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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Elaine Anderson, 2000

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Object ID: WV0191.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Elaine A. Anderson’s time in the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) and her personal life before and after her service.

Summary:

Personal topics from Anderson's life before military service include: details of her hometown; her brother’s service in the army during WWII; memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor and WWII; her job with the Casualty Department in Washington, D.C.; and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death.

Anderson recounts her reason for enlisting in the WAC and her brother’s negative response. Of her time in basic training she recalls wearing a uniform for the first time and meeting women from other parts of the country. She mentions the barracks and social activities during her time in finance school in St. Louis, Missouri. Details of her time in Germany include: being transferred overseas to free a man for the Korean Conflict; living in the country during post-WWII occupation; traveling through the Russian sector to Berlin; the devastation in the country; a German friend; working in the payroll department; rifle training; being escorted by an armed man when changing money on ships; and the relationship between servicemen and WACs. Other service topics include the difficulty for women to rise in rank and memorable songs.

Other topics include: her struggle to find enjoyable work; joining the army reserves; turning down a commission during the Cuban Missile Crisis; being a reserve during the Vietnam conflict; travel; problems with the Veterans Administration; and working as the head of the Women’s Legion in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Creator: Elaine Agnes Anderson

Biographical Info: Elaine A. Anderson (b. 1926) of Galesville, Wisconsin, served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1949 to 1952, and in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1958 to 1968. She had a long career in finance with the Pelton & Crane Company.

Collection: Elaine Agnes Anderson Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott. I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is the fourteenth of December in the year 2000. I am here at the home of Elaine Anderson this afternoon.

Ms. Anderson, thank you for agreeing to this exercise in self-confession or whatever we may call it, but I hope we're going to have a good conversation. I think it should be a pleasant experience. I'm going to ask you at the beginning the same highly technical question which I ask everybody at the start, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

EA:

I was born in Galesville, Wisconsin, and grew up in Galesville, Wisconsin.

EE:

How many people live in Galesville?

EA:

The last time I looked, there was 1,190.

EE:

So, small town life.

EA:

It is small town.

EE:

Everybody knows everybody.

EA:

And everybody's business.

EE:

How did your family end up being in Galesville?

EA:

My father was from that area, and my mother was just from across the state line—over in Minnesota, and that's how they met, and that's where they raised all their kids.

EE:

What did they do for work?

EA:

My dad was a truck driver and different things. A lot of it was during the Depression, so whatever you could do.

EE:

When were you born, what year?

EA:

Nineteen twenty-six.

EE:

And your mom, did she stay home with the kids?

EA:

She raised us.

EE:

How many kids? How many brothers did you have?

EA:

There was eight of us. A sister died and a brother died. The brother died just a few years ago.

EE:

Are you oldest, youngest, in the middle?

EA:

I'm the second to the oldest. I have an older brother who was in World War II.

EE:

You went to—was it a—

EA:

Galesville, one building for all grades—one to twelve years.

EE:

Was it a unity school wherever the school would—everybody through, or what kind of school did you go to?

EA:

Yes, it was all the grades. It didn't have kindergarten then, just all the grade school, and high school was upstairs.

EE:

All in one building.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Wow. So you had to really like your classmates. You had no changes.

EA:

There was no change.

EE:

Imagine that. Was it a farming community?

EA:

A farming community, yes.

EE:

So childhood, pretty pleasant memories for you?

EA:

I knew everybody.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

EA:

It was all right. I knew I had to go, but as I matured, I find learning is much more exciting.

EE:

So it wasn't your favorite thing at the time.

EA:

No.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject at school?

EA:

I always liked history and geography.

EE:

Did you have an idea when you were younger of what you wanted to be when you grew up?

EA:

No.

EE:

In North Carolina, we were a little slow in getting twelve-year high schools. I imagine if you—'26. When did you graduate from—

EA:

'44.

EE:

So it was a twelve-year school.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

What did you do after graduation?

EA:

I clerked in the grocery store for a while. Then I went to Washington, D.C., for a year during the height of World War II and worked in what they called the Casualty Department. Then after a year and just before Japan surrendered, I went back, and I worked in a dry-goods store from about '46 to '49.

EE:

Back in Galesville.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Let me ask you a few questions about that, because you're old enough to have an understanding of what's going on with the war. You had an older brother, you say, who was in the war. We're just a couple of days past it. Do you remember Pearl Harbor Day?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

What were you doing? What's your memory of that?

EE:

I remember my dad always had control of the radio. I had gone to Sunday school and came back, and it was on the radio then. I remember it was cold, a Sunday about like this, kind of overcast and a dreary day, and just listening to the different speeches on the radio. I don't remember anybody distinctly, but—

EE:

You would have been probably what, a freshman in high school, something like that, or getting close to high school, fourteen or fifteen?

EA:

Yes. I was in high school.

EE:

And I know that people had been talking about—I mean, did you have a sense of the war before that time?

EA:

I had no idea.

EE:

How much older was your older brother than you?

EA:

I think he's three years older.

EE:

Was he immediately drafted, or how did he get to the war?

EA:

No. He wasn't immediately drafted. I think he probably went the last part of '42 or first part of '43, if I remember correctly.

EE:

How was life in school different for you during the war? Did they do anything different in school, bought war bonds or things like that?

EA:

No, not so much war bonds, but we went five and a half days a week because it was a farming community and they needed the people to work on the farms. So they'd go to school on Saturdays, Saturday mornings. So we finished our school, I think, the first part of May, and usually it was the first part of June, so they could help on the farms.

EE:

So when the farm work was the most, they'd let you have more time off.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

When you were in school, what branch of service of did your brother end up going into?

EA:

He was in the army.

EE:

I'm trying to think of things that might have influenced your choices later on.

EA:

No. He didn't—

EE:

Because you had him in the army, were you sort of an army family? Was your dad ever in the military?

EA:

No.

EE:

It was a new experience for your family, this military experience.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Where was your brother stationed during the war?

EA:

I think he was in California for a while, and then he was in Germany.

EE:

You graduated in '44. Had the war in Europe already ended when you went to D.C.?

EA:

No. It finally ended in May of '45. So I went, it must have been, November or December of '44.

EE:

How did you find out about that job? Was this the first time you had been on a big trip away from home?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

How did you get from Galesville, population 1,190, to big Washington, D.C.?

EA:

Well, there were several girls that I'd heard about, and another girl and I went out there because we met some girl we had gone to school with out there.

EE:

So it was just a bunch of you going up together. Did you all stay in the same apartment up in D.C.?

EA:

Some of us did. Yes. There was three of us to one room. I think there was eleven girls in the house and one bathroom.

EE:

[laughs] That doesn't sound like the recipe for success, does it?

EA:

And we had to eat most of our meals out. Once in a while, when the landlady was in a good mood, she'd let us use the kitchen.

EE:

I've heard from people who were in D.C. during the war that it was so hard to find a place.

EA:

Oh, I know it.

EE:

What was that like for you, going off to the big city? Were you scared of going to the big city, or was that experience exciting?

EA:

It was exciting and a new adventure for me.

EE:

What about the work there? What kind of work did you do at the [unclear]?

EA:

I worked in the Casualty Department, where all the casualties, MIAs [Missing in Action], dead—

EE:

So were you typing up letters of notification?

EA:

Typing up letters. Then it was given through another department. Then they would notify the families.

EE:

At that work, was your supervisor civilian or military?

EA:

Civilian.

EE:

If you were in D.C., there's a couple of events that I can ask you about from the perspective both of your age and your location. You were in town when Roosevelt passed away.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

What do you remember about that day?

EA:

I remember the shock, and I remember the horse-drawn carriage, because they let us out to go down along the street to observe the caisson going down with his body. We didn't work too far from there, and it was what they used to call the old munitions building, which had a lot of offices in there. I remember that, and I remember—that was in April, and I remember Eisenhower coming back from Europe and there was a big parade and much to do about him going down the main streets of Washington.

EE:

So every time there was a parade, you got out of work, is what it amounted to, right?

EA:

Well—

EE:

When did you leave that job? Was it late in '45 then?

EA:

No. I left there the end of July of '45 and just got back to Galesville when the war in Japan was over.

EE:

What was that celebration like in a town of 1,190?

EA:

What did we do? I don't even remember.

EE:

Just more relief, I guess, that the thing's over with.

EA:

Yes, as far as I can remember.

EE:

You worked at this dry-goods store there in town. How long were you at that job?

EA:

I guess about three years.

EE:

What was the name of that place?

EA:

Gilbertson Myers. It's an old family dry-goods store.

EE:

When you were working in D.C. and having a brother in the service during the war, they had this new thing start with women in the service. What did you think of women joining the service before you did it yourself? What did you think of it?

EA:

I thought it was a pretty smart thing to do.

EE:

Had you ever entertained the idea of joining at that earlier stage?

EA:

Not at that earlier stage, because I couldn't even go to Washington until I was seventeen and a half. They wouldn't let you go and—

EE:

So they wouldn't let you work at the Casualty Department till that time.

EA:

No. That's why I didn't go until November.

EE:

Most of the branches, you're right. You had to be twenty-one or get your parents' permission to join.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Did you think about joining, was that a possibility for you down the road at this time, when you were working at the dry-goods store? When did it first come into your mind to join the service?

EA:

Well, I knew that if I went, I would get some traveling in. I knew that I couldn't make the money to travel like I like to travel. I still like to travel. I just knew I had to get away because there was a lot of family problems, and I just had to get away and think about me for once.

EE:

Were you living at home the whole time you were at the dry-goods place?

EA:

I was living at home, yes.

EE:

So in '48, you left the dry-goods—

EA:

No, '49, June of '49.

EE:

June of '49. And you left right from the dry-goods work to go into the service.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Why was it that you picked the army as opposed to another branch, do you think?

EA:

I don't know. I really don't know.

EE:

Was there a recruiting station you had to go to? There probably wasn't one in Galesville, was there?

EA:

No. There wasn't one in Galesville.

EE:

You had to go to La Crosse?

EA:

La Crosse.

EE:

So you went in by yourself, no friends?

EA:

No friends. There was another girl that I met that was going that same day. I think she was from down below La Crosse by Sparta or somewhere.

EE:

I know at different times, they had different advertising efforts to get women in, and one of the things that happened, I guess, in '48—you were talking about Truman a minute ago—Truman signed that bill in '48 formally integrating women into the service on a full-time basis, but there were not a lot of women joining the service, were there, when you were there?

EA:

No. See, my oldest brother [who] was in the army thought I was the dregs of society for doing that. He wouldn't even speak to me for months.

EE:

Was there still concerns about the character of women who would join the service?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

And he had been in the service and still felt that way, even though most people you talk to, they say that's just nothing but BS and rumor that somebody put out.

EA:

Yes. I agree.

EE:

So brother didn't like it. Did his opinion sway the family to feeling the same way?

EA:

My dad never said anything one way or the other. My mother was upset that I was going away.

EE:

Just going away was upsetting.

EA:

Because I was always the one to help her at home with finances and raising the rest of the kids.

EE:

When you signed up, how long was the tour of duty, three years?

EA:

Three years.

EE:

Did you get a chance to express an area of interest on what you wanted to do, or how did they—

EA:

Well, at that time, they were taking what you had done before, and see, I'd always worked somehow either with cashiering or clerking, and then I did the books for this dry-goods store. So naturally, I went into finance.

EE:

I guess you had to take a series of tests or something for that activity?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

When you signed up at La Crosse, your basic, you were telling me, was at Fort Lee.

EA:

Fort Lee, Virginia.

EE:

What was basic like for you? What do you recall about basic training?

EA:

It was hard, like you get in there at two o'clock in the morning and you've got to get up at five. It was hot in June. See, it was June, July, and August, and I wasn't used to that heat. We had this old wooden barracks, and it was just kind of rough, and that constant spit and polish was—I just couldn't follow it all, but I passed everything.

EE:

How long was basic for you, six, eight weeks? What was it?

EA:

I think it was eight, eight weeks if I'm not mistaken, maybe longer.

EE:

Your instructors at this time, were they men or women?

EA:

Women.

EE:

All women? While you were at basic, how tight was the lock-down? Were you able to go out in the evenings or weekends? How strict were they?

EA:

We'd get a weekend pass once in a while.

EE:

But you always had to be in uniform?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Do you recall what it was like first being in that uniform and going out with the civilians again? What was that feeling like? Did you get response like your brother, or was it more open?

EA:

Well, no. It was more open, I guess, but when we'd get our passes, six or eight of us would go into town, into Petersburg, and then go back. That was about our getting out. I was just a little small town country girl, you know. I didn't know what everything was going on in this world.

EE:

What was it like? I mean, were there a lot of other people from the Midwest who were there in that group? I know one of the first things that happens when you go in the service is they mix you up with people from any and everywhere.

EA:

Oh, mixed us up with everything, with a lot of people.

EE:

You were at Fort Lee for about eight weeks, and then, you were telling me, you went to finance school in St. Louis. How long was that?

EA:

I think that was like from September to probably January.

EE:

So you had a three-year commitment, and basically the first six months they took training you?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

St. Louis, was that like an eight to five schedule?

EA:

They had barracks. We had to live in barracks, and school was right on the grounds.

EE:

When you finished finance school, what was your rank when you were coming out of finance school?

EA:

I think it was PFC [private first class].

EE:

Was there like a special badge or insignia you got as a graduate of the finance school, or was that just—

EA:

No, not really.

EE:

Then the main course of that study would be accounting?

EA:

They put us in payroll. Payroll was quite screwed up—not screwed up, but so different than what it is now that—

EE:

And this time, I guess, is before you had computerized payroll.

EA:

Amen. We had a couple of little hand adding machines.

EE:

Oh, those—everything has a button, use a button delay?

EA:

Yes, and pull the lever.

EE:

There is something comforting about seeing a tape go by as you're doing it, isn't there?

EA:

There is.

EE:

What did you think of St. Louis, by the way? That was a pretty big city.

EA:

I liked the city. It was a big city. I liked St. Louis, and we did a lot of things there because there wasn't anything on the base to do except the NCO [noncommissioned officers] club.

EE:

Did the women who went through the training with you, did you all socialize together at all these places, or pretty much everybody do their own thing?

EA:

No. We were a pretty close knit group in St. Louis.

EE:

After you left St. Louis, you went to the Army Chemical Center, which, you were telling me, is outside Baltimore near Fort Meade. What goes on at that particular—is that a testing ground for chemical weapons, or is it just analysis?

EA:

You know, I've forgotten, but I don't think it's existing any longer. They must have been testing chemicals and stuff because I was only there a few months—because I went overseas in May, so I wasn't there that long.

EE:

Had you expressed the desire to go overseas before getting the transfer?

EA:

No.

EE:

So you went over in May of '50?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

About the time you're going over, the Korean Conflict breaks out.

EA:

It started right after we got over there. A lot of the men that were over there were sent to the Korean Conflict, and then we filled in a lot of the jobs that they had over there.

EE:

Was there any kind of a warning, or how did that news—

EA:

I don't remember.

EE:

You know, Pearl Harbor was such a quick start.

EA:

I really don't remember. I just remember seeing that we had to replace some men that were being shipped over there, because I didn't have my assignment when I first got over to Europe.

EE:

So you were doing what they talked about in World War II as freeing a man to fight. That's what you were doing in a sense, wasn't it, back to that role.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

What was your work when you got to Bremerhaven [Germany]?

EA:

Payroll.

EE:

But that was a job that had been done by a man up to that time.

EA:

Yes, and see, we also were stationed up there in the port, and people coming and going, the dependents and—we always went down to the ships and changed money and so on.

EE:

How many people were stationed at that base? Sounds like it was pretty big. I know that court area is huge.

EA:

Yes. There was probably about 2,500 of military right there on the compound, and then there was—the navy had about a hundred people there, and we were just in the enclave. See, the American soldiers were down further. We were just in a little enclave. We were actually in the British enclave, but the Americans had a little bit of a place. See, the British had Hamburg then.

EE:

It was still split into the three zones in the West at that time. Had the Berlin airlift ceased by then, I guess, by the time you went over?

EA:

No.

EE:

They were still conducting that?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

So there's this thing going on in Korea. Also, you're in an area of very high tensions with East and West, right there going on. Are you concerned or afraid in any way going over there?

EA:

No. I always felt secure.

EE:

So traveling, in and of itself, never was a problem for you.

EA:

No. I love to travel.

EE:

One of the things, when I talk to people, they say, if nothing else the military does, it does make you independent.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Did you stay at Bremerhaven, then, until the time that you left the service?

EA:

Yes. I came back in October of '52.

EE:

Were you doing the same work from May of '50 to '52 there in payroll at Bremerhaven?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Was that an unusually long stay there, or was there a lot of turnover?

EA:

Well, that wasn't too long of a stay. See, I came home to get married, and it didn't materialize. I probably would have stayed in if that hadn't happened. I had a pretty good position over there. I was head of the payroll department.

EE:

So how many people were you supervising at that time?

EA:

I had probably about five or six Germans and five or six GIs, women and men.

EE:

Germans on staff. Is that because they were Germans and employees at the base or just you're helping them get back on their feet?

EA:

No. They did a lot of just adding work—I'd say adding work. Then we had a couple of girls that were real good typists and so on.

EE:

Coming just out of the war, how did that experience change you? Of course, I know there's a lot of people of German heritage up in Wisconsin, just like here in North Carolina.

EA:

Yes. I'm half German.

EE:

So, I mean, how was that experience of going over there? Was that different than what you expected? What was the surprise about going to Germany?

EA:

The surprise was the terrible devastation. I had a friend, a German girl, that worked there, and she'd invite me out to her house. He father was a ship owner. He'd always had a big shipping line. He had a beautiful home, like we would say Myers Park or something, and of course the Americans lived in those houses. She invited me up to her house for dinner a couple of times, but when you went there, you had to go up to the back of a bombed out building just like this to get up those steps and stuff. And some of the bridges—you'd go out in the countryside, and we did a lot of bike riding over there, and the devastation is just unbelievable.

EE:

This was largely through—of course, I've [unclear]. Unlike now, where you've got so many land mines, I guess the front changed so fast there at the end with bombing and artillery, they literally gave it up an inch at a time, coming across as the invasion took place.

So you were good friends with this girl. What was her name?

EA:

The German girl, Tia, and she married one of the officers that I had worked for. And when I was in the reserves—this is ironic, I think—I was up at Fort Knox, and I was in the PX [post exchnage] with some of the fellows, and I heard somebody holler, “Andy, Andy.” They always called me Andy. I looked around, and I thought, “Who is that?” And here it was this girl. Her husband had been transferred over to Fort Knox.

EE:

Well, that's great.

EA:

She was really a nice girl. I was so surprised, you know, that many years' difference.

EE:

That's great, that she would seek you out and go right to you.

You were there till '52, and I guess the Korean Conflict's going on the whole time during that time.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

When you were working, was your immediate supervisor a man or a woman?

EA:

A man.

EE:

How was the relationship between men, women, and the service during the time you were there?

EA:

Well, it was pretty good. The men always wanted to be in charge, even if they were your equal rank. They were the ones. But the officers that I worked with, as a whole, were very nice.

EE:

So you didn't have any problem with I guess what would be called today sexual harassment or anything like that?

EA:

No. I didn't.

EE:

So they were fairly professional during the time you were there?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Except for the male ego, which we know will always get in the way of sense.

EA:

Yes. [laughs]

EE:

You're there till October '52, and you said you decided to come out for other reasons, other than military reasons.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Then did you come back to Galesville?

EA:

Yes. I went there, and then I went down to Madison Business School for about a year and worked for a CPA [certfied public accountant] there for a couple of years.

EE:

So it was about '56 or so. How long were you working in Madison? Did you go from Madison straight here to Charlotte?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

So you came down here, you tell me, in '55?

EA:

Yes. See, I quit my job working for that CPA. I didn't really like that kind of work, and I had a chance to get a job at what at that time was Patrick Air Force Base down there at Melbourne, Florida. I went down there, and I didn't like it.

I stopped here to visit a girl that had been my roommate in Europe. She had a child who was blind, and her husband was in Korea, and I used to date him in Europe. So I said, “Well, I'll stay till Paul gets back.” I got this job with Pelton Crane and stayed there till I retired.

EE:

[laughs] That's great. You went back, though, you were telling me, into the reserves in '58. Why was it that you went back to the reserves?

EA:

I just thought it would be interesting.

EE:

Were you recruited to get back in the reserves, or just sort of informal conversations with other veterans?

EA:

Just what I'd heard around some of the people that I met.

EE:

What was involved in getting back to the reserves, just showing up at the recruiting office and signing some papers?

EA:

No. I just went up to the reserve center out here on Westover Street, and that's how I got in.

EE:

You were telling me that when you left at discharge, your rank was staff sergeant. Did you change your rank through the reserves? I know some people with correspondence courses or whatnot—

EA:

No, I didn't. I did have a chance to get a commission during the Cuban [Missile] Crisis, I believe it was. They wanted me to go back in, and I said no, I'd just stay where I was.

EE:

You didn't want active duty again.

EA:

No.

EE:

And you were in the reserves for about ten years?

EA:

I think it was about ten years, yes.

EE:

So the Vietnam War was going on pretty strong when you left.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

During any time in your service experience, were you ever afraid?

EA:

I don't ever remember being afraid.

EE:

As a consequence of meeting people like Tia and the guy that said, “Let's go back to the States,” and a whole bunch of other people who would walk through the door at Bremerhaven and St. Louis, are there some memorable characters or incidents that stand out in your mind? Were there any embarrassing moments you remember from your military service?

EA:

Well, you know, I think one of the things that embarrassed me is they would call us out for fire drill in the morning, and all the men and women would have to line up there in the barracks. You know how women's hair gets and everything, out there in the morning, cold and damp, and throw your trenchcoat on, and you think, “Oh, what will these people think of us?”

EE:

There goes Saturday night's date. [laughs]

EA:

But during the Vietnam War, I think, when the Vietnam War started, we had some young fellows come in. They were all college graduates, and they were the nicest kids. We really had a good group. They had families back here in the States, and they did their best to make a good life for themselves over there, not running around, but I mean having fun, all good clean fun.

EE:

Good folks.

EA:

Just really had good clean fun, and really some nice kids.

EE:

Good. You were in at a time that there were not—in fact, I know if you just look at the numbers, it's a time that the military is actively getting women out. You chose to come out for other reasons. Had anybody ever talked to you about reenlistment? Obviously, if you progressed to being head of the payroll department over that many folks—

EA:

No, but I kind of knew what I wanted, and I would have stayed in if that hadn't happened. But I wanted to stay over there, and I liked it over there.

EE:

So the option of having a career wasn't anything that the military did yea or nay to dissuade you or encourage you for that.

EA:

No. No.

EE:

You just made the decision to come out. Knowing what you know about the service today and comparing it to your own experience, if a young woman were to come to you today and say, “What do you think? Should I join the service?” what would you tell her?

EA:

Yes. I think that the discipline is very much needed in this world, and they can learn to take care of themselves. Too many expect someone else to take care of them. I don't. You've got to do it yourself.

EE:

How did your military experience play into your work outside the military? Was it an advantage being a vet?

EA:

I felt it was. Some of the people didn't think—they said I was a little bit bossy. I didn't know this until I retired. They used to call me Sarge behind my back.

EE:

Little did they know that was your rank, so they'll use it whether or not it's their—

EA:

It's people that had never had any kind of discipline and so on, you know, and you do it right. I couldn't work in this workaday world.

EE:

Very free verse. It is a different way of doing things, and if the goal is getting things right, it's amazing how—I don't know how people have problems with that.

You were talking about even of equal rank, men wanted to be in charge. But how do you think the opportunities for women compared within the service as opposed to outside in terms of advancement and career possibilities, from your view when you were in the service? What did it look like?

EA:

It was harder for a woman to get up to rank, especially if you weren't commissioned.

EE:

Was it harder for an NCO, harder for a woman without a commission?

EA:

I think so.

EE:

A lot of the people, of course, that I'm talking to were college alumni from WC [Woman's College, now UNCG]. They went in as second lieutenants. Most of them came out as second lieutenants because they were for such a short time. But that is interesting. Was that more of a social thing or just the fact that the variety of jobs were different, the opportunities for advancement were different?

EA:

I think it had a lot—a social thing. I really do. The old adage was still there that women are supposed to be under a man's thumb.

EE:

You can answer this question, whereas somebody who hadn't served in the army couldn't. You were part of the Women's Army Corps [WAC]. That ended in 1976, '77, whatever it was. Do you think it's a good thing that women are part of the regular army now, or do you wish they'd still be separate?

EA:

I think it would probably be more advantageous to be separate.

EE:

Why is that?

EA:

You don't have to have that feeling of competition with men. We had to go out on rifle practice and driving trucks. They took the women out—just to show you how I feel that men always tried to dominate, it was too cold for the men to go out on rifle practice on the rifle range, but then they'd send the women out. Yes, sir.

EE:

Did you have to have rifle training, I guess, as part of—

EA:

I don't remember doing it in basic, but I remember over there it was so cold and trying to hit that tire when you're shaking so bad.

EE:

I know I've talked to some women who worked in payroll, that because they handled money, they were actually issued a revolver to protect the cash.

EA:

Yes. We would go down to change ships, you know, change money on ships, and the fellows would go with us and carry a revolver around. I'll never forget one time I was changing money and some fellow come over, some officer come over, and said, “Who left that pistol? It's pointed right at you.” [laughs]

And one time, another girl and I was on our beat that took us down there, took us down to the docks, somehow they went and left—the GI left us down there with beaucoup money. We're walking around the quay.

EE:

So you, yourself, didn't have to carry a—

EA:

No.

EE:

And you're glad for that, I take it.

If I were to ask you to name a song or a movie that, when you hear it or see it, makes you think of those times in service, what would it be for you?

EA:

I can't really think of anything right now. I know The Colonel's Boogie was one of them.

EE:

Did you sing that song “Duty is calling you again”?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

How does that go?

EA:

I don't know the tune. “Duty is calling you and me. We have a destiny,” or something.

EE:

This was the march, the Colonel Bogey March song.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

[Hums] Bridge Over the River Kwai is how I remember it.

EA:

Yes. That's it. There was another song that came out that I think of so often, and I remember the band director. You had a band when the ships came in and out. He was a fun guy, and he'd always—when a fellow says, [unclear] English, “We're coming over,” he'd start playing I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, and those guys would get— [laughter]

EE:

That sounds cruel.

EA:

[Unclear]

EE:

While your girlfriends are away, I wonder who's kissing her now.

EA:

He was a Filipino, but he was a lot of fun.

EE:

I remember talking to somebody who was at, I guess, Norfolk [unclear] Over There, for going out and Send Them Home, Johnny for coming back home, but I like the humor of that one. [laughs]

For your experience—you can't live your life over again, as much as you'd love to, parts of it—but when you look back to your time in the service, if you had to do it over again, would you?

EA:

Yes. I think it made me grow up in a lot of ways and made me much more self-reliant, and I met so many interesting people.

EE:

What is the biggest misconception that people who have not been in the military have about the military, do you think?

EA:

They think a lot of them are—because they try to give the impression that everybody in the services are too stupid to do another kind of a job, and they have to be told what to do. That really bugs me because there are some very intelligent people in there.

EE:

Do you think that's changed or that has gotten worse since we went to an all volunteer army?

EA:

I think so. I think it's gotten worse since we went to an all volunteer army.

EE:

We were talking before we started the tape about how just a year or so ago they had first sent a woman into combat, a fighter pilot in Iraq. One of the things that people still have misgivings about is whether all jobs in the military ought to be open to women. You were there for three years. How do you feel about that?

EA:

I don't think so. I think there are just some things that women should not be allowed to do. Of course, I dislike the idea of these woman going right into front-line combat. You don't know when they're captured what's going to happen to them. That's my biggest problem.

EE:

Even though that might affect their ability for advancement and promotion, you still would say don't put them there?

EA:

I agree. I don't think they should.

EE:

When did you retire from your work with—

EA:

Pelton Crane?

EE:

—Pelton Crane here in town?

EA:

March of '90.

EE:

Were you doing payroll work there?

EA:

I went from accounts receivable and accounts payable on to everything. Then I just took over all the payroll and all the taxes and stuff.

EE:

And in the process, you learned a lot about computers?

EA:

We didn't have too many of them. I learned some, yes. But I'll tell you, it's changed so that—

EE:

Be glad you're out. Be glad you're out. [laughs] And you say you still like to travel. So you've been traveling since then?

EA:

Oh, yes. I traveled when I could get my vacation. In '88, I went to Australia for twenty-five days, and I've been to the Scandinavian countries and England twice and here in the United States. I had planned to go back to Germany in '91 or '92 and then had my stroke in '91.

EE:

Have you been back to Germany since you were stationed over there?

EA:

No. That was my one special trip I was going to make when this happened to me.

EE:

Well, it's a beautiful place.

We have gone through, in a terribly attenuated form, your military career and your life around it. Of your time in the service, is there anything about that time that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share or that was meaningful for you?

EA:

Well, one thing that I think of often is, when I was in Bremerhaven, we went to Berlin. That was when you had to go through the Russian sector. And how the train captain got off the train, he had to give them a list of this and that, and we had to draw our curtains and couldn't peek out or anything. They were walking up and down the tracks with their flashlights like they knew what they were doing, the Russians, like they knew what they were doing. I thought it was quite interesting, how they were so afraid we were going to get in there with something we shouldn't have.

EE:

When you look back, do you just see that as intimidation?

EA:

Yes.

EE:

How much, when you were there, given the tensions, were they worried about spies among you?

EA:

I don't ever remember anything within our group, no.

EE:

Because certainly, back stateside, there was a lot of concern about spies and communists and everything else.

EA:

Oh, I know it.

EE:

So you didn't feel like you were under a security dragnet—

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

EE:

We turned it over, and I asked somebody who was visiting there, and I was there right before the wall came down, so I know what you're talking about, going to the Russian sector. I've experienced that intimidation.

You are in a state where there are a lot of veterans. Have you been active with other veterans since you left the reserves, or what kind of connections have you had?

EA:

Yes. I'm really active in the American Legion and always go to all the state—even the national conventions all over.

EE:

How active are women in the American Legion?

EA:

There are some. We had a pretty good group, but they're all dying off and getting older. I think the American Legion helps to weld some of these people together that we'd never have met before.

EE:

So for you, the alumni group hasn't been through other WACs but has been through the Legion.

EA:

Yes. I was with the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] for a while, but it's not very active around here. But with the American Legion, I've been pretty active, just until the last few years, because I can't get out and do what I used to do. I still belong to a post and do what I can.

EE:

If we were looking for ways to help track down other women veterans, would you say the Legion would be a good spot to—

EA:

It'd be an excellent spot.

EE:

Because we tried formally to do that with them, and I think knowing somebody who's actually in it working, I think, would be helpful for us. So Ms. [Betty] Carter may come back to you with some questions around here about that.

When you left the service, do you feel pretty good about the way that the Veterans Administration kept in contact with you, kept you abreast of services and things that were available to you as a veteran?

EA:

No. I was having some medical problems when I was in business college, and I couldn't get any help. I don't know what kind of insurance I had, but I had a hard time. Then when I came down here and got active in the Legion, I had had a stomach hemorrhage, and the fellow that heads the veterans service office here called me right away and wanted to know if I had insurance and if I wanted him—to have him transfer me up to Salisbury. I don't think they were very helpful. You've got to have a Legion or VFW advocate, DAV [Disabled American Veterans], or something like that.

EE:

Is that a problem for all vets in general or women vets in particular?

EA:

No. I think all, a lot of them. And I try to tell people that are veterans, that's one advantage of being in one of those organizations. You've just got a better foothold.

EE:

Like I say, our experience just trying to track down women veterans has been surprising, how little information we find about them unless they're self-reporting or actively keeping in contact. I guess what you're saying is it's the same way on the benefits side, is that they're not going to come looking for you when they have something for you. You have to go ask for it.

EA:

Oh, yes. You have to go ask for it.

EE:

Well, we have gone through about all the questions which I'm supposed get through with you today. We talked about advice that you might give to other people. Do you know if any other, any of your brothers and sisters' kids joined the service, or did any of them join the service?

EA:

I think I had a nephew in there for a while, and he got out on a medical. He was hurt in a wreck or something. And I had another brother that was in the air force, and his girls wouldn't think of doing something like that.

EE:

But for you, if you had a chance to recommend it, you will. A lot of people, when they look at the changes that have happened in the role of women in the workforce in the last fifty years, they say that one of the big things that changed—that the change is caused by the fact that women were able to do so much through the military.

Do you think that being a woman in the military helps to make you a pioneer? Do you think the group of women who work in the service help pioneer other changes in the work force?

EA:

I think so, because I think they're showing that they're very capable and can think for themselves. They don't have to be told exactly what to do.

EE:

Well, I'm anxious to imagine with you visiting Australia and Scandinavia and England and Germany. I know you've had a lot of wonderful experiences through your time in the service and a world view that it opened up for you from a town of 1,190 and actually taken the world and being comfortable and finding your place in it. So I appreciate you sharing with me and with the university and those who take a look at this how the service affected your life.

EA:

Well, I've enjoyed—I've had a good life.

EE:

Sounds like it. Sounds like it, once you learn to get air conditioning in the South. It's the key to survival around here. [laughter]

Again, thank you on behalf of the school.

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

I'm back on tape. I just wanted to ask, and we were talking about another question because, Ms. Anderson, you were in charge of—

EA:

I was the commander of the Women's Legion post.

EE:

Which wasn't a common thing, but you had a post that was all women here in Charlotte. There were several posts here in Charlotte. And that had to fold after you had your stroke in '91 because nobody would take your place. How many women were in this post at that time?

EA:

I think about twenty-five names.

EE:

And at its peak, how many do you think were there?

EA:

Well, I wasn't here, because I think between '45 to '50, the year '45 to '50, they probably had thirty-five or more.

EE:

Did that get started right after World War II, or when did that get started?

EA:

I think it was about '47.

EE:

Okay, so early on. It's interesting because, again, it's sort of like having the WAC as an independent from the army. You have the post unit independent for women in a sense. So the guys can do their guy things and the girls can do their girl things, is what it amounts to.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

But the story of how veterans associate, I mean, the fact that women veterans are very rarely, on a regular basis, included in Veterans Day celebrations—

EA:

Well, now, I always was here until just the past few years.

EE:

But again, you had to go make yourself known in that capacity. It wasn't an outreach thing. I guess you would have gone because of your past work with the Legion. That's a very special day for you.

EA:

Yes.

EE:

Well, I wanted to make sure that that was on file because I think that the story of women veterans and how they stay connected to their military experience is one that we want to track down. So I'm glad you reminded me of that.

Okay. I'm going to go now.

[End of interview]