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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ruth Payne Brown, 2000

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Object ID: WV0193.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Ruth Payne Brown’s two tours as a medical technician with the WAC (Women’s Army Corps).

Summary:

Brown recalls her father’s inability to serve in WWII; hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor on TV; and her decision to join the WAC primarily for financial reasons. Topics related to Brown's first tour in the WAC include recruiting and training being shutdown during the winter holidays; the winter uniforms in basic; female sergeants; and her medical training, including videos, the grading system, and ward work. She also discusses being discharged from the WAC because of pregnancy, and divorcing her first husband, who was also in the army.

Brown discusses joining the WAC again in 1960, including having her parents adopt her son so she could begin her second tour. She recalls sexual harassment from a colonel at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; attempts to be transferred out of the base to avoid running into her ex-husband; and meeting her second husband in the burn unit of the 97th General Hospital in Germany. Other topics from her time in Germany include alert drills; social activities; being mistaken for a German woman; rules for proper conduct; interactions with servicemen; and rifle, bivouac, and driver’s training.

Personal topics include her sister’s enlistment in the WAC in the late 1950s; patriotism in America; and the treatment of veterans.

Creator: Ruth Virginia Payne Brown

Biographical Info: Ruth Brown of Jasonville, Indiana, served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1953 to 1955 and 1960 to 1963.

Collection: Ruth Virginia Payne Brown 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, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Tonight is December the twentieth in the year 2000, just a few shopping days before Christmas. I am near Walnut Cove, North Carolina, tonight at the home of Ruth Brown.

Mrs. Brown, thank you so much for letting me come by and invade your home in the holiday season.

RB:

Okay.

EE:

We're going to talk a little bit about your career in the WAC [Women's Army Corps] tonight. Hopefully, none of these questions are too complicated. Maybe the toughest one I have is the very first one I ask people, and that is this: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

RB:

I was born in Robinson, Illinois, but my earliest memory is living in Jasonville, Indiana.

EE:

Is Robinson downstate, near Urbana, or where is it located? Give me some perspective, not being from the Midwest.

RB:

Well, the closer to Vincennes, Indiana.

EE:

So it's right across the border, then?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

You were telling me that Jasonville is near Indianapolis?

RB:

No, it's near Terre Haute.

EE:

Okay.

RB:

It's about ninety to a hundred miles south of Indianapolis.

EE:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

RB:

I had one brother and two sisters.

EE:

Are you the oldest, youngest, or in the middle?

RB:

I'm the oldest. My sister next to me was in the WAC, too.

EE:

Uh-oh. Okay.

RB:

My brother was in the air force.

EE:

What did your folks do?

RB:

Daddy worked for the Sihab Pipeline, and they was exempt from the draft in World War II, because he was in a vital industry, and he hated it.

EE:

He wanted to go?

RB:

Yes. He had all of his physical done and was to report the next week, and the company got him exempt, and he didn't like it at all.

EE:

What about your mom?

RB:

My mom was a housewife all the time.

EE:

Do you remember Pearl Harbor Day?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

What was that memory for you?

RB:

Heard it on the TV. I was too young to really understand. I knew they were bombing somewhere. I didn't know whether they were coming here or somewhere else. I was about five, somewhere between five and six. I was a little bit scared, to say the least.

EE:

They were bombing us, and you didn't know if that meant down the street or where. Well, I guess for you, then, your earliest school memories have something to do with the war, I guess. They were talking about the war even at your age in school. Did you like school, when you were in school?

RB:

I guess so.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

RB:

History, I guess.

EE:

Do you remember when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away?

RB:

No.

EE:

How about the end of the war? Does that have a distinct memory for you?

RB:

All I can remember, I can't remember whether it was when Germany or Japan was—everybody congregated uptown and were beating on pots and pans and running around and stuff. That's all I really remember about it.

EE:

Your dad wanted to go into the service. Did you have any other friends or family members who went in?

RB:

All my mom's brothers went in. Daddy's brother wasn't in, because I guess he was classified as Service 2, so he didn't go in.

EE:

Did they all come home all right?

RB:

Yes, they all came home okay. They're all dead now, though.

EE:

Did you finish school in Jasonville?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

What was the name of the school? Jasonville High School?

RB:

Jasonville High School.

EE:

What did you do after you finished school?

RB:

I hung around all summer, because I wasn't old enough to do anything.

EE:

You graduated in '52, '51?

RB:

Fifty-three. I was seventeen. I wasn't old enough to do anything without parental permission, except get married.

EE:

Funny how that works, isn't?

RB:

I wouldn't have been interested in that. So I hung around visiting aunts and uncles and stuff until I got old enough to go in.

EE:

What made you pick the WAC as opposed to some of the other branches?

RB:

I don't know. I guess the fact that one of the girls I was going to school with, [her] sister had been a WAC.

EE:

What was the thing that attracted you to it? Was it going someplace new or doing something different, a steady paycheck? What was the main thing for you?

RB:

I really couldn't tell you exactly why. I just wanted to.

EE:

How did the folks feel about it?

RB:

It was all right with them if it was all right with me, because—one thing is I went in, and I wanted medical training, and I knew that with Daddy's financial situation I wasn't going to be able to afford to go. So I got a certain amount of medical training while I was in.

EE:

When you were looking to go, had you been anyplace else outside of the area? Had you ever been on a big trip outside of state before?

RB:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Where did you go?

RB:

I'd been to New Orleans, and I'd been to Sandusky, Ohio. That's what I meant, visiting relatives. One of my aunts and uncles lived in New Orleans, and I visited down there for a while. One of my other aunts lived in Sandusky, Ohio, so I visited there.

EE:

What time of year was it? Fall of '53 when you joined?

RB:

It was—got there in December of '53. They had actually shut down recruiting, and all that they had sent in, they scattered us out among the barracks, which was three to a company. Scattered us around through the barracks, so the cadre could stay there, I guess.

EE:

Everybody else wanted to get home for the holidays?

RB:

I think so.

EE:

Basic was eight weeks or six weeks?

RB:

Eight weeks, to the best of my remembrance. Of course, we didn't really start what you call other than just making beds and keeping the barracks clean and stuff like that until January.

EE:

What was it like for you being around a whole bunch of strangers like that, all of a sudden?

RB:

Didn't bother me much. Of course, I got homesick. I remember coming down the steps, and this older girl, I guess she could tell I was about to bawl. Anyway, she reached and got hold of me. I ended up crying on her shoulder that I wanted to go home, things like that.

EE:

But you stuck it out?

RB:

You had to.

EE:

What was a typical day like in basic that you remember?

RB:

Well, it was cold. We had the World War II inners and outers.

EE:

What does that mean?

RB:

Well, they were more or less long johns, but they were rather—well, the inside were wool, and the outside was a khaki affair, and they didn't exactly fit everybody the way they were supposed to. I can remember them having to halt the marching, every once in a while, for somebody to pull their outers up from around their knees.

EE:

All the men were hopefully far away at this time.

RB:

I don't know whether they were or not.

EE:

Were all the instructors women?

RB:

Yes. By then, they didn't have the men first sergeants. I understand when they were W-A-A-C [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] the first sergeants were men.

EE:

That's right. Did they tell you, as part of your training, a little bit about the history of the W-A-A-C and the other groups?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

How did you like drill?

RB:

Fun. It was actually more fun after you got to Fort Sam, when you knew a little bit—

EE:

What you were doing?

RB:

—what you were doing, and the officers that were supposed to be taking basic were looking out the window and were completely flabbergasted at the way you were marching.

EE:

You all were a good for a laugh for them? Is that what it was?

RB:

No.

EE:

They were shocked?

RB:

They didn't know how. When the platoon sergeant would a lot of times get us to going—I forget the name of it, but she would have us to-the-rear march a squad at a time, and then get us all back together. I don't remember the—

EE:

So it looked good?

RB:

Yes. It was fun.

EE:

When you were first signing up, either there or basic, did they ask you what did you want to do in the service? Did you have a chance to tell them you wanted to do the medical thing?

RB:

I told them I did, but you also went through tests to see what you were best suited for.

EE:

When you finished there at Fort Lee after your basic, you went on to [Fort] Sam Houston for another six, eight weeks?

RB:

Six, six weeks.

EE:

What were you doing at Sam Houston?

RB:

Medical planning, mostly the bookwork on it. We did a little ward work, but not much.

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

So the medical training, that was just for the women? It wasn't a coed training?

RB:

Oh, yes, it was coed.

EE:

So eight weeks into this, you're already in coed training?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Not bad for a single girl, though, is it?

RB:

You don't understand. What they call coed is they had a platoon of GIs, a platoon of flyboys, and a platoon of WACs going through the same courses. Sometimes we were in the same classes, and sometimes not. Sometimes just the same area.

EE:

Were you all graded on the same scale?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

So a WAC might be first in the class, or one of the fly guys might be?

RB:

We never knew what they got, and they never knew what we got. We were very proud of ourselves when we went through the class where they put us all together at that time for the film on twins foot[?]. It was rather graphic, to say the least.

EE:

I was going to say, you didn't go right to lunch after that movie, did you?

RB:

Yes, we did.

EE:

Oh, my goodness.

RB:

That's what we said, we were rather proud of ourselves. All the WACs went to the mess hall and got their trays and ate. The men went through the chow line, but they didn't eat.

EE:

I imagine there was a couple of them. My dad was in the service, and he saw one or two films which made a big impression on him about health. So I imagine this is the same thing.

This was six weeks of training. Did you come out with a different certification, or did you have a special badge or anything by then?

RB:

No, not then. We went on to—

EE:

You went back to Fort Benning [Georgia] for eight weeks?

RB:

We went to Fort Benning for eight weeks, and then we got a medical technician's—

EE:

Insignia that you got?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

So was there testing involved at Benning—is that what it was—to make sure you had a certain level of skill?

RB:

Well, they put us out in different wards and let us work.

EE:

So on-the-job training then, I guess?

RB:

I guess they graded us on that.

EE:

Did you like that work?

RB:

Hell, yes.

EE:

When you were out on the floor, your immediate supervisor was usually the head nurse or the attending physician? Who would be in charge?

RB:

It would be either the head nurse or the ward master.

EE:

The ward master was a WAC?

RB:

No, not always. Very seldom, really. Usually a master sergeant or an SFC. Sometimes, they weren't even meddies, they were just—

EE:

Now, at Fort Lee and at Sam and at Benning, you were housed, I guess, in a barracks with other WACs?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

When you got to—was it Letterman?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Army General Hospital?

RB:

WAC detachment.

EE:

—at the WAC detachment at Presidio, so that was also a barracks of WACs?

RB:

Yes, three barracks of WACs.

EE:

That many out there?

RB:

Yes. I don't know how many was in the head company. I just don't know.

EE:

So there you were working on the ward?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Was the recovery room there or just floor nurses covering the floor patients?

RB:

Well, like I said, I worked on the brain tumor ward, I worked on women's surgery, I worked on women's orthopedic, and one time they had all of that and women's on one ward.

EE:

Were you working the same shift, like the first shift, or did y'all rotate shifts?

RB:

We rotated.

EE:

So you'd have like a week or two first shift?

RB:

No. No, no, no.

EE:

How often was the rotation?

RB:

Well, believe it or not, there were times when you worked one or two shifts in the same week.

EE:

That quick of a turnaround?

RB:

Just depending on—

EE:

How many people were coming through, I guess?

RB:

—how many people were working. If somebody made a special request, and they wanted a certain time, a certain day off, if there wasn't anything too drastic, they tried to accommodate them.

EE:

So most of your supervisors of the work you did, were most of them women?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Okay.

RB:

Most of them, of the actual work that I did, would have been women.

EE:

So you didn't have any problems with the chain of command by you being a woman? Nobody gave you any grief about being—now, you're laughing already, so tell me what that brings to mind.

RB:

It brings to mind a little colonel at Fort Leavenworth [Kansas] that was a slight, little joke in the WAC detachment, because he had different people, you know, medical secretaries and stuff, when they were doing their work, and he'd walk up and pat them around on the chest and so forth. They got real inept at missing him, and so forth, and he started in on me one day, when we were all gathered around the nurses' station, having a report, and I, at the top of my lungs, told him to keep his hands to himself, and I never had any more problem.

EE:

But that was the only time it was blatant?

RB:

I think possibly that's the reason why I never had any more problems.

EE:

You told him straight off. You were there for about eighteen months, you say?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

That was through the end of your first tour?

RB:

No, that was the start of my second one. In fact, they sent me to Leavenworth for reassignment.

EE:

Right. Well, Leavenworth was the start—but you were at Presidio, I guess I should mention. You were at Presidio for eighteen months. That took you through '55. You got out in spring or fall?

RB:

I got out in December.

EE:

December of '55. Now, normally, you sign on for a three-year hitch. That's two years. You got out early?

RB:

No, the first. I guess that possibly the reason I joined the WACs is because when you went in for your first tour in the WAC, you could sign up for two years, and it didn't seem to be as big a—

EE:

Not as big a commitment up front?

RB:

—commitment, if you didn't like it.

EE:

So you had the option to reenlist, but you didn't at that time? You got out?

RB:

I was already pregnant and already married, so I got out.

EE:

That was the caveat.

RB:

I married the first enlistment and the second.

EE:

When you got out the first time, did you come back to Indiana? Where did you stay?

RB:

Well, stayed there in San Francisco with my husband for a while. Then when I was about six months' pregnant, I come back to Jasonville. Then Daddy's company moved him to Stoy, Illinois, which is close to Robinson. So I moved with them, and I ended up getting a divorce from my husband for desertion and nonsupport, which sounds ridiculous when you think that the army sent him to Panama, but I guess the nonsupport was the fact that he never sent me any money.

EE:

Did you stay there and get a job then back for a while there in Illinois?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

When did you get the idea that maybe you wanted to go back in the service?

RB:

Well, my sister went back in, and I was having such a hard time money-wise, even living at home, because I was making $76 one two weeks and $72 the second. I just knew that I was going to have to go somewhere, so I just figured I'd rather go back in than try to—

EE:

The fact that you had a child by then, did that give them pause? How did you handle that?

RB:

I had to adopt him to my parents. When I went in the first time, all you had to do was—

EE:

Of course, that's so different than now.

RB:

Well, you see, when I went in the first time, there was a woman that had four children. She had assigned guardianship papers or something or other with her mother. During basic training, her mother died, and her ex-husband took the kids.

EE:

So your mom and dad watched over—

RB:

Yes, I had to have them adopt him, have adoption papers.

EE:

When you signed back in the second, you went back through Saint Louis, I think, for your assignment, and then got assigned to Leavenworth?

RB:

Saint Louis sent me to Leavenworth. It was supposed to be for reassignment.

EE:

It ended up being for how many months?

RB:

Eighteen months.

EE:

At Leavenworth, you were working at—what was the name of the hospital there?

RB:

Munson.

EE:

Were you also doing recovery room work there?

RB:

Yes. My MOS [military occupational specialty] was 9-11-10. That meant I was about as high as I could get without going to the school and getting to be a clinical technician.

EE:

When you came back in the second time, two-year or three-year enlistment?

RB:

Three.

EE:

So they didn't have that option for a two-year, anymore?

RB:

No.

EE:

When you went back in, you were telling me—did you get full credit? You were a PFC [private firrst class] when you went out the first time?

RB:

I went out as a PFC, and I came back in as a Private E-2.

EE:

So they took you down a bit?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Did you make Specialist 4 before you went to Germany?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

You were eighteen months at Leavenworth. Did you ever want to go overseas? How did that news come across to you?

RB:

I put in a 1049 to go. I had been thinking and thinking. I thought it might be a good idea if I got out of Leavenworth, because I thought I might possibly meet my husband on a work detail out at the disciplinary—

EE:

You didn't want that.

RB:

No, I didn't.

EE:

It was bad enough telling people you were sent to Leavenworth, anyway, without having to explain it, right?

RB:

Well, I didn't know where he had went. When we finally got the divorce, the army said he had been discharged. Now, I kind of figured he went to Leavenworth, but they might have discharged him in Panama. I don't know.

EE:

So you just didn't know. You didn't want to run into that as an option?

RB:

No, I didn't.

EE:

I guess this would have been '61 when you went to Germany?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you go in Germany?

RB:

Frankfurt, 97th General Hospital.

EE:

You also worked in the recovery room there?

RB:

Yes, and the burn unit. The recovery room and the burn unit were attached. They had a small burn unit. It had four beds in it.

EE:

That is no easy work, emotionally, is it?

RB:

No, it's not.

EE:

But you kept at it. You must have gotten some satisfaction from the interaction with folks?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

When you were there, you say you met Mr. Brown?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Was he a patient?

RB:

Yes, he was.

EE:

Good gracious, my mama met my dad as a patient. She was a nurse taking care of him.

RB:

And he was a—

EE:

A character?

RB:

B-i-t-s-c-h, because he had had a spinal. Mentally, he was there. He couldn't move his feet and legs. He wanted a cigarette. He didn't give a damn if he had oxygen and a tank at his shoulder. He wanted a cigarette.

EE:

He made an impression on you from the start is what you're saying?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

How long were you there? He was in the hospital for a while, I guess. Then you somehow started to date.

RB:

You've never been in an army hospital, have you?

EE:

No.

RB:

Well, an army hospital, they keep them until they're ready for duty. We started dating. The first time we went to the movies there in the hospital, he was on crutches.

EE:

So you were dating while he was an active patient, still getting ready to go back on to work. How long did he have before his cycle was up?

RB:

He got out—

EE:

He got discharged in '63?

RB:

We both got out in '63. I got out a week before he did.

EE:

So you knew pretty much in advance the enlistment date that you were going to get out and get married again?

RB:

We were already married. We got married over there. It took us from July to September to get all the paperwork done, and we'd planned to get married on the nineteenth, and didn't get married until the twenty-fourth, because the Germans didn't get the paperwork done.

EE:

Then you came back in December of '63?

RB:

No, come back in June of '63.

EE:

So you got married in September of '62 then?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

What did you think of being stationed overseas? What was it like living overseas then? I mean, the Berlin Wall went up in '61, while you were there, or just before you got there, I guess. There was a lot of tension being there at that time.

RB:

Well, they had alerts two or three times a month. You never knew when they were going to come on. You had to put all your alert gear on and report to your station, and they'd tell you to go to your ward.

EE:

Alerts, this was just practice in case the Russians decided to do something funny?

RB:

Yes, something or other. And the GIs that were in the tank corps and stuff, which is where my husband was, had ten minutes to get everything running and get up on the border. Usually woke us up out of a sound sleep, but one time they called one at 9:30, 10:30 in the evening, and I don't think they called any more that way.

EE:

Was interrupting the social schedule too much?

RB:

No. They got too many that had been out at the club partying.

EE:

They weren't in medical condition. So what you're telling me is that the Russians, trying to catch everybody off guard, would come while the officers' club and the NCO [non-commissioned officers] club is open, and then you can get it from there.

You already talked about the colonel. I'm just wondering, you get to travel and meet so many different people while you're in the service. Of course, you're in San Francisco, which is a beautiful place. Did you get a chance to travel around a lot while you were in the service, other than in your off time, did you take the time to go visit—

RB:

You can get on a—the bus stop was in front of the WAC detachment there in San Francisco, and you can get on there and pay fifteen cents and ask for a transfer, and you could ride clear across the city for fifteen cents.

EE:

That's a good deal.

EE:

You just had to ask each bus driver for a transfer. One of the things was a streetcar, and when they get to the end, all the men on the streetcar have to get out and help turn it around so it can go back.

EE:

Everybody out and help?

RB:

No, women sat on there. The men got out.

EE:

They wouldn't today.

RB:

No.

EE:

Now, when you were in, other than this one colonel, most of your experiences with the guys were good. Did you go to the NCO club?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

So most of the time, did the people stay on base for socializing, or would they go off base?

RB:

Usually, they do both.

EE:

It just depended on how close the paycheck was?

RB:

How close the paycheck was and how much money you had.

EE:

You said your sister joined. How long after you joined did your sister join?

RB:

She joined in between my times.

EE:

Did she also join the WAC?

RB:

Yes. She joined in '57 or '58. I forget which. She took her basic at Fort McClellan. She was cadre at Fort McClellan for a while, so she took a 1049 to go overseas, and she was in France.

EE:

Hearing her talk about it kind of got it back in for you?

RB:

Yes, a little bit, I guess.

EE:

When you were in the service, what do you think changed about you the most? I mean, I know you get to see a lot of other people. But if you do something like that, something changes for them, too. What changed the most for you?

RB:

I don't really know, really. I just got to where when I wanted to go someplace, I went, and I still do. I go down [unclear] by myself every year.

EE:

So you think it made you more independent?

RB:

Yes. I guess so.

EE:

Were you ever afraid or in danger, at any time, do you think, in your travels?

RB:

No.

EE:

You never felt that way?

RB:

I was never afraid.

EE:

Being in Germany, it sounded like it might have been dangerous, depending on what the situation was like.

RB:

Well, the only problem I had over there is at that time I looked—well, I looked my German heritage. Let's put it that way. Once in a while, if you got on the train and got off at the train station, every once in a while—well, this one time, I used all the German I knew, “Nicht,” “Nein,” and “Hell, no.” Finally I went to the MP [military police] station.

EE:

In other words, you looked too much like a German girl, and they were picking on you?

RB:

Yes. This was a German man, so I don't know what he was asking me, but I didn't like it, anyway.

EE:

Now, when you were over there, did you have to wear your uniform at all times?

RB:

No. But you couldn't wear jeans. You had to wear dresses.

EE:

I've read about it, at different times and different branches of the service in the fifties, because I guess late forties [President Harry] Truman signed the bill that said we're going to have women in the service on a regular basis. They still didn't quite know what to do with them, but they were very concerned about the looks. Were they strict on how you wore your uniform and how you conducted yourself?

RB:

You weren't supposed to really be seen getting drunk in uniform. You actually weren't supposed to be drinking in uniform. One time, they said that they didn't want them smoking in uniform on the street, and things like that.

EE:

So they were very careful about a public image. Was that rule for drinking and smoking just for the women, or was that for anybody in uniform?

RB:

Just for the women.

EE:

Because I know the women occasionally had a beer. I've seen pictures of them. But they were very concerned about how that looked to the public?

RB:

I've got news for you. Some of those that have been in during World War II, they go downtown in uniform, and they could drink any guy in the bar under the table.

EE:

I believe it. I've met one or two of them I'm sure could do it. Y'all in number were still small compared to the number of guys. I don't think women ever were more than ten percent, probably, of the workforce.

RB:

Back at Fort Benning, we had to wear the Pallas Athena all the time. We couldn't wear the caduceus, which is our medical. We couldn't wear it, because there wasn't enough WACs there. The WAC detachments is all WACs here, we wore the Pallas Athena. It was three barracks and the mess hall on that one street. That's all there was there. That was the entire WAC detachment, and it went off limits at nine o'clock.

EE:

They were tight with you all, weren't they?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Did you feel like that they were overprotective of you or not protective enough?

RB:

I think they were protective enough. Now, when your date is bringing you home, and he has to let you out here and watch you walk up to your barracks on this road here, or drive by in a car and stop and let you out, well, it's a little—

EE:

It kind of puts a damper on the evening?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

So there's no lobby where you could entertain your dates at the facility?

RB:

Not after nine o'clock.

EE:

I know in World War II, when the WAC first started, and the guys especially, I think, were rough on the WACs, because they questioned the character of the women in there. Did you feel that was basically behind by the time you went in, people accepted you more?

RB:

Well, I don't know about during the Second World War, but when I went in both times, I had to have two or three letters of recommendation from people.

EE:

About your character?

RB:

About my character, outside of the family.

EE:

They do so many different things now with women. I mean, they have the women train alongside the men. They don't keep them separate. Do you think that the WAC lost something—

RB:

Yes, definitely.

EE:

What did the women lose by joining in with the men?

RB:

Well, they had their own barracks, which I think they do to a certain extent, even now, have their own rooms or own sections of it. But back then, a GI would get drunk and get in the wrong barracks, they'd just had it.

EE:

So there was an extra level of protection for the girls in a sense, too?

RB:

Yes. Now, there at Fort Leavenworth, it could very easily happen, too, because the WAC detachment was a building in between an officer's BOQ [bachelor officers' quarters] and the men's company.

EE:

You read now, just a couple of years ago, they sent for the first time, a woman fighter pilot into combat, dropped the bombs on Bagdad. Do you think there are some jobs in the military that women should be kept away from, or do you think all of them should be open to women?

RB:

Well, I don't know. I know there's a lot of them I wouldn't want to do, but I think it ought be sort of left up to the woman, rather than just—

EE:

So rather than being a hard-and-fast rule “no,” you ought to say, “Well, look at the woman first?”

RB:

Yes, because I was stationed there at San Francisco and ran around with a couple that one was five-ten and the other one was five-eleven, and I didn't worry about myself when I was out with them, to say the least.

EE:

You figured they could take anybody who gave you grief? You got out of the service in '63. Did you come back to Indiana? Where did you go after you got out of the service?

RB:

Well, my husband picked me up in Fort Dix [New Jersey], and we went to Oblong, Illinois, and picked up my son and brought him on down here with us, and we've been here ever since.

EE:

Did you have relatives in this part of the country, in North Carolina?

RB:

No, he's from North Carolina.

EE:

So he came back home?

RB:

He came back home. He was born two houses down. This is the old tenant house, and it's in the process of being finished. We've been working on it for about twenty years.

EE:

I've done those kind of projects. So this is home for him. Did you continue doing med tech kind of work when you got back, or did you raise kids?

RB:

Raised kids and worked in tobacco. Then in '71—

EE:

Was he a farmer here in tobacco?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Still in—

RB:

No, they sold in '94.

EE:

Given what's happened lately, it was probably not a bad idea, was it?

RB:

His health and his father's health were both going downhill. That's the reason they sold it, because his daddy had a knee replacement in November of '94, and then his daddy had cancer surgery in '95, January.

EE:

That's tough.

RB:

His father's still alive, and his father's ninety, but his health has been going downhill since '95. Chester's has been going down before that, because he got both knees hurt when he was messed up when he was in the service.

EE:

That still bothers him?

RB:

He's on partial disability, sixty percent.

EE:

Does he still go through the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs]? Does the VA help him out?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Does he go down to Salisbury?

RB:

His medicine comes from Salisbury. He goes to the new clinic there in Winston. I go to Durham.

EE:

Why is that? Just because the women go different places than the men? They have different specialties?

RB:

They have a women's health clinic down there in Durham.

EE:

At the VA [hospital] in Durham? They have a women's health clinic?

RB:

Special, separate. Different door. The one out here, I think I could go, but it doesn't have a special place.

EE:

One of the things I talk to women about, especially those who have been in longer, is that they are a little frustrated that the veterans end of things hasn't taken care of women veterans better.

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Were you all active in veterans groups coming out, either the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], or the Legion, or anything?

RB:

I belonged to the Legion one time. Chester belonged to the VFW, but right around here they don't—

EE:

Not very active?

RB:

They don't do anything. A lot of them don't even go to the meetings.

EE:

Y'all have military family on both sides. Did you have any of your kids join the service?

RB:

No.

EE:

I guess it's a generation. You got out just before Vietnam.

RB:

They were going to Vietnam when we were in. They were going. We just happened to get sent the other way. Chester was over there during the Berlin Wall.

EE:

A lot of people say that the Vietnam experience really changed how we feel about the military and about patriotism. Do you think so?

RB:

Not really.

EE:

Do you think we're as patriotic now as we were when you were in service?

RB:

I think so, really, when you get down to brass tacks about it.

EE:

Not as many families, anymore, have as many folks connected to the military as yours, you and your husband. What would you say is the biggest misunderstanding that nonmilitary folks have about the military?

RB:

I don't really know. I know that around in this area—I don't know about out at Winston, because I had no real contact with people out at Winston. But around here they just act like, being as I was in service, that I'm a second-class citizen or something. It's cliquey, because I have some friends that are here that came down here from Virginia, and she had the same problem, so it just can't be the fact that I was in the military.

EE:

You weren't local, to begin with?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

I think I found that a little bit, too. A lot of people say that women can do a lot more in society than they could forty or fifty years ago. There are a number of jobs come up. A lot of people say, “Well, one of the reasons that is is because, well, look what happened in the military. The military let women do more.” Do you think that the military gave you an opportunity to do—

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

RB:

—I was making in the hospital, but—

EE:

But you wanted a different kind of work?

RB:

I just wasn't putting up with the hassle that I had seen other waitresses in the bars put up with, when I had been in there. I knew I wouldn't put up with it.

EE:

Sure. That part hasn't changed.

RB:

No.

EE:

That's been the same for a while. If a girl came up to you today who was getting out of high school, and said, “I'm thinking about joining the service,” what would you tell her?

RB:

Well, nowadays, I don't know. A lot of it would depend on how physical she was, because they have to do a lot of things nowadays that we didn't have to do. Because they did integrate, they've got to—

EE:

Their physical training is a lot tougher than it was?

RB:

A lot more. We only had to go through the rifle range and stuff one time.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

EE:

You said you only had to do the rifle range once. It would surprise me that somebody who was a medical technician would have to do it at all. When did you do rifle work? Just in basic?

RB:

In basic.

EE:

Did you ever have to go on bivouac?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Again, what does that have to do with medical training? Did you do it in Germany?

RB:

Yes. Once a year.

EE:

Everybody went out?

RB:

Everybody went out. Everybody in the hospital WAC detachment went out at different times. They had that all week long.

EE:

Did they ever explain to you why you were asked to do this? Just in case somebody had an invasion and you had to be on the move or something?

RB:

I guess it was. They said, “The GIs have to do it.” “The GIs have to do it.” A lot of times had to go to Rafenbier[?] and on up in there and bivouac in the snow for weeks on in. “The least you girls can do is do it one night.”

EE:

Did you ever get down to Garmisch[-Partenkirchen]?

RB:

No, didn't. I went into Dornstadt and Landshut and Gelhausen. That's where Chester was stationed.

EE:

Right. If I were to ask you to name a song or a movie that when you saw it or heard it took you right back to that time in service, what would it be?

RB:

I don't know. I'll be honest. Because all the movies that they've ever shown about WACs, we'd sit and pick them apart, because they had them in uniforms that we didn't have in basic or anywhere else.

EE:

They always looked too good, didn't they?

RB:

Yes, and had them a different color. They definitely never had showed any—their PT [physical training] outfits even looked good. That's something that's basically—

EE:

Did you wear those little culottes in PT?

RB:

No.

EE:

What did y'all wear?

RB:

I had seersucker. I can't remember whether it was one piece or two, but it had shorts under it, and it buttoned down the front. It was brown and white seersucker.

EE:

Doesn't sound terribly attractive.

RB:

It wasn't. And with Li'l Abners on with it, which is what was standing to wear with it, the Li'l Abners with the bobby sox, it really looked gorgeous.

EE:

You're not going to meet “Mr. Right” wearing that outfit, then, huh? You were in the six years altogether. You said five, five-and-a-half?

RB:

Five.

EE:

How has that military experience changed your life? Obviously, it changed your family life, because that's where your family came from. How has it changed you as a person?

RB:

Well, anytime one of the kids got hurt or got sick, I was able to handle it. I know the one time that the second boy hit his head on the coffee table and cut it, I had the bleeding stopped by the time we got to the hospital. His brother, who was in the Rescue Squad, wanted to gripe at him for not calling him. My husband said, “What did I need you for?”

EE:

Got the medical help right here at the house. It does help.

We have gone through your stations and stops along the way. I've got this picture here, “Army learner license, picture taken. Driver school.” Did you go to driver school while you were in Germany?

RB:

Yes, you had to.

EE:

But you were a med tech when you were in Germany.

RB:

You still had to get a driver's license.

EE:

Oh, this is to be able to drive overseas?

RB:

No.

EE:

What was it for then?

RB:

It was for the army. I had a sedan license. If they were bugged out, the WACs were supposed to drive sedans.

EE:

Oh, my goodness. So it's like you're a stand-by motor pool or something?

RB:

I guess that was a way to put it. Anyway, when you got over there, you took driver's training. Some of them they had to completely train them to drive.

EE:

So did they put you in a truck?

RB:

No. I just had a sedan license. We were in sedans and learned to drive.

EE:

One thing I want to get is if you've got any other pictures or anything like that, I'd love to take them back, especially like this one here, informal shots.

RB:

That one was taken at Fort Lee.

EE:

That was before you went over?

RB:

That was in basic.

EE:

Is there anything else about your time in service that was important to you, that I have not covered in walking through your service experience?

RB:

Well, there at Fort Leavenworth, there was a joke that the only difference between going downtown in our day and Wyatt Earp's day was the cowboys left the guns at home. You could tell, they'd come right in off the range.

EE:

Except for basic, y'all didn't mess with guns?

RB:

No, we didn't have to go through the training range either. They went through one time, and I was sick at the time, so I didn't go at all.

EE:

You were at the Presidio just as the Korean conflict was concluding, at least the American part of it, and you were telling me before we started that one of the wards you had folks who were coming back from Korea, who had been injured in Korea. Tell me about that for a second.

RB:

Well, the one was a captain, and he'd stumbled around in the dark and managed to trip over one of their own troop flares, and he was having surgery on the bones in his legs, trying to get them straightened out. That's the one I remember the most. They had several there, like that, but I just remember him the most, possibly because he was a very nice guy. Some of the rest of them, some of the others made you feel like putting your foot where it would do the most good.

EE:

But your career almost is sandwiched in between Korea and Vietnam, in a sense. You were there peacetime, which was a good thing to be. You didn't have as many of the traumas, and as tough as that work was, you didn't have as many battlefield problems as some other folks would have had to have put up with.

Well, on behalf of the school, I want to say thank you for sitting down with me this evening and walking me through. You can't sum up anybody's life in a short term. If you had to do it over again, which unfortunately in life you can't do that, but if you had to choose it again about going in the service, would you have made that choice again?

RB:

Yes. In fact, if it had been back then the way it is now, I wouldn't have gotten out, because back then, when you were pregnant, you got out regardless of whether you were married or what.

EE:

But you liked to work, and if you could have, you would have made a career out of it?

RB:

Yes.

EE:

Again, thank you.

[End of interview]