1. LIBRARY CATALOG
  2. DATABASES
  3. JOURNAL A-Z List
  4. SUBJECT GUIDES
  5. LIBRARY SERVICES

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Laura Gibson, 2005

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: WV0327.5.001

Description: Primarily details Laura Avis Gibson’s service with the Coast Guard during World War II, in addition to her youth on a farm and her work at Burlington Industries.

Summary:

Gibson briefly recalls her childhood on a farm in Randolph County and then discusses her decision to join the Coast Guard with her sister, their reasons for enlisting, and the reaction of her family and friends. Many topics pertain to Gibson’s basic training at Palm Beach, Florida, in January 1944, including: classes, drilling, singing, physical exercise, bunking with her sister, and Gibson’s her first experience eating in a cafeteria.

Gibson also describes her time in Washington, D.C., in detail, including: her living arrangements; briefly meeting the man that she replaced; her work issuing checks for dependents in the Military Morale Division and the office arrangement; working with men and women at the Coast Guard Headquarters; her treatment at the Navy Headquarters; uniforms; and social life and entertainment, including fashions shows, being selected to be in a fashion show, and variety shows. She also recalls seeing Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural parade; seeing Harry Truman on VJ Day at the White House; and carrying the flag during parades in Washington.

Post-war topics include Gibson’s transition to civilian life; her career at Burlington Industries after the war; her sister’s life after the Coast Guard; and talking with her sister about being in the Coast Guard.

Creator: Laura Avis Gibson

Biographical Info: Laura Avis Gibson (b. 1923) of Randolph County, North Carolina, served in the Coast Guard SPARs from 1944 to 1946 and was a career employee of Burlington Industries.

Collection: Laura Avis Gibson 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:

Hermann Trojanowski:

Today is Friday, August 19. It's 2005, and my name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Laura Avis Gibson in High Point, North Carolina, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina [at Greensboro].

Miss Gibson, if you'd give me your full name, we'll use that as a test to see how you sound on the machine.

Laura Gibson:

Okay. I'm Laura Avis Gibson.

HT:

Miss Gibson, again, thank you so much for talking with me this morning. We really appreciate your time.

LG:

Oh, you're welcome. Thank you.

HT:

If you could tell me a few biographical facts about yourself, such as where you were born, when you were born, and a little bit about where you lived when you were growing up, and about your family.

LG:

I was born in Randolph County here in North Carolina [on December 10, 1923]. My parents were tobacco farmers, so I grew up on a tobacco farm and actually had to work on the farm, anywhere from stringing the tobacco to handing leaves, and milking cows and working in the vegetable garden. All this time, then, I started to school when I was five years old, and I graduated from Allen Jay High School when I was sixteen.

Because of age sixteen I wasn't able to find a public job at that time, and my parents were poor and they weren't able to send me to college, so I continued to work on the farm until I was seventeen. Then I went to Burlington Industries [in Greensboro, North Carolina], and they did hire me at seventeen, and I think that was because my oldest brother was a supervisor there, and I stayed with them until I went into the military.

HT:

So you did not attend college after you graduated from high school, I assume.

LG:

No. I went under the GI Bill of Rights later.

HT:

Wonderful. You said that you decided to join the military. Which branch of the service did you decide to join?

LG:

Well, I had two sisters, two older sisters, and they wanted to join the Coast Guard. I was only nineteen, and at that time a female had to be twenty in order to enlist in the Coast Guard, so I begged them to wait until I was twenty and let me go with them. Well, when I reached twenty, one sister backed out, but two of us joined. I was sworn in in Raleigh, I think seven days after my twentieth birthday.

I don't know, we girls were always patriotic and adventurous, and we just thought that would be fun, and we'd learn a lot. The main thing drawing us to the SPARs [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from “Sempar Paratus-Always Ready”], maybe versus some of the other military, was because at that time they were training the SPARs at Palm Beach, Florida, and we were going in in January, and we thought, well, we get to spend the winter in Florida. So there's how we came to choose the SPARs.

HT:

Do you recall when this was?

LG:

When we first went into SPARs? In January 1944 is when I actually reported to Palm Beach, Florida.

HT:

And you said you were twenty when you joined.

LG:

Yes.

HT:

Since you were under twenty-one, did you have to have your parents sign for you?

LG:

Yes, that's right, they did.

HT:

Were there any objections?

LG:

Well, they had mixed emotions, naturally, but there were nine children in the family, so there were others at home. But they felt like that was fine.

HT:

What about your friends, how did they feel about you joining?

LG:

Well, fine. They gave us going-away parties. In fact, we had one friend that joined the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] about the same time that we joined the Coast Guard, but most of them stayed back here and worked, and they corresponded with us while we were in the military.

HT:

You said that you joined with a sister?

LG:

Yes.

HT:

So you both went down at the same time?

LG:

Same time, same time. We arrived at Palm Beach at the Biltmore Hotel just as they were playing taps one night. Well, that was something to behold, because we didn't know we were supposed to be quiet, and there was a whole trainload of us that went down then, and so we couldn't even have the lights on. They issued us enough to tide us over to the next day, and put us to bed.

HT:

Many women who joined the SPARs as a branch of the service joined, of course, for various reasons, like sometimes they would see recruiting posters. What was the main reason that you joined, do you recall?

LG:

Well, I was always a patriotic child at school. I know I loved to hear The Star Spangled [Banner] played and that type of thing, but Uncle Sam was really begging women to join to relieve the men so the men could go to war, so we just thought, well, we'll go do our duty and see some adventures along the way.

HT:

You said you enlisted, or were sworn in, in Raleigh. Did you have to take some sort of test, either a physical or written, at that time?

LG:

Well, we had two recruiters, a male and a female, and they actually came to our home. They did a little mini-physical, and lots of forms and things. The best I remember, they actually took us to Raleigh to be sworn in, and then we had until a few weeks over into January, I think it was—I'll have to look at the date on my discharge papers—till January to actually head for Palm Beach.

HT:

You mentioned that at that time women were encouraged to join to relieve a man to go into combat, that sort of thing. Did you have any guilty feelings about that, or how did you feel about that?

LG:

Well, at twenty I didn't think about, you know, that this man might lose his life or anything. In fact, I met the man that I replaced when I reported to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, after we took our training at Palm Beach. He was just doing clerical work, so I just took over to do clerical work.

HT:

And so he didn't have any kind of animosity toward you, or anything like that?

LG:

I thought they treated us good, the men did. Yes, they sure did.

HT:

Did you correspond with him or anything like that?

LG:

No, no, never heard from him anymore, sure didn't.

HT:

Did he train you to do his job?

LG:

Well, no, not really. I just came in one day and he left, I think, the same day. Someone else within the office—it was a big office staff—someone there trained me what the duties would be.

HT:

When you got to, I call it boot camp or basic training, in January of 1944, can you describe what that was like, and how many weeks you were involved in basic training?

LG:

At that time we had six weeks of basic training at Palm Beach, and it was standing in line to go to chow, and singing while we were waiting, and stay happy, don't write home about anything sad, always write something happy, and drilling. We would march from the Biltmore down to the beach, and we would swim in the pool, and go out on the beach and do all kinds of exercises, and climb ropes and just general exercise to keep us in good shape. So it seems like we were drilling every day, and on Saturdays the officers would come around with their white gloves on to inspect our rooms, to be sure that we had dusted and had our beds made in square corners, and the bathrooms were clean.

HT:

I guess you had to be taught all the military ways.

LG:

Oh yes, that's what that six weeks was about, going to classes to study all of that, and we had lots of written tests.

HT:

What were the classroom settings like? What kind of classes did you have to take?

LG:

Well, we took military classes to learn about the Coast Guard and learn about the government, and learn who our president was, [that he was] our commanding officer, and just—I can't remember too much about the classrooms, as much as I can about the drills and all.

I think the second day we were there we saw the men, Coast Guard men would be guarding, standing at guard. So we would raise the windows and flirt with them, and I want you to know it wasn't long till the officer came up to our room. He had to report us. So we knew from then on not to do that anymore.

It was just so different from civilian life, but it taught us discipline and self-confidence. I was a timid child when I was in high school, so I think it helped bring out my personality a little.

HT:

Now, did you bunk with your sister at the Biltmore?

LG:

Yes, right. For the first six weeks we did. We were six of us in the same room, but she and I shared the same bunk, and I had the upper and she had the lower. At the end of six weeks, when we graduated from boot camp, then they sent her to Baltimore, Maryland, and they kept me there at Palm Beach, and one of the things I had to do was KP [kitchen patrol] duty. I remember peeling potatoes, peeling potatoes and washing dishes and all that, and just did different things for the next few weeks that I was there.

I left there in April of '44 and went to Washington, [D.C.] They told me that was as close as they could get me to my sister. See, when we joined we thought we were going to be staying together, but it was good that we were separated.

HT:

This is talking about basic training. What did you think about the lack of privacy, because I think you mentioned that you were probably in a large dorm-type setting, is that correct?

LG:

Yes, well, the Biltmore Hotel, I understand, was a rich hotel, but they had converted it into a Coast Guard training station, Coast Guard SPARs training station, and they made the rooms larger so there were six in a room, and then there was an adjoining room, and it seemed like there were four in there, and then we all shared the same bath and the same showers. I think there were maybe double showers in that bathroom. That didn't really bother me that much.

I do remember, you asked about things we did in that first six weeks, I do remember that we did have a complete physical once we got there at Palm Beach.

HT:

What about the food, and the uniforms that you wore during those—

LG:

Well, the first—see, we lived in the country, and I had never eaten in any cafeteria, didn't know what a cafeteria was. So we went through this line and I didn't see anything I wanted, and finally at the end of the line they had a tray of bananas, so I picked up a banana, and we got to the table and they had a pitcher of milk. So my first meal was a banana and a glass of milk. So from then on I knew to go ahead and try whatever they had. [laughs] So after that it was good enough, it was good enough.

HT:

Probably not as good as your mother's home cooking.

LG:

It just looked different, I guess.

HT:

What about the instructors and the training that you received? Do you recall anything specific about the people who trained you? Were they men, women?

LG:

Well, we had quite a few men, particularly the drill sergeants were men. In the classroom it was mostly women. We may have had some men, but I do remember the drill instructors were men.

HT:

I know you were there with your sister, but did you meet and make friends with anyone else?

LG:

Oh yes, I did, I did. We'd go out on the town, just different ones there. But when they sent me to Washington they didn't send my best friend from there [Palm Beach], but there were three of us that left at the same time on the train, and I didn't know them before, but one of them turned out to be my roommate for the whole time I was in Washington. When we first went to Washington they didn't have our barracks built, and we stayed in a dormitory at the American University. I can't remember how long we lived there before they built our barracks. But our barracks were just across the street from the Smithsonian Institute.

HT:

So did you ever get a chance to visit the Smithsonian while you were stationed in Washington?

LG:

Oh yes. At that time they just had that one building. If you've been up there recently, you know they've got lots of them, but they've still got that one old red building there. That was the original one. Well, when we walked to work, and we were close enough to walk to Coast Guard Headquarters from our barracks, or we could ride the bus or what do you call it when it's running on a track?

HT:

Streetcar.

LG:

Streetcars, yes. But when the weather was nice we would just walk to work, and we would walk straight through the Smithsonian on our way to work, because that was a shortcut. So we visited that many, many times.

HT:

Let's backtrack just a second to your basic training days. After you graduated, I think that you said it was April 1944, is that correct?

LG:

Well, that's when I left. I really graduated from boot camp after the first six weeks, just like my sister did, and then they shipped her out after six weeks, but they kept me there longer, doing miscellaneous duties such as KP.

HT:

Right. So did you receive any more formal training before you were assigned to Washington?

LG:

Not formal training, no.

HT:

Who decided your assignments, do you recall? Was that just human resources or personnel, or something like that?

LG:

That I would go to Washington?

HT:

Yes. You had no input in that, I assume.

LG:

Oh, I had no input. I had no idea until they told us which three would be going together. They said Ruth Groening, I remember she was from Cleveland, Ohio, they said, “Now, she's the oldest of the group, and she'll look after you on the train.” Well, when we got on the train we got to comparing birthdays, she was the youngest of the three, but she was more mature. That's why they assumed that she was probably the oldest.

HT:

How do you spell her last name?

LG:

G-r-o-e-n-i-n-g.

HT:

Thank you. I think you said once you got to Washington you were stationed at Coast Guard Headquarters, is that correct?

LG:

Yes. SPARs went to Coast Guard Headquarters. Then shortly after that they sent me to the Navy Department, and I was the only SPAR in the navy department. I worked in Admiral [Russell] Waesche's office, who was the commander of the Coast Guard at that time. He had an office in [U.S.] Navy Headquarters as well as Coast Guard Headquarters, so when he came to the navy building for meetings and different things, he would come into his office. Well, I didn't have enough work to keep me busy, and being the only SPAR there, and the only one in that office, I just asked for a transfer back to Coast Guard Headquarters, so they granted that.

HT:

This admiral, was he a naval admiral?

LG:

Admiral Waesche was the commander of the Coast Guard during World War II.

HT:

Okay. I would have thought it would be interesting to work for the commander.

LG:

Well, it was, but like I say, he didn't stay very long and he didn't come every day. But say, maybe he'd be there three or four days out of the week, and he might be in the office a couple of hours or so, and like I said, I just didn't have enough work to do.

HT:

What type of work did you do for him?

LG:

Well, just clerical work. I remember making telephone reservations and just a little typing, and not much of anything, really, because I imagine the most of his correspondence and work was done at Coast Guard Headquarters, because that's where he spent most of his time. I have a picture of him on the calendar I'll show you.

HT:

That'd be nice. So when you got back to Coast Guard Headquarters, what type of work did you do there?

LG:

Clerical work. I was in an office, the best I remember they called it Military Morale [Division]. Our main function at that office was to issue and approve family allowance checks.

HT:

What exactly is that?

LG:

Well, the dependents back home, like the children—it had to have been, because I don't know if we had that many married SPARs or not that had dependents back home, but it mostly would have been for Coast Guard men who had dependents back home. They were allowed a certain amount of allowance pay per month, so that's what we had to do there.

HT:

That money was sent directly back home.

LG:

Yes, it was, yes. That was sent to the wife and the children back home.

HT:

And were you with Military Morale the entire time?

LG:

The rest of the time, yes.

HT:

Did you enjoy your work?

LG:

Oh yes, I sure did. There were, oh, I don't know how many in the office. It was a huge office of about, I would say, maybe fifteen or twenty, and we'd all work together real good, so it was fun.

HT:

Did you wear a uniform each day to work?

LG:

Oh yes, oh yes. We were in dress uniforms to go to work, right.

HT:

Can you describe that uniform? What did the uniform look like?

LG:

I've got pictures of it.

HT:

Oh, great.

LG:

In the wintertime we wore a navy skirt and navy jacket, with a white shirt and a black tie and a hat like this, and in the summertime they issued us dresses that were gray-and-white seersucker, short sleeves, and a hat to match, that was that same style there. And we had to take off our hats when we went to the office, but when we went out to lunch or went home we had to put our hats back on.

HT:

The uniform sounds very similar to what the WAVES had.

LG:

That's right, they're identical to the WAVES except for the insignias.

HT:

I think during the war the Coast Guard actually came under the jurisdiction of the WAVES, is that correct?

LG:

Of the navy, right, that's right.

HT:

Now, did you work with all SPARs, or were there men in the office as well, by the time that you got there?

LG:

I remember we had one man in there. He was the chief, and he was head of all of us. But I believe—no, we had two or three men, but I do remember the chief real well. There were two or three, but it was mostly women, mostly women.

HT:

And how did he treat the women? Was it with respect, or was there any kind animosity or anything like that?

LG:

Oh no, no. He treated us just like he would his sister, I assume. He was a real nice guy.

HT:

So you never encountered any kind of discrimination while you were in the military, because you were a woman?

LG:

Never, never. If I did it was behind my back and I didn't know.

HT:

What did you think of the SPAR or the Coast Guard officers and leaders? Did you ever have much contact with them?

LG:

No, except mostly at Palm Beach we did, for the inspections and things like that. But once we got to Washington there was one officer that had his office just across the hall from our big office, but he never really gave us instructions or orders or anything.

HT:

So what was a typical day like? Did you work eight to five?

LG:

I think so. I'm really not sure of the hours, but I would think that it would be about eight to five. I do remember that we had time off for lunch.

HT:

And what about the evenings, did you have any evening duties?

LG:

No, no evening duties. We were free to do most anything we wanted to, and they had some entertainment for us now and then, movies in the cafeteria, or a fashion show. In fact, I was selected one time to be in a fashion show. One of the local department stores just walked through and selected who they wanted to be in their show, and then they came and put on the show. That was toward the end when they knew we'd be getting out, and wanted to sell us some clothes, I guess. And we had a few USO [United Service Organizations] shows to come. Even at Palm Beach we had some shows to come.

HT:

Do you recall anything specific about any famous people coming by?

LG:

Well, there was one who was famous and he was in the Coast Guard himself. And you know, I cannot think of his name. I've tried to after I read your letter, and I just cannot remember who that was. I do not know.

HT:

Well, it's only been sixty years.

LG:

It wouldn't have been anybody like Bob Hope or anybody like that. Sid Caesar, that's who it was. He was actually in the Coast Guard, yes, and he was in the show that came to perform for us.

HT:

What kind of shows were these, was it variety shows?

LG:

Oh, just variety, yes.

HT:

What did you and your fellow SPARs do in your spare time, like in the evenings and on the weekends? You were at liberty to do as you wanted to, obviously, is that right?

LG:

Yes. I remember a lot on weekends they would have military, patriotic concerts on the [Capitol] steps, and a few of us would go to all those concerts, because we loved that military-type patriotic music, and we might go to a movie now and then, or a local bar just to associate with other people. They would just be packed with military people, and some of them had entertainment, like maybe a soloist or something like that.

HT:

What was Washington like during those war years? Do you have any specific memories about what life was like in Washington with all the troops going through, and so many extra workers, and that sort of thing, doing government work?

LG:

Well, I do remember seeing President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt when he was inaugurated the second time, in his parade. Our office was on the second floor facing Pennsylvania Avenue, so we would raise our windows, and hung out the window waving, and I declare he looked right in my eye and waved at me, but I'm sure a hundred other people could say the same thing, you know. [laughter]

And we saw Harry Truman and his family go—there was a theater where they gave live performances just almost across the street from Coast Guard Headquarters, and we saw them going into there one time.

HT:

Did you ever go to the White House?

LG:

Well, the one time that, well, we weren't allowed to go inside the White House. I have been inside the White House. When I was a senior in high school that was our senior trip was to Washington, and we did go in then, and I have been in since then. But during the war we couldn't actually go in the White House.

But when VJ [Victory in Japan] Day came along and we learned that the war was over, well, we dressed, and I had just shampooed my hair when we heard the news. We got dressed and went downtown, and everybody else was down there, you know, just having fun and celebrating. So we decided we'd walk over to the White House, so we would go to see it, and, “We want Harry! We want Harry!” So he finally came out on the balcony and waved at us, so that's as close as we got to him.

HT:

Now, do you recall, you were at work during VJ Day, is that correct?

LG:

Yes, that's right. We worked all day that day, right.

HT:

So everybody just left and went out to celebrate a little bit, I guess.

LG:

Well, see, it was after work hours—

HT:

Oh, I see.

LG:

—when we learned it. We were already at the barracks, and I had shampooed my hair. I wasn't going to do anything that night. That was my night to shampoo my hair. But when we learned the news, that's when we put on our uniforms and went back downtown.

HT:

I guess there was a lot of celebrating going on that day.

LG:

Oh yes, everybody.

HT:

What about VE Day? That was the victory in Europe.

LG:

Well, you know, I can't recall anything too big about that, though. There were several parades now and then in Washington, and just what they were all about I don't know. Then we had to go it seemed like every week or maybe even more than once a week, we had to drill, and I always had to carry the flag, because I was the tallest one in that group in Washington at that time. We would either drill there on the Mall, or walk down to the Lafayette Park, the park that's in front of the White House, and drill there. I remember a lot of that.

HT:

Did you enjoy carrying the flag?

LG:

Oh, well, yes, it just gave you a sense of pride. We had one of those belts, you know, that you put the flag in, and I know, I remember when we moved from American University over to our barracks, well, I had that on. I had that belt on, and with my suitcases and all, and I remember the photographer from I guess one of the local newspapers there made my picture, and it came out in the paper. I mailed it home, and you know they did not keep it? I'd be curious, then, to see how that looked now.

The most trouble I got in, though, in Washington, was one Labor Day. My very best friend and I, she had a date with an amputee from Walter Reed [Hospital] and he had a buddy that was also an amputee. Each one of them had lost one leg. So she asked me to go along on a blind date. She knew a civilian man there in Washington who had a boat, and so he took us for a ride down the Potomac [River]. We stayed all day, and we started back in that night, and we ran out of gas and there were no other boats out, so he just had to dock there in the channel, and the next morning when boats started coming out, those big boats would holler, “You're in the channel, you're in the channel.” Finally one boat stopped and realized we were out of gas, and gave us gas so we could get on.

So we went on to the barracks, and by that time it was past time to go to work, and we thought sure they were going to let us go to bed and get some sleep, since we'd been up all night. But we'd failed to log out. You were supposed to log out if you're going, you know, on anything like that. So we hadn't logged out, so they made us take a shower, get dressed, and go to work. [laughs] So that's the biggest trouble that I got into.

HT:

That must have been quite frightening to be on the Potomac all night long.

LG:

Well, we came back in one time to a restaurant to eat, I know, at dinnertime, and then we went back out again. Yes, it was just up and down the Potomac. Lots of boats out, you know, on Labor Day, and I never knew whatever happened to those poor—I think they were from the army.

But my roommate, she wasn't along. My best friend had another one there in the same barracks, and we were the two that went. But my friend had borrowed a civilian shirt from my roommate, and my roommate was crying the next morning when she realized we weren't there, and she said, “And Vernie's [Smith] got on my shirt.” [laughs] But anyway, we were glad to get back to shore.

HT:

Was that the only time you were out on a boat while you were in the SPARs, with the Coast Guard? Did you ever go out on a regular Coast Guard cutter or anything like that?

LG:

Oh no, no, no. This was a civilian boat. I never went out on a Coast Guard cutter, no.

HT:

What was the hardest thing that you had to do physically while you were with the SPARs?

LG:

Probably those drilling sessions down in Palm Beach, Florida. We marched a long way, and my sister always marched exactly behind me. When we got back to the hotel and we stopped, she just fell over on me. She just fainted, and somebody grabbed her up and took her to sick bay, so that's how rigorous I thought it was, because we had to exercise at the beach, and climb these ropes and so forth, and did all that plus the marching.

HT:

I guess you were grateful that you were there in the wintertime and not at the hot part of summer.

LG:

Well, right. Yes, you know, the weather was warm, but not hot like here, no.

HT:

Like it would have been in the summertime.

LG:

Yes, right.

HT:

Well, what was the hardest thing emotionally for you while you were in the Coast Guard, do you recall?

LG:

Being separated from my sister at the end of six weeks, when we thought we were going to stay together.

HT:

I'm sure you were both very disappointed about that.

LG:

Well, yes. I don't want—are we recording?

HT:

Yes. Okay, that's fine. Do you ever recall being afraid?

LG:

No. No, when you're twenty and twenty-one, you know, you just don't be afraid.

HT:

Do you recall any other humorous or embarrassing moments, other than being out all night on the Potomac?

LG:

Well, one time my best friend and I went out to Atlantic City [New Jersey] on a train for the weekend, and somehow we lost our Coast Guard hats while we were out, and we had to come back in without any hats on. So we were afraid that some MP [military police] was going to stop us, but they didn't, so we were concerned about that.

HT:

So anytime you left the barracks, even on weekends, you had to wear uniforms?

LG:

Well, for recreation you didn't. We could wear civilian clothes. But if you were going to go, you know, on a train ride or anything that you got a discount, servicemen got a discount by riding the trains or the buses, so naturally you'd go in uniform.

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite songs, movies, and dances were during that period of time?

LG:

Well, the jitterbug I guess I liked the best. One that I remember, I can't know that it was my favorite at that time, but it's Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).

HT:

Did you do a lot of dancing?

LG:

Well, not a lot, some. We went to some dances, but I wasn't a good dancer at all. I took some dance lessons after I got home from the Coast Guard, and then I enjoyed that more.

HT:

Do you recall what the general mood of the country was during that time, during World War II? How did people feel about the war and that sort of thing?

LG:

Well, of course we were all anxious for it to be over, because we had enlisted for the duration of the war plus six months, and we had no idea how long we'd be there when we joined. So, we didn't have communications then like we do now television and all that. But we would read all the news we could in newspapers, and listen to the radio, so I think everybody was concerned, just like they are now, but just not as informed as much.

HT:

Did you correspond regularly with your parents and siblings?

LG:

Oh yes, right, sure did, all the time.

HT:

Did they ever come up to visit you in Washington?

LG:

Yes. In fact, my mother and some of the other brothers and sisters had been that Labor Day weekend, and they had just left the day before when I went out on that boat ride. But I came home a lot, too, on a train, every time I was eligible for a weekend pass. I would come home or either I would go home with a friend or roommate. I went to Milwaukee. That's where my best friend was from. I went to Milwaukee with her once, and I went to Cleveland, Ohio, with my roommate once, and the three of us went to New York City. And as I mentioned before, two of us went out to Atlantic City.

One project we did that a lot of young people are doing now—there is a senator and I've forgotten what state he's from, but I assume he was probably from Maryland, but he recruited volunteers to go for a weekend to this big farmhouse out in Maryland, and we painted the barn, a big barn. We stayed out there that weekend and painted that barn, so I guess that was a mission. [laughs]

HT:

That must have been quite a chore, painting a barn.

LG:

Well, yes, we were up on ladders and all.

HT:

Sounds like Habitat for Humanity-type work. [laughter] Did you paint it barn red?

LG:

No, white, white, yes, we painted it white. I remember that. Oh, I do know one thing I did one time. My roommate, Ruth Groening, played trumpet, and so she was in the Drum and Bugle Corps in Washington, and they were invited to go to Baltimore to march in a parade. Well, there was two of the ones that played trumpet that couldn't go, and they asked for two volunteers to go and just pretend. So my best friend and I volunteered, because my roommate was going anyway, and we marched in that parade pretending we were blowing that horn that nobody could hear it, just so it, you know, wouldn't look empty. [laughter] Oh, the whole thing was quite adventurous.

HT:

Now, you were still stationed in Washington when you were discharged, I guess, is that correct?

LG:

Well, I was in Washington, but they sent me to Portsmouth, Virginia, to be discharged.

HT:

Do you recall when that was?

LG:

In March of '46.

HT:

Do you know why they sent you to Portsmouth as opposed to discharging you in Washington?

LG:

They didn't tell me and I didn't ask [laughing]. I don't know. I suppose they didn't really have a discharge post there up in Washington. I don't think so.

HT:

I'm assuming you didn't stay in Portsmouth very long.

LG:

No. I think we were there probably two nights. I was going to say, some of my discharge papers are right here [ruffling papers]—March the fourth is the date that I was discharged.

HT:

What was your rank when you were discharged, do you recall?

LG:

Specialist X Second Class. That X stood for miscellaneous.

HT:

And do you by any chance recall what you were paid, what kind of money you earned during those years?

LG:

My final pay with that rate—I don't remember what we made, what our rate was when we first went in, but when I was discharged it was ninety-six dollars a month, and I see that they paid me $13.50 at the rate of five-cents-per-mile from Portsmouth to High Point. They also gave me a hundred dollars mustering-out pay on March the fourth of '46. So, you know, the government saved a lot of money by using military women, because if they'd had civilian women in there, they would have had to pay them a lot more than that.

HT:

I guess so.

LG:

I wish I could remember what our boot camp rate was, but I don't remember that. But the reason I remember this, because this is in writing.

HT:

Was there any particular reason why you decided not to remain in the Coast Guard after the war ended, or did you have that option, could you have stayed in?

LG:

I've got the history of the Coast Guard SPARs, so I'll stand to be corrected, but we could get out six months after the war, so that's what I chose. But in this history that I read, all SPARs were mustered out, I think it was by June of '46, and when they started again that, I don't know.

HT:

How did you feel about having to leave the Coast Guard?

LG:

Oh, well, I was ready to go home, yes. My roommate and my best friend did stay until June, and then they were mustered out. My best friend stayed with the government and went to Germany and worked for the government over there.

HT:

As a civilian, I guess.

LG:

As a civilian, right.

HT:

And you never thought about doing something like that?

LG:

No, I didn't, I sure didn't. I just was thinking about coming back to Burlington Industries, where I was before I left.

HT:

Okay. So your job was waiting for you?

LG:

Oh yes. I didn't break my service record with the twenty-six months that I was gone.

HT:

Well, can you describe your adjustment to civilian life? I've talked to other women who said it sometimes took them six months or a year to really get back into the groove of being a civilian. What was it like for you to have this discipline day in and day out with the Coast Guard, and work for the Coast Guard, and—

[End Tape 1, Side A-Begin Tape 1, Side B.]

HT:

—come back to a civilian job? What was that like, that transition period?

LG:

I don't recall having a problem, because the sister that had planned to go in that didn't go in, she was still at home, so she and I were best friends and you know, we just had lots of boyfriends, and after work we would all just have a lot of fun, and that's when I went back.

HT:

Before the other side of the tape quit, we were talking about what you did right after you got out. You mentioned that you had gone to Dale Carnegie and a business college. Could you describe that a bit more for us?

LG:

Well, I didn't go right away. Right away I went back to Burlington Industries, and I was just on a manufacturing-type job. Then I decided, well, I was going to go to business college at night, and continue working in the daytime, because we were still a poor family at that time.

HT:

Which business college?

LG:

Jones Business College was in High Point, [North Carolina]. They're no longer in existence. So I did that, and then Burlington Industries promoted me to secretary down in the office, and while I was secretary in the office then another veteran and I, a male veteran, took the Dale Carnegie course, which was offered at one of the local hotels here. So I think that helped me a lot to get promotions within Burlington, and as time went on I was then moved to another, larger Burlington plant in High Point, and was secretary to the plant manager for many years, and then I transferred to the personnel department and was personnel secretary for many years.

Then I was promoted again to the secretary for the plant manager, and then I was made assistant personnel manager. Now they call them human relations. And then the last about seven and a half years that I was at Burlington Industries, I was a personnel director for a plant, in fact, two plants at the time I retired. So I think that the Coast Guard helped me a lot in that I was able to get some further education, and that helped me get promotions. Burlington was a good, good company, and they had continued education, too, for the personnel directors.

HT:

And you worked for Burlington in High Point?

LG:

In High Point, yes, in every plant they ever had in High Point, and when they closed all the textile plants they transferred me into the furniture division, and that's where I was when I retired.

HT:

I guess being a long-life employee at Burlington, you sort of hate to see the demise of the company.

LG:

Oh, that is really sad, really, really sad. It sure is. And I heard from one man that I was secretary to when he was the personnel director, and I was his secretary for about five years, and he saw my picture in the paper and he called me, and he said, “Do you know we worked together for five years and I never knew you were in the Coast Guard?” So, you know, after a while it's just something you just didn't talk about, not as much as we do now.

HT:

I know. It's truly amazing, isn't it?

LG:

Yes.

HT:

Well, if we could just backtrack to the war years for just a second, whom did you admire and respect a great deal in those days, or who were your heroes and heroines?

LG:

Well, I suppose Franklin Roosevelt, because I felt like he was really doing all he could to end the war.

HT:

Did you ever have occasion to see Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

LG:

No. No.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

LG:

Oh yes.

HT:

Do you think being in the U.S. Coast Guard made you that way, or were you that way before?

LG:

I think the Coast Guard helped a lot, as well as Burlington Industries.

HT:

Because you admit that you were fairly shy in high school.

LG:

Yes, right, and I probably wouldn't have gone into the Coast Guard if it hadn't been for that older sister.

HT:

Now, what did she do after she got out?

LG:

Well, while she was still in the Coast Guard in [Baltimore] she met a Coast Guardsman who was also stationed in Baltimore, and they married. He was originally from Yonkers, New York, so after they were discharged, and by the way, they sent her to Portsmouth also to be discharged, so they lived back in Yonkers for a few years, but they both liked Baltimore, so they moved back to Baltimore and they lived there. She still lives there. He's deceased now, and she's in a nursing home, lives in a nursing home, but she's practically been there since the war, except for the few years in New York.

HT:

When you get together do you talk about being in the Coast Guard?

LG:

Well, you know, she's paralyzed. She had a stroke. She's paralyzed on one side, but it doesn't seem to affect her brain that much, because she calls me, or her daughter will call on her cell phone, and she talks to me, and I told her about being in this patriotic concert at church, and I was getting my uniform together and all this and that. So ever since then, that's what she wants to talk about.

HT:

So you'll have some more to talk about after this.

LG:

We both went to—I went up to Baltimore and we went up to Washington for the dedication for the Women's Memorial [Women in Military Service for America Memorial], so we have in the last few years talked about it a lot. We didn't for many years, but I guess as you get older that type of thing means more.

HT:

When you joined the Coast Guard did you consider yourself to be a pioneer, or a trailblazer, or trendsetter?

LG:

I have no idea, no idea.

HT:

How about looking back now after sixty years, almost sixty years, do you feel that way, that you were a trailblazer?

LG:

Well, somewhat, somewhat, because people tell me I am. [laughter] At the time I didn't realize it, I really didn't.

HT:

Do you have any children?

LG:

I've never been married and I don't have children.

HT:

I was going to ask you if they'd been in the military, if that had influenced their entering. Okay, well, that takes care of that.

Well, what do you think was the greatest impact that having served in the military for twenty-six months had on your life? How did it change your life?

LG:

Well, it made me much more mature, and taught me discipline and appreciation for the country.

HT:

So that's something that you learned way back then and sort of kept with you for these last fifty or sixty years. That's wonderful.

Of course, today more women join the military than they probably have ever in the past, and women do more types of work than they ever have in the past, and women are even serving in combat.

LG:

Oh, sure.

HT:

How do you feel about that?

LG:

Oh, well, I'm sure I would not have joined if I had thought I would have to go to combat. I mean, I admire the women that are doing it now, you know, and I guess it's equal rights, but I've never been one to think a woman's got to have equal rights with the man, but if that's the career they choose, I mean, I admire them, I really do.

HT:

If you had to do it over again, would you join the Coast Guard, or would you join another branch?

LG:

Oh no, it'd be the Coast Guard. [laughter] We always thought we were the best. [laughs] There were only about ten thousand of us during World War II, I understand, and I don't know what the other branches had, but I know they had a lot more of them, because—

HT:

You were sort of a select few.

LG:

I thought so.

HT:

Well, I don't have any more formal questions for you. Is there anything you'd like to add to the interview that we haven't covered? We've covered so much this morning, and we've talked about your life a little bit before joining the Coast Guard, and a little bit about during the time you were in the Coast Guard, and even covered some time after. But it sounds like you had a wonderful time, it was a great influence on your life, which is also wonderful.

LG:

Sure thing, yes. I can't think of anything, unless you want me to comment on the pictures and things.

HT:

No, we'll do that later on. So anyway, thank you so much for talking with me, and it's been a great pleasure listening to your stories.

LG:

You're welcome. Thank you.

[End of Interview]