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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Sandy Venegoni, 2010

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Object ID: WV0481.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Sandy Venegoni’s childhood, nursing education, time spent in a convent, her military service as a reservist for the Army Nurse Corps, and her civilian career as a nurse educator.

Summary:

Venegoni discusses her childhood in Saint Louis, Missouri; effects of the death of her biological mother when she was 5; her love of attending Catholic elementary and high school; and the negative reaction of her teacher when she wrote about wanting to join the navy.

She explains her second mother’s opinion on women’s education and its influence on Venegoni’s choice to attend nursing school at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis. She describes living in a dorm with two of her best friends; deciding in 1959 to join the Sisters of Mercy convent that was connected to the school; continuing her nursing education with four other new nuns; and graduating from St. Louis University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

She describes a typical day in the convent; being assigned to a hospital in Springfield, Missouri for a year after she graduated nursing school; and returning to St. Louis to teach in the nursing diploma program where she had originally begun. She recalls her reaction to the assassination of Kennedy, man’s first walk on the moon, and her lack of cultural knowledge during the 1960’s due to being in the convent. She reflects on why she loves teaching; how teaching and nursing have both changed over the years; and questioning her commitment to the order after transferring to a convent in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She was granted a dispensation for a year, but never returned to being a nun.

Venegoni provides an overview of her nursing and teaching career after leaving the convent; her job at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a surgical ICU nurse for a year; the grant to get her master’s degree in nursing from Emory University; her return to teach at St. Louis University; and the ski trip to North Carolina that introduced her to Amie Modigh. Modigh recruited her for the medical-surgical nursing faculty position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [UNC] beginning August 1972; Modigh and other friends also convinced Venegoni to join them on a weekend at Fort Bragg, North Carolina with the army reserve nurses. She discusses her reasons for joining the 3274th hospital unit at Womack Army Hospital.

She describes the annual training at hospitals on other army bases; her family’s reaction to her joining the military; conducting evaluations and teaching in the army compared to civilian work; her opinion of the feminist movement and the treatment of women in the military and civilian work.

Venegoni details her move in 1986 with Modigh to Richmond, Virginia; becoming a full-time PhD nursing student at Virginia Commonwealth University [VCU]; being called to active duty in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm; reporting to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and retraining the reserve and National Guard corpsmen on patient care; and defending her dissertation while on active duty. She reflects on what lessons they learned from Desert Storm and the changes in the military over the 23 years she served;. She discusses why she retired in 1995 from the Army Nurse Corps reserves at the rank of colonel. She gives her opinion on the military as a career, the role women should play in the military; the importance of basic training for reservists; and her fears when she was called into active duty.

Venegoni then gives a joint interview with Amie Modigh describing how they met; their teamwork and how that worked well for them in their military and civilian careers; how they were able to be assigned together when many friends and couples are not; their patriotism and pride in their military service; opinion of Muslim women in the U.S. military who want to wear the hijab; and how Modigh almost became a general and why she did not want that rank.

Creator: Sandra L. Venegoni

Biographical Info: Colonel Sandra L. Venegoni (b. 1940) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1972-1995.

Collection: Sandra L. Venegoni 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:

Well, today is March 16th, 2010. I’m in Chapel—

Sandy Venegoni:

Fifteenth, oh it’s the sixteenth you’re right.

TS:

Well, it’s still the sixteenth. I know it only because tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day, right? So I’m in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with Sandy Venegoni. And I’m conducting an oral history interview for the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project Oral History Collection for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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

SV:

Probably Sandra and then, in parenthesis, Sandy, and middle initial L, and Venegoni.

TS:

Excellent.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay Sandy, let’s start out by having you tell me when and where you were born.

SV:

I was born August the 3rd, 1940, in St. Louis, Missouri.

TS:

You have any brothers and sisters?

SV:

I have two sisters: an older sister and a younger sister. Parents, as I told you, were—dad’s Italian; mom was German. And one of the things that probably made an impact on my family was [that] my biological mother died when I was five, when my younger sister was born. She hemorrhaged at childbirth.

TS:

Oh wow.

SV:

And my father remarried, so I’ve always considered—I’ve never called my second mom my stepmom, she was just my Mom. So I always said I had two moms.

TS:

Yeah. Did—what’d your father do for a living?

SV:

My second mom and my dad’s father’s had a soda water company in St. Louis called “Blue Ridge Bottling Company”, so Dad and his brothers and all the guys were in route and delivering sodas. I grew up on Blue Ridge Bottling Company soda instead of milk as a kid.

TS:

What kind of soda is your favorite?

SV:

Root beer.

TS:

[laughs] So what was it like to grow up in St. Louis at this time?

SV:

I liked St. Louis. I mean, I was very active and I just thought St. Louis was great. I still think St. Louis is great. I go back to visit. Most of my family—except one nephew— everybody still lives in St. Louis. My parents are deceased, but [my] sisters, nieces, nephews, et cetera are still in St. Louis—one is in San Diego—but everybody else is back there. So go back there most every year.

TS:

What kind of environment did you grow up in as far as—did you grow up in the town, the city of St. Louis, or was it—

SV:

Yes, the city.

TS:

Not the suburbs or anything like that?

SV:

Nope, in the city.

TS:

So what kind of things did you do in the city as a young girl?

SV:

I went to Catholic grade school and high school so—and our grade school was very involved besides—and I did like school. I take that back. First couple of years we were at a girls’ school. That’s because my mom had died and things all got transitioned. And until middle of second grade I was at this all girl’s school. And I hated it because they had pea soup every Friday and I didn’t want to eat pea soup, and I’d cry every Friday. But we finally went to this mixed Catholic school—grade school. And I went to high school—Catholic high school. The thing I loved was that they had a lot of sports. I mean since second grade I was playing basketball and softball and I loved sports. I mean, I did it all through high school. And also, I became a Brownie and then a Girl Scout and I went through Senior Scouts all the way through high school.

TS:

Became a Cadet?

SV:

No, we were Mariners. As Senior Scouts we had—our troop had a canoe and a sailboat and so we were up on the Mississippi [River]. We would meet other troops from like Illinois and have great big what we called Gans[?]—and have racing events and canoeing events and camping out and just have wonderful times—very, very active. Of the three of us—the three girls—I’m the most active in sports and all that.

TS:

How fun. That actually sounds like a lot of fun!

SV:

I loved it.

TS:

Yeah. So you had a sister older and a sister younger than you?

SV:

Three years older and five years younger.

TS:

Okay. And then your father’s working for the family business?

SV:

Right, until I was in eighth grade.

TS:

Okay.

SV:

And then my dad and my mom and my—his brother and his wife—in eighth grade, the four of them started a restaurant. And they had never done anything in the restaurant business before. It was a really courageous step and I remember my cousin—Uncle Babe and Aunt Louise’s daughter—we were in the same grade all the way through school. And Marlene and I were so upset because here we were getting a restaurant where we could go freebie and our parents won’t put pizza in. It was a nice family little Italian restaurant, and they wouldn’t put pizza in. We were so angry. And the reason they wouldn’t put pizza in is because they said, “Teenagers will come in and get pizza and coke and make a lot of noise and drive our good customers away.” And they had that restaurant—even though they moved location—but they were in the restaurant business for twenty-three years and they never, ever had pizzas.

TS:

Did you always regret that?

SV:

No, I came to understand that they were probably right, but as an eighth grader you wouldn’t understand that.

TS:

Yeah, that’s true. So what kind of things did you do—now, the Girl Scouts and being on the Mississippi that sounds actually like a lot of fun.

SV:

Oh, it was. We did a lot of camping events. We went to state parks and we were camping, and I loved the competitiveness of—well, the sports, but also, like, when we had racing events and all that.

TS:

The canoeing?

SV:

Yeah, canoeing and a sailboat.

TS:

And a sailboat.

SV:

It was very nice. So that was all the way through high school.

TS:

Wow. What other kind of things did you do for fun?

SV:

Date, dance, parties: petty typical what you would expect.

TS:

Well, talk about the dances. What kind of dances were they?

SV:

Oh, they were mostly high school dances, although we had dances all the way in grade school. I remember even having a class of trying to teach us—as seventh and eighth graders—how to dance. And then we had square dancing. I come from a family that loves parties, both the Italian and German side of me. I remember as a child my German grandparents belonged to this group called the Cellar Dawns, and we asked them one time why they were named the Cellar Dawns. Well, their parties would go usually in somebody’s basement, the cellars, and they would party ‘til dawn. There was [sic] reasons why they were called that.

But I remember they had a picnic once a year, and we’d get to go with grandma and Grandpa to the picnic. And it was outdoors and they had this big lake, but they also had this big covered place where you would eat and, you know, sit if the sun was too hot. But they always brought this man to play piano, and he would play by ear and any song that anybody came up with, he would play. And I remember singing for hours. To this day people go, “How do you know the words to all those old songs?”

And I’m going “I sang them as kids” —just loved it. So we were a very active family—did a lot of parties.

TS:

Did a lot of family events together and things like that?

SV:

Yes, always the holidays, etcetera, etcetera.

TS:

Do you have any earliest memories of growing up?

SV:

Yeah, sad. One of my earliest memories is my dad crying, and it must have been the day my mom died. And as a child it used to always bother me, if I thought I was going to do anything that Dad would cry. I was very much—to this day my sisters will even say it— that I was Dad’s favorite. But Dad and I just really clicked. I always say it’s our [astrological] signs. He was a Sagittarius and I was a Leo, and Leo’s best friends are Sagittarius. And, I mean, we did a lot of things together. Dad, in his free time—when he couldn’t fish in the winter and he was off—he would he made a rathskeller in our basement.

TS:

He made a—

SV:

A rathskeller. R-a— it’s like a German bar and paneling, and it’s just a fun place for parties and entertainment. But dad re-took this concrete basement and, you know, he always needed somebody to hold up the other end of the boards or “go get this”. And you know, my nickname was, “Mike, go get the hammer”. And because I was supposed to be the Richard—I’m the second daughter, I was supposed to be the boy in the family.

But we just had a great time together. I learned to whistle with my dad. But that was one of my earliest memories. I really don’t remember to this day—and I think I just must have blocked it out—I don’t remember, even though I was five, my biological mom. I’ll use my older sister’s reference and I’ll ask Marilyn—okay, recently we were talking about whooping cough and, you know, shingles and all that again. And I said, “Did we have whooping cough?”

And she goes, “I don’t remember.”

But most of the time she’ll fill me in on history, part of it. She’s my good historian.

TS:

You got to have one of those in the family.

SV:

Yes. But I’d say for the most part we were a very happy family. My little sister had some trauma. The family never—the German side of the family, you didn’t talk about death. And my sister was already in school and when Mom died they—it was such a shock to everybody. I think my dad probably was in a state of shock for a long time and I just never knew that.

They closed up our house. They moved my sister out of school—I mean, anything that you can think of that was traumatic, but I won’t blame them. I think they think they were doing the right thing. But like they—instead of my sister staying in the school where she was with the support system—she was eight—they moved her to an entirely different school, and she didn’t get to play with any of her friends anymore. Funny enough, my younger sister had a lot of mixed feelings that she didn’t know because nobody told her for a long time what happened to her biological mother. It was weird, but it was the German side of the family that really kind of did that. They dealt with it.

TS:

So you’re younger—your mother died in childbirth—so your younger sister was the one?

SV:

Fine, she was fine. It was a very heavy issue on a family. But I remember a lot of playing, a lot of games, [and] a lot of outdoor activities. My Italian grandfather helping me learn how to ride a bicycle when I was a kid. St. Louis has alleys, you know, you have alleys down every street. And one Christmas I got a bicycle and Grandpa Venegoni was helping me ride down the alley.

TS:

Down the alleyway, yeah. Did you have, like, neighborhood things that you did together with kids?

SV:

Oh yeah. Well, my cousins lived next door, so there was three of them next door and a lot of kids in the neighborhood. We loved whenever they were doing new construction, because when the workers went home at night all the kids would play in the—because you always had basements being built, so you had these deep things you could play in. We’d play Cowboys and Indians and Cops and Robbers, and all kinds of things. Yeah, we had a lot of fun.

TS:

Did you go to any baseball games?

SV:

No, I really didn’t. And yet my dad was a baseball fan. He almost was a pro baseball player. He was very good at baseball. He came this close to going to the minor leagues, but somehow or another that didn’t work out. But we didn’t go to games, I think they were expensive. My older sister tells me we were poor, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought we were fine, just like everybody else. But, she insists we were poor.

TS:

She remembers it maybe differently then?

SV:

Yeah, I guess so. I don’t remember ever wanting for something that we didn’t have.

TS:

Well, she’s the oldest. She has that older girl responsibility sort of thing going on. Now, how about school? What’d you think of school?

SV:

I loved school.

TS:

What’d you love about it?

SV:

Learning was always—I mean, all the way through my doctoral program there’s something about exciting to the mind. I wasn’t your brightest student. I’m a good solid A-, B+, but I’m not your gold star. But I was a good student. And all the way through school I loved it. I’m terrible in math and languages. When God gave out the ten talents I was over here running my mouth and talking in communication, and I missed foreign languages and math abilities. I remember sitting in the back of the room in high school eating lunch with some of the guys and girls in the back of the room. Because we had this poor little nun—I think she was deaf—pretty deaf—and had visual problems. And we really couldn’t catch what she was talking about in algebra, so we ate lunch. But I had a great high school. I loved high school. I was on the newspaper, I loved journalism. [I] did a lot of nice things in high school. I was a class president.

TS:

What kind of responsibilities did you have as class president?

SV:

I don’t remember. [laughter] The only reason I remember that, Therese, is because my slogan was, “You’ll get no bologna with Venegoni!”

TS:

That was your campaign slogan?

SV:

Yes, yes, yes.

TS:

Sounds like it worked. So let’s see, you were born in ’40, so the fifties are your formative years?

SV:

Yes.

TS:

Tell me a little bit about that.

SV:

Oh, I loved it. It was all the—the wonderful dance music that you could dance with and the cars. I remember the Ford. I remember I couldn’t wait to get a driver’s license. I think I got it two days after I turned sixteen. My parents trusted me with the car, like, “Oh lord!” But we had a lot—I had a lot of friends in grade school and high school, and so we would do a lot of things together just as groups. [We would] go to all the football games in high school, basketball games, and dances—whatever.

TS:

Did you play any of the sports in high school?

SV:

I played softball and I played volleyball. I don’t remember basketball in high school, I may have. I don’t remember that distinctly. There’s something else I was in, what else was—Junior Achievement—I was in Junior Achievement [a non-profit youth organization focused on free market education] in high school.

TS:

What’d you do with that?

SV:

Newspaper. I had journalism and worked on the yearbook in high school, and then I had Junior Achievement and we ran a newspaper. Thought it was really cool. We got to go down work at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat or the Post-Dispatch. We had two newspapers at the time. So I really liked that.

TS:

How—what kind of jobs did you do there?

SV:

They just had us down twice, and we helped with like figuring how to do the columns and how much you could glue on one page. It was really neat.

TS:

It’s a neat way to get that hands-on experience.

SV:

Yes.

TS:

So you’re in high school. You’re class president.

SV:

At some point. Don’t ask me what year.

TS:

At some point—whenever the Venegoni theme went and—what—Did you have a sense for yourself, as a young girl growing up in the fifties, of what was available to you for your future?

SV:

No. I don’t think I thought about it a lot. I remember one time in an English class—and I think it was my sophomore or junior year—we had to write a paper about what we wanted to do when we graduated, and—don’t ask me why—I wanted to join the navy. And—

TS:

I am, of course, going to ask you why.

SV:

I don’t know. I had two uncles that were in during World War II, but nobody that I knew was navy. I loved “Anchors Aweigh” [fight song of the United States Naval Academy composed by Charles A. Zimmerman 1906], the song. Must have seen some movies or something somewhere, but I wanted to go into the navy. And I remember the English teacher—I got a good solid A on the paper, but she also made these comments about, “It’s not something that a woman would do—a young woman would do”. And I was so taken back by those comments—I didn’t quite understand it. But that was her impression of women in the military. I remember that.

TS:

Was that the first time you’d heard something like that, about?

SV:

Yes. I didn’t know anybody that was in the military—I mean, really know. I definitely didn’t know any women. But I was so—I mean, to this day, it’s why I never wound up in the navy. But I just remember—I was so shocked by her comments. At least I got a good grade out of it!

TS:

Did you talk to her at all or just remember—

SV:

I don’t remember doing that on a one to one. I just kind of let it be. But I was shocked, and later on I was even more shocked when I thought back about it. That somebody could probably have colored somebody’s thinking in those years with their impressions. One of my neatest teachers that I’ll never forget—can’t tell you her name—but she was blind but she—I can’t remember even what she taught, but the students just absolutely loved her. She was very independent. I was fascinated by her. I mean, she was so independent—and her watch and everything was a whole new experience for the students. She was a wonderful high school teacher.

TS:

Was she also a nun? No?

SV:

No. I had the same religious order in grade school and high school—and a lot of priests in high school—but we also had a lot of lay faculty in high school. It was a pretty big high school. I graduated high school in ’58, and we had a four hundred and twenty-five students graduate. It was a pretty large high school.

TS:

Was that how your elementary school was too, or was it smaller?

SV:

No, it was pretty large.

TS:

Yeah.

SV:

And we had, you know, all eight grades together.

TS:

So when you—so you’re going through high school and you’re driving around in your car with your “Venegoni, No Bologna sign”. What kind of music did you like to listen to?

SV:

The music of the fifties—I just loved all music. I grew up loving music, like I say, singing with my German grandparents. Whenever my dad was working he always had something on and he always whistled. And to this day, I remember whistling one time, and one of the men said, “Girls don’t whistle! It makes the blessed mother cry.” And I went “What?” [laughs] So I still whistle.

TS:

Did you go to movies at all?

SV:

Oh yeah. We had two not far from us at all. We usually went on a Friday.

TS:

Do you remember what you liked to watch, or favorite actor or actress or anything?

SV:

I especially liked the musicals and the dance ones. I, to this day, don’t watch murder, violence, scary things. When the music starts changing I will close my eyes and cover my ears. I know immediately— maybe it’s a Leo thing. And they also say if you’ve had a near-death experience you have a hard time with violence. I don’t remember a near-death experience. And I don’t know how bad I really was. My sister tells me about the time—I must have been three or four. Mom was still alive—my biological mother—my little sister wasn’t born yet, and I was—I had eaten a banana too fast, and apparently I was choking. And somehow or another my mother told my sister to call for help. And Marilyn to this day, kids me, “I sat there and thought I have her life in my hands. I can either call or not call.”

Apparently, I did okay. I don’t think it was a near death experience, but I know I have this thing about violence. I might as well not even spend the money on a movie to go see. I had a friend who told me a couple years ago, she and her daughter had gone to see Pirates of the Caribbean [Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, released 2003, was the first in a series of successful adventure movies]. And I said “is it scary?”

And they said, “No, it’s a Disney movie!”

Well, in the beginning, I didn’t really comprehend what was going on. And I was scared to death. And then I finally got into—“Wait a minute, what is this changing into skeletons?”

But no, I just can’t do violence. So any of the—oh the musicals, I would love.

And we also have in St. Louis—it’s a wonderful thing called the Muny Opera. It’s an outdoor theatre. I think its M-u-n-y. It’s still there to this day and they have summer productions. And they always had—Well, Mom used to get tickets, so my older sister and Mom and myself—and one or two of Mom’s friends—would go almost every show in the summer. But they also had free seats in the back. Anybody could come and get the free seats. They had like five or six rows of free seats, and we used to go to a lot of the plays there—especially the musicals. To this day I love all the musicals.

Yep, did movies—didn’t do a lot of other things. Didn’t do—did some dating. You know, thought I fell in love with everybody I dated, but I really didn’t.

TS:

[chuckles] Did you—so at some point did you have a sense of what you thought you might do, like go to college? What your future would be—or did your father and mother have any kind of idea of what—

SV:

I had this journey that I didn’t know, until I was like somewhere in my fifties, that I could look back retrospectively and say “this was my journey”. But I didn’t know it at the time. I believe in the statement of Helen Keller [deaf and blind American author, activist, and lecturer, 1880-1968], “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

My life has been so wonderful, but it’s been steps that I think I just followed. We had this wonderful discussion. And my second mom was Italian and she had stopped grade school at eighth grade, because her mother had died and she was responsible as the oldest for her four other siblings. So Mom never went to high school, although I could never beat her in my life in Scrabble [board game]. And she read volumes and she loved to read. So I think Mom was smarter than I was, and she didn’t have a high school education. But it was probably still very old school, but she very strongly swayed my dad that girls did not go to college. You either had a choice of going to secretarial school or nursing school. I had no plans of doing either of those. I had no plans period, but I had no plans of doing either of those. So I said—

TS:

If you’d had a list, they would not have been on it?

SV:

No. I was really good in secretarial. I took a secretarial class in high school, and I was really good at typing and doing those reproduction things on that nasty purple sheets and all that—if you’re old enough to remember those. But no, I didn’t want to do that. So I got to thinking I better do something. So there were two Catholic hospitals in St. Louis that had schools of nursing. And anybody that wanted to go to the good schools either took the test for one of those two—and obviously, not everybody got in. Well, I was dumb enough at the time to only take one of the two tests. And it was meant to be, providentially, because I got in. And it was St. John’s [Mercy Medical Center]. It was a wonderful diploma school of nursing. Now—

TS:

What does a diploma school of nursing mean?

SV:

It was in the days where most of the nursing education was done through a hospital school of nursing. We received a diploma at the end of it. We did not get a bachelor of science in nursing like the universities were doing. But those were starting, but my family could never have afforded a university. I think St. Louis University School of Nursing was there at the time, but that wasn’t even in the cards. So I went to St. John ’s—two of my best friends—oh the other thing I did in high school that was absolutely wonderful, two friends and I during the summer were camp counselors. We had a ball. It was a very nice camp, it was a Catholic camp. We were at the girl’s camp. There was a boy’s camp several miles away. But it was a wonderful camp: had horses, all kinds of crafts for the kids, swimming—overnight for the older girls. It was really fun.

TS:

How many years did you get to do that?

SV:

Two—and then the two friends that I was there with— the three of us were all at St. Johns at the nursing school, so we all roomed together. [We are] still friends to this day. It was just wonderful. And so you lived there, it wasn’t like the university. They had a big dorm and you lived there.

TS:

What was that like?

SV:

Oh we had fun! We had lots of fun! [laughs]

TS:

Explain some of this fun.

SV:

It was just a great group of people, because everybody that was in the class was there together. And it was Sisters of Mercy, and they were wonderful. Classes were great, teachers were good, but we as a group really just really clicked—the freshman class.

TS:

Did you get to do anything outside of the learning experience?

SV:

We had some leadership things, because I remember going to a leadership group—just those that were in, whatever it was called. I don’t remember. What else did we do? Probably some things, but I can’t remember.

TS:

Did you have like curfews, or did you—

SV:

Oh yes. And they had—it was called—it wasn’t a room mother— it was a woman who stayed there at night, because, you know, we had to be in there at a certain time if you went out on a date. But, you know, just kind of crazy things.

I remember asking somebody if they could cut hair, because I needed a haircut. And one of the girls said, “I can do that!”

Well, I found out later that she had never cut hair. Well, she cut my hair and it was so short. I couldn’t keep my cap on. I mean, it was like—oh no, that’s long. This was really short. It was so short I couldn’t keep my cap on it was, like, “How am I going to keep my cap on?” I had to pin it down and, you know many, many times I thought I’d have to use tape, after a while. But we finally got it on.

But it was good education. And, of course, the hospital was right next door so we could work besides just going to classes. You did that in a diploma program, you did a lot more clinical experience. And it was a three year—

TS:

What did you like about the experience there?

SV:

I loved helping to take care of the people. Actually, as a result of that, I didn’t finish in the diploma program. I went in to the religious order of the Sisters of Mercy that were at that school. Now at this time—I’ll just give you a little back track. I had—my second mom’s two sisters were Sisters of St. Joseph. And my older sister she said she always—I won’t put this on tape. Marilyn wanted to— Marilyn, at sixteen, left high school and became a Sister of St. Joseph and everybody says—well, they weren’t surprised that Marilyn did. And they used to say, “Well, I guess you’re next.”

And I used to say, “No way!”

I wasn’t—when I announced to the world and my parents that I was going into the convent, nobody could believe it, because they’d go “no not you”. You know, so I did [join]. The second—what would’ve been my second year in the diploma program in the school of nursing, I went into the convent, which was in St. Louis. It was in St. Louis County and—

TS:

Why did you decide to do that?

SV:

I really felt I had a religious call at the time. And then I thought—I really admired in high esteem the religious [people] that were at the hospital school of nursing. And combining the caring of people with that—and maybe hoping someday that I could also become a teacher—I was born a teacher. When I used to play school as a kid—and we had these great big chalkboards and I had an American flag in my class, and, don’t ask me why, but it must have been the war, because I had this big picture of [General of the Army] Douglas MacArthur—who was my hero—in my classroom. And I would only play school if I got to be teacher and make everybody else did what they were supposed to do.

So I think combining all those things—and I really felt I had a religious call. So I did that. And it was very interesting because there were several of us—one who was a nurse already—and three of us who had started one year of nursing program: one from the program I was in and one from Springfield, Missouri. And they let us continue our education, which was most unusual during the formative years in a convent. And so we went and picked up some of our courses at Maryville [University]—some of our sciences. And we even got to drive there, and that was most unusual.

And then there were some that were in the same program, but they were from another community up north somewhere. And they came to our mother house. And we used to tootle down to St. Louis University School of Nursing, and there were five of us in the program. So I finished at St. Louis University with my bachelors degree, even though I started in a diploma program.

TS:

What was it like? What did you do in your—not for your bachelors—but in the religious order. What was that like?

SV:

Probably everything you would think of. I mean, school—we continued school. We had a junior college there. Even though we had the long habit on at the time—and I mean the old fashioned long habit—we played basketball and softball. To this day, people go ‘How’d you do that?’”

And I go, “Simply—you pull them up and you pin it around and you pull them back, and you play softball.”

We had swimming. We worked in the laundry. We had prayer time and meditation time which—I’m not a morning person, but it was at 5:30 in the morning. You could hear a lot of snores in the chapel, I must admit. But it was a beautiful place—it still is a beautiful place in St. Louis County. But it was a study time, prayer time—we all had a rotation through the kitchen for about—because there were about two hundred and fifty of all levels: those that were just starting, with some of the older sisters who had retired, and those all the way through different stages. Those who were teachers—it was both a nursing and a teaching order, and had some schools of nursing—so there were teachers in that program. So it was pretty normal. I thought it was very normal.

When I finished the—when I finished with my bachelors degree I was assigned to the hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Stayed there for a year, then I came up and taught for two years at the diploma program in St. Louis, which had moved out to the new hospital. And I loved teaching. I just absolutely loved teaching.

TS:

Now what year are we talking about approximately? Where are we at?

SV:

Fifty-nine to sixty-nine.

TS:

Okay, ’59 to ’69 is when you were doing this?

SV:

So, if you ask me a lot about what happened in those periods in the world I may not be as—

TS:

Well, let’s talk about one of them.

SV:

Like The Beatles, it’s like—I don’t remember when they started.

TS:

How about [the assassination of President] John F. Kennedy? You might have remembered that?

SV:

Reason I know that is I was on campus at St. Louis University at the time. One of my philosophy classes was down on the main campus when we got the news. And I remember there was a group of us, and we all went to DuBourg Chapel. It just felt like the right thing to do when we heard that. Yes, so, I do remember that.

TS:

Do you remember how you felt about it though?

SV:

I was shocked. I was totally shocked to think that that could happen in our country. And of course, Kennedy was the first Catholic president and it was such a precedence [sic, precedent] of—it just—unbelievable. And I mean we watched television—depending on what was on—but I remember we all came back to the mother house that night and continued to watch television. It was such a shock.

And I remember I mean the things like the first walk on the moon. I was coming back from Louisiana—we had houses in Louisiana—back to St.—no back to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where I was one year. And I’ll never forget I was in Tupelo, Mississippi. One of the sisters I was with, her family was there, when they walked on the moon. But a lot of the social things like the Beatles and all that I really wasn’t involved with a lot.

TS:

You had the flower power and the counter culture.

SV:

Missed it—missed it all.

TS:

You know the—

SV:

Didn’t do any of those things, obviously.

TS:

Or, the drug culture is, I guess, the word I was looking for there.

SV:

Yeah. I think—I must— people must think I am very naïve, because a lot of those things just don’t mesh. And then I think, “Okay, what year are they talking about? Okay that was ’66 and ’67.” And I was really involved with a whole lot of other things like the teaching and that.

TS:

Right. Well, I do want to ask you some—a little bit political. In that—in this period of time there’s a kind of the Cold War—even before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you know, we had the U2 crisis [1960 U-2 Crisis] and we had the Cuban missile crisis and things like that and the idea of nuclear holocaust. Was that anything—

SV:

Somehow or another I think I was so involved with studies et cetera, et cetera—I mean, I had to know it was going on, but did I take a stand? I don’t think I had a lot of time to do that. That’s a terrible thing to say, but even the Vietnam crisis, it’s—I have a terrible memory, first of all. I have one of those memories that’s global, and I don’t have detail. I mean, even to this day its like, “Okay, where were we? Which, Amie, place did we go?”

TS:

You’ve got Amie.

SV:

Yeah, or my sister. And I used to—

TS:

“Tell me about what we did.”

SV:

I was very—I used to feel very bad about that, but I don’t have detail. My younger sister is very detail oriented. She could tell you what I wore graduating from high school, you know. It’s like, that kind of thing. I don’t have that kind of memory.

TS:

I’m going to pause this just one second.

[recording paused]

TS:

I know you remember that [laughter]. Okay we’re starting back up again. We had a slight little—

SV:

Intermission.

TS:

Intermission—yes, we had an intermission. Okay, so you’re in your teaching? What kind of teaching are you doing?

SV:

Nursing.

TS:

So you’re teaching like nursing—

SV:

Students.

TS:

Students?

SV:

Right.

TS:

How did you enjoy that?

SV:

Oh, I loved it—’66 to ’68, I loved teaching. Most of my—probably—my nursing career has been teaching and some administration. But I just loved to help. I mean, when the light bulb goes on, and a student has learned how to give an injection, or, you know, they’re so proud that they gave their first bed bath. I’ve had something like thirty-five years of teaching.

TS:

Well, talk to me; let’s look at the perspective of when you started out here in the sixties teaching, and how it changed over time. You want—even though we’re going to kind of jump forward in that—do you see some of that the change that went on, either technologically—

SV:

Oh yeah.

TS:

—the type of, the level of skill, things like that. Anything you want to add.

SV:

Oh yeah, and, well, we closed our diploma program in ’68. That was the last year. And then I only had one more year in the convent. And I worked in nursing education in a hospital, but it was still education. It wasn’t with students just becoming nurses.

But oh, I mean everything has changed. And it changes so fast today—the technology. I can go visit somebody in the hospital and go, “Man, am I glad I’m not teaching now with all the bells and whistles and blah, blah, blah.” Sometimes you wonder if people don’t forget that there’s a human being attached to all the bells and whistles. And how much more we expect students to learn, and it’s like, the fast changeover, I mean it’s—like healthcare changes every ten years they say. American history is American history and it’s probably not—it’s changing as we change right now, but what was down in 18-blah-blah-blah, is still pretty much the same. But oh, and what we expect students to learn and the textbooks that they have to buy—it’s just a whole different world. But it’s still that laying on of hands that’s exciting. And students that want to come in and learn that. It’s very exciting.

TS:

So that part hasn’t changed so much. The glistening in the eye, and the sparkle—

SV:

No, on undergraduate level. Now we never had—we had the graduate level. We didn’t have the PhD level ‘til later.

TS:

Okay, so we’ll go back to the sixties. So it’s ’68 and so you’re—

SV:

My last place was Vicksburg, Mississippi.

TS:

Okay.

SV:

I was assigned to the hospital down there and did nursing education. And that’s when I really came with grips of—I was twenty-nine—and even though I had final vows—I had questioned whether or not I should do this the rest of my life, or should I get married and have kids?

TS:

Did you take your final vows?

SV:

Oh yeah.

TS:

Okay, you had, okay.

SV:

Sixty-five or sixty-six.

TS:

Okay.

SV:

And so I came to the realization that I needed to ask for a dispensation and take time out for a year. I had to go through the Pope and get permission to do this and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But I did, I took a year off.

Talk about my dad crying! My dad cried when I went in because he thought he was losing me, and my dad was so proud of me he cried when I came out. You know, it’s like “It’s okay, Dad.” And so I came out of the Sisters of Mercy in 1969. My sister by that time had come out of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and she came out really bitter.

TS:

Why?

SV:

Her life experience was entirely different from mine; mine was wonderful. I would not have traded those ten years of my life for anything. It was probably the best ten years of my life in so far as formation for me. I came out with a lot of my friends still from high school—I mean, married with a couple of kids, some were already divorced. I had spent a lot of time on learning me and who I was and where I was going in life at twenty-nine. But a lot of things I didn’t know and I knew if I—I felt if I stayed in St. Louis my parents might overprotect me. So I purposely wrote to hospitals and schools of nursing on the East Coast, in Washington D.C., and Baltimore [Maryland]. And I remember my mom didn’t drive, but she came with me as I came for interviews. And my first interview was at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], and all they wanted to do was sign me up for the army. And I thought, “I’m on a leave of absence from another commitment for ten years. I don’t want to join the army!” And didn’t hear from NIH [National Institutes of Health], and then I had an appointment over at Johns Hopkins [Hospital] in Baltimore. And I thought, “That sounds interesting.”

And I never will forget, I walked in the front door of the old entrance at Johns Hopkins, and there’s that humongous statue of Christ. Have you ever seen it? And I thought, “Holy cow, this is it. This is where I want to work!” And so I did—stayed in the dorm until I could get an apartment. Mom, we flew her back home and I lived in Baltimore for almost a year. Actually, it wasn’t even a year. Two of my new friends then- one worked with me. I was in surgical ICU [intensive care unit] and the recovery room, because they were combined. Hopkins was, at that time, building new units, but they were combined at that time.

So, one of my friends worked there and she had roommate who worked in OB/GYN [obstetrics/gynecology], and so we became really good friends. And in fact Ellen, my friend, is still a friend today. She and her husband and two kids—Ellen—it was the era of miniskirts. Now, I had been wearing long skirts and then we had shortened them to knee level, but I certainly had never worn a miniskirt. Ellen took me out the first time to buy a miniskirt and I thought, “Ellen, I cannot walk out in the street with this.” And she insisted I had to have miniskirts like everybody else.

TS:

Did you get some?

SV:

Yes, yes, I did.

TS:

Did you wear them?

SV:

Yes, I did. Yes, I did. And the two of them were applying for a grant. I loved Baltimore. It reminded me of St. Louis. I loved the people I worked with. And I loved working in the ICU, even though I felt like it was a very antiquated unit compared to my very modern hospital in St. Louis. But they were applying for a U.S. Public Health Service grant to go to graduate school and I thought, “My god, they’re both younger than me, they haven’t had the experience I’ve had.” And so I said, “Okay, where do I apply?” So I applied and Margaret—Ellen’s roommate—got it, and I got it, and Ellen didn’t [get it]. So we went—Margaret and I went tripping off to Emory University, where I got a master’s degree in a year.

TS:

Where’s Emory at?

SV:

Atlanta, Georgia. [I] loved Atlanta, Georgia. I don’t think I’ve lived anywhere I haven’t loved. I think that’s me. [I] had the opportunity of getting a faculty position there—[the] dean offered me one. I also went to Vanderbilt [University] to interview, but I thought “Oh, I could go back to St. Louis University.” So back to St. Louis University I went, after my master’s degree and taught at St. Louis University.

TS:

So what year are we at now?

SV:

I got my master’s degree in August of ’71.

TS:

Okay.

SV:

Went back to teach there and it was fine. But it was like, “Okay, I miss the East Coast.” Mississippi doesn’t qualify as an ocean and Ocean City, Maryland, was wonderful. They also didn’t have any mountains in St. Louis, very much. And it was very interesting. There were five of us that were really good friends in the graduate program, and we all said if anybody goes skiing—because I had gone skiing a couple times in Baltimore—that we should let each other know. And somewhere in the fall I was teaching at St. Louis University, living in an apartment in St. Louis—nice to be back around family. My friend Barbara had come back here to teach at UNC Chapel Hill [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]. She called me and she said, “You still want to go skiing?”

And I go, “Yeah!”

And she says, “Well, there’s a group of the faculty going skiing. And they’ve consented to let one more person come.”

And I didn’t know at the time that they took a vote and some didn’t want an outsider to come, and Amie and Barbara were saying well—Amie said, “You know, if she’s a friend of Barbara’s, she must be an okay person.”

So I came skiing. And I came to this little town called Chapel Hill. Now, remember, I lived in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Atlanta, big cities. Flew in in December of 1971—flew into this itty bitty airport in Chapel Hill, which at that time was outdoors and you had to walk from the plane indoors. And you always told people if you were going to the airport, to go down this road and where the donkey or the horse was you took a right”. And it was the smallest little place I had ever seen. The town at the time was fifty thousand people. We had to cook a turkey, because Barbara was supposed to bring a turkey. And she stopped to get a hamburger for us at a place called Hardee’s [fast food chain]. I had never heard of a Hardee’s.

And so off the next day we drove up to the mountains, where we were supposed to go skiing. And it was about eight or nine of us, I guess. And there was no snow so we didn’t—it was New Year’s Eve. We had a nice New Year’s Eve dinner. We waited for the midnight, but there wasn’t enough snow to go skiing. And they were very nice people. Of course, I knew Barbara and she was the only one I knew. I didn’t know at the time that Amie was on the recruiting committee, and was told by the dean that she had to find a med/surg person—medical-surgical nursing person—over the holidays, because they were short one. My area is medical-surgical nursing and I mean to tell you the eight of them threw out this, “Why don’t you come teach here?”

And I’m going, “Wait a minute, Chapel Hill has fifty thousand people.” There was no mall, there was no university mall. I’m going, “This is Small Town, USA.” I had no idea who the Tar Heels were, never heard of a Tar Heel in my life. Catholics were three percent. I’m going, “Barbara, there aren’t any Catholics in here.” It’s like three percent of the population of North Carolina was Catholic at the time, “You’ve got to be kidding.” But there was something intriguing about the nice people that I met—that they wanted me to move here. It was back on the East Coast again. There was water and mountains. And I said, “Well, I don’t think I really want to move.”

And so they said, “Well, the dean” —Amie went back and told the dean that she thought they had somebody, and she thought if the dean sent her a letter just to interview that I would come out to interview.

I came in March to interview and I moved here in August of ’72.

TS:

Seventy-two.  

SV:

Now at St. Louis University —I’ll tie you into the military—at St. Louis University one of my faculty colleagues was in the air force, and she was air force reserve. And she would go over to Scott Air Force Base— right across the river thirty minutes—Scott Air Force Base, and do their weekend drills. And she kept saying, “Why don’t you join the air force?”

And I’m going, “I don’t want another commitment. [nervous laughter] I don’t want any military commitment thank you, but no thank you.”

She tried two or three times really hard.

So I came to Chapel Hill. Barbara, my best friend, was in the reserve unit: the 3274th [U.S. Army Hospital]. Amie, who I got to know as one of my course coordinators, and had been skiing, was in this 3274th. Many of the people that I met in the mountains—and people that I knew on the faculty—all belonged to the same reserves unit. So on weekends it was kind of quiet around. And somebody said to me, “Why don’t you come down for one of our parties?”

And I said, “I can do that.”

Remember I love parties. [laughs] I went down to their parties and I’m going—what a wonderful party—and I’m going, “What do you guys do on the weekends?”

Well, they took over Womack Army Hospital. They were nurses, just like we were in real life. Some were teaching, the dental group did what dentists do, the doctors did what doctors do, nurses and enlisted did nursing stuff. I thought, “Huh, and you get paid for this?” I thought “I could do this and I could attend the parties at the same time.” So—

TS:

Which was the greater lure?

SV:

I’ll never answer that question. [laughter] I don’t think I’ll answer that. No, I really did feel at that time—I did feel a commitment to doing something for the country. You know, and people say that and they go “yeah, yeah, yeah”. But I really did feel that I thought, “This is nothing different than what I do in civilian.”

Did I ever really think about the possibility of being activated? No. I mean, I was going down to Fort Bragg. I lived here—wasn’t that far away. It was a nice weekend and I got paid for it. Did I ever think I’d be in for twenty-three years? Not on your life. Did I know anything about it? And I was brought in, as many of them were, because I had a master’s degree and lots of experience already. I was given the rank of captain. And I’ll never forget the day I, you know, lifted my right hand and said, “I will. I do.”

Amie gave me the oath of office as the chief nurse. Barbara was my witness. But Barbara helped me get dressed. I had no idea how to put on my uniform. I had no idea how to salute. And if you recall, Fort Bragg is the home of the 82nd Airborne [Division]. If you went outdoors you could—I mean, you could run into a line of 82nd Airborne [soldiers] coming this way. And they pretty soon had a hint that some of us were not active duty, and they would just love to salute. So you had to learn how to salute down there. It was a wonderful experience, because it was on post. I loved that piece of it.

So I signed up in October of ’72. Did many different career things at the 3274th. I loved it. Loved all the places where we went for our two weeks of annual training. I think one time a group of us were down at Fort Benning. And I remember some of the corpsmen and myself and another nurse were in the emergency room, and I remember the head nurse—it was a male—and the head nurse said to me, “You guys really work.”

And he was so stunned. And I’m going “Excuse me, what are we supposed to do?”

And he said—this was in the seventies—and he said, “You don’t understand.” He said, “We have reservists that come here from all over, and some, after they sign in, we rarely see them. We don’t know where they are, but they aren’t working.”

We were there for eight or ten hour shift and we were working. I mean, they said we meshed right in with their active duty folks. But I loved it—there was something really neat about being in the military that I loved.

TS:

Can you put your finger on it at all?

SV:

Yeah. I think it was my Girl Scout career and my religious career, it was just a—okay. You know, the Girl Scouts wear a uniform and they have structure and rules. And the religious [societies] wear a uniform and had structure and rules. And I fit right into the military with structures, rules, and a uniform. I just, you know—there was my American flag and my General Douglas MacArthur again—I don’t know. My sister says, “What are you doing?”

And I’m going, “I’m going to join the army.”

TS:

Well, let’s talk about that. What did your family think about that?

SV:

Well, they didn’t understand what that meant. I think at first they thought it was active duty.

TS:

From a sister to a captain?

SV:

Yeah, but now you’ve got a couple of years in between there.

TS:

A couple.

SV:

Sixty nine to seventy two, it’s three. I don’t think anybody was surprised at anything in my life that I ever did, Therese. It’s like, “Okay, Sandy’s going to do this” you know? It’s like, “You’re going to start your PhD? When?”

Now, I think I probably—you know—people just let me roll with the punches.

But it was like, “Yeah. No, I’m not going on active duty. No, I’m not committed to” —you know. I don’t know that we even had a six year commitment back then. I don’t know that.

TS:

I was thinking of the reaction when you wrote about wanting to join the navy, you know,             what—

SV:

I didn’t think that way.

TS:

Did you get any—

SV:

I was very angry inside with my teacher for saying that. I thought that was very cruel. And the more I knew people in the military like Barbara and Amie—and some of the corpsmen and men and women that I met down at Fort Bragg—I thought that was really ugly of her to say. Yes, I think there were those who joined for social reasons only. Did I know a lot of men and women that were probably having extramarital affairs? Yes. Did I think highly of them doing that? No. But I figured if they were doing it there they were probably doing it in their civilian life back at home.

And she kind of indicated that that was the reason women would go into the military: either to play around, or that they were looking for another woman. I mean, her innuendos were—and I thought “That’s not the reason most of the people I knew joined the military.” And I thought it was rather small-minded of her, but I didn’t know her background or where she came from with this. There were days I still thought I should’ve joined the navy. They were always having fun. And I think I told you they—boy, they had an event and they had wristwatches and caps and sweatshirts and they are a—you know—navy always had good parties.

Air force always had wonderful barracks. I don’t know if they had good parties. And the army was pretty good. So I think, you know, as someone said to me, “You can make your life what you want it: either in the military or in civilian life.” And I knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I felt very comfortable with it. [I] had a wonderful twenty-three year career.

TS:

Well—go ahead.

SV:

Side by side with my civilian career. I mean, it was heavy duty time-wise. I remember a friend—we used to write a Christmas letter to save time saying the same thing to everybody. And I remember way back when telling some of our good friends kind of what we had done—civilian and military—during the year and one of our good friends, who is now deceased and  younger than we were, said “I get tired reading your Christmas letter.” We were busy!

And the higher you got in rank the more responsibilities you had and the more commitment you had. Like the year I lived in Richmond [Virginia] and commuted up to Rockville, Maryland. We would go up there on a Wednesday evening after work to a

staff meeting—and we’re talking three hours away and then drive home at midnight—get up and go to work the next day. We were either really committed or crazy. I think it was committed, but there were people that go “Don’t you get tired?”

It’s like, “Yeah, I guess we did, but I never thought about it.”

It was a wonderful career. I wouldn’t undo anything in my life.

TS:

What was it about the military at that time for you that you think—besides the uniform and the structure—that kept you there?

SV:

I loved being on post where I started out at Womack. I loved really—I mean I got to be teaching again some of the enlisted. Even some of the nurses were rather young nurses. So I might have been a head nurse on the unit, but there was another nurse with me. But I loved being around the active duty component. You just felt like you were really in without being really in.

TS:

So with the responsibility that you had in the reserve—you started out as a captain—did you have anybody under you where you had to like discipline or—

SV:

Oh yeah, do their evaluations?

TS:

Yeah, how was that?

SV:

It was the same thing I was doing in civilian life. I mean, I didn’t find that difficult.

TS:

You didn’t see it any different.

SV:

No. I mean yes you had to know the rules and regulations, and what they could and couldn’t do. But in so far as how they were nursing, how they were behaving, how you knew to counsel somebody—that you never tore them down—you hoped you were building them up—it was no different than what I was doing on my civilian side. The teaching was the same. There may have been different courses, but they were still teaching. I remember a couple of years I got to be in charge of the orientation program for the new people coming in, and you got to instill values and what this unit is all about and what we really do here. I had two corpsmen working with me, and it was really wonderful. So I don’t think I ever saw it as a juxtaposition to what I was doing in my civilian life. They always seemed to go together.

TS:

Because you’re teaching in both?

SV:

I’m teaching in both.

TS:

You’re nursing in both.

SV:

I’m nursing in both.

TS:

You were wearing a uniform at both.

SV:

I had positions of responsibility, and I was very comfortable with that. Of course people say Leos are leaders, and we take over even if we’re not supposed to. So I sometimes had to learn not to be the leader. Learned that too.

TS:

How about the different cultures—because I talked to Amie about this a little bit—you have the academic culture and then you have the military culture.

SV:

Yes.

TS:

And they’re not the same.

SV:

Correct, there are similarities, but differences. The rank especially—I was always in organizations with rank. They may have been called different, it may have been a dean, or it may have been a mother superior, but there were always—

TS:

A hierarchy.

SV:

Yeah, that wasn’t anything new and different to me. And growing up Catholic there were always lots of hierarchies. But I was always comfortable with hierarchies even with respect of knowing that this person, but always comfortable with it. Some of the things that we did because of the units we were in very easily rubbed shoulders; like, say for example, with a couple of generals and I was very comfortable. There were other people I know that wouldn’t go up and talk with the generals. I talked to everybody and I was very comfortable with it. But there’s still that respect for the position and you know what to do with that. So like I say—but there was always that hierarchy somewhere of what you did and you didn’t do. You just had to learn all the rules.

TS:

What was—

SV:

And then how to get around the rules. [chuckles] I taught students that too.

TS:

You taught them that too?

SV:

Well, yeah, like in nursing. I’ll never forget, we did teach a course one time on how to bend the rules, and how to get around the rules legally. As for example in the days—I don’t know if they still do it, but in the days you were discharged from the hospital, you had to go by wheelchair. And a lot of people, if they weren’t in for something really heavy and they weren’t really tired, they’d go “I can walk.”

“No, you have to go by wheelchair.”

Well, we soon did this course that said you had to go by wheelchair. It didn’t say you had to sit in the wheelchair. And so some of the nurses would discharge a person who really wanted to walk, and they knew they could, they would roll the wheelchair alongside of them, but they would walk out. They complied with the law, but they bent the law.

TS:

And made the patient happier too.

SV:

You got it.

TS:

Excellent. Well, what about—okay, so this time period in this time frame that you’re in the military initially, there is—I know I keep going back to different things happening in the world culture, but the women’s movement, did that have any impact on you at all—influence?

SV:

You know, I really don’t remember ever being put, personally, in what I thought was a second person category because I was a woman. Maybe I was too dumb to know it. That I should’ve been—there was one occasion, I will admit. When I was at Hopkins, I dated an intern who was Jewish, and I felt he always walked three feet ahead of me and I thought that was very strange. And, I was dumb enough to walk three feet behind him. That relationship didn’t go anywhere, and we soon broke it off when I went to graduate school—after I was there for a while. But I don’t remember—we had a big discussion about this in the doctoral program and one of my friends said—you know, she was really a feminist, and said “women were always oppressed”.

And I said, “I don’t remember ever being oppressed.”

And there was this discussion about women who played sports who weren’t as oppressed, and I’ve been playing sports since I was second grade. We were competitive. We were friends. I truly don’t remember being oppressed because I was a woman. Maybe one or two times felt that somebody was womanizing me of, you know—

TS:

What do you mean?

SV:

Wanting more than just a friendship relationship and I didn’t. And he was a married man and I didn’t like that. Or, you felt somebody was mentally undressing you while they were staring at you. And it’s an innate uncomfortable position. But I don’t remember ever feeling like I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. And laughing at it—not laughing, but it’s like, “What do you mean, she can’t be in that position because she’s a woman?” I mean, that’s so stupid! Why we don’t—why we can’t have a woman president. Duh. I mean, we’ve had women presidents of universities, et cetera, big organizations, et cetera et cetera. It’s like “that’s so crazy”. And that will come some day.

TS:

Well, did you have a favorite place that you got to go? You have a nice list here I see. That when you went on your two weeks during the summer—I’m assuming during the summer sometimes, I don’t know.

SV:

Sometimes it was during the year, but that was hard because of our situation on the faculty. A favorite place?

TS:

Here’s the ones you wrote down.

SV:

I loved whatever was on a post.

TS:

Yeah. You keep saying that. What was it about the post that you liked?

SV:

I loved it. You just felt—like being at Womack.

TS:

Like being a part of it?

SV:

Yeah Womack—oh and at Walter Reed, you had all the history that went with Walter Reed. And of course, probably Amie told you about my eight months—her nine month stay at Walter Reed during [Operation] Desert Storm.

TS:

Well, why don’t you tell me about your part there?

SV:

I started the doctoral program in ’86 at Virginia Commonwealth University. [I] finished coursework in two years. Took off of life because I was ready, and I thought, “I’ve got to get this finished”. And I wanted to be on the faculty, so I did full time coursework, bit the nail—did it. Also [I] got a traineeship. [I’ve] been spoiled rotten by God in my life. I never paid for my bachelors, masters, or PhD. Returning back to all the good that’s been given to me. But anyway, finished coursework, did the work for the comprehensive exam, did that, and started part time work; which was probably wrong, because I just kind of didn’t chip away at the dissertation that much. And I was doing a heavy duty research project. You know “keep it simple”, well I wasn’t “keeping it simple Sandy”. I was really making it complicated.

My advisor kept saying, “You know, we could cut out some of this.”

“Okay”. And I was just to the third year thinking, “I’m going to get it done this year.”

And because we were in a command unit, we had sixteen units under us. And we gradually saw our units and some of our friends that we knew back here in North Carolina being called to active duty for [Operations] Desert Shield/Desert Storm. And we went to say goodbye to one of our units out of Richmond. And they were down at Fort Eustis, so we went down there Friday and said goodbye to all of them with hugs and kisses and tears. And drove up to Walter Reed, because I was supposed to have my physical Saturday morning—my annual physical. And we got there, and unbeknownst to me, somebody—Amie said something to somebody about, “Well, you have to have your shots.”

And Amie says, “No, we don’t need them now.”

And she said, “Yes you do ma’am.”

We didn’t know, because we didn’t go back home. We had gotten the call Friday night that we were being put on active duty.

And she told them, “Don’t tell Sandy till she’s finished with her physical, because her blood pressure will go sky high.”

So they told me afterwards and my blood pressure, I think, bottomed out. I don’t think I had one after that it. It was like, “Okay, not now God. This is the year I’m supposed to finish the thing.”

Well, we wound up going on active duty, but it probably made me very organized. I pulled together my research of what was coming, I had sent out a survey. I had to develop the instrument—had sent it out. I lined up people to get my mail. I lined up a young woman at the university to do my statistical input. And [I] had to clarify to her all the analysis that I wanted out of it. [I] had a friend who was going to relay it up to me at Walter Reed. So because of not being at home in Richmond, I had everything pretty well organized.

And I remember in the beginning there were twenty-five hundred people that came to Walter Reed from the whole East Coast: army reserve and National Guard. They pulled everybody out and brought them to Walter Reed. And they put us up in hotels in the beginning, and I was late coming home. I worked in nursing education. We were retraining all of our corpsmen who hadn’t been at a bedside in years to be back at a bedside in crash courses. I mean, we were giving them heavy duty crash courses of how to take care of patients. And so I took the bus back to the hotel and everybody from that hotel was out in the street. And I finally caught up with Amie and I’m going, “What’s going on?”

And she said, “There’s a bomb threat at the hotel!”

And my first comment was, “Did you bring my” —I had my disk from my dissertation, as if it was the only important thing in the whole world. “Did you bring my disk?”

And Amie went “uh no”. And I was panicking. Everything that I had was on those disks up in the room.

Well, luckily, they brought in the dogs and they couldn’t find any evidence of a bomb, but I was like “oh man”. I continued to chip on the dissertation. I got my statistical analysis. I kept sending it back for more analysis. I went home on a couple of weekends and met with my advisor. And I went back in army green uniform and defended my dissertation. I was so proud that day, I can’t tell you. Even my foreword in my dissertation talks about the people that were in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and how proud I was to be part of that. So Walter Reed has a special place in my heart. It always did whenever we went up there.

TS:

I know your dissertation is sitting right here.

SV:

Yup, it’s holding up the microphone. [laughs]

TS:

We had to raise it a little, so—

SV:

I couldn’t just throw that away. It was like, I don’t know what you do with it afterwards, but I couldn’t throw it away.

TS:

What was it that made you so proud?

SV:

A, number one, that I think I completed it. And I knew it really well. And I knew that the faculty would ask some questions. I knew they had to and I knew they also, a couple of them would do it. But I was prepared for what I felt was any questions, and there was something about wearing my colonel uniform that gave me authority that day. I felt like whenever I was answering their questions I was doing it with great knowledge, authority, and support of that uniform. I don’t know what it was, but I was so proud to be there in my uniform.

TS:

Did you have to wear your uniform for that?

SV:

I was on active duty, I felt I should.

TS:

Yeah.

SV:

They were paying me. I got permission to have a day off, because the faculty obviously wasn’t going to come in on a Saturday or Sunday. And so I got permission, I was still on active duty, I just got permission to go to Richmond that day. Of course everybody in my—you know—everybody, the chief nurse, everybody had signed off on it. They knew why I was going there. But yes, so I felt I needed to be in my green uniform.

TS:

Amie was talking about how you both had full-time jobs, and you had years of the reserve every weekend—and sometimes more than every weekend—she was talking two and three times a—

SV:

Because of our responsibilities.

TS:

Right, because you’re at such a high level in your field. And when you got called to active duty you kind of had a break in some ways.

SV:

Oh yeah, we didn’t have to just go on weekends. We were there Monday through Friday. Yeah, it was different. We had weekends off. It was really a switch and that’s how I had time. I didn’t get to play as much on weekends in [Washington] D.C. as I would have chosen to do, but there were other people that did a lot of fun things on weekends. Although the first couple of months, I think we even had Saturday classes, just in the beginning. And then when we knew we were going to not be as involved as—thank God—we thought we were going to be. I mean, some of the people got to go home. Some of us were held back. I got to write and be on the team that wrote lessons learned for nursing at Womack—at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

TS:

What were some of the lessons?

SV:

That we had—

TS:

This is about Desert Storm, right?

SV:

Yeah, but also the reservists, because it was, like, because we were reservists and because we were National Guard, and seeing what would’ve happened if we didn’t have the time to train people. I mean we had some of our corpsmen—especially National Guard—well, some of the reservists too—were scared to death at the thought of being back at the bedside. But they had the medical occupation specialty—the MOS [Military Occupational Specialty]—of being a corpsman. That’s what they were supposed to be doing, but in their unit back at home they were doing secretarial stuff—and to think of having to take care of patients, and maybe critically ill patients? So that was one of the big, big ones. Can I remember any more? Ehh. But we did a really good document, I can tell you. I don’t think I even have a copy of it anymore.

But it went to not only the commander at Walter Reed, but it went higher echelons.  But we also had a good time with some friends. I remember one time one of our National Guard friends, she had a husband and two kids and they lived in Maine, and she would drive back on the drop of a hat. And she came back one time, we said, “Why don’t you bring us some lobsters?” So she brought four lobsters—there were four of us that were going to have lobsters. Well, then it dawned on us as we sat at our house—well, she had brought back a big pot to boil them in, but we realized we didn’t have any crackers, you know, to crack the claws. So we all went and got hammers. We had hammers like these little first, you know, tool box kits. So we cracked—But, it was fun and we did have a good time.

They put us in apartments. That’s when we worried that we were going to be there for a while, and some selectively were there for a while.

TS:

Yeah, you had to leave your house. I heard that you had just bought a house.

SV:

We had just finished—the house was finished, actually it was August of ’90. We were activated January of ’91. And thank God, because of the reserves we always had a house sitter who would stay at the house with the animals. And we had a wonderful young woman. She and her family were in our parish, so we knew them and she was always there on weekends. She was an occupational therapy student. And we asked her if she’d consider staying there, since I was on active duty eight months and Amie was on nine months, you know. And Amie would call—she would drive down a couple of weekends hither and thither to pick up mail and things—bills. And I remember that she would say, “I just love living at your home.”

We’d go, “Stop it, Tina! You’re there longer than we were.” [laughter] But it was good for the animals and for her, so funny! Yeah.

TS:

Well, is there anything in particular that you disliked about being in the reserve or on active duty?

SV:

I really can’t say anything to that. There were some people I thought that didn’t do their positions well enough—kind of slurked [sic, shirked] it off you know. I feel that, you know, if you’ve got something to do, do it well, but then I realize that’s some of my values. There are some people that, “Okay, that’s just that person”. And they weren’t under nursing—they weren’t under my—if I was the head nurse or something, so I really didn’t have that responsibility. But sometimes you could kind of—just if they were peers or colleagues—you could say something quietly, off the cuff like, you know, “Is that the best you can do?”

I can’t—would I do it all over again? Absolutely—every moment of my life. I can’t think of anything I would change.

TS:

When you look back—you talked a little bit—we talked about changes in the nursing field. Did you see changes in the military over this twenty-three year period?

SV:

Yes.

TS:

What kind of changes do you recall?

SV:

Women got promoted more, like, for example, the chief of the Army Nurse Corps. That position has changed. I mean, it was a one star general, and now it’s a two star and they head up a command—I mean, they can head up like a base. In the reserves, we at one time never had a chief of the Army Nurse Corps Reserve. And then we did get one and then that one got a position as a general, so a lot of positive things, I think, changed for women.

TS:

What do you think helped those changes come about?

SV:

I think there were a lot of people who recognized that, thank God, women were as capable. I’m sure, somewhat, the women’s movement did that, but I think there were some very astute males who recognized that the women were just as capable. I think there were those that maybe drug[sic] their feet, but I think there were those that recognized that the women could hold positions of command and do it just as well if not, in some situations, maybe better.

TS:

We talked at lunch a little bit about networking.

SV:

I used to love it. I mean, there was people—because we moved—Amie and I moved so much with places geographically—for civilian and then, because of civilian, military— and then because of military and civilian—we knew people in a lot of places. It was fun when we went to some of the military medical meetings that we’d run into people from all these units that we knew. And it’s like, “How do you know so many people?”

And it’s like, “We’ve been around.”

And that was always fun, because you could call somebody and, you know, “do you know blah, blah, blah” or network with people both civilian and military. And hooked up people, because they had similarities like—well, let’s say for example maybe somebody specialized in infectious diseases in civilian, “Well, do you know so-and-so who does this in the military?”

“No. Well, could you give me her name?”

I love doing that in life. I still do that with people that I meet that are new. It’s like, “Oh okay, well, you must know so-and-so. Well, you should know so-and-so if you don’t.”

Who is it—was it the Dalai Lama that says we’re only seven degrees removed from knowing everyone in the world? I’m working on it. [laughter] Like, who do you know that I don’t know?

TS:

I don’t know. We’ll have to figure that out.

SV:

We had one of our darling guys at the unit up in Rockville, Maryland—he’s just such a lovely—we ran into him in an airport not too long ago. We’re all in civvies, but we ran into each other—and he worked at Public Health Service— public health at Hopkins. And because of his position— he’s a great researcher also—doing a lot in public health— he and a team were going over to India. And he stood about yea tall—I mean, six foot something. And they had the opportunity with the team to meet Mother Theresa, so I figured now I’m only two degrees removed from knowing Mother Theresa [famous Catholic nun].

TS:

That’s pretty special. I see some, there’s some—a little baggy down here with—

SV:

Medals, pictures—

TS:

Yeah.

SV:

We had—those came from—why they’re in a baggie because at Carol Woods [Retirement Community] we had a day. It was Veterans Day when I came—when we came here for our interview—and we had one of the interviews was with the CEO—and so I said—

TS:

At Carol Woods?

SV:

Carol Woods. And we were having this interview, and Amie and I happen to know her from a previous—but I said, “What does this” —you know, coming up to October and it’s Veterans Day—and I said, “Well, with four hundred and sixty people here I’m sure there are a fair number of veterans, so what does Carol Woods do for Veterans Day?”

She said, “Actually, we haven’t done anything.”

And I said, “What?”

So Amie and I put together this proposal which we took to the resident council— association council—and we presented why we thought we should do something on Veterans Day. I mean, there isn’t anybody I know that doesn’t do something for people that have been veterans. So that year they at least asked all the veterans or the spouses of the veterans who were in the meeting to please stand and be recognized for a moment of silence. And it was really nice. And then this year they have a big—two big display cases in the main building, and so they asked all—anybody that was associated with military to either submit a photo or some memorabilia or some awards. And so we had a nice variety of photos and we did our medals. It was really very nice. So we’ll keep hounding them every year to do something.

TS:

Is there any medal or award or anything that you received that you’re particularly proud of?

SV:

All of them—each and every one. I don’t know that I would say one more than others. I just don’t toot my own horn about a lot of things I did.

TS:

Well, what do you have in there? Oh, you want me to—

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay, we’re going to go again. Okay so we got the—

SV:

I’m not a big one about medals and awards and tooting my horn, but this is the Army Commendation Medal and I got that several times, you know, the oak leaf cluster and that. And my Meritorious Service, that was kind of like a culmination of my military career.

TS:

Now, you have a cute picture of you and Amie there. What are you wearing in that picture?

SV:

These are our BDUs, the battle dress uniform, which they don’t wear the same one today.

TS:

No.

SV:

And I’m also very glad. When I was a kid I have pictures of my older sister and myself wearing tams, and for some reason I didn’t like a tam. And if I was in the army today I’d have to wear that maroon tam [beret], and I would not be a happy camper. So I’m glad I retired in ’95 before—

TS:

Is that the hat?

SV:

Yes. Oh God, I would’ve died.

TS:

That’s a cute picture.

SV:

This is a cute picture. The question is—

TS:

Where are you and what year is it?

SV:

Yeah, because I’m trying to look at rank. I think we were at Fort Leonard Wood. That unit did not do you know—

TS:

One of your two week probably, right?

SV:

We always lived away from our place except the three and a half years in St. Louis with the 21st General [Hospital]. We would go fifteen minutes to our headquarters. But then because the hospitals were at a distance, I, as assistant chief nurse, would travel to the hospitals. But when we did some other drills—we went for weekends down at Fort Leonard Wood. Well, most of the people in this unit had never done that and they went, “We have to be away from home for the weekend?”

It’s like, “Yeah.”

They thought it was the hardest thing in their lives. Now granted, some were mothers and fathers but, you know, we—I grew up tripping down to Womack and staying down at Womack at the bachelor officers’ quarters. The year we lived in Sealevel [North Carolina] it was a four hour drive to Womack—stay all weekend and drive home for four hours. I mean that was what you had to do.

TS:

You didn’t think twice about it?

SV:

No, but these people thought it was the hardest thing. But then when they got away they found out they had lots of fun in the evenings also, because they weren’t working all the time. But I think this must have been Leonard Wood.

TS:

Yeah.

SV:

We did several things like this so I can’t—I wouldn’t put my hand on a bible and swear.

TS:

Right, sure, and over twenty three years, probably hard to pinpoint. Did we see the rank on that?

SV:

No, I can’t see it.

TS:

It’s hard to see in that outfit. We’ll figure that out. It’s usually on your helmet or did they not do that? Did they do that—

SV:

Oh no.

TS:

—black now?

SV:

Well, I don’t know what they do now, but I have it on—have the—it’s a subdued—you can’t see it because it’s black.

TS:

Right and you certainly can’t—what—

SV:

If it’s after ’86 —I think my date of rank for colonel was ’86. So if I’m a colonel it’s after ’86, which means it would’ve been the unit up at 2290th [U.S. Army Hospital]. And we did field things.

TS:

Well, you were a Girl Scout—that was no problem, right?

SV:

No, and I still like camping. I still like camping. Okay.

TS:

Well, what do you have to tell—well, first of all, why did you decide to retire when you did?

SV:

I felt twenty-three years, you know, there’s this magical number. If you go over something, I would’ve had to stay—I don’t know how many more years. But I was very involved with civilian life at the time between teaching, my clinical, my position at the university, my church in Richmond, and I just really think—I just felt it was the right thing to do at the right time. The same thing—like when I retired from the university, it was the right thing to do at the right time. It had been a wonderful career, but I felt it was time.

TS:

Do you have anything that you would say to people that might be interested—especially women—that might want to consider the military for a career, either through the reserve or otherwise?

SV:

Reserve or active duty, I think it’s a wonderful second career. If it’s active duty I think it’s a wonderful opportunity. I think there’s educational opportunities; I think there’s travel opportunities. I think there’s growth.

I’ll never forget, Amie’s nephew was dating this young woman who went into the army and she didn’t like to take orders. And they had to put, you know, their footlocker—they had to put their things in this kind of an order they gave them exactly. Well, she didn’t do it. You know, it’s kind of like a young teenager, but she was like a twenty year old something. But she didn’t do it exactly that way, so she had to run a couple of laps. And the next time inspection come she hadn’t do it right, so she did a couple of laps again. And I remember her writing back to Jonathan in their letters saying, “You know, about the fifth time I had to do laps I finally put it together, if I would only do it that way I probably wouldn’t have to do all this extra laps.” So I think there’s a growth especially for young people.

I never ever knew how well I was going, how much I was going to really, really like the retirement check as a part of my now income. I never knew that Tricare for Life [military health benefits] was going to be such a good secondary health insurance. Do I know what the future is when people are talking about what people on active duty or reserves should get in the future? I don’t know if they’re going to have the same blessings and opportunities. But I think just being involved itself with the military is a wonderful opportunity. I’ve heard of—now, I know people who came out of the reserves and absolutely hated their career in the reserves or active duty. And I still say, no different than the convent, if you come out bitter or you had a great time, it’s kind of what you make life. And a lot of it is, you know, yeah, there are things that you have to do and you may not like it, but that’s life too.

TS:

What about the role that women play now in the military?

SV:

Good. I think we should do more of it.

TS:

Like what?

SV:

Chief of staff and, I don’t mean, chief of staff—Joint Chiefs of Staff is what I meant. I don’t think they’ve had a woman there yet.

TS:

No, they have not.

SV:

And I think that day is coming. I mean, we’ve got them on the [U.S.] Supreme Court, why not? We just haven’t got somebody to that position yet. It will come.

TS:

What about in the combat role?

SV:

I think to a point. I just don’t think we’re quite as physical as the men, and maybe that’s just me. I wouldn’t want to be on the front lines: a little bit further back I would do some things, but today, even further back it’s dangerous.

TS:

Flying a jet plane?

SV:

It’s dangerous.

TS:

Driving a tank?

SV:

Yeah. And you know we’re great drivers. I don’t know why we can’t drive a tank.

TS:

Well, I heard about Amie driving the tank. [laughs]

SV:

She had this little—It was a humvee [High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle].

TS:

Oh, it was a humvee okay.

SV:

Was it a hum—no, it wasn’t, it was a tank.

TS:

She said it was a tank.

SV:

They had this little slot to look out of. And I’m going, “Oh my god, she’s going to hit a tree.” I guess the thing I would have the hardest [time] with is hand to hand combat.

TS:

The physical aspect of it.

SV:

Yes. And yet I’ll bet you there are women who know karate that are probably fine in that position. I think it’s all individual—maybe give the person a choice. I don’t know. If I had a daughter, would I be more worried if she was on the front lines? Yeah, probably. But I think we can do almost any position very well. And like you say, they’re in the jets, they’re in the whatevers, and I think they have a right to be and should be. Although, I remember one time we were both stunned when we got on a commercial airline and there was a woman pilot, and we were both kind of like [gasp]. I remember Amie thinking, “You think she knows what she’s supposed to do?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

But it’s kind of a shock the first time you do it. That was years ago.

TS:

Well, is there anything that you’d like to say to anyone to add—because we’ve talked a lot about over the last twenty-three years—that we haven’t talked about?

SV:

I can’t think of anything, when you leave I’ll think of lots of things. [TS laughs] And I don’t think it’s just the nursing part that has been wonderful. I mean I’ve had friends who were not nurses in the military, so I don’t want people to think it’s just because I was a nurse that the nursing part was great. We had lots of—even in our reserve units—females who were in different service, you know, doing different things and they were doing it very well.

TS:

Lots of different roles or jobs that they had.

SV:

Oh yeah, and commanders today. Yeah, all that, thank God, has changed. I think people need to explore it, and I don’t know if there’s ways to explore it.

TS:

Without that commitment you mean?

SV:

Yeah, and maybe somebody should think about that for recruiting.

TS:

Well, you beat the ten years with the—[laughter]

SV:

Yes, I did. Should I add them together and count thirty-three?

TS:

I think maybe you can.

SV:

Never thought about that. I remember—and then we spoke up years afterwards—when I came in, and when Amie came in, and when a lot of us came in, we didn’t go to a basic course, which is why I didn’t know how to salute and do a lot of things. We spoke up enough about it that that needed to be changed, so that now most reservists have to do a basic and I think that’s a good thing.

TS:

Did you end up going through it?

SV:

No.

TS:

Because Amie said that she—

SV:

We had a basic course, it was a paper-and-pencil learning course, but it wasn’t out in the field blah, blah, blah—that came later for the reservists. And they may not appreciate that we spoke up, but we felt it was only right. I mean, I was good in nursing and I was good in, you know, same similar things in my civilian position. It was the military part of me.

TS:

Walking on Fort Bragg and having—

SV:

Yeah. And there I came in as a captain and should known something, [whispers] I don’t know, but I will learn. And I did learn and I learned what I had to learn, and that’s what I’ve always told the students in nursing, “You may not know everything, but a smart person knows where to find the answers.” So they did, and it’s just been—I think it’s a wonderful.

I do wish there were a way for people to have a taste of it without having to commit. They used to do that in schools of nursing, because there was a time when like juniors and seniors in the school of nursing could—how’d that go? They could be commissioned and while they were students they were getting paid, and that kind of a program. And then some of them did do some time like a week or something somewhere. I think that’s a taste of something. And I know they used to bring some students down for recruiting purposes. They flew them down from some post or some place. I think those are good opportunities, no different than in civilian life today, where they have, you know, mothers take a daughter to work to see that your daughter sees what you’re really doing. I don’t think most people have a clue as to what people really do. Why would you do that? Because, it was wonderful and if needed I would go.

Of course, the day they told me I was really going on active duty—besides the dissertation—I assumed I was going to the desert. We did not know we were going to be kept at Walter Reed. And I felt like a first grader, Therese, leaving Richmond. I remember telling people in our church, “We’re going on active duty. We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know how long we’re going to be gone. We don’t have a forwarding address or telephone number.”

And people go, “How can you go?”

And I go, “I’m going. That’s, you know, what I signed up years ago for.”

And I was a little scared. I really—I remember telling my mom and dad, who were alive at the time, and I called when we pretty much had the clue. We got put up at the hotels that most of us—because our reserve unit at that time’s mission was Walter Reed. And Walter Reed was designated as the first stop back to the United States for any injured. And I remember telling my dad, “Well, we’re not going to the desert” —thinking he was going to be really relieved— “but we’re going to stay in Washington D.C.” And he says, “That’s about as dangerous as the desert, in Washington D.C.”

“No, we’ll be okay, Dad,” because you heard the sirens and the police cars a lot in Washington D.C.

TS:

Yeah.

SV:

So, are we finished?

TS:

Well, do you have anything else you’d like to add that you think—I want to bring in Amie and ask you guys a couple things together, can we do that?

SV:

Sure.

TS:

So we’ll pause if for now.

SV:

Sure .

TS:

And I want to thank you, first of all.

SV:

You are very welcome, it’s been fun. Are we going to get a copy of this?

[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.

Amie Modigh:

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] Barbara.

SV:

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

TS:

I heard about Barbara, right.

SV:

Heard about Barbara—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 that 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 before 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 [unclear] 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 the 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. All right 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]