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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Amie Modigh, 2010

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Object ID: wv0480.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Modigh’s childhood in Sweden, 29-year career with the Army Nurse Corps as a reservist, and her civilian career in nursing, nurse education and administration.

Summary:

Modigh recounts her childhood in Sweden as the daughter of an army general; events during World War II; having a Finnish boy live with them during the war; blackouts; and evacuating inland due to threats on their coastal town by Nazi Germany. Modigh remembers her decision to become a nurse, and her father’s preference of medical school instead due to the lower social status of nurses. She chronicles how her grandfather and her mother and aunts moved to Connecticut when her mom was a child, and of Modigh’s visit there as a teenager which influenced her decision to return for college.

She recalls her five-year nursing program at the University of Connecticut; summer sessions at Yale University; traveling in Europe after she graduated; and returning to live in New York City and work at Cornell Medical Center as a pediatric nurse. She describes becoming a supervisor and instructor at Cornell where she created an internship program for nursing students; and being granted a federal traineeship to go to nursing graduate school at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Modigh also recalls her reasons for becoming an American citizen in 1960, as well as her reasons for remaining in Chapel Hill to be an instructor for the nursing department upon graduation. She recalls her reaction to President Kennedy’s assassination; favorite movies and actors; witnessing drug addictions in nurses who had returned from service in Vietnam; her reaction to the Vietnam War; her desire to join the military; and her decision to join the Army Reserves after listening to one of her nursing student’s presentation on the reserves. She remembers needing to hide her uniform when she first joined the reserves because of the stigma in the late 1960’s about the military.

She discusses her first visit to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and other ways she was convinced to join the army reserves; choosing the 3274th hospital unit instead of the field unit in Winston-Salem, North Carolina because she thought she was more likely to go to Vietnam and of her desire to go to Vietnam; later being grateful that she did not go to Vietnam; and becoming a major and the chief nurse of her reserve unit her second year. She recalls sending her father a telegram about joining the army reserves, and that he did not receive it before he died. She also recounts her mother’s reaction to her joining the military.

Modigh describes how she juggled her military and civilian careers; the different cultures within each job setting; recruiting the first black faculty member to the UNC School of Nursing; dealing with personnel issues as the chief nurse for her reserve unit; treatment of women in the military and reaction to female soldiers by civilians; an incident of sexual harassment towards one of her nurses in the reserves; her opinion of her commanders; and issues with promotion to colonel.

She describes how she found the job in 1983 with Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, Missouri; starting a teaching nursing home for their nursing school; transitioning to assuming command of the army reserve unit in St. Louis at 21st General Hospital; completely reorganizing the unit to better prepare them for war; taking her unit to the annual meeting of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS) for the first time; her attempts to change the culture of reservists into one of hard work and preparedness; attending training in San Antonio, Texas and Fort Sam in Houston, Texas for various military skills including basic training; and the training she encountered during her two weeks of consecutive reserve duty every year.

Modigh discusses how she moved with her aunt and her roommate Sandy Venegoni from Saint Louis to Richmond, Virginia in 1986; being recruited by Major General James Holsinger to be his chief nurse of the 2290th Army Reserve General Officer Command (GOCOM) which oversees the reserve units in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia; accepting that offer and the one to be the chief of geriatric services at the Veteran’s Affairs in Richmond; juggling being an administrator and practicing clinician simultaneously; and why she stayed in the army reserves for 29 years.

She recalls when all of the reserve units under her command were called up to serve during Operation Desert Storm; her own active duty as commander over all of the reserve and national guard nurses at Walter Reed Medical Center during the war; helping other reservists deal with the stress of being called into active duty; comparing the pride of the military during Desert Storm with previous decades; starting the 91C training program for reserve nurses at the VA; the importance of realistic training for the reservists; her treatment by her civilian employer at the VA while she was on active duty compared to other reservists’ experiences; her initial hesitancy to work for the VA and witnessing its changes over the years; her move to be chief nurse at Army Reserve Command (ARCON); and her decision to retire from military service in 1995. She ends with describing various medals that she earned; her opinion on the role of women in the military and in combat; and discussing with Sandy Venegoni how they met and shared their military experience and lives together.

Creator: Amie Modigh

Biographical Info: Colonel Amie Modigh (b. 1933) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina served in the Army Nurse Corps Reserves from 1967 to 1995.

Collection: Amie Modigh Oral History

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

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

Today is March 16th, 2010. This is Therese Strohmer and I’m in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to conduct an oral history interview for the Betty H. Carter Women’s Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I’m with Amie Modigh, and, Amie, why don’t you go ahead and tell me how you’d like your name to be on your collection.

Amie Modigh:

Okay, Amie Modigh is fine.

TS:

Okay.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay Amie, go ahead. You don’t have to talk, just, like you’re talking to me like this.

AM:

Amie Modigh.

TS:

Okay excellent.

[recording paused]

TS:

All right, try me one more time

AM:

Okay.

TS:

Where were you born?

AM:

Stockholm, Sweden.

[recording paused]

TS:

Well, wonderful. Why don’t we start off, Amie, by having you tell me when and where you were born.

AM:

I was born in Stockholm, Sweden, July 13th, 1933.

TS:

And what—did you have any brothers or sisters?

AM:

Yes. I was the last of four children—two older brothers and a sister—and I was the baby. And although I was born in Stockholm, we moved soon to the southern part of Sweden because of my father’s military career. He was reassigned to the southern part.

TS:

To the southern part?

AM:

Yeah, on the west coast, and that’s where I did my growing up.

TS:

What was it like growing up?

AM:

It was wonderful! [laughs]

TS:

What kind of things did you do as a young girl?

AM:

Well, I went to a good school nearby where we lived. In the winter, we skied to school and in the summertime, we bicycled to school.

TS:

How far was it that you had to go to reach school?

AM:

It was about ten minutes of cross country skiing, about five minutes on bicycle.

TS:

Is that right?

AM:

Yes. So it wasn’t very far.

TS:

Did you grow up—was it like a rural area or in a city? What was it like?

AM:

It was in a good sized city just on the outskirts—very nice, up on a hill towards the mountain area. But it was within the city limits. We were on the hill and we had a beautiful view over the water, so it was very lovely.

TS:

Well, a lot of the people that will be listening or reading your transcript won’t know much about Sweden.

AM:

Oh.

TS:

Can you tell us a little bit about, you know—

AM:

Well, it’s one of the Scandinavian countries. It’s the biggest of the three Scandinavian countries [the three Scandinavian countries are Sweden, Norway, and Denmark]. And it’s a beautiful country. It’s very long and very narrow. It’s only about eight million people— nine million people who live there. And it’s a hundred and fifty Swedish miles, so it’s about six hundred American miles long. [The Swedish mile or mil was historically 36,000 feet (6.8 miles), standardized in 1889 to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).]

But only about fifty miles wide, so it’s very long and very narrow. So the vegetation to the south of Sweden to the north of Sweden is extremely, extreme, so to speak. And also it’s the daylight—daylight’s twenty-four hours a day up in the northern part in the winter time—in the summer time. And, of course, it’s dark twenty-four hours a day in the winter time—or twenty-three, not twenty-four. In the southern part it’s not as noticeable. It’s still more so than here—light in the summer and dark in the winter, but not as extreme as it is up in the north.

TS:

How was that for you growing up?

AM:

Well, I was in the southern part, so I didn’t see any extremes as much. My brother—oldest brother—did some of his internship as a lawyer in the northern part—in the very northern part— that was quite interesting. We went to spend Christmas there and visited him several times: once in the middle of the winter with Christmas and all, and it was dark. [laughter] It’s about an hour’s worth of daylight.

TS:

Is that it? That’s all you--

AM:

An hour and a half—maybe 10:30 [AM] to 1 [PM] it started to get dark again.

TS:

Kind of like what it is for Alaska.

AM:

Right, very similar to Alaska actually.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

On a much smaller scale.

TS:

Smaller, that’s right, that’s true. Well, what kind of games did you play as a girl growing up?

AM:

Well, soccer was my favorite one. I was an avid soccer player, which, of course, when I came to this country and told them about it they said, “What’s that?” [laughter] So that was not popular yet, now it’s pretty popular, but most people didn’t know what soccer was.

TS:

That’s true.

AM:

We played a lot of soccer. We played tennis. Lots of—not baseball—they didn’t have that. I never could understand the excitement of baseball. [laughter] No football. I thought, “Why do they call it football? All they do is lie in a heap and hold the ball in their hands, and they don’t kick it but once in a blue moon.” So it was very different. But we did play a lot of, you know, hide-and-seek, and all that stuff since we lived so near the woods. It was a great place for games. Skied all winter, bobsledding, all that kind of stuff.

TS:

Oh, you did bobsledding?

AM:

Oh, yeah a lot

TS:

That would be fun.

AM:

Yeah. Not the luge—I don’t like that.

TS:

Not the open, but the—

AM:

No, the old fashioned bobsled that you steer with a steering wheel.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

That was fun. And the skiing, of course, which we did a lot of both downhill and cross country.

TS:

Yeah, both. Did you like one over the other?

AM:

At different times in my life. I started cross country skiing when I was three years old. And I liked cross country for, you know—I liked cross country of the peace and the quiet going through the woods. And then, of course, when I was a teenager and early twenties I wanted the daring downhill—the more the merrier. But then as I got older again I kind of enjoyed the cross country and I still do that if I can.

TS:

Do you?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Not so much in North Carolina?

AM:

No.

TS:

Although, a little bit this year you could’ve—

AM:

I brought the skis with me, actually, when we moved down here and almost used them one time.

TS:

Almost could’ve about a month ago or so.

AM:

Yes, and of course at that time I was down in Florida. [laughter]

TS:

Oh, you missed out.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Well, how about school? Tell me a little bit about going to school.

AM:

Going to school was very interesting. And I’ve very glad that I had the beginning school in Sweden, actually, because it’s a lot more in depth—lots more detail with the school six days a week—sometimes five and a half depending on what grade you’re in, but never less. And we learned many different languages, not like here that you just speak English.

TS:

What kind of languages did you learn?

AM:

German was the first foreign language when I started, then it became—English is the first foreign language now. When I finished high school they started with that, so I lost out because when I came here I didn’t know much English; but I knew German and that didn’t do me any good. And French—French, English, German, Latin, and then you could take Greek if you wanted to—if you went a certain line in high school, but I didn’t do that. I went the science thing, because I thought I wanted to be in either medicine or nursing or something like that.

TS:

Yeah, you were interested in that right away?

AM:

Yeah, early on, so I knew I was going to go one way or another within the field of medicine somewhere.

TS:

So was that like your favorite—science was one of your favorite subjects?

AM:

Yeah. And now I like languages very much too, but not all languages. I like German, French, and English very much, but Latin was okay for what I needed for the military—I mean, for the medical stuff.

TS:

Right, true. Good background for that for sure.

AM:

But I didn’t have any interest in learning Greek whatsoever.

TS:

So you would’ve grown up, then, actually during the war years?

AM:

Yes, I did.

TS:

Do you want to talk about that at all?

AM:

It was pretty spooky in many ways because in 1939—when I was six years old—and the war started. And about 1940 was when Germany went and occupied Norway. And, of course, it was much more convenient to fly over Sweden to get to Norway, so we experienced—what do you call it—dark nights—black—

TS:

Blackouts?

AM:

All the lights were off and we had to have black paper on our windows, and every night at eight o’clock they would come over to Norway and every night at one o’clock, they would come back. So we would get up and run down to the basement and turn off all the lights, and all that kind of stuff, and the same thing at—between one and two in the morning. And, of course, I was kind of little, so I was either scared to death or thought it was fun. [laughter]

TS:

Those are your two extremes.

AM:

That’s right. And my mother was—I still remember to this day the very first time I heard those sirens and then the boom, boom. You see the flares go up and hear the boom right after—before we had the black covers. I ran to my mother and I said, “I want to be with you when I die!” And she reassured me, of course, we weren’t going to die, so then I thought it was kind of fun.

TS:

Oh, after she assured you that you were—

AM:

That’s right. And my brothers were also very good. They were older and they always looked out for me. And so we had to evacuate, actually, one time inland because the coast was getting dangerous to be near, because [Adolf] Hitler threatened to bomb us no matter what we did—even if we did let them go over. But Sweden—the king and the prime minister said, no, we weren’t going to let them do that anymore.

And so he said, “Well, if you don’t let us do that, then we will bomb you”.

And there was a deadline set for that, so my father who was up at the Finnish border at that point called home and said, you know, “Get out of there!” And he made all the arrangements for us to go to a little house in the country with another military family. So the man who was in charge of my father’s hunting dogs—that was his big hobby—came in with a big truck and picked us all up in the middle of the night, and we went to this little darling cottage in the woods and we stayed there for four months.

TS:

Oh my!

AM:

And the deadline came and passed and nothing happened, thank God nothing happened.

TS:

And so then you moved back?

AM:

Yeah. We moved back and everything was—it was pretty soon slowed down considerably. But we had a lot of Finnish people—kids—over in Sweden, because they had a terrible time with the war up there [there were three consecutive wars waged in Finland during the period of the Second World War: The Winter War (1939-40), The Continuation War (1941-44), and The Lapland War (1944-45)] and we had a Finnish boy in our house. He stayed with us for four years—cutest little guy you’d ever want to see.

TS:

How did that come about that you’d get the children? Do you recall?

AM:

There were lots and lots of—I don’t know exactly—the mechanism, how it worked, but there were some like five thousand or six thousand children from Finland, they came to Sweden [in total some 70,000 children were evacuated from Finland to neighboring countries] because the parents were scared to keep them there—keep them at home because of the war. Many of them were killed before they got to us, but—so every city was notified of how many children there were and what family could possibly take and how many. So we volunteered to take one and we said we preferred a boy, apparently—I don’t know, my mother and father did that, not me.

TS:

Yeah. So you had someone in the house a little bit younger than you, then?

AM:

Actually, he was two years—no, he was the same age as me.

TS:

Same age.

AM:

Yeah and he was a lot of fun. He went to school with us. He was there for two years.

TS:

Did—was your schooling disrupted at all?

AM:

No.

TS:

Just everything continued?

AM:

Except for the three months we were in the cottage in the woods.

TS:

Right.

AM:

But other than that we were in school pretty much regular as it was.

TS:

Now, here they have like the summers off for school. Did you have the same sort of thing?

AM:

We had the summer school. We had summers off, but there was summer school for two reasons: either if you were told you had to go to summer school because you didn’t do well during the year, or if you really wanted to because you had—you felt you hadn’t done well in some certain subject. So it was a choice, and sometimes it was a “you will”.

TS:

Oh I see, okay.

AM:

And luckily I—it happened to me one time that it was suggested. It was very nicely suggested that I do it in one subject—I can’t remember what it was even now—for the short period. You could go for the whole summer or you could go for the six week period, so I did the six week period. That was the only time I did it. But a lot of kids did it— and a lot of kids had to—so that you know you had to really be very good and very studious and work very hard to get the grades. It wasn’t something that was easy, so that’s why summer school, in many ways, was helpful because I know that I vol—well sort of volunteered—as I said, it was a combination of suggestion and volunteer. I felt a little weak in a subject. I think it was math and I liked math, but I still didn’t feel that I had enough—I mean, it was way up in trigonometry by that time.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

So I took it for six weeks, and it was very helpful and the next year I was fine with it.

TS:

So it gave you kind of a little primer for going—

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

I see. Now, I’m curious—I’ve talked to a number of women who grew up in the Depression in the United States, did you feel any hardship at all in this way?

AM:

Here? No.

TS:

No, when you were growing up?

AM:

No. I can’t say I did—spoiled rotten. [laughter]

TS:

So you had—so we had the war and the war’s over in ’45, so you would’ve been—

AM:

Twelve?

TS:

Twelve years old, right. So you’re still in like what we would call elementary school.

AM:

Yeah. I started high school when I was twelve.

TS:

Oh, you started high school. So now the war’s over—now do you see any changes—were there any changes with your family?

AM:

Oh, well, Daddy was home a lot more.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

So that was very nice. And—

TS:

Yeah. Did your mother work at all?

AM:

—he was promoted—no.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

No, she was a hostess at the regiment. That was the extent of her—

TS:

That was her work.

AM:

And she wanted to be home with the kids, and that was very nice. I still advertise that for people, because I enjoyed coming home from school every day knowing Mother was there—even though we had a cook and all that kind of stuff—and she was lovely—we adored her, but first question to her every time she’d open the door, “Mother home?” So we were a little spoiled with that, but I’m very glad we were. My brother said the same thing. It was great to have Mother at home.

TS:

But you say your father was home more, too, then?

AM:

Yeah. He was—when he was—moved to Halmstad —he became chief of the regiment there, so he was living at home more.

TS:

So now you’re—the war’s over, you’re still going to school?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Now do you have a sense of, you know, what your future’s going to be like? For a girl growing up in Sweden, what kind of opportunities were available to them at this time?

AM:

Well, my father wanted me to go to medical school. I did not want to go to medical school, because no women went to medical school—no girls went to medical school in those days.

TS:

Why did your father want you to go?

AM:

Because it was not good enough to be a nurse. He was a little bit on the snobby side—      bless his sweet heart—but he wanted what was best, I guess, for me, but I didn’t think that was best for me at the time. So I wanted to be a nurse, so he thought maybe I should look into visiting [The United States of] America for that.

TS:

Oh, okay.

AM:

Because the status, apparently, was better for nurses here than it was for nurses in Sweden. He thought that being a nurse in Sweden was similar to being a maid. Which I don’t think most nurses in Sweden would agree with, but that was how he felt about it. So when Mother was going to Sweden—back to America for a visit with her family, we all went anyway. We couldn’t go during the war, but after the war we went to visit Grandpa and Grandma and aunts and uncles in Connecticut. And that’s how I started going and looking at nursing schools.

TS:

So what’s your mother’s—how was the connection of your grandma and grandpa being in the United States? Did they just move here or—

AM:

No, they—my grandfather on Mother’s side was Swedish to begin with, and married a German woman, but then she drowned in an accident along with two of Mother’s brothers and sisters. So he had three girls left—Mother and two other girls—and they came over to America because he had some relatives here. And he did some business with inventions and things like that, so he was in New York for a while and he met this very well-to-do woman who came from a banking family, and they got married and she took care of his three girls.

She must have been somewhat of a saint to marry a man with three girls, but anyway, she did and they built this big house in Connecticut right on the Long Island sound. It was the first one out there at that area. And so by the time I was in the picture and visited them there it was 1949—so I was fifteen or sixteen—I was fifteen when I came. I had my sixteenth birthday here. I was just to visit, looking into things, then I went back and finished high school in Sweden and came back to go to college.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

So I still did not want to go to medical school even here, because even though there was—no, there still weren’t any women in medical school at that point, I don’t think.

TS:

Probably very few.

AM:

Yeah, not in Connecticut anyway.

TS:

So why did you decide to come to the United States for schooling?

AM:

Because I was impressed with the people that I met in the United States and the program, and when I compared it I thought I would really like to do it here, I think. And I also was interested in veterinary school, so I worked at a veterinarian’s office clinic for the summer when I was here.

Well, actually I didn’t last very long because I was no good at it whatsoever. I was just in constant tears every time I saw a dog suffering; I was no good for him. I couldn’t understand it, at that young age, why could I deal with a sick person—and deal with it quite well—I did nursing aid work just to try that too and I did quite well with that. But I see a puppy and I would be no good. [laughter] And the vet was cute and very understanding, and he said, “You know, there is not anything wrong with you, it’s just that some people are better with people, and others are better with animals. You’re fine with animals, but not sick animals.” [laughter]

TS:

You don’t like them to be sick

AM:

No, so I decided to give that up. So by excluding different things, nursing was definitely it, and it became very clear during that summer.

TS:

Did you notice any differences in cultures?

AM:

Oh yeah.

TS:

What kind of things struck you?

AM:

I thought that everybody in America was extremely friendly and very informal. Sweden is very formal. I mean, you make a friend in Sweden, he’s your friend forever, but it takes a while to get to know them—it’s not as easy. My mother used to say, “It’s easier to breathe in America.” I thought she was a little nutty when she said that, but I knew what she had meant after I had been here for a while. I could see it myself, but I couldn’t describe exactly why. It was just a feeling.

When I went for my interviews and stuff, it was very informal. I mean I guess they considered it formal. They said, “You’re going for a formal interview,” but to me it was informal. People were smiling and talking and laughing and making jokes, and I wasn’t used to that for an interview. In Sweden it’s very [makes noise]—it’s changed a little now, but it was very formal.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

And a military background my father was made rather formal too. I mean, even having a dinner party: so-and-so sat this side, if his father was something, they had to put him on this side—I mean it was—the rules and regulations were very stiff. They’re not that much anymore, but they’re still a little bit. Much more so than here, but much less than it used to be.

TS:

Kind of like a social hierarchy?

AM:

Yeah, oh yes—very definitely, very definitely. 

TS:

So you ended up going to—where did you go to school?

AM:

University of Connecticut.

TS:

That’s right, University of Connecticut

AM:

Yeah, my aunt wanted me to go to Vassar [College], so I went there for an interview. And it was very nice too, but I didn’t like the fact of—spending four years with nothing but girls, was not really—I couldn’t stand that thought. University of Connecticut for an interview and it was animals, boys, girls—all kinds of normal things and cows and horses. They called it an aggie [agricultural] school, I think, at that point. [It was] sort of derogatory, but I thought it was great. I was very impressed with it and I thought, “If I’m going to go to college in a heavenly place I certainly want to go here.”

TS:

Tell me a little bit, then, about going to University of Connecticut for your college.

AM:

I started there in ’52 and it was a five year program at the time. So the first two years were strictly on campus with a couple summer sessions down at Yale [University] in New Haven—that part of Connecticut, and that was also very nice. The University of Connecticut was great fun. The freshman year was very exciting; I knew right away that I was in the right place at the right time. Everything—every course I took I liked.

And I had to start out with the English 99 or something, because I didn’t know how to say much English. “Hello. How are you? I love you. Yes and no,” that was about it. But I picked it up pretty quick, so after about five weeks I dropped the 99 and got into 105. And then I was with the rest of the same class, so that was good. And everything I took, I enjoyed. Sociology, I found very difficult at first word-wise, because there were so many long complicated words. But I loved the subject, so I really worked very hard. In fact, I had better grades my first semester as a foreign student—even though I was scared to death that if I didn’t have good grades they’d ship me back to Sweden. But because I really worked hard, I didn’t go to any parties, I didn’t do anything but study for my first semester.

TS:

For your first semester?

AM:

Straight As!

TS:

And then what happened in the second semester?

AM:

And then I started going to parties and have fun with friends.

TS:

What kind of things would you do?

AM:

We’d play tennis, we went horseback riding, went to frat parties and sorority parties, and all that kind of stuff. Went to movies, went hiking, joined the—what do you call—Outing Club or something—went white water rafting and hiking in the mountains, and all that kind of stuff. It was very busy all the time, so I didn’t have time to study quite as much. I did okay, but I was not a straight A student anymore, ever. I was usually a couple of B’s— always B’s—and a couple of As, but by no means all anymore.

TS:

But you were having a good time?

AM:

Oh, I was having a wonderful time. That’s what I was told you were supposed to do when you were in college, so that’s what I did. And that was fine with me. The only time it ever  hurt me, it didn’t really hurt me, was when it came to go to graduate school, because they look at what you did in your undergraduate.

So I had no problem getting into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but my first choice was University of Washington in Seattle. And they just laughed at me and they said, “You’re not a straight-A student, so you can’t get in. Don’t even bother to come for an interview!”

And I thought, “Well, that wasn’t very nice. If you knew how nice I was, you would want me!”

Well, that didn’t do any good. I got accepted a couple other places, but I was impressed with Chapel Hill when I came here for an interview, so I chose this one.

TS:

Did you go right after?

AM:

No, no, no, no, no.

TS:

Later, years later.

AM:

Yes. I decided—I thought I was a big shot with a BS [Bachelor of Science] in Nursing. In those days that was good. So I was—I worked at Yale [University] for a while.

TS:

I’m sorry where?

AM:

Yale in New Haven—just for the summer, because I’d been there, so I knew it well. I worked at Cornell Medical Center in New York City.

TS:

So you would’ve graduate in ’56?

AM:

Fifty-seven, it was a five year program.

TS:

Fifty-seven?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Oh, five year program.

AM:

I went to Europe for a year, and then I came back in ’58 and went to Cornell and lived in New York City, and it was loads of fun. Three of us shared an apartment. And again, that was a very big adventure, you know, being in New York City at that young age. All of our parents had to come in and check the apartment before we were allowed to take it. It had to be an apartment building with a doorman and all that kind of stuff, because it wasn’t “safe” otherwise, quote, unquote.

But it was great fun. I enjoyed Cornell very much. And I started in pediatrics, actually, and after a year they asked me to be evening supervisor. And so, I did that for a while, because I enjoyed working evenings. That was always my favorite shift: it was so busy and family was there, you know, it was very active and all that. And I could do a lot of things in the daytime, because I was always a morning person. And in New York City you can go out at midnight, too, if you wanted to, so that was no problem.

So I was at Cornell and became an instructor—my first instructor job—and had a dual position of instructor and supervisor for daytime. So I did that for a couple of years, and then my boss said, “You know, you really should go get your master’s [degree], because we want to keep you here and do x, y, and z.”

I started an internship program for nurses—for BSN [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] nurses—and—because they were so bright and good in many ways, but they were not practical when they came out. They graduated, you know, with all kinds of stuff up here, but they didn’t know what to do with their hands. Well I thought, “Well, medical students have internship. Why don’t we have it for nursing students?”

And so the director said to me, “Why don’t you work one up?”

I said, “That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I just thought it was a good idea” —so I did [create a program].

And then—oh, I had to go back home to Sweden for a while because my mother was sick. So I wasn’t sure I was going to go back and do that stuff with the internship—I had left all of the material—somebody else could pick it up. Came back on the boat and got a call on the boat saying, “We want you to come back and do that, and you’ll get a good salary blah, blah, blah” —a real temptation, in other words.

So I said “Okay.”

So I took it for a year and that’s when they said, “You really ought to go get your master’s and then stay here forever.”

I said, “Okay, whatever you say.” I liked my boss. She was very good and I admired her a great deal, so I thought “Well, if she thinks I should”. And I thought, “Why do I need a master’s degree? I have a BS for heaven’s sakes!” Well, of course, now we all know that was just the beginning of more and more and more, and that’s when I started searching where to go.

TS:

That’s when you started—

AM:

Searching where to go for my master’s degree

TS:

I see.

AM:

And when I came here to [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill I thought, “Well, this will be a good place to go because there’s nothing to do here but study!” [laughter]

You know, in New York—I didn’t want to go to Columbia [University] in New York, because I had too many friends and too much activity and too much fun there. I would never study. So I came here—I thought nothing to do in Chapel Hill but study, so this is a good place to get my master’s—a terrible reason for coming, but anyway.

TS:

When did when did you come to get your master’s?

AM:

Sixty-four.

TS:

Sixty-four.

AM:

Cornell wanted to pay for me and send me, and I said, “I don’t want to do that because I am going to come back—there’s no question about it in my mind—but I don’t want to feel obligated should something happen”. Because if they paid for me then I would feel obligated, of course, to come back. So I got a traineeship—a federal traineeship—came down and started and fell in love with Chapel Hill while I was here. And I was offered a wonderful position on the faculty and, of course, I was just absolutely intrigued with it, so I said “yes”. And I said to Cornell, “I don’t believe this—you’re not going to believe me, but I’m going to stay for a while and teach down there.”

And they said, “Oh you can’t do that! You told us you’d come back!”

And I said, “Yeah, but I didn’t take your money.”

TS:

What was it that you liked so much about here?

AM:

Well, I thought it was a charming university town. It was something—it reminded me a little bit of a Swedish university town my brother went in the southern part of Sweden—is just very nice. And I liked the idea that you had quite a bit of independence in the faculty thing and the study.

This particular course that she offered me to work in was the student chose—they had to take the course, but what they took within the course was up to them. If they wanted to do six weeks of peds [pediatrics] or OB [obstetrics] or med-surg [medical-surgery] or emergency room, whatever, they could do that and they wrote their own objectives and all those things. It was a very highly motivating thing for them, because it wasn’t just somebody telling them, “You have to do this. You have to do that.”

It’s “What do you want to do? It has to be so many hours and you have to write decent objectives that we approve, and then you can set up your own hours for the clinic.”

It was great. So I was very intrigued with that so when I was offered that I thought, “Oh yeah, I’m staying to do that.” And eventually I became in charge of that course and it was fabulous.

TS:

Excellent. Now, did you have a sense that when you started on this journey in the United States that this is where—this was kind of—that you would end up teaching in this way?

AM:

I thought I probably would.

TS:

Yeah?

AM:

Yeah. I was teaching fairly early on, you know, at Cornell and all that sort—I saw that as a—I wanted to be clinical very definitely, but the teaching had to be in there, too.

TS:

Did you also—were you still doing clinical work at that same time or were you mostly just dedicated to your teaching?

AM:

At that—when I was in the graduate school, and after I got my master’s, then it was all teaching. Clinical—when I had students in various areas, of course, I had to do some clinical.

TS:

How was it with your family? Now you’re living here and you’re separated from your family, how was that for you?

AM:

My mother spent part of her year here always with me.

TS:

How nice.

AM:

Which was very nice when I was an undergraduate. We had a house in Connecticut. We did not stay with the big family in the big house anymore. We got our own little place in New Canaan, Connecticut and then she went back to Sweden. And she would come here for a while during the wintertime, because it was very cold in Sweden; as she got older, she was happy to spend a couple months here in the wintertime. And then we’d go to Sweden during the summertime, because I often went to Sweden during the summertime with her. In college we had summers off and even during vacation time I would usually hop home for a while in the summertime.

TS:

So I’m thinking about the time period here we’re talking about. The late ‘50s—the early ‘60s.

AM:

Yeah ,’64 I came down here to get my master’s and graduated in ’66.

TS:

One of the things that I usually ask is about the Cold War at that—that’s going on at that time.

AM:

Yeah?

TS:

Did you have any sense of that politically?

AM:

Not really. I mean it was going on but I did—I was not living in Sweden at the time, and Sweden didn’t really think that anything much was going to come of that. A very unpleasant situation; but, they didn’t really think it was going to be affecting them a whole lot. Although Russia was pushing in the Baltic Sea for a lot of places—they just set up in the Swedish navy—which my brother was part of for a short time—was a little spooky. But I wasn’t feeling personally involved as much, because I was over here at that point.

TS:

Well, you said your father was a general in the Swedish army.

AM:

He was almost retired at that point

TS:

At that—okay. How about—so you would’ve been here when [President] John F. Kennedy was assassinated?

AM:

I was here.

TS:

Do you remember that?

AM:

I certainly do.

TS:

Do you want to tell me about that?

AM:

It was pretty spooky because—I was trying to think exactly—I used to know exactly where I was. I was in Connecticut at the time, living at one of the houses on the family estate and working in New York. I was commuting back and forth. I can’t remember what time of day exactly it was, but I remember calling my best friend who was also working at Cornell at the time and lived in old Greenwich. When we would commute to home together she’d get off a couple of stops before me. And somehow I guess I must have been—I can’t remember what time of—

Do you remember what time of day it was?

TS:

It would’ve been like the afternoon here.

AM:

That’s what I thought, yeah.

And I remember the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call her and said, “Did you hear what I heard on the radio?” I think it was radio, not television, it was radio.

And she said “no”. So she turned it on—so—because it was on all the time for a while.

And we were just stunned. I mean, I couldn’t believe it could happen in America— no way! Because everybody was crazy about Kennedy so, you know, he was an idol kind of thing. “To be shot? No! Can’t be! Must be” —I kept waiting for them to say it was a mistake or that he was grazed or whatever—“He’s in the hospital. He’s okay.” And then when he got to the hospital—shortly after he got to the hospital they announced that he was dead. I mean it was just awful. I think we were all stunned for a couple of days. I thought, well, I guess things aren’t as perfect here as I thought they were. I remember thinking that somewhere along the way.

TS:

That things just weren’t perfect?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

I mean, to me—I became a citizen—when was it, ’64?

TS:

Sixty-three.

AM:

Sixty-three. Okay. I became a citizen in ’60, so I mean, I was real American at that point.

TS:

Why did you decide to become a citizen?

AM:

Because I knew there was no place else in the world that I wanted to live but America. And I also knew I wanted to join the military sooner or later, and you couldn’t do that unless you were a citizen in those days. Today they’ll take anything to help out.

But no, I was very, very proud of—I mean, I loved Sweden. I’ve always—and I thought to myself—because I had friends that came from other parts that were not so on friendly terms with America as Sweden was—and I thought, “Well, thank God I come from a country that America likes and we’re friendly to,” and all that kind of stuff. So I would go home a lot, but I was as far as living goes, no question, I was sold hook line and sinker.

TS:

You said that you knew that you wanted to join the military at some point? Why would ` think that?

AM:

Well, I had always been interested in the military, I guess, from my father’s point of view. I spent a lot of time at the regiment with him and learned a lot about the Swedish military. And I ran into a recruiter in this country when I was a senior in college—in undergraduate, and he talked to me and my roommate at that time—my best friend who later became my sister-in-law—and we both decided that the navy sounded like a great thing to join, and maybe we should do that when we graduate.

TS:

What recruiter was it? What service?

AM:

Navy.

TS:

Navy, okay.

AM:

I liked the uniform. You know, at that young age those things are important. So we thought, “Well, let’s do that.” So we almost signed up. We had plans for—definitely knew we were going to do it. And then her mother got very sick, and she thought that she better not go for two years somewhere not knowing what was going to happen to her. And I didn’t really want to go all by myself at that point.

So we thought well we’ll wait and see, you know. It’ll be there, it’s not going to go away, so we’ll see what happens. But then, of course, she got involved with my brother and this kind of stuff—we never did do it. But the next time that I got involved and interested it was the army—which was the end of graduate school many years later.

TS:

It was during graduate school?

AM:

It was—no—actually I did finish graduate school with my first year of teaching at UNC. And one of my students in that course—I was telling you, you can chose your own thing— she wanted to know if she could have fifteen minutes at the end of class to talk about the Army Reserve. And I thought, “Oh well, of course you can have fifteen minutes. Why not? I mean, I’d be interested in hearing it myself,” says I.

So she really appreciated it. She wanted to talk to the whole class, because she had been in Vietnam already or was—yeah, she had been to Vietnam. And she was very interested in getting people into understanding what the Army Reserve could offer somebody if they were on temporarily active duty or if they were full time active duty— that’s fine. So I listened probably more interested than any of the students, and sure enough, it was her talk that made me go and look for a recruiter. He didn’t come looking for me, I come looking for him.

TS:

Do you remember what this young student did when she was in the Army Reserve?

AM:

Yeah, she was a nurse.

TS:

She was a nurse also?

AM:

Yeah, and she was in Vietnam as a nurse.

TS:

About what year would that have been?

AM:

Let’s see,‘60—

TS:

You said you joined in ’67, so somewhere around that time?

AM:

Sixty-five.

TS:

Okay, so a few years before you joined.

Well, before we get into you joining the reserve, can you tell me a little bit about the like—did you—for your time off now—now you’re teaching, right? What did you—did you go to dances? What kind of entertainment did you have?

AM:

Oh, in Chapel Hill when I was a young teacher here?

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

We did a lot of sports, did a lot of partying, did a lot of outdoor things. There was still tennis—didn’t play soccer anymore—they didn’t do that here—skiing, of course, in the wintertime, all the time. Of course—even found skiing in North Carolina was pretty decent up near Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, and places like that; so that was good. School dances at the university—they had some things—plays—

TS:

See any movies or anything? You remember any particular movies stars that you enjoyed to watch?

AM:

Ingrid Bergman—Swedish movies. Loved Cary Grant—Clark Gable was popular in those days—Cary Grant was my all-time favorite I think. Some of the western even—Gary Cooper I liked. Humphrey Bogart with Ingrid Bergman—Casablanca was one of my favorites and I still remember—I’ve seen it a hundred times.

Of course, we still went to New York [City] periodically to go to shows. We’d take a week and go see a couple good Broadway shows. Got spoiled when I lived in New York, you could just walk down the street and go to a Broadway show. But then they had some good ones even here in Raleigh [North Carolina] I guess, at that time— they had started. So it was a pretty busy life both teaching-wise and fun-wise, and outdoors—a lot of outdoors stuff, which I’ve always been interested in.

TS:

How about music?

AM:

Yes. I liked music a lot. I didn’t play any myself, unfortunately. I mean, I messed with the piano, but I was never good at it. But I loved concerts. I loved a lot of classical music—went to concerts in New York again.

TS:

You had at this time kind of the counter-culture coming in too in this period.

AM:

What do you mean counter—

TS:

Well, there’s a change in the type of music that’s happening—

AM:

Oh yeah.

TS:

—and there’s a change in—because of the war—you had a lot more youth using drugs and things like that. Did you see this or experience this or—

AM:

I saw some of it. I did not experience it myself, thank God, but I did see a lot of that— especially for the people that came back from Vietnam, and that was really very disturbing to me.

TS:

Do you want to talk about that a little bit? You talked a little bit about that before we started the recorder.

AM:

Well, because I had a friend who was very, very bright. She was on the faculty before she went to Vietnam and she was with the 312th [Evacuation Hospital]: the unit that went to Vietnam, and she was there for almost a year, and she came back totally destroyed in a way. She’d been heavy into alcohol, heavy into drugs—mostly marijuana started it—and then I don’t know what other drugs there were too, because I didn’t ever ask her. But she was just totally—she finally got straightened out, but it took over a year of pretty heavy therapy that she was in.

And I saw, well, a couple other people that were not as close friends as she was, but acquaintances that I also saw—there were some not as bad off as she was, but had either alcohol or drug problems coming back from Vietnam.

TS:

Was she a nurse also?

AM:

Yes, this one was a nurse. There was-- they were all three nurses as a matter of fact, the ones that were messed up.

TS:

So did this give you any feeling about the war in Vietnam, at all?

AM:

Yeah

TS:

What were you thinking personally about it?

AM:

I was beginning to wonder, you know, I thought it was something I’d be very proud to do if I had been called. And I thought to myself, “Why are we really there?” I was beginning to wonder because everybody came—I mean this society was so anti-war, or anti-Vietnam rather, that we were all doing the wrong thing by being there.

We had—I was in—when I was in the reserve we had to go to meetings over in Durham at our headquarters—besides the trip down to Fort Bragg once a month—the Durham headquarters we met once a week. And you were scared to death to go in your uniform, because people would throw rotten eggs at you.

TS:

Did you ever experience that?

AM:

Yeah. So we decided that we would actually carry our uniform in a bag and change there, because it was almost getting to the point of being scary. They threw rocks at some people if they were in uniform. It was not a very long period that I remember experiencing, but it was enough to be scared. I mean, when we started realize—I was so proud of my uniform—to think that I had to stick it in a bag to carry it—because I didn’t want to walk down the street with it—that was very hard.

It was about a year, I think, that was really bad. But then I don’t know what made it change, but it changed. I guess it was at the end of the Vietnam War. Those poor guys that came back didn’t get any recognition or any thank you. When I think about what happened when Vietnam—I mean, Operation Desert Storm was over and I was in [Washington] D.C., because I had been involved with that myself and the hero’s welcome that those guys got was unbelievable and that was less than a year that that war lasted. These guys had been slaving over there forever, it seemed and lost lots of things—came back and got nothing. That was really tough. So I thank God I was not on active duty then, but that I was in Desert Storm instead.

TS:

Well, let’s go back, Amie, and talk about why you did then finally decide to join the Army Reserve. What was it that piqued your interest about it? Was there something that you were looking for? What was it that you can remember about it?

AM:

When I did the interview—also, I had a neighbor who was a retired general here in Chapel Hill. We used to play bridge together. He brought me in to meet some other people and the two of us would go play bridge with these other very nice people, all retired, and here I was very young—I was only thirty—I was the only young person in there. But he talked a lot about the reserves—I mean the military—of course, being a general.

And he knew my background and said, “Why don’t you join the reserves? You really should.” He was telling me that I should go down to Fort Bragg [North Carolina] and look to see what they do—what the unit does when they go down there for a week—because there’s no way anybody can tell you the same way that you can see it.

[conversation about Amie’s dog redacted]

AM:     So anyway, I took his advice and I went down to Fort Bragg, and I met some of the people from the 3274th [U.S. Army Hospital Unit], on a weekend when they were there, and they showed me around the hospital, Womack Army Hospital where they did their work—and the classroom teaching of corpsmen [enlisted medical specialists] —as well as working in the hospital with the corpsmen.

Because the nurses did not have to learn to work as nurses—they already knew that, but the corpsmen could have been anything from mailman to service station gas pumper—that kind of stuff, who had to learn how to be medics. And that appealed to me— that we could help teach these people to be useful in the medical situation part-time. Because you always need more people than you have in the medical field, I know that just from teaching and being here.

So I thought, “Well, that would be great. One weekend a month, that’s not a lot to give up.”

So after I saw what they really do, you know, some people said, “Well, they go sit in a room somewhere and listen to people giving classes, and that’s it.”

And I thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun.” But when I saw what this unit did I was very impressed. And I thought, “Yes, I would like to be a part of that.”

I went back and told the general and he said, “I told you, you would like it. But he said “It’s been so long since I had been in. I wasn’t quite sure what they did at this point.” So we talked some more about it and that was when I went to find out about signing up for the 3274th, and I did.

TS:

Now tell me, you told me earlier about why you picked the unit that you picked.

AM:

I wanted to be sure that I picked the one that was going to Vietnam, because I thought at that point that’s what I wanted to be in the military for. So I did not know. I didn’t know much of anything, but certainly didn’t know whether this unit or the unit in Winston-Salem [North Carolina] was going to be the more likely one. If I had known what I know now, obviously a field unit would’ve been much more likely to go than a hospital unit that was going to be taking over Womack Army Hospital in case of war. But the guy who was helping me make the decision, I found out later, was interested in having me in the unit rather than looking out for what was best for me and my interests. But we became good friends anyway, so that was okay but there was no dating situation. But—

TS:

So originally you had hoped to go to Vietnam. Why did you feel that you wanted to go to Vietnam?

AM:

Well, it seemed to me at that point that they were always talking about how they needed people and medical folks especially, they were talking about—I’m sure they needed others too, but that was obviously what appealed to me—the medical part. So I thought, “Well, if I’m going to join, I guess I should join a unit that is likely to go, because then I could be of any more use.”

And I was very proud of being an American citizen—joining the army and all these things that my father would’ve loved to see me do. He had just died, so he never did see me in my uniform. I went to his funeral in uniform, but that was it. So that was why I really wanted to go to Vietnam, but I’m also very glad that as it turned out that I did not. I think I was better off here and contributed more here than I would have in Vietnam, because I don’t think I would’ve dealt as well with all that suffering. Some people did very well with it; some people did not.

TS:

And you had told me earlier that you thought that maybe that was a blessing sort of—

AM:

Yeah. It was a blessing in disguise. Somebody bigger than I decided this was not where I needed to be. I would do better for the 3274th, and I think I did. I became the chief nurse of that unit my second year in. I was still a major—I came in as a captain, was promoted to major the next year, and asked to take over the position as chief nurse with two full bird colonels ahead of me. And I thought, “Now wait a minute I can’t do that!”

And they both convinced me that, “Yes, you can do that!” They didn’t want it.

TS:

They didn’t want it?

AM:

No.

TS:

Why didn’t they want it?

AM:

They were quite a bit older and they were close to retirement, and they really didn’t want to take on that much. I mean it’s a big job—no question about it. And as a reservist, especially, you had to spend a lot of time between—it wasn’t just a weekend once a month, you had to spend a lot of time planning and working out lesson plans, and working out strategic planning for conferences and that sort of stuff—activities in order to be prepared to do what you had to do the next annual training session. You know, it’s a lot of time consuming things, but I was thrilled to do it. It was not a chore for me.

TS:

So you’re working in that capacity, and also your full time job?

AM:

Right.

TS:

At Chapel Hill?

AM:

Yes.

TS:

You were pretty busy.

AM:

Yup. My friends who didn’t live here—friends that I had elsewhere—used to write Christmas letters, you know [unclear]. They used to call up and say, “Gee, I get exhausted just hearing—reading your Christmas letter.” Yes, I think I was extremely busy when I think about it afterward— in retrospect—but it was fun. I mean, I enjoyed it. It was not a chore. It didn’t feel like a chore.

TS:

The idea of being in the reserve was it—do you have any notion that you were going to end up twenty-nine years later—

AM:

No.

TS:

—retired as a colonel?

AM:

No, I thought I would stay in a couple of years, and hopefully contribute something to this wonderful unit that I had joined that I really enjoyed. And then, of course, when I became the chief nurse a year later then I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll stay a couple years if I’m going to take this position.” So I thought I’d probably stay three or four years maybe, and that would be it. No, I had no earthly—if anyone had told me I was going to stay twenty-nine I would say “You guys are crazy!”

TS:

Well, tell me about when the first—if you recall— the first time you got to put the uniform on.

AM:

Oh yes, I do remember that very well, because that was the first weekend I was going down to Fort Bragg. And we had gone down before—two other girls who were already in the unit—and they took me down to help me go to the clothing store and get the uniform, which was very nice of them. So we did that instead of waiting for the weekend, since I had to be ready to go—I couldn’t get the uniform then.

So we drove down in between the two drills and got my uniform, and I put it on that morning. We drove down on Fridays—we always spent the night down there— everybody met at the officer’s club on Friday night, had dinner and dance—the old fashioned dance bands, you know those wonderful things don’t exist anymore.

TS:

Like a swing band?

AM:

Yeah, right!

Oh, it was great! We were always a great big huge table—start out with five, six, seven people coming in, and as the evening wore on everyone would be driving down. Everybody came down Friday night—almost everybody—because they wanted to be part of the party thing as well and dancing and having a great time.

So Saturday morning I got up and put on my uniform for the first time. I got up two hours in advance to be sure I had everything on right, must have looked at it ten times—went knocking on the door next door and said, “Do I look all right? Did I put it on right?”

Oh man, I was so proud! I felt like I was a peacock. I really was. And [I] took it very seriously.

TS:

Your father would’ve been proud.

AM:

Yeah. And it was a very first weekend that I was at Fort Bragg that I got a telegram about my father. And he got the letter that I had sent that I was going to join—and this was going to be my first weekend—fell into the mailbox the same morning that he died, so he never saw it.

TS:

He never got your letter?

AM:

No.

TS:

Oh.

AM:

But I know he knew it anyway. It was funny—well, it wasn’t funny, but strange that it happened that way.

TS:

Yeah. How’d your mom feel about it?

AM:

Well, she was very—she kept, you know, reassuring me, because obviously I was rather sad at the time, that Daddy knew that I was going to join and that he would be—she was over with me here at the time—that he would be very proud to have me come to the funeral in uniform.

So man, I did. And I was scared to death, because I’d only worn it once and I was going to a foreign country and wear it to a funeral. Wow, that was a biggie—a real biggie. And I had a cousin over in Sweden who was in the [Swedish] Air Force and I thought, “Well, he can check me out and be sure.” Well, he didn’t really know for sure, but he thought I looked all right. So we went to the funeral together with all the family of course, and I guess I did all right.

TS:

How did your mother feel about you being in the army?

AM:

Oh, she thought it was wonderful. She was very proud. So that was no problem with that.

TS:

Tell me a little bit about how you juggled both of those worlds: the civilian world and       then the military world.

AM:

Well, I spent the time—I organized it pretty well, because there was a lot to do being full time faculty to prepare for classes and lectures and that sort of thing. But it was a matter of organizing your time. You spent certain evenings doing that, and the week before you were going down to Fort Bragg for your weekend—or couple of hours here and there—you had to be sure you had the faculty in place—all the people that were going to do whatever they were going to do for teaching.

And we covered all the hospital wards and we opened two clinics for the hospital—doctors and nurses from Duke [University Hospital] and [University of North] Carolina [Hospital] that we had down there. And I recruited half the faculty from the School of Nursing. They even said to me, “Boy, you better not ever go on active duty, I’m going to lose half my faculty!”

And I said, “Well, don’t worry, it’s not going to happen!”

Well, it happened, of course, many, many years later, and I still got blamed for that. But anyway, I had organized the time—that’s all. And I had to give up very little— some social activity—I couldn’t go to parties as much maybe, but that was okay. That became less important as both the job and the army was becoming more important. And I had Friday night when we went down there. It was always a fun party night—goodness gracious!

Now, after I became chief nurse I didn’t stay out till four and five in the morning anymore. Everybody said, “What are you doing going home? It’s only one o’clock!”

“One o’clock is late enough. I need a few hours sleep if I’m going to be in good shape tomorrow.” So I got a lot of teasing for being too serious about the job—that was just me.

TS:

Chief Nurse might need to have a little bit of seriousness.

AM:

Yeah, absolutely—absolutely. I mean I couldn’t say to them “you’ve got to be on time for this that and the other” unless I was. And I had a wonderful general who promoted me— when I was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel—he said, “We all must remember that every promotion brings many more privileges, and rank has its privilege, you know that old saying, but it has a Siamese twin and it is called responsibility.”

And I never forgot that. It just went in there and stayed there forever. And I thought, “Well, that makes sense.” So if they want to make fun of me because I had to go home early, I don’t care.

TS:

Did you—did you sense any different cultures with the work you were doing in the military, and then the work you were doing in the academic world?

AM:

Well, they were very different of course. It’s much more flexible in the academic world. Everything is pretty much “this is the way it is” in the military, you don’t vary it a whole lot. Your students, if they wanted to change things—especially in the course which I was involved with, which was a lot of freedom—was very different than the way we were teaching down in Fort Bragg. These guys had to have lesson plans and this and that and the other— one, two, three—much more rigid. But it was still nice to have the flexibility in your head, because you could be—not lenient, I don’t mean that—but you could instill in these students, who were by no means medical folks—who were lawyers or gas station attendants or whatever who had to learn medical stuff—that it’s, you know, get them to see that it was fun to do that, and not just one, two, three.

So it was different, but it worked. I was able to feel comfortable in both and bring some of the best to both.

TS:

Now, at the time that you’re in the service, here in the late sixties—early seventies—there’s a change kind of in the American culture as far as women’s rights, civil rights— and you have the civil rights protests going on in Greensboro [North Carolina] too, when you were in Chapel—well, actually it would’ve happened a little bit earlier than you had moved down here.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Did you have a sense of what was going on in—around you for that?

AM:

Yes, very definitely, because we had no black faculty, for instance, in the School of Nursing. And the dean asked me one day if I had any black friends when I went to New York all the time—when I was at Cornell—because she had heard that there were some black faculty. And I said, “Oh yeah, one of my best friends from Jamaica.”

“Well, that’s even better because she’s not all black.” There was brown or whatever—I didn’t know how to differentiate it, but anyway that was more acceptable. “Do you think she would like to come down here?”

And I said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ll ask her when I go up next time,” because she was a very close friend I often stayed with her when I was in New York. So I made a point next time of going, “Hey Carol, why don’t you come down and take a look at our school of nursing down there?”

I mean, she was extremely valuable at Cornell. They offered her green meadows and much money. And she graduated from Cornell. She was my first student in my class teaching there. Scared me to death, because she was so inquisitive about everything and I didn’t have the answer to half her questions.

Anyway so she said, “Well, it would be fun because it would be nice to be with you and Sandy” —and some of these other people she knew down here—“but I don’t know, some people are funny in the south.”

I didn’t quite know what she meant at first, to tell you the truth, because that sort of thing—a lot of that went over my head completely. She said, “I don’t consider myself black, but people would consider me black if I came down. I might have to sit on your porch and rock a baby.”

And I said, “Oh, come on, don’t be ridiculous.”

So anyway, long story short, she came down for an interview, and of course she was offered a job. And she moved down here and she became the professor in the path of physiology, and without a doubt one of the best that’s ever been here. She got the teacher award the second year she was down here. And we’re still best of friends. She moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to UNC [University of North Carolina at Charlotte] up there many, many, many years later when I—same year that I left here as a matter of fact—and stayed there ‘til she retired.

But so yeah, there were not any black faculty until Carol came. She really broke the ground with everybody because she was so good. The dean told me I gave her a treat, because she couldn’t have started with a better person—which was true—but I didn’t know that. She was a friend of mine, of course she’s going to come down.

TS:

Did she experience any of the discrimination—

AM:

No.

TS:

—that she was worried about?

AM:

No, she really didn’t. She had a white roommate, who was her roommate in New York [City]. She came down here also to go to graduate school. Carol was already finished with graduate school at the time. So Pam went to graduate school here, and then became a bigwig in psych[ology].

And so they lived together for a while and then Pam got married—no she didn’t— she moved out one summer. But anyway—so yeah—she—but she didn’t feel I guess— because she was always in with the rest of us who were white, for one thing. In fact, she was almost—what do you call it— prejudiced herself, which I didn’t realize. Because I had another friend who was definitely a black American who came to visit, and Carol was a little snotty about it. And I thought to myself “What the heck is this? It doesn’t make sense!”

And she said, “Well, you know, I grew up in Jamaica—grew up on a plantation. We had servants. We had this. We had that.”

“Oh, so you mean it’s even within this race there’s different grades and so on?” “Oh yes.”

So I learned a lot about it from her, but I had no idea. I thought, “Well, if your skin color is brown than it’s the same all over.” Oh no, no, not at all! Big difference if you’re from upper-class Jamaica, and you look down upon the average black person in America. Okay.

TS:

How about in the military? How did this translate?

AM:

I did not see that in the military. You know, when I joined the 3274th, we had black nurses. We certainly had lots of black enlisted. My favorite sergeant was black.

TS:

Male or female?

AM:

Male. Because I didn’t—I never experienced having prejudice myself, so therefore I may not have seen it as much as if I—you know—if I was looking down on them myself, maybe, I would see more.

I even asked them one time—oh, one of the—I had two sergeants who were black as a matter of fact: one male and one female—no, these were both males. And they wanted to take a picture of us—the chief nurse and two sergeants—and I said, “Okay”.

So they said, “This is an Oreo cookie.”

I said, “It’s a what?”

They said, “Oreo cookie: two black and a white.”

I missed half of those jokes, because I was so naïve it was ridiculous; but, they accepted me as I was, and we had a great time—and oh, they were fantastic. But they lived—and we all lived in the same quarters. I don’t think that they experienced— certainly they were promoted just like anybody else.

It was looking more at what they were doing than what the color of the skin was—that was my experience. And I think that it was their experience. I can’t swear to that, but I know that they felt very much a part of the group. In 3274th, maybe we were the exception. It was an exceptional unit in many ways, so maybe that was part of it.

TS:

Well, as chief nurse didn’t you get some of the personnel issues coming through your door for that?

AM:

For the black issues?

TS:

Any—any personnel issues.

AM:

Oh yeah, any problem would go through my door of course. But—

TS:

What kind of things would you have to deal with for that?

AM:

I had a couple things of nurses who would not—who would be dating enlisted—or officers would be dating enlisted, and that was a no-no. I couldn’t do anything about that. I mean, I could tell them that this is a no-no, but if they still did it there wasn’t anything I could do. I couldn’t go out and grab them out of the bar or wherever they were, but it was not— it was very little of that actually.

But I did have one nurse who got into trouble—got into bed with somebody—one of the patients in the hospital, and that did not go over too great. So and then—so I really had to give her some pretty much harsh reprimand. Most people I could talk to and that would be it—one time talking and no more. But this particular little soul, I must have talked to her five times, and then finally had to discipline and threaten her with demotion if it happened again, because I could not make any more excuses for her. And I hated to do it because she was a good nurse. And she was great when she was great, and when she was bad she was horrid. And she also drank an awful lot, and that was a problem, because every time she was caught doing one of these things, she was drunk. So you know I kept saying, “You need help with your drinking. You don’t need discipline for your behavior, you need help for your drinking and you’ll be all right.”

So she actually did have some counseling about her drinking, and I think she went to—she started going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] up in—here in Chapel Hill, because she was working at Duke [University] as a nurse too, and that didn’t go [unclear].

TS:

What other kind of issues did you have to face?

AM:

Occasionally, somebody would be disappointed or angry or wonder if it was fair that they didn’t get promoted, but that was very rare. It was—that was pretty standard. We were very fair and square when somebody was eligible time wise—and if they hadn’t done anything bad—they would be promoted. It wasn’t if they’d done anything super good— just that they had done their time, and they had been good and not done anything bad— followed the rules and regulations. That was it. So that was most unusual that somebody would be unhappy about that.

But later on promotion became more difficult, you may have to do something besides just not get into trouble—maybe do something outstanding to get to colonel or lieutenant colonel or even major. But in those days it was pretty much doing your time, and keeping your nose clean as they used to say.

TS:

Now, with women in the military, in the military culture—now, you were in the Army       Nurses Corps?

AM:

Yes.

TS:

So there’s a lot of females.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

In the way that the hierarchy went for that.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Was there any type of—did you—how did you feel that you were treated as a woman in the army?

AM:

By?

TS:

By your—say your superiors, at all?

AM:

In the army?

TS:

By men and women, yes.

AM:

I think I was personally—I can’t say that I ever felt not treated well and respected for my grade, as well as my job, and being chief nurse and all that. And I think most of my col—most of my nurses felt the same way—that they were treated with respect.

And I think, as you say, it was the one thing I remember was when I was teaching here at Chapel Hill. The first couple of years there was a student who told me that when her parents came down, would I talk to them, because she really wanted to join the Army Nurse Corps. But her parents said, “You can’t do that because it’s not good. Women only join the military, because they want a man or another woman.”

And I thought to myself, “Really?”

I mean, that had never entered my mind that that was really true. So it was Parents’ Day—and I’ll never forget it—and she came up to me. She said, “My daughter wanted me to meet you because I understand you’re in the military.”

“Oh yes, I am. Yes, she did tell me that, as a matter of fact. Very happy to meet you—talk with you—blah, blah, blah.”

They said, “Are you sure you’re in the military?”

I said, “Yes, I’m the chief nurse in the unit here. I’ve been in for four years and I love every minute of it.”

Well, they just for some reason didn’t think that I fit in the picture, whatever the picture was. I guess I didn’t look like either a man chaser or a woman chaser. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it was funny myself. Sure enough, she did join later because I got a card from her after she had gone in. Oh, she joined the navy, that’s right. And she did very well and had quite a career. [I] heard from her a couple of times as she went up the ladder. And her parents went down for her first promotion, and they were very fine with it, and met other people who, quote, “were normal too”. Oh, that was funny.

So yes, there was probably a lot of that that I was not aware of. It probably went over my head like many other things did.

TS:

Did you have any cases that came to you for, like, sexual harassment or things like that?

AM:

No, there was one only, and I think that was justified, because it was a very bright nurse—very attractive—and she was promised by this visiting general that we had from the next higher ARCOM [United States Army Reserve Command] from us—3274th was under—of course, I don’t know how much you know about the hierarchy in the military. But you were in the military yourself, weren’t you, of course you know.

Okay the ARCON above us—the general would come to inspect periodically to see that we were doing well and all that kind of stuff. Well, you know, we always took them to dinner and they became part of the party, and blah, blah, blah. But apparently he found this nurse very attractive and kind of was a little pushy, and she didn’t like that. She was not interested, besides the fact that he was married, so she thought that—she considered that harassment.

And I didn’t know hardly what harassment was. I had to go look it up in the dictionary. But anyway, there was an unwanted thing you know. I thought he was just being polite and telling her she was attractive—that was okay. People told me I was attractive. I never took that as a what-cha-ma-call-it—harassment.

But what he did which she shared with me before I got the official complaint, was that he was going to see that she got promoted ahead of time if she went to bed with him. Now, that’s not a smart thing for a general to say, because she, of course, told me and our commander. So we both had to deal with this harassment thing and it was pretty ugly actually, because he tried to be very ugly to her as a result of this. But it ended with—he lost—I mean, she was taken out of the situation completely—bypass him for her promotion and all that.

TS:

What happened to him?

AM:

He got reprimanded—not demoted. He should’ve been demoted as far as I’m concerned. I mean, he got two warnings and he still kept doing it. That’s pretty bad in my book, just because—and I would say—because he was a man and he was a general—and I think a lot of that happened other places that I never heard about it, but you hear about it later or read about it—whatever. I mean, you read so much about it today; women being harassed still. I never really thought that much of that—I thought it was a rare occasion, but I don’t think it was a rare occasion. I think it happened quite a bit, but I didn’t personally get involved except this one.

TS:

Did you think that there was anything in particular that was difficult for you to deal with in the military? Like, say, emotionally or physically?

AM:

I can’t think of any. I know a lot of my nurses had a hard time with the PT [physical training] test. They were expecting a lot of a woman to do all the push-ups and the running. I loved it, so I didn’t have a problem with it. Even though some of them had all kinds of reasons explaining why physically it was very bad for a woman to do pushups. Well, I did push-ups, I didn’t have any problem. And sit-ups, women do better than men because of the pelvis, so I had very little sympathy for the ones that griped about the PT test I must say. Because, if you kept yourself in halfway decent shape—and I thank the army for that, I still go to exercise three times a week thanks to the military. I’m sure I never would have done it otherwise. I would’ve go walking or done what I did physically I mean, sports-wise, but when I could no longer do that I wouldn’t have gone to exercise and lift weights and all that kind of stuff. I would’ve thought that was stupid. But no, I consider that a great thing.

But yes, there were some people that felt that was very difficult and it was not good for them to do those things, and they were very adamant about it—some of them. Luckily, most of my nurses accepted it and did fine. And I always—I was a little proud, I guess. I had to be sure that I could do it as well as any of them or better—preferably better. [laughter] If they did it in twenty minutes two miles, then I should do it in eighteen. It was friendly competition that they seemed to like too, so that was okay.

TS:

Well tell me a bit—so you had your month-to-month that you went—

AM:

Can I get some—

TS:

Oh yes, let’s take a little break here. Yes, here, let’s pause.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay. We had a short little break there, and I’m back with Amie. And I was going to ask you, too about—so physically, you’re fit and trying to make sure that you’re showing off a little [laughter]; and now, mentally, was there anything that was difficult at all for you?

AM:

I really can’t think of anything, to tell you the truth. Again, I think I was very fortunate. I was always in the right place in the right time with the right people.

TS:

Do you think—that’s a point that I’m interested to know more about, like, with the right people. So, do you feel like you were mentored at all?

AM:

I had very good commanders—every one of them—I cannot say that I had a bad commander in my entire experience, which I think is pretty unusual when I talk to other chief nurses and other people who were colleagues of mine. So I’m sure that that helped a lot, why I didn’t experience some of the things that some of my colleagues did experience.

TS:

Like for example? Can you give me an example of something like that?

AM:

Some women felt that they were treated inferior and not fairly always, and some of them actually felt that they were treated like second class citizens. I never felt any of that.

TS:

So you think that had a lot to do with who was in the chain of command for you?

AM:

I think it does. I think it did. Because as I said, I can’t think of a single commander I had anywhere that I would’ve said, “Oh, I wish he was not my commander!” There were some that were better than others—that I liked more than others maybe—but there wasn’t any that were bad or unfair, or any of those things, I didn’t feel.

TS:

Do you think that because they’re the ones writing for your promotions right?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Your performance reports?

AM:

Right.

TS:

Was that an obstacle for some of the other women?

AM:

Yes, it was, and I never felt that. And even when I left the 3274th and went to my next job, the commander from the place I left and the new commander talked to each other, and there were good words said before I even got there.

I was really very blessed, because as you—the longer I was in the more difficult it became for the higher rankings to find a slot. And promotions were pretty much automatic, as I said, when you first started—when I first started—unless you did something terribly wrong—but then you really had to kind of shine when you got higher up, because there were only so many slots for lieutenant colonels and even fewer slots for colonels. By the time Sandy came for the board of colonels—she was a little behind me—a couple years behind me—there was only twelve slots for colonels in the whole country, so you had to be, you know, ranking in your performance pretty high up to get there.

Again, I was very fortunate that way. I had good positions. So if you did a good job in a good position, you couldn’t lose. But if you didn’t live up to that—because it was pretty high standards you had to live up to—if you were already put in a position as a young officer—I mean, I was put in a chief nurse position as a major. That’s pretty puny— I mean, not puny rank, but it’s unusual to be a major chief nurse at that big of a unit.

TS:

How many people were in that unit?

AM:

Four hundred and something.

And then when the slot—when I moved to St. Louis, I really didn’t think I was going to find a colonel slot because there was only two units there and none of them had an opening. And I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll just go talk to the commander and see if there’s any possibility of something in the future.” But I didn’t want to lose—at this point I was in long enough that I thought, “Well, I want to go for twenty now”. Plus, I loved it, so I had no desire to drop out.

So my commander called Colonel Burmeister[?] in Saint Louis [Missouri] and told him that unfortunately he was going to lose his chief because of a civilian job that she had accepted in Saint Louis, and she’ll be coming to talk to you and see if there’s any opening in your unit for an O-6 [colonel pay grade]. And he said, “I strongly suggest you look for an opening.”

That’s what he—what I found out later he’d said, which was very nice. So obviously, I came with a good recommendation. And I went to see Colonel Burmeister and he said, “It’s really funny, but it just so happens that the chief nurse I have is getting ready to retire.”

“Oh, was she?” I don’t know why. She was awful young to retire, but anyway, she was not there when I came back to stay.

TS:

What year was this that you made that move?

AM:

Let’s see, ’87?

TS:

Eighty-seven?

AM:

Eighty-three.

TS:

So why did you—why did you make this shift?

AM:

Oh, this civilian job. I got this great offer in St Louis to—actually both of us—Sandy got— I got the job first to help with starting a teaching nursing home with Saint Louis University, and I would be working with four geriatricians. Absolute paradise, because I was in geriatrics at that point—both in their clinics. I would have my own clinic with one of them, and I would be with all four of them in our geriatric unit in our hospital. And I would be with all four of them teaching in the school of medicine.

I thought, “Gee, you know, how could I turn that down?” I hated to leave North Carolina, but I didn’t ask for this job, it just came looking for me. I was in Saint Louis to visit Sandy’s family; just happened to see this ad in the paper. I was reading in the backseat, and my aunt, who was living with us for ten years at that point, said, “Well, you know, you were offered that job in Texas—San Antonio, Texas.”

I said, “I’m not going to look for this job, Aunt Ruthie. I’m just going to go for the fun of it, because they were asking for a geriatric nurse practitioner,” which there were very few in the country at that point. So I thought, “Well, I’ll just check it out.”

Well, that was mistake number one! I went to check it out, and what was interesting was they were talking about the teaching nursing home—all the exciting things that they were doing—but I said I had already been for an interview in San Antonio Texas, “So, I can’t promise you anything. I’m supposed to be thinking about that one when I really came in as a fluke to see.”

So I had to ask Sandy and her niece who had gone shopping. I said, “Leave me here for an hour, because that’s all I need.” It was just so I could look in and see what they have—what they’d been doing. They came back and I said, “Will you give me another half hour?”

And they said, “Uh oh, something’s happening.” So anyway, long story short, they just really buttered me up. And they asked me if there was any way I could interview one more time while I was there, since I was going to be there all of Thanksgiving. They took me out for lunch. They took me out for dinner. The guy who was in charge of it was in Ireland at the time, John Frederick[?] as cute as he could be.

[He] said, “You really would love this job don’t say no to it! You don’t want to go to San Antonio.”

I said, “I had an obligation to go back to San Antonio for a second interview. I’ll be happy to think about this one, because I must admit I’m quite intrigued with what you’re all telling me.” So I talked to him on the phone from Ireland. We had a conference call, it was really funny.

Anyway, I went back home, went back down to San Antonio for my second interview. Pat Hawkins was the dean there and she was a wonderful woman: very inspirational, very strong, and very good dean, and very anxious to have me come on the faculty. So when I came back and we went out for lunch and I told her about Saint Louis, and about halfway through the lunch she reaches across the table and she said, “Amie, it’s been a real pleasure, but you’re not coming to San Antonio.”

And I said, “What do you mean? How do you know? I mean, I wish I knew!”

She said, “The gleam in your eyes when you talk about the job in Saint Louis is unbelievable.”

I guess I’m an open book. She was right. I didn’t know it at the time.  It took me another two weeks before I made up my mind, because San Antonio was very inter—I knew San Antonio so well from the military. I’d been there for a hundred courses back and forth—felt like my second home. And I liked Patty. And I had two other friends on the faculty who had moved from here down there, who were really hoping that we were going to come. And Sandy was offered a position too, so there were several reasons why it was attractive.

So here’s Saint Louis trying—oh, it was funny. But anyway, I eventually said “Yes, I’ll come to Saint Louis.” And they thought it was salary, so they kept upping my salary in Saint Louis. I said, “Leave me alone for two weeks! The salary is fine. I don’t need any more money. That’s not the reason.”

“Oh, but the weather’s not that bad in Saint Louis.”

I said, “The weather is not the problem either. I like cold winters. I don’t want to be hot like in San Antonio. That’s a negative rather than a positive.”

Oh, it was funny. He called three times and upped the salary while I was trying to think. My secretary says, “You’re not going to believe who’s phoned this time.”

I said, “Oh Rocky, don’t tell me.”

It was funny, but anyway, long story short, I made my decision to go there.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

Which made it harder to find a unit, because San Antonio had several slots for a colonel but I had to go with a civilian job which—you know, a full time one—if that was the most exciting one. And it sounded so exciting to work with those guys and teaching nursing and all this new first thing that we were going to start first. I always like firsts. So it was just a matter of getting into that unit and that wasn’t too hard either, so everything worked out. And that was a very interesting unit. It was a terrible unit to start with.

TS:

Why was it so terrible?

AM:

They had—they did absolutely nothing but sit in the classroom and listen to somebody; half of them were asleep or doing crossword puzzles or something. Oh, I was shocked. When I saw it I said, “Gee, this is going to be a challenge, to take this thing over.”

TS:

So what did you do to—

AM:

And it was.

TS:

What did you do to change that?

AM:

First thing I did was reorganize what we were going to do. They were going to go out and work in the hospitals. They weren’t getting any training sitting in the classroom, what were they going to do when they were called on active duty. A crossword puzzle isn’t going to be what they expect us to do.

And nobody is out teaching our corpsmen. They’re sitting in another room doing something even less—I mean I never—3274th was top notch. 21st General [Hospital] was bottom. But Burmeister said, “If you can do anything even remotely similar to what you did at 3274th I will be forever grateful to you.”

“No problem.”

Then I met them and I thought, “Oh my gosh, what did I promise?”

So the first thing we did was ask them what they wanted to do—why they were in the reserve. And I interviewed every one of them and asked them, “Why are you in the reserves?” And I got some of the dumbest answers I’ve ever had in my life: “Extra money”; “Something to do on the weekends”

“Well, don’t you have anything else to do on the weekends? Play? Date? Whatever?”

“Yeah, but it’s different. You can wear a uniform.”

“Well, you don’t wear it very well, but yeah!”

I mean it was hilarious. And they all laughed three years—four years later—when I had moved again, because they had gone from nothing to one of the best units in the country. We had every nurse out there working in a hospital setting. I went to Pope Air Force Base [sic, Scott Air Force Base] in Illinois to see if we could negotiate with them to have our unit come there for military training. And they were thrilled to have us. And then the unit—the nurses—thought I was crazy. But I said, “Well, let’s do it on a volunteer basis. How many of you would like to go to work in a military installation, so you’re not totally lost some day if you do have—if you have to go?”

Several volunteered after a while, and they loved it once they started. The thing that they were so worried about was, “How am I going to get there? Am I going to drive a car, like you do in the city except I’m going to drive a little bit outside the city? And it’s going to take you about forty-five minutes to get there!” [exaggerated gasping sound]

Well, they did, and they did it well. And the corpsmen were happy to volunteer, because to them it was exciting to be able to do something, rather than—I mean, they don’t do anything medical during the month. They didn’t do any medical during the drill, so they were very happy to do it. And once it started it took off like—they all wanted to go to Pope Air Force Base, but I had two other groups in the city at the regular hospital and one of the psych hospitals. And Sandy was my educational assistant, so she did a lot of the training for the—oversaw the training for the corpsmen and the nurses. Of course, they were pretty good nurses by themselves once they decided to do some work. And then we had a nurses meeting every weekend just to see where we stood, what had we done, what we needed to do as a group.

I said, “Okay, now I think it would really be fun if you all want to see—I think we can arrange that we can all go to AMSUS together”.

And they looked at me like I had two heads, “What’s AMSUS?”

I said, “Oh my gosh, they don’t even know what it was.” And, I had gone every year since I was in the military practically.

TS:

And what is it?

AM:

It’s the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. It was a big huge meeting once a year, usually in November. It’s [U.S.] Army, [U.S.] Air Force, [U.S.] Navy, [U.S.] Marines, [U.S.] National Guard. The topics are medical and some military and outstanding speakers, and then they have some social activities as well and a big formal at the end. I mean, it’s really a thrill and an honor to go to that.

Well, they had absolutely no idea such thing existed. I said, “No wonder they didn’t have any [unclear].”

So out of my forty nurses, thirty-seven went to the meeting for the whole week. And we met for dinner most nights and we had a huge table for the formal banquet and they had so much fun, and they worked like dogs after they came back from that. You never saw anything like it. You’d think I had given them each individually a million dollars. They would just eat out of my hand after that and do anything. So that you know it was like mules when I first started, and it was like fairies when I left.

TS:

Why do you think that there was that type of culture when you first got there?

AM:

You know, unfortunately, I heard that this was rather typical of reserve units in the seventies—sixties and seventies. They just, you know, there was nothing to do. They didn’t really care about really trying to stay up to shipshape, because they never got called on active duty.

TS:

This was ’83 was when you—

AM:

When I left there. I came there in—no, I came in ’83 and left in ’86.

TS:

So you were there for about three years?

AM:

Three and a half—I didn’t leave until July, and I came in January of ’83. But many reserve units—even when I was at 3274th and heard of other reserve units—they sat around in the armories and did nothing. They got paid, so why would they want to do something? I mean, there wasn’t anybody there that put them on fire or make them feel excited about anything.

TS:

How was your retention after you started this?

AM:

100% the last year—we didn’t have a single soul leave.

TS:

How about the first year?

AM:

It was pretty bad. They were dropping out like flies. I think it was something like 50% we lost the first year, and very few second year, and nobody the third and fourth. So that was pretty exciting. And when Operation Desert Storm [United States operational name for the collation combined air/land offensive against Iraqi forces occurring between January 17th-April 11th, 1991] came, they were called on active duty. And I went down to visit them just for the fun of it, and, sure enough, they were so grateful that they had had this; because, at least they knew what an army hospital was and what a military hospital was. And I thought to myself, “Gee, that little tiny thing helped them so much, and helped them help those who came in afterwards after I was gone.” So that was very exciting!

TS:

Well, you helped prepare them for that.

AM:

Yeah. I mean, that’s what we were supposed to be doing. It wasn’t anything extraordinary I did. That’s what I thought everybody did. That’s why I was so shocked! I didn’t realize there was such a thing as people sitting around on the weekend and doing nothing.

TS:

Well, you talked a little earlier about some of the training that you did in San Antonio for the military. What kind of training was that that you had to do?

AM:

Went down many times for courses: how to be a better chief nurse, how to be a better leader of any kind —leadership courses were excellent down there. [I] had a chance to go to several of those. I asked to go down for basic, and my commander thought I was a little crazy. He said, “You’re a major!”

I said, “I know, but I don’t know anything about the military. I came in as a captain. I was promoted to major before I even knew how to put on a uniform practically.”

It was a slight exaggeration, but, you know, I didn’t know anybody, military history, military this—so, I really would like to, but I had to learn some of the tough stuff you’re supposed to learn.

TS:

Did they let you do that?

AM:

Yeah, they did.

TS:

Where did you go?

AM:

To Fort Sam [Houston, Texas], and out in the field. And it was mostly lieutenants, and this little major who openly admitted that I really didn’t know that much and that I had been given permission to skip all that and that’s not a nice thing to do to somebody. It’s not a favor, because I didn’t know some of the stuff. Made me feel like a dummy, it is okay not to know it to be a lieutenant. It’s not okay not to know it and be a major. So that was the only time that I felt inadequate, was before I went down for this basic stuff. Boy, I felt like a sharp—sharp shooter when I came back.

TS:

What year did you go through it?

AM:

That was—see, I joined ’76 —I mean ’67, so it must have been ’68.

TS:

So about—not far into your reserves.

AM:

Oh, no, first or second—end of the first year, beginning the second year.

TS:

I see. Interesting, now did you have a two weeks duty?

AM:

Yeah, every year you had at least two weeks.

TS:

What kind of things did you get to do for that?

AM:

Depending on where you went, but most of the time you would go to a military installation. That was the only time that a lot of reservists went to a military installation. Now, we were fortunate enough to go to Fort Bragg every weekend. So the two weeks that we were on active duty we went to Fort Benning a couple times—very similar hospital as Fort Bragg. Went to Fort Gordon, Georgia, went to a couple other places— similar. And twice we went out in the field, because we were supposed to be able to operate in a field as well as in a hospital and set up tents and things like that. We went to Fort Drum, New York. Those were great experiences.

TS:

What kind of things would you do?

AM:

You set up tent. You took in sick people—sometimes fake sick people, so [unclear] they were covered with painting and blood and all that kind of stuff to see—

TS:

Like exercises?

AM:

Right. What would you do if somebody came in and they had been shot, or they had stepped on a land mine, or—They would come in with a big thing that said exactly what had happened to them. And sometimes they could talk—sometimes they could not—you know, this kind of stuff. So you should be able to do what you would do in the real world. Because of the simulation, you saw failures[?] before and things like that too—very intensive, very good training.

TS:

Did you ever go overseas at all?

AM:

No, unfortunately not—didn’t do that. But things at Fort Drum—and then when we were at this unit in Saint Louis, we went to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, twice. And that was a good eye opener for these people, because we were out in the field part of the time and they thought, “Why did you get us into this?”

I said, “I didn’t get you into this! We were told to come up here.”

TS:

So you ended up leaving Saint Louis about three years?

AM:

Yeah, I came to Richmond and that was—now, I do have to think it through.

TS:

Okay, let’s pause it again.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay we took a short break for orders. [laughter]

AM:

Lunch orders.

 

TS:

So now we’re back, Amie. Okay, so you’re getting me to Virginia, right?

AM:

Yes.

TS:

Sandy wants me to hurry up! [laughter]

Sandy Venegoni:

Don’t you put that on tape!

TS:

Oh. it’s too late! It’s already there!

AM:

We’re in Saint Louis, both of us. Of course, it was fun being in Saint Louis, because of Sandy’s family, and we had my wonderful aunt living with us at that point too.

TS:

And what was her name?

AM:

Aunt Ruthie.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

So she became everybody’s grandmother—Sandy’s nieces and nephews—and she just loved Saint Louis and her husband, who had died of course, was a symphony conductor. And he had been in Saint Louis for a long time, so it was like being home for her. So all in all, Saint Louis turned out to be a very perfect place, both for the civilian job, the life, and for the military. That was a real challenge—the military—but it was very good, because it ended up perfect. So then here we are and my ex-friend from the 3274th [Major General James “Jim” Holsinger], whose wedding I had gone to before we left Fort Bragg. He’s a doctor at Duke. He was in our unit as a doctor, and he married a nurse from Duke—who I knew also—and so I went to their wedding.

He later became the commander of 3274th and then moved to Washington D.C. and became a commander of the 2290th [U.S. Army Hospital] GOCOM [United States Army Reserve General Officer Command], which is outside of Washington and became a general.

And I had met him once or twice since their wedding. You know, you write Christmas cards for a while, and then you just sort of disappear from each other. And he was at one of those AMSUS meetings I was telling you about, and he was, of course, asking what I was doing and all that. So he kind of kept an eye on me now and then. And so, he calls me out of the clear blue sky out in Saint Louis, where I’m with this teaching nursing home idea that we were trying to establish. So I was there late. It was eight o’clock at night. It was a message from my secretary at the other place, who had gone home at five o’clock saying, “Some general called you. I didn’t know you knew a general!” —she was so funny, but anyway— “He’s going to call you again at eight o’clock, and I gave him the number of where you were going to be at the nursing home out there.”

So at eight o’clock at night, sure enough, he called and he says, “Hi this is Jim, blah, blah, blah”

“Oh, it’s so nice to hear from you. How’s the wife?”

All that chit-chat and he said, “I’m calling to tell you—offer you something, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.” He says, “I don’t want you to say yes, I don’t want you to say no. I want you just to think about it. And I want to take you and Sandy out for dinner when we meet at the next AMSUS meeting in Anaheim”— it was going to be in Anaheim that year— “So save one evening for us—for me.”

So I said, “Okay, you going to tell me something about what it’s about?”

And he said, “Well, yes actually, I want you for two things.”

And I said, “Okay, what are they?”

“One is the VA [Veterans’ Affairs], which you may not be terribly excited about. And the other one is to be my chief nurse at this unit now that I’ve become a general.”

And I said—we used to joke about this when he was a captain and I was a captain— “Someday I’m going to be a general, and you’ll be my chief nurse.”

Well, anyway, so that’s what he was telling me. And I just kind of laughed and I said, “Well Jim, I’m very honored. It’s very nice, but the VA does not appeal to me. I just want to be honest with you.”

He said, “I told you not to say yes, not to say no; say maybe [unclear], and we’ll talk in California.”

I said, “Okay.”

So I came home and told Aunt Ruthie and Sandy about this phone call. And Aunt Ruthie said, “Oh no, we’re going to move to Richmond.”

And I said, “Oh heavens no, don’t be ridiculous.”

Anyway, so we met out in California and he told me about the two jobs. And he told Sandy that she—you know, she was teaching at Saint Louis University at this time and was involved with our teaching nursing home, which was right up her alley, so that was perfect too. And he said to her if she’s going to stay in the academic world today, you’ve got to get your PhD—which was true. And I had my master’s [degree], I was finished with school. I wasn’t going to do anymore, because I was in clinical and administration—for that you did not need your PhD at that point. So I was perfectly happy where I was. And I was going to even consider the job at the VA—it was chief of geriatric services, that’s administrative, and I didn’t need a PhD for that.

So he said, “Well, you know, Sandy really does need a PhD, because she’s strictly academia now and you need that”; which, I knew, we all knew the handwriting was on the wall for that.

So he said, “They just started a PhD program at the NCV [sic, VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University], and it’s a very good one and they’re giving scholarships for that.”

So Sandy was sort of interested in that thought, but I wasn’t sure I was interested at this point—and the military was exciting—being a chief nurse of a GOCOM was pretty exciting, because that meant seventeen medical units under you: all the medical units in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. That’s a pretty gigantic job! But the VA one, I wasn’t excited about at first, which is funny, but anyway I did agree—okay, so that was for Sandy. And he said Aunt Ruthie would love Richmond because of all the music and the arts, and all the stuff that she adores.

I said, “Jim, what have you got for our dogs?” [laughs] I mean he had for me, for Sandy, for Aunt Ruthie—“Do you have something for the dogs too?”

TS:

You had five dogs?

AM:

No, we had two dogs and two cats at the time.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

So that was funny.

But anyway, long story short, I did go for an interview in Richmond, by myself the first time, because I wasn’t really interested. I didn’t think I was going to go. And I was impressed, I must admit. I was impressed with the VA, which I didn’t expect to be— not with the whole VA—but the geriatric department. That’s of course where I was going to be. And I was quite intrigued with the military—the GOCOM position—that was exciting.

So I said, I would think about it and “I have to admit that I am a little interested, which I didn’t expect to be. I’m just being very honest with you.”

He said, “I knew you would be honest, and I knew you would be interested.”

I said, “Okay.”

So I went back home and talked to everybody and all that kind of stuff. And he calls up and he says, “Okay, when are you ready to come back for your second visit,” and he said “Bring Sandy this time—I’ve set up some people for her to see at the School of Nursing.”

So we came back for a second visit. She did her thing down there. I did my thing at the VA—presentation for them on something—I’ve forgotten what now. That was part of the deal. And it became very, very interesting. The more I learned about it the more exciting it was. So I said to Jim, “You know, I would really like to consider it.” But I said, “I don’t want you to think I’m going to stay here forever, because my record, first of all, is five to seven years at the most wherever we have gone. But if I’m going to take a job as high as that in the VA—which I know nothing about—I would not do it unless I promised you at least three years.”

He said, “That’s fine, by that time you’ll be hooked.”

I said, “Okay, if you say so.”

So, we both accepted.

TS:

In what year was this?

AM:

That was 1985 that we were visiting, but we didn’t come until July ’86.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

Because I had to get somebody to take my position in Saint Louis. That was the main reason, yeah, because I was pretty involved. We had two or three nursing homes: two nursing homes and the clinics, and all that kind of stuff. So, I had to get someone to replace me before I could leave. And I had somebody, and then they got sick and then I’d get sick. So anyway, it took a little longer. So, we moved in July of ’86 to Richmond.

TS:

Now this is a position through the reserve?

AM:

No.

TS:

Okay, so it’s a civilian—

AM:

Civilian position at the VA .

TS:

Okay.

AM:

Strictly administrative—and, but I mean as far as the administration in the VA, but I was also having a clinical one because I didn’t want to give—I was a geriatric nurse practitioner at this point, and I didn’t want to take a job where I couldn’t keep my skills up.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

So I would have a clinic a day—the person—the physician, who was also this chief of the geriatric services, he—I would be— we would be partners. And he was very much for being partners—not he boss and I second—not me boss and he second—so we were called co-directors of the program, which was wonderful. And Tom was absolutely awesome to work with. We were like sisters and brothers. He was a lot younger, so I used to call him my little brother and he called me his bigger sister, and we’re still best of friends. It was just awesome. And every—what Tom didn’t have, I had, and what I didn’t have, Tom had.

Tom was the world’s best organizer. My god, he could get the biggest mess and organize it in no time. His people skills weren’t the greatest. My people skills were pretty good, so together we were unbeatable. We really were. Everybody at the department said that, “You two can never break up, because it can’t be the same with anybody else. Can’t replace Amie, can’t replace Tom, so you have to be together forever.” Okay! We were almost—but anyway—so we came, and then of course the position at the GOCOM was very exciting. I did not know how exciting that was going to be.

TS:

And that’s a reserve position?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

GOCOM stood for General Officer Command, and that’s why it was so big. And the biggest unit was the one that was over— that took over Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] during Operation Desert Storm, that was part of—So every weekend that unit, which was one I was chief nurse of, would go to Walter Reed and we had—talk about one weekend a month! It was three weekends a month. We were on the road to visit all these other units, because we had seventeen units in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and they all had to be visited at least once a year—many of them twice a year. So it was two to three weekends every month that I was on the road.

It was a busy life enough, and then I had this huge job at the VA which I was brand new—I didn’t know anything about the VA. I mean, that first year was unbelievable. It was almost too much even for me, I must say. I mean, I didn’t have time to do anything other than work. My assistant at the VA—who’s very, very bright and very sharp and very cute—little black girl and she was sharp as a tack—and she would say, “God, where do you go?”

Wednesday—every Wednesday you drive up to Rockford, Maryland for evening meeting, come home at midnight, go to work the next day, blah, blah. And two or three weekends a month we would be at one of the other units to visit them, and my assistant would run the GOCOM over at Walter Reed—

TS:

So you had two pretty high intense jobs: one in the civilian world, one in the military world.

AM:

Yes, yes, indeed. Poor Aunt Ruthie didn’t see much of us for a couple of years, but that was okay. She was a good sport. She was one to—as a matter of fact, in the first couple of times that I would go up for these Wednesday evening meetings, Sandy was in school because she was in the PhD program. So Aunt Ruthie would take it upon herself—she decided that I could not go by myself. She would ride up with me to keep me awake coming—she was afraid I’d fall asleep driving home, because after a long day of work and then driving for two and half hours—be at a two hour meeting—and then drive back for two and a half hours—that was just too much. She usually went, so that was okay. And she was so funny, because she would often fall asleep in the car, but she made me promise if I got the least bit drowsy “Wake me.”

Well, once I did get a little bit drowsy. I said, “Aunt Ruthie can you wake up and talk to me?”

She sat right up and started a conversation. It was unbelievable. Fascinating, I couldn’t stop talking to her till I got home.

TS:

She had that conversation probably ready for you for that moment.

AM:

Yeah, she was an awesome woman.

TS:

Oh, that’s wonderful.

AM:

She lived to be ninety-two, and lived with us all the way to the end.

TS:

Wonderful!

AM:

And super sharp until two days before she died.

TS:

Wow. Let me ask you—now, I’m going to have you just do—because I know we’re going to get into Desert Storm here, soon. Now, I want to reflect because you went in in ’67. We’re now into the mid-eighties, so you’ve been in twenty—almost twenty years—well, I guess about twenty years. At what point, after this three year tour you were going to do at Fort Bragg, did you realize that you wanted to stay in for a longer time?

AM:

By the time I was in Saint Louis I think I knew I was going to stay in. There was no, you know, I was going to reach my twenty for sure. I wasn’t saying I was going to quit or retire at twenty. I’m going to retire when I think I’m ready to retire, or when I don’t have anything exciting to do in the military any more—or, anything good to contribute.

TS:

So what was the draw for you?

AM:

To stay in?

It was so exciting! I mean, every weekend was fun and interesting. You see what you could do with that unit, how you could help this unit, and how you could get them to get more out of it, or each other, or whatever. It was such— it was always a challenge, and they were all different, it was so funny. They were all good units, but they were so different. Some were really gung-ho, and others were “Well, it was okay”—they weren’t really super thrilled to make the best of it, but most of them were.

TS:

Did you see the culture changing in the military for the women at all during this period?

AM:

Yeah. There was [sic] much more professional women in there who saw it the way I did: as an honor to be in there, and as a wonderful place to contribute and learn. And there was lots more pride in being in than, sort of, the shame that you were in the military.

TS:

Previously?

AM:

Yeah. “I’m okay, but I don’t want to tell everybody I’m in the military,” was almost the way. Now, they’d say “I’m so-and-so in the military”, and they’d say it holding their heads high.

TS:

What do you think made that turn?

AM:

That’s a very good question. And I really am not—I think part of it was that there was higher requirements to come in if you had a degree—you’d get credit for that, to get promoted, so that helped. The kind of training that most units now offered and expected, the extra courses that were available to you as a military officer at Fort Sam, and these other nice little treats, so to speak; or, everything they held up for you was really professionally good for you, and useful for your civilian job as well.

So, I think there were many of those things that kind of married to each other, so that civilian jobs were beginning to look at the military as a “something”, rather than down in the dumps kind of thing. And the military was definitely looking at a good civilian position as a kudo for the people who were in the military. And it was generally higher class—that sounds snobby, I don’t mean that—better grade of people in the military than there had been in the past.

TS:

Well, you didn’t have the draft anymore for the men.

AM:

No.

TS:

It became an all-volunteer force in ’73.

AM:

Right.

TS:

Of course for the women, it was always an all-volunteer force.

AM:

There was never an obligation for us. I think it was a mutual improvement in civilian and military about the same time, but one was also recognizing the other as a comparable thing to advance in and take advantage of.

TS:

Interesting.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

So you’re getting—you’re travelling all over the East Coast, apparently, and how were these units compared to—you talked about, you know, being shipshape at Fort Bragg, and St. Louis you had to kind of get them—how was it?

AM:

Most of the ones here were good. They were not outstanding, but they were good. And most of them had good places to train and learn, and there wasn’t [sic] any of these units that sat around in the armories doing nothing. Some were doing more than others. Some were more creative at finding good places to do their work and train their corpsmen and people who—I mean, nurses are not too hard to train because they already do the right—the thing—I mean twenty-some-odd days a month; not just one weekend. But the poor guys in the corpsman category do not do anything medical, most of them, the whole month, so you have to find something challenging for them particularly on the weekends.

And most of them had involvement either with VA—they were beginning to use the VAs quite a bit—or from some other medical military units. And matter of fact, I started with another chief nurse on the West Coast—we started using VAs to train 91Cs [individuals with, the now discontinued, Military Occupational Specialty 91C were practical nurses] which is, in the reserves, just like LPNs [Licensed Practical Nurse]. And that took place after I moved to Richmond to the unit in the GOCOM, which was really a wonderful thing. I have to give her most of the credit when she first presented the idea officially on paper, and I thought it would be a great idea. We had used RPA [Reserve Personnel, Army] for that, but we didn’t know how good it was that you could really do that all over. And she had been chief nurse for the VA out in Spokane, Washington, for years and years and years, and had unofficially practiced—played with some of these ideas, then wrote it up, and wanted me to be her representative on the East Coast, so I jumped at the opportunity because that’s what I always wanted to do. So together, we started the 91C training program for reserves at the VA.

TS:

And who was this that you were working with?

AM:

Oh gosh, that was a hundred years ago.

TS:

Well, that’s okay. We’ll fill that in on the transcript later.

AM:

Yeah, because she was awesome. And she was obviously very instrumental in helping me get going on this too. Oh yeah, I’ll remember her name.

TS:

We can put that in there.

AM:

I’ve got all kinds of big accolades for that on the East Coast, and she got them for the West Coast. And we had a lot of fun talking to each other about progress and things like that. Usually met at AMSUS once a year, for a couple of years. She retired long before I did, because she was close to retirement when I met her—but it was great.

TS:

So how long were you up in the Richmond area then? You were there in ’86 —

AM:

The three years that a promised him—twenty. [laughs]

TS:

You promised him three?

AM:

Three years, and I stayed—let’s see, ’86.

TS:

Yes

AM:

To ’01.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

That’s not quite twenty.

TS:

So about fifteen?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

You put your time in. So now that brings us—

[conversation regarding Amie’s dog redacted]

[recording paused]

TS:

We paused there a little bit for Richie, right? Okay, so now let’s talk about when you got called up to active duty, and what happened leading up to the Gulf War, if we can do that—unless, I’m skipping something that we need to add?

AM:

No. I think it’s good where we’re at. Of course, every unit that we went around to see was beginning to be much more focused on training especially during AT—the annual training—the two weeks. Almost all of them either went to a military hospital—to a VA hospital—or out in the field, so that people were looking much more at reserves, going on active duty, than they ever had in the past, and being called up. And many more were being called up even for a short thing, just for good training.

So, when things started to heat up about Operation Desert Shield [US operational name for the buildup of American military forces between 2 August 1990 and 16 January 1991]—as they called it before it was [Desert] Storm—we were very likely to be called. We realized that right away because for one thing this big part of our GOCOM was in charge of Walter Reed, and, you knew that they were going to take most of Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] over there; so, we would be back filling Walter Reed to start out, and then we would be going too eventually. So we did a lot of working towards that, and then it sort of loomed more and more. And there would be false alarms and we would be called up, and this unit is going to be called up and that unit—there were seventeen units. A lot of, “Oh no, don’t worry!”, “Yes, it’s going to happen,” “blah, blah, blah”. But anyway—

TS:

So that’s how many you were in charge of—were the seventeen—

AM:

Seventeen units, yeah. And the first one was called—was a small unit in Richmond—so we went to say goodbye to them. Then the Fort Eustis [Virginia] unit was called, had to say goodbye to them. Went to say goodbye to every unit on purpose, and my commander went too. I was very impressed. He was the one that suggested, and I was very proud that he did—no matter how small or how big the unit, he went with me every time.

So anyway, they all went except us. I said, “I guess we’re not going to go, so we’ll just say goodbye to the last one” —waving away and hugging and watching everybody crying, and all that stuff. By the time we got home we had orders to go.

We were shocked—meantime, we had a kind of plan. I mean, we had to be ready of course. My brother came all the way over from Sweden, because he was afraid his little sister was going to go to war. We went for a great trip to Saint Louis to see Sandy’s family, just in case, and did all the things. Sandy’s in the middle of her—finished her coursework—she’s in the middle of her dissertation, so we got everything ready in case—computers, at that time, just in case. We had a scrapbook just in case. We had all these preparations just in case.

TS:

Just in case anything happened?

AM:

Yeah. And sure enough we got called. We got called—think we got called—this was in—no, right after New Year’s.

TS:

’91.

AM:

Yeah. Of course we didn’t know anything about how long, where we were going, if we were going overseas, what we were going to—we knew we were going to Walter Reed first, but, you know. A week, two weeks, ten weeks, and then overseas or what? So we had no forwarding address—nothing to leave for everybody.

Wonderful going away parties in the VA, and they had a surprise breakfast for me. Tom, of course, arranged it—my partner—and giving me all these things: sunglasses for the desert and you know—oh, it was a riot. But anyway, we got the call. So we went to Walter Reed and we met all of our friends, and everybody had to go through the physical. I guess—they had to draw blood for this and that—everything was kind of a—sort of foggy memory of what was going on—fly home in time to take care of paperwork.

We had just bought a house in the meantime. We hadn’t even moved everything in yet, and we had two dogs and two cats. Aunt Ruthie had died, thank God, so she didn’t have to go through this, because that would’ve been tough on her at this point. So she had peacefully gone to heaven just the New Year’s before— it’s amazing. And we had a wonderful house sitter we always had to have, because of going away for the military so often. And she was thrilled to move in to our new house. She says, “Don’t worry about a thing, you stay as long as you want.” She was in graduate school at that point, so she just moved right in and took care of the dogs and the cats and the house. So we didn’t have to worry about that, which was wonderful. We felt so comfortable with her being there, it was no problem. So that was all taken care of and they put us up at a Holiday Inn down the street from Walter Reed, and that was not very exciting. But we were there and we had bomb scares and we had dogs running through, because there was bomb scares—meaning bombs somewhere that the dogs had to go sniff out.

TS:

They alerted on some things, the dogs did?

AM:

Yeah. After the first couple of weeks we got moved to an apartment, thank heavens, because we were there for nine months. I would not have liked to stay at the Holiday Inn for nine months. So we moved out—it was pure fluke—there was one apartment left, and the girl that I had just met who was chief nurse at another unit. [She] said, “Did you get an apartment yet?”

And I said, “No, we haven’t really had time to go look for one.”

[She] said, “This is the place that is offering to help us all find one. I think there’s one left. I’ll drive you out there at lunch time to see.”

I said, “Okay.”

So we did and there was one left and I took it. And so that was free, of course, for us. It was very nice. Beautiful little apartment, two bedrooms, kitchen, living room, wonderful little balcony overlooking the—what do you call—Capital. So we could look—open the door—every morning and look at why we were there, and this is what we’re here to defend, guys. So we really felt like we were settling down, and we were going to stay for a while.

Sandy was working in the NES[?] department in nursing education, because all the people that came up there—including ours, who were pretty well trained—had to go through a seventy-two hour training to know how to change dressings, how to start IVs, how to—check off all these lists.

And we had—it was a hundred—one thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight people called to Walter Reed: Reserves, National Guard, et cetera. I was in charge of all of those people. I shared an office with the chief nurse who was in charge of active duty people and I—we would cover for each other now and then. I could cover for her easier than she could cover for me, because I knew a lot about the active duty people because we were there one weekend a month. She didn’t know that much about the reserve. We became best of friends over there. It’s a good thing, because we had to share an office. [I] went to report every morning with the general and then fifteen minutes after report was over we’d talk to General [Norman] Schwarzkopf [commander of Collation Forces for Desert Storm] in Saudi [Arabia] about what they were—not always him, himself, but his office—about what they needed. So we would look at what was available at Walter Reed as well as who volunteered for the reserve people and Guard people that came in. So I had six typewritten pages of people who volunteered to go. It was awesome. I never had to go anywhere. I didn’t even get through six pages—typewritten pages—before it was over.

TS:

To volunteer to go over to—

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Overseas?

AM:

Yeah. And they needed an awful lot of 91Cs, and we were running a 91C school up there to finish—so they wouldn’t have to lose all the ones we had in 91C schools, LPN schools, while they were not on active duty. So we beefed those up at Walter Reed. And sometimes they asked for some people by name and we said, “No, no, no, that’s ridiculous. If you tell me how many 91Cs you need I’ll send you the ones that are already ready. I’m not going to send you a student.”

So that’s what they did finally. They said, “We need ten 91Cs.”

“Okay, you’ll get your ten 91Cs, Bs, whatever else you needed.”

Nurse anesthetist was very much in demand. One of my administrative assistants up there was a nursing assistant—I mean a nurse anesthetist—so she was going to go. She was also my administrative assistant. And we had a nurse over in Saudi who got an eye injury and it was— it couldn’t be fixed over there, so she had to be sent back. So the general wanted me to go, because I was the most experienced nurse to go. So I said, “Of course—yes sir!” It’s what you say.

And then my assistant came to me and she said, “You know, I hate to ask you this but if there’s any way you could possibly finagle to let me go instead of you, it would mean promotion for me.” She was lieutenant colonel at the time. I was full bird colonel, and there was no place else for me to go.

TS:

Who was this that asked you this?

AM:

My assistant.

TS:

Oh, your assistant.

AM:

Yeah. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson. And she was excellent. She was sharp as a tack and very, very good. Plus, she was a nurse anesthetist if she had to go back to the clinical. So I talked to the general. I went in and said, “Sir, I do not, not, want to go in any way, but I just want to tell you that Colonel Johnson came to see me to ask if there were any way possible that she could go. And I just have to tell you that she is every bit as good, if not better, than I am as an organizer—as a nurse, as a this, as a that.”

And he was very nice. He said, “Well, I’m not sure that I may agree with all of that, but I do think she is very good and very capable. And if you feel comfortable with her going, I’ll let you switch.”

And I was fairly surprised, I didn’t think he would do that. Most generals are not that caring—but he was very sensible, very, very—he was a unique person, I must admit. You could talk to him about almost anything, and he would—even though he would always follow the rules and regulations—and he was pretty tough when he needed to be, but he wasn’t tough if he didn’t need to be—some people are just because of their rank.

TS:

What was his name?

AM:

Uh.

TS:

Another one—we’ll catch that one later. No worries.

AM:

He was special he was —you need to know his name.

TS:

Okay. So she—so she gets to go in your stead there.

AM:

Actually, what happened was she got all ready—she got all the shots and all this kind of stuff. The day before she was going to leave the war was over. [laughter] We got the call from General—not Burmeister. What was his name? [pause] Schwarzkopf.

TS:

Schwarzkopf.

AM:

Yeah. That they were not going to need any more personnel over there, because it’s going to be over officially—it was over unofficially—it’s going to be over officially probably in forty-eight hours. So, “if you have anybody that’s getting ready to go on the plane—hold them”. And she was one that was getting ready to go.

TS:

She was probably disappointed.

AM:

She was disappointed, but she got promoted anyway, thank God. We wrote her up like crazy after what she had done, because she really had been superb during the whole thing.

TS:

Yeah. So what was that like—the environment for that?

AM:

It was scary at first to tell you the truth, because you didn’t know. And then when they started talking about—they started, of course, with the air war, and that was all good and well: nobody was hurt, nobody was killed. And they had a missile Scud [tactical ballistic missile of Soviet design with NATO reporting designation SS-1 Scud; several variations of said design were employed by Iraq] attack and forty injured people came to Walter Reed from that. And that really brought it home. That was the first influx we had of anyone that was injured in the war.

\                       I think now to myself, “Thank God I was not involved in the Iraq war!” That was a daily occurrence.

So anyway, those forty people that came to Walter Reed. It was—it really felt close to them being—and everybody—all the dignitaries and everybody came to see them of course, and all that sort of stuff. And when they started the ground war, then it started getting really scary. Some of it was unreal almost, because you’d listen to the radio— television constantly. And television—was really weird to have a war in your living room. That certainly was something new and different. You didn’t have television during Vietnam—at least I don’t remember watching it on television.

TS:

They had it but I don’t think anywhere near the, you know, 24/7 coverage.

AM:

No, no. And all those guys who were there as correspondents, et cetera, would talk to you on television. Now, of course, it’s everyday stuff, but it wasn’t then. So you felt like you were really in it even though you were on this side of the ocean. It was really kind of strange.

TS:

Did you start to get more casualties coming back with the ground war?

AM:

Yeah. And then we went out to the big air force—Andrews Air Force Base outside of [Washington] D.C. —where all these people were going to come in, and they were going to be quartered in this humongous field. They had the beds set up like this and across with tables in between. It was a huge field, I mean, like, two football fields of these beds set up. And they had it—we went out to see it—our commander and a couple of us—there was about, oh, maybe forty patients in this whole humongous thing, and when they asked what most of their injuries were. They were like volleyball injuries and stuff like that, not anything war-wise. And I thought to myself, “God help me when I come back out here next time if we have it full of injured soldiers—give me strength to deal with it,” because that was scary. I mean, volleyball injuries I could deal with, but that was awful. And then when the Scud missiles came they didn’t stop there, they came directly to Walter Reed and then we never saw anything else. I never saw the nightmare I had about seeing that whole room full of beds full of people.

TS:

Is that because the war was over—

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

—fairly quickly.

AM:

It sure was. It was the quickest war we’ve ever had. So then—of course, the minute the war was officially over, over there, the National Guard get to go home—not the reserves. Because we had sent almost all of our people in Walter Reed, there wasn’t anybody left. So I got calls from the governor. I got a call from the governor of Connecticut saying, “Okay, the war ended yesterday, where are my nurses?”

I said, “Sir, I’m very sorry, but it took nine months to build up to this we cannot— we don’t have anybody here to take care of the patients at Walter Reed. All of our people are over there, except your people, and some of my reservists are still here. But we can’t send them home today or tomorrow. We’ll send them home as soon as we can, I promise you.”

“Well, I don’t want to wait more than a week.”

“I promise you we will send them as soon as we can, sir.” Ugh!

TS:

What was the sense of urgency for them?

AM:

What, the governor?

TS:

Yes.

AM:

Just that he has the power to do that. It really wasn’t—they didn’t need them back in the state of Connecticut. It was ridiculous. We had all of seven from Connecticut. He raises this big stink about it. I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for him, I’m sorry. I had more sympathy for poor wives and husbands who called about their husband or wife coming back. But we got people back pretty quick to most places. I was the last one, [unclear] got home in August—no, September. Sandy went home in August. I went home in September.

TS:

So you were active duty for about a year?

AM:

Almost—nine and a half months.

TS:

Nine and a half months.

AM:

Yeah

TS:

Did that—

AM:

I don’t regret that experience at all—it was awes—I don’t regret it at all. I’m very glad I had that experience. I mean that’s why we’re in the reserve—to be available if needed. And people had a hard time in the beginning. We set up an evening thing for—at Walter Reed—to talk to people after duty, because they were so—some of them were really angry about being there, you know, on active duty, when they had a family, home et cetera. So we set up a counseling session, which was very good, so they could talk about it, about being upset and all. Of course some said, “I joined the reserve and never thought about going on active duty.”

My first thing we have to say when we go in is “we’re here to join if we need to be used”, but that ended up going over some people’s heads completely.

TS:

Did you have anybody that didn’t—refused—like refused to go or anything like that?

AM:

We had one person that defected out of nine hundred and ninety-nine.

TS:

Just one?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

What happened to that person, do you know?

AM:

They were given a choice to be discharged without honor or whatever you—yeah.

TS:

Dishonorable?

AM:

Dishonorable discharge or come back, and they chose dishonorable discharge. It was only one person. I couldn’t believe it. There were some, of course, who had problems for a couple of weeks, but they readjusted.

TS:

Worked them out?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

So did you feel pretty good about all the work you’d done over—

[conversation regarding extraneous noise redacted]

TS:

Oh, did you feel pretty good about how you had been working for a long time to prepare all these units?

AM:

Yes, yes, I did, I must admit. Because what I saw with Sandy and the chief of the nurse education, Sandy was her assistant, and what they accomplished—they worked day and night for three days to get everybody through these things. They had to be checked off. They knew how to start an IV. They knew how to put on fresh dressings—do a bunch of stuff, and how they operated, and all that kind of stuff under stress and tension. I felt very good about it. I really did. And most of those units that came to us were not that green, like they would’ve been twenty years before.

TS:

Right.

AM:

So I thought that everybody had done a pretty decent job. Some units obviously were more prepared than others, and we got units from, you know, everywhere that we’d never seen before, so it was all brand new to us.

TS:

So was there any sort of—was it kind of anticlimactic then, a little bit, after the war?

AM:

No, I don’t think so. I think we took a renewed look at—you know, we don’t want to ever be blindsided again—for those units who weren’t ready, what can you do better next time to be ready—readier? Because they weren’t—it wasn’t—I didn’t come across any that were like 21st General Hospital when I first met them.

TS:

Right, that’s the one in Saint Louis, you mean, right?

AM:

Yes.  And they even did well when they went.

TS:

Yeah, you did say earlier that they were one of the ones that got called up.

AM:

I was asked to come to their ARCON meeting which is to talk about lessons learned from Operation Desert Storm, and it was very interesting because they all knew what we had gone through together. We had many good laughs and hugs, and nice things. It was really cute.

TS:

What do you think were some of the lessons that you could share?

AM:

One is that the training, training, training. You can never, no matter how unlikely it is you’ll have a war—you’ve got to train for war. And you’ve got to train for all different wars. Look at what we have now. We’ve never had wars like this before. There’s no place anymore where people are safe, so you have to be up to date—not only about your own place—but what’s going on in the war situation, what’s going on in the world situation, different countries—learn about different countries—understand the different terrains, different place where you may have to operate. There’s so much more to learn about than you ever dreamt of.

If you were going to be in the reserve, to be ready and not go through frustrations and horror things if you do get called up. And have some realistic—the more realistic training you have, the better off you’re going to be. And push yourself; push yourself before you have to push yourself, because you don’t know what you can do until you have to. And there’s always going to be extra that you can do when you go into a war situation, because adrenaline flows and all that other kind of stuff. But if you have done it before, even on a training session for two weeks, it’s amazing how much better you feel when you have to do the real thing.

TS:

More confidence then?

AM:

Yeah. So, there were a lot of interesting things you learned from. Plus, you know, how do you get—you don’t know how you’re going to deal with stress and fear and all that till you experience it, so that part was good to learn too.

TS:

Was there anything with—trying to figure out the right way to ask this question. You are—your civilian job had to be put aside while you were on full alert.

AM:

Oh yeah, at the VA. They paid us full salary while we were gone.

TS:

They did?

AM:

I couldn’t believe that—that blew me away—bought my first car in cash ever when I finished up there. It wasn’t a brand new one, but it was a car.

TS:

Do you think that other personnel in the all these units that you were in charge of, who got called up, might have struggled with some of that?

AM:

Oh yes.

TS:

Can you talk about that a little bit?

AM:

Oh, that made me so upset! We had—I mean, we had—I told Jim I never was so glad that I worked for the VA in my life, but I mean they did everything to make us feel good when we left and when we came back: including putting yellow ribbons with our names on the Christmas tree, and didn’t take it down until each person came back, because mine had sat up there the longest—‘til September. But anyway, those things mean a lot and yet there was some of our people who were damn good and hard working people, and they were treated like garbage in their civilian jobs. Lost their civilian jobs even though that’s illegal—they lost it. And they said, “Well, it says that they don’t have to hold their job and such thing like that—they had to give them something—it doesn’t have to be the same job.” Well, that is so unfair and so awful. We came back with all these accolades and things poured all over us, and some people went back and had nothing.

Still, today, I think that is absolutely inexcusable. I knew that happened in Vietnam, but I certainly didn’t expect to see that then. We had a person that we had set up an office in D.C. that contacted us and asked if we had anybody who we wanted to work with them, to be sure that they were treated civilian-wise right in their job. And I said, “Absolutely, if there’s anything we can do, I’ll ask them.”

We had a big nurse meeting, I said, “If there is anybody here who has worked in any capacity to help people—or deal with those kinds of issue of getting your job or not being able—not having somebody saying you don’t have a job when you get back, let me know and we’ll send you over there to work in that office full time here.”

Those counted for those who were on active duty at Walter Reed, because we had more people than we knew what to do with there. So we had one or two that volunteered. And they took turns: one or the other would always be at this office in D.C. and they helped a lot of people, but not everybody. So there were some people who either lost their job or went back to a lesser job, and that is, to me, inexcusable.

TS:

After they had served?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Well, you’d also talked about—I think we did this a little bit before we started too—when you were talking about the difference of reception between Vietnam and the Gulf War, because you said you were in New York City—I actually don’t remember if we had this on tape earlier.

AM:

No, I was in Washington.

TS:

Oh, Washington D.C., I’m sorry that’s what you did, yeah—

AM:

When Schwarzkopf came walking down the alley and some of my navy nurse friends, who were so proud of what they had done, and they should be, came back in the ship [U.S.N.S.] Comfort—and all that who later died as a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, but anyway. They were treated unbelievably well, and the fanfare walking down the street in D.C.—I was right there taking pictures of them. I have pictures of them still. And I thought, “Man, those poor souls that came back from Vietnam got nothing, and these people had been gone less than a year.” I mean, some of them may have been gone for a year or maybe a little over a year for preparation, but still, very mild compared to Vietnam. So yeah, it was very—you were so proud to be an American when you stood on that street and saw those people, and saw how they were treated and how all the Americans were there to wave flags at them. It sounds corny, but it was great—very refreshing to see. I was glad to see that experience as opposed to the other.

TS:

Let me ask you about why you initially didn’t want to work for the VA.

AM:

It did not have a very good reputation for care of the patients. It was supposedly very rigid—that was my impression. Of course, everybody knows there was a lot of publicity about poor care at the VA hospital. And, again, to me that was highly unfair. They should’ve been treated better than anybody, because they were people who had been in the military and who had been giving their lives for the country. And they were used a lot for research and stuff like that. I mean there was some shady stuff that went on in the VA, not at my time but way before. And it was those things that I had heard and remembered. I hadn’t seen it firsthand, because I had never worked at the VA and all of a sudden I was going to.

When I was on the faculty here we had students at the VA in Durham. As a matter of fact, Sandy and one other faculty member, Carol Fray, the one from Jamaica—were the two who had students over there. And because I said, “I ain’t going. I’ll take students anywhere else, but I’m not taking them there”. So they took them there and they said it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad.

But that didn’t do a whole lot to change my opinion—that it wasn’t too bad, it still wasn’t great. But then all of a sudden VA changed—big change was when it became the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a matter of fact, [Major General James] Jim Holsinger, who was the brigadier general that hired me, he became the first director. I mean that was not the title when it became the Department of Veterans Affairs, what is the chief called for that? [Chief Medical Director for Veterans Affairs title changed to Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health]

TS:

I’m not sure, but we can find out what that was.

AM:

Yeah, but anyway he became that. So when he and then this—what you call it—he was director of the VA in Richmond when he recruited me from there, he was there when they made it the department of Veterans Affairs. And then he became the first whatever of that department, so that helped a whole lot to change. There was a lot more money being poured into quality care. There was big scrutiny on the doctors that worked at the military, and research was highly scrutinized and needed to be because, you know, they got away with murder doing research on the people. And another reason the VA is probably one of the best in the world and the care is greatly improved, because of the fact that they have more numbers, they have more money, they have higher qualifications, [and] expectations. You have to have certain degrees to be able to work as an RN there. Now, you can’t even get a job at the VA unless you’re a BSN [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] so it’s a lot of those things that helped change it. But before that it was the pits from what I understand. Now, what I saw when I came here was obviously better—

TS:

Here in Chapel Hill?

AM:

Yeah. No, here in Richmond.

TS:

Oh, in Richmond.

AM:

Sorry.

TS:

It’s okay.

AM:

Because the geriatric department is new, so that I saw the [unclear]—when I saw the rest of the hospital I still saw some pockets of what I considered poor care and poor staff. But during the seventeen years—fifteen years or whatever—I know, I was there more than fifteen because you get certain retirement when you get to  fifteen, and I didn’t intend to stay for it all and suddenly I got this letter saying, “You’ve got fifteen years, if you want to retire come and see me. We can tell you how much you’re going to get.”

It changed a lot for the better—a lot for the better during the years I was there. Much of that was due to requests and requirements, and what they expected of people who worked there, and tightening up their own rules and regulations, and more money— lots more money—because they ran it on a shoestring before.

TS:

That’s true. So—

AM:

And the veterans themselves that demanded more and the PVA, the Paralyzed Veterans Association, in D.C. are a very powerful group—a very powerful group—and they got the best of everything. And we had a huge vet—paralyzed veterans group in Richmond: three large units of paralyzed veterans. So they couldn’t get away with anything after a while, which was good because it helped the rest of the places shape up too.

TS:

True.

AM:

Yup.

TS:

Now we’re in the nineties—’92-ish—and you’re going to retire in another three years? Ninety five, is that when you retired?

AM:

From the military.

TS:

From the military, that’s when you—yeah, because I know you’re in ‘til 2001 in the VA.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

So what’s happening in the mili—on the military side then—and what were you thinking about?

AM:

I was a chief nurse at that point after coming back from Desert Storm, and getting about six months to get somebody else to take my place as chief nurse. I was offered to be a chief nurse up at ARCON, but they never had a chief nurse. I couldn’t figure out why I should be chief nurse, but anyway, they didn’t want to put me out to pasture, I guess. They wanted to [unclear], “Well, if I can do something to contribute or see if that is going to be a viable position and why it should be, et cetera, I’ll be happy to look into it.”

So I did for a couple of years. I didn’t feel it was really essential. I mean I had great fun, I made it an interesting position. Yes, it could be, and I could still overlook even more units, but it wasn’t necessary. So I thought, “Well, maybe this is a good time to retire.”

So in ’95, I hung it up.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

But I certainly had thoroughly enjoyed it and I think I did really good. One of the commanders from another unit and I were both at ARCON when he was the medical—I could see a medical guy possibly at the ARCON level, but they really didn’t need a chief nurse at that level.

TS:

Did you and Sandy retire around the same time, or did—

AM:

She was she stayed in the 2290th. She didn’t go to ARCON. I was the only nurse up there. She retired. Yeah, it was very close because she—

TS:

You said she was a couple of years behind you?

AM:

She came in a couple of years behind me. She only spent twenty-three years total in. I spent twenty-nine years total in.

TS:

You had six on her. [laughter]

AM:

Yes. But she made it to colonel too. That was very exciting, because that was a time that there was only twelve slots.

TS:

Right.

AM:

And I was at a strategic planning conference at the Xerox Company or somewhere in Washington D.C. when they announced in the paper that there were only twelve people. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, poor Sandy ain’t going to make it. There ain’t no way.” So I went to look and sure enough there was Venegoni at the bottom, V.

TS:

I know we’ve been talking—you’ve been mentioning Sandy, and we haven’t talked about her because we’re going to sit together and talk.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

That’s why we’re—if—whoever the transcriber is that’s listening [laughter] we’re going to get to Sandy, we just haven’t yet. Well, what—there’s some things here in front of me. You have some medals that you’ve earned. Do you want to talk about any of them?

AM:

Sure. Everybody gets one of these. That’s the first one to be when you’re in the reserves, and that you’re part of the armed forces, so to speak. And most of the others are some kind of accomplishment.

TS:

Is there anything—that any of them that you’re particularly proud of?

AM:

Oh yes.

TS:

Oh yes. I love this too.

AM:

Oh, I do, too.

TS:

That’s her nurse’s—

AM:

This is the—

TS:

Oh my goodness!

AM:

—[Order of Military] Medical Merit.

SV:

Oh. now they’re into the forty-five picture albums.

AM:

No, no, no, no, no!

TS:

We haven’t even touched that.

AM:

We haven’t done that. Sandy has many of the same ones that I—I’m the only one with that one—

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay, I’m putting you back. I paused you for a second here. Okay, so this one right here is a Legion of Merit and what did you earn that for?

AM:

And that was primarily for the 91C course, hooking up with the VA.

TS:

Okay.

AM:

So the—

TS:

The training program that you did for that?

AM:

Yeah, yeah.

TS:

Wow, excellent, it’s a beautiful medal.

AM:

That became accepted for the whole country so that was pretty—

TS:

You and the lady on the West Coast?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Okay, did she get one also?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Excellent. And then how about these other two here?

AM:

This was pretty high too. This was for significant contribution as a chief nurse to superior—to inferior units who became superior units. 21st General was one—I think that was really the instigator. This was a war thing that many people got, not me by any chance alone—for just generally—commendation medal for—

TS:

Military merit. This one is the Meritorious Service Medal. This is the—is the MSM—the Meritorious Service Medal, so is—for all services, or is it the army one I wonder?

AM:

I think it’s for all services.

TS:

It looks like it is.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

We’ve got our other ones down here. We’ll get—

AM:

Achievement awards—stuff like that. This is just the number of years in.

TS:

Right.

AM:

Here’s ten, six, stuff like that.

TS:

I always know when I see nurses. They have a pin.

AM:

Yes, it is very nice.

TS:

And you have your colonel rank there?

AM:

You always know a nurse when you see.

TS:

Yes.

AM:

[unclear] and the medical blue.

TS:

That’s right.

AM:

Of course, the good old bird [symbol for the rank of colonel].

TS:

That’s in good shape—look at that.

AM:

Yeah, I know.

TS:

Nice and shiny.

AM:

And this is the dress uniform. Oh, and this is the Medical Merit Badge. I was the first reservist to receive that. That was pretty exciting.

TS:

Oh, it was a Medical Merit Badge, okay, excellent!

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

So that’s— let me see which one that is.

AM:

That’s not on here.

TS:

Oh, okay.

AM:

This was on.

TS:

In your dress?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

It’s a gorgeous outfit, look at that!

AM:

Yeah it is. Oh, I love that.

TS:

That’s a beautiful outfit. We’ll have to get a picture of that.

AM:

I didn’t like formal outfits, but I sure did like the military formal outfit.

TS:

That’s a nice one, you look very sharp. Well, what—

AM:

This was—

TS:

We’ll leave that one for Sandy to—

AM:

Oh yeah.

TS:

We’ve got to let her talk about something.

AM:

I was going to say, that’s both of us—

TS:

Oh is that a picture of both of you there? Where’s that taken at?

AM:

Fort—

TS:

It looks like you’re on bivouac.

AM:

Yeah, Fort Drum [New York] I think it was. Yeah, out in the boonies. That’s where I drove a tank. First time in my life I drove a tank and drove right into a tree. You couldn’t see a thing. I mean. you saw through this tunnel thing, but it was impossible to see right away. I mean. it took me a good half hour to get my bearings in that thing.

TS:

Well, if you’re driving a tank through a tree you’re probably not in terrible shape.

AM:

No, the tree is!

TS:

The terrible—the tree is not. Well, is there anything—we’ve talked for a long time about your time in the service. Is there anything that you would like others to know about military service in the reserve, or the military in general?

AM:

I think everybody should experience it, myself. I’m sorry. I don’t—I can’t decide how I feel about it—if I’m sorry we did away with the draft or not. I don’t know. But I think this should be on a voluntary basis that every man and woman should do something for their country for—whether it just be six months or whatever. Doesn’t have to be all active duty by any means, it can be reserves. I think it’s a wonderful way to feel that you’re part of your country in a different way than you are in any civilian job.

TS:

How do you think it’s different then? What do you think it is, that difference that people should experience?

AM:

You are—maybe you’re sacrificing something to spend a weekend doing this. I think it’s as one active duty person said to me once, “A reservist—a lot of people say ‘you’re just a reservist’, don’t you ever say that again. You’re giving up something to be in the reserves. We aren’t giving up anything. This is our five day a week job.”

And I thought, “Well, that’s a very good way to put it.”

I mean, I thought I had all this free time when I was on active duty. I had weekends off, and after spending three weekends on the road it was like luxury—“What am I going to do?” I sat there and twiddled my thumbs while she was working on her dissertation. I drove home one weekend and picked up the computers and all that kind of stuff, so she could work. She had more time to work on it now than she did when—

TS:

When she was on active duty—interesting.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

Yeah. Well I remember you had said that when you were quizzing all the people in the unit in Saint Louis, and asking them why they were in the reserves, you seemed disappointed with their answers.

AM:

Well—

TS:

What were you looking for?

AM:

I was hoping that they were going to—a lot of them did say that they wanted to feel they did something for their country. And some of them said that may sound funny, but that’s what I’m doing. And others would say very honestly they thought it would maybe a fun place to meet people and make some extra money. And I thought that’s a rather lame reason for joining, but better than nothing—make some money for very little work, that’s what really bothered me.

TS:

What do you think about the role that women play in the military?

AM:

I think they play a very vital role. I think it’s a—it’s a way of working together and respecting each other because women are—men often think that women can’t do this and they can’t do that, and that’s not really true. They can do a lot. They may do it slightly different, but I think they can both learn so much from each other, that it’s good to get together in the military, as well as anywhere else.

TS:

You had mentioned—I’m losing my train of thought here on that, but the idea that you like to do a lot of firsts—remember how you said that?

AM:

[chuckles] Yeah.

TS:

And one of the questions that we ask women who served during the time frame that you served—did you consider yourself ever a pioneer in certain ways?

AM:

A little bit, yes. Especially when the student was talking to me about her parents, and how “it’s so hard to convince parents that I want to do this”. And so I wondered how many people are feeling that way—would like to, but they’re ashamed to or can’t or whatever. So I’m going to show the world that it’s good to be in the military. You should be proud of it, not something you should be ashamed of—something you would like to do. So I felt a little bit like a pioneer. Maybe if I can do it and I can do it well, so I can be some kind of an example—maybe that’ll help others in the past—in the future.

TS:

And then you have the idea now—we haven’t really talked about the Iraq war, but the role of women in that war compared to the war that you experienced—two wars really— because really you were in during Vietnam as well—how that has changed, and so the military culture has changed as well. What are your thoughts on that? About what—women in combat seems to be an issue for—whether or not women can perform in that capacity.

AM:

I haven’t sorted it out completely in my own head yet. I don’t think that—I think there are exceptions, but I don’t think that the average woman should be in combat. It’s not that she’s not capable. I just—I have a little bit of a hang-up about that, because if she’s married or a mother or whatever. I guess it’s—I mean, she can stand up and do things and say she should have the same pay as a man and she should have to take the brunt of it also, true. But, I think it takes a little more physical strength than many women have to do some of that stuff. And there’s nothing wrong and you could take a bullet, yeah. And women took bullets in Vietnam, they never got any credit for it, but they did. But to actually be out on the front line firing all the time, I don’t know. I have a little bit of a problem with that.

TS:

What about with them as fighter pilots and—

AM:

Oh no, I think that’s fine. They’re darn good at that.

TS:

Yeah.

AM:

I mean, we have seen example after example at how good they are at that. Infantry soldiers, I don’t think they’re the best, because that’s where the physical—brutal—strength comes in and I don’t think that most women have that. Again, there are exceptions, but not many.

TS:

Tank driving? [laughter]

AM:

Oh, I could’ve learned to drive it if I had to, no question about it. I did better at the end than I did at the beginning, and I only did it one time.

TS:

What would you—you said you’d recommend it to anyone—the military service. What about—what would you tell girls today about military service?

AM:

Oh, I would tell them that I think it’s a marvelous way to complement whatever you’re doing as a civilian, to learn more about the same thing, or learn something entirely different. I mean, military nursing is very different from civilian nursing. You can certainly add those two knowledges [sic] together and come out on top. If you’re a secretary in the civilian and a secretary in the military, you learn two different things. You can learn many of the same things, but add the military way of doing that kind of work.

TS:

Right.

AM:

So I think most places you can—I would say it’s a new—it’s not so much a difficult anymore or a new culture, but it’s different and you put things together and you learn some things. And you could also have a wonderful feeling that you’re accomplishing and doing something for your country by doing it in the military. You guys are so lucky you grew up here. You have everything, so be grateful. Turn it around.

TS:

Very good. Well, is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t discussed? I know you’re going to get an opportunity to talk with Sandy a little bit later.

AM:

I think we have—I think I have talked too much.

TS:

No, no, absolutely not too much.

AM:

And I’m sure I’ll think some time tonight, “Oh, I wish I’d so and so.” That’s okay. I think we’ve done a good job covering much territory and whys and wherefores, ups and downs. It’s been mostly ups for me, so I can’t complain. If I had to do it over again I’d do the same thing, and I’d be very grateful to have that opportunity. And I loved every one of my twenty-nine years. I have no complaints and I have nothing—I’m sure I forgot something and that’s okay.

TS:

We might be able to cover it in the other one, but—

AM:

I’m sure.

TS:

Thank you Amie, so much!

AM:

It was a pleasure talking.

TS:

It was a pleasure talking with you too.

AM:

You have a good way of interviewing people, by the way.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay we have one—this is an amendment, I guess, to Sandy and to Amie’s oral histories since they shared—well, you’ve shared all of your time in the military together.

AM:

Yes.

TS:

And you had six years on her, you got her beat by six years.

AM:

Yes.

TS:

So I’d like you guys to tell me about how you met and how—how you all got together and went these places, and just tell me what—how that dynamic kind of came about.

AM:

[unclear] Barber.

SV:

I told her about Barber, because that’s on the tape.

TS:

I heard about Barber, right.

SV:

Heard about Barber—came skiing—this whole group gave me the recruiting pitch to come teach at UNC-Chapel Hill.

TS:

Right

SV:

And Amie was on the recruiting committee and especially looking for a Med[ical]/Surg[ical] faculty member. And, of course, I’m a med/surg faculty member teaching at Saint Louis University at that time.

TS:

I’m going to move this mic[rophone] for a second, because I know I can hear you loud and clear.

SV:

And I told her—

AM:

Everybody can—

[laughter]

TS:

There we go.

SV:

I told her also about how I didn’t think I wanted to move to this small town. I didn’t know what a Tar Heel [A word of indeterminate origin, a Tar Heel is a citizen of North Carolina, or, alternatively, an individual associated with the University of North Carolina] was, and fifty thousand people was a small hoboken town to me. I was from big cities, but you convinced the dean to send a letter.

AM:

I was told by the dean I had to find a new faculty member.

SV:

So lo and behold—

TS:

So you were the guinea pig?

SV:

I was it. And I came down, and I really got impressed with Chapel Hill. And now, after I left Chapel Hill—

AM:

She wanted to come back.

SV:

Four years later, I couldn’t wait to get back to Chapel Hill. The only reason I moved back from Saint Louis to Richmond was because it was closer to the East Coast and Chapel Hill.

TS:

And the beaches.

SV:

And Carol Woods. Yeah, [I] had it all figured out. But it got to be funny, because we have been in many of the same civilian positions and many of the same military positions—and some of our friends will laugh at us—in fact, our nickname with some of our good friends was Shirley and Laverne. Do you know Shirley and Laverne?

TS:

I think they—I think its Laverne and Shirley. [Laverne & Shirley, a spin-off of the popular television program Happy Days, ran on the American Broadcasting Company from 1976-1983.  It featured the comedic adventures of a pair of roommates] 

SV:

Laverne and Shirley.

TS:

Same difference.

SV:

They wouldn’t tell us which was which, but they always figured it out.

TS:

Oh Laverne, yeah. I think I know [laughs] I think I have that figured out myself—very good.

SV:

But we did. I must admit, it has always been, whether it was civilian or military, a wonderful working collegial relationship of similar thoughts, ideas—what needed to be done. And then also the ability to have the contra of, “I see this, Amie sees that.” And we could mesh together those thoughts.

AM:

I think that was part of why some of the commanders wanted us together in the military. “You be the chief. She’ll be your assistant. I want you to do the same things you did there, blah, blah,” so there was a lot of that.

TS:

So to kind of have you together, because it worked really well together like that?

AM:

Yes. We were very fortunate that way because everybody who wanted to move with their friends didn’t necessarily have that reputation.

TS:

Right.

AM:

So that part was very—

TS:

Well, even, you know, married couples that are in the military together—to get to move—

AM:

Oh yeah.

TS:

—together is not easy. So that’s one of the questions I was going to ask you, how did that—how were you—

SV:

That’s the advantage of being civilian.

TS:

Yeah.

SV:

Because most people, civilian-wise, joined whatever unit is close in the reserves. And that’s actually what we did except when they married that last time.

AM:

[unclear]

SV:

She was sure when we left North Carolina that she weren’t going to find a position in Saint Louis.

TS:

That was that colonel position that you were looking for?

AM:

Yeah, they were getting scarce by the time we left here. Before that you could go anywhere, you didn’t need to have [unclear] there could be excess—extras—it didn’t matter.

TS:

Like they could just stick you in somewhere?

AM:

Oh yeah. And you didn’t have to have a slot that said “colonel” on it. You could sit in a captain’s slot as a colonel.

TS:

Oh, and then they changed it?

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

About when did they do that?

AM:

It was—I was still at Fort Bragg getting ready to go to Saint Louis, because that was the first time I had experienced that.

SV:

It would’ve been around the early eighties.

AM:

Yeah.

TS:

So was it sometimes that it was like the civilian lead, and the military kind of followed?

AM:

Yes.

TS:

Was it ever like the military lead—

AM:

No, I would say every move—

TS:

Always the civilian?

AM:

Every move was civilian initiated.

SV:

It just happened that the one in Richmond had a very strong attachment—

AM:

Yeah, because it was the same boss who talked me into it—

TS:

Oh yeah, that’s right.

AM:

—who wanted me in both positions. So that was the only one that it was both equally important.

TS:

Well, you both talked about how you’ve enjoyed pretty much everywhere you’ve been—I don’t even mean pretty much—enjoyed where you’ve been, but, yet, here you are, back in the place you started.

SV:

North Carolina.

TS:

Where you met right?

SV:

Chapel Hill—and loving it.

AM:

Well, I’m sure there are many reasons for that. As I told you, I think we have so many friends here that we kept in touch with no matter where we moved. We would come here frequently to visit them. They would come to St. Louis. They came to Richmond a lot when we lived in Richmond, because it was easy, two and a half hours up and down the road. So we stayed very much in touch with Chapel Hill the whole time, no matter where we were, even when we were down at the coast.

SV:

Yes.

TS:

Well, Sandy was telling me about when you were talking about Veterans Day.

AM:

Oh Veterans, yeah.

TS:

And that they didn’t have a program here at Veterans Day.

AM:

I couldn’t believe that!

TS:

So I wanted to ask you both about your ideas of patriotism. What does that mean to you? And you, you know, you became a citizen in 1960 right?

AM:

Twentieth of May.

TS:

Twentieth of May, 1960.

SV:

But she also came from a country where every young person spent—what, one year? Two years—in the military.

TS:

Even women as well?

AM:

No.

TS:

Just men.

SV:

Some countries have women. Sweden was only men.

AM:

Yeah. In fact, there’s nothing—I mean, there’s no nurse corps in the military in Sweden at all. It’s sort of like WACs [Women’s Army Corps] used to be.

TS:

Right. But your—your father was, you know, pretty high up in the military there.

AM:

Right.

TS:

So you had that tradition.

AM:

Very definitely.

TS:

Did you say your father was also in the military?

SV:

No, he got rejected, because he had one hip lower than the other. They wouldn’t take him. I had two uncles who were, but I don’t remember them ever in uniform. I must have been little at the time. But, my dad couldn’t serve.

TS:

But so what do you think about, like now we’re a country at war and—

AM:

I think patriotism has come back more than it was for a while, because we talked about in Vietnam and how terrible it was.

SV:

I think we learned some very hard lessons from that.

AM:

Yeah.

SV:

And it was nice to see with Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

AM:

I said that too.

SV:

And I think today, regardless of what people think about the situation and the military situation, I think there is support of the individual troops and the people.

TS:

Whether they support the war?

AM:

Yeah.

SV:

That’s right.

TS:

Big difference, you think?

SV:

Yes.

AM:

That is a big difference, because a certain amount of people do not agree with the Iraq war, with the Afghanistan war, but they do have more support for our troops for whatever reason.

SV:

I do have a terrible feeling and I know it—I just, any time I see it—the group that makes a ruckus at funerals of military. [Westboro Baptist Church protesters]

AM:

Make the what?

SV:

Make the ruckus at funerals of military. Like, somebody that was killed in Iraq that comes home and has the funeral and they make a thing—I admire the military that go, the retirees or whatever, the veterans that go alongside with motorcycles [The Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club].

TS:

And block them out?

SV:

I just cannot imagine somebody doing it. Just, I mean—just sheer courtesy at the time of someone’s funeral to make a stand that you’re trying to get the nation and the higher beings to see, but you just don’t do it out of common courtesy at a funeral.

AM:

It’s plain politics at a funeral.

SV:

Oh, I just think that’s so ugly.

AM:

It is.

TS:

Well now, I’m sitting in a room here. I’m a staff sergeant and I have two colonels [laughs] and yet, you know, in the discussions we’ve had today, your pride about your service and wearing of the uniform just, you know, is very strong—comes through really strong. I wonder, when you—when I talk about what you would like to tell people about the military. Maybe a civilian doesn’t really understand that connection. Is there anything that you’ve thought about since your interview ended a little while ago that you want to add to that?

SV:

I want to tell you one thing. We were at Fort Simmons [sic, Fort Bragg Simmons Army Airfield]. I’ll never forget, we were at Fort Simmons and we were doing something—and the unit always had a party towards the end of our two weeks AT [annual training] —and I remember we were talking about something. There were a group of us and I remember a couple of sergeants there. All of a sudden, the sergeant says, “I can get whatever we were looking for.”

And I’m going, “How are you going to do that?”

And he said, “Ma’am” —very politely, he said— “Ma’am, the sergeant will get it, but never ask the sergeant how he will get it—”

AM:

—where.

SV:

“—or where he will get it.” [laughter] Thank god for the sergeants in the world.

AM:

They could always do it.

SV:

My enlisted, they kept me on my toes.

TS:

You just wanted to get it done and we’ll take care of—

SV:

He came up with it, let me tell you.

AM:

You develop a respect and an appreciation for so many people in different ranks, not just your rank or higher, everybody. The enlisted guys, the sergeants, are the most important part of any military. That’s what makes it fun there—what makes it for real. Your heart goes out to them more than anybody else. They work so darn hard, and they don’t get as much as we do who sit up there in a much higher position and don’t do half the stuff that they do.

TS:

Well, what about just the simple part about the military environment, where you have so many people from so many different walks of life from all over the country and, you know, all over—all over the world—that you are learning about. How do you think that might influence a young person when they’re in that kind of environment, instead of being from Podunksville like me? I was from a little tiny town in Michigan. Pretty, you know—

SV:

Tell me what kind of a person you are, to me it’s that same thing, life is what you’re going to make it, and if it’s somebody who wants to broaden their horizons and will take it as a positive opportunity. It’s like—I’ll never forget the young woman we had in the 2290th who was Muslim, and she wore the headdress. And there was this big ruckus of whether or not she could wear it with the uniform, et cetera. And I had to admit I knew nothing about their rules and et cetera, et cetera, so, for me, it was a learning curve. And I think if somebody looks at life opportunities like that, okay, what—I’ve learned from different people.

TS:

What happened with that?

SV:

She was finally allowed to wear it. At Womack—at Walter Reed, yes, she was.

AM:

She was?

SV:

There was a big to-do about it, and there were those who were saying “no”. I mean that went through echelons of authorities, and she was allowed to wear it. I was very surprised.

AM:

Yeah, I couldn’t remember how it ended.

SV:

Yeah, no, she was allowed to wear it.

AM:

It was sort of towards the end of our—

SV:

You know, and there’s all kinds of things like that.

AM:

I had a hard time. I mean, I did not disagree with her wearing it. On the other hand, I sort of felt a little bit like the military, that if you’re in the military you do what the military rules. I mean I wouldn’t go to a Muslim country and not do what they expected me to do. So I felt that if she were going to be in the United States Army—military—you really should try to do that. But, if it was really that much against their religion—so I had a bit of a conflict [on] how I really felt about it. I couldn’t imagine her not being in that outfit, because it just wasn’t her. And yet, I had a little hard time with that. I didn’t have to take a stand on it, thank heaven, so it was okay.

TS:

Not in your chain of command there?

AM:

No.

SV:

There’s so many opportunities for learning and getting to know other people. The sergeant who taught me at our picnic at Fort Bragg—we had a roasted pig at our picnic and he was so cute. They had permission to— they cooked it all night. And then he said, “Come here ma’am”.

And I said, “What?”

And he said, “Do you know where the best part of this” —you know split open— “pig is?”

And I said, “No.”

And he said, “Come here I’ll show you.”

So you learn from people, but if you’re somebody who is not comfortable with people of different skin color or gender or blah, blah, blah, whatever, military is not going to be any different than civilian life. You’re going to stay in your own little networking, and I think they’d have a hard time.

AM:

Your father would love that yellow, what is that called?

SV:

You’re on tape.

TS:

Oh the bird, my father would love it.

AM:

I forgot [unclear].

SV:

He was so proud.

TS:

A little yellow finch.

AM:

A finch.

SV:

I remember the day I got promoted to colonel, and it wasn’t just a rubber stamp when people got promoted to colonel. And I was so proud when I got that. And then the day when I became Doctor Sandy Venegoni, and I remember going back to Walter Reed and asking some of the people, “Well, does doctor come first, or does colonel come first?” And there was a big discussion about that in our area.

And it was like, “Well, if you’re doing something in the military it’s colonel. If you’re doing something civilian, it’s doctor.”

AM:

Its colonel doctor, or doctor colonel?

SV:

Colonel doctor.

AM:

But I don’t think it makes that much difference where people come from, as much as what they’re willing to be open and learn when they go into the military. And if you have—it helps a lot to have good role models, because it is a new and different world in many ways. And I think I had some advantages coming from a military family, even though it was a different country and it’s different in many ways. It’s still something that, you know, that you have to do certain things.

SV:

But you also were a great role model to many younger people, and a mentor to many younger people, who then turned around and were mentors to other people.

AM:

I know. That was the nice part about it. If you do it yourself then you wouldn’t be—

SV:

Did she tell you she was almost a general?

TS:

She did not tell me that. Let’s—you can tell me—

AM:

You know, they used to not be colonels in the military, for a long time.

TS:

Right.

AM:

Or, any of the ranks. They finally got ranks. I don’t remember the history of it now—of what was what—but colonel hasn’t been that long, and when first general came out it was a big deal, and of course it was only active duty. The first reserve general was, what’s her name—Parkington[?]—yes, it was. [This may refer to Brigadier General Margaret Wilmoth.]

SV:

Yes.

AM:

And the second one was the one that really shouldn’t—

[Conversation redacted at the request of the interviewee]

SV:

But Amie kept saying, “I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a general, because if I become General of the Army Nurse Corps Reserve then I’m not with a unit”. And had she been selected—

AM:

I would not have been with my troops during Operation Desert Storm, and I couldn’t [unclear] Pentagon I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Everybody thought I was crazy, “What do you mean you don’t want to be a general?” Well, I didn’t. I like the title colonel better anyway. But I certainly did not want to become a general and sit in the Pentagon when all my people are going to go to Desert Storm. And it was right at that time that the first general was—

TS:

That that was happening. The timing of it was pretty—

AM:

Yes. Now later on, I may have felt differently about it, but I surely wasn’t going to leave my people at that time after having spent all those years with them to sit in some fancy office.

SV:

I have four minutes.

TS:

And then you’ll self-combust, or—

SV:

No, we’re going to be out the door. Just lock the door as you leave. [laughter]

AM:

[unclear] No, he’s coming with us, isn’t he.

SV:

Unless you stay home.

AM:

No, I’m not staying home.

TS:

I can pack up in four minutes, so—well, thank you both so much, I’ll come back here and talk to you every week. [laughter]

SV:

Good! You have our name and number. Do you have a card? Leave us your card so we can find you.

AM:

We’ll show you some more of—

TS:

Okay, we’ll do that. Well, let me pack up. I’ll shut this off. Thank you so much.

SV:

You are very welcome.

[end of interview]