I'm not sure. I don't think—

EE:

You only got one day a week off, then.

MR:

I believe. I'm really not sure about that, but it was more like civilian work.

EE:

You had been to Brevard. Was this your first trip out of state, going to Arlington, Virginia?

MR:

As long as I can remember it was, yeah.

EE:

What was your impression of D.C.?

MR:

Well, I don't think it was my first trip out of state, because I remember that I visited some people.

EE:

Had you ever been to Washington before?

MR:

No, I had never been to Washington.

EE:

What did you think of Washington? Some people said Washington was a pretty exciting place to be during the war.

MR:

Well, we would get passes to go downtown. You know, that's where we went when we went out at night.

EE:

Did you go out for social life with other women Marines, or did everybody kind of do their own thing in the evenings?

MR:

Well, you went with your friends. I remember there was a place called the Blue Moon. Most of the places there were to go, you could drink if you wanted to, but I just never did.

EE:

What was your rank as a—Paymaster's School?

MR:

Well, we got out of boot camp and got into that, I think they made us PFCs [private first class] then.

EE:

So when you went to Paymaster's School you became PFCs.

MR:

I'm not sure exactly. Maybe when I finished Paymaster's School I got to be a PFC. Then I was promoted to corporal, and was discharged as a corporal.

EE:

Was there a service club or someplace there at Henderson Hall where you could go with other—

MR:

Well, they called it a beer garden.

EE:

That was the greatest description.

MR:

But they had movies. You had a lot of privileges, really. You had free movies, and they would take us on buses to go to dances. There was a place in downtown Washington that we danced a lot. There was always music, more of a ballroom like type, you know.

EE:

A lot of big bands came through Washington, didn't they?

MR:

Yeah. I remember we could go to free concerts. The Marine band would have a concert out of doors in the summertime, and we sat around on the grass and listened.

EE:

Now when I think of a Marine band, I think of John Phillip Sousa. Are they doing something else, or are they doing—

MR:

Well, they played different types of music. They didn't always play marches.

EE:

You start this job, I guess this is—is this August of '44?

MR:

Well, in the fall of '44 is when I was transferred to Arlington.

EE:

And you're doing this work through the time you leave the service, which is when?

MR:

Let's see, the war was actually over in August of '45, right? And they immediately began talk that we would be getting out, because our orders read “for the duration.” In February of '46 I actually was mustered out, but I worked on at the job as a civilian for several months.

EE:

The same place.

MR:

The same job.

EE:

The same kind of work.

MR:

Everything the same. Just got out of uniform.

EE:

Where did you house, because it's tough hanging out in [unclear]?

MR:

Well, no, we couldn't stay in the barracks anymore, of course. Another girl and I got a room, and I frankly didn't—I just didn't like it. It was much easier to be in the barracks and have your meals made for you and all of that sort of thing. I just decided I didn't want to stay—the job was dull all of the time.

EE:

We talked before about that. They really did emphasize on trying to get everybody processed out at the end of the war.

MR:

Right.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

MR:

No. No, I never did think about it. We didn't have a choice then. I don't think they actually organized that—somewhere in this book will tell you. I think it was somewhere in the fifties that they made a permanent organization out of the Women Marines. I don't think we had a choice then.

EE:

I guess that was probably Sunday when Roosevelt passed away. You say your sister was up when Roosevelt passed away?

MR:

She was visiting me, and it was, I think, over a weekend. But I will tell you something interesting about the day that the war was over, when they signed the peace treaty with Japan. I was going at night to George Washington University to take some accounting courses. The word came when we were in class that they had signed the treaty, and of course, nobody had their mind on studying anymore. I walked up past the White House, and you remember that famous picture of a sailor kissing a girl? Well, that was what it was like out there then. It was just—you had to—

EE:

A mob of people, everybody hugging and kissing.

MR:

—weave your way through the crowd. Everybody was—

EE:

Would anybody find you?

MR:

I remember that picture very well, but I remember that that's what happened. They just turned everybody out of class, and we walked through downtown Washington.

EE:

I know in some place they were so worried about how the enlisted folk would react that they made them come back to base. They wouldn't let them out in town. And somebody else I was talking to who was in Washington that same day, she was out walking with a girlfriend and went by a liquor store, and they got the last bottle of liquor, said, “We'd better get it now because there won't be nothing when we get back.”

MR:

Well, for some reason I never—drinking never appealed to me, so that wasn't—that wasn't the way I would celebrate.

EE:

Well, I think this was a celebration thing. You talked about that's what you remember from VJ [Victory in Japan] Day. Was there anything distinctive about when the war ended in Europe that you remember? Because that was just after Roosevelt passed away.

MR:

I don't really.

EE:

What did you think of President Roosevelt?

MR:

Well, I think he did a lot for the country when he started the welfare—I mean, what did they call it?

EE:

Social Security?

MR:

The relief. What was that, you know, where he gave people jobs?

EE:

WPA [Works Progress Administration].

MR:

Yeah. He did a lot for the country. I think his social reforms were far reaching, and I've often thought of it. I think in the last few years our president has disgraced the country, but if the press had treated Roosevelt like they did Clinton, he would have disgraced the country, too, wouldn't he? You know, I think that the press has caused a lot of the things that are [unclear].

EE:

I agree. A lot of the things I don't really care to know about one way or the other.

MR:

They told us more than we wanted to know, didn't they?

EE:

What about Mrs. Roosevelt? She certainly was a different kind of First Lady.

MR:

She was. She was, and a lot of people criticized her. I don't remember that I personally ever criticized her, you know, that I didn't think—

EE:

She was a different role model for women, that was for sure.

MR:

Yes, she was.

EE:

Do you remember having any heroes or heroines from that time, people that you, as twenty-three, twenty-four year old woman admired?

MR:

Well, I can't remember any particular one, but I do think that we heard a lot about what the Marines did in the South Pacific, you know, the Iwo Jima—

EE:

Guadalcanal you mean?

MR:

The memorial with the picture of raising the flag at Iwo Jima, and then the Battle of Midway. I think I was always impressed with what the Marines were doing.

EE:

You talk about following things in the newspaper. Did they ever debrief you all in the office because you were working for the military? Did they tell you, “Guess what's happening with our troops this week? Here's where we are with the war.” How did you keep posted on the news? Was it just word of mouth?

MR:

I think it was newspaper and radio more, because I don't think they did that kind of thing where I was. I don't think they did.

EE:

Doesn't sound like that your work, in and of itself, involved physical danger. Were you ever afraid, being off in the big city and being responsible—

MR:

Well, everything was so supervised. I mean, they—I don't remember ever going off the base unless I went with friends. And they told us when we could come in. You know, it still was supervised. It wasn't, maybe, like your family would do it, but anybody who—well, I think that the thing that I liked the most about it was that you could pick the type of friend that you wanted. Out of all of that barracks full of people you sort of—

EE:

With that many people there was bound to be somebody that you could hit it off with.

MR:

That had the same common interests that you did.

EE:

We talked a little bit earlier about the reputation that women Marines had, that women in the service had generally before you went in. How did people treat you, being in uniform, people on the street or people in the service. Were you treated with respect when you wore the uniform?

MR:

I think so. If people didn't get treated with respect [it was] because maybe they went to the clubs and were under the influence when they got out on the street or something.

EE:

But you never, yourself, experienced anything?

MR:

No. No. I really didn't.

EE:

Your supervisor was a civilian. Did the other enlisted men treat you and the other people that you worked with, who were women, in a good way?

MR:

Yeah, the people that I knew did.

EE:

Very professional, huh?

MR:

Yes. In fact, I will tell it now as a joke about my experience at the Naval Hospital.

EE:

This is at Camp Lejeune?

MR:

Yes, the eight weeks that I was there. Well, you know, there was nothing wrong with me except my leg. I mean, I was in good health and I met a fellow Marine who—I think he was over there to get evaluated. He was going to get a discharge because he had had rheumatic fever when he was a child. He couldn't pass their physical. So I either had to be on crutches or in a wheelchair. And they had this great big auditorium, this tremendous room, and they had movies every afternoon, and this fellow would push me up to the movies. That was really tough! And they'd bring people in beds. They'd roll their beds, and the beds were in the back and then a row of wheelchairs and then a row of chairs, and we just had a great time over there.

EE:

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

MR:

Well, I've always been a rather shy person. I guess maybe it was meeting new people. You know, I needed a friend. I didn't really have a personality that would just go out and meet everybody. And I think that in a way we were bored with the barracks routine and the constant inspecting.

EE:

Were you expecting something more exciting about being in the service during the war?

MR:

Well, no. I don't think I expected excitement, but it was just a part of—I think everybody I knew would do whatever they could do for the war effort, and I think people in general felt that way at that time.

EE:

You talk about personality. It's true because when you get in the service and you are put into a room with people from all parts of the country, all different religious backgrounds and personalities, and when that happens, no matter whether it's during war time or peace time, there are bound to be some individuals that stick out in your mind, some characters.

MR:

Right.

EE:

Are there some people that, when you think back to those times, either in a funny way or in a memorable way, stick out in your mind?

MR:

Well, I know that there were, you know, but they weren't my—

EE:

They weren't in your little circle of friends.

MR:

They weren't my associates.

EE:

Right. You talk about going to dances and things like that. Are there favorite songs that you had in that time period that when you hear them you go, “Ah, this was where I was”?

MR:

Well, yes. There are songs. I can't really think of them right now. But I remember that in Camp Lejeune, like in the part of the base that we were in, we couldn't leave that part. You know, I guess they had loud speakers. I don't know how we knew the music, the songs that were—I remember White Cliffs of Dover, You Always Hurt the One You Love. I just remember hearing that song over and over. And I guess we had loud speakers or maybe it was the nickelodeons in the rec hall. I just can't remember how—of course, we didn't have things like record players and all of that. You didn't do that in the barracks.

EE:

Were you allowed radios in the barracks, your own personal radio, or did you just have a group radio in the lounge or something?

MR:

I remember hearing a lot of things on the radio, and I don't know—in boot camp you wouldn't have had your radio, but maybe later on you did, because I remember hearing a lot of things on the radio.

EE:

I remember seeing pictures of, I guess, the barracks at Lejeune, the lounge area, a big lounge. But I just wonder if at Henderson Hall, if you had your own—you were in a big barracks at Henderson Hall, too, or did you have a little more privacy when you there?

MR:

No. It was a big barracks. It had two floors, and it had a barracks area on the left and the right. So there would be four big rooms in all with double bunks. I don't know how many people lived in that, but it would have been—maybe you'll get it out of this book. I can see a picture of it in my mind, but I don't know how many people were in each room.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing moment, which I find sometimes a hard question to ask. Another thing, is there a funny story you can tell about yourself?

MR:

Well, I told you the story about the shower.

EE:

That was pretty good right there, I'd say. But you didn't know what was going on enough to be embarrassed about that. You were just—

MR:

Well, I don't remember doing it. She's the one that remembered because she was embarrassed, I guess. But probably the first time I did it I was embarrassed, but I just don't remember that. Seems to me that some of the questions they asked as we were being indoctrinated, you know, that—

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

MR:

—when we went back on the convention, we were over at the Raising of the Flag Marine memorial, you know, and everybody there was a former Marine, and so I was telling the group, I said, “I really feel like that the Marines discriminated against me, that they sent me to Camp Lejeune for training where there was twenty men for every woman, and then they transferred me up to Arlington where there was twenty women for every man.” And this lady turned around and said, “I think that you've got grounds for a class action suit.”

EE:

It probably was disappointing not to have more men around, I would have thought.

MR:

Well, it was. There was not a whole lot of social life up there because there weren't many men around.

EE:

You couldn't be seen dating an officer. Was it frowned upon to go out in public with civilians?

MR:

No. No. I don't think it was frowned upon. I think you found your friends wherever you could, because I had a civilian friend who lived there. She had come to Washington to work as a civilian, and I kept in close touch with her. So no, I don't think it was frowned upon at all. I think you just found your friends wherever you could. They mostly were Marines because that was where you lived. You know, they were always around you, where you lived.

EE:

You left the service in April of '46.

MR:

February of '46, and I stayed on in Washington.

EE:

And then you stayed there in Washington. How long were you in Washington at that time?

MR:

Well, I think I left sometime that summer. Just that having to move out, you know, and ride a bus to work. That just wasn't a very—

EE:

What, did you just come back to North Carolina when you—

MR:

I went back to Charlotte. I worked in Charlotte before I went in service and after I went in service.

EE:

You didn't go back to the Hardware Mutual. Where did you go?

MR:

I started to work—when I left Charlotte, I worked for Motors Insurance Corporation, which is the insurance division of General Motors.

EE:

And how long were you at that job?

MR:

Well, I married an adjuster. We worked for the same company and were married in 1949, and we moved to Whiteville, actually, and he was there for a while, and he came over here and started his own business, and we were here for thirty-five years.

EE:

Was he in insurance in both places? What kind of work was he in?

MR:

He was an adjuster, and he was not stationed in the Charlotte office. They had sent him out in the field and he was the adjuster for them.

EE:

He was in Whiteville, North Carolina, than you moved to Mullins, South Carolina?

MR:

Yes, he resigned and started his own business here.

EE:

What was his name?

MR:

J. B. Johnson.

EE:

And so that's how you got to Mullins, and then what did you do? After you got married, you—

MR:

Well, I worked for an accountant. See, I've always worked with figures some way, and I like that. I worked for an accountant until I had children and then didn't go to work, and I worked in the family business. He had a business over on Highway 76.

EE:

What was that work?

MR:

I kept the books there and waited on the counter and did—

EE:

It wasn't with adjusting then. What kind of work did he do?

MR:

He had a service station and a garage and automobile parts and just a small grocery store.

EE:

My dad ended up running a service station after—well, he was in the Korean War and came back and worked for Exxon for thirty-five years. How many children did you all have?

MR:

We had three.

EE:

Boys or girls?

MR:

One boy, and here they are.

EE:

Oh, yeah.

MR:

This one is the one you saw.

EE:

Right.

MR:

And this one is an RN [registered nurse] at Emory Hospital in Atlanta now. And this one, you see her picture in the hall; a car hit her on her bicycle when she was fourteen and so she was killed.

EE:

I'm sorry to hear that. That was here in Mullins?

MR:

Yes.

EE:

And then your husband, is he still living?

MR:

No.

EE:

And your name now is Rogers. So you've been married—

MR:

Rogers. After I retired I went back to Taylorsville and married the person who was my first date, but he died, too. He died when we were married five years.

EE:

And then you say that's when you started taking care of your sister, at that point.

MR:

Well, yes. I went back to help there. She owns a hundred-acre farm up there. My father left it to her because she had stayed home. She just couldn't manage anymore. And I went back and helped her, and I got married and was married five years, but then I was with her—I was there twelve years in all. And the situation changed and I came back because we had lived in this house all the time. We moved into this house in 1957.

EE:

That's great. You talked about joining the military. Was that the first independent thing you had done? Do you think it made you more of an independent person over the—how did the military affect your life over the long term, do you think?

MR:

It's hard to put into words, but it was a positive experience.

EE:

It's very rare, I can tell, from people I've interviewed that folks have kept in contact with their service buddies. So you're a very fortunate woman to have friends that you've had for sixty years.

MR:

Well, these, this picture you saw, one lives in Minnesota, one in California, one in Ohio, and we have not missed at least a Christmas writing. We send pictures of families, talk on the phone once in a while.

EE:

That's wonderful.

MR:

It is. That, I think, has been the best thing that has come out of it for me. But then, I think, I realized that I could stand on my own feet. When I went back home and my older sisters started giving me orders I resented it. You know, I didn't need that. I said, “Well, I've managed to make up my own mind for thirty-five years. I don't know why I need to be told what to do now.”

EE:

Well, to some extent I think that in families, you're always the same way you were the last time you lived together.

MR:

Right. By that time they were all getting older. In fact, I had four of us in the car one time and my oldest sister said, “I don't know what happened, but about the time you came we all began to fall apart.” So I think I've spent a lot of my years taking them to the doctors and, you know, eye surgery and all that stuff. So one day I had one of them in the doctor's office, and she started out at the receptionist and on down to the nurse saying, “This is the baby.” So when she got to the doctor I said, “Don't you think it's a little ridiculous to be called a baby when you're seventy-something years old?” But they think of me as the baby.

EE:

Yes. You're the baby.

Well, a lot of folks who have looked at the story of women in the service in the Second World War realize that that's the first time we had a lot of women in the service, and they say if you want to see how society's changed in the way it treats women, look at World War II, because women going in the work force and going in the military really changed expectations for women of what they could do.

MR:

Women never wanted to go back to that same position they had before.

EE:

Well, do you think of yourself as a trailblazer, as somebody who set a new example of what you could do?

MR:

Well, I've never actually thought of it that way. I listen to Radio Reader. Do you know what I'm talking about? One of the books they read was Tom Brokaw's—

EE:

Greatest Generation?

MR:

Greatest Generation. I think people are getting a lot more respect for what we did then. Don't you think so? They began to think about it after fifty years. They make a big thing of fifty years. And well, people here said, “I didn't know you were in the service.” Well, I don't know that I ever mentioned it for years. I think I just forgot about it. I mean, I don't think it was important enough for me to remember.

EE:

Has your husband been in the service?

MR:

Yes. He was in the air corps, and he wasn't at all impressed with his service record. He was in the South Pacific, and I think he said he spent maybe fifty-eight days on a ship when they couldn't find a place to land them, I mean, you know, it was so dangerous. And then he was over there and did more or less guard duty. He said they ate so much Spam. He got a box from his sister, and she sent him some Spam, and he went out and threw it in the ocean.

EE:

She thought it was a treat because meat was so hard to get.

MR:

Right. So, I mean, he never had particularly pleasant memories, and I don't guess any of the men did, to tell you the truth. Of course, there are a lot of them that—Tom Brokaw and different people will tell you—wouldn't talk about it. They just didn't want to talk about it.

EE:

I had some of the women who didn't want to talk. I think people who saw a lot of the death—

MR:

I imagine the nurses might not want to.

EE:

The nurses are very closed-mouth about things because—

MR:

They probably have to be in order to endure it.

EE:

To get through it. Now, the other ones, one of them told me, she said, “You know, I never want to talk about what I did because it sounds like I'm bragging, and I know whatever I went through, a lot of people went through a lot worse.”

MR:

Oh, but the women I knew, we could get nylons when other people couldn't. We had plenty of good food. We had no hardships.

EE:

In the service you didn't have to worry about rationing, did you?

MR:

No. Except for boredom we had no problems.

EE:

Did any of your children go into the military or have any interest in the military?

MR:

No. No.

EE:

If a woman would come up to you and ask your opinion about joining the service, what would you tell her?

MR:

I'd say go for it. Did you see on TV the memorial dedication and the old lady that's a hundred? “I say to you young people, go for it.” It was really interesting to see her.

EE:

It is a different military, though, from what it is for you.

MR:

It is.

EE:

And, you know, in December we sent, as a country, for the first time, a woman into combat as a fighter pilot in Iraq.

MR:

I think that she probably could do it, but I think that all the things they have to do in order to have women share a space with men is probably not good. We were segregated. I mean, there were no men in our barracks. If a man came in to repair something in the barracks, we had to call, “man aboard.”

EE:

To clear out.

MR:

Yeah. I mean, you didn't—now I think they have too much freedom. Don't you think they do? You wouldn't want to see your daughters do it, would you?

EE:

I believe that no matter what you do, there's certain things that are innate to being male and female that are going to happen if people hang around one another.

MR:

I think so, too, and I really don't go along with a lot of the feminist movement where they demand equal rights and everything because they've lost a lot of their privileges.

EE:

I got to sit down with a woman who was the next to last head of the Women's Army Corps while it was separate, and she was against them integrating with the service for that reason. She said, “A woman should be a woman in addition to being a soldier.”

MR:

Right. And women, now they have demanded so many rights that men no longer expect to look after them. They lost more than they gained as far as I'm concerned.

EE:

One question I'll close with. Do you think you contributed to the war effort?

MR:

I think so, but I think what I did was very minor. But I say I think the reason I enjoyed this convention so much, every time we go they have a closing banquet, and they have the highest ranking person available to talk to us and they always say, “We couldn't have won the war without you,” and we all believe it. We believe every word of that. I mean, we like to hear it. We know that we didn't do that much, but the overall effort did. That's what's important.

EE:

If it wasn't for everybody pulling together.

MR:

Right. And all of us together did help the war effort, and we're proud of it. I mean, I think it's—I started to say, the most important thing, but I know it wasn't. At that time it was important. And I think the thing that impressed me the most was the fact that the whole country was of one mind, and it hasn't been that way since.

EE:

I think that's right.

MR:

It bothers me. You know, I think maybe they were right in protesting the Vietnam War. We might still be there if they hadn't protested, but it hurts you to think that—and now, the people that are plotting against our government—our government is bad, but it's still the best one in the world.

EE:

That's right. We forget that sometimes, I think.

MR:

And these people that are trying to blow up buildings and shoot— I mean, you know, I think all these school shootings are coming as a result of people just losing their patriotism. I mean, they no longer are taught any respect.

EE:

That's the key word. You respected each other as well as the country.

MR:

Right.

EE:

And we don't have that same respect.

MR:

Our children are not taught the same morals. I mean, you might try to teach yours at home, but they're—

EE:

They've got to go to school with everybody who's not learning it.

MR:

They're exposed to a lot of things—

EE:

So which are they going to learn more, from me or from their fifty classmates?

MR:

And there'll come a time when you think they learn more from them than they do you.

EE:

Have to keep trying. Is there anything I have not asked you about, about your time in service or anything else you'd like to share with us for this tape?

MR:

Well, it seems to me we've covered everything. I really want you to have this book [Our Home on the Hill, 1943-1946, by Nona Hall Johnson] and I think if you go through that book, you'll come across a lot of things that I just don't think of off the top of my head.

EE:

Well, the last thing is to get your recollections in your words, because just like I ask people details, and they may not remember them, but you know, what you remember is what's important to you, and that's what we want to get. I mean, I could go by and I could tell you the dates of all the battles and go look up in a book, but you know, what's important to you is what we want to look for.

MR:

Well, this book pretty well describes my experience, because she went to—I think she went to Henderson Hall maybe a couple of months before I did. It just pretty well covers my whole experience there. The things I can't remember is because part of it has been over fifty years, so now what they said is in there, you know, and I'll say I actually didn't think about it. You know, in raising my children and the son had seizures for eight years and then had brain surgery and he has some brain damage, and that's why I'm back here, really, because it—

EE:

Life doesn't stop with [unclear] service.

MR:

No, and then I had so much to think about, and then, of course, I lost my daughter, and the middle one, it turned out she was getting to be a teenager in the sixties, and she protested everything. If I said yes, she said no, so I just didn't have time to think about it.

EE:

But it helps, probably, somewhere along the way that you learned to stand on your own because you've had to through a lot of things.

MR:

Right. Right. It did.

EE:

And I appreciate you taking the time then to serve our country and today to talk with us about that.

MR:

Well, I've enjoyed it. It brings back a lot of things. And what would it mean to you—I mean, would it make any difference to you to have the book now or to order it?

EE:

Why don't we try ordering it, and then if we can't get it, I'll get back with you to get a copy of it. Because I know we want our own copy.

MR:

I would like to donate the book, because that really tells the story of my experience. That tells the story better than I can tell it.

[End of Interview]