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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ruth King Garrett, 2007

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Object ID: WV0392.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Ruth King Garrett’s service in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1945 to 1946.

Summary:

Garrett briefly discusses her education, including working on her high school’s newspaper and her year at UNCG (then Woman's College). She mentions her reasons for becoming a nurse, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and her reasons for enlisting in the ANC. Garrett briefly discuses basic training, include learning to salute and meeting girls from other parts of the country, and describes her work on the colostomy and psychiatric wards at Battey General Hospital, including a visit from Helen Keller.

Garrett discusses traveling overseas on the USS Comfort to the Philippines. Topics from her time in Manila include: treating released U.S. prisoners of war; entertaining patients; working in MASH units; dating and social life; editing the post newspaper; visiting Corregidor; getting cigarettes and Cokes; bathing out of her helmet; seeing the wreckage in Pearl Harbor; and coastal blackouts. Other War-related topics include her favorite movies; returning to the U.S. on the USS West Point; the mood of the country; her desire to stay in army and her disappointment at being discharged.

Other topics include Garrett's work in the Fayetteville Veterans Administration Medical Center in 1946-1947; meeting her husband; the legacy of women who served in WWII; her children; and her retirement from nursing.

Creator: Ruth King Garrett

Biographical Info: Ruth King Garrett (b. 1923) of Greensboro, North Carolina, served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1945 to 1946, followed by a long civilian career in nursing.

Collection: Ruth King Garrett Papers

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

Full Text:

[Ruth Garrett's daughter, Pam Brady, is also present for the interview.]

Kim Adkins:

Today is Tuesday, April 10, 2007, and this is Kim Adkins speaking. I'm in the home of Mrs. Ruth Garrett in Greensboro, North Carolina, doing an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG]. Thank you, Ruth, for agreeing to speak with me. Could you start by telling me when and where you were born?

Ruth Garrett:

I was born in Greensboro, May 31, 1923.

KA:

Did you grow up in Greensboro?

RG:

Yes, I did.

KA:

What were your parents' names?

RG:

Russell King and Annie Albright King.

KA:

What did they do for a living?

RG:

Beg your pardon?

KA:

What did they do for a living?

RG:

My father farmed, and my mother was a housewife.

KA:

Do you have any siblings?

RG:

I had three. I had two brothers and one sister. All are deceased.

KA:

What were their names?

RG:

Rankin Alexander, Frank, and my sister was Bertha Lee King. Their last name was King.

KA:

Where did you graduate high school from?

RG:

Rankin High School, which is right across the street. The Rankin was named for my uncle; the school was named for him.

KA:

How did you like school?

RG:

Oh, I loved it.

KA:

Did you have a favorite subject?

RG:

Well, I was—in my junior and senior years I became interested in the commercial courses. I did a lot of typing. I was editor of the school newspaper in my senior year, and I was also editor of the annual. So they about worked me to death, but I lived near the school, so every afternoon, just about, I was still in the school typing. And then when I graduated they gave me a commercial medal for what I had done. That was a nice surprise. And incidentally, when I went overseas, at the end I was editor of the post newspaper in Manila [Philippines]. And that was my favorite subject.

KA:

Did you ever attend college?

RG:

Yes, I went to UNCG for a year, and that was when I was going to take commercial, and then I took an elective course, which we had to take one, on health. So, I became interested in that, so I decided I wanted to be a nurse. So, I went in training at St. Leo's Hospital, which was here in Greensboro. This was a Catholic hospital. So, I went there and of course graduated from St. Leo's Hospital in 1944.

KA:

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

RG:

I remember studying for an anatomy test. That was my first year in training, and the radio was on, and all of a sudden we heard about Pearl Harbor, and we all looked at each other, my roommate and I, and said, “Where is Pearl Harbor?” Nobody had ever heard of it hardly.

KA:

And what was your reaction to the attack?

RG:

Oh, I was very sad and upset, naturally, not knowing that a few years later I would join the Army Nurse Corps and be in Manilla. Four years later I would be in Manilla at Christmas.

KA:

Were you working when you enlisted?

RG:

Yes, when I got out of training there was a polio outbreak here in Greensboro, very bad, and so they—have you ever heard of CC [CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps] camps? They were built during the Depression of these young boys who were very poor. So they worked in the CCC camps and made, I think, about thirty dollars a month with room and board, and they worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway, actually. And so they converted the CCC camp out from Hickory [North Carolina] into [an] emergency polio hospital. So, of course, they needed nurses. So I had just graduated, and I had to wait until I had taken state board and passed it before I could join the army. So, I worked at the polio hospital in Hickory for five months, and then, of course, I went into the Army Nurse Corps. I passed state board, incidentally. Everything worked out all right.

KA:

Which branch—you joined the Army Nurse Corps. Why did you choose that branch?

RG:

You mean instead of the navy?

KA:

Yes.

RG:

Well, I didn't even think about the navy nurses' corps. It was always the army. I mean I just wanted to because—well, I felt it was my duty to join, because my mother had—her brother—she had her son and daughter with her, so she did not need me to live with her. So, I was free. So I felt it was my duty going, and I never regretted it. I loved it.

KA:

Do you remember what day you entered the service?

RG:

Yes, January 31, 1945.

KA:

And when were you discharged?

RG:

March 15, 1946. The war had ended, of course, in August before that, and they didn't need all the nurses. They had closed so many general hospitals, and so they wanted us to be discharged. So, I was discharged.

KA:

You talked a little bit about how you felt it was your duty to join. Were you influenced by anything else? Did you have any family that had been in the military or anything like that?

RG:

I only had a brother-in-law who was in the navy. No, nothing really influenced me. I just wanted to join. In my graduated class was twenty, I believe, and eight of us joined the army. One joined the navy. So that was a pretty good average, really. So many girls got married, you know, or were engaged, but I was not dating anyone particularly or engaged or anything. So, like I said, I felt it was my duty to join.

KA:

How did your parents feel about you joining?

RG:

Well, my father was deceased, but my mother—it was fine with her, yes.

KA:

What was the reaction of your friends and other family?

RG:

Well, I think they were happy about it. I know my aunts were happy that I was joining because their nephew had joined, and he was a lieutenant. All the nurses all were lieutenants and he was a lieutenant, and, incidentally, he was killed overseas. So, it was kind of sad, but I wrote my aunts, and they wrote me.

KA:

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

RG:

Yes.

KA:

Did you feel uncomfortable about that or excited or?

RG:

Yes, I was very excited, and I loved it. I did not get homesick, no, because when I worked at Hickory that was away from home. So that was a good place to work before I joined the army. And I was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama, for basic training.

KA:

Do you recall where you signed up?

RG:

Well, I was working in Hickory. I believe I signed up somewhere in Hickory, as well as I remember, and we had to go to Charlotte for our physical.

KA:

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

RG:

Excited. Very exciting. Of course, they were teaching us how to salute, and my best friend was left-handed, and so we were leaving the mess hall, and we ran right into the chief nurse and my friend, Marise, saluted with her left hand. Well, of course, the chief nurse stopped us and bawled her out. So that was kind of funny.

KA:

What was your basic training like?

RG:

Very exciting. The little girls there from all of the United States. I mean it was just—it was so different. The different—you know, a lot of northern girls, and they would laugh at our accent, and we would laugh at their accent, you know? So, it was fun.

KA:

What was a typical day like for you on the job while you were in the army?

RG:

Oh, that was something else. When I first went in the army, they put me on the ward where everybody—all the guys are about fifty. It was a double ward, sort of. Everybody had a colostomy, and we called them the little vase bud. Some of them had two colostomies. So we had to dress those and every day we worked with that. And I remembered the major, the doctor was so nice to me because he said none of the other nurses went around and helped him with the dressings, but I did. He was a North Carolinian, Major Hollomon, and I didn't know what city he was from. I wish I remember, but I don't.

And then after about a month they put me on psychiatry. Oh, that was something else, because I was on the closed wards where everything is locked. One morning—you always had a corpsman with you on these wards because you never knew what they might do. So we went in to the private room of a soldier—I believe he was a private; he was a Puerto Rican—and I said, “Good morning, how are you?” I wanted to take his blood pressure and all that stuff, and he came around and slapped me on the face and almost knocked me down. And of course the corpsman, you know, got him on the floor real quick, and they probably took a pair of handcuffs with them. I don't know, but anyway he subdued him, and they called the doctor and we sedated him. So, that wasn't much fun. Later I developed a real bad headache, and they sent me off duty. And then another time I got hit on the shoulder, but that wasn't real bad. So you really, I mean, had to watch and always have a corpsmen right at your heels when you went out into the ward.

Then another time we went into the private room and we didn't see the patient. So, we looked—they had their own little private bathroom. So we looked, and he had hung himself in the bathroom. He did that between shifts. So, we knew he had to do it between shift, and he knew about what time—about ten [minutes] after seven is when the nurse would come around. So, I happened to be the one to find him, with the corpsman, but he was already turning blue. He was dead. We got him down, but he was gone. He was—had been a pilot and his ear had been—part of it had been damaged, and every time you would talk to him or see him and he would always do that, cover up his ear, because I talked to him quite a bit, and we were very surprised that he hung himself. He was so depressed. So, that was the things that stand out in my mind at Battey General Hospital. That's where I was.

KA:

And where is that?

RG:

That's in Rome, Georgia. It's a pretty big hospital. I know one night we were all down having fun and cutting up or something and all of a sudden a call came over and said one hundred wounded men are coming in on a train. The train came right up to the hospital, and they had been in England. So, they wanted volunteers to come down and get them admitted, which it takes quite a while to get them admitted to a certain ward, which ward they needed to go on. So, of course, we went running down to go situate.

So, working was—we only had one day off a month, one day a month—this was at Batty General—and then we had a half a day, mostly during the week sometime, but we worked very hard. It wasn't easy, and we gave insulin shock and electric shock, too. So, the patients were treated very, very good, I think. And then sometimes—you've probably heard this—after meals you had to count the silver, and sometimes there would be a knife or a fork missing. So you would have to turn the ward upside down until you found that piece of silver, because they could injure themselves with it, and that was almost every—at least probably once a day, either at lunch or dinner, that, you know, one of them would keep their silver, but we would find it. It would usually be under the mattress or pillow case, you know.

KA:

So, did you spend most of your time on the psychiatric wards?

RG:

I did, yes. Then I signed up to go overseas. So after about four or five months, then I started going overseas, which is a long rigamarole. We went across the country on the troop train. That was interesting. A lot of fun. Then when we got to Needles, California—incidentally, that took five days and four nights, I believe. It was nothing but nurses on this train. And [we] got to Needles, then we went up north all the way up past Sacramento to Camp Beale [California]. So we stayed there. Oh, it's so much processing just [unclear]. It's just something going on all the time.

And then they took us back down to San Pedro, California, and put us on the ship to go overseas. The ship was the [U]SS Comfort, which I hope you've heard of the Comfort. It was at the port when 9/11 [September 11, 2001] happened, and the policeman and fireman would go there to get clean clothes and bathing and everything. And then when Katrina occurred, the ship was down there, was the hospital, because all the hospitals had been closed in New Orleans. So, every time I hear anything about the Comfort, I just tear up almost. Once in a while you will see them on TV. Beautiful hospital ship. That's what I went overseas on. It took thirty days to go from San Pedro to Manila, and just before we got to Manila the war ended, but we were lucky because the Japs [Japanese] were bombing. They were bombing the Pacific, you know, but they didn't touch our ship, thank goodness, or we would have been blown up. So, I tell Pam [RG's daughter] she's lucky to be here.

Pam Brady:

That's exactly right.

RG:

But, you know, we weren't—it didn't bother us in the least. We were all young. I was twenty-two years old, and we didn't even think about it. We didn't run into a typhoon, thank goodness. One was headed our way, but then it veered another way. So, thank goodness we didn't run into a typhoon going over.

So, anyway, I got to Manila and worked there, and I loved that. The prisoners of war [POWs] were released, so we actually worked out of tents like in M*A*S*H. We lived in tents, but we had a nice floor and a shower at the back. For two months we worked out of the tents, and all the POWs were coming through, and most of them had a fungus infection, I remember, and we would have to soak their feet in potassium permanganate, the purple solution. So, my hands stayed purple for weeks from doing that. Back then we didn't—you didn't wear gloves. Now they don't—you don't even go in a hospital room hardly till they put gloves on you, you know? But back then we hardly ever wore gloves unless it was a real sterile procedure we were doing.

So we worked—there was a dentist there, and of course they had a lot of bad teeth. So, I helped him sometimes. I was saying he was pulling rotten teeth, you know? So then I dressed the—when the boys would get the good food to eat, it seemed like it would break out in carbuncles or they had boils on their arms and different places. So, we had to treat those a lot. So, we worked there for two months. Then they sent us up to a rehabilitation post, and I stayed there till I was discharged or came home, which was over two months, and that—where all the women in the military came through there, in that area of Manilla, to be processed to come home.

So we worked there, but let me go back to another interesting thing that happened when I was at Battey General Hospital. The blind lady, Helen Keller, came through, and you know who she is, don't you? And she came though the ward and hospital. I got to meet here. She was with her companion, of course. And [I got to] shake her hand, and I remember I was just trembling all over, because as a child I had read about her and everything. But she was charming, and she couldn't see, but she was charming, well-dressed, and I remember her hand was so fragile when I shook it, and then that was when I almost started shaking.

Then later on I met Elizabeth Arden, you know, the makeup person, and she was on the train that we were on when we—after we were back in the States, and we were going to Atlanta. This was in New York. We had just gotten on the train, and this lady came through, and she introduced herself. Well, of course, we all knew who she was, and she took our names and addresses. She said she would send us some makeup, and sure enough, about six weeks later—we gave our home addresses, about six of we girls in there, and she sent us some makeup. Lipstick, rouge, and powder. That's all we used back then. We didn't use eye makeup or anything back then. So that was interesting, meeting her.

KA:

How did the men that you worked with treat you?

RG:

Oh, fine. I think they adored us. We'd love to tease each other on the ward. I was a big tease. They'd call me “Ruthie” sometimes, you know. And then one time, one guy was cutting up and yakking and going on, and I put tape on his mouth to shut him up. [laughs] So, I mean, we'd had a lot of fun. Then one night they were lonely, and our quarters were right across from the ward where I worked. This was the ones that Red Cross give us, and they called up and said, “Please come over and talk to us. We're lonely.” And they loved for you to play ping-pong with them. About every rec—there was a rec room at the end of each ward. There was always a ping-pong table and fifty million paperbacks for them to read. So when I wasn't busy, you know, in the afternoon maybe I played ping-pong with them. And they loved you to play cards with them, so we'd play cards with them. But we were so good to these guys. I know I would cook them breakfast. They would send all the food up, and we had a little kitchen and stove, and I would cook their eggs like they wanted them. They wanted them fried; I'd fry them, or, you know, make a big bowl of scrambled eggs. So, I think we treated the guys, the GIs, you know, very, very nicely. They were all so—they were glad to be back, you know, out of the European Theatre. Most of them were from the European Theatre, and I'm sure most of them had a hard time. Well, they were wounded, and they were cheerful and happy, but psychiatry was a little different. They were more depressed. There was depression over there, of course.

KA:

Did you ever work with any male nurses?

RG:

Then we didn't see male nurses. [laughs] Not when I was in the service. I don't remember a male nurse, no. There were male corpsmen, but they were not nurses. They were trained to be corpsmen, and they were very good to assist you. They looked up to you. They admired us. They did not put us down. We did not go through anything like that, you know? They were very respectful of us.

KA:

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

RG:

Go on a seven-and-half-mile hike when [we] were in basic training. That was fun. We did it, but we got blisters on our feet, you know. We had high top shoes we had to wear and a helmet liner and all that. I have a picture of it over here, but that was one of the hardest things.

KA:

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

RG:

Gosh, that's a hard question. I can't think because I loved working on the ward with the colostomies, and then it was harder to adjust to psychiatry. We had to go to classes. They were putting just about every nurse on psychiatry at one time or another, and we had to go to classes. I know one film was how to give an enema. Now, a registered nurse certainly knows how to give an enema. So, we got a kick out of that. We had to watch this little movie about that. So, every day or two they had to go and listen to these dry lectures. Half of them would go to sleep. [laughs] But it's something we had to do.

KA:

Were you ever afraid or in personal danger?

RG:

No, I wasn't, because when I did get overseas the war had ended. So, I wasn't, no.

KA:

What did you do for fun while in the military?

RG:

Dance. Shall I tell them, Pam? They called me “Dynamite” because I dated so much, because I went out. I dated almost every night. We could stay out as long as we wanted to. You had to sign out who you were with and his rank and serial number and everything, and they would have a Jeep. You wold go to these little dinky nightclubs in Manila and we'd dance, and then we had a very nice officer's club. There was always an officer's club where you was, so we would go there a lot and dance. They'd had—there were a lot of parties. Everybody was very happy, cheerful, laughing all the time. I mean it was just a fun place to be. Remember, the war was over. So, it was just fun. I loved it. I didn't want to come home, but we were sent home, you know?

KA:

Did you ever go to movies?

RG:

Go where?

KA:

To movies?

RG:

Oh, yes, they had movies every night. They had them in the dining hall, and then at some of the places. The first place I was at in Manila, we sat on a side of a hill like you've read. And sitting outside, I liked that better because it was cooler. In the dining hall it was hot. We did not have air conditioning over there, no. [laughs] At times it was very hot. Then the rainy season was on when we were over there, and we stepped in mud all the time.

KA:

Did—

RG:

And that—pardon me.

KA:

Go ahead.

RG:

Oh, that's all right.

KA:

Did you ever go to a USO [United Service Organizations] show?

RG:

I only saw one or two, but I wouldn't even remember who they were, no, no.

PB:

Excuse me. You saw Jimmy Durante.

RG:

Oh, yes, as the ship was about to pull out. Jimmy Durante, he used to tear up the piano. Have you ever seen him or heard of him on TV?

KA:

I've heard of him.

RG:

Well, we saw him tear up the piano, you know, banging on it, and he finally just tears it up like you saw on TV. So I had seen him on TV many times, so that was interesting. And then Edgar Bergen was there with his little dummy.

PB:

He's a ventriloquist.

RG:

Ventriloquist. He was there. So, that was entertainment that we saw as we were getting ready to get on the ship to leave San Diego—or San Pedro it was. Is my coffee somewhere?

PB:

It's on the coffee table to the left where the lamp is. I got a napkin on the top of it.

RG:

Oh, I can see it. I do not see well, Kim. I'm almost blind now. As you see, I can hardly walk.

KA:

If you had been given the option to stay in the army, would you have done so?

RG:

Yes, I was very disappointed. I did not want to come home. I moved the date to 7 of January; we were told that we were coming home the next day. So you had your foot locker. We stayed in the foot locker at the end of your cot, and it didn't take but ten minutes hardly to pack everything in your foot locker. I was very disappointed, because they had at that time, two weeks before, they had—I was editor of the newspaper on the post. I have a sample to show you, and I was enjoying that because all the—there was only eight nurses left on our post. We had eight points, so we had to be sent home. The seven-pointers were sent up to—Pam, what was the name of that base where your friend was?

PB:

Clark.

RG:

Clark Field, [Philippines]. They were sent up to Clark Field. So, anyway, we had to come home, and we came home on the [U]SS West Point which was a huge ship. There were 150 nurses, Red Cross nurses, WACs [Women's Army Corps]. I never did really work with the WACs that much. They never were where I was. And then many, many GIs and many pregnant Filipine women that they had married they were sending them home. So we came home on that ship, which took about thirty days also. We came through the Panama Canal and came around and up the coast, and the only rough weather we came into was off the coast of North Carolina, naturally. It was very rough. When we got to New York it was snowing, sleeting, you name it, because this was, you know, the first of February.

KA:

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

RG:

Well, I saw it through being in training of the patients, through patients in the hospital, and it was—that was very interesting to me. And we would read the papers, you know, the patients had. We didn't see a paper in the nurse's corps, of course. It was sad, subdued.

KA:

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

RG:

Oh, I liked them very much. I thought she was a wonderful person. She certainly was a big help to her husband who was disabled and everything, and I always adored Eleanor. I liked her very much, always did. I used to read her articles that were published later, after his death and everything. I was at Battey General when he died, and that wasn't too far away from where he was. What was it? Warm Springs, [Georgia]. And so I remember so well hearing about it. And then when the train started—and now the train came through Greensboro, and I know many people that stood and watched it when it came right by, you know, where they were standing just a few miles over here. The train tracks was just two or three miles over here that goes up North. It goes to New York from Washington.

KA:

What did you think of President [Harry] Truman?

RG:

I liked him, too.

KA:

Do you have any heroes or heroines from your time in the military?

RG:

Well, not really. Now, I can't remember. I really don't have an answer for that. I liked all the chief nurses. I mean I don't think I was a very hard person to get along with, and I cooperated and, you know, didn't give them a hard time. I was never called on the carpet or anything even with my going out dancing every night almost. [laughs] They didn't care. They probably went out, too.

KA:

Did you admire anyone in your civilian life?

RG:

In my civilian life that I admired?

KA:

Yes.

RG:

You mean outside my family?

KA:

It could be in your family.

RG:

I admired my family, of course. My mother had a very hard life, and I admire her. She lost her husband when she had four children. I was only nine when my father died, and she had to raise, three or four children, and on very little money. So, I admired and respected what she went through. It was, you know, really I didn't realize until I grew up how hard it must have been for her, and she was proud that I was in the service. She wrote me weekly, every Sunday night is when she would write me a letter, but I would write her maybe three times a week. I wrote her very often.

KA:

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

RG:

Yes, So Proudly We Hail! It's about the army nurses, and I love it. I have it recorded. I have about three tapes, I guess, different tapes of it. Every time it's on TV—it's still on TV occasionally around Veteran's Day, on Memorial Day—and so I record it. I watched it just the other night. I loved—Claudette Colbert was in it, and of course the uniforms they wore were just like this. This was basic training. We were in our ODs [olive drab uniform]. So, that was my favorite movie. And, of course, [The] Sound of Music was one of my favorites also. I saw part of it the other night. And Titanic, I love the Titanic. What I remember about the Titanic—went to the dining room and walked down steps, okay, on the West Point, of the ship that we came back on, [and it] almost looked like that. You walked down the steps to the dining room. It was served as well as I remember, but we had two meals a day on the West Point coming back. Going over on the Comfort we had three meals a day, because it was nothing but the staff and nurses on that ship.

KA:

Where were you when you heard about VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

RG:

When the war ended?

KA:

Yes.

RG:

I was in the middle of the Pacific [Ocean], and so they celebrated and we had a turkey dinner, and the porpoises were following the ship all the time, because, you know, they would get the food. Yes, it was a great time, and we were nearing Manila, actually. The Pacific is such a beautiful sapphire blue, and my friends and I would play cards. We would sit on the deck, you know, and play cards a lot, and I read. I'd read sometimes a book a day to occupy my time and everything.

KA:

Now VJ [Victory in Japan] Day was in August. Do you remember—of '45—where were you then, do you remember?

RG:

I'm confused about which day this is.

KA:

VE Day that was Victory in Europe, and that was in May of—

RG:

Oh, that was in May of '45. You want to know where I was then? I was at the Battey General Hospital working, you know, with psychiatry wards. Okay, and then when the war ended, I was on the ship, the Comfort, going to Manila. We did not know where we were going. They didn't tell us till a little—maybe a few days before we got there we were going to Manilla. We knew were in the Pacific, but we didn't know exactly where we were going. They always were telling us that we were going to Japan or Korea, but we were second—we were second lieutenants, of course. As women, we weren't in long enough to get a promotion or anything. But some of my friends were first lieutenants, and they were the ones that were sent to Japan, and we stayed in Manila. So, I was disappointed because I really wanted to go to Japan. I wanted to see Japan. I had the travel bug. I mean I wanted to see everything I could.

KA:

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

RG:

Well, I returned to nursing. I worked in a doctor's office. You heard the LeBauers [Healthcare] here in Greensboro? I worked for their father in an office, and then some of my friends were working in a veteran's hospital in Fayetteville, [North Carolina] was a big veteran's hospital. And so after five months I became bored being home, because I was used to being around a bunch of little girls, you know, nurses. So I went to Fayetteville to work, and I loved working down there. We lived in the nurses' home. A lot of girls had apartments in town, but that wasn't for me. We lived in the nurses' home and loved it. We were right at the hospital. We didn't have to get on buses or anything to come to work. And I had met my future husband in—we were dating then. So, after working down in Fayetteville for almost a year, I came home, and we were married. He was a veteran also. He had been in the European Theatre, and he was wounded. So he had been in the hospital for almost a year.

KA:

Was readjusting to civilian life easy for you?

RG:

Not so bad. It was okay. Like I said, I did not really want to be discharged, but we had to be. At one time, in January of '45, not enough nurses were joining, and they needed more. But then they had too many nurses, so they had to discharge—start discharging them. So, I had to be discharged, which I didn't like at all. I wanted to stay in so badly.

KA:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

RG:

Very, because my husband's been dead for ten years, and I think I've done well. My son—oh, my youngest son lives with me. I was here one year by myself, and I was frightened. So Pam has started looking for places for me to move probably. We built this house in 1959, the year Alex was born, and so everywhere I look I still see my husband, and I really didn't want to leave it. But I was frightened, because in the back there's a lot of different nationalities now that walk by all the time and cut across my yard and all that, and they would know I was here by myself, you know, and I was just frightened. Every little sound I would hear at night would upset me, you know. So, I—Alex came to live with me. He had a separation, so it worked out good for both of us. So, that was fifteen years ago—fourteen years ago. So, of course, he's still with me, and we're still here.

KA:

Do you think that the military helped make you more independent?

RG:

Make me what?

KA:

More independent?

RG:

Well, I don't really think it made me more independent. I think I've always been independent, sort of. My mother was very, very busy, and I sort of had to look after myself or make my own decisions. She was old, and I think she was tired, and I sort of had to just look after myself more or less. She didn't drive, so, you know, other people had to take me places and things like that.

KA:

Many people consider women who served in the military during the war to be pioneers. Is that how you feel?

RG:

As a pioneer?

KA:

Yes.

RG:

No, I had never thought about it in that respect. I think they should want to do it because sometimes you are—sometimes it's hard. I know one time they told us we could look at our orders. So, we opened our orders and looked at them. So when we showed them to the chief nurse when we arrived at our destination—I think this was Battey General—boy, she blew her top, and I'd never been talked to like she talked to us. We were not supposed to have opened those orders, and she really blessed us out.

KA:

Do you feel that since women served in the military and had an increased role in civilian life, taking over men's jobs during the war, that they may have inspired the women who came during the 1960s and started the women's liberation movement?

RG:

That was so long, I couldn't take it all in. You'll have to shorten it a little bit.

KA:

Do you think having their mothers served, that the women of the 1960s were influenced to want to be more liberated?

PB:

Does my generation want to be more liberated because of what your generation, as nurses, did? In other words, do we want to pursue more in our life because of what you did to pursue your career? You ventured out, do you think that influenced me to venture out—

RG:

Definitely, definitely. I think definitely, because I know Pam has been very proud that I served, and all my children have.

PB:

And her grandsons, my two boys. In fact, her picture—there's a picture we will show you of mother and my father in their military uniforms, and my younger son in one of his history classes in high school, they asked the students to bring any memorabilia that their family had from World War II, and the two years before that Mother had given my boys pictures of mother and daddy in their military uniforms. So, Madison took that to school and so the teacher proudly put these things on display, and they were at the high school, I guess, for about a week, and when their yearbook came out in May, I was looking through it, and he showed me.

He said, “Oh, Mom, Grandmother and Granddaddy's picture is in the annual.”

I said, “What?”

RG:

That was funny.

PB:

But everybody is really proud of both of them serving and, of course, they've heard Mother talk about her experiences during the war so much, and they're just so proud of her. In fact, both of them several times have said that they are the most proud of their Grandmother more than any other women ever, and I think that is the supreme compliment to anybody. I really do. They have said that several times.

RG:

Thank you.

KA:

Have any of your children been in the military?

RG:

No.

KA:

Did you ever encourage them to join?

RG:

Well, I was encouraging Pam to join, but she was in love. So, she got married. I had already given her a second lieutenant bar, and I took—

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

KA:

No, I'm good. Thank you.

PB:

Okay.

KA:

You were telling me about she had just finished training.

RG:

She graduated from [North Carolina] Baptist Hospital. That's a big name now. They don't have students anymore. Wake Forest University and all that stuff. She graduated from—as a little girl, we lived in Winston-Salem, and then we moved back here, but as a little girl she says, “When I grow up, I want to go to Baptist Hospital [now Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center] and be a nurse like you.” Well, she said that all her life. So, she went to Baptist Hospital and became a nurse. So, she pursued her career until her health—she had fibromyalgia, and she had many ailments, and severe headaches. She's been good today, though. So, she had to retire from nursing two years ago.

KA:

How do you feel about women in combat positions?

RG:

Well, I really don't think the women should be in combat, but I have read several books on the nurses that were in Europe and everything. I never was really exposed to that, but I think they were very brave to do that, to be in combat. I don't think I would have liked it very much. I think I would have been frightened, but like I say, I was never exposed to that.

KA:

You said that you met your husband in Fayetteville?

RG:

No, I met him in Greensboro.

KA:

In Greensboro?

RG:

Yes.

KA:

And what was his name?

RG:

Clifford Garrett.

KA:

How exactly did you meet him?

RG:

I met him across the street from my mother's, at his cousin's, and he walked me home, and he did not ask me for a date. He said, “Good night,” and kissed me on the forehead and didn't ask me for a date, and I was so mad I went upstairs and cried. He said he thought I was dating a doctor. He was afraid I would turn him down. So, that's the reason why he didn't ask me for a date, but he wanted to. And then a few weeks—a few months later—it must have been in March or April—we got together again, and he asked me for a date, and we dated for a year and got married.

KA:

And you said he was in the military, too. What branch was he in?

RG:

He was in the army. He was a sergeant. He was in the army, and he was in Europe, and he was wounded in France. So, he was in the hospital at Brooke General [Hospital] in Texas for a year. Shrapnel hit him in the forehead, so he has had a plate in his forehead, and he had surgery on it three times. Back then—now, they probably could have operated one time. And he had a scar. A deathly scar on his forehead, and then he was shot up in the legs, too. So he was wounded. He was out for about two days, out completely, unconscious till they got him back to the United States. I don't even know how he came home, do you Pam?

PB:

No, I don't. I don't think—

RG:

He never talked about this until he was actually dying, and then he wouldn't shut up. He talked continuously. We had to give him medication to calm him down. He never talked about the war to speak of, and he never asked me what I did much, because he was in the hospital, so he saw the nurses all the time. So he knew what I did, I guess, but we never talked about our experiences, really. He wasn't interested, I guess, so I didn't pursue it, you know?

KA:

And what day did you all get married?

RG:

July 27, 1947.

KA:

See, I remembered.

PB:

Of course.

KA:

And how many children do you have?

RG:

I have three.

KA:

And what are their names?

RG:

John Andrew, who was born about a year later after we married; Pamela Lee, she was born two years later; and then eight years later we had Alexander King. So, I had the three children. And Pam was the little mother to Alex. She really, you know, fed him and bathed him because I continued with work, but she was his little mommy. He's a—all my children are very nice and sweet, and very devoted to me.

KA:

When did you retire from nursing?

RG:

I think it was 1982 or '83. I was 62. I had really literally burned out. I had worked all these years, you know, with the children. And I had the children—it's hard, especially when you have a baby go away and leave them crying.

PB:

And you worked a lot of night duty.

RG:

Yes, so I would be here when he came home from school, because Pam was gone then, and my son was gone, oldest son. He works at State College [North Carolina State University] now in computers. He went to Appalachian [State University] and got his master's [degree]. Pam, of course, went to Baptist. She graduated one Sunday and married the next Sunday. So, we had fun that year. She wore my wedding gown, which we will show you a picture of.

[Conversation about grandson's wedding not transcribed.]

RG:

And Luther Seth made the wedding dress. He made a lot of dresses for Miss North Carolina. He designed them and made them. So, he made my wedding dress out of heavy ivy satin, and this was right after the war, and it was hard to find satin. We finally found some in Burlington [North Carolina], and the tafta for the bridesmaids' dresses we found in Burlington, but we couldn't find any in Greensboro.

KA:

How do you think your time in the military has affected your life?

RG:

Oh, much, because—well, the discipline and I mean I loved it. Like I said, I did not want to come out, but they had to discharge us, and I was very sad because I wish I could have stayed in. I think I would have gone back in later had I not married. One of my best friends did. She went back in. She was in Korea and everything, and I've lost—it's funny. Well, I've lost contact with all the girls. I'm not in contact with—oh, Lib, but one.

KA:

And what's her name?

RG:

Lib Kerr lives in Charlotte. In fact I talked—she called me not long ago. We went over together on a ship and on the train, but she was already—she had been in a lot longer, so she was a first lieu; that's what we called lieutenants, you know. So, but I haven't seen her. She came to my wedding, and I have not seen her since, but we talk and write letters and send cards. We're trying to get down to see her. Her health is not good either, and mine's not. So, I wish I could see her. We worked together in Fayetteville also and had so much fun.

PB:

They have exchanged a small Christmas gift every year for sixty years, and they haven't seen one another. So, we're trying to get that trip together this spring or summer.

RG:

But I talked to her recently. Another friend she told me almost died and was very ill, but she recovered. She recovered, and she called me and told me about that. Mabel [Knuckles], the three of us were—our last names were K, K, K. I was a King, Knuckles with a K, and Kerr, K-e-r-r. We were the ones that played cards together on the ship, and we rode together on the train, and everything.

KA:

Do you have any funny or interesting stories you'd like to share about your service experience?

RG:

Gosh, I think I told you most of them. Meeting the famous people was interesting.

PB:

What about riding in a Jeep and what you did in the Philippines and the gun?

RG:

Oh, one of my friends, his name was Gene Granger. You know, you met these boys—these guys—and you dated them, but you never became serious. I know none probably were married, but you never knew. But I mean I never did anything I was ashamed of, you know? And they respected us. So, they didn't try to take advantage of us. I mean that's just the way it was overseas when you dated these guys. But Gene was such a nice fellow. He took me up where there were Jap caves, where the Japs had lived in some of these caves. I have a picture of it, and he had a gun with him, naturally, in case, because the war, remember, had just ended, and it was probably some Japanese still up in this area. So, that was kindly eerie, you know? So, that was a lot of fun.

And then I remember one time we ate at this famous hotel, and over in Manila you did not eat anything outside of your mess hall. You could eat a banana because you had to pull a peeling off, but you could not eat any of their food because it was probably contaminated and everything. And I remember we went to this hotel and had this wonderful meal. It was a whole little chicken cooked in coconut oil. Coconut trees were everywhere over there, and then the little appetizer was coconut milk, I remember, to drink, and it was just a wonderful little old meal with this beautiful little hotel. And there was a volcano nearby in Manila. So, Gene was real nice. He took me around all these different places.

And, then, while I was there one day somebody, “Anybody want to go to Corregidor, [Philippines]?” Oh, boy, did I ever hold up my hand, because I had heard about Corregidor. So we got in the ship, and it was several miles, and we got in a boat. It was like a motor boat or something, and it was filled with three girls that were off duty that day. So, we went to Corregidor, and we went inside the laterals where the hospital was, and that was just real thrilling. We had to have our flashlight to go through, and that's where the nurses were with the Japanese, you know, caught them and put them in the concentration camp, you know, which they were in for almost three years. They had just been freed in February before we went over there, the nurses that were in Corregidor, and they were on Bataan [Philippines], but they got across to Corregidor. We did not actually put our feet on Bataan, but it was just across the way. We could see it. I wish we could have stopped by there so I could say I had been on Bataan, but at least I saw it. But going in Corregidor, it was all grown up. See, it had been three years since the nurses were in there, and many, many patients, which the Japanese got them all and put them in the prison camps. So, that was very interesting. On the floor there were all these—adhesive tape used to come in little tins, round tins, and they were all over the floor, and I'm still mad at myself because I didn't pick up one as a souvenir that came out of Corregidor, at the hospital in Corregidor. Corregidor, the hospital, it looks like it was made of solid rock. They dug in. It was made many, many years ago. So, that was the most thrilling thing that happened when I was in Manila was going to Corregidor and seeing that.

PB:

And what about the story about the China Sea?

RG:

Oh, M1 rifles, you've heard of, I'm sure. Well, I dated some guy, and we went some place. Anyway, the China Sea was right there. So, he let me shoot the M1 rifle, and it almost knocked me down. So, I shot it into the China Sea, of course. So, that was kind of fun. But I was just going all the time on my days off. I mean.

PB:

And the sign on the MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] tent, the name of the MASH tent.

RG:

Oh, Bologna Johns. We named our tent Bologna Johns, and every time we would move, they would put us in a barracks or something; we same girls would be together, so we would stick our Bologna Johns sign. I don't know how that came—why we said Bologna Johns. And you didn't get a Coke very often over there. You could get the Coke syrup, but a real Coca-Cola it was thrilling when some Coke came in, and they were still five cents. That's what they were here in the States, a Coke bottle, the short bottle, five cents.

PB:

And the cigarettes.

RG:

Oh, most of the nurses smoked, and I did, too. They were dirt cheap, and then if we had extra ones, we would sell them to the Filipinos, but they didn't like Philip Morris. Oh, no, none of them liked Philip Morris, which I never understood. So, we would get up—the cigarettes would come in. We would get plenty of cigarettes, but the Cokes are what we did not get very much. And then we were allotted a bottle of liquor, and so we would sell that. I mean I didn't drink that. So, we would sell it to the Filipinos and GIs or something to make a profit on it, because it didn't cost very much. All that came out of the PX [post exchange]. We had PXs and everything.

And one of the guys somehow or another found a Japanese canteen, a real Japanese canteen, the one they used, and on the bottom it [unclear]. So I gave it to the boys, my grandsons. So Pam and them have it. They had my canteen that I used all those years. I mean I actually used it, drinking water and Coke syrup. We used to put Coke syrup in it before we were going to our little club, and then dilute it. That's what we would be drinking. [laughs] I know this sounds stupid, but that's—things over there were different during the war. You didn't go in and order a drink. You'd do things like that. You couldn't, because they didn't have it. So, she has my canteen, my two canteens—her boys.

PB:

Have you described the uniforms, the different uniforms? I don't know if I heard all that or not.

RG:

No, we had so many. This is the OD, and this was in basic training, as you can see, it's all nurses. That's the OD outfits. Then we would—on duty they used to wear the white uniforms, but they stopped it just about the time I went into service, and our uniforms on duty were brown and white-striped like a Hoover apron. So, you didn't have to wear a slip, because it pulled around, and then you had a big old cap. Nurses always wore their little caps. So, you had a little cap that matched that little dress. So, that's what we wore on duty. But overseas we mostly wore suntans, slacks and shirts. It was very cheap to get our laundry done, because it was so hot in the daytime. It cooled off at night. You usually needed a blanket at night in Manila, but in the day it was very warm, and we perspired so that we had to change a shirt, of course, every day.

PB:

And the showers in the MASH tents and helmets, what you did with them.

RG:

The first place we lived, you put your helmet down in this little hole, and that was your washbasin. Your helmet liner, you put down, that was your washbasin, and there was no hot water. It was lukewarm heated from the sun, and I did not have a hot shower, I remember, for two months. Then we moved to another place, and we were allowed, we had hot water, but it was always lukewarm water to wash your hair in, and the only shampoo they had in the PX was Breck shampoo, and to this day I would never buy Breck shampoo again. So I'd write home and ask them to send me a different shampoo.

PB:

And the name of the lipstick, the Revlon lipstick, you remember that?

RG:

Pink Lightning. That was the shade we all used, Pink Lightning. We all wore Pink Lightning. Well, I might take some of that now. Lipstick, I think, was about sixty cents in the PX. Things were much cheaper what you could get, but a lot of things—I couldn't get like the darker nail polish. Seems like every other letter, “Please send me so and so and so and so,” you know?

PB:

And one Christmas, didn't you get some nylons?

RG:

Yes, my brother somehow or another found—which our hose were Rayon hose here in the States, but overseas we did not have to wear hose. We wore those horrible brown oxfords, but we did not have to wear our hose with our uniform. We were—we did not wear civilian clothes at all when I was in service. You had to wear—you were in a uniform the entire time. Off duty, on duty, you were in a uniform. And our hose were rayon hose, and so overseas, like I said, we did not have to wear hose. We just went barelegged. We didn't have to wear our caps either with our little dresses, but normally we wore the slacks and we served, you know? And my brother somehow or another found two pairs of nylons. I hadn't had nylons in I don't know when, and so for Christmas I got two pairs of nylons. I was the envy of the barracks because nobody else had nylons. So Christmas was kind of lonely that year, I remember, because I didn't get any packages except the nylons. Even after I got home I got a package that had been sent overseas and then been sent back because I was gone. It was a fruitcake, and it was all messed up, torn up. My roommate in training—

PB:

Did you describe what Pearl Harbor looked like when you went by there going over the—

RG:

Okay, going overseas the war was on, remember? So, Diamond Head, [Hawaii]—nothing was lit up. Diamond Head was dark, everything was dark. We were not allowed to take pictures. You could not get film. You could hardly get film. That's the reason why I have very—don't have many cut out pictures, because it was hard to get the film. It just wasn't available. And nothing had been cleaned up. All the ships were all just the way they were when Pearl Harbor was struck, was bombed. And then coming back the lights were on because the war was over. Diamond Head was lit up. But the ships, they had [not] done anything. The ships were every which a way. So I saw it in the rough, as I call it. So, I had never wanted to go back. My family, most all of them had been. Pam hadn't been, but they have been and seen it. Have you been?

KA:

I haven't been.

RG:

So, I have never wanted to go to Pearl Harbor. I like to remember it like that. It's horrible. It was horrible, all those ships, but we still couldn't take pictures coming back either. We could not take pictures when we came through the Panama Canal. I don't know why, but they didn't allow us to do that either after the war.

PB:

Did you mention when you were working in the chief nurse's office and then playing the organ?

RG:

Oh, yes, like I said, I think I was the only nurse in our unit that typed and played the piano. So, the chaplain, you know, got word of that. So, he had me playing the little organs—I don't know if you are familiar with them, they're about that long, and you had to pump them to make them play. Continuously pump them like this. And so, he had—we had chapel services, church services on Sunday, two services and then had them on Wednesday and another day probably. There were always chaplains on the base where you were. We always had church services. So, he had me playing the organ.

And then I worked in the chief nurse's office most of the time overseas because I could type. There was a lot of typing to do, and then when I wasn't busy I would type letters home. That was nice. Some of my letters I typed to my mother, I noticed they were typed. And then, oh, I became—they wanted me to edit the newspaper. So, I edited the newspaper the last two weeks I was over there. Even the day before I came home I did. It was two pages. We would listen over the radio the news—another guy and I would—and then we would type it up. So, you will see my name up in one corner. Ruth A. King, editor. So, that was fun, but I had done that in high school, so it wasn't anything new really. There were two little things. So, we gave those out to everybody on the post.

PB:

That's neat.

RG:

And this is the front of the letter that was dated April 10, and since this was April 10, I got that out since it was interesting. That's what? Sixty-two years old. I think what you're holding is sixty-two years old. This used to be Route 5 instead of Summit Avenue, but the address was Route 5 back then, and mostly I'm talking about—I got a new teeth, and that's —[laughs] That's what the whole first page.

PB:

And Dr. Bumgardner.

RG:

Oh, Dr. Bumgardner was a famous cardiologist here in Greensboro. He died not too long ago, and he's written two or three books, and he was a—he was a—like I said, he was a cardiologist, not a surgeon; but he was stationed at Sternberger Hospital [in Greensboro]. In Manila when the war came and they were bombed, then he was taken prisoner. He was a prisoner all those years until he was released. After the war ended he was released. So, he came back to Greensboro and practiced. I never told him I was a nurse over there—well, he knew I was a nurse because I would see him, and I know some of his patients. I did a lot of private duty. But I never talked to him about it, but he died less than a year ago, but I have one book of his, isn't it Pam? In fact you have it.

PB:

I have it, yes.

RG:

If you can find it.

PB:

If I can find it.

RG:

She's supposed to be finding it. But that was interesting, that he was over there. But the nurses were so good. I didn't understand for awhile, but they would hold his charts and follow him to see his patients holding his charts, and none of the other doctors were treated like that, and then I understood with what he went through and was a prisoner of war for three years, they were, the nurses at Wesley Long [Community Hospital in Greensboro]—is where he practiced—really treated him nice, which I was so proud of them for doing that.

PB:

You have a funny story about in Hickory in the furniture store.

RG:

Oh, you've heard of the iron lung? It's very old. Well, I had a special—one nurse had to sit at the head of the iron lung. The patient's head was sticking out. The rest of the body was in the iron lung, and it made them breathe. If it went off—you had to pump it by hand if the electricity went off, or they would have died. So, I had the special—the iron lung a lot, and then they decided they wanted to put me on display in a furniture store in Hickory. So, here they took the iron lung—they only had one or two, and they took me to this furniture store. It was either in Newton or Conover [North Carolina], which is a little tiny town near Hickory, and put me in it, and all the school children they would come by and see the iron lung, and here I was in it. So, I would look at them and I'd wink sometimes or I'd close my eyes and scare them to death, because they thought I was dead. So, that was a lot of fun. I'd forgotten about that.

She can think of these things. She's heard me talk about this ever since she was two or three years old. I had some of my caps I was going to show you, and my son is on a kind of cleaning binge, and he took them up in the attic or some place. He said he didn't throw them away, and it's too hard to get up into the attic, so we didn't get them, but they were my little caps with my second lieutenant bar on it. Two or three still had it. I don't have many of those left. So, we have some pictures we'll show you when you get through asking all those questions.

KA:

Well, is there anything else you would like to add about your service experience?

RG:

I just wished I could have stayed in longer. I wished they hadn't said you have to leave because with all the hospitals closing, they had to discharge a lot of us. So, it almost broke my heart because I really did not want to come out, and then I missed it. I missed it dreadfully. But going to Fayetteville, back then working in the veterans' hospital I think was different than it is now. Pam worked in a veteran's hospital in Salem [Virginia], which is outside of Roanoke, and I loved working in Fayetteville at the veteran's hospital. We were treated differently. We would go in the dining room and sit down at white tables and were served. You know, we would look at the menu and tell them what we want, and they would bring it to me in about two minutes. Pam said they weren't treated like that. They went down the line, but we were treated very, very nice. A lot of the girls—they called us those young nurses because we were twenty-three, twenty-three and twenty-four, because I was twenty-four when I married. So I had worked down there. I was ready to get married, you know, when I did, because I had traveled a lot, and I've traveled a little bit since, not as much as I wished.

[Conversations about hrt grandson Garrett's education and wedding, pet names her grandchildren gave her, visiting her grandson, and her current health problems and treatments have not been transcribed.]

RG:

I would be eighty-four end of May, May 31. So, I'm glad, you know, I'm still here, and I hope to be here a lot—as long as possible. I used to say I want to live at least until the children get out of college. So, I'm getting there. Madison has two more years—a year, but I love life. I love my church. I've got some awards from the church: Woman of the Year. I've been the Moderator of the Women. I've done—I'm a deacon. I'm an elder. I've done about everything I can do. And then last year I got the Honorary Life Membership. I'm a Presbyterian. This is Buffalo Presbyterian, which is a very old church. It's on Sixteenth Street in town.

PB:

This church was founded in 1756.

RG:

And my grandfather, great-grandfather made the brick for the main sanctuary. So, they're very, very old. My grandfather was a doctor, country doctor—my mother's father. So, Madison says he wants to be a doctor. He says he wants to be a pediatrician oncologist, isn't that what it was?

PB:

Yes.

[End of interview]