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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Judy McKinnon

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Object ID: WV0249.5.001

Description: Documents Judy Covington McKinnon’s early life and family history; work in the motor pool and mess hall with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 to 1945; and her personal life after the war.

Summary:

McKinnon provides details about her family history, discussing her grandmother, who was born into slavery; her father, who was a sharecropper; and her children and grandchildren.

She discusses her service with the WAAC and WAC at length, including her recruitment, her decision to join the army for the educational and travel opportunities; the negative perception of women in the army; segregation in the military; and several incidents of racial discrimination. Other military topics include living conditions and basic training; the motor pool at Fort Rucker; working in the mess hall at Fort Huachuca and Fort Lewis; traveling on a troop train from Arizona to Washington State; dating and social activities; WAC uniforms; money and payroll; and promotions.

McKinnon also discusses her personal life, including meeting her husband at Fort Lewis; her decision to leave the army in order to get married and raise a family; and her life in Florida after the war.

She also explains her desire to be an independent woman; her feelings about women’s roles in society; and how World War II affected the African American freedom movement.

Creator: Judy Covington McKinnon

Biographical Info: Judy Covington McKinnon (b. 1923) of Richmond County, North Carolina, worked in the motor pool and in the mess hall while in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

Collection: Judy McKinnon 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:

HT:

Today is February 9, 2001. My name is Hermann Trojanowski, and I'm at the home of Mrs. Judy McKinnon in Tampa, Florida. I'm here to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Mrs. McKinnon, if you'd tell me your full name, we'll use that as a test to see how your voice sounds on the machine.

JM:

I'm Judy McKinnon.

HT:

And could you include your maiden name?

JM:

Judy Covington McKinnon.

HT:

Thank you. Mrs. McKinnon, thanks so much for talking with me this afternoon. I really appreciate it. Could you tell me a little bit of biographical information about yourself, when you were born and where?

JM:

I was born May 3, 1923, in Rockingham, Richmond County, North Carolina. My mother's name was Sidney Ellerbe Covington, and my father's name was Richmond Covington. I have six brothers and sisters, three of whom are still living.

I'm the daughter of a sharecropper, tenant sharecropper, who was born on a farm in Richmond County. I grew up—I left home shortly before I was twenty-one. I ran away from my mother and my grandmother to join the WAAC [Women's Auxiliary Army Corps], and in doing so, I forged my age a year. But when we were inducted into the W-A-C [Women's Army Corps], I was of the legal age. That was in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, where I took my basic training.

I had no special skill or training when I left home. I was just a graduate from high school. All the boys was gone into the army. My daddy had no money. He had nothing but children, so there was no way for me to go to college. I heard about the educational benefits that they was offering for people in service. I wanted to take advantage of it, but somewhere along the way, I got tripped up. I married and started raising a family and never did take advantage of too much of that GI [Bill] education, which I regret. That is the onliest regret that I have about my service-connected career. I didn't take advantage of that education.

HT:

And you say you joined the W-A-A-C?

JM:

That's right.

HT:

Do you recall when that was, when you joined?

JM:

I think that was late 1942, and I think it changed over to W-A-C in August. As I say, I can't too many remember that, August of 1945.

I did some service at Fort Rucker, Alabama. From there, I was sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where I remained about a year and a half, which was one of my most pleasant experiences. From there, we were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where I met my husband, and married and came to Florida here.

We have one biological son and two adopted daughters, one who's deceased, Lynn, but Kathy is still available, around. We have oodles of grandchildren. [laughter]

HT:

How many do you have?

JM:

Oh, let me see. There's three, six—I think there's about ten grandchildren, and all of them are boys but one. I have one granddaughter. You know, when people tell me and say, “Let me tell you about my grandchildren,” I need to pull out pictures and say, “Let me show you my grandchildren.”

My son went in the service, he was in Vietnam, but none of my grandsons have been in service. Two live in Dallas, Texas. They're college graduates. One teaches school, and the other one, I think, is a computer specialist. Anyway, he left the school system and went into the business world. The other one lives in St. Petersburg [Florida], and he took after his granddaddy. He's a truck driver. He drives one of those big, long tractor-trailers.

I have a granddaughter. She has two great-grandchildren for me, two great-granddaughters. Most of my great-grandchildren are girls. But you want me to talk about my service.

HT:

Right. Yes. And I have specific questions that I can ask you. Like, if we can just sort of backtrack a minute, where did you go to high school?

JM:

Ellerbe, North Carolina. That's a little small [unclear]. Do you know where that is?

HT:

I know where that is.

JM:

You know where Ellerbe is?

HT:

Oh, yes. I've been through Ellerbe.

JM:

Oh, yes. Well, you're from Greensboro. You know where it's at.

HT:

Right.

JM:

I had a picture—let me see—of the little school where we were all graduated from. Let me see. Did you have—well, I'll show it to you after a while.

HT:

Okay. Sure. That'll be fine. And after you graduated from high school, did you do any work outside the home before you join the WAAC?

JM:

No. Well, I was keeping house for a lady in town. She sent me to the post office one day, and that's where I saw these WAACs all dressed in those glamorous uniforms, and I went over and talked to them. She told me I needed a birth certificate.

I said, “Oh, I never had a birth certificate.”

You know when I got my birth certificate? It must have been about '81 or '82. I was going to Barbados with a group of ministers' wives, and I went to North Carolina to get a birth certificate. When I went to fill it out, they told me—they looked on the record, and they said, “Well, we have here where a baby girl was born to Sidney and Richmond Covington May 3, 1933, but they didn't give the baby a name.” So I had to come home and send them a document that was five years old or older with my birth date on it. I sent my oldest son's birth certificate, and they sent me back my birth certificate.

But that's the only job that I held after I finished high school. There was nothing to do. You know, in those days, girls didn't go off and start living with somebody when they—you had to be married or either with a very responsible adult to leave home. That's how I got away from home is join the army. Mama and Grandmamma didn't know it until I had signed up. I went to Charlotte for examination and induction.

HT:

Was that the first time you'd ever been away from home?

JM:

First time I'd ever been away from home. The first time I'd ever been on a train.

HT:

Were you scared, or how did you feel?

JM:

Ooh, I wasn't scared. I was more excited than anything I was scared. I don't know. I had a lot of nerve in those days. And you know, I asked one of my teachers about the weather. I said, “How is the weather up there? What kind of clothes do I need?” Because you know, in May in North Carolina, it's getting hot, but it was cold in Des Moines [Iowa], and the only thing I had was a little suit. It wasn't a heavy suit. I needed an overcoat in Des Moines. But in two or three days, they gave us clothes.

HT:

So you took the train from Charlotte to Atlanta?

JM:

Let me see. Where did we go? It was me and two other girls left Rockingham together, and you know, I was trying to think of her name, those girls' names the other day, and I can't remember either one of them's name. I don't know whether they came back to Rockingham or what happened. We took the train from Rockingham to Atlanta, I think, and from Atlanta—now, tell you the truth, I really can't remember. I think we went in Chicago and from Chicago to Des Moines, something like that.

HT:

Did anything unusual happen to you on the train, the first time on a train?

JM:

No. No, nothing unusual happened. Let me see. Can I remember whether they had us in Pullman berths? I think they did. That was a long ride. I know when we went from Fort Huachuca [Arizona] to Fort Lewis [Washington], we were on a troop train. Now, that was something. That was an experience.

HT:

So after you got to Fort Des Moines, what was your first day like there?

JM:

Well, after a couple of days, they issued us these uniforms, everything from the skin out. Then they took us to orientation, told us what to expect and put us in these barracks. These barracks had been old horse stables, I understand, and they converted them into barracks, and at times when it would rain, the stink where those horses had been would get you, and that's why they called us Colonel Hobby's horses. I think the commander of the post was Colonel [Oveta] Hobby. But anyway, that reveille is what would get me. Oh, four o'clock they'd hit that door, blow that whistle, “Fall out and get dressed. Fall out.” And it would be so cold. I mean, it's cold in Des Moines.

HT:

Even in May it's cold.

JM:

In May, that's right, and raining. But I guess I adjusted very well. As far as I can remember, I adjusted very well. There was a lot of us girls from the South there, and all of us was going through about the same thing.

HT:

And at that time, it was segregated.

JM:

Very segregated, yes, sir. We had an experience. One day we were out in the field drilling. I never will forget this. I don't know. That was really a horrible experience to me. Oh, everybody came up, and we were directly in front of the mess hall. There was a group along this side, and there was a platoon along that side of white women. Three white women got together. She turned us about face, forward march, marched us out, back out on the field. Those white women put their platoon in front of the mess hall, sent them in the mess hall first.

So this couple of girls asked their sergeant why did this happen, and she told us, “Well, it's the custom that white people enter the building before black people, before colored people.” We were colored people in them days, you know. First thing, we've gone from being the “N word” to colored, African Americans, black, and everything else. [laughs] But that's all right, we're still here. But that was one of my first experiences, you know, one of the most outstanding experiences of being segregated.

HT:

Now, was your sergeant or your sergeants black or were they white officers?

JM:

White officers, [we had] more white officers than we did black. Every once in a while you'd see a black officer. They sent more—you know, picked out the choice people. When most states gave them people, they sent them to OCS [Officer Candidate School], and there was a couple of black girls from our group went to OCS.

Now, when we went to Fort Huachuca, Arizona—wait a minute. I can't remember whether we had a white or black commander when we were in Fort McClellan, Alabama, or not. I do know when we went to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, we had all black officers.

Everybody was black there. You know, that was where the 92nd Division was stationed. There was about three thousand young black men stationed there. When they sent them overseas, they didn't need all of us there as backups and whatever. So they sent us to Fort Lewis, Washington. That's where we ran into some more segregation, very much so. The first thing the colonel told us when we got there, that there was mostly illiterate, uneducated guys there in the Engineering Corps. They were the guys that cleared the roads and dug ditches.

HT:

This was at Fort Lewis?

JM:

Fort Lewis. He told us, “Now, you ladies are more accustomed to a higher class of men, a more educated class of men. So,” he said, “be careful who you go out with and who you associate with here,” he said, “because you're going to find that the men here are all a little different from the men that you were accustomed to on this post.” There was some, a few white officers on that post, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, but the doctors, the dentists, and everybody was black out there on that post at Fort Huachuca.

It snowed, and one day—and this was in Fort Lewis, Washington—the company commander called and asked them to send a snowplow to clear off the area, and the dispatcher wrote to “clear the nigger WAC area.” My company commander read that paper, and her company clerk had to take her down to headquarters. She laid that on the table, and she said she didn't appreciate that. So he called the dispatcher in and made him apologize and changed the dispatch sheet. But it was something else, I'm telling you.

Did Dot [Miller?] show you the article that the Tribune wrote about us?

HT:

No.

JM:

She didn't show it to you? Well, that lady wrote us a beautiful article.

[Tape recorder paused]

HT:

Before we turned the tape off, we were talking about the Engineer Corps and Fort Lewis and that sort of thing.

JM:

Fort Lewis. Yes. Well, that's where I met my husband. Want to hear how I met him?

HT:

Yes.

JM:

I was hanging out the window one day upstairs in the barracks, and I saw these two young men going walking down the street. He was about six-four, had shoulders like that and a waist like that, and you could bounce a ball on his buns. Oh, he was something else. I whistled at him. I said, “Ooh-ooh, look at those two soldiers.” They looked around, and we pulled away from there right quick. [laughs] They looked around.

In Fort Lewis, Washington, there was barracks on this side, there was barracks on that side, and in the center was the mess hall and the Rec[reation] Center. That was off limits to soldiers except in this area where you'd come down in the Rec Center there. They could come there in the daytime, but at night there was an MP [military police] standing at that entrance and they couldn't come in there. It was all walled up all the way around.

So we went and got dressed and went to lunch, and they was standing out in front of the entranceway coming into the mess hall. I don't remember how they addressed us, but we walked over and started talking to them. We said we was going to lunch.

They said, “Can we go in?”

We said, “No. We have to have a special invitation for you.”

Now, on Friday, you'd go to your mess sergeant and tell her you wanted to invite somebody to have lunch with you. Up there in Fort Lewis, Washington, they'd let us put up pretty little flowery curtains, and we could put flowers on our table. Our mess hall looked like home, and the fellows enjoyed coming to eat with us.

They said, “We're hungry. Can't you get us in? Can you get us in?”

So these two ladies that worked in the mess hall, kind of older ladies, they were there. “Neddie, see those two men out there? We want to make them a serving for dinner.”

“Every time I look around, ya'll are talking to some of these old strange men. Some of them are going to kidnap you.” And she just started fussing at us, just like a mama, because we were, me and Jean—one of these pictures here is Jean—me and Jean was about twenty-two and twenty-three years old here, and these girls was around thirty and forty years old. They looked on us just like a mother, just like we were their daughters.

So she sliced some bread and made us a sandwich. Jean took one sandwich and I took the other, and we went out there. They ate the sandwiches, and we talked to them.

We said, “You come have dinner with us Sunday.”

“Okay.”

They wanted to know if we would like to take in a movie Saturday night.

We said, “Well, we'll think about it.”

I said, “Check with us Saturday.”

That Saturday, one of them came back up and asked us if we still wanted to go to a movie.

We said yes. We went upstairs. I think it's in this article here. I got that old uniform down and got me a brown paper bag and pressed that uniform, got that shirt all smoothed out of town. Then I went upstairs and borrowed five dollars from a little girl called Nicky. Then Jean borrowed five dollars from Dickie. But we borrowed five dollars and tucked them in our bra. That's so if those guys got us in town and didn't want to bring us back home, didn't want to let us come home, we could catch a cab and come home. They always told us that, “Don't go off broke. If we got the money, you can get some money. Don't ever go off broke.” They were just like mothers to us.

But they was real gentlemen. We went to a movie and came back. This guy that I was with, he asked me to go to church with him Sunday. Oh, that just was fine. I had a young man going to church. So I went to church with him that Sunday, and after church, he came and ate dinner with us. He kept coming around and coming around. He'd take me to the officers club, and that's the first time I ever saw a slot machine. We were playing nickels in the slot machine at the officers club. He was an officer. He was a master sergeant. One night, he hit the jackpot. He took his cap and caught all these nickels in that jackpot, and we had about fifty dollars in here [unclear] that jackpot. He gave me part of it.

We'd go to the Sergeants' Club, and sometimes we'd go into town. We'd tend to go to town and have dinner or something like that. We went in town one night, and that's another time I hit segregation. We went in this place, see, the man—and we were standing up there waiting for somebody to seat us, and he come told us he couldn't serve us in there. Another guy told us, “Go around the corner. There's a place around there. They'll serve you.” It was a Chinese place. We went around there and got us some food. But you hit segregation on every corner back in the forties.

HT:

I'm surprised that happened. I wouldn't be surprised in the South, but in the Northwest, I'm surprised.

JM:

That's right. It happened. I wouldn't tell you no lie about it. I'll tell you something else happened that I really didn't ever think about it because I'd always grown up in the South.

I was coming home from—let's see, was it Fort Huachuca? I think so. We got into Cincinnati in the train. The guy told us to go on up front, he said, “because when you get into West Virginia,” I think it was he said, “they're going to make you move anyway.” You know, in those days, they put you right behind the engine, the smoky engine—put us right behind the smoky engine.

HT:

I didn't know that.

JM:

You didn't know that? That's where we'd go, the first car behind the engine. You'd get all the dust and the smoke and everything else from the engine on you. When you got where you was going, you was just as dirty and dusty as you wanted to be. Yes, sir.

HT:

You were riding in uniform, I guess.

JM:

Yes.

HT:

And it didn't matter.

JM:

Oh, well, it did matter. The guys wanted—I think that was the time—no. Maybe there was bunch of us, two or three of us traveling together, and the guys, after they finished serving, they took us in the club car and fixed a special meal. I'll tell you one thing, if we all would have been—just like those girls would tell us, “Don't ever drink with men. Don't ever drink with men.” We wouldn't ever let them serve us no whiskey, no alcohol.

We had a bunch of women that took care of us young girls. I'll tell you the truth, they really did, because most of them knew we were just fresh out of the South, straight from home. I had some good times on those trips. Do you want to hear about the troop train?

HT:

Oh, yes. Please.

JM:

This must have been '43. They sent us from Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to Fort Lewis, Washington, from a high and dry climate to a climate cold, below sea level. That's where half of us got sent, some with pneumonia, allergies, and everything else.

They had us on a troop train, and we had sleepers, dining car, and you take turns. One group would cook breakfast, one would cook dinner, and one group would cook the last meal. There was a bunch of sailors in another compartment of the train. They was in the forward part of the train. They had SPs [security police] and MPs stationed between there. I'll tell you, [unclear]. [laughs] Half a dozen sailors hanging out the window, half a dozen WACs hanging out the window hollering at each other, but you couldn't get off that train because maybe that train had to stop, you know, was sidetracked for another train to go by. Yes, that's the way we communicated, but you couldn't go from one car to another. There was no transporting between that car and another. I don't know where they dropped those sailors. I don't remember where they dropped that part of the train, but we went on into Seattle, into Washington, stayed on the train.

HT:

Was there quite a few other WACs with you on this train?

JM:

Oh, yes. There was about seventy-five or eighty of us on that troop train, maybe more than that.

HT:

And a lot of sailors.

JM:

Yes, a lot of sailors. I don't know how many sailors.

HT:

A lot of army troops as well, I guess.

JM:

Well, I don't think there was any male army troops. Just there was two carloads of us WACs. I don't know how many sailors was up front, but it was a lot of fun on that train. It took us about three days to go up there because, you know, those old trains was slow in those days. Yes, Lord.

HT:

How did you pass the time?

JM:

Play cards, read, whatever. There was always something to do, or find something to do.

HT:

Did you have sleeping compartments on that train?

JM:

Yes, we had sleeping compartments on that train.

HT:

Did you have to sleep sitting up?

JM:

No, no, no. You could sleep. Maybe two or three berths, I think maybe we'd get, but we had sleepers on there, had [unclear].

HT:

I've heard the troop trains were always very crowded. Was this one?

JM:

Yes, very crowded.

HT:

I mean, some people had to sit on floors and baggage cars and that kind of stuff.

JM:

No, no, no. No, no, no. I didn't experience any conditions like that, no. Traveling was bad, was kind of rough in those days, it really was. Traveling wasn't nothing like it is now. You didn't run down to the airport and jump on a plane and be there in two or three hours. You took one of them old slow trains across country. I think it was four days coming from Fort Huachuca to North Carolina.

HT:

I imagine you saw some beautiful scenery, though.

JM:

Oh, beautiful. Beautiful. Going up the East Coast of the—the West Coast of the United States is beautiful, that tall timber. You know, it rains a lot out there, and that feeds those trees. That timber is something else, yes.

HT:

Did you go through California?

JM:

Yes, through California. From Alabama we went up north—from Fort Huachuca up the East Coast of the United States and out in the mountains of Arizona. Oh, it's beautiful out there. When we were stationed out there, one day a bunch of us—a group of us girls—went on a hike, and we went down in the area where they had the gallows, where they would hang some people.

HT:

This was Fort Huachuca?

JM:

Fort Huachuca, yes, because we went—that was supposed to be off limits to us, but I don't know how we got there. We went up in the mountains, way up in the mountains, all those gaps and all those things. We'd have a day off and some of us just wanted to explore. But it was lots of fun. I won't say all fun. It was plenty work, plenty work. But it was an experience, as I say, because we was young. I'd never been away from home, I'd always wanted to travel, and that was my golden opportunity to travel.

HT:

If we can just backtrack just a minute back to your basic training days, you said that you had gone to a local post office and talked to some WACs. Did they sort of convince you to join, or did you happen to see posters that said if you join you can free a man for combat and that sort of thing?

JM:

Yes, sir. Those were the kind of posters they had up there. They'd talk to you and give you the—oh, they painted a beautiful picture for you of everything. They didn't tell you about the days you had to do KP [kitchen patrol], mop floors, clean latrines. [laughs] No, they didn't tell you about those days.

HT:

Well, did you have any guilty feelings about possibly freeing a man to go into combat and possibly being killed or something like that?

JM:

No, I didn't [unclear].

HT:

How did your family feel about—once they found out that you had joined, how did they feel about it?

JM:

Oh, people talked about us bad. They said that we was sent in there for prostitution and all of that, but like Dot says, she told somebody, she didn't want to tell me who, “You work eight to ten hours on a job—clean up your room before you go to work, work eight to ten hours on a job, and come home and do—,” she just went on to say, “you ain't gonna feel like going out doing no prostitution.”

I was going to say she told somebody that. But I'll tell you what, there was no opportunity for you to be a prostitute if you wanted to be one. Fort Huachuca, it was a big area, pretty big, but they had this fence, this concrete brick wall around our area about—it had to be at least four or five feet tall.

HT:

This was around the WAC area?

JM:

Yes, around the WAC area. There was guys that did guard duty around there at night. We used to go out there and sit up on the fence and talk to the boys at night. The company commander told us, “Don't do that. Ladies don't hang out on the fence talking to the men. Bring the men over in the day room.” Well, some of us, we'd hang out there on the fence anyhow. One night, she walked that fence with her flashlight and her company clerk. Everybody she caught out there, she confined them to that barracks.

You couldn't do nothing but go to work, go to the mess hall, and back in that barracks, and you had to sign in over in the day room every hour on the hour. So you didn't have much time to go—you couldn't go no place else. If you was caught going anyplace else, your time was doubled. [laughs] Yes, sir. Her name was Erma Cayton. That was our company commander.

HT:

Talking about the unjustified reputation that the WACs had, do you have any idea where it started and why it started?

JM:

Everybody knew they resented us being there, because some of them would say, “You come here to send me overseas. You ought to be home raising babies.” Oh, they'd make all kind of stupid [unclear].

Out here at the VA [Veterans Administration] nursing home, we have different little projects. So anyway, we gave them five-dollar coupons to go to the canteen. So Dot [unclear]. I don't know if she even remembers telling the guy, “Here. Here's a coupon for you. I'll bet you was one of them who said I ought to be home raising babies.”

He said, “No, ma'am. I always was glad to see you ladies in the service.” [laughs] He took his coupon.

She said, “You see? We're still trying to do some good to help you all. We didn't go in the service to send you overseas.” But some of them felt that way, that the women—

HT:

So there was some jealousy.

JM:

Oh, yes, very much, and resentment towards us. Yes, sir. I had a cousin that was stationed down in Alabama, and I told him, I said, “You tell Mama and those when you go home that we have no chance of being prostitutes.” I think maybe he did tell them that, because when I came home, I don't know, people would seem to be proud of me, most of my family, and my friends seemed to be proud of me. I think it was just a few people that talked bad about us.

HT:

Rockingham County doesn't have a huge population. Were you one of the few people from that area, one of the few women, to join? I'm sure there weren't many.

JM:

No, no. As I said, it was me and another girl that went off at the same time, and for the life of me—when I go home, we'll see if I can find anybody that can remember who she was. I can't remember her name and what happened to her. But you know, you get away from home, and you get involved with your family and start raising your children and all of those things, and those things become secondary to you.

HT:

And you took your basic at Fort Des Moines, I think you said.

JM:

Yes. Fort Des Moines.

HT:

What was basic training like for you? What did you think of the uniforms and the food and the lack of privacy?

JM:

Well, now, they ran out of space on the post there. They put us up in a hotel downtown, and they sent me—there was a lot of us from the South that didn't have no specialized training. We were right out of high school or just didn't have no specialized training. So they sent us to a motor pool school to give us something to do. We lived in a hotel downtown for a couple of months. Then they found a space. They sent us down to Alabama, and they didn't have nothing much for us to do there. They put us out to washing trucks and helping the men change tires, just anything in the motor pool.

HT:

So you worked in the motor pool?

JM:

Yes, for a while, for a little while there. Then when I went to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, I applied for bakers and cooks school. I didn't like medicine. Now, some of the girls went to medical—went to the hospital, but I didn't have any desire to work in the medical field, so I went to cooks and bakers school. I cooked for a while and was a baker for a while out there.

HT:

Did you have any specialty in your baking?

JM:

Well, nothing special. But you know where it came in good? I worked in school lunch when I came here for about nine years. I had two little girls, and I found that that was a job where I could take them with me in the morning and bring them home in the evening with me. When they were out of school, I was out of school. I didn't have to worry about a babysitter. That was an ideal job for me at that time. It didn't make a lot of money, but it supplemented my little income. And it gave me time—I sewed. I made their clothes. It was something for me to do. That training came in very good.

HT:

So in bakers and cooks school, I guess, were you taught how to bake all kinds of breads, sweets, cakes, and—

JM:

Oh, yes, everything.

HT:

And, of course, when you're baking and cooking for lots of people, I'm sure it's quite different than to do it for home.

JM:

You know how you make a pan of homemade biscuits? I can't make a pan of homemade biscuits now, because you know why? I got adjusted to making biscuits in a twenty-gallon mix and making 500 biscuits at one time.

HT:

Did you have recipes to go by?

JM:

Oh, yes, recipes to cook by. You don't measure by cupfuls. You measure by weight—so many pounds of flour and so many pounds of lard. But we used dry milk, so many pounds of milk that you pour in there and mix in. You use a quart of water, a gallon of water, or whatever it was. You had recipes for it, the same way as school, school lunch. Everything was cooked by USDA recipes. As I said, that training came in handy for me. I used to love to cook, but I don't anymore.

I meant to ask you, Dot didn't have one of her famous baked sweet potato pies, did she?

HT:

No.

JM:

Lord, I don't feel bad now, because I don't have my hummingbird cake to offer you. [laughter]

HT:

So after you left basic training, you went to—

JM:

Fort McClellan.

HT:

And how long were you there?

JM:

No, Fort Rucker. It was Fort Rucker.

HT:

Fort Rucker.

JM:

That's right. That's where it was.

HT:

That's Alabama, too, right?

JM:

Yes, that's Alabama. I keep thinking about—the fiftieth anniversary was celebrated at Fort McClellan.

HT:

Right. That's where you did the bakers and cooks school?

JM:

No, in Fort Huachuca.

HT:

Oh, okay. What type of work did you do at Fort Rucker then? That was the motor pool.

JM:

Motor pool.

HT:

Motor pool. Then you were transferred to—

JM:

Went to Fort Huachuca, and they had the cooks and bakers school there, so I signed up for that. I didn't want to go for the motor pool. I didn't want to get my hands dirty anymore.

HT:

When you were at the motor pool back at Fort Rucker, did you drive trucks and things like that?

JM:

Well, we could drive around there on the post, move trucks around there on the post and all like that. They taught us to drive, but I didn't have any road experience, so I didn't ever want to go on the road.

HT:

Because you hadn't ever driven before, I guess.

JM:

No, I had never driven before. My daddy never owned a car, and I had never driven, no.

HT:

Here you were—I don't know how tall you were at that time.

JM:

I was about five seven.

HT:

Driving one of these big trucks. How was that? Was that fun?

JM:

Well, it was fun for a while, but it was scary because I hadn't never had any experience with them. It was scary. That's why I didn't want to go on and keep on bothering with them. I wanted to do something else. But the kids nowadays, it's just like working on any other government job. They don't have the restrictions that we had. Oh, no, no, no.

HT:

That's changed quite a bit, hasn't it?

JM:

Oh, yes, yes, yes. I had a granddaughter that went overseas for a couple of years, came home, and she went to Atlanta. She got her a job up there in Atlanta and got training in the service overseas.

HT:

Well, did you enjoy being in the motor pool?

JM:

No.

HT:

What about bakers and cooks school?

JM:

I enjoyed doing that. There was a variety of something to do all the time, and we had some good men cooks. Out there in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, you didn't have any hopes of getting any promotion, because some of those old men had been there between twenty and thirty years. They had hash marks from here to here, stripes to match.

HT:

I'm assuming you were not the only woman at this school.

JM:

No, no, no, no. There was some men in the school, too.

HT:

Oh, there were? And how did the men—did they treat you respectfully?

JM:

Yes, very respectfully.

HT:

You had no problems?

JM:

No problems whatsoever. No. As this colonel told us when we went to Fort Lewis, Washington, the group of men at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, were of the better-educated, better-trained black men in the army. Those guys up there in Fort Lewis, Washington, were the ones that was kind of rough on us because they were, oh, kind of illiterate, and some of them were uneducated. They were the ones that talked to us rough and talked rough about us.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do while you were in the military, physically?

JM:

You mean labor, or just—well, I think maybe the drilling. It would be hot, and you would be out there in that sun, parade thing. You'd stand out there maybe on that parade field for thirty minutes in that hot sun at attention. While the commander's flag passed in review, you were standing there at attention. I've seen girls fall out, and the medics would come and get them and take them off the field. Maybe that was the most difficult time.

Now, the working I didn't mind. Latrine duty, I didn't mind that. KP duty, I didn't mind that. I didn't mind those things. But that was maybe my most difficult thing adjusting to.

HT:

What about emotionally? Did you have any hard times adjusting emotionally to being away from home?

JM:

Yes, a number of times when I got homesick. But as my mother told me, “Now, I can't get you out. So don't start crying and writing, telling me to come get you.”

HT:

When you first joined, did you sign up for a specific period of time?

JM:

For the duration of the war, [plus] not more than six months. I think that's the way it was, the duration of the war.

HT:

Of course, no one at that time knew how long it was going to last.

JM:

How long it was going to be. That's right. The war was over in August of '45, and they started breaking down the troops then, and they started sending us home. The girls that wanted to re-up, they could reenlist. And that was something, because they did reenlist.

When I went to get out, I wanted to go to school and get married and all of those kind of things, so I was ready. I was finished. I was finished with the service then.

HT:

So you never thought about re-enlisting and making a career out of it?

JM:

No, no, no. I never thought about that.

HT:

By this time, you had already met the man you were going to marry, right?

JM:

That's right.

HT:

But you were not married at that time?

JM:

No, not at that time.

HT:

And what line of work was he in?

JM:

He was a just master sergeant at that time. He was in charge of troops. I liked to play basketball. He came down to the barracks, and I got my basketball, and we went down to the gym to fool around.

His company commander had left him in charge of something. His company commander went someplace, and when he came back, he wasn't on his post. So some of the guys told him, “He's down there with a WAC.” We was coming back from the gym. His company commander drove up, “McKinnon—”

HT:

Now, you were not restricted from dating an NCO [noncommissioned officer], I assume.

JM:

No, no, no. That's right.

HT:

But you could not date an officer.

JM:

Officers. No, we wasn't supposed to date officers. “Yes, sir,” and he took off. I tease him about that now. “There was one day you didn't have no sass for nobody. 'Yes, sir.'” [laughs]

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid or being in any kind of physical danger while you were in the military?

JM:

No. As I say, we were well protected. Now, when they asked for troop volunteers to go overseas, they transferred troops from the European theatre to the Pacific theatre, and they needed some troops to separate and reroute that mail that had been sent to the European theater to the Pacific theater. That's when they sent over—I don't know how many, whether it was a battalion or just a platoon or something, but they sent over some girls, some WACs, to do that. This friend you hear me talk about, Gertrude, she had some overseas experience. I got as far as the orderly room. It was still tough meeting those ships out there in the Atlantic. While I was in the orderly room, we was talking about it, and I turned around and come on back to the barracks. [laughs]

HT:

So you declined to go overseas?

JM:

Yes. I chickened out from going overseas.

HT:

That was a postal unit that was sent overseas, I think. Is that correct?

JM:

What's that?

HT:

The postal?

JM:

Yes, it was a postal group, yes, postal unit.

HT:

Postal group. Yes, it was sent to England, I think, and France.

JM:

Yes, that's right, England or France. I don't remember now where it was, but Gertrude can tell you a lot about that because somebody—she was a company clerk, and somebody died, and she had to bring them home. See, that was a stressful time for her to bring this person's body home and all of that baloney with the family. She said it was something else, all that mail piled up there. Some of it looked damaged, and they had no way of knowing where it was going, and some of them had died now. But this was a distressful time. It was a guy that you knew you wrote a letter to, and it come back “Missing in Action” or “Deceased.” That was emotionally distressful.

HT:

How long were you stationed at Fort Huachuca?

JM:

I think about a year and a half or something like that. I can't remember those dates very well, but it was a good while there.

HT:

And how long were you at Fort Lewis?

JM:

Oh, about a year.

HT:

I think you said earlier, cooking and baking at Fort Huachuca, and what kind of work—

JM:

Well, I went on to the same thing up at Fort Lewis.

HT:

Same thing at Fort Lewis?

JM:

That's right.

HT:

Do you recall any humorous stories that happened to either you or some of your friends while you were in the service?

JM:

Probably if I weren't trying to think of something I could. I can't really say that there was anything but stories or anything. I can think of one about myself. The dental clinic was right down the street from the WAC area, and we'd go past there, and sometimes we'd see all these good-looking, these young dentists going to work. I decided, “I think I'm going down there and get my teeth cleaned.” So I went down there to get my teeth cleaned, and they found some cavities. They found the cavities, and then, in those days, they had these old machines sounded like they was going to blow your head up. They started filling teeth, and I started screaming and crying. I went down there to wink at the guys, and I felt like crawling out of there when I got through screaming and crying.

But you know, I just lost some of those teeth that they put fillings in last year. The dentist just pulled two of them back here. They was gone. The tops of them had just given away, but the roots was just as solid as they were the day they came in there. That dentist told me, he said, “I thought I was going to have to put you to sleep to get those roots out of there.” He cut and cut and cut into my teeth on those there trying to get those roots out, and that filling stayed in there for over fifty years. That's right, over fifty years. That was why I didn't go back to the dental clinic any more after that. For them to finish up, but, you know, not just to get my teeth cleaned. I just wanted to go down there to see them good-looking men. [laughs]

I met a couple of guys from home, I had a first cousin that was stationed out there, and then I had another guy. One night, I went to the movie, and I saw this guy. I said, “That looks like the famous Richard Wall.” So I caught him. I said, “Richard.” He looked around. At home, my name is Judy B., Judy Bell. “Judy Bell, what you doing out here?” Oh, we just had a good time then. Well, we went on into the movies together. But—let me see. I'm trying to remember what movie that was we went to. Just me and the girls went to a real tear-jerker, and I said, “We ain't going with no men in the room to see us cry. We're going to sit up there and cry all we want to.” We sat up there crying, and the lights come on, and we looked around, and all these fellows seen us crying. [laughs] I don't remember what the movie was, but it was one of those movies where you'd cry your eyeballs out. I'm trying to think if I can think of anything, any other.

HT:

And what else did you do for fun, go to dances or clubs or anything like that?

JM:

Oh, yes. One night we was invited in Seattle, that was in Seattle, we was invited to a ship dance, and we thought we was going on board a ship, but it was in the recreation area of the port. We had a good time, though. We went in on the bus, and they brought us back. We had a good time there.

HT:

So did you date sailors?

JM:

No, I never did date any sailors. We just went to that—

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

HT:

Before we changed the tape, we were talking about what you and your fellow WACs did during your spare time, off-duty recreation. You went to dances, I think you said.

JM:

Yes, that's right. Some of us, we did a lot of—we had times when we would order books and do a lot of reading and things like that. We had a lot of things to—we did. We'd find something to entertain ourselves. We'd go in the day room and shoot pool, play games, and all that over there on your day off. You didn't have a lot of time to kill. We stayed busy, pretty much busy, doing something.

HT:

Because I imagine in the morning, you had to get up. You had to go to PT every day, physical training?

JM:

That's right.

HT:

And then your regular work time.

JM:

You'd get up, fall out for PT, go to breakfast, clean up your area. If you had latrine duty, you did latrine duty, cleaned that latrine before you'd get out there. After everybody got out, you cleaned it up, made sure it was presentable before you went to work and went on special duties or whatever it was. There was always something to do.

HT:

And did you have most weekends off? Did you have to work on weekends sometimes?

JM:

Some weekends we would have to work. If it was a job where it was required to do weekend work, it was easy to rotate. But you'd have a weekend off every other weekend, or maybe a week one or something like that.

We'd go to church and had good church services. I think about one Sunday we went to church, and the chaplain wanted somebody to help him fix the communion. You know what communion is. I know in the Baptist church, that's a very sacred thing. No plain people just fix communion. We went [unclear] and talked a while and sit and break the bread and everything else for communion that Sunday. I say I wouldn't do that now, no, no, not now, but I did it. I wasn't aware that that was supposed to be a very sacred thing, preparing communion, and I don't know why the chaplain didn't think of it. But he was a young man. He probably didn't think nothing about it. “Hello. Glad to see the WACs here this morning.” [laughter] “I need somebody to help me fix communion, wash the communion glasses.” “Oh, yes. That's all right. We'd be glad to do that.” Anything for fun. We'd find some fun in a lot of things there wasn't any fun in, wouldn't be funny now, no.

HT:

What were some of your favorite songs and dances and movies from those days, do you recall?

JM:

Come Back, Little Sheba, I remember that one. You know, I'm telling you, that's many years ago, and I should remember because we attended a lot of movies. We'd go to the movies at least once or twice a week because you didn't ever have to worry about paying your way. Somebody was always ready to take you to the movies.

HT:

Speaking of money, how much did you earn in those days?

JM:

Fifty dollars a month. They took out—

HT:

That's not a whole lot of money.

JM:

Well, at that time it was. Oh, we thought we was rich in '42. Things didn't improve for us as black people until after World War II. You know, they said Rosa Parks—and I don't know if you even want to hear this or not—

HT:

Sure.

JM:

—is the mother of the freedom movement, but the freedom movement started with World War II. Those boys out of the South that was sent from Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina that had been accustomed to walking behind those mens, they found that there was something else to do, and they decided they wasn't going back to the South. Some of them didn't go back to the South.

HT:

So they went to the northern cities?

JM:

They went to someplace else. Some of them made friends with people in other parts of the country, and they were invited to come back to that section of the country because, “I'm not going back down there.” That was the beginning of the freedom movement out of the South. Because my family all left the South right after World War II, including me. I didn't intend to go back to the South. My daddy, as I said, was a tenant farmer, but when we growed up, we would have that farm. Yes, sir.

HT:

Did you send money home to help support the family?

JM:

Yes, I did. I sent my mother home—sometimes it wouldn't be but ten dollars, because they took—I think they took twelve dollars a month for insurance. Now, I don't remember whether—we didn't draw but about thirty-eight dollars or thirty-some dollars. You know what? I mentioned that one day to a couple that worked in the air force, I think he said.

“Fifty dollars a month? Well, how much did they give you for housing allowance? How much did they give you for this?”

I said, “We lived in the barracks. That was your house.” I said, “You had free medical benefits at the infirmary.” I couldn't even remember the name of what it was then. I said, “After that, you ate at the mess hall.” I said, “You didn't need nothing but that money.”

I said, “When you went to PFC [private first class], I think it was raised to fifty-five dollars a month or something like that.” I said, “Because a master sergeant didn't make much more than $100.” I don't remember what a master sergeant's pay was now, but it wasn't all that much.

HT:

Did the women make the same amount of money that the men did?

JM:

Same as the men, yes. We signed the payroll just like the men did. That guy would come by there with that bag of money. He had that bag of money and the book. You'd sign the payroll, and he'd count you out your money.

HT:

So you'd get cash?

JM:

Yes, I'm sure we did, because there wasn't no place to go get no money orders or nothing, no money cashed.

HT:

I think before we started talking, you mentioned something about clothing and we were talking about the different colors of uniforms over the various periods of time. You mentioned something about a fellow who was issuing clothing or had gotten some clothing somewhere, about the cups. Can you tell me that story?

JM:

Okay. Let me see, it was a supply sergeant. That's what his position was. All of these boxes came in for the WACs, and he was looking on the boxes, said, “This is 34A cup and 34B cup,” and he kept looking for china. He thought he had china. He opened the boxes to see what the difference was between a 34A cup and a 34B cup, and it was brassieres. That's what it was. He wasn't aware of what—familiar with that. He was looking for china. But that was something. That clothing that they issued us was something else. But we were proud of those uniforms.

HT:

The clothes that you were issued, outer garments and underwear—

JM:

Outerwear, underwear, and boots.

HT:

From head to toe, huh?

JM:

Yes. Because, see, they didn't know whether they was going to send any of us overseas or not, and they didn't want us with these bright colors. They wanted us with colors that would blend in with the environment, your environment.

HT:

Your colors in those days were sort of a khaki color?

JM:

Khaki colored, and you had a dark brown. This is—let me see, I have one here maybe.

HT:

Is this it?

JM:

No. That's my summer—that's the summer uniform. This would be—this is the summer uniform. That was that khaki, that khaki tan. There it is with a khaki-colored shirt. Oh, here. That was the one I showed you with the—here it is. That's that dark brown, dark khaki color. Can you ever imagine me being that size? [laughs] It just brought about a change here.

HT:

Did the uniforms fit fairly well, or did you have to have them tailored and altered?

JM:

No, no, no. They gave you a pretty good fit. That was a pretty good fit. They gave us a good fit. Now, as I say, when we first went in there, they had all these mixed up colors because they didn't—I guess the army said, “Send us so many of this, so many of that type of uniform in this size.” Then when they got there, then maybe some of us had big bottoms and some of us had big tops and all that. They had to mix those uniforms up to fit you. They would take you to the mess hall and let you try them on. They got your feet in them shoes. We had some shoes. We had a work shoe, and then we had a dress shoe, and you went down to the supply room and got your shoes and everything, those—not nylons. They were more or less rayon hose. They issued everything in colors. Everything was in that khaki dark color.

Wartimes was a lot, lot different from this army that these kids are in now. You know, if things had been as—well, I don't know if I'd have stayed in though, because I wanted to come home. I wanted to get on with another part of my life. I don't think I would have ever went in if my daddy had had any money to send me to college, but there was no money for me to go to college. There was nowhere Mama was going to let me go with anybody except maybe—well, my sister wasn't in a position to take me on as a teenage girl, and there wasn't anybody else in my family that was willing to take me on as a teenage girl. Things were quite different in those days than they are now. Girls go off, and two or three of them get them an apartment together. They go along, go get them a job and work, get them a car sometimes, do whatever they want to.

HT:

Do you think that you and the other ladies who joined the military service during that time were sort of forerunners and trailblazers of what women can do now?

JM:

Yes. Yes. And you know, at this fiftieth anniversary in Fort McClellan, Alabama, they recognized us as that. There was one young lady there, she was a lieutenant, and her mother was in the service. She said that her mother inspired her to go into the service, and she said, “She contributed to me.” They recognized us as forerunners there, because once they asked everybody that was in the W-A-A-C to stand up. I hadn't had—yes, I'd had my knee surgery then. Two of the girls that was with us said, “Judy had been sitting down while everything else was going on, but I'll bet she stood up then.”

I said, “Sure. I wanted them to see my face and know that I'd been around awhile.”

But at that meeting, the oldest WAC there was ninety years old. Her granddaughter brought her. That was the oldest one, the oldest living WAC in the [unclear].

HT:

That's truly amazing. If we can just backtrack for a minute, do you recall where you were when you heard about VE Day, which was in May of 1945, Victory in Europe?

JM:

I should remember that now, but, you know, I can't remember where I was, to tell you the truth. I think I was in Illinois. No, sir. I had come back to North Carolina.

HT:

When did you leave the service?

JM:

Some time in '45. May, I think, of '45.

HT:

Okay. So you may have already been out by that time.

JM:

Yes, I was out at that time. Yes.

HT:

And where were you discharged?

JM:

Fort Lewis, Washington.

HT:

Fort Lewis. And what was your rank when you were discharged?

JM:

PFC. As I said, when we was in Fort Huachuca, there wasn't any hopes of being—advancing in any ratings there because, you know, each post had so many ratings that they were allotted to, and all of those old guys that had been there, they had the stripes and the hash marks to show for it.

HT:

And I understand that women were not advanced as quickly as the men were.

JM:

No, no, no. That's right. You had to be a special something, like a company clerk or assistant to the commander, something like that to get one stripe, and two stripes, you was really there. And too many of us and too many years, even in '45. That was just three years.

HT:

So you were in a total of what, almost three years, weren't you?

JM:

Yes, something like that, two and a half to three years.

HT:

What impact do you think having been in the military made on your life?

JM:

I'll tell you what. It made me a better person, a stronger person. It made me a stronger woman and a better—I think a better person towards my fellow man. I learned to deal with people better.

I enjoy working with people, because all the jobs I've been in—when they started segregating the schools here, I had to move my kids. I had stopped taking them with me. So I left the schools so I could be here where the kids was going to school at. My daughter was going out to King, and the other one was going down here. I went to work for Cash-n-Carry, and that was a good job, cashier there. I moved over there. That was working with people.

Then I went into this being self-employed in the things you see on my walls here, home decorating, and I've been doing that off and on for twenty-three years now, and that's dealing with people. You've got to deal with people to sell to them. I enjoy that, too. But that army service helped me to deal with people. I said that. It just helped me to learn to deal with people. Maybe some of my home training had something to do with that, too. I don't know.

HT:

So you definitely think your life has been different because you've been in the military?

JM:

Oh, yes. I'm sure it was. I talked with a lady yesterday out there to the VA Hospital, because this little lady—I'm always lost when I go out there, and I asked her where something was. She took my paper, and she said, “Where is he?”

I said, “It's for me.”

She said, “For you? What was you, a nurse?”

I said, “No, ma'am. I'm a WAC, ex-WAC.”

She said, “You know, I've never met anybody that was in that part of the service.” She just followed me around and went on down, she took me down to where I was to get my EKG and stood up there talking. She saw somebody that she knows. She told them, “Come here. Come here. Here's somebody that's been in the WACs, too.” That lady came on up there, and she started talking to me. We stood there and talked, I guess, for ten or fifteen minutes about service and things that go on and how much of an impact it had on our lives.

HT:

And you never thought about making it a career, I think you said.

JM:

No, no, no. I didn't think about it that way. Even when I went in, I didn't go in thinking of it as being a career. I remember thinking when I came out I was going to college. I wanted to go to college.

HT:

What line of work did you want to go into?

JM:

Well, at that time, teaching was about the only thing that was available for black women. That's about it. But for some reason I didn't, and I'm kind of glad I didn't get into teaching now because during those years of integration was some rough years for both black and white teachers.

HT:

The teachers still have it rough.

JM:

Yes, I know, rough, rough, rough. Much rougher now. I was working at one of the older schools, W. B. Henderson, downtown, in more or less the area of Tampa that was declining. We had the children from the projects and all of those kind of low-income areas. When I first went to work there in '60, we didn't have any trouble out of any of the kids until maybe they got in the sixth grade. It was an elementary school. Then maybe you'd have one mouthing back at you or something like that at the lunch line. But when I left there in '72, these little fellows that tall would tell you off.

One morning, this little boy, they came running in, and they got ahead of the—we would feed the little Head Start kids first, give them breakfast. Then the next group, maybe first graders or second graders, would come in. These little boys was going to run ahead and get ahead of the little Head Start kids. I said to the girl that was at the head of the line, I said, “Don't give them two little fellows anything.” I said, “They done broke the line.”

He looked back, “You old mule-faced woman, don't tell me what to do.”

I said, “I'm going to tell you what to do. I'm going to call upstairs and get your teacher to come down here and tell you what to do.”

So when I said that, he turned around and went on back. He was mouthing at me all the way back to where his line was, because they was waiting over here for these little kids to get through, but he was going to cut. His teacher maybe turned her back, and he was going to cut the line, run ahead of them, get ahead of these children so he could get his plate.

But they'd always tell you off. They'd mouth back at you, the tiniest things that come through there, some of them. I was glad when I left the school because it had gotten to the point where I didn't enjoy working with the children. I enjoy working with children as long as they act like children. When they start acting like—I've got a grandson I had to let go and live with his auntie because he and I didn't agree on nothing.

HT:

Now, when did you and your husband get married?

JM:

In '45.

HT:

Now, was he career military?

JM:

No, no, no. He came out, too. As soon as they turned him loose, he came home, too. Oh, no, no, no, no, it wasn't—I'll tell you what, the military wasn't for the black people at that time. They had to use us where they could, but it wasn't like it is now.

HT:

I think the military wasn't fully integrated until the late forties, is that correct, about '48 when Truman—

JM:

Yes, Truman. Truman made the first step towards integrating the military. You know, there are a lot of people never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen.

HT:

I think I've heard a little bit about them.

JM:

They wanted to prove that they could fly planes just like the white men could, and B. O. Davis, Jr. was their commander, and they trained them there at Tuskegee Institute. Mrs. Roosevelt took a ride in the plane with some of them.

I take the Ebony here, and I think I saved that Ebony, where the guy took her on one of the flights. They said that these guys were so good that there were some of the transporters—I don't remember who they were, but they would ask for these guys to accompany them, they were so good at it. I knew a couple of them here in town. One guy died, hasn't been too long died, Clark and Sullivan. I think Dot's son-in-law was with the Tuskegee Airmen. I don't know if she mentioned it to you.

HT:

She did not.

JM:

I don't know. I think he was with—oh, another guy. There's three. I know three of them here that was with the Tuskegee Airmen. I was talking with some girls. They'd never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen. Now, those guys were guys that paved the way and opened a lot of gates for a lot of young black men. They said they had to dodge some of the white Americans as much as they did the Italians and the other guys that were shooting because they resented them being there.

HT:

Did these guys fly combat missions?

JM:

Yes. That's what they were, combat. It was combat duty.

HT:

In the Pacific or in Europe?

JM:

The European theater. I wish I knew just where I had put that Ebony that had it, but I can't tell you right now where it's at. But there was a write-up in one of the Ebony magazines. Have you ever had an experience of reading Ebony?

HT:

Over the years, every so often, when I'm in the library, I might pick up a copy.

JM:

You'll find a lot of things in there that will open your eyes to what has happened down back through the years. Every once in a while, they go back and pull up some history.

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after you got out?

JM:

Getting some clothes. That was my biggest thing because I had changed. I'd grown and changed sizes so much. [laughs] I had to get me a complete wardrobe all over again because—I don't know, I just filled out, I guess, and put on weight.

Let me see what was the next biggest thing I had to adjust to?

HT:

Did you go back to live in North Carolina?

JM:

No. I've never gone back to live. I lived in New Jersey for just a short time. Then when I married, when my husband came home, I came down here, and I came here—

HT:

He's from Tampa?

JM:

Yes. This is his home. I came here just to visit, and I stayed through one winter. Now, the summer was rough on me. Ooh, I couldn't stand the heat. You know, we didn't have air conditioning in those days. I don't know even if the post office was air conditioned, but—

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

HT:

I think we were talking about—

JM:

How did I adjust to—

HT:

Living in New Jersey and then moving to Tampa. Right.

JM:

Yes. The first year I was here, I came just to visit. I wanted to go back to New Jersey that year because all of my relatives—not all of them, but most of my relatives were there. But after I spent one winter here, I didn't want to go back. I've adjusted to living in Florida very well. I love the climate here and everything. I've enjoyed meeting people here, too. I have some good friends here. All my family moved back from New Jersey back to North Carolina, so I wouldn't want to go back up there now. I have one sister that's still up there, but I don't—

HT:

Of course, you got married and had a family.

JM:

Oh, yes. All my grandchildren are here, live around here, except the boys that live in Dallas. The rest of the grandchildren are over in St. Petersburg, and, you know, that's the biggest part of family that I have left, because my brother and my sister-in-law, they're feeble. I need to go there to see about them, although I'm feeble myself, but maybe we all could get together and do a little something for each other.

HT:

Do you recall who your heroes or heroines were during World War II, people you respected a great deal and that sort of thing?

JM:

Well, we heard a lot about General B.O. Davis. I'm trying to remember what this—the first black—I think the first black congressman. I'm trying. Oh, my mind is gone completely.

HT:

Who was General Davis?

JM:

He was the first black general in the United States, I think. His son was Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. I think he was the next one. I can't remember that lady's name now to save my life. I had a lot of respect for my company commander, Erma Cayton Wertz was her name. I had a lot of respect for her.

HT:

She was a captain?

JM:

Yes, she was captain at that time. Let me see if there was any special people that I looked up to, other than my family. My grandmother, I had a lot of respect for her. My grandmother was born in slavery. She educated herself, taught herself to read and write. If she'd had an opportunity to get just the little education that I got, she would have been a different woman.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

JM:

Very much so.

HT:

Did the military make you that way, or were you that way before?

JM:

I don't know whether the military made me that way or whether I just developed that myself. I'll tell you what. I don't like to ask anybody for anything. You don't want to hear about this, but there has been something that me and my husband have had quite a bit to argue about. He wants to be the controlling type, and my daddy was the last man I let control me. I just want to be independent. I worked. I worked for the first three years when my baby was three, after he was three years old. But I've worked ever since 1950—somewhere in the early fifties, I started working. I've worked ever since then on some kind of job.

I had to stop working as a cashier because my legs gave out on me, and that's when I went into this direct sales business. I had no sales ability, the lady that recruited me, I told her. She kept telling me, “Come on. Join with us. You can make as much in one day as you make down there at Cash-n-Carry all week.”

“Girl, not me. I couldn't sell groceries if they didn't put it in the carts and push it up to the register.”

But believe me, when you've got to work for yourself, you learn a lot. So I learned. Well, they give us good training. That's one thing about it. It's a company that gives us good training in what they expect us to do, and that had a lot to do with me developing myself into being an independent person, too. I don't hide it that I'm very independent, not controlling.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a feminist?

JM:

No. I don't. I'll tell you this. Now, some people say—well, I believe in this, equal pay for equal work, but I'm not one of those women that wants to go out and do any job that every man's doing. There's some jobs that I think women should pass up. This being in the military, I don't know whether that's a good thing or not, because there's always going to be that group of women that has the scruples of an old alley cat. That's why they have had some of the problems that they have.

HT:

How do you feel about women in combat?

JM:

I don't feel that women have a place in combat. I really don't. As I say, I believe in equal pay for equal work, but being a little old-fashioned, there's some things I draw the line on.

I had one kid, she said, “I'm going to be a policeman.”

I said, “Baby, go sit behind a desk if you want to be on the police force, not in there with a gun facing criminals.” I don't think that's a job for a woman, although there's some tough women, and I know they are. And my husband was a truck driver, and at one time, he had two trucks on the road.

Somebody said, “Why don't you learn to drive one of those trucks, and he won't have to hire nobody to drive one of those trucks?”

I said, “Honey, I'm going to help him find something else. I'm going to find some other way to help him. I won't be driving one of those trucks.”

But I have a lady that did right over there. She drove every day with her husband. They'd get out there, and they'd drive to Michigan and back, the two of them together. They'd do it all the time. She didn't mind it. And she was a very good-looking woman. She'd put on her eye makeup, look good, fix her hair all up, and she got in that truck [unclear] with him. She looked good. She wasn't one of those that put on one of these old hats and pulled down an old jacket. [laughs]

As I say, I don't know, and I'm not one to bash men. Some women like to be a man basher. No. If he's a man, he's a man. I'll tell anybody, my daddy was a self-made man, and I love my daddy for that. His daddy walked off and left his mother with a house full of little children when there was no such thing as welfare and AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children]. When his mother died, his older brothers and sisters took—I think it was five of the younger children. He and one brother, he said his brother took them, and when they was fourteen and fifteen years old, he hired them out on a [unclear] farm. That was to work on this farm, plow, do anything they needed him to do. He'd say, “I raised myself from fourteen years old on up.”

HT:

This is your father?

JM:

That's my father. He had a third grade education, but he was a man in his house, with the help of my grandfather. My grandfather was a strong man on my mother's side.

I don't know how this came about, but my great-grandfather on my mother's side owned a cotton mill and a corn mill. My grandfather was cleaning the cotton mill out or something like that, and they say somebody hit something and caused one of the things that separate the cotton to come down and cut his hand off. He had to have his hand amputated just above the wrist. But he had a cuff made on that hand, and he'd put a hammer in there and drive a nail like any other man. He could plow. He said the only thing he couldn't do that any other man could do was clap two hands together.

The house that's right next door to where my brother lives, he built it. Mama said she and her brother would help him hold things when he needed two hands. This house—He built that house, she said, about the turn of the century. Now, my brother had that house remodeled when he moved there. He built a house right next door to my mother's after he came there in '68. He was just out. He had that old chimney torn down, the roof lowered, put in aluminum windows and all that. But my grandfather on my mother's side was a strong man, too. He was a strong man. Those were men that earned the respect of their family and demanded respect from their families.

HT:

Well, Mrs. McKinnon, I don't have anymore questions about your military time. It's been wonderful talking to you this afternoon. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and your life. It's always a pleasure.

JM:

Well, you know, it brings back memories.

[End of interview]