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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Susie Winston Bain, 2000

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Object ID: WV0185.5.001

Description: Documents Susie Bain's early life and school experiences in Texas; her service in the WASP and its influence on her opinions and non-military life; and her life in Greensboro, North Carolina, after the war.

Summary:

Bain discusses growing in Texas during the Depression; having to drop out of the University of Texas; a job as a horseback riding instructor at a girls' camp in Texas; and her dislike of a job at a CPA firm.

Bain discusses the WASP in great detail, including her understanding of history of the WASP and her impressions of some of its key figures such as Jacqueline Cochrane, Nancy Love, Hap Arnold, and Eleanor Roosevelt. She also details Cochrane's ongoing efforts to militarize the women; negative attitudes toward the organization and women in the military; and how demoralized she was when the WASP was deactivated in the fall of 1944.

Bain also describes WASP uniforms, including the ill-fitting zoot suits; flight training and ground school at Avenger Field; ferrying planes out of Love Field; towing targets used by the B-17 bombers for live ammunition target practice; her love of flying; details of specific planes; and her fear of washing out of the program. Bain also provides many anecdotes and specific experiences that occurred while she was in the WASP.

Other topics include Bain’s family history and her life in Greensboro following the war.

Creator: Susie Marie Winston Bain

Biographical Info: Susie Winston Bain (b. 1922) of Bay City, Texas, was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II.

Collection: Susie Winston Bain 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 Wednesday, October 11, 2000. My name is Hermann Trojanowski, and I'm with Mrs. Susie Winston Bain at the Special Collections Department of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. We're here to do an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection.

Mrs. Bain, could you tell me a few things about yourself, some biographic information such as where you were born, when you were born, where you lived before you enlisted, and a little bit about your family life before you joined the WASP [Women Service Airforce Pilots] in World War II.

SB:

Okay. I was born in Markham, Texas. I think Markham probably had about forty-five people in it at that time. I was maybe forty-sixth when I came along. I was reared mostly in Bay City, which was a very much larger town of 5,592 at the time I lived there. We thought that was a great big city.

Mother was a musician. She taught music. She'd have been a concert pianist, but she met my father and didn't quite get to finish all of her training. She graduated from Baylor [Female College in] Belton in two years, where it usually takes four, in music. She was a wonderful, accomplished person.

My father was reared on a ranch, and—oh, I have to tell you something. Can I tell you things that—

HT:

Sure. Yes. Please.

SB:

[laughs] Well, anyway, having been reared on an old Texas ranch, he had certain ideas about horseback riding. When I was up here at the University of Texas, I'd never been able to go to camp because we really couldn't afford it those days. I was a child of the Depression, obviously. I just thought, oh, that would be the most wonderful thing in the world, to be able to go to summer camp.

So this gal came to the university when I was a sophomore there, and she said she was looking for an accomplished horsewoman. I thought, “Aha, now's my chance.” I said to her, “Yes, I'm an accomplished horsewoman. I've been riding all my life, and I would certainly like to apply for the job.”

She said, “Well, that's fine,” she said, “but you might have to deal with swimming first because you might have to have multiple jobs there at the camp.” It was a Campfire Girls camp up near Fort Worth.

I thought, “Oh, that sounds so exciting.” I said, “Oh, yes. I can swim. I passed my junior lifesaving course, so I'm a good swimmer, too. I can certainly teach all those little girls.”

So anyway, for some unknown reason, she hired me. I got up there—oh, before, there's a funny thing that I started to tell you about my father. I found out that I was supposed to know how to put on a horse show. I'd never even seen a horse show, let alone know how to direct one and do all this stuff with the kids. Also, you were supposed to post. I think they rode western saddles, but they were trying to teach these girls the accomplishment of posting in a saddle.

So the first time, my father took me out to this riding place, and I got on an English saddle. I'd never posted in my whole life, but anyway, I'd watched people do it, so up and down, up and down. I thought, “Oh, boy. I've got this thing licked.”

Well, he looked at me one time, and he said, “Listen, girl, you sit that saddle. You're in Texas, you know. We don't post here.” Anyway, we did post, and I had to learn how, but I thought that was kind of funny. He was just an old Texas rancher from way, way back, and he certainly did not post.

We got on through that. I went to school and graduated in Bay City, Texas, and did pretty good. We got seventy-five people in our graduating class, and somehow or other I finagled valedictorian. I was so proud of myself because I was going to get a scholarship to the University of Texas. I thought, “Gee, whiz. That'll come in really handy.” We were not people of great financial acumen.

What I got was a twenty-five dollar scholarship, which paid for my tuition fee, which was grand. I was proud to have it. But the rest of it we had to make up some way. So it was touch and go there for a while.

My father was trying real hard. He was in the automobile business, but it was Depression time. I remember my mother would call up the guy at the market, and she'd say, “Now, Cecil, send me a nice steak.” That was maybe once a month. We didn't have nice steaks all the time. But it was kind of funny.

I'd say, “Well, Dad, how can we afford steaks?”

He said, “Well, I just trade an automobile for groceries, and we work this out somehow or other.” He did. We always had food on the table. We didn't live like the Vanderbilts, but we didn't know we were poor. Everybody else was poor.

We had a really good time, about seven of us girls, in what we called “the gang,” and we thought we were the most important things in our little school, of course. Anyway, I look back on it now, and I think, god, what a snob I was. [laughs] We didn't think about it back in those days.

Anyway, I graduated and went to the University of Texas.

HT:

That's in Austin, of course.

SB:

Yes. That's in Austin. I'm going to backtrack a little bit and get back to my Campfire days. We did okay, and the two old cowboys, they were just darling, with the old Texas drawl and everything, and they showed me. The woman who had been there before me was quite an accomplished horsewoman, and he had watched the shows and helped her with the shows. So he showed me how to have the girls do all this stuff and change gaits and everything.

Somehow or other, I got through it. I don't know how. Anyway, then I could tell everybody I had been to camp. So I was proud of that [laughs]

All right. Now I'm back in Austin, and everything was going really well. Times were bad then. I graduated in 1940, and, you know, girls then, maybe boys, too, I don't know, we just didn't think much about war or anything. We just went in there to learn and play and do all the things that we thought college kids did. I was at a sorority meeting, and all of a sudden, we had—we didn't have TV, of course, then, but we did have radio. All of a sudden, on the radio comes, “Pearl Harbor has been bombed.”

Well, we all just sat back in our little chairs, and we couldn't believe it, because the most important thing in our lives at that time was try to get some guy we met in chemistry class to ask us to go to one of the exciting Germans, as they were then called. Those were all-night affairs, and, of course, it was just so much fun. It would start about ten o'clock, and you could dance all night, and that was just the biggest thing. Kay Kayser and all those big bands were in then at the university, and they had a great big dance hall, and it was just a wonderful, wonderful time.

HT:

And these were called Germans?

SB:

Germans, yes.

HT:

Like Germany?

SB:

Yes. I never did know why, except it's the only place that I know of where they started and went all night long. But that was part of the thing. Of course, the housemother was always there to check us in when we came in the next morning.

Oh, maybe one more funny thing I should tell. I don't know. You can cut out half of this if you want to, honey.

HT:

No, that's fine.

SB:

Anyway, this housemother was a character. I was on the Student Council thing at this particular dormitory, and up in the top letters, just below the roof of the thing, was “Helen M. Kirby Hall.” Anyway, she'd done something that we disapproved of, grounded some of us or something. We thought we'd try to get even with her, some of my cohorts and I.

They lifted me up on top of the roof, and they made a big letter E out of cardboard, and they held me by my heels over the edge of the roof, and I just pulled out the A, Helen M. Kirby H-e-l-l. That was a terrible thing to do, but, you know, in college days it was funny. She never did know about that. We hid it behind a Coke machine. Why in the world she never found out, I don't know.

I felt very bad about it later. It wasn't a very nice thing to do. But she made us angry, and we just got even with her, we thought. If they'd found out who was responsible—of course, nobody would snitch on the other one, so they never did find out.

I was on the Student Council, so it was my job to go around and interrogate everybody and try to find out who had done this terrible thing. I just couldn't find out, for the life of me, who had done it [laughs]. Anyway, that's just one of those silly things that happened.

Back to the war thing. As I said, we just did not, we were not cognizant of the danger we were in. We read the papers every once in a while to kind of keep up with sports and stuff like that, but we weren't interested in the government. We just weren't. Kids now know more. My goodness, we didn't know anything. We were so stupid.

Oh, I want to tell you one thing. The head of the school, president of the school body, people were dropping out like flies. A lot of the guys were dropping out, and he said, “Listen, this can't be, especially you people who say you'll be doctors and engineers and all these important things. You'd make a much better contribution to the war effort by going on and finishing your studies and then do something on a higher level than just being in the infantry or the [unclear], something like that right now.”

I was one of the dropouts, because my father had called me up on the phone and said, “Susie Marie,” my second name, “I think you'd better think about this thing now. I'm in the automobile business, and I'm not going to have very many automobiles to sell. Everything's going to be going to the war effort.”

He was right. It all went there, and he didn't sell many automobiles for the duration. So he said, “I guess we'll have to be very careful with my finances. And you have a little bit of money left over that we put aside. Why don't you take that and go to Houston and take a secretarial course, then come back after the war and finish your studies, get your degree?” So that made sense to me. Fairly practical-minded in those days anyway.

I went on into Houston and took the course and then got a job at a CPA [Certified Public Accountant office], where you typed twelve copies of a long, long balance sheet. You made one mistake, and boy, you erased twelve times or you started all over again. You couldn't really start over again, because they were huge companies like Howard Hughes and some of these big, big, big oil companies that we were doing the business for. You just had to be accurate. That's all there was to it. You had to get it right. I tried very hard, but—

HT:

So this would have been in the spring of 1942 that you left college?

SB:

Yes.

HT:

Pearl Harbor was in '41.

SB:

That's right. I finished the semester there.

HT:

[Unclear].

SB:

Yes. Then I saw that there wasn't any point in even going ahead and getting into the sorority. I never was more than a pledge, but that's all right. It was a fun time.

HT:

What were you studying while you were at the University of Texas?

SB:

I'm almost ashamed to tell you. I was studying home economics, of which I know nothing. My ambition at that time was to get married and learn how to cook and sew and raise a family. I thought that's what women should be doing. That's how limited my scope was at that time. I know my English teacher said, “This is stupid. Why in the world are you studying home economics?”

I told him, and he was kind of ahead of his time a little bit. He thought maybe women could do a little bit more than iron and cook and bake the bread and wipe the diapers and this kind of stuff. He said, “Get something a little more solid from your major. Do something interesting.” I never will forget that, because I really felt, at that time, after he was coming on in that way, that maybe it was stupid for me to make that remark and I'm going to school and spending all this money to learn how to be a housewife. I surely could learn that some other way. Anyway, I quit.

Thinking back on these horrible copies we had to make, they were just dreadful and I was bored to death. There was no challenge to it whatsoever. I could not see that I was making any contribution to the war effort. People were dropping like flies, out enlisting, and there was nothing for women at that point to enlist in, really. All the women's service started later than that.

All of a sudden, I just saw this caption. I was living in Houston, and that's where the WAFS [Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron] first started, and I saw that if you—well, let's see. No, they had started before that. Actually, I had worked a year. So they still were in Houston, though. There was one class of WAFS that had to have, I think, something like five hundred or six hundred hours to begin with. I don't remember the exact number. After that, they backed it up a little bit. Then [Jacqueline] Cochran got involved. She's a controversial figure, there's no question about that, but there would not have been a WASP without her, because she's the one that knew how to do it and put it together, and she had a lot of influence. We all still think the world of her, even though, as I say, she is controversial.

Nancy Love, on the other hand, Nancy Love was in charge of the Ferry Command. She had all these thousands of hours, and her job was to try to find twenty-five or thirty women that had a lot of hours that could come on in and maybe learn how to fly at least the little [Piper] Cubs or whatever, even though they had all these many, many hours. So she got the Air Transport Command started, the Ferry started.

Well, before this happened, Cochran had gone over to England—[General Henry] “Hap” Arnold, at his suggestion. I have to back up a little bit because I keep my story exactly chronological. Anyway, Cochran had met Mrs. Roosevelt. Oh, she'd won some wonderful honor in flying, and she was an absolutely accomplished aviatrix. She'd met Eleanor Roosevelt, and Eleanor was pretty strong-minded herself, as I'm sure her husband would say and most everybody else. Anyway, she kind of got the idea. Cochran always had thought there was something women should be able to do in the air force with all these hours they had. Of course, you had to buy them and pay for them. Some of the girls were even teaching in the Civil Air Patrol. I don't guess we even had Link trainers at that point, but they were teaching some of the boys because they had all these hours and everything.

I can't remember whether it was Mrs. Roosevelt or Cochran that went in and spoke with—I think they spoke with the president at that time, if I have it correctly, and he was kind of interested. Then they got Hap Arnold into it. Of course, he was a wonderful person. We all just adored him. He was really a champion of the cause. Without any question, he is the one that got us going. He thought, “Well, gee whiz, why don't we see what we can put together here.” And they really couldn't get anything going for a while. Then they said to Cochran, Hap said to Cochran, “Why don't you go over to England, take a few women over there and just observe what's going on over there.” Women in England had been flying for a long time. Of course, they had been in the war for a long time, and they desperately needed help over there.

They put twenty-five women over there. They flew right along with the English gals, and they learned how that situation was set up. Then Hap called her back home, and he said, “Now, you need to come on back. We desperately need people to ferry these planes, and we've got to send the boys on overseas. They've got to get off the flight line and into the air, go overseas, and do what they can do. Then we still have planes to be flown from the factories to the ports of embarkation.”

So she came on back and was very much astonished to find out that Nancy Love had already started a Ferry Command with the women with all these thousands and thousands of hours. She was pretty hot under the collar because she thought she was going to be the very first one to start something. Anyway, she got to working on the fact that maybe we wouldn't have to have as many hours as Nancy's squadron demanded. She felt that maybe a couple of hundred hours and she could start maybe—they didn't call it the WASP then. It was some, I can't even remember the name, what they called it, some kind of training stuff [Women’s Flying Training Detachment].

Anyway, that was her job, to find a few people. I think she found about twenty-five or fifty, something like that, to get this thing off the ground, get it started, still in Houston. The WAFS, they called them, the ferry pilots, were still flying out of Houston. I'm sure there were some sparks flying around there, but be that as it may, both women shared the function very well, each one did.

Let's see, how did it go from there? Oh, then Cochran took it a little bit further. She got two classes started that had to have this many hours, maybe two hundred or something. They were still training in Houston. My friend from Austin I met at this last reunion there was in the second class.

What they did when the time came, Jackie Cochran had talked the army—the air force that it was in—into maybe letting her start a program and have more girls come in and get them qualified. You just couldn't find that many girls in the country that had two hundred hours, and they were desperately needed then.

It's okay when we were really needed. They wanted us then [laughs]. I'm being silly. Anyway, so my friend and her W-2 class flew the planes to Sweetwater, Texas. This was an operation owned by Aviation Enterprises. They had made this deal with Cochran and the air force that that would be our new training ground. So these girls that were just graduating from the second class—the first class graduated at Houston—the second class did all their training in Houston, but when it came time to graduate, Jackie had them fly the planes, the AT-6s, into Sweetwater.

Oh, they were really hot pilots, then. They'd gotten their wings. They were going to get them when they graduated. They flew these planes into Sweetwater, Texas, where the rest of us got our training, us people that came on later on. When she got there, there was a contingent of men pilots there. They were from—I think it's the RCAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and they were still studying. They had to graduate that one last class before they could leave and the women could take over.

For the first time, there was sort of a coeducational type thing there. I'm sure the sparks were flying a little bit with that situation. At any rate, the boys finally left, and we just inherited their instructors. So we took the same basic training that they all had taken, exactly the same thing.

HT:

And I've read somewhere that the early instructors were Canadian, is that correct?

SB:

Early instructors?

HT:

The early instructors were Canadian?

SB:

Some of them may have been. The ones, I don't think, in our group were, when I got there. I was, of course, later on. I mean, it was November of '43 when I first went in. There may have been some Canadians there. I'm not actually positive about that.

I know the Americans were teaching the Royal Canadian Air Force themselves as instructors as well. So they just stayed on. Most of them did. Some of them may have run away. It was kind of scary, I guess, to see a bunch of women come in, say, “My word, do I have to teach that?” But most of them were understanding, and they really did try very hard. I have to give them credit for that.

Anyway, we got the men out of the way. It was a wild time. Most of us had been fairly genteelly brought up, we thought. Well, I'm getting ahead of my story. I don't know whether you want me to tell this chronologically or just whatever pops in my mind.

HT:

Well, we should go back for just a minute. I think you mentioned earlier, when we were talking about—you had seen an advertisement in the newspaper.

SB:

Oh, yes, when I was in Houston.

HT:

In Houston, right, and that you wanted to learn how to fly because you had never flown before.

SB:

No. I'd never flown before.

HT:

So what really sparked your interest in flying?

SB:

Well, it just looked like it would be an interesting thing to do. At that point, they really did need women pilots. I mean, they were desperate for them because they wanted the guys to go on over. It seemed that was something I could do.

I got to learn to fly. You had to buy thirty-five flying hours before they would even interrogate you, let alone select you. So I didn't have very much money, like eighty dollars a month, which we lived on, but I couldn't join any flying clubs with that amount of money. So I called my dad and asked him if he would send me twenty-five dollars, please, so that I could join this air force thing.

That didn't sit too well with him, but he thought, “Well, I'll humor the little lady. She'll probably decide that she doesn't really want to fly.” He was embarrassed about having to call me back and I had to stop college anyway. But he just goes ahead and sends me the money. Then for ten dollars an hour you could take instruction. For five dollars an hour, you could fly solo.

HT:

What type of planes were these?

SB:

These were Aeroncas and Piper Cubs. That was mostly it, little, teeny, very small airplanes, and no stability to them, but they weren't so dangerous because you could land them on a dime. If you had to force land, you could put them down in any field that you saw. They just weren't that hot of a plane. I can't remember what the horsepower—something like seventy-five horsepower, maybe even less than that.

HT:

Do you recall what it was like to fly for the first time by yourself, or even with an instructor?

SB:

Oh, yes. I had five instructors before I got the eight hours to solo. Out of that five, each one of them thought probably the other one had told me about the good old windsock. This was in Houston, where the wind in Texas changes every five minutes in direction. I hadn't been told to watch for the windsock. If I were told, it went over the top of my head, as things sometimes do, even now. Anyway, my instructor stepped out. “Okay. Take it up. It's yours. Go around the field, and come back and land.”

So that's what I did. I went around the field, and I came back to land. I couldn't get the thing on the ground. It just wouldn't stop. So I thought, “Well, the only thing to do is to take it up.” There were no radios or anything in the plane. You just go around by the seat of your pants, as they say. So I went around the airfield again and came back and tried to touch down, and it would not sit down. It just picked right on up again and off I went [unclear].

Finally, I looked down, and all these people were standing around. They were waving, and they were carrying on and everything. I thought, “Oh, how nice. They're so excited at how I'm going to solo. It's nice of them to go out there and greet me.” Well, they finally started doing some bad-looking stuff, and I thought, “Well, I have to do something.”

Then all of a sudden I realized. Then they started pointing, of course, up to the windsock. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I guess, I had heard about it, and I saw I was absolutely going down wind. Those little old light planes, there's no way they could stay on the ground, just wouldn't. So I turned around and went the other way and came back and landed. That was my first solo. They didn't seem to hold it against me later on [laughter].

I bought my thirty-five flying hours there and ate a little bit less so that I could pay for the lessons, and that was fine. I got through that. Then I can't remember, in all honesty, whether I went to Dallas or Houston. Somewhere I went to be interviewed, as did 25,000 other women, all told. Anyway, I had no idea I'd be selected.

Of course, I'd spent all that money—it was a lot of money to me in those days—on the flying, and I really did want to fly. I thought maybe that I really could. I was interviewed, and to my great delight and surprise, I was selected.

HT:

Did they give you a written test?

SB:

No. It was just an interview. They just asked me, like you're doing now, about my past and a few things, to see, I guess, if there would be maybe enough determination to stay. They didn't want to waste their time on somebody that wouldn't even care. That's why you had to buy thirty-five flying hours, to see whether we got sick at our stomach, I guess, in the air or something, because we certainly didn't learn a whole lot in those little Piper Cubs. Of course, we did when we got to Sweetwater.

HT:

When did you have to go to Sweetwater?

SB:

It was in November of '43. I would be graduating in the following May, in '44, if I got through, as half of us didn't.

HT:

How long was training, about six months?

SB:

Yes.

HT:

Six months' training?

SB:

It was a little bit over, about—let's see. Yes, it was six months, just about six months. I had to count on my fingers.

HT:

What was training like? What was a typical day like?

SB:

Well, it was pretty rough. We didn't know anything about the military way of life, of course, and coming in right behind guys who did know about it, we were expected to do the proper thing. We had to go to the flight line in uniform and formation. They tried to epitomize the same thing that the guys were doing so that we could come and actually take their places and not spend all our time putting on lipstick and combing our hair and stuff. They wanted us to really learn how to fly “the army way,” they kept saying, “Fly the army way. You may can flit around the air as a civilian, but you've got to learn to fly the army way.” I got so tired of hearing that.

Our barracks were made up of six people. We had a little cot, and we had a little locker thing, I guess you'd say, to put your clothes in. It didn't hold very much, so you couldn't put very many clothes in there. Then we had a latrine between the two bays. Our flight was Flight 2 and the other was Flight 1, and then we had the little latrine in between. I think there were two showers and maybe two commodes in there and a couple of washbasins, period.

Well, most of us were kind of used to getting up in the morning and primping a little bit, you know, putting our lipstick on and combing our hair properly and everything, but you couldn't do it then. You had to get up at the crack of dawn, and you had to be in and out and in and out very quickly so somebody else could go right in behind you. You had to be in formation in time to get to breakfast on time. That was very important. We had to wear these—what did we call them? Urban's turbans, we called them, because we had to keep our hair up off of our collar. Our commander, head of the field, whatever you call him, I can't remember what you call him, anyway, he was Major Urban. So we called them Urban's turbans. Anything to get a laugh in those days.

It was kind of grim when we first started. We didn't know what we were in for, and we didn't know if we could make it. Of course, we were scared to death every minute we were going to wash out, as fifty percent of us did most of the time. Maybe it wasn't that many. Maybe it was about thiry-five or forty percent, something like that.

HT:

Did you have uniforms by that time?

SB:

No, no, no. We had zoot suits, we called them, which were the old army discarded coverall-type things. Unfortunately, I was not very tall. I was just five-three, and my last name began with a W. I was a Winston. Everything in the army is alphabetical, A, B, C, D, E—W. By the time they got to W, I weighed 115 pounds and five-three. So the suits came out—I'm gesturing to you, but you had to roll them up, and these things—to put your hands on the cockpit, you had to find some way—

HT:

A bit too large.

SB:

Just a bit too large. Everything seemed to be a size forty-four extra large. Some of them even had the back thing for the gentlemen and this kind of thing. But they were their suits, and we had to have something to wear.

HT:

And you wore your civilian clothes underneath that, I guess.

SB:

No. No, you just wore that.

HT:

That was it.

SB:

That's what you wore. Later on, we had just kind of beige slacks and a white shirt. That was our dress uniform. Our main uniforms hadn't come out yet. They hadn't even been designed yet. So that was our uniform at the time.

We were so strict about everything. If you went into town, you were supposed to wear a dress. We were supposed to look like little ladies but yet learn the army way and do everything like little gentlemen did. It was kind of a controversial type thing, to know whether we were supposed to look cute and feminine and all this kind of—or you were supposed to be hard core and get right down to it, one, two, three, click. We had to go out on the field and do all the calisthenics.

LaRue, who was our physical instructor, he had a real hard time snapping us into line. We didn't know how to march correctly, and we couldn't do pushups. I almost flunked out because I couldn't chin. I could do all the pushups and everything else, but I had the hardest time chinning. I finally struggled myself up there one time.

He said, “All right. Don't try. I don't want to look at you anymore. You pass.”

But we had to learn to do all this physical stuff just in case something happened. We really had to be in good physical shape. He taught us how to march correctly and how to do this, “To the left, here, rear,” or, “To the rear march,” or something like that.

HT:

It sounds very much like my basic training.

SB:

It was. That's what it was, except we were in the air force, and they were trying to epitomize every single thing or copy every single thing that the guys had done.

HT:

So you not only had physical education, but I imagine you had a probably classroom instruction.

SB:

Oh, yes. I can't remember how many hours. I think we had to have like four hundred hours of ground school. Really, most of us girls had not been brought up on motorcycles and wheels and stuff like that, and we really didn't know very much about mechanics.

HT:

So you had to learn all about motors.

SB:

So we had to learn all that stuff, and pistons and everything. It was just totally, almost out of our reach. So we studied sometimes all night long, and then had to get up the next morning and fly.

HT:

So what was a typical day? How many hours a day did you study and train? I mean, it sounds like it was actually from the crack of dawn until—

SB:

It was all day. It was all day long and into the evening, and then you started studying. But we had the two flights, and my class, Flight 1 and Flight 2. Flight 1 would go to ground school while Flight 2 flew, and then we'd switch. That's how we got through that.

You had to have, I think it's something like 210 flying hours in the air, part solo, part night flying, part instrument, part PT—you know, primary trainer—and then the wonderful, famous [T-]6. When we got in that [T-]6, we thought we were the hottest pilots that ever hit the universe. We were so pleased. I think 650 horsepower or something like that.

It was an exciting time and very scary, and there was no time for fooling around. My friend and I were talking about this this last weekend, but they were talking about all the things that they did and the places that they went, and we thought, “How in the world did they do that?” We didn't have any time. I think we had Saturday, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday off. Sunday we went to church, and then we came home and studied. Maybe some of them were smarter than we were and didn't have to study as hard [laughs]. But it was there, and you could get it or not.

HT:

Do you recall how many women were in your class while you were there?

SB:

You know, I don't have that off the top of my head. [SB added later: ninety-four entered, fifty-two graduated and got wings.]

HT:

That's all right. We can find that later on.

SB:

Yes. Something I brought. I know just about half of them got through. I know that much about it. I know there's something I wanted to make a copy of. A lot of this stuff I just had totally forgotten after almost sixty years.

HT:

That's fine. We can do that later on. Did you have any kind of leave during basic training? Did you have to go home?

SB:

One Christmas, the girls that lived close enough, I think maybe we had two days.

HT:

That's right, because you went in in November. Was that before Thanksgiving?

SB:

So Christmas did come, yes. November the first. We didn't have any leave on Thanksgiving. They did cook us a good turkey, and we got by pretty well. Then when Christmas came, the ones that could get home and back in two or three days could go, but there were very few that could do that.

HT:

Of course, you had women from all over the country.

SB:

Oh, yes, everywhere. Yes. And there weren't very many planes then that weren't tied up in the military some way or other. So most of us stayed on the base there. It was an experience.

HT:

Did your family ever visit you during that time?

SB:

My mother came one time. I think she came for graduation. I'm sure that she did.

They didn't encourage us to read too much of the newspaper and what was happening in Germany, because this was all pretty well classified anyway. So we didn't really know what all was going on. They encouraged that because they didn't want us to get cold feet. They didn't want us to be scared to death. They wanted us to be able to not worry. So many of the girls had husbands overseas.

HT:

Oh, so they did accept married women?

SB:

Yes, they accepted married women. They weren't excited about your getting married afterwards. Well, you couldn't get married in training. Some of the girls did marry after they graduated and went out, and most of them, of course, married pilots.

HT:

I meant to ask you earlier, how did your family react when they found out that this was what you wanted to do? I mean, your mother and father, what did they think about your wanting to fly?

SB:

Well, when they realized I was really serious about it, they accepted it. They accepted everything else in my life that I was determined to do. I guess maybe, in a way, they were halfway proud. Once I was in, they hoped I would get through because they knew how disappointed I'd be if I didn't.

HT:

What about your brothers and sisters?

SB:

I just had the one brother. He was not in physical condition so he did not serve, but he did other things. He couldn't serve in the service. I think he thought I was nuts, his little sister going into flying these airplanes, but he was nice about it. He'd already married and started a family, too.

HT:

What about your co-workers and your friends? What did they think about your joining a quasi-military outfit?

SB:

Well, nobody knew anything about the WASP at that time. It just wasn't known, because Jackie Cochran was trying to keep it as hush-hush as she could until she got us militarized. She was just positive. Hap Arnold kept telling her, “It won't be long now before they're going to accept you and you'll be militarized. Then you can get your benefits.” We didn't have any benefits. We didn't have anything [laughs].

HT:

Do you recall what your pay was?

SB:

Yes. We made a hundred and fifty dollars a month while we were in training and three-hundred, I think, when we got out. Some of the other classes made two-hundred dollars, but I think by the time I graduated, I think [unclear].

HT:

So that was a little bit more than people were making in the secretarial pools.

SB:

Oh, yes, without any question. Yes. It was a whole lot more. I saved it, and thank goodness I did, because I married just before we were deactivated, and I needed the money.

That's one reason I didn't buy my uniform. We were issued, finally, these beautiful uniforms, but we had to buy them back when we left. What they did with them? I understand from some of the things I've read, they threw them in the trash can, which I thought was a terrible infraction of decency.

HT:

So you not only had to pay for your initial training to get in, you had to pay for uniforms as well once you were in?

SB:

Well, we were issued the uniforms, but after we were deactivated, if we wanted to keep them, then we had to buy them. I think Neiman-Marcus was the one that tailored them for us. Class 44-W-1 was the first class that got the uniforms, and they were so proud. The thing was, they didn't have time to put them together properly, so none of them fit. Two of the WASP mothers came in a little bit early, and they got out their sewing machines or by hand, they tucked here and tucked there, and these gals graduated and looked fairly decent in them. Then later on, they sent some real seamstresses down and fitted the rest of us very well, good fits, good job. We were very, very proud of our uniforms.

Of course, we had to go exactly by the army rules as far as uniforms were concerned. Everything had to be worn just precisely in the right spot. Shoes had to be tied and pocketbooks on a certain shoulder and your hats just down a certain way. Most of the girls by then had to cut their hair because it couldn't touch the shoulder of the uniform, the collar of the uniform. So we all had short hair or you pigtailed it up on top or something [laughs]. We were so few, and people just didn't recognize what we were. One girl was almost picked up, not only picked up by a guy, but I mean, I can't remember details on it, but it was an official of some kind. He thought she was impersonating an officer because they did look like officers' uniforms, and he didn't know enough about it anyway. He was giving her a hard time about it.

HT:

So you had no ranking, is that correct?

SB:

Oh, none whatsoever. We were about the lowest thing on the totem pole, except that we were high in the air. We were low in the scheme of the air force for sure. I'm sure there was a little, maybe, bit of jealousy as far as the guys were concerned. I could understand that, because a lot of them—for instance, we'd take a plane somewhere, and most of the guys that gassed up our planes or took care of us had all wanted to go into flying, and some of them just couldn't make it. I'm sure they were equally qualified because we washed out so many, too, and by the same number of washouts. But most of them were very, very nice to us.

Every once in a while, I would see a girl come in, if I were taking a plane maybe to the same place she was, and I'd see a little bit of arrogance in her associations, so they'd gas my plane first before they did hers. I thought, “That's so stupid. Why don't you just be nice?” I mean, these poor guys, their esteem was down to rock bottom anyway when they see a slip of a girl come flying in with this hotshot helmet on and everything and they had washed out. It was a terrible situation for them, and they felt lost about it. But they were very nice. I didn't have any trouble with them.

HT:

After you graduated in May of 1944, where were you stationed? Were you still in Texas?

SB:

Yes. I was sent to Love Field, which was a ferrying base, a big ferrying base. That's where a whole lot of us were sent.

HT:

Where is that?

SB:

In Dallas. Being a Texan, I suppose everybody knows where Love Field is. I'm sorry.

HT:

That's where the airport is now, isn't it? Isn't that called Love Field?

SB:

Yes. Yes. That's still Love Field. Of course, it's small now in comparison to the big airports. There were so many people coming in and out of there that the traffic was bad, and it was hard to get in and out.

I didn't have anything like the experiences of some of the girls who started so much earlier and had so much more flying time than I did. They were put on the pursuits and in the real hot planes. We just hadn't had enough training, our class, when we were sent there originally.

HT:

So what type of planes did you ferry?

SB:

We flew like the PT-19s, the primary trainers.

HT:

And to where?

SB:

Well, this may be a good time to tell you about this one particular thing. A friend and I were to take planes to Newark, New Jersey, to send to China ultimately. Of course, we'd been on a lot of cross-countries. That was part of our training.

There were no radios on the PT-19, so we had no way of contacting anybody. You had to just wait to get the green light somewhere to come in to make a landing. You couldn't talk to the tower or anything. You had to kind of look out for yourself and follow the railroads and hope you got to the right spot.

Maybe I said before, the weather in Texas is a little bit unruly. You don't ever know what's going to happen from one minute to the next. We started out from Dallas, and it was just nice and clear as it could be. I think our first place to land and re-gas was Shreveport, Louisiana. But before we got there, the wind had changed. It was pouring down rain, and of course, we were in an open cockpit, and we didn't have any protection whatsoever.

My friend and I, we were kind of cold. We weren't flying in exact formation, but we were close enough to where we could see each other. We were going like this. We needed to do something. So I just kind of pointed down. I thought we ought to get out of the plane. I didn't want to, of course, crash. I didn't want to bail out or anything. So we just pulled a forced landing in this rice field in Louisiana.

A couple of the farmers came over there. They saw these two planes, and they didn't know even what to think about it. They got a little bit closer to the plane, and the closer they got to us, they finally, “My lord, what is that?” I think they thought we were somebody from Mars. She's small like myself, and we get out of the plane, and, “Look at that. Would you look at that.”

Anyway, they took us into their homes, and they were so nice to us. Their wives made us some pies and all that good stuff. Of course, we had to call in to our base and tell them that somebody had better come get us because we couldn't fly these planes. We couldn't get out of there. Anyway, they came and got us and took us back to Shreveport. The next morning, they had to bring us back again and get the planes. Then we took off for parts unknown.

But these guys were so funny. They called all their friends, and all these farmers came. Of course, there are lots of stories like that, but it happened to me, and it was kind of interesting, I thought.

Anyway, we got on in, and something happened to my tail wheel. I don't know. It wouldn't swivel the right way, or it would swivel the wrong way, or something. So I had to put in at Wilmington, Delaware, which was one of the hottest places in the world. That's where so many of the original pilots were flying out of, the original WASPs, or WAFS they called them then, the ones with all these thousands of hours. I mean, just like that, here comes this little old PT with a bad tail thing. So I had to wait and get that fixed.

I'd never been to New York City in my life. I was a little country girl, sort of. So I had to get in because Betty, my companion, had already landed and was on her way back to Dallas. The minute you hit the ground, you had to find a way to get back to your base, the quickest way. If you didn't, you were washed out completely.

HT:

That was a rule?

SB:

Absolutely.

HT:

Would you just commandeer a plane?

SB:

Any way we could get back. If we could get back quicker on a train, which was never the case, or any kind of a plane, a passenger plane, or anybody that you could find that would take you back. If somebody else was flying a plane back and you could find out about that, you had to get back the quickest you could. You might get up the next morning and take a plane out again. But you had to do that.

HT:

And you had to do that on your own?

SB:

Yes.

HT:

There was no central person?

SB:

No. We had to do it ourselves. I did pretty well. I didn't get too lost in New York. I was better in the air than I was when I got on the ground. Anyway, I got my little plane fixed, and I guess they got them to China. Then we went on back to the airfield.

It wasn't very long after that until we were asked—I guess I should mention this one thing, if you haven't gleaned it already, whoever's listening. We were totally expendable. I mean, some of the girls did bear arms to protect some of the stuff they were flying, but most of the time we were just nothing. I mean, they used us to fly planes that nobody else would fly. They certainly didn't want to waste a man, a pilot, to put in a tacky old aircraft that was unflyable, so the women did it.

I'm not taking any bouquets about it. That's just the way it was. We signed up for it, and we did it. A bunch of us were selected, I guess commanded, to go to Tinker Field in Oklahoma City and move some planes out of there so that some newer planes could be brought in. These planes were absolutely inoperable. They were the worst things you've ever seen. I can't remember what they were, but they were some little tacky planes.

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

SB:

—to a time. I'd flown several planes to that little landing strip and got by okay. See, an engineer would sign the plane off and say it's okay to fly. Well, they were so bad that no engineer wanted the responsibility of signing them off and saying, “This is okay to fly.” The first pilot could always do that. So that's what we had to do because they were so terrible.

But this little plane, I got in, went around the little airport, and tried to get him in. He wouldn't stop. He wouldn't stop. They didn't have a very big runway, so you had to put him down practically on a dime and then put your brakes on and your flaps and everything, and that would stop it. Come to find out, I did not have any brakes and I did not have any flaps. I mean, the flaps were there, but they just weren't working. Of course, we looked over the planes before we got in them, and I guess I could have said, “This is a terrible plane. I'm not going to fly it.” But we were always trying so hard to do what they wanted us to do. The planes had to be moved, and we were the logical ones to move them.

Anyway, around and around I went, worse than my landing down on my first solo. Instead of being able to stop the plane with my flaps and my brakes, I just couldn't. So there was this barbed-wire fence over there waiting to pick me up at the end of the plane, so I'd go around again. I'd try it one more time. I'd start down at the very tip end of the running field—it wasn't a runway—and try to get it down.

I said, “Well, it's got to stop. I've got to put it in. I'm running out of fuel.” There was kind of a mud puddle over here on the side. I said, “I know how to stop the plane now.” So I went straight down the runway and just skipped it over on its nose, and there I was, sitting straight up in the air like this. Well, they were just furious, the powers-that-be. “Why in the world did you do that?” The plane was gone anyway. It was nothing but a bunch of scrap, but I really got in trouble about that. They didn't do anything to me, but they dressed me down pretty bad [laughter].

As I said, I wasn't in long enough to do a whole lot of stuff. They moved us around from spot to spot. They had these hot pilot WAFS, even earlier WASPs that had had so many more hours. Well, depending on where this particular field, what he wanted in his particular situation was how they transferred us all over the country, from one field to the other.

So they sent me up to Garden City, Kansas, I believe it was. Yes. That's another dust area. Up there, our job was to test hop these BT-13s and -15s that the boys were studying instruments on as students. So if something happens to a plane, like I said, an engineer signs it off, but a first pilot has to get up and fly it after it's had some damage done to it and say, “Well, it's flyable. It's okay.” Then we take it down. So that was my job there. That's what they call, I guess it was test hopping or something like that.

HT:

And this was Garden City?

SB:

Garden City, Kansas, yes.

HT:

And how long were you there?

SB:

I guess about a month. Then, all of a sudden, they decided, here I am five feet three and always wanted to fly pursuits, would give my life to have flown a P51 or a P47. There were a lot of girls doing this, and I thought, “Well, gee, my height and everything, they'll surely put me in a 51 pretty soon.” But I got orders to go down to Laredo, Texas, flying B-26s.

Of course, at my height, I couldn't even reach the pedals, couldn't get in the plane without getting somebody, because you had come up under the belly. Somebody had to give me a boost, and then I'd get up there, and then I'd have to call for pillows because I couldn't reach any of the controls. We flew co-pilot on these things, too, towing targets.

The boys, the gunners, were flying in B-17s, the [Flying] Fortress. We were making this little pattern, this little square pattern, coming around and back again, around and around and around this little square. The boys were shooting at our targets.

HT:

That must have been a lot of fun.

SB:

That was fun. We wondered when they were going to miss the target and hit us, but each one had a different color on his [unclear] so that the instructors could tell how many had hit the right target and how close they were to it.

HT:

This was live ammunition?

SB:

Yes. And some of the planes did get a few little holes in them here and there, but I was fortunate enough not to have—the biggest thing that happened to me was on my first flight, the targets caught on fire in the plane. We had just taken off and were on the way out of the pattern, and it caught on fire. That was just a lot of hustle and bustle to that, but they got it put out.

HT:

When you say target, what was the target made of? Was it like a dummy plane or something?

SB:

It was like an old sheet, a pretty wide old sheet, tied on with a—it looked like a string, I'm sure, and they wound it in, rounded in on it with a—

HT:

So how far was the target from your plane?

SB:

You know, I don't know that exactly. I used to have it on the tip of my tongue. It's somewhere.

HT:

I think I read somewhere it was at least a couple thousand feet, maybe. Or was it closer than that?

SB:

And that's what I can't say. I just don't know. I never did worry about that too much, though, because I thought, “This really is a worthy thing to be doing.” These guys had to learn how to shoot, and that's what we were there for.

HT:

Were they shooting at you from the ground or from other airplanes?

SB:

From other airplanes, the B-17s. See, we were in the middle, and they were going around the edge. But the bad thing was that—I think I have this right, that's what we were told, anyway, that their cruising speed was about the same as our stalling speed. So for us to fly slow enough—see, the B-26 was a pretty hot plane, and the 17s were wonderful planes and very stable, but they didn't fly as fast as the 26s did. So we were supposed to keep it exactly the same speed so that the gunners could “pow-pow-pow” at us.

All these four-letter words again came across the field. “Listen, you WASP, can't you keep that thing steady and straight?” and blah, blah, blah. Because even nobody but just co-pilots, we did most of the flying because they wanted to train us, and that was part of it. We never did get our—or I didn't. Maybe some of the girls were more qualified to fly and be the first pilot. I didn't get that far because they moved me somewhere else, but it was an experience, and I loved the plane. It was really good.

HT:

What was the name of the field at Laredo, do you recall?

SB:

Laredo Airport.

HT:

And at Garden City, it was?

SB:

Garden City.

HT:

Garden City Airfield or something like that?

SB:

Garden City Air Force Base, Air Field, something like that.

Oh, I wanted to tell you something, back to training. I don't know whether I should tell this, but I'm going to.

HT:

Oh, please do.

SB:

Please do [laughs]. Okay. I'd gotten through primary training, and I was on the AT-6. Maybe I didn't mention this sooner. We went from a Steerman aircraft, this little bi-winged plane, and they're very stable. They're harder to land than the PT-19, which some of the girls before us had started out flying, but they brought the Steerman for us to fly, the little bi-wing, and it was stable, a good airplane.

The air force had decided that they were washing out too many, all kinds of pilots, men as well as women, when they got to advanced training. That was costing money. So what they should do is put the advanced training right next to, right behind, the primary training. So we went from the Steerman to an AT-6. It was extremely hot for us, who had never flown anything like that before, but a beautiful, beautiful plane.

We did all of our acrobatics in this plane. We flew some formation, not a whole lot, but we learned all our acrobatics and learned how to do formation flying. We did our pylon 8s around the telephone pole. You're supposed to be the exact same distance on the up leg as you are on the down leg and hit that pole right in the center when you came through it at the same speed and all this exacting stuff, and it was good.

Anyway, I'll show you a picture of this particular pilot who gave me such a hard time. I'm sure he must have washed out because he was so angry all the time at all the WASP, but he was a good pilot, and he was a good teacher. As I said a while ago, we were sort of gently brought up, you might say, and I wasn't used to all the four-letter words in my family. That just wasn't part of my upbringing.

Anyway, we got up there, and I'm not blaming him, because they'd had the guys before us, and apparently that's the way they talked to each other at that time. Of course, they don't anymore, but all this stuff kept coming over at me, “You— blah, blah, blank, blank, four-letter, blah, blah.” “Why can't you get this straight? Why can't you keep this straight? Why is that left wing down so low? You're not looking at the horizon. [unclear]” and on and on and on and on. He needed to do that, but he could have done it without the expletives, in my opinion.

Well, I got tired of listening to him. I shouldn't have done this, and I know I shouldn't have, but I turned him from the intercom onto the air. So all these things went out so all the other planes could have heard it, see. That was a bad thing to do, and it's a wonder he didn't wash me out right then, but he caught it pretty soon. So then [unclear] was there to expose him.

I was so sick of listening to all these terrible things I was supposed to be, and all I wanted to do was learn how to fly the airplane. Anyway, I got through that all right. Then one day—this is the worst part of it—after he got through totally berating me over that incident, [he said] “Don't you ever do that to me again.” That's the worst thing anybody's ever done to him in all of his experience. I was only to turn the intercom on when I was speaking directly to him and never to turn him on the air again when he was telling me what to do and how to do it and blah, blah.

“Okay. I never will do that again.”

So then one day, I guess maybe about a week later, we were down on the flight line waiting to go up, take another plane up and solo, whatever we were to do that particular day. The biggest fear of all of us was that army check ride. We had to have check rides from the civilians, and we kind of felt like that was okay and we could maybe get through that one. Then if we passed the civilian check ride, then the army would come, or the air force.

HT:

Would you let us know what an army check ride is?

SB:

What it is? Well, the army pilot would go up with you, and he'd take the back seat and you'd take the front seat. He'd pull the throttle back and say, “Make a forced landing,” and you had to find a place to put the plane down, or he'd say, “Bank it over here to the right forty-five degrees,” and all this stuff that we're supposed to have learned. “Do the pylon 8 correctly, and don't get up too high, don't get too low,” “Do a spin, a fast or slow roll,” or what they call the fast things. I can't remember all these words that we had to learn, how to do where you dive down, brought the plane up, and then turned it up on the top side, [unclear] or something like that.

Anyway, so he had already told me that he was going to get even with me. I thought, “Oh, what's he going to do now?” We were down on the flight line, just waiting to take our next flight. All of a sudden, I saw him coming over with Major Urban, who was the commandant of the whole field. I mean, my lord, we were all scared to death of him. Just one word from him and we were gone, period. He was the last straw.

Anyway, he came over to me, and he said, “Well, Major Urban's come down here to do a check ride. He wants to see how you girls are flying.” He said, “I've selected you to go up with him.”

I said, “You're kidding.”

He said, “No.”

He thought he would wash me out this way. I guess that was the reason. I'd like to think maybe I was a good pilot and he wanted me to get checked, but I can't think that. I think he was just getting even with me. Anyway, up I go with the major. We're flying around, and he's doing all this stuff. He's cut the throttle and, do this, that, and the other. The worst was that I thought I was doing my pylons pretty good, and I thought I was doing this and the turns and everything and executing it fairly well, and I was halfway proud of myself. All of a sudden, he cut the throttle and said, “Forced landing.”

Well, when they do that to you, you're supposed to select a field instantly, just like that, and then you're supposed to simulate a landing and come down fairly close to the ground and assure whoever's riding with you that you could have gotten the plane in if it were actually a forced landing, like I had in Louisiana.

I selected this field, and there didn't seem to be too many. Sometimes you were up there, and they'd do a check ride, and you'd see five or six or seven fields, but this time I didn't see anything but just a little tiny spot. I thought, “Well, I've got to get it in there.” So I pulled around. Well, in all honesty, I overshot the field a whole lot. I would never have gotten the plane in there to save my life.

He yelled back, “You overshot the field. You know you can't do that.” Blah, blah, check ride, check ride, no way can you make it.

I thought, “I've got to do something. I've got to think real, real fast here to get out of this one,” because admittedly I had overshot. There was no question. I said, “Sir, if you'll let me go around one more time, I'll get you down so close it will look like this field had been mowed with a lawnmower.”

He said, “What? What?”

I said, “Well, of course, had you not been in the plane, I would have put my flaps on and I would have slipped in,” you know, put your one wing up and slip in kind of sideways, “and I could have gotten in easily.”

He said, “Well, you know, you really could have.”

I thought, “Oh, I did it.” I was so thrilled.

HT:

Why did that make a difference?

SB:

Because if I had overshot the field, I flunked out and I'm sent home.

HT:

No. No. I'm saying you had mentioned something earlier about if he had been there, you would have done something different.

SB:

Oh, I told him that the reason I didn't put my flaps on and I didn't slip it in was because he was in the plane and I didn't want to take any chance with his life in case I did mess up.

HT:

Oh, I see. I see. Okay.

SB:

So, I mean, in deference to him and who he was, you know, and all this garbage. Anyway, it worked, thank goodness.

HT:

That was fast thinking.

SB:

I had to. I'd overshot that stinking field [laughs]. We got through that all right, and I did graduate. I just had forgotten to mention that silly little incident.

We've had fun over that through the years, talking about me and this major, because we were all scared of him. He was very different and very—

HT:

So it sounds like you had all men instructors. There were no women instructors?

SB:

There were two. And one, this book that I brought you, she was an instructor for the class behind me, 44-W-3—no, 5, I guess it was. Anyway, there were two, and one of them was a real little gal. What was here name? This gal's name is Swain, Dottie Swain. I think there had been some before our class got in, but these were the only two that I remember that were there.

HT:

And you were the class of what?

SB:

44-W-4, meaning we were the fourth class in the year '44 to graduate. She was a really good pilot, and she went back through and took all the training, went back and became a WASP herself. She was stationed with me in Laredo towing targets.

HT:

And speaking of Laredo, how long were you down at Laredo doing the targets?

SB:

Let's see. We got there in September, I believe. Just about a month. They didn't leave us anywhere very long.

HT:

I was going to say, they moved you around quite a bit.

SB:

Oh, gosh, yes. From there, they sent me back. Let's see, this was September. Incidentally, if it's of interest to anybody, that's where I met my husband.

HT:

In Laredo?

SB:

In Laredo.

HT:

And I think you said he was in the army?

SB:

He was in the air force. He had had a bad experience. He was in cadets and had some kind of something. The strange thing was that some of the things that the women could do better than others were like putting a little peg in the right spot real fast and doing all that, dexterity type things. Women seemed to excel in that. He thinks that's what got him, was that part of it, because I'm sure he could have flown a plane. No question he could have done it. But just the least little thing. Then, too, it depended on that particular class of men, how many pilots they needed at that particular time. They could only take so many. I've spoken to several of the male pilots since then that said half the class washed out because they didn't need them at that time and they needed more bombardiers.

HT:

So once a person washed out, either a male or female, I'm sure the females were probably sent home, is that correct?

SB:

Absolutely, on your own. You'd get out of that place in twenty-four hours. You're gone. The men were—because they were locked in. They were military. So they went to bombardier school, or they went to navigation school or engineering school, or they became gunners.

My husband was to have been a gunner, but this was not his forte at all. So somehow or other, he finagled his way into OCS [Officer Candidate School]. But the funny part I started to tell you was he hadn't been in that long. Of course, you started out as a buck private. Well, one of the things which we never could understand, because we were nothing, absolutely, totally nothing, but we could not date an enlisted man. I mean, that was just taboo. Well, too bad. I met this guy, and I could slip out in civilian clothes, and we did that for about a month.

Then we were all called in, and all this, a big bunch of us. There was a pretty good bunch down there by this time. We were called in and given all this down-the-road business. I was the only one dating a civilian—I mean, not a civilian but a noncom[missioned] personnel. We had all this stuff about absolutely cannot. This is one thing that will send you home quicker than anything in the world. You cannot date an enlisted man. So I married one [laughter].

HT:

How was that received by the—

SB:

Well, I didn't marry him at that point. I mean, I was not supposed to date him. But see, I'd just known him that one month, and then I was shipped out, back up to Kansas again. I did a little more test hopping up there.

By then, it was October. By then, they knew they were going to disband the program. Guess what they did then to spend a few more million dollars? They took a bunch of us WASP who already had our green cards, which is the instrument rating—in other words, we could fly in the overcast stuff, on instruments. We already had that rating from Sweetwater originally, but they decided, knowing that we were going to be disbanded, and they sent a bunch of us back to Sweetwater for intensive instrument training, which was wonderful for us. I mean, we got all this extra training, but stupid, wasn't it? They knew we were going to be disbanded. They already had the word. I guess they had to do something with us until December. I think Hap Arnold said, “The girls have to go.” They had so much flak in Congress, and Congress wouldn't pass this. They wanted to get rid of the women.

And the men, a lot of the instructors—I don't believe I mentioned this before, but a lot of our instructors, they were in the army. Most of them were just civilians, but they were deferred from the infantry because they were skilled in the piloting field so they didn't have to worry about going into the infantry.

HT:

I was going to ask you, the instructors, they were all military personnel, is that correct?

SB:

No. I said that wrong. Mostly they were civilians. But they had a lot of hours, and they had taught these other people, the RCAF, just before they got us, before they inherited us, you might say.

HT:

But you mentioned a Major Urban earlier. So there was a military command.

SB:

Oh, yes. Well, he was in charge of the whole field.

HT:

On the field. Right.

SB:

Yes. There were a lot of military men on the field. The doctor was a military flight physician. What did we call them then?

HT:

Flight surgeon.

SB:

Flight surgeon, yes. He was there, and I don't how many check pilots they had, different phases of military, and a lot of personnel were there. They hated it because it was kind of demeaning to be in charge of a bunch of women when they could be in a better place.

HT:

So Sweetwater, I think the actual field name was Avenger Field, is that right?

SB:

Yes, that's the name of the field.

HT:

And Sweetwater's the name of the little small town that's close by, right?

SB:

Yes, that we were in.

HT:

So Avenger Field was set aside purely for training WASP, is that correct? Or were there men there as well?

SB:

No. This first class graduated—this last class of men graduated. Then it was all for women, absolutely all for women. The joke is that when first the girls were there, there were I can't remember how many forced landings that the guys made when they realized that there was a women's field down there full of women. So they were always forced landing. Finally, word got out that there were no military personnel allowed on that field at all. They called it—what was it?—“Cochran's convent.” Instead of Avenger Field, we always called it her convent.

HT:

Was she headquartered there?

SB:

No. No. She was in Washington fighting the battle there to try to get some clout up there so that they would militarize us. That was her big job then. They were still interrogating women and still sending some of them home and trying to decide which ones to—because they had so many that they couldn't get them all in. So they just had to be very selective about who got in the program.

When they disbanded it, they wanted to go ahead and graduate. Hap Arnold said, “Let's graduate this last contingent.” I think it was 44-W-10, I believe it was. I was just reading this the other evening. I had not known this, but of course, they couldn't be sent anywhere because they were going to be disbanded. They graduated on something like the seventh, eighth, something like that. I believe it was the seventh.

HT:

Of December?

SB:

Of December. That's right. It was Pearl Harbor birthday, because Hap Arnold had a heart attack, I think, the day after. Bless his heart. No wonder, all he went through.

Anyway, the girls that graduated, since they couldn't go to another field, then the commandant, somebody there, said, “Well, here's what we're going to do. We're going to do something for these girls. These airplanes have to leave the field and be taken somewhere else. So all you girls in this class, get in these planes and fly them.” He took his bus down and picked them all up and brought them back to the field. Then they had the ceremony.

No. That was between the time that they graduated on the seventh and the twentieth, because he had to do something with them. There was nowhere to send them. It would be silly to send them to a base. All the other girls were coming back to Sweetwater.

HT:

Speaking of being sent to other bases, when you were sent down to Laredo and Garden City, Kansas, did you live in barracks or hotels? What kind of accommodations did you have?

SB:

No, we didn't. Whatever we could find. The only stipulation was we could not—

HT:

You had to find your own accommodations?

SB:

No, they found them for you, but in Laredo, when we first got there—and I can't remember what this establishment was, some kind of an old, old Civil War place a lot of us had to stay in because they didn't have anywhere for us to stay. They were building barracks for us, little cabin-like things where we had about five or six—just about what we had in Sweetwater. In the meantime, we had to stay in this, some kind or another, old, old army facility. They had to send for us to come to the field to fly from there and then take us back until they got our barracks finished.

When I was in Love Field in Dallas, I must have been—of course, being Winston, I was the last one being assigned to anything, and all the little bay things were taken up. I think I stayed with the nurses in the nurses' quarters. We could stay in the nurses' quarters. We just couldn't stay with the WACs [Women's Army Corps], for some reason. We could have stayed with the WAC officers, but we couldn't stay with the—there would have been plenty of places for us to stay there, but this old rap about the noncoms and the—

HT:

The rankings.

SB:

The rankings thing over and over and over again.

HT:

I was reading something about some negative gossip in Sweetwater about girl pilots and June of 1943. Did you ever hear anything about that? I know there was a slander campaign against the WACs in '43. I don't know if this was part of it or not. I guess it was. Didn't you mention earlier some jealousy going on?

SB:

Oh, there was a lot of jealousy.

HT:

From?

SB:

I'm sure there was some flak there. Dealing with, obviously, that many women, there are going to be some that don't quite add up. They were very careful to weed them out if anything at all ever came up about it. I suppose you're talking about a relationship?

HT:

I'm not assuming so. It just mentions a slander campaign or something like that. I'm sure perhaps some people looked on women who joined the military as kind of being loose and [unclear].

SB:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You were fair play if you walked down the street in uniform, but you had to, because that was their regulation. You didn't have any bars on your shoulder so you had no rank, no cap, no anything. So it was assumed that we were fair play. You know how to handle that if you're a woman. You have to know how to handle that. I'm sure there were some discrepancies in there. I don't offhand know of any personally.

HT:

That sort of leads into my next question. Were you ever discriminated against because you were a woman when you were flying into a field? It seems like I've read somewhere that some of the women had to wait extra long to get gassed up and get their planes serviced and that sort of thing.

SB:

We did in certain fields. Camp Davis in North Carolina was notorious for that. Camp Davis hated women.

HT:

You never were stationed there?

SB:

No, I never was stationed there. I was even in Texas—

HT:

I think Betty Carter had written, had said that she'd read somewhere that some women had found sugar in their gas.

SB:

Cochran found that, when she came down to investigate because we had three women killed very close to each other.

HT:

Right.

SB:

She went down to investigate, and she did not publicize it because she didn't want it out. She didn't want it to hurt the field. She didn't want to hurt the women. She was distressed to death, of course, about the accidents, but they checked it out.

They started really clamping down then, the field did, because, of course, the big guys, the big echelon, they certainly didn't advocate it, but the jealous. I think maybe some of the lower ranking guys that actually put the gas in the planes—maybe that's what we think may have happened.

HT:

So you think it was probably jealousy, as opposed to sabotage? The reason I was asking is I interviewed a lady recently who was in intelligence from World War II. She was undercover the entire time. She was stationed in, I think, Illinois. There was a lot of sabotage going on, because apparently the planes and a lot of equipment was being manufactured in that area and being shipped to the East Coast and then shipped over to Europe.

She said that she personally caught three Italian-Americans committing sabotage, putting sugar in tanks, not tightening the—what do you call those things?—the tie downs, the cargo, and that sort of thing so when the plane went up, the cargo would shift and crash and that sort of thing, and doing things to the parachutes and things like that. She said there was lots of that going on by Americans. I didn't know if that same thing was going on.

SB:

I never was faced with any of it personally, but there were an awful lot of accidents that they thought later were certainly not pilot error. There was something wrong with the plane. It hadn't been checked out as well as it should have been.

HT:

I wonder why this happened at Camp Davis. Did it happen just there or at other places?

SB:

There was another field. What was the name of it? Was it Romulus? No, that's not quite it. Anyway, it'll be in some of my literature. They also hated the WASP.

Now, some of the fields, really, they were so gracious to us, and they needed us really badly. Not throwing bouquets at ourselves, but we needed to fly the planes, to get them out of there. Lockheed would make some 51s or whatever it was, and they needed to go instantly so that they could make some more and get them out. They were desperately needed overseas.

It was just hard for us to understand. Of course, Cochran kept a lot of this stuff from us, and I can understand why she did. She didn't want to scare us to death for one thing. She didn't want to have to admit that anybody could do such a thing as that, to cause an absolute accident.

HT:

And kill someone.

SB:

Yes, and kill somebody. I mean, that was a terrible thing. But a lot of times, if the commander of this particular field didn't like the WASP, they didn't want them on this field but they were assigned there, he had to upset them. I don't think they had too much choice in a lot of places. What they would do was just put them in for more training.

Some of these girls that had all these hundreds and hundreds of hours, and it was just wasted. Some of it was a waste of time, just to get rid of them, get them out of the way. But the guys didn't want to do all these minuscule jobs that we were doing. They didn't want to fly this stupid thing like I flew up in at Tinker Field. I mean, they probably wouldn't have even written it off. So it didn't make, really, very good sense.

But most of the people, I was saying, most of them that I ran into were understanding. They knew we were—see, Drew Pearson—well, I shouldn't call names, I guess, but anyway—

HT:

I was going to mention that Drew Pearson apparently had a—

SB:

Oh, he just hated us.

HT:

Do you know why?

SB:

No. I do not know why, because he didn't know anything about it to begin with. Of course, he was a gossip columnist anyway.

HT:

Oh, right.

SB:

And this was a dramatic thing that was coming up. He referred to us as these “hotshot glamour girls” and all sorts of stuff like that, which was not correct at all. It's one of these films, if you have time to ever look at it, it specifically says it was not such a glamorous job. I mean, we got up early in the morning, and we might fly all day long. When you got down, you certainly didn't look like the lady looked in that movie that they had in Hollywood where she came out all beautied up, you know, and she'd just flown this little PT-19 thing which would tear your hair to pieces. That sort of thing was unreal. Of course, it just doesn't make any sense.

The thing was that, I think, after the men started coming back and talking about the deactivation situation, you can sort of see it from both sides. I can understand, when a pilot's been flying overseas and he's been through combat and he's done all this stuff and he comes back, there's no, I don't think, WASP alive that would not have wanted him to take her place. But we resented the fact that Veterans Administration and—I can't think of the name of it, but some of the really strong organizations—just didn't want us in there at all. They wanted us totally deactivated out of there. They didn't want us to fly a plane that a man could fly. It didn't matter that the men had had no experience flying a lot of the planes that we could fly. They never thought about that. They just thought, “Here's a skirt flying a plane. A man could do that. Get that skirt home and let her get back in the kitchen where she belongs.” That was a thing with a lot of these people.

A lot of younger pilots, civilian pilots, they didn't see it as that much of a problem, but the older, going back to the generations where the men, of course, wore the pants in the family and this sort of thing completely, and they saw no excuse for us. I mean, we were just there as a hobby, as just a fun thing and a glamorous thing, show ourselves off, take-the-spotlight-type thing, which we didn't think we were doing at all, but we got that reputation some way.

All these civilian pilots banded together, and they lobbied, and they went down there, and they presented to Congress all these stories about—some of them had flown with us, I'm sure, and there's no telling what all they told them. But they brought it down.

We resented it. I can't help but say we resented it, because we didn't even get a—when we had to RON overnight somewhere and we had some of the guys were maybe going to the same outfit, taking planes in, they got a whole lot more the night than we did. We [unclear]. The hotels were the same for them as they were for us. We had to spend the night. That didn't make any sense at all to us.

HT:

So when you spent the night someplace, did you have to spend your own money and then were reimbursed, or how did that work, to pay for food and lodging and that sort of thing?

SB:

Do you know, I actually cannot remember. I'm sure we had to keep some kind of receipts, or either they may have given us, and then we had to account for the money, for the chits, whatever they were when we got back. I just can't remember that too clearly, how we did it. It didn't happen to me too often.

HT:

But you had to stay in civilian hotels or motels.

SB:

Yes. Yes. Depending on what you did.

I was with this one hot pilot. This is the only time I really almost got into trouble. I was flying as his co-pilot. I can't remember what we were flying, but were to take this plane somewhere, and he had indicated to me that there'd be a hot time in the old town tonight, you know, if I would like to cooperate. I indicated to him that I didn't really particularly want to do it that way. He said, “Well, I'll tell you what. Before I'm through flying this plane, you'll say okay.” This is the only time it ever happened to me like this. Well, he just flew all the stuff and barn hopping and coming close to trees and things, and I just sat there as calmly as I could. I never said a word. I never screamed. I never did anything. I thought, “Well, if this is it, it's it. If I go, he'll go, too.” So I got through that one all right. But he was just sure he would scare the you-know-what out of me, and I would say okay. He's the only smart aleck I ever got tied up with, as far as a guy was concerned, that way. Maybe I was not that attractive. [laughs] I'm being silly. But there was a few. Naturally, with a man-woman relationship, there was some narrow situations like that. I can't think of too many.

HT:

It sounds like you really enjoyed your work.

SB:

Oh, we did. We loved it. One of the girls that washed out, bless her heart, she was so intent on making it, it just was too much for her, and she tried to commit suicide. It was just terrible. One of my friends knew her, and they got her back. I can't even remember the details on it, but this was her life's intent, and why could everybody else make it and she couldn't? Well, you're just lower than a snake's belly when this happens to you and half the class makes it and half doesn't.

One of my roommates almost washed out. I mean, the instructor, this guy, this four-letter guy, he said, “You can't fly this airplane, lady. You don't know nothing about airplanes.” He was just as rude to her as he was to me. Anyway, he was going to wash her out.

HT:

Were most of these women in their twenties?

SB:

Yes.

HT:

Because I think there were age limits on either end.

SB:

Yes. When I went in, in '43, it was twenty-one to thirty-five. But later on, two or three classes later, they went down to eighteen because somebody had done a survey and found out that pilots between the ages of eighteen and twenty make the best pilots. And here, all this time, they were thinking you needed to be a little bit older. But, of course, when you're that young, you're not scared. The older we get, the scareder we get. [laughter] But that was one of the requirements.

HT:

Well, Mrs. Bain, it's twelve-thirty, so we'll just take a little break now for lunch.

SB:

Oh, that'll be fine if it's an agreeable time for you.

HT:

We'll talk again after lunch.

SB:

Okay.

[Tape recorder stopped]

HT:

Mrs. Bain, we're back from lunch now. I have just a few more questions to ask you. What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically while you were with the WASP?

SB:

I couldn't chin, where you put your hands up on that bar and the rest of you didn't come up, and you had somehow to get that chin over that bar or you didn't make it. I made it one time.

HT:

This was in basic training?

SB:

Basic training, yes.

HT:

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

SB:

Emotionally? I guess it was not necessarily anything I had to do. I guess it was when we found out we were going to be deactivated. I think it was kind of a blow. We just weren't expecting it. Out of the clear blue sky. We were expecting any minute they'd say, “Come on, you all.” Hopefully, they thought we were doing a pretty good job. We thought we were. We were trying anyway, but it just didn't work out. I think it was just like a bolt from the deep.

HT:

A demoralizing experience.

SB:

Yes. You'd spent all that time and flown all those—I started to say dangerous missions. Of course, they weren't missions like the poor guys had to fly, but flying in inclement weather and flying aircraft that couldn't fly. It was kind of hard at times.

Anyway, I think it was, well, of course, we're women. I guess women are a little bit emotional anyway, but it just kind of hurt our feelings a little bit that the guys, some of the guys, felt that way. Like when this stuff came up in Congress for a vote, all the women—maybe that's the way it naturally is. All the women, Congress ladies or whatever you call them, were on our side, almost as a block, but the guys apparently didn't quite understand.

HT:

Do you recall any particular congressman or senator who sort of led the fight against the WASP being continued, or was it a joint effort on a lot of people's parts?

SB:

I don't know. It was mainly, I think, the blocks, the contingents, of people that came up there, the different organizations that felt that we were just glamorizing the situation and we shouldn't even have been there to begin with. But I was home raising kids by the time they finally got enough women to go up there and start this thing rolling again. See, it was dormant for what, thirty years?

HT:

Right.

SB:

Yes. They tried and failed. In fact, Jackie Cochran told one of the girls who thought, “Well, I'll get Jackie back in the field and get her on our side.” She [Cochran] said, “Listen, if I couldn't do it, you sure can't do it.” [laughs] Which was kind of typical of her, really. But she had tried so hard, and she gave it everything she had, but it maybe just wasn't in the cards at that time.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid while you were flying?

SB:

Yes, one time. Where was I? Somewhere in, I think, Alabama. I was on a cross-country, and I was coming into this airport, and they had dual landing, dual patterns and everything. Of course, I was used to just everybody coming in one way, getting one flight pattern, coming down, and landing the plane. You're supposed to look right to left, front to back, across the lady's chamber. All of a sudden, I looked out my right side and there he was. I could almost have touched him. It was another student coming into a pattern, coming into his now, whether he was wrong or I was wrong, it could have been me, certainly. We should not have been there. In fact, a lot of our accidents were caused through crashes of some sort, but this was scary. I mean, you look up and you could practically light his cigarette, you were so close to him. [laughs] Of course, I just peeled off like that, and he finally saw me about the same time, and he peeled off that way. It was just that snap-of-a-finger difference in both of us ending up on the ground. That was scary.

HT:

I imagine so.

SB:

I was kind of scared at night flying because it's so black and so different. I'm kind of scared to drive at night, in all honesty, at my age especially. Yes. Everything is so different, and you don't have your landmarks, and you just have to go exactly right by your instruments. That's what we were trying to do so we did it. There'd be a lot of landings. I don't think we ever did any cross-countries at night, though we had quite a bit of time [unclear].

HT:

So when you were ferrying a plane from point A to point B, you would stop at the end of the day and get a good night's rest and continue the next day?

SB:

Yes. You had to. You couldn't go but so many. You were supposed to fly from sunup to sundown, and that's a pretty long time in some states.

HT:

Especially in the summertime.

SB:

Yes. Then we'd get up and start early again the next morning. You'd gas your plane, and then you had to check it out and do all this stuff, regular routine, and go another few miles, depending on what you were flying, of course. The P-51s, it didn't take them long. They were off and gone. They got there quickly.

HT:

Of course, you couldn't stop for lunch or anything, so you just brought snacks along to eat, or how did that work?

SB:

I guess we did. I just don't remember.

HT:

Because you didn't land at lunch time or anything like that. I mean, you literally flew all day.

SB:

Well, like if you were flying a PT-19, like that one I was taking that was en route to China, you outlined it before you left. You knew at what point you probably would need to gas up and refill. That was the main thing. You have to be somewhere to refuel it at refueling time, whether your stomach was growling or not growling. Wherever you landed, you ate whatever you could find to get by on.

HT:

The plane had to be fed before you did.

SB:

The plane had to be taken care of. That was vital. It was very critical. The main thing, I think it was a bit of a problem. We discussed it a little bit before. After we'd made a trip, delivered something, whatever, then getting back home was hard, one of the really hard things for me to do, just because I'm sort of from the old school and I do feel strongly about rank and discipline and order and things like that and being polite a little bit. We could bump anybody but the president off a plane.

One girl was speaking of the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt got on at the same time she did or something, and somebody told Mrs. Roosevelt that a WASP had to get back to her flight. She said, “Well, of course she does. I'll just walk right off of here.” She got off the plane.

HT:

That's amazing.

SB:

See, so this sort of thing happened. But I can imagine if I was a big hotshot senator or something, and there are some that are kind of hotshot, as we, some of us, were kind of hotshot pilots, but when a little slip of a girl comes in and says, “Get off this plane, buddy. I've got to go back to Sweetwater,” I can imagine, if they didn't really understand the program, that it might be a little bit hard for them to take. But I don't know of any incidents of anybody being unkind about it or anything.

I remember sitting on suitcases and stuff like that. It was like you still were a lady, and you hoped you were, and you tried to be, but it wasn't this stuff of a gentlemanly act of always having to get up and giving a lady a seat and that sort of thing. We wanted to be in the same boat with the guys. That was what we were there for, not to be treated like little cute girls in petticoats, this sort of thing. That's not what we were after.

HT:

Do you ever recall being in any sort of physical danger, where your life was in jeopardy?

SB:

Let me think. As I said before, we weren't in there long enough to have that many experiences. I guess I was just one of the lucky ones. I just didn't have that.

I felt in a little bit of danger when I was trying to land that plane that couldn't fly and I didn't know what to do with it. I thought, “Well, gee, I've got to do something, make some decision.” I think that's a lot of what it's all about. To be a pilot, you've got to think fast, like I got out of that flying with that commandant of the field that time when I had overshot the field. It was a bad thing. I should have flunked out, but you have to think on your feet, fast, because you're [unclear]. You say, “Now, let me see. Should I go to this airport or that airport?” you've moved. Your mind's got to be alert at all times. It's not quite that way as you get a little bit older. [laughter]

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing moments or hilarious moments?

SB:

We had a lot of hilarious moments. Sometimes it was so bad and you were so tired and spacey, I think, when we were in training, and we were always so keyed up and so frightened that we were going to wash out that we stayed just at the tip of the barrel, so to speak. That's not the right expression to make. It was just right there waiting for something to happen.

HT:

Always on the edge, so to speak.

SB:

Yes. “On the edge” is the proper way to put it. Sometimes it just got to be almost too much. Then we had a little lake out not far from Sweetwater, and the girls would go out there occasionally and just duck in the water, just take a little swim. Or we'd go out outside our barracks with our studies in our hand and take a sunbath, little things like that. That doesn't sound like anything now, but back then, any few minutes that we could grab to ourselves was the most exciting thing in the world. Everything's relative, of course, and the kids now would think, “What in the world does she think is so exciting about taking a sunbath?” Well, lord, we got out of all that stuff we were flying in, and we would sit down and rest a minute.

[Begin Tape 2, Side A]

SB:

I was telling you about my best friend, Betty Williamson. We did everything together. This AT-6 pilot, he just wanted to wash her out in the worst kind of way. See, after you got a pink slip from a civilian pilot, then you'd go to a check pilot, army check pilot. He said, “I don't know where this instructor is coming from. You can fly, and you can fly well.” As I said, she'd been one of the most active members of the whole organization. It would have just been a crime to wash this little girl out. Of course, everybody has to do what seems right to them at the time, and maybe she made a couple of mistakes on that check ride, like my overshooting the field on mine. You can do that, and the next day, you might be perfect at something. So it was just a hairline decision.

Maybe this particular day, you were up for this check ride and you didn't feel as well as you would have a couple of days from then, but you didn't get a second chance. You did get a second chance as far as going through a civilian pilot and then to the army. The army was the last one to knock you out. Then I think you still had the option to maybe go before a board or something, but there was not a whole lot to that. You were pretty well gone by the time that happened.

Another friend of mine, the one I think I was mentioning to you at lunch, that we just went to her military funeral, and it was so beautiful and so meaningful, she got into a real bad strait one time with her instructor. See, our instructors were, I don't want to say it, but Mr. Perfect. I mean, they didn't make mistakes. We thought they were just it on wheels because they were our bread and butter. If they said we couldn't fly, we were gone. Anyway, she was flying with this instructor, and there was just something inside him that said he just had to go and whether he was flirting with somebody down on the ground or not I don't know, but he clipped. He got too close to the ground, and he took a little bit of hump out of each one of his ailerons, his wings.

When they got down, of course, they're always inspected, and naturally, they wanted to know what happened here. Well, she didn't know what to do. She didn't want to turn him in for having buzzed this place, which he should not have been doing, but also, she just didn't know how to handle it. She just said, “We were practicing forced landing.” Well, they weren't practicing forced landing. He was buzzing.

She was just scared to death, bless her heart. Her husband was over in Bataan, in prison camp over there. It was dreadful for her. Anyway, how did that turn out? Oh, she was called in, and they said, “Please, go ahead and explain to us completely what happened. How did it happen? How did you get too close to the ground and clip the thing?”

She explained, “Well, he was flying the plane.”

They said, “Well, what you're telling us is that you lied,” not that they were glad that she was telling them now what happened but she lied the day before so she was untrustworthy. “What kind of pilot will you make if you're that untrustworthy that you will say one thing today and another thing tomorrow.”

Of course, at the top of her head in that spur-of-the-moment thing, she was thinking she didn't want to turn her instructor in, so she just kind of skirted the truth a little tiny bit. They confined her to the field. In fact, she was supposed to have been confined for the whole rest of the term that she was there. She was in my class.

Somehow or other, her father was a big army officer, and somebody found out that her husband was in prison. I think they finally had a big board meeting, and on the last, they let her get out a little bit more, but they fired the guy. They fired the instructor. She always felt badly about that, but he shouldn't have done that. You can't do things like that if you're teaching a student. I mean, what kind of example?

HT:

That put his life in danger as well as hers.

SB:

Yes. Of course.

HT:

And the plane as well.

SB:

Yes, but just showing off, just kind of like that other guy was doing when my friend, I can't remember when we talked a little bit before, but this friend of mine that I was—tell me if I'm repeating myself.

HT:

I don't think so, not on the tape anyway.

SB:

Yes. Okay. Well, this girl was in a separate class, and she and I were good friends, and she had 300 hours. At that early stage, the girls were learning to fly a bunch of aircraft from the factory to a certain field or vice versa. They had somebody in charge of the formation, like a goose.

HT:

Right, that V shape.

SB:

Yes, that V-shaped thing. She was in the very top of it. She was a commander, the first one she'd ever been in charge of, and feeling very responsible about the whole thing. This guy saw her, and they were flying PTs, I think, very simple little planes, basic trainers or primary trainers is another word. He was in a great big hot AT-6, you know, 650 horses. So he had to show all these women—he looked over there and saw all these women like geese flying down the airway there. So it was just, I guess, nature. He just absolutely had to come and show these girls how he could do all these maneuvers. He was looping, and he was spinning and doing everything he could do, I guess, to get their attention.

My friend was trying to keep her eyes—there's no radio on those little planes—on the straight and narrow path and get to where she and her contingent were supposed to go when he was just showing off so much and everything. She said, “Susie, can you believe it? I kept flicking my wings and saying, 'Get away, get away, get away, you're messing us up,' and he kept showing off.” Finally, she said she looked down, and he had flown too close to the ground, and that was it. He was gone.

HT:

Was he the only person aboard that AT-6?

SB:

Yes. He wouldn't have dared do it with somebody else, I don't believe. At least, it wouldn't have been very wise. But he just had to show off a little bit. She went to the next field and reported back, but she said you can't imagine how you feel when something like that happens.

Oh, I wanted to tell you one more thing about this particular gal. I think I mentioned to you before, she was flying the Vibrator, Vultee Vibrator. What do you call it, BT-13. It just shakes like this. I mean, it's just terrible. We did our instrument training in that. She was flying that one time, and was trying to get into a pattern to come in and land it because all of a sudden, she said, just out of the clear blue sky, it started making just ten times worse noises than normal. That had to be pretty bad, because it was bad when everything was perfect. Anyway, she was trying to come in for a landing, and the tower kept saying, “Go around, please. Go around.”

She went around one more time. It kept shaking worse. The tower said, go up to, I think it was 9,000 feet, and see if it won't level off. Maybe everything will be all right. So she got up there, and it got worse. She just radioed in and said, “I'm coming in no matter what. You get the fire trucks and everything out there because I'm going to make a crash landing. I'm sure this plane's not going to get in.”

Well, she finally caught their attention, and they let her come in. When she got on the ground, the mechanics came over to examine it, and there was one bolt. I can't remember where she said the bolt was, but it was a spot that was supposed to have a whole bunch of bolts, and there was only one there. Of course, that's why it was vibrating like that. If that bolt had gone, the wing would have been off.

It sounds like a nothing thing, but she was, of course, shaking like a leaf when she finally got out of the plane. She wasn't in training then. She was flying somewhere as a training command or something. The commandant of the field said to her, “Get back on the plane and finish.” Oh, she was doing spot landings. That's what she was doing, a touch-and-go landing. He said, “Get back in this plane over here and finish your landing.”

She said, “You're asking me to get in a plane after what I've been through? I'm almost killed with this stupid airplane, and you want me to get back on another airplane just like it?”

He said, “Look, my father used to tell me this about horses.” He said, “If you don't get back in that plane and fly now, you'll never be able to fly. You've got to do it right now,” before this adrenaline or whatever was in her system wore off.

You know, they've always said that about horses. My father said, “Once you're thrown, get back on immediately or you may never ride a horse again.” I thought that was an interesting story, because I never thought about it as far as aircraft were concerned. It just never had come up in my situation that I was exposed to that sort of thing, so black and so different.

HT:

Same sort of thing. I interviewed a nurse. She was an air evac[uation] nurse in England, and she was involved in an airplane crash. I think the crew chief was killed [unclear]. When the doctors came out, he made them all—I guess it was the flight surgeon—made them all get back on another plane and go back up again for the very same reason that you just talked about.

SB:

Yes, that's the same thing.

HT:

That they would not have gone up again if they hadn't done it right away.

SB:

Yes. It's just that it never occurred to me before because I had never had any exposure to this sort of thing before. But it hit home.

HT:

You've told me a great deal about your—I want to say military, but your service life. What about your social life? What did you ladies do for fun?

SB:

Betty and I were talking about that this last convention, and, frankly, our social life was zero. It was zero. We did have a couple of dances, and they tried to recruit some of the cadets from other fields to come in and [unclear] two or three times. But there was so much going on at the field with our training, and we were all so intent on getting through. Like I said about ground school, you put us in a world, it would be like putting me in some kind of physics thing right now or some of your fancy computer stuff that I've never seen or heard of before in my lifetime and say, “This is what we're going to study now.” We had no background for it. We did have to study, probably, that particular thing harder than the boys.

When it came to this thing that the army and air force and everybody put out about finding little holes and putting the right thing in and rubbing this with your left elbow and the right elbow, don't do that and hit yourself on top of the head and do this, that, and the other, the girls are good at it. I think it's maybe synchronized better, smaller, maybe, I don't know what, but we did really well in that. But when it comes to how fast this motorcycle goes downhill before it crashes at such-and-such a speed, we were flying blind on it. So we had to learn it.

HT:

What about after you left basic training, though? How do I phrase this? What type of week did you work? Did you work like five days per week, or were you on call twenty-four hours a day?

SB:

It would just depend on what command you were in. The ferry girls were qualified to fly all the type planes. They stayed so busy all the time. When I first got to Love Field, I thought I'd be flying every minute. I wasn't. I just wasn't until, I mean, I don't know how it worked out that way. They'd just select certain pilots and put them in areas that they needed them the most or whoever was qualified to fly certain planes.

HT:

So then I would imagine you could be on duty for quite some time if you were, say, taking a plane from the Midwest somewhere to the East Coast. That must have taken several days just to fly.

SB:

Well, it did.

HT:

Then, of course, you had to find your way back as quickly as possible.

SB:

In the slower planes. A lot of times when you did that, you got to the other base, and there was a plane there that needed to go somewhere. So you might not get home for two or three weeks. It didn't ever happen to me, but I've talked to some of the girls it did, and they'd just take one change of clothes along and rinse it out wherever they could stop to spend the night and start over again.

HT:

So you couldn't have much of a social life?

SB:

No. There wasn't any time.

HT:

In that kind of situation, since you were practically on call twenty-four hours a day.

SB:

There wasn't any time for it. Yes. Of course, when I was in Laredo, where I met my husband, it was kind of a different setup. As I said, we were not supposed to date enlisted men, or noncom people. Anyway, there was pretty much going on in the Officers' Club, and we could go over there. We were privileged to go in the Officers' Club, but I think for a while they weren't supposed to do that. I mean, we just weren't welcome.

After they saw that girls maybe really could fly a little bit, were flying some of the larger planes that maybe some of them had not flown before, they realized well, maybe we weren't just stupid blonde women or something [laughs].

HT:

I think you said that you got out of the service, it must have been, in November of '44, because you were getting married. In the car coming over here, you mentioned that you had a difficult time getting out being honorably discharged.

SB:

Yes. If you quit, if you just walked out, even though they knew they were going to disband us a month later, you can't imagine the red tape I had to go through to get permission to resign with an honorable discharge because I was resigning one month early because I was trying to work our honeymoon when my husband had a furlough.

Of course, I was expecting him to go overseas any time like we all did back then, and it's a thousand wonders he didn't. Two or three times he was called and the orders were changed. Then he went on up to Pennsylvania to OCS up there, and that was an experience, but that's another thing. I was already out of the WASP by then. I did finally, finally get all the okays from all the different fields that I visited. Each field had to sign off that I'd done a halfway decent job there and that sort of thing.

One thing, they said my attitude wasn't too red-hot good. When they put me back to Sweetwater, as I was telling you, and put us through this other special instrument training course that just cost a lot of money and you could never use it—we used it privately, and it was good for us to do, but I thought it was a foolish thing to do. They spent a lot of money on that.

HT:

Did you have a commanding officer in charge of various WASP on each base, or how did that work? In the army, of course, you have all kinds of ranking, but you didn't have any ranks.

SB:

We didn't, but of course, we flew out of army bases, and they all had ranks. We were the only things that didn't have ranks.

HT:

Now, when I was air force, I worked in the traffic management office, and I had just about all civilian, worked with all civilians. Of course, my immediate supervisor was a civilian, and the traffic management officer was a civilian. Is that the sort of situation that you were in, except your bosses were military, I assume.

SB:

Our bosses were military, and it was up to them who flew what plane where, and we flew it. There was no question about it. If you were assigned to a certain plane, you did a certain thing. You just did it. It never would have occurred to us not to.

HT:

Of course, you had to be qualified to fly the particular plane.

SB:

Oh, yes, that particular type airplane. Sure.

HT:

I guess they must have had a list of names of women who qualified to fly various types of planes.

SB:

Twin engine and so forth. I know you've heard the story about the B-29 and [Paul W.] Tibbets. Well, anyway, the B-29s were just starting to come out, and it was one of Hap Arnold's loves, and he just knew that B-29 would be the plane that would end the war. They lost so many of them. They weren't quite flyable, like the B-26 wasn't flyable for a while until they got some of the kinks out of it. But anyway, this 29 was a super plane. My cousin flew it, one of them.

Anyway, this Tibbets, he was the one that flew the Enola Gay, you know, that dropped the thing [atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan]. So anyway, the men had heard about so many crashes, and they weren't too happy about flying them. They didn't think the airplane was flyable, was airworthy. He was trying to find a way to convince them, so he suddenly thought of this idea of getting two women, and he snuck off—I say snuck off—anyway, he got these women without anybody else knowing what was going on, requested them, I'm sure, and got clearance for them. He took them to a certain air field and taught them how to fly the B-29.

He said to himself, “If two women can fly the B-29, then I think maybe this will encourage the rest of the men so they won't lose face that maybe they can fly the B-29, too.” So that's what he did. I think it was maybe a two- or three-week course. He gave them a real fast course, a concentrated course, and he took them back to his B-29 field and said all the men were just standing there absolutely aghast when they saw these two women. He said he was kind of scrunched down in the middle, and here's a girl here and here's a girl here, and he's not letting himself be seen down there. So everybody, all these men, are just standing there looking and seeing this B-29 coming in with these two little girls flying the thing.

Somehow or other, I think the fact that they could fly it and they became proficient enough where they were teaching the men, actually, and I think the men had some respect for them. But it really did, it seemed to require just a certain amount of psychology, “Well, I can do it, too. If she can, I sure can. I'd better. I have to.” I didn't know that story until I'd been out of the WASP, I guess, ten or fifteen years. Then I heard that that was what had happened about that. My cousin, who'd flown, had never heard the story. I guess he was just in a different base then.

HT:

Have you met the women who flew these?

SB:

Well, actually, one of them. One of them's gone now. I can't remember the names. They're not that clear to me, but they were some of the first pilots. Of course, you would select the best, the ones who had the most hours.

HT:

The most experienced.

SB:

Yes.

HT:

After you left the WASP, you got married. Then your husband went up to—

SB:

To Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

HT:

So were you up there when the war ended in '45? Do you recall where you were during VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

SB:

I believe he'd already graduated from there and got his—he was a second lieutenant. I believe he'd gotten transferred to the medical department. He was wonderful working with people. If the guy was in trouble, real paraplegic or something like that, my husband's position was to teach him how to walk again.

HT:

Sort of physical therapy.

SB:

Physical therapy is exactly what it was. I couldn't tell the word. He was really, really good at it. That's where we were, we were in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a while, and we were in Georgia for a while. You know how they move them around all over the place. Then we were back in Texas after the war was over and he was going to muster out. You couldn't muster out until the last of the war was over in Japan even.

When I heard about the big bomb, I just couldn't believe it. Well, nobody could. It was devastating, but it stopped the war, and that's what's been hard, you know. All these people, they're such knowledgeable people, and they just think it's so terrible what we did, but look what would have happened had we not done it. They were thinking about going in and bombing them all anyway. We had to do something. So I never saw that as such a terrible thing. I'm sorry about the women and children and the men, too, but we had to get that war over with. It was terrible, and it was a serious thing. It was not just a little plaything. It was serious.

I remember ironing fatigues for my husband.

HT:

With starch and everything?

SB:

With starch and everything. [laughter] I got to see him on Sunday evening. We'd been married about, maybe, two months. He was down in Laredo. We got married in Bay City, came up to North Carolina for his furlough, and went back to Laredo, where he was waiting for his orders to go to OCS. There was nowhere to stay at all. You could only stay in a hotel or motel maybe two nights was the limit because there were so many women, of course, trying to get down there and join their husbands.

I'd exhausted all that finally, and I just went up and down the streets knocking on doors. Finally, this Hispanic gentleman came to the door, and I just put on a pitiful story, you know, we'd just been married and all this stuff. He said, “Oh, that's too bad.” He said, “Well, I don't have any extra rooms, but two or three of my boys, they don't mind getting out of bed and going to sleep in another room. You take their room.”

We did, and I thought that was the sweetest thing I ever heard of anybody doing. Here he had about nine kids and just herded them on up, gave us one of their rooms. I don't think the kids liked it very much. We didn't stay long, but it was such a nice gesture, I thought, that they would give up their room for me.

HT:

A total stranger.

SB:

A total stranger, just knocking on—and we heard about a chicken coop that was being remodeled. They were putting some boards up there. Maybe we could get that. No, that didn't quite work. Somebody got there before we did. It was unbelievable. My kids just die laughing when I tell them this. “Oh, Mother, you can't mean that.”

HT:

Literally a chicken coop?

SB:

Yes. You know, they're always wanting bigger houses and all this stuff. I said, “You don't know what it is to need a house. We wanted a coop, anything.” But everybody in my generation did that, so it was nothing special.

HT:

After you left the WASP service, what kind of impact did it have on your life to—first you were in a sort of quasi-military situation, and then you were a civilian real quickly. How did that change your life?

SB:

Well, I guess after we kind of got over—you're talking about emotional things. After we finally got over the shock of being kind of stepped on—we felt we were being stepped on and our feelings were hurt. Then, by golly, you've just got to get up and start again. It's just like your life changed in some way. You make another move, and you try to make it come out right.

Of course, we were thrilled to death the first time we had to pay an income tax. Everybody else thinks that's ridiculous, but we were in the red for a couple of years. My husband was in fuel oil, and he had one little truck, and we started out with this. He started out carrying buckets of oil on his shoulders when he was a little boy. This went on up till his little business started. Then he went into the military, into the cadets. I was trying to help him a little bit. Then the kids came along and we were busy. He got into politics and Jaycees and all kinds of stuff like that. We had a full life, a very happy life.

HT:

When did he get out of the military?

SB:

Just as soon as he could.

HT:

He wasn't an officer very long then?

SB:

No. No. He was not. He got out, and he would say, when he was finished with it, he did all that he could. He wanted to do more, but it didn't work out for him to be a pilot some way. He wasn't bitter about it, and he found another place that he could serve and serve well. But he wanted to get back home, of course.

HT:

So you moved back to North Carolina?

SB:

Yes. North Carolina was his love, his very special love, of course. We went home on leave, and I found out, much to both of our joys, that we were going to have a child. They wouldn't let me join him because I was having a few little early morning deals.

He went back to somewhere in Alabama. It must have been Tuscaloosa. I think that's where he had his final orders from. I'm not sure where he resigned or had to be mustered out or what.

This has nothing to do with the WASP, but I was living on glucose shots, and he would send me Hershey bars from his base because we still couldn't get chocolate or any sweets like that. Somehow or other, I could keep a Hershey bar down. That and my glucose got me through, but I think it was really three months that I had to wait and couldn't be with him in early marriage.

We came on back to Greensboro, and then we had another child shortly after. He was servicing Westover Terrace Apartments over there. The gentleman that ran that thing was a good friend of his, of course, so they gave us an apartment. We were thrilled to death. We had gone out and bought one little bedroom suite. We had two steel chairs, and we had a little card table. That was our furniture for a while.

We hung up sheets up at the windows because at that point we couldn't buy curtains right then. But it was good, and we learned, and we learned that we can get by on less. Of course, little by little, then, we got [unclear].

HT:

At that time, I'm assuming you did not work, you didn't go back to work after—

SB:

No. I just helped him in the business for thirty-five years.

HT:

Now, was Bain Oil Company a family business before?

SB:

No. No.

HT:

Or did he start it?

SB:

He started it.

HT:

He started it.

SB:

Yes. He was sixteen when he bought his truck. He just went on from there. He was scheduled to start college after graduating from high school, but his lifestyle changed when his father left so he had to support his mother. She got the G.I. check from him, which she needed and he sent his sister through school. His little sister Mazie, she worked here at the college for years and years and years. He sent her to school. She was seven years younger than he.

HT:

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

SB:

Oh, yes.

HT:

It sounds like you had actually a wonderful experience.

SB:

It was the thing to do. There wasn't any question. I'm not sure I'd be quite as brave or as full of gall as I was then. [laughter]

HT:

Do you wish you had joined earlier?

SB:

I didn't know about it earlier.

HT:

Oh, that's right. You didn't know.

SB:

No. They kept it so hush-hush till they—

HT:

That's so hard to believe today because everyone's so open about everything.

SB:

Oh, absolutely, more than you'd like. [laughs]

HT:

I guess maybe one of the reasons they did that is because it was so experimental.

SB:

Exactly. Exactly the reason.

HT:

And they didn't know exactly how it was going to turn out.

SB:

And we could have failed as easy as we made it. That was what they wanted to find out, if we were even physically able to do it.

HT:

But you know, much earlier, Jackie Cochran had gone over to England. The English had been doing this for quite a number of years.

SB:

Oh, yes.

HT:

So you would have thought, with that model to go by, that they would have been better received here. It's always been strange to me that—

SB:

It has been to me also.

HT:

It just doesn't make much sense.

SB:

I thought the same thing. In Russia, women even fought.

HT:

Oh, yes, and even killed. They were shot down, and they had all kinds of medals won.

SB:

Yes. But ladies in the United States were supposed to be little lady homemakers.

HT:

Yes. Right. Play bridge and that sort of thing.

SB:

Yes. And that's what I think a lot of the fellows saw, actually. “Let's get this war over with, and let's get back home. Mama can start making pies again and see about the kids and stuff like that.” Most of us didn't have families then. There were a few, one in particular I know of that had a couple of kids, but—

HT:

So there were some WASPs who had children. They were married but—

SB:

There's one or two that I had read about. I didn't know at the time that they had children, but I think that would have been hard to do for me.

HT:

I would imagine so.

SB:

Yes. I would have had a hard time with that. However, I worked all the time when my kids were growing up. I don't know. They saw all this stuff coming back down about the world is the way it is today because mamas don't stay home with their children, they all have to go out and work, and they really do. I mean, a lot of young yuppies now are making enough money to support a family, but for a long time, the women had to work to make enough money to support a family.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

SB:

Yes.

HT:

Have you always been that way?

SB:

Yes. I don't say that with pride or gloating or anything. I think it's just the way I am.

HT:

It's just a fact. Right.

SB:

That's in my genes. You just do what you—

HT:

And do you think that most of the women who were in the WASP were somewhat independent?

SB:

Oh, my, yes.

HT:

Free-thinking? Anyway, they could think for themselves?

SB:

Yes. They had to. There was nobody there to think for them.

Yes, the year—let's see, when was it? The fiftieth reunion of the WASP, which must have been 1992, San Antonio and Austin hosted that fiftieth reunion. My friend, I was saying about Marie that had the experience with the Vultee thing, with the guy buzzing them and seeing someone killed, anyway, she and I were in charge of the registration. I said to her later, I said, “Marie, I never saw such a bunch of independent women in my life.” I never worked with them in that aspect.

One of them would jump up and say, “Well, I want to go see this aircraft.”

I'd say, “Well, that's already filled up. You should have gotten here a little bit sooner. There's just no way we can work you in.”

“I will go and see it.”

And somehow or other, they'd finagle their way in. Marie and I were sitting here trying to trade out this thing for this thing for that particular one to go and see, but they were just amazing.

HT:

I'll bet your conventions are hilarious, I mean, all the goings on.

SB:

Oh, fun, fun and funny. But to us sitting there trying to jiggle them back and forth, we were going crazy. I thought, well, maybe this is what some of our officers thought when we came on the field and tried to make us flashier, that they thought we were trying to do that anyway. But yes, you had to be independent and you had to think for yourself.

HT:

I imagine it would take a special breed of person, either man or woman, to go up and fly, because I would never consider doing anything like that, even though I was in the air force. I just don't have the courage to do that, I don't believe.

SB:

But you would if it was something that you kind of set your sights on. My family was always competitive, for one thing. My grandfather that lived to be ninety-five and probably would have still been here but he got run over by a car crossing the street, jay walking across the street, he was independent, too. He didn't care what the law said. If it was shorter to go that way, he'd go that way.

I can remember when I was pregnant with my first one, I was so sick, and we would talk. You know, we had to get in a card game, us younger children. A card game had to go on all the time or dominoes or something. In this competitive world, you had to get in there and do this thing. I just couldn't get out of bed.

He'd say, “I cannot understand what's wrong with you.” He said, “The ma'am,” his wife, “had ten kids, and she never carried on like this. She could always get up and cook my breakfast and do my stuff for me.”

I said, “I'm sorry. I can't get out of bed.”

He just thought I was terrible. But I don't know. If they needed a fourth for bridge and I was there, I was supposed to pitch in there and be the fourth. It was expected of you. You just did it.

And in school, we always—as I said, this crazy little game of ours, we thought we were it on a stick. I don't mean that in a vain way. You just had to be the top of the class. You had to do everything first, and you had to be in all the sports and in all the plays and all the clubs and everything else that was there. It was your duty. My mother always said, “There's nothing in the world you can't do if you just put your mind to it.”

HT:

So you sound like your parents encouraged you in a lot of ways.

SB:

Oh, they did. Oh, they did, absolutely. This is one, I guess, of the grandest things about my childhood. We never felt poor. We didn't know we were poor. We didn't have any money, but my mother would say, “Susie Marie, the absence of money does not make you poor.” And of course the absence of the fighting spirit, the guts to get out and try to do something, I guess, is what she was trying to tell me.

She was always very independent herself. She was the oldest girl, and it was her duty to take over the family when things were required of her. This may be silly. It has nothing to do with the WASP, but it's just kind of family background, family that you have.

My great-grandmother was the one in Texas that had a few dimes and had a big ranch outside of town. My father's father was a cowboy, just a wonderful old cowboy. I never did know him. He died before I came along. But my great-grandmother's daughter married my grandfather. Anyway, she was kind of the matriarch. In those days, there was always one that kind of ran the family. Grandmother Robins was the one. She's the one that I went to her ninety-ninth birthday party. I have a candle from her ninety-ninth birthday party. I was so proud of it. I was about twelve years old. Anyway, I thought that was just wonderful.

My father lived out on the ranch, and a big blizzard came through Texas and wiped out all the cattle at this one particular time. He was just getting ready to go off to college. At this point, he had to come home or not go off. He had to stay home and help his mother get going again. His father was an invalid by this time. All their assets were gone. The cattle were all gone. So they went into town and opened a meat market or something just to get by on. Then, when he got things kind of straightened out monetarily, he thought, well, maybe then he could go ahead to college. His grandmother would always say, “Now, Leland,” in her soft little gentle Virginia way, her very cultured way, “Now, Leland, when you get ready to go to college, you just come to me and tell me that now it's time and you're ready to go to college.”

So he did. “Grandmother, I think I've got things in order. My mother's okay now. The business is going okay. I'm ready to go to college now. You always told me to come to you.”

She said, “Well, what seminary would you like to go to, Leland?”

“Seminary? I'm not going to a seminary. I want to become a doctor.”

Grandmother said, “I'm sorry, Leland, but there's always been a Presbyterian member of the clergy in our family, and you've been the one selected.”

He said, “I'm sorry, Grandmother. I just want to go to [college].”

He never got to go to college. By then, the financial situation was not so that he could swing both taking care of his mother and the college thing.

HT:

You mentioned some of your relatives were from Virginia. Is that where the family originated, was Virginia, and they moved out to Texas in the 1800s?

SB:

Yes. That's where she came from.

HT:

How long has your family been living in Texas?

SB:

Since probably about the Civil War, I guess it was.

HT:

On both sides?

SB:

My mother's family, one was from Tennessee and one was from Kentucky. Her father, my grandfather that I was speaking of that I had to get up and play cards with, “Ma'am never did this,” he was taking care of his family when he was ten years old. His father had died. The word goes out, and I've found you never know how much of this is true, but anyway, the word is out that he and his brother got in a fight and his brother killed him—I mean, killed his father. So Pappaw, as we always called him, had to take over and take care of the family.

They went out to Texas, and they were one of the first ones—I don't know whether you've read anything about this—that did the Homesteading Act in Texas. Let's see. Pappaw and Mamaw had three boys at this point, and they had this old mule, and my mother was on the way but not quite here yet. They lived in a dugout. They just dug out a big old thing, and they put a cover over it.

The harrowing tales that Mamaw used to tell us about that dugout and all the snakes coming in and the bull [unclear] the top of it. Then when my mother was about ready to be born, all the boys and Pappaw dug another little room, and that was my mother's private room in this dugout. Bless her heart, she's the one that was the accomplished musician.

HT:

A lot of people made these dugouts. I guess timber wasn't available for houses.

SB:

No. They were way out in West Texas, where they were trying to find some land that they could homestead on and start a—it didn't work out for my family anyway, so they came back to Prosper, I believe it was, in North Texas, and found some land up there and started their farm. But it's kind of a funny thing. Maybe you won't think it's funny, but I did because I'm getting older now, I guess.

My mother's older brother, the firstborn, lived to be 106, and he used to come and visit us in North Carolina. Here I am in North Carolina. Anyway, he used to come visit us over here. He and Carson were real, real good friends. He said to me one time—he was telling me all this big old rambling story about the dugout, you know, and about going cross country and the homesteading he did and everything.

He said, “And you know, we had this old mule that pulled us along in this trailer, and we were just doing pretty good there.” Now, he was almost 100 at this point when he was visiting us here. He said, “But, you know, Susie, I just can't understand. I can't remember that mule's name.”

I thought, “My god, imagine even remembering the mule, let alone his name.” I just thought, “Well, that's just typical of him.”

Now, he was the contrary one. He was one that when he put his mind to do something, it was going to be done. So I guess it's all in there somewhere, and it makes you the kind of person that you grow up to be. I don't know.

HT:

That's right. All genetics.

SB:

Somewhere, I guess, where you are and what you come from.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a feminist? You know, there was a big feminist movement in the seventies, where women's roles in society really changed.

SB:

I didn't hold too much of the methods used in that particular facet of it some way or other. I thought they were overbearing. Even though the WASP definitely went in to take the place of a man, I didn't think that that's what women were supposed to do. I particularly like the two sexes. I think this is the way it's meant to be, and I have a hard time with the—I do think women should be paid equally. A lot of times women are supporting the whole family, and that's really not quite fair, but there are a few jobs that women just can't do.

I think that's what they were trying to figure out in the WASP, could we really do it, because even though you say, well, they did all this in England and Russia and everything, but America's always been kind of a little bit different. They have a different respect for their women. They're supposed to be taken care of and look up to the lord and master and all that good stuff, even though they stay home and do their job. I mean, their kids weren't treated very kindly. It's a little bit different society, I think, than what you have over there, but I don't like this having to look like a man and knock everybody out of their job. The roles need to change but maybe slower.

Maybe we're not quite ready for the complete turnover. Holding down the same job in the same office and one making twice as much as the other one is not right, but I don't think that has anything to do with feminism. I mean, from the boss's standpoint it does, or he'd pay the woman more, but he can get her cheaper so that's what he's going to do. I guess that's just economics, I guess. Just like in Texas, they've got a lot of people from—“wetbacks,” they call them—from across the border, because they can get them for nothing, but that nothing is twice as much as what they can get in Mexico.

HT:

The same thing's happening here.

SB:

Is it? So the people don't feel badly about it. They don't think they're putting on these people at all.

HT:

You had mentioned in our conversation earlier about Jacqueline Cochran, who was sort of head of the WASP.

SB:

Sort of?

HT:

I mean, she was Mrs. WASP.

SB:

Ultimately. [laughs]

HT:

Can you give me any of your thoughts about her? I think, in the earlier conversation, you mentioned that you had met her a couple of times but didn't know her real well.

SB:

Yes. No, I didn't know her. She would come into the field occasionally for some of the graduations.

HT:

She was a fairly young person even at that time, wasn't she?

SB:

Yes, she was. I don't know her exact age.

HT:

In her twenties and thirties maybe?

SB:

Yes, I think so. I think maybe in her thirties possibly.

HT:

I think I've read somewhere that she was born about 1908 or something like that. She would have been in her thirties by that time.

SB:

I think so. And she'd accomplished so much already. So she had to have a little bit of age on her, you know, with all the flying techniques and everything.

HT:

It was Nancy Love who was a little bit younger, I think.

SB:

Yes, Nancy Love was younger, and a totally different personality. Totally different. She was more the feminist type who did accomplish so much, whereas Jacqueline would get up there and speak sternly to you if you didn't agree with her. But she knew how to get it done. She had the clout. In fact, Nancy herself said one time, “Well, if Jackie can't do it, nobody can,” because she knew the right people.

HT:

And had the drive and the energy.

SB:

Yes, had the drive, but it was going to be her baby or nobody's. It was her organization. I think she respected Nancy, but there just was not going to be any dual role as far as she was concerned. Nancy could have the Ferry Command, but the WASP were hers, were Jackie's. We wouldn't have been here without her. You had to have that kind of drive to get it done.

HT:

That must have been particularly devastating for her when it was disbanded in '44.

SB:

Oh, yes, I'm sure it was. I'm sure it was. And I read in two or three places recently, when I was looking up a few things, that some even held it against her, though, that it was disbanded because, I think, Hap Arnold, he may have been the last straw. Oh, of course, Barry Goldwater [unclear]. See, he was a wonderful person to help us, and also Hap Arnold's son. I can't remember what his name was. Anyway, he picked up the battle where his father left off. I believe he couldn't make it any more.

Where was I? My train of thought was lost again at my age.

HT:

We were talking about Barry Goldwater and his son and about all the help that he gave the WASPs. I assume you're talking about being officially recognized in the seventies, fighting for the official recognition.

SB:

Yes. She was just trying so, so very hard.

Oh, back to the disbandment, I think, is what my last thought was. I read that he hadn't any choice to make. He was defeated in everything he tried to do with the Congress. They just weren't going to pass him. All the bad publicity and all the rancor and stuff, and it was just a bad scene all the way around. Bad blood was shed that should not have been. It should have been able to be handled better. It wasn't. I think he said, “Well, we'll just have to close it down,” or something like that.

Somewhere I read that maybe Jackie could have held on a little bit longer and could have found a different course, that as they were located, it come to this, would join the WACs, but she wasn't about to. She said, “I'm not going to keep two or three nucleus WASP. If we're going, we're going, out women, everybody, to a woman,” whatever we were, pilots.

HT:

Who were some of your heroes and heroines during that time?

SB:

During that time, let me see. Well, of course, we were still, I guess, young enough to where the movie stars were just wonderful. The big bands were wonderful. I grew up in that era, and it broke my heart when my kids came along and they didn't like to dance. Well, they didn't know how to dance. They'd get up and shake around. They might be partners with somebody clear across the room. That was their dancing. I shouldn't be knocking it. That's fine if they wanted to dance that way, but they never did learn to dance as we thought was the fun way of dancing together. I guess that's before I got interested in dancing later. I would be still in the dancing world if my knees hadn't gone back on me and my ankles and things like that. I did love it.

As far as actual heroes, I don't know. I guess my family. Actually, my husband, in all honesty, was a hero to me. He was. He just did wonderful things in Greensboro. When my second child was born was when the polio epidemic came through here, and it was a devastating time for me. My doctor said, “Listen, if you have anywhere to go, you take this little baby.” There was one case on one side of me and one on the other when we were in the apartment. He said, “You get these kids—”

[Begin Tape 2, Side B]

SB:

—and it was just so wonderful when they finally found this serum. I just couldn't believe it, because we had been through so much with this thing. Then I got home to Texas, and it had broken out there. So we had to go through it all over again.

Anyway, that's finally one thing behind us, and we've got other things to battle now. I don't know. I listen to the kids talk sometimes. They say, “Oh, this must have been so wonderful back in your day when you didn't have all these problems,” and I thought, “Well, at least farmers could eat.” That wasn't really a problem. I'm exaggerating, of course, but that was paramount.

You didn't have time to get into all this psychological stuff. Who am I? Where am I? What is my destiny? You kind of took it as it came along, and you worked with this thing now until you got through it, and then you got into something else, but you didn't just sit there and moan all the time and feel sorry for yourself. I'm not saying that all the kids do that, but I do see a lot of that, and they think they're the only ones that ever had any problems, and, “You were born in a different time when you cannot understand how it is out there.” Where is out there? I mean, I think we're all out there with them some way or other.

I guess I'm a little too factual. I don't quite understand where they're coming from. “Who am I?” is a disgusting thing to ask. I don't understand it, and I don't know how to cope with it. My kids, actually, were a little bit beyond this time. They didn't come right in—Debby, the baby, was in the middle of the sixties, but the other kids were a little bit beyond that, before all that stuff started, [unclear] and all that, all the mess we got through there, but I think it's getting a little bit better.

HT:

I hope so.

SB:

Until you hear about all the things that are going on with the guns and all. And see, this is above my head, I don't understand that. I don't know what's the best thing. I don't understand the drug situation. Before I was married, I don't think I'd ever had a drink in my life. Social situations change. We'd go to parties and we'd [unclear], that sort of thing. We'd have friends for dinner and for bridge and stuff, and if you had a few cocktails, it was not thought that you were a drug addict, though, or that you were an alcoholic or anything. It was a social drink. Now either you drink or you don't. It's one way or the other, it seems to me.

I don't understand where they're coming from. I don't know what they want. I don't know what they expect parents to do now. And like—who was it [unclear]? What's the other lady's name?

HT:

Janis.

SB:

Like she was saying, the teachers can't do everything. Well, neither can parents. Who does it? Because we didn't have that stuff. I mean, our teachers—it's kind of how I felt about my instructors, they were it. But when I was in school, our teachers were it. I mean, they were our superiors. They knew this stuff. How else did we get it if we didn't learn it from them?

I made one of my big mistakes, I think, when the first two kids came along and they had no problem at all in school and they just breezed through it and I did the same. I didn't realize that you're supposed to tell children, “Now it's time to study,” and, “Now it's time to go practice the piano, and at two o'clock you're supposed to go out and play for fifteen minutes and then you can come in and do something.”

I had a structured life, but I created it. My mother didn't tell me what time. She told me what time to come in and take a bath or sit down and have dinner, but she certainly didn't tell me that now I'm supposed to study math. She didn't even know what math I was taking.

Now the parents are expected to know and sit down and work with the kids day in and day out and teach them how to get through all this stuff. I don't know how they have time to do it, especially the ones that are working. So I don't have any answers. I mean, I'm talking like an old lady now, but I don't have any answers for these things.

I want the kids to learn that they're people, too, and that they have some choices to make. I want them mostly to be told that you've got to make the right choices, you've got to take some sense of responsibility yourself. You don't say, like was pointed out to me, “Well, Mother, I'd probably be a wonderful pianist if you'd made me come in and practice five hours a day.” If you wanted to play the piano, come in and play it, but I'm not going to sit on top of you and say you have to practice this piano. You do it yourself.

I think maybe that's kind of the attitude that they both had. We had to do it ourselves. We couldn't say, “Oh, if my instructor saw it, he didn't tell me.” Like I say about my instructor, he didn't tell me to look at the windsock. I'm blaming him for it. I should have known to look at the windsock and not landed downwind.

HT:

Well, it sounded like you took responsibility for yourselves.

SB:

You did. You had to.

HT:

We had mentioned this earlier in our conversation, about Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. Did you have a chance to meet her?

SB:

No, I did not. She was also a controversial figure. [Unclear] Jackie. Boy, they got on [unclear], and they'd fight tooth and toenail for the things. Eleanor did a lot of good. She had a lot of enemies, and she had a lot of friends, but she did some good things.

HT:

I think either people liked her a great deal or disliked her a great deal.

SB:

Right. Right. There are a lot of people in the world, I guess.

HT:

What about Franklin D. Roosevelt? Did you ever have a chance to meet him?

SB:

No. No, I did not. You were asking about heroes. He was one of my heroes. A lot of my family are Republicans and hate him because of plowing under crops and stuff, but I can remember in grammar school when that song came out. Let me see if I can still remember how it went. I can't sing it, but, “All the world's on the way to a sunnier day. There's gold in—.” How does it start? I mean, as a little kid in school, that was inspiring.

I remember the days I had one pair of socks and I had to wash them out at night to wear the next day. There was something about the way he handled things, his strength, I guess. That was inspiring to me. Maybe he did things in a controversial way. You'd think how stupid, with people starving, that you'd plow under wheat. I mean, it does sound stupid, but somehow or other, whether he's responsible—I hear all these stories now back and forth about he just happened to fall in at the right time or somebody else did all this preparing for it, just like [unclear] now. It's either the president or it's the senate or the something-or-other. I'm not smart enough to know, but I do know that things got better.

Then, of course, the war broke out, and he was held responsible, I guess, for a lot of that. I do hold us maybe a little bit more responsible for the fact that we weren't better prepared. I feel like we should have seen the handwriting on the wall.

HT:

Of course, at that time, in the thirties, there was a great movement in the United States, a very anti-war movement.

SB:

Oh, absolutely, yes.

HT:

Peace movement and that sort of thing. What about President Truman? What did you think of him?

SB:

Well, I've not done too much in the political world, even though I was married to a politician. Some way or the other, I don't know, it's not absolutely my forte. I thought he was a good, but he didn't do for me what President Roosevelt did some way or other. Maybe he just wasn't personally interesting to me. Somebody has to have a little bit of clout to me to be an interesting person. Maybe that's just a dumb female way of looking at the situation, and I didn't follow politics enough to know all of his programs and this, that, and the other. But I didn't have any quarrel with him. But that's not good enough. You're supposed to have an opinion on these things [laughter].

HT:

That's fine. Well, I just have a couple of general questions left.

SB:

Sure.

HT:

One of them is, have any of your children ever been in the military?

SB:

No. Now, my son came along at the Vietnam time. He was in college, and he just drew a number that was, I'm sure he would have gone had it been the situation for him.

HT:

How do you feel about women in combat? As you know, during the Gulf War, women flew jet planes in combat and that sort of thing. How do you feel about that? Is that something you think women are capable of doing?

SB:

Oh, yes, I think they can do it at the drop of a hat. I think they could do it. There's probably just as many men who are against killing as there are women. I mean, I don't think my husband could have ever killed anybody. I don't think it would have been the sort of thing that he would be comfortable with. You don't want somebody shooting at you.

When the kids come to me and say, “Mother, how could you possibly think about going in and shooting somebody?” Well, I don't think about shooting them. I think about protecting my home. If a guy comes in my home with a gun and he's going to my children, I'm going to shoot him as dead as a rattlesnake, if I could.

HT:

Did you have training with guns and rifles?

SB:

No. Some of the girls did carry guns, but they had some secret stuff on the planes that they were taking to another area or something. But we did not.

HT:

I'm really surprised that you weren't issued guns because you were often alone going to strange places. You would have thought that might have been beneficial to you to have sidearms along.

SB:

But also, in all honesty, there was not the violence that we have now. We didn't feel the need to be protected with a gun. We didn't lock our door at night in the little town I was brought up in. Of course, later on, we had sense enough to do it, but nobody in little old Bay City was going to hurt anybody. We wouldn't have thought about it.

This is the kind of thing that's kind of bothered me through the years. I could ride my horse downtown if I wanted to and tether him up there and run around the square and come on back and get on him and ride home again, and that was fun. I would no more let my children do that, nor would my daughter let her children do that. They don't even walk around the block by themselves, and I think that's a crime that we've lost all that good stuff.

HT:

It's quite different today even than it was in the fifties, when I was growing up. It's just a different world.

SB:

Yes. I'm sure it was. You weren't here to solve all the problems of the world. You were here to ask me about the WASP, but I get off on all these tangents. But I do worry. I do worry. I have grandchildren, lovely little baby grandchildren, and I want things to be good for them. We all thought, just like our parents thought after World War I, we're winning this war and there's not going to be any more. I think that was part of your remarks about we were very peace-oriented, but you can read some of the stuff about the German situation, and I can see why some of them got caught up in Hitler's movement. It took me a long time to be able to see that, but I can now. I had to read back into more history and see they were loused up after World War I. Everything was all transforming. We're sitting around changing the whole world and putting different countries in different places.

HT:

That's right. Well, I don't have any more questions about the WASP. Is there anything you'd like to add that we haven't covered?

SB:

Well, let's see, besides my rambling, an old lady's rambling? That's my right. I've lived long enough to deserve the right to ramble if I want to. [laughs]

HT:

That's fine.

SB:

No. It's been interesting, and I'm very grateful to you people who are making the effort now, at least that our story be told.

HT:

Right. It so long overdue.

SB:

Well, whether we deserved anything or not, it was part of history, right, wrong, or indifferent, just like Hitler was. I hope it's not the same thing. But it needs to be told. It's a part of it, and you can't just sweep it under the rug. It was here, and if anything like this should come up again—I was thinking when some of these girls were talking—the point I'm making—oh, I guess some of my garden stuff. I'm in landscaping, and I often have garden clubs come over to my house and I show them around my property, and we discuss plants and stuff like that, and we get off on a crazy subject and different things that don't make any difference.

Now, see? There again, you made me lose my train of thought. It's your fault.

HT:

I'm sorry. [laughter]

SB:

No. I was going to say something real important in the world, and I can't even remember where I was now. We talked, but it was something that I wanted to bring out, something about, if I hadn't said landscaping. That got me back thinking about my flowers. That's the wrong thing to think about. It was something about—

HT:

Well, you'll have an opportunity to read this transcript and maybe—

SB:

I can scratch out some of it.

HT:

Well, you can edit it to a certain extent, I guess.

SB:

No. That'll be fine, but, you know, we are grateful, us older people are grateful that young people are at least interested. I guess what I started to say is, whether our chapter in history is a plus or a minus, it is history, just like Napoleon was history and all these other things were controversial, maybe about how they came about and what they should have done to make it different. But it's there, and it's a story that needs to be told.

Anyway, it's been a pleasure being here and seeing your beautiful library and everything.

HT:

Thank you so much. It's been wonderful talking to you. We appreciate you making this trip and talking to me this afternoon. It's been great.

SB:

Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing all this good stuff [unclear].

End of the Interview