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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Palek Turner, 2002

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Object ID: WV0254.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Mary Palek Turner’s service as a nurse in the air force and her personal life afterwards.

Summary:

Turner discusses her Austria-Hungarian heritage; blackouts in New Jersey after the attack on Pearl Harbor; attending nursing school; and working in a TB hospital. Discussion of her pre-service life focuses on her time attending Wheaton College and working at Chicago Presbyterian Hospital, including being unable to support herself and pay for her schooling; being referred to a recruiter in her dorm; and choosing to join the air force in 1952.

Turner discusses learning basic rules and regulations while in basic training at Gunter Air Force Base; and the rotating shifts and long work weeks at Mitchel Air Force Base in New York. She also describes in detail getting married so that she and James could be stationed together overseas and the reasons the plan failed. Of her time stationed in Tokyo, Turner mentions working in a day clinic; seeing the destruction from WWII; and her interactions with Japanese civilians. Other service topics include: the reputation of servicewomen and writing letters to her husband.

Of her post-service life, Turner discusses the medical practice she and her husband opened; his reenlistment; having to leave the reserves when she adopted a child; and her column in the Kernersville News . She also briefly mentions the various places she has traveled and obtaining degrees at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Mary L. Turner Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG]. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. I'm here in Kernersville today talking with Mary Turner about her service as a nurse in the air force during the early 1950s.

So, Ms. Turner, thank you for sitting down in your busy schedule today and sharing with us a little bit on record about your time in service. I want to ask you a little bit about your family background. You were telling me before we started that you were born in Williamstown, Pennsylvania, but then your family moved at an early age to New Jersey.

MT:

That's right. I was five years old.

EE:

What did your folks do for a living?

MT:

My daddy was a coal miner. My mother was a seamstress. They worked real hard.

EE:

Coal mining. I guess you were born right during the middle of the Depression, were you not?

MT:

I was born up there in a coal mining town. I went back to see it several years ago, and it was just rubble, just nothing up there now but just rubble.

EE:

So he left Williamstown to get another job? Is that what it amounted to?

MT:

Yes, get another job, and he had to work his way down from the top of that mountain. I was told that years later. Anyone that came here from a foreign country had to pay their way back, and so he worked his way down from the top of that mountain.

EE:

So he was a first-generation American?

MT:

He was, but my mother was born here. She was born in Pittsburgh, but she went to Europe with her family and married my dad.

EE:

Oh, they met over there?

MT:

And then came back over here.

EE:

You have any brothers and sisters?

MT:

I have one sister that's two years older than I am, and she still lives in the hometown.

EE:

You grew up in Linden, New Jersey.

MT:

Linden, New Jersey.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school, growing up?

MT:

Oh, I loved school. I was very active in school.

EE:

What was your favorite subject?

MT:

German.

EE:

German?

MT:

Yes. I took it for four years. My favorite teacher was my German teacher.

EE:

That's good. That's something that—the variety of language skills we don't offer our kids nowadays, unfortunately.

MT:

I studied seven or eight different ones.

EE:

Well, since your family had fresh ties to Europe, I mean, did you all speak the language at home?

MT:

Yes. I still do. My parents spoke Hungarian, because they came from Austria-Hungary, originally. And then they also spoke Slavish, but they used to speak Hungarian so I couldn't understand them. One day I went down to a neighbor, and I said, “Teach me some Hungarian.”

She said, “Okay.” And she taught me a few words.

I went back upstairs, and I said to my mom, “I know Hungarian.”

She said, “What do you know?”

I said, “[Hungarian phrase],” and she slapped me. I called her a pig.

EE:

[laughs] Yes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, isn't it?

MT:

I'll never forget that word.

EE:

You were, I guess, just ten or eleven when Pearl Harbor Day happened. Do you remember Pearl Harbor Day?

MT:

I remember that we had to turn our lights out. It was scary, because they were afraid of bombs. See, I was right near New York City. It's not far from there, and we had to turn our lights out, because we were afraid that they would see the lights and bomb us, and it was scary. It was very scary. And I remember just sitting in the dark room, because we couldn't turn on lights. We had the dark shades down all the time. Yes, I remember. I remember a lot of my neighbors, their older sons were in the military, and several of them never came back. So I remember that part very well.

EE:

School, I imagine—were you all doing things in school in support of the war effort?

MT:

Well, back then, all we did was play a lot. I don't think we did a whole lot as far as parading or anything like that.

EE:

Did you go to a public school?

MT:

Public school, yes. It was a huge school. I had 264 in my high school graduating class. That's a big school for that year.

EE:

And North Carolina was slow; I guess at that time high schools were twelve years. We were eleven years for a long time, you know.

MT:

We were twelve years.

EE:

How about back to the relatives back in Europe? Did you get any word back from there how things were?

MT:

No, because back then, we really didn't have much communication. I mean, they didn't have telephones. They didn't have computers!

EE:

[Unclear].

MT:

That was pretty much it, yeah. In fact, I just went back in March and visited relatives. I didn't know if I'd see anybody, and then they came here to visit us in August. They left about a week before 9/11 [September 11, 2001]. That was pretty sad.

EE:

You graduated in '48.

MT:

Forty-eight, yes.

EE:

When did you get the idea that you wanted to be a nurse?

MT:

Well, back then, we didn't have much of a choice. Today, women can do anything they want to. Back then we had a choice: it was either be a teacher or a nurse. Well, I couldn't afford to pay the tuition to college, because my family was very poor and we didn't have the money. I decided to go into nursing. I only had to pay $90 tuition. I had to work all night and went to classes all day, but then they paid for my food and my room and board.

EE:

You lived right there in a wing of the hospital?

MT:

In a dormitory, yes. We had a dormitory.

EE:

This was in Jersey City?

MT:

Jersey City. It was huge hospital. I lived on the thirteenth floor. So it was a huge dormitory. A lot of us lived there. We had to work at night and go to class all day, even as student nurses.

EE:

I guess it was about the time that you graduated that President [Harry S.] Truman made women a part of the military on a permanent basis.

MT:

Yes, but, see, I wasn't too involved. I didn't really know what was going on because we were so busy working. All we knew was that a war was going on, but that's about it.

EE:

You would have been, I guess, on the floor at nurses' school June of '51, when war broke out. Did they come to you all as nurses and say, “We need nurses”? How did you get interested in the military service?

MT:

Well, because after I left nurses' training, I worked to make some money so I could go to college, because I wanted to complete a college degree. I went to a college in Illinois, and I had enough money for just one year. At the end of the year, I was just absolutely broke. My family had no money, and so I said, “What am I going to do? I can't pay for my college education.”

They said, “Well, why don't you join the air force.”

I said, “The what?”

They said, “The air force. They need nurses for the military, for the Korean War.”

I said, “Okay. How do I do that?”

They said, “Go down in your dormitory. There's a recruiter down there.”

EE:

So it was a suggestion of the folks at your school?

MT:

Yes, at my school. Exactly.

EE:

And the only one they mentioned was the air force?

MT:

The air force recruiter was in the basement in my college dormitory. So I went down there and I said to the guy, “Someone told me to come down here and sign up for the air force.”

He said, “What are your qualifications?”

I said, “Well, I'm a student here.”

He said, “Well, anything else?”

I said, “Well, I'm a registered nurse.”

He said, “Oh, that makes you an officer.”

I said, “An officer? What is that?” I was pretty ignorant when it came to the military.

EE:

You didn't have any family, immediate family, who had experience with the service.

MT:

No. My dad was older. I guess he was in World War I, probably. I had lots of cousins that were in World War II, but as far as the Korean War, I didn't know too many. Dad was in the army when he was in Europe, during World War I.

EE:

So he would have been in the Austria-Hungarian army?

MT:

Yes. That was a long time ago.

EE:

This was at Wheaton College. Wheaton, Illinois, isn't it?

MT:

Wheaton, Illinois. It's near Chicago. I used to work in the hospital in Chicago at night so I could pay for my education. That's what I had to do. I had to work all night and go to classes in the daytime. But I worked in a nice hospital, the Chicago Presbyterian Hospital, and I was the assistant night supervisor, so it was pretty nice.

EE:

So you were there for a year, which means in '51 you graduated from nursing school.

MT:

And then I worked in a TB [tuberculosis] hospital. Back then, TB was very prevalent, so I worked in a TB hospital. You couldn't get too close to your patients, because it was a very contagious disease, but those guys would hug a little old lady and say, “That's your hug.” But it was very sad. They had TB and also chest problems, like lung cancer. I worked there for a year.

EE:

TB hospitals and polio, I guess, the two types of things that we—

MT:

Yes, we had a lot of polio, too.

EE:

But you were working at the TB hospital, and then you told me it was about summertime of '52 that you decided to—

MT:

Yes, I did. I was graduated in September 1951, then I went to college in '52, and only went that year and summer school, and I joined the air force in the summer of '52.

EE:

You have a quote in one of these places about how your mom responded when you told her that you were going in the service.

MT:

We didn't have telephones back then, so I just wrote her a letter, and I said, “Dear Mom, I just signed up for the air force.”

So she wrote me back, and she said, “Oh, my goodness. Just don't tell anybody you're my daughter,” because back then, women didn't go into the army or the air force.

EE:

I know in World War II there was a problem about the reputation of women, because there were a lot of vicious rumors that were spread. Was that still a problem?

MT:

Well, I guess it was for the older folks, but I was a good girl. I mean, I really was.

EE:

You didn't face that kind of insult personally?

MT:

Not really. No, not really. I was friends with a girl that was kind of—you know. But I was a good girl. I'm serious.

EE:

What about your dad?

MT:

Well, he didn't care. My dad was sick all the time anyway. He was very sick. He had coal miner's asthma, and so he was very, very sick.

EE:

Summer of '52 you went down to Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery. That's where you went for basic training. I've talked to different nurses in different stages, and sometimes nurses, they have basically two weeks, and it's just protocol training and nothing else. Others have basic. Was yours very short?

MT:

It was very basic. They were just teaching us the rules and regulations of air force.

EE:

Your superiors—

MT:

Right. How to respect your superiors, how to salute, not to hold hands when you're walking with your boyfriend or other things when you're in uniform.

EE:

No fraternization among the—

MT:

Yes. It was very, very basic. It wasn't anything hard. We did fly in an airplane, just to let us know what an airplane was like, and that was fun.

EE:

When you joined up with this recruiter, did they ask if you wanted to go overseas? Did they give you some choice of the kind of duty you could have?

MT:

No, they just told us we had to go to basic training and then they would send us where we had to go.

EE:

Was this for a two-year tour of duty?

MT:

Yes. That's what you'd sign up for, two years.

EE:

At that time, how old did you have to be? I guess you were already twenty-one, so you didn't have to worry about your parents' signature.

MT:

I was twenty-two.

EE:

And at the time you joined, you didn't have a steady boyfriend you were leaving behind or anything like that?

MT:

I had one in Philadelphia. I told you that. He wanted me to marry him, and I told him I wasn't ready to get married yet. I wasn't. I wanted to see the world.

EE:

Money, getting money for school. I guess the GI Bill, what was that going to do for you? Were you going to get basically a year of college paid for for each year that you served? Is that what it worked out?

MT:

To be honest with you, they were going to give me that money to go to college, but I did not use it, because by the time I went back to UNCG, it had expired.

EE:

So you had a certain number of years you had to go back to school.

MT:

Yes. So I had to pay my own way through UNCG. But it was worth it. I enjoyed every bit of it.

EE:

You were a short stay at Gunter and then you went to Mitchel Air Force Base. Was that in upstate New York?

MT:

No, Long Island. It's closed now. It's no longer an air force base.

EE:

That was simply a stop along the way, or what were you doing up there?

MT:

I was doing regular nursing up there.

EE:

How long were you there?

MT:

Oh, gosh, let's see. Probably about, maybe eight months at the most, then I signed up for the Far East because my boyfriend was going to the Far East.

EE:

So you had to be a volunteer, in a sense, to go overseas?

MT:

Well, at one point you did. Sometimes, if they needed somebody, they'd just take them and ship them over there, but I was sent to Mitchel Air Force Base.

EE:

I know when they first started out, women were very circumscribed, in that they could not go for overseas duty, except for army nurses and a few WACs [Women's Army Corps] in World War II, and then they sort of relaxed those rules. But at the time you were in, it was a volunteer call.

MT:

Yes. I volunteered to go to the Far East because my boyfriend was going.

EE:

Your understanding is that you would have been working in a clinic environment in Korea, or it would have been a MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] unit, or what type of work—

MT:

It would have been anything they wanted, yes. And the guy that was in charge of that told me to volunteer. He was the head of the air force in the Far East, and he said, “Yes, go ahead and volunteer, and we'll make sure that you're with him,” you know, that kind of thing.

EE:

So your boyfriend, future husband at the time—

MT:

He already had orders to go.

EE:

He didn't have a choice in the matter.

MT:

No.

EE:

You requested to be near him so that you could do that.

MT:

Yes. But then he came home, and we got married, because as a husband and wife, you could be sent together, but when you're boyfriend and girlfriend, no.

EE:

That's a change in and of itself in the first ten years, because they usually, in the beginning, were frowning very much on getting married, and you were asked to leave.

MT:

Oh, yes.

EE:

But at the time you were in, I guess the big break point was pregnancy. As long as you weren't pregnant, you could be in.

MT:

You could get married, but once you had a baby, you were out. I didn't have any children. I stayed in the whole time, and when we got out, I didn't have any children. I adopted a baby five years later, and I had to get out of the reserves, because you couldn't even be in the reserves if you had a child.

EE:

Because then you wouldn't have been able to be called up at will, I guess.

MT:

No, but look at how it the way it is today. I mean, you can be a single mom and be in the military.

EE:

That's right. James, your boyfriend, was he assigned to Korea, or was he going to be in Japan?

MT:

He was heading on to the Far East. Then when you get to the Far East, like Tokyo, they send you where you have to go.

EE:

So all he knew was his next stop was Tokyo.

MT:

He got to California, and they said, “No. I'm sorry, sir, but you're not going to the Far East. You're going to Hawaii,” and he'd already bought all these heavy winter uniforms and everything. My orders said go to the Far East. So I was sent to the Far East.

EE:

You were in New York, just before heading over there, right during election season in '52, when I'm sure Korea was an issue because of Truman, and the situation with [Douglas] MacArthur, I guess, had taken place by then. Most young people in their early twenties are not terribly politically and not terribly worldly informed. Were you in that category?

MT:

No. I just wanted to serve. I just wanted to be a nurse and help the wounded. That's about all I could think of. I'd go around to the different wards and see these guys, and, you know, it's kind of sad when you look at guys without arms or legs or something horrible.

EE:

In Long Island, was that the kind of ward you were on?

MT:

At Mitchel we had all kinds of people, wounded and sick.

EE:

Did you work the same shift five days a week? Did you rotate? What was your work schedule like?

MT:

We rotated. We worked days, night, just rotated shifts.

EE:

Five-day workweek or seven days on, two days off, whatever it would be?

MT:

Well, I don't even remember having any time off, to be honest with you. It was just a full-time job.

EE:

You stayed on the base at the hospital, I guess.

MT:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have any free time to explore New York and that area?

MT:

Well, since I was from New Jersey, I was familiar with New York. I didn't go very much because I was working so many hours. It took me so long to get home that I didn't do it very much either. There was a lot of traffic, and I don't know how many hours it took me to get across the bridge.

EE:

It took me an hour to drive ten miles when I lived in Philadelphia, and I could go to Curtisville [Pennsylvania] and back three times in that time.

MT:

It took me two and a half hours to get home from Greensboro one day.

EE:

Oh, yes. Greensboro is not a good thing with that construction in there. You got married.

MT:

May 2.

EE:

Back in Linden.

MT:

Yes. Well, actually, at Mitchel Air Force Base. That's another story. I was marrying somebody that wasn't from my church, so they wouldn't marry me in my church, so we got married at the air force chapel.

EE:

So you had some of your service buddies who were there?

MT:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Dressed in uniform for the ceremony?

MT:

Well, some were. It was a very small wedding. We were going to get married on May 1, but my husband couldn't get back from Hawaii on time, so we had to cancel our wedding to May 2. Most of the people showed up on May 1, but we didn't. We came in on the second, so we had a very small turnout for our wedding. But it was nice. It was just a small wedding.

EE:

He left, and then you went to—I guess this was on the way out to California. Were you at [Camp] Stoneman, or where did you stop on the way out to Tokyo?

MT:

I stayed in Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

EE:

But you were saying that somebody in California told you about the—

MT:

I had to stay in California for two weeks until my orders came through to where I was going, and then I had to stay there and get all my paperwork filled out and everything. So it was like a two-week stay in California. My classmate from Wheaton College was living in California, so she came and picked me up, and I stayed with her for two weeks, and then I finally was able to fly to Hawaii.

EE:

And that's the point where they told you the paperwork wasn't worked out to go together.

MT:

Oh, yes, because they said that I should have had my orders changed in Washington. In Washington, they told me I should have had my orders changed in California, but that didn't work.

EE:

Did you go directly then to Tokyo?

MT:

I went to Hawaii. I had this terrible earache, and they wouldn't let me fly because back then, if you had ear problems, you couldn't fly. So the doctor said, “She can't fly. She has an ear problem.” So I stayed in Hawaii for about a week for our honeymoon, and it was wonderful. And then I had to get on the plane and go to Tokyo.

EE:

How long were you in Tokyo?

MT:

Probably about four or five months. It wasn't too long.

EE:

Working at the hospital?

MT:

It was a clinic in the heart of Tokyo. We saw mostly day patients, I mean people that just came in for minor problems.

EE:

What was it like being in another country?

MT:

To be honest with you, Japan was a little bit different than it is today. You could walk along the streets and be perfectly safe. I had friends that were missionaries there, and I would walk down the street, far, far away, to go visit them, and that was a real experience, walking through Tokyo when they had all these honey bucket men out there pushing those honey buckets. You know what they are? Okay. But nobody bothered anybody.

I went to the Royal Hawaiian—no, not the new Royal Hawaiian. It was just a little old hotel back then, and I remember going in there. They've just recently remodeled it, and it's just another world.

EE:

Was there still evidence of destruction from the war, or was it being built up by that time?

MT:

Oh yes. There was still lots of destruction. You could see buildings that were down and stuff like that.

EE:

Did they give you any cautions about how to interact with the population?

MT:

The people were so nice. In fact, I wanted to learn Japanese, because if you're living in Japan, you want to learn the language. I wanted to learn Japanese, just like I did Hungarian. So I said to this janitor, “How about teaching me some Japanese?” And so he started telling me stuff. Then he taught me to say, “[Japanese phrase].”

And I thought, “Okay. I'll say it.” So I kept saying it and finally went up to somebody and said, “I learned some Japanese.”

They said, “What did you learn?”

I said, “[Japanese phrase].”

He said, “Thank you. I love you, too.” [laughs] So I learned some good stuff.

EE:

He was telling you the lines that make a quick friend in Japan. [laughs]

MT:

But they were very, very nice people. They were nice to us when we were there. I don't remember any—I even went to visit a family, and I don't think anybody ever had any real hard feelings against us as far as the World War II bombing and all that stuff.

EE:

I assume everywhere you went over there you had to be in uniform.

MT:

Yes. I wore my uniform all the time, and that was good.

EE:

Stateside that probably wasn't the case, was it?

MT:

No, we didn't have to wear our uniforms all the time. If we had to go to a formal affair we had to wear our uniforms, but as far as going to the store shopping, no.

EE:

Overseas, probably to this day, there's still more restrictions about you need to wear your uniform.

MT:

Oh, I don't think it's that way today.

EE:

Well, maybe with terrorism, maybe they want you to blend in more.

MT:

Yes. I think probably yes. Probably it's safer if you didn't wear your uniform.

EE:

That's true.

MT:

This whole situation is totally different—it's just getting to me. I told you about walking around in the streets and getting that book handed to me, the truth about Afghanistan.

EE:

Four months there, at which point you thought at any time you might be sent on over to Korea, where was James at that time?

MT:

He was in Hawaii. He was stationed there. He was at a clinic in Hawaii.

EE:

You were half an ocean apart.

MT:

Yes. We didn't communicate much, because back then we didn't have telephones. So we'd send letters to each other, and that's about it. See, you didn't call people on the phone like you do today. We didn't have any cell phones. So we wrote letters.

EE:

If you weren't strong from the beginning, that's a pretty strong tension to put in right from the beginning, that separation.

MT:

Yes, but we did all right. We did okay. We'd write love letters to each other, and we wrote a lot. I'd been married almost, what, forty-eight years in May.

EE:

Yes. Obviously, you were putting up a long-term plan anyway in the beginning.

MT:

Yes. I mean, we got married for better or worse, and sometimes it's not so good. We still stayed married. [laughs] I'm kidding.

EE:

Four months in Tokyo, and I guess you found out you were not going—did the armistice come first, because it's pretty—

MT:

Yes. The war ended while I was in Tokyo, but my husband was in Hawaii, and he had friends that were all over the place. There were only two nurses in the clinic where my husband was, and the one nurse was getting out of the military and she was going home, and so there was a vacancy there. And so he talked to a general who happened to come for lunch one day, and he was telling him that I was in Tokyo and that he would love to have me come back to Hawaii since a nurse was leaving. He talked to the people where I was on temporary assignment in Tokyo, because they were waiting for my orders. And when they got the word, they said, “Oh, she's leaving, so we'll let her go back there.” So that's how I managed to get back to Hawaii. I was just lucky.

And the guy that I talked to when I got to Tokyo was really nice. He said, “Well, look, if we send you right straight to Korea, you're going to be stuck there forever. But we'll put you on temporary duty here in Tokyo so that when there's an opening, we can send you back home, back to Hawaii.”

EE:

Did either of you think about making the service a career?

MT:

Not really. My husband wanted to go into private practice, so he just got on out, and I worked with him.

EE:

Was he drafted to go into the service? Did he join voluntarily?

MT:

He volunteered.

EE:

Was it in part to help pay for his service as a—

MT:

No. I think what they do is, lots of times when you're in the medical profession, you are asked to go and sign up for a couple of years. I think that was his obligation. Not mine, but his. So I think he really did it for the government. I don't even know if he got paid for it. He's still in the reserves, and he's been to several places. He'll serve in the navy or something like that, because he works now for the [U.S.] Public Health Service. When my son was in the navy, he went up there and took care of patients, and he didn't get paid for that. He just volunteered to go. And he's still, as far as I know, still in the reserves.

EE:

You came back to Hawaii. Then shortly thereafter, you all were discharged.

MT:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you come back to, back to New Jersey?

MT:

We came to Greensboro, North Carolina.

EE:

And so far I have no clue why that would be. Did you have any relations there?

MT:

Well, because my husband's from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He's a Southern boy, and he married a Yankee. He was from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and when we were trying to decide where we were going to live in North Carolina, he said, “Well, I don't want to go back to Rocky Mount. I don't think I want to go to the mountains. Why don't we go somewhere right in the middle of the state?” And so he pointed to the map and came up with Greensboro. And somehow somebody got word that we wanted to go to Greensboro and asked him to come and be in practice with him.

And then when we were there for a while, somebody from Kernersville called and came over and visited us, and he said, “We need you in Kernersville.” So we went to Kernersville and opened our own practice, and we were there for a long time.

Then my husband went back to the military. I forgot that. Yes, he went back into the military, but he went to the Public Health Service and was stationed on Long Island in New York.

EE:

When did he go back into the service?

MT:

It was about five years after we were in private practice.

EE:

So you're talking about the late fifties?

MT:

Probably, yes. It was probably '59.

EE:

And how long was he in that time?

MT:

Just two years. And then we got out, he came back to Greensboro. And he's been practicing there ever since, until maybe four years ago, when he retired.

EE:

Were you working in his office for a while?

MT:

I worked with him a lot, yes. I didn't get paid, though.

EE:

Were you in the office?

MT:

I was everything. I was the only person in his office for a long time, until he finally got rid of me and hired somebody, when I had the babies.

EE:

So when you say, “We opened the office,” you mean we opened it, because you were in there as his assistant.

MT:

Yes. I was there with him. We both worked together. And then he hired a girl to come in. And then when we adopted our child, I still kept working. But then five years later when I had a baby, I finally stopped working.

EE:

And you were telling me that was about five years after you—

MT:

Five years, five years, five years. So we had three children.

EE:

And you were telling me that you've got the one son that was in—when was he in service, from when to when, Jonathan?

MT:

Oh, gosh. When he got out of high school, he went to college like—one of the colleges for about a year, and then he joined the navy for about eight years. So he's been out for several years now.

EE:

Is that a decision you all approved of with him?

MT:

Oh yes.

EE:

Given your own backgrounds in the service.

MT:

He was looking forward to going in, and he liked it. He was stationed in Sicily, Italy, and I went to visit him while he was there. It was wonderful. He really liked it. He was in the Middle East war.

EE:

In the Gulf War?

MT:

He was actually on a ship over there.

EE:

Your husband's been in the reserves. How active have you been with veterans groups?

MT:

I just recently joined the American Legion. And I don't know how come I got into it.

EE:

Were you asked to join?

MT:

This guy that goes to the Y[MCA] a lot, he's very active in it, and he said for me to join it, and so I decided I would.

EE:

Well, that's a very enlightened attitude, because I've talked to a number of women who never have been asked, even though people know they were in the service.

MT:

I went to the Kernersville American Legion when they had that memorial event, and there were a lot of veterans there, and I was the only female.

EE:

When did you start doing the writing?

MT:

When I took a bunch of friends to New York on a tour. They wanted me to go with them, just to see a play, but the reason they wanted me to go with them was so I could give them a tour of New York, because I'm a native of New York, since I've lived there three times. They enjoyed it so much that when I came back, I wrote about the trip and about how much fun we had and everything. That's when the editor gave me my own column.

EE:

This was in the local paper.

MT:

Yes, the Kernersville News, and it's called Yoda and Me.

EE:

Now, where did you get that name?

MT:

Yoda was my dog, and I used to write about her all the time.

EE:

This was the name of your dog before the movie Star Wars or after?

MT:

To be honest with you, it must have been before, because she's been gone for years. [laughs] And I remember writing about her all the time, because I would always say something about Yoda did this and Yoda and I did that, and we'd take lots of walks, and I'd write letters to the editor all the time. I'd always mention Yoda, and so when he got that article about New York, he put down there Yoda and Me. And I've been doing that ever since.

EE:

If you look back at your life and when you were in the service, you were not a terribly interested public person, because you were young. You had your own private world to take of, and your family, and now it's pretty clear that you're writing on things as a community. When did that ratchet up for you, just the length of stay in the area or—

MT:

No. I've always been interested in journalism. I took a journalism class a long time ago, and I've always been interested in it. I used to write letters to the editor all the time, and I've got copies of things that I wrote years ago.

EE:

Was that what your major was at UNCG?

MT:

No. My major at UNCG was political science, and then my master's was in public administration. But I started out as a PE [physical education] major, because I wanted to complete PE that I started at Wheaton. But my husband said, “Honey, there's no demand for old PE teachers.” [laughs] So I dropped it and took political science.

EE:

And have you used that political science in public administration? Has that helped you?

MT:

Well, I do write a lot of articles about what's going on in the world. I do, yes.

EE:

It seems to me that that has to affect you. In fact, I was trying to figure out where—because from just reporting fun things, you seem to have taken more of a serious tack.

MT:

I do.

EE:

And I would imagine that your military service flavors that experience as well.

MT:

Exactly. It does.

EE:

And the fact that you're a spouse of the military, a parent of the military, and a military person yourself.

MT:

I haven't thought about that, but you're right.

EE:

So you've got three different perspectives on this process.

MT:

Right. And my loyalty is to this country, and I think being in the military has helped me to be an American, a hundred percent American.

EE:

For people who are not military, what do you think is the biggest misconception about military folks?

MT:

I think if you haven't been over there and saw what these guys go through, you don't appreciate it. I don't think you can even visualize what our soldiers go through. I mean, when I came back on that plane with all those guys, I couldn't believe that those kids went through so much, and they were kids to me. And today we don't even think about it. I mean, just recently, there were so many—like four guys killed just recently, and it was an accident. It wasn't something where they were shot or anything like that.

EE:

“Friendly fire.”

MT:

“Friendly fire.” And there's too much of that going on. When I think about these guys giving their lives for our country, they don't have to do that, but most of these guys volunteer to do it. I just feel like we need to encourage them, we need to do something to help them, just be there for them.

EE:

It was encouraging, if there was anything encouraging, I thought, after 9/11, it was that for a few precious weeks, people really looked out for each other and were trying to be overly encouraging to each other, because it was very easy to get depressed, I think, about the situation. But I've noticed it's ratcheted back since then. Do you think our country is more patriotic now than it was when you were in service?

MT:

No. I think we are so diverse now that we're no longer a United States of America. I think we're getting too diverse. If you'll look, in Greensville, they're having pickets. The Muslims are over there protesting against the Jews. The Jews are on one side of the street, the Muslims are on the other. Back when I was a kid, I went to school with all kinds of people. I went to school with Italians and Germans during the war. Germans, Italians, we were friends. We were American. They didn't say, “We're German.” We were just proud to be Americans.

EE:

We've become too hyphenated, maybe. Rather than think we're Americans, we've got to subdivide ourselves so much.

MT:

Yes. That's the biggest problem. We used to be the United States of America. When I was a kid, we grew up with everybody. I lived in a black neighborhood. We were friends. A big black football player hugged me in the middle of the street when I went to visit New Jersey twenty-five years later, and he still recognized me. I mean, we grew up together, and we were Americans, even though there were Italians, Germans, Polish, you name it. We were still American, and we didn't call ourselves Polish American. We didn't call ourselves Slovak American or German American. We were American. And most of those guys that lived in my neighborhood, their parents were from different countries, but they joined the military. A lot of them lost their lives. I had four cousins that died, too.

EE:

If a young woman came to you today and said, “Ms. Turner, I'm thinking about joining the service, and I don't know what to do,” what would you tell her?

MT:

I'd say join. I see a lot of kids since I work in the school system as a substitute teacher. I know kids that are in the ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps], and there's one that's a real good friend of mine. She always says, “Hey, Lieutenant.” She calls me Lieutenant. But she's one hundred percent military-minded, and she's going to make it a career when she gets out of high school. But then I see other people who really don't seem to be qualified, but they're in the ROTC. And I think, “I don't understand how these kids can be in the military,” because when I was in the military, I couldn't even hold my husband's hand while in uniform. But now these kids are out in the courtyard in uniforms hugging and kissing and everything else, and I walk up to them, and say, “Look. Don't do that in uniform. That's not professional.”

So I'm really a mean person. I call my Lieutenant Turner in class sometimes, and they know I mean it when I say I'm “Lieutenant Turner.”

EE:

There are so many people, I think, that when they talk to me about their own experience, they really value the self-discipline that they got and would not have gotten anyplace else. Maybe that's what some folks need.

MT:

I'm one of those who thinks we need to wear uniforms in school. We need to have every kid sign up for at least a year of military duty and teach them the basics of respecting authority and to mind the rules and whatever, because today the kids don't have that. I mean, we had to adhere to principles. We couldn't even smoke. I never smoked, but you couldn't even smoke in certain areas, you couldn't hold hands when you were in uniform, and you certainly wouldn't be kissing your husband if you were wearing a uniform out there. So, I mean, we had a lot of respect for being patriotic and wearing our uniform and showing some discipline.

EE:

We haven't heard their name, but my guess is that among the bomber pilots in Afghanistan, there are probably one or two women. And nowadays women can do more things in the service, a lot more than they could when you were in. Do you think it's a good thing, or do you think there should be any limits on women's role in the military?

MT:

The only problem I have is that we're always discriminating against something. If we tell women they can't serve in the military if they have three babies and they're not married, that's discrimination. I think it's wrong. I think we should say, “If you have a baby, you stay home and look after that baby and let your husband fight.” I don't think we should have single mothers in the military. They need to be with their kids and not overseas fighting. That's the way I feel about it.

EE:

So that would be your distinction.

MT:

Oh, yes, definitely.

EE:

Which isn't that much of an extension from when you were there. It's just a practical reality that's certainly got to be taken care of.

MT:

Right. I felt badly that they took me out of the reserves because I adopted a child, but now I can understand it. But being in the reserves would have been no problem, you know. But if I had to be called to active duty, then I couldn't have said no.

EE:

Did you ever have any experience in your service time that got you afraid? Sounds like you were a pretty open-to-new-experiences kind of person.

MT:

I have never been afraid. I have always had a lot of faith in God, believe me, and I just know that God's going to look after me. I got lost in Winston[-Salem, North Carolina] the other day, and I went through one of the worst neighborhoods in Winston. My tank was on empty, and it was ten o'clock at night, and I thought, “Oh, boy.” Every time I'd turn, I was on a dead-end street, “I'm never going to get out of this place. I'm going to be on empty, and somebody's going to kill me.” And I just looked up, and I said, “Lord, please help me out of here. I am lost.” And I turned one block, and I was out of there.

EE:

You just have to ask.

MT:

See? That's the way it is. God looks after old stupid people, and I'm both. [laughter]

EE:

Well, it's been about the time that I said it was going to take, and I appreciate you sitting down with us. It's a quick overview, but you've hit, without knowing it, a lot of the kinds of questions that we try to ask everybody. Is there anything about your service time or about what your experience has meant to you that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share?

MT:

No. I'm just thankful that I had the opportunity to serve my country and to do something good. I mean, back when I was growing up, women didn't do a lot of stuff like that, and I think that helped me to be more active in all sorts of things. I mean, I've traveled all over the world by myself. I've been to Afghanistan and picked up that book. I've been to every place in Russia, Uzbekistan, which people never even heard of until just recently. I've been to the Great Wall of China and Antarctica. But I'm not afraid, because I know that—I mean, I've been through so much, that it doesn't scare me. I mean, I've flown on every kind of an airplane there is. In the military, we flew bombers, we flew boxcars, we flew anything. So I just don't have any fear.

EE:

It makes the world a more fun place when you feel that way, doesn't it?

MT:

Yes. And dealing with kids in school, you have to be strong. You can't be afraid of the kids. I mean, they're mean, some of them. I have some horror stories about kids in school, but that's a different subject. But being in the military makes me tougher, and I don't put up with stuff. I mean, I don't put up with misbehavior in class, and I make sure they understand why. And if they get smart, I look and say, “You're talking to Lieutenant Turner.”

They go, “What do you mean?”

Then somebody will say, “She was in the air force. You'd better watch it. She was a fighter pilot.”

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, I really appreciate you sitting down and doing this.

[End of interview]