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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Bonnie James Baxter, 2005

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Object ID: WV0329.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Bonnie James Baxter’s service in the U.S. Coast Guard SPARs during WWII.

Summary:

Baxter briefly discusses her youth, various office jobs she held before entering the service, recruitment posters, and her reasons for enlisting in the SPARs. Of her basic training in Palm Beach, Florida, Baxter mentions the daily physical training, white glove inspections, and kitchen patrol. She also describes her difficulty getting into storekeepers school and the long hours and difficult classes there.

Topics from her time stationed at Constitution Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts, include: the train ride there; being promoted to 1st class; leisure activities; living in an apartment; general work duties; VE Day and VJ Day celebrations; dancing at USO clubs; and traveling in New York and Boston. Baxter also talks about being the only SPAR in the WAVES barracks in 1946, her desire to stay in the military, and regrets over not reenlisting.

Post service topics include: adjustment back to civilian life; working at JC Penney’s; working at Central Motor Lines; and women’s changing role in the service.

Creator: Bonnie James Baxter

Biographical Info: Bonnie James Baxter (b. 1924) of Clearwater, Florida, served in the Coast Guard SPARs (from Semper Paratus-Always Ready) from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Bonnie James Baxter 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:

Hermann Trojanowski:

Today is Wednesday, August 31, 2005, and my name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Bonnie James Baxter in Greensboro, North Carolina, to conduct and oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Mrs. Baxter, if you give me your full name, we'll see how you sound on the tape recorder as well.

Bonnie Baxter:

Bonnie James Baxter.

HT:

Well, Mrs. Baxter, thank you so much for talking with me this morning. We really appreciate it. If you could tell us some biographical information about yourself that would be wonderful. Where were you born?

BB:

I was born in Dunedin, Florida.

HT:

And when?

BB:

February 15, 1924.

HT:

Where did you live growing up?

BB:

Clearwater, Florida.

HT:

And can you tell me something about your family, about your parents and your brothers and sisters?

BB:

Yes. I have pictures I can show you if you want to see them. But my mother passed away when I was five, and my father remarried within the year, I think it was. I have, let's see, Robbie, Roy, Lois, Hallie—there were five of us, five of us and I have a half-brother, so there's six.

HT:

And what did your father do for a living?

BB:

He was a jack of all trades. He loved to buy and sell. So he worked in a—I guess his main job was car dealer. He had the Studebaker. Remember when they came out? He had the dealership at Clearwater until they withdrew them. I don't know why they did that, but you don't see Studebakers anymore.

HT:

No, not in a long time.

BB:

But mostly he's been in police work at night. I guess with that many children he had to work several jobs, and he worked at night in the more expensive areas of town, watching homes.

HT:

Now, you grew up during the Depression.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

What was that like?

BB:

[laughs] I remember when I went to school I had two dresses, and I'd wear one one day and one the next, because back then we had to wear dresses when we were in school. That was true until in the seventh grade I started taking home ec[onomics], and I made my first dress. What was the question?

HT:

What was it like living during the Depression in the 1930s?

BB:

Rough. My father had a grove at that time. In addition to buying and selling, he was a trader, and it was rough. You know, I was so young then I really don't remember too much about it, except that we didn't have, you know, what other children had. But we were happy. We got along fine.

HT:

Where did you go to high school?

BB:

I went to Clearwater High School.

HT:

Did you continue your education after you graduated from high school? Did you go to college or to junior college?

BB:

No. I started working for the public when I was in the ninth grade, and every job that I had I started out as a clerk, and I'd end up in the office. Every time we had to take inventory, after inventory I was put in the office, so I've done office work all my life. I guess I had three jobs before I went into the service, but I stayed pretty long at each job.

HT:

Do you recall why you joined the military?

BB:

I guess maybe I was like my dad. I wanted to do things, go places. We stayed in Clearwater year-round. I mean we lived there. But as soon as school was out my father would take us to North Carolina, and we stayed with relatives all summer long. When my mother was living we had a house there. I don't really remember it, but I remember them talking about it.

HT:

Where in North Carolina did you visit?

BB:

Marshville, Union County. It was throughout Union County, and we enjoyed it and we looked forward to the summer, to have something to do. But then my stepmother had a child. Well, my mother died at childbirth, and my stepmother thought she was her daughter. I mean, she let everyone believe that that was her daughter.

HT:

Your younger sister?

BB:

Yes. Then my kid brother and I are the only ones left in the family, and we're real close, and he is really good to me.

HT:

Does he live nearby?

BB:

No. He lives in Gainesville, Florida.

HT:

We were talking earlier about why you joined the military. Do you recall seeing recruiting posters asking for women to join, or anything like that?

BB:

Oh yes, that finger-pointing hand. “It's time for you.” Oh, and I wanted to go in the service so bad, and I wanted my sister to go with me. I could not convince her to do that. She was a homebody. In fact, when we'd go to North Carolina she'd get homesick, you know. I had to stay with her most of the time, and she was two and a half years older than me, I think. But she wouldn't go in the service, but I was determined I was going to. I had my mind made up to go to the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy], join the WAVES. But then I found out I had to go to Jacksonville, Florida to enlist, and that was too far from Clearwater.

So I learned that I could join the Coast Guard in Tampa, so I could get the bus. I couldn't drive. We didn't have a car. I took the bus over and talked to them, and the very first visit I made with them I talked to the recruiting lieutenant, and I took all the tests that were required to go in. She sent me up to the doctor and I had my physical, and when I came back down she said, “Well,” she said, “you're ready to go as soon as you're twenty years old.”

And I said, “What? I thought it was eighteen.”

She said, “No, you'll have to wait until your twentieth birthday.” So my dad went with me. I hadn't told anybody that I was going in.

HT:

So he approved?

BB:

He did when I told him. I said, “Daddy, I didn't tell you because I was afraid you might not approve, but I want you to go with me when I'm sworn in.”

And he took me over, and when we left the office he said, “Well, I'm not going to worry about my daughter, now that I have met you.” He said, “If she turns out as well as you have,” he said, “I know I've trained her right.” So yes, he approved.

HT:

So since you were only eighteen at the time, you had to wait two years to join, is that correct?

BB:

No. I thought I was sworn in on my twentieth birthday, but according to my discharge papers it was 1921[?]. Does that sound right?

HT:

So you were born in 1923, is that correct?

BB:

Twenty-four.

HT:

Twenty-four. So you must have joined in 1944, that would be twenty years.

BB:

Okay. I told you my memory of dates—

HT:

Well, did your father have to sign any papers in order for you to join?

BB:

Oh yes.

HT:

Since you were under twenty-one.

BB:

Yes, he did. And I took those papers with me after that first visit, because that was when I went to talk to him. My sister and I had an apartment. She was two years older than me, and she waited for me to graduate from high school, and we lived one year with my older brother and his wife, and then we found an apartment.

HT:

So you were not actually living at home at that time?

BB:

No.

HT:

But you were still living in the Clearwater area.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

Well, when you did join, what did the rest of your siblings think about you joining, and what about your friends, how did they react?

BB:

Well, they couldn't understand why. But most of our closest friends were in Washington [D.C.], because a lot of people went to Washington to work. And I said no, I didn't want that. I'd worked all my life, and I wanted to do something different. I didn't know how hard I'd work when I got in the Coast Guard, but I went on by myself.

HT:

And so you were sworn in in Tampa, and then from there what was the next—

BB:

Yes, Palm Beach [Florida]. You asked me if I went on to school. I was in the Honor Society when I was in high school, and people all through my school life I remember they'd more or less adopted me, but they wanted to give me a scholarship to go to New Orleans to a nursing school, and I said, “No, I don't want to be a nurse.” I said, “All I've done is office work, clerical work, and,” I said, “I'm more interested in that field.” And I wouldn't take—well, I didn't even tell my dad, because I knew he couldn't afford it. It was during the Depression, and I wasn't going to ask anything else of him, so I just told them, “No thank you.”

But now I wish I hadn't. When I came out of the service I should have gone on to school. But my aunt, my father's sister came and lived with us a year after my mother died, and she wanted me to come back to North Carolina and live with her. She was not married yet. She got married shortly. I told her I didn't want to live in Kannapolis [North Carolina]. I had visited there many times, and I felt like it was a one-horse town. I don't know, because Cannon, Charles Cannon [former president of Cannon Mills Company], you know, did everything. But he was a good man and he took care of Kannapolis.

But I went with her and I said, “I'll come if you will find a job in Charlotte.” So every day we got on the bus and traveled to Charlotte, and she made me promise not to find a job until she did.

She said, “You're trained and I'm not.” And she said, “You won't have any trouble finding one.”

And I said, “Well, Aunt Anne, I don't have that much money that I can last very long, but we'll try it.” And I can't remember how long we were there, maybe a month, maybe a little longer. My uncle, my father's brother, was the minister of North Kannapolis Baptist Church, so Aunt Anne and I moved in with them until she could find a job.

One day coming back from Charlotte, we had walked our legs off and we were so tired, and I said, “Aunt Anne, I'll pay for a taxi to take us back to Uncle Wade's.” So we got in a taxi and we went home, and we were eating dinner that night and the phone rang. Uncle Wade answered, but I could tell from what he was saying that he was talking about me, and he wanted to know who was calling, what they wanted, and why they wanted to talk to me. So finally he called me to the phone, and it was the—not the owner but the president of Central Motor Lines, which was owned by Cannon Mills, and he wanted me to come to work.

And I said, “No, sir.”

He said, “Just come talk to me.”

And I said, “No, sir. I'm not going to live in Kannapolis.” I said, “It would be a waste of your time and my time, and I'd just rather not do it.”

And he kept talking. He said, “Well, just come talk to me and find out what it is.” Well, I agreed to go the next day. I had an appointment and what had happened, it was when bookkeeping machines just came out, and you had about seven bars that you had to put on for each, you know, like accounts receivable, accounts payable and all of that. I had seven bars. He said, “We have this machine, and we have tried to train someone. Someone from the company is training, but he's not satisfied and he says that he wouldn't sell the machine to a company that didn't have someone that could work.” Well, he said, “He will come and train you.”

Well, he came over and all I'd done in Coast Guard, you know, was learn this and that. So he said yes, that they should hire me. Well, they kept talking and they made such a good offer I had to accept it, because I was tired of just floating around, you know. So I worked with Central Motor Lines until about 1950.

My husband worked at the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association], and we lived in a little boardinghouse. There was one floor for couples, one floor for girls, and one floor for men. I think I was there two or three days when—when you're eating; I went there for lunch every day. We had all of our meals there. And sometimes he was able to come and sometimes not, but that one day I was trying to eat, and you know how you can feel someone looking at you? I couldn't finish eating, and so I just got up and started out. Well, I heard footsteps behind me, and I went up the wrong step because I wanted to get away. He was following me, and I didn't know him, and Uncle Wade had given me a lecture when he moved me in, about be careful who I associated with, you know.

So he asked me for a date, and I said, “Well, I really don't know yet.” I said, “Let me think about it.” So I went back to the office, and he had been eating with my associate boss, and I said, “Do you know Herman Baxter?”

And he said, “Oh yes, he's a fine young man.”

I said, “Well, he called and asked me for a date, and I don't know anything about him, and I don't want to just go out with a stranger.”

And he said, “Well, you'll be fine.” And he told me what all he did at the Y. So in six months we were married. Can you believe that? I still can't. But we've been married fifty-eight years, so I guess it lasted.

HT:

So all this happened after you left the Coast Guard.

BB:

Oh yes.

HT:

If we can go back to the time that you entered the Coast Guard, we were talking about that you were sworn in in Tampa and then went over to Palm Beach for basic training; I guess you'd call it.

BB:

Right.

HT:

Can you tell me something about what you did during basic training, what was that like?

BB:

Oh yes, I can tell you. [laughs] We had to march every day. We had calisthenics every day. We had swimming. We had to march to the—when we were able to swim in the ocean, but that wasn't many days. I never did like the Atlantic Ocean. The Gulf spoiled me for that. It was too rough. But we had, let's see, what duty did we have? We had to keep the rooms—I know I chose an upper bunk, because someone told me when the officers come that they wear white gloves and they'd go over the door facings and everything, and I knew if I had an upper bunk nobody would fall on it, you know, because we'd get in the room and we were just exhausted, and we would just lie on the floor until our next duty.

Let's see, the dining room, I don't know what they called it. I thought it was to clear the tables. Well, it was the clean the tables. You know, they had to take their own stuff and empty it. We had to clean the tables off and mop the floor, and if you've ever picked up a navy or a Coast Guard mop, they were so heavy we could hardly move them. But we had to mop the floor, the kitchen, dining-room floor after every meal, and that's why we were always so exhausted.

But we learned to—when they would come and inspect, and they didn't let us know when they were coming, and they would pull all the drawers, and all of our clothes had to be rolled. Well, we had some things that hung in the closet, but not much, because they just gave us, I believe it was three uniforms, the white one, the navy one, and the everyday work. That's what we wore when we worked, the seersucker. But we never did get demerits. I had a really nice bunch of girls that I was with then.

HT:

Now, were you in a barracks with a bunch of other girls in one large open room, or did you have individual rooms?

BB:

No, there were three bunks, so there were six to a room, and it was in the hotel.

HT:

The Biltmore [Hotel]?

BB:

Yes. Then we got information about the three schools they were going to have: storekeeper, yeoman, and cooks and bakers. Of course, I wanted to go to storekeeper school, so we had to go to a lieutenant to be interviewed. Well, they told me right off the bat that I was too young and didn't have enough experience. I said, “Listen. I've been working since I was in the ninth grade. I was always in an office.” And I said, “Every place I've worked was different, but I worked at two different dime stores and at a bakery. And then my older sister worked for the laundry, and she wanted me to come work there in the office, and that's where I stayed until I decided to go into the service.”

And I got along. My sister and I paid our rent every month, and we never got behind. Of course she was a telephone operator, and she made a lot more than I did, and she really carried the brunt. But we had duties there at home, and so I knew how to keep everything clean when I got in the service.

HT:

So did you get a chance to attend storekeeper school after all?

BB:

Yes. I went through in three times, because when the first and second lists came out, my name wasn't on it, and I'd go back and beg again. So I did. I was chosen to go, and he told me, he said, “Now, 50 percent will graduate with—,” what's the stripe on the cuff, seaman, “and so 50 percent will graduate with 3rd class rating.” Well, luckily I made the 3rd class rating.

Then I was going to volunteer to go to—we had to write a letter and request where we wanted to be stationed, and we had to request at least one person to be stationed with. Well, we all got along so well; we all put down the name of the six of us that were in that room. I wanted to go to California. Well, it wasn't even available. The only two places we could choose were Boston or Washington, D.C. And I said, “Well, I don't know about you folks, but I'm going to request Boston.” And we had to put the name of the person who would live with us.

Well, two of the girls requested Washington. One of them had to stay for Ships Company, and the rest of us requested Boston. And I got it, we got Boston, and I loved it up there.

HT:

How long was basic training?

BB:

Basic was six weeks.

HT:

Do you recall when you joined, what time of year it was, and when?

BB:

I think it was February. It'd be on my [unclear].

HT:

[reads] “February 26, 1944.”

BB:

Yes, okay, it was February. And I had never seen snow. Boy, I saw it in Boston.

HT:

So you went up to Boston in the spring, or late winter of '44.

BB:

Yes, because storekeeper school was fifteen weeks, and that was tough. They told me that I wasn't experienced enough in that, and then I realized what they were talking about when I got in. But boy, did I study.

HT:

Where was the storekeeper school?

BB:

There at the hotel.

HT:

Okay. So you went through basic training there, and then continued on for your specialized training as well.

BB:

Right. And we still had special duties we had to do, and we had to march every day, and we had calisthenics every day, even though we were in school.

HT:

Who were the instructors? Were they civilians, or military people?

BB:

No, they were military.

HT:

And what did you think of them?

BB:

They were very good. And I tried to—I've never been one to speak out, even when I was in high school, you know. I'd just listen but I wouldn't enter into discussions or anything, and I got along, though.

HT:

You said storekeepers school was very difficult. What made it difficult? Was it long hours?

BB:

Long hours, and every day, and then we had the other. It wasn't that the school was that difficult. It was the other things that we had to do. We had to march, we had everything, and duty, and we stayed—it was a different group of us, but we still had kitchen duty.

HT:

Did you have any spare time on the weekends that you could do your own thing?

BB:

Oh yes, we did. We had to go to church, so what we would do, we would go to—I was Baptist, and one of them was Presbyterian, the other one was Episcopal, I think. But we would sign up and go to Catholic mass, because as soon as you went to church you could leave the hotel, but we had to dress in our dress uniform, you know, when we went out, if we went into Palm Beach. But, see, I thought we were in West Palm, but from the way all of that reads we were in Palm Beach. I mean, it says the hotel, Palm Beach, but I was thinking we were in West Palm.

They had bicycles that we could ride, and that's what we did a lot, because none of us had a car. And one day we rented a car, one Sunday. We all went together and rented the car, and there were six of us, so there were some that, well, it was all of those that were in our room. We went to, oh, it was near Palm Beach, but we just rode around and looked, and investigated, and took pictures, and we were dressed that day because we were going out, and we had to be inspected. Every time we would go out we had to stop in front of the—I don't know what they call the person who made sure that your hair was a certain length, and your uniform was right, and what was that officer called?

HT:

Perhaps officer in charge, or day officer, or something like that maybe?

BB:

Yes, something like that. Anyway, we always had to stop and we'd, of course, have to salute, and every time we met one of the officers on the street, you know, we had to salute. But during storekeeper school we just went out that one time.

And one of them was in—we weren't all in storekeepers school. One of my friends was in cooks and bakers, I think, and when I was sent for my discharge in South Carolina, you know who met me? And she looked at me, and I looked at her. I said, “You were in Palm Beach, weren't you?” She had been in the group that I ran around with, can't recall the name. But she still had her 3rd class rating.

And she looked at me, she said, “How in the world did you get 2nd class?”

I said, “Well, I studied.”

I had a really good commanding officer in Boston, and every time I was eligible for an advancement he would tell me, “Are you ready for a test?”

And I said, “Yes, sir.” He'd give me these pages and pages of tests, but I passed every one of them, and that's how I went from 3rd class to 1st class. None of the other girls, they didn't. They weren't interested in studying like that.

She said, “I'm through studying.”

HT:

So after you left storekeepers school you went to Boston next, I guess.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

What kind of classes did you have to take in storekeepers school?

BB:

Typing. We didn't have to do shorthand, but that was for the yeomen. Typing, English, we had to learn all the officers' ratings and what they were. We studied Coast Guard. I mean, we had to know the history of it, and I said I really studied because I didn't know anything about any of that.

HT:

Did you ever have the opportunity to go aboard a ship during that time?

BB:

I went aboard ship one time, but that was when I was invited, you know.

HT:

So there was no training aboard a ship at all?

BB:

No, no, no. In fact, they didn't even send Coast Guard. Just I think a month before I was discharged, they opened Hawaii and Alaska, and you had to ask, you know, write a letter and request it. And my roommate, we were out on subs and quarters, and she had gotten married, and naturally she didn't want to go, and so I didn't go, because I didn't want to break up—she would have had to go off of subs and quarters if I had gone. But I was happy with my job, and I enjoyed it.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit about your job in Boston, what you did during the day, and what were the days like?

BB:

It was great, because we just worked from eight to four, and then we could do anything we wanted to. We got free passes for the Broadway plays that came in. I'm trying to remember the name of the theater we would go and see. If they weren't sold out they would give us a pass.

But I'll tell you, I had an experience. I'd never been anyplace by myself. I'd leave my pass, whatever it was, at home. I had my orders to report to Boston. Well, of course, Daddy took me and put me on the train. I'd never been anywhere on a train. I got to New York and I had to change trains. Well, you talk about somebody being petrified, now, I was. I was. I was really frightened. I got a redcap and I told him, I showed him my orders. I said, “I've got to go to Boston and this is the train I'm supposed to take, but that's not the one I'm on.”

And he said, “Oh,” he said, “I know where that is.” He said, “Would you like to go there and wait?”

And I said, “Yes, I would.” I think I had two hours to wait until that train came in. He took me to a post, and I said, “Will you come back and get me, and make sure I get on the train?” See how dumb I was? I'd never traveled, I didn't know.

And he said, “Yes, I will.” And I tipped him five dollars, I never will forget that. I was so frightened, and he came. I didn't know him. I didn't know if he'd come or not, but he did. He came and got me and put me on the right train. Then when I got to Boston my orders said “Report to 1st Naval District.”

He said, “Well, I guess you want to go to the hotel, don't you?” this cabdriver.

And I said, “No, I want to go to the 1st Naval District.” [laughs] And I was in the 1st Naval District.

He said, “Well, that's at Constitution Wharf, but they're off now. They leave at four.” He said, “Of course the men who live there will be there, but the girls all go to the office.” I insisted on going to Constitution Wharf, because that was on my orders, Constitution Wharf. So I went. He said, “I'll wait for you.” He said, “You run see if this is what you need.” Sure enough he was right. I was supposed to go to the hotel.

Now I said, “Why didn't they write that on my orders?” But we stayed at the hotel, or I stayed at the hotel, maybe two months, and it was overcrowded. So the announcement came out that they had to send some out on subs and quarters. So my roommate, the one that I was closest to, the one from Michigan, we decided we would request it.

Then we requested it and we went to the commanding officer and she said, “You need to write a letter requesting it. Write the names of those who will be going with you on subs and quarters.” Well, it was just Helen and I, so we found a room as close to the hotel as we could find, because we knew how to catch the subway and everything there. So I was all right until wintertime came. Have you ever been in Brookline? That's where our hotel was.

HT:

No.

BB:

Brookline, Massachusetts. It was, well, maybe a block from our hotel there were steps that you could take all the way to the next street, and that's where we were rooming. I was scared to death of ice, and it was hard to climb those steps. So Helen said, “I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to find us another place to live.” So we did. We found an apartment on Gloucester Street, which was just up from Boston Garden. The streets were named A, B, C, D, on up, so we were on G.

We still had to ride the subway to work, but boy, in the wintertime we had to carry an extra pair of hose to work, because the snow was so deep it was over our boots. And we found out this man lived two doors down from us, we never did find out who he was. We didn't ask. We waited until he left. He left about the same time we did. We'd stand and watch, and when he would go we would run out and we'd step in his footsteps, so we didn't get as wet from then on. But that was an experience. And the first day it snowed, everybody knew I'd never seen it, so they called me to the window, said, “Look, it's snowing,” and it was beautiful.

Well, I got along. Everybody said, “Oh, you won't like Boston. It'll be too cold up there.” But I loved it. I really did.

HT:

And what type of work did you do?

BB:

Storekeeper work, office work. I worked in the budget and accounting office, and I had really had a good commanding officer. None of the other girls would, when he'd say, “Are you ready for a test?” they all said no, and I'd say yes, and that's how I got my ratings as fast as I did.

HT:

And specifically, what kind of work did you do in the budget and accounting office?

BB:

Oh, let's see. See, the ships that came in had to report to our office. Well, I didn't have anything to do with their reporting, but after they reported what they did we had to record what it was, and that was what I did. It was just records.

HT:

Did you take a man's job so he could go to sea duty or something like that when you got the job, or anything like that? During the war many women—

BB:

Yes.

HT:

—replaced a man so he could go to the front or whatever.

BB:

There were maybe three or four men in our office, and the rest were all women, some service and some civil service.

HT:

So as far as you know, you never replaced a man in the office?

BB:

I don't know. That was where they assigned me when I got there.

HT:

Did you recall what the name of the base—1st Naval District, was that the name of the base where you were, or did it have a more specific?

BB:

Well, Constitution Wharf was where I worked.

HT:

Okay. So that was a Coast Guard complex, I guess.

BB:

Yes. And we had our lunch there. We had our breakfast at the hotel, and then lunch at Constitution Wharf, or a lot of times we would get together, several of us, and we worked—it was right in the Italian district. I learned what pizza was, and I love Italian food, so I was happy. We would go out for lunch a lot of times.

HT:

So it sounds like you worked, what, 8:00 to 4:00?

BB:

Eight to four.

HT:

Eight to four each day, and had the weekends off—

BB:

Right.

HT:

—and very little other military-type duties on the weekends.

BB:

No, no military, except every time they had a parade, and Boston had a lot of parades, they would pick so many that would have to go. And I loved to march, anything that had music, you know, the band playing. I loved it, and people learned it, that I was like that. A lot of them, oh, just hated to march in parades, and when they were assigned they'd say, “Bonnie, will you march for me?”

And I said, “Sure. When and where?” I marched in a lot of parades.

HT:

Well, it sounds like you really enjoyed your work and your time in Boston.

BB:

I did, I loved it. And why—if all of my friends hadn't been gone—you know, they all of a sudden gave a date that we were to be discharged, and I was frozen, so all the girls that I knew and lived with were gone, and I continued to work at what I was doing, and I trained, helped train someone. It was a civilian, civil servant.

HT:

So after the war was over I guess the Coast Guard was then discharging a lot of women.

BB:

Yes, they closed the hotel, and that's why I was on subs[istence] and quarters, so they put me in—I was the only Coast Guard in the WAVES—

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

BB:

—barracks, and I stayed until I was eligible for discharge.

HT:

I think you mentioned earlier in our conversation that you would have liked to have stayed in and made a career out of it, is that correct?

BB:

Yes, and my commanding officer, he said, “Will you reenlist, please?” He said, “I'll see—I can't give you another rating right away, but I'll see that—”

[blank spot on tape]

HT:

You were talking about possibly staying in after everybody else had been discharged.

BB:

Well, he wanted me to. He said, “Will you please reenlist? I'd love for you to stay in this office.”

And I said, “I don't think so.” I said, “Everybody's gone that I know, and I'm in WAVES barracks, and I don't like that.”

And he said, “Well, if you'd reenlist,” he said, “you'll probably be able to go back on subs and quarters.”

And I said, “Well, I'll think about it.” I said, “It's been a long time since I've been home.” And, of course, Boston to Florida, you know, instead of flying I always took the train. I did learn how to change trains in New York. [laughs] I was an expert by then, because we went to New York several weekends, which was nice.

I went home and it wasn't long that I went back to the same job I had when I left. They found out I was home and wanted me to come back. That was at Penney's, JC Penney's, and I worked upstairs, and they had things—do you remember how it was years and years ago, the people on the floor when they made a sale, they weren't allowed to make change or record the ticket or anything? They'd put it in a little cup and send it up to the office.

HT:

I'm not familiar with that.

BB:

So you know that was years ago, because I don't know how long Penney's kept that. But anyway, my aunt, she just kept begging me to come. I said, “Well, Aunt Anne, I don't know if I'll stay, but I'll come and visit for a while,” because all of my family was there.

HT:

Did you have any regrets of not reenlisting?

BB:

Yes, I do. When I got that offer to go to—oh, oh, I remember Joe Hall and Max Misenheimer were my bosses, and I can't remember the name. It was a trucking company, and it was really owned by Charles Cannon, but it didn't go—

HT:

I think it was Central.

BB:

Central Motor Lines, yes. So I stayed there until my husband got a transfer. Well, he wanted to get in sales work, and that's what he did. He left. I didn't know him but six months till we got married.

HT:

Well, if I can ask you a couple more questions about your time that you were getting ready to leave the service, do you recall if you were treated equally, being a woman? I know you said you worked with a few men in the office, so was there any difference in how the women were treated and how the men were treated?

BB:

No. I really—now, the girl that I lived with, she was in a different office and she didn't have it as nice as we did. I think it was the commanding officer that made—and I wish that I could remember his name, because he was so good to me.

HT:

So did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination or special treatment?

BB:

No.

HT:

And it sounds like you really liked the officer. My next question was what was the officer or leader like? It sounds like you had a wonderful leader.

BB:

I did, I really did. I wouldn't have been discharged this 1st class rating if it hadn't been for him, but I mean I worked for it. Those tests they gave us weren't exactly easy.

HT:

I think you were in the service for about twenty-three months?

BB:

Twenty-six months, wasn't it?

HT:

Twenty-six months. Do you recall the hardest thing you had to do physically during those twenty-six months?

BB:

Yes. [laughs] This is when we—what is it they call it when you go in and have to go through this test, and you had to pass the test? Oh, you had to climb, and I'm deathly afraid of heights, and there was one that we had to climb with a rope.

HT:

That was part of the physical education process, I guess.

BB:

Yes, and climb over—there was a log up there, and I froze. I could not—they came and helped me get down, but I guess I passed everything else okay. I wasn't really athletic, but I passed everything. But they helped me down, I remember. I just froze when I—it was a big log. I had to go over it and then go back down with a rope. I didn't make it.

HT:

I don't think they're called obstacle courses?

BB:

Yes. I couldn't think of that.

HT:

What about emotionally? What was the hardest thing you had to do emotionally while you were in the service?

BB:

Oh, dear, emotionally. I guess the hardest thing was begging to get into storekeeper school, because I had never had to do anything like that. Every job I had prior to going in the service was offered to me, and they called and asked me to come. I had never asked for a job before.

HT:

I think I recall you said you had to ask at least three times.

BB:

Oh yes.

HT:

Which was, I'm sure, kind of devastating after the second try.

BB:

And you had to request, you know, because it was a lieutenant, and I thought—it was a man, and I think if had been a woman maybe I could have talked to her, or maybe it would have been worse, I don't know. But he did let me go.

HT:

Well, do you ever recall being afraid, other than the train?

BB:

The obstacle course and the train. That was the only time I was really frightened. Well, you know, we had to use the subway. Well, sometimes it was the subway, sometimes it was an El[evated train], and sometimes it was just a streetcar. But I got a cinder in my eye, and oh, you talk about pain, but now that was pain. It was on a Friday while I was still at the hotel, and they put me in sick bay. But oh, I was so much in pain.

HT:

That cinder was from the streetcar?

BB:

Yes. It happened when I was on the—and see, I wasn't even aware of it until it started hurting, and I still have the scar from it, because every time I go to a new optometrist he says, “Well, you have a scar. Can you remember what eye?”

And I said, “Yes, I had a cinder in my eye.”

And he said, “That was painful, wasn't it?”

And I said, “Yes.”

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing moments, or hilarious moments, or anything like that?

BB:

Hilarious, in the service, let's see. No, I can't remember an embarrassing moment.

HT:

How about humorous or something unusual that happened?

BB:

One weekend when we went to New York we decided—you know the name of the hotel that there's a skating rink right outside? We decided we would go there for breakfast, and we didn't realize how expensive it was. They brought us the bill and we had to pool our money to pay for it, to get out. It wasn't really embarrassing, because we made it. It was embarrassing to think that we were dummies, and didn't realize how expensive it was going to be.

No, I can't really think of anything while I was on duty.

HT:

I think we talked a little bit about how you spent your spare time off duty, going to New York and taking trips and that sort of thing. What types of off-duty recreation did you—

BB:

I went to the Buddies Club. It was in Boston Common, and that's where the service people went, you know, for recreation. They had poolrooms, they had music and dancing, and that's what I loved to do was dance.

HT:

Was it sponsored by the USO [United Service Organizations]?

BB:

Yes. So I guess the USO was my form of recreation.

HT:

You say you enjoyed dancing.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

What type of dancing did you particularly like?

BB:

Well, just ballroom, jitterbug. That's what we called it then, was jitterbug.

HT:

Swing dancing, that's what it is?

BB:

Yes. And I did that before I went in the service. I was a member of what they called the Girl Reserves. You had to be approved before you could go to these dances at, like, Drew Field and MacDill Field were in Tampa, and they used to take us over there to dance. Then we had a dance there in Clearwater every Saturday night, and I just about made it every Saturday.

HT:

So you must have been a real good dancer.

BB:

No, not really, but I sure did enjoy it.

HT:

Well, do you recall what your favorite songs, movies, and dances—we've already talked about dances—were from that period of time?

BB:

I loved all the popular songs, and there were some good ones, but I can't recall the names of them. I hear them once in a while, but I can't remember the names.

HT:

What was the general mood of the country, as you remember from that time?

BB:

Well, it was really—people were worried during the war, naturally. And then, being in the service, I was more conscious of it. But I just did everything I was told to do.

HT:

Well, do you recall where you were when VE [Victory in Europe] Day occurred in May of 1945?

BB:

I was in Boston.

HT:

Do you recall anything particular about that day?

BB:

Oh yes. Everybody went outside, and they were screaming, and everybody was hugging everybody else, you know, and I think they finally just let us off. We didn't have to go back into work.

HT:

And what about VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, which was in August? Was that similar celebration?

BB:

Yes, they were both the same.

HT:

And so you were in Boston at that time as well.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

Now, when the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan I'm assuming you didn't know about that right away, or do you recall anything specific about it?

BB:

I just felt the horror of it, and to see those pictures of the people who went through it, but I knew it had to be done.

HT:

And I think you told me earlier that you were discharged in Boston, is that correct?

BB:

Yes, but I had to go to South Carolina to be discharged.

HT:

Oh, why was that?

BB:

I don't know. [laughs] Most of the Coast Guard was gone, but I was the only one in the budget and accounting office on the Coast Guard, and I had to go to South Carolina. I was trying to think of the name of it. That was where I met one of the girls that I was in boot camp with.

HT:

What was your rank when you were discharged?

BB:

First class, storekeeper 1st class, and she was still, I don't know if she was seaman 1st [class], or if she had her 3rd class. Surely she had her 3rd class after twenty-six months.

HT:

So did you go back to Clearwater once you were discharged to see the family and everything?

BB:

Yes.

HT:

Now, I think that we've already talked about this. After the Second World War many women left the service because they were closing down bases and that sort of thing, and that you really had thought about staying in, but decided not to stay in because everyone was leaving and that sort of thing.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

So I think you said you had some regrets about not being able to remain in the Coast Guard, so you really must have liked it.

BB:

I did, I really did. And when I look back, I wonder why I didn't stay. Maybe it's because that was when I must have met my husband. [laughs] Maybe he was the reason.

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after having been in the military for twenty-six months?

BB:

I really didn't have that must adjustment because the first—well, I worked at Penney's for a while.

HT:

After you got out.

BB:

Yes. But then when I went to North Carolina to stay with my aunt, and got the job there at Central Mobil Lines, that was pretty much, you know, a lot like what I had been doing in Boston.

HT:

So you think having been in the Coast Guard helped you get the job?

BB:

Oh yes, I do, because I really had experience there.

HT:

Well, whom did you admire and respect, and who were your heroes and heroines from that time?

BB:

You know, I can't even recall who was president then.

HT:

Well, Franklin Roosevelt was the president. Of course, he died in early 1945, and Harry Truman was the new president.

BB:

Well, I know I admired them, because both of them had a tremendous job. I mean, I didn't envy them the decisions that they had to make, but I felt like they made good decisions.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

BB:

Yes.

HT:

Have you always been that way, or did the military make you that way?

BB:

No, I think I've always been that way, because my sister that I lived with was three years older than me, but I was always almost taking care of her. Now, she had a better job than me, and she did most of the paying of the bills and everything, but I guess I was the ringleader. [laughter] I don't know.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter?

BB:

Yes, in my family, because I was the only girl that did anything like that.

HT:

Did you have any brothers in the service during World War II?

BB:

No. Well, yes, my kid brother, my half-brother. My oldest brother—I just had the two brothers—he was drafted but he was a sleep walker, and I think he ran through pile of logs and got all scraped up or something when he was asleep, and they discharged him, so he wasn't in the service that long.

HT:

How about your children, have any of your children been in the military?

BB:

No.

HT:

I thought they might want to follow Mother's example or something.

BB:

They're both adopted, and our son, no, he hasn't ever been interested, and our daughter got married so young she didn't think about anything but getting married. There they are over there. That's the house we lived in when we adopted Pat, the little girl, and that's our son. We were in Virginia then.

HT:

Was your husband in the military during World War II?

BB:

He was, but they drafted him from college. He played basketball and he hurt his knee. When he went in the service they told him he had to march, and he couldn't march, so they operated on his leg and then discharged him after they operated. So he just went back to school and finished college then.

HT:

And where did he go to school?

BB:

Well, he went to, let me think. He graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne [College in Hickory, North Carolina]. He went there two years, and I'm trying to think of the name of the school he went to. It was just a two-year school.

HT:

So he's from North Carolina, your husband.

BB:

Yes.

HT:

Well, what impact do you think being in the Coast Guard had on your life? How did it change your life?

BB:

It changed it because I was a lot more independent, and I learned how to speak up for myself and take care of myself.

HT:

That's very important.

BB:

Yes, I found that out when I was in the service. I would love to have gone to either Hawaii or Alaska. Two of the girls in my group went. In fact, I think I have their pictures there. But I didn't want to leave. Helen had gotten married, and she was just waiting to get out, so we just stayed together as long as we could.

HT:

Do you approve of women being in combat positions these days?

BB:

No. I approve of women being in the service, but I don't think they should have to carry a gun, you know, and fight like men.

HT:

Would you join the military again if you had the opportunity?

BB:

Yes, I sure would. [laughs]

HT:

There's a real spark in your eye when you talk about the Coast Guard and military. It's wonderful.

BB:

I loved it.

HT:

That's great. Well, I don't have any more questions. Is there anything you'd like to add to the interview that I haven't thought about asking? You've told me some wonderful stories and we really appreciate it.

BB:

I can't think of anything.

HT:

Well, thank you so much. It's been a real joy talking to you.

BB:

Thank you.

[End of interview]