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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ann Watters, 2000

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Object ID: WV0175.5.001

Description: Interview primarily documents Ann K. Watters’ interest in flying planes and her service with the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots).

Summary:

Pre-service topics include her father’s flight career; other pilots in the family; taking an aviation course in high school; the attack on Pearl Harbor; rationing; and going to Texas for flight lessons in preparation for joining the WASP.

Watters also discusses her experiences related to the WASP, including reading about the WASP in a flight magazine; Jacqueline Cochran; her family’s reaction to her enlistment; requirements for enlistment in the WASP; uniforms; male response to WASPs; being discharged shortly after completing training; and teamwork.

Other interview topics include VE Day and VJ Day; her husband’s overseas service and military career; aerial fish spotting; favorite songs from the era; Major Ted Lawson and Edward Rickenbacker; her opinion of women pilots in combat, her son’s service during the Vietnam War and aviation career, and the benefits of military service.

Creator: Ann K. Watters

Biographical Info: Ann Watters (1925-2006) of Wilmington, North Carolina, served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) from 1943 to 1944.

Collection: Ann K. Watters Oral History

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:

[Ann Watters' husband, Jim [JW], is present during the interview.]

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today I'm in Wilmington, North Carolina. I'm out on a beautiful spot of land that's the property of Mr. and Mrs. Watters today, and I'm here interviewing Ann Watters who was in the WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots] in the Second World War. I want to thank you, Mrs. Watters, for letting me sit down with you this afternoon.

AW:

My pleasure.

EE:

I start the interviews with everybody the same simple way, and that is, if you could tell me where you were born and where you grew up?

AW:

Okay. I was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, March 3, 1925. I lived six years here, moved to Raleigh, lived there six years, returned to Carolina Beach. And I left there in '43.

EE:

So you graduated high school at Carolina Beach?

AW:

Graduated Carolina High School in 1943.

EE:

It was called Carolina Beach High School?

AW:

New Hanover High School. We had to travel by bus.

EE:

That was a long drive in those days.

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

AW:

Living, I have an older brother, navy pilot retired; younger brother, American Airways retired. I lost a brother in '42 from leukemia, the youngest. The two brothers that are living now, one is in Reno, Nevada; the other one is here in Wilmington.

EE:

So you were the only girl in the group?

AW:

I was the only girl.

EE:

Yet I see “pilot,” “pilot.” Somebody must have gone up to the house talking about airplanes.

AW:

My dad was a—he doesn't get the recognition for it, but he and Mr. Warren Pennington negotiated for the local airport here in—I was four years old, so in 1929—and that's where I got my first airplane ride with Mr. Pennington, who was teaching my father to fly.

EE:

What was your father's name?

AW:

Neil—he's known as C.M. Tillie, but “Neil” is what he went by.

EE:

That's a very early exposure to flying in your family. What was your dad's favorite job?

AW:

It was a Jenny.

AW:

The flight was a Jenny?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Was your dad a professional pilot, or what did he do?

AW:

My dad was a boiler inspector.

EE:

What about your mom?

AW:

She was a housewife, and a good one, and the best mom there is.

EE:

Twenty-nine. You might have been too young to remember [Charles A.] Lindbergh, but there were a lot of exciting things in aviation when you were growing up, weren't there?

AW:

Yes. Lindbergh was in '27, wasn't he?

EE:

Yes.

AW:

So I was two years old.

EE:

Did you like school?

AW:

Oh, I loved school.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

AW:

Math. Jim's brother is an aerial fish spotter. Now he's retired, but he and I and my father and my father's friend—anyway, aviation played a major role. So we talked our English teacher into taking aviation classes, so she promoted it and got us a class in aviation.

EE:

Back there in the high school?

AW:

Yes. We learned aircraft identification back then.

EE:

Well, I know in the thirties they had started this Civilian Pilot Training [Program] at the local colleges around the country. I guess when the war started, somebody was telling me that they were training high school teachers to go back and teach in high school, like what you're talking about, I guess just to get the guys ready at an even younger age to be pilots.

AW:

Let's see. So that would have been '41, '42.

EE:

Yes, and you say you got out of high school in '43?

AW:

Yes, sir.

EE:

Do you remember Pearl Harbor day?

AW:

Oh, most definitely.

EE:

Where were you?

AW:

I was in Charlotte, North Carolina. Went up to see the Shrine football game. My brother was playing in it. We heard it on the car radio. Jim?

JW:

Yes?

AW:

Exactly where were we when we heard about Pearl Harbor? Were we in Charlotte?

JW:

No, we were at Third and—

AW:

Third and Market.

JW:

Third and Orange, to be exact.

AW:

He and I were talking about it not long ago.

EE:

So y'all were dating back then?

JW:

Yes.

AW:

Yes. We had been to—

JW:

We had been to a train wreck in—

AW:

Charlotte.

JW:

Outside of Charlotte—Rock Hill, South Carolina. We stayed in Charlotte. Mr. Clark was a transportation supervisor at the Dow Chemical Company.

AW:

It was late, wasn't it? Anyway, that's how we heard.

EE:

You immediately knew that was not good news?

AW:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Were you already in the service?

JW:

No. We didn't know what Pearl Harbor was.

AW:

We just knew it was bad. Of course, Mr. Clark immediately told the kids. There was his brother, myself, Jim, Colleen, Katherine. There were six young ones, six teenagers in the car. He proceeded to inform us what really happened. Because, like you said, we didn't know what Pearl Harbor was.

EE:

You were in high school. Did school life change after that?

AW:

Just that quite a few of the young men immediately signed up.

EE:

They left school?

AW:

Yes. Quite a few of them did.

EE:

I've heard some people talk about their school starting to do things for the war effort. I know rationing kicked in, and people were saving up money for war bonds and things like that. Do you remember drives like that at your school?

AW:

Yes. I remember cutting both ends out of a can and putting the tops inside and whacking the cans.

EE:

Just to save the scrap metal and turn it back in?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Was your older brother drafted?

AW:

No, he went in the Navy D-5 program at Wake Forest College.

EE:

So was he already in service, then, when you thought about doing something in '44?

AW:

I had already been thinking.

EE:

I guess in '42 they started with the WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps], and then you had the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy], and the SPARs [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from “Sempar Paratus—Always Ready”] and the Marines. What made you decide, for obvious reasons, that you wanted to do something other than that?

AW:

Just a love of flying.

EE:

When do you remember first hearing about the women pilots?

AW:

See, that's something else. I've got a letter somewhere from Jacqueline Cochran [founder and director of WASP].

EE:

I know Life magazine had an article about the women pilots in '43. With your family's airplane connection, you probably heard about it before then, didn't you?

AW:

It seems like it was an aircraft magazine or something like that. I think that letter, if I can get my hands on it, would help me a lot.

EE:

I know some people responded. They saw an ad, and I think you had to write to Washington [D.C.] in those days, didn't you?

AW:

Yes, you did.

EE:

You wrote to Washington, and what you got is Cochran's letter back to you?

AW:

Right.

EE:

Had you already had flight training at that time, when you wrote to her?

AW:

No. My training just consisted of every chance I'd get I'd fly with somebody. In other words, no actual training except gunnery school [unclear].

EE:

The class that you had in high school was about aviation, but was not training you in aviation?

AW:

That's right. So it would be considered ground school.

EE:

You had to have your license, actually, to join the WASP?

AW:

Right. We had what was called a filter center here in Wilmington for aircraft identification, to be able to identify the enemy. That's what they were teaching us in class in high school, was how to identify aircraft.

EE:

I imagine, being on the coast like y'all are and knowing there are German subs off the coast, you get very aware of what's going on with the enemy, don't you?

AW:

His mother was one of the first in the filter center. She was very prominent, and Patrick has her wings, filter center.

EE:

They were training this local civilian population to—

AW:

Yes, we had a radar system. They'd go into the bottom of the main post office. Oh, I think you were on a four-hour shift or something like that.

EE:

So she was working there?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

When did Jim go in the service?

AW:

Nineteen forty-two.

EE:

Did he know about your interest in joining?

AW:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Did he support you?

AW:

He supported me 100 percent.

EE:

What about your family?

AW:

Well, at first, my dad said, “No, you're not going to Texas by yourself.”

I said, “Dad, I'm not asking anybody for any help at all. What I'm going to do, I'm going to do on my own.” I fixed it so he couldn't say no.

My brother had to go to a naval station in Memphis, so being as how he consented to escort me that far. But once I got in the program, the one that was the proudest of me was my dad.

EE:

I'll bet. You didn't take flight training here. You took it out in Texas?

AW:

Right.

EE:

Was there a reason for that?

AW:

The school itself was highly publicized, Dallas Aviation.

EE:

Was the instructor, Mr. Hinton, advertised pretty well, too?

AW:

No, we didn't even know who Ted was until we got out there.

EE:

You tell me Ted Hinton was the sheriff who got Bonnie and Clyde.

AW:

He was the deputy.

EE:

And he was running for sheriff?

AW:

There again, I just wish I had kept my dates and stuff.

EE:

When did you go out to aviation school? Was it in the spring of '44?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

So up to that time, you were staying at home and trying to negotiate with mom and dad to let you go?

AW:

I went to Elizabeth City [North Carolina], and I was an aeronautical draftsman, and worked in Elizabeth City in drafting. From there, Jim went overseas, and I coordinated mine to go to school. That's what I want to have, is the date that I entered the school.

EE:

You timed it where you could spend time with him until he went overseas? Is that what it was?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Okay. I guess you probably had to have a parent's signature to do this, didn't you? Or did you? To join the WASP or to apply for it?

AW:

I think I was eighteen.

EE:

That was the age you had to be, I guess? You would have been eighteen in '43?

AW:

Yes, I was.

EE:

I know the WAVES and Marines—maybe the Marines you had to be twenty. Most of the rest of them you had to be twenty-one, unless you had a parent's signature to join. I didn't know if there was an age limit on the WASP.

AW:

I can't remember that. I really can't.

EE:

How long was flight school for you at Dallas?

AW:

There again, I can't remember the dates.

EE:

But it was summertime of '44?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Your group was apparently pulled together—how you found out about it is that everybody in this class was then going to be routed down to Sweetwater [Texas]?

AW:

Right. They all sort of got involved with Dallas Aviation with the desire to get their private license in order to qualify for the WASP.

EE:

You had to have a hundred hours or something in the air?

AW:

Not that much. Seems like it was thirty-five hours, solo. I've really got to get my logbook, and I think Patrick's got it.

EE:

How many women were in this group altogether? Was Dallas just training women?

AW:

Yes. Fifty or sixty. I can't remember. I've got my album in there.

EE:

Were you the only one from around here?

AW:

From this area. There was a couple of girls from South Carolina that I kept in touch with. My roommate was from California. So many of them have passed on.

EE:

Were y'all staying in a dormitory or a barracks?

AW:

Yes. We were in a Quonset hut.

EE:

Boy, that had to be hot in the summertime.

AW:

In Dallas? Ooh-wee. A hundred and some degrees.

EE:

I guess they were shaking you out just by the weather out there is what it was. I guess that was probably your biggest trip away from home up to that time, wasn't it?

AW:

Right. I went to Elizabeth City. You know where that is. That was my first.

EE:

First air trip out?

AW:

But as far as really being gone—

EE:

And that's the end of the earth from here. You had gotten a letter from Miss Cochran. Do you remember about what time of year it was you got down to Sweetwater?

AW:

It was in the fall.

EE:

What kind of training did you have when you were down at Sweetwater? What was a typical day like for you?

AW:

We just worked hard to get formation. There was no flight involved. Mostly just an indoctrination-type thing. They went through there just like as if we were going to be there.

EE:

They didn't give any hint that they weren't going to continue with it?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

They may not have known until the very last minute.

AW:

Probably so.

EE:

What were you hoping to do with this? I know Camp Davis was nearby. There was ferrying service jobs. What kind of work were you hoping to do?

AW:

I was mainly interested in ferrying the aircraft. They had available to us target towing and things of that nature. I didn't think about instructing or anything, because that would have taken too many flight hours.

EE:

I know the different branches of the service had variations on the slogan, “Free a man to fight.” Is that what you thought you were doing?

AW:

Well, that's what we hoped to be able to say, but then we found out that the men were fighting us right and left, didn't want us there.

EE:

Did you experience any of that personally, when you told people what you were going to be doing?

AW:

We did out at school, out at Dallas; they sort of sneered at us. “You're taking our job. You're keeping us from making this, but—”

EE:

I guess you were issued a uniform when you were out there?

AW:

Just khaki.

EE:

Zoot suit? Is that what they called it? The jumpsuit?

AW:

At the time, we just had khaki trousers and shirts.

EE:

So you all went to the graduation for 44-10, which was, I guess, early December. Hap Arnold [commander of the US Army Air Forces] was there?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

They called you back to barracks, and they said, “Don't get comfortable”?

AW:

Yes. That's right. I was trying to think.

EE:

You spent so long getting ready to do this. What did that do to you?

AW:

You just feel like you've been—knocked the props out from under you. Your whole life and dream of what you wanted to do is jerked away. Of course, I had a fellow to fall back on because I had Jim, but a lot of these girls didn't have boyfriends or anything.

EE:

How did your family help you through that?

AW:

Just good support.

EE:

You ended up coming back to North Carolina then?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

What did you do after that December?

AW:

I got married.

EE:

That was a year later. I'm just wondering, what did you do in the meantime while you were waiting for Jim to come back?

AW:

Worked at the Dow Chemical plant.

EE:

This is where you knew Mr. Clark?

AW:

No, I knew his daughter. We grew up together.

EE:

Were you staying at the house?

AW:

Yes. They didn't kick me out.

EE:

I can only imagine it's frustrating. I guess you're keeping up with your brothers in the service?

AW:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news about [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt passing on?

AW:

No. I've seen Jim's scrapbook. I remember clipping it out. But where was I?

EE:

Do you have a distinct memory of either VE [Victory in Europe] Day or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day?

AW:

Oh, yes. One of them, he won two hundred dollars. [laughs]

EE:

That's a lot of money in '45.

AW:

Gosh, I can't—he was in India. We were going through the book the other night.

EE:

Did you know he was in India, because supposedly they weren't supposed to let people know exactly where they were in the V-Mail, so—

AW:

Yes. I didn't actually know the precise location.

EE:

But you just knew he was in that area?

AW:

Yes, like he was in Dibrugarh, and I didn't learn until two weeks ago that he had been through pure hell getting there. He was thirty-two days aboard ship, zigzagging across the Pacific with no escort, and he never mentioned it.

EE:

What did you do about aviation after you were told by the WASP to go home? Did you keep up an interest in it?

AW:

Oh, yes. Both his brothers were aerial fish spotters, and anytime I wanted to fly, I could.

EE:

That was a pretty new thing for right after the war, I would guess, fish spotting?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

They were doing this for commercial fishermen?

AW:

They spotted them [unclear]. The little—

EE:

Right.

AW:

Hall was a fighter pilot, ex-fighter pilot. In fact, he, you might say, instigated this spying job, a very good paying job back then.

EE:

Of course, I imagine before the days of sonar, it was a nice way to go directly to it. Just say, “Well, here, I'll give you a quick shortcut,” and radio back where they're located.

AW:

And he could, he and his brother both. They could spot a school of fish and put you right on them. In fact, we've been over to [unclear] on the north end, and Hall would come over and get almost on the strand. He would come there like this and then go out, and he'd look, and he had gone right over a school of puffy [unclear].

EE:

He just wiggled his wings until they—

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Had you decided before he went overseas if you were going to get married right when he got back?

AW:

We came close to getting married, and we decided it wasn't the smart thing to do, believe it or not.

EE:

Well, that's pretty level-headed. So you got married when he got back, and y'all stayed down in this area, and you've been here ever since?

AW:

Yes, well, the oldest boy was born, and Jim went to OCS [Officer Candidate School].

EE:

You said he was in—was it the motor pool he was in? Transportation?

AW:

He was in transportation.

EE:

And then went back to OCS and became a second lieutenant. Did he do that before going to Germany?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

So he stayed in the service?

AW:

He got out temporarily, and then he went back into OCS, and from there he went to Germany.

EE:

You followed him to Germany?

AW:

Yes, and I've got a little baby to prove it. Patrick's from Germany.

EE:

How long of a career did he have in the service?

AW:

He retired, but he put in, I think, fifteen years of active duty, plus his reserve time. He retired at twenty-three years.

EE:

So late seventies, then, he retired. He was a captain, I guess, when he retired?

AW:

First of eighty. I think it was the first of eighty.

EE:

Then y'all came back down here. Y'all were in Ohio when he retired, and then you came back down here?

AW:

Well, actually, they sent him back to Fort Bragg [North Carolina] to muster him out.

EE:

What was the hardest thing for you about becoming a pilot, either physically or emotionally?

AW:

I guess there was nothing any way. It was a wonderful feeling of knowing I was able to do it. There was no emotional—I don't really know, Eric.

EE:

Somebody told me something the other week. They said, you could fly with somebody, and it's one experience. But you fly by yourself, and it's a totally different thing.

AW:

Yes, it is. Most assured. Also, depending on the aircraft you're flying. In other words, that's my training plane, the Piper Cub, which is a true training aircraft, because you feel every aspect of that plane when you're flying. You literally did fly by the seat of your pants. It's more fun to fly that than it would be an aircraft with a larger engine.

EE:

Because it's dampened a lot of the feel of the air?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

You don't really feel yourself guiding the plane through the air?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Did you do any more solo flight time after the WASP experience?

AW:

Very little. Couldn't afford it.

EE:

If you don't have your own plane, it's hard to get flight time, isn't it?

AW:

That's right.

EE:

How many children do y'all have?

AW:

Two boys. Two good Irishmen, Patrick and Michael.

EE:

I know one of them had an extensive career overseas. He was a helicopter pilot?

AW:

Michael, the oldest boy, had two tours in Vietnam.

EE:

I think hearing mom and dad's stories probably influenced him to become interested in aviation?

AW:

The only one we couldn't talk into was Pat. Pat wanted nothing to do with an aircraft. Fast car—

EE:

That's okay, but just keep him on the ground. Is that it?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing time trying out for the WASP, going through flight school?

AW:

I don't recall any.

EE:

No major mistakes? Everything was okay, then?

AW:

We had the support of the group, as a whole, I think is what pulled us through it. One supported the other.

EE:

So it wasn't competitive, like a lot of things are now today?

AW:

Right.

EE:

It was teamwork?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Let's all get everybody together and get through this together?

AW:

That's right.

EE:

That's something I've heard from a number of folks. That time was special because people did pull together.

AW:

They did.

EE:

You knew who your buddies were, and you all stuck together. Patriotism factors into that, too. We were a more patriotic place.

AW:

That's strange. I hadn't even thought of it that way. But we did not compete against each other. If one was getting a flight test, we were all right there.

EE:

You weren't worried about who finished first and who would get the best assignment?

AW:

That's right.

EE:

Were you ever afraid?

AW:

I don't think so. Never had any close calls or any reason to be.

EE:

If you start at age four, I guess you get sort of used to that feeling of being up in the air.

AW:

Yes.

EE:

You had a boyfriend, and probably some of the other people down there had boyfriends or people who were married and their husbands were in service. Did y'all have a social life when you were down that way? Or did the girls pretty much hang out together?

AW:

We got together as a group. Just like everything else we did, we did in a group.

EE:

Are there any songs or movies from that time when you see or hear them it takes you back to those days?

AW:

Wait a minute. We were talking about it earlier. Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey. That's it. As it turned out, it was his, too. When he was returning from India, that's what they played on the ship.

EE:

It was just a couple of years ago, in December of '98, that the U.S., for the first time, sent a woman pilot into combat.

AW:

Yes, right.

EE:

Do you think women should be allowed in combat?

AW:

No, sir. Specifically, no, sir. Because I would be hesitant to put a fellow pilot's life at stake, knowing that it took—in other words, I think the average—speaking from an average woman, physically, could not hold up. It wouldn't be fair to a man to put his life on the line, depending on her to hold up her end of the bargain.

Now, there's other ways that she can serve and be of help to him, just like we were trying to do. Move the aircraft, ferry them, the things that—well, a woman's physical makeup prevents her from being a hundred percent, physically, a hundred percent of the time. If a woman would think about it in those terms, she would be hesitant to put herself up there, saying, “I'm going to take care of John.”

EE:

You're saying that duty to the whole team comes before any one individual?

AW:

Yes.

EE:

Were you told that you were a pioneer? Did you feel like a pioneer doing this stuff? There weren't many women pilots around trying to do this. Did you feel special?

AW:

Well, I felt very fortunate that somebody opened the door for me, because a lot of them had the door shut right in their face. Dallas Aviation School opened the first door, really. Then they supported us and got us up to Sweetwater and kept us in the program, so to speak, and did their part. So I felt fortunate that I did get that opportunity.

I had a very exciting thing happen in Dallas. There again, I don't have the absolute proof in my hand, but I was the first cadet to make a hundred on the air force examination. That I wish I had. When the sergeant came in, he was thrilled to death. See there, again, they were proud of us.

EE:

The people who worked with you knew what you were going through to get it. Did you ever get to meet Miss Cochran?

AW:

No, I sure didn't.

EE:

What do you think of her?

AW:

Well, I think she was more of an aviatrix than Amelia Earhart, my personal opinion. I think Jacqueline was far more superior.

EE:

As it turned out, she probably did more for women as pilots certainly than Amelia Earhart.

AW:

That's right.

EE:

Amelia Earhart was treated as a curiosity, and Cochran made it a reality that you had women pilots.

AW:

Right. I guess that expresses it the best.

EE:

What work did you do when you got back? You were with the kids. Did you work when he was in Germany, or did you stay home with the kids?

AW:

I was with the children, when he first went to Germany. Then I joined him afterwards. We were three years in Germany. The second child was born [there].

EE:

You married the military and stayed with it for a while. How do you think the military experience or the experience of trying out for it with the WASP changed your life, long-term?

AW:

I think it had a strong role, as far as raising my children and discipline. More and more, as the years go on, I see this neglect in today's children. I think discipline and respect are a major part of military life, which we all need.

EE:

You wanted to contribute to the war effort. Did you feel you had a chance?

AW:

Well, right up to the last day, I did. Like I said, we all contributed what little bit along the way.

EE:

Do you have any heroes from that time, or heroines?

AW:

Ted Lawson [pilot, and author of] Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. I met him.

EE:

Where did you meet him? After the war?

AW:

Dallas. I was waiting on tables. That was during training. I still had to pay my way to flight school.

EE:

You were working as a waitress making money?

AW:

Yes. Well, [Edward] Rickenbacker [World War I fighter ace] would have been the other one.

EE:

You did not have a daughter, but if you had had a daughter and she had said, “Mom, I want to join the service,” what would you have told her?

AW:

Back then or now?

EE:

If there are two different answers, tell me what the answers are and why they would be different.

AW:

Well, I would say, “Do what your heart tells you to do and you pursue it the best way you can.” In other words, if it's the army, navy, or whatever, give it your very best. Make sure it's what you want. I've got a granddaughter I've had to do that with. So that's mainly why I'm answering that way. I would support her in every way.

EE:

For people who aren't in the military, what makes military life special?

AW:

I think I'd go back to what I said. The training, the discipline, and respect you get in most cases. We have a grandson that's Coast Guard. They grew up with us every summer for nine years. He got sort of lost on his way as to what direction he wanted. So he said, “Grandmama, can I come stay with you?” We said, “Sure.”

So he and his granddaddy got together, and Jim sort of steered him to the military, and Michael said, “I want Blake to go into the navy.”

That's what Jim told him. “Make sure you know what you want.” Jim sort of guided him into the Coast Guard. Today, I get a phone call every week: “Grandmama, Granddaddy, I just want to thank you for what you've done.”

EE:

That's great.

AW:

So military has been his background. Fantastic young man.

EE:

Is there anything else that you'd like to share with me about your experiences and your family's contribution?

AW:

Well, just I think my older son went unappreciated in Vietnam.

EE:

Two Bronze Stars?

AW:

Two Bronze Stars, Distinguished Flying Cross, fifty MLs at nineteen years old, and all they could do was say, “Dear John, we don't need you” after two tours. I think our government just lacks something. You saw his medals?

EE:

It's impressive. What happened was that we didn't back up the people who did their job.

AW:

That's right.

EE:

We didn't do our job as a country back in those days.

AW:

That's right.

EE:

Did he retire then after that? They let him go after the—

AW:

He went in the reserves, put in the rest of his time. He went to AeroMed service in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just like a MedEvac [medical evacuation] type thing.

EE:

Right.

AW:

Recently went to Hawaii, flying the tourists.

EE:

Pretty good chapter, after all the stuff he went through overseas.

AW:

Well, he's fifty-two. Yes, he's fifty-two.

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

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, thank you for sitting down with me.

Thank you, sir—

JW:

You're welcome.

EE:

—for this tour of your beautiful home.

AW:

It's been a pleasure, Eric.

EE:

It's nice to have a life well lived.

AW:

Well, we talked about everybody but the youngest one, who doesn't fly. He is a nuclear engineer. He has a master's in business, plus a master's in school in design. So the door's got to open soon. But he is a fine young man. Proud of everything he's done.

JW:

He's a natural-born artist.

AW:

Yes, that's his forte.

EE:

Wow.

JW:

He took a small photograph. I think I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine—

AW:

You were twenty-nine.

JW:

—when he took that photograph.

AW:

He said, “I wanted to do it because it had that patch on the front.” He's never had any formal art training.

EE:

It's a gift. That sure is. Well, thank you.

[End of Interview]