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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Isabella Evans, 2000

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Object ID: WV0173.5.001

Description: Documents Isabella P. Evans’s early life and family; her service with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 to 1945; and her life after World War II.

Summary:

Evans discusses her family history, including the death of her parents in 1931 and her subsequent move to Washington, D.C. She also describes having to repeat grades, working as a maid to a government official during high school, and her civilian job with the naval postal service.

Evans recalls her decision to enlist in the army; her family’s reaction to her choice; and deciding to re-enlist when the WAAC became the WAC. She briefly describes basic training; taking care of women at Camp Gruber while company clerk; and her work sorting mail at Fort Clark, Texas, in 1943 and in Birmingham, England, and Rouen, France, in 1945 with an African American postal detachment.

Other significant topics include women in the military and race relations. Evans describes reactions to women in the military from civilians, male soldiers, and overseas. She also discusses belonging to an African American unit; segregation; incidents of racial and gender discrimination; and lesbians.

Personal topics include an encounter with Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower while working as a domestic; meeting with her husband while in the army overseas; her life after World War II; her husband’s continued military service; and her divorce.

Creator: Isabella Peterson Evans

Biographical Info: Isabella Peterson Evans (1919-2007) of Clemson, North Carolina, served in a postal unit of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 to 1945.

Collection: Isabella P. Evans 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 am in Clinton, North Carolina, this morning at the home of Isabella Evans.

Thank you, Ms. Evans, for sitting down with me today in your home. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Like I was telling you, we start everybody with about the same simple question, which is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

IE:

All right. I was born December 6, 1919, in Clemson, North Carolina. My parents died five days apart, 1931, and I had relatives and brothers in Washington, so they took us over to Washington to [unclear].

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

IE:

Yes. I have to count. [laughs] My mother had thirteen children, but when they died, there were—now I have to count again. Let's see, four, two, four, five, seven, eight, nine, yes.

EE:

Were you somewhere in the middle of those thirteen?

IE:

I'm the seventh, the first girl.

EE:

Thirteen is a little ambitious.

IE:

Thirteen. Yes. Well, that's how many she had, thirteen. Twins.

EE:

You were part of twins?

IE:

Oh, no, no, no, no. The youngest were twins.

EE:

What did your folks do? Did they have a farm, or did they work in a plant, or what did they do?

IE:

My father was a blacksmith, and my mother was a housewife.

EE:

That was a full-time job. Died so close to each other.

IE:

Yes. My mother died a month after childbirth. I think the doctor didn't get all the afterbirth, and she just died.

EE:

Got an infection?

IE:

Yes. And my father died five days later.

EE:

It was a heart attack?

IE:

A heart attack, yes.

EE:

So you were about what, twelve, I guess, when you moved to D.C.?

IE:

Yes, twelve.

EE:

You have to have a good idea of what was going on, then.

IE:

Well, I had to do everything, cook, wash, iron, help them with their homework then do mine.

EE:

Yes. I guess at that point, you probably had some older brothers and sisters that were already out of the house.

IE:

Older brothers, yes, because I was the first girl.

EE:

You were the oldest girl?

IE:

No, the first. There were four girls, and then—I forgot. Can't let that go all day by saying “ah.”

EE:

Well, now, your family went up to Washington. Did you all stay with the same relatives?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

That was good. They were able to keep you all together then.

IE:

Yes. That's what my brother said, “There'll be no separation.” At that time, in Washington, there were two jobs. You either worked the government or domestic, because they didn't have any industries in D.C.

EE:

So did you finish school up there?

IE:

High school, yes.

EE:

Where did you go to high school?

IE:

Cardozo High School.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

IE:

Did I like school?

EE:

Yes.

IE:

My best subjects were the hard ones, you know, math, science, and junk like that.

EE:

Don't say it. This is probably why you've got a son who's out working with the [unclear]. [laughter]

IE:

He's an engineer, yes. [unclear] engineer.

EE:

That's good. You must have finished high school when, '36, '37? What year did you graduate, '35?

IE:

No. When I came to Washington, they put me back two years, coming from here, a small town. No, I graduated in 1940.

EE:

Because I know, too, that probably then they had an extra year of high school compared to us. At that time, we had eleven, I think.

IE:

Yes. They had twelve.

EE:

By then D.C. had twelve?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

So that would have set you back. When you finished high school, I guess probably the last year you were in high school, the war started in Europe. Did you all have any sense of what was going on overseas?

IE:

Oh, we knew because some people had volunteered and joined the British army. Before that, they had the war in Ethiopia, and some of them had joined—had volunteered for that. I mean, reading the papers. Then one of my brothers, who was two years older than me, he got drafted, and he cried because all the other brothers hadn't received any notice.

EE:

So he was drafted. This was before Pearl Harbor he was drafted?

IE:

Yes. [laughs] So he kept crying, and I said, “That's all right. I'm going to join. I'll probably be with you.” He said, “They haven't said they're putting women in the service.” I said, “Oh, they will. They will.” At the time, I was working for a family who were into Mr. [Franklin D.] Roosevelt's cabinet. So you heard all the politics going around. They would say, “Isabella, are you interested in politics?” I'd say, “I can't be. In Washington, we can't vote.” So they would say anything in front of me, and I'm listening. [laughs]

EE:

Who was the person that you were working with, do you remember?

IE:

Oh, Lord. I'd better not give their name. [laughs]

EE:

Well, they aren't going to track them down.

IE:

Commissioner—he was—at that time, we had three commissioners in D.C. that formed the government, and his name was George Allen, not the football—

EE:

Not the football [unclear].

IE:

No. He was from Mississippi.

EE:

So they had three commissioners who were over the D.C. government, is what it was.

IE:

Yes. Yes. I even knew that Mr.—well, I'd better not put that in there, because they'll be after me. [laughs]

EE:

Well, I don't think anybody's going to come looking any time soon for you.

IE:

No, no, no, no. I was getting ready to say something about the Kennedys, but I'd better keep quiet. [laughs]

EE:

Okay. Okay.

IE:

I knew before he got home he had to come home, from listening to them talk. I told my children this, and they looked at me, and they said, “Mama, you just don't like the Kennedys.” I said, “Well, no, I don't. To tell the truth, no, I don't.” So I'd better shut up. [laughs]

EE:

Tell me something. You were doing—you were—

IE:

A maid.

EE:

You were working as a maid while you were in school? You worked while you went to school, or this was afterwards?

IE:

No, this was my job after school.

EE:

And was this something that you—did you go down to an agency to get hired like this, or did you just offer your services?

IE:

No. I first worked at the hotel where my brothers worked.

EE:

They got you a job there.

IE:

Yes. And then the government leased the hotel to the military. So I was looking for a job. No, I wasn't looking. A lady told me about her daughter-in-law. Her daughter-in-law was pregnant, and they needed a maid. So she said, “You go over there and tell them I sent you.” I said, “Okay.” So I went there and got the job. Meanwhile, I had already taken these exams to get into the government, but I didn't think I was going to get in because Mr. Hoover came in, and he only allowed one person out of a family to work in the government.

EE:

This was out of all families or just black families?

IE:

All families working in Washington. One household, there could only be one person working in the government. So even though I had taken the exam, you had to wait until there was a vacancy, you know, someone had died or retired. Then they had all these people for that one little job. [laughs]

EE:

Sounds like rent-controlled apartments in New York, where you line up years in advance. Do you remember where you were on Pearl Harbor day? Do you remember how you heard that news?

IE:

Yes. I was at the football game.

EE:

[unclear]

IE:

Redskins. I was sitting in the bleachers. [laughs] Because that's all the guy could afford. Yes. They said, “All military personnel report at once to your station.”

EE:

So they just interrupted the game.

IE:

Yes. Everybody got—I don't even know who won the game. [laughs]

EE:

Did they say why? They just said everybody get up and go report?

IE:

Yes. Yes. [unclear]

EE:

Which isn't good news. Everybody knows that.

IE:

Everybody knew that. [laughs] We were trying to figure out what happened. I remember one time I went down to St. Croix in the West Indies, and my second day there, early one morning, I heard this “boom, boom.” I said, “Oh, my God.” I didn't have my radio in the room, neither a television nor a radio in the room. I said, “How in the world did I do this? I'm this far from home, and I can't get back.” [laughs] I thought a war had broken out or something. So I went to the door and I waited. The ship wasn't too far away, I could tell, because the water was right out there. I said, “Oh, no. I've been through nine [unclear].”

EE:

Not another one, please.

IE:

“Not another one. Let me get home.” [laughs]

EE:

Pearl Harbor came, and I guess your brother was already in the service, your older brother.

IE:

No, he was—right after that, he received his orders. He was in the air force engineers, army air force engineers they called it then, because the air force wasn't separated. It was part of the army then.

EE:

Now, you were working as a maid there in D.C., and how did you find out about the WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps]?

IE:

Oh, I worked—at last I got called to the navy department. I was working in the navy department.

EE:

As a civil service job?

IE:

Yes. Yes. And I was working at the naval—what was it called?

EE:

Was it on Observatory Hill? Was that where you went, or down there by the—

IE:

No. Downtown.

EE:

They had all these temporary buildings in the navy right there next to the Lincoln Memorial, I guess it was, close by?

IE:

Yes. Yes. Yes. You're not that old.

EE:

No, but I've been talking to a few people.

IE:

Oh. [laughter]

EE:

You were working down there, and I guess they just needed people out there. There was a shortage of getting people to help out in the war effort.

IE:

Oh, yes. Yes. They brought people in from all over the States. And they had to keep so many jobs for all the states in there.

EE:

Yes. I'm sure there was a little political [unclear].

IE:

Oh, yes. Oh, my Lord, yes.

EE:

What kind of work were you doing at the navy?

IE:

I was working in the post office.

EE:

Kind of looking ahead there, get that training.

IE:

Mail, yes.

EE:

You were there for how long? Six months or so that year, just '42 was all you were there?

IE:

Now, I wasn't there the whole year. I'm kind of ignorant myself.

EE:

You told me before we started that you signed up in December.

IE:

Yes. I was sworn in.

EE:

Sworn in, right there in D.C.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember what it was, how you found out that you could join the WAAC? Was it just something you heard at work?

IE:

Well, you know, you hear—

EE:

They talked for some time about starting before they did it.

IE:

Well, I had been interested, and most people don't read the—follow the political part of the newspaper, but I have always tried to keep up with what's going on right in our own country. But I listen now because I work in the army, and I worked in security. I used to have problems with the people who worked—I worked in what we called the vaults. That's where all the master copies of all the secrets are kept. And so—oh, boy, I'd better shut up. [laughs]

EE:

That was later as a civilian employee, is what you're talking about when you worked at that.

IE:

Yes. Yes. But anyway, I would have trouble with the people coming in, walking in from up front, who thought they were better than you were anyway [unclear], and they would go in the drawers and look, come in. I'd say, “Halt,” and I'd push the drawer right in on their hands. They'd say, “Do you know who I am?” I'd say, “It makes no difference. Do you know I am?”

EE:

“I'm the one that's supposed to keep people like you from getting into this stuff.”

IE:

Yes. I said, “I can't come in your office and open your drawers without asking you, without you telling somebody to look it up for you.” “So,” I said, “The same applies here.” So he went up front and reported me. Then the loudspeaker said, “Isabella Evans, report to the office.” I went up there, and I'm whistling as I'm going up, trying to pretend I'm calm. I got in there, and I said, “Dr. Steng [unclear], why are you calling me?” Because that was the chief. I'm asking him before he asks me. He said, “Isabella, I want to thank you.”

I said, “Sir, I was only doing my duty. You told us, 'Do not let anyone in these files.' So I had to protect my life. I've got children at home.”

He said, “Isabella, don't worry about it.”

I said, “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

He said, “Keep up the good work.”

EE:

That's great.

IE:

So then we had a new security officer, and our doors were locked at all times except for one where we could see if you come in. So the back door opened, and I was in the files back there putting some film back in the drawers. The door opened, and I said, “Halt. Who goes there?” And he kept walking. I said, “Did you understand halt?” He looked at me. I said, “All right. Show me something.”He didn't have his—

EE:

“Didn't have his ID on him?”

IE:

Yes. I said, “Show me something, I said.”

He looked at me, and he said, “I'm Colonel—.”

I said, “Don't give me that jazz. Put that out there so I can see it.”

He looked at me.

I said, “Lord, Isabella, you're going to get killed.” So he thanked me, and he reported me. He told them I was on the job and they didn't have to worry. [laughs]

EE:

That's great. That's great. Boy, there's so many things where people would tell you to do something and then they won't back you up and tell somebody, leave you hanging out there.

IE:

Yes. That's what I feared.

EE:

Now, were you the only one in the office who went from civilian work to join up with this WAAC?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

What did they think about it?

IE:

Well, they didn't. They couldn't figure it out because they had such a—already they had this teaching as being nothing but—well, they wasn't nice in those days, didn't call them lesbians in those days. Sure enough, they were in there, but I didn't want any [unclear]. I almost got kicked out. [laughs] I was in about—oh, it wasn't too far. I got in a fight one night down in the shop. At the time, we didn't have curtains or shades at the windows, and the men walked the perimeter, guard duty, because you did—

EE:

Oh, okay. Keep the [unclear].

IE:

And I thought one of them had come in and grabbed me from the back, and I'm full of soap, and I couldn't get them away, and I'm trying. Anyway, I kept on till I got a hold of him, and I slammed them on the floor, and I thought it—I turned and looked, and it was one of the WAACs. [laughs] I'm thinking I'm going to see a soldier on there and he's going to grab my leg, and it was a WAAC. I still don't know her name today. I'd better take that out, because she—

EE:

She obviously let you go. She [unclear].

IE:

We couldn't revive her, so we had to call the—I ran up the steps and called the sergeant. She said, “[unclear] or something. I am not that way.” I said, “Oh, Lord.”

EE:

It was all around you. [laughter]

IE:

I said, “Sergeant, please come downstairs with me, please, please, please. I'm telling the truth.” She said, “Well, wait till I put my robe on.” She came down, and the girl was still out. She looked at that. She said, “What happened?” So I showed her the teeth prints. She said, “Put your robe on [unclear]. I'm not interested in your body.” [laughs]

EE:

Well, help me figure out how you got to basic and where you had it and all that stuff. You signed up in December of '42, and I guess that—from what I've heard, those who went in the WAAC, they were sort of figuring out on their feet how to do it. They didn't really have uniforms together. They didn't have—you were military yet you weren't military.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

I mean, you were—

IE:

We were auxiliary.

EE:

—auxiliary. So did you have a rank? You were a private as a WAAC?

IE:

We were called—

EE:

Or were you just called Miss Peterson?

IE:

No, we were—oh, Lord. I'm trying to remember. Now you got me—

EE:

Where did you go for basic?

IE:

I went to Des Moines.

EE:

Okay. Fort Des Moines.

IE:

Yes, and auxillarant is what we were called.

EE:

Well, you were out there in the middle of the cold part of the year, weren't you?

IE:

Oh, my Lord, yes.

EE:

You say you started in—you were called up in February, you say?

IE:

Yes. We left Washington. There were about—I think there was about thirty of us, twenty or thirty, and our first stop after we left D.C. was Chicago, coldest place I have ever been. The cold went right through.

EE:

They don't call it “the windy city” for nothing, do they?

IE:

Not for nothing. Wow. Then we got to Des Moines. It was a different cold. It was a dry cold. But that Chicago, whoa.

EE:

You were with a group that was, I guess, all WAACs coming through, was it not, because I guess they were separately trained.

IE:

Oh, yes. They were separated, yes.

EE:

Was this the first group going through?

IE:

No. The first group all were officers. They made them officers. The second group, they made them the cadre, you know, the first sergeant, company clerk, and all that junk. I think we were the third group, if I'm not mistaken. They could only take so many of us. [laughs]

EE:

Now, Des Moines was the facility where they were training the white WAACs as well as the African American WAACs.

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

So you all were there, and I guess you had separate quarters.

IE:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Were your officers men, or your trainers men or women?

IE:

We had women, but the men were over them.

EE:

Okay. Was it white and black together, then, in the training?

IE:

We wasn't together.

EE:

Right. Were your training officers, your instructors, were they black or were they white?

IE:

Some were white and some were black. We went to school in town, and all the instructors were white. Of course, you know, for the women to go in, they had to pass this intelligence test first before they'd let us in. According to your test, you were sent to school for certain jobs, like cooks and bakers school.

EE:

When you signed up, did they say, “Well, here's the kind of work you might be doing”? Did you have any kind of a choice on what kind of work you might do? You're serving at the pleasure of the government.

IE:

Yes. [laughs] Yes.

EE:

So not much creative freedom there.

IE:

No.

EE:

You didn't get a choice to say, “I want to go to the West Coast,” or, “East Coast,” or—

IE:

No. You went where they sent you. [laughs]”

EE:

But was it for a year, or were you signed up even for the WAAC for the duration of the war?”

IE:

We signed up for the war, yes, but some ladies stayed on, and they made a career of it.

EE:

How long were you at Des Moines, four months?

IE:

No. I was there—let's see, I think there was six weeks training, basic, then we went to school for another six weeks. After that, you got your assignment to go out in the field. We were sent to Fort Clark, Texas. I was.

EE:

What was your job when you got to Fort Clark?

IE:

Post office. [laughs]

EE:

Well, you know, it's refreshing to learn that occasionally the military will assign somebody to something that they've done before.

IE:

Yes. That's unusual.

EE:

That is unusual. Now, let's see, Fort Clark is where they had the buffalo soldiers, wasn't it, the cavalry out there?

IE:

Yes. Yes. [unclear] there with the cavalry. My goodness, you know too much. [laughter]

EE:

I don't know names, now.

IE:

That's okay. I try to forget names because they get me in trouble.

EE:

I just know people tend to smile when they mention the cavalry out there. You all were the WAAC. There was one WAAC detachment there at this—

IE:

Fort Clark?

EE:

Fort Clark.

IE:

Yes. There were 365, I think, of us.

EE:

What did your family think of you joining the WAAC?

IE:

Thought I was crazy, but, you know—oh, I forgot the machine was going. I'm sorry. [laughs]

EE:

We can cut. Don't worry about it.

IE:

No. My family thought I was cuckoo. But I had—I just felt the need to get away. That's putting it nicely, you know.

EE:

But, you know, that is true, because some women will tell me it's out of patriotism, then the more I talk, they'll say, “But, you know, I really just wanted to see someplace different,” or do something or to get away from something they didn't like particularly.

IE:

Yes, that's true. I had all three of them. [laughs] Because my parents, you know, had died, and I had to be everything because I was the oldest girl.

EE:

You were tired of being the parent to your sisters and brothers.

IE:

Yes. But I can't say that because there are only three of us living now. The rest are all dead. But it was something. We lived with an aunt and uncle, and they didn't have children. It was a little hard.

EE:

So all this time you worked at the navy, you were still living at home with your aunt and uncle?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Now, did you have to be twenty-one to join the WAAC?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

So you had to have a guardian's signature [unclear].

IE:

Oh, no, I—yes, I did that on my own, thank goodness.

EE:

That's also one of the nice things about this for many people. You're doing it on your own. So you're getting down to Fort Clark, it must be, right at springtime.

IE:

Yes. It was after spring. It was summer, because we were supposed to—

EE:

Summer of '43.

IE:

Let's see. We changed uniforms from winter to summer. I think it was May 15. The next morning we got up and it was snow up to our knees. So we had to sit around—we called it the staging area—and wait until we received orders to go to Fort Clark. Some of the women were already there. So I guess we didn't do such a good job. I don't think they wanted any more of us.

EE:

When you were at Des Moines, it's basically a women's training facility, right?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

So there's not a lot of men around for distraction. Was there any social life at Des Moines? You know, I haven't heard anybody talking about doing anything on social life at Des Moines.

IE:

Well, we had a day room, we called it, where we had a Coke machine and played the records. You put money in, and you played the records. But we'd go into town in Des Moines, and you'd better walk the walk because the women were waiting for you to try to get their men. [laughs] So it was something.

EE:

How did you think the civilians—

IE:

That's what I mean, the civilians.

EE:

They didn't like you because they thought that you were trying to be a step above by wearing your uniforms and looking all hot to trot for the guys.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Well, I've had some people tell me that wearing a uniform they've got a lot of benefits from, but I would imagine it might be something that's suspicion, too.

IE:

Well, we got the—it all depended where you were. Some girls were stationed up North, some in California, Arizona. I don't know if any were—didn't know of any in New Mexico, but it all depended on what part of the country you were in.

EE:

I had a woman who was stationed near [unclear]. She had some people staring at her, and she asked why. They said they'd just never seen a black woman before; at least that's what they said. They just didn't have that many people around.

IE:

No. When we went to Oklahoma—this is not nice to say. I guess you'd better cut it out. The band—we came in on the train. So we were getting out, so the sergeant called us in formation, and the general came and looked up and saw who was there. He looked at the band, “Cut.” So the band stopped playing, and he went and got in his car and went back.

EE:

So the general just refused to acknowledge that you all were there?

IE:

And by this time I was older. I got there, and I was assigned to the post office. I said, “Oh, Lord, I'd better learn to keep my trap closed”—which is impossible. [laughs] I'm very opinionated. So I knew I was going to have trouble, and I had it. I went to the post office, no table, no chair.

EE:

Now, this was at Fort Clark?

IE:

No. This was at [Camp ]Gruber [near Muskogee, Oklahoma].

EE:

Well, now, at Clark, you were working, and it was all African Americans at the base, was it not?

IE:

Mostly, yes. We had whites there who were the—who did all the like supplies and all the—

EE:

Like quartermasters kind of stuff.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

I know the smear campaign that was started against the WAACs was basically started by army folks who didn't want [unclear] the generals. How did the black male soldiers feel about white women serving in the army?

IE:

They didn't like us either. [laughs] We saw the part of—we got overseas. We were in England, and they were already there so they had nothing to do with us. Then we got transferred to France, we were all in France, and they saw us at the ship, and they called us—what was the name of that song? “Candodia, you brought [unclear] so hard.” Now I can't think of the man who sang it. Anyway, they had told the English women to call us these names, and they didn't know it, and they would say it, you know, and our men had told them. [laugh] The song—

EE:

They were making fun of you with these names, but the English women didn't know that they were making fun of you. Right.

IE:

Didn't know what it meant. Yes. Yes. So all the other women were talking about, “I'll get them,” and I'd say, “Oh, no, we're not. We're not getting in trouble over these stupid men, acting like they're superior to us.”

So they said, “Pete, you're crazy.”

I said, “Yes, I know.”

But I can't think of the name, and the man who sang the song. It's a black guy. It wasn't Louis Armstrong. I'm trying to remember what his name was.

EE:

Well, it'll come back to you, maybe. You were at Clark doing post office work. Did you work the first shift, or did you trade off shifts?

IE:

No. We had one shift. The civilians and the military were in the same building, so I was in there separating mail according to the units and the civilians' mail, you know, the officers and their wives. Let's see. There was one guy from Mississippi, and his uncle was the governor of Mississippi. So I couldn't understand why he didn't get a commission like the other white guys did whose parents were like that.

EE:

Yes, high up.

IE:

I said, “Cecil, how did you do this?” He said, “It doesn't make any difference. Let's forget it, Miss Peterson.” They always called me Miss Peterson, and here I'm calling him Cecil, his first name. So—I think his name was Coburn. I think at that time that was the governor's name of Mississippi. But he was a nice fellow, very nice.

EE:

So you were working again side-by-side, men with women, in this post office.

IE:

We were working right together.

EE:

How many women were in there?

IE:

One. [laughs]

EE:

Just you. You were the only one? They sent you into the fire. They figured you can take it because you can—

IE:

No. They didn't think I could take it. They thought I was going to mess up.

EE:

Oh, they were looking for you to mess up.

IE:

They were looking for me to mess up, but I don't do what people look for me to do. I always try to do the opposite.

EE:

Well, you know, that's the feeling—a lot of the women felt that, that they were just kind of being set up, waiting for the joke to happen. But they had a point to prove. You worked there. I guess that's where you signed on again. You had the choice to opt out. You could have gone home.

IE:

Yes, but I didn't want to go home. [laughs] So I took my physical. So the company clerk said, “Pete.”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “Report to the orderly room.”

So I went in.

She said, “I don't think you passed the physical.”

I said, “Impossible. That's impossible.” So I—Oh, Lord, I forgot—I almost [unclear]. I have this big mole, and it showed up. So I told them what it was, “I have a mole.” So they put a piece of tape over it, and they took the pictures again, and the tape showed up on the picture, and it was the mole. So I passed the physical to be sworn in the regular army.

EE:

You were sworn in as a private?

IE:

I had a PFC [private first class], one stripe, and then—when did I get my two stripes? Oh, I got them after that.

EE:

When did you go from Clark to Gruber?

IE:

Better open that thing and look and see. I can't recall. I think that—

EE:

It doesn't say exactly when, but you must be gone—

IE:

It's on the back, I think.

EE:

Okay. We'll explain it. Well, it must have been sometime in '44, because you were at Gruber—let's say you were at Gruber for nine months. You acted as company clerk for that detachment. What does a company clerk—you were a postal clerk when you were at Fort Clark. Then company clerk is, you say, like secretary work. So you were in the office of the WAC [Women's Army Corps] leaders.

IE:

The captain. Yes.

EE:

The captain. What was that like, better work?

IE:

No. You just knew more than you should know. [laughs]

EE:

I know what you mean. That's every office. Tell me the result. Don't tell me how we got to the result. I don't want to know how we got there.

IE:

Keeping the records of, you know, the women, what they're doing and what they're not doing.

EE:

What they're doing and what they're not doing. I've had a couple of people tell me that, of course, they were looking for women to make mistakes.

IE:

Oh, yes.

EE:

But one woman told me that they were especially looking for black women to make mistakes.

IE:

Oh, yes, all the way.

EE:

Did you feel that?

IE:

Well, I knew it, what, you know, they were looking for. So I always surprised them, tried to anyway.

EE:

I had this woman tell me that she did not want to go out when they could have a leave for the weekend. She never took leave because she was afraid of what they were going to do to her when she came back to make sure that she had been a proper woman all weekend.

IE:

Yes. Yes. Yes. In Oklahoma, the girls would go to town. Of course, Oklahoma was a dry state, no liquor. Texas was a dry state, and a lot of women drank. And—oh, dear. Here I go again, my big mouth, get somebody in trouble. Well, anyway, you can always get a [unclear]. You have to know how to—[laughs].

EE:

Where to hide things. Yes. You're not the first person to have hidden things.

IE:

No. You knew. On payday, we'd go to town at Muskogee, Oklahoma, and we had a place we went, the ladies. You could buy a pork chop sandwich or a chicken sandwich and soda and that was it, supposed to be. [laughs] So I was the—oh, the girls called me the good little girl that did nothing wrong. I couldn't afford to, keeping them out of trouble. Can't get in trouble myself.

EE:

You have to have one person to stay straight so everybody else can be covered.

IE:

Yes. Yes. Yes. So I was—when I—they'd worry me to death.

“Pete, come on. We're going to town.”

I said, “No, I'm not going to go.”

“Oh, Pete. Please, Pete.”

I said, “Okay. We'll go to town.”

So we got dressed, and we caught the bus. Then you had to ride it—there was [segregation?] on the bus, you still had to ride in the back. They wouldn't let you sit down front. And nobody but us on there. So we'd go to town.

I said, “What time are you coming to pick us up”?

He looked me. He wouldn't answer me.

I said, “Sir, I'm speaking to you.” I got right up in his face almost. [unclear] is crazy. So he told me.

I said, “All right. We'll be here waiting for you.” So I say, “You can [unclear].”

So there we were. They come back and get us, and Lord have mercy, the guys that was coming, they'd meet the girls at the bus station in town, Muskogee. I'd tell the fellows, I'd say, “I want them back here quarter to ten, no later.”

“Believe me,” I said.

“Who do you think you are, their mother?”

I said, “Yes.”

Then the girls would get mad. “Don't you talk to Pete like that.” [laughs]

EE:

So you left from being the mama in Washington to become the mama out in Gruber, is what it amounts to. Okay.

IE:

Yes. Yes. We had fun there. So I [unclear], “I don't want to go to town,” because I didn't drink, and I still don't drink. But when you've got your hands full trying to get—I had one in one window and one in another [unclear]. It was fun, though, but you soon get tired, and sometimes it's hard to remember what you'd said, but I always said, “Please, God, help me remember what I said for this one and that one.”

Now I'm just as forgetful now as I can be, and I have to stop and think. I used to tell my children all the time, “You won't even know when I get Alzheimer's,” because I called them the wrong name when they were little. They used to stand there and look at me, “Mama, don't you know our names yet?”

EE:

They don't know how easy it is. I've only got two, and I still switch their names sometimes. From the back, it's [unclear].

IE:

Yes. Even if they call me on the phone, I couldn't tell which one it was because they all sounded alike. Then I would have to wait.

They would say, “Mama.”

And I'd say, “Yes,” and I'd say, “Lord, which one is it?” So I had to wait until they had said a few words. My daughter Nellie can tell me, she was talking to somebody, she said, “When I called Mama, I listened to her voice so I'll know if she's sick or not, because Mama will not tell you when she's sick.” That's true.

They'll ask me, “How are you?”

I'd say, “Fine.”

EE:

Whatever it is, I'm fine.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

You were at Gruber. Did you have any idea that you were going to be sent overseas?

IE:

When the first—

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

EE:

So they asked for volunteers?

IE:

Yes, and I volunteered, but my captain told the general she couldn't spare me. So I went up to headquarters. I used to go every morning because I had to take my morning report every morning. So I had gotten in with the colonel anyway. I had invited him to come with us. We didn't have a Coke machine. We didn't have nothing in our day room but some chairs and that was all. So I went and turned in, and I told him, one day, I asked for permission to speak with the colonel.

The captain looked at me. He said, “What is your business?”

I said, “It's private, sir.” And I stood there, and I looked at him. You had to be standing at attention. So he looked me up and down. After a while he walked into the office and told him some WAC out there wanted to see him.

He said, “Send her in.” [laughs]

I had already found out he was from South Carolina. I told him I was born in North Carolina, and I said, “You know these tar heels have got to get together. We can't be enemies, now.” And I'm talking to him.

He looked at me. He didn't want to tell me what he was thinking, but I can read his [unclear]. So he said, “All right.”

So I invited him to have dinner with us [unclear] table.

“I'll be there.”

I said, “Okay. Thank you, sir.”

So I came back, and I told the captain I had invited him.

She said, “Evans, you did not get permission from me.”

I said, “Ma'am, these girls are going crazy. We've got to have something in this day room besides these chairs. We've got to have a jukebox, Coke machine, a pool table, a Ping-Pong, or something.”

EE:

Something to pass the time.

IE:

Yes. So she said, “You seem to be always thinking.”

I said, “Yes, ma'am. I try to.”

But the first sergeant said, “I am not sitting at the table from him. He's from South Carolina.”

I said, “I had nothing to do with [unclear]. All I did was invite him to dinner.”

So they said they wasn't sitting at the table with him. So he took a sheet and put it up on the table.

I told the girls that cooked I had invited the colonel.

They said, “Do we have to fix anything special, Pete?” I said, “No. We give him the regular menu. Everybody on base eats the same thing on the same day.”

So they said, “Okay.”

I said, “Yes.”

So they said, “If we don't do right, are you going to let us know?”

I said, “You know I'm going to look out for you [unclear].”[laughs]

He came, and I hear, “Attention.” Everybody stood up, and I said, “Be seated.” They sat back down. So he ate. Then I went back a couple of days later. I had taken him into the day room to show him what it was like.

I said, “Sir, you haven't been down to inspect us.”

He said, “Oh, I certainly haven't.”

I said, “Yes, sir.”

So we got the jukebox.

EE:

You got everything.

IE:

We got everything. We even got a pool table, and we didn't know how to shoot pool. [laughs]

EE:

So you get all this fixed up, and then they say, “Time to go overseas?”

IE:

They said they were transferring us out because—I think those girls got in—the men would say they were in trouble if they weren't in any trouble, and they were trying their best to get rid of us. So I'm trying to get higher-ups on our side, see? [laughs] So each time the MPs [military police] would send a report in that they caught us, you know, and I would tell the girls, “Do not give your right name, but make sure you put [unclear] somebody else's name.” When they write the report and send it down, I'd say, “Sorry, sir. We do not have a [unclear] by that name in our detachment.” [laughs] So [unclear].

EE:

You were good at covering your trail, I'll tell you.

IE:

You had to.

EE:

You had to [unclear] that they were trying to get rid of you.

IE:

Oh, yes. I knew they were trying. They were trying.

EE:

What was the colonel's name, do you remember?

IE:

No. I remember the colonel in Texas. His name was Waggenham[?], but I can't remember the colonel's name in Oklahoma.

EE:

When did you ship out for England?

IE:

March—

EE:

March of '45?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Did you go out of New York?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Were you in the Isle de France group?

IE:

No. We were the Queen Mary—I mean Elizabeth.

EE:

Queen Elizabeth.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Because it was the same convoy. Had you seen Charity Adams by then?

IE:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Where did you first see Charity Adams?

IE:

Well, I was in basic, and Charity was the highest ranking new girl that was on the base at Defiance in—

EE:

Des Moines?

IE:

Des Moines, yes. We knew about Charity. But I had known about Colonel West, who was Mrs. Bethune's secretary, and she had come into the service. And we had two black officers who were majors, Shere Odette[?] and Major Liss[?]. I can't remember Major Liss's name.

EE:

When you got on the ship, did you know what you were going over to do?

IE:

No. I really—I knew that it was the postal battalion and—it was called detachment, rather than battalion. But I had no idea, really. Now, that's when we had shifts working in the post office, because that's all we did, was try to get this mail—we had a backlog of mail for the—we couldn't—the mail couldn't keep up with the men.

EE:

This was near Liverpool? Where were you stationed, Birmingham?

IE:

Birmingham, right.

EE:

Did your convoy get attacked on the way over?

IE:

Yes. We had just pulled out [unclear] pulled out, and this was the strangest part of it. When my parents died, I began to stutter, and I couldn't get the words out. I knew what I wanted to say, but they didn't come out. So on the ship, we had just left port, and I don't know how long we had been out anyway, but the captain came on and said, “This is your ship's captain. Everyone will put on their life preserver and your helmets.” They didn't want to let us know how much danger we were in, but you could tell because the ship was [unclear] and you kept hearing “boom.” They were dropping the charges.

EE:

So some submarines were actively pursuing.

IE:

Yes. Yes. And we went down to Bermuda instead of going north.

EE:

You were trying to—

IE:

Dodge the submarines. Next morning I woke up. We had—I think there were thirty-six—well, they were like—we slept in that room, and the next morning, I woke up. I just said my prayers and went to sleep. I said, “I don't want to know when it's going to get me.” So I went sound asleep. I woke up next morning, and here are all these women around my bed. I was on the lower berth. You couldn't move because the girl above you, her back was right on you. So I touched her. Oh, Lord, what did I touch her for? I should have known better. I touched her, and I said, “Can I get up, please?” She jumped up. She was ready to beat my—[laughs]

EE:

Good gracious.

IE:

“Pete, don't you ever touch me again.” I said, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I meant no offense.”

EE:

How long were you all on the water? How long did it take you to get over there?

IE:

Five, I think. Five [unclear]. I think it was five.

EE:

Is that the first time you ever felt in physical danger being in the service?

IE:

Yes. It was really—I got up to the plank, and you got your gear on. [laughs] You're supposed to give them your name, rank, and serial number, and I couldn't say my name. So I didn't say it.

“Name, rank, and serial number.”

I'm standing there looking at him. I'm trying to—

EE:

Trying to get it out?

IE:

And it wouldn't come out. My girlfriend in the bay hollered, “Evans,” and I said, “Isabella P.” I got on, and you're rocking the plank, and I said, “Lord, I can't swim. I can't walk your plank [unclear].” [laughs]

EE:

What happened to the desk job I was doing?

IE:

Why did I ask for this overseas? Oh, my goodness. And I walked the plank. [laughs]

EE:

Well, you know, it's just hard—you know, that late in the war, I would have thought that the Atlantic would have quieted down some. It's hard for me to imagine it was still that dangerous.

IE:

Oh, still dangerous. And you know one thing? It's still dangerous. They just haven't told anybody.

EE:

Well, I'll watch it on TV. [laughter] I'll watch it on TV. You all were in Birmingham for a couple of months doing this backlog. You all stayed at a boys school, I think?

IE:

Yes. Prince Edward, I think it was.

EE:

What did you think of England and the people, the English people?

IE:

They didn't know how to take us, and our people certainly didn't know how to take them, but they tried to be friendly. I know back in the States we had problems, you know. They didn't have soap, and our people kept saying, “They smell. They need baths,” and trying to tell them, you know.

I would say to them, “If you didn't have soap, you couldn't have a bath either.”

They said, “Well, it won't hurt you to buy a five cent box of soap.”

I said, “When you don't have anything, and they've taken it away from you and sent it to the men, you just can't think that way.”

They would look at me and they'd say, “Pete, why is it you understand everybody and nobody understands us?”

So I said, “Oh, well, who knows?”

They would try to get friendly, but—they would invite you to their homes, and they would give you tea. So I learned to drink tea.

EE:

Put your little pinky out there.

IE:

Yes, with the little pinky. I'd lift it right up there. So we'd go to the restaurant, and they would give us—oh, boy, now I can't remember the name of it, a vegetable. They say it's a vegetable, but we don't. We feed the pigs with it. I can't remember the name of it. So they would watch you eat after they served you to see if you knew how to eat. [laughs] I was born left-handed, but they made you use the right to write with. So I write with the right hand now, but everything else, I'm left—handed.

EE:

Left-handed.

IE:

Yes. So they were watching me and [unclear] foreigner. [laughs]

So the girls said, “Pete, we're not coming in this restaurant again. They don't know how to treat us.”

I said, “They haven't done anything.”

“Well, they're [staring] at us.”

I said, “You'd look too if you were in a restaurant with all of the one race and a couple others come in.”

The English men were very—we used to say they were cold, the girls would say, but they would talk with you nicely, but there wasn't none of that inviting you.

EE:

No dates then. Now, did—I guess—was there a service club or some kind of a social club when you got over there, or did you all just have to pretty much stay down at the school?

IE:

Well, we could go the other places, if you didn't want to go in town, and—

EE:

Did they still have the buzz bombs there?

IE:

Oh, we could hear them, yes, coming over at night. You could hear yourself breathe. You could hear everybody else breathing. [laughs]

EE:

Very listening [unclear].

IE:

Yes. Well, we heard the planes coming. We would be doing our work, and all of a sudden, we got real quiet, and we listened to see if that was an English plane or American plane. You could tell the difference.

EE:

You could tell.

IE:

And the Germans, too. You could tell their planes. And when they came over and they started shooting, you just sat there and started praying that they don't hit our building.

EE:

Did you ever feel afraid?

IE:

Well, I pretended I wasn't. I got—we were in France, I think it was in France, walking home. Everything was dark out. You don't have no lights. So I had left the theater. I had gone to the theater. I couldn't get my girlfriends to go with me, so I got on the truck and it went to town with the theater. So first there was only three of us on there. The girl said, “I'm not coming back to pick up three.” So I started walking. It was eight miles away, and I started walking, and I could hear somebody walking behind me. I said, “Oh, Lord, please let me get to that police station. Then I'm going to pretend I'm doing something else to [unclear].” So before that, in the theater, there were just—I went in. There wasn't anybody in, so pretty soon they filled up with white soldiers. So then one black soldier came in, and he saw me so he came and sat beside me. So some of the white soldiers wanted to start something. You could tell by their accent where they were from.

So he said to the other one, “Exchange seats with me. I can't stand to sit behind a nigger.”

So the guy jumped up. So I grabbed his arm, and I pulled him until he sat down, and I said, “There are just two of us. We're outnumbered. Now, the war's over. We want to get home in one piece.”

EE:

That's right.

IE:

So he said, “But did you hear—-” I said, “Don't you know I have ears?” So the whole movie, I'm holding on to him like I know him, and to this day, I don't know his name. We got ready to leave, and I got up, and I'm still holding on to him like he's my boyfriend. So we walked out the theater.

I said, “I'm going to the Red Cross club,” which was right next door, or could have been, “and I'm going to get me a donut and Coke. Come on. Are you going?”

He said, “WAC, let go of me now.” [laughter] “I don't know you, and you don't know me.”

I said, “That's okay. You're a comrade in arms, and I'm holding on to you.” [laughs]

EE:

You know, you're [unclear] now, although you're from North Carolina, you were from a small town in North Carolina, the dynamics are different. Then you go off, and you're a big city girl, and you know how the city works. But then, you know, when you're in the military, you are thrown in with so many people from so many different backgrounds—

IE:

Yes, and don't know when they're going to get mad or when they're going to get you. We were on the train leaving Des Moines going to Fort Clark [unclear]. We got to Arkansas—and I don't like President Clinton because he was born there—our train, that night, they derailed us, our car, and we were sent—and we didn't know it then.

The next morning—we slept so good that night, and we couldn't understand why we slept so good. So we looked, and we're on the farm like. We see cows and—and the girls said, “Pete,” and by this time, I had been on KP [kitchen patrol duty], and I had cut my finger, and I hid under—I'll show you what I was trying to do. The sergeant was assigning us to duty, KP, so I got under the table until she assigned all the duties.

Then I come out, and I said, “Sergeant, you forgot to give me a duty.”

She said, “What is your name?”

So I told her, “Isabella Peterson.”

She said, “I did. I assigned you dishes.”

I said, “I don't recall that, Sergeant.”

So come to find out, she said, “Isabella Peterson,” some white girl said, “Here.” [laughs] And she was assigned, all right.

So she said, “Well, that's all right. You come in the storage, and we'll take care of the vegetables.”

So we're pulling the leaves off the cauliflower, and then I'd hand them to her, and she'd cut the stalk, so she cut my finger.

EE:

Cut right across you.

IE:

I looked down, and I saw blood. I said, “Sergeant, one of us is bleeding.”

She said, “It's not me.”

I looked down, and there's my finger's open. I said, “Sergeant, it's me.” I said, “We've got to go to the hospital.”

She said, “Honest to God, I didn't mean to do it. Please don't.”

I said, “Well, I didn't know it.”

So she took me to the hospital, and they would not take care of my finger.

EE:

This is in Arkansas?

IE:

No. This is Des Moines.

EE:

Des Moines?

IE:

Yes. So I said, “I didn't expect this in Des Moines, but guess there's [unclear] people all over.” Even he wouldn't sew my finger up. I had eight stitches in it eventually.

EE:

How did you finally get it taken care of?

IE:

I told him, I said, “You don't have to sew it up.” I said, “I'll get on the streetcar and ride into town and find me a civilian doctor, and I'll let him know the military would not take care of my finger.”

He said, “We're not doing your finger until you admit you and the sergeant were fighting.”

I said, “Why am I going to lie?”

So he looked at me. He said, “I said—”

I said, “I heard what you said, sir.” I said, “But we were not fighting. We were doing duty, and I don't know how it happened, and she doesn't know.” I said, “I'm not going to lie on her, because she wouldn't say we were fighting, and I'm not going to say it.” So he wanted me to say we were fighting.

EE:

Have a strike against healing people.

IE:

So I'm still bleeding. So I told him, I said, “That's all right. I'll go to town, sir.” I said, “And I'm from Washington, D.C. And I'll get a TWX so fast to the war department, you won't know what hit you, sir.” [laughs] I always put that “sir” there [unclear] after I threatened him with the TWX.

EE:

What's a TWX?

IE:

Telegram. [laughs]

IE:

No, but you're going to tell somebody, “Look at the junk that I'm having to go through.” And this was just because one particular person was just trying to pull your chain and say, “I'm going to get a rise out of you.”

IE:

Yes. He couldn't do it. I started to say, “Bigger men than you have tried”, but I didn't. [laughs]

EE:

You were in England for about three months, I think, that group was, and then you all went to France, to Rouen.

IE:

Rouen, yes, yes.

EE:

Joan of Arc's place, where she was—

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Were you in that parade about Joan of Arc? Did you all do that?

IE:

Oh, I think I was on duty. They always got me for duty when I wanted to go someplace. “No, Pete, we've got to keep you clean for your husband.” I'd say,“Get out of here. Don't bother me now.”

EE:

When did you get married?

IE:

In '43, November of '43.

EE:

Was this somebody you met at Clark?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

This Evans, Mr. Evans.

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Did you work with him?

IE:

No. No.

EE:

Just met him at a social function?

IE:

Yes. Yes. He was the 2nd Cavalry.

EE:

What was his first name?

IE:

Oscar Edwin. [laughs]

EE:

Okay. So the cavalry came and swept you off your feet. Now when you got married, couldn't you have gotten out of the service by getting married?

IE:

If you got pregnant.

EE:

Okay.

IE:

Yes. Then we wasn't allowed to get pregnant. If you got pregnant, you got discharged.

EE:

Well, now, you were switched to Gruber. Was he still at Clark?

IE:

No. He had gone over. They had gone to Africa.

EE:

So you all were doing V-Mail back and forth to each other?

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Was he telling you where he was, or was he—you told me that you somehow met up with him in France.

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Tell me about this. How did you meet up with him?

IE:

Well, I met him—really, we were on our way to France, and we were restricted to the barracks, and he was coming, but he didn't let me know he was coming to see me, trying to catch me off guard, I guess. That happened all through our marriage. He would never let me know when he was coming. I think he thought he could outsmart me. [laughs]

EE:

So he shows up, and this is when you're in England still.

IE:

Yes. And were leaving that night.

EE:

This is the first time you'd seen him in what, a year?

IE:

Yes, just about. Yes.

So they said, “Pete, you have a visitor, but he can't come in.”

I said, “Well, what am I supposed to do?”

They said, “We'll let you go to the gate, the front door, and see who it is.”

So I went out there, and there he was.

He said, “Let me in.”

I said, “I can't let you in. We're all restricted to barracks.”

He said, “What do you mean restricted to barracks?”

I said, “You were in the army. You know what it means.”

So I went back, and some of the officers over there I had been with before when-out of basic. They said, “Okay, Pete, we'll let you go over.” One of my officers said, “I'll let you stay in my room.”

I said, “Okay, Lieutenant Scott.”

So we went there, and so I said there'd be no cleaning sheets, and this room is not mine.

EE:

[laughs] You don't want to have tales told about you in there.

IE:

Huh?

EE:

You all just had the one night together?

IE:

Well, then I said, “I'm not supposed to stay here with you. We're leaving tonight.”

So he said, “Where are you going?”

I said, “I don't know. I'm not supposed to know.” I don't know how he found out. Anyway, when I got to France, he was there, too. [laughs] Then I got three days. My officer gave me three days, and I came back.

She said, “Pete, I'll give you three more days.”

I said, “No, thank you. I'm tired. I'm back right now.” [laughter]

EE:

[unclear] That's funny. You were there. Did he come home first?

IE:

No. I got home first. He went to—let's see. Where did they go? [unclear]

EE:

So they went to the Pacific then, actually?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Was he in the occupation army afterwards?

IE:

He was—I guess, for a while.

EE:

Or was he part of the invasion that went over there?

IE:

No, no, no. He was in Africa, then from Africa to Italy, and then France. Then from France, he went to Japan. Then he came back home and—now I'm trying to remember what [unclear].

EE:

You got home in—

IE:

I got home in November of '45.

EE:

November of '45?

IE:

Yes. And I think he came home—I'm trying to remember whether they—

EE:

But was it before Christmas?

IE:

No.

EE:

So it was '46?

IE:

Yes, '46 [unclear].

EE:

You know, they were advertising for women, saying they would free a man to fight. Were you all doing jobs—I guess you were doing jobs that men would normally be doing.

IE:

Yes. We had our own truck drivers. Our women could drive those big old trucks. And of course, we were doing the mailing. I could sling those bags just like the men.

EE:

And they're heavy bags. You talked about the women in Des Moines, the civilian women didn't like you all because you all were stealing their men, but some people have said that they weren't liked because they were making the men go off to fight.

IE:

Well, they were angry at us. That was part of it, too. The men had gotten deferred before that. Plus if you had so many children, you were deferred anyway.

EE:

I think my grandfather was a 4F [ineligible for service], too many kids.

IE:

I guess your grandmother was happy.

EE:

She was happy.

IE:

Yes. Because that was something then, if you stop to think about it.

EE:

Well, you know, you talked about some women that went ahead and made it a career. Did you ever think about making the military a career?

IE:

I tell you the truth. I didn't think of it. I just thought I'd been around women enough. It was time for me to get out of there. [laughs]

EE:

I can see that. Do you remember where you were when you heard about Roosevelt passing away?

IE:

Yes. We were in England. We had just—I was on the ship that got off at—I think it was four o'clock in the morning, and we had just gotten in our bunks. They weren't really beds. They were cushions off [unclear] and you made a bed out of them, and you made it up, and you couldn't sleep that night. You couldn't sleep because you had to move the way your body had formed them.

We had just gotten in bed, and then the whistle blows and it said, “Report for formation.” They told us what to put on, and we went outside. It was still dark, and they started reading the news, the bulletin. So a lot of the girls fainted and some cried. I just stood there and [unclear] myself. I guess they couldn't understand why I wasn't crying, but when you're stationed in Washington and you read all the dirt about everybody, you just don't—[laughs]

EE:

You don't have respect for anybody, probably, because you just heard too much about them. I ask a lot of people what they thought about Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt, who was pretty distinctive.

IE:

Oh, I liked—yes, her. She did a lot of good.

EE:

She was a friend of Miss Bethune, wasn't she?

IE:

Yes. Yes. Yes, they were good friends, and—well, she had—let's see, she had been exposed to us because she had a neighbor—her mother died when she was very young. So the maid was really sort of her mother.

EE:

Kind of a surrogate mama for her.

IE:

Yes. And of course, she was black. She carried too much [unclear], I think, because it gave her—people were against her so. Most of the white people, they [unclear].

EE:

I heard somebody say they were with—I think Miss Rhode was telling me that she was in Europe, and they were talking about there was a mountain—10th Mountain Division that was coming through or something, and they were called “Eleanor's Boys.” Did you feel like you were Eleanor's Girls?

IE:

Well, I liked her, and I also liked Mrs. Eisenhower. When the president was over in Africa, North Africa, the fighter, I mean, he was a general there, these wives, they were on his staff, and so they'd get together and they'd play bridge. She would come in, and she'd say to me, “I can't drink, so please don't give me any, but make sure my drink looks like the rest.” So I told her, “Okay.” So in the rest I put pale ginger ale. On hers I put the golden.

EE:

This was when you were in England?

IE:

No. No. This was before I joined up.

EE:

Oh, before, back in civilian work.

IE:

Yes. Yes. I liked her because there was no pretense about her. Lot of people said she was always drunk, but she wasn't drunk, because she had suffered from—

EE:

Alcoholism been in her family?

IE:

No, not alcohol. She had had—now I'm trying to remember which one it was. Anyway, it affects you by not having children, or you lose them if you carry them so far. And she'd been alone so much.

Well, anyway, I tried to do what she told me. She taught me how to set a table with all these glasses and silverware and all this. So I liked her.

EE:

So was this working with her or somebody that you got to meet while you were working in the postal job at the—

IE:

No, before.

EE:

When you were doing the domestic work.

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Like when you were working with the commissioners.

IE:

Yes. Yes. Matter of fact, it was his wife. [laughs] So the women would meet every day. They didn't have anything else to do, and they were trying to be faithful wives.

EE:

So the wives support their husbands by getting together and [unclear].

IE:

Yes. Yes. [laughs]

EE:

You came back, and you worked in—did you stay in the D.C. area when you got back?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Did you immediately start working for the military as a civilian?

IE:

No, no, no. I got back home just in time. The post office always hired extra help for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I went to the post office, signed up for work at the main post office. After Christmas was over, they sent me to one of the substations to work.

Then my husband got home. He was going to Indiana, so he said, “You can't work no more.”

I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa here. Let's not make mistakes. [laughs]”

“Well, you've got to come to Indiana.” That's where he's from, Indianapolis.

I said nicely, “Don't tell me what I have to do.”

So right away he [unclear] marriage [unclear]. [laughs]

EE:

So how long did you all stay together after that?

IE:

Twenty-five years before I would [unclear] from my divorce. [laughter] He was not going to sign it, and he was going to let me know in no uncertain terms.

EE:

So did you go to Indiana?

IE:

Yes, I was there April 6, I think it was. It was Arbor Day, I think it was. I got there, and I don't think I'd ever told this. [laugh] Mouth almighty, you'd better shut up. The train stopped in Indianapolis. I saw him. He was still wearing army clothes. So I passed right by him like I didn't see him. [unclear] I hear somebody running, “Bell, Bell.” I said, “Keep on walking, stupid, until you get yourself together here.” So I kept on walking so he'd find me. I'm looking, “Where is he?” [laughs] Good actress.

EE:

When did you start doing the work with the military that you were telling me about? Were you working in the Pentagon? Is that where you were working?

IE:

No, no, no. We worked in Virginia, Arlington, Virginia. Then I worked at the—this is killing me. I can't remember that little town I worked at. It was part of the—it was an army station.

EE:

But now, this vault you were telling me about, was that in D.C. proper?

IE:

No, no, no. This was Virginia also. We called it the vault because it had all the master copies of everything.

EE:

Were your kids born in Indiana or back in D.C.?

IE:

No, my children were born—my oldest daughter in Boston, I think, my second daughter was born in Germany, and my son was born in Boston.

EE:

Now, did he stay in the service, your husband?

IE:

Oh, yes. He stayed in for twenty—

EE:

So you followed him around, basically, for twenty years. You didn't really leave the military, then, because of him, did you?

IE:

Well, yet I'm the one that—he'll disagree—put him back in the military, because he had gotten out. Then about this time, General Eisenhower was president, and they were asking for officers who were out. They needed them to help train—they were giving the African countries—they were getting their freedom.

EE:

So they were training for peace-keeping missions?

IE:

Yes. So I had a friend who was a colonel, and he said, “Pete.”

I said, “Yes?”

He said, “Is your husband ready to go back?”

I said, “I guess it would be a good idea.”

So he said, “Okay. Send an application in.”

So I went down to the army and tried to get an application, and they say, “You have to send four copies, but we only have one.”

So I said, “Okay.” I had a sister who worked up at Howard University as a—come on. Think of the woman's name.

EE:

Wasn't a medical doctor? Was it a medical doctor she worked with?

IE:

No. She worked at Howard. She was a medical doctor. Ferraby. So I went up and I asked my sister would she make four copies for me. So she made them, and I brought them back to the house.

I said, “Here's what you want. Sign it so I can send them in.”

He said, “What is it?”

I said, “It's for you to get your position back.”

EE:

And he wasn't in during Korea?

IE:

What?

EE:

He wasn't part of the reserves? He wasn't in Korea?

IE:

Yes, he was in Korea.

EE:

Where was he in Korea?

IE:

He was there.

EE:

Were you stateside while he was overseas?

IE:

Oh, yes. I said, “I'm not following any more.” I had asked the Lord to get me back in one piece with everything working, and I'll never cross that ocean, any ocean, again. [laughs]

EE:

So you all stayed back in the D.C. area while he was over there?

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

So then he got another job working then?

IE:

He was working before that as a guard. One of my sisters had gotten a guard application for him. He's smart. He has a high IQ, and he would always throw it in my face. I would tell him, “It doesn't bother me in the least. At least I know how to treat people and get along with them.” That would make him a little angry. [laughs]

EE:

You stayed up in the D.C. area till about '70, it sounds like. Was it '81 when you came back down here?

IE:

Yes.

EE:

Eighty-one. Okay. '70 is about when you got your divorce then?

IE:

No, about '68.

EE:

You have how many children?

IE:

Three.

EE:

And how many of them went into the military?

IE:

My son was in the air force for four years and I forget how many months. He was counting days off and everything. And my granddaughter was—

EE:

Did your daughters ever have any interest in joining the military?

IE:

No, indeed. My daughters—

EE:

They didn't hear stories from Mom?

IE:

They heard them. That's why they didn't want to go.

EE:

Well, I mean, if they had come to you and said, “Mom, I'm going to think about joining the service,” what would you have said?

IE:

Well, at that point, I'd say, “Now, which branch do you want?” And if they had said the army, I would say, “No, you can't go in the army.” And that's not [unclear]. I'd better not say it then. [unclear] on your tape, and I'll be called up.

EE:

Well, now, you didn't join the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]. Did you ever think about, “Well, gosh, I should have joined the WAVES”?

IE:

Yes. That's what my supervisor said. “If you wait a couple of months,” she said, “We're going to let you in.” I said, “It's too late. I've already sworn.”

EE:

Because the WACs let blacks in before the WAVES, didn't they?

IE:

Oh, yes, the WAVES were almost the last.

EE:

You know, they just let a woman into combat for the first time just a couple of years ago when they sent a fighter pilot over to Iraq. Do you think that women should be allowed to be in combat?

IE:

Oh, yes. I think we'd be—we would have—

EE:

You have the brain power.

IE:

Yes. Because mothers, they've got to think all kind of ways, women. They're trained that way, and that's why men have a lot of trouble, because in the first place—

EE:

I'm taking notes. Go ahead.

IE:

Yes. I saw your hand going. I'd better think and say it this way. I might get in trouble. [laughs]

EE:

Sorry. It sounds exactly like my wife. Keep going. Tell me what I've heard a thousand times before. Go ahead. Let's just hear it again. [laughs]

IE:

No. Men haven't been trained to think. They've got a one-track mind.

EE:

Men decide and then try to make circumstances fit what they've already decided. Women think on their feet and deal with what's reality. Men don't deal well with reality.

You know, when you think back to those times, is there a song or a movie that takes you back to your time in the service?

IE:

I used to like the song—I still like it—Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week.

EE:

“in the Week.”

IE:

You know that song?

EE:

I've heard that song.

[End Tape 1, Side B-Begin Tape 2, Side A]

EE:

—old stories. Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week. Do you think that the military made you more of an independent person than you would have been otherwise?

IE:

No. Things just budded out more. I think I—

EE:

I think you were pretty independent from the get—go.

IE:

Well, I had to be.

EE:

That's right. Life made you more independent.

IE:

Yes. It makes you, whether you want it or not. And like I hear a lot of people say, the Lord only puts as much [on you] as you can handle, or something like that.

EE:

Yes. That's said by somebody who hasn't handled much.

IE:

And then—yes. I look at them, and I say, “That had nothing to do with it,” and they look at me.

EE:

Because you hate to think the Lord singled you out for some special attention.

IE:

I hate to, yes, with two children a month old and taking my mother and Sunday morning, my father's gone, too. Tuesday she's dead. My father wakes me up, and he said, “[unclear] wake up, wake up.” He said, “Your mother's sleeping. The doctor came and gave her a sleeping medicine to make her sleep because she hadn't been sleeping. So you keep the babies quiet until she wakes up.”

And I looked at him. I said, “Okay, Daddy.”

So he went off to work. And they started screaming and crying.

To show you I had never been around the dead before, this is July. They were born June 14, this is July 14, I know. She's cold, and it's hot as I don't know what. So I put my blanket over her. Then at ten o'clock she didn't wake up.

So I told one of my sisters, “Go over next door and tell Aunt Emma I can't wake Mama up.”

They said, “What?”

So I repeated it. [unclear] my mother's sister-in-law.

So she came in, and she felt my mother, and she started screaming.

And all the people—as we said, Lisbon Street is a railroad where the train goes by. All those people telling they heard her scream. So I looked at them, and I couldn't understand it. I was eleven years old.

EE:

It's too much, too much at one time.

IE:

Yes. She hadn't taught me to cook because she had done all of that herself. And there I was, supposed to be cooking. My father said, “When are you going to cook?” “Daddy wants to [unclear] and poor Mama hadn't taught me to cook.” “Don't you talk back.” Well, I was doing everything, helping with the children and washing and ironing and cleaning house. She would bring us in the kitchen to watch her, but she would do it herself. So that was that.

EE:

My wife had a younger brother who passed away very young. I find that people who make those comments like “He only gives you what you can handle” haven't had a lot to handle.

IE:

Yes. I don't really believe in that.

EE:

You've been independent. You've been a survivor type. But today you had the attitude, which is a feeling, and I just—something that a lot of women I talk to miss is an attitude of optimism about America and belief in ourselves, patriotism. Is that different for you now? Do you see that there's a big difference between now and then?

IE:

Oh, yes.

EE:

I mean, even—

IE:

It bothers me a lot.

EE:

You said you wouldn't speak bad about this country.

IE:

Yes, when I'm away from it, but when I'm here, I'm just as bad as the next sometimes. But I try to be understanding, and I know I got cut back three grades before I retired, but I got it back. I fought it until I got it back.

I had said President Nixon was a good president and what he had done was try to protect President Johnson's administration and also Kennedy's. Then I got demoted six grades. So I told them, “I am not taking this lying down.”

They said, “Well, we don't know what you think you're going to do.”

So I didn't tell them until the last minute what I thought I was going to do.

I said, “I'm a veteran. I don't know if you know this, since you cleared out my 201 and left but one letter in it.”

So they looked at one another. [laughs] I'm sitting at this table. I'm sitting at the head. The big chief's sitting at the other end looking at me like, “I dare you to say whatever you're going to say.” I just looked at him like he wasn't sitting there. They didn't bother me. But I know this is what had happened. So before that, I had—like I said, on St. Croix, I had gone on vacation, and when I got back, they told me to report to the security officer. So I reported to him, and he said, “Isabella.”

I said, “Yes?”

He said, “You're going to cook because some documents are missing.”

So I said, “Did they happen on my watch?”

He looked at me, and he didn't know I was going to say that. He never knew what was coming out of my mouth. Nobody does, because when I'm in trouble, I don't think like a Negro. I think like I've been trained to think. I always said only one I fear, and that's God. The rest of them, I will stand up there, and they knock me down.

EE:

That's the only one you've got to [unclear]. That's right.

IE:

That's right. So I told them I was away. I said, “I'd like to see the document, please.” So like a nut, he gives it to me. Shows you how smart he is. I look at it, and it happened while I'm away. Another woman had signed for them.

I said, “I didn't sign for these.”

He said, “Yes, you did.”

I said, “I can read. I don't know if you're aware of it or not.”

So he looked at me, because they had put him up, and they hadn't schooled him enough as to what to say to me, because this is the Negro who is not afraid of anybody. [laughs]

So I said, “No. I'm not taking responsibility for this.” I said, “This happened while I was on vacation.”

He said, “Nevertheless, you're in charge.”

I said, “No, I'm not.” I named the lady who was in charge, and I said, “Now you go to her and bring her in here so we can discuss this.”

He said, “I'm not bringing anybody.” He said, “I've got three people who will sign and say you received them.”

I said, “I don't care if you get a hundred.” I said, “I am not responsible. This happened when I was on vacation.” I said, "“By the way—”"

He said, “You'd better get you a lawyer, because what you're saying is being held against you.”

I said, “I realize the tape is running.” I said, “Every morning, the guy comes in early, takes the old one out and puts the new one in. I know this.”

And he looked at me.

So anyway, I told him I was not. And I said, “What you need to do is to bring the FBI in or the CIA, either one you want, and let them question all of us [unclear] because they can tell you I was on vacation when this incident happened.” They brought them in, and they had to hook us up. So I got in, and the lady who was the guy's assistant, she said, “Pete.”

I said, “Yes?”

She said, “I didn't know you were here.”

I said, “Yes. Clara's here, too.” We had grown up with her.

Then he said, “I'm sorry, I can't take you. You'll have to come in another day.” Then she knew she couldn't be there to witness because he figured she had told me what to say. So he brought somebody else in, and I took it, and nothing ever came of it.

EE:

They're just trying to—

IE:

Trying to scare me [unclear] but I—

EE:

It's true. I think there are people-you don't have to be a woman, you don't have to be a person of color to learn that people are going to put up obstacles, but if you are a woman and if you are a person of color, you're more likely to find those obstacles, I'm afraid, in our world. And you put up with a [unclear] of them.

Do you think that we've gotten to be a better place in your lifetime with less of those obstacles? Are we more aware of them?

IE:

I figure-now, here is not nice to say because I'm not supposed to speak against whoever's president. Anyway—

EE:

Well, this president has had a few speak against him.

IE:

But I mean, he has tried. He reminds me of President Kennedy and President Johnson. Now, President Johnson, I had grown to dislike him when he was a senator, because when someone said there'd be no more segregation in the military, he said, “As long as I'm in the United States Senate, there will be.” But then when he became president, he tried overkill, helping the Negroes, as we were called then. So that's why I say this one, Clinton, he appoints all these people to these different cabinet offices and he tries, but he overkills.

EE:

You don't know if they're doing it out of conviction or just because it's politically [correct].

IE:

It's political. Correct. That's all. That's what I mean when I'm saying that. But I did get to like President Johnson. I felt sorry for President Truman because all of his people were against him, I mean the educated ones. They wouldn't help that man do anything. He said, and they don't like to repeat him saying it—he said if it hadn't been for President Hoover, he would not have made it because President Hoover was [unclear].

EE:

And Hoover certainly had enough people talking bad about him.

IE:

Him, yes, yes.

EE:

Truman had a very tough job coming in. I know, a lot of people just—, when they found out he was president, they just didn't know what was going to happen.

IE:

Yes, that's what I mean. They thought no college. College is fine, but if you get out in the world, you know what's going on.

EE:

Yes. And if you haven't been out in the world and have been in too much college, it ain't too good for you either.

IE:

No. Yes. That's like I looked at the-same thing with President Kennedy. He put all of his friends in college in his cabinet. [unclear] rich people's children. All they knew how to do is play. [laughs]

EE:

And the longer we go, the more we find out that's what they did.

IE:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

What was the hardest thing that you had to do during your time in service, either for you physically or emotionally?

IE:

Let me see. I have this tendency of trying to help people. If I see them getting in trouble, I'll try to help them get out. I did the same thing when I went in. Some of the women-I tried to treat everybody right. Even if they had done something I wouldn't have done myself, I'd try to get them out of it. But that's one reason I went overseas, was to get out from having that to do, because you get to the point where, “What did I say?” We had two girls that got killed in Oklahoma on our base.

EE:

Was it an accident during training, or what was it?

IE:

No. We had finished training then, see, but we were assigned our duties. This was Oklahoma, and it happened on the base. They were supposed to have been at work, and they were not. So the guys—I don't know whether they had promised and didn't go through with it or what, but it was something I'd better not say because I don't how far the things are going. I think both the girls—no, one was from Massachusetts, and the other one was from Pennsylvania. The hardest thing was writing the letters to their parents and telling them they were killed.

EE:

They think it was soldiers there on the base that killed them?

IE:

Yes. You know, [unclear], and the [unclear] weren't supposed to have any fraternization with them, because you can't keep men and women apart forever.

EE:

[unclear] That was tough.

IE:

That was the hardest—one of the hardest things I ever did, was write the letters, because the captain was supposed to do it, and she said, “Evans, you know them better than I do. So you write and I'll sign,” and I said, “Yes, ma'am.” They were—

EE:

Everybody was young, in their early twenties, weren't they?

IE:

Yes. [unclear]

EE:

Full of life. Full of something. [laughs]

IE:

Yes, full of everything. [laughs] But it was-and I was so glad when they were sending us overseas. I volunteered, number one, “Captain,—” Next time it came, I went to the colonel myself.

I said, “Sir, please don't take my name off. Let it [unclear].”

He said, “But they might.”

I said, “That's okay.” I said, “I hate to lose the stripes because I worked hard for them.” I was really doing two jobs at once. I was the company clerk and the first sergeant, acting first sergeant.

EE:

And you were a T5 when you were discharged.

IE:

Yes. And I was supposed to have my first sergeant stripes, but I didn't get them.

The captain said, “You don't need them.”

I said, “Why, ma'am?” Here I am, writing everybody else to get a promotion, and I didn't get anything. So I looked at her, and I said, “Why? Why me?”

She said, “Evans, you're married to an officer. You've got enough money coming in the house.”

I said, “But I'm working. I didn't ask you to give me.” I said, “I'm working for this.”

I'd be on the job all day and all night. Sometimes I'd sleep right in the room where the CQ, charge of quarters, was supposed to be on duty, and I'd say to the girls—they said, “Pete, I want to go to the movies tonight.”

I said, “Okay. I'll take your duty.” So I'd stay there and work all day and all night. [laughs] I thought I had worked hard enough for my stripes. So I was very happy when they asked for volunteers to go over there.

EE:

What's your granddaughter's name?

IE:

Monica.

EE:

Well, I'll bet Monica's awful proud of you. And it looks like the feeling's mutual.

IE:

Oh, yes. Yes. We have a-she didn't even call to tell me she was hurt. She let her mother do it.

Claudie said, “Mama, have you heard from Monica?”

I said, “No. Why? What's the matter? What's the matter?”

“Mama, wait and let me tell you.” She said, “Monica got hurt in her back. She was making an arrest, and she got hurt.”

The first thing I said—I didn't want her to be a policeman, but when you talk around little children, they pick up on what they hear you saying. So when I was younger, I wanted to be—my father said I was going to be a nurse. He was going to send me to Charlotte University to be a nurse, and I never said yes or no. [laughs] So when I got to Washington, I wanted to be a policewoman. [laughs]

EE:

And she heard you talk about that. Yes, you've got to be careful what you say around kids. They do remember.

IE:

Yes. One of them will come up with it.

EE:

Ms. Evans, I have run out of my questions, and you have been so generous with your time this morning. It's been wonderful to talk with you. Is there anything I have not asked you about that you think our folks might—

IE:

No. I hope I haven't said too much, because when you work for the federal government, especially in the top secret and all that junk, they tell you two, three years after—they told me I couldn't write a book without consenting to them first.

EE:

Yes. I've had a couple of people I went to interview, and they say, “Well, I work in intelligence, and I can't tell you anything,” and it seems like it's going to be a long interview. So I'm glad you didn't work in intelligence while you were there.

So thank you.

IE:

Thank you. That's good.

[End of interview]