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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Helen Bolling Potts, 2003

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Object ID: WV0234.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Helen Bolling Potts’ service in the American Red Cross during World War II.

Summary:

Topics from Potts time in the service include: her mother’s reaction to her enlistment; reasons for joining the Red Cross; accompanying French sailors on tours of New York City; seeing plays on Broadway; the duties of a Red Cross clubmobile girl; treatment from servicemen; buzz bombs in London, England; entertaining troops; female pilots during WWII; Red Cross clubs; seeing Bob Hope perform; Marlene Dietrich staying with her unit in Germany; serving coffee and donuts to prisoners in a German work camp (possibly Bergen-Belsen) near Hanover, Germany; training at the riffle range at the Big Red I, US First Infantry Division, camp; being impressed by a German preschool; German nationalism; and maintaining contact with a Red Cross friend while stationed in Europe.

Personal Topics include: Potts' reasons for not making the Red Cross a career; adjustment back to civilian life; equal pay for women; what she has gained from her service; never experiencing rationing; barn dances; feelings on women in combat positions; opinions of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mary Channing Coleman; Eleanor Roosevelt, and Robert E. Lee; and memories of teaching in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina.

Creator: Helen Bolling Potts

Biographical Info: Helen Bolling Potts (1919-2012) of High Point, North Carolina, served overseas with the American Red Cross during World War II.

Collection: Helen Bolling Potts 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:

SB:

I'm with Helen Bolling Potts in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It's June 19, 2003.

Helen, what was your age at entry?

HP:

[pauses] Heavens, Sharon, I can't remember.

SB:

Okay. Your home town?

HP:

High Point, North Carolina.

SB:

You were a pre-war graduate [of Woman's College, now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro]. What was your college major?

HP:

Physical education.

SB:

Were you working when you were enlisted?

HP:

Yes.

SB:

What were you doing?

HP:

I had taught school for two years in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, and I was working for a WPA [Works Progress Administration] project that had switched from being playground recreation to dreaming up things for soldiers off duty to do.

SB:

Why did you enter the military service? Was it the recruiting posters? What got you in there?

HP:

Everybody was doing their part for the war effort.

SB:

How did your parents feel about your serving?

HP:

Well, my mother was a widow, and I think she felt that I was probably too young and nobody was going to take me. She was very, very generous. She helped me get together the list of the things that were required to have before you reported to Washington, and I guess she just said her prayers.

SB:

Why did you choose the Red Cross?

HP:

I don't really know. A good friend of mine, Margaret Green from my class, had already signed up, and she sent the recruiter to talk with me about it, making the point that those of us who had already been exposed to planning programming for the army were really needed. So I guess that was why I said, “Okay. This is what we'll do.”

SB:

What do you remember about your first day?

HP:

We were told to report to a tailor for uniforms.

SB:

How long were you in the military?

HP:

I guess we were sent overseas in the early part of 1943, and then we were deployed in '45 or '46.

SB:

Did you ever think about making it a career?

HP:

No. When the war was over, you really thought, “This is enough of this.”

SB:

Were you encouraged to make it a career? Did anyone ask you to make it a career?

HP:

No. No. Everybody was getting out.

SB:

Were you encouraged to return to a traditional female role after service?

HP:

Sure. Miss [Mary Channing] Coleman expected me to go to graduate school, which is what I had been programmed to do.

SB:

Describe your adjustment back to civilian life.

HP:

I guess the greatest adjustment was because I went to work for the Girl Scouts, which was basically doing community organization with gals who were interested in the program. Coming from a world of working with men to the world of working with females, as I think back on it, was probably a transition.

SB:

I bet. Where were you stationed? Where did you get your basic training? Did you have basic training for the Red Cross?

HP:

I think it was developed later, but at the time that we went in, nobody was quite sure exactly what we were going to do. I remember we had some classes, but it mostly consisted of the instructors asking us, those of us who had been working with troops, what we knew about that. I don't remember their making any concrete suggestions. They may have. I just probably don't remember.

SB:

Where were you stationed?

HP:

We reported to Washington, and then after we had drawn uniforms, had all the shots and so forth, we were sent to New York. There we were given assignments. My assignment was the 23rd Street YMCA, and we were to accompany the French sailors on tours of New York City. Now, remember, most of us are from little towns all over the country, and my French was high school and college. Fortunately, we had commercial guides, and I probably learned more than the sailors did. [laughs]

SB:

Was this the first time you had ever been away from home for an extended period of time?

HP:

Heavens, no. I'd gone to camp since I was a youngster.

SB:

What was your job while in the service?

HP:

I was a Red Cross clubmobile girl, which meant that I made and handed out doughnuts and coffee, cigarettes, Life Savers, played records, danced with troops. We had one commanding general who said, “The role of the Red Cross girl is five percent coffee and doughnuts and ninety-five percent conversation,” which was very “intellectual.” “Hi. Where are you from? I'm from North Carolina. I'm a Southerner.” We re-fought the Civil War many, many times.

SB:

Did you enjoy your work?

HP:

Yes, I'm sure we did. I mean, as much as any wartime situation. You tried to make as much fun out of it as you could. That was your goal. You shouldn't have been there if you weren't willing to try to do that.

SB:

Were you treated equally? Well, this doesn't really apply to you, because it says, were you treated equally as men in the same position? Did you encounter any discrimination as a woman? Did you receive any special treatment?

HP:

We got very special treatment. The troops looked after us as if we might have been gold. If anything, we were probably more spoiled than we had been as southern gals. We really were looked after.

SB:

What was the hardest thing you had to do? Was it physically or emotionally?

HP:

I wonder if maybe, as I'm thinking back, maybe emotionally, because you were having to deal with life and death, which most of us had never had too much experience with. The physical part, I mean, remember, Mary Channing Coleman had trained us.

SB:

That's true. You were trained physical athletes.

HP:

Yes. That didn't bother us, you know. If you were to assign me to the job today, I'd say, “Holy mackerel. I can't do that.” But we thought nothing about it.

SB:

What was your most embarrassing moment?

HP:

There were probably so many, I don't remember what may have been, but you learned to smile and go on.

SB:

Were you ever afraid?

HP:

Sure. Anybody who says they weren't afraid, that really isn't true, I'm sure. I mean, you learned to appreciate the dangers of—I think maybe one of the more frightening things was the buzz bomb era in London, because, you know, not much warning, and you weren't sure—when they cut off, you knew that you moved. But I don't know. There was always the possibility, but you didn't dwell on it.

SB:

Were you ever in physical danger?

HP:

I'm sure. I'm sure.

SB:

I'm thinking about that one time you were on the road with the enemy troops.

HP:

Sometimes we made mistakes. I don't think we had a course in map reading.

SB:

Well, tell me about your social life. What did you do for fun?

HP:

Steadily. You made conversation. You jitterbugged, usually, because I'm a big girl, with the smallest guy in the unit, who was always the best dancer. Anything you could think of that might be—our job was really to provide, hopefully, the touch of home. We had record players mounted with loudspeakers on our trucks, and we wore out more records. Remember, this is the era of the 78 vinyl, and the Red Cross kept us pretty well supplied with the latest records. I remember after Oklahoma! became a hit, the first batch of those records we got, we were so excited about that, and those were great songs.

SB:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person, and do you think the military helped make you this, or were you this way to begin with?

HP:

I think I was always very independent.

SB:

Are you a feminist?

HP:

I don't think I ever thought about it.

SB:

Are you a feminist now?

HP:

I don't think so. I think I still remember being taught old ways, that sometimes a lot of sugar does a great deal more good, and I particularly find it's true when you're working as maybe the sole gal on a board of, particularly, nonprofit agencies. You can usually get your point across without making issues. I always felt it was much better to try persuade people quietly about things than to make an issue. Nobody likes to be embarrassed in front of other people, and I think men particularly, so I guess I'm really not a feminist.

Although I do object heartily, now, since we don't have the volunteer force that we had in my era of being active, because most of our younger gals do have jobs, and I find I object, if they're doing the same job as a man, to their being paid less, and particularly doing finance committees for nonprofit organizations, I've always stood up that we'd better have our pay scales in order. So maybe that way, to some extent, I am. But I don't particularly think of it as being feminist. It's just a fair-play kind of thing, because so many of our younger gals today are very well trained and very efficient at what they do, and I just think you should have equal pay, which we don't.

SB:

So it's not so much the feminism as the approach—

HP:

Well, I just feel that you really should be paid according to what you produce.

SB:

Yes. That makes sense to me. What impact did the military have on your life, immediate, long term?

HP:

I think you learn how to follow orders very well. You also got a feeling that there were times when you had to make a fast decision and stick with it and get going on whatever that particular project was. It's hard to say, because that was, what, three and a half years of fairly intense, really, action in your life that I'm sure was a very firm foundation for the things that you did later.

SB:

I'll bet it gave you a different perspective on the rest of your life.

HP:

I'm sure. I'm sure. I find that today I can read some retired general's negative assessment of what's happening in, say, this last war, and my immediate reaction is, “How the Sam Hill does he know? He wasn't privy to the information.” So, I mean, all of that probably has played into it.

I also find that you should not make a decision unless you know the facts, and sometimes they're hard to come by, and then I think you need to dig in and find out what are the actual things that you know are true, and then you can decide where you want to go. But this may be partially because of all the years of volunteer work, too.

SB:

If you had to go back again, would you do it again?

HP:

I'm sure if I were that age. I don't really think it was something that you—it was just, all your contemporaries, male and female, were all doing something for the war effort, and you kind of tried to figure out, well, what can I do best?

SB:

What was the climate of the country during World War II? Do you think it was patriotic, fearful, determined? You seem to be saying patriotic.

HP:

Completely. What we were told, what we knew, you know, we took as facts, and there you went.

SB:

There was a real feeling of teamwork. I mean, it's like you said, everyone was thinking of that.

HP:

Everybody was doing something. Among my friends who stayed here and were in this country, they were all doing something. Of course, a great many of my generation married very early, because they weren't sure that the man would get back. I've always thought, what a very difficult job they had, bringing up small children without a father in the picture.

SB:

For years.

HP:

Yes. I think back when my boys were little, and I think, what would I have done if their father hadn't been around?

SB:

“Somebody take these kids.” [laughs]

HP:

So I'm very appreciative of those gals who were—you know, they're sweating out—see, I never knew about ration coupons or any of that. Sometimes at the bridge table or something now, I'll hear them say, “Remember that recipe we had for thus-and-so that we couldn't get?” and I think, “Oh, dear. I don't remember that one.” Well, as I said, rationing had not started by the time I left the country.

SB:

You mentioned Oklahoma!. Do you remember any other movie or song that stuck with you after that?

HP:

Oh, heavens, yes. While we were waiting for embarkation in New York, there were free tickets for all servicepeople to everything. I don't think we missed a Broadway show. I'm sure you've heard of the Stagedoor Canteen, and we were asked to put in an hour or two there, although they had lots of celebrities. We were more gawkers than we were really helping, I think, because, “Oh, I just saw her in a play.”

Of course, this is big band era, and growing up in North Carolina, you know, it took all the kids to make a big dance, and our dances were in warehouses, and jitterbugging was the style. So all those things you did as a kid came in handy, because all the guys there were the same—they'd been doing the same thing, because we were all a similar age.

SB:

You were all young.

HP:

Yes.

SB:

Do you feel that you contributed to the war effort?

HP:

Red Cross girls, doughnut girls, particularly, we always think we did. When we get together, we're sure, and at the anniversary of D-Day—one of the gals in my unit is from Baltimore, and she had some friends, who had refurbished a Liberty ship and they were going to float the ship from Baltimore to New York, and they were having a big celebration. So he had said to Kitty, “Do you think you could get any of your Red Cross girls? Because our invasion transport was a Liberty ship.” We really did laugh, because of course we thought we were important. We may not have been, but we thought we were.

SB:

I think you were. Many of the recruiting posters mentioned that women who joined could free up men from combat. Did you feel that you might have done that in your position?

HP:

I don't think so. I don't remember giving that a thought.

SB:

Well, yours was a different—

HP:

Remember, the draft had started, and so there was this influx into regular army bases. I had gone to Fayetteville to work on a playground for my recreation experience before going to graduate school. Miss Coleman had arranged all of this, and I don't think I saw the playground but about maybe a week, and we were informed we had other jobs to do.

So we sort of came along. I've often laughed and said that Miss Coleman did an amazing job. She exposed us to everything, I think, that there was time to possibly nudge into our schedules, and so if you didn't know how to do it, you found a book and read and said, “Okay. That's the way you do that,” and that's what you did.

SB:

I'll bet that helped you.

HP:

Yes. So we never thought about it from that. At that point, they did not give us a mission statement or tell us something. All the things that you do automatically now, we had no part of that. We were just basically told we were to provide the touch of home to the troops.

Remember, the air force, who were the first people that we served, because they were the only ones in England when we arrived, they were very young. The good pilots were the younger guys, because their reflexes and action time was so much better. So all of a similar age bracket. Because our casualties were so high during that time, your major conversation was to talk about things you had known growing up at home.

After the infantry arrived, which I think I mentioned to you was the 29th Division, which was the old National Guard division from Virginia and North Carolina, and so half the guys in those units were people you'd either gone to fraternity parties or dances with at the various schools around or you knew somebody in their group, and so we spent an awful lot of time—as I said, we'd re-fight the Civil War, because as you got recruits coming in, they would frequently be Yankees. I'm sure if there had been tape recorders back then and there were tapes of some of our conversations, people would have thought, “Oh, my word.” But anyway, it was just a way of sort of trying to provide that little bit of home.

For example, there are two groups that I think have never been given really the kind of proper recognition. One, the nurse corps. I mean, those girls were absolutely amazing. And the other were the gals who were ferrying big planes to England from the United States, who never had an official group. They would frequently be billeted with us because there was no place where they could stay, and those girls were doing a man's job.

SB:

They were pilots.

HP:

Yes, and obviously they were good pilots, because they're flying the Atlantic in a military replacement plane. They were amazing gals, very well trained. But those were the people who were saving a pilot for combat duty. I believe we weren't replacing anybody. We were just there.

Then part of the Red Cross service were the Red Cross clubs, and they were gathering spots for the men when they were on leave or off duty. On the big air bases they had aeroclubs, which served the same purpose on base, but that sort of came along a little bit later. The mobile units were a design of Harvey Gibson [Red Cross commissioner to Great Britain], who was the president of the Red Cross at the time. He really, I guess, sort of anticipated that with the arrival of infantry troops and tank troops there would have to be a different way of providing a service for those men, especially in combat.

After the war was over and I first came to Allentown to work, I remember the first Red Cross drive. Of course I was recruited to help raise money, and, “Well, my son says he never got anything free from Red Cross. He had to pay for what he got at the Red Cross clubs.” It was very hard to explain that this was not something that Red Cross had anything to do with. We were official guests in Britain, and because their service providers charged a fee for things, Red Cross had to charge a fee in the stationary clubs, whereas in our mobile units, all of our service was free. I mean, we had the coffee, the doughnuts, the Life Savers, the cigarettes, the music, that kind of thing, and there were no fees. But when you're just ringing a doorbell and asking for money, you can't go into all of that explanation. So I would usually—I can remember saying, I don't know how many times, “Well, there are two sides of that story. If you'd like to have me back sometime when I have time, I'll try to tell you.”

But this was a part of post-war adjustment, too. I would hear at the same time, “You should have seen what the Salvation Army did.” We didn't have the Salvation Army in the European theater, because the United States government had only authorized Red Cross to provide its kind of services and USO to provide theirs. Now, World War I was another story, but World War II, this was a completely different thing. The Salvation Army units that were there were mobile units, because, remember, that's a worldwide organization, and I'm sure they did a tremendous job, but it wasn't their fault that they were not there, but it was just the way that bureaucracy had set up the services.

SB:

You mentioned something to me before about Bob Hope.

HP:

Bob Hope was one of our favorite entertainers. We were exposed to a lot of them because frequently, when troops were on bivouac, they would pull the platforms out of our trucks—we had a platform that the troops stepped up on so they could reach the counter for the doughnuts and coffee, and it made a good stage for that.

The first time we saw him, we all knew who he was, but he wasn't the national sort of icon that he came to be, but he stood in the pouring rain. It was always raining in Devon on the moors, and he stood there and entertained those troops, and the gal—I think it was Frances Langford, but I'm not positive about that—with her hair streaming down, and they must have entertained those troops for a couple of hours. I'll tell you, after that, he was A-plus with the Red Cross girls. We thought he was great.

SB:

You said that Marlene Dietrich bunked with you.

HP:

On the continent, after invasion and during combat, we frequently would have entertainers billeted with us, because, as I said, the army tried to look after us. When we got where there was any housing of possible usage, they would usually—and she was with us in Germany, in Aachen, and a tremendous gal, we felt. We've all talked about it, since we were very annoyed at her daughter's Mommy Dearest kind of book. She wrote to her daughter each night. She had a very odd marital setup. She was just an amazing and good-looking gal.

As I've told you, showers and water were very hard to come by. I'll tell you that they were a real novelty, but the men had set up a portable shower with canvas around it, but the shower had to come from their pouring buckets. I'll never forget the detail who had that job said, “Boy, she can take all her clothes off and still look great.” And, of course, we thought that was tremendous.

Then, I think she had a great deal of courage to be back in Germany, because she had refused to come back for Hitler. The war was not this well settled by this time. As I said, Aachen had just fallen. She was doing shows for any of the troops that were pulled out of the line. Somebody asked her one time, I think a PR guy, how she felt about it, and she said, “I'm here because I wish to be.”

SB:

That sort of says it. Now, on the other hand, something you said, people say that the Holocaust didn't happen, and you saw things quite the opposite.

HP:

I don't think any of us were aware of the extent until after. The first place we saw it, I think I told you, was in Hanover in Germany. The G-1 called and said that we couldn't get a truck up to it, but that there was a camp up at the top of the hill outside of Hanover, and he wondered if we could get together some doughnuts and coffee and take up. None of us had ever seen a men's work camp. The emaciation of the men who were left was just unimaginable. By this time we thought we were fairly well able to handle whatever came along. That one, I tell you, almost did us in.

The one man who was kind of in charge had been a doctor, and he was pretty emaciated, but he had tried to look after these men as best he could. Of course, it didn't dawn on anybody that they had been fed so poorly that our coffee was far too strong and the donuts, and of course, everybody started throwing up. He fast realized, and so he had us cut the coffee down until it was just sort of colored water, and to chop the doughnuts in little tiny pieces and sort of ration them out. That was our first experience.

Then as we kept moving on across Germany, and particularly toward the end of the war, when prisoners were being herded from one site to another as the Russians and the Americans were moving in from the two sides, the scenes such as Gardeladen[?] were drastic as were the ovens where they disposed of their political prisoners. It happened, anyway.

SB:

Exactly. Exactly. Oh, dear.

How do you feel about women in combat positions? Let me just read this quote. “Today, there are women flying combat missions over Iraq, and at least one woman was a POW [prisoner of war], has since been rescued.” Do you approve of women in these positions?

HP:

If they think that they contribute and they've been trained, I don't know why not. I think it must be difficult in units where you have to live in close quarters, but that's because I'm this age and didn't grow up with co-ed dorms. Remember, I grew up in the era when even to go off campus you had to have written permission, practically, and so it's hard for me to sort of try to imagine that kind of life, but these women have been trained. They wouldn't be where they are if they hadn't been well trained.

I also suspect that it has been an educational opportunity for a great many women who would not have had an opportunity for either technical training or even academic training if it were not for some of the army programs and navy programs as well. I guess by now I don't get too, too amazed at things like the air force scandal and this sort of thing, over that. I think it's going to happen when you have men and women in close quarters, and increasingly, hopefully, we'll learn how to handle the things. I also think that, as women, we have a great responsibility. You are frequently responsible for what you do, yourself, and I can't help but wonder, sometimes, you know, are you protesting a little too loudly because you have forced all this by—but, you see, that's an elderly lady speaking, so it makes a difference, I am sure, from what generation you look at things from.

SB:

But as long as someone is trained, there's nothing—

HP:

You know, the first time one of our sergeants—we went to serve a new division who had just come up through Africa and Sicily and had been complaining they'd never had any Red Cross girls, so we were sent on detached duty to the Big Red I [US First Infantry Division]. We pulled into an infantry unit who had seen a great deal of fighting. The first thing the top sergeant said, “When did you girls qualify on the range last?”

We're like, “Sir, we're noncombatants,” because our dog tags did say noncombatant.

And, “Well, that's pretty stupid. If you're going into this fight, you'd better know how to fire a gun. I'll get some guys to man your truck,” and off we went to the firing range. As I've told you, when we came home that night we had bruised shoulders. Every week when we went into that camp, we had to go back to the firing range.

SB:

Do you ever shoot now for fun?

HP:

No. Then he found out we didn't know how to break down a pistol. We said, “We don't have pistols.”

“Well, you'd better learn how to break one down, because you've got to clean your gun when you use it.” I mean, these are combat-hardened troops, and they're just protecting “their girls.” So we all learned how to break down a gun. I'm not sure I'd like to try to put one back—I could break it down, but I'm not sure I can get it back together now. It's been too long ago.

SB:

Certainly, if you put it together, you wouldn't want to shoot it. [laughs] What did you think of FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt]?

HP:

Well, I think I told you that we didn't have—at least I don't think I knew any Republicans, growing up in North Carolina. Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt came to the university while we were there, and I always felt that she was a woman ahead of her time. She apparently was a friend of Harriet Elliott's, and that was why we happened to have her. I always felt quite privileged to have heard her, and still think she was a very, very interesting woman.

I grew up in a family where my father felt that you should work for the things you get and you shouldn't be handed things, so he was not wild about some of the early—I guess we'd call them the entitlements. Of course, that's a different world. Today, at a meeting, they usually will say, “Mrs. Potts is here, and remember, she's not going to buy that word 'entitlement',” and I guess I still feel that you are entitled to what you earn. So I don't know that FDR was considered a special favorite, and yet as I grew up, he wasn't being given the credit for a lot of the things that he did. So I really don't know.

Of course, marrying a gentleman who had always lived in Pennsylvania and grew up here, he probably had never met a Democrat before. There's been a lot of orientation, I guess, in the later years. One of the local gentlemen here, who is quite a historian, follows me in giving book reviews at one of our retirement centers, and he was doing one with Tea with Eleanor, and he said to me, “You want to come hear my take on Mrs. Roosevelt?”

I said, “I don't know. Are you going to talk about her, or are you going to talk about FDR?”

He said, “I'm going to talk about her.”

So I went, and he was quite good. He did a very good job with her. I guess I don't even try to have an opinion about FDR. I keep saying to myself, “This is an era that you really don't know that much about, other than from the periphery.”

SB:

Do you have any other heroes or heroines, anybody you look up to as—

HP:

Robert E. Lee, of course. You could not believe, when I came to Allentown to work, as I told you, I worked for the Girl Scouts, and we were setting up the calendar for the following year, which would mean what holidays the staff would have and how we would program things. I said, “What about January 19?” Nobody knew what I was talking about. I was floored. I said, “You mean you don't celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday?” Well, of course, that cracked them up, and we laughed.

Both of our sons—well, Big Joe, actually, was always a Civil War buff, and as children, when we'd be going back to visit my family in North Carolina, we have not missed a battlefield, and Joe said, “And they're all in Virginia.” Well, of course, Gettysburg is here.

But then when we got to High Point, I said, “Well, you know, we have a Revolutionary War battlefield around here, too.” So the kids were taken over there. So I still have one who gets—what is that magazine he gets? I've forgotten the name of it now, but it's still on the Civil War.

SB:

What is it about Robert E. Lee?

HP:

I don't know. I think probably what impressed me as a kid—because remember, we had North Carolina history. Let's see, third grade, seventh grade, high school, as a separate course, and I guess history keeps getting revised. I can remember thinking, here was a man who really did what he believed was right.

Then I learned from my husband, who, of course, being in the army, had studied a great deal about battles and tactics and so forth, and apparently Lee was a masterful tactician. So I don't know, he's just always been a very great hero for me.

SB:

You make me want to read about him.

HP:

About Robert E. Lee?

SB:

Well, just a little bit. Now, I'm a northerner. I'm a Yankee. Remember, I'm a Yankee.

HP:

But he really is quite a—he's an interesting gentleman. So I think if I had to think of one particular war hero, that's probably who it would be.

SB:

Have any of your children been in the armed forces?

HP:

No. They were very fortunate. They were in school, you see, at Vietnam, and back then, you were deferred. You had to register for the draft, as I remember, but if you were in school—and they were just finishing prep school, going into college at that point, and their father used to frequently say to me, because he had been ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] at Princeton and then was graduated one day and reported for service the next, because that was our era, and he would say to me, “I'm not sure it wouldn't have been good for the boys to have a little time in the army,” but it just wasn't something that—remember, my boys were growing up in the sixties, and that was not when people were joining up. They had even discontinued ROTC. I believe young Joe started off his freshman year in ROTC, navy ROTC at Princeton, which was still on campus, but I think it was discontinued after his freshman year. They have a little trouble coming to grips with their mother's having driven a two-and-a-half-ton truck.

SB:

Is that true?

HP:

They kind of keep saying, “Mom, are you sure?” And I'd say, “Well, somewhere in the attic are pictures of our trucks, and sometime we'll get them out,” but as I told you, this is the first time they've been gotten out in all these years. [laughs]

SB:

The next question is do you have any papers or letters, and we've just gone through—

HP:

I think I told the gal who wrote that I knew there were some here, but that I had mentioned it to the boys, and they said, “We get first dibs.” So, as I said, I brought them out of the attic yesterday, and so I don't know what they want and whatnot, but if there's anything that they don't want, why, I have no objections for that.

SB:

But you kept some interesting things. There was one thing in there that was Red Cross, and I remember you talked in your letter to Miss Coleman about the preschool you saw in Germany.

HP:

Yes. I can remember being tremendously impressed with their—they were brought up with love of the Fatherland and everything, especially the equipment—remember, it was the Depression when I got out of school, and supplies were very hard to come by—school boards were hard-pressed just to pay our salaries. I was very fortunate to have taught in Rocky Mount as it was a nine-month school, and most schools in North Carolina were eight months. We only had eleven grades. We were graduated after the eleventh grade. Preschools and kindergartens didn't exist.

With my mother having been a teacher, she had taught me at home, so I think I lasted about three weeks in first grade. I was such a pest, they called her and said they had to put me in second grade because I was annoying the others, because I knew the answer and I didn't know enough not to tell it. So that's why I got out of school so young.

So when I saw the physical setups, and as we would move into these little villages, I was pretty impressed. I think that whole generation of youngsters growing up must have a hard time, really, with the whole concept of the European Union, because they've been so indoctrinated into “the Fatherland.” Now, you see, those kids by now would be coming along on their sixties and seventies, and hopefully that younger generation did not get that and probably are the ones that have pushed the unification programs. You know, what you learn when you're that young, your ideas sort of stick with you. I've often thought about that, and, yes, I was impressed.

SB:

So you were impressed with both the connection to the Fatherland but also physically what they were doing with the kids?

HP:

Oh, well, they had tremendous programs—there were gymnasia, as they call them, in any little berg. They probably had been bombed out by the time we got there, but you could see where they had been. They had a great physical training program. We have probably seen the things they did with scarves and—

SB:

Oh, I've seen that.

HP:

—and all this kind of routine. I think it was pretty much a universal system. It seemed to us that it was just an intricate part. Stop and remember—for example, when I taught in Rocky Mount, we had no outside playgrounds. We had a gym, but that meant you had to gear your program to things you could do, with half the gym. The boys had one half, the girls had one half.

SB:

I remember that.

HP:

I'm sure all that's improved greatly by now. I lived with two elementary school teachers in the same house, and one of my jobs was to go to the elementary schools and help the elementary teacher plan her physical education program. This one delightful gal who taught fourth grade, I still remember her with great pleasure. She spruced up my bridge game considerably, because we frequently played bridge after dinner.

But she said to me one time after I'd been to her school, “You think I'm getting out on that playground and doing what you said? You come do it.” I thought at that point, “Oh, I guess—.” She was an older lady then, and she'd been teaching that grade for a long time and I'm sure was a very good teacher, but she was not going to get out on that playground. I don't remember what games I was proposing, but I went, “Oh.”

SB:

Obviously, she didn't get a job in the city.

HP:

Well, she might have. She might have been there earlier. So I don't know whether the education program did much about that or not. We had a big May Day. We were great on festivals, and I think that was what it was about. I think I wanted each school to learn certain type of dances or things that we were going to do in this big program. She wasn't about to be going through that. If I wanted it done, I could come teach it myself.

SB:

I'm going to turn the tape over.

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

HP:

—together, and then, when I got Fayetteville she had been there for—I said this was a WPA recreation project, and she had been there for some time, and we were great friends, double dated together and all, and she had gone into Red Cross, I don't know, some time before, and I'm not—she may still have been in [Fayetteville?] at that point, it's sort of hard to remember the timing of all this, anyway, and she had called me some time and said, “I was talking to the gal who recruited me and she's coming down to see you,” and she said, “This sounds like something we can do.”

SB:

This being the Red Cross?

HP:

And then, she was in the northern part of England and I was in the southern part, but I did get up to see her. She was in a Red Cross club in East Anglia and we visited up there, and then, we had moved up into Germany and I think I told you that I don't remember how we communicated, because communications were not the easiest thing, but she let me know that she had arrived to set up a club in Cherbourg and that one of our friends that we had double dated with was in a unit there. And I think she told him about that in that transcript you let me read that she ran into it and she said he's been great because he helped her get together a band because he was a sax man. So she said, “Why don't you try to get down to see her,” so I—Miss Coleman used to say there were two things to do things by hook or by crook, and whichever way works best is the best. [laughs] And so I don't remember how I got—I know I went on the Red Ball Express from Paris down to Cherbourg, but I don't remember how I arranged it. But anyway, we got there and we had a great time, and then I did not see her again until after the war and we were back, and she was teaching school, and when I would go home to High Point, why we would often get together. We laughed, we had some fond memories. Great times.

SB:

And she was instrumental in getting you to the Red Cross.

HP:

I suspect, because she was the first, as I said we had worked together in Fayetteville, and then she was the first—I think the first person I knew—who got into the Red Cross recreation. Most of our experience with Red Cross, we had to do our life saving, our first aid instructors and so forth as part of the general curriculum, and that's sort of the way I thought—and disaster relief—were the things that I thought of with Red Cross, I don't think recreation programs, but because this was mandated that they would provide recreation programs for troops out of the country. [pause] I don't even know how she—I think Mrs. Sartorius[?] ran into her somewhere and recruited her. Anyway, that's what we did.

SB:

And then there was a chain reaction, and you came—

HP:

Yes, and so that's what we did. And another gal in our class, Emily Harris, in fact she was our class president, she at some point went to Red Cross, and she was sent to the Pacific theater, and that's where she ran into Rich[ardson] Preyer, again. I mean they had known each other, I think, I don't remember that part of the story, but we always thought it was interesting. I only went back for the one reunion, but she thought it was interesting that Rich Preyer and Joe Potts sat behind each other at Princeton, see, the p's, and I said, “And here we are.” Of course, Rich was a North Carolinian, but we laughed about that. And one of our good friends said—well, Emily was the most amazing one, we all got [unclear] Rich went to law school, and one of Joe's roommates went to law school, and Jenny always told me this story that the first day, I think he was a year behind Rich, but she said the first day I arrived, this nice Southern gal came bouncing down and told her who she was, that she was [unclear], and that the wives all had a great time, and I thought, that's our Emily. She was an amazing person.

SB:

Well, is there anything else you would like to add about being that part of the Red Cross during that time?

HP:

No, [laughs] what I think I really would add, when I went back to my reunion, we had a departmental breakfast, and I was quite impressed with these younger classes, I mean, these gals all stood up and really, each of them were doing very amazing jobs and very responsible jobs. And Marge Leonard had picked me up to go, and I nudged Marge and I said, “Boy, listen to these gals.” And not until after I got home, did I think, I wish that I had stood up and said, “I am impressed, and you all are really doing tremendous things, but could you please in some part of your day, figure out some time that you could volunteer to do some of the things that don't get done unless you have volunteers to do them.” And as you can tell I'm a great volunteer advocate. And it's very difficult if you work full time to do much volunteer work, but I thought later, “Boy, you really missed a chance,” because here was a whole group of tremendous people who would have been the biggest assets the whole volunteer field of whatever service you want to think about, could have gotten into, and I just don't think fast enough on my feet anymore to remember to—and that's the only thing that I'd like to add, that there is a place for volunteers, even for those of us who've become professional women. I feel strongly about that.

SB:

Well, thank you.

HP:

You're very welcome. I've enjoyed this.

[End of interview]