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

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Shirley Dowd Brantley, 2001

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: WV0211.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Shirley Dowd Brantley’s service in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 to 1954.

Summary:

Brantley recalls childhood memories of World War II, including blackouts and air raids in her hometown of Pittsburgh, victory gardens, rationing, the death of President Roosevelt, and VE Day celebrations. She discusses enlisting in the air force shortly after her high school graduation, hoping for travel and higher education opportunities.

Topics from Brantley's air force service include: the train ride to Lackland Air Force Base; the barracks and physical training at basic training; her dental technician training at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, including co-ed classes, a polio scare at Lake Michigan, training with the Marines and U.S. Navy, and barracks life; her return to Lackland; and meeting her future husband.

Post-service topics include keeping in touch with service friends; moving for her husband’s career; and raising her children.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Shirley D. Brantley Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today is May the second in the year 2001, and I am in Statesville, North Carolina, today at the home of Shirley Brantley.

So, Mrs. Brantley, thank you for agreeing to sit down with us today and talk to us a little bit about your air force career. I'm sure when you signed on in 1952 that you had no inkling that some day someone would come back and ask you all the details of your career choice.

SB:

No.

EE:

I guess my first question is what I try to ask everybody and start out with, and that is simply to tell us where were you born and where you grew up.

SB:

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I grew up there.

EE:

Was your family from that area for a long time?

SB:

Yes, yes, it was.

EE:

What did your folks do?

SB:

My father was a carpenter, and Mom stayed at home.

EE:

Being a carpenter means you're an independent contractor, and it's the Depression. How was that?

SB:

No, he worked for a company. When they first started doing Formica, he was working for a company.

EE:

Oh, okay. So he had some steady work then?

SB:

Yes, yes. He did.

EE:

That was good. Your mom was at home?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

SB:

I'm the oldest of six.

EE:

There is something to be said for being the oldest.

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Having survived as one. Brothers? Sisters? A little of both?

SB:

Three brothers, two sisters.

EE:

You've got a good softball team, too.

When you were young, were you somebody who liked school?

SB:

Oh, yes. Yes, I liked school.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

SB:

Reading. I love to read, yes.

EE:

Do you like to read fiction or nonfiction?

SB:

Fiction, poetry. I just like to read. My punishment was that I couldn't read if I didn't do what I had to.

EE:

You must have really liked to read. Always had a book in your hand?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Okay. Goodness, gracious.

You were born in '34. About the time you started school, the war started?

SB:

That's right. Yes.

EE:

Do you remember anything at all about Pearl Harbor Day and the start of the war?

SB:

Well, not that particular aspect of it, no. But I remember the air raids that we used to have, blackouts, you know. The city would be blacked out, and everybody would have to turn all their lights out. You couldn't have lights on at all. Those were frightening times for a child.

EE:

As something from my generation's perspective, Pittsburgh is not on the ocean.

SB:

No. No, it's not.

EE:

And yet, people were real worried about inland attacks.

SB:

Absolutely, because any attack, you could see—if we were attacked, any lights, that would be a point of contact, you know. I mean, they would see where to drop bombs or something. That was very real. Of course, the movies of that time, they were very real, too.

EE:

If you were the oldest, then, I guess none of your brothers and sisters were in that particular war. Was your dad in service?

SB:

No.

EE:

Or did his work change because of the war?

SB:

No, I wouldn't say that it did. They did big jobs, you know, like the railway station in downtown Pittsburgh, things like that. So no, his work pretty much stayed steady.

EE:

I know my mom talks about when she was young, she remembered when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away. Do you remember it?

SB:

I sure do. I remember Mother crying and crying. She'd been hanging clothes in the yard—this is how vivid the memory is—hanging clothes in the yard, and she went in to get another load, and she heard it over the radio. I think that was the end of her washing that day. It was like me with Kennedy, when Kennedy was shot, you know. It was just a very, very sad time, yes.

EE:

You would have only been ten or eleven when that happened?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

How about the end of that war? How was that as a kid?

SB:

I remember that. I remember all of the cars, horns blowing. We lived off of a four-lane highway, and I had been down to the grocery store, and I was on my way back, walking up alongside of the highway, and the car horns started blowing and everything, and I didn't know what was happening. Somebody hollered and said that the war was over. Even out where we lived. We didn't live right in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, but on the outskirts there, and celebration all over the place.

EE:

It was fun to see people having a good time after a while, wasn't it?

SB:

It was. It was, yes.

EE:

You, I guess, graduated from high school in '49 or '50?

SB:

No, '52, just before I went in the service.

EE:

So it's twelve years of schooling.

SB:

Yes.

EE:

What high school did you go to? Was it private?

SB:

No, no. It was a public high school.

EE:

What was the name of that one?

SB:

South Hills High School.

EE:

When you were in high school, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do when you got out?

SB:

I knew I didn't want to stay in Pittsburgh for the rest of my life, and my parents couldn't afford to send me to college. So I was looking for some way to continue my education and get to see something besides Pittsburgh. That's why I decided to join the service.

EE:

Were there some other friends of yours who had thought of the same idea?

SB:

Well, one girl in school, and everybody thought she would surely go, but she backed out at the last minute. But I pretty much had my mind made up that that's what I wanted to do.

EE:

Did they have ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] in your school?

SB:

No. Well, if they did, I didn't know anything about that.

EE:

I guess it would have been your sophomore year that Korea broke out?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

I guess that probably affected some of the guys in your class.

SB:

It would have affected them, yes. But of course, all my life, my girlfriends' brothers went off to the Korean conflict and that, yes. I remember that.

EE:

In your age bracket, you pretty much had war the whole time growing up.

SB:

That's right.

EE:

It was just not usual to be at peace, it seemed like.

SB:

No, that's true.

EE:

Did you have any military history in your family? Was anybody in the service in your family?

SB:

I had one uncle who was in during the Second World War.

EE:

So your motivation was not to free a man to fight or to save democracy for the free world, but to travel, which is a lot of people's motivation.

SB:

Yes, but it was more than just to travel. I guess there were things I could have done, but it did have kind of a patriotic sense about it in doing something for my country, because we had done something for our country. We had planted the gardens, we had saved—

EE:

So you had the victory garden? You had the rationing stamps?

SB:

We did, absolutely. Yes, we did. The tokens and the stamps and everything like that. My father was such a conservation—he made his own soap. We did what we could to basically help the war effort.

EE:

That had been part of your growing up for so long—

SB:

Yes, it had been.

EE:

—it was not an extra thing. It was almost an expected thing for you?

SB:

Part of it. That's right. Although it wasn't expected by anybody else, because I ran into conflict for my mother, in particular, when I said that's what I wanted to do. She said she would not sign for me. So my father stepped in, oh, very out of character for him, and said, “Well, if you don't, I will, because I don't ever want her to come back some day and say that we kept her from doing something she wanted to do.”

EE:

Did they get over that rift? Well, that's interesting, because I guess at that time if you were under twenty-one, you had to have a parent's signature still?

SB:

Yes. That's right.

EE:

You could have joined a number of branches of the service, because after '48, all of them took women.

SB:

Yes.

EE:

What made you choose the air force?

SB:

Well, now, that was a very—I liked their uniform best. That was it, and I had hoped some day that I would be able to fly. I didn't know if that would ever be a possibility. It was a remote possibility. I think it might have. I didn't want to go on a boat, for sure. I didn't want to live on a ship someplace.

EE:

If nothing else, being in the air force, you might be close to a pilot who might take you up in that airplane.

SB:

That's right.

EE:

Had you ever been in a plane before that?

SB:

No, no.

EE:

When you signed on in the summer of '52—and you were doing this right out of high school?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Had you had a job when you were in high school?

SB:

Oh, yes. Everybody had jobs when we were in high school.

EE:

When you signed on, how long was your tour? Was it a three-year hitch?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Did they give you an option of what you would like to do in the service or where you would like to go? Or was it simply, “Sign here”?

SB:

It was simply, “Sign here and we'll see what you can do,” basically is what it was. No, they didn't give us an option.

EE:

Had you ever traveled outside the Pittsburgh area much before joining the service?

SB:

No.

EE:

So you hadn't been out of state much at all?

SB:

No, no.

EE:

You signed up in July. How long before you were actually called up?

SB:

I went in in July.

EE:

So it was a short turnaround for you? You just went to the local recruiting station?

SB:

That's right, yes.

EE:

And then went by train to—

SB:

Yes, I did.

EE:

So you immediately got out of state because they sent you to Lackland Air Force Base, to San Antonio?

SB:

That's right, to Texas. Yes.

EE:

Were you on a train with other women?

SB:

Yes, there were several other women from other parts of the state that came on down that way. Only one name I remember. Her name was Jacqueline Strawcutter.

EE:

An easy one to remember, yes.

SB:

Yes. The others I don't remember, but I remember that, and we traveled down, and that was quite an experience, to travel that far away on a train.

EE:

Now, I guess at this time, y'all were not in uniform, but I guess they had you together in a special car or a section of a car?

SB:

Yes, we were all together. We were traveling together.

EE:

How long did it take you to get down to San Antonio?

SB:

Oh, it took us several days to get there, because we had to go through Saint Louis, and we had a short layover in Saint Louis. But it took a couple of days to get there. We left at suppertime one night, after supper one night.

EE:

And you were there at suppertime two days later?

SB:

Probably, yes.

EE:

What was basic like for you?

SB:

Oh, I liked it. I really enjoyed basic training. But, see, I always liked things real structured. So I really enjoyed it. I loved the military music. I loved the marching. I loved the saluting. I just loved it.

EE:

Yet, that kind of activity had not been part of your life before then?

SB:

No.

EE:

What about the physical nature of it? Because for some people, PT [physical training] is a tough thing.

SB:

No, no.

EE:

That was all right for you?

SB:

Sure, yes. I was always very energetic and athletic.

EE:

I guess most of the women that you were going through basic with were about your age? Or were you one of the younger ones? You might have been one of the younger ones, coming right out of high school?

SB:

A lot of women were about my age, going into the service, probably for basically the same reasons. But most of the ones that I knew could not have been more than maybe a year older than me, that were in basic training with me. As I think back on it, maybe a couple were a couple of years older, but basically we were within the same.

EE:

What was a typical day of basic like for you? When did you get up in the morning? What did you do?

SB:

We got up, and we cleaned up the room and everything. Then we had to—

EE:

Was it four to a room, or was it a big barracks? What was your housing like?

SB:

We had two to a room.

EE:

That's pretty private.

SB:

Yes, we did. We had very nice—no, no, no, four to a room. See, we're really going back into my memory. There were two to a room. There were not four to a room.

EE:

Okay.

SB:

There were two to a room.

EE:

So you had some bathroom privacy, you must have, the way this housing arrangement was set up?

SB:

Well, no, because they had a large bathroom. You had to go down the hall to go to the bathroom. They had several showers there and lavatories. After we got up and got the room cleaned up and everything, then we went out, and we formed up, and then we marched over to the dining hall and went into the dining hall, and came out. Then we went to school. We got through with school—yes, this is still basic training. Basically, we—I'm trying to think back if we did all of that. We ran, but I can't tell you what—it's been so long.

EE:

Well, were all of your instructors women?

SB:

Yes, yes, they were.

EE:

How many women were stationed at that base? Were there a lot?

SB:

Yes, it was a training base for men and women. I know it was one of the large bases. I can't tell you how many there were.

EE:

It's interesting, because throughout most of the fifties, especially after Korea, they really were not looking to get a lot of women into the services. They really didn't quite know what to do with them once they had. But when you were at basic, I guess at the end, you had to have some kind of battery of tests or figure out aptitude stuff. Were you given a choice then, at the end of basic?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

What was the choice given to you? What kind of positions or work could you do?

SB:

Well, medical or dental or clerical, and I could not see me in clerical. I had taken typing three times.

EE:

Somebody was trying to tell you something.

SB:

I didn't want to do that, so I chose the dental then, because my aptitude suggested that would be okay. So then I was—

EE:

I had a roommate of mine, who was going to go to dental school. That was his plan. The first year of dental, he had great academic book skills, and he found out he couldn't use his hands. That was a big thing, that he had to have the hand skills.

SB:

Yes. See, my husband, in the kind of work that he does, he's a dental lab technician. He makes dentures, and partials, and things like that, and he's got the hands for that.

EE:

It is a craft skill to it, a lot of it?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

What is the work of a dental technician? You were telling me before we started this that to do this kind of work as a civilian, you basically have to be trained as a dental hygienist?

SB:

That's right.

EE:

Is it dental hygienist work in the service?

SB:

At that time.

EE:

At that time it was?

SB:

Sure, because I went to school with the navy, and we learned how to make X-rays. We went to bacteriology class. We had to go to learn how to work at the dental chair, all the instruments and everything, how to work at the dental chair, whether you're just filling teeth and doing things like that. Then there's the surgery part that we had to learn, and then we had to learn how to clean teeth, and know how to treat diseases of the mouth when we spotted them.

As we progressed in school, we got to the point where we were working on the trainees that came through up there at Great Lakes.

EE:

How long was basic for you at San Antonio? About a month? Or was it longer?

SB:

No, it was longer than that. From July, I think, until September. July the eleventh until the end of September.

EE:

You didn't do any of your dental tech training there?

SB:

No, no.

EE:

That's a pretty long basic. That's over two months. Probably ten weeks, I would guess, if I did the numbers on it. How long were you at Great Lakes?

SB:

I was there from the end of September until Christmastime.

EE:

When you were training at the Great Lakes Naval Center outside Chicago, was that coed? Was that men and women learning to be dental technicians, or just women?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

So it was coed?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Most of the times when I talk to women about their basic, they're pretty much either too pooped or to isolated to have any kind of a social life at the end of the day during basic. Was that your case?

SB:

Oh, sure. In fact, we weren't permitted to, really.

EE:

If you're going to school with people of the opposite gender, was the social life a little bit better when you got to Great Lakes?

SB:

Yes, Great Lakes. Definitely, it was. Sure. But no, see, in basic, you know, we just stayed with the women. We weren't going to school with the men. But up there, sure, it was coed.

EE:

I guess the women were housed separately from the men?

SB:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Was the housing there at the training center, or was anybody finding their own housing?

SB:

Oh, no, it was there. We stayed in the barracks up there.

EE:

That was a typical eight-to-five kind of training day?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

When you were working on patients, was that also eight to five, or did you have somebody on staff like for emergency purposes, if somebody had a problem?

SB:

No, no, no. That was during the class time, sure. That was all supervised. We weren't just turned loose. It was all supervised.

EE:

In the course of six months, you have done about a 3,000-mile triangulation, from Pittsburgh, down to Texas, up to Chicago—a great place to be in the winter. You're in Pittsburgh. They're used to lake-effect snow. Did you get to travel around much in either of those places, either at San Antonio or in Chicago?

SB:

In Chicago, I went downtown. I didn't really like downtown Chicago. Of course, it wasn't a good time of year to be up there with the lake, as you said. But we couldn't go near the lake, anyway, because there had been a polio scare, and this is before Salk [polio vaccine]. So you weren't allowed to go near the water. There had been an outbreak of polio up in that area, so we couldn't go there.

“I liked it up in Milwaukee. We used to go up in Milwaukee a couple of times. I liked it up there better.”
EE:

Were your instructors both men and women, too, at the Naval Training Center?

SB:

Men.

EE:

All men?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

One of the things, and it's probably not as bad—

SB:

I say that.

EE:

Okay. She's going to take a look at something.

SB:

There might be a woman in one of these pictures. Yes, there is a woman. But I really don't recall. Basically, I do, but maybe she did part of our, maybe our health part. I can't remember what her name is. I don't have anything with it on it.

EE:

It looks like that there were about fifty folks taking that class?

SB:

This is only half of the class. I have another picture with the other half.

EE:

Okay. So there's a good hundred people taking this.

SB:

Yes. Large class.

EE:

Classes were big. This was the training facility for everybody in the service that was getting this kind of training, right? Just one for dental technicians?

SB:

Well, the air force simply didn't have a school. I don't know about the army. Now, the Marines were with us here.

EE:

So you had people from the different branches of service?

SB:

The three different branches, yes. The army was not with us, that I recall.

EE:

So this was for Marines, [U.S.] Naval, and [U.S.] Air Force.

SB:

Yes.

EE:

I guess that's because it was a specialized training?

SB:

Probably.

EE:

I guess your instructors were also a mix of personnel from the difference branches, or were they?

SB:

Mostly navy, you see. Mostly navy. This gentleman here was air force, and I think probably simply because the air force personnel was there. But basically it was—here's one more air force person.

EE:

If you're with the other women in Texas, and you're with a mix of a different kind of service personnel, all of whom were studying to be dental techs, the first six months you haven't met many pilots yet, have you?

SB:

No pilots. [laughs]

EE:

It doesn't sound like you're lingering too near the airfield at all. [laughs]

SB:

No. No, no, no.

EE:

One of the things—and as the years go by, it's not as bad as it was at first, but did you ever had any trouble with other male people in the service giving you grief about being a woman and doing a job that was a man's job?

SB:

No, no. Never did. Never in the service, no. I can't even say—there were just a few civilian people that I knew, young people that gave me grief about going in. Then whenever I came home, you know, they still gave me grief, but that was rather inconsequential.

EE:

So it was civilians. When the services first started integrating women into them, first, I guess, the army, they had a lot of trouble that they just—an active slur campaign, really, that the women had poor morals.

SB:

That's right.

EE:

So you didn't have that?

SB:

Not generally in the service, no. But, see, you have to think about the time. I mean, so many of these young men who were in there had lost brothers or uncles or something, you know, and a lot of women had already been in the service by the time I—

EE:

It was not a new thing.

SB:

No, it wasn't really, no.

EE:

When you were there, I guess Korea is winding down that summer?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Ike [President Eisenhower] came in that fall, '52. Wasn't he elected in '52 the first time? I think he beat [Adlai] Stevenson the first time in the fall of '52.

SB:

I don't know. I wasn't into politics at that time.

EE:

As I say, most people in their late teens really are not too concerned about the world at large, are they?

SB:

No. I can remember, but I could not pinpoint dates or times, because I simply wasn't into it then, you know.

EE:

You were there through Christmastime?

SB:

Up until Christmas. Let's see. No, I guess Christmas was the end. Then from there I went home on leave and went down to Lackland.

EE:

So you spent Christmas that year back at home?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Wearing a uniform, impressing people? When you finished your basic, your rank was?

SB:

Airman, third class, one stripe.

EE:

Then when you come out of your specialized training as a dental tech, what's your rank?

SB:

I was still airman, third, and right after I got back to Lackland and had been on the base for a period of time, I became airman, second.

EE:

How was the work? Was it good work? Did you like the work?

SB:

Yes, I enjoyed the work. Yes.

EE:

You had a regular eight-to-five schedule?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

You had weekends off?

SB:

Yes, right.

EE:

Rooming with other women?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

I guess I'm trying to figure out the numbers, because I haven't interviewed that many people who were in the regular air force at that time. What was the number of women, you'd say would be stationed down there? You say it was a training facility at Lackland?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

How many were actually stationed there who weren't going through for training?

SB:

We had a large firm and party group: all of the nurses, all of the medical people, all of the clerical people. Well, two women to a room there. Again, there's nice barracks. We really had nice barracks. Gosh. One barracks separated by a day room. Let's say it would be like about—twelve, twenty-four, forty-eight-probably about ninety-six women to a barracks. Well, we had a lot of barracks over there. I don't know how many. I'm just trying to picture it.

EE:

So it was several hundred that were stationed there?

SB:

Oh, well over, yes.

EE:

I guess the bases there were still getting a lot of traffic as they were moving stuff back from Korea, or was there a lot of traffic?

SB:

I don't know, because we weren't involved in that part since we were a training base.

EE:

You simply stayed on the side that was training? When you came back to Lackland, your dental work was basically with these trainees, who were having difficulty?

SB:

No. No, no. We were dealing with all the people who were permanent party on the base, but we didn't deal with the other. For instance, where that operation would have taken place, where they would have been bringing people back, would have been Kelly Field, which was attached to Lackland, and had been the army air force base before Lackland was formed to become just the air force base. So that's where you flew in and out of, was Kelly Field. So actually, while we saw planes and they were all around us and everything, they didn't fly into Lackland, not that I knew of, anyway. They flew into Kelly Field.

EE:

You were relaying that your husband, Charles, was a dental lab technician after the service. Was he doing that work in the service? Is that how you all met?

SB:

That's right. Yes.

EE:

How long were you down there before you said, “Hello”?

SB:

Let's see.

EE:

We'll stop right here and find out.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

SB:

I went back to Lackland in January of '53, and I did not meet him until, let's see, it must have been about September or October of that year. Then I met him, because my roommate said that was the man I was going to marry.

EE:

Uh-oh.

SB:

Because she worked with him.

EE:

What was your roommate's name?

SB:

Her name was—what was her name then? I know her married name. I can't think of her married name.

EE:

What's her married name?

SB:

Mary Roberts. She was a new roommate of mine. I didn't know her very well, but she worked with Chuck, with my husband. She came home one day, and she said, “I met the man you're going to marry.” I couldn't believe it. She was very distressed with him, because he used to tease her and that. She was annoyed with him, because he would tease her. But that's what she told me. So she introduced us, but we didn't start dating for months after that.

EE:

So you didn't actually work with him? Your roommate worked with him?

SB:

My roommate did, yes. I worked in oral surgery, and he worked over at the lab, which the building is kind of—

EE:

He ended up doing the same kind of work after the service that he did in the service?

SB:

That's right. Yes.

EE:

Whether it's dentures or whatever kind of prosthetic dental work.

SB:

Partials, yes.

EE:

Had he been in the service long?

SB:

Let's see. When I met him, he had been in there two and half years, I guess.

EE:

So you all started dating. Were you dating by Christmastime in '53?

SB:

No, no. We didn't start dating, probably, until about March of '54.

EE:

Beware of spring, because when it happens, it doesn't take long, if you got out by December of that year.

SB:

Yes. Well, now, I did go to a New Year's Eve dance with one of my friends. We didn't date. We didn't want to go out with a date. We just went to the NCO [Non-Commissioned Officers] club, and so I danced with him that New Year's Eve, the second dance of the New Year. The first dance of the New Year, he was dancing with somebody else, but the second dance of the New Year, I asked him to dance.

EE:

You asked him. That was very forward of you.

SB:

Yes. That was something I didn't usually do.

EE:

That's great. When did you all get married?

SB:

Not until November.

EE:

I guess at that point, did you have to leave the service if you were married?

SB:

Well, he was leaving.

EE:

His three years had been up?

SB:

Four years, yes. He was leaving, and so he wasn't going to leave me there.

EE:

But at that time, had he stayed in the service, you could have stayed in the service if you wanted to?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

So due to circumstances beyond your forethought, you never really considered making the service a career?

SB:

No, no. I never did.

EE:

That probably wasn't in your plan all along. You simply wanted to see a different part of the world?

SB:

That's right, and learn something.

EE:

Well, you are learning about yourself, when you're in the service, too, aren't you?

SB:

That's true. That's true. That's absolutely true, yes.

EE:

Are there particular songs or movies that you see sometimes, that when you hear them or see them take you back to those days in service?

SB:

Yes. Three Coins in a Fountain. Oh, there were so many songs. Pat Boone's songs. Love Letters in the Sand. Little Things Mean a Lot. That was our song, Little Things Mean a Lot.

But movies, yes. Snows of Kilimanjaro. We went to see the—well, that wasn't a movie. We went to see the Harlem Globetrotters. We did go to movies. They're just not coming to my mind right offhand.

EE:

Before you left in December of '54, did you ever make it up in an airplane?

SB:

No. Well, no. Let's see. I never flew at all. No, I traveled by train everywhere I went. I'm trying to think. Maybe I did fly out of Chicago to Pittsburgh, but I didn't make it up in an air force plane, for sure. No. Of course, I've flown since then, back and forth from here to Pittsburgh. But once I learned to drive, which wasn't until much later than usual in a person's life from that time, I never fly anymore. I drive wherever I want to go.

EE:

When did you learn to drive?

SB:

I didn't learn to drive until I was twenty-eight. When my son—I did that as a Father's Day present to Chuck, because we had five girls, and I was expecting our sixth child, and I thought, “He can't do all this, so I'll learn to drive, and that'll be a Father's Day present for him.”

EE:

That's great. You came out of the service in '54. Was he from this area?

SB:

Yes, he was from Monroe, North Carolina.

EE:

Okay. I was going to say, how did you get back to North Carolina? Did he come back to work in Monroe?

SB:

We came back to Monroe, because he had a dream to buy a sandwich shop, a drive-in sandwich shop, and we did do that. We bought the drive-in sandwich shop, and we ran it until it started running us, and then we sold it. He went to work for a private dentist up in Rocky Mount [North Carolina], so he could learn to do gold work, crown and bridgework and everything, and then he went from there to a lab in Durham [North Carolina], so he could get up his speed at the other lab work, and then from there, he came here and opened his own business.

EE:

You say he came back in '54. You were at Monroe at the sandwich shop for what? About five years?

SB:

Oh, no, no. It was just a matter of—let's see. We were there like about six or seven months.

EE:

When was the first baby?

SB:

She was born in June, yes. So he decided he was going to get back into the service, and he went up, and he was going to go back, because we really had worked so hard at that. We each worked ninety-four hours a week. That's a lot of work to put in.

EE:

You can do that when you're young, but it'll make you old fast.

SB:

We had lots of money, but we didn't have time. You know? We made lots of money there. Anyway, so he was going to go back into the service, and then they let him sit too long and think about it, and that's it. He decided not to. So that's when he went to work up in Rocky Mount, and then went to Durham. Fortunately, this place came open.

EE:

So he was at the private dentist in Rocky Mount for a couple of years?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

And then Durham for how long?

SB:

Well, let's see. I'm trying to think by babies.

EE:

At this time, you were home raising the family, is what you were doing?

SB:

Yes, that's what I was doing, because Lisa—well, he was only there with him for maybe about a year, for only about a year, and then he came here and opened the lab.

EE:

So the private dentist was in Rocky Mount or in Durham?

SB:

Rocky Mount.

EE:

And then opened the lab here?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

So y'all have been here since—how long?

SB:

Let's see. He came here in October of '57, so I don't know if those years jive together. Maybe he wasn't there two years in Durham. Not two years with Dr. [unclear]. He may not have been there that long. However long that works out, because when he came here, Lisa was a baby. That's our second child.

EE:

So you've had a full run with the household of eight, and then starting your own business. You did get out of Pittsburgh, and you traveled around.

SB:

Yes, and I love the South. I love the South. It's just where my heart's always been.

EE:

Well, you seem to have lost a lot of the transitional thing. Did any of your kids ever have an interest in serving in the service?

SB:

No, not really. No.

EE:

They were probably too young for Vietnam.

SB:

They were in between. They've got no concept of what that would be like.

EE:

If a young woman came to you today—as occasionally they do when they find out other people have been in the service—and said, “I'm thinking about joining,” what would you tell her?

SB:

I think I would have to tell her that it's a different world. I wouldn't know what kind of experience she might have. Certainly, it wouldn't be comparable to mine, because of the coed training and the whole different attitudes, you know, the expectations, and some of the women have put those expectations on themselves.

EE:

When you were in the service, in the air force, were you regular air force, or was it Air Force Women's Reserve? What was the title of the group?

SB:

It was just the air force.

EE:

Regular air force?

SB:

Yes.

EE:

Because they've had separate women's units for the others.

SB:

No.

EE:

The air force, when you went in, it was the regular air force. What do you think about the fact that things are different, that they're coed so much? Two years ago, we had a woman fighter pilot bombing Baghdad, for heaven's sakes.

SB:

I know.

EE:

How do you feel about that? Is that a good thing?

SB:

No, I don't think it's a good thing. I mean, I think it could be a good thing, if she chose to do that, but nobody has a choice about that, if she wants to fly and bomb and do that. But, I mean, the training part, they don't have a choice about that. They don't have separate women and separate men's training. When you go in nowadays, you just—it's coeducational, for sure, or cohabitation, or however you want to say it.

EE:

More cohabitational than coeducational?

SB:

That's right. That's right. You might be getting a big education, too.

EE:

One of the things that we have talked to a lot of the women about is, if you're serving in the forties and fifties, there's not that many women on a given street who have decided to go into the service.

SB:

No, that's true.

EE:

Do you feel like you were a pioneer in doing that?

SB:

Yes, I do. I never thought about it at the time. That's not anything that was in my head, but yes, I was the only person that I ever heard of, as far as a female going into the service.

EE:

Do you keep up with folks like Mary and other people who you ran into in the service?

SB:

We recently spoke to Mary and Chuck, yes. They are living in Florida. He stayed. I mean, he retired. He became a career man. So they traveled all over the country, but they're living in his hometown in Florida. So we've recently spoken to them, yes. We kept track of them. My husband's kept track of his friends of the years. Every once in a while, he picks up the phone and calls somebody, or they'll call him. But I have not. You know, if some of the women got married and their name's different, you just lose track of them.

EE:

It's very easy to do. You had the good fortune of meeting the fellow who you're spending the rest of your life with, and I congratulate you on spending the rest of your life with him.

Everybody, when they're in service, has a story or two which they find humorous. In fact, I'm supposed to ask you the question: what was your most embarrassing time in the service, your embarrassing moment? It doesn't necessarily have to be about you. Is there just a funny story that you can remember from your time in the service, a funny thing that happened to you, either at work or off work?

SB:

I can't think of one.

EE:

When you were off hours from work, did the girls go out together, socialize together? Did you go to the NCO club? Where did you go?

SB:

Well, we'd go to the club. Just go off base and eat, or go to the movies. Of course, on the base we had all the up-to-date movies. We didn't have to go off base for that. We really mostly just hung around, the ones that I was in there with. There were so many things that we could do. Sometimes it was fun just to be at home alone by yourself, and do what you wanted to do.

EE:

I know some people have different kinds of experiences. You were far away from home for the first time. Were you ever, at anything you did, afraid?

SB:

No, no. Homesick, I was homesick for the basic training period. No, I was not afraid.

EE:

It is the nature of life that you have to live it in forward. You can't go backwards. But if you could, and you could do it over again, would you join the service again?

SB:

Yes, I would. Absolutely, I would. Yes.

EE:

It was a good thing?

SB:

It was a good thing.

EE:

It gave you what you wanted to have, a chance to see the world and to grow up?

SB:

That's right. Yes.

EE:

You didn't get a pilot, but you did get a husband?

SB:

That's right, yes. And I met some really fine people. I wish I had kept in contact with some of them. When I pulled this picture out today, I looked, and I thought, “I wonder how Cathy's doing?” Her name was Cathy Heany, and she was from New York. She had a boyfriend, and his name was Cecil. I wondered if she ever went home and married him. You know, things like that.

EE:

You talked about your kids. You were saying that they weren't military. There are fewer and fewer families—because we've been fortunate to not have war—who have connections with the service. For people who aren't in the service, what do you think is the biggest misconception to have about military folks?

SB:

Oh, the ones that I know, I don't even think they think about it. I don't even think they think about it. It's just, if that's what they want to do, okay. But I don't know if that would be—I have no idea. My boys have never said anything about going into the service. None of the girls have ever talked about something like that. They think it's fine that I did. Okay. But I don't think they even think about it.

I take it back. Okay. My son turned eighteen the day that the Gulf War started. That was a scary time. We were sitting here doing the birthday.

EE:

When you watch the people with gas masks on TV, it does get scary.

SB:

We were doing that. That was pretty scary, yes. I mean, I think he thought, “I don't want to do that.”

EE:

Decided not to join up.

SB:

That's right, but he had already had to go ahead and register and everything.

EE:

That's right. I think they still have mandatory registration for guys.

SB:

They do.

EE:

Now, women don't have to register.

SB:

No.

EE:

Nobody I interviewed was drafted. Everybody was a volunteer.

SB:

That's right.

EE:

Do you think that we were a more patriotic country when you went into the service?

SB:

Sure. Oh, yes.

EE:

Why do you think that's changed?

SB:

Because the challenge to our patriotism, it's just not the same as it was. I would like to believe that if we ever got into a situation again—well, we were challenged, you know. I think a lot of people aren't involved in that aspect, because they don't feel we're being challenged.

EE:

We have exhausted, in the course of forty-five minutes, the questions that I wanted to get through with you about your time in the service. It sounds like it was a pretty pleasant time.

SB:

It was, yes.

EE:

Is there anything about those days or what it has meant to you that I have not asked you about that you'd like to share with us?

SB:

I don't think so. I don't think so.

EE:

Well, from a girl getting out of high school that says, “I want to see the world,” you have seen the world. You have seen a lot of North Carolina the last fifty years.

SB:

Yes, Yes.

EE:

But on behalf of the school and your family, who was very happy that you ran into your future husband, I want to say thank you for doing this today.

[End of interview]