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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Anita Keller, 2000

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Object ID: WV0140.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Anita May Keller’s life in Washington, D.C.; her experiences in the Air Transport Command and Signal Corps during World War II; and her thoughts on the Vietnam War.

Summary:

Keller describes her enjoyment of high school; the bombing of Pearl Harbor; patriotism and concern for Europe; changes at Catholic University after the U.S. entered the war; and civilians leaving Washington at the start of the war.

Topics related to Keller’s civil service in the Air Transport Command (ATC) and Signal Corps include her duties as a cryptographer; working on shifts; the safety of Washington in the 1940s; training at and transportation to Quantico; advantages of living in Washington; choosing not to join the military; housing in Miami; memorable supervisors; flying on ATC planes; her parents’ jobs during the war; social life, including dates and an officers’ club on Miami Beach; blackouts along the coast; uniform regulations; President Franklin Roosevelt’s death; having tea with Eleanor Roosevelt; learning about VE Day from a top secret teletype message; the atomic bomb; and President Harry Truman’s speech.

Other topics include meeting her husband at Jefferson Barracks; her son’s involvement in Vietnam War protests; her opinions of Vietnam and of women in combat; and her contribution to the war effort.

Creator: Anita May Gahn Keller

Biographical Info: Anita May Gahn Keller, of St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., served as a civilian in the Air Transport Command and Signal Corps from 1942 to 1946.

Collection: Anita M. Keller 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:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today I am in Greensboro. It is January 11, 2000, and I'm at the home of Anita Keller.

Ms. Keller, thank you for sitting down to do this exercise this morning. I'm going to start the first question with you the same way I do with most folks, and that's a simple question. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

ANITA KELLER:

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up there. When I was thirteen we moved to Washington, D.C., I went to Sacred Heart Academy High School.

EE:

You were telling me before we started this tape that your father worked with the—

AK:

The Railroad Retirement Board.

EE:

That was the job he had your whole time growing up?

AK:

No, not the whole time, but from the time—

EE:

That's what caused you to move to D.C., in any event?

AK:

That's right.

EE:

Did your mother work outside the home?

AK:

Only during the war.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

AK:

No.

EE:

So you got loaded with lots of attention.

AK:

Lots.

EE:

Which can either be bad or good, depending on the situation.

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

AK:

Oh, yes. I loved school.

EE:

Did you have any favorite subjects?

AK:

Well, I was good in math, not so good in science. I loved reading. I managed to be in the upper tenth of our graduating class from high school, which entitled me to a part scholarship at Rosary College because we had Dominican Sisters from that area. However, the class was only twenty-five, and the school only had a hundred students.

EE:

Rosary was right there in D.C.?

AK:

No. Sacred Heart Academy was in Washington, D.C.

EE:

You said the scholarship, though, you could go to Rosary?

AK:

Rosary College was in Madison.

EE:

Wisconsin?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

But you were telling me that you ended up staying there.

AK:

To Catholic University, Drama and Speech Department.

EE:

How was it that you got interested in speech and drama? Something from high school or just what you learned at college?

AK:

Every summer I went to the high school drama and speech school at Catholic University run by Father Gilbert Hartke, and also, there were so many truly interested that he—for the last two years, my junior and senior year—he had classes for us three days a week after our regular school. So I was interested. That sort of tied in with wanting to teach.

EE:

You graduated in '41?

AK:

Yes. I was already in college when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

EE:

You just started that fall?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

For most folks who were in their teenage years, they're not really thinking about the world. Their focus is on themselves or their social life, maybe school if they're thinking ahead. In 1940 and '41 is the talk about drafting young folks? Did people in your high school class get drafted?

AK:

It was a girls' school. That's number one. And they didn't have the draft until after Pearl Harbor. So of course, a lot of boys enlisted—I'm sure the draft started around that time, but many of the male students enlisted.

EE:

You were in Washington. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor?

AK:

Yes. I was at the Redskins football game in the stadium, and it was very interesting because they called a halt to the game, and they had some announcements. The announcements were two or three Japanese names were to report at such-and-such gate, and then things continued on, and then they didn't stop the game after that. They announced another name and another couple until, I guess, they had the Japanese officially out of there. Then they announced that Pearl Harbor was bombed. So I'll never forget that.

EE:

Did they finish the game?

AK:

They did.

EE:

Who won the game?

AK:

I don't know.

EE:

Not many people would. That's interesting. Why do you think they called the Japanese? Were they worried for their safety?

AK:

Well, I think so. Probably, yes. They probably wanted to get them out. But the young man that I had a date with at the game enlisted that week. Soon as he got his school things in order—he didn't wait. He just enlisted.

EE:

Did you know what was going to happen? I mean, was that pretty clear that we were in war after that moment?

AK:

Oh, well, after Pearl Harbor, surely. Roosevelt gave his speech, and we knew we were at war.

EE:

Did people think we were going to eventually get there, given what had been happening in Europe the last couple of years, or did most folks you were with tend to think it was their problem not our problem?

AK:

No. Everybody that I knew and students were sympathetic with the European situation. I think, much like the students are today, you know, but not to the extent of marching and demonstrating, but sympathetic. I had a history teacher who was trying to get over to us the fact that eventually the U.S. is going to have to get involved because of what they were doing. Of course, we listened to that and I'm sure it had influence also.

EE:

What they were doing in terms of taking over countries, but nobody knew at that time all the things the Germans were doing.

AK:

Well, I think they knew pretty much. The high school I attended, the children from Embassy Row attended. It was not an exclusive school; it was a convenience school and a small school and easy, I guess, for protection, if need be. You know, things do leak out. The children talked.

I remember, my one dear friend, she was from Argentina, and as soon as we graduated she left the next day. They went back because her father said things were going to start happening and he needed to be home. Now, he was a diplomat but he needed to be home. So I mean, those things, they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. They were before Pearl Harbor. He knew that things were happening where he would be needed.

So, yes, we did have some feeling. My father, you know, they listened to what's-his-name. Oh, God, how could I forget it?

EE:

There was a priest who was very much against us during the war.

AK:

No, I don't know. I know who you mean. I can't think of his name. No, it was [H.V.] Kaltenborn. We had radio then, not television, and my dad always had his ear glued to news, and he said, “Oh, things are bad over there.” And he, of course, served in the First World War, and he said, “What a shame that they haven't learned a lesson and that they're going to start up all over again.” Well, it was already started.

EE:

Had your dad served, you say, in the war?

AK:

Yes, in the First World War.

EE:

Was he in the army?

AK:

Army. He was in the Infantry and Headquarters Division, whatever that meant.

EE:

What was it like going to school that spring, I guess, at Catholic University. Now, Catholic University is coed, is it not?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

So what was it like being back on campus after all this? I assume men are leaving quite regularly.

AK:

Okay. All the fraternity houses closed. They had their big last party, and they were all taken over by the government and used as housing for the GIs. Almost all schools that had—not all the dormitories, but I think like fraternity houses, sorority houses, possibly, I don't know how that went, and of course, many, as I said, they enlisted. They didn't wait to be drafted.

My husband, of course, he was in St. Louis, and he was able to get his diploma. I think he still had a few months, but they gave the diploma before graduation. But he continued with his education at the University of Iowa in psychology. That was supposed to prepare him for the work he was to do in the army, which I guess it did. So that was that side of the story.

EE:

You said that it was about summertime of that year, '42, when you got to thinking that you wanted to do something other than be a student.

AK:

Well, I already made that decision, I think, and then I wanted to do something other than the job I had with the Railroad Retirement Board.

EE:

Were you still in school? Were you working for the Railroad Retirement Board while in school?

AK:

No. I left school. When I left Washington I left college, joined my parents in Chicago.

EE:

They moved to Chicago before or after Pearl Harbor?

AK:

Right after, I mean immediately. It was like in a week they were gone.

EE:

It was part of the “get everybody out of Washington who's not with defense” mode.

AK:

That's right. That's right. And it's amazing how quickly the government can work, way back then, but successfully. Yes.

EE:

I think everybody knew the seriousness of the situation so you wouldn't have had lawsuits protesting the movement.

AK:

Oh, no. No. Nobody. Nobody would. No, everybody was very patriotic. In fact, one of the plays at Catholic University was The Woman of the Year, and, of course, that was sort of like Rosie the Riveter, you know, the woman of the year is the woman behind the man behind the gun and so forth. And Walter Kerr, the critic, drama critic, he was one of the teachers and directors and writers. We had a very fortunate—it was a very good school because they had so many celebrities that came and worked with us.

EE:

You left when your dad was transferred, or the Railroad Retirement Board went to Chicago. You went out to Chicago with the family, got a job with the Railroad Retirement Board in '42.

AK:

Yes. They went immediately. I stayed in school then I joined them after—

EE:

Did you stay until the end of the semester?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

So it was summertime of '42 when you went out to Chicago.

AK:

Right.

EE:

That summer you got a job, and it was during that job—of course, they had just started something called the Women's Auxiliary Army—or Army Auxiliary Corps I guess it was, WAAC, in '42. They were starting to talk about opportunities for women in the service, and you got to thinking about that. Did you consider joining one of the services? How did you get to air transport?

AK:

Well, there was an article that appeared in Glamour or Mademoiselle magazine, of all places. My friend in Washington wrote me, sent me the article, and she said, “It looks like something we might be interested in.” Of course, being familiar with Washington, my parents didn't have any problem with me going there. I had a number of people I could stay with.

The only thing is, my friend didn't see it through. She worked for the newspaper after a while. Now, I don't know if she decided not to do it or whether she didn't qualify. I'm sure she qualified. I felt that she did, but we never talked about it. Mary Jane Dempsey—and she actually worked for the Washington Post. That seems a hundred years ago.

EE:

So she gave you this idea and said this could be fun, and then she didn't want to do it. So when did you decide to act on it?

AK:

Immediately.

EE:

You said, “I want to get out of here,” so you went back to Washington, and you worked for this Captain McDonald?

AK:

Major McDonald.

EE:

Major McDonald, who was working with Air Transport [Command]. So for you, it wasn't a really involved—picking cafeteria-style from the different military establishments. You just got this article and said, “This sounds good.”

AK:

Yes. The job sounded interesting.

EE:

What was the job supposed to be?

AK:

A cryptographer.

EE:

Cryptographer in the air transport.

AK:

Yes.

EE:

Cryptographer. That sounds exciting, secret.

AK:

Yes, you're right. And, of course, they describe it a bit like I did. It was deciphering and ciphering and then also paraphrasing. Well, I was great at paraphrasing because—most women are. [laughter]

EE:

Yes. I think most men call it something other than paraphrasing.

AK:

That's true.

EE:

So you were excited by the kind of work. And your family, did they have an opinion about you leaving this—your dad worked at the retirement board. Did he have an opinion about you leaving that career-oriented work and going to something—

AK:

No. Because the job I had at the Railroad Retirement Board was temporary, like all jobs at that time, but he didn't—of course, nothing was said about enlisting or being taken in as part of the Air Transport Command [ATC]. I went there as a civil service employee so there was no problem. The family was fine. And I was familiar with Washington. We had enough friends there that could keep an eye on me, and I was one of the younger ones. In fact, this other young lady and I were the only two who were not twenty-one.

EE:

Most of these things working with the military, you had to be twenty or twenty-one. I guess the minimum was eighteen?

AK:

Actually twenty-one, but they needed so many people, I guess, and they took those that were most qualified and who could talk their way into it.

EE:

Okay. So there were the official regulations and then there was how good you could do in the interview to get through.

AK:

Right. I think that's about right. And the testing. We had lots of testing.

EE:

Was there a whole bunch of people going through the—I assume you went down to a regular recruiting station? Where did you go to do that?

AK:

No, just where they told us to go, to the Pentagon Annex, and step-by-step, you follow through.

EE:

So as it ended up, you were going down there and didn't know anybody else who was doing this work but just wanted to go do it?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

This was late summer, early fall of '42?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

How soon after you did this battery of tests and interviews did you find out you were accepted?

AK:

Not too long, and I don't remember. I'd say about a week, maybe. Probably long enough for them to do an investigation.

EE:

You're talking about how the sisters at your high school were wondering what you were getting into.

AK:

Yes. And then, too, the job I had while I was in college was working for Jelleff's Department Store, and it's amazing how much they know of you.

EE:

Or have an opinion anyway. You started this work, and you were working in the Pentagon Annex. That was where your job was?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me what your workday was like.

AK:

Well, we worked shifts. That was a week at a time.

EE:

I guess I shouldn't interrupt you now because you told me before we started you actually had some training first before you started the day-to-day work, didn't you?

AK:

Oh, yes. We went to [Marine Corps Base] Quantico [Virginia]. I'm not sure if that was six weeks. It seems like it would have to be longer to fit in that time frame, but at least six weeks, I know.

EE:

But they sort of commuted you down the river in a boat?

AK:

Oh, yes. We all walked down and got on a boat and crossed the river. Somebody met us there and took us into a barracks, a classroom, and that's where we had—

EE:

So they actually took you by boat from D.C. down to Quantico?

AK:

Yes. It was just across the river. It didn't seem like it was a big long ride, but that's where we took our training.

EE:

And that was all women. What were your instructors? Were they all men?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

And this was training simply in the job of coding and decoding?

AK:

That's it.

EE:

No physical training?

AK:

No, nothing.

EE:

You're not housed together. You're simply being trained together. You go home at the end of the day to what, I guess the home of the friend that you're living with, or did you get an apartment after you got there?

AK:

No. I lived with a friend of my family's, stayed there. That's how it was until after we finished our training, and then we went on shifts. But, you know, back in those days, nobody worried about going on the four o'clock shift and getting off at midnight and going home. It was different.

EE:

That's what I've heard from many folks.

AK:

We felt—and the midnight shift until eight o'clock, going to work at that hour, there was no fear. I can't say that I went with a group but I was never alone on a bus that was going there.

EE:

I would imagine Washington was a twenty-four-hour city in those days.

AK:

Definitely. Definitely. Even the churches had services to accommodate everyone on Saturday and Sunday. You know, like there would be one at one o'clock and two o'clock in the morning, where normally that wouldn't happen. But it was a twenty-four-hour city, and yet it maintained a lot of its grace, I would say, as I remember it—excitement. It was exciting.

EE:

Well, that's good. You were all of—I guess you were twenty.

AK:

No. I was still nineteen.

EE:

You were an independent person, were you not?

AK:

I guess, but it was easier in those days. I would not want my daughter having a job where she'd have to report at midnight, although I know many women do that, probably work in the factories.

EE:

Day-to-day work at the annex, they ran three shifts, twenty-four hours a day. This was sort of the information center from which all the other movements of troops and material that air transport handled, this was sort of like the information center of all those orders going out?

AK:

Yes. I would think that would be a good way to describe it, not too much information. I mean, there was a great deal of information there, but I can't say that we understood everything. I mean, this is what we were supposed to code or decode and sometimes paraphrase, usually paraphrase, and we could do that. Also later—well, I guess that wasn't until I got in Miami—they wanted us to know how to use the teletype in anticipation of possibly having more Sigaba's. That was the big thing. That was really a teletype that would be coded and decoded just by typing.

EE:

That was a type of machine.

AK:

Yes, really.

EE:

Your training was about six weeks at Quantico, is that right?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

And then after that training, you came back and worked at the annex. I guess we're talking, probably, now, about October or November of '42, and you're working there. When you're in Washington, you're in a room with a bunch of other women who are working similar—

AK:

Yes. There are about eight of us, and we had a long table and lots of room and maybe a couple of tables in that room, I'd say from eight to sixteen. We were kept busy.

EE:

All women?

AK:

Yes, all young women like myself.

EE:

And you were brought in, I guess, baskets of information off of the machines and said, “Go to it”?

AK:

No, not off the machines, by a sergeant. This is for this table, and when we'd get finished we'd get another one. Some people might say, “Well, wasn't that boring?” At that point I didn't think it was. It was a challenge.

EE:

And as you say, when you decode that first message that's signed “Eisenhower,” [you think] “Well, if Eisenhower wants it, I'm going to make sure I do it right.”

Your boss for this was a civilian?

AK:

No, no, Major McDonald. And I don't know if he was with the Signal Corps or the air force, but let's say he was with the air force because the Air Transport Command was part of the air force. He had told us how unprepared the Signal Corps was, so I think he probably came out of the air force, maybe by way of—

EE:

The air force, I guess, then was still part of the army.

AK:

Oh, yes, I think it was.

EE:

He wore a green uniform?

AK:

You mean olive green?

EE:

Yes.

AK:

Okay. Khaki, khaki really.

EE:

You were there until Lincoln's Birthday, February 12, 1943, when you got the word that they wanted you and how many other folks to go to Miami?

AK:

Two others.

EE:

So the three amigos set out to Miami, and your job at the—what was it, the 36th Street Station you say?

AK:

36th Street Air Force Base.

EE:

And what was your work to be down there?

AK:

The same.

EE:

Decoding these messages—

AK:

Yes.

EE:

—and anticipation that perhaps they'll have a—you told me that at 36th Street Air Force Base is when they said that they needed something about the Signal Corps.

AK:

Well, they certainly needed communications in our armed forces, and I guess the Signal Corps was building up. We were training men—they were air force men, though, and first they were lieutenants and then finally any qualified—

EE:

So what happened is that they didn't have enough Signal Corps people to train, and they need you all in addition to decoding these messages to start training other people in how to do it so that you can get more help in doing this kind of work.

AK:

Right. Yes. I don't know that that was explained to us in the beginning, but that's how it turned out. Now, as my dad always said, “Probably if you gals would have chosen to stay or go into the service, you wouldn't have been eased out.” But it was probably the things because they had to go, these people had to go all over, not just in our country. So I have no criticism there at all.

EE:

This choice, we talked about it before we did this tape, but I want to get it on the tape. You said that at the—I guess it was toward the close of your time in Washington—one of the people there at work said that the women would be asked if they wanted to join the service or not. Would you tell me about that and your answer and why you answered the way you did.

AK:

Okay. Well, actually, it was when we finished at Quantico and then we were ready to start our job for the ATC, is what we called it. They put forth this plan or idea, and they wanted to see how we felt about it and told us to think it over and that we would vote on it. Well, we did, and probably most of us talked it over with our families, and my decision was to vote no. Something I thought about afterwards: they never said if we voted no we would be out of a job, but I didn't really consider that because they put a lot of effort in training us.

EE:

You didn't understand it to be that kind of a choice anyway, because you probably would have answered differently.

AK:

Well, maybe I would have, yes.

EE:

So you were given the option. And you said that your father had sort of given you the counsel about answering no to that question, had he not?

AK:

Well, he didn't think it was a good idea to subject yourself to going anyplace ordered. It was okay being sent to Miami or even to Borinquen [Puerto Rico] or even to Great Falls, Montana. I'm taking those as extremes. There were places in between, like Nashville, wherever they had an air force base, but who knew where they'd want to send you later?

EE:

If you joined, I guess, as most folks joined in service, you were joining for the duration plus six months. Is that the kind of commitment that you were making as a civilian employee or was it simply at your—

AK:

They didn't ask us, really. I think that the assumption was that they put this effort in training you that you would have the loyalty, and the type of young ladies that were interested had this patriotism that they wanted to do it. So I don't know that they—they may have thought about it, but I wasn't aware of it. I stayed with it as long as I could, as I said, until it finally phased out at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis.

EE:

You know, some of the kinds of work that women were recruited to do were specifically to free men to fight.

AK:

Right.

EE:

It sounds like the kind of work that you were doing is work that probably wasn't even there before the war, but all this stuff had to be in place as the war effort ratchets up and there's just a shortage of people. Is that the sense that you got?

AK:

Absolutely. That's it. And it didn't surprise me at all when we were down in Miami and they said, “Okay, So-and-so will be joining you,” or, “Two gentlemen will be joining you,” and eventually, then, they were part of our team. Then they also rotated shifts with us, and every shift had a couple of lieutenants that had been trained or were being trained. Eventually, it took off.

EE:

In D.C., while you were working at the Pentagon Annex, you were living the whole time with friends of yours.

AK:

Yes.

EE:

When you went to Miami, I assume there were fewer women doing this job. There were only three of you doing this work.

AK:

Oh, there were quite a few already down there. I'd say we had about—let's see, we had about—there would have to be at least eighteen, maybe twenty, because we had about six on a shift.

EE:

Right. So you had to have about six to eight every shift to go through. Did you all live together on the base?

AK:

No, no. No, they didn't have any room for us. That was the intention, but they had us apartments that were convenient for the staff cars to pick us up, and we were all very close together. I mean, it was for their convenience as well as—they said, our safety and their convenience.

EE:

So although you were civilians, they found you housing, they got you transportation to and from?

AK:

The young women who were already there found us housing.

EE:

Okay. And you say that most of the women who were doing this work were about your age? You were probably on the young side, early twenties, most of them.

AK:

I was on the young side. Yes, yes. Well, there were quite a few that were college graduates, of course. But I would say yes, early twenties.

EE:

You said that in Washington, Major McDonald was your supervisor. Who was your supervisor in Miami?

AK:

I can't remember his name.

EE:

But it was an enlisted person?

AK:

Yes, definitely, part of the Air Transport Command, and when you say “supervisor,” we called him our boss. Then each shift, each group, had their supervisors, like one out of our six or eight people was a supervisor.

EE:

Who was Angelo Piciolo?

AK:

Okay. He was the go-between Major McDonald and Sergeant Collins. He was a nice person. He kind of kept things straight, in order, and I always thought to thank him for—if he had anything to do with me going to Miami because that was a nice place to go.

EE:

Really. The shifts were twenty-four hours a day. Was the work for you all six days a week?

AK:

Seven. We didn't have any days off.

EE:

No days off.

AK:

No. But at a change of a shift, it worked out like you had a day. I can't exactly remember how that was, but it was like we had a day off.

EE:

Because of extended things.

AK:

But, you know, nobody complained because we were doing—this is what the men in service were doing. We were doing nothing more or less.

EE:

You weren't in a trench somewhere. In comparison that sacrifice of time was okay.

AK:

Yes. Now, another thing that might be interesting, we were on what they called “per diem” for six weeks, and actually, the people that were other places—well, I don't know where they were—but they could be transferred to someplace else and they were still on per diem and some went on for a long time. But by the time I got down to Miami and my six weeks were just about up and I'm wondering where I'm going to be and told I was going to remain in Miami, they had frozen that. I think that the government finally got a handle that they had to stop moving us from place to place.

EE:

Right. And you actually were in Miami for, it sounds like, about a year and a half, something like that?

AK:

Yes. It seems longer.

EE:

Maybe even longer than that. If you started in February of '43 and the next stop for you was St. Louis—and that didn't happen until sometime in '45—that probably would have been right, a little bit more than two years.

AK:

Yes.

EE:

You spent two Christmases in Miami.

AK:

Well, I did get a leave to go home. Another one of the advantages we had is, if an Air Transport Command plane was going to our destination and if there was room—these are cargo planes, now—we could fly. So I flew to Washington a couple of times, and I flew home for Christmas. I did have a couple or few days, I don't remember, not much leave.

EE:

There are some pictures you showed me already of your mom coming out to visit you in Miami.

AK:

Yes, checking us out.

EE:

Yes, to make sure her daughter's all right. Was your dad taking the picture?

AK:

No, no, no. No, he was in Mexico recruiting for the railroads. Oh, gosh. Actually, the girls I worked for, their parents—mothers. It was mothers because fathers just didn't have any time. They were very busy. And some mothers didn't. Now, my mother, she was a telephone operator, and she always says supervisor, but that's what she did before she was married. So she did something along those lines. But filling a job, releasing a man.

EE:

Somebody to do something else.

AK:

Everybody worked. It was incredible.

EE:

You were working with women. You had a male boss. Were there any opportunities for interaction with the enlisted air force men there on base? I mean, when you had free time, were you allowed—

AK:

To date?

EE:

Yes.

AK:

Oh, it was heaven.

EE:

So I guess they had a service club or something on base.

AK:

Oh, yes actually, on the beach, Miami Beach. They had the Officers' Club on Miami Beach, and we were not encouraged to go to the base that was actually across from where we worked. It was, I guess, the commercial side of the 36th Street Air Base, which was no longer commercial, then the airfield, and then on the other side was the base. We were not encouraged to go there. They didn't say we couldn't, but they let it be known that—

EE:

So the Officers' Club was okay for you to go to.

AK:

Right. Discrimination, right.

EE:

That's right. There was some discrimination against that. Are there some places or nightclubs, places in Miami Beach that stand out for you, good times, good memories?

AK:

Oh, they're all good memories. The first time after we were married we went down to Miami Beach, and I wanted to show my husband the Officers' Club. It was on the beach at the time. I think it was called the Shelbourne Hotel, but I'm not sure, and the Collins Hotel seemed to be next to it. But they were like three blocks back by that time.

Oh, I will tell you one interesting story. When we got there, we had about three days to get settled. So the first thing we wanted to do is get on the bus and go over to the beach. Somehow somebody neglected to tell us that they had a curfew. We were over there on the beach walking, just walking the beach, and there were four of us at the time. All of a sudden, we heard, “Halt,” and we thought someone was being funny. We didn't realize the seriousness of it. We did halt, and the young man explained to us that we get off the beach, get on the bus, go and don't come back until you know the rules. We did learn. Everything was dark, everything.

EE:

Blackout, because they were worried that subs might be offshore?

AK:

Yes. I'm sure subs were spotted between Miami and going up the East Coast, because there was talk about that, and whether it was just rumors or not I'm not sure. But it was a total blackout. I mean nothing, no cigarettes on the beach, nothing, and everybody smoked then.

EE:

I'm just wondering, four girls on a totally dark beach, someone comes out of the darkness and says, “Halt.” I think I'd be a little suspect, too.

AK:

Well, you see, there were places, like where the Officers' Club was, they had blue lights or something. It was still very dark. Apparently they couldn't be seen. And you couldn't go beyond a certain point on the beach. Everybody smoked in those days, as you know, and there was even something about smoking on the beach. So I suppose that they took the curfew very seriously and the blackout. So I didn't spend too much time there because, you see, there was only one week out of three that I had free time.

EE:

Are there some songs or dances that you remember that take you back there?

AK:

Well, the whole Miami Beach area was taken over by air force, navy, anything, I guess. They were all training, so they were marching and singing. Eddie Duchin was part of the navy, and there was a club that he played in. He just sat down at the piano and played, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be present at one of the—I didn't realize that that's what he was going to do or that he was there, but that was interesting. But it was very moving, the marching and the singing. I was at that age where the flag, it's all very moving. It really got to you.

As far as the places, gosh, I can't remember. I remember the Officers' Club. There was a place in Coral Gables. But, you see, there was gasoline rationing also. So even though somebody had a car, that was pretty far from where we lived. I can't remember the name of it.

EE:

When you're going out in the evening, are you wearing this uniform?

AK:

No. Now, if we were working and we were going someplace, but not to put the uniform on and have a date.

EE:

You can't see the picture on the tape. The uniform I'm talking about, it looks similar to an army uniform in that you've got a dark green jacket, a khaki skirt; you've got a hat with wings on it. But it is to be worn while you're at work.

AK:

While we're on the base, right. But as I said, if we were going someplace afterwards we had it on, but not to put it on to go out.

EE:

The people that you worked with, the men who you worked with, how did they feel about having women around working with them? Were you treated well? Did anybody give you any static because you're a woman?

AK:

No. We were treated well.

EE:

You were in Miami for about two years. Did you request the switch to St. Louis? How did that come about?

AK:

Well, actually, I did. See, we were training more and more. So we all had the feeling that there were going to be enough men trained and then we were going to be eased out, probably always have a civil service job because they needed people all over. But it just worked out, my parents going back to St. Louis. I made inquiries. Now there was the transfer to the Signal Corps, still as a civilian, but it just sort of worked out. The work wasn't as exciting, of course, and it wasn't as much as it was when we first go into it.

EE:

So you did formally transfer from Air Transport [Command] to Signal Corps?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

But as a civilian employee.

AK:

As a civilian. No more uniform.

EE:

Did you lose anything as far as—it wouldn't be rank, but I guess—job status?

AK:

No, nothing. No. I transferred on the same—what do they call that? God, how could I forget something that important?—grade, I guess, what grade we were.

EE:

As a government employee, civil service employee, you didn't lose anything on grade?

AK:

No, I didn't lose it.

EE:

When you transferred back, did you keep a separate apartment? Did you go back to live with your folks?

AK:

I lived at home. That's what people did in those days. Housing was scarce.

EE:

Now it seems to be going back that way, too. A lot of folks leave from college and go back and live with Mama then, too, but it's not always the easiest thing to do.

AK:

That's true.

EE:

This was early '45. You were doing this job. And this was at the Jefferson Barracks?

AK:

Yes.

EE:

I guess Jefferson Barracks is at Jefferson Air Force Base?

AK:

No. No. Jefferson Barracks. It was one of the oldest army—

EE:

Sounds like a cavalry outpost at one point or something.

AK:

It could have been. I'm not sure. It was right on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, one of the oldest bases or barracks, whatever.

EE:

And you were working there when President Roosevelt passed away.

AK:

I believe I was.

EE:

Do you remember anything about that? Do you remember hearing that news?

AK:

Oh, yes. I—

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

—and you would not have seen it on TV. How did you find out about it?

AK:

Well, we found out about it—you know, they had extras for papers, newspapers, and the radio.

EE:

They used to have afternoon editions for papers, didn't they?

AK:

Absolutely. Yes. And then they also had Fox News. The movie theaters had—they just ran news. Of course, everybody—I remember seeing in the news the train and everyone felt very sad. But everything went on in the usual manner.

EE:

Mrs. Roosevelt was not a shy person. For a First Lady, she was a different kind of First Lady. What did you think of her, being a young woman?

AK:

I loved her. She did her own thing, and she was not afraid of criticism if she believed she was right. And she invited school girls to tea, the high schools, and they were just the senior classes. We'd go to tea, and that was one of my greatest thrills. I mean, we were there and actually having tea with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.

EE:

So this is something you got to do in high school.

AK:

I did, yes.

EE:

Go to the White House.

AK:

I sure did.

EE:

That is an exciting thing to remember, to look back on.

AK:

Well, living in Washington in those days was nothing like today, believe me. It was a small town, I think five hundred thousand people. And as a high school student and college, too, we used the Library of Congress as children do today our public libraries. We had our little private room and our telephone, and we would call up for the books, and they'd come up, and that was all part of the excitement, and the typewriter right there. It was just a nice, good experience.

EE:

Washington has always had perks for those who want to live there, I think. I've enjoyed visiting there. Using the Library of Congress still today, you call up for the books.

AK:

Oh, yes, you can. Yes, that's true, but I wonder if the students do. I hope they do, because I know that Georgetown and all the colleges and universities in that area have their own libraries and I'm sure they're all very good, but it's just the thrill of being part of our government, I guess you might say, and using, taking advantage of all that and, of course, going to the Supreme Court and going to Congress. Being there gave you a lot of opportunities.

EE:

You talked earlier about how Washington was a different place and you weren't really afraid to go out at midnight or in the middle of the night to go to work or come home from work. It doesn't sound like the kind of work you did itself ever put you in physical danger or made you afraid. Were you ever afraid when you were away from home in all these different places?

AK:

No, not in that era.

EE:

What was the hardest thing about your work with the Air Transport Corps and the Signal Corps? Was there anything physically or emotionally that was difficult for you doing that work?

AK:

Well, sometimes we complained about the shifts. But as I look back now, when you're young, your body adjusts. Now they tell you that's not good. However, in those days, we did it, and the body adjusts to that, and we didn't have any problem. I don't know anyone that did. That was okay.

Then in Washington I lived with a friend of my mother and dad's who had an apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, and the staff car picked us up very close. I had to walk about two blocks, I guess. I could either take that or I could take the bus. If I wasn't coming from home, I could take the bus. There was no fear. I don't know of anybody who had any fear. And there was a friendliness. The men in service, of course—maybe I was naive, but I always thought that they were gentlemen. They appeared to be.

EE:

And you were always treated as such, so I guess that's the expectation.

AK:

That's right.

EE:

Talking about fear, almost everybody I've talked with comments about those days being so patriotic and such a sense of togetherness and purpose that was around in society. Did you ever run across people who expressed fear that we might not win the war?

AK:

No. I don't believe so. They were all so determined we were going to win.

EE:

You told me a little bit before this tape started about how once you were at Jefferson [Barracks] how things changed. I guess one of the things that made things change in the role of your work was the news about VE [Victory in Europe] Day. Tell me about how you found out that news and what happened.

AK:

Well, again, we got that over the teletype, and it was classified as top secret. We took it to the major, and we had to wait until the news was officially reported, and then we could talk about it. Thank God we were—

EE:

Did you have a sense of what it was?

AK:

Oh, yes. Absolutely, yes, we did. We knew. And thank goodness we only had about four in our little office, so it isn't like there was a bunch of people and something might leak out to someone else. It was exciting in the anticipation, of course, of being able to say, “Yay, it's over,” but—

EE:

Of course, you still had Japan.

AK:

Oh, we still had Japan.

EE:

And everybody, I guess, assumed that we were going to have to invade Japan the way we had in Europe until we dropped the bomb. Do you have any recollections of that and of VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

AK:

Dropping the bomb, I remember Truman's speech. I can't tell you just all he said except that he was explaining that we had to do this. It was horrifying to imagine, that so much destruction and so many lives could be lost with one bomb. But everyone wanted it over. So I don't know if there was any protest. We just wanted it over. We lost so many young men, and everybody had a relative or a friend that was fighting in the Pacific, and thank goodness it was over.

EE:

Did you know some people in that?

AK:

Well, I had a cousin, yes, and a friend. It turned out that I didn't know him until afterwards. He was our best man. He was over there. And there were a lot of others, but I would say my cousin was my close—the one I was always concerned, praying for and sending cookies to. We all were big on doing that, keeping up the morale of the servicemen.

EE:

You told me before we started about how you met your husband, and part of that relates to the change in the kind of work that you're doing. You switched from doing decoding work into more processing.

AK:

That's right. I was organizer of all these young counselors.

EE:

These are counselors counseling people as they're leaving the military.

AK:

Being discharged, right. Right.

EE:

Getting their—somebody told me 52-50 was what they wanted, fifty dollars a month for a year. For fifty-two weeks you'd get fifty dollars a month.

AK:

I don't know. I have no recollection of that. But I had to check them in and keep track of them, more of less, and it was sort of a [unclear] job. There was a little paperwork, but I mean it was mostly checking them in and keeping track of any sick leave or so forth, days off. It was pleasant. I was allowed to go, of course, to socialize with them, and we had lunch together, we played bridge during lunch hours.

EE:

Was this still a seven-day-a-week, three-shifts thing?

AK:

No. no. There were times I had to work on a Saturday and/or a Sunday, but it was more eight [a.m.] to five [p.m.] from Monday through Friday, and things were cooling down now.

EE:

So this is late '45 when one of the persons who's coming back to be processed out is a fellow who would eventually become your husband.

AK:

'46 I think.

EE:

Where had he been stationed during the war?

AK:

In the European theatre.

EE:

He comes back and is processed out, and when he's processed out they discover they need another counselor.

AK:

Well, yes. As they were processing, anybody who met those qualifications, they would offer them a job. And he lived about fifteen minutes from Jefferson Barracks, and it was kind of an ideal situation. In those days, you know, not everyone had a car. This generation doesn't know that.

EE:

We're addicted, I know.

AK:

And it took a while before you could get one. It was tough getting a car.

EE:

So did you not know Herbert until he became a counselor?

AK:

Yes, that's where I met him.

EE:

And then you would go out to lunch with everybody in the office and start talking.

AK:

Yes, and we started dating. In May of '47—we were actually planning this a little earlier, but as I said, after he finished his job as a counselor he took a job with Booth Fisheries, and his training had kind of interfered with our getting married a few months earlier. So we just set the date for May. It worked out fine.

EE:

So you worked at Jefferson up to the time you got married?

AK:

No. No, Jefferson Barracks was closing up gradually, and I took a job at—it was really a different—I can't think of what it was called. It was just doing clerical work, not exciting at all. It seems like maybe McDonnell's Aircraft was close by.

EE:

McDonnell Douglas?

AK:

Yes. And that's all very—I can't remember.

EE:

You weren't there for very long.

AK:

No, I wasn't. That's probably why. But one thing that was interesting, a lot of friends now that were being discharged, they were going—and others that had jobs working in defense plants—they were all sort of gathered in this something-annex, whatever it was called, and we shared rides, we had car pools, and there are a lot of people that I had known before and then all of a sudden, “Well, what are you doing here?” But it was until I got really settled, I guess, and then that was enough of that.

EE:

Well, you got married in May of '47. You left the work force?

AK:

I left the work force, right.

EE:

And you ended up having two children?

AK:

Two children.

EE:

And boy and a girl.

AK:

A boy and a girl.

EE:

Either one of them ever have any interest in joining the military?

AK:

Never. My son, who was fifty-one yesterday, he was in the middle of the Vietnam bit. Thank God, he had a number of 365 so he was never called. But he was one that had demonstrated at the University of Florida. They had—oh, God, what is that priest's name, Father—who kept things cool. They had their candlelight services, and he'd call and let us know every day what was going on. We were in Lexington, Kentucky. A friend, Marie Ryskywitz, and Mrs. Obermeyer—she was the wife of a professor from the university—we found our names in the paper as three women from Lexington who are members of Another Mother for Peace. Now, how did they find that out? It was just, you know, about two and a half in twos and it was who we were. And we were, we were. But what did we do? Pay dues.

EE:

But you were not there.

AK:

No. What we were doing, Maria and I, we often laugh, because whenever the kids were out demonstrating, we were out there watching so we could see if there was any—

EE:

Make sure that they were being on the up and up about it.

AK:

And both ways.

EE:

I was going to say, there was peace among the protestors as much as anything else.

AK:

Right. That's right.

EE:

So early on you weren't too enamored with Vietnam, not just because of your—

AK:

No, I wasn't, because—well, it might have been a religious thing, but I had become acquainted with a Lutheran minister, and I did not know the Catholic priest. They had a mission, I guess, the Lutheran minister. They had a mission, and there was a Baptist, and they joined together in Vietnam. They told the story of how dreadful it was. They were doing good work. They were not necessarily in conversion as in bettering their lives and hospitalization and medicine and so forth, and they just thought it was dreadful that we got involved. It was definitely a political thing to do with oil. I thought all this, and I still think I'm right.

My husband says I'm too dogmatic about it. But no, I wasn't, and of course, being Another Mother for Peace, we were updated, what was going on. I would have been out there marching, yes. Margaret, my friend here, was in Washington, isn't it funny, I kind of meet up with these people and become friends. Well, she brought her husband with her to demonstrate in Washington, and my husband said, “Oh, thank God we didn't need to.” [Laughter]

EE:

What if your daughter had come to you and said, “Mom, I'd like to join the service.” What would your advice have been?

AK:

You mean now? Well, she's forty-six.

EE:

When she was younger. I guess you might have been opposed if she was joining during the Vietnam War.

AK:

Well, I would have been opposed, probably, yes. But as far as being in the service, I would have urged her to get her education so when she applied for something in the service she would have something to give and that she would start someplace. But she's the type that would do her own thing, and I have never really thought about her being interested in the service, but it could have happened.

EE:

It's a hypothetical for some people. I guess you all moved around some. How did you all get to Greensboro?

AK:

Well, eventually Booth Fisheries, that didn't work out as far as he was concerned. So he took a job with National Cash Register, NCR. He worked with them until he retired. Of course, we were in St. Louis for eleven, twelve, thirteen years, around that, moved to Dayton, and he was head of sales training. We were there for about six years, moved to Lexington, Kentucky. He was branch manager, and we were there about the same length of time. We moved here in '70, and he was district manager. So it was going up the line and taking the moves. In those days wives didn't have anything to say as they do today. You know, the companies don't move you around quite—which is good in my opinion because it was always uprooting the family. But nevertheless, the companies had the loyalty that I don't believe companies have today.

EE:

With all the mergers, it's not really same company after a couple of years, is it?

AK:

This is it. I mean, AT&T took over NCR. They eventually gave it back to NCR, but, you know.

EE:

In the meantime, they lost all the loyalty.

AK:

Well, and they lost the talent and the—yes, and the rhythm.

EE:

We just sent, I guess, in December of '98, a woman into combat as a fighter pilot in Iraq. Do you think there are some jobs that women should not be allowed to do in the service?

AK:

I think a woman could probably do everything a man does in service, but being in command and the physical part of a woman might have some effect on—I want to say judgment—at certain times of the months. Maybe not. But I think they can do anything. I think a woman can fly if she wants to. If this is her thing, she's going to do it.

EE:

You allude to this. I want to make sure I have it on tape. Do you think you contributed to the war effort?

AK:

Yes, absolutely. I felt good about myself. There is one friend I still keep up with. She lives in Minneapolis, and we do a lot of laughing about things that occurred. She said, “Do you think we really were as important as we thought we were?” I said, “Yes, at that time.” Looking back and putting myself in that place now, yes, at that time, because one thing I realized, they were not ready for war in communications. They couldn't take the men they needed to fight. So this is what they did, and it was working.

I think that all along they knew that eventually we would be training after they got things organized, which is how it happened. I know my dear friend, who took me to the luncheon—Now, she's the one who suggested the luncheon at UNCG. She's a nurse. And she said, “You know, nobody had a commission in those days, the women.” I'm speaking for her. We had to go when they said go, and she was married to her husband, I think, two months, and she was sent out before he was, and that kind of thing. She said, “Yet, if we had to do it all over again, what would you do?”

I said, “Well, I would do it.” But I wasn't in that position as she was, you know, being sent out.

EE:

When I ask you this question the easy answer would be to say, “Well, I got a husband.” But how has your life been different because of your time spent with Air Transport and in the Signal Corps?

AK:

Well, I don't know that it has been different. I can tell you something my dad said. “If you don't finish school before you get involved in this war, you won't,” and he was right. I tried, but I met Herb and I didn't finish college. But that's not to do with the Air Transport Command. That would be because of the war itself, you might say.

I was happy to do it. I think I knew more of what was truly going on. When I met these women coming from all different places—all the women my age that we met for that luncheon, it was very exciting to me to see that they came from all places and they were doing all different things. I'm sure that they all had that same feeling. I'm sure some of the nurses in particular—my cousin ended up marrying a nurse some place in the South Pacific, and she had a hard life, but she was gratified that she could be there and doing that. I didn't have a hard life, but I felt I was doing something at least. So some of those women there, I knew, were truly more involved and more important, probably, in ways, but I knew that my job was important too at the time.

EE:

Well, thank you for sharing today about that job. Is there anything that I haven't asked you about that you want to share with us?

AK:

I don't—

EE:

You remembered quite a lot for someone who didn't remember a lot.

AK:

Well, I've been doing a lot of thinking and plotting. Yes, I will tell you one thing. One of my trips on the cargo ship up to Washington, of course you just sat on the floor. You were just like the other servicemen who happened to be on this cargo ship. When we landed—and then the pilot, who was, as I said, a recruit from one of the commercial airlines, older, but I believe he was part of the service—he said, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for saying an extra little prayer.”

I said, “Did he ask us to?”

He said, “We were carrying some dangerous dynamite.”

Now, I don't know if he was being funny or not, but we all just kind of, “Oh, well, you had a great landing, and let's get off this boat.” But, you know, then it impressed me as he told the absolute truth. Today I'm thinking he could have been pulling our legs. But that was one of the things to relate and talk about.

Another time, one of the girls came back, and she was either going to Washington or New York. She said that the plane that she was on spotted a submarine. I guess it's difficult to tell if it's friendly or not, but they had to report that. It wasn't too long afterwards that they did say there were German subs that were sighted off the East Coast. So, you know, those things were happening. That's as close as we got to danger, let me tell you.

EE:

That was close enough.

AK:

Yes.

EE:

Thank you, Mrs. Keller.

[End of interview]