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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Willie Mae Williams, 2001

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Object ID: WV0202.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Willie Mae (Mattier) Williams’ service in the WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps) and the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) from 1942 to 1945.

Summary:

Williams describes her attempts to get a college education; later working as a domestic in Washington, D.C.; and her decision to return to Tampa. She discusses attending a recruitment meeting; enlisting in the WAAC for travel and education benefits; reactions to her enlistment; and asking her white employers to sign for her.

Of basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Williams describes kitchen patrol and grounds maintenance duties; vaccinations; using communal showers; the style and fit of uniforms; and physical examinations. She talks about work as a cook in hospitals at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, focusing on the preparation of large amounts of food; rotating shifts; working with white servicemen; and the WAC stereotype. Other service-related topics include: segregation in the military; leisure activities; memories of VE Day and VJ Day; and her admiration of Major Charity Adams Earley; and the difficulty for the black community to feel patriotic while they struggled for equality on the home front.

Post-service discussion focuses on Williams’ difficulty to find employment due to racial discrimination. She mentions the various schools she attended using the GI Bill, struggles to meet social security requirements, and work with the Girls Clubs of Tampa, Florida. In detail she discusses her efforts to organize a Tampa chapter of the American Legion, and her work at commander of two American Legion posts.

Creator: Willie Mae Mattier Williams

Biographical Info: Willie Mae (Mattier) Williams (b. 1912) of Archer, Florida, served in the WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps) and the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) from 1943 to 1945, then worked in a Cleveland, Ohio, post office for 23 years.

Collection: Willie Mae Williams 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:

[Susie McArthur (WV0199) is also present for this interview]

HERMANN TROJANOWSKI:

Today is Saturday, February the tenth, 2001. My name is Hermann Trojanowski, and I'm at the home of Mrs. Willie Mae Williams in Tampa, Florida, and I'm here to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Mrs. Williams, if you would tell me your full name, we will use that as a test to see how your voice sounds on the tape recorder.

WILLIE MAE WILLIAMS:

My name is Willie Mae Williams.

HT:

Mrs. Williams could you tell me where you were born and when?

WW:

I was born in Alachua County, Archer, Florida, October 23, 1912.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit about your family, about your parents and your brothers and sisters, and what life was like growing up during the Depression?

WW:

My father was Anderson Mattier and mother Ellen, E-l-l-e-n, Mattier. At an early age, we relocated to Tampa from Archer.

HT:

Where did you go to high school?

WW:

I went to elementary school first, Dobyville. It's a little, small school here in Tampa, Hyde Park area. From there, I went to private school for a year [with] Miss Hodgin, and then I graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Hillsborough County.

HT:

What did you do after high school? What type of work did you do?

WW:

I graduated in 1933, and then for three years, I tried to get some support to go to Edward Waters College. And finally I did get to Jacksonville to go to Edward Waters, through some Methodist ministers. I stayed there, oh, not too long. I didn't finish there because I became ill.

Later, I went to Washington, D.C. I did a little domestic work. I was there for several years, and Roosevelt was president and there were rumors of war. I said, “The first place they're going to bomb is Washington, D.C.” So I left and come back home to Tampa. I still tried to get to go college, but I had no help.

So then three women army recruiters came to Tampa asking younger women to join the service, so I said, “That's a good chance for education.” I took the chance. I was one of the first five blacks in Hillsborough County to join.

HT:

So you joined the W-A-A-C [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] ?

WW:

The W-A-A-C, in 1942. I enlisted in—it was '42 when they were around, the latter part. In April '43, they sent us to Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

HT:

That's where you took basic training?

WW:

I took basic there, from April until September. Then it got cold, too cold for the women, so they said they were going to send us to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for staging September to December 23, and then on to Oklahoma by Christmas of '43.

HT:

Do you recall why you joined the WAAC? Did you see posters?

WW:

There were three lieutenants in town recruiting that were in the newspapers, and they were going to have a meeting to talk to the women in this area. So I attended it, and I joined.

HT:

So you saw some sort of advertisement in a newspaper, I guess?

WW:

The newspaper and fliers they had, and that's how I found out about that the women were going in—

HT:

Do you recall how long you stayed in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, before you went on to—

WW:

April to September, five months.

HT:

Then on to Fort Des Moines?

WW:

Fort Des Moines until a few days before Christmas.

HT:

So you did basic training in both places?

WW:

No, we were at a staging area in Fort Des Moines. That was a staging area.

HT:

What do you recall from your basic training days? What was that like? What did they have you do?

WW:

We really didn't get assigned until we were sent to a camp where the various schools were located. So we had to do KP [kitchen patrol] and pick up cigarette butts. We were walking around all day looking for the cigarette butts. I didn't smoke, and it was no pleasure picking up cigarette butts. That's what they did in basic training. Then they sent us to school. They didn't tell us about any of the schools, though, until we went to Iowa, and then they put us in—I worked with the medics, was a diet cook in the hospital.

HT:

Did you receive any sort of special training for Des Moines—

WW:

Yes. We went to cooks' and bakers' school. They do it their way. They do it by the hundred pounds, fifty pounds and all of that. Special training.

HT:

How long did you do cooking and baking at Fort Des Moines?

WW:

We were in Fort Des Moines from September to December.

HT:

That was at Fort Gruber, I think you said?

WW:

Camp Gruber.

HT:

Camp Gruber. What type of base was Camp Gruber? Infantry? Artillery? Do you recall?

WW:

Army WAC [Women's Army Corps] Detachment 1881 Service Command Unit.

SUSIE MCARTHUR (SM):

Service command.

HT:

Service command. What type of work did you do at Camp Gruber?

WW:

I was in the hospital, and I was a diet cook.

HT:

Did you enjoy that?

WW:

Oh, yes. It was different. Larger amounts, anyway. I stayed there until I was sent home, convenience of the government. They closed the camp, really, and they sent us home, and then I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was discharged.

HT:

When was that?

WW:

December 24, 1945.

HT:

If I could just backtrack just a second. When you first decided to join, what did your family and friends think about you joining the military?

WW:

I can only say that I was looking how to improve my education, and that is why I went in. Because there would be travel, and then they said afterward they were going to send you to school, which they did. That's why I went.

HT:

So your family didn't object to you going because of rumors about women who joined, and that sort of thing?

WW:

I guess they figured, with the rearing, if you are brought up a certain way, under conditions, you're not going to stray very much, because I've gone to church while I was on the base. Sometimes there wouldn't be nobody but me and the priest there. But that was what I was accustomed to doing.

I'd be staying in bed on Saturday night, I would get up, and I would go to church. It depends on how you were reared whether or not what you would do. Because we had two sets of women that came out on the post, and some would come in a bus and all dressed, and all the others, they didn't care.

But it's just the way that your parents trained you and what you want to do in life. I was looking for something different, a way to get a better education.

HT:

Do you recall, did you have to take a test, either written or physical test to join the military?

WW:

Yes, we had to take exams—they had papers for us to fill out. One thing, in the Tampa area, we were working like in domestic, and if you were physically all right or not, if the people did not want you to go they had to sign. I was working for a retired judge, and I told them what my aim was, to later go to school. My employer said “If that's going to help you—.” They signed.

But I had a friend that was working, and her people would not sign. She wanted to go so she could go on to college, which she went later and became a teacher. They wouldn't sign, and they wouldn't accept her paper. That's how segregated it was, that if the whites said no, they need you to keep their baby, or to work because they were working, if they didn't sign the papers, then you didn't get to go. But I was able to go in.

HT:

Do you recall anything particular about your basic training, such as lack of privacy, food, the uniform? What was basic training like?

WW:

Well, it was a little rough. We went in up near Easter time, and they gave us all these shots. Sunday morning, Easter Sunday, we were just falling out like flies. All along the road, they had the ambulances coming behind us, where the shots made us sick.

The barrack building, it wasn't private like we had had at home. I well remember some of us would wait until everyone was in bed and use the tubs to bathe. They had the barracks built for men. Of course, they were open showers. We'd wait until two or three o'clock in the morning, and then go when the others was sleeping, to have privacy to get our bath.

Some of us, the clothing, at first they didn't have the clothing right for us. Some of them was too big. Some of the women had to walk around in a dress they come with from home until they could get clothes. We weren't used to those type of shoes. But we marched, and we had some very good lieutenants that would lecture us and try to tell us what to do—and we had some very young ones, and I think mothers had to sign for them to get in there. So we tried to look after them.

Of course, as the sign said, we were fighting racism and sexism, because some of them wanted to take advantage, so she told us to always go in a group. That's what we did at Fort Devens.

HT:

What was a typical day like for you in basic training? What time did you have to get up and go to school and that sort of thing?

WW:

Oh, it was according to the assignment of your jobs. If you were like in the cooking, you had to be up and going like five and five-thirty in the morning. I'd just get up and put on my clothes and be ready when the transportation come. It was difficult for some to learn how to get up. It didn't worry me.

HT:

What type of instructors did you have? Were they all women, or were there some men instructors teaching at these various classes that you went to?

WW:

Men and women, and sergeants. They had training. See, the first went in in like '41, and I went in in '43. They had trained them, and they had the sergeants and everything ready. I was working at the hospital with the medics.

HT:

What type of uniforms did you wear at that time? What was the material, and what was the color of the uniform in those days?

WW:

Khaki for the summer. The picture—the next one, summer uniform. It was made out of the— [cotton].

SM:

Was it gabardine?

WW:

No, it was a cotton gabardine dress uniform. Anyway, it was a nice material. For winter was wool mixture.

They're olive green. We had an overcoat. We had an all-weather coat, two piece skirt and shirt. They gave you uniforms. We had one dress uniform, two more dresses.

HT:

I understand you had to take care of your own uniform. Were you able to send it out to be laundered, or did you have to do your own laundry and your own ironing and starching?

WW:

There were people that would go around and do it for them, but I did my own, the washing and starching and pressing. Some were washed, some sent to the cleaners.

HT:

After basic training, could you ask to be sent to a certain school to be trained further, or were you assigned?

WW:

Well, they were assigned. Some of them went overseas. When they started going overseas, I told them I didn't sign up to go overseas, and I'd let them know when I wanted to go. They did not send me, because you sign a register to tell them whether you wanted to go overseas when you join. But my brother was over there, and he told me to stay over here with my mother, because she was a widow then. So I stayed in the states while he was over there.

HT:

Once you left basic training and were stationed at Camp Gruber, did you enjoy being there and enjoy your work?

WW:

Yes. I know we enjoyed it, because there was always something to learn. They taught you how to make rolls, making food for eight hundred people at a time. See, we were used to making them for six or eight. It made a difference. You could learn, and you could use it later, because you might work at a big hotel.

HT:

Did you work five days a week with weekends off or rotating shifts? What type of work schedule did you have?

WW:

They had a rotating, I think it was. We didn't work every weekend. We had a day off.

HT:

Did you work with both men and women?

WW:

Yes. At Camp Gruber, I think I told you we were working with the white guys in the hospital.

HT:

Did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination because you were a woman or you were an African-American, while you were in the military?

WW:

Yes, we weren't with the whites until maybe a parade or something that they wanted you out on the field and all, because church, we went different. We lived across the field. They lived on one side of the base, and we never saw them unless you worked in the same office or building, even motor pool or something like that, see.

In the hospital, they would always use white guys. Then they had the civilian help, which was white and black, too. But other than that, we never visited their barracks. They never came over to ours, unless they were an inspection crew. You just did not see them in Fort Des Moines, because black guys were stationed somewhere else, too. I don't know.

Because it was a segregated war. They had their own setup, their own housing, and we had ours. When we had entertainers come, it was the same thing.

HT:

So were two shows put on or different people would come visit?

WW:

No, they would come through like the day room and have a show or something, and we'd go. Other than that—that's what happened down at Camp Gruber. I did visit Norman, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City; Tulsa; Muskogee for weekends. It was fun. I went from there to North Carolina and came home. I was only in thirty-two months there.

HT:

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

WW:

I don't remember nothing hard that I wouldn't tackle.

HT:

What about emotionally?

WW:

I tell you, I was well controlled, and I didn't complain, and I never got into no confrontation with people. I watched. I did a lot of watching. One time when the sergeant was going to push me around, I said, “The book says, 'Tell, not touch,'” and she backed off. So I didn't have no more trouble—not with the people that was there, the roommates, officers.

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid while you were in the military?

WW:

Well, the only thing that did vex me, they were going to come in and examine us like they do the men, and I said, “I'm going home.” We just walked around with no clothes on, and lay up on the bed and wait.

HT:

Was it a physical examination?

WW:

Yes. I guess they thought about it, and they just took two or three, and we kept a slip on. Then they did their examination.

HT:

Was this a common practice, because I've never heard of this before.

WW:

I know this was in the beginning, because all these girls come in after we were in, and they had found out what to do with them. When we were in there, they didn't quite know what they was going to do with them, from '41 to '43.

HT:

Do you recall an embarrassing moment while you were in the military?

WW:

That was one of them. That was the most, to lay up on the bed like the men, sit on the bed. But there were a lot of moments. Like they wanted to go swimming every day, or something they wanted to do, but I'd go on sick call.

HT:

Do you remember some humorous moments that might have happened to you or to your friend that you can recall?

WW:

I'm going to think of that one.

HT:

What did you and your friends do during your spare time when you weren't on duty?

WW:

We went to the day room. There was one playing the piano. We were singing. We even had a wedding while we were there. We would read, and they would tell jokes. They would play music and dance. Sometimes we would get invited to go into town to the USO [United Service Organizations club]—they would take us into town.

HT:

Did the military provide off-duty recreation time and places for you to go, rec[reation] centers, or did you have to find your own things to do?

WW:

Every now and then when you had time off, you would get a pass. We met people through the civilians. Like the men and women that worked out, we would go to their homes and visit their families. I know one day, the bus had put us off on the highway, and they come to meet us with a horse and a wagon. We're not used to riding in a wagon and with a horse—so a friend of mine from Texas, had her shoes off but her uniform on, and she was riding on the back of this wagon. So some officers came by to stop and take a picture, riding in a wagon with her shoes off, with her uniform on.

HT:

That was probably against the rules, wasn't it?

WW:

Well, we were on a visit, and we were out in the country, but it's just funny that she would be riding with her shoes off. She didn't pay it no mind. She was catching us some air [unclear]. That was one of the funniest things.

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite songs and movies and dances were from the World War II era?

WW:

You're in the Army Now.

HT:

Where were you when VE [Victory in Europe] Day was announced, which would have been May of 1945? You were still in the military at that time?

WW:

I was in the hospital on the line, serving lunch.

HT:

What was the reaction of you and the people around you?

WW:

“It's over.” I remember very well. We were at the hospital working. We heard it over the radio.

HT:

What about VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, which would have been in August? You were still at Camp Gruber at that time?

WW:

Yes. I was there until—we went to North Carolina in December. We worked on until they closed the camp.

HT:

What rank were you when you were discharged?

WW:

Little old PFC [private first class].

HT:

Do you recall how much the salary was for a PFC in those days, how much money you made a month?

WW:

It wasn't very much. I don't remember, but it wasn't very much. Forty dollars, maybe.

HT:

What impact did the military have on your life immediately after you got out and in the long term? How did being in the military change your life?

WW:

Well, the only change I had in my mind or when I went in and when I come out, I pursued to fine schools so I could get a job, so I could have a retirement, which I did accomplish. I had to go all over these United States until I found it, but I found it in Cleveland, Ohio.

I was going to business school there. Some guy said he was going over to the post office to see if they were going to give an exam. I said, “Me, too.” I went, and I took it. I didn't know anything about being inside of a post office, but I know I was a veteran and that I was entitled to something. So I went over there, and that's when I took the exam, didn't pass, and I had to take it for the second time, but I made it. I stayed there until I did retire.

HT:

So you worked for the post office?

WW:

Yes. Distribution clerk.

HT:

Did you spend all of your time in Cleveland, Ohio, during that?

WW:

Yes.

HT:

Then you moved to Florida?

WW:

I came here. But I'd been to New York. I'd been out in Missouri. In New York, I went under the GI to photographers' school. But then after I got trained, I found out that they wanted all the money and wanted me to do all of the work, and I said, “No way. Find me something else.”

I had training in the hospital, nurses' assistant and in X-ray. I took a course in X-ray. This was still certification. The teacher said to me, “You are doing very well, but you are going to have a hard time getting a job because of your color.”

I said, “Anybody can do X-ray.”

He said, “No, they're not going to hire you.”

That's when I tried, when I went to Cleveland, to go back into the hospital to be an X-ray technician, but I couldn't get no job. I kept on until I got in the post office, and I stayed there.

HT:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

WW:

No. That wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to get a chance to go all the way through college, but I was from a one-parent family. I had no help. So I just kept on going a little at a time, a little at a time, until I found me a retirement job.

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after you got out in December of 1945?

WW:

Well, it was most disappointing. I came on the train from North Carolina, Fort Bragg, home. When I get home, everybody's gone to dinner, and nothing to eat. I stayed around, and I said, “I've got to find me a retirement job.” That was my one thing, or going to school so I can get a job. I wanted a retirement job. I knew that when I went in there.

So I worked for a while, and I decided I was going to go traveling, and I went to Saint Louis, Missouri. I had the friends that I had met. I said, “Maybe I can come to your place, and then I can find a job at a school or something to get some support.” I left there and went to Columbus, Missouri. That didn't work out. Then I called my friends in Cleveland, Ohio. That's how I got to Cleveland and got a room.

I went on this twenty-twenty. If you go to school, the government will give you $20 a month. They would give it to you, but you had to be enrolled. So he made out the paper, and we put the schools in there, so everywhere I went, they would sign me up. That's what I lived off. I had to study some. Finally, over to the junior college, I started working over there, and then I started going to the business school at the junior college, and then went to the post office from there.

HT:

Did you use the GI Bill to help pay for the schooling?

WW:

Yes. That was the twenty dollars that they gave me, and that's what I lived off, because I had nobody to ask for nothing. I just did the best I could.

HT:

These friends in Cleveland, were they people you had met in the military?

WW:

They were from my hometown, Tampa, Florida, that I had known before I went in. They were staying at a place, so they got me a room there. I picked up work on the weekend—I would cook down at this college for the students and then go to school.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood of the country was like during World War II? What were people thinking at that time? What was the country like during World War II?

WW:

People were mean, selfish and segregated and the country was really divided.

HT:

Was there a patriotic feeling in this country during that time? Did everybody feel that way?

WW:

[WW added later: Most people were confused, but some whites fought and died for the cause—freedom.] It was still selfish and didn't care whether nobody got ahead. Nobody cared about too much. They didn't want to integrate, I know. Downtown and all, you couldn't go in to the counters in dime stores and nowhere else, and I just wasn't going to stay. So I went on back up north and went around until I found a place where you could, and then you could study and could advance.

HT:

That opportunity wasn't here in Tampa at that time?

WW:

No. No. Because even when I—back in the sixties when I tried to transfer from the post office here, this guy, postmaster of Tampa, he wouldn't take a transfer from white or black. I exhausted two or three senators in Washington and Ohio. I had been working to try to get me a transfer. He would take you, but he would break you back down to the beginning. You'd lose all your seniority and have to start back, studying the scheme and everything. I didn't think that was right.

They says, if it was anywhere else besides California and Florida, because everybody comes in. I said, “Yeah, but I was born down there. Why can't I go home anyway?” They wouldn't. I had to retire to get back home to see about my mother. In '72, I was forced to retire. They downsized the workforce. They added with your age and the time you've been working. Then you can get a retirement. That's how I got back in Florida.

HT:

After you left the post office, did you work at anything else?

WW:

Here?

HT:

Yes.

WW:

My social security, you know when you work for the government, permanently, you either get retirement or you get more social security. I didn't pay in to social security, because I didn't have enough quarters to qualify when I got to sixty-five. So what I did, I went and I started working for the Girls Clubs.

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]

HT:

Before we changed the tape, we were talking about you starting to work for the Girls Club here in Tampa.

WW:

Working with the Girls Club in order to get enough quarters to qualify to get social security. One time, they thought they had enough, and they said, “We used your time when you got out of the army.” They thought they had enough, and so I had to go back and work some more months to qualify to get enough quarters to get my social security. I said, “That social security belongs to me, and I want a check.” So I worked. When I had gotten enough for the quarters, then I went back into retirement.

HT:

If we could backtrack just a minute to the World War II time, do you recall whom you admired and respected a great deal, who your heroes or heroines were while you were in the military?

WW:

The lady that took the 6888th [Central Postal Directory Battalion] overseas, took the battalion of black women, Major Charity Adams Earley. After her tour overseas, she retired as Lt. Colonel Charity Adams Earley.

HT:

Did you ever have a chance to meet her personally?

WW:

I was with her four years ago. In '98, we were in Atlanta getting the National Association for Black Military Women organized, getting the first set of officers. I sat with her. We sat and talked about a storm in Tampa. She moved to Dayton, Ohio, from Atlanta. That was the only group of black women that they took overseas to get that mail out, and I had met her.

HT:

But you met her later? You didn't meet her at that time?

WW:

Yes, when she had the battalion, out of Camp Gruber. Then I talked with her in Atlanta. Oh, no. I talked with her a lot. We had a son that lived in Atlanta, and we'd go and visit. I'd call her, and I'd talk to her.

HT:

Is she still alive?

WW:

Yes, as far as I know, she is. I know she is, because it would have been in the paper. I would have known about it. [WW added later] Lt. Colonel Charity Adams Earley passed away January 2002. I did a tribute to her on February 2002 for Black History at my church.]

HT:

I think she wrote a book, didn't she?

WW:

Yes, she did. She had this book out, and Dorothy [Miller], the one you did the other day, she got one of the books. I didn't get a book.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

WW:

I am an independent woman.

HT:

Right. Had you always been that way, or did the military make you that way?

WW:

No, I was born a leader. I organized this chapter that they have got here, Susie in '89. I had gone five years over to Saint Pete, to their Chapter 69 and I said, “Wait a minute. Tampa's bigger than Saint Pete. Why we don't have a chapter over there? Why do I have to go across the water?”

I called to the media, to the newspaper, and I'd go speak, I'd go out and speak at associations like churches, schools, telling about the women that pave the way for today's women in the armed forces.

HT:

Did you speak to schoolchildren or civic groups?

WW:

I spoke to the Junior League testing school for assembly. Then I went to a church, Zion Lutheran. They had recognition [of women in the military], and I speak over there to them.

HT:

Do you still speak today?

WW:

I had two invitations to go this month for black history, but I was just too weak after a hospital stay. So they're going to have me on later. As I told you, I went back from the Revolutionary War and put a speech in for women, “In the Beginning.” It's called, “In the Beginning,” what the women did and went through.

When I organized this Chapter 88, August the fifth, 1989, I had fifteen women I think I had got together. I had more whites than I had blacks. But I kept on, and I have a few more women. I've been a Legionnaire for fifty-four years.

HT:

So you belong to the American Legion—

WW:

I'm one of the officers for the state. I've been a commander for the [Cleveland, Ohio] Post 94, Lemuel T. Bryston, and the Carmichael-Legree Post 167 [in Tampa], two all-male posts, with continuous membership. I've got a life membership now, and I just got two life memberships from the twenty and four Honorary Society for Women Legionnaires. They sent me a twenty-year card. Then the past commander, I'm a life member of that. I am a life member of NARFE [National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association].

I've been commander in Ohio of an all-man American Legion Post 89. I was really the first woman, black or white, to hold the commandership over an all-man post in Cuyahoga County in Ohio. I've been the commander here of an all-man post. I've done a lot of work since I've been out of the service.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer, trendsetter?

WW:

At the end of my speech, I have that we, the women of World War II, are proud to be the pioneers or leaders for today's women. “We, the women who paved the way for today's women, are proud to be pioneers of the past.”

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? In the seventies, many women joined a feminist movement. Equal pay for equal rights, that sort of thing.

WW:

No, I have never worked with that group.

HT:

You don't have any problems with the men?

WW:

Oh, no. Not at all. We worked together, and I was the commander over those guys, and they listened.

HT:

What kind of duties does a commander of a post have?

WW:

All of them. You have to keep the people abreast of what's happening today, and being ready to assist any veteran that needs help. We go to the hospital and work with the patients on the wards. We go at Easter time and Christmas time, and to funerals to be near children and families and help them. Then we do community service. We go to nursing homes, their homes, run errands, shop, do doctor appointments and all of that.

In Cleveland, I had like three to five nursing homes we would visit, and I would get people out of the community involved in the homes. One day one little lady said she wanted some fried chicken.

I said, “You do?”

She said, “Yes.”

I went back, and I told them. You see, I had the post office. They would donate money. Chicken was hard to get. I went and told the clerk, all of these little people in these nursing homes, they want some fried chicken, and two chickens wasn't going to do it. I said, “It could be your mama, and it could be my mama living in a nursing home.”

He said, “She told me it could be my mama, in the nursing home, and it could be yours. So she's going to serve the old people in the nursing home these chickens.”

So I bought a basket full of chicken that day.

I took them out, in the community to be cooked so we served them.

And we colored four, five and six hundred eggs at a time to go around to nursing homes. Then we took the children that they had downtown in confinement. Easter eggs many years.

HT:

It sounds like the military has had a tremendous influence on your life.

WW:

Yes, it gets you to care. Of course, I cared before, but the service in everyday life, because there's always something to do, or somebody to take somewhere. Up until November, I was driving. I'd take them to the doctor's, take them to the store.

HT:

Do you have any children?

WW:

No.

HT:

I was going to ask you if any of the children had ever been in the military.

WW:

I met everybody else's children. I have about twelve godchildren

HT:

How do you feel about women in combat positions? Of course, when you were in the military, women were very limited as to what they could do.

WW:

They didn't let them go up to the line.

HT:

Right. How do you feel about that? Do you approve of women being able to fly airplanes, go into combat, like they did in the Gulf War ten years ago?

WW:

I think that they are able to do it. If that's their choice and they want to do it, then let them do it. Don't hinder nobody from doing what they think they could do to help somebody else. That's the way I feel about it.

Nobody knows the strength. It's got to be on the nerves, see. Whatever you attack to do, it's going to affect the nerves. If they still think their nerves are strong enough, then let them do it. Unless they're getting sick in the army I wouldn't let them do it then. But if they feel they're strong, because there are some strong, strong women, just like there are men. Some men are weaker than others. Then let them do it.

HT:

Well, we've covered so much this afternoon. Is there anything you'd like to add about your military time that you've spent as a WAAC that we haven't covered this afternoon?

WW:

Well, I feel that I advanced in life, and I learned a lot, and I've given a lot, and that my time is not wasted, today it's a little better for the women in service, because it was rough. But we were determined women, and we knew that we could benefit from the task if we completed it. Then so many of them took advantage of what was offered. Then that advanced them in life. That is the thing that I feel proud of today.

HT:

I think you were role models for women who came after.

WW:

We were good pioneers, I know. There were some who didn't follow. I let nothing pass. I'm looking at the papers. I'm looking at the TV. I'm looking anywhere I get information.

HT:

Well, it sounds like you've had a very interesting life, starting with the military, and then moving on up through the post office and retirement. It sounds like you've had a real full life.

WW:

And so much work with the organizations, since I've been out, since 1972. I've worked with the local people around Tampa. People know me all over the United States. I'm known as “Miss Willie” or “The Veteran Lady.”

HT:

Do you have any photographs, letters, or things from your military time that you could either loan or donate to the archives at the university? You don't have anything that we could borrow to photocopy? I'll leave it up to you, if you have something. Like maybe a copy of your speech or something like that would be very nice.

If you have nothing else to add to the interview, I just thank you so much for talking with us this afternoon. It's been a great pleasure, and it's been most interesting to hear your stories. Again, thank you.

WW:

You're welcome.

[End of interview]