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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mildred Smith Johnson, 2000

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Object ID: WV0192.5.001

Description: Interview primarily documents Mildred Smith Johnson’s work as a nurse and her service in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC).

Summary:

Johnson briefly describes the family farm near Statesville, North Carolina, attending a one-room segregated school, her nursing education at Columbia Hospital in South Carolina, and work at Lincoln Hospital in Durham.

Discussion of Johnson's military service includes her reasons for joining the ANC; waiting to join a basic training class; her reaction to Japanese culture and her living situation in Sendai; dating in the military; and social activities. Most of the conversation is a summary of the hospitals she was stationed at and the basic work environment of an army hospital.

Other topics include: Johnson's reasons for becoming a nurse; working as a civilian in military hospitals; lack of discrimination in the army; meeting and marrying her husband; her life after retirement, including participation in veterans organizations; and her opinion of women serving in combat.

Creator: Mildred Vinson Smith Johnson

Biographical Info: Mildred V. Smith Johnson (1932-2000) of Iredell County, North Carolina, served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1954 to 1961, and continued her nursing career as a civilian in military hospitals until 1984.

Collection: Mildred Smith Johnson 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, and today is December 13, lucky day, of the year 2000. We know who the president is today, but we won't bore you with that.

We are in Statesville, North Carolina, or just outside of it, at the home of Mildred Johnson this morning to do an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project.

Thank you, Ms. Johnson, for agreeing to sit down and do this. I'll start off with you with the same question that I ask everybody pretty much, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MJ:

I was born right here in Iredell County, and I grew up in Iredell Country near Statesville, North Carolina.

EE:

You were telling me before we started the tape that this is land that your grandfather had purchased a hundred years ago.

MJ:

Yes. My grandfather purchased it, and he finished paying for it in 1906, I believe. It took a while to get it paid for, even at ten dollars an acre. It took a while.

EE:

That's great. But I know that's a source of family pride for everybody. Was your grandfather a farmer, then, I guess, here on the land?

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

And what about your folks, what did they do?

MJ:

Well, my dad worked in a furniture factory here in Statesville. My mother did domestic type work here in Statesville.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

MJ:

No brothers or sisters. I'm an only child.

EE:

You were special from the beginning, then. So you went to school here in the Statesville area as well?

MJ:

Yes. I went to elementary school about—oh, less than a mile up the road here, to a one-room school, for the first seven years.

EE:

What was the name of that school?

MJ:

Haywood Chapel School. It's an historical site now.

EE:

Then after Haywood Chapel?

MJ:

I went to Unity High School in Statesville. All the kids from the county went to one school, and the kids from the city went to a different school.

EE:

Even to this day, I think, Iredell County's got city schools and the state [unclear].

MJ:

Well, the city and county schools are one and the same now.

EE:

Oh, good. It took them a while.

MJ:

It did.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

MJ:

Yes, I was. I enjoyed school.

EE:

What was your favorite subject?

MJ:

Reading. I used to love to read.

EE:

You would become in life a nurse. When did you first get the idea that you wanted to be a nurse?

MJ:

Well, at first I really wanted to be a teacher. That was my primary aim, but due to financial circumstances, because I lost my father when I was about fourteen years old—I knew some girls that had gone to nursing school, and essentially what you did was work your way through. The only thing you had to pay for was your shoes and stockings. They provided your books, your uniforms, your food, your room, everything else.

EE:

That was what, a three-year program?

MJ:

That was a three-year diploma program.

EE:

So you went right from high school into nursing school?

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you do your nurse's training?

MJ:

At Columbia in South Carolina, Columbia Hospital of Richland County.

EE:

When did you graduate from high school?

MJ:

In 1949, June of 1949, and I went in the A class. We were broken down into A and B units. So I went in A Class of February of 1950.

EE:

What was the name of the hospital in Columbia?

MJ:

Columbia Hospital of Richland County.

EE:

When you go in for nurse's training, were you living in a dormitory there at the hospital?

MJ:

Oh, yes. Yes.

EE:

Most of the women doing that training were about your age, coming out of school?

MJ:

Oh, yes. Yes, most of them. Because you had to be under thirty-five, I believe. But most of them were youngsters, you know, eighteen. It was just before my eighteenth birthday, because I was going to be eighteen that March so I was able to get in a month early.

EE:

You'd be in, I guess, the class of '50, so you're coming out—when did you finish nurse's training?

MJ:

March of '53.

EE:

How did you feel about the nurse's training? Did you like it?

MJ:

It was hard. There wasn't anything easy about it, and you had to maintain at least a C average. If you were an honor student, you got to get an extra overnight privilege or something like that. So I was fortunate in that I was an honor student.

EE:

Did you have a car?

MJ:

Oh, no.

EE:

I was going to say, you're a long way from home so on the weekends you're—

MJ:

Well, you didn't come home on the weekends, just when you'd have enough time to come home or maybe something like Christmas or something. You'd get a few days. But you didn't get any days off because that time ran straight into thirty-six months. So you had very little time.

EE:

What was the nursing profession like then? My sister just went back to school because there's such a demand for nurses. Was there a real demand back then for nurses, or what was the job market looking like?

MJ:

Well, I didn't know as a student because I didn't even have to concentrate on a job because we had so many hours of classroom work and then we would go in to the hospital.

EE:

So you weren't worried about getting a job, though. You knew you were going to be employed?

MJ:

Oh, no. No, I knew I'd be employed. And the school had such a reputation that the graduates from that school usually always passed the state boards. You know, you still had to take the boards then. You could just about walk into any hospital and get a job if you had graduated from that school and passed the state boards for a license.

EE:

Well, when you went in, I guess your first year—you went in in '50—then you were working—I guess June of '50 is when the Korean Conflict starts, isn't it?

MJ:

Right.

EE:

Did that enter into your thinking about going in the military? Did you have any friends or relatives who were in the service?

MJ:

Not at that time. I mean, you know, it didn't really concern me at that time because, you know, I was still eighteen, barely eighteen, a teenager.

EE:

Teenagers don't really think about the world events.

MJ:

Right. Right. So you aren't really too concerned, you know. You knew there was a war going on. Of course, Fort Jackson was there in Columbia so you were exposed to military people. But, as I say, you're young so the war in that sense didn't really have any meaning.

EE:

You finished in March of '53. Where did you go after you finished the training?

MJ:

My first job was at Lincoln Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. I stayed for ten months.

EE:

I guess health care was pretty strictly segregated at that time, was it not?

MJ:

Oh, the school was segregated at that time. They did their best to keep it segregated because they had the white dormitory and a black dormitory.

EE:

It was a training facility that had both.

MJ:

We had the same teachers, we had the same everything, the same tests, the same everything. As a matter of fact, we got smart. We started exchanging exams as we passed our counterpart white students in the hall. Like if we went to class in the morning, they had the same class in the afternoon and vice versa.

EE:

So you all just kept [unclear].

MJ:

So we got smart. We started passing exams. Until we got caught. One girl, doggone it, she was so stupid that she took the test to class that afternoon and the teacher caught her, and of course she had the other students name on it. So from that day forward we never got another test back. It was separate but equal in that sense. The only time we worked together was in the formula lab, where we made up the formula in isolation. They didn't have separate units for that. But everything else—

EE:

Was Lincoln Hospital, was it—

MJ:

It was a black hospital. I don't remember what the little cross street was, but it was down Fayetteville Avenue near North Carolina Central [University].

EE:

If you go in the service, my notes, February of '54, you weren't too long at that hospital.

MJ:

Ten months.

EE:

Ten months.

MJ:

Yes. I was there in the operating room for ten months.

EE:

And did they give you some extra training? I know nurses now are so specialized.

MJ:

Well, at that time, no. Because usually the school where you graduate from, your last few months are spent in a specialty. Whatever you want to work. If you want medicine, you would do medicine. If it's operating room, you would do that. OB [obstetrics], you'd do that. So, you know, I had OR [operating room] experience.

EE:

Back then, as now, I assume operating people got paid a little bit more money, did they not?

MJ:

No, I didn't. My first job I got $180 a month, room and board.

EE:

That was good money?

MJ:

Well, that was, you know, a good living, sure, after being a student.

EE:

You didn't have anybody else who was taking care of you, did you?

MJ:

Well, I had my mother, who was taking care of her mother, who had a stroke. So I did. My first check, I split it right down the middle and gave my mother and grandmother half of what I had, and I took the other half and went shopping. I always did that. I always supported my family.

EE:

That's great. What was it that prompted you, fresh out of nursing school and ten months into working in an operating room, to up and join the army?

MJ:

Well, a friend of mine who had been six months ahead of me in nursing school was also at Lincoln Hospital. She decided to go in, and then when she told me that I could earn $310 a month and living quarters—that was quite an increase in pay,—and see the world at the same time. So that's why I joined the military.

EE:

That sounded like a good deal.

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you go to sign up for this? Did they have somebody at the hospital, or did you go to a recruiting station?

MJ:

No. No. I'm sure I went to a recruiting station. It's been so long I don't quite remember, but I had to—

EE:

What did your mama think about you going in the service?

MJ:

Well, really, you know, I had kind of been an independent cuss all those years. So it was all right with her.

EE:

So this would have put you—how old were you when you joined?

MJ:

February of 1954.

EE:

Fifty-four is when you joined.

MJ:

Right. So that was just before—let's see. I was born in '32 so it was just around my twenty-first birthday.

EE:

Where did you enlist? Was it right there in Durham?

MJ:

Yes, I'm sure it was. Yes.

EE:

And I've talked with people—at different times nurses get varying degrees of military training, of basic. Did you have a basic?

MJ:

Oh, yes. But what happened, I got there about two weeks behind the class that I should have been in. So I had to wait for the next class. And so I had six weeks on my own. I learned a lot in that six weeks. I didn't even know anything about saluting or anything else. I went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and they had a lot of foreign officers there. You could look at them and you wouldn't know what their rank was. They just told me, “If it moves, you salute it.” So that's what I did while I was waiting for my basic class. I stayed in the building with OTs and PTs, occupational therapists and [physical therapists and] this type of thing, and I finally did some work up at the main building in one of the surgical units while I was waiting for my class to come in. But by the time my basic class began, I knew my way around post and I knew people.

EE:

So you probably were ahead of the game then.

MJ:

I was. Yes, I was. I was able to—which I guess was good, but—you know, it was a good experience for me in a sense, because I didn't really have to depend upon anybody, which later on came in very good.

EE:

That's good skill.

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

You were prompted by a friend to join. Did you go in together with this friend?

MJ:

Oh, no. She was out ahead of me.

EE:

Sam Houston, Texas. Where is that?

MJ:

In San Antonio.

EE:

It's safe to say you'd never been in San Antonio before?

MJ:

Never.

EE:

Had you ever been outside of North or South Carolina before?

MJ:

Nothing more than go to Philadelphia, maybe, to visit.

EE:

So you were starting off right off the bat seeing the world, then?

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

How was basic for you?

MJ:

Well, actually it was two months, but I was there six weeks ahead of time. So I spent a little longer time in Texas.

EE:

So your first exposure to the army, then, wasn't getting up at 5:30 [a.m.] doing a drill. You had regular work hours, I guess, for that first six weeks.

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

Then did they train you? Did they switch and make you do drill, or what was the place like?

MJ:

We learned to march. For officers it was a little different, you know. You would go out and march and this type of thing, but you would probably be up at 7:00 or 6:00 or something like that. It was a little different.

EE:

So because you were going in as a professional, you went in as what, a—

MJ:

Second lieutenant. Second lieutenant.

EE:

When you signed on, what was the original tour of duty for you? Three years? What did you have to commit to?

MJ:

I don't remember, but it was two or three years. In the end I was regular army, so I don't remember what my actual time was.

EE:

You were in, altogether, from '54 to '61. I assume you probably had at least one re-enlistment somewhere there.

MJ:

Oh, yes. Whoever might re-enlist, you just got your promotions, but you went in as a second. Then, I think, in about eighteen months you went to first lieutenant, and then maybe after six years you went to captain or something like that.

EE:

So it was a little bit more ordered. I've talked to some women who were nurses a little bit earlier, in the forties, and one of the reasons they got out of the service is that nurses were pretty much ignored for promotions, that it was so hard to get a promotion. You were pretty much stuck.

MJ:

Yes. Yes. And from what I understand—I never had this problem—that some of them, the chief nurses, you know, were real tight. It was real hard to get one. But I never had that problem. Mine just came through like clockwork, you know?

EE:

So what was your rank at the end of your time in service, captain?

MJ:

Captain, yes.

EE:

It may be because you were there for a while, but if you'll just tell me the stations where you served, and then we can kind of go back and get more specific. You left Sam Houston.

MJ:

Once I left Fort Sam Houston, I went to Fort Ord, California, and that's where I stayed until January of '55, when I went overseas. They sent me to the—I was really on my way to Korea, but I got as far as Yokohama, and they decided they needed an OB nurse up in Sendai, Japan, which was about six hours north.

EE:

How do you spell Sendai?

MJ:

S-e-n-d-a-i. So they sent me right up there by myself. That's why I say it was good to be able to go places by yourself. I had never been to Japan, naturally. I'd never really seen Japanese people there in North Carolina because at that time there was no such thing. So I had to get on the train alone and travel, oh, six hours, overnight to Sendai, Japan. But there was somebody there to meet me, because I was terrified. When I first stepped off in Yokohama in Japan, I saw—there was one other girl that went all the way over—together on a troop plane with guys. All of a sudden I had to figure out how to get across the street, and all these people with the little wooden shoes and all the bicycles and everything. So it was really funny. Somebody grabbed each arm and said, “Come on.”

EE:

It does kind of give you a culture shock that people actually are this different. You don't really believe that till you get over there.

MJ:

That's right.

EE:

Well, now, how long were you at Sendai?

MJ:

I was there a couple of years.

EE:

Well, now, you didn't finish your career at Sendai?

MJ:

Oh, no. I met my husband there.

EE:

Oh, you did meet your husband there?

MJ:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

What was his name?

MJ:

Joseph Johnson.

EE:

And he was in the service as well?

MJ:

Yes. He was with the Army Signal Corps there.

EE:

Was he from North Carolina?

MJ:

Oh, no. He was born in Arkansas, but he joined the service from Chicago.

EE:

So you met him there. Did you all get married while you were in the service?

MJ:

I was in, but he was out. Because he came back to the States. Oh, he was back stateside a year and a half or so before I came back. It was over a year.

EE:

So probably after you met him, you were changing your career plans then, trying to get him into it. Is that what the deal was?

MJ:

No. As I said, he went back to the States and I stayed.

EE:

So you just kept up a kind of correspondence, then, for a while?

MJ:

Oh, yes. A letter every day. Sometimes he'd write three or four letters and just mail it every day.

EE:

Oh, smart man. Smart man. He knows how to keep you interested.

MJ:

[laughter] But anyway, that's what he did. But of course, I went regular army while I was there in Sendai.

EE:

And what that meant is that you were no longer—

MJ:

In the reserve or anything, you know.

EE:

But you were still with the hospital over there?

MJ:

Oh, yes. It was still the same.

EE:

So that kind of took the—did that change how long you had to stay in when you went regular army?

MJ:

Well, I was just in twenty years, I mean, the duration, as long as I wanted to stay in, or until I—

EE:

So you were at Sendai from about '57 or so?

MJ:

Yes. I came back to the States, I believe, near the end of January in '57, because I got married in February of '57. That's the reason I remember.

EE:

That's a good reason.

MJ:

Right. Then I came back there and got married.

EE:

Did you get married in Arkansas or here?

MJ:

No. No. Neither one. I got married in Chicago. He was staying in Chicago. So I went there and got married, and then my first duty station after marriage was Fitzsimmons [Army Medical Center] in Denver, Colorado. So we went to Denver.

EE:

And so did he come out with you, then, and get a job out there?

MJ:

Oh, yes.

EE:

And so was that where you retired from in June of '61?

MJ:

Well, my basic home was Denver, but I was at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

EE:

At the hospital there?

MJ:

Well, they sent seven captains in there to set up a hospital, and you can imagine what that was like.

EE:

It was a good time to get out, wasn't it?

MJ:

Yes, it was, because I was driving to Denver every couple of weeks and he was driving down every couple of weeks, you know.

EE:

I can imagine that's a [unclear].

MJ:

That was a long way to drive, but we had to go, you know.

EE:

So you started out as an operating room nurse, even in the service. Is it at Sendai when you switched to OB?

MJ:

OB, yes. They needed somebody in obstetrics.

EE:

And then you were in OB through Fitzsimmons?

MJ:

Right, yes.

EE:

And then at White Sands is when you switched from being in OB. I guess you were [unclear] weren't you?

MJ:

Well, we were still sent there to set up a hospital, because they just had like a Quonset hut and a whole lot of sand. They sent us in there to set it up.

EE:

I guess the nurses branches, both with the army and the navy, were two of the first branches that had women in the service, so there's a tradition there. In the hospital environment, I guess your immediate supervisor was that the head nurse or the attending physician? How did the chain of command work?

MJ:

They had a major that was the chief nurse at the time they sent the seven captains in there.

EE:

So each of the hospitals that you worked at pretty much had a female major with the army nurses who were in charge of the—

MJ:

Right. Right. Right. She could have been a man. I'm trying to think if there was—well, at Fort Ord, they had a colonel, definitely a colonel. A Colonel Lindstrom that was in charge there, and then overseas it varied because I had more than one. One was a major. I think they were both maybe majors at the time I was overseas. Then, of course, back in the States, rank was higher. Again I went back to a colonel at Fitzsimmons, but then when we went down to change this dispensary into a hospital, then, you know, it was a major.

EE:

How much different do you think it was working—and you've worked, I guess, in different environments. How much did the military protocol affect the day-to-day job, or was it more just a professional experience for you in your time in the service?

MJ:

It was just a professional experience because you were taking care of sick people. So you worked as a nurse. You had your rank, whatever, that you respected there working with you, as far as your doctors or maybe your administrative people or when you set your foot outside the door, you know, they was there. You had the same protocol when you lived on base.

EE:

Most of these places, I guess your shifts are rotating depending on the need, or did you work regular 8:00 to 5:00 shifts, or—

MJ:

No. It depended on need because, like at White Sands, you had call at night, and before we got the department set up, if somebody went into labor, you had to ride forty miles across the desert to Fort Bliss to take them to—for delivery, you know, and hoped you would make it.

EE:

That's right.

MJ:

So there were times, and overseas, too, where you might work six days a week or you may work six and a half days, depending on what it took to cover the place.

EE:

The hospitals that you're working at are pretty much all within the military base so you're housing is right there. You're on the base. You didn't have housing away from the base, did you, maybe in Sendai?

MJ:

No. In Sendai, the housing unit, everything was right there in town. We were in town. We had a Japanese building which they had converted into a hospital. So the quarters were up on like the fourth floor. They had the female officers on one side, the male officers on the other side, and the officers club in the middle, and the patients were down a floor. Then down the next level were the eating quarters and administrative offices and this type of thing.

EE:

In these locations, when you had free time, did you hang out with the other nurses, or what did you do for a social life? Did you just fall asleep because you were so tired from work?

MJ:

Sometimes you would go out with the other nurses, you know, maybe if you wanted to shop or something. But you also dated.

EE:

So the social scene was not unimportant, then. You were an officer. I guess you could go to the officers club with a date?

MJ:

Yes, and then sometimes you would slip to the NCO [non-commissioned officers] clubs.

EE:

Were most of your dates other military folks, or did the—

MJ:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Did the girls hang out together, or pretty much everybody on their own?

MJ:

You were on your own.

EE:

I think that's probably something I've noticed is different with nurses, is that because their schedules are so individual, they don't do as much things as a big group, sort of a company. The company might go here if you have the same assignments, but nurses' work schedules are different.

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

In the course of your time in the service, what was the toughest thing about your work in the military?

MJ:

Let's see.

EE:

Or just about being in the service in and of itself, I guess. Because your work's similar before and after.

MJ:

Well, I suppose the toughest thing was the red tape. You know, you had certain protocols that you followed as far as paperwork, and what you did or did not do.

EE:

So the paperwork was worse inside the military than outside?

MJ:

At that time, yes.

EE:

Of course, nowadays you've got all those insurance forms to fill out, don't you? Were you ever in a situation where [you], because of your work or going to a new place, [were] ever afraid?

MJ:

No, not really afraid. Like, if you were overseas on May Day, you didn't go outside the building, but otherwise—

EE:

It sounds like from the beginning you had the advantage of being an independent, self-confident person to begin with. Do you think your time in the military made you more of an independent person?

MJ:

Yes, very much so, because afterwards I never had any problem going in, grasping the situation, or having to depend on somebody to tell me what to do. Or if I had a problem I more of less knew how to—so I would find out what the alternatives were and what the best thing was. As I said, I also, after I came out, I worked around military facilities.

As a matter of fact, I went right back into Fitzsimmons, where I had been stationed once. When I got out, that was my first job out. Then I worked in California, and I worked for the air force at Norton Air Force Base. Then I worked at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and finally, my final thirteen years was with the naval hospital there in Oakland. So I still just stayed with the military, but having been in the military.

EE:

What was the percentage, in a hospital like that, of civilian versus military employees?

MJ:

There were more military.

EE:

I assume that all the supervisor positions were military, or were they?

MJ:

Well, in the end, at the navy, I had outpatient clinic, where I was the triage nurse. So I had military enlisted that worked with me.

EE:

So you as a civilian were their immediate supervisor.

MJ:

Right. And I answered to a military supervisor that was a step above.

EE:

And that was sort of the way it was throughout your time there, that there was a mixture of civilian and military supervisors. It just depended on what the work was.

MJ:

Yes, right, what you were doing at the time.

EE:

And the work day is not unlike working in a civilian hospital in a sense. The work is the work.

MJ:

Right, yes, especially stateside.

EE:

Right. But the difference is, when you're overseas, when you have all these other things—

MJ:

Yes. You work whatever it takes to cover the time needed.

EE:

A lot of people that I've talked to felt that the military had more options for women than a civilian workforce did. Maybe in your area it was the travel option that was different for you. What do you think about that? Did the military have more options for a woman in nursing?

MJ:

Well, you were more independent. You were better managers, I think.

EE:

You had to be more self-reliant in the military, in other words?

MJ:

Absolutely. Yes.

EE:

Because you knew you were going to be personally accountable at the end of the day.

MJ:

And [unclear]. [laughter]

EE:

They knew where you lived, and they knew your Social Security number to get that paycheck?

MJ:

That's right. And you had to answer to somebody.

EE:

You were also at a time—of course, there's so many changes with integration in the fifties, but the military is one of those places that society first really had blacks and whites working together.

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

How was that experience for you during your time in the service? Could you tell a noticeable change in the way personnel were being used, or was it different?

MJ:

Now, at the time that I went in, with your rank it didn't matter what color you were, you answered to the next level. I'm sure there was some there, prejudices, but it was less or hidden.

EE:

The rank helped smooth over some prejudice?

MJ:

So I can truly say that I didn't have a problem with it because anybody that was under me, they had to answer to my rank anyway. Likewise, I answered to the next level. So I didn't really feel it that much.

EE:

What was the greatest number of people that you supervised during the time that you were in service and then later as you were working at Oakland and other places?

MJ:

I can't really tell a big difference. Maybe there would be twenty-some people that were—

EE:

That you were responsible for scheduling and getting everything together.

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

One of the things that the military does for everybody, no matter what their job is, is that it puts you in a mix of people who come from all over the country with all different backgrounds and religion and whatnot. And in that time, people run into what I guess could be called memorable characters. Are there some memorable characters or moments in your time in service that stand out?

MJ:

[laughter] Well, I would say, even back in Oakland for the last thirteen years with the navy, at lunch we used to play Uno.

EE:

Play what?

MJ:

Uno. You know the card game Uno, and it was really a fun thing, and before it was over with, we had the captain that was in charge. Everybody would come into my office, and we would have—we just had a group, and we would all get in that office and play Uno.

EE:

For the guys it would be five-card poker, but for you girls it was Uno. Okay.

MJ:

Right. So it was boys, girls, and as I say, the captain that was in charge of the department, everybody, we would end up in that room playing together and doing things together. But once that time came, we were back out on the floor. It was business as usual. There was never any [unclear] but it was amazing. But it was kind of fun.

EE:

Do you still keep in contact with any of the folks that you met during your time in service?

MJ:

Yes. I know some of the nurses that I knew from service days, and we keep in contact [unclear].

EE:

Is there a reunion or group for nurses, army nurses? I know that the different service branches have some sort of alumni gathering?

MJ:

Yes. Some of the military nurses, they have what they call the Retired Army Nurse Corps, officers, and then, of course, the civilians that didn't retire get to be associates. I went to a few of those for a while, but I finally stopped going as some of the older ones died out. Then there were a lot there that you didn't know, although there were still a few around.

EE:

Let me get the dates right for the record. You left the regular army in '61. Then you were at Norton from '61 to when?

MJ:

No. Let's see. When I first came out in '61, I was at Fitzsimmons in Denver.

EE:

Okay. '61 at Fitzsimmons.

MJ:

So I stayed there until '63, and we moved to California, I followed my husband to California because he was with the Titan Missile group and in that type of thing. So I started working there.

EE:

So he worked as a civilian in the missile group at Norton?

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

And you were at Norton from '63 until about when?

MJ:

Let's see. I think Vandenburg would have been the next move, which was midway up the Coast. We lived in Santa Maria, and I worked at Vandenburg Air Force Base. I'm trying to remember those dates. Well, I'll tell you what actually happened. Let's see, '63 to '68 I was at Norton. Then we went back to the East Coast for a couple of years, and during that time I worked as a civilian over at Columbia Hospital there in D.C. Then in '70—because we were only back there a couple of years—'70 is when we would have gone to Santa Maria and I worked at Vandenburg Air Force Base. And let's see, [unclear]?

EE:

Is that when you went from Vandenburg to Oakland?

MJ:

Yes. Then we went to Oakland. It seems like that was around '72, I believe. I moved to Oakland for-so there is a little space in there—

EE:

Seven years. How long were you at Vandenburg, five or six years?

MJ:

I don't think I was there that long. Let's see. I must be missing a [unclear] there. Let's see. From Norton back to the East Coast, because we were only on the East Coast a couple of years. We couldn't stand the East Coast.

EE:

California does get in your bloodstream, doesn't it?

MJ:

It certainly does.

EE:

It's a beautiful place. And the thing about California is that it's five or six different places in one state, the landscape change is so great. You can be there on the coast and scoot up to the mountains and go to the desert, and all on the weekend. Just taking it all there which was wonderful.

MJ:

Yes. It's true. We were in San Maria, and then from there to Oakland.

EE:

And you retired from Oakland, then, when, '90?

MJ:

No, in '84. Because while I was there, I went to school in Maine and picked up my bachelor's in nursing from St. Joe's [Saint Joseph's College], but that was during that thirteen-year period.

EE:

I think the requirements for nursing—I mean, you were probably what, an RN [registered nurse] when you came out of Columbia?

MJ:

Yes, because [unclear].

EE:

And of course, now they've got the BS [bachelor of science] in nursing.

MJ:

Right. Then I went on to get my BS in Maine. Although I was a nurse, I didn't have my bachelors. So I went to St. Joe's in Maine—out from Portland, Maine, a little place called Standish—just to get my degree. But that was in '79. I'm in the class of '79 there. So I know what year. I completed that, but that was in that Oakland period.

EE:

Right, during the time that you were in Oakland. And did the hospital help pay for you to take that training?

MJ:

No.

EE:

How did you get back from California to Statesville?

MJ:

Okay. I—as I said, in '84 I had a disability, and my husband had gone to Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. So I went over there. Then when I came back a year later, I had retired while I was out on worker's comp. Then when I left workers' comp, I just rolled on into my retirement. But we had this place here because this was always home. So this was just like a summer place here where we'd come and the kids and everything. We added a little bit. My mother's house was just too small for all of us. So we moved down here in '88.

EE:

You say you had kids?

MJ:

Yes. And all my kids are special.

EE:

How many did you have?

MJ:

Four. Two girls and two boys.

EE:

The way to do it if you're going to do it, like you have any control over it. Do they live around this area?

MJ:

No. I have one that just a couple of years ago moved down here. She lives in my mother's house out in the back there. My mother's in a nursing home. So she's there, and I have one boy in Charlotte, one boy in California still, and one girl in Maryland, the oldest girl.

EE:

We're about to hit that magical click. But one of the things that I ask people if they've got kids: didn't any of your children go serve in the service?

MJ:

Well—

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

EE:

—son went in the service. I guess both of you had good service experiences to tell.

MJ:

I guess.

EE:

And did your daughters have any interest in joining the service?

MJ:

No. I do have one that's a nurse, the oldest one.

EE:

Did you ever talk to them about maybe spending some time in the service as far as your experience?

MJ:

Well, not really. I just let everybody do what they wanted to do.

EE:

They will anyway, won't they?

MJ:

Right. Right. [laughter]

EE:

If you just were having a talk with a young woman nowadays, would you recommend time in the service?

MJ:

I think it's a good thing. I think it's a good start, and you get to see the world, go places, and do things. So I would—I would suggest that they finish college first if they get in.

EE:

You were in in the fifties. I guess rock and roll, doo-wop, and all these other things were coming around. If I had to ask you to pick a song or a couple of songs from the time you were in the service that made you think about those days, what would it be for you?

MJ:

Unchained Melody.

EE:

Okay. We don't need to get into the details of that. That's a good song. It's always interesting to hear what people associate with their time in service. Okay. I imagine that was one or two dances.

A lot of folks, when they look back, they say that when we brought women into the service that working with them changed the way society was by having more women in the workplace. You can't really say that about nursing because nursing, that's the way it's always been. But do you think that the professional opportunities that nurses had through their time in the military service, has that helped the women working in society? Do you think that somehow the military experience helped you later on? You ended up working back in hospitals, so I know the fact that you were in service had to help you every time you went to a hospital and said, “I know how you all work.”

MJ:

Well, I do think it helped, because other than just going and doing the nursing, you knew how to manage, improvise if you had to. But I was still in that same military setting and I think you're a lot more disciplined.

EE:

You were very lucky in a sense that you were in just after Korea and just before Vietnam during your active, that you didn't have that kind of extra trauma and the pressure that might have been, being a military nurse, because they probably would have transferred somebody with your experience toward Vietnam, I would think, shortly after.

MJ:

Right. I had a lot of friends that did and experienced that. But it just happened that I went north.

EE:

You will hear, whenever somebody talks about women in the military, telling people what we're doing at NCT, they say, well, they have different opinions about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing and they think in terms of combat. Do you think that all jobs in the service ought to be open to women?

MJ:

That's a hard one. I think that when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, that there's no way a woman could be as strong as a man. But with the technologies, what they are doing now, I certainly think they're smart enough to push buttons and do this type of thing. So I really feel that it's what you're doing at the time. You know, if you're in a plane and you're dropping bombs, certainly [unclear].

EE:

I think they just had the first female combat pilot against Iraq a year or so ago, and they went in at Christmastime, you know, and bombed them.

MJ:

Right. So I think they can, and as I say, from a distance you can do it, as long as it isn't hand-to-hand combat. But then, the guys are not doing so much of that now.

EE:

Everybody [unclear].

MJ:

So that makes a difference. Nobody much runs around out there now and does that.

EE:

The question that nobody can have the opportunities to get the answer right: If you had your life to live over again, which nobody can do, but if you had it to live over again, would you have joined the service?

MJ:

Oh, yes. I wouldn't miss it. [laughter] No, I definitely would not miss it. I enjoyed it, along with everything that went on.

EE:

If you're not afraid of new things and new people, I would imagine it would get to be a hoot, because you'd get to see a lot of new things and a lot of new people.

MJ:

You do. You meet a lot of interesting people.

EE:

Well, I have gone over in a very bare bones fashion your work and your time in the service in about fifty or so minutes this morning. Is there anything about your time in the service or about what it has meant to you in your life that I haven't asked you about that we could put on tape?

MJ:

Well, I don't think so, because I think we more or less—

EE:

Do you have grandchildren?

MJ:

Yes.

EE:

Do they know that Grandma was in the army?

MJ:

They do because some of them, they see me go to various meetings, American Legion, a lot of the DAV [Disabled American Veterans].

EE:

Are you active in both of those?

MJ:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

When we were first doing this project, we had a heck of a time getting the American Legion to find women. I knew they were out there, but they just didn't have it organized. And I guess part of our problem has been tracking down names of people because they didn't keep—certainly in the early years, in the forties and fifties. I guess by the fifties they started realizing that women were going to be a permanent part of the force.

MJ:

Yes. Oh, I remember when I first started going to the VA [Veterans Affairs hospital], they used to call me “Mr. Johnson.” All of a sudden you'd get a “Yes. Is it Mr. Mildred Johnson?” [laughter] “Oh, I'm sorry.”

EE:

It is still, I guess, a number problem even to this day, isn't it?

MJ:

Yes, but more and more women are coming into—say, from the time I came out in '61, it's just like night and day. You do see more women, and they have made an effort to include the women now.

EE:

And I think that, yes, they did make an effort is the key thing. I know some people have said they were never told they had the opportunity to take these benefits after they were out, and they just didn't—kind of clueless about what they could do.

MJ:

Yes. I took advantage of it from the very beginning when I came out of it. I'm sixty-one, and I've had good care.

EE:

That's good.

Well, I think we will stop the tape for now and let me double check and make sure I've got everything spelled right before I get out of here. On behalf of the school, thank you for sitting down with us and sharing your—

MJ:

Well, I'm just glad to see somebody doing that, because there is a lot of history there, and a lot of women did a lot for the cause. I didn't do anything, but a lot of them did.

EE:

Well, I think everybody together—I mean, that's what makes it a team effort. I think what this does is maybe elevate a part of the team that's been left out of too many conversations about the effort. So thank you very much.

[End of interview]