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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Therese Lambert, 2009

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Object ID: WV0469.5.001

Description: Documents Therese Lambert’s childhood in Muskegon and on Lake Harbor, Michigan during the Depression and her service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1950-1953.

Summary:

Lambert begins by describing her childhood in Muskegon, Michigan during the Depression era. Included is her reaction to Pearl Harbor; that she was thwarted in her attempt to join the military at that time by a nun from her high school; the forged documents for her 16-year-old brother to join and the discovery that she tried lying about her age and was not allowed to join.

Lambert discusses what prompted her to join the Army and her family’s reaction; pre-active duty training in Detroit; basic training at Fort Lee, Virginia; being stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland where she classified and assigned the enlisted men to their Army posts. She reveals that when she wrote the orders for the 43rd infantry division to go to Germany [October 1951] she cut her own orders to go with them. She recounts her 18 months in Heidelberg, Germany and living in Patton Barracks; mentions the German people that she befriended; and her travels to Italy, Austria and Netherlands. She discusses Berlin and Munich during the beginning of the Cold War era; her return to the U.S. aboard the Hershey; and leaving the Army due to her mother’s poor health. She describes how women were treated in the Army, and opinions of women in the current military. Her later time in the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES)is mentioned but not discussed in detail.

Creator: Therese M. Lambert

Biographical Info: Therese M. “Terry” Lambert (b. 1925) of Muskegon, Michigan served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1950 to 1953, and the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES) from 1953 to 1957.

Collection: Therese M. Lambert 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 it is July 22nd, 2009. And I am in Muskegon, Michigan, with Therese Lambert. I’m here for an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Therese, how is that you would like your name to show on your collection?

Therese Lambert:

Therese M. Lambert.   

TS:

Therese M. Lambert. Okay.

Well, Therese, why don’t we start off by telling me when and where you were born?

TL:

I was born in Muskegon, Michigan, on the second of December, 1925.

TS:       1925. Do you have any siblings at all?

TL:

I had two brothers who are now deceased.

TS:

Two brothers?

TL:

One four years older and one three years younger.

TS:

Okay, so you’re kind of in the middle then.

TL:

Two years younger.

Yup.

TS:

What kind of place did you grow up on? Was it in the city or rural area?

TL:

Well, I was two years old when we moved out of the city and went into a rural area. Very restricted—the way that high class homes still are.

TS:

Oh, where’s that at?

TL:

On Lake Harbor.

TS:

On Lake Harbor? What was that like growing up there?

TL:

Wonderful.

TS:

[chuckle] What kind of things did you do?

TL:

It was wide open spaces. We had our own lake. We had our own boat. There wasn’t anything that we wanted for.

TS:

Yeah.

TL:

It was just nice. And we had our mother all the time.

TS:

You had your mother with you all the time?

TL:

My dad traveled a lot, and I mean a lot.

TS:

What did your dad do for a living?

TL:

He worked for a company called Houdaille-Hershey [Corporation], which was a Muskegon motor specialties [company] that built motor cams for racecars and other cars. Then he left there and he went to Continental [Motors Company]. That is where he ended up retiring after thirty-some years. He was chief inspector of aircraft all during the Second World War.

He’d no more get home—sometime at two or three o’clock in the morning and two hours later they were calling him back to work. He worked eight hours a week—eight days a week. He was home but he wasn’t home much. [laughs]

TS:

Yeah. [laughs]

TL:

He decided, one day, “I quit” and walked out, quit. At three o’clock in the morning the air force was there, and drafted my father back to work.

TS:

Oh, is that right?

TL:

Yep.

TS:

What year was that?

TL:

During the war—probably about 1940—well, I don’t know if I had graduated yet or not. It could have been ’42 or ’43.

TS:

So did you have—what kind of—how would you describe your childhood then?

TL:

I wish everybody could have had one like it. My folks were quite well to do. We never wanted for anything. We weren’t spoiled. We didn’t get everything, but we had everything that we needed.

TS:

Yeah. What did you do for fun?

TL:

Oh God, it’s hard to say. When you lived out there it was kind of far to--. Like, if there were a lot of things going on at school we were six miles from school. We went to school at Saint James [School]. Our mother had to drive us back and forth to school all the time. Or else, Mr. Larue would take us in the morning, and mother would come and get us in the afternoon. His daughter went to school there too.

There were kids around us. There was the Huraski family. They had seven boys and three girls, which I played football with the seven boys and my two brothers. There were the four Gardner girls next door to us.

TS:

Now did you go to a—was it a Catholic school that you went to?

TL:

Yes. Saint James.

TS:

What was that like?

TL:

Nice, like any—it’s strict. We never went to public school or never wanted to, I guess. We just took everything for granted, you know, as far as it was the church that Dad was raised in. You just went to Saint James, because it was the thing to do.

TS:

Yeah. So were you taught by nuns at that time?

TL:

Yes. Mercys.

TS:

Mercy Nuns? [Religious Order of the Sisters of Mercy]

TL:

Yeah. I had nuns all those years.

TS:

How did you like school?

TL:

All right. I wasn’t the greatest student in the world. [chuckle] I had a few favorite nuns. When I got up in high school I had a voice teacher—Sister Vincent—she came from a multi-million-dollar family. The other nun was trying to make me go into the convent, And she kept saying to me, “Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” She says, “You’re not made out for the convent.” She says, “They didn’t think I was either. I used to jump out of the window to go play football with the boys.” She says, “When I was supposed to be practicing piano.” She says, “You’re the same kind of person. Don’t let Roberta talk you into it, because you’re not nun material.”

She was very ill for a long time at the hospital. I would take hamburgers and stuff up to her. She couldn’t eat. And malted milks and stuff like that. I was one of the only ones that they would let in to see her. She was fantastic. She would come out to our house and I had a chip green baby grand piano. It took two men to move that piano. She got on that piano and she moved it by playing it—just fantastic. You could hear it all over the lake. Everybody could just hear it. She was something else, too.

TS:

Did you play the piano yourself?

TL:

Yeah. I did for a while, but not very well. The oldest brother and I took lessons. The youngest one and I took dance lessons, and neither one of us danced. My dad said, “I have a daughter and she’s the only one who knows how to whistle.” [chuckle]

TS:

Of the three kids?

TL:

Yup.

TS:

Your brothers couldn’t whistle? [chuckle]

TL:

No.

TS:

That’s funny. So let’s see. You were born in ’25, so you grew up a little bit during the Depression there. Do you remember anything about that?

TL:

I know what the folks told me. When the banks closed Daddy was in New York and called Mother. He says, “Go to the bank as fast as you know how!” She did. She got there before noon, and they still closed the banks on her. He lost a lot of money. He had money in us kids’ names and stuff like that, and he lost quite a bit of money there. I only know—I mean I never realized it hurt us. You know he always had a good job, and I guess we weren’t hurt too badly by anything.

TS:

Now did you have—now when you went to the—so you had a car at that time to drive? You said about six miles from your house to the school?

TL:

To the school.

TS:

So you had a car to drive?

TL:

Yup.

TS:

Do you remember what kind of car it was?

TL:

Well, at the time he was with Houdaille-Hershey, he got Fords—two new Fords a year. So it would be one for him and one for Mother, or whatever have you.

TS:

Oh.

TL:

At one time Mother had a Buick coupe. We got pictures of that—all us kids in the car. When we moved into that home there were people down the road that was [inaudible] that owned West Michigan Steel Foundry here in Muskegon. They were the origin of it along with my cousins, the Jeannots. And the Hunters, who were quite wealthy. And the Muskies [?] —the Muskies [?] owned Anaconda Wire and Cable. All those people and my folks built new homes along there, and at that time every one of them were blackmailed. They were threatening to kidnap us kids—or something—for ransom to make money. The money they knew was in those homes and those people.

So we were blackmailed just like them. The Muskies’[?] butler and one of their dogs were shot. We had police guards all the time with us at school, and then police at the house all the time at night.

TS:

When was this that this was going on?

TL:

This is 1926—1927 or ’28. Rock was—I had to be older than that. I had to be like four. Rock had to be like seven or eight. Because what happened is when they were going to get the ransom, Daddy and Rock sat up all night and cut newspapers out to the size of different bills for weight. They were supposed to drop that money off at Saint Mary’s cemetery. Then they had all the men in Saint Mary’s cemetery were in overalls and mowing the lawn and raking and everything. Across the street was Brunswick, and the police were all lined up across the street at Brunswick waiting for the drop for whoever came. They got smart, and they saw too many men in the cemetery. They wouldn’t stop and pick it up.

The money was never picked up.

TS:

Are these stories that you heard later? Do you remember any of this at all?

TL:

I remember the police at home, because the policeman weighed about two or three hundred pounds that was with us: Mr. Dupree. Daddy was no bigger than a minute. He was a little guy, but when they heard shooting and everything one night at the road.

[Conversation directed towards pet redacted]

[Tape Pause]

TS:

Okay. So we’re back from a short little break, and we’re talking about Mr. Dupree.

TL:

Yeah. It was so funny because they were running up the highway to see where the shooting was coming from and what was going on. And here’s Mr. Dupree with his little tiny revolver, and he’s so huge. My dad is no bigger than a minute, and he’s running with a rifle.

TS:

[chuckle] Nice visual difference there.

TL:

Yeah. [coughs] Mother would take him home every morning—when she was taking us to school—he was so heavy that he broke the seat in her car.

TS:

Oh my goodness.

TL:

That was funny. In later years we had a gun moll for a maid.

TS:

What did you have?

TL:

She was a gun moll. She was wanted. She had a—she was Harry Rosenthal’s moll. She—my mother wasn’t well. And she was going up to Manistee all the time for salt baths. She was very arthritic, so Daddy was trying to get a nurse for us—get a maid for us. She applied for the job in Grand Rapids as a nurse. Dad thought, “Oh, this will be ideal.”

Well, it wasn’t ideal. They used our house as a hideout. We never could figure it out. The Gardeners lived next door to use in the old Griling [?] estates. The old man was over a hundred years old, and it was all orchards and vineyards. The Gardners were living in that house. But there was a two-track [country lane] come down between that and our house. It ran down to our well for the lawn. These guys would come down at night and be whistling. She’s be out on our lawn. She had a beautiful voice. She would sing up a storm and entertain us kids at night, until it was time to go to bed. In the meantime while she was singing, these men were coming down and jumping into our well and hiding until everybody went to bed—or whatever have you.

This one time mother was going to Manistee, so she baked a ton of cookies and stuff for us kids.

And well, they were gone.

How was it?

Well, it was a Sunday. She had come home already, I guess—come home. Anyway—on a Sunday. Daddy was living in Grand Rapids, because that’s where he worked and come home every weekend—because of working. [coughs] We would go spend the weekend with him. So Mother and us kids went, and when we came back the house was wide open and everything was gone. We couldn’t figure out what had gone on, what had happened, where she was, what she did, why would she leave the house open and not—the next morning the state police were at the house.

“You didn’t notice anything?”

My mother said, “Yeah. She went away. We don’t know where she is and the house is wide open. We went to Grand Rapids to be with the husband.”

And they told Mother who she was. They said, “Now you better look around.” They told her what they had found—and see if it is missing. Well, Daddy had a gun in his chest of drawers that he carried because he carried the payroll for Houdaille-Hershey between Muskegon and Jackson. And different things. So when they went up, sure enough, the gun was gone. An evening gown that she had was gone. There was some other dress clothes like they could wear somewhere else. Not an awful lot of stuff was taken from the house.

But what Mother said—at least what the police had anyways—about that time my brother come home. He was fifteen. He had a car. He got up to the top of the road—our road is like 900 feet from the house to the road. He stopped. He said, “Oh my god, what did I do now?” He sat up there panicking, because the police were down in the yard. He finally broke down and came in. He couldn’t figure out what he had done.

The cops said, “Don’t worry son, we’re not here for you.” Then they started questioning us kids and telling us. We would tell them about sitting out and singing and everything.

I said the Gardner girls had said somebody walked by all the time and whistled but they didn’t know where they went to because they never saw them. And they were jumping into our well, you know. The fourth floor of our home was maid’s quarters. And all the way around the outside of that was extra space for storage like a regular attic. Us kids could play up there too. Well, she was hiding those guys up there and they were right in our home at times and we didn’t know it.

Anyway, there was a lot of write up in the Chronicle about her. And she went by two or three different names. They caught them, anyway.

TS:

How old were you approximately when this was going on?

TL:

I had to be eleven.

TS:

Eleven?

TL:

At least, Rock was fifteen because Mother had bought him a car that year.

TS:

Brock?

TL:

Rock.

TS:

Rock. Who’s Rock?

TL:

My oldest brother.

TS:

Oh. Your oldest brother, that’s right. Okay. So now you’re having a nice life here, and you’re semi-okay with school.

TL:

[laughs] Yeah.

TS:

Do you have an idea what you think your future is going to be like? Like, what you might do when you get out of school or anything like that?

TL:

Well, I wanted to be a nurse.

TS:

Yeah?

TL:

Yeah. But I didn’t pass those exams either. Then my youngest brother went to war at sixteen, because I filled out all of his papers.

TS:

You filled out all his papers?

TL:

I spent a year at Grayling, Michigan, at a school up there.

TS:

In Grayling.

TL:

Grayling. It was a TA—what they called a Trained Attendant nurse course. And I came home. Sister Leannessa [?] was our science teacher at Saint James, she wrote me a note. It said, “Come home. Your brother is in with a bad bunch of boys.” She says, “He wants to go into the service.”

So I came home. I told her, “What do you expect me to do?”

She says, “Sign his papers. Let him go to war.”

I said, “Do you know what that means?”

She said, “Yeah. You’ve got to lie for him.”

I said, “Yeah.”

She said, “That’s what he wants, and he’s better off than what he’s doing.” So we did. We got him in service.

I thought, “Well if he can do it, so can I.” So I changed my birth certificate. We were only two years, two months, two weeks, and two days apart. And if I changed it would have just been as if I didn’t change it. I did change it. But I just put two months, two weeks—anyway.

Sister Roberta—the one that wanted me to come be a nun—called up the recruiting office and told them I wasn’t old enough, because women had to be twenty-four years old at that time.

TS:

Yeah.       

TL:

I was seventeen when I graduated. I had been out a year I think. Anyway, she called up and reported. So I got a real nice letter from the navy telling me that when I was of age they would notify me. They would be glad to have me join. Anyway.

TS:

Do you remember that about when Pearl Harbor happened?

TL:

Oh yeah. I was working at the hospital at the time. On Sunday afternoons I would go long enough to dish out the dinners for the nurses—just something to do. Like I said, I graduated at seventeen years old so there wasn’t a lot I could do. And I was home. I had—three nurses came home with me that day. We were playing cards when war was declared over the radio. We took them back to school. I finished my job that day. It was a Sunday when we heard about it.

TS:

Do you remember how it felt? Were you concerned about it at all?

TL:

Well, I think it was kind of a shock. You don’t realize what we’ve been into, and then all of a sudden we’re at war. You hear somebody broadcast it. Mr. Roosevelt’s voice—I think it was a shock. Everybody just stood there with their mouths open, because those women, you know, all were subject to being drafted. They were all nurses, and nurses could be drafted for the Second World War. I’m sure it entered their mind and [they] worried about it.

TS:

When you thought you wanted to join the service too, why was it that you wanted to do that at that time?

TL:

I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to go just because both boys had gone. I just figured I might as well go, because I figured the oldest son was already in service.

TS:

What service was he in?

TL:

Army. He had joined and he was in the engineers. He went in October. And I signed the papers for my brother—the youngest one—he was sixteen in February, and that’s when I signed his papers. I made him out as 18 years old. He went to service.

TS:

What did your parents think of that?

TL:

My dad said, “If he dies, so will you.”

“He died happy, Dad, so I guess I don’t have to worry about it. If that is what happens, then that is what he wanted.”

He was used to being on boats, because he worked on the Milwaukee Clipper as a youngster shining brass and stuff like that. Through the summer they could be on that ship and did menial things. He always was in favor of the Navy.

TS:

Did they both come back from the war?

TL:

Yup. They’re both gone now.

TS:

Well, so now you’re—what did you think of Roosevelt?

TL:

Well, I think he’s all right. I wasn’t old enough to make a difference to put him in, you know, all the years that he was in there. But I think we needed another one like him or [Ronald Wilson] Reagan now to run this country. I think we’re in for a lot of trouble. I don’t know who is going to pull us out of it.

TS:

In the situation that we’re in right now, you’re talking about?

TL:

Yeah. There is no excuse in America for all these people losing their homes and not having food on their table. There is no excuse for it. The biggest car manufacturers in the world. This started—I don’t know—my Dad would reprimand for it. When they started selling mom and pop businesses off to conglomerates and big companies, this is what ruined our country. The dollar is all that counted and nothing else. If they could make a billion dollars by selling an aluminum company to somebody else, then they made the billions of dollars. They don’t stop and realize who they’re hurting and what they’re doing. I think this is what ruined out country. All the conglomerates—they’re still doing it.

TS:

Well, let me take you back to when you got out. You were seventeen and you couldn’t go into the service, because they found out you were too young. What was it then that you started doing at that time?

TL:

Just office work, I guess. I just worked in office jobs—that’s all I’ve ever done is office work. I’m trying to think of who I worked for, the first one. Well, I nearly spent—I went to work for a company that was a war plant.

TS:

During the war?

TL:

Yeah. Not a big one. And I didn’t work there very long. I left there and I went to Campbell Wyant and Cannon Foundry. I was the assistant to the pay master there. I worked there—

TS:

You said that that was Camp White?

TL:

Campbell.

TS:

Oh, Campbell.

TL:

C-A-M-P-B-E-L-L. Campbell Wyant and Cannon [Foundry Company]. At that time it was the largest gray iron [cast iron alloy with a carbon monostructure used extensively in heavy industry and construction] foundry in the world.

TS:

Did you feel like you needed to do anything for the war effort at all?

TL:

No.

TS:

No?

TL:

I never gave it any thought I guess. They were doing things for the war. They inherited—they brought all the blacks from the south here to work in those foundries. There, not too long ago, there was a story about this—[Donald J.] Campbell I think is the one that went down South and recruited all of the black people. They were making like fifty cents an hour, or whatever they work for. They would come over here and started out at seven and a half dollars an hour. You know, working in Campbell and going up. We had six plants here in Muskegon, one in Ohio, and one in Lansing. It was all part of Campbell Wyant and Cannon foundry. I didn’t know.

I worked in the payroll department, which was nice. There were probably twenty-five girls in the department. Mr. Green was the boss. There was another man who was a marine. He was over all the bosses. I told him one day I says, “When my brother comes home he doesn’t want a dirty job. He wants a white collar job when he comes home.”

He says, “Where is he now?”

I says, “He’s in the navy.”

“Well, how old is he?”

I told him.

“Oh, he’s a twin to you, then I see.” There was two month, two week—“Someday when your mother is not too tired I’d like to meet her.”

TS:

[laughs]

TL:

Lyle Jenkins, he was so funny. He did come home. He got to be foreman of the one of the plants.

TS:

What did you do during the war? Do you remember anything in particular?

TL:

No, just working for them.

TS:

Did you do—

TL:

In ’50, the plant went on strike. And every time you needed the payroll—instead of calling the man that usually ran the payroll down in the basement on the machines over there—they called me, and had me run them. I only went down there because I had to do things for the payroll to keep all the little plates for the addressograph  [automated address labeling system] up to date. So I was always down there. When they needed the payroll they called me and asked me to run it. I said, “That’s not my job. Bob works down there.”

“Well, you can come in anyway and do it.”

So I did. So I enlisted in the navy [sic, army] —so I enlisted from there.

TS:

When you were working?

TL:

Yeah, during the strike.

TS:

So what made you decide to enlist—this is in 1950 right?

TL:

Yup. I went in April 27th.

TS:

April 27th, 1950.

TL:

Yes. It was just a good idea I guess.

TS:

Why? What made it seem like a good idea? [chuckles]

TL:

[laugh] It gave me something to do. There was no future. I did not know how long the strike was going to last or anything. I think it did last sixteen weeks. It just left Mom in a bad spot, because there were just Mother and Dad left. Before I went into the service, we had sold our home at the lake because sixteen rooms was just too much for either one of us to keep. We weren’t keeping maids at that time. We always had maids until then. So we put the home up for sale, and we bought a home in Lakeside. I left from there.

It was funny. I don’t know how they do it, but every time one of our boys left for service they were held responsible on the train for all the men that were with them. They carried the valise full of the passes and the food, and all that stuff. I got the same job when I went in service. I went from Detroit right up to Fort Lee, Virginia. I was responsible for everybody on that train.

TS:

Now, you said that you were older than a lot of the ones on the train.

TL:

Yeah, I was. I got there—I got to Detroit and those girls who were recruiters—or whatever they are over there—I guess it’s recruiters. They’re processing. They call me out of the billets and—“Oh God, don’t tell me that they’re going to tell me that I can’t go.”

“We got a lot of work here to do. How about helping us?”

So I spent my days down there, until I left Detroit, doing all of their typing for them.

TS:

Is that right?

TL:

Yeah.

TS:

Did you get paid for that?

TL:

No.

TS:

No?

TL:

Nope.

TS:

Now—okay, tell me a little bit more about why you decided to go in. Because there was a strike going on, and you weren’t going to get paid because you weren’t working?

TL:

Yup.

TS:

Any other—Why did you pick the army? Did you not think of any other services?

TL:

No. I guess not. I thought about the air force. I don’t know. I don’t know why I picked the army. I just did, I guess—no particular reason. And knowing what I know now—and going to navy basic—I would never go to active duty with the navy if they were the last military in the world.

TS:

Why is that?

TL:

Oh God. I took basic training with them down in Maryland. And two weeks of basic down there—first off, I came back—they treated me when I joined the navy—they didn’t give me any rank. They broke me down to nothing like I was foreigner of some kind—not realizing any military service before. Somebody said, “With that rank, you should have gone in as petty officer at least.”  Well, I didn’t get it. Then I sit there and take all the typing tests for these men so that they get promoted, and none of them could type. They had to type in order to get promotion, so I would take their typing test for them.

TS:

Why did you do that?

TL:

Well, because I was told to.

TS:

Who told you to do that?

TL:

It was the commanding officer—commandant.

TS:

How did you feel about that?

TL:

Not much you can do about it, I guess. Don’t argue with them.

TS:

All right, so you’re getting on this train. You’re going to Fort Lee. What do your parents think about your joining, and your brothers?

[Conversation regarding squirrel redacted]

TS:

So what did your folks think of you joining the army?

TL:

They didn’t—they didn’t object too much. I suppose it was kind of hard on them. They didn’t say an awful lot, but I was an only girl. Both boys were gone so—but it wasn’t long before—see, I went in, in ’50. The boys were home by the time I left. Think they got out in ’45, when they ended the war. They were home when I left, and the two daughter in-laws.

TS:

So you weren’t necessarily leaving them alone?

TL:

No, because they had two good daughter-in-laws.

TS:

What did your brothers think about that decision?

TL:

Oh that’s right. They were home, because before I left they bought three cases of beer. We went over to the oldest brother’s house. He told Laurene [?], you to go to Mom’s house—that was his wife. We sat there and they told me everything dirty about the army: what to expect, how I would be treated, how the men would regard me, and everything else. They said, “Don’t go to the Far East. Don’t go to the Far East. That’s too dirty. There’s too many insects. There’s too much disease. Don’t go to the Far East if you can help it.”

When it came time to go on a levy [levy refers to a group of troops drafted for war). I was on the levy board, and it came that there was a vacancy for my job. So I put myself on a levy, because Captain Robertson had left.  He couldn’t stop me. He said, “You’re going to be an officer. You’re going to officers’ school.” After he left, I cut my own orders and left for Europe. He was there waiting for me.

TS:

So your brothers were telling you everything—what other stories did they tell you about the army for women—what it would be like for you?

TL:

Not a lot. Neither one of them ran the women in the military down, but neither one of them were around too long that they weren’t involved. Their basic was like six or eight weeks, and they were long gone—both of them. They sailed so close together that their ships passed, and had they been on the right sides of their ships they would be able to wave—because their ships passed, you know. It was so funny. I don’t know who we got a letter from or how we were told that this had happened.

But they left to go out of the country very early—soon as they got out—from the time they went into the service. Rob was the engineer, so he was on land. He got a real dirty job. Along with his job, he had to burn bodies. He sent us pictures of those piles as high as his house. And he’d ignite them and burn them. I don’t know how he took that. The other one was in the navy.

TS:

Well, so let’s get you to Fort Lee then. So that was where your basic was?

TL:

Yeah, thirteen weeks of basic.

TS:

How—

TL:

It was the last thirteen week company there was. Basic went down to six weeks, I think, after that.

TS:

What did you—do you remember what you had to do in your basic? Did it seem very hard or anything?

TL:

Nope. The irony of thing is was that I was injured in basic.

TS:

What happened?

TL:

Oh, swimming. I had swam since I was two years old.  They were going to teach me something different. They had us all lined around the pool and we were kicking—kicking until we bring our [unclear] up, and I snapped something in my back. Down I went. I had three surgeries. They wanted me to leave then. I said, “No way. I come in this army, and I’m going to stay in this army.” They did. Everywhere I went there always a bed board made for me ahead of time, always ready for me. I had a bed board all the time I was in the military.

TS:

A bed board? What’s that?

TL:

It’s for my bed, so that the mattress wouldn’t sink on me. It was about yea big.

TS:

Oh, I see. Yeah. Okay.

TL:

Everywhere I went it preceded me.

TS:

So you didn’t find Fort Lee very difficult or anything, except for you got injured?

TL:

I left basic and went into postal school for a while. I didn’t like that. Then they sent me to Fort [George G.] Meade, Maryland. I went to Fort Meade and I refused duty.

TS:

Why did you refuse duty?

TL:

I just didn’t like it there. And I wasn’t going work for civilians. That’s where I would have had to work for civilians. I mean, why would I want to work for civilians? I joined the army. Why should I do their work for them when they’re making ten times more money than me, and they’re cockier than I am? So, no way.

This priest—I went and talked to him first afterwards. He said, “I just hope your commanding officer doesn’t get back before you leave.” He said, “Just think, I’m going to Japan.”

I said, “Cut orders and I’ll go with you.”

He just laughed. Luckily, I did get out before her [the commanding officer]. She was really rugged. He said, “You can’t believe that lady. She smokes cigars in her office all the time.” [chuckles]

TS:

So how were you able to cut orders for yourself to get to Germany?

TL:

Because it came up on a levy. I had the MOS [military occupational specialty] for it. They called for it. I was qualified to go, so I cut my orders.

TS:

Is that part of your job that you were doing at the time?

TL:

Yup. I was classifying and assigning enlisted men to duty in the United States. I put them to duty compared to whatever they had in the United States—what they did before they entered the army. So when their classification came up, and they were needed on a levy, we put them on that levy and shipped them off. There was so many of those 43rd infantry divisions that the whole unit went out. My commanding officer—Lieutenant Dep and Sergeant George—my commanding officer and myself typed all the orders out. We were up in that office ‘til all those orders were cut. We shipped the whole unit out, and I was on the ship when they went—same ship.

TS:

You went with them.

TL:

Yup.

TS:

Why is that you wanted to go to Germany?

TL:

Because my brothers told me not to go to the East Coast.

TS:

Or the Far East?

TL:

The Far East.

TS:

So they thought that Germany would be better?

TL:

They just didn’t know any other alternative. They just told me to stay away from the Far East. “Too many bugs, too many diseases, just don’t go there.”

TS:

How did you like your tour over in Europe?

TL:

Oh, fabulous. I’d love to go back. I envied my nephew. He said, “I can believe why you were so happy over there, Aunt.” He just loved it there. This year he just turned twenty-one and man, his house mother and house brother came to visit and celebrate his birthday with him. They were here for two weeks. They had a ball. And when he was there the house mother couldn’t talk a word of English. The boy—the house brother—was here two years ago. He spoke fluent English. When the house mother came this time she could talk English. She travels around the world with a choir of some kind. I don’t know how she does or anything.

I asked him the other day. He thought those Germans—the German choir that was coming here this week sometime or next week—there are forty some girls and they are from somewhere in Germany. They are going be here at the Frauenthal [Theater], and next week in Fremont.

TS:

Well, do you mind if we take a little break and then we can get into Germany? Let’s do that.     

[tape paused]

TS:

Okay. We’re back from out little break and Therese is in Heidelberg, correct?

TL:

Right.

TS:

So are you still doing the processing job?

TL:

Oh yeah, but this time it was for officers.

TS:

Processing for officers, okay. So you liked Germany?

TL:

Oh yes.

TS:

Tell me a little bit about your living conditions there. What was that like?

TL:

Fabulous. We lived in Patton Barracks.

TS:

Patton Barracks?

TL:

Patton Barracks. They were old barracks. They were dark brick. They built—we weren’t even there a year and they built new billets for the WACs. They had enough men coming in. They had an MP barracks. They had an MP company in there—plus signal and the WACs. They needed the room so they built the WACs some new billets. It was a very lovely view. A beautiful concern [a firm or place of business] —it had a very nice club there—NCO club.

Oh. We had a group of sailors, believe it or not. They weren’t really attached to us. They were sitting off in a little side bunch of billets. They were small. Why they were there I don’t know. They didn’t associate with anybody either.

TS:

Male or female?

TL:

All male. 

TS:

Males?

TL:

I don’t know why they were there. I never knew. I never asked either, because they just weren’t part of the billets. They weren’t part of the concern at all, as far as moving around and mingling and all.

TS:

Now with the barracks, can you describe them a little bit more in detail? Are they like an open bay? Or were they rooms? Or, how were they—

TL:

They were big rooms. They could sleep eight people to a room—very big.

TS:

Okay.

TL:

Very big. They were lovely. Everybody had their own armoire. They kind of broke the rooms up so you could—like cells—or anything—or whatever. They were a lot of fun, because every night you had to buff the floors with this great big buffers. We had one little girl who was really tiny, so she’d ride on the buffer to hold it down. They were so big that they would bounce away from us, and the buffers were going every which way. So we would get her to sit on it—buff the floors down.

TS:

What—Someone else is holding it and she’s sitting on it?

TL:

We’re doing the floors and she’s sitting on the thing to hold it down. She wasn’t all that big. I don’t know if she was helping or not—at least to control the buffer. And I had a German Shepherd over there that the Germans were keeping for me that I was going to bring home. The doors were locked like they got there now—it’s unusual to see in house. But he’d just get up put his paws on it and open the doors and walk around. You could hear all the screaming squealing and everything. He wouldn’t have hurt anybody.

TS:

Not the round handles but the ones that you would drop down right?

TL:

Yeah.

TS:

That’s right.

TL:

Everybody got to know him.

TS:

Did you get to keep him in the barracks with you?   

TL:

No. The Germans kept him across the street. I would go over there every night. I ate supper with them a lot. They were feeding him. They were keeping him for me. So they say, “Can you bring something over from the billets for him?”

Well, naturally I knew how much food. They had kept a German shepherd for another girl that had gone home to California. That’s the one that said, “You can have this dog. She left and didn’t take her.” Robbie was the dog. Okay, so I was planning on that. All of a sudden, they got word that she was ending money and tickets and arrangements to fly the dog home. So I had to get my own dog.

So they got the dog for me. I’d go to the billets and I told the guys that I have a dog to feed. They take these gallon foods—cherries come in and all that—they’d fill those up. There would be great big hambones or roast bones or whatever. There would be enough food to feed sixteen people again. I would take all that food over to the Germans. They would says, “Terry, if we furnished the food for your dinner, can we cook this—if we furnish Beno’s food? You buy anything you want for Beno.”

“You do whatever you want with the food.”

It was good food. Oh man, they would make stew or whatever. It would be on that stove all day long in a great big cauldron. You would go over and eat. God was it ever good.  I was glad I was eating there instead of the billets. It was really good.

They can’t drink cold beer. They put their beer alongside the pot belly stove. I put my beer on the windowsill outside. If you give them beer they would have convulsive hiccups right off the bat. They can’t drink cold beer. One time I went to the PX and I bought a six-pack of my own beer for me. And Grandpa came over and he said, “Kinder Bier. Kinder Bier” [“Children’s beer”, in German]. So he gave the beer to the Kinder. When you want to see two little sick kinder, I told him that those children are going to be sick.

“Ah, it’s just Kinder beer. Kinder beer.”

Well, there were two little kids that they thought was going to die. They didn’t think it was so funny.

TS:

Why did they think it was okay to feed them to—

TL:

Because, you know, we didn’t have the alcohol content in American beer that they got. They’ve got 12% and more over there.

TS:

I see.

TL:

You drink one of them and it’ll knock you on your ear. And theirs is in liters. They have caps on them like you find on canning jars. They’d pop open and had wire. It’s very nice. It goes down real smooth.

TS:

Now you showed me a number of pictures of the different things that you did in this area.

TL:

Yeah.

TS:

You had some different clubs that you’d like to go to and—what else did you like to do in the Heidelberg area?

TL:

We went into our own service club a lot. They did a lot of entertainment there. Rosemary Clooney was there. Vic Damone [American singer and entertainer] was there. I was going with a warrant officer at that time, so I was at the bachelor officer’s quarters one night, and Vic Damone was there. There were several officers and people there, so we asked him to sing. He said, “Are you going to pay?” That was the end of Vic Damone’s popularity with anybody.

TS:

He wanted to get paid?

TL:

Yeah. And then what happened is he went home. He was going to woo the girls—the women into joining the army, well, that made it hard. If our men needed an emergency leave or anything, I had to cut the orders to get that man back home. Because of him, it made a lot of hard feelings.

There was a lot of orders being cut—different parts that shouldn’t have been. So they put a stop to it. About that time my officer—my sergeant— from our section’s—wife had twins and I guess they died. He wanted to go home. So I cut him orders and they stopped him. Right then and there they put a stop to people like Vic Damone and all these other people throwing their weight around to get back in the United States, you know, and instead of being over there. It just spoiled a lot of things for a lot of people for a long time.

TS:

Was he in the service?

TL:

Yeah.

TS:

Oh, I see.

TL:

Yeah. But he thought he was too good for it I guess.

TS:

Now, you also said that you took some—there’s lots of pictures you have in there of castles, and you did a lot of tours of the scenery of things.  

TL:

I would do it on Saturdays. I would take my dog and away we’d go. You can’t believe how much territory we could cover and walk and go.

TS:

Where did you like to go?

TL:

Oh. You could go forever in Heidelberg. There’s always mountains. You could always see where you were going—look back. A lot of those you could just walk in, when it was cold and wicked. I’d meet Jim sometimes, he’d come down and we’d go through those castles.

We had for a while—the kids—they all had bicycles. When they’d leave you’d buy up their bikes, you know. On Saturday there were several of us who would take off on our bikes and go to Kirchheim. We would stop at Gasthaus. We stop and sing and everything else. The first thing you know you’re eating with somebody in somebody’s house, and you end up sleeping there to get back home the next morning. They’re just—they just are great people. I think they’re a lot like the Jewish people. If they don’t like you—they don’t like you. If you have a Jewish friend—you have a friend for life. The Germans are like that too. They have to like you, you know, or you just don’t make it.

You know, you hear them talk. They sit and talk and they say, “The war was just as bad on us as it was on your GIs. We didn’t want that war any more than you did.”  The people are ignorant. They blame those people like that night when we were in Terry’s and we’re out having fun, and all these Americans walk in and start all this trouble, and start running down these Germans and doing this and that.

TS:

You’ll have to back up a little because some of this on Terry’s wasn’t on tape. Talk about who Terry was and what he had.

TL:

Terry is a woman that run [sic] Terry’s Gasthaus. Of course, I had the same name so we got to be very dear friends with grandma and her. Anyway, a gang of us would always go over there. They would have fabulous sandwiches and beer. One night a whole bunch of GIs came in and sat down on the table next to us, and they started running us down and running the Germans down, and saying all kinds of dirty words—dirty things about them.

Well, those Germans didn’t want them there any more than they wanted to be there. So they escorted them out. It was just the idea that just because they’re German and you’re an American don’t mean those Germans are at fault for that war. I mean, it was their politicians that did it, just like our politicians. You never saw any of our politicians’ sons in the war, either, if you ever look back and think about it. You know, it’s the same way with them. It was sad. But any way, we had a good time with them.

TS:

Now who was the fellow who you were telling me was a piano player that used to—

TL:

He was a prisoner of war here. He was in the little prisoner of war—we had right up in the schoolyard at Heart or Shelby.

TS:

In Michigan?

TL:

Right here, yup. That was a nasty thing too. You would go up there, and those people would spit at you and swear and everything. They were Germans. It was—they’d tell you to stay away from the fences. You know, just stay away. I think we went up there twice and saw them. You just can’t believe something like this. But anyway, he learned to play the piano. It was in his blood I guess, because he was a fabulous musician. When he came back he was always with the Americans. So we got his taxi number, and we’d always ask for his number. When we did and he’d take us over to Terry’s, Terry would open the garage and we’d put his taxi in the garage and close it and he’d spend the night with us. He’d play music and dance and sing and just have a ball every night over at Terry’s—whatever night we’d go there, which was quite often. That was about all you had to do.

TS:

Now, you took a few trips too.

TL:

Oh yeah.

TS:

Where else did you go?

TL:

I went to Garmisch [Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany]. I went to Berchtesgaden. I went to the Netherlands. I went to Italy—what a mistake.

TS:

Pardon?

TL:

What a mistake.

TS:

A mistake?

TL:

Oh, Italy was icky for my money they are. We had got a tour guide. We’re all American officers and enlisted men. We had him—oh, I was there for eighteen days and we had him quite long every day for something. Then he took us up on the top of the hills over there. He showed us the Marshall Plan America built for those people over there—the white condos and all that. He said, “You see all those beautiful buildings? You damn fool Americans built that for us”. This was an Italian.

Come Christmas, we were going to a midnight mass and we said, “Do you want to go to mass with us?”

He said, “Why would I want to go mass for? I’m an Italian.  God knows I’m a Catholic. I don’t have to go to church.”

“Good for you.”

He didn’t go to church, so we went to Santa Susanna’s, which was the American church over there. It’s the only one with kneeling benches in it. All the other ones you stand, you know. The priest met us right away. Gabby wasn’t Catholic that was with me, Gabby.

He said, “Which one is the boss?” And we were both corporals. He said, “I’m so glad to see you. It just seems so good to see an American walk in here”. And he talked to us for the longest time.

Through the day we went to Saint Mary Maggiore [Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore] where the steps are that Christ walked on, and people can only walk up on their knees. You can’t use your shoes.

We went into the basilica [Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano]. All the popes—not all of them—so many of the popes are buried under all the side alters.

Have you ever been in there?

TS:

No, I have not been to Rome.

TL:

Oh, haven’t you? Anyway there is popes buried all the way around. Everything is mosaic—tile floors, tile walls, everything is mosaic. It’s gorgeous. In the middle is the altar. Below that is Saint Peter’s tomb. You can go down to it. And about 300 feet above is the pope’s apartment. He can see you from there. He was Pope Pious the 12th when we were there, and he was ill. So all we got was a blessing from him up there. Then all his secretaries—or whatever those priests are—all come down and bless the articles or whatever, shook hands with you, talked to you, told you whatever you wanted to know That he would have answered.

Then when you walked around there are coffins. There are big glass coffins, and there are popes in there with all their regalia—everything. Their rings and their chalices are sitting on their chests. They have been there for hundreds of years. They say if anything were to crack, or an ounce of air were to get in there that everything would just disappear. All you would see is just a pile of vestments, because they’ve been in there so long. It’s just certain—certain popes that are there.

And that too, there is a big statue of Saint Peter. It’s black. I don’t know what kind of material—it’s steel—but so many people have walked by and rubbed his toes or kissed it that they wore the toe right off of that—

TS:

Oh goodness.

TL:

—statue. There is a museum there. Cleopatra is in the museum. Who else is in there—many importants [sic]. I’m sure a lot of them are in there, but that one is—She’s just about this big. She’s a little tiny thing. What else was in there? Then you go into another part of the museum and see where all their millions are. It’s just all fabulous wealth in art and everything you can think of. It starts with a Bertolli[?] museum. The people that were real wealthy Bertolli sounds familiar—it’s probably the spaghetti you hear on the radio or something like that. It started with B anyway.

TS:

Bertolli. That’s right. You certainly got to travel a lot.

TL:

Yeah. But you know, it’s like on Christmas Day when we walked down we just walked down the streets. There were merchants—they would grab you by the epaulets and drag you in and try to sell you something. They just—no scruples at all. Of course, you ride horse and buggies everywhere. You rode everywhere around the city—the Vatican city and everything. They would try to not tell you something in English, so they wouldn’t know how much money they were asking for or something, stuff like that.

TS:

What was your favorite place to go when you were over in Europe?

TL:

I think Berchtesgaden. It’s the most colorful. Millions of people are there. You see people go up on the mountains in their bathing suits. They come down and ski into natural warm pools.

Have you been there?

TS:

I have not gone to Berchtesgaden, no.

TL:

Oh, it’s beautiful. Austria is just—I wanted—the Netherlands was nice too. That was something interesting. That whole city, everything, the signs and everything—we looked out our hotel room and there was a great big sign for Hershey candy. It was all deep purple violets or tulips—and yellow ad on it. Everything you looked at was made out of tulips over there. It was just gorgeous.

That was something to see. It was funny because—I can’t think of the name. The air force girl that was with us, anyway, she was just so stuffed up. Her head was half as big as should have been and she couldn’t breathe. The pollen was killing her. She wanted to go back to the hotel. “Oh, I don’t want to go. I can’t see these things if I go.” You’d go into these windmills—people live in those windmills. That’s their home—stuff like that.

Millions and millions and millions of tulips everywhere you walk, and in the morning, we went to church over there in Holland, and the queen came out of her house. It just was an old gray place right in the middle of old gray streets. She comes out and looks at everyone. She says, “Good Morning America”. And takes off and her long gown is trailing in back of her bike. She takes off on her bike.

TS:

Did you get to see her do that?

TL:

That’s all. She just jumped on her bike, “Good Morning America,” and away she goes. You know, didn’t talk to her or anything like that. Just didn’t see her. She wasn’t going to our church. Anyway, it’s just—

TS:

Well, let me ask you a couple of question about the army then, at this time. So when your brothers gave you—you guys had a little powwow about what it was going to be like—was it how they described? How did you find the army life for yourself?

TL:

I don’t know. For myself?

TS:

Yes.

TL:

I probably think—well, I don’t know. I don’t think it was any different or any easier. The way the boys talked, I would’ve thought it might have been easier than what they had to do. When we got there and our chaplain told us, “Don’t expect anything, miracles because your training is not any easier than the men’s.” We went on bivouacs and everything, just like they did.

I don’t think the boys told me it was easier. I don’t know how to say it, what they said. They just told me what people’s opinion would be of me, because I went in.

TS:

What did they think it would be?

TL:

We went in for one thing—women were no good. There was a lot of derogatory remarks made about WACs. I think you bring it on yourself, a lot of it. And some of them made it happen. They make it happen like people thought it was. I don’t know. I found it interesting. I just figured you do what you’re told and that’s it.

TS:

Except for at Fort Meade [chuckle].

TL:

Do what?

TS:

Except for at Fort Meade.

TL:

Yeah, except for Fort Meade. I got away with it, so—

TS:

Yeah. It sounds like you did. Now did you find anything particularly hard emotionally, being in the service at all?

TL:

No.

TS:

Anything physically difficult?  How did you feel you were treated by other men that were in the army and the service?

TL:

Well, I—you know you could almost tell who they were going to be. It’s like you go to your NCOs clubs. You’re thrown in with them. You don’t know who you’re going to sit by. You could make a remark—you could be talking to somebody and they’d say, “Is that your lover? You’re spending more time talking to her than you are me.”

“Well, I don’t know you to begin with and I came with her. What am I supposed to do?”

But it’s all—it’s suggestive talk is what it is. The irony of the thing is, if you had friends—I noticed this more in Europe. A man worked for me in Germany. He was in my office. I was responsible for him marrying his wife. I knew her, she was in my room. But when you get there—those guys want a woman. It’s the married men that are the worst that try to get you to go somewhere or do something with them. They beg, and I just couldn’t get over it.

I said—he just wouldn’t get off my back. I said, “I’m not going anywhere with you. I’m not even going to the club with you anymore. When I get back I’m going to tell Mary what kind of guy you are.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

I said, “I will if you keep this up.” I said, “You’re a married man. What if you get letters that says that she’s doing the same thing, as Andy in our office did?” I said, “He got a divorce for it, because he found out that his wife was doing the same thing that he was.” I said, “What makes you people think you’re better than the next one? One’s just as lonesome as the other one is.”

Well, he left me alone. I got to be safer with him. He wouldn’t bother me anymore. If you’re not with a guy and they want to be, just—they’re very pushy and very insulting and very nasty. It’s showing their authority. They’ll never change. I don’t care who they are. I don’t care what army they’re in or if they’re here.

TS:

What do you mean by that they’re showing their authority?

TL:

Well, a man thinks you got to jump for him. This is what he wants. “This is what I’m going to get.” I think that is their attitude. They were always be the boss. They think—I think they’re losing ground though. [laugh]

TS:

Why do you say that?

TL:

Oh. I think women are more aggressive now and they are going further.  They’re getting to the point where they compete, and they can compete on the same level of knowledge and money and everything else. Before they could do the same job and get paid half the money, you know. I don’t know. I think they’re coming up.

TS:

Now, in the army though you got the same pay, didn’t you?

TL:

Oh yeah. Yup. Sure did. Big money too. [chuckle] What did we get? We got fifty dollars a month more for going overseas, I guess it was.

TS:

A few of those—marks—and trade them in the gasthaus and all of that.

TL:

Gasthaus. You know, those are in the basement. You went into gasthaus, didn’t you? You had to go down stairs—rathskellars. Gasthauses, they’re taverns, rathskellars are down stairs. That’s what it is.

TS:

So did you now—the issues that you are talking about with some of the men, was that at work too or was that mostly personal life?

TL:

Personal.

TS:

Personal. How was it with the work?

TL:

All right. I didn’t have any problems. Oh, I did with one warrant officer. We ended up getting him shipped out of the headquarters in Europe, too.

TS:

What happened there?

TL:

Oh, he just pulled his rank. He just came right from officer’s school in Washington—just throwing his rank around. I said something to him one day. He said, “You don’t call me that. You call me so-and-so”.

I said, “Well, that little Irish man down there has been in more service years than you have. I have dated him. I have gone out with him. I can call him anything I want.” He got sassy and got nasty with me, and he reported me to my commanding officer. So she called me in and I told her what happened.

She went back to the headquarters with me and confronted him. Oh, first off, when we got to the headquarters he was coming out of the headquarters. I saluted him and he didn’t return the salute. She grabbed him by his shoulder and turned him around. She said, “Did you just see that salute?”

“Yes, I did”.

“Why didn’t you return it?”

“Because of who it is.”

She marched him right back upstairs and took him between, before the head of the concern up there. She reported what it was. She said, “I want him transferred” And he was. She outranked him and the commander anyway up to headquarters. She was a major—Major Cardinal.

TS:

Major Cardinal?

TL:

Yeah. She outranked everybody at that time. She said, “I want him transferred.”

TS:

Now, did you find that women kind of mentored, like that, other women? You know, did that—made sure that things stayed in line? Was that sort of thing happening at that time?

TL:

I think so. You could almost tell whom you wanted to be friends with. You know, if they’re the kind that would go out and try to look for trouble or get it. You can pick the people out I guess.

This one girl just spoiled everything for our company. She went with a man who was in the sailor’s barracks—all gold braid. He was a married man, children at home. I don’t know how many years he had been in and had never had a gig against him. He got her knocked up. The wife found out about it. She came to Europe and they gave him a choice of a dishonorable discharge or six months at sea. And I don’t know if he’d get a general, but he lost all of his rank—all of his gold braid. He lost everything for what?

But, you know, Eve was the instigator and the trouble to Adam. I blame the women for everything. [chuckle] It just seems like they start it. But anyway, it wasn’t very  nice. They sent her home too.

TS:

Well, overall your experience in the army then, how would you describe it? Was it what you expected it would be? As far as—I’m just talking about the job you did. Was that something you expected—the kind of work that you did?

TL:

Well, yeah, because I did it for the enlisted in the States. You sent enlisted men to duty to whatever they did in United States compared to what their talent was—what their job was. In Europe it was the same thing. You’d position those officers compared to what they were doing, or where they were needed in the United States.

All I would do was put their family, their cars, their animals and everybody aboard ship or plane or however they flew home. I got their reservations and flew them or sailed them home or whatever. So it’s a classification assignment. You just do the best that you can to keep them in the same brackets that they always have been in.

TS:

Would you say that in the 1950s that you were there—what years were you in Germany?

TL:

Fifty-one to fifty-three.

TS:

Fifty-three? So two years.

TL:

I was eighteen months—no, yeah—eighteen months stateside and eighteen months in Europe.

TS:

Now with the—‘51 to ‘53 were the post-war years. There is a lot going on as far as the Cold War at that time. Do you remember anything about that with Truman?

TL:

Yeah. We had a lot of activity over there. We had a lot of military activity over there. Those people—especially in the German—Berlin area. Those people—there were Russians just so far from them. In the middle of the night they would start shooting off bombs and everything else to rile up our people and send our men off to fields. Sometimes those men would be in the fields from days to weeks. They traveled back and a lot of them would stop at our concern to eat. They’d be so dirty and so full of mud and so cruddy, that they’d just clear the mess halls of everybody and let those guys eat and then clean the mess halls afterwards—when they were on travel.

And those guys would just be blown out anytime of the day or night they wanted to. There wasn’t any killing, but there was just a lot of anxiety for them, and it was still going on. So we did encounter those guys. But it was mostly around the German—the Berlin area.

TS:

Did you get to go up to Berlin?

TL:

Yup. Did I got to Berlin? Yup.

TS:

What was that like at that time?

TL:

It was ironic because when you first go in to Berlin, that was the biggest part of Berlin that was blown up—was the entrance way. That was what you always saw about Berlin. I asked Brian if they had cleared that up and rebuilt, and I think he said “yes”. Which I hope, because it was a lot of years since I was there compared to when he went. There’s pictures there of Berlin that was blown up.

I didn’t see a lot of it. What was the hardest part was when we went to Munich. When you had to get into the billets over there you went to places where their apartment buildings and all they lived in, all the kind of structures were bombed and the bodies were right there, and the stench was so terrible. If it was a hot day you could smell that area for miles.

TS:

You could still smell it?

TL:

Yup. We got—the girls that were in the billets over there in Munich. They said, “You can’t believe sometimes when it’s warm—the smell”. It was probably like the paper mill to us, which they closed. A certain day, the wind was blowing, and you go the paper mill. I imagine it was the same thing, because you rode by there it just stunk. The buildings—the ruins at that time were just right there, just the way they went down. Nothing had been cleaned out or anything—bodies and everything just rotted in there. They were still getting smell. That was only six or seven years after the war ended. I don’t know, maybe it can’t last that long. I don’t know, but it was stinky.

TS:

What did you like best about being in the army?

TL:

I don’t know. I guess I just liked the livelihood. I just liked—I liked the regimentation. You knew you were going to do this and this. You know how you were going to dress. You know what you were going to do each day. I don’t know, I guess I just liked it.

TS:

Now, you played a little bit of sports you said.

TL:

Just baseball, not too much.

TS:

Just baseball?

TL:

Not too much.

TS:

But was there a lot of activities available for you to play, recreation wise? Do you remember?

TL:

No. I wouldn’t say so. I went to a lot of basketball games. I played some basketball, and I didn’t like that either. When you come down to that floor, boy, you’re coming down to something really hard. I didn’t need to kill myself. We followed them around a lot, but I just didn’t see any sense in it. I only played baseball probably a year or two.

It’s ironic, because when I growing up I grew up with all boys—the seven Huraski’s and my two brothers. They’d call up, “Do you want to play football?”

“Well, can Therese play?”

“We really don’t need her. We’ve got enough boys.”

Rock would say, “Well, you’ve got enough then, because we’re not coming either.”

TS:

Did he mean that he wasn’t going to come without you?

TL:

Yeah.

TS:

I see.

TL:

We’d go over there and coon watermelons. Their dad would have a shotgun full of buckshot. It was ironic. I was laughing with someone the other day who knew the Raskie kids. We were laughing. It would seem funny when he’d get those boys. I never once got a shot full. We’d bring the boys home, and they’d have to go in the garage and try and get all that buckshot out of their pants and sting and yell. I never got it. He had a light on the end of his rifle or something, because he never shot me.

We’d go in their barn and have all the tomatoes. He’d have tomatoes, top grade, next grade—beautiful big piles. We’d always go to the best, and go over to horses and grab their salt and put that thick salt on those tomatoes. We’d sit in that barn and eat—that and cucumbers. God, he used to swear that they were Slovaks. He knew he was swearing.     

TS:

What was that maybe you didn’t like so much about the military?

TL:

I can’t truthfully say anything. I was a mighty unhappy girl when I came home.

TS:

Unhappy? Why?

TL:

Because Ma had been put into a wheelchair, and she was not doing well. And Dad was trying to get me out of the service before it was time anyway, and it didn’t work. He was a man’s man. He wasn’t a man that should be doing laundry and dishes and stuff like that. He was just there with her alone.

TS:

So he wanted you to get out?

TL:

He wanted me to be home. Dad wasn’t happy at home at all.

TS:

Is that what happened? Is that why you got out?

TL:

I think so. It’s a different life. If you leave, those people at home are not the same. Sandy went in service. She went in the air force. I think she was in for three months. She couldn’t adapt at all. She said even after that, when she came home, the kids at home weren’t the same. She didn’t enjoy the kids at home, because it was so different being in service. I found it that way too. It seems like they’re more childish. They just do things that—I don’t know, maybe they’re not regimented—if that’s the word. I don’t know. They just flip-flop. You end up being yourself after a while, I guess. I don’t know. I think I just like the strictness. You know, the authority demanded so much of anybody. I know I just liked it.

TS:

Would you say that before you went in the service that you were independent?

TL:

Yes.

TS:

Do you think that the military was looking for people who were independent, or was that something that was—

TL:

I had a little bit of training because I was in the Civil Air Patrol during the war.

TS:

During World War Two?

TL:

Yeah. I took flying lessons. When they said “Simon says, Simon says,” they couldn’t knock me down. The kids would all be gone and I’d still be standing there.

TS:

[chuckles] There you go. So why is that you did get out then of the army?

TL:

Because of Mom.

TS:

Yeah.

TL:

I thought I belonged [at] home. Mom said, “I don’t know why you’re here. You’re just not the same girl that left.”

TS:

What did she mean by that?

TL:

She meant that she thought I should be back in service. I would be happier in service than I was at home, and I was.

TS:

Did you miss it?

TL:

Oh yeah.

TS:

Why didn’t you ever go back in? Well, you did go back in the navy reserve.

TL:

Yeah. I know. I should have stayed there, where I would have been drafted back in—gone back in. That unit went back in service.

TS:

The navy one you were in?

TL:

Yeah. They got transferred from Muskegon to Grand Rapids. Their headquarters was right over on Michigan by my doctor’s office. Now that army has been torn down, I don’t know where they went, or what they did with it. Well anyway, that is neither here nor there.

TS:

Well, tell me about that ship ride you took on the way back from Europe back to the States.

TL:

That was on the Hershey, and that was a real banana boat. That boat had been in a lot of accidents. Every time it creaked you would see the water leaking in the sides. That ship was really a banana boat. But anyway, we had—there [were] six or eight of us WACs or something on there.

And we had this Negro woman; she was confined down to the sick bay. And a little boy called Butch. She wouldn’t let us play with him or do anything with him, and he needed somebody. She’d keep him right there and yell at him when he moved. Her husband was being hung [sic] in France because he raped a woman over there. So they were shipping her home.

[phone rings]

[Tape paused]

TS:

We’re going to go back here. We had a short break there. And Therese was telling us about the woman confined because of her husband.

TL:

Yes. And that little boy just wanted so much to be with—we’d take candy down and sneak it down to him. As soon as she knew he had something or knew that he was with one of us, she’d start screaming “whatcha come, whatcha come.” There was nothing for him to do, but just sit there by her. We had to take turns. The WACs were the only ones that pulled duty over her.

TS:

Why was that?

TL:

I don’t know. The doctors and nurses thought they were too good I guess. That’s why when the dog—his dog was sick up there, and he had gone down to the sick bay for something for his dog; the doctor wouldn’t give it to him.

TS:

The one officer?

TL:

Yeah. He was a major. I went down and told him about Beno. He gave me two little bottles of paregoric and he said, “Just open his mouth and pour it down. It’ll be okay.”

So when I did that he said, “How did you get that? I just came from sickbay and they wouldn’t give me anything.” So he went down and complained.

And the doctor said, “Well, that woman is working and you’re not.” He let them know that we were pulling guard duty on that woman and “You people refused.” It was like six or seven combined doctors or nurses. They were too good to be pulled down there.

TS:

Now this lady, had she done anything wrong? Why was she confined? She was just confined?               

TL:

I guess they were sending her home. I suppose she was kind of out of it. I don’t know.

TS:

They were worried about her emotionally or something?

TL:

I think so.

TS:

I see.                                                                                                                                       

TL:

You know a lot of those people—they married Americans. When we got to Ellis Island, they wouldn’t get off the ship. They went back to Germany. They didn’t get off the ship. They were married to an American. When we got on the ship [inaudible] we were already taking our bunks and everything. They walked in and put all of our stuff on the floor and put their stuff on our bunks and took our bunks. And they were really a dirty bunch of people going over. And when we got to Ellis Island, some of them who had married Americans, wouldn’t get off the ship. They went back to Germany.

TS:

Why wouldn’t they get off?

TL:

I don’t know. They found out—I don’t know if they found that we weren’t going to take their guff or what. But anyway, they didn’t get off. Who knows why?

TS:

If you were going to give me a little sum up of your experience being a WAC, how would you—what would you want to tell somebody about it?

TL:

Probably the best years of my life.

TS:

Is that right?

TL:

Well, it’s different. It’s so different. You just can’t explain what it’s like to live that kind of a life, and live like you do here. I don’t know, sometimes being fancy free and footloose—footloose and fancy free—or whatever—maybe it’s our life style. The other way there is a little regimentation to it. I don’t know. Maybe that makes a difference. I don’t know. I just think it was the best years of my life. I really enjoyed every minute of the army.

I come out of the army with two gigs in thirteen weeks of basic. One of them was due to a white cat that Cady had. She crawled into my white bed. The bed they had—you have a white cuff on it. This little thing got under that cuff. It belonged to Cady—Sergeant Smeller. It was a beautiful little cat. One time she got into somebody else’s shoe. This time she was on my bed. That was one of my gigs.

TS:

So two gigs during your whole service?

TL:

Two gigs in thirteen weeks of service—thirteen weeks of basic.

TS:

Would you recommend the service for other women.

TL:

Yes I would, especially women today.

TS:

Yeah, why is that?

TL:

Well, I think they’re not responsible. The kids today are kind of irresponsible. They’re really—there’s too much drinking and rabblerousing. They travel in groups that are not good, because there is always maybe one bad apple.

Just this week they said that Kalamazoo [Michigan] [has already had] over thirty percent of murders and robberies from last year—just from last year. Of course, right now is a bad time. I think it’s terrible, because the unemployment makes it harder for people. They will do anything to get what they need. But I just don’t think the kids are—they just don’t have the manners or anything it seems like we were raised with.

My opinion was always that I think every kid should put in two years from the time he graduates to go right into the military. I think it would be the best thing in the world for everybody. But right now, if we had that many men trained they’d have them all over there in Afghanistan somewhere. Maybe it’s not the best way to think. I don’t know.

TS:

What about the roles that women can play now as compared to when you were in the military?

TL:

Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t envy them. When I was in, a woman couldn’t go closer than the signal core, which was one step back from the front lines—and we still lost them. But they were not right up there crawling on their bellies and doing everything that women do today. It takes some real good gals to go ahead and do something like that, knowing what they’re going to get into.

And they don’t stand a chance. I mean you can’t walk down the street without getting blown up. You wonder what kind of people have no more respect for their own children and wives and everything else, when the city streets and everything else are wired with bombs. Those kids can’t step out of a car or can’t roll somewhere without getting blown up. I don’t think I’d trade places with them. I don’t know if I’d be good enough then. I don’t envy them.

TS:

Did you ever think about yourself as being a pioneer for being in when you were in? I remember saying how your brothers were saying how people talked bad about women who went in the military, or something.

TL:

You know, when I went in the military, the WACs weren’t all that old. And then when I went in April—and in June we became regular army. Before we were an auxiliary. So maybe it was the auxiliary that got the names. I don’t know. I don’t know—I’m just sure they must’ve heard people’s opinions. They were just telling me what to expect—what people would have thought of me. So they weren’t against my going in. All they did was warn me not to go.

TS:

Yeah, that’s right. But did you see yourself—if you look back now, do you see yourself as kind of pioneer for women in the military at all?

TL:

I don’t know if I could use that word, “pioneer.”

TS:

“Trailblazer,” something like that?

TL:

Yeah. [chuckle] I don’t know how I would word that. [long pause] No.

TS:

No?

TL:

No.

TS:

[chuckle] Therese is just sitting here thinking about it. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you wanted to add?

TL:

I don’t know how much more.

TS:

You told me that one story about that one gal—before we started the tape—who had an uncle, I believe, that—

TL:

Yeah, Carlson.

TS:

Why don’t you tell us about that? That was an interesting story.

TL:

He was a very well-to-do man. I think he was a single man, but he was very upset with her going in. He was one of the people that had the attitude that everybody else had about WACs. He disowned her. He said, “You’re out of my will.” It bothered her a lot. She talked about it a lot. When she got that letter from him, she let us read it. And boy, was she so thrilled. She let us read it. It was nothing but apologies, because he had read a letter about how this one WAC had died in service and where she was and how it had happened and everything. He just realized that they just weren’t doing things that constructive or worthwhile to the country—he was so sorry that he had categorized her. He apologized. He told her he was proud of her.

I guess she was back in his will, and everything was fine. She was as happy as a lark, because she let everybody and her brother read that letter from her uncle. She was so thrilled about it. But it bothered her before because he felt that way about her. She was kind of—I was surprised that she was in service, because she appeared to be kind of a timid girl—very pretty, quite slight of build. If there were three or four of us together and we were climbing on buildings or going for a walk or something she was perfectly happy. But she wasn’t real outgoing or anything, but she was a very nice kid.

I was happy for her when she got that letter from her uncle, because you knew that preyed on her mind a lot. It’s things like that, you know, that make the world go ’round. I’m sure there were lots of parents and lots of other people who thought the same way. You can’t let the world stand still. When you want to do something, you can’t let everybody tell you what to do.

I met a lot of kids that were great. I was older than a lot of them, but it just didn’t seem like it. I wasn’t treated like an old lady or anything like that, I was just one of them. We had a lot of fun.

TS:

Well, I’m really happy that you took the time to talk to me today.

TL:

Okay.

TS:

Are you sure there is nothing that you want to add—something that you’d like to say to any women that might be interested in joining the service today?

TL:

Go for it [chuckle]. Go for it! Just don’t go overseas. I don’t know if you can help that now anymore either.

TS:

You mean where the fighting is going on?

TL:

Yeah. Because I think those kids—a lot of those kids are in the reserves and for the length of time this has been going on they have been getting training just for that. Normally, they’d have peace time training or something. Now they’re getting trained to go over there and it’s ridiculous. We don’t have the equipment over there for them that they should have.

We weren’t ready for this war, I guess. I don’t know that we should have been there to begin with. It was a mistake. This country has got to stop fighting everybody else’s wars. Look at all the years that Ireland has been at war, and they told us to mind our own business. So we do. They can take care of themselves and they’ll let you know it. John Kennedy was going over there, and they said, “We don’t need you here.” They didn’t let him come. That’s the way the other countries should be too. If they want to fight then let them fight. They can have their civil wars. We don’t have to be in it.

These politicians are so quick to start a war—to start something like they’re going to make money for our country. They’re not making any money for us now. Look at what they’re doing to our country. It’s costing these lives for just nothing.

They’re taking kids—they’re taking these married women and they’ve got children at home. I’m not in favor of this at all. Husband and wife both going, and there’s two or three children at home, somebody else is responsible for raising those kids? I’m not in favor of that. Either one go or the other go, but not both of them go. I just can’t theorize—I can’t theorize a woman today packing up and saying goodbye to their kids to go to war. That doesn’t make sense to me. I know we’re going to run out of men. I think sometimes they’re doing it because there was probably a money problem.

TS:

You mean when—

TL:

When they both go.

TS:

I see.

TL:

They leave their kids with somebody else. I just can’t see that—a woman would go now for notoriety if that’s what it amounts to. I don’t think I would want to—I don’t know, maybe if my mother went and dad both went. I wouldn’t say, “My mother did this.” I don’t know if I would be that proud of her that she left us. I’d have to experience it to say that I suppose. I just can’t see both of them going.

TS:

Well, it’s a different world now.

TL:

Excuse me?

TS:

It’s different a world in the military now—

TL:

It certainly is.

TS:

—than it was before.

TL:

It sure is.

TS:

Well, thank you again Therese.

TL:

It’s okay.

TS:

I really appreciate your letting me sit here and watch the squirrels and chat with you.

TL:

And my woodpeckers.

TS:

That’s right. I did see the woodpecker too. Well, thank you again. I’m going to go ahead and stop the tape then.

TL:

Okay.

[End of Interview]