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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nancy Mayes, 2000

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Object ID: WV0169.5.001

Description: Mayes primarily discusses WASP training, working overseas with the Red Cross and Air Force Pacific Command, and her experiences in the Air Force Reserves, GE, and as a WASP veteran.

Summary:

Mayes details her mother’s experiences teaching and being a university housemother and living in Paris, France; the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; her interest in flying; her brother’s death in 1942 as a military pilot; and remembrances of President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Topics related to Mayes' WASP service include a Life magazine feature on the WASPs; interviewing with Leoti Deaton, the WASP Establishment Officer; the number of WASP trainees "washing out"; living in barracks; a typical day of WASP training; a memorable instructor, Lieutenant LaRue; “forced” landings at Avenger Field by male pilots; drill instruction; Texas sandstorms; freeing a man to fight; cross-country flights; instrument training; “zoot suits”; WASP uniforms; various duties of the WASPs, including ferrying, instructing, and target towing; and the WASPs disbanding shortly after she finished training.

Mayes describes her decision to join the American Red Cross (ARC) and her brief stateside orientation; traveling overseas to the Philippines; flying on an air force plane in the Philippines; and working in Red Cross clubs. She discusses her desk duties with the Air Force Pacific Command (PACUSA); her living quarters in Tokyo; climbing Mount Fuji; and her contact with and impressions of Japanese people. Other topics include Mayes' duties in the Air Force Reserves; traveling to Fayetteville for Reserves training; her opinion of women in the military and in combat; WASP deaths during training; being the only woman in her reserve unit; and her involvement the Women Military Pilots Association, Inc. (now Women Military Aviators).

Creator: Nancy Mayes

Biographical Info: Nancy Mayes (b. 1921) served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1944, in the American Red Cross during 1945 and 1946, in the Air Force Reserves from 1948 to 1978, and worked with General Electric from 1947 to 1982.

Collection: Nancy Mayes 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 today is May 23 in the year 2000, and I am in Charlotte, North Carolina, this afternoon at the home of Nancy Mayes.

Ms. Mayes, thank you for agreeing to sit down with us and talk about your service as a WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots] and the Red Cross and in the air force reserves today. And the question that I start with with everybody is the same simple one. If you could just share with us where were you born and where did you grow up?

NM:

I was born and raised in Newberry, South Carolina.

EE:

Is that right about in the middle of the state?

NM:

It's about halfway between Columbia and Spartanburg or Greenville. It's about forty miles north of Columbia.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

NM:

One older brother, and one younger sister.

EE:

What did you folks do for a living?

NM:

Well, they had a florist business for a while, and then my mother worked with the library, one of those Works Projects [Administration] things. I'm not sure what it was called. My father died when I was thirteen. They had a book and variety store when I was a child.

EE:

So you graduated from high school there in Newberry?

NM:

Yes, 1938.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up? Did you like coming to school? Did you like studying and that kind of stuff?

NM:

It was all right.

EE:

Did you know when you were young what you wanted to be when you grew up?

NM:

Not really, I'm sure.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

NM:

Not particularly. I graduated—let's see—third in my class in high school.

EE:

In '38, was South Carolina an eleven-year or twelve-year high school?

NM:

Eleven-year.

EE:

What did you do after you graduated from high school?

NM:

Went to Winthrop [University in Rock Hill, South Carolina].

EE:

Had other folks in your family been to college, or was that a new thing?

NM:

Yes. My mother had taught college. My brother graduated from Emory [University in Atlanta], and my sister graduated from Winthrop in 1943.

EE:

So was your brother in Emory when you started at Winthrop? Were both of you in school at the same time?

NM:

He graduated in '41 from Emory. He went first to The Citadel [in Charleston, South Carolina] for two years and then went on to Emory. He graduated from Emory.

EE:

When you got to Winthrop, was there any particular major that you had?

NM:

I ended up majoring in English and minoring in history.

EE:

That's a good liberal arts background. Did you have any clue what you wanted to do with it?

NM:

Well, not too much. I taught school the first year.

EE:

At high school level?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Do you think your mom might have influenced you to do that because she had done that before?

NM:

Well, it's possible. About that time, she was a housemother at Winthrop in the last couple of years I was there.

EE:

So were you in her house?

NM:

Yes, my senior year. She did this over the years and during World War II. First she went to Winthrop until she was sixty-five and retired. Then she went to Florida State University for two years, and then the University of Maryland for at least two years and then to Meredith [College in Raleigh, North Carolina].

EE:

Gracious. She became a traveler doing that.

NM:

But she was housemother or something at that time. She did teach one class in French while she was at Winthrop, because she had studied French at the Sorbonne [University of Paris] in Paris, and taught at the college level. She finally retired at seventy-five. She went back to Paris and spent a year and stayed with the same—

EE:

Same family she'd stayed with before?

NM:

Same family she'd stayed with before. They had two daughters, and the two daughters were still living.

EE:

But see, that's so unusual. I mean, that's an unusual thing, but in those times, that was very unusual, I would think, for having a person, a woman, who's going around—

NM:

She had been back to Paris the summer after she left Winthrop. This was maybe ten years later she went back and spent a year, did some traveling around.

EE:

When you were at Winthrop, I guess it was either the spring of your sophomore year or the fall of your junior year, Paris falls to the Nazis in 1940. Do you remember thinking about that?

NM:

Yes, we thought about the war. I graduated in '42.

EE:

But most people aren't really concerned about world events in their late teens and early twenties. I'm just wondering if you—

NM:

My brother went into the air force as soon as he could. He graduated in May or June, and he went in the air force at the end of the summer of 1941.

EE:

So in May of '41 he was already in, like before Pearl Harbor?

NM:

Yes. He took pilot training.

EE:

So you all were aware simply because of his commitment.

NM:

Probably.

EE:

Well, do you remember anything particularly about Pearl Harbor day, how you found out about that, where you were?

NM:

Yes. I attended church, and I heard it on the radio when I got back to the college.

EE:

Was Winthrop single-sex then?

NM:

It was then, and we wore uniforms, navy and white and all white.

EE:

What happened on campus that day?

NM:

Nothing in particular.

EE:

Some schools, after Pearl Harbor day, they had things happen on campus, like rolling bandages or knitting sweaters for the cause or whatever. Do you remember anything like that?

NM:

I didn't do anything like that. Some of them may. I don't remember.

EE:

When you finished in '42 and you started teaching, were you teaching in high school there in South Carolina?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Right there in Rock Hill?

NM:

No.

EE:

Okay. And you did that for—

NM:

One year.

EE:

For a year? Up to this time, had you ever thought anything about airplanes, about being a pilot?

NM:

Yes. I was interested because my brother was in the air force.

EE:

So your brother was what got you interested, the fact that he was talking about it. Had he had any training before joining the service?

NM:

Yes. When he was at Emory, he took some pilot training on the side.

EE:

Because I know they were offering pilot training in the late thirties at different colleges. I guess they were looking ahead to the—

NM:

Later, Winthrop was offering ground school, not the pilot training but pre-flight to enlisted cadets billeted at the college.

EE:

Did you take that when you were at Winthrop?

NM:

No. That was the year after I left there.

EE:

And your brother, I've got here, was sent to Africa.

NM:

Yes. To England and then to North Africa.

EE:

And you got the word about him in December.

NM:

He was killed December 17 of '42, when I was teaching.

EE:

So you were not at home at that time.

NM:

No. I was going home for Christmas, but I had to catch the bus and go home.

EE:

Was it that decision that made you decide that you wanted to do something? The WASP, I guess, was the—I don't know when it became public, '43 was when they were getting into conversations? I know that they had the Women's—

NM:

I think they started training in '43.

EE:

They had the ferrying service at WAF [Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron] beforehand.

NM:

Yes. So they weren't called WASP.

EE:

Do you remember reading about the WASP in the Life magazine?

NM:

Yes. I remember that picture of a WASP. I think I still have that copy of the magazine. She was on the cover of Life magazine.

EE:

July of 1943, Life magazine?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Because I was wondering. How did you find out that women were being recruited to be pilots? Was it in the paper? Was it in Life magazine?

NM:

It was pretty well publicized, but I don't know exactly how I found that out.

EE:

Your mom had lost one child to the war. How did she feel about you joining up?

NM:

She didn't try to stop me. In fact, she came out to my graduation on December 7, 1944.

EE:

That's a long way.

NM:

In fact, we went to my brother's graduation when he finished his training. We went out to Texas.

NM:

So he was trained out in Texas as well?

NM:

Yes. He was trained in Texas, three different fields.

EE:

What time of year was it when you first signed up? Was it that spring that you—did you have to write off to Washington? Is that what happened?

NM:

I taught school one year and that summer of 1943 I took flying in Columbia.

EE:

So it was summer when you took flying. If you were a WASP, you had to already know how to fly.

NM:

Yes. Had to have at least your private or your student license. So I took flying that summer. Then, after that, I got a job with TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] map drafting there in Columbia, and I did that until I got released to go in the WASP.

EE:

This is Betty Morton.

NM:

My flying instructor at the municipal airport in Columbia was Betty Morton. She later married a Brown. As soon as I finished, got enough hours, we got on the telephone and called [Jacqueline] Cochran's office at the Pentagon and made an appointment for an interview [to get into the WASP].

EE:

So you both went up together?

NM:

We both got on the train and went up to Washington. My sister was working in Washington at that time so we stayed with them, at her apartment. But anyway, we got on the train and went to Washington, and went out to the Pentagon the next morning, and had our interview, not with Cochran but with Mrs. [Leoti] Deaton. I believe, anyway, someone in the office there. Betty had a whole lot of hours. She was accepted two classes ahead of me, in W-8, and I was accepted in W-10. Then I had to get released from TVA because at that point they had frozen me on the job, because we were drafting military locations like the Columbia Airport. So they froze me on my job. So I had to get released from the job. Otherwise I would have had to wait sixty days, and if I had had to wait sixty days, I wouldn't have been in the class. I didn't know that then, but it would have been too little too late for sure.

EE:

So how long was it that you actually worked with the TVA before you ended up joining? Was it another three months?

NM:

Well, I got released just in time to go, in May. I think I had quit maybe around the 1st of May. I worked for them several months. I don't know exactly how long.

EE:

I guess in '42 they had started the WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps]. In '43 they were starting with the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]. You never really had an interest in joining—

NM:

No.

EE:

—to join the others. It was just that special time because you heard about flying?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Now, when you went into the WASP, the—

NM:

I think it was civil service.

EE:

It was a civil service position. Did they tell you the kinds of work, or did they give you an option on whether you wanted to be West Coast, East Coast, or just pretty much at the service—

NM:

I wasn't worried about that. There was only one training point, and that was Sweetwater, Texas.

EE:

I know there was a ferrying station at Long Beach. Where were you stationed out of, or where would you have—you didn't really even get an assignment out of it, did you?

NM:

No. We weren't concerned about that until we got our wings.

EE:

Right.

NM:

As I said, I went to Goodfellow [Air Force Base, Texas] for two weeks, two or three weeks, I guess.

EE:

You knew Betty. Betty, I guess, by the time that you actually started, had she been through her training and already been assigned and was working?

NM:

No. I think—I'm not sure—I'm not sure whether her class had graduated or whether they were still there. Maybe they had. I'm not sure how long—

EE:

I just wondered if you were in contact with her while you were waiting about what was going on—

NM:

No, not really. No.

EE:

You start in May at Sweetwater. How many women are in your class?

NM:

One hundred twenty-one entered training May 26, 1944, and sixty-eight graduated December 7, 1944. There were only seventeen hundred total WASPs that graduated. Let's see. Where could I find that information?

EE:

When you all were there, you all were housed in the same barracks, I guess.

NM:

We had two flights, and we were housed in barracks, one row and another row, bays they called them. As I stated, sixty-eight graduated in Class of 44-W-10 from the one hundred twenty-one who had entered the class.

EE:

That's a pretty high attrition rate.

NM:

Yes. They didn't have anyplace to wash back to. We got some washbacks from other classes for different reasons. But of course, W-10, they wouldn't have any place to wash back.

EE:

So that's if somebody didn't make the grade on certain—

NM:

Well, I remember one girl, her brother was killed, and she kind of—you know.

EE:

Needed some time away from—

NM:

They let her have a few weeks. So she came back and washed back again into our class. There were a few things like that. I don't remember what the reasons were.

EE:

You were trained in four different—yes, PT-17—

NM:

There's three. PT-17, BT-13 and AT-6.

EE:

Three I mean. Your AT-6 was twice. About how long did the training last in each one of these? Did they put you in a cockpit?

NM:

I want to say six weeks, but I'm not sure. And then we'd have a free weekend in between that we could go off the base. We weren't supposed to go more than one hundred miles.

EE:

So you were pretty well confined to the place. What's a typical day like at WASP training? How early do you get up? Do you drill?

NM:

We got up and went to the mess hall for our meal. Then we either went to the flight line or we went to ground school class. We had physical training each day Monday through Friday and march drill on Saturday morning.

EE:

Well, I just wondered how important drill was. You all were civilian employees, and yet there was heavy military overtones—

NM:

Yes, we did drill, because we had a physical instructor. His name was Lieutenant LaRue. We'd heard this song: “Lieutenant LaRue will win the war. What the heck are we fighting for?” and he gave us physical training.

EE:

Were most of your instructors men or women?

NM:

Most men. We had one woman. They were civilian pilots. Now, the officers at Sweetwater base and Avenger Field were military.

EE:

At Avenger Field, did they have other male—

NM:

Just us. In fact, they got so many “forced” landings by males on weekends that they had to stop them from coming.

EE:

You were too popular is what it amounted to.

NM:

Yes. Right.

EE:

So you were—

NM:

We had a lieutenant colonel who was in charge of the base. Our flight checks were by officers, but our instructors were all civilians.

EE:

But the officers were—you had military [unclear]?

NM:

Yes. And we had some women there. They had women in charge of different things also in the office on the base.

EE:

Do you remember how many hours you had to have had in the air before they would take you?

NM:

How many hours I had to have in the air? I want to say thirty, but I'm not sure about that. We had to at least have a student pilot's license. I'm not sure now. That's been a long time ago.

EE:

Was it like an 8:00 [a.m.] to 5:00 [p.m.] day for you all? Did you have things like KP [kitchen patrol] duty? How regimented were you on keeping up—

NM:

No. We didn't do any KP or anything like that. Let's see. On Saturday we had—well, we had a drill. What do you call it? We had to get out and parade on Saturday.

EE:

March in formation just to practice.

NM:

Right. Saturday morning, and then we were free for Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening and Sunday. We could go into town in Sweetwater.

EE:

Not many folks had cars, I'm sure.

NM:

Well, you could get a bus or something, they had this truck that hauled us around. They called them cattle cars. It had seats down the side. You'd get in the back and sit on the side. Anyway, we could go into town. I don't think anybody had cars. You could go into town and, you know, go to a club there.

EE:

You say they didn't have an officers' club or anything like that on the base?

NM:

No, but we had a club that we could go to in Sweetwater. It was our club Saturday evening. Then Sunday we could go do something else there. We couldn't go out of town, though.

EE:

Did Jacqueline Cochran come down to your graduation?

NM:

She was there.

EE:

I think she came down for most of the graduations.

NM:

I imagine she was there, along with “Hap” [Henry Harley] Arnold.

EE:

When you were in you training class, how difficult did you find the training? You had not had many hours in the air compared to a lot of folks.

NM:

It wasn't too bad. I guess we had good instructors.

EE:

I know another woman I talked to who was down there said the thing that scared her was not her ability but they would take you up and put you in quadrants and worry about whether everybody would stay in their quadrants at nighttime or whether that—you worried about other people.

NM:

We didn't have all that much night flying. You know, that was later on. We did have a solo night flight, but I had to go up to Abilene, [Texas], and back.

EE:

What was the most difficult thing about the training for you?

NM:

I don't know. It was just training.

EE:

You're from this area so you're used to heat, but Texas heat is a little different.

NM:

Well, the sandstorms is what was interesting. You know, we'd have a wind and a little blow would blow up a bunch of dust.

EE:

Were you ever afraid out there?

NM:

I don't think so. I don't tend to be afraid. I might be concerned. [laughter]

EE:

Fair enough. One of the folks that I've talked with, they're doing work that's—they're trained by men and they're not always received cordially by men because a lot of them joined in response to “free a man to fight.” That's really what you all were doing as well because they would have had men ferrying those planes from places—

NM:

That's why they needed us, because the men were needed overseas, and that's why they let us go and deactivated us when the men were coming back. Plus, I think all these civilian pilots organizations probably got up in Congress and, you know, tried to keep the WASP from becoming a branch of the service.

EE:

Well, did you ever have any static or—what was the attitude of men who found out that you were in this outfit? How did they respond to you?

NM:

We didn't have much contact. [laughter]

EE:

You were out there in the middle of no place out there. What about the people in Sweetwater? How did they treat you?

NM:

They treated us real nice.

EE:

It started the twenty-sixth of May. Tell me about this cross-country flight. Was this a solo that you had to do?

NM:

Yes. There were groups of us, but I mean, we were each in our own plane.

EE:

This was sort of like graduation, you had to make your cross-country flight?

NM:

No. It was just part of the training. This was the one thousand mile, and this was the three thousand mile.

EE:

This was the verification that you would—

NM:

That was our orders to go on the flight.

EE:

So you would travel like five or six of you, each with your own plane, and you would kind of go together?

NM:

Yes. See those listed down there? It was that many.

EE:

But that many airplanes going in sort of a convoy across—

NM:

Yes, but usually you didn't see anybody else. You know, we were spaced out.

EE:

[unclear].

NM:

Like I said, we finally ran into weather.

EE:

This is visual flight, isn't it? It's not instrument.

NM:

Yes. There was all of these.

EE:

So I guess you had some navigation training, you could get your pilot license, but I imagine cross-country, this is territory you'd never been before. Had you ever been even outside the state of South Carolina much before joining the service?

NM:

I hadn't been flying, but I'd been in a car.

EE:

Had you been to the West?

NM:

No, I don't think so. Well, okay, we went out to my brother's graduation in Texas.

EE:

That was the one trip out there.

NM:

But I've been to Georgia and Florida and around this general area.

EE:

So how many days would it take you to make this one thousand-mile trip? This is all one—how long would this take?

NM:

It was just overnight, just an overnight—one overnight stop.

EE:

So you would check in at these five points: Sweetwater, Frederick [Oklahoma?] to [Mid?]land and Frederick to Waco. RO [remain overnight?] is when you—that's wiring back that you're there?

NM:

Yes. I don't believe we landed in all those places. I'm not sure. Maybe we did. But anyway, we had the one, you know, overnight stop.

EE:

Maybe RO is where you overnight. Is that what that—

NM:

Yes. Right.

EE:

This basically says that you're given a per diem to go do this. Okay. This is neat. I'd like to have a copy of that, if you don't mind. It's an interesting itinerary. And then you are—here you're going from Sweetwater to New Mexico, Colorado. This is a bigger—this is your three thousand.

NM:

Yes. That's three thousand.

EE:

Right. Well, that's what intrigues me, because flight has changed, the process of flight. Did you get instrument training while you were there?

NM:

Yes. That was the BT-13, was instrument—under the hood. You had an instructor that rode in the back seat, and you were in the front under the hood.

EE:

You had to be sort of your own mechanic, too, if something went wrong?

NM:

No. It had maintenance. We had good ground school, good maintenance. We had simulated under the hood flying at the ground school, too.

EE:

The difference in these planes, is it a degree of sophistication in their instrumentation and the panels in front of you, or as you're learning, what's the biggest transition?

NM:

That's the PT-17. It was an open cockpit. And I don't think I have pictures of the others.

EE:

You're in the front, and the instructor's in the back?

NM:

I'd be in the front and the instructor was in the back when we'd be flying, when he was instructing. I'm sure that's good. And then an instrument—it was a closed cockpit, and I guess I was in the front and he was in the back.

EE:

The zoot suit, is that what you called it, the whole outfit with the parachute that looked like the [unclear].

NM:

Well, the zoot suit was just the oversized uniform. That was just—just these old gray looking things that were passed down from the men and they were too large so we rolled up the sleeves and the legs of the outfit.

EE:

When did you get the uniform? Was it during the time of your training there when they came out with the blue uniform?

NM:

Yes. It was towards the end, and we had it for our graduation. See. You can't see, but before we got uniforms, we wore the khaki—I mean the—

EE:

Trousers with the khaki tops?

NM:

No. White tops with brown, beige slacks.

EE:

Those were brown shoes you got with that.

NM:

I guess so.

EE:

But you have a cap, it looks like here, that's a military-style cap.

NM:

Yes, we had caps. Let's see.

EE:

What altitude did you fly these planes at? This is all visual flight.

NM:

Well, we didn't have to have oxygen so it was under ten thousand.

EE:

You got your wings presented the first week of December by General Arnold. Did you know then that the WASP was scheduled to be disbanded?

NM:

We knew it a month or so before.

EE:

How did that make you feel, that news?

NM:

Well, there wasn't anything we could do about it.

EE:

Did they offer to make some arrangements of where you could go to use your training or try to line you up?

NM:

No. We weren't allowed to do any military flying after the WASP. When the present women pilots came in, that was a brand new thing, the first time we [women] were pilots. I mean, we were never allowed to fly military after we got out of the WASP, after the WASP was disbanded.

EE:

B-17, you flew one of those?

NM:

No, that was my brother's. My niece gave me that for Christmas, a B-17 replica in a 5 inch globe. She couldn't find anything else so she gave me that. That was what my brother flew, was a B-17.

EE:

It's almost like being dressed up for the party with no place to go once you finish this training, then, isn't it?

NM:

We went home. We had our two weeks until the twenty-fourth, we were assigned to bases, different bases.

EE:

That's when you went to—

NM:

I went to Goodfellow Field.

EE:

But after you were deactivated, you came back to South Carolina and then went to Washington? Your sister was living in Washington. Did you go live with her?

NM:

No. She married that fall of 1943 and she was living in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

EE:

Okay. So you came back home. But you had applied to the American Red Cross. What were you thinking? Did you want to just work in a service club?

NM:

Rest and recreation overseas.

EE:

Okay. And you signed up—

NM:

It's called staff assistant, clubs, rest and recreation overseas. We would either go to the Pacific or to the European theatre, and I was sent to the Pacific.

EE:

You had to specifically request to go overseas, didn't you?

NM:

Yes. That was the thing that you applied for when you had your interview.

EE:

I've talked to some folks who went to Washington for a couple weeks training before they did that. Did you?

NM:

We had to go to Washington for two weeks orientation, and they dropped the atomic bombs the second week I was in Washington. And then I was sent to [Fort] Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, for two weeks orientation after the two weeks in Washington. Then we were back in Washington until we were scheduled to go overseas.

EE:

What's the name of the club in Manila, [Philippines]? There was a huge club in Manila. It had a Jai alai court.

NM:

I don't know. McKinley Field is the base there.

EE:

I was trying to think. There's a Red Cross—

NM:

Was this later on? Oh, you mean the Red Cross?

EE:

This was in '45 [unclear] some club. You arrived in Manila in October of '45. I guess you didn't have to zigzag by that time. What did you take, the—

NM:

A merchant marine ship.

EE:

Did you go out of New York?

NM:

Out of California.

EE:

So you took the trains across country.

NM:

Yes. Los Angeles kind of.

EE:

First time on a ship?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Any problems?

NM:

No. I didn't get sick, but a lot of people did. We came pretty near to a serious storm. What do you call them over there, tornadoes or something?

EE:

Typhoons.

NM:

Typhoons. We didn't get to a typhoon. A lot of people got sick, but I stayed up on deck as much as I could in the fresh air. We had bunks, like two different bunks. I think the men probably were in three or four deck bunks. We had two—I think it was just two-decker bunks.

EE:

Most of the time the women have accommodations slightly better than the men. They don't stack them quite as tight together as they do the men.

NM:

Yes. I think that's true.

EE:

You got to Manila in October '45. And then, were you assigned to like a—

NM:

We were there—I've forgotten how long, two or three weeks, and then I was assigned to Leyte [Philippines] with the Red Cross.

EE:

Leyte—was there an air base there?

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Was it a service club you were working at, or what did you—

NM:

We lived at the women's rec[reation] area there, which was a service club on the weekends. Service personnel would come into the club. But I was assigned to Leyte air strip club canteen.

EE:

While you were there, did you ask any of the guys if you could fly their plane?

NM:

I did get a chance to—well, I shouldn't say that. It was against the rules.

EE:

I was going to say. [laughter] But I would think surely the temptation would be too much to do that.

NM:

I got a ride from Leyte over to—I've forgotten where it was now, whether we went to Samar [Philippines] or what other field we went to. I got a ride one Sunday with this officer to another field.

EE:

And you won't disclose—you won't tape who flew?

NM:

I'd better not.

EE:

Okay.

NM:

Because it was illegal. We weren't allowed to fly.

EE:

I can imagine if somebody found out you were in that program, they would want to see what you could do.

NM:

They would be interested in helping you out.

EE:

Good. You were at Leyte and then at Manicani [Island, Philippines]?

NM:

I was sent from Leyte, a little canteen club over to Manicani. We started a big new club at Leyte, and we took large Quonsets and fixed it. Of course, the men did all the work. I'm sure of that. We went to Samar Island and got the cloth streamers, you know, the buntings, and lined the ceiling with those different colored buntings. It really was a nice club by the time we got it all fixed, and there were four of us Red Cross staff assistants assigned there.

Manicani was a ship repair base, dry dock, navy, and it wasn't a very big island. I don't know whether it was more than a mile or two in circumference. But anyway, we got this beautiful new club all fixed up and were there I've forgotten how long, and then they released two of us. They released us from the Red Cross.

EE:

That was spring of '46.

NM:

And they gave us transportation to Manila, and we could have had transportation back to the States if we wanted, but I got the job with the air force, Pacific Air Command [United States Army (PACUSA) headquarters].

EE:

And that job was a—the war was over, so you're not signing up for the duration when that happened. When you signed up with the Red Cross, were you signing up for a certain amount of time like two years or something?

NM:

I don't know because they didn't keep us that long. I guess we just went in.

EE:

Right. The PACUSA job was also just a regular—

NM:

I guess we were civil service there, and it was a desk job. I had to review—all the aircraft accident reports from the Pacific theater came across my desk, and I had to send copies to Winston-Salem, [North Carolina], and other files.

EE:

Of all places.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

Well, I guess Tom Davis' Peabody Airlines was probably doing something—

NM:

That's one of the places they had to go to. That was some kind of headquarters at Winston-Salem.

EE:

So PACUSA, that was working in Tokyo?

NM:

Well, it started in Manila, and then they transferred—this was the headquarters, in Manila, and then they transferred the PACUSA headquarters to Tokyo, and I was working in Tokyo.

EE:

How long did you do that job?

NM:

I stayed until the end of December, towards the end of December. I got back to the States on Christmas Day, back in California.

EE:

Of '46?

NM:

Yes. I requested release. I had an aunt, a favorite aunt, who was critically ill. I came back to see her so I requested a release.

EE:

Let me ask you a few more questions about this time, before you transitioned out, and then I'll go back and cover what you did when you got back, your General Electric work.

Just because you're in Sweetwater, you're sort of off by yourself. There's not much of a social life because you don't have time. Or am I presuming something? Did you all have a social life? Did the women hang out together?

NM:

Not too much. Not too much.

EE:

Okay. When you're with the Red Cross, Red Cross people, are they allowed to fraternize?

NM:

Yes, we could date.

EE:

Now, were Red Cross women treated the same as officers, or was there just the restriction with officers and enlisted?

NM:

No, there wasn't. I'm sure of that.

EE:

I know when you're in the WASP uniform, it's one thing, and everybody treats you okay. When you're in the Red Cross uniform as well, because I think they wore the gray—did you have a gray uniform in the Red Cross?

NM:

Maybe so. I guess so. I'm trying to think what we did wear. A lot of the stuff we took with us for the Red Cross went with us and went into storage in Manila, and we never saw it again because—you know, we didn't need it, but somebody stole most of it.

EE:

You went overseas. Obviously it was a different thing than what you thought you were going to be doing a year or two earlier, but was that experience what you had hoped it would be, seeing overseas? Here you're young, and these new parts of the world—

NM:

I'm not sure I had too many ideas, but it was okay. They got pretty stateside by the time we got to Tokyo. We were billeted in, you know, these areas, big buildings. The one we went in, I think they had women on two floors and men on two floors. But it had a dining room in the basement. We had to get up in the morning and go down to the dining room. We took a bus to the office, which was down—kind of opposite the Imperial Palace. It was down the block from [General Douglas] MacArthur's headquarters.

And then we had—you know, they had like guards at the door when we went in. And then at lunch you had an hour, and you had to take the bus and go back to the billet and have lunch and then come back to the building. It was like an eight-hour day, but I mean back and forth on the bus. They transported us back and forth. And on the weekend, you could get a bicycle and ride all over everywhere.

EE:

Yes. It's nice to have that down time, which you couldn't have had during the war anyway.

What was the hardest thing, either physically or emotionally, for you, either in your time as a WASP or there working for the Red Cross? There wasn't any particular—so you weren't challenged by—well, you're shifting time zones and seasons and tropical conditions, from the dust of Texas to—

NM:

In Tokyo, we got some weekend trips, you know. In fact, we went up to Mt. Fuji and climbed Mt. Fuji one weekend, went to the top, looked down, and came back down. We had to stop on the way up, overnight, because it was a Saturday, and I guess we didn't work on Saturdays. I think we had Saturdays off. At least we had Saturday afternoon. We went up on Saturday and started up the mountain. We had a Japanese guide, and they had these rest stops on the way up the mountain. So we stopped at one and spent the night on pallets on the floor, then went on up the next morning and finished the trip. It was easy coming back down. It was like gravel, you know, like ash. I guess that's volcanic ash. Anyway, you could almost run down. But it took us a while going up, and, of course, the air got a little thin. I guess you were getting up about eight thousand or ten thousand by the time you got to the top, and the air was getting a little thin. And I would say “skoshi, skoshi.” I think that meant “a little bit more,” according to our Japanese guide.

EE:

What were your impressions of the Japanese people when you got there? You had just spent five years at war.

NM:

I didn't have any—maybe it was what did they think of us. We had—the closest contact was with the ladies that did our room. It was a young girl and an older woman, and the old woman invited us out to her house. I didn't go. She invited us out. I was getting ready to leave, myself and a friend. She invited us out for a meal, and apparently the men and women don't eat together, so when my friend went, she ate with the men. The mama-san, as we called her, served and watched. But anyway, they were very—those that worked at the building where we were billeted, they were very nice.

EE:

What did you think of the Roosevelts, both the president [Franklin] and his wife [Eleanor]?

NM:

I thought they were okay.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when President Roosevelt passed away?

NM:

Yes, I was in Charlotte. I don't know whether I went to the movie downtown or what, but anyway, I heard it. And while I was at Winthrop, or maybe it was a year after I was at Winthrop, Eleanor came to a concert there at Winthrop Auditorium.

EE:

She was a different kind of First Lady for those days.

NM:

Yes. I've been reading—I mean, I read a lot of those—you know, that [their son] Elliot Roosevelt wrote all those mysteries. I've read all of those.

EE:

I know she was good friends with the woman who was the dean of students at our school. In fact, she—the dean of students at the Woman's College [Harriet Elliot] was actually a Roosevelt appointee to some consumer protection board during the war for rationing and things like that.

Well, did you ever think of yourself in physical danger at any time in all these travels?

NM:

I don't think so. It was funny. I worked in an office there in Tokyo with a lieutenant colonel. Anyway, he was in charge of the office, and there was a major that worked with us and maybe another secretary. But anyway, the colonel's wife wrote and told him—he was walking back and forth to work—not to walk the same way every day, to vary his route. She was afraid he was in danger.

EE:

Being followed. You never know when you're going to be followed.

NM:

He got a big laugh out of that, because we all felt pretty secure, you know, but his wife was concerned.

EE:

When you—

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

EE:

You came back stateside in December of '46. What did you do after you got home and visited with your aunt?

NM:

I got a job with some company temporarily, and then a friend of mine from the Red Cross invited me to her family summer lodge near Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

NM:

It was a lodge out on the lake. Her mother's family were from Rhinelander. Though my friend and her family lived in Kansas City. Anyway, four or five of us met up there one spring for two or three weeks. So I left—in other words, I retired from the job, my temporary job, I gave it up and went on up there and later that year I picked around for jobs. In fact, I went down to see Mother there where she was at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and I got a job down there with the newspaper. Then I came back to Charlotte for Christmas and decided I didn't want to go back. So I resigned that job—of course, I had not started yet—and got the job with General Electric [GE] in January 1947.

EE:

And what was the work that you were doing with General Electric?

NM:

I stayed with GE for thirty-five years minus two weeks.

EE:

At the same location, or did you move around and transfer—

NM:

I was in Charlotte. Well, we had different offices here in town. I was in Charlotte until the last seven years, and I transferred to Atlanta]. Our office was transferred to Atlanta. I started out in customer service, and somewhere along the way I went into stock control, and somewhere along the way I was in credit collections. This is all in the same office, company. And I ended up finally back in Atlanta in customer service, where I started, you know, the type job I started out in.

EE:

So you retired from Atlanta. Did you come back here after you retired?

NM:

Yes. I kept my house the seven years I was in Atlanta.

EE:

So when did you move back here?

NM:

I retired the first of January of '82—I believe that's right—and I stayed in Atlanta. I had three more months on my lease on an apartment at Cross Creek. So I stayed there three months. I brought one U-Haul load of stuff back here because I had just a one-bedroom, a little dining room and kitchen apartment, nice apartment. But I stayed, and I did some side trips. Then I finally got a U-Haul and towed my car back to Charlotte.

EE:

Well, I'll tell you, if you left in '82, that was probably several lanes of the interstate ago. The last time I was in Atlanta, it's probably [unclear].

NM:

Here I'm in this U-Haul, and I had my car. I had to have it disengaged somehow so I could tow it. But here I am, towing the car, and the U-Haul truck stops on the interstate. So I managed to get to the side of the highway and some trucker stopped and came back to help me, and he was going to get his tow thing and tow me. But in the meantime, I tried again and it started up. But that was my trip from Atlanta to Charlotte, I must have stopped five times, that the truck quit, and each time I thought I was going to have to get some—

EE:

What that does is say, “This is the last move I make. I'm staying.”

NM:

When I got to Charlotte, it stopped one time on the outskirts of Charlotte. So when I got home I had this whole truckload of stuff that I'm hauling, and I have to unpack all of this stuff—but I got in here. I kept stopping and stalling. I got in here. So the next morning, after somebody came and helped me unload, I took it out to the U-Haul station and I told them, “Here. Take it.”

EE:

You don't want to drive it back to where you got it?

NM:

Well, I wasn't supposed to. I was supposed to turn it in, but I had to take my car somewhere to get it started, you know, to get it going.

EE:

Well, you came back, and you—

NM:

But I had kept my house, and I had three timers that went on every night while I was gone. I had a car parked in the driveway that had a good paint job but it had one hundred thousand miles. It was in poor condition. But it was runable, and I had to get it, you know, inspected and the license renewed each year.

EE:

You did not go back to work in aviation when you came back.

NM:

No. We got letters sometime after the air force was formed, you know—

EE:

Forty-eight or whenever that was.

NM:

Whenever that was. We got letters from the air force authorizing us to apply for commissions in the Air Force Reserve, and I did that after I came back from the Red Cross.

EE:

Not that you could sign up for the regular air force, but just saying you could sign up for a commission in the reserves?

NM:

Well, I guess if I wanted to, I guess I could have tried, but I didn't want to. In fact, I didn't think I'd stay in the reserves more than a year or two, but I might as well take advantage of my WASP time.

EE:

Sure.

NM:

So I applied and was a second lieutenant, because we had the least amount of time. So I got my commercial pilot license on the basis of my flying hours. So I got that. But then I kept staying on and staying on in the reserves. I stayed twenty-eight years.

EE:

When did you leave the reserves?

NM:

When they retired me in—

EE:

Eighty-two?

NM:

Seventy-eight I think it was. Well, let's see, twenty-eight—I wrote it down here somewhere.

EE:

I guess they integrated the services in '76. Was there a separate women's air force reserve that you were a part of?

NM:

No. I was in the regular air force reserve. In fact, I was the only woman in our unit at Charlotte at that time. We made it some of the time—well, anyway, I got in the unit. At first we didn't have to wear uniforms, but then they clamped down on that, got to have uniforms. And we didn't get paid. We met every Monday night, two hours, and we had some kind of a program or study program or speaker or whatever, and this gave us points to promotion and retirement. You had to have so many points for a good year to earn promotion and retirement. But we didn't get paid, except when we had to take the two weeks active duty in the summertime. For a while they didn't even require that. We just went to these meetings and got these points. Then later they required that you get two weeks active duty. I went to down to Florida for one of them, and went to Sumter Air Force Base [Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina], a couple times, Myrtle Beach a couple times.

EE:

Did you have to get a time in the air to join the air force reserves?

NM:

They did not allow us to fly.

EE:

But by staying in that long, you made the rank of lieutenant colonel?

NM:

Yes, twenty-eight years. You couldn't stay in any longer. I had to get out unless I could get promoted to colonel. Twenty-eight years was the longest I could stay with lieutenant colonel, and I had to get promoted. And at that time we were competing with active duty personnel for promotions.

EE:

Good thing, because I don't know how many colonels there could be at any one moment.

NM:

Right. So I retired after twenty-eight years. I was ready.

EE:

[Unclear]. [laughter]

NM:

But the last few years—well, okay, we had this squadron in Charlotte, and we were all World War II veterans because nobody coming out of the service wants to come into a non-paying slot. So they'd go with it to get paid. So we were all World War II veterans, and gradually, as they retired or whatever, we reduced down. We would get down to—I can't remember what it was. You couldn't have less than twelve or fifteen, whatever. So we had to look around for other assignments. So I got assigned to Pope Air Force Base and had to commute. And rather than go one day a month, they let me come three days a quarter. This assignment was a payed slot.

EE:

So you could make it a weekend and do that.

NM:

I could go three weekdays a quarter and then my two weeks active duty in the summer. But I had to drive from Charlotte to Pope Air Force Base at Fayetteville, North Carolina. And then after I was transferred to Atlanta, I had to drive from Atlanta to Pope. But I got paid for that.

EE:

Right. Right. When you were doing that kind of work.

When you think back about it, you never really considered an active military career, did you?

NM:

No. A few of my friends did. They went back in active.

EE:

Did any of the women that you went with to WASP training, do you know if any of them went on to be pilots, commercially, as their career?

NM:

I don't think so. Betty, the one that taught me, she would have liked to be a commercial pilot. I think she was working with the public schools in Columbia when she finally died.

EE:

A lot of the folks I talk with, when they talk about the World War II days, they say the big difference is that everybody was patriotic then. Is that your experience?

NM:

Well, I don't know if you'd call it patriotic, but it was 100 percent all-out effort. You know, everybody was 100 percent.

EE:

Did you ever meet anybody who expressed doubt, that we might not win the war?

NM:

No. I don't think so.

EE:

That's a different mentality.

Well, I know you had to feel frustrated that you were cut off there at the end, but do you feel like your presence and your willingness to help there and in the Red Cross was helping in the war effort? Do you feel like you made a contribution?

NM:

I don't know. I hope so. It was interesting to me, a contribution to myself.

EE:

In other words, if you had to do it all over again, you would have done it.

NM:

I'm glad I had the experience.

EE:

Well, having had that experience and having gone in the reserves, if a woman came to you today and asked you should she join the military, what would your recommendation be?

NM:

Well, in the first place, nobody's going to ask me so I don't think I even have to decide. I don't know what I'd say. Vietnam, I thought that was probably an unnecessary war all the time.

EE:

Well, I know some of the veterans I've talked with make a distinction between the women who served then, when it was a necessity, and the women who serve today. They're not all gung-ho about women in the military. And some people think there's certain jobs that should be off limits to women in the military. How do you feel about that?

NM:

I'm happy if they can do whatever they want to do. I met a lot of the women pilots in the later years. In fact, some of them used to come to our WASP meetings, although they were not members. But also they joined—they formed a club called Women Military Pilots, and I was a charter member of that. I've forgotten what year that was. Then they changed the name to Women Military Aviators so they could bring in the other crew members, you know, like the navigators, not just the pilots. But that's still active. I've met a lot of those gals, and they're very capable.

EE:

Well, it wasn't until December of '98—we didn't send a woman into combat until just a couple of years ago for the first time as a pilot. And you don't have any problem with us doing that then?

NM:

No. Not really. I know that when they first started training the women, a relatively new program, I was down at Sumter, and I was in the officers' club. I was having lunch, and this girl came by, and they introduced her. She was going out for the new program. She was, you know, just starting out, had been accepted and was going. So there was one of the first women pilots, after all sevteen hundred of us had completed WASP training in World War II..

EE:

Yes. Well, that's just it. I mean, when people look back for a first and everybody's trying to look who was first, your generation, you all, the woman pilots, certainly you were pioneers. Do you feel like you were pioneers?

NM:

I think we definitely were, and they did an excellent job. They flew everything that was flying, B-29 included.

EE:

Did you ever have an accident while flying for them?

NM:

No.

EE:

I know there were people that were killed at Sweetwater.

NM:

Well, they had thirty-eight that were killed in service from 1942 through 1944. Somebody put this out in recent years. I think about twelve were killed in training before graduation. I'm not sure of the number.

EE:

Well, I know this is—this plaque dedicated December 7 that was in your program, the service for this memorial plaque, when they remembered the women who died during that, this is just the biographies of the women?

NM:

Yes.

NM:

Okay. Well, not just in training. This was—

EE:

All together.

NM:

This was the whole program. One point they made while I was—we didn't have any death benefits or anything. So if anybody died, their family had to get them home, or their people, their friends, had to chip in money to send the body back.

EE:

How do you think your life is different because you had these experiences in the service?

NM:

I don't know whether it is at all. I've been retired for what, eighteen years [unclear].

EE:

You had to have been a little on the independent side to even have the idea to do what you did.

NM:

Yes.

EE:

But do you think it made you maybe more of an independent person than you would have been otherwise?

NM:

I don't know. I was kind of shy. I know I saw somebody at a high school class reunion about ten years ago, and they said I was stuck up when I was in high school. I said, “I wasn't stuck up. I was just shy.” I said, “I've gotten over that.”

EE:

That does get you over it, because you do meet all sorts of personalities when you're in service.

Well, I've about exhausted all the questions that I have here.

NM:

Good. I'm sure you've got a lot of information that you don't want.

EE:

No. The thing is that people's experiences are different, and I think, for some people, even though they're in a short period of time, it's a total change in their outlook. For others, they've just integrated it as part of their life experiences. I think because, in a sense, with the reserves, you hung around the military experience for a long time, and yet it wasn't a dramatic thing for you because you kept part of it in your life. It's just that your experience was—

NM:

No. We had a good unit, our squadron was a good group. But a lot of times I was the only woman there. Every once in a while another one would come in and stay for a year or something. But mostly, I was the only woman in the unit in our reserve squadron in Charlotte.

EE:

What's the most important thing that we should know about the WASPs and the women who did that?

NM:

I don't know. We still have reunions every two years and have good attendance. We alternate meeting in the West, East, or Central United States.

EE:

I think—somebody was telling me—I think my wife, she was telling me that she was not familiar with this project. You think of women in the air, you think of Amelia Earhart, who got the glamour and the newsreel, and yet this was the work of aviation that you all were doing, and you made it something where you didn't have to be a particular gender to do the work of aviation. You put that idea in people's minds. That was transferred, not just in aviation but to all those other areas, too.

NM:

Those gals flew a lot of miles. They flew more than sixty million miles in all aircraft types.

EE:

Did you do that?

NM:

No. I was just training. This is after that. And a lot of them did ferrying, and administrative flying, instructing, test flying, and towing targets for gunnery training by the men.

EE:

Did you—I guess you didn't keep a running log of how many hours, total miles you logged in the air? Do you know how many that would be?

NM:

I have no idea. I haven't done a lot of flying since the war. I flew for a while, but I was busy getting a job, getting to work. My time was pretty well taken up.

EE:

Well, I thank you for sitting down and indulging me today, because I think it's nice to know folks right here in our own back yard who have distinctive experiences of the war. So on behalf of the school, thank you very much.

NM:

Thank you.

[End of Interview]