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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Elsie Prevatt Pickett, 2009

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Object ID: WV0462.5.001

Description: Elsie P. Pickett documents her early life, collegiate education, wide ranging military service, and later civilian career.

Summary:

Pickett primarily discusses her career in the United Army Women’s Army Corps [WAC] during the Cold War and Vietnam Era. She tells of the challenges of commanding troops, running the Entertainment Division of Fort Bragg, and preparing for the possibility of war with the Soviet Union in Europe.

Additionally Pickett tells of growing up in Robeson County, North Carolina, and details her interaction with members of the Lumbee Indian tribe. She also describes her collegiate education, obtaining her graduate degree, and meeting future WAC general Mildred Bailey.

Other topics include Pickett’s involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis, her marriage, her travels in Europe, and her description of the living conditions of service members in France.

Creator: Elsie Prevatte Pickett

Biographical Info: Elsie Privatte Pickett (b. 1936), a 1959 graduate of Woman's College (now UNCG), served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) from 1959 to 1964.

Collection: Elsie Prevatte Pickett Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

Well, good morning. This is Therese Strohmer and it is April 21st, 2009. I’m in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I have Elsie here with me: Elsie Pickett. Could you state your name, Elsie, the way that you would like it on your collection?

Elsie Pickett:

Elsie P. Pickett.

TS:

Elsie P. Pickett. Okay. Thank you very much.

Well, Elsie, why don’t we start off? Why don’t you tell me where and when you were born?

EP:

I was born in Lumberton, North Carolina, December the 25th, 1936. Christmas baby.

TS:

[chuckle] That’s right—Christmas baby. Now, what kind of a family did you grow up in?

EP:

Well, my father worked for the state, but he was in a hunting accident. So he died, and my mother was left with three small children, including one in diapers.

TS:

Was that you? No?

EP:

Pardon?

TS:

Where do you fit in the hierarchy?

EP:

I was the middle child—the responsible child.

TS:

Oh, is that right? [chuckle] Okay. So, how was that for your mom? That must have been pretty tough.

EP:

Well, I think I probably assumed more responsibility, because she worked. She was a nurse. You know, after World War II it was difficult for everyone. We had limited supplies, limited housing. So, anyway I grew up in Robeson County and I went to Lumberton High School, where I played basketball and was very active. I coached for the recreation department. I coached their basketball and softball for the kids.

TS:

Oh neat. Well, let me back up a little though.

EP:

Okay.

TS:

So, you’re growing up—how old were you when your father died?

EP:

I think I must have been around nine years old.

TS:

Nine years old? Okay, so that’s right at the end of the war then?

EP:

The war had ended, right, but I know it was very difficult to find housing. We were living in Rowland, North Carolina, at the time. I do remember it was difficult finding housing. We later moved back to Lumberton.

TS:

Okay. So, did your mom, she worked as a nurse throughout the war then?

EP:

Right.

TS:

Okay. Your two other siblings, are they boys or girls, or—

EP:

Okay, I had an older sister.

TS:

Okay.

EP:

And she had a lot of health problems.

TS:

Okay.

EP:

And then when my father died my kid brother was in diapers. I remember that quite well. [chuckle]

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

It’s funny how you remember kids. I remember him in diapers, and I remember him learning how to walk. You know, we dangled keys in front of him.

TS:

[chuckle] Oh, okay.

EP:

So anyway, I was very fortunate. I had grandparents who were really great. They lived on a farm, so every chance I got I was with my grandparents. At that time there was no grandson, so my grandfather took me fishing and hunting. And I just enjoyed these very, very nice grandparents out in the country. I had a lot of fun. I got to know the Indians in Robeson County—the Lumbee Indians.   

TS:

Really?

EP:

I made some very good friends. We remained friends. That was quite interesting, getting to know them.

TS:

What was interesting about it?

EP:      Well, if you remember the time, they had the Ku Klux Klan rally, I think in Maxton, North Carolina. The Ku Klux Klan had it, and the Indians broke the rally up. [January 18th, 1958, following a lengthy period of Ku Klux Klan harassment, a group of approximately 500 heavily armed Lumbee Indians surrounded a Klan rally, and routed the Klan members after a brief period of gunfire. There were no serious injuries. The event later became known as the “Battle of Hayes Pond”, and is now seen as a defining event in Lumbee history.]

TS:

Oh, is that right?

EP:

Yeah. The Lumbees, they were interesting. A lot of them were tenant farmers. A few of them owned their own farms. A lot of them did moonshining. [chuckle] I just to got know them. And it’s funny, they said—well, you know, the Indians, if you’re their friend, you have a friend for life. I did get to know Dolly Strickland and her husband real well, and their children. And their children did all end up going to college, getting professional degrees. They were just very intelligent and very nice. We just remained friends over the years.

TS:

Well, that’s real nice. So, you are out, you get to hunt and fish with your grandpa?

EP:

He would—I wouldn’t carry a loaded gun, but he would let me carry a gun unloaded. He trained bird dogs.

TS:

Oh, okay.

EP:

So, he had bird dogs, and I could wear a whistle.

TS:

What kind of bird dogs did he have? Do you remember?

EP:

I don’t remember. But he was an avid sportsman—fisherman and hunting. He had a lot of people come down from the north, and he would take them quail [hunting and] fishing. It was a big thing.

TS:

So, he was like a guide?

EP:

Well, to be with them, right. So, I will never forget that one of his friends left him a thousand dollars when he died. He really enjoyed coming down with those trips.

TS:

Oh, I guess so.

EP:

My grandfather was just a really, really good hunter. He was really good at cooking things: like when they would have the catfish stew, he would always be invited to fix the catfish stew. But he taught me how to fish and how to clean the fish. I just enjoyed being out on the farm.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

I got to feed the chickens and stuff like that. My grandparents—when I look back—they were very poor, but they were very good. I will never forget that when someone was sick, my grandmother sending eggs over. She had a nice garden. They grew things practically year round.

TS:

Did she do a lot of canning?

EP:

A lot of canning. And she—oh, she was great at making pies, and what we called the potato pies. And it was really nice. You know, looking back, I thought they were very wealthy. But in retrospect—but they raised so much and they were very, very good. She had—My grandmother had lost another child plus my father. I thought they were really good to the grandchildren. I just really enjoyed heading out in the country.

I also had a goat. I had a billy goat. I wasn’t able to keep the billy goat in town though. But anyway, it was a lot of fun out in the country. I think people are more self-sufficient out in the county and you’re able to do things. I was able to drive the wagon and the mule.

I enjoyed getting to know the Indians. The Indians liked my grandfather. They liked him a lot. So I got to know them, and some of the Indians were pretty notorious. You may remember when an Indian took over The Robesonian, the newspaper office down in Lumberton one time.

TS:

When was that?

EP:

This was back—I’m trying to remember—this was not too far back. This must have been in the eighties.

TS:

Oh, okay.

EP:

What happened was, he agreed to surrender if they would let him come to the Orange County jail, because Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass had such a reputation of being such a fair and just sheriff that the young man surrendered on that basis. I will never forget it, because one of the newspaper reporters was a good friend of mine. She was really nice. When I worked with the recreation department she was really good about getting us great publicity for the recreation program. This was an Indian, and he was— he did surrender— but he was holding people hostages in the newspaper office.

TS:

Do you remember what happened to him after?

EP:

Well, I think he was convicted and sent to prison. But it was pretty scary.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

He was protesting. I don’t know what he was protesting. [In 1988, Eddie Hatcher and Timothy Jacobs, both Tuscarora Indians, took hostages in the offices of The Robesonian, protesting government corruption. Both served prison sentences.] There is a lot of turbulence in Robeson County, and a lot of turbulence with the Indians. They now have—I think they now have an Indian sheriff and a clerk of court. But there was a long time there that the Indians were exploited, and lot of them did do the moonshine business. And then a lot of them went to Detroit to get good paying jobs. You know, North Carolina—Robeson County was very poor, and it wasn’t like living in the Research Triangle Park, or in the cities. Life was interesting because we had the Indians. We had the Smileys [sic, Smilings]: a mixture of Blacks and Indians.

TS:

The Smileys?

EP:

Yes. The Smileys was [sic] a mixture of the Black and the Indians. We had four school systems down there at one time. We had one for the Whites, Caucasians; one for Blacks; ones for Indians; and then the Smileys. And eventually—well, that was—remember, that we didn’t integrate. When was integration—was Brown versus the Board of Education—and we started integrating and I think Attorney General Malcolm Seawell said “we will follow the Supreme Court ruling”.

I said, “Malcolm, you’re not going to be elected governor”. You know, that did it. He was the attorney general for [N.C. Governor] Terry Sanford, and he was from Lumberton and a family friend. His son and I went to school. Anyway, Robeson County, I guess, was turbulent. I will never forget here in Chapel Hill. I said “I know a lot about politics; I grew up in Robeson County.”

I had a cousin that ran for the legislature. He put on his overalls, took off his shoes, got in his Cadillac, and with a PA [public address] system and went out. This was way back—way back. They always talked about it—how he campaigned in his Cadillac and a pair of overalls, barefooted. But he won!

TS:

[chuckle] Oh!

EP:

That was to the North Carolina House of Representatives.

TS:

How about that.

EP:

Joe Hackney probably wouldn’t appreciate me saying things like that.

TS:

Is that who he is, Joe Hackney?

EP:

No. Joe Hackney is our current speaker of the house.

TS:

Oh, I see.

EP:

And he is from Chatham County next door, and he represents Orange County too.

TS:

So, who is it? What’s the fellow that did the—

EP:

His last name was Page: P-a-g-e.

TS:

Page.

EP:

He was a cousin. My mother’s side of the family—the Pages—and they were active in politics. I think later on we did have one cousin who was a congressman years ago.

Malcolm Seawell probably would have been governor of North Carolina, but he abided by the Supreme Court ruling. You remember how integration was—how turbulent it was. You remember the situation in Little Rock [Arkansas], when [President Dwight] Eisenhower called out the troops. So, but anyway, it was interesting.

A lot of people, though, who graduated from Lumberton High School went on to college. We had a principal who stressed education, and taking the proper courses to be admitted to school. We had a lot of students to go to WC—UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro, formerly Woman’s College]—and to University of North Carolina [at Chapel Hill]. We had a few who could afford to go to Duke [University]. And had a few who would go to schools like Princeton [University], but primarily most of the students went to [UNC-] Chapel Hill, East Carolina [University], or Woman’s College.

TS:

In the Carolinas, mostly.

EP:

They stayed in the Carolinas. Well, the in-state tuition, it was so good back then. It cost so little to go on to school, providing you had the academic background to hack it as a student. I think that was one thing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, academically it was sound, and a lot of students did not remain after freshman year; because of the demands for a liberal arts education—that you had to take a broad number of courses.

TS:

Well, let’s back up a little bit. In your high school, you were talking about your principal really, you know—

EP:

Yes, Mr. White—Thomas White was very, very good. I was an office assistant for two years, so I got to know him very well. That was a free period. Students were selected to be office assistants, and I served two years as his office assistant. And you learn a lot about administrative stuff and problems. And then I was working for the recreation department on weekends and afternoons. I stayed fairly busy.

TS:

Sounds like it. Now, how did you like school?

EP:

Oh, I liked it. I liked it.

TS:

Yeah. Did you have a favorite teacher or class or anything?

EP:

Well, I had some excellent teachers. We had one who went on later on and was professor at Pembroke College. Well, I should say the University of North Carolina at Pembroke now. We—I guess our chemistry teacher; we liked her a great deal. She was everyone’s friend, and she worked in the summer at the recreation department. So I got know her extremely well, and she was an advisor to the basketball team. We were very fond of—we called her Ms. B. But she was very nice. She taught biology and chemistry.

I will never forget one day that Mr. White had a terrible headache—a terrible headache. He sent me out to get an aspirin, and I couldn’t find any aspirin. So I went to Ms. B and said, “Ms. B, Mr. White has a terrible headache. Do you have any aspirin?”

She said, “No, but I’ve got a Tylenol—a Midol [a medicine for menstrual cramping and pain]. We’ll just scrape it off a little bit, and you give him this Midol.”

It was really hard for me to keep a straight face, because later on his headache was fine! I didn’t tell him what kind of pill. He just thought it was an aspirin. He just took it down, because I got him a cup of water and gave him the pill. I said, “Ms. B said for you to take this.”  Anyway, it took care of his headache.

She, I guess, was one of my favorites. But, I thought that Ann Wells, the English teacher—I was pretty close to much of the teachers. I gave the poor language teacher fits. I mean, I was just horrible in languages.

TS:

What language were you—?

EP:

I took French, and I was horrible. When I was in France I tried to study French. When I was in the military the southern drawl just bothered all of these speech professors. I said, “I’m sorry. I’m from Robeson County, and we don’t speak English very well.”

TS:

[chuckle] You speak English fine.

EP:

So anyway, but high school was a great experience. I liked the school, but I did not like the school board.

TS:

Why?

EP:

Well, Mr. White failed to get the paperwork in for a scholarship for a young man. His mother was on the school board. This young man was very, very wealthy. And she wanted Mr. White fired. And part of the school board wanted to keep him and Mr. White did not want a split school board; he resigned.

This really bothered me, because this was an extremely wealthy, wealthy family. Somewhere along the line, he didn’t get the paperwork in to Princeton in time for a scholarship; because he was so busy helping so many students. So many students were what we called “diamonds in the rough”. So many students don’t have—their finances are extremely limited. A lot of them, their parents didn’t go to college. They had limited funds. He was really great about getting deserving students scholarships. In some way he goofed, but he didn’t have a secretary. He had office assistants. He had students who were his office assistants. You know, I guess at the end of the year with so many applications for college and all this—that bothered me a little bit. That bothered me more than a little bit. But Mr. White did not want the school torn apart, so he resigned and went to another school. Luckily, I was a senior.

The young man that the scholarship had occurred, he and I were friends. His folks owned the drug store—a lot with other property—and his grandparents were millionaires. This really bothered me that this woman would use her position as a school board—I think she must have been chairman of the school board—to axe him. He had worked so hard for the school. He just didn’t want the turmoil of a split school board, and he resigned.

Now, that’s my version of it. That was what I heard as a student.

TS:

Right. About how many students were there in the high school?

EP:

In the high school? Gee, you know, I don’t—I really, really don’t know. I guess, I don’t know. We must have had seniors, I guess, close to a hundred. It was a fair sized school. We played—we had basketball teams, football teams. I played on the girls’ basketball team. I was co-captain of the girls’ basketball team. That was when I coached for the recreation department. The captains—co-captains of the basketball team were offered that position—

TS:

Oh, nice.

EP:

—to coach younger kids. Not that we knew that much about basketball, but at least they were dribbling up and down the court, shooting, and getting some exercise.

TS:

So, I was going to ask you about basketball. Now which basketball did you play at that time, because I know—was it the girls?

EP:

I played girls. I was guard.

TS:

Can you describe how it is different from basketball today?

EP:

Well, basketball today. I mean, girls—we have professionals. We have the collegiate ball teams. Come on, what you have—

TS:

Just in high school, I mean.

EP:

Just in high school?

TS:

Sure.

EP:

Oh it wasn’t—it was fair to be a basketball player. There was a lot of competition to be a cheerleader. A lot of the school leaders were—and the academically sound students—were basketball players. Penny Fuller—who is an actress that you see on “Murder She Wrote” every now and then—she was on the basketball team. The mayor’s daughter was on the basketball team. She had a car. We liked her. She had a convertible. So we really liked the mayor’s daughter, because she had a car.

TS:

Now—

EP:

A lot of us didn’t. We didn’t have our own cars.

TS:

So this is the fifties?

EP:

This is the fifties, yeah. Right.

TS:

But the type of game that you played was different?

EP:

Oh, the type of game, right. You played half court—you were half court—and pretty much a forward was a forward, and a guard was a guard.

TS:

How many dribbles did you take?

EP:

I think at that time we were unlimited as long as we stayed in the half court. I don’t think that we had the time. I think that we could hold the ball indefinitely. I guess it was [UNC basketball coach] Dean Smith who changed that with the four corners [offense strategy]. It was something that—the school life was geared around football games, basketball games, and parties afterwards. It was just part of the social life, and encouraged by the school.

TS:

What kind of parties were afterwards?

EP:

The recreation department lots of times had a place. They had a room and jukebox, and you could dance. Now, when we played basketball—especially out of town—we rode the bus together. The boys’ team and the girls’ team, we were on the activity bus together. That was another thing that I did. They needed an activity bus driver, so I got my bus license so I could drive our bus over to practice in the gymnasium; where we were playing for some reason. We couldn’t play there, so someone talked me into getting a bus license. That turned out to be quite adventurous, because every now and then they would need an activity school bus driver, and they would ask me if I would do it.

TS:

So you got to go different places and—

EP:

One time we went out to Greensboro. I group of students who were going up to Greensboro—UNCG—WC—I should say. I got acquainted with the campus then, because I drove. And then of course, later on, then I went to Girl’s State. I was a member of Girl’s State. I went there for their summer program.

TS:

What did you do at Girl’s State?

EP:

Well, this is training for—I guess for trying to get young people interested in politics. We had lecturers. We went to visit the legislature in Raleigh. We visited the UNC campus here at Chapel Hill. It was more of a civic thing. But I met girls from all over North Carolina. We had two representatives, I think from every county from all over the state.

I don’t know how this came about, but they had distinguished professors to lecture. Dr. Alexander, who is quite famous, she taught political science at WC. She was very active in the Democratic Party. She was the first Clerk of Court—the first woman—female—clerk of court. She had been to the national democratic convention with Harriet Elliot, who was the very famous dean of women who helped President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt set up—helped him with, I think with the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service] I think helped him with that. You know, there was—we got to meet, individually, a lot of individual professors and students. We visited— I think they took us—I can’t remember. I know we went to the legislature. It was education, but it was more or less of the political—how government worked in North Carolina.

But I was active as a student in town politics, too.

TS:

How did you do that?

EP:

Well, we had a candidate who was running for the council. We needed more playgrounds, so I got out and I took pictures. I found some children playing under boxes in the streets. They were under boxes playing in the streets. We got the newspapers to run a whole page of pictures on the need for playgrounds. And, of course, the recreation department—our budget was determined by the city council. What we were trying to do here is to help this one politician, because he had promised more playgrounds for children in the summer.

I was working for the recreation department, not only as coach, and then later on as the advisor for the nature club, but I worked in the summers. Eventually, I worked helping set up their summer playground program. When I was in college I came back during the summer break, and ran the program for—we had about eight or nine playgrounds. And I was the director for all of the playgrounds for them.

TS:

So that worked? Your pictures helped get you the—

EP:

Right, I don’t remember if the guy won or not. But I was interested in politics and because of the council giving us money for the department—I was just interested in politics. But I’ll never forget, you know, that we didn’t know that the newspaper was going to do a whole spread. It was just fortunate. I was out taking pictures, and there were these children in the street—under boxes—playing in the street. The editor of the paper liked it. Of course, my friend down at the newspaper, she liked it too. And she supported the recreation program. And so, I got to know some of the politicians. And, of course, Malcolm Seawell I knew, because my mother married the retired police chief of Lumberton. He was my stepfather and he was a good friend of Malcolm Seawell. So Malcolm Seawell was mayor of Lumberton when my stepfather was police chief.

TS:

Oh.

EP:

So, anyway I got know Malcolm Seawell’s son Buie. We were all close in high school. We were a very close knit group—especially ones if we were active in sports. A lot of us did extra projects. We helped with plays and various school projects.  We were very active. We had one football coach, and he said that there wasn’t much team spirit. So we put banners up all over the school. And Mr. White, he said, “Next time would you check with me before you do something like that?”

TS:

[chuckle]

EP:

This coach, he didn’t stay there long, but he said “There is no school spirit here. There is no school spirit.” He was trying to perk up the football team.

TS:

Sure.

EP:

I stayed fairly active.

TS:

I’m thinking that you did stay pretty active. Now, did you have an idea, when you were in school, about your future? When you were a young girl, did you have a vision of what you could be in the future?

EP:

Well, at the recreation department—naturally—I was recruited. They were encouraging me to go ahead to school and come back. Because I worked—well, I was even helping with annual reports and lots of things. The directors—one director had graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and they helped recruit students. So that was why they were letting me do stuff like annual reports. I didn’t know it at the time.

TS:

It was kind of an internship, really.

EP:

Right. And helping to take care of the petty cash fund. Well, I did a lot of things. They set up a nature club. So, I went to Wilmington to meet this lady and what to do— nature club. Then it opened doors. When I went to WC because I met this lady, and she wanted me to meet Doctor So-and-so—Doctor Shaftesbury. And you know, I will never forget, freshman year, that I went in to see Doctor Shaftesbury, and he’s the terror of the biology department. He put on the Bunsen burner and fixes us some coffee. People said later on said, “What? You had coffee with Doctor Shaftesbury?” He was known as the terror of the biology department, and I took his ornithology course. It was because there was this lady down in Wilmington, and part of the nature of thing was birds and nature and hiking and an aquarium. I just kept meeting a lot of people. And I met a lot of people in Lumberton because their kids participated in the program. I got to know them extremely well. It’s amazing.

And the basketball players, we were very close. And the parents were very supportive. And the parents came to the ball games.

TS:

Did you say to yourself, at that age, that “This is what I want to be when I grow up”? That sort of thing—

EP:

I always knew I was going to go to college.

TS:

Did it matter what you did?

EP:

Well, I was interested in recreation and leisure. I was very interested in that.  I guess working at the recreation department I really liked these two different directors. They were very fine men. I enjoyed doing it. It was a lot of fun. And I was paid for doing it too.

TS:

I was wondering how you got into sociology, I guess is where—

EP:

Okay, sociology. I went to WC. And I started—I finished high school in June and I went to summer school. I was straight into college. Straight into college. I didn’t wait, I went directly into summer school. And I was an inter-departmental recreation major.  That was split between physical education and sociology. Well, the physical education department took one look at me, and they wanted to turn me into a physical education major. I was taking some of their courses, and luckily I was making some pretty good grades. But, you know, I had all this experience. You know, I had done all this stuff. I had coached. I had done so many things in the recreation department.

There was one class in particular and I think were three or four “A’s” and I made one. And all of the physical education majors were in there. Unfortunately, my class advisor for that class was a professor in physical education. She was trying to exert a little influence there. But I had met Doctor Shivers—head of the department of sociology—because I needed to take a sociology course, and I hadn’t had the introductory course—the preliminary course. I went to see her get permission to do it. She told me it would be more difficult, because of the terminology and a lot of the concepts you learn in the introductory course. I said, “Well, I am willing to take it on if you will let me take it.”

She said, “Fine. Whatever you want to do is fine.”

So, I took it. I liked her for that. I signed up for some more sociology courses. Doctor Shivers was great. She had a LLB [Bachelor of Laws] before she got her PhD. Her father was a judge in Mississippi, and she was brilliant. The first thing we did in criminology class was she sent us down to the courtroom to observe. I liked that. And then another course I was taking with her, she took us to one of the institutions where people were kept. She let us see what we were dealing with. It was the same way with court—to see the drunks come in every Monday—the problems there. So I liked Doctor Shivers a lot.

There was more and more pressure to become a physical education major. I walked like a physical education major, I talked like a physical education major. I was doing all of this stuff, you know, I was taking the life guards’ course, I was auditing all these recreational sports, I was doing a lot of things, but I didn’t want to major in physical education. I wanted the inter-departmental major with recreation. Finally one day—I don’t know what brought it about. I don’t know what brought it about. I said, “Well, I’m going to change my major to sociology.” Because I had taken enough courses. I took the exams on courses even though I hadn’t taken the course—the proficiency exams. I tested out on a number of those: one on political science, local and state government, no problems there. One in health education: no problem there. So, I said, “I have enough credits here to graduate. I don’t need to go to a fourth year. I can go on to graduate school”.

Meanwhile, at that time, Doctor Meyer from UNC had taught one of these sociology courses. And I liked him a lot. I didn’t know, at the time, that my name had been given to him. I didn’t know at the time what Dave Burney had done. All this stuff I had done at the recreation department was being sent to Chapel Hill as a potential future student. So anyway, I decided to go to graduate school. And I went in to see Doctor Shivers. I asked Doctor Shivers, I said, “Will you give me a recommendation for graduate school?”

She said, “Yes.”

Luckily with Doctor Shivers—I wasn’t a very good student at WC, but I had made straight A’s with her, because I really liked her. I liked her criminology course, I liked her family course, I liked her sociology—the second part of the introductory course. I liked her. I really liked her. She was brilliant. She walked in with no notes, and she could give a lecture. She was great. I really liked sending us down to the courtroom—letting us observe—it was more meaningful. She just gave such a good lecture. What I liked about her was that students—she would let me do what they wanted to do. You could take the course; it would be more difficult.

It was the same way— that I took courses later on, I took courses with Ms. Alexander—Ms. Alexander, the political scientist. She—I took a proficiency exam with her. I said, “You offer this particular course—political parties—for juniors”. I said, “I’m only a sophomore, I’d like to take it.”

She said, “Why?”

And I said, “Well, I took the proficiency test, and I passed it with you.” I said, “I hear you may retire,” I said “I heard you speak at Girl’s State, and that’s one of the reasons why I came to this college—was so I could have classes with you.”

She said, “Okay, you’re in.”

I was able to do that with a lot of courses. But anyway, I was able to graduate in three years with the exception of the theory course in sociology; which, I took later on as a graduate student at UNC. I guess if it wouldn’t have been for the pressure of my class advisor wanting to get me to be a physical education major— And let me tell you, the department of the physical education—the head of the department—knew when I had been accepted to graduate school. She stopped me one day and said, “I hear that you’re going to Carolina.” But these women shared a house together. They shared a house together. So I was surprised. Here’s a department head that knows that I’ve accepted at Carolina.

So anyway, it was funny. I sort of clashed with this class advisor and then she ended up in Carol Woods [Retirement Community] here in Chapel Hill. And I donated some money and half of it went for a scholarship in her name, and half in for Doctor Shivers’ name.

TS:

Oh, how neat.

EP:

Because, if she probably hadn’t given me such a hard time I probably wouldn’t have gone to graduate school. Of course, I had met Doctor Meyer. I had met Doctor Meyer.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

He wanted me right out—as soon as—classes ended at regular session—spring session—I was over to Chapel Hill—summer school—to start graduate program.

TS:

Why was it that you wanted to go to graduate school? Was that usual for women at the time to go to graduate school?

EP:

Well, I had met Doctor Meyer. And Doctor Meyer was a legend.  He was internationally known as the father of recreation.  He helped years ago putting through roads. “All right, get enough space for highway parks—roadside parks”. You know, he was ahead of his time. He had—he was the editor of the North Carolina recreation publication. He was so well respected, and he was a consultant, and he had written so many books. He had encouraged me to come. And he—I was at the time looking at the possibility of going to the University of Illinois for graduate school, and Doctor Meyer convinced me to go to Chapel Hill. I had lots of friends at Chapel Hill.  As a high school student, we used to think it was great to come up for journalism conventions and different things at Chapel Hill. It was a fun place to come to.  And of course, I knew former students who were students at Chapel Hill.

But at the time, if you recall, at the University of North Carolina, women were not admitted until junior year. They had no women here. So they started accepting women junior year, with exception of nurses—I think the nurses were exceptions—and maybe some day students. Then they opened junior year. So we had a lot of UNC students dating students over at WC—a lot of them. The campuses were very close: NC State [North Carolina State University], Carolina—I should say UNC-Chapel Hill, and WC—or UNCG.

Well, anyway I ended up, it was just ironic— But part of the motivation came was that I could go ahead. I had enough work between summer school and taking these proficiency exams. I had enough to graduate with the exception of the theory course—that I could do it in three years. I had not planned to do that. I had planned to—my senior year of college to take only the courses that I really wanted to take; with, the exception of the theory course, which I had to have to get a degree in sociology. So anyway, that’s how I ended up as a graduate student at Carolina.

TS:

Did you have a sense of what you were going to do with this education?

EP:

No, no, I really didn’t. I had thought that I would be working for a recreation department. But in college with Dean [Mereb E.] Mossman—she was the dean of instruction—she taught a course for the sociology majors. And I did a term paper for her. She was one, we did a lot of term papers in the semester. One semester she gave us four term papers. Anyway, I did a term paper and I was doing it on the welfare state, and I concluded that we were a military state. By the amount of money that we spent, we were a military state. So I got started getting interested in the military. And Katherine Taylor, our dean of women, had served in the navy. We had several faculty members who had served in the navy. So nearing the end of my graduate year I had a lot of job offers. I had job offers right and left. I was on a panel of graduate students and others. And one day I got three jobs offers, because I was Doctor Meyer’s student.

So anyway, I spoke with the Alumni Director over at WC: Barbara Parrish. I knew her real well, because I did a lot of photography in college. I was also the college newspaper’s photographer. I used to help her take picture of the reunions—what do we call it—of the classes coming back. And I also worked as a photographer for the news bureau at WC. So anyway, I knew that we had many people—graduates—who were in the military. So she set up an appointment with Mildred Bailey. She was the first general in the Women’s Army Corps. She was [EP corrected later--lieutenant colonel] at the time. So she said, “Mildred Bailey will be here, and I will arrange for you to talk with her if you’re interested in a career.” I had decided army. I didn’t want navy, I wanted army.

TS:

Why? 

EP:

I wasn’t that much of a seafaring type. And I thought that there would be more opportunities for a woman in the army rather than the navy.

TS:

What about the air force?

EP:

You know, at that time, I don’t know if there were that many in the air force at that time. This was way back in 1958-‘59—well ’59. So anyway, I met with Mildred Bailey, she was a [EP corrected later--lieutenant colonel]. And I chatted with her. I liked her. She talked about the challenges and what you would be faced with in service and the need to be adaptable to constant change and the different jobs that you would encounter. So I applied for my commission while I was a graduate student. And I told all my neighbors. I was living in a condo. I think it was an apartment at that time. I told all my neighbors that the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] would be checking. Doctor Meyer was very upset when I accepted the commission and went on active duty. He was very upset!

He said, “How could you? How could you?”

I said, “Well, I think that this would be good for me to travel and meet more people.” I really didn’t like the idea of getting a super-duper job and all the demands being placed at once, because I was Doctor Meyer’s student. For the longest time I didn’t realize that the publications that I had helped with—the annual reports and stuff like that—was being sent to Doctor Meyer and Doctor Sessoms. I was being recruited all along to eventually to go to Chapel Hill. But anyway—

TS:

May I ask you about Doctor Meyer then? When you—so he wasn’t so crazy about it?

EP:

Oh, no!

TS:

How about your family?

EP:

Horrible! Horrible! My stepfather, who was the former police chief of Lumberton, was horrified. You know what they thought of women in the service—the reputation of women who served.

TS:

What did they think?

EP:

Well, at that time, a lot of people either thought that you were a lesbian or a whore. You know, the reputation. But I know different from WC, where our dean of women—and so many faculty members—had served. Harriet Elliott, our dean of women, had helped President Roosevelt with WAVES. So many of these women had served, and these smart, smart individuals.

I liked Katherine Taylor, the dean of women, I liked her a lot. She never really got out of the navy. I mean she was a strict dean of woman.  Of course, we clashed a few times. I mean I managed too—I was fairly independent now that I think about it. We respected each other. The director of the student union over there—the student—Elliott Hall—she was a former navy person as well. So we had a lot of women who had served whom I respected, and whom had contributed to the country.

I thought that there was an opportunity to travel and to meet people. And I met a few people in college who were from out of state, but most of them were in-state—a few out of state and I enjoyed it.

I got a job as a summer camp program director. I met this one parent who came in from Springfield, Massachusetts. I was coming in and I had my terrarium in hand, and we started talking. And she said, “Would you like to come to my camp and work?” I forget in what capacity.

I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m running the playgrounds for Lumberton. And I can’t. I’m tied up this summer. I told Bill Saap —I guess that is what his name was— “that I would do the summer playgrounds for Lumberton.” I said, “Check with me later on.”

Later on she said, “Would you like to be my assistant camp director in New England?”

I said, “Great. New England in the summer time?  Sturbridge, Massachusetts? You bet!” So anyway, I couldn’t finish my thesis, and I went and was assistant camp director. I met this lady. She was the director of the Springfield Girls’ Club. Her daughter—Jenny Leslie was a student at WC—UNCG. I knew a lot of people there, because of the reputation of the physical education department there. They had one of the best physical education departments in the country. Her daughter was majoring in physical education, and we became friends. Her daughter was very talented. She co-edited the junior show; she was president of the senior class. She was very, very talented. Her father was the director—conductor—of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. I liked her mom a lot. We called her Bunny. I said, “Bunny, I’d love to be your assistant camp director.” But unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish my thesis until later on.

But getting back to the military, Doctor Meyer—bless his heart—but when I accepted the position with the University of Central Arkansas as a instructor of sociology, he was so happy about that.

TS:

[laughs] Later, right?

EP:

Later. And, of course, I started working on my doctorate. I was admitted to the doctoral program. And he was happy about that. I think he had plans—plans. And he was so dedicated, and he was a leader. And I had just lucked into these jobs at the recreation department. I liked coaching. And I loved the nature club, because I loved being out on grandfather’s farm—hiking in the woods—I knew directions.

TS:

I remember the first thing coming in here, we were talking about birds.

EP:

Right. We talked about the birds, about the bluebirds. And you see my bird here on my shirt.

TS:

That’s right.

EP:

So anyway—

TS:

Well did you—

EP:

My hometown, they were horrified.

TS:

Your hometown?

EP:

In Lumberton, what happened in Lumberton—was right near Fort Bragg. There was reputation then. You know, there was a lot of propaganda put out by the Germans—if you remember—because every woman that they could keep out of service would be—a male having to be occupying that position. So, naturally, there was a lot of propaganda put out.

TS:

During World War II?

EP:

Yes, during World War II, right. So this was carryover. Of course, we had so many patriotic women—especially the navy nurses. I had friends that were navy nurses, and how they served.

TS:

How was your mom about this idea?

EP:

She was—she didn’t say too much, because I had always done things, I always had good jobs, and I had been paid well. I always lucked into these jobs, and was really paid well. One year I cashiered at a grocery store and this man had never hired a [EP corrected later: student] cashier before. I made three or four times what other kids were making clerking at Belk’s or somewhere like that. Then of course, later on I was working fulltime with the recreation department. Mr. Swain, who owned some grocery stores, he always hired me over Christmas and Thanksgiving. He said “You go around and talk to the customers and do this and this.” And he paid me real good. So as a college student this was really, really good.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

So it was a good paying job. I cashiered just that one summer, but he did let me work later on. He asked me to just walk about, talk to the customers, keep an eye out for shoplifting, and just—well, I knew a lot of people in Lumberton. Lumberton is a small town, and because I played basketball I ended up with a lot of publicity, because of this lady at the newspaper. My mother said one day. She said, “That person in that picture in the newspaper has a shirt that is just like yours,”—it was a zebra shirt. I said “that is me!” I was teaching an archery course. They had a picture there. They were great publicizing our programs that we had for kids.

We tried to do a lot of for the children for different programs. We ran programs in parts of Lumberton that I had been told to never go into. We had an area called Moccasin Bottom, and it was a bad area. My stepfather, who was a retired police chief, told me to never drive down in there. We had a mission. We had a mission to set up a place, and we provided a recreation program for the children. I took the children swimming. It was a special time. I would always take a first aid kit and shampoo with us, because there were horrible conditions in this part of Lumberton. They called it Moccasin Bottom.

TS:

Who was it that lived there?

EP:

Mixed breeds.

TS:

Mixed breeds of whom?

EP:

Of part Indian, part black, part white. Prostitutes. Cheap—I guess it was sort of a red light district—cheap housing—very cheap housing. There was a church that had the mission there. The fortunate thing was for people who owned part of this property. I had been told “Don’t ever go down there! Don’t ever go down there!”

We had the mission and I went down, because I will never forget what fun it was to take watermelons to the children. I would take them— it was just a small room. I remember taking them swimming—we’d swim in Lumber River of all places. I’d take the first aid kit with me. I would get shampoo for them, and I would doctor their sores. We did some programs like that too. We really tried to have a recreation program for the entire city. I don’t know who got us in with the mission, but one of the churches had a mission there. This lady was very devoted. This was sort of a mixed breed, unaccepted, women without husbands. It was just, I guess, sort of a slum area. We called it Moccasin Bottom, you know, it was a slum area. Part of it was a red light district too. But believe it or not, we had some very talented children there. Very talented children. They enjoyed the music. We got a piano for them.

This was interesting. I will never forget—they had the—the army had sent an article about I had been, you know, the recruiting angle. They had my picture and that I had joined up and I mean, my stepfather—he was a nice guy and I liked him a lot. But the rumors he had heard, and the people that he had met. You met all kinds of people anywhere, in any walk of life. So anyway, he was not happy about it. My mother, she never really said much. She pretty well let me do my thing. I was driving at age fourteen—illegally, naturally. But you know, out in the country, where I was able to learn how to drive. I looked older and I acted older and I drove responsibly. I did a lot of things. I was—because my older sister’s health was very bad.

TS:

What was her health issue?

EP:

Well, she had had pneumonia and they had given her too much sulfa and her health was very bad. I was always the one to do this. I just did it. I helped look after my kid brother. I just did it and for some reason it was no problem for me.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

It was the same way—I don’t know why—because my brother being so young—older sister being so unhealthy—I guess I was the only one around to do it.

TS:

Yeah, maybe so.

EP:

So anyway, but you know, out on the farm at my granddad’s farm, you would do all kinds of things, and everybody would pitch in. You would have a good time. I think that’s one thing that, you know, living in the country and growing up in the county. And then I got to do a lot of work for pay, too.

TS:

Right, well—

EP:

I enjoyed that. I will be real frank. I was real mercenary about some things.

TS:

What do you mean about that? 

EP:

Well, I enjoyed making money, saving money. You know, when I started college I had the money for summer school. Later on my mother helped me out some, but, you know, I was able to pay for it. It was hard to turn down, I looked at an MG [Morris Garages] convertible, and that was the prettiest little sports car. I said, “I know I can’t afford an MG convertible and go to college”. So I turned down the MG convertible. But it was a sweet looking little car. But needless to say—

TS:

[chuckle] What color was it? Do you remember the color?

EP:

I think it was blue, I think. But my first car, when I did get a car, was T-bird convertible: a [Ford] Thunderbird convertible.

TS:

So you did get your convertible. Well, let’s talk about the military for a bit. So you were commissioned in the summer of—

EP:

Fifty nine.

TS:

Fifty nine, right.

EP:

I think it was August ’59.

TS:

Okay, so you went to Fort McClellan [Alabama]?

EP:

Fort McClellan for the officer’s basic course. I think that was twenty weeks, I believe. It was five months I believe.

TS:

Talk about how that was for you. Where you comfortable with that? Was there anything that you didn’t like?

EP:

Well, this was very rigid. Of course what they’re trying to do is see how much harassment you can take. You have academics and there you learn how to march.

TS:

You’re making a frown when you say that [chuckle].

EP:

And march. I had the hardest time hearing the beat of the drum. I don’t know, musically I wasn’t worth a hoot. I had a deaf ear.

TS:

I see.

EP:

I got bad blisters on my feet. I will never forget that. We marched. I mean, I had terrible blisters, they were bleeding, and it was terrible.

TS:

You haven’t frowned the whole time, but when you started talking about marching you did [laughs].

EP:

Well, I finally got it down pat. Well, anyway, this was a form—you met people from all over the world—I mean, from all over the United States. I mean part of it was, of course, that you were taking map reading and military history and military writing and public speaking—a variety of courses. Map reading was a lot of fun. You know, they turn you loose and you’re out and you’re having to use the compass and stuff.

The military writing, I didn’t care for that at all.  It was unfortunate. The instructors I liked I did well for. The instructors I didn’t like—I will never forget, the commandant of the school was a graduate of WC. I got called in about my poor grades. It was military writing. And you know, I was real frank with her. I said, “You know, I passed everything really well except this writing course. I didn’t realize I was supposed to memorize all these details, because I figured that I would have a clerk”. I said, “When I was in school I didn’t take typing, because I always thought that I would have a secretary.”

And Colonel Royster looked at me and I assured her that I would do better. She said, “You graduated from WC and I know you should do better.” That was a mild way of putting it. So the second set of exams came around, and I was the second highest in the class. We had some really bright students in there—a lot of them with master’s degrees. I think in that class we must have had about—I think we had two platoons. [They were] very talented individuals; some of them with, of course, personal problems. We had a cubicle. And we had inspections. We had to have everything aligned. That’s where you learned to use alcohol to clean the lavatories, and alcohol before an inspection. We did have the inspections, and there was a fare amount of harassment. We did not get a lot of sleep.

Eventually, when it came time for us to decide what we wanted to do, I decided to become a platoon officer for when the trainees come in to the WAC battalion—where civilians come in. I signed up for that, to become a platoon officer. It was interesting. I stayed, during Christmas a lot of the people left, but I stayed. I got to know the people very well. I will never forget going through the mess hall. I will never forget in the mess hall, this sergeant looks at me and I’m standing there with my tray. Well, at WC you didn’t serve yourself food, they had a certain portion. Well, I’m standing there and this sergeant looks at me. And the sergeant says “Lieutenant, God helps them who help themselves.”

I said, “Oh, sorry Sergeant, I didn’t realize that I was supposed to serve myself.” I said, “You know, you might end up in my company some day. Who knows?”

But I got to know a lot of the people quite well, and when I graduated —when I completed the course successfully—some did not complete the course successfully. We did do a lot of parading though, and military formations and—

TS:

Well, you must have wanted to be a platoon officer.

EP:

Eventually. You know, I had a hard time there. I made friends with a non-com [non-commissioned officer]. She was an officer candidate. And we became friends. I said, “You know,” I said, “my cousin, who is a drum major for a college band. He has tried to teach me, and I cannot hear the sound of things.”

She said, “No problem. The day that you get to march us around, I’ll call the commands.” She said, “No problem. They won’t know it. You just mouth the command and I’ll call them.” That was a lot of fun too, so I got through that alright, but I was having problems with the blisters on my feet.

TS:

Oh sure.

EP:

I enjoyed the field training. I enjoyed that. But anyway, I just thought as a platoon officer that I would learn more. I was a sociology major and I liked working with people. In the recreation department I enjoyed working with people. I had a—I did have that degree in sociology and said, “Well, I’ll be a platoon officer”. I had met some of the enlistees coming in. And I thought that that was a good assignment to learn more. I wasn’t very good paper pusher. So anyway, I signed up to become a platoon officer.

TS:

I forgot to ask you—the first time that you put on your uniform, how did that feel?

EP:

It was sort of strange. It was—I was wondering “what have I done here?” Because, my family was very upset—very upset. Doctor Meyer was very upset. All of my friends were horrified. They said, “You’re doing what?!” I had to explain to them that the FBI would be coming around asking questions, because I had to have a security clearance. It was—sometimes it was exciting. I had known these women who had served, and some of the places they had been. I was really looking forward to meeting people from all over the country—for traveling.

TS:

It sounds to me like, Elsie, you had unlimited opportunities before you for what you could chose to do.

EP:

Right. Right.

TS:

It seems like—So, you chose a military path at this time.

EP:

It’s funny. I did that paper for Dean Mossman. And I started thinking about it. I started thinking about it.

TS:

That’s the one with the welfare state or military state?

EP:

Yeah. I concluded that we were a military state where we were spending—where our money was going. Of course, if you remember Eisenhower was reelected president. Of course, I was for [Adlai] Stevenson. I was a “student for Stevenson” and Eisenhower turned out to be a great president. But I just thought that this was an area that appealed to me.

I guess it seemed like too many doors had been opened, because I had been recruited. In Lumberton, okay, I had got to help with the annual report, I got to help with the finances, I got to do this, and I got to do that. Then I get up to graduate school and Doctor Sessoms [professor of sociology—EP added later] lets it out that they had seen all the work that I had done. I said, “What!?” He was my advisor. Doctor Meyer was the department head, and [Doctor Meyer] and Doug Sessoms were great, great friends. They remained great friends. So he happened to mention it. I guess, anyway, I guess Doctor Meyer was more upset than anyone. But my stepfather was not happy about it.

TS:

But for you, how were you feeling about it? What were you—what were you feeling that drew you more to have a commission in the army, than all these other opportunities? That’s what I’m trying to get at, I guess.

EP:

Oh, oh, I just thought that it was an opportunity to meet a lot of different people, to do a lot of traveling, and be in different assignments. Because, in the military you don’t do one thing and remain in that one thing—you do many different jobs. This appealed to me.

And also, I had a small debt when I went to graduate school. It was not a large amount, but a small amount. I think it was only five hundred dollars, but I did not want to live in a dormitory. So, we’d sublet Dean Carmichael’s apartment. Kitty Carmichael—the dean of women—we would sublet her apartment. She was going to write a book, and she didn’t want to have to entertain. She let us have all of her stuff. The first thing we did, I said, “We’re going to lock up that silver. I’m not going to responsible for this.” You know, I met so many people like Kitty Carmichael, the dean of women. She was here at Carolina. I did my thesis on undergraduate students at Carolina and I got to know her real well. She had done a lot of traveling and her apartment was amazing with everything that she had collected all over the world. I just looked forward to it. You know, it was not— The responsibility came later on, of course, when I was assigned to the 18th Airborne Corps during the Cuban—I was assigned to Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps was located there and the Cuban Missile Crisis. You start waking up real early.

Of course, when we underwent the WAC officer basic course they showed us combat films. You could see when a camera had been dropped that the cameraman had been shot. And you see this. You just hope and pray that we never encounter that type of thing again. But you remember when you would go in the chlorine chamber, and taking off your mask and giving you your serial number and clearing your—putting back on—clearing. I guess I was—it’s hard to say how I felt. I guess I was excited, but at the same time I was exhausted.

I just had been an assistant camp director, and we had mono[nucleosis] hit the staff. And I only took one weekend off. Other than that, I made sure that our counselors got away. You know, who were working with kids so closely. But I had really worked hard up in New England, because mono had wiped us out. The camp director said, “If we lose one more person we’re probably going to have to close camp down.” So, I was—I had worked very hard. It was interesting, but as an assistant camp director—when the camp director, on weekends, she would go in Springfield and I had it. That was it. Of course, I knew where the telephone was.

So, I was—but I was ready. I was just ready. I was, I guess, excited.

TS:

Now, let’s go to that Cuban Missile Crisis. Tell me a little bit about that. What happened there?

EP:

I was at Fort Bragg. First I was a platoon officer down at Fort McClellan. Then later on, after my stepfather died, I requested transfer to Fort Bragg to be closer to home. The Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred on October of ’62, I believe. If you recall, down in Cuba—if memory serves me well—they had detected—or, they had found out these missile sites. At that time the Cold War was going with the Soviet Union. These missile sites were being armed, I guess, with nuclear weapons, and pointed in the direction of our country. And this was scary.

If you recall, President [John F.] Kennedy spoke one night and he told the Soviet Union for the vessels to turn back—to turn back. And around the world—militarily—we were geared for war. We were geared for war.

TS:

What did you have to do? Do you remember?

EP:

Well, believe it or not, I was—it wasn’t long before I was going to be going Germany. I was going to Germany as a company commander of a WAC detachment. So, I remember this quite well, because when I was at Fort Bragg I had served G-1 [officer attached to Office of Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel]. And 18th Airborne Corps was there. I was post-side, but in G-1—at night—the duty officer—you pulled duty for both the post and for 18th Airborne Corps. Of course, we had alerts coming from the Pentagon, and we never knew if it was for real, or if it was just an exercise.

I had been out to the field where they loaded. They could have a company airborne in a short amount of time to go anywhere in the world. You know, self contained units. That night, as we listened to President Kennedy speak, I didn’t know a lot going on, because it was highly classified. But I knew how serious it was. I knew everything was classified, hush-hush, you didn’t say a word, classified. So we listened to—we listened to the president’s speech. And, I guess, a lot of us were praying that night, “Turn back, turn back!” Because we knew the devastation of nuclear was. If you recall, we had the underground silos. If you remember, we had the air force staffing underground silos with missiles operating around the clock. This was a scary time. This was a scary time. The idea of nuclear war—when you had seen what had happened in Japan—when you had seen films of what had happened in Japan. And that was a scary time. That was very scary. I guess we were in many ways praying “Turn back, turn back.”

But, I respected President Kennedy so much for being so cool, calm, collected, and telling the Soviet Union “turn them back.”  But we knew. We all knew that the Soviet submarines could lob missiles in at us at anytime off the coast. We had a lot of submarine traffic off of the coast of North Carolina. I think that night as the 18th Airborne Corps—you think of that, that has the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division—it really hits home, because these are the troops that go first. They’re airborne—some of them are airborne in forty-five minutes. When you’ve seen that—when you’ve been out to see these C-130s [Lockheed C-130 Hercules, heavy transport aircraft] lift off, and these people go—I had been out to observe this when I was in G-1.

I mean, the calm—but a lot was going on. Of course we were coordinating with navy personnel quite a bit, working out navy plans. A lot of that, of course, is classified. But I was dating a man and I knew he had been down to Central America. He used to always go on leave down in that area, and he was checking out the terrain. He was checking out the terrain. You know, making observations and—he was in G-3 [officer attached to division operations]. And I know how many times that he was locked up in a top security place working on war plans. You know, I knew that much. I knew what was going on in the headquarters. It was a tense, tense time.

TS:

Were you personally frightened? I mean, do you remember—

EP:

I was concerned. No, no being part of the military, you are very optimistic. But you just hoped that nothing like that happens. Do you remember during this time how many people used to have the cellars—the bunkers—they would stock them with food. Remember the thoughts? And then, of course, I had had a friend who had lived in Cuba and lost everything. He left. His family—his whole family fortune—everything—was taken. [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro took it. And it’s lucky that he got out.

TS:

That was about the time that you joined up—it was ’59 then.

EP:

Right. That’s right. So as I think back, we were concerned. In something like that you pray that there is not that kind of disaster anywhere. But it’s horrifying to think what nuclear weapons can do. We had seen a lot of the movies and pictures. I had a real concern. I wasn’t one of these gung ho people, you know. I’m for peace, no doubt about that. It was a time at Bragg, because these airborne units trained so hard. Everyone has a job to do, and if you don’t do your job well—whether it be supplies or what—if you’re not competent, if you’re not fully capable—people die for it.

But it is awesome at Bragg when the C-130s lift off. I have seen them—one C-130 lift off about every five minutes—not knowing where they’re going. I guess—you know, in retrospect—you’re probably more concerned with it, then at the time. Because at the time—whatever it is—you will do whatever it is that you have to do. And, of course, I was getting ready to go to Europe. At that time I was getting ready to go to Bremerhaven [Germany] to become the commander of the WAC detachment there. Germany, as you know, was a hot spot. So, I don’t know—back at Bragg—I guess I didn’t think about it too much. I was just hoping that we didn’t go to war with the Soviet Union. And it meant war. It meant war if the Soviets did not turn back. We could not, with the threat of Cuba—Yes, we could annihilate Cuba, but they could annihilate—look at our major cities—

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

—that we would have lost.

TS:

You had made a comment earlier about [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev.

EP:

Right.

TS:

Do you want to say what you were thinking of him earlier?

EP:

Oh my. Well, I guess with President Kennedy, I had an awful lot of respect, but with the Soviet Union, whoo. You know, the Germans—the Germans were always so grateful to the Americans—especially the American occupied part of Germany. The leaders of the Soviet Union were scary. But look at that history there. Look at that history. Look how they treated their own people. So I guess in retrospect I just have a great deal of respect for John F. Kennedy. I personally did not care for his personal life at the White House. But as a commander in chief, I thought that he did a superb job. I thought he and his wife when they represented us in Europe, I was proud of them. I was proud of them when they met [President Charles] de Gaulle in France. I thought Kennedy was an intelligent, well-spoken individual. And he didn’t have to serve in the military. His oldest brother was killed as an air force pilot, and he didn’t have to serve and he did serve in a combat situation. I always respected those individuals who gone in harm’s way, and a lot of them who have died. I will say the saddest thing that I have ever seen is Normandy—the cemetery out in Normandy, where the D-Day occurred. The film “The Longest Day” was made along the French coast there in Normandy. The cemeteries —those miles and miles of white crosses. You think of the young, young, young people who died, and how brave they were. And how they could keep their sanity in this situation.

So, going back to the Soviets—

[End of CD 1—Begin CD 2]    

EP:

I don’t know how to treat that history-wise, but I do know the Germans were very grateful and very happy to see the Americans. The French were a little different. The French had been occupied by the Germans and then the Americans came. I think the French— de Gaulle was ready to get us all out of there. So but with the Soviet leader—I’m not that much of a history student. I have a friend down the street. He’s retired air force, and he’s a graduate of Yale [University] and he has a degree in history. It’s interesting to hear him talk sometimes. He knows a lot more, because, you know, I didn’t have as much insight then as I have now. I guess I’ve watched too much military history, and I’ve talked to this neighbor down the street who was a pilot.

TS:

Now back to JFK for just a little bit.

EP:

Back to whom?

TS:

JFK.

EP:

JFK, yes.

TS:

Kennedy—President Kennedy—do you remember when he was assassinated?

EP:

Yes.

TS:

Where were you at when that happened?

EP:

I was in Orleans, France, and we were preparing a skit—an officers’ skit—to raise money. I guess it was to raise money for the Officers’ Women’s Club [Officers’ Wives Club—EP corrected later]. We had a skit and were going to sell tickets. And I was in the skit. At first I wasn’t supposed to be in the skit, and then my colonel had to be evacuated to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center]. And they said “you’re in it”. I hadn’t rehearsed very much. And the word came about the assassination. Of course, everything was canceled—everything was canceled. We were just taken aback. Because when President and Mrs. Kennedy came to France I was very proud of them. They could converse with de Gaulle.

TS:

Were you in the country when they came?

EP:

I think I was. I’m not sure. I think I was there. I think I was there. I’m not sure. You see these movies and retakes and the biographies. But I was in Orleans, France. And I said, “Well, I don’t have to worry about being in this skit, but what a way for it to be canceled.” You know, Colonel Burke was medically evacuated. There she was, a light colonel [lieutenant colonel] and they were giving me everything. I hadn’t rehearsed for this skit or anything. The chief of staff was in it. They had all these colonels in it. There I was, just a low ranking captain: the junior officer in Headquarter Communications Zone Europe. I will never forget that we were just stunned by the thing. Of course, the next morning the flag was at half staff. We probably militarily, were more geared then, not knowing the uncertainty when you lose—even though our vice president becomes president, it’s still a tense time. I don’t think that anyone will ever forget where they were and what day that was. It was so tragic, so sad. It was so uncalled for.

Anyway, I do know that President and Mrs. Kennedy did a real good job representing this country abroad—that—and he was intelligent. He was very intelligent. Like I said, I don’t approve of his personal life later on.

TS:

Yeah. Did—were you aware of that at the time though?

EP:

No. No.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

You know, you hear rumors, but we also heard rumors about General Eisenhower and his driver [Kay Summersby]. You always hear these rumors. You know, there were rumors. But at that time the press kept everything so quiet, and they tolerated so much. I could never figure out quite how Mrs. Kennedy tolerated all of that, but I guess she did. Anyway—

TS:

Well Elsie, we should probably take a little break. You’ve been going for a little while here.

EP:

All right, yeah.

[Recording paused]

TS:

All right, I’m back here with Elsie and I think we’re going to go to Germany, right?

EP:

Okay, Germany.

TS:

Let’s talk about—what was your assignment there?

EP:

Okay. In 1962, I think it was October—October 24th I believe—I reported to Bremerhaven, Germany, where I was to become the company commander. I went as the exec and the company commander was leaving. So the idea there was for me to go to Europe. I had requested this assignment. I went up to the Pentagon and requested European duty. They had an opening as a company commander. And I said, “That sounds great to me.” So I went as a company commander in Bremerhaven, Germany.

TS:

So you said that when you went to the Pentagon—to request it?

EP:

Oh yeah. I was assigned to Fort Bragg and I made a little road trip—made a little road trip up to the Pentagon. And I went to the Women’s Army Corps section and told them I was interested in going to Europe.

TS:

Why did you go in person? Why didn’t you just pick up the phone?

EP:

Well, I have always found that it is better to deal in person. Also, I wanted to see my efficiency reports. I wanted to see my efficiency reports.

TS:

How were they?

EP:

Well, they were great except for the current guy I was working for. Who was—

TS:

Is this at Fort Bragg?

EP:

Yes. At Fort Bragg, what happened was the colonel—who had asked me to set up a program for the youth—a youth project—become a youth activities officer for Fort Bragg—he left. He joined Third Log[istical] command. So we got a new guy in and we clashed at times. I worked very hard. The major who was head of—the entertainment officer was relieved from duty. And I took that job in addition to my job. And then this officer—we clashed. We just didn’t get along. The first thing he wanted me do was— he was getting ready to get out of the military—and he wanted me to edit one of his papers. Well, I had just finished my thesis, and I’m not very good at English and I declined. Anyway, he wanted me to become custodian of an unappropriated fund in addition to all the other jobs that I had. I told him I wasn’t qualified. I said, “I do not have the background in accounting or bookkeeping. I don’t crunch numbers well.” And I said, “I really am not qualified.” I said, “I decline to accept that job.” I said, “You’ll have to court-martial me.”

Anyway, we got along like cats and dogs. Anyway, I didn’t get a good efficiency reporting from him. I told him before I left, “I worked for Colonel So-and-so and I worked for Colonel So-and-so, and those were the highest efficiency ratings possible.” So I said, “I did note your efficiency report.” And let it be.

I had done a tremendous job at Fort Bragg as entertainment officer. I have some clippings from newspaper reporters that will verify that. So anyway, I decided that I didn’t enjoy it. What I did was I worked to turn the entertainment officer’s position into a civilian spot. Because you really needed someone to stay there and to have the training to be the entertainment officer. Because they had a playhouse that seated 906 people, and you really needed someone professionally civilian in that spot.

Anyway, I went up to the Pentagon and I was pretty frank that I was looking for European assignment, did they have anything open. They said, “Well, what about being a company commander at Bremerhaven?”

I said, “Great!” I knew the company commander there. I knew Tex Knolley I knew her. So that’s how I went to Bremerhaven, Germany. I requested European duty.

TS:

Was there something about the platoon commander that was interesting to you too that you wanted to do? Or was it just where you were going?

EP:

Well, first I had been a platoon officer in the basic training battalion.

TS:

Oh, company commander, sorry.

EP:

I had never been an executive officer. Normally what you do—you normally—you become an executive officer. You get some experience. But for some reason, they thought I’d be okay. I had been a platoon officer.

TS:

I see.

EP:

You know, it’s amazing that when you have degrees and you are real young—and you’re one of the youngest people in the army with a master’s degree—it’s—and Dr. Meyer in order to get that thesis finished—he had convinced the whole army that I was brilliant or something.

TS:

How old are you at that time then?

EP:

Okay, I guess. Okay, I must have been twenty-two I guess. I guess twenty-two.

TS:

When you went in the service? Let’s see.

EP:

I went in the service— Okay, I was born in 1936. I guess I was twenty-one, twenty-two—

TS:

Maybe twenty-three? Right.

EP:

Twenty-three, right. So anyway, for the master’s—to be in the military with a master’s degree—there were not that many.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

There weren’t that many second—well, I was a first lieutenant then around. Anyway, they needed a company commander.

TS:

Okay.

EP:

And “Tex” was due to rotate.

So, I went in. I was—I did not like this particular captain. Well, he became a major. I knew his history very well. He was doing things that he shouldn’t have done and I knew that. I’m a stickler about some things. Plus, the fact is that I’m not good with numbers to handle millions and millions of dollars. I don’t care how many CPAs [Certified Public Accountants] you have working for you. You need to be able to crunch numbers and check on your CPAs. You just need to do that. I liked working personnel, you know where— I liked being a platoon officer. I ended up really enjoying that. I finally got that marching down. I finally got the marching down.

TS:

[chuckle] I note you’re smiling now about the marching now.

EP:

I’m smiling now.

This one officer—I had done a lot of work at Fort Bragg and enjoyed it a lot. I met a tremendous number of people who had been called up in National Guard units. You know, the assistant coach on the Perry Como [famous American singer, performer, and actor] Show, young man that worked at Lincoln Center. There was tremendous talent with these reserve units from New York who didn’t expect to be called up. But this particular major, he bothered me a lot. I had friends who said, “Listen, you know, if that man didn’t drag General Yarborough’s name in, he would be long out of there. He’s always covering himself. But he does stupid things.”

I said, “You’re right. He does do stupid things.” I said, “You know, I cannot believe the jobs I was holding down, and he wants me to start editing papers for him so he can get a good civilian job.” I said, “I’m already wearing three or four hats around here. I’ve got the entertainment officer’s job turned into a civilian job. I’ve taken care of the paperwork for that.” You see, I knew the people in G-1. I worked with the people in G-1 real well and I had convinced them. I worked with adjutant. I had worked with so many different people when I was in headquarters at 18th Airborne Corps there.

Anyway, I went to Germany because I wanted the assignment. And it’s good professionally within the Women’s Army Corps—they like for you to have command experience. Professionally, they like for you to do this.

TS:

Now, what was the hardest part about being a company commander?

EP:

Well, I didn’t stay in the job very long. I guess the most difficult things was, you get there and your sergeant says, “This person has attempted suicide two times. And she’s tried it again recently. So you better see her.” So I talked with her, and believe it or not, she was a former platoon—a former member of my platoon. And I—So this was a difficult situation. The young lady thought she was in love, and didn’t think she could get pregnant, got pregnant. She decided that she couldn’t get married. She had tried to commit suicide. So, anyway, believe it or not, I get there and I talk to her. I said, “You know, you do have a responsibility, and these attempts at suicide can damage your baby.” I said, “Let’s see what we can do here. Let’s see what we can work out.” I said, “Meanwhile I want you to make sure that your diet is good, you take your vitamins, you’re not smoking, and let’s think about how we’re going to handle this thing.” I said, “It’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of the world.”

She said, “I can’t go back home,” she said, “I’m from a small town. I’m the oldest child.” I think “I have four or five or six brothers and sisters. I can’t do it.”

I said, “What relatives do you have? Do you have any relative—an aunt or uncle— that you can go and stay with?” And she did.

And then I went to see the company commander of the young man involved. I just told him I said “There is a paternity suit in progress. And I want to meet with you and the young man responsible.” We had a meeting and I looked at the young man. I said, “Corporal So-and-so had nothing to do this.” But I said, “You will assume some financial responsibilities. You will make out an allotment check to help out—to help out—until she sees her way through. And then she decides if she’s going to adopt the baby—If she’s going to give the baby up for adoption or if she’s going to keep the baby.” I said, “I understand that you don’t want to get married.” I said, “but I also,” I said, “I’m insisting that you assume the responsibility of the paternity.”

So we did that and the young man was just shocked out of his shoes. But, you know, this was a difficult situation, and that was difficult. You know, when you find out someone has attempted suicide twice. And I talked with her and she agreed, “Okay.” She worked something out with her aunt and uncle.

I said, “You understand what I did?” I said, “You know, on this paternity thing—because there is a child—because there is a baby involved here. And if you—you make the decision later on. We’re going to make sure that you get proper counseling when you get back to your aunt and uncle and you decide later on.” You know, that was difficult.

One day I came in and the sergeant said, “Lieutenant, you better sit down.”

I said, “Oh no!” This was part of having a large company, and men away from home and this does occur.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

There was no problem with that pregnancy, because she and the young man were in the processes of getting married. The doctor was a little concerned, because of her due date and getting her on a plane.

TS:

I see.

EP:

But anyway, that part of being a company commander is—you know, because these people are upset. The very idea of someone trying to—attempting suicide—as we all know, sometimes it’s a way to get attention to try to work something out.

TS:

Well, do you think that because of the restrictions for women at that time too—they couldn’t stay in if they had a dependent child. Do you think—

EP:

That’s right. If you were pregnant that was a sure way out. If you wanted to get out that was a sure way out—to get pregnant.

TS:

But if you didn’t want to get out?

EP:

No, you had to get out. You had no choice.

TS:

Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. Maybe that’s a pressure too, do you think, that affected some of the women?

EP:

I really don’t know. But wherever you have young people and they’re away from home, and hormones raging—you have some of this. Even though you try to encourage—if you’re going to be involved, be involved in safe, safe sex. And certainly the men from days of World War II—or wherever—is protected sex. I don’t know.

You know, that’s something that I hadn’t expected to be hit with. I knew that when we were unloading ships, that everything is geared at the port. My people in my company would be working around the clock. Also, at that time there was the Berlin crisis [The Berlin Crisis of 1961 cumulated in the erection of the Berlin Wall], and we had responsibilities in case we had to evacuate Europe. We had a lot of dependents there. The WAC detachment was quite involved in that plan of evacuation. At that time we always had to keep our cars half full of gasoline. We always had to be in our barracks at midnight. Officers were required to do that. Enlisted people were required to be in at a certain time, because of the tense situation. This was during the Berlin Crisis. So in retrospect, you know, it’s really hard to say there. It’s hard. But these were times—because of the Soviet Union, I guess things were tense in some respects. And you talked with the German people then, and they become even more so, because of what happened to their relatives in eastern Germany. It really, you know, it sinks in here.

With personnel, this was a unit with the ships coming in. That was the jobs. On pay day, I would go down to the docks to pay, so that these people could keep working. A ship comes in, it’s got to be unloaded, the goods have got to be dispatched over Europe. So it was an interesting assignment. I wasn’t there very long, because I met General Tank, and he had me transferred to the Headquarters Communication Zone Europe and the G-1.

TS:

We’ll get to that in a second, because I do want to talk about General Tank. So the women—So, you were commanding all women?

EP:

Yes, this was an all women outfit. Now when I was at Fort Bragg, and I was the entertainment officer, we had squad rooms and I had men—all men there. When I was the entertainment officer at Bragg—at the Fort Bragg playhouse, which has been torn down since then—we had squad rooms. I was able to have some men assigned to me, and they lived there. In that way they didn’t have to stay in company and pull KP [kitchen police/patrol] and the other stuff. Because of the kind of work we were doing in the entertainment division—especially like plays—Bye Bye Birdie [a 1960 stage musical.] Our work was at night. We would close down at 1 AM in the morning. I would make my safety inspection at 1 AM in the morning.

TS:

Well, did you have any trouble with any of the men as far as your authority went over them or things like that?

EP:

Oh, no, no problems—no problems at all. No, we got along fine. And primarily a lot of these people were there were especially assigned to the entertainment division. And they were begging me—begging me. We had a way of checking everybody out. We said we only had one opening, “shoveling coal in the furnace—are you willing to do that?” No, with that—in the entertainment division there where I had those men.

These were very talented men, and it’s like one who was the assistant coach of the Perry Como Show. An artillery unit would have ruined his ears. It would have ruined his ears. So I was able to talk his battalion commander into letting him come to me, that we would take the entertainment out in the field for his troops. Some other men—the signal corps men, they didn’t have any equipment—they had been called up, but they didn’t have any equipment. They were folk singers. They were from Indiana, so I was able to put them to work as folk singers. So we did a lot of that. There is a lot of stuff like that goes on in a MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] unit—trading and swapping—with that battalion commander. We did.

We took these low bed trucks—I forget what you called it. Once there had been a parachute drop across the DZ [drop zone], we got a clearance to go across and provide entertainment. We had the singers and Bye Bye Birdie and some of the dancers. Of course we had portable sound, lights, and everything. I won’t forget one guy wrapping up his parachute. He had just dropped in. He said, “Am I seeing things?”

I said, “No, you’re not seeing things. Come see Bye, Bye, Birdie. And we went out—

TS:

Where was this at?

EP:

This was at Fort Bragg, where I was the entertainment officer. So I worked with men very closely there. It’s like my men in squad rooms. I was just real frank. I said, “Okay guys, this is the way it is. No booze. This is a military building. No booze. If I inspect and I find any liquor—trash can. In certain areas you can smoke.” But at the same time, I was the same person who was getting tennis sneakers for these guys to wear, because I was worried about all the electrical equipment. I would come in with tennis shoes. I was the one who would go to Greensboro and get all this theatre equipment and all this stuff, and requisitions didn’t go through and I would sign for it. We would head up to Playmakers at the University of North Carolina. So we had—

TS:

What was it with the tennis shoes?

EP:

Okay, in—when you’re doing a theatrical production in an old building and there is so much electrical equipment from your lighting and your sound—this was a safety precaution, because it was an old, old building, I mean the fire inspector was always all over us. And tennis shoes, you know, with your soft [rubber—EP added later] soled shoes, tennis shoes—you’re safer. Or if there are any damp spots and you’re working with equipment.

TS:

Oh, I see.

EP:

It’s a safety factor.

TS:

Oh, I see. Okay.

EP:

But these guys, we got along just fine. We did a tour of 3rd Army. It’s the same way we did in Atlanta [Georgia]—they were offered an opportunity to do a gig at a club. They said, “you know, we’ve heard some much about Atlanta—we’re from New York City but we’ve heard so much about Atlanta nightlife.” I told the guys, I said “Okay. I’ll let you use my station wagon, but tomorrow morning I want one sober driver. That’s it.” So we got along fine. I just laid out the course.

It was the same way for inspections. I said, “Okay.” Call Jim in, I said “When the inspectors get here I want you in your uniform. Be sure to get your jump wings on.”  We always had these uniforms—I would get them tailored uniforms—you know, [special—EP added later] patent leather boots. And I said “Corporal So-and-so, that sad sack.” We got him because he was messing up inspections for his units. I said, “I don’t care how you do it, but make sure he is clean!” I said, “I will ask no more questions, but he had better be clean, and he had better be in a starched uniform. I’m not saying how to do it,” I said “Just get it done, and then I’m out of here.”

So we got along well. With them—these guys they were in the entertainment business, and as long as they were busy they were happy. I had to keep them busy, because when I took that unit over the CID [United States Army Criminal Investigation Command], they had the telephone tapped.

TS:

Why is that?

EP:

Well, the young girls chasing these entertainers. And you don’t want general’s daughters meeting privates and PFCs [Private First Class]—entertainment types. It’s like one young man, I had to call him in. I said, “I know, I know, this teenager is really carried away with you.” But I said, “Her father is a general and he doesn’t want her dating any military people—period”. You know, she’s only seventeen years old. And I said, “If you are seen with her again,” I said, “You will end up being sent to the boondocks—the field units—and you will never see civilization until it’s time to get out.”

But these young—the wives were just as bad. They would just chase these guys. I had a sergeant one time. He called me up, he said, “Okay, one of your men is running around with a lieutenant’s wife. He’s out in the field, but when he comes back he’ll shoot him.” He said, “You know, he will flat out kill him.”

I said, “Okay Sergeant, I will take care of it.” I had to call him in and said, “Listen, you’re playing with dynamite here. This is an airborne infantry officer’s wife. I don’t care how great she thinks you are, you better not be seen with her again. I know you can play that piano, I know that you’re great, but you just got to say no to her.”

But it was the same way—My brother was running the officer’s club swimming pool. He said, “Okay, your men are down here with the nurses. I had to get them out of there, because I know who they are and this is an officer club’s pool.” But these were the nurses. These were the army nurses. So it was—these guys were talented and good looking and the productions that they did were tremendous. But, boy did the women chase them. They were very, very talented, and very, very nice.

TS:

Since they were in entertainment, were any of them—would you say that any of them were gay or homosexual? Did you ever notice any of that at all?

EP:

Oh, we probably had one or two. One or two who were. In okay, like Bye Bye Birdie let’s face it, a lot of your dancers—they’re gay. What I arranged was with the crime reporter for the Federal Observer [Fayetteville News—EP corrected later]—Pat Reese—he was in some of our productions— and I arranged that all parties—everything was off base at his house. I said, “Look, I’ll make an appearance and I’ll give out the cigarette lighters with Bye Bye Birdie on them. I will thank everybody and say ‘nice job done’ and I’m out of here.” We had, but I think—especially with the—but, at that time you didn’t say that you were gay. You know, you just didn’t do it. But a lot of your creative, talented people in the arts are gay. I really didn’t care—I didn’t care. A lot of my men were certainly not gay, because of all the women chasing them.

TS:

[laughs] Right.

EP:

Listen, I said, “Not only the booze,” I said, “no women either. No women—No liquor, no women, not in this military [building—EP added later]—” You know, this was like a barracks basically. “You want to stay here because you’re not pulling KP, you’re getting special rations for meals.” Because, they detested KP duty. And I didn’t want them on KP duty, because in a production, I couldn’t have them missing for KP duty.

I had a young man, he had a union card from Broadway for lighting. I had another one with a union card for sound. These were very, very talented people. We did a lot of plays. We collaborated with other installations for plays. We were very fortunate that Pat Reese—the crime reporter for the Fayetteville paper —he was very good in our plays. He did me a lot of favors. I told him one time, I said, “Pat, convince that provost marshal that if anything comes up with my guys, call me and keep it off the blotter please—keep it off the blotter.” At one time we had “Vinegar Joe”—that was General “Vinegar Joe’s” [General Joseph Stilwell] son—General Stilwell Junior [as chief of staff—EP added later] . And he didn’t put up with any nonsense. Let me tell you. He did not. I said—and I told the guys—I said “Okay, this the way that it’s got to be. We don’t have a choice.” I tried to put it on a sort of “we’re in this together, and this is what we have got to do to survive.” And we have an inspection, “Okay Jim, I want you to run out there, those [jump—EP added later] wings on your uniform and salute him.” I said, “And what do you say?”

He said, “All the way, sir”.

All men—I had to get tailored boots [EP changed later: tailored uniforms.] [interviewer sneezes] I told them “Get your boots. I know you don’t like shining boots. I know you don’t know how to put a shine on your boots. Take them to a place—a shop—where they do the shoe shine.” I said, “Have all this gear setting up, so that you can get in it and make sure everybody has had a haircut”. By I would always make sure—Jim, he was the one who had gone through airborne training and had the wings. I would always say, “You report when they come in.”

The Inspector General said—he got there one time and he said, “I didn’t know that an old building could look so well.”

I said, “There’s been a lot of graduate degrees working around here.” I said, “I’ve been right with them cleaning and painting and everything.” Because we were an entertainment division, of course, we could get a lot of different types of paints. Of course, we did a lot of trading. We did a lot of trading for different things. I had a sergeant working for me who had been in Special Forces. They were getting—you would get all kinds of things in Special Forces, because they were getting money directly from the Pentagon. Special Forces were the envy of everyone because of all the money they were getting.

Anyway, with the men I felt they—Now, I don’t know what they thought of me. They had the idea that the entertainment officer—when they found later on that it would be turned into a civilian spot, they said, “That’s great.” Because, I was really frank with them. I said, “I don’t know anything about putting on a play, I know nothing. Now, yeah, I’ve helped with publicity, with productions, I’ve been around, I’ve taken a drama course. But I’m always open for advice here. You have to remember, this is a military unit.”

But it worked out real well. As long as they stayed busy—they were happy to be doing something—and they were enjoying it. One guy who had been on the Perry Como Show—been a coach there—his hearing—if he had been out with an artillery unit, you know what that would have done. Because there is no way that you can protect your ears in an artillery unit.

TS:

Were these guys drafted then?

EP:

These were National Guard units called up.

TS:

I see.

EP:

Now I don’t know, one young man who was airborne, I think he had joined. He had ended up in the entertainment division, because of his background. He enjoyed it, and that’s what he intended to do when he got out. At that time they were calling Guard units up. And we did— The [EP changed later: Some] Guard units did not have the equipment and were not prepared. At that time very few of them had ever been called up. These guys in New York, they thought they were safe. They thought that they would not be drafted, and lo and behold their unit was called up. And they were in a state of shock.

So I had a lot of people. Word got out that “All your eight balls, send over to the entertainment division”.

TS:

What’s an eight ball? [Eight ball is military slang for a soldier often in trouble]

EP:

Well, it’s like this one little guy— inspection. He was a talented artist, but his sergeant said, “This guy has ruined every inspection I have.” You know, he just—it was just unfortunate, but you know, I had a friend in the military and she was the same way. You could have her ready for inspection, and you’d get back and she’d be unbuttoned or something.

So, you know the word got out. He was doing some artwork for us on the side. The word got out that I did have this squad room, and that I have some men assigned to me [EP added later : assigned to me at Entertainment Division, Special Services]. And it worked out. I had one guy in charge—my sergeant didn’t live there, so I had one—Jim—I forget what his rank was. He was a specialist. And I said, “You know, you’re in charge here, and I hold you responsible.” The guys, we got along fine. It’s like my boss—my man over me—he expected me at work at eight o’clock the next morning, even though I had made a safety check [after a play—EP added later] at 1 a.m. in the morning. And there was no way that [I was—EP corrected later] going home. We had over nine hundred people [attending the play—EP added later.]

One time we had so many people waiting to get in that I had to call the military police to come out, because we could only accommodate [a limited number—EP added later]—and the fire marshal was right there. He said, “You cannot have anybody standing around. You cannot have anybody standing around.” Because the productions were so well received. We did have all this talent—this tremendous talent. [Bye Bye Birdie was held over for three days—EP added later.]

TS:

How long were you there?

EP:

At Fort Bragg?

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

I guess I was there, I guess, a year and a half, I guess. It was interesting. It was interesting —and the talented people. And I met a lot of people. It was different. But that job, I was glad I was able to get that turned into a civilian spot—that really was— We had a lot—at Fort Bragg—thousands and thousands of civilians who worked there, and some of them in very high positions. I know the budget officer for the special services unit, he had a PhD and he was civilian.

TS:

A lot to pick from. Well, let’s go to General Tank now.

EP:

Oh, General Tank, right!

TS:

Well, we’re going back to Germany and Elsie is going to tell us about General Tank.

EP:

Well, General Tank was the chief of staff for [United States Army] Communications Zone, Europe. He was coming to Bremerhaven, Germany, and we had a reception for him at the officers’ club. My unit was not on his itinerary to be inspected—the WAC—Women’s Army Corps detachment there. So anyway, it’s over the lunch hour, and for some reason I didn’t go out to lunch that day. My sergeant comes in and says, “General Tank is going to be visiting. They say that he is going to be here at one o’clock.”

I said, “What?!” Because, you know, you do extra things if you’re going to have a big inspection, and here we are not planning anything. This was in the middle of the lunch hour. So I didn’t have an extra uniform there, and I had been sitting at my desk and my skirt was all wrinkled. So I took my skirt off and handed it to my sergeant and said, “Get this pressed.”

TS:

You’re sitting there in your slip?

EP:

I’m sitting there in my slip. Oh yeah. And normally—normally, I always keep an extra uniform handy, but for some reason I didn’t. I just didn’t. We were in an out of the way place— Bremerhaven, Germany—so anyway, I barely get that skirt back on and it’s a quarter of one.  It’s early and the general and the [his—EP corrected later] aide and his staff shows up to inspect the women’s barracks. This is an old building—big, old. And we go up to, I guess, the fourth floor, and there’s ropes with knots tied to the radiator. He wants to know what that is. I said, “Well, that is a fire escape. You know, we don’t have any [outside—EP corrected later] stairs or anything. That is a fire escape.”

He said, “Well, have you checked it out?”

I said, “No.” I said, “Captain Knolly who was here before, she did.” I said, “There’s no way you’re going to get me going down there unless this building is on fire.” I said, “This building has got to be on fire.” You know, I’m not very happy about the fact that here I almost had to have my sergeant meet him because my skirt was out. We weren’t supposed to be inspected. And then they show up even earlier once they say he’s coming. So anyway, we go down to the recreation room, and we had a billiards table there. And he looks at me and here’s this short, short general—supposedly rumored the shortest general to ever graduate from West Point [United States Military Academy at West Point].

He looks at me and says, “I didn’t know women shot pool!”

I said, “Well, General Tank, we call it billiards and in some of the leading women’s colleges it’s taught as a recreational sport.”

“Where did you go to school?”

So I told him where I went to school. So he points to his aide, “Take this down.” He checks the unit out, and so I go to reception that night, and I’m going through the receiving, you know the line, General Tank starts talking, and he talks and he talks.

TS:

To you?

EP:

To me! I’m very embarrassed at this point. So finally, I’ve got to move on.

TS:

You’re holding up the line, right?

EP:

I’ve got to move up. You better believe that I’m holding up the line. The port commander comes over to me [later—EP added later] and he says, “You’ll have orders within two weeks.”

I said, “What? I just got here. I’m a company commander!”

TS:

How long had you been there?

EP:

Okay, this was in December and I didn’t get there­— I got there in late October—late October.

TS:

So a couple of months.

EP:

October 24th—I think the report-in date was October 24th. I hadn’t been there very long. I had assumed command—Captain Knolly was there for a few days. I guess she was there for four or five days and then she left.

TS:

So a couple of months you were there?

EP:

Yeah. I’ve been there for a couple of months—well this was December, bitter cold winter in Germany. Sure enough I got the orders to report to Headquarters of Communications Zone, Europe. I was being assigned to G-1 in a spot designated by Chief of Staff General Tank. I said, “I can’t believe this.”

They said, “Listen. When General Tank says something it doesn’t matter what the regulations say. It doesn’t matter that you’ve got thirty days to do inventory and get a replacement in and get unit fund transferred and all that stuff. When he says, you know, and if you don’t drive in, his plane will be there to pick you up.”

I said, “Okay. Okay. Yes sir. Yes sir.” Well anyway, I was—I went to Headquarters Communication Zone, Europe and that was in Orleans, France. I drove in one of the worst winters ever. It was one of the worst winters ever. The autobahn was open in one lane, and I got to France and it was all ice. Anyway, I was able to get my car to Orleans, France. There, what General Tank wanted me to do was at Communications Zone Europe we had twenty some subordinate installations, and this was the logistical command to supply logistics to the armed services in Europe—to keep the pipeline—you know the pipeline for fuel for NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. You know, we had the pipeline scattered—the pipeline—they fuel off the coast of France and this pipeline went through France. And we had small units—technicians—and we had the [ logistical—EP corrected later] command trucks moving equipment [and supplies—EP added later.]

He said, “I want you to visit and I want you to give recommendations for whatever you can do to improve morale and improve services—to check everything out and make improvements, and get things done.”

That was really nice. I did TDY [temporary duty assignment] in Paris, France. We were located—We had a unit located outside of Paris. So I visited a lot of these military installations. And I did some things—practical things. You know, signs where they could find the USOs [United Service Organizations]—making recommendations to the people, the USOs—service clubs, I should say, making recommendations on different things. What I normally would do was when I would get there was to ask them “What is your problem? What needs to be done? And what is happening?”

Like off the coast of France, one young lieutenant who was wearing ten different hats, so many things. He says, “I keep trying to get fishing gear and I can’t get fishing gear.”

I said, “Don’t worry, you’ll have your fishing gear within seven days. Don’t worry, it will be here within seven days.”

And then, in some areas the service clubs would say, “I really wish we could have”—no, I guess this was a librarian—“paperback books.” And I said “yes, paperback books that you could give to these drivers. And they could take with them, right? Paperback books that you come in and relax a little bit. You’re driving these trucks. This is routine duty. You’re driving a vehicle—that you can take with you.” This person said, “I can’t get books. I order books, I can’t get books. I can’t get them paperback books.”

I said, “Give me a list of what you want,” and I said “you will have them within seventy-two hours.” So I called the person up at [Headquarters—EP added later] Communications Zone, Europe there in Orleans, France, who was in charge of this, I just said, “This is Captain Pickett,” and I told him what I was doing on General Tank’s behalf, and what General Tank wanted. I just said, “I want paperback books within seventy-two hours delivered to Camp De Loges or wherever it was. I said, “They’ve put in order after order after order, and it’s not being completed. It’s not being completed. It’s not being recognized. It’s not getting here for some reason.”

Now General Tank, like I said, we got along fine. But they said that when it came to Bremerhaven, Germany—when he would go duck hunting—they would have ducks and release them to make sure he got some ducks. He did have a reputation, because I could not believe when I would get some place—I could not believe field grade officers showing that kind of fear. But General Tank had such a reputation. He really had a reputation. He wanted automotive shops, where the GIs could work on their vehicles: you know, go, clean your car up, and work on mechanical thing. You know, guys like to work on their cars and stuff like that. He was concerned about morale [of the enlisted personnel—EP added later] in France.

TS:

This was ’62-’63?

EP:

This was, yeah, ’62, ’63, ‘64—in that time we didn’t really have many accommodations [in France— EP added later]. It wasn’t like Germany, where we had installation [housing— EP added later] and barracks. It was pretty rough and a lot of these people were living on the economy. And morale, this was difficult duty; because, the French had been occupied by the Germans, and then the Americans come in, we’re driving the big cars and wanting the telephones. De Gaulle was wanting us all out of there. You know de Gaulle— I was in Poitiers, France, one time and there was “No American vehicles on the street here, de Gaulle is coming.” So, it was a little difficult, but you had to understand the French viewpoint there too. Americans were coming in and they were getting the good places to stay. You had to wait to get a telephone and there was a higher priority for the military to get a telephone.

TS:

There was a little resentment then?

EP:

A little resentment, yes. And the men—the [some—EP corrected later] enlisted men [assumed that they—EP changed later] were not allowed to bring their wives [at army expense— EP added later]. You had to be a certain rank before you could bring the wives, so they had a lot of the wives coming and living on the economy. But they had no barracks—no housing—and it was expensive. It was very expensive. Like where my quarters—I had to live off the installation. I didn’t live in government quarters, because I was considered a bachelor and they had quarters for families, priority of a certain rank.

So anyway, what we were trying to do was improve morale. But later on General Tank was sent to SHAFE [Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces, Europe]—I guess the Peter Principle [humorous theory that states “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”], because he was creating so much havoc. And like I said, I get along fine with him, but he really—when I went anywhere I could not believe—they were so nice to me and so accommodating to me, because I was—I guess the word had gotten out, “This is General Tank’s personal representative here. I was real frank with them about what the general wanted, and why he wanted it. We had to improve morale. We had to reduce AWOL [absent without leave] rates. We had to reduce infractions with what we had, and we were limited and we were limited about how much money we could spend. We had to make do with the Status of Forces agreement [an agreement between a host country and a foreign nation stationing forces in that country]. This is what we agreed on when we were in France. These were the rules, and we had to play by them.  Everything was expensive. So anyway, that was an interesting job.

TS:

It seems like you were kind of a red tape breaker?

EP:

What?

TS:

Your broke the red tape.

EP:

I think there were some times—I think it’s very frustrating for people who have so much responsibility and so many jobs—especially young officers—you’re detailed about eight, nine, ten things to do, and you’re trying to requisition something. And, you know, there’s a lot of trading going on, believe me. You get to know people and you call them and say “I need so-and-so and so-and-so, can you help me out?”

But I was a little disappointed. We had—some of the people in Orleans were civilians and very well paid. And they didn’t understand, I don’t think, how difficult it was living out on the economy. And there you are and some of these very, very intelligent and bright people—that pipeline and how essential it was for that fuel and supporting our forces. We didn’t know at anytime with the situation with the Soviet Union—we didn’t know. Like I said, we were always required to keep always a half tank of gas, be in our quarters by a certain time. We were limited how many of us could be on leave at any one time. The teachers—civilians—got to travel a lot on weekends. We couldn’t on weekends, because we were required to be near our duty stations because of the tense international situation—specifically there with the Cold War.

TS:

Why do you think General Tank picked you for this job?

EP:

Well, I think one thing is that I talked back to him, and of course the education thing. You know, where I went to school and what I did. I think he liked it when I told him I wasn’t trying it [the rope fire escape—EP clarified later], I wasn’t trying going down that rope thing with knots in it from the fourth or fifth floor. You know, gee whiz. Now “Tex” did it. She was a Texan. It was the same way for payroll. “Tex” never wanted an MP [Military Police Officer]. She would take her .45 [pistol] and she would go pick up that payroll. There was talk in Bremerhaven of Tex and her .45. So when the sergeant asked me I said, “Yes, request the biggest meanest looking MP that you can find to escort me when I pick up payroll, and when I go down to the docks to pay the troops off.” The others reported to the company payday. I said, “No, you’re not going to see me hiking around with a .45.” I just want a big, big, ugly military policeman to be there—I was responsible for money.

Well anyway, I guess with General Tank—you know, he was very nice to me. He gets there [I get there—EP corrected later] and my hand is in a cast and he wants to know what happened to my hand. I said, “Well, I was playing basketball and I broke a finger.” But he had certain things that he wanted to get done. There were some people not that concerned about morale of the enlisted personnel. Our resources were short. I thought a lot of it [the general’s behavior—EP clarified later], he was compensating, because he was so short. I mean he was short. But he was—I mean he had a reputation.

TS:

But it sounds like he cared about his troops too.

EP:

Well, I thought he cared about his troops. He was concerned and he was concerned with doing practical things. And he was concerned with [the fact that] we had a limited amount of money. One installation commander he wanted a bowling alley. But with the Status of Forces agreement, there was no way that we could convert that particular building. And then we also had to keep in mind that we had certain war plans. In case of war, what a particular building would be used for. Plus, we didn’t have the money for—we didn’t have the money for a bowling alley—not in that little small location.

And there was this one place, that I was not the only one who visited. A team of us visited and we recommend that that base commander be relieved of duty—relieved of duty. What I did was I went ahead of the party. There were three of us going on that, because this one installation was having so many problems, three of us were going to visit.

TS:

Were the others men or women that went with you?

EP:

Men, all of them. There were—Okay, we had some women, but in G-1 we had Colonel Burke, Colonel Hinckley, and then Colonel Burke was going to replace Colonel Hinckley when she retired, and me. I was the junior officer in the headquarters except for one lieutenant who was a CPA who was there to handle money. We went—what I did was I told them team that I would go early. I will go early. So I went early and I went to the PX [Post Exchange] exchange cafeteria. I just sat around and I just listened. I was not in uniform. I was in civilian clothes. I sat around and listened and talked to some of the wives. I found out an awful lot of what was going on. I found out that the men had been confined to barracks, because they had smashed a picture of the commander, the installation commander. They had all been confined to barracks until someone confessed to doing it—all would be restricted.

TS:

Confessed?

EP:

A lot of these men, they had wives that were living on the economy, that were not in military quarters. These wives were very unhappy not knowing when their husbands would be released or when—it was—I learned a lot. I just thought that that would be—and I got the viewpoint of the spouse. And I did find out a lot of what was going on and later on— At this particular installation that had a high court-martial rate, they had a high AWOL rate—lots of morale problems there—lots of problems.

TS:

He was just using the hammer apparently.

EP:

Pardon?

TS:

He was just using the hammer on them.

EP:

Well, this particular commander wasn’t that good. He wasn’t that good. They had problem with their money too—accounting for monies that had been—the non-appropriated actives money that comes from exchanges and all to be used. There were problems there. And you’re always held accountable—whoever is in charge—whoever is the commanding officer, you may delegate, but you’re always held responsible. What you do is that you make sure that you have competent people in, and that you check on them. I will never forget that one time—this team that we went with we had an engineer, we had a CPA type lieutenant, and I was there. And we did recommend—I felt sort of strange about it. This was field grade officer, but we all concluded that he would be better doing something else—that he was not cut out for an installation commander. He had appointed some—he made bad decisions—especially handling some of the funds.

But General Tank wanted responses. You know, he didn’t want a high AWOL rate or a high infraction. There were a lot of things that you look at. A lot of things that you look at there. I will never forget, this was— I hated doing it, but this was a team decision that we recommended to the G-1, and he recommended it to the commanding general that this officer be reassigned. That he just be reassigned.

I guess I helped out a little bit there. I met a lot of interesting people. I will never forget getting out of Paris. This one officer drove me in and the next morning it was foggy and raining and I’m trying to drive my away out of Paris. And I didn’t know Paris that well. I did not know Paris that well. I thought, “Oh man, if I ever get out of here.” I told that guy that I didn’t want to stay in Paris—I wanted to stay outside of Paris. But he had reserved a hotel room for me in Paris. I said, “oh my.” I finally found my way out of there. But normally what I would do between Orleans and Paris I would—I liked to ride the train and use subways. But because I was visiting various installations I was driving that day. But I was sure glad—and I’ll never forget and being in Paris that morning: the rain, the fog, and the one way streets. I said, “If I ever catch up with that officer again, I’m going to—”

TS:

You don’t even want to say it.

EP:

I guess he was so familiar with Paris, and he didn’t expect that next morning all the fog and the rain. He didn’t draw me a very good map.

TS:

That doesn’t help either. Well, what kind housing did you live in then?

EP:

Okay, I lived on the economy. I could not find a place in Orleans. What happened was if you found quarters available—quarters were so rationed that you had to get approval there. They would list the apartments and according to how nice. I found a beautiful apartment and it hadn’t been listed. And so I got it listed, and somebody else [with higher priority—EP added later] wanted it. I found out this from a civilian Frenchmen who worked for us. He had told me about the friends and they were moving. So I lived outside of Orleans about eight or nine miles out. I lived in what had been a chateau. They had stables. They had these stone—stone villas. I met Madam and Monsieur and they rented out a couple of places to Americans. I had just a small kitchen and a bedroom. Anyway, I found this place. No telephone and I had to drive seven or eight miles out. It had been a French château, and these were stables that had been converted into housing.

Madam and Monsieur were real interesting, and I got to know them real well. My car—my station wagon—was vandalized and all these Nazi symbols were put all over it. So they showed me their safe tunnel to the river, and they showed it to me and where they kept extra food during the occupation, and how to get down to the river.  This was an underground tunnel.

TS:

Interesting.

EP:

They showed that— They didn’t say anything about it until after my car had been vandalized. Then they said, “Ah, open the gates, and we bring your station wagon in.”

TS:

Ah, to protect it.

EP:

Yes. We did have some people who were Nazi, you know, collaborated with Germans. And we had some who were Communists and there were parts of France that I was told on certain days to keep your [car—EP added later] doors locked, your windows rolled up, and get through the areas fast; because, they’re having May Day celebrations and they do not care for Americans.

But Madam and Monsieur were so nice. But that place, it was so cold—you know, the stone. We had a rough [winter—EP added later].  Before I found this place I stayed in a hotel for three months. They did have provisions where you could stay in a hotel [for a limited time—EP added later]. I got there and my friend had a place, but it was so cold and my hand was broken—I had the broken finger from playing basketball—I just told her—she was in the military too.  I said, “I thank you. It’s lovely. And it’s on the river and I know it’s nice to have a boat and everything, but I can’t tolerate how cold it is. I’m a southerner.” So I stayed in the hotel until I found a place and later on this Captain Malvo she moved into the hotel because she couldn’t tolerate how cold it was.

TS:

Oh. Where was she from?

EP:

She was from Hawaii.

TS:

Oh, okay.

EP:

So anyway, I found this place and you do a lot of word of mouth. This dentist had been out there—single officer—he had lived there before I got the place. It was listed and I went out and looked at it. But this officer always slept with a pistol, and he kept everything locked up. I was just the opposite. Because this leaking gas—you know these propane gas tanks—I liked to have the windows opened. It would upset Madam and Monsieur because, they were used to at night these big wooden shutters being clamped down. I said “listen,” —we had one person to be asphyxiated with this propane gas. I said, “I don’t want to take any chances with these.” I had a little hot plate. It was sort of like a hot plate [stove—EP added later] with propane tank gas.

TS:

Right.

EP:

No, I do think I smuggled in the hot plate later on for hot tea. But Madam and Monsieur, that would really bother them. Because this other lieutenant wanted everything tied up and having a pistol there, he would come and go with his pistol. I don’t know what it was with that. I stayed there. And it was interesting, because I got to meet—there was another couple who was there. It was a sergeant and his wife, and their little daughter spoke four languages fluently. She learned French and Monsieur was Italian, and he taught her Italian. She could speak four languages, bright little child. Her mom made the best apple pies. It was always so good to come in and they would say, “Lieutenant,”—I was captain by then—“I just made a homemade pie, how about a slice of apple pie?”

Well, I knew them and for the longest time they didn’t have car. Eventually they got a car. I got to know her quite well. I got to know a lot of the enlisted people pretty well. My sergeant who worked for me, his family came over. No housing for them, no telephone. His wife’s baby was due. I will never forget when it was about due date, and he had to pull duty. I didn’t assign him to duty, it was a company thing. And he couldn’t afford to pay someone to take his duty. So I said, “I will stay with her until midnight. But after that, I need to get some sleep, because I’m the on-call officer for G-1 tomorrow. And you know how they [the higher headquarters in Germany—EP clarified later] like to hound us on Saturdays, because we have Saturday [mornings—EP added later] off and they don’t.” And I said, “I got to be sharp, because I will be in representing the G-1 at the headquarters tomorrow.”

This was a sergeant. He thought he was going to Germany. He got diverted to France. So, there was no housing for him, no furniture for him, and there he was. But he wanted to get his wife over before the baby was born. It was hard for him. But he was a good sergeant. I liked him a lot. But housing—it was difficult to find housing. And it was a brutal winter. We had some brutal weather. When the Rhine [River] freezes over, and the sewage lines don’t work because the water is freezing, it was really rough. I will never forget one day I couldn’t get in to my car.

TS:

It was frozen.

EP:

The locks were frozen. This guy pulls out a match and he heats the key and shows me how to do it. But in Orleans—this was when I was staying in the hotel, we had to park—we had to shift sides of the street to park.

TS:

Yeah.

EP       I was pretty, you know, panicked at that point. I’m due over on that side. I think I did get a ticket, and I went down and explained to them that I was new, and I didn’t understand that I was supposed to do.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

And I then I had trouble getting in my car.

So, but anyway, in the headquarters I got to know a lot of the Frenchmen. One Frenchman who worked down the hall, I liked him a lot. I got the French perspective, and what it was like when they were occupied by the Germans and what they had been through. But Madam and Monsieur, they were so nice, but they were so upset by what had been done to my car and the Nazi symbols all over it.

TS:

It was interesting that they showed you the secret way down to the river.

EP:

There was a river; I guess about two miles away. And then they had this underground tunnel. And they had extra food—they kept food: potatoes and—

TS:

In the tunnel?

EP:

Well, it was sort of like a cave and it went down and they had extra food there. They had extra food. Then they said [there—EP corrected later] was a place where we would get to the river, and there were boats there if we needed to. That was the only reason they told me. Of course, I never told anyone about it.

TS:

Right.

EP:

I didn’t say anything to the lady or the sergeant who lived in the next little villa. We were in an enclosed compound. Like I said, it was an old château that they had turned into stables [villas—EP corrected later.]

TS:

Right. So you kept it to yourself?

EP:      Well, yes. I figured, you know, that they did that just in case. They’re not knowing, and not knowing what the Soviets were going to do. They had endured a lot. They were elderly. They were elderly—very very old. They were very nice, because I came in early one day. They said, “Why are you home early? Why early? Why early?”

I said, “Wisdom tooth.” I had a fishhook wisdom tooth. I met one of the dentists where we used to eat at the general’s mess. We went to the general’s mess and we got a lot of work done that way. And he said, “You know your x-rays show a fishhook wisdom tooth. You better let me take that out.” So we set up a Friday—a Friday afternoon, I would go get it done. I would go directly [home—EP added later]. You know, because it was surgery there.

I will never forget Madam and Monsieur. I came in and, oh, am I hurting. Later on I’m hurting, I developed the dry socket. I will never forget this little glass of something they gave me to drink. Wow! Oh boy, it took your breath away.

TS:

[chuckle] It took the little pain off of the tooth I’m sure.

EP:

Oh, you bet. I don’t know what it was. It was just a small glass.

TS:

Smaller than a shot glass even, huh?

EP:

Yeah, smaller than a shot glass. And boy was that stuff strong. And ooh, did it take your breath away. They said that “this would help.” They were very nice.

TS:

I was going to ask you, Elsie, what you did on your off time?

EP:

Off time?

TS:

Yeah, your free time.

EP:

[chuckle] Free time?

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

Unfortunately, there was no such thing as free time then.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

I went in and Colonel Burke—the lady who came in to replace—she was in our office, and she was to replace Colonel Hinckley. Colonel Hinckley, she was the WAC staff advisor for third logistical command. Colonel Burke came in—I guess she came in from the Pentagon and she was in our office. But I worked with her. I was directly under her.

One summer we had a summer camp down near Bordeaux. And the teacher who was supposed to run the camp [program—EP added later] is running around with the GIs, KP things [personnel—EP added later], and drinking beer. So that report comes in and she is relieved. Colonel Burke said that you’re going down to run—I guess Camp Kazua it was—it was a summer program for the girls. “We want you to go down and head that up.”  So, you know, I think I had a seventy-two hour notice on that one, that I was going to do that.

So it ended up—We had these formal luncheons [dinners—EP corrected later] for all the WAC officers to try the French food and all the wines. So we did that. I didn’t have that much free time, because I was in the travel status quite a bit.

TS:

Right.

EP:

What happened—Colonel Hinckley was getting ready to retire. And Colonel Burke who was going to replace her, she had to be medically evacuated to Walter Reed. So who gets her job? I get her job. And I told the colonel, I said, “Colonel, I’m the junior officer. I’m the junior officer in this headquarters. And I’m the—” I said. In a headquarters staff—most of them were field grade officers.

TS:

Right.

EP:

I said, “They’re going to be furious. You’ve got field grade [WAC—EP added later] officers here in this headquarters, and you’re going to appoint me to be the WAC staff advisor for Communications Zone Europe, and then take Colonel Burke’s job?” Because, the Pentagon had said it would to take at least two months [for a replacement—EP added later]. This was over Christmas and everything. I got that job [and was detailed general staff officer—EP added later].

And then Colonel Burke had a dependent mother there. It used to be when Colonel Burke was out of town, or anything, I would go take care of her mom. We would go to officers’ club usually. She loved to play the slot machines. I liked her. She was a good old Episcopalian lady, I really liked her a lot. When Colonel Burke was medically evacuated I had to take care of her mother in addition to—my boss had assigned Colonel Burke’s job to me. And then Colonel Balthus [,the G1—EP added later] had told me to take care of Colonel Burke’s mother. She latched on to my uniform. Of course, she knew me, because when Colonel Burke had to be away I would take her to the officers’ club and check on her. You know, she knew me. She was familiar with me.

I didn’t have that much free time, because I ended up doing that job. You see, we didn’t get a replacement in. My colonel [section chief—EP corrected later] would never [not—EP corrected later] tell his boss some things—what our problems were. He never [did not get—EP corrected later] got good information to pass on to me to do[on what to do—EP corrected later]. You know, reports and stuff. We were always getting this stuff in—“the Pentagon wants this within so many days.” We had to get information from all these subordinate installations. I ended up with all kinds of stuff. I will never forget one time I got it all together and we had a deadline. I told—the Colonel said, “Well, this, this, and this isn’t right!”

I said, “I hope so, because I faxed it to you sir.” It was written report pending the general’s signature.

They said, “We must get that information [within seven days—EP added later]”.

I said, “It’s faxed. It’s accurate. It is accurate.” And I said, “I not only checked what was coming in, but I checked with our personnel data here.” Sergeant and I, we spent [16 hour days compiling data—EP added later]—we would—you would find millions. I will never forget writing this one letter this one time. And there I am Sunday afternoon. I guess some of these people with their Pentagon duty—Colonel Burke—Colonel Hinckley—were good writers. But when you’re trying to write something to send out to these [22—EP added later] subordinate commands—I will never forget that we had a new light colonel to come in and—the assistant [deputy—EP corrected later] G-1 I guess it was.

He came back and he said “Who wrote that letter?”

I thought, “Oh, my gosh!”

“Who wrote that letter?”

I just looked at him and said, “Colonel So-and-so, I wrote the letter.”

He said, “That’s the best letter I’ve seen blah, blah, blah.”

I thought he really didn’t like it, but I had labored over that letter. So I said, “Now look, I had a draft from previous years. I looked at previous years.”

He said, “You wrote the letter?”

I said, “Yes sir.” But I thought I was going to get reamed and steamed. It was like that. It was a Sunday afternoon. But I was having to do a lot of stuff. My direct boss—he was giving me work to do. The G-1 was giving me work to do that Colonel Burke would of have had. Colonel Hinckley had retired.

TS:

Well, how did you ever meet your husband then?

EP:

Oh, I had met him at Fort Bragg. And on his way to Vietnam he had sent me a telegram and proposed to me. So we were married in France.

TS:

So what year was that?

EP:

Oh, let’s see, that was—1963, I guess it was.

TS:

Oh, okay.

EP:

He was en route to Vietnam and he proposed and I had known him a long time. We were first just friends—just friends.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

You know, just close friends. He proposed. Sent me a telegram and proposed.

TS:

Did you send him a telegram back?

EP:

I don’t how I communicated. Oh, I think he proposed and said he was coming—that was it.

TS:

Oh, I see.

EP:

That was it.

TS:

He wanted to come see the answer then [chuckle]?

EP:

He was coming.

TS:

He was pretty confident then?

EP:

How would I like a honeymoon in Europe? Yeah, so anyway he was en route to Vietnam to be General Stilwell Junior’s G-2/G-3. My boss—the G-1 Colonel Balthus[?]—had a brother assigned in Vietnam. And Colonel Balthus knew my husband. He knew him. And Colonel Balthus was real nice. Later on he came back and he told me “there is no communication coming out of Saigon.” He said “There is a total breakdown in communications. I just wanted to let you know.” So anyway, that’s how—later on when my husband had to take—he took military—it was a medical leave. I met him in Tripoli, in Libya. He had some shell fragments removed.

TS:

Was that Vietnam?

EP:

No, this was from a previous engagement. I guess Korea probably. Well, he had shell fragments everywhere, but he had to have some removed. Some of them they couldn’t remove.

TS:

They were bothering him at that particular time?

EP:

Yeah, they were working their way through him. The stuff near his heart, they couldn’t get near that.

TS:

Right.

EP:

It was always an interesting x-ray, or going through metal detectors.

TS:

I’m sure.

EP:

So, it was interesting. He was in Vietnam and then Colonel Balthus’ brother was in Vietnam. And then Colonel Balthus had married a [former—EP added later] WAC major.

TS:

Oh! Pretty close?

EP:

We were sort of close knit. But it was when Colonel Hinckley retired and Colonel Burke was medically evacuated. I had—I took care of a lot of her personal things. Then we had the French workers to pack everything at her house. I will never forget, the Frenchmen packed all the garbage too. Oh my gosh. Some of the wives helped clean out the refrigerators and stuff. I was real busy. Then Colonel Burke’s mother, she wanted me to do everything. We had to get her ready—her physical—before she could fly to be returned back to the States. I will never forget, I had taken her somewhere and we were coming back. In Orleans, people use their cars pretty much—the French—on weekends. They ride bicycles. And I’ll never forget—

[End CD 2—Begin CD3]

EP:

—this elderly lady—she must have been about eighty—and she was telling me how her first born died in her arms. Her child had something—flu or something—and died in her arms. And her next son was delivering newspapers and was hit by a driver. And now Beatrice was being evacuated to Walter Reed—tears streaming down her face—tears streaming down my face. And here I am with all these Frenchmen on their bicycles. But that was the saddest thing, was I went with her to Orly Field [Orly Air Base was located nine miles south of Paris, and was attached to Aeroport de Paris-Orly]  to catch the plane back. She was going to live with her daughter, another daughter in Chicago. It was just—you know—this woman had stayed with her daughter in the military and liked the military. But boy, she hung on to me. The wives would offer to do stuff for her. Others would offer to do stuff for her, but, no, she wanted me.

TS:

She wanted Elsie.

EP:

Well, it was the uniform.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

She had lost Beatrice. She lost Bea, but here was a uniform. It was that security, I guess, in being with the uniform. That was so—

TS:

Did she—did something happen to Beatrice when she went back to Walter Reed?

EP:

Well, she had had cancer before, and she had had a mastectomy. And then what happened was that one day she was complaining of—she just mentioned to Colonel Hinckley that she had abdominal pain. And Colonel Hinckley said, “Now Beatrice,” She was our very prim and proper colonel who was always having tea parties, you know. She had these teas and we’d all go to her teas. She said, “Now you really need to see—to go to the hospital right away.” And she went and it was a reoccurrence of cancer, and they were just going to send her directly. She was airevaced [accepted military parlance for “evacuated by aircraft”] to Germany. And then she went from Germany to Walter Reed. It was real, real fast. That diagnosis there was not good, not good at all. And then with that history.

So Colonel Hinckley retired. She was married to a retired bird colonel and she was a lieutenant colonel. She was so funny. She always had these teas. And she was the one who wanted the officers to get together—WAC officers—to get together, and have these seven or eight course meals. It was a wonder that I didn’t gain a ton of weight. We would only do this once a month, but her teas were famous, you know. Anyway, I didn’t have that much free time.

I did—Captain Malvo she took me to Paris one time and showed me all of the sights. This was an officer that I had met. She was a former Marine, and I had met her when I was at Fort McClellan. She had tried to encourage my golfing game. And I was not a very good golfer. Then one day I was at her BOQ [bachelor officers’ quarters], and there was all these trophies. And I was not a very good golfer at all. And anyway, she was a devout Catholic so I had to go see all these places in Paris.

TS:

Oh, I’m sure.

EP:

And we went to some other places. And she got a new sports car from Italy. She—fast driver, you know. I had to tell her, “Lilian, slow down. Slow down.” You know, she really—she was the Hawaiian. She was real nice, but devoted Catholic. She always—every time that we wanted to do something she had to go to mass first.

TS:

Oh yeah.

EP:

She was the one who offered me to let me stay at her place and—

TS:

Right, down on the river.

EP:

Yeah, down on the river, and it was so cold—and my hand—because the water was freezing over. The lack of heat and the frozen water, but with my hand it was extremely painful.

TS:

Oh, I’m sure. Well, we’re going to take another break, because you’ve been over another hour again.

EP:

Oh man, I need to fix you some lunch here.

[Recording paused]

TS:

Well, we’re back with Elsie again. So I’m going to ask you just a couple of questions here about your time. You did say something about that you have a problem with your ear. What happened?

EP:

Yes.

TS:

What happened with that?

EP:

Well, when—my husband was serving in Vietnam he had the medical leave. So we had agreed to meet in Tripoli, Libya. I caught a plane out of—I guess Orly Field in Paris. My plane was delayed in Rome [Italy]. They were waiting to be the ambassador aboard. So I arrive in Tripoli, Libya, at midnight—No veil, unescorted female. So anyway, I stayed in a hotel one night and then I went on to—at that time, we had a military installation in Tripoli, Libya [Wheelus Air Base]. Of course, later, we had to give it up. So anyway, my husband came in. He had to leave. We were going to be there for a week, but he had to leave—I think—after five days he had to get back to Saigon.

So I met these air force officers. I met them and they were pilots. So we were talking, and they said, “We’re going to do a flight to Malta, and then we’re going to England and then to Frankfurt, Germany.” And they were gooney bird [common nickname for the Douglas C-47 Skytrain].

So I said, “Can I hitch a ride with you?” At that time in the military you could travel if there was space available—space available.

They said, “Sure.”

I said, “This will save two days leave.” I said, “We’re really shorthanded—very shorthanded—back in my spot back in G-1 headquarters Communication Zone, Europe”.

So they said “Sure.” So, it was an unpressurized plane. So we had to land off the coast of France to get fuel. We had to get off the plane, and they had brought the wrong kind of fuel. So we were standing out there. We left—being next to the Mediterranean over in Libya, were it is nice and warm. It was blistery wind and cold. I guess I developed an upper respiratory problem. And I didn’t take any anti-histamines or anything like that, or decongestants. My husband, when he flies, he would always take a decongestant: he was airborne.

So anyway we get in the plane and we go to England and drop some things off, and we’re heading for Frankfurt. And somewhere over Frankfurt the pilot said, “Open your  mouths,” and we made a very fast descent. And an eardrum blew. Well, I found out later that it was an eardrum. I mean, excruciating head pain. And the sailor aboard, he grabbed his head. So when we get to Frankfurt we don’t land at the terminal. They taxi the plane directly to the hanger because this is in the wee hours.

So we—I didn’t seek medical assistance, because my car was parked back at Orly Field.  I mean, I am hurting. I knew something had happened. So anyway I catch a commercial flight back from Frankfurt to Paris. I guess Orly Field. I get to Orly Field, and my car has a flat tire.

TS:

Oh no!

EP:

It’s cold. It’s cold, and there’s snow everywhere. So, I spot a—

TS:

Wishing you stayed in the Mediterranean, huh?

EP:

Right. I spotted a couple of GIs. I ask, “Can you fix this flat tire for me?”

They say, “Sure.” By that time I was back in uniform, because when you go space-available you’ve got to be in uniform. So I just kept my uniform on. And so they fixed the flat tire. I get back to the villa and Madam and Monsieur are not expecting me in for another two more days. That place is locked up tight as a drum. My villa is all locked up. So I sound my car horn to wake them up, because I can’t get in. Everything is locked up. So anyway, I get in.

The next day I go to the hospital—to the doctor. He told me the one eardrum [was ruptured—EP added later]—then they had to drain—had to go in with a needle and drain the other. So they’re putting in all these drops and all these cotton balls. I’m trying to hear. Anyway, I got back, but it took about—it took months before they were cleared up. It was extremely painful. After that, I realized why you normally take a decongestant on a flight. This gooney bird—it was not a pressurized plane and we made a fast descent. I’m assuming that we were in the wrong—someone was in the path—of another—you know—Frankfurt is a busy place and someone was in the wrong place—we did a drop to get out of the way is what I’m assuming. I didn’t ask the pilot what happened. They didn’t let her [us—EP corrected later] off at the passenger terminal. We went directly to the hanger. And that was another hike in the snow. It was cold and then the flat tire and then being locked out.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

You know, in retrospect, if I had known it was going to be so bad, I would have gone ahead at Frankfurt and gotten medical attention. I’m sure it would have had better doctors. Ideally, you look for an air force doctor when it comes to something like that.

So anyway, that was—it was hard talking over the phones after that.

TS:

Oh sure.

EP:

Because of that one ear with cotton and all those drops in it. But I did get back to work two days early. That was after—they let me go—even though Colonel Burke had been evacuated. My colonel said, “Sure, sure. Go ahead. Your husband can get medical leave here and with the situation in Vietnam.” I had not had any leave.

Actually, I had accumulated—when I got ready to leave I had accumulated fifty-some days of leave. And I took that in a travel capacity for fifty some days, before I formally got out. I had that many days of leave, because we were so short handed. And we had lost people we hadn’t planned on. Eventually, though, we did get a person in to replace Colonel Burke.

TS:

Can I ask you a question about Vietnam?

EP:

Yes.

TS:

Your husband is in Vietnam and you’re in France?

EP:

That’s right.

TS:

The war—so this is ’63, ’64?

EP:

This is ’64. This is ’64.

TS:

Okay. So, the war hasn’t really heated up terribly yet. Although, it’s not that nothing was going. There’s a lot going on.

EP:

Well, Vietnam was—there’s a lot going on because I remember one time there was no communication coming out of Saigon. It wasn’t like later on when it got worse. My main concern for my husband was that General Stilwell liked to fly. This is General Stilwell Junior. I guess he’s trying to live up to his father’s reputation—Vinegar Joe’s reputation. My main concern was when my husband was flying with General Stilwell out in the boondocks, because they did go—they did go out in the boondocks in Vietnam, they did go out. But I don’t know what was going on in Saigon. I thought it was nice of Colonel Burke—Colonel Burke—Colonel Balthus to come down and tell me to not get alarmed. At that time there were a lot of advisors, but we did have a headquarters in Saigon. I know my husband was General Stilwell’s G-2/G-3 [intelligence and operations officer]. I don’t know exactly what General Stilwell was doing.

When I—I had planned to go Saigon, and they were not allowing at that time—only military assignments was—no visas were being given. The situation was that tense in Saigon. Of course, there was no place safe at that time. My husband slept with a shotgun under his bunk. He checked his jeep—he checked his jeep for bombs. And you remember the bicyclists who would ride into a crowded place and the bomb would explode? I don’t remember if you remember that or not. Things were not nearly as tense as later on, when they evacuated. It was—in college—believe it or not—I had a college roommate who was from Saigon. I had hoped to call her father and see how she was doing, but I wasn’t allowed into Saigon. The visas were restricted at that point. This was in ’64.

TS:

Sixty-four. So what did you think about the war in Vietnam—I guess is what I was going to ask you about that.

EP:

Well, for the record, I was thoroughly disgusted when General [William] Westmoreland went before the Congress of the United States and gave that report.

TS:

What report was that?

EP:

We had more causalities coming out of Vietnam. It was I thought for the military a difficult situation—an extremely difficult situation. You know, they were being told later on—[President] Lyndon Johnson—what to do. And military people were not being listened to. And General Westmoreland—in my opinion—had political ambitions. He wanted to be another [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. He gave reports to Congress that I questioned about our casualty rate. I thought our casualties were much, much higher coming out. I mean, you see all these people, and you hear Special Forces. I had lots of friends in Special Forces.

And then I had a best friend who was killed in Vietnam. He was a jet pilot. We were very, very close friends back from high school days. He was almost like a brother. He went to the [United States] Air Force Academy, and he was flying a mission over Vietnam, and he was MIA [missing in action]. We just assumed he was killed. The body never recovered; the plane never recovered. I think—but, you know, a lot of this was the professional military people. They felt that their hands were tied. But the French got out of Vietnam. It was a difficult situation.

But you know, I had a classmate—you know—a roommate from Vietnam. Her family had fled the north and were in the south. Her father was in government, and they always had bodyguards. She said that when they went to the ocean side—I think that’s what she called it—to the seaside—bodyguards. Then her father got his children out of Vietnam. All of her brothers and sisters were studying in foreign schools.

TS:

That’s how she was at WC?

EP:

She was a foreign student, right—French major. She had other siblings who were in Europe going to school. Her father had gotten them out—he’d gotten them out. They said later that they had relatives floating down rivers, dead. They came south. He was involved in government. I don’t know what capacity in government, but I’m assuming, if they were providing them with bodyguards, it was a fairly significant post that he had. You know, you feel that, and my husband got to know the Vietnamese people. He liked them a lot, because he went out to the huts and villages. I know because he sent me pictures. Like I said, but I was worried about him flying around with General Stilwell Junior.

TS:

Right.

EP:

Actually, when General Stilwell Junior offered him a spot in Special Forces. I told him, “You know our agreement.” I said, “Divorce court, there is no way that I will be married to a Special Forces officer. No way. No way.” because I had friends that were married to Special Forces officers. It was so hard for them—so hard. They never knew were their husbands were—or what part of Southeast Asia. But Vietnam—I don’t know. I think it hurt the morale of the military quite a bit. We lost a lot of good men.

And you know, I say that about General Westmorland. He was an outstanding general: one handsome fellow, really handsome, really good looking. But when he came, and didn’t tell the Congress what he needed to tell them—from my understanding there were some deficiencies in that causality report. And I think it came out later on that there was that.

Lieutenant [William] Calley was inexcusable. What Lieutenant Calley did in the My Lai Massacre [March 16, 1968, massacre of between 347-507 unarmed South Vietnamese citizens by U.S. Forces attached to the 23rd Infantry Division]  was inexcusable—inexcusable—period—in my book.

TS:

What do you think about [Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara?

EP:

McNamara? McNamara? McNamara? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I was in—never in a high enough position. You know, I never got beyond a captain in general staff. And Headquarters Communication Zone, Europe, that was a logistical command. It wasn’t anything like being at 18th Airborne Corps were things were done and done right and you didn’t make mistakes and everything is—you know—Because you may be in combat, you may be dying. While the logistical command was important and all, but our exercises were not what it was like at Fort Bragg.

I did end up being an umpire one time, and it created quite a flap. Because they had never had a women standing in [as an umpire and during—EP corrected later] these war games, and you’re observing what’s going on. Men would be running around in their shorts. And Colonel Balthus said that I would be the G-1 rep and that was it. The guy who was heading it the thing up said “You can have my room.”

I said, “It won’t bother me a bit seeing guys running around in their shorts. It will not bother me a bit.”

So anyway, Vietnam was sad. I understand it, but at the same time a jungle warfare in a place like that is very difficult—very difficult. And I think wasn’t it General [Douglas] MacArthur that had warned us about getting involved in some places? So I don’t know, but—some of the decisions made—but like Agent Orange [an herbicidal defoliant used on Vietnam jungles], who knew how horrible Agent Orange would be?

But I do feel for these military people coming back, how difficult it is. I had a student when I was teaching at the University of Central Arkansas. My classroom was in the ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] building, because where they had me was in a basement area and it would flood and I couldn’t have classes. My husband was a professor of military science, and he had all these classrooms. He said, “Well, there’s certain times that you can have these classrooms. They’re available.” I will never forget that there was a machine gun in the back of the room. This one young man, I was talking to him one day. He told me he had been in Vietnam.

We were talking and he said, “I played God.”

I said, “How is that?”

He said, “There was a river.” And he said, “I was put in a position—a certain place—and no one was to cross that river. No one was to cross it. They did not want no civilians crossing that river—no one crossing that river;” because you didn’t know if a Viet Cong was a civilian or not. And he said, “I played God.”

I knew he was a little disturbed about things. I asked him. I said, “Does it bother you being in this classroom?” I said “I’m sorry,” I said, “before between the mold and the flooding, I’d rather climb three flights and stairs and have classes, then every time we have a huge flood—plus mold down in the ground basement level.” And we talked some more. And he was troubled.

I’ll never forget one day this lady come up [to me] at the Episcopal Church, and she thanked me for being so nice to her son. I said, “What?”

She said, “My son had one of your classes.” And she said, “I appreciate you being so nice to him.” And she said, “You know, we got him professional psychiatric treatment. But he did commit suicide.”

TS:

Wow.

EP:

I didn’t realize. I didn’t realize he was a local student—we did—in Conway, Arkansas, we had a lot of local students there. His mom owned the jewelry store, and she went to the Episcopal Church where we were. I had no idea. When you have seventy-some students in a class, you have no—you don’t get to know them that well. You just don’t, when your classes are—you just don’t.

He was troubled. But I’ll never forget him telling me, “I played God. I had a machine gun.” I assume it was a machine gun. “My orders were to not let anyone cross.” I’m assuming that he would give warning fire, and then if they crossed that was it. They risked that.

But what Lieutenant Calley did was inexcusable. I know a lot of people excused him. I polled my students, and they thought it was okay. But I thought it was inexcusable, what he did. I don’t know if you remember that incident or not.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

But these are things of war and behavior of war, and the psychologists and psychiatrists, I guess, have better explanations. I guess Vietnam—I guess we’ll see how history treats it.

TS:

Yeah. I’m working on it. Did you see the attitudes toward women, by military men, change at all during the time that you were in?

EP:

Well, most of the men that I worked with, we had no problems. I got along real well with the enlisted people, and with the men. They didn’t seem to resent it. But I was very professional, and they were very professional. I didn’t detect—but you know, at that time—you know women at that time were limited to bird colonel and that was it. You were very limited to what capacity you served. You weren’t flying a chopper. You weren’t flying a jet fighter. You weren’t commanding a ship. So I didn’t detect it. But there again, I guess, I don’t know.

It’s like in G-1, I was brought there because General Tank wanted me there. And then later on, it was the colonel that decided that I would be the WAC staff advisor. You know, general staff insignia put on me. There were a very limited number of people who were general staff. And the general staff insignia went on. That is duly noted wherever you go if you have the general staff insignia. I didn’t notice it, but I was never shy. That was for sure. I tried not to be obnoxious, but I figured that we all had a job to do. And at that time—for every woman who served—that freed up a person for combat, or for other duties. And I don’t know what the wives thought of us. The wives might not have cared for us at times. I don’t know.

But see, so many of my friends were tied in. Like Colonel Balthus’ wife was a WAC major. Colonel Burke was military career. She was a former school teacher. Colonel Hinckley, I’m not sure what she was, but she was certainly a lady, though. I always remember her and her tea parties.

With the men, it’s like Colonel Balthus. When he decided that I would be one of the umpires of war games. They said, “This isn’t done.” Another member of the general staff saying, “This wasn’t done.”

Colonel Balthus saying, “Oh yes, it will be done.”

TS:

Well, I remember when you went in and your stepfather was like, “Well—“

EP:

Well, he was a retired policeman—police chief. And he was a self educated man pretty much. Fort Bragg was nearby, and, let’s face it, we did have some—you know—newspaper reports, and the military got a lot of bad publicity from the Fayetteville paper.

TS:

But what I mean is that attitude about, you know, “There are only two kinds of women in the military,” do you think that that attitude changed at all? The perception of that is what I mean.

EP:

Well, I never perceived that with the men in the military per se. I did not. I had individuals who would ask me for a date. Sometimes I would say, “I’m sorry, I already have a date”—period—if I wasn’t interested. I dated a guy in Special Forces for a while. I dated another young southerner for awhile. I didn’t have much free time, but a little free time.

TS:

Managed to get married I think?

EP:

Oh yeah. Well, I did do that. We were talking about leisure at one time; my favorite thing was getting to ride in different type of aircraft: every time that I had a chance to go up in this kind of helicopter or something. I would know people when I was at Bragg who were at Pope [Air Force Base, North Carolina], and I would hitch rides to Washington—to fly up. Men were always really nice. It was like this one general, he’d fly his plane to get flight time in. He had his flight suit on. He’d tell me, “I’ve got to change. I’ve got to change my uniform.”

I would say, “Thanks sir, I’m out of here.”

TS:

Well, did you ever experience—or know of anybody who experienced—it was probably wasn’t called this at the time—but a sexual harassment, or anything like that? 

EP:

I think there was probably some of that, and some intimidation. But I found that some of the women officers were rougher on the women than the men. That was one thing at Fort Bragg living in the BOQ was that—where you had a company commander and her exec was there—or some of the army nurses field grade—made it very difficult—very difficult. I don’t know. I think women sort of set the tone. If you’re professional and you act like a professional, and you’re treated that way. There may have been times—there may have been times. This one major I worked for—that I didn’t care for—thought that whatever he wanted—edit his paper—or whatever. He just wasn’t very bright. He just wasn’t very smart at all.

TS:

But did that have to do with you being female, or was that just—

EP:

I think that that was just him. I gathered that. There were a lot of “yes” people. You know, he was used to people “yes”—go along with it—“yes” go along with it. I was different. I needed to get information one time to the chief of staff. There was no way that I could get it to him. So what I did was I talked to the major who went bird hunting with him.  I told him the problem. And I said, “General So-and-so needs to call me in so I can tell him what’s going.” This was a strike chorus that I had at Fort Bragg. “We’re going to fall flat on our faces with this XY training. We’re going to fall flat at on our faces in a performance,” and this might be a group from NATO [being] entertained at the officer’s club and they want one of my guys to sing “Army Blue.” I said, “We’re going to fall flat.” And I said. “Because with XY training there is no way that I can field two strike choruses. We don’t have that kind of talent.” I said, “I can’t get through my boss to get through to the chief of staff.”

The guy who bird hunts with the general, he got word to him. So I was able to tell him what the problem was and just tell him “this XY training was making it extremely difficult.” This general was insisting on training for all people. You would be out in the field to do this training. When you have a chorus, this is extremely difficult for rehearsals and practice and performance.

There was a while there at Fort Bragg [officers club—EP added later] that the bartender thought I was the general’s aide. I was in there with Army Blues [U.S. Army Blues is the army’s jazz big band]. But we did entertain visitors to Fort Bragg. I would always order ginger ale on the rocks. I never drank. It looked like I was drinking, but I didn’t—when we were performing I was always in dress blues.

I don’t know. I guess I just stayed so busy, and I was in difficult jobs and it seemed like when one major was relieved and I was put in there [as Fort Bragg Entertainment Officer—EP added later]—maybe everybody felt sorry for me. And then I was the platoon officer, I ended up with three [two—EP corrected later] platoons. I said, “You’ve got all these first lieutenants, they’re making more money and I get the extra platoons.” It seemed like that was the way it went.

I didn’t notice it, but I was very, very busy. We were all pretty busy. I didn’t find it difficult with enlisted people, but I approached them “How can I help you? What is your problem?” Or, “we’ve got a problem” There were some times, I said “We’ve got a problem. General So-and-so wants so-and-so, how are we going to do this?”

So, I don’t know on the attitudes there. I guess there are a lot of civilians that think that, they hear the stuff. My understanding was that there was a lot of German propaganda put out to deter women from serving.

TS:

Right. Did you—I forgot what I was going to ask you there. Did you look at your military service as a long time thing? What was the reason why you decided to get out?

EP:

Okay. What I had planned to do was serve in the military for three years active duty, and then then go back to school. Well, when I went in to take care of the paperwork they said, “Sorry, no one is getting out. Sorry.” This was during the, I guess this was the Cold War.

TS:

Sixty-two?

EP:

The Cold War was really involved. They were calling up all these National Guard units. They said, “You can’t.”

I said, “Well, when I came in I was only supposed to serve three years on active duty, and then five years in a reserve capacity.”

They said, “Sorry.”

Because I had planned to go back to school.

TS:

Right.

EP:

So man, that’s when I scratched my head. Also, that was the defining factor—well, I would go to Europe. I would see if I could go to Europe. 

TS:

Oh, I see.

EP:

I didn’t particularly care for the man that I worked for. Well, I didn’t have any respect for him.

TS:

So you had a few different reasons why you—

EP:

Right. That was one reason, because I had planned to get out and go back to school and work on my doctorate. And I couldn’t. I went into, I guess, personnel and they said, “You can’t.”

I said, “What?!”

They said, “No one is getting out. No one is getting out. You’re a reservist, we’re calling up reservists and we’re keeping you on the full—we’re keeping you on the five years right now—at this time there is no one.”

I had planned to serve three years and then go back to school. That was my plan. I had never planned—professionally—to be in the military a lifetime or anything. I had planned to go in, serve, save my money, use the GI bill to go back to school, and then get my doctorate. Those were plans—but that was—it was not possible because they were not allowing anyone to get out at that time.

TS:

So when did you finally decide that you could get out?

EP:

Oh, okay. Could get out? Well, my husband was leaving Vietnam and he was going back to Bragg as a battalion commadner—82nd Airborne Division—Airborne Infantry Battalion.

And I said, “One in uniform is enough.” And Colonel Kehr—the USAREUR[U.S. Army Europe] staff—the WAC staff advisor for USAREUR—that’s headquarters Europe. She called, she said, “Listen, whatever you want at Fort Bragg. Stay in and we’ll get you a good assignment at Fort Bragg.” You know, I’d worked for Colonel Burke and this was Colonel Burke’s best friend. And Colonel Burke was diagnosed with cancer. I had called Colonel Kehr on the hotline, on the colonel’s hotline, he let me use that red telephone to call her. And she said, “We will get you a good job.”

I just told her, I said, “I appreciate at it and I thank you. But, one in uniform is enough.” I said, “Especially a battalion commander. One is enough. One is enough. I’ll be his chief of staff, or clerk, whatever.” That’s when I decided—and at that time I was allowed to get out. But, I was almost at my five years. They went along with it. When I wanted to get out at one time, I guess this might have been about nineteen—

TS:

The first time?

EP:

Yeah.

TS:

Sixty-two probably.

EP:

Yeah. Close in there. They were not allowing. I will never forget how upset I was that day. I ran into one of the guys from the office and he said, “What’s wrong?”

And I said, “They won’t let me out!” [chuckle]

TS:

Well, did you have any trouble adjusting once you got out?

EP:

Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. Heavens, no.

TS:

Well, you were still connected to the military.

EP:

Connected to the military—and later on when we were in Conway, Arkansas, this one professor did not come back. He taught at the University of Texas over the summer, and he decided to stay and he didn’t honor his contract. So they knew that I had degrees from UNCG and UNC, and they asked me would I teach a semester—teach a year of sociology— and then asked me if I would teach longer. That wasn’t bad, teaching. I didn’t have a doctorate. I had never planned to teach. But, what I told them what I’d like to do was the introductory courses and social problems, and keep it at that level. I would be comfortable there and qualified there. Of course, I had to call Doctor Meyer. I had to come back Chapel Hill and say, “Do you think that I’m up to this? They’ve offered me a job and they want an answer right away.”

And Doctor Sessoms was so nice, he said “Oh yes, no problems.”

On the faculty there [at the University of Central Arkansas—EP clarified later]—one departmental member—her husband had been in the navy.  And she was real good at helping me with the huge classes. I had never been in a class, I don’t think, over thirty-five or forty people. I go there and there are these classes with seventy-six, eighty people. That sort of blew me away there. One thing I did stipulate was that I did not want to be a faculty advisor. And I would teach Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I did want to advise students. Salary-wise there, I did not want that responsibility. I mean, I did end up helping a lot of students.

TS:

Yeah, sure.

EP:

I ended up helping a lot of students—especially the blind students. The blind students really flocked to my classes. I was very accommodating with them. I realized that the overheads I would put up—I used the overhead projector a lot. I used a lot of cartoons when I was teaching. I would tell them. I would just explain to the class, “Some people in here can’t see this. I know that you can see it, but I’m repeating this for their tape recorders.” So, that’s how I got the teaching job there. There again, this guy didn’t show up and they needed me.

There was one fellow there who did not particularly care for me. But he was— had a reputation with the female students. And I found that out later. He thought I had been sent to spy on him, because my office was next to his office.

TS:

What do you mean by he had a reputation with the—

EP:

Oh, with his students. It turned out to be true. It was not rumor. He left. And then I told the dean, I said “Listen. If you ever hire him back I will go to the press. I will go to the press.” Because, I had a student come to me, and she told me that he had propositioned her. She was in tears, because she worked for both of us.

She said, “Our church, we are so strict we don’t even have a piano in our church.” She said, “If my father knew about that.”

I said, “No problems, no problems.” I call my husband and said, “Can you use a good student working for you?” We had a lot of students working.

TS:

Oh, right.

EP:

He said, “Sure thing. She can work for Ms. Hollinger,  my secretary.”

I told her, “No problems.” But she was just upset and wanted to quit school.

And she said that, “Nobody will believe me.”

TS:

Kind of like that girl earlier.

EP:

I said, “I believe you.” Later on I found out more, later on.

One of the secretaries picked up on it. She asked, “What is it with you and Professor So-and-so?”

I said “Well, first of all he wanted my exam to give to his students.” I said, “I’m not about to let anybody have access to my exams. No way. No way!” I said, “I just don’t care for him anymore at all.”

But this guy—he was a strange guy. He had been a prisoner of war in World War II. He was strange and got away with an awful lot, because he had been a prisoner of war. The students—and later I did have a [female—EP added later] student working for me later on and she said, “Oh yes, what we would do was get somebody to go with us if we had to go in his office.”

Of course, it was the other way around too. I had this young professor [friend—EP clarified later] and he would always have somebody be in his office when he saw certain students, because he had been propositioned. You know, it was a two way street, there.

TS:

Oh yeah, that’s true.

EP:

I will never forget this one young lady. She was older and she said “He liked for me to come when he was meeting with certain students. And he would always leave his door open.” So anyway, it was interesting. This one professor, he did leave. And later when we had a new department head come in. He said, “I’ve heard of his reputation.” He said he was working on his doctorate. He said, “I’ve heard of his reputation.”

I said, “Listen. There is no way—If I had known that. I feel so badly because some of the students assumed that I knew that he was a—” I don’t know what to describe him, but certainty not very professional.

TS:

Well, do you think that your military service has carried with you through the years, you think?

EP:

Yes. I’ve had friends that remind me that I’m not in the military anymore.

TS:

[chuckle] What do you do?

EP:

Something will be going on and I’ll say, “So and so and so and so, and this and this and this.” They will say—I’ve got one friend who says, “You’re not in the military anymore.”

I say, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with being efficient.” So anyway, I have some of my friends every now and then—My correspondence tends to be very military.

TS:

What do you mean that? How is correspondence military?

EP:

The way I write stuff. The way I write stuff.

TS:

Can you give me an example?

EP:

Well, it’s directly into the subject matter. It’s brief.

TS:

Yeah, concise.

EP:

It tends to be documented.

TS:

I see. I remember you were telling me about military writing. So you got better at that over the years, huh?

EP:

Well, the military writing that I didn’t like [was] the bloody forms that we had to use.

TS:

Right, true.

EP:

The forms and this and that. I said, “Listen. I’ve always known that I would have a good secretary, who is very good at spelling—very good at spelling—and very good at proofing.” Because I am no good, I cannot spell. It’s like with my thesis. I made sure I had someone who was, my typist was very good with grammar and spelling.

Then the first year that I taught social problems, my mother-in-law was visiting. She’s really good at English and stuff, so I paid her. I said, “I want you to take this red pencil and read those term papers. Any misspelling and any improper grammar, I want you to underline it.” One paper I counted twenty two red marks. The word got out on campus that I read my packets [papers EP corrected later]—all those things. The word was that the professors would read the first two pages of a term paper, and then the last two pages of a term paper. You know, your introduction and your conclusion. What I would do, I would give them a grade for content, but I would also on especially good papers I would keep that in mind. And, of course, I could pick up plagiarism like that. Anyone who has been around long enough knows that college students—sophomore and junior—are not capable of writing like that. So—but I did that because I knew the reputation. When you got there, your reputation you would make your first semester of teaching. And word would get out that.

And my mother-in-law was delighted. I forget how much I paid her, but it gave her something to do. And she was just thrilled. She was from Utah. And a Mormon background, I guess, there. She was really good. But my husband was really good. He went to an Episcopal school. And me, coming out of Robeson County schools, I mean, come on. I would tell him, “Gee whiz, you went to Episcopal school for so many years.” Because he would say—I would have him read stuff and he would say, “You can certainly tell that you didn’t major in English,” So, but anyway, at the college I enjoyed it. It seemed like there were always opportunities. I just happened to stumble into things.

TS:

Sounds like you did. Well, do you think—is there anything that you would like—like maybe somebody who doesn’t know anything about the service to—to—let me word that a little bit better.

EP:

Well, the opportunities are so broad today. It is unbelievable what—you know, when I served the women were very limited in what capacity that they could serve. We have, I think, very, very bright and intelligent people. And I have a great deal of respect especially for the nurses, and especially the navy nurses.

My husband was so funny. He said, “Never say anything bad about a nurse.” He said, “I will do anything I can for a nurse,” because, he had been wounded and they were so good to him.

This real good friend of mine at the University of Central Arkansas, she was a former navy nurse and she told me some of the things. It’s amazing what the women in World War II contributed. A lot of people don’t realize the contributions made. And the nurses in Vietnam too, come on.

TS:

Well, how do you feel about your own contribution?

EP:

Well, they got their monies worth, I will say that. I did a lot of work, whether it was a summer camp program director down in southern part of France down below Bordeaux there.  And certainly as the entertainment officer, I did a lot. I worked hard in Europe. But at that time with the Soviet Union, I think we were all so concerned. But I was also proud of this country—of what we had accomplished with the Marshall Plan [officially titled, the “European Recovery Plan”] in Europe.

I didn’t particular care for those individuals with political ambitions. I just felt that the military should be strictly military, and not seek higher office. We have some people, you know, they’re little Napoleons, illusions of grandeur. You have all types. You have some people with difficult problems just like in civilian life. You find all different types. But, by and large, I liked the military people and appreciated what they did. I guess I appreciated it more the longer I was around—the more I appreciated it.

Because it’s a rugged way of life. It’s hard for military families. And some people are just not ready for this serve--two or three years, up, go, be away from family. Because, in the military the people you’re serving with—this is your family and you take care of one another. I found this out in France. I tried to be a good neighbor and help out as much as I could. And people always reciprocated. My sergeants always reciprocated. I don’t know, I might have been a little more prejudiced to some of the people. I really felt for some of them in France that it was hard.  You know, there are a lot of families there. Their husbands had served, they had been away. A lot of women there, they were taking care of families and having babies and their husband’s away. You can’t help but appreciate that.

I mean we had a neighbor outside of Fayetteville [North Carolina]. And her husband was in Vietnam. She drove herself to the hospital and checked herself out of the hospital when she had a baby. We had another friend, she drove herself to the hospital. My husband was horrified, “Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you call me?”

She said, “I didn’t have anything better to do on a rainy Saturday night.” You know when you think about it—here they are away from their families and children. It was hard during Vietnam—especially for the Special Forces, for the wives. It was very hard. I got to know some of the wives pretty well. This was extremely difficult for some of them. I think there are some individuals I don’t think are cut out for the military, or to be a military spouse.

TS:

That’s probably true.

EP:

But it was interesting. I mean, I didn’t plan on staying in that long.

TS:

So do you have anything that we haven’t talked about that you wanted to add? We’ve talked about a few things.

EP:

No.

TS:

No? [chuckle]

EP:

I just wonder with all that talented group that came in when the National Guard was called up. You wonder what happened to them. You know, you wonder. I keep watching and reading plays and productions, and I keep hoping that I will see their names. But they must have thought I was terrible, because I was pretty demanding. But, you know, I knew in that spot, if we didn’t adhere to certain standards that we would be closed down. That General Stilwell Junior would not tolerate it—zip.

That was the headquarters of the 18th Airborne Corps and post side.  And we had some people who were sort of—I will never forget one Colonel, he didn’t like the name of one production. “Once Upon a Mattress” and he didn’t like that at all.

This is a bloody fairytale. It’s a famous fairytale. This was a production that we were working on with another subordinate [EP deleted later] installation. We were trading off talent. They were doing a show, and then we would go to their installation and help out. We would coordinate because we had all this talent.

And he didn’t like the name. I will never forget, “I don’t like that name ‘Once Upon a Mattress’.”

I found out later on that he was the father of seven children, so maybe he was a little sensitive.

TS:

[laughter]

EP:

Isn’t that a terrible thing to say? But you know, I just figured the man, you just wonder how got his commission. Where he’d been all of his whole life?

TS:

Maybe so.

EP:

Maybe he never took a drama course, or an English course, or anything.  

TS:

Right.

EP:

So really, it was interesting and I met a lot of nice people. I don’t regret it, even though Doctor Meyer and Doctor Sessoms had great plans for me. They could see me going back to UNCG and heading up a recreation department there.

TS:

Yeah.

EP:

They could see that recreation curriculum. I was pretty sure that was what Doctor Meyer had that in mind that some day he would like for me to go back over there. There was no way that I would compete with that physical education program.

TS:

Well, I think we’ve covered everything, Elsie.

EP:

Okay.

TS:

Does that sound good to you?

EP:

It’s a wrap.

TS:

It’s a wrap, that’s right. Well, thank you so much.

EP:

I hope it works out. [Off-topic comment redacted]

[End of Interview]