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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Elsie Seetoo, 2005

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Object ID: WV0331.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo’s early life and education in America and China; her service in the Chinese Red Cross from 1942 to 1944; her service in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps from 1944 to 1946; her education at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina from 1946 to 1948; and her later work as a medical writer.

Summary:

Seetoo speaks about her parent’s background in China; moving to China in 1931 after having been raised in the United States; the voyage by ship across the Pacific Ocean; her family’s adjustment to China; her Chinese schooling and the effects of the Japanese invasion in 1937 on her education; and her nursing studies at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, including her practical training and her daily schedule. She also describes hearing Japanese officers come into the quarters and meeting journalist Agnes Smedley, who was a patient in the hospital.

Seetoo recalls the Japanese bombing of Hong Kong on 8 December 1941. She talks about working in the hospital with Canadian patients; the surrender of Hong Kong, and her escape from the city. Seetoo explains her decision to join the Chinese Red Cross Medical Relief Corps and describes her work in China and India in 1942 and 1943. Topics include working in hospital operating rooms in China for eight months; working shifts; being sent to rest camp and an incident of discrimination there; being questioned by Chinese Nationalists and then volunteering to serve in India; the seven months she spent training medical orderlies in Ramgarh, India; and being sent back to China.

Seetoo also discusses losing her American citizenship and the process of applying to the U.S. Army Nurse Corps to regain her citizenship in 1944. She talks about her initial assignment to the Air Service Command; getting uniforms and altering them to fit; doing general duty nursing at a station hospital in Kunming, China, and with the 172nd General Hospital outside Shanghai, China in late 1945; seriously ill patients that had an impact on her, including psychiatric patients; and the process of being discharged from the Army Nurse Corps.

Seetoo describes her return to the United States in 1946. She recalls her friendship with the daughter of Chinese author Lin Yutang and how she chose to attend the Woman’s College (WC) on the GI Bill. Topics related to WC include the younger students; the GI Bill; other military women at WC; courses; and Cornelia Strong and astronomy.

Personal topics include Seetoo’s first husband; raising her children; her work translating Chinese articles in the early 1950s; her work with the Naval Medical Center doing technical writing and procedures manuals; being a part of both American and Chinese cultures; and the impact of her military service on the rest of her life.

Creator: Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo

Biographical Info: Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo (b. 1918) of Stockton, California, served in the Chinese Red Cross Medical Relief Corps from 1942 to 1944 and in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo 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 Friday, September 9, 2005, and my name is Hermann Trojanowski, and I'm at the home of Mrs. Elsie Chin Seetoo in Mitchellville, Maryland, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG].

Mrs. Seetoo, thank you so much for talking with me this morning. We really appreciate it. Could you give me your full name, including your maiden name please.

ES:

My maiden name is Elsie Chin, and my full name is Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, even though I usually call myself just Elsie Seetoo.

HT:

Could you give me some biographical information about yourself, Mrs. Seetoo, please, such as when you were born and where you were born?

ES:

I was born in Stockton, California, on September the fourteenth, 1918.

HT:

Could you give me some information about where you grew up?

ES:

Well, I grew up in Stockton, California, for the first twelve years of my life, and in 1931 my father retired from his Chinese grocery store business after fifty years in the United States, and took the whole family to China, and I spent my adolescent years growing up in China.

HT:

How did you feel about leaving the United States to a place you had probably never seen before?

ES:

Oh, it was pretty hard, when you're twelve and it's a new environment. And then when we started school I had to be demoted to fourth grade. Well, and one of the first things I encountered was anopheles, the mosquito, because even before we reached the country town I came down with a high fever. I had malaria.

HT:

I'm assuming you crossed the Pacific Ocean on an ocean liner or a boat of some sort.

ES:

Yes. We sailed on the Japanese boat called the Asama Maru. I guess Maru must mean boat.

HT:

Do you know how to spell that first name by any chance?

ES:

A-s-a-m-a for Asama, and Maru for M-a-r-u.

HT:

How long did it take you to cross the ocean, do you recall?

ES:

It took about twenty-one days, and the first few days before we got to Hawaii I was really seasick. But after Hawaii I managed to get used to everything, and enjoyed the trip after that.

HT:

So there was you and your mother and father—

ES:

Father, and my older brother and a younger sister, five of us. We stopped at Yokohama and then Kobe, and then Shanghai. And in Shanghai we were met by the son of one of my father's, a very old friend from his early days when he came to the United States, when he was working as a laborer in one of the coolie camps, perhaps connected with opening up California back in those days, in the 1890s.

HT:

Why did your father decide to go back to China after being in the United States for fifty years?

ES:

Well, my mother came over when she was in her forties, and she never got used to the United States. And after fourteen years, and my brother was of marriageable age and all that, she just didn't think any of the Chinese girls over here in the United States were suitable for him, and she clamored, she made a lot of fuss about going back to China.

HT:

Going back to the old country.

ES:

Back to the old country. And of course my father was having problems with the business because of the Depression, and so he just closed up the store and packed up, and we all went. Though he spent about three years preparing for the trip, but as a child I just never took it seriously until the day came when the immigration inspector came and interviewed us, and we had to have our pictures taken, and it was it.

HT:

Now, were your parents American citizens at this time?

ES:

No, no. Back in those days Chinese nationals could not obtain American citizenship. It wasn't until after World War II, during the Truman administration that I think President Truman must have signed an order that made it possible for the Chinese students stranded over here in the United States because of World War II, that they were able to obtain American citizenship.

HT:

But you and your siblings were American citizens.

ES:

Well, we were American citizens because we were born in the United State.

HT:

Now, where in China did you return? What was the name?

ES:

We returned to Guangdong Province, to a little country town called Xinhui. It's spelled X-i-n-h-u-i now.

HT:

How do you spell the province?

ES:

The province was, well, I'm using the new Communist spelling, which is Guangdong, G-u-a-n-g-d-o-n-g.

HT:

Thank you. What did your parents do once they arrived? Did your father establish another business?

ES:

Oh no, he considered himself retired. When we arrived in this small town of Xinhui a few roads had just been opened, you know, what they call main street. They had torn down these alleys and widened them just wide enough for maybe two automobiles to go through, and, of course, there were no automobiles, so when the bus brought us into town, well, it just drew a big crowd, because there was something different.

My father had known where we were going, so as we stepped out of the bus there was this toothless old woman who came right up to my father and hugged him, and it turned out to be his oldest sister, whom he had not seen for over twenty years, for over twenty years.

HT:

So he had gone back and forth, I assume, a couple of times.

ES:

Yes. Well, that's another story. He came over when he was twenty, and then when he was about thirty-three he was still single, but his folks, my grandfather and my aunt, the aunt who met us, had arranged for him to marry my mother. My mother was already seventeen, I think, and here she was waiting and waiting, and so finally one of the kinsmen in Stockton, California, said to him, “Well, you'd better start saving your money. You're keeping that girl over in China waiting,” because up till then my father, you know, easy come, easy go. He was spending his money and he was gambling and all that. So he started saving his money, and went back to China and married my mother. She was twenty then, and he was thirty-three, and considered [old]. For most young women, you know, to marry somebody thirty-three years old is not the best match, because they usually want to have arranged for their daughters to marry somebody younger.

But then that was another story, because my mother had had to do the farm work when she was young, because she was orphaned and raised by grandparents. But her two little aunts were privileged, and when they were three or four years old they had their feet bound, see, because back in those days they were foot-bounding days, and you know, the smaller the feet the more maiden or dainty maidens they would be, and so forth.

But there were no sons in the family, because my grandfather on my mother's side, and an uncle both went abroad, and from what my mother told me they went to Hawaii. So I don't know whether there was a storm or whatever. She never mentioned it, but the upshot is that both the uncle and her father died, and they never heard from them anymore. And all the grandparents had were these two daughters and two granddaughters.

In the meantime, my grandmother, my mother's mother had, because there was no support and she was still a young woman, so she remarried and it was permissible in China back in the old days, she married somebody else and went to live in another village, and she took her youngest baby with her, but left the two older girls, like three and two, with the grandparents. So my mother was the one who helped the grandfather with tilling the fields, and watched the water buffalo and so forth. The farms are not big like they are in the United States, but it was still a farm, and from what my mother told me, they planted tobacco. I don't want to go and talk about my mother.

HT:

That's fine. I think you said you went over when you were about twelve or thirteen to China, and so you hadn't started high school yet. So you went directly into school?

ES:

Yes. So after I got well from malaria, some quinine—that's another story, going to see the doctor. We had to walk so that we can catch the train to get to a neighboring town where there was a Canadian mission hospital, and the doctor was Canadian trained, and she spoke English. So she gave me quinine and so I got out of that.

Then when I was ready for school in about a month or so, they placed me in fourth grade in this little country school, which I think couldn't have had more than about fifty or sixty students in a primary school from first to sixth grade. And they decided just my Chinese, you know, was so poor, even though I went to Chinese school back in Stockton, California. Back in those days, Chinese communities used to do that, used to set up little Chinese schools, because they want their kids to learn Chinese and all that.

So I knew some Chinese but not very much, so they put me in fourth grade, and supposedly we had English. The teacher was, his pronunciation wasn't right according to me, but then in a Chinese school everybody is supposed to be respectful of their teachers, and so you don't say anything. So when he said, “She is a girl,” or something like that, you just have to follow what he says, even though you don't quite agree with the way he pronounced she. He kind of said shuu, like that, and I was not very happy.

But then as a child you get to know a couple of your schoolmates, and in general, most of the girls were not [young] for fourth grade, they're older than nine years old. They were closer to my age, because going to school in China was still a privilege, and even going to a little school like that, which was founded by the Lutheran church. It was a small primary school housed in an ancestral hall. It was housed in an ancestral hall, and the classrooms were just partitioned with these bamboo separators.

So I was there for—we went through the rest of the semester for fourth grade, and then I spent a whole year doing fifth grade. And then, of course, while I was in fifth grade there were other things going on with the family. My mother, because my brother was marriageable age, there were all these go-betweens, they call them in China. “Oh, here's the son of somebody from the United States,” and it didn't matter that we came back because of the Depression and all that. Still my father was considered to be a man of means because he came from the United States. So there were all these little go-betweens coming with these little pieces of paper with the name of a young woman and whatever, like some kind of a—I don't know what you call him. It's not fortune telling.

HT:

Were these matchmakers, I guess?

ES:

Yes, with the—now what do you call them in [pause]—a Chinese horoscope, a horoscope type of doing. And supposedly if my brother's birth date and whatnot match, and everything seems to be right, then it would be a good match, and so forth. But then my brother didn't go for all of that, and it was a very busy time.

And there were other go-betweens who wanted to show my father houses that he could buy, because we lived in a rental place, and oh, was that, it was an old, old family house. I wouldn't call it a mansion, but it must have come from one or two generations above. But it was dark, dark, and there were no windows, and what would be a window would be a hole in the brick. There would be this great big living room, and the owners, who had fallen down on their—well, weren't doing well, because the son smoked opium and that kind of a thing, and so they were renting half of it out to us. So they had the right side as you go in, and we had the left side, and so there was a common living room, great big living room, and then when they opened the door then the light would come in. Of course, outside would be a kind of small open court, and then, of course, being a Buddhist they would have their incense sticks, and then at the rear of the living room would be this elevated platform where they have all these designations for their ancestors and whatnot, and every night there would be a maidservant who would go up and light the—it's a little oil lamp, and they would light it in the evening, and then there would be these incense sticks and so forth.

HT:

How long did you live at this place before you moved on?

ES:

I think we lived there for maybe seven or eight months before we found another place that was a unit that was more intact, and it was right by a canal, and it had windows, because if my brother was going to get married we needed better living conditions. So I think the Lutheran minister hit upon somebody's daughter that maybe might be suitable for my brother, and she was going to school in the big city, in Canton, in Guangzhou, in C-a-n-t-o-n, which is now called Guangzhou, which is G-u-a-n-g-z-h-o-u, I think. I think it's called Guangzhou.

And so he went and saw her a couple of times, and maybe took her—I don't know if he took her out or what, but anyway they were granted marriage, so that's how we acquired a sister-in-law. That was, let me see, it didn't take very long, because we arrived in China in March 1931, and by September 1931 there was a wedding, so things moved fairly rapidly. So we got this new sister-in-law, and she was quite a seamstress. She taught me how to, well, of course, we did know a little bit of sewing. Back here in the United States we had what they call domestic science. It was learning to use a sewing machine and so forth. But she taught me how to make a Chinese gown, and how to set the collar right so it won't be crooked, because it could be crooked if they are not set right. And she taught me how to do some kind of embroidery, you know, these embroidered paintings, and so I learned a few things from her.

And then, of course, I knew that she went to the school in the big city, so then after a few months, around December, January, I started bugging my father, and I said, “I'd like to go to school in Canton.” I said, “Here I'm in fifth grade, and here I was in eighth grade in Stockton.” And my father said, “Well, you can't even sleep by yourself. How will we let you go?” So to prove the point—there was one empty room upstairs behind my—because this house was a two-story house, so I went upstairs to sleep by myself, because all this time, you know, in China we slept with my mother. My sister and I slept with my mother, in the same room with my father. So I went upstairs and slept by myself to prove that I could sleep by myself.

So then summer came and so I registered by mail. But then, back in those days we had to take an entrance exam. It was just for seventh grade, and we had to be tested for Chinese, English, and math, the three subjects. So I didn't worry about English and I didn't worry about math, but I did worry a little bit about Chinese even then. So I was all packed. We were going out to the big city and we were staying with a distant relative of my sister-in-law's. All packed, I was all packed, ready to go to school. I was ready to be accepted and everything.

And then my brother did say to me, “What if you won't be accepted?”

I said, “Well, I'll worry about that later on,” and come back with all my belongings. But anyway, I took the exam and we stayed a few days, and I think after four or five days the results would be posted on some board on the school grounds. And so after that so many days we went, and I was accepted, so that's how I started school.

HT:

What was the name of the school in Canton?

ES: It was called Pooi To [Middle School]. They spell it P-o-o-i and T-o, I don't know why, and they call it Pooi To. It was a girl's school started by Baptist missionaries back in the 1880s. I think it was 1888, I believe, and located in a suburb of Canton, which I called a Baptist sphere of influence, because they had a Baptist boys' high school and a Baptist seminary, and a Baptist Bible school for women, and a Baptist elementary school, and two Baptist churches.
HT:

Was this a boarding school, where you stayed there?

ES:

It was a boarding school, yes.

HT:

How long did you stay there?

ES:

Well, to make it brief I'll say six years, though one year I had a one-year interruption in tenth grade, when I spent one semester in the country and one semester at a Catholic girls' school.

HT:

So you graduated from high school—

ES:

From Pooi To, yes. Actually, the last year was spent more or less in Hong Kong, because the Japanese had already started bombing, and the schools had moved either to the countryside or to Hong Kong.

HT:

When you graduated from high school what did you want to do after that?

ES:

Well, there weren't any options, you know. I didn't have options like my kids had, or even options that I might have had if I'd stayed in the United States. So the universities were already disbanded, moved inland, and Ling Nan [University], part of it moved to Hong Kong, and things were very disorganized, and unless I had a place to live in Hong Kong there was no point in even thinking of going to Ling Nan, because everything was very disjointed. But I had a friend whom I knew in Canton. She didn't go to Pooi To. She had come back to the United States, and she didn't—well, she was older than I. I think she had already finished high school back here in the United States. She went to Queen Mary Hospital—this is a British government hospital in Hong Kong—to undergo nurses' training.

[Tape recorder paused]

ES:

Well, shall I go back to 1937, about my last year of middle school?

HT:

Yes, sure.

ES:

The Japanese invasion of China had begun, and cities along the China coast, Canton included, were bombed. Our school first moved upriver to Zhaoqing, a small county seat along the banks of the Xijiang [River], also called the West River, but only students came out of an enrollment of five hundred. Consequently the school moved again, this time to Hong Kong, where most of the students had fled earlier. So I graduated from Pooi To in Hong Kong, but I also knew that college was out of the question, given my father's financial situation then. You know, he was in the country. And a friend had gone into the Queen Mary Hospital to undergo nurses' training, so I followed suit, and there I stayed for three years. I wasn't excited about it in the beginning. [laughs] Oh, we worked hard.

HT:

Do you know when you entered St. Mary's?

ES:

Queen Mary Hospital? In October 1938. We had to be twenty years old before they accepted us, so my birthday was on September the fourteenth, so they accepted me in October.

HT:

Did your parents have to sign any papers?

ES:

No, no, no, no. They wanted students who could speak some English, and, of course, in Hong Kong there were local, you know, girls who were raised in Hong Kong who would go to places like the Italian convents, and they had a pretty good grasp of English.

HT:

Can you recall what the training was like at Queen Mary Hospital?

ES:

Oh yes. We were put on the wards the very first day that we were there, you know, to get practical training. Our practical training began right there. Then as soon as—in my case I think I had to wait several months when classes started, for the beginning class in either January or February. Yes, and that was when we began to have lectures, and we had to turn over our lecture notes. Every time there was a lecture we had to turn it in to the sister-tutor who would review it and make corrections and so forth. And most of the time my notes were not—I took pretty good notes, and they tried to encourage me to read more, because, see, in Hong Kong they didn't worry about the patient reading textbooks, because out on the ward in the big tables, because most of the hospital had wards—there was only one wing that had private rooms, or maybe two wings, and maybe two other wards that had private—well, no, otherwise they were all wards. They were all wards, you know, big, with about twenty beds. Now, let me see. The hospital was seven stories, and I think two stories were for the medical school at Hong Kong University, where the medical students came to practice.

HT:

Do you recall what the typical day was like at the hospital?

ES:

We were either on morning duty or on afternoon duty. On morning duty our day would start at 6:15. We'd have to be over at the ward, and for fifteen minutes we had tea. We had tea and toast for fifteen minutes, and then after that we'd go right into the wards and start our day, and as a junior nurse, you know beginning, what we call first day, I would be taught how to take temperatures. Go bed one, bed two, bed three, and then, of course, hanging at the foot of the patient's bed would be the patient's chart, and we would enter their temperature and respiration and whatnot.

And frequently there would be a nurse who would be just three or four months our seniors, because they don't take everybody at the same time. They'd take us a few in January and a few in February, like that. So somebody maybe who had been there maybe four or five months before me, and who had already taken some lessons, she would be kind of like my guide, and she would explain as we'd go on. “All right, after we're done taking temperatures, then we will be making beds.” We would be making beds and we would show how to do the envelope corners. Yes, we had to do the envelope corners, nothing sloppy about it.

And we had to take everything off and turn the mattress and so forth, and, of course, if the patient could get up would be [easier]—and then, of course, later on we would be taught how to make the bed while the patient is still in bed. We would do that because some couldn't get up. Then by 7:30 it would be breakfast time, so everybody, practically everybody would go for breakfast, leaving one to stay for the half hour while we're gone. And then when we come back at eight o'clock, then the other one would go for breakfast.

Then after that what did we do? Oh yes, we'd give baths. We'd give baths, and so we'd give baths for patients in bed. So we were taught how to do it, soap and then sponge, and you dry with a towel, and how we put a towel under and so forth. We'd do those. Then at about, sometimes after about 9:30 or so, the matron, which is like the chief nurse or the superintendent of nurses, would come around to make rounds, and, of course, we would have a senior nurse there, or maybe for one ward there would be a senior nurse who would cover maybe three wards, and then in our wards there might be three more junior nurses. So then the matron would come around doing the wards, and the senior nurse would follow her, and then those of us would, well, we don't follow, but we would be busy doing what we're supposed to do.

We never sat down. Even if things are quiet in the afternoon, we never sat down. The only time we were allowed to sit down is when we were doing night duty. So then the senior nurse would follow the matron around, you know, telling her, because these patients are Chinese patients, and the matron doesn't speak much Chinese, hardly any, so she has to kind of interpret and explain how this patient is doing, and if this patient has anything to say. She might say, “Well, how are you doing?” And the patient answers and the head nurse or our senior nurse would do the interpreting like that.

And then that's how it goes, or if we're on a surgical ward we have to get ready, get the patient all ready for surgery, and make sure that the gowns are on right, and all the preliminaries have been given, you know, like pre-operative atropine and maybe sometimes a little bit of morphine and all that. So that's how it goes.

Then at about 1:30 the evening shift comes on, the afternoon shift comes on, and then we exchange notes and tell her how so-and-so's doing, how so-and-so's doing, and then at two o'clock we go off.

HT:

Now, were there any academic courses involved in this at all, or was it all clinical?

ES:

Yes, and usually the courses are in the afternoon, I think, and then we're given time to go off, too, so it's not everybody goes off. They have a staggered—they have everybody programmed so that the ward is never empty. So we'd go for our lectures in the afternoon, usually.

HT:

Did you specialize in any type of field?

ES:

No, no, no, because it was all general nursing. Then after three years of training, if the Japanese have not bombed, then after three years then we get our, become regular RNs [registered nurses]. Then I don't know if we become staff nurses then. When we become staff nurses we wear a different kind of hat. We wear a different kind of hat, because when we were student nurses we just wore like a simple kind of little thing over our heads, and we wore pink uniforms, pink uniforms with white collars. The staff nurses still wore pink uniforms, but they had a different hat, and, of course, the British sisters wore white. Then after one year as a staff nurse, after four years, that is, after a total of four years then we enter midwife training, and midwife-training program lasts one year.

HT:

This was in addition to the regular nursing programs?

ES:

Yes.

HT:

Did you complete—

ES:

No, no, at three years the Japanese intervened, and so then I went inland and I didn't—then army and all.

HT:

But you did graduate from the school, is that correct?

ES:

Yes, they gave us temporary certificates. I haven't looked at that temporary certificate for a while, but at least, you know, they gave us a performance rating and everything, because the British sisters knew they were going to be interned, so that was what they did. They gave us all what they called temporary certificates. Let me see if I can find it.

[Tape recorder paused]

ES: “Do we have to go that far back? [laughs]”
HT:

Well, just a little bit. But before we took a break you were telling us—

ES:

About the routine and—

HT:

—about the certificate that you had gotten.

ES:

Yes, got because the Japanese had already taken Hong Kong. So, well, Pearl Harbor was attacked on December the seventh [1941], and for us in Hong Kong it was the morning of December the eighth, when we were greeted by Japanese bombs and shelling. Of course, we were placed on a wartime footing right away, and we only had a quart of rice for our meals, which we really should be thankful for, because a lot of people were not able even to get food, because, you know, Hong Kong is just an island. It had to depend on food that comes over from the mainland, and when the Japanese had the place surrounded it was very difficult to get food.

I remember that morning. The hospital had been kind of cleared up. All patients that could go home were sent home, and then we were taking in battle casualties that very first morning. I remember particularly that I happened to be doing my practice work in the operating rooms then, and there was this young Canadian soldier who had arrived, and his belly was thrown open, you know, the intestines were all out, a very young man. He couldn't have been more than nineteen or twenty years old, and he was asking me, “Nurse, do you think I'll make it?”

And what could I say? So I could only say, “Well, we'll see. The doctor's going to be coming in pretty soon, and we'll see what the doctor says.” And from him I learned that the contingent of Canadian soldiers had just arrived in Hong Kong the evening before, and then when they woke up they were subjected to all this bombing and shelling, and they were at it, and next thing got hit.

So anyway, after two weeks Hong Kong surrendered. Kowloon surrendered earlier, but Hong Kong kept at it for two weeks, and then we knew that after that the Japanese are going to want the hospitals. Then the thing was, the British sisters had the foresight to know that they were going to be interned, so they gave us our temporary certificates, RN certificates.

HT:

There was no way for them to escape?

ES:

No, no, very difficult, though one gynecology professor did escape. He had been in China before, and he spoke Mandarin. And months later, several months later, when I was already with the Chinese Red Cross, he came and he located as many of the nurses and people, you know, because we were being paid by the Hong Kong government. He located as many of us as he could, and paid us. He had escaped from Hong Kong at about the time that I left, and maybe he just kind of decided himself that because he could speak Chinese, he made his way inland. His name was Gordon King. He was a gynecology professor, but he was also a very good, I think he was a piano player, I believe, and back in those days Hong Kong had kind of a chamber orchestra, and he was playing in it. He spoke Mandarin Chinese, and some of the bigwigs from mainland China would come out to see him, and I think one time it was Madame Kung, you know, one of Madame Chiang [Kai-shek]'s sisters, who came out to see him. And, of course, he traveled incognito and all that kind of stuff.

HT:

Well, tell us about your escape from Hong Kong.

ES:

Well, like I said, when things settled down a little, once the travel between Hong Kong and Macao was resumed, my brother, who happened to be an immigration officer with the Hong Kong government, decided that he would take the family back to our parents' home in Xinhui, you know, that little country town where my parents had settled. Then besides me he also had to take three of my nurse friends, whom I had spotted when they were coming down the hill carrying their two suitcases on a pole suspended between the two of them, because the Japanese were taking over the hospital. I asked them where they were going and they started crying and said they had no place to go, so even without my brother's permission I invited them to come and see if my brother couldn't do anything. So my brother, well, at a time like that what can you do? So he took all of us.

Because I told my brother, I said one of them had a home way back there in Yunnan Province, near Kunming, and another one had a brother—two of them had brothers inside China someplace, and once they could get into unoccupied China they might be able to locate their brothers. So that's how we began our trip to go inland. First we went to Macao by boat, and then to Shekki, or Zhongshan, which was an adjacent county, next to Macao, by truck, and then from there to Xinhui we went on boat again. I've forgotten whether it was a steamer that a tug boat pulls, flat-barge type of—because most of the boats that navigated between these small country towns were usually like flat-bottomed boats.

And so, of course we saw my parents, and they were happy to see us, that we were safe and sound. But I told my mother that I was going to join the Chinese Red Cross in Guiyang. First she said that I was thick-skinned because I had no offer of employment, and here I was going to—“Oh, I'll be okay. And the thing is if we stay, you're going to have a food problem, because my three friends are here, and you're going to feel obligated to feed all of us.” And there was a food problem, even though it wasn't as bad as Hong Kong. So she let us go.

HT:

Did you ever have any kind of contact with the Japanese army, or did you—were you able to manage to get away from them completely, before they arrived?

ES:

Well, in Hong Kong we did. There was an episode I didn't mention, I wrote it up someplace else. A few days after the surrender we saw some Japanese officers come to inspect the hospital, and we knew that sooner or later—

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

ES:

Yes, as soon as we saw them we were kind of on edge, because you know, you'd hear all these stories about, you know, rape, and rape of Nanking, and the Japanese had been very bad about, you know, commandeering women to be part of their—they called it “comfort women.” They call it comfort women, which is actually making sex slaves of them. Anyway, we had heard stories of that, so naturally we were very, very concerned.

And, of course, my room was up on the fourth floor on the back side of the building, because since our nurses' quarters were located on the hillside, the room that on the front faced the, had a view, they could see the bay and the ocean and the sunset, whereas the rooms in the back just saw just the hillside and the pine trees. So that's all I saw, I just saw pine trees.

But anyway, the more senior nurses had the second floor, had rooms on the second floor facing with the view, and, of course, the third floor, fourth floor, fifth floor were all used by the British sisters, but the second floor rooms with the view were given to some of the more senior Chinese nurses. So there was this one senior nurse whom we always kind of, at least I always stayed away from, because she always had that stern look and you don't dare say hello to her unless she says hello. I had never seen her crack a smile. Anyway, she decided, because her room was on the second floor facing, you know, with a view, and of course they figured, well, if it's just second floor, if anybody wanted to climb up—see, they also had verandas—see they'd climb up on the veranda and then after that break the door and they'd break right in. But those were very nice rooms.

Anyway, she told us that she was going to come and stay with us. She didn't even ask. She just said, “I'm going to come and stay in your room.” So my roommate, you know, we only had two beds in our room, so what can we say if she wanted to stay with us? So she did. And then I think after supper that night is when I was turning on the—I don't know. Some Japanese officers must have gotten into the quarters somehow, and we heard those footsteps, because I guess only officers wear boots that make a noise when they walk on the polished wood floors. You hear them go clop, clop, clop like that, and we heard them. The lights were turned out and we were just quiet as a mouse, as mice. But this senior nurse that we used to call Miss Soong was a Catholic, and she had her rosary with her, and we were so quiet all we heard was her fingering her rosary, you know. You heard the beads, you know, from one bead to another.

So in the meantime we heard those steps come up the hallway and back the hallway, so I remember at one point we didn't hear anything more. All we heard was these footsteps. So maybe somebody had gotten hold of this person sooner or later, and then we heard those steps die off. And then we don't know whether it was Miss Soong's rosary that did it, or whatever, but we kind of breathed a sigh of relief after that. And so after that we knew that they were going to take over, and that was when I started moving some of my things down to my brother's. I didn't do it very aggressively and I left a lot of stuff behind, a lot of books and things like that behind.

So that was the only really very scared moment that we had, though whenever we entered sentries at certain places we tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and, you know, walk with our eyes on the ground or something and not try to provoke anything. And, of course, back in Xinhui we didn't notice anything too much, because it wasn't a strategic point, and I think the people were not going far on [unclear], thought they didn't, “Well, how many Japanese can they try to build, you know, guard along this long line from north to south?” So if there is some semblance of order, or people are not—see, the thing is, the [Chinese] Nationalists were not putting up a defense. See, they were not putting up a defense.

HT:

Were the Nationalists out in west China?

ES:

You know, Chiang's troops—they were not putting up much of a defense, so they just, if the Japanese come they just keep on retreating, that's all, as far as I can see. They might have made some stands back in the early days at certain junctions, like a railroad junction or whatnot, they might have put up a stand, but the stands never last very long. And see, even then they had to break the—I don't know whether it was the dikes or whatnot—the Yellow River to flood that plain, see, trying to use that to stop the Japanese. See, because the Yellow River, some people have called it China's sorrow, because so much silt had accumulated and it flooded over easily. I always call it the Yellow River Bend, and so when they break the whatnot so this floods over, and this area between the bend would get all flooded over.

HT:

How did you end up finally joining the Chinese Red Cross?

ES:

Well, the thing is I had heard about it when I was a student nurse. You know, we'd get correspondents, we'd get the politicians and whatnot come to the hospital every now and then, because Hong Kong was right on the edge of occupied China, and, of course, the Japanese couldn't get to it. And then, of course, it was quite modern, so that's why, like I said, you know, Madame Chiang's sister came out to see the gynecologist.

So one time we had this American writer. I had read about her, and she was a patient of ours, Agnes Smedley. She was a patient of ours. She was in the private wing. She wasn't my patient, but I knew she was an American correspondent and I read about her. So one day after I was off duty I went over, knocked on her door, and I introduced myself. I said hello and whatnot. I decided to ask her if she wouldn't give the nurses a talk about her experiences in China, because she had been inside China and she had been with the new 4th Army. That was one of the Communist whatnot, and I just wanted to see if she wouldn't talk to us, and she very graciously accepted. So then the next thing, I have to figure out the logistics.

Now, you know, we have tea, even though as student nurses, I forgot to tell you we have tea at 6:15 in the morning, and then at eleven o'clock in the morning we also break for fifteen minutes, a break to have tea. And then for the evening, the afternoon people, at four o'clock you, you know, you go on duty at 1:30, and then at four o'clock we also break for fifteen-minute teatime. So we do get what here in the U.S. we would call a coffee break. We would get a fifteen-minute tea break. So I said, well, we'll invite her to tea. After her talk we'll have tea, and like that. But then I had to ask the matron who was in charge of our quarters for permission to use our nurses' dining room, because the nurses' dining room is on one half of the nurses' quarters, and the British sisters have the other half. Maybe the British sisters' other half might be a little fancier than ours, but I thought ours was okay anyway, but I still had to get permission. So I asked the matron for permission, which she gave. She said, “That's fine.” And then the next thing, the following day I was told, “Oh, maybe you'd like to have it over on our side.” So we had it over on the British sisters' side.

Then we had the lecture, and then not only that but our sister tutors came to listen. You know, our instructors came to listen. I don't know whether the matron came, but I definitely remember the sister tutors came and listened, and then we had tea. So, I mean it's from her that I learned about the Chinese Red Cross Medical Relief Corps, and she said, “Oh, you can join the Chinese Red Cross Medical Relief Corps,” and whatnot. And at that time there was an American Bureau of Medical Aid to China. They had a kind of headquarters, they had an office in Hong Kong. And, of course, the supplies were, back in the old days went by way of the Burma Road.

So then I started a little fundraising project among the nurses, you know. Every payday I got them to either put in a dollar or fifty cents that I would take down to the American Bureau of Medical Aid, so I, you know, made some contacts that way, would learn more about the place. So when I finally got inland and joined the Chinese Red Cross, I looked and I'd see these pieces of equipment that came from the American Bureau of Medical Aid, you know, the portable autoclaves, and tins of plaster that they used for setting broken arms. They also sent over medical literature, so that's how.

And it was a new experience. When I was at the Chinese Red Cross in Guiyang I saw how they were very economical in using their materials, like the dressings. You know, like the very soiled dressings would be thrown out, but there was a great big vat or a pond they had that was full of bleach and whatever, that they throw some of—the very soiled they'd dispose of. The not-so-soiled they would throw in to kind of bleach them clean, bleach them clean and after they were clean they would autoclave them and reuse those dressings again, but not for the first contact, you know. The closest contact with the skin would be fresh, sterilized gauze or whatnot, but then when you had to put padding on top they would use the reused cotton and bandages.

HT:

It sounds like you did nursing work for the Chinese Red Cross.

ES:

Yes. That was when I was helping in the operating room. The operating room in Guiyang wasn't very busy, because it was like what they call a hospital in the rear, a rear hospital in the rear, not in the front. So many of the patients were chronic orthopedic patients, you know, they might have to have their bones reset. So we didn't get any fresh battle casualties, none of that, and they put me to work in the operating room.

When I saw that setup in Uppsala, that dates back to the late 1700s, it was supposedly an operating room where there was a gallery up on top, and then you just looked over and everybody was operating down there. There was no glass, no separation. It was just, that was the kind of setup we had. That was the only building had some brick in it, but the gallery was just wood, and you'd hear the people going up the steps up there, and you'd hear them walking on the gallery, and it was just a one-level gallery you look over, and then we were operating down there.

HT:

Was the Chinese Red Cross a military organization, or private organization?

ES:

Well, it's not military, and I think it comes under, they called it the Chinese Red Cross, and if you call the Red Cross a private organization, then it's private. If you want to call the Red Cross, like the American Red Cross public, then it's a public. But what we were called, it was the Chinese Red Cross Medical Relief Corps, so it's like Salvation Army Corps. And then they were divided, you know, they had teams, and I think at an earlier time that was before my time when I was involved, they did send out a team closer to the front, what they call the Eastern Front, you know, closer to where the Japanese were, and did first aid and maybe battlefield—

HT:

So how long did you stay with the Red Cross?

ES:

I was there for about seven or eight months before I went over to India. That was a very, well, what's a good word to use? It was a—

HT:

How did it come about that you left China and had to go to India, or went to India?

ES:

I don't even know whether I should even mention that. I don't think I mentioned it here. But the thing is my schoolmate, whose sister had been at Women's College [now UNCG] back in, graduated from Women's College in 1933, had gone up to Yenan back in 1938, and Yenan was where the Chinese Communists had holed out during Chiang Kai-shek's time. You've heard about the Long March that the Chinese Communists made and all that? They lost so many people. But so they finally wound up in Yenan, Y-e-n-a-n, and my friend had gone up there in 1938. She said she had finished high school and she wanted to join them, because she thought, well, they were doing the job of fighting the Japanese rather than the Nationalists. But whatever it was, she had gone up there.

And then, of course, before I left Hong Kong, because I knew the family, and before I left Hong Kong to come inland I had gone to see the mother, and the mother said, “When you have a chance once you get inland, will you please write my daughter to tell her that we're safe.” So that was all I did. I just wrote a letter and told my friend—I had her address and I told my friend that I had come into Guiyang, and that I had seen her mother before I left Hong Kong, and she told me to write you when I have a chance that the family is safe. That's all I did. But then the Chinese Nationalists have a way of censoring all the mail, opening all the mail that goes up there, or at least they take note of it, and the next thing I know they got hold of the nursing superintendent, you know, the chief of the—my boss, my supervisor at the Chinese Red Cross, and asked about me. She said all she knew was that I had come in from Hong Kong and I was working there. So she called me in and told me what had transpired, and I said, “Well, I didn't do anything. I didn't say that I was going to join them or anything. I just did what I was told, that the family is safe.”

But, you know, the Chinese Nationalists were very—even during my high school years I hear all kinds of stories about people disappearing. So when the opportunity to volunteer to go to India, I volunteered. That was one of the—of course, it was also adventure. It was also adventure. But after I went over to India and then came back to Kunming, they lost my trail. That was the end of it.

HT:

What did you do in India?

ES:

Well, I was training, training Chinese soldiers there, see, because they were asking for volunteers to be part of this medical service training team, and there were twelve of us, three women and nine men, and one of them was the unit cook. He did all the cooking. For several months we lived kind of the Boy Scout, Girl Scout type of a camping life. I enjoyed it as long as I didn't have to cook.

HT:

So this would have been probably 1942.

ES:

Yes, that was 19—we left for India in December, I think Christmas Day 1942, so I spent about seven months in India, the first part of 1943. We haven't gotten to my army career yet.

HT:

I know. [laughs] So once you left India you went back to China.

ES:

Yes. After seven months, see, the Chinese army, they had people training. We were training the medical orderlies, but there were other people being trained to drive trucks and others were taught how to use weapons, and others were taught to, I don't know, use artillery, I don't know, but it was a training center.

So then by that time the monsoon had already arrived, I think. In India about the end of the first part of June it starts raining and whatnot, so we got moved out of our little tent into barracks that had no windows. Oh, it was warm. Then it was time for the troops to move on to the northeastern India, to Assam and Ledo, I think, Chabua, Ledo, because there were already army engineers, you know, working on building the roads, and also maybe Chinese soldiers were also being workers or engineering aides to work on building the road, because they had to build the road in order to fight their way back to China. So the troops were moving up, and then that was when we got sent back to China. General [Joseph] Stillwell I guess didn't want women around alone.

HT:

What was the name of the town or place in India where you were?

ES:

I was at Ramgarh. They call it Camp Ramgarh, R-a-m-g-a-r-h.

HT:

What is that near, which city?

ES:

I think that, is it two hundred miles from Calcutta? Maybe it's about two hundred miles west of Calcutta.

HT:

So after you left this place and went back to China, what—

ES:

Yes, and then they put me in—we were placed with another medical training unit that did not go over to India. This medical training unit was just sent to Kunming, so we were attached to the unit in Kunming, and that was in—the U.S. Army had an infantry training center there.

[Tape recorder paused]

ES:

So that was where we were for a while. And, of course, I had told you earlier that while I was in India I had stopped to see the American Consulate about coming back. I think it was already on the tape, wasn't it?

HT:

No.

ES:

And he said, well, had to send the information back to the State Department. And, of course, in the meantime before I heard anymore we were sent back to China, and then it was while I was in Kunming that I heard that, because they had a consulate in Kunming, and I was notified that I had lost my American citizenship because I was—let me just, I'll get the right word.

HT:

Okay.

[Tape recorder paused.]

ES:

I had lost my American citizenship because I was [reading] “a person who, while a citizen of the United States, lost his citizenship in order to perform military service during the Second World War in the army of a country at war with a country with which the United States is or was at war,” and the form of oath required to be taken to resume citizenship—well, this was a form, and see how wordy it was?

HT:

Yes, very confusing.

ES:

Yes. It's all here. It said—and they considered it that because of my being in the medical service training unit, it was part of the Chinese army, and that was why I was performing military service. So, and of course to regain my U.S. citizenship I had to take the oath of allegiance again, and oath of renunciation and allegiance, which I did.

HT:

I think you had told me in one of our phone conversations earlier that you actually had to go into the civilian nursing profession.

ES:

Yes, yes. And then, so when I left the medical service training unit it happened that there was a position open at a nearby air base, and so that way, you know, I was able to not starve. Then while I was at the air base, one of my U.S. Army medical officer friends had suggested that I try to apply for the Army Nurse Corps, because his wife, who was not an American citizen, had joined the U.S. Army, and he said that after three months she was able to become a U.S. citizen.

HT:

What kind of application process did you have to go through?

ES:

Well, I just wrote a letter of application directly to the superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, you know, care of War Department and whatnot. It was just a regular letter of application that I'm applying to join the Army Nurse Corps, and then it gave a record of what I had been doing, you know, like my experience, what I had been doing.

HT:

Sort of a résumé, almost.

ES: A résumé.

But I don't know whether I should—but it's true—I should even mention it, because I don't mention it to people all the time, but I think at this juncture I'm old enough, I think I should bring it up. Because the first letter was a letter of rejection. First letter was a letter of rejection, and they said I was eminently qualified. You know, they just underscored all my qualifications and say how qualified I am, but I have an obligation to serve my country. So then my medical officer friend, he said, “Well, she is applying in her role as a U.S. citizen,” see, and they were telling me that I have a role to serve my country, meaning that I should stay with China, see? So my medical officer friend, who happens to be a Chinese American, he was indignant. He said, “Who do they think the original Americans are? Everybody came from someplace, except the American Indians, who were already here.” So he wrote a letter back to that effect, like asking, “We all came from someplace. Who are the original Americans?” And so that did it.

HT:

Did the correspondence go back and forth between you and Washington, D.C., or was it more local?

ES:

No, it was between Washington, see, because my medical officer friend had use of the APO, so the letters went forth very quickly. So he was the one who wrote this letter about the Americans, you know, the original Americans, we all came from someplace.

HT:

Right. And then after that you were accepted into the Army Nurse Corps?

ES:

The next thing we knew, this order came directly. I got a direct commission, see, so it just shows that, you know, during those days, and then during World War II, in one way they tried to emphasize that we are all one people. But on the other hand, there are still people who have not gotten rid of some of their preconceptions of who is an American.

HT:

So when did you receive your direct commission?

ES:

On June the seventeenth, 1944.

HT:

Did you have to do any kind of special training?

ES:

No. At first I was assigned to the Air Service Command, and they didn't know what to do with me, whether—well, I did some paperwork putting together all the names of the nurses working, the Chinese nurses working at these different air bases, of which I was one before. But then, and here I was at headquarters with all the 14th Air Force, because I was Air Service Command.

Then the, he was the chief of staff, I don't know whether he was Air Force Chief of Staff, or Air Service Command Chief of Staff, one day said to me, “Elsie, we're going to take you to Calcutta,” because I didn't have any regular uniforms except the khakis that I had made for myself, you know, just my little blouse and a khaki skirt. They had to pin a bar on me, and somebody gave me a cap. That was all I had. So he said, “Elsie, we have to take you down to Calcutta to see if we can find you some decent uniforms.”

So I got a ride on his B-25 [bomber] to Calcutta. [laughs] And he told me a couple of days later, he said, “Well, on such-and-such a day, we'll pick you up.” And as we were going over, he even had me go up front to show me some of the land forms and whatnot. So after we got down there, the next thing was to go to the quartermaster's offices down there to see what I could get, but they didn't have anything. They didn't have any—they had some white shoes, and maybe they had some working uniforms. Back in those days we had these striped seersuckers, because seersuckers you could wash and they don't need ironing, and they were these tan-and-white-striped seersuckers, and they held up to dirt reasonably well. So I got some of those, and I don't whether I bought some more khaki material or not, but they used to have khaki material at the PX [post exchange]. And I bought a raincoat, which wasn't military. And I came back, you know, empty-handed.

But then one of my Chinese friends, she was a Chinese American, and she had gone over to China maybe a year before on what they called the Chinese blood bank. See, the Chinese blood bank was set up in New York, in the United States, and it was part of this American Bureau of Medical Aid to China program, and they were going to go over and, I don't know, work on a blood bank. My friend Betty [Eng] had gone to the same high school as I did in China. She was a few years behind me, but I knew her older sister and we knew each other. So she had gone over, but once over they didn't have too much to do. They didn't have too much to do, and they were issued the regular kind of uniforms that the army officers, the U.S. Army officers had. They didn't have all the insignia, but they had the uniforms, and she said to me when she found out that I had come back empty-handed, she said, “Well, Elsie, why don't you take my uniform. I hardly ever wear it.” And, of course, her uniform was a size too big for me. She was a taller and bigger person.

But then, because back in those days I was very good at cutting down—when we first went over to India with the Chinese Army, they gave us GI clothing, you know, pants, all men's shirts, but then I just cut them up, I just cut up at the sleeve and, you know, put them back again to fit me. And I made myself almost like a little Eisenhower jacket with a whatnot around my waist, and I cut the pants to suit me. So then with that, I cut that jacket up, too, so it would fit me, so that way I got a uniform. But after I was stationed at the hospital, some of the nurses gave me addresses of a place back here in the United States that I could order a summer uniform, a dress uniform, so that's what I did. You know, with the APO it was very prompt, and you know, because it's a service person overseas, they are doubly prompt in sending these things over.

HT:

What type of nursing did you do at this point?

ES:

Oh, I was just doing general-duty nursing then, in the GI ward, and then sometimes it was in an orthopedics ward. I was just doing general duty.

HT:

And where was this? I don't think you told me earlier.

ES:

In Kunming. Well, it was another—you know, you had to be a little, well, resourceful I guess, because there I was stuck in Air Service Command Headquarters, and they didn't know what to do with me, and nobody said anything. So one day I was at, I think it was air force headquarters, and then somebody came walking towards me and said, “Hello, Lucy,” like that. “When did you come? How did you get down here,” like that.

So I said, “Well, I'm not Lucy. You must mistake me for Lucy Wong,” because she was a nurse from Hong Kong, a senior nurse I had known, and people used to tell us that we resembled each other. And I said, “You must mistake me for Lucy Wong.”

And he said, “Why, yes.” And he thought I was Lucy Wong, because Lucy Wong was up in Chungking, maybe at an American dispensary or whatnot. And he happened to be the theater surgeon general. He was over all the physicians. So okay, now he knows my name.

And then so one time I think it was with another matter, I had lent some officer at the APO some money. See, I was going to send some money back to the U.S., and the guy wanted to wire his father some money to send to China, because he wanted to buy some antique, and when he saw me with my dollars he said, “How about you letting me have this money, and I will ask my father to wire the money to your friend instead.”

So I said, “Okay.” I gave him the money.

Then when I went back to work, everybody at the work told me, “You shouldn't have done that.” The ward officer said, “You shouldn't have done such a crazy thing.”

And the ward boss said, “Yeah, you shouldn't have done such a crazy thing.” But I had already done it, so what am I going to do.

So I said, “Well, that guy—” I had taken his name. You know, he had given me his name, and he was a medical officer, so then the thing to do was to call the surgeon general. So I called Dr. Armstrong, Colonel Armstrong and told him, and he also told me that was a foolish thing to do. [laughs] But he told me that if I didn't get my money, to let him know. So that was the second conversation with him.

So after some more time I thought, well, I heard that the station hospital was shorthanded, and that there were nurses there, so I decided to call Col. Armstrong again, and told him about my predicament. I said, “Do you think there's any chance that I could be transferred to the station hospital?”

And he said, “Do you really want to be transferred to the station hospital?”

I said, “Well, yes. I'm not doing much of anything where I am.” So I got transferred.

HT:

Where was the station hospital?

ES:

The station hospital was right outside Kunming.

HT:

Okay, so it was close by.

ES:

Yes, so that's how—well, it wasn't through real, official channels, but since he was theater surgeon general, and maybe my medical officer at Air Service Command was glad to see me, you know, be transferred out, because they didn't know what to do with me. See, they really didn't have anything for me really to do. I'd just sit around moving paper around.

HT:

How long did you stay at the station hospital?

ES:

Oh, I stayed there at the station hospital until the end of the war, when another hospital came into China to relieve the hospital, to relieve the 95th people, who were, who had enough of time, and they were allowed to come back to the United States. I could have come back then, but then I wanted to stay long enough to be able to make a trip down to South China to see my parents once more before I come back, because back in those days air travel wasn't that prevalent. You really had to be, really have a lot of money before you took these airplane rides.

So then they transferred me to the 172nd General Hospital, 1-7-2, 172nd General Hospital, which subsequently was sent out to Shanghai, because they were winding down operations in Kunming. So after VJ [Victory in Japan] Day there was a brief disturbance when the—see, all the arms coming over into China had to come through Kunming, see, and the governor of the province was quite a warlord. He was really an old-time warlord, and I think the U.S. Army had to have, like, generals who are both tactful and whatnot.

Of course, when the arms came in for the U.S. Army, well, the U.S. Army had control, but the war was beginning to be over, and I don't know whether they were going to switch some of the stuff over to the Chinese. But anyway, the governor decided to keep some of the weapons and not forward them up, and not let Chiang have them, and so there was some shooting going on. But I don't know what happened after that. I think Chiang Kai-shek gave the governor some cabinet position, like being secretary or agriculture or something like that, to kind of—because that governor had, that was his fiefdom. And then we went up to Shanghai.

HT:

And there again at this hospital, at the 172nd you did general-duty nursing again.

ES:

Yes, it was all general duty. But then at the 172nd I encountered two, what you would call serious cases that I still remember. See, back in the old days it was GI [gastrointestinal] trouble and diarrhea, you'd give them something, or somebody had broken bones or malaria. We had a lot of malaria back in those days.

But then when I got out to Shanghai, one of them was this young man. He was just admitted a day, and then kept telling me he had headaches, so I gave him aspirin. The medical officer came around and the medical officer signed and whatnot. But then the following day he kept on bugging me, and then I said, well, something is more serious than that. And then I went off duty, because I was just doing a morning shift. Then I think later on they determined that he must have had some great difficulty breathing, and then they started doing artificial respiration on him, and thought that he might have some polio, or whatever it is that's affecting his breathing. But there was no iron lung or any artificial respiration equipment on—see, the hospital had taken over a great big apartment house, and the hospital just didn't have those facilities. But then the navy ship, I believe it was the [USS] Comfort was stationed outside on the Whangpoo River, outside Shanghai, and so they kind of, you know, kept on doing artificial respiration on him while he was in the ambulance being taken to the bank of the river, so he could be transferred over to the ship.

And I don't know why, maybe the ship wasn't docked, or whether the water was too shallow. There was no gangplank. There was no gangplank, and they had to use some kind of hoist to hoist the patient over, you know, like a crane or whatnot to hoist him over, and I was told that during the process, while he was being hoisted over there was nobody to do the artificial respiration on him and he died. So that was one case, he died.

Then a short time after that the chief nurse came and told—They had just admitted a case of smallpox, and I was put on day duty for it. So I said, “Well, we have to do all this isolation business.” So I called for gowns, I called for carbolic acid, I called for masks, rubber-soaked masks to be soaked with carbolic acid and whatnot, all these precautions, and everything I asked for they gave me.

And the guy had a real high fever, real high fever, and not only was he broken with plain smallpox, he was broken out with what they call hemorrhagic smallpox. All these pustules were bloody. They were bloody pustules, and his fever was very high. So all I could do at that time was to force him fluids and try to keep him comfortable, and then I went off duty. Then somebody else had to come on duty that evening, but when I went—

[End Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

HT:

We were talking about the case of smallpox when the tape interrupted.

ES:

Yes, and it was a case of hemorrhagic smallpox. The pustules were all bloody all over him. It was just—and I had that picture. You know, the photographer took a picture and he gave it to me, and I had it for the longest time, but over the years it's disappeared. But I still remember that.

Yes, it was after I got out to Shanghai there was more, well, not exactly, because back when we were in Kunming and Chengtu we used to get these cases of, well, we had a few bad cases, you know, where they go, what do you call it? There's a term for it, it doesn't come to mind right away. Maybe I'll think about it at a later time. But it just hurts, affects them psychologically that they just practically go amok, and they become very strong and very belligerent, and they have ideas that they're Jesus Christ or, you know, it's really—and very hard to keep down, and we were not equipped to deal with psychiatric cases back then, and sometimes you couldn't even restrain them, and then the only thing was to try to get them shipped over to India as soon as possible, because we weren't equipped to do that. And we had several cases like that, and they would keep everybody awake, making so much noise.

Yes, and when I was in Shanghai, you know, all those funny things happened. One day I thought I had misplaced my wallet, and I told my chief nurse I'm going to go back to my quarters to check. Then I checked and, of course, in Shanghai we took over many of these rather upscale apartment houses in what was the International Settlement. For our quarters and for the hospital, we took over one of the very big apartments, condo-type apartments for the hospital. And just as I was about to enter into the building I heard a thud. I looked. Somebody had jumped. You know, see, we weren't equipped for all of that, so this person just was not restrained or there were no barriers, and he just saw an open window and he just jumped. So I had to go right in and find a chief nurse or whoever medical officer I could see. I said, “Somebody jumped out there,” and they had to go and take care of it. That was the only time I saw something like that happen, in all my life.

And then penicillin was just available then, and back in those days penicillin was a solution. Then I think, did we have to give the shots every four hours or every eight hours? But we used a lot of penicillin, too, because like I said, Shanghai was sin city.

HT:

Now you were in Shanghai—

ES:

From October '45 to February '46, so it wasn't a very long period.

HT:

So where were you during VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ Day, which was in the summer of '45?

ES:

I was in Kunming. See, here we were celebrating, and then the next thing there were shots going off, because the governor didn't want to turn the arms over to the Nationalists.

HT:

So when did you get out of the American Army Nurse Corps?

ES:

Oh, I came back to United States in February, and then we had to go through this period of separation. We'd get sent to a hospital that had what they called the MDRP, Medical Department Replacement Pool, and then I worked there for several months while they were processing. Well, first we were given a number of options. “Do you want to stay six months, or do you want to stay a year?” like that, and so I opted to stay six months, because I thought that would take me over to, give me time to check on going to school and all that. But then later on because they were able to wind down sooner, they cut it down, so I chose the option of getting out in three months.

HT:

When was that?

ES:

So with my terminal leave and all that, I think I got out on May the thirtieth.

HT:

Nineteen forty-six?

ES:

Of '46, yes. And from April, early April, I was processed. You know, I went to the separation center and had all my papers processed, and given my veteran's pin and all that. Then I was free to go on vacation. After May the thirtieth I was no longer in the army. Even back in those days they still asked us if we wanted to be in the reserves, and so, well, maybe I'd put reserves after this, but, you know, nobody called me.

Then I decided that I'd go back to Stockton and look the place over. Of course, I did look the place over when I first came back, but then I decided to come east, because I had always said when I was in China, I said, “Well, I'd like to go east and I'd like to see New York City. I'd like to go to school.”

And then, of course, I talked to my patients, and they'll tell me, “Well, this school is good, and that school.”

And one of them said, “Well, you should check out the New School for Social Research.”

So I said, “Well, I'm going to go and check the New School for Social Research out.” So then I landed in New York City. I came straight up to New York City, and one of my friends—this was really—I stayed the Lin Yutangs for a couple of weeks, because one of their daughters went over to China with this Chinese blood bank. She was another one. She wasn't the one who gave me her uniform, but she was also one of the blood bank members who went over and we struck up a friendship. And later on, you know, a lot of times if she writes home she has to use the regular mail, and it takes a long time. So a lot of times I would send a letter for her through the APO, and it gets there sooner, and by the same token her mother would write, sometimes through the APO, especially when her mother wanted to send her something. And whatever her mother sends her, whether it be a fruitcake, I always got a fruitcake. If her mother sends her a bra, I got a bra. You know, her mother was very, well, she knew how to work human relations, I guess.

So of course they all also said, “Now, when you come back to the United States you must come and see us,” which I did, you know, like I said. So okay, I landed right on their doorstep with my footlocker and everything. Of course at that time, you know, Lin Yutang is a Chinese writer, you know, that goes back to Pearl Buck's time, Pearl Buck and whatnot, they're friends and all that. Well, anyway, he had written some, back in his time, several—the first book he wrote, I think, it was an adult best seller. It was very popular. It was called My Country and My People.

Well, anyway, at about that time this daughter of theirs, the one who I'm very friendly with, had eloped, had eloped, and the parents were very distressed. So while I was there, you know, the daughter came around, and the mother and daughter kind of made peace and so forth, so I think I served, whatnot. I was of some use other than just being—so, well, anyway, while I was with them I called up one of my army friends who had gotten out of the army, and I told him about the New School for Social Research, so he came and took me to dinner, and he also said, “Well, we should also go and listen to—” is it a complement lecture, or what is it?

I don't know what the lecture was about. It was way beyond my head. I didn't know what it was about. So after that I decided New School of Social Research was not for me. I've forgotten what it was about. It was of some writer whom I wasn't familiar with, because all I know was just the ones that I learned from my high school days, the old ones like Charles Dickens and those. But it was some other writer, maybe some modern writer I wasn't familiar with. Anyway, that was out.

So then Mrs. Lin one day got a call from Betty, the friend who had given me her uniform. She was here in Washington, and Betty was checking, asked her how she was and all that. And she said, “Oh, you should give Betty a call and see what kind of suggestions Betty has.” So I called Betty and Betty said, “Well—” Back in those days housing was still very difficult here in Washington, and she had gotten this apartment. I don't know whether there was key money involved, and this officer had gotten the money through key money, whatever. Anyway, because there was price control and all of that back in those days. So anyway, she had this little apartment and rented this little apartment secondhand or third hand, I don't know, in Alexandria, [Virginia]. So she said, “Well, I have room here. I have this big one-bedroom apartment, and if loafing is all you want to do, you can come here and loaf.” So I came down.

I came down and started writing all my letters to different schools about applying to school, and I also wrote to Miss [Jessie C.] Laird, you know, down at Woman's College, and, of course, Miss Laird invited me to come visit. So I took her up on it and I went down to—it was in May and I think I was still in my uniform when I went down, and she had this little tea arranged for me. I didn't know it was going to be with some of her faculty friends, come and meet me and so forth. So that's how I knew about Woman's College and the program for nurses that Dean [Harriet] Elliott had initiated, whereby two years of college credit would be given for our nursing experience and training. It was just what I wanted, because I wanted to study some liberal arts, and so I came to Woman's College.

HT:

So which degree did you receive?

ES:

Well, it was just a bachelor of science [BS] in nursing degree, because there was no nursing school back in those days. So I think the nurses who took that program just graduated with a BS in nursing.

HT:

Because the nursing school wasn't founded until I think the mid-sixties or something like that.

ES:

A few years later, yes, a few years later.

HT:

Well, what was your impression of Woman's College [WC] in those days?

ES:

Oh, well, I was just delighted, because all the students, they were just so young, and I felt very mature. They were just so young and so fresh, so fresh, because it seemed like war-torn—they might have been subjected to rationing and all that, but it seemed like their faces were not marred by war-torn worries or fears or those things. Of course, we all had to start with freshman English, and then I don't know why, I was just on one of those highs, and I don't know what kind of a theme I wrote, that I was happy, and I said something about these fresh faces and whatnot, and maybe my punctuation was right and everything, and Miss [May D.] Bush said I didn't have to take freshman English. She said I didn't have to take it.

I was kind of sorry I didn't, because I used to hear these other gals. They didn't know what to write. I said, “Well, you can take anything and write something about,” but I didn't have to take it, so I didn't take freshman English. She had me started on English literature, or readings from English literature. I still have kept those books, and I remember I used to put notes on them profusely, and I would sometimes read ahead, and then when I read too much ahead, by the time the teacher had gotten to it I had kind of forgotten where I was. But I didn't have a great deal of rapport with this English teacher. I don't know whether it was because she was a younger—she was about my age, but she was fine.

HT:

Did you go to WC under the GI Bill?

ES:

Yes, GI Bill, so people who don't know of my army, because I don't tell a lot of the Chinese people around here. So it's just recently when this daughter, who incidentally teaches public health at Chapel Hill, she was up here to see her parents, and then her mother kept on saying—because the daughter keeps on thinking that her mother and my old-school tie was this school in China, which is true. She thought that was how we—which is also how we kind of got to be more friendly with each other here. And then her mother said something about me, oh, I can do this or that and whatnot. I don't know how I mentioned that I went to college. I went to college, that's why. And she said, “Where?”

And I said, “University of North Carolina at Greensboro.”

And she said, “Oh? Did you get a scholarship?”

I said, “No, I got the GI Bill.” She didn't know I had military service. So I said, “I had the GI Bill, and that took care of it.”

HT:

Now, there were other at the school at that time who were going under the GI Bill. Were you acquainted with them?

ES:

I think most of them, at least, you know, passing. See, of course, there was [Agnes] Knull, and then there's Margaret Clark, and then there were some others. There was another one who was in the navy; I've forgotten her name now. And quite a few. There was Margaret Goodman, and no, it was another one. She's in the book. Elizabeth Rogers, and for a couple of years we corresponded. She was from West Virginia. For a couple of years we corresponded, and then, you know, I wasn't the one who dropped, she just kind of did. But then Margaret Clark, you know, and then there's another one called Margaret Ike, and after she left she just, oh yes, we corresponded for a few years, and then all of a sudden she just kind of vanished. And then like my friend over in Virginia, she doesn't know where—And then, of course, Agnes, who's over in Virginia now, didn't realize at the time when we were going to college that one day she would marry a dentist and be in this area, because she was from New York.

HT:

What was Agnes's last name?

ES:

Cantwell, C-a-n-t-w-e-l-l, and I think her maiden name was Knull, K-n-u-l-l. So we're pretty good friends. We have visited each other over the years, and her husband's a dentist, and he was my dentist for a number of years until he retired. Of course, their office was over in Virginia, and usually after the office visit I would stop by and visit with her at home for a while before I head home.

HT:

What are some of your memories of your time in Greensboro and the Woman's College in the mid-1940s?

ES:

Well, I took a number of courses that I wanted. Well, I took sociology and whatnot, and then, of course, there was the American history. I've forgotten her name now, but it was hard. But in my senior year I took a year of freshman French, and, of course, I'm not used to—and I think Miss Miller, Helena Miller, she brought this little book that was geared for GI's so they could learn the spoken French, and I found it hard because I had to—I worked hard at it. I spent a lot of time on that year of freshman French, because I had never taken a foreign language before, so, you know, I still retain a few—I know a word when it's French, or I think I know it's French. That's about all. [laughs] But another one I took was astronomy, and it was just astronomy, a one-semester course for the girls who wanted to go into teaching, so they would have some basic astronomy.

HT:

Do you remember the telescope that was on top of, I think it's Petty Science Building?

ES:

I don't know if we had a telescope back in those days.

HT:

Well, someone came over several months ago and did some research. They found this old telescope in one of the closets, and they wanted some information about it, and we searched all the old school records that we had, and also The Carolinian, which, of course, was the newspaper on campus. We found a little bit of information, and I've forgotten the name of the instructor who had purchased it.

ES:

Cornelia Strong?

HT:

That's it, Cornelia Strong, and she had been after the administration, Dr. Foust, to purchase a nice telescope, and it was finally, apparently, purchased and put on top of Petty Science Building.

ES:

Oh. We never went up there. I don't remember.

HT:

We even have some photographs of it, of the girls viewing the sky, and you could see downtown Greensboro in the background, which is amazing. So I thought maybe you might have had a chance to—

ES:

No, I don't remember having gone up to see that telescope. But I remember her, because even after I left school I kept up a correspondence with her until she died.

HT:

Really.

ES:

Yes, because, you know, I liked that course, and, of course, some of the girls who took mathematics had her.

HT:

Do you have any of those letters by any chance?

ES:

I don't know, I don't know. I'll have to—see, because when I left, when I moved out of the house I kept a lot of my old, my notes, even my notes were in a trunk, even my course notes. I still had them. But I don't know if I threw them away. I'll have to—you see, I've still got a lot of paper around. I have to look. I have to look.

But I remember her telling us about seeing Haley's Comet in 1910. Nineteen ten, she was a youngster then, and her father took her out to see the comet. And I remember my mother talking about Haley's. That must have been Haley's Comet, because they called it the broomstick star in Chinese. My mother was—Haley's Comet came in 1910, so my mother was in her, maybe late twenties or early thirties when she saw Haley's Comet.

And then I think some years later my first husband was working in upper-atmospheric research at the naval research lab in those days, and because back in those days that was before the days of satellites and whatnot, and their group was working on some of the captured German V2 rockets. What they were trying to do was to keep on shooting the rocket to see how far it would go. He called it upper-atmosphere research. And then when they do that, they would have cameras up there grinding away to take pictures of the ground below, and I think way back in 1946 they were able to take a picture that showed—it was out there in White Sands Proving Ground, I think, where the picture was taken—and the picture showed a part of the Pacific Ocean, showed a slight curvature of the Earth, and part of lower California there. So I got one of those pictures and I gave it to Miss Strong, and she was delighted to have it, because back in those days, you know, people had not gotten that far yet.

So that was one of the courses I enjoyed the most, and I don't know, I'm not very good at identifying the constellations and all that, but ever since I was a child back in Stockton, California, I don't know why I had this—I just wanted to know, when you hear about Mars. So I went to the library, you know, the college library. Any books that they had on the subject I would try to read up on it, and I would read up on Mars, and, of course, there was some [unclear] about the canals. People would tease me about—I said, I didn't say they were. It's just somebody who said that this might be this, this, this, this, and that, and maybe that was one of the things that attracted me to my first husband, because he was talking about working with rockets, and I thought, well—

HT:

You graduated in 1948, and where did you go after you graduated, and what kind of work did you do then? Because you had your BS in nursing.

ES:

Yes, I had my BS in nursing. And, of course, I was still pretty good with Chinese. I don't know whether I should or not—but I did apply for a job with CIA, and I took an exam for it, and, of course, I passed, you know, the language part with no problem. But then, you know, they have to do a detailed investigation of your background, and that was where it didn't work, because all my folks were in China, and maybe at that time they knew that Communist China, communists were going to take over.

HT:

You might be subject to blackmail or something like that.

ES:

To blackmail and things like that, so they very delicately said, “We cannot now consider your application.” I had taken the exam during my senior year, so when my husband came for my graduation I expected him to show me a letter that I got a job, and he wouldn't say anything, and there was this look of expectancy on my face, and he just kept on—so finally he said he figures he knows what I wanted, so he told me. He had opened the letter, and showed it to me, and I was very disappointed. I was very disappointed. But now, after I have lived this many years, I am so glad I was rejected. I was so glad I was rejected, because I know people who were there and, you know, and back in those days people would say they were working for the Department of Defense and all of that. And then, of course, then I just settled down and started raising my family.

HT:

So you never went back into nursing after that.

ES:

I really didn't go back to nursing. Well, after, I did work at George Washington temporarily, like, well, it couldn't have been more than, I don't know, because I was already pregnant when I worked, maybe two or three months and then I stopped. Then I raised a family, and then I think maybe around in the early 1950s, maybe around '53 or '52, I saw a friend of my husband's had come by, and he was a Chinese American who had gone back to China some years ago, and he was working for the representative who came to help start the UN [United Nations] and all that. But then when things went sour, then he came back to the United States.

HT:

When did you get married? You said your husband came to your graduation, so you must have gotten married during your senior year?

ES:

No, the very first year that I started school. I went to see Miss Laird as Elsie Chin, and when I started school in September I was already married, that soon. Within the space of a couple of months I was married.

HT:

And your husband moved to Greensboro with you?

ES:

No, he didn't. He stayed here. He let me go one year, and then the second year he said he missed me too much and so forth, but I wore such a long face that he let me go back.

HT:

So he was living here in Washington?

ES:

Yes. And, of course, when I told everybody at Greensboro, after my first year I said, “I'm not coming back.” And they said, “Oh, well, what's one year in your lifetime?” And they were right. But back in those days when you're young, one year is a long time. But when he saw that I had such a long face, well, I went to American U[niversity] to check, and they had some kind of program, but I'd have to go four years, and it wasn't like Woman's College at all, and I would have to commute, and I didn't know how to drive, and I'd have to take a streetcar and so forth. So I wasn't very happy, and he said, “Well, if it means that much to you, go back then.” Then he decided to enroll in school, so that kept him a little busy, but he never finished because after our first baby arrived he had a rough time with his English, because I was always correcting his papers. So when our first baby arrived he seemed to enjoy the child so much, because he never had much of a family life himself, so I said, “If it means that much to you, and you want to drop it, drop it.” So he never went back.

HT:

What was he studying?

ES:

Oh, he was going to study engineering, but even though he didn't study engineering he had a very good grasp. He was a very good fix-it man. He knew radio, and he was a hard worker. He was a hard worker, and he fixed the house. He would fix this and fix that, and anything. He even tried to tune the piano. He knew how to buy those things called elbows. He had a good ear. He couldn't sing, but he had a good ear for music.

Then this friend was doing some small job, translating for some private translating agency in Washington, and I said, “How about giving me one of those jobs?” And, well, he gave me one on, I think it was Tibet, a very short article. And he said, “Why don't you go and check it out, and see if they can give you work?” Which I did, and in the beginning, you know, I didn't have all this—you know, the Chinese are very—well, the agency, it was not a Chinese agency, but their editor for Chinese was a Chinese, and the Chinese that, you know, if you're an educated person, you know, those things like advanced degrees count a lot. You know, they count a lot, whether your English is good or bad, it counts a lot. So their editor happened to be a student of this friend of ours back in Chungking. He was studying English from him, and he wasn't much of a—but he was the editor, and he was supposed to farm out the Chinese articles. So he gave me a couple of simple ones on physical education, and they think I didn't know any—well, anyway. So I didn't get very far. I didn't get very far with them.

Then one time, it was 1954, that was the year I was pregnant with my third child, and we had gone out with my husband to New Mexico to watch, well, we didn't intend to watch it, but since we were out there we were able to watch one of these rockets being fired, got real close. That was another experience I thought was never to be duplicated again.

When we came home I found this notice under, you know, “Call us about a job.” So I called them and they said, “Well, we tried to get hold of you, but since you weren't available we had to give this job to somebody else,” so I was disappointed. Then another week or so passed. I got a call again, and said that job that they had farmed out to somebody else came back, because that somebody else didn't want to do it.

That was back in the days before I had a whole bunch of dictionaries, the technical and whatnot, whatnot. I didn't have any of those, and it turned out to be an article on the physiology of the brain. Now, how much physiology did I know about the brain? But while I was at Woman's College I took advantage of my GI Bill, and from the bookstore I bought several nursing texts. But they were all nursing texts, they didn't have too much on the physiology of the brain. I didn't know what to do. I said, well, read it over and over again, and there were things about extra-pyramidal something something. I don't know what that was. Well anyway, then I thought about another former schoolmate of mine who was doing an internship at Providence Hospital, and by chance I had come across her at a Chinese restaurant one time, and I said, gee, that person looks familiar. Went up, accosted her, and she was one of my high school classmates. That's now 1954, and I had graduated in 1938 from high school, so there was a period of almost fifteen years. So she asked me, “What are you doing there?”

“What are you doing here?” So it happened that she had gone to medical school after she finished high school, and then after finishing medical school the war was just over, and she came over to the United States to do a residency at some hospital in New York. Then in the meantime the Communists had taken over Mainland China, and she couldn't go back, she couldn't go back. Now, she couldn't go back, what to do? Well, if you were going to practice here in the United States you had to go through a whole lot of—she'd have to take her internship again, as a matter of record. So she was doing her internship again at Providence Hospital.

HT:

Is that in Rhode Island?

ES:

No, here in Washington, D.C., a Catholic hospital, Providence Hospital. So I called her and told her about my predicament, and she said, “Well, I have these medical texts. I don't know what it is you're doing, but you're welcome to consult my medical texts.” So she gave me a couple of her textbooks and I read them over and over again, read my Chinese over and over again, and tried to match the terms. Important thing was match the terms, see, so something like extra-pyramidical, well, in Chinese it would be descriptive.

So then I managed to finish the article, took it back to them, and this guy said, the person who took the job said, “Well, we'll show it to our editor, and if it's okay, if it's good we might give you a bonus.” And you know how much that job netted me? It was a forty-five-dollar job, and with a ten dollar bonus I got all of fifty-five dollars.

HT:

How many hours did you spend?

ES:

Oh, I must have spent several days on it. But it was all right, and from that point on, they couldn't keep me busy enough. But I could just be as busy as I could, because I had my children, and they wanted me to take the work to the hospital and so forth, and then so the following year we sponsored my brother to come over to the United States on the Refugee Relief Act, and you know, see, nowadays when relatives want to take over, you might have room for your relatives from the flood in Louisiana. You have to think carefully, because they might be long-term, and you have to support them long-term.

And at that time, you know, it was just my husband working, and he was supporting us, and back in those days we were just making it, you know, every day, just making it.

HT:

Plus you had a growing family.

ES:

Yes, a growing family. Then they gave me this job. It was to translate, it had to do with questions and answers to these examinations, the education department of this province would give to their graduates, see, because when they graduate from junior high they still have to take an exam. They have to pass a government exam. It was one of those jobs that had questions and answers to it, and it covered the whole gamut of the curriculum. So I was kind of glad to get that, because it was kind of fun to do. It reminded me of my younger days, and so forth. There was Chinese grammar and there was English, and there was the geometry and the algebra and the science and all that, so I had to review that. Then I thought, well—and there was a system for the word count, so I did that, and I figured I might get about nine hundred dollars from this job if it get it done, but how long can I spend on it?

But then my brother was coming over, and good thing I had a few dollars saved in the bank, so that was enough to cover their train fare, because Church World Service covered their boat fare coming over to San Francisco, but coming to Washington we had to pay the train, and there was a family of my brother, the three kids. There were five of them—no, six of them, two girls and one son—yes, that's right, three of them, only five of them. But then I gave some of it to my brother, but, you know, my brother was—oh, he did some, but he wasn't happy, and he couldn't get a job because he wasn't a U.S. citizen. Washington is like a government town, and they could use him in some language area, but again, you know. So anyway, they want back to California after several months.

But after that then the government took over this agency. They bought it over. They bought it, I think, or they took it over, whatever. So there was this little transition and then they started looking for translators, so I kind of had to go in and started on scratch with them. In the beginning they said they were part of the Commerce Department. It was called the U.S. Joint Publications and Research Service, and they said they were part of the U.S. government, but you know, the people handling it were all government employees. And then much later, much later, then CIA admitted it was theirs. I don't know at what point, maybe way in the late seventies.

HT:

That's the CIA.

ES:

It was a CIA subsidiary. Of course I talked with somebody else at CIA, she said they weren't, but I think they were CIA, and it was all unclassified work, and it was fine, because, you know. Then I began, and my sister was still over in China, so I asked for some dictionaries and whatnot, so she started sending me some. So I worked, and I did that kind of work for over thirty years. Then, of course, shortly after I got started on that I got a job with the U.S. government.

HT:

Which branch?

ES:

I was a technical publications writer/editor with the Naval Medical Center. It was right during the Vietnam War, right during the Vietnam War, and they were developing materials for the medical corpsmen to go over to Southeast Asia, and there was emphasis on, you know, tropical diseases and all that. But then there were other—see, because it's a handover from earlier times. I think the army is doing the same thing, but the navy were training their own corpsmen, their own corpsmen, and they did the x-rays and they did the lab work. They were doing that training, so some of the training materials. And some of the guys, you know, they'd go into the service with their high school training, and then they are going to teach incoming corpsmen on the technique, and they're good at technique, you know, to show them what to do, and they know their stuff. But then when it comes to putting it down on paper, it leaves something to be desired.

So at that time I think one of the—a university professor who's a U.S. Naval Reserve was called back to active duty to work in what—back in those days the navy had what they called the Naval Medical School right there on the NNMC [National Naval Medical Center] campus. They called it Naval Medical School, and people were, “We didn't know the navy had a medical school.” And they had refresher courses for physicians, but the training was really for the corpsmen. And so this commander, she taught biology at Penn State I think, and when she saw the materials she just thought, well, this won't do, and so she managed to talk the commanding officer into having some of these things revised. I think she was called to revise a manual that had to do with gynecology, so when she saw how the materials were, she thought, “Well, we have to do something,” so that's how they started global medicine series, and some of that was visual. I didn't have too much to do with the visuals, but I did a couple of pamphlets on plants of Southeast Asia. But then there was a nuclear medicine manual, and after I got out of the service, you know, nuclear medicine was new, and I used to think, gee, I'd like to go into that area of nursing, because they have to measure the output to see how radioactive and all that. They did all that. But of course I was married; it was just a thought.

But then I really liked that idea of doing the nuclear medicine manual. It was all technique, you know, procedures, and I learned something. But the thing is, the gal who did the typing used this old whatever, teletype, and then the isotopes go way off, and then your sentence would be this wide because you had to give room for all the subscripts and superscripts and whatnot. So I finally, at that time IBM had come out with what they called an IBM composer, and you could do superscripts and such, but you have to use a ball and whatnot, whatnot. Anyway, I talked them into getting that, and any time I had a question I would go over and talk to the physicist who was writing the materials, and we got that done. But the only thing was, I couldn't, see I just had—

[End Tape 2, Side A—Begin Tape 2, Side B]

ES:

And then everything was all on one page. Anyway, back in those days I had joined a technical writers' group and also the federal editors, and they all have contests every year, so I submitted my nuclear medicine manual and, of course, it didn't win any prize, but you know. And after that I went to a meeting of the technical writers of San Francisco, and it was just like casing the joint to see what kind of publications win awards. [laughs] So with that I came back.

And we had this awful, cumbersome x-ray technology manual to do, and by that time I had another editor working with me, and she said, “Oh, don't want to think about it.” Well, anyway, the upshot was after a while she left. She just didn't want to do it. So earlier I had said, “Well, we just have to do it one thing at a time.” Well, anyway, to make a long story short, I got the—because there was x-ray, and then somebody in the photography department, and then I got the chief, who had some ideas, and he had the ways, “Now, this is the way the x-ray picture would look, and this is the way we position the person,” so he would have a WAVE, or have a sailor stand in the right position, and next to it would be a picture of the x-ray, and under it would be the procedure. So that was just x-ray procedures, but there was all this about energy and whatnot, you know, introductory material and so forth, but it wound up with over three hundred illustrations. And the thing is, when I wanted an illustration short, a smaller, they said no point telling them how much percentage. I said, “Reduce this picture so this line is only two inches.” Then I got photography department working with me, and we wound up with three hundred-some pages. I submitted it to the local technical writers and then I thought, well, maybe I might win a third prize like honorable mention, and I'd be happy with it.

And, of course, that day they were asked for the dinner, they were asking for suggestions of where to have the dinner, and I suggested a Chinese restaurant, and everybody came and they wanted a drink. Well, anyway, the upshot was they always start from the third to the second, so I won the top one for that one, and I was so pleased, and even federal I got an honorable mention on. Of course, that netted me a little—did I get a promotion? Well, I went from a nine, I went to an eight level. I did get a promotion; maybe I got it earlier.

But anyway, for the technical writers they also have a nationwide one, or, you know, people from Australia or maybe Canada would join. That is held once a year, and the ones that win first and second locally would go toward that one, and so in the publications category I came out with a second, so I felt very pleased with the work I did. But then that was in my blood, you know, to design a publication. That was right after I retired, I had to do a newsletter. I had to do a newsletter, but by then computers were in and I learned how to use Publisher. Do you use Publisher?

HT:

We do have Publisher but I don't use it a great deal. I use mainly Microsoft Word and Excel and Access and those type of things.

ES:

Well, Microsoft has Publisher, yes, and I like that one because I can crop my pictures and move them around and all that.

HT:

Well, I've got a couple more questions to ask you about your time with the Army Nurse Corps. What was the hardest thing that you ever had to do physically while you were with the corps?

ES:

I really didn't have to do anything hard physically. Let me think. You know, it comes in terms of lifting or anything like that.

HT:

Right. I know many other nurses who were out in the field had to actually scrounge for materials and set up tents and that sort of thing, but you were always in a city hospital, it sounds like.

ES:

Yes. When I was in the army the buildings were already there, and the hardest thing, strange as it may sound, would be when I'm supposed to be, because I had been on detached duty, like when I was in Chengtu and I had to go back to Kunming, the hardest thing I had to do was to roll up that bedding roll, because you put all your stuff in and you try to roll it up, and that must have been the hardest thing I had to squeeze in.

And, of course, when I was with the Chinese army, you know, with the Medical Service Training Unit in India, we lived in rather primitive conditions under tents and all that, but see, we had a couple of orderlies in our unit. They did the heavy work. They did the cooking, so I didn't have to cook. See, they did the cooking, and I really didn't have to do any heavy work, come to think of it.

HT:

What about emotionally, what was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally? What affected you? You talked earlier about a couple of cases that were rather dramatic.

ES:

Oh yes, emotionally. Well, that had to do with, well, one time was working so hard, because it seems like as soon as I got on duty, you know, it's just routine work. You go and take temperatures and do this, do this, do this, and it seems like the work never gets done, never gets finished. Then each morning I would wake up and tell myself, “I'm going to be as efficient as I can,” and all that, but it seems that it never gets quite done, and you get tired.

Then we were doing ten-hours days and we only had one day off a month, one day off a month and the ten-hour days, and if it's night duty it's from eight to eight, and if it's split shift it's like seven to one, and then you go back again, like four to eight again, or something like that. Split shift you might have a break in the middle of the day, and I remember the Red Cross, see, when we were in Kunming there were not that many nurses, and then sometimes in the hospital the Red Cross workers would plan a party for the corpsmen. They would try to get everybody to go so that the corpsmen would have somebody to dance with, and sometimes I remember I would say, “I'm so tired I just can't go to these.” They'd say,

Well, we'll let you wear this.

You know, they had their clothes, so you know, we were very tired.

One time I decided no point griping about being tired, have to do something about it. So one day, I think it was after lunch, I believe, I mustered up courage and I went up to the chief nurse and I asked her if I could have an extra day off. She asked me why did I want an extra day off, and I must have said I'm so—and then I started to, you know, I'm a crybaby. Then I guess tears started rolling down my face and I must have said, “I'm so tired,” or something, and the next thing she did was to pack me off to a rest camp. See, up till then they didn't send any of their nurses to rest camp. She packed me and another nurse to rest camp for two weeks, and we were supposed to not do anything except just to sit around and enjoy the lake and whatnot. And then it was while at rest camp—

HT:

This was R&R [rest and recuperation], I guess.

ES:

Yes, R&R, yes. I think I had a picture of it someplace, I don't know where. Then it was while there I had another, I don't know, I'd come across these—well, it's bound to happen. These things happen once in a while. So there was this big room that had couches and whatnot, and you know, the rooms where we had our beds were just small and not very comfortable, and if you wanted to write a letter you either had to sit on the bed or whatnot. So I decided to go outside and sit in the big living room, and I sat on the floor behind a couch, and I was writing my letters. And then, of course, see, the room is open to other people. There was a medical officer somewhere in the corner, and he was sitting there with a Red Cross worker, and all of a sudden the lights went out. And then I said, “Hey, what's the big idea of turning the lights off? I'm writing a letter here.”

You know, the guy either must be drunk and said, “You dog in a manger, Chinese American—blah, blah, blah.” You know, he started yelling at me, because I remember him calling me dog in a manger, Chinese American. Of course, I didn't know how to talk back. I didn't know how to talk back. I started crying, and then I went back to my room and I told my roommate what had happened.

I said [imitates crying], “I'm going to report him,” and whatnot. That's all I knew how to do. I said, “I'm going to report him.”

And my roommate said, “There's no point. They're not going to do anything,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, like that.

So after rest camp was over I went back and I told the chief nurse. I said, “Miss Doll, I would like you to make an appointment for me to see the commanding officer.” I didn't tell her why. So she made an appointment for me and I went in to see the commanding officer, and I told him what happened.

And then he said [imitates gruff voice], “What do you want me to do?” I didn't know what to say.

Later on some of my Chinese-American friends told me, “You should have told him you want the guy to apologize.” I didn't say that. I didn't know what to say.

And I said, “Well, I think you should do what you think should be done.” I threw it back at him. And he apparently gave the guy an easy way out. He just sent the guy home, which is what he wanted anyway. What kind of punishment was that? Then later on when I told some of my Chinese-American friends, officers about it—see, sometimes I don't confide in these guys too much, because I don't want them to think that I have other—see, they might say they have a girlfriend back here. I don't want them to feel that I have other intentions on them. And so sometimes when I happened to see one and mentioned itone time, I don't know how this, “Well, why didn't you tell me about it?”

I said, “Well, you know.”

“You should have told him to apologize.” So, you know, those are things that border on this element of, you know, that—I don't like to use the word discrimination, but you know, things like that still run through American life on certain levels.

HT:

Well, do you ever recall being afraid, or any kind of physical danger?

ES:

Well, at that time when the Japanese went into the nurses' quarters I was afraid, because we were just so quiet. All we heard was Miss Soong's rosary. I don't think I even dared breathe. That was so afraid, I was.

And then another time was when I was in nurses' training. I think it was my second year. I decided to make a trip into occupied China to see my folks. See, Hong Kong was British, see, and I had to go through one of these people that you call smuggler-type persons, you know, he smuggles group to go in there. We were in Canton in the big city, and, you know, of course in going into areas like that I tried to dress as simply as I could. I don't think I wore black pants and a black jacket, but I've forgotten—I didn't have anything like that. But I tried to wear, I think it was a Chinese garment.

HT:

To try to be inconspicuous, I guess.

ES:

Yes, be as inconspicuous as I could, and walk by these Japanese sentries, because you hear so many stories of them being—and then even after we got to Kunming, you know, during the fall of Hong Kong we heard of some people being violated like that.

HT:

Well, what did you do in your spare time? It sounds like you didn't have a whole lot of spare time while you were in the military.

ES:

Well, if we wanted to we could always go, you know, especially in Kunming, well, I had gone out with one guy for a while, and then well, in my case I had a crush on somebody who was in the Red Cross unit with me, so because of that I might have gone out with a number of other people, but I never, you know, I was never serious. Even though other people might want to be serious, I could never be serious.

HT:

Were movies and dances available?

ES:

Oh yes, yes, movies and dances were always available for the Americans, yes, and that's how some of my friends, they would come up to—when I was with the infantry training center they'd come and get me, take me to the movies and dances, or take me out to dinner. Then, of course, once we went up to Shanghai it was a little different. There were more distractions for the GI's up there in Shanghai.

HT:

Did you ever think about making army a career? Was that an option for you at all?

ES:

No, I never thought of it. I never thought of it. See, of course, I got married after I got out, and nowadays they have people who are married that stay in the army, but back in those days the nurses were not married. If they were married or if they happened to have gotten themselves pregnant, they were sent home right away. And I felt that, you know, while it was war and all of that, I felt the experience gave me an opportunity for adventure that I might never have had, and it allowed me to see places of China, which I put in here, that I could only think about, could only read about in a geography book.

[Turning pages] Let me see how I wound up—it sounds kind of—how I ended this. See, I did. [reads from memoirs] “I had spent a total of fifteen years in China. I had had a huge opportunity to dig deeper into my roots and learn more about my Chinese heritage, its history, geography, and traditions. The war years gave me the opportunity to sample places I knew in earlier times only through a geography book, and met people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. I was able to personally taste Guangxi's famous pomelos, admire Guilin's landscapes, read the couplets framing the temple by Kunming Lake, felt the dusty loess blow against my face in northwest China, heard the drum roll from towers over city gates, and see the flickering ghost fires dance outside city walls. It was truly, to quote Dickens, 'the worst of times and the best of times,' and on touching U.S. soil I felt I was really straddling two cultures.” And, of course, as a child I always thought I was going to come back to the United States. How, I don't know. I didn't have any money. I had no relatives back here, but somehow Uncle Sam came to the rescue.

HT:

That's great. Who were your heroes and heroines during that time, in the early forties?

ES:

For the war, General Stillwell. I thought a great deal of General Stillwell.

HT:

Did you get a chance to meet him personally?

ES:

I almost had a chance to meet him when I came back to the United States and was stationed at Letterman General Hospital. He had been recalled and I think he had a residence right there on the Letterman Hospital grounds, and I think one day he had a tea for all the nurses, for the nurses, and I should have gone, but I don't know why I didn't go, because I'm sure when he saw the CBI [China-Burma-India] patch on my arm he would start asking me questions. But I admired him.

Well, for whatever reason, I think because I was close—well, of course, I had time with, worked with the air force people, too, like being out at the air base and working out there, and had close contact with the airmen, but somehow I always felt that the troops, the ground forces were the ones to hold the ground. And you know, I'm not one on military tactics, but I said, “You can bomb a place, but then you need the ground forces to hold the place.” You needed to hold it.

And then, of course, frequently, even now I still think of this line that I learned when I was going to school in China. This teacher used to take quotes from one of the sages, you know, like Confucius or Mencius, and say we're supposed to write an essay based on that. Then one of them was from Mencius, I believe, who said, you know, about war, I think it was about war. He said something like, “Good weather is not comparable, or not equal, or not comparable to a strategic position on the ground, and a strategic position on the ground is not comparable to the goodwill of the people.” So, you know, you see that in war all the time, or at least I like to think that's what's happening. It happened in Vietnam and it's happening in Iraq.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person, and do you think having been in the military made you that way, or have you always been independent?

ES:

Well, I think I've had to be independent whether I wanted to or not, and I have found that I have gone off in situations by myself, you know. I've just had to go, even though it's by myself, like the time I went to Calcutta. I had never been to Calcutta before, and I just had those few rupees, and I heard from the guys that there was a Grand Hotel in Calcutta, so I told my unit leader, “I'm going to Calcutta.” So I went to Calcutta and get off the train, and then there was a taxicab and I said, well, the only person I knew was at Grand Hotel, “Take me to the Grand Hotel.” So he took me there. Then I signed in and the clerk said, “Oh,” because I was in what was a Chinese Army uniform, and he says, “Oh, here's somebody who can speak English,” because apparently some of them don't know, you know, the new Chinese troops who go over flush with a few more rupees, they'd go to Calcutta and they couldn't express themselves very well. So it's like that, and I take a gamble. Like deciding whether to go over to India or not, it was also a gamble. But then the Chinese Secret Service, or whatever it was, lost my trail.

HT:

Good thing, too. [laughs]

ES:

You know, back in my days in high school in China we used to hear so-and so—there was this teacher at the neighboring boys' school who taught Esperanto. They called this the world language, and well, he wasn't too much a hippie, but maybe for those times he used to wear his hair, I don't know, kind of long. It wasn't this long, but it kind of bounced on him. He wasn't exactly a queer-looking character, but he looked a little different, and then one day we didn't see him again, and people said, “Well, the Secret Service must have gotten him,” because back in those days China was very leery about Communists. Of course, we were in Guangdong where we had a warlord. We had a warlord.

Well, that's too much. You need to excise a lot of it, because I get to be too long-winded.

HT:

Well, I think I just have one more question for you. How do you feel about women in the military today being in combat positions? You know, they're on the front in Iraq and the Gulf wars.

ES:

Yes. You know, well, I just hate to see them—I'm sure they're just as capable at shooting, but I just hate to think what could happen to them after, if they should be made prisoners of war, how they might be violated, you know. That's the part I worry about more. Of course, now you have them right there in combat, and they're out there.

At the World War II Memorial just the other day there was this young woman who came up. She came up several times to us and made sure we had water and whatnot, so finally she asked what branch of service I was in, and I told her, because I was sitting with my nurse friend, the two of us, we were nurses. So I asked her—because first we were asking her, because we saw a soldier with stripes, you know, those stripes that designate how long they have been in service. We used to get them, too, but she says now they don't get them. Just the enlisted personnel get them. The officers don't get them. She was married, and she has children. I didn't ask her whether she's active duty or whatnot, but she was a Mexican American, and she had come over from Mexico when she was young, and she's already a lieutenant colonel. So I asked her what branch of service, and she said she's in intelligence. So I said, “G-2?” And she said, “Yes, G-2.” So I still remember.

HT:

Well, Mrs. Seetoo, I don't have any other questions. Is there anything you'd like to add to the interview that we haven't covered this afternoon?

ES:

I think I've talked too much. Maybe some of the things could be excised, because they might be kind of delicate, don't you think?

HT:

Well, when you see the transcript you can make the decision at that time.

ES:

Okay.

HT:

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate all the time you've given to the interview. It's been wonderful listening to your story.

ES:

It's kind of long.

[End of Interview]