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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Davetter Butler Shepard, 2000

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Object ID: WV0172.5.001

Description: Interview primarily documents Davetter Butler Shepard’s service in the WAAC [Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps] and the WAC [Women’s Army Corps], during WWII, as well as her life after her service.

Summary:

Shepard briefly describes her childhood and education in rural North Carolina, her family's farm, and their poverty. She then recalls hearing about the WAAC from her older brothers; joining the service for the salary; her community’s negative reaction to her enlistment; and the train ride to basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Of her basic training, she discusses her instructors, marching, losing weight, kitchen patrol, the food, and the difficult adjustment from rural life to military life. She shares her reasons for staying in the WAC, even though she disliked the service. Other topics include her job responsibilities and leisure activities at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky; discrimination in the army; never receiving promotions; and gaining discipline and independence.

Post-service topics include segregation in Washington, D.C.; working in civil service; attending Fayetteville State University after retirement; her family life; volunteer work with her church; and her admiration of Maya Angelou.

Creator: Davetter Butler Shepard

Biographical Info: Davetter Butler Shepard (1921-2002) of Sampson County, North Carolina, served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1943 to 1945. After completing her service, she had a long career as a civil servant.

Collection: Davetter Shepard 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:

HERMANN TROJANOWSKI:

December the 9, the year 2000. My name is Herman Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Mrs. Davetter Shepard in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I'm here to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Mrs. Shepard, if you'll tell me your maiden name, we'll use this as a test just to make sure this tape recorder is functioning properly today.

Davetter SHEPARD:

Yes. My name is Davetter Butler. That was my maiden name.

[Tape recorder turned off]

HT:

Mrs. Shepard, if you could tell me a few things about your background, about your family and that sort of thing. Where were you born?

DS:

Sampson County [North Carolina].

HT:

Do you mind telling me when?

DS:

October 20, 1921.

HT:

Where did you live before you enlisted in the army?

DS:

That's where I lived.

HT:

In Sampson County.

DS:

Sampson County.

HT:

Can you tell me a little about your family, what did your parents do for a living and that sort of thing?

DS:

The only thing I can tell you: we were just poor, dirt poor black people.

HT:

Did your parents farm?

DS:

Yes. They were farmers.

HT:

What type of crops did you grow on the farm?

DS:

We had tobacco, cotton, corn, soy beans. That's the kind of stuff that we grew.

HT:

How many other brothers and sisters did you have?

DS:

I had four brothers and one sister. There was six of us.

HT:

Were you the oldest or youngest or in the middle?

DS:

I was the third child.

HT:

Did any of your other brothers and sisters go into the military during World War II?

DS:

I had three brothers to go into the service and nobody else—and me. Three brothers and me—and myself. That's not great [unclear], is it? [laughter]

HT:

What was the name of the school that you attended, do you recall?

DS:

Are you talking about high school or elementary school?

HT:

Yes, ma'am. Either one or both.

DS:

Well, I went to Eldridge School, a little school right by my house, where I was living. Then, for high school, I went three years to Sampson County Training School, and that last year, I went to Roseboro Colored High School.

HT:

I don't know where Sampson County is. Where is that?

DS:

It's down east. It's going east from here.

HT:

Is there a town close by?

DS:

Clinton.

HT:

Okay. I know where Clinton is. What type of work did you do after you graduated from high school?

DS:

Nothing. I worked on that farm. I was still there so I had to work on the farm.

HT:

Did you enjoy working on the farm?

DS:

No.

HT:

Because I grew up on a farm, and I enjoyed it.

DS:

No, I didn't.

HT:

Was that one of the reasons you decided to go into the military, to get away from farming?

DS:

Yes, that was one of the reasons, but most of all because the military would pay me fifty dollars a month, and I wasn't making anything.

HT:

So that was the main reason you joined, was because you made money. Do you recall when you joined, which year and month and date and that sort of thing?

DS:

Nineteen forty-three in April. I should say it was February because I went—they took me, and I went on duty in April.

HT:

Yes, but you probably signed papers with it earlier than that.

DS:

Yes, in February.

HT:

And you say the main reason you recall joining was because of the pay.

DS:

Yes, the pay.

HT:

Do you recall seeing any posters in your community saying people should join and that sort of thing?

DS:

No.

HT:

How did you hear about the WAAC [Women's Auxiliary Army Corps]?

DS:

My brothers. My two brothers was older than me. They were—I can't think of words now. They were inducted into the army. At that time, they were calling them up. So when they were called up and they would send money home to my mother, then there was a little letter inside about women joining the army. So I decided I'd do that. If I could get fifty dollars a month, I'd join, too.

HT:

What did your parents think about your joining?

DS:

My father was really—he said, “That's what you should do.” My mother wasn't too enthused about it, but my father was. So she went along with whatever he said.

HT:

Did your parents have to sign papers giving their permission that you could join?

DS:

No. I was twenty-one then.

HT:

You were twenty-one by that time.

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever hear of the phrase that was used commonly in those days, women could join to free men for combat? Did you ever hear that?

DS:

No.

HT:

You told me that your family more or less agreed that it was all right to join. What about your friends and neighbors and other people in the community? What did they think about—

DS:

They talked very ugly to me about it.

HT:

Really?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

What did they say?

DS:

Like, “You're going into the army. You'll be a prostitute for the men.”

HT:

Did they really say things like that?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

That's horrible. And what was your answer to them?

DS:

My father would say things like this: “Well, there's a lot of people out here now who are prostituting and they're not getting paid, but if she goes in and gets paid, ain't nothing wrong with that.” [laughs]

HT:

Do you recall what people in general thought about women who joined the army? Was it good or bad?

DS:

Bad.

HT:

Do you recall where you enlisted?

DS:

Fort Bragg.

HT:

Do you recall what type of physical test or written test you had to take?

DS:

I don't remember, but I know it was a real rigid physical test, inasmuch as I had never had one before. [laughs] So I just thought it was awful.

HT:

But you didn't change your mind.

DS:

No. That big fifty was up there in front of my eyes.

HT:

So you enlisted at Fort Bragg, and where did you do your basic training?

DS:

Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit about the type of training you went through?

DS:

I guess it was kind of rigorous and hard to me because I didn't know anything about that type of training. I didn't know anything about training.

HT:

Was this your first time you'd been away from home?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

And how did that make you feel?

DS:

I was lost.

HT:

Because Fort Des Moines is quite a ways from Sampson County, North Carolina.

DS:

I was completely lost.

HT:

I assume you took a train out.

DS:

I can do what?

HT:

I assume that you took a train from North Carolina.

DS:

Yes. Yes.

HT:

How did that make you feel, being on a train?

DS:

Just lost. Just lost.

HT:

Were there other women who were joining?

DS:

There were other women but not from my area. I think about, now, how lost I was and that I didn't know anything, when I think about it now. When I left home in April in 1945—no, 1943—I did not know anything. I didn't know anything. I'd never gone anyplace. So you say, “What do you know?” Nothing. You can't imagine that, can you?

HT:

It's difficult to imagine. But it took a lot of bravery to do that, when you think about it, it really did.

DS:

It only took that fifty dollars a month. [laughter] That's how much it took, fifty dollars a month.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit about what you recall about your first day at basic training? What was that like? What did they have you ladies do?

DS:

It was so new, and it was things that I had never done before. I didn't know which way to go. I'll tell you all over, I didn't know anything.

I remember I caught the train in Fayetteville, and I went to Florence, South Carolina. From there, we changed trains in Florence and went to Atlanta, Georgia. So that meant that I rode all night. Then I had to change trains again in Atlanta. From there, I went to Chicago.

I was just sitting on trains looking out the window, going through all these mountains. They were high on one side and low, looking down here. I was scared to death but not afraid enough to say, “I think I'll go back home.” No. I didn't want to go home.

What was a big, big excitement for me, I had to eat in the dining car. Can you imagine somebody who had never eaten with anything but a spoon sitting in a dining car with a fork and putting these peas on, and they roll off? I didn't know a thing in the world about it.

So what I'd do, I would just sit in the dining car as long as everybody else was sitting there, and then I'd get up and go back to the coach I'd been in before. The man would come by, and he'd be selling sandwiches. So I'd buy sandwiches to eat instead of trying to eat in the dining car.

HT:

How long did the train trip take from your home out to Fort Des Moines?

DS:

Let's see. I rode to Florence, South Carolina, and from there to Atlanta. I got in there the next day. It was afternoon. And the next morning, I was into Atlanta. Then I got—I don't remember what the time of waiting was, but anyway, I got into Chicago the next day in mid-afternoon. I missed my train there going to Des Moines. So we had to lay over and get a train that afternoon to Des Moines, and I got out to Des Moines, I guess, about midnight.

HT:

So it sounds like it took two or three days all total.

DS:

It was two days.

HT:

That was quite a trip. It really was.

DS:

Yes, never leaving home before.

HT:

Now, you were with other women who were joining at this time? You were not—

DS:

I didn't know them.

HT:

But they were on the same train, though, with you.

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Did you make any friends with any of the other women?

DS:

No. I didn't know what to say. [laughter]

HT:

Oh, God. Well, when you first got to Des Moines, what were some of the things they had you do, do you recall?

DS:

I must have got into Des Moines, let's say, midnight, so they put us to bed. “All right. This is your bed.” And all of a sudden, they—and me, of all people, they put me on a top bunk. You know I didn't like that. Anyway, I crawled up there thinking that anytime during the night I might turn over and fall out. But anyway, I didn't.

When I got up the next morning, they came in there blowing a whistle at, let's say, five o'clock or five-thirty, talking about everybody fall out. I said, “Shit, I just got here. What are they talking about fall out?” [laughs] But anyway, I got up.

I was following orders. Whatever they said do, I was doing, but I didn't like that part. Right then, I didn't like it.

HT:

Basic training, I think, usually lasts about six weeks. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the things you did during your six weeks—studying, marching, or classrooms?

DS:

Marching. Marching. Taking PT [physical training]. I just did what everybody else did. If they'd say, “March,” I would march. If they'd say, “Take PT,” I'd do that.” I had no idea of what it was doing to me, but it did a lot for me.

HT:

Do you recall anything specific about the instructors, your teachers at that time? What were they like?

DS:

Just hollering, how they can just holler.

HT:

Now, these were women.

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Did you have any men instructors at all?

DS:

No. To me, they weren't ladylike at all. They would just holler and cuss you out. [laughs] I wasn't used to that.

HT:

Did you ever have to do KP [kitchen patrol]?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

What was that like?

DS:

To me it was pretty hard. There was too much to be done in that short of period of time, but I was learning how to be a WAC [Women's Army Corps]. It was awful.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

HT:

I think we were talking about KP before the phone rang, is that right?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

And you were talking about a story that you recall from a time you had to do KP.

DS:

I didn't like KP because I didn't like washing dishes when I was home, but inasmuch as I was in the army, I was supposed to be following orders. So I would just follow orders. That's what I did, it was KP, but I didn't like it.

In fact, I didn't like the WAC. I didn't like it. But that big fifty was sitting up in front of me all the time. I had never had a job that I made fifty dollars a month on.

We worked on that farm; my father put the money in his pocket. We had to go work some other place if we got any money. I just thought he was mean [unclear], but he loved me though.

HT:

Did you send some of the money home every month—

DS:

Of course.

HT:

—to help the rest of the family?

DS:

Fifty dollars was too much for me to spend. That's what my dad said. [unclear] ought to send some home.

HT:

What about your brothers? Did they send some money home as well?

DS:

They sent some money home, too. We had a little farm, and we were trying to pay for that. The money that my mother and father got from my brothers and me, that would help out on the farm or buy food for them.

Because, see, we didn't live on nobody else's farm. We had our own. It was little, but it was ours. In that day, it was hard to have a family and six children. So these three that was out would have to send back to help the other children.

HT:

How many acres was the farm, do you—

DS:

Forty acres.

HT:

Was the land fertile?

DS:

No, sandy. It didn't make much.

HT:

Well, I guess we'll go back to your KP days and your army days. [laughter] What was the food like?

DS:

I thought they had good food. It was better than food at home, because, see, my parents, they would have the same thing all the time. But in the army, they would change the menu around.

That was important to me. I wasn't having peas and beans every meal. So that was one good thing about it. I was taught how to—you do change a menu.

HT:

And what about the uniform? What did you think about it?

DS:

It was all right because of the fact that everybody wore the same thing. It wasn't a matter of this person's looking better than me.

HT:

I have talked to other ladies who said they were issued uniforms that didn't fit very well. Do you recall how yours fit you?

DS:

I thought mine fitted me really nice. After I got out there and started doing exercises and eating like they say eat, I lost weight, and I thought I looked nice in my uniform.

HT:

Do you recall how many pounds you lost?

DS:

No.

HT:

Was that from all the exercise?

DS:

Yes, from exercise.

HT:

Because I remember, when I was in the air force, we had to exercise every day. You probably did, too.

DS:

Yes, I did.

HT:

And all that marching. Everywhere you went, you marched.

DS:

That's right.

HT:

That'll take the pounds off you. I think I lost about twenty pounds.

After you finished basic training, where were you assigned? What was the first base that you were assigned to?

DS:

Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky.

HT:

What type of base was this?

DS:

I don't know. I can't remember now.

HT:

What type of work were you assigned to do?

DS:

Any little old job that nobody else wanted to do, but I was supposed to be with the quartermaster.

HT:

Were there many other WACs on this particular base?

DS:

Yes, because in my company there must have been, maybe, we'll say two hundred. Then they had a white company, and there must have been about two hundred in that group. That's when the army was segregated.

HT:

Tell me about some of the type of work that you did at Camp Breckinridge.

DS:

Let's see. What did I do? We'd go to the motor pool every day, and we would get there, they'd say, “Well, they need a truck over here, so you drive over there, and you do whatever they ask you to do.” That was quartermasters. They run you around from place to place, and you do whatever they say do.

HT:

Did you drive a truck, or were you driven by someone else?

DS:

I would drive a truck.

HT:

You had learned to drive the truck in the army, or had you learned to drive when you were at home?

DS:

In the army.

HT:

Were these big trucks?

DS:

What they call a deuce and a half.

HT:

I've forgotten how big that is. It's not as big as an eighteen wheeler. It's sort of a—I'd call it maybe like a city truck, maybe.

DS:

Yes. We'd just kind of drive around post. Somebody would need something moved, and you would go that place. They'd put it on the truck, and somebody would get on the truck with you, and they'd tell you where to go. You would just take it there and let them take it off.

HT:

So were you part of the motor pool under the quartermaster, sort of?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

How long did you do this at Camp Breckinridge?

DS:

About a year and a half. By that time, then they were breaking the army down and we were getting ready to get out. Then I was sent to Fort Knox.

HT:

What was Camp Breckinridge like? Was there a town nearby?

DS:

Morganfield, Kentucky.

HT:

Morganfield?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

I've never heard of that.

DS:

It was a little old town.

HT:

So you worked in the motor pool for about a year and a half at Camp Breckinridge, right?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

What did you do during your off-duty hours?

DS:

There was nothing to do. Go to the movie.

HT:

What about dances and that sort of thing?

DS:

I came from the country. I didn't know how to dance.

HT:

Do you recall the name of the unit that you were with at that time at Camp Breckinridge, the specific name of the unit?

DS:

No.

HT:

Well, did you enjoy driving a truck and being in the army?

DS:

No. I didn't like that either. You say, “Well, why didn't you get out?” [laughter]

HT:

Well, why didn't you get out?

DS:

I don't know. I was just trying to stay to make that fifty dollars a month because there was somebody back home was depending on me, and I felt it was like I had let them down.

HT:

Do think you were treated equally, being a woman and being black?

DS:

No. Of course not.

HT:

Did people give you a hard time because you were a woman and because you were black? Do you recall any specific incidents?

DS:

I was brought up where that we didn't even talk about who is what. So whatever was handed to me, I just took it. These youngsters coming along now, they wouldn't do that.

HT:

No. Times have changed in the last sixty years. Well, did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination?

DS:

Every day you get up and open your eyes. I didn't even know what it was. I didn't know what discrimination was.

HT:

I assume you grew up in a black community in Sampson County.

DS:

Right.

HT:

But once you got out into areas like Fort [sic] Breckinridge and things like that, how did that affect you, seeing that people were treated different because of the color of their skin and that sort of thing?

DS:

I don't know. You didn't say anything about it. In fact, you didn't let it dwell in your mind that this was happening, and you didn't think along that, “Well, I'm black. I'm supposed to get treated this way.”

HT:

Do you recall any specific incidents that stand out in your mind?

DS:

Not really, because I wouldn't let it come into my mind that they're treating me different because I'm black.

HT:

Now, the officers that you had, were they black women or were they white women?

DS:

Black women.

HT:

How did they treat you and the other enlisted people?

DS:

I guess I thought we were all being treated about the same.

HT:

Do you recall what was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

DS:

No.

HT:

Other women have mentioned it was very difficult for them to do PT in basic training, the chin-ups and that sort of thing.

DS:

I enjoyed that, especially when you can see that by doing that you were slimming down. You looked at the end result, what it was like, and so you would enjoy it.

HT:

What about emotionally? What was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally?

DS:

Going to a parade when I didn't want to go. [laughter]

HT:

But you went, right?

DS:

But I went.

HT:

I did not enjoy parades, either. Do you ever recall being afraid?

DS:

While I was in the army?

HT:

Yes.

DS:

Not really. I didn't know anything about danger and what it was like to be afraid of anything. If they told me to get up and do it, I would get up and do it.

HT:

Did you have any kind of special training, like with guns and that sort of thing?

DS:

No. I didn't have no training in that area.

HT:

Do you recall any hilarious or embarrassing moments that happened to you personally, or perhaps one of your friends?

DS:

I guess the thing that was worst for me was I like to think about that. When I think about moments that I didn't particularly like that happened to me, I always count it as good for me, and if I accept this, it might turn out to be something good. So I can't think of anything that really upset me.

HT:

What did you and your friends do in your off-duty hours? You mentioned that you went to movies and that sort of thing. Did you ever go into town?

DS:

Sometimes we would go into Morganfield. They have an old USO [United Service Organizations] club there, and we would go into Morganfield. I remember, it's just been, let's say, ten years ago that I saw a little run of some pictures that happened at Morganfield, Kentucky, and I saw myself on that, which I was really excited about. I tried to get the run, the reel, but I never could get it.

HT:

Did you see something on TV?

DS:

Yes. I believe it was on that CNN [Cable News Network]. Anyway, I wrote for it, but I never did get it. They didn't know what I was talking about. But anyway, we had gone to Morganfield that Saturday night, and they had these people there taking pictures of the people in uniform. That was the only time I ever remember seeing it. Then when I wrote to them about it, they didn't seem to know what I was talking about.

HT:

I understand that you could not leave the post in civilian clothes, is that correct? You had to wear a uniform at all times?

DS:

All the time you wear your uniform.

HT:

Did you make some good friends when you were in the military?

DS:

I can't remember any of them now. No, not any of those that I was with out there. I wasn't a very friendly person. I'd just kind of sit and listen, because I just thought that everybody knew more than did so they don't want to hear what I have to say.

HT:

Do you recall what some of your favorite songs and dances were from those days?

DS:

No.

HT:

You say you did go to quite a few movies. What about some of the movies in those days? Do you recall who your favorite movie stars were and what type of movies you enjoyed in particular?

DS:

I just enjoyed looking at the picture. Who it is didn't matter. Who it is—who it was didn't matter. [laughter] I just didn't—it was a time in my life when I was just beginning to learn a few things. When I see youngsters now who are sitting around and don't know anything and haven't been anyplace, they haven't done anything, that's me all over again. But I learned a lot since then.

HT:

Sounds like the military sort of opened some doors for you.

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Gave you a different outlook on life.

DS:

Completely. Completely.

HT:

Now, you were in from 1943. When did you get out?

DS:

Nineteen forty-five.

HT:

Do you recall which date?

DS:

It was March of 1945. I don't remember the date right now.

HT:

So you got out of the service before VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, because that happened a couple of months later.

DS:

Yes. They were letting us out then. If you wanted to get out, you could get out.

HT:

You were both in the WAAC and the WAC, both of them?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Now, I have read that when there was a changeover, I think sometime in '43, you could leave or remain, but you chose to remain in.

DS:

I didn't have nothing else good I was going to.

HT:

Did you want to go places other than Fort Breckinridge in Kentucky? Did you have a choice when you were transferred from one place to another?

DS:

No. They'd just send you wherever they thought you were needed.

HT:

And what type of work did you do at Fort Knox?

DS:

The same kind, working at the post motor pool and quartermaster.

HT:

Other than drive trucks, did you do any work with the engines or anything like that?

DS:

No.

HT:

So you just drove trucks. I talked to one lady who worked for the motor pool, and I think she actually worked with the engines and that sort of thing.

DS:

No. I didn't work with the engines. I'd probably think I'd get my hands greasy. [laughter]

HT:

You say you got out of the service in March of 1945. What did you do after that?

DS:

I went to Washington, D.C., and I got a job there working for the Veterans Administration.

HT:

What type of work did you do for the Veterans Administration?

DS:

I was a clerk, they said. I still didn't learn a whole lot when I was in the army, but I learned some things. I got a job as a clerk.

HT:

Do you recall what your rank was when you were discharged from the army?

DS:

Private. That was the one thing I didn't like about it because there was—I didn't see no promotion for me. I knew I was learning something, but it wasn't enough to get a promotion.

HT:

So you were in Washington, D.C. after March of 1945. Were you there during VE Day?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

How about VJ Day?

DS:

I was in Washington from 1945 to 1952.

HT:

What was Washington like in those days, do you recall? What type of city was it [unclear]?

DS:

Just a segregated town. That's when I learned that—I learned that I was black. [laughs] I think before that time, I didn't even know that I was black. I was just black. But when I went to Washington and I saw how things were there, I knew then that I was black and you're only going to go so far.

HT:

Because of the color of your skin.

DS:

That's right.

HT:

Did you enjoy your work with the Veterans Administration?

DS:

No. But it was a pretty good job. That's when you could go in as a GS2 at—what was I making; $1,440 a month.

HT:

Was that $1,440 a month?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

That's quite a bit more than fifty dollars a month in the army.

DS:

Yes, even though I had to buy my food and buy my clothes and all that, but it's more than fifty.

HT:

And did you still send some of that money home to the rest of the family?

DS:

Yes. You still had to send some home.

HT:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

DS:

No. No, no.

HT:

You gave it no thought whatsoever?

DS:

No.

HT:

What kind of impact do you think being in the military had on your life immediately after you got out and in the long term?

DS:

It had a big impact on my life because I feel like everything that I have become, it started back there in the military. That was something to build on. It made you want to do more, be more, and you never stop. You never, never reach the end. You just want to keep on going. Even as old as I am now, I still feel as though that if I was well, I would still want to do things.

HT:

And that's something you learned in the military.

DS:

I learned it.

HT:

Yes.

DS:

And I didn't realize that I had learned so much in the military or that the military had taught me so much up until these days came along where you could do this if you could do this. If you went to the military from Sampson County to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and then back down to Breckinridge, Kentucky, and from there to Fort Knox, you can do anything else you want to do.

HT:

It gave you some confidence, it sounds like.

DS:

Yes, it did.

HT:

So it sounds like your life has been different because you were in the military.

DS:

Yes, I say that. A lot of times I meet young people now, and they start talking about what they'd like to do, and I say, “Well, you ought to go into the military,” because in the first place about it, that's one place you can go and you can't do what you want to do. Somebody will tell you what to do and when to go to bed and when to get up and when to go and when to come. So you'll learn that, and you need to learn that if you're going to do anything in life. You can't just do everything you want to do and leave it at that.

HT:

I think you mentioned that you worked for the Veterans Administration from 1945 to 1952, is that correct?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

And after 1952, what type of what work did you do and for whom did you work?

DS:

I moved back to Fayetteville, and I started working for the Department of the Army at Fort Bragg.

HT:

What type of work did you do there?

DS:

My first twelve years, I worked for—where did I work? I know I worked at the hospital. I worked at the hospital from 1952 to 1961. I can't think of the place that I worked.

Anyway, it had to do with sterilization. We sterilized everything that the people used in the hospital. I can't think of the name right now. That was twelve years that I worked there.

HT:

So you worked with the civil service at that time, right?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

How long did you stay in the civil service?

DS:

All of my time. I had thirty-three years. When I retired in '76, I had thirty-three years in civil service. That was army and civil service.

HT:

So more than likely, if you had not joined the army, you would not have gone on to work in civil service.

DS:

No, I wouldn't.

HT:

You probably would have remained on the farm.

DS:

Don't say that. [laughter]

HT:

Did you enjoy working for the civil service?

DS:

Sometimes.

HT:

If you had it to do over again, would you join the military?

DS:

I might would, because looking back to see what the military did for me, I might. I'm not sorry that I went that way, but I just—I don't know whether I would have went in the military or whether I'd have gone to college first.

HT:

Did you ever go on to college using the GI Bill or anything like that?

DS:

I went to college after I retired from civil service.

HT:

That's outstanding. What type of field did you study?

DS:

Psychology.

HT:

And where did you go to school?

DS:

Fayetteville State [University].

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

DS:

I don't know why. Well, one thing about it, my sister was an educator. She had her PhD. So I used to tell her all the time, I said, “You were educated, but you don't know nothing. Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?”

She said, “Well, above all things, I want you to go to school and see how much will you know when you finish.” So one year, she bought me this real nice leather book bag. She said, “Now take this, and I want you to put books in it and go to Fayetteville State. There's no reason for you not to go, because you can drive to Fayetteville State and back home every day.”

So she talked so ugly to me about me talking about her until I decided, I said, “Well, I'm going to go. She thinks I can't go and thinks I won't learn nothing.” But I did very well. So I started in 1978, and I finished in 1982. So that gave me four years. My overall—what do you call it, your overall—that's something. Anyway, my overall average—

HT:

Grade point average?

DS:

Yes. My grade point average was 4.20, and my average in psychology was 3.47. Of course, I majored in psychology and minored in sociology. People have always been my thing. I want to know what people are thinking, and I just thought that was two that would go together that I would like.

HT:

After you graduated, did you go into social work?

DS:

Not any of it. I didn't. [laughs] I decided I just wanted a degree, and I wanted to be able to kind of read people, and I think that I've done very well in that.

But my biggest problem—not my biggest problem, but what I wanted more than anything else, I wanted to work with people in the religious side. I've always believed that if you depend on your religion—not your religion but Christianity after Christ—that you could do a lot with your life, but if you don't, I don't know about you. Education don't do a whole lot of good, just being educated.

So that was my whole idea when I majored in psychology and I minored in sociology, that I would be able to understand people and to say, “This is why I think they're doing thus and so.” To that, after I finished school, I decided to go to this Bible college here. So I went there, and I got forty hours, not semester hours, quarter hours. Then I just kind of quit.

Now I feel I still would like to go on, but I don't get around too well now. So I've about laid it all down. But I used to work in the church a lot and deal mostly with young people, not the little ones but the ones who think they're grown and they know everything. I used to work with them. I enjoyed working with them.

HT:

What did your sister think about you getting your degree? Was she pleased for you?

DS:

She was just real happy about it. But she talked me into it, though.

HT:

And what about your husband?

DS:

You know how men are. As long as you're dumb, that's fine.

HT:

When did you get married?

DS:

Oh, I didn't tell you all about that?

HT:

No. No. No, we sort of skipped that for some reason. [laughter] You have to tell me how you met him and that kind of stuff.

DS:

Oh, my first husband, he was my children's father. I met him all over again when I was in Washington, D.C., and he was there going to school. He was graduating from Howard University.

HT:

And what was he studying?

DS:

History. He was majoring in history and minoring in constitutional law.

HT:

How did you meet him?

DS:

Oh, I knew him before. I knew him back in Sampson County, when I was going to school in Sampson County, Sampson County Training School. I knew him from then. It was kind of like a family thing. He knew my family, and I knew his family.

That didn't work out too well. He was a drinker. I didn't know anything about people drinking. My father didn't drink. My mother didn't drink. So people who drink and use profanity, I didn't like that, because we only stayed married like what, eight or nine years, something like that.

HT:

And what type of work did he do? Did he become a lawyer?

DS:

Nothing, just drank liquor. He wasted his education. I say he wasted it. He never did do anything with it.

HT:

You said he was the father of your children? How many children do you have?

DS:

Two.

HT:

Did they ever serve in the military?

DS:

Yes. That's the reason he wouldn't work, because he served in the military and he could get a disabled pension, so he just used that. I was supposed to work and make the other part of the living. That was awful. To me it was.

HT:

And you say your children have also been in the military?

DS:

No.

HT:

You have two sons?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

And what type of work do they do?

DS:

Well, I have one. I'll tell you about the youngest one first because he's most like his daddy. He has his daddy's attitude that he's not going to have a job. He's just going to hang around. He's been, I know, alcohol and drugs, all that kind of stuff, thirty years or more.

The oldest one, he has one son. He is chief of foreign trade for the Census Bureau. He has a very good job.

HT:

This is your grandson.

DS:

No. My son.

HT:

Oh, your son.

DS:

He's about ready to retire. His wife teaches, and their son works for computers out at Bethesda, Maryland, out there. And that youngest son, he has a daughter, and she's a nurse for Rowan County, I think it is.

HT:

In Salisbury?

DS:

Yes. That hospital in Salisbury, that's where she is.

HT:

That was your first husband. What about your second husband? That's Mr. Shepard, I guess.

DS:

Yes.

HT:

How did you meet him?

DS:

At Fort Bragg. He was a soldier. [laughs]

HT:

So you married into the military.

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Was he a career military?

DS:

Yes. He had twenty-four years in when he retired.

HT:

But you didn't travel anywhere with him?

DS:

No. I had to stay here and keep this job. I always kept my mind on the money. [laughter]

HT:

But he went overseas and was stationed in various places while you were married, I guess.

DS:

Yes. Yes.

HT:

How long were you married to Mr. Shepard?

DS:

Twenty-seven years. I had to leave him because he was a drinker. He got out of the military and just drank so much. I can't stand drinking people, because it is a waste of money and a waste of your life. Because he would—he just wasted his life. These latter years, he wasted them drinking liquor.

I say he wasted them, but since I've been here by myself, I think about it now that my first husband, he wasn't looking out for me but he did look out for the children. So when he died, my first husband, he was a disabled veteran and he was from North Carolina. In that way, he left a scholarship for my children so they could go to school and they didn't have to pay for it.

My second husband, he was one that he looked out for me. I had to look out for him, so he looked out for me. So when he died, that meant then that he was a disabled veteran, too, because he was like forty percent. I say he left me enough to live on after I retired. I have my retirement and I get money from him.

So it all worked out really good. Sometimes, when you think that things are not so great, in the end, if you look back at it, it's pretty good. So that's how my life ended up.

HT:

If we can backtrack for a few minutes, I'm going back to World War II. Do you recall what the mood of the country was in those days?

DS:

I guess everybody was looking to live on whatever was left or whatever, and they lived from day to day. They were not like they are now, that they just want to, “Let's see how much money can I get. Let's see how much money will I have to live on.” I've learned during my life that you can't talk about what you're going to do. You'd better do it now, whatever it is. It's like I was telling my son one day. I was talking to him. He says, “I don't ever feel good all five days a week.” He says, “If I feel good three days, the next two I'm not going to feel good.”

I said, “That's the reason I'm telling you now, as soon as you get to be fifty-five, you turn your papers in, because if you wait until you get sixty, you might not be able. So why not turn it in and not think so much about what you're going to have?”

That's the way I felt about life. I could have kept on working, but I just don't—I don't want to do like these people are doing now. Everybody's trying to make a lot of money. So I guess the mood of the country wasn't that bad, or it wasn't for me when I decided to retire, and I've been retired now almost what, twenty-five years? I retired in '76.

HT:

How have you kept busy since you retired? You mentioned earlier that you did some church work.

DS:

I did church work. I worked for the Social Service Department. I used to volunteer. That's what I did, a lot of volunteer. And I would keep busy; keep those children straight at church.

HT:

That was a full-time job, I bet.

DS:

But they were old. They were older, like sixteen to twenty. I still have a bunch now. They come and see me, and sometimes they decide they want to eat with me. They'll come and bring their food, put it on the table, and we all sit down together and talk. I mean, they talk and talk and talk.

I say, “I know you all think you know a lot,” I say, “but, you know, I used to do the same thing.” But I enjoyed the children, those young people at church, more than I enjoyed anything I've ever done, I think.

HT:

Sounds like a wonderful thing. Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

DS:

Well, that's what people say. [laughs]

HT:

Do you think the military made you that way, or were you independent before you joined the WAC?

DS:

I think that I was more less—had that attitude of being independent. I was so frightened, but I was still independent.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter because you went in the service when not many women did that sort of thing?

DS:

My daughter-in-law says I'm a trailblazer. [laughter]

HT:

Did you agree with her?

DS:

Some things, yes.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a feminist?

DS:

No. No. I might be. I might come on to people as being a feminist, but I don't think so.

HT:

How do you feel about women—of course, now it's quite different from when you were in the military. Women can do just about any type of job in the service. They even participate in combat and that sort of thing. How do you feel about that?

DS:

I don't think I would want to participate in it, but I say if they want to, let them. That's what I think.

HT:

Because when you were in the military, you were very restricted in what you could do for a number of reasons. Women today have a much wider scope of things they can do now, I think because of women like yourself who, fifty-five years ago, you were in the military and just were trailblazers and allowed women to do all kinds of things there they couldn't have before.

Who were some of your heroes and heroines during World War II or even after? Who did you admire and respect?

DS:

Maya Angelou.

HT:

Have you ever met her?

DS:

Have I? I think so.

HT:

Because she still lives in Winston-Salem. I think she teaches at Wake Forest [University].

DS:

Wake Forest, yes.

HT:

What about her makes her a heroine to you?

DS:

She's not afraid of anything. Of course, I guess I'm older than she is. But she doesn't—you know, it bothers me to see people who,“ I can't do nothing so what would people say?”

I don't care what they say. They're going to talk anyway. So it doesn't make any difference to me. If I want to do something, I want to do it, and I will do it. If God gives me life, I'll do it. And if I believe that I can depend on Him, I believe that, that I can depend on God for anything. He says, “Through God, all things are possible.”

HT:

You mentioned Maya Angelou. Have you read any of her writings?

DS:

When I was in school. Don't ask me what were they. [laughter]

HT:

But you evidently [unclear] personally. What about during the war, when you were in the military? Can you think of anybody who stood out in your mind as being particularly brave or you would classify as a hero or heroine?

DS:

No.

HT:

Have you ever heard of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

You're familiar with her?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

I don't know a great deal about her. I've just heard she's an educator. She was an advisor to President Roosevelt. Apparently, she was quite active at that time in getting a better life for the black people and stuff. Is my understanding of that correct?

DS:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever have a chance to meet her or anything like that?

DS:

No, I didn't.

HT:

I think I've asked just about all the questions that I can think of about your military time and that sort of thing. Is there anything that you'd like to add to the interview that we haven't covered? We've covered such a variety of things.

DS:

I don't know. How are you going to put it together if you don't know? [laughter]

HT:

Well, the transcriber will put it down exactly as we've talked. So we'll see how it comes out. I do thank you for talking to me this afternoon. It's always a joy to listen to the various stories.

[End of interview]