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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Elizabeth Ray, 2008

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Object ID: WV0416.5.001

Description: Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Ray primarily discusses her lengthy career in the army and air force.

Summary:

Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Ray briefly discusses being raised by her widowed father, moving frequently around Oklahoma because of his job, attending Oklahoma College for Women and University of Oklahoma, and her brief career in journalism. She primarily discusses her career as an officer in the military from World War Two through the mid-1960s in which she rose from the rank of third officer to a colonel and director of Women in the Air Force.

Ray provides some of the details of her service during World War Two, particularly her duties in Africa and Italy. Of note are her descriptions of traveling overseas in a convey, meeting General Eisenhower, and a plane crash in which several WACs under her command died. She also details her duties at Strategic Air Command (SAC) and for the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS).

Other subjects include the integration of women into military service, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Ray's views on women in the military, her concept of service, and her opinions on political and military leadership.

Creator: Elizabeth Ann Ray

Biographical Info: Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Ray (1913-2011) served as an officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), Women’s Army Corps (WAC), and Women in the Air Force (WAF) from 1942 to 1965. Ray served as director of WAF from 1961 to 1965.

Collection: Elizabeth Ann Ray 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:

Untitled Document
Therese Strohmer:      

Well, good afternoon. This is Therese Strohmer, and today is June 11, 2008. We are in Southern Pines, North Carolina. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And I have Betty Ray here with me, but she has her name that she wants on her collection. Go ahead and say how you’d like it to read.

Elizabeth "Betty" Ray:          

Elizabeth Ann Ray

TS:      

All right, we’re going to check this now.

[recording paused]

TS:      

This is just one more test. I want to make sure I’m picking up Betty’s voice really well. Betty, just why don’t you just say hello to me?

BR:     

Hello, hello.

TS:      

There we go.

[recording paused]

BR:     

[unclear] I know that.

TS:      

Well, I think we’ve got it set right now. We could start off, I guess, by having you tell me where and when you were born?

BR:     

Well I was born in Winnsboro, Texas, which is about eighty miles east of Dallas on May 31, 1913.

TS:      

This is—So you just had a birthday, actually.

BR:     

Just had a birthday.

TS:      

Well, happy birthday to you, belated.

BR:     

I had a nice party. [laughter] We celebrate around here.

TS:      

Well, you should celebrate. That’s terrific. Well, what was it—so Texas, right?

BR:     

Texas.

TS:      

What was it like growing up in Texas?

BR:     

Pardon?

TS:      

What was it like to grow up in Texas?

BR:     

Well, I didn’t grow up in Texas, because I left Texas when I was—oh, let’s see. How old was I? I think about nine years old. And [I] grew up in Oklahoma.

TS:      

Whereabouts in Oklahoma?

BR:     

All over, all over really.

TS:      

Why were you travelling around then?

BR:     

My father was a newspaper man and he worked for a chain of newspapers.

TS:      

Chainer?

BR:     

A chain of newspapers.

TS:      

Oh, okay.

BR:     

Pulliam, Pulliam chain. Not in existence now, but anyway. We moved to Duncan [Oklahoma]. My mother died when I was very young, two years after we moved there. And then he—oh, I can’t remember the dates. I went to—I know that after she died, I moved back to Texas with my sister and brother, who was a baby, and lived with my grandmother for—until we were old enough to rejoin my dad. Dates I don’t remember; I’d have to have that in front of me.

Anyway, I got back to Oklahoma, and for what we’d call junior high school, and then when he went to work for the newspaper chain, I went around with him wherever he went. And I went to four different high schools in four years. [laughs]

TS:      

Did you really?

BR:     

Yeah.

TS:      

What was that like?

BR:     

Oh, I didn’t mind. I didn’t know the difference. I loved it.

TS:      

You got the travelling bug in you then?

BR:     

No, it wasn’t just the travelling bug. I didn’t mind changing, changes. And we went from, let’s see, high school in Oklahoma City and Mangum and Hollis and Duncan. Anyway, I finally graduated from high school in Mangum, Oklahoma.

TS:      

You remember what year that was that you graduated?

BR:     

Yeah, 19—let’s see, 1930? I have to backtrack.

TS:      

What year did you say you were born?

BR:     

Nineteen-thirteen.

TS:      

Nineteen-thirteen.

BR:     

And I—let’s see, college in—oh, god.

TS:      

Around 1930. Sounds like that’d be—

BR:     

Thirty, all right, yeah.

TS:      

That sounds right.

BR:     

High school in ’30 and university in ’34. Yeah, that’s on track.

TS:      

Yeah, that makes sense. So—

BR:     

So I graduated from high school finally in Mangum and next four years of college.

TS:      

Well, before we go to college, what was it like growing up? Did you have any, like, sports or games or anything that you played with your—

BR:     

I played all the high school sports they offered, but, you know, they were not glamorous and they’re not very—we played basketball, and we didn’t have tennis courts in high school or swimming or anything like that.

TS:      

Or maybe not golf, huh?

BR:     

No. Gymnastics, we had gymnastics because anybody could do that, you know. No, no golf. No golf. Not golf until—no, we did have golf.

TS:      

Did you?

BR:     

No, I played—I know. Yeah, I played golf in Mangum at the edge of a cotton field I think it was. It wasn’t a golf course. My father loved golf, but he had to give it up because he injured his shoulder. And he gave these clubs that I thought were wonderful—the very thing you shouldn’t have: long 2-irons. Wouldn’t even have them in my bag today [laughter] but I didn’t even know the difference. I had a club in my hand and a little ball down there, and it belonged to my father, and so I hit the golf balls.

TS:      

That’s all you needed, right? That’s all you needed.

BR:     

But anyway, it was not a scholastic sport. It was something I picked up.

TS:      

Now did you have any other, like, neighborhood games that you played? Did you—

BR:     

I don’t remember.

TS:      

Were your brother and sister, in age, were you the younger or the older?

BR:     

My brother was very much younger. He was the baby. Yeah. My sister is two years older, and we’re vastly different. She entered the boy-crazed phase when I thought it was silly. So we were not chummy.

TS:      

All right.

BR:     

That’s about it.

TS:      

When you were going to school, did you have a favorite subject or subjects that you liked?

BR:     

Not particularly, no. We didn’t have journalism in high school, but I always grabbed the opportunity to get into it, so I was always busy with journalist projects in high school, you know.

TS:      

Right.

BR:     

The little paper you put out, and interviewing, and I’d sell ads on the street, anything to get close to the newspaper.

TS:      

Did you like writing? Was that part of it?

BR:     

Yes I did. I was—I made up my mind very early that I wanted to go into journalism, which I did.

TS:      

Was that your goal when you were in high school, also?

BR:     

Oh, yes. Yeah.

TS:      

So you had your mind set on going to college?

BR:     

Oh, yes. It’s sort of a given in my family that I’d go to college.

TS:      

Okay. Was that—do you remember if it was difficult to pay for college at that time?

BR:     

Oh, this was the middle of the Depression in Oklahoma, and we were hit very hard. I didn’t know I was not well-off. Everybody was like that, you know, everyone, everyone. I did it with side jobs and a little student loan and whatever help my dad could give me. We muddled through.

TS:      

Where did you go to college?

BR:     

First, for one year at a girl’s college in Chickasha, Oklahoma, [Oklahoma College for Women—now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma] and then I transferred to University of Oklahoma because I wanted to get into the school of journalism early.

TS:      

Were now there a lot of women or girls in college with you at that time?

BR:     

What do you mean?

TS:      

Going into journalism school.

BR:     

Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. We had—yes. Some of our best students, and I would say that it was almost as many women in journalism, majoring in journalism, as there were men at that point.

TS:      

Really?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

Okay. So you saw yourself as becoming a journalist then?

BR:     

Yeah.

TS:      

Okay. So how was college? Did you get to do anything fun?

BR:     

I can’t remember college being much fun. I had to work and scrounge day to day to stay in college. That’s all I can remember.

TS:      

Did you stay in dorms, or—

BR:     

No, not all the time. My father was in Oklahoma City at that time, and we had an urban train that ran from Oklahoma City to the Norman campus, and I commuted to university the first year or two, and then finally I moved into a faculty member’s one bedroom for rental and to finish up. You scrounged in those days, but you didn’t know you were scrounging, you know? Everybody was doing it.

TS:      

Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. 

BR:     

There was no problem.

TS:      

So you graduated college in 1934, I think you said?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

So what did you do after college?

BR:     

Well, I went to work on a newspaper before I got my—before the graduation ceremonies. I had to go off from work to go get it. And I went to work for a paper in Anadarko, Oklahoma. And I’m sure I got the job because these people were colleagues of my father’s, but anyway, I got it. And I made ten dollars a week. Every Saturday night I got ten dollars in cash. And I loved it, because some of my fellow journalists couldn’t get a job. I had one friend whose family was better off than ours and they actually paid somebody to give them a job. You wanted the experience for one year to get a certificate of journalism after you graduated. And that was the aim: go to work somewhere in journalism and get that certificate.

TS:      

Okay. I didn’t realize that was part of what you had to do.

BR:     

I don’t think they do that—do anything like that anymore.

TS:      

Kind of like on the job training.

BR:     

Yeah.

TS:      

So where did you work at?

BR:     

Pardon?

TS:      

Where was it that you worked at?

BR:     

This was Anadarko.

TS:      

Anadarko.

BR:     

Anadarko.

TS:      

And did you continue past that one year?

BR:     

Oh, yeah. I stayed there three or four years. I don’t know the exact date. I stayed—

TS:      

Oh, no. That’s okay. Do you remember what kind of stories? Did you get to write stories?

BR:     

Just general. I wound up, shortly after I went there, as city editor. And I took—you did everything. I not only covered city news, town news, but I took AP [Associated Press] news with earplugs on and sit in the—taking reader [Reuters?] news. It was reader service out of the branch in Oklahoma City. And that was an experience I wasn’t prepared for, because I wasn’t that good a typist. [laughs]

TS:      

So was that when the stories came in and you had to type them out from the AP?

BR:     

Yeah, it was a reader service and they read it off, and you have to keep up, and if you interrupt them too many times they might—you might lose your job. [laughs] And this happened about the time we got into the beginning of World War II. Not that we were in it, but all these foreign names came up, you know. And you try to spell a bunch of city names in Czechoslovakia without any background at all and you’re lost.

TS:      

That’s true. Ceske Budejovie or something like that.

BR:     

They spell it once and then you hesitate to interrupt. Everybody else is in—the little papers are on this same thing. Interrupt them and ask them to repeat it because it’s embarrassing, you know.

TS:      

You just hope somebody else interrupts them first?

BR:     

Yes. Yes, take your turn. Anyway, that was an experience. That was my beginning in journalism.

TS:      

So how long did you continue in journalism?

BR:     

That really was the end of my so-called newspaper experience, because I went to the War Department [United States Department of War] in Washington [D.C.] the Public Relations Bureau, which had nothing to do with that kind of work.

TS:      

It wasn’t journalism.

BR:     

It was paperwork, paperwork.

TS:      

Well, how did that come about? How did you come about working for the War Department?

BR:     

Well, the War Department was—it was pre-World War II, before Pearl Harbor. The War Department was busily—they were at war. We were at war then, really, we just weren’t committing troops, that’s all. And the War Department was building up rapidly, and they were recruiting, and I was recruited to go and went to Washington. One of the reasons I did is because I knew some good people who’d gone up there, and I wanted to get in on the act, you know.

I must admit that one of the reasons I did it was that when you go to work for the civil service, there is no gender difference in salaries. And I got a little ticked off at times that some of my cohorts were making more money than I, because in this little small town they were married and had a family, and you just didn’t do that to them. I think that’s the first time when the sex gap hit me strongest. And I thought, you know, “I’ll go try civil service,” which I did. I never regretted it.

TS:      

So that was in the late thirties?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

So you got equal pay.

BR:     

[What?]

TS:      

You got equal pay.

BR:     

Yes, that’s right.

TS:      

Very good.

BR:     

That’s right.

TS:      

What was it like to go from where you were in Oklahoma to Washington, D.C.?

BR:     

Washington was just a big little town then, really. I walked. I lived—I went to—first I went up there and moved in with a cousin of mine who was much older than I. And she sort of took me under her wing. Seventeen—I’ll never forget the address—1710 K Street is now—and she had a big lovely, big apartment. That’s—that became the center. That building became the center of the early lend-lease program with Britain. It’s been a hideout for lobbyists ever since. That’s where all the—and that was residential. This was a little town. And I would walk through Lafayette Park at night feeling perfectly safe, going to the old War Department to work, back and forth. It was a little town. I wouldn’t—you can’t do that now.

TS:      

No, no. You sure can’t. You sure can’t. Well, what kind of—you said you did a lot of paperwork?

BR:     

Yeah, it was a funny job. I had—we had a—one of the things that I did was to—I was actually at one point interviewing other people to take the jobs in public relations. We were building up then.

TS:      

Oh, okay.

BR:     

And I covered news conferences. And after the news conferences with our military leaders, reporters would come to me to verify quotations they thought that they had picked up from these people in briefings. I went to all the briefings, and there were numerous briefings every day. There was no writing at all. It was a paper job. But it was exciting times in Washington.

TS:      

So you liked being there?

BR:     

I liked it. I enjoyed it. You knew you were close to the action and that’s—I think that’s what newspaper people want to do, more than report it. They just want to be where it’s happening. [laughter]

TS:      

That may be true. That may be true. Well so did you continue to work for the War Department throughout the war?

BR:     

No, that’s how I got in. In the bureau of public relations, they had what they called Women’s Interest Section, and it was headed by Oveta Culp Hobby, she being from a newspaper family.

TS:      

That’s right.

BR:     

And I admired her greatly, and I’d sit in awe of—when General George Marshall—whom I credit with women in the service getting a start that they did—introduced her as the selected head [of] his experiment with women in service, which became the WAACs [Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps], I thought, “This is for me. I want to do this,” mainly because I admired her so much. So when I got a chance, I put in my application immediately.

TS:      

Immediately?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

So what year was it that you signed up?

BR:     

Well, I went to the first—gosh, you know, [pause] I just don’t keep dates in mind. Right after—

TS:      

How—

BR:     

Right after Pearl Harbor.

TS:      

That’s what I was going to say.

BR:     

It was right after Pearl Harbor.

TS:      

Okay.

BR:     

General Marshall got—went to Congress and said, “We need women,” and he got it. And they immediately started signing people up. I don’t know how they got us in uniform as fast as they did, but they did. And I put in my application for Officer Training School. My boss said—the man I worked for said, “I’ll release you from civil service if you’re accepted for officers’ school, but I won’t if you’re not accepted.” [chuckles] So anyway, I went in as an officer candidate at that point. And Pearl Harbor had happened already at that point. That was it, circumstances. Nothing—I don’t think many things are planned in a career anyway. You plan it, but circumstances overtake it, you know.

TS:      

That’s true. The reason that you joined then, was it patriotic reasons?

BR:     

It was—maybe it was patriotic. It was a feeling of, “I want to be in this thing. I want to be a part of it, since its happening.” And you can call it patriotism or whatever.

TS:      

Yeah. What was it that you got to do after Officer Training School, when you went through there?

BR:     

I went into public relations. [laughs] My first assignment was hometown releases, and I got so tired of hometown releases I couldn’t stand it. And so I—after a stint with a training center in Daytona Beach, Florida, I was sent back to Washington. And I thought, “Oh, dear. This is not what I signed up for.” So I was temporarily holding down a job in the WAAC—the WAAC Headquarters that screened, among other things, they screened people, new officer candidates, new officers for overseas jobs, and I got my chance. I put my name in. I assigned myself to an overseas job. [chuckles] But you know these things happen as you go along.

TS:      

Sure, you just hear about it and—

BR:     

Yeah, had an opportunity and grabbed it.

TS:      

So did you—

BR:     

But one of the jobs I had was onerous. [It] was in the Pentagon. At the time they’d moved into the Pentagon, brand new. There were no individual offices. It was just one big open floor with telephone connections coming out of the floor on your desks. And we had tons of mail from enraged parents saying that the army was grabbing their women and putting them in uniform for onerous reasons, you know, and all that sort of thing. The protest to [First Lady] Eleanor Roosevelt cascaded. A lot of these letters would come in, and they’d send them over to our bureau to prepare an answer for her stamped signature. And I sat there and wrote most of them, duplicate letter after letter after letter to enraged parents because their daughters were hijacked into the military. [laughs]

TS:      

Do you remember what you said in response to their concern?

BR:     

We just gave—what would you give?—the usual Washington response, you know, glorified serving your country and that sort of thing. There’s nothing personal about them. But once in a while you had to address a particular complaint that might, you know—it was—this didn’t go on for very long until I got myself assigned overseas.

TS:      

So you did get the assignment? Where did you end up overseas?

BR:     

I started in Algiers [Algeria] and then moved over to Bari, Italy, eventually, where I spent the rest of the war.

TS:      

So what kind of work did you do?

BR:     

I was in command of a group of women. I didn’t care what I did. That’s what I went in for.

TS:      

Yeah. What were the women doing that you were in command of?

BR:     

All the jobs that they were open for at that point, it was secretarial, communication. They did almost all the communication work and clerical work. Everything but noncom[missioned officer]—everything noncom had, they could do.

TS:      

So what was your rank at this time?

BR:     

I was a first lieutenant. Oh, when they first commissioned us out of Des Moines, Fort Des Moines, Iowa, the men were so hesitant [with] what to do with women that they called us third officer. They made up this rank, third officer. By the time I got to my first assignment to the Pentagon, I was a second lieutenant, and they decided they’d scrap this first, third—second  and first officer. They decided that you couldn’t live in Washington, D.C., on a second lieutenant’s salary, so they issued policies, you know, right off the top of their heads, and said, “If you’re assigned—if you’re in Washington and you are not promoted to first lieutenant, we will reassign you.” So I was assigned—I was promoted to first lieutenant so that they wouldn’t have to reassign me. Not because I deserved it, but because I couldn’t live on that salary. [laughter] That was my first promotion.

TS:      

Is that right?

BR:     

To first lieutenant.

TS:      

Was it—the pay that you were getting when you were in the civilian service—

BR:     

It was the same. No, the pay, our military pay was identical with men’s. That was not the question.

TS:      

The question was the pay that you received in the military, compared to when you were working in the civilian government—

BR:     

Oh, in comparison I lived very well in Washington on my civil service salary.

TS:      

Was it higher at that time?

BR:     

Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. No, you—it was not even subsistence salary for—we didn’t even call it salary for a junior officer, third officer, even a second lieutenant. Second lieutenant was the same as the men. I don’t—you didn’t see very many second lieutenants in Washington. They couldn’t live on it. There’s no way you could live on the salary there.

TS:      

Interesting. So when you to—where’d you say you went? To Algiers first?

BR:     

Algiers, yes. That was the headquarters. That was General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower’s headquarters.

TS:      

Now you went over I’m assuming on a ship. Do you remember that trip at all?

BR:     

Oh, yeah. It was the largest convoy that they had ever sent over. The convoy was hundreds of ships and the center of it [were] these diamond-shaped things they had. The troops were in the most protected spot. It was very dangerous to cross the ocean at that point, and the ships carrying the troops were in the center of the diamond shape thing headed by battleships and destroyers around. And the least protected on the outskirts, least protected were those carrying supplies to the troops. And the whole thing moved very slowly, because they could only go as fast as the slowest ship in the convoy. And it was very interesting. The captain of the ship I was on would visit us and point out—everything was quiet, no radio communications. He could point out as far as the eye could see these ships around us and what they were doing. It was very illuminating.

TS:      

Yeah. So were you nervous at all crossing the ocean?

BR:     

No, no.

TS:      

No.

BR:     

We had no fear. We didn’t know, you know.

TS:      

[chuckles] How did you pass your time?

BR:     

This—people with people. I had—I was with troops and sort of looked after their welfares.

TS:      

That probably kept you busy.

BR:     

That kept you busy, yes.

TS:      

Now was this before or after D-Day, or as part of D-Day?

BR:     

Oh, this is well before D-Day.

TS:      

Well before. So you were there before D-Day?

BR:     

Oh, yeah. This was—as a matter of fact, when we—as you approached the European continent, the ships began to—the convoy would break up and they would go to their port destinations and all. And they had decided at some point before we arrived that it was too dangerous for the troop ships to enter—the ones I was with—to enter to our destination in Algiers because the gulf was under heavy fire. They knew where every German submarine was, and they were crawling in this place. So a change in our destination was in Casablanca [Morocco], and we got off there and went in little trains to Algiers. But all of this, this captain was very kind of these women officers on board. He told us everything’s going on that he could.

TS:      

Well, that’s nice.

BR:     

It was interesting.

TS:      

So you got to Casablanca and then you—

BR:     

And then got on little trains—

TS:      

Trains.

BR:     

And then—

TS:      

How was that ride?

BR:     

Funniest little trains you ever saw. [laughs]

TS:      

Really? Why were they funny?

BR:     

Well, they’re little. They’re little trains, and nothing but little boxcars with seats in them.

TS:      

Is that right? Just make—

BR:     

That—I don’t know. I don’t remember whether it was day or night. We hung on to our—and our own little supplies went with us all this time. You had to keep up with that.

Anyway, we arrived finally in Algiers, and I was with a large headquarters company. I was the executive officer. We were assigned to Gen. Eisenhower’s headquarters. We were housed in an old convent in Algiers.

TS:      

Oh, really? How was that? How was the accommodations then?

BR:     

We slept on little cots with funny little mattresses. And you went out at night on the—looked to me like this one great big porch to wash or clean up at night, so you wouldn’t be seen. [laughs]

TS:      

Really? Okay.

BR:     

This was very spartan, very spartan.

TS:      

It was a convent, after all.

BR:     

It was a convent.

TS:      

Yeah. Well—

BR:     

But I didn’t—I was not there very long until they were forming smaller headquarters platoons or whatever you want to call them for—the air force was setting up business by then in Italy. We had—The push was on. We had sort of cleaned up Algiers, and were on our way to Italy, and then they push up the boot to—war was progressing then pretty fast. So the 15th Air Force had set up headquarters in Bari, Italy, and they were calling for a contingent of women to help do the things women were doing. Our staff director back in Naples selected me to take a bunch of troops up there, and I was delighted. It was what I wanted.

TS:      

Yeah.

BR:     

Move on up, so I did. In fact, I took a—they shipped a bunch of women they called casuals, they weren’t assigned to anything yet, but they’d been selected by the—because they said they needed so many of this and so many that, you know, so they were casuals. And then you got to sit down and interview them and pick out your squadron to coincide with what the 15th Air Force wanted from that group of casuals. And that was—I liked that very much.

TS:      

So you got to pick out the women you wanted to take?

BR:     

Yeah, I got to select the ones that—I had no basis for it. I just selected, you know. They impressed you, they wanted to go, that’s what they could do, that sort of thing. So we took them to Bari, and that’s where I spent the rest of the war. They were—

TS:      

So you were about thirty at this time?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

Now the women that you’re interviewing, they’re probably in their late or early twenties, maybe? Are they younger or are they older? What kind of age groups were you dealing with with the women?

BR:     

That is very interesting. We had some very, very young ones, and I interviewed them very seriously. I wanted to be sure that they could handle this new world they were in. And then I had some who were—I had one who was a grandmother, a young grandmother. All ages. Actually, you’re picking them. I was looking for emotional stability plus skill in what they were going to do. And they were—they ran from early twenties, I mean early twenties, to people much older than I was.

TS:      

How about that. So [it was] a very diverse group?

BR:     

Yeah, diverse group. It was interesting, some of the older women almost took it upon themselves to be a parent to the young people. That was the spirit of them, you know.

TS:      

Yeah, I can see that.

BR:     

It was one of the most wonderful collections of women that you could imagine having to work with. I had no disciplinary problems. I never heard of a disciplinary problem with these people.

TS:      

Really? Excellent. About how many did you have then that you took with you?

BR:     

We had—There was only a hundred women in this group. It was a—what they called a headquarters squadron. There was just no—It almost could’ve be run without an officer in charge.

TS:      

Yeah. So you were in charge of them and they did lots of different jobs? You said like communication—

BR:     

Communication and secretarial and clerical were the main things.

TS:      

Did they do anything else?

BR:     

No, not really.

TS:      

Was it considered like top secret work or anything like that?

BR:     

Oh, yes. Yeah, in intelligence. Clerical, clerical can cover anything. Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. They were heavy in security, and that was a very important part because we were in the middle of what could be semi-enemy country. We didn’t know who was—the poor Italians, and I say poor in more respects than one. The poor people didn’t know who to trust, you know? They were friendly with the Germans because the Germans were good to them. Then we pushed the Germans out, and here come the Americans, and got to be good to them, yet we were enemies, you know.

TS:      

Right, because—

BR:     

They were—these—Italy was—Bari was a very poor part of Italy. They were striving to survive, literally.

TS:      

And you said this is where you spent the remainder of the war?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

And it’s Bari?

BR:     

Bari. Bari is on the Adriatic [Sea] coast. A beautiful part of Italy, except it was a very poor part down by the boot. On a very clear day you could see across the Adriatic to what was then the Yugoslavian coast. On a real clear day you could see the outlines of the mountains.

TS:      

That would be neat. That would be neat. That would be pretty. So while you’re doing your work, you’re in charge of these other women. And I know in the war you don’t have a lot of social time.

BR:     

No, we didn’t know when it was Sunday, as we used to say. [chuckles]

TS:      

That’s right. But did you do anything to kind of take the pressure off, you know, for things like that?

BR:     

No, not really.

TS:      

Just kept working?

[Cat meows]

[Redacted conversation about pet cat]

TS:      

Well, so what—of your memory of Italy and the kind of service that you did there, what—when you think back on it, is there anything that strikes you as significant or remarkable or memorable?

BR:     

I don’t consider my service, my part of the service in Italy, as of any significance really. I had pleasant experiences. I can’t think of anything that was so big a challenge you couldn’t handle it. We got R&R [rest and recuperation], we called it, and once in a while they’d send me off to the Isle of Capri just to supervise a handful of girls who were there resting up, and you did nothing, you know. [chuckles] You can’t complain about that kind of duty. No, I had some—we had tragedies. I lost some women in a plane crash.

TS:      

What was the circumstances of that crash? Do you recall?

BR:     

They were going with a bunch of our troops to Naples for, I think, probably just to relieve them, time off from duty. And one of our planes from headquarters crashed into a mountain on landing in Naples. They had no safety precautions there. And I lost two of my immediate staff on that thing. She was the supply—assistant supply sergeant and what we called a recreation sergeant who planned all the—enlisted woman—all the off-duty stuff for the women. That was that was—that brought the war pretty close to home when that happened. And then two young officers that I had served with who worked in headquarters, and there were four of our women were on that plane. That was a big hunk out of a small group of women over there.

TS:      

You bet. Now who was the commanding officer here in Naples, for the headquarters?

BR:     

Oh, you mean of 15th Air Force? It was—old age takes over here. [laughter]

TS:      

Wasn’t [General Henry] Hap Arnold there? He was—

BR:     

No, no. Hap Arnold—

TS:      

He was in the Pacific, right?

BR:     

Hap Arnold was in Italy—in England.

TS:      

Yeah. Oh, that’s right. Okay.

BR:     

The 8th—the air force had two strategic commands that did all the long-range bombing.

TS:      

Right.

BR:     

It was 8th Air Force in England and the 15th in Italy. And General [Nathan Farragut] Twining was my commander.

TS:      

Twining. Okay. Now how was your relationship with General Twining?

BR:     

Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. He—as a matter of fact, I was—I had—we’d have official socials once in a while, and the Russian generals would always bring women with them, you know, their aides or something. And General Twining’s male aide would say, “Well, you’ve got to have one, too.” So I would go to social events with General Twining as his “aide.” That’s the way the Russians did it, you know. They always had—when they had a social gathering, as they did always with their meetings.

[Referring to cat] She’s declawed, but she’ll bite you.

TS:      

Yeah, I’ve noticed. She hasn’t gotten me yet. It’ll be all right. [cat meow] I know.

BR:     

She wants attention.

TS:      

So the Russians were—had gave some good parties. Is that—?

BR:     

They had, you know—we were working with the Russians at that point.

TS:      

Right.

BR:     

And they loved to party.

TS:      

Yeah. I’ve heard the Americans loved to do that, too, sometimes.

BR:     

Yeah, I think we were a little more sedate than they were about that, though. We were more attuned to, “We’re here just for the military mission,” you know, that sort of thing. No, I think they’re much more prone to party than our people were.

TS:      

What did you think of FDR [President Franklin D. Roosevelt]?

BR:     

Well, I was a great fan of his. I thought he was wonderful. You know, we didn’t know for—we were so out of it that we were among the last people to learn about his death, and it was quite a stunning thing for us. I had [cat meow] been a fan of his from my Washington days. I thought that he was, you know, he was all a president was supposed to be.

TS:      

What did you think about when he did die?

BR:     

Well, it was a stunner. We didn’t know, you know. There was—there was no special—I don’t remember that we had any—We were assembled for the announcement to be made, but there was no ceremonial event at that place.

TS:      

What did you think of President [Harry S.] Truman then? Did you remember at that—

BR:     

We didn’t know anything about him.

TS:      

Yeah.

BR:     

He was an unknown, completely unknown.

TS:      

Was anybody concerned about that, that he was so unknown?

BR:     

I don’t think we—I don’t know that we did, you know. We all had our individual concerns of “when are we going home?” [laughs]

TS:      

Yeah.

BR:     

I had a jeep assigned to me. We got to name them, and I put “Rotation” on mine. It was painted on the front of it. [laughter]

TS:      

Were you anxious to get back to the United States?

BR:     

Yeah, I was. Yeah.

TS:      

So when the end, the victory in Europe, when that came—actually, I was going to ask you first about—so you were there before D-Day, and then when D-Day came, how did that effect—

BR:     

The sequence here of—there’s, of course, D-Day, and then we were—they didn’t know how long the war was going to go on beyond that. And General Twining was slated to take the nucleus of his command to the Far East to continue it over there. And I was going along, and I was going to be able to select a handful of key women to help staff his job, and that was our plan. That was his plan. And we were going to go opposite around the globe to get there. And so I was looking forward to that, and then it all ended so quickly. It was stunning, really. It was just over like that. From then on, from personal standpoint, it was then getting home, not getting to the Far East.

TS:      

Were you surprised with the atomic bomb? How did that—

BR:     

Oh, yes. I think everybody was.

TS:      

But relieved. Relieved that everybody—

BR:     

Relieved, yeah.

TS:      

—that it was over. So then after the war ended then—

BR:     

Then that’s when it gets touchy, trying to gather up all your belongings— [laughs]

TS:      

Oh, okay.

BR:     

—and then find a ship that can take you home. And we waited an awful long time. I don’t know how long. I know I made two trips into Italy that I had not been to before just to kill time. You’d come back and they’d say, “Sorry, not yet.” So you’d take off again.

TS:      

So you’re just kind of killing time waiting for the ship to go out.

BR:     

Went into Rome, did Roma. Went up to Florence, did that. We were hampered getting home because women—the women didn’t have a very high priority coming home. As a matter of fact, we had—state department [U.S. Department of State] got into the act at one point because some of the women were at Naples ready to board a ship designated for them, and somehow or another politics got involved and we were denied that ship because they were shipping war brides home with babies. And that was—that stirred up quite a fuss, I understand, later in this country, as well as over there.

TS:      

Oh, yeah.

BR:     

Somebody intervened and we lost our priority to come home. It was—it got—It didn’t bother me. I just planned another trip. [laughter]

TS:      

Well, when did you finally get to come back?

BR:     

I think we were several months waiting before they could get us on board a ship.

TS:      

So the war ended in August, so—?

BR:     

I don’t remember the dates. I really don’t.

TS:      

That’s okay. So you did get back, and did you—how long was it—did you then get out of the military or—?

BR:     

Yeah, because I didn’t—I had—we had no word—and at least in Italy—I think they did in England, the gals did, but not in Italy—that there was a movement afoot to retain women in service and make them a permanent part. That word didn’t get back to us. So we were sent to Fort Dix and literally ran through a thing. No questions asked. You run through, you’re given your papers, you’re given your pay, and without asking I was assigned back to the inactive reserve. But they gave you a promotion. [laughs]

TS:      

Oh, what’d you get out at then?

BR:     

Gave you a promotion and said, “We don’t need you now. You’re in the reserve.” And that’s how I left the service.

TS:      

So were you a captain then, at that time?

BR:     

Yeah, and got promoted to a major.

TS:      

Okay, so you got out as a major.

BR:     

No, I got—well I—

TS:      

Originally.

BR:     

Yeah, well, it’s just a piece of paper.

TS:      

Yeah. Well, it’s still a rank.

BR:     

Anyway, but that was it. And then things happened very quickly after that, though. [Congress] established the permanent [women’s forces] and the recruiting started and—

TS:      

What’d you do—

BR:     

—and they called it—I was recalled.

TS:      

You were recalled? What did you do before you were recalled?

BR:     

I did nothing.

TS:      

[laughs] Okay.

BR:     

Because I couldn’t decide what to do. Things happen like that, you know. I didn’t really do anything.

TS:      

Where did you go back to?

BR:     

I went back to Oklahoma.

TS:      

Oklahoma?

BR:     

Yes.

TS:      

So how quickly—so did you get recalled after the perma—after 1948 then? When the permanent—

BR:     

When it became permanent.

TS:      

That would’ve been ’48. So you got notice to, “We want you back.” What’d you think about that then, when you got your notice?

BR:     

Well, you have to—you had to—you actually applied to go back on active duty. They recalled you. I almost went through a screening process again to go back in. Because at that point, they’re offering you a permanent commission, so that was the process you went through. So my first assignment they sent me to Mitchel Field, Long Island, in New York, to take over a bunch of troops. [chuckles] That’s not what I wanted, but that’s what I got.

TS:      

Now how—so you originally were in the Women’s Army Corps, correct?

BR:     

Yeah, the one—yeah, well—

TS:      

I was just wondering when you got to be in the W-A-F [Women in the Air Force], the WAF?

BR:     

The W-A-F is when I was “recalled.”

TS:      

Okay.

BR:     

That was strictly air force then. See, I went through—I went through active military service during World War II as a WAC on duty with the Army Air Corps.

TS:      

Okay.

BR:     

Then WAC on duty with Army Air Force, then it became the [U.S.] Air Force, and then I was—when I was recalled I was—got a permanent commission in the air force, independent air force.

TS:      

Okay, okay.

BR:     

I have to have a calendar in front of me to do all that.

TS:      

I think so. [chuckling] I think so. So you were in Long Island then. What kind of a job assignment did they give you?

BR:     

Commanded troops.

TS:      

Okay.

BR:     

Yeah.

TS:      

What kind of command?

BR:     

There was a—this was Continental Air Command, under which all the reserve units, all the reserves, were managed. It was a conglomeration, as I recall. They had all the fighter wings under Continental Command. Mine was strictly, as far as I can recall, it was strictly a personnel job. From there I stayed there and went into public, the public relations, command public relations for the reserve. And we put out publications, stuff like that.

TS:      

Did you—for public relations, you’re associated with recruiting women then into the women’s air force?

BR:     

No, I never was in recruiting.

TS:      

No? So what was it that you did in the public relations with your—

BR:     

I wasn’t—I left working with women at that point.

TS:      

Okay.

BR:     

I was—I’ve got a—I’ve got a sheet here that I got out to—

TS:      

Let me pause it for a second.

BR:     

I knew I’d get—Let that thing rest a minute.

TS:      

[laughs] Okay, I will.

[Recording paused]

BR:     

Then you go several lines down here to—this is—

TS:      

Okay, I put it back—

BR:     

You don’t want this. I don’t think you’ll—

TS:      

No? Okay.

BR:     

I m just telling you how to read this thing.

TS:      

Okay.

[Recording paused]

[End CD1, start CD2]

TS:      

We’re back with Betty Ray, and she’s given me a list of her duties and assignments, and [laughs] like she says, in a three year period she had quite a few assignments here. We were talking about you being at—when you got recalled, it says here in—you said 1949. “Recalled to active duty 10 May 1949.” And you went to Mitchel Air Force Base. So you weren’t just commanding women then?

BR:     

That’s right.

TS:      

Men and women?

BR:     

Just women.

TS:      

Just women, okay, at that time in the personnel department. And you got to—what did you do at the Armed Forces Informational School at Carlyle Barracks? What kind of training? Do you remember what kind of training that was?

BR:     

It was a school, just school. It was kind of a refresher. You know, you’re supposed to go to school to have it on your record, and it recalled—I think all I can remember—I did write a few papers and attended lectures, and that’s about it.

TS:      

Yeah. So it was just something to refresh and get you back in the cycle of doing military work again? So what—you obviously have done quite a lot. What happened next, as far as wars go, would be the Korean War. Did you have any connection with the Korean War in the type of work you did?

BR:     

No, I don’t think it changed. It didn’t affect my job at all, no.

TS:      

Okay. Did you notice a change in any attitude in the military, at that time, or about the military?

BR:     

No.

TS:      

Now you have—you went in and you went back in, even though you signed up to be recalled. What were you thinking about military service? Did it—

BR:     

Well, at that time, when I went back in, I realized I had selected a profession. That’s my profession now. And I guess it changes your attitude a little bit about it, because looking at it during World War II, it was a job to be done. After, when I was recalled and went to school, it was impressed upon me [that] I had chosen a career, a military career. And it changes a few things.

TS:      

Yeah. Well, what did—was that—were you comfortable with the military, I guess, is what I’m—

BR:     

Always, I always was. Otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed in.

TS:      

Was there anything in particular that you enjoyed about it?

BR:     

I felt—I felt like I had a goal and that I had chosen something I was going to stay with. I think it gave me a sense of permanence in my life. This is what I was going to do, even though you did a lot of different things.

TS:      

Yeah. Now did you—with the—your background, you said you’d wanted to be a journalist. Did this connect in any way?

BR:     

Well, I sort of got over that.

TS:      

Did you? [laughter] Okay.

BR:     

Yes, yes. Although I used my experience or my—I like free and full information, period, and I tried to use it in the military. Sometimes with disastrous results, but I did it anyway. [laughs]

TS:      

Well, give me an example of a disastrous result. That would be too fun.

BR:     

Oh, no. No. I can’t think of any. I just know that sometimes there’s a conflict between free and open information and being on the other side, and you’re holding this information that you—that’s not supposed to be free and open. So there is a little conflict there, you know.

TS:      

That’s true especially when you’re working with the secret material and things. Sure. Well, what—how were you—you talked about the general in Naples. Working with the other men in the military, how were your relations? How was that in general?

BR:     

I’ve always worked better with men than I do with women. [laughter] It’s a—actually it’s—there’s not much difference. Some men can be difficult to work with. Some women can be difficult to work with. And on the other side, some can be a wonderful experience on both sides. They’re all people. They’re not—and I think this is one of the things that we’re making progress in, not just in the military.

TS:      

Well, in the military though, the men usually were in the positions of power.

BR:     

Well, they always—and they always will be, I think, probably.

TS:      

So how did you negotiate that if you’re trying to—because you got to a rather high position, the highest position in the air force that was possible at the time.

BR:     

I—You avoid conflict with anybody if you’re trying to work something out. You’re supposed to overcome the conflict. That’s your job. I really didn’t have any problems working with the men, or for them, or over them. I had a crew of young male officers on one of my assignments, and I loved it, and they did, too!

TS:      

Which assignment was that?

BR:     

In the SAC [Strategic Air Command] headquarters just before I was named director. These were young pilots coming out of the cockpit, trying to learn to be a staff officer, and my job was to teach them how to be a staff officer. [chuckles] And I not only loved them, I loved their families. Their wives, too, were all good friends. So, you know, some of these so-called conflicts are in people’s imagination, I think.

TS:      

Do you feel that you got support to help you along the way?

BR:     

Always. You never do anything by yourself.

TS:      

Is there anybody that stands out in your mind that—

BR:     

No, I’ve been helped by many people along the way.

TS:      

Now we talked earlier about how you don’t plan a career, right? So what was your sense—did you have a sense of where you wanted to go in the air force, with what type of job or place you wanted to be stationed or anything like that? No?

BR:     

You are, you know, you’re selected. You don’t select in the service. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time with the right people.

TS:      

Did you have a favorite assignment?

BR:     

I honestly don’t think I do. I don’t have a favorite. I got pretty tired of sitting in an office being in “command” of a group of women at times because I felt isolated, but that never lasted. Nothing ever lasts too long in the military. You’re in and out of it quickly.

TS:      

Well, I see that you worked as an executive secretary on the DACOWITS [Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services].

BR:     

Yes, that was an interesting [cough] a very interesting job. Have you run into the DACOWITS thing? Well, you know it’s made up of very prominent women, and they are delightful to work for, absolutely delightful. Yes, I enjoyed that.

TS:      

Now in that job you were like—you were corresponding with the, like, there were fifty women on the committee? Something like that?

BR:     

We had a little office called—for the executive director, I had myself, a deputy, and a secretary, and we worked directly for the Secretary of Defense. It could be political at times, but good politics. Good politics, you know, get good things done. And I loved it. [chuckles] That part I really enjoyed. But anyway, yes, it was an enormous experience for me to work with such highly talented women and well-motivated women, even if they were “political appointments” in some cases. But I did a full tour of duty with them.

TS:      

How long was that?

BR:     

It was a four-year stint.

TS:      

Was it—what was it—how was it that you—what did you do, I guess, in this job, is what I’m trying to get at, I guess.

BR:     

Well, they came up with all kinds of suggestions and promotions, and you had to try to put them into place, into action. And some of the people you wish they hadn’t brought above you, you know, [chuckles] and let’s forget about it. And then you were the go-between [for] the committee and the secretary of defense. This is what these women are agitating to do. This is what they’re trying to do. I shouldn’t use the word agitate, but, you know—

TS:      

I understand.

BR:     

—this is what they’re—

TS:      

Advocating.

BR:     

—advocating, yeah. Or this is what they found is wrong or that needs doing. And then you have to interpret that to the secretary of defense and follow up on it, follow up on it. These women could keep you very, very busy. They met once a year, but they also worked awfully hard in-between times.

One of my wonderful experiences I had was to know Mary Rockefeller, who was the first Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller. She happened to live near me in Georgetown at that point, and she picked me up and we’d go out and tour wherever she wanted to go, because she had a cause on that committee, and that was to improve the working and housing conditions for military nurses. This is how I ran into Mary Cannon after all those years. She plagued the [U.S.] Department of Defense people to improve nursing living conditions until they finally did something about it. She even had blueprints brought up for their housing that she paid for and donated to them, “This is how they should be taken care of.” And she was a bridge between the period of time when women had nurses, had nursing homes next to the hospital, and they boarded them so they’d be near the hospital. This was an era that is long since gone, but she’s adamant about getting nurses out of their little world of their own. And she worked at it. She kept me busy. She would. Because she was a neighbor of mine, between their annual meetings, Mary Rockefeller kept me busy! She was always dreaming up something. “Let’s see if we can do it this way. Let’s build this way.” She plagued them. But she did as much advance living conditions not only for nurses but for all women officers than any one person I know of.

TS:      

Do you remember that on that committee—for people who aren’t familiar with this committee, I guess, we should’ve said something more about that. The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Military was started in 1951, and it was to help promote women during the—it was after the Korean War, during the Korean War, to help get more—recruit more women.

BR:     

It was mainly—That’s what the military wanted from it. But once it got in place, what they were concerned with was the conditions under which the women served. I think some of the men at one point thought, “Well, let’s go along with them. That committee will go away.” That committee is still there! [laugher]

TS:      

That’s right, today. It is. They tried to get rid of it a few years ago.

BR:     

Oh, my gosh, yes. I got into that.

TS:      

Because that’s a real interesting—that was a hub. That committee helped, I think, to make a lot of changes for women in the military.

BR:     

Oh, undoubtedly. And it’s an oversight committee. It turned out to be an oversight committee. Of course, professionally, I kept my distance from them, but you couldn’t help but become friends of theirs.

TS:      

Well, it’s very interesting, because most of the women, it seems, did not have any military experience, even from World War II. And so their interest in military matters was a very professional-type—

BR:     

This started out in the beginning. They merely—first, they had to pass this sort of politicized screening, you know. And they didn’t want anybody in there who was anti-war or something like that, you know. But it would appear, if you looked at the committee, that they were looking for most prominent women, most prominent in their fields that they could find.

TS:      

And it was geographically separated, correct?

BR:     

Yes, one of the—they had several women with star power, like movie stars. And [actress] Helen Hayes was a wonderful person to work with. These are the people I got— this is my experience of getting to work with people like that, and that was—I’ll never forget that. They’re not very much different from me, you find out.

TS:      

So this was a time when—so you’re reporting to the director of the—secretary of the air force?

BR:     

No. No, this is Department of Defense, incidentally.

TS:      

Department, okay.

BR:     

Actually, the assistant secretary of defense for personnel, I guess, it would be. Yeah, yeah.

TS:      

Okay. And this is in the Eisenhower administration? [Nineteen] fifty-eight would be Eisenhower.

BR:     

Yeah.

TS:      

So we’ve kind of talked a little bit about some of the presidents. How—what did you think of Eisenhower then?

BR:     

Oh, I liked him. I liked him. I’d met him as a general in Algiers, and I remember the Christmas—first, I’d not been in Algiers very long. Christmas came along and he had—he turned his quarters over to a little Christmas party for the women officers. By that time there was quite a number had gotten there. And I remember that I went. I was late getting there for some reason or another. They were partying in another part of the building, and his quarters—and I went in and he was—when I arrived just this one man standing there with his back to the fireplace. And when I came up, I recognized him immediately. But he went over and shook—stuck his hand out and he said, “Hi, I’m Ike. How are—” [laughter] He didn’t say general, just “I’m Ike Eisenhower,” as if I wouldn’t know. It really nearly knocked me over.

TS:      

I bet.

BR:     

He was like that.

TS:      

That’s terrific.

BR:     

Those are little snitches of memories you have.

TS:      

Oh, sure. So you were in the—you don’t remember how you got recommended for or got the position of executive secretary on the DACOWITS?

BR:     

No, I don’t remember. Of course, I was already in the Pentagon. See, I was deputy director of the WAF at that point.

TS:      

Deputy director of the WAF. Okay, I see. Yeah, just before that.

BR:     

So it was sort of picked up my little chair and moved down the hall is what I did, you know.

TS:      

Yeah.

BR:     

When they—when the director of WAF I was serving for [resigned], I asked to be reassigned, because I wanted the new director to be able—to be free to pick her own deputy. Otherwise they’d just assign them, you know.

TS:      

Right.

BR:     

At that point, I don’t know how the job came open. You don’t apply for it. I don’t know how I got moved up there, but anyway, I enjoyed it.

TS:      

And then you were—and then you, after that, let’s see—

BR:     

Then I was recruited. Then I was recruited.

TS:      

Yeah?

BR:     

To go to Strategic Air Command headquarters. That was supposed to be a prime place to launch a career from.

TS:      

Yeah? How did that turn out?

BR:     

From there I went to be director of the WAF, so I guess it was a good move.

TS:      

I would think that that was probably a good move. So you—do you remember when you found out that you were going to be director of the WAF? Tell me about that.

BR:     

Well, I had been on a staff visit. I did a lot of travelling when I was at SAC headquarters. Yeah, I left—it was one of our northernmost bases. I forget now where it was. I was—had left there. I was—

TS:      

I keep thinking at Minot [Air Force Base, North Dakota].

BR:     

Anyway, I was going to—I don’t remember now why—on my way back to Omaha, I was going through Washington, D.C., and went to the headquarters there. And I was told by the then-director, who was retiring, that the decision had been made that I was going to replace her, but I couldn’t say anything. And I had planned to stay there socially for a few days before going to Omaha, and instead I holed up in a hotel and wouldn’t see anybody, because I said, “Don’t let it out.” It has to be announced through channels.

TS:      

So you didn’t want to spill the beans before—

BR:     

That’s right. So anyway—

TS:      

Well now, was that a job that you had to interview for? Did you—?

BR:     

No. No, it’s a selection thing. I learned later how it’s done, because when I was director and they were taking my—choosing my selector, the secretary of defense, chief of the services, the air force, and a whole bunch of men get on this thing, and they do bring in the director of WAF who’s going to be succeeded. It’s not always a unanimous thing, but at the very end they say, “Let’s make it unanimous,” you know, that sort of thing.

TS:      

Yeah.

BR:     

I knew before it was announced—

TS:      

Yeah.

BR:     

—several days before.

TS:      

What did you think about that?

BR:     

The only thing was, “Keep your mouth shut. Don’t let anybody know that you know it.” So anyway, I went back to my job in Omaha, and it kind of leaked out because I was getting ready to move, take a lease on an apartment closer to the base, and I had to cancel that lease, and so—

TS:      

Had to give them a good reason.

BR:     

Yeah, so people began to suspect. I think you see the steps that—taken an assignment and you pretty well know where it’s going to wind up. It plays out that way.

TS:      

Yeah. So was it any—did you have any—that’s a pretty huge responsibility, as director of—

BR:     

Well, I think it is. And I think it’s because it’s one of a kind type thing, you know. If you’re the only—you’re the only. It comes right down to it, the only colonel in your group of people. The job is not extraordinary, because it’s more of a function than a job. [chuckles]

TS:      

Yeah. What do you mean by that?

BR:     

Well, you’re represent—you represent people.

TS:      

I see.

BR:     

You represent something. And it’s nothing personal, really. I kept telling myself, “Don’t let this go to your head. There’s nothing personal about this.” [laughter] Somebody has to carry that little banner, you know. So you just carry that little banner.

TS:      

So they’re pacing you into this position. Well, I think you’re being very humble about it. [chuckles]

BR:     

Well, that’s the way it works. You have a chance to do some very useful things, and you know there are a lot of women down there hoping you do something right for them, you know.

TS:      

Right. Do you remember—

BR:     

It’s—

TS:      

Go ahead.

BR:     

It’s not much different from—you start out, you know, you’ve got a bunch of your little women under you, and you’re responsible for their welfare or see that they get treated right and they get moved around properly, and then you just go on up. It’s—I’ve had men under my command. They feel the same way. These people are depending on you to help them along, just as I was helped along the way.

TS:      

Did you feel like you had—well, when you went into the job, did you think to yourself, “Well, there’s a few things I would really, if I were director, I would really want to do.” Did you have anything like that in your head where you thought, “I sure wish we could get this done?”

BR:     

Well, I think, yes. I did not change the direction, nor did I want to change direction. You just want to put the pressure on it to go where you were going. It was obvious that women were going to—that their use, “utilization” we called it, was going to be spread. Of course, women who were making progress outside of the military at the same time, and you just wanted it to advance in some orderly fashion. Women were breaking—the women were breaking down the barriers. I wasn’t breaking down any barriers. But you, if you can help them along the way, fine. But they’re the barrier breakers.

TS:      

Well, I remember, I read Jeanne Holm’s book [Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution] that she wrote.

BR:     

Who?

TS:      

Jeanne Holm.

BR:     

Oh. Well, she took my job.

TS:      

Right. That’s why I wanted to ask you about this, because one of the things she said about the 1960s—and you were ’61 to‘64 as the director—was that it was a time when they were looking at cutting back some of the women in the services. Was that a concern that came up under your—

BR:     

Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. We had a command at one time who really would rather have fewer women in a tighter little utilization pattern, you know. And he happened to have been my commanding general at Strategic Air Command, and all I could do was sort of try to hold him off. I couldn’t advance anything. Jeanne was a manpower specialist. That was her job before. She was growing up in the air force, and she wanted to expand the utilization of women. That was her big mission, you know. That was her background, as a matter of fact. My job under the commander I had then was to keep him from plowing us under completely.

TS:      

Kind of like a holding pattern for the—

BR:     

Holding. It was a holding pattern, yeah. He meant well but he never saw beyond—in the air force he never saw beyond the cockpit, period. And he didn’t have any use for young junior male officers if they weren’t pilots, either. You know, it’s—I always—if you turn that thing off I’ll make a deal on the side here.

TS:      

All right. Okay, more general questions.

BR:     

Okay.

[Recording paused]

TS:      

Okay, so that was fun, Betty. Thank you. One thing I was wondering: was there—do you recall anything that was particularly funny that happened during your time that was in the service? Any humorous events?

BR:     

This is very, very gutsy. Do you mind that?

TS:      

No!

BR:     

[laughs] This is a funny one. It’s one that I have told before, [that I] repeat when we sit around making girl talk.

TS:      

Okay.

BR:     

When I first got ordered to Bari, my supply sergeant came to me one day very worried. They were not issuing her enough toilet paper for the women. And this supply sergeant, whose word was law there—you know, “I’m sorry that’s all you get this month”—showed her it was based on so many sheets per man, per day. This is everything the old army did: per day, per person. And I said, “Well, we’ve got to do something about this, you know. It’s not adequate.” So we appealed, and she was not getting anywhere through channels, and so I got into the act. And I wrote a little memorandum—I wish I had a copy of it—to the guy who—brigadier general who is in charge of supply way up there, you know, to appeal to him to increase the thing on the basis of, I said, just “anatomical differences.” That’s all I could say. And I think it embarrassed the guy. We had all the toilet paper we needed in no time flat! But you know, that sergeant had his rule: so many sheets per day. [laughs]

TS:      

So he didn’t want to have to argue anatomical differences.

BR:     

Way back somewhere where they issued that thing, they weren’t considering women.

TS:      

Right, that’s right. That’s right. That’s pretty good.

BR:     

And he wasn’t going to give on it.

TS:      

Right. But he certainly didn’t want to have to explain—

BR:     

But I had to go around him and go to the top.

TS:      

That’s right. That is a good one.

BR:     

It was a funny little incident. And this little—my supply sergeant was a very modest gal who it turned out, incidentally, when she left the service—she’s a good Catholic—she became a nun. [laughs]

TS:      

Oh, my.

BR:     

Or so was so embarrassed when I prepared this memorandum, and I said, “Now, we’re going to send this memorandum to this general and get this corrected.” [chuckling]

TS:      

That’s pretty good. Do you—one thing, during your service, I think when you were director then, was when JFK [President John F. Kennedy] was elected and then assassinated. In the end, we also had the—

BR:     

Yes, I’ll never forget that. I was on the—matter of fact, I was on the golf course when that happened, with—who was I with? Anyway, we were stunned, and we came in and had to—we were getting ready to make the turn on the back nine, and I noticed that everybody around me was dead silent. It’s almost like people were frozen in place, and it was—the announcement was beginning to come over the microphones and everything around there. We didn’t say a word. We picked up our equipment, got in the car, and started driving back to the district we were just outside. There was dead silence, no horns were honking, no nothing. It was as if everybody was stunned, the whole community.

So of course when I got back home we were very busy, because they were immediately involved the military in the funeral, quickly, you know. For the next few days we were just completely tied up with funeral services. They—we had a contingent of women, of course, that—very elaborate. Most everything was elaborate. I remember walking from Georgetown apartment building to [Arlington] Memorial Bridge and stood on the bridge myself to watch the cortege go by. It was a dramatic moment in this country, at least in Washington. And I think because of the suddenness of it, that was it.

TS:      

Yeah. The Cuban Missile Crisis also occurred.

BR:     

Pardon?

TS:      

Cuban Missile Crisis.

BR:     

Yeah. That was a—I know it was very serious, very serious, but it was more of a flap than anything to me, because it didn’t effect, you know, I didn’t have any part in it.

TS:      

Okay. I was trying to see where you were at when that happened here. So you weren’t yet in Strategic Air Command. That came a little after. So—so you actually came—you got out a little bit bef[ore]—well, the Vietnam War had just begun to start, actually. Do you remember anything about that that struck you at the time about Vietnam?

BR:     

No. I was so uninvolved with that one. No.

TS:      

How about with the civil rights movement?

BR:     

I was—I don’t recall that I was heavily moved one way or another about the thing. To me I thought it was, you know, you abhor the stir it does to—the breaches it brings to people with other people. But I never got terribly involved emotionally or otherwise in it.

TS:      

I was trying to think of when it would have been—some of the marches would’ve been in Washington, D.C., and you were probably there then.

BR:     

Yeah, well, you know. These I think frightening gatherings that they’ve had in Washington over racial issues and others, too—I wasn’t in Washington when that happened. And if you’re not there and see it, you just read about it. I’m glad I wasn’t, because I don’t like that kind of approach to a problem.

TS:      

The protests? The protest march?

BR:     

Yeah. Those were very troubling times, but I honestly have no recollection of getting, feeling that I myself was involved in it.

TS:      

What about—did you—this is kind of a real broad question. In the air force, what did you see as far as changes over the course of time, during your years in service, for women?

BR:     

During my—while I was in it?

TS:      

While you were in the service.

BR:     

While I was in it.

TS:      

Yes.

BR:     

Oh, well, of course I was there in uniform when we became air force people versus army or whatever else we had. Yes, I saw a big difference. I saw a big difference in the relationship of the women to the men in service. I think the air force—and I don’t say this derogatory to the army—but the air force was much more accepting of women. They were not—the army men were more traditional, and I noticed that in Bari for that matter. The men I worked with during wartime, World War II, some of them came right out of civilian world. I remember the head of our G-2 [intelligence unit], our top security man, was from New York City. And I don’t even know what his background was, a colonel. Not at all military at all. He was a security man, not a military man. And the air force was staffed a great deal with people like that. They were not the old West Pointers, you know, that sort of thing, which was one of the reasons I chose to go to the air force. I felt more comfortable with them than I did the army. And I don’t think the air force ever really changed very much like that. I think they’ve been less—well, by their very mission, they can afford to be less regimented than the army, and that’s what I like about them.

TS:      

Do you think that being in the military changed you or your life?

BR:     

Oh, I’m sure it did. Probably, I’m sure, for the better. I hope it did.

TS:      

One thing I did not ask you at the beginning that I should have was what did your father think about you going in the service?

BR:     

He didn’t like it. My brother was in the service and he thought that’s, you know, that’s for boys not for girls, but he came around.

TS:      

Did he?

BR:     

Yeah. Oh, yes. Yeah.

TS:      

During World War II or later?

BR:     

Oh, no, I think he got over that pretty soon. Men didn’t like for women to go into the Women’s Army Corps when I went in there, believe it or not.

TS:      

Why not?

BR:     

They just didn’t think it was the place for women, period. Now this is, you know, this is setting aside the nurses, you know, and that sort of—the nurses weren’t considered really military at that time. Not that. But to put us in uniform and marching along like men do, my father, he’d say, “What are you doing this for? What are you doing this for?”

Well, I’ve never done anything with his consent anyways. [chuckles] So it’s been because I wanted to. But he was so proud of my brother. I went down with him—well, I was on my way to Officer Training School. I’d quit my Washington job, and I joined him and my sister in San Antonio [Texas] to see my brother get his wings. Well, he was so proud of his little son, you know, and then he turns to me, and I’m on my way to become an officer candidate, “What are you doing this for?” [chuckles] I had to justify to him, or he thought I should. No, he was a—he was like most men at that time. “Why?”

Part of mine was I was convinced. It was adventure to me, really. I didn’t go out of any great feeling of patriotism. I thought I was doing—if I did, I could stay at my job in Washington. It was the same reason men go in, volunteered—it was an adventure. You ought to know. How about I interview you and see what you say? [laughter]

TS:      

We’ll do that off tape. [laughter] Well, I understand. I understand. I do. Well, would you give advice to—if  you had—if someone—if a young woman came to you today and said, “What do you think about me joining the military?” what would you—what kind of advice do you think you could give them?

BR:     

Depends on what she wants out of it. Most of them want in it because they want to make something of a career out of it. They want—they go in for the right reasons, I think. And if they go in for the right reasons, I’d recommend it.

TS:      

What are the wrong reasons?

BR:     

If they’re running away from something, thinking that that is going to solve all their problems. Military life doesn’t solve your personal problems. You know that. So it depends on what they want, what they want out of it.

TS:      

Is that something you saw in your contact with women?

BR:     

No. No, I—no. That’s just general—my idea of general advice.

TS:      

Okay. Now we’ve covered a lot of different things, and I tried to pin you down on a few but you deflected a few of those.

BR:     

I don’t pin down very easily.

TS:      

Well, I think you’ve done all right.

BR:     

No, I’ll tell you my problem, Therese, is this is so long ago. I don’t sit around thinking about things like that. And when you get—believe it or not, when you get my age, your mind doesn’t function as well as it did before, and I’m frankly aware of it.

TS:      

My mind isn’t functioning as good as it did yesterday, so. [laughs] Well, what—one thing I’d like to know, though, is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you might like to talk about before we end the interview?

BR:     

I don’t—no, I can’t think of anything. Oh, I was going to ask you. Have you—there’s another—have you read all the books you could find on this subject?

TS:      

I hope so, but it’s possible I might have missed a few.

BR:     

Well, there’s one—

TS:      

Well, here, let me—if you’re—did you want to do this on tape or—

BR:     

No, I just wanted—turn it—if the tape’s off, turn it—

TS:      

Before I turn it off, Betty, I’m going to say thank you. So thank you for the interview.

BR:     

I’ll show you another book that I think is—

[End of interview]