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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Meredith Rolfe Campbell, 2007

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Object ID: WV0397.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Meredith Rolfe Campbell’s service in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in 1943 and her experiences in New York immediately following.

Summary:

Campbell briefly discusses her childhood in rural Montana, including her father's jobs, the first time she saw a plane, and her early desire to fly. She summarizes her experiences as a teacher in White Sulphur Springs and efforts to earn her pilot’s license. Campbell describes working at an airport in Tucson, Arizona, (probably Davis-Monthan), learning about the WASP program, and her supervisor signing off on hours she hadn't flown so she could be eligible to join. She discusses meeting Jacqueline Cochran, being turned down because of a dental problem, and working at Flying Training Command headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, until she could get it fixed. Notable subjects from her time at Fort Worth include General Barton Yount, gender discrimination, pranks, and meeting baseball player “Red” Rolfe and actor Bill Holden.

Topics from her training at Avenger Field include: the Fifinella logo; uniforms; flying the B-26; fellow WASP; Yankee Doodle Pilot; typical training tests; ground school; social activities; her flight accident; parachuting out; Assen Jordanoff’s Flying and How to Do It!; her injuries and treatment; being moved back to another class; and getting washed out.

Campbell also discusses her activities following her service. Topics include: moving to New York City; working for the Jordanoff Aviation Corporation; writing captions for Time magazine; being offered a part in Dark Victory; and the overcrowding of New York City once the war ended. She also shares her reasons for leaving the city and moving to Longview, Oregon; moving to San Diego, California, with her second husband; starting a WASP exhibit at the San Diego Aerospace Museum; and a fallout with her fellow WASP because of it. Other topics include: Amelia Earhart; WASP reunions and publications; what she loves about flying; and religion.

Creator: Meredith Rolfe Campbell

Biographical Info: Meredith "Teddy" Rolfe Campbell (1917-2013) of Montana served in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in 1943.

Collection: Meredith Campbell 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:

Beth Carmichael:

Today is May 2, 2007. My name is Beth Carmichael, and I'm at the home of Meredith Campbell in Bonita, California, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Good morning, Mrs. Campbell, thank you.

Meredith Campbell:

Good morning, dear.

BC:

Thank you so much for talking with me this morning. If you could give me your full name, we'll use that as a test of our tape recorder.

MC:

My name is Meredith Edelle[?] Rolfe Campbell.

[recording paused]

BC:

Mrs. Campbell, I'd like to begin by talking a little bit about your background. Can you tell me when and where you were born, and a little bit about your family?

MC:

Yes. I was born in Phanandon[?], Montana. It's blown away now. All that's left is a brick school house that was built by philanthropists—Carnegie, I guess—it's not the library. It's just a little homestead village, anyway. And my dad and mother were seeking the Wild West for their fortune, I guess. [chuckles]

BC:

Where had they come from?

MC:

From Minnesota. My dad was at the school of mines[?] at Minneapolis when my mother was a governess for the Heffelfinger family. [chuckles]

So my dad did some teaching and my mother tried to raise chickens, and my dad broke broncos and did carpenter work and whatever there was. They finally gave it up and went back to—my dad went into full construction work with his father. So it's just grass country now, and all the vital statistics are at Blythe, Montana, I think—or somewhere else.

BC:

What was it like when you were growing up there?

MC:

I beg your pardon.

BC:

What was it like when you were growing up there?

MC:

[pause] Well, we moved to Avery, Idaho, and my dad did a steel suspension bridge across the St. Joe[seph] River. And then we lived in a beautiful log cabin. I nearly drowned in the river tagging my dad along with—

BC:

Oh my goodness.

MC:

[chuckles] Because it was in a gorge and the water was very swift and I was about to over a waterfall, but my dad fished me out with this bamboo pole. [chuckles]

BC:

Oh my goodness.

MC:

I was four going on—I was four-years-old then. But we had been living in Deer Lodge, Montana, where my dad did the round table for the railroad company to switch engines from steam to electric. And I saw a plane and I wanted one. And I wanted to fly from four-years-old on.

BC:

And when was this? Was this in the 1930s?

MC:

I was born in 1917.

BC:

Nineteen seventeen. Okay, so the early—

MC:

So that was four years—1921. [chuckles]

BC:

[Nineteen] twenty-one. Did you have any brothers or sisters?

MC:

One brother, yes. And he's built his life as a minister. He's retired—still ministering. [chuckles]

BC:

So did you then grow up in Idaho and graduate from high school there?

MC:

No, we were just there for the summer till my dad completed that work. Then he went to North Dakota to join his dad in construction work there, because they were coming out of little cabins and sod houses and things, and the railroad was bringing lumber and stuff in, and people were beginning to prosper and build houses. And so it was quite—quite a prosperous time. And I—but my parents separated. The Depression hit and they had building going on in little bitty towns all the way around them. A lot of crews to pay and the bank went broke, so that went to pieces.

And then I went up to—back to Montana to stay with my aunt, and went through high school there and got a scholarship from Montana State Teachers College and taught school. And the last place where I taught school was up in the mountains and—I need to find something—[paper rustling]

BC:

And this is where you were teaching?

MC:

Yes. White Sulphur Springs [Montana] in this—used to fly to Helena [Montana] cross-country because you could do that on a flying permit at fifty miles. And before the end[?], though, I wanted to fly so badly and—and then I couldn't. By summer I was too broke. I finally said, “Lord, help me,” and he got me into the Civilian Pilot Training Program that summer. And one girl and twelve men. They did—many, many of the WASP did that, got their training through Civilian Pilot Training [Program]. But then it sold and it was just a solo program.

And then I went to Helena because they had an airport there. And I taught business English and spelling at the business school and made puppets and sold—worked part time at a department store. Every little bit of money I had I walked out to the airport and took some [flight] time. And they're the ones that got me the school job, because I went back to teaching elementary at White Sulphur Springs. And then Pearl Harbor happened and I resigned from teaching and went down to Long Beach [California]. I had some friends I'd met at the airport in Helena that [said] “Come on down.” And I'd heard women were being recruited for flying, so I brashly thought I could get into that with the only few hours I had.

BC:

Do you recall how many hours you had at that point?

MC:

When I went down there? Not too many. Maybe twenty hours or something. [chuckles] And then they wouldn't let my fly at Long Beach, because of the Japanese. They said they cut out all of the civilian flying.

BC:

So you went from Montana to Long Beach, California.

MC:

Yes, yes. And the colonel said, “You want to fly so badly we're going to send you to Tucson [Arizona] to assist the officer we have there at the [auxiliary?] field by Boeing,” where they were sending a lot of the B-17s out, because there's a factory that's there. And then also it was a stopover for ferry command pilots. And I handled the teletype. I had learned typing at the business college, so I was able to do the teletype and ETAs [estimated time of arrival] and so on.

And Captain Bowen said, “You can fly. There's a mechanic here that wants to learn to fly.” I didn't even have a private license. I had the equivalent of the time, but I had, I just didn't bother to take the test. And so I took him up every noon and taught him what I knew, and then Captain Bowen wrote off the hours.

And we found out that Jacqueline Cochran had a group that had been accepted at a military base at Sweetwater, Texas, and the requirement was twenty-one years of age and eighty hours flying. So he signed off my eighty hours, and that included thirty that I didn't fly. [laughter] So I—

BC:

That was nice of him.

MC:

So I left and went straight to Jacqueline Cochran's office and said, “Here I am.” Just like me. And she says, “Oh.” So then she—

BC:

So you actually met with Jackie Cochran?

MC:

Yes. And so she said, “Well, you can go into 43-W-5 right now. But,” she said, “you have to have examinations.”

So she took me out to the field there and—military examination—and he said, “Well, you have a molar that needs to be filled.”

I said, well—I said, “I don't have any money. All I have is enough train fare to get here, to get to Sweetwater.”

And she said—she just threw up her hands, and she said, “Well, I have—” She said, “Just a minute.” And then she came back and she said, “The Flying Training Command Headquarters is on the top of the”—Fort Worth [Texas] has it—big high-rise type of depot. So up in the top floor was Major Healy[Haley?] and a bunch of guys. At the very top was General [Barton K.] Yount. And so Bill Holden, the actor, was just leaving to get his officers training and commission, and they gave me his desk and taught me how to do captions and [unclear] and crop pictures and so on. [chuckles]

I had a red dress with a belt that had CPT [Civilian Pilot Training] wings on in it and a lot of little aviation emblems. And I didn't know it, but General Young hated women in flying desperately. And they sent me up to him. They me—put this up. And they sent me up with a bunch of papers, and I went in and he looked at me and he looked at my belt and said, “You like to fly?”

And I said, “Oh, yes, sir. You know I'm crazy about it.” [chuckles]

“What are you doing here?”

“I'm waiting to get in.”

And I told him what was going on. But he was so rough and gruff I backed out of the office. I left the papers and I ran down the hall and ran into Red Rolfe, a baseball star.

BC:

Oh, my gosh.

MC:

And I recognized him from the newspapers or something. And I said, “My name is Rolfe, too.” So we had a little chat. I went back into the office and they were just rolling with laughter with the big stunt they'd pulled off. He still didn't tell me for a while. But anyway, they kept me with him—with—kept me going until I got my tooth filled, and then I was on my way to Sweetwater.

BC:

So you worked in this office doing—

MC:

In an outlying training command, yes.

BC:

Okay, doing the captions and the photographs.

MC:

And then my tooth was taken care of.

BC:

And when was this? The spring of 1942?

MC:

Nineteen forty-three. And it was in April—No, March. It was in March. And [pause—displaying photos] we were given clothes that the cadets left. The cadets left the field. Jacqueline Cochran took it over. You can see the heavy jacket, and the coveralls they gave us were pretty voluminous and they called them zootsuits, of course. And so in March, we flew an open-cockpit plane PT-1980. It was a little chilly. But then by April it was warm enough for just leather jackets. That's my picture in the glass frame with white scarf and leather jacket and the Fifinella emblem that Walt Disney designed and gave—

BC:

What did ya'll think of Fifinella?

MC:

Huh?

BC:

What did ya'll think of Fifinella?

MC:

I didn't care for it, because my—I loved the Lord and I trusted in God, and to me it was kind of pagan. I just kind of—I thought it was cute, but I was—so it was just an emblem. So anyway, here we were and we didn't have any uniforms. We wore white shirts and khaki pants and then little khaki caps.

Oh, I'll tell you about the B-26ers called the Widowmaker at this time, when men were really afraid of it. But Captain Jack Harbick[?] flew—I got acquainted with him back and Tucson, because when I was flying, apparently Captain Bowen told some naval cadets that I could show them how to fly the beam, the radio beam. And there were about five of them. They arrived in a Beachcraft twin engine. And before I knew it I was in the controls. They asked me to show them, because they were kind of this way about—nervous about passing instrument in their cadet training for the navy. It's so simple, because the radio control tower sends out A and N [in Morse Code]—let's see, A and N. And A, I think, is dot-dash, and N, I think, is dash-dot. When together they're mmm, you know, just a beam. So there was nothing to show to them, and I—so we followed the beam and we came back to land. In the mean time, he, with his plane, was doing loops around us. When I—when we landed and I got out and he saw that I had been at the controls, he just about collapsed. So then he gave me this picture.

But the women flew the B-26s when they got out and towed targets. The men quit calling it the Widowmaker. That was one of the—I think the biggest service. One of the biggest services of the WASP was to diminish the fright that men had for flying and for these planes. And they flew every military plane that the military had.

So anyway, April seventh came. And the night before, one of my bay mates, Penny, said that she had just gone up for a check ride. She said, “They're afraid we're not strong enough, Teddy. So when you go into a spin, put the stick to the firewall.” Well, I'd never done that with a spin before, but I thought—

BC:

What did that mean?

MC:

The stick is your control. The firewall is like a dash [board].

BC:

Oh, okay.

MC:

And so I did. So I went into an inverted spin, and just before then the pilot said, “Is your belt fastened?” And I said, “Yes it is.” So, but the—our clothes were kind of big for us and the cuff unlocked the cufflink and so my belt was open. And I—when I hit the steel frame on the windshield, right here—

BC:

Oh no.

MC:

—and it was bleeding, and—on top of my head. I was seeing stars but I was out of the plane. I said, “Lord, I don't know where my ripcord is.” And I don't want to be like the cadet that couldn't find it and clawed his jacket to pieces. And my hand went on it right away, and the canopy filled up, and I waved at the instructor. He had righted the plane. And he went “Grrr” he was so mad. It was the most delicious feeling; just free in the air you know.

BC:

Oh my gosh.

MC:

Then I thought, “Oh my gosh, I don't know how to handle this thing. God, there's a book underneath my bunk at the bay by Assen Jordanoff called How to Fly [sic Flying and How to Do It!] and there's a chapter on parachutes. I can—.” And the book appeared to me. Nobody believes me. I've told this to the luncheon. They think I really got dinged.

BC:

[chuckles] In the head.

MC:

But I read that chapter and said, “Pull [unclear] line.” And it was just in time because there was a huge transformer line at the edge of the field, and I drifted back into the middle of a plowed field, a section of land, so that meant half a mile of being dragged by the parachute. Because when the Texas ground wind came up, they thought it was about thirty-eight, thirty-nine miles an hour.

BC:

Oh my gosh.

MC:

And I had got out of all my harnesses, because the book said “Flex your muscles, undo your harness as you approach the ground.” But I couldn't get the left one undone because the trail[?] lines were pulling by then—the canopy. I tried with all my heart and all my strength to collapse—get it, you know, so I could collapse it, but couldn't. So I just got bumped and bumped and bumped across this plowed field for, until, “Well, okay, there are barbed wire and brambles. It will stop.” And finally I got it. When I got there, a van drove up and it was packed full of guys, personnel from—They took me to Big Springs [Texas] for examination, because, you know, we didn't have a physician at Sweetwater, just, you know, a regular little infirmary. And Omar C. Latimore[?] is the doctor, and he's an osteopath. And he said, “I see dark spots here and there.” And he said, “You need to take medical leave.” But I didn't have a family. I didn't have any—

BC:

Right.

MC:

I didn't really have any money. Anyway, I thought, “Well, I can tough this out.” But injuries don't really show up at first. And it turned out my whole back, my spine, my bottom, and my lower back was—lumbar down was impacted and a kidney was torn loose.

BC:

Oh my goodness.

MC:

And kidneys twisted—I mean intestines twisted. But I didn't know why I kept getting sick. I couldn't hold my food down, and I got—I was getting weaker. And it was hard to, you know, to do anything. But I went down to basic in August, had the exit—check ride for [pause] to go into advanced. And it was a cross-country [flight.] We did—we went from Sweetwater and landed down at Abilene, I think it was, and then at Big Springs, and then back at Brownsville, and back to Sweetwater. And a few years ago one of my lost friends went to a reunion and got this from the newspaper and sent it to me. And I got a copy of it, and it describes [pause] what happened. That's for you. You can read it later.

BC:

Okay, thank you.

MC:

So anyway, Penny went on and married a colonel and had a bunch of kids. Cec[?], I think [unclear] went to Alaska and became a bush pilot.

BC:

And these are members of your class?

MC:

Yes, this is 43-W-5. And I think this is Little Jo Pitts. She wanted to fly B-37s and she did. And I can't really distinguish the faces too well, but I think this is Helena Detweiler, and she was a golf champion. And she said, “Teddy, do you think I should stay in, or if you think I've made a mistake coming here. I should be in the Opens.” And so I gave her a patriotic speech, and I said, “You'll be blessed for this.” And she was. When she got out she won quite a bit of money golfing, and she invested it in Idlewild [or Idyllwild, both in California] up here. It's sort of like an alpine community in the mountains. And she built a log fortress and a bunch of shopping centers. It's all that moochie. And then, I think this is Betty, and she got killed night flying. And this is myself, right there. I don't remember the others.

Anyway, I'm—one of the girls I liked was from another class. She was Betty Greene from Washington, and she went on to fly B-17s and so on. But as a test pilot, she had a very harrowing experience. The oxygen tank that tubed[?] to her for her breathing got tangled up or something. We don't know whether it was sabotage or not. But anyway, she did recover from it. [unclear] Landed—she got that straightened out and went on and flew and landed okay. But anyway, she and I used to stand and look at the flight line. I had a picture of that, of the planes lined up. And we'd say, “Why couldn't these be used to take the gospel to all the world?” You know. She and I were pretty passionate about that. And she—when she got out she's helped to start Mission Aviation Fellowship [MAF], and you know who they are.

BC:

No, I don't—

MC:

They're global, and they started with like a little office with an orange crate and a typewriter and a telephone and—[chuckles]. Then she went on down to fly and she blazed a trail for missionary stations: Ecuador, where that saint was martyred by the Indians, and then flew in Africa and blazed—blazed a trail for MAF over there. She's quite a wonderful person. She's dead now.

Some of the other girls that I met—one of them said, “Teddy, do you think I should have done this? My husband is a Pan Am pilot, and he said if I joined the WASP he'd divorce me. But he's in the service now,” And then she said, “But here I am.” And when she got lost cross-country and got washed out, she was really broken hearted. Lost her husband, lost her wings and chance to have her wings. And that was so sad. And then there was a beautiful blonde girl. Her husband was in Bataan [Philippines] in gliders and she just spent each day worrying about if he did get killed.

So there was a lot of heartache. A lot of WWII things messed up in all of this. But in general they were a pretty jolly group. And we used to sing parodies of the songs as we marched to class. I think this is Jo Pitts and this is the side[?] and this is the wishing well.

BC:

Is that in Sweetwater?

MC:

Yes. I went to the reunion at Portland [Oregon] last summer—last September, and we had a sing-a-long afterwards. [chuckles] Yankee Doodle Pilot, its page thirty-five. It was almost a hit—our anthem. [laughter]

BC:

So that was one of your favorites?

MC:

Well I don't sing, but I love to sing along. Let's see.

We are Yankee Doodle Pilots.

Yankee Doodle do or die.

Real live nieces of the Uncle Sam, born with a yearning to fly.

Keep in step to all our classes.

March to flight with [unclear].

Yankee Doodle came to Texas just to fly the PT.

We are those Yankee Doodle girls.

BC:

[chuckles] That's a great song.

MC:

There are a lot of others.

Zootsuits and parachutes and wings of silver too.

We'll fly airplanes like our daddy used to do.

You know, a lot of crazy stuff.

BC:

Well, can you tell me a little bit more about your training at Sweetwater?

MC:

Yes. As I told you, we did cross-country. And we had to do all the things you have to do for a private license, like fly pylon eights and eights around pylons and spins and rollovers and shutdowns[?]. Takeoff and landings were so many points. [chuckles] And then ground school and the Link trainer for instrument training and then there was night flying. [chuckles] Betty Greene said, “Was that you, Teddy, in that plane that I saw the goggles, bloody goggles hanging over the side of the cockpit?” she said. And that was when—she was in a later class—and she said first, “What am I in for?” [chuckles]

BC:

So were most of your instructors men, or were they—?

MC:

Yes, all of mine, except about the end of the time that I was there. In August there was a woman pilot, and she was harder on the girls than the men were. I don't—we all got along.

You couldn't date any of the officers or the instructors. That was off limits. But some of the girls did and got away with it, and a couple of them married I guess. They just pulled some funny things.

BC:

What was your social life like? What did you do?

MC:

Well, that's what I was telling you. The—and we were WASPs—these girls live up in Idlewild in a lodge. These pictures or illustrations are by Dorothy [“Dot”] Swain [Lewis], the artist that did the sculptures of Cochran and the WASPs.

But anyway, one day—the Texas—in this they tell about some of their escapades. I wasn't in on those. I was a little bit [pause] out of it. For one thing, some friends at Long Beach had given—one of the girls that I knew—wife of one of the pilots had given me a green wool suit with an oxford lapel. It was very beautiful. I wore that when I arrived on the train. I set the stage for kind of, you know—most of the girls didn't have very much money. We were riveters, like Rosie the Riveter, and they were—did CP[T], Civilian Pilot Training, to get in, to get hours and so on and so forth. And some of them were teachers like I was. [chuckles] Oh, I didn't—I wasn't about to give them my private life, you know. And I could tell that something had—a wall had kind of gone up. I regret wearing that suit. [chuckles]

But anyway, when I got hurt in April, on April 7, I was in the infirmary for a week. And they had a big peach can with the light bulb in it for heat, because it hurt on the side where my kidney was pulled. And they didn't know what they were doing and I didn't know. So anyway, they sedated me, too. It was awful. So I just blanked out for a week. And my class [noise on recording] [went on without me with their?] training—meant a lot. So they put me back into [43-W-]-6. So I lost contact with my own group. And then everybody was so busy and they were so right [noise on recording—unclear] was tuned into getting those wings.

BC:

Right.

MC:

And studying. We had a lot of ground school. And we didn't have much time to fool around. [chuckling] But they did fool around anyway. They played pranks on each other. One of the girls had a brother that came. She said, “He can't afford the hotel.” So they went together and they dressed him like a WASP and they—when he took a shower they sat outside. And they worked it all out. It was Christmas anyway—time. I wasn't there then, but I heard about it. And so they got away with it they thought. But when they got their wings, the administration said, “We knew, but it was Christmas and you were decent about it.”

But when I was there, one of the funny things that happened—Texas weather changes so fast, and they had a banner above the mess hall to tell us how to dress to come to meals. And then one signal meant full dress and another signal meant something else. So it changed so much that the girls [chuckles] were all different. Some came in bathing suits and some zootsuits and some dressed all up. [chuckles]

And then for a while, for entertainment on Saturday night, we had sort of a Saturday Night Live thing, you know, when they'd do different things. And I dressed, you know, gauzy stuff and did a belly dance. I couldn't do a belly dance. [chuckles] I had done interpretive dance in college, and I had started a little one-credit course when I was in teachers' college, and I had coached some girls there in choreography—it was kind of a new thing. But that was my contribution to social—[chuckles]

But, and we were—well, here's the book [We Were WASP], is so [unclear]. If you ever get a chance to get hold of it, you'll enjoy. Winifred Wood and Dot—do you want a copy?

Unidentified:

Excuse me. What happened to the album? You know the album that I made for you with all your pictures?

MC:

Oh, do you know which one it is?

Unidentified:

I went in your room but I couldn't find it. Because that would be really interesting. [multiple speakers] She was on TV. She was on Channel 7 here in San Diego. I took all of her pictures and I put them in a newer album.

BC:

Oh, that's great.

Unidentified:

And they were really pretty, but I didn't see them in her room. That's—that's a very interesting book.

MC:

Must be down in the garage, then.

Unidentified:

Yes, probably.

MC:

And my class book is gone, too.

Unidentified:

Would you like a cup of tea?

BC:

I'm fine, thank you.

MC:

So, oh, anyway, I don't remember the exact details, but it seemed they used to sneak out to somebody that hosted them in Sweetwater. And it was off limits, because they were drinking and they would play cards and all that. And I'm not—I don't know why cards would be off limits. But anyway, somebody came to it and said, “We want to know who's here,” and named off the names, you know. And they hid under beds and closets and everything. And then it turned out to be some of the other girls. [laughter]

But seventy demerits and you were out. So like making the bed just had to be absolutely smooth and military corners and everything. One of the girls made her bed once and then she slept on top of the blankets after that. She says, “It saves a lot of time.” [laughter] And then they would come in with the white gloves and see if there was any dust and everything. You stand there, “Oh, no. No demerits.” I think they must have laughed at us because you took it so seriously. Yet we were civil servants, but we had to live military lives. And we were promised that as soon as we got out wings we would be second lieutenants. It didn't happen until 1978, I think it was. The bill was signed by [President] Jimmy Carter. We had full veterans' privileges then.

A lot of the girls stayed in and became officers. And Betty Jean Williams—did you interview her?

BC:

No.

MC:

Oh, she's a big wheel in L.A. [Los Angeles, California]. She worked for Boeing and she was responsible for doing a lot of reunions [pause] and some videos and things, and did some videos for Boeing that you see sometimes, the military on the TV.

This is—I got this—invited to a reunion at Sweetwater now. This is the hanger. This is what our bays look like with our little desks to study. And this was [pause] somebody [unclear] at Sweetwater I guess.

BC:

This is an upcoming reunion?

MC:

Yes. This is a pretty good picture. [pause] These are some of the people that are getting the thing together [unclear].

BC:

So after your accident and they put you with the class behind you, were you able to continue with training?

MC:

Then I continued with—until I got to—I was going from basic to advanced, and I passed the test all right and so I was really kind of happy. And then the instructor wrote on “Can fly; not strong enough.” But then my heart was broken. But there were other girls that were washed out that could fly, too. But they—the thing was they had shown in some cases that they weren't strong enough for the bomb bay doors and everything, and the men had—they were kind of angry about—the men were kind of angry about women in flying anyway. So they kind of sent the word they wanted—they had to be strong. So I wasn't the only one, but it was everything in the world to me. [cries] Oh, well. I survived all that. I really wanted to get married and have kids, and I—so God has blessed me with a wonderful family.

BC:

So what did you do after—after that? You had to leave, then?

MC:

Well, I—Major Healey from [Army Air Forces] Flying Training Command headquarters said, “You know, I'm sorry to hear this, Teddy, but I'm going to have to—I need a—somebody to help me drive. I'm going to New York City, and I'm changing—I'm going to be there.”

In the meantime I said, “God, I can hardly walk. I can hardly do anything. Please get me to a big city where I can live in one block and go to a doctor in the next block and get a job in the next block.” Do you know God answered that prayer? But I couldn't—I—Major Healy let me start flying—driving. I really didn't have a driver's license then, either. [chuckles] But I could drive. But I couldn't because my back was sprained.

He said, “Well, you can't do this.”

And I said, “No.”

He was crushed. And, but he was also a talent agent, and he wanted—I had been asked before if I wanted to go into movies. When I was in Tucson I did a bit part in a rodeo scene for Glenn Ford directing there. And I said, “No, I want to fly.” Well anyway, because he was an agent, he knew some Hollywood women who had built the Allerton House for Women on Madison Avenue—no, Lexington Avenue in New York City, and he got me in there for thirty-five dollars a week. I could live there. And then I—got me settled there.

So then they said, “Well, there is a children's—a crippled children's specialist in the next block, Park Avenue.” And I went to him and he said, “Well, your vertebra are locked. They're—well, your—.” Then he said my whole back was sprained and it was impacted. He undid the top part but it was fifty dollars a treatment. And he said—and I couldn't afford it. I could get by with the impact.

And I went to the next block and there was—I don't know who told me—but there was a job open for Jordanoff Aviation Corporation in—Assen Jordanoff is the one who wrote the book How to Fly. But I didn't meet him, but the personnel officer said, “Well, you have college education and major in English and we need an editor. We'll just make an editor out of you.” So then I had—and then your experience was they taught me proofreading and editorial science at Flying Training Command headquarters. See how God works?

BC:

So it was all—

MC:

It's amazing.

BC:

—connected.

MC:

Amazing. So anyway, I worked for him, and one day somebody said—for that publication—one day somebody said, “Why don't you tell your story to Assen Jordanoff?” So I went upstairs to—he was up on the top of the Bernard Baruch building on Madison, and said, “Oh, well it's a good story.” He didn't really believe me. And so then I was sent—was a crew to somewhere in New York City. I've forgotten—not New York City—New York State, upstate. The names—the name of the city and the electronics company we were working with.

BC:

In Rochester?

MC:

No. It was a well known electronics company. Anyway, I worked for them and then that was finished and Jordanoff, the [unclear] were doing manners on radar. And anyway, no more publications; it was drawing towards the end. He went out of business, and I went to work for an advertising research foundation for a project. And they finished their project, and then I went to work for Time magazine. And who of all people would Joe[?]—I worked as a Girl Friday and here was Major Healey.

BC:

You're kidding.

MC:

Yes, but he had a different name. I can't think of the name now. So I worked with him, but I'd already gotten married and I was pregnant and I was taking the place of a girl who was on pregnancy leave. [chuckles] And I didn't show but when the fourth month I showed [unclear] Major Healey, he was very upset.

He said, “I wanted to keep you permanently.”

And I said, “But I promised this girl that I would only do it temporarily, anyway.”

He said, “Well, forget her,” you know.

And what I had to do there was pretty much the same thing as I did for Flying Training Command, because I was in—it was Life Time [sic Time Life] and Life [magazine] did the pictures. And then I did correspondence for different editors that were in. It was a big space right above the—I think they changed offices, but at that time it was right above Rockefeller Plaza, you know, you look down on the skating rink and everything. It was fun.

And I had a friend from Montana who was there. In fact, she was an actress. And we used to knock around together and everything. And then my husband was a bomber pilot from the Canadian Royal Air Force and he flew back and forth. But anyway, that marriage failed, and I went out to the west coast and worked for Columbia Steel.

[recording paused]

MC:

—which gave me veterans' status from March until down in August.

BC:

Of nineteen forty—

MC:

Forty-three. So in forty—at the end of '43 I was in New York City, and I was there until '47.

BC:

Forty-seven.

MC:

Well, let's see, eight years. I was there until '51.

BC:

Okay.

MC:

I—yes, I had my son—I had two children in New York City.

BC:

Do you—

MC:

And then came out to the West Coast and worked for Columbia Steel.

BC:

Do you recall where you were when the war ended?

MC:

I was in—at Time.

BC:

At Time.

MC:

And oh, it was a tremendous celebration everywhere.

BC:

What was it like in New York?

MC:

But the WASP—they disbanded the WASPs and I wasn't very happy about that.

Where was I?

BC:

I said what was New York like? Was there big celebrations?

MC:

Well, when I went there, not a lot of people were in the military. And a lot of other people had left because they were scared of invasion. So my friend and I walked everywhere freely. And then everything was beautiful. Not much money, but we ate at the automat and shared and [chuckles] got by.

But then when the war was over, they began flooding back, and people began pushing and shoving and it was totally different. It went from gentlemanly to mean, just horrible. And one day I was at Bloomingdale's [department store] and they were having a sale, and they had a kind of a bin with bras and I picked up a bra and somebody grabbed the bra out of my hand. And I thought, “I have never been anywhere with people that act like that.”

And then we moved out to Flushing [Queens, New York] and I used the train to come—the elevator to come back in, and the girls on that were pushing and shoving and they were kind of coarse and swearing and, “Who are you? Where did you come from? You don't talk like a New Yorker.” And I was—they treated me really badly. And I thought, “You know, I've had enough of this.”

And anyway, my marriage was broken up and I had a babysitter and it cost everything I had to pay her. I didn't have anything left. And I thought, “This is the end.” So I left and went back out—my father was married again and had a family, so I went out and joined them at Longview, Washington.

BC:

This is Washington State?

MC:

Went to work for the steel—Columbia Steel works as a Girl Friday, [chuckles] did blueprints and stuff. My dad had taught me how to do blueprints when I was a little girl, when we had—he had his construction company. So anyway, whatever happened, it seems like God always prepares you ahead of time to cope with whatever is ahead.

I think one of the funniest things in my life was when I was in—I went to Missoula [Montana] first before I went to Helena to get into flying there, but I couldn't. But I worked for a department store, and there was some lace, and I didn't have any money, and I lived in a bare room and slept on the floor because the lady let me have it for ten dollars a month. [chuckles] I didn't stay there that long. But I bought this gorgeous lace on sale at a discount and sat on the floor and cut out—and had a pattern—cut out a dress and sewed it by hand.

I had this beautiful lace dress when I was in New York City, and because these women were in show business, you could only stay in their hotel three—like they'd allow it so many months, and then you'd get into show business. Well they promoted me into—I was asked if I would be an understudy for Tallulah Bankhead in Dark Victory. [unclear] I said—I stood there and—Moss Hart [sic] wrote the play. He said, “Please, make up your mind.” And I was praying and something said no. So she said—“Well, she'd just upstage me anyway.”

But anyway, one of the women had a relative, a young man who was in show business, and he came and he asked me out for dates. And Moss Hart gave us tickets to see The Magic Flute. I had never been to an opera before, but we had a box seat. And I was tired; I really didn't eat very much. And I was wearing this gorgeous, very simple, lace dress. I was appropriately dressed. But then in [chuckles] in Magic Flute there's a scene where there's a fire, and I saw the fire and I said, “Fire.” You know? [laughs] Everybody laughed. But I was so [out of it?]. It took me a little while to come to, you know, to wake up and realize what I had done. [chuckles] It's one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Anyway, I went out of show business into—into these other things I told you about. Then when we were here—when my husband was in Seattle—and it rained, so I said, “God, please let us go to San Diego.” And we did and we stayed there and we bought a house. And every time he had a choice where—or he had to—I think they gave him four choices of where they wanted to go, [they] did their duty for four years in one place, or whatever time it was. And he would always put in for something around here, so he was able to stay in San Diego and raise the kids here.

BC:

Was he in the military?

MC:

Yes, he was a chief in the navy. And so—but he was we went to some reunions together. And also I started an exhibit in the [San Diego] Aerospace Museum for the WASP. But I got all the stuff together that I could, and I had a luncheon and so on, and then one day I went in and there was my stuff, nobody else's, but just my stuff in the cases. I said, “You can't do this.” He said, “Well get me some other material then.” So I was working on that. In the meantime, the girls blackballed me by doing the terrible thing, you know.

BC:

Oh, that's awful.

MC:

Well, I don't blame them. But I don't even think my name is on the roster. So there was a big—I'm not well-liked, believe me. But I got to know Betty Jean [“BJ”] Williams through the reunions, and she is a wheeler and dealer. At Portland she got the Bonnie Dunbar, the astronaut that has built spaceships, to be our main speaker at the banquet. And that was thrilling because Bonnie worked for Boeing and BJ did, too. BJ was a lieutenant colonel when she retired from the military finally. And I think she was a model before she went in. Very—these girls, some of them are really beautiful girls.

BC:

It's wonderful that you've stayed connected and continued to go to the WASP reunions.

MC:

Yes. My husband got along with them very well. He was a real talker. Jacqueline Cochran had a big barbeque for us at her ranch.

BC:

When was that?

MC:

Well, later years. My husband died in 1986. It was probably late 1970s or something. I had gone back to teaching. I taught on until after he died, and I quit for a little while, and went back for a little while. But the difference in teaching, in education, that was another heartbreak. But that was a wonderful time up there with Jackie. Oh, she's wonderful. Nobody—I don't know who else could have pulled off everything that she did. You know that's the whole story, don't you?

BC:

I do.

MC:

Do you have the book?

BC:

We do.

MC:

You have this Yankee Doodle Gals? That's the best one to give you the whole history of the WASPs.

BC:

Well, looking back at your time in the WASP, what was the hardest thing that you had to do physically?

MC:

Nothing physically.

BC:

Nothing.

MC:

We had [pause] we had calisthenics and marching to the classes. That was about it [chuckles] Nothing else. Nothing strenuous.

BC:

What about emotionally. What was the most difficult part?

MC:

Well the emotional thing was, “Get our wings!” you know, and nervousness about points. And the whole thing was centered on that.

BC:

Did you ever feel afraid or that you might get hurt?

MC:

Well, in her book, Betty Greene said she was when she—But no, no, because most of the girls had—you know, they were already pilots when they came in. Whatever fears they had they were already—all they were afraid of was washing out. That was the big fear.

BC:

Did you have any heroes or heroines during that time?

MC:

The people that I really looked up to?

BC:

Yes.

MC:

Amelia Earhart—jealous of her. [chuckles] We all were a little bit, I guess. Why couldn't we be there first? There was a real gung-ho attitude all the way through, I think, about flying, really wanting to fly. And this is another thing; we almost forgot that we were helping out in the war because of our exuberance of getting to fly these planes for free! Getting paid for it! [chuckles]

BC:

Right.

MC:

That was a big gift from the Lord. We weren't very religious. I didn't go to any church. But I think most of them did have kind of a religious streak of some kind. Amelia Earhart's poem [“Courage”]:

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.

The soul that know it not, know no release

From little things.

And that was sort of our motto.

BC:

How did your parents feel about your flying?

MC:

I didn't have any parents myself. I raised myself almost, except for a wonderful grandmother right after my parents separated. For a couple years I had—she was a marvelous, marvelous woman. Oh, she was great. But my dad married again and I never—they didn't raise me, but they did let me come live with my kids.

BC:

Did he ever say anything about your flying or being a part of the WASP? Was he aware that you were doing that?

MC:

No, I sent my dad a picture that was in the paper of the girls at ground school. And he thought that was—he didn't think I was flying. He thought that I was just there for ground school, was going to be a mechanic.

BC:

[chuckles] Little did he know.

MC:

The family didn't know and I guess I could care less.

BC:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

MC:

Yes. In fact, when I was a little girl, my uncle said, “She'll never marry. She's too independent.”

BC:

What do you think was the greatest impact of your being in the WASP.

MC:

The joy of getting to fly those planes. [chuckles]

BC:

And what did you love about flying? Was there something—?

MC:

Defying gravity. Getting out there and the freedom of it. I've written a poem called “Flight” that expresses that, but I don't think you want to hear that. It's the freedom.

Of course, now freedom is in Christ, and they're taking that away from us right and left, and that was what my prayers and my voting and everything to try to preserve our freedoms now. Right now they're trying to pass a thought control bill. You cannot speak out against sin in any way. How can you discipline? How can you have morality? How can you do that, if this—if the sinless side is going to take over and they're in the minority?

But the freedom of flying—flying is just something. And I think that's ingrained in everybody, every pilot, is that your spirit—your spirit's own body, but your spirit gets to exercise. [chuckles]

BC:

Did you consider yourself a pioneer when you entered the WASP and began flying?

MC:

No, I didn't think about that at all. I don't think any of the girls did. We didn't think about it. We were just so grateful to Jacqueline Cochran for this wonderful, wonderful gift.

BC:

Well, I don't have any more formal questions for you. Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you'd like to tell me about?

MC:

When I was four-years-old—or three, three-years-old, I used to hear the telephone wires singing outside, because then in those days it was just a light pole for electricity and the wires would come right quite close to your house. They do now but they're invisible. [chuckles]

And my mother had taught me “Now you lay me—now I lay me down to sleep.” And I didn't know what in the world “If I should die before I wake,” what is that all about? My mother was agnostic and she couldn't tell me. She died saved. She died born again and everything, but at that time she couldn't—she said—I heard her tell me dad, “I can't answer her questions.”

But I met a little girl who was in the fourth grade. She was my good buddy. And they had studied gravity and stuff in school and they said, “Well, that sound could be some pilots, you know, flying around caught between the moon and earth in gravity—the gravity of the earth and the gravity of the moon or something; they're just going around and around.” So yes, we settled for that. We thought that was—they're probably skeletons up there now. But this—then is when I saw the plane and I wanted to fly. My dad said, “You want to be killed.” So my dad and I were not kindred souls at that point, from then on.

But she was born again. And I had little coveralls at that time because I couldn't—my mother would make me beautiful dresses, but I couldn't keep them clean, and so she put me in coveralls. And we were sitting on this grassy bank behind the school house across the street and water was trickling. I can remember the scene. And she told me about Jesus. And I took Jesus in my heart and I knew he was my friend. And I knew that anything I wanted, whatever answers I had were in him. And he has been my [unclear] or my copilot to him all my life.

BC:

Well thank you so much for talking with us—with me this morning. It's really been a pleasure.

MC:

Well it's been a jumbled mess the way I've presented it to you. But anyway, I do have these—

[End of interview]