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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Audrey Brewington Knight

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Object ID: WV0448.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Audrey Brewington Knight’s early childhood, sporadic education, military service, and later life.

Summary:

Knight tells of growing up in rural South Carolina, going to live with her brother due to physical abuse from her father, and details the effect of her mother’s death. She explains the various jobs that she worked before joining the WAC.

Knight describes her work as a WAC in the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. She tells of performing repair work on various bomber aircraft and facing discrimination from civilians.

Other topics include Knight’s personal views on women’s rights, religion, politics, and personal work ethic.

Creator: Audrey Brewington Knight

Biographical Info: Audrey Brewington Knight (1920-2011) served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.

Collection: Audrey Brewington Knight 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:

[Beginning comments by Beth Ann Koelsch and Audrey Brewington Knight redacted]

Beth Ann Koelsch:

This is Beth Ann Koelsch and today is February 5, 2009. I’m in Matthews, North Carolina, with—so you’re Audrey Brewington Knight?

Audrey Brewington Knight:

Audrey Elizabeth Brewington Knight.

BAK:

Audrey Elizabeth Brewington Knight. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. So would you like to—for your name for the collection, would you like it as Audrey Elizabeth Brewington Knight Collection?

ABK:

I don’t know if they have room for all of that.

BAK:

Oh no, we can fit it in.

ABK:

Whatever—

BAK:

We can put it as Audrey Brewington or Audrey Knight or however you would like it.

ABK:   I’ve always gone by Audrey Brewington Knight.

BAK:

Okay. So, we’ll do that then. Like I said for a lot of these I’m going to ask you, we’ve already talked about—just so we can have it officially on tape. So you were born in 1920 in Roebuck, South Carolina.

ABK:

Well, actually there was a little community called Canaan.

BAK:

Canaan. And that’s C-a-n-a-a-n?            

ABK:

—A-A-N, yeah.

BAK:

Okay. And you grew up there?

ABK:

Yeah.

BAK:

Until—and you were born there?

ABK:

Spartanburg. I moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

But we were farmers there. 

BAK:

Tell me a little bit about it—just, we talked about it, but just tell me about the farm and your home life.

ABK:

Well, on the farm, we lived in a big house and a big farm and everybody worked—everybody that could walk. And actually, I guess that was convenient for when my mother was still at the house—milking cows and that.  She would go to the field and help and she had to take the children with her.

BAK:

Right.

ABK:

So everybody was in the field working: chopping cotton, hoeing, and spinning out—whatever was required—or picking cotton when it was there.

BAK:

Hard work.

ABK:

Gathering corn.

BAK:

And tell me about your brothers and sisters. How many did you have?

ABK:

My oldest brother was named Walter Franklin, and he—and my second oldest was named Oliver Tate. That was some family name—Tate—back in the back, but it was also the name of a plow stock company.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

And he used to kid about that momma named him after the plow on the farm. I guess my family all had a good sense of humor. We had to work hard, as most farmers do. And I can’t remember having any special problem with that. Everybody got out of bed early and had breakfast and did what they were supposed to do.

BAK:

So, did you have any younger siblings? You had two older brothers.

ABK:

I had two brothers younger than me. My mother had Walter Franklin and Oliver Tate and Rebecca Lucille and me and William Earl and James Weldon.

BAK:

And you were all about a year or two apart?

ABK:

Two or three years apart.

BAK:

Two or three years apart, okay. So, you were on the farm until about how old?

ABK:

I was about twelve years old, I think— but I remember it as a good place to be.

BAK:

Right.

ABK:

It was clean air to breathe and plenty of fruit and vegetables to eat.

BAK:

And why did you move?

ABK:

My father just decided to move everybody to a mill village, and this is the sad part of my story.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

And get everybody that was old enough to work a job.

BAK:

Okay, in the mills.

ABK:

So we lived there for a while until Momma got us back out in the country, but not on a farm. We had plenty of gardening space, but she run [sic] a grocery store and a filling station. That is where I mostly grew up at.

BAK:

Did you work in the mills?

ABK:

I worked in the grocery store.

BAK:

In the grocery store, okay.  

ABK:

After Momma died, when I was ten years old—almost eleven—I started running the grocery store and the filling station.

BAK:

Oh, wow.

ABK:

Pumping gas and everything you do in a country grocery store.

BAK:

And—sorry go ahead.

ABK:

I wasn’t going to school. But when my father would be gone—he was going to be gone all day— after Momma died, he started staying gone most all of the day.

BAK:

Wow.

ABK:

I was left to run the store. My two younger brothers went to school at the school that joined our yard. And I would sometimes—don’t tell my father this—he’s been dead for years [chuckles].

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

I would leave the store wide open with a note saying: “take what you want and leave the money here”. And amazingly, people came in and got something and I would come back from the school house and—I would go over for a couple of hours while he was gone—and I’d come back and find that somebody had taken something and leave a note. Sometimes they would take something and just left the money. I didn’t know who had been there or what they got.

BAK:

Oh, wow.

ABK:

I had to check up and see what they took from the shelves. That was the country. I don’t know if anybody would have come and would have just taken things, you know, without paying.

BAK:

Now you were running the store because you weren’t going to full time school. When you said you were ten and eleven, that’s when you stopped full time schooling?

ABK:

Pardon?

BAK:

When you were ten or eleven is when you stopped full time and worked?

ABK:

Yeah. That’s when—they didn’t have part time school. They just let me come from the store when my father would be—they’d let me come come over to the school—next door—and go into class and study. I wasn’t signed up over there. They just let me do that.

BAK:

Right, how long did that go on for?

ABK:

A couple of years. And my brother came and got me and took me to his house and supported me from then until I was old enough to work.

BAK:

So, you were about twelve or thirteen when you went to live with your brother?

ABK:

I can’t tell you how many dates or anything like that, how many years.

BAK:

And that was also in--

ABK:

It was in a mill village that’s called Arcadia, South Carolina.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

I grew up there mostly. After I had left my father tried to make me go back home, but I didn’t.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you this or not. My mother was my whole support and life and protection as long as she was alive. She died when I was almost eleven years old.

BAK:

That must have been hard.

ABK:

After that, I ran the grocery store. My father was—he always wanted to beat up on somebody. And my oldest brother came and got me in a couple of years and took me to live with him. He was working in a plant that they called the Bleachwood finishing plant, that finished the materials that they make in what they call a cotton mill. This was a finishing plant of that. And he had a job working there, and I lived with them until I got old enough to work myself.

BAK:

Did you have the opportunity to graduate from school?  

ABK:

No, I didn’t have the—didn’t go to school to graduate with a class, but I took a test when I was going into the air force, I took a test and passed.

BAK:

So a G.E.D. or something like that, or just a test?

ABK:

Yeah, well, I don’t remember now what they called it at the time. I just went there—I was working in a shipyard in Charleston, and I just went there with a girl who was going to enlist. They put the papers down in front of me and told me to fill them out and I filled them out and they came back and told me I passed.

BAK:

That’s great. What kind of test—was it subjects was it, or math, or what?

ABK:

It was everything.

BAK:

A little of everything?

ABK:

A little math, which I am terribly bad with.

BAK:

So am I.

ABK:

I always loved spelling and reading, but I was bad at math. I had a brother who was excellent at that and bad at spelling, but that’s the way people are. We’re individuals, and I never—I was taught to never look down on anybody because they couldn’t do something that I could do as well as I did. Because they could do something they could do better.

BAK:

Sure.

ABK:

I guess I’ve always been proud to be an American.

BAK:

Let’s just talk about—So you lived with your brother, you said, until you were old enough to work. Did you work in one of the mills, or did you—?

ABK:

Yeah, I worked in a mill. And then I went to Saint Louis and I got a job taking care of a baby.

BAK:

Now how did you get from South Carolina to Saint Louis? I mean, that’s sort of a—Did you know about the job, or—?

ABK:

I worked with a girl whose mother was going to Saint Louis to visit a relative of hers, and I rode up there with her. And when she was ready to come back—she stayed up there a week—and when she was ready to come back, I just stayed and got a job.

BAK:

Wow, that’s pretty brave, you didn’t know anyone.

ABK:

Everything just seemed to fit together. I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve had to do to survive.

BAK:

Sure.

ABK:

You just have to do what you have to do to survive. I didn’t finish high school, but when I got jobs I took tests that passed me. When I took one test—I made a high score on it—a test that they were doing to get me in the air force.

BAK:

Okay, so you were in Saint Louis when Pearl Harbor happened?

ABK:

Yeah.

BAK:

Do you remember what you were doing when you actually heard the news?

ABK:

I was taking care of a child whose parents were Jewish people and they went out to some meetings or something a lot. I just lived there and got all my clothes and all the food I wanted. They had better food than--I remember this. I grew up in the country. We had a big kitchen. We had food, but they had kosher. They had one cabinet with cutlery—

BAK:

Right, they kept kosher—right, right.  

ABK:

All the food that had anything to do with meat had to be kept separate from the other—the milk and butter and stuff like that. But I found that they had very good food. Somebody said to me when I took that job that they don’t eat like you’ve been brought up to eat. But they—she did all of the cooking herself and I took care of the baby.

BAK:

So actually on December 7th [1941], did you hear the news on the radio; or did someone tell you or did you see the newspaper?

ABK:

No, I just happened to be someplace where—visiting somebody and they knew of somebody who needed someone to take care of a baby.

BAK:

No, I meant Pearl Harbor. Do you remember what you were actually doing when you heard about the Pearl Harbor attack?

ABK:

Pearl Harbor—yeah—I was working for a person and I just told her that I had to go home. So I went back home to my brother’s house in Spartanburg—went to Charleston to go in the shipyard. I went to work in the ship yard, and then I went with a girl working with me to sign up for the air force. And I signed up—when they put some papers down in front of me, I signed up. I do whatever comes along.

BAK:

Sure. So you were working in Saint Louis, you heard about the war started, and did you immediately go back to Spartanburg? Or—so because of the war you decided to move back?

ABK:

Yeah.

BAK:

So how far is Spartanburg—so you were in Spartanburg—was there any war work in Spartanburg or was the closest Charleston?

ABK:

The closest at that time was Charleston.

BAK:

Okay, and you went by yourself? You didn’t know anyone?

ABK:

No, I didn’t know--

BAK:

So, was there housing for the people in shipyard? That’s where you lived?

ABK:

Yeah, they put up hundreds of houses. I think it was called Victory Village, and me and this older woman went down there. She was going.

BAK:

From Spartanburg?   

ABK:

Yeah, she lived in Spartanburg. She was a middle aged woman then, but I was young and she seemed old.

BAK:

Right, you were young so she seemed old.

ABK:

So, I went down there and she had a husband who was paralyzed and she supported the family.

BAK:

Okay. So, he stayed in Spartanburg, and she just went?

ABK:

Yeah, she came home on the weekends. We got an apartment and both of us worked in the shipyard.

BAK:

So, what did you do in the shipyard? What was your actual work?

ABK:

Well, I was working down on the ships when they first put me there. And in about a month they put me up in the molding loft where you would draw patterns. You would take a big table—longer than a bar—three or four times that wide. You’d weight a pattern down on the metal and take a center punch and a hammer and you’d draw in the pattern of whatever goes on the ship.

BAK:

Oh, wow.

ABK:

I’d get up there and—because I couldn’t reach the middle of the table from the floor—like those guys did. But I’d get up there and take the center punch [imitating punching noises]—cut little holes in there about that far apart. Center punch out all those, because this stuff got moved around. You couldn’t just draw a line on it with chalk. It got picked up with big cranes from the ceiling, and moved over to a place—a cutter. And they cut different pieces of the ship out.

BAK:

Was the pay good?

ABK:

Yeah—well, it was good at that time.

BAK:

Yeah, sure, sure.  And how long did you work there?

ABK:

About a year and a half, I think.

BAK:

Okay, let’s see it was ‘42—that makes sense, you would have gone right after—so, in 1942 you moved down, and so you were working a year and a half. And you had said that a friend of yours from work decided—wanted to join the military and you went along with her?

ABK:

Yes.

BAK:

Tell us that story.

ABK:

She just asked me if I would go with her when she went to Columbia—from Charleston to Columbia.

BAK:

Did you drive down, or did you take the train?

ABK:

I didn’t drive down there then. She was driving. I didn’t have a car at that time, but I had driven a car since I was ten years old.

BAK:

Wow, okay.

ABK:

We went to Columbia, and I was sitting there waiting for her. And the woman brought me out papers too.

BAK:

Were you surprised when she did that?

ABK:

I said, “I’m not enlisting—she’s just enlisting”.

She said, “Well you just fill out these papers”.

BAK:

Wow, very clever.

ABK:

Since I had not finished high school—which was required—I had no idea that I could qualify—but it was everybody’s war. It was America. She said, “Well, just fill out what you can fill out.” And I made a ninety something on that test.

BAK:

Wow.

ABK:

I don’t know how much they helped me out.

BAK:

Right. Do you remember the date—or around what date you actually enlisted?

ABK:

It was in December. No, I don’t remember the date. All of my papers that I had is [sic] gone.

BAK:

Sure.   December—maybe—1943? Does that sound about right?

ABK:

Yeah.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

Because up until that time I was working in the shipyards.

BAK:

One and a half—right, that makes sense. Okay, so December 1943. So you took a test. You did really well, what else was on the test? Or, what else was on the forms?

BAK:

What else was on the forms?  You said that you answered questions about what your interests were. 

ABK:

Yeah. They—It’s just a whole bunch of questions about everything. I guess what you answer right gives them an idea of where you need to be placed.  I went to Georgia for basic training, and I did not want to work in an office. I qualified to do something in an office, and I did not want office work. So, I said that I would take anything else, you know.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

So, they let us have that much of a choice. And they put me in the air force. I went to California. I went to Fort Oglethorpe [Georgia], and then I went to California to the Mather Field [later known as Mather Air Force Base, which was closed as a base in 1993. Currently, Sacramento Mather Airport]. It was in the central part of California.

BAK:

Okay. So you took the train—So basic training was how long—three months—six months?  

ABK:

Six weeks.

BAK:

Six weeks, okay. And then directly from—

ABK:

I’m not sure about that, because it has been a long time.

BAK:

We can look that up. So, you went directly from Fort Oglethorpe to Mather Field?

ABK:

Yes.

BAK:

Wow, California.

ABK:

I was there for a year, and then—

BAK:

What kind of work were you doing there?

ABK:

I was working on airplanes. I was working on those little B-25s [North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers].

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

They were inventing that super fortress—the B-17s [actually, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was first introduced in 1938]. That was in New Mexico. So, I went from California to New Mexico.

BAK:

So, you didn’t stay in California very long? Directly to New Mexico?

ABK:

I don’t think I stayed in there—it was less than a year—or, a little less than a year. But I went to New Mexico where they had B-17s.

BAK:

And what were you doing specifically? You said you were—what was your specific task?

ABK:

I was pulling out tables and replacing them—replacing panels that had bullet holes in them. That’s what’s called “fuselage-work”. I changed panels all over the fuselage.

BAK:

And you would specialize in a specific type of plane?

ABK:

Yeah. I didn’t do engine work. Although, while I was working on airplanes—on the inside of it replacing panels that had bullet holes in them—often—I had skinny arms. [laughs]

BAK:

I guess that was helpful in that line of work.

ABK:

I had skinny arms. I still have skinny arms. The guys that were working on the airplanes would often tell someone to get that girl with the skinny arms to go out there.

BAK:

That’s great.

ABK:

They’d have something that could be replaced or fixed that would be way back in the engine with little places that they couldn’t get their arms in.

BAK:

Oh wow, so you kind of did some engine work. 

ABK:

So, I got famous for my skinny arms.

BAK:

Oh, that’s great.

ABK:

I could go in there and stick my arms through those things on the engine up to my shoulder and replace or disconnect something. It was a “together” thing. We worked together, and that’s what it takes to make a team.

BAK:

So, you worked with the same team all of the time?

ABK:

Yeah, well, I was in the air force and when I worked in the hangar I did whatever needed to be done—whether it was cleaning up grease or replacing things on the airplane. Mostly, my particular job was fuselage work—taking off bullet-ridden panels and replacing them.

BAK:

Actually I want to go back to when you enlisted for a second. You had not intended to join, but when you realized that you could—did you have any—Were you weighing the options of “Oh, well, I have a good job at the shipyard”? Or were you very excited? Why did you—What was your motivation to actually sign the papers?

ABK:

When war started—when someone attacks our country—I guess every American says they’ll do whatever they need to do.

BAK:

So, it was patriotic reasons, then.  You figured that you could be more helpful in the service to your country.

ABK:

It was a scary thing to hear that somebody has attacked your country.

BAK:

Sure.     

ABK:

And every American wants to fight back, and you fight back however you can.  When I heard of this war in Iraq—I was over there and I got up and started across the room and realized in my head—I figured that I was going to go back in the service. That’s ridiculous but it’s something—a couple of years in the service—where there’s people who work together and stick together. And if one of them gets in trouble you know that you’ve got buddies, and they’ll be there for you. There was a lot of prejudice from civilians at that time.

BAK:

Tell me about it. What do you mean?

ABK:

Well, actually, there’s prejudice against everything. There was prejudice against women who went to work in the shipyard. There was [sic] [people who would say], “Well that’s a man’s job, you shouldn’t be doing that”.

BAK:

People would tell you that?

ABK:

Yeah. And some people would say “Because of these women” —some of these lived in Charleston—“Because of these women coming down and taking over the men’s job in the shipyard our sons and our husbands had to go overseas”.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

And there’s a fear—I understand that people are afraid when the husband—or the father of their children—has to go out and fight a battle. They might get killed. But it was no more dangerous than going to Charlotte, because there’s reckless drivers, bad drivers. And the fast drivers are not the real danger.  It’s the careless, reckless ones that’s [sic] dangerous. We live in a time that was dangerous, but we’re here.

BAK:

So you had people—men and women—come up to you in the shipyard to—you know—when you were working—saying that they were unhappy that you were there?

ABK:

No.

BAK:

You just read about it, or—

ABK:

No, I never heard anything from the people that I was working with. It was just people who didn’t work—or they didn’t think that women should work. And it was women, not men [who did not want women to work]. And I imagine that the men were glad to get the help. And when I went to work there they had a bunch of other people—There was people working twelve and sometimes sixteen hours a day, and they were glad to get any kind of help that did not have to be trained. And I trained to work making patterns—drawing in patterns on big sheets of metal.

BAK:

Did you feel prejudice when you were in the air force also?

ABK:

Not—Only from civilians, not from the men.

BAK:

Wow, that’s interesting. How did you—What did the civilians do? How did you know that?

ABK:

Well, I never did go out off of the base that much. Two or three times when I was in basic training, I went to town with some other girls and there would be people that were—men and women who were not in the service—thought that it was terrible for a women to be trying to be a man.

BAK:

Wow. Did they come and tell you that, or—

ABK:

Not come to me and tell me, but passed behind us when we were walking on the streets. I never did go to town except when I had to buy something.

BAK:

And so they would say things so that you would hear them.

ABK:

Yeah.

BAK:

Wow. So this was in California or New Mexico, or both?

ABK:

It was—I need a map. It was in Georgia.

BAK:

Oh, in Georgia. Okay.

ABK:

It was in Georgia. I guess it was Tennessee that was up from there.

BAK:

Yes, they are very close. 

ABK:

There is a town that we went to up there.  The biggest town around—where we could do some shopping a people [would] just see a WAC and they start quacking like a duck.

BAK:

Oh really? wow.

ABK:

Yeah. People were very, very prejudiced against women in the service. But as long as our commanding officer, and Colonel Paul Tibbets [Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr, would later go on to pilot the Enola Gay during the August 6, 1945, during the atomic bombing over the city of Hiroshima, Japan] would get up and say to us that we were doing a good thing and he was proud of us. I felt like if Colonel Paul Tibbets was proud of us, I could be proud of myself. I was brought up in a family where you do what is there to do. It didn’t make me feel bad about the people who were insulting. I didn’t insult them back.

BAK:

That’s good.

ABK:

I mean it was something that my mother taught us from infancy,  that we don’t hit back—do to people what they do to us. You didn’t do something mean to people who are mean to you, you just stay out of their way.

BAK:

Now did you experience the same prejudice out in California and New Mexico, or just in Tennessee?

ABK:

Well, by the time I got out to California and New Mexico, I was just satisfied to do what—on the base. And when we went shopping we went in a group, and I guess that did something to antagonize people who resented us. I didn’t know any lesbians. They didn’t allow them in, but that’s what people thought you were if you were trying to be a man.

BAK:

They would say that to you?

ABK:

They didn’t take people who was sexually weird in the service—not men or women. They had miles of questions that we had to answer before we got in the service. It was just a thing that you would go along in life and what’s here, here. And then when you get up here it’s something different. You do that. I never have found that I was prejudiced against any other people. There are people who are prejudiced and there are people who are not. It depends on how they were raised as a child, I think. Some of the best friends I’ve had—One of the best friends I’ve got right now is a black lady that I love like a sister. When I went in the service people thought that because you were from the South you were supposed to hate black people. I was asked a question one time about—when I was in a big dining room—and somebody was saying something about—“What kind of people are they in—” They had asked me where I was from, and I said South Carolina.

BAK:

This is in California, or in—?

ABK:

This is in Pennsylvania.

BAK:

This is after the war?

ABK:

Yeah. But I was in the dining room, and this woman said “What kind of people” —I didn’t know her, and she didn’t know me. She had just heard I was from the South. She just said, “What kind of people do they have in South Carolina?” And I thought–well, I didn’t know any people except Americans. And I said, “We have Americans down there”. It’s not like New York City where they have a lot of people from different countries that come in and they didn’t get to be Americans. They stay Lithuanians, or whatever country—little country they’re from. They stay that the rest of their life, and they say that’s what they are. But if you come to America and you live here, you become an American and are an American.  I said “I’m an American”.

BAK:

Did you work with any black people in the service, or was it still very segregated?

ABK:

It was segregated at this time, but some of the best friends I’ve had has [sic] been black people. The problem was that these people wanted to know if I owned slaves, I guess.  She said, “You know what I mean.”

And somebody else said, “She means are there any black people down there?” They were talking about Americanism.

I said, “Yes there are white people and brown people and black people. All of them are Americans.” That was the way I was brought up. I didn’t know that people kept all these colors of your face into different categories.   

BAK:

But when you were in Georgia, did you experience other people’s differing views on that?

ABK:

No.

BAK:

One of the sort of things that was said is that women should join the service to free a man to fight. Was that something that you believed you did, or one of the reasons?

ABK:

I just went because they said they needed us.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

Your country needs you, you go. You don’t—

BAK:

So did you have any friends or anything from home who were encouraging or not happy, or?

ABK:

I did not have any special friends. I have never had very many friends. I have very few friends, but they’re real friends that you trust with your life. I call acquaintances friends if I feel that they are a friend. I have friendly acquaintances—that’s a person that you associate with, you work with, you live around, and you like them.

BAK:

Did you make good friends in the service?

ABK:

Yes. I had some real good friends in the service, that I visited after I got out of the service.

BAK:

Do you remember your first day, when you got down to Fort Oglethorpe? What it was like? What you felt?

ABK:

Well, I don’t know how to answer that. You’re just with a bunch of other people trying to keep in step. You’re doing what you think is right. All I remember is that I felt that was what every American who loves America as a home should be out there doing something.

BAK:

So, did you—was basic training hard or not hard for you?

ABK:

I’ve always walked a lot all my life, and my brother used to plow a mile long furrow down to make a cotton field or a corn field planted. And that rich South Carolina dirt rolling over that big turn plow—

BAK:

Right, a lot of clay.

ABK:

--looked beautiful to me. And I would early in the spring, before we could take off my shoes when I was five or six years old.  I would take—one brother would let me take my shoes off and walk in the fresh plowed dirt. That’s still a very good memory that was just cool and soft and comfortable and I loved doing that. I followed that plow—I told somebody one time—he was talking about farming, and he was saying how hard it was—They asked me a question and I said that I followed a plow many miles, and he thought I meant that I plowed. There was somebody who was asking – somebody jumped up [and asked], “you really plowed?”

I said, “No, I was just walking in the cool dirt behind my brother.”

BAK:

So, do you have any memories about basic training that you want to share, or anything unusual?

ABK:

I just was meeting a lot of people that I never thought that I would meet. Everybody was on schedule. You got out of bed at the same time. You went to breakfast at the same time. You went down and got your showers with fifty people in the big room,, you’d go in there and catch your showers and chat with people you didn’t know. It was just a good group of people which—I consider that we were needed, or we wouldn’t have been there. I mean I could have been happy—I guess my mother didn’t teach us to be sad, because I try to be happy with whatever is going on. I’m sad if something happens to somebody I love, but—as far as life—I’m alive today and I’m going to just live today. I go to bed and sleep with a clear conscience. If I get up in the morning, then I’m going to try my best and live another day. It’s just my—

[End of CD—Begin CD 2]

BAK:   Where you excited to go to California when they told you that you were going to go?

ABK:

Yeah. It was something that was required to do, so I went.  I had never had been to California. And I had never even been to Charleston, when I lived in Spartanburg. I had never been to the beach. I saw the beach in California, before I did in South Carolina, where I grew up.

BAK:

Now the train ride over. Were people supportive of you, or did you have—did they give you seats? Or, do you remember anything special about the train ride to California?

ABK:

Well, we rode out there on a troop train.

BAK:

It was all troops.

ABK:

It was military people. I remember sleeping on the top bunk and there were three or four bunks that was just swinging all night.

BAK:

Okay, so you were on to California and pretty quickly you went to New Mexico. Were your days typical or were they different every day? What was a typical day like for you out there?

ABK:

Get out of bed and make your bunk up. Clean your area. Go to breakfast and go back to the barracks, to the bathroom. You’d already be dressed in uniform, so go out on the parade field and march. Sometimes we marched through—went to town in trucks and paraded down through the—

BAK:

Oh, was this in California?

ABK:

Yeah, Sacramento, California.

BAK:

Were people in Sacramento supportive you think?

ABK:

I don’t think that they were as prejudiced as—When we first started going in, there was a lot of stuff about that “That’s a man’s job. She’s trying to be a man.” But I didn’t actually get into any discussions with people who have that kind of an attitude. I felt like they had a right to their own attitude and their own way of thinking. It was just something that our government said that we were needed and we went.

BAK:

Now, you said that there were men on your job. Was the pay similar? Were they supportive? Did you get paid about the same?

ABK:

In my job?

BAK:   When you working on the planes.

ABK:

I worked on the planes when I was in the air force.

BAK:

But you worked with men, right?

ABK:

Yes.

BAK:

Were they supportive of you? Did you get paid the same?

ABK:

Well, a buck private got paid one thing—and I was a corporal.

BAK:

So you got paid the same as men corporals?

ABK:

Yeah, but that was as far as I went. I was up to make buck sergeant when the war ended, and then everybody was ready to go home. I could have stayed in, but I didn’t see any—after two years you were ready to go home.

BAK:

Now, where in New Mexico were you? I don’t think we got that far.

ABK:

I didn’t get stationed down there. I just went there when I was in New Mexico, and went over to visit in a group.

BAK:

Okay, so you didn’t work there. You worked in Sacramento the whole time.

ABK:

I wasn’t out of the country. I worked in Roswell, New Mexico, on airplanes. In California they had B-25s [North American Mitchell B-25 Medium Bomber] and in Roswell, New Mexico, they had B-17s [Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress].

BAK:

Did you spend longer in Sacramento or in Roswell?

ABK:

In Roswell.

BAK:

So you were in Sacramento—six months you said—did you enjoy the work, did you like it?

ABK:

Yeah, I like to do things.  We had to be taught, because I didn’t know how—neither did anyone else.  The guys that worked on the planes were good to us. They were nice. I was the one with skinny arms, like I said. It was all good people.

BAK:

So, you worked with other WACs on the planes, or was it just usually you and men?

ABK:

There was a whole group of WACs that worked in the hangars and they did different things.  They changed—I didn’t mind, I was brought up to do whatever there is to do. One job might get you dirtier than another one, but if it’s there to do it, do it, you know.

BAK:

What was the hardest thing—physically—that you had to do there?

ABK:

Physically? I guess it was getting those cables out of the airplanes to change them.

BAK:

And what about emotionally, what was the hardest thing emotionally?

ABK:

Emotionally? I don’t know that there was anything particularly hard emotionally. I just felt like they wanted us there. There was a lot of people who was against it. I didn’t let any—I know a couple of girls who did get real upset about—people who were very prejudiced against any woman who went in the service, but if your country says that they need you—

BAK:

Sure.

ABK:

I never had any desire to pick up a gun and go overseas and kill anybody. But if we were needed to do—build airplanes, or—

BAK:

Sure. One thing I forgot that we didn’t get on tape is—you had said that many of the women had wanted to go overseas, but you did not.  

ABK:

No, I never had any desire to go out of the United States. In my whole life—the only place I have been out of the United States is just barely the edge of Mexico and just barely in the edge of Canada.

BAK:

Got it. Did you ever feel that—were you ever afraid—were you ever in danger—were you ever in any dangerous situations?

ABK:

No.

BAK:

What about social life? What did you do for fun when you were—

ABK:

Sometimes a group of us would go shopping and to a movie and we had movies on the base. We rode—went horseback riding.

BAK:

Was this all three places, or just a couple of them?

ABK:

All three places. But we had where we trained and were stationed too—had someplace around that had horses to ride. One place had a big red horse that they called Klondike.  I don’t know why I remember that name. I liked riding that horse. He would just stand still until you got on him. He would walk if you wanted to. As long as he couldn’t see other horses, he would do just exactly what you said, but when other horses started passing him, he didn’t let them pass him.

BAK:   I got it.

ABK:

And I was not a horseback rider, but I stayed on.

BAK:

Were there dances or anything?

ABK:

Yeah, I never was much of a dancer, but I had dances that I went to where we could eat and associate with people.  I went, but I’m not—I’ve never been much of a dancer.

BAK:

So you said at the end of the war—Did you ever consider that you wanted to stay in, or you definitely wanted out at the end?

ABK:

Well, I could have stayed in.

BAK:

Were you encouraged to stay in?

ABK:

No, they just had a place up on the board in our day room that you could sign a paper and stay in. I qualified to sign the paper and stay in, but I didn’t want to stay in, I was in there two years, and I--

BAK:

Were you just tired of the service, or you missed—you were homesick, or what?

ABK:

Well—

BAK:

You were just tired of military life?

ABK:

I was just glad to get to go see my brothers.

BAK:

Back in South Carolina?

ABK:

My mother and father both were dead then—in South Carolina. I went to see my brothers.

BAK:

Okay, just to kind of go—your view of things at that time.  What did you think about the Roosevelts?

ABK:

The Roosevelts? I thought President Roosevelt was one of the best presidents that we’ve had.

BAK:

What about Eleanor?

ABK:

Well, there’s a lot of nasty things that got said about her, but I think that she thought that she needed to run the government. He was a good president, but it’s possible that she had always had control of him. I don’t think she had control of the government, but when he was the president he was a good president. And, how she was, was just the way that she was.

BAK:

What about Truman? What did you think about Truman?

ABK:

Well, I don’t know too much about Truman. I don’t ever study a lot of that stuff.

BAK:

Did you have any heroes or heroines at that time? Who did you look up to?

ABK:

Colonel Paul Tibbets.

BAK:

Tibbets, okay.

ABK:

He came to our base and talked to us like one of us, although he was high up. When he came to our base he was just down to earth. He was a brave—a very brave person.

BAK:

Okay, did you have any favorite songs or movies from that time that you remember?

ABK:

Oh, “Off  We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder” [Official Army Air Corps song, now the official United States Air Force song].

BAK:

Oh, that’s a good one.

ABK:

“Flying high over the sky. Here they come zooming to meet our thunder. Rah, dah, dat, dah [imitating machine gun fire]. Give them the gun”. We used to sing that one and march. I guess that’s why I remember it.

BAK:

Oh, okay.

ABK:

And they used to have some good songs back then. It if it happens to come on television or something, it just brings back memories, just like everything else. Like seeing a farm.

BAK:

Okay. Do you remember where you were when you heard about VE [Victory in Europe] day?

ABK:

No, I can’t remember that.

BAK:

Or VJ [Victory over Japan] day?

ABK:

I can’t remember them.

BAK:

Okay, so you were there what, the duration plus six? So, it ended in August? Do you remember when you got out, and how much longer—

ABK:

I got out in December.

BAK:

December 1945 from Roswell [New Mexico]. Do you remember—Roswell—that’s where—So after the war, what did you do? Did you feel that you were encouraged to do more traditional female things? Or—tell me what happened after the war.

ABK:

I took a course in beauty culture.

BAK:

This was back in South Carolina, okay, so you went right back.

ABK:

I worked at that for a while.

BAK:

Were you doing hair, or what were you--

ABK:

Hair and facials.

BAK:

Where were you working there?

ABK:

I went to Philadelphia to a school.   

BAK:

Oh, Philadelphia? So you went home first and then to Philadelphia?

ABK:

Yes, I went up there and took an extended course in beauty culture.

BAK:

Was that on the GI bill?

ABK:

Yes.  There was a friend of mine that had been in the service with me who lived up there—there was several—we visited around. My friend that I went to see—she took me around to see a lot of old buddies that we had been in the service with. Her mother was sick and I stayed up there. I just went up there for a week, but I stayed up there for—I guess about three years.

BAK:

Wow.

ABK:

Her mother had come down with a cancer. She kept going back getting—and she was a very sweet person. The whole family was—like somebody you’d known your whole life.

BAK:

And you lived with them?

ABK:

Yes, I stayed with them. I had a room in Florence’s house and stayed with them and helped her take care of her mother who was sick. She didn’t get better. She had cancer and she died.

BAK:

Okay. Did you have any adjustment period back to civilian life, or did you take to it pretty quickly?

ABK:

I don’t remember having any problems going from civilian life to military, or from military back to civilian. It was just something you do. I didn’t have any trauma about any of it.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

It’s just you do what you think you need to do as long as it’s needed and then you go back to—

BAK:

Very pragmatic.

ABK:

You go back to what you were doing before.

BAK:

So, would you consider yourself a very independent person?

ABK:

Well, I’ve been independent ever since my mother died when I was ten, almost eleven years old.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

I can’t say I’m independent now. My daughter has been having me living here with her and is supporting me. I do what I can.

BAK:

Right, okay.

ABK:

She doesn’t require that I do any specific amount of anything. I can clean the house or make a garden or nothing.

BAK:

So you were in Philadelphia and you were living with your friend at her house—taking classes at beauty college—then what happened and then what did you do?

ABK:

I worked in beauty culture for a while.

BAK:

In Philadelphia, or did you move back? 

ABK:

I worked in Philadelphia.

BAK:

Okay.

ABK:

And then I just decided to come back to South Carolina, which I did. I had a job in beauty culture in South Carolina. I don’t know why I gave that up, because I had the hours that was required to be a beauty operator. And then I had the hours that was required to be a teacher. I guess I just found something else that I wanted to do. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve worked in manufacturing plants, I’ve worked in sewing rooms, I put the seams up the back of a stocking—back when they had seams up the back of stockings—and I made a good production. I guess that’s the reason I like doing that, but I used to—When I had a job, I just did the best I could. I didn’t worry about how much it was, or—just as long as it got me paid for what I needed to live on. Since my mother died and I lived with my brother and then started working, I’ve earned my own living—until I came to live with Carol.

BAK:

Okay. Many people consider women who served in World War II to be pioneers. Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer?

ABK:

No, I just consider myself an American.

BAK:

Okay, do you feel any connection with those views or the Women’s Liberation Movement?

ABK:

I never think about anything except just doing what’s there to do if you can—if you can’t and it needs to be done,  learn how to do it and do the best you can.

BAK:

Have any of your children been in the military?

ABK:

No.

BAK:

Would you encourage them to join?

ABK:

No, I never tried to tell them what they should do, and what they shouldn’t do.  Their father was in the Marines, and I don’t know if he ever suggested to—but he left us and went back to Minneapolis.

BAK:

What are your thoughts about women in combat positions? What are your views on that?

ABK:

Well, if they volunteer for it—they have to take training for it—I don’t have anything against that. I don’t want to volunteer to get shot at, but if a woman is willing to get out there and do that and she’s doing it not for—to make a name for herself—but to help what we need—to do what the country needs—is to help move our country along; or save our country from being overtaken— I think it’s fine. But I have—don’t think—I wouldn’t want to get out there—if it’s not wrong for a man to shoot down another person who is attacking our country—it’s a woman’s country too. I think my mother would have felt the same way. She’d be over a hundred years old now if she was still living, but I know that she felt like every American—every human being in the world—had a right to protect their self and their children.  She could shoot, she could use a double barrel shotgun and a rifle and she had one of her own, a double barrel shotgun, and a rifle, and a handgun. I’ve seen her use them. She shot what she aimed at [chuckles].

BAK:

How has your life been different because of your time in the military?

ABK:

I don’t know. I’ve always felt like if you’re an American, be an American. That’s a big variety, but it’s still one nation and one kind of people.  I don’t mean black, white, yellow, and red. I mean in America you should try to be an American. I know there’re a lot of people here who are not, but they have a chance to become one.

BAK:

Personally, what different about your life—do you think—that if you hadn’t gone in the military—

ABK:

I don’t know if it changed anything about— the way I feel about “Love thy neighbor as yourself”—if you’ve got a neighbor and they’re in trouble, then you go help them.

BAK:

Do you have anything else you want to add—any other stories? We’re done with all the questions. I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to add.

ABK:

I can’t think of any.  I just never have been—I never have regretted when I went in the service and signed up for the air force. If they had signed me up for any other branch, I would have been just as happy, because they put you where they thought you were needed. I felt proud to be an American, and I’ve never regretted going in—although there was an awful lot of prejudice against us. But who is there in the world is there that’s not prejudiced against? There’s people prejudiced against black people, and prejudiced against white people—Indians—look at the Indians—who has gone through more prejudice and abuse than Indians? I guess the best friend that I’ve got besides my children is a black lady. I love her like a sister and I know that she would do anything in the world for me if she could— and I would for her.

BAK:

That’s great. It’s good to have friends like that.

ABK:

We get together and get out to lunch once in a while. I don’t have anything to drive now, so it’s not too often. And she don’t [sic] drive. That’s something that I heard a lot when I went in the service was that the people from up North think that the Southern people hate black people.

BAK:

Did you set them straight?

ABK:

When I was in Philadelphia I—my friend’s sister’s husband owned this bar and grill. It was a bar and a restaurant. She took me there—in Philadelphia the city of brotherly love—and I was sitting back there at the table eating with her. And the only reason that man had a restaurant was because there was a law in Philadelphia to sell alcoholic drinks you had to have food. We were sitting back there eating a good lunch, and this black man—black man—comes in and he goes to the bar up front and he orders a drink. And the man that was working there behind the bar—he pours the guy a drink and sets it out there. The black man stands around and drinks his drink and sets it down, sets his glass down. He’s standing a little bit away from it and before he leaves the counter—or before he has a chance to order another drink, this man behind the bar—in the city of brotherly love—gets the man’s glass that he had drinken [sic] out of and slams it on the counter and breaks it all to pieces. Everybody in the place raised [sic] up and looked at him, and he said, “I wouldn’t serve a white person anything out of that glass.” So, he busted the glass.

This is in Philadelphia in the city of brotherly love—so, what are people? No matter where they are, you have prejudiced people and nasty people and good people and mean people everywhere you look.

I think—believe the Bible is going to remedy that. I think that eventually—I may not be living—people being born now might not even be living—I believe that God created the earth to be a paradise for everybody to live like brothers. He said that that would be done and it hasn’t been done yet, so it’s bound to be done. It might not be in my lifetime, or even in yours. But it will. According to the Bible he will do what he said that he’ll do. And, I believe that the earth will become a paradise like the Garden of Eden was—which is the plan, it’s God’s plan. You can’t stop God’s plan, and who would want to if it’s such a good one? But there are people who did stop it—or detained it. I believe that someday the world will be like it was in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were created perfect.

BAK:

Okay, well, thank you very much. This is the end unless you have something that you wanted to add. We can look at some of the pictures

ABK:

I don’t know. I can’t think of anything.

BAK:

Okay, we’re going to stop it.

[End of Interview]