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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Juanita Webster, 2000

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Object ID: WV0167.5.001

Description: Interview primarily documents Juanita Webster’s service with the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and her nursing career.

Summary:

Pre-service topics include Webster's reasons for becoming a nurse; saving money for nurse’s training; her family's life during the Depression; attending nurse’s training in Washington, D.C.; civilian nurse uniforms; and her reaction to the U.S.’s entrance into WWII.

Discussion of Webster's time in the service focuses on her overseas service, but includes her family’s reaction to her enlistment; reasons for joining the ANC; signing up and preparing for overseas duty; and the overseas voyage. Webster's description of her Australian experiences includes reporters from Stars and Stripes visiting the base; meeting her husband, Douglas J. Webster; and interacting with Australians. Topics from her time in New Guinea are the boat ride to New Guinea; refusing Atabrine, malaria medication; soldiers with jungle rot; Japanese air raids; and the death of her company’s first sergeant. Stateside service topics include drawing numbers to return to the U.S.; anesthesia school in Texas; preferring overseas service to stateside service; and her reasons for not making the military a career. Other topics from Webster's time in the ANC include favorite songs; President Roosevelt’s death; her feelings about President Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and General MacArthur; and memories of VE Day and VJ Day.

Post-service discussion covers her schooling and work in Louisiana; adopting three children; her involvement in Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW); losing two houses to fire; working for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals; and writing her autobiography.

Creator: Juanita Hamilton Webster

Biographical Info: Juanita Webster (d. 2004) of Henderson County, North Carolina, a career nurse, served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1942 to 1945. She later worked in hospitals in Louisiana and Texas and with Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.

Collection: Juanita Webster 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. This afternoon I am in Penrose, North Carolina, near Brevard, and I am sitting at the home of Juanita Webster.

Miss Webster, thank you for agreeing to sit down with us this afternoon. Today is May the twenty-first, I believe, in the year 2000. What I do, Miss Webster, is, with everybody, ask the same simple question to start out with, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

JW:

Well, I was born and I grew up in Henderson County, the next county over. Of course, when I went into nurse's training, though, I went to Washington, DC, to the hospital there; it's now called DC General. It was called Gallinger Municipal [Hospital] at the time. Now it's D.C. General, and it's a one thousand-bed city hospital on the southeast side of Washington, D.C. It had the joy of having the river on one side, the jail on the other, and the cemetery on the other, so it was quite a place to be.

But anyway, it was a good place to train, and I was in training before everything was washed out, you know. I took care of a patient in an iron lung; it was that long ago. Well, we didn't get rid of the polio until 1957, anyway. I was doing public health in Louisiana when the polio vaccine came in. And I vaccinated two of us.

EE:

Well, actually, it was the second vaccine that was the more widespread, wasn't it, the Sabin vaccine, or did they have Salk widespread?

JW:

We had to inject it into their arm.

EE:

Right. That was the Salk vaccine.

JW:

But they did have the oral vaccine, too, that came out later, along about that time.

EE:

You grew up in Henderson County, right across the bridge. What did your folks do for a living?

JW:

They were farmers. All anybody could do then was farm, I guess.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

JW:

I have a brother and a sister. My brother's dead, but my sister lives right down there, and she's one of the reasons I'm home, because I felt like I could help take care of her and my mother.

EE:

Are you oldest? Youngest?

JW:

I'm the oldest, yes. My mother was 102 years old about two weeks ago. The fifth of May, she was 102 years old, and she's in a nursing home in Brevard.

EE:

When you were young, were you somebody who liked going to school?

JW:

I loved school. I loved it. But I wanted to do something besides be a teacher. My daddy's family were all schoolteachers, and they thought I was going to be a schoolteacher. I knew I did not want to teach school. So that's how come [unclear] me to go into nursing school. [laughs]

EE:

Well, it's interesting because for women, I think, there were some preconceived notions that if you didn't stay home, there were just a few lines of work that were open for most women back then.

JW:

That's right. You know, I can remember when I asked my mother if I could go into nurse's training, and she told me no. They didn't want me to leave home. The only thing I could have done was be a beauty operator.

EE:

Was there a hospital in Hendersonville?

JW:

There was a little old bitty hospital there. It didn't have nurse's training, though. There was a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. There were two hospitals there and they had nurse's training. But gosh, Asheville was a long way.

EE:

That was a long way.

JW:

You bet it was.

EE:

No interstate thirty minutes away.

JW:

No.

EE:

So, what year did you graduate from high school?

JW:

In 1934.

EE:

And this was from Henderson County?

JW:

Flat Rock, North Carolina.

EE:

Was Mr. [Carl] Sandberg there then? He came after the war, didn't he?

JW:

Yes, must have. There was a little old bitty man, a German man, I can't think of his name, but he had white hair and a bald head and a white beard. He was the strictest thing you've ever seen. A very good principal, though.

EE:

Did you go right from the end of your high school right into nursing school?

JW:

No. I worked about two or three years. There was a hosiery mill that went in in Hendersonville, and I got a job in that. That's how I got the money to go in nurse's training. It didn't take very much, and I didn't have very much money, but I worked.

EE:

This was during the Depression, right? At the heart of it.

JW:

Oh, you bet it was the Depression. It certainly was.

EE:

I know I've talked to some people who were farmers, and they weren't exactly fond of the Roosevelts [Franklin and Eleanor] during the Depression.

JW:

No, we weren't.

EE:

Due to the allotments and things like that, that kind of put restrictions on what you could grow. I imagine that was part of it.

JW:

Yes, it was.

EE:

Your aunt comes by and offers you a different place for nurse's training.

JW:

Yes. My aunt lived in Washington, D.C. Her son was the one that told me about the hospital there and encouraged me to apply. I did, and I was accepted. I had to buy black shoes and hose to wear in nurse's training. We wore a striped uniform, but we had to have the white apron and the bib on top of that. We didn't wear a cap for the first six months. After we'd been there six months, we got our cap. Then we started drawing sixteen dollars—no, $13.65 a month. I have never forgotten that figure. [laughter]

EE:

I could see why that might be. Now, you got room and board.

JW:

Got room and board.

EE:

Now, did you have to pay for your books out of that thirteen, or was that included as well?

JW:

We had to buy our books. We didn't have much money. But we weren't used to any money, so it didn't matter anyway.

EE:

Most the women who were in that program were about your age?

JW:

Yes, sir, they were.

EE:

So you went into that, '36, '37, somewhere in there? When did you go in? It was a three-year program.

JW:

Yes, a three-year program. I finished in 1941.

EE:

Went in in fall of '38?

JW:

Fall of '38 is when I went in, yes.

EE:

Most people, whatever they're doing in their late teens, early twenties, their first focus is not on world events, whatever the age. And you're a busy woman doing nurse's training, but you're in Washington, and there's got to have been some talk about what was going on in Europe while you were in school.

JW:

There was. There was a lot of talk about it, and there was a lot more talk about Europe than there was the Pacific. I didn't even realize that we had anything in the Pacific to go to until I was sent there. You know, later on I learned that the Japanese had already bombed Australia, you know, the western part of it. They knew all about it, but I was the only one who didn't know it. I guess I just didn't pay any attention to it.

EE:

It was something that was going on over there, and so it affected—until Pearl Harbor Day. Now, do you remember where you were Pearl Harbor day?

JW:

I was in a little place I had rented with two other girls. I was doing the dishes. It happened at one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

EE:

Were you working at the same hospital once you graduated?

JW:

No, I was doing private duty.

EE:

That was a pretty lucrative alternative back then.

JW:

Oh my goodness, you made $7.50 for eight hours. [laughs]

EE:

Wow. Compared to thirteen a month.

JW:

For twelve hours, yes. That was a bunch of money. I think I made five dollars for eight hours and the other was for the twelve-hour shift.

EE:

That's great. So this was December 7, and the next day, the president gets on and says, “We're at war.” What was your thinking?

JW:

I guess I might even say I was happy. I wasn't happy we were going to war, but I was glad that something had been decided. That gave me a focus of what I could do. I went right on into the army and I was sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I went in the fifth of January 1942.

EE:

You were a private duty nurse. Was there a call in the paper for nurses to report or to volunteer?

JW:

No, I volunteered. I mean, I had already signed up to go in before they ever said anything to me. So then they told me to come in on the fifth of January 1942. I had a friend in Washington with a car, and he took me down to Fort Belvoir and dumped me out, and I was in the army.

EE:

You'd been on your own for a couple of years up there, but how did your folks feel about you joining the service?

JW:

Well, I think they expected me to, really, because Mama knew that I would want to go. I know she did. She and Daddy knew I'd want to go to war. And I did get to come home for a couple of days and go back. I can remember Mama standing on the porch up here at the school. We lived in an old schoolhouse then, up the road here. Standing there rubbing her hands on her apron when Daddy left to take me back to town to go back.

EE:

Your brother and sister, they also served?

JW:

My brother did. My sister didn't; she was too young. She was a schoolteacher. She taught school for about thirty years in Brevard.

EE:

When did your brother go in?

JW:

He went to Europe. He went in right after I did. He stayed in Europe during part of the occupation, and came on back and worked at Acousta, which is the plant up the road here, you know, that went in during the war. But now, my brother died about ten years ago. He was an alcoholic and he just flat drunk himself to death.

EE:

It takes its toll.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

I know a lot of the women that I talk with, the reasons they get in, sometimes they read an article in the paper, sometimes they see a poster, or they hear an ad, but you just had a sense that you knew that nurses—nurses were the one group of women that during time of war were called on, from the First World War when the nurse corps was mobilized, and I guess after the Spanish-American War. Did any of your friends in nurse's training join, too?

JW:

Some of them did, but they didn't go in when I did. So I wasn't with anybody that I'd been in the army with. One girl was in and she went overseas when I did, but not on the same ship. There were three ships left when I went overseas. There was a huge bunch of people around us, escorting us down to the canal, anyway.

EE:

Did you leave from New York?

JW:

Yes, sir.

EE:

You were old enough where your folks did not have to sign for you.

JW:

Oh no. I was twenty, twenty-one by then, by the time I got out of nurse's training.

EE:

When you signed up, did they say anything to you about being sent overseas?

JW:

They put a sign up on the bulletin board, “Overseas Duty. Sign Up for Overseas Duty. Warm Climate, Cold Climate,” it said. And I signed up for warm climate. And that's all I knew about where I was going. [laughter]

EE:

But you were assigned where you signed up for, which is unusual in and of itself. A lot of folks didn't even have a choice, and it sounds like they gave you a choice.

JW:

I don't think the boys had a choice.

EE:

No. When you were at Fort Belvoir, how long were you there before you got on the ship out of New York?

JW:

I there about a month, I guess.

EE:

And that was your basic training in the military?

JW:

Yes, sir, and I wouldn't call it basic training. [laughs] I didn't even know how to salute when I went into the army. But we went on to New York, and that's when I spent so much time going back and forth to the navy base to get our shots, and gosh, my arms were sore. We had shots here and shots there, you know, everywhere, getting all the shots. Finally, though, we were ready to go. So I went back to Fort Belvoir. They told us to go to New York. We went out and got on a train and went right into the navy yard, and got on the ship.

EE:

So what did you do at Belvoir? Did you do anything like drill or protocol?

JW:

No.

EE:

You were so early in this process that you were probably ahead of them on organizing, frankly, I would think.

JW:

I don't think they knew what to do with us, so many nurses poured in there, you know.

EE:

I see you in a full-dress uniform in these pictures, but I know that I've seen pictures of some folks that the army outfit, at the beginning, was very similar to the navy outfit. They differentiated later on, with the full coat. It was a dark navy coat as opposed to something else.

JW:

Yes. When I first went in, our outfits were navy. And then they've changed, of course, since then.

EE:

What was the name of the ship that you went out on, do you remember?

JW:

SS Parker.

EE:

Was it a civilian ship?

JW:

It was a civilian ship, a small cruise ship. It went from New York down to some of the islands. I don't know if it was Cuba or not, but somewhere down that way. And they had redone it and made it large enough for us. We were supposed to have gone on a ship that was sabotaged out in the harbor. If I could think of the name, I know you'd remember it. It was a huge French ship that was based in a harbor in New York. We were supposed to have been going overseas on it, and it was sabotaged, and we couldn't go on it.

EE:

What did that do to your confidence level?

JW:

It kind of scared me.

EE:

I was going to say. I mean, first thing. This is the thing that I think is hard for people of my generation, who weren't there, is to realize, that the war, the headlines may have been Europe, but the war was right off our coast.

JW:

Yes, it was.

EE:

When you were in New York, it was blackout at night, wasn't it?

JW:

Yes, sure was.

EE:

Loose lips do sink ships, even in the harbor.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

So it's a very present thing, that you're immediately put into. This cruise ship, did you have a separate private berth, or were you sleeping on the deck?

JW:

The nurses were put into what had been—I guess you would call it a suite of rooms for somebody with money, but there was about eighteen or twenty of us in these three rooms, that had been a bathroom and a living room and, I guess, two bedrooms, for the people who had the money to pay for it. But we were put in there.

EE:

So they'd put up hammocks two or three high?

JW:

Yes.

EE:

So much for luxury accommodations.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

Had you ever been on a ship before?

JW:

No, and I got so seasick. [laughs] I was sick all the way from New York to Panama. I vomited up my stomach. I lived on soup and crackers—no, olives and crackers. That's what I lived on.

EE:

Oh my, that would have made me sick right there. [laughter] During your nurse's training, had you gotten to travel and see New York and that area?

JW:

One time I went to New York, when I got through nurse's training. Gosh, I didn't have any money, you know.

EE:

Yes, thirteen dollars a month, you're not going to save a lot. So this really was a lot of things for you. It was a new employer; it was a new part of the world; you were going places.

JW:

And men everywhere. Oooh, the men were everywhere. [laughter] And the nurses were everywhere, too.

EE:

So on this ship, were there men and women on this ship?

JW:

Oh yes.

EE:

While you were down at the rail, were there social opportunities?

JW:

Well, a little bit. But not much, not like it would be now. Because there were so many of us. I can remember us walking up to go up on deck at night, the men would pinch us if we went by, you know, pinch our rear ends. I guess that was the only thing they could touch. [Laughter]

EE:

Get away with, right.

JW:

Yes. Big deal. I imagine there was about thirty-five or forty nurses on that ship.

EE:

Thirty-five to forty nurses out of how many people altogether, a couple hundred?

JW:

I believe there was over two thousand people on the ship.

EE:

Was it infantrymen, or who was going over?

JW:

Some of them were medical people. One of them was from the 32nd Division. A doctor was on board with some of the 32nd Division. They were from Michigan and Wisconsin, in that area. And he was the nicest thing. I just loved him, and he went to Brisbane later. Of course, we all went on to Australia. Everybody who was on there went to Australia. And later on he was the doctor in charge of the company where I was in Brisbane, Australia. And I was sure glad to hear that he'd been moved up to that.

EE:

What was his name, do you remember?

JW:

Blekwin, B-l-e-k-w-i-n. Dr. Blekwin.

EE:

One of the things I've heard from some nurses, well, some of them felt a little guilty that, as officers, they could date the other officers, while the other enlisted men couldn't. Now, eventually you found a way around this problem. But was that one thing that they did impress upon you, no fraternization?

JW:

Oh yes. Oh yes.

EE:

You had told me before we started the interview, that you had a course in anesthesia at some point. Was that before you went?

JW:

No, I was back from overseas.

EE:

Okay. So, you went over as a general nurse then, doing whatever. That could be surgery, that could be what we'd call outpatient care. What were the divisions of work for you, as an army nurse, that were possible?

JW:

The nurses had a large surgical unit. Now, this was in New Guinea that I'm talking about. In Australia, it's not that big a deal, but in New Guinea, we were really put in charge of a ward. I don't think I have a picture of the hospital, I don't believe.

EE:

I didn't see one of the hospital itself. There was just a tent.

JW:

Well, there's just a part of it. Here we are working out in the garden. Now, this was in New Guinea, and this was in New Guinea.

EE:

Was the wards a tent, or were the wards wooden buildings?

JW:

They were all tents. The patients were in tents, we were in tents. Everybody slept in tents.

EE:

Let me get you to New Guinea, then. You were on the sea for thirty-seven days. Were you doing the zigzag or did you have an escort?

JW:

Oh, we zigzagged. I don't know how often, but zigzagged, zigzagged, zigzagged. It took us thirty-seven days, like I said, to go from New York to Australia.

EE:

And you could not tell folks back home where you were headed.

JW:

No. No, that's how come they'd be so glad that Mama had gotten some of these pictures, you know, because the people would—I don't know how they knew where she lived, because I was gone, you know.

EE:

So these were sent by friends of yours, or family members of friends of yours.

JW:

Or somebody who knew where I lived. They sent them up here, I guess. You know, reporters are funny people. They might have given a hint away, I don't know. When it would come out in the Louisiana paper, for instance. But anyway, my Mama got those pictures for me and had them when I got back.

EE:

That's great. One thing that's neat about pictures like that, is that most folks don't carry a camera with them to work, no matter what the work is.

JW:

No.

EE:

Stars and Stripes photographers who were around taking pictures makes a big difference, because that's how we found some of the more interesting pictures—is people doing their jobs, but they wouldn't have had a Brownie camera with them back then. So you just have to rely on just chance.

You all docked in Sydney or Brisbane? Where'd you dock?

JW:

Brisbane. I never did get to go to Sydney. We went straight to Brisbane. The only time we stopped was in Bora Bora [French Polynesia] on the way over, and I did go ashore there. I wasn't supposed to, but I did. Some of the men came over and ate supper with the officers in our group. I was in there having a drink with them, and this man looked kind of friendly. I asked him couldn't I go to shore, and he said, “No, you can't.”

I said, “Yes, I can. Come on.”

So we went, went down the rope. I planted my feet in Bora Bora soil and climbed back up. I was a little bit of an impulsive person, I guess. [laughter]

EE:

You were acting twenty-two. It sounds like you were acting your age back then. Were the men about the same age?

JW:

Yes, they were.

EE:

You were in Brisbane. Was there already a hospital that you went to in Brisbane?

JW:

Yes, our outfit had been stationed in California, the men, officers and men from our outfit. They had left from Camp Roberts, California. They were already over there and had the hospital set up. They had gotten there, I think, in January or February of 1942.

EE:

Was there a particular division that they were?

JW:

Yes, 153rd Station Hospital.

EE:

If you joined in January and you took about a month to get from [unclear] to New York, you were leaving sometime mid-February, and got there end of April?

JW:

First part of April.

EE:

So you were in Brisbane from early April. When you got to the 153rd Station, how many other nurses were there at that time?

JW:

There were twenty-one nurses. One chief nurse and then twenty other nurses.

EE:

I'm curious, that early in the war, had the chief nurse been a longtime member of the Army Nurse Corps? Was there any seniority to it?

JW:

No, she was just a member, kind of like I was, I suppose. She was the chief nurse.

EE:

When you were working at that station hospital, what kind of patients would they send, any and everything?

JW:

Everything. Most of them were from around Brisbane, because that's where the troops were coming in, but we did have a few who had come down out of the Philippines and gotten to Australia, and gotten to our hospital. Some of them had been in New Guinea and they had come down. People were there from everywhere. You couldn't believe it, sir, I'll tell you. It was amazing to me, to find the people. “How did they find that hospital?” I'd say. “How did you find our hospital?”

“Oh, somebody told me it was here.”

EE:

They'd just walk in off the street, needing help? Everybody just kind of coalescing there. Were you working a ward then?

JW:

Yes, I was just a general duty nurse. I'd had no special training. I was a graduate nurse. That was all they needed, was a graduate nurse.

EE:

And the shift for you, was it a twelve-hour shift?

JW:

No, we worked eight hours, sometimes ten hours. A usual day was an eight-hour day, though.

EE:

And this was seven days a week.

JW:

Yes, sir.

EE:

Was the area that you were in in Brisbane subject to any danger, or were you back far enough from the front where—

JW:

I never felt like we were in any danger there. Now, our hospital was actually sixty miles outside of Brisbane, up into the country. So even when we got to Brisbane and got unloaded, then we had to get on a bus and drive around sixty miles inland to the hospital. It had been a boys' school. I think all the boys were the only ones who went to school in Australia. That's all I ever heard of was a boys' school. But anyway, it had been fixed up. Our men had been there, and they had the wards arranged, and we had nurses' quarters. So we felt like we had a good deal.

EE:

Do you remember the name of the town or of the school?

JW:

Gatton, G-a-t-[t]-o-n, Gatton.

EE:

And you all were housed right there in the school? They had separate barracks?

JW:

Yes.

EE:

It's a question that's different, I think, when I ask this of nurses. They're basically changing the kind of work they're doing. It may be the same, although it may be more intense in a different kind of injury or patient, but the work relationship is, I gather, similar in the army to outside the army, as far as your supervisors, the head nurse. You're working with, largely—probably at this time exclusively male doctors?

JW:

Yes, and male patients.

EE:

Male patients. Well, male patients might be the big difference, is that they're all the same sex, and at that younger age, it's a different situation. When I ask folks how they were treated by the men, what was your experience?

JW:

Oh, it was excellent treatment. Wonderful treatment.

EE:

So you were never discriminated, or felt—

JW:

No.

EE:

I think when you're in a hospital situation, you appreciate nurses. There's a certain function, that you're just glad that somebody's there to help take care of you.

You were at 153rd, and then within a couple months—you have a picture here of you marrying Douglas J. Webster, by May of '43. Tell me how you all met.

JW:

Well, he was in my outfit, and that's how it came to be.

EE:

Did you meet him once you got to Brisbane?

JW:

Yes. Well, as soon as we got to our hospital, which was inland from Brisbane, sixty miles inland from Brisbane. This is the story he always told me, and I think it's true. He said that he was in some kind of army vehicle outside, waiting for the nurses to take us to our quarters. And he looked inside and he saw me sitting on the table, and I had a drink in each hand. I was a pretty heavy drinker, I can tell you that. [laughs] I think I was drinking Scotch and chasing it with Scotch and water, is what I was drinking. And he said, “I'm gonna marry that girl.”

EE:

“If she can handle that, she can handle me.” [laughter]

JW:

And I guess he must have told the truth. He told that 'til the day he died, I'll tell you.

EE:

Oh, that's great. Was there an officers' club or a service club there ?

JW:

Yes. There was a huge building kind of in the middle of the school that had been part of the school itself when it was a school. Of course, the men had made the officers' club out of it. So we went to the officers' club, and that's where I was drinking, and we could go over there every night and meet with the officers. But now, when my husband was an enlisted man, we couldn't go.

EE:

What did you all end up doing for dates?

JW:

We'd go to somebody's house. Doug had been there long enough to know some Australian families. They'd been there about three months, when we came. We were very friendly with the natives, you know, living there. I went to the churches and to the grange. They had a grange in the middle of town. They were just about the nicest people I've ever known. They really were friendly.

EE:

They took you into their homes?

JW:

Yes.

EE:

Y'all didn't have a car, did you?

JW:

No, we didn't have a car.

EE:

So it really was a community thing, where you just had to get rides from folks?

JW:

Yes, or buy a bicycle. I bought a bicycle.

EE:

Where did you get this koala bear, have this picture with this koala bear?

JW:

That was in Australia.

EE:

Was that in somebody's home?

JW:

That was a little restaurant real close to us. You can't see the restaurant, but I was down there, and I picked up that bear and he was hugging me, and I had my picture made with him.

EE:

Oh my goodness. Well, I didn't know if in that area, they had them like squirrels around here, you know. They've got that white squirrel in Brevard, so maybe they've got the koalas all over Brisbane.

JW:

They sure have.

EE:

You all got married in May in 1943. He shipped out. Where'd he ship out to?

JW:

He was sent to another hospital. Now, we had been to New Guinea and back, though, before that happened, before we were married. Before we were married, we were in New Guinea. Then when I came back to Australia, that's when I got married.

EE:

Let's get there. I've got May of '42. You all had a real short [unclear]. You all actually got married in May of '43. So you actually knew each other for about a year, a little bit more. When did you leave Brisbane area hospital for New Guinea? What time of year was that?

JW:

It was probably about August, I imagine, about August of 1942, that we left to go to New Guinea. The men went up before we did. They left us behind, and then we went on.

One of the best things that I have in my thing I'm reading right now is about my trip on the Australian hospital ship, from Australia to New Guinea. That was the best boat ride I ever had. There was a bunch of Australian troops on there and some Australian nurses. Now, the Australian nurses are called “sisters.” They're not a religious order, but they're called “sisters.” I exchanged clothes with one of them one night, and that really bummed everybody out. [laughs]

They had everything in the world to eat and drink on that ship, that you've ever seen. So we had a pretty good time.

EE:

Good. Sound like they were very down-to-earth folks that you got to know over there.

JW:

They surely were.

EE:

You're not the first person to tell me that Australians were very hospitable. Was it Frederick's Island? What was the port you'd come into in New Guinea?

JW:

Port Moresby.

EE:

Is that where you were stationed while you were there?

JW:

Yes, about seventeen miles. Seventeen-mile [unclear] outside of—supposed to be about seventeen miles from Port Moresby, inland.

EE:

And you're there from August of '42 to when, before you come back to Brisbane?

JW:

Sometime after Christmas. I was there about six or seven months in New Guinea.

EE:

Were you part of the first group?

JW:

We were the first nurses into New Guinea.

EE:

Had you already had your Atabrine before you went to New Guinea?

JW:

You know, I never took any Atabrine at all. It made my stomach hurt and made me sick, so I never did turn yellow. I decided, if I'm going to have to take this stuff, I'd rather just have malaria. So I didn't take anything.

EE:

And you got by?

JW:

And I got by, yes.

EE:

And you never had any illnesses while you were over there?

JW:

Nope. Not a thing.

EE:

Well, you were an unusual person, because I had a lot of people who tell me they either got sick off of the medicine, or they got funguses or jungle rot or whatever, anything and everything over there.

JW:

Most of our patients had jungle rot. That was the name that was coded then, was jungle rot. The infantry boys, 32nd Division infantry boys was who we had for patients, and they'd been out in the jungles, and, you know, they been in water up to their knees and their shoes and their socks and everything so wet.

EE:

They stayed wet.

JW:

Yes, they stayed wet. For want of another name, we just called it jungle rot. That was the diagnosis.

EE:

When you were working outside of Port Moresby, you went from thirty-five to forty nurses on the ship, and then there were twenty-one nurses at Brisbane. How many nurses were there at Port Moresby?

JW:

Same amount. It was just one group that went in and out.

EE:

You were again doing ward duty?

JW:

Well, I was in charge of the ward. I didn't do ward duty.

EE:

Everybody got a ward?

JW:

Yes, the army is different from anything else, you know. If you're a nurse, you're put in charge. It was that simple. We had a big operating suite and then we had the different wards around. Of course, we had to have day duty and night duty, too, you know. So the twenty-one nurses were split kind of thin.

EE:

[Looking at photos] The first one's in New Guinea. There's a picture of you all in a trench, I guess, getting ready to practice for Japanese air raids. Did you have flyovers on a regular basis?

JW:

We sure did. The thing that bothered us the most, the Japanese planes would come over this direction—we were only bombed one time—but they'd go down and try to get the airplanes. You know, they had the bases down below us. Then that flak would fall on us, and that's how come us to have that trench. We had to have a soot[?] trench. Every one of us had a soot trench to get into. That was right by my tent.

EE:

Day or night, you had to be ready to do that. Was there a siren that sounded?

JW:

Yes.

EE:

Was the hospital area somehow demarcated with a red cross from the air? Because supposedly they were supposed to stay away from it, and at one time they didn't, which happens during war, “friendly” accidents.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

How fluid was the line when you were there? I know I've talked with some women who were close enough to the line, people who were in Europe when the Battle of the Bulge happened, and they started to hand out booklets, What to Do in Case You're Captured. Did you all ever have that kind of discussion?

JW:

No, they never talked to us about being captured. We were so far inland, I guess. I never even thought about being captured. It never entered my mind. I don't know that anybody thought about us being captured, because we were never told about it. It was never brought up to us.

EE:

You went in August and came in early of '43, and you came back to Brisbane, the same hospital, sort of a rotation out?

JW:

Well, we came back to Brisbane, but then we were sent about seventy miles down the road. We rented a house that had belonged to one of the judges who worked in Brisbane. It was kind of a summer resort. Southport was the name of the resort, right on the water. It was a beautiful place to live. That's where we were staying. We took over another boys' school there.

EE:

A lot of women I talked with, when they got married and the word got out that they got married, they were asked to leave the service. That didn't happen with you.

JW:

No.

EE:

Is it because somebody didn't know, or because they just needed you, is what it amounted to?

JW:

I think they needed us. They needed me. No, I was never asked to leave the service. My husband was. He was sent out of the area, you know. But I was never asked to leave.

I was just reading about when we got ready to come home, we closed up the hospital, and I was doing various and sundry things. I worked in the motor pool, and I worked somewhere and took care of something else. When we were ready to come home, though, they told us we were going to be coming home, and they were going to draw names to see who was coming home first. I had never been lucky drawing numbers. And don't you know that I drew a four? And that's what got me to come home; I drew the number four.

But some of the nurses had already been sent on home. We were kind of getting out. We'd been to New Guinea, we'd been back down to Southport, then we were back in Brisbane again. So many of our people were leaving, it just wasn't like the army at all had been when I first went over. But [General Douglas] MacArthur was moving on back up to Brisbane.

EE:

Just at the time you got used to something, it was time to change, because the situation had changed. How long were you in Southport before being shipped out?

JW:

It must have been eight or nine months. It seemed like nearly a year. I was overseas—how long was I overseas? I was overseas—

EE:

Nineteen forty-two to '45.

JW:

Four years, wasn't it?

EE:

Right. So that year after you all got married, they changed the duty that you were assigned? You no longer worked in a ward?

JW:

They shipped my husband out. He was sent to another place. Then once I got back to the States, though, I was stationed in Texas, and that's where I took that first course in anesthesia, at this hospital in Texas. My husband was working in Texas, but I was [unclear].

EE:

So you came back from Australia in '44?

JW:

I guess so.

EE:

Then from Australia, you came back to Texas. San Antonio?

JW:

No, I was stationed outside of Dallas, and I hated that place. I can't even think of the name of it anymore. I was hoping it would blow up. Anyway, somewhere outside of Dallas, and I couldn't stand it. So when I heard about the anesthesia school being in Longview, Texas, I asked to transfer over there. That's where I took the six-month course in anesthesia. Then it was from there that I was discharged.

EE:

You left to come back home in September of '44. Then, you were discharged in December of '45.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

So when you got back to Dallas, then you went to Longview, at Harmon General. The anesthesia course was at Harmon?

JW:

Yes, it was a six-month course.

EE:

Where was your husband all of this time that you were back stateside?

JW:

He was in Texas, but he was working down on the Gulf somewhere. He found a job there in Beaumont. I believe that's where he was.

EE:

That's oil country.

JW:

Yes, because he'd been in the oil field before he went into the service.

EE:

When did he get out? Did he get out in '45, as well?

JW:

Yes.

EE:

Did y'all think about making the military your career?

JW:

Not really, no. If I had, I would have changed my mind when I got back to the States. You know, I loved the army overseas. When I got back to the United States, I could not stand it. It seemed like it was so different. You know, we'd heard about people being on strike and so many things happening, it just irritated me to death. And I thought, well, I'm not going to stay in this place. Because that's the way it was.

EE:

When you're at the front or near the front, everybody's together on the same team. Nobody mealy-mouthed, nobody complains, and you get back stateside. That's what was happening for you?

JW:

That's right.

EE:

That's interesting, because I've heard many people who, in their memory, talk about how everybody was so patriotic, and I know not everybody was on the same team. I mean, there were still some folks who were ticked off at Roosevelt, for whatever reason.

JW:

And everybody else who's up there.

EE:

Yes, and everybody else who is up there. So for you, coming back stateside was sort of a disappointing reality, in a sense.

JW:

It was. It was, but it did set me straight, though. I at one time thought about trying to stay in the army. Then I decided I didn't want to stay in the army; I wanted to get out, go on, and let my husband make a living. I could always work as a nurse. So it kind of settled me down on that, too.

EE:

When you sign on in the Army Nurse Corps, I think they make you a second lieutenant.

JW:

I went in as a second lieutenant, and then I came out as a first lieutenant.

EE:

Although I think when you went in, you went early enough, really, that you didn't really have the full rank. They had to sign something to give you all the same pay as a second lieutenant, from regular army. Finally, by the end of the war, you went out as a first lieutenant.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

The year that you were at Southport, you say you were doing things like motor transport and other things?

JW:

No, I was in charge of a ward there.

EE:

When you think about the time that you were actually in the service, what do you think was, for you, the hardest thing, either physically or emotionally?

JW:

I'll tell you, the hardest thing that ever hit me in my life, was when we first got to New Guinea, our first sergeant died. He had an appendectomy. He had a ruptured appendix, and that killed him. We had the funeral in New Guinea, near Port Moresby, New Guinea. It was a cold, gray, gloomy day, and just as the service was over, the planes came over, and they dipped their wings, of course, you know. Now, that really hurt me. He was a boy I knew, a man I knew. He'd been our first sergeant. I knew him well, and he died in New Guinea and he was buried there. That really hurt.

EE:

So far from home, and nobody from home would ever get to see him.

JW:

That's right.

EE:

Were there a lot of folks that you knew, who lost people?

JW:

Nobody that I knew. Now, in addition to him, out of our outfit we lost three other men. They were killed in a wreck going down to Southport. They were in the back end of a truck. They were sideswiped by a car and they were killed.

EE:

There were so many people moving around, it's amazing that as many people got through as did, because there were a lot of accidents that happened. You've got people who were in their early twenties flying big planes, with only minimal training. They're getting through, but there are accidents.

JW:

There sure are. I can remember reading, when I first got out of the service, about the boys who had learned to fly in the service, and some of them were eighteen and nineteen years old.

EE:

When you were there in New Guinea itself for that six-month period, and most the time you were in Australia. You'd meet characters from all over the world, all different backgrounds, race, religion. Were there African Americans in the service when you were there?

JW:

There was a few. We hadn't been integrated then.

EE:

Yes, it was later in the war, I think.

JW:

I remember seeing some black boys. It never bothered me to take care of them, because the people here are not [unclear]. But anyway, I do remember seeing some, and they behaved themselves. They were all right. But we had some that were engineers that were in New Guinea, and they'd come to our hospital. Everybody had to come to the hospital. It was the only one there, you know.

EE:

There are undoubtedly characters, personalities that stand out in your mind. It sounds like, to me, that your husband might have been one of them. [Webster laughs] But are there characters or personalities that, when you think of those times, stand out for you, individuals that you met?

JW:

Gosh, it's been so long. I don't know if I can think of any now. The incident I told you about, though, when the boy died in New Guinea, that really hurt me more than anything ever had before.

EE:

Did the women hang out together? Being a few women among many men, I imagine the sexual opportunities were probably more than with men.

JW:

[Laughter] They surely were. Well, the nurses did, of course, in New Guinea, and in Australia, too. But, I never did meet anybody else when I was overseas, you know. Just the nurses in our outfit, that was all I ever met.

EE:

I know with different places where there's more opportunity for social life, it's different. But then you met your husband early on out there, so it makes a difference.

You obviously were in physical danger, where you were. Did you ever feel afraid?

JW:

No, not really. I always knew I was going to come back home. I didn't even think about it. But once in a while, when the planes, when the Japs would come over, it would kind of scare me, but not bad. I don't know what I was thinking about, but it didn't bother me.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing moment? Is there a funny story you can tell on yourself?

JW:

Well, I wouldn't mind telling it if I could think, but I can't think of anything.

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

EE:

Did you all have Red Cross women working with you all?

JW:

We had one or two people with us, and one of them ended up to be a real good friend of mine, that we were stationed with in Brisbane. That was where I really left from, to come home. We were back in Brisbane by then. I can remember when we sat there and we talked about what we'd gone through in New Guinea. Doug found a horse somewhere, and he rode it through camp like a wild Indian. Then we remembered a native of New Guinea who used to walk by my tent, and he would put a red hibiscus up here, behind his left ear, meaning he was available. [laughs]

EE:

Advertising that he was on the market.

JW:

Yes, that's right.

EE:

Goodness gracious. Did they have outdoor movies for you all?

JW:

Yes, we did.

EE:

Did you have any USO [United Service Organizations] folks coming through?

JW:

No. Lord, no. They never came through. We had some movies, but not a whole lot, because they hated to get that many of us together.

EE:

Yes, it was a sitting target.

JW:

Yes, sure was.

EE:

Especially since you fell in love back then, I imagine there must be some songs or some movies that probably ring true for you, or as special memories.

JW:

I can remember one song that I learned on the ship, going to New Guinea, Now Is The Hour. That had been a song from New Zealand that women sang to the men when they were going to leave. Some American came overseas and learned it and brought it back, and she called it, Now Is The Hour. But it had another name, and I don't remember what that was, but that was a beautiful song. [sings, “Now is the hour when we must say goodbye.”]

EE:

Just the way you sing that, which is nice, the different service branches, the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] had their song, and the WACs [Women's Army Corps] had a song. Did the army nurses have a song?

JW:

No, I don't remember that. [Laughter]

EE:

I just wondered. I'd never heard an army nurse volunteer if they had a song. Y'all did not have the same kind of basic experience. It was sort of everybody sort of doing their own professional job out there, which was different.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

Do you feel you contributed to the war effort?

JW:

I'd hate to say that I did contribute, because I feel like it would be bragging on myself. But I went when I was supposed to go. I'll say that. I felt like I needed to go, I wanted to go, I wanted to get into the service, I wanted to travel. That was the answer to everything, was to go in the service. Sure enough, they sent me overseas, and we made that long trip. I was overseas three, four years, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved every minute of it. I wouldn't take anything in the world for it. Whether I contributed, I don't know, but, anyway, I went.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard that President Roosevelt had passed away?

JW:

Yes. I was in Longview, Texas, when he died.

EE:

Were you on duty that day?

JW:

Yes.

EE:

He had been ill for some time, but I think news, in retrospect, it was bittersweet, because it was so close to the end of the war.

JW:

Yes, it was.

EE:

Did you know anything about Harry Truman?

JW:

Not a thing. I had no idea who the vice president was.

EE:

Roosevelt had been president for so long. You said earlier your family didn't exactly care for him, earlier on. What were you thinking of him at the end of the war?

JW:

Well, I never had the feelings that my family did. I felt like he'd done a good job with the war. I said then, “It had to be.” I'm not so sure it did, you know. We'd read that he knew the Japs, where they were, and all that sort of thing. I don't know if he did or not.

EE:

Hindsight's always better than foresight.

JW:

Yes, it is. You can look back and see a lot of things, can't you?

EE:

What about Mrs. Roosevelt? She was certainly a different first lady. Very public, very opinionated. What did you think of her?

JW:

I didn't like her. She came to see us in Australia, one of the places where we were. I remember seeing her coming in. She made the rounds, all right. I'm sure she was a good person. My trouble was, it was different politics. I'm a Republican and they were Democrats. I'm still a Republican and they're still Democrats. [laughter]

EE:

And they held it forever. When she came to visit, did she come to speak to a group of y'all assembled?

JW:

Yes, and she made a good talk. It was good. It was worthwhile. I'm sure that her husband would have come, had he been able to.

EE:

Do you have any heroes or heroines when you think about the war?

JW:

Oh, General MacArthur.

EE:

[unclear] in Australia kind of biased toward MacArthur.

JW:

Yes, he was a wonderful person. “I shall return.”

EE:

And he did. Was it in Brisbane? I interviewed a woman who babysat once for his son.

JW:

It might have been Brisbane, because he was in Brisbane. He was there when we were in Southport.

EE:

[Probably looking at photos] This was a Red Cross woman who babysat for him.

JW:

I'll be darn. I had supper at his house in New Guinea. He wasn't there, but a bunch of his men were there. He had headquarters for them. I was invited down there for supper, so I went. I took all these eggs back with me. However I got them back without breaking them, I don't know. [laughter]

EE:

Just because they had the provisions, and they said, “Take what y'all need?”

JW:

Yes. Sure did.

EE:

I guess that's one thing, being in the service that you probably discovered when you got back here, is rationing.

JW:

Oh, yes. That was what almost turned me against everything when I got back to the States. Everything was hard to get. I remember my brother had a little car. He was gone, and he had a car. I couldn't drive very well, but I tried to drive it. Couldn't even get gasoline. Everything was rationed.

EE:

If you can't get gasoline in Texas, you're in bad shape. [laughter]

JW:

Well, that was here. That wasn't in Texas.

EE:

I asked you about Roosevelt. What about VE [Victory in Europe] Day for you? Were you working that day, VE Day in May?

JW:

Yes, I was working that day, too.

EE:

Y'all were still in different places. Did you all get to see each other on the weekend?

JW:

No, no. It was too far away. Doug came to see me a couple of times, I guess about twice. Anyway, of course, we got seriously drunk that night.

EE:

Oh, yes. You weren't the only one.

I guess just after VE Day, the assumption was that it was going to just be a long-year invasion to get to Japan, and then in August they dropped the bomb and you had VJ [Victory in Japan] Day. Was that another good party?

JW:

Yes, it was. I was still in the service, so it was a good party.

EE:

It was at that point, I guess, they start processing folks out.

JW:

It must have been. I can't remember exactly when. But I do know that I had to go all the way back from Longview, Texas. I had to go to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to be discharged.

EE:

Why in the world would you have to go cross the country just to get them to sign a piece of paper?

JW:

I have never figured that out.

EE:

That's army efficiency for you.

JW:

Yes, that's right. Oh, so efficient. [laughter] But I just got on the train and enjoyed the trip.

EE:

I think everybody ought to get up to Fort Dix once. I think half the people I've interviewed have gone through Fort Dix.

When you got out of service, y'all both stayed in the Texas area. You say that's where your husband's family was from originally. Did you move back to his hometown?

JW:

No, he's from Oklahoma, but he had been working in Texas. I went back, and we were in Crane, Texas. He met me when I got off the train, Crane, Texas. That was the saddest little place I've ever seen in my life. And they had a killing—I'll tell you, it was bad out there. They had a shooting right on the Main Street.

EE:

Like the Wild West.

JW:

Yes, it was. And then we were at a nightclub, and the man that had been shot at, he came in with a big long rifle, come in through the door. He was aiming at the man right in front of me. Boy, we got out of that nightclub.

EE:

Good gracious, like Bonnie and Clyde territory. Well, I guess it wasn't too far from where Bonnie and Clyde were working, was it?

JW:

I guess not.

EE:

How long were y'all in Crane?

JW:

About three or four months. Then Doug was transferred to Louisiana. I was very happy to leave.

EE:

So he went to Louisiana with his new employer. That's when you went back to school? How soon did you go back to get your degree?

JW:

It wasn't too much longer after that. It wasn't right then, but, anyway, we did do that.

EE:

And you were in?

JW:

Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

EE:

How long did you work there? Did you just go to school there?

JW:

School was a year. I was just in school there.

EE:

Did you work while you were in school?

JW:

I worked a little bit. We weren't supposed to, but I did. I didn't make any money there, either. I never did make any money. I did a little private duty. But by and large, we weren't supposed to work. They had a dorm for us right in the hospital itself. We didn't stay in a nursing home. We were up on the eleventh floor, for the nurses who were working there, and, of course, I was in school.

EE:

This is a one-year program. Was this something funded by the GI Bill?

JW:

I went on my GI Bill, yes. I got one hundred twenty dollars a month, and I brought my little girl home here to Mama, and left her here. I sent Mama one hundred ten dollars, I think, out of that one hundred twenty dollars that I got.

EE:

When did you have the little girl? When was she born?

JW:

She's adopted. My children are all adopted.

EE:

Where did you get her?

JW:

In Utah. Oh, I forgot to tell you about going to Utah.

EE:

I got from Texas to Louisiana. Did you go to Utah for a while afterwards?

JW:

Yes, we did. Doug got a job up there. My sister and I left Louisiana to go to Utah, and when we got there, I went to the hotel to get a room, and they said they didn't have a room. I asked for Doug and he wasn't there. They finally found a room for me. I looked out the window the next morning, and he was down in the car. I don't know why on earth they told me that, because he was there. He and his uncle were there. They'd found the car.

But anyway, I'll tell you real quick about my daughter. I'm very proud of my children. They're all three adopted. Doug could not have children because he'd had malaria so many times, and that had killed his sperm. But anyway, we were living in Utah. A couple lived next door to us, in a trailer. The lady was pregnant, and she had a little boy, about a year old or a year-and-a-half. Her husband had gotten mad and left her. She came over and told me about it. She came and told me. She was going to have her baby and she couldn't keep it. She said, “Would you like to adopt it? You and Doug are some of the nicest people I've ever met.” I don't know how come her say that, but she did.

But anyway, I talked to Doug about it when he got home that night, and he said, “Yes, we'll adopt her.” Or, “adopt it.” We had no idea. So I took Pat to the hospital a couple of weeks later. She went into labor, I took her to the hospital, shaved and prepped her, which I'd done many times before, and she delivered that little girl. I took her home with me, and Pat got on the bus the next night and went back to California. So that's how come we have that baby. She was the about the sweetest child you've ever seen in your life. Then the other two we adopted later. My children are part Indian. Anyway, I just want you to know that all my children are adopted.

EE:

Are they all in this area, or where are they located?

JW:

No, no. Nobody lives here. Stephanie's in Texas, Stan is in Oklahoma City, and Carol is in Boise, Idaho.

EE:

The two younger kids y'all got later on.

JW:

Yes, we got them later on. We started trying when we were living in Louisiana, and we finally had to go all the way to Seattle, Washington, to get the two younger ones. They wrote back and said that they couldn't find any children with Indian blood in them in Louisiana, because the whites and the blacks were so mixed up, is what they said. And they didn't want to adopt anybody. But they found these two children in Bremerton, Washington, and we'd have to go get them. So when we got up there, it was a boy and a girl, about four and five, I believe, is what they were, not quite six. So we went to Bremerton, Washington, picked them up, and put them in the car and started back home. Don't you know, it snowed all night that night when we drove home.

EE:

So they were brother and sister?

JW:

Brother and sister, yes.

EE:

That's great. I tell you, out of all the experiences you can have in life, having kids to love is one of the best ones.

JW:

It surely is. It's got to be. And you know, you don't have to have your own children to love.

EE:

When you look back, of course, you are a military couple, and it's hard probably for you to answer this question for yourself, even though I ask it for yourself, but how was your life different, because of your time in the military, aside from getting a husband? Which is a pretty big difference.

JW:

You mean, since I've been out of the military?

EE:

Did it change you as a person? Did it change your sense of what the world was like, what you were like in the world? How did your life change?

JW:

Well, I think it made me realize so much more why we need wars every now and then. You know, we've had eight or ten wars, I guess, since I've been out of the service. I do know that we need to have war sometimes. It may not be what I'm thinking, you know, but there's times we almost have to go to war, it seems like.

EE:

Did you think the time in service made you more of an independent person?

JW:

Oh yes, it made me more independent, but it also made me more patriotic than I had ever been before, because I'm officially patriotic.

EE:

You were post commander.

JW:

That was in Texas.

EE:

I have not met as many women who were involved in the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] who are veterans. Why is that?

JW:

I don't know. Because I love it. I dearly love it. But I'll tell you, I was the first female commander that they'd ever had at that post. That was in Texas. They'd always had male commanders. I was the first one, and they were nice to me and they were good to me. I brought my sign with me. But I don't know why we don't have more women in the VFW [Veterans of Foriegn Wars].

EE:

One of the questions I have to ask is, a lot of folks, when they look back at the history of the last fifty years, all the changes that have happened, and the roles for women, that women can now do so many more different kinds of work, they say that that all started back in the war, because whether it's Rosie the Riveter jobs or going in the service, they were right with men in work, and showing you that they could do the same kind of work. And here you are, the VFW coming back, being the first. Do you think of yourself as a pioneer or a trailblazer that helped kind of do that?

JW:

No. It's something I wanted to do.

EE:

After you got your degree from Charity Hospital, did you go immediately to work for Baylor?

JW:

Oh, no. It was much later. After I got out of school, my first job was in a hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana, at Charity Hospital in Lafayette. We lived in Lafayette, New Iberia, for a total of twelve years in all. We all liked it, you know. We loved the place.

EE:

So you left there in the early sixties?

JW:

Let's see. I got out of anesthesia. I was in school the whole year, I believe, of 1950. Did I say anything about that anywhere?

EE:

No. You were not in the reserves, and your husband wasn't, because I know some people signed up to be in the reserves, and then Korea comes up and bites them. Did you worry about being called back up for Korea?

JW:

No.

EE:

So through the fifties, you were in Lafayette and New Iberia.

JW:

Right.

EE:

And then is that when you moved? When did you move after that? Where did you move to?

JW:

We came up here sometime after that. I can't remember when we came up here.

But anyway, I was telling you about losing two houses. When we lived in Lafayette, that was when the first house burned. Then we came up here for a while after that. Then we went back, bought another place in New Iberia, and I'll be darned if that place didn't burn later on. So we just gave up and went to Texas.

EE:

That's where you worked at Baylor for a while?

JW:

Yes, that's when I was in charge of anesthesia at Baylor. I worked there for about six years.

EE:

That specialty, I imagine, has changed over the years, too. Did you have ongoing training and things like that?

JW:

Oh yes. You have to keep your training up for anesthesia, too.

EE:

How often?

JW:

Two or three years. Now, I'm not anymore because I'm not even licensed, registered in this state or any state.

EE:

When did you retire from work?

JW:

Let's see, it's been about five or six years ago I retired, after I moved to Texas, and I didn't want to do any kind of work that would cause me to have to take training.

When I was commander of the VFW, we had some classes, because I had a real good friend who was a policeman, or sheriff's department, and he would come and give classes in how to take care of your guns and how to clean them and how to shoot people and all that sort of thing. We had three classes in that, I don't know, I had classes, classes, classes all the time.

EE:

Once you left New Iberia, you were mainly in the Houston area the rest of the time that you were in Texas?

JW:

I went to work for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. That's when I was traveling, and that's when we had the motor home and we were traveling everywhere. I was in all the lower forty-eight states in that three years' time.

EE:

You were just checking out their anesthesia program?

JW:

No. When you work for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals, they send three people in to do a hospital: an administrator, the nurse, and a doctor. One of the things I like about the nursing home where Mama is, because they are accredited by the Joint Commission, and that makes me think well of them. And the hospital is, too.

EE:

Because you know what it has to pass.

JW:

Right.

EE:

How did you end up finding out about that kind of work? That sounds interesting.

JW:

Well, that's exactly how come me to find out about it. I went to a meeting in Dallas. I was working at Baylor, and they had a hospital association meeting there. I took off and went down there to see what was going on.

EE:

This was in the early seventies, that you were doing this?

JW:

Yes. There was a nurse in there from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. I asked her what it was about. I had an idea what it was about. She told me, she said, “Why don't you go to work for us. Why don't you see if you can go to work for them, because they're hiring nurses now.” I applied. I was accepted.

EE:

How old were the kids then? Were you taking the kids around the whole time?

JW:

Oh no, the kids were grown.

EE:

This was a nice thing you could do after the kids were grown.

JW:

I'm sure you are, yes.

EE:

Did your kids ever have an interest in the military? Did they ever serve in the military?

JW:

Danny went in the navy. My son went was in the navy, but the girls weren't ever interested. But my son was in.

EE:

Had the girls come to you and said, “Mom, we're thinking about doing this. What do you think about it?” What would you have said?

JW:

Well, if they wanted to be a nurse, I'd say, “That's great,” or anything else they wanted to do. But I never tried to talk them into it. You either want to be a nurse or you don't. I think it's just that simple. There's no way to look at it other than that.

EE:

We just, a couple years ago at the end of '98, sent into combat for the first time women fighter pilots, in Iraq. Some people aren't too comfortable with women in combat. How do you feel about that? Are there some jobs in the service that should be off limits to women? Where do you stand on that?

JW:

I don't think so. I think a woman can do anything a man can do.

EE:

And should be given the opportunity to do so?

JW:

Absolutely.

EE:

I know that some people I talked with said, well, if you didn't let them, how are you going to evaluate them for promotions, because you're going to end up having a two-track system, because when you go into the service, that combat has to come into it.

JW:

Yes.

EE:

I've gone through all my little question cards, here.

JW:

Well then, that's it.

EE:

You did a great job. I noticed you have a little thing here. Have you written some stuff down before, about your time in the service?

JW:

This is my autobiography here. I wrote this when I was in school. I'll have to tell you about going to school. I always wanted a college education. When I was working at Baylor, we had the chance to take a college course from Ottawa University, in Kansas. I enrolled, and a bunch of us got together and we had the instructor come down three or four times, on a Saturday, and give us the classes. One of the first things that I had to do was write my autobiography, and I was furious. [laughs] I'll just have to read you what I said right here in the beginning. “Well, for goodness sake, I have wanted to be enrolled in college all my life, to learn about somebody else, and the first thing I'm told to do, now that I am enrolled in Ottawa University, is write about myself. So here it goes.” [laughs] And there is my life.

EE:

Well, now I'll tell you, that's the kind of document that we'd love to forward you some money to make a copy of it or get it to make a copy from. You remember different things, whether somebody's asking you, like today, or whether you're just going from recollections, and different recollections at different times in your life. I think different people remember different things differently, so that's the kind of thing that we'd be interested in having of a copy of that, too.

JW:

Would you? Okay.

EE:

Yes, because we are collecting, in addition to the interviews like we are doing today, and photographs and documents, reminiscences, whether that's in letters home, or diaries that people kept, or journals, or things they wrote for articles, and things like that.

JW:

Yes. Let me see how many pages. There's nearly one hundred pages. Yes, there's over one hundred, about 110 pages in here.

EE:

That's wonderful.

JW:

I'd be glad to make a copy.

EE:

That'd be great. And if you take it to a copy place, just get them to double-side it. That way it won't be as thick.

JW:

Okay.

EE:

And then we can just have it on both sides, just as a copy that people can read.

JW:

All right.

EE:

Is there anything about your time in service that I haven't asked you about, that you'd like to share?

JW:

Gosh, I think I told you about my service better than anything else I told you. Seems like I can remember it very well. Once I start, I really can remember it. No, I believe I told you.

EE:

Didn't you have a best buddy in service, a girlfriend who was your best buddy?

JW:

Yes, I sure did. And you know, she's dead now. She used to live here, lived out at East Flat Rock. She and I went into nurse's training together.

EE:

What was her name?

JW:

Ruby Steppe was her name, and she lived in Kansas City, Kansas. She died about five years ago. We came through to see her one time, and then they came down here two or three summers when I was home.

EE:

Did you ever keep up with the folks in Australia who had brought you guys together?

JW:

No, I didn't, and I'm sorry that I didn't. Even the girl who was a witness at my wedding, you know, I never did keep up with her.

EE:

They are special memories.

JW:

Yes, they sure are.

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, I just want to say thank you. This has been very pleasant and a very pleasant day.

JW:

Well, have I entertained you? [Laughter]

EE:

You have, and I get humbled every time I hear somebody like yourself who has done, in a very self-effacing way, just did what they thought needed to be done.

JW:

Well, thank you very much for telling me that. I've enjoyed talking to you.

[End of Interview]