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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Marilyn Bobbi Earp, 2000

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Object ID: WV0174.5.001

Description: Documents N. Marilyn Roberts “Bobbi” Earp’s early life, education, and flight training; her service as an air traffic control tower operator while in the U.S. Navy WAVES from 1944 to 1949; her experiences singing with the choir throughout her service career; and her post-war employment.

Summary:

Earp discusses her interest in becoming a pilot, including the influence of the Rawlinson sisters; her subsequent flight training; dropping out of college; paying for lessons with a job at a parachute factory; the death of WASP Mabel Rawlinson in an airplane training accident; and Earp's desire to join the WASP.

Earp describes her decision to join the WAVES after watching a newsreel in July 1944. Her discussion of basic training at Hunter College primarily focuses on her immediate involvement in the singing platoon; their special privileges and quarters; performances on the radio and at prestigious venues; and the impact that singing has had throughout her life.

Earp also discusses air traffic control training in Atlanta, Georgia, especially her treatment by Southerners and having KP duty for two weeks. Topics from Earp's years of service at Glenview, Illinois, include the working conditions and social life while stationed on base; meeting her husband; being discharged against her will in 1946; returning to service at Glenview in the operations department; and being in the service while pregnant.

Other topics include the Earps' post-war poverty; Roger Earp's illness and death; Bobbi's education at UNC-Pembroke and career as a teacher; and her opinions of women in combat.

Creator: Nelda Marilyn Roberts Earp

Biographical Info: Marilyn Roberts “Bobbi” Earp of Galien, Michigan, was an air traffic controller with the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) from 1944 to 1949, followed by a long career as a teacher in Tabor City, North Carolina.

Collection: Marilyn Roberts "Bobbi" Earp Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today, I'm in Wrightsville, North Carolina, speaking with Bobbi Earp.

Ms. Earp, thank you for sitting down with me this morning. We're going to take about forty-five minutes or an hour just to kind of go over what your time was like in the service. You went in in '43, is that right?

BE:

Let's see. I started college in '40, and I would have been a rising senior had I not dropped out to learn to fly. So that would have been '44, '43 or '44.

EE:

And then you got out in '45 at the end of the war.

BE:

I think I got out in January of '46. Then I went back in later on.

EE:

Where were you born?

BE:

A little tiny town called Galien, G-a-l-i-e-n, and that's still there, Michigan. I think there was something like 492 people when I left to go to college.

EE:

And you probably knew most of them on a first-name basis.

BE:

Yes.

EE:

You went to high school there, too?

BE:

Yes. We had a consolidated school. It was a very rural place, but South Bend, Indiana, was just nineteen miles away, so we—

EE:

I was going to ask you what part of the state it's in. So it's in the southwest corner?

BE:

Of Michigan, yes. It's three miles over the line from Indiana, yes.

EE:

What did your folks do?

BE:

Well, my father had been raised on a farm. His father had two kinds of work that he could not do because he had asthma. He had coal and he had grain. So he went into factory work, and he was an inspector. They had lots of contracts for the government during the war.

EE:

He was like with mechanical and machinery, is that what—machinery inspection?

BE:

I don't know. He had a slide rule and all that kind of thing. All I know is when he retired, they got two MIT [Michigan Institute of Technology] graduate students to replace my dad. He had only a high school education, and he had to train them a year before he left. I was never that curious.

EE:

And your mom?

BE:

My mother had taught school before she married, but then she became a housewife. I can't say “just” a housewife—

EE:

No. That's too much work. Do you have any brothers and sisters?

BE:

I had two brothers and one sister.

EE:

Were you somewhere in the middle in that group?

BE:

I was the second oldest.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

BE:

Yes. I always wanted to know everything.

EE:

Was there a favorite subject that you had?

BE:

Oh, I suppose reading. I would even sneak a flashlight in my bed at night and make out I was sleeping. I was reading under the pillows. I went to the library every day.

EE:

Michigan probably had twelve-year high schools then?

BE:

We had thirteen years of school in Michigan. We started at five. It was called beginner's. You learned to read, and you had phonics and math at five in Michigan.

EE:

Wow. That's very early to have that kind of a program. So you graduated from high school in—

BE:

Nineteen-forty. Actually, thirteen years in the same school system.

EE:

I guess you were probably a little girl when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. Do you remember that?

BE:

Yes. I remember that, and more than that, I remember Amelia Earhart. I can still hardly talk about it. [Cries] I prayed for her for a long, long time.

EE:

What year was that that she disappeared, '37?

BE:

I was still in high school, because I remember that part.

EE:

Had you wanted to be a pilot, wanted to fly when you were little? When did you first get that idea in your head?

BE:

Well, my brother was taking flying lessons, and he was in the air force. I was dating somebody held responsible for flying. At that time in my life, I didn't ever think I would do that. I didn't think I was smart enough to do it, I guess.

It really is Mary Rawlinson's fault that I ended up in the navy, because, like I say, we were friends. She had already learned to fly because she had Mabel's share in the airplane that the—I guess—I don't know whether the Eighty Acres Club owned it and she had a share of it or what. Anyway, there was a class being given at the college at night that Mary wanted to take, and she would get credit for it. She didn't want to go because they told her it was all men that were in the class, or they said all males. She didn't say they were men. She said, “Please go with me so I won't be the only girl in the class.”

EE:

Which college?

BE:

Kalamazoo, Michigan. At that time, it was called Western State Teachers College. Now it's the University of Western Michigan.

EE:

And this is where you went? I think you told me before we started that you had a scholarship to go to this place.

BE:

Yes.

EE:

And it was called Western Michigan Teachers College?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

Mary was somebody that you met?

BE:

I had met her in class, and we just got to be real good friends. She and her mother were living alone. The first year that I was in college, I worked for a family, like their live-in sitter and helper.

EE:

Like a nanny or something.

BE:

I did things like ironing and stuff like that. I got room and board and bus fare. Then I wanted to get near campus, so I was looking around for a place where you could pay to live. I don't remember how I actually ended up going to Mary's house unless they had had somebody that maybe had graduated living there and they needed somebody to come in. So I lived with their family. So I was there at the time that what happened to Mabel happened.

But in the meantime, I was learning, because I got involved in that class and I thought it was interesting. I thought, “Oh, if I'm going to take it, I'm going to do a good job.”

EE:

Were you all the only two women in the class?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

This was one of the Civilian Pilot Training Programs that was started?

BE:

Well, it actually was for high school teachers to be able to teach the same course they were taking, in high school. So that's what I was qualified for, although I was studying to be a primary teacher.

EE:

I guess that makes sense. Before the war, they had started this Civilian Pilot Training Program, and I guess after the war started, they were looking to train people to train pilots even earlier, to get them right out of school.

BE:

Yes, right.

EE:

So this was a program to do that, to train the teachers. You were looking to be a high school teacher.

BE:

Yes. Well, actually, at that time, I might have been in—right before the war started, the president of the college called all of our class together and said, “There are too many of you enrolled in the high school field, and we need people in the primary field. When you get out of college, you will be assured of a job.” We didn't know the war was coming. Anybody could have gotten a job, as it turned out.

I thought, “Well, I want to be sure and get a job,” so I switched. I was majoring in biology and history. Then I switched to elementary education, which is where I should have been because I have a thing with most of the children. Anyway, that class, I thought, “Well, if I'm taking it and I'm going to get credit for it anyway, I'm going to do a good job.” So Mary and I studied, and I had met—

EE:

This was your sophomore year.

BE:

I think so, yes.

EE:

This would have been '41, '42?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

You went right from high school to college, to Kalamazoo?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

So I guess it would have been the fall of your sophomore year.

BE:

I was seventeen when I started, and then my birthday was in October.

EE:

It would have been in December of your sophomore year that Pearl Harbor happened. Do you remember where you were on Pearl Harbor day?

BE:

I certainly do. I was sitting in a great big ballroom with about five hundred people, and we were singing the Messiah. We had all the churches that wanted to send a choir there, and I took it as a class, called Auxiliary Choir, that you had to be in the Messiah to get your credit for Auxiliary Choir. I'll never forget as long as I live. They stopped, and they were just—it was in the afternoon.

EE:

Did they dismiss everybody and say, “You all go home”?

BE:

Well, I think that's what happened, yes.

EE:

It was a shock. Up until then, I guess it was just an overseas problem that we were trying our best to avoid. That made it very direct. Was your brother already in the service at that time?

BE:

Yes, he was. He had learned to fly in a civilian airport, and he wanted to get in the Air force. He was truthful when they asked if he had anything wrong with him. He said he had asthma, so they told him he couldn't be in the Air force. I can't remember. I think he was drafted then. Then he decided that he had not gotten—I think it was where he lived in [unclear], this farmland with all the wheat and everything growing, and then what his father was into for his business and everything, and also the tension of being the only boy and having real smart sisters. He didn't want to do what his father wanted him to do. I think that had a lot to do with my brother having asthma. You know, that's an emotional disease, too.

EE:

So he was already in at Pearl Harbor day. Where was he assigned after that? Was he stateside?

BE:

Then he applied to go into the air force and got in, and he was flying bombers and that one that they called the “coffin.” He learned that one. That kind of worried me a whole lot. It had that short wing span. He had this kind of nature, too. They wanted him to be an instructor, so then he became an instructor so he did not have overseas duty. You know, it's a funny thing. My father was an instructor in World War I. He taught people how to drive, because hardly anybody had had a vehicle then.

EE:

That's right. That was the new thing.

BE:

So they had those great big trucks that they carried supplies and things. So he taught men how to drive.

EE:

He was in the army?

BE:

He was in the army, and he also played in the army band. He played the cornet, I think.

EE:

Well, now, you were in school, and the war kicks in in '42, I guess. They start with the WAAC, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and they start talking about all the branches of service having something. How did you get from being in this class to joining the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]?

BE:

Well, I decided I was going to learn to fly, and the only way I could do that was to have some money. So I just decided I was not going back for my senior year. I got this job packing parachute flares. This really sounds ridiculous, but the man that was my boss was so thrilled at having a college girl working for him. I had told him what I was doing, and I told him that I had met two men who were civilian instructors, and they were instructing the cadets.

At first, we had no men on our campus at all. I think we had forty-seven, something like that one year. Then the navy sent us the B-12 program, which we called the “thirty-day wonders.” I hated to work for them after I got in the navy. Then also, we had the flying cadet program, where they started out right at the very bottom in Taylorcraft or Piper Cubs. They had two instructors out there at Kalamazoo Airport, which was several miles out of town, no bus service.

Anyway, like I said, I had met these instructors, and they said yes, they would teach me, but they only could do that when the wind was too strong for the cadets or the ceiling was too low or the visibility was too short. Then they would call me at my job, and Mr. Walker was thrilled to let me out of my job because I had to punch out. So then I hitchhiked.

EE:

This was '43 you were taking this training, I guess, then?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

So this would have been fall of '43.

BE:

It's the year that I would have been a senior. See, I was still living with Mary. Mary got her degree because she didn't drop out of school a year to learn to fly. She was able to do it. Anyway, I was still living with them. So that was '44, and here I was, out on a limb. I didn't have enough solo hours to apply to get in the WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots].

EE:

Was Mary in the WASP?

BE:

She had gone for her physical. She had her orders to report, and Congress passed the bill or whatever it was that they had enough women. So first she just went ahead and got married. She was going to get married anyway.

EE:

You were living with them. This is Mary Rawlinson and her sister, Mabel, was the one that was already in the WASP, I guess, in '43. And '43 is when the wreck happened? Was it before or after you left school?

BE:

That part I can't remember, but it seems like I was there when they got the information. They did not get what was in that book. They just said she was test flying an airplane. They didn't say a thing about that canopy having been reported as sticking, which had been—

EE:

You were telling me that she actually got to the ground. She landed the plane, but then the plane caught fire and they couldn't get her out.

BE:

Yes. She couldn't get out. They could hear her screaming. That's what the book says, The Wonderful Women and Their Flying Machines. And Tom Brokaw's book [The Greatest Generation]. I believe he had her in his book, too.

EE:

Did that not scare you? Did that not dampen your enthusiasm for wanting to try this?

BE:

Well, things happen. I mean, think of all the things that happen. Have you ever flown an airplane?

EE:

I've flown in one.

BE:

Yes. I know you've flown a lot. After I finally started, it was the most exciting thing I had ever done, and the day that I soloed, I thought—I had a boyfriend once, and I got so sick of him talking about flying all the time. That made me feel so bad of how I had kind of pooh-poohed him all the time, because I didn't understand. Getting in an airplane with somebody else and getting in there all alone are two different things. I just thought, “Well, God, it's just you and me.” If I had to say what was the biggest thrill of my life, that was it.

EE:

That solo.

BE:

Yes, the first time I soloed.

EE:

I'll bet. Now, you were telling me you had to get your parents' signature to solo.

BE:

Yes, because I wasn't old enough.

EE:

Had they known that you were taking this flying business?

BE:

No. They thought I was in Kalamazoo.

EE:

What was that conversation? [laughter]

BE:

Well, they were used to me being sort of an individual person in my own mind. They also knew that I was working. I had a job every day of my life that I was in college. They would have given me some money, but, honest, I never asked for a penny, never. Even after I got married, I never asked them for a penny, and we had some hard times, too. I think you're either born that way or you're not. I hate to say this, but I had to cry to get my mother to sign the papers. Now, if that isn't being less than I'm supposed to be if I'm going to be independent.

EE:

Well, were they crocodile tears, or did you really mean it? I imagine it meant something to you.

BE:

I felt like I had to do it. I really felt like I had to do it. I think even the fact that Mabel had died made me more determined, I don't know. I think the WASP were given more respect, maybe, too, at that time, but Congress didn't think so. There was a whole lot of politics, an awful lot of politics.

EE:

Did you still live with the Rawlinsons when you were doing the flight stuff while you were working at the parachute?

BE:

No. Then I think that Mary had gotten married and had left, and I had run into another girl on campus. So I roomed with her, although I hardly ever saw her.

EE:

They passed a bill saying they didn't want any more women in that particular branch, but yet you went ahead and joined another branch of the service.

BE:

Well, see, you've heard about being at the end of your rope? I didn't have any money, and I think the contract probably had run out for the flares. We had finished all the flares or whatever. I had to have a job. I didn't have my senior year, and I didn't have any money then to go back to school, although I could have done it if I had really wanted to.

I went to the movies, and they had—what do you want to call it—an ad. There's another word I want to say, but it was about people being in the WAVES.

EE:

Like a newsreel about it.

BE:

Yes. They showed somebody in the control tower. I thought, “Well, I've already had ground school. I've already learned how to fly, even if I did, as my sister said, 'You landed, and you landed, and you landed.'” I never found out why I did that until just a few years ago I found out I had depth perception problems. I still can't parallel park. [laughs] You know, you have to pull the stick back when you think you are so far, fifty feet off the ground. Well, you had to think what fifty feet was and get it back. If you're not there, then something else happens. I used to understand all that about the air flow over the ailerons. That's gone. That's gone.

A lot of people say, “Do you still fly?”

I say, “Are you crazy? I never had enough money to fly since I quit working in the factory.”

There's a man in our church that just says, “There she is. There's that aviatrix.”

I say, “That was years ago, years ago, years ago. I couldn't fly anything if I tried to now.” He just thinks that was wonderful that I did that.

EE:

That's great. So you were at Kalamazoo, in that area still. Did you go apply at a local office for the WAVES? What made you pick the WAVES as opposed to—just that newsreel?

BE:

Yes. I went to the post office. That's where the recruiting station was. They had a chief there. I told them my whole history, about everything I've told you. I said, “I can either get me a job and go back to college, or I can do something for my country.” I said, “What do you think would be my chances if I joined the WAVES?”

He said, “Well, I can't guarantee it, but,” he says, “there are two things that you have a strong possibility for. One is a Link trainer, and the other one is a control tower operator.”

So I thought, “Oh, well, why not try it?” I mean, I was the kind of girl—I would fight to be the one to carry the American flag when I was a Girl Scout and we were in a parade or something. It's hard when you're going uphill and the wind's blowing, so nobody else probably even wanted to. I mean, I've just always been intensely patriotic about being an American. So it was just what I was supposed to do.

EE:

Where did you go for basic? This was summertime of '44? When was this, hot kinds of places?

BE:

Yes. It was in July and this was Hunter College, and there's nothing but cement and cement and skyscrapers and what has—

EE:

It's in the Bronx, isn't it?

BE:

Yes. Is it the Bronx or Queens? I can't remember.

EE:

It's the Bronx.

BE:

I forgot. I had some literature on that at home, but I couldn't remember where it was to write down. Anyway, another thing that changed my whole life was that the day I reported for duty, I had to go on a train to get from—I think I went out of Detroit to New York. When you entered there was a big sign, “If you like to sing—”

EE:

And you'd already been in a choir.

BE:

Yes, and I had sung all my life, at home and everything and church choirs. They had a place with a sign if you wanted to go and audition. So I thought, well, all they can do is say no. So I went, and they gave you a piece of music that you had to sight read. Well, I had just taken elementary music for children before I had quit school. That's part of what you do, too. You learn how to sight read. So I did, and they said, “Okay, you're in.”

I've forgotten how many people were in the singing platoon. I think it was eighty people. They said, “And you'll be housed on the seventh floor because we feel like that's good for your air, your breathing, and your lungs.” So there was an elevator we never got to use.

EE:

I was going to say, it feels like a sales job to keep you from worrying about going up those steps all the time.

BE:

Yes. That was the greatest thing that happened to me, because I think a whole lot of everything in my life followed that.

EE:

So this was organized right here at the start of basic. Was this your first big trip out of the state, going to New York?

BE:

Well, I went to South Bend, Indiana. [laughs]

EE:

Okay. Oh, ten miles away.

BE:

I had been to Chicago.

EE:

And what was basic like for you, obviously something special in addition to your drilling and your classes if you had this singing instruction.

BE:

Well, first of all, I made it into the platoon, and we were a group by ourselves. We weren't just put in with everybody else. We were an entity to ourselves. I don't remember how they—of course, they had our records, and we had all kinds of interviews and everything for what we wanted to do, so they knew my background and everything. Oh, and also, I had belonged to the Civil Air Patrol in Kalamazoo, too. I'd forgotten that. That's really where I learned to march, because even though I was in the orchestra, I was never in a band, so I had not learned to march. Anyway, that was in my record. The girl that was originally our student company commander lost her voice. So then they asked me to do that. So that was fun. I really loved it.

EE:

How long were you at Hunter, about two months?

BE:

I think so, nine weeks or something like that.

EE:

Were they planning on keeping you all together as a platoon after?

BE:

No, I don't think so. See, what we did, we practiced music while everybody else was doing calisthenics. I felt so sorry for them.

EE:

I'll bet, missing out on PT [physical training] in the middle of July. That sounds like something you'd feel sorry for.

BE:

And a strange thing which I didn't really know at the time, but the man—he really was a boy. I think of him as a sailor boy. His name was Ray Charles. Perry Como always called him “the other Ray Charles.” That's who he was, or became: Perry Como's arranger, and that's who was our director. We had a program. We sang on a local radio station three times a week, and then we were invited to be on a program called the Stage Door Canteen.

EE:

Yes. I've heard of that. It seems awful glamorous.

BE:

I know. I told my daughter, I said, “I feel guilty in a way about my time in service. I had too much fun.” [laughs] I said, “I don't feel like I had to sacrifice.”

She said, “Well, what do you call giving up a year of college?”

I said, “Well, in a way, but that—”

[Tape recorder paused]

BE:

But anyway, I got to march, then, down on the streets of New York. I was the only one that could salute the officers, you know. I had to call out the cadence and all that stuff. I thought, “Here I am from this little bitty town, rural community, in a city like this.” We went to a place called Toots Shor's, which it was a watering place for the people from Hollywood and everything, but they put us in a private room so we didn't see anybody at that point. Later on, we met Helen Hayes. It was not Carmen Miranda, but it was somebody like her that did that kind of singing and wore that kind of a costume. So we sang on the program, and our audience was all full of stretchers and wheelchairs of returned servicemen. That was hard. We sang Yours is My Heart Alone.

EE:

You know, it means something when those guys think about what it is.

BE:

But I was so foolish. I called home, and I said, “I know you won't be able to tell it's me, but,” I said, “we're going to be on national radio.” All, of course, I could get a hold of was my grandfather. Oh, and only half of us got to go. Half of the eighty got to go. See, since I was already the one shouting the “hut, two, three, four” stuff, I got to go. It wasn't because I was one of the best singers or anything. That was just another happenstance.

EE:

That's great. This is all for the woman who's going to be in the control tower. You're getting all this as a bonus, all this extra. What was it, an NBC radio show? What was it?

BE:

I think it was WGN.

EE:

Okay. Chicago. You're there, and you probably don't want this two months to end. Where did you go after Hunter? Where did they send you?

BE:

Then you had an interview. They asked you what you would want to do. My number one was control tower, and my number two was Link trainer. I did not want to be a mechanic. Well, I had to take the test for aptitude, and out of one hundred, I got forty seven. So I didn't have to worry about that. See, I'd never had physics in high school because I was too busy taking Latin and a whole bunch of other stuff, and you can't take everything.

Then I had a voice test. At that time, I had no regional accent. I had been brought up by a mother that you pronounced every word correctly and you spelled every word correctly, which you looked up in the dictionary yourself. She never would spell a word for us. We had a library dictionary in our home. I got a lot of training from my mother, I think, that helped me a whole lot in my whole life. I didn't know it at the time. I just thought she was kind of stretching.

EE:

Well, now, most of the time, when people are asked what they want to do in the service, half the time they don't get it. Did you ask for control tower?

BE:

Yes, and they only had six openings.

EE:

So where did you go then?

BE:

Then I went to Atlanta, Georgia.

EE:

This is for special training as a control tower?

BE:

There I did the stupidest thing I ever did. My brother had told me when I joined the service, “Whatever you do, Sis, never volunteer.” Okay. Well, you know, every place has their axe to grind. So we got down there, and they said, “Well, we know you've been in boot camp and you had to do this and you had to do that and you couldn't go anywhere and you didn't have any shore leave and everything. Now you have your choice. You can go right into a class, or if you'll volunteer to work two weeks in the mess hall, then the rest of your time is your own time. You can come and go as you please, anywhere you want to go.”

They didn't tell you you had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to lay out all those things on the tables and everything. We had to hose down the mess hall every day. The train had lost my luggage. I had one pair of shoes, and my galoshes were also in my other luggage, and we had to do that every single day.

EE:

This is in addition to your full day of training?

BE:

Yes. And then my shoes would get soaking wet, and they were the only shoes I had. So one day, I thought, “I can't stand this.” I already had acquired corns at boot camp from all that marching and stuff. So I thought, “I'll just go barefooted.” Well, let me tell you, never in my life had I ever heard a woman curse. I was shocked to death at what I was called because I had dared to take my shoes off. I tried to explain, “But they lost my luggage, and I can't stand my shoes.” Sparks were flying. Sparks were flying. I had to put them back on, of course. I was ready to go over the hill, and I cried. I did. I cried because my feet hurt.

EE:

When did you finally get that straightened out? How long was that, a couple of weeks?

BE:

Well, two weeks I still had to do it, and I still had to get my feet wet every day for two weeks. People can be cruel. [laughs]

EE:

How long were you down in Atlanta?

BE:

Oh, gosh, let's see. I went to Hunter in July. Boy, we had such a concentrated class. I mean, we were in class all day long every minute once we started, and we had a test every single day. We figured up our average every single day because we were told in the very beginning that when we got through, we would choose our own place by our standing in class. Well, I was all right. I was homesick.

I had been told by a Southern boyfriend I had had about how wonderful the South was. Well, I found out the South did not care that much about Yankees and Yankee servicepersons. I went to church the first Sunday, stood around waiting for somebody to ask me to go home for lunch with them. They walked right by me like I wasn't there, like I had poison or something. My brother knew what he was talking about. He said, “They'll think you're somebody cheap, like a cheap streetwalker. That's what they'll think.”

So we just had to be the best there was. Anyway, I decided that I was going to make good in this, and I studied. I ran into a young fellow in my class that was from New Jersey, and we decided we'd study together. We were nip and tuck every day. He'd beat me by a tenth of a point. I'd beat him by a tenth of a point. Then we made a deal. He would not take the Midwest, and I would not take the East Coast, but it turned out they had places both places.

EE:

Let me get this straight. At Hunter, you're with only women. It's all women. But in Atlanta, it's both men and women who are training?

BE:

This is because, and this is a sad thing, these were fellows that were in pilot training, and they decided, the navy decided they had enough pilots, and what they did, they took them out on a—what did they call it? They probably knew before they got in the airplane they were going to wash out.

EE:

They were just trying to make them physically fail.

BE:

Yes. But then they sent them to control tower. They all did good.

EE:

This was a time there were a lot of transitions going on. Radar wasn't out yet, but they were testing it.

BE:

We ended up having it at Glenview [Naval Air Station, Illinois] when I got there, although I was not involved in that.

EE:

So you weren't trained in it in Atlanta then. And instrument flight, I guess, was—I know some of the women I talked with who had been in the WASP, they were doing mostly visual flight.

BE:

Yes. Well, now, when I was in control tower school, we had some training then in the Link trainer ourselves just to get us to understand more, because a lot of the people that were in control tower school had never learned to fly. The girls hadn't learned to fly.

EE:

How long were you in Atlanta?

BE:

Gosh. I wish I knew where my records are. I'm trying to think.

EE:

Were you in Glenview before Christmas in '44?

BE:

Yes, before Christmas.

EE:

Because that's pretty close back to home, I guess, or not too far.

BE:

It was about ninety miles.

EE:

And what was the name of the facility you were at at Glenview?

BE:

Naval Air Station Glenview, NDU. I think I have some pictures of it.

EE:

Okay. We'll take a look at those when we finish. Most folks do not have pictures of themselves at work, and that's a nice one, especially since it's the two of you there. Did you meet your future husband there at Glenview?

BE:

Yes. And you know what? I heard about him before I ever laid eyes on him. When I went to the control tower, there was a WAVE there. Her name was Carol Somebody. I've forgotten her last name. She was telling about people. She said, “And then there's So-and-so and there's So-and-so, and then there's this Roger Earp, who thinks he's God's gift to women,” or something like that.

So I thought, “Well, honey, here's going to be the one that's not going to fall for him.” So it's one of those things, you know, where you're going this way and all of a sudden you're going that way. It turned out later that she had made a play for him which he did not reciprocate. Anyway, that was just something that I have always thought was so funny.

EE:

When you were in Atlanta, I guess, you were in barracks. The WAVES were in one barracks and the guys were in another, and you came together for classes. At Glenview, how many WAVES were stationed at Glenview together?

BE:

Oh, gosh. We had two big barracks. I'm trying to think, did we have four in a room, a cubbyhole? We had a lot of people there. I had some unfortunate things happen there, too. I had a roommate that didn't ever bathe. I could not believe it.

EE:

What was a typical day like? Did you work the same shift every day, or did you all rotate shifts?

BE:

Oh, gosh. You had to have a strong constitution, because we had a rotating shift. We would work eight hours on and twenty-four hours off. I think then there was a time that we had forty-eight hours off, but you never knew when your body felt like sleeping or eating, and it really was difficult. We had a lot of fun, because when we were off, we didn't even go back to the barracks and sleep. We went to the bowling alley. I learned how to set pins up, and I had muscles just like a fellow. We could play free if we'd set our own pins in the morning. Only people that had already pulled their duty could be there.

EE:

This was a bowling alley right there on the base?

BE:

Yes. Oh, we had everything. We had a golf course, and we had an Olympic-size pool. I spent more time there than any place else.

EE:

Your CO [commanding officer] had this job. You were a control tower operator. That was your title. Was your CO a man or a woman?

BE:

A man.

EE:

How many women and how many men were on a given shift? What was a work crew like?

BE:

I think we only had about three girls in the tower. I worked with two men, but we hung out together. We always had some time when everybody was off, and then we were on the night shift. We had no planes coming in at night, because, like I say, instrument flying was just really getting started. We did have what we called GC-8, ground-controlled approach, and that was a separate outfit. We did give them takeoff and landing instructions, but as far as their instrument flight was concerned, they had their own people for that.

Then out on Lake Michigan, they had this—I never got to see it. I don't know how far it was. I must have been farther up, because we went to Lake Michigan to swim all the time but we never did see this, where they did their touch-and-go's out there. That was their [preliminary], before they got to carriers. So we had that activity there.

We had the men that flew things like—we called them SNJs. I think the Air force called them AT-6s or something like that. They had an instructor. They had two seats, you know, the instructor, but then the cadets started there. They started out in what we called N3N. They were Steerman aircraft, you know, the double—

EE:

Right. [unclear]

BE:

We called them biplanes, yes. We did not have radio control with them. I wish I had a picture of—I don't know whether this will show in here or not, but we had two great big huge circles, and those were the mats that the cadets could land on. We had what we called dairy pistols. We had a red and a green one. Then we had a ball that we put up over the control tower.

EE:

When it was clear to land, you gave them a signal that way?

BE:

Yes. Or if we saw someone coming in when they didn't have a chance to come in or something, we could shoot the red light at them.

EE:

Nowadays, you know, we're so into radar, and you're doing the radio communications. It was a lot more physical, visual.

BE:

Yes. And then we had a catwalk out there that—somewhere there's a picture that shows it. I think I've got some personal pictures that show the catwalk out there where we had to put the balls up to show which place they could use and stuff. On a good weather day, that was a busy place. The cadets probably had more stringent rules than the ones in Kalamazoo had, the ones that were flying Piper Cubs and stuff.

EE:

You were at Glenview from basically the end of '44 till the time you got out in January of '46?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

Do you remember when President Roosevelt passed away?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

What were you doing then? How did you hear about it?

BE:

I heard, “Extra, Extra!” You hear that and see that in movies and stuff? I actually heard that myself.

EE:

And somebody was just announcing it on the street corners?

BE:

It was the newspaper boy. He had extra newspapers.

EE:

That was a big shock to everybody because it was so close—it turned out really close to the end of the war. Was VE [Victory in Europe] Day a good celebration for you all?

BE:

Yes. And see, I sang in the choir. Wherever I was stationed, I always sang in the choir. I have wanted so badly to know what it was we sang that day that when I went back to Glenview, even after it was practically closed down, I went back to the chaplain's office to look through the music to see if I could find what it was we had sung that day because I could remember some words in it. I never had run across it any other place. I know it was scripture because I've done a lot more Bible study since then when I was in the navy.

EE:

But it just struck you as very appropriate?

BE:

Yes.

EE:

Was it on the base you had this choir sing?

BE:

Yes. Every base I was on had a choir. I sang in the choir when I was even in control tower operator school.

EE:

How early or how serious did you get with Roger sometime in '45? When did you all decide to get married?

BE:

The deal was the first payday after the war was over, which ended up being the twelfth of September. [laughter]

EE:

I was going to say, it ended pretty fast. Were you surprised? Because they thought they'd be another year at least invading Japan, then the bomb was dropped.

BE:

Yes. Of course, we didn't know about the atom bombs and all that stuff.

EE:

So I guess you had double reason to be happy at the end of the war. So VJ Day was a good day for you guys.

BE:

Yes.

EE:

I know some people, they worked at places where they were so concerned about how rowdy everybody would be that they required people to stay on base. Did they require you all to stay on base there for VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

BE:

I don't know. I can remember it seemed like the whole base went to the chapel for the service. I don't know.

EE:

Did you all get married at the end of '45?

BE:

We got married in September, September twelth, and we got married in the chapel on the day. I got married in a second-hand uniform. The girl who was my attendant, she had been stationed somewhere else where she had gotten the summer uniforms, which were white.

EE:

The seersucker?

BE:

No, Palm Beach wool.

EE:

Oh, the whites, summer whites.

BE:

And a moth had gotten in it. So right here was a mended place. I paid her three dollars for that uniform.

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

BE:

—picture was in there, and sometimes there would be an article about the control tower. The control tower had its own column in there, but I could not find those things.

EE:

I know that after the war, there was a big push to demobilize and to get as many people out as quickly as possible. Did you think about making a career out of being in the military?

BE:

I loved it. I would not have gotten out when I did except for a misunderstanding. We had not been married all that long, and there was some air force guy coming in. Our base was closed. Our field was closed. He was a friend of our operations officer that we had at that time. We said, “Sorry, the field was closed.” He said, “This is So-and-so, So-and-so,” and I've forgotten now whether he was a Marine or air force. Anyway, he was kind of, you know, “Listen to me. I'm just somebody important.” He said, “You call down and tell who's there, and they'll tell you to let me land.”

So anyway, this was right at quitting time. Roger and I were married, and we were living about twenty miles away, and we had to take a bus. If the fellow who was to relieve us came on five minutes early, we could not have to wait a whole hour for a bus. So Ed got there, and he said, “You all go on. I know you want to catch the bus back to Willamette.”

So we left. Well, lo and behold, somebody from the crash crew department drove out on the field when this guy was coming in to make his landing. So they said, “Take a WAVE off, just take a WAVE off and go around.” I mean, stuff like that happens a lot.

EE:

That's all the time.

BE:

Yes. Well, anyway, when this guy got down, he went storming in there wanting to know what in the “H” was going on in the control tower and everything. Now, maybe we were still there, and maybe it was Rog that told him to take—and then Ed came in. I think that's what happened. Well, he came in early enough that we got the bus. Anyway, this man, who I thought was our friend, and I guess he was showing—I ran into somebody later on who was a good friend of his who said he had malaria and when he had an uprising of that, that he was not the same person. If you had just gone back to him, you could have straightened this out.

EE:

You all just got him on a bad day.

BE:

He called our place that we were living and told us that we would not work together anymore. It was as if we were making out or something in the control tower and that was why somebody hadn't driven on the runway. So I thought what was I going to do?

EE:

I know there was pressure. I mean, most of the women who got married, once their CO found out about it, they left shortly thereafter.

BE:

Well, when I left, they replaced me with two sailor boys. Twice in my life I got replaced by two boys, two men.

EE:

Did your husband stay in the service?

BE:

Well, he liked being in the service, too, but his brother was egging him on to come and work for him, which we did, and it just did not work out.

EE:

Was this back in North Carolina?

BE:

Yes. This was in Winston-Salem.

EE:

So what did you all do after that?

BE:

Well, he got a call one day from somebody in the control tower who told him there was an opening in the control tower and they really needed somebody back up there, was he interested.

EE:

This is back up at Glenview?

BE:

Yes. So we went back up there.

EE:

Did he still have his commission? Did he get his commission back, or was he going as a civilian?

BE:

No. He was just first class then, but he got to be chief shortly after we got back there.

EE:

Chief petty officer.

BE:

Yes. But when we went back—this is how poor we were. We had some car. I don't know how many hundred dollars we paid for it. It didn't have a heater, and this was in wintertime, but we had a lot of newspapers. We put that in our laps and all around. I'll never forget that as long as I live. Then we went back, and we couldn't find a place to live. We found a place that was condemned by the health department.

EE:

There was a big housing shortage everywhere, I think.

BE:

Yes. It was a room that was about sixteen feet by sixteen feet, and it had a heater in it large enough to heat a whole house, and there was no way. You either had that or you had nothing. It was horrible. So I decided I would see if I could get back in the navy. I went to see about it, and they said that I could work in operations, but they had decided they didn't want any more females in the control tower. So I went back in. For a while, I stayed in the WAVES barracks till we could find a place to live.

EE:

This was back later in '46 that you did this, or when did you go back in?

BE:

I don't know. It might have been '47. I don't remember.

EE:

When did you finally come out of the service?

BE:

Then, as I told you before, was when we had this fellow that—it was [with five kids] or whatever. I never tried to go up. I was a third class, which was fine with me because money had never been that important anyway, and I'm just a person that loves other people. What can I say?

EE:

So did you all stay in as late as Korea, or did you get out before Korea started? Did you get out before '50?

BE:

When I got out permanently, it was because by that time I was six months pregnant with my daughter. I had not even told anybody that I was working with that I was pregnant. I just went and got bigger uniforms.

EE:

When was she born?

BE:

July 13, 1949. This is so funny. This is one of my favorite stories.

EE:

This is the one that you were staying with this morning.

BE:

“Jumping Joe” Feld, he was our assistant operations officer, a nice guy, but he was an Italian and he was an excitable person. So I walked in, and I said, “I want to put in for my two weeks to get out.” That's all I said, and I walked out.

When I walked out, he said, “How can Bobbi do that to us?”

Like I said, they had to replace me with two people, because I was going to do what I was supposed to do and do it right. [laughs] We had a new operations officer. He hadn't been there very long.

He said, “It's obvious to me she doesn't have a choice.”

He said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “Why, she's going to have a baby. Can't you tell?”

EE:

[laughs] A little slow.

BE:

Well, they saw me every day, but he came in, and he saw me as a pregnant person. So I thought that was so funny. [Laughs]

EE:

That is funny. Let me ask you just a couple of general questions about your time in service.

BE:

I'm kind of mischievous, I guess.

EE:

What was the hardest thing about your time in service, either physically or emotionally, for you?

BE:

The hardest thing was like when he called up and told us that I should not work with him anymore. I mean, that was so stupid for him to think—I realize now, after this man who was our admiral's pilot—he was a personal friend of ours because he was from Asheville, North Carolina. See, my husband used to lecture to all the pilots, and of course, he had that Southern accent. A lot of them are from the South, and Southern people, they kind of look for each other. This is funny because he was a commander in the navy but he had been a major when he was in school, military school, and that was his nickname. So we called him Major, but he was a personal friend. He told me about this man.

He said, “Bobbi, if you had just gone back and explained to him.” He said, “He was just putting on a big show for this buddy of his that had made an [pause] of himself.”

So I regret that I didn't, because I did not want to get out. Do you know what I did? I went to business school. I hate typing.

EE:

How did you end up being an elementary teacher, you later became a teacher?

BE:

I didn't go back to college until my husband found out he had polycystic kidneys. I thought I was going to take care of him.

EE:

This was in the sixties?

BE:

Yes. I finished in '64. I went back for fourteen months. I commuted a hundred miles a day.

EE:

Where did you go?

BE:

I went to Pembroke, which is now part of the university system in North Carolina.

EE:

It's over in—is it Lumberton?

BE:

Well, Pembroke is a town. It's real close to Lumberton, very close. It's an Indian town, and this had originally been an Indian school.

EE:

Were you ever afraid as a pilot or in any of your days with the WAVES?

BE:

Yes. I was afraid one time when we had had—I don't know if I ought to tell you this or not because I don't want to get anybody—I guess I can't get anybody in trouble now. We had what we called the weekend warriors. See, my brother was one in the air force. He got to be a lieutenant colonel by going and keeping up his airplane.

EE:

Flight reserves, right.

BE:

Yes. You know, he even got money after he retired from that. We had that in the navy also. I was working then in the operations downstairs after they decided they didn't want any more females in the control tower. Oh, by the way, I met Robert Taylor when I was there. He had to sign for his gas one time. You know who Robert Taylor was? [laughs]

EE:

Yes. Was he flying into you guys?

BE:

He was flying an admiral in there. [laughs]

EE:

All right. You're not supposed to say that's a pretty cushy job, right?

BE:

And I kept one of the carbons and sent it to my sister. [laughs]

EE:

That's great.

BE:

I mean, that was a big deal. Anyway, that was one of those rabbit trails that had nothing to do with what I was talking about. When I went back to school, I decided that I would just get a teacher's job and I would take care of my husband. So I finished in July, and he died in December. [cries]

EE:

That was '64? So how long did you stay with the school system?

BE:

Well, one nice thing about North Carolina, they allowed me to take my military service—I had to pay, I had to pay when I went in.

EE:

So you bought into the system.

BE:

What I would have put in, I bought my [unclear]. So that made me have twenty-eight years.

EE:

That's great. So your daughter lives near here. You all were in Whiteville then, in '64?

BE:

No. We lived in Tabor City. We lived in Tabor City.

EE:

Was your daughter down here, then you just moved down here to be close to her, or how did you get down this way?

BE:

Oh, you know where Tabor City is? It's just a little ways from here. That's where we were living when Roger died, and he was buried in a military cemetery in Wilmington, where they buried him down low so there's room for me on top. But I want my own—I've got to tell them I want my own, with my stuff not on the back. I want my own tombstone, my own cross, because that's not—

EE:

You both were in service. That's right.

BE:

Yes. I've got as much right to be there alone. See, we had made out our wills. We wanted to be buried in Arlington. Then, of course, there were so many people there that you had to be somebody important, I guess, to be buried in Arlington now. Anyway, so that's where he—

EE:

Do you feel now that you were able to contribute to the war effort? It wasn't as a pilot like you wanted to, of course, but you were helping out. Do you feel good about that?

BE:

When I finally realized that even the civilian jobs I had, that was a war effort, too.

EE:

That's right. You know, I guess it was December of '98, they just for the very first time sent a woman pilot into combat for the U.S. That always engenders different opinions. Do you think women ought to be allowed in combat?

BE:

I don't know. I've kind of wrestled with that. There are some women that I know are smarter than men, but I think emotionally we are different. I know I am. You asked if I had ever been scared. I was scared when we were doing a weekend flight with two pilots that were weekend warriors and we were on a BFR clearance. We got over Ohio, and it started snowing buckets. Here they had two control tower operators as their passengers, and both of them knew us both. I liked both of them real well.

The reason we were going to New York with them was because my husband had a brother whom I never did get to meet. You talk about the black sheep of the family. He was an artist, and he just had a very peculiar way of living and everything. People would see him at Greenwich Village. You've heard of that in New York City? They had these artist shows once a year there, and people knew him.

So we decided we were going to go and find him. We went with this pilot. The first night, we stayed at the Waldorf Astoria right downtown in that big place. The next night, the men were going to stay at—I've forgotten the name of the base there, the navy base, but they did not have any quarters for WAVES. They said, “We're not going to leave you. We're going to find a place we can all stay together,” because we were going to fly out early the next day. We went to Coney Island, and we got a place that they rented out in the summertime. We got connecting rooms, and we had a pull chain in the—it was so funny after the Waldorf Astoria. We had our own room, and they had a bathroom between us. So they were taking care of us good because they knew what they had done was wrong.

EE:

Well, when you're flying and you're a flight operator and you know what conditions are, you shouldn't be flying. You know too much for your own good.

BE:

But I had a parachute on. I was sitting on my parachute, and my husband told me I was green.

EE:

Do you have any heroes or heroines when you think about those days?

BE:

Well, even if you didn't do something like that, just in your daily life—I think about my brother being an instructor. That's a dangerous thing, too, because you never know—

EE:

How do you think your life has been different because of your time in the service?

BE:

Oh, I think it's been completely different, because I had my life all planned out. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to get me one of the best bicycles that ever was made, and I was going to go to Europe. Back in those days, you didn't have to be afraid of everything like you do now. I was just going to travel around and see Europe.

If I didn't get married by the time I was twenty-three, I was never going to get married. Guess how old I was when I got married. Twenty-two years and eleven months. [laughs]

EE:

Do you think it made you more of an independent person than you would have been otherwise?

BE:

I don't know. I was always a pretty independent person. Yes, probably so. When I went to England on a trip with the college, everybody else would sleep in the morning, and I'd get up at six o'clock in the morning and go out walking and do things on the streets of London and just see stuff.

See, I was a Sweet Adeline for about twenty years. You know, that's barbershop music. I'm not one anymore. It got too expensive to belong to. We had people all over the world. We had people in Japan, places where military people were. So I wanted to visit a place because we had had people come to visit ours. This was in Florence, South Carolina, where I belonged to—I drove 160 miles once a week to sing down there with those people. But I can't go now. I wouldn't drive that far alone.

[Telephone rings, tape recorder paused]

EE:

What's your daughter's name?

BE:

Judy.

EE:

Was she ever in the service or ever interested in the service?

BE:

No. I have really wondered sometimes if—anyway, I feel that I was blessed in so many areas of things that happened to me, that things just fell in place, that I really had a lot of experiences that people that went in didn't have such a good time and have so many good connections. Because, to me, the music part was the greatest thing, I guess. I've been singing all my life since then.

EE:

If she had come to you and asked you, “Mom, I'm thinking about joining the service,” what would you have told her?

BE:

I'd say, “Go ahead.” Of course, the world is so different now. It's just so different. Even back when I was in college, I always worked, and sometimes I worked at night. I didn't have fear like probably I should have had, but I had a fingernail file like that long that I wore inside, I don't know what I was going to do with it. I guess people now carry a gun. That's what I was going to do with it. I don't know. Like I say, I was independent. I took people maybe too much at face value. See, I never would have thought of meeting here. I just took it for granted that you were what you said you were.

EE:

It is a different world, isn't it?

BE:

Yes. But she has high blood pressure. She's had a heart attack.

EE:

Is she your only child? Do you have any other kids?

BE:

No. I have a son who is forty-four who is now in dialysis. What his daddy died from was polycystic kidney disease, but he's in what they call perinatal dialysis. I don't know if you've ever heard of that. It's done with water, and you do it yourself. You have a contrivance in your abdomen.

EE:

Okay. They've done a lot of things with pumps that they wouldn't be able to do just a few years ago.

BE:

Yes. So he's just started that. But you have to be in dialysis to get on a transplant list.

EE:

Is there anything about your time in service that I have not asked you about that you want to share?

BE:

Well, no. There's a lot more that happened, but—

EE:

Yes. Some stories are best left untold. I understand. You can't live your life over again, but if you had to do it over again, would you go back in the service?

BE:

Yes. Oh, I hated to go. I really hated to go. See, now you can be in and be a parent.

EE:

Yes. It was different then.

BE:

Yes.

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, thank you for the courage to do this, and I appreciate your service.

BE:

Oh, it didn't take any courage.

EE:

Good. Thank you.

BE:

You know you had a hard time shutting me up.

[End of interview]