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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Jessie Watt McIntyre

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Object ID: WV0237.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Jessie McIntyre’s service in the Army Nurse Corps, including liberating the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, during World War II.

Summary:

McIntyre provides an overview of her childhood, including her education, living through the Depression, and her reasons for attending nursing school. Topics from her studies there include: the daily routine; changes in the program after the attack on Pearl Harbor; and meeting her husband. She discusses her marriage while at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

McIntyre describes signing up for the Army Nurse Corps after her husband left for the service; being trained as an operating room nurse; the differences between the army and nurse school; and her overseas training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Topics from her time in the United Kingdom include: traveling to Scotland on the RMS Queen Elizabeth; uniforms; buzz bombs; keeping in touch with her husband; interactions with citizens; and her brother being on the beach on D-Day. Of her time in the European theatre, McIntyre describes the Battle of the Bulge, following the front, receiving booklets on what to do if captured, and meeting up with her husband in Becherbach, Germany. Other topics from Bercherbach include treating casualties and the death of President Roosevelt.

McIntyre talks in detail about the liberation of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria in May 1945. She discusses setting up a hospital in the camp; treating patients suffering from disease and starvation; the high death rate; and how nurses protected themselves from disease. She describes the structure of the camp and the ways people were worked and killed by the Nazis. She shares the story of Franz Ziereis, the commandment of the camp, who fled to the nearby mountains; his capture by US troops; his confession; his death from a gunshot wound; and the camp victims’ capture of his body. She also describes the Russian army taking over command of the camp, and the return of victims to their home countries. Later in the interview, she discusses the importance of the Holocaust Museums and education about the holocaust, as well as meeting holocaust survivors and sharing their stories.

McIntyre goes on to discuss returning to the US and receiving her discharge because of pregnancy. Other post-war topics include working for the Foreign Service with her husband,and his career.

Creator: Jessie E. Watt McIntyre

Biographical Info: Jessie Watt McIntyre (b. 1922) of Collingswood, New Jersey, served as a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps from 1943 to 1945.

Collection: Jessie E. McIntyre Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today I'm in beautiful Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the home of Jessie McIntyre, who's going tell us about her service with the Army Nurse Corps.

Mrs. McIntyre, I certainly appreciate you sitting down with me this morning to share things. I'm going to start off with you with the same simple question I ask of most folks, and that is just where were you born and where did you grow up?

JM:

I was born in Collingswood, New Jersey, and I stayed in New Jersey through my nurse's training. I left there when I was twenty-two. I've never been back there to live.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

JM:

I have one brother, and I lost a sister.

EE:

Were you oldest, youngest, in the middle?

JM:

I was in the middle.

EE:

What did your folks do?

JM:

My father worked for a company in Camden, New Jersey, called McAndrews and Forbes. They sponsored the Amos & Andy radio program. You may remember that. They dealt mostly in licorice which came from Russia. It was used mostly in cigarettes. He was a bookkeeper for the company. My mother was a housewife.

EE:

Had he been in the service?

JM:

No, he had never been in the service. He was too young in World War I and too old for World War II.

EE:

You would maybe have remembered—my dad has the vaguest memories of things—would you remember anything about when the Depression hit?

JM:

I sure do, yes. My father was one of the few on the street who kept his job. I can remember my mother helping out the neighbors with food and whatnot because so many had lost their jobs. And I remember the men on the street corners selling their apples and so on. I was young, but I still remember how tough it was for some people.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school, growing up?

JM:

Did I like school? Yes, I can say that I liked school. Especially the extracurricular activities. [laughs]

EE:

Now, when you say extracurricular, you mean sports, boys, or what? [laughter]

JM:

Well, I enjoyed sports in junior high. I ran track and I played on the basketball team. Then I moved to a—we had to go the next town for high school, a much bigger school. So I switched from sports to sports editor of the newspaper in the high school.

EE:

What's the name of the high school?

JM:

Collingswood High School.

EE:

So, was journalism your favorite subject? What was your favorite subject?

JM:

I would say it was English and journalism. Actually, I was offered a scholarship after high school to go to college on a journalism scholarship, but I had always wanted to go into nursing, so I turned that down.

EE:

In North Carolina, we were kind of slow on getting twelve years of high school in. Was it a twelve-year or eleven-year high school?

JM:

It was a twelve-year high school.

EE:

So you graduated in '38?

JM:

Thirty-nine. I was seventeen when I graduated.

EE:

The school of nursing that you went to was pretty close to right there where you lived, wasn't it?

JM:

Very close. It was within, my guess, twelve miles.

EE:

So you lived at home when you went to—

JM:

No, we lived in a dorm. Actually, we worked twelve hours a day, six and a half days a week, because we only had two shifts. So many nurses had gone into the service that the poor civilian hospitals were understaffed.

EE:

So there was a wrapping-up of women going into the service, then, before Pearl Harbor even.

JM:

Yes. Already.

EE:

And it was affecting you.

JM:

I think they must have known something was coming. [laughs]

EE:

You know, most people, when they're teenagers, don't think a lot about the world; but certainly by '39 when Poland's invaded, that has to be front and center. “What in the world are we going to do?”

JM:

Yes.

EE:

What was your day-to-day routine like in nursing school? Was it what you thought it was going to be?

JM:

It was harder, I think, than I thought, because we not only had to work on the wards, because they were so short-handed, but we were also carrying a full load of classes. So we really didn't get much sleep. It was not an easy time in a way. We had very little free time, and it was all work, pretty much.

EE:

I assume they take you on sort of a tour of the different kinds of nursing during your training. Was there a particular kind that you latched onto?

JM:

Well, I particularly liked pediatrics, and that's where I ended up after I graduated. But we also had the usual medicine, surgical training. And then we went to the New Jersey Mental Institution in Morristown, New Jersey, for about four months of psychiatric training.

EE:

My mom went to Dix Hill [Dorothea Dix Hospital]. She was trained here in state, so I figure that's part of the rotation.

You would have been in your second year, I guess, then, when Pearl Harbor happened. Were you on call that day?

JM:

That is right.

EE:

That was a Sunday.

JM:

I probably was, because we worked most Sundays. We had half a day off on Sundays, so I would have been working part of the day. My memory of Pearl Harbor isn't as sharp as the day [John F.] Kennedy was shot, oddly enough. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Kennedy was shot. Pearl Harbor Day, I'm a little less positive of my reaction. I'm sure it was of horror that this thing had happened, without our supposedly knowing that it was going to happen.

EE:

I think part of it is the instantaneity of the media, you know. You've got the TV coverage immediately coming on, and it filtered. It took a while for people to find out that day, depending on where they were, at church or at meals or—

JM:

Well television wasn't so prevalent, even, then. We didn't have televisions in our rooms or anything. Even in the lounge, I don't remember a television set. It was still just sort of coming out, I think.

EE:

World's Fair was when TV was introduced, I think, to the public, in New York.

Did nursing school change any after that?

JM:

Yes they did. As a matter of fact, they set up a program sort of like the AST [Advanced Specialty Training?] program for other colleges where they took students in and paid them to train. I guess many of us thought it was a little unfair. We were paying to go, not much, but we paid to go, and these new students worked very few hours. They went to school—

EE:

Is this the cadet nurse program?

JM:

Yes, it was the cadet nurse program. But they worked very few hours on the wards compared to us, and yet they were getting paid for it. Of course they were getting paid, but then they had to go into some branch of the service when they finished.

EE:

So you had to pay, but you didn't have to go into the service afterwards.

JM:

No, we were encouraged, though, which, looking back on it, as I say, the poor civilian hospitals were struggling because so many of their people were leaving to go into the service. And yet our head nurse and other people really encouraged us to go into some branch.

EE:

There was never a draft of any medical personnel into the services, was there?

JM:

No, no, there never was. My husband was in medical school at the time, and then he went to Hartford Hospital for a two-year residency that was cut to nine months because his last year in medical school he was taken into the AST program, which was like the cadet nurses, I suppose. He went in as a private and he was paid, thank goodness, because otherwise, I don't think he would have finished. He was running out of money. But when he finished, he had to go into some branch of the service.

EE:

You hinted that you all got connected before the war got going.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me about that, because we haven't got—I've been very monochromatic here, looking at your—you've met this fella somewhere.

JM:

Well, I was still in training. I was on the pediatric ward, and he came over from his medical school in Philadelphia, which was Hahnemann [University Hospital]. He had to come to us. They needed to deliver, I think, twelve babies. He had to go past the pediatric ward and my desk to get there. We sort of struck up a conversation, and I guess that was the beginning of the romance. [laughs] Then we became engaged before I went in the army, but he really was the one who sent me in. He said, “I'm not going to see you during the war. You might as well go ahead and then see the world.”

Furthermore, as an RN [registered nurse] then I made ninety dollars a month. As I say, I worked twelve hours a day, six and a half days a week, for ninety dollars. As a second lieutenant, I went into the army, and I believe I made a hundred and eighty dollars right away. [laughs] Big incentive.

EE:

That's pretty good incentive right there, yes.

JM:

But when I got to Fort Dix [New Jersey] we decided to get married, and that was not easy. You had to get all sorts of permissions.

EE:

I was going to say. Now, you finish in '42, I guess, with your nurse training. Did you go work somewhere in the private sector for a couple of months?

JM:

No. I worked in the hospital on the pediatric ward until I went into the army.

EE:

Okay. So you were waiting for him to get through with his—did he already know that he was going into the service?

JM:

Oh, he already knew, because he was in this program his last year of medical school, and you had to, then, serve in the service to pay that back, you know, because they paid him. They paid his tuition, which wasn't so much then, plus a private's pay, whatever that was. So that had to be paid back.

EE:

Right. Right.

JM:

So he knew he was going in.

EE:

So he finished his medical training, then, in '42 as well.

JM:

No. He finished in 1943.

EE:

Had he already gone through basic by the time you all decided to get married at Fort Dix?

JM:

No, he had not. As a matter of fact, our wedding was rather unusual, because all of the men were civilians and all of the women were in the military. [laughter] My matron of honor was in the Marines.

EE:

Where's the wedding picture? I want to see that photo.

JM:

His sister was in the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy], and I can't remember who else, but all the men were civilians. They were all medical students.

EE:

That's great. So, did he have his choice of which branch of the service he went in, or was this an army program?

JM:

He did, actually. He said first the navy interviewed him, and when they asked him why he chose the navy, he said he didn't really care which branch of the service he went in. So they turned him down. [laughs]

EE:

He should have been more forceful.

JM:

So then he applied to the army, and, of course, they were glad to have him.

EE:

Did his going into the army, then, sort of determine where you were going to go in, or did—there were choices that you could have made, I guess.

JM:

Well, I just signed up and they assigned me to Fort Dix because it was the closest camp.

EE:

So you didn't sign up with the army nurse corps per se. You just signed up to—

JM:

Well, I signed up. Yes, I didn't sign up for any particular place. Although when I went to Dix, I worked on the wards for a while, and then they trained me as an operating room nurse. So from then on it was my assignment.

EE:

So you had not had that operating experience until you—

JM:

Well, I had it as a student nurse, but not as a specific specialty in nursing. As I said, I was really interested in pediatrics, but there wasn't a lot of call for pediatrics in the army at that time.

EE:

But not everybody, in fact, most folks did not go overseas. Army Nurse Corps were some of the women who did get to go over. Did you have to volunteer to go overseas to make yourself available? You weren't stateside long.

JM:

No. We were encouraged to volunteer, let's say. I suppose I'd chosen army over the navy because I knew I could go overseas, whereas the navy nurses at that time were mostly assigned to troop ships, taking the injured back and forth. They were not actually assigned overseas at the time, either in Europe or the Pacific.

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

EE:

When I talk to women who are nurses, they come into the service having already had exposure to living with other people. Was there anything surprising, memorable about those first two months at Fort Dix, about being in the service? What was different to you?

JM:

Fort Dix was very much like training, in a way. We lived in a barracks. We each had our own room, and we had three meals a day. [laughs] We went to work on a ward and came home, and our evenings were free. That was different.

EE:

So then, actually, you might have had more free time.

JM:

We had more free time than we'd ever had in training. I would say that once we got to—well, even Fort Jackson [South Carolina] was different, because we really did have basic training at Fort Jackson, the whole bit. We had to learn to dig foxholes. We had to go through the gas chamber. We had to learn how to march, which was fun for most of us. We enjoyed that. We were not seeing patients, actually, at Fort Jackson. It was strictly basic training, getting ready to go overseas, so that was different.

And then once we were overseas, it was completely different, because in England, our first post—you might say posting—we lived in a private home, a large private home that had just been turned over to us. So there were maybe twelve of us in a room, and it was heated by a fireplace, which was unusual. The poor British were just about freezing to death, but they were shipping all this coal over to the United States troops. So we had one of the enlisted men come in every two hours and put coal into the fireplace, or whatever he had, so we were nice and toasty. [laughs] So that was a little different, and certainly, living abroad was different because we lived in tents.

EE:

Well, I assume, then, that was part of the Fort Jackson training, was figuring out how to handle your tent, and wash your hair in combat, and things like that.

JM:

Yes, that's right. Washing our hair in a helmet. We even learned how to heat soup in our helmets. [laughter]

EE:

So you had your—at Fort Dix, then, was where you got your operating room nurse training, and then Jackson was your basic. About how many women were at each stop along the way with your group?

JM:

You know, we had a reunion this summer and I asked that question, and nobody could answer it. I think there were about forty-two of us. We all came from the East Coast.

EE:

So you figure it's probably the East Coast training spot, and they have something for the West Coast.

JM:

They came from many different states, but all from the East.

EE:

Were your instructors men and women, or just women?

JM:

They were both. Certainly for the drilling part and the gas mask part and so on they were men. We had a chief nurse who helped us set up the hospital. For instance, for the operating room, I remember we had to make—and I don't know how many sheets this took—we had to sew sheets together to have a liner for the operating room tent, so that the dirt from the tent wouldn't fall into the tent itself, which was the operating room. All that was done before we went into France.

So it was a matter of her organizing us, you know, into who was going to work on the wards, who was going to work in the operating room. We had a nurse anesthetist. We had other anesthetists, too, but one of us was an anesthetist. But most of the nurses had had the same training I'd had—three years and had worked on wards.

EE:

So you didn't have a lot who were—well, all of these folks, the forty-two, were all fresh out of training, then.

JM:

No. Oddly enough, our chief nurse was older. She'd been out for some time. I would say we had six or seven who were probably twenty years my senior. I was about the youngest nurse. You could not go into the nurse corps until you were twenty-two at that time.

EE:

Okay. So you couldn't have parental permission to go in younger, then? Okay.

JM:

I don't know what it was, but I had to wait until I was twenty-two to go in, and some of the nurses were in their forties and late forties and so on.

EE:

So your husband had no problem with you going into the service, [unclear] because he was going to have to do the same thing.

JM:

No, he thought it was a great idea, because he loved to travel. Still loves to travel.

EE:

And your folks? What did they think about it?

JM:

Well, I don't think they were very keen on it, because my brother was already in England. He had been drafted out of college. You know, when he had six months of college, they drafted him. We thought he'd have basic training and then he would come home, but the first we heard he was in England. He never had basic training. He was one of the few, and he landed on D-Day.

They learned that he could type and take shorthand. He became a general's aide, immediately, as an enlisted man. So he never had basic training. I don't know how he was supposed to know how to shoot a gun on D-Day, but he said it wouldn't have mattered. He said all the guns were full of sand and wet and everything else, anyhow. So I don't think my folks were very happy about having two young children in. He's about a year older than I.

EE:

You landed in England Christmas Eve of '43.

JM:

We actually landed in Scotland, the Firth—what do they call it?

EE:

Firth of Clyde, or whatever that is, near Glasgow?

JM:

Yes. And we got off the ship and we were taken by train to a town in England called Altrincham, and we stayed there, oh, a couple of months until we went to Wales.

EE:

How was your trip over?

JM:

It was very rough. We crossed on the QE-I [RMS Queen Elizabeth], which had been stripped down to become a troop ship, so all the beautiful fittings were gone. We actually had, I would say, eight nurses in a stateroom that had been built for probably one or two people. They put bunk beds in. We had to take turns getting dressed in the morning. And in the big lounges, everything had gone. You had to sit on the floor. It was a very rough trip, because it was December. We had no escort, because they thought it was fast enough to get away from submarines. But it meant we had to zigzag across the Atlantic.

EE:

That was your first trip on a ship, I take it.

JM:

Yes, that was. And two of our nurses were really so ill, they ended up in the sick bay on IV fluids. They couldn't eat at all. They had to be carried off the ship, they were so sick. Even though they had these barriers up around the tables it was so rough that the dishes would still fall on the floor. It was that sort of thing. But so far, I've never been seasick. I've been on lots of ships since, and I don't get seasick, fortunately. [laughs]

EE:

Great. Great. You were in Altrincham for a couple of months before you went to Wales. And at Altrincham, was that near an airbase?

JM:

It was near—I think there was an airbase near there. It was near Manchester, that part of England, and it's become a major center right now for bus tours, because we've taken a couple of bus tours out of there. Some of them even go over to the Continent. They put the bus on a ship, take it across. So it's a thriving community still.

EE:

I'm curious. I know that WACs [Women's Army Corps] and some of the other enlisted services, they were very strict about if you went off of base, or wherever you were assigned, you still had to wear a uniform. Was that the same with an army nurse?

JM:

That's right, yes. We had no civilian clothes with us, really. Even our underwear we had to dye olive drab, in case it was hanging out and an airplane flew over and spotted it.

EE:

Well, now, had they started the buzz bombs when you got there?

JM:

Yes, because I spent just one night in London, and that was enough, I'll tell you. To hear those things coming, and you never know where they're going to land. A couple did land near where we were staying, shook the building, I remember, and it was a terrible feeling.

EE:

So you felt safer out in the countryside.

JM:

Yes. Out in the country it felt a lot safer.

EE:

When you were there, you were training. You told me before we just started that in Wales you all basically had to train your medics in all the operating procedures.

JM:

That's right.

EE:

These were other folks they had drafted from other—

JM:

Yes, from other branches of the service, actually. Most of them had been in, maybe, the infantry, and had served some time, but for some reason or other they decided they'd be better off in the medics, so that's what they did. Maybe they volunteered. I never knew that, whether they had actually volunteered as medics or not.

EE:

You went over with this group of forty-two. Did this company of forty-two stay together?

JM:

We stayed together the whole time.

EE:

So was Wales basically the location there, was that where they assembled the evacuation hospital personnel, before going over as a group?

JM:

That's right.

EE:

You all stayed together as a group, throughout?

JM:

Yes.

EE:

What was the number of that evac[uation] unit?

JM:

131st. And in Wales it was at Ellesmere, Wales, I remember, we were attached to the 137th hospital. We more or less watched what they were doing and so on, and learned from them. I remember seeing the first heart surgery I'd ever seen there, so you get an idea of how it will be treating war injuries.

EE:

I think about, just listening to you—you're learning something brand new every day for about nine months, on how to do all this.

JM:

That's right.

EE:

From operating room, which you had only gotten for the first time—well, you'd had some exposure to it, but you're learning how to do it as your main work.

JM:

Yes. As a specialty, yes.

EE:

Obviously, you got through that. You didn't have any qualms about that kind of work. You never got afraid, because—were you afraid at this time? You know, you were far away places with—

JM:

No. It wasn't even like my brother. I remember asking him years later if he were afraid during D-Day, and his reaction was, “No. I was just angry that I was going to die so young.” He really thought he was going to die. I never felt that I was going to die. I mean, we were really never under fire, especially. We certainly had the bombs going over us in England and so on, but nothing was directed particularly against us, you know, as a unit.

EE:

About how far behind the lines would an evacuation hospital be?

JM:

I'm just guessing. I would say twenty or twenty-five miles, because immediately behind the troops—first there'd be the first aid station, which was my husband's job. Then there would be a field hospital, which is much smaller, and they would take care of the really bad surgical cases and then send others on back to us, the evacuation hospital. Then we would send them back to the general hospital, which was way behind the lines, usually set up in a city somewhere, whereas we were set up in the countryside.

EE:

Right. But sometimes those lines can be [unclear]. I was thinking about what happened in '44 with the [Battle of the] Bulge, and some people on those—well, some people did get caught.

JM:

They did, and actually that's one reason why our outfit, I suppose, was sent into Mauthausen [-Gusen concentration camp]. Sometime during the night when the war ended, we were ahead of the troops. [laughs]

EE:

That's not a good place to be.

JM:

It was not far ahead, but I remember there was no line of supply yet for a few days. We were actually right up against the Russians, who were coming the other way. No problems at that time, the Russians. But, so it did happen from time to time. You could get ahead of yourself.

EE:

Right. How much in contact—I know when I started this project I wasn't familiar with V-Mail and I've seen plenty of it. How much correspondence did you get with either your brother or your husband or the folks back home while you were over here?

JM:

It was very regular from the people back home. From my husband and brother, it was probably a little less frequent, but it got through very well. As I say, he came over after me and I had no idea where he was for quite a while.

EE:

So you didn't know—surely in June of '44 you didn't know he was part of that group of D-Day.

JM:

No.

EE:

I imagine it was probably sometime later—

JM:

I found that out. Yes.

EE:

You knew while you were in Wales that your husband was basically somewhere at a field hospital.

JM:

No. I knew he had already gone into the service, but he was actually stationed in California at that time. It's only because of the Bulge that his outfit was sent as a replacement to Europe and the other. But he would have gone to the Pacific, probably, if the Bulge hadn't come along.

EE:

You went from Wales into France sometime, probably that summer of '44 I would guess, right after D-Day, following those folks.

JM:

Yes, that's right.

EE:

Tell me about what it was like. You told me you weren't afraid in England because you felt like you were—and I imagine, did you have some time when you were in England and Wales to see the countryside, to get to know some of the people?

JM:

A little bit, but not a great deal. The people were wonderful. They would invite us into their homes, which was a treat, you know, to get away from GI food. As a matter of fact, in Altrincham our mess building was almost a mile from our quarters, so it was a long hike back and forth. [laughs] Anyhow, it was great to get into a private home. So we did get to know a few of the people. Unfortunately, I've never kept in touch with any of them. We saw a bit of the countryside, I would say more in Wales than in England itself, except for that one trip down to London. I did get to Chester. I guess I took a bus or a train. I can't remember how I got there.

EE:

How did you get across to France? Was it by plane?

JM:

No. No. We took a ship. My husband arrived the same day, because he said they were watching through field glasses, this group of nurses getting off, I think it was a Polish ship.

EE:

He was thinking it was you?

JM:

I was there, but he didn't see me, because he had come from the States on another ship.

EE:

Now, where did you—

JM:

Le Havre. And then from then on we traveled by two-and-a-half-ton truck. [laughs]

EE:

You didn't have to learn how to drive a truck while you were there, did you?

JM:

No, I never had to learn that.

EE:

This is just forty-two. How many nurses are in this group for this hospital? The same forty-two stayed all the time?

JM:

Yes. That was the same forty-two.

EE:

Same forty-two, from training all the way through.

JM:

All the way through.

EE:

So once you got your structure, who the chief nurse was and who was going to do what within it, that was training from Fort Jackson through England, watching the 137th, and then all the way through.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

When did you encounter your first casualties?

JM:

Let's see. In a little place out in the country called Becherbach. I don't know that it was near any city or town, except the little town of Becherbach. We were out in the middle of a muddy field, and that's where we got our first casualties. That was in Germany. That was the first we saw of casualties.

EE:

So were you in Germany before the Bulge then? Had you all made it that far? Because the southern front moved a little faster than up toward the north. Or were you still in France during—

JM:

Trying to think. We were still in France when the Bulge came along.

EE:

Okay. Did they hand out to you What To Do In Case You're Captured booklets? Were you that close?

JM:

Yes. We got that. Yes.

EE:

And how did you feel about getting that?

JM:

[laughs] Well, I guess we felt less secure after we got that. I don't know. But I don't think any of us really dwelled on it, you know. It's just one of the things. It was like all of these training films that they used to show you, the bad of everything.

EE:

But you had not seen, up until Becherbach, you had not yourself—there'd been no enemy fire.

JM:

No.

EE:

The areas that you'd been had all been secure.

JM:

Right.

EE:

And I imagine you stayed pretty close to quarters the whole time through at this point, that you weren't very mobile.

JM:

Yes, we did.

EE:

And then at Becherbach, we were coming through, I guess, the southwestern part of Germany near Freiburg where we were talking about earlier, or how close were you to that area?

JM:

I'd have to get a map out to think how we came, because when you're sitting in a truck watching countryside go by, you sort of forget where you are. We were near Bingen in the Rhineland.

EE:

Well, there's a lot of mountains between that side of Germany and—

JM:

We came through Luxemburg, I remember.

EE:

Okay.

JM:

Your geography's probably better than mine. We came through Luxemburg. We didn't stop, but we came through it. From Becherbach, actually, our next stop was basically Mauthausen.

EE:

Okay. So you just went straight across the southwestern corner back. You didn't go through Munich?

JM:

No.

EE:

Okay. This would have been—

JM:

I should say, my husband came to see me at Becherbach. It's the first I knew he was overseas, actually.

EE:

So you must have been there for a while.

JM:

Yes. We were. He always says that was the biggest moment of his life. He—I've forgotten where he was stationed at the time, but he went to church one Sunday at Ramagen. When he got to the church there was a big sign, “Non-fraternization,” you know, even in the churches. So he went out on the highway and just hitched a ride in an army vehicle. They were going to army headquarters. He said, “Gee, I have a brother-in-law whom I've never met.” So he went to army headquarters and he asked for my brother.

And they said, “Oh, yeah. He's down getting a haircut.” So he went down to the barbershop, and my brother knew him and he knew my brother from pictures.

EE:

They'd never seen each other.

JM:

They'd never met. Well, he did really not know where my outfit was at the time, so my brother said he could show him the coordinates on a map. We were out in the country. So he showed him on a map where we were, and my husband said it took him a couple of hours to get up enough nerve to go to his commanding officer to ask if he could take off to go see me for a day or so. Now, the army—the war was still on then, I remember, because his CO [commanding officer] said, “Yes, go. But you have to take two drivers in the jeep.” Officers weren't allowed to drive jeeps at that time, so he had two drivers and they took off, and when they got to Coblentz, snipers shot at them. So I know the war must have still been going on then.

In Coblentz they met up with some MPs [military police] who took them down below to headquarters, and again, showed him on the coordinates about where we were. So that's how he found me, and it was around two in the morning when he arrived. I was in the operating room, and he asked the sergeant on duty if he could call me, as he'd like to see me. He said the sergeant wasn't very enthusiastic about some officer coming to see a married nurse in the middle of the night, but finally he said, “Well, it's my wife.”

And the sergeant said, “Oh, your wife. That's different.” [laughter] So I didn't come out right away. You don't leave in the middle of an operation. But anyhow, when I came out and saw him, I still didn't know him, because he had combat clothes on. I'd never seen him in combat clothes. Took me a few minutes to catch on who it was. [laughs]

EE:

That's great.

JM:

But I'm trying to remember the sequence of dates here.

EE:

So, how long did he get to stay with you then?

JM:

Just overnight. And, of course, then when he got back, his outfit had moved, so they had trouble finding them, but they finally found them. So that was quite an experience. The war was winding down at that time, but it was still going on. So, I'm trying to remember.

EE:

Well, the experiences that you have at Mauthausen are so different from the others. I wanted to linger for a second. In the operating room experience, what's the shift like when you do it? Is it twelve hours on, twelve off?

JM:

It was. Yes. We only had two shifts.

EE:

And the number of casualties, how intense was it at Becherbach?

JM:

I can honestly say it was never terribly intense. Most of the surgery, for some reason or other, was done at night [my shift], because I can remember going to the head nurse, finally, and saying, “You have to do something about all these observers during surgery.” The doctors and even some of the nurses had nothing to do in the evenings, so they would congregate in the operating room tent to watch the surgery, to learn, you know. But they got in the way, and we finally had to say it would be off limits to anybody who wasn't actively involved in doing the surgery.

We never kept the patients very long. It seemed to me we would operate on the patients and keep them for a few days, and then we would send them back to the general hospital where they could get better care.

EE:

All your casualties were from the 65th you were following?

JM:

It must have been the 65th, but we got them from other places, too.

EE:

All over, okay.

JM:

Motor units.

EE:

Good. You're probably at Becherbach when—are you there when you hear about Roosevelt passing away?

JM:

Yes, we were. Yes. And that was a blow. It may have even been before that. Again, my memory for dates is very poor. When did Roosevelt die? Do you remember?

EE:

In April of '45, just a month before the end of the war.

JM:

Yes, I guess we were at Becherbach. Yes, we were at Becherbach. And I remember we all felt as though we'd lost a great leader, and what was going to happen to everybody? That was a real blow. It's almost like Kennedy, you know.

EE:

Just a second.

[Tape recorder paused]

JM:

Stopped anyhow.

EE:

Okay. Such is life. We were looking at the materials beforehand, and you actually are going across with your group, and at the end of the war you're getting ahead of the folks who are your supply people, and you're in Austria. You go across to Austria, where I assume you're assigned. Did you know you were going to a concentration camp area before you got there?

JM:

No. We did not.

EE:

And it was the 65th that went in and liberated—

JM:

Yes. It was the 65th.

EE:

And you were telling me before we started the tape that they got there about a week before you did.

JM:

The 65th went in first, and then a couple of days later our male officers and enlisted men went in ahead of us, to set up the hospital. There was a hospital set up, but it was not our idea of a hospital. Actually, we could do very little for these people in the concentration camp. Most of them were beyond help.

EE:

Just a second.

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

The men of your group, how many people? There are forty-two nurses. How many men and women altogether made up the staff of this one hospital? About two hundred?

JM:

I would say easily two hundred, because we had many more—

EE:

Many more men than women.

JM:

—enlisted men and male officers, yes, than women. That was one thing I asked my fellow nurses, and they didn't know either.

EE:

You're driving in two-and-a-half-ton trucks between places, living in tents. The fellows have gone in to set up the hospital. They come back and tell you what, when you get there? They say, “Be prepared”?

JM:

Yes. I guess they did. They didn't actually come back. They just stayed in the concentration camp until we went in, but we had heard by that time that that's where we were going. But we really did not know any of the horror stories or anything until we arrived.

EE:

So nobody had heard any inkling that this was the kind of thing that the Nazis were doing, up until this point?

JM:

No. And when you talked to the Germans after the war, they all said the same thing. It was a like a broken record. “We knew nothing about this. I was never a Nazi. The man over there may have been a Nazi, but I was never a Nazi. I was against Hitler.” They all said the same thing. Now, they must have known what was going on a little bit.

EE:

Just from the volume of people coming in and never coming out.

JM:

The volume of people going through on trains, you know, I mean, just packed in there. Of course, they couldn't see into the railroad cars, I suppose, to know that they were full of people, and it may be that they did not know.

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

EE:

You were talking about how nobody would lay claim to knowing what was going on there.

JM:

No.

EE:

And these camps—I've only been to a couple, one in Dachau and one in East Germany. The name of it's escaping me now, outside of Weimar [Buchenwald]. But both of them were right outside of these little towns, and I assume they're little towns for Mauthausen and [unclear].

JM:

Well, that's it. They always kept them sort of away from people, they were near a low mountain, and they used a lot of the inmates to work in an airplane factory that was actually built into the side of a mountain. So if planes flew over, all they could see were the trees, and the mountain that was actually carved out inside. So many of the people worked in there, and they were terrible conditions. I mean, there were several inches of water on the floor and the lights were poor and the ventilation was poor. It was slave labor, you know.

EE:

You went in there, this was in May, May 18, I guess, is what the document said here. Mid-May, right after—what was your task there at the hospital? Were you all to nurse these people back to health as much as possible, or what could you do for these folks?

JM:

Very little. As a matter of fact, there was so much typhus, tuberculosis, etc., that we were really administrators. We had secured the nursing staff locally. We had a lot of local nurses that we used who did any nursing on the wards as such. We did not even have proper food for them for a few days, and then we had to go out and sort of scrounge chickens and whatever else we could find, you know, in the countryside, because as I say, the supply hadn't caught up with us yet.

EE:

And that supply was only going to be for you all, not for all of these other people.

JM:

That's right. So there was very little we could give them. We had brown bread that was made locally, and ersatz coffee or something. But we really didn't have the proper food for them for a week or so, and many of them died in that time, of malnutrition and, as I say, typhus.

Actually, we've often wondered. We were taken into a room each morning before we went on the wards, and sprayed with DDT [Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane, pesticide] to keep down typhus and things like that.

EE:

I would imagine that would be a big worry, just—

JM:

But, you know, we never thought of it at the time. We wore masks and we had our hair tied up and we were in fatigues and combat boots. We were covered up as much as we could be. But we never thought of inhaling any of that DDT, and as far as I know, although many of the nurses have died, they died of other things.

One of them did die of tuberculosis, which she probably caught at Mauthausen. One of our x-ray technicians also contracted tuberculosis, because they took two thousand chest x-rays the first week, and they were all positive for tuberculosis. So I would say in the first week, there might be two hundred deaths a night. My husband did come to see me there, and he said rounds were just a matter of picking out the dead from the living. You couldn't make diagnoses or anything.

But I noticed that in this one report which was done May 14, they point out in one camp—because we were still in a few camps—there were only forty-three deaths one night. So, obviously, the death rate was going down.

EE:

And here it says that medical care was given by the physicians who were former prisoners, so basically, you just gave those people—

JM:

Many—that's true.

EE:

Partly, I guess, it would be the language barrier.

JM:

Well, and they didn't seem to want us exposed that much, you know. The Germans were funny. They kept certain groups alive with enough food to keep them alive. One group was the physicians. Another group was the tailors who could make uniforms and so on for the Germans. So those two groups were not required to do as much physical labor and as the others, who died either working in this airplane parts factory or doing other types of labor.

They had a series of steps that went up from a quarry, and they required the people to carry heavy loads on their backs up these steps. And many of them died, because they had to carry, I don't know, thirty— twenty-pound blocks, and they were malnourished and weak. These were used to build roads. So this was one way they killed a lot of people off. Of course, they were—you saw the gas ovens and everything else.

EE:

Is this men, women, and children that are housed here, or mainly men?

JM:

Yes. It was men, women, and children. Most of the children had died by the time we got there. There were two sections to Mauthausen. By the time we arrived they had the really ill people in the hospital area, and then they had what they called a back lager or a back tent where the people were mobile. I mean, they were able to walk around.

And most of those people still had no clothing. The female nurses weren't supposed to go back there, but I talked my enlisted men into letting me go one day, because they gave—one of our treatments, and I don't know how much good it did, they gave all these people calcium by hypodermic. All they did was change the needle. They had these big syringes. They'd fill it up with calcium solution, and that was supposed to help them fight tuberculosis.

So I went with them one day to see what they were doing. But those people, as I say, were mobile. They had no clothing. They must have had some housing. When I saw them they were outside, but there must have been some sort of housing for them. Most of those people were actually just being guarded by the 65th, and our medics would go in every morning and give them these shots and change dressings, et cetera.

EE:

You were telling me before we got the tape running, the story about the one picture here of the commandant who—tell me again about his end.

JM:

Well, when the war ended, most of the Germans at the camp fled. I mean, they knew they were going to be prisoners of war if they didn't leave, so they left in a big hurry, and left many, many unburied dead bodies in the courtyard. They didn't have time to put them through the crematorium or anything.

The commandant [Franz Ziereis] also fled up into the nearby mountains, but he was found by American soldiers and shot, but did not die, as I say. So he was brought down to our hospital, and we asked headquarters if we could operate on him. I guess as a prisoner of war, you had to get permission.

EE:

Right.

JM:

Certainly, anybody high up as he was. And he died before any surgery could be done. That night, or afternoon, the prisoners sort of revolted and broke into the ward where we had him and took his body out and put it up on the barbed-wire fence and wrote “Heil Hitler” on his back in paint. And he stayed there until evening, when we could finally get him down, and we spirited him away somewhere. I'm sure they took him away from the camp.

EE:

But most of the people who died there, the Germans were burning in the crematorium. There was not a lot of—trying to minimize the evidence, I guess.

JM:

That's right. And they did—many of them were gassed first, of course. Actually, in this confession of the commandant, he tells how they were killed, so many of them, you know. Some were actually put out in the cold and sprayed with cold water and left there, just to see how long it would take somebody to freeze.

EE:

Almost a morbid scientific curiosity.

JM:

Yes. And they did do, you know, medical experiments on them. Of course, he details all this in his confession, and yet he says he had nothing to do with it. And then he explains how these things happened, so he obviously knew that they were happening. But—and he admits that he killed many, too. They had—I don't know if they had this at Dachau or not, where they had a little sort of a peek hole where as they walked through the Germans could shoot them.

EE:

Into the back of the head.

JM:

Back of the head. They had that.

EE:

Where they'd stand for a measurement. They'd think they were doing a measurement, and instead they'd be getting killed.

JM:

Yes. Yes. In the gas chambers, they told them they were going in for showers, you know.

EE:

Right. It's one thing to have read about it, to have gone back to see it later, but for you, emotionally, I mean, they can't prepare you for that kind of thing.

JM:

No, they really can't. It was years later that I went back. We were in the Foreign Service. My husband was in the medical division, and our last post was Vienna, our first really nice post. We would go back and forth between Vienna and Munich. We sort of went near Mauthausen, so one time we stopped.

We had a German girl with us. I always thought this was interesting. She was a teenager. She had been our daughter's roommate in Rome, in high school, and she was coming back to Vienna with us to spend the week. So we stopped at Mauthausen, but she refused to go in. Even she said, “It did not happen,” you know, this was all propaganda. She refused to go in, but we went in anyhow. Our guide had been interred there. My daughter did not go in. She stayed with her friend. But it was just as we left it, pretty much, except for all the monuments. We both said it was like Gettysburg, in a way. All the different countries had put up monuments and it was different that way.

EE:

You had not—because you were twenty miles behind the line, you were getting individual soldiers coming through. But the mass numbers at one time, you had never experienced that to that point.

JM:

We did not get it. No. The field hospital—actually, after we'd been at Mauthausen for, I guess, just two months, my outfit, the 131st, received orders to return to the States, to train to go to the Pacific. My husband was in the army of occupation, so I asked to be assigned in the army of occupation. So the 131st left.

EE:

This was in July that they took out—

JM:

Yes. And I assumed I would be reassigned to another unit. No. They left me at Mauthausen and reassigned me to a field hospital, the 59th field hospital. I stayed with them until the Russians came in and took over the camp, because we were in their territory. So I probably was in Mauthausen as long as anybody.

EE:

But now, by the time it became a field hospital, that was dealing not with the problem of these folks.

JM:

Well, no. Most of them had died, or if they could leave—most of them had no place to go to, frankly. You know. Their homes had been destroyed. Many of their relatives were gone. But many of them were able to leave. Most of them were still too weak to leave. But there really wasn't much, as I say, that we could do for them. We tried to give them better food by that time, do anything we could to make them comfortable. We certainly cleaned up the camp.

And I'll say this for the Russians. They may have had a reason for doing this, but they brought boats up the Danube [river] and they evacuated the Russians from the camps. I don't think many of them arrived back in Russia. I think they were too sick, you know, but the Russians, as a country, came. Now, all these others, Poles and Spaniards and the gypsies and everybody else, just had to get home on their own, some way. There was no—while I was there, there was no system for getting them back to their own countries. It was up to them to do it, or their families, if they had any families left, who knew where they were.

EE:

You were there, then, at Mauthausen, till November, when you came back stateside?

JM:

Yes. That's right. Actually I left in October.

EE:

October. And when did Don get back?

JM:

Let me see. Almost a year later.

EE:

But he was in Europe the whole time.

JM:

He was in Europe the entire time.

EE:

Okay. So you came back and moved close to the folks?

JM:

Yes. I came back and I lived with my parents until he got back.

EE:

You were hinting at it. I've got a couple more questions to ask you, but you've already hinted at what you all did after you got back. Both of you worked for the Foreign Service, or he did, or what?

JM:

Well, actually, he was in private practice for a number of years.

EE:

Okay.

JM:

Then he decided—we went to West Virginia, oddly enough; Charlestown, West Virginia, near Washington. After, let's see, it was two years, then he was called back in the army because he had stayed in the reserves and we were sent to California.

EE:

Back to Korea?

JM:

No, just to California. Then we came back to West Virginia. After a few years he decided he would like to live abroad so our children could become bilingual, and somehow or other somebody heard about it, and the Foreign Service of the U.S., State Department, approached him about working for them and going abroad. So he said fine, because we didn't really know how we were going to live, what with three children. It would have been difficult for him to have found a job, I think, as a physician in another country.

So we joined the Foreign Service, and it was just to be for two years. We went to Vietnam. The war was just sort of getting started. It was '59 to '61 we were there, and we all enjoyed it, including our children. So he asked if he could stay on as a Foreign Service officer, and they said fine. So we stayed on for another fifteen years.

He retired at sixty from that, and came to UNC [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] for five years, and worked for Student Health for five years. He had to retire from there, so then he worked for the Indian Health Service, the National Health Service.

EE:

Sounds like the fellow can't retire. Is that it?

JM:

These were part-time jobs which, was fine with him. Then he worked for a short time with CRI, which was a drug company doing clinical trials on new drugs. And at seventy-eight he retired. [laughs]

EE:

Glad he's taking it easy.

JM:

We decided it was about time.

EE:

So he can go research lectures on China or something. Sounds like he'll stay active as long as he's around.

JM:

Absolutely.

EE:

So you had your three kids pretty much in rapid fire after he got back?

JM:

Actually, very quickly, because we had been together—he got a leave to come down to Mauthausen and we went to Salzburg for a week on leave, and I became pregnant. It was the only way to get out, and that's really why I came back to the States. Otherwise, I probably would have been reassigned somewhere in the army of occupation.

EE:

Did any of your kids ever express interest in wanting to join the military?

JM:

No. No. They all love to travel and they do a lot of traveling on their own. Actually, one of them works for Family Health International and has done a lot of traveling in her job. But they've never expressed any interest in the military.

EE:

But obviously the healthcare angle got into them, too.

JM:

Yes, the healthcare angle did, definitely.

EE:

That's great. You know, nurses did get a chance to see more of the world than a lot of the women who I've interviewed from World War II, who may have been in a desk job and moved to a desk job in the service, was their experience. I'm sure in this Afghanistan conflict, we started a couple of years ago having women combat pilots. You saw what war at its very worst can be. How do you feel about women being in combat positions? Do you think they ought to be, or should there be some restrictions on the kind of work that women do?

JM:

I've never given it a great deal of thought. But actually, I would prefer it the old way, with restrictions on what they could do. I think when you start mixing men and women up that way, living together, there are all sorts of other problems that enter into it. I think that if they were confined to be administrators, doing secretary—clerical work, nurses, I would prefer that system.

EE:

It sounds like even though you were there, just the very fact that the men sort of shielded you where they could.

JM:

They did. They really did. They were terrific. They were—I can't say enough for our male officers and enlisted men. They were very good to us. I mean, there were so many things that women—I suppose women could do it if we were trained, but they helped set up the tents. They helped us—you know, we'd have to pack up our belongings every so often into these big valpacks and footlockers. They would handle all this heavy work that I think today women would be expected to do it if they were in the military.

If you're assigned to do a job to take the same place as something a man would do, you would have to do those things, and I'm not so sure that many of us would be capable, physically, of doing some of the things that they did. So I have very mixed feelings about women doing the same job as a man in combat. I just can't quite see it. The women who are in the army would probably disagree with me.

EE:

There's definitely a different mindset.

JM:

Because they do get the same training now as the men, apparently, and I guess some of them are up to the challenge.

EE:

Which, as a man, kind of surprises me. [laughs]

JM:

I think some of them are probably physically strong enough to do it, but I don't think I would have been at the time.

EE:

Let me ask you, do you have any heroes from that time?

JM:

No. Of course, we were assigned to [General George S.] Patton's army. [laughs]

EE:

Did you ever get to see Patton?

JM:

No. My husband actually saw him once in the hospital when he was dying. Looked at his x-rays, that sort of thing. But, no, I never saw him. I thought he was sort of a fussy old soul, but he somehow or other got the job done as he was very strict. You felt sort of safe somehow when he was at the helm. But I can't say that I had any big heroes as such. No. [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower? Probably. Sure. We all thought Eisenhower was terrific.

EE:

What did you think of Eleanor [Roosevelt]?

JM:

I liked Eleanor.

EE:

She was definitely a unique character for her time.

JM:

I liked Eleanor. She was definitely ahead of her time, actually.

EE:

Yes.

JM:

I thought she did a lot for women. And [George C.] Marshall? I always thought that Marshall—I think he could have had Eisenhower's job, but he more or less turned it down at the president's request. But I think in the military, Eisenhower, Marshall, and Patton, as I say, were probably our heroes.

EE:

You were in love before the war, but were in love with the same man during the war, got to see the man, came out with the man, and have had fifty or sixty wonderful years together.

JM:

Yes.

EE:

If there's a song or a movie that takes you back to that time, what is it?

JM:

[laughs] You know, I'm not so musically inclined that I can't even answer that question. I'm sure if you played some of those old tunes for me, there would be ones that were my favorite, but offhand I can't remember a single one that stands out. My husband would probably remember better than I could.

EE:

Might could. I'm sure he was hearing music when he ran into you in Germany.

JM:

That was a big occasion. There's no doubt about it. They cleared out a tent for us, and even had heat in it. We had these potbelly stoves in the middle of the tents, and they even gave us some heat for the few hours we had together.

EE:

Do you think this country was more patriotic back then?

JM:

Definitely. I think a terrible event like Pearl Harbor pulled us together, perhaps the same way September the eleventh has. I think too many people were feeling we should not become involved in the war until that time. I think those few that were left from World War I realized how horrible war was, and they did not want to get involved again in another one.

EE:

Didn't want it for their kids, that's for sure.

JM:

That's right. I always said that if we had a woman president, there wouldn't be any wars because they don't want to send their children off to war, you know.

EE:

That's great. You've got these documents and the pictures and your own recollections, and I myself, from having known people who—I haven't met any Germans that greatly contradict what has gone on, although I know that movement's there. But you still hear people who just doubt that the excesses of concentration camps occurred.

JM:

That's true.

EE:

How do you argue? I mean, what do you say to people who don't believe it?

JM:

I would like to send all of them over to Dachau and Mauthausen to see what the camps were really like. I mean, these are not made-up camps. This is not a Walt Disney production here. These really existed. I think if they would go see places like the Holocaust Museum in Washington—and there's even one in Houston that I visited that I thought was very interesting.

People like you are realizing that the people from World War II are dying off—I'm eighty. I was one of the youngest in my outfit. And Houston is a little bit like this. They have put out a call to all the people who served or worked or were interned in the concentration camps, to come and be interviewed on a video, and they have an entire museum in Houston of these interviews on tape. Anybody who could listen to those stories and believe they're not true would have to be pretty stupid, it seems to me.

I have met very few people who were actually in the camps. I met one man in Washington. We were in a men's shop where my husband was buying a suit, and I noticed this man had numbers tattooed on his wrist. I asked him what camp he had been in, and he had been in Mauthausen. And I was the first American he had met, and he was the first German I had met who had been there. Then when I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, I was talking to a woman who worked in the archive, and I said, “Do you have anything on Mauthausen?”

She said, “We certainly do.” She said, “My husband was interned in Mauthausen.” So I told her that I had worked there, and we both broke down and cried, and she said I was the first liberator she had met. I'd never been called a liberator before. But they're the only two people I have met who been associated with Mauthausen.

EE:

But a lot of the people I've talked to, that the slogan was “Free a man to fight.” You freed them to live.

JM:

Yes. I just can't understand these people who say it did not happen. There was a large group at Duke [University], remember, who said this was just a made-up story. And a lot of the Germans, younger Germans, feel this way.

EE:

The younger ones, yes.

JM:

So I don't know how we can reply to them except to send them off to one of these Holocaust Museums, and when you see all of those shoes in the Holocaust Museum in Washington piled up—

EE:

How much have you kept in contact with those forty-odd, the folks that you—

JM:

Oddly enough, after we disbanded—they never got to the Pacific, by the way; the war ended before they could send them out to the Pacific—we started a round-robin letter which we kept up for a number of years.

But it's gradually dropped off to about seven of us now. We've had several reunions. It the beginning it was a reunion of the entire outfit, and now it's just a reunion of the nurses. I went to one in July this year. I'd only been to one other. And there were six of us. Many of us had died, they say, but there are probably twenty of us left. Two died this year. So I would say we've kept in fairly close touch. The round robin is still going, but it goes very slowly these days. It might be six months before it comes back to me, and then it'll stop completely and somebody starts it up again.

EE:

Right. Right.

JM:

But the nurses have kept in touch rather closely, I would say.

EE:

Well, let me stop.

[Tape recorder paused]

EE:

When I hear you talk about your experiences in Germany, I'm reminded of Mr. [Charles] Dickens's line. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” because I think you saw both.

JM:

Yes, I did.

EE:

What won in your memories of that time?

JM:

The worst of times, I'm afraid, won. Except for me and my husband.

EE:

Right. Well, he's obviously been the sustaining force for all these years, but it's hard to leave a memory like that, isn't it?

JM:

It's very hard. I was like most people, I think, who had been in these camps. We never talked about it. Nobody ever knew. As a matter of fact, the Chapel Hill newspaper did an article on me a few months back. It's been almost a year. I sent a copy to my brother, and when he showed it to his children, they said, “We never knew that about Aunt Jessie.” I don't think anybody talked about it much until these Holocaust Museums came into being, you know, and many of us visited the museums and began talking about it.

EE:

In a sense, it's almost—no [unclear] folks talk about it.

JM:

It was a [unclear] thing.

EE:

It's primarily their suffering.

JM:

That's right.

EE:

And you suffered watching them suffer.

JM:

Yes, that's right.

Don McIntyre:

Did you tell him about the experience you had at the Holocaust Museum in Washington?

EE:

About running into a woman—

JM:

Yes, running into a woman whose husband had been interned there.

DM:

Can I mention the time I met somebody on Connecticut Avenue?

JM:

Yes, Connecticut Avenue.

DM:

Went in to buy a suit. Did you tell him about that? She saw the number on his arm, and he was from Mauthausen.

JM:

And I can remember another time we met, it was in Cyprus or somewhere we went on vacation. We met a Russian around the swimming pool, and he had a tattoo, I think, maybe on his upper arm. And when I told him that I had been at Mauthausen, he said to me, “Where are your medals?” [laughs] I guess Russia's got a medal for everything.

As I said, I can't even find mine. I dug out a few of my husband's, but I can't even find mine. We didn't even know we were entitled to medals until we went to the Carlisle Barracks. We went through the Carlisle Barracks and they told us we were entitled to medals. We wrote for them and it took five years to get the medals.

DM:

It took quite a long while.

EE:

You got a Ruptured Duck [Honorable Service Lapel Pin] somewhere, didn't you?

JM:

Oh, yes, I got that.

DM:

Did you tell him about my making rounds at Mauthausen?

JM:

Yes. And how it was just a matter of sort of—

EE:

That's great. Well, I'm going to—

JM:

This is some of the reunion.

EE:

Well, for the purpose of the transcriber, I'm going to just say thank you so very much.

JM:

You're quite welcome.

EE:

There's a lot more in your heart today, and I'm sure that we could get that on a tape, but I thank you for sharing what you have with us today, and for both of you, since both have showed up here on tape. Appreciate so much your service, before, during, and after the war, to communities here in Chapel Hill and beyond. So, thank you.

JM:

Nice to have your memory jogged once in a while.

EE:

It does help. It does help.

[End of interview]