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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Dorothy Austell, 2000

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Object ID: WV0184.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Dorothy B. Austell’s service as an undercover agent in the Women's Army Corps with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and her post-war work as an insurance agent.

Summary:

Austell describes her athleticism in high school, working after school for the superintendent, attending business school at Gardner-Webb, and subsequently becoming one of the youngest comptrollers in the state with the Cleveland County school district.

Austell primarily discusses her military service, including the secretive circumstances surrounding her recruitment for position by Senator Clyde Hoey. Other topics include her mother’s attempts to keep her from the army; the secrecy surrounding her work and the resultant loneliness; basic training at Daytona Beach; switching uniforms, ranks, and jobs to cover her identity; catching a man suspected of selling secrets and some Italian Americans suspected of sabotage at Baer Field; and her patriotism and devotion to the military and her country.

Other subjects related to Austell’s service include almost being sent overseas with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS); being in a plane crash; a visit from Judy Garland and Bob Hope while in the hospital; the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent treatment of Japanese Americans; George Watts Hill, who served in the OSS; and visiting Harry Truman in Missouri after his presidency.

Austell also discusses her life and career after the war at length. Topics include: a job selling candy in her youth; her work as an insurance agent; an insurance-related trip to Berlin and her impressions of Hitler and Germany; the place of women in the insurance business; being the top agent in sales in the world with Jefferson Pilot; running several insurances agencies; leading the Shelby American Legion Post.

Creator: Dorothy B. Austell

Biographical Info: Dorothy B."Dot" Austell (1920-2009) of Charlotte and Shelby, North Carolina, served as an undercover agent with the Women’s Army Corps in the Army Air Force from June 1943 to July 1946.

Collection: Dorothy B. Austell 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:

HT:

Today is Monday, September 18th in the year 2000. My name is Hermann Trojanowski, and I'm at the home of Miss Dorothy B. Austell in Raleigh, North Carolina, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Miss Austell, if you could just tell me a few biographical things about your life, such as where you were born, when you were born, what you did before you enlisted in the service during World War II, and a little bit about your family life during the Depression, and then we can start with our interview.

DA:

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the Depression, we moved to Shelby. My father died when I was eighteen months old, left my mother with six children. We were all educated, and we were her life. We moved to Shelby. I grew up in Shelby and went to Shelby High School and graduated there. Then I went to Gardner-Webb College, which was Boiling Springs College, which is Gardner-Webb University now, and took the two-year administration course.

After completing it, I became the assistant comptroller of the Cleveland County schools of Shelby, North Carolina, the youngest in the state of North Carolina. The reason I got the job was that when I was in high school, I learned all the books of the city, county, federal, and state, and worked for the superintendent of schools for four years. So I had a basis of what they had to do, so I got the job.

While I was there, one day, I got a telephone call from Washington, D.C., and it was from Mrs. Elmore, Senator Clyde R. Hoey's secretary. She said, “Senator Hoey, Miss Austell, would like to see you in his office Saturday morning at 9:30.”

HT:

Do you remember which year this was?

DA:

Yes, 1943. May 1943. I said, “What does he want to talk to me about?” She said, “I can't tell you. But you be sure and be there, now, at 9:30. He will be coming in on the train at Gastonia.” We had no airplanes. We didn't have anything but cars and buses.

So I came home and told my mother, “I wonder what he wants to talk to me about.”

She said, “Well, I don't know what he wants to talk to you about, but you'd better be there at 9:15,” fifteen minutes early. She taught me that, to always be fifteen minutes early to your appointment. I never forgot it.

I said, “Okay. I'll be there.”

I went that morning and walked in, and not only was Senator Hoey—you know, he was governor of the state of North Carolina before he became senator. There was Congressman Bullwinkle from Gastonia sitting there smoking a big cigar. Naturally, I looked and wondered why he was there. Senator Hoey said, “Before you sit down, Miss Austell, we want you to put your hand on this bible and hold up your right hand.”

“What am I doing this for, sir?”

He said, “You are swearing that you will not say anything that we are going to talk to you about in this room today, because I have a letter from the president of the United States to give to you, and the contents cannot be discussed with anybody.” I swore, and I sat down.

He handed me the letter. I read it. I read it about two times. He watched me, he told me later. I said, “Not me, Senator. Not me.”

“Yes, you, Dorothy. We have to find two hundred women who can do this special work with intelligence, and you will be going into the air force. The other 199 will not know you, and you won't know them, but you'll all be doing similar work [unclear].”

I said, “Well, Senator Hoey, what am I going to tell my mother?”

He said, “You stand up and tell Miss Sue your country needs you.”

I said, “Senator, I don't believe that's going to be a very good sell. I don't think I'll make that sell, because Hitler is putting propaganda out saying that all the women are getting pregnant, discouraging women to go into the military, and they're making the people believe that that's really happening.”

He said, “Well, you're just going to have to tell her.”

I said, “Okay.” I said, “When do I have to report?”

He told me, “June first.”

I said, “I don't have a long time, do I?”

He said, “No.”

Bullwinkle said, “Miss Austell, we chose you. We went back with your qualifications, schools, temperament, physical, everything.” So I went home, and I rode around that block four times before I turned into my driveway. I walked in. When we ever had anything serious in our house, we always talked in the living room.

I said, “Mother, come into the living room. I want to talk in here.”

She came in. She said, “What did they want?”

I said, “I'm going into the WAC.”

My mother stood up and said, “Not you.”

I said, “Oh, yes, me. I'm going. Mama, my country needs me.” That's all I said.

She said, “Dorothy, you're not telling me everything.”

I said, “My country needs me.”

She said, “You're not telling me everything. You're not going,” is what she kept saying to me.

I said, “Well, you know, Mama, I'm twenty-three years old, and I'm going, and some day maybe you'll be proud of me.”

I got up, went upstairs in my room and let her cool off. I came back down, and she said to me, “Are you going in because of Earl?”

I said, “No.” That was the boy that I went through school and everything with, who was killed in Pearl Harbor. He was on the Arizona, he's buried there.

I said, “No. Earl's death didn't have anything to do with it. They just chose me. But I promise you that I'll be back. Just have faith in me.”

She said, “Okay. I guess you're going.” You know what she did? She got all the preachers in Cleveland County, including mine, to come and try to talk me out of going into the service. They even went to Mr. [Horace] Gregg to talk Mr. Gregg out of telling me my job wouldn't be there when I came back. He did tell me that my job would be there when I came back. Those preachers just told me it wasn't a place for a lady. I said to all of them, I really did, I said, “Some day I hope you will be proud of me, because my country needs me. And believe in me. Believe in me.” And not a one of them did.

Anyway, I got on the bus, went down to Fort Bragg. I went through all that examination and the coding, Morse coding, and all this stuff. Two days before I was to get my commission, the doctor came out and said, “Miss Austell, what have you been eating and drinking?”

I said, “Just what you all have been feeding me. But I have been sitting here drinking these small Coca-Colas.” They used to be small bottles.

He said, “How many have you been drinking?”

I said, “About six a day.”

He said, “My god—” That's what he said. “My god.” He said, “You've got albumin in your urine. You are going to drink one glass of water for the next twelve hours, because you have got to go through there. You know too much about what you're going to do, or we're going to have to send you to Leavenworth.” That's Leavenworth, Kansas. That's a federal prison.

Well, they put a corporal with me, and she fed me one glass of water every hour while I slept. So when they took it the next time, I wasn't anything but H2O, just water. That's all that was in my body, and that is the honest truth. They wanted to get me through there. So, anyway, I got my commission, lieutenant.

HT:

Second lieutenant?

DA:

Yes. I went in. They told me that I would be camouflaged in different lines, that I was a major, a colonel, whatever duty I had to do, because I was in there investigating the wrong people, because a lot of people sold us down the river. I can't tell you much about it but I can tell you that.

So anyway, they measured me for my uniform, and I went back to Shelby on that bus. I told the Greyhound bus driver—it was a long ways from Fort Bragg to Shelby back then. I said, “Oh, I hate to open that door to Shelby, because I know all my friends are going to be there and all those preachers.”

When I got back to Shelby, all those preachers were there, my mother, my family, and you know the first words they said to me? “You didn't pass, did you?”

I saluted them, and I said, “Lieutenant Austell.” Their faces fell. I said to them—and the bus driver didn't pull the bus off. I was still standing on his step. “Believe in me. My country needs me. Believe in me. I know what I'm doing, and you'll be proud of me some day.”

Well, I left, and I went to Daytona Beach [Florida]. That was my first place. That was administration school.

HT:

Did you ever have to go through anything like basic training?

DA:

That was basic training.

HT:

At Daytona?

DA:

Yes. Administration. I was there almost four months, four or five months. Then I got my orders.

HT:

This would have been the summer of '43, so I imagine it was a bit on the warm side.

DA:

Forty-three, June of '43. So anyway, they shipped me to Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fort Wayne, Indiana, is bombers, C-47s, airplanes. My responsibility there was ammunition and to check all the flights going out, because people were having trouble, a lot of them weren't making it to England, and going up. We had a lot of sabotage. We saw people putting things in the gas tanks. Just blowing them up in mid-air.

So I was in there, and I caught three of them. They were Italians. It took me a long time, but I got them. Anyway, I did everything right. Folding parachutes, pretending, you know—one time I wasn't anything but a pike[?]. I'd say to the girl, who'd start griping and talking, “As long as you're wiping, that's fine.” See, they didn't know what I was doing or why I was in there. All they thought is I was folding parachutes. I said, “You know, you'd better be careful. You might have a Secret Service agent in here. Listen, you'll get in trouble.” That was me. [laughs]

So anyway, they didn't know until after the war. One girl was really—she lives in Charlotte now. She said, “I'll never forget what I asked you, and then when you told me you were the Secret Service,” she said, “My god, what did I say?”

I said, “No, you didn't say anything. You were just griping. You weren't telling what you were doing.” A lot of people told what they did, and that was bad.

Anyway, we jumped in the parachute. We had to jump in a parachute. We went up where they had a thing where it pulled you up and dropped you down, and you had to learn how to fall, because you never knew when you were going to be in the airplane. You had to get that pressure on you when you came out of there.

They said, “Did it scare you?”

I said, “No, it didn't scare me. I enjoyed that ride down. Really, I did.”

At twenty-three, I didn't have fear. I really didn't have fear. They taught us how to fall, and on all the support here, that saved my life in there, because they taught us when we got the wind knocked out of us, how to get the wind back by leaning over and seesawing, and that's how I got my wind back on August the fourth, with this throat condition. I thought somebody was choking me. My wind was cutting off. So that's helped me live.

Anyway, I was at Baer Field, then Chanute Field. Then they were going to send me overseas. They got me to New York, and all my clothes are on the boat. All of a sudden, I got my orders to report back to Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana. That was the base that—the place went from there to England. Eisenhower was getting ready to roll at that time. I didn't know it, but that's what he was doing.

So I went back to Baer Field, doing the same thing. I said to myself, “Lord help me. I guess I'll be here at this base until the war is over.” I really wanted to go overseas, just for the experience, but I didn't. And they lost everything I had, except I didn't even have this. My mother had it in her papers. That was '43, when I was first in. Isn't that something? I had my uniforms and everything. When you lose them, you lose them. Everything, all the whole thing, all there was.

Anyway, I was in the PX [post exchange] one day, and I heard this man say, a soldier, “How about you all having a beer with me?” to the girls behind the counter. “I'm not going to see a white woman for a long time.” When he said that, my antenna went up because he was from Salem. So I was in there making a phone call to Shelby, it was on a Sunday. I called my mother every Sunday night, wherever I was, just to talk to her, and I couldn't get the call. The line was busy.

So I walked over to his table, and I said, “Sergeant, I heard you ask those girls to have a beer with you. I'll have one.” So he ordered it. I put it up to my lips, and I just put it back. I said, “Let me tell you something, Sergeant.” I said, “I took my dog tags off.” They taught us how to do that. I said, “Are your dog tags like my dog tags?” I handed them to him, and they had little blue keys on them.

He said, “Why do you have little blue keys on them?”

I said, “Because the metal breaks me out because they're copper.”

He said, “Oh, I've got the new kind.”

I said, “Could I see them?”

He said, “Sure.”

So he handed them to me, and I looked at them, and I got his serial number and his name. I laid mine and his back on the table. I said, “I've go to go and see if that operator's got my mother on the phone.” So I called the MP [military police], and I said, “I got him.” I gave him the serial number and his name. I said, “Give me fifteen minutes to get out of here, because I was putting a call in to my mother, and all I want to do is say hello, and I'll tell her I'll get back”, which I did.

I went back out, and there he was sitting there, and I picked up my dog tags, and I said, “Sergeant, wish you well, and have a good trip. I'll see you.” I walked out of there. I walked way down where I could really see what was going on. Those MPs came in there, picked him up. He went to Leavenworth. What he did, he was giving information out on flights going out, because they weren't making it.

Then we had another one, two guys that was stealing our guns out of the stockade, where there were guns. They were Italians, too. See, they were paying those guys money, through the Italians.

HT:

Were these Italian-Americans?

DA:

That's what he was, what he was. But I never saw him again. He went to Leavenworth, prison. I went to camps—one of the most interesting ones I went to was down here at Walterboro, South Carolina. Their base there is black, all black. I walked in, because I had never seen a place as clean and immaculate, and everything running like it should as it was there. Commander and everything, they were real nice. Four weeks ago or five weeks ago, I was in South Carolina. I went by to see my friends in Walterboro, and I said, “Miriam, would you run me out to this air base? I understand that you all set it up as a shrine to all the black people [Tuskegee Airmen].”

She said, “Why?”

I said, “Well, I came down here when I was in the service. I just want to go out there and see it.”

I went out, and they had two buildings, two hangars in one building. I stood there, Hermann, and I lived that day I got off that plane, and came in there and saw all those black people. See, they put them down. They did. They really put them down, and I just stood there. Chills went over my body. I'm not kidding you. Here am I back, and they had a big monument up and everything, and they had engines from the airplanes, and they did a good job on it, which I really appreciated. That's a lot of what I did. But I just enjoyed what I did. I went wherever they told me to go.

HT:

But you never made it overseas, you said?

DA:

No. I got to the dock. I got to the dock. [laughs] But I really wanted to go. I really wanted to go.

HT:

Do you recall what the name of the ship was that sank with all you belongings on it?

DA:

No, I don't remember the name. It was one of those big cargo—the liners that they had turned into a ship. It didn't even make it. It got sunk. A lot of them got sunk. But I really wanted to go. I could have flown, I guess, but they wouldn't let me.

HT:

Are you still not allowed to talk about some of the things you did?

DA:

No, I can't do that. See, I have a code number and will have a code number as long as I live. It goes with me. I was very much concerned when [George] Watts Hill [operative with the Office of Strategic Services] did what he did. Please don't put that in there.

HT:

Do you want me to turn it off?

DA:

That's okay. Taking all those things that he did by sending them home to his wife, to take guns and everything we used, and took them apart and sent them home. He had to do at least out of those six months to nine months, to get them out, because when we came out, they frisked us. We didn't have anything, other than our uniform on.

What he did, he put them through his basket, had them in boxes. So Mrs. Hill—he died in 1993. Mrs. Hill was ninety-two years of age. So she decided to take the key and go down there and go in his office. When she went in, she saw all this stuff that she thought was bombs, and all this stuff he had in there. She called the police. They came and put a yellow thing all around the house. Called the people from Fort Bragg, and they flew up in that helicopter, that white streak. Here they come in to protect everybody. There was no hand grenades.

But what he had done, like a lot of the soldiers did that sent things home and took them apart, and then came back and put them back together. I know some of them. I have a cousin that did it. But he was in the same outfit I was in.

HT:

How long were you in the military? When did you get out?

DA:

I came out July 1, 1946.

HT:

You stayed in quite a time after the war was over?

DA:

Yes. What I did, the only injury I got was in one of those C-47s. We were flying, taking equipment to Chanute Field, Chicago, Illinois, and we got up between 800 and 1,000 feet, and weight shifted, and that plane went down, just like that. The pilot, he was smart. He hit the ground instead of the cement. I didn't know Indiana had red clay, but they had it.

So we were all knocked out. I was knocked out. I got nine stitches, right there. I heard something. When I woke up, the first thing I heard were the sirens were coming, the rescue squad. They got us all out of there. I had this, and the captain, he had a broken arm. The other co-captain, he had an ankle that was injured. They carried us to the infirmary. We were there about, I'd say, about two hours and a half.

Here they came back and said, “We're going to take you all back up.” I know now why they did it, because I don't think I'd have ever gone up in a plane again, because that ground came up quick.

HT:

How far did you fall?

DA:

We fell from 800 feet. We had just started out. The wheels had just gotten up. We went in like this. That was a load, with all that stuff piled on top of us. Everything broke loose. That was another thing we were checking. We knew that they weren't moving those planes right, you know, snapping them in right.

Anyway, they took us back up in the plane and flew us around Fort Wayne for one hour. We'd go down like this, and up like this. I said to Captain Coffey, “Captain Coffey, are you scared?”

He said, “No, I'm not scared, Austell.”

I said, “Well, tell me why your Adam's apple's going up.” He was as scared as I was, because he'd never fallen in a plane either.

Anyway, we got out of that, and they put us back in the hospital, and Judy Garland and Bob Hope came to see us. They came through to see us. You know how hospitals are made. There's a hospital and then there's a yard in between the hospitals, and they'd come and play music in there. Then they came in and spoke to us.

Judy Garland asked me what I wanted her to sing, and I said, For Me and My Gal. Could that woman sing. And the orchestra was out there where she could hear the music. Beautiful. She wasn't on any drugs or anything. She was just herself.

Bob Hope, I had never seen a comedian like he was. Everything he said was funny. So we enjoyed that when they came in to see all of us, because we couldn't go out to the stadium.

HT:

How long were you in the hospital?

DA:

I was in there ten days, because we really got shook up. We got shoulders, and bruised, and this right here. I didn't get any teeth knocked out. I was lucky.

HT:

No one was killed?

DA:

No. We could have been.

HT:

Oh, gosh, yes. If the plane had blown up—

DA:

We would have been gone. We would have been gone.

HT:

Right. The lady I interviewed yesterday was in a plane crash, and the plane caught on fire, and they all got away, though.

DA:

She did? She's lucky, because sometimes you can't get those jackets off, and your parachute off, or your gizmo off. It's just like a car seat. But I know what it is. But I've never flown with that damn thing back up. I don't believe you would have either.

HT:

No. Well, if we can backtrack just a minute, I have a couple of questions to ask you about your early career in the military. Did you ever find out how you were chosen to do this? How did your name come up?

DA:

The senators had to choose two people, and they wanted two hundred women. Because of being very athletic, I was the high school champion in tennis, I played basketball, ball, guns, I got my scholarship to college playing athletics. My temperament, my character, and they knew that if I told them something, they could count on it, and I followed through.

HT:

You must have had a good reputation, statewide.

DA:

That's right, and I do. I didn't know I was [unclear]. I was just me, Dorothy Austell. That's the way I've been my whole life.

HT:

You said you had about four months of basic training in Daytona Beach, Florida. What was that like?

DA:

Well, see, I had to learn how to march, because I never knew I'd have to march. Then we had the drill. Back there, we were in swamps. We were literally in swamps. Snakes would come out at night. You'd be standing out there, and I told one girl, “We'd better keep this gun here, because if a snake comes across there, you can shoot his head.” She thought I was kidding.

She told me later, she said, “Lieutenant, you were telling the truth. One came out that big around.” Really, they were that big. No one got bit.

HT:

You ladies had rifle training?

DA:

Oh, sure, we did. I could shoot a gun, pistol, rifle, machine gun.

HT:

Had it all?

DA:

Had it all. I'm a sharpshooter.

HT:

Obstacle course and everything.

DA:

I'm a sharpshooter. I go out here and shoot. My gun's in the kitchen. Anybody comes in this house, do anything to me, they won't go out. I won't kill them, but they'll wish I would've killed them. I'll just shoot them in the legs. [laughter] It was wonderful training. It was wonderful training.

But you take twenty-two and twenty-three and twenty-four years of age. I had no fear. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was for my country, and I wanted to be the best. I love this country. We're fortunate. Oh, we're lucky that everything happened. If [Winston] Churchill hadn't talked [President Frankli] Roosevelt into doing what he did, and Pearl Harbor came, and those Republicans decided they'd better declare war, we probably wouldn't have what we've got today, because Hitler was really coming. He really was.

He was a smart cookie. He had cameras that would make you think he had millions of soldiers, and he didn't have millions of soldiers. He thought he did, and he'd get all this propaganda out. That's what he was doing. He faked a lot of this stuff. He faked it.

I know when President [George H. W.] Bush asked the commissioner of insurance—and he was the chairman of the whole United States, the general—to send a special committee to Berlin, and we went over, fifteen of them, that was a specialist in group insurance to help individuals, and we went over and stayed five weeks, and I understand some of the language. I don't speak it, but I understand it. I understand what they're saying.

We got there, and there was only three insurance companies. They made us try to believe that one was private, but it wasn't. I picked up on that. I told Jim, I said, “Whatever you all do, don't talk in these rooms,” because up in the lights they had bugs to record what was said. I said, “Be careful what you say. Talk outside of the doors.” That's the only way we could talk. “Just be careful, and whatever you say, just say, 'Isn't this a wonderful country?' Just pleasant things. But don't say anything negative.”

Anyway, we went to these three companies. Beautiful boardrooms, gosh they were beautiful. So I would ask the president of each of the companies, “Why don't you have some women agents?”

He said, “We have men agents, different from America, and they have five blocks that they're in charge of selling, taking care of.” Everybody on those five blocks had to buy insurance, like health, life, automobile insurance. Everybody had to have insurance. They'd pay for it. And no women.

I said, “In America, we have women,” and I told him how many, told him the production. He was really astute—he could speak English very well. Every time you got up and moved, if you went to the restroom, they had an agent follow you. They followed us everywhere. We went to the one that they said that was owned by an individual, and we went four stories down. Did you know, they had the most wonderful computers down there that I've ever seen in my life?

I said to the fellow, “You all must be getting ready for World War III.” When I said, that, he clicked his—I knew he was a soldier. He clicked his heels, and he turned to me, and he said, “No. These are our records of everybody that's got insurance in our country. This is where we keep them.”

Well, I knew right then what they were doing. Jim Long came whispering in my ear. I said, “Jim, stay away from me. Let's talk outside.” So we went, and really, it was all owned by the government.

HT:

Was that East Germany or West Germany?

DA:

East Germany.

HT:

East Germany?

DA:

Oh, yes. The Berlin Wall. I want to tell you something. We went behind the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was two walls. They had dogs running around there. Those kids couldn't get out. All those crosses out in front. There's no way they could have gotten out. Then they had a patrol boat down there if they did get out, get in the water, they could get them in the water. It was pathetic.

What got me was to see the people. The stores would have beautiful things in the windows. You'd walk in, and they didn't have anything on the shelves. It was fake, all fake. We went where Hitler stood out there. It was like a ball field about the size of state college ball field. There this big building, he stood there. It made you think there was millions of soldiers out there when those cameras were used, the way they fixed it. There that little fellow stood out there, did everything like he's so big. He was a fake.

So anyway, we went out there, and I said to Jim Long, I said, “Are we going to church tomorrow, Jim?”

He said, “Dorothy, they're not going to let us go to church.”

I said, “Oh, yes, they are. They're going to let this girl go.” I was American. I said, “Let me carry it.”

He said, “Okay.”

So Jerry got us to this beautiful cathedral on Sunday morning. He said, “Now, this is a cathedral,” and told us what it is.

I said, “Jerry, we're going to church. We'll be back. You just stay here on the bus.”

“Oh, no, no, no. You can't go.”

I said, “Don't you ever tell an American they can't go to church. I'm your guest in this country, and I have a right to go to church.”

I walked across the front of that bus. Behind me was the commissioner of the insurance and all those other specialists from all over the United States. We walked in. That music was fantastic. It was in Latin. I mean, the preacher. Their music was just beautiful. In the meantime, he went over to make a phone call to tell him what we were doing. I went and looked back there, and there he was standing inside the door.

I said, “Well, I'll see what's happening. There may be a gun inside this door. Something's going on.”

Anyway, we went out, got in the bus. Before we got in the bus, he walked up to me, and he said, “Miss Austell, I want to thank you. I'm thirty-two years of age, and I've never been in a church in my life until today.”

I said, “You haven't?”

He said, “They won't let us go.”

But that church helped him, the undercurrent. I mean, took them down in the basement, the people, to get them out, the good people.

He said, “Miss Austell, thank you. Thank you.”

From that day on, he stayed close to me, but I watched him. I didn't know if he was playing up or what. He said he wanted me to see his home, so I went to see his home. I walked up eight flights to see that apartment, got in there, and there was four families living in one big room. They had a table, stove, refrigerator. On the wall is the only places they could hang their clothes around. Now, here this boy was an educated person. College, personnel and all, and driving a bus.

I said, “How do you all live in here, like this?”

He said, “Well, we take shifts.” Take shifts. I thought to myself how lucky we are.

I said, “Would you like to have some of my magazines I'm reading?”

So he said, “Yeah.”

I left my name on them, like Time and—I had all those magazines with me. So when the wall came down, I was looking at it, and they had a picture of a fellow, and there he was, grinning from ear to ear.

A reporter asked him, “What do you want to do?”

“I want to go to America. I have a friend there.” He never called my name. “I want to go see her.” He never called my name out. Thrilled to death. He came over. Then he went back, and he said, “You'll never know. You gave a spark to me.” He said, “I was dying on the vine, because my enthusiasm, everything was taken away from me.” That's what the fear of Hitler did to him.

I enjoyed the trip. We came back and reported to President Bush. We knew it was coming down, but we couldn't tell anybody, couldn't tell anybody. While they walked around over there with machine guns. No one knows that, and those young people are trigger-happy. You didn't know whether they were going to not like you, like whether you looked good or not.

I just told them, I said, “Watch what you say. Keep smiling, speak to them, because,” I said, “If they go with that machine gun, all of us are dead.”

Have you ever been over there?

HT:

I was born in Germany.

DA:

What part were you in?

HT:

Bavaria.

DA:

Come up here, and let me show you something.

HT:

Let me turn this off for a second. [Tape recorder paused]

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

HT:

Before the tape stopped on us—I'm not exactly sure where, so we'll just continue on—we were talking about the slander campaign, I think was 1943 against the women, and you had mentioned it was started by Hitler as a propaganda measure. But I had read somewhere that the WACs, of course, were hit the hardest, and they think one of the sources might have been some of the men in the army, perhaps of jealousy. Did you ever hear anything about that?

DA:

I never saw that, because we worked together where I was. I never saw that. I was treated respectfully, like a lady.

HT:

I think in your job—it was undercover-type work? Is that a good term?

DA:

Yes, it was.

HT:

You met all kinds of different people?

DA:

Oh, boy, I met them all.

HT:

You wore different types of uniforms, and you were all different grades?

DA:

I switched.

HT:

That's amazing that you could switch back and forth like that.

DA:

That's what I did.

HT:

You did that with every assignment, I guess?

DA:

That's right.

HT:

That's truly amazing.

DA:

And I was jeopardizing myself.

HT:

Oh, I'm sure. If you had been found out, you could have been killed, I would imagine?

DA:

Oh, sure. I could tell you, not only trains, we had airplanes and buses. I knew they could call me anytime. They could get me off of a train. I was going to Fort Benning [Georgia], and you know how the conductors do, when you leave one state to the next, they start saying, “Raleigh, North Carolina.” We got into Georgia, and he said, “Georgia,” and he called out, “Austell. Austell, Georgia,” and I didn't hear the “Georgia.”

I stood up and said, “Here I am.” So help me, that whole car roared, and that conductor, he had a white coat and was black as the ace of spades, biggest smile.

He said, “That's happened to me twice,” not here but other places.

I just said, “Here I am.” I said, “My name's Austell.” I thought he had a message for me. [laughs]

HT:

Oh, my gosh.

DA:

That was a funny thing.

HT:

That was. That's cute.

DA:

And everybody just died laughing. But I got what he said, “Austell, Austell,” and I didn't wait to hear “Georgia.” I just got right up. But I had a wonderful life in the army. I made the best of it.

HT:

Can you tell me for which branch of the government you worked, or is that still—

DA:

What do you mean? I was in intelligence, CIA [Central Intelligence Agency].

HT:

I thought the CIA didn't come about until later on.

DA:

Well, it was similar to that.

HT:

OSS [Office of Strategic Services]?

DA:

OSS.

HT:

You know, there's an exhibit downtown—

DA:

Go in there, because it was 14,000 of them. Have you been down to see it?

HT:

Very briefly, I went down to see something else, and just happened to see that. I'm going to have to go back again.

DA:

I've got to go back. Mrs. Hill wants me to come and have lunch with her. You know, she's ninety-three years old. Did you hear what she did?

HT:

No.

DA:

She got all that stuff, and they found it in the house. The CIA called her. They said, “You'll have to get it back to Washington.”

She said, “No, I will not get it back to Washington. It belonged to my husband. It's his property.” She didn't know that he—I won't say “stole”—he took it, unauthorized. It did belong to the government. She said, “I will keep it until 2003,” I think she said. “I want everybody in North Carolina to know what my husband did. We're going to put it in a museum in the eastern part of the state; Raleigh; Charlotte; and Asheville; and maybe take it to Cherokee.” She said, “Then I'll turn it back over to the government, but you're not going to have it now.”

Now, here, she told the government what she was going to do. Two-thirds of that stuff was still useful. I have a nephew [neice] who's still in the service. [S]he's the fourth in command. I sent the article to her, and I said, “Ruby, what do you think of this? I got a telephone call for all this.”

She said, “Well, we're using some of that stuff.” A pencil that could shoot—I have a girlfriend here who's never interested in what I did. She said, “Dorothy, could you kill somebody with that fountain pen?”

I said, “I certainly could. All you do is shoot, and you wouldn't even know what hit you.”

Did you look at all of it?

HT:

Not terribly closely. I'll have to go back.

DA:

They're still using some of [ite]now.

HT:

That's amazing.

DA:

It jeopardized—they should have never—well, he just took it. It was government property. But he put it all back together. Gosh. Anybody will do anything.

HT:

I guess so. Well, what do you think the general mood of the country was back in those days, in the forties?

DA:

In the forties? Our country was together. We wanted to get it over with. Sure, we had some people that were draft dodgers, but very few. Most of them, when they got down to the men who were married, had children, they came forth, too. My brother-in-law happened to be one of those. He was sent out to Arizona. He was in the army. He was a staff sergeant. It was hot out in Arizona, sleeping in those tents. But the mood of the country, everybody was working together.

HT:

Because it was a common cause.

DA:

It was. They were folding bandages, and the Red Cross, and the church, and they were teaching people how to have victory gardens, to eat. It just seemed that we were all united. You felt it. You really did. You felt it. I know at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana, I could not have a friend. I couldn't be close to anybody.

HT:

That must have been very hard.

DA:

That was awful. My relief was going to church. I went to the First Baptist Church, but I didn't know the First Baptist Church in Fort Wayne was Northern Baptist. It's different from Southern Baptist. There was one bench at the back. All of the other aisles had their own gate and had the name of the people who were supposed to sit in it, the family. They bought that pew. So I sat in the back. This man came up. He was an usher, and he introduced himself, and I introduced myself. He said, “We would like to have you share our seat, come in our pew.”

HT:

You were in uniform, I guess?

DA:

Yes, oh, sure.

I said, “Well, that would be nice, Mr. Fredricks. That would be nice.”

So I went down and sat with them. Well, they kept asking me to go home and have lunch with them, and I would refuse, because I had to go back to the base. One day, she said to me, “Won't you go home and have lunch with us today? I want to show you something. And we will take you back to the base.”

I didn't know who he was. I did not know he was the president of the Bank of Fort Wayne. I didn't know that he had all this money and this beautiful home I was going to. Nor did I know his son had been killed in the service, his only son. When I got there—see, they took a liking to me because I sat in the pew for six weeks before I ever agreed to go.

So when I got there, they showed me a picture. She said, “I want to talk to you about him.” He was in the air force, a pilot.

I said, “Well, you ought to be proud.” Good-looking young fellow. Showed me a picture of him. They were wonderful to me.

They said, “Now, we're going to come and pick you up.”

I said, “Don't you bring the limousine out to the base. I can't do that, Mr. Fredricks. I can't do that. If you want to pick me up, you go two blocks from that gate, and I'll walk down there, but don't you bring that limousine or they'll beat me up.”

He said, “Why?”

I said, “I can't do it. I just can't do it.” I said, “They wouldn't like it. My buddies wouldn't like it. See me get in a limousine and go away? Why, they'd hang me.”

He said, “Well, okay.”

His chauffeur's name was Harsch[?], little old fellow, black. Just as nice as could be. He parked three blocks down from the gate. I walked down there. I couldn't even see where he was. I'd get in that limousine. He'd carry me out there. He'd bring me back. But he never got that limousine up there at that gate, because I said, “You'll mess me up, and I won't be able to come back here anymore.”

But they were nice. You didn't know they had money. They were such kind people. I enjoyed sitting in church, and I didn't know there was a difference between Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists. I enjoyed the service. You learn something wherever you go. But you know, people, if they like you, they like you. If they don't, then you have to conform where you are or you're not going to get along in this world. You might not like what's going on, but you have to take it.

HT:

That's sort of a good segue into my next question, which is, what was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally while you were in the service?

DA:

Emotionally?

HT:

Yes. The nurse I talked to yesterday said that the hardest thing was taking care of German prisoners of war.

DA:

Was she a prisoner of war?

HT:

No, but there were German prisoners of war, and as a nurse, she had to take care of them, and it was hard on her to do that.

DA:

Well, the hardest thing I had to do is to see our country lock up all these Japanese people, and they were innocent. But our country had no choice, because they didn't know the good from the bad. And to see them put behind the barbed wire. We had them over here at [Camp] Butner [North Carolina], and we had them all over the United States. That was the hardest thing.

HT:

Right, but one thing I've never quite understood is they locked up the Japanese-Americans, but didn't do so for the German-Americans or the Italian-Americans.

DA:

Japanese.

HT:

Right.

DA:

If anybody would have been angry at the Japanese, I had every right to be.

HT:

Because of Pearl Harbor?

DA:

But I wasn't, because of my temperament. War is war. Seeing those families, that's what got me, seeing those little children.

HT:

At Camp Butner?

DA:

They took them off. They took them off. They were due some money back for what they did to them, but it was because of Pearl Harbor. We were asleep. We were asleep at Pearl Harbor, or we wouldn't have had the damage we did.

Now, my boyfriend, Earl Hicks, he gave his weekend up that day, wasn't supposed to. Gave it to another guy. He was going to go get married. They got married. I hear from them. They're still writing me, still living. They tell me they wouldn't have had the children they have now if it wasn't for Earl. The connection is really important to me, because he gave that weekend up.

He said, “Dorothy, I saw that boat. Couldn't see any other part of it. It was all in the water, and all of them in there.” He said, “I just cried. I cried.” It was a horrible thing. It was a shock. They weren't ready for it. The ones with the guns, we were just sitting ducks. But see, they got messages. Somebody knew that they were. That's the way they were over there. So they just knew what to give us, how to hit us square. We were just asleep.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically while you were in the military?

DA:

Physically?

HT:

Yes.

DA:

Was when I told a little girl that we were going to have to send her home, and she started crying, because she thought there was a problem. She was a New York Jew. She came down to Florida with her golf clubs on her back. I knew we were going to have trouble with her. I said, “You're not going to be playing golf. I don't know what you're going to do with those clubs.”

HT:

This was at Daytona Beach?

DA:

Yes. She wasn't the kind of girl that should be in the service. She wasn't a lady. Then we found out that she was a queer. That's the hardest thing I ever did. I caught her one night. I didn't, the corporal [did]. We just threw those lights on, just like this, made her get up, and we court-martialed her, because of morale. That's no place for it. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

People will be that way but not jeopardize an organization and a company and the morale. But that was undecent. I had to do it.

HT:

You say she was court-martialed. What exactly happened to her?

DA:

She was sent home.

HT:

She didn't have to go to the brig or anything like that?

DA:

No.

HT:

Just discharged?

DA:

Discharged, dishonorable. Dishonorable.

HT:

How long had she been in the service?

DA:

She'd been in it about eight months. That's the kind of life they want, but I feel for them. They're sick. That's the hardest thing I had to do.

HT:

I imagine that was tough. Well, do you ever recall being afraid for your personal safety, perhaps?

DA:

I had to watch everywhere I went. I didn't know whether they knew about me or not. I had to assume they did, to protect myself.

HT:

But as far as you know, you were not in any danger? I mean, nobody was after you that you could really tell?

DA:

No.

HT:

I guess y'all had to be sharp on your toes?

DA:

I was sharp. I had to be. I learned the code Captain Nickels taught me, and I was trying too hard. When you're trying too hard sometimes, you can't learn. So I walked around that building and came back. I said, “Captain Nickels, I can't get it.”

He looked at me, and he said, “Austell, if you had said that to Hitler, he would have shot you.”

“He would?”

He said, “Yeah. Here's the rifle. You go back in there and see if you can't learn this.”

I could learn it, but I couldn't [unclear]. Did you know, I was trying too hard. I really was. I went back in. That scared the fool out of me.

He said, “If you can't learn this, you're going to Leavenworth, Kansas. That's the federal pen. You know too much.” Scaring the fool out of me. I went back, and I got it. [laughs]

HT:

Now, was he joking, or was he serious?

DA:

I really, really did it. I thought to myself, “My lord, here I am, and they can do this to me.”

HT:

Was he serious?

DA:

Yes, he was, because see, I knew too much. I knew too much. See, they trained us very much. See, when I came back from the service, I was offered an FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] job. Commissioner Scheitt, who used to be at the [unclear] department, he was in charge of Charlotte. He offered me a job, and came to Shelby, and I hadn't come home from work. These two FBI guys came. My mama said, “You're not taking my daughter again.”

They showed her [unclear]. “We just want to talk to her.”

My mama said, “She'll be here at 5:30.”

So when I got there, they were sitting in the living room, and they said, “Let's go out to the car.” I knew what they wanted to go out to the car for, because they wanted to record everything I said. So we got in the car. I saw him hit the button down, and I said, “Is that thing on there so you can really get me?”

He said, “Did you see me do that?”

I said, “Sure, I did. It's recording, isn't it?” We were friends a long time.

Anyway, he said, “Will you come down and see Commissioner Scheitt? He's in charge.”

I said, “Sure, I'll come to Charlotte.”

So I went down. When I walked in that office and saw the North Carolina flag and the American flag and this beautiful plaque up there with all the people who had lost their lives, being an FBI agent, I said, “I don't think this is for me.” So I went on in and talked with Scheitt. I told him, I said, “Commissioner, I don't think this is my cup of tea.” I said, “I did it for my country, but I just don't think it's my cup of tea. I appreciate your wanting me.” I said, “I hope you can get somebody, but I tell you, I know two people that you can get, two fine people, and one of them is Judge Mull's son in Shelby, John Mull.”

[Tape recorder stopped]

HT:

Before the tape recorder stopped, we were talking about what you did for fun and social life and that sort of thing.

DA:

I went to the USOs [United Service Organizations clubs]. Why I went there was, it was quality entertainment, and they had a library there, and if you wanted to write letters, if you wanted to dance or anything, and you met really nice young men. I mean, you could tell the caliber. USOs did a wonderful job, I thought. Maybe some people have a different feeling. I never saw them bad. That's what I did.

HT:

Who sponsored the USO?

DA:

It was an organization. The government didn't have anything to do with it.

HT:

Private organization?

DA:

It was private. As far as I know, it was. I didn't look into that.

HT:

I'm sure you remember VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day. Do you recall what you were doing on VE Day?

DA:

VE Day?

HT:

That was in May of '45, Victory in Europe.

DA:

I know what you're talking about. I knew that they were going in. To be honest with you, it was a happy day for me, because we lost so many boys, and some of it was uncalled for, because they had to climb those cliffs. That's where we lost them.

Our neighbor here, he was in a tank with [General George S.] Patton. He's got shrapnel all over him. We talked. He didn't talk about the war. He will only talk about the war when I go over there and we talk together. I told his wife not too long ago, “Why don't you get a tape recorder for the grandchildren, and I'll get him to talk with you.” When I start talking, he'll blend in with ourselves. He'll open up to me, but he won't open up to anybody else.

But I was really happy that day. I really was. Thrilled. [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower did a good job. He really did a good job. Patton did a good job. A lot of people, like my neighbor said, Doug, “He was a good man. He was a leader. He wanted to win, but he didn't want to take any foolishness, and you couldn't have any foolishness” [cough], because they were right there on the front. He meant for them to do what he said to do, and he said, “If you want to live, do what I say do.” But you know, he didn't get killed. He got killed in an automobile wreck. Isn't that terrible? But Doug liked him. He said, “Now, he was a mean old man, but you respected him.”

I said, “Yeah, you respected him, because you wanted to get back home.”

HT:

Do you recall when the atomic bomb was dropped over Japan?

DA:

Yes, I do.

HT:

How did you feel about that?

DA:

I felt, I really felt—would you like to have a Coca-Cola?

HT:

Yes, please.

[Tape recorder paused]

DA:

But a few people knew that he was going to do that. But we had to do it, because so much was happening, and I admire him. I really do. But he had no choice, had no choice. But what got me was to see those people burn. It really got me, because I care about people. But I'm glad I didn't have to pull it. But he said the buck stops with him.

[Tape recorder paused]

DA:

Said the buck starts with him, and I said, “He had a hard job.” He had to do it to stop the war, because the Japanese were really coming after us. And he did. He stopped it. To see the people burning up, that got me. Did you see how the skin fell off of them?

HT:

Yes.

DA:

The skin fell off of them. That could happen to us, too. That's when we started having people building all these things in the basements for protection, because they thought we might have an invasion.

HT:

These were some very unusual times.

DA:

I've got some friends in Shelby, and I said, “I'm coming to Shelby, because I can't put a basement in my house in Raleigh. I'm getting in with you all.” They really fixed it for an atomic bomb.

HT:

Do you recall when and where you were discharged from the service?

DA:

When I was at Fort Wayne, Indiana.

HT:

Well, see, you didn't mention that you had stayed there the entire time.

DA:

That's right.

HT:

You got out sometime in 1946, I think it was?

DA:

Yes. I have to look, I can't remember. I came out July 1, 1946.

HT:

What was your rank when you were discharged?

DA:

Lieutenant.

HT:

First lieutenant?

DA:

Yes.

HT:

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

DA:

It had a lot. It gave me a good foundation. It gave me a lot of experience that helped me through life. But I knew I could do the job. Nothing fazed me. It gave me a confidence. If I had it then, then I still have it. It just gave me another steppingstone. It was a plus. It really was.

I believe that if our young people could have one year of training in the service, it would straighten them out. Just one year before they graduate, they would be like different people, because this generation, these kids, they don't even know how to say “No,” “Yes,” “Yes, ma'am,” or any respect, or any respect for themselves, and I think it would help our country. Some countries require it in young people, to get their diploma. I don't know if I'll ever see it, but I believe some day it will be, because now the kids are killing their mothers and fathers and their grandmothers and grandfathers for money. We never heard any of that before. It just started this last few years.

I heard Representative [Howard] Coble speak up in Greensboro. The last thing he said—it really rung a bell with me when I told him—in his closing remarks, he waved his hand across all those white cloths, and he said, “I hope, if we ever have another war, our people will come forward and serve like these, but I question it.” He questioned it. And I do, too. I question it. We will have more draft dodgers than everybody [unclear]. I really believe that.

HT:

What about in the long term? How has being in the military changed your life in the long term?

DA:

In the long term?

HT:

Yes.

DA:

I have respect for my government. I have respect for people in the service. I know what they're going through. It's not any different, but they have different ways. But I care about them. I feel comfortable [unclear] armed force. They'd take care of us, if something would happen to us. I don't know. I saw a flag out there. You did get here before dark. Did you see it?

DA:

Yes.

HT:

I love that flag. That flag came off of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. [N.C. Senator] Jesse Helms gave it to me. I was up there speaking on behalf of Insurance for America, and he gave it to me, and I fly it. I don't let anything out of my office, unless it's on [unclear] flagpole.

I'll tell you a true story. About—let's see. It's been twelve years ago. That was before the office burned in the Cameron Village. It burned everything I had. That whole floor was sanitized. It got the post office, and it had a federal agency up there that had foreclosed on about seventy people, farms, and somebody in that group came and set it on fire and put a wedge in the firewall, and I was banking on the firewall, and the firemen couldn't get it out. He didn't know where the wedge was. It took two of them, where they could pull the door down. So the thing burned. Were you here then?

HT:

No.

DA:

It burned the post office, and boy, the federal agencies came in and all that stuff. Anyway, before that, I was called the “Flag-Waving Girl,” because when I bought my stamps, I bought five hundred per roll, every time. My secretary went down to buy them, because she was getting ready to mail some stuff. I came in, and she said, “Miss Austell, I've got some bad news.”

“What?”

“They're not making American flag stamps anymore.”

I said, “What'd you say? They're not?”

I go down to the senator's office [unclear] Charleston. He said, “I have nothing to do with that.” No more American flag stamps.

They're not making them, anymore. I got in my car and went down to Buck Lattimore—he was the postmaster—and went in, and I said to his secretary, “I've got to see Buck Lattimore. The post office has gone Communistic.”

She got me in there, and he said, “Dorothy, we've got flags. I know we've got them, but they're saying that we don't have them. You're going to have to call Jesse Helms.”

I went back to my office. I called Jesse Helms. Clara Nickels, this friend I was telling you about before, answered the phone. I said, “Clara, our post offices in North Carolina have gone Communistic. You cannot buy an American stamp.”

She said, “Oh, my lord, you can't?”

I said, “Where is Jesse?”

She said, “Well, he's having a hernia operation, and he is recuperating over there in the hospital in Washington.”

I said, “Well, can I call him?”

She said, “Yeah, he'd love to hear your voice.”

So I called him. I told him my situation. I said, “I can't stand this. I'm getting ready to call the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I'm going to call them all. I'm going to call WPTL. I'm going to get them on the TV. Somebody needs to know this.”

He said, “Dorothy, before you do that, you call the postmaster general,” and he gave me his name. I called Clara back and got E.W., I called him. His secretary said, “You can't talk to him.”

I said, “Well, you'd better tell him that Dorothy Austell in North Carolina is getting ready to go on the TV, that we have gone Communistic. We can't buy an American stamp.”

He came on that phone. He really did. He came on, and he said, “Miss Austell, that's a story. We do have stamps. We've got them down under here in the basement.”

I said, “Well, you're keeping them up there. We're not getting them here.”

He said, “Well, what we're trying to do is get Eisenhower stamps out.”

I said, “I want to tell you something, sir. I will never put an Eisenhower stamp on my envelopes. Now, I want that American flag, and if I don't have an American flag, I'm going to have the VFW, the American Legion, and the people in North Carolina calling you.” I said, “Don't challenge me, sir. I mean business.”

He said, “Miss Austell, give me twenty-four hours. I will have you some stamps.”

I said, “I've got to have them sooner than that.” I said, “I mean that.”

I don't know how he got them. He got a plane, and got down, and Buck Lattimore walked into my office the next morning at eight o'clock with those stamps. I said, “Buck, where did you get those stamps?”

He said, “The postmaster general got them down here.”

They flew them down, because I had already called the radio station. I had them lined up. I didn't want to cause any trouble, but I was going to start some trouble, because people would have gone up, because people loved that stamp. Then he wrote me the nicest letter, the postmaster general did, thanking me for calling that to his attention. I framed it in my office. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. I put the stamps and everything on it. Well, it burned, too. I look at some of the things.

Anyway, I wrote him back and thanked him. I told him how much I loved it because I served under it, and I respect it. I wasn't going to put any Eisenhower stamps on my envelopes. So they call me the “Flag-Waving Girl” over there. That's what they do.

HT:

Oh, mercy. Well, did you ever think about making the military a career?

DA:

No, I didn't want it.

HT:

That wasn't an option for you?

DA:

Well, I could have, but it wasn't for me. The FBI wasn't for me.

HT:

You'd been doing it for a little over three years, right?

DA:

Yes, but it just wasn't for me. I think the military has to be cut out for certain people, and we've got some wonderful people in there. We've got some that aren't. We're going to have some bad pennies in anything. We got more good ones than bad ones, thank goodness. But some people just go into the service for their time.

I went to work for the State of North Carolina, for what I could do is have a monthly salary. I didn't even think about retirement. When you go in the military, that's what you think about. “I've got ten years to go,” five years to go, twenty years to go, and there are some wonderful people. But it wasn't for me. It really wasn't for me.

HT:

Knowing what you know now, would you do it again? Would you join again?

DA:

If my country called me, I'd be right there, sir. I'd be right there.

HT:

No regrets?

DA:

No regrets.

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after you got out?

DA:

When I came back, it was rather hard, and it wasn't hard. I went back to my assistant comptroller job. I liked it. I fell right in. It was hard to get adjusted.

HT:

Yes, because you couldn't talk about what you did.

DA:

Couldn't talk about it, and I wouldn't go, and what I did—I will tell you this—to a degree, I was hurt because ministers thought I shouldn't go in. I said, “I'm not going to get any parade. They don't think I did anything, because I didn't talk about anything.” The only one in my family that knew what my agent number was was my sister. She owned a restaurant during World War II. She cooked food when they would come through with troops. They'd come in with these containers and get your food, take them out in the field and feed the guys, and that's what she did.

So I came home for furlough, and she had a big restaurant chain. That was the only restaurant. She had a big room. It was eight by eleven. It was all copper, where no bugs or anything could get into the meal or the flour. I said to her, “Gertrude, let's go back into the flour room.” I was sitting on a keg. That's when I was going to go overseas. I said, to her, “I'm going to give you my code number. I'm going to write it up over this door up here. If anything happens to me, you go to the Pentagon, give them this number, and you'll find out what happened to me, where I am or what. But you can't tell anybody.” I made her hold her hand up. She was the only person that knew that number.

HT:

Is the code number sort of like your—because on my dog tags it had an air force number, which was later changed to my social security number.

DA:

It's numbers across.

HT:

Right. Something like that?

DA:

Just numbers. Anyway, she said “Oh, my god, I'm not going to sleep.”

I said, “Well, you'll sleep.” I said, “But you can't tell anybody.”

The building burned, oh, I'd say twenty years ago. She said she stood there and watched it. “What was that number? Nobody will ever know it.” And that's true. Everything burned, the whole block, bank and everything. Gas exploded. Everybody [unclear].

But I've had a good life, an interesting life. I would have liked to have been married. I'd like to have had children. Oh, I could have gotten married umpteen times. I went with a real wonderful guy. He was a captain in the navy. Here's his picture over here. His name was Captain Howard Carr. He was a deputy of the Jefferson Pilot Insurance Company.

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

DA:

Howard Carr and his wife, Thelma, were very good friends of mine. He was a captain in the navy, and he was an executive of Jefferson Pilot Insurance Company, and his wife died, and she had cancer. We did a lot of fishing together, she and Howard and all of us. When she died, he was lonesome. They had a beautiful home in Greensboro. He has one son, who is a captain of the Northwest Airlines, flies a plane, teaches everybody. He wanted me to marry him.

I said, “Howard, we'd never make it. You're strong willed, and I'm strong willed. But I promise you that I'll be your friend and be there when you need me, as long as you live,” and I was. He died three years ago. He had diabetes, and they were going to cut his toe off. It was mostly from his toe to his feet, up to his knee. So he asked me what did I think?

I said, “Well, it's your leg. You tell me what you want to do. Can you walk with a cane?” That's the way I talk.

“I don't think I could.”

I said, “Well, why don't you talk to Howard, Jr.? He's coming.”

He said, “How did you get him?”

See, people would call me and tell me. I said, “Oh, I had a little bird flew down from Raleigh and told me. And Howard, Jr., will be here at twelve o'clock.”

So the doctor talked to us. He said that it was going all over him, and to get it off. Diabetes is terrible. So that's what happened. He died, and we buried him. He had his uniform.

Howard, Jr., said, “Where's his uniform?”

I said, “Upstairs, all ready.” He had his cap and everything. So he was a good fellow. Really, we wouldn't have made it, because he was strong willed, and I was, too.

I said, “I don't want to lose your friendship.” He'd laugh when I'd say that. But I'd do anything for him, and he did anything for me. I mean, and we were insurance. He was, too. He loved fishing. We did a lot of deep-sea fishing and sport fishing.

HT:

Tell me about your boat. You said—

DA:

My boat, I have a fifty-two-foot-well, that's the last size I had. I started out with a twenty-two. I was the first woman captain from North Carolina. I took the Corps of Engineers examination. Captain Eddie Hanneman sponsored me, down at Wrightsville Beach. He told me, “Dorothy, you're a natural.”

In fact, down there at that time, you didn't have anyone out at the inlet that you have now, straight out. It was a dog leg. I could bring that boat in there with the dog leg, and it would never yaw at all.

HT:

You took people out to fish?

DA:

Fishing, yes, my friends. Took friends out.

HT:

It wasn't charter?

DA:

Oh, no, I'd just take them out. If you were my buddies, you got on the boat. People like to go with all this [unclear]. The fellow at the marina, they liked me. They said, “We want you to be the first woman.”

I said, “Captain Eddie, I don't believe I can pass that examination. That's hard.”

He said, “Well, you passed the Coast Guard. You know if you passed the Coast Guard, you can pass it.”

So anyway, they gave me books, and I studied. But I went and took it. I made ninety-eight. I would have made a hundred, but with the fog and my deviation, I didn't figure it right, but I would have still got to the buoy, because I would have heard the buoy. But I missed the buoy. But that didn't matter. I passed it.

So I was thrilled when I got that. Then my insurance just went to [unclear] when I got that license, because I can take a ship in or anything now. I really can. Now, with all this computer thing, I'd have to learn all that computer again, but I could do it. But my Pacemaker [boat] had the 2504 Cummings, diesel, and I love that boat.

HT:

Where did you have it moored?

DA:

Down at Wrightsville Beach. Well, I had it at Harrelson's Marina, and I told Buddy Harrelson—I had a thirty-two-footer. I said, “Now, I'm coming back in here with this fifty-two. It can't sit outside, because it's fiberglass.”

He said, “What are you thinking about?”

I said, “Well, why don't you build four stalls, big, high—with the roof, you know, so we can come in?”

He said, “I will never be able to rent those.”

I said, “Tell you what I'll do. I will pay you to put this up, and if you don't rent it, I'll keep paying you rent on it, but you'll pay me back, and I won't charge you any interest.” I already had it rented. I didn't let him know it. I said, “But on one condition, if those things are up by July 4.”

He said, “They'll be up by July the 4th.”

The boat was built in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I'd take an airplane trip and go up there. They didn't even know when I was going to come in there. Every time I went in that boat, I never saw any sawdust, dust, or anything. They had suctions to take all this stuff out. I went there three times.

He said, “Why don't you let us know when you're coming?”

I said, “I don't want you to know when I'm coming. That's what I'm checking on you for, to see if you're doing it right.”

They knew I had a captain's license. I can tear a motor down. My brother-in-law taught me as a young girl. We women are weak in our wrists, so I had to take a wrench, hammer sometimes. But I can take a motor down and put it back together. Cummings wrote a big article on me back in the eighties, first woman to do it. They wanted to use me, and I said, “Well, go ahead, use me. You can write an article on me.” They gave me a discount on the engine.

HT:

When you joined the army, did you consider yourself to be a pioneer, or a trailblazer, or trendsetter?

DA:

When I went in, I didn't think about that at all. I thought about the job that my country wanted me to do.

HT:

What about later on, after you had a little time to think about it?

DA:

I never, never one time. I never did, never did.

HT:

If you think back, women really didn't do that type of work. I mean, they didn't work outside the house very much.

DA:

That's right.

HT:

I mean, there were so few options open to women. A woman could become a teacher, a nurse, and that was just about it. The war really changed all that, when you think about it.

DA:

That's right, because they found out we could do more.

HT:

Right. I talked to so many women, mechanics, and I talked to another women who was in similar work that you did in Washington, D.C., nurses, cadet nurses, Red Cross volunteers, all different types of jobs. There were just wonderful opportunities.

DA:

I was in there to help my country, really, and I lost myself. I was doing it for them, not me. I think that's the reason I got along as well as I did, because I met a lot of fine people. Some of them are dead now. A lot of them are.

HT:

Would you consider yourself a feminist these days?

DA:

Oh, sure. I've opened the door, I guess.

HT:

You've done so many firsts.

DA:

Well, that's what I'm talking about. But I don't do it for that. I do it because—sometimes I don't even know it. I didn't even know it when I led the Jefferson Pilot Life Insurance Company [in sales] in 1964, the first woman that had ever led an insurance company, the first one in the whole world. I was working. They called me up in Dalton[?] Hospital. I told the guy that was working there, I said, “Lord, something's happened at the company. They want to talk to me at 5:30. We'll have a conference call.” I got there, and they told me they had good news for me.

I said, “Well, what is it?” I thought it was going to be the products or something.

He said, “You are the number one agent.”

“Of what?” I said.

They said, “Of the company, of the world, of the United States.”

I said, “You're kidding.”

He said, “No, we aren't, Dorothy.”

But what I did, I just worked. I like what I do. I feel sorry for people who get up in the morning and go to work and don't like what they do. But I love people. They give me vim and vitality, because I meet different personalities.

HT:

You still have your insurance agency now, I understand?

DA:

Yes, I do. When I first started, it was Dorothy Austell & Associates. Then I formed Admiral Insurance Company. I split off with some conditions to it. It was named after my dog. My dog was half boxer and half German shepherd. He looked like a miniature Great Dane. We loved that dog. He lived seventeen years. I named that after him.

So then four years ago, I closed Admiral Insurance and consolidated it back in with Dorothy Austell & Associates. Now I have Dorothy Austell, Randall & Associates. So what I'm trying to do all along is to look after my policyholders. I'm expendable. All of us are. When my time comes and I'm not here, I want to be sure they're taken care of. I'm getting quality people to do it. I've got one woman and five men, from around age thirty-two to forty-five. I think I'm going to have another one the first of the month. She's forty-two. She wants to come with us. She'll be a good one.

But I feel that I owe that to them. See, the business is [unclear] with the company. My persistence runs between ninety-eight and a hundred percent, staying on the books. The reason sometimes it doesn't run a hundred percent is because people die. But everybody can't say that, because when I sell you a policy, I sell you what you want, and you will keep it.

The first pension case that I got started with, was with Mr. A.T. Allen Company. He was a lawyer in Raleigh, a big one. He had offices in Charlotte; Washington, D.C.; Asheville. I was in competition with three others, close. I thought it was close. I said, “Boy, I don't have a chance, but I'm going to do the best I can.”

So I just went in, and I said to Mr. Allen, I said, “Mr. Allen, what do you want for your employees?” He told me. I said, “Well, how much do you want to pay for it?” He told me. I said, “Well, if you could give me some statistics, dates of birth and all, let me get back to you.” So I got back and got the pension department working on it. I came back and presented it to him.

He said, “Well, we'll get in touch with you, Miss Austell, in about ten days.” Ten days came, and he called, and he said, “Miss Austell, Mr. Allen wants to see you.” I walked in that door.

He said, “Miss Austell, I want to let you know, you did your homework. You've got the case.”

I looked at him. I said, “I do?”

He said, “Yeah.”

I said, “Will you tell me why? Because those two guys that I'm in competition with are good friends of mine. They're pros. They've been in it longer than I've been in it. Will you tell me why I got it?”

You know what he said? “You came in and asked me what did I want for my employees. The second thing you did, you asked how much did I want to pay for it. These others came in and told me what I need for my employees, and they were thinking about their pocketbook. That's why you got it, Miss Austell.” From that case, I sold approximately over hundred fifty, being honest.

HT:

That's fantastic.

DA:

But it really is just, it's being honest with people. I tell these guys that's working with me, I say, “Don't go out there thinking you're fooling the people. Be honest with them. Don't put your hand in their pocket. We're there to help them. If you help them, they'll help you”, and I believe that. That's my philosophy. I love the work. I see what it does. But that, those pensions, that's how he started me off, Mr. A.T. Allen. I did the best. I was just myself.

He had this secretary, who was an administrative assistant, and later on I got to know her. She said, “Dorothy, he liked you because you didn't try to spend his money. You asked him what he wanted to spend.” But that's what's wrong with a lot of agencies, because they go behind your back. Sell to their families and they're gone.

When I came in this business, I would never sell to my family or my friends. I made them come and ask me. Most of the people who go in sell to family and their friends, and they're out of business. I said, “When I make it, they'll come and ask me,” and that's what happened. Laura Anderton will tell you that.

HT:

Who were your heroes and heroines over the years?

DA:

In what field?

HT:

Well, I guess we could start out with the military, since you talked about that a great deal tonight. Do you recall whom you had a great deal of respect for and whom you looked up to? You mentioned President Truman earlier.

DA:

I had respect for him. I thought the world of him. I was in an insurance meeting in Saint Louis, and Independence [Missouri] is not too far from there, so I rented a car, and I called him and told him I was coming. He remembered me. He really did. I asked this girl from Arkansas if she wanted to go. She said, “Where?”

I said, “You're going to see the President of the United States.”

She said, “We are?”

I said, “Yeah, you are.”

So we rented a car and got there. There he was out there on the steps of his library with all these kids around him. He was in seventh heaven. Because he didn't see us right at first. We stood back and watched him with the kids. He was just talking to them, and didn't have his hat on. [Unclear]. So he went on back in the office. We went on in and got in there. Again, he had a beautiful office, just like he had at the Capitol. He had on his desk, “The buck stops here,” you know.

He got up, and he didn't shake my hand. He just put his arms around me. He said, “This is my bodyguard in North Carolina.” That's the way he talked.

I said, “This girl's from Arkansas. She's a Democrat. This one over here, she's from Missouri, and she hasn't even been out here to see you” Hazel, Koring, I said, “She's a Democrat, too.” But he never forgot that. He really didn't.

HT:

That's amazing. We talked a bit about Harry Truman. What did you think of President Roosevelt and Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

DA:

I admired both of them very, very much. President Roosevelt was a smart man.

HT:

Did you ever have a chance to meet him?

DA:

No, I never met him personally. I did meet her, when she came to Raleigh. She had a hard life. She was a smart woman, and she was really a pretty woman inside. She wasn't a beautiful woman, but she was pretty inside. She did her part, helping everything to make the clock tick. But I met her in Raleigh when she came here and spoke at Meredith College and was interviewed on the radio. See, we didn't have TV much back then. Harold Presley interviewed her. She did a beautiful job.

HT:

I'm assuming that was sometime during the fifties?

DA:

Yes.

HT:

How do you feel about women in combat? During the Gulf War—

DA:

Women can do it. I mean, just because they're not a man. I mean, they can do it. I can shoot a pistol, a rifle, or a machine gun. I can shoot a cannon, too. All they have to do is teach you. But now everything is so mechanized and computerized. Punch a button. It's not like it used to be. But there's no women that couldn't take it. It's not hard. They go to college together, don't they? They work together, don't they? What's the difference fighting together? But you've got to have respect for each other.

As I said to you earlier, you've got to be a gentleman, and you've got to be a lady. I will tell you that in my forty-five years in the insurance business, I have never had a man to make a pass at me, because I was a lady and he knew I was. Because if he had, we would be standing up [unclear], because they taught me how to take care of myself. That's what it's all about. Don't you agree?

HT:

Sounds good to me.

DA:

But we have some women on TV—that's going to ruin these kids, sex and everything is on it. They're going to have to do something, especially the young people, because you've got to be a gentleman, and you've got to be a lady, and I was taught that by my mother. I used to think she was awful hard, but I look back, and I say, “Oh, boy, am I glad you were as strict as you were.”

Everything that I told her I wasn't going to do at eighteen, I'm still doing it. Church, I was going to sit in the third pew. Kids do that. I got tired of going to church. She said, “You're going to go to church as long as long as you stay here.” I still go to church. I connected with the YWCA, the Girl Scouts, Tammy Lynn, the church. Everything I said I wasn't going to do, I'm doing it. You've got to have a foundation. The foundation has got to come from the home, and I had one, and am I thankful. I had two people to come see me. We finished high school together, Mr. and Mrs. Moore, and we talked. We talked about how strict our parents were. He said, “And, Dot, you even taught me how to dance.”

I said, “Yeah, I did, didn't I?”

We lived across the street from O. Max Gardner, the governor, from Shelby. Max, Jr., wasn't well there for a long time, and he died. Miss Mae used to say, “Miss Sue, I don't know how you stand those children over there in your living room.”

My mother answered her, “As long as I can hear my daughter laughing in that living room, they can roll that rug up anytime they want to, because they'll never get in trouble,” and that's the truth.

We talked about that Helen and Dan. I said, “You know, I think about these things.” The only place we could dance was in our home. We don't have [unclear] around here. But we were brought up—it was hard back then.

HT:

That was in the Depression.

DA:

Oh, good night. I got scholarships. I was tennis champion of North Carolina. I played basketball and [unclear]. I got a scholarship for that. But when I went to college, I worked on Saturday at a child's store. Back then they had high counters where you put candy in. Mr. Jones told me he couldn't hire me, because I wasn't tall enough to see over that counter.

I said, “Mr. Jones, if you will build me a platform back there, two inches, I promise you, I'll sell more candy than anybody in Charles' chain.” He built it. He hired it to be built. I did. I sold more candy in one day than the whole chain. So I worked in that way to get money. Then in the summer, I did the same thing.

Then I went to Mr. Blanton at the First Union National Bank. I went in, and I said, “Mr. Blanton?”

He said, “What can I do for you, Miss Dot?”

I said, “I've come in to borrow some money.”

He said, “What's your collateral?”

I said, “My name.”

He looked at me. “How much do you want?”

I said, “$800.”

He had a little button on his desk, and he punched it, and his secretary came in. “Fix out a note for Miss Dot, $800.”

I walked out of there. I had that framed in my office, too, because I paid it back, every bit of it. All that stuff burned. I've got pictures of it. But that's material things. But I look up at those things, and I say, “If I can pay that back, if I can do this, I can be successful in the insurance business.” So each step, that's what happened. But no one has ever given me anything. I've had to work for it. I think you appreciate it, if you have to work for it and pay for it. I know when I bought my first car, when I got it paid for, I was real pleased. Can you remember when you bought yours?

HT:

Yes.

DA:

How proud you were? Now these grandfathers and grandmothers and mothers and fathers give these kids cars. They have no responsibility. When the boom comes, when it comes—I don't know when it's going to come, but when it comes, I'm wondering how they're going to take it, because I know that one boom we had, they jumped out of windows, killed themselves, jumped out of them in New York, big buildings. Couldn't take it. Now, I don't know what it is. People don't have a foundation like we had, because I had one, and I'm thankful, I am. My brothers saw that their children had it. But these kids now are running the families. You know this. Do you have any children?

HT:

No. Not married.

DA:

But I'm not married by choice. He would have liked to have married me. But the nicest thing that happened—a lot of nice things happened to me. One thing he said to me, as we buried Howard up there in Greensboro, he put his arm around me, and he said, “You didn't marry Dad. He loved you, and I know you loved him.”

I said, “I did.”

He said, “Well, you're still my stepmother.”

I said, “That's the nicest thing you could ever say to me.” Mother's Days I get flowers, cards. They call me. Anything happens to me, they're here. He's really my son, because he wanted to be. But I earned it. I did.

HT:

Miss Austell I don't want to keep you too much longer, and I'm concerned about your throat. Is there anything else you'd like to add about your military service that we haven't covered earlier? We've covered such a variety of things this evening.

DA:

The military service, like I said a few minutes ago, if they would just have it in schools, say you can't get your diploma until you finish one year, in the twelfth year, have that military service and training. Make them stand up, take orders. Discipline. I think it would make a better United States. I really do. But some parents don't want it. When you look at it, it has a long answer. Then, too, I hate to see anybody fail. A lot of these kids are failing because they're not studying, they're staying out late at night, going in half asleep. I feel sorry for our schoolteachers. They've got a rough road, out there. I just wonder sometimes how we get them, knowing what they're going to have to encounter. But they love teaching. Don't you agree?

HT:

I cannot imagine being a schoolteacher these days.

DA:

I have a great-nephew who finished. He was a Morehead scholar. He wanted to teach. I said to him, “Adam, do you know what you're getting into?”

He said, “Yeah, but I want to teach. I want to teach English.” So he's teaching over in Durham at one of these private schools. He said, “Aunt Dot, I tell you, you told me right. These kids are something, aren't they?”

I said, “Yeah, but you don't let them get a hold of you and tear you around, do you?”

“No. I'm in command.”

I said, “Well, that's good.”

But it's no pleasure to teach people like that. When you went to school and I went to school, we said “Yes, ma'am,” “No, ma'am,” we respected the teacher, we never talked back. If we did, we got our hand spanked. The message got home before we got home. We were disciplined at home and it molded us. But in the service, we didn't have many people that came in during World War II, because they had been cut from the same cloth we had. They knew, “No, ma'am,” “Yes, ma'am,” but now they have trouble in there, I know, with discipline.

HT:

I think they're also having problems recruiting people.

DA:

Oh, sure, because they don't want that discipline. But I know they're going to increase the salaries.

HT:

Are you involved in anything like Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations or anything like that?

DA:

Oh, yes. I'm in the American Legion. I'm the first commander of the American Legion in the whole United States, in Shelby, North Carolina.

HT:

First woman?

DA:

Yes, first woman. First woman. I didn't want the job, but they wanted me. We got a wonderful post up there. They wanted me transferred out here to number one, in Raleigh. I said, “No, I can't leave Shelby. It's my home.”

HT:

So you got back for meetings and that sort of thing?

DA:

I go back for meetings, sure. Then they made me president of the women's auxiliary, American Legion. I enjoyed that. But that's my connection. I'm a veteran, a long-time veteran. Do you belong?

HT:

No. I was in the air force for four years.

DA:

You ought to join.

HT:

I've thought about it.

DA:

There's a lot of benefits. Boy, they've got a lot of benefits, and now they're available. They're coming out with a lot of other benefits that they're working on. I don't know what kind of insurance. Are you employed by the university?

HT:

Yes.

DA:

Well, you get the state's benefits, don't you?

HT:

Yes. Well, I'm just about to run out of tape, so if we can just sort of close it now, but I do thank you for talking with me this evening, and we'll go over this list in just a second, and see if I've got all of these things correctly. Again, thank you so much for your time.

[End of the Interview]