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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Shirley F. John, 2002

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Object ID: WV0248.5.001

Description: Interview primarily documents Shirley Ferren John’s service in the USMC (United States Marine Corps) from 1953 to 1955.

Summary:

John discusses her reasons for joining the Marines; her family’s reaction to her enlistment; segregation; the cap on female enlistment after WWII; gender separation; servicemen’s responses to female Marines; and other details of basic training at Parris Island. She also describes working in the provost marshal’s office at Camp Lejeune; tension with Marines’ wives; a typical work day at Camp Lejeune; shooting at the rifle range; and being pushed out of the service after her marriage.

Personal topics include: John's early desires to serve in the military; the death of her uncle, an army air force pilot in WWII; the Ribbon Creek Incident at Parris Island, South Carolina; her husband’s career as a Marine; her career at Carolina Telephone; opinions on women in combat positions; patriotism; and the “Marine Corps Hymn.”

Creator: Shirley Marlene Ferren John

Biographical Info: Shirley Ferren John (b. 1935) of Seymour, Iowa, served in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) from 1953 to 1955, then worked with Carolina Telephone in Jacksonville, North Carolina, from 1968 to 1996.

Collection: Shirley F. John 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:

Transcriber, my name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at university. Today is February 1 in the year 2002. I'm in Jacksonville, North Carolina, this morning, and I'm at the home of Shirley John.

Ms. John, thank you for sitting down with this exercise today of self-revelation, but I appreciate your doing it. We're going to talk about your career in the Marine Corps. I'm going to start with you the same way I start with most everybody. Could you tell us where were you born, where'd you grow up?

SJ:

On a farm in Seymour, Iowa.

EE:

Had this been a family homestead for a while?

SJ:

Well, we lived on several different ones, but we lived around Seymour all of my growing-up years, until I left for the military, and I really haven't gone back since I left.

EE:

So both your folks were into farming? Did your mom raise the kids and your dad work on the farm, or how did it work?

SJ:

Well, my mother helped out all she could. There were seven of us, so she got a little bit complicated.

EE:

Oh, my goodness.

SJ:

[referring to photograph] That was taken about a week before I left.

EE:

Oh, my. Well, now, it looks like you're one of the older crew here.

SJ:

I was.

EE:

You were the oldest?

SJ:

No. I had two brothers older, but I was the first one to go in service, so I got to outrank my brothers all the time I was in service. [laughter]

EE:

And they both joined as well, then, later on?

SJ:

Well, they were both in the army, and I had one brother that retired from the army. Well, actually, all three of my brothers were in the army.

EE:

That's a great picture. And you've got two and then one, a good deal younger, sister. So it's three boys and four girls.

SJ:

Right. Yes.

EE:

You were the only girl who went in the service.

SJ:

Oh yes. I was the only adventuresome one.

EE:

You graduated from high school there in Seymour as well?

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

Was it just called Seymour High School?

SJ:

Seymour High School.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject when you were growing up?

SJ:

Probably English.

EE:

Did you do sports, too?

SJ:

Well, in Iowa, it was girls' basketball. I played basketball. I was never on the traveling team, but I played basketball for three out of the four years I was in high school.

EE:

And then girls' basketball is a different game today than it was then. Was it a half-court game still then?

SJ:

Yes. I don't remember when it went to the other.

EE:

Did you have any idea when you were in high school what you wanted to do when you grew up?

SJ:

From about the junior year on, I said I—well, first, I was going in the navy. Then somebody made a remark, and I decided I didn't want to go in the navy. I was going in the air force, but then—well, I had an uncle killed in World War II, and he was in army air force, so they tried to talk me out of that. So then I attended Career Day, and I saw the Marines, and I said, “That's where I'm going.” Nobody thought I would.

EE:

How old did you have to be to join the Marines back then? Was it eighteen?

SJ:

Eighteen.

EE:

So was this something you did right as you graduated from high school? When did you graduate?

SJ:

I graduated in May of '53, and I wasn't old enough to join the Marine Corps. I graduated when I was seventeen. So I had to wait until January of '54, because my birthday was in December, and I had to wait until '54, January of '54, to go in the Marine Corps. And I worked as a telephone operator in Des Moines for Northwestern Bell.

EE:

Do you remember World War II as a kid?

SJ:

Vaguely. Some things I remember.

EE:

What do you remember about it?

SJ:

Well, I don't actually remember it starting. I remember more the last, I would say, two or three years.

EE:

Remember D-Day?

SJ:

Yes, faintly. I remember the day the war ended, because they rang all the church bells, and that meant we were surrounded with churches, and, of course, my uncle was killed.

EE:

Did he die late in the war?

SJ:

March of '45. So it was practically over, but he was a bombardier and navigator on a B-52.

EE:

Was this in Germany?

SJ:

I don't think he was in Germany. I know two of my uncles were in Germany. One of them spent three years between Italy and Sicily and [unclear], but I don't believe—think that Robert—because he went down in the ocean.

EE:

Was this on your father's side, your mother's side.

SJ:

My mother's side.

EE:

How did it affect her?

SJ:

Well, I still remember the day. [cries]

EE:

That's okay.

SJ:

I do remember this uncle coming to visit, and, of course, he was the only one that had gone to college. He had graduated from Iowa State University. He was a captain, and he was the only one we had. And he didn't get to come back. I had a cousin that was killed, also, both of them in airplanes. Now, the other one, I'm almost positive, my cousin, I think he was in Germany, because, well, he was in the navy, if you could imagine a six-foot-seven tail gunner in the navy.

EE:

That's pushing it, yes.

SJ:

But now, their plane was shot down, or it was hit, and they gave orders to abandon ship, and he got out, and then they managed to bring the plane back. If he hadn't have jumped, he would have been all right.

EE:

You were in high school when Korea started. Did that factor into your wanting to join the service, the fact that your family had already been through all that and you wanted to help out, too?

SJ:

I suppose it did some. Back then, all that girls were taught was how to catch a man, get married, and have him take care of you the rest of your life, and that wasn't exactly what I wanted. I didn't know what I wanted, but that wasn't what I wanted. And as I say, there was—I don't know. I guess I was more adventuresome. What everybody else would do, that wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to do what nobody else was doing. [laughter]

EE:

How many people lived in Seymour? Was it a small town?

SJ:

In the fifties, it was. Originally, it was a huge town, because it was coal mines near, but I don't remember it that way. I remember it as, probably—I'm trying to think—probably right in Seymour there was probably a thousand people. Of course, all of the outlying farming area, the kids went to school in Seymour. We still had country schools, though. I never went to town to school till I was in high school. We went to a little country school out there.

EE:

So they had different grades mixed together?

SJ:

Oh yes. From the kindergarten through eighth grade, we all went to the country school. And I used to help teach the little kids.

EE:

So part of factored into your going into the service was maybe, “I want to get out someplace new and see something different.”

SJ:

Well, I figured the only way I ever had—I had been in three states by the time I graduated from high school: Missouri, which was only a mile and a half from our house, the Missouri line was, and to Illinois and Iowa. That was it. And I thought, “There's an awful big world out there, and I want to do something different.” But can you imagine going from Iowa to Yemassee, South Carolina?

EE:

It's a whole different world, all those folks.

SJ:

Oh yes. It was something else.

EE:

So that must have been the hardest thing, was just all the different kinds of people. Was anybody else from Iowa with you?

SJ:

No. I went all by myself. I didn't—until I enlisted in the Marine Corps, I did not even know that there were women from Iowa in there. There were some, but I only met one or two all the time I was in. I didn't meet very many. There weren't very many women from Iowa in there. But to come down South, of course, that was back when it was still segregated.

EE:

And you hadn't experienced that before?

SJ:

No, and I didn't like it. No, I had never experienced it before, because we had a black boy in our school that drove for the doctor. He was from Mississippi. Well, we all accepted him just like—John Henry was, you know—we all accepted him. He was nicer—usually he was nicer to the women than the other guys were. And when I came down here, I just could not believe.

And I can still remember, when we went back to Parris Island, [South Carolina], in, let's see, '55, '56—we went back to Parris Island in '56, after I was married and my husband was a DI [drill instructor] at Parris Island, I can still remember going to downtown Beaufort, and they still had the very narrow sidewalks in the town, and you walked down the sidewalk, all of the black people had to step off and let you go by. Unless you've, you know, seen it, you just don't realize.

EE:

Yes. And I think unless you—you grew up never experiencing that, and just to come in and have that was a total shock.

SJ:

I wasn't downtown in Beaufort, I don't believe—I can remember maybe one time we went while we were in boot camp, because the dress shoes that the women wore, we had to buy them on the outside. They did not have at cash sales. So we were taken downtown one time on the buses to buy shoes. But we had to stay with our organization. We couldn't get out and go anyplace. And, of course, then we were brought right back to the base, so I never—I did, in Yemassee. We, of course, had black girls in our platoon, and we were in boot camp, at that time it was eight weeks. And so we all left boot camp together to go on to our other duty stations or go on leave, whatever, and in Yemassee, the girls that we had lived with and shared everything with, they had to go to the other side of the depot, and they couldn't come over where we were. So a couple of us went over to talk to them, and a black lady told me in particular, she said, “Now, you don't want to come over here.”

And I said, “Why not?”

She says, “Because it's only the colored people that can be over here.”

And I said, “Well, she's wearing the same uniform I am.” So I just stepped across the chain and went over. Now, nobody came and told me to leave, but if she had done the same thing—

EE:

Come to your side, there would have been big trouble.

SJ:

They could not do it. When we got on the train, the ones that we got on the train with were at the back of the train. The rest of us could go anyplace on the train we wanted, but the black people had to stay in the back of the train until we got—let's see. I went to Iowa. We got through Kentucky, Missouri. I'm trying to remember how we went back. I remember how we went, because we went from Des Moines to Chicago to Washington, D.C., and then to Yemassee.

EE:

And when did the train become segregated, in D.C.?

SJ:

I don't know, because, at that time, I wasn't aware of it.

EE:

Right.

SJ:

But come to think of it, we didn't see anybody, so it must have been in D.C. You weren't even aware that there were any black people on the train except the porter, or conductor. That was the only ones you were even aware of that were on the train. And it was only when we left that it was so obvious, and some of the other girls in the platoon, they told me, they said, “You're going to get in trouble. You won't even ever make it to Camp Lejeune, [North Carolina], because you'll be in trouble, because you won't do what you're supposed to do.”

I said, “Well, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do,” but it seemed so unusual. Well, when you're not used to it and you see it day in and day out—

EE:

Let me ask you about this. I want to get in detail about your eight weeks down there, but I wanted to ask, because I know in World War II, the slogan was “Free a man to fight,” and that's what got a lot of people to join the Women's Reserve at that time. When you met with that person in high school at Career Day, was there any particular language that got you interested in joining, or did any of you—there wasn't any other friends, you say, that had joined the service, or the women who had joined the service. So was there any particular thing that they said that made the marines more attractive to you than the others, as you recall?

SJ:

No, nothing that I recall, anything that made me change my mind to the Marine Corps. I guess it was because nobody else had been in the Marine Corps. I had uncles and cousins in the army and the navy, but—well, the army air force, because there wasn't a separate air force at that time, or if there was—but during World War II there wasn't. And we had one cousin that had been in the Marine Corps, and I thought, “Well, if he can do it, I can do it.”

EE:

Kind of a challenge, because it had the reputation then as being the toughest, didn't it?

SJ:

Well, I didn't realize that at the time I went to join. I mean, everybody afterwards, they said, “What did you do that for? Why didn't you go in the navy?”

I says, “Well, they might have put me in something I didn't want to do.”

EE:

Were you allowed to go overseas? Was that a possibility, or were you all kept stateside then?

SJ:

We had to be twenty-one to go overseas. We couldn't even go to California. We couldn't be stationed in California because they didn't have barracks for us.

EE:

So you had to live off base, and therefore, they wanted you to be a certain age.

SJ:

Right. You had to be twenty-one.

EE:

What did your immediate family, your folks, think about you joining the service? Were they supportive?

SJ:

Most of them were.

EE:

A lot of people said some not-kind things about people who joined the service.

SJ:

Well, my dad didn't like it. He didn't want me to go. [cries] And my oldest brother didn't want it. He said, “If you go, I'll never speak to you again,” but he changed his mind on that. But I thought that's kind of a strange thing to say.

EE:

When you need support, it's not the type of—

SJ:

Well, I guess he thought, well, he was the oldest one, he could make us do what he wanted to do. But it didn't work out that way. Of course, from the time I—I was already living away from home. I was living in Des Moines, which was about one hundred miles from home when I joined.

EE:

Were you working up there at a store or something?

SJ:

I was a telephone operator, Northwestern Bell, which I never did—all the time I was in service, I never did.

EE:

When you signed up, did they give you a chance to pick a certain kind of work, or was it basically just whatever they ended up telling you to do?

SJ:

You were not offered anything special. You were tested, and then they decided what you did. And I really don't think the testing was so much that they went by the testing. I think they went by where they needed somebody. And I can't say that's true, but I really believe that's what it was, because they didn't decide until we got to Parris Island and did all the testing and things. We didn't know until our orders came out for us to go to the next base what we would be doing.

EE:

So you didn't have a sense of planning your career, in a sense, like they do now.

SJ:

Oh, no. No.

EE:

You signed on for three years originally. Is that the first tour?

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

You've already told me how jarring it was to experience those Jim Crow laws right off the bat, but tell me what else at basic training. Was it difficult for you?

SJ:

No. It wasn't for me, because I was used to doing things. I was used to taking orders, I mean, and working together. This was one thing we all had to do. I mean, you live in a family, you have to all work together to make it work. So it wasn't for me, but it was for some of those girls that had never—never knew anything except everything handed to them. They didn't know how to do their own laundry, they didn't know how to iron their uniforms, or anything. And I thought, “Girls, how did you get this far without—.” And, of course, we didn't do any cooking unless we were assigned mess duty, and in boot camp, we did not do mess duty.

EE:

How many women were in your barracks? How big a barracks was it? Were there forty in there?

SJ:

Oh, no, no, no. They were squad base, and there was four squad base in this, an upper and lower. I can't remember how many was in our platoon. The platoons probably consisted of anywhere from sixty five to one hundred people, so that would have made—there was approximately—let's see. We were 1-A, so they were just setting up for the new year. When we first got there, one wing of the building was free. There wasn't anybody in it. We were the first ones to come in. All the other classes, or platoons, had graduated, so we were the first ones. But then they followed right behind us. When we left, the barracks was full. But there was probably—

EE:

How many platoons altogether, because I know the numbers of women—

SJ:

Eight.

EE:

Eight altogether?

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

I know the numbers of women who were in the Marine Corps and all the services kind of went down during the fifties for a while in enlistment, because they didn't quite know how to use them.

SJ:

Well, they didn't know how to use them, and of course, at the end of Korea, which was—well, it ended in '53, but it was actually '54 as far as military was concerned, they wanted the men to stay in. They didn't want the women to. So I believe that we only had room for eight platoons. I believe we did. I don't think we had—I know we had three buildings, but I think we only had room for eight platoons, which you figure maybe one hundred people per platoon. I'm not sure.

EE:

All your instructors were women at basic, or did you have a—

SJ:

Except one. Our drill instructor was always a man, and he had to be married. No single DI for the women. In fact, we're the only service that still keeps the women segregated for boot camp, or segregated is not the right word. Keep them separated, you know. And, of course, back then we did. There was no men even allowed around. The only men we saw were—well, there was a staff NCO [non-commissioned officer] school and a leadership school, and there was men in the mess hall, and there was men in Supply, but that's the only men we ever saw, except our DI. He was Sergeant Nembrotsky[?], was my male DI. But other than that, we didn't talk to them or anything. Well, there might be somebody at the doctor, you know, at the infirmary, but there weren't any men.

EE:

Was the physical part of basic difficult for you?

SJ:

No, but I don't think I can make it now.

EE:

Well, you probably lucked out by coming to Parris Island in January rather than July. I imagine it would have been a different experience.

SJ:

Well, it snowed the day we went through the gas chamber. I can remember doing that and going swimming. We went swimming out at the swimming pool at the rifle range, is where we took swimming courses.

EE:

Did you take riflery? Did they show you how to put together a weapon and take it apart? If you went through the gas chamber to test your stamina—

SJ:

We got to see a lot about a rifle. There was a man, and I don't remember—it wasn't Sergeant Nembrotsky, but there was a man that stood—we were all up in the bleachers one day after, I think, after we'd been to the swimming pool, stood in front of us and showed us—it was an M-14—showed us what it was and called a few people, a few of the women, out to let them see how heavy it was and showed us that it would come apart and go back together and that if you put bullets in it, it fired.

EE:

[laughs] Was that a revelation to anybody?

SJ:

That was the extent of our knowing what a gun was for.

EE:

Sort of like what you tell your kid when you [unclear] “it'll hurt you, stay away.”

SJ:

But now, that isn't true any longer, but that is exactly what we got.

EE:

Did you feel like you were being trained to be fully a Marine, or did you feel like women Marines when you were in were treated differently within the corps than the men?

SJ:

Oh, we were treated differently. We were treated—well, like they'd like to put us behind the door. I mean, that's a rough thing to say, but that is the way it was. They did not want us there, and the men complained bitterly. And the women did a better job than the men did, but we had to be able to stay. At that time, they would set—like when promotions came up, there was this many women Marines could go, could make it, and this many men.

EE:

Twice as many, or three times.

SJ:

Yes. Yes. So if you made your rank, you really did good. And luckily, I made my ranks as I was supposed to.

EE:

Well, you're talking about structural things. It was pretty clear from the way they gave out promotions and the way they gave you the work assignments that some people weren't thrilled that you all were there. Did you ever get any personal static from anybody on the job or off the job?

SJ:

Yes, I did, one master sergeant. That's why I didn't stay in provost marshal's longer than I did, because he said, “Either she goes, or I go.” He was a master sergeant with about twenty years in. I was a corporal with not even two years, so I'm the one that left the provost marshal's office. But he did me a favor and didn't even realize it. They sent me to S-3, which was training, and all I had to do was work one or two days a month. I mean, I had to be in an office, but I didn't do anything, and that's really a hard job. I mean, it drives you crazy, because you're sitting there at that typewriter. You don't have anything to do, but you've got to look like you're doing something. But I worked with a wonderful bunch of men at that time.

EE:

So it varied. Some people were very supportive, and some people were not.

SJ:

Yes. Some of them were. The first master sergeant I had, before he went overseas, out of there, he was very supportive of women. And of course I can't prove this, but I think that they gave him more women to work for him because he could get along with them. Now, this one that I was talking about, we called him Shaky Jake. I can't even—yes, I do remember what his name was. But he would come up and interrupt you right in the middle. I mean, I had been there for a year—well, over a year in that office. I had been there longest of the military women. We had one civil service lady. Well, she had been there. But he never said anything to her. It was always me, I guess because my desk was right in front of his. He sat here, and I faced him. But he would come up and take things out of my hands, you know, right in front of customers and things.

A couple of officers reported him for what he did, because if I was waiting on somebody and an officer walked through the door, he would take things out of my hand and have me go wait on the officers. Well, that wasn't the way it was supposed to be. First come, first served. I mean, you know, because we had to give ID cards for dependents and for all civilian personnel on the base.

EE:

Was working in the provost marshal's office the first job you had after basic?

SJ:

Right.

EE:

And so basic was eight weeks, so you're talking about March of '54 that you leave to come to Camp Lejeune. Lejeune wasn't that old of a base then, about ten or fifteen years old. What were the facilities like for women? How many women Marines were even here at the base at that time?

SJ:

I would say about 350.

EE:

Not that much [unclear].

SJ:

Now, there might have been more than that, but I don't think so, because we had three barracks, and there was women in two of them, the regular ranks, and then the next building was staff NCOs, and they were only on one floor.

EE:

Three hundred fifty women? About how many men would have been here about the same time?

SJ:

About 350,000, I guess. [laughter] I don't know, but there was a lot of men.

EE:

How did the wives of the enlisted folks feel about their husbands working with women?

SJ:

They didn't like it. And they were usually very unkind to women in uniform, unless they had been in themselves. Now, the ones that had been in themselves were a little bit more understanding of it, but—now this, I'm saying something that I can't prove. The men egged them on on this, because they would go home and say that they had seen So-and-so, and there was really nothing to it, but they'd tell their wives this.

EE:

To get a rise.

SJ:

Yes. Yes, just to get a rise out of her. Now, the officers' wives, and I can say this because I used to babysit for the officers and things, most of their wives were pretty nice about us, especially once you got to know them, because when you babysit for them, you get to know them pretty well. You can't fraternize with the officers, of course, but I didn't care. I didn't care what my—

EE:

Well, now, you were about as young as you can be and be in the service.

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

Were a lot of women your age? What was the age range of most of the women in the service then? Were most of them in their early twenties, later twenties? What was their age range?

SJ:

The rank-and-file were, I would say, early twenties. You know, they ranged—of course, you had some that had been in during World War II, but those were mostly the staff NCOs. But the rank-and-file, I would say, were, well, from eighteen to thirty, and that would be stretching it if they were thirty. You didn't find—

EE:

Didn't find many that old?

SJ:

No. I'm trying to think of a couple of the sergeants I remember, and they were probably only about twenty-five.

EE:

The day-to-day schedule, were you talking about a nine-to-five job, five days a week? What was your work schedule like?

SJ:

I know we went to work at eight o'clock. I think we got off at five. I don't even—I just got off. I know we had to be there at eight o'clock, though, because a lot of them would try to get there so they wouldn't have to salute colors, as colors went at eight o'clock. I remember that part of it. And well, colors went at five or six. I think we worked eight to five, and we usually—the office I worked in, we only worked five days a week. Now, some of the others, the girls that worked in motor transport and supply, they might work five and a half days or even six days, depending on how many troops would come in and things, but I only worked in an office where we worked five days.

EE:

How long were you in the provost marshal's job. There were two people you worked under. The first fellow was very friendly to women. The second one was not. And then you switched off to this S-3 training. When was that? Was that late in the year in '54?

SJ:

No. It was '55. Let's see. It must have been about February, about February of '55.

EE:

Did you get to go home at that Christmas in '54?

SJ:

No.

EE:

So once you were in service, you didn't go back to home while you were in uniform.

SJ:

Only on leave from boot camp. And then the next time, when I was married I went back home, and I was in uniform. Of course, it wasn't too long after that that I was out.

EE:

Working an eight-to-five job, at the end of the day, were you hanging out basically with the other women? Did you socialize much with them or pretty much to yourself? How did it work.

SJ:

I usually went out on a date.

EE:

This leads me to Hermon. When did you all meet?

SJ:

I was on mess duty, and he was a gunny sergeant, which was a no-no, as I have found out since, but at the time it didn't matter. And when I was on mess duty, I was one of the younger Marines, but I always got to wait on the staff tables. How I always got picked, I don't know. And the officers of the day and the staff are always what I waited on. Well, he was one of the staff that came into the mess hall to eat, and I met him there. He had just come off of embassy duty in London, England. I met him there, and we dated for over a year before we were married.

EE:

So you first met him in the early summer of '54, maybe? Or even earlier than that, maybe.

SJ:

Well, he didn't come back until about July of '54. He didn't come back from England. It was probably about July or August of '54 that I met him.

EE:

Was he from this area? Where was he from?

SJ:

Staten Island, New York. No, not from this area.

EE:

You're the only person I've met who dated somebody else who was in the service. Was that a fairly common practice?

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

How long had he been in? You said he was coming off of embassy duty.

SJ:

Let's see. When I met him, he probably was in—I can't remember if it was six or eight years.

EE:

Had he been in during the war?

SJ:

Yes, but he couldn't go to Korea. He had been in China, but he couldn't go to Korea because he was a first generation—his parents were from Germany, so they sent him someplace where there wouldn't be a chance of him being taken prisoner or something. That's why he was on embassy duty, well, other than that he was always an outstanding-looking Marine.

EE:

So you all get [unclear] on one another and decide that you'd like to get married, but you realize this is going to probably do something to your service career.

SJ:

Well, I didn't realize that it would end it. We knew couples that—they had gotten married and stayed in, and I fully intended to stay in, but after I came back off leave in June of '55 and said I was married, they kept cutting orders to send me every place but here. And, of course, he had only been here a year, so he wasn't ready to go. He couldn't just go. Because at that time, they did not keep family, husbands and wives, together. They told him one time—he said something about his wife, and they said, “Well, if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they'd have issued you one.”

He says, “They did.” [laughter] So they never pulled that on him again.

And I told him, I said, “When you are in charge of young men,” I said, “please don't tell them that.” I said, “Don't tell them that the Marine Corps would have issued them one.” I said, “Yes, it'd be better if they don't get married when they was the lower ranks, but,” I says, “don't tell them something like that.” I said, “They've already got two or three strikes against them, because,” I said, “a lot of them get married because the girl is pregnant.” I said, “There's more than they can handle right there, and then somebody that they respect is tearing down their wife, really.” I said, “Don't say things like that to them, because that just makes them feel worse, and,” I said, “they take it out on the wives when they get home.”

EE:

So you left the service in July because you got tired of—obviously, they were going to try to split you all apart.

SJ:

I had five sets of orders in one week. If I hadn't known the sergeant major in the battalion, I would have been gone. I would have liked to have gone to a couple of the orders, but I didn't want to—you know, I had just gotten married. So finally, in July, I put in to get out, and of course, my company office first sergeant was very happy to make sure that I did get out.

EE:

So it didn't take you long once you said you wanted to leave.

SJ:

No. I think it took me a week.

EE:

But your husband decided to stay in and make it—well, he was planning on being a career Marine?

SJ:

He was even then, yes.

EE:

And he later became a drill instructor, you were saying?

SJ:

In '56, we went back to Parris Island. He was a drill instructor. While we're there and knew the DI that marched the boys into Ribbon Creek, you know, where the six of them drowned? Do you remember that story? We knew Sergeant [Matthew] McKeon. My husband and Sergeant McKeon went through DI school together. For a while that day—it took me about twelve hours to find out that it wasn't my husband that had done that. When they came and told—we lived next door to a captain. When he came home that evening, I said to him, “Why isn't there any fire at the rifle range today?”

He says, “Havent you heard?”

I says, “No. I haven't heard anything.”

He said, “A DI marched his platoon into Ribbon Creek.” And he must have seen the look on my face, and he says, “I don't know who it is,” he says, “but I know it's in the same time when your husband went through—.”

EE:

And what was the reason this person did that?

SJ:

He was trying to teach them—trying to make Marines out of them, and if they had all stuck together like they had been—you know, they were trying to train them to do, they would have saved each other, but they didn't, they panicked, and they didn't keep head count of themselves. So naturally, when they lost some, they didn't know it until they got out on the—nobody bothered to tell the DI or anybody that they were missing till they got them out on the ground.

EE:

They were probably just looking out for themselves.

SJ:

Right. They didn't keep track of the guy in front of them or the guy behind them, which is what they were trained to do. Of course, this was '56, two years after Korea, and most of the DIs had been to Korea and knew what it was like.

EE:

They were preparing them for war and they [unclear].

SJ:

They were trying to, and they got in trouble over it. But my husband wasn't—that's when I saw [General Lewis B.] “Chesty” Puller about three times.

EE:

Did he continue being a DI?

SJ:

Yes. He was a DI, and he—let's see. He got off in—let's see. [My son] was born in '57. He got off the drill field in '57.

EE:

Yes. I would imagine that you probably surprised your former bosses by not getting pregnant right away. They probably said, “Well, she's going to have the babies now,” but that you all stayed together as a couple for a few years before you had kids.

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

And you were at Lejeune till '56, and then went down—

SJ:

To Parris Island. Let's see. We went down there in—he went through school—

EE:

Since he had that DI school down there first?

SJ:

Yes. He went to school down there first, and I stayed here. And then he—we went down there. We were stationed down there.

EE:

I guess at that time, there was just two places for training, Parris Island and El Toro [Marine Corps Station, California]?

SJ:

San Diego. Strange you should say El Toro, because that's the next place we went after Parris Island.

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

EE:

So in '57, he comes off the training field and goes to motor transport. When did you all leave Parris Island for El Toro?

SJ:

We [unclear] August of '59. [laughter] Well, we didn't go to El Toro in '59. He went to Okinawa.

EE:

For a year?

SJ:

Yes.

EE:

Did you go with him?

SJ:

At that time, '59—

EE:

With a couple of babies.

SJ:

I'm lucky to even have gotten to go anyplace. No.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder pause]

EE:

So he came back to Parris Island in '60?

SJ:

No. At that time, I was in a—I left here and went to Iowa when we left in '59, and he came back in January of—was it '61? Yes, because at that time, they were gone for thirteen to fifteen months. It wasn't just a year, you know. Then we went to El Toro.

EE:

Did you stay at home with the kids this time, or did you have any other work you were doing in addition to it?

SJ:

No. I always stayed home with them. I used to be a bookkeeper for Pabst Blue Ribbon before I had any kids, down at Parris Island. They said the best bookkeeper they'd ever had, “She don't drink.” [laughter]

EE:

Did either of your two daughters ever have any interest in joining the service?

SJ:

No. My son spent eleven years in the army, though.

EE:

If a woman came to you today and said, “I'm thinking about joining the Marine Corps,” what would you tell her?

SJ:

Go for it. Go for it. Do it. It's the only place—not just the Marine Corps, but it's the only place where you get equal pay as the men. I spent twenty-five years for—well, I guess Sprint, but it was Carolina Telephone. The women were always paid about half what the men were, and yet, to this day, they still are, for equal jobs. And in the service, at least you get equal pay and you have equal benefits taken away from you if you retire, just like the men do. In fact, the women lose a lot more, it seems like to me, women veterans do. Like I watched something, a program, on TV where this woman was put up for a Congressional Medal of Honor, a navy nurse—no, an army nurse. And when it came time to give it to her, they said yes, and then they discovered she was a woman, and they wouldn't let her have it. This is a World War II army nurse, and yet, to this day, there has been no woman that has won a medal of honor, because men have to vote on it, and they voted that this—

EE:

They'll have a certain combat look to it.

SJ:

No matter what. A chaplain might get a medal of honor, but a navy or army nurse can't, which I think is very unfair. And it's only been in the last five years that a woman can even go to a veterans hospital. Before, they didn't have any facilities for them. They're just now setting up facilities for a woman at a veterans hospital, and look at all the women veterans we've got out there.

EE:

Do you keep in contact with a lot of them around here?

SJ:

Not right around here, but I belong to the Women Marines Association, which is a national organization.

EE:

Do you know Mary Sabourin?

SJ:

Oh yes.

EE:

How long did you all travel together as part of the Marine Corps with your husband's career?

SJ:

Until 1968.

EE:

Is that when he retired?

SJ:

No. That's when I came here. That's when we split up.

EE:

That's when you started working for Carolina Telephone?

SJ:

Right.

EE:

And you retired from them about eight years ago?

SJ:

In '96.

EE:

No doubt, this morning, there've been people, women, flying combat missions in Afghanistan. What do you think about that, women in combat?

SJ:

I have two lines of thought of it. Great if they can do it, but we know that other countries do not treat our women the same way we do. Well, in a way, they do. Sorry to say, in a way they do. Just that if they are taken prisoners, it's going to be a lot worse for them than it is for any man. Not like it's [unclear] something that's going on right now.

EE:

What's that?

SJ:

These detainees down at Guantanamo Bay, these people that are fighting that they're not getting—that it's unfair to them. Don't these Americans realize that they came on our soil and did to us what they should not have done? And they're getting better treatment than if they stayed in their own country. At least they're getting fed, and they didn't—and they weren't in their own country. I say let them sit there. They have said—and we are sending navy personnel, medical personnel, from Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point. We're sending Marine personnel to guard them and take care of them. Why should we have to go all out to do this? If these other countries don't like it, then they take them and do what they want to with them. They don't get my vote on this one. I'm sorry.

EE:

Well, it's hard. They're not a country, and yet they're a group of people who are obviously very committed to destroying everything that we hold—

SJ:

And they have said they will kill any American they get a chance to, and I think of some of the women doctors and things they take down there to treat those men. Somebody had better be on their toes, and they'd better show those women how to do more than look at a rifle.

EE:

You fly a flag. Since September 11, I guess we've all seen more flags than we've seen in quite a while. My guess is you probably had that flag flying outside before September 11.

SJ:

No, not that one.

EE:

You've probably flown a flag once or twice in your day. Do you think we're more or less patriotic than we were in the fifties?

SJ:

Until September 11, I could have answered that with, “in the fifties, we were a lot more patriotic,” because I see things that—it's hard to believe that there's schoolchildren that will attend a ceremony and don't even know when the national anthem is being played and when the flag comes in, that you're supposed to stand up, and these are schoolchildren of military parents. Because I have seen that happen several times here, and they're brought as a group by the school, and their teacher is with them. Why didn't their teacher instruct them beforehand? But they don't say the pledge of allegiance in the morning to the flag like we used to. That was how our school always started, and I think it's one of the worst things that we have ever done, is to take that away from them. Some of them don't even know the pledge. So the fifties, I think, was more patriotic than what it is now.

For a long time—and I know I got this myself, because I used—a lot of times, I would wear a pin and earrings that were a flag, and people said, “Oh, you're patriotic.” I'd look at them, “Well, what are you saying?” And every house I've ever lived, I've had a flag pole of some kind. And I just don't understand people that disrespect the flag so much, the ones right now that have these old ratty flags flying on their cars. Well, if you're going to do it, do it, but get a decent flag.

I have to tell you something that happened when I was in S-3. You'll like this. One of my responsibilities was to type up the training orders for the snapping in range, for the men to go to the rifle range. Well, one day, the lieutenant and the sergeant in my office was going out to see how they were doing snapping in range, and being as I wasn't busy, they asked me if I'd like to come along. And I said, “Sure.” At that time, we all wore dresses as a uniform. We never wore pants as a uniform. We wore our dress uniforms. So I said, “Sure, I'll go.”

So we went out to a snapping in range down by the industrial area someplace. I couldn't tell you where it was. So the lieutenant had a .45, and both of them, the lieutenant and the sergeant, were shooting at the—to see how good they could do. So they, just jokingly, asked me, they said, “Well, would you like to try?”

I said, “Sure.”

They said, “Have you ever shot a .45?”

I said, “No.” I said, “I've shot a .22 rifle, but I've never shot a .45.”

So they kind of smiled to themselves, and they fixed the .45 and handed it to me, and they said, “Now, see how many times you can hit that target.”

I outshot both of them. [laughter] We turned around and went back to the office. We didn't stay any longer, because some of the range instructors was saying, “Hey, where did you get this girl? We need her on the rifle range.”

The lieutenant says, “I'm not taking you anyplace again.”

EE:

You don't know when to be the butt of a joke. You'd probably show me up.

SJ:

So when we got back to the office, why—the master sergeant in our office was Master Sergeant Geiser, and he had thirty-two years in the Marine Corps at that time. This was back in '55. So, of course, naturally, he had been in World War II, he'd been in Korea. He says, “Well, what are you doing back so soon?” And he said to the lieutenant, he says, “Lieutenant, why is your face red?”

He says, “Don't take her anyplace with you.”

He says, “Well, what happened?”

The sergeant says, “We let her fire a pistol, and she outshot all of us.”

He says, “Well, didn't you ask her beforehand?”

He said, “Well, she said she didn't know how.”

I says, “I don't.”

He said, “Well, we're not taking you again.”

EE:

You out-hustled them. If I were to ask you to name a song from that time when you were in service that, when you hear it, takes you back to those days, what would it be?

SJ:

Oh, there's so many of them. I guess the first one would the Marine Corps Hymn.

EE:

Kind of hard to live in this town and not hear that and be taken back to those days, isn't it?

SJ:

On that Marine Corps Hymn, have you heard about the salute to the women that they do in the spring here in North Carolina? North Carolina is the only one that does it. You should come to one of those in the spring. It's not [unclear].

EE:

I have heard about it. The state does it here and at Seymour Johnson [Air Force Base] and—

SJ:

Fayetteville and New Bern. Well, this year, they just did it at New Bern, and the rest of them didn't want to do it. We were at Fayetteville, and they started playing the Marine Corps Hymn. Of course, we always have some army fellows that stand up with us, and a couple of them came over and explained. They said, “We always come because we want to stand up with the Marines. We were Marines before we were in the [U.S.] Army.”

And we said, “Well, that's fine. You can stand up with us. We'll be glad to have you.” But do you know, when they played the army hymn, the men in army uniform did not stand up? And I was sitting there looking at it, and I was telling them, “Stand up. Stand up.”

“No. It's for the women.”

I says, “Do you think that anytime they would play my song and I wouldn't stand up?”

I couldn't believe it. Those men did not stand for the army song. That's like the little kids not knowing, but these were adults, and they knew what the army song was. They should not have done that.

EE:

Do you think being in the service made you more of an independent person?

SJ:

Yes. Of course, I don't know how things would have turned out if I hadn't been, but being in service, I've had to learn—I have had to learn to take care of myself and my children. Nobody else is going to do it for you, and a lot of people never learn this. And being in service, you have to set an example for the ones that will come behind you. You can't do just what you want to do. Can you imagine, if we had run amok in the fifties and done anything we wanted to do, what it would be like for the women that have come behind us? It would be horrible. And not only that, we would have downgraded the ones that came before us. This is what we tell them now. “You've got a lot to live up to.”

One day, they were going to interview me someplace, and I said, “Well, I don't have any history to tell you.”

They looked at me, and they said, “Well, how long ago was it you were in the Marine Corps?”

I said, “Well, in '54.” This was last year, I guess, 2001.

She said, “I'm not surprised you don't have any history. You were history.”

I says, “Thanks a lot. I don't want to be history.”

EE:

That happens to the best of us if we live around long enough.

SJ:

I guess, but I never looked at it that way.

EE:

Well, I could tell from talking to you today that it's not history for you, that when you talk about it, your heart is taken back to those times. And I appreciate your sharing your heart today. Is there anything about the times that we've talked about that I haven't asked you about that you think is important for folks to know about what your experience was in the service?

SJ:

No. I don't know that it's important, but always remember, as a woman, you have to try harder. Be like the car dealership that always says, “We try harder.” That's women. We try harder.

The other day, just an example, I read Frederick Douglass, an article in the paper about him, and every time it said he always tried for the black people and the women, and it always put women on that. I thought, “Well, does it take a black man to realize that the women have to be accounted for, too?” I said, “That's not saying very much for our country.”

EE:

Well, women didn't get the right to vote till 1919, wasn't it?

SJ:

Right. If I had it all to do over with, when they did the marches in Montgomery and things, I would love to have been there.

EE:

That obviously hurt you to see that, to see that we treated—if you could stand shoulder to shoulder with somebody Semper Fi, and then you had to be apart from them out in the street.

SJ:

Well, look at the Indians. Look at our code talkers and how they were treated. And yet they helped save the war. And for years, they couldn't even tell it, which is so unfair, you know, for people to be treated this way. [cries]

EE:

And yet, you're here in—if there's a home for the Marine Corps, it's right here in Jacksonville. And you've got friends, women I'm going to talk to in another hour or so, and it's pretty clear to me that you have kept the best part of the service in your heart the whole time. And that's great, and I know that that will come through loud and clear to anybody who sits down to spend some time with you like I have this morning.

So thank you on behalf of the school for doing this, because it means a lot to us.

SJ:

You're very welcome. I get on my band box every once in a while.

EE:

Well, you know, more people need to.

SJ:

If we don't, somebody else is going to rule.

EE:

That's right.

[End of interview]