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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Susie Stephens McArthur, 2001

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Object ID: WV0199.5.001

Description: Documents Susie Stephens McArthur’s early life; her twenty-six years of service with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the United States Army; and its effect on her opinions and non-military life.

Summary:

McArthur primarily discusses her enlistment in the army and her military service at various posts in the United States and overseas. She explains why she chose to join the army; how her family reacted to the news; and the exams that she had to take in order to enlist. She also describes her basic training; her advanced clerical and stenographer training; and the various types of administrative work that she performed in Vietnam; Fort Monroe, Virginia; Fort McClellan, Alabama; Stuttgart, Germany; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Heidleberg, Germany.

McArthur provides more detailed information about several duty stations. She discusses her service with WAC detachment at Tan Son Nhut and Long Binh, Vietnam, remembering her first impressions of the country; her work in communications; working with men for the first time; social activities on the base; visiting downtown Saigon; and the physical danger that the women were in.

McArthur also recounts her time as a drill sergeant; including her work with an all-male platoon; the respect that the men had for her; problems with the male drill sergeants; her typical day as drill sergeant; and her philosophy on training recruits. McArthur discusses her sergeant major residence course, describing the types of classes she took; how the men and women worked together; and her daily schedule.

She also describes her work with the U.S. Air Force in Germany; the differences between the branches of the service; gender discrimination; and how different nations worked together. Other military topics include discipline; race relations; changes in the army over the course of her service; and finding out about the detrimental effects of Agent Orange.

Personal topics include McArthur’s long-distance marriage while she was in the service; her part-time work after her retirement; and her involvement with several veterans’ organizations, including the Vietnam Women Veterans.

Creator: Susie M. Stephens McArthur

Biographical Info: Susie Stephens McArthur (b. 1945) of Crawfordville, Georgia, served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and U.S. Army from March 1965 to June 1991.

Collection: Susie McArthur Papers

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

Full Text:

HT:

Okay. Today is Thursday, February 8, 2001. My name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Mrs. Sue McArthur in Temple Terrace, Florida. We're here to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Mrs. McArthur, if you'd give me your full name, including your maiden name, we'll use it as a test to see how we both sound on this tape.

SM:

My name is Susie M. Stephens McArthur.

[Tape recorder paused]

SM:

Yes. I was born in Crawfordville [Georgia]. I grew up there, went to school, graduated from high school there, and then—1962, I graduated from high school, and that's when I left Crawfordville, but I still stayed in Georgia. I moved to Atlanta.

HT:

And can you tell me a little bit about your family?

SM:

I am from a large family, as I said, a rural county in Georgia. We lived on a farm. We owned our own farm. I am the ninth of eleven children. My mom and dad, they were farmers. She was the homemaker, and he was the farmer, and we all grew up doing whatever was necessary to survive on a farm.

HT:

And what type of work did you do before you joined the military?

SM:

Believe it or not, the military was my first real job. After I graduated from high school, I went to Atlanta, went to school, college, at night to get my training for stenographer-secretary. During that time, the work that I was doing, I really don't call it work, but I was babysitting. That's what it was. As I said, that's the only work that I did. I worked on the farm before I came in the military.

HT:

Which branch of the service did you join?

SM:

United States Army.

HT:

And why did you pick the army?

SM:

Well, at the time we went into the recruiting station, my girlfriend and I, we just saw this sign. It said, “Uncle Sam wants you. Join the army and see the world.” That was it. We went in, and the recruiter started telling us all these exciting places we can go and whatnot. We didn't even consider the [U.S.] Air Force, the [U.S.] Navy, or the Marines. We just took the test that day, matter of fact, and from there, it was like—the army we'll be. At the time that I took the test, which was August 1964, I was not able to come in until March of '65.

HT:

And why was that? Why the delay?

SM:

It's always comical when I tell people. I was fat. I had to lose some weight. [laughs] So it took me from August until March to lose enough pounds to come into the military, and they took me in. I was still overweight. I was twelve pounds overweight when I enlisted, but they wanted me, so they got me. [laughs]

HT:

And did your parents have to sign any type of papers, or were you over age?

SM:

Yes. My parents did have to sign. Unfortunate, because neither parents knew anything about the military, only what they had heard. My mother, she was dead set against it. She had worked for some people as a housemaid, and they had poisoned her mind as to what her daughter will be doing if she goes into the military. So she said no, she would not sign the papers. So she and I had a long talk, and I convinced her that it would be the best thing if she did sign the papers for me to go in. If she didn't sign them, I would forge her name and go in anyway. So she said, with that, “I've raised you to be what you are. Going into the military is not going to change you. If you want to go, go.” She signs the papers. My dad, he had no clue of what's going on. I just helped sign his name.

HT:

What did your brothers and sisters and the rest of the family think about you joining?

SM:

At the time, they thought it was just something different, that I was being rebellious. I was different from anybody else in the family, so I was going to go off and do something great that nobody else ever did. So they just thought it was a joke, that I would do it for a couple years, and I would be back home doing the same thing in the same environment.

Then after I went in, and they saw how serious I was about it, that I was enjoying it, and that it was the best thing for me, they were just tickled pink. You know, their baby sister was in the military, and that was exciting to them that I was the first female, well, the second female from that county to ever go into the military, and the first one to ever stay in to retire. So now it's a joke. Every time I go home, you know, that, “Can't believe that you did it.”

HT:

So none of your other brothers and sisters joined the military?

SM:

No. One of my brothers, the one a couple of years older than I, he had wanted to go into the military, but as I said, we lived on a farm, and the farm was our way of life. So Daddy figured if he goes in the military, that's one less person there to help on the farm, and he really was against it. My brother, he was going to slip and volunteer to go in. It didn't work. Daddy got him before the recruiter got him. [laughs] So he never tried that again.

Like I say, when I came along, and I've said that I was going in, it wasn't no use to ask my daddy about it, because he was not going to agree to it. So I didn't ask him. I just never did.

HT:

When he found out that you had joined, what was his reaction?

SM:

He just said that, “I always have thought that you was crazy. So now I know.” [laughter]

HT:

Was your father ever in the military?

SM:

No. No, none of my brothers or sisters, Dad, nobody. Nobody in the family that I can remember ever been in the military. No.

HT:

Do you recall what people in general thought about women who joined the military during the mid-sixties, when you joined?

SM:

Yes. Well, you know, it's nothing that they knew; it was just what they've heard, because, as I say, no one there in that county had ever experienced the military, and for a woman to go into the military was unheard of. So it was just what they heard. They really did not know. Old-adage-wise, if a woman goes into the military, she's either going to either be there to serve the guys sexually, or she is going to be a lesbian. That was something that my mom and I would talk about, and then she said that, “Okay. You are what you are. You're not that now, and I can't believe going into the military's going to change you. So I'm not going to even worry about what people say. If you can live with it, I can.” So that's how I overcame mine.

HT:

Where did you actually enlist?

SM:

Atlanta. That's where I was living after I graduated from high school. [I] graduated on Thursday. I left home on Saturday. I was only sixteen, and I moved to Atlanta and one of the ladies from Crawfordville, she was more like a second mother to me. She kept me there with her, and I, as I said, did babysitting work and going to school at night.

Then when I finished college, that business college, I went looking for work and couldn't find work. That's how I ended up going in the military, because work was dead in that day. If you had your little degree or whatever you were showing, they'd want you to have experience. How can you get experience if they don't hire you? So it was like either go back to babysitting and scrubbing floors or being a waitress. I didn't see any future in that, so—

HT:

You mentioned earlier in our conversation that you had to take a written test. Do you recall what that was, just—was it an aptitude test or—

SM:

Yes. It was an aptitude test, mental—it was a complete physical. The test was trying to determine what area you would be best suited for in the military, which, to me, it didn't make any sense, because during that time, you know, wasn't but so many MOS [military occupational specialty] open for the enlisted. Since I had gone to school for stenographer-secretary, I knew that's what I wanted to do, so the test just proved that I would be suited for that field.

HT:

And where did you do basic training?

SM:

Did basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

HT:

And how long did that last?

SM:

The basic training—I really don't remember how many weeks, but after basic training, I was also assigned there for my Advanced Individual Training, MOS skilled occupation. I was stationed there, also. So the total time for my basic and AIT, Advanced Individual Training, was from March until, I believe, August.

HT:

That would be March, August of 1965?

SM:

Right.

HT:

And what kind of advanced training did you receive?

SM:

Here again, it was administration, clerk-typist, as they called it then, clerical and stenographer training.

HT:

If we can backtrack a minute to basic training, can you give me your thoughts about your first day of basic training?

SM:

I had fun in basic. A lot of people—well, I'll tell you what. My girlfriend and I, we was coming into the military together, but as I said before, I had to lose some pounds, so she went on in, in September. She gave me a monthly report of why I should not come into the military, because she thought that I was too militant, I wasn't good at taking orders, and that I should not come into the military.

But I did anyway, and when I got into basic, it was so different than what I had thought. Because this was in the sixties, early sixties, you know, mid-sixties, and this was when a lot of the demonstrations and integration and everything. So I just figure, “Oh, I'm going to get in here, and I'm going to have to really fight.” But, to my surprise, it was entirely different.

Everybody there was on the same sheet of music and was there because they really wanted to be there. I think there was two, maybe three blacks in my platoon, and we didn't have any problem, because it was like a whole new world for the whites, too. They had never been around blacks, and it was like, “Okay. This is great. This is not what everybody had been saying.”

So we worked very well together. I didn't have no problem. I enjoyed basic. I knew discipline, brought up on a farm with all those sisters and brothers. I knew how to take orders. It was just a matter of disciplining myself to keep my mouth closed. I used to run off at the mouth a lot. So I did learn. I learned that in basic. If you listen, you can learn. Keep your mouth going, you can't hear what's going on. [laughs]

HT:

What did you think of the food and the uniforms?

SM:

The food and the uniform. Here again, you know, my idea of what I was going into, I had no idea, and when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised. Three hot meals a day? You know, hey, I'm used to this. And the uniform, everybody was in the same uniform, so it really didn't faze me. It really didn't.

HT:

Did the lack of privacy bother you at all, or coming from a big family—? [laughs]

SM:

That didn't bother me. Like I say, I didn't have the problem that a lot of people did. Coming from a large family, you only got so much privacy, anyway. And then being there, living in an open barracks and whatnot, and as I said, everybody was just—we were all helping each other. It wasn't anything that we were trying to hide or keep secret from anybody. We wanted to make it through basic training.

HT:

What was the toughest thing you had to do physically while you were in basic?

SM:

[laughs] I guess it probably would be—probably the night march. I never liked the dark, and we did have a night march that we all had to be out there. I don't know, it was different. The environment where you came from, being out in the dark, you knew exactly who you was with. But being out in the dark there, it was like, “Okay. These people putting up a front during the day. Somebody's going to do something to me during night.” I guess that was a fear that I overcame, but we were only out there for one night. After that, it was like, “Okay. You're still right back on course.”

HT:

Did you camp overnight or just march?

SM:

Just marched out there.

HT:

Did the women receive specialized training in small arms or rifle training, anything like that?

SM:

No. When I came in, it was during that time—everything that we got like that, it was more or less book talk. We didn't have a weapon. You know, you have one person up there with a weapon, the instructor telling you the parts and whatnot, but we didn't have weapons. There was no training on weapons.

HT:

And after basic training, where was your first big assignment?

SM:

After basic training and my Advanced Individual Training, which was my AIT there at McClellan, I was one of those fortunate ones to also become permanent party there at Fort McClellan. So I was there for a while. After I became permanent party there, I was assigned to the Women's Army Corps Center and School S-3 Training Division. My job was typing lesson plans. I worked for Captain Freitag. I was her secretary, more or less, you would say, her clerk-typist, and we typed lesson plans for the trainees, changes in our—

HT:

And how long did you do this?

SM:

I guess it was pretty close to two years, because I received orders for Vietnam in '67. That was early '67 when I was alerted that I would be going to Vietnam.

HT:

How did you feel about being ordered to Vietnam?

SM:

Well, at first I was very hesitant, and I was mad, because I was engaged at the time, and I really didn't want to go, but I thought about it, and my fiancé and I, we talked about it. I decided, “Well, okay, I raised my hand to come into this military. Nobody made me do it. Now, I have been drafted.” They said that all the women that went to Vietnam volunteered, but that was a lie. I came down on special orders.

The first eighty-five women were handpicked to go to Vietnam, and I was told the only way for me not to go to Vietnam is for me to get married or get pregnant. I didn't think either one of those was an option. So I put my engagement on hold. I went home, and I told my mom and my dad and everybody that I was going off to fight the war, and they just did not believe it was happening. They just did not. It took a while for me to convince them that I was really serious, that I am going. Then, once they realized that I was going, they said, “Well, you're in the army now, so you have to do what they tell you to do. We'll pray for you. There's nothing we can do.” So there I go. [laughs]

HT:

And where were you sent in Vietnam?

SM:

We had a WAC [Women's Army Corps] detachment near Saigon, Tan Son Nhut. Tent City B, they call it. Boy, did I grow up fast.

HT:

I'm sure you saw some things over there that were quite unusual.

SM:

Yes. Yes. The most notable, I guess, was when the flight touched down, and we got off the plane, and there was this heat and this odor that just almost knocked you back into the plane. But then there was a bus driver there to get us on the bus and get us out of the area to our home, where we'd be for the next year, and that was it.

We got there, and we were welcomed by all the cadre. They were standing there to welcome us aboard, and they gave us a short briefing on what was expected of us. They knew that we were tired, so we could get a shower and just relax until the next meal. The next day, we was ready to go. It was seven days a week for the next year.

HT:

No time off?

SM:

Occasionally, each one of the sections, they would try to rotate and give somebody some time off. Very seldom you got a whole day a week, but most of the time, it was six and a half days a week that we worked, twelve to fourteen hours a day.

HT:

And what type of work were you doing?

SM:

Here again, I was back in administration. I worked for the Communications Electronic branch. There I was typing messages to send out to the field for ammo and signal equipment and whatnot that was needed on the front lines. So it was truly a support role that we were in, but it was—oh, it was awesome, at the number of our messages that was written and had to be transmitted per day, but it got done.

This was the first time that I had worked with males, because my other two years in the military, prior to going there, I was always with the WAC, and the WAC was almost self-contained. Then, when I got to Vietnam, we were there in support, and we had guys that were there in support, too. I got a chance to work with male soldiers, and I found it to be very, very rewarding.

HT:

There was no hint of jealousy, envy, discrimination because you're a woman?

SM:

No, it was—well, you know, you always feel that, “Hey, she's a woman. She can type good, anyway. Give it to her to type.” That was your peers. But my supervisors, they always try to distribute the work equally among us—because it was a pool of typists.

I was good. I worked at being the best, and I knew I was. I found myself having to do more because I was, because when the officers gave me anything to do, they knew they were going to get it back in a timely fashion without having to go through a whole lot of—whereas, with the guys, they just—if it got done, hey, today, okay with them; but they didn't—it was like they had no—no whatever to think what they was doing was so important to get it out to the field so that people could get it.

This is something that we would have; the females would have during their classes back in the controlment area. We'd have type classes to—we just always wanted to be—we knew we had to be better than they, you know. It didn't take much for us to do it. [laughter]

HT:

Now, you were at Tan Son Nhut, I think you said about a year?

SM:

Tan Son Nhut. That was where the USAV Headquarters was, United States Army Vietnam Headquarters. It was there in Saigon. Then when the headquarters moved to Long Binh, then, of course, our WAC detachment also relocated to Long Binh.

HT:

Do you recall ever being in physical danger from snipers or guerrilla warfare?

SM:

You know what? Looking back over it, we were in more physical danger than we realized, because being in a war zone, period, that's danger. As I said, we were not trained on weapons, so we didn't have weapons over there. So it was like, “This is where you're going to be. This fence is built around you, and nobody can get in here to you, and we've got guards out here posted around you.”

But, still, Charlie [the Viet Cong] was very visible, and we wasn't far from the ammo dump, especially in Long Binh. There was some horrible things that were always going on over at the ammo dump, and we could see. We could stand on the balcony and see a lot. It was very scary, very scary.

I guess the most scary time was Tet Offensive 1968. That was when I was getting ready to come home. They did hit the ammo dump, and boy, did we get it, our barracks. The concussion knocked one of the doors off the hinge, just shredded—we had this big parachute canopy out between the buildings. This was our recreation area. I tell you, the stuff—it shredded it. It was just—oh!

All I could think of, what they had taught us, anytime that you hear incoming mortar or whatever, you try to get on the floor and get your mattress and put over you, wait until it got over, and then you move downstairs—Because we lived in an up-and-downstairs building, and I was on the top, of course. Every time things like this would happen, we'd hear about something was going to happen that night, and we'd hear all these mortar rounds going off and whatnot.

Our cadre, they would call on the intercom or send someone over there and say, “Okay. Get your gear and get downstairs.” We all would pile downstairs on this first floor. I'm thinking if they hit, we all were going at one time. But that's the way we were trained. We'd have to get down there. Yes.

Ah! Some nights it wasn't fun getting up in the middle of the night, running down there. Thank God nothing happened, but you never knew when something was going to happen or not, so you really had to get your butt up and get out of there.

HT:

Was the place attacked quite often?

SM:

Well, I wouldn't really say “quite often.”

HT:

Not on a daily basis?

SM:

No. No. No. You'd hear about it. But the ammo dump, like I said, we were close to that, and that's when, every time they would talk about hitting that, the word would get around, and somehow it would be intervened, and it wouldn't happen. But when that Tet Offensive happened there in '68, that was like—ah! Ah! But we had scares quite often, quite often.

We always had somebody that worked in military intel[ligence], and they had the inside scoop. They would tell us when we were going to have an alert and whatnot, just to have you mentally ready that something might happen tonight, just be prepared. Yes, that was a long one year. But it wasn't all so bad, because there was fun times over there, too.

HT:

I was going to ask you, you said you didn't have much time off, but what did you do for fun and socializing and that sort of thing?

SM:

Yes. When we did have time off, like I said, the guys really appreciated us, and they was very protective of us. So any time that we had time off, a group of us would get together, the guys would have a cookout or something, or we'd go down to the village or to the [unclear] or somewhere to do things together as a group. We had a lot of things going on there in our controlment area, too. There was always movies and cookouts. Some male unit always wanted to do something for us.

We had USO [United Service Organizations] shows, a couple of Bob Hope shows, you know, would come over two or three times a year. Every time the shows came over, we always got an invitation to go to them. So even though, with the hard work, if you knew that you only got six hours to go out and party or whatever, you know, just to relax, you enjoyed it. You took off and went.

HT:

Did you have any civilians work with you at all, or was it all military?

SM:

I was in an all military assignment. Yes.

HT:

So there were no Vietnamese there.

SM:

Well, the only ones that was there were the ones that was in our controlment area. They came in to clean up our barracks and do our clothing and whatnot for us.

HT:

So you had very little interaction with the local people.

SM:

Right. Right.

HT:

Because you had no time off, basically, it sounds like.

SM:

Yes. And I was one of those that believed, “They all look alike,” so you don't know who to trust. So it was just fine with me that I didn't, you know.

HT:

Did you ever get a chance to go into Saigon?

SM:

Yes. We used to go downtown—that was once the headquarters. We'd go down there to sightsee and to the parks. Here again, like I said, we didn't realize how much danger we was in until after it was all over. Because they always told us, “Don't go in groups,” but there was five of us. Everywhere we went, there was at least five of us there that was going. We went and did things that was daring, but we were fortunate.

HT:

What did you think of Saigon? They say it's quite a beautiful city, very much like Paris because of the French influence.

SM:

Yes. We got a chance to visit, but I was one of those, I didn't like to be in a big headquarter area like that. Anything could happen. So when they said they were going to Saigon, I went only a couple times. The other times, I'd just rather not. I'd say, “If they get me, they're going to have to get me here.”

HT:

After you left Saigon, where was your next duty station?

SM:

After Vietnam, my next duty station was Fort Monroe, Virginia. I was there from 1968 until 1972. My duty assignment there was, here again, with the Adjutant Division. I was a mail and distribution supervisor. We processed all the incoming and outgoing classified mail for the headquarters.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

HT:

—Fort Monroe.

SM:

Yes. Mail clerk, classified, Mail and Distribution Section. There I got a chance to work with civilians, and that was very interesting—and boring. Fort Monroe is a beautiful, beautiful little base there on the water, in Virginia, I just fell in love with it, the tidewater area. Working with the civilians gave me an opportunity to explore the area more, but after I was there for a while, I knew everything about the area, Hampton and Newport News and Norfolk. My duty assignment there was one of those that I enjoyed. I did what I had to do, and I had plenty of time off there. [laughs]

HT:

Made up for all the no time you had off the other place.

SM:

Yes, it did. Yes, it did. What made that assignment so unique was that our Field First in Vietnam, who was Betty Benson, when we got to Fort Monroe, she came there as the first sergeant of that company. That was just so, so great because she was—I say was; she is still such a special lady. We learned so much from her. That assignment there, it just made it special because she was there. There was so many of the other people that had been in Vietnam. It was like a reunion when we got there, because there was so many who came from Vietnam to Monroe. Because there were so many WAC detachments in the U.S., we all end up one time or another with the same group.

HT:

And after Fort Monroe, where was your next duty station?

SM:

Fort Monroe, they sent me back to Fort McClellan, Alabama. This time, I went there as an instructor at the same school that I was trained to be a clerk-typist. So I went back there to the clerical school as an instructor. They disbanded the school, and then I was assigned to the Women Army Corps Headquarters at Fort McClellan, and there, here again, working with the Adjutant Division, administrative NCO [non-commissioned officer]. That was good. I enjoyed that. Here again, working with all females, because we still had WAC detachments. After that assignment, I went to Germany. First assignment in Germany, 1973.

HT:

Did you ask to go overseas?

SM:

No. What happened, every so often, when you're at a post for so long, you have to go overseas. So, since I was at Fort Monroe for more than four years, instead of going overseas from there, they sent me to McClellan. That's why I was only there like a year before they decided, “Okay, you haven't been overseas. You know, you've been back from Vietnam, now, for five years. It's time to go on a long tour.” So they sent me to Germany.

I went to Stuttgart. There I was assigned to 589th Signal Company. That was my first male company commander. Very, very good assignment. Mostly guys, but I worked at the headquarters there in the orderly room. I was the personnel NCO, so I had a chance to meet everybody in the unit. We had outlying units all over southern Germany, but the company was a headquarters, so they all at one time had to come there to do some in-processing or whatever.

That was a signal unit and very, very interesting. I started learning other things about the army, other than the adjutant type. I started learning signal slang and really found out what the signal corps did, communication.

HT:

Back for just a minute. After your first four years, did you ever think about leaving or getting out, or did you plan to make it a career all along?

SM:

You know what, Hermann? That's what I needed to tell you. When I was in Vietnam, it came, my ETS [Expiration Term of Service]. It was time for me to get out of the military when I came back, and I had to make a decision there whether I would be getting out, ETS back to the States, or whether I would stay in. Once I toyed with the idea, I decided that I wanted to stay in, and I reenlisted in Vietnam.

My folks knew I was crazy then. [laughs] When I came home and told them that I had reenlisted for three more years, and I did it in Vietnam, they just said, “Well, okay, whatever you do, just do it.” That's when I decided, “Okay. If I'm crazy enough to reenlist in Vietnam, I'd better have long-term objectives on my list.” That's when I decided I was going to make the army a career, and I did.

HT:

What were some of the reasons that you decided to do that?

SM:

Well, here again, if I had gotten out of the military, I would end up back there in the Georgia area, and I really didn't want to go back there. And with me having only been down in Fort McClellan and Vietnam, I really had not got a chance to see the world and do all the things that Uncle Sam had promised me. So I said, “Well, okay, then I'll take another hitch and see what I can get out of this one.” And then, after they sent me to Germany, I figured, “Well, okay, now I can start seeing the world,” and that's what happened.

HT:

Yes, but a hitch is for three or four years?

SM:

Three. At that time, it was three. Then later on, you could do it for four or six. But I took them three at a time.

HT:

Did they offer any kind of incentives or bonuses in those days, like they do now?

SM:

Very little for my military occupation specialty. On my first reenlistment, I don't think I received anything, the one that I did in Vietnam. But the next one, I was at Fort Monroe, and seems like I received a small amount. It wasn't that much, nothing like it is nowadays, truly. Because, like I say, in my MOS, it wasn't one of those that was a shortage. There was always enough people to fill the slots.

HT:

I know some specialties are so rare that they will offer high incentives.

SM:

Right. Right. Administration wasn't one of those, because those were the only jobs that we could have there for a while. So we had abundant people in administration. I think the travel was what I was really thinking about each time. You know, I would always say, “See the world. Join the army, see the world.” Traveling and the friends that I've met and are still my friends today, that made it all worthwhile. Every time I'd reenlist, I'd say, “Okay.”

A couple of the girls, we were asking, “Are you going to stay in?”

They said, “No. I'm getting out.”

I said, “Well, I'm going to stay in.”

They'd say, “Well, we're going to talk about it.”

A lot of times, they'd end up getting out and coming back into the army. So I never had a break in service. I just made that decision, “Okay, I'm going to stay in, and this is it.” When it came time for me to reenlist, I did and went right on.

HT:

While you were in Europe, did you do much traveling?

SM:

Yes. [laughs] Everywhere, every chance I could get. We had a lot of our free time there, what you call free time. Didn't have to work on Saturday and Sunday. That's free time. It was five days a week. And then again, you were always authorized a three-day pass at least once a month. So that helped. I got in most of the touring of the country on my first tour. And then the second and third tour, I just kept adding to it.

HT:

What were some of the places that you had a chance to see?

SM:

Okay, I got a chance to go to Sweden, Paris, London, Spain, Italy. Did I say Switzerland? Okay. [pause] I can't remember. Because some of them, I went back couple times. Yes, I did a lot of traveling.

HT:

And how long were you stationed in Stuttgart?

SM:

I was in Stuttgart for twenty-seven months.

HT:

Did they have a specific name for the base?

SM:

In Stuttgart, we were at Robinson Barracks.

HT:

Is that R-o-b-i-n-s-o-n?

SM:

Yes. This was during the time that women still had their separate barracks, so we had our own barracks, an all-women barracks.

HT:

After you left Stuttgart, what was your next assignment?

SM:

Left Stuttgart and went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. There again, I went to the admin[istration] school as an instructor. They tracked me down from DA [Department of Army], and they drafted me to be a drill sergeant. So that's when I started my drill sergeant training.

HT:

So you had no choice.

SM:

No, I did not, I'll tell you. Things was thrown at me that I didn't have no choice, because I really tried to get out of drill sergeant. They had told me before I left Germany that my next assignment would be going on drill sergeant status. They sent me this letter. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't give a copy to my personnel. I just kept it between myself and a few other people. So when I went to Fort Jackson, nobody knew that I had gotten this letter from Department of the Army saying, “Welcome. You have been chosen to do two years as a drill sergeant.” So I didn't say anything. So I went there and got an assignment down there at the admin school, but DA finally tracked me down and told me that I would have to do a tour as a drill sergeant.

HT:

Did you have any kind of special training for that?

SM:

Oh, yes, a whole lot of special training that I needed, because, really, the units I had been assigned wasn't units that were gung ho into PT [physical training]. That was the thing that killed me when I went into the drill sergeant program. I just didn't think that I could do it physically. I had gotten out of shape, and I didn't want no parts of it, and I told them that I didn't. I had already made my E-7, and I was contented to stay a sergeant first class until I retired. So just let me be.

They said, “Oh, no. You don't tell us what to do. We tell you what to do.”

So I said, “Well, if I must, here again, go for it,” and I did. [laughs]

They sent me to Drill Sergeant School. Ah! You know what? I really, really hated drill sergeant duty, but I enjoyed training the troops. It was like, how can you not like drill sergeant duty and enjoy—I didn't like drill sergeant duty because of the long hours, but I enjoyed training the troops, to get a recruit in, and seven weeks later you can call that recruit a soldier. That was the most rewarding thing about being a drill sergeant.

HT:

You were training women only?

SM:

Oh, oh, no. I started out with women only in '76. I was in an all-female battalion, but we had male drills there, and then with the conversion of the women in '78, when they disbanded the Women's Army Corps, they also integrated us into the male units. Naturally, the males had never trained with females before, so the cadre, the company commander and first sergeant, they just thought this was great. Okay, we got a female—

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

SM:

Okay. Yes. It was hard for me to convince my company commander that that wasn't what they wanted when they said integration, not “female train female.” So after about the second or third cycle, he said, “Well, okay, I'm going to give you your wish. I'm going to give you an all-male platoon.” I was in my glory. Where is that picture? This one. I tell you, that was the best training cycle I had the whole two years I was on drill sergeant duty.

HT:

Why the difference?

SM:

I believe it was because they—well, like the trainees, they're new. They've never been in an environment where they had a female that had so much control over them. A lot of the things that was there that they had to know how to do, and be trained to have done, they just couldn't conceive that this little woman is going to teach us all of this, and they were determined to learn everything that I put out to them. We turned out to be the best platoon of the cycle. That's best platoon of the cycle. I always said they were determined to make me look good among the other male drills that was in the company. We worked so good together. They trained. They just wanted to know everything. So when they walked across that parade field seven weeks later, they was ready. They really were. From then on, it was like, “Okay. She can do it. She can train male just as good as she can female.”

HT:

Was this unusual?

SM:

It was. That was when they first went from the all-female to the integrated male and female. Some of the companies, they were still rebelling against that. As you can see, I was the only female drill sergeant in my company. No, female drill sergeants weren't that plentiful, because when we were training with the all-female, we only had one battalion. Most of the females in that battalion were transferred, one here and one there—we had three male battalions, so they had to be integrated into the male battalion, and none of the companies had more than two female drills. With me being senior, they said, “Well, no problem. We don't need to put someone here to chaperone her. She's a senior now, and she knows what to do. She can handle a platoon.” So I ended up there by myself. I didn't have any problem with the trainees. It was the male drill sergeants that I had the problem with.

HT:

Oh, really? Was there jealousy and—

SM:

You know, I don't know what it was. Looking back over it, it's like—I don't know. They couldn't conceive that I could do the same thing they could, either. You know, when we always get in this discussion, I always tell them, “We graduated from the same Drill Sergeant School. You didn't know any more when you went to that school than I did. So we graduated learning the same thing. So why don't you think I can get in here and apply it just the way you did?”

They said, “Well, it just don't seem right that a female should be here doing this. She doesn't know what—”

“It's right there in the book. I do know what I'm talking about. Some of the things, the way you all put it across, doesn't necessarily have to be put across like that. I don't have to use all these words to—”

HT:

I was just going to ask you about—of course, I remember what my basic training was like and the kind of language that is commonly used by the males. I was just wondering how you handle that kind of situation.

SM:

Well, here again, the males, they respected me, because a lot of times, when I tell people I didn't have any problem in the military because I had my standards, and the males, they could detect before they started dealing with me, there's certain things that I did not allow, I didn't tolerate, and I didn't have any problem. We got along well. Some of the things that they would do with the trainees and say to the trainees, if I'm around, they wouldn't do it. They had that much respect for me. And as I would tell them—because the trainees, they have a way of coming back to tell you what's going on, and the drill sergeants have their little powwow session and whatnot. I would always try to explain to them that, whatever you do with your trainees, whether it's male or female, it's a reflection on you, because you're the drill sergeant. Eight weeks later, they get out there and do something stupid that you know that they shouldn't—some of them are going to do something stupid anyway—but when they just get out there and do something blatant that is going to reflect back on the company, they're always going to identify what drill sergeant taught that during that cycle. So it was hard sometimes, but I just figured, okay, I've got two years with this. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. And I did it.

HT:

It made you a better person.

SM:

I don't think so. I don't think it really made me a better person. It just brought out some of the things that I never had a chance to really do. Like growing up with sisters and brothers, I had never had kids, but I still had—you know, some of them would tell me I had this mother instinct, and there's some things that you just don't say to a child. Because, you know, if they're seventeen and eighteen years old, some things you just don't—you teach them instead of degrading them. You teach them and train them to be better soldiers.

HT:

Because I imagine most of these kids were—

SM:

Yes, they were kids.

HT:

—under twenty.

SM:

Right. Yes.

HT:

And you were what, in your early thirties by that time?

SM:

Yes. And it was like, you know, you teach them, you train them. Train up the child the way you want them to go, and they won't depart from it—not too far, but they'll always come back. I fell back on that a lot. I always thought, if this was my daughter or this was my son out here, would I want them to be subject to this type treatment? That's what I always told the drill sergeant, “Think about it. That could be your daughter. That could be your sister. Would you want anybody to take advantage of her?”

HT:

Could you describe a typical day during that time?

SM:

During drill sergeant duty?

HT:

I saw something recently on one of those magazine programs on TV, and they were interviewing—it was called Sergeant, and they were interviewing these guys who were drill sergeants, and they were saying that it's such a long, long day. They start like at four-thirty in the morning, and it didn't end till lights-out at like eleven or twelve o'clock and very little sleep.

SM:

That's why I say I didn't like being a drill sergeant, because of the hours. I did not live on the post. I had my home off post. So that meant that I had to get up a little earlier in order to get there. But here again, four o'clock, being there at a quarter to five to make sure that they're up, and it starts from there, do this, do this, do this, do this, do this, and right on down, all day long. Every hour, there was something going on.

I had assistants. All my assistants, they knew that when I left there at nine o'clock, if they're the one to turn your lights off, then I would leave at nine. If I'm the one to turn the lights off, then I'll leave when lights are out. But they knew that whenever I left that post at nine or ten-thirty or whatever, they would not see me coming back at night to try to catch the trainees doing things that they shouldn't be doing. Because there's no way they could get everything that needed to be done from the time the lights are out until the time lights came on, unless they got up in the night and did their shoes or shined their brass or whatever. So I never returned trying to catch them doing something that—you're supposed to be in bed. Whereas, the rest of them, they just thought that was a good habit for them, to come back late at night and catch them doing something so they could punish them the next day, but that wasn't my style. I was tired as they were at the end of the day. So when I got home, they didn't have to worry about me going back.

HT:

Did you have lesson plans for each day?

SM:

Yes. We have a senior drill in each platoon, and that senior drill works with the training NCO to make sure we had a lesson plans for the seven weeks. So we would do ours by the week. At the end of each week, all the drill sergeants would get together with the senior drill, and we would go over what is coming up the next week. If we need further instruction in it, we would give classes among ourselves and make sure we were proficient enough to get up in front of the trainees to give the class. We had drill and ceremony done outside, the weapons training was outside, but there were inside courses so we were not always outside training.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

HT:

Okay. I think we were talking about lesson plans before the phone rang.

SM:

Yes. The lesson plans, like I say, the outside ones were the drill and ceremony, the rifle cleaning, the rifle range, and others. Then the inside one, most of the time the drill sergeants would give the classes. But if it was in a specialized field, like oral hygiene or character guidance, we'll have a guest speaker to come in and give classes on that subject.

All the classes were arranged so that if you were in class in the morning, you will have all your morning classes inside, and then in the evening you'd have your outside classes. Or vice-versa. You know, this all depends on what time of year it was. It was good training. You learn a lot, because those classes are repetition, and after you teach them two or three cycles, you become very proficient at it.

HT:

Did you get time off between cycles?

SM:

Normally, there was a week between cycles that gave us a chance to get ready for the next platoon, and sometime during that week, each one of the drill sergeants were entitled to a three-day pass. This was good for me, because, with me being from Georgia, I was only two and a half hours from my mom. So every seven weeks, she could count on her baby coming home, because I went home every seven weeks. That was the best part about being at Fort Jackson. I was so close to home, and I got a chance to really enjoy my family. Like I say, when I left from home, I was a kid. So we had some good times reliving our childhood experiences.

HT:

Does anything stand out in your mind while you were a drill sergeant, anything very unusual?

SM:

No.

HT:

So you did it for two years?

SM:

Two years.

HT:

And did you think about perhaps extending that?

SM:

No. It was a two-year requirement, and after that two years, if you would like to, you could extend for that one year and go to an advanced training unit. That's AIT [advanced individual training], out of basic training into AIT training. I had the opportunity to do that, but I had no desire, no desire whatsoever. All I knew, that I have done what DA has required me to do, and I'm finished. Now give me an assignment away from here. DA came back with an assignment that was out of this world.

HT:

What is DA?

SM:

Department of the Army.

HT:

Oh, okay.

SM:

Yes. After my drill sergeant duty, they assigned me to the Drill Sergeant School as a cadre, first sergeant. They removed the title as a first sergeant, but I had the duties of a first sergeant as the administrative NCO for that unit, Drill Sergeant School. That was a good assignment, because here you had all these drill sergeants that have already been trained to be drill sergeants, and now they are there training the candidates to be drill sergeants. Working in a headquarters like that, it was rewarding, here again, to see so many of the young soldiers coming out of the field, coming in to train to be a drill sergeant. I was there for almost three years.

HT:

Some people make that occupation, drill sergeant, becoming a drill sergeant, I mean, do they do that for their entire career, practically?

SM:

No. You can only do it two years. Three years is the max.

HT:

Oh, really? I didn't know that.

SM:

Three years is the max. Normally, when you're a drill sergeant, because of the pressure and the stress and the time away from home, there's a high divorce rate among married drill sergeants. Under extenuating circumstances, you can go for the three years, as long as you haven't had your wife coming in complaining about you've been away from home too long or whatever. After you do your two or three years, you then go on to your next assignment. And if you want to volunteer to come back later, it's all depends on what your rank is, because they try to get you when you're an E-5 or E-6. Now, like me, they didn't catch me until I was an E-7. So, when I finished that, I knew I had no intentions of going back. But a lot of the E-5s, they would do their two years, go on to another assignment, and then, when they make their E-6, they'll come back. They would ask for an assignment as a drill sergeant. Then they have to go through a refresher course as a drill sergeant before they go on the trail again.

HT:

You were still stationed at this time in Fort Jackson. So you were there what, about five years?

SM:

From '76 until '81.

HT:

Where did you go next?

SM:

From Fort Jackson, I went back to Germany. This time they sent me to Heidelberg, NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] Headquarters in Heidelberg.

HT:

What type of work did you do there?

SM:

Well, all my jobs have consisted of administrative-type work, and it depends on your rank as to the title of the job, but it's still administration, instead of me typing, I'm checking the typists' work. Then once you get past checking the typing, then you're an action officer, and you start writing out things for them to type. So during my whole time, it always has been administrative work in a different capacity.

So when I went back to Germany this time, I was assigned, as I said, NATO Headquarters. There we had a joint command, you know, you have the army, air force, German air force, U.S. Air Force, army, and everybody there, the British soldiers. That was really interesting. We also had Italian soldiers. Everybody was there and mingled. That was good. That was a good assignment. I've forgot what section I worked. [Unclear] Colonel McDonnell. Colonel McDonnell, he was my supervisor. I can't remember the name of—ah! Wow—see? See? There goes the mind. [laughter] Anyway, I had a chance to work with the German soldiers and the Canadians, and that was really good. That was really different. Learning, too, that the air force was so much different from the army. That was my first experience in working with the air force.

HT:

How were they different?

SM:

Well, they was different because of the training, and what the air force stands for versus what the army stands for. Their thinking in regard to military was just completely different. I found it was good in a lot of instances, because the air force, I think, was more book knowledgeable, and we was more technical trained. We would get in some heated debate as to how things should be done, versus how the air force says it should be done.

That's why, I guess, when you're working with a multiheadquarters they had to come up with regulations that everybody would have to go by. I couldn't use all army. They couldn't use all air force. It was interesting, because the Germans, they really didn't want to conform. They have their way of doing, and it was hard to get across to them sometimes that that's just not the way it's going to be done. Maybe that's the way they want it done, but that's not the way it's going to be done.

HT:

I'm assuming everybody spoke English.

SM:

Yes. English was the primary language.

HT:

English was the common language?

SM:

Yes.

HT:

How long were you stationed at NATO Headquarters?

SM:

I was there from August '81 until July '84.

HT:

And you worked with civilians as well as military?

SM:

No. This was all military.

HT:

All military. And kept normal, quote, office hours?

SM:

Oh, being there, it was like heaven for hours, because you had all these different countries, and we celebrated everybody's holidays. We got everybody's holidays off, and it was just great. You had all this time off. So they came up with this regulation that was identify so many holidays for each army, each nationality.

HT:

Wow. You must have been off more than you would work, almost.

SM:

“Every time you turn around, we had a day off.”

“Well, what can I say? Volunteer to go to CENTAC [Central Army Command].”

“You can't volunteer. You have to be DA-selected.”

“Yes, right. So that's why I'm getting all this time off.”

But it was really, really a good assignment, and you learn. In an environment like that, you learn more than you really think that you're learning. After leaving there, you start thinking, all this—can't say exactly what I've done. A lot of the assignments that I worked, they've always been classified assignments. So you can't talk about exactly what you're doing. You talk about the people. And that's the way it was with NATO assignment. It was one of those highly classified type assignments where you just don't discuss your work.

HT:

Is NATO still headquartered at Heidelberg, or have they moved?

SM:

NATO, they changed—now, there is a NATO Headquarters in Heidelberg, but it's not like it was when I was there. Because when we were there, it was like Central Army Command, CENTAC—they changed the structure, it's NATO, but the army and air force is not in charge. I think the Brits and someone else is in charge of it, maybe the Italians.

HT:

Isn't there something in Brussels?

SM:

Yes. That was our next higher headquarters.

HT:

Okay. So that was one above you?

SM:

Right. Yes. Then after I left from there, I was selected for six months' schooling, Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. Resident course. Never gone to Texas before. I'll tell you this, it was an experience. [laughs]

HT:

What type of school was this again?

SM:

This was the sergeants major residence course.

HT:

What is that exactly?

SM:

Sergeant major is the highest enlisted rank that you can attain in the army. Before you make that rank, they always try to send you to that school to prepare you for your job, to be the highest enlisted in the military. I went to that school, and then you had a choice of going to the resident course for six months, or you could take the nonresident course for two years. I was one of the fortunate ones. The first go-around, I was selected for the resident course. So that was a move from Germany. So, six months of training at Fort Bliss.

HT:

What type of training was involved in this?

SM:

Strictly books, strictly everything by the book, everything that goes on in the army. You're supposed to know something, a little, about everything that goes on. Regardless of MOS, what field it is, you should know something about it. That's what we focus on that six months.

HT:

I'm assuming you were one of the few women in attendance at this particular time?

SM:

Right. We had a class of 244. Of that 244, there was four females.

HT:

Wow. That's quite an honor.

SM:

Yes. Yes.

HT:

And lots of pressure, too, I'm sure.

SM:

Yes, it was. Yes, it was, and it was a lot of pressure—pressure on myself because I made sure that I want to do it. But here again, with all the guys being there, they'd never been to the school before, either. So we were all in the same boat, and everybody was just so helpful trying to make it through. A lot of them was already sergeant major. I was still a master sergeant, E-8. As a matter of fact, they all, the four females, were still master sergeants. There was a couple that had already made sergeant major, but this was a school prerequisite. They had come down on orders for this school, and they had to take it. But we covered everything. It was all in classrooms. We had very little outside activity except for our physical training.

HT:

So you still had to do physical training, even there? [laughter] Can't get away from that.

SM:

There's no way around PT. No way around. That was a six-months course.

HT:

Was this five days a week?

SM:

Yes.

HT:

From—eight-to-five type situation?

SM:

Well, eight to five in a classroom, but you get up for PT at five o'clock, PT for an hour from six to seven. Then you come back and get showered and dressed, and then you're off to school, and you get out, most of the time, it was about three-thirty or four o'clock.

HT:

Was there studying to be done in the evening?

SM:

Right. Right. Then you had to do research papers, and you had college courses. As a matter of fact, you had to take some college courses while you were there, at least two. So you had that. You had reports. It was always—it was six months of intense studying and applying yourself.

HT:

It sounds almost like doing a masters at a university.

SM:

I'm telling you—

HT:

Except it's six months.

SM:

Yes. It was six months or more. It was no fun, but I enjoyed it. Here again, I threw myself into anything that I had to do, and I just make myself enjoy it and get the most of out of the situation.

HT:

Where is Fort Bliss?

SM:

Fort Bliss is in El Paso, Texas.

HT:

Desert country.

SM:

Yes. Hot, hot, hot.

HT:

And after you graduated from the sergeants major residence course, what was the next assignment?

SM:

After I graduated from the sergeants major course, here again, this is my first real fight with DA, Department of the Army for an assignment. They sent me to Fort Pickett, Virginia, as a first sergeant. I fought against that, but they would not budge. I just didn't think it was right, because I had finished the Sergeants Major Academy, now you're sending me to be a first sergeant. That's a step down from a sergeant major, so I just could not understand that. It took them a while to get it through to my head. “Even though you've gone through the Sergeants Major Academy, you're still not a sergeant major. You still haven't done your first sergeant duty. So you need to get the first sergeant duty on your record to show that you've been a first sergeant before the board selects you to be a sergeant major.” Fort Pickett. The town was Blackstone, Virginia, population 3,000. Ah!

HT:

Now, where is this in Virginia?

SM:

It's about eighty miles south of Richmond, not a good place to be.

HT:

What type of fort is Fort Pickett?

SM:

It was a reservist training base.

HT:

Sounds like it was one of your least favorite places.

SM:

It was not a good place to be. Here again, my assignment as a first sergeant, again very rewarding, because you help troops. But the place itself, that was worse than being on the farm almost. [laughs]

HT:

And how long did this endure?

SM:

Two years. Two years. It was a two-years assignment, and I was there all by myself. My husband was not with me.

HT:

Oh, so you were married by this time.

SM:

Yes.

HT:

When had you gotten married?

SM:

We got married long before I went to the Sergeants Major Academy. He didn't go up there, either. Good, because I wouldn't have been able to deal with both of them. [laughs] But we married in '82. Mac was retired from the military when we got married.

HT:

Okay. So he could move around with you.

SM:

He could have, yes, but there was no chance of him coming to Fort Pickett, because he would not have been able to find any work there. He would have been miserable. So he stayed in Germany during this time, and we'd commute every three months.

But Fort Pickett. Now, this is where I really experienced rednecks, as they call them. Yes. They will stare, stare you in the face. It was like they was from another world. I just threw myself into my work as a first sergeant and just said, “Okay. If I got to do it, I'm going to do it.”

HT:

Did you live on or off base?

SM:

Off base. It took a while to move off base, because anything that was decent around there in the area, they didn't want blacks in it. So I had to wait until this townhouse came available, and the post commander had to talk to the rental people to say, “My first sergeant needs a place. She is qualified to move in it. Let her move in it.” So I got me a place.

HT:

It was never an option to stay on base?

SM:

No. No. The little cottages that they had there on the post, were all for recreational use. So the first couple of months that I did stay on post, it was just in a two-room cottage. [laughs] Thank God for every three months.

HT:

That's sort of a long commute, though, isn't it?

SM:

Yes, it was. [laughter]

HT:

How long were you usually gone? Or did he come over here?

SM:

We would flip-flop. Whenever I'd go, I would always take two weeks. When he would come, he'd take one week, because of his job. But mine, if I was going to fly all the way over there, they knew that two weeks was good. I always tried to get mine during the holidays, and that way it wasn't so long from the troops.

HT:

After you left beautiful Fort Pickett, where did you go next?

SM:

They sent me back to Germany. That was one of the agreements with DA. If I do my job there and don't bug them about leaving Fort Pickett before my time was up, they would get me assigned back to Heidelberg, Germany, where my husband was. I took them at their word, and it happened. They sent me back to Heidelberg, Germany, to NATO Headquarters again. Different job, same headquarters.

That was in 1986. I walked into something there that I wasn't prepared for. I was on the list to make sergeant major, and the battalion that I went to—that I was slated to go to, the battalion commander had already tried to stop the assignment. He did not want a female in that position. So needless to say, I was not wanted, and it showed. He was there for a little more than a year, and he went on, and everything then was just beautiful, the way it's supposed to be. We had a talk about it, and he said it was nothing against me as a person, but he just didn't feel that a female could handle the position, to be in charge of over 200 males, especially when they are multiservice. He said he was trying to help me, but I just didn't understand it. I didn't understand it. I told him that, “Hey, whatever the reason was, DA has selected me to be here. Now, you let me know what my job is, and I will do it. I'll stay out of your hair, and you can stay out of mine.” That's the way we worked for that year. He would walk right past me and wouldn't speak. That's bad to have work under those conditions.

HT:

Oh, gosh, yes.

SM:

It really was. But I knew it was a just a matter of time before he'd move on to his next assignment. So I endured it. I just thought, “This late in my career, that I have reached the top of my career, and I have to be subject to this?” It was just—ah! Ah! [laughs]

HT:

I guess you had no recourse at all.

SM:

No. No. No recourse. You know, I could have made a lot of stink, but what can you do? He's a colonel. He's not going any higher. He's not going to make general. I'm a sergeant major. I have to do whatever it takes, you know, and hey, I know this is my last assignment, so I'll do whatever it takes for this year and a half until he leaves off. When he left, this next commander came in, and things just started happening. I extended. I extended. Sure did.

HT:

Because you basically lost a year.

SM:

Yes. Well, I extended because I was enjoying my assignment so much. Once he got out of the way, then this other guy came in. He saw what was going on; we worked together to make the assignment what it was. That last assignment, like I say was very rewarding.

HT:

What type of work did you do as a sergeant major?

SM:

Sergeant majors, when they're put in an assignment like that, their main concern is the health and welfare of the enlisted troops of that unit. That, being a NATO Headquarters, was quite a bit. Here again, when you say enlisted personnel of that unit, that was all services, and being all services, you know, there was resistance.

HT:

Literally, Germans, British—

SM:

Yes. Right. Right. That could pose quite a problem there, because each one of the branches, they have their own senior enlisted persons. So if those senior enlisted persons have a problem among themselves, things just can't work. Thanks to God, those senior enlisted that was already in place, they knew what had taken place with this colonel. So it was like, “Okay. He's gone. Now let's us get on the ball and do what we have to do.” That was it. That was taking care of the soldiers. In addition to taking care of the soldiers, I was also the adjutant. That is the paper pusher for the colonel. You know, all the paperwork that goes in and out of his office, I had to review it and make sure it was right and everything, and the requisition of our personnel coming into the unit. But it was really good, that last four, four and a half years.

HT:

You say that you had personnel from all these various NATO countries. Did they all sleep in the same barracks and train together? How did this work?

SM:

No. When you get to a headquarters like this, they've had all their training. Everybody knows what they're supposed to do. The Germans, they had their own barracks with their first sergeant and their company commander. We had the air force, same thing. Each one of them, they had their own separate barracks. When they are in their own separate barracks, then they are governed by the rules and regulations of that branch of service. But then when they come in a working environment, then they have a set of rules that—is a combined—that they have to conform to.

That made it good, because you wasn't always doing something different. You know, you get back to your barracks at night and, “Okay. I'm in my army now.” Okay, you get up and go into work and you say, “Okay. I'm in NATO now.” So it worked well both ways. The troops, they really enjoyed it. The troops, they just thought it was really good with all the time off and then the different nationalities learning each other cultural.

HT:

Was this your last assignment?

SM:

This was my last assignment. I was there from December '86 until I retired, June '91. I was scheduled to retire. I had put in my retirement papers to retire in March of '91, which would have given me exactly twenty-six years. That was my goal when I did my reenlistment in Vietnam—twenty-six years. I figured if I didn't have it then, I won't have it.

HT:

Now, some people retire at twenty.

SM:

Yes.

HT:

But I'm assuming their retirement pay is not as great as it is if you have over twenty-five.

SM:

No, it's not as great. Then retiring at twenty versus twenty-six, there's always two ranks that you can almost make between twenty and twenty-six, two pay grades. So I had set mine at twenty-six, because I figured if I had not attained the rank of sergeant major by then, I would not. It just worked out well that I attained that rank six years prior.

HT:

Have you ever thought about doing thirty, or do people—

SM:

No. I never had in my mind to do thirty. A lot of people do, but I was [not] one of those. I had set my goal. I had attained my goal. There was no use in me staying around, because there was nothing else that I could do. You know, I could work, but there was no more promotion that I could make, and that was the last pay raise. I would have gotten longevity, of course, but that was the last, per se, pay raise. That was the last longevity pay raise. I would have been getting cost-of-living pay raises whenever they did. So I figured, well, okay, I had set my goal. I had saved accordingly.

Mac and I had talked about it, and he was saying, “Go for thirty. Go for thirty.”

I'm saying, “No, no, no. You did twenty-seven. I'm going to do twenty-six. I don't want to outdo you.”

So he said, “Okay.”

I got that time in, put my paper in, and that's when it was old Saddam Hussein acting up over there. They wouldn't let me retire. They held my retirement for three months. I was not told that I would have to go, but when the world is in a state like that, you never know what you'll have to do. So I had to be prepared. So after they did their due, they said, “Okay. You can retire now.” So I resubmitted it, and I retired at the end of June, three months later. I retired there in Germany. I got out there, and with Mac being there, I just bummed around for six months. Then I decided, well, okay, it's time to go home. Home was Georgia. So I told Mac, “Well, we'll live in Florida,” since this is his home. So that's how we ended up here.

HT:

What line of work was he in?

SM:

He was communications.

HT:

Did he work for the army after he retired?

SM:

Right.

HT:

What major changes did you witness and see through your twenty-six years?

[Synthesized-voice clock: The time is 4:00 p.m.]

SM:

Oh, my. [laughs] We have been talking. [unclear]. The major change was, at the time that I came in, when women was training women, there was an esprit de corps that was developed, love for your country, patriotism and all this; morals and all this. This was instilled in us. But as the army grew and this integration of the troops into the barracks and whatnot, it just lost so much. Some of the things that goes on in the army that started taking place just before I retired, I was just so blessed that I was getting out.

Well, having babies, that was one of the things. The female being pregnant—They'd have one baby; two years later, they got another baby, no marriage or anything. I just couldn't deal with it. You've got these kids and no husband, so you're dependent on the army just for a paycheck, but you can't be here to win that paycheck, because you've got to be there with your kid, and things like that. It bothered me. I guess it bothered me so much because I made that choice, whether I was going to have kids or whether I was going to stay in the military. I wanted to be the best at both, and I knew I couldn't be the best at both, so I chose not to have kids. After I had raised my hand for that military, I said, “Well, if I'm going to be in the military, I can't do it.” Didn't want to do it. Then when they just started liberalizing, just letting them have babies, it just—because at one time, if a woman had a baby, you had to get out of the military. Now they just have them. That, and along with the training—

HT:

Is the training not as thorough as it was in your day?

SM:

Well, I can't say, because I haven't been back, but some of the things that the drill sergeants are not allowed to do in the performance of their job in order to make this civilian into a trainee. It's like the trainee gets stressed out—well, what about the drill sergeant? He's stressed, too. But I heard that the trainee can take a—they have a stress card. When the drill sergeant gets on them too hard, they can pull out this stress card, and the drill sergeant has to leave them alone. Can you imagine?

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

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

SM:

Physically? I guess it probably would be the two-mile run, when they changed it from the one-mile to the two-mile run. That was—whew, that was pretty hard. You really had to do some PT in order to work yourself up to two miles in the time limit that they wanted you to do it in.

HT:

Was this in full battle gear?

SM:

No, no, no. This was for your physical training test, your PT test in your regular PT outfit. But the physical portion, I—well, even on drill sergeant status, the physical portion that we went through on the night marches with the trainees and the day marches, I was in shape. I had gotten in shape for the drill sergeant duty. Changing from the one-mile run to the two-mile run, I think that was probably the most challenging for me. Yes.

HT:

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

SM:

The loss of one of my buddies in Vietnam. It wasn't due to a combat wound or anything. He had come over, and all of us were sitting around talking that Sunday morning, and he left. We were just good friends. There was five of us. Everything that we did, we tried to do it together. He had come over that morning to just sit around and shoot the bull with us, and he left, and on his way back, he had an accident in his jeep and got killed. That was like, you know, you're sitting here beside me this minute, and you're gone, and Charlie didn't do it. It was like, oh, that's not supposed to happen in Vietnam. But we got through it.

HT:

Were you ever afraid, or do you think you were ever in any kind of physical danger, particularly in Vietnam?

SM:

Every day. It was there. There's no way around it, and we realized that, but what can you do?

HT:

You just go on doing your regular duty.

SM:

You have to do it. Otherwise, you could become a basket case. I don't think we had to send anybody back because they couldn't take the environment. Because once we got there, everybody did what they could to indoctrinate you into, “Hey, this is a one-year assignment, and these are some of the things that you're going to encounter.” We just threw our arms around each other and loved each other and just did it.

That's why I say a lot of the things that happened in the military with the racism and things like this, I guess I could say I was sheltered, because after I came back from Vietnam, I didn't go back out in the civilian sector. I was with the military. A lot of things that happened in the military, it just didn't happen in the military versus on the outside, in the civilian life.

I guess that, and along with my reasoning that I've always—even in high school, I was my individual person. I wasn't the one that always wanted to follow what someone else was doing. I would try to analyze whether it was right or wrong before I'd do it. That helped me in my military career to weed out some of the situations before it happened where it could have been a confrontation, black and white.

I never let someone else's problem be my problem. If you're stupid enough to think that way, that's your problem. I'm not going to think about you like that. I just think of you that you're different. You know, you're thinking that I'm different, you're different, too. If you stay out of my face, I'll stay out of your face, and we still can get our work done. Mission accomplishment.

HT:

Like sort of with that colonel—

SM:

Yes, right.

HT:

—that you had to deal with that whole year.

SM:

Right, yes.

HT:

Do you recall any unusual or humorous moments or events, rather, through your twenty-six years, that really stand out in your mind?

SM:

No. No. There were so many good moments. Nothing just pops right up.

HT:

What impact do you think the military had on your life, immediately after you got out and in the long term, the last nine years that you've been out?

SM:

The impact that the military had, it started a long time ago, long before I reached the twenty-six year mark. The friends that I made over the years, lifelong friendships, and the stability that the military gave me in dealing with my finances, you know, in a way that I could retire and live comfortable after retirement. Now, being here in the civilian world and retired, after nine years, I'm still thankful that I chose the military, because being able to retire at such a young age, I would say, and still job marketable is a blessing.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

HT:

I think we were talking about retirement and the benefits.

SM:

Right, and the benefits of retirement. Well, as I said, you learn early in the military—well, I did—and not only in the military. I guess I learned it before I came in. You make a dime, save a penny. With that, I was able to accomplish a lot of things that I wanted to do. When I got out, I was prepared for retirement where it was not in a financial bind that we needed to go out and do all these things that you do when you retire. After we retired, we did a lot of stateside traveling, visiting lifelong friends that I met in the military, families that I hadn't seen since I had gone in the military, and being able to connect with my step-kids and grandkids. That has been the most enjoyable thing that I've encountered since I've been retired, being with them.

HT:

So once you retired from the army, you didn't do any work at all?

SM:

No. No. I think in 1997, I signed up with a temporary agent—you know what they do. I signed up to be a receptionist, just to get out of the house a couple days a week. I also still do a lot of volunteer work out at MacDill [Air Force Base] and also at the VA Hospital. I'm involved quite a bit with the activities in my church. We also have a women veterans association chapter here in Tampa that I'm very active with. Last year—the year before, now—the Vietnam women, we had our first reunion out in Olympia, Washington. That was truly, truly long past due, but we did it. Next one is coming up this September in San Antonio, Texas. I'm looking forward to it.

HT:

This is a nationwide organization?

SM:

What?

HT:

The Vietnam—

SM:

The Vietnam Women Veterans? Well, I'll tell you what. It came about because we, the support group that I was telling you were in Vietnam, we had served, but there was very few people that recognized that. Whenever people start talking about women in Vietnam, they always say the nurses.

HT:

Nurses, right.

SM:

The nurses.

HT:

I even said that at our first telephone conversation, as you recall. That's all I heard about.

SM:

Yes. Yes. And three of the ladies, they got tired of this, and they said, “Okay. Nobody has recognized that we've been there. Nobody has laid out a welcome mat saying, 'Thank you, welcome home.' We endured—.” Like I say, we, the ones that got out of the military, “They endured some of the same things that the Vietnam male veterans endured, but nobody has recognized it.”

Go to the VA hospital. They didn't know what to do with them, because they didn't have women veterans. And go complaining about post-traumatic syndrome, they're like, “A woman?” So this was our get-together there at the first reunion out in Olympia, Washington, for the ones that was in support area. Now, it was not geared toward the nurses whatsoever, but if the nurses heard about it, and they wanted to come, they could. But this was [U.S.] Army, [U.S.] Air Force, [U.S.] Navy, and Marine, the enlisted, and staff officers per se. We're the ones that met out there and just had a wonderful, wonderful reunion. It really was like a healing for some.

HT:

You had a good response?

SM:

Very good. Very good. Some of the things that the women were relating to in these groups, like I say, staying in the military, I was far from it, because I didn't know all these things was going on. I never realized that I was exposed to Agent Orange until this group got together, and we started talking. If you was in Vietnam during this time, and you was this close to the headquarters of the U.S. Army Vietnam military detachment, you were exposed to it. You need to get on the Agent Orange register out there. You could bring up something that, you know, the guys that had been there documented that they were exposed. It was like, “Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god.” Some of the girls, they came back and found out that they couldn't conceive. This is because—some of them conceived and the babies were mentally retarded. All this—now they have done studies, learned that it is because of the Agent Orange that they were exposed to, and they didn't have no knowledge of this before. It really, really has made the ones that were there more aware, and the word has gotten out about educating the women that served over there.

The people that did not know that we served, they need to know that we served, and that we're not going away. [laughs] We need our due respect just like everybody else got their dues.

HT:

That's great. Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

SM:

You'd have to ask my husband. [laughter] Yes, very much so.

HT:

Do you think the military made you that way, or were you independent prior to joining?

SM:

No doubt about it, the military had something to do with it, but I think the groundwork were laid before I came into the military.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a trailblazer or a trendsetter?

SM:

Well, yes. Yes.

HT:

Because you've done quite a few firsts.

SM:

True, true, true. Yes, yes, yes. Yes, there are things that—yes.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist in the sense of the seventies?

SM:

No. There are things that I just believe strongly in. That doesn't make me a feminist. Equal pay for equal work. As my husband would say, “You all wanted all these things. Now you've got it.” I have to get on him sometimes about not opening the door, not pulling the chair out. He says, “Well, you all started this. You all don't want it.”

“You've never heard me say this, that I didn't want this. We want these things.”

Personally, a lot of the things that the feminists get out there and say that they want or they don't want, sometimes mine is just the opposite of that. But the bottom line, I think we all want the same thing, it's just the way—I guess the way they put it out there to the world. It's like—I don't know. Well, because of the feminine movement, I know there's a lot of things that took place in the military because of it, but there's a lot of things that they fight for that I don't necessarily believe in, like going to combat, being active in a combat role. I never thought that, that I need to be on the front line.

HT:

So you don't—

SM:

No, never.

HT:

Well, Mrs. McArthur, I've asked all the formal questions. We've covered so much territory this afternoon. Do you have anything else you want to add, or have I worn you out? [laughs]

SM:

No. I do not have anything that I want to add, that I enjoyed you asking me all these questions and bringing back memories, all the way down memory lane, and Mac don't have to listen to me the rest of the evening. [laughter]

HT:

Well, thank you so much.

SM:

I will have to remind him of when we met. [laughs]

HT:

It's been an absolute pleasure listening to you. Your stories have been absolutely wonderful. Thank you again.

SM:

Well, you're most welcome.

[End of interview]