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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Sarah Greenlee

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Object ID: WV0150.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Sarah Brooks Greenlee’s experiences as an African American in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II and her life after the war.

Summary:

Greenlee recalls her youth in Florida, including her parents deaths when she was age 7, her grandparents and their occupations, and having to move to live with her aunt in order to attend high school. She also discusses the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, her difficulty in affording to attend Bethune-Cookman College, and the visit of WAC recruiters to the college.

iTopics related to Greenlee's military service include her family’s reactions when she joined the WAC; forging a letter from her grandparents; physical exams; cold weather in South Dakota and hot weather in Arizona; Sioux Falls’ head cook; learning to cook for large numbers of people; male and female superiors; living in barracks; and military rules and regulations; the Eisenhower jacket; social life, including dances, the service club, and weekend trips to Chicago, Illinois; fellow WACs killed in a plane crash; required physical examinations after trips off base; mandated hair length; and the certainty that the United States would win the war. Greenlee also describes segregation and integration in the military and African American stereotypes.

Other topics include the consequences of her military service, including greater discipline; women veteran organizations; regrets that she did not have a military career; adjusting to civilian life; and her opinion of women in combat.

Creator: Sarah Brooks Greenlee

Biographical Info: Sarah Lee Brooks Greenlee, of Inverness, Florida, served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Sarah B. Greenlee 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. Today I'm in Greensboro. It is February the 14, Valentine's Day, year 2000. Happy Valentine's Day. I'm at the home of Sarah Greenlee this morning.

Ms. Greenlee, thank you for agreeing to do this and I hope your car gets fixed between now and the time we get this tape done.

SG:

Thank you.

EE:

I'm going to start out with just a couple of simple questions that I ask everybody, and the first one I ask folks is where were they born and where did you grow up?

SG:

I was born in Inverness, Florida, and I grew up there.

EE:

Is that Southern Florida, or where is that in the state?

SG:

Well, I guess it's central.

EE:

Central part?

SG:

Yes. It's not too far west of Orlando. That's about it. That's where I was born and reared up until the time I finished eighth grade there, because the school didn't go any farther than that for me at that time.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

SG:

Yes. I had two sisters and one brother. One of my sisters passed away last year, so now I have one sister and one brother.

EE:

Are you the oldest, youngest, or in the middle?

SG:

I'm the oldest.

EE:

What did your folks do for a living?

SG:

Well, my mother and father passed away when I was seven years old, and of course, my grandparents reared me. My grandfather was, I guess, a grave digger, just general work. He used to mix mortar. They didn't have machines in those days like they have now, so he mixed it. Any time they needed to build a building, they would call for him, and he'd do that. My grandmother was just a housewife, washing. That was all she could do at that time.

EE:

Did you stay in Inverness after the eighth grade?

SG:

No.

EE:

What did you all do?

SG:

After eighth grade she sent me to Lakeland, Florida, to live with an aunt so that I could finish high school, and that's where I finished high school. I left high school after graduation, and I went to Bethune-Cookman College.

EE:

Were you the first woman in your family to go to college?

SG:

Yes, yes, yes.

EE:

That's a big thing. I was first in my family to go to college.

SG:

Yes, I was the first one. Yes, indeed. In fact, I think I was the first person, because I had some uncles—well, I guess I wasn't. I'm the first one that finished. I had some uncles that went to college, but they dropped out.

EE:

You must have been somebody who liked school.

SG:

Well, I either liked school or I hated washing and ironing.

EE:

I hear you. My sister hated washing and ironing. That's why she went to school.

SG:

Housekeeping and all that stuff.

EE:

Well, when you got to Bethune-Cookman, what was your major?

SG:

My major was elementary education. Of course, I was singing in the choir, and that was a part of my scholarship, because my grandparents didn't have any money, so I had to sing and do first one thing and another. So along came the recruiting officers as I was about to finish my first year. I don't think I had completed the first year of college.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

SG:

1943. I think, yes. Then the recruiters came on campus, and I was trying to figure out a way that I could go to school but didn't have to working hard and singing and I'd have to get up in the morning and practice and it was hard work, but I wanted to go to school. Then, as I said, my grandparents were older and they didn't have much money. So when this recruiting officer came by and lectured to us, I could just see right then that was a chance for me to see the world, then come back and get an education. Serve, do my little service, and that's what I'd do.

EE:

Now, what branch of service did you do?

SG:

Air force, I guess it was.

EE:

I guess it would have been WAC [Women's Army Corps] air force, air force WACs.

SG:

Yes, that's what it was. Right. That's what it was. W-A-C, yes.

EE:

So for you, it just happened to be that recruiter was a WAC. If that had been a WAVE [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] recruiter coming by—

SG:

No, no. No, I knew the difference. I didn't want to be a WAVE. I wanted to be a WAC.

EE:

Because you could travel more?

SG:

That's what I thought at the time, and I did, yes. I enjoyed it.

EE:

Did you have any other friends who joined the service?

SG:

Not any ladies, no. I saw some pictures. But I didn't have any friends, nobody to talk to about it or anything.

EE:

How did your family feel with about it?

SG:

Oh, they wanted to kick me out of the family. Some of my uncles did say that they would just disown me because they heard so many dirty things. None of the stuff that they heard, that they tried to tell me, was happening. That didn't happen to me, and I didn't see it happening, either.

EE:

They just heard rumors about it, so they didn't have any firsthand knowledge, either.

SG:

No, they did not. I've always been a person to kind of lead my own life. I don't let people dictate to me. So I had to see for myself. There were about fifteen of us that went into this session.

EE:

They come right there to campus?

SG:

Yes. The recruiters came to campus, and there were about fifteen ladies on the campus, and they all fell out after they heard all these rumors and all of this kind of stuff. When they got down to the eleventh one, eleven was going to get to go; they all backed out but me. I went. How I got off the campus, I wrote a letter. You might have to take this out, but it's the truth. I wrote a letter and said it was from my grandparents and said it was okay that I could go in.

EE:

You had to be twenty, didn't you?

SG:

Oh, yes. I told my grandmother that I was going to get a government job so that when I got through with this job, I could come back to college and I could pay my own way and she wouldn't have to wash and iron for me to do that. It was the truth. Sometimes she would wash all day and wouldn't earn ten dollars, so she just couldn't afford it. I said this is a good way for me to help the service people and help myself, too. So I said on this letter that, well, “Sarah has my permission to do this government work.” She did not know that I was in the army per se until I came home on furlough.

EE:

Right after basic.

SG:

Yes.

EE:

With a uniform.

SG:

Yes. She was very happy. She was very proud. I still had one of my younger uncles told her that I was a convenience, and of course the army does say convenience, but it's not like they think or thought. So anyway, she was happy with it.

EE:

What you were signing up for, I guess, was the duration plus six?

SG:

Yes.

EE:

You were there at the pleasure of the government. They could let you go whenever they said, “We don't need you anymore.”

SG:

That's right. That's right.

EE:

Now, when you signed up, did they tell you a kind of work that you would be doing?

SG:

Yes. They gave me a lot of tests, and they said what we might be doing and all that. I went to school. I went to a clerical school. Because see, I had no experience hardly with the typewriter, that kind of stuff, but I got to do that in the service. Then I went to cookery school. What else did I do? That's about it.

I also went—I took a course, a short course, to become a nurse's assistant to help with the soldiers. I just think now, I used to give shots. I said them people let me stick them, and I didn't think a thing about it.

EE:

But you did like my mama. My mama said they'd practice on the RNs [registered nurses].

SG:

Yes. Yes, that's what we did. It worked out, too.

EE:

Makes me sore just thinking about it.

SG:

Yes. But they liked me, the soldiers liked me. They said I was a real good nurse.

EE:

Let me ask you, if you graduated in '43, you were in high school when the war started with Pearl Harbor. Do you remember anything about Pearl Harbor Day? What you were doing?

SG:

Yes, I remember. It was on Sunday afternoon, and I was at church. We had a young people's meeting, and somebody came outside, and then they yelled and said, “We're going to war.” I remember. I wasn't a little girl, but I was young. That's exactly where I was. It was a very sad day. I really didn't realize how sad it was until later on.

EE:

A lot of people went off right after that. A whole lot of folks started leaving to go to service.

SG:

Yes, they sure did.

EE:

You say your brother's younger. Was he ever eligible for service?

SG:

Yes. He was in what was the Korean War—was that the one after that?

EE:

Yes.

SG:

Yes. He was stationed right down here. Where is it, Fayetteville?

EE:

Fort Bragg.

SG:

Fort Bragg, yes. I think that was the last place he was. I'm sure it was. Sometimes we talk about it now. Yes.

EE:

Well, you graduated in '43. Was this after your first year when the recruiter came, or was it the start of your second year?

SG:

I believe I was just finishing that first year.

EE:

So it would have been April or May of '44?

SG:

Yes. Right.

EE:

Before D-Day.

SG:

Yes, before D-Day.

EE:

Then did you go to Oglethorpe for basic training?

SG:

No. I went to—what's the training station in Jacksonville, camp? What was that? Camp Blanding. That's where a lot of soldiers went from around Florida way, and a lot of girls went there and then some went to Alabama. Didn't they go to Alabama?

EE:

Yes. [Fort] Rucker.

SG:

Yes, maybe. But I know where I went. I went to Jacksonville. I took all these tests there.

EE:

What was basic?

SG:

Basic training was in Des Moines, Iowa. Well, maybe, when I went to Jacksonville was when I took all of these physical tests. That's what happened. I came back to school, and I was telling these kids about these examinations that I had, and I can't tell you what I said, but I made them laugh about these tests.

EE:

Were they hard for you or just silly?

SG:

They were stupid. It wasn't hard. I was happy because I passed everything. My grandmother said I was very sickly supposingly, so sickly when I was coming up, but then my sister said I wasn't sickly, I was lazy. I didn't want to wash and iron. I didn't want to walk the fields to plant the peanuts and the chufas, as they call them, for the hogs. She said I'd play sick, but I wasn't sick. Anyway, when I went to take my physical for the government, I didn't realize the body had so many parts. I'm going to leave that alone.

EE:

Everything measured in place to make sure you were all functioning all right.

SG:

So they were so very happy when I got back and I told them. My aunt was one of the main ones that did not want me to go. She said, “Oh, you're not going to pass. You're not going to pass.” I showed her the papers.

EE:

For some folks, they really hadn't been too physically active before they joined.

SG:

No.

EE:

How was the physical part of basic for you? Was it really tough?

SG:

No. No, I enjoyed it. I sure did. I sure did. Then after I had finished that test, I came back to the campus, and then they sent for me.

EE:

How long? Was it just really quick?

SG:

Yes. It was quick. It wasn't like maybe ten days, if it was that long.

EE:

That's great, because some people had to wait a while.

SG:

Yes, but I don't remember waiting a long while. They got me right away. Let me see. Then when I left there, I caught the train, and they sent me to Des Moines, Iowa. That's where I had this training. That's where I had that basic training.

EE:

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

SG:

At that time, yes. During the service I was farther than that.

EE:

Did they take you up on a troop train, a Pullman? How'd you get up there?

SG:

I went on a troop train, and that troop train, I picked it up somewhere, because it didn't leave from Daytona. I think that's where I had to catch it, from Daytona going on up. I must have caught the troop train out of Chicago, I believe, on into Des Moines. Yes, I did.

EE:

That place, is that the one that used to be a cavalry barracks, U.S. Cavalry in Des Moines?

SG:

Yes, I think so.

EE:

They just converted the stables or whatever?

SG:

Yes, they did. Yes, they did. I've been back there three or four times since.

EE:

At least you went in the summertime when it's not quite as cold.

SG:

No. But I had some experiences with the cold while I was there. Then after I left there, you'd be surprised where they sent me. My arm hurts today. Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

EE:

That was your first place?

SG:

Now, that was cold. That was when we had to get up and go outside and just push the snow out before we could open the door. They had those big belly heaters in the center of the floor. Sometimes if we did something we had no business, we'd have to help get the coal to put in there. They put us on some kind of duty for something.

EE:

Were you a nurse's assistant in Sioux Falls? What were you doing at Sioux Falls, what kind of work?

SG:

At Sioux Falls, I think right after basic training, what was I? I think I was in cookery school then. Yes, cookery school. That's where I went. I finished, and now that I didn't want to do. I could have finished first cook, because I was a good cook. But I was determined that I didn't want to be first, because I'd have more responsibilities, but I still finished in second place. Never shall forget the head cook. Her name was Sergeant Wainwright. That lady was tough. She was something else.

EE:

Now, when you were training to be a cook, you trained to cook for a whole company?

SG:

Oh, yes, yes. We had to learn how to make the recipes and then break them down to so many people and all that kind of stuff.

EE:

So you're real good at entertaining for a hundred now.

SG:

Yes, and that's the truth. I know how to divide it and get for an eighth of a family, a family of four, a family of ten, whatever.

EE:

Well, now, how long were you at Sioux Falls?

SG:

Oh, I can't tell you. I can't think how long I was there.

EE:

Basic's normally for most folks about six to eight weeks.

SG:

Yes.

EE:

You went to Sioux Falls in the summer of '44?

SG:

Probably.

EE:

Stayed through wintertime?

SG:

Yes, I sure did.

EE:

You remember the snow.

SG:

Yes, I do.

EE:

Of course, Sioux Falls, wintertime might have started in October.

SG:

Might have, because it was really that. One time I was there, it was thirty below zero, and it felt better than it feels now with that stuff we had. It didn't bother me at all.

EE:

It's a dry cold, isn't it?

SG:

Yes. I had not lived in that kind of weather, but I never had a cold. But I had a setback. I went skating. I never shall forget. We had those caps that we put on with the earmuffs made in to it, and we had to wear those PT pants with the lining. I went to the skating rink with my stupid self, put on skates, and standing up talking. Somebody comes along and knocked me on my butt. So I don't know how long I stayed in the infirmary, and right now I still feel it. For a long time I had to sit on the doughnut.

EE:

Right. Just because your tailbone's still bruised with it.

SG:

Yes.

EE:

That takes a long time to heal.

SG:

It never heals. Never heal heal. I'm in no pain.

EE:

But you know it's there. I've broken this ankle three times. I can tell you the day when it's a bad day because I can feel it coming around.

SG:

Yes. But when I go to movies or church or anywhere and sit too long, then after a while I have to squirm.

EE:

Well, now, were you there through Christmas at Sioux Falls? Do you remember Christmas that year?

SG:

I'm not going to say. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe I was there for Christmas. That was in forty—

EE:

Forty-four.

SG:

Forty-four. Yes, I had to be there. Yes, because when I left there, they sent me to Tucson, Arizona.

EE:

That's about as far away as you can get, climate-wise, isn't it?

SG:

Yes. Now, I know what time of year that was. That was in the dead summer. Hot. Oh, it was so hot. The people used to live in adobe huts. I had never heard of that until I went out there where they put the huts and this little space in the windows. The iceman used to come by and put ice in the windows of the hut, whatever, and that's how they kept the house cool. They had a fan or something inside.

EE:

Just draw the air over the cold block of ice through the window.

SG:

Right. Then when I left there, that's when I was living in Tucson, Arizona, that's when I worked in the infirmary as a nurse's assistant and in the supply room used to give out supplies, whatever they needed in the infirmary.

EE:

So both of those were air force base locations?

SG:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

They were training you on the job, I guess, at the infirmary at Tucson?

SG:

Yes.

EE:

When you were in Sioux Falls, were your supervisors men or women?

SG:

They were women.

EE:

So women were teaching you at cookery school?

SG:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Because it took a while, I guess, because all the women services were there.

SG:

That's right.

EE:

It took a while for them to get women officers in all the spots. That's why I'm curious.

SG:

That's right. Yes.

EE:

When you got Tucson, was it men or women?

SG:

It was still women. See, the women that I was under, as I can remember, those women went in in '42 or whenever.

EE:

Right when it first started.

SG:

See, they were already groomed for this type stuff. I don't remember ever being under a man. I think all of my leaders were women. I'm sure they were. Now, I might have come across some men in the infirmary. Yes, I did.

EE:

You probably had a doctor who was probably—

SG:

The doctors, yes. Then some of the patients were men, too. Yes, I remember that.

EE:

Basically were your drill instructors men or women?

SG:

They were women. Oh, they were tough women. Those women, I would have rather been under a man, I think. Those women were very real tough. They were very erect. Everything had to be just right. Fall out, oh gosh; I used to hate the word “fall out.” But I had a good time.

EE:

I can't remember from Des Moines, were you all in a big, long barracks, all one room?

SG:

Yes, yes.

EE:

About forty women or so in the group?

SG:

Yes.

EE:

How was that, group showers and everything? Not much privacy, is there?

SG:

No, no privacy. No privacy. We didn't think a thing about it. It was just one straight old barrack. No partitions, anything. I can remember as if it was yesterday how the inspection days went when these ladies came by and we had to stand after we had made these beds. I still make my bed this day as I made it when I was in the service.

EE:

Fold that corner tight.

SG:

Fold that corner tight. I know that it's five inches between when you get ready to turn the sheet back. They used to have us to measure from the thumb to that middle finger, and it just better be right because one of those ladies would come and measure to see if it was right.

EE:

Do you still roll up your underwear?

SG:

I do that sometimes when I'm traveling. I still do that. I saw another young lady that was doing that one day, and I asked, I said, “Did you ever go to service or did you know somebody?”

She said, “No.” She said, “Why do you ask?”

I said, “Because you roll your clothes.”

EE:

That's how you give it away.

SG:

That's how you give it away, you roll your clothes. I don't know where she told me she got that idea from. She might have read it somewhere. Because they said that your clothes will not wrinkle as much, plus you can put more in a bag.

EE:

That's right. That's right.

SG:

Yes. Well, I still do that.

EE:

Well now, the service is, I guess, one of the first places that the country started integrating. When you went to basic, were white women and black women together?

SG:

Not at first. Not at first, no indeed.

EE:

So were your officers white or were they black?

SG:

They were black. They were black. Yes, all of my leaders were. But, no, it was not integrated then. It was so segregated when I first went in there until when I left from that troop train. There was a lot of soldiers on there who were mixed, women and men. We were going from Jacksonville to Chicago. When it came time to eat or something, they had curtains between the dining rooms, and we could not go—I don't care if you were a black soldier or a white soldier, whatever, the white soldiers on this side and the black soldiers on this side.

EE:

Regardless of rank?

SG:

Regardless of rank. Rank didn't have a thing to do with it. Then when we first went to Des Moines, we all were black. Now, they had whites there, but they were on one side of the base and we were on the other side of the base. But then before we left, it seems to me that we began to eat together. That's when they started putting us together, then, and that's when it was. It was in Des Moines. Was it Des Moines? Yes. Just before I left there, we started. We still didn't sleep together, but we ate together. Some cases in that infirmary, seems as if some of us were working together, too, a little while. Then when I left from Des Moines, went on to Tucson, that's when we integrated, I think, at the Tucson.

EE:

It probably had to do with different parts of the country, because I'm sure they were slower in the South integrating than they were at the other parts of the country.

SG:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yes, they were. When I went to Tucson—well, Des Moines was kind of this way, too, they hadn't seen many black people in Des Moines until we got there. Still they don't have that many, comparatively speaking right now.

EE:

They have a lot more Hispanics, but they don't have many blacks.

SG:

No, no, no. My brother lives there, and he's been there now for sixteen years, and I go to visit him sometimes. I've gone there to one of our army reunions, and we were going out to around the bases where we used to go. It looks so much different now, but you get a little feeling about it. Because I have some buddies that I go travel with out of Detroit.

But then what was I about to say about leaving Des Moines, going on to Arizona, and that's when it was so very, very hot. As I said, that's when this integration started seeping in. Every time we would leave the base going into the city, the people would look at us very strangely, not only that we had the uniform on, but because we were black. I said, “Why do they look at you like that?”

They said, “Well, they always told them that black people had tails, tails like monkeys.”

I said, “Well, let me bend over.”

EE:

My tail's broke. Maybe I do have one.

SG:

They said the dumbest things. They said all black people had tails. When they saw us walking upright, they didn't know what we were. They'd say, “Here come some monkeys walking upright.”

EE:

Incredible.

SG:

I'm telling you.

EE:

How long were you at Tucson?

SG:

I don't know. I don't know how long I was there, but it was long enough to get married.

EE:

You remember that part. Were you there when President Roosevelt passed away?

SG:

Where I was when he died?

EE:

That was April of '45.

SG:

Yes, I was there. Then something else happened, too.

EE:

The end of war in Europe was there.

SG:

Yes. Something else happened. When did Eisenhower pass away?

EE:

Now, Roosevelt died in '45, and then Truman took over as president, and they dropped the bomb. The war ended. Eisenhower was president in the fifties, so he didn't pass on till a good deal later. I think it was seventy-something.

SG:

Yes. Well, before then, they picked up some of his styles, because I remember we wore that jacket.

EE:

The jacket.

SG:

Eisenhower jacket.

EE:

That jacket was everywhere.

SG:

Yes, the jacket was everywhere before he passed away. Yes. So then when I left, I don't know how long I stayed in Tucson. I just didn't think about it. I didn't think about those months or whatever. But I know I didn't stay there too long, because by that time I got sick, of course. I was hospitalized there for a while after I got married.

EE:

You got sick from working on the wards? Did you get something from the wards?

SG:

Hmm?

EE:

Did you get something from the wards?

SG:

Oh, no. No, no, no, no. I had surgery. It was nothing that I got off from anybody. This was my own problem.

Then after I got married, I said, well, it's time for me to go home now. I didn't want to be in service. My husband told me that he was going to come out in three years. He went back to wherever he was going; I forgot the name of the country. He left the country. Then I heard from him. He told me he had re-enlisted for three years, and that took care of that.

So I went on. I was transferred then to Sacramento, California, for discharge. I wasn't there but eight or ten days before I was discharged, whatever month that was. Was that in January, February?

EE:

So you did that work in the infirmary then almost up to—except for being sick, that was your job right till the end?

SG:

Right, right. Yes. I know I worked in, was in the infirmary in Tucson, Arizona. I know I worked there.

EE:

What was your rank when you got out of service?

SG:

Private first class.

EE:

Did you come out at the end of '45 or '46?

SG:

I came out in '46. Because it wasn't quite two years, so I know it was '46.

EE:

So was your husband stationed at Tucson, is that how you met him?

SG:

Yes. He was stationed in Tucson at that time. That's how I met him.

EE:

Was there like a service club or something there on the base?

SG:

Yes, indeed.

EE:

Now, there are a lot of stories in that “uh-huh.”

SG:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. We had a wonderful time.

EE:

That's good. Did they have dances here?

SG:

We had dances, and we just had a beautiful time.

EE:

Well, it kind of depends on where women are stationed, because they were still figuring out, I think, for a lot of the war how to use the women in the service. Sometimes there'd be stationed a bunch of women together, and women would go out together, socialize. Others there were just a few, so basically everybody was on their own for social life. Did you pal around with other WACs?

SG:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I was never alone. We always found a place to go. Of course, the service club was right there. Then, you see, the officers had their club. We weren't allowed there, except some special something they might invite us and we could go. But they always had a place to go dancing, playing cards, drinking beer.

The first beer I had was in the service. They said they ain't going to drink beer and do whatever else they want to do, but anyway. I don't like beer that much. I didn't drink much at that time. I just didn't like it. But I wanted to be a part of the group. So I remember one girl told me to get a bag of potato chips, and she gave me a bottle of Blue Ribbon. Is it Pabst Blue Ribbon?

EE:

I hope it was cold, because if it was hot, you'd—

SG:

It was cold. But it took me all afternoon to finish that one. I still don't like it. To this day I don't like the Blue Ribbon beer. Don't eat potato chips, because they're too greasy.

EE:

These are the same women that you get together with now back in Detroit?

SG:

No. No. No, we scattered. I have not seen but one that was actually in the ranks with me. A lot of my women that I went in there with, they went overseas. Well, during the time they were shipped overseas is when I was in the infirmary. That didn't hurt me a bit, because I did not want to go. Unfortunately, several were killed.

EE:

Were they working at hospitals up near the fronts?

SG:

Yes. They were shipped over there, and some of the planes crashed.

EE:

Well, you didn't want to go overseas, so you were given an option maybe to stay stateside?

SG:

Yes. I didn't have to go, no.

EE:

You came out in '46. What was your husband's name?

SG:

Let me see. Let me see. Did they tell us we had to? It seemed to me that that company didn't have a choice. The company that I was supposed to have gone with didn't have a choice. They said they had to go to—I'm not going to say.

EE:

West Coast, probably going to Asia somewhere.

SG:

Yes, probably. I'm not going to say because I can't remember. But anyway, I know that I didn't want to go. That might have been one of the times that I showed [unclear] and didn't go. But I know I was ill during that time they went over, and when we got the news that some of them didn't make it, then I was very happy that I didn't go. Now, all were not killed, but enough of them were to make it sad.

EE:

To make you think, well, I'm glad it wasn't me.

SG:

Yes, yes. Didn't go.

EE:

Do you remember anything special about VJ [Victory in Japan] Day there at Tucson, what the parties were like, what you were asked to do or couldn't do?

SG:

No, I don't remember. I remember we had to all—yes, I do remember. Wherever you were, it came over we had a loud speaker all over the place, and wherever we were, that's where we had to stop, whatever you were doing, and pray or be silent or whatever you wanted to do, but you could not even move until the next sound was sounded. It was a sad time. It really was.

EE:

When you were working, you were talking about that most of the time that you were working with other women, and then at Tucson you were working with men. How did the men treat you? Were they treating you professionally?

SG:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

EE:

Your uncles were worried about being harassed, and frankly there were some unkind words said about what they were going in to do.

SG:

But they were not rude.

EE:

You didn't run into that attitude from men?

SG:

No. No. I think they were afraid to do it anyway, because if they had done it, they would have been—

EE:

They would have been reprimanded themselves.

SG:

Right. Yes. Yes. They were very nice to us. They must have been okay. There were a lot of weddings.

EE:

You were in a part of the country you had never seen before. Did you all find a car and go travel around on the weekends, or did you stay pretty much close to the base?

SG:

I always stayed near the base. I was afraid to go. No, I didn't do that. Now, we would leave. I remember maybe a couple of weekends we left Des Moines as a group, maybe six or so, no more than six and never less than two or three. We would go to Chicago because it wasn't far to go for a weekend or something.

EE:

It's a big place.

SG:

You see, another reason—now, I don't know whether you want to put this in there. You might want to edit this one. A lot of times I did not go off the campus because when I come back, I didn't want to go through that infirmary for that examination. Especially they were harder on us when I was in that cookery school.

EE:

So did they make you go through an exam every time you went off base because they didn't trust anybody?

SG:

Every time. They didn't trust nothing. If you went to stay overnight or whatever, they did not trust you.

EE:

Were they afraid that disease was going to run rampant?

SG:

That's right. That's right. I mean, we had to go all the way. Sure, did. You were talking about women and how these other ugly things they were saying about us; those women were the cleanest women. I was cleaner then than am I now. When I went to college, college was not as clean as the army.

EE:

Well, you get down there scrubbing, that's part of your work is to keep it clean.

SG:

Yes, yes. I don't mean floors and stuff. I mean your body.

EE:

Your body is physically clean.

SG:

Your body is physically clean. They made your mind clean, because they catch you doing, saying too many things, they reprimand you. I remember I got very angry one time with my platoon sergeant in Des Moines when she asked me to cut my hair. Now, I was upset about that. They almost put me away for that, because they didn't want it to catch or reach the collar. It was very long then. Then they told us how we could roll it, just any way, just don't let it touch. We had to keep our fingernails short. I remember that. Those are the things that occur to me.

EE:

What was hardest thing about being in service? Was that kind of control the hardest thing?

SG:

My attitude. That was the hardest thing for me to do, because I was not a mean person, but I just didn't want women telling me what to do. I have to have the last word. So that was one thing my grandmother said she noticed after I had come home. She said, “I notice you listen more and talk less.”

EE:

Well, that's what they saw now. They send folks in there just to do that.

SG:

I hated this “ma'am.” I hated “Ma'am, Ma'am”.

I remember Lieutenant Williams. She was professor. She had been a professor in college before she joined the service. Of course, she got a big job real fast. She got up to be captain in no time flat. She'd walk around there like she owned the world, Lieutenant Williams. I can see her now. “Now, private, you're not supposed to sit like that, and when you stand, stand erect. Stomach in, hips tucked, stomach in, shoulders back.” Oh she had it just [clapping], just like that. Oh, yes.

EE:

That's the kind of thing that you can't describe, and I'm sure you can hear her exact voice to this day.

SG:

Yes. Yes. I think I've talked more about it today than I have in a long time. But the year before last, I went to Washington, and there were five thousand of us for that meeting. What was that celebration? We got a monument, I believe it was. It was a couple or three years ago. Then I got to meet with my buddy that I know. She's in Detroit now. We went there. I got a letter from her this week, last week rather. We're supposed to be having an anniversary in Chicago, some museum or something we're supposed to be working on. I don't know if I'm going or not, but I might.

But you asked me a minute ago about my buddies that were in there, and I only met one, as I said, that was in my platoon in Des Moines. I saw her about six years ago. She's in Des Moines. The rest of them, we just scattered. I knew one was in Jacksonville, and I've been to Jacksonville several times. I cannot locate her. I just can't find her. I don't know what happened. I just started communicating with some of the other ladies in the last ten years, because they didn't have a group. I wanted to join a group, but they didn't have one around here, and a lot of ladies don't want some people to know they were in the service. I don't know why.

EE:

No, because of some of those attitudes from when they first went in, that people didn't trust them. The thing that I've found that's hard, hard for us, is that people didn't keep track of veteran status, because they assumed that there would never ever again be women in the service. That was just for the war. Once the war was over, just forget about it. So our school didn't keep track of who was a veteran in World War II.

SG:

I understand there are some more black ladies around here.

EE:

Yes.

SG:

But I haven't met them. I received some information. Since I joined this group in Detroit, they said that there's a group of ladies that's organized in Fayetteville, somewhere around.

EE:

It makes sense, with Bragg being here.

SG:

Yes. Yes. But the reason that I have not tried to join that group is because I'm already affiliated with the one in Detroit, so I'll just stay with them.

EE:

Well, now, did you ever feel afraid or in physical danger when you were in service?

SG:

No.

EE:

Because you were all far away from home, I just wondered.

SG:

No. No. Sometimes we put ourselves in certain situations.

EE:

Well, you were young.

SG:

Yes. Yes. So I just don't do nothing.

EE:

It's part of being twenty.

SG:

Yes. But I just didn't. As I told you, I was afraid, not afraid somebody would hurt me per se, but I wanted to make sure that I was protected. I didn't want anybody to read about me, because my family, some of them were expecting the best of me. I know what I wanted to be and I wanted to stick to that, so I just stayed away from whatever I thought might happen out there.

EE:

That's right. There's a lot of stuff to keep you off track if you're not careful.

SG:

Yes.

EE:

You, by being around, I guess, through a lot of the war, joining in '44, you maybe can help me with this question, because I've heard from almost everybody if there's something they miss from that time, it's kind of a patriotic feeling, everybody pulling together, everybody trying to help out. Were you ever around anybody who was afraid that we might not win the war?

SG:

We talked about it. Sometimes we talked about it. But most of the people that I was around, as I can think about it now, they were just so conceited. They just knew we were going to win. There was no doubt. No big deal.

EE:

That's right. That's what I've heard from other folks. If somebody thought that, they didn't dare say it.

SG:

No. You just didn't say it. We just didn't, no.

EE:

Doesn't sound like you ever thought about making the military a career? Especially once you got married, that really wasn't an option for you?

SG:

No. But I want you to know that I regret many a day that I did not make a career out of it. Then I would turn around and say, but remember the plan that you had when you went in the service, you wanted to come back and you promised your grandparents that you would finish college. So that's what I did. When I came out of service, I went right straight back to Lakeland, Florida, where I left. I decided I wanted to go back to school, but then the adjustment. I had to go through a period of adjustment. Civilian life then was just so different from that structured program that I had been in.

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

SG:

I went to Detroit.

EE:

Did you have relatives up there?

SG:

No, just had a friend, a friend that I had met in the service, this girlfriend of mine. I went there, and I stayed three years. I went to Lewis Business College, stayed there for nine months. Then I still was a misfit to society, so I said, “What will I do now?”

So I got started working in a nursing home, and I didn't go to work one weekend. I didn't feel like it. I was working for this man that owned this place was a German. I called and told him that I was ill, I didn't feel like coming that day, but I'd come Monday.

He said, “Well, get well and come back and pick up your check.” So that's what I did. So one night I said, “Oh, I better do what I said I was going to do.” So after three years, I went back to Bethune-Cookman, and I stayed there and I finished.

EE:

Now, did you get GI Bill help coming back?

SG:

Oh, that's the only way. Yes. The army did for me just what I wanted it to do. It helped me. I got my 52/20. I couldn't get it in Lakeland. I failed to tell you that. They wanted to give me a job working in the hospital because they heard that I was good around ill people, for $18 a week. Can you believe it? But that's what they wanted me to do. I told them I was not going to take the job. So I went down to the office, social service or wherever I was supposed to go for this 52/20, and they said, “Well, we have a job for you.”

I said, “Yes, but $18 a week when I can sit on my porch for $20, so I will not take it.”

EE:

Did [unclear] not realize that the government was doing that?

SG:

Yes. I said, “No, I'm not going to do that.” So after going down every weekend and pushing and talking, I think they gave it to me about the third time. They were still trying to find something for me to do where they wouldn't have to give me that $20 a week.

I went on to Detroit. I got my 52/20, as I said, and I went to school, and the government paid for that. Then I left, and I said let me go get my degree. So then I left went on back to Bethune-Cookman.

EE:

So when did you finish Bethune-Cookman, '51, '52?

SG:

Fifty-one.

EE:

Well now, when your husband reenlisted—

SG:

Oh, we divorced after that. He went on to Germany—Frankfurt, Germany. When he told me he had re-upped again for three years and he was telling me I could wait and all that kind of stuff, I got rid of that.

So then I stayed down there and I taught. I didn't use my GI Bill for my house until I came here, and this is the house that I'm living in now.

EE:

That's great. So the army was good to you.

SG:

Yes, yes. So I've gotten everything but what I want to know anything about, unless that last little flag that they'll give my family.

EE:

When you think back to those times being in the service when you're twenty, twenty-one, are there any particular songs or movies that when you hear or you see they take you back there?

SG:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I was thinking of one yesterday I heard. I can't think now for nothing. Sunrise Serenade and the one we used to jitterbug by all the time. Lionel Hampton. But every time I hear one, I just think about the service. My husband used to sing this one to me all the time, what is it? Moon over—moon over—

EE:

Moon Over Miami?

SG:

Yes, Moon Over Miami. Yes.

EE:

It's a good day to remember those serenade attempts. I tried myself with my wife when I was young.

SG:

I bet you as soon as you leave I'll think of some more.

EE:

Sounds like based on your experiences that if a woman came up to you today said, “I'm thinking about joining the service, what should I do?”

SG:

I've encouraged several women, and I know three or four have gone into the service. I have a great niece, and I encouraged her. She went into the service. She was stationed down here in Fort Lejeune, is it, down here?

EE:

Yes, Camp Lejeune.

SG:

Camp Lejeune. Of course she came out, and I told her, I said, “I wish you would stay in.” She couldn't handle it. She wasn't in the army, now.

EE:

She was in the Marines.

SG:

Marines, yes. So she got married, and she had a baby. So she called last night. She's from Jacksonville. She lives in Jacksonville now. So she's out. I don't think she stayed in a year. She didn't. She just didn't like it. But I've had two. This girl next door, she went in to the service, too. I think she's still in there.

EE:

Women can do so much more in the service now than they could before.

SG:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

EE:

They've just about opened up everything to women. I guess a year or so ago they sent the first woman combat pilot into action in Iraq, bombing Baghdad. I'm wondering are you somebody who thinks that women ought to be able to do everything in the service, or do you think there ought to be some jobs that should not be performed by women?

SG:

I think women should be anything they think they can do. I don't have no qualms with that, women flyers, whatever they want to do, because it hasn't always been that way. It wasn't that way when I was going in there. So let them do what they're able to do, physically and mentally. I know if they can be an astronaut, they can be anything else.

EE:

That's right. We've had them all over the place.

SG:

That's right. If a woman can bear a child, then she ought to be able to use a hammer, if she wants to.

EE:

Hear, hear with that. I watched my wife give birth to two, and I said, “I'm glad it's you.”

SG:

You know what I mean? Yes indeed.

EE:

Now, when you look back, do you think you contributed to the war effort?

SG:

Yes. Sure. It's a better place because I was in there. Yes.

EE:

That's right. I think you're right. Well, I have gone through my thirty questions now, but is there anything I haven't asked you about that you want to—

SG:

No, no.

EE:

Well, this has been a lot of fun. I appreciate you sitting down and sharing with me. But it sounded like a wonderful experience in, and then you took it to the max afterwards. So that was very good.

SG:

Yes.

EE:

I'm curious, how long have you been back in this area? When did you come back to North Carolina?

SG:

I came here in 1972. I got my master's degree from [North Carolina] A&T [State University].

EE:

Still in elementary education?

SG:

In early childhood education, yes. I did further work with the children with learning disabilities. I worked with those kids a long time.

EE:

Where'd you work?

SG:

I worked in Florida for twenty, twenty-one years, and I worked here for twelve years. When I retired, I retired from third grade. I was teaching third grade. I taught children with learning disabilities at Mendenhall [Junior High School in Greensboro] here for a while. Actually, I came here on sabbatical leave from Florida for a year, '72, '73. Then I moved here. I resigned from there and moved here in '75.

EE:

Well, from my experience, I was PTA president this last year at my kids' school, and I'm convinced that being around children does keep you younger.

SG:

It does.

EE:

You have to be up and on the ball.

SG:

You sure do.

EE:

If you've had a bad day, you just hang around ten or twelve kids, and it will be a brighter day.

SG:

It sure will.

EE:

They'll make it a bright day.

SG:

They surely will.

EE:

Well, again, thank you on behalf of the school and myself. I appreciate it.

[End of the Interview]