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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Myrtle Hanke, 2000

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Object ID: WV0147.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Myrtle Otto Hanke’s early life and her experiences in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

Summary:

Hanke discusses her family, education, and work in Massachusetts before the war, as well as her reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and her reasons for joining the U.S. Navy WAVES, and her father’s initial reaction.

Topics related to Hanke’s career as a WAVE include the train ride to basic training in Iowa; living conditions, activities, and weather; and tests to determine aptitude for various kinds of work. She also describes her experience in Washington, D.C., including working in shifts; her roommates, including Virginia Darling; the cryptography office; leaning over a hectograph and getting a top secret message stamped onto her shirt; a WAVE officer who harassed her; VJ Day celebrations and the social life, including parties and nightclubs, the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; her opinions of the Roosevelts and Harry Truman; and hitchhiking to California.

Hanke also details her family heritage; her father’s career as a painter; housing an English family during World War II; having dinner on the USS New Mexico; her world travels, including trips to Russia, Morocco, and Germany; her belief that everyone should serve in the military for two years; and differences between Episcopalian and Catholic religions.

Creator: Myrtle Otto Hanke

Biographical Info: Myrtle Otto Hanke (b. 1922) of Brookline, Massachusetts, served at the Naval Communications Annex in Washington, D.C., in the U.S> Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from October 1942 to 1947.

Collection: Myrtle Otto Hanke Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. It's February 11, in the year 2000, and I'm at the home of Myrtle Hanke this morning.

Ms. Hanke, thank you for having me here today and treating me to a nice cup of coffee and a good breakfast cake. I'm going to start the interview with you as I do with everybody, with a question which I hope is not our most difficult one today, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MH:

I was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on May 7, 1922. We moved soon after I was born to Brookline [Massachusetts], and that's where I was educated and grew up until I was nineteen years old.

EE:

You told me you were not buddy-buddy with the Kennedys there.

MH:

No, I am not friends of the Kennedys.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

MH:

I had two brothers and two sisters. My older brother died this last year at eighty-eight, and I have a sister who's eighty-seven, another one who's eighty-five, and I'm seventy-eight, and my younger kid brother is seventy-two.

EE:

Wonderful. And your family, are most of them still up in Massachusetts?

MH:

No. One brother and sister is in Florida; the other one's in New Hampshire.

EE:

What did you folks do when you were younger?

MH:

Well, my mother was just a homebody. She was a homemaker, as most of them were. My father was a painter and decorator. He was a master painter, the trade he'd learned from his father in Bermuda, and I can remember him in the garage behind the house. He used to mix his paint. He had the Prussian blue, and he had the ochre, and he used to strain this through cheesecloth. He could match any color, not just to open a can and slop it on. So he was a craftsman.

EE:

And you were telling me before we started the interview that your family on one side came from Bermuda and the other side from England.

MH:

Well, my grandmother on my mother's side, Esther Stephenson, I think she was a firecracker. My father was born in Barbados. His father was shipwrecked off Barbados in a ship from Germany, and he stayed there. I just learned maybe two or three years ago he spoke broken English. I was in Bermuda. I've been there several times, and he spoke—now, I don't why that would affect me, but I didn't—you know, I always thought everybody spoke English like that. It was kind of interesting.

EE:

Was your dad in the service?

MH:

No, my father wasn't. My father-in-law was the heavyweight boxing champion of Great Lakes in the early twenties, I think, or the late—1918, 1920. I guess he was a pretty good fighter. He must have been. But even when he was old, he had quite a physique for an older man.

EE:

You say you went to school in Brookline. What was the name of the high school you graduated from?

MH:

Brookline High School. I graduated in 1939, and I just went back in October for our sixtieth high school reunion, and let me tell you, age is a great leveler. I say, the prettiest girl in class, she's lost it, and it's probably not very nice and not very Christian to say it, but ha!

EE:

Yes, there is a great leveling that happens in the course of life. I had my twentieth last year. I'm familiar with that.

MH:

Oh, my goodness.

EE:

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

MH:

You know, I don't know if you are aware of it, but Brookline is one of the bedroom communities of Boston, and there is quite a large Jewish population. Those kids were smart, and I don't say they were smart because they were Jewish. They were smart because they studied. Their parents were education-oriented. It was in the Depression that I went to school, and my main object was getting to school, back and forth. So I worked, fifty cents an afternoon, taking care of children. My father's business was seasonal. It isn't like it is now, where you do it all the time. So his business started about in April and lasted until maybe November. Then we had lean years, and I don't like to even look at salted cod because—yuk.

But, I mean, I managed. I remember, I got a D one time in office practice, and my father never had to threaten anybody. He had these big blue eyes, and he looked at it and he said, “I trust I won't see this again.” That's all he said. He never saw that again. He had quite an influence teaching me about discipline, possibly, and what I should be doing. I never was any brain, but I skipped through.

EE:

What did you want to do when you grew up, did you have an idea?

MH:

I wanted to be a nurse, but my aunt tried it and she didn't like it, so that's why my mother said, “I don't think that's for you.” I don't know what the reasoning was, but I think deep down it was a good one, because I'm much too—how do I put it? I would have empathy for the patient too much. I couldn't look at it and just say, “Ha.”

EE:

Couldn't distance yourself from it. Right.

Did you have a sense when you graduated of the troubles in Europe and the worries that that was causing?

MH:

Only because my father had friends in Bermuda. One of his best friend's daughter had married an Englishman. They were in England when the war broke out. Jim had TB [tuberculosis] so he could not serve in the British forces. They got them over to our house in Brookline, and they stayed with us for quite a while, but from what I understand, every time an airplane went over, the two young girls ran under the table. So, I mean, we knew that something was going on.

But I really probably didn't think too much about it, but then, when they started this idea of women in the service, I was in kind of a nondescript job, you know, clerical worker, $16.50 a week, which was normal.

EE:

Is that what you went into right after school?

MH:

Well, I wanted to go back for a postgraduate course because I had just turned seventeen. I turned seventeen in May, and I got out of school in June, so nobody would hire me; I was too young. So I went back for a PG [post-graduate] course, and then finally I got a job eventually in the National Fire Protection Association—that's still there; it's still working in Boston—and five and a half days a week for $16.50 a week, which you gave half to your mother, and you could survive on the rest because shoes were only three dollars a pair and a dress was only four dollars. So, I mean, it wasn't bad, but I figured I was meant to try my wings.

As I said in that little paper I had written, my father wouldn't hear of it because he knew what kind of women went into the service. I don't know where he heard that. He might have thought I was going to be camp follower, I don't know, but my little five foot mother signed the paper, and I was on my way, and it was an adventure that has changed my whole life, really.

EE:

You started this job after your course in that fall. Do you remember where you were Pearl Harbor Day?

MH:

Oh, yes. I was doing dishes. It was on a Sunday. I was doing dishes, and I was listening to the symphony, and all of a sudden, they broke into the symphony, and I ran into my mother and father and said, “Guess what? Those Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor,” and then it came on their set. I ran upstairs to tell this to Mr. Collins, who was an Irish immigrant or something. He says, “So what?” I almost threw him off the porch. I mean, I was very, very upset.

So I hate to say it, but I still have this feeling towards Japs. I'm not wild about them. And my son has friends who are Japanese that he met in school. That's fine. I mean, I don't have anything against them, but there's just in back this harboring thing about Japanese.

EE:

Your older brother, did he have to be called up right away?

MH:

No. I was the first one in. Then my older brother got a message from the president. My younger brother quit school when he was in—I think he was a junior, and before my father would sign anything, he said, “You understand you will get your high school diploma if you have to go till you're forty.” And he did come on back and got it. There were three of us, and this last time I went to Boston in October, I went to our church, the Church of the Redeemer, which is an Episcopal Church in Newton, and there are our three names on the plaque. They didn't put my name first, but they should have.

EE:

You were first in. That's right.

MH:

Yes. So we have the three names, you know, on the plaque in the narthex. Is that what you call it?

EE:

Right.

MH:

But that was kind of interesting.

EE:

You joined awful early. When was it that you went in?

MH:

I went in December 15th.

EE:

Of '42?

MH:

No. I had gone in in October, but they didn't send me my orders until December 15th. I had a picture of us, too. Oh, I'll show you all this good stuff.

EE:

Because your family wasn't a military family, what made you decide to join the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Service—U.S. Navy] as opposed to the WACs [Women's Army Corps], which had started earlier, I guess?

MH:

This is just a choice of colors. I did not like khaki. I couldn't imagine wearing khaki underwear or anything khaki. It just didn't look good on me. Besides, I don't know, the navy always had a, well, maybe it was from my grandfather, who was a sailor. But the navy blue really was the color.

EE:

A lot of people tell me that their uniforms were stunners and they really liked the uniform.

MH:

No. I didn't care about the uniform. I just wanted to be in the navy as opposed to the army.

EE:

Was it patriotism?

MH:

Oh, of course.

EE:

That was the main thing?

MH:

Oh, yes. Oh, my. I had such a yearning to do something. I couldn't—you know.

EE:

You talked about your father being concerned about things. What about your friends and your other family members. How did they feel about you joining?

MH:

Well, they didn't really say too much. Of course, now, my older brother and older sister were out of the house. My older brother was twelve years older than I. He was my brother, and I loved my brother, but we were not that close. My sister was ten older. The other sister was five years older. My mother had children every five years. I guess as one got out of the house, she replaced it. But they didn't say, really, too much. I have one girlfriend that got married the following February. So she was seventeen when she got married, and had she known this was going to go on, she would have come with me. But it might have been just as well, because the two of us together—

EE:

Would have been trouble.

MH:

Yes, big trouble. But no, I just went in, and I knew I was going to like it.

EE:

You had to go into Boston, I guess, to a recruiting office?

MH:

Yes. Causeway Street, 150 Causeway Street in Boston, and I had to go twice because my pulse was racing too fast. I walked from the place that I worked.

EE:

So you actually signed up in October, and they called you back to come to basic in December. Where did you take your basic?

MH:

Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls. It was one big campus. It was one big snowstorm. It was one big cold spot.

EE:

You were early. Did they sort of know what they were doing?

MH:

No. We were all green. The first officers were there. They just came out of their training. We were the first class there. It was kind of a fun thing. One thing I remember Christmas Eve, one of the ladies, one of the officers, played a violin, and she walked up and down the halls playing “Silent Night,” and that really made us feel—not Christmas-y, more homesick.

EE:

I was going to say, is this your first big trip away from home?

MH:

I had been to New York for three hours once, and we left South Station in Boston and went up through Canada, down through Kalamazoo, which was a big song, and then down through Chicago and across the might Mississippi that was really a very small river. I couldn't even spit in it because it passed by too quickly. And then out to Iowa, and they had a little kind of Toonerville Trolley, I think, from Cedar Falls to Waterloo. We took this little trolley, and that's where we were outfitted with our new uniforms. I had bought my very sensible oxfords in Boston, a replica of my mother's shoes with the arch supports and all that stuff. And the thing that really ticked me off was they made the enlisted personnel wear lisle stockings. Now, the officers could wear the rayon. We wore lisle when we were on duty, and your legs looked like a couple of logs coming down the street because they made them look so thick.

EE:

Yes. We've all seen the pictures.

MH:

But they didn't give us any trouble; we didn't give them any trouble.

EE:

I guess you were wearing your own clothes for a while, till the uniforms came in.

MH:

Not too, too long, maybe a week or so. They had people there, but we were all young, you know relatively—we weren't out of shape.

EE:

So you were probably one of the younger ones, I would think.

MH:

I think yes.

EE:

What was the oldest woman that you remember from that first group?

MH:

I don't know about that group, but the girl that I'd said I roomed with in Chicago and I met in Washington was fifteen years older than I. So I knew her, and now she's in her nineties, and she said, “Well, I don't get around too much anymore, but,” she says, “I've got a trip planned for the Holy Land in May.” God bless her little heart, soul, and body.

EE:

That's something. What do you remember about basic itself? Were your instructors all women?

MH:

One man. He taught us how to march in the gym, the big gym there.

EE:

Because it was too cold and snowy outside?

MH:

Oh, yes. Yes. What I remember about that is, we had inspection outside, and I don't know, sometimes your nose would run, and of course, when you're in a line, you can't wipe your nose. So you just kept sniffing and sniffing and sniffing, and that was annoying.

Another funny thing, we had gym, and then we took showers, and it was by the numbers. Number one would go in and get undressed. On the next bell, number one would go into the shower, the other girl would go in and undress. So at the third bell, the second girl would go in the shower, the first girl would come out and get dressed. Then on the fourth bell, the other girl in the shower had about three minutes to get dressed. In those days, you wore girdles or garter belts, but I always wore a girdle. You try to get a girdle on a wet body. So there were many times I went home without the girdle, without the stockings, because you wore boots. They couldn't see it and your coat covered, but you had a cold fanny as we march across the field. But you couldn't possibly get dressed. But it was fun. You see, we were so young we didn't care.

I also found out if you put a Coca-Cola out the window at night, the top would pop off and the Coke would go up this and freeze like a fountain. I learned that.

EE:

You've got five in your family altogether, but now, this is your first group living experience?

MH:

Oh, yes.

EE:

How was that for you? Anybody have trouble adjusting to that?

MH:

Well, there were four of us in a room, two double bunks.

EE:

A little bit more privacy. It wasn't a wide open barracks.

MH:

Oh, no, and we had separate stalls when we took showers and when we went to the bathroom.

EE:

That was more private than us.

MH:

Yes. We all had shots, and fortunately or unfortunately, I was the one that was able to pretty much take care of them, and I remember putting towels or face cloths on these girls' heads because they were really knocked off by the things. I never had to—wasn't subjected to group showers, ever, ever.

EE:

I guess you had what, drill in the morning then class work. Did you have any free time during basic?

MH:

Yes, but you know, there were a lot of girls and not too much room. I mean, they hadn't worked all the kinks out. We went into town, to Waterloo, and got a hamburger or got something like that to eat, and we didn't have much to shop for because everything was taken care of. Plus, they didn't have all these things. I don't even remember buying shampoo. We washed our hair with soap. They didn't have much consumer goods.

EE:

Didn't have a lot of consumer stuff.

MH:

No, no.

EE:

What did the townspeople in Waterloo [Iowa] think of you all? That was a new thing, having a bunch of women come in.

MH:

Well, we didn't rub shoulders with them too much. I mean, we had our own church service, and we really didn't have that much free time.

EE:

When you joined, did they give you an option of the kinds of work that you might do, like cooks and bakers or shopkeepers?

MH:

They tested us. I wanted to be a Link Trainer operator, the one who tells people what to do, and they ruled me out right away. They said they couldn't understand me, which is—I think they were putting me on, but, you know, I did have a slight accent. And then, I knew I wasn't going to be a mechanic because they gave us a whole bunch of pictures of tools. I knew about five out of twenty-five. So they knew that wasn't my field, and of course I had been typing and doing that sort of thing, so they figured I was a prime candidate for the cryptographic group.

EE:

Let me ask you one other question, because you were the first class. Was there any particular advertising or word of mouth? How did you first find out that the WAVES were starting up? Was it in the paper?

MH:

In the paper. Oh, yes. In the paper.

EE:

They made a big deal of it?

MH:

Oh, not a big deal, just a place like this: “Enlisted Personnel for the Navy,” “Women in the Navy.” I just went down first thing, even before I asked my mother and father, because I wanted to find out the particulars.

EE:

When you're over with basic, do you have cryptography training there in Iowa, or do you have to go someplace else?

MH:

Oh, no. We went to Washington.

EE:

So you had six or eight weeks in Cedar Falls and—

MH:

Well, we only had about a month.

EE:

It was only a month?

MH:

Yes, about a month or five weeks at the most. Then I believe they gave us a week off before we went to our duty station.

EE:

So then you reported to D.C.? How long was the training in D.C.? You were sort of on-the-job training?

MH:

No. We went to school for about a month, and it was kind of frustrating, but they told us that they wanted women to do this work because they had found out that women can do more repetitive work and not get too bad. Men, it would really drive them up the tree. They would give us codes to break, and two or three would work on it, and we knew which letter, E, would the most important letter that would appear more, the T's and the S's and all this. But then after you worked on that for about four days, and they'd say, “Well, it really isn't a code. You couldn't break it.” That kind of made us well, you know, “Hey, watch where you sit next time. There may be a thumbtack there.”

EE:

Yes, you get suspicious.

MH:

But anyhow, when we did transfer to Naval Communications Annex at Ward Circle in Washington, it was an altogether different sort of thing we did. We had nothing to do with breaking codes. We didn't do anything that we were taught. They had a very, very primitive computer there, and I'm talking one of the ones that looked like a—they tell me, I never saw it—things like a train, you know—

EE:

Right.

MH:

But what they used us for, and shifts twenty-four hours, every shift, we added numbers. I don't think I'm giving away anything because I don't know what I was doing, but there were four numbers, two layers of numbers, and one night they would say, “You add them falsely,” which meant you didn't carry, or you subtracted them and, you know—

EE:

Good night. They were generating random numbers, is what they were probably doing.

MH:

Well, I don't know what they were doing, but we did it, and after about six months or so of that, they transferred me, and I got into the end product after all this work has been done.

Oh, I must preface this by saying that we were the first navy women in Washington, so we did get—people did look at us. When we went on watch, there was only one woman on each watch. We got the once-over from the sailors. I don't mean that physically or anything, but they just were very suspicious of us, very.

We had to—I don't even think I typed them, but yes, I—well, I ran reports off, anyhow. We had this gelatinous thing, I think it's called a hectograph, and we used to wear white shirts, starched white shirts, and this was all purple stuff. Well, one time I leaned over to get something, and I got half a message on my blouse. Well, of course, the sailors took a big, “Hey, you're got to take your blouse off. You can't go home with that.” Well, of course, that scared the devil out of me. So I went into the woman's room—they had one place for women—and I mashed it all out with water so it was all purple. It was horrible-looking, but I did get it out.

But they tried to scare you. And of course, we had marines. You couldn't get in or out of that place without your badge and the marines checking bags and checking everything you brought in.

It was interesting, but it wasn't bad. We worked on watches, and that 12:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. watch was getting really difficult because about 5:00 a.m. you'd get that nauseous feeling in your stomach. Of course, at first I lived in a barracks, and they didn't separate anybody by shifts. So when I came off at eight o'clock, I tried to get some sleep. Of course, that was BA, before air-conditioning, and it was hotter than a pistol in there. And then you'd finally get to sleep at maybe 10:00 or 11:00, and you'd try to sleep till maybe 4:00 or 5:00, but by that time, some of the girls would be getting ready to go on the 4:00 o'clock shift. So there'd be slamming of doors.

EE:

No quiet.

MH:

No quiet at all.

EE:

And hot. Washington is known for being hot.

MH:

It's funny because they had the fans going all the time, but all it was doing was moving the hot air. It wasn't—and of course, it's the humidity, too, was miserable. So that didn't work out too well.

EE:

Let me ask you a few details about the training and the actual schedule on the job. You were there for a month of training. Where were you housed during that month of training?

MH:

Well, we were in a hotel. The hotel—I think it was the Grant Hotel, and we had to wait there or stay there. Then, after about two months there, we went out to the Broadmore on Connecticut Avenue. Archduke Otto of Austria was there, so I kept telling everybody I really was a princess in disguise because my name was Otto. They really didn't believe me.

I had a weird roommate. Her name was Virginia Darling, and her father was, I believe, the superintendent of the reformatory in Concord, Massachusetts. Now, Virginia was a real character. I would come into the room—she had a different shift—and I would get to sleep, and all of a sudden I would hear her holding the door, “No, you can't come in. You can't come in. You can't come in.”

I'd say, “Virginia, what's wrong?”

“There's a cockroach on the other side trying to hook it in.”

Then another time we were about, oh, I would say four stories from the cement, because they had a garage or something. She'd say, “Myrtle, there's someone trying to get into this room. There's a man trying to get—” Nobody could crawl up a wall. Spiderman wasn't even a cartoon then.

She was in one of my watches. We had a Lieutenant Commander Muuma who taught in a boys' school. So then when all these females started to come in, he was just aghast. He didn't know how to handle them. Virginia wanted out of that outfit, that part of it. She was a bleached, brassy blonde. She came in one night smoking a stogie, big black cigar. Then she'd get to her seat and she'd get up and she would act like a monkey. She'd scratch her head and then scratch her side and say, “Well, what's going on?”

The upshot of this whole story is my sister-in-law worked at the Veterans Administration [VA] Hospital in Jamaica Plain [Massachusetts] after the war. She said, “Myrtle, we've got a friend, we've got an ex-WAVE over there. You never heard of a girl named Virginia Darling?”

I says, “Oh, jeez. Do I ever.”

And she said, “Well, she just came in a couple of days ago.” She says, “She and her boyfriend.”

I said, “She came in with a boyfriend?”

She says, “Oh, no. They all find them very quickly there.” But that's what happened to Virginia Darling. She was over at the VA.

I was telling my son the other night, when I told him that someone's going to come and talk to me, and I said, “I don't think I'm very worldly, but—”

He says, “Mom, I don't know what you mean 'worldly.' You've traveled all over the world.”

I says, “No, we're not speaking about it in that context, but,” I says, “I guess I have seen a lot.”

EE:

Oh, yes. Well, that's the thing. I mean, you ask people what memorable characters they remember because everybody, even from a short experience, is thrust with people from all walks of life, all different parts of the country. So you just, by virtue of being in the service, you're going to run into some people you've never seen before."

MH:

Well, we had two Southern girls in our unit when we went to Iowa. These two fortunately had a good sense of humor because they were teased a lot. But somehow we had an auditorium full of WAVES and officers. They asked us if we had any questions. One of these little girls got up and said, “I understand they're putting saltpeter in our food. I don't want to be robbed of my sensuality.” I didn't even know what the heck they were talking about. I wouldn't have known if they gave it to me by the spoonful. But I thought that was funny, especially with two girls in a whole raft of people to get up and say that. That was funny.

EE:

I think someone was pulling the wool over the Southern girls' eyes there.

MH:

Oh, dear. But I'll tell you it was the first time going there that I ever slept in a sleeper on a train. We went first class.

EE:

Now, this cryptography was a twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week job?

MH:

Yes. But every so often—

EE:

Did you rotate on shifts like you'd work for a while, ten days a shift, take a day—

MH:

No. No. It was maybe five or six days, and then you'd get a forty-eight, and that's when we took off to New York.

EE:

You said that because you all were the first ones, there was usually only one woman on a watch. So your CO [commanding officer] was a man.

MH:

They were men the whole time.

EE:

And when you reported to work, was it a big room with lots of desks, a small office? Tell me about the work environment.

MH:

It was a big room with files, cards, three-by-five card files. There were maybe three shelves, and it was a huge room. That was one room. Then where you did the mimeographing or the hectographing was another room, and you collated these things. That was pretty much—I would say we would have a watch officer and maybe three, maybe six, maybe seven officers sitting at desks in a row. Then possibly we had one woman officer in the back that was overseeing all the women, because we filed until our fingers were tired, but that's what we did. They would take a message, and they would get the message decoded, and then they would file everything under—cross-referencing everything.

EE:

And the messages that you were decoding, did you know the substance of them?

MH:

Oh yes.

EE:

Were they between Allied forces, or were they intercepted from [unclear]?

MH:

Just ours. Just ours for CINCPAC [Commander in Chief, Pacific Command], which was for one of my favorite people, Admiral Chester Nimitz. He was such a nice man. And I know that because one of the girls in the house that we finally rented worked for him, and every time he had to go to New York, he asked all his girls if they wanted to go for the ride. In case they wanted to, he would take them up and take them back. He was a true gentleman.

EE:

Good. You were living, when you were stationed there, at the Naval Communications Annex in Ward Circle.

MH:

That's where we worked.

EE:

That's where the work was? Where were you stationed as far as where were you housed?

MH:

I never went to any of those places. We were at the Grant Hotel, and we were at the Broadmore, and then we moved into the barracks. WAVE Quarters D opened, and we were in the barracks. I stayed there maybe a year and a half.

EE:

Was that located there on that circle?

MH:

At Ward Circle. Artemis Ward. They had statue of him there, and it was a traffic circle; on the right-hand side was the Annex, across the street was the WAVE Quarters D.

EE:

So when you would work a shift, at every shift there was at least one officer there, a WAVE officer. Is that what you're saying?

MH:

Yes.

EE:

So there would be two women. There would be one enlisted and one WAVE officer.

MH:

When I first went in, there were no women officers, but that was just a very small section. Then when I was transferred into this bigger section, or we moved into a bigger section, then more women kept coming in.

EE:

Now, you started this—probably it would have been, I guess, late winter of '43. It would have been February or March when you went to Washington?

MH:

No. We got out of training probably February. By the time I reported to Washington was in February of '43. Then I stayed there for the whole war.

EE:

So you were through '47.

MH:

Yes.

EE:

In that same office complex.

MH:

That's right.

EE:

Did you have the same CO the whole time?

MH:

Oh, no, no. I don't know how they had the officers, but we had different watch officers every watch. I mean, they didn't come at the same time, we didn't have the same one. We didn't work with the same people all the time, if I remember correctly.

EE:

You talked about in the article the interaction, the way that you—you were mostly treated pretty well, but you used this phrase that I find interesting, that “If there was any grief given you, it was at the level of the annoying sister.”

MH:

Yes.

EE:

In other words, you were treated fairly professionally, yet every now and then you'd run into that attitude.

MH:

Well, I never had too much of a problem with the men. I'll tell you, and I hope I'm not stepping on anybody's toes, but we had a couple of bitchy female officers. One in particular was a girl from Louisiana who did not like me, which isn't—well, I don't know. We were slow at work one night, and I said, “Lieutenant, what would you like me to do?”

She says, “Wash the radiator.”

I said, “Really?” Because they had men to do that. They had maintenance. So I went out to Commander Newcomb, who was a doll. I said, “Have you got something for me to do? I don't want to wash the radiator.”

He said, “Who told you to wash the radiator?”

I said, “Well, we don't have anything to do.”

He says, “Make some coffee.”

So I made some coffee, and I think he talked to her, not while I was there. But from that, I was on her—

EE:

Yes. You got her in trouble.

MH:

To get back at me, she had a poker party for all the women on her watch. I was not invited, not that I care because I don't like poker anyhow, but it was just—she roomed with this other lady. I was taking my—I think it was my second or third class test. I had worked the mid-watch. I had gone home, taken a shower, changed my clothes, put on a white blouse—you only could wear a white blouse when you were off duty. I came back, sat down, started taking the test at eight o'clock. This woman came up to me, and she said, “Up on your feet,” and I didn't pay her any attention because I wasn't doing anything. She said, “You.”

So I said, “Me?”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “Yes, ma'am.”

“What are you doing with a white shirt?”

I said, “I'm off duty.”

“What are you doing with a white shirt?”

I said, “I thought I could wear—”

She put me on report for being insubordinate. So believe it or not, I had to go see a psychiatrist that I was insubordinate. I never had anything done to me, but the commander of the whole section said, “You know, that's going on your record, and you may not get your third class or second class,” which I thought was grossly unfair because I hadn't done anything. But, you see, sometimes women can be bitchy. I hate to say this, because I'm not the bitchy type and I don't understand why people do it. But you know what? We had a bunch of young, very attractive, enlisted personnel. Some of the women that were officers were older, and maybe they resented it. We had a lot of young enlisted men, and of course, they couldn't date those. Not that I dated much either. I was scared to death to go out with anybody. But I mean, I don't know what the story was, but it was difficult.

EE:

True. True. In other words, there was a story behind the story, you just could never figure it out, but something was going on. And that kind of tension is not peculiar to the military. It's just workplace subordinates and—the military is more structured because of the enlisted prohibition.

Your general experience with men, some people—you know, the attitude you talked about your father worried about the character of the women who were in the service. You've never personally run into that kind of talk or abuse?

MH:

In the early nineties there was a girl that was in our Azalea Anchors [WAVES National?] unit, Jackie Grant, who was getting her masters in history at UNCW [University of North Carolina at Wilmington]. Her professor wanted to know about the harassment that we suffered during World War II. I said, “Why are they beating that to death? We didn't have any. We just didn't have it, and I wish they would stop pounding on that.”

EE:

That's a good dialogue, good copy, but I agree. I think your comment—and I have two younger sisters so I know exactly what you're talking about, and it's not of a level other than anything of—you're on the same team, for goodness sakes. You're pulling together.

MH:

Yes.

EE:

Now, the one thing that I was wondering about, especially since you were the first group, is that you're pretty clearly coming in replacing some fellow who had that job, and that fellow has been freed to fight. Was there any worries or tensions about your male coworkers might be sent off to fight?

MH:

I don't think so, because they were specialists and they were sent to Hawaii. A lot of them were sent to Hawaii. They didn't allow the WAVES out of the country, unless you were nurses, but they didn't allow them until later in the war. But I think a lot of those boys went to Hawaii because that's where CINCPAC was. So that's where they were.

EE:

There wasn't tension about going to the front lines or anything like that?

MH:

I don't believe so. Are we still on the first question?

EE:

No. I've asked a bunch of questions. I've done this so many times, I'm a good way through the questions.

But you're there through '47. Do you have any memories of—you know, you're there. They're distinctive markers, you know. When folks look back, they keep things like D-Day, or since you were working with CINCPAC communications, are there particular days that were especially busy or meaningful in the work that you remember?

MH:

Well, our group had decoded a message about Admiral [Isoroku] Yamamoto, who was the head of the Japanese Navy. The officers were very excited—

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

MH:

I mean, I wasn't smart enough. None of us was smart enough to know what was happening. But let me tell you, the day his plane went down, there was a big hoop-de-doo. We really felt we had done something really fantastic, because that was, well, it was more than the beginning of the end. They knew it was coming down, but it was really—that was an exciting day.

We had a lot of fun with the people on watch. We used to go on picnics. We had one chief petty officer. He must have been fifty with gray hair, a little short guy, Fiske. He had a station wagon with one of the wooden sides?

EE:

Yes.

MH:

We used to pile in that, go to the Rock Creek Park, and have a picnic with everybody who was off duty. But this little Fiske was a real cut-up. We had a closet, a good size closet, that we had pencils and supplies in, and you'd go in there to sharpen a pencil. Well, that son of a gun came in after me one day, shut the door, and started banging on the door: “Let me out. Let me—no, let me out.” Well, you know, there was absolutely nothing to it, and he walked—because he had a short haircut anyhow, but he would wiggle his tie and say, “Boy, don't go in there with her.” Well, you know. Oh, dear. But I mean, now, that's not harassment. That's funny. But he was such a good guy. If you had to go somewhere, if you had to catch a train at four o'clock and you got off at 3:30, early, he'd run you down. I mean, he was good—everybody loved Fiske. He was a good guy.

One of the best times that I ever had was with my friend, Helen. We were hitchhiking to California, and to do that, you'd go down to the army transport place, as they were very good to the WAVES. I guess the army girls went to the navy place, I mean to the navy thing. But we hitched a ride to California to see Helen's fiancé.

Well, the first plane we hitched out of there, we stopped in Columbus [Ohio]. We came down, and we heard fire engines and all this stuff. I said, “Boy, Helen, I didn't think we made such an impression.” Well, one of our engines was on fire. So we got down there. The nurses up there weren't expecting any women personnel, so Helen and I ended up in the VD [venereal disease] ward of the hospital. She gave us one room on this side and one room on that side. I said to the nurse, I said, “I don't want you to think anything's wrong, but I wonder if we could stay together in one room.” This was in February, mind you. Well, Helen was just getting over a cold, and she got on the inside and I hung off the outside of the bed. She'd say, “Oh, Myrtle, I am so warm.” I would get up, put my feet on that cold hospital floor, open the window. I'd get back into bed, just get my feet warm, and she'd say, “Myrtle, I'm cold. Get up and shut the stupid window.” And this went on three or four times.

Well, when we ever walked into the cafeteria in the morning, we were really looked upon as—I don't know whether they thought we were sports or not, but—we were going to hook a ride in a four-engine plane. I always get B-24s or B-17s mixed up. Well, I don't know if you know about these things, but to get into these planes, they have a little opening at the back and you—the men just reach up and slide in. Well, I'm waiting there, and I'm thinking, “How am I going to get into this? I can't reach that.”

So with my navy blue uniform and my gold buttons, I backed up about ten feet, run like a son of a gun and go in like a whale right on my stomach. I am covered with dirt. My girlfriend Helen just stands there and looks helpless, and along comes two male officers, picks her up by the elbows, and put her in. There's no justice! But that was a fun thing. And then we get out to California, and we go down to San Diego and see Alex, I think his name was Alex. Later we took a train and visited her aunt in San Francisco, and she took us to the St. Francis [hotel] and had lunch on the Top of the Mark. We were flying home from San Francisco in a little plane, and there were only, we were the only two passengers, with a sergeant and a pilot and a co-pilot, I think. And he was showing us how to put the parachute on us. I said, “Well, that's going to interfere with our skirt.”

He says, “If I tell you to put this parachute on, get out of the skirt.”

Well, I'll be a son of a gun if we didn't land in a cornfield in El Toro, the Marine base [near Irvine, California]. The plane went down, and we went with it.

EE:

Good gracious.

MH:

We didn't get hurt or anything, but we were going to be late to get back to our base. So we sent Commander Bertolet a telegram and said, “If we're not back within forty-eight hours, send the Marines.” He was so nice. He didn't put us on report or anything. We did get there by commercial plane, but we were late.

EE:

What a trip. What a trip.

MH:

You see, we had fun.

EE:

Yes. That was an adventure, yes.

MH:

We had so many adventures. We went to Baltimore one night, and we couldn't get a train back to D.C. We met two soldiers, and they said there was a dance at Fort Meade that night. They said, “We're from Fort Meade. We'll take a taxi back and you can get on the bus with the girls going to WAVE Quarter D.” Well, we get there and the bus had gone, and here we are in the camp. Of course, you can be arrested for that, because they could think we were lots of things that we weren't. So they left us, and the taxi driver said, “Well, I'll get you out and drive you to Washington.” So he says, “Now, get down on the floor when we go by the gate.” Well, I'll be a son of a gun if some officer didn't hail that cab, and here he opens it, and there's two women on the floor. Well, that made us look even worse. I mean, we didn't even get out of the cab. We got a lecture for all that distance. We didn't say anything, but we got lectured all the way. But see, we had fun. Now, this why young people are not afraid of anything.

EE:

No, they're not. If your daughter had come home and told you this, you would have been worried silly about her.

MH:

We had some things that we could have gotten in lots of trouble about.

EE:

You were there in D.C. when the news came that President Roosevelt passed away. Do you remember about that?

MH:

Yes. Of course, we all—my father, of course, is a Republican, and he doesn't really care for him, but I thought he did a good job. I really admired the man, and I admired, against my father's wishes, Eleanor. She was a person. The only thing I didn't like about Eleanor, when she came to speak to us, she had rings on every finger, and I said, “That just is tacky.” But she had a lot of rings. But it was sad. It was sad.

And you know, so many people didn't like [Harry] Truman, but I think what he did by dropping that bomb was the thing to do. It saved so many. It really did. And I've had people speak to me, one of the aides to one of the admirals who spoke to our group, and he said, “You know, when they went in on the [USS]Missouri, it's kind of like a bay [Tokyo Bay].” And he said, “They were very anxious because they could have fired from all sides, and they would have been mashed.” So, I mean, it took courage to do it, and I think he did a good job. Truman did the right thing. He really did.

EE:

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

MH:

Well, I probably am different because I did not lose anybody in the war, no relatives, no family.

EE:

No family members, no close friends?

MH:

No. Afterwards, of course, when I found out, you know, some of our high school mates had gone, that was bad, but really, outside of having a moment or two with those ladies. After the fighting was over, Commander Newcomb became the exec on the Queen of the Fleet, the [USS] New Mexico. She docked in Boston, and Minnie—that's another girlfriend, this tall girl from Minnesota—Kay Lalond and I went to my home, and we had dinner on the battleship, which was quite, quite a nice thing to remember. There's a lot of people haven't had that.

EE:

No. No.

MH:

And the three of us had a great time. We didn't travel together. It was mainly Minnie and me and Helen and I, we had some good times. I think from about 1984, I've gone to every convention they have every other year.

EE:

You still keep up with it?

MH:

Yes. And that's one of the things—of course, we're all getting old. Boy, there's a couple of old bats there now. The one thing is, though, you've made lifelong friends.

EE:

That's right, because you have shared some wonderful things together.

MH:

Yes, and I mean, that was fifty years ago, though. I mean, come on.

EE:

But it does help shape your attitude. I mean, do you think your military experience made you more of an independent person that you would have been otherwise?

MH:

Oh, yes. Yes. Had I not joined, I would have married this boy in Bermuda and been a housewife, and not that there's anything wrong. I wouldn't have had the opportunity. I've been to Russia for three weeks. We traveled twenty-six thousand miles in eighteen days in Russia, from Moscow to Irkutsk in Siberia, and Tashkent [Uzbekistan]. Then, in another trip, I went to Vienna, and another trip I went to Munich, England, the Channel Islands. I would never have had that experience had I married this young man in Bermuda.

EE:

Now, how did you get plugged into being a world traveler? Was it because your husband was in service as well?

MH:

No. No. I worked for Honeywell, and they offered trips. My husband was on a transport, and he had been to Piraeus, Greece, several times, to Italy several times, Bremerhaven [Germany], Casablanca [Morocco]. He wasn't interested at all in going. So by this time, the children were of age so that—I had a son in the coast guard, one was married and the other one was in Florida. So I just took a trip with my girlfriend and her husband. We traveled. Hank did go to Munich with me, but, I mean, I just like to travel. As a matter of fact, next Thursday, this girlfriend that I told you about marrying in February after graduating in June, we are flying to L.A., and we're taking a ten-day cruise down the coast of Mexico.

EE:

Sounds nice.

MH:

I have been to Bermuda twice. I have been to western Caribbean twice. Cruising is the way to go, because you can get off the bed, just look at it, and walk away. And you get what you want to eat.

EE:

That's right. My mother-in-law has done the Alaskan tour and one of the Caribbean. She's done the roughing it tour, going to the Amazon one time.

MH:

Oh, dear. The best part about this latest trip is my girlfriend's son is paying for everything. She, my girlfriend Dottie, lost her husband last March, so Bruce is in his mid-fifties, I guess, and he's a computer expert, and he's got a very, very good job, and he's got a couple of homes. He just decided his mother needed a trip because she likes it, and because we've known each other since 1935, he decided I should go with her. He's paying for the plane and the trip and everything.

EE:

It's nice to have good friends.

MH:

Yes.

EE:

It doesn't sound like the kind of work itself ever put you in physical danger. Did you ever feel afraid when you were in service, on your travels and everything?

MH:

Well, those travels were after the service. No. No. And, of course, we always had the marines there. No, all this traveling I did was afterwards. I never did go too many places. Although Minnie and I hooked a ride to Bermuda once in a plane, and the thing that was unusual about that is if you had to go to the bathroom, you went behind a shower curtain in a pail. And let me tell you, you had to be flexible in your knees, because when that plane dropped, you'd better be ready.

EE:

I can only imagine. [laughter]

MH:

But, you know, they were cargo planes.

EE:

What do you remember about either or both VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

MH:

VJ Day I remember more because we were dismissed from the watch, and all our watch went downtown to Washington, D.C., and there were conga lines all over the place. We just hung on the end and went all over. It's the first time that the canteen—what was the name of that canteen, the American Theater Canteen or something, allowed females in. They never were allowed inside the canteen. I don't know why, but they just did not allow women. Oh, there'd be a hue and cry today, but there wasn't then.

EE:

How did you meet Hank?

MH:

That was after I got out. I went to Chicago with this girlfriend, and I believe I was at Columbia College, I met him. Oh, I know. I was out. I jumped the gun when I said I went to Roosevelt College. I had taken a test. They had moved to Michigan Avenue. When I had come out, I had gone out there, went home for about two months for the summer, then I went back. I went to register, and they said they had lost the records. So then I went to this Columbia College that was advertising, and they had another school there that was teaching kindergarten students.

EE:

This was in—

MH:

Chicago. They taught media broadcasting and writing, newspaper writing, and he was in the same class, and I was—of course, I sat up front because I don't have any problem hearing, but I wasn't going to sit in the back. He was just sitting next to me, and we met in September, and I think we got engaged at Christmas. He's a couple of years younger than I. But we were married—

EE:

It doesn't take long when you meet the right guy. You can kind of figure it out.

MH:

Well, I don't think it was that I was so anxious to get married, because I didn't.

EE:

Well, I'm curious how it was that they didn't send you home that Christmas of '45. A lot of women they were trying to process out and send home as quickly as possible. Could you have left earlier? Did you have the option?

MH:

Probably, but you see, we had a lot of work to do. They had so much—they wanted to know where all the ships were that they had. They had marus, commercial ships. They wanted to know where they were. We had the information, but we didn't have a chance to put it in. And I stayed in, and I got to be chief. I'm a chief petty officer. And of course, they had a lot of people coming in, young men still were coming in, and they had to have somebody that knew a little bit of what they were doing.

I wasn't a very—Hank always chides me about this, but I was not a very—I couldn't say, “No, sir.” “Do that floor.” You know, that wasn't me, but I do remember some time there was some guy that was supposed to be buffing the hall with those great big things, and he walked, and I thought, “You stinker.” I tried it. Honest to gosh, talk about ride. I did a fancy two-step until I learned how to shut that thing off. You needed something to do that.

EE:

That's right.

MH:

But you see, all this is part of life. This is what I was always enthusiastic about.

EE:

You just wanted to get in and go do it. Yes. What was your most embarrassing moment?

MH:

That's easy. I didn't drink. When I first went to Washington, I was with a bunch of older girls. Almost everybody was older in the barracks. Well, they decided they'd go down to the Roger Smith Hotel and have a drink. So, hey, I'm with them. So I said to one of the girls, “Now, what should I get? Don't get me anything strong because I'm not used to it.”

So one of them said, “Well, a Tom Collins is one of the easiest ones.”

Well, I think I enjoyed that for maybe ten minutes, and then they had to put me in a taxi, and I went home and whooped for about three hours. When they came back, they picked me up out of the floor—I mean, I was sitting on the floor whooping in the john. That wasn't that embarrassing. I was feeling pretty low. I didn't even finish it, for goodness sake. So when I came home on the next leave, I told my father, “Dad, you know what happened to me?”

He looked at me with those blue eyes and he says, “I hope that happens to you every time you take a drink.” So that's why I can't drink today.

EE:

You can still hear his voice telling you.

MH:

I can drink maybe a glass of wine, but I cannot drink hard liquor. But that wasn't that embarrassing. It was gross.

But we were in a nightclub, my girlfriend—I guess it must have been Helen—and we're waiting to be seated at a table. I said, “Helen, I have to go to the bathroom,” and I'm standing up, and I said, “You know, really, I'll be right out, really.” And all I can see are her eyes going—I'm in the men's room. I pushed the wrong door. And that was embarrassing because there were two men, fortunately, washing their hands. That can be embarrassing, you know. That's kind of embarrassing.

EE:

I guess so. You talk about you and Helen and Minnie going around. Did most of the girls hang out with other girls? Is that what social life was like? Was there a lot of dating in the office among people?

MH:

No. No. Not too much. I mean, we did a lot of things together, all girls, girl things.

EE:

Well, you were talking about that you could go pick up a couple of soldiers just to go have fun, not necessarily—

MH:

Yes, but that makes it—you know, unless you were there—it sounds like you're a couple of tramps, but we weren't. We really weren't. When I'd go home to Boston, it was a long trip. I'd always meet someone on the train. I always took him home if he was just visiting Boston. My father would be very gracious. I know my father used to go fishing a lot, and he used to drive down Route 9, which is the main drag into Boston, before he went to this Myrtle boat. I think I was named after the fishing scow. But he would pick up a soldier or a sailor or somebody, and when he left, he'd give them a five or a ten, and he said, “I just hope somebody does that for my boys.” He never said “girl,” he said “boys.” We waited for a train or something and some guy would come up, “You want a cup of coffee?” “Sure.” Everybody was just funny. This was no big thing.

EE:

I've heard a lot of people who were in D.C. talked about one of the things they liked about being there was that there was always a lot of things to do socially. Like Sinatra would be singing downtown. Did you all go out to the clubs a lot? It sounds like you were a traveling group. You all went out to different places in the city.

MH:

Not really. Fortunately, I lived with Minnie in an apartment for a couple of years. We rode back and forth with our watch officer because he happened to be going by our house. I wrote Minnie the other day. I said, “Minnie, I don't remember. How did we do our laundry? We didn't have a machine.”

She says, “Myrtle, don't you remember we would carry this stupid pillowcase full of laundry dragging behind us, and we'd do it at the WAVE quarters and then bring it back?”

I said, “No. Now, that's one of the things I forgot.”

EE:

You don't remember the drudgery parts.

MH:

Yes, I do remember. I asked my mother to send me my phonograph, which had the turntable on top, and we had a lot of records. We had a big living room, and I think that every Sunday—I don't know how it started, but we had open house—it seemed people from watch who weren't on would come down, and we'd have hamburgers, and I'd say to Minnie, “Do you think we could charge for some of them?” Because, this was every week, and nobody would give us any money. But we had Tommy Dorsey's Boogie Woogie, and we had all these records, and we used to dance. It was a fun thing. It sounds like I'm out partying all the time, but it wasn't. I mean, we did our job, and—

EE:

I was going to say, is there particular songs or movies, even, that remind you of that time when you see them or hear them now?

MH:

No, but when I hear I'll Never Smile Again, or some of the Andrews Sisters things, it brings back memories. And as I say, when you watch the flag go by and The Star-Spangled Banner, and you just get all choked up even now.

EE:

I heard a lot of people that I've talked to say that really, if they regret anything, because a lot of women had a great time while some of their men friends had a terrible time, but they miss the patriotism and the sense of togetherness that we had during the war time that we don't have these days. Did you ever meet anybody who was afraid that we might not win the war?

MH:

No. All the girls, we knew we were going to win. We knew it.

To get back to that other question, I really object to the way they're treating The Star-Spangled Banner. I don't see why they can't sing it straight. If they can't sing it straight, don't sing it, but this business of going all over and I don't know what they're saying, that's irritating. To me, it's something that should be respected. We don't have—I'll tell you one thing, though, Erich, my son, because he was in the [U.S.] Coast Guard for four years, decided after taking orders he wasn't going to be that guy. He was going to give them. He went to Roger Smith University in Rhode Island—he was in the reserve at the same time—and received his degree in mechanical engineering. He said, “Mama, I'm not pushing you, but if anything happens to you, that picture of you over the organ is mine.”

EE:

Good picture.

MH:

He said, “That's mine.” Now, he is working—he helped design an ocean-going tug [boat]. He's also got his captain's license, and I don't know whether he brought the tug down from Baltimore to Norfolk, but he's in the Navy Yard working on something that was not quite right. He went into the ship's store there, and he brought me a surprise, but he couldn't find it but his girlfriend, my daughter-in-law to be, said, “I know where that hat is.” He bought me a chief's hat, you know, John Paul Jones with the CPO [chief petty officer] thing? He is proud. He's proud of me. Of course, Hank calls me his hero, his World War II hero. But, I mean, you could expect that from him.

EE:

Who were your heroes from that time?

MH:

Admiral Nimitz. He was my boy. I felt so badly when he died, but of course, you know, hey, we're all having our last hurrah. We're not kids. I'll be seventy-eight this year, and I don't feel seventy-eight.

EE:

It becomes a number after a while, doesn't it? It's just a number.

MH:

Hey, listen, I know there's so many, but I have been, as I say, so darned lucky. I have very little wrong with me, and—

EE:

You have a great view out your front porch.

MH:

Oh, I have. Yes, indeed.

EE:

Do you personally feel you contributed to the war effort?

MH:

Yes, I do. I really do. This is not exactly—I don't know whether this is important or isn't important, but you know, they asked in that little questionnaire, “What did the service do for you?” This is our high school reunion book of fifty years. I just want to show you, I have starred everybody who has had a degree. Now, all of these people were never able to get a degree on their money alone. A lot of these people went in because of the GI Bill, but if you look, you can see we had a heck of a lot of graduates that really got their degree, and I'm sure some of them were because they had that opportunity.

EE:

They would never have had otherwise.

MH:

No. So we did well, I think, as a class.

EE:

You sure did. When you finished, you got married. How long was it before you starting working at Honeywell?

MH:

Oh, that was quite a while. After I got married, I worked at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] for three or four years. We used the old IBM machines—we had to write a Russian book, so we had to have Russian characters, which meant you had to remove a key and put a Russian key in every time. And besides, it was justified on the right-hand side, which meant you had to count so that your right-hand column would come out even. It was a tremendous undertaking. We did a Russian book, and then we started to get almost callouses on your fingers from changing—but then we did that, and then we did a lot of bookwork for MIT.

Then I went over to—I had an opportunity to go to A.D. Little researchers, and I worked there as a statistical typist for a few years. Then they asked me if I'd come back to MIT so I did for a little bit, and my boss, Joseph Kaye, brought stuff out to my house when I had children. And, I mean, it worked out well.

Then we moved to Framingham [Massachusetts] from Brookline because the—well, I was in Newton. We moved from Brookline to Newton. Then, of course, I'm talking maybe fifteen years later, the Turnpike Authority took our house in Newton so we moved to Framingham. Then after Framingham, there was a company called 3-C, and it was known as “The Other Computer Company,” other than IBM. So you can see that was a way back. Then it was absorbed by Honeywell, and then I worked full time for them for about twenty years, nineteen, as a matter of fact.

I'm trying to find that little guy who wrote in here that after he won the war—

EE:

Modestly put. Sounds like, though, you had a very nice mix of home life and productive work after you got out of the service.

MH:

Yes.

EE:

So when you were in Chicago, you went to Columbia in New York City, and that's where you met your husband?

MH:

No. It was Columbia in Chicago.

EE:

And your husband went back in the service during the Korean War.

MH:

I helped that way. I told him he had to go and sign up. He says, “No. I'm in the reserve. I don't have to.”

I says, “It says your age group.”

So he went down, signed, and we moved to Wisconsin. My father called up and said, “If Hank isn't down at the army base tomorrow, he's going to be into the army.” So he immediately went to—what the heck is that one in Illinois, the navy base in Illinois?

EE:

I'm thinking Great Lakes.

MH:

That's it. He went down there and got back into the navy because he had already been in that. So it wasn't too bad.

EE:

That's great. That's beautiful.

MH:

And here, you can take that with you, too. That's a picture on our way South Station. Now, you might want to—this is just a bunch of—this was a letter I wrote to a girl who had cancer, and you don't have to read it now, but you—it's just what happened in Boston. So you might want to read that later. That's kind of interesting.

EE:

You know, you were talking about the GI Bill. How do you think your life has been different because of your time in the military?

MH:

Well, as I said in my little write-up there, it has taught me to be my own person. I don't have to do what everybody tells me I have to do. I can do what I want, or I could. And it's made me much more sure of myself, even though my husband calls me a mouse. I don't think I'm a mouse. I'm a mouse when I'm with him because he is a big man and he talks a lot, and when I'm with him, I feel like I'm a mute.

EE:

A lot of the people who've looked at the generation that you're in that went to work in the services and became Rosie the Riveters and then a lot of things in the workforce. It's said that if you want to look at the start of women's lib[eration movement], you'd go back and look at your generation and say, well, it's because of your generation that society took a second look at what women could do, and women started looking at themselves, at what they could do. Do you think of yourself as a trailblazer in this way?

MH:

No. No. I really don't. I did it because I wanted to do and I figured I could help. I could help.

EE:

Now, you've got a son who joined the coast guard. Did either of your daughters have any interest in joining the service?

MH:

My daughter Kristin graduated with a BS [bachelor of science] in nursing. She went ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps], and she learned to do something with an M-18 or an M-19, whatever. But she didn't particularly care for it, my dream of her becoming a navy nurse didn't materialize. But no, they didn't.

EE:

Obviously navy nurse was something you looked forward to. So you would encourage a woman to join, then, based on your experience?

MH:

Do you know, down here, I would—this is a very closed community, this Brunswick County. If I had my way, I'd make everybody go in for two years, everybody. If they didn't like it, they can come home to this little community, but get out and try your wings. There's other things. They're not all nasty Yankees. They're not all nasty Northerners. Just try it. Get out and try it. Boy, that would be wonderful because then you'd get a view of something besides oyster shucking and fishing.

EE:

[Laughter] The world needs that view, I believe. Everybody in it needs to see that there's something other than where they've always been.

MH:

They may not like it, but how would they know?

EE:

That's right.

MH:

There's a girl down there at one of the shipping stations that I get my copies made, and her daughter joined the navy, and she said, “Well, she's leaving Italy, and I don't know whether she's going to Israel for a month.” She's just navy, enlisted navy, but see, we never had that opportunity. Boy, I would like that, but I didn't have that opportunity. I was kind of stuck.

EE:

If the idea of joining is something that's good, two years ago for the first time we had a woman go in as a combat pilot in Iraq, bomb Saddam Hussein. What do you think about that? Are there some jobs that should be off limits to women in the military, or are you for opening up the service to as many qualified people as—

MH:

If it's their choice, fine, but I don't believe that women should. I still believe that women, if they have children, I don't believe the navy or the army or any service is the place for them. I'm very much against that. And, of course, everybody wears pants now. We never wore pants, you know. And that's all right for certain professions. I'm sure they did in a lot of them, but I don't go for pregnant women in the service. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is with me.

EE:

Well, I've exhausted my thirty questions. And we're still going. I'm going to let you show me some pictures, but is there anything I haven't asked you about, about your time in service, that you think ought to be on record here?

MH:

No, except I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it.

EE:

I can tell. I can tell.

MH:

I was doing something, and I never got into any trouble much except from those ladies. It was rewarding in itself, you know.

EE:

Your husband's time in the service, he was in the navy, in the service?

MH:

Yes.

EE:

And was he overseas, stateside? Where was he?

MH:

The first time he was mostly down in the Navy Department. Then he was mustered out because the war—as I said, he was younger than I so he was mustered out. The second time he was on a transport, and he went all over. I think he was in for two years.

EE:

I was going to say, that's what kind of got rid of his wanderlust. Having had to go other places, he said, “Thank you but no, I'll stay home.”

[Discussion of the Episcopalian and Catholic Churches redacted]

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, I want to say thank you for just a wonderful—you know, you have such a great recollection, obviously, of places and times that thoroughly meant a lot to you, and I thank you for sharing those with me today.

[End of the Interview]