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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Gage Dunham, 2000

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Object ID: WV0143.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Dunham’s experiences at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (WC) and with the WAVES in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

Summary:

Topics related to World War II and the WAVES include learning about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; her reasons for joining the military; discovering an ovarian cyst during her physical examination; her family’s and neighbors’ reactions to Dunham joining the WAVES; basic training; leading a platoon; and living quarters at Smith College.

Dunham also discusses her time in Washington, D.C. Topics include a background check done by the FBI to clear Dunham to work with decoded messages; finding her own housing; social life in the WAVES; meeting her husband, Bob Gage, in the officers’ club; rudeness toward WAVES; the danger of Washington, D.C., at night; reading decoded Japanese messages toward the end of the war and knowing that the war was winding down; and her opinion of women in combat positions.

Creator: Mary Ada Cox Gage Dunham

Biographical Info: Mary Ada Gage Dunham of Mount Olive, North Carolina, served in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Mary Gage Dunham Oral History

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today is January 16 in the year 2000. I'm in Wilmington, North Carolina, this evening at the home of Mary Cox Gage, or as she was known at WC [Woman's College, now UNCG], Mary Ada Cox, Mary Dunham. Thank you for being with us here this evening and letting us come into your home tonight.

MD:

I think you got the names mixed up. I'm not sure. My name in college was Mary Ada Cox, and then my married name was Mary Cox Gage, and then my present name is Mary Gage Dunham. Isn't that what you did?

EE:

That's right. That's right.

MD:

Okay. I'm sorry.

EE:

It's important to know. Right now it's Mary Dunham is what you go by?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

But folks back when you were in WC knew you as Mary Cox, and at one time you were Mary Gage.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Thank you.

MD:

Yes. And Pinky.

EE:

Pinky?

MD:

I had a nickname that was used quite a bit.

EE:

Was that used in college, or was that something the service folks used?

MD:

In college mostly.

EE:

Well, I'm going to start tonight, just talk with you, Mrs. Dunham, with the same question I've asked everybody, and I hope it's not the hardest one, and that's a simple one: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

MD:

In Mount Olive, North Carolina. I was reared there, too.

EE:

EE: So you graduated from high school there in Mount Olive?

MD:

Yes, I did.

EE:

What was the name of the high school there?

MD:

Mount Olive High School.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

MD:

Yes. I had a brother, older, and a sister, older, and another brother, younger. We were two boys and two girls.

EE:

What did your folks do there in Mount Olive?

MD:

My father was a banker in the beginning, until the unpleasantness of the—

EE:

The unpleasantness of the Depression.

MD:

Right.

EE:

Was it a local community bank? Did it go under during the Depression?

MD:

Yes, it did.

EE:

What was the name of the bank?

MD:

Citizens Bank.

EE:

Was he the president of that bank?

MD:

Yes, he was.

EE:

What happened after that?

MD:

He was a man of energy and integrity, and he managed to—in the beginning he did some sales work on the road, and after that, he established, with his brother, a store of groceries—what is it when you—groceries, lots of them?

EE:

Right. Okay. So like a wholesaler?

MD:

Yes. [laughs] I'm afraid you're going to find that I have many of those things.

EE:

That's quite all right. So he was doing that. What about your mom? Was she there at home raising you all, or did she have another job outside the home?

MD:

No, she was helping us. I mean, she was with us all the time, and we had a wonderful cook, which people did then, that was just like a nanny or something like that. She was great. So we were very lucky.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

MD:

19—

EE:

'39 or '40, somewhere in there? I think you graduated from WC in '44, was that right?

MD:

Yes. I'm sorry. I can't recall.

EE:

I think at that time the high schools were eleven-year high schools.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

You were probably getting close to when it was a twelve-year high school.

MD:

Well, not on the horizon.

EE:

So you were about eight or nine when the Depression hit, then, I guess.

MD:

Yes, seven or eight.

EE:

So it was a big memory in your recollection?

MD:

It was, and we had two kids older than I who were about to go to college and then a little brother. College was made a major goal. I mean, there was no question that all of us were going to go.

EE:

Right. So did your older brother and sister get to go to college?

MD:

Yes, they did. That was when my father had opened a wholesale grocery.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school yourself when you were growing up?

MD:

Yes. I think I did. I think we all did.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

MD:

Literature. English, I guess we would call it.

EE:

That's usually caused by a teacher who turns you on to the subject, I think.

MD:

Yes. We had wonderful teachers. We really did.

EE:

Did you think of any other school on the horizon, other than WC? How was it that you picked Woman's College out of all the choices out there?

MD:

They had an art department, and that was what I wanted to major in.

EE:

Where had your sister gone to school?

MD:

To Duke [University, in Durham], and my older brother as well.

EE:

Where did you live when you were at WC? Do you remember the dormitory?

MD:

Two dormitories: one Jamison, which has, I think, been torn down, and Woman's.

EE:

Had Dean [Harriet] Elliott already left for Washington when you were there, or did that happen?

MD:

That happened, I think, while we were there. I recall Dean Elliott as being there.

EE:

When you were at the school, did you go to school with some other girls from back home, or were you the only one going from Mount Olive up there?

MD:

I was the only one, and I cried for the first six weeks. [Laughter]

EE:

That was your first big trip away from home?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

How did you get up there by then? Did you take the bus?

MD:

The train. I think my parents drove me up and dropped me, but if we wanted to go home, we usually went on the train.

EE:

Your generation grew up, and looking back, you say, “Oh, my goodness, how was it?” But you were just a teenager.

MD:

And really naive.

EE:

Yes. When you got there, had the war broken out in Europe? I know some folks, when they got to WC, their high school class—I think, in '40 they started drafting fellows out of high school. Did you lose any friends out of high school to the draft, or was that just after you got up there?

MD:

I don't think I lost any of my friends at that time.

EE:

Well, was the topic at home about the war in Europe? Because for while, you know, I guess it started in '39, there was some talk in this country about, well, it's their war, stay out of it. Other folks said we need to go on and get ready to get into it.

MD:

I don't recall anything like that. I don't know why.

EE:

So that wasn't part of the discussion at your house.

MD:

I think life went on rather normally for us.

EE:

I think for most folks, the Depression knocked the wind out of you so bad everybody was just trying to get back on their feet, and in a sense, it was not a concern until it was made a concern.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember where you were Pearl Harbor Day?

MD:

Yes. I was in Woman's College, and a friend of mine called up—I was on the second floor—and said, “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.”

EE:

Just called up the stairwell?

MD:

No. She was outdoors, and she called up. I could hear her.

EE:

Did you know where Pearl Harbor was?

MD:

No, not really.

EE:

But you knew that was not good news?

MD:

Not good news.

EE:

Did you call home that day?

MD:

No, I don't think so. I don't recall anything like that.

EE:

What was happening on campus? Do you remember people moving around?

MD:

No, I don't. Isn't it strange? You know, looking way back, it's just [unclear].

EE:

Did you major in art there at WC?

MD:

Yes, I did.

EE:

Did you have some instructors that you remember either fondly or otherwise?

MD:

Gregory Ivey was the one that was just—probably that's the reason I went. He was great.

EE:

So you had a chance to meet him before going to the school?

MD:

No. I just knew he was there, I think. I know I hadn't seen him before. Maybe I just went to college and then there he was.

EE:

Right. What was his specialty? Was he drawing, painting, or sculpture?

MD:

Watercolor mostly.

EE:

What was the course load like for you? I assume there's a lot of lab work that you had to do as far as extended lab hours and modeling and that kind of thing. What was that like?

MD:

Well, it was new and different, for sure.

EE:

Had you had art courses in Mount Olive?

MD:

No, nothing like that. I was always scribbling and drawing, and if they had to have a map or anything like that, I was—

EE:

You were called on.

MD:

Yes, and another girl. But we just plunged in, I think. There were a couple of teachers, and they started teaching us about clay and modeling and so forth. Dr. Ivey was the main person that we all rallied around.

EE:

How many other women were in that program, do you recall?

MD:

I would guess about twenty, maybe.

EE:

I know for some of the degree programs, they almost, it seemed like, encouraged everybody, whatever your major was, take education courses so you can teach it. Was that the same way with art? Did they ask you to take education courses?

MD:

They just suggested it, but I just knew I didn't want to teach, and I didn't take them.

EE:

Were there any other professors there at the school that you remember, other courses?

MD:

Literature. I had some wonderful teachers of literature, whose names I cannot remember.

EE:

Were you there when Eleanor Roosevelt came to campus?

MD:

I don't think so.

EE:

You probably would have remembered that.

MD:

Yes, I'm sure I would have.

EE:

You graduated in '44. Some people have told me that during the war years the school was very into things like rationing, and you had to come in and turn in your coupon books at the beginning of the semester, and they would tear off things, and they would play—do you remember playing a game “dive bomber,” where you'd go around campus—do you recall any specific things that you all did for the war effort as students?

MD:

No, I can't.

EE:

I do know there was a base, ORD [Overseas Replacement Depot] station or something.

MD:

In Greensboro.

EE:

Did the war affect social life? What was social life like for you? Did you have time to have one? What did you do for a social life at WC?

MD:

I was pretty well—I didn't have any dates hardly, and the girls that did had usually known the fellows before, from home.

EE:

Was that because there weren't that many men to date?

MD:

Yes. They were, you know, a lot of them drafted.

EE:

Did your brother go into the service?

MD:

He did after he graduated. He had graduated from college by that time, Duke, and went into the navy.

EE:

When you graduated in '44, what did you do? Did you go right into the service?

MD:

Yes, I did.

EE:

What made you decide to join the WAVES [Womena Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] or even go there? I mean, a lot of women had a tough time convincing folks at home that they should go into the service.

MD:

I know.

EE:

What was the conversation like at your house?

MD:

Well, the beginning of it, I guess, was being in the huge auditorium at UNCG, and a darling girl came out in her WAVE uniform, a little blonde, cute as she could be. She was a recruiter. I think I made up my mind that minute that that is the way to go.

EE:

Do you recall any other branch of service coming and advertising or recruiting?

MD:

No.

EE:

Just the WAVES. That was what made an impression?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

So did you sign up before you graduated, then?

MD:

I wanted to. Yes, I did. I was going out right after I graduated.

EE:

I think you had to be twenty-one to join, didn't you?

MD:

Yes, and I was twenty-one then, I believe. When I had the examination there was a cyst, an ovarian cyst, and so I had to go home—and that turned up, I guess, after I had made the trip to—

EE:

To Raleigh?

MD:

No, to the training place.

EE:

You went to Northampton [Massuchusetts, home of Smith College] ?

MD:

Yes. I got all the way to Northampton.

EE:

And you had another physical there?

MD:

Which uncovered this.

EE:

Right. So they didn't catch it—I guess you had to go to Raleigh for a physical the first time, or it was—

MD:

No. This is kind of muddy as to whether it was in Raleigh and I got sent home.

EE:

How long were you out because of that?

MD:

Let me see. If I graduated in 19— say, what time did we graduate?

EE:

Probably May of '44.

MD:

May of '44, and as soon as I knew I had to have that surgery, we had it, and I went back and reentered Northampton. The cyst was discovered in Northampton. I remember that now.

EE:

How did your family feel about your joining the WAVES? Were they supportive?

MD:

My mother and dad were—they were very lenient, and they liked for us to have all sorts of experiences. Most people in Mount Olive thought I was going to the dogs. It was really—

EE:

Wasn't exactly the cultured thing to do, was it?

MD:

No way. [Laughter] I just thought it was great, and they did, too, after—

EE:

That's funny, because the WACs [Women's Army Corps], I think, when they started in '42, had a lot—even from the army, they found out, later on started circulating rumors about the moral character of folks who were joining the army. Yet even two years later you still had that suspicion that was going around.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Well, you went to Northampton. Was this your first trip out of the state?

MD:

Yes, I think it was, the best I remember.

EE:

What do you remember about basic training, other than being sent home, which is a pretty traumatic thing? You were home for a month or how long did it take you to get—

MD:

It must have been about three months.

EE:

So it was [unclear] time that you joined.

MD:

When I got back.

EE:

[Unclear] training?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

What do you remember about what happened?

MD:

I remember how the hills were icy one day, and I had to get the whole platoon down without getting killed, you know, sliding down.

EE:

And you were walking in what kind of shoes?

MD:

The ugliest shoes you ever saw in your life. The first thing I think every one of us did was to throw those shoes away. I gave mine to the cook. She loved it. They fitted her fine.

EE:

Well, of course, this was not North Carolina. It gets freezing temperature in September and October up there. The notes said you were a platoon leader. You thought you were a platoon leader because you were tall? Is that the reason?

MD:

[Laughter] I think that was part of it. I don't know why in the world it happened.

EE:

Were you somebody who—I've had some women tell me these horror stories about drill. They'd say right, and they'd get right and confused, and they'd suddenly wax Southern at all the wrong moments, “Stop, you all.”

MD:

The class that sat behind us—no, before us—was so mean about that. You know, they'd say, “Hut, two, three, four,” and they'd get your cadence all off, you know, so everybody was going all over.

EE:

Were there any Southerners in your class?

MD:

I don't think so. It doesn't seem to me like there were.

EE:

So were you given grief for being from the South, or did they [unclear]?

MD:

Well, maybe the upper classmen did, and maybe that was the—the way I spoke that made them be so unkind. Or maybe they just did it anyway.

EE:

Yes. But you were all right with drill. If you were a platoon leader, you knew what was going on, you could handle yourself all right.

MD:

I was scared—in fact, terrified. We had to—the campus was large, much larger than anyone I'd been used to, and had to locate a building way over here or over there, and I'd be [unclear].

EE:

Although you've got brothers and sisters at home, it's a little different, barracks living. What was the experience like for you? Were you in the hotel in Northampton?

MD:

The inn.

EE:

Right, in the inn.

MD:

Yes. Oh, it was divine. It was just the most—

EE:

What, four to a room?

MD:

I believe there were four to the room, two bunks and then you've got [unclear].

EE:

Well, that's no different from being home, then, I guess, in some places. You've got to share the bathroom before folks there.

MD:

Right.

EE:

When you joined up, did you have an idea about what you wanted to do? Why were you joining, other than just that the lady—did it look good? Was it to free a man to fight? What was the reason do you think?

MD:

I think a sense of adventure and getting on with it.

EE:

Seeing the world, I guess.

MD:

I didn't know what else to do. I was an art major, but I wasn't a real great one. So I didn't know whether I'd get a job or not if I didn't go in. But anyway, this was a happy coincidence.

EE:

Did you know any other women from WC who were joining?

MD:

No, I didn't.

EE:

Did they tell you when you joined or do you recall them giving you a set of options about, well, you can either do this kind of work or this kind of work? Did they tell you what you might be getting into work-wise?

MD:

No.

EE:

When you were at Northampton, I guess that's probably about six to eight weeks' training?

MD:

Yes, I guess so.

EE:

So you probably finished up the end of October, something like that?

MD:

A little bit later than that because of the time that I had been out.

EE:

So were you finished basic before Christmas?

MD:

Yes, I think so.

EE:

Where did you go after basic?

MD:

To Washington.

EE:

To Washington. That was your first assignment?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

And you were, I guess, an ensign when you got out of there.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you go in Washington?

MD:

I can't recall what the setting was. It was in a women's school, and it was where the most highly secretive things were going on. I think I must have had some schooling that I was someone who could manage that.

EE:

Was it coding and decoding?

MD:

It was not coding and decoding. It was—I don't know how to describe it, quite. We had to take care of these huge cabinets which had decoded messages in them. Then there would be other people in this same complex that we were in who had to use that knowledge to put things together and break codes.

EE:

Sounds sort of like archiving. It was basically archiving the coded messages. So you guys are the reference area where people who are decoding can come to you and say, “I want to check to see what this pattern was.”

MD:

Exactly. That's exactly what we did.

EE:

So you were sort of like the archivist of the decoding operation so that they could keep track of how things were going?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Was it a big office that you were working in, a big storage facility?

MD:

It was a number of smaller offices, it seemed to me. Margy and I were in the same one.

EE:

Was it all women or women and men?

MD:

There were men around. In our group no, there were all women.

EE:

So your day-to-day supervisor was another WAVES officer?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

So in your office there might have been what, six, ten people? How many people altogether.

MD:

I'd say maybe eight to twelve, something like that.

EE:

WAVES officers. Where were you all housed, do you remember? Were you housed there at the college?

MD:

No. There was nothing provided for us. We had to scramble trying—

EE:

So you were living on your own?

MD:

Pardon?

EE:

You were on your own?

MD:

We were on our own and had this one—

EE:

That's hard to find in Washington, isn't it sometimes?

MD:

Yes, it was terrible. We would meet the papers in the morning. You'd wait until the chute came down, you'd catch the paper and run for a taxi.

EE:

Wow. It's just up and flying, just trying to figure—

MD:

Yes, just flying.

EE:

Did you room with other women in the office, or what did you end up doing for housing?

MD:

Yes. Margy and I and—I can't remember how we gathered the other people around us, but we landed with our butter, as they say, because we found a precious apartment that had a woman whose husband was in—I'm sorry. This happens to me.

EE:

Was he overseas or something?

MD:

He was overseas and she had gone somewhere else, but she had her apartment there, right at Connecticut and Belmont. It was the most beautiful place to live. We could walk to work.

EE:

That is nice.

MD:

It was right on the throughway, you know, Connecticut Avenue.

EE:

Your work, was it eight-to-five work? Was it three shifts? How was the job itself?

MD:

It was three shifts, I believe. We worked a midwatch.

EE:

Okay. So that's rather hard.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

So that means that one week you might be working first shift, the other week you might be pulling midnight shift.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Were you working six days a week, seven? How did that go? Did you ever have a weekend off?

MD:

I know we did, because we'd go to New York once in a while and do very exciting things like that. I think it was probably about eight hours, actually, maybe eight, maybe more.

EE:

You got your immediate orders from another WAVES officer. How long did you do that job? You did that job through the time that you were in service? You were only in, say, for about a year?

MD:

I'm sorry?

EE:

When did you come out of the service, end of '45?

MD:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Okay. So it was about a year after that?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Were you home by Christmas of '45?

MD:

I believe so, or almost, anyway. Just about.

EE:

So you stayed in that office your whole time in the service?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Since you were right there in Washington, do you remember President Roosevelt passing away?

MD:

Yes, I do.

EE:

Where were you when you heard about that?

MD:

I was in the office at the place where we were, and one of the WAVES came in and said, “I've got something so sad to tell you. President Roosevelt has died.” I can remember it well.

EE:

That was a Sunday afternoon, so you were working that Sunday. Did you go down for the parade through town, his funeral cortege?

MD:

I don't think so.

EE:

You probably were working.

MD:

I was probably working then.

EE:

Were you working the day the news came about VE Day? Where were you when that happened, do you remember?

MD:

I think I was still in the office, I believe. But somewhere we got in some celebrating. Maybe I got let out soon enough or something like that.

EE:

Well, when you celebrated, when you went out on the town, were you going out with the other girls in the office? Was it a chance to go to meet some of the fellows? I guess the Officers' Club, you could go to the Officers' Club there in D.C.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you all go for social life when you were there?

MD:

Officers' Club. That's where I met my husband.

EE:

What was his name?

MD:

Bob Gage, G-a-g-e, from Minnesota.

EE:

Was he from Minnesota, is that what you said?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

What branch of service was he in?

MD:

Navy.

EE:

Was he working there in D.C.?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

So did you all start dating before you left the service?

MD:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

How long had you been working before you started dating?

MD:

Well, usually there were fellows around. We had this great little apartment, Margy and I and another gal, and then often a drop-in. And we'd go to the Junior Officers' Club, as you suggest. And that was—

EE:

Did they have bands come in and music there, or was it simply a recreation place? Washington has a lot of social places, a lot of clubs in town, a lot of things going on.

MD:

No, this was, I think—I don't think there was an orchestra on but there was dancing always.

EE:

So getting more serious with Officer Gage, was that the reason that you left the service when you did?

MD:

Well, I was discharged at that time.

EE:

You signed on for the duration plus six, and the war ended so quick there—

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Were you still working VJ [Victory in Japan] Day? You know, nobody expected the bomb to be dropped, because everybody just assumed that we'd have to invade Japan as slowly as we did Europe?

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember anything distinct about VJ Day?

MD:

Just whooping it up, just tremendous joy.

EE:

And I guess you had Bob, then, to celebrate with, I would think. Was he there?

MD:

I can't remember about that. He had been in Australia, and I'm not sure where he was. I wish I could line things up, though.

EE:

Well, it may be in thinking about it that you'll do that. I'm asking you questions, but again, I'm asking sort of in chronological order and people don't remember things in chronological order. It's what was important to them.

You day-to-day work, you were working with women, how did the other male officers treat you as a WAVE? Were you treated with respect? Did people treat you professionally, your experiences in the service?

MD:

I think in general. Once in a while—Marines were annoyed to have women there, and we had to go through three Marine guards before we could get to work. Their salute went just like this.

EE:

[Laughter] Arm against the nose.

MD:

Just like that. That was the way they saluted.

EE:

Too bad I can't get that on tape, that precious motion.

MD:

We felt kind of sheepish, really, because they were all veterans. They'd been, half of them, wounded and everything.

EE:

Yes. That was part of the duty. You got to come back to be a guard, I think, after being wounded. So they were probably scoffing at you all.

MD:

Absolutely, they did.

EE:

How about people on the street? You know, we talked about first when you went in, your folks were encouraging and not all the folks were. There in Washington, there was a lot of military folks in Washington during the war.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Were you treated with respect there by [unclear]?

MD:

Oh, yes. It was wonderful. And there were many—

EE:

So the marine detachment gave you some grief. You went to the Junior Officers' Club. Are there some songs, some movies that, either when you watch on TV or you hear, that take you back to that time, that are special for you?

MD:

There's one. I probably won't be able to describe it to you. It was—oh, shucks. My mind won't do what I want it to. Maybe I'll think of it after a while.

EE:

Well, sometimes you've got to go in the back door with your memory when it won't go in the front door. Was it a silly song or a romantic song?

MD:

Romantic. It was sailing. It was a—I can't come up with it.

EE:

We'll find it. We'll get there. You say you were processed out. Did you ever think about making the military a career?

MD:

No, not really. I don't think so.

EE:

Doesn't sound like you were given much of an option about it in any event, were you?

MD:

No. No, we didn't.

EE:

You were fortunate enough to get a housing situation awful close to work.

MD:

That just amazed me.

EE:

You were working three shifts odd hours. Were you ever afraid any time during your time in service?

MD:

Not afraid enough, because it was really kind of dangerous if you were working a midwatch, at midnight, and I was. Once all of—I guess there were three of us standing on a corner waiting for the bus, which is the way we got around, and a man came along and said, “Wouldn't you like a ride?” and he looked like a really nice fellow to me. I said yes. And the other two girls, who were much more savvy than I was about big cities, just blanched, but I went and I got along fine. He looked like a nice man to me. [Laughter] I did some really dumb things like that.

EE:

Lived and learned.

MD:

Leave Mount Olive and go to Washington.

EE:

Although Washington then was a different place than Washington now, perhaps. So maybe it wasn't quite as risky as maybe it would be now.

MD:

It was stupid.

EE:

It doesn't sound like your work ever put you in physical danger.

MD:

No. No.

EE:

What was the hardest thing about being in the service for you, either physically or emotionally, for that matter?

MD:

I can't think of anything. I really just thought it was wonderful.

EE:

The physical part of basic was fine for you? You didn't have any trouble?

MD:

No.

EE:

Being away from home, was that tough for you?

MD:

No.

EE:

Surrounded by folks your same age, finding somebody nice to talk with, I believe you might be having a good time, is what it amounts to.

MD:

It was just a great experience for a little girl from Mount Olive.

EE:

One thing about going into the service at any age, whether it's during wartime or peacetime, is that you are put into a room with a bunch of people from all over.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

All different ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, parts of the country. When that happens, you're likely to run into characters every now and then. Are there any personalities that stick out for you, folks that you remember along the way?

MD:

One. She was non-commissioned, and she was from the Midwest somewhere, and just the best old girl named Mildred. She was tall and older than the rest of us and just a sweet person.

EE:

Were most of the girls your age, in the WAVES? Most of them in their early twenties, the women that you were serving with?

MD:

No. We had a couple that were probably forty, forty-five maybe. Yes. A couple of very bright—probably had great jobs.

EE:

Do you remember an embarrassing moment, not necessarily on yourself but on somebody?

MD:

I'm sure there were plenty.

EE:

Did you ever do something you weren't supposed to do? Did you ever get a demerit or get threatened with one?

MD:

I don't think I did. I got terrified once when I was on night watch. Then, at that time, they had a group of—I guess they were all male officers who were trying to scrape through the way Hawaii had been broached.

EE:

Trying to figure out how they got through?

MD:

The lights, you know, that were on.

EE:

Right.

MD:

I'm saying this so badly, but it was very interesting. I got a call at midwatch. They wanted me to get out a certain paper. They had access, of course, to all these things that we'd been—they'd been deciphered.

EE:

Because you were the one who had to go back and get what they had done before.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

So what happened?

MD:

We had to send some papers up to them.

EE:

Did you have to take them yourself?

MD:

No, I don't think so. I think an orderly—not an orderly, but somebody must have come to get them. But it was scary for me, you know, to be so dumb. I thought, “What am I doing wrong?” you know, and, “Should I do this?” and so forth.

EE:

Yes. It's something that had to be right. What was your rank when you left the service? Were you a jg [lieutenant junior grade]? What were you when you left the service?

MD:

Oh, still ensign.

EE:

One of the things about the WAVES is that they're in the service and at the same time they are—for the most part you're stateside. A few went to Alaska. A few went to Hawaii. In that sense, you get a sense of what the mood of the country is as well as just the mood in the service.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

You're going in just after D-Day, and right after you're there, the Battle of the Bulge happens, and that's kind of a scary time, just as you think things are coming to a close. Was anybody, do you recall, ever afraid that we might not win the war?

MD:

No. I don't think so. If so, I didn't know.

EE:

So they didn't voice it?

MD:

Margy lost a good friend in the war. You have done this for her, have you not?

EE:

I think Hermann [Trojanowski], who did this before I did, talked to her. Did you lose anyone in the war?

MD:

No. No. No good friends.

EE:

Do you have any heroes or heroines when you think about those times?

MD:

You know, there were so many. I don't think I can. Just ordinary people were doing incredible things. Admiral [Ernest J.] King came at one time, and it was exciting even to see him, and we'd see Chester Nimitz walking along the road sometimes. But no.

EE:

Do you think yourself that you contributed to the war effort? Did you feel that in what you were doing?

MD:

To the most tiny degree, partly because I expect we knew the war was winding down because we were reading mostly Japanese traffic by that time.

EE:

So it had changed significantly so you could tell that that was coming.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

By the same token, you didn't know the Japanese were going to give up that quick. So it had been winding down in Europe. That's for sure.

MD:

Well, that was an interesting thing because you could see them day-by-day deteriorating. They were cannibalizing each other after a while.

EE:

Yes. You were reading their behind the scenes “What's going on here? What can we do?”

MD:

Yes, I mean, these people can't fight anymore.

EE:

By the time that you got the messages, did you fix your eyes on a lot of messages? Did you read them at all or were you told to keep your eyes off of what was there?

MD:

I don't recall that. Often we were told to search for something, and that happened more, and we had to go through things to search.

EE:

I assume in your work there you were instructed not to tell anybody about what you did. Was your family approached for an FBI search when you were assigned this work?

MD:

Yes, they were. They said it cost us about three thousand dollars for clearance.

EE:

Just because of all the background checks.

MD:

They came to Mount Olive and interviewed people all around Mount Olive.

EE:

So all these people who wondered about your going into service now are wondering what kind of trouble you're in by going into the service.

MD:

Yes, probably. [Laughter] But once you were cleared, that was why you were going to Washington. There was no doubt about it. You weren't going to go to some exciting place.

EE:

Do you think your time in the service made you more independent than you would have been otherwise?

MD:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

EE:

You left the service in '45. When did you get married?

MD:

In '46. I think that's right.

EE:

And did you all go to Minnesota, or was your husband still in the service, or what happened?

MD:

He had just got out and was going on his first job, which was with Union Carbide.

EE:

But you all both got out of the service then in '46. You got married.

MD:

Yes. He got out before I did because, you know, they did it by how long you'd been in.

EE:

By how long you had been in, and he already had a lot more time in.

MD:

Yes. And we were dating before that.

EE:

So you got married. Then did you come back to North Carolina at any time? Where did you come back to?

MD:

We went back to Mount Olive, and then Bob and I were married, and he went to work for Union Carbide.

EE:

You lived in upstate New York, or where were you working?

MD:

We went first to Indiana, I think.

EE:

There's a plant in West Virginia, I believe.

MD:

Yes, there was one there. Oh, shucks. I can't—

EE:

How long was he with Union Carbide? Was that a long-term job?

MD:

Yes, it was, until retirement, actually.

EE:

So did you all have any children?

MD:

Yes, three sons.

EE:

Any of them join the service?

MD:

No.

EE:

Did they express an interest in it or aversion to it based on—

MD:

No. They just sort of fell through the cracks, I guess.

EE:

If you had had a daughter and the daughter had said, “Mom, I want to join the service,” what would you have told her?

MD:

I probably would have said, “Oh, you'll have a wonderful time.” [Laughter]

EE:

How do you think your life has been different because you were in the military, other than giving you a hat and a husband?

MD:

That's about it.

EE:

That's pretty good right there.

MD:

Yes. It changed me, I'm sure, completely.

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

—was completely positive, it was a great year of your life. You know, the role of women in the service has changed so much. A year ago in December, the U.S. sent the first female combat pilot into action in Iraq, bombing Saddam Hussein. What do you think about that? Are there some things in the military that women should not be allowed to do? How do you feel about the role of women in the military nowadays?

MD:

I hadn't pondered this. I don't know. I some double feelings about it, but if she wants to do it, if she's good enough to do it and she won't endanger somebody else's life, then let her go. And that it's really no place for a woman.

EE:

So you're of two minds on that.

MD:

Two minds.

EE:

You admire the woman who has the ability to do it. By the same token, why does she want to do that?

MD:

Yes, why does she want to do that? I don't think she could do it as well as a man, I guess. I really don't think so.

EE:

So your concern is not with the woman individually but maybe with the military that we will have if women do everything that men do in the military?

MD:

I don't know how to handle those, really.

EE:

Well, you told me before the interview that you met Milton after your husband passed away. How long have you all been married?

MD:

About eight years. But I've known Milt for years.

EE:

Did you meet him back in the war days, or when did you meet him?

MD:

Yes. Well, when Bob just got his job, Milton got his job. So Milt's wife has been my dear friend all these years, and he lost her several years ago. So we've just known each other for many years.

EE:

That's great. So was he working at D.C. at the same time Bob was?

MD:

Bob was in D.C., but Milt was not. They met with Union Carbide.

EE:

Okay. So they were both Union Carbide folks.

MD:

Yes.

EE:

Wonderful. It's nice to have a friend and to be with a friend.

MD:

Yes. The four of us were very good friends.

EE:

Is there anything I have not asked you about that you would like to add about your time in service?

MD:

I can think of nothing other than that for me it was an enlightening, wonderful privilege. I just think I was so lucky to do that, to get that opportunity. I'm not being Pollyanna about that. I'm quite serious.

EE:

It's, I think, only in retrospect that you're humbled at the opportunity it was. I don't think when you're twenty-one or twenty-two, you're aware of that.

MD:

The world is your oyster, you know. [Laughter]

EE:

Well, that's great. Well, thank you for sitting down with us this evening.

MD:

It was the greatest pleasure. I think I could have done a lot better.

[End of the Interview]