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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Rosetta Elliot McMahon, 2007

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Object ID: WV0393.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Rosetta Elliot McMahon’s service in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 to 1944.

Summary:

McMahon briefly discusses her family, her hometown in West Virginia, working in defense production at the Continental Can Company, and the attack on Pearl Harbor. She gives her reasons for enlisting in the WAVES; notes her family's pride; mentions her mother’s visits to her at basic training; and the homesickness of celebrating Christmas on base. Other topics from basic training include: learning to march, storekeeper classes, and semaphore.

Topics from McMahon's service in Washington, D.C. include: living in an apartment; a typical workday schedule; dining out; typing; and social activities. She discusses Amelia Earhart, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, and some of her favorite music from the WWII era. Other topics include adjusting to civilian life, getting married, being an air force wife, her paying jobs, and her volunteer work.

Creator: Rosetta Elliot McMahon

Biographical Info: Rosetta Elliot McMahon (b. 1920) of McMechen, West Virginia, served as a typist in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 to 1944.

Collection: Rosetta McMahon 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:

Today is Tuesday, April 17, 2007, and this is Kim Adkins speaking. I'm in the home of Mrs. Rosetta McMahon in High Point, North Carolina. Thank you Rosetta for agreeing to speak with me.

Rosetta McMahon:

It's a pleasure to have you here.

KA:

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

RM:

I worked in a defense plant in Wheeling, West Virginia. Actually, it was a Continental Can [Company] and they converted to defense weapons. When they did that, I saw an ad to join the navy in a magazine at those times was called Liberty, and I sent it in, the application. Two weeks later I had a ticket to Richmond, Virginia, to enlist in the navy, and from there I went to—you want all this?

KA:

Yes.

RM:

I went to Indiana University for—to learn how to march the right way, and my specialist training was—actually it was bookkeeping; they called us storekeepers. And we graduated from there in February. That was from October to February, and we learned to march, to eat in mess halls, but luckily we didn't have mess food.

From there I went to Washington, D.C., and was working at the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts. We had apartments there that we lived in, and six of us shared the same apartment, which I have the greatest friends, and what else can I tell you? The duty was a lot of typing, a lot of typing. They were temporary buildings along the reflection pool down in Washington; that's where we were. And one day we went out for lunch and we were out walking, and I saw President Roosevelt put a wreath on the Lincoln Memorial, because it was right beside the memorial. And we were invited to the White House for tea with Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt, but something happened. I didn't get to go, but—

And I knew my husband before I ever went in the service. We were teenagers. We danced at the same place, although he was from Ohio and I was West Virginia. He spent many hours on the river, on the other side of the Ohio River I should say. And he was in Jacksonville [Florida], and we went to a movie and he heard my hometown mentioned, and he turned around and it was my cousin who gave him my address. And one thing led to another, and the next thing you know I'm down in Jacksonville, Florida, getting married. But that was several letters later.

And then after I got married and was—then when the war ended, I went back home and I had children. My husband got out of the navy for two years but went back in the air force and stayed for thirty years, which I traveled with him all over this country. And I guess that's about the most of it. We retired down in Florida, and I lived down there for thirty-some years, and then he passed away. Then I sold my house, and I'm now living here in High Point, where I've been for two years and get lost every time I leave the house.

KA:

Well, when and where were you born?

RM:

McMechen, West Virginia, in September 1920, a very small town. We had about two thousand to three thousand people in it, but everybody knew everybody else, and who we didn't know you were related to them anyway. [laughs] I went to grade school there. I went to high school there. I graduated from high school in 1938.

And when I was in high school, I was voted the most athletic girl in my senior class. I loved sports. I really did. And what I couldn't play, I was a spectator, like when I was in Florida you couldn't beat the [Tampa Bay] Buccaneers. [laughs] Oh, my parents lived—they were both—my dad was ninety-one. My mom was eighty-nine. My grandmother lived to be ninety-seven. We are just long, as I say, long livers. So, a strange word. I had three sons and one daughter, and her I have a hard time talking about. And I have six grandkids and five great-grandkids, and they are all great kids. I shouldn't have mentioned her. I have a hard time with that. [crying] It's been—it's been what? It's been, it will be four years, but she was only fifty. So, life goes on.

It's about the most I can think about that I've ever done. I love to travel. I get in my car and I drive from here to Florida to Tennessee to West Virginia, and everybody says, “What are you doing out there?” If I don't go somewhere, I'm going shopping. [laughs] Like I said, I live with my oldest son, who is a bachelor. I didn't do anything really exciting or historical other than enlist in the navy, which was one of the best things I ever did.

And I—every two years, our national organization has a convention which I haven't missed any since 1988. So, I have been to Hershey, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, [Wisconsin]; Cleveland, [Ohio]; Hawaii; Portland, [Oregon]; California; Philadelphia, [Pennsylvania]. Last year we went on a cruise which was fantastic, and next year we are going to San Diego, [California] for our connection. So, I look forward to that. When I go to these conventions I always tell my friends, “I'll see you if I can get on and off the bus.” But I tell you, those bus steps are getting higher every year. [laughs] But I plan on going if I'm able.

And my grandchildren, well, they haven't done anything earth shattering, but they are great kids. And my three sons, one that I live with works for a bank, and one in Tallahassee [Florida] works for the Department of Juvenile Justice, and my son in Tennessee is a hardworking bulldozer driver. They're just great boys. And it's like I say, I still go back to the hills of West Virginia for family reunion every year. I wouldn't miss it.

KA:

What was the name of the high school you graduated from?

RM:

Union, Union High School. It was in Benwood, West Virginia, which was you went by bus, like the city limits separated the towns. It wasn't a long distance, but we usually walked to and from, two miles. Two miles to—unless we had bad weather. Then we rode street cars, not buses. When I was in school, street cars.

KA:

What were you parents' names?

RM:

My dad's name was Luther [Elliot]. My mom's name was Olive [Logstone Elliot]. Her maiden name was Logstone, and it was spelled L-o-g-s-t-o-n-e, where some of [them] spell it t-o-n, but they're still related.

KA:

And what did they do for a living?

RM:

My mom was just a mom, but my dad was an engineer on the B&O [Baltimore and Ohio] Railroad all his life. He loved trains, and he gardened, and we worked in the garden. We swam. As kids we swam in the Ohio River, and couldn't go to the river swimming unless you did work in the garden that morning. In the afternoon you were allowed to go swimming. And I lived near my grandparents. Their last name was Logstone, and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I just liked it where they lived. But you know raising bees, raising everything, my Grandpap had it. That was many, many years ago.

KA:

Do you have any siblings?

RM:

I have a sister. Her name is Gladys. She lives—four years older than me; she will be ninety-one. And I have a brother who is getting ready to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary, which I plan on attending down in Florida. He's nine years younger than me, and he has two great children. One of them is a doctor, and the other is a theater director. My sister, she had three daughters, and umpteen, umpteen grandkids. I don't know how many.

KA:

Did you like school when you went through school?

RM:

Yes, I did. I really did. I struggled a little bit when it came to English class, when it came to writing novels, which is strange because I love to write now. I write when I go on trips. I write about them, and in fact I had a little article put in the local—national magazine back. I don't know if you've ever heard of the Reminisce magazine or not, but it's for people like me, and I've written an article. They wanted me to write about one of your favorite songs, which I wrote about. And they printed it, and they sent me a copy. And then I wrote to the local newspaper last year when I was coming back and got lost, and they wanted to know an act of kindness someone had done for you. So, I wrote about this young lady, that I was totally lost, and she helped me get back to where I belong. [laughs] But I do like to write, and I still write. Like I said, I write in this book about all my trips that I take, and I just came back from Tucson, Arizona. I go to Tucson, Arizona, every year. I have a cousin who is the same age as me, and we sit and talk about family. It's an annual thing, an annual thing to go to West Virginia for family, that family reunion, but I'd sure like to go back to Florida. If I win this North [Carolina] lottery, I'm going. [laughs]

KA:

Did you have a favorite subject in school?

RM:

I would say English, although I had a little problem with it, but I would say English. In the lower grades I liked spelling, but in high school it was English. Math was my downfall. [laughs] It was. I had a rough time with math, but then everybody has problems with some subject more or less in school, and mine was math, but I do keep my bank account balanced, so that's all that counts, right? [laughs]

KA:

Did you ever attend college?

RM:

No, I didn't. My close to college was I worked in the tea room at the local college where all the—not all of them, but some of them that I went to high school with, they attended college. I served them dinner, but it was one of those things. My family couldn't afford college. I never even thought about college actually, but that's what I did until I took the job in the Continental Can Company. And then, of course, the war came along and started defense work, and that's when I enlisted. I thought, “I'm going.”

KA:

What kind of defense work was the plant doing?

RM:

They were making what they called canisters to be put in a bomb, and then when the bomb exploded, things were like shrapnel, I guess. It was a hot, sweaty job, and you had to weld the canisters together. Like I said, when I had done that and I saw the ad for enlisting in the navy, I thought, “That's it. I'm going to send this in,” and I did. And after I sent it in, two weeks later I was holding my hand up saying, “I will,” or “I do” or whatever I said. [laughs]

KA:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

RM:

Yes, I do, and I had a guilty conscious for a long time. I was at home, which was Sunday, but I always went to church, but my mother—grandmother always said, “It's a sin to sew on Sunday,” but I was sewing a brown velvet skirt. And I said, “I felt guilty about the war because I was sewing on Sunday,” but that's where I was when I heard about Pearl Harbor. And, of course, I had an uncle killed at eighteen in World War Two—One, and so my Grandma and I were very close people. She about had a fit when she found out I enlisted. I think she thought I was never coming back, because that's where her mind went, and I can understand that, too. I can now. Then I couldn't, but I can now. So she was a great grandma. So were my parents. My dad was very, very strict, yes, but my mom, she was a pushover.

KA:

Why did you decide to join the navy?

RM:

Just all I can say is patriotism, just patriotism, because the town was into civil defense. I was into that, and blackouts, you know, they turn all the lights in the city went out, and it was just eerie how quiet it was. Even though it was just a little town, you could just see the sense all over the place. I mean my hometown was about three thousand. So, you know, it was little, but just patriotism, and being like I said, having—my grandmother, she'd be referring to the son she lost in World War I to me. All my life I've had heard about it, and I think that had a lot to do with it.

Of course, as a little girl my mom took what they called allocution. I guess now they call it public speaking, but my mother—I learned In Flanders Field, and my sister learned America's Answer, and we dressed up like I'm a poppy, she's a Statue of Liberty, every Memorial Day, Veterans Day, you name it, my mom volunteered us to say our little poems with—I guess you see I talk with my hands anyhow. When I was a kid I took allocution. You talk with your hands, and I'd say, In Flanders Field, and my sister would say, the America's Answer. Veterans Day, Armistice Day, there was the two Elliot girls up out there in the middle of the school yard, the cemetery, wherever mom said we went, we went till my sister at thirteen said—I can see why. She said, “That's it. I'm not doing it no more.” Of course I'm four years younger, and that didn't make any difference to me. That is—that was just patriotism always just very much pushed in our [unclear] little town. We had parades. Wasn't much of it, but we had parades for the patriotic—patriotic days I guess you would call them.

KA:

But why specifically the navy instead of say the army?

RM:

Well, I always told everybody because I liked navy blue better than khaki. [laughs]

KA:

When did you enter the service?

RM:

October 2, 1942.

KA:

When were you discharged?

RM:

I was discharged before the war was over because I got pregnant. So March 4, 1944, and my son was born September 1944.

KA:

So you said a little bit already about your grandmother not being happy with you joining. How did your other family feel about you enlisting?

RM:

Oh, you would have thought I was General [Dwight] Eisenhower. They thought it was something. Very proud, very proud. My dad, he strutted, and my mom, she didn't say much, she was always there, and she also came to Indiana University when we graduated and had the big to do out there when you left training school and got your job, but she came. Like I said, my dad was a railroader, and my mom could travel by train, and so she came out there and to Indiana, and then she also came to see me in Washington, D.C., when I was stationed down there. But that wasn't—that was normal for my mother. She was a traveler. I inherited it. I like to travel, too, except I fly.

KA:

How did your friends feel about you joining?

RM:

Well, I had one friend that had already joined the WACs [Women's Army Corps], and the other one—I don't know. She just—she just wasn't that kind of person. The other ones—most of my friends when I went to high school, they were married, and I just never got married. I had a steady boyfriend who was drafted. I think that surprised him because he was drafted, and the next letter he got from me after he got to where he was going [said] I was in the navy. I had no intentions of it when he left, but it was just those things happen, and, of course, that romance went also.

KA:

When you joined, was this first time you had ever been far from home for a long period of time?

RM:

Yes, it was. Yes, it was. I went in October—November. Thanksgiving wasn't too bad because it was all new, but Christmastime was when I was really homesick, really homesick. But sometime during that week a box—everybody got crumbled cookies, because they didn't know how to pack them then. Now they do, but I got a box of crumbled cookies for Christmas that year, and I was very homesick that Christmas. That was 1942, and Bing Crosby was singing, I'll be Home for Christmas, and the whole nine yards. We need this like we need a hole in the head, but we got over it. Everybody felt that way at Christmastime I think, all six hundred of us. There was six hundred of us reported to Indiana University at the same time. That was—that was an experience.

KA:

So, you sent in your application that you found in a magazine, right?

RM:

Yes.

KA:

And then you were sworn in Richmond, Virginia?

RM:

Yes.

KA:

What do you remember about your first day in the military?

RM:

Very confusing, very confusing. And, of course, very—you learned you better obey the rules, you know? That's it. Speak when spoken to, and just trying to keep it down. Yes. We were standing—there were six hundred of us in what they call quad, and the commanding officer was up here and she's telling us what to expect, and we could hear music coming from somewhere which was drowning her out, and some chief goes in that dormitory and pokes some sailor's radio. I don't know why he was playing it so loud, but maybe he didn't like the idea of women in the navy, but he lost his radio that day. Yes, those were such good days. That's where we learned to march. We marched to and from class. We had a typing class, and we had—I don't remember what they were called, but we learned how to take care of books and stock and all that stuff, and, of course, I ended up as a typist in Washington.

All that stuff I learned in training school I had learned in high school, and I got done at my duty because I learned to type in high school. I didn't—but some of the girls got to do what they were trained for. I guess I was just lucky to be in Washington. It wasn't bad duty. It was pretty crowded, and you had to wait to get in the movie, and you had to wait to get in the theater, restaurants, but the thing is being in uniform, they always took the uniformed ladies in front of everybody. “You back there, come to the head of the line.” So it had its many, many good points.

KA:

And you said your basic training took place at Indiana University, correct?

RM:

Yes.

KA:

And what kind of training did you do there?

RM:

The basic was learn to march and learn semaphore. Semaphore is like signals with your hands. We didn't have the flags, but we used our arms and learn semaphore for that, and in our case we had typing and march. Out in the field we marched. We marched everywhere. That's about the hard—and, of course, the typing I understood, and I can't remember what they called the subjects that we learned. Everything like gloves or boots they all had a number, and you had to remember that. I completely forgot what that was all about, but that way somebody come in said, “They needed this and that,” you'd just look under, but that has all—all gone, so. [laughs]

KA:

And where were you stationed after basic training?

RM:

Washington, D.C. I lived one block above the White House. I didn't have to go to barracks because, like I said, we were the first to go there. Later they had barracks for the girls, but we lived in apartment, and I shared an apartment with six other girls. Yes, it was great. It was great.

KA:

Is that where you stayed until you were discharged?

RM:

Yes.

KA:

What was your official job title while in the service?

RM:

You went by rank, I guess. I was just storekeeper second class, and that's what we came out of the—we came out of the school [as] storekeeper third class. You get promoted, which you probably know, and that was my job, because like I said, I ended up as a typist, but such is life.

KA:

What was a typical day like for you?

RM:

Well, we'd get up at six o'clock. We'd get ready, and we'd go to breakfast which you normally—we stopped at the cafeteria in the Department of Interior on our way to the Navy Department, and we had to report by eight o'clock, and we were done at 4:00 [p.m.]. We walked back to our—and we were free in the evening to do whatever we wanted. We were paid—where I live, see, we didn't have what they call mess halls. We were paid extra money for the months for our meals so we went out to eat. When we were very hungry we would go to a real nice restaurant. Most—a lot of times it was just snacks and watch your waistline. And for fun we used to go to the department store and try on hats because we knew we couldn't buy them. So, we would just sit there and try on hats.

KA:

What was the highest rank you achieved?

RM:

Petty officer, second class. That's just two little chevrons on your arm. That picture has only got one chevron. I—I'm going to interrupt and I'm going to show you my uniform.

KA:

Oh.

RM:

In fact I've got them both here. I think if you breathe on them they'll fall apart. That's my uniform, and we called them—we called those crows. So, that's what they call second class petty officer, two stripes. And we wore these shirts, and this one had a light blue silk tie that went with it. This had a white shirt with black tie, and I tried to get in this one time, and I heard a rip, and I thought I better put it back. Yes, a little decrepit. I got that out just for you. It's kept in a garment bag for posterity.

KA:

Did you ever win any awards or commendations?

RM:

No, other than the Good Conduct Medal, but that goes with behaving yourself, and the American Theatre award. That's what I got. I don't know. I got three—I don't even know. They're right here, the reason I can tell you what they are. Yes, American Theater award and Victory Medal, that's what they are. That would probably fall apart, too, if you took [unclear]

KA:

Did you enjoy the work you did while in the military?

RM:

I surely did. I did. I—well, I like to type as you can tell. I do a lot of it, and I didn't mind working in the office at all. It was great. A lot of them did a lot more things than I did. Like one of my best friends, she worked on aircraft on a flight line which was great, but I didn't mind doing office work. I enjoyed the office work. Of course, she always says she didn't have to worry as much about uniforms as I did because she wore fatigues. I said, “Oh, well, to each his own.”

KA:

Did you work with a lot of other men?

RM:

Not too many. Not too many, because that's what they say, we relieved a man to report to sea duty, and I guess I took some guy's job at that desk, and he took that sea duty.

KA:

Well, the men you did work with, how did they treat you?

RM:

I couldn't ask for any better. I couldn't. Some of them, I guess, had a little problem. I never did.

KA:

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

RM:

I can't remember anything that was hard for me to do. I really don't. No, I can't think of anything that was difficult. I really don't, not a thing. Not one thing.

KA:

What about emotionally? What was the hardest thing?

RM:

The hardest thing was, like I said, my first Christmas away from home, and, yes, that was the hardest. Bing Crosby's I'll be Home for Christmas made me cry all the time. [laughs] And then when you get crushed cookies in the mail. But you know that was the hardest. Christmas always was. And then, of course, that was the first Christmas. The second Christmas I was in Washington, and I was a year in, and I was used to it, so the first one was really bad.

KA:

Were you ever afraid or in personal danger?

RM:

No.

KA:

What did you do for fun?

RM:

Danced. I went to the USO [United Service Organizations] dancing, and then we went bicycling. I can't remember the park. There we could go rent a bike and bike around the park. There was an amusement park near Washington called Glen Echo Park, and we would go there and they have rides. That's what it was, an amusement park. And of course we went night clubbing. Everybody went night clubbing. I met a sailor there, and we had a fun together. We used to meet at the USO on weekends when he was free. He was out in Maryland somewhere learning his job, whatever it was. It was kind of secret. I don't know what he was doing, but it was just a weekend—just a friendship was what that was.

KA:

Did you ever go to movies?

RM:

Yes, because we could get in free. [laughs] We went to a lot of movies, and there was always some extra—somebody on stage, you know. Lucille Ball, I saw her and Bob Hope. They were, I guess, they were just in town, and they would come out on stage before the movie started. And of course we lived just about a block and a half from the USO, and we would go there.

KA:

Did you go out on dates?

RM:

Every chance I got. [laughs] Yes, I did. Yes, I did, and a lot of movies, and made sure we saw every monument—I saw the Supreme Court at three o'clock in the morning. Isn't that awful? We had been to a party, and we walked everywhere. We didn't get a cab, and we walked by there, and we climbed up these steps. You've seen the pictures of. And we climbed up there, and we're standing there. It's very quiet.

And I'm saying, “Do you realize the history that's made in this building?”

And all of a sudden there's a voice, a deep voice, “You don't belong up here.”

Needless to say, we got out of there in a hurry, but we were just looking, you know? That was a startling thing. We didn't even hear him coming, and he said, “What are you doing up here? You don't belong up here.”

KA:

Did you ever think about making the navy a career?

RM:

No, because, see, when the war was over, they said thanks, but no thanks. They sent us home, even the girls that was in till the war was over. Of course, I came home before. It was earlier. But the ones that there were, they said, “Thanks, we appreciate it, but goodbye.”

KA:

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

RM:

Very patriotic. You didn't hear anybody marching, protesting against what we were doing. Never heard of anything like that. It's amazing what I hear today, and what I heard in the past. Like I said, my husband was thirty-year military man, and he had a lot of many good things when he was going through. He's—I think his eyes were red, white, and blue. [laughs] He was very patriotic man, and you used to—that was it. That was it.

KA:

Who were your heroes or heroines of those days?

RM:

Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart, and she disappeared. I wanted to be a stewardess, but back then they said you had to be a nurse or something to do with nursing, which that wasn't my thing at all, but, yes, Amelia Earhart. And, of course, I had my favorite movie star, too. As far as the movie stars were just roles I've seen them play in the movie, I'm sure. But she had done something that I admire, yes, and I wonder where she is. I wonder what happened to her. So many things. I feel there's a lot I'd rather do, but her plane crash, she was captured by the Japanese I have a feeling, yes.

And who was the lady who swam the English Channel? Gertrude Ederle. I admired her because swimming was my thing. I swam over the river and back. The Ohio River base you didn't. Yes, I did. I mean it's over a mile, but I could swim that far. Me and my friend did it all the time. We were swimming over there.

I can't think of anybody else. Of course, my high school teacher. I had one high school teacher that I appreciated. She made sure I did my English work. [laughs] She was a very nice person, and she's the only—my only teacher that wrote to me when I was in the navy and my mom. Yes, my mom. My mom taught me to—my grandma taught me to go to church: go, go, go. My mother taught me to get involved. She was in everything. So, in my life I have been as a Girl Scout leader for at least twenty years; a Red Cross volunteer for at least twenty years, maybe more; and I belong to the NCO Wives Club, for non-commissioned officers. So—and I was involved in that up till my ears for entertainment chairman all the time and vice president, etc., etc. And then the women of the navy unit—actually I started the one in Florida. So, I'm involved with that. I belong to the one here in High Point—no, Greensboro. But they don't do anything. [laughs] Too bad, but it's just the way it is, I think.

KA:

What was that high school teacher's name?

RM:

Fahrion, F-a-h-r-i-o-n, Mrs. Fahrion. She was such a great lady. I had strange names for my school teachers. My cooking teacher was Ms. Kittle, and my English teacher was Ms. Slipner. Pretty strange names, and it's strange that they even come to me at this age. I can't even remember what I do from one minute to the next, but I can remember my school teachers' names.

KA:

What did you think of [President] Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt?

RM:

I think they were great, great for this country. Mr. Roosevelt with his—I wonder what I want to say—his being in a wheelchair. And, of course, Eleanor, she was just everywhere in Washington. She was just everywhere, and she was such a gracious lady. She wasn't the handsomest lady, but she certainly was a gracious and giving and just a wonderful lady. Yes, I remember seeing her once when I was in Washington. Like I said, I saw [the] president but one time that close at the Lincoln Memorial laying a wreath. That was—yes, he was a great man. In fact my mother was such a great politician that she became a delegate for the Democrats and ended up at the—she went to the President's Ball for [the] inaugural for President Roosevelt. Like I said, when she got into anything she got into it, yes. I got an invitation to President [Bill] Clinton's inauguration, but I never—didn't get to go. I was in Florida then. But, yes, you got to get out there and make a name for yourself if you want to get invited to these things. They say, “Well, let's invite this one,” or else they draw straws and say, “Let's invite that one.” I don't know how they do it. [laughs]

KA:

What was your opinion of President [Harry] Truman?

RM:

Good old Harry. I admired him for what he did by recalling General [Douglas] MacArthur. He did it, and I guess it had to be done. He stood by while he had preached. He practiced what he preached, and he was just a feisty old man, but I liked Harry Truman. Yes, as you can tell, I'm a Democrat. [laughs] Born and raised. I think I got Democrat blood in my veins from my parents, but, yes, I liked Harry Truman.

KA:

Do you have any favorite songs from the World War II era?

KA:

The World War II—I don't think the song that I like is from World War II. Is that the one I wrote about? I don't think so. The one I like actually is, I'll be Home for Christmas, and every time I heard I cried [laughs]. But I like that song, I'll be home for Christmas. Yes, how many times I cried over that one.

But of course, I did a lot of jitterbugging. I like to dance. I would rather dance than eat, as everybody knows. I danced. Glenn Miller's music. Oh. Glenn Miller, he was something else. Yes, I love that music. In fact down Tampa there's a radio station that plays all that kind of music, and I have channel flipped it or flipped up here my channel but try to find something like that. All I can hear is country-western. Well, where I came from in Wheeling, they had what they called The Wheeling Jamboree. It was—everything was country-western. I mean all the big stars, Glenn Campbell, all of them came there then. Not any more, but they did. I never loved country-western, but it was the thing. I don't know why. I wasn't much for that, but there was an awful lot—well, my dad, he played with a group. They called them the WWVA Mountaineers, I think—well, that's my dad with a banjo and my mom and, yes, but I wasn't much for country-western music. I just liked all the swing stuff: Benny Goodman, like I said, Glenn Miller. So many, so many songs I danced to. Every once in awhile throw a polka in that. [laughs]

KA:

Do you have any favorite movies from that time?

RM:

None in particular. I don't think so that I can say, “Boy, I like that movie,” because every time I see one on television, “Boy, I like that movie.” Anything then that Spencer Tracey was in I thought that was—and Robert Taylor, and who was Meryl—Clark Gable, of course. But Robert Taylor was my favorite star, I think, back then. God he was handsome. [laughs] But I can't think of any shows that stick in my mind that I would say, “Boy, I like that show. It's one of the best I ever saw.” Gone with the Wind was before the war. So, that was one of my favorite shows, but that was before the war.

KA:

Where were you when you heard about VE [Victory in Europe] Day, which was May 8, 1945?

RM:

Well, I was back home then. I was discharged, and back home in McMechen, West Virginia. So, we get this truck and we load a piano on it, and my brother played drums. He had a set of drums, and we all got on that truck and drove to town playing Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition [laughs] all the way through town and back. That's how we celebrated victory. VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, I guess it was.

KA:

Well, VJ Day was in August.

RM:

Yeah, that's the day. You said Victory in Europe?

KA:

Yes.

RM:

Well, we didn't celebrate that as much because we realized we had Japan to go. There was relief, of course, but everybody was waiting for VJ Day to finally happen. Those were the days when all the kids like my kid brother collected aluminum, collected this, collected that. That was quite something. Changed my whole life that's for sure. I just decided the town was too small, and then my husband and I decided—well, he decided he's going to reenlist. So, he did. From then on it was one place after the other. [laughs] Really something.

KA:

Did you ever work outside the home after you left the military?

RM:

Yes, I worked at Amarillo Air Force Base [Texas] as a typist when we lived in Amarillo, and then up in Niagara Falls I worked in a daycare. Daycare, yes, daycare center. I guess they called it daycare, yes, and just the little ones. But when I worked in Texas it was every day. The daycare was like two or three days a week.

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

RM:

And I also became a Red Cross volunteer.

KA:

So, you never returned to actual work after—

RM:

No.

KA:

After Texas?

RM:

Not to be paid, no ma'am.

KA:

But you did volunteer work with the Red Cross then?

RM:

And I was a Girl Scout leader for many years, and then I also—it was all volunteer, volunteer. I volunteered for thirteen to fourteen years. In my picture up there, I volunteered [at] MacDill Air Force Base [Florida] visitor's center. I think they got thirteen on there. I had another—anyhow, that's what I did, volunteer.

KA:

So after you left the military, did you feel like you had to return to a traditional female role?

RM:

No, not really. No, because I felt that anything they offered me I could do. Yes, that was my problem. I was a very independent person, I really was. And if I was—when people ask an opinion, if they ask me for an opinion, I got it, you know? Maybe sometime they didn't like what they heard, but that's me. That's me. Can't help it. Born in me.

KA:

Was readjusting to civilian life easy for you?

RM:

Yes, it was. Yes, it was.

KA:

Why do you think that was?

RM:

Well, I think that's because I was from a small town, and the town didn't change. They were still very patriotic, but the change didn't change. Everything was the same: the stores, the schools, the church, and the people. And, of course, they all—like I said, it was just like going—I went back home. That was it. Just a little town that never changed. It still hasn't changed. It's still—you hold your breath, you're through it. Now, it's so small. It keeps getting smaller and smaller. The highways have passed it. See, before the main street through but not no more. They bypass it, but it's still there.

KA:

Do you think being in the military helped you become a more independent person?

RM:

I don't know about that. Everybody told me I was born and raised that way, that I really don't think it did. I was just very independent anyway. That was just me. No, that was just me. My sister, she got married and moved out. She was married at eighteen. So at fourteen I am the only one beside my kid brother, and I just developed, “Take care of yourself.” So, that was me. Took care of my kid brother, but he didn't turn out bad. [laughs]

Yes, and like I said, when I enlisted it was one of the best things I ever did. Wouldn't change those years for nothing. But like being with my husband, it was almost like being back in the service because I was with military people all the time. With his troops would come to the house and their wives, and so it was a great life and thirty-some years I spent with him traveling all over this country many, many times. I keep in touch with one that I can remember that's still a friend that I was friends [with]. She's—two; there's one in Tallahassee and one out in Washington somewhere. But we exchange just Christmas cards, but we do keep in touch.

KA:

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

RM:

Behind what?

KA:

The servicemen of your day, they consider you to be pioneers.

RM:

Oh, pioneers. I don't consider myself a pioneer. No, I don't. Maybe some people do, but I really don't. It was just something I did because I wanted to do it. I mean being raised the way I was raised, it was God and country, and that was it. Yes, that's the way I was raised. My grandmother was God, and my parents were country. [laughs] At least I thought so in those days. [laughs] I found out my mother was God also.

KA:

Do you think that women serving in the military and in the civil defense during the war, do you think that had any influence on the women who began the women's liberation movement?

RM:

It probably did. Yes, I'm sure it probably did. There were probably people like me that look at what I did and think, “I can do better.” So, yes, I'm sure it did. Of course a lot of them went to extremes, but so a lot of other things go to extremes that we can't change.

KA:

What was your husband's name?

RM:

Chester. Everybody called him “Mac,” though because his last name was McMahon, and he was Mac. He was “Chet” to me. His name was Chester, but he was Chet to me and Mac to all of his air force buddies.

KA:

When did you get married?

RM:

October 2, 1942. Forty-two, no—forty-two? No, forty-three. Isn't that awful? I enlisted in forty-two—1943.

KA:

And you said you exchanged letters before you got married?

RM:

Yes. Yes, we did, and he was down in Jacksonville, Florida, and I was up in Washington, D.C. It was—he was a pretty handsome guy. Well, he still was even when he died. He was a pretty handsome person, and he was pretty good looking in his blues, wasn't he? [laughs] I still like the navy uniform. I think he was a tech sergeant there. He was a chief master sergeant when he passed—when he got discharged. Yes, thirty years. It was a good life. It was a good life. I've got no complaints. Like I said, a lot of good things. In those days if you needed anything, everybody helped everybody else. And like in his case, if he had a lower grade airman that needed something, we helped them out. So, it was a good life. I'm sure there's young airman that remember those days, too.

KA:

Where did you two get married?

RM:

Where?

KA:

Yes.

RM:

Jacksonville, Florida. He was stationed down there, and he writes and asks me to marry him, and I decided I'm going to. So, I got leave and went down there, and that was something. We got married, but we—I did not know it at the time, but I was—he wasn't twenty-one, and he had to get permission from his mother and dad. [laughs] We had to wait till that came, because we went to the courthouse. She said, “I can't marry you.” Anyway, we had to wait to get permission from his parents for him to get married. Oh, God, but we made it, and I had one day left on my leave to get back to Washington. That was something. My cousin was stationed down there. He was supposed to be a best man. He got shipped out before we got that. His best friend was supposed to be there, and best friend showed up at three o'clock in the morning higher than a kite. He forgot about it. I never know what he did. I'm still best friends with his wife, but, of course, she lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She was my friend when she was civilian. She was my friend when I was active duty, and we're still friends. She's still living there.

RM:

How do you feel about women in combat positions?

KA:

I worry myself to death about it, because like I said, I volunteered at MacDill Air Force Base, and I knew a lot of those girls that go over there. And especially the desert for feminine hygiene, and it's just miserable duty for those girls. I worry about them to death. It is. It is miserable duty. And, well, our organization in Florida, the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy], we send a lot of stuff over there that you get in hotels—the cream, the shampoo—box it up, and everybody brings the stuff and then we box it up and send it over there, because they just need it. They need it. I'll tell you. It is; it's miserable duty. I feel sorry for them. Woo.

KA:

Should some work be off limits to women in the military?

RM:

Well, yes, I'm sure there is. Since I was in I'm sure there was a lot of duty that I don't think a girl—a woman, should be handling: heavy artillery or heavy machine guns. But like the young girl that shot in West Virginia, she was in a tank. I mean it's just—sounds like pretty miserable duty to me, and I'm thinking, “Oh, my, what did we start?” I take my hat off to those over there. I really do.

KA:

Have any of your children been in the military?

RM:

My son that I live with was in Vietnam, and one of my boys, other boys was in the Seabees [Naval Construction Force]. He just served so long, got out and come back home. Of course the one I live with, he did, too, come home from Vietnam, but he went to college in Gainesville [Florida]. Now he works for the bank.

KA:

Did you encourage them to join the military?

RM:

No, they just did it on their own. I think when my oldest son got out of high school, and we transferred up to from wherever we lived to New York, he just decided, “I'm going to go,” and he enlisted in the air force. And the irony of it, he went to Indiana University where I had been many years before. But he learned Chinese, and that's why he ended where he did in Vietnam. And the other one that enlisted in the Seabees, we were just living in Florida then, and he had enlisted out of high school. He served four years and came home and ended up driving a bulldozer. [laughs]

KA:

How did your service affect your life?

RM:

How did my service affect my life? I really don't know. Have I said anything to you that inclines that it affected my life other than the fact I married somebody that I probably wouldn't have married? That's about the only thing I can think because I would have done just like volunteer. Hey, I took after my mom. She was in everything. If I had stayed back home, I'd been into something. So, I don't think the military—other than like I said, it affected my whole life, I guess, because I ended up getting married, and I ended up an air force wife.

RM:

Do you have any funny or interesting stories you'd like to share?

KA:

Well, an interesting story is in Washington we had this new, brand new roommate, just a young thing, and it's—she had to work at Arlington, and she had to get up early, very early in the morning to get to Arlington from where we lived. So she was up getting ready, and my bunkmate—because she turned the light on, and I was awake, and my bunkmate is laying down there giggling, and I looked to see what she's laughing at, and I looked at my watch and this poor, little Mary is all ready to go to work. They had set the alarm for her to get up and get to work.

And I said, “Oh, my God, Mary, it is only one o'clock. Go back to bed.”

They did—they had come in and they set the alarm. Poor Mary, and she had to get up at four o'clock anyway, but they set it for 4:00, and she got up and was half ready for work. I just yelled at Betty.

I said, “You ought to be ashamed.” But, of course, I put my head under the blanket and laughed because, “Oh, God, that's awful.”

It was terrible to do that to her. She was a new roommate, but that's about the only thing I can think of that they did that we wouldn't have done otherwise. Nothing in training school. Training school, brand new, you obeyed the rules there. Can't think of anything else.

KA:

Well, when you joined the WAVES, it was still a fairly new organization. Did you feel like they were disorganized or anything like that at the beginning?

RM:

No, maybe I was gullible. I assumed they were well-organized and they had great women that had already been trained as officers that were leading us, and, no, I had no complaints about the leadership then. Captain [Mildred] McAfee was one of the nicest ladies I ever—I didn't meet her personally, but she came where the training school, and I knew who she was but not personally. She was one of the nicest ladies that I ever was to hear and listen to. She was at our graduation from training school, and I think she was the guest speaker, but she was a great lady.

KA:

Was there anything else you'd like to add?

RM:

Well, I can't think of anything I haven't rambled on and on and on about, no. Talk about the ladies. I never had very much contact with men other than where I worked in Washington there was a man in charge of the office, but he was just there as far as I was concerned, so, no, and I didn't do anything worth sharing to be put down in black and white. She did this. She is a hero. All I did was enlist and serve my country. I'm proud to do it.

KA:

Okay. Well, I want to thank you again for speaking with me.

RM:

Well, I appreciate you putting up with me, and I didn't know if you wanted to see any of this stuff. This is the—

[End of interview]