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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nancy Featherhoff Sendelbach, 2000

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Object ID: WV0168.5.001

Description: Sendelbach primarily discusses her pilot training, her ferrying duties as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II, and her post-service family life.

Summary:

Sendelbach discusses her frequent moves as a child; the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Northwestern State College in Louisiana; her flying lessons in a Piper Cub; and volunteering for the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in 1943.

Topics related to her service with the WASP include the three phases of WASP training: PT-19, BT-13, and AT-6; difference between the military and civil service; being stationed in Sweetwater, Texas, and Long Beach, California; living in barracks; ferrying BTs (Vultee Valiants); instrument training; flying a Piper Cub from Arizona to Florida without radio contact; night flying; the low pay for WASPs; WASP uniforms; co-piloting a B-17; lack of recognition from civilians; feeling “forgotten” after the WASPs disbanded; stops in Midway, Texas, and Enid, Oklahoma; WASP work schedule; a close call on a landing; and her admiration of Jacqueline Cochran.

Sendelbach's post-service memories include meeting and corresponding with her future husband, Norman Sendelbach; career advancement at General Electric; her husband’s experiences in the military and living in Japan during the Korean War; patriotism; her opinion of women in combat; and her daughter’s interest in flying; WASPs receiving veterans benefits in 1977, and going to the VA hospital in Oteen, North Carolina.

Creator: Nancy Featherhoff Sendelbach

Biographical Info: Nancy Featherhoff Sendelbach (1921-2009) served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943 and 1944.

Collection: Nancy Featherhoff Sendelbach Papers

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

Full Text:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today is May 22, 2000, and we're in the central business district of Lynn, North Carolina. This morning I'm at the home of Nancy Sendelbach.

Ms. Sendelbach, thank you for letting us come in and invade your home this morning for an hour or so to talk about your service as a WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots] in World War II. So let's start with you the same way that I start with everybody, with some simple questions. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

NANCY SENDELBACH:

I was born in Kansas. You want the state, I believe. I was born in Kansas and lived in Kansas and Oklahoma until my father, who was with the Shell Oil Company, was transferred to Louisiana. [We] lived in Louisiana right outside of New Orleans, a little place called LaPlace. Then he was transferred again, to Illinois, outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I went to school there, went back to Louisiana to college, and that's where I learned to fly.

EE:

Your dad worked for Shell. What did your mom do? Was she wrestling children, or did she have a—

NS:

She was a homemaker.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

NS:

No.

EE:

You graduated from high school, then, near St. Louis?

NS:

Edwardsville, Illinois.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

NS:

Yes. I liked school all right. I don't have any strong memories of disliking it. It was difficult—my last year, when I graduated, in Edwardsville. It was difficult because I had left Louisiana, which had an eleven-year system, and moved into a twelve-year system and I was a senior. That's difficult for a young person to make that adjustment, because your cliques and your associates are well formed by that time. But I moved around so much, I find that if you just hang back, it works out.

EE:

You hunker down, plan your strategy, and you get through it.

NS:

Yes. That's right.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

NS:

'39.

EE:

And you went on to college?

NS:

I went back to Louisiana. That's where we had come from to Illinois.

EE:

Not as many people went to college back then as they do now. How did you get interested in college? Did your folks go off to college?

NS:

No. They weren't college people. I don't know. Everybody was doing it. I went to Northwestern [State College]. That was in North Louisiana at Natchitoches. I was there for two years, and as I said, that's where the flying program was. Then I went back to Illinois, where my parents were, because I felt like I wasn't interested in pursuing any particular area in college.

EE:

Right. So when you went down there, you didn't have a particular thing in mind you wanted to be?

NS:

I went into St. Louis and took a secretarial course at Miss Hickey's School for Secretaries. And then I went to work in St. Louis for the American Bridge Company.

Then, in 1942 or '43, Jacqueline Cochran organized this [flight training] program [for women], and I wrote and I interviewed. I can't remember where I went for an interview. One of the prerequisites was you had to have a private pilot's license.

EE:

Right. They wanted experienced pilots, unlike the men, where they'd just take you if you had an interest.

NS:

That's right. You had to have a private pilot's license, and I believe there were some physical restrictions at that time, like you had to be so tall. But I can't remember. That's why I was looking for that summation today. It had all that in it.

EE:

Let me ask you a few things about some of the details. When you were at Northwestern Louisiana, you told me a little bit briefly about that. Tell me about this flying program, what was that and how did you—that was your first exposure to flying, was in Louisiana?

NS:

That's right. They had this program at various colleges. It was called the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and the government sponsored it, and the reason it was held at colleges was they knew we were going to get in that war eventually, World War II, and they knew that there were no pilots trained. So in order to train pilots so that they would be ready, they instituted this program, and they did it in colleges because in that way it was not thought of as warmongering.

EE:

That's right. It was not—

NS:

For every ten men that they trained, they trained one woman. So in my class there were twenty men and two women.

EE:

Now, was that a cap of one woman to every ten men, or is that just the way it worked out?

NS:

No. That, I think, was a cap.

EE:

If you're a woman, you may not mind those ratios?

NS:

No. The ratios were good, although it's strange I don't remember any of those men.

EE:

That was a course that you took for college credit?

NS:

Yes. You received college credit for that course, I think maybe three hours. I don't rightly remember. We completed it. Dot Mizel was the girl who was with me—I lost track of her years ago—and we completed it and received our private pilot's license. I can still remember part of the training, the maneuvers we went through and that sort of thing, you know, S turns across a road and figure 8's around the pylon, etc.

EE:

Was there a private airfield nearby that you practiced at?

NS:

Yes. There was an airfield not too far off. We had to hike to it, as I recall, and I think I told you, we hiked through this farmer's turnip field and—

EE:

Snacked on the way.

NS:

—and snacked these turnips on the way. There's an old expression in this part of the country that you just fell off the turnip wagon.

EE:

That's right, the turnip truck. The planes—were they government planes, or what kind of planes were you flying?

NS:

They were Piper Cubs.

EE:

So there was no mention made in this course about military use of your license or anything?

NS:

No.

EE:

And of course, flying was a new thing still.

NS:

Yes.

EE:

That was, I think, what made it exciting.

NS:

I don't remember the time duration involved, and I don't remember the hours. I suppose it was a prescribed thing for a private pilot's license, you know.

EE:

You had to have a certain number of hours in the—

NS:

Certain number of hours—

EE:

Everybody had to solo.

NS:

And I don't remember—yes, everybody had to solo, right.

EE:

Did your parents have to give you permission to take this course? There's a little danger involved, I would think.

NS:

I don't recall they had to sign anything.

EE:

I know, when you go in the services, your folks have to sign if you went in at a certain age. I just wonder what that was like.

NS:

Or I don't remember when I went into the WASPs. Of course, I was older. I don't remember they had to sign anything then.

EE:

Right. You can't remember if there was a minimum age that you had to be to have a pilot's license.

NS:

No, I can't remember.

EE:

That's something I can track down, the report.

NS:

Yes. This is a final report, and it had all kinds of information in it.

EE:

So that was one semester's worth of work for you in Louisiana.

NS:

Right.

EE:

But you didn't have a private plane sitting back at home waiting for you to practice?

NS:

No. So I never flew again until the program.

EE:

Did you ever think you would ever use this again?

NS:

No. No.

EE:

Now you came back, and were you at the Miss Hickey's school when Pearl Harbor happened, or were you already working at the bridge company?

NS:

I was at the American Bridge Company.

EE:

Do you remember anything about Pearl Harbor Day, how you heard about Pearl Harbor?

NS:

Probably from the radio and the newspapers. No, I don't remember.

EE:

So you were working at the bridge company when you read about this Miss Cochran's organizing the—

NS:

Yes. I heard about it somewhere, and I can't tell you where it was from—I don't think there was any communications from the program. I think it had to be initiated by me.

EE:

Did anybody at work know that you had been trained as a pilot?

NS:

No.

EE:

So this was sort of your little secret. You were just writing off for information?

NS:

No. People—I don't talk about it. I still don't talk about it. It happened so long ago, I think—I find it curious that anyone's really that interested in it, you know?

EE:

Well, I think that fact that they were so limited—

NS:

You move on. Yes. Yes.

EE:

Well, see, it was—and especially like it was for you. You just assumed it would be just one semester's worth of work.

NS:

That's right.

EE:

So you write them in—'43, I guess it is, that you write them?

NS:

I wish I could remember the month. I don't remember the month. I know it was 1943 because our class was 43W6, [19]43 women, the sixth class. So I contacted them, and they contacted me then, and I went someplace for an interview, personal interview.

EE:

But at the time, you didn't have to have your parents' permission to do this?

NS:

No.

EE:

This was not an official military—this was not part of the military. This was—

NS:

No. No. It was civilian. We were civil service. I remember that. We were civil service.

EE:

Did you have to take a civil service exam?

NS:

No.

EE:

And where did you go to school for 43W6?

NS:

Sweetwater, Texas.

EE:

How long were you in Sweetwater?

NS:

I don't remember. We had to complete a prescribed course. I know what I was going to say a while ago, when I was talking about that program in college, I remember the flying. I don't remember any ground school. Now, when we were at Sweetwater, we had to have so many hours of ground school, of pilot information, you know, and navigation, and everything wasn't computerized then. You had to figure out. And then we had to have so many hours of flying.

The first thing we flew was the primary trainer, PT-19, Fairchild. Then, if we passed that part of it, we went on to a basic training program, which was a BT-13, a basic trainer plane. In fact, when I was stationed with a ferrying command out on the [west] coast, that was primarily what we ferried, the basic trainer, because it was manufactured out there.

Then we went into an AT-6. That was the advanced training program. We completed those three phases.

EE:

So altogether, you might have been down there three months?

NS:

Oh, I think longer, but I'm not sure.

EE:

Do you remember spending Christmas down there, any holidays, or July Fourth? I'm trying to think of things that might tie in with the time of year.

NS:

I don't remember Christmas down there.

EE:

When you first signed up for this, and it was [unclear], because I think there was a Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service [WAFS] that started out before the WASPs.

NS:

That's right.

EE:

And then Cochran started this one. They sort of blended together in '43.

NS:

Yes. This wasn't the first—this was not the first program, because as I recall, the first flying that women did—I think they flew in England or out of England, but that was a different group. They had a name, too. I think it was “Ninety-niners.” [Many members of the American female pilot organization, the Ninety-Nines, volunteered to serve in the British Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941-1942.]

EE:

Did they tell you the kind of work that you would be doing?

NS:

After graduation?

EE:

Yes.

NS:

Yes. They assigned you to various flying fields.

EE:

So you didn't have a preference, say “I'd like to stay East Coast or West Coast?”

NS:

No.

EE:

Just wherever you were needed?

NS:

That's right.

EE:

I know in the military, you signed for the duration of the war plus six months. What did you sign on for?

NS:

I don't remember. I don't remember signing on to do anything, as far as a time.

EE:

Because it was a civil service [unclear]?

NS:

Yes. I must say, the fact that it was civil service might have made a difference.

EE:

It wasn't a contract for a set amount of time. You could walk out the next day if you said, “I want to do something else.”

NS:

Oh, yes. That's true.

EE:

How did your folks feel about you getting back in an airplane again?

NS:

Well, if there was a great concern, they didn't make a big issue of it. I'm sure they must have been concerned, because being a parent now, I can remember when Sarah started driving a car. It was agony for me, you know? So you can imagine, when the daughter is out flying an airplane—

EE:

[Unclear] foot to the floorboard [unclear].

NS:

That's right.

EE:

Well, now, when you were working before you went into this service, were you living at home then, or were you out—

NS:

Yes. I was commuting from Illinois to St. Louis.

EE:

Okay. So they would have been intimately involved in your decision to join then. You were at Sweetwater, and then you were assigned directly to Long Beach? Is that what happened?

NS:

Yes. Sixth Ferrying Group.

EE:

Did you know a woman named Flo Miller, or Florese?

NS:

No.

EE:

I don't know. What was her maiden name? I'll check and find that. I'll try from memory, because I don't remember. At the time, she was in Long Beach for a while with the Sixth Ferrying Group.

NS:

Where is she now?

EE:

She's not around here. I've read about her. You were in Long Beach, and when you were out there, were you all housed together, all the women who were working in this ferrying group? Did you live in barracks?

NS:

Yes. It was a barracks. Right. Six women to a bay.

EE:

Were you on some military base?

NS:

Yes, but I don't remember what it was. There was a club there, I remember.

EE:

Was it navy? You don't remember if it was [a U.S.] Navy or Marines [facility]. El Toro is near there, but there's—Long Beach is a Naval Air—

NS:

I know.

EE:

Okay. Probably there's a naval air base out there now. You were ferrying, you say, mostly these BTs?

NS:

Basic trainer. Mostly we were ferrying the basic trainer.

EE:

Who manufactured that plane?

NS:

Vultee, I think.

EE:

That was the company's name?

NS:

Yes.

EE:

Were they headquartered in the Southern California area?

NS:

Yes, they were in the area. They called the thing a Vultee Valient—we called it the Vultee Vibrator, the way it shook.

EE:

What would they do? Would you all take a bus over to the plant and then fly the planes back over? How would it work?

NS:

I don't know. We picked them up at the factory. I know that. And we flew them mostly into the Midwest, Oklahoma and Texas, and I had one trip across country to the East Coast. But then, after I had been assigned there, I went to Brownsville, Texas for further training in pursuit aircraft. The fighters were called “pursuits” in those days. And there I was checked out in the P-39, the P-40, the P-47 and P-51.

EE:

These were all solo flights?

NS:

You had to learn all about the aircraft first, and the flight training was from the back of the AT-6. In the AT-6, the pilot—we sat in the front, and the instructor sat in the rear cockpit. In learning to fly the pursuit aircraft, you trained from the back of the AT-6. I remember that. And then you just got in and flew it. There was no dual.

EE:

So how long would they give you for training, though, a couple of days?

NS:

Oh, longer than that. And then the other place I was sent was to St. Joseph, Missouri, and that was for instrument training. So while I was at Long Beach, I was transferred to these two posts because of the training involved. And I mean, instrument training was fascinating to me. It was like solving a puzzle up in the sky, you know? And then, after I completed that training, I had an instrument card. At one time I had zero to unlimited horsepower rating. I could fly anything they were flying.

EE:

How rare was that?

NS:

Well, it was rare for a woman.

EE:

Most of the women who were doing this were about your age?

NS:

I would say so, yes.

EE:

Maybe it's a function of the flying experience. What altitude did you fly?

NS:

Well, we were flying mostly what they called visual contact to the ground. We didn't do a lot of instrument flying. And we didn't do a lot of weather flying, you know, bad weather flying. They didn't have the aids they do now, for one thing, the navigational aids.

EE:

To fly from Long Beach to Enid, Oklahoma [Vance Air Force Base], is that a non-stop flight, or are you stopping along the way?

NS:

We stopped a lot in a place called Midland, Texas. And we would wire back, because I remember there was an R-O-N [Remain Overnight]. That was something on arrival to let them know where you were.

EE:

Sort of kept tabs to make sure you were okay?

NS:

Yes.

EE:

Because you're not in constant radio contact while you're up in the air.

NS:

No.

EE:

You just get from Point A to Point B.

NS:

Right. El Paso, we stopped at El Paso, I remember, because the weather was bad. See, I know what that C-A-V-U meant now, when you asked me about altitude. Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited. You must realize that I haven't been around this flying business for a long time.

EE:

I know. I'm prompting you, but I know it. I can feel the wheels turning, but that's good.

You were ferrying all these different kinds of planes, and I guess what it was was that they would come up with a new batch or a new type of plane, they'd instruct you on it, you'd fly a batch out, then they'd change the kind of—

NS:

Once I was checked out in the pursuit aircraft, I don't remember ferrying any of them. It was just, I suppose, because of where they were made, where they were manufactured. I remember when I completed the instrument training at St. Joe and returned to the base, Long Beach. I was excited because I thought, “Now I'm going to get a DC-3 to ferry.” We called it a C-47 (twin engine). It's also known as the DC-3, and I think it had a naval designation. It was a wonderful aircraft. It's still flying today up in Alaska. I thought, “Oh, I'm going to get a C-47 to ferry.” When I got back to that base, I was the only one of the women who had an L-4 rating. Now, an L-4 is like a Piper Cub. And guess who got it? I had to go to Luke Field in Arizona, I believe that was, and—that was another place we used to stop a lot, was in Arizona around Phoenix, Sky Harbor Field I think it was called. Anyway—and that's where I had to pick up this little Piper Cub. And my first stop was Palm Springs, I believe, for that little airplane. At any rate, I said to them, “I don't think I can make it. On the gas capacity of this aircraft, I don't think I can make Palm Springs.”

They said, “Never mind. We're going to put a five-gallon can in it. You can set it down anywhere. You can set it down anywhere and refuel.” [laughter]

Fortunately, I didn't have to do that, you know? But I remember going into Palm Springs. Gosh, it was so gusty, and of course, we didn't have radio contact, I don't think, on that aircraft. They give you a green light, I believe, when you could land. And they sent two men out to hold the wings while we taxied in.

EE:

Good gracious.

NS:

It was just gusty, gusty, you know?

EE:

How long were you in the air on any one given mission? What was your average?

NS:

You mean the actual flying time?

EE:

Yes.

NS:

I don't remember. Anyway, it was daylight, daylight hours. I did have night—of course, we had night flight training originally.

EE:

As part of your training?

NS:

Yes. That was a little scary, because you were sent up—the air was divided in quadrants, like there were certain altitudes, and there would be four areas where you would be doing night—and this is at night. You would be doing circles, you know, and you just hoped everybody stayed in their quadrant and at their altitude.

EE:

Right. You're going to worry about the other person so you're no problem.

NS:

That's true. You know, flying is—people are a little in awe of it, but I think it's a matter of your coordination, your eyesight, your reflexes. Did you ever read Chuck Yeager's book on his career? You know, he's still living, I think. Flew everything.

EE:

Sure.

NS:

Never had an accident where he was injured, I don't believe, ever. He had an amazing career, and he attributes it to his phenomenal physical abilities, really. It's a little like driving a car. You know, there are good drivers and bad drivers. And I think if you have those reflexes, your eyesight's good—of course, you have to be willing to get up there. [laughs]

EE:

Yes, it's the initial nerve for most people, I think, beyond that.

NS:

But you do things when you're young. There's no fear in you, really, don't you find?

EE:

Yes. And you were what, I guess mid-twenties when you were doing this?

NS:

Yes. I graduated in '39, and I would have been eighteen, and my class was '43. So how many years is that?

EE:

Twenty-three.

NS:

Yes, you're right. It would be about twenty-two or twenty-three.

EE:

The WASP, I guess, disbanded—

NS:

There wasn't a lot of money in it, you know.

EE:

What did you get paid?

NS:

I was trying to think what we got paid, because someone said to me recently—I can't recall who it was or what the conversation was about. I think it was $250 a month. I believe it was the equivalent of a second lieutenant's pay, whatever that was, you know, like $250 a month maybe. And we didn't have any insurance, I know that. There was no insurance involved. Nobody ever gave it a thought.

EE:

I guess December of '44 they disbanded the WASP.

NS:

That's right.

EE:

So you were in it up to the time it was disbanded?

NS:

Yes. When we started flying, we didn't have any uniforms. We wore officer pink, they called them. Remember? No, you wouldn't remember. Officer pink, the trousers were. They weren't exactly designed for women, you know. They were short in the stride. But anyway, we made them fit. But then they finally got around to issuing uniforms. They were blue. I had one, but I don't know what I did with it. I'm not a hanger-oner. I don't even have my wings. [laughter]

EE:

Were you at Long Beach, then, when the service disbanded?

NS:

Yes.

EE:

Before I ask you what happened with that, let me ask you a few questions. It doesn't sound like you were ever afraid of being up in the air or anything to speak of, other than watching your neighbors at that time.

NS:

Right. I was flying copilot in a B-17, and I remember—I don't know what the altitude was, but the prop started throwing ice, and I'd never heard that sound. I had never had that experience. I remember thinking, “Oh, I wish I wasn't up here in this airplane with it doing whatever it's doing.”

EE:

Right. It doesn't sound very good.

NS:

Right. It didn't sound good, but there was no problem. There was no problem, as I recall. We got as far as Salt Lake City in Utah. Salt Lake. Right. We stopped at Salt Lake, and I was recalled. There was a telegram waiting, and I was recalled, and that was to go take instrument training at St. Joseph. So here, this man was left with this B-17 and no copilot. He didn't need it. The only thing I remember was he was very good to fly with me. He said to me, “Nancy, I'm going to let you land this aircraft,” which was a thrill, an absolute thrill. Of course, that was a big airplane then.

EE:

The fellow—he and other folks you worked with, were they also—they were not members of the WASP, but were they enlisted or civilian? What were they?

NS:

They were military. Yes. That was the only trip I had with a gentleman pilot, and he was, too.

EE:

When you would go on these missions, were you—at the factory, I guess—you were dealing with civilians employees at the factory who were training you and telling you about the plane? Then you would take them to the military destinations and drop them off.

NS:

That's right.

EE:

The military post. Okay.

NS:

Then we would take a commercial airline back.

EE:

How did the military folks treat you? I've asked different women, you know. Most of them have had a pretty good experience.

NS:

I guess they were aware of us, but there was not that much association that I recall. I don't recall a lot of association with them. In fact, at that time people were aware of the WACs [Women's Army Corps] and the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] and other women in uniform. We didn't have that uniform to distinguish us, and I can remember being someplace, probably shopping or something like that, and overhearing a conversation between two women, and one was saying, “What do you think she is?”

The other one was saying, “I think, maybe, lady bus driver.”

And I thought, “Well, not too far off, you know? Not too far off.”

EE:

Had you ever thought about joining any of the other services, you know, when they were organizing the WAVES and the WACs?

NS:

No. Never had. There were wonderful advantages, though. My friend Jane Clark, she was a WAC. She went to college on her service—

EE:

You did not get a GI Bill benefit, did you?

NS:

No. After I left the program, I went to—I think it was Kansas City, Missouri, to take training for control tower work.

EE:

Tower training.

NS:

Yes. And from there I was assigned to—I can't think of the name of the field in St. Louis, the commercial field, to work in the tower.

EE:

This was another civilian employee?

NS:

Right. Civilian employee, right. And then I married, and that was the end of my flying.

EE:

What's your husband's name?

NS:

Norman. We call him Sandy. He was not a pilot. He was in communications and electronics in the military.

EE:

And you met him in '45?

NS:

Yes.

EE:

Is that after he was discharged?

NS:

He was in service. He was in service. And I can't remember, it seems to me I had met him before. I had met him when I was in Illinois, before I ever started flying. He was stationed at Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois. Then the flying thing came up, and he went on to Yale, to officer's school, and I went and flew. And we didn't—I guess we must have maintained contact with each other, because it was after the program broke up that we were married. I believe it was '45.

NS:

So you had kept up enough correspondence to let him know what was going on at the time?

NS:

Yes. You know, this is just going to sound absolutely inane when you go to playing this back, really, because it's going to sound like, “Oh, that poor old soul.” [laughter]

EE:

It sounds like to me you've had a busy life.

NS:

Well, I had a busy life because—I'm really as proud of my record with General Electric as I am with my record with the flying.

EE:

Well, tell me a little bit about the record, then, and we'll go back and ask you some questions. After you all got married, you stayed in the St. Louis area? When did you start work with General Electric [GE]?

NS:

When it was time to send Sarah to college and the insurance policy you had taken out when they were babies would have paid one semester, maybe. Sandy was in the military then, so I decided to go back to work, and the only way I could get back to work, because I guess I must have been in my forties then, and the first thing they want to know is, how long has it been since you've done this sort of thing?

So I had to take competitive tests, and I took them with GE, and I took them with civil service. And GE was the first one to make an offer, so I went with GE. Civil service did eventually—you know, the mills of the government grind exceedingly well, but they grind exceedingly slow. At GE, in order to move up, salary-wise and responsibility-wise, you had to change jobs. Say I started in something like shipping, I think. Well, you couldn't end up as the head of shipping. So I went to any number of departments at General Electric. My last job there was administrative assistant to a gentleman who was an absolute genius. I worked with two men at General Electric that I thought were really genius caliber, and then—why did I leave?

EE:

Where were you living at the time, New York?

NS:

Yes, Syracuse. They had a big electronics park there. Now, why did I leave? Sandy was transferred, I believe. Sandy went to work for NASA in Greenbelt, Maryland, not the astronaut program, the one that sends the satellites up. So that's when I left General Electric.

EE:

So when you went to Maryland, did you go—

NS:

No, I didn't. I didn't.

EE:

How long was your husband, then, in the military? How long was his career after the war? How long did they send him up here?

NS:

Well, he had a period when we were in Japan. We were in the army of occupation in Japan and he decided he would get out. So he left the military and went to civil service at Scott Field, still communications and electronics. And then he went back into the military. I don't know anything about time intervals here, but he went back into the military. I guess he had kept a reserve rating or something. Anyway, he went back into the military and then eventually retired, and that's when we came down here.

EE:

Right. And that's been thirty years ago, now, you say?

NS:

Yes. A long time.

EE:

And Sarah's one daughter. Do you have any other children?

NS:

No. She's in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the reason she's in Pennsylvania is because she did graduate work at State College there. After she finished her master's, she went to work for the state, and that was in Harrisburg. You know, I didn't know anything about Pennsylvania, and I always thought of it as coal mines and smoke and big city and whatever. And when we went to State College to take her down, it's beautiful in western Pennsylvania, absolutely beautiful. I can remember seeing this big roadside sign that said, “Isn't Pennsylvania beautiful?” And I said, “Yes. Yes.” [laughter]

EE:

I lived in Philadelphia for a number of years, and we'd go to the center part of the state. It's a completely different view.

NS:

Absolutely. Absolutely beautiful out there, you know?

[Conversation about commemorative quarters and why Maryland is named “The Old Line State” ommitted]

EE:

When you left, you did stay around the airport. You went and got a job in the tower.

NS:

Yes.

EE:

So there must have been something in you that—you weren't happy when they closed down the service, then, I take it.

NS:

No. You know, you were at loose ends then, looking for something to do. We were forgotten people then.

EE:

And nobody was really interested in hiring a woman pilot.

NS:

Oh, no. No, indeed.

EE:

Did you think about it? Did you try?

NS:

No. No. Now, some of the girls—I use the term loosely now—but some of the women did manage to stay in the flying business, crop dusting or doing something like that, I guess.

EE:

Could have been a trainer, I guess.

NS:

Yes. Well, I don't think there would have been any call for a woman trainer. You know, I can remember having a flight out of someplace in Texas, maybe El Paso. It could have been—

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

NS:

They came to us and said, “Would you mind taking this kid? He's trying to get home.” I can't recall where we were going, really. I can't recall exactly where we picked him up. Maybe it was as we were going into Texas. But anyway, the point of the story is, this young man didn't realize he was going to be flying with two women, and I'm telling you, I think he had second thoughts about getting on that airplane, really. [laughs] But it worked out.

EE:

To get women in the military service, they would advertise “Free a man to fight.”

NS:

Yes.

EE:

It really was you were helping to do the ferrying service, because this would have been done by military personnel who had to ferry this.

NS:

That's right.

EE:

But was that clear in your mind? Did you feel that you were making a contribution to the war effort?

NS:

No. I just felt like it was just an adventure, a wonderful adventure to be involved in.

EE:

A lot of beautiful parts of the country, the people you—surely, you know one of the things, when you get involved with a job like that, you meet characters from all over, different backgrounds from you, different experiences.

NS:

That's true. That's true.

EE:

Are there people that stand out in your recollection, individuals that you ran into?

NS:

No. No. There are incidents that stand out. I can remember we used to remain overnight a lot in Midland, Texas. Midland, Texas, was really a little cow town then, but there was a lot of money around Midland, a lot of money, and we stayed at—always stayed at the same hotel. We'd walk into the hotel, and there were pens in the lobby. There were pens with cattle in them. [laughs] Big, steer-type cattle, two or three pens in there with these animals in them. Well, I didn't realize that these animals were strictly blue ribbon—that they had better ancestors than we did. They were blue ribbon animals, and they were on display. Caroline was with me, went up to check in, and she said, “Are those animals going to stay in this hotel?”

He said, “Listen here. We've had stranger things than that in this hotel.”

I said to her, I said, “Well, I hope they walk them occasionally.”

EE:

But you were traveling a lot as a woman on your own in those days. How was that in the general public?

NS:

I don't recall. You know, I've been talking to my WAC friend Jane, and I said, “Do you recall being hit on? I don't ever recall.” You know what I mean?

EE:

Yes. Nowadays you've got these guys for women in business, traveling along here to do certain things.

NS:

Yes. I said to Jane, “Was there something wrong with us?” Because I don't ever recall that kind of an association. As I said, the only time I flew copilot was once with a fellow, and I remember, when we went into Salt Lake we went out to eat, and then we went to a movie, and then we went back to our separate rooms.

EE:

I guess there was not really a WASP social life because you all went in different directions.

NS:

That's true.

EE:

So everybody swam on their own.

NS:

That's right.

EE:

Are you wearing your uniform, once you get it, everywhere you go? Is that your daily dress? You talked about the woman in the store saying, “That must be the lady bus driver.”

NS:

Yes. Well, that was before we had the uniforms. After we had the uniforms, we were pretty much in them. But we didn't—once we went in to either stay overnight or en route to our final destination, we were—yes, we were still in uniform, because I don't remember carrying a lot of clothes with me. I don't remember a lot of after-flight so-called night life. Tired, I guess.

EE:

You were working 8:00 [a.m.] to 5:00 [p.m.]? Well, just whatever it took to get in.

NS:

Yes, whatever it took.

EE:

And then, five days a week? You'd have weekends off? Is that how it worked, or just whenever the shipment probably came in? You probably had to work weekends, too, depending on what came in.

NS:

Because, see, once we got there, we took a plane back to the base. I don't remember having a weekend in strange places.

EE:

What was the hardest thing, do you think, you had to do, either physically or emotionally, during your time in the WASP?

NS:

I don't know. I suppose it was the challenge of the different aircraft, you know, flying the different aircraft. I don't really remember. I remember reading someone saying flying was really hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer panic, but I don't recall that.

EE:

I know they had several accidents down in Sweetwater.

NS:

Yes. I think they lost I don't know how many.

EE:

Did you know anybody who had had an accident?

NS:

No.

EE:

Did you, yourself, ever have an accident while flying?

NS:

The only time I can remember, and it was a minor accident. At Enid, Oklahoma, they had a strange landing-take-off pattern. You landed on the first half of the airstrip, and then they were taking off on the last part of it. And coming in, I had touched down and the wing of my aircraft slightly tipped the wing of another aircraft, I recall, but no accident happened. That's the only thing I remember. I don't remember any accidents.

EE:

Somebody I wrote said that, “The thing we're stressing to most women is, you can get killed but just don't scratch the aircraft.”

NS:

That's true. There's a lot of money there, you know, a lot of money.

EE:

Which, of course, makes your relative importance feel about that big.

NS:

That's right. You know, the WASP organization has had a lot of reunions. They have one every whipstitch.

EE:

Was this how you met Dot?

NS:

No, I remember—she was in my class. I remember her from there. I'm pretty sure she was W-6, too. But being in the same area, she stayed in touch with a number of the girls.

EE:

Did she help lobby to get their military status for them?

NS:

I don't know. I don't know whether she did or not. I think that's—I'm trying to remember when that happened.

EE:

I think it was in the seventies. I can't remember.

NS:

I think it was, '78 or along in there. It was the last year of Carter's administration. I remember that.

EE:

Okay. '79 probably.

NS:

Yes, '79.

EE:

Did that make an impact on you? Did you get to benefit from it?

NS:

Not really, other than recognition—there's no monetary gain from it, and Jane and I belong to the American Legion here, and the commander said to me, “Why don't you go up to Oteen [Veterans Administration Hospital].” I take a high blood pressure pill.

EE:

To get your medicine—

NS:

“To get your medicine up there.” I'd been going down to Fort Jackson in Columbia because it's quite a saving to do that, even though it's a drive—but my friend and I would drive down. We'd make a nice day of it. Anyhow, he said, “Why don't you up to Oteen?” So I went up to Oteen. They said yes. I had to take my 214 [discharge papers] and all of that business, and then you have to give them a financial run-down and you have to get six months of your records from the doctor here. It was involved. I had three trips up there that week. Anyhow, they said, “Yes. You can get your prescriptions here.” And it would cost me like two dollars a prescription, I think, which is probably a mailing charge or something. It was minimal.

At any rate, I thought, “Well, that's better than driving down to Fort Jackson.” But the catch in this—well, it's not a catch for them but it turns out it would be for me—is that they won't accept the doctor's prescriptions written here, my doctor's prescriptions. You have to have one of their doctors prescribe, okay? So I had to see the doctor. She was very nice, but that cost me fifty dollars, and it's not recoverable, because you can't—they don't do Medicare, and I can't do Medicare on it, either. Somehow they look on it as double dipping, I think, or something like that. I don't know why. So I thought, “Well, I don't know that it's that great of an advantage.”

EE:

It may end up being a [unclear].

NS:

See, I'm on a co-payment. If you've been in the military and have some slight disability or a veteran of the military, your benefit would be good, I think, but I'm on what they call a co-payment, which means it's not as beneficial for me. I think—now, I can be buried at Arlington and plan to be. Oh, let's talk about that. [laughter]

EE:

Is there a WASP section reserved for you all?

NS:

No, but my husband's buried at Arlington. So I can be buried—I want to be buried there. It was a wonderful service. I don't want to talk about that, though.

EE:

Were you all living in Maryland at that time?

NS:

No. We were down here, down here. He died in '87.

EE:

So anybody who's buried there, their spouse can be buried there as well?

NS:

Yes. But I think we can have a—I think I can have a designation, maybe, on the tombstone.

EE:

You can put WASP on there, I would think.

NS:

I think they—I think—I'm not sure about that. I'll let Sarah deal with that.

EE:

What was his rank when he left the service?

NS:

Major.

EE:

I guess anybody in the service can request to be buried on—can't they?

NS:

I don't know. I thought I heard the phone ring, is the reason my mind wandered off there. I don't know what the—I know there was not a problem with Sandy. I think they are having a space problem, you know?

EE:

You were in the tower when you married him, and then you—how long did you work in the tower at the airport?

NS:

Not very long. At St. Louis?

EE:

Yes.

NS:

Not very long.

EE:

You just left that work and—

NS:

Got married and that was it.

EE:

—got married and then had Sarah. When did you have Sarah? How long was that?

NS:

'46, about a year later.

NS:

Was Sandy involved in the Korean Conflict?

NS:

Yes. We were over there. He went into Korea, and we were at Johnson Air Force Base out of Tokyo, and he went into Korea. In fact, he made the Inchon Invasion. He went in before the Marines.

At any rate, we were in government housing, of course, and they came out and they dug these slit trenches out in front of the houses. Then they would sound off this siren, and you were supposed to get out there and jump into those slit trenches. Well, I came home then. Sarah and I came on home.

EE:

That was too close for comfort if they were making you do that.

NS:

Yes, too close for comfort. And I can't remember how much longer he was over there before he came back.

EE:

So you guys, after you left the tower job, you were following his moves around?

NS:

Right. Yes.

EE:

And Sarah's out in Harrisburg. When you think back to that time, are there any songs or movies that when you hear them or see them on TV, they take you back to that place and time? Do you all have a special song?

NS:

We had a lot of songs, yes. We had a song book. I don't think I still have it. I don't know. I didn't run across it when I was looking for that report. Yes, we had some special songs. And I think at the reunions and that—if you've attended all those reunions over the years, I'm sure it would keep those memories alive, but inasmuch as I didn't go to any of the reunions, and I just—I don't cling to things like that. I don't cling to college sororities. I don't cling—I don't know. I move on.

EE:

You were stateside the whole time when the war was going on. What did you think of the mood of the country? I have a lot of people tell me it was a very patriotic time.

NS:

Oh, it was. There was no question. That wasn't the question. The question was raised that, for instance, you saw in the Vietnam Conflict—no. It was a very patriotic time.

EE:

Did anybody ever express fear that we might not win the war?

NS:

No, I don't think so. I know my friend here in town, Ed—he was working on the Manhattan Project, which I don't think he'd even realized was the atomic bomb project, you know?

EE:

They were all disconnected, weren't they?

NS:

I remember him saying they told him—the Germans, of course, were working on it, too, I guess. They didn't have the access to the—whatever it took, you know, the product.

EE:

Uranium?

NS:

But they said, “This war is going to depend on the outcome of who gets it first.” But no, there was no question about patriotism then. And I find now that difficult at my age to accept—that attitude is difficult to accept. Now the concern is, let's not put anyone at risk, you know, the government—I know in the Gulf War, let's not put—and I thought, “Well, how strange.”

EE:

To fight a war and not put someone at risk.

NS:

And not put someone—and when you join, particularly if you're not a draftee, if you join, you put your life on the line right there, it seems to me.

EE:

We have never drafted a woman in the military service.

NS:

Yes.

EE:

And yet it was only in '98, five years after the Gulf War or more than that, that we sent a woman into combat for the first time.

NS:

Yes.

EE:

What do you think about that? Are there certain jobs that should be off limits to women in the military?

NS:

No, I don't think so. I don't think so. I think it's difficult for the public to accept that, but I don't think that it should—in fact, they may find the women are the only ones that are going to do those—they haven't had that opportunity [unclear].

EE:

What did you think about the Roosevelts, the president?

NS:

Oh, I thought he was a wonderful president. Of course, the fact that I'm a gut Democrat, you know, makes a difference.

EE:

It may shade you a little bit.

NS:

It shades me a little bit, yes.

EE:

Well, do you have any heroes or heroines when you think about the war?

NS:

No, I really don't. No, I'm not a hero person. I thought Jacqueline Cochran had a fantastically interesting life. She never knew, really, her parents. She came from abject poverty. I know when she married—what was that man's name? He's quite a wealthy person. Names are very difficult for us. At any rate, when she married him—before they were married, she had an agency, I suppose a private detective agency, research her background and come up with her parents' names and history and what have you, but she never looked at it. She gave it to him, and he threw it in the fireplace. He never looked at it either. She absolutely was a self-made woman. She worked in a beauty parlor, and then she developed her own line of cosmetics. Then she flew everything that was flyable, you know. She had some great champions, [General H. or Col. Bruce] Arnold and that senator from—[Barry] Goldwater. She was a very interesting lady, an interesting career.

EE:

Did she come out and talk to you? Was she there at Sweetwater when you were there?

NS:

She was at our graduation. She would come down, you know, to check in, I guess, on the program. And she spoke at our graduation, I remember. A good-looking woman, too. She wasn't a—you know, she was very feminine, [unclear] along with it.

EE:

Who was the person that gave you your orders, told you where to go next? Was that a woman in the WASP or was that some military person, or how did you get your—

NS:

It was a woman. It was a woman. I don't recall what her name was. And at Long Beach, too, there was a woman who determined who was going to be what, I guess. I believe her name was Erickson, Barbara Erickson. It suddenly comes back to me.

EE:

Do you remember where you were on either VE [Victory in Europe] Day or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day? You were out of the WASP. You were working at the tower.

NS:

I don't remember. I don't remember.

EE:

Do you think being a WASP made you more of an independent person than you would have been otherwise?

NS:

No, I don't think so.

EE:

Think you were that way before, during and after. [Laughter]

NS:

I think I was born with a “smart mouth.”

EE:

Well, you know that a lot of folks, and especially the WASP, I think I've been told as much, that when you look back at the history of the last century and the role of women expanding so much, they say, well, if you want to look at role models, you looked at the World War II generation and women like yourself who went off and did— look back to the history of the last century and did what was normally thought of to be a man's job, and they say they started it. Do you feel like a pioneer or a trend-setter?

NS:

No. No, I don't. I know this book that Tom Brokaw wrote, The Greatest Generation, I don't have that feeling about it, you know. Different.

EE:

I have about exhausted all my questions. Let me ask you this. Did Sarah ever have any interest in joining the military?

NS:

No. She had an interest in flying, I think simply because I had done it, you know? And she took ground school and she took flight lessons, and I think she got—well, I don't think she ever took her final—I don't know what happened. She decided she'd had enough of it, I guess. But she's adventuresome. She's a scuba instructor, and she's been into a lot of things: judo and scuba and flying, although that didn't last.

EE:

That's great.

NS:

Yes.

EE:

Well, on behalf of everybody at the school, thank you for doing this today.

[End of interview]