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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ruth Johnson Coster, 2000

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Object ID: WV0145.5.001

Description: Chiefly documents Ruth L. Johnson Coster’s experiences in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.

Summary:

Coster discusses her youth and education in North Carolina and her pre-war employment at the Lucky Strike factory in Durham and a gas station outside Sanford.

Most of the interview focuses on Coster's military service. Topics include her parents’ reactions when she joined the WAC; her desire to be in the air force; rations; barracks living; overseas training, including gas mask and barbed wire drills; attitudes of male officers and enlisted men toward the WACs; VE Day celebrations in the Pacific; social life overseas, including hanging out with other WACs, picnics, and movies; the tension of being close to the fighting; a plane crash in New Guinea that killed some of her WAC friends; hearing Tokyo Rose on the radio; censors; her opinion of women in combat positions; and negative rumors that were spread about women in the military. She also discusses her reasons for getting out of the WAC and meeting her husband while both were working as civilians at McClellan Field.

Creator: Ruth L. Pearce Johnson Coster

Biographical Info: Ruth J. Coster (1918-2005) of Bonsal, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps while a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from March 1944 to January 1946.

Collection: Ruth Coster 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:

[Ruth Coster's sister, Mrs. Rodney Harrill, is also present for the interview.]

Eric Elliott:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today is February 4, in the year 2000. Am I in or near Sanford, North Carolina?

Ruth Coster:

You're in Sanford.

EE:

I'm at the home of Rodney Harrill, and I'm talking today with Ruth Coster, who is a native here of Sanford. I guess you two were both Pearces when you were younger.

RC:

No, we were Johnsons. I lived most of my time in Durham. [Ruth Coster was briefly married to a Pearce in 1943.]

EE:

What we're going to do is start at the beginning, which is a good place to start in most things, and I appreciate you sitting down today with me to talk about your career in the service. The same question I'm going to ask you that I ask everybody else, very simple, where were you born and where did you grow up?

RC:

I was born in—where did we say while ago? [laughs]

EE:

Bonsel [North Carolina], which sounds like “bonsai” but with an “L” on the end of it.

RC:

Bonsel, December 11, 1918. We moved about quite a bit, but I guess most of my time probably was in Durham. So at the time I went into service, I was in Durham.

EE:

How many brothers and sisters were in your family?

RC:

I have three brothers and three girls, three boys and three girls.

EE:

Were you the eldest, youngest, in the middle? Where were you?

RC:

Next to the last one.

EE:

What did your folks do?

RC:

Well, one of the things that my father did, he went up to Richmond, Virginia, and tore up the concrete or the cobblestones out to redo that. He also, before that, had a livery stable, had horses and buggies and so forth.

EE:

What about your mom?

RC:

My mom stayed home and cooked cornbread for me. [laughter]

EE:

Sort of like my grandmother, with creamed corn. There's nobody else that can do it quite like her. So you were in Durham most of the time. Did you graduate from high school there in Durham?

RC:

Moncure. No, Bahama, 1937.

EE:

Bahama High School. North Carolina was a little slow on getting twelve-year high schools. Was it still eleven-year then?

RC:

Yes, it was.

EE:

So you were sixteen, seventeen when you graduated?

RC:

Yes, when I got out.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school?

RC:

No.

EE:

Nothing like being honest. So when you go out of school, what is it that you wanted to do when you grew up, when you were younger?

RC:

Well, I was working in a dime store before I ever graduated from high school, and I'd work on weekends and during the summer months. Then when I graduated, I was on full time. Then I decided I'd see about going to work for the Lucky Strike [cigarette factory].

EE:

They were right there in Durham?

RC:

Yes. Would you like to know how I got my job?

EE:

Sure.

RC:

I played softball for the city, so Lucky Strike had a ball team and, of course, we always played against them. Then basketball, but softball was the main thing, and I pitched. We never could get them all out. They always won. Well, I had a no-strike. They just didn't go. Then when I got up to go, my turn to bat, I hit a home run. And I think that's what got me my job.

EE:

They wanted you as a ringer for their softball team. [laughs] Excellent. So you started working for Lucky Strike the fall after you got out of high school?

RC:

Yes, I was.

EE:

Were you working at that job up until the time you joined the service?

RC:

No, because I quit. I went down to Sanford. My sister and her husband had just bought a service station, and it was difficult to get workers, so I quit and I stayed with them for about a year and worked up at the service station that they owned.

EE:

So how long were you actually at the Lucky Strike job?

RC:

We'll have to figure that one out. 1937, '38, probably '38 or '39.

EE:

So a year or two you were there.

RC:

Yes.

EE:

You were living at home then?

RC:

Yes, I was living with my parents part of the time, and the rest of the time, there was three of us girls had a house, living together.

EE:

So you came down and worked at the service station. What was your job after that?

RC:

That was it, when I left there. I left to go join the service.

EE:

Do you have any clear remembrances of where you were and what you were doing on Pearl Harbor Day?

RC:

No, right at the moment I don't. I know where I was when the war ended.

EE:

Where were you when the war ended?

RC:

In Manila. And, oh, what a rat race. Everybody come out of the woodworks. [laughter]

EE:

They weren't limiting you to a case of beer and a case of cigarettes that day, were they? [laughs] When you decided to join the service, what was the reason? You joined in '44. The war starts in '41. What was your experience with rationing? Do you remember much about rationing and how to handle that? You were at a gas station, so I assume gas was rationed.

RC:

I don't think it was.

EE:

They had tickets for gas?

RC:

They did, probably.

Mrs. Rodney Harrill:

Well, we certainly did later, and I'm not sure when.

RC:

I don't remember of any of it.

MRH:

I don't know when they started rationing, do you?

EE:

I know they rationed rubber, so I guess that's something you handle at a service station as well.

MRH: And tires. I can remember that the businesspeople had ration cards. They could get gas when other people couldn't, of course.

EE:

I'm just wondering if working at a service station, you probably could get around a few things.

RC:

We probably did, gasoline, some parts.

MRH:

Even after you'd gone in, things were scarcer. I was home tending to little boys, too, while she was helping at the service station with my husband.

EE:

You were there at the station. What was it that made you decide that you wanted to go in the service?

RC:

Well, I had been talking about it, and I really didn't know. The more I talked about it, I think it was from my mother, because my two oldest brothers could not go into service, and my youngest brother, his health wouldn't allow him to go in, and he was too young anyway. My mother spoke about one day, you know, the sign that you had in the window if you had somebody in the service.

EE:

Little star.

RC:

Star. And she made some remark about she was the only one that didn't have one in the window, and I think that done it. She never said a word about my going in. She was always very proud of her family.

EE:

Was your dad still living then?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

What did he think of you going in the service?

RC:

My dad, anything I did was all right. [laughter]

MRH:

That's for sure.

EE:

Because some folks were not necessarily approving of their daughters going in the service.

RC:

That is true.

MRH:

I think our parents were proud of her. We all were.

RC:

That's true. They just thought it was terrible, but they didn't know about it. They didn't know what we did and how much help we did to release those men to go out.

EE:

Free a man to fight. That's really what y'all did.

RC:

We worked in the headquarters building just like we would here in the headquarters building in some other job.

EE:

You joined the WAC [Woman's Army Corps]. Is there any particular reason why you picked that as opposed to the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] or anything else?

RC:

I just liked the air force [Army Air Forces]. I just liked planes, I guess, because that's what I definitely wanted to do, go in the air force.

EE:

Where did you sign up? Was it here in Sanford?

RC:

Yes, right here.

EE:

That was the receiving?

RC:

Yes. This was us. We all went in at the same time.

EE:

You were in the largest number to be sworn in in a group this year—five. When you signed up, did they give you the option of what kind of work you wanted to do?

RC:

They asked me and I said I wanted the air force. Some went different directions, I'm sure.

EE:

It says here, “Mrs. Pearce of the Army Air WACs.”

RC:

Yes, because, you see, we were detached from any of them. They hadn't really made us a part of the air force.

EE:

I know that some branches of service, they kind of told you the job description, that you could either be cooks and bakers or parachute riggers or whatnot. Did they tell you the kind of work or give you the choice?

RC:

I went into the automotive for driving.

EE:

Motor transport?

RC:

Right. If the general wanted a car, all he had to do is call and we saw that he had a car. I was training to operate the big equipment. I could do that if I had to, but that was part of my training. I was a dispatcher, really.

EE:

Looking at your tour, it looks like that you were brought in from the beginning with the clear idea of going overseas. Did they mention that to you? Did they ask you if you wanted to go overseas?

RC:

I told them I wanted to go. I signed up for it. We had an option. I didn't have to go.

EE:

Because they did not let WAVES go overseas. WACs were one of the few groups that could. But you told them you wanted to go overseas?

RC:

I was at Fort McClellan. [Sacramento, California]

EE:

You went to basic training at [Fort] Oglethorpe [in Georgia]. That might have been the first time you were away from home.

RC:

Yes, other than the fact when I worked at the service station, I stayed with my sister. But that's the first.

EE:

That's a big trip. First time on a train? That's long train travel.

RC:

Yes. To stop and think about it, when I was working for Lucky Strike, there was three girls. We had a house and we shared the rooms. I was away from home, but I was close to home.

EE:

So you get out to Oglethorpe. What do you remember about basic training? What was that like for you?

RC:

That was something else. [laughs] But it was interesting. You had to be on time, you had be dressed properly, just like everybody else.

EE:

You were twenty-three, twenty-four, something like that?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

Were you older or younger than most of the girls there? About the same age?

RC:

Well, take a look. Not this one, but some of the others. It was mixed, really. I think maybe more in my age. We had some a little older, too.

EE:

How was it physically for you? You, I assume, started the day with drill.

RC:

Oh, yes. Exercising is good for you.

EE:

It wasn't too much for you, then.

RC:

No, no.

EE:

Were your drill instructors—I know because this is a new thing in World War II, having women in the service, so at the beginning they did not have as many women officers and so the training was by men, but who were your instructors? Were they men or women?

RC:

Women.

EE:

So even the drill instructors were women?

RC:

Yes. The only time the men entered into it, I think, was in my overseas training. For instance, going into fire, where you had to crawl under the barbed-wire fences and that such, with the guns and all. The men more or less were that. Of course, we had some officers, women officers, assisted, but the men actually on that part of it.

EE:

When you have three brothers and two sisters, you had some experience in group living.

RC:

Yes. [laughter]

EE:

But this is barracks living, which is different. I guess, what, forty or so women in a barracks?

RC:

It could be at times, and you're lined up over here and you're lined up over here and there's an aisle down the center.

EE:

You'd been living with some degree of privacy since you'd gotten out of high school, even though you're living with your sister. How was that group living experience for you?

RC:

I got along all right. I liked the people anyway, and it didn't really bother me.

EE:

You come into contact with all sorts of people when you're in the service, don't you? [laughs]

RC:

You sure do. Interesting.

RC:

Are there some people that you met in basic that you ended up being sent out with, or was it a different group of women that went overseas?

RC:

At the time we went over, there were several thousand of us on the ship, and they come from all places. I was asked if I still wanted to go overseas, and I was at McClellan, and I said, yes, I wanted to go. But those that went with me from Oglethorpe, part of them didn't go. They didn't want to go.

EE:

So what happened is you had your basic and those who said they wanted to go overseas, some of them went to different places. You were stationed at McClellan. Looks like you were there for a couple of months and then in the fall you came back. You went in in March at Oglethorpe, you came back in the fall to go through overseas training at Oglethorpe. That was for about two months?

RC:

Six weeks.

EE:

Did you get weapons instruction then on how to fire a weapon?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

Gas mask training?

RC:

Yes, you went through the gas tunnel.

EE:

How was that?

RC:

You didn't stay in there long. [laughter]

EE:

Was there anything that surprised you about that training?

RC:

Any of it was new. You didn't know what was coming next. Just have to go with it.

EE:

You say some women who said they wanted to go overseas backed out. They didn't like the training?

RC:

When they requested it, but they had a choice, those that I'm aware of, because I know some of them that I knew didn't want to go. But I told them, yes, I wanted to.

EE:

They did advertise heavily “Free a man to fight.” Did that have any factor in your thinking about why you wanted to go overseas?

RC:

No.

EE:

For a lot of folks, joining the service was a way to see the world.

RC:

That is true, but you've got to work, too.

EE:

You left McClellan. Did you know where you were going to be stationed?

RC:

No.

EE:

They just put you on a ship and say—

RC:

That's it. We did not know where we were going.

EE:

How long a trip did you have going across?

RC:

Golly. Four weeks, three weeks. I don't remember.

EE:

You left the 19th of November and arrived the 2nd of December. You're going in '44. Were they still worried about Japanese submarines at this time?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

So were you going in a convoy?

RC:

We chased them one night. [laughs]

MRH:

Can I tell an interesting thing about that?

RC:

Yes, if it's all right with—

EE:

Go ahead.

MRH:

I had a dream or a most unusual experience one night that my sister was in danger. So in my letter to her, I mentioned this and told her the date. And I said, “If you can tell me where you were or if anything happened, please reply.” So her answer to my letter was to say they were chased by Japs all night that night.

RC:

Subs.

MRH:

And I may have that letter someplace. I had this feeling that she was in great danger.

EE:

And it came out to be true. Was the Monterey originally a passenger ship?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

But you weren't two to a room, were you?

RC:

Just twelve. They lined us up this way and up this way and up this way in one of those rooms. I was on the top bunk, and I could not sit up straight in my top bunk. So we get our blankets, we go out on the deck and sleep out on the deck all night most of the time. It was too hot and muggy down in there.

EE:

Nighttime, lights out?

RC:

Yes. There were several of us. We went together and put our blankets out and stayed there.

EE:

The group that you were with, you've got some pictures of getting together at [Camp] Stoneman [California] to wait to go across. Is that where you met Mary Helen Kent?

RC:

No. I met her on the boat.

EE:

Did you know you were going to be stationed together?

RC:

No. They didn't tell us anything till we got there.

EE:

Your orders, I guess, are from a WAC CO [commanding officer]. You arrive in New Caledonia. But you didn't disembark there.

RC:

We didn't disembark. Lots of times we made several stops, but we did not dock.

EE:

So you didn't know which WACs on the ship that you would actually be dropped off with, did you?

RC:

Well, it's usually the big wheels that control such things. They needed to be aboard and they were shipping them to someplace else. It was just strictly the demands.

EE:

So you left New Caledonia, got to Australia, but couldn't leave the ship?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

That was kind of frustrating, I'm sure.

RC:

We could just see the beautiful lights. That's all we could see. That's the truth, it was beautiful. We stood out on the deck and watched, and you could see the lights and all. It was a pretty sight.

EE:

On this particular ship, was it just WACs that were being transported or were there men up there?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

So they kept you separate?

RC:

They did. [laughter]

EE:

I just wondered how much fraternization was going on, on this trip over here. You left Brisbane and about a week later you arrived in Hollandia.

RC:

Hollandia, New Guinea. We couldn't come into shore to dock. We had to dock out and be brought in.

EE:

You arrive at Hollandia and then where are you stationed? What's actually the name of the outfit that you're stationed with?

RC:

Far East Air Service Command. It was thirty miles in the jungle from there. There was headquarters and another group at Hollandia, but it wasn't with mine. It was just another—they were right at the water, but we had to go all the way back in.

EE:

At the time that you were at this place, Air Service Command Headquarters was moved back from the front lines. New Guinea was a highly contested place earlier in the war. At the time you were there, this is behind the lines for resupply. You were talking about, before we started the tape, that one of the principal tasks of your group was reconfiguring the vehicles, the L-5s.

RC:

L-4s and L-5s, the small planes. But it was supply.

EE:

All the WACs that are in your particular company, are they all working in the supply office?

RC:

Yes, up in the headquarters. Some of them are secretaries and some of them, we had draftsmen. We had every type, you know, but it was all in the headquarters building.

EE:

I assume what happens is that you are relieving certain portion of the women who are stationed there. Or were you relieving men who came in there?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

You were relieving men?

RC:

Some of them, I understand.

EE:

The person that you relieved, was that a woman or a man?

RC:

I didn't know who had the job before I did. They just tell you to go and do this, and this is where you'll be, and you'll be on so-and-so's command.

EE:

Who was your CO? Was it a woman or a man?

RC:

This one. I showed it to you.

EE:

The sergeant.

RC:

She was pinning my—

EE:

Your stripes on.

RC:

She was one of them.

EE:

Right here?

RC:

Yes. This was she. We had about three COs down there.

EE:

How many men did you actually work with? Any men in the office?

RC:

Yes. Oh yes.

EE:

Men did not always appreciate women being in the service with them, because that meant that some of their buddies were being sent someplace else. How were you treated by the men? Were they treating you professionally?

RC:

Most of them. You would get some flak, as we say, but as a rule, the generals that were head of it all, they were pretty strict, which was good.

EE:

Being there in headquarters, what was the senior ranking officer? What was his rank?

RC:

Colonel. General. We had a three-star general, and I think there was a two-star. I'm not sure about the others.

EE:

So it was a pretty major headquarters facility. How many people were stationed there altogether, do you think?

RC:

At one time I don't know, but—

EE:

It was a fair number, judging from that funeral.

RC:

Yes. I can show you the picture where—I don't know, we probably had several hundred. I think about three hundred or four hundred there. I'm not sure that I'm accurate on that.

EE:

Let me ask you to go through this calendar with me, just to go through where you were stationed, and then I'm going to go back and ask you some questions, just general questions, about your experience in the service. You were stationed at Air Service Command Headquarters outside of Hollandia from December through August of '45. I don't know how quickly you got the word about VE [Victory in Europe] Day, in May. Do you remember anything about hearing the war was over in Europe?

RC:

We just had a celebration. That's about all I can remember. Everybody.

EE:

What about when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away? How did you hear about that?

RC:

I don't know. Come from the CO, I think. Had to be. She probably had the first sergeant take care of that, getting it through. I'm not so sure about that.

EE:

How did you get news about what was going on in the outside world? Did you have a radio?

RC:

No. Mine was, I got mail from home. We had the pilots that flew out, they brought in things sometimes, I understand, but it was all pretty secretive.

EE:

What was a typical workday like for you?

RC:

Just normal. The best I know, we had to be there at nine o'clock until five.

EE:

So it was nine to five. Was it five days a week, six days a week?

RC:

Five days.

EE:

You had the weekends off?

RC:

Yes, unless we got KP [kitchen patrol] duty. Had that every once in a while. We had to do that. We had other functions we were assigned to do.

EE:

You were at the command till August. Did the whole unit shift to Manila? The whole supply headquarters was moved?

RC:

They were gradually getting everybody out, and I don't know where all they went. They went in various places. Those that are with me, I think, are the ones who went into Manila.

EE:

What was your work when you were at Manila? Was it still with this same CO and same supply work?

RC:

I was first sergeant. I did not get the rank, but that's what I was entitled to.

EE:

Were you supervising other women in Manila?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

But the kind of work itself was still to make sure that parts were in the—

RC:

No. That was another thing. This is a CO headquarters that runs and operates and looks and watches and instructs the girls to see that they are in it when they're supposed to be, and just run the place. That's what you had to do. I had three girls working in the office for me. There was a lot of things had to be done, even though we were in the—

EE:

The women were all housed together, but I would imagine that their jobs were in different parts, different kinds of work, but they'd report back and you'd be in charge of this group of women.

RC:

When they returned. I was in charge of all of them. If there was any complaints that they didn't do their work, we heard for it. It was just like any job you have. Somebody's going to be in control.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

RC:

I thought about it, but I said no, and I didn't.

EE:

Your CO, you told me, had offered you to come on to Tokyo when the war was over.

RC:

Yes. No, I had enough points and I decided to come on home, and that's it.

EE:

You then were in Manila just till the beginning of December and came back. That was purely because you had enough points. By being overseas, you got the credit for coming back.

RC:

Right.

EE:

And they demobilized women very quickly, I think, after the war.

RC:

They did, because the need—the men were coming back in and they needed a job, and it's one of these types of things.

EE:

We talked earlier about characters that you run into. Are there any particularly memorable characters that you want to tell me about, that you ran into?

RC:

At the moment, I don't think so, unless—

EE:

You told me about an incident before we started. Tell me about Helen. What was she like? There are several pictures of you all palling around here.

RC:

We were just real good friends, all of us, and we would get together in somebody's tent. If we had beer, we drank beer. If we had Coke, we drank Coke. That was just a bunch of women—

EE:

Did the girls basically hang out together when they had free time or was there socializing with dates as well going on?

RC:

They could over in New Guinea. The men could not come into our quarters. We were under guard for more than—but what we did do that several of us, we'd take our blankets just outside the gates, and there was a couple of men that we knew that joined us, and we all just sat there with the guard at the entrance and just had a good time, and that was it.

EE:

So you had a little picnic right there on the outside.

RC:

That's what we had to do. We got a few movies, very few, but we could go there. You make your own entertainment.

EE:

I was going to say, you didn't have radio. Did you ever have USO [United Service Organizations] or entertainment come through that area?

RC:

No, not as long as we were there. There was a USO quite a distance from where we were, that handled doughnuts and things, which we didn't get unless you went over there. You didn't have transportation. So it wasn't very good for us. But they served other people.

EE:

You talked about the troubles, before we started, about your CO. You really got to know her because you drove her in a jeep. It was hard to get a vehicle.

RC:

She had to do it, because there were not many available. I don't know how many they had in the motor pool over there, but she had to do that.

EE:

You go through some pretty grueling training. Did you ever feel afraid or in physical danger when you were over there?

RC:

You were tense at times. You watched the planes go out and you'd count, see how many come back in. We were pretty close at one time. But it was a little tense.

EE:

Did you ever have any Japanese action fly over you?

RC:

No.

EE:

What was the hardest thing about what you had to do over there, either physically or emotionally?

RC:

Of course, Helen's death was the big item, but it didn't bother me. I adapted very well, I thought. Just a job to do.

EE:

The work itself wasn't strenuous?

RC:

No.

EE:

We talked about before we got on tape, but Helen was killed with some other people that you knew in what should have been a fun weekend trip, sounds like.

RC:

They would allow a certain amount going into Australia. The flight had to go for other reasons, too, so they'd take so many. That was kind of an outing. I knew some of them.

EE:

They crashed very close back to the base? How far was it?

RC:

A little ways. When we flew in, I don't know now, it wasn't too long. I don't know.

EE:

Did they crash on the way out to Australia or on the way back?

RC:

Now, that's a good question. I don't really know.

MRH:

You don't remember, I'm sure.

EE:

There's a picture of folks who went down and checked the crash site and found two people still living, people that you worked with?

RC:

Yes.

EE:

Then you told me that you went back to that site. Tell me about that.

RC:

We didn't land. We couldn't land. We just circled and dropped—I was with a chaplain. We just kicked out the crosses. First they had some to go in for supplies and all this dropping out, and we knew how many had died and that's when the crosses came in and we dropped them out. It was just a suction tank, almost. You have to go around like this to get out of there.

EE:

Just because the air currents that low—

RC:

Right.

EE:

I guess there's so many people moving and so much going on, the sheer volume of transport, I'm amazed that people didn't carry around an atlas with them all the time, because people are going to new places and doing so many things, but there are a lot of accidents that go on in wartime because of the sheer volume, isn't it?

RC:

Yes. But out of our group, that was New Guinea in the Far East Air Service Command, that was the only, except one other, I think, that was the only crash I was aware of.

EE:

Was that pretty early into your stay, or how late into your stay was that?

RC:

I'm trying to think when we left there.

EE:

Summertime? You left in August.

RC:

Summertime. It's summertime all the time over there.

EE:

True.

RC:

Maybe it was a little over half of our stay there when this occurred, because I know we began to close up the barracks, a lot of work to do to close it out. That's why some of us went to Manila and some went various other places.

EE:

You think that probably factored into you wanting to come on home?

RC:

I guess.

EE:

You said there wasn't a lot of things going on for social life other than just making your own picnic. Do you have any favorite songs or movies from that time when you see on TV or you hear on the radio to take you back to that time?

RC:

Yes, you hear some of the songs. There's one. You know, you heard about Texas rose. Is it Texas rose?

EE:

Yellow rose of Texas?

RC:

No. There's a woman's voice.

EE:

Tokyo Rose?

RC:

Yes. We could hear her sometimes. I think I got into Manila and we heard her. That was somebody you'd like to get her neck and shake it, you know. Tokyo Rose. [female broadcasters of Japanese propaganda in English]

EE:

Goodness. I guess they had Armed Forces Radio back then?

RC:

Sure.

EE:

That was a big thing. Do you feel you contributed to the war effort? I ask that to everybody.

RC:

I tried. If what I did for them was helpful, that was good. But whatever I was assigned to do, I did my best.

EE:

I talk to a lot of people, and one of the things I think people miss from that time is the patriotism, that everybody was pulling together for a common thing. Do you ever recall being afraid that we might not win the war?

RC:

I think that went through all of us' mind, some of us stronger than others, because you didn't know. We got some information, but, you know, they don't tell you everything. They couldn't, you know.

EE:

I know they did have censors. Did you feel a censor watching you when you would write letters back home?

RC:

They'd mess up. Sometimes my mother got them. They were kind of messed up a little bit. This lady that I met at McClellan that was a civilian, she and her parents invited me on weekends to go to their home. We had a coding. They wanted to know, “Where are you going?” and all this. We had some codes that when we'd write each other, to know, and she kept up with it, too. She did pretty good at it, I think. So that was one way.

EE:

It was kind of hard to know for sure if they were getting through, because I'm sure they couldn't write a letter back saying, “Oh, yes, glad you're in New Guinea.” [laughter] That wouldn't make it through.

RC:

I kept trying to explain to them, our parents and her, too, that I just couldn't tell you. She said, “I'm not going to tell nobody.” I said, “Oh, no.”

EE:

When you think about the wartime, do you have any heroes or heroines?

RC:

No, I don't think so. We were all there. We all just did our job. I'm sure there must have been some heroes.

EE:

How was it being back home? You talked about waking up in the middle of the night, wondering what was happening to your sister. I guess that was a topic of conversation back home. What was it like back home, waiting on somebody who was overseas? How often did you get letters?

MRH:

How often?

RC:

I wasn't a very good writer.

MRH:

Well, I really don't remember. It was often enough that we felt that we were in touch, you know. We were not people to be excited or apprehensive. We sort of took it for granted, too, you know. We were not alarmists. My mother was not. She was a very calm and understanding person. I don't recall any anxieties, necessarily, you know. As I said, that one occasion I really felt fear.

EE:

I think there was so much going on, but if you wanted to worry, you would do nothing but worry.

MRH:

That's right.

EE:

Because there was certainly plenty of things to worry about.

MRH:

But we went on with our lives as usual, you know.

EE:

When you came back, you got discharged out of [Fort] Bragg Christmas Day, which is a nice Christmas present.

RC:

I think it was the first, 1 January 46.

EE:

You had the train come back to Bragg on the 25th. What was it that you planned on doing when you got back? How difficult was the transition for you back to civilian life?

RC:

I didn't know what I wanted to do. That August of that year, a friend of mine, she and I wanted to go back to California to see these friends, and she and I went. I stayed. She came back to North Carolina. I went to work at McClellan.

EE:

As a civilian employee?

RC:

Yes. And that's where I met my husband.

EE:

Was he in the service?

RC:

Yes. He was out of service. He was in service, but at the time I met him, he was out of service. Met him at a “Beer and Bustle” dance. [laughter]

EE:

That's great.

RC:

I was invited to go—the beauty operator on the base, I had known her. I met her when I was there before going overseas, when I was in the service. Then when I come back, I went back to her. She invited me, she and her husband, to go to this dance, and there was about four or five of us. They got up to dance and they all had a beer in their hand. They give them to me, and here I sit with about six beers and he walks up and asks me to dance. [laughter]

EE:

Figured you must be his kind of woman if you can hold all six beers. [laughter]

RC:

So I just set them down and got up and danced with him. So that was the beginning. But he was out of service then and so was I.

EE:

How long after that did you all decide to get married?

RC:

He asked me on December of '46 and we got married in December of '47.

EE:

Very patient. [Laughter]

RC:

Yes. Had to wait for him.

EE:

So you all end up living near Sacramento then ever since?

RC:

We've been there all this time. He's deceased now.

EE:

What was his name?

RC:

Don Coster.

EE:

How many children do you have?

RC:

I have three girls. You want all the rest of them? I've got three granddaughters. I've got one, two, three, four great-grandchildren and one more coming.

EE:

Wow. Wonderful.

RC:

All little characters.

EE:

I'm going to ask you about them and I'm going to wait thirty seconds till this tape closes off, and I'm going to ask you on the other side about grandchildren. In fact, I guess I'll go on and ask you the question and get your answer on the other side. Did any of your girls have any interest in joining the military?

RC:

Not that I know of.

EE:

And if they did, what would you have said if they'd come to you and said, “Mom, I want to join the service”?

RC:

If they wanted to and they were sincere about it, sure. It's good training.

EE:

Do you think being in the military made you more of an independent person that you would have been otherwise?

RC:

I was pretty independent anyway.

MRH:

[unclear] [laughter]

EE:

You were biting your tongue on that, weren't you?

RC:

I'll get even with her later. [laughter]

MRH:

We learned to be independent.

RC:

Our mother. And our father was the sweetest man you ever saw. He wouldn't do nothing to hurt anybody.

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

Some folks, when they look back at the time that you were in service, and think of all the changes that have happened to women since then, in the way women are doing a lot more kinds of work than they were in those days, they say if you want to look at the start for women's lib and for equality for women in the workplace, it starts back with women going into the service.

RC:

Yes, it did.

EE:

Did you feel that you were a trailblazer, going and doing the things you did, where you did it?

RC:

Just following the crowd. That's what we had to do.

MRH:

I feel like she was.

RC:

Women went through hardships. It wasn't an easy thing to live in those conditions, but you might as well go on and enjoy it and get accomplished what you went there for.

MRH:

And I think the women were not as respected then as they should have been, so I admire her for that, you know, that she still—

EE:

I know if you enjoyed the WACs—

MRH:

—she did the job that she felt needed to be done.

EE:

That's right. I think if you joined in '42, it took a long time for the army to recognize that those folks were actually—they get veteran status.

MRH:

That's right.

RC:

We didn't get anything for a long time.

MRH:

That's why I think it's so good they're being recognized finally.

EE:

When you left the service, did they say you couldn't have PX [post exchange] privileges?

RC:

You could, yes, not a non-com[missioned officer], though. When you left, you left. That's it. You didn't get those privileges. Now, if I had have retired, as you know, you could, but, no, we had none.

EE:

Last—well, since we switched to the new year, in December of '98, for the first time our country sent a woman into combat as [U.S.] Air Force fighter pilot to bomb Saddam Hussein. Do you think there are some jobs in the military that should be off limits to women? Or how do you feel about that?

RC:

Yes, I do. I think there's other things they can do, back the men up and help them in any way they can.

EE:

So getting a chance to be in the service is one thing, but not doing everything in the service. There's some things that—

RC:

Well, they need secretaries. They need them outside, too, at headquarters here or there. And like if there was some of them were in different functions, in the print shop, some in—just all of these, and that's good training, but anyone who goes out on the battlefield, on the ground, I don't think you should.

EE:

Right.

RC:

Now, being a pilot, of course, that's about the same, but it's a little different. You know we had a lot of women that brought the planes from one part of the United States to another point. That relieved a lot of the men.

EE:

Had you ever thought about doing that kind of work?

RC:

I thought about it, but I met Don and that changed everything.

EE:

Did you ever try for your pilot's license?

RC:

No. He did. He went to school. After we got married, he went to school and got his license, but never really used them. But he really wanted to be. But, no, I didn't.

EE:

How do you think your life, other than finding him, how has your life been different because of your time in the military?

RC:

To be different? I don't know. You know, at one point in time, it almost made you think you didn't want to be in the service, from the remarks and things that people said about the women in service. I'd fight for that. I said that if I ever got home—when I got home and if anybody ever said that to me, I was going to use a few words I've never used in my life and just hit them as hard as I could, because that wasn't fair to make comments about the women. They're what they were when they went in, so—and that was one thing that was a sore thumb for me. It just wasn't good. But, you know, we were strong enough not to let it bother us. We went ahead.

EE:

I guess after you left, going back and working at a base and marrying somebody who'd been in service, you didn't personally have to experience that as much as maybe some other folks did. Or did you have any one particular incident that somebody said something that really ticked you off?

RC:

Yep.

EE:

Early on?

RC:

It was after I got out, because I wouldn't degrade my uniform or what I stood for. So when I was out of the service, I could do what I wanted to do.

EE:

I have gone through my thirty cards, but is there anything else that I have not asked you about, about your time in service, that you'd like to share with me?

RC:

I've shared a lot, because you're pretty nice. I like that.

EE:

I try.

RC:

You're doing a very nice job, and I think it's wonderful.

EE:

I know I'm humbled by—when Tom Brokaw writes his book, The Greatest Generation, he picked a good title, he really did, because I really am humbled by the fact that you all, in your twenties, did so much. I think your parents were probably humbled by you all, too.

RC:

I think so.

EE:

I think folks staying back home and working hard, the whole country pulling together, it's something.

RC:

Well, those at home didn't have it easy either.

EE:

No, they didn't. But I appreciate your time today, and I'm thankful for your sister's hospitality in having you and me here today, and for your daughter's insight into routing you our way.

RC:

I appreciate you coming and offering your time was nice.

[End of the Interview]