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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Betty Pegg Hemphill, 2002

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Object ID: WV0235.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Betty Pegg Hemphill’s service in the Women’s Air Force from 1949 to 1951.

Summary:

Hemphill briefly describes her early life, including a visit from soldiers stationed at the Greensboro Airport near her home and her aunt serving with the WACs (Women’s Army Corps) during WWII.

Hemphill discusses her reasons for enlisting in the servic; her trip on a Pullman train to Lackland Air Force Base [AFB]; and marching, physical training, and barracks life during basic training. She also discusses attending supply school at Lowery AFB, working at Keesler AFB, and being stationed at Ellington AFB, where she worked in base supply and played on the base softball team, which was slated to play for the armed forces championship before activities in Korea canceled the game. Of her time in Fayetteville, North Carolina, she discusses working in recruitment; traveling in her own car; talking to high school students; meeting her husband, Ralph Hemphill; asking her commanding officer for permission to marry; and being discharged due to pregnancy.

Other topics include Ralph Hemphill's service in the reserves and civilian career; Betty Hemphill's career with the Postal Service in Guilford County; and her personal photos from her service.

Creator: Betty Sue Pegg Hemphill

Biographical Info: Betty Hemphill (1932-2008) of Guilford County, North Carolina, served in the Women’s Air Force from 1949 to 1951 and then with the U.S. Postal Service from 1967 to 1992.

Collection: Betty Pegg Hemphill 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:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott. I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and this is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today is January the fourth, in the year 2002, on a snowy day in North Carolina, here in Julian, North Carolina. I'm at the home of Betty and Ralph Hemphill.

I just want to thank you, Ms. Hemphill, for sitting down with me this afternoon and going over a time in your life when you were a part of the Women's Air Force. So I want to thank you for doing that, on behalf of the school. I'm going to start off with you with the same question that I ask of just about everybody that I talk with, and that's two simple points: where were you born, and where did you grow up?

BETTY HEMPHILL:

I was born in Five Points, which is close to High Point, North Carolina, and I grew up close to PTI, which was known as just the airport.

EE:

PTI, Piedmont Triad International now.

BH:

Now.

EE:

And they're about to expand it with the FedEx and everything else. But I guess in the early thirties, when you were growing up in that area, was there a lot of air traffic over there?

BH:

No. We played on the runway.

EE:

[laughs] That's a nice memory. So if you lived near an airport and you played on the runway, you must have grown up liking planes.

BH:

Not necessarily. I don't remember that I—we just liked the big place to play.

EE:

Yes, big field. Tell me about your folks. What did they do?

BH:

They were farmers, and I grew up on a farm.

EE:

Well, not everybody came through the Depression with ease around here, but farmers probably—at least most folks I've talked to who owned a farm, they seemed to do better than a lot of the folks in the city.

BH:

We had enough to eat. We were not rich by any means, but we had enough to eat.

EE:

You were telling me before we started, you had a big family, had eight brothers and sisters.

BH:

Right.

EE:

Where were you in that? Were you the oldest, youngest, somewhere in the middle?

BH:

Let's see. Loraine, Doris, Rena, Phyllis. I was the sixth, the sixth one.

EE:

So did you go to school there in—nowadays, folks say Colfax [pronounced “Cole-fax”]. You pronounce it Colfax [pronounced “Cul-fax”]?

BH:

Colfax [pronounced “Culfax”].

EE:

That's the way the locals pronounced it.

You went to school there in Colfax. Were you somebody who liked school, growing up?

BH:

I liked parts of it, like anything else. I had no objection to going to school.

EE:

You would have been, I guess, what, eight or nine when Pearl Harbor happened. Can you remember that?

BH:

Yes, in '42. That part I do not remember, but I remember that there was soldiers stationed in tents close to the Greensboro High Point Airport, and they found where we lived in their wandering around through the woods, and they would come to the house and play with us. I remember that.

EE:

I guess there was the embarkation thing in town. What were they doing out there? I know there's a radar station that was over here near the airport, I guess for surveillance. Just securing all the airports, you reckon, or what did you ever find out about that?

BH:

I didn't really find out anything about it. But you know that oil terminal was close to that there, and I can remember when they were building that, running the lines from Texas to this, because they came through my grandfather's farm.

EE:

If you were number six, did you have any relatives who served in World War II?

BH:

An aunt. Well, we could go back further than that. This was based on my great-great-grandfather. He was in the Civil War. And then an aunt who was in the army, World War II. My brother was in the Marines during the Korean War. He was in the Marines part of the same time that I was in the [U.S.] Air Force.

EE:

I just wondered, when you were growing up and you had these soldiers around, and obviously it was big—do you remember when the war was over, the end of the war?

BH:

No, I don't even remember that.

EE:

Teenagers, it's that kind of time you've got other things on your mind.

BH:

Seems now they aren't interested. Well, they're more interested right after what happened, but before that—

EE:

The world was another place then.

BH:

That's right. They couldn't tell you anything about—I guess I was the same way when I was growing up. I knew there was a war, but the only part that I remember is the soldiers that were stationed close coming to play with us.

EE:

How about this aunt? A woman joining the service was a new thing at that time.

BH:

Yes.

EE:

What did your folks think of her doing that?

BH:

They didn't think there was anything wrong with it. When I joined the [U.S.] Air Force, my brother was in the Marines, and he objected to it very much, on the basis of how they acted or what you know. And my mother told him, she said, “Well, if she don't know how to behave herself in there, she don't know how to behave herself here.” In other words, she was saying that it didn't bother her, and it didn't. And they had to sign for me to enlist.

EE:

I guess you were under twenty-one. You had to get your parents' signature?

BH:

Right.

EE:

But you joined right out of—you graduated in May or June and then that fall you went into—

BH:

Yes, sir. I went in the service in August.

EE:

What made you pick the air force as opposed to another branch of service?

BH:

I don't really know. Well, you heard a little bit more about women in the service then than you had earlier, and maybe it was from living close to an airport, but—

EE:

Did you ever want to fly, yourself, or learn how to fly?

BH:

Not really. I think it was more—then, because as I said, we were never hungry, but we didn't have all that much, and you were beginning to hear more about what you could gain by joining the service.

EE:

What was it about what you could gain that most attracted you? Getting away from home? Had you been away from home much before?

BH:

No. I'd been as far as Virginia. And it was the travel and seeing other things and learning, all at the same time.

EE:

Your mom defended you to your brother, who was critical of your decision. How about your dad? What did he think?

BH:

He was the same. He had no objections to it either.

EE:

Good. You signed up, and you went to High Point, is where you went, down to the recruiting station there at High Point?

BH:

Right. The recruiting station at High Point.

EE:

Was it a woman recruiter or a—

BH:

No. It was man.

EE:

Any of your friends go into the service at the same time?

BH:

No, no, I was the only one.

EE:

You joined, it was August of '49.

BH:

Yes.

EE:

They had just, in '48, [Harry] Truman, I think, had signed the order incorporating women into the service on a regular basis, and what you were joining was the Women's Air Force.

BH:

Right.

EE:

Did you take the train down to Lackland, to San Antonio?

BH:

Basic training.

EE:

Did you take the train?

BH:

Oh yes. We took the train. Well, that's a story, because I'd never been any further than Virginia. Got on the train at ten o'clock at night in High Point. We knew nothing about a Pullman, you know, or how you're supposed to get ready to go to bed or whatnot.

It wasn't too long before that, that a woman had been killed on a train by a porter, and that night the porter kept coming, wanting to know what I wanted, and it scared me to death. Well, what I was doing was rolling over and hitting the button, the call button, with my knee. [laughs]

EE:

So you were inviting him to come back all these times.

BH:

I remember that. We had to change trains in Memphis, Tennessee, I believe. I knew nothing about that. But there were some soldiers on the train, going to Fort Sam Houston and Lackland. At that point, I was the only one on that train, the only woman, and they took care of me.

EE:

That's nice.

BH:

Took me from one train station to the other. Then in Little Rock, Arkansas, three more got on that was going to Lackland, women, and then they were friends all the way through the service, because we got on the same train.

EE:

One of the things that's neat about the service is that it throws you in with folks from all over, all different backgrounds, and you got that right off the bat, it sounds like, from that train ride.

Tell me what you remember about basic. Was it what you expected? What was it like?

BH:

Well, we learned to march and we learned self-discipline, which is one of the things that a lot of them now need, and respect. I rather enjoyed it. It didn't bother me. See, I was raised on a farm, so as far as the physical aspects of it, it didn't bother me.

EE:

That wasn't a problem for you?

BH:

That wasn't a problem.

EE:

And having eight brothers and sisters, community quarters wasn't a problem for you either.

BH:

That wasn't a problem either.

EE:

Were your instructors men or women at this time?

BH:

Women.

EE:

Did they give you, either there or when you signed up, a choice of either what you wanted to do or places to go? Did you have any preference? Did you get to state?

BH:

They gave you a test and all, but you really didn't have a choice.

EE:

So you couldn't say, “I'd like to go to Hawaii,” and do whatever? You basically had to—

BH:

Well, after. After you went through basic and all, then if they had an assignment open somewhere else, you could apply for it. That's how I got to recruiting duty in North Carolina.

EE:

So there wasn't anything that you remember terribly hard about basic for yourself, then?

BH:

Not for myself, but it was hard on others, even some of the men. I seen the men fall out on the ground when we were marching.

EE:

Were there men and women both stationed at Lackland when you were there?

BH:

Oh yes.

EE:

How restricted were you all in your movements? Did you have to stay on base during the week, and you got weekends off, or what was it like?

BH:

I only had one three-day pass while we were at Lackland, because we were in basic, and they gave us one pass to go into San Antonio.

EE:

I guess you would have already switched to Lowry [Air Force Base] there in Denver, Colorado, and you were there from, probably, October or so of '49 through—

BH:

March of '50.

EE:

March of '50. You were going to supply school. Tell me about that experience. Was that good for you?

BH:

Yes, because I think it helped me later on in life.

EE:

Were you learning like the accounting procedures, or what was the material?

BH:

You had this process of where, if this squadron needed something, they sent their requisition to you, and you looked to see if you had it or if they needed it. In fact, I went to work for Sears mail order after that, and I think that was based on my training in service.

EE:

Great preparation for you on how to not get frustrated with all the paperwork that has to go and everything?

BH:

Right. Yes.

EE:

So you went in, and you were telling me that they've changed the designation since then, but you were, I guess, a private coming out of basic. Did you make PFC [private first class] after supply school?

BH:

I don't remember, but I went in as a private. Then I became a PFC, then a corporal, and then an airman first class. I don't actually remember how the ratings are now, but you went from corporal to sergeant and then staff sergeant. Then when I came out, I don't know whether I was a sergeant or a staff sergeant, to tell you the truth.

EE:

You had never been outside of North Carolina except a trip to Virginia. You're going to Texas in the summertime and Colorado in the wintertime.

BH:

You got it. [laughter]

EE:

That's two extremes right there. That's pretty country out that way. I guess your restrictions were probably a little bit looser in Lowry than they were in San Antonio.

BH:

Right.

EE:

Did you get to know some of the women and some of the territory a little bit better out there?

BH:

Actually, you didn't get to know the actual people that lived there, the locals. At that time when you joined the service, that more or less became your family, and the people that you met all were in the service. I don't remember meeting any locals that you actually came close to in any of the places where I was, except when I was transferred to Fayetteville.

EE:

What about other women in the service? You talked about that you kept in contact with those folks from the train all throughout. Did they also go out to Lowry, or who all did you hook up with when you were out there?

BH:

Part of the same ones that got on the train in Little Rock went to Lowry with me, also. But, like I said, it's more or less a family.

EE:

How many women were in your group at basic? What was your size going through that?

BH:

It was probably twp hundred.

EE:

And then again, at Lowry, about how many?

BH:

Well, about the same.

EE:

At that time, how many different places were there for basic? Because the numbers changed generationally. You know, at one time, everybody who joined the Marine Corps went to Parris Island, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast. Was there just one basic training spot for women in the air force? Was it all at Lackland?

BH:

It was all at Lackland.

EE:

So the Lowry group was probably a couple of groups that had come through Lackland, and they filtered and picked out from that. Then you were assigned back to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, Texas.

BH:

Right.

EE:

Did you have any preference? Did you get any voice on where you'd like to be assigned?

BH:

Not at that time.

EE:

Your instructors at Lowry were also women?

BH:

Part of them were men. Part of them were women.

EE:

Because one of the things that's interesting is how independent they get at different stages.

BH:

We went to school men and women together at Lowry.

EE:

So at Lowry you were with men in that class?

BH:

Right. Yes.

EE:

How was the competition between men and women?

BH:

I don't really remember there being any.

EE:

Everybody had something they had to learn.

BH:

Right.

EE:

But you came out and went to Ellington, you worked in base supply. Tell me about your office, your day-to-day work situation. Did you have a man as a CO [commanding officer], or who was your CO over at Ellington?

BH:

A man.

EE:

How many were in the office where you all worked?

BH:

Oh, there must have been—seeing it was for the whole base, there must have been twenty-five or thirty.

EE:

And about how many of those were women?

BH:

Don't remember.

EE:

But it was just military personnel in that office? It wasn't civilians as well?

BH:

Yes, there were some civilians, yes, women and men.

EE:

But you were only at Ellington for what, about three months or so, maybe six months? You weren't there very long before you went to Keesler [Air Force Base, Miss].

BH:

I couldn't have been there too long.

EE:

Did the Korean War start when you were at Houston, in June?

BH:

Yes, because we had a softball team, and we only had one game to play to know whether we were going to be winners or not, and they canceled our ball games. That was neat. They flew us from one base to the other. We played the WACs [Women's Army Corps], the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy], the Marines.

EE:

Now, was that something you started as early as basic, playing on a softball team?

BH:

Oh no. I played ball all my life. That was at Ellington, so that was during the Korean War, or it started at that time.

EE:

Now, where are you in this picture?

BH:

I'm holding the mascot, right there.

EE:

So had you played ball when you were in high school, too?

BH:

Yes.

EE:

That's great. Did they have semi-pro teams back then for women?

BH:

You mean when I was going to high school?

EE:

Yes.

BH:

We played just like they do now. One school played the other.

EE:

This was fast pitch?

BH:

Fast-pitch softball.

EE:

Because I have a couple of friends I went to school with who got full scholarships to go, just on playing softball, which was pretty strong, I thought.

BH:

And our pitcher, man, could she throw that thing, underhanded.

EE:

So was the season scrapped then at the end. Did they just cancel the season?

BH:

They canceled it.

EE:

Was there any thought of you ever going overseas, or what was the situation with that? Were there limits on overseas duty if you were in the Women's Air Force?

BH:

I never really got that far. I found out they were fixing to send me to Greenland when I met and married Ralph.

EE:

I know now pretty much that, like, one in seven years they ask you to kind of do an overseas tour of at least a year. They didn't want to keep you in circulation in that sense?

BH:

No.

EE:

You said, though, that you asked for a change in the kind of work when you were at Ellington. You wanted to do something different.

BH:

Well, I volunteered to transfer to Keesler. That was still in supply, but it was—

EE:

You were still in supply. You were a squadron supply officer at Keesler.

BH:

Right.

EE:

And you were in Biloxi for how long, about another six months, down to June of '51?

BH:

Right.

EE:

Texas you got familiar with. You were playing softball. What was it like being in the service during, I guess, the first six months in Korea, up till wintertime, when they had such a terrible—I guess that was [Battle of] Chosin Reservoir, was December of '50. And after '50, everything just kind of stuck for a while.

BH:

Yes. My brother was trapped with them at Chosin Reservoir.

EE:

So he was in the service. Was he called back?

BH:

No. He was in at that time. He had enlisted right before I did. He went in the Marines, and I went in the [U.S.] Air Force.

EE:

But he went in before the war started? I guess he was called up and—

BH:

Yes. He went in before the war started, but he was with that Marine division.

EE:

How much contact did you have with him by mail and things like that?

BH:

By mail, yes. It wasn't an everyday thing, but, I mean, you could stay in touch, and I did.

EE:

Did your folks ever get out to see you where you were?

BH:

Oh no.

EE:

Did you ever get to go home on Christmas leave those two years when you were in?

BH:

No. And I didn't get to go home when my grandfather died while I was at Lackland. And then my grandmother died when I was at Lowry, and I didn't get to go home. You had to pay your own way if you went home, and at that time I really didn't have the money to go, and my parents didn't have the money.

EE:

Right. So you had to go pretty quick on the independence scale.

BH:

Right.

EE:

You were in Keesler for about eight or nine months, it looks like.

BH:

Yes.

EE:

And then you asked to go to Fayetteville to do a different kind of work. What was the work like at Keesler? Was it similar? Well, squadron wasn't quite as big as the base supply. How many were in your office at Keesler?

BH:

Well, there was just two of us, two women, a WAC recruiter and myself, the WAF recruiter. Our CO at the time, he was a man, and then there was—I can't even remember. There was a lot of men that worked there, because it was an induction station.

EE:

This is when you're at Fayetteville?

BH:

Yes.

EE:

What about at Keesler? How many folks were you working with in Keesler what little time you were there?

BH:

There was only six of us.

EE:

What was it that you think made you switch to doing recruiter? You just were tired of doing the kind of work or was it you just wanted to get out of Mississippi, or what was the cause?

BH:

No. I just wanted to experience a different kind of work.

EE:

Two women in Fayetteville. When I talk to folks from World War II, the recruiting slogan was pretty simple. Whatever the branch was, it was basically “Free a Man to Fight.” What was the recruiting slogan for the Women's Air Force in 1951?

BH:

There wasn't really a slogan. What you were actually doing then is promising the women—at that time, you could go to college in the service. It was actually telling them what you could do for them.

EE:

So you were selling benefits like GI Bill and travel and—

BH:

Education.

EE:

It was a recruiting station. Did you pretty much stay on the base, or how did you go with it? Did you go out in the community to try to—

BH:

Yes, going to high schools and radio stations. Had my own car. I covered the eastern part of North Carolina.

EE:

Did they have ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] for women at that time?

BH:

I doubt it. I think that was all later.

EE:

What kind of groups were you speaking in front of?

BH:

High school graduates. And you visited individuals if you got a letter or a call from someone that was interested, then you would go out and talk to them.

EE:

And then you had to go talk to their parents, too, I guess, if they were underage.

BH:

Yes.

EE:

So you had to make sure the family was okay. Did you have a lot of folks that you had to reject for one reason or another, or what was the acceptance rate? Was it pretty high for folks who expressed an interest?

BH:

Yes, because you didn't have anyone express interest that wasn't really qualified. I don't remember ever rejecting anyone.

EE:

So there wasn't any kind of problem with getting parental permission for those who wanted to go?

BH:

No.

EE:

You were there for about how long before you ran into the fellow in the other room? When did you meet your future husband?

BH:

I was probably in Fayetteville two weeks, because that's another story. [laughter] See, I was raised with a family of nine, went in the service. We lived in barracks with thirty women. So when I went to Fayetteville and we could live off base then, I was going to get my own apartment, live by myself. I did. I stayed there two weeks. [laughter] And I looked for a room in a private home, and I went to the Traveler's Aid at the train station. They told me, said, “We have a room, but they specify they want a male, because they're renting one room to a male.” They didn't want a woman because of all the dainties that would be hanging up in the bathroom, they thought. I assured them I would not do that, because I'd be coming home every weekend, Fayetteville to Greensboro. So the lady of the house said okay.

I had been there maybe two weeks, and she had told me about Ralph, and we were from the same area. And she told him about me. I hadn't met him. He left before I did, and he got home after I did. One evening, I walked home from work, and he was sitting on the front porch with the lady of the house. She introduced us, and then he said, “Would you like to go home this weekend?”

And just like that, I said, “Yes.”

And then we started leaving. “Can you drive? I'm sick.” [laughter]

So I'd been driving this straight-shift car, you know, and he had this automatic.

EE:

So the first thing you did was go do something for him.

BH:

And six months later, we were married.

EE:

He got a chauffeur out of the deal. That's pretty good.

We talked when we were off tape. He had been in the service, and then when y'all got married in December of '51, at that time you were not required—you had to get permission to get married, or how did that work?

BH:

Had to get permission to get married, yes.

EE:

Did you have to ask, or did he have to ask?

BH:

I had to ask.

EE:

Okay. You had to ask your CO. And you could stay in, with permission, except until you got pregnant?

BH:

Right.

EE:

And when that happened, in May, that's when you decided that you and the service would part company at that time. And yet he went back into service at some point. When did he go back?

BH:

He was in the reserves for forty years.

EE:

He was a reservist all that time.

BH:

Yes. Attended those meetings every weekend, two weeks' training in the summer.

EE:

When did y'all get back up to this area? After you left the service, did y'all move back up to the Greensboro area, or when did you come up?

BH:

He was working for Internal Revenue [Service] in Fayetteville, and he transferred back here in May of '55. So we've lived here since May of '55.

EE:

That's great. What was the hardest thing for you about being in the service?

BH:

I enjoyed it. There was no hard part about it.

EE:

Did you play some more softball later on when you were down at Fayetteville?

BH:

No.

EE:

This was the tops of your career and the end of it, right there?

BH:

That was the tops of it. Right.

EE:

Was there ever anything that you did while you were in the service that made you afraid, that you were worried about, other than that first night with the porter?

BH:

[laughs] No. I wasn't afraid to fly. I don't remember anything. And then they put us through the gas chamber and run us through the field where they exploded the gas thing, but I wasn't afraid.

EE:

Did you ever put your marching to use after doing it in basic? Most people I talk to, it was very limited.

BH:

No, we marched until I was transferred from Keesler. Oh, I can remember marching in Colorado and it was so cold, your feet was froze.

EE:

At any of the time when you were in service, had you ever thought about making a career out of being in the air force?

BH:

No. When I met Ralph and we got married, I didn't. But when I went in, I did not have any intention of making it into a career.

EE:

Now, you said you've got three sons.

BH:

Right.

EE:

Did any of them ever express an interest in joining the service, since both of you had been in?

BH:

No. Our oldest two had their numbers during Vietnam, and the oldest one was 135, so we were sweating that one, but it was over before he was called. So none of the three of them ever expressed any desire to be in the service. So, no. One of them in particular wanted to fly, and Ralph taught him to fly. He got his pilot's license, or soloed, let's put it that way, and driver's license, all when he was sixteen.

EE:

They just recently—of course, with Afghanistan, I don't know. We haven't been getting all the reports. But I know that they just started a couple of years ago, when they bombed Iraq, had the first female combat pilot in action, and I'm sure they've probably got some more of them while it's been over there in Afghanistan here lately. What do you think about having women in combat positions, having been in the service? Do you think that's a good thing?

BH:

If they can do it, yes. I think it would take a special person, though.

EE:

That would not have been something that would have interested you?

BH:

I don't think so. That's hard to answer, because we didn't have the option then. But I don't think every one of them could do it. Like I said, I think it would take a special person, and if that's what they want to do, then go for it.

EE:

It sounds like the kind of work you were doing was either, like at the end, very independent or in an office environment with men and women such that there wasn't that much in the workday that was distinctively Women's Air Force. Is that fair to say? In other words, your CO was usually a man. And later, they integrated the services fully. There was not a distinctive Women's Air Force. Do you think that there was an advantage, or what was lost when you integrated those services? Was there something distinctive about Women's Air Force for you, as opposed to being just part of the air force?

BH:

I think it was more a question of the times. It was right for us then, but, as everything else, it moves forward. The way they do it now is right for them. Now the women can marry, have their children, stay in the service. I said that one of the hardest things to get used to when we go back to the post is seeing a pregnant uniform.

EE:

Having to worry about daycare arrangements before you get shipped overseas. That's an unusual thing.

BH:

That, to me, would be hard. The women in the National Guard and all, when they had—

EE:

When they're called up. That's what's going to happen.

BH:

When you've got a six-month-old or year-old. I don't think I could have done that. I really don't. I don't think I could have left my children like that.

EE:

I know that in the fifties, the Marine Corps women had to wear a particular shade of lipstick to match the red cord around their cap. Were there any particular dress things that the Women's Air Force required of you all?

BH:

No, other than your hair.

EE:

It couldn't touch your collar.

BH:

It had to be off of your collar. It could be to your waist, but you did it up in a braid, so it'd be off your collar.

EE:

And uniform-wise, now, I've got you in a softball uniform here. What was your impression of the uniform? Well, that looks pretty good.

BH:

I had no objections to the uniform. I liked the blues better, but I couldn't find a picture of me in our new blues. See, this was your old women's army uniform.

EE:

I was going to say, is that Pallas Athena on the—

BH:

Yes, and we just wore the air force insignias.

EE:

Is that a Pallas Athena on the collar, and then you've got air force on the side?

BH:

Right. But while I was in, the air force was issued what they called the new blues, but I couldn't find the picture of me, and I know I had some somewhere, but I have no idea what happened to it.

EE:

So this would have been khaki, and then you have a summer. What did you have, a seersucker in the summer, or what was it?

BH:

No. It was a khaki. Yes, this was winter, and then we had our—I found this, too. Then we had our—

EE:

Is this down in Mississippi? It looks like it, from the pine trees, yes.

BH:

That's in Mississippi. This is in Mississippi. This was your summer dress, summer dress uniform.

EE:

Well, now, your hair looks shorter here than these women. Is this you up in the front here?

BH:

I have no idea where I am in there, but my hair was kept short, as you can see.

EE:

Is that you in the front?

BH:

No. The tallest were in the front, and I was middle range, because we had some that were six feet and more.

EE:

Good gracious. Six feet's tall now. It would have been really tall back then.

It is the nature of life that it's only in one direction, and you can't do things over again, but if you could, do you think you'd join the service again?

BH:

I'd do it again.

EE:

If a young woman came up to you today and asked your opinion on whether it's good for a woman to join the service, what would you tell her?

BH:

Well, I had that happen, because, see, my brother, who objected to my joining, his daughter came along. She wanted to join. So we had that discussion then, and I convinced him that women in there, men in there, they're just like men and women anywhere else. That actually, at that time we had more restrictions than the women going to college did. See, we'd have bed check. We couldn't leave the base without permission. We had to sign out. We had to sign in. And we called her den mother. There was actually a sergeant that lived in the barracks with us, and she did bed check every night.

EE:

So if you're worried about your kid's safety, they'd be better off going into the service than they would—

BH:

There you go. Oh, here's the one in the summer.

EE:

That's great. This looks like your insignia is a little bit different from here. You've got the wings up there. That's good.

Do you still keep in contact with the women that you served with?

BH:

There are two that I send Christmas cards to.

EE:

I don't have pictures from that time. I might want to get one of each of those different styles of uniform, because one of the women who helped us get this thing started, she was, I guess, a WAC brigadier general, and one of her big things was doing a history of women in uniform. And it was quite interesting. We try to get as many pictures and representatives of how things changed, too.

Well, I appreciate your sitting down with me today and going over this, because it always ends up in a happy story when the last thing you do in the service is find the fellow you're going to spend the rest of your life with.

BH:

I guess so.

EE:

That's a good thing. Is there any other lessons that you think service life taught you? Sounds like you were an independent person, maybe, to begin with, but this certainly made you more independent, didn't it?

BH:

Well, I think so, but I guess our whole family was kind of independent, because, being raised on the farm, well, we all had to be, really.

EE:

But other than finding your man for the future, what do you think the service gave to you most?

BH:

That's hard to say. It helped me later on. See, I stayed at home for fourteen years after we were married and did not work. But then in '67, I went to work for the post office, and in '74, I was appointed postmaster at Liberty. And I was postmaster at Liberty for eighteen years, retired ten years ago. And, see, that gives you a little edge, being a veteran.

In 1967, I had taken the test for the post office, and I was the first woman veteran that [the Personnel Department] in Greensboro had interviewed for the job.

EE:

One of the difficulties in this project is that the service really didn't do a great job of tracking women veterans. I guess they saw them as being sort of—there was going to be so few in number that it didn't have to do an extraordinary effort to identify them. But in just '95, when they had this Women in Military Service [for America] memorial—I don't know if you know about the WIMSA Memorial up in Arlington.

BH:

I've seen it.

EE:

But they basically had to have women veterans self-report that they, in fact, had served, because even through that fire they had in St. Louis or whatever, they don't have really very good records for who was serving in the service. So I'm sure you probably were a surprise, showing up as a woman veteran in the post office.

So you and your husband both have had distinguished government careers and played back to your military service.

BH:

Well, I think we've been very fortunate. We're both retired. Ralph's been retired twenty-two years, and I've been retired ten. Once you retire, you become civil service retired then.

EE:

Well, I know that you're glad you haven't been dealing in the postmaster capacity with the mess in the last couple of months.

BH:

Very glad.

EE:

I think everybody's got a renewed appreciation for the difficult job that is.

Well, is there anything I have not asked you about, about your service experience, that you've either found or you've gotten—I see you've got your ID card for me here.

BH:

I found that, too.

EE:

Oh, my goodness. That's great.

BH:

I don't actually need that one, but Golden Corral feeds all the veterans on Veterans Day. Did you know that?

EE:

No. So on Veterans Day it will be crowded here. [laughs]

BH:

Oh, it was. This time we were in Wilmington, at the beach, and the couple we were with, he was a veteran. We went back up to Wilmington to the Golden Corral. We got there early, so we were lucky, but, man, oh, it was crowded. But the nicest people. They were so nice to us. They had extra employees and all on that day helping.

EE:

This card says that you were a corporal in July of '51.

BH:

Somewhere in there, I became a sergeant.

EE:

Somewhere in there, you got bopped up to—that's good. Stanford Gregg was your CO, I guess, on this thing.

Well, like I say, I appreciate your doing this for us today, and if it's okay with you—and I'm going to say to our transcriber, thank you, transcriber. I may continue to run on, just because I'm going to ask some questions about this stuff here.

Is it okay, then, if I can take a couple of these things back with me and then make copies of them?

BH:

Sure.

EE:

You have more of a variety of pictures out. Unfortunately, a lot of folks that I've talked to, all they've got is their stock head shot when they first come out.

RALPH HEMPHILL:

She downplayed this, but they were playing for the final game of the women's softball air force championship when the Korean War broke, and they canceled the last game. So they never got to play the final game.

EE:

Well, you made it sound like it was much more of a local thing from your low key. This was all air force?

BH:

Oh no. It was armed forces.

RH:

They flew them from one place to another.

EE:

Okay. Well, we'll have to add that in the amendment, that the modesty here creeped up.

BH:

That's me with this hair.

EE:

Is that your coach there in the middle?

BH:

No. That's the commander of the base, the base commander.

EE:

Oh, my.

RH:

There's her brother. If you want a good shot of Keesler Field, this—

BH:

I didn't find any of Keesler Field where I was in uniform.

EE:

Who's that next to a WAF squadron? Is that you?

RH:

That's her.

BH:

Well, that's me, but I'm not in uniform.

EE:

Oh, next to that sign might be good for us to have a picture. It says WAF. Since there's not a WAF anymore—

[End of interview]