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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Patricia Keegan DeLaney, 2001

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Object ID: WV0209.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Patricia Keegan DeLaney’s service in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 to 1945.

Summary:

DeLaney briefly mentions the affects of the Depression, and her brother’s service in the military. She recalls the attack on Pearl Harbor and seeing a U.S. Navy WAVES recruitment ad in the newspaper. Discussion of her basic training at Smith College includes meals at a local restaurant and navy classes. She briefly mentions her time at Mount Holyoke College and Radcliffe College, ncluding community reaction to WAVES, being used for publicity and recruitment, and breaking an engagement with a serviceman. Topics from her time at San Pedro, California, include: a tour of a subchaser; living in an apartment; meeting her husband Ernie DeLaney; riding a bike to work; and VE Day celebrations.

Post-service topics include: meeting Eleanor Roosevelt; involvement in Charlotte politics; her children; and keeping in touch with service friends.

Creator: Patricia Catherine Keegan DeLaney

Biographical Info: Patricia Keegan DeLaney (b. 1921) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 to 1945.

Collection: Patricia Keegan Delaney Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today is May 1, in the year 2001, and we are here today at the home of Pat DeLaney in Charlotte, North Carolina. I want to thank you for sitting down with us to share you memories of your experience as part of the WAVES [Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service—U.S. Navy].

PD:

Youre welcome.

EE:

I'll start by asking the same questions that I ask of everybody. Hopefully, this won't be the toughest one we do today, and that's if you'll just share with us where were you born and where you grew up.

PD:

I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and moved quite a few times, since our family kept growing, and finally ended up in Lexington, Massachusetts, where I went from fourth grade through high school.

EE:

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

PD:

I have two brothers and three sisters.

EE:

Are you in the middle? Oldest?

PD:

In the middle, yes, right in the middle. Theyre the ones that do the most damage, they say.

EE:

What did your folks do for a living?

PD:

My dad was an investment broker, and my mother was just a housewife, as most were in those days.

EE:

With six of you, I imagine she had her hands full. You were growing up in Lexington, I guess, most of the time in school. Were you somebody who liked school, growing up?

PD:

Oh, I did. I loved school.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

PD:

History, I think, probably. And English.

EE:

Did you know what you wanted to be when you were younger?

PD:

No idea. I had no idea.

EE:

Your dad was in a line of work that was probably directly affected by what happened in 1929.

PD:

Absolutely.

EE:

What do you remember about that October?

PD:

I dont remember much of anything, but I know it was rather difficult. But I didnt, apparently, have as difficult a time as people in the South, who really suffered from it with the banks closing and everything. But we went through it. My brothers and sisters all went to school, to college. So we managed.

EE:

Massachusetts, was that a twelve-year school for kids back then? North Carolina was getting a twelfth year.

PD:

Yes, we had twelve.

EE:

Did you go to private or public school when you went there?

PD:

I went to public school right across the street from my house.

EE:

Thats nice. What was the name of the high school you graduated from?

PD:

Lexington High School.

EE:

So you would have graduated in about 38?

PD:

Nineteen thirty-seven.

EE:

What did you do when you got out of high school?

PD:

I went to Simmons College in Boston, which is a four-year college for business, I guess, or careers, because it was divided into seven different schools, like nursing and store service and social services, etc.

EE:

When you went to Simmons, did you live at your home and commute?

PD:

I lived at home and commuted. Money was a little tight.

EE:

You related to me earlier that at some point you decided that you wanted to try to be a buyer for a local retailer.

PD:

Well, I did. I really wasnt interested that much in a career. I really wanted to go to a college where they stuck to the humanities, because thats what I loved, but I decided Id be a businesswoman. My aunt had gone to Simmons and was very happy with that, so I thought I would give it a try. Store service seemed to be the most exciting of all the choices. I always like clothes. Who doesnt love clothes? I thought that would be kind of fun, so I did that. I took some secretarial work along the way, because my father said, “Youll never get anywhere as a girl, as a lady, unless you have some kind of secretarial training.—

EE:

Youre unusual, percentage-wise, in that you had relatives who had already been to college. So you had some role models there.

PD:

Right.

EE:

Giving what happened later in your life, was your dad or anybody in your family, had they been in service?

PD:

No, no. Lets see. In World War I, I think my father was married and he had children, at that time. So he didnt go. I dont know that he ever gave any reason for not going. I dont think I ever asked him.

EE:

You were at Simmons. When people are in their teens, most of the time their thoughts are on their own lives and not on the greater world, but you were growing up, in retrospect, in what was a very turbulent time in the thirties, of the worlds safety, and certainly, people had to be talking about the possibility of war after 39, when Poland was invaded. Do you remember thinking, when you were going back and forth to class, worrying about war?

PD:

I dont think I did. I dont think I ever worried about war, even when I was in it. I just had a very good time. My brothers were in the service, and reporters from the newspaper had come and interviewed my mother, having three people in the service. But I dont recall ever feeling—I may have, but I cant recall it, thinking how difficult things were going to be.

EE:

Were your brothers in the service before Pearl Harbor Day?

PD:

My older brother was. He went in—I guess he was ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] in college, and then he went in in 1940, I guess, or maybe the first of 41. I cant remember when he got out of school. He went in the navy, and he was married when he was in the navy to a young lady he had met while he was working during the summers at college, and her father was in the navy. So maybe that had something to do with it.

EE:

What was his name?

PD:

Thomas. Tom Keegan.

EE:

Do you remember where you were Pearl Harbor Day?

PD:

Yes. We were all sitting around the dining room table, and somebody called us on the phone and told us to turn on the radio, and we did.

EE:

This was a Sunday lunch?

PD:

Yes, Sunday lunch. At that time, my brother was in the service. He served for six years and always in some theater or another. He very seldom came home. Once he asked to come home so he could go to flight school, because he thought it was time for him to be with his wife and on land for a while. But he didnt make it in flight school, so back he went to the destroyer.

EE:

Did life at your household and for you change a lot right after that announcement on that Sunday?

PD:

Yes, it did, in a way. Of course, then we knew we were in it. There had been a whole lot of conversation about whether we would be involved or not. My father, being in the investment business, wasnt too happy about what Mr. [Franklin D.] Roosevelt was doing. I, myself, looking back, think it was a great thing. But it was very, very alarming, I guess, when you read about your friends going off and not knowing whether they would come back or not. I guess had I been a nurse, a navy nurse, or a WAC [Womens Army Corps] and seen what they actually saw, I really would have realized how tragic war is.

EE:

Were you working at R.H. White already by the time Pearl Harbor happened, or was that a job you got later that year?

PD:

Lets see. That was in—

EE:

That was December 41.

PD:

Yes, then I was working, because I started right after I finished college in June of 41 and I began working that summer.

EE:

Where was that?

PD:

I was in Waban, W-a-b-a-n [Massachusetts] at that time. I worked a little over a year, July 41 to September 42. I was working for R.H. White Company when the war was declared.

EE:

You were telling me, before we sat down to do this, that you were contemplating being a buyer, and you didnt get into their program to be a buyer—

PD:

I did. I started for about two months.

EE:

You got started, but then you had to switch jobs to do something else.

PD:

I was the only one in the group—there were about thirty of us. I was the only one in the group who had had any shorthand and typewriting.

EE:

So your dads advice comes back to haunt you.

PD:

Yes. I didnt like it at all, but I was the only one, so they had to take me. So I became the secretary for the general merchandising manager.

EE:

How long were you at that job before you decided to do something else?

PD:

About a year, I guess, because it was in August that I saw this article in the paper.

EE:

This is August of 42 or 43?

PD:

Of 42. I read the article, which indicated that the navy was recruiting WAVES. Of course, they hyped it up more, but it was true. Actually, they said youd see the world, and you didnt.

But I went down on my lunch hour, and I talked to an Irish commander, who was very witty and lots of fun, and he talked—there were four other girls there at the time who were also interested, and he had us all laughing and thinking what a wonderful thing this would be. Then he finally said, “Well, you know, if you sign up today, I have to tell you, its going to be for three years, because thats the way it is.”

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

EE:

You said he told you that you had to sign up for three years. A lot of folks Ive talked to signed up for the duration, but he mentioned a term, three years.

PD:

Oh, yes. Three years.

EE:

You were in what would be the first class of an enlisted base.

PD:

Right.

EE:

Tell me what you were telling me, why that happened to be there in Massachusetts. Tell me the story.

PD:

Well, Mildred McAfee was asked to be the commander of the WAVES, and she was the president of Wellesley [College] at the time, a very inspiring person, and she agreed to do that. The Boston recruiting office immediately got on it and started recruiting WAVES. Well, there had been officers selected to go up and start the midshipman school. They had a midshipman school in Northampton—to go up and start the school and to relieve men in various spots, probably mostly in Washington, to begin with. Then they realized they had nobody to do the gut work or keep all the records and buy all the supplies, write the letters, and everything else. So they decided they had to have some enlisted WAVES right then. Of course, they had the sailors, and they did have a bunch of sailors at Northampton [Smith College] who were yeomen, and pharmacists mates and all that kind of thing. But they wanted some WAVES for the publicity and all, I guess. So thats why they wrote up this story in the Boston Globe.

EE:

Apparently, you signed on the dotted line that day.

PD:

Well, I got there, and when he said three years, I thought a little bit. He said, “Do you think maybe youd better call home, let them know what youre doing?”

So, I thought, “Well, Ill call my father. He may be in the office,” which was right around the corner. So I called, and he said, “Dont sign anything until I get there,” and he came right over. He and the governor and Captain Carver and this Irishman commander, who was persuading us all to join, had such a good time together, that Dad finally decided it was a good thing.

EE:

The governor was [Leverett] Saltonstall at this time?

PD:

Governor Saltonstall.

EE:

Your dad knew the family?

PD:

Oh, no. We didnt know him. His daughter, Emily, was also applying to the navy that day.

EE:

Just happened to run into him there?

PD:

Dad met him at that time and they were buddy-buddies after that.

But at any rate, I signed up. I dont think it really hit him until he tried to explain to my mother. I had about three or four more weeks for her to get used to the idea and then I was sent to Smith College in Northampton. We were fitted for uniforms the first day. If anybody else has told you about Northampton, we ate at the Tavern, which was well known [as a gourmet restaurant].

EE:

I saw the picture. Id like to get a copy of that picture.

PD:

Wonderful place to eat. Of course, it served all the Smith girls and the Mount Holyoke girls and everybody else up there. But we marched down there every day and marched back. They would serve us three of the most wonderful meals youve ever had in your life, because these uniforms that they took the measurements for on the first day we got there, did not fit thirty days later.

EE:

So much for KP.

PD:

Right. Well, it was the routine living. In bed at ten oclock, up at six oclock, and then these three big meals a day that you were unaccustomed to.

EE:

Were your instructors women or men and women?

PD:

They were men, mostly. We didnt have a whole lot of instruction. We had about a month of marching and doing the drill work and all that kind of formal instruction with the men, and then we had homework. We had to learn the navy planes by name, silhouettes and manufacturer. Navy language, we had to learn, the head for the bathroom, and the kitchen was the galley.

EE:

Even on land, right?

PD:

Oh, even on land. You had to know the whole bit. So we enjoyed all that, of course, and we returned to our quarters from the office every day.

EE:

Did you have to take a swim test?

PD:

Yes, we did have to take a swim test. And we had to take all kinds of physicals, you know, to be sure that we were in good condition.

EE:

What was the toughest part about basic for you?

PD:

I didnt see anything tough about it. I ate it all up and loved it.

EE:

The WAVES were not the first group of women called up to serve.

PD:

No.

EE:

The WAC was first, and they had not had the greatest publicity when they came out. A lot of rumor and innuendo about what the women were doing.

PD:

Yes, right.

EE:

Was that any concern to you?

PD:

No, no. It never even dawned on me.

EE:

For you, the fact that this was a call for local women to step up locally was what tripped it for you?

PD:

Right.

EE:

It wasnt anything like, “Free a man to fight”? That wasnt in your head first and foremost?

PD:

No. No. First and foremost in my life is I was going to see the world and get out of Boston.

EE:

Okay. That sounds great.

PD:

And for a while, I didnt think it was going to happen. [I was in Massachusetts for a year and four months before finally moving on to California. So much for seeing the world.]

EE:

Now, you were telling me that you were at Smith for about a month?

PD:

Nine months.

EE:

So you had the basic, and then you were a yeoman. What was your job while you were there?

PD:

I was secretary to the personnel officer. So I had to go over all the records of the midshipmen coming in and check to see that they had their health exams and everything else.

EE:

You were secretary to the personnel officer among the navy men, not women?

PD:

No. Lieutenant Schoonover was the personnel officer of the midshipman school. What he was doing was just like the admissions officer of Greensboro College, taking in all their records and filing them, writing letters. Then, of course, we had a captain, and we had a supply officer, a regular navy office set up.

EE:

But all the people in the office with you, all the rest of them were men? Were you the only woman in the office?

PD:

No, the captain had a sailor as his yeoman, but the other two secretaries were WAVES. One of the WAVES who arrived with me at Northampton was a pharmacist, because she had taken some kind of biology or chemistry. Elizabeth Gaskell, who had just graduated from Smith was a driver. Ann McGinley, a graduate of Teachers College in Massachusetts was a yeoman. I dont remember what Carolyn [Carver] did. But we all had jobs in that first office. Then when we were joined by nine other WAVES who came from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, then they were given jobs in the various places as needed.

EE:

In the meantime, you all were still living on campus, I guess?

PD:

On campus, right.

EE:

I guess they reserved this camp in the dorm for you?

PD:

Well, first we lived in a dormitory, Capen House, and then when the nine arrived, we had a little cottage. I guess it still belonged to the campus, but it was closer to the Tavern than the dormitory, which was nice. Also, in this little cottage, we had to have two navy officers, ladies, to check us in at night. I mean, they didnt want any hanky-panky. We had to tow the mark.

EE:

You were there for nine months doing this work, and did you request to be considered for officers school?

PD:

Yes, I did. Yes, I did. One of those pictures said six months, but it was nine months at Northampton. Then I was sent to Mount Holyoke [College in South Hadley], which was seven miles away, still in Massachusetts.

EE:

You get to see seven more miles of the world. [laughter]

PD:

We went three months to that school and became ensigns when we graduated. Then, from there, some of us were sent to communications school, some of us were sent on to certain jobs, and some of us went to Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was born, for supply school. We were there three months. Then I was sent to the Boston Navy Yard to await orders. My orders came, after about a month, to San Pedro, California.

EE:

Lets get the dates about right. If you went in in September of 42, you had a month training, and then you were there all together about nine months before going to Holyoke, which would have been in the middle of 43, in the summer.

PD:

Yes, that sounds right.

EE:

Holyoke for three months at OCS [Officer Candidate School], and then you immediately went to Radcliffe in the fall of 43?

PD:

Right.

EE:

Were you finished at Radcliffe before Christmas?

PD:

Yes. I finished Holyoke and then went to the Boston Navy Yard after Christmas until January 20, 1944 to go out to San Pedro.

EE:

You were so close to home. Were you frequently going home on the weekends?

PD:

No. I frequently had the duty on the weekend. You had to stay all night there. I think we were allowed to go home, though, if we didnt have the duty, but we had quarters at the Bachelor Officers Quarters [BOQ].

EE:

With that small number of members, it had to be a tight-knit group when you first started?

PD:

Oh, it was, absolutely.

EE:

I can see you were pals around town, Im sure.

PD:

Yes.

EE:

Everywhere you went, you wore a uniform?

PD:

Absolutely.

EE:

How did the people on the street respond to you, given what the WAC had been through earlier? Were they fairly friendly?

PD:

Oh, they enjoyed us, yes. They thought we were terrific. They would invite us to their homes and have us to dinner. Thats how I met the daughter of a doctor of Smith College. Of course, we were a curiosity. When they saw us marching up and down and everything, they thought that was really great. I imagine we influenced a lot of Smith girls to become WAVES.

EE:

You were showing me some pictures before this interview about you were constantly being used for publicity shots.

PD:

Right. Since we were the first enlisted WAVES, they helped to recruit from our pictures and stories.

EE:

What was happening today in your life.

PD:

Right.

EE:

Whether its mail call or doing the laundry or whatever. Did you have some source then after OCS of which school, which kind of work you would like to do?

PD:

No.

EE:

They said, “Wed like you to—”

PD:

This is what youre going to do, yes.

EE:

I guess the numbers were not such that they had the flexibility of people choosing.

PD:

Right.

EE:

Right then, they just needed people to do work.

PD:

Right.

EE:

Coming out of Radcliffe, you still wanted to see the world. You hadnt gotten out of Massachusetts yet. So had you requested—

PD:

They did ask you. They did ask where you wanted to go, and I said I wanted to go to Florida or California. That was as far as I could go.

EE:

They had not opened up Hawaii at that time, had they?

PD:

No.

EE:

So you get all the way across country. What was the work like in San Pedro? What were you doing?

PD:

I was a supply officer for radar, sonar and radio materials. Sometimes the smaller boats like subchasers and PCs [patrol crafts?] would come in for supplies, for radio supplies, or radar or sonar materials. The ships supply officer would come in with the requisition, and Id sign it, and wed go up to the warehouse and get it.

One day, one of these subchaser commanders came in, captain—he was really a lieutenant, but he was the captain of the boat. He said, “Have you ever seen this stuff in operation?”

I said, “No. All I see is these great big boxes.”

He said, “Wouldnt you like to come aboard and see what it looks like?”

I said, “I sure would.”

He said, “Well, you get a friend and come on onboard tonight. In fact, well meet you at the officers club. Well buy you dinner, and then well take you on board and show you what its like. Then my friend will take you home, because I have the duty. I have the watch tonight.”

So I met him at the officers club that night, and his friend was Ernie. So we went on board, and we saw the radar and the sonar and how everything worked, because it was a little tiny boat. We had some strawberry ice cream in the officers mess. Then Ernie took us home. He took home the other girl first, because she lived on the island [at the BOQ] where the subchaser was tied up, Terminal Island, and I lived in Long Beach with two other WAVES. So he took me home last.

We talked about playing tennis, so he said, “Well, Ill call you one day and ask you if you want to play tennis.”

I said, “Okay.”

So he called one day. He said he had a date over in Long Beach, but he didnt have anything to do until then, would I like to play tennis? Kind of a backhanded invitation. But he improved after that.

EE:

I didnt figure hed get by with that. You were there to the end of your service?

PD:

Yes.

EE:

You said you lived in Long Beach. I guess when you got out there, was there a barracks for WAVES?

PD:

We stayed in the officers quarters [on Terminal Island] for a while, until we could find a place, because in quarters we just had a small room. I finally rented an apartment with two other WAVES, Venetian Square Apartments in Long Beach, and stayed there until my old roommate from Northampton went through the same route I did, Holyoke and the Radcliffe and then San Pedro, joined us. So Bunny and I rented an apartment over in San Pedro. Of course, we still saw the others and went out with them all the time, but we two lived in San Pedro.

Then I married Ernie, and Bunny went back to live with the other girls [in Long Beach]. When I married him we stayed in the apartment that Bunny and I had had, and I remained in the navy until I got pregnant.

EE:

You were married in what month?

PD:

January.

EE:

Of 45?

PD:

Forty-five.

EE:

Ive heard some people say that when the word came they were married, it was time to leave, but yours, that wasnt the case?

PD:

No. I got married, and they didnt even change my name. I mean, it took a long time to get the navy to officially change my name. My name was finally changed about a month before I realized I had to leave, but I served until I couldnt get in my uniform. Then they wouldnt let me come to the base anymore. But they didnt give me my discharge until September 9, I guess it was. Then I had my baby December the nineteenth.

EE:

So from the time that you all started dating, was he pretty much stationed in that area, or was he—

PD:

He loves to tell this story. He had come home from two years overseas, and he tells everybody I was the first white woman he ever saw. But he had asked for Charleston, which was his home naval district. Of course, he got San Pedro, so he was the supply officer in charge of the section base, which was right next door to the navy depot, and also he had the officers mess over there. He fed everybody, in the navy supply depot and the section base. So he was commissary officer and also supply. So we used to eat over there every day for lunch.

EE:

Its good to have a friend whos the commissary officer when everybody else is getting rations and things for meat.

Do you remember anything particular about the day that President Roosevelt passed away?

PD:

Yes. I thought you were going to ask me about VE [Victory in Europe] Day, but yes, we do remember. It was very sad, very sad. We knew that he wasnt well. Of course, he really was not able to handle a war, and we were expecting it. But when it came, it was rather somber, really.

EE:

Probably your dad was upset with him, but by the start of the war you had probably come to appreciate him more?

PD:

Oh, yes.

EE:

You have an interesting picture of his wife reviewing the troops?

PD:

Yes.

EE:

What did you think of Eleanor?

PD:

Oh, I loved Eleanor. She was my idol. When we came back home and Ernie went to law school with his two “sea anchors,” Patty and Mike as we called them, Mrs. Roosevelt came up to Chapel Hill on the invitation of the League of Women Voters. I was a member. We had lunch up on the roof of the planetarium, and it was just twenty other ladies and Mrs. Roosevelt. She was just breathtaking. She was tall and imposing. She had an awful voice, but other than that, she was the kindest, most gentle, most understanding person, I think, in public life I have ever known. She really was wonderful.

EE:

I dont know if youve been to the Roosevelt Memorial that theyve finished recently in D.C.

PD:

No.

EE:

Its a series of concrete exterior chambers. She welcomes you with quotes from the different administrations, and they have a statue of her by herself there, paying tribute, the only First Lady with a statue in Washington, I think.

PD:

I read Doris Kearns Goodman—[No Ordinary Time]

EE:

She came to speak about that book at Winston-Salem not too long ago.

PD:

Shes wonderful. I like her, too.

EE:

Was there ever anything during your time in service—you had some wonderful, fun times, but was there ever anything in there during your time of service that got you afraid? Were you ever afraid at any time, with all the travels that you eventually did across country or doing new things at different places?

PD:

No, I dont think so, except nothing that happened out there, or that I read about, except of course, when my brother was hurt. Then it came home. But I dont think I was ever really afraid of anything or of being defeated, for instance, or of—this was a war that I thought—it was so funny, because I changed so radically. This was a war, I thought, needed to be fought. I mean, once I got in it, I really felt that this needed to be done. I really believed them when they said that this was a war to end all wars. Of course, they were so wrong, but I believed it. So everything I did was with a very positive outlook.

But when the Vietnam War came along, I didnt like that war from the very beginning, and I would have no part of it. I read all kinds of things about it, and I agreed with [Senator John F.] Kerry and with [President Bill] Clinton and with everybody else. It was a dumb war. But how do a people rebel against a war that people in authority are telling them theyve got to do?

EE:

Because you could go to prison for doing that.

PD:

Yes, or else be a conscientious objector or go up to Canada or someplace. But theres no way to get out of it. Youve got to go, and youve got to follow orders.

EE:

You stated it differently than a lot of people that I talked with, because many of them say that what was different about the war then was the patriotism, and youre phrasing it more from the cause behind that. But if you think it is a just war, its a lot easier to be patriotic.

PD:

Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. But everybody was—you know, you were saving your pennies and buying war bonds.

EE:

You said that the newspaper came by your house to get a picture of your folks because they had three people in service.

PD:

Yes.

EE:

I guess you had the three stars in the window on a flag?

PD:

Thats right. Thats right.

EE:

Who has the flag?

PD:

Probably Marie. She was Tommys wife. Of course, she had his flag, too. I dont know. Weve all—weve moved so much.

EE:

Theres always characters that you meet when you go in the service. Its the nature of the experience. They put in with people from all over. Day one youre meeting the governors daughter.

PD:

Yes.

EE:

Are there particular characters or incidents that stand out in your memory?

PD:

Well, I told you what mine was.

EE:

Yes, but wasnt it off the tape? Tell me again.

PD:

Well, my warehouse, when I was in San Pedro, was quite a ways away from the captains office. When he, or the executive officer, wanted you, he wanted you then. So they issued me a bike. I never had been a very good bike rider. I never really wanted to. But I got the bike and had a series of accidents with it. One skirt in my summer uniform had a pleated skirt all the way around, and the skirt caught in the spokes, and I went flying, all the time, which was awful.

The executive officer called me, and it was raining out, and so I decided to ride through the warehouses to get to his office, and I did. Everything was fine. I was going along very smoothly with both hands firmly planted on the bars, and ran into an inspection party going through the warehouse—An admiral, the captain and two aides. When you see anybody of higher rank than you, youre supposed to salute or say, “By your leave, sir.” I couldnt make up my mind whether to take my hands off the bars and salute, or just say, “By your leave,” or what to do. So I was so confused, I just ran right through them. The admiral went one direction, the captain went in the other, and I went in the other.

EE:

Was this late in 45 at the end of your career?

PD:

No, they didnt throw me out of the navy, but they did take away my bike.

EE:

You have the nice additional memory of your time of service as being the time that you fell in love with the fellow that youve been married to for, I guess—what? Fifty-five?

PD:

Fifty-six years.

EE:

When you think of that time, in addition to very concrete memories, are there pieces of music or songs or movies that when you see or when you hear take you back to that time?

PD:

Yes. One song was Always. That ones so firmly in my mind, I cant think of any others. But there are a lot. As the songs come over the radio—and we listen to forties music, and as the song comes on, you remember where you were at various times and who was with you and that kind of thing. But I cant remember any other songs that Ernie and I were especially fond of.

EE:

What about VE or VJ Day? Any concrete memories of those two days?

PD:

Oh, yes. I have the memories. He cant remember anything. We had another couple that we used to celebrate with. In fact, we bought a sailboat with them. He was Ernies fraternity roommate at Duke [University], and he came from Florida. They decided to buy a sailboat together, and they did. Vivian and I—she was another “damn Yankee.” She was from New York. We were to go along as crew and “gofers” and chief cooks and bottle washers. So we did. We had a lot of fun with that boat, which was a terrible boat. It was flat-bottomed, and they named it the Dixie Bell, just to make us angry. We had a sign made. Ernie had some member of his staff build him a great big plaque to put on the boat made of mahogany and gold trim. He wrote Dixie Bell on it, and it was so heavy it wouldnt go on the boat, but we have it upstairs someplace.

Anyway, we had a good time with that, and when VJ [Victory in Japan Day] came along—what did they call the German—

EE:

Victory in Europe, VE.

PD:

VE Day. Okay. When that came along, we went out over to Long Beach. Henry was driving, and Ernie was on the hood, and I was leaning out the window, because I was several months pregnant by that time. People were lining the streets. You couldnt go more than two miles an hour. They were hugging each other and carrying on. You would have thought the world was either ending or going someplace. But we managed to get through that. The captain called Ernie for the next three days, and Ernie said, “Dont call me. The phone hurts my ears.” So he doesnt remember what happened, but it was a gay evening.

EE:

Good times. The atomic bomb caught everybody by surprise, didnt it, the quickness with which the war ended in Japan?

PD:

Right, right, right.

EE:

You got out because of the pregnancy just before then, it sounded like.

PD:

Yes, but we didnt leave, because he had enough points, but they asked if he would stay in for six months to help decommission a lot of the bases. He agreed to, if he could call his place. He had said that he would go home with me and try Boston, although there was no place like the South. So we went to the Hingham Ammunitions Depot where my brothers father-in-law was the executive officer. We got up there, and it was just wonderful. We had a beautiful 200-year-old house that the navy had furnished beautifully. We had a chief petty officer across the street with a lovely fourteen-year-old girl who took care of our baby when we wanted to go to all of the affairs. And then Ernie caught Cellulitis or something and had to go to the Chelsea Naval Hospital, and he was there for three weeks, and I went home to Mother. At the end of that, he was so disgruntled with the navy and with the Boston weather and with everything else that he decided hed get out.

Besides that, he had worked for three months for IBM [International Business Machines] before he went into the service, and they wanted him back, and they kept writing him letters and saying, you know, he was supposed to be out, and where was he. They had a place for him in Charlotte, and thats where he wanted to go. So we decided wed go home to Charlotte. He lasted up in Boston three months of the six. So we went back to Charlotte at that time. He and Fischer-Drapo and a fellow who sold typewriters and a fellow who sold the IBM clock and two or three mechanics to service the machines were all of IBM who were in Charlotte at that time, and that was 1946, and now look at it.

EE:

Good gracious. So is that where he made a career?

PD:

Well, he stayed there—they kept wanting to send you someplace else, and he decided he wanted to stay in Charlotte, so he left IBM and went to law school, which is what he wanted to do when the service interrupted that. So he went up to law school for two and a half years.

EE:

This was on the GI Bill with [the University of North Carolina] Chapel Hill?

PD:

The GI Bill, and when I got there and found out that everybody was in school, I went to school, too, on the GI Bill. I got a degree in political science.

EE:

From Chapel Hill?

PD:

Yes, from Chapel Hill, because at that time, I was very interested in politics, and he had served a term on the city council in Charlotte, and I was in the League of Women Voters, and we decided we were going to remake the world. Oh, me.

EE:

When he came back from law school, he started his practice here, and you came back. How close in age are your two kids? You probably had another child on the way by that time.

PD:

About two years. They were both with us when we went up to Chapel Hill. Patty was four, I think, and Mike was two.

EE:

Did you stay connected with the folks that you had been in service with? Did you keep in contact with the women over the years?

PD:

With some of them. My roommate, Bunny, I was in her wedding, and was in contact with her for a long time, until her husband suffered a terrible accident. He was walking between two parked cars and was hit, and severely brain damaged. She came with her mother to Florida. She drove down on a vacation and then came back through Charlotte, didnt call me until—they spent the night in Charlotte, and she called me the next day and told me that she was here, and she just wanted to touch base.

I said, “Why didnt you call me and stay with me?”

She said, “Well, we didnt think we should,” or something like that.

I said, “You stay right at that motel. Im coming out there.”

So I did, and she was very nervous, but she told me about the accident. Of course, her mom was there, too. When she left from there and I came home, I never heard from her again. I tried every old which way to find her. I called the navy. When we went up to Philadelphia one time, we called every Hennessee in the book, and we couldnt find her. So she really had a traumatic experience.

My other roommate, “Lammy,” I see almost every year. She lives in Pittsburgh, but she comes down to Hilton Head, and then to Florida to see people. Shes the most amazing, courageous, unfearing person Ive ever known in my life. Shes a year older than I am. She had one of those big trailer homes. Beautiful. I mean, it had everything in it but the—of course it did have the kitchen sink. But she would travel with her mother all over the place. She had been married and divorced. She had three children. She traveled all over this country. She even went to Alaska in that thing. She belonged to the Presbyterian Church, and she was a visiting helper, I guess.

They would send her anyplace. Like they sent her down to Florida, when they had Hurricane Andrew, and she was down there for three years, helping the people get back on their feet and stuff like that, living in her trailer. She went up to Sheldon-Jackson College in Alaska, in Sitka, to work with the children there. Its like Berea College. You go to classes and then to work, and mostly it was for the Eskimos. She worked there for two years, I think. Her home base was Pittsburgh, and shed go up there for the summer, a couple of months in the summer, and then shed go off on these treks where shed help people where needed.

Her last volunteer job was at Warren Wilson College, here in North Carolina. Then she said this year she believed shed stay in Pittsburgh and see what she could do there. So she was teaching a driving lesson, I think, there. But at any rate, she still goes around to see all her friends. Shes given up the trailer, and she now drives in an old red car. She comes and visits all these people and her two boys and one girl.

Then the other roommate lives in California, loves sports and music, and is always a fan of the Lakers, and compares them to Duke and so forth. Shes a maiden lady. She never did get married, but she taught technical subjects at Santa Monica College and loves the West, and was a graduate of Miami University in Ohio. She is a wonderful friend. She keeps in touch with everybody, and then she lets the rest of us know what is going on.

EE:

Shes a clearinghouse—

PD:

Yes, right. Then the fourth one died.

EE:

Did you use that political science degree for your own political career after you got back?

PD:

I did, but not for my own political career. I used it to work for other people. Im not a leader; Im a follower. So I work best for other people. I worked for a lady who was running for the county commission, and she was elected the first time she tried. I ran her office. I didnt run her campaign, but I ran the office. She ran for three termsmore than that, six terms. She served twelve years and became the chairman, after the first two terms, I think.

EE:

And her name is?

PD:

Liz Hair. Shes a wonderful person. My husband said that he was going to law school so that he could come home and run for Congress, but he loved the law so much, he didnt want to run.

EE:

They look similar, but theyre actually quite different.

PD:

Quite different. Right.

EE:

You were number one, the first one in as an enlisted wife. So many people, when they look back at that particular time in history say if you want to see the beginning of the womens movement, for example, look to the women who stepped forward to do things unusual during the war. Do you feel like a pioneer, when you look back at those times?

PD:

No, I really dont. No, I didnt have any conception of being the first or anything like that. I didnt really know that we were the first until they wrote it up in the paper. But it was just something that—I guess Ive always been impulsive. In fact, I was engaged to another fellow, and my mother sent me a cartoon on my marriage. Anyway, the person I was engaged to, I had had about nine dates with him. He was a great guy, wonderful sense of humor, great dancer. But he went overseas, and I hadnt seen him for eighteen months. I went up to meet him at the train. I had met his mother and father out in Santa Barbara, and I went up to meet him, and I said, “God, I dont even know this guy,”and it just scared me to death. My mother and my aunt had come out for my wedding, and it was all arranged where I was going to be married, and the captain was going to give me away, and all kinds of things. I had had three showers. I just couldnt do it.

EE:

So you just discovered your scaredest time of the service.

PD:

Right. Exactly.

EE:

This is the thing that I would imagine, that most of the women in the service were about your age, early twenties.

PD:

Yes.

EE:

So youre growing up, too, in addition to—

PD:

Absolutely.

EE:

So its a lot of different things. We just had a couple of years ago the first woman combat pilot in action, for goodness sakes. So they are allowed to do increasingly almost anything that men can do. How do you feel about that?

PD:

Well, I dont know. I still think that women, if theyre going to have children, should stay home and at least get the children in school before they do anything else, before they have a career or anything. I think they should be at home with their children for the first six years. Then they shouldnt just give up on their children. I think they should be with them as much as they can be. But if they can work on the side or volunteer on the side, then they should, because they have a lot of potential thats hidden if they just stay home. They get bored, too, and I think you have to make yourself available to do what you can do.

EE:

Were either of your children ever in the service?

PD:

No, no. My son could have been drafted to Vietnam, which I wouldnt have heard of. I think I would have taken him to Canada. But he wasnt called. His best friend was called, and he was sent to Germany. And Pattys husband went to Vietnam before they were married.

EE:

Had she come to you a little earlier, before she had gotten married, and said, “Mom, I know you were in the service. Im thinking about doing that. What should I do?” What would your advice have been?

PD:

I dont know, because the service hadnt dawned on me as a particular career, even when I was in. I thought it was kind of boring, really, because at that point, they didnt really give us a whole lot of say-so.

EE:

They didnt look to keep a lot of you around after the war. They wanted most folks to go home.

PD:

Right. Right. Thats true.

EE:

But it was changing. So from your experience, you didnt have a child, it wasnt the place to make a career, but if she wanted to see the world—

PD:

She did see the world, much more so than I ever did. She has my same impulsive nature, I think, because she was engaged, and then she decided to break her engagement, and we had all the invitations written and everything like that. But she came home and stayed home a year, and got a job out at West Charlotte High teaching. She loves children.

She didnt have a teaching certificate. She had majored in political science and history, and she decided to teach, and they said, “Well, you can teach only if you get your certificate at the same time.”

So she got it out at UNC, and then she taught. Before that, she had gone down to Atlanta with her [college] roommate, and her roommate had a job in school as a librarian, and Patty went down there. She didnt have any way of getting a job, but she went to the superintendent of schools and said she loved children, and she thought she could handle them, and they needed teachers. She didnt have any teaching background, but she could teach.

He said, “All right. Ill take you. Do you mind teaching in a black school?”

She said, “No, I love them just as well as anybody else.”

So she did. She taught there, and when she came up here, she taught at West Charlotte, which was also black. Shes a born teacher. She just got her doctorate. She now teaches teachers—which she doesnt like—how to teach disadvantaged children in Chicago.

EE:

If you could, and youre thinking about these times, is this part of your life that you would do over again?

PD:

Oh, me.

EE:

Now, I assume that you meet your husband at some point later on, but well throw that out.

PD:

I think, probably, if it came along, I would have done it. I think I would have done anything that would have been different. I just didnt like routine, the same thing over and over. So I think I would have given it a whirl.

EE:

So to you, it was the challenge of something different as much as anything else?

PD:

Yes, right. Right.

EE:

If you had to give advice to somebody who was going into the service, based on your experience, is there any advice youd give them?

PD:

I think its changed a lot, so Id just tell them to go ahead, do what they wanted to do, keep their nose clean.

EE:

Theyre going to have a movie come out this May, Pearl Harbor. I keep seeing advertisements about it. A lot of peoples impressions of that time are from the movies and from stories that theyve heard and read about. You were there at the beginning for the WAVES. What do you think people are missing? What dont they understand about that time, do you think?

PD:

I dont know if they realize how awful it was, that we lost half of the navy, at least half of the navy. Most of the ships were out there [at Pearl Harbor]. And what it would be to replace them. I dont think they realize—of course, I didnt, until I read Doris Kearns Goodwin—how much Roosevelt did on the fly without the okay or even encouragement of his cabinet. They didnt want him to do lend-lease, but he did it. We didnt have the material to lend. Then here we have Pearl Harbor, and half of it is down the drain, to say nothing of the men that were lost and everything. I think it was just terrible.

EE:

Is there anything about your time in service or anything else that youd like to share with us that Ive not quizzed you about this afternoon?

PD:

I think youve thought of everything.

EE:

Im sure I havent that.

PD:

I talk too much.

EE:

No, no, no. I tell you, its a real pleasure to sit down with you on a beautiful afternoon. Thank you for sharing what has been a very great and happy life.

PD:

Thank you.

EE:

And I thank you for that.

[End of the Interview]