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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Marjorie Wolff German, 2009

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Object ID: WV0479.5.001

Description: Marjorie German tells of her early life, education, and service in World War II.

Summary: German gives a detailed description of serving as a nurse aboard a hospital ship operating in the North Atlantic, her military training, and her travels across the United States and Europe. She also states her views on political figures of her day, the use of the atomic bomb, and describes her marriage and later life.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Marjorie Wolff German 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:

[Audio test redacted]

Therese Strohmer:

This is Therese Strohmer and today is March 8th. I am in Fairfax, Virginia, and I am here today for the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Oral History—History Project. We’re having an interview with Marge German.

Marge, how would you like your name to be on the collection?

Marjorie German:

Well, I think I’m Marge to most people.

TS:

Yeah. But you’d like it to say Marjorie Wolff German, like the official name for someone to look you up?

MG:

Oh yes.

TS:

All right. Well, let’s start out, and why don’t you tell me a little bit about growing up? Where were you born?

MG:

Plymouth, Wisconsin.

TS:

And when were you born?

MG:

1923. [chuckles]

TS:

Okay. And now do you have any brothers or sisters?

MG:

Yes, I have one brother and three—I had three sisters, two living.

TS:

Yeah, so what town—Plymouth?

MG:

Plymouth.

TS:

Was that a rural town? What type of city was it?

MG:

That was the cheese capital of the world.

TS:

Oh, okay.

MG:

Of the world. [chuckles]

TS:

So tell me a little bit about that growing up.

MG:

Well, my father worked for the Borden Company in the office, and he had that job all of my lifetime. There was Kraft and then there were private little—small little cheese companies, but it was a very big thing. And it was a beautiful city.

TS:

Were you in the town or were you like in the rural—

MG:

No, we lived in town.

TS:

Okay. So what kind of things—did your mother work?

MG:

No, never.

TS:

So she stayed at home?

MG:

She was a homemaker. I did babysitting from the time I started high school, because I had an older brother and older sister that were in college—four year college. One was following my dad. He’s a— what is his—

Polly Stuhrke:

Accountant.

MG:

What is his—

PS:

He was an accountant.

TS:

Oh yes, I see.

MG:

Yeah. He was an accountant, but he had a degree.

PS:

Oh, the CPA [Certified Public Accountant].

MG:

CPA.

TS:

CPA, okay. I should also say on the tape who else is here. [chuckles] So—

PS:

Marjorie Pauline German Stuhrke.

TS:

And you go by?

PS:

Polly.

TS:

Polly—Holly?

PS:

Polly.

TS:

Like P-o-l-l-y?

PS:

Yes, that’s it.

TS:

And this is her daughter.

PS:

Right.

TS:

And we have her granddaughter Kate Brown here.

Kate Brown:

Yes. Kathryn Stuhrke Brown [chuckle], and I go by Kate.

TS:

So we have three generations here.

MG:

Right.

TS:

Excellent. Okay, so did you play any sort of games when you were growing up at all? Do you remember anything like that?

MG:

Well, I was interested in music. I played the flute and the piccolo in the orchestra—high school orchestra. And—

TS:

Were you any good?

MG:

I thought I was. [laughter] And then I played the cello.

TS:

Oh my.

MG:

In the orchestra—in the marching band—I played the piccolo and the flute.

TS:

Probably weren’t going to play the cello in the marching band?

MG:

Hmm?

TS:

You weren’t going to play the cello in the marching band.

MG:

No, no. [chuckle]

TS:

Well, that’s very nice.

MG:

But I lived a mile—and I had my lessons on Saturday morning here in [unclear].

TS:

So you carried it a ways for that?

MG:

A mile going and a mile coming back.

TS:

Now did you like—go ahead.

MG:

Oh, I loved it.

TS:

Yeah? You loved music?

MG:

Yes.

TS:

I’m not musically inclined, so I’m always impressed to hear about somebody who could play.

MG:

I was always sorry I didn’t bring my flute with me. It finally disappeared.

TS:

Oh, yeah. Now how did you like school?

MG:

Oh, I loved school.

TS:

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

MG:

Well, I did. My English teacher I think was my favorite, because I was in the debate club and a lot of—almost every club in school.

TS:

You were very active then.

MG:

Oh, yes.

TS:

Yeah. Did you—yes?

MG:

I liked to be active. I think I couldn’t sit very well. [laughs]

TS:

Did you have an idea when you were in school of—you were telling me earlier, before we started the tape, about what you used to do in the neighborhood?

MG:

Oh yes.

TS:

Tell me about that again.

MG:

It was just all I talked about was, “I’m going to be a nurse”. We all knew the neighbors very well and so every Saturday morning I would knock on their doors and just see if I could help them, because some of them were quite elderly. I would fix their hair and do little things for them, if they needed anything I’d go to town and get it. So it was just—I was a born nurse. I needed it.

TS:

Were you inspired by anyone or you just—that’s just how you—

MG:

No, it was just—there were no nurses in the family and my father—teachers. Father was a teacher and also worked for Borden Company in the office.

TS:

What’d your father teach?

MG:

Well, he taught in a country school, so he taught everything.

TS:

Yeah, that’s true.

MG:

He could look at a column of figures and he could answer.

TS:

Pretty good at math, huh?

MG:

Yes. And my brother was a CPA also.

MG:

And my—two of my sisters were teachers.

TS:

So you have a history of teachers—service too.

MG:

My father said, “You can’t be a nurse. We’re teachers in this family.”

TS:

Oh, is that right?

MG:

And I said—I didn’t say it to him, but I knew one way or another I would be a nurse.

TS:

You had your mind set on that.

MG:

Oh yes. And I had picked out my school.

TS:

At an early age?

MG:

Yes.

TS:

Where were you going to go?

MG:

Columbia Hospital in Milwaukee [Wisconsin]. It’s now a university [Columbia College of Nursing], combined with another college. It was strictly medical teaching when I was there; now it’s a four year college.

TS:

It has other things they do, too.

MG:

Other things too.

TS:

Now, I know you grew up during the Depression. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that? Some of the people who are going to be listening to this don’t have an idea of what it was like to grow up at that time.

MG:

It was brutal, because I said my father worked in an office and the pay was not good; but, he was so that—he had to do that, and had a very—they would’ve had to hire three people to take his place. So that’s all he did during my lifetime.
And it was very difficult because I can remember, and hear, the day he came home and said, “Mother, we don’t have anything.” What he’d put in the bank was gone— the banks closed down—everybody lost what they had and it was awful. But it happened, and we had to adjust to it. And we were—I don’t remember not having—we had good meals. My mother was a wonderful cook and she made all of our clothes, so we didn’t miss anything.

PS:

May I interject a little bit, here?

TS:

Sure.

PS:

What Mother didn’t say was that her mother’s family was a farming family from up there, so they had a farm to depend on for a lot of food. And that—

TS:

Your mother’s family?

MG:

My mother’s family.

PS:

—so they were a little better off than some people were in that respect.

TS:

Who didn’t have that kind of resource to go to, I see.

PS:

Right.

TS:

Sometimes people took in boarders and things like that too. Did you family ever do anything like that?

MG:

Oh no, we had a big house but never had to do anything like that.

TS:

Now, do you remember anything about how the sentiment—about maybe, the times were—like you said, it was very harsh—do you remember anything specifically that was hard for you growing up?

MG:

Well, I knew my brother was two years older and my sister was two years older than my brother, so my dad was putting both of them through college. He insisted. Education was his mantra. [chuckle] “You have to go to school and you have to get a degree”, which was a very unusual at that time. But he had started out—he had gone to college and that was also very rare in those days. And he taught until he married and had children and then he—teaching wasn’t enough—wasn’t enough money, so he had this talent for numbers and so he worked for the Borden Company in the office.

TS:

Now did you—did he have any feelings about like the president at the time? You know, we had [Herbert] Hoover and then FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt]?

MG:

Well, his fireside chats, I remember that. We’d huddle around the radio and listen to him. And we were just hardworking people and had our—had good—a good life, because it was a big family and my mother just loved when all of her children were there. And we’d sit at the table like two hours after a meal just talking and she’d—everything was her children.

TS:

That’s nice.

MG:

Because we never had a lot of money, we still had a good life. And we’re very protective of each other and it was— I can’t say that it disturbed our way of life.

TS:

Well, did you—now, you were probably in high school when Pearl Harbor [December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on United States Naval Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii] happened.

MG:

Right.

TS:

Do you remember that day? Do you have any memory of—

MG:

Oh yes.

TS:

Tell me about that.

MG:

Well, to me it was a terrible shock. And I knew, you know, that nothing would ever be the same after that. Boys started enlisting—all the boys I knew my age enlisted right away.

TS:

So you were about eighteen?

MG:

Yes. And—but I had to be a nurse, so I had to do that first, but it was always in the back of my mind that when I graduated, if the war’s still on, I would go in service.

TS:

So did you—do you have a memory of that specific time when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor? When you heard about it?

MG:

Oh yes.

TS:

Where were you at—do you remember that?

MG:

In high school.

TS:

How were you told about it?

MG:

The faculty—and then they tried each—we had home rooms that we would go to, and we were—and the head of the faculty—and we all went to our homerooms, and were told that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and all the deaths. So from that time on it was “get through high school”, but I had to go to college. I had to go to Columbia.

TS:

Now what about your brother? Did he go in the service?

MG:

Oh yes. He finished the university before he went in.

TS:

What service did he join?

MG:

He went in the army.

TS:

In the army. Now was your father in the military, ever?

MG:

Oh no.

TS:

No, okay.

MG:

Never.

TS:

So you were determined to be a nurse and so you wanted to get through high school and then go to nursing school. Tell me about that.

MG:

Well, I don’t know where it came from. I wrote to different schools and I hadn’t been to Columbia, but I picked Columbia, so when I wrote my admission letter to be—my admission letter, they told me they wanted me to come and be interviewed. So I got on a train, and it only took an hour to get from Plymouth to Milwaukee, and I went to Columbia and was interviewed and I was accepted right away. But I still had to finish high school—

TS:

Oh, okay.

MG:

—before I went. So I was admitted before I graduated from high school.

TS:

Oh, you were, okay. So then you graduated from high school—now tell me about your nurse’s training.

MG:

The what?

TS:

Your nurse’s training.

MG:

Oh, I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t wait [laughs] to get—

TS:

Why did you love it so much?

MG:

It was in my blood. I just had to help people.

TS:

Now, nursing today is different than it was—

MG:

Oh my goodness.

TS:

Tell me how it was different.

MG:

Well, we didn’t have any orderlies. We had people to come in and clean, but we didn’t have orderlies. And that was the thing that upset my father so much—that I had to take care of the men as well as the women. But we were taught to be very discrete, and we always had a supervisor looking over our shoulders, so that was hard. That was very hard— to constantly be supervised. And so, that bothered me because I knew what I was going to have to do, and I didn’t need someone looking over my shoulder. [laughs] That’s the way it was, and we had procedure books for every procedure we did. We had to do it three times—be observed—so you’d have to go out and try and find one of the faculty, “I’m going to do this. Could you please watch me?” So then we’d go and I’d do what I had to do and then she’d mark my little book, but you had to have three signatures of every procedure we did.

TS:

Was there any procedure that you did not care for?

MG:

No.

TS:

No?
Was there anything that you would say, “Okay, I would rather not do this.”

MG:

No.

TS:

Really, not one thing?

MG:

No.

TS:

You’re an eager nurse.

MG:

That’s what I—why I went there—to learn. [cough] It was an excellent school and it has grown. I went back for alumni meetings for years, and I was so anxious that—for people to go into nursing that when I was able to, my husband and I—he went to Hampden-Sydney [College], pre-med, and so he set up a scholarship for a student each year to go through Hampden-Sydney. I set up a scholarship for a student to go through Columbia each year.

TS:

Very nice.

MG:

And it’s still—

TS:

Still a scholarship there?

MG:

—still is going on.

TS:

Very nice.

MG:

So, I don’t know how many—

TS:

How many have gone and used it?

MG:

But they all wrote to me and I actually never met any of them; but the dean would write and tell me about the student, and she told me I could meet the students that I put through. So that’s how much—I didn’t care about anything else.

TS:

Wow, that’s really—What made you think about going in the military then?

MG:

Well, I thought it was something I had to do. I was young and strong and well-educated and—but I thought I needed to go into the military and do what I could do to help. And I was assigned to a hospital ship.

TS:

Before we get there, I want to ask you why did you pick the army over, maybe, the navy?

MG:

I thought— [laughs] I have never learned to swim. All the lakes around my home are resort areas, and I never learned to swim because I couldn’t stand water in my eyes—so then it’s a joke, you know, it’s a family joke because—

TS:

I can see that. [laughter]

MG:

I’m on a hospital ship across the North Atlantic, which is the worst [laughs]. But, oh it was terrible, because they were converted Liberty [American cargo ships, based upon a British concept, built during World War Two] ships. And they were—they not only went up and down, they went sideways. So—

TS:

When was it that you actually joined the army then?

MG:

1946.

TS:

1946?

MG:

Oh, no, no—that’s not right.

PS:

I thought it was ’45.

MG:

—that’s not right.

TS:

Before the end of the war, right? So ’45.

MG:

Two years before.

KB:     ’43 then.

TS:

It ended in ’45.

PS:

I think it was kind of in the fall of ’44 if I remember.

TS:

Okay, that’s something we can look up. Just kind of get—

MG:

I can’t remember exactly when it was.

PS:

Let me see if there’s something in here.

MG:

I know I graduated and I worked as a graduate nurse, of which I’m proud, until I got my orders. And I didn’t tell my parents, because my brother was in service, overseas—he was overseas.

TS:

And he was in the army right?

MG:

So I told them the night before I left.

TS:

How’d that go over? [chuckle]

MG:

I tried to you know—knew how they felt, but I told them I had to do it. And they said, “You don’t have to do it.” They’re not—well, then they had to start—what is it—the boys weren’t enlisting anymore, so they had—

TS:

The draft?

MG:

—the draft. But I went in before that. So—

TS:

So they weren’t all that happy with your decision?

MG:

Oh no, no, no.

[papers rustling]

TS:

What was your—

MG:

And that hurt me, but I had to do it. And then after I was in and went home on leave after basic training they said, “All right, just be careful.” [laughs]

TS:

Do you remember—go ahead.

MG:

“Tell them where you wanted to go.”

PS:

Yeah, right.

TS:

Did you ever—do you remember any of the recruiting posters at that time?

MG:

Oh, yes.

TS:

Can you tell me about any of them that you might remember?

MG:

Well, they were just all over.

TS:

Specifically for women, too?

MG:

Yes.

TS:

Did that influence you at all do you think?

MG:

No. I knew that first of all I wanted to be a nurse, and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, it was such a horrible thing and I wanted to help our country. You know, we could’ve lost! We didn’t, but the death toll just was awful. So I thought anything I can do to help, I wanted to do that.

TS:

Now, did you have any friends that were also joining the service? How did they feel about it?

MG:

None of my class went into service. I was the only one.

TS:

Did they have any comments about you joining?

MG:

They didn’t want to be exposed to the not knowing where they were going. So you didn’t know, you didn’t get your orders until after you—

TS:

So where was it that you actually signed up? You did it at—you finished your nurses training and then you signed up?

MG:

In Milwaukee [Wisconsin].

TS:

In Milwaukee, that’s right, okay. Do you remember your first day in basic training?

MG:

Yes. Yes. Camp McCoy [Wisconsin] was north of my home, and it was—I guess—it was what all basic training was getting you prepared and it was hard and if you couldn’t make it in basic training you were out. So [unclear] I was very athletic as a young woman and very healthy, so I knew I could do everything I was told to do.

TS:

Was there any— [clears throat] —pardon me—was there anything that was particularly hard to do, physically, for you?

MG:

I don’t remember it as being hard. It was just this is the next step and whatever came after that. It was rigorous training, but I felt like I could do anything. [laughs]

TS:

Do you remember what the living conditions were like where you—

MG:

Oh. it was in a barracks. Just eight bed—

TS:

Like open barracks?

MG:

Open barracks, yes. That wasn’t too nice [laughs] because at Columbia we had private rooms and then we were in one big room. But it was kind of fun because I met some of the other girls and I had on my—I did my pediatrics in Milwaukee but I didn’t stay at Columbia—stayed at the Children’s Hospital. And then I had my neurology and psychology in Chicago at Cook County [Jail], and most of the patients were in a cell and you had to go in to the cell with the patient. I didn’t approve of that.

TS:

By yourself?

MG:

But there were people watching and but that’s what we were told, to talk to them, because they wouldn’t talk if you were on the outside.

TS:

So did that make you nervous then?

MG:

What?

TS:

Did it make you nervous?

MG:

No.

TS:

What was it when you said you didn’t approve of it—what was that you didn’t approve?

MG:

Well, it was frightening.

TS:

Okay.

MG:

But that was the assignment and that was three months, so I knew it wasn’t forever. [laughs]

TS:

You knew there was an end.

MG:

Two months and it was crossed out. And they had just built a new nursing home [nurses’s home] at Cook County which was beautiful, and it was like living in a hotel. So we’d go on duty for eight hours, and we had this beautiful nursing home. But we were not allowed to go out because it was in the bad section of Chicago—the worst, so that was an experience.

TS:

Did you take the train to Chicago? Did you get around—you didn’t go out, maybe in groups, at all?

MG:

No, no, we weren’t allowed to go out. We had a beautiful nursing home— nurse’s home.

TS:

That you stayed at?

MG:

And they just treated us wonderfully there. They had all our meals there and they had game rooms and—

TS:

Didn’t need to go anywhere.

MG:

But we were all in the same boat. And I know out of twenty-nine that were accepted into my class, seventeen graduated; so, they were dropped along the way.

TS:

Let me take you back to basic training for a minute.

PS:

Can I—

TS:

Sure.

PS:

Mom has a funny story about how desperately she wanted to get into the army.

TS:

Oh.

MG:

[laughs]

PS:

And I think you should tell about that—

TS:

Let’s hear that. Don’t miss that.

PS:

—about the recruiter.

TS:

Oh yeah, tell me about that experience.

MG:

Well, when I had to go to the recruiting office and fill out forms and things—but they told me, when I first went there, that a few of the things that were on the list, and one was you had to weigh a hundred and—what was it—a hundred and twenty pounds?

PS:

No, I think it was a hundred and two.

[several individuals talking, unclear]

TS:

So it was a weight minimum?

MG:

I think it was—was a minimum, and I was ninety-two. So I was at home then, so on the way to Milwaukee someone told me if you eat bananas and drink water you’ll blow up and you’ll weigh more. So all the way to Milwaukee I ate bananas and stood by the water cooler. And the one working on the train said, “Why are you standing here eating bananas and drinking water?”
And I said, “Because I have to gain some weight before [chuckle] I go to the recruiting office, because I have to weigh a hundred and ten pounds and I only weigh ninety-two pounds”.
So at the recruiting office, I told them. He said, “Anybody that wants to get in the service as bad as that, we’ll take it.”

TS:

How much weight did you end up putting on on that train?

MG:

About two pounds. [laughter]

PS:

Officially—not enough.

MG:

But that’s when he said, “As badly as you want to get in, we’ll take it.”

TS:

Well, that is a good story.

MG:

“Just go back and wait for your orders and they’ll be coming soon.”

TS:

Could you maybe desc—if you remember—describe a typical day in basic training?

MG:

Well, I know I got up very early and we did strenuous exercises—not—we never climbed the big wall, thank goodness, but they were very strict with us. And they weren’t very nice—the ones that—the instructors, because they didn’t like the idea of having to train women.

TS:

They were all male trainers?

MG:

Yes. So we had our own barracks that was so awful, but—

TS:

What was so awful about it?

MG:

Well, there was nothing but a bed, and you put your foot locker at the bottom of the bed and that’s all you had. There weren’t any mirrors or anything. So we were pretty— [laughs]

TS:

How’d you like your uniform?

MG:

Well, when you’re in basic training they just had uniforms like the men, and when—you didn’t get your uniforms until you got your orders. So that was hard to get through too, because I was so small and nothing fit. But they had a seamstress there and she kind of made things fit.

TS:

She did the best she could for you?

MG:

Oh yeah. And it was—we had our bars, and it was so exciting that it didn’t make really any difference. We didn’t care by the time we got through it and we were accepted.

TS:

Very good. Tell me then about your orders. When you got your orders what happened? We talked a little about this a little bit earlier.

MG:

Well, I don’t remember exactly. I think I had like two weeks before I had to report to Camp McCoy. So that was a hard time, but I was so busy and I had to get to Camp McCoy, which was difficult. And my brother happened to be at home at the time. And he said, “I’ll just drive you up there.”
I said, “Oh, that would be wonderful,” because I didn’t know how I’d get from the depot in Milwaukee to Camp McCoy. That wasn’t—it would’ve been very hard to do that. So my brother drove me and left me there and—

TS:

How did he feel about you being in the army?

MG:

He said he thought if I wanted to do it, it was wonderful that I did it. We were very close, so he said, “I think it’s great. We’ll try and get together!”

TS:

There you go.

MG:

So—

TS:

So how’d you end up in South Carolina—Charleston, right?

MG:

That was right in the beginning. After basic training I was sent to Charleston, North [sic, South] Carolina.

TS:

What happened there?

MG:

The orders were revoked. Those orders were revoked and I had new orders to go to San Diego [California]. When I got to San Diego I was told we had to go back to New York—go to New York. So I went all the way across the country.

TS:

You said you went from Charleston on a ship right, around the Panama? Did you go through the Panama?

MG:

From Charleston, South Carolina, we went through the Panama Canal to San Diego, and then from San Diego we went all the way across the country. That’s—they always—We laughed about it. It was the army that did things like that. So we had a ball going across the country on the train.

TS:

What’d you like about it?

MG:

Well, we played cards and told stories and we were just very happy. We were graduate nurses and there was a lot of respect for us on the trains going across the country. So then we got to New York and went to a base, Fort Kilmer [sic, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey]. And that’s where we got our orders and our uniforms, and it was all winter clothing so we knew we were going to Europe.

TS:

Yeah.

MG:

But when they shipped us to San Diego we all knew and we were given uniforms for the South Pacific. That’s how, you know, whoever had all those arrangements sending us, you know, from the East Coast to the West Coast back to the East Coast is a—

TS:

And so what ship did you end up on?

MG:

The [United States Army Hospital Ship] Wisteria.

TS:

Okay. And that—what kind of ship was that?

MG:

It was a converted Liberty ship and Polly’s husband said it was the worst kind of ship to be on.

TS:

Why was it the worst to be on?

MG:

Well, across the North Atlantic, during the winter—it just—it was just awful, and you couldn’t, you know—

TS:

She’s rocking.

PS:

They were designed—excuse me for interrupting—they were designed to be cargo ships, only.

MG:

That’s right.

PS:

So they didn’t put in any comforts and, you know, the design of the ship was it was to be built quickly to carry cargo and stuff back and forth. So it wasn’t ever designed to carry passengers or, you know, be a comfortable mode of transportation.

MG:

And they did—when they converted it to a hospital ship, they had to have an operating room just like a hospital. So I don’t remember any—we took prisoners of war that they sent to the States. And then they would collect enough to get on a ship—enough space—and so they would load the prisoners of war, and then all the staff would get on and we’d go. But we were not allowed—the nurses were not allowed to care for the prisoners of war.

TS:

Who cared for them?

MG:

They had technicians that had some training and they took care of them. And then we picked up our wounded in Bremerhaven, the port in Germany and then we worked hard.

TS:

Tell me a little bit more about the crossing. How was that for you personally?

MG:

Well, I didn’t—I’d never been on the ocean before and it didn’t bother me at all.

TS:

Were you nervous at all about crossing for any submarines attacking you at all?

MG:

No.

TS:

No, never nervous?

MG:

In fact, I was out—our cabin was the end cabin and then it was the deck, so we could go out on deck but you couldn’t— if you smoked, you couldn’t light a cigarette because that—

TS:

A little windy?

PS:

A submarine might be able to see it.

TS:

Oh, the light.

PS:

The light.

TS:

Did you smoke at that time?

MG:

I started smoking at that time.

TS:

Oh, you started. Why is it that you started then?

 MG:    Because the others in the cabin smoked so—

TS:

You wanted to have your break too?

MG:

Yes. But we couldn’t smoke in our cabin, but we could smoke out on deck. But anyway, that night I couldn’t sleep and I just went out on deck, and I thought I saw in the distance something that was out of the water a little bit. So I ran in and notified the first officer I saw that I had seen something. So they told me later that they thought it might be a submarine and they changed course.

TS:

That didn’t make you nervous at all?

MG:

No. I thought I was a hero. 

[laughter]

TS:

Well, maybe you were.

MG:

Yeah.

TS:

Now did they do some zigzagging in the water as they went to try to avoid that? Was it noticeable to you when you were on the ship?

MG:

Well, they tried—according to the weather reports—to take a more southern route if the weather were [sic] going to be bad. And I never got seasick. I never—you know, I had ran and got the crackers for my three cabin mates, but I never did [get sea sick].

TS:

Did you eat at the galley at all, at a table? And one lady was telling me how the food would slide this way and it would slide that way, and there was like a barrier, did you have that same—

MG:

Yes, had a barrier, so it couldn’t—

TS:

Slide right into your lap?

MG:

Sort of.

TS:

Catch your food on the way, how was that to eat?

MG:

Well, it was part of the experience so I didn’t mind anything. And I was almost over when they— when peace was declared— and that was the end of our service.

TS:

Did you ever think about staying in the service?

MG:

No, I had— I wanted to be in a hospital setting, so I wanted to get back and, you know—

TS:

Work in a hospital.

MG:

Enter my nursing.

TS:

Well do you need a break at all? We’ve been talking for about fifty minutes. Do you want a break or do you want to keep going for a little bit? It’s up to you.

MG:

Well—

TS:

Do you need something to drink or anything?

MG:

I don’t think I’ve told you anything of any consequence.

TS:

I beg to differ, but we can keep going.

MG:

It was just something I had to do, and for me it was a wonderful experience.

TS:

Well, I’m going to ask you some more specifics about when you went to Bremerhaven, and when you picked up the wounded and what you had to do there. Do you want to talk about that right now, then?
Tell me how the—

MG:

Well, when we got back to New York, we had two weeks leave, which was wonderful. So I would go home—we all went home for the first week, and then we went back to New York [City] and saw shows and—

TS:

Do you remember anything you saw in particular?

MG:

I don’t remember the names of the shows. They weren’t much because so many of the actors and actresses were in the USO [United Service Organizations], and went, you know, to the front or close to the front. I thought it was so wonderful the things that everybody did for the cause. I went back for the memorial and took my whole family with me. And I’m as proud today as the day I graduated from Columbia and my service.

TS:

Well, you should be proud.

MG:

It meant a lot to me to be able to do that.  And I wish I had been two years—born two years earlier, and then I would’ve had more time.

TS:

Now Kate was telling—saying earlier that—so you went from New York to Bremerhaven a number of times. Is that correct?

MG:

Yes.

TS:

Okay.

MG:

Three.

TS:

Three times?

MG:

Three crossings.

TS:

So you crossed—

MG:

It was back and forth.

TS:

So when you were there how long did you stay over there?

MG:

Well, they always had to work on the ship, because it was old and something was always happening that had to be repaired. So it took a while to board—all the clean up the ship, because we took—what can I say? The casualties back—

TS:

Patients and—okay.

MG:

Not ours, but we had to take them back.

TS:

This is the prisoners of war?

MG:

Yes.

TS:

Okay.

MG:

And we were not allowed to take care of them.

TS:

But you did take care of the American wounded, correct?

MG:

But that was on the way back.

TS:

That was on the way back, okay. How was that experience for you when you were taking care of the men?

MG:

It was hard for me because of my height. I had to have a special stool to take care of the ones in the top bunk. But it was—they could—those that didn’t feel too bad or weren’t injured too bad gave us a hard time, you know, made little remarks about us, but it was very strict. It was absolutely—all the doctors and all the men that were technicians, we never saw each other. We were completely separated. But it was strange that, like—I married a man that was on the ship.

TS:

You married a man that was on the ship? How’d you meet?

MG:

On the ship.

TS:

But I mean, how did that come about?

MG:

Well he—I was on and it was going to be the last trip and the doctor that had been on, his time was up, and he got off; so, they had to get another surgeon and it was my husband—or, the man that became my husband.

TS:

How do you date on a hospital ship?

MG:

You don’t. [laughter] You don’t even see him. I didn’t see him.

TS:

When did you finally meet him?

MG:

Well, when they came on before we sailed—we met everyone that was coming on—we were waiting for everyone to come on and see who they were. So we saw them, but then they went to their quarters and we went to our quarters, and then when we came back we started dating. But I was getting out—I was being discharged. I put in my two years that I signed up for. The last trip, I got my discharge, but he didn’t and it was the worst thing because he talked me into marrying him.

TS:

That part was the worst thing?

MG:

Well, it was bad at the time because there wasn’t any place to live and he had to be on the ship. I was off—I was—

TS:

Why wasn’t there any place to live?

MG:

Well, all the service people that were—

TS:

There was no housing available, you mean?

MG:

No housing available. And he finally found a house that wasn’t—because he still had to be on the ship, so he found an old house that had—they made a life income—income for a lifetime on us. He got one room—was all he could find, and it was sixty-five dollars a week. We didn’t make that much, so everything—I didn’t want to leave him to go home and it was terrible, because we shared a bathroom—one bathroom.

TS:

For the whole house?

MG:

So I waited there until he got off the ship. But what happened was the [United States] Merchant Marine ran the ship and it was the last trip for the ship and they took everything off with them, and they held my husband because everything was gone. They had to fill out all the records for the equipment that was put on originally and there was nothing left. But they—

TS:

So when you say they held your husband what do you mean by “they held him”? Who held him?

MG:

He had to go to the ship every day, and they were trying to figure out how they could tell the powers that be there was nothing left. So he was the officer in charge and it didn’t bother him, it didn’t seem—he said, “Well, it’s gone” —you know—“what can they do?” And I thought they could do terrible things [laughs] to him, but finally they—I got a job right away. The first hospital I went to—and I told them I just got out of service and they hired me.

TS:

Tell me a little bit more about when you were on the ship—and you said you had trouble caring for the men that were in the top bunk—but what kind of caring did you do for the men?

MG:

Just like you would be in a hospital.

TS:

Give me some examples.

MG:

Bathing, giving medications, seeing to their welfare—just like a nurse in a hospital.

TS:

Did—and how were you treated by the men?

MG:

Oh, very well. They—we were the only women they saw from the time they went into service. They were very happy to—

TS:

You said earlier that there was nothing that you didn’t like, but was there anything in particular that was difficult to do on the ship, for you—besides, you know, just maybe reaching with your height?

MG:

No, I don’t think anything was difficult for me because I was only in service for two years and I had recently graduated—and I was so thrilled that I had graduated and that was all behind me—and I was so happy with my graduation, and then deciding to go in the service.

TS:

I was just wondering—on that trip—for some of the men it must have been very difficult. Did you lose any of your patients on the way home?

MG:

No, they were— had been—when they—there were quite a few with lost limbs, and that was hard for us to try and, you know, keep their spirits up; because, some of them had been in like four or five years and so that was the hardest part—trying to take care of them—tell them, you know, that they were going home and how would they do without a limb. And so there was a lot of sorrow, but our job was to take care of them and we did the best we could. And most of them responded— it was the best that had happened to them from the time they were injured, of course. But—

TS:

You mean, now, they had somebody that was taking care of them and giving them—yeah.

MG:

And so the— it wasn’t—I was sad, but you couldn’t portray that to the patient. You had to be up and—so, we did little things. We had little things we could do for them.

TS:

Do you remember anything that you did?

MG:

Hm?

TS:

Do you remember any of the little things that you might have done?

MG:

Oh, we had—every time we’d go into port we’d buy things and so we would fix little silly things up for them, and they enjoyed that and it was kind of like a party. We would do anything, you know, to help their mental state and that was hard—that was hard.

TS:

How did you deal with that emotional aspect of that yourself? You said when you were with the men you had this, you know, happy face on, but other times you said you were sad.

MG:

It was what I was trained to do and the war had been on, you know, for several years, so I knew it wouldn’t be—it would be difficult. But I had such a wonderful education. I couldn’t have—I will be indebted to Columbia all my life. I just—and now it’s grown and it’s a big university now, and I thought, “Oh, I wish” —you know— “I could go back”.  But it was a wonderful school when I was there.

TS:

Now, how about the port stops that you did? What kind of places did you go off on to shop when you were at the ports?

MG:

Oh well, we didn’t really. Our port was Bremerhaven and we did—some of the men—one of my cabin mates was a [American] Red Cross worker. She wasn’t a nurse. And she met one of the men that was—that ran the ship—some engineer—he was an engineer. And he managed to get a Jeep, and we had a couple days off, and we signed off that we were getting off the ship and we went to Paris [France] in a Jeep.

TS:

Oh, how was that?

KS:

Wow.

MG:

[laughs] Yeah. By the time we got there—we left early in the morning, like, about four or five— by the time we got there it was night time. So we saw the night, the night life, and the next day we looked around Paris, and then we had to go back.

TS:

What do you remember about that trip?

MG:

Well, it was just—it was open and it was no speed limit, and I thought we’d all be killed before we got back. [laughs]

TS:

On the Jeep?

MG:

We just—you know—laughed and—

TS:

What kind of—did you do any sight-seeing or anything?

MG:

Oh, we did for one day.

TS:

Do you remember what you saw there?

MG:

No much. Because we just—I think all we could think of—was I hope we get back safely—

TS:

That’s what you were—

MG:

—and got back on the ship all right—and we did. So but, that was a scary thing. That’s like what Polly was talking about. I had jocks on, because I had met my husband and every time we got to port we were together for a short time. And he asked me to marry him. And I said—well, I did have a boyfriend at home. I was engaged to a boy at home. And so that was hard coming back on the last trip, because I was getting discharged. And the boy at home had gone in the service, and he was still overseas, and it was very, very hard to make up my mind to marry him, but I did.
And I called my sister and told her I was going to get married and would she come and be with me. [laughs] So, she did and we got married in a beautiful church. I wouldn’t—he wanted to go to a justice of the peace and I said, “Oh no, I have to married in a Lutheran Church.”

TS:

Where you married? What city were you in?

MG:

In New York.

TS:

In New York.

MG:

And so I found a Lutheran Church, and we went to talk to the minister and he said yes, he’d marry us. So I called my sister and said, “You have to come and because I’m getting married.”
And she said, “Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t come. You shouldn’t be marrying him, because you don’t know him.”
And I said, “No, but he’s a doctor and I’m a nurse. And I can’t give up my nursing, and he won’t give up his practice when he gets out.”
So it was hard. That was the worst because I couldn’t—it was just so hard to have this little room with three other people living there—and all using the same little bathroom—and so that was the hardest part of the whole thing.

TS:

Had you been out of the service by this point?

MG:

I was, but he wasn’t.

TS:

Now did your sister come to your wedding?

MG:

Yeah.

TS:

She did come.

MG:

But she left the next day because her school was starting. So she had to get back and get ready for school.

TS:

Well, how—how was that for you in the service where you were—you were away from your family and your home town—was that difficult, or how did you feel about that?

MG:

I just did what I thought I had to do. And I was very strong mentally and physically.

TS:

Did you say you were independent before you went into the service?

MG:

Oh yes.

TS:

So it didn’t make you that way, really. [laughter]

MG:

No, I’d always been that way—ask my children.

TS:

They’re nodding vigorously.

KB:

Grandma, can I ask you a question?
What happened to the boy that you were supposed to marry?

MG:

That was very sad. But his mother and sister had made—did a lot of hand work. And I had several boxes of things that they made for us. I loved medicine so much. I knew that marrying a doctor would—I would continue to be—because he would—he was a surgeon. So I had so much in common with him, and he was a very nice person.
So the hard part that I had to do was go home and pack up all the things that his mother and sister—and then when he came back I went and talked to him and we both cried. It was terrible, but he said he understood. And we kept in touch after that, so he knew—because I dated him when I was going through Columbia—and he knew how much I loved Columbia so—and then he married, and sent me a picture of he and his wife.

TS:

All worked out for him then? Well, that’s good. Now, did you ever, at any time, while you were in the service feel that you were in any personal danger?

MG:

No.

TS:

No, because you were finding submarines off the ship. [laughter]

MG:

I did. I said, “I think there’s a submarine out there”. He said, “We’ll check it out.” But I had absolutely no fear, and it was really horrible when I stopped to think about it because it was terrible.

TS:

Now was there anything else you guys did on the ship, or off the ship, for social, like for fun—to do fun things?

MG:

Not on the ship.

TS:

No?

MG:

No.

KB:

Well, you talked about you and your cabin mates played a lot of cards, and that you went out on the deck and were singing at night, that kind of thing.

MG:

Oh, well

KB:

—you kept yourselves entertained.

MG:

We made our own entertainment. And I didn’t know these girls before, but we all were the best of friends and we made our own good times.

TS:

Well, you’re so musical I’d imagine that you’d have to be singing at some point?

MG:

Say again?

TS:

You were so musically inclined. You didn’t have your flute, but you had your voice, right?

MG:

Right.

TS:

So, you were singing?

MG:

Singing and we’d plan little things to do for the patients. It really was good for me. I was growing up, I guess, by the time I was—before I went to Columbia—and it was so hard that if you didn’t have that dedication—but as I said—there were twenty-seven that started and nineteen graduated, so it was very, very, difficult

TS:

Rigorous training.

MG:

But I thrived on that. I mean, I would always say, “Give me something hard to do.”

TS:

Now did you—when you talked a little bit about, you know, you wanted to work in a hospital and not stay in the service; but, did you ever give a second thought to staying in the military, at all, ever?

MG:

Oh, no.

TS:

Okay. What did you think about, well it seems like you would’ve been in when [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt died. Do you remember when—

MG:

Oh yes.

TS:

Do you want to tell me about that?

MG:

Well, he had done so much for the country, and I still think of him as a wonderful president. He did a lot of things that made life better for a lot of people, and we didn’t really think about politics. We didn’t get any news—no news. We didn’t know what was going on while we were on the ship until we got off, and then we were so busy running to see our parents and the distances involved. And so, it was until—it wasn’t until after we got out of service that we really knew what was going on. But, I always thought it was—I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for my parents to have me on a hospital ship on the North Atlantic and my brother in service, so we both came through it all right. And as I said, it really was the happiest time of my life.

TS:

May I ask you how you might have felt about a couple other people? Did you have any feelings or thoughts about Eleanor Roosevelt?

MG:

No, not really.

TS:

How about when President [Harry S.] Truman took over? What did you think about him?

MG:

Well, we were so busy and so focused on what we did and what we were doing, and so we really—I remember, I thought President Truman was so—I would say meek compared to Roosevelt that I didn’t know what kind of president he would be or how effective a president he would be. But he won’t go down as one of our greatest presidents, I don’t think.

TS:

Why not?

MG:

Well, I think he rested on the laurels of his predecessor.

TS:

What did you think about his decision to go ahead and drop the bombs on Japan? Nagasaki and Hiroshima [Japanese cities which were subjected to American nuclear attack]?

MG:

I still can’t—I can't believe that our country did that. Only time will tell, but it was so horrible—so horrific—that I thought that it should not have been done. That there were ways that could have accomplished, but they thought that bomb—but no one would ever forget that. And we worry about nuclear bombs, and we know they exist but if you— but if we get into a situation like that, then it’s a defensive thing, but it was late in the war and no one was going to win except the United States. So I didn’t think that was—I just thought it was a horrible, horrible thing, because there was no way that they could’ve been stopped by other nations. I mean, I don’t know, I just feel so bad for the tragedy of it.

TS:

Well, let me ask you—how was, then—you said something earlier about peace being declared—because you did enjoy your time in the service—but that do you remember when victory was—were you in New York when they had the celebrations at all for that?

MG:

For what?

TS:

When victory was declared?

MG:

Oh, yes.

TS:

Were you in New York then?

MG:

Yes.

TS:

Can you tell us about that? Because we see some pictures sometimes, you know, all the people on the streets—was it kind of like that for you or what was it like?

MG:

Well, it was.

TS:

Yeah?

MG:

My husband was still on the ship, because there wasn’t anything he could do. But they just had to have someone in authority to try and figure out why they couldn’t find all these—

TS:

Right. So he was stuck trying to get all the stuff that was taken off the ship then, yeah.

MG:

Yeah. So it wasn’t—we didn’t celebrate in any way.

TS:

Did you celebrate with anybody else?

MG:

No.

TS:

What were you thinking at the time?

MG:

Well, just grateful that the war was over and just felt bad that so many lives were lost. And I didn’t see really—I’d never figured out the reason for that war, so I didn’t know why it happened, but it did.

TS:

So even though you didn’t know why we were having the war, you still wanted to participate and do your—

MG:

That’s right, because I had the ability to help and I had to do that. But as far as the war was concerned, that was another reason I think I wanted to help, in the hope it would be over. It went on too long, and it was just, to me, it was just such a tragedy.

TS:

Did you—now you—I know you’re a nurse in the military. But did you also see yourself as a military servicewoman, like, because there weren’t that many necessarily.

MG:

No, no, I didn’t.

TS:

How’d you see yourself?

MG:

I wanted to be back in private sector.

TS:

No, but I mean at the time, you know, there’s a lot of women who served. Some say they were kind of pioneers for other women later. Do you see yourself in that way, as having maybe blazed the path for someone else to go in the military?

MG:

Well, I would encourage—and I have given a scholarship to Columbia for a student that can’t afford to go. But, I would never say I went into service. You might think about that after you graduate, but I wouldn’t do that, because I wouldn’t want to influence someone and then find out that it wasn’t the right thing to do. So I sponsored the scholarship just for the sake of medicine.

TS:

Have—so do you think—Have any of your children been in the military?

MG:

No.

TS:

How do you feel about—

MG:

Polly’s husband.

PS:

Army for twenty-three years.

TS:

And what about your husband, too, Kate?

KB:

Yeah, he was in the military for four years.

TS:

Twenty-three, huh, so there’s some history. What about how do you feel about women today in the service? Because, they did many things in World War II, they flew planes, they served on ships crossing the North Atlantic in dangerous zones, and now women today are pilots again, but they’re flying jets and fighter planes. How do you feel about that—the roles of women today in the military?

MG:

Well, I think it’s—I’m glad to be an American, because of the freedom and the choices we have. And if anyone has the gumption to find a profession and see it through and contribute—

TS:

In any way they can?

MG:

In any way they can. But always I think of how fortunate we all are to be Americans, and I think that really— in the back of my mind—was why I went in service.

TS:

Kind of patriotic?

MG:

Yeah. If there—I wouldn’t go into the military in peace time, but it was a war.

TS:

Now, do you think that your life is any different because of the time you spent in the military?

MG:

No. I just feel like I’d done the best I could and I’m not happy to be in a nursing home. My children say, “You’re not in a nursing home. You’re in an assisted living.”
I said, “I don’t need any assistance,” but it makes them more comfortable. I lived in Fredericksburg [Virginia]. Moved to Fredericksburg when Polly came back from service in Germany. So then my husband died and I was alone in Fredericksburg, and I finally decided I needed to be up here with my children. I have a son in North Carolina, but he comes for Christmas.

PS:

And fourth of July.

[knock on the door]

??:

Hi. You coming out for lunch?

TS:

It’s 11:56. We can wrap it up here.

PS:

Thanks for the reminder, yeah. [laughs]

TS:

Well, is there anything—you did meet your husband in the military.

MG:

What?

TS:

You did meet your husband in the military.

MG:

Oh yes, yes.

TS:

So do you think—

MG:

And we had fifty-nine years together, so—

TS:

That’s terrific.

MG:

And—

TS:

Is there anything that—go ahead.

MG:

And we had three healthy normal children and that’s a blessing. That’s a blessing.

TS:

I know you’ve got lunch going on, but is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you might want to add to tell somebody about your experience that I didn’t happen to ask or that we didn’t think of?

MG:

Well, it—I don’t think the things I did, just were—seemed to fall into place. And I’m just grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. I wish I could start all over again. [laughs]

TS:

Is there anything you wanted to ask Kate?

KB:

I remember one time talking with Grandma and I remember her saying “I wish that I could start over again now, because medicine has come such a long way. And there’s so much more to learn.” And what not, so I mean—

TS:

You’d be excited to do that again at a different level, sort of?

KB:

Just the technology and what you’ve—and what we’ve discovered in medicine since you’ve started.

MG:

I just feel badly that I’m as old as I am, but I’ve done what I—I met my goal.

TS:

You sure did.

MG:

And that was gratifying.

TS:

How long were you a nurse?

MG:

I’ve always been a nurse—always. And if I can find anything—[laughter]

TS:

You’re still knocking on people’s doors.

MG:

I’m thinking about asking the girls that are sort of—last year—working so hard if I could be—do a few things to relieve them that doesn’t—the little things that they have to do, and I would like to help with that.

TS:

That’s very sweet.

MG:

What?

TS:

That’s very sweet. I think that’s a good place to end the interview—just where we began. So thank you very much, Marge.

MG:

Oh, you’re welcome. I couldn’t give you much information but—

KB:

Grandma, I took three pages of notes—almost four. [laughter]

[end of interview]