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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Annis Weir, 2000

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Object ID: WV0148.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Annis Glendon Weir’s early life and nurses’ training; her experiences in the Navy Nurse Corps from 1945 to 1946; and her life after World War II.

Summary:

Weir discusses nurses’ training at St. Francis Hospital in New Jersey, including her classes, ward duty; and living quarters. She also describes hearing about Pearl Harbor, the hospital being taken over for the Cadet Nurse Corps program, and her work at Mercer Hospital.

Topics related Weir's Navy Nurse Corps service include her mother’s reaction when she joined; living arrangements at St. Albans Hospital in New York; her shock at the number of patients in St. Albans; grotesque war wounds; treating former American prisoners of war; celebrating VJ Day in New York City; free products provided for service women, including cosmetics and nylon hose; social life, including a party at the British Consulate, theater shows, and the Café Rouge; touring the USS Missouri; being turned down for a GI loan because she “might get pregnant”; the positive attitude of the country during the war; her opinions of President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt; memorable songs; and the benefits of her military service, including greater confidence.

Weir also talks about meeting her husband Earle Weir; his experiences in the Merchant Marines and being denied veteran status; her involvement with WAVES National; the dedication of the Women in Military Service to America Memorial; her daughter’s interest in joining the navy; and her opinion of women’s current roles in the military.

Creator: Annis Glendon Weir

Biographical Info: Annis Glendon Weir, of Trenton, New Jersey, served in the Navy Nurse Corps at St. Albans Hospital on Long Island from April 1945 to April 1946.

Collection: Annis Glendon Weir Papers

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

Full Text:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today is February 11 in the year 2000, which is still hard for me to say. I am in Wilmington, North Carolina, and speaking today with Annis Weir.

Ms. Weir, thank you so much for stopping by after your lunch here in town. You're actually living—I think the address says Willard [North Carolina].

ANNIS WEIR:

That's our mailbox. We live in Penderlea.

EE:

In fact, I interviewed a woman who taught school at Penderlea.

AW:

Oh, really?

EE:

And then she left because she got tired of teaching school and wanted to join the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]. So I do know a little bit about that area.

We're going to go through with you a few questions about your service as a navy nurse today. The first question I ask everybody is a simple one. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

AW:

Trenton, New Jersey. I lived there and went to nursing school there.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

AW:

I had one brother.

EE:

Is he older or younger?

AW:

One year older.

EE:

I have a sister one year younger. It's an interesting dance between Mom and Dad. What did your folks do?

AW:

My mother was mainly a homemaker. She was also a seamstress. My father worked in an office. He died when I was nine.

EE:

So your mom just raised you and your brother then?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

You graduated. What was the name of the high school you graduated from in Trenton?

AW:

Trenton High School in 1938.

EE:

North Carolina was a little slow on having twelve years of high school. Did you have a twelve-year high school?

AW:

Oh, yes.

EE:

That's what I found most of the folks out of state did.

AW:

I may interject North Carolina was a little slow with starting early education, too. When we moved here from Pennsylvania, my son was five, and there were no public kindergarten, and I had gone to public kindergarten in Trenton when I was five.

EE:

That's right. We were slow on that. Did you like school when you were little?

AW:

Loved it.

EE:

What was your favorite subject?

AW:

I imagine history.

EE:

Well, I'm a history major, so I appreciate that. Did you have something in mind that you wanted to be when you grew up?

AW:

Yes, I wanted to be a nurse. I remember saying that in sixth grade. The teacher said, “Do any of you know what you'd like to be when you grow up and why?”

I said, “I want to be a nurse. I want to help sick people.” That was in sixth grade.

EE:

Do you think you had any role models? Were there any relatives or people you knew?

AW:

No. No, I don't know where it came from. That's what I said then. Over the years, I changed a little, but always back to that.

EE:

What was nurse's training like in New Jersey? I know here nurses basically went to hospitals, and they had a nursing course in the hospital. Is that the way it was there?

AW:

I was in a hospital nursing school, right. Three years.

EE:

Was it right there in Trenton?

AW:

In Trenton.

EE:

What was the name of it?

AW:

St. Francis Hospital. It was run by Franciscan nuns. It's right across the street from the high school.

EE:

Not a big walk. Did you live in a dormitory at the hospital?

AW:

Yes. We had to live on the grounds, yes. It's very regulated.

EE:

How expensive was that?

AW:

It wasn't. The early admission was fifty dollars. Now, this is back in 1940. Fifty dollars, and if you got capped in six months, that meant that you were going to stay, and it was another fifty dollars. Then, when you had completed a year and a half, it was another fifty dollars. So altogether, $150 tuition, but there was a great deal of labor served free. We worked on the wards, you know, and replaced nurses, really.

EE:

And you work at different shifts, or is it pretty regular?

AW:

When I was there, we had what was known as a block system. We'd go to classes for six weeks, and then we'd go on the wards for six weeks. For the first six months, we were mostly just in classes. We'd go on the wards maybe two hours in the early morning and late afternoon to serve trays and things, get used to the atmosphere. But after six months, we started with regular classes and then ward duty, classes and ward duty. We also served night duty, and night duty was twelve hours long then. We went on at 7:00 pm and came off at 7:00 am with no relief, and we worked six weeks of night duty with no night off. It was not easy.

EE:

And you were just right out of high school.

AW:

No. I won a scholarship in high school, and I went to NJC, which is now the women's section of Rutgers, New Jersey College for Women, and I went there a year and a half. I wasn't old enough to get into a nursing program. You had to be eighteen. When I got out of high school I wasn't old enough so I went to college for a year and a half, but I still wanted to be a nurse.

EE:

Did some of your courses there transfer over to your nursing?

AW:

No. I started in February at the hospital, in the February class of the nursing school.

EE:

I ask people—they were teenagers, even though I'm talking to them now, sixty years past the time of the war, and as a teenager, you may not have been thinking much about what was going on in the rest of the world. When you graduated from high school, did you have a sense of the troubles in Europe and what that might foretell for this country?

AW:

Let me say, growing up was a hard time. It was Depression. My father died when I was nine, in 1930, and my mother had a very difficult time keeping us together as a family. So I was always aware of hardships.

EE:

Hardships for you were much more local than global, it sounds like.

AW:

Right. I was well aware of how hard things were.

EE:

Did your mom have to get a job after your father passed away?

AW:

Well, here was the thing. My mother had not finished school. She was sent to work out of the seventh grade. She wanted to go to school, but that was the way it was with her family. But when I came along, she said, “You go to school as long as you can,” and she was very supportive.

EE:

That's great.

AW:

About the war and all that was coming along over there, I was aware of some of it.

EE:

I think they started the draft in '43. You remember that, right?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Were you working in the hospital Pearl Harbor Day?

AW:

I was still in school. I was an affiliate down in Baltimore, Maryland, at a psychiatric hospital. I'm trying to think and remember the place now, Mt. Hope Retreat. It was run by the Sisters of Charity.

EE:

Was it another Franciscan hospital?

AW:

It was a Catholic organization, and the nuns were not Franciscans. It was a three month course. I was selected to go there. And I remember this Sunday morning I was sitting in the lounge and I was making a needlepoint for my mother for Christmas when the news came over the radio about Pearl Harbor being bombed.

EE:

You knew then that that was not good and we were about to be in a war.

AW:

Right, right away. All the girls that were there, we were from all over. It was a place hospitals sent their students for special training. We had girls from Baltimore, Washington, different parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey. Everyone started to say, “Wonder how soon they will be drafting nurses?” We talked like that.

EE:

Did they start the Cadet Nurse program?

AW:

That started a little later. I was affected by that, too. When I finished training in 1943 I started to work in my own hospital in the operating room. I worked there, I guess, a year, and my mother had remarried and was living out of town about thirty miles. I lived on the grounds again because I was on call every other night for the operating room. I went home for a summer vacation, and when I came back, the housekeeper met me and she said, “You no longer have a room here.”

I said, “What are you talking about?”

She said, “You'll have to see the head nun, Sister Herman Joseph, and she'll talk to you about this.”

When I went to see her she said the cadet nursing program had started and the government was anxious to take in many girls. Of course, the hospital benefited from that. I don't know what kind of tuition they got from the government. I'm sure it was more than we had paid. So they had given my room to two cadets.

I said, “Well, what am I to do?”

She said, well, they had known over the time that I spent at school and after my mother married and moved away that I had an aunt in town within walking distance, and I used to go there on my days off to visit.

So she said, “Well, your aunt lives nearby and you probably can stay with her.” Well, my aunt was willing, and I did go and stay with her for a while, but I resented it.

EE:

Sure, being forced to go with no notice.

AW:

Right. I mean, this was something they just did. “All right, you're out; somebody else is in.”

EE:

Cadet nursing, that was an army nurse program, wasn't it, or was it?

AW:

I don't know whether they were strictly for the army or they just trained the girls and then they could go into whatever field they wanted. They had natty uniforms that were gray with red berets.

So, I went to stay with my aunt, and it kind of was upsetting for me. In the meantime, my only brother was a machinist, and he wanted to go into the service, and he joined the navy. We were always very close. When you grow up like that, with one parent, we were close. So I decided I wasn't going to stay at the hospital any longer, and I told them I was leaving. This head nun said, “Oh, no, you can't leave. You're frozen in this job.” You know, during the war, you were supposed to be frozen. I thought, “No, I'm not going to stay.”

I went home. There was another hospital in town. I applied and began working there. In the meantime I tried to go in the navy at Philadelphia. I've always worn glasses since I was a kid, and I was turned down on my vision. I worked a while longer and decided to try again. I went to Brooklyn Navy Yard and got a waiver on my vision.

EE:

Let me get the time table right. Now, you go in in February of '40. The training program is two years long?

AW:

Three. It was three years.

EE:

So you get out in '43.

AW:

In June. That allowed for vacations and sick time or whatever you had to make up.

EE:

And during this time, while you're in training, is there increased recruiting of nurses to join the military? Is that part of your training? Did you have people come talk to you about that?

AW:

No, nothing was said about the military. But in my senior year I realized I liked the O.R., and there were several older girls who had graduated who were working as scrub nurses in the operating room. Two of them joined the navy. A couple others went into the army. And we had doctors who were making preparations to go in the services. So it was a current thing.

EE:

That kind of put the seed in your mind about things.

AW:

Yes, it's possible.

EE:

What was the name of the hospital? What was the one you worked in right after graduating?

AW:

St. Francis.

EE:

St. Francis is where you're trying to say you went back there and stayed there.

AW:

I stayed there, and then I went to Mercer Hospital in Trenton and worked until I went in the service.

EE:

What did your mom think about you joining the service?

AW:

My mother thought that was tremendous. She supported it 100 percent. In fact, she used to annoy me when I was in high school. I would bring home a list of subjects to study next year in the classical course. I'd ask her, “What do you think I should take?”

She'd say, “You take whatever you think you're interested in.” She never pushed me one way or the other. Sometimes I used to get annoyed. “Why doesn't she try to help me with this?”

EE:

Making you independent.

AW:

Right. And when I wanted to go into nursing, she said she thought that was tremendous.

EE:

That's great.

AW:

I'll tell you a funny incident after I get into nursing in the navy.

EE:

When was the first time you tried to get in? Was it the summer of '43? When did you first try to get in?

AW:

No. Not that early. No. I worked at the hospital where I had graduated. When you graduated you were expected to work in the hospital for a year unless you moved out of town. If you didn't you would never be called on the private duty roster. The private duty roster at that time was the best paying area. We were getting paid by the month, and the private duty people were getting paid by the day, much grander amounts than we were getting.

EE:

Higher rates?

AW:

Yes. So I stayed a year, into '44.

EE:

When did your brother join the navy? Was it '43 or '44?

AW:

I can't quite remember when he went in. He used to fly on his own, and he wanted to go into the air force, but he didn't have a college education so he joined the navy.

EE:

Yes. They were very strict on those standards.

AW:

He became a machinist mate.

EE:

So '44 was your first time going down to Philadelphia to try to—

AW:

I would think so, yes.

EE:

And for you it was navy as opposed to army simply because—

AW:

Well, I never thought about the army. He was in the navy. That's where I wanted to be. These gals that came back—they visited the O.R. one time—that had joined the navy, I liked the uniform. At that time they were wearing black hose, and I thought, “I don't care for those too much.”

EE:

[Laughter] Well, you didn't go to the recruiting office, or the recruiting office was at the Navy Yard? Is that what the situation was?

AW:

I went to the Navy Yard, yes. I mean, nobody came and recruited me. I did this on my own.

EE:

I know that WAVES were prohibited from going overseas. What about navy nurses? Was there a chance that you might be going overseas if you signed up to be a navy nurse?

AW:

Nobody ever said anything about where I would go or—and I never asked. I just felt that where they needed me, I would go.

EE:

So you didn't say, “I'd like to join as an operating room nurse”?

AW:

No. No, in fact, I wasn't working in an operating room any longer. When I went to work in the other hospital, I was working in the newborn nursery.

EE:

My mom's a nurse, and I know that the training, you go through a little of everything so that's kind of standard procedure.

You tried to get in in early '44, and you finally were accepted. They gave you the waiver at Brooklyn, when, late '44?

AW:

No. I think that was in '45. I can't remember just when I served. I think I served '45 to '46. I've got it written down.

EE:

Well, let me ask you a couple questions that might help that. Were you in when D-Day happened, June of '44?

AW:

No.

EE:

How about when Roosevelt passed away?

AW:

No.

EE:

You had not joined by the time Roosevelt passed away?

EE:

No.

EE:

So it was before VJ [Victory in Japan] Day.

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Okay. So it was sometime, May to June, somewhere in there, '45.

AW:

In the meantime, though, in this hospital where I was working, we were inundated with newborns and mothers, actually swamped.

EE:

Were people coming home from leaves and making babies?

AW:

I'm not sure where they were coming from. We didn't even have enough beds. We had people in the halls. I thought, “I might as well be in service as being in this crowded situation.”

EE:

Was there a shortage of doctors as well as nurses?

AW:

I don't know. I didn't realize that so much as the fact of the space shortage. We were crowded, there was no room!

EE:

During all this time, you're stateside when rationing is going on. Were you affected by rationing as a nurse, or did you get some special privileges by being in the medical field?

AW:

My family was affected. I don't remember too well because I was living at home. I turned everything over to my mother because I was living with my family when I worked at Mercer, so I was never concerned with rationing.

EE:

Were you living with your aunt the whole time at Mercer, or were you on your own by then?

AW:

I never lived on my own. I lived in the hospital, and then I lived with my aunt for a while, and then I moved home.

EE:

Right. So when you got back. Okay. At Brooklyn, was it a man or a woman that gave you the waiver on your eyesight?

AW:

I imagine it was a man. I don't really remember. I was happy, though.

EE:

What was the procedure? At different times, different nurses that I've talked to had basic or not basic. Did you have basic?

AW:

I didn't.

EE:

You didn't have basic?

AW:

I had them as I worked.

EE:

So you got briefed on this like military rank and protocol?

AW:

Absolutely.

EE:

On the job?

AW:

Not to a special place but on the job. Right.

EE:

Where was the job?

AW:

Where did I serve? St. Albans, Long Island.

EE:

Okay. Now, did they have housing at St. Albans?

AW:

They had, but again, there was no room. When I got there, the Red Cross had a list of places where you could live, and they sent me to live in a private home. Have you ever been to St. Albans?

EE:

No, but I feel like it, having talked to a few people who—I talked to a WAVE who worked at a communications center in Manhattan. They didn't have housing, and they gave her a room at St. Albans, which is probably why you didn't have a room.

AW:

Oh, it was a long way away.

EE:

Yes. She was a long way away.

AW:

Well, St. Albans was a great big wooden building and it went forever in all directions. From the main gate, I had a long, long walk to a main highway and then down the main highway to this area where there were homes. I moved in with a woman whose husband was serving in France in the army, and she had one son. She had listed her house with the Red Cross so she could use the extra bedrooms. And I stayed there three or four months before a room became available on the base.

EE:

At the hospital?

AW:

Yes, they had housing. They had lovely nurses' quarters.

EE:

When you signed up, did they tell you what part of the country—did they give you a choice of what part of the country—I mean, you grew up in Trenton, you went to school in Trenton, you worked at hospitals in Trenton, did you assume that you were going to be going someplace exotic or far away?

AW:

I might have been innocent. I never thought about it. I was just going in the navy, and that's where I was sent, St. Albans. That's the only place I ever served.

EE:

Was that the farthest you'd ever been away from home?

AW:

No, I don't think so. I hadn't gone too far, though. No, I had been to Florida just before I went into the navy.

EE:

Had you been into the city much before working up there?

AW:

To New York?

EE:

Yes.

AW:

I went to the New York World's Fair, which was in '39.

EE:

It's a great world's fair.

AW:

Yes. But other than that I didn't know the city.

EE:

What was the work that you did on a day-to-day basis in St. Albans?

AW:

It was mostly administration. I'll tell you about my first day on the wards if you want me to.

EE:

Sure.

AW:

I was assigned to ward number 135. I walked into a little dark hallway, and on both sides there were what were called “quiet rooms.” These were for the sicker patients. They were two quiet rooms there. On one side there was a doctor's office. I walked to the door of the ward and I stood there. I looked down. It was like a football field. I mean, it was the longest ward I'd ever seen, men in double bunks as far as you could see. In the middle of that was the nurses station and one nurse sitting there. I stood there, and my legs just didn't want to move. I had never seen that many men in hospital beds before.

EE:

I know at some hospitals it's almost like a triage. You'd have burn patients in one hospital, amputees in another hospital. Was St. Albans a general hospital?

AW:

I think it was general. We had prisoners of war that came back there. The hospital had all kinds of cases. I don't think it was specialized in any—

EE:

So on a particular ward, it could have been people from flu to accidents and things like that?

AW:

No. The wards were segregated. I mean, they had all one kind of patients, like surgery or medicine or whatever. I stood there at the door, and I really I don't know how many hundreds of guys there were on this ward, but it scared me. I really was scared. I thought, “I cannot walk from here to that nurses station.” Finally the nurse saw me. She got up and came to the door and we walked down together.

EE:

You know, it strikes me—and some of the people I've talked to who worked in these hospitals, you talk about the number, you just don't realize how many people had been involved in the war effort until you see it right up front.

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Now, these men in this ward, had they been overseas or were they all stateside, or do you know?

AW:

I think it might have been a mixed bag. I'm not sure. But I know some of them had served. Some were Marines; some were Coast Guard. It was all mixed. These patients were in for medical reasons, like rheumatism and things of that nature that they may have gotten from being in damp places for long periods.

EE:

The attending physicians, I guess they were your day-to-day supervisors. Or did you have a head nurse who basically gave you your assignments?

AW:

Oh, yes. There were older nurses. Now, I was an ensign, which was the lowest navy rank.

EE:

That was the commission you got when you signed in?

AW:

Yes. I was an ensign. The nurses that came around to check the wards at various periods were full lieutenants. There were two or sometimes three of us on the day shift in the ward. There were so many men, and they were all in double bunks.

EE:

Now, the physicians that were working at the hospitals, they all were commissioned officers as well?

AW:

Oh, yes.

EE:

But some of them, like you, joined just as the war started. They were drafted in and—

AW:

Right.

EE:

Did they draft physicians, or were most of them volunteers?

AW:

I don't think they drafted them, or maybe they did. I don't know. We had two doctors on that ward, an older man and then a young doctor who was his assistant.

EE:

Did you work a kind of a rotating shift schedule, or did you have the same shift during the time that you were there?

AW:

I worked days and evenings. I don't remember ever working at night while I was in the navy. I don't remember. I may have.

EE:

So you started this work somewhere in probably early summer of '45?

AW:

Yes. Actually it was spring, April.

EE:

I think Roosevelt passed away at the end of April in '45. Do you remember anything about Roosevelt's passing where you were?

AW:

I remember it, yes. I was at home. It was just before I went in.

EE:

So were you working VE [Victory in Europe] Day? That would have been May 12, somewhere in the middle of the month?

AW:

I remember VJ Day very well.

EE:

What were you doing VJ Day?

AW:

I was working at the hospital, and everybody wanted to go to town, to New York. A lot of the guys didn't have liberty. There was a great big area that was fenced, and guys were jumping over it. I went to town VJ Day, New York, that day.

EE:

Legally?

AW:

Oh, yes. I was legal.

EE:

Okay. Well, there's that famous picture, I guess, of the sailor dipping the girl to give her a kiss at Times Square.

AW:

Oh, yes. I didn't get into that mess, but I had a great night, I'll say that.

EE:

Did you have much of a chance to socialize with the other nurses? By being in a house, I guess you were sort of—everybody's on their own.

EE:

It was hard at first. The gal that came to meet me was concerned for me. She and another gal had a car so I got to go to town a few times. So I wasn't completely alone, but it was much better once I got into the nursing home. We had lovely quarters. We had a beautiful dining room.

EE:

Was there an Officers' Club that you had access to? Was there any kind of social accommodations made for staff?

AW:

I suppose so, but I never really got into that. On my free time, I'd go to New York. There were a lot of things to do for service people in New York. There was one hotel-and the mezzanine was all set up for women in service. You could go there to write letters or read or just relax. There was one huge room where you could freshen up your make-up, provided by Revlon and other big cosmetic firms. You could—

EE:

Get what you wanted?

AW:

Yes. We received tickets to all kinds of things. I went to the British Consulate one night to a great big party. It was some kind of celebration. There were cakes that were shaped like ships. We danced the “Bumps-a-daisy” and had champagne toasts. I also saw several shows, right down front and center.

EE:

Did they still have the TARS and SPARS show in '45?

AW:

I don't remember that. One time an ad was put in the paper that two pairs of nylon hose would be given to each service woman in the New York area. Well, we all went right downtown and got in line for them. Up until then, nylons were almost nonexistent, and the hose we had were always kind of creeping down around our ankles.

EE:

I've seen the pictures.

AW:

You can't imagine how many women came up to the various gals in the line and said, “Can I buy one of your pair?” Nobody parted with their pairs. Everybody really went the extra mile for you.

EE:

Some of the women that I've talked to, and I guess it depends on the time, you're joining late enough that the country had sort of gotten used to the sight of women in uniform, which helps. And nurses have a longer tradition of serving with the military than other enlisted folks. So when people saw you in a uniform, you never got any static about wearing a uniform as a woman? You were appreciated?

AW:

Yes. It was great. Everybody just thought you were special.

EE:

And I guess, too, that also goes over to the professionalism of being in a job, because to the physicians that you're working with, that's a traditional professional relationship that you carry from civilian life.

AW:

Right.

EE:

Now, when did you meet this fellow out here?

AW:

It was Navy Day.

EE:

His name's Earle, right?

AW:

Yes. He was in the merchant service. I went with a group of gals into New York to see the USS Missouri that was there.

EE:

Which was the ship MacArthur was on when they surrendered.

AW:

Right. It was open to the public. When we got there, the lines were tremendous, but a young sailor came down off the ship and escorted us aboard. We went all around, and we were up at the front of the ship. A man came and blew a horn. The admiral was coming. We stood at attention, and he spoke to us. It was a big thrill.

I think it was that same weekend, another nurse and I went into New York, and we went to one of those little clubs off of 5th Avenue. Earle and another officer from his ship were there and they came and asked us to dance, and there we go!

EE:

One dance is all it took? It must have been a good dance, then.

AW:

In fact, he didn't dance with me. He danced with the other girl.

EE:

Ah-oh.

AW:

And we went to the restroom to powder up, and then we were going on to a place called Roger's Corner. It was a big hit place in New York. It had a screen with the bouncing ball, and we sang.

EE:

Sort of like Mitch Miller used to do.

AW:

Yes. When we came out of the restroom, Earle grabbed my arm, and the other boy took my friend's arm. He made a date with me for later the next week, but I came off duty that night, and he couldn't make it. His ship had sailed. Eventually he came back. [Laughter]

EE:

When did you come out of service?

AW:

'46. The reason I came out was because we got married.

EE:

So his trip must not have been too long.

AW:

He went to India.

EE:

So you all had a correspondence going while you were apart, kind of learned more about each other by writing?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Aye, the things we do. So in '46 you came out? Was it springtime, summertime? How long in '46 were you in?

AW:

Just a year. I came out in April. We got married in March, and when you got married, you had to be—

EE:

Discharged?

AW:

Yes. They were getting ready to discharge people anyhow.

EE:

Right.

AW:

I wanted to tell you one thing about my mother, when I said she was so supportive. The first time I went home I was in uniform, and she hadn't seen me for a while. Joining the service was so different. I couldn't eat and I had no appetite. I had lost ten pounds and it was noticeable.

EE:

You were just nervous, right.

AW:

My mother looked at me, and she said, “If you lose any more weight, I'm going to bring you home.” I laughed, because she couldn't, but that's what she said. I had never encountered anything of that scope. It was a lot to take in.

EE:

And this is the dilemma that nurses face, whether they're in service or not, is, you know, you're confronted with people, and you relate to people as people, and you care about them, and you sympathize with them, and you've got that many more people to split your concerns and your care bout in addition to your head knowledge that you're sharing.

AW:

Right. I had a bad experience with one of the old chiefs in one of the quiet rooms. He was an old chief with many hash marks. He supposedly had a bad heart condition, and he was on certain medications. Well, the way I was trained, you gave just what was order and so forth. You're responsible for the dosage. And he used to get an ounce of spirits of fermentae. You know what that is? Whiskey, every night.

EE:

This is doctor's orders.

AW:

I went in the first night with the spirits of fermentae, and the whiskey glass was filled to an ounce. I thought he was going to throw me right out of the room. He wanted an ounce and a half. You know, that bottle goes back to the pharmacy, and you have to account for every ounce that's poured. I thought he was going to choke me. He got enraged. He said he was supposed to have an ounce and a half.

He had a bad heart and was in a quiet room all week. As soon as Saturday noon came, he was on the train out of St. Albans and didn't come back until the last train Sunday night. He was filling in time, and he needed the whiskey to get through the day or the next day, whatever. But those are a couple of things I remember.

EE:

Well, you do meet, when you join the service, characters from all over.

AW:

I never had any real problems with anybody, though. There were some things I needed to learn. A young corpsman was in the head [bathroom]. He came out one day, and he said, “Miss Glendon, may I have an—” I've forgotten the name of it, the term.

I said, “What do you need that for?”

He said, “There's crabs in the bathroom again.”

I thought, “Crabs in the bathroom?” I never heard pediculae called crabs. I had a lot to learn.

EE:

Before falling in love, did you ever think about being a navy nurse for a long time? Did you ever think about making it a career?

AW:

Well, I liked it, but I was in under the reserve, not regular navy. I don't know. In view of the fact that they denied me the first time for vision, I didn't know whether that would be a possibility or not. I guess I didn't really think about it too hard.

EE:

And you figured that if nothing—I mean, you'd be a nurse wherever it was, whether it was in the service or not.

AW:

Yes, and I did. After we got married, we went back to Trenton, and I worked again until I started having children.

EE:

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

AW:

Well, like I said early on, the numbers, and seeing some of the wounds. I got transferred to other wards, and one time I took care of a young officer in a respirator. He had developed paralysis. These kinds of things are hard to see.

EE:

It's a different trauma than what you would see in a regular hospital.

AW:

Well, some of that, too. I worked on a ward where there were some bad wounds. We had one patient and I remember that the only thing that held his leg together was a piece of tissue, skin, in the back of his knee. His whole knee was gone. It had been shot away by tracers, and the phosphorus had burned the area and it smelled bad. They had used leeches in the cavity to clean it up. There were a lot of bad things like that, but you were sort of used to some of this.

EE:

Right.

AW:

We got a whole influx of prisoners that had been taken early, early in the war by the Japanese on the USS Houston. It was early in the war, and they'd been in prison camps in Japan for three years. They all had sallow complexions, and we were constantly testing them for worms and that kind of thing.

EE:

Sure.

AW:

They were debilitated. They looked like they'd not had what they needed, and they were really excited about instant coffee. They said in their Red Cross packages there were two Washington Aces, I guess they were called. They talked about that, what a treat that had been.

EE:

What do you think about having seen so many of those folks? Do you have heroes from the war? Who were your heroes?

AW:

From the war? Well, Eisenhower. I always thought he was—not so much as president, but when he was a great leader in the war. Of course, Roosevelt, Churchill, those kind of people were my heroes too. My husband and I watch a lot of war movies on TV.

EE:

Like the History Channel and things like that.

AW:

Yes. Earle served for a long time in the merchant service. He'd been sunk twice.

EE:

What was he doing in the Atlantic? Was he a Merchant Marine in the Atlantic?

AW:

He was never—in the Pacific. He went to Russia, he had been in India and he was in Singapore just before the Japs took it. His ship was the last to get out. He saw a lot of action. We thought when we got married that we were free to start our life, then he got his greetings from the government. They were going to draft him. I couldn't believe it. He went to sea before we got into the war in 1940. He had always wanted to go to sea and left college to do that. Of course, then the war came along, and that was where he stayed.

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

EE:

—GI Bill points?

AW:

No. He didn't get any. I didn't either.

EE:

I find that incredible.

AW:

Let me tell you. So here we were, two virgins, so to speak.

EE:

Neither one of you got GI Bill points?

AW:

We hoped to buy a house. I went to the VA. Earle was not considered a veteran at this point.

EE:

Because he'd joined too early?

AW:

No. Merchant service men were not considered veterans at this point.

EE:

Even though they put their necks out there.

AW:

I went to the VA—I was working as a nurse, and we didn't have any children yet, and I told them I wanted to take out a GI loan to buy a house. They turned it down. They said I might get pregnant. That was what they said to me, “You might get pregnant.” I could have gone on to school, but I really had to work. Earle wasn't getting any schooling either. He had a year of college. That was it. Later the merchant service men got veterans status.

EE:

It's almost like the WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] when they first started the WAAC. They didn't get credit for being—

AW:

Well, this has always bothered him as he said he wanted a flag on his coffin. He wrote many letters to people in Washington about this, and somebody wrote him back and said, “You can always have a flag on your coffin. You can buy it yourself.” He felt the government owed him that.

EE:

At the very minimum, yes.

AW:

He was sunk in the Mediterranean and he was sunk—I've forgotten where else. He had a hard run. So we were kind of out of it. I joined this group of ladies that I'm part of now, WAVES National—which has been a wonderful thing for me. They have a big unit in Greensboro. I guess you know that.

EE:

Yes. They were one of the people that got us started.

AW:

Yes. We don't have a big unit here. There was a notice in the paper that anybody that was in one of the maritime services, Marines, Coast Guard, or [U.S.] Navy would meet in the cafeteria. We met and as we were getting our lunch, we were talking about being in the service and the GI Bill. The woman organizer said something about the GI Bill for me. I said, “I was turned down.”

She said, “Oh, well, you can get it now.”

I said, “I don't want it now.”

Jane said the same thing happened to her. I don't know if she told you that. Have you talked with her?

EE:

Yes. Yes, but she didn't mention that.

AW:

She said she married a serviceman and he wanted his GI Bill.

EE:

Wasn't he a navy salvage diver or something?

AW:

I think so. He wanted his to start a business, and she wanted hers to buy a house, and they told her the same thing, “No. You might get pregnant.” So that was that.

EE:

Well, I'm sorry to hear it.

AW:

Sometimes you don't get the breaks.

EE:

It doesn't sound like your particular kind of work ever put you in physical danger. Were you ever afraid, being out in the big city?

AW:

Oh, no.

EE:

It was old hat for you.

AW:

I loved it, yes. New York was great.

EE:

Were you ever around anybody who was afraid that we would not win the war?

AW:

I think we all felt positive. How could we lose to Hitler?

EE:

Yes. That's the sense I've got from most I've talked with. People say one of the things they most miss—it was a tough time for a lot of people, but they miss that patriotism in the sense of pulling together.

AW:

Yes. That was a special time. Everybody—you know, you didn't mind the privations because you knew it was for a good cause. We had to do these things.

EE:

Talking about President Roosevelt, what did you think of Mrs. Roosevelt?

AW:

Mrs. Roosevelt? I admired her. We went to Washington, the memorial, Roosevelt's—have you seen it?

EE:

Yes, the memorial that's out there near the—it's neat.

AW:

It's wonderful.

EE:

And I'm glad they put her in there.

AW:

Exactly. I was so pleased to see her. I know she was not the norm for presidents' wives, but on the other hand, he was crippled and she filled a void for him.

EE:

Sure. She was the eyes and the ears. Of all the presidential memorials, it's the only one that has the first lady.

AW:

I was so glad she looked so good there.

EE:

Yes. She probably looked better there than she did in real life.

AW:

Well, yes.

EE:

Now, this is a silly question, but revealing in there. Did you have an embarrassing moment in your time in the service, either not knowing protocol or running into things?

AW:

Earle laughs at me because I wasn't very military, I guess, saluting and all that stuff. One night he came for me, and as we were leaving, the guard at the gate saluted, and I said, “Hi.” Boy, he told me about that. But no.

EE:

Okay.

AW:

One time, after we were first married, I was still in uniform. We got married at St. Albans, in a chapel there. We went to Boston for our honeymoon, and so I was in uniform and so was he. We were outside the hotel we were staying at, and some guy said a disparaging remark about women in uniform. They almost came to blows!

EE:

That article he wrote was just beautiful. You could tell he really was moved by what happened out there at WIMSA [Women In Military Service For America Memorial].

AW:

I'll tell you! [laughs]

EE:

Now, when you see old movies on TV or you get out your record player and you play some songs, are there any songs or movies from that time that are special for you in bringing back memories?

AW:

Oh, What it Seemed to Be, Frankie Carle. Do you remember him? No, you don't. He was a pianist, and he wrote Sunrise Serenade. We used to go to the Pennsylvania Hotel, which was right across from the Grand Central Station in New York when we were courting, and it was called the Cafe Rouge, a big, beautiful, red room. He played there. He had written that song, and that was kind of like our song.

EE:

Great. Do you feel you contributed to the war effort?

AW:

Earle says I did. “I don't know,” I said. Sometimes I feel like I didn't really do that much. I wanted to say that to you right out the other day. I'm not parading myself around as a heroine or anything. I just felt it was something I had to do and I wanted to do, and I did it.

EE:

Well, every woman who joined was a volunteer. Nobody said you have to.

AW:

There. I mean, I'm so glad I did it, and I never thought in this period of my life—now, we've been married almost fifty-four years—in this period of my life that it would be meaningful to me. But when this gal came—I never thought about it the in-between years. I was busy raising my family and doing what I had to do, and she talked about being a group. These women are so wonderful to be with. We have this common bond.

EE:

That's right.

AW:

And did she tell you about going to Washington? No, Myrtle didn't go and Jane didn't go, but I went to the dedication. Were you there?

EE:

No, but I've seen the documents. It was a wonderful event, wasn't it?

AW:

Oh, it was tremendous. My husband, my daughter, and her husband, it was—

EE:

That World War I woman who gave the speech was a hoot. [Laughter]

AW:

She was one hundred years old?

EE:

A hundred and two, I think.

AW:

Well, she died like soon after that.

EE:

Yes, just right after.

AW:

Her son was an admiral, and he escorted her to the platform and she had on the yeomanette hat. She'd been in the navy, you know. Her voice was strong—but all these thousands of people, and she carried. You could hear her. At the end, she hollered, “Go for it, girls,” and everybody started—bedlam—screaming and hollering and jumping up. At night we had a candlelight walk. We walked from the Lincoln Memorial across the bridge to Arlington Cemetery carrying candles and singing. Oh, boy, up and down the spine.

EE:

Yes. Did you keep in contact with any of the women you worked with?

AW:

No. Nobody that I knew—there was one girl I had for a roommate when I moved into the quarters. I tried to keep in touch with her, but I don't know what happened. You know, different people move different places, and I never got up with her again.

EE:

How has your life been different, besides finding a husband? How has it been different?

AW:

Well, I think, up until that time I was very shy. I think it gave me confidence. I think I felt I could deal with more than I thought I could deal with before. I really believe that.

EE:

You say you have children. How many children do you have?

AW:

I had two. I've got a daughter who's a nurse. And we lost our son.

EE:

Did your daughter ever express any interest in joining the service?

AW:

Yes. She almost joined the navy. We were living in Charlotte when she was in a hospital situation in Durham, and in her senior year a recruiter came by. They had some from the air force, and they had some from the army, but a navy recruiter came along, and she brought the papers home, and we talked about it. I said, “Now, if you want to do this, I think it's fine.” Her father thought it was fine. She signed the papers and was all ready to sign up. They were going to give them a stipend until they finished training, and then they'd go on into the navy. And when she went to turn it in, they had filled their quota. So the time went by, and it never happened again. She started working, and then she got married.

EE:

Would you recommend to women if they have an interest in the service to join?

AW:

Now I have ambivalent thoughts.

EE:

The roles of women in the service have changed a lot.

AW:

Yes, yes. I don't think I'd want to go into the service itself and be part of what those girls do. Now, if that's for them, I think that's fine, but it wouldn't be for me. So I wouldn't want to tell anybody. I think you'd have to feel that. Carrying guns and like that, I couldn't do that.

EE:

It is different. You know, two years ago for the first time, we sent a woman combat pilot into action. Are there certain jobs that you think ought to be kept from women, or do you think that women ought to be available—

AW:

No. I think there ought to be restrictions. I mean, I guess I'm not a women's libber.

EE:

Well, some people have said it was women like you who started women's lib. You know, you go out and you work for servicemen and you—

AW:

Well, it's true. Before the war, the only thing you could do was be a nurse, be a schoolteacher, get married, or work in an office. I mean, we didn't have many options, you know.

I draw the line there. I don't think women are emotionally equipped to deal with the terrible things they'd see if they were in actual combat.

EE:

The first twenty minutes of [Saving] Private Ryan shakes you up.

AW:

I mean it gets gory, you know. I never realized—I was stronger than I thought I was, like in the operating room. When I first went into nurse's training, we watched an operation. We stood in the gallery. And one of the biggest girls in the class—we'd only been in there a couple of weeks—she fainted dead away. The first autopsy I saw really was shocking, and I went back to my room and I couldn't eat. But if you're seeing these on an everyday basis, if you're in a war situation, I don't know how—I don't think women are equipped emotionally. I think it's hard for the men to have to deal with a woman alongside of them. I think sometimes men deeply feel that they're responsible for women. This has always been their place.

EE:

It's sort of inbred, isn't it?

AW:

Right. And if he's got a woman who's supposed to be his equal and his helper here, if he's worrying about her, he's not going to do as good a job for himself. I don't know if that's a popular view or not, but that's how I feel.

EE:

Well, I haven't heard it from anyone, but I think it's a valid one that people—men have been brought up to—

AW:

Always. “Watch out for your little sister,” “Don't hurt little girls,” or—

EE:

Sure. Sure.

AW:

And if he's supposed to be her partner, supporting him or helping him and working in a team—I even feel that way about policewomen in cars with policemen or firewomen. How do they do it? We're not rugged enough. We're not. We're as smart as the men, any day. We're as smart as them, but we're not as physically strong as men. And we're more sensitive. There might be a few who are not, but on the whole, I think that is true.

EE:

Well, I have exhausted my thirty questions. We've gotten quite a lot out of that year. You didn't think you had much, but we got quite a lot out of that year. I'm just wondering, is there anything that I haven't asked you about, about your service experience and how it affected you and your family that you want to share with us?

AW:

Just that I look back on it as time well spent, and I'm glad I did it, and I'd do it again.

EE:

Okay.

AW:

I'll show you my picture.

[End of interview]