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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Dorothy Ahlswede Baker, 2007

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Object ID: Wv0385.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Dorothy A. Baker's nurse's training and service with the Army Nurse Corps from 1945 to 1947.

Summary:

Baker describes her childhood, including her German ancestry and being raised by her grandparents in Wisconsin. She discusses her nurse training through Bellin College in Green Bay, and mentions joining the Cadet Nurse Corps for the money. Other pre-service topics include working at the Sturgeon Bay Hospital, her second job as a waitress on base, and being turned down for entry into the navy.

Baker primarily discusses her service with the Army Nurse Corps, including her reason for joining and family reactions. She describes basic training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, especially the weather, gas mask drills, and inadequate clothing. She notes the heat while stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but primarily focuses on her time aboard the USAHS Wisteria. Topics include nurses’ duties on ships; German POWs; working with psychiatric patients; Christmas onboard the ship; and sightseeing in Bremerhaven, Germany, and New York City.

Baker describes her other assignments, including traveling with war brides on trains, helping with children onboard; visiting her siblings on these travels; requesting Pacific Theatre ship duty; meeting and marrying her husband; their honeymoon trip to Alberta, Canada; and moving to North Carolina for him to continue his surgical career.

Creator: Dorothy Ahlswede Baker

Biographical Info: Dorothy Ahlswede Baker (b. 1923) participated in the Cadet Nurse Corps program then served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1945 to 1947.

Collection: Dorothy Baker 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:

Kim Adkins:

Today is Wednesday, February 21, 2007, and this is Kim Adkins speaking. I'm in the home of Dorothy Baker in Southern Pines, North Carolina, doing an oral history for the Women Veterans Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Thank you, Dorothy, for agreeing to speak with me.

Dorothy Baker:

You're welcome. It's a pleasure.

KA:

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

DB:

Oh, do you want me to start when I went to nurse's training?

KA:

Well, just start when you were born.

DB:

Oh, my goodness. That's a long time ago. [laughing] That was in 1923, and I was one of five children. But when I was born, two months later my mother died. And so nobody wanted to take the baby, so my grandmother said, “Well, I've had eighteen children. I think I can take her.” So she took me and raised me along with her other children, and I had a real nice life in Wisconsin, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. I was loved by everybody because I was the littlest baby in the house.

And I went to grade school in a one-room building, which is great because there were only about thirty students, and we went to the front of the room to recite. So by the time you got to be in eighth grade you had already heard all these other students saying their part, so you knew just about everything when you got there. You already knew what to talk about.

And then I went to high school, and then I went to nursing school. And that was—and the war broke out. So, well, I was in nursing school. They let us join the Cadet Nurse Corps the last two years, and that meant that we got twenty dollars a month as far as staying in nursing, and that was a lot in those days. That was spending money. As soon as I got out of nursing school—that was at Bellin College of Nursing in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When I graduated from that I joined the army, because it was the patriotic thing to do. And everybody in my class that I know joined the services; we wanted to serve our country.

So I applied for navy first, and I could not get in there because my eyes [were not good enough]. So I applied for army, and I got into the army, but I had to wait six months. During that time I worked at Sturgeon Bay Hospital, and I not only worked as a nurse, but they were so short of help at that time—because it was a shipbuilding time—that when I got off duty, I went on base [sic—home] and put on another uniform with short sleeves, and I would be a waitress until about 9:00 or 10:00 [p.m.]. A lot of us did things like that. Sometimes we shoveled snow to make extra money.

But, anyway, then I was called into service on February 1945, and first—you want me to go ahead with that?

KA:

Go ahead.

DB:

Okay. Well, first I was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. That's for basic training, and that was—this was six weeks of basic training in February in the cold Wisconsin, and the snow was deep. Well, we put on all the clothes we had. So we had to get up at five o'clock for calisthenics, but with all those clothes on we couldn't bend very well, and our sergeant thought we were so stupid. But during basic we had to crawl under barbed wire. We had to go into a gas chamber and take off our gas mask and say our rank, number, and serial number—name, rank, and serial number, and then quick[ly] put it back on. So we learned to do it fast. And I can still say mine: Lieutenant D.C. Ahlswede, N774560 [laughing] and that's after sixty years. And basic training is where you learned to make five [seven—changed by veteran] copies of everything, and you don't know where to send them, but you have to make [seven] copies. I learned all those things.

Well, then, at Easter Sunday they sent us on a troop train to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It was a hot Easter Sunday. We had on our woolen uniforms, and I was so warm. I had never been in the South in my life, and I went to someone in the train station, and I said to this man—he was a civilian—and I said, “Do you live here because you have to, or because you want to?” And he said, “I like it here.”

So, anyway, we were at Fort Jackson for awhile, and there they gave us summer uniforms. So it was better. And each time if we had broken duty—that meant 7:00 to 11:00 [a.m.] or 3:00 to 7:00 [p.m.] duty—we were off in the middle of the day. We would go to the swimming pools. So warm—we didn't have air conditioning.

So I stayed there for awhile, and then they sent to me Charleston [South Carolina] Port of Embarkation, because I wanted to go in the hospital ship. And that was really humid. We washed our clothes, but they never dried. So right soon they sent us on a ship, and it was a big white hospital ship named [USAHS] Wisteria. Beautiful ship, white with red crosses on the sides, and also on the, oh, the pipes on the outside. And I made five trips across the Atlantic [Ocean] on this hospital ship. The first one we went from Charleston to [Cherbourg?], and this is what we did. We took German POWs, prisoners of war, over to Germany—over to Europe and brought back our troops who were wounded and sick. So on the way over we had good food because we put the German POWs in the kitchen and they're good cooks.

But, anyway, our hospital was made of 595 beds, and they were double-decker because the patients that had casts on and[/or] were real sick on the bottom deck, and those that could climb up to the top, they had those bunks. We had big wards. Maybe they held twenty patients. There were about, I think about thirty nurses and maybe twenty doctors on this hospital ship, and we became like a big family, because when you made trips with somebody that many times, everybody is your family.

So, then, let's see—well, my first trip—I'll tell you about the very first trip I made. They put me on psychiatric ward in the bottom hold of the ship, and now if that wasn't a challenge, because—well, it was just as rough—but, anyway, I found out the patients just wanted somebody to sit down and listen. We gave medications, too, but most of the time they wanted to know what America was like. They had been over there fighting for several years, and they wanted to just see an American lady. They had not seen an American girl for a long time, and they asked about everything that was of interest to them. My very first trip, one of the patients tried to hang himself with his bathrobe belt, and we recovered him. He was all right, and we went on.

Another trip I remember our ship was going zigzag like this in the English Channel, and they said we were trying to dodge floating mines that were left from the war. Well, another trip I remember the high seas, oftentimes the North Atlantic was very rough. We were not allowed on the deck because the waves would wash us overboard. So another time I was on night duty on the orthopaedic ward, and all of a sudden it felt like we hit another—[phone ringing] Oh, dear, excuse me.

[Recording paused]

KA:

Orthopaedic ward and—

DB:

Oh, yes. Well, this was what happened in the middle of the night. All of a sudden it felt like we hit another ship. It went bang, and then it just shivered, and then it went like this, up and down, and the next day we found out it was a sub current wave that we hit, but it had broken our rudder, and [there] was a big buckle in the ship. But while I was sitting at my desk and—when this thing hit, all of a sudden my chair went over backwards and the typewriter went on top of me, and I looked up and the patients were standing at the door of my office. Patients that had not even walked since they were on the ship got up and walked to my office. They were afraid something bad happened. Well, I had to assure them, when I found out what it was, that it was going to be all right. And we were, except that meant we had to go into Newfoundland [Canada] and get repairs for ten days, and we were on our way home, and all these patients were wanting to get home for Christmas. That was sad to tell them that.

So what happened is—well, this was the same trip, because my roommate was a Red Cross worker; another one was a dietician. So when we found out we could not be home for Christmas, we—she got little skits ready, and she had us sing a song, and we all helped her and went around to the wards and tried to make Christmas for the patients. It was rough because they had been over there fighting for a long time. But, anyway, we thought we were going to be home, too. So we didn't have any gifts for our friends, but if we had a pair of hose or [unclear] or something we hadn't used, we'd wrap it up in some Kleenex and give it to our best friend, and that was Christmas.

And let me see, we made five trips over there. Oh, one trip we were on our way to Europe when we got a call from this other ship that a patient or a soldier had appendicitis, and they did not have a doctor on that ship, so can we come and get the soldier? We did, and took him on our ship, but then we had to take him all the way back to Europe, and he was on his way home, and he didn't care much for that. So that was one experience we had.

When we came into—oh, I'll tell you something about Bremerhaven [Germany]. That's one of the ports we went to sometime. It was partly—mostly bombed out. In fact, the four of us nurses decided we would do a little sightseeing while the ship was being staffed, and they always have to put the food on and fuel and things like that. So we went to this hotel to spend the night, and it was all bombed out except for three sides [laughing], and they put us in this room that only had three sides to it. The rest was just wide straight out. Well, we said, “That's all right. We have three sides to protect us. We'll be all right,” and the next morning we woke up and there were nine ladies in that room. During the night they had just put more people in, and we didn't even know it, but we were safe, and then the next day we went on our way. But we saw a lot of the sights, and we were over there—but, of course, it was not a pretty sight because somebody bombed out buildings.

When we came to New York, oh, the Statue of Liberty looked so beautiful, and there would be bands playing, and most of us would kiss the ground each time we came into New York. It was the most beautiful sight to behold. Well, one trip this little patient was standing next to me, and as we went by Brooklyn [New York] on the way to the pier, the New York pier, he saw his home in Brooklyn and he said, “I can swim home faster than this old ship can take me.” So he jumped overboard and started swimming home. Well, the captain didn't like that too much. So he lowered the lifeboat and got him back on our ship, and he took his turn getting home, but I can see why. He'd been over there fighting for years, and he wanted to get home.

But when I see a flag or hear Taps or hear the national anthem, I am just so grateful we live in a free country. Now that's a lot I remember about the service. [Clearing throat] Excuse me. I must get a drink of water.

[Recording paused]

KA:

Parents' names were?

DB:

Oh, my parents were Bertha Keller Ahlswede and Arthur Ahlswede.

KA:

How do you spell—

DB:

A-h-l-s-w-e-d-e.

KA:

But you said your grandmother raised you? What was—

DB:

Her name was Keller. Her name was Minnie Keller. Now, they were from the old country. My grandfather really came over. Well, he was born in Germany. I believe he came when he was two years old. My grandmother was born in the United States, but they spoke German at home, and when we went to church every fourth Sunday, the last Sunday of the month, they preached in German and sang in German. So I learned a lot of German.

Oh, I'll tell you something funny that happened. This is why you shouldn't know just a little bit about anything. When we were in Germany and there was another trip we were—there were four of us nurses in a Jeep. We had a German Jeep driver, and he went so fast around the corners and everything, and I said, “Oh, Nicht ser shlim,” because I thought I knew some German, and he laughed, and then he would go faster. And I thought I'm not getting anywhere with him, and when we got back to the ship, I thought—I did the wrong thing. I was saying, “Not so slow, not so slow.” I should have been saying, “Nicht ser schnell! Nicht ser schnell!” That means not so fast. No wonder he laughed and went faster and faster. So you see, it's not good.

Another thing about speaking German, my grandparents would speak German when they didn't want me to understand, but pretty soon I got so that I understood what they were saying. Then it didn't work so good.

You want me to tell you about the war brides that they took on a train? Well, for six months I had this duty to take war brides from Camp Kilmore, New Jersey, all the way across the United States. Is this on?

KA:

Yes.

DB:

And I would drop them off at different places. You know, their husbands had come over ahead of time, and they came, and some had little children, and they were just precious. But my job was to take care of them on the train, and if they had colds or something to treat that, and then when they went to eat in the car, the dining car, I would take care of the children so the mother could go eat by herself. So I was doing that. I made three different trips.

Well, it just happened that I had a brother and sister—I had two sisters, and one brother stayed—they were living in different parts of the United States, and I hadn't seen them for about thirteen years. These are my real family. So I didn't grow up with them, so I didn't know them. Well, I went and asked for a trip to Michigan where I had a sister, and I'd drop off those war brides there and then I went back, and then I asked for a trip to Ohio. I had a brother, and I dropped off the war brides there, and then I asked for a trip to Seattle, Washington, where I had a sister. It worked out so beautifully. I got to see my whole family after all these years, and I could take about two days off each time between trips. So that was a real blessing. Well, I really did—while traveling around and everything—I saw a lot of the world on [unclear] time, but I felt like I was doing something worthwhile.

Would you like to hear about when I was on a troop ship with my husband? Well, after I was at Fort Lewis [Washington] for awhile, I asked for Pacific [Theatre] duty, because I had been—well, finally I was transferred to Fort Lawton [Washington] and that's where the ships went out. Well, one day—we had made one trip to Japan and back. We were taking dependents over to the Orient so the wives and some of the children could go after the war to the Orient to be with their husbands. So one day these two new doctors came on the ship, and this nurse and I were standing at the rail looking at everybody coming up—and I always laugh about this, but it was very, very serious to me. I said, “Well, I'll take the one on the left, and you take the one on the right,” [laughing], and it ended up I married the one on the left, and I didn't pursue it any longer.

But that night we were introduced at supper, and then I got over to Japan—and by the way, his name is Dr. Horace Mitchell Baker, Jr. So we got to Japan, and he asked me if I'd like to go out to eat dinner in a nice hotel in Tokyo, and I said, “Sure.” Anybody would like to go out to dinner in a hotel if you've been in the service. So we went, and somehow there was always a Jeep there to take us and a driver. So he was so tidy. Such a—he still is a real gentlemen! He put his pretty heavy overcoat down so I wouldn't get my uniform dirty, and then when we jumped out he forgot about his overcoat. Some Jeep driver had a new overcoat. But that was a wonderful thing, because not only did he take me, he took the chaplain along. The chaplain was a nice fellow, Chappy Hett, who was our chaplain on the ship, and he was—oh, by golly, enjoyed being with him.

So we had such a nice night, and then we kept dating for a year—no, for about six months while we were on the ship, and later on this chaplain married us. We got married in Seattle, Washington, in the Denny Park Lutheran Church, but it was right after the war. Not many people could travel by air because it was very limited. So only his mother, Horace's mother and sister, came from Lumberton, North Carolina, all the way over there, and I had a sister living in Seattle, so she came to the wedding, and all the rest were the members of our ship that we worked with. See, they had gone out on another trip and they came in port the day before our wedding. If they hadn't come into port—you talked about waiting for your ship to come in, we really did, because there were about a hundred that came to our wedding, and they were all on the ship.

But then each day—I got out right away, and then he stayed in the army another six months. And that's where we spent our first six months, in Seattle, Washington. We had a wonderful life because every weekend we were off, so we took a little trip around in the automobile to see—it's just beautiful out there. And on our honeymoon we went to the Rocky Mountains, way up to Lake Louise [in Alberta, Canada] and all over the ice fields. Oh, we had a wonderful trip about ten days and came back, and he worked some more. Fifty years ago—when we had our fiftieth anniversary, we took the same trip to [unclear] and Lake Louise, and the glacier had receded. I don't know how many feet, but other than that it was the same. It was just beautiful.

So—and then after we were married, we went back to his hometown [Durham, North Carolina] for four and a half years, because that's where he wanted to practice surgery [at Duke University—added by veteran]. His father was a surgeon before him. He had his own hospital and his own nursing school. And here's an interesting fact: Mildred Clark, who graduated from the Baker School of Nursing [Baker Sanatorium Training School for Nurses] in little Lumberton [North Carolina], became the chief of all the army nurses later on in life. She wasn't my chief. I wish she had been because she's so nice, but I thought that was so nice that a girl from a small town could become the head of the whole Army Nurse Corps. So what else would you like to know?

KA:

The school you attended, what was the name of it?

DB:

You mean my nursing school?

KA:

Well, the school in Wisconsin and your nursing school.

DB:

Oh, the school—the grade school was called Stevenson Pier Grade School. It went to eighth, and then it was Sturgeon Bay High School for four years, and then Bellin College of Nursing, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

KA:

Did you enjoy school?

DB:

Yes, I did. I liked school.

KA:

What was your favorite subject?

DB:

Oh, I don't know. I guess it was geography.

KA:

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

DB:

Yes, I must have been in nursing school.

KA:

Do you remember your reactions?

DB:

Oh, everybody was just—oh, just floored. I mean they just couldn't believe it.

KA:

So, when you enlisted you were in nursing school? You did the Cadet Nurse Corps?

DB:

Yes. [For two years—added by veteran].

KA:

You said you wanted to join the navy, is that because you wanted to be on the hospital ship?

DB:

No, well, that was one reason. I thought they had more hospital ships, but I really—I heard that the navy had better quarters than the army did. I had [trained] in Chicago, and that's another thing. I went to Cook County Hospital in Chicago for six months. We had to go there to take psycho[logy], neuro[logy], and pediatrics, six months. They did that in a lot of small schools of nursing, but ISO[?] was a great place, naval training station. Just clean and pretty, and I wasn't disappointed. The navy has hospital ships that are named after things like [USS] Hope, [USS] Comfort and those things. The army named their hospital ships after flowers: [USAHS] Marigold, [USAHS] Wisteria. And what they are, most of them, are converted Liberty ships. In fact, the Wisteria that I was on was only a Liberty ship for about six months during the war, and then they had to completely redo it and make it into a hospital ship, and you knew that you're not supposed to bomb hospital ships. Well, this hospital ship that I was on, the Wisteria, was—it wasn't bombed. It was bombed by a British battle ship accidentally, in the Mediterranean. But another hospital ship, even before this, was bombed by the enemy in the Mediterranean, and that was not good.

KA:

Do you remember the exact day you entered the service?

DB:

It was February 1945, and I expect I have it written down somewhere.

KA:

When were you discharged?

DB:

In 1947, because we were married in '47, June 1947.

KA:

Do you think that patriotism was the number one reason you joined the army?

DB:

Yes, yes. Even to this day I don't know why. I can't stand it when people burn a flag or, you know, at ballgames when they don't stand still when they play the national anthem. That's almost a sin to me. I just feel that—I don't worship the flag, but I know it stands for something so great.

KA:

How did your family feel about you joining?

DB:

They didn't want me to. They said, “Well, you have a great job.” I was working at the local hospital. I had a real good job. They said, “Why do you want to go in the service?” I said, “Because I want to serve my country.” And they thought I was crazy. And after awhile I think they were all right with it.

And for awhile, see, I was living with my grandparents, and they each died, and then my uncle was living there. So he was supposed to take care of me, and he died while I was in the service, and I had nowhere to ship anything to. In fact, to ship the body—you know they always ask you, “Where shall we ship the body in case you die?” I did not have a place that they could ship my body back to bury. But it was all right. [laughs]

KA:

What did your friends and fellow nurses think about you joining?

DB:

A lot of them did. Most of my nursing class did. So they were all right.

KA:

When you joined, was this the first time you had been far from home?

DB:

Yes, it was. We had been from Green Bay to Chicago, which is about two hundred miles by train, to go to Cook County Hospital for about six months. Other than that, I hadn't been far from home at all.

KA:

Do you recall where you joined, where you signed up?

DB:

Yes, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it was so interesting. Another girl and I joined at the same time, and they took our picture next to a cadet poster and put it in the daily paper in Milwaukee, because we were showing how we are supposed to be patriotic and join the Army Nurse Corps.

KA:

What do you remember about your first day in service?

DB:

It was frightening. I guess we spent most of the day filling in applications and blanks, and you had to go around the—it was a Camp McCoy, and that was a fort. Well, it was way up in Wisconsin. It was cold, and you had to go to each place on the fort and sign in. When you have leave, the place you have to sign out, that takes a day to do that. It was frightening for a little girl from Wisconsin.

KA:

Where was your basic training?

DB:

At Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.

KA:

What was it like?

DB:

It was cold and miserable, but I made a lot of nice friends who were also cold and miserable. [laughs]

KA:

Where were you stationed after basic training?

DB:

Then I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and then to Charleston Port of Embarkation.

KA:

What was a typical day like on your job?

DB:

You mean in any army post?

KA:

Well, yeah.

DB:

Well, you get up early because you have to go on duty at 7:00, and you have to eat breakfast before 7:00, so you got up early. And the first thing you did was you got a report from the night nurse, and then you made rounds. And then you did all the medications and anything you had to do for the patient, like take them to x-ray or whatever. I made sure they got their right diet and made them comfortable. We learned a lot, to do a lot of baths and things like that. We had to do that. [unclear]—boys to do that. We didn't get too much of that. Mostly medications and taking orders from the doctors and make sure that they're given.

KA:

Were you just a general nurse?

DB:

Yes, most of the time, and when I was on the ship I helped operate.

KA:

What was the highest rank you achieved?

DB:

First lieutenant. I started out with second lieutenant and went to first.

KA:

Did you ever win any awards or commendations?

DB:

Yes, we got ribbons. We got an award for, oh, I don't know what it was for, but we would get a ribbon if you were in the war zone a certain amount of time. Just the average. Everybody got good conduct ribbon I think. Not everybody, but I mean that was the things that—we got something—oh, I got a letter from President [Dwight] Eisenhower. I thought everybody got one, but it said thank you for being in the service. And—but my husband didn't get one, and other folks did, but I don't know why. And I kept it—it's in the cabinet there somewhere now—but it tells how much he appreciates us being in the service. Now, wasn't that nice? Signed by Mr. Eisenhower.

KA:

Did you enjoy nursing?

DB:

Yes, I did. I always did. Oh, this is one thing. I thought when I got out of the service I would be a public health nurse. So while I was still in the service I applied to the University at Michigan, and I took correspondence courses in public health, and I thought, “I'm going to be the best public health nurse in the whole world.” But then I met my man. [laughs] That was the end of public health.

KA:

How did the men you worked with treat you?

DB:

Oh, they were very kind, very respectful.

KA:

Did you ever work with any male nurses?

DB:

No. But our ward help was a man, most of them were.

KA:

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

DB:

Oh, I don't know. I guess dealing with patients that had to be turned and things like that. It wasn't physically hard.

KA:

How about emotionally?

DB:

Oh, that was hard, especially psychiatric ward. That was hard to do. Some of them, honey, they got letters from their ex-wife at home, a wife at home saying that they didn't want them anymore, things like that. That was real hard to take. That was worse than the shell shock.

KA:

Were you ever afraid or in personal danger?

DB:

Yes. One time on the ship there were four of us nurses who lived in one cabin, and the other friends had gone to sleep, and for some reason I was the last one in the bathroom. So what we had is just a curtain over our doorway that went into the hallway. So I didn't want to turn on the light because I would have bothered the other girls in the room. So I just went to the bathroom [unclear]. Well, when I got out of the bathroom I saw this man standing there, and I was so frightened, and I said—I thought I would scream if I had something like that happen. I didn't scream. I said, “Get out of here right now,” and he did. He turned around and went right out.

So the next morning I told the captain of the ship what happened. Well, he was just real distraught, as it was one of the crew. He had just gotten in—we were in Florida [sic—Seattle, corrected by veteran] at that time, and he probably went out and had too much to drink and couldn't find his cabin and got on the wrong deck, and he had wandered into my room. Well, the captain got everybody on his crew lined up, and the girl and I had to pick out that man. He was the last one in the row. That was the end of his sailing days, but it was frightening, real frightening.

And then, too, see, the ship was always docked at a pier, and the piers are not the best places in town. It is frightening. Say if you came in after midnight sometime, if you would go home on a train and then come in after midnight, you'd have to walk a long pier in the dark. They had guards some places, but it was frightening. But in the Philippines when we was there, you had to take everything off your dresser. Say if that was a porthole here, and the dresser here, you couldn't leave watches or anything on your dresser because—see, they didn't come on board. I guess they were working on the ship at the time, and they would put their hand in and just take anything that was on your dresser. You had to watch your way. Of course, in uniform we felt a lot safer than if we were in civilian clothes. We went lots of places in uniform that I would never go as a civilian.

KA:

What did you do for fun?

DB:

We made our fun. Like on the ship, I didn't play cards. Some people played bridge, and we just all sat around and talked, and you worked so many hours really you were tired when you were off duty. You just went to bed and slept.

KA:

Did you ever attend dances?

DB:

Dances?

KA:

Dances.

DB:

Sure, and one time we were in New York and I was dating a fellow from the ship and we went to a formal dance. That was after the war because we were allowed to wear our civilian dress, and I got a long dress and a corsage and all that. That was very special.

KA:

What about movies, did you go to movies?

DB:

We had movies on the ship sometimes, yes.

KA:

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

DB:

Yes.

KA:

And you went out on dates?

DB:

Yes, we were allowed to date, but they had to be our own rank. They could not be folks that were not an officer, if you were an officer. The other way around, too.

KA:

Did you ever think of making the military a career?

DB:

No, not after I met my husband. [laughs]

KA:

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

DB:

It was very patriotic. That's the trouble. Nowadays people aren't patriotic. I'm just thinking generally. Then everybody tried to do something to help. The women rolled bandages; and, you know, they didn't need those bandages. By the time they got through pressing them they were dirty. Of course, you could sterilize them, but that gave them something to do. And they wrote letters to the soldiers, and everybody helped. There was rationing, gas rationing. You could not drive your car everywhere you wanted to go. I know the nicest thing that we could do; we got ration books even in the service. We were allowed so much sugar and so much butter and so forth, but the nicest thing we could do if somebody invited us to their home to have a meal, we gave them our ration stamp for that. Oh, that was so nice. They just appreciated that.

KA:

Who were your heroes or heroines of those days?

KA:

Well, I don't know. I think that I really admired the USO folks like Bob Hope and those folks that spent Christmas away from home and went to the front and entertained the troops. Now, they really gave a lot. [Musician] Glen Miller. I had a picture of this fellow I dated that looked like Glen Miller, a picture in my room, and people said, “Did you date Glen Miller?” I said, “No, it was just somebody I met.” But, anyway, he did a lot for our troops. We read about all these folks that gave up a lot that—they were right in [there] fighting, [they] went to the front, because we see pictures of them, and they had to—every once in awhile they had to get down underground because especially in the British—in London, you probably read a lot about the bombs coming over every night in London, and that was awful. And then we had doctors that we admired. We just had all kinds of people. Oh, I always admired my teachers in nurses' training. They were wonderful people, and they believed that the patient comes first. They taught us well.

KA:

Well, what did you think of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt?

DB:

Oh, they were great, especially Eleanor. I mean she was just to be admired. She just loved everybody and wanted the world to be [peace loving]. He was also a good president. We sat and listened to his fireside chats. It was a wonderful couple.

KA:

What was your opinion of President [Harry] Truman?

DB:

He was fine. I think at the time we didn't think so much of him, but since he's gone, everybody thinks he is one of the best presidents we've had.

KA:

Do you have any favorite songs from that era?

DB:

Yes. Oh, the ones that we had when we dated, when Horace and I dated, is It Had to Be You. That was our favorite. Oh, we liked a lot of the other ones, too, but even now when we go somewhere we ask for that song.

KA:

What about movies, do you have any favorite movies?

DB:

Well, now it's [The] Sound of Music, but at that time I don't know what was. We didn't get to see many movies.

KA:

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

DB:

I don't really remember.

KA:

That was May 8, 1945.

DB:

I must have been—let me see, May. I must have been at Fort Ogden before I got on a ship. No, it must have been—I was probably on the ship, somewhere on the hospital ship.

KA:

What about VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, do you remember?

DB:

That was?

KA:

August 14.

DB:

Nineteen forty-five. That's gone to me. I can count backwards. I don't know, but it must have been just a wonderful thing. [DB added later: I was on the hospital ship, the Wisteria—].

I tell you what, when we were on duty, you see, we didn't have a lot of communication. We didn't have—unless they came up over the loud speaker, we didn't know what was going on.

KA:

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

DB:

Well, I wanted to because I was married, and I was anxious to be a mother and raise a family. Yes, but nursing has helped me a lot, because when you have three children and they all have fever sometime, and I mean things you learn in nurse's training helps all through life.

KA:

Was readjusting to civilian life easy for you?

DB:

Sure.

KA:

Why do you think that was?

DB:

I don't know. I was ready for it. I enjoyed the service, but when it was time to get out, I was ready.

KA:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

DB:

No, my husband and I have been married probably sixty years now. In June it will be sixty years, and we are just together all the time. I don't know how I would do without him.

KA:

Well, many people consider service women of your day pioneers. Is that how you feel?

DB:

I guess so. Because, you see, [the] Second World War was, of course—the first war [World War I] they had nurses, too, but it was probably the second war everybody went out to help. I guess we were pioneers.

KA:

Do you believe that by serving in some capacity, whether it was in the military or the women who worked civilian jobs, that they helped the women who came after them who were in the women's liberation movement?

DB:

Yes, I sure do. In fact this Mildred Clark that I was telling you about that became the chief of nurses, at that time you could not be a general if you were a nurse. Well, when she got out she went to Congress and made sure they had a law that you could be a general if you worked your way up to that. She was as high as they could be as a lLieutenant colonel, as a full colonel. After that, you could be a general. And I met General [Wilma L.] Vaught, who was—she's retired. I met her in Washington.

We went up to Washington about five years ago when they made that memorial to all women [Women In Military Service For America Memorial]. Have you seen pictures of that? All women that had been in the service, a beautiful memorial as you go into Arlington Cemetery. Well, we were there at the dedication of that. It was so beautiful. They gave us a whole weekend of beautiful pageantry. Everywhere we went they had an escort to take us nurses wherever we wanted to go, and they had a big dinner dance. They had speeches. They had movie stars. They just treated us like royalty. And afterwards my husband came with me, and we could wear part of our uniform if we could wear it. Now, we each wore our caps, our army caps, and after each ceremony people would come up and say, “Thank you for what you did for us.” I mean strangers would come up and thank us. It was the most beautiful weekend we've ever encountered, and in Washington, D.C., they know how to put on a good weekend. I have pictures of some of that in there if you would like to see them.

KA:

What did you do after you left the military?

DB:

Then I got married right away, so.

KA:

So, did you ever—

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

KA:

OK, you were telling me your children's names.

DB:

All right. Ruth Ann [Baker] was our first child, and she grew up and went to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and she went into fashion design. She lives in Lumberton now with her husband, John. They had a restaurant and just retired from that, and she lives in our home that we used to live at. So she was brought up in that home. So she's real happy right there, and she now has children and grandchildren. Our second child is Horace Mitchell Baker III, and we call him Mitch. He's a lawyer in Wilmington. He's married to Connie, and they are very happy there in Wilmington. Our third child was Annette, and she's married to David Hines, who is the music director at Asbury [sic—Sharon] Methodist Church in Charlotte, and Annette is a nurse who went to Duke Nursing School. Got her BS [bachelor of science] and she went to East Carolina [University] and got her master's. Then she went to [The University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill and got her nursing practitioner [licence], and now she's assistant dean of nursing at Queens College [now Queens University, Charlotte, North Carolina], and she's working on her PhD. So—and she has a little boy, Joe. They come to visit us a lot. That was our family.

KA:

How do you feel about women in combat positions?

DB:

I don't know. That's hard to take. I think that a nurse is about as close as you want to get to the combat zone.

KA:

Did any of your children join the military?

DB:

No, they did not.

KA:

Did you encourage them to?

DB:

No, we always let them do what they wanted.

KA:

How did your service affect your life?

DB:

I think it made us more sympathetic. Even when I notice about this, most of us being in the service, when we travel—we travel a lot since then. If you meet somebody that has been in service, they understand what you're saying. If they've never been in service, you can talk about some experience you're having [and] they just sit like that and say—well, they don't understand what you're talking about. There's just this big feeling.

In fact, March 1st we're having a meeting here. Did you hear about that? Well, several of us who are chosen to tell them—these are high school folks in history class. They bring them once a year in the different classes, and folks that live here, most of us are veterans, and we get up and tell what it was like. Like I'm going to tell about life on a hospital ship this time. Last time I talked about something else, and one man here had to do his—he was the one that helped make the atom bomb. He lives here. Two of them are going to talk about being prisoners of war. Several are going to talk about bombing the enemy, and about twelve of them this next Thursday. So that should be interesting, and don't you know those students are going to enjoy that firsthand? It makes history a lot easier. Well, you know, don't you?

KA:

Is there anything else you would like to share about your service experience?

DB:

I don't know. I would encourage people—I think even a person that doesn't know whether they want to go to college or not or what they wanted to be, if they would go in service for two years and get that discipline—They teach them how to have discipline, and that's important in life, and how to get along with people, because isn't that the most important thing you can do, get along with others? All of life you have to no matter where you live. The sooner you learn that, the better. So I think that it's good training for anybody. I'm sorry about the war, and I hate for people to get killed and hurt. That's a bad thing. I don't think there is a good war. Never has been.

KA:

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

DB:

Yes, I will tell you about one time when we were still on the hospital ship and this friend of mine that was a nurse there; her name was Marjorie [see Marjorie Wolf German's interview]. She fell in love with this doctor on the hospital ship, so she was going to get—they were going to get married in New York City when we got into port. So about three of us nurses went to help her pick out her wedding dress and her trousseau in New York. Well, when we docked the ship it was at a pier, but when we came back from shopping they had to leave the pier for some reason and go out in the middle of the harbor. So we had to take a barge from shore onto the ship [clock chimes] and when we got back to the ship, to the pier, we had to take this barge. And there was a rope ladder going up, and it's hard to get on to a rope ladder when your barge is going like this and the ship is going like this.

So we grabbed for that rope ladder. Well, my friend, Marge, missed the ladder and went into the water, and her wedding dress floated away from us. Well, we got her out of the water first—and New York Harbor is the dirtiest place—we got her out, and then we quick caught the dress, and then we all climbed up the ladder and got safely on our ship, and we had her take a bath and get cleaned up. Well, this fellow that was on watch, of course, he must have seen that happen, and he said, “Is everybody all right?” And he came to our cabin. And we said, “Yes, we're all right now,” and getting cleaned up. So that was fine, and the next day we all went to New York City and went to “The Little Church Around the Corner” [The Church of the Transfiguration, New York City]. I think that's what it's called, and went to their wedding, and they lived happily ever after. So, but I don't know of anything else that's—I could show you some of the things I have if you have time. Now, what is it, twelve o'clock? I must run in here a minute.

[End of Interview]