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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Betty Etten Wiker, 2008

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Object ID: WV0428.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Betty Etten Wiker’s service in the U.S. Army during WWII and the Korean War.

Summary:

Wiker briefly discusses her childhood and education in Chicago, her reasons for enlisting in the WAAC, and her basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She describes her assignment at Bolling Field, including her work in the plotting room and motor pool, and being recommended for Officer Candidate School. After briefly discussing her subsequent finance officer and club officer assignments, Wiker discusses being a squadron commander at several bases, including Ladd Army Airfield, where she recalls the cold weather and long hours of daylight, underground tunnels, Russian soldiers on base, and taking a group of WACs to entertain troops on the Aleutian Islands and finding their barracks burnt down when they returned.

Wiker describes being a recruiting officer in New York City from 1949 to 1952. Topics include her travel to find the best looking WACs for the New York office, being stationed on Times Square, marrying her husband, and leaving the army because she became pregnant. She also recalls meeting her husband at a USO dance before she joined the serves and discusses maintaining correspondence for seven years. Other topics about her service include respect from male servicemen; salary; flying along during a bombing mission in Alaska; and being “on duty all the time” as a squadron commander. She also discusses her sister’s service with the Army Nurse Corps, including rising to the rank of colonel and being stationed on Tinian Island when the atomic bomb was dropped.

Creator: Betty Etten Wiker

Biographical Info: Betty Wiker (b. 1921) of Chicago served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the Women in the Air Force (WAF) from 1942 to 1952.

Collection: Betty Etten Wiker 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:

Beth Ann Koelsch:

Okay, just checking our levels here. It looks good. Thank you very much for those materials.

So we’re going to do this again. Today is September 8, 2008. My name is Beth Ann Koelsch, and I’m here in—at the Carolina Meadows in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

So how would you like your name for the collection?

Betty Etten Wiker:

Well, my official name is Betty Etten—E-t-t-e-n—Wiker—W-i-k-e-r.

BK:

Okay. So you’d like it as the Betty Etten Wiker Collection? Sounds great.

Okay, Betty, so when and where were you born?

BW:

I was born in Chicago Illinois, February 27, 1921.

BK:

Okay. So is that where you grew up?

BW:

Yes.

BK:

All right. So can you tell me a little bit about your family and your home life?

BW:

Well, my family consisted of—I was the oldest child, and then my sister came along, and then my brother came along. So there were three children in the family. We lived in a small bungalow, as they called it in those days, in Chicago. And my mother had been a registered nurse. My father was a salesman for Haberdashery in Chicago, across from City Hall in Chicago. We had a wonderful family life together. The usual sibling rivalry took place now and again. And I lived there in that same house, went to school there, graduated from high school—Hirsch High School.

Went to Moser Business College, which was the best business college in Chicago at that time, and was what my father put a mortgage on the house to afford to send me. We were very poor. We were modest, perhaps, income. He worked. And I went to Moser Business College for a few months and then got a job at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago as a clerk typist. I worked there for a while and the military service opened up for women finally. And since I was itching to move on, to leave home and spread my wings, as they say, I couldn’t quite figure out how I could do that, because I would have to clothe myself, feed myself, find a place to live, and so forth. Well, when the military opened up, there was the answer to my query.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

I would be fed.

BK:

Right

BW:

I would be housed.

BK:

Right.

BW:

I would be clothed. I would be given a job, and I would be given $21 a month. Now, you couldn’t lose.

BK:

Right. [laughter]

BW:

What more could you want? And so a friend of mine, a buddy of mine at the bank, she thought that probably was a good deal for her too, so the two of us held up our right hand and swore allegiance and went off to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for basic training.

BK:

So you went down—there was a recruiting station in Chicago?

BW:

Of course.

BK:

Okay. And had you—so you just were waiting for—you know, you knew that there was talk about allowing women? You just were following the news.

BW:

At that point there were women going into the service. The first group had been taken in, but you had to be a college graduate—

BK:

Right.

BW:

—because that was the officer corps. And since I was not a college graduate, I had to wait a little bit longer until they opened it up to other people.

BK:

And do you remember what day you enlisted?

BW:

I enlisted on December 10, 1942.

BK:

Yes, you do. Okay. [laughs] All right.

BW:

Had to write it down because I can’t remember.

BK:

December 10, okay. So, let’s see, you were working in the bank, and what were you doing there for them?

BW:

Clerk typist.

BK:

Clerk typist, okay. And you joined—was it still—it was still the W-A-A-C right, the Women’s [Army] Auxiliary Corps then?

BW:

Yes.

BK:

Okay. And the date—do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

BW:

No, I can’t remember.

BK:

Okay. And so you decided to join just because this was getting—

BW:

Now if you tell me the exact date and year again—

BK:

It was December 7—

BW:

December 7.

BK:

—1941.

BW:

Forty-one.

BK:

So it was about a year and three days before you enlisted.

BW:

Right. I was in Chicago then.

BK:

Chicago, okay.

BW:

Right. No. I can’t remember what happened—I mean, you know, jumping up and down in the streets or whatever, but that’s where I would’ve been.

BK:

Okay. So when you joined, did you feel, you know, that you were freeing a man to fight, was it—?

BW:

No.

BK:

No. It was more of a practical than—

BW:

It was very practical decision to—in order to leave home safely, that my parents wouldn’t worry about me, and I wouldn’t get in any trouble, and I would be taken care of with all my physical needs, as I said—you know, a roof over my head, and clothes and food and so on. And it just seemed a good thing to do at that time in my life. And my buddy—Marie Oswald was her name—she thought the same thing. So we both went out—went into the recruiting station and joined the service.

BK:

And how did your parents feel about it?

BW:

Well, they were a little bit shocked at first, of course. I guess most parents would be. But they thought it was a good thing and they were ready to let me go.

BK:

So did you tell them that you were going to do it, or did you sign up and then tell them?

BW:

Probably I told them that I was going to do it. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events. But my father had been in the service down on the Mexican border with Pancho Villa when they were chasing him.

BK:

Wow.

BW:

And so he knew a little bit about, you know, military life and so on. But it was a decision that I made and they accepted it. And I was the oldest of the family, of the three children, so they knew that we’d all be leaving sometime, I guess. So I was the first to leave the nest.

BK:

Okay. And what date—sorry, how old were you when you actually enlisted?

BW:

Twenty-one.

BK:

Twenty-one, okay. Do you remember any reactions of your siblings or friends?

BW:

No, nothing exciting. They probably wondered what’s going on, but there wasn’t any big hullaballoo or anything, you know. I did it. [laughs]

BK:

Do you remember kind of walking into the recruiting station?

BW:

No.

BK:

No? Okay.

BW:

No. I don’t remember that at all.

BK:

So this was the first time you’d been away from home for an extended period of time?

BW:

For any length of time, yeah. I used to go over and visit my grandmother in Michigan.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

We would go over as a family, and one time I stayed there by myself. You know, mom let me stay with her mother, my grandmother, for a week on my own, and that was kind of cool because I had never done that before, you know. But that was really—joining the service was really the big break in leaving home and leaving family.

BK:

So December 10 was the soonest you could sign up, pretty much?

BW:

That was—well, I could’ve signed up before, but actually I couldn’t because I wasn’t a college graduate, you know. You had to be—they were forming, as I said before, the officer corps and you had to be a college graduate for that. But once they got enough of those people, why then they let the rest of us come in.

BK:

Okay. So you signed the dotted line in December 10 and then what happened?

BW:

I went to Fort Des Moines, Iowa—

BK:

Okay.

BW:

—for basic training.

BK:

Do you remember when you actually got on the train there?

BW:

I don’t remember the exact moment. I remember going there and—

BK:

Early ’43, I guess?

BW:

It was—well, it was right after December 10. They didn’t let us wait around very long, I guess. It was cold. It was bitter cold.

BK:

Colder than Chicago?

BW:

What?

BK:

Colder than Chicago?

BW:

It seemed like it. I don’t know if it was. But one of the amusing incidents, if you’re ready for that—

BK:

Oh yeah.

BW:

You know, you go into the barracks, and it was double-deck bunks, of course—and so we had to get accustomed to that—and a footlocker. But anyhow, reveille sounds at the crack of dawn and you hit the outside and line up for inspection. And so we all did that, and one of the women came out and stood in line with a big fur coat on. [laughter]

BK:

Wow. [laughs]

BW:

And the CO [commanding officer] says, “Get that coat off!” She took the coat off and she was buck naked.

BK:

Wow! [laughter]

BW:

She was a girl from New York who slept in the raw.

BK:

Oh, that’s great!

BW:

So when they hit reveille, you know, she just grabbed the first thing. Gee! That one I’ll never forget.

BK:

So yeah, that would make—what else do you remember about the first day there?

BW:

That was enough to start the day off, yeah. But it was—fortunately, I had the bottom bunk. I didn’t have to climb up to the top bunk, even though probably I should have because I’m so tall. I could’ve gotten up there easier than some little squibby thing. And then the foot lockers—and of course the foot lockers—everything had to be in absolute perfect order in the same sequence of order. Everybody’s socks had to be—or stockings, as we called them—had to be rolled along here, and then the underwear had to be rolled along here, and then shirts—and, you know, like they came out of the dry cleaners. And that was kind of hard. Not that I wasn’t neat at home. I mean, my mother was a nurse and she demanded that that we keep our clothes picked up and, you know, in good shape. But it was so methodical. And to this day I’m the same way. Everything is—if you come to my apartment, you’ll see everything is hung in order and the shoes are lined up. It’s just something that is me, you know? And I don’t know whether it was the military or just reinforced what my mother used to make us do or what, but that’s just—“Square Corners” they used to call me.

BK:

Right. Oh wow.

BW:

Yeah. So anyhow, that was quite a revelation to have a footlocker and have it open for inspection on Saturday morning, and stand at attention with your Class A uniform on and stuff like that, you know, and march off to the mess hall and sit down and eat properly. Not that we were slobs, but, you know, it’s a little bit different than sitting around at a table like we had our lunch together.

BK:

Right, right, right.

BW:

So anyhow, that was basic training, you know. And then we went to class, of course, to learn about our so-called profession of being a soldier. And from there, if you’re ready for my next—

BK:

Sure.

BW:

I wrote this down because I forget. I was sent to Bolling Field. You know where that is? Capital of our country.

BK:

Oh really, Bolling Field in D.C.?

BW:

Washington, D.C., right.

BK:

Okay, okay.

BW:

And my first assignment there was in what they call the plotting room.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

You know what a plotting room is?

BK:

For maps, cartography?

BW:

Well, it was a big scale map of Washington, D.C.

BK:

Oh, okay.

BW:

It was down in about, I think, the third basement. It was way down. And you have a little aircraft, and you have a long stick, and you push those around depending on where the planes are flying.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

So you keep track of the planes flying over our heads. In the plotting room, you plot.

BK:

Making sure that the planes that were flying overhead were your planes?

BW:

Were our planes and where they were and, you know, the whole nine yards. Well, for a person with my size—and you can understand this—and my physical enthusiasm and ability to move my body, that got boring. That got very boring.

BK:

And what were you doing specifically? You were just—

BW:

Just pushing the—

BK:

You were pushing the stick. Okay.

BW:

So the opportunity—I was trying to see here—[pause] the motor pool. I was assigned—I asked to get out of there, and I was assigned to the motor pool.

BK:

Okay. Now who did you—who do you actually have to ask?

BW:

Your CO.

BK:

Your CO, okay.

BW:

And so they said, “Well, okay. You can work in the motor pool.”

BK:

And you specifically asked for the motor pool?

BW:

No.

BK:

Okay, you needed out of the room.

BW:

Yeah. I needed to get out. So I went to the motor pool and I was assigned a jeep to drive, which was cool. [BK laughs] I mean, really cool.

BK:

Had you driven before?

BW:

I had not driven a jeep, no.

BK:

Okay. But you’d driven cars?

BW:

I’d driven since I was twelve years old.

BK:

Oh, okay.

BW:

I was one of those sneaky girls in Chicago that drove a car when she wasn’t supposed to.

BK:

Right.

BW:

But anyhow, I got my jeep and was tooling around the base and having a good time and doing errands and so forth. And you know Saturday morning you stand inspection.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

And when you’re in the motor pool, you stand inspection with your vehicle. Class A uniform, vehicles here, and you’re standing at attention. And next to me was a five ton truck and a girl about five feet tall. And I’m standing with the jeep and I’m six feet tall. The commanding officer and the commanding general go by looking over and I overheard him say, “Lieutenant, don’t you think you could match these women with these vehicles a little better?”

BK:

Was he serious, do you think?

BW:

Guess what happened?

BK:

They switched you.

BW:

That was Saturday morning. On Monday I was driving her five ton truck and she had my jeep.

BK:

Wow, did she like—

BW:

Talk about being PO-ed [pissed off]. [laughs]

BK:

Yeah. Were you both mad or just her?

BW:

She loved it! Who wouldn’t want to ride—drive a jeep? And being five feet tall this was made for her. And this big five ton truck, well I drove that for about I guess two weeks at the most.

BK:

And what was in the truck?

BW:

What?

BK:

What was the truck carrying?

BW:

Loading supplies and just, you know, boxes and stuff like that. So I wasn’t there maybe two weeks at the most and somebody—the CO called me in and said, “We’d like you to go to Officer Candidate School.”

I said, “My bag is packed, the footlocker is ready, how soon can I leave?”

BK:

[laughs] Wow. So you weren’t in D.C. very long. How long were you in D.C.?

BW:

When did I go? Let’s see, I—it wasn’t very long. Fort Des Moines, Iowa—see, I lose all track of time for these dates. It wasn’t very long. Fort Des Moines, Hill Field [Utah], I don’t have a date for those.

BK:

Okay, just six months maybe?

BW:

Oh no, not that long.

BK:

Three months?

BW:

No, it wasn’t very long. So I went to Officer Candidate School [OCS] in Fort Des Moines Iowa; that’s where everything for women was. You know, that was basic training. And so after that, after I took the Officer Candidate School, I went to—

BK:

And you passed? I guess you must have. Was it hard?

BW:

—paperwork. I have a—Fort Des Moines, I graduated June 5, 1943, Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. See if I can find my name in here. Yeah, there it is, thirty-first graduating class, June 5, 1943.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

That’s when I got my second lieu-y bars. Gold, you know.

BK:

Right, right. Wow.

BW:

So I graduated from there, and then where did I go? My next station was Wright-Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio. I was designated to be a finance officer.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

And why they picked that I’ll never know, except the fact that I had worked in the Federal Reserve Bank as a clerk typist, so they figured—

BK:

Right, you’d been around money.

BW:

Beth, I’m telling you, the way they classified people in those days, it was wild. Well, my big job, though—I mean they really gave me a big job. And I sat all day long—see, I was a second lieutenant—I sat all day long signing my name onto checks.

BK:

Wow.

BW:

Government checks. I must have spent millions of dollars [laughs] of the government’s money. Talk about boring jobs: Wright-Patterson Field as a second lieutenant.

BK:

Where was Wright-Patterson, also in—

BW:

Wright-Patterson, Dayton, Ohio.

BK:

Dayton, Ohio, okay.

BW:

Onward and upwards.

BK:

So you were there about how long?

BW:

Oh God. I knew you were going to ask me that.

BK:

Sorry.

BW:

I don’t know. I don’t know. Let’s see, I was in Dayton, Ohio, from September ’43 till March ’44.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

I think you had asked me that before—and then Hill Field from March of ’44 to April ’45. And then from April ’45 to December ’45 I was in Alaska. Wait, no, this is wrong here. After Dayton, Ohio, I went to Hill Field in Ogden, Utah, and of all things I was assigned as the club officer. You know what a club officer is?

BK:

That’s the social club?

BW:

You run the officers’ club.

BK:

You run the officers’ club! Wow. What was that—what did that involve?

BW:

Well, you have to make sure that everything is—you know, all the activities are planned and all the food, and I mean it’s a whole big deal—all kinds of things that I had no interest, experience, love for, or anything. So I just had to rely on the enlisted people and the other officers, you know. But that was my title, club officer.

BK:

What were you hoping to—

BW:

What?

BK:

What did you really want to be assigned to, if you got to pick?

BW:

I didn’t have any preference, really. No. I don’t recall ever having any preference. That was the club officer at Ogden, Utah. Let me see if I can figure out—see, I bounced around so much that it was difficult for me to recall these things.

BK:

Were you surprised when you got these, or were they just—or did they give you fair warning, or you woke up one day and—?

BW:

No, you were just assigned. You’d get orders that you were going to be transferred and, “Okay, so what else is new?” Then I have marked down here that I went to Alaska. April ’45 I have. I hope that’s right. If not, sue me. April ’45, Ladd Field [now Ladd Army Airfield, Fairbanks], Alaska. And there I was the squadron commander. Had—I must have had at least a hundred women in the squadron.

BK:

So this is—so every place you moved you were in charge of more and more people?

BW:

It seems that way. I never thought of it in those terms.

BK:

So what was that like? I mean, was that—

BW:

Well it was—you know, a squadron commander is like a mother hen.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

You are responsible for the health and welfare and dependability and work ethics of your troops, all enlisted women. And you have an assistant executive officer—I showed you the picture—and the cadre that helped you out. But basically the buck stops here.

So I was there in Ladd Field Alaska as a squadron commander, and one of the most devastating experiences was a trip that I took with three enlisted women. We flew out to the end of the Aleutian [Islands] chain to Shemya [Army Air Base, now Eareckson Air Station] to entertain the troops. They were out there dying a slow death, you know. It was tundra. It was desolate. On a clear day you could see Russia. It was way out on the very end. So they needed a little morale boosting and they—I got orders to take some women that could do entertaining—sing, play the piano, and so forth.

BK:

Could you do that that, or were you just in charge of them?

BW:

I was—I didn’t sing or dance or do anything. I was just there to take care and make sure everything went right.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

So we went out there—

BK:

And how many women?

BW:

Three, we took three. And we—they put on the little entertainment. They’d sit at the piano and the guys would get around and they’d sing songs. And we had mess in the mess hall with them. And we were anxious to get out of there because it was so awful, you know. I mean it was gloomy, desolate, and you felt sorry for those guys being stationed out there. So we were glad to come back to our base at Fairbanks at Ladd Field. We came back and we circled the field, and we looked down for our barracks and all we could see was buildings burnt to the ground.

BK:

Oh my gosh.

BW:

As we landed and we got ready to come out of the plane, all these enlisted women came running up crying and carrying on in men’s fatigues. And, “What happened? What’s going on here?” And what happened was that the new barracks that they had built—because we were there first women to go up there, they had built these new barracks—we were told that some electrical wiring went amiss and that we were—the barracks burned because the fire was so bad. It burned the barracks. Well, fortunately it happened during daylight hours when most of the women were out on their jobs, of course. But there was one girl, a baker, that—you know, they have shifts all around to have the stuff ready for morning—she was in the shower I was told. And of course we lost her. And so what to do with all these women?

BK:

And how many women were in the—was it—how many—was it one company or—?

BW:

It was the squadron.

BK:

Squadron. Okay.

BW:

And so of course what they did was they found—the base commander found some barracks that were—had been used as medical barracks at one time, we were told. And they moved us out there, and, you know, we had to be re-issued—the women had to be re-issued clothing, which they brought up from the states, of course, because there’s nothing there. So that—that was a very traumatic time for all of the women, you know. They went through a lot of experience—of emotional experience, you know, when that happened.

BK:

A lot of responsibility on you, though.

BW:

Oh yeah. Yeah. Well, as I say, you know, the CO is like a mother hen. She has to take care of all of their needs and their emotions and their wants and so forth and so on.

BK:

Did you have people you could talk to like for advice?

BW:

Not really. I guess they were there ,but I just never availed myself. I felt that it was my job to take care of them, and I did. So anyhow, we got through that, and then we came back and came back to [Malmstrom Air Force Base] Great Falls, Montana and—

BK:

So the whole squadron moved back down?

BW:

Yeah. They all came down.

BK:

Why did they leave? Or did someone replace them or just—?

BW:

I don’t recall why we all came back. Maybe they had a change of command or something—I just—my recollection is not good. But I remember we came back in four planes. It was sixty degrees below zero when we came back, and of course the icing factor was there. And as I recall, three planes came back, you know, without any problems. The fourth one had to go down—not crash, but go down—and be de-iced and then came on later. That’s my recollection of it. I just remember that it was so terribly, terribly cold.

BK:

I can’t even imagine.

BW:

Yeah.

BK:

So how long—I’m sorry. You were in Alaska what dates again? I’m just trying to—

BW:

Now, let’s see, Alaska: April ’45 to December ’45, is what I have listed here.

BK:

Wow. So you saw a lot of the—you saw the long, long days.

BW:

Oh yes. Yeah.

BK:

Hard to sleep?

BW:

Right. It was kind of weird, you know, to have so much darkness and maybe an hour or two at the most of light, and then the opposite was true on the changing of the seasons. And the cold and the—I remember them telling us when you’d speak of the cold, they’d say, “Be sure you don’t touch anything with your bare hands, any metal,” because you’d just be glued to it, you know.

BK:

Did you have enough clothing?

BW:

Yeah. We had parkas. I think I showed you—

BK:

You did. I saw the picture.

BW:

We had parkas and boots and gloves, of course. And they had—so that you wouldn’t have to walk, for instance, between hangars, which were separated, they had underground tunnels that you walked through in the cold winter. And so you were saved from going on in that terribly frigid weather that would kill you, I guess, if you got out there.

The other thing we had up there were the Russians, you know. This was bringing planes over. They’d bring over a plane full of pilots and the Russians would pick up our planes and take them back. And so they had a Russian group there, and we tried to get friendly with them, but they didn’t want to have anything to do with us.

BK:

With the Americans or with the women?

BW:

Well, I’m not sure. I remember going over one time where they were eating and tried to strike up a little conversation, but they were, you know—either they didn’t speak English, or they didn’t want to speak it. I don’t know. Who knows? So they were on the base too. But we came back. And Great Falls, Montana—

BK:

And this is December forty—

BW:

Five.

BK:

Five, okay. [1945]

BW:

So I was in—in January of ’46 I was in Great Falls, Montana, and then from there went down to Love Field in Dallas, Texas.

BK:

Wow. And so before Montana, what did you do? What were you doing in Montana?

BW:

Just landed there and then—

BK:

Oh, that was just—Okay, that was just a stopover. So you were in Love Field, which was very different than Alaska.

BW:

Quite different. Love Field—I was again a squadron commander. That’s Dallas, Texas.

BK:

Was it the same women or just a whole different bunch of women?

BW:

No, different women, yeah. As I say, it’s so hard because I moved around so much, and—

BK:

You did.

BW:

—to try to think back. How many years ago was that? This is ’08, and that was in the forties.

BK:

Right, so that’s sixty years. Wow.

BW:

It’s very difficult. Certain things will stand out in your mind, but then to remember exact dates and all the detail it’s very difficult. Where did we get to? Love Field, Dallas, Texas. That was squadron commander there again and, you know, being mother hen to all of the women that were stationed around the base—make sure they did their jobs and listen to their sob stories or make sure they got off for their medical exams if necessary, and just be a mother, you know.

BK:

What was that like to come into a whole group of women that—had they been together for a while?

BW:

Hard to tell, hard to tell. You know, some—they come and go. But you had your cadre there that act as—

BK:

Now was it a new cadre?

BW:

Oh yeah.

BK:

A new cadre.

BW:

Every group is different. They act as sort of a buffer, and they help you out, you know. Sometimes a woman will talk to an enlisted woman and she’s a little reluctant to speak to an officer, but then word gets out and you take care of whatever happens. You know how it is with your mother. You can talk to your girlfriend, but you can’t talk to your mom.

BK:

Sure, sure.

BW:

[laughs] So anyhow, Love Field, Dallas, Texas, and then transferred again to Memphis, Tennessee. I can’t remember the name, I’m having trouble remembering the name of that airfield. I have the number of it, but I don’t—

BK:

What’s the number? It’s probably something we could look up on the—

BW:

I have down 555, five-fifty-five—five-fifty-five air force base, Love Field, Dallas, Texas.

BK:

We’ve got some good researchers back at the school.

BW:

I have that I was there March ’46 to June ’46.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

I have this on two different papers, and don’t ask me why. From there, June ’46 to October ’46, I went to Memphis, Tennessee, and again squadron commander. You’d think I’d know the job by now, wouldn’t you?

BK:

[chuckles] You’ve had to do it in all types of weather, certainly.

BW:

Oh yeah. Well, it was interesting because I felt like I was helping people, you know, and this is one of my goals in life is to be helpful. As a Christian woman, I feel that this is part of my calling, you know, to help wherever I can.

BK:

Did you feel you had leadership abilities before, or did you kind of learn them in school?

BW:

Well, leadership and the fact that I was taller and bigger than anybody. [laughs] Either listen to me or else.

BK:

Right, right.

BW:

But being the oldest in the family made a difference. I don’t know. It just—it was there, you know. Combination of things, I guess. From Memphis, Tennessee, I went to Fort Totten.

BK:

Where is that?

BW:

It’s in New York.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

Long Island, New York. And—

BK:

Same job there?

BW:

Yes.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

Just a short time, though. I wasn’t there very long. And then Westover Field. Yeah, I was only there for a year at Fort Totten. For Westover Field, Springfield, Massachusetts, was my next stop, October ’47 to April ’48.

BK:

Wow.

BW:

Don’t know what happened to the rest of this, so I’ll have to rely on these notes. Westover Field, Springfield, Massachusetts, that was the Air Transport Command.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

You know that one with—

BK:

Saw the patch.

BW:

Yeah. And that was they were ferrying planes over to Europe from that field. And so again, squadron commander.

BK:

Was that the—I guess Marshall Plan at that.

BW:

I have no idea. I can’t recall. But I was squadron commander there again. Now, I have down here that I went to the Adjutant General’s School at Camp Lee, Virginia, from April ’48 to June ’48. And for the life of me I don’t recall that at all. Not at all. Now why I went there, I still don’t know.

BK:

Now, is that something you would’ve chosen or they would’ve sent you to?

BW:

They would’ve sent me there. I didn’t—you know in the service you don’t often choose what you do.

BK:

Right. True. I was just checking on that.

BW:

They usually say, “Here are your orders.”

BK:

Now back to the OCS, is that something you could’ve said, “No, I don’t want to do OCS?”

BW:

Yes, I could’ve turned it down, but I was so thankful to have that—

BK:

Right, sure.

BW:

—out, you know, and opportunity really, and a chance to lead. So this AG school, I have it listed here as a place I was, but I can’t recall it at all. And then June of ’48 to May of ’49 I was a recruiter. I have down here recruiting in the squadron at Springfield, Massachusetts. And it couldn’t have been recruiting because they didn’t do recruiting. I was at Westover Field, so I was probably squadron commander. So these notes must be messed up a bit. But Westover Field was the air transport.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

From there I went to my favorite job—well, I shouldn’t say that because they were all good jobs—recruiting officer.

BK:

When was that?

BW:

That was May of ‘49 to July of ’52. New York City, 39 Whitehall Street and that’s where I showed you the picture of coming out of the army building. And my responsibility was to put recruiting—enlisted women who were recruiters into the various recruiting stations along the East Coast. I forget how far north we went. We didn’t go further south than New York, as I recall. And you would put in your most attractive and, you know, most knowledgeable and et cetera, et cetera. I thought I brought her picture. Maybe I didn’t. We had the recruiting station that I think I mentioned to you was called “The Fishbowl”, and it was in Time Square. And that’s where I put the most gorgeous looking girl that we had. Her name was Gertrude Thrun and she lived in Teaneck [New Jersey], ironically enough. And we had Marie Wilson, a movie star. Do you know who Marie Wilson is?

BK:

Marie Wilson?

BW:

Before your time. [laughs]

BK:

Well now, I’m a big old movie buff, but I’m not—

BW:

Before your time.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

She was gorgeous and she came down and we had my sergeant and she—we took a picture of the two of them together and they were just two gorgeous people.

But anyhow, we had the Time Square station. It was right in the center of everything, so I said we called it “The Fishbowl” because it was all glass around. Now, I went back a year ago, I went down to visit and there’s iron bars all around it. And I read in the paper where somebody tried to get in and damage it and, you know, maybe throw a bomb or something in. Who knows?

But that was wonderful—I had my office at 39 Whitehall Street and made sure that recruiting, we met our goals. We had to recruit so many women in a certain period of time. And so that was—and I lived at Fort Totten because, of course, that was in the city and I had to live on a base. And across the—at the battery there they had the ferries going over, and so I lived there, had my quarters there. And that was in until 19 [1949 – clarified by veteran] —well, let’s see. In the meantime, [chuckles] I got married. And you know in those days, you couldn’t be married and stay in the service.

BK:

Oh, okay.

BW:

And of course the minute you got pregnant that was it. So I got married in 1949—December 29, 1949, and my husband and I lived in Flushing, Long Island.

BK:

Okay. So you had to immediately get out then?

BW:

I didn’t have to get out right that minute, but I was able to stay because I guess they felt that I was doing a good job and they didn’t have anybody to replace me, or whatever their reasons were. But the minute I became pregnant—and I didn’t know I was pregnant. I went for a physical and they said, “Well, you’re pregnant”

And I said, “Come on! Really?”

And they said, “Yes, you’re about two months along.”

So of course that was it for me, as well as for the service. I wouldn’t want to be in being pregnant. But my husband and I had gotten married at the end of ’49, and he was living in Chicago and working in the garment trade because he had been—when he was in the service he was stationed in India as a parachute rigger, maverick, you know. They did something right: they classified it. [laughs] But anyhow, to make the long story short, he was in Chicago and I was in New York. And he wanted to get a transfer with his company to work in the garment trade in New York, which would’ve been great. “No way, José.” So he quit his job there and he came to New York and he got another job in the garment trade. I mean, you know, pattern maker is a highly—well, not talent—well, it’s talented, but I mean there aren’t a lot of pattern makers. It’s one of those specialties. So he got a job in New York.

And the—I was still at the recruiting station. And so for living quarters we had to find someplace to live, of course. And so got onto a real estate agent who took us around to an apartment building, and we thought they were going to be showing an apartment, and lo and behold it was an apartment but it was owned by a Swedish lady. My husband was Norwegian decent. And she owned this apartment, but she was a master chef out on Long Island and she only used her apartment on the weekends. So this real estate agent took us in and there were two airline hostesses that wanted to have that apartment, and this lady thought, “No, I don’t want those airline hostesses in here because who knows what’s going to happen.” It was a terrible way to look at it. [chuckles] She was being very judgmental I think. But when she saw Kenneth and I she said, “They can have my apartment and live in it all week long. But I will be home on the weekends.” So we thought, “Well, this is better than nothing,” you know, so we took the apartment and we had the bedroom, and we could use the kitchen when we wanted to.

So we lived in Flushing, Long Island, for a while and then we decided that, you know, my pregnancy was coming along—which incidentally I lost. That was a very tragic thing. But nonetheless we went out, and since we were right across from New Jersey we went across the George Washington Bridge and started on Route 4, and here was this nice little town called Teaneck. And my recruiting sergeant had come from there, as I said before. And so, “Well, let’s stop in here and see what this is all about.” So we went to a real estate agent and she took us to this house, which subsequently we bought and lived in for fifty years.

BK:

Now, you’re still in the service when you’re—

BW:

Yes.

BK:

Wow, okay.

BW:

And it was funny, when I’d go to work we’d take the—

BK:

Subway?

BW:

Yeah, the two of us. He was in the garment trade and I was at 39 Whitehall Street. And I was in uniform. And we’d kiss goodbye and people— [laughter]

BK:

Not something you saw every day.

BW:

Not knowing that we were married officially.

BK:

Right, right.

BW:

But anyhow, so we went to Teaneck and this real estate agent took us to this one house and we liked what we saw. And these people—it was a German family that had left New York City and missed it so terribly. They didn’t like the suburbs, so they wanted to get out of Teaneck. And we negotiated and got a very good price, if I recall, and so we moved to Teaneck. They went back to New York and we moved to Teaneck. And we lived there and had two children after that and for a little over fifty years.

BK:

Wow, long time.

BW:

Until I came here. So it’s been an absolutely wonderful life. There were, you know, problems, health problems. I fell a couple of times. I have rods up my spine holding my back together. I have big rods in my right hip holding the hips together. I have wiring in my knee holding my knee together, and, you know, so there have been those kind of things—and losing the first baby. But basically, if anybody asks me what kind of life you’ve had, I can say I had the most wonderful life that anybody’d want to have. And now that I’m here, it couldn’t be better. It couldn’t be better. This has got it all. So that’s the story of my life.

BK:

Wow. So just to get some dates, you—when did you finally, you know—

BW:

Resign?

BK:

Resign. I couldn’t remember the word.

BW:

June of ’52, and I must have that date here someplace. June of 1952—for the exact date, I can’t recall. Paperwork is not my forte anymore.

BK:

And your exact enlistment date was what again, since you’re on those papers?

BW:

December 10, 1942.

BK:

That’s right. And that was in Chicago.

BW:

I resigned the commission in June of ’52, but the exact date, time, hour, et cetera, I don’t know if I can find that. [pause] I said July ‘52?

BK:

June.

BW:

Change that to July of ’52, day is 2. It says effective date of separation, discharge: July 2, 1952.

BK:

And what made you decide at that point to—?

BW:

The pregnancy.

BK:

The pregnancy, okay.

BW:

Gee, I weighed 150 pounds. I haven’t changed much. I’m 145 now.

BK:

Wow. I’m envious.

BW:

Yeah. Well, I do a lot of walking, you know.

BK:

So you had told me over a lunch that as a child, you know, you had a leg problem. Is that—?

BW:

Yeah. I went to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. It kind of—my foot—my right foot turned out, you know, like—not a club foot exactly, but it was misshapen, mis-formed, whatever. But it threw out and I walked kind of like a duck, you know. And so my father was a Mason and a Shriner, and so he took me up there to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. And they put a brace on it and turned it so that it—I still walk with a little bit of a throw, but basically they put me back in shape.

BK:

So that wasn’t a problem at all when you enlisted?

BW:

No. No, because this happened when I was a youngster.

[Redacted conversation about Wiker’s current eyesight problems.]

BK:

You stayed in much longer than most women in the military. Now I know after World War II they really kind of pushed a lot of women out, but you were saying you were in the recruiting? Were they recruiting nurses or were they recruiting—?

BW:

We recruited army and air force.

BK:

Army and air force.

BW:

WAF [Women in the Air Force] and WAC, like those posters.

BK:

Sure, sure.

BW:

Well, if I hadn’t been pregnant, or if they had allowed you to stay in—well, not that I would stay in pregnant, you know. But if I had wanted to stay in and wasn’t married, because I wanted to—I wasn’t a kid anymore. I wanted to start a family, obviously. And if I was going to do that, I couldn’t stay in the military. So—because you had to stay in twenty years in order to retire, and I only stayed in ten.

BK:

So they didn’t encourage you after, you know, VJ [Victory in Japan] Day plus six [months] to—

BW:

No, nobody said anything, yes or no. You just did what your conscience guided you to, or what you felt like you wanted to do. I’ve never regretted anything that I did in the service. I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful experience, certainly a growing—and you know, when I was recruiting officer—oh, that was one of the things I did. I was called into Washington, [by] the Colonel [Geraldine Pratt] May—she was the head of the air force [Women in the Air Force (WAF)] at the time. And she called me and I thought, “Oh God, what did I do now?” a private audience with the top girl, you know. And she wanted to look me over and talk to me about recruiting recruiters.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

And this—she apparently thought I was okay, and this gave me entrée to flights all over the country, number one priority. I could get on any plane at any time and go to any base, and I went to lots of them to interview girls, ladies—I shouldn’t call them girls—ladies, women, to be recruiters. And you know the definition of a recruiter, I said it before: gorgeous, intelligent, makes a nice appearance. And so when they knew I was coming to a base, they’d have girls, you know, told and lined up that “If you’d like to go into the recruiting service, why, Lieutenant—or Captain at the time, I guess—would be here and she’ll interview you.” So we used to get a good turnout because this was kind of a nice job. You’d be off on your own and you wouldn’t have to be in the barracks and all this and that. And I remember—what was?—oh, Moses Lake [Army Air Base] Washington State [ now Larson Air Force Base]—I forget the name of the air base—was the most God awful place you’d ever want to be.

BK:

Really?

BW:

Oh, it was awful.

BK:

Sounds like it’d be pretty.

BW:

Those poor girls, they hated it. It was awful. And they came begging me, “Just please let me go. Please, I’ll do—I’ll recruit women.” [laughs] With your experience, how could you talk anybody into the service?

BK:

Right, right, right.

BW:

So I did a lot of travelling that way, going from base to base and wherever I thought I wanted to go or when I wanted to go to find recruiters who would be placed around the country to do recruiting of women. So that was an interesting assignment too.

And as I say, I just lived a wonderful life. I just have no regrets about anything that happened, other than that fire. That was pretty traumatic to lose a girl in a fire.

BK:

Did you know her?

BW:

Well, yeah, she was in the squadron. She was a baker. I can’t remember her name offhand now, to tell you the truth. But to lose someone that you know and have worked with is pretty hard.

BK:

So how long had the—when you got back, how long had the fire—?

BW:

It was just within the day.

BK:

Day? Wow.

BW:

Yeah, because they came running up and crying and carrying on and hugging and kissing and, “Glad to see you back.” And I said, “What happened?” It was just awful.

So there were a lot of very interesting experiences, a lot of good times. I have to tell you one of the most interesting things about my husband and I, how we met—this isn’t part of the story but— [laughs]

BK:

It’s part of your story.

BW:

I used to be—I used to be—my girlfriend and I used to be hostesses in the USO.

BK:

Okay.

BW:

You know the USO?

BK:

And when was that?

BW:

The United Service Organizations.

BK:

No, but when?

BW:

When I was in Chicago—

BK:

Chicago, okay.

BW:

—working at the bank.

BK:

Oh, so this is before. Okay.

BW:

Yeah, before I got in the service. And we would go to—[looking out window?] there’s a crowd coming out from someplace. Everybody’s so friendly here.

BK:

That’s great.

BW:

We would go to the USO dances as hostesses—they’d call us hostesses—and dance with all the guys. And so one summer I went over with my friend and we went to my grandmother’s house. And I said, “Let’s check out the USO.” We were close to Selfridge Field, Michigan. And I said, “Let’s check out the USO and see what they’re doing over here.” And so we went. We went to Selfridge Field and they had a dance, and of course we were there. And they have these—what are they called, Tom Jones?—where they do different things and whoever you stop with—like they’ll play the music and you dance around, and when the music stops you dance with whoever’s in front of you. And different games like that—mixers, I guess they’d call them today. We used to call them Tom Jones. Why I don’t know.

But anyhow, at this dance I kept winding up with this big tall 6’6” guy, and I was six feet tall, so boy this was heaven on earth, you know. And she kept winding up with another guy, and so she was very happy, you know, having that happen to her. So when the dance was over we were getting ready to go home and this—and the fellow’s name that Lorraine had was John—and John said, “We’d like—I’d like to take Lorraine home.”

And I said, “Well, you can’t because we’re together and we both have to go.”

And he said, “Well, why don’t you go home with somebody too and bring him along?”

And I said, “Well, who?”

And he said, “Well, didn’t you meet somebody here?,” or something like that.

And here’s Kenneth standing over against the wall, shy as a Norwegian, quiet. And he’s standing over there, and I had stopped most of the dances with him. So I said, “Well, that fellow over there.”

And he goes, “Oh, a buddy of mine! Oh, he’s one of my best friends!”

So he goes over to Kenneth and he goes, “Hey, what’s your name, Mac?” [laughter]

BK:

Good. John’s good!

BW:

Everybody was Mac, you know, that was the day—in those days everybody was, “Hey, Mac.” He says, “Hey, Mac. What’s your name?”

He says, “Kenneth.”

“Come here. I got a girl for you.” So he came over and introduced. And the four of us went for coffee, of course, and we got to talking.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Chicago.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m Chicago, too.”

And as luck would have it, we were both from Chicago. We exchange addresses and started to write. He went to India. He was stationed in India with the air force. And of course I was back home in Chicago, and then I joined the service and was all over the country. And so we kept up this contact and correspondence. And whenever we’d have a chance, whenever it was our luck to be, you know, in Chicago at the same time, we’d see each other. But it took seven years.

BK:

Yeah, that’s a long time.

BW:

Seven years before we finally got married. But talk about fate! [laughs]

BK:

Yeah, very much so. So by the time you retired, what rank were you? You said captain?

BW:

Major.

BK:

Major, wow.

BW:

I was on the list for promotion, but if I’d stayed another—because they said another two weeks but, you know.

BK:

You never know.

BW:

I was ready to go. They wanted me out, and so out I went.

BK:

They did want you out?

BW:

Oh pregnancy, sure. They had to.

BK:

Now was it common to go—to be serve—to transfer to so many places? Is that just the way the army was?

BW:

I don’t think it was common, no. It may have been in those days because there were so few of us, you know. Now they don’t have to transfer people, they’ve got them already there. My thinking is that probably because they needed these spots to be filled, maybe that was the reason. Or, glory be, I did a good job.

BK:

So did you feel that you were treated the same as men? The fact that you were an officer, did you have any issues with [men under you?]?

BW:

I had no problem whatsoever. Everybody was very respectful, very willing to help. I never had any run-ins with anybody, male or female, that I can recall. It was just one very great experience. I’m just happy I was able to experience it, you know. It was great.

BK:

And was the pay—how did you feel about the—was the pay at all—?

BW:

The pay was equal, of course. But you didn’t need a lot of money, at least I didn’t. I lived probably cheaper than anybody here in this place, because I just—my wants and my needs are so minimal.

BK:

So you saved a lot of money?

BW:

I wouldn’t say I saved a lot of money, but I had what I needed, you know. And I would send money home once in a while, whenever I felt that I could. But I wasn’t in it to get rich, and I didn’t do investing and things that people do nowadays, so—but I had what I needed. I can’t remember how much the pay was. I remember going in it was $21 a month, but after that I don’t remember what it was.

BK:

So you were flying a lot? Did you ever feel you were in any personal danger? I mean you stayed stateside, but you had so many—you moved around so much.

BW:

No, I never had any apprehension. The time that we bombed—I don’t know whether I told you about the bombing of the Chena River [Alaska]?

BK:

You did quiz me on that.

BW:

Yeah. That was a little bit frightening, to go into a—I think it was a B17, or a—

BK:

So you actually were in the bomber?

BW:

Oh sure. I was in the bombardier’s seat.

BK:

Were you the one—were you the bombardier?

BW:

I was—no, I didn’t push the button. I was in the tail gunner’s seat.

BK:

Oh, wow.

BW:

And you know the tail gunner is all glass. And the fellows that invited me to take a ride, you know, I’m game for anything, ready to go. So I went out to the runway and got on and I said, “Where do you want me to sit?” All the seats were taken for the flight—the pilot and the assistant pilot and the engineers and all this and that.

He said, “Back there.” [chuckles]

“Are you kidding me?”

He says, “No. Get back there.” So there’s a runway that goes over the bomb bay.

BK:

Right.

BW:

And so you—[chuckles] please. So I got there and there’s this tiny little seat.

BK:

So I was thinking they’re—you’d have to be pretty small to be a gunner.

BW:

Tiny little seat and there’s this machine gun and all this glass! And I think, “What am I doing here?” but you know. So we went around and circled around and there’s the river down there, and all of a sudden bomb bay doors opened right behind me.

BK:

Wow. Gosh.

BW:

All open and—

BK:

So you could see Alaska below?

BW:

Oh yeah.

BK:

Wow.

BW:

If I had moved I’d have gone down with the bombs. The bombs were there. So the doors opened and down with the bombs. And once they dropped, you know, and splashed—up and around and they went around again to make sure that he did it right and that the ice broke, of course, and that he hit the target.

BK:

Now was this for supply ships to get through or was this for military?

BW:

It wasn’t military as I—I think it was just for the town and the supply ships and things that—you know, just river craft. It was the Chena River. I think that’s what it was for. I mean I don’t remember any special assignment of any kind other than that. But that was pretty exciting to sit out there and, you know, there’s glass all around you and then when those doors open. [laughs]

BK:

So you felt you were encouraged to stay in, or you just—?

BW:

I wasn’t—

BK:

Discouraged?

BW:

Encouraged or—

BK:

Just stayed in?

BW:

I—oh yeah. I stayed in because I enjoyed it, and had I not been married I would’ve stayed in for twenty years because there was no reason to get out, you know. I enjoyed what I was doing. I thought it was great. I was well taken care of and I liked the people that I worked with for the most part.

BK:

They pushed a lot of the women out that wanted to stay in after the war.

BW:

Maybe so, I don’t know. I didn’t have that. That didn’t happen to me, no. I got out because I was pregnant.

BK:

So what did you do for fun? I mean did you—did you have to stay with the officers primarily for social life?

BW:

Pretty much so, yeah. You were with the officers, the officer’s club, and we went to a dance, went to the movies, stuff like that, you know. Nothing spectacular. If they had a road show come in, why, we’d see that. I didn’t—as I recall, I didn’t see any celebrities like Bob Hope or any of those people. But they’d have road shows that would come through different bases that I was at. So there wasn’t an awful lot of time for fun for me, because as a squadron commander you could be called at zero hour and say you’ve got somebody that needs help or somebody that’s in the hospital or—you were on duty all the time.

BK:

Seven days a week?

BW:

Oh yeah. But I mean emergencies on weekends. You weren’t sitting there waiting for the phone to ring.

BK:

People always had to know where you were.

BW:

Oh yeah. You had to be available.

BK:

So you didn’t—did you have like what you would consider a typical day in any of your jobs once you became an officer? I mean beforehand you were pushing planes around.

BW:

Well specifically you had paperwork to do, of course, the roll call, and you had daily inspection of the barracks to make sure the troops had their beds tight and footlockers in line and you had a daily inspection, which you did with your first sergeant. You went through the barracks, and paperwork, you know, of course. Just making sure that everything was kept in order. As a squadron commander, those were the things. When I was finance officer, signing the— [checks—added by veteran.]

BK:

That sounds—long days there. So what was your opinion of sort of the mood of the country in terms of respect that the women had as WACs or the military, or how did you feel the country was like, would you say?

BW:

Well, I don’t know since I didn’t really get out into the—you know, we were on the base practically all the time. I remember I had a leave of absence one time for a short time. I went back home to Chicago because I had some surgery done on my right foot. They had what they called a march fracture. My foot broke down because being on it so much. And of course that’s the weak foot anyhow. So I had a big cast on for my foot up to my knee with a walking iron, you know? And of course in those days you had to wear your uniform every place. You were never in civilian clothes.

BK:

Ever?

BW:

No. So I went back home to Chicago, had a leave of [absence—added by veteran] , I guess, a week or maybe a little less, and I remember going down to Marshall Field’s [Department Store].

BK:

And when was this again?

BW:

In—where was I? I can’t remember what station I was at when I had this. I was in stateside, of course.

BK:

Right. Was this during the war or after the war?

BW:

Oh, it was during the war. Oh yeah. And I remember going back to Chicago to visit my family and I had this, of course, uniform and this big walking iron and the cast on. And I went to Marshall Field’s and I got in the elevator to go, and I noticed everybody kind of—and I heard somebody say [whispers] “She’s been shot in the war.”

BK:

What? Where’d they get that from? Oh, because of the cast! That’s very funny.

BW:

Already I was a victim. I thought that was so amusing. It was nothing but a march fracture, is what they called it.

BK:

And they were serious.

BW:

And they were in the elevator with me and they saw this and I was hobbling along, and they were sure I was wounded in action.

BK:

Right, for a Purple Heart—up for a Purple Heart.

BW:

Yeah. I made the most of that, you know.

BK:

So what were your thoughts about the Roosevelts [Franklin and Eleanor]?

BW:

Didn’t think much about them. I thought that Mrs. Roosevelt was a very outspoken person.

BK:

She was.

BW:

She was. She knew what she wanted to say and she said it. I didn’t have a pro or con feeling about either one of them really, other than that.

BK:

What about [President Harry S.] Truman?

BW:

Truman? He was a guy after my father’s own heart. He was a haberdasher, wasn’t he?

BK:

I think so, yeah. Missouri man, yeah.

BW:

Yeah, men’s clothing. I thought he was a pretty nice guy. I thought he had to take on an awful lot of responsibility that he maybe wasn’t prepared for. Politics doesn’t really interest me, to tell you the truth, because it just doesn’t seem to be honest. I can’t—you can read about a person on one hand and you bring up an image of that person, and then you read on the other hand and it’s an entirely different image. And you begin to wonder, now where is the truth?

BK:

Right.

BW:

And in politics I think that that’s what happens. I mean I—I’ve known some politicians and have worked with some of them on a different than political basis back in New Jersey. But to me it’s difficult to decide who you can really rely on, because depending on who you talk to you get a different story. And that isn’t true with so many people that I know and that I’ve been with. Like Emily [Newcity], she—whenever she talks to me, I know she’s selling me the truth and she’s telling it like it is. She’s not telling me one thing and then telling somebody else something else. You know? You can count on her.

BK:

Now did the Cold War—I mean, right after World War II the Cold War pretty much started. Did that have an effect on any of your recruiting?

BW:

No.

BK:

No? Okay. When you were recruiting, you were selling opportunity, or what were you—?

BW:

A chance to serve your country.

BK:

So patriotism?

BW:

Yeah, patriotism. That was the big thing. For a lot of people that was the answer, and for other people it was an escape, like in my case. I wouldn’t call it an escape exactly because I was happy at home, but I knew it was time for me to get out and get on my own. I mean I was twenty-one and you don’t stay—in those days you didn’t—excuse me—stay with your family forever. Nowadays kids go off to college and come back and continue to live. Get lost already!

BK:

Right, right. Exactly, in the basement. Do you remember where you were VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

BW:

What date was that again?

BK:

I should know that. That was—

BW:

VJ was—

BK:

Was August [15, 1945], I think.

BW:

VJ Day I was in Alaska, as I recall.

BK:

I think VE Day was March maybe—I mean May [8, 1945].

BW:

I don’t remember.

BK:

It was early. It was earlier in ’45.

BW:

Right.

BK:

I think it was March, April.

BW:

No, but just when—no, I don’t recall any of that.

BK:

But VJ Day you remember?

BW:

VJ Day all hell broke loose.

BK:

Yeah. Do you remember anything about—?

BW:

That’s when I was in Alaska.

BK:

Yeah. You heard it on the radio?

BW:

Yeah, we heard it on the radio. And everybody, “Woo! Hooray!” I think I was down in Anchorage at the time. I took a trip down there for some reason or another, but that kind of rings a bell with me. And everybody hooting and hollering and carrying on. You know, Beth, it’s very difficult to be in a position where you can’t remember things that you thought you would never forget.

BK:

Sure.

BW:

It’s the aging process, and that worries me to the degree that I let it. And then I say to myself, “Now what are you worrying about? Think positively.” You know, “Don’t worry about things like that. You can’t change it. Take a positive attitude and think about good things that are going to happen to you today or tomorrow.” But it is worrisome when you—then I mean here you are as the young woman alert, alive, into things, and then when you get to be eighty-eight, if you’re not able to come back to this, it’s going to be quite a challenge.

BK:

Well, there’s a lot to remember in eighty-eight years.

BW:

Yeah, it is. And yet, you know, there’s some things like growing up in Chicago, I can remember we had an apple tree in the back yard. I can remember climbing that apple tree and picking those apples off and the ice man going through. You know there was no refrigeration, and my mother would put a card in the window and there were numbers on it twenty-five, fifty, and a hundred. And depending on how she set that card that would tell the ice man how much ice to bring in to the icebox.

BK:

He would just come in the house?

BW:

Yeah. And the ice wagon would go out in the alley and he’d look and he’d see, “All right, it says twenty-five.” So he’d chip off twenty-five pounds, put it over his shoulder, bring it in to the icebox, put it in, and get paid twenty cents maybe, and that was it. And while he was doing that, my sister and brother and I would run out to the ice wagon and grab the chips.

BK:

Sure, sure. Maybe not in winter.

BW:

Now I can remember that like it happened yesterday, but some of this stuff—

BK:

That’s common.

BW:

You know, somebody should do a study on the brain. Why can you remember some things but not others?

BK:

Yeah. No, that’s a good question.

BW:

But anyhow, it was fun growing up in Chicago. We had a good time—playing marbles. Did you ever play marbles? Big ring and little ring?

BK:

I never was good at marbles. I did jacks a little bit, but not marbles.

BW:

Big ring and little ring marbles, jump rope, skip rope, tap the icebox. We had the—the lamp lighter would come through each night and put his little stepladder, little ladder, and he’d go up and light the lamps—because this is in Chicago—light the lamp and come down. Well, on that lamp post is where we would do this and we’d make a circle on the back and tap the icebox, and everybody’d run and then you’d turn around and try to find him.

BK:

Hide and go seek.

BW:

Hide and go seek, yeah. Tap the icebox we called it.

BK:

That’s great. Just a few more. I feel like I’ve kept you forever here.

BW:

Oh, that’s okay.

BK:

Did you have a—you were in the military for so long, was there any unexpected adjustments you had to make to civilian life?

BW:

Well, I guess there must have been. Living with lots of other women on double-deck bunks was a little different than having a bedroom, which I had to share with my sister, of course, but there were only two of us living in a bungalow, which is where we lived. So that was probably an adjustment I made, but I did it unconsciously, I guess.

BK:

What about after—afterwards?

BW:

After what?

BK:

After the military, did you have a lot of adjustments to make just for civilian?

BW:

No, that’s when I was married then. I had to adjust to being married [laughs] which was very easy, I must say. I had the most wonderful husband that God ever put on this earth. He was of Norwegian descent, and he was helpful and talented. That man could do anything from fixing a car, to building a room, to gardening, to—no matter what there was to do, he could do it. And he always was like this.

BK:

Sounds wonderful.

BW:

He never shouted. He never sulked. He was just as cool, calm, and collected. He was just a most unusual man. [cries] And I still miss him.

BK:

When did he pass on?

BW:

Seven years ago. Wonderful father. He was great.

BK:

He really does sound that way.

BW:

We had a very happy life together, over fifty years. We renewed our vows on our fiftieth anniversary in the church and had a big celebration, of course. He was a very faithful Christian man. Yeah, I was lucky to have him. [pause] And so what else?

BK:

Well, do you consider yourself that you were a pioneer, would you say?

BW:

Never thought of myself that way. No.

BK:

Okay. It was just what you did. We’ve probably talked about that. Did you—were your children in the military? Did you encourage them or your grandchildren?

BW:

My children or grandchildren? No. No, they went to—both of them went to college. My son has a master’s degree in education. My daughter has a bachelor’s in home economics. And the grandchildren—well, the two oldest ones are in college now. The two youngest ones are still in grade school. But I never encouraged them to go into the military. It just wasn’t something that was necessary at the time when they would’ve gone, like say from high school or from college, into it. And so that was not a possibility for my family—the rest of my family, you know. My sister, I don’t know whether I told you—

BK:

You said she was working for the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation].

BW:

No, no. My sister was in the Army Nurse Corps.

BK:

Army Nurse Corps, okay.

BW:

As a colonel, full colonel.

BK:

Wow. Okay. When did she join up?

BW:

She was my hero. I don’t know. I don’t remember any of her dates.

BK:

But after you?

BW:

But she was—oh yes, because she’s my younger sister. But she was in the Army Nurse Corps, and she rose to the rank of colonel, full colonel. And she was stationed at—on Tinian, which is the island from which the Enola Gay left.

BK:

Okay. Wow.

BW:

They took the bomb. And she told us that they knew a plane had taken off. It was a very small island, Tinian. They knew a plane had taken off on some sort of a mission, but nobody in the field knew the mission except those that were involved. And it wasn’t until they came back that they knew what happened.

BK:

So did they—they found out from the radio, or did the pilots tell them?

BW:

I assume the crew told them. I don’t know. But I’ve seen—she didn’t talk too much about her service because it was pretty awful, I guess, seeing these boys all mangled and chewed up. I saw a couple of pictures that apparently she had. My brother had them. She was working at an operating table and these kids were miserable shape, you know. So she didn’t talk about it much.

And my brother was a full colonel in the army. And you know, that son of a gun, I’ve tried to get him to remind me of where he was at—Fort Riley, Kansas, but I can’t remember what his duty was. He was a—he had a master’s in education, so I assume he was in training. But he’s in Tampa [Florida], and I guess he’s being flooded out now. That’s why he doesn’t contact me or write to me. [chuckles] But I can’t remember what he did other than being at Fort Riley, Kansas, as a full colonel. They were both full colonels. And I’d just like to know, you know. Maybe if we get through with all these hurricanes he’ll have time to write. I don’t know if he stayed down there to weather the storm, or whether he went up—he has a place in Wisconsin, so he may have gone off to Wisconsin. I haven’t really been able to contact him. So all three of us were in the service and did our time, as they say.

BK:

I guess—what is your thought—we talked about this a little bit at lunch, but what are your thoughts about women in service now in combat positions? Do you think certain—?

BW:

Should not be, should not be.

BK:

What are—

BW:

I can’t see a woman sitting in a tank with other guys. I just—I get—

BK:

Is it the combat part or is it the working with men part?

BW:

Well, it’s a little of both. It’s being the closeness and also with being in combat. I just, you know, I think wars are horrible things to begin with. I just—I’m so sorry that we’re doing what we’re doing today. But women—there are so many places that women can serve, and serve beautifully and adequately, that I don’t think there’s a need to have them go into actual hand-to-hand combat, taking bayonets in the belly for instance, which is what would happen if they got in, you know. I mean I just—I don’t know. I guess I feel that the female is not to do that sort of thing. Of course, I don’t think the men should do it either, really, but especially not women.

BK:

Okay. Well, any final things you want to say or final thoughts?

BW:

Not really. I think I’ve laid my whole self bare [laughter].

BK:

Yeah. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

BW:

Hopefully I’ve given you some insight into—

BK:

Yeah, very much.

BW:

—one woman’s walk through life so far.

BK:

It’s great.

BW:

If there’s anything else you need or want. If you have time—I don’t know if you have time, but if you’d like to just cruise around here—

BK:

Yeah, I’d like to.

BW:

—just and see what our facilities are.

[End of interview]