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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Powers Laskowski, 2002

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Object ID: WV0247.5.001

Description: Primarily discusses Mary Powers Laskowski’s early life and career in the Women Marine

Summary:

Laskowski begins the interview with the story of her birth, then discusses working on a citrus farm and the effects of the Depression. She also shares her memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor and mentions her volunteer work during WWII.

Laskowski describes her enlistment in the Women Marines and details of her basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, including the barracks, duties, fellow Women Marines, female drill instructors, and serving in an integrated unit. Topics stemming from her work in the women’s clothing office at the base include: facilities, the work week, and inspections. She also discusses meeting her husband, marrying without permission, attempting to hide the marriage from her commanding officer, and having to be discharged.

Discussion about her life after her service includes: moving to various cities; wishing she had been allowed to stay in the service; women’s role in the military; running a book exchange; and the Women Marines Association.

Creator: Mary Ellen Powers Laskowski

Biographical Info: Mary Powers Laskowski (b. 1923) of Miami, Florida, served in the Women Marines from 1952 to 1954.

Collection: Maryelln Powers Laskowski Oral History

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today I'm in what seems like July, but it is, in fact, February 1, 2002, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and I'm at the shop of Mary Laskowski today.

Mrs. Laskowski, thank you for sitting down with me to do this exercise in self-revelation. It, hopefully, won't be too painful for you. We're going to talk about your two-year stay in the Marine Corps, and I wanted to ask you, as I ask most folks at the beginning, where were you born, where did you grow up?

ML:

All right. I was born in Lansing[?], Ontario, Canada, and that came about because my mother was feeling very ill, and she had twelve children at the time, so they came up from Philadelphia over toward Pittsburgh, around Stroudsburg, somewhere in through that area, and dropped the kids off on her sisters. They had a huge farm. Daddy and Mama went on up through Canada, and Mama still not feeling too well. The doctor thought she had a tumor, and she was very leery of being operated on. Well, in the twenties, I guess that wasn't the best thing in the world to have happen.

EE:

It was a serious thing.

ML:

Right. So they went on up through North Bay and came on down, and Mama was getting worse and worse, and Dad said she was swelling quite a bit. It looked kind of serious. He thought, “That tumor is going to catch up with her soon.” So still she has not seen any other doctor except her one at home. She got down as far as Willowdale, and Lansing was a little bit further south than that, where there was a farm lady said that she ought to come in, a blizzard was coming up.

Well, in November of 1923 there was one of the largest blizzards that area had experienced in some years. There were places where it had dropped as much as drifts of snow of twenty-three feet, and transportation wasn't what it is today. Walking was, of course, impossible. So they stayed at this farmhouse. It wasn't too long before my mother went into a lot of pain. Of course, my father, being a very excitable Irishman, and I don't suppose he had any of his—what is it? Heart medicine, everybody used to call it. I think some of it was made in the bathtub. [laughter]

So the old farmer came in about then. He'd been over to a neighbor's farm, which was three miles southwest of where we were, and he said that the veterinarian had delivered the calf very successfully. It was a breech birth, but they handled it. And my father says, “Vet? A doctor's a doctor.” So he went tearing out and he come back directly with this poor old veterinarian, he said an old man about maybe eighty years old. He walked in. He says, “What are you talking about, a tumor? The woman's having a baby.”

EE:

Now, wait a second. You'd already had how many kids before then?

ML:

Well, my mother kept on saying, “You know, it feels just like I'm pregnant.”

EE:

But the doctor didn't think so?

ML:

No, because she had already gone into the change of life, and just at that time I guess it wasn't possible for them to realize that a pregnancy was a possibility. So anyway, here comes this baby. Well, the doctor says, “It's premature. I can't get you to the hospital. You've got twenty-eight and a half miles, and between here and there I can't even get home.”

So there we stayed for the next three days, and the doctor couldn't think of anything to do but let one of the wood stoves simmer down, I guess, and make it stay as hot as it could and still stand a person. He pulled out the racks of the oven, covered it in newspaper, and that's where I laid for three days until they could get some help.

EE:

Barbecued right from the start. What a dramatic entrance into this world. [laughter]

ML:

My mother always called me from the day one, here it was November—actually the majority of the time it's, what, Thanksgiving week?

EE:

That's right.

ML:

So I've always been her Thanksgiving turkey, and I've got the oven to prove it. [laughs]

EE:

Self-basting, probably, if I recall at that time. Well, that's great. So you were the last of this group of twelve?

ML:

I was the thirteenth child.

EE:

Good gracious. My mom's from a family of seven. I guess big families were more the rule back then.

ML:

Well, it was a necessity, because how many farmers could afford to pay any hand, you know?

EE:

You needed everybody's help on the farm. Is that where you all were, back on a farm back in Pennsylvania?

ML:

Well, I understand we stayed first year or so in Pennsylvania, and then those winters were just as vicious on my father as the Canadian. Well, the reason he was in Canada, to begin with, was the fact that he fought with the British forces during World War I.

EE:

He was a Canadian citizen himself?

ML:

Yes, I guess he would come under the Crown at that time. So he would have been an Englishman, but he came over to Philadelphia and got his citizenship papers.

EE:

He was injured in the service?

ML:

Oh, yes. He was very, very bad. He had liquid fire and mustard gas, and he was a German prisoner for some years. But we came on down to Miami, and that's where we stayed and the weather was better. My mother had an opportunity to take over this place that she was helping this woman run, and when the woman died, she just signed over the property to her, and we had fruit trees and lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges.

I was always little and scrawny. They said the food line didn't stretch down to where I was all the time. [laughter] Of course, I loved all kinds of fruit. I guess mostly that's what I'd do, I'd scramble up the trees and stay up there. When they needed the trees trimmed and stuff, I was the one that did it. I don't know what age I was, but I know I was assigned a job when I was about five. I had to clean out the chicken coop and bring in the eggs. So that was fine and dandy with me.

EE:

It wouldn't have been much longer after that when the Depression kicked in. Do you remember that change in your household?

ML:

Oh, my goodness. I'll tell you, I remember the Depression. We'd go to the store with a dollar and, man, we better hang on to that, because it's the only one in the house. Yes, we'd have to buy milk. Actually, we bartered a lot. We had eggs galore, beautiful eggs. We had what is it? Rhode Island?

EE:

Rhode Island Red?

ML:

Reds, and we had Rock and one other, pure white chicken. I don't know, but, anyway, if they got dirty, I had to wash them, too.

EE:

But you ate all right. You just didn't have enough money?

ML:

Oh, hey, there was food. Oh, yes, plenty of fruit. So as a result, I just stayed thin.

EE:

Well, now, you went to school right there in the Miami area?

ML:

Yes, I went to elementary school, middle school, high school and that's all.

EE:

Where did you graduate from high school?

ML:

Edison. Miami Edison, North Miami. We didn't have school buses and stuff. We'd go to school; we walked.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject while you were in school?

ML:

I was crazy about maps and history.

EE:

Which may lead to why you've got this place today, all these books around here.

ML:

It might be, yes. Oh, I love to read, yes.

EE:

That's great. After scurrying up citrus trees and delving in the library, did you have an inkling what you wanted to do when you grew up?

ML:

Had no idea. At one time when I was, I guess, twelve, I thought about being a truck driver. Those great big long trucks used to come into the market, “I'm going to drive one of those one day.”

EE:

That tells me you may have had the wanderlust. You may have wanted to go places.

ML:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

North Carolina was slow. You could graduate at sixteen in the thirties. When did you graduate? How old were you when you graduated from school? Was it seventeen or sixteen back then? You graduated '40 or '41, or when did you graduate?

ML:

My father died in '40. Yes, and then the following—yes, it was '41, right.

EE:

Do you remember Pearl Harbor Day?

ML:

Oh, boy, do I ever remember Pearl Harbor Day. Yes.

EE:

What were you doing?

ML:

We had a little old ratty kind of car. I know we paid twenty-five dollars for it, but that was the sweetest-running car I ever saw. First time I was ever able to get off my feet and go somewhere. I was driving my mother down to Homestead, Florida, because she had never seen Homestead. So I said, “Okay, I'll take you to Homestead.”

EE:

Was it an air force base back then, too?

ML:

No. No. Well, before the war, before World War II, there wasn't too much to—

EE:

There wasn't much down there, was there?

ML:

No, there wasn't too much to southern Florida. It didn't come awake—well, there was Opa-Locka. That was to the northwest of where we lived, but it was still in the county, but that was about all there was.

EE:

You were taking her down to Homestead when you heard the news?

ML:

Yes, and we were driving back from there and it said that Pearl Harbor was devastated, was pretty well shot up.

EE:

How did that news affect your household? You're the last. I would imagine you might have had one or two folks go into the service.

ML:

Yes. Oh, yes. Well, now, most of the kids that grew up, I remember them and yet I don't. I mean, they were a presence. They were in the way most of the time, because they were so much older than I was. Of course, they're all dead now. There's just one brother left.

EE:

Were any of them called up to service?

ML:

Just about all of them went.

EE:

How many of those twelve were boys and how many were girls?

ML:

Seven. Seven brothers, yes.

EE:

So you might have had a lot of stars on the flag at home. Did you have one of those?

ML:

No. No, I never had an opportunity to get to one. Saw them in the windows.

EE:

You finished high school earlier that year. What did you do after high school? Did you stay at home?

ML:

Oh, no, no. Well, the whole time I was going to school I was working, and I got into this American Title Insurance Company. I used to do their filing for them during school, because I could only give them just so many hours. And I was a lousy typist. Sitting there seemed like such a waste of time, but to get up and go and research and find a file, I was in my glory.

EE:

Doing library work.

ML:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Tracking down titles and everything else.

ML:

Oh, yes. [laughs]

EE:

Who owned what property when. It was a little history, a little research.

ML:

Gosh, yes.

EE:

Set the stage. How long did you work at that place? You worked there during the war?

ML:

I stayed with American Title—oh, gosh, let's see. I started with them, I think in '39, September of '39, and they started me with, I think, three hours a week. I never will forget my first paycheck. That was great, but it went very fast. [laughs]

EE:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

ML:

That's when we used to be able to buy a little—you'd make a sandwich at home and then you'd go into this little cafeteria and you could get a little plate of mashed potatoes and gravy for a nickel.

EE:

Did it ever occur to you during World War II to join? They just were starting the services.

ML:

Oh, yes. Oh, my, yes. Yes, I wanted to go right now.

EE:

Which one caught your eye, and what made you in the end decide not to?

ML:

I wanted to go in the navy.

EE:

That uniform, I bet.

ML:

I don't know what it was. I wanted to go navy. Then, you know, my mother says, “You can't even swim.” [laughter]

I said, “Well, if the ship blows up, I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference.” But I don't know what turned me away from the navy. Oh, I know what turned me away from the navy. I went into the post box.

EE:

Post office?

ML:

Post office to check our box for American Title one afternoon, and, oh, I saw those dress blues. From there on, it was history. [laughs]

EE:

Did you work with American Title after the war as well? Did you stay on there?

ML:

No. No, I never got the opportunity to go back. Actually, the reason I didn't go into the Marines like I wanted to, because you had to have your parents' signature, and my mother would not sign. That was no place for a girl, because “Don't you know that young ladies like that have a very bad name?” Okay?

EE:

She was very protective of you and your reputation.

ML:

Right, and plus the Marines would not take women during World War II until after their twentieth birthday.

EE:

They were later than the other services.

ML:

Yes, much so. So I joined like a volunteer group and also joined the USO [United Service Organization] and did whatever was necessary for the serving of food.

EE:

They had a couple of bases, I guess, in the area?

ML:

Actually, they made various halls, like the German Society had a huge building. Of course, the German Society was closed down and locked up tighter than a drum within a few days of their declaring war, and we were able to use that building.

EE:

They used to have dances called Germans all the time.

ML:

Oh, my, they had dances that were incredible. Met some of the nicest people, I'll tell you, both men and women. It was really a great time, really, even though it was a sad time. We would go months and didn't know who was alive and who was dead at that time.

EE:

So V-Mail [Victory mail] wasn't exactly the quickest way to find out things.

ML:

No. Well, I'll tell you, I got some V-Mail from one of my brothers who had settled in California as much as a year after he had come back. Some of the mail, I don't know whether it was lost or whether it was just put somewhere to be carried out later and the most essentials came first, of course your wounded.

EE:

What do you remember about the end of that war, either VE [Victory in Europe] or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day? Any special memories?

ML:

Not a thing except I was working, and I was taking my mother to the hospital because she was having some kind of problems. I think it was a gallbladder or something at that time, but we didn't know it then. I just sort of heard, you know, kind of with a half an ear, because I wasn't really interested, and they said the war is over.

EE:

But in your household it wasn't that big of a deal at that time?

ML:

No, it wasn't that big a deal, because we were all worried about Mom.

EE:

You ended up joining the service seven or so years later.

ML:

Yes.

EE:

What did you do in the meantime?

ML:

I continued to work for American Title. I was working for American Title at the time I left them to go into the service.

EE:

When you came to your boss at that place and said, “I'm going to join up,” what was his reaction?

ML:

“Are you nuts?” He says, “I know we're not in World War II anymore, but don't you know they're still unsettled over there? You know there's another war coming on?” And he went on and on and on. And I thought, “Really? Oh, okay.”

EE:

Talking about Korea.

ML:

Yes, it was Korea. I said, “Well, I hadn't planned on getting over there,” but, you know.

EE:

I know that in World War II they would not let the women outside the continental U.S. You could go to Alaska or Hawaii, but you couldn't go overseas. Was that the same way?

ML:

Actually, I don't believe you could have—even the USO had a lot of problems getting women as far as Alaska or Greenland or Hawaii. I mean, it was allowed finally after enough of the big boys got on top of it, but it wasn't favored by the military.

EE:

What was it that finally decided to get you into that recruiting office? Was it something at work, something new about the service, something in your life?

ML:

I left the office. I had to do the three o'clock mail run, check the box. I had to go through—on each side was the recruiter's office. I actually went to the navy's office, and it was closed, and he was late coming back from whatever. He had to go to a school or do something. The Marine ducked his head out the door and he says, “Well, he's not back. He doesn't get back from lunch.”

I said, “It's three o'clock in the afternoon!” I thought, “Boy, they're not dependable. How did we win the war?” [laughter]

So I got talking to him and he said, “Come on in and sit down.”

I thought, “Okay.”

So he said, “I'll leave the door open so you can see when he comes back.” Before I knew it, I'd signed the papers to go in. I was on my way. I mean, I had my bus ticket in my hand. [laughs]

EE:

So you were just gung-ho to do something.

ML:

Yes.

EE:

To get a new change of life and do something different.

ML:

That's right, yes.

EE:

Did he tell you when you joined the kind of work you might be doing, or did he give you a choice of where you might be doing it?

ML:

He said, “How would you feel about working in a library?”

I said, “Well, hey, that sounds all right to me.”

And he said, “Now, we have lots of jobs in [Washington] D.C. and Baltimore,” somewhere, two or three places he mentioned. But the minute he said “sit in an office and type,” I thought, “You have lost my interest, man.”

I said, “Now, you give me a pick and a shovel, and I'll go out and dig you a garden and plant you a tree, but I'm not going to sit at a typewriter. I'm doing that now eight hours a day.” So I said, “Now, if it's filing, okay. I don't mind a little typing on the side.”

EE:

But not sitting there.

ML:

Listen, I don't want to get bunions in the wrong places. [laughs]

EE:

I hear you on that, having had a few.

So had you ever been much outside of Florida growing up? Had you ever traveled much around the country before going in the service?

ML:

No. No, we couldn't. We never had a car in our family. I was the first one that got this little old Tin Lizzy [Model T Ford]. Picked it up for twenty-five dollars.

EE:

So you were the adventurer of this group?

ML:

I guess so, because all the rest of them, as soon as their wartime, I don't know, was finished, they settled wherever they landed them.

EE:

Was your Mama still living when you joined?

ML:

Yes. Yes, my Mama lived until 1968, still on the same old homestead.

EE:

Did you win her around to the idea of your joining? Did you win her over?

ML:

Not really. No. No.

EE:

She still had her reservations?

ML:

As a matter of fact, when I got out of boot camp, I didn't take leave. I stayed aboard base, because she told me, “Now, when you come in, you be sure and have a change of clothes at the bus station, because I don't want these neighbors to know that you're in service. I told them you were going to school up north.” So I didn't go home.

And I guess it was about a year later, she came up for my birthday. She hurt her ankle, so I got leave. Of course, I had leave coming, so I took some of the leave I had, and got a bus ticket and took her home, but that was the first that I had gone back.

EE:

Were your brothers and sisters more supportive?

ML:

I don't know.

EE:

Or were you sort of out on your own? Because the age was so big between the two of you.

ML:

Everything just drifted away. Now, my brother that was next to me, there's a couple of years difference between us, and now, he was in the navy. Now, maybe that's why I was attracted to the navy.

EE:

You picked the most scenic time of year to go to Parris Island, right in the middle of a July heat wave.

ML:

August. August was the worst, and you weren't allowed to chase those sand flies. You had to live with them. They were biting clear through to the marrow of the bone with their long little straws. [laughs]

EE:

Well, obviously you remember the insects at basic training. How about the living conditions? You're from a big family, but most of them are older than you and out of the house, I guess, a lot of the time you're growing up. What was it like, barracks life, for you?

ML:

Oh, hey, that was okay. Gosh, I had plenty of room. I had a cot to myself. I mean, what's to complain about? I even had a blanket all to myself, nobody rolling over and taking it away from me. [laughs]

EE:

Small things to be thankful for. What was the hardest thing about basic for you?

ML:

Actually, I was into it about three weeks before finally a little something landed on my shoulder, maybe it was my guardian angel, and said, “What the heck are we doing here?” [laughs] I guess the worse part I can remember is—well, I didn't mind the discipline, because I've lived with that all my life. The day I was born, I didn't think I knew any better. But there was a few there that I thought it was unnecessary. Like they would tell you to go out and clean up the cigarette butts and stuff. So you'd take your little—looked like a little sand bucket from the beach, and you'd go out there and then very meticulous, and I thought, “Boy, I'll get this job done. I'm going to really get noticed this way, because this is my thing.” I'd crawl down on my hands and knees. It didn't make any difference to me, and taking a little brush and going between the cracks in the sidewalk and all this. That's okay with me. But when I went in and presented it to this company office and the DI [drill instructor] came out, asked me what a worm like me is doing hammering on their door, now, I thought, “Where were you raised?” But I wouldn't dare say it. [laughs]

EE:

But you were thinking it.

ML:

And I said, “I am finished. Ma'am, I'm finished my project that I was given.”

She said, “Ah, yes, nice and full, too.” So she lifted up the window and threw the whole thing out the window on the spot where I had just cleaned. Well, I didn't know. I thought how simple it would be to trip her up and she'd go out with them, you know.

EE:

Steaming all the way. [laughter]

ML:

She said, “Do you know why I did that?”

“No, ma'am.”

“You finished too soon.” Well, if that didn't break my spirit. [laughs]

EE:

Nothing like striving for excellence.

ML:

But I could see the reason for that. They feel like they have to break you down to build you up.

EE:

They want you to have no independent source of self-esteem, is that the idea?

ML:

No, no. No real self-thinking.

EE:

They don't want you to think that you're better than somebody else.

ML:

That's right.

EE:

They want to get you on the same level.

ML:

Maybe I was just blown up just a little bit too much, being all grins instead of—

EE:

Most of the women in your group, were they older, younger, about your age?

ML:

Actually, there was hardly anyone past twenty-two, twenty-three. Most of them, you know, they were taking then.

EE:

They lowered the age, didn't they?

ML:

Oh, yes, you could go in the same like the men did. Like if you were close enough to your eighteenth birthday, could be seventeen and a half and get in.

EE:

And the parents sign to get in.

ML:

Oh, yes. So we started out with about 112, I think, and we only graduated 96.

EE:

So you lost twenty in basic?

ML:

Yes. Now, there was one woman in there, she had four college degrees, but she didn't have an ounce of common sense. She could probably quote you Shakespeare from one end to the other, very meticulous in her presentation and all, but when it comes down to common sense—

EE:

Just couldn't do it.

ML:

Yes, she had to be led by the hand, practically.

EE:

Were all of your instructors women?

ML:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Did you have a drill instructor?

ML:

We had one drill instructor that was male, and he was only allowed in the area for his precise job of trimming us up, as we called it, through the parade field.

EE:

Did he go a little easy on you on his language, or did you get the full Marine—

ML:

Actually, we didn't have any full-blown vulgarity, but it came close to the line enough to know that you're going to get kicked in the keester big time. [laughter]

EE:

Okay. That sounds right. For about eight weeks were y'all pretty much confined there at the base, or did you get a chance to go into town?

ML:

Actually, the only reason we were ever allowed—at one time they brought a school bus into our area to take us out to get shoes, because the only thing they had was still the shoes left over from World War II.

EE:

Miss [K. Faye?] Giles was telling me the same thing.

ML:

Yes.

EE:

Was your unit integrated as well? Did you have blacks as well as whites in your—

ML:

Oh, yes.

EE:

How was that? Was that all right?

ML:

Yes. Actually, for me, it never bothered me, because my parents—well, of course, raised in the North, and my father temporarily—I mean, Ireland, it just isn't a question.

EE:

Not a problem, right.

ML:

No. Hey, listen, my father said, “Their backs is just as strong as mine, and if they can work, that is a man's work, is his work.”

EE:

You, I guess, took some tests, or they tried to make some relation between the tasks in which you were assigned.

ML:

Right.

EE:

How did you end up going from Parris Island to Parris Island?

ML:

They were asking me one time if I would be just as contented in the South as the North or what duty station, and I said, “I have no preference.” And I didn't, for only one reason: I had never gone anywhere. What did I know that Washington, D.C., would be my greatest opportunity, or going to [Marine Corps Air Station] Miramar [California] would have been the greatest experience in my life? What did I know? You know, I knew chicken coops.

EE:

So you didn't really have anybody advising you on your possible career, did you?

ML:

No, it's not like your guidance counselors. And if there was one there, I didn't know it, because there were so many people, and the platoons were flying through there as quick as—because right after that, they cut the boot camp time down to six weeks.

EE:

This is just as Korea is sort of ratcheting down, isn't it?

ML:

Well, no, Korea—well, yes, it was.

EE:

Fifty-two.

ML:

Yes, '52.

EE:

Sort of mainly from '50 to '52.

ML:

I think it was still—let's see, Korea was '54, wasn't it?

EE:

It's been hot for a long time.

ML:

Yes, we might have it again.

EE:

Yes, the way the last week or so is.

ML:

The last week.

EE:

A little on the strong side.

You end up working in the women's clothing office, were issuing clothes, I guess, to new recruits coming through.

ML:

Yes, seeing that they were fitted right, yes.

EE:

Did you give them the Revlon lipstick that matched, color-coded?

ML:

Oh, my goodness, I mean to tell you. If they didn't get the right color lipstick—

EE:

It's amazing. When I look at those pictures, it is just dead on, the lipstick and the band.

ML:

Right. Let's see, I've got a—maybe it's in the pocket. I've got one picture. I've got my passport here, too. Yes, here it is.

EE:

Oh, yes.

ML:

That's the only picture I was able to hang on to.

EE:

That's great. Now, that's a summer uniform, because you've got the—

ML:

Yes, those were the seersuckers.

EE:

Right, because you've got a white cord on the hat.

ML:

This is—we were allowed to have pictures taken right out of boot camp. Now, that's actually before I graduated, but it might have been a day or two. That's the only thing—

EE:

Now, that's a very feminine picture. That's very good pictures, both of them.

ML:

That's what I looked like at that time.

EE:

Well, that's good. So you had this job. This would have been starting September or so in '52, and you stayed in that office through the time, the whole time, the rest your time?

ML:

Yes, right.

EE:

Which would have been almost two years.

ML:

Actually, it was a great big Quonset hut. You come into the entrance of it, and if you turn to your right would be where the lieutenant stayed, and all the office equipment was in that same area.

EE:

Everybody who worked in this office were women?

ML:

Oh, yes.

EE:

So you all were fully staffed? Did you have any civilian employees?

ML:

We even had our own club, and it was a nice club, too. It was right out on the water and they built a little, I guess you'd call it a patio, and we could sit out there, and you were actually sitting out over the water. The built it out over, and it was one of the nicer clubs, I thought. Of course, I never saw Mainside.

EE:

So did you have any civilians working in that unit as well, or was everybody regular?

ML:

No. No, there were no civilians.

EE:

Your regular workweek was an eight-to-five job five days a week?

ML:

Actually, yes, but there were times like you're getting ready for the general to come inspect, and that was a great big thing, and you'd work till nine, ten o'clock at night, taking your toothbrushes around the little grooves all around and the white-glove inspections.

EE:

Where you were housed, you had your own inspections to take care of before you went to work and everything else?

ML:

Oh, yes, yes, we all had to. We lived in two-story buildings. They were wooden buildings, wooden floors. Very, very hard to keep up.

EE:

Did you ever think about making the Marine Corps a career option?

ML:

Oh, I fully intended to, yes.

EE:

And what changed your thinking of that?

ML:

Well, the captain said, “Do you know you're going against the rules staying in service? You're married. You didn't get permission. Now, if your husband is going overseas, you can stay until he comes back.” Now, I had no one to ask, “Hey, what else can I get into? How could I rectify this?”

Now, I didn't know until about a couple of months after I had gotten out that this girl got married the same weekend I did. She just went in the company office and said, “Hey, it was a fluke. We're separated.” She said, “We've both gone our separate ways.” You know, I saw her about five years ago, still married to the same man.

EE:

She just knew the junk to say. [laughs]

ML:

Yes.

EE:

We talked about this a little before we started the tape, but I wanted to get it on the record. There's a couple of components to this transition that we've got to fill in. This man that entered into your life, tell me how you and Herbert got together. Was he on the base there at Parris Island?

ML:

Yes, he was at Reclamation and Salvage at that time. He had just come back from Korea. Then he was TAD [temporary additional duty] to Camp Lejeune after that. He was answering the phone in the office of Reclamation and Salvage. We'd have a platoon graduating and they can't graduate without their emblems, and I had ordered the emblems and only got half of them. Women battalion.

EE:

Last on the totem pole.

ML:

Oh, yes, what was left we got, what's left in the box. So we only got half of them. You can't graduate a platoon without emblems. So I called Reclamation and Salvage. They get all the uniforms in there, and they take all the emblems off before they do whatever they're going to do with these uniforms that they keep or dispose of, and they recycle the emblems. So I knew that was one source.

He happened to be in the office. He had just come back and hadn't been assigned yet, and he answered the phone, because he'd been in Reclamation and Salvage for a couple of years or so before he had gone over to Korea and when he came back. I identified myself, and he said, “Oh, you're with the women's battalion. Why don't you order them like everybody else does?” I thought, “You—.” Well, whatever. And when I hung up—

EE:

“You dear misinformed soul.” [laughs]

ML:

When I hung up, I looked over at the lieutenant and I said, “You know, I hate that guy.”

She says, “Why do you think I asked you to call instead of me?” [laughter]

EE:

Oh, a man with a reputation.

ML:

So I said, “Okay.” Well, I got the emblems, and don't you know, two months later the same thing happened. The same lieutenant got me to call Reclamation and Salvage. So here I got through. So instead of asking just what I needed, I asked for an extra hundred. So that time I needed 190.

“What are you doing over there?”

I said, “Well, I guess some of them are losing them.”

“How can you allow that? No one loses an Eagle Globe and Anchor.”

I said, “They give them for souvenirs.” [laughter]

I learned later he almost busted a blood vessel. But then I guess that was in September, maybe October. Yes, October.

So then the club for Christmas has a great big to-do. Oh, they really go all out, and Special Services at that time, which is whatever it is now, NWR, but it was Special Services to us. We call up Special Services and say, “We are having a party.” Well, no men were allowed in that club unless a woman invites him and takes him in. So I thought, “I wonder what this guy looks like.” So I call him up and I'll say, “This is Maryelln Powers.”

“Oh, how many emblems do you need this time?”

And I said, “A hundred and fifty.” I didn't need emblems. I was getting all I needed. They back-ordered mine from a year before.

EE:

You were just glad to be able to pull somebody's chain. [laughs]

ML:

So he said, “All right. I'll send a runner over with them.”

“Okay.”

So in he walks with them. I didn't know who he was, and he said to the—well, she was a captain by this time—to the captain, “Do you have a Powers here?”

She said, “Oh, yes. Why?” [laughter]

So he said when she asked him that, he thought, “What do you mean, why?”

So anyway, she did call me into her office and wouldn't let him any further than that office. And he says, “I'm from Reclamation and Salvage.”

I thought, “Oh, my god.” And I looked over at the captain. I thought, “What kind of trouble am I in?” On the desk was this box of emblems, and I thought, “Oh, wasn't that nice. Now we can graduate that class, can't we?” And the captain is holding her mouth and looking up at the lights, trying so hard not to break a smile. And I've got a half-grin on my face, because I don't give a darn.

He was a staff sergeant at the time, and, of course, they're supposed to be tin gods. I don't know whether I still had my corporal stripes on then or not. I don't think I did. I was probably just a PFC [private first class], but it didn't make any difference to me. I really wasn't impressed.

EE:

So did you ask him that day to go to this—

ML:

So I said, “Oh, by the way, you know, you've been so nice about giving me these emblems.” And the captain just about—oh, boy, she rolled around and she was filing in her cabinet. She don't how to file. [laughs]

But I said, “You know, we're having a Christmas party over at the WM [Women Marines] Club and I would be delighted if you would come.” I said, “You have to report into the office first, and I will come over and meet you there and take you to the club.”

EE:

Once you pass muster. [laughs]

ML:

Right. And he said, “Fine.” Just as he was walking out, he turned back and he said, “Oh, Captain, with your permission, can I bring a friend?”

So after he left, I said, “Boy, that's a gutsy Marine. He has to bring protection with him.” [laughs]

She said, “Well, I don't know.” And she turned to me and she said, “Do you think you can dig up anyone?”

That's how it started, and I said, “He finally got us back.” He got back at me; he asked me to marry him. This was months later, of course.

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

EE:

So you were married July 10 of '54, and you were telling me before we got this tape started, when I was asking you about all the places you saw and you said Parris Island, but you had these visions of Hawaii in your head.

ML:

Oh, my, yes.

EE:

You had gotten some orders come through and had a chance to go to Hawaii. What happened?

ML:

Well, I was the only one with that MOS [military occupational specialty], and there were two of us that were eligible. We had to be corporal. We had to be out of boot camp 180 days, and, of course, the MOS, the rank, the time in. I won out on that deal, because she was one platoon below me, so that gave me seniority. So here I am, and I told him all about Hawaii. I was going to go to Hawaii. “Well,” he said, “I don't know. You don't have to be in the service to go to Hawaii.” He said, “I get to go there every once in a while.” So he said, “I could ask my monitor. I could probably be stationed over there.” So I thought. The more I thought about it, and I'm, “No, I'm going to go. It's going to be my time.”

Somewhere along down the line, I don't know how it happened, somebody else was getting married that weekend, and somehow or another the ring stayed on my finger—the ring was put on my finger hardly before I knew what I was doing.

EE:

Love was in the air.

ML:

It must have been. It must have been. Spring had sprung.

EE:

But, now, your CO [commanding officer] did not know you were married?

ML:

No. No way.

EE:

And you still had dreams of Hawaii in your future?

ML:

Oh, yes, I was going to keep this marriage a secret.

EE:

Because, now, at the time, once the word got that you were married, they would ask you to—

ML:

That's right. We were under World War II restrictions still, about if you married without permission, it wouldn't be a possibility during war, that you could be drummed out of the service, so to speak.

EE:

Asked to leave.

ML:

You wouldn't be asked; you would be put out. A woman would probably get a general discharge, which was not impressive to me. I wanted honorable or nothing.

EE:

So how did the cat get out of the bag on this?

ML:

Oh, that was a good one. My husband went over to a beer bust, and the first thing out of his big mouth was, “Oh, I got married this past weekend.”

And they said, “I thought you were dating Powers over there at WM.”

He said, “Well, that's the one I married.”

It wasn't that the next morning I was called into the company office, and that's when everybody let the cat out of the bag, and I was reminded of rules and regs and what I didn't do and what I should have done.

EE:

Well, now, did you get an honorable discharge?

ML:

Oh, I got an honorable discharge, all right, but that's all I got. As far as Hawaii, I never got further away than three miles from Route 17, no matter where I went. I went from Parris Island to Camp Lejeune. I lived just two blocks away from Route 17. I went from there to Seaford, Virginia, to the Yorktown Depot Mines, and that was, I guess, maybe a mile and a half we lived away from. Then we went to Jacksonville, Florida, to Dewey Park, which is no longer existing, and from there back to Lejeune and bought a house there, and then he went on his little travels and I stayed and raised the kids.

EE:

It was, what, I guess about a year and a half after you got married that you had your first?

ML:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Then seven years later you had a boy.

ML:

Right.

EE:

He stayed in the service. When did he retire from the service?

ML:

He didn't retire until '76.

EE:

So was he overseas in Vietnam?

ML:

I think he spent most of his time on Okinawa. Like he'd take day trips to Okinawa. He was with Supply, and he was with the INI. That's inventory.

EE:

I guess for twenty years then you went from Woman Marine to Marine wife.

ML:

Yes.

EE:

You were in pretty good close comradeship with everybody together here, all the wives together? Did you hang out together with other wives, or did raising the kids keep you occupied?

ML:

Actually, I concentrated on the kids more and more, and I wasn't comfortable going aboard base all that much. It brought back all the stuff I missed.

EE:

You wanted to still be in the service, didn't you?

ML:

Oh, my, yes. Yes.

EE:

And nowadays you can join, and they'll help you arrange daycare while your kids are—

ML:

Boy, don't you know it. The first time I saw a woman in a maternity gown, I thought, “Holy mackerel, that doesn't look right.”

EE:

But did you wish it could have been you? [laughs]

ML:

Well, yes.

EE:

Because, you know, there's this highfalutin philosophical debate, well, what about the role of women in the service? Now we've probably got combat pilots over there.

ML:

Oh, yes. Pregnancy doesn't—except for when you get large enough to where it's uncomfortable, you might not be able to tie your shoes, but I'll be darned if your mind doesn't still work.

EE:

So you don't think there should be any restrictions on women—

ML:

No.

EE:

—opportunities in the service?

ML:

No way. If they've got the heart and soul, they can do it. I could have.

EE:

Well, now, when did you start this? We're here in a book exchange.

ML:

Yes.

EE:

Where you basically let people come in and bring you their old books and then you sell them back out.

ML:

They bring the books in. We give them a twenty percent credit on all of them they bring in, and they use that little credit chit and buy the books that they want to either update their library or just to have a second volume of the first one that they just read.

EE:

We were talking about, before we got started, you were noticing your floor sagging from all the books at your home. Then the idea came to y'all that maybe you need to get rid of a few of them.

ML:

Yes, he cleaned up that attic and opened the store. That's how we opened it.

EE:

That was how many years ago?

ML:

Oh, gosh. Well, now he started it just before he was discharged.

EE:

So, '75?

ML:

So actually '74 is when he cleaned out the attic and got a little rental down there on Harvard Street and New River Drive.

EE:

So you have been a fixture around here then for a while.

ML:

Yes. Yes, I imagine anybody who's been and gone and come back, you mention book exchange, and they pretty well know. Of course, my husband always made it a practice from year one that all his excess books would go aboard ship or the planes free so that the guys could read. He said the one thing he missed while he was in a lot of ports, he never could find anything interesting enough to read. If he had more than two books of any one title in the store, it went in a bag.

EE:

You might be interested to know the very first interview I did for this project was with a woman who set up the library system at Lejeune when it was being carved out of a swamp, and she ended up being a librarian. And the same thing: How do you get good books to the folks on ships and away in foreign ports? That's great to know that you guys could do that.

ML:

Yes, we still do it. As a matter of fact, if you look over there in the corner, you'll see.

EE:

Well, I know you have a few friends who are veterans, because I met one of them this morning. And I see you've got a WIMSA [Women in Military Service for America] thing on your car.

ML:

Oh, yes. Yes.

EE:

How active do you keep up with veterans' stuff?

ML:

Well, we've got quite a thing going. Right now we're joining up with Cherry Point [North Carolina].

EE:

That's great. You probably know Mary Sabourin then.

ML:

Oh, yes.

EE:

She was my first WMA [Women Marine Association] from down here that I talked to.

ML:

Oh, my gosh, yes. Hang on to that. Maybe you want to pass the word.

EE:

I'll pass the word. That's a good one, yes. That's good to know. You know, my father-in-law was a Marine, and all he could talk about was El Toro [California] and Cherry Point.

ML:

Oh, yes.

EE:

But “Semper Fi” isn't just a slogan; it's the way you feel about the thing, isn't it?

ML:

Oh, yes.

EE:

It stays with you your whole life long. It's part of who you are. Do you think being in the service made you more independent?

ML:

Oh, my, yes. Yes, well, it would naturally do that, because I think that's part of the training, you know. Marines take care of Marines, but now suppose you're over there in a little snail corner and you can't get to another Marine. You better know what you're doing in order to make yourself, because you have as much responsibility to keep yourself safe and get out of harm's way, rather than somebody having to sacrifice their life to come and get you. It all comes from the training.

EE:

If I ask you to think of a song, or maybe even a movie, from back in the days that you were in the service, that when you hear it or see it, takes you back to those times, is there one that does it for you?

ML:

I think there was a USO, Dinah Shore, and it was a military song. I can't, for the life of me, remember the name, but every once in a while the tune will play and that scene—

EE:

Comes back in your head, yes.

ML:

—comes right just as plain as it was yesterday.

EE:

Did you ever meet any famous people while you were in or while you were traveling afterwards?

ML:

Not that I know of. I may have tripped over them without knowing it.

EE:

[laughs] Yes, I know. That's great. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to do this with me today. It's very difficult, but we did a good job, I think, going over a couple of years. Going over the rest of your life in an hour is sort of a hard thing to do. But is there anything about your time in service or how it affected you that I haven't asked you about, that you want to share with us?

ML:

No, I can't think of it right offhand. Woman Marine Association is, as you can see by that letter, that it's sixty years, and we'll be celebrating. Our birthday will always be the thirteenth of February. Now, a Marine says there's only one birthday, so our anniversary is the thirteenth. The birthday is November tenth, but there's just enough Marine in me that I can't help but celebrate both equally.

EE:

That's great. Well, I can hear in your voice and in your heart that you've been celebrating for a few years about that fact and how it's shaped your life, and so, on behalf of the school, thank you for doing this today.

ML:

Thank you for your patience. I just always feel like my part of it just wasn't all that important.

EE:

It's amazing when you form a circle, every link of the chain is important.

ML:

You know, yes. Okay, yes.

EE:

It is.

[End of interview]