1. LIBRARY CATALOG
  2. DATABASES
  3. JOURNAL A-Z List
  4. SUBJECT GUIDES
  5. LIBRARY SERVICES

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Marguerite Brendlinger Robinson, 2007

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: WV0376.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Marguerite B. Robinson’s early life and family, her service with the WAVES from 1944 to 1946, and her life after World War II.

Summary: Robinson discusses her family, including her older sister's influence on her decision to attend Sweet Briar College, and her father's pride when she joined the armed forces. Robinson recalls her decision to enlist, describes Officer Candidate School at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and her assignment in Washington, D.C. She briefly mentions that while in the WAVES, her job dealt with records concerning the Pearl Harbor attack.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Marguerite B. Robinson Oral History

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

Full Text:

Kim Adkins:

Friday January 19, 2007, and this is Kim Adkins speaking. I'm in the home of Mrs. Margy Robinson in Cary, North Carolina, [to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veteran's Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro]. Thank you, Margy for agreeing to speak with me.

Marguerite Robinson:>

You're welcome.

KA:

Please tell me about your life before you entered the military.

MR:

Before I entered the military, I was a—I had just graduated from Sweet Briar College [Sweet Briar, Virginia]. I am one of five daughters, all of whom went to women's colleges but one—women's colleges—and I had chosen Sweet Briar because it was as far away from my older sister, who was going to Mount Holyoke [College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts], as far away as it could be. [both laugh] Because I didn't want to have to follow through—follow her. [I] Graduated from Sweet Briar and right before graduation the WAC [Women's Army Corps] recruiter came, and we had a lot of—a lot of my fellow graduates were army brats, and so they made a big deal at Sweet Briar if you would join the WACs and go in the Women's Army Corps. And I only wanted to go in the navy, so I was one of the few from our class that went into the navy. And my father was the—oh, I forget what they called them, that recruited all the people locally from—for the army and everything—so I immediately was the favorite in that family of five daughters, because I was going into the navy [laughter] and that was it.

KA:

Well, where and when were you born?

MR:

I was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. February 12, 1923.

KA:

Where did you grow up?

MR:

I grew up there. I grew up there with summers in Ocean City, New Jersey, where we owned a house.

KA:

So were you living there when you went to college?

MR:

I was living in Norristown when I went to college, but I stayed at Sweet Briar in Virginia, yeah.

KA:

What did your parents do for a living?

MR:

My father was the president of a manufacturing medicine company, Dill Company it was called. It's no longer in existence. And my mother was a housewife, very active in the community.

KA:

How many siblings did you have?

MR:

I had four sisters. I told you that.

KA:

Did you like school when you went to school?

MR:

I never had any trouble with it. Yes, I liked it. It was what I was supposed to do.

KA:

Where did you graduate from high school from?

MR:

From Norristown High School in 1940. See I do remember that. [both laugh]

KA:

Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

MR:

When I heard about Pearl Harbor, I was a senior in—at Sweet Briar. I was a senior, yeah.

KA:

So were you maybe in a dorm or something?

MR:

Oh, oh. When I actually heard about it, I do not remember.

KA:

Did you have a job when you enlisted?

MR:

No, I had just graduated from college. I guess I enlisted before I graduated. I'm not sure.

KA:

I know you already said a little bit about the WAC recruiter coming to Sweet Briar, but why did you decide to join the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]?

MR:

Just because the navy had always been an interest of mine. And I—I can't blame it on any relatives or anything like that. I—I just wanted to go in the navy instead of the army. [both laugh]

KA:

Yes.

MR:

Oh, and I was a boat person.

KA:

Do you remember when exactly you entered the service?

MR:

[pause] Well, let's see, it must have been in the fall of 1944. I didn't look that up.

KA:

When were you discharged from the navy?

MR:

Oh goodness. [pause] I don't know. It was after—it was after the war, when the others were getting discharged.

KA:

I think most of the—

MR:

When the war ends.

KA:

The terms of enlistment—

MR:

See that's why—

KA:

—were like six months after the end of the war, so maybe it was about then?

MR:

It was—it was at least six months after the end of the war. It might have been. It was somewhere within that year.

KA:

Okay. Why did you decide to join at all?

MR:

[pause] I know that I should say “because I was feeling very strongly for the country,” and I guess I was to a certain extent, but I didn't have any—I wasn't sure what I wanted to do otherwise and it seemed like a good idea for me to do that. And grow up there.

KA:

Did you feel that by joining you were freeing a man to fight as the posters said?

MR:

No. Never gave it a thought. [laughter]

KA:

How did your parents feel about you joining?

MR:

Well, I told you about my father. I immediately became the number one person in the family, because it made him able to tell the young men's families that he had someone going to the war, too.

KA:

Well, what did your mother think?

MR:

She seemed to be approving of it. She never questioned it. [chuckles] That I can remember.

KA:

What did your sisters think about it?

MR:

[pause] I think they were in favor of it, too. They weren't going to go. [both laugh]

KA:

Do you think they were jealous since now you were?

MR:

No. No, I don't really think so. I—I think we were—we were very close at that time, and still are, but I don't think they were jealous, I think they were surprised. And they were all at different age, stages of their careers. My older sister was in graduate school and my younger sisters were still—were too young to go, so that it was not a big decision that they had to make at that point.

KA:

What did your friends say about you joining?

MR:

I—[pause] I don't know. I guess they were in favor of it. I—I never—I don't remember that any—that we had any arguments or discussions, and I had quite a few friends.

KA:

Do you remember where you signed up?

MR:

Where did I sign up? No. I don't remember doing it. Oh, I guess I signed up when I was at Sweet Briar because I knew I was going to do it when I graduated. So I must have signed up at Sweet Briar, wherever that was.

KA:

What do you remember about the first day?

MR:

I don't remember. [both laugh]

KA:

[clears throat] Where did your basic training take place?

MR:

You know, whoever wrote these questions wasn't very—[pause] Where did my basic training take place? I—at Smith College [Northampton, Massachusetts]. I went—I was in officer's training school immediately because I graduated from college, and I was at Smith College except it wasn't—that's where the classes were. I stayed at the dorm that was the school before Smith College, I can't remember the name of it.

KA:

What was your basic training like? What did you have to do?

MR:

It was very scary and difficult for me. [pause] I don't remember anything that the—I remember the courses were not difficult, but I had trouble with naval history and I think that almost kept me from becoming an officer, because I had an interview with the head of the whole place before graduation and—and I have a feeling it was because of that. I had always been very active in high school and had, I guess, been a leader there, and, you know, I was the officer of my class in high school and I was the editor of the yearbook, but when I got up there, apparently I did not show those leadership abilities until I talked to the head, and she decided that I should graduate. That's one of the things I remember, and I—she never told me that that was why I was called in, but the others who were called in almost all went home.

KA:

Yes.

MR:

So I figured that's what it was.

KA:

What was your job while you were in the service?

MR:

I was—well, actually, I was like a librarian. I worked for the naval group that handled all of the letters and all of the—what were they called—mailings from the army, the navy, and everyone else a—about—from the foreign countries, the translated things. It was a library. It was the group that handled the final letters which said when Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked, because I was involved a little bit in that.

[information added by MR upon transcript review: “During the war, the U.S. Navy library was the designated holder of ALL translated messages, including U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Japanese and other translated government messages. That was the library in which I worked. There was one day's Japanese message missing from the translated messages kept in the navy library. It was suspected to tell the planned date of the Pearl Harbor invasion. It was necessary for one of my fellow WAVES to report the absence of that message at the trial in court at the end of the war.”].

KA:

What was a typical day like for you, on the job?

MR:

It was very routine as probably secretaries are. [pause] That's all. [laughter]

KA:

Where were you stationed after basic training?

MR:

Washington, D.C.

KA:

Did you enjoy the work that you did?

MR:

I enjoyed it very much. I learned a lot and I felt like things were happening. My WAVE roommates were both outstanding. One of them was the leader of the group that I almost flunked out of at officer's training school, and I never got over the fact that she was really a young Southern belle because she was such a terrific leader. Incidentally, she told me the reason she was [a leader] was because she had been the president of student council at the University of North Carolina [at Greensboro] when it was a women's university, where you're going now. And she said, “I learned that I had to—to speak as if I'm real—was a real authority.” Her father was the head of—became the head of—the local pickle company [Mount Olive Pickle Company], which is the biggest one around. I can't think of it. That's beside—that's beside the point. I don't think she's a WAVE. I mean now.

KA:

On the job, were you treated as equals to men?

MR:

Yes. I—we saw very few men on the job.

KA:

Well, those men that you did see, did they treat you equally, or—did they treat you like [clears throat] they treated other men?

MR:

As much as they do in everyday life. [pause] Yes. I didn't have [pause] any of the problems I know a lot of people did.

KA:

Were the men you worked with assigned similar jobs?

MR:

There were no men that I worked with.

KA:

What was the hardest thing you had to do physically while in the service?

MR:

Physically? [pause] Wake up and go at odd times. [chuckling] That was the hardest physical thing I had to do.

KA:

How about emotionally? What was the hardest thing you had to do?

MR:

[pause] Emotionally. I think the hardest thing emotionally was saying goodbye to my roommates after the war. During the war, [pause] it's losing friends that I knew from home was the hardest thing.

KA:

Were you ever afraid or in personal danger?

MR:

No.

KA:

What did you do for fun?

MR:

Normal city [pause]-type dating, post-college.

KA:

Did you go to dances?

MR:

Yes.

KA:

Movies?

MR:

Yes.

KA:

[laughter] USO [United Service Organizations] shows?

MR:

Yes. [both laugh]

KA:

How long were you in the military?

MR:

[Nineteen] forty-four to—was it forty-six? Two and a half years, I think. Two and half years.

KA:

Did you think of making it a career?

MR:

No.

KA:

Did you feel like you were encouraged to do so or discouraged?

MR:

I don't remember that any effort was made for us to stay. [pause] I didn't have that important [a] job.

KA:

What do you think the mood of the country was at the time, during the war?

MR:

[pause] At that time, it was just part of our life and it—now I cannot understand it, but—but it was. [Pause] And [pause] I don't know. That's enough. Here comes my husband.

KA:

Do you think people were afraid during that time? Afraid of losing the war or—?

MR:

I—no, I don't think so. I—not the ones that I knew, and I lost a lot of friends in the war. But they were all ready to go. All my high school friends. All the officers in our high school class were killed. Except me. [chuckles]

KA:

Who were your heroes or heroines of those days? Who did you look up to?

MR:

We looked up to President [Franklin] Roosevelt. And I looked up to my parents still. And some of our friends.

KA:

Do you have any favorite songs from that time?

MR:

No.

KA:

Movies?

MR:

No. I don't—I don't—I can't even remember yesterday's movies. [KA laughs] You might add that I have had a stroke [chuckles] and I'm not—my memory is limited.

KA:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about VE [Victory in Europe] Day, which was May the eighth, 1945?

[Marguerite Robinson's husband Walter Robinson enters the dining room]

WR:

Nineteen forty-five, yeah? Well, I'm sure that's [unclear].

[WR speaks and leaves]

MR:

Nineteen forty-five?

KA:

Yes. VE Day, which was May eighth.

MR:

Oh, okay. Where was I? I was in Washington [D.C.]. I do not remember it. I don't remember it.

KA:

How about VJ [Victory over Japan] Day, which was August fourteenth?

MR:

I don't remember that either. I don't remember any of those occasions.

KA:

Did you feel like you had to return to a traditional female role after the war?

MR:

No. No.

KA:

Was readjusting to civilian life easy or hard for you?

MR:

Easy.

KA:

Oh, why do you think that was?

MR:

Because my navy life was—was pretty close to —was very civilian-like[?].

KA:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

MR:

Yes.

KA:

Did the military make you more independent?

MR:

[pause] I don't really think so. I think that I was—no more than just normal post-college life would have made me.

KA:

Many consider service women of your day pioneers, is that how you feel?

MR:

No.

KA:

Do you feel that what women did during World War II had any connection to the ideas of the women's liberation movement?

MR:

[pause] Probably somewhat. But I—[pause] I think women were doing other things besides serving in the war and showing their ability to be independent.

KA:

Have any of your children been in the military?

MR:

No.

KA:

Did you encourage them to join?

MR:

No.

KA:

How do you feel about women in combat positions?

MR:

[pause] Okay [unclear], we had a discussion of that at our WAVES meeting yesterday. [pause] I really haven't thought about it. I do feel though that women [pause] should be able to make their own decision as to what they want to do with their lives. And I guess if they want to do that, that's their decision and I'm for it.

KA:

How do you think your service affected your life?

MR:

[pause] I think it made me grow—grow up and become independent and realize that I could do whatever I wanted to do with my life.

KA:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your service experience?

MR:

[pause] I—in thinking it over, it really was no more—in my particular situation, my life situation than—than a post-college experience would have been away from my parents and going toward independent living. The losses that I suffered during the war—because of the war may have had something to—work toward my present position, which is that I am a peacemaker. Period.

KA:

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from your time in the service you'd like to share?

MR:

I know I was supposed to think of some and I couldn't think of any. [KA laughs] I couldn't remember any. I just—I do know one thing. I know that I became a coffee drinker during the war because when I was working in that library situation, I realized the only way you could take off, morning or afternoon, for a break was if you went out for coffee. If you just went out, you had to take coffee. I also had to learn how to drink coffee black, because cream and sugar were never offered. That's—that has nothing to do with the war or anything like that. [chuckling] That's the only thing I remember that was different from what I would have done if I'd worked in any kind of an office.

KA:

Well, you said you couldn't get sugar and cream. Do you think, especially with sugar, because it was being rationed, maybe?

MR:

I doubt it. I think that's because that's all they had—they served, and you couldn't go out to get it. You couldn't go out of the building to get it. You went to the—to the—what is it called—

KA:

Like a cafeteria?

MR:

Cafeteria or wherever. It wasn't a cafeteria. It was a private place where they served coffee, in the office. You couldn't—you didn't leave the place at all, and all you could get was black coffee, and if you were not going to have coffee, you were not allowed to be there.

KA:

Yes.

MR:

Very interesting.

KA:

That is interesting. Well, thank you again for speaking with me.

[End of Interview]