1. LIBRARY CATALOG
  2. DATABASES
  3. JOURNAL A-Z List
  4. SUBJECT GUIDES
  5. LIBRARY SERVICES

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Pamela Devine

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: wv0453.5.001

Description: Pamela Devine tell of her early life, lengthy and varied career in the United States Navy, and personal life.

Summary:

Devine primarily discusses her experience in the United States Navy as an undesignated seaman, naval aviation mechanic, a recruit company commander, flight deck chief, chief petty officer, and work in logistics. She explains her treatment as a woman in the navy, and describes the environment of the cold war era navy. She also relates the deep emotional connection she developed with the USS Arizona Memorial as a coxswain attached to the water transportation division of Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Other topics include integration, the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the first moon landing. Devine also documents her interest in science and the space program. She also describes personally witnessing the Challenger shuttle accident, and her love of the sport of softball.

Creator: Pamela J. Devine

Biographical Info: Pamela J. Devine (b. 1952) of Shelby, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy from 1977 to 1997.

Collection: Pamela Devine Oral History

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:

Therese Strohmer:

This is Therese Strohmer and today is March 11, 2009. I am in Shelby, North Carolina. This is an oral history interview for the Women’s Veterans Historical Project at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I have Pam Devine here. Pam, go ahead and say the name the way you’d like it—your name the way you’d like it on your collection.

Pamela Devine:

Pamela J. Devine.

TS:

Okay, very good. Okay, Pam, why don’t we start out with you telling me where and when you were born?

PD:

I was born here in Shelby [North Carolina], at Cleveland Memorial Hospital, September 5, 1952.

TS:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

PD:

I have one brother and seven sisters.

TS:

You’ve got a large family too.

PD:

Yup.

TS:

What did your folks do growing up?

PD:

My mother was at home raising kids of course. And she worked. She took in work. She babysat. She ironed clothes. She picked cotton as we all did. All the kids worked right along with mom and dad. My father worked in the textile industry. He was a mechanic. He fixed looms—the looms that made cloth.

TS:

Interesting. Now where do you fall in that line? We got—is that—how many kids, nine?

PD:

Nine kids and I’m nine of nine.

TS:

You’re the baby!

PD:

Yeah!

TS:

[laughs] All right, okay! Well, talk a little bit—So, where you lived in Shelby, was it rural or in the city? Can you describe that a little bit?

PD:

It was rural. Of course, there wasn’t a whole lot of city to Shelby really then. It’s grown quite a bit. We didn’t live in town. And when I was about five years old we moved a little closer to town. So I had to change school systems. And then I went into the Shelby city school system. And then that’s where I finished high school—was at Shelby High School. So we were more rural-like, yeah. We moved off the farm that my parents had lived on when my brother and my sisters were younger.

TS:

Okay. So what was it like for you growing up then?

PD:

Oh, I was a woods girl—always was, always will be. I played a lot. And, you know, when you got that many kids you can make people mad all day, and still have a friend at the end of that day. I can’t imagine growing up any other way than in a big family.

TS:

Do you remember what kind of games you guys played or what you did just to—

PD:

Oh! Hop-scotch was a big one. We played board games at home. Sunday afternoons were reserved for making homemade ice cream in the yard. That was real big at our house.

TS:

Did you do that every Sunday?

PD:

In the—when it was warm, yeah. That was a ritual at our house. My daddy would churn the ice cream out in the front yard, and that’s just the way we lived. We were family kind of people.

TS:

Well, that’s really neat.

PD:

Yup. We fished. My dad—I still love to fish. I probably got a lot of—a lot more undivided attention than maybe some of my other siblings did, because my dad—of course by the time I was born he was older, and so he was my playmate, you know. And we went fishing. We fished in all the creeks, and everywhere in the lakes. And we did all that kind of thing. We went close by most of the time, because my parents didn’t have a car. So—

TS:

So you walked.

PD:

We’d walk to the creeks and stuff like that. So I grew up fishing and being outside. And, you know, we still do all that ice cream stuff and all that. That’s just—that’ll be in us until the day we die. We still do it.

TS:

Still churning it?

PD:

Yeah. We still have ice cream things and stuff like that. We’re out—I love to be outside. I’m an outside kind of person.

TS:

How about school? Did you like school?

PD:

I loved school. Yeah, I liked school a lot. I played a lot of sports in school—as much as I could for the day, because women’s sports were not—they weren’t as big then near as they are now, we didn’t have all those opportunities for organized competition. I played  basketball in high school. And, you know, I liked school. And I remember having some upheaval in high school, which I think is pretty common among high school kids. But sports always made everything okay again, you know?

TS:

Yes.

PD:

So, between the two of them everything went okay.

TS:

What do you mean by, like, upheaval?

PD:

Well, I had a little—there was always—high school life is like—you know—even though I liked school there was times I didn’t want to go. And actually, if the fair was in the town or something like that, I was at the fair probably two out of three days. But I still ended up somehow making the honor roll in high school.

TS:

[chuckles] Now did you have a favorite teacher or subject or anything?

PD:

Anything science. I love science. I had a—I had several teachers that meant a lot to me going all the way back to the first grade. I know my first grade teacher’s name. I know my first principal’s name.

TS:

What are they?

PD:

My first grade teacher was a lady by the name of Miss Spake[?]. She was of course from this area. And my principal in my primary school her name was Miss Cleopatra Latham: very, very widely known and well respected woman. As a matter of fact, I visited her grave about three weeks ago.

TS:

Ah.

PD:

Yeah. I remember all that stuff.

TS:

So growing up—so you liked science. And did you have any expectations of what you might do when you got out of high school?

PD:

Well, not for a long time I don’t think. I think I was just so wound up in the wonderment of the world and stuff, that I always had this problem that there wasn’t anything that I didn’t want to do. So that made things kind of tough. I mean there wasn’t—there weren’t too many things that I wasn’t interested in, I’ll say it like that. So you know it’s kind of hard to narrow things down when you have that problem. Like you want to know about everything. So—that makes it kind of rough sometimes.

TS:

Well, that’s true. Well, what about—so let’s see—so integration would’ve already happened in this area.

PD:

Yeah, integration was in its—integration here happened when I was in the seventh grade. And so—you know—by the time I graduated, of course, I had—what—that would’ve been six years so—no big deal. I mean, I grew up being really close to black people. So—you know, I don’t know what it was being alive at that time. It was like for some reason there wasn’t that big prejudicial thing at my house, and even though, unfortunately, that’s kind of presupposed if you were from the south in that time.

That attitude did not exist in my home. We had—living out in the country, you know, we had black neighbors just like we had white neighbors. And we had black peoples’ houses that—you know, we’d eat at home and then we’d sneak over to their houses and eat again! So you know—I don’t know, I love that stuff. It wasn’t as firmly ingrained in my life as it was in some other peoples.

Although however, I can remember vividly—even the stores in downtown Shelby—I remember specifically in Penney’s—J.C. Penney’s. I can right now see it as clearly as I did then. There were two separate water fountains. One of them had a little brown handle and one of them had a white handle. And one of them said “colored” and one of them said “white.” But I guess I was too young to really know the whole crux of that situation. And, like I said, that was not preached in my house. We didn’t grow up like that. We looked at people for how they acted, not what they looked like. So—I think that was kind of an advantage for me.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

I mean—you know—I dealt with it from both sides of the tracks. And I had a little—there were some problems I went through in high school. I can remember that very well also. You know, like social things [be]cause the integration had come; like, we’d have dances at high school and stuff. And I remember, you know, I didn’t take it the wrong way—mixing with the black people as easily as I did for that time. You know, it just wasn’t that huge of a deal for me. I figured if somebody respected me as a human being, that was all I really thought about.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

So I carried that on into the navy as well. And it just wasn’t that huge of a shock for me as it may have been for some other people.

TS:

Well, let’s see—so you were a young girl when JFK [John Fitzgerald Kennedy] was assassinated. Do you remember that at all?

PD:

Oh, absolutely. I was in the sixth grade at Oaks School here in Shelby. And I remember we were studying about Australia. For some reason, I remember that too. And we were all taken into the auditorium in the early afternoon. And when they got everybody in there and quieted—and you know—got it all quiet—then they told us what had happened. And it was a pretty traumatizing thing. Even as a sixth grader, I knew the implications of that. Politics were always widely and openly discussed in my home. We were big watchers of the news. And I knew what was going on in the world a lot of times, because my parents—that was just part of our lives.

You know, my dad never technically graduated from high school, but he was an extremely well educated man—very well read. He had a very high IQ and all that stuff, even though we were just poor white people. You can find some great big books in our house, and education was always pressed. But you know—so I understood some of that pretty—I think more so than maybe a lot of kids that I went to school with, and that was based on the fact of the kind of environment that I had at home.

TS:

Do you remember what you thought about it at the time?

PD:

Oh, I thought it was real scary.

TS:

Yes.

PD:

I knew that it was really, really serious after they told us at school. I think one of the things that drove the point home of how serious it was was that they sent us home from school the rest of the day. They sent us all home. And then I remember after that—through the things with [Lee Harvey] Oswald [presumed assassin of John F. Kennedy], when he was arrested. I remember watching it all live on television. We watched every minute of it at our house. I saw him get shot on live TV. And of course Jack Ruby [Ruby gunned down Oswald on November 24th 1963] was right there, and they nabbed him right there. So I did see all that as it was happening on live television. I remember the seriousness and all the implications, and how disturbed the general public was. My family was very upset—you know everybody just kind of worshipped JFK in those times and—so it was a big deal. It was a huge deal.

TS:       Well, what about—at the time where we had—you know—fears of nuclear blast or atomic war. Do you remember anything like that as a kid?

PD:

I remember practicing getting under the desk in grammar school. I was going to Morgan School in Shelby. And I remember we would practice all of that. I remember the sirens. We’d get under our desk, and we practiced the escape routes to get out of the school. We practiced what to do if something of that nature did occur, and where we were to stand outside to wait to be picked up to go home. We practiced it a lot. So I remember it all.

TS:

And then when—I’m trying to think of how old you would’ve been. What year did you graduate from high school?

PD:

Nineteen-seventy. But I started when I was five, so I graduated as a child.

TS:

Okay. So in—Nineteen sixty eight was a pretty pivotal year too, when we had Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated and Robert Kennedy [assassinated]. Do you remember those two?

 

PD:

Oh, yes! Same kind of an effect. I remember the Martin Luther King thing of course. I mean, you know, it was perceived as horrible all over the country, I’m sure. But being that he was killed in the south—you know—and most of the integration thing was centered in the south—it of course had a huge rippling effect through everywhere. There was a lot of tension. A lot of things just seemed kind of up in the air all over again. It was like “Will things ever get right again?” I know all of the things that went on, like in the Greensboro [North Carolina] area—all of that stuff. I don’t remember any big marches or anything here in Shelby. There may have been some of that reaction, but I tend to remember it more in a quiet, sort of a numb type of atmosphere.

The thing about Robert Kennedy—of course, since it happened so far away, that was all another live television event. You know, I remember all of that and how the air waves were inundated, and the implications of, you know, “They’re going to kill all of the Kennedys”. That seemed to be the feeling of the time, because of the fact—well, you know, they were brothers, and he was trying to become the president as well. So it was like, “God, why does everyone want to kill all of the Kennedys?” All of that stuff I think was permeated through our entire society across the country, because, you know, he was seen as kind of like the second coming—you know—to take his brother’s place.

TS:

Well, how about something on TV also, but maybe more positive? The moon landing, did you get a chance to see that?

PD:

Oh, yeah! Yeah! Saw it all! Sure. Wouldn’t miss a minute of it, and, thank God, the schools allowed us to see the broadcast of all the other space vehicles. The schools—the schools saw it as an important part of what was going on in the world—not just our country. It was the big space race, you know. We had to beat the Ruskies [Soviet Union].

In truth we didn’t, but however—comma—we like to think we did. But it was in that little science vein, so you know I couldn’t be pulled away from it. And I think it’s really unfortunate that we spend trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars on education now, but it never makes the top ten anymore. It never makes it. Oh yeah, that was wonderful watching it—being at school, getting to watch it. There was dead silence, because it seemed like everybody was just in love with it.

TS:

Well, I think one of the shuttles is supposed to take off today or tomorrow. Like you say, it’s not so much like it’s in the news. It’s like a routine thing you know.

PD:

Yeah, they don’t want to really report on it unless somebody gets killed, and that’s the bad thing about it too, you know. But it became—it has become so mundane that people—they don’t think about the risk that is inherent. When they light that rocket off, you know, it’s a life and death situation. But still to this day—if I see it—and I make it a point that I usually watch all of the launches, and have seen a few in person! It—

TS:

How was that?

PD:

Oh, thrilling, thrilling! Absolutely thrilling. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life is the space shuttle launching at night. There’s a few things on earth that I can’t adequately express in words of what they really look like, and that’s one of them.

TS:

That’d be pretty neat.

PD:

Yeah, it’s lovely.

TS:

Do you remember when it was when you were stationed in Florida that you got to see them?

PD:

Yeah, I saw them. I saw the night launch. I have seen two since I’ve been out of the navy, also, in person, but while I was in the navy I got to see four live launches. One of them was at night, and as I said—actually that one was when I was a recruit company commander in Orlando.

I took all of my recruits. I got special permission. I took all of my recruits on the roof of the building. They couldn’t figure out what was going on, and I didn’t tell them of course. I wanted it to be a surprise, because you know if the company commander was there late at night you knew there was something wrong—there was trouble. So they had no idea. I took them all up on the roof though. Marched them up on the roof through the stairwell. Threatened their lives if they got more than two feet away from me, because, God knows, I didn’t need anybody going overboard. So I just got them up there and told them to look at the night sky, and all of a sudden it started glowing. And they’re like—some of them you could see they were kind of scared. I told them, I said, “Just give it fifteen seconds. Don’t move. Give it fifteen seconds.” And then all of a sudden the whole sky starts lighting up. And it’s pitch black dark and there’s this red glow, and then it starts getting white. And they were just freaking. And I said “You’re watching the space shuttle go up.” And they just all screamed.

TS:

[laughs]

PD:

They had no idea. So they all got to see it. I made sure of that.

TS:

What a neat treat. That’s great.

PD:

Yeah, yeah. You don’t get too many treats in boot camp. But I hope that none of them have ever forgotten that. Because I wanted to do it, because I felt like it was something they might not ever get another chance to do in their lives.

TS:

I bet they do remember it.

PD:

Unfortunately, I also got to see the Challenger explode.

TS:

Oh, you did?

PD:

As well.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

Yeah. I was on my—I was on a lunch break in Orlando. I was still stationed there. Just so happened. I went to get something to eat, and I knew it was going up of course. So I looked—and from Orlando the space shuttle is just like almost right there even though it’s, you know, on the coast—but the land is so flat and everything. So, it was a horrible sight. But yeah, unfortunately again, I got to see that too.

TS:

Did you—when you were watching that did you realize at first what had happened?

PD:

It took a couple of seconds, but when I saw the smoke trails I said, “Something’s wrong.”

TS:

Yes.

PD:

Because I knew it was supposed to be the two boosters blowing off. And you know you—I had learned the sequence. I knew it by heart. And when I saw the extra smoke trails I knew that there was something big and it wasn’t good.

TS:

Yes. Well, that’s too sad. Well, what—so you’re—you have all these interests while you’re in school, and then you graduate. What’d you do right after you graduated? Did you have an idea about where you were headed?

PD:

Well, one of the things that happened in high school was my father passed away. And I wanted to go—the day after I got out of high school, I wanted to go—I wanted to join the navy—had wanted to for a long time.

TS:

Why had you wanted to?

PD:

Well, I told you about being an outside person. I think all that translated into knowing the kind of opportunities that were there to see the world—to do all those things. The ocean represented the ultimate outdoors even though I knew that I might not actually be on the ocean. All those other things that laid there at the foot of that door of going, but I put it off for a while because my father passed away, as I said. And my mother asked me not to leave right away, so I didn’t.

So I kind of put it off—went through a few of life’s changes—went to school for awhile. Nothing just seemed to—I couldn’t get the peg in the hole, you know what I mean? I just couldn’t, and I was trying. So after about two or three years I just couldn’t take it anymore. And when I got out of high school, actually, a female had to have parental consent if you were under the age of twenty-one. So by the time I got to be able to go I didn’t need anybody to sign the papers anymore. And my mother was more than willing to have signed the papers prior to that, except that I think—you know, the whole world turned upside down when my dad died.

TS:

Yes.

PD:

You know we were such a family. So that made a huge difference—tremendous upheaval. Don’t know how to adequately describe it—what it did. But it happened, so I felt like I had to stay.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

And so I did. I don’t regret it, by the way. But when it came my time, you know, I went.

TS:

Now you said you picked the navy, because—can you explain that again? Why?

PD:

There was never any thought of joining any other service except the navy. I just—I don’t know why. It was king. When all of the people I had known—people that I didn’t know—actually came back from Vietnam, there was something about the ones that had been sailors. There was something about that uniform. There was one of my good friends that I had grown up with—her father had been in the navy. And she used to wear his crackerjack top sometimes in the winter, because it was real wool. And it was beautiful with the piping and the white piping on it. And she would wear that sometimes and he would let her wear his pea coat a couple of times.

The fate was sealed. I’m telling you, it was done. So—I did not see much of an appeal in the army. [chuckles] The sailors out there will understand this. We equated the army with digging holes and pitching tents. And I spent a lot of times in the woods as a kid growing up. I walked the woods all the time. And I thought well, “I know the woods and I love the woods, but I don’t want to be out here doing my work, necessarily.” The army was out. The Marines were out based on the fact that quite honestly I didn’t see much of a future at that time for a woman in the Marines. I had and still do have a reverent respect for the Marine Corps and what they stand for and the fact that they have maintained their history, and they like it that way. But I didn’t want to join the Marines. I saw more opportunity for some reason as a woman going into the navy even though there were limits on things at the time—a lot of them. But I still felt it was the best choice.

TS:

You skipped one of those services.

PD:

Oh, the air force? The flying club!

TS:

[chuckles]

PD:     

Never entered my mind, I’m not going to lie about it. I knew what they had done in Vietnam. I knew how they had contributed to what was going on over there, because that was real big front news in my household as well. I always knew what was going on in the military. It was always—it was always a subject of discussion in our house as well. I had family members—I know family members of mine all the way back to the [American] Civil War that I can identify readily that had been involved in the military. So it’s a long history and lineage within my family.

TS:

Had either you parents been in the military?

PD:

My father did a small amount of time in the National Guard, but other than that, no. My brother did some active duty time in the army, and actually spent twenty some years also in the National Guard—and actually retired from the National Guard before he passed away. My brother passed away in 2005.

TS:

Oh, okay.

PD:    

So—he had thyroid cancer.

TS:

Oh, I’m sorry.

PD:

He passed away in ’05.

TS:

Yeah. And you had just one brother?

PD:

One brother. He was the oldest child. I was the youngest. I’m the youngest.

TS:

Oh, your brother was the oldest.

PD:

Oh yeah, God bless his soul [laughs] with all them sisters.

TS:

No kidding, I know!

PD:

Yeah.

TS:

Well, that’s true. Well—okay, so you finally get an opportunity to go in the navy. Do you want to talk about how you—like did you go to the recruiter? Or directly? Or how did that—

PD:

Yeah. I was on a beach in Gulfport, Florida, which is a little place down by Saint Petersburg [Florida]. And I was lying in the sun, and I said “it’s time to go.” That’s you know—I had taken a little time off from life. I was in Florida with my good friend that I had talked about who wore her father’s uniform parts. We had left Shelby and we had been gone for three or four months. We just decided to take a little time off from life, so that’s what we did. You know, ran away from home without running away. Everybody knew where we were. We were just having a little adventure. And I remember I was lying on the beach one day, and I said “I got to go.” So I told my friend Vicky, I said, “Vicky, I’m going home. I’m going to join the navy.”

Everybody that knew me well—wasn’t any secret necessarily, because I had talked about it for a long time. So I just got my stuff and came home, and went to the recruiter and said “I want to join the navy.”

TS:

Now how—did you have an idea about what kind of opportunities were available for you in the navy?

PD:

I knew that the occupational field was really varied, but, like I said, there was a lot of things a woman couldn’t do—that we weren’t allowed into. And some things you could get into them, but you could not proceed above a particular pay grade. For instance, if you were a woman, and you became a boatswain’s mate, you could not proceed above the pay grade of E-5 if you stayed a hundred years at the time, because they had it capped—because women were not allowed to go on board ships at sea—except maybe on a hospital ship, and you had to be a medical person.

So I didn’t want to be a deck scraper for the rest of my life anyway. But at the time they would not guarantee me a school, which would give me a guaranteed occupational field. So I rolled the dice and went anyway. I went in as a non-designated seaman. I went in as an E-1 with no guaranteed occupation, but I didn’t care. I figured, “You know what? I’m smart enough. I’ll figure out exactly what I want to do, and one way or another I’ll get it.” So that’s pretty much what I did. I just worked really, really, really hard until they took me seriously, you know, when I got out into the fleet. And I made up my mind what I wanted to be. And I think they just got tired of me asking to do this, to do this, to do this; so they finally relented, and signed the permission—the chit— and said “Okay, do it.”

TS:

[chuckles] Well, do you remember the first time that you got to put on the uniform?

PD:

Oh yeah. Big deal. Actually, you don’t put on a dress uniform, of course, when you first go in. You put on your—at the time we put on our dungarees in boot camp. Yeah, I remember that. I remember uniform issue. I remember them putting a hat on my head to measure my head. I remember how the uniforms were new and they all stunk. Yeah, it’s all there. It’s all there.

TS:

So how was your boot camp?

PD:

Boot camp was—I took it seriously. I worked really hard. It was pretty tough. It could’ve been tougher, I’m sure. I had—

TS:

What kind of things did you have to do?

PD:

Oh, everything. We—all the menial stuff you know—the cleaning. We used toothbrushes at times to clean. We did all that stuff. We had to do all of our own laundry and everything, and the place had to be miraculously clean. I will say that I didn’t have as hard a time with boot camp as a lot of people did. I grew up in a house where things were done due to the efforts of the people who lived in that house. So I knew how to work. I knew how to iron clothes. I knew how to shine my shoes. I had done all of that stuff for a long time, so things weren’t quite as tough for me as they were for some. Even though I was the baby and, quote unquote, the “spoiled” child. I knew how to do things.

TS:

Yes. You mean within your family?

PD:

Yeah. In my family I was, you know, “Oh well that’s the baby”, and you know the connotations that go with that.

TS:

Sure.

PD:

They’re not always correct. But I learned—I knew how to do things. I learned how to iron clothes, because when my—when I was a little girl and my mother took in ironing from people to make money, I always wanted to help my mom. So I would help my mom, and that’s how I learned how to iron clothes.

TS:

Well that’s neat. Now did you—you went in in 1977—you said December of ‘77?

PD:

Yeah. December 2nd.

TS:

So how old were you at that time?

PD:

I was twenty-four.

TS:

Twenty-four, okay. So at that age were you older than a lot of the other women that were in boot camp, or about the same? I’m not—

PD:

No. I was a little older. I was a little older than a good deal of them. And—to this day I’m still in contact with my—the woman who was my company commander.

TS:

Oh, neat.

PD:

And she told me—I was picked for a staff job. I was the recruit master-at-arms, which means—the master-at-arms was the one who takes care of everybody, cleans up all the messes, and organizes the general condition of the compartment that you lived in. Cleanliness is a huge factor in recruit training, because there’s so many people on top of each other. And you know you have to go through inspection routines and the master-of-arms takes care of all that crap. You know, it’s a big job. So I was picked for the master-at-arms. And later on after, of course, I was out of boot camp and all that stuff—because you don’t speak to your company commander as your pal or buddy or send them email when you’re a recruit. So I asked my company commander one time, years later, I said “What made you pick me for a job?”

And she said, “It was the way you were dressed. and the way you came to—you came to boot camp looking like you were put together”.

And I said, “What does that mean?”

And she said, “Well, you were clean [chuckles]. You didn’t look disheveled in any manner.” And she said, “You were not dressed way up or way over, but you were clean and presented yourself well. And you were dressed well.”

She said I was neat. So she picked me based on what I looked like when I got there. Little did she know that I hadn’t been to sleep in a couple of days, but you know when you’re a kid you can get away with—nobody knows that you hadn’t been asleep in two days. Because I was up all night from testing, and it was the night before I left to leave to go to boot camp. So you don’t go to sleep that night. You know, there’s too much anticipation.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

But yeah, that’s how I got picked for that job.

TS:

So how was it—so you went—you went as a—you didn’t have a job guaranteed or training school, so how did you come to get the—get started in the job that you were assigned?

PD:

Well, my first job was—I was assigned as a non-designated seaman. I worked at Water Transportation Division at Naval Station Pearl Harbor [Hawaii].

TS:

So you were sent to Pearl—that as your first duty station?

PD:

Yes. I was sent to become a boat—a certified navy boat coxswain—which—I learned to drive boats and became a certified coxswain. Before—and what we did initially was we provided transportation all around Pearl Harbor. At the time there was no bridge to drive across to go to Fort Island. Fort Island of course sits right in the middle of Pearl Harbor. There was ferry service that took people over there to work. And there were the small boats, which—that’s what I did, I operated one of the small boats. There was also military housing that fronted Pearl Harbor, and we had to give those people transportation back and forth either over to Mary’s Point Landing—on the main side of Pearl Harbor—or over to Fort Island, just depending on where they worked. So we provided transportation for everybody in and around the harbor.

TS:

What did you think about it—when you got to Hawaii?

PD:

Oh, I was like—I was like—[laughs] kind of like in heaven. It was gorgeous, absolutely wonderful. I mean, what a bad place to be stationed!

TS:

Did you get to pick that? Did you have like a dream sheet, or anything or they just—

PD:

Well, yeah. I think they—they went through that little dog and pony show of a dream sheet, but if you didn’t have a guaranteed school you were just going wherever they wanted to send you.

TS:

Yes.

PD:

So I drew Hawaii. I went with three other girls that were in my same boot camp company. Four of us got orders to the same place. We were all non-designated seaman, so they sent us all to water-t [water transportation] to drive boats and do all that stuff.

TS:

So how—how were you treated at that time as a female in the navy?

PD:

Just depend on who you interacted with. I mean I had some really horrible treatment, and I had some people who recognized that until I needed—until I showed them that there was a problem they didn’t present it as if there was one. So it was from one day to the next—just depends on who you dealt with. I had a supervisor that I know gave me a hard time as a female—but sooner or later, I think a light bulb went off in his head that I could work well and I was doing what I was told and I was really trying to do it well. And he came around to the thinking that, yeah, I guess I was okay.

TS:

[chuckles]

PD:

He ended up being pretty cool about things, but, you know, there were some people that just flat didn’t like it. And out of my job at water-t learning to drive the boats and learning to become certified and all that, I moved on to what was considered a promotional job at that point. Water transportation also provided all the services that went out to the USS Arizona Memorial [memorial built over the sunken USS Arizona to commemorate the 1941 Japanese attack on Naval Station Pearl Harbor], and certain people got picked to do that job. They based it on your appearance, your work ethic, do you show up when you’re supposed to be here—all those kinds of things. So I guess they figured I could handle it. So I got chosen to go work as one of the boat crews for the tours of the public and the private tours for the USS Arizona Memorial.

And so when I went over there. That was quite an honor still is to this day. I worked at the Arizona—we gave—like I said—we gave tours to the public. We took them through all of—a large portion of Pearl Harbor. We explained about all of the ships and things that were in port. We told them about all of the work that was done at Pearl Harbor—this that and the other—the submarine fleet that was stationed in Pearl Harbor. So we had to give a narrative all the way on the boat trip to the Arizona Memorial.

And I’ll never forget that one time we were loading the boat, and it was a whole group of World War II veterans and a lot of them were actual Pearl Harbor survivors. And this old guy gets on my boat one day—and I’m standing on the coxswain’s flat—which is—the flat is the little area that is right behind the wheel where you drive the boat you know. And this old guy comes up. And normally the coxswain’s flat is considered a hallowed place. You don’t approach the coxswain’s flat unless there’s real business or you’re invited there. But this guy, he just comes up on my flat. And he stands there and he looks me up and down, you know, we had to wear a dress uniform to do that job. And he looks me up and down and he says—he called the name of one of his buddies who was dead who had been killed in the war. I can’t remember his name unfortunately. But he called his buddy’s name and he said, “God knows he’s turning over in his grave because there’s a woman standing in his uniform.”

So I didn’t say anything. I said, “Yes sir, glad to have you aboard today. I hope you enjoy your tour.”

So when it was over with—when he had gone to the memorial and gone through our tour. And I made it my effort above all efforts that I would land that boat on that dock, so that nobody would ever know it had touched anything.  So when the tour was over with—we get back—the old boy stops by my flat again. And he goes—that he—he said, “I’m in shock.” He said, “You’re a real coxswain.” So what he basically said to me in all words was that he said—he basically called me a sailor. He didn’t call me a woman anymore. He called me a sailor. And—coming from that source it was the ultimate respect. He doubted me when he got on my boat, but he didn’t when he left. That’s always meant a lot.

TS:

Do you want me to take some—

PD:

No, I’m fine.

TS:

I was thinking that when you that you were doing the tours to Arizona that you probably would have a lot of the Pearl Harbor survivors that came through. And a lot of military I’m sure came through on those tours.

PD:

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. All the tourists that came to the island—you know—we would have lines that just wrapped and wrapped and wrapped. We treated everyone with the same dignity. We never rushed a tour. We understand why—we understood why they came. We took special pains for World War II veterans, and anybody that identified themselves as a survivor.

Plus on Pearl Harbor Day [December 7th] we did—we’d go to work really early in our work clothes—in our dungarees. And even though the memorial was cleaned everyday without fail—it was spotless. On Pearl Harbor day there were special ceremonies that were held. And there were always groups of high ranking officials. Sometimes it was government people—people from our own government. Sometimes and it was always—always—the survivors were hosted, and any other dignitaries that may be in the area that wanted to come to the services. Special pains were taken. We bent—absolutely bent over backwards to accommodate them in the fashion that they should have been. And we always took real pride in anybody—if they ever gave us a comment about how we—how it looked, or how nice it was—we really took that to heart. The nicest thing about—not the—maybe not the overall nicest thing, but one of the big, big pluses about working at the memorial was that there were lots of opportunities while you were maintaining it to get to be there by yourself.

TS:

Yes.

PD:

That was an incredible feeling. [pause]

TS:

Must have been—

PD:

It was just incredible.

TS:

Yeah. It must’ve been incredible.

PD:

It was total hallowed ground. It’s just a special place—special place.

TS:

How long did you get to do that?

PD:

I only got to do that about eight months. And then this was still during my time as being a non-designated seaman, and I was fighting to become designated. And, lo and behold, I wanted to be an airdale.

TS:

You wanted to be a what?

PD:

I wanted to be an airdale, which meant I wanted to be in naval aviation. That’s where I wanted to be. And I had been working on it for quite a long time. And—so I was doing all the little things that I needed to do, and ten times more, to convince everybody that I was serious. And water-t didn’t want to let me go. They did not want to let me leave. And—so it took me a couple of years to get it done, but finally I got permission to enter the aviation field. And I was designated an airman apprentice.

TS:

So what—like when you said there’s certain—that you let everybody know that you wanted to do it and you did little things—what kind of things did you do to try to convince them?

PD:

Oh, I would do all kinds of correspondence courses, which at that time there were all of these minimum requirements that you had to meet to show interest in a particular field. I would do all of those courses and ten more. You know. I would go like out to the airfield at [Naval Air Station] Barber’s Point and look around and talk to people and get them to show me around, because you couldn’t just wander around on an airfield just because you had the uniform on. So I would—I made sure I found people who were already in the airman field and I would get to know them. And I would go out to Barber’s Point and look around and start learning things. And then the bottom line was that I had to take all of these tests to see if I knew enough about it to get BUPERS [Bureau of Navy Personnel] permission to actually become a designated airman. So I passed all the tests and did all of the things, plus, that I had to do to show them I was serious—that I really wanted to be in aviation.

TS:

Now did you have anybody in the aviation side that was mentoring you at all or trying to get you—helping you get there, or was this something you just had a determination to do?

PD:

I just had a determination to do it. I always had a deal with airplanes also, and all things mechanical—it was all scientific, you know. I remember when we were growing up— sometimes we’d go down to Charlotte [North Carolina] airport and sit. There was a place you could go park that they had designated for the public. A lot closer to the airport goings on than it is now of course, because of security concerns. You could sit right underneath and they would fly over your head—landing and taking off—and it was just incredible. I loved the noise, the smell—all of that. So I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

TS:

So how did that go then when you got into the—

PD:

Well, I went to—when I finally got to Barber’s Point I became a third class petty officer [sic] [petty officer third class] and designated in AMH3 [Aviation Structural Mechanic, Hydraulics, Third Class] based on the examinations I had took. I had never laid a wrench on an airplane at that time. So all of the studying and everything I did I passed that initial test to be advanced, and become an AMH3 based on all of those books and all of those tests.

So I just went from there and said, “Well, I got to put some of this knowledge in my hands.” When I got there I worked with some really good people who had a lot of time out in the fleet. There were a couple of senior women there, which was nice. I mean I—there was a woman who was—there were two petty officer second class there when I got there— when I checked in to where I was working at NAS [Naval Air Station] Barber’s Point. And that was nice, to have a couple of women who were above an E-2 or something, and they were looked to as—I guess you’d say specialists in what they did, because they were already E-5s, you know. So that was good for me to be able to latch onto. They were professionals. One of them was an electronics technician and the other one was in aviation—she was in aviation records. Which was a very—is a very pivotal part of keeping an airplane operation going. Records are absolutely essential—all of your flight records and things and maintenance records and things of that nature.

And they all taught me from the get go that basically there’s not a heck of a lot of gray matter when it comes to flying an airplane. There are two variables and they consist of life and death. And I took that very seriously, and if you didn’t, you didn’t need to be there.

TS:

Yes.

PD:

Because you had a lot of—when you were fixing an airplane you had a lot of other peoples’ lives in your hands. But I loved it. I took to it, you know, as the old saying goes: “like a duck to water”. I did everything they would allow me to do as quickly as I could.

TS:

What kind of planes were you working on?

PD:

Well, in the beginning my first airplane that I ever laid a wrench on was a four-seater Aztec Piper Cub. I became fully qualified on that aircraft. I got to the point where I was allowed to turn the engines on the airplanes to do maintenance checks. I was quality control inspector on that aircraft. I was also lucky in the fact that the beautiful Hawaiian islands were just all around us. Every once in a while my department head—who was one of the pilots of course—it was the station aircraft so it was used to do business that Barber’s Point needed to do. And also that airplane was used to help younger pilots qualify for other platforms. And if a naval aviator was on shore duty then they had to fly a certain number of hours to maintain their qualifications. That was one of the airplanes that they flew to get their hours. So there were times when somebody would look around and say, “What are you guys doing tomorrow as far as maintenance or anything?”

And I said, “Well sir”—if it was one of the pilots I’d say, “Well sir, we’re going to do da-da-da-da-da and just do things around the place, because you guys are going to take the plane tomorrow. So, you know, we don’t—we won’t be working on any actual aircraft tomorrow, because you’re going to be taking it away.”

And he’s like, “Well would you like to go up in it?”

That was the ultimate to get to fly in the airplane that you worked on. That showed—that was an unspoken bond of trust, is what it was. I had one of them ask me one day—he said, “Do you enjoy doing what you do?”

I go, “Yes sir, I love it.”

And he asked, “Do you enjoy it enough to trust yourself to go up in it, because if you won’t fly in it, and you fix it, that’s not good.”

I said “Yes sir, what time are we taking off?”

So that turned into—Pam got to go flying in the plane, and got to see the Hawaiian Islands like nobody’s business. I mean, we’d do the little fly-ins on the beaches that no one knew existed, and go around the mountains.  It was incredible. They’d just try to make you sick sometimes. But I never puked in my own airplane, because I knew I’d have to clean it up.

TS:

[laughs]

PD:

So that went into—we were up one day, and I don’t know—this probably—nobody will get in trouble, it’s been too long. We were up flying one day, and my department head—I respected him a great deal, because he really cared about his people. And he showed that. His name was Commander Dietz. I’ll never forget him, I want to make sure that’s in there. That’s spelled D-I-E-T-Z—wonderful man. He looked at me when we were up flying one day—he had me in the copilot seat. And he just turned around and looked at me, and he threw his hands up in the air and he says, “It’s yours.”

And I thought, “Oh, he’s kidding”. But he wasn’t. So he let me fly. That was the first time, that day. [Of] course, he wouldn’t let me put it down, because I’d never flown before. So every time I went up with him, he’d always let me fly.

TS:

How neat!

PD:

So that was great. I got to fly a good bit. Because he knew I knew about the engines and all that stuff, because I was ground term qualified. And I could do whatever I needed to do except it wasn’t legal for me to do the take-off and landing. It wasn’t really legal for me to fly it, but, like I said, long ago and far away. He really put an impression in my head, because he trusted me. That was cool. That’s where I learned how to fly. Through the years I flew some more. I actually have a few landings and take-offs—not in a navy aircraft I might add, because that was illegal! That was truly off bounds, and they didn’t want to risk their careers. I have some landings and take-offs in an aqua plane, which I flew on the lakes of Florida a few years back. But it’s still there—all that’s still there.

TS:

Well, how would you say—so you worked—the navy’s interesting in that you have the aviation and you have the boats. So there’s different cultures—I would think—within the navy because of those things. Would you like to speak to that at all?

PD:

Sure. Well, there was always the big deal of coming up as an airdale. There was a distinction made between the boat people—that’s what we called them—and the aviation people. We called them the black shoes, and we were the brown shoes. And that went to the uniform differences, is all that was. The black shoes were the people who were in the sailing—strictly the sailing navy. With their—as a chief petty officer, that’s really where it was the most prevalent. When you made chief—if you were a sailor of the sailing navy—you wore black shoes with your khakis. But if you were an airdale you wore brown shoes.

And you want to talk about a badge of pride—that was the ultimate—to be an airdale—because everybody knew you were an airdale, because if you had those brown shoes on. So we really—we ate that up, we ate it up. It was just beyond anything—the pride of wearing the brown shoes. Because—number one—you had to be a chief to wear them, because prior to that is an E-6 and below you don’t wear any brown shoes—as an airdale, you wore black shoes. But when you got to the brown shoes, the mountain had been scaled. It was just incredible pride. Now—Not to say that airdales didn’t go to sea, because that’s not true by any stretch of the imagination. We do have aircraft carriers. The squadrons went to sea on the aircraft carriers. Of course, when I first went in the navy I wasn’t allowed to do that. That was the ultimate goal for me. I did finally get to achieve that goal, but much later in my career.

TS:       Yeah.

PD:

I went to sea on the USS Enterprise. I got to feel the ground shake beneath me—the ground being the flattop [deck]. I finally got to be a flight deck chief, and be on the deck when they were being shot off. I mean that was the ultimate. You couldn’t be—I couldn’t have been an airdale, and done twenty years in the navy without having gone to sea on the flattop.

TS:

What year did you get to go?

PD:

I didn’t get to go to sea until 1995, two years before I got out of the navy. But I fought and terminated shore duty, and did this and did that, and did nine thousand other things to make sure that it happened before I left.

TS:

Excellent.

PD:

And it did finally.

TS:       We’ve been talking for about an hour. Do you want to take a little break? Okay.

[End CD 1—Begin CD 2]

TS:

Okay, back here with Pam, and we’re talking about your time in Hawaii and getting into the naval aviation. So—about what time, what year is this, this is in the—

PD:

When I was in Hawaii?

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

Well, I left Hawaii on December 10, 1981, on the red-eye flight.

TS:

Okay.

PD:

That’s when my tour was up, so I was there about four years.

TS:

You were there four years?

PD:

Yeah.

TS:

Okay. Well, what did you do besides flying around in an airplane—like socially?

PD:

Oh! I never went to—I am proud to say that I never, ever went to a commercial luau. I lived among the locals, when I got to where I could move off base. You know, I had, like, fifty roommates of course, because—you know—we didn’t have any money. I had neighbors at one point who—that’s what they did on weekends. They were locals— Hawaiians. They had an imu pit in their backyard and they made kalua pig for luaus. And every time they had one going they always invited us to go, because we were, quote unquote, the haole—the white people.

But they didn’t treat us bad, you know. They didn’t mind us, because we immersed our self in their situation. We knew it was their—even though it was the United States, it kind of wasn’t. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like being on the mainland. So we wanted to be like part of the Hawaiian experience—my roommates and I. So we got invited to all of these luaus. And the Hawaiians have a tradition, they would have a baby luau, which when the kid was one year old they had the luau for the babies. And you went and it was just—oh man—talk about a party and a throw down. Oh God! The food—it was incredible. Incredible! Like I said my neighbor made the kalua pigs, so we got invited to everything! And it was always locals. Dancing—all of that stuff. It was just wonderful. And they’d have another big ritual luau when the kid was sixteen. And both of those times people would bring gifts, but they also brought a lot of money. They would give them money for their education and for the upbringing—hence the one and the sixteen year old deal. And I remember they always had gambling tables at the luaus, and they would take part of the money from the winnings—everybody had to agree. They’d be gambling either throwing dice or playing cards or whatever they did, and they took a certain percentage out of the money that was won at the gambling tables, and gave it to the person that the luau was for.

TS:

Well, that was sweet.

PD:

It was all about raising money and honoring the child that the luau was for, and helping the families—the child’s family—support them and bring them up. So it was really great. And I ate some things that I had never seen before, and some of them were good and some of them I didn’t eat anymore. But I didn’t realize I liked baked squid, but I did! You know, we didn’t have a whole of that here in the country in [North] Carolina—wasn’t much baked squid flying around, you know what I mean?

TS:

[chuckles]

PD:

I learned a whole lot of different things. I absolutely loved the food. I had never—even though I’ve eaten pineapple all my life—I had never tasted one until I ate one fresh out of the field. That was just indescribable. They—the pineapple fields were everywhere. And I know they’re not so—not as much there like they used to be, because friends of mine went back last summer, actually, for a visit. And they were telling me about all the pineapple fields that we used to drive past and stop and get the fresh ones right on the side of the road—that all of those fields are gone now. They’re all houses, you know, so—but anyway it was just incredible.

We lived—we spent every moment we could possibly squeeze away from work— we spent it at the beach. We body surfed. We had boogie boards. We rode surf boards. We camped on the beach. You didn’t have to—no big deal—just go out there and take your little tent and some sleeping bags, and sometimes we’d rent little—if there was a shack to rent or something, we’d do that. And if we had a long weekend at work we might have a hundred people out on the beach, and we wouldn’t leave the place for the entire time. I’ll never forget, we had one on the beach at Barber’s Point. The base had a nice beach. They had lots of camping spots, just for tents, you know. No fancy trailers or nothing like that. We’d take tents, and we’d stay the entire time. And one weekend these people that came—they had gone somewhere to some slaughterhouse—and they brought half of a cow to that cookout—to that campout—and we cooked that. We had beef all weekend long. And plus fresh fish, [be]cause we’d just step right over there and fish, and bring them up, and gut them, and cook them right there on the grill. So we had the best of all worlds, you know.

TS:

Very nice.

PD:

And if you knew some folks which were—there were a large Filipino population—you’d have fresh lumpia too.

TS:

What’s that?

PD:

That’s like a Filipino version of a Chinese egg roll, but actually I like lumpia better. I like the Filipino version better. It’s very, very, very thin little wrappers—lumpia wrappers—and they put meat in them and vegetables and all of that. Different from a Chinese egg roll, and not as big around as a normal Chinese egg roll. And I was lucky that I worked with a guy—who was my supervisor, actually, at Barber’s Point—his wife was Filipino, and she would make the lumpia. Every week a great big fresh pot of lumpia—or pan you know—[be]cause it was little rolls. And she would get up real early in the morning and cook it, and he’d bring it fresh. So we had it made. You know, we had it made.

TS:

That sounds great.

PD:

My family came to visit a few times you know so—we—I got to be the island tourist over and over and over, because when someone came you showed them the island, you know?

TS:

Yes.

PD:

And all the tourist trappings that went with it. Plus, I would take off and explore a lot. Lots of times I’d take off by myself.

[comment regarding barking dog redacted]

PD:

I enjoyed the cookouts and the parties as much as anybody else, but I liked to explore also. Because I—remember, I grew up running around in the woods, so I like my solitude here and there. I would get out and go to places where I knew I’d never been and nobody else seemed to be interested in going. So I’d just get out and explore. I found beaches where I could sit for an hour, or ten hours, or twelve hours, and never see another human being. I found all kind of things. I went to the other islands on my time off, and explored them. I went up in the volcano regions.

TS:

How was that?

PD:

Oh, it was absolutely gorgeous. It was kind of a barren flat land, but it was gorgeous. We got to see the Kilauea erupt a couple of times while I was there. We could see the landscape change because of the lava flow. That was—you know I like that science stuff.

TS:

That’s right. [unclear]

PD:

That was beautiful. It was all just great—just great. Black sand beaches, pink sand beaches, white sand beaches—

TS:

So is that—

PD:

Waves twenty-five feet high—just blow you away.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

Humpback whales migrating—got to see all of that stuff.

TS:

Any of the sharks?

PD:

I never saw but one shark while I was in Hawaii for some reason. We never even thought about them, and we stayed in the water all of the time.

TS:

I only ask because I have an irrational fear of sharks so—[laughs]

PD:

Well, luckily we were so into the water and all the stuff, and enjoying it and all that, that it never entered our minds.

TS:

Yeah. Well, I bet you hated to leave it.

PD:

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And I couldn’t wait to go back on vacation after I left. I’m still really drawn to it. One of the people that I was stationed with was who I was speaking of earlier that went back last summer—the summer of ’08. And I was so mad that I couldn’t go. When she was there she kept sending me these pictures in email, and I sent her an email back one day and I said, “You’re going to die in Hawaii if you send me one picture.” I said, “Don’t send me any more, because all you’re doing is making me sick.” So she stopped sending pictures, and she was gone for like three weeks. But I’ll go back again, sure.

TS:

Well, where—where was your next duty station then?

PD:

Then I went to Naval Air Station Oceana: the East Coast master jet base in Virginia Beach [Virginia]. And I worked in the intermediate maintenance department, which it was a higher level of maintenance from what I had done before. So I got to work on every kind of airplane that the navy was flying at that base.

TS:

What kind of planes did they have there?

PD:

F-14s [Grumman F-14 Tomcat]. They had oh geez—there was still some old A-7s [Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II] still around, but it was mostly the F-14s; because that’s the master jet base, and that’s where the bulk of the fleet, you know, for the East Coast—the fighter jets. That’s where they were all located.

TS:

Well, you talked about the first time you got to work in aviation that there were two women that were more senior rank. Now as you’re getting along in time in the navy are there more women getting into the field, or are you—

PD:

Yeah. I was still kind of a—I don’t want to say a rarity, but when I got to Oceana, of course, it was a bigger place—a much bigger station with several squadrons. I actually met a couple of women who were in what we call the FRAMP [Fleet Readiness Aircraft Maintenance Personnel] squadron. The FRAMP squadron served as the training squadron for a particular type of aircraft for a platform—whether it be males or females—everybody that was going to work on that particular type of aircraft, in this instance it was an F-14, they had to go through the FRAMP for their training, And I knew some women who were attached to VF-101 [Fighter Squadron-101], which was the FRAMP for Oceana. They were actually getting to go to sea occasionally to work on qualifications. Because they had—the pilots came to the FRAMP to learn how to fly the F-14. And the maintenance people—when the pilots went to sea to fly it—they had to go with them. So even at that stage—which was the early eighties—I knew a couple of women who were attached to VF-101, who got to go out to sea for like four days at a time. But they got to go.

And they were the pioneers as far as going to sea for the airdale women. They got to go first. They knew their way around the block—we’ll say it like that. And the guys couldn’t really talk so much junk to them, because they were right out there humping it, dragging chains on the flight deck with the rest of them, you know.

It was pretty cool to get to see that part of it right away. And then I started working and everything, and I knew that I wanted to be in squadrons. I didn’t want to do any more shore duty. I mean, I wanted to do some of it—don’t get me wrong, but—[be]cause there was a lot to learn. And I became—I walked into that place as a—in my shop at that time I was the only female. And I worked with people who were permanently attached there, plus, when you were in an AIMD [Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Division] situation—the guys who were on sea duty—but their squadrons were not currently deployed—they would work from the air station. And the ones that would do the intermediate level maintenance at sea, they would come to us when they were on shore—at the shore station—and work with us. We were permanently attached to AIMD. They would come as the supplemental crew, because when their airplanes were at home they had—there was much higher demand, you know—maintenance demand—because everything that was happening with those airplanes, We had to take care of that as well. So they supplemented our work force with their people when they were at home.

TS:

What does AIMD stand for?

PD:

AIMD? It’s called—Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department.

TS:

I see, okay.

PD:

And every major naval air station—if they’re a major air station—they will have that level of maintenance. It’s just a higher—to equate it—it goes in steps. Like if you’re in a squadron and working on the flight line, that’s called organizational maintenance, and when certain things beyond what you can fix right on the spot occur—if something big breaks—if it’s more than a repair or replacement thing—then it has to go to I level. Which you can rework components and you have testing capabilities, where you can rework a component—you test it to make sure it works like it’s supposed to on big pieces of equipment. You know, testing equipment. And then you send it back out into the supply, so the squadrons—if they need it—then they draw it from the supply system.

TS:

I see. Okay. Well, so now how would you say—was there anything in particular during your time in the navy that was particularly hard, physically, for you?

PD:

Well, I guess the hardest thing was when I reported to VP-16 [patrol squadron-16] in Jacksonville, Florida, after I went to Orlando to be a company commander. So when I got out of Orlando and went to my squadron in “Jacks”—VP aircraft are P3s [Lockheed P-3 Orion]. They are huge—huge airplane. So when I got there part of my job as an AMH [aviation structural mechanic-hydraulics] was we maintained all of the landing gear components—all of the flight controls. We—[maintained] everything that was attached to a landing gear: i.e., the brake systems, the tires you name it, all that huge stuff. And P-3 tires are quite huge. And the brake assemblies weighed close to a hundred pounds. And I probably weighed all of a hundred and twenty. But I was in really good shape because I had been a commander for—a company commander—for three years, running all those miles every day and all of that crap. But anyway [I was] still a little small woman.

So we’d get there, and I’m like “God almighty, this is tough.” So I noticed—I went in as a senior female by the way. I was an E-6. So I went in as a—basically they were grooming me to take over the airframe shop—based solely on my pay grade, you know. And I noticed that the other women who were there—they were all junior to me—they were all third classes. There were three of them as I recall—no, four. I take that back. There were four. Pretty big airframe shop. We had quite a few people attached there. I noticed that when they went out to change a tire—or do something heavy—that they’d come back in and tell one of the guys that they got it off the airplane, and you had to take a lot of gear out to change a tire out on a P-3: all of these big jacks and a nitrogen cart, and all this stuff. But all that stuff was on wheels. But that huge tire had to be gotten off the flight line. You had to take another one out there. And if you had to take a brake assembly off, that was a big deal.

So I noticed that they wouldn’t even attempt to do any of that. They’d come and get the guys, and say, “Hey, come on out here. You got to get this brake assembly,” or “That tire has got to be moved.” And sometimes they’d be talking to people that were senior to them. But, based on the fact that they were men—they were kind of working the system if you want to know the truth.

So I’m sitting back thinking, “What’s wrong with this picture? How are they ever going to learn how to do this if they don’t figure out a way to do it amongst themselves? What if the guys ain’t here that day?” You know what I mean? How are they going to proceed? How are they going to advance if they’re not doing their job, and they’re not learning all the parts of it, and they’re not performing it?

So I became the supervisor pretty straight away. I took over the shop. And when I had my first meeting, one of the things I said was—now me being a woman—and I probably weighed, like I said, probably a hundred and twenty—twenty-five pounds. I said, “You know there’s lots of things on that airplane that there’s no way that I can pick up”. And I said, “I tell you what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to expect the guys that work in the shop to do my job for me.’ And all of the guys—their eyes lit up. They started grinning. They were all happy, [be]cause this was coming from a woman.

And those girls were looking at me like, “Oh, well, who does she think she is?”

But I believed in “fair is fair”. So I just told them. I said, “You are going to have to work as a team. If there’s two of you ladies out there, and you’ve got to pull that big old tire off that aircraft, you better learn how to ask for help or figure out how to do it where you don’t get hurt.” And I said, “If it’s something that you just flat can’t handle, then we’ll talk about getting somebody else out of the shop, because they got work to do too. I’m going to have them working on other stuff. They can’t stop fixing their airplane to come fix yours.”

Well, that kind of went over like a lead balloon; except with the men, they loved it. They were all about it. And they’d never had to work for a woman before. In the beginning they were really uneasy about me, and that kind of bridged the gap. They saw where I was coming from. I think they understood at that moment that I had worked for my rank—that it wasn’t given to me. And that—they—that brought about a type of respect that I’m sure that they had never had for a woman in my position before. They never worked for a senior female.

So you talk about breaking ice? Oh Jesus, you know, I went in there straight from being a company commander. They were all like, “Oh my God”. They were sweating a load. They thought I was going to be some whip cracking something—out of the corner, you know, standing in inspection every fifteen minutes. Well, listen, when I got to that squadron all I wanted to do was do airplanes. I didn’t change. I had always cared about what I looked like. I’d always tried to present myself as a professional—didn’t change. I didn’t go in there and treat them like they were recruits. I treated them as who they were, and so it made things move right along—especially when I told the females, “Hey, we’re all team. We’re all going to work together. It’s not going to be the girls, they’re going to go over here, and the guys are going to go over here. Them [sic] days are done folks. It’s time to move on.”

You see, I was one of the first women in Orlando to push male recruits. I trained male recruits as well. So I had already been there. I had already had the guy who had been in the navy thirty minutes looking at me like, “Well, who the hell is she?” Well, before long they knew who I was. So I had already been there, you know? I was in the navy. I wasn’t in quote unquote, “this man’s navy” or something of that nature. It was my navy. And I made them realize that.

TS:

Interesting way to put it. What about the women in that shop then?

PD:

Oh, well we went through a few little trials and changes and tribulations for a while. But one of them—a young lady by the name of Marie. Marie was probably one of the most outspoken, that she wasn’t going to do this and she wasn’t going to do that, and I wasn’t going to cause her to get hurt.  I said, “You’re right, I won’t cause you to get hurt. But you know sooner or later you’ll get it. You’ll get it.” And over time I really observed her. She fought me tooth and nail. But I knew she was good. I knew she was the pick of the litter for some reason. At that time, of the women that were currently attached to that shop, I knew she had something that a couple of the rest of them didn’t. And she had a lot more going on than a lot of my guys did at that time; not that they didn’t have it, but she put it out there in a challenging kind of way—that you realized that there was something there. So three years later she had—when I was leaving—it was time for me to go—she was in charge of the shop when I left that squadron. I hate to say it, but it was like looking in a mirror.

She was telling them, “Oh no, you will not come in here and get people to go dee-dee-te-dee! You will do it!”

See—and I don’t know—she just—I just knew she had it. I knew she had it.

TS:

So, you think that perhaps your mentoring [of] her really helped build her skills in that way too?

PD:

I think it did, because I didn’t—I didn’t let her intimidate me. She could do that to some people. Yeah. She had a talent for that. But—as it—when she came to realize what she could achieve, she got a confidence about her that was unshakable. And she turned her intimidation tactics into getting something done, you know. Luckily she knew how. She ended up— the light bulb went on. And she said, “You know, old girl ain’t going to make any exception for me, so why don’t we just get on board?” And she did, and she really achieved a lot of things. I mean I had the pleasure of having a few people work for me that I saw that—I saw that happen to them. And it was beautiful. It was beautiful.

That was like being a company commander. I’ve often been asked, “What was that job like?” Because, you never leave. You’re always at work. You know, you’re raising somebody else’s kids, in a way. You understand what I’m talking about. You’ve been in the air force. You’ve been to boot camp. You know what it’s like. I met kids that didn’t have a clue that they could ever do anything, but when they got it, it was incredible, you know? It was incredible.

I had a kid in one of my companies—a female recruit. Her father was an executive in the Westinghouse [Electric] Corporation. And that means that he was—she was extremely wealthy. She was straight out of high school. When she got there she didn’t know how to do anything—nothing. When they had a little bit of free time in the evenings to write letters, or something like that, she would open her little drawer that they had locked with their personal things in it by their bunks. She would pull out pictures, as they all would. A lot of them making—looking at pictures of their family, or writing a letter to Joe—or Mary Lou—or whatever. “Mom, Dad, I miss you. I love you,” all this. This young lady was looking at pictures of her Porsche at home in the driveway. And—

TS:

Why had she joined the navy? Oh, sorry.

PD:

Oh yeah, well, we’re going to get to that. So I never—I would observe these things, but, you know, it wasn’t my place to say anything. I would have been overstepping my bounds. So as you go along in training—we would get to about the midway point. And I had actually put her in charge of a job to see why she was there. I gave her a little staff job in the company, where she had to look after herself, and answer for what other people were or were not doing—a little leadership position. Because, I wanted to see what she was made out of. I knew she was wealthy, but I didn’t know if there was anything else to her or not. But I thought, “Why is she here? Why is she here? Why is she not in some big Ivy League school?”

So when things got a little further along in training, and they were no longer scared to death of me—they respected me, I made sure of that. I just asked her one day. I said, “Why did you join the navy?” I said, “I know what your background is. Why did you join the navy?”

She said, “Well ma’am, I didn’t know if I could do anything.” She said, “I never knew if I could do anything. At my house, I never had to do any chores. I never had to even make my own bed. I never knew if I knew how to do anything,” she said.

I said, “Well, why didn’t go to college?”

She said, “I probably wouldn’t have learned to do anything except to get smart.”

I said, “Well, I’m glad you did.”

She was probably one of the best recruits I have ever had. But she’d sit there and look at the pictures, and look at the pictures of that Porsche. And I figured out for myself—I never mentioned the car, because I knew that probably wouldn’t be cool. I thought to myself, “You know, she’s looking at that using that as motivation to get into this other world.” And you want to talk about a model recruit? She was untouchable. She never questioned a thing I said. She was always very respectful. I guess she got that from her parents, because she never was loud, she never was demanding. But she didn’t know how to do anything. She’d never washed a piece of laundry. She was—after the few weeks when she learnt she—oh, her rack was horrible! I remember how bad everything was. She couldn’t do anything. But I just hammered her and hammered her, and stayed on her and stayed on her—like I did all of them.

And it was all about learning. It wasn’t about being mean. People don’t understand the motivation behind boot camp, I don’t think. There’s just flat—you’ve got to figure out where people are coming from, and if they can make it out in that real navy. Boot camp is one thing—the real navy is another. And you had to weed them out basically, that was why you were there. You were there to see who could and who couldn’t, and make sure that you found out who could, so that the ones who couldn’t—at the least, wouldn’t hurt themselves. But this one, she was stellar. She ended up being just great. And when a kid could figure out how to make up a bunk, and that meant the world to them? You know, that was the good part of the job. It was the worst and the absolute best job I ever had in my life.  

TS:

I was going to ask you about that, [be]cause we—when we talked earlier you had said you fought trying to get the—you fought against going—

PD:

I didn’t want to go, because of what was going on in my personal career, honestly. I wanted to become an officer. I wanted to leave the enlisted ranks, and I wanted a commission. And the quickest way that I could do that—because I did not have a college degree—was that I could enter the LDO program: limited duty officer. Which that meant was I could get a commission, but I would be restricted to aviation maintenance. And that was fine with me, because I would stay with my airplanes. And I was working really hard on the path to trying to achieve that. And I was at—in NAS Oceana when I started working on it really hard. I had made E-6, and in my career field I made it rather quickly. I made it in six and a half years, which was—for an AMH was incredibly fast.

TS:

No kidding.

PD:

[chuckles] They didn’t promote us too quickly. There were a lot of us in my career field, and the more of you that they had the slower you advanced. So I worked incredibly hard, because I knew what my goal was. And I had lots of people who were on my side—who were going to support me. But in the long run it didn’t work. They wouldn’t let me out of the orders. My good record kind of, in that instance, kind of worked against me, because I had really good evals [evaluations]. I had—was promoted quickly. And that was the selection criteria that they used to choose me to send me to train recruits.

TS:

So did that mean you weren’t able to try for the LDO again?

PD:

I tried. And even the people who were in the field told me that it would hurt me to leave my professional field at that time since I was trying to get in that door. The competition was so fierce. And it did not do you any good, as far as your chances, if you left your professional field. But I had no choice. I couldn’t do anything about it. I went to Washington D.C. to the people who made your assignments, and I appealed to them in person. And I begged them, “Please, please!”

“No, we need senior females, and we need them bad. And you got it, and you’re going. Needs of the navy.”

TS:

Right. So you think that, by doing that assignment, that it threw you off kilter?

PD:

Oh yes, absolutely. I still kept trying, but it took me out of that competitive round. It took me out of that on site spotlight you might say. And I was down there in Orlando—[chuckles] on—we called it sea duty. And they told you as soon as you checked in [that], “This is the hardest sea duty that’s not at sea that you will ever be assigned to”. Because, you worked all the time. You were never home. It was a very stressful environment. You always had to be on the top of your game, because you were the navy. Those kids wrote home to mom and dad and called home to mom and dad, and you were the navy. There was nobody else in the navy but their company commanders, because they looked at you twenty-four seven.  You had to be impeccable at all times. Your uniform had to look like it just came from the tailor. That second—not yesterday—that second. You were their example. You were “it”. So I took my job seriously, and I tried to be “it”, because that’s what I was supposed to do.

TS:

What do you think you took most from that job that you had to do there?

PD:

Oh, the days when they—when you saw them graduate. And when you saw the kids that, you know, got hurt during training, but they figured out a way not to get set back for a medical reason—and they didn’t tell you some things that they maybe should have told you—but it lit that fire. And when the fire got lit, when you saw the smoke, that’s when you knew—when you saw the smoke. And I got to see that a few times. I got to see that.

TS:

Now at what point in your navy career did you decide to stick it out for just longer than an enlistment or two? You’re talking about the first time you reenlisted, you got the flag. You want to talk about that for a second? We didn’t put that on the—

PD:

Oh, well, when I did my first reenlistment, before I left Hawaii—I was at Barber’s Point. I was presented with a flag that had—that came from the USS Arizona Memorial, because, even though I had left the black shoe navy—everybody knew that I had worked at the memorial, and how much it had meant to me. So they arranged for me to have a flag from the USS Arizona Memorial presented to me upon my first reenlistment. And it—as I showed you—it’s in my shadow box today, and where it will always stay.

Actually though, I will have it put in writing that when I do bite the bullet and pass away, I want my memorial service when I die, and any services that are held in recognition—if there’s anybody alive at that time that still remembers me—I want that flag to be removed from my shadow box, and used at that time. And I know that it’ll probably mean a lot to any remaining family members, but I have often thought about what I want for eternity, I guess, for that flag. Because, it is so pivotal to me and it means so much. I have yet to decide who I want to have that flag, but it will be donated to some place somewhere—undecided at this point.

But I have—in my lifetime I’ve had flags passed to me from members of my family who had passed away who were in the military. And the flags that were used for their services, I have donated them to different places. I think they need to go maybe to schools, or to maybe places like UNCG.

TS:

That’s a good choice.

PD:

Yeah, it is, isn’t it? And things of that nature.

TS:

Yeah.

PD:

They need to be passed on. And they’re nice in the cedar chest with your family, don’t get me wrong about that, but they’ll have other mementos. But the flag is the flag is the flag, and this one to me is incredibly special. So that flag came from the Arizona.

TS:

No kidding.

PD:

Yeah.

TS:

So what about your—when you thought about—

PD:

Staying in?

TS:       Staying in. Yes.

PD:

Well, to be quite honest with you, I came within three days of getting out of the navy at about the ten year point. I wouldn’t sign an extension. I was having a whole lot of doubts, and it was because I think, bottom line, I was a bit frustrated. Because, I knew that if I did reach my goal of becoming a commissioned officer, that it was going to be a whole lot further down the line than I wanted it to be. So I was kind of doubting things, and kind of raking around in the sand and drawing little pictures and saying—putting x-s through them. I’m like, “It’s never going to happen”. And all that stuff started creeping in and—I don’t know really what I did to make it go away, but I managed to get rid of it somehow, and thought, “Well, let me sign a two year extension. Let me take these orders back to the real navy and go fix some more airplanes, and let me see how I feel. Two years is not a big deal. I’ll go on sea duty. I’ll get to go on some deployments. I’ll get away,” you know,

TS:

Right.

PD:

So I took that extension, and that turned into the next ten years.

TS:

Was this after your commander tour?

PD:

Yeah. That was after being a company commander—recruit company commander.

TS:

So you just kept extending, huh?

PD:

Well, I did that two year extension, and then I took the test for chief. And nobody makes it on the first time, unless you’re in the nuke navy—they always did for some reason.  Then I don’t—now it’s a little different. But I kind of got in the groove, like I said. I worked with some good people in the shop, and made some—what I thought were some positive influences on some people. The girl Marie that worked for me; she’s an example. There were lots of other ones. I loved the deploying. I loved going away and doing our job in remote locations. It was just fabulous. I got to see an enormous other part of the world. I was still hooked.

TS:

Where’d you get to go?

PD:

Oh, I went to—I went to Iceland. I went to Greenland. I went to the North Pole. I went below the equator, so I’m a Blue Nose [term for a sailor who has crossed the Arctic Circle] and a Shellback [term for a sailor who has crossed the equator]. I went to all over Europe: Spain, Italy, Sicily. I did not get to go to England for some reason. But anyway, I didn’t get to go there. But I got to go on all of these nice deployments.

I got to go to a place called Ascension Island, which is down below the equator in the extreme South Atlantic, which most people don’t even know exist. There was no navy population on that island. It was all military stuff. I got to go on a really exciting mission, which involved working with NASA scientists. We flew them down. At that time it was a secret mission we were on. It was a big study between NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] and the trajectory of ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] missiles. It was just great. I mean, you know—the South Atlantic is—a lot of people think the Pacific Ocean is blue, and I know how blue it is—been there, done it. But the South Atlantic is not hurting for anything, I can tell you. It’s absolutely gorgeous. All of the islands in the—South America, ended up stopping over at all of them. I went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with another squadron, my last squadron, VAW-122 [Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron-122]. I just got to go everywhere.

TS:

Did you have a favorite place that you went?

PD:

Oh, well, I have a warm water and a cold water favorite.

TS:

Okay.

PD:

Greenland—favorite cold.

TS:

What did you like about Greenland?

PD:

Well, until I went to Greenland—and saw icebergs and all of that—I can honestly say that the contrast that they make with the ocean—Iceland also, but more so Greenland—I had no idea what the color white or what the color blue looked like. You can’t—there’s no words. Thank God for the air force, because I went to Thule, Greenland!

TS:

You can do something right, huh?

PD:

I did something right. Oh, the food was fabulous; I’ll tell you that. They had it going on up there. There was nothing else to do besides freeze to death and eat, but you did it in style—you know what I mean?

The little room we stayed on at the—I’ll never forget this. The little room we stayed in at—when we went to Thule—which, I had to fight to go on that trip, trust me. I put up a big fight. The room was furnished with things that were made of solid teak, and you know teak is a gorgeous wood. And in that part of the world teak is the wood of choice. Everything in Iceland out in the civilian community, almost—almost everything was made of teak. And it’s Scandinavian influence—they make their furniture from teak. And the Dutch were heavily involved with Greenland, of course. It’s right there, as you know. So that translated into the furnishings on what few rooms were at the base, and it was all done in this glorious teak wood. Beautiful! The best television that I’ve ever seen in my life, because every satellite on earth beamed the TV; because there’s nothing to do in Thule, because it’s all a big sheet of ice, but it’s gorgeous—little wild arctic foxes running around all over the place. And the reason that I got to go to Thule was because I was still in VP-16.

TS:

Where was that at?

PD:

Based out of Jacksonville, Florida.

TS:

That’s right, okay.

PD:

We went to a deployment to Iceland for our six months in Kef[lavik] [Greenland]. And I was really excited about going there, because I had never been to that climate. I had been selected for chief that year. And we were going to be in Keflavik when we were going to be promoted for chief. You get selected like two or three months before you get to put your uniform on, because a navy chief is the only rank within the services that is actually appointed and chosen by the powers that be in Washington, D.C. It’s the only E-7 rank in any of the services that’s done the way it’s done.

TS:

I didn’t know that.

PD:

Yeah, it’s the only one that’s done that way. You have to go to before selection boards. It’s a really huge deal in the life of a sailor. So I had been selected for chief finally. So I was going to get to do my thing in Iceland, and I was looking forward to that. I was truly initiated to be a chief. Most of that’s gone by the wayside now, but I’m glad that I got to do it the traditional way.

TS:

Explain to listeners maybe what that means.

PD:

Well, you go through a whole bunch of things that are sacred to the realm of the chief—to the navy chief—which is an indoctrination process basically. And you don’t step up to the khaki world without having earned that uniform in lots of ways. That’s pretty much taken for granted when you’re selected for it that—if you—that you earned it.

But there’s more. It’s a separate community. You step from the lower echelons of the enlisted community to a unique pivotal position that’s—would be relevant to like a gunny [gunnery sergeant] in the marines. A gunny owns—holds a special place in the marines’ advancement system, and a chief petty officer in the United States Navy holds an exalted position in that framework.

Like I said, it’s the only E-7 position that is selected in the manner that it is, and when you become a chief everything changes: a complete change of uniform, a whole other command structure for you. You become a place—you become the chief. Everybody below you in the enlisted ranks—you look to the chief, and you used to look to it too, but now you are one. The chief is considered the pivotal training point for all of the troops underneath them. It’s a big responsibility. And if you’re there, you’re looked upon as a whole different light. At that—your life changes at that moment.

TS:

Well, it’s interesting, because when we were filling out the little sheet I had here before—now, I understand why you said, “Put chief petty officer first, before E-6”.

PD:

Exactly.

TS:

Or E-7.

PD:

Yes. In the chief’s world there’s a whole difference between being a chief, and being an E-7. Because, when you were earning your anchors at your initiation, one of the things you were checked for was if you were a chief, or if you were an E-7. And when that community realized—when you proved to that community that you were a chief petty officer, you will never be an E-7. That’s why one of the most favorite expressions from an initiation was, “This is the best day of my life.”

TS:

Excellent. Well, thanks for giving us some insight on that.

PD:

Well, that’s how I ended up getting to go to Thule, Greenland. I used my leverage of being a new chief petty officer, and being qualified to—on all of the systems on that airplane. So if something happened, you know, I had technical expertise as well. And—so the anchors got me on that trip.

TS:

Excellent. So, that was your cold water. What about your warm water?

PD:

My warm water favorite place that I ever went to, of course, was Ascension Island, which was down below the equator. The military—it’s basically a base [Ascension Island is part of the overseas territories of The United Kingdom, and is home to a number of civilian and military installations]. Well, we had Brits, we—everybody you can think of was on that place for tactical reasons, and because of its location there were all kinds of communications things set up there. The big golf balls on top of the mountains for the satellites and all that. It was also a NASA tracking station for all of the things that are put into space by NASA. That was one of their main tracking stations for the space shuttle, and everything else that they have their hands in. So it was great to get to experience that.

It was beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. There were times—and I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true—there were times when you could be on the beach there, and the waves would come, and the water was so full of life that there were places in that wave that the light would be blocked out, because there was so many fish in it. It was incredible—life like you’ve never seen in the water—just beyond—beyond description.

Volcanic island. Of course, you know, the Brits will play golf anywhere. There was no grass. I mean it was rocky and hard, and they’re still whacking the golf club, you know. So it was funny to see them playing golf there with the volcanic surface and all that. It was really killer. They had a little sand thrown around here and there, you know, but it was funny to watch them play golf.

TS:

I bet.

PD:

Yeah.

[End CD2—Begin CD 3]

TS:

Now, do you have any particular award or decoration that is memorable to you?

PD:

I don’t know. They all pretty well—they all pretty well speak for themselves. I don’t— that’s part of my career I’ve never really talked about a whole lot. The awards and decorations, they mean a great deal to me, but it’s not—it never was the number one highlight, never was the number one hit on my parade.

Well, I guess I am pretty proud of the fact that I was the—at my time there was a program that came out that was called the Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist Program [EAWS] . It came out during my second tour in the navy [EAWS was established in March, 1980], it was started and it was to help people get more qualified in things while they were at a particular job, and even to lead on to that. And it served me well in that, since it was centered on aviation subjects. I got to learn more about naval aviation as a whole community, and all of the parts that I had never been into while I was trying to get this qualification.

And it led to help me when I finally got to sea, because you had to learn about all of that as well on board the aircraft carrier; because there are a lot of things that are done that are visual. Most of it at sea on top on an aircraft carrier is visual. Yeah, you can’t hear anything, and there’s a whole lot you can’t see. I mean there’s a whole lot you can’t put across to anybody except through being able to see it, because of the nature of the environment. So you had to know all these hand signals. You had to know the way the deck is painted. It’s painted that way for a reason. You had to know what color meant what. As your job, you were identified in what color of jacket you wear.

TS:

Yeah, I noticed that! Yeah, they’re all different colors. Oh, I see. Okay.

PD:

What color your helmet is, or your shirt. It’s a job color code.  That designates—it’s visual, because—like I said—you can’t hear a thing except some big jet roaring in the background you know. And so acquiring that qualification, I was always really proud of that. I wore my wings proudly when I earned them. It was also special in that I was the first woman that any NAS Oceana—which was the master jet base—and I didn’t know this, but I was told after the fact—I was the first woman at NAS Oceana that ever earned her EAWS wings. So that meant a lot to me, because you know—hey, that was the big daddy. That was the master jet base.

TS:

That’s right.

PD:

And I wore them proudly. I always did. They’re in my shadow box right now.

TS:

Yeah, I know, I remember. We’ll have to get a picture or something of that. Well, did you ever—you’ve talked actually quite a bit about your relationship with your—the people that you supervised. What about with your superiors? How was that related—actually talked a little bit about that too. But in general, how do you think that went for you during your career?

PD:

It went well. Overall, it went well. Of course, there were times when I thought whoever that individual was, was obviously coming from Mars.

TS:

Can you give an example of that?

PD:

I don’t know if I want to get into—well, it happened several times I mean you know. It just happened. And I’ll be quite honest with you, some of the things that I don’t really want to remember as being part of my career sometimes, I tried to make some of them go away. But I always felt it was my job to figure out how I could say something, and how I could get to the point that I felt would end up being better for all of us.

I had to figure out how to circumnavigate things and some—there was a lot of times when I didn’t want to remain silent. Sometimes I did—sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I paid for it—sometimes I didn’t. But I think I had to look for ways to figure out who could be my ally. You know, it’s like—you know, I had people I worked for that just—they ran their life based on what was on their sleeve and that alone—or on their collar. And they didn’t always, in my opinion, always make the best decisions. But until I got into the position where I could have more input—I basically didn’t have any, at times. But then I’d run into somebody else that was a hundred and eighty, you know. I went through all the crap of—when they—you know, they still couldn’t get over you sometimes being a woman. So I went through all of the stuff that’s related to the sexual harassment crap. Yeah, I went through all of that. I went through all of that, and it was still going on the day I left. And I’m sure it’s still going on today, but I didn’t dwell on it. Were there things that I probably should’ve reported when I look back? Yeah, probably so.

TS:

What prevented you from reporting it?

PD:

Well, sometimes it would be retribution. Sometimes I would look—I knew that I might possibly be looked upon as a whiner. I didn’t ever want to be looked on like that. So I sucked it up a lot. Was I discriminated against in my jobs, and my appointments or assignments based on female considerations? Unequivocally, absolutely, yes, there were times when that happened; but, there was [sic] times when it didn’t. There was times when I was looked at and picked for what I was chosen for based on my ability and nothing else, and those are the things that I carry near and dear. I don’t want to walk around with the baggage. And I do, but I just—I got it filed away somewhere.

TS:

Do you think that from ‘77 to ’97, that things changed at all?

PD:

Absolutely. Anybody that says they didn’t, I think they need to get up and walk around a little bit, look around.

TS:

How do you think they might have changed?

PD:

Look at what’s going on now. This is maybe not a desired outcome of it, but there are women dying on active duty today; because those doors weren’t opened, thank God, they were knocked down. We have a woman—a four star admiral today. I don’t know that I ever—well other than [Rear Admiral] Grace Hopper who was—she was an administrative. She was, you know, the leader of the computer revolution in the navy. She wore—she was a very high ranking woman. And I don’t want to take away from any of her accomplishments, but she wasn’t out toting a rifle and running around in Iraq. And that in itself—you got to look at that and say, “Oh, it’s there”.

Do those some of those same problems that I dealt with still exist? Absolutely [they still exist], because, well, you still got men and you still got women, and as long as both of them are living it’s going to be there. You cannot legislate human nature. You can’t do it. But—you know—I just got away from the ones that gave me a hard time, or tried my best if I didn’t work for them. And I sometimes worked for them. That’s really one of the things that—just working for people that pushed their whole lives—and their whole agendas on how much their paycheck was—based on what their uniform was decorated with—that was the thing that pretty much—that and limiting—that led to my limited realization of some of the goals I had. Those things—that went in a circle. If you felt like you were being limited you couldn’t get to where you wanted to get to, and you either had to accept it, or leave.

So, trying to accept that and move on was pretty much the bottom line of what made me almost get out of the navy at the ten year point, because I just didn’t want to be held back. If you’re going to hold me back, have a good reason. That’s all I ask of the organization, but if you didn’t have a reason—a real one—let me go. Let me see what I could do.

TS:

Did you have other women at your rank that you could confide in or anything?

PD:

Yes.

TS:

Was that helpful?

PD:

Sure. Yeah, it was. I even had guys that I could—that I talked to. I didn’t discriminate, you know. I mean—I had guys that I knew that would stand up and fight for me. I mean I knew that unequivocally.

TS:

Did you have any that had to do that for you?

PD:

Oh yeah!

TS:

Can you give an example of that?

PD:

No, some things I don’t want to talk straight up about—it’s for me.

TS:

Okay.

PD:

But sure, I lived that instance. I lived it.

TS:

Well, what about when you’re in charge, and you’re having men or women come to you, because you know sometimes a personal problem—personal issues for younger folks are the hardest. So if they came to you for some kind of—you know—whether it was sexual harassment or discrimination, or they felt like they weren’t getting promoted or whatever. How did you talk to them about it?

PD:

Well if it—I was in—there was [sic] two or three times, after I became senior, that I was in positions where that was one of my collateral duties. Like I would be the—you had all of these collateral duties that you had to do in addition to your job. I would sit on qualification boards. I would sit on—like—for women’s harassment issues I was assigned to—often assigned to those boards as a place where they could come—as a safe place, if they felt they were having problems. So yeah, I dealt with all of that stuff. If they came to me depending on what that situation was I would tell them straight up “This is a serious matter”. And it needs to be kept in that vein, and if you are truly having a problem; we’re going to address it. But make sure that you got your ducks in a row before you accuse someone. Documentation is always the key. Be able to tell me what happened, and be able to state it factually. And keep it all on an even keel.

Because it was a serious thing. And “Just make sure you got your facts straight before you accuse someone,” that was always the first thing I would tell them. And then we’d just move on from there. I—Lord, every kind of problem you could think of as a senior female. You know, we were put in the spot light.

They’d say, “Well go see Chief Devine. Go see her.”

I even had a girl in Sicily. A young lady came to me. Unfortunately, one of our shipmates was killed when we were there. She was driving the car. There were like five of them. They—in Sicily, the base is in two parts [Naval Air Station Sigonella]. You got what’s called NAS 1 and NAS 2. Well, the airfield is down here, and the rest of the base is up the road a little ways. And all the major things are up there: like the club, the main exchange, and all of that stuff. So they had the night off. And they got them a car to drive over to the other base, so they could go to the club and stuff and hang out—have some fun. So unfortunately they had a wreck on the way home that night. And this was out in the Sicilian farmland—pitch black. I mean there was no lights. It’s like being out in the real live country here. Some people don’t know what dark looks like anymore.

TS:

That’s for sure.

PD:

But there it was dark. And they ran off the road, hit a large boulder—as it were—and one of the guys in the back seat, he was thrown from the vehicle, and it killed him. So, I mean, she was driving the car, so you know who was in the spotlight. So who does she come to see after she goes to legal? Because there was a death, they had to investigate.

So, you know, that’s a—like I said, it could be from anything to talking to a person who was in that situation—to somebody who was late for work. The gamut was there. As a chief that’s the kind of thing you got involved in—everything, everything. Because it—the position that you held. So it’s—I mean that’s basically what I started off with her. I’ll never forget it. She was all shaken up, and worried about being charged. I said, “Listen, they got to do an investigation first. Don’t put the cart before the horse. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But you tell the truth. Don’t you lie about anything. Make sure you represent the truth, and, you know, sooner or later, somebody will recognize it for the truth.”

If you put out gloom and doom, Lord, you were in trouble and so were they. Even if you didn’t like them—or if it was somebody that you knew was guilty as sin—you had to know. You had to learn how to remain where your place was, and that was just to be a sounding board and just try to guide them to the next step. And you had to make sure they followed the proper protocol, because all of the subjects were really serious. And I just tried to impress upon them the seriousness of the situation. And always be honest, because if you don’t you will get found out, and you’re going to mess it up for the person who has a real problem down the line. That’s where I tried to go with all of that.

TS:

Were you given training to be able to help—like, to—as you progressed through your career to help you deal with these kind of situations and other things?

PD:

Yeah, we would—we would get training and input on those kinds of things. There were even some specializations that you could go into, like especially for drug and alcohol counseling—things of that nature. Substance abuse—there was a whole set up specialty segment for that. And you had to leave your occupational field to go do that. You would request duty at one of those types of places if you wanted to get into that on that level. I never really wanted to. I didn’t want to leave my job. I loved my job. I had some close friends who did that during their careers. They went to those—they went and worked in the counseling centers, and they really got a lot from it. It was a very rewarding program for them—just not what I chose to do. I wanted to stay back and push somebody to fix their planes, and see what they could do. And a lot of times they’d come back to me from those places, where they had been to get help. And so I tried to keep them going in the right direction, so it was kind of a chain effect you know.

TS:

Well, did you—where you lived, I know, probably changed depending on where you were at.

PD:

Right.

TS:

For your housing accommodations—how were they through the course of your career?

PD:

Well, they were pretty trashy on the road usually.

TS:

Was this when you were deployed you mean?

PD:

Yeah, pretty trashy. I tried not to live in the barracks as much as humanly possible.

TS:

Why?

PD:

Well, it just wasn’t my environment. I was not a real big drinker—not to say that everybody was—let me put a disclaimer on this. But the barracks was where most people ended up when they first came in the navy, because they didn’t have a lot of money. And it costs too much money to live out in town. And until you got into a certain level a lot of time, the base would not allow you to live off base. And it was a good thing, it kept some problems down. It kept people from being—getting in trouble for not coming to work, or getting to work late over and over and over.

As a chief—and as a senior supervisor—E-6 and all that, I had to deal with all that sometimes. I’m like, “You know what? If you can’t come to work, they’re going to move you back on the base!” So I just—it wasn’t my environment.

I didn’t want—and people—we used to say it like this, “Overachievers don’t stop overachieving at sixteen hundred.” In other words if they’re going to be wild, if they’re going to work hard at work, sometimes they’re going to work real hard after work too—if you catch my drift. So you know I just—I was more of a quiet—I liked some of my own privacy and solitude. I could live in the barracks no problem when I had to, but when I made chief it was better. It was a whole lot better. [laughs] Because, you know, you had a higher standard of living. You didn’t have to live with fifty people in your room. You didn’t have to—even on board ship—you didn’t have to do that.  You have your chief’s quarters, which are separate from E-6 and below. So you had your own little realm, and life got better I’m telling you. The food was great too. You had a separate chief’s mess, and that was worth a fortune onboard the ship.

TS:

Really? Why was it different?

PD:

Oh God, the food was so good. Well, as a member of the mess on the ship, you gave up your—what was called your comrats [commuted rations]—you gave up your comrats to pay dues to the mess. And the chief’s mess bought mostly all their food, so you got the high dollar stuff, [you] see. You ate well at sea. It wasn’t this chow-line stuff. You didn’t do that anymore.

TS:

What kind of food did you get to eat?

PD:

We had lobster, steak. We had fresh vegetables. We had—we didn’t have cheap hamburger. If we had hamburgers in the chief’s mess, it was the good stuff, and it was thick.

TS:

[laughs]

PD:

We had our own cook. We had cooks assigned specifically to the chief’s mess. You could go on the chief’s mess almost twenty-four seven. There may a little bit of time during the day when it was closed for cleaning or restocking or whatever. But it was a haven for you. It was a place where, like I said, the chief holds a pretty special place in the navy, and you had an extreme amount of responsibility. And you needed a place to be together, because you did deal with such a gamut of things among your troops—and among—above you. And if you needed to chew the fat about your commander, or whomever, you went to chief’s mess and did it. And what went in that door stayed in that door. And there was no questions about that. It was a holy place, and you had to respect it as such, because you did not want to get—you did not want to get blacklisted in the chief’s mess. Life was not good if that was to happen to you.

TS:

Because you had to trust each other.

PD:

You had to. You had to. There was a—you having been in the military, you understand what camaraderie is for real. And in that place, honey, the world revolved around it. That was your sanction [sanctuary?], your haven. It was your place, and you earned it. It was beautiful, man, it was like—well, first time I went on board ship, those men in there were obviously not used to seeing women in their mess. So we go aboard the USS Enterprise, and we go down to the mess—and we’re got all this flight gear on and we smell like JP-5 [Jet Propellant 5 is the primary jet fuel for the United States Navy] from being on the deck—and we go down there. And that’s where you can just lay it all down, you know. And—we walked in, and I’ll never forget—this is too funny—you could tell that these guys weren’t used to the women yet.

TS:

Now, this is ’95 right?

PD:

No. I think ’94. Did I say ’95? I think it was ’94. I’ll have to look back on my dates exactly, but I believe it was ’94. And everybody else had just been great. And so we go in the chief’s mess and there were some guys in there, and they weren’t bad to us or nothing, but you could just feel something—you could feel it. It was like “ugh”. And they didn’t say a word, and all of a sudden they started looking down. They did not say one word. That was the norm for us; because we had been in the squadrons with these male chiefs, and we were like all elbowing each other, and you know—“yo”—“hey”—“I know about your mom”. You know, all this stupid stuff.

But these guys didn’t say a word. Dead silence. So after about twenty minutes—it was me, and one male chief, and another female chief I was with. We sat down. And then about twenty minutes we were in there, and then the master chief of the boat came in. And he comes over, and he’s just all a big noise maker, you know. He’s talking, and—you know, that’s his job. He takes care of all of the troops. So he comes in, and he makes a beeline—makes a point of coming straight to our table, and introducing himself to us. And “Hey welcome. How are you ladies doing?” And he only called us ladies one time, and from then on it was chief. Which—that’s what we wanted. That’s all we wanted—was to be called a chief.

So, boom, and the next day we go into the mess again—all those guys are—we walk in: “Hey, how are ya’ll doing today? What’s going on on the flight deck today?”

So it was done, the ice was broken.

TS:

Just had to get a little—I was going to say—break the ice just a little.

PD:

Yeah, that’s all it was. And I had an instance in my career this came back to me—newsflash. [chuckles] I had instance once—I was being debriefed. As a chief—your next officer in command usually—and sometimes the XO [Executive Officer] of the squadron—or wherever you worked—would debrief you on your evals [evaluations] after they were written. Well, I was being debriefed by one of my—somebody up in my chain of command on my evals—the third set I had ever gotten as a chief. And they were—I had been selected for this job to go to VAW-122, because they were looking for the senior females. And I had been selected to take to get one of those jobs. I was going to be the second female chief to ever set foot in that squadron; and then all the junior females were coming, and they had to get us in place first. So I was being debriefed, and the warrant was going down through my evals.

And he said, “Here you go.” And he gave it—he wanted me to look at the original.

So I read through, and I said, “Sir, I have to take exception to this statement right here in this one paragraph.”

He said, “What’s that, chief?”

I said, “You’ve got me listed as one of the finest, and my commanding officer is going to sign this.” So, literally, he was going to say this about me even though he had never laid eyes on me yet. “You’ve got me written up on here as the finest female chief petty officer you’ve ever had the pleasure to serve with. Sir, if you don’t mind, could I just be a chief? Could I please just be a chief?”

He said, “You want me to change that?”

I said, “Yes, sir. If you feel that way about me, can you just make me a chief?”

He said, “Sure. No problem, chief.”

So I was never called a female chief again, thank God.

TS:

Did that rankle you a little? I mean is that something that—

PD:

It didn’t make me mad, I just wanted to be a chief—period. I didn’t want any qualifiers put on it. I didn’t want to be separated from my community. And he completely understood that. When I brought that to his attention—that’s the kind of man he was—he just looked at me, and shook his head, and said, “Sure chief, we can fix that.”

TS:

That’s terrific.

PD:

Because he got it. You know, he got it, and that’s all that mattered to me.

TS:

That’s a great story.

PD:

Yeah, I thought so. I always—

TS:

Yeah. We were talking earlier about a particular place that you got stationed that you didn’t necessarily want to go to. Do you want to talk about that experience?

PD:

Which are you talking about?

TS:

I’m talking about the—what was it, EMPAC?

PD:

EPMAC [Enlisted Personnel Management Center].

TS:

EPMAC.

PD:

Yeah, that’s a—I didn’t want go to shore duty.

TS:

So that’s what it was.

PD:

I didn’t want to go to shore duty. That’s what it all boiled down to. It took me out of my job. I wanted to stay on sea duty. I wanted to do back to back to sea duty and—for several reasons. Number one, I loved where I was. It was killing me to leave that squadron. And I was trying to go right back into another one in the same place, because, to be quite honest with you, I had never been anywhere longer than three years that I had to move. And I loved where I was. I loved the community—the people I worked with—

TS:

And where was this at?

PD:

In Jacksonville, Florida.

TS:

Right.

PD:

I loved the—I deployed a lot. I wasn’t there that much, but God I wanted to stay there. And I had never had what we called a back to back set of orders, ever. I had—every time I had moved—all over. I was constantly on the go. I had been set up in the community there. I had done well. Things just worked out. I made chief there.

[cough] Excuse me.

I wanted to at least just get two things in the same professional community, because I just felt like I belonged there. And so I went to EPMAC. And I thought, “Well, I fought it.” I didn’t want to go. I tried every way in the world—couldn’t get a job in another squadron down there. They said they didn’t have another—that was one of the drawbacks from being a AMH chief—there weren’t that many billets in those places so, had I been in another occupational field I probably could have stayed.

But they just said, “We don’t have another sea duty job for you.”

I said, “I don’t care. I don’t care what I do. Just let me stay.” But it didn’t work out.

So I went to EPMAC in New Orleans of all places. And I fell right in with it, you know. That’s where the instance about the evaluation happened. I had a great supervisor. Those people were wonderful. The duty was okay. I wasn’t really crazy about it. It was administrative stuff, but I worked really hard. I made some real friends out in the fleet over the phone and through the message traffic. The people if they needed—my job was to fill billets throughout—I worked with ships and squadrons in the Pacific fleet, I was their contact person.

Say—say for instance you had a person in a job that had some special qualifications, and this ship was maybe planning to go on—they were preparing for a deployment. They start preparing about—at that time they were working within about an eighteen month calendar, because when you go on a deployment it’s a big deal when it goes away for that long. So it’s lots—all of the jobs have to be filled. You can’t have all of these open holes. So you’ve got to fill those jobs, be it in the squadron or the shipboard complement.

So I was their contact person. And if you had a guy who had those qualifications or a woman—a sailor, let’s say it like that. If you had a sailor that had special qualifications, and if for some reason something happened—say if they got sick, or something was going to happen that they couldn’t make that deployment—I had to search around through my available resources throughout the fleet, and find somebody to fill that hole. So I had to make sure their manning was at a particular level before they ever threw the ropes off of that ship to launch it out to sea—or a squadron—be it whoever I was working with. So I went down there and worked just as hard as I’d ever worked anywhere else even, though I didn’t want to be there. Because—and so, you know, I pretty much won some friends, and influenced a few people, and did my minimum tour. And they let me leave with their best wishes and blessings.

And I went to VAW-122, so I finally could go to sea. I just set my—just sat down with my two immediate supervisors—a warrant officer and a lieutenant commander—and I said, “Sirs, here’s the plan. Pam wants to go to sea. I do not want to spend twenty years, at a minimum, in the United States Navy, and never have sent them off the pointy end. I’ve got to go.”

So they said, “Well, find yourself a job.”

I said, “Yes sir!”

So I did. I mean, I was in the perfect position. I mean I had all of the billets in all of the United States Navy in that computer.

TS:

[laughs] That’s right. So this was the one where you went to Norfolk, right?

PD:

Yup. I ended up transferring and going. They put me in that job because they needed the senior females. I picked it out. And I was sent from EPMAC—I was sent to a conference—a “women at sea” conference in D.C. that was held there. They picked me as a representative from EPMAC to send me to this conference in D.C., and they were—at that time, they were greatly expanding the women at sea billets. And I was lucky enough to get sent to that to get to be in on some of that. It was just really great. I got to meet the first woman—the woman who was the first CO of a navy ship at sea. I got to meet a lot of ground breakers. It was great.

TS:

That would’ve been terrific.

PD:

Yeah. They sent me to a conference. My warrant officer—the one who understood about the evaluations and why—he picked me to go to the conference out of everyone at EPMAC. So yeah, he was a true shipmate. He was a true shipmate. Warrant Officer Butch Massey: M-A-S-S-E-Y. Chief Warrant Officer Three—a great man—you don’t forget those peoples’ names. The last I heard he was in Pensacola, Florida, an old retired warrant officer.

TS:

Is that right?

PD:

A great guy. I thought the world of him.

TS:

Well, some people talk about how the military is a community or a family or something like that.

PD:

Sure.

TS:

Do you feel that way too?

PD:

Oh, absolutely.

TS:

Do you think you could explain to civilians that have never had any—how it’s different than from, say, the civilian world?

PD:

Well, I know I can try, and I know I have explained it to some of them. What I tried to do was figure out something in their realm of thinking that I can relate it to—to try to make it cross over. Sometimes you got to know a little bit about them personally—maybe if they’re just a casual friend or something, you might know just enough information to key on to make the little light bulb come on. Because, I think one of the real unique things about the navy is—everybody understands the word shipmate. But the civilian community doesn’t. The word shipmate says it all. The little eight letter word—and it basically means that I trust you with my life. When somebody refers to you—and doesn’t call you by their name—but they just say “Hey, shipmate”, it speaks volumes. You know? It speaks volumes. Yeah, it’s a real special word. I don’t know. Maybe a policeman or a fireman, or somebody of that nature, would understand it. They’d understand the connotations of it. But nothing tops that word. Nothing tops “shipmate”. That says it all.

TS:

Well, we’ve certainly have talked about quite a lot of things. Do you want to talk about—you spent—you were going on twenty years, and then you decided to get out. Do you want to talk about that at all? Why you decided to get out?

PD:

Oh! At the twenty mark? Well—things were changing at home. I think we’ve pretty much documented how important my family was to me, and still remains so. I’d lost a sister. My oldest sister passed away unexpectedly. And that coupled with the fact that I’d been gone for twenty years—literally. I mean, I was gone—almost twenty years. It kind of started creeping in, and did I really want to get out of the navy? No. I didn’t really want to. My whole dream at that point was I’m going to be a nasty old thirty year master chief, and to hell with everything else. That’s all I wanted to be. I wanted to die one, but then I had to look at both sides. And when I lost my sister, I think that pretty much sealed the deal; because, I saw my mother was in such pain.

My mom was in her forties before I was ever born. So she was up in years already—she was in her eighties. So, everything just kind of gelled. It gelled. And then when I went back, my squadron had been decommissioned. I felt like I was—I finally felt like a lost kid. To see a squadron go down—my squadron went away. And that was—boy, that was tough. That was really tough, when you’re waiting on the heads in D.C. to make a decision on who lives and who dies, as far as your squadron may get decommissioned—we were under the rumor mill for over a year. And that was tough, because that—that changed the plans for this. We couldn’t do this, because we didn’t know. Are we going to spend the money? Is it worth it? Are we going to go on this deployment? Are we going to cut it short? But we kept deploying, thankfully, because I did get to do my time in Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba]. Gorgeous place, by the way. But anyway, all of that came to fruition and I just—when I went back it just wasn’t the same. Something had left and something—some little piece was missing.

TS:

When you got back from—

PD:

From coming home from those [funeral] services. And then I went back, and, I don’t know, something had changed when I went back. When I went back to my duty station I just had a long talk with myself. And I said, “Well, I’m coming up on twenty.” And so I did it. I put in my request to leave active duty, and I was denied. They said, “No, you can’t leave. We need you. You can’t leave yet. Request denied”.

So I went to the old chief’s mess, and sat down and had a little heart to heart with the command master chief. And I told him, “Master Chief,” I wrote a date on a piece of paper: December 31st, 1997. I wrote it, and handed it to him. And I said, “Master Chief, that’s my last day.”

He said, “Well, BUPERS says you can’t retire.”

I said, “Master Chief,” I touched that paper, and I said, “That’s my last day. I’m needed elsewhere.” So he got on the phone and did his magic. And I got a message back about two weeks later that says, “Request denied. Transfer to fleet reserve effective December 1st, 1997.”

So he was there when I needed him.

I came home, and I went about stir crazy and about lost my mind. It was just a big transition, and I wanted to be here, but I didn’t want to be here at the same time; because, God almighty, they left me behind. They were still out there, and I needed to be there. But I couldn’t take all of this with me, so what do I do? My mother’s health was still good at the time. We were having a great time doing things and being alive. She was a very—my mom was one of those people who was, like, she didn’t rule much of anything out. And she was that way until the day she died. She was ninety-three and a half when she passed. We saw a lot of nice things. We went places. We traveled. And then after a while, it’s like—well, I got a job. I went down to Greenville, South Carolina. I walked in at a really good salary at Lockheed Martin Aircraft Company, of course.

TS:

Stick with the planes.

PD:

Yeah, well, I was experienced, and they wanted me. They put me in charge of maintenance rehab[ilitation] on aircraft down there. You know, I didn’t actually turn any wrenches anymore, of course. I was in charge of coordinating maintenance priorities to get these planes done, and get them out of there. There were several of those people that did that work, and they hired me for that job. Well, I was there not near as long as I wanted to be, but my mom had a stroke. So I had to sit down and have another talk. “Well, we earn a living and do what we love, or we go home, and be broke, and take care of our mom.”

So I decided to be broke. So that’s what I did. I tried to make every minute count until the day she died, and I think I did okay. I don’t regret one second of it. I really wish I hadn’t had to give up my job, because I was doing what I loved still. And since I wasn’t doing it for the navy anymore I got as close as I could be. I was still—there was still planes that I was coordinating maintenance efforts on that said “United States Navy” all over them. So I was okay. I was in good hands, but I had to give up that job. So I just—lived every minute I could to the fullest with her, and she passed in December 21st, 2004.

TS:

Ninety-three though, you say?

PD:

Ninety three and a half years old. Still knew me ‘til the second she took her last breath, literally.

TS:

That’s terrific.

PD:

Yeah, I never—thank God, I was blessed as far as all that. I never had to deal with any Alzheimer’s, so that was a blessing for me and her—anything of that nature.

TS:

Well, now—you spent your twenty years in the service. And if you’re looking back at it now—how—well, let me put it this way. What does patriotism mean to you?

PD:

Oh, it’s my blood. It—was very pivotal to my family, always. We were very, quote unquote, patriotic people. And I think that’s because there was so much in my family that—like we spoke about earlier—we were always in tune with current events. It was always discussed in my home. Politics was always talked about. The importance of our military was always talked about. The expression of what it meant, and all that, was always present.

My mom’s brother—both of her brothers were—served in World War Two. One of her brothers, when he was in the army, he ended up staying down in Texas. Her other brother, my Uncle Paul, he was actively involved in World War Two and the European theatre. He was a paratrooper, and suffered the consequences of a lot of that to the day he died. Now, they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then, they called it Shell Shocked. I grew up as a young girl and stuff and was around him all of the time. And it  never left him. He eat [sic], slept, and breathed it to the day he died. I know there were times—if he’d take a little drink you know—sometimes he’d take a drink, and he’d be marching again and all of that stuff. He struggled with things, because of what he had experienced, and what he had lived through in World War II in the European theatre. Like I said, he was paratrooper—a combat paratrooper. He was right in it. He was a cook in the army, that’s what he did. And he cooked the rest of his life. He was a chef.

TS:

Paratrooper chef?

PD:

Yep.

TS:

Fantastic.

PD:

They had to get them on the ground somehow.

TS:

I guess they did.

PD:

He was a paratrooper in World War II. He—we never really had any of his personal things from the army. So a few years before my mom passed, I got to digging into stuff after I got out of the navy. I started digging into all these things to find out all of this stuff. And I found out that all of his awards and ribbons and things of that nature—that every veteran is entitled to a replacement set. I mean, I had been in the navy twenty years and didn’t know that. So through my own dealings on digging through websites and stuff of that nature on the computer, I came about all of this information. So even though my Uncle Paul was dead, my mother—you know—I thought, “Well, this would probably mean the world to her.” So I got to digging, and I got the documents I needed. And she, being his next of kin, she signed the request forms. And I had it all done up and shipped it off, and got all that stuff replaced, so she got to enjoy that after he was gone; because, she had his flag and all that stuff.

TS:

Well, that’s neat.

PD:

So I was able to get all of that done. I don’t know. A lot of people don’t realize that thing exists out there, because I had friends who picked up on it. And even one of my brothers-in-law, he got all of his father’s stuff. And his dad had served in World War Two in the navy.

TS:

Well, that’s excellent.

PD:

And I said, “Oh yeah. Well, we’ve got to get his stuff for sure. He’s a sailor. He was a shipmate!”

TS:

[laughs]

PD:

And, like I said, there’s that word.

TS:

There it is again.

PD:

But we got all of that redone and he now has all of his father’s stuff.

TS:

That’s pretty neat.

PD:

That’s what I mean. That’s what I mean. It’s a community, and even after they’re gone it doesn’t change. It’s still there. They’re still my shipmate.

TS:

Right, yeah.

PD:

If that instance might be able—be able—a civilian might be able to translate that over to a civilian community. They might be able to understand that. “Oh so-and-so’s dad was in the navy. So we got all his stuff reissued for him, because it meant so much.”

TS:

Yeah. That’s pretty neat. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

PD:

Yeah! If, you know—

TS:

Well, you—you have talked about this in a couple of different ways, but the idea of being a sailor—not being male or female—but just being a sailor. Do you think there’s any limitations though on it—on women in any military service? Being in the military the way that you were describing being a sailor?

PD:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I don’t think—I don’t know that it’s ever going to be completely wiped out. Well, the fact of the matter is, there’s just—men and women are just flat different. Period. End of story. They don’t have kids; we do. That’s going to impact your career, I don’t care who you are—what your ranking is—I don’t care. If you have children, and interrupt your career, it’s going to have an effect. I’m not saying it’s always going to be bad, or vice versa, but somebody’s going to look at that and think, “Oh well, see, I had to work all of them days, I was here.”

And I do believe that attitude has eroded to the good side. I really do believe it has. But there’s just some differences that, biologically, it’s not going to change. There’s stuff that I can’t physically do, that a man could do. I’m not a man. And that’s what—I realized that a long time ago, like the one story that I told you about the ladies changing the tires. The best thing you can do for yourself is figure out what your limits are, and don’t just quit—ask for some help, you know.

But I don’t—I don’t know that all of those things can ever be changed, because of the simple facts of the case. We’re not the same. We don’t—we just don’t look at things in the same ways all the time. We’re not going to, and I don’t think—I think it’s a little pipe dream if anybody thinks that’s going to change. They may recognize the capabilities. They may even honor those capabilities. I know that I worked with men that I—honest to God—feel that they trusted me as much, or more, than other human being they’d ever stood next to; because, if it came out of my mouth, they accepted it, and vice versa for me with me with them. But I don’t—I don’t know how any of that will all completely—there’s no magic wand. It’s never going to completely change but—if we rely on trust and truthfulness and honor—I don’t think we’ve got anything to worry about. If we can just keep those intact, and make sure that they stay—I think it’s a concentrated effort to maintain it—absolutely. But I think that’s key.

TS:       Well is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you want to add to this interview?

PD:

Well, of course, it’s—I can’t even figure out how I want to tell you how much this means to me. I mean I—I don’t know why they picked me to interview, but it means so much. And I’ve tried to support this program, and talk it up to people. And I always—I try to really tell the staff that hosts the luncheons and that—every year even though I’m an old hat by now—and they recognize me—I always tell them, and tell them “thank you”. And God—what they’re doing—what a service.

For me to be included in the company of some of the women that I know—for a fact—that I know personally that have been in this? I don’t have a heck of a lot to tell. Were it not for them there wouldn’t be anything—you wouldn’t be here. You know, I feel like it’s my job and my duty to do everything I can to make sure that what the beginnings are really documented, because—even though it may be overlooked quite frequently—you can’t dismiss history. You can’t dismiss the beginnings of anything, and a program such as this that is built around that theory? We must take care of it. We must.

TS:

Well, I think you are a perfect addition to the collection, Pam.

PD:

Well, I don’t know.

TS:

And I really appreciate you letting me coming here.

PD:

I’m just an old country girl that likes to turn a wrench on the airplane occasionally.

TS:

[laughs] Very good. Well that’s a good place to end it then I think. What do you think?

PD:

Yeah, I do too.

TS:

Okay.

[Recording stopped, then restarted]

TS:

Well, I thought we were done, but I was just outside talking to Pam, and she was telling me about some other extracurricular activities that she did in the navy. What was that all about?

PD:

Oh, I played a lot of navy sports. Every station I went to, we always had a softball team. And I played a lot of softball before I went in the navy—did a lot of playing—a lot of travel ball. And I had really nice sponsors who paid for everything. That was kind of common here in the state of North Carolina. We were kind of like semi-pro ball players.

TS:

Now, this was before you went into the navy right?

PD:

Before I went in the navy. And I had the distinction of playing ball on a regular basis with people like Kay Yow [basketball coach]—God rest her soul—of NC State University fame. Kay was a fabulous pitcher.

TS:

Fast pitch right?

PD:

No, slow pitch.

TS:

Oh, this is slow pitch, okay.

PD:

This was before fast pitch wasn’t real big down here in the south, except there were some men’s teams, but not a lot of women’s teams—a few. But anyway, so I couldn’t leave softball behind just because I joined the navy. And it was big—sports participation was big in the navy, so I immediately got myself on a ball team wherever I was. I had a lot of success. I played on some super, super ball teams. Every station I was at played ball.

TS:

What position did you play?

PD:

Oh, I was a infielder. I loved second base. My heart was at second, but I could play pretty much anywhere in the infield, and I did. But, by trade, I was a second baseman. We’d even get teams together, like when we’d be on deployment, the station always had ball teams—especially overseas. It was the highlight of the night after you got off work if you could go to the ballpark. So we’d get us a little rag-tag team up no matter where we were. Even if they couldn’t breathe good, we put them on the field. So somehow we fixed airplanes and played ball.

TS:

[chuckles] There you go.

PD:

I was on some championship teams. Like one that sticks out big time is—well, Barber’s Point was near and dear to my heart. We played softball all the time in Hawaii, you know, year round. Whether—

TS:

When you weren’t at the beach?

PD:

When we weren’t at the beach. We was either at the beach, fishing, or cooking, or whatever—camping out, or playing softball. And then I went on from Hawaii, and made some friends from those ball teams, actually, that to this day, I’m still in contact with all the time. And their doors are open just like mine. We visit back and forth and things of that nature, and they live all over the country. So that’s—you don’t ever leave them really.

Then when I went to Oceana—Lord, we just had all kind of people to pick for a team there. We were very successful. We had a great softball team at Oceana. [We were] great big rivals with the girls over at the base in Norfolk [Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia]. We used to have some barn burner ballgames with those guys. Still friends with some of those people from Norfolk too. They’re scattered about the country, and the team in Oceana we had lots of success like I said. We ended up going all the way down to Florida to play in championships, and we won them of course! I don’t know where the pictures are right now, but—

TS:

Well, you’ll have to scrape some up for us.

PD:

I’ve got some pictures. Yeah, I’ve some pictures of the main marquee out front at the base at NAS Oceana that is congratulating the women’s softball team. You know, we even made the big billboard out by their highway. So that was pretty cool. And everywhere I went—some places it was all we could do—like in Orlando training recruits, it was almost impossible to play ball, but we figured out a way to do it. Because we were at work so much that—

TS:

That must’ve been tough. Yeah.

PD:

Oh, it was tough. It was tough, but we worked around it, man. We still played ball. We didn’t care. We figured it out somehow, because there was always people wanting to play ball. And we did that, and we just had a great time of it. Like I said, it was so nice to go be in some place overseas, and we’d start looking right after we got there, and got the planes unloaded and got the station set up. Like, “Let’s go find the ball field.”

TS:

Where’s the ball field?

PD:

Yeah, “Where’s the ball field?” And it was just always a place where everything was okay. It didn’t matter what else was going on. We’d find a ball field and everything would be fine. You know, sports was and still is, a huge part of being in the military. Because—

TS:

Yeah. That’s why I wanted to make sure that we got the addendum, because I think that a lot of people don’t realize that that is a big part.

PD:

Oh, it’s huge—it’s a huge part of being in the military.

TS:

Yeah. I know in the “Stars and Stripes” [independent military magazine], there’s a huge section just in the sports section of that.

PD:

Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. And you know now they support—they really go out, and support a whole lot of things. You can go to any level of sports achievement you want to now. Just because you’re in the military, doesn’t mean that you can’t get away to do your training and stuff, because they support it so much more. As far as ball teams, we pretty much—we organized them, coached them, and did everything on their own. The only thing we didn’t have to do, pretty much, was the recreation department would supply us with uniforms. Everything else, we had to cough up on our own. We didn’t care. We did not care. It was—that was a priority, man!

TS:

Yeah. That’s right.

PD:

It’s like, “God, who are we going to play tonight? And what position are you going to play? Are you going to be on deployment? Oh, we got to get somebody else.”

TS:

So you not only had a wrench, you had a ball glove. [laughs]

PD:

Oh, the gear was always at hand. The ball gear was always right there ready—at the ready—at hand. And I used to play an awful lot of racket ball too. I loved racket ball. And with your physical training that you had to—you know, the stuff you had to do to pass your PT test and all of that. All of that stuff was, you know, “Hey, you got to get out and you got to do this and you got to do that”. And it just so happened they didn’t have to push me, because we loved it. Me and my buddies we loved to play ball. We’d get in all of these tournaments, where somebody was saying—hey, if there’s a competition going on, we were all about it.

TS:

Well, good. Well, thanks for sharing that, Pam. I appreciate that.

PD:F

You’re welcome.

TS:

That’s great.

[End of Interview]