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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Juanita J. Johnson, 2002

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Object ID: WV0239.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Juanita Johnson’s service in the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) from 1952 to 1954 and her subsequent education and career in teaching.

Summary:

Johnson provides a brief overview of her childhood, her reasons for not becoming a nurse, turning down a nursing scholarship, her memories of WWII, and the death of President Roosevelt. She also discusses attending Meharry Medical College on a scholarship, her difficulty finding employment as a dental hygienist, and in turn enlisting in the WAC.

Johnson discusses the physical activity during basic training at Fort Lee, New Jersey; serving in the newly integrated WACs; and working in the dental clinic at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, including the daily routine. She recalls a commanding officer’s negative opinion of women in the service, her own dislike for the service, her displeasure at not being able to travel much, and her frequent trips home.

Johnson discusses returning to school on the GI Bill after her discharge from the WAC and the educational opportunities the military provided her. She mentions attending both Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and Albany State College in Georgia; meeting and marrying her first husband; and receiving her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She also describes teaching in Georgia; receiving her master’s degree from the University of Georgia; meeting and marrying her second husband; and receiving her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Creator: Juanita Jameson Johnson

Biographical Info: Juanita Johnson (b. 1933) of Charlotte, North Carolina, served in the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) as a dental hygienist from 1952 to 1954, followed by a career in education.

Collection: Juanita J. Johnson Papers

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

Full Text:

EE:

My name is Eric Elliott, and I am at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and this an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University. Today is January 15 in the year 2002. But we're here today at the home of Juanita Johnson in Greensboro.

Ms. Johnson, thank you so much for agreeing to do this exercise in self-revelation.

JJ:

You're welcome.

EE:

I'm going to start with you with the same question that I ask most everybody, and that's, very simply, where were you born, and where'd you grow up?

JJ:

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up there and was there until I finished high school and went away to school to Meharry Medical College to study to be a dental hygienist.

EE:

And Meharry is in Nashville.

JJ:

Nashville, Tennessee.

EE:

Let me ask you a little bit about the home that you—what did your folks do for a living?

JJ:

My mother was a domestic and a homebody, and my stepfather drove a truck, or did truck transfer work for the switches at—gosh, a motor line. I can't think of the name of it right now.

EE:

There's so many in Charlotte. They sort of grew up. That's probably about the time it was starting to be known as the motor line, in the middle thirties, I would guess.

JJ:

Yes. Well, he had his own—after he came out of the service, he had his own trucking business, and then he decided to go to work for—

EE:

He wasn't old enough to be in World War I, probably, was he?

JJ:

No. He was in World War II.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

JJ:

Yes, I do. I have one sister—or I have, in all, two brothers and two sisters, but at the time that I finished high school—well, I had one sister. Then my mother had three additional smaller children after my sister and I were pretty much—

EE:

You're the oldest or next oldest?

JJ:

I'm the next to oldest, and I think I was sixteen when the oldest of the younger three were born. So there are three younger.

EE:

That's a big difference.

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

Were you somebody who liked school, growing up?

JJ:

Did I like school? Oh, yes, very much. I loved school, and I did well in school.

EE:

What was your favorite subject?

JJ:

Probably English. English and math.

EE:

Did you have an idea what you wanted to be when you grew up?

JJ:

I don't think I did, and the options were few at that time for young black females. Nursing or teacher, those seem to have been the options that I had. For a long time I thought I wanted to be a nurse, until I was a senior in high school. As a senior, I took this course in diversified occupations, where you worked part of the day and went to school part of the day. So I worked at the hospital for several hours a day, and at that time I decided I did not want to be a nurse because of all the chores that they gave us to do. They gave us, really, the—I guess it's part of nursing, but it's the side of it that—you know, if you're in high school—

EE:

It's not what they make soap operas out of, is it? There's a lot of dirty work involved in it.

JJ:

Yes, and dirty work was the part that I had a lot to do with bed pans, intake and output. A lot of it was on a ward where patients were amputated, so I had to feed them, a lot of women, care for them. So it was—

EE:

It's emotionally draining, too.

JJ:

Yes. So I decided I did not want to be a nurse. In fact, I would have had a scholarship for nursing, but I did not want to do that.

EE:

Did you have anybody in your family who had gone to Meharry? How did you find out about them?

JJ:

Well, actually, it was a scholarship from high school. The teachers' association in Charlotte every other year gave a scholarship to a deserving female. They were trying to open up all the avenues of employment for young black females, so they would offer this scholarship to Meharry where they paid the full tuition and books and so forth in order that a person might find some kind of work other than teaching, because at that time that's practically all that, you know, we could do, teacher or nurse.

EE:

How long was the program?

JJ:

It was a two-year program.

EE:

And I guess by the time you graduated, it was a twelve-year high school in North Carolina.

JJ:

Yes. It was twelve years.

EE:

Probably sometime in the thirties or forties we switched. So you graduated from high school in—

JJ:

In 1950, Second Ward High School in Charlotte.

EE:

Which high school did you go to?

JJ:

Second Ward High. They've since torn that school down, but there's an active alumni association of all the living graduates.

EE:

You would have been, gosh, I guess just eight you would have been in elementary school when Pearl Harbor broke out. Do you remember that?

JJ:

I remember a little, hearing about it. It didn't mean that much. It scared me, but I guess I didn't really know what it meant, except that we did collect scrap. We bought stamps, the Victory stamps and so forth. And I remember the rationing of food and things like that.

EE:

Did you have a Victory Garden yourself?

JJ:

Yes, Victory Garden. But the biggest thing that I remember about it, I guess, is the scrap and, you know, getting things together for that.

EE:

Did you have any relatives who were in the service?

JJ:

My stepfather.

EE:

So that was personally scary, not knowing what was happening with him, then.

JJ:

Well, sort of, but actually, they went to England, I think, and he received some type of injury onboard ship not related to the war itself, so he soon returned home without any injury, before the war was over. So it really wasn't that scary.

EE:

And then the end of the war, does that have any memories for you, or when President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away?

JJ:

Yes, President Roosevelt passed away. That was a very sad time. In fact, his body passed through Charlotte.

EE:

The train.

JJ:

The train, yes, and we were able to go down and look at that pass by. That was very sad.

EE:

They had the coffin on the back of the last car, didn't they?

JJ:

Yes, they did, and it was open. You could see the flag-draped coffin, and we all went down to look at that. That was pretty sad.

EE:

You were telling me before we started—when did you first get the idea that you might want to join the service?

JJ:

Well, as I was telling you earlier, when I finished Meharry as a dental hygienist and I started looking for a job, it was very difficult to find a position as a dental hygienist. I could find a job as a dental assistant, assisting the dentist; the pay was not very high. I applied with the Veterans Administration. I was told that they employed dental hygienists in the veterans hospitals, but I wasn't able to get a position. And by that time, as I mentioned earlier, my mother had these three younger children. The household was small, and there was really not enough room for me to come back from college. So it was a matter of, I guess, finding another alternative for myself, and that seemed like a good route.

EE:

So did you have any other friends who advised this as a route, or any of your professors or people there?

JJ:

Well actually, my high school principal advised against it. My mother signed for me because I guess I insisted that that's what I wanted to do.

EE:

Did you still have to be twenty-one in 1952?

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

So you were a couple of years underage, then. You were nineteen when you went in?

JJ:

Yes. I was nineteen, yes.

EE:

So Mama had to sign, to give you approval.

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

The work itself that you were doing beforehand, you did like the work, dental hygienist. That was better for your personality and your liking then.

JJ:

Better than being a nurse, yes. Well, I thought so at the time, but after I got into the service and actually started doing it on a regular basis, I realized that that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Plus along with the fact that at the time I thought, well, going into the service would give me an opportunity to travel and, you know, join the army to see the world. But I was one of those, you know, what did I see? I saw Fort Jackson [South Carolina] and that was it. So I decided that that was really not the best course for me, either.

EE:

You graduated from high school in '50, and that summer, '50, is when the Korean War started. I imagine some of the folks you went to school with probably went off to service right off the bat.

JJ:

Yes, they did. Yes. In fact, I met some of them when I was at Fort Jackson. But now, that particular war had more of an effect on me than did World War II.

EE:

What do you remember about the start of that war?

JJ:

I was in school in Nashville, and I can remember, when I first heard about it, I called home to find out if I needed to come home, you know. I was, I guess, you know, not realizing what the war could do or what it would be all about. I wanted to know if home would be the best place for me, you know, and my mother said, “No, no, no. Stay. Stay where you are.” So that calmed me somewhat. But that war, to me, the beginning of it was more scary than the other one, I guess because I was at home and I was young and didn't realize the significance of it.

EE:

And when it's your friends who are being called up or having to go overseas, it makes a big difference.

JJ:

That's true. Yes.

EE:

A lot of times how the world, from the service, gets into the lives of teenagers is a different pattern for people. Was the war a topic of conversation a lot when you were at school?

JJ:

I really don't remember. I don't think it was. I don't really think it was. It was just the scary part of when I found out about it and maybe talking about it with a few other people that I realized that it could be, you know, very dangerous. And then I don't know why, I just thought I needed to go home.

EE:

That war, about the first six months, it was a stalemate in a sense that the lines were pretty fixed then, going back and forth. You came back and actually joined the service from Charlotte, from your hometown. I assume there was more than one branch of the service you could have joined, but you picked the army. Was there a reason you picked army over something else?

JJ:

Yes, because at that time the army had the fewer number of years that you had to sign up for. I think it was two years that you had to sign up for, so I selected that based on that.

EE:

Because in the beginning, you were looking for a way to get at some income, rather than to make a career out of the army, I guess.

JJ:

Absolutely. But I think I was open at that point that if it had offered the things that I wanted, I would have made that consideration, you know, to make it a career if I had been maybe sent somewhere else other than Columbia [South Carolina], which is [unclear].

EE:

It wasn't seeing the world for you. Had you traveled much outside of Charlotte before joining the service?

JJ:

No. Other than going to Meharry.

EE:

When you were out in Tennessee, did you travel around to see some of the—

JJ:

No. I stayed very—

EE:

You didn't have a car, probably, did you?

JJ:

No. In fact, I rode the bus from Charlotte to get there, and I think one time I took the train through Atlanta. Otherwise, it was on the bus up through Asheville and Knoxville. So that was as much traveling as I had done.

EE:

You grew up with just you and your sister, and when you join the service, it's welcome to your thirty or forty bunkmates. Tell me about basic training. What was your experience like at Fort Lee [New Jersey], is where you were.

JJ:

Actually, I really can't remember that very well. I just—

EE:

Mental block?

JJ:

—wanted to get through, and that's about all I remember.

EE:

You remember it as being something you wanted to hurry and get through with. It was not as pleasant as you were thinking?

JJ:

But, you know, it wasn't so bad. A lot of physical activity. And I think, from that, I am still into physical activity, and I think it all began at that point, because from there, even, you know, into Fort Jackson, we still had physical activity through the marching and then the exercise part of it that we had to participate in. So I think I maintained some of that. That was a good influence.

EE:

When you joined up, did you join up and say, “I'm joining up to be a dental hygienist?” Were you allowed to join up to do your profession, or was it simply luck that you happened to end up with a job like what you trained to do?

JJ:

I think it was luck, because we were given an opportunity to put several different things and also the possibility of being trained for, you know, something special. But with that background and that being an option, that was my assignment. I was never given another option.

EE:

You were at Fort Lee for about six weeks. Did they let you all off the base while you were there?

JJ:

If so, probably once. I don't remember. Maybe once we were able to go into the town.

EE:

But the time you were training, were you trained with other African American women, or was it an integrated training experience?

JJ:

Integrated.

EE:

How many black women, how many other folks were there?

JJ:

Gosh, I don't remember. I can't even remember. But at Fort Jackson, there were maybe ten minorities out of the other; you know, out of Caucasian and the other.

EE:

About forty in a barracks?

JJ:

Yes, something like that, but it wasn't just an open barracks. I mean, at one point they gave us a cubicle.

EE:

So there was a little privacy.

JJ:

Yes, a little privacy, maybe four in the smaller area.

EE:

Do you remember if most of your instructors during basic were men or women?

JJ:

I don't know about that. I don't remember.

EE:

How about when you got to Fort Jackson, which is where you end up spending most of your time?

JJ:

Females.

EE:

Your CO [commanding officer] was a female?

JJ:

A female.

EE:

And I assume that the start of a day, y'all reported, either got in formation or something with your CO, and then you went to your different work posts, where you may have had a supervisor who was male during the day or something?

JJ:

Yes, that's true.

EE:

But everybody worked there pretty much on the base?

JJ:

We did, yes.

EE:

So you were working in the dental clinic there at the base.

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

I guess you all were serving not only the active duty folks, but families as well?

JJ:

The only ones that I served were active duty. I don't remember serving any families.

EE:

What was an average work day like for you? Was it nine to five?

JJ:

More or less nine to five. One patient behind the other, cleaning teeth and cleaning up afterwards.

EE:

How many other dental hygienists were in that office? How big an office was it?

JJ:

I think there were maybe two or three.

EE:

And how many dentists?

JJ:

Perhaps the same number.

EE:

One of the things that changes, you talked about your mom having some reservations, and society in general had reservations about women in the service.

JJ:

Yes, they did.

EE:

Did you ever get any static from anybody?

JJ:

I did, yes.

EE:

Can you share an incident or two?

JJ:

Well, the principal, as I said, was against it. And his view was, I guess, what society thought about women who went into the service: that they were, I guess, unsavory reputation, and that going in, that I would perhaps get that reputation or even become that type of person. And the young men that I told you about, some of them that I had gone to high school with, who were perhaps a little older than I was, because I didn't date them, they called me lesbian and other names. So there was a reputation that went along with going in.

EE:

Reputation and experience are two different things. How was your experience on that score?

JJ:

Well, I found my experience [not] to be what I wanted it to be, and so I tried to go home as much as possible.

EE:

Did you socialize much with the other women who were there in service?

JJ:

I did. I started off, I guess, trying to be sort of open with everyone, and that worked out pretty well for a while, especially, you know, when we would eat or go out in the evenings. That worked for a while, and then I guess it began to get a little cliquish. And so after some comments and some—well, I did get into one fight, but then I sort of grouped with my own clique, you know, just as you see in high schools now, think about that when you walk in and sometimes see—

EE:

Are most of the women about your age?

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

So late teens, early twenties.

JJ:

Yes, or maybe a little older. So it got to be pretty cliquish, but I went in with an open mind, and a few others did, too, because, you know, we had pretty good relationships. But there were a few things happened so it became more cliquish after that.

EE:

How was your treatment by your supervisors, both the WAC [Women's Army Corps] and regular army dentist who you were working with?

JJ:

I thought it was fair. I didn't find anything [unclear].

EE:

So professional treatment personally among those who were in [unclear] with you?

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

What was the toughest thing about being in service to you?

JJ:

I guess a lack of independence, a lack of choices about—I think that's one of the things that persuaded me not to stay in. You just wanted a little bit more autonomy about whatever I did, and, I guess, you know, the privacy issues, that kind of thing. But that, to me, was more of a reason to get out: being able to make my own decisions about every part of my life.

EE:

For women in general, and African American women in particular, the military offered many of them a new set of choices. What you're telling me is that maybe by the mid-fifties, the choices were not as much as you might now find outside the service. Is that your experience?

JJ:

That's true.

EE:

Were you ever afraid at any time during the service, being away from home or—

JJ:

No.

EE:

You had the same job at Jackson till—when in '54 did you leave? Summertime?

JJ:

I left in late August or early September in order to return to school. That was my reason for my discharge. They had started an early discharge program for people who wanted to go back to school.

EE:

This is sort of a benefit of the GI Bill sort of thing.

JJ:

Yes. Instead of serving the full twenty-four months, I was able to leave earlier than the twenty-four months.

EE:

So you went in in the fall of '52 and came out summertime of '54?

JJ:

The fall of '54—yes, late summer, in time to get in school in September.

EE:

Where did you go to school?

JJ:

Johnson C. Smith [University]. I started out there. I didn't finish up there, but I started there.

EE:

And where did you finish up?

JJ:

Albany State College in Albany, Georgia. I met a young man there at Johnson C. Smith. We married, and so I ended up with a bachelor of science degree from Albany State College in elementary education. So I became a teacher, and thirty-five years of education since then. So that proved [unclear].

EE:

So the service helped you go back to school. You maybe would not have been able to go back, certainly not so quickly, without it.

JJ:

Absolutely.

EE:

Because you came out, you were all of twenty-one, and you probably weren't going to get the money from home to continue with school.

JJ:

I was not going to get any money from home. They could not afford to send me to school.

EE:

So you think the GI Bill was a big thing that helped you in your life, then.

JJ:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

EE:

The services have changed so much over the years, but if a young woman came to you today and asked you, said, “I'm thinking about joining the army,” what would your advice be to her?

JJ:

I would help her think through her options, you know, the reasons why she wanted to go in, and think about all of the opportunities available, and then if that were, you know, the best solution, I would advise her to do it. But I would absolutely help her to think through it.

EE:

What would be some good reasons to join the service?

JJ:

An opportunity, especially for young people with ability who don't have an opportunity to go to school or who don't have the availability of people to advise them, you know, what might be a better way to go about getting an education or getting a suitable job and training for a suitable job. It's not so much the education sometimes, it's just being trained to do a job well. I think the military does a great job of that, because once you finish you basic training, you're either sent to a facility for training, or, as I was, sent somewhere you can do the job that you're already trained to do. And a lot of young people, I think, don't have that opportunity, and their parents don't have money, or if their parents have money, they're not willing to spend it on education. So I think it's a really good option for young people.

EE:

As a woman, you were not drafted. You joined voluntarily. Every now and then a discussion has started up again, in light of what's happened the last few months, about maybe requiring all young people to serve a year or two in the military or some community service. What would you think of that idea?

JJ:

I would think that would have to be on the basis of the need of the country. Now, as far as the benefit to the person, I think it absolutely is a benefit. The basic training itself is a wonderful opportunity for a young person physically. The discipline, you know, that a lot of young people don't get at home or in school, I think that's very worthwhile.

But I don't think that it would be good to just draft young people, draft them, women especially. I think it'd probably be better to let them enlist as I did, those that would see the need of it. But the country would have a need, I think for some young people. Especially men, they would have to draft. So I agree with the draft for young men, but not for young women. But, you know, for those young women who would like to go in, I see it as a good opportunity.

EE:

I'm sure there's even more detailed roles for women now than a couple of years ago, because it was just two years ago, I believe, that we started having women combat pilots for the first time, you know, bombing Iraq. And I'm sure we've got some more working in Afghanistan today. What do you feel about women in combat? Should women be allowed in combat, or should there be certain jobs in the military that are off limits to women?

JJ:

I absolutely believe that women can do a lot of the things that men can do. But basically, physically, I think that there are a lot of things that women cannot do, and combat is one of them that I absolutely just think that no, that is not the best place for women, just based on me physically. I think that we sometimes feel that we can do everything that a man can do, but I don't think that we can, and I don't think that combat is a place for a female. But flying an airplane, I'd see that as being something—technically, women, I think, can do those kinds of things as well as men, but physically, we're just not able to do a lot of things that men can do.

EE:

You had some personalities that were making the news. Did they make an impression on you when you were in the service, somebody like [Dwight D.] Eisenhower? What do you remember of him?

JJ:

I just think that he was a good military leader, probably not as good as some of his other contemporaries, [George] Patton and maybe a few others, but I think politically he made some correct choices that helped him to become president and so forth.

EE:

How about [Harry S.] Truman? What do you think of Truman?

JJ:

Well, he wasn't military, but I think he did a good job with his presidency. I thought he was very outspoken and did a good job.

EE:

When you think back on your time in service, is there a song, a piece of music, maybe even a movie that comes to mind that, when you hear it or when you see it, takes you back to those days when you were turning twenty?

JJ:

Well, the military song I can't remember very well. I know the tune. [Hums] “We have a date with destiny.” That brings it back. I think that was our song.

EE:

Yes, Colonel Bogey March. Bridge on the River Kwai was about that same time, coming out a little bit later.

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you in service?

JJ:

I think it was—and I may not I remember this correctly, but it had to do with an inspection one Saturday morning, and it was unexpected. We were trying to get showers and get dressed and get out and everything and I think somebody left some panties or something behind in the latrine, and that was very funny to me.

EE:

So what was the punishment, the consequences for having left something behind?

JJ:

I don't think there was any. At least, it didn't affect me, so I don't remember it. It just seemed that those were the funniest times, the unexpected inspections. Because, you know, the prepared ones, we were always—everything was in place and everything. But the unexpected ones.

EE:

You were close enough where you could go home, take the bus home or whatever. Did you all have to wear uniforms, your uniform outside of base when you went out?

JJ:

I don't remember. I don't know. I think perhaps not.

EE:

Do you think you changed people's minds, those who knew you back home, about what women in the service were really like?

JJ:

I think so. Yes, I think so.

EE:

You got your degree in elementary education. Did you teach mostly in Charlotte?

JJ:

No. I taught in Georgia. I taught in a little place called Vienna, Georgia, and I taught there for seven years, and then I decided to go back and get a master's at the University of Georgia in Athens. I taught there for a couple of years. Then I came back to Charlotte at that point. Then I worked in Charlotte for several years until I met Henry, and then we moved to Greensboro.

EE:

And you all have been married twenty-five years, you were saying?

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

That's great.

JJ:

And since I've been here, I got my doctorate from UNCG.

EE:

Great.

JJ:

Since I've been here.

EE:

Was Henry from here originally?

JJ:

He was living here at that time. No, he is originally from Greenville, South Carolina.

EE:

You said you got your master's at University of Georgia. Were you teaching there at the university, or where were you teaching?

JJ:

I was teaching at Vienna. I received a fellowship to go to the University of Georgia, a full-time fellowship.

EE:

When did you get your doctorate from UNCG?

JJ:

In '83, in curriculum and teaching.

EE:

And did you work with the local school system?

JJ:

Yes, the Guilford County School System, before it merged with the city. I worked with the old Guilford County School System.

EE:

The role of the military in the life of our society changes a lot in—

[Telephone rings. Tape recorder paused]

EE:

Before I stopped the tape, I was talking about that the country's relationship with the military changes, I guess. Since September 11, we've seen a wave of patriotism and people supporting the military. What was the support for the military like when you went in? Were people as patriotic then?

JJ:

I don't believe they were, although there were homes where I saw flags, especially Fourth of July, but not the wave of flags that we see now all the time. I think there was some respect for the military. World War II and the Korean War, families that had people who were killed in the war or who were veterans of the war, I think they really respected it more than anyone else.

EE:

I know in World War II, if you had somebody in the house in the service, you got to fly a gold star or a star, a gold star if somebody passed away, but a blue star, I guess, if you were in in the service. How would somebody know that you were in the service in the fifties?

JJ:

In the fifties, just by the uniform, I guess.

EE:

How did the military most change you?

JJ:

I think I had a real opportunity. That was the first opportunity I had to actually live with and work with Caucasians, and so I really had an opportunity to get to know people other than the people of my race. So that was a plus. I made some friends during that time. I also mentioned the clique part, but also, I guess, I got to see people as pretty much alike.

The physical part of it, I think, has really been a benefit to me, because at that time we did have to do physical exercises as well as the marching, and some of those exercises I do now. So that sort of stuck with me. I think that a serviceperson learns a lot about good health, the things to do to keep yourself healthy.

EE:

Self-discipline is a big thing.

JJ:

Self-discipline, absolutely.

EE:

To a lot of people it's independence. It sounds like to me, though, your time in the service made you to be more independent, which is why you got out. [Laughs]

JJ:

Well, I had been pretty much independent anyway, but in order to be independent, you have to have something to be independent with.

EE:

That's right. You can't do it all on a hope and a prayer. You've got to have a little money in the till.

JJ:

Right, or an opportunity. So it really gave me an opportunity to get my education, to be more independent.

EE:

What do you think is the biggest misconception that people who have had no exposure to the military, either by being in it themselves or having family members, have about military service?

JJ:

With respect to women, I would think, I guess, that they think that women, because there are a lot of men in the service, that they are there for that purpose, to be with a lot of men. I think that was the misconception they had at the time that I went in. So that would be it. As far as men is concerned, I think there's a misconception that a lot of the young men who go into the service are men who do not have a high intellectual ability, especially as relates to minority young men, that they can't make it anywhere else, so they go into the military. I don't think that's true. It's a misconception.

EE:

Is there anything that I have not asked you about which you think would be important for us to know about your service time?

JJ:

Well, I hope that you have, from the conversation, gotten the idea that it was beneficial to me and that it's an experience that I look back on with gratitude. At the time, and I think probably why I don't have pictures and souvenirs and things like that from it, it was sort of unpleasant at the time, I guess because of the misconceptions. As I said, the young men that I had gone to school with did say “lesbian,” you know, and that kind of thing, and the fact that people would get the impression of the kind of person that you might be because of being in the military, and I think that's why it was never prominent in my life after that.

EE:

It sounds like it was, in your case, easier to get out of that rather than to stay and fight it.

JJ:

Well, it might look like that, but actually, I think the reason that I got out was because I really wanted to pursue—

EE:

Well, they clearly gave you an opportunity to pursue what you really wanted to do.

JJ:

Well, they gave me an opportunity to pursue dental hygiene, which I found out was not what I wanted to do.

EE:

I guess the GI Bill, you got as many years of education, about, as you put in in service? Is that how it worked?

JJ:

Yes. That's what this form is.

EE:

So the GI Bill did not help you later for your master's and your doctorate?

JJ:

No.

EE:

But that initial two-year period—

JJ:

Yes. It got me to the B.S. [bachelor of science]. Actually, I got twenty-eight months, seventeen days. This is the certification.

EE:

So you actually got more time in education out of it than you had to put in in time in active service.

JJ:

I did. I sure did.

EE:

That's a pretty good deal.

JJ:

Yes, it is, isn't it? Plus I think there are the benefits from being in the military, the GI Housing Bill and things like that.

EE:

Did any of your family members, any of your children or your husband's children, join the service?

JJ:

No.

EE:

Had they come to you and asked, what would your advice have been?

JJ:

I think they had other options. They had other options that I didn't have at the time. They had an opportunity, if they wanted to, to go to college, and they did. They went to college, and they had the financial support that I didn't have at the time.

EE:

One thing I can ask you about because of your having been in education. It was, I guess, about that time that the Brown [v. Board of Education] was coming up, when you were in service. The military was already integrated.

JJ:

Yes.

EE:

And yet schools were just starting to be integrated.

JJ:

Yes, that's true.

EE:

You mentioned that that was a helpful experience to you, to get exposure to people different from you, which the military does, no matter your background, race, or religion. You're going to mix with people who are different than you.

JJ:

Right.

EE:

Do you think that experience would have been helpful to you earlier?

JJ:

Perhaps. I think that there were feelings of inferiority that I may have had that I would not have had, had I been around more people, more white people or people of other backgrounds, Orientals. You know the kind of treatment the black people received at that time. And so—

EE:

And I think part of the great gift of education is, if you take it seriously, is that you learn to look at the world through other people's eyes, not just your own, and it makes you a lot more tolerant of differences in the world.

JJ:

Sure.

EE:

A short stay, a stay that lets you earn some money, gave you a chance to further your education, and that you have obviously taken to some profit in your later career. So I appreciate your sitting down and sharing with us today.

[End of Interview]