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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ruth L. Gaddy

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Object ID: Wv0216.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Gaddy’s service in the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) and WAC (Women's Army Corps) from 1942 to 1946, and her education and employment following WWII.

Summary:

Gaddy mentions life during the Depression and the shortcomings of her early education. She discusses working as an elevator operator in New York to raise money for college before WWII; the attack on Pearl Harbor, including her brother’s experience on the USS USS Houston; and the influence that working at the Soldier’s Information Center and her brothers’ service had on her decision to enlist in the WAAC.

Gaddy describes her basic training experience at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, including gas mask training, cold weather, and black female instructors. She mentions working as a clerk typist at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; working with other WAACs there; barracks life, including a prank on her when she tried to sneak in before bed check; recreation; joining the USO; celebrities she met; dancing shows and a singing troupe she participated in; and going home on furlough when her brother’s ship, the USS Helena, sank.

Gaddy provides details of her trip on the SS Ile de France to overseas duty in Europe. Discussion of her time in Birmingham, England, includes buzz bombs; living in an abandoned school; racial discrimination; traveling; the death of President Roosevelt; and sorting backlogged mail. Topics from her duty in France include living in a castle in Rouen; seeing the destruction; and visiting Brussels.

Gaddy discusses returning to Charlotte, North Carolina, following her dischange in spring 1946 and working as the woman’s editor for The Charlotte Eagle, a local black newspaper. She also mentions using the GI Bill to complete her undergraduate degree at Johnson C. Smith University; working for the The Charlotte Observer; completing grad school at New York University; and her various jobs in New York, including working with the New York Department of Recreation, a Magistrate’s Court, and at the Division of Parole. Gaddy also describes her return to North Carolina to care for her mother, and her teaching position at Mecklenburg College [now Central Piedmont Community College].

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Ruth Lillian Gaddy Oral History

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 [UNCG], and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the home of Ruth Gaddy.

Ms. Gaddy, thank you so much for sitting down with us today. It's already been a wonderful experience just looking through the photographs and the memories from your home. I'm going to start with you with the same kind of questions that I ask most all folks. The first one is very basic: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

RG:

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the home that I'm currently in.

EE:

You said this was the family home even before that, wasn't it?

RG:

This was the family home prior to that.

EE:

That's great. What did your folks do?

RG:

My father was a church janitor. My mother, although she had some college training, did housework when she did it, and at other times she was just a homemaker.

EE:

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

RG:

We are a family of eight: Two parents, six children, three boys, three girls. I am the second oldest child, the oldest child is a girl. There were three boys and three girls, and there were three of us who entered the service, one girl and two boys.

EE:

Great. So you were telling me earlier that your family sort of clusters, that there's a couple of you that are together in age.

RG:

The only two who are very close in age with one year apart is my brother who was in the navy and I. The others are two years apart.

EE:

So if you were in this house, then you went to public schools here in the city?

RG:

I attended the public schools of Charlotte, North Carolina, graduated from Second Ward High School, graduated from Johnson C. Smith University, undergrad work.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school growing up?

RG:

I liked school, but I was an extremely shy child. I could be considered a very peculiar type due to that shyness, and as a result at one time in my life as a preteen I did not like school because of some cruelty from other children. I loved reading. I'm an avid reader, but at that time in my life I would say anywhere between eight and eleven years old, I didn't like school for reasons stated, but I still did not abhor it.

EE:

Now, you're at about the right age, do you remember the Depression, the changes that happened in the community?

RG:

I grew up in the Depression. Having been born in 1918, I was here when it started, and I was here when it ended.

EE:

Did it change your household a lot?

RG:

No, because we've always been a very close, warm household. My father lost his job, and there were certain things that we didn't have, but we were never without food. We were never without shelter. We were not cold. The children pitched in. My mother worked at Belk's Department Store as a maid, and when my father lost his job, she never made him feel insecure or less of a man because of that, and we stuck together. Everybody pulled together. We could be considered the black Waltons. We were not on a mountaintop, but as you can see, we are on somewhat of a hill.

EE:

But that kind of family closeness.

RG:

Family closeness and family togetherness, pulling together, providing, bringing things in. Most of all, we brought love, and we kept it in.

EE:

I guess North Carolina then was probably not a twelve-year high school. You probably, what, graduated in '34, something like that?

RG:

It was not a twelve-year high school, and I did not graduate in 1934. That was the year I was supposed to have graduated. I was held back because of my shyness, and it's rather unfortunate—and I've mentioned this one before—that the teachers at that time were either not trained or unable to see into the depth a child and his mental problems enough. Being tested in the army, I was found to be well above average and was not the stupid child that I was led to believe that I was. I was misunderstood.

I was fortunate enough to attend graduate school, get my master's degree, and I've studied far above the master's level. I have also not only taught in public schools, but among other jobs, I have taught psychology at the college level. I was a New York City playground director, a NYC probation officer, a New York State probation officer, a Charlotte news feature reporter, and a columnist and women's editor for a black publication in Charlotte. I was never a retarded, I was never an exceptional-level child. I was the misunderstood-type child, and also the product of a cultural bias.

EE:

Sure.

RG:

In cultural bias.

EE:

When you finished school, did you go right to Johnson C. Smith, or what did you do after you graduated from high school?

RG:

When I graduated from high school, I went to New York. My mother realized that I was a different child from the rest of the children in that I was shy and needed to mix more. I was an avid reader. I was a hungry type looking for intellectual pursuits, so I went there to get money to go to college, because at that time my sister was in college and being a large family there was not enough money for me to attend at that time. I returned here and worked for a while downtown as an elevator operator, and that was to save money for college.

Then when the war came along, my brother was in. From two perspectives, one of them being extremely patriotic—well, I would say three, because my brother was there, and there was just a year between the two, and I loved him dearly, and I wanted to go in and do my part. Also, I wanted to save money for school. Money, love and patriotism.

EE:

So you were working at one of the businesses downtown as an operator, elevator operator, then when the war started?

RG:

I worked at the Barringer Hotel, and I worked at the Independence Building downtown as an elevator operator. I enlisted while employed as an elevator operator. I went into service while employed as an NYA [National Youth Administration] worker at the Soldiers' Information Center here.

EE:

Were you living here at the house?

RG:

I was living right here in this house.

EE:

Your brother, this is Andrew who had already joined the navy?

RG:

The navy, yes.

EE:

He happened to be in Hawaii in Pearl Harbor on December seventh?

RG:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me about how you found out about Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day.

RG:

We initially found out from the news coming over the radio. We didn't have a television at that time. There were no televisions in Charlotte at that time. TV was just in the stages of being born in other more highly sophisticated areas of the country, but it came on the radio. Then the Red Cross told us, and then we read it in the newspaper.

EE:

So how quickly did you hear from the Red Cross? Was it the next day or so?

RG:

I don't remember because my parents were the ones that received the information. I don't remember that.

EE:

Your brother was actually on the USS Houston?

RG:

He was on the USS Houston.

EE:

Was the Houston sunk during that?

RG:

The Houston was not sunk during that, but it was very badly injured, but not sunk.

EE:

But your brother was okay?

RG:

My brother was okay. Didn't know how seriously involved he was. He was in the hold of the ship handing up ammunition, and just one little missile going into the ship with him being in the hold in the ammunitions area would have ended that. So that, I think, is kind of serious.

EE:

Right. Right. After that attack, he did not get to come home after that, or did he?

RG:

He did.

EE:

He did.

RG:

Yes, he did.

EE:

How long between Pearl Harbor Day did he come—

RG:

I don't remember how long it was before he came, but it wasn't very long.

EE:

Maybe by Christmastime he was home?

RG:

Oh, he was here, yes.

EE:

Is that when your other brother decided he wanted to join the service?

RG:

No. He didn't decide that he wanted to go in, but if you will remember, all young men graduating from high school and at a certain age were required to register for the draft. So, no, I don't think he would have volunteered.

EE:

Given your brother's experience, he probably would not have.

RG:

No. So he went in. As a matter of fact, he was at Fort Bragg being inducted and being trained when I was there.

EE:

So this is Edward who joined the army, then?

RG:

That's Edward, yes.

EE:

They started the WAAC [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps]. I guess they were talking about it even in '41, but they actually started the WAAC in '42. What was it that got you thinking about maybe that being something that you wanted to do?

RG:

Well, as I stated before, I was working at the Independence Building, and you had all of your advertisements. I don't know what it is about people, but that patriotic spirit begins to well up in you, and you know you're working trying to get money to go to college, and yet this comes up. Well, you can do two things at one time here.

I did have that extremely patriotic feeling—and I still have it, and I'm very proud of me and all the other women. This is what stirred me. Right here in this area at that little gate-leg table there is where I wrote out my application and sent it in. My father asked if I was sure that's what I wanted to do. Then when they sent for me, he told me to write the army and tell them that my father said I couldn't come, but Uncle Sam had called me. I was in.

EE:

Well, now, you were old enough you did not have to have your father's signatures, did you?

RG:

I didn't have to have nobody's signature, and Uncle Sam didn't have to have nobody's signature, either. He had already sworn me in, so my daddy's word wasn't worth two cents.

EE:

So you went down to Fort Bragg to be sworn in?

RG:

I did.

EE:

This would have been in October or November?

RG:

That was in October.

EE:

In October.

RG:

I was sworn in on October 10, 1942.

EE:

Then we were looking before at some of your orders, which then said in November you were to report to Fort Des Moines.

RG:

Right. November twenty-forth.

EE:

How did your mama and your brothers and your sisters feel about it? I mean, I've talked to some women whose brothers were very protective about them going in and didn't want them to do it.

RG:

They were very proud of me, very, very proud. My two sisters—my baby sister was at Bennett College at the time. My oldest sister had married and had a daughter—both considered joining. Now as I think back, I would have loved to have had them to go in, because we were a very close-knit family and were reared right here in Charlotte in this house. Everybody was reared right here. I was about three and a half to four when they brought me here. My sister, I think, was about five, five or six, either one of the two, I don't remember.

But the army brings you out from that little secondary stage that you're in to let you know that you are a part of a bigger human picture and that you're going to have to roll with the flow. Because this is what you're going to get in life when you get out, and you're going to have to be able to take it. Or you can either stay at home and continue going to church and depending on God to do everything for you without you helping him out. But you find out when you get in service, and it will make a man and it will make a women out of you, and it depends on what type man or woman, that depends on you.

I went and I'm glad and I'm happy to say that when I went in, I came out like I went in. I was reared in a very decent home and a Christian home and a Christian church, because that was my extended family. I came out the same way. I wrote my mother a letter and I thanked her for the way we had been reared, because if she had not taken charge and not seen to it that we went the way that she wanted us to, we could have gone the other broad highway.

EE:

And never found the way back home again.

RG:

Would never have found the way back again, it would have been either one of the two, the army or the streets.

EE:

You went in, and had you ever traveled much outside of the state before?

RG:

Just to New York.

EE:

Just New York. So you're going in the dead of winter to scenic Fort Des Moines, was an old cavalry post, wasn't it? Tell me about your experiences there.

RG:

Like I said, the army made a woman out of me. We were never cold here. I have been in snow almost up to my waist in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, with nothing but a ski liner on.

We did gas mask training—I'll never forget it—and you go in, and you have to go in and get those gas masks on. We came out. We stayed out all day long. When I say all day long, I mean from early, early, early, early morning until dinnertime, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, snow up to here, sky liners on, frozen stiff, tears come out and freeze. Any liquid, anything in your body was frozen. We were frozen so bad, we couldn't eat. So that was my first experience away from home. The tears that came, frozen tears at that.

EE:

Now, we were debating earlier whether or not your group might have been the first group of African American women that were trained there was a unit, and we weren't sure about that, but who was doing the training for you? Was it men? Was it women? Was it whites or blacks? Who were your officers?

RG:

Black women officers.

EE:

Black women. Probably a woman like Charity Adams, who probably had that kind of a job before.

RG:

That was it. That was it.

EE:

Was she there? Was she one of your trainers?

RG:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

When you went in, did they tell you the kind of work that you would be doing?

RG:

You are tested, not only tested, but due to your background. There were women who went in who had four years of college. When I went in, I had a high school career, and I also had business school behind me, and I didn't even complete that. But I did have enough to operate. As a result, after testing, my MO [military occupation] was a clerk, clerk general, and clerk typist. When I went overseas, it was a postal clerk added to that.

EE:

Yet from what we were talking about earlier, and you were, I guess, at Fort Des Moines for, what, a couple of months? Probably left in January?

RG:

I can't remember how long we were there, but I don't think it was two months.

EE:

Okay. But then you were—

RG:

I would hesitate really to state, because I have forgotten.

EE:

Right. But it was not that long.

RG:

It wasn't that long.

EE:

Then you were sent to Fort Huachuca.

RG:

Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

EE:

But you weren't doing clerk typist work there, were you?

RG:

Yes.

EE:

The special services then, was that something that came along?

RG:

This is something on the side. You joined the USO [United Service Organizations] and involved yourself in all of the activities. They give you a well-rounded life. So this little stint with them was just what you would call extracurricular activities.

EE:

Right. It was sort of like it was for some people it's a softball team. For you it was doing the shows.

RG:

Right. Right.

EE:

You got here, and we talked before, this is a place where the Buffalo Soldiers [U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment] were stationed, and it has a proud tradition. Was everybody at Fort Huachuca, was that all African Americans at that time?

RG:

At that time, it was.

EE:

You were there, we figured out, from early of '43 for about a year and a half or two years. When did you get switched up to Fort Lewis, do you remember?

RG:

Was it 1944?

EE:

Okay.

RG:

The latter part, I believe, of '44 or the mid part of '44, best of my recollection at this moment.

EE:

What was the kind of work you were doing day to day when you were at Huachuca?

RG:

Clerk. Clerk general. Typist.

EE:

Were there a lot of other women there in the office?

RG:

There were a lot of women assigned to do everything, including the motor pool.

EE:

Was your immediate CO [commanding officer] in that work, was it a man or a woman?

RG:

Woman. Oh, you mean in the work?

EE:

Yes.

RG:

We had men, because I remember when I worked at the hospital, you have your doctors in charge there, and at ration breakdown, male.

EE:

So they basically put you where they needed somebody to do that kind of skilled work.

RG:

They put you where they feel you'd best work out.

EE:

Right. Right. You all were all housed—all the WAACs were in one barracks area?

RG:

We had one area, the cantonment, they called it. If you saw those pictures I showed you where they had these barracks built, and a certain number of WAACs assigned to each barrack, and you had your first floor and your second floor.

EE:

Now, you come from a pretty big family, but how were you getting used to privacy in the service?

RG:

You know, it's just like going to school.

EE:

Is it?

RG:

It is. You have to roll with the flow. One of the things that's very important for people to understand when they go into places like the army, you cannot go in there with your attitudes. You know how it is in a high school, when a little nerd comes in and he doesn't want to undress in the presence of the captain of the football team because he is not as endowed as he is—you're going to have to forget that, and you're going to have to roll with the flow. Because if you don't, you'll either be sent home in a body bag or you'll be sent home in a straight jacket. So you have to learn that you laugh at yourself, you laugh at some of the things that are done to you. You're going to also have to learn that you're going to have to stand up to a bully, and whether you can beat that bully or not, you're going to have to do your thing. If you don't, you're going to find out that you're still down at the bottom of the heap looking up, waiting for somebody to step in your face. Like I said, those two bags are waiting for you. So this is the attitude you take, and I'll give you an example.

One night I went out on the town, and the women had been saying one thing. We know Gaddy is doing everything we were doing, but we can't catch her at it. So the OD [Officer of the Day] makes a bed check, and that's either ten or eleven o'clock, I don't remember which, but when I got there, number one, I'm crawling in because the guard at the gate is standing there with the gun, and he's cocking the gun, and I'm crawling, and you know what was pointed at him. He said, “Halt, who goes there?”

I said, “Me.”

“Me” is not it. Name, rank, and serial number.

You get in. OD coming in the front door to make bed check. You're coming in the back door. You know you've got on your old dirty boots. You know you've got on your heavy coat and your cap. You've got to get in that bed and be in there and let her come and see you there, and you want to crawl in bed and pull the sheets up and snore a little bit.

Well, this particular night when I tried to crawl in my bed, they had short sheeted my bed and put Coca-Cola crates in there. So I was a mighty fat person that night. I had to lay on top of those and pull that sheet up and do my snoring act until the OD left the room. Then you get up, and you either start using some vulgar language or praying or laughing. The better thing to do is to remove them and laugh. You understand what I'm saying? Because if you cuss and if you pray, you're going to get it some more. So just go ahead and laugh it off and do it to somebody else. You grow up.

EE:

You do grow up. In fact, one of the learning experiences I think everybody, whether it's men or women or black or white, when you go into the service, you're put in with people all different from you, whatever background.

RG:

Oh, dear.

EE:

You've got to learn to roll with people as much as with any of your tasks, I think.

RG:

You are not a pinto bean among black-eyed peas or sugar peas. You go rolling in there, and let your juices flow right there with theirs.

EE:

Now, you were talking about one person that you had trouble with that was the CO who was obstinate about not getting—

RG:

Well, I didn't exactly have trouble with them, but unfortunately they did not see fit with all that I had done in all this area—and, you know, I didn't think about it until a lot of years, for them not to at least given me corporal. I deserved it.

EE:

Sure. For overseas duty?

RG:

Yes. But I'm not going to worry about it. Like I said, when I said there's cultural bias—in cultural bias, I didn't say cultural, and you know what I meant by that. In your family there are some brothers and sisters who stand up there sticking you with a straight pin and you're yelling and squawking and your mom and dad asks you why you're crying. He says, “I don't know why they're crying,” and he's still sticking you. That's my problem.

What happened, I had some teeth that were pulled out, and the little dentist was there. He was just a grinning and flirting, and grinning and flirting. Wasn't bad looking. They say there's honor among thieves, there's honor among officers, too. I didn't get it, and I'm not worried about it. I'm no more worried about it than the man in the moon.

EE:

There's some things in this world you can do something about and others you can't, so you just have to move on.

When you were at Huachuca and doing the clerk work, this is where you got started doing the special services. Now, this group, was it just for entertainment there at the base or did you go other places as well?

RG:

Entertainment at the base. Of course, with the trio, we sang over the radio.

EE:

You were telling me before about the names of the acts that you were with. One of the Mills Brothers were dancing.

RG:

Harry Mills was there. Ann Jones is a ballerina, Fayard Nicholas of the famous Nicholas Brothers. Gene Jackson from the movie Reform School. Maceo Anderson from the [Four] Step Brothers. Laurences Whisnant[?], he was an opera singer. Oh, there's just so many, I can't even name them.

EE:

I bet it was exciting just to meet all those personalities, wasn't it?

RG:

It was, yes. If I'm not mistaken, I'm almost sure that was Sammy Davis, Jr., down at Le Havre, France.

EE:

Your normal workday was, what, first shift nine to five, something like that?

RG:

It varied.

EE:

Varied. So you'd do this other extracurricular activity whenever your schedule allowed for you to get together?

RG:

For instance, there's a thing in my scrapbook, the WAAC and Soldiers Council, and we worked with the USO. You had planned events, took part in them, and got other people interested in them. I did vespers service work. I remember Phyllis Branch and myself were two of the chief ones. Phyllis was a singer. She sang in night clubs in New York. We would just hold the vespers service, like in college, religious services. We taught the men who didn't know how to read and write how to read and write. So we did quite a bit of good charitable work right there in service. It was a recreational outlet for us, too.

EE:

Did you all do all this stuff, was there an NCO [non-commissioned officers] club?

RG:

No, we didn't do this at the NCO clubs. We went there for other business. You had your NCO and your officers clubs. The USO, I would say, would be the chief avenue for us to do quite a bit of this. The shows that we put on, the shows that you saw there, those were done at a theater there on base, mainly at Fort Huachuca.

Of course now when I went overseas, that picture you saw of me dancing in the shorts—first, they didn't put shorts on me, but I felt like I could wear them safely, and I did a soft-shoe routine. We would put on little shows for the soldiers.

EE:

You're at Fort Huachuca, which is unusual, too, in that there's so many WAACs with men there stationed together. A lot of the WAACs were simply kind of apportioned in ones and twos to work with men in different, whether it's clerical work or other administrative work. You all had that many together. I assume the social life was not too bad.

RG:

The social life wasn't bad at all, but I tell you, we were not assigned with the men, per se. Our women ran those motor pools. Our women did that. It would depend, for instance, if I worked as a cook and bakers school. There was chef there, you understand what I'm saying? Now, I operated the ration breakdown myself, and the 92nd division had theirs, but mine was for the post. The women did everything, and that was the point of it. We were talented enough, and we had the abilities. A lot of us went in with college degrees. See what I'm talking about? I think there was one of us with a master's degree.

EE:

The kinds of work that you all were doing, I know the slogan, in fact, the article that you were showing me where the The [Charlotte] Observer listed everybody who had joined the WAACs, was to free a man to fight. How did the men react to you all?

RG:

Varied.

EE:

Did you ever experience any bitterness?

RG:

Others did from other areas of the country. I was stupid enough not to realize if I was. Understand what I'm saying? There were signs but you ignored them.

EE:

Somebody could have been insulting you, and you wouldn't know about it.

RG:

They could have been insulting me, and I would have known it. But it didn't matter and thank God, because I was able to do my job without any inferior feelings. But from the men that I encountered, they were so glad to have us around that it didn't matter to them. They were already in a position where they could be transferred and go on out in the field. Of course, now the general objective of that was to free those places that a woman could hold down without having to carry a rifle, so a man could go on out and pick up his weapon and fight. They did not appreciate that, of course.

EE:

I would imagine that there's probably a pretty good turnover in the men's station there. Is there a good turnover in the women, or once you were assigned to Fort Huachuca, did most of the women stay as long as you did, which was two years, it ended up being?

RG:

They stayed. There wasn't any turnover until some of us were transferred for overseas training.

EE:

How many women altogether were stationed out there, a couple hundred?

RG:

A couple hundred? More than that.

EE:

Was it?

RG:

Yes. Well, I never did make a count of it, but there were more than that.

EE:

I remember reading or maybe it was—

RG:

That was the first place that they went. Then as the women began to find out that we were going in and that there is a place for us, they went to other camps.

EE:

So Huachuca was where all the African American WAACs were sent?

RG:

At first.

EE:

Then they were split up and went to other camps.

RG:

At first. But they didn't split nobody up and send them away from Fort Huachuca. The women who would come in to the service were automatically assigned to other camps as the corps progressed and grew.

EE:

I guess, were you out there when they had the trouble with the movie theaters there in town, that they did not—there was a segregation.

RG:

Never did go to one of them.

EE:

Because I know Eleanor Roosevelt was out there trying to lobby and actually got them to break down there.

RG:

I never did bother about going into town. Now, I would go to Mexico quite a bit, but as far as going to a movie theater, they had nice theaters right there on post, and that's where I would go.

EE:

You were telling me a wonderful story about how you met your brother again. For the benefit of this tape, your brother went back into service and was serving this time on the Helena in the battle of the Solomon Islands and was in—was it Kula Gulf?

RG:

Kula Gulf. He had never left the service.

EE:

K-u-l-a. His ship came under attack and was sunk?

RG:

The Helena was sunk.

EE:

Tell me how you got the word of that and the end of the story.

RG:

Well, I was called to the orderly room because I had a telegram from my father, and this telegram said that Brother, that's what he called him, “Brother's ship sank. We don't know whether he's dead or alive.” He did not ask me to come home, but he wanted me to know.

I ran back to my barracks and cried, and the women in the barracks, we were very close people in our little platoons, and what worried one, worried the other. They picked me up bodily and took me up to the orderly room, and they saw to it that I got an immediate furlough, and I left that night.

As I got on the train—because that was the chief way of traveling then—in Tucson, Arizona, there were a lot of sailors. They were mostly white sailors, no blacks, and they were just very joyful and just making a lot of noise. They were very nice to me, and I said to myself, “I wonder why my brother couldn't be here, too,” not knowing that these were the men from the Helena.

As I got into El Paso, Texas, I had a long layover. I went over to Juarez, Mexico, just to spend time, and I as got back it was dusk. I was on the walkway there at the train. It's not like the trains today, and it was just kind of like the old train station down at Trade Street, West Trade Street. I heard footsteps behind me, and I just kind of glanced back slightly, and I saw some shoes and black pants. Every time I would speed up, they would speed up, and when I would slow down, they would slow down.

I managed to get onboard the train, and a soldier was helping me to put my bag up, and my hands extended up towards the baggage rack on the train, and I felt a tap on my back, and that was my dear lost and deceased brother from the Helena who God had spared and he was on the train with me. He was going home, and I was going home to console my parents.

So the Lord wrapped the two of us, because we are one year apart. He would always call me his twin, and he is one of the reasons why I went into service to begin with. But the Lord was wonderful to us, and he brought him back to us.

EE:

That's beautiful.

RG:

Then we came home to our dear mother, God rest her soul, and we gave her the jolt of her life. When my daddy got in that night, he got the jolt of his life. But I think the main jolt came to us. The beauty of the thing is that I had seen him in a vision before getting the telegram from my father going up some lighted steps that looked kind of like the capitol. As he got up approximately four or five steps on those white steps, he turned around, and his blue suit was very vivid against that background and that light, and he had on his little navy blue sailor outfit with the little Peter Pan type hat, and he was beautiful.

EE:

That's great. You didn't know what that meant at the time, but it all puts together, doesn't it?

RG:

I didn't know what it meant, but I know now that that was God's way of telling me he was almost there. I saved him from the storm.

EE:

That's right.

RG:

I saved him from the sea, and I'm sending him back to thee.

EE:

That's beautiful. Did he go back to the service after that, or did he stay out after that?

RG:

No, no. He went back.

EE:

So he actually served through the duration of the war, then?

RG:

Yes, he did.

EE:

Then you were sharing with me that as a consequence of the injuries and the malaria that he had during the war. He never really quite got over those, did he?

RG:

He never did.

EE:

And passed away about twenty years after that war ended?

RG:

He passed away in 1968. He got another citation. He had gotten so many citations, got another at death, and so did the other brother.

EE:

Well, could not have a finer service record. That's beautiful.

You were at Huachuca, and then you came home and then went back out after you had some time home with your brother and your family. You went back to Huachuca. Then you got the orders to go to Fort Lewis, Washington.

RG:

Yes.

EE:

That was your whole unit that was transferred out, or just you as an individual?

RG:

No. No, there were just some of us.

EE:

All who had similar skills, probably, as they were assembling this?

RG:

I don't know. I think they were varied.

EE:

Were they?

RG:

Because you need varied skills if you're going to build a battalion.

EE:

You didn't know at the time, but that's what they were doing?

RG:

I did not know what they were doing, but I see now what they were doing.

EE:

How long were you actually in Fort Lewis?

RG:

Not very long. I would say no more than a year really, if that long.

EE:

You were doing also clerk typist work when you were at Fort Lewis.

RG:

Yes.

EE:

Were you working with other WACs [Women's Army Corps], with other regular army personnel? How was that living arrangement?

RG:

You always worked with army personnel. Now, WACs, they may need me, just like it is in civilian life, at one place. They may need me at one school. They may need you at another school. So you are going to be assigned to UNC Greensboro, but they're going to send me up to North Carolina Central [University] in Durham.

EE:

Right. Right. That's a totally different country than the desert in Arizona.

RG:

Indeed so. You know, I'll tell you something strange about Arizona. You have your coyotes up on the hill; you're down in the canyon. I've experienced that with a leather-seated riding habit on and falling into a stream off of a horse, and that leather gets wet. Then you get back up on that horse, and the two of you are meeting, and he beat the living daylights out of you. You have to sit on a pillow the whole complete next day.

EE:

So you all were doing horse work when you were out there?

RG:

I'm telling you. They saw to it that we had plenty of recreation. Plenty.

EE:

It was a great experience for you, it sounds like, in Huachuca. You really enjoyed it?

RG:

More than any other place that I have served except Paris, Huachuca was it. I will always have a certain love for it, and anybody else who's ever gone out there will, too.

EE:

Same way?

RG:

Yes.

EE:

Have you been out back out there since the war?

RG:

I have not. I have not.

EE:

Fort Lewis, is that right there at Seattle or where is that, or is it back inland.

RG:

It's near Tacoma.

EE:

So it's more near Hanford and that side of the state. That eastern Washington is kind of dry as well, as I recall, is it not?

RG:

It is, but I didn't go out that much in Washington. I didn't like it as much, either.

EE:

It would have been about, what—when did they pull you altogether back to [Fort] Oglethorpe, [Georgia] was it mid-'44? Had D-Day already happened by the time you all were called to Oglethorpe?

RG:

No. No.

EE:

So it would have been before June.

RG:

Yes. As a matter of fact, when we got in Rouen, France, we could see the helmets and suits and things laying alongside the little train.

EE:

So this was in short order, then. It sounds like you went from Fort Lewis to Oglethorpe for training for four to six weeks, whatever it was.

RG:

Sure did.

EE:

Then quickly to Camp Shanks in New York, where you were probably only for a couple days or a week. Then you got on the [SS] Ile de France and went to Glasgow. Tell me a little about bit about that Ile de France trip.

RG:

Well, Ile de France is second cousin to the [RMS] Queen Mary, and it's one of France's illustrious cruise luxury ships. We were, of course, in the hold of the ship on the little bunk beds, because this is the way you have to do with the troops. You can't put them all in staterooms. The officers stayed in the staterooms. We got a chance to see all of that and the luxury of the ship, the beauty of the ship. Being one of the entertainers, I had to sing seasick for them. I'll never forget that.

I had gone up the ladder from the hold and looked up and saw nothing but waves during a storm, and not too very far out in the middle of the Atlantic, the German submarines came around and were bombing us. We let the depth charges go, and you could really hear those booms, and they would shake the ship, rock the ship. All of those duffle bags, all of those curling irons, all of those things that the women were carrying began to roll across the floor and roll across the floor. We didn't even have sense enough to put on our gas masks like we did in England.

Eleven days into the trip, all I had to eat was lemon cookies and pop—sugar cookies and the lemon pop, that's the way it went. Sugar cookies. I couldn't think about those little cookies, and I ought to. I remember distinctly one day trying to pick beans out of my soup. I can see it like it happened yesterday. I had on this life jacket. I must have made a beautiful picture, and it's too bad that the New York Times couldn't have gotten a picture of that. Seawater fell into my soup. You don't need that salt water. You don't need that, and I cried like a baby.

Now, those two beans was the only solid food that I had that whole trip. Everything else either made a different determination that it was going to leave and go somewhere else, so it didn't get in period. After eleven days, we got to Glasgow, Scotland, and debarked.

EE:

Was Charity Adams, I guess she was the CO of this group from the beginning at Oglethorpe. Was Oglethorpe the first time that you remember? You had actually had her at Fort Des Moines.

RG:

Fort Des Moines, yes.

EE:

Did she remember you?

RG:

Well, we weren't, as you would say, kissing cousins.

EE:

First-name basis?

RG:

We weren't buddies. The other one, what was her name, Captain Alexander, she would, because all of us were pretty close, and some closer than others. But, no, I wouldn't say that we were kissing cousins.

EE:

But many of the women who were pulled together at Oglethorpe, you probably had seen before in your tours, had you not?

RG:

Some of them, those that came from Fort Huachuca, but the others I had not.

EE:

Most of the women who were going over there, you were probably one of the older ones of the enlisted, you were not, because you were in your mid twenties, I guess, at this time?

RG:

Right. Right.

EE:

Tell me about England and what that experience was like for you.

RG:

England was beautiful.

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

EE:

—Glasgow when you all had the steel, in fact, we saw the picture where we had the steel helmets on. You were ready for combat action.

RG:

Yes. When we got off board ship with those things on, they told us not to lift the helmet, because they realized that if you did, that pressure after that depressurization there, that you would pass out. And I got a firsthand. I started to let it up a little bit, let air in, and I let it down because I began to do one of these, and several passed out. One of the things they told us, which is typical army, don't stop to help, step over and keep going. Because I'm assuming that they had the ambulances there to pick up, they weren't dead bodies, but I said to pick up the dead bodies. [They had just fainted.]

We left Glasgow and went into Birmingham, England. There we lived in an old school house that had been abandoned because they had built a better structure for the young men up on the hill, kind of a spooky type building with an air raid shelter that God knows if you had tried to save yourself, you would have drown because it was full of water.

We were buzz-bombed. They were looking for Darby Airfield at that time. Every night the windows in the post office was blackened, because we worked in shifts, and some shifts worked at night. When they would come over and do the buzz-bombing, the only thing that we could do was to reach down and grab the gas mask and put it on, and I don't know what for, because you would have been a corpse laying there in a gas mask and no gas.

This is typical. When they first let us out of quarantine after we got to Birmingham and let us get into the pubs, one of the most interesting things is that one of the old ills of America had gotten there ahead of us, and some of white soldiers had gone in and told them that we were maids for the white WACs and that we had tails. They should have known better, because they were just like men. You're human, and you know a human don't have no tail, so why would you feel to try to find his tail, and this is some of the things. Other than that, they were extremely, extremely accepting of us and very pleasant. That could might very well have been kind of a humorous thing for them.

EE:

Were you all curiosities in that there were not black women over there? Were there a lot of blacks locally?

RG:

Let me tell you something, they had black soldiers in the RAF [Royal Air Force], but I don't think they had any women. I never did see a woman, but I did see males.

EE:

So when you were there, other than going to the local pubs, you all pretty much stayed close to the schoolhouse there at Birmingham?

RG:

No.

EE:

You did get to travel?

RG:

We went out. We went out and mixed with the townspeople. As I said, we were very well accepted and enjoyed ourselves tremendously and felt at home because English was spoken. When President Roosevelt died, they would hug us and cry right along with us.

EE:

So you were there in England when he passed away?

RG:

When he passed away.

EE:

How did you feel about President Roosevelt?

RG:

I felt like I had lost my father, because I loved him to death. I was here during the Depression, and I was here when he said there'd be a chicken in every pot, and unfortunately that chicken was at Thanksgiving as well as any other day. He replaced the turkey. But still he was there.

EE:

That's true. What about Mrs. Roosevelt?

RG:

I loved Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. I thought she was an extremely intelligent, very concerned person for all peoples.

EE:

You were in England then, and Roosevelt passed away in May of '45. The work, I guess, in England was basically to clear this huge backlog of mail which had been just lost?

RG:

It was the same fact for England and France, and we did clear out that backlog of mail. We did a tremendous job. I mean, we did a job. We did have the help of the German POWs [prisoners of war]. We had some of the French. We had some of the English people working there. It was so interesting to see how some of the—I felt it more or less in France than in England—how the Frenchmen, especially the Jewish Frenchmen, felt about the German POWs [prisoners of war]. They were extremely bitter, treat them just as mean as you can [they would say].

There was a little fellow from Hawaii. He was a little noncommissioned officer. He especially told me to treat them mean. What is the name of the people from—oh, Lord, the German, an Austrian officer, oh, he was just so proud and so pretty, I mean, plumb pretty, and he was strutting. You dare not touch him, an officer. Those little Jews were mad, and they pulled up their shirt and showed me where they had slashed them across the stomach and what they had done, so I could kind of understand that, but it still wasn't in my nature to treat any human being ugly. When they begged me to find a Christmas tree, I couldn't do it because it was against rules and regulations, but it hurt deeply that I can't give them this, regardless of what you've done to me. Because you did it to me. They were very ugly to Jessie Owens when he won. I don't know where Hitler went. He's about the only one that I would have stuck a pin in his behind and laughed at.

EE:

When you get to England——it's one thing to be stateside—did they give you, you were showing me before about rules for how to abandon ship. Did you get one of those about what to do in case you're captured, or how were you told to interact?

RG:

No, they didn't tell us anything about that. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Name, rank, and serial number. That's it. But like I said before, we were not trained to shoulder any kind of weapon and as a result did not intend to find ourselves in a situation where anywhere near the front until after the war was over, and we sneaked there.

EE:

They're dropping buzz bombs overhead, you're at the front.

RG:

They dropped them overhead, and they dropped them in England. Now, in France the war was over.

EE:

But in England, if you're getting buzz-bombs, you're in the war zone.

RG:

We were there while the conflict was going on.

EE:

Were you ever afraid?

RG:

I didn't have sense enough to be afraid.

EE:

Best not to have that sense.

RG:

Do you play football?

EE:

I played basketball.

RG:

All right. Were you scared that that thing was going to hit you in the head? You didn't even think about it, did you?

EE:

No. No.

RG:

We didn't even think about it. When the ship was doing this, I thought about are you going down, but other than that, we didn't think about it. You were young enough to be daring, and I guess this is the way they wanted us, and you reached down for your gas mask in case one came in, but didn't have sense enough to realize that that bullet's not going to hit the gas mask. The gas mask isn't going to help that. But I didn't sense any fear.

EE:

You were in England, and then I guess after VE [Victory in Europe] Day—were you in England for VE Day? You told me you were at Trafalgar Square [London]. That must have been where you would on VE Day.

RG:

Yes, that's where it was.

EE:

You weren't sure which one, but it had to have been VE Day.

RG:

I'm wondering if it was VE, and I'm old enough now to have forgotten my name back then. VE or VJ [Victory in Japan] Day.

EE:

VE Day, Victory in Europe. That would have been in May of '45, right after Roosevelt passed away. Roosevelt died in April.

RG:

I think it was VJ.

EE:

VJ would have been in August.

RG:

Yes—No.

EE:

Because you probably went to France that summer.

RG:

It had to be VE. It wasn't VJ.

EE:

After VE Day, you went into France.

RG:

After Roosevelt.

EE:

There's this wonderful picture of you all in parade formation on the Champs-Élysées [Paris].

RG:

[Charles] de Gaulle, yes. That was it.

EE:

So you all were in Trafalgar Square on VE Day.

RG:

Check with some of the other women on that who were over there then, too, because my memory seems to be getting foggy between VJ and VE. So be sure you check with somebody else.

EE:

Then after you were in England, you went to Rouen, France, and you were doing the same kind of unpacking the backlog.

RG:

Lived in an old castle called Caserne de Landia[?], will never forget it, slept on a two-by-four bunk bed with straw, and that's it.

EE:

Nothing like luxury accommodations.

RG:

On that little train going there, it wasn't what one window in it. You're sitting in there with that helmet on and full field pack, K-rations that didn't taste like nothing but straw, and a coat hangar holding the door together, and German paraphernalia laying all along the side of the road.

EE:

Where they just dropped and run, huh?

RG:

Somebody must have beat them out of it. These are people who had expired, apparently, from what we could see, because just everything was laying out there.

EE:

So you saw a lot of dead bodies then on that trip?

RG:

I didn't see not one dead body. I won't sit here and tell you I saw one. I'm just assuming that somebody had to have them clothes on.

EE:

Right. Right. How long were you in France altogether? Were you there till the end of the year?

RG:

End of the year?

EE:

End of '45?

RG:

I got home in 1946.

EE:

So you were working. What was it, the middle of the year? What time in '46 did you come home?

RG:

Let me see. I came home in April of '46.

EE:

Okay.

RG:

I'd have to look in my book to get some backup on this, because I don't want to tell no tales out of school.

EE:

So you were at Rouen first, and then you went to Paris?

RG:

Yes.

EE:

I saw some things in there, too, about Brussels. Was that just a side trip that you took to Brussels?

RG:

Brussels was a side trip. All of the little trips that we took. Like I said, they would tell you you can take a trip to Switzerland. You can take a trip to Belgium. You can take a trip to Germany or Italy or wherever you wanted to go.

EE:

That's great.

RG:

I'm getting a little hoarse, but I'm trying to find those actual dates for you so that I won't—just bear with me.

EE:

That's all right.

RG:

Are you able to turn that off?

EE:

Yes, we'll stop this.

[Tape turned paused]

EE:

We found the dates here.

RG:

We sailed from—

EE:

You left on the twenty-seventh.

RG:

—the seventh day of March. It would have taken about eleven days to get here, because I remember April. I was discharged in April.

EE:

All right, okay. The time tables when we were looking at these dates here, you were in Lewis from, I guess, most of '44, and then it was in January of '45 that you went to Oglethorpe, and then at the end of January you were at Shanks.

RG:

Good.

EE:

In February you were in Birmingham, and then three months later is when you went to France.

RG:

Good.

EE:

So you were doing a lot of moving in a short period of time. You had to be young to do all that moving.

We talked about military life; you meet all different kinds of people. Now you're meeting people from all different countries. You talked about the differences with the Germans and the French, especially the Jews, their ill will.

RG:

I can see how they felt, when I looked at his stomach.

EE:

What about the countryside over there, how did that strike you, all the damage?

RG:

Interesting that you should ask. In Rouen, France—in England, not too bad. A great deal where they went in. Remember, they went into France and England. But in Rouen is where there was a lot, and I do mean an awful lot of destruction. I remember going from the main town area where all of your churches had been bombed, and everything is still just laying right where it was done. Because the reason why I remember that, this horse got loose and came down the street, and I made my entrance up into an apartment building in some French woman's kitchen, and she's wondering where I came from. But Rouen was pretty badly damaged. Paris didn't have all that much going on. England didn't have all that much going on. Scotland was just like it was when it—

EE:

When it started?

RG:

Yes. Bagpipes met us.

EE:

This is your ticket, you're looking at here from when you were on the ship.

RG:

I'm trying to see what this is. It's got the twelfth and notice of change of address.

EE:

You had this wonderful thing that you did, where you got everybody's signature in the different rooms where you all were over there. I was just wondering if there's a particular song or a movie that when you see or hear takes you back to that time. Is there a piece of music or something when you see it or hear it you think about that's what we heard back in those days?

RG:

No, nothing in particular. When we came home, the music was quite different from what it was when we went over. But nothing in particular touched me, because they brought all of the latest music, as much as they could, to us.

EE:

You were never given an option, I guess, or were you, to stay in the service?

RG:

Yes.

EE:

You were.

RG:

Yes. Class Two volunteer, and I did.

EE:

You stayed in till '46, but could you have made a career out of the service?

RG:

I suppose if I had really wanted to, I would. But I felt that I wanted really to further my education, and that was a firm and important thing to me at that time, and I needed to get out and get on with my life with my family.

EE:

You came back. You came back and actually started this job as a reporter for the The Charlotte News, it looked like in '46.

RG:

No, I didn't. No, I didn't. When I came back, I searched for a job. I went to the unemployment office and got one week of unemployment. One week. We are a family who really believed in not receiving any kind of help like that unless it's just absolutely necessary. So Kelly Alexander, he was the head of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], you remember, Sr., and his brother, Mr. Zack Alexander, came down to see me, and they were starting a new black weekly for the city of Charlotte called The Charlotte Eagle, and they were needing a woman's editor. I wondered, I asked them why did they want me. I was very, very shy. They wanted someone, they said, with finesse.

I did have a talent for writing, and I wasn't particular about taking it, but my mother insisted that you go ahead and try it, and I did, and I did pretty good. But I wanted to go to school. Like I said, that's why I came back home. I didn't stay there too very long, because time for me to go to school, I applied. I wanted to go to school in New York, but I was a little bit late and my GI Bill was a little late coming in. So I applied and went to Johnson C. Smith [University] and did my undergraduate work there. So about 1947, I think it was, between '47 and '48, Mr. Thompson, who was the publisher for The Charlotte News, sister paper to The [Charlotte] Observer, called me. Someone had recommended me, and he wanted to increase the circulation among the black population of Charlotte, and they had recommended me. I went down and talked with him. I talked with Mr. B.S. Griffith, who was the editor at the time, and they hired me. I worked until I finished school, and then I wanted to go to grad school, and I left, and I went to New York.

EE:

This would have been about '50 or '51?

RG:

Between '47 and '48.

EE:

Your degree at Smith was in sociology, I think you were telling me, is that right?

RG:

Yes. That's my major. My minor was history.

EE:

Then where did you do your grad work in New York?

RG:

New York University.

EE:

This was in the psychology field?

RG:

No, it's in education and sociology, social group work, specialization in social research. I did 309 hours of work in gerontology. That's the science of aging.

EE:

How long did you stay in New York? Did you work up there for a while before coming back home?

RG:

I worked up there for a while before I came back home. I don't know why I stayed, but I did, but I got a job, number one, working. When I first finished, the jobs were just almost impossible to get, so I started out working in one of the local chain restaurants that sold hamburgers and hot dogs and things like that with a master's degree. It didn't matter to me, I was eating.

Then I did recreational work with the Department of Recreation, primarily at the Ravenswood Project, and did an extremely good job. Then I started out with the girls term court—that's Magistrate's Court in New York—working with girls sixteen through twenty-one. I decided I wanted to move on up, and I went on up to New York State Executive Division of Parole and worked with the parolees who were coming out of prison.

EE:

When was it then that you finally came back to North Carolina? Was it late fifties?

RG:

My father died in 1960, and I was the only one in the family at that time who was single and able to move readily, and I chose to.

EE:

Help take care of your mom.

RG:

Well, yes, because I tell you, I objected to moving her from her roots. They were busy seeing if they could move her there. But this is a family home. That is all they ever knew, and from my studies in gerontology, I realize you don't root an older person up and take them away from their family, their friends, and their roots, because they soon kind of leave. I chose to come here and stay with my mother. Thank God I did. So I stayed with her until she passed in 1993 at almost 101. Two months shy of 101.

EE:

That's great. That's great.

RG:

I haven't regretted it. God has blessed me.

EE:

When you came back down here in '60, is this when you—that's a great picture of her.

RG:

Isn't wonderful?

EE:

Yes. You were saying her faculties remained good till the end because she was out shopping the week before?

RG:

She was out shopping the week before. C.J. Underwood had done many stories on both of us because of the crafts that we do, and he reported her birthday party up at McDonald's cafeteria for WBTV Charlotte. Jean Marie Brown wrote her life story for The [Charlotte] Observer, so she was pretty much well-taken care of. Her church and other guests turned out for her pretty good.

EE:

You worked in the school system then after you got back down here, is that right?

RG:

I started off really teaching psychology at the college level at Mecklenburg College.

EE:

Is that what became UNCC [University of North Carolina at Charlotte] or CBCC [Central Piedmont Community College]?

RG:

A part of it. Yes, it did. Yes, it did [become CBCC].

I had the choice either of going there, going into the public area. I had an awful lot of education because I took courses whether I needed them or not. I went to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board and I said to them these exact words, “Put me where you need me most.” Mr. Hike[?], who is with the exceptional children's program, called me, and I could have, because I'm qualified for social work and also for counseling, because I do hold graduate certification. I was talked to by that department, the department of social work, and also the counseling department.

I stayed with teaching in the classroom students at the lower end of the exceptional child, and so I thank God until that day that I did. Oh, I thank God for that. That's where you do your most good. When you doing unless the least of them, you do on to me. Even though I'm well qualified for more, if I can't lend my talents lucratively at the lower end, I don't believe I would have belonged at the top.

So I did this, and I am so glad, and I say it boastfully and proudly that I worked well with them. I made a difference, and I thank God for it.

EE:

That's great. You know you make a difference in people's lives when you're working with folks and you can see the results of your labor.

RG:

The amount of love that you get from it.

EE:

That's right.

RG:

I think that's where you really see God.

EE:

Oh, yes. That's very sweet. You have had a very rich life. You've got a wonderful family, wonderful connections here. You seem very well grounded in a community of people who have given to you and you've given back to them. One thing that when I talk with people about the war years and compared to now, a lot of them get wistful that we don't have that sense of community, of shared responsibilities. Do you think it's different now than then?

RG:

Say that again, now. I'm not getting that, quite.

EE:

Even something as simple at patriotism, that we're maybe not as patriotic as we were then.

RG:

I don't think so. For instance, those of us, the women in particular and there were just a few men to do it, who volunteered to go in, you almost have to drag people. Even into the teaching profession, you have to almost drag them in.

The patriotism is not there. Now, my flag is going up. My house is broken down, and it's breaking down even more and even more. I'm going to go out and buy a pot of geraniums, because they've all died out since mother died, and I'm going to put my flag out. It goes out, too. I do not see that many flags. Now, in Dilworth, you might see quite a few and here and there as you go about town, but you don't see any flags out in this area. The only flags that you're going to see is the drug addicts flagging each other down. Do you understand what I mean?

EE:

Yes.

RG:

So I don't think the patriotism is as strong. My brother volunteered and went in.

EE:

You ask for volunteers now, it might be harder to come by.

RG:

Yes, I guess. Once you've been in service, though, they tell you don't volunteer.

EE:

You and I were talking before we got started on the tape about the fact that you got trained at everything except shouldering a rifle, and now we had our first woman combat pilot, for heaven's sakes, a couple years ago. How do you feel about that? Do you think there are some jobs that should be off limits to women, or do you say more power to them?

RG:

Well, I would say more power to them, but as far as I'm concerned, not for me. I would prefer not. One of the things they said during World War II that was quite humorous, we didn't take women to the front—this is not the real reason—because when one of them had to go to the bathroom, all of them had to go. You'd be left wide open.

But as far as the women today, I don't know what they're thinking about, because they complain that the men are not granting them feminism, respect. Now in other areas, why on earth why you want to go up somewhere and jeopardize your life and knowing that you are the bearer of future generations. A man can't have a baby.

EE:

That's right. In the Gulf War they had that problem, I think, for the first time in large numbers when they had a lot of women over there who suddenly realized they had to take care of child care problems. They were going to be called up. They never thought about being called up.

RG:

That's why my sister didn't go.

As far as the reserves are concerned, I was too busy. I stayed in school most of my life, until I retired. I've got so many credits, way above the master's level right now, simply because I stayed in school.

As far as marriage is concerned, I am a hundred percent red-blooded American woman and will also stay that way, but I got nine proposals, and I guess I'm a perfectionist, too. There were people with whom I knew that I'd be a bird in a gilded cage. There were people with whom I'd knew I'd be a corpse. There were people with whom I knew I would be a nut. When my father died, you don't bring a man into the house with your mother. You don't do that. So I chose. I don't think I've missed out on life at all.

EE:

You've had a full life.

RG:

I have had a full life.

EE:

It's interesting because, how did being in the service affect? For many women they say it was a great thing because it proved to themselves they could do a lot more than the kind of jobs that men had told them all along they could do. How was it in the black community? Did women come back, and were the men more accepting of them in doing other kinds of work, or did that change any at all?

RG:

I don't see where it changed at all. I really don't.

EE:

You don't really think so?

RG:

No. I didn't see where that changed. As a matter of fact, I have never felt that the afforded opportunities that were missing before because of gender. I never did feel that.

EE:

Because in the kind of work you were doing, it was not that much different than what you would have done otherwise?

RG:

No, it really wasn't. There were women in the motor pool, like I said, hoisting those big trucks. See, I couldn't do that.

Then there are varied personalities and varied activities. Like I said, I was a country bumpkin, born behind a kitchen stove and studying catechism Friday and Saturday night prior to Sunday service. So to me, what my mama taught me, to be a lady first, that's it.

EE:

The woman who was the next to last director of the WAC—who went to our school, by the way, back when it was a women's college—fought against integration of the WAC into the regular army because of that, said that we've lost being a lady. If a woman came to you today and said, “I'm thinking about joining the service, what do you think I should do,” what would your advice be to her?

RG:

Tell her to go on in. Then again, let's look at it like this: We were told to be ladies first and soldiers next. That's not a hard thing to do. You're fighting a battle any time you get into a classroom today. You've got to be a gentleman first, and then you've got to be a teacher next. A teacher is a warrior today. I've got some little nieces and nephews and I can say it safely, because when they meet up with them, they are in a terrible battle. So it never did strike me that way. You don't lose your ladyship and your feminism simply because you went into an area that has been previously predominated by men. Many of the jobs that you have—what is it, Daisy, what was the name, the Riveter.

EE:

Rosie the Riveter.

RG:

Rosie the Riveter. Rosie went in, and Rosie was still a lady. Rosie put on her cocktail dress and went out at night. See what I'm talking about?

EE:

Yes.

RG:

If we can't do the same thing—I didn't see no need. I've heard people saying once you get into another area, you change. I stayed in the hotel room by myself. I didn't change.

EE:

It's the person inside. If you're confident of who you are, you should be okay.

RG:

That's true. That's so true.

EE:

I've gone through all of the questions that I was supposed to get through today. You've got such a wonderful set of stories to tell. Is there anything about your service time or your family's, I guess, experience with the service, it sounds like, that I haven't asked you about that you wanted to share with us?

RG:

No, but after you leave there will be a whole lot that I will want to say.

EE:

I'm sorry about that.

RG:

I will say that I am so happy that for whatever reason I went in, I went in, and it was varied and I was very frank about telling you that, that my brother, patriotism, and money. The money soon took a back seat. But God was good, and he provided for that part of it. But the patriotism was there, and it's still there today. It has a way of eating itself into your heart, and it stays there. Whenever you see those bagpipes coming out playing Amazing Grace, when you see those tall ships and the fireworks coming from them, you begin to cry. When they begin to play the [U.S.] Army, the Marine Corps, and the sailor songs and the [U.S.] Air Force songs, the tears begin to well up in you. And there is a beautiful, beautiful thank you from inside of you to God and countrymen for having been able to serve in the capacity that you did and for the fact that you did not have the opportunity to take anybody's life.

I might say that our country has not been too kind to my people, but it is still the best country in the world and I pledge allegiance to her.

EE:

Yes.

RG:

It's been good to all of us as human beings. When we look back at other countries and see the strife they're going through today, we may be going through with a whole lot on the streets, we may be going through with a whole lot in our Senate and in our government, but we're still one of the best countries on earth as far as I'm concerned, and I thank God.

EE:

Well, it has been a real pleasure. Thank you for doing this today.

RG:

I know I have been as unintelligent as I possibly could be.

EE:

Not hardly. Not hardly. Thank you so much.

[End of the Interview]