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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Paula J. Johnson

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Object ID: WV0220.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Paula Johnson’s work as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy WAVES.

Summary:

Johnson briefly discusses her childhood and her desire to attend college. She notes how the family’s inability to pay for her education and her knowledge of the GI Bill led her to join the WAVES. Topics related to Johnson’s experiences in the WAVES include: boot camp and hospital corps school in Bainbridge, Maryland; her duties in and out of the classroom; the daily routine, including intense physical training and grooming in bootcamp; and specific medical training experiences. Of her time in Charleston, South Carolina, Johnson describes the difficulty of working in the intensive care unit, including treating men with broken limbs and psychotic patients; a friendly doctor, Commander Musow; and her social life, including the date where she met her future husband.

Post-service topics include being discharged after marriage in 1954; wishing she had stayed in; her education in psychology and social work at UNCG; and her job working with juvenile delinquents and the need for discipline in children.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Paula J. Johnson Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

Transcriber, my name is Eric Elliot and I am with University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG]. Today the June the 8th, 2001, we're a couple of years into the new millennium. I am this morning in Walnut Cove, North Carolina, at the home of Paula Johnson. And Mrs. Johnson, thank for agreeing to do this exercise with us. I am going to start with you I guess the same I start with most folks; that is, if you would, share for us where you were born and where you grew up.

JJ:

I was born in Cabell County,West Virginia, that's about ten miles from Huntington, West Virginia. I grew up there and went to Barboursville Junior High, and went to Barboursville High School.

EE:

Is that the name of the town, Barboursville?

JJ:

Barboursville is the name of the town. [I] went to Barboursville Junior High and Barboursville High School there; graduated there.

EE:

What did your folks do?

JJ:

My father worked in a steel mill and my mother was a housewife, she stayed at home.

EE:

Was the steel mill there in Huntington?

JJ:

The steel mill was in Huntington.

EE:

Do you have any brother and sisters?

JJ:

I had one brother, an older brother, then I had an older sister and a younger sister. There's four in my family. Do you need their names?

EE:

No, just curious. I had asked that because just wondered if anybody else in your family had any experience in service, either the generation before or any of those brothers or sisters. Any of them go into service?

JJ:

No, not to my knowledge, none of them experienced. Maybe back a way the Civil War days—I think some of my relatives were in different sides.

EE:

You would have been of an age that you would remember something about the war in the forties.

JJ:

Yes, I do, I remember.

EE:

You remember Pearl Harbor Day? You would have been about seven or eight.

JJ:

Yes, I do remember that, and I remember I had uncles in the military. I had one in the—no two uncles in World War II and they were in the army. And they were over—one was in Germany and the other was in Okinawa, and they won medals; they were really heroes. My grandmother would sometimes read the letters and sometimes she would go a long time without hearing form them, and I can remember that made a really sad impression on me. We were so happy when the war was over and they came back. And one of my uncles brought me a necklace, a ruby necklace from Germany. So that's, you know, something that's exciting for me.

EE:

I would imagine too, that if your dad was working in a steel mill during the war, that production was probably up pretty high whatever they were doing, I'm sure it was war stuff.

JJ:

I can remember having ration stamps. We had ration stamps and people would borrow sugar from each other. And you couldn't use much gasoline, and you couldn't go many places. And I remember that, and how people tried to help with this effort, the war effort.

EE:

You somebody who liked school growing up?

JJ:

I liked school, but I was very social. I left all the things that were—well, I was an honor student until I got to high school, and then all the social things took over. [laughter] I can remember that. Probably my high school grades weren't that well, because—I was, I was involved, I told my granddaughter yesterday I was involved in chorus, and dance programs that were put on by the school, and skate parties, and all this. I was very social in several different, you know, cliques to do things.

EE:

What year did you graduate from high school?

JJ:

I think it was in fifty.

EE:

You were telling me—

JJ:

Fifty-one.

EE:

You were telling me before we started that there was probably the first—one of the first women in the navy who made an impression on you was a 9th grade science teacher?

JJ:

That's correct.

EE:

Tell me about her.

JJ:

She taught science in the 9th grade, and I am trying to remember her name, I think when I went back for a high school reunion, I think I seen her a few years back. Right now I can't remember her name. It seemed like she was very self-disciplined, very nice, had a good way with the students, and the way she carried herself and that impressed me. She was someone I wanted to be like. And sometimes she wore one of her navy skirts or something leftover from the navy, and I just thought that's somebody I would kind of like to be like.

EE:

Well, when you finished high school did you have the idea of going into the service then, or what is it that you wanted to be when you grew up?

JJ:

Well, I just—I really wanted to go to college, but at that time, my family didn't have funds to go to college. Because I had visited the university, Marshal University, during my high school days, and I said “I'll choose something I would really like to do.” And I said “well, maybe—” And then I seen some articles and brochures, and I ran into a girl that had went to school and she told me, she said “I am going to enlist in the navy.” And she said “Would you go with me to talk to somebody? ”And so we went down to the enlistment center and talked to people down there, and they set up plans for us to come back and take tests and we did. We both scored good and well on our tests, but somehow or another she backed out. And then I still had the thought in my mind and the literature they had given to me, and I said, “Well, this would be a chance to go to school.”

EE:

So the GI Bill was in your thinking from the beginning then?

JJ:

They would send me to school for some type of training and they would go along. So I went on then, I talked to my parents about it. My mother wasn't very positive, because I was very young and leaving home. But my father supported me. He was the type of person that wanted his children to try things if they wanted to. And so he drove me to Ashlock, Kentucky, to be sworn in after my tests and everything.

EE:

This wasn't immediately after graduation. You said you worked for about a year?

JJ:

I worked for about a year and at different [unclear]

EE:

Were you living at the house?

JJ:

Yes, I lived at home and worked for about a year and before I joined. A lot a people did from that area.

EE:

I was going to say, this was a time, you know, your senior year, [the] Korean war breaks out June of '50. In fact, you were saying you had a high school sweetheart who was already in the service

JJ:

I did. I had that one who wrote to me and he was already in the army.

EE:

So, he was drafted into the army?

JJ:

No, he joined. He went in the military in the army and he went to Korea. And he wrote to me. And so this kind of—and other people had enlisted, not many, but some had. And I thought, well, you know, maybe if I joined, we could maybe see each other, you know, be close together, something like that. It didn't work out that way.

EE:

You didn't join the WACs [Women's Army Corps], you joined the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]. Is it just because of this other woman who said “I'm going to the WAVES, why don't you come on with me”?

JJ:

Yes, she put this idea into my head, and for somehow or another, it was always the navy that I wanted to go into. I didn't consider the air force of the WACs. I felt that there was honor and pride and some other things associated with the navy that I wanted to be part of. I just liked the way they do things.

EE:

A lot of people say they liked the uniform the best. Because it looked the sharpest.

JJ:

They did, the brochures, the people looked sharp in their uniform and what they would help you do, and this, that, and the other.

EE:

When you signed on in '52, were you signing up for a particular length of time?

JJ:

I signed up four years. Yes, I signed up four years.

EE:

Did they tell you when you signed up, they'd give you some options on the kind of work you would like to do, or the place you would like to do it in?

JJ:

No, they didn't tell me. They told me they would send me to school, But then after boot camp, or I think during boot camp we were tested, and then we were interviewed and talked to about what we liked to do, and they considered our scores and our interests and placed us with something they thought that we would enjoy doing, be suitable. So that's how I worked in a hospital corps school.

EE:

You already mentioned that your mom wasn't totally thrilled with this idea.

JJ:

No, she wasn't.

EE:

How did the other family folks or your friends feel about your choice?

JJ:

They felt like it was ok. It was all right to do that, because some other people had joined from that area.

EE:

Did you have to have a parental signature, being under 21?

JJ:

I did. I think I was 18, but my father signed. I was a few days short of being 19, three days.

[laugh]
EE:

Now, have you traveled much outside?

JJ:

No, I had been to Ohio; it was the only state I'd been to.

EE:

Just across the river then.

JJ:

Right, just across the river. I had been to Ohio, but I had never been to other states or travelled. And getting on a train in Ashland [Ohio] and going to Bainbridge, Maryland, was a very exciting thing for me and very strange. A little bit scary. But once I got there, other girls coming in, I was fine, you know, once I got with the other people.

EE:

Was it a typical day like in basic for you?

JJ:

Well, we had to get up very early and march to the—what do you call it?—the chow hall to eat, you know. All day long was a schedule. And we had to go—we went to classes. We had to learn about different ranks, and different, you know—we had classes in all different types of things to do with the military.

EE:

Now were all your instructors women at that time?

JJ:

They were all women. And we had swimming. But we had classes all day long. And we had PE [physical education]. We had to do exercises and they were very hard. We got in a lot of marching, and we were in very good shape. When I left there I was so strong. [laughter]

EE:

Maybe that physical training was the toughest part of that for you?

JJ:

Well, not—that wasn't so hard. We had to move one time from one barracks to another. We had to put everything in a footlocker and carry it, everything we owned, and carry it to another barracks. That was very hard. That was about the hardest thing I did.

EE:

How many women were there in a given barracks?

JJ:

I'm not sure, but it was very big, maybe. I would say maybe a hundred. Quite a few.

EE:

Your sense of privacy is sort of taken away from you.

JJ:

Right. We had cubicles. I think it was four bunks were doubled decked, two in a cubicle. But the funniest thing was, you had to keep your clothes, you were taught to keep everything in lockers, folded in a certain way. Your bunk had to be made a certain way and had to be pulled very tight. They could flip a quarter and it had bounce back off; it had to be pulled very tight.

The only time I got a demerit in boot camp was when I wore a personal article of clothing one time, a bra, and put it back in my locker and they found it. [laughter] I said “Nobody else would know!” I had to go march a group of girls down to the rec[reation] hall and clean it. That was my punishment.

And a lot of the girls had some very hard chores; we were assigned chores to do in the barracks, like moping the floors and this and that. The only chore I had to do was polish a fire extinguisher. I felt like jeez, somebody likes me. Somebody likes me here. [chuckling] Because I didn't have to clean the toilets or anything like that, the head, they called it the head.

EE:

You were at Bainbridge, which is near Aberdeen. Was is just WAVES that were being trained there, or was it a bigger training facility?

JJ:

There was men trained there. Men—

EE:

But y'all were kept separate.

JJ:

Yeah, we were separate. But sometimes they would have little get-togethers, you know, music and food and this and that. Not often, not real often, but once in a while. I think one time went to something with the others, with the males, but we were kept separate.

EE:

Now the basic for you lasted—well you got there in October is when you signed in. Did you finish basic by Christmas?

JJ:

Yes, by December.

EE:

But you were you were reassigned back to Bainbridge for additional training?

JJ:

Yes, for a hospital corps school. And we had I think a two week leave. We had a leave, we went home. And then we come back and I went to hospital corps school. That was like co-ed; that was men and women. But we still lived—the women lived in separate barracks.

EE:

And that school training was for about six months?

JJ:

Yes, that's correct. Yes.

EE:

This was men and women together training?

JJ:

Yes, the training in the hospital corps school.

EE:

All navy personnel?

JJ:

All navy personnel. And we had companies. We had a man, a young man in charge of our company. There wasn't many women in hospital corps school. There was a few of us.

EE:

I was going to say the phrase that comes to mind was “corpsmen.” Were you a corpsman?

JJ:

I was a corpsman, yes.

EE:

It wasn't til the seventies you started worrying about “corpspersons” or things like that. But you were a corpsman.

JJ:

I was the hospital corpsman. There were not many women in these companies. It was mostly men, because they had to go overseas and go along with the companies to a support—

EE:

Was there a possibility that you could have been sent overseas?

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

How did the other men that you were in training with, how did they respond to you and the other women?

JJ:

Their response was all right. We were all so very young, it was kind of like, you know, “I'll pull your hair to get attention” or something like that, to talk to you or this or that in class, and you just would have to say stop! [chuckles] As far as grades, I think that the men did very well and the women did very well.

EE:

So you felt—your experiences were more professional? I know some women had run into situations where they did not get the best respect or attention from men.

JJ:

Oh, well I never had anybody say anything or use any words or anything like that. I had a boy that sit behind me that his father was a warden of a women's prison, and sometimes he would kind of pull my hair, but I handled him very well. [chuckles] I mean, you know, I got very angry! So I didn't—I never had a lot of problems with males, any type of harassment or anything like that in the military, because the officers over us were very strict. They would be punished very severely.

EE:

Did you have men and women helping to train you at the corps school?

JJ:

I said no men at all. It was all women, and they were very sharp and very good.

EE:

So the women were training both men and women at the hospital corps school?

JJ:

No, I think I had one women teacher at hospital corps school. I had one woman teacher, but all the teachers were men. In boot camp, they were all women. Of course, the higher up were men, the extremely high, the—over the whole camp.

EE:

By the time you were in hospital corps school, you were still housed on base there with other women?

JJ:

Right, with other women. I was housed on base there with other women.

EE:

And this was all of the women who were in corps school, or was there other training going on there?

JJ:

There were other types of—we were in with other types of training: office administration, other types, were all housed there together. It wasn't as strict, once you got out of school it wasn't as strict as it was in boot camp.

EE:

So you had more time—was it an 8:00 to 5:00 schedule? And you had time in the evening and weekends to do things?

JJ:

Yes, we had times on the evenings and the weekends; it wasn't as strict. But you still had your own friends that—people seemed to kind of have their own cliques and their own friends, your best friend or something like that that you did things with.

EE:

You were close enough, I guess you could scoot back and forth to home if you wanted to, or you were able to.

JJ:

Right, we would get together with other people and we would hear of other people driving—I went to Huntington I think with a young man that—I don't know how I got a hold of him—that was going, and he gave me when I had the two-week leave, there was several of us got together and drove together. We probably helped him with his gas. We drove to Huntington and drove back.

EE:

And so this picture that you shared with me before, this is from when you were actually in corps school?

JJ:

Right, yes, that was—I'm trying to think of when that—yes, that was when I was in Washington D.C. That was in hospital corps school, I'm sure.

EE:

Have they switched from cotton lisle stockings to nylons by then?

JJ:

Yes, we were allowed—I never wore cotton lisle stockings. [chuckle] We were always allowed to wear nylons and stockings. And we could pick out a heel, but it was a two-inch heel. We could wear any type of heel we wanted, except a fancy with a bow or anything like that. It had to be a closed-in shoe. We could wear, you know, leather patent; some had patent leather. So, you know, we could pick our own shoe. I think they kind of—

EE:

Just something more comfortable.

JJ:

Right. We could not wear jewelry. A big thing was [in] inspections in boot camp, was your hair could not come and touch your collar. I think it was the same way in hospital corps school. We had inspections and I noticed that the men would come around, the higher—up, the commanders, would come around and inspect us women, and if our hair touched our collar, you know, they would write you up. And I thought, “Oh, these are awful! These men are terrible,” you know! [laughter]

EE:

They got nothing better to do then to check for the hair.

JJ:

See if your hair was touching the collar.

EE:

Ah, that's pretty bad.

JJ:

But, you know, they were just doing their job. [laughter]

EE:

You were talking before about the kinds of work that they trained you to do to be a corpsman, because you're working with the doctors and nurses to deliver the care that patients need. You're having to learn how to do shots. What are the kind of stuff you were learning how to do in hospital corps school?

JJ:

You learned how to give shots, you learn how to mix medication.

EE:

Is that a lot of book work, or is it more on the floor, practical training in a sense?

JJ:

The practical training was giving shots; the rest was book work. You know, we had to pass tests. We had to learn what to do in case of bleeding and broken bones. And really, some of it, a lot of it was for like men, what do you do? You would have to crawl up if someone was injured and stop the bleeding and give them a shot, you know, this sort of thing. Put bandages, different types of bandages to put on different types of things. It was like in an emergency, a crisis, a lot of it was.

EE:

You're trained at a hospital, but are you trained as a like a woman? Were you trained also for field?

JJ:

Right, that's what I'm saying; we were trained for field. We all had the same training, you know.

EE:

Regardless whether you were going to work in a hospital or combat situations.

JJ:

Right, regardless hospital of combat or whatever, you were all trained the same way.

EE:

So you learned how to deal with severe trauma injuries right off the bat?

JJ:

Right, yes, right. We had to learn that also.

EE:

They take you out in the woods to have an attack act[ed] out on the on location in a sense? Or was all the training in a classroom?

JJ:

It was in the classroom. It was all classrooms. I think we went to pharmacy to learn how to mix, corpsmen had to learn how to mix drugs; cough syrup with codeine [chuckle] and different—I think we probably sampled some of our own mixtures. If we had a cold, you know, we would take a little bottle home with us. So it was interesting to me. We had practice on oranges to give shots—and I don't think—we might have given one shot, I don't know if we give each other a shot or not—but I don't know—I believe we did—but we did practice on an orange. But the first time I gave a shot, it was like traumatic to me, I mean, you know? You're scared you're going to hurt somebody!

EE:

But you must have liked what you were doing? [interviewer's personal comments omitted]

JJ:

No, I like the training, I liked the military. I liked the training. I liked working at the hospital; I made friends with the head nurse. And you know, I worked in the nursery and they took me and a friend out to dinner. And then commander Musow[?]—they assigned me to when his assistant left—he was headed to pendent service. He came up and worked one night. He had one of his patients—I went to tell him and had and contacted him—his patient had a hemorrhage, and he sent me to get the equipment, you know the surgical things he needed and come back. And he had to go repair this, and then when he needed somebody; he remembered me. He asked me to come down and be his assistant. And I left the ward—the women's ward—and went down and worked for him and he was a very nice man; I liked him very much. He always kind of looked out for me.

[both speaking]
EE:

That's when you were at Charleston [South Carolina]. You were at Bainbridge for about six more months, so you finishing up in what, April—well, May or June, probably, of '53?

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

And you get the assignment, and you are assigned to Charleston to work in the women's ward?

JJ:

Yes, I went on the wards, and our duty was three on and one off, which is very—you know, that's not good. People pick their stations out of hospital corps school, they try to find out what the duty is—you know, they want three on and one off. I mean they want three off and one on, that their weekends—they want their weekends free is what I am trying to say. So we had to work three weekends and had one off. We had a lot of—in Charleston—we had quite a bit of time on is what I'm saying, weekends to work.

EE:

Charleston is a very busy facility on the east coast. And I would assume in war time it was even more so.

JJ:

Yes, it was. It was kind of a shortage, and when you worked on the weekend, usually I would leave the ward and go work in the emergency room, but I also had to work with intensive care patients—women—that had surgery and were critically ill and I remember that was [pause] hard.

EE:

You were still very young.

JJ:

Yes, I was very young.

EE:

Just shy of twenty when you're doing this kind of work.

JJ:

Especially with a child's that in critical condition and it's one-on-one; you're just watching that person. We also had to administer narcotics and we had psychiatric patients; we had women. We had some and that was hard.

EE:

You were all over the map with the kind of situations you had to deal with.

JJ:

Right, we had to deal with a lot of different type of things.

EE:

At the hospital, are all the other—were most of the employees military personnel? Or there was a mix of civilians?

JJ:

They had some civilians—the cooks and the cleaning people.

EE:

But all your supervisors are military personnel.

JJ:

Right, they were all military and the doctors were absolutely excellent; most of them was Lieutenant JGs [junior grade] that I worked with in the emergency room and on the women's ward; they delivered the babies and this and that. Most of them had a sense of humor. It was just really great people to work with. So I had some good experiences. I'm sure some people didn't, but I did. And although we had people that were very, very ill and serious situations, the doctors we worked with, most of them were getting their training in there, and so they were very good and contentious and very humorous, very funny, the ones I worked with. Nice people—doctors and nurses.

EE:

You were there at the women's ward for how long before you started working with Commander Musow?

JJ:

I don't know, two or three months?

EE:

So, it wasn't very long.

JJ:

It wasn't very long.

EE:

And then you stayed working with him the rest of the time. The head of services work; what were you doing in that kind of work, as opposed to war work?

JJ:

Well, when I went to work for him he had an office. It was like a doctor and an office situation. Patients came in—outpatients came in to see him for examinations and to get their prescriptions and this and that. And then I would—I think sometimes I'd go down and give overseas shots to women and children, dependents. It was like—really like working at a doctor's office on the outside.

EE:

With the situation in Korea, did you have a fair number of dependents? I'm assuming most of those did not go overseas; their husbands were overseas.

JJ:

Yes, their husbands were overseas. But we had a lot of patients in that hospital—men that had been overseas, Marines, navy personnel that had been injured—that had severe injuries, arms and legs—you know, I remember talking to some of them—seeing somebody, different people that had been injured in the Korean War that came there to that naval hospital.

EE:

So in a sense you mentioned that a lot of people worked in a hospital; everyone had to be sort of a council in addition to whatever their formal job is, because you had a lot of people who are distressed to what their loved one has been going through.

JJ:

Well I remember one man that his arm was twisted; his arm was injured and it wasn't set right. And he had a very twisted arm and he was very concerned about that. He probably had to have it redone; his arm would have probably had to be redone. So there was—and there was some people in the ward that had been traumatized. We had a few that—Charleston was kind of like a place where they sent people back to recuperate from the war. They had barracks there for the men they used the naval hospital there for people from Parris Island [South Carolina] that had been overseas. And so I'd seen this—the effects of the war—up close, you know, up very close.

EE:

For folks who did not live through that time—and of course right now we are going through a whole bunch of memories about World War II—but a war is a war, no matter if they call in police action or they don't.

JJ:

That's right.

EE:

You had the experience of seeing that—of course, with Korea, formally—I guess not too long ago about a year or so after, you were in—did you notice a change in the hospital and the demeanor of folks at the end of the war? What do you remember about when you signed the armistice.

JJ:

I think I was out when this happened; I think was—I got married and met my husband at the naval hospital and I got out. I don't remember too much about that. But I do remember that to me, it was like a war, because I had seen the effects of what it did to people. And I knew that it was very cold in Korea, and people were, men got frostbite on their feet. And, you know, they were over there in that very cold and severe—it could not have been very pleasant. It was, that was not a pleasant—if it was a peacekeeping [mission], it wasn't pleasant time, because people were injured.

EE:

When you were down there, were you at the barracks right there at the hospital, or you had your own housing that you took care of?

JJ:

We had the barracks. Our barracks was right next to the women's officers, the nurses and this and that, was right next to ours.

EE:

Did you all socialize together with the other people you were with?

JJ:

We were not allowed to socialize together. You're not supposed to go off the base and socialize with the nurses, but two nurses did take me and another friend out to dinner after we worked in the nursery. So the MPs [military police] at the gate didn't check our passes—so they knew us. [chuckle] They let us go out and come back and didn't say anything; they knew us so they didn't do anything.

EE:

This would have been because there had been officers and enlisted associating?

JJ:

Right, but that was a laid—back base; some places that might have happened. They took us out to eat because we worked real hard and helped them. I dated one lieutenant. I dated a lieutenant JG that was over a PT [torpedo] boat a few times. You know, nothing ever come of that.

EE:

As long as you don't go to the officers' club.

JJ:

He wasn't really over me, you know, he really wasn't over me. I don't think anybody was out to catch anybody. If it had been directly in the naval hospital, if the master of arms had seen something or whatever. What they were looking for someone that did not have a cap on—they were looking to see if you wore your cap, and if your collar was straight, and this and that. They were not looking to see who you left the base with or anything like that. The master-of-arms did not check to see who left the base together and this and that. The MPs did—the Marine MPs. And as far as socially, they were not trying to catch anybody. They were looking for identification. You know, you were supposed to have your identification—your leave slip—the card you were supposed to be off the base. They were looking to see if you were off the base improperly.

EE:

Did you have to wear your uniform when you were off—base all the time?

JJ:

No. We wore civilian clothes. We had barracks inspection, but it wasn't strict; it was not strict.

EE:

I take it that you come away with a sense that military rules are a lot of show and not a lot of substance?

JJ:

In boot camp it is; in school it is. But the Charleston naval base was very laid back. And it was because it was a hospital, I think because it was a hospital situation. Now the master-of-arms was strict—the navy master—of—arms. Like I was saying, if you didn't have your uniform on properly and this and that, they would write you up and send you to the captain.

EE:

It wasn't quite as extreme as the MASH experience—when you were laid back all the time, was it? [laughter]

JJ:

No, it wasn't like that. No, it wasn't anything like that.

You know, you had to keep your things neat. As far as in the barracks, you had to keep your things neat. And you had to log in and out if you were leaving, which we always did. But what I'm trying to say is going off the base and coming back in with civilian clothes, people did not always check your car. They would just wave the cars on through, because we were all young in our twenties and we all knew each other. That sounds funny, but that's way—you know, that's life; it's like college, you know.

EE:

You're right; it becomes a college-like experience for most people.

JJ:

Yes, we were all very young, in our twenties.

EE:

When did you meet up with this fellow named Gene that became important in your life?

JJ:

Well, he was a patient at Parris Island, and I met him at the NCO [Non-Commissioned Officers] Club. And he had a friend—we both had the same friend, a navy corpsman, and he called me, he had his friend call me and asked me if I would go on a date with him with a married couple, some friends of his. My husband, he was smart. I said yes would. I went on a date with him and his married friends, and we had a common friend that set this up. And so that's how I met him, and then we got married.

EE:

Was this early on in the time you were in Charleston?

JJ:

No, I had been in Charleston for a good while when I met him.

EE:

You signed on for four years, and yet you left in '54—was that to do something with Gene?

JJ:

We got married, and I decided to get out because he was moving to Camp Lejeune and I wanted to move with him.

EE:

So you thought he would stay in the service and you followed him.

JJ:

Yes, I followed him till he got out.

EE:

How long was he in the service?

JJ:

Oh, I think a couple of years after that. I probably should have transferred; I could have put in for a transfer to Camp Lejeune and worked in the naval hospital here, and I could have still worked and he could have been in the military. But at that time I think he probably wanted me to get out, and I did that.

EE:

But you didn't have to get out for being married?

JJ:

No, I didn't have to get out. I could have stayed in, but a lot of people when they got married they did get out. There were some people that married officers and doctors and whatever in there. I knew one girl who married a doctor. So they weren't really trying to catch people socializing and dating; not when I was in the military. Now, they are very—you see this on TV—I've seen women ostracized for dating an enlisted man, an officer, and this and that. But back then that was not their thing. They were trying to make sure you had liberty when you were allowed to have liberty, and that when you had uniform on you wore that uniform properly. They were looking for criminal conduct; they weren't looking for fallacies in people's personal lives. There's a whole different—When I see these things on TV now, it's all very shocking to me, because I've seen a woman that was probably court marshaled or kicked out. And so it's hard for me to believe these things are happening.

EE:

Well, there's so many more women who are in supervisory positions over men, in a sense, now than there used to be.

JJ:

As far as sexual harassment, I think a woman can stop that. I mean at that time, you know, physical or any type of harassment, if you got any gumption about you, you can handle that yourself. I mean you really can handle that kind of situation.

EE:

What was the toughest thing for you during your time in service?

JJ:

The hardest time away for me? When I first left home and went in boot camp, missing my family. I joined the—well, I went to church, Methodist church, from the time I was a little bitty girl, but I had the spiritual background to fall back on. So, I felt a peace within myself, but there was some people that had a very hard time. And then I had relatives that wrote to me; I had an aunt that wrote to me very often that I went to church with a lot when I was growing up, and that helped me. Aunt Mary wrote to me a lot. And then I had a friend, one of my best girlfriends from high school wrote to me a lot in boot camp. And so that helped me. And I corresponded with the boy that I dated in high school up until shortly until before I met my husband.

EE:

How did—if that's what you took into the service that helped you, what do you think about your time in service changed you the most?

JJ:

I think the discipline. I think I needed the, probably I needed the discipline. I think the boot camp and going to hospital corps school and having to be responsible working in a hospital—a few times sitting up all night with a child that was practically dying—or a person—and knowing that the responsibility is on you to see that that person doesn't die, that will make you responsible. So I think it was good for me. And I think a lot of young people now that are giving their parents a lot of trouble would benefit from the military. I think they need the discipline and the parents don't seem to see; they're just so permissive.

I worked with the state after I finished UNCG. I went to work for crime control, and I worked eight years for the state, and I worked with the juveniles. In most cases, it was single—parent families that the children had gotten in trouble and there was no religious background. So this kind of—

EE:

No structure or support to say what's right and wrong, and no reinforcement from the community—

[both speaking]
JJ:

Right, no structure and no discipline. Right, no structure in the home, and no one saying “hey, that is not the proper thing to do. You don't do that.”

EE:

People need guidance, old and young. You—so if a woman came up to you today and said that they were thinking about joining the service, even with all the changes that have been made in the service, sounds like your advice would be yes?

JJ:

That it's good for you. It would be very good for them.

EE:

And you would council a mom that had concerns like your mom, “Don't worry about it, maybe she needs it”?

JJ:

Yes, that's true. I think the discipline's good.

EE:

The kinds of work have changed a lot. Do you think it's a good thing that women are allowed to do so much more? I mean, we had our first combat pilot in the services in action just a couple of years ago when we bombed Iraq. Do you see the changing in women's roles as a good thing?

JJ:

I do. I think because women are so intelligent they can do a lot.

I have two nephews—now to change from women to men—but I've got two nephews that have gotten their bachelors of science and their masters in the military. One is in the navy and one's in the air force, and I am so very proud of them. One worked intelligence with [Secretary of Defense] Caspar Weinberger and the other one, he's worked with submarines but now he goes all over the country and gives seminars and things.

But as far as women; women can do that too. Women can do anything that a man can do. My daughter used to tell me that. My husband traveled a lot, and she said—one time I said, “We need somebody to fix the door.” And she said “Mother, get a screwdriver and we'll fix it!” [laughter] She said, “Women can do anything a man can do.”

EE:

You and your husband both being in the service, did any of your children have any interest in being in the service?

JJ:

My son was in the military, and he was a military policeman in the army. My daughter, she did have an interest, but my husband got her into college instead of going into the military. But she did have an interest going into the military.

EE:

You were saying that y'all got married in '54; y'all moved to Lejeune for a couple of years. Where did y'all go and what did you all do after that period of time?

JJ:

I had a child. I stayed at home, and we moved after he got out. We moved to Beaumont, Texas. He went to work; we had a small child, and I might have worked a little part-time in hospitals or something, a few times off and on. But I didn't really work until my children got older and I worked at [Moses] Cone Hospital [in Greensboro] in the lab.

EE:

Did y'all go from Beaumont back to Greensboro?

JJ:

We went to Beaumont to McAllen, Texas, and then we moved to Dothan, Alabama, and then we moved to Winston-Salem, and then Greensboro.

EE:

Now, was this all with different employers at each time?

JJ:

No, it was with the same employer for a while. We lived in Houston twice; I've lived in Houston, Texas, twice. We moved quite a bit until we moved to Winston. And then we moved to Greensboro and we stayed in Greensboro for thirty years. Our children were small, and that's not good to move with children, small children; it's hard to do that because they have to make new friends, new schools. So that's hard, very hard.

EE:

You were talking—you worked at Cone Hospital?

JJ:

I worked at Cone Hospital as a med technician, and then I worked at Wesley Long [Hospital in Greensboro] in the lab as EKGs and lab technician. Then I went back to college. I went to UNCG; I decided to back to college. I went part-time and then I went full-time, and I graduated in '85. And I got two degrees, a BA [bachelor of arts] in psychology and a BS [bachelor of science] in social work. And then I went to work for the state. I was thinking about getting my masters in counseling. I could still go back, as old as I am, and I've got some credits, master's credits.

EE:

Did the GI bill help pay for this?

JJ:

No, it didn't pay. I had been out too long; it didn't pay for it. But I had worked and saved money and I paid for my own education. My husband helped us; my daughter and I were both in school; he helped us so much. You know, he would run the sweeper and go pick up food, and he was our very good person to help us get through college. He had one year of college, but he would type up a term paper for me and I would get an 'A' on it. He was a very good, supportive person and helped us get through college, so we appreciate him.

EE:

You were telling me that he passed away in '93?

JJ:

Yes, he did. He had lung cancer and passed away; it was sad.

EE:

Were you working with the state then?

JJ:

Yes, I was working with the state.

EE:

And then you moved up here to be closer to your family.

JJ:

Yes, I moved up here to be closer to my daughter—her husband works at night—to help her with the children. I taught reading from January to May. I tutored reading up at the Walnut Cove Elementary and I enjoyed that immensely, working with children.

EE:

We ask a lot of folks—probably nobody has a better view of patriotism than folks who served in the military. When you look at our country today, compared to when you were in the service, are we more or less patriotic?

JJ:

I think in certain ways—During World War II, people were very, civilians were very patriotic, because they had families that were involved in those wars, and any little sacrifice you had to make, they didn't seem to mind that. And I think people are patriotic, but I think if you have a child or a grandchild, or a husband, or something like that, it really comes home to you. But those people have paid the price for our freedom today, the people who have died. And you see so many, if you go to cemeteries in West Virginia, where there is eighteen- or nineteen-year-old boys that have been killed in the different wars, and sometimes we forgot about that. Because what would Adolf Hitler have done if he hadn't been stopped? Our leaders had the vision of having to stop these people. We've had presidents—and if it hadn't been for Winston Churchill and [Franklin] Roosevelt and people like that having a vision that they had to do whatever it was needed to stop these people, what would have happened to us?

And I think the same way with this Bosnia thing. When I sit here and watch that and I say, "Oh, why is our president getting us involved in that," but it's the same, it's a vision that he had of how far will these people go. Sometimes when you see these bombers bombing and bombing every day and every day, and I say "Oh, this is a really bad thing." But it could escalate into something worse, and then so many innocent children and people are killed in wars. But if it's not's touched to you, you don't realize it. But I've seen people come back from these wars with twisted arms in psychiatric wards and things where they've been traumatized seeing people killed and all. So this is real, you know? This is real.

[End Side A—Begin Side B]

EE:

You were telling me that you had a romantic vision of joining the service.

JJ:

Right, you have a romantic vision of putting on a uniform and looking as good as the posters and being proud of yourself and this and that, and doing something different that's exciting and interesting. This is the kind of the vision I had. And I knew it was the right thing to do. What I was doing was the right thing to do, not only for myself but for my country and my family. I look back and I think I grew a lot and learned a lot. I think it was good for me. I didn't stay in a small town; I was able to accomplish something, eventually go to college; even though I paid for it myself, I had the motivation. I think it helped me as far as motivation and discipline. I think it was very good for me. It taught me those things.

And I look at my nephews that graduated from high school and they didn't, neither one, had the money to go to college, and they got their bachelors and their masters. And they're just working and doing well, you know? They did it themselves; their parents divorced, and so I'm just really proud of them. And women—since I moved up here, I'm in a home extension. And the lady that's president of that, her daughter went to Duke on scholarships and became a navy officer. And she's been in countries; several different countries, and served over there. She has her masters and she's a teacher, and she's an example of what young women now can do. So that's good.

EE:

Four questions I want to get through, and then I think I've covered things. Were you ever, during your time in service, were you ever afraid?

JJ:

No. I was never afraid. I was never afraid personally in any way. I was never afraid. The only problem I ever had was in boot camp, I had met a girl from Huntington that had been in service before and she was older. I was having problems sewing on some of my insignias, and she said “I'm going to help you do some of these things; I've been in before.” And she helped me. It seemed like all my life, even when I went to UNCG, when I really needed help with something, somebody was there. When I had French at UNCG, a young man that was twenty asked me to go study with him at the Elliot Center for my exam. And it seemed like all my life, somebody has been placed, when I had some type of problem, somebody's been there. So I'm optimistic about it.

EE:

Sounds providential to me. If you're looking for it, you realize somebody is providing help.

JJ:

Right, somebody has always been there to help me. And then when I went to work for Commander Musow, he helped me and he made it interesting for me by talking to me about the cases and letting me look at the slides. And so he took something that would have been very routine and boring after a while, and he made it interesting.

EE:

The one thing that happens to everybody no matter when they're in service is that you're confronted with people from all different parts of the country, all different walks of life, and backgrounds. One of the questions I'm supposed to ask people, and it's uncomfortable to ask. The theoretical question is, what's your most embarrassing moment while you were in the service? And if you don't feel comfortable sharing that, could you share with us a funny story about you or somebody else that happened while you were in the service?

JJ:

Well, let me see. A funny story? It's hard for me to think of an embarrassing thing. Well, I don't know if there's anything funny happened to me or not, or anybody else.

EE:

I'm sure there's probably a dating story that your daughter would like to hear. [laughter]

JJ:

A dating story.

EE:

But there are no characters stand out in your mind then, or people that struck you as memorable, either in boot camp or in training at work?

JJ:

No, I can't think of anybody. I had a lieutenant one time, a woman who tried to put me in—when I worked for commander Musow—she tried to take my job as his assistant and place me somewhere else. And he told her, “Go get Miss Gooch!” [laughs] That sticks out.

EE:

It's nice to be wanted.

JJ:

It's nice to be wanted. He didn't want her to work for him and he sent her after me. There's probably a lot of funny things that happened to me, but right now I just can't think of them. But I enjoyed my military life, I really did.

EE:

Somewhere during the time you were in, I'm sure From Here To Eternity came out; it must have been '52 or '53. Are there movies or are there songs that when you see the movie or hear the song, for you, take you back to those days in service?

JJ:

Gone with the Wind was a popular movie. Gone with the Wind. Patti Page sang a song that's not coming to me, but she had a popular song out at that time. I think the thing that was important to me about that time was that there were no drugs. People weren't scared of going to different places. I would go to a bus and go to a different city I wasn't familiar with. And I was just very young and I would go to Baltimore or Washington, D.C. and stay at a women's hotel, spend the weekend and go sight-seeing and things. I wasn't afraid to walk the streets.

EE:

People would look out for each other.

JJ:

Yes they were. There wasn't muggers and things like that during those days, people walking around with a weapon or something like that. You were free to walk the streets in bigger cities is what I'm trying to say. You didn't have that fear, you didn't walk around with fear all the time. People now have securities in their houses and cell phones, and those things weren't invented yet. Fear was not a thing that people walked around with.

EE:

You were active in Greensboro in the WAVES union, president of the local WAVES group. How did you get involved with that group? Were you always somebody who stayed in contact with other WAVES after you left the service, or how did that come about?

JJ:

I'd seen an ad in the paper from when they were first starting the group of Navy WAVES, and I called this number, called the telephone number, and got involved that way. Ellen Morehead was president and she ran an ad in the paper and gave a telephone number. And I called and got in touch with her and started attending the meetings and got involved that way. And I was the vice president with Grace Alexander, and then I became president for a year. Then I had pneumonia and Laura Anderton was the vice president and I made her co-president during that time. I absolutely love Laura; she's a great person.

EE:

Well, there certainly have been no better friends than to our program than the WAVES in Greensboro, because they've shared a lot of their stories. And I'm glad we could add your story to the list of those who have helped us out.

JJ:

Well, my story isn't as exciting as some people from World War II. After I retired, I tried to go out and visit people that were sick; there were some people that had illnesses. I think that was a good thing for me, to do and get involved in that.

EE:

One of the things that's interesting, in listening to your story, is that a lot of the women I talked to were in World War II; their service experience was so different in their life. You took it and made it a basis for the rest of your life, because of what you were exposed to and the kind of work. So in a sense it's different, longer-lasting story—so don't sell yourself short. [chuckle]

JJ:

Well, I think about it, and when I was in boot camp some of the girls had musical instruments and we'd get together at night and play and sing, and there was a lot of camaraderie. I enjoyed that; women friends and enjoying things. And I looked up to our leaders. That was something very different for me, to have women officers; they did their job well, they were good, good at what they did. We had one women, a lieutenant talked to us and she said, “Don't let anybody ever tell you shouldn't be in the military. You belong here. You have a right to be here. You're not taking anybody else's job, you're not doing that. You deserve to be here.” She talked to us and I think that did me a lot of good. Because once in a while a man that would think a woman was trying to take an office job or something, and then he had to go overseas.

EE:

It's the other side of the positive, the free man to fight. Well, that means for that man “I got to go fight.”[chuckle]

JJ:

Right, “I'd rather do this office work than go over.” But anyway, if they're drafted, they would feel that way. But I enlisted. A lot of kids from home enlisted. It's like I'm saying, my two nephews have turned that into a great opportunity for them.

EE:

Well, we've gone through all the questions I was supposed to get through with you today, but is there anything about your service time and what's meant to you and your family that I had not asked you about that you want to share?

JJ:

Well, my daughter, you know she puts up veteran's pictures and everything. She put my picture and her father's picture in the paper, and she's extremely proud of us being in the military, and I think she sees the importance of that. She writes up these things not only me, but other veterans. She knows it's important.

EE:

The great thing about women of your age is that—well, no woman has ever been drafted to serve. They're all volunteers.

JJ:

Yes, that's right, they were all volunteers. Now I have on my husband's—on his mother['s side], he married a woman that was one of the first women to fly. And she became—she has her doctorate, she was a designer for Bell Lab, she was a friend of Lady Bird Johnson's. She did some kind of record with flying—I don't know what she did, but she's—so there is women that do things. I don't know if it was before it was the air force or what its called before it was the air force.

EE:

I know there were some WASPs, Women Air Service Pilots.

JJ:

That's probably what she was. His name is Lester Struther and she's Dora. And has her doctorate and became a designer for Bell Labs. She broke some kind of record for flying, and that was before the air force. He told me about this; he wrote to me and was telling me about this. I think she's in the women's memorial.

EE:

Have you been to the WIMSA [Women In Military Service for America], the memorial?

JJ:

I haven't been up there, no, I haven't. I'd love to see it, though.

EE:

It's a pretty place. We've been up there a couple of times, it's really nice.

Well, on behalf of the school and myself, thank you.

[End of Interview]