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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Lelia Hamilton, 2010

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Object ID: wv0483.5.001

Description: Leila Hamilton tells of her early life, education, entrance into the service, service in the United States Air Force as an aircraft controller and director, and her activities relating to the military after leaving the service.

Summary:

Hamilton discusses the various places she has lived in her life as a civilian and in the service. She recalls her training, especially Officer Candidate School, and explains the particular reasons for her transfers while serving, as well as details of her service. She also discusses the impacts of being both female and African American in the United States Air Force during the 1950s.

Other subjects include stories about friends in the military, perceptions of women in the military in the 1950s, her education before and after her service, and humorous anecdotes.

Creator: Leila L. Hamilton

Biographical Info: Leila L. Hamilton (b. 1926) served as an aircraft controller in the U.S. Air Force from 1951-1955.

Collection: Lelia L. Hamilton Papers

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

Full Text:

Beth Ann Koelsch:

My name is Beth Ann Koelsch and today is the twentieth of April, 2010. I am in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with Lelia?

Lelia Hamilton:

It’s Lelia.

BK:

I can never—I have a mental block—Lelia Hamilton. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. So how would you like your name to be in the collection? Lelia Hamilton?

LH:

Lelia

BK:

Lelia Hamilton, okay—sounds good. So, the interview is divided into a few parts: pre-military, your time in the military, and afterwards. So, we’ve gone over a little bit this, but just to have it on tape: When and where were you born?

LH:

I was born [in] Brooks County, Georgia, December 12, 1926—small, country, rural area, in south—I guess southwest—south central Georgia.

BK:

Okay, and did you grow up there?

LH:

My father was an AME [African Methodist Episcopal] minister. We were circuit riders. You know every two or three years you would move to a different church. And my mother was a public school teacher.

BK:

So, did you stay in Georgia, or did you—

LH:

We stayed in Georgia with them. Yes, my early childhood was all in Georgia.

BK:

So, your mother taught, I guess, all ages in the school?

LH:

It was elementary education, primarily, early on. Then she later became certified as a librarian, and she became assistant principal of a school, as she escalated up. When she died she was a librarian assistant principal—well, before she died that was her last, you know, assignment teaching.

BK:

And you said that you moved around every two or three years?

LH:

Yeah, my early years until my father passed. I was thirteen; then we became more stabilized in one place.

BK:

And where was that?

LH:

We had—I consider Nashville, Georgia, as a home. But my mother was teaching in Adel, Georgia, which was about nine or ten miles away from Nashville, Georgia.

BK:

Okay. And do you have any brothers or sisters?

LH:

I have half brothers and sisters. I am the third family of my father’s. My mother had one child, and she died before I was born. She was older. I never knew her, so.

BK:

Okay. And where did you graduate from high school?

LH:

Adel—I think they called it Cook County Training School at that time. It was a segregated school where all the blacks were bused into one little town. That was where I graduated from.

BK:

And did you like school?

LH:

Say again?

BK:

Did you like school?

LH:

Sometimes, yes, and sometimes no. I was picked on because my mother was teaching.

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

When she was teaching at the school, I was not necessarily the favorite child of a lot of people. 

BK:

Did you have a subject—certain favorite subject?

LH:

Not really. I ended up majoring in home economics, so I might say—they don’t call it that anymore, but it was home economics back in those days.

BK:

Right, okay. Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

LH:

I was in Adel, and we had only a radio—because most people had only a radio at that time—and I heard about it. It was just like—thought sure it was going to be right next door to us.

BK:

Right. So, I would gather—very scary?

LH:

Yes, it was. It was very, very scary—very scary.

BK:

And when you decided—you said that you saw an advertisement in the paper. What were you working as before you went in?

LH:

Now, I have a varied background.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

I had been married before. As I said, I was in Europe in 1948 to 1950. When I was in college—my last year in college—I met someone who was in Officer Candidate School [OCS], at one of our dances, when the troops would come in to dance with you at the black colleges.

BK:

And what years were that?

LH:

I got married in 1944 the first time.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

Then I went back to school.

BK:

And what college was this?

LH:

That was Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, which no longer exists. It went under. [sic, college still functioning].

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And I went out to Arizona after I was married, because my, at that time, husband was going overseas. So I dropped out of school. He promised my mother that I would graduate from college. So when he went overseas I then decided to leave Morris Brown, and I went to Fort Valley State [University] in Fort Valley, Georgia. I graduated—I got my degree—bachelor’s from Fort Valley State.

BK:

While he was overseas?

LH:

While he was overseas. And that was in 1946.

BK:

All right, is this Mr. Hamilton?

LH:

I was—no, his name was Williams. That’s why I was Williams.

BK:

All right. So, you met him at a dance, you got married, and—

LH:

He went overseas.

BK:

—went overseas. And you did—did you ever see him during the—

LH:

Well, after he came back.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And I went—I graduated and I was teaching, and he was assigned to Fort Jackson, North Carolina. I left teaching to stay with him. And then we left from Fort Jackson, and we were assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey. I just dropped out of school. And I would substitute teach, but I didn’t work. Then we went overseas in 1948. We were in Germany as occupational troops. Of course, all this was, again, in a segregated army. And I stayed there and came back in 1950. I decided I wanted a divorce. I went back to school and was certified then in elementary education at Fort Valley State. And that’s where—I was there when I saw the ad in the paper. I was—I really joined the service because I wanted to be a dietician.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And they said I could—I didn’t have enough of quantitative cookery and that kind of stuff, so I had to get a commission first. Then after I was commissioned, they would send me to Purdue [University] to get a degree in commercial—you know, as a dietician. Well, that didn’t happen.

BK:

Ah, what happened?

LH:

Well, after I got commissioned—before I got commissioned, they had a need—not what I wanted—they had a need for women to go as—become aircraft controllers and aircraft directors. This is the first time they were integrating—not racially, but women—meshing women into the male’s predominant field, because women weren’t flying back in 1951 and ‘52. Women weren’t and most of the men flew most of—women were administrative people, most of them. Now, I was not a nurse, so we weren’t in the medical field. We were strictly in the integrated fields, where the men were.

BK:

But you’re—they were segregated—I mean, I thought it was in 1948—?

LH:

Now, when I was—I was—when I went in to the service, it was not segregated racially.

BK:

Right, because that was 1948.

LH:

No, it was integrated. This was in 1951. It was integrated: men and women, as well as racial.

BK:

So, the recruiters said that they would send you to dieticians’ school and then—

LH:

Well, she said once I’m commissioned—because I didn’t have the qualifications because the dieticians—the school to become a dietician was under the [U.S. Army] Medical Corps. That’s a different branch. Its women’s but it’s in the Medical Corps. So once I was commissioned, I would have been transferred to the Medical Corps.

BK:

Right.

LH:

And then you would have been under there, like nurses and doctors.

BK:

So, a general OCS and then transfer?

LH:

That’s right. But at the same time there was a need—as they do now, from what I’ve been told—there was a need for women to become—actually, what they wanted us to become was aircraft controllers, but the training was aircraft directors. And then when they needed a person—it was a limited AFSC [Air Force Specialty Code] specialty number or whatever. They sent you for training for what they wanted. And it so happened that I was sent to controller school for Europe. When I went overseas they needed an aircraft director, and it did not fit too well into going—you know, when I went overseas, because there were no facilities for women. I lived in a building with men, the BOQ [Bachelor Officer’s Quarters].

BK:

Wow!

LH:

I won’t skip over that.

BK:

Wow. Let’s make sure we’ve got the timeline here. So you were sent—you enlisted in—

LH:

I never enlisted. I—

BK:

I’m sorry, I know, but you joined in—?

LH:

It wasn’t enlisting.

BK:

Right.

LH:

You went into Officer Candidate School.

BK:

Right. And that was where?

LH:

That was Lackland [Air Force Base]—San Antonio [Texas]—that was Lackland.

BK:

San Antonio. So, you went from Georgia to San—

LH:

On a train. The other people went to Lackland, Texas.

BK:

What was the train ride like?

LH:

It was okay through Tennessee. But the shocking part is: I had heels on, I was dressed up in civilian clothes, and we got to the train station in San Antonio, and they had a truck, not a bus, for us to step up on. All of us had all these bags and clothes, which you couldn’t use. For a couple of days—I did have some comfortable shoes. We walked around until we were issued shoes and clothing—walked around in your civilian clothes going to get your supplies.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Yeah, it was a shock. And that’s for—you put your stuff in a footlocker and you locked it up and you didn’t see it until—you saw it after you—after you got commissioned. But I think you could put civilian clothes on after you had been there three months, off base. You could change and—but then the first three months you could not wear civilian clothes, except maybe PJs [pajamas].

BK:

Right. So, what was your experience like down in Texas?

LH:

[sigh] You did have this—well, the first thing, I had determination. Then I had been living in an area where I learned how to live with people that did not like me because of my color. I had to get rid of that. I was determined I was not going to let whatever happened, when I was going through officer candidate school, become a black issue, but be a issue that if I didn’t do something right—even though at sometime it was a racial issue. Because it turned out there was another women that was in my class, and I was the only one who made it through the program.

BK:

Oh really? Out of how many?

LH:

Well, I can’t remember how many was in my flight.

BK:

Right, six or—

LH:

It’s in the book there. Oh, maybe fifteen or twenty. There were three flights. There was Nan[?] Flight, Queen Flight, and—I think there were three flights, I can’t quite recall, of people going through—you were considered a cadet, officer candidate, OC candidate—that was going through.

I was not academically as sharp as some people because I came from a Southern school. And we had men that were in our class who came out of Yale [University] and Harvard [University], and they came out of New England schools and they were sharp. And they were beating going into the army, and they went into the air force, because nobody wanted to become a doughboy in the army. And we had a slew of those people coming to Office Candidate School. They never went through basic. And one guy from South Carolina, his name was—oh, god. It was in the book. I just had his name on the tip of—. He said, “I’ve never washed any clothes.”

They said, “Well, you’ll have to wash your clothes!”

And he sent them back because they always had servants. He was from South Carolina. I can see him now. And he—

BK:

And he sent them back home?

LH:

He shipped them back home, yes!

BK:

Wow.

LH:

He wasn’t supposed to, but he did. We all had to scrub toilets. It wasn’t picking up—that was your job. You kept the barracks and made up the bed and washed your clothes and ironed your clothes. Your uniforms had to be starched.

And you—actually, the funny part, we learned how to hide our lipstick. Lipstick you displayed up in your cubicle was not the lipstick you used. So one day in class one young lady—this was a regular academic class—bent over and everything fell out. [laughter] She had these big bras. And the guys used to put stuff in their socks, because it was hiding stuff.

BK:

Right.

LH:

So, but it was—you had academic class for six months. You didn’t do a lot of drilling. You did do drilling and you did do inspection and you did march, you did have parades, but it was academics.

BK:

So, were you—what—did you just sort of general air force, or was there a certain specialty you were training in?

LH:

Oh, they—the academics had to do with geography. It had to do a lot with a lot of history of the service. A lot of things like that.

BK:

Did it have leadership classes, since you were—?

LH:

They had leadership programs. They had all of these different components. I can’t recall exactly now. But I know we had weather; not as much as a weather officer would, but you were acclimated to certain things. The training was very intense.

Of course, I had a job as the supply officer. We had—after you were your first three months there you became—you could either become a sergeant—you were the leader in your group. So, I was supply officer. And somebody was laughing, saying don’t you—“You traded your board for two little—with a little gold bar—for a little silver.” It was a gold bar! Second lieutenants had gold bars, and first lieutenants had silver bars. So, you traded that for that. But, you know, then you got the commission.

We were segregated when come to socializing, when we went off base. When we—

BK:

Racially segregated?

LH:

Racial segregation. When we got commissioned [pause] we could not go to the party. They suggested, subtly, because it was downtown off base in one of the large clubs. So, the black officers that were army, that were over—and then some were air force—invited us to come to their club. There weren’t that many blacks that graduated with my class: was one, two, three—these were men and women. You see, I was the only women—

BK:

Wow.

LH:

—in my class. And then there was about—Baker, Norm, Wright—there was about five or six of us that graduated out of the whole group.

BK:

And how big was the whole group?

LH:

You know, I don’t—it’s in my shavetail [newly commissioned officer] book you can see the class, the graduating class, and that’s that ragged book that you have. It’s in there. In the back it has a listing of people that were in my class.

BK:

So, maybe about a hundred or just—?

LH:

Oh, it was more than that. But—

BK:

So, you all must have been very tight, although—

LH:

Well, you were tight with the women and the men that—you were assigned—each woman’s flight was assigned to a male flight.

BK:

How many were about—you said about fifteen were in the women’s flight?

LH:

I think it was about fifteen. I’d have to look at it. You have the book there. And I haven’t—because I haven’t looked at it too good. I was pulled the stuff out last night, and I can’t tell you exactly. But there was about fifteen women that were assigned. The male flight was larger because there were more men in school.

BK:

So in Texas—did you have any other experiences in Texas you want to talk about?

LH:

Yeah, because we went to that party. We were late. It was funny. This is one of the humorous things. We were late, and by—legally, you were supposed to come in honor system and say, “I was late coming back.” We had borrowed a car, to go out, from one of the underclass persons—I did. And the day I was to get commissioned, we got back—we went to the party. We had to walk chores—that was like a disciplinary thing—and do some chores. And then that afternoon, that day we got commissioned. But I had to do that. They could have said, “You don’t get commissioned.”

BK:

Right, that’s a long day:  party, chores, and then commission.

LH:

The party was the night before.

BK:

Right, that’s what I’m saying; just a long twenty-four hours.

LH:

We stayed—instead of us coming back—we were late getting back just by a couple of minutes. We were in San Antonio, and the base is—you know, coming back to the base, we over—. I can’t remember exactly, but I know we partied, and we went to somebody’s house and partied after the club. We were at the officer’s club, which again is illegal, but I had on civilian clothes. So we did, you know, we went in—because you could wear civilian clothes after that. And then I bought myself a nice outfit. After that I got commissioned, I put on a civilian dress. And one guy said, “Had I know that you were going to look that good,” he says, “I would have asked you to marry me.” [laughter]

BK:

So—

LH:

You know—

BK:

I’m sorry. Go ahead.

LH:

No, that was just that part.

And then a lot of the white candidates would go to the weekend down to Texas—down to Mexico. But we would never go. One or two blacks went in my upper class, but we were not in the group that went because we would study on the weekend. We’d get together and—like they would—and we would go the hotel. They had—

And by the way, you have to go—getting your hair done, which is another situation. You would have to go—there was one black beautician over at Fort Sam, which is abut to—Fort Sam Houston, which is in San Antonio, which is almost next to the base, Lackland. So, we’d go over there and get our hair done.

BK:

Men and women, or just—

LH:

No, women.

BK:

Women. Okay.

LH:

I don’t know where the men got—the men got their hair cut. I guess they had a black barber or something. But getting your hair done is another story. And then I got so I made friends with black family couples, and I was invited to come over for things that I really needed to do. Because you do, just like—they were military, but they were enlisted. They weren’t officers—which you weren’t suppose to fraternize.

Because that’s the first thing: I didn’t think I was going to be it, to be honest with you. I had a mouth, and I didn’t think I was going to actually be accepted in the Officer Candidate. Because the women who recruited me was southern. I can’t think of her name. I think it was Sara Harris, I believe. And she had this long southern drawl. And so she said to me, “Ms. Williams.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, you know that we don’t fraternize with enlisted people.” And she says, “And you know there aren’t that many black men—black officers, male, in the service—in the air force.” And she says, “Now, what would you do?” And you can’t [unclear].

I said, “You said that there would be men.”

And that’s all I said. And I was thinking, “Oh my god, you said the wrong thing! You said, ‘There would be men.’” So in other words, if there was a man in there, [he had to be black?]

That was—and she was southern! Then she recommended me with enthusiasm, according to what she said.

BK:

Oh, so you were surprised at that?

LH:

I was shocked.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Because I guess I was straightforward and I said there would be men.

BK:

Right, right.

LH:

That was the thing she asked, which was, point blank, these are the concerns they have because you were not supposed to fraternize with enlisted people.

BK:

It must have been hard being the only African American officer—female officer.

LH:

Well, now, when I went—this was Officer Candidate School—there were other blacks there. And then they also had another school that was at Lackland called OTS—Officer Training School. That was the one where you got a direct commission, but you had to go to school. But they were officers.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And they only went three months, where we, as a cadet—no, officer candidate—you had to go six months to get a commission. And a lot of people—everybody didn’t get a commission. A lot of people—some people dropped out. Now, I was not at the top of the academic chart. I was down at the bottom of the academic chart, because they rated you academically how your testing was. I was at the lower end, but I squeaked through.

BK:

Now, did they—were they washed out, or did they drop out—?

LH:

There was some. There were some. We had some women that were washed out—I found out later, because people didn’t talk a lot—that they had some people that were lesbians.

BK:

Oh.

LH:

And they didn’t keep it quiet. They apparently, when they went out partying, made some overtures. Some of these were upper classmates that were sharp people. In fact, one other black, who was there, in my upper class—her name was Bunting. Her father had been a chaplain. We only noticed that she was gone. She’s resigned. And she went back down as enlisted.

BK:

And you’re not—Oh, but she was still in the air force?

LH:

She was in the air force. I don’t think she got out of that. You know, a lot of stuff you didn’t hear. You didn’t get the information. But you knew she didn’t get commissioned. And there was another one named—

BK:

Because she was a lesbian?

LH:

Allegedly, she made a overture to one of the—the little—the woman—Gotshine[?] is her name; she’s in my class. She made—they went down to New Mex—to Mexico, you know, after the week, drinking, and she made a pass. I heard later—because all of a sudden she was there, and all of a sudden she was—

BK:

Gone?

LH:

—gone. Yes.

BK:

Wow.

LH;      Because information was not forthcoming, a lot of it. [pause] And now this is in Officer Candidate School, so—and if you were busy studying, you don’t get all the gossip. Because, you know, you’re not in—there are people who are in the know, but then there are people who—you’re busy doing what you are doing.

BK:

Right.

LH:

But one of the humorous things that happened to me while I was in Officer Candidate School: I had not had a fire drill. When they wake you up in the middle of the night, they didn’t say, “This is a practice drill.”

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

And instead of me trying to go out the door, like I should have put the blanket on and go outside, I opened up the window and took my boots and started kicking the window screen out! All of a sudden somebody said, “It’s a drill.” I was thinking it was—they said—when they go through the rooms, the barracks, they said, “Fire, fire, fire!”

You didn’t say, “Fire drill.” It was, “Fire, fire, fire!” And here you’re waking up from a sleep. That was one of the funniest things. I told—the screen was kicked out, because I was going to go out the closest way to get out.

BK:

How far was the drop?

LH:

Well, I was on the first floor.

BK:

Did you have to fix the screen then?

LH:

I don’t remember what happened. [laughter] I don’t know if we ever told.

BK:

So, everyone else filed out and you jumped—

LH:

Somebody else told me, “It’s a drill.” When they wake you up and say, “Fire, fire!”—and I had not gone through a fire drill. They didn’t say, “Fire drill.” They said, “Fire, fire!” And you get out—

BK:

You get out of the building!

LH:

You get out of the building! [laughs] Yes. Because we lived in the South, and I didn’t—we never had any—houses maybe get on fire, but nobody had gone through the fire drills; not even in high school. People were not as aware of those things. And somebody would say a fire drill later on. But this was—they just came through and said, “Fire, fire, fire!” at two o’clock in the morning—three o’clock.

BK:

Well, you made it outside.

LH:

Yeah, with blankets and—[laughs]. That was humorous. That was one of the few things that was so funny.

BK:

So the—

LH:

That was in the training.

BK:

So, the entire time you were in training you still thought they were going to send you to dietician [school]?

LH:

Well, I found that out at the last month—the last week—when they started giving you assignments and you got your orders. They would—say before then you’d had an aptitude test and everything, you still were waiting. But because they needed women in this particular field—We were the first six women that were assigned to a tactical type training. This is the early days. It was integrated. I mean, that’s not racially—integrated with men.    

BK:

Right.

LH:

And they were trying to—they were saying, “We’ve got women. You don’t have them doing—.” They have the jobs of being with other women or adjuncts or administrative people, at that time.

BK:

So, you found that out, along with six other women—or five other women that were there. And where did you get training for that?

LH:

Tyndall [Air Force Base] in Florida. That’s the group picture there. They sent us down there. However—and my girlfriend and I—who I didn’t like and didn’t like me; she thought that I was a know-it-all. And I had a little advantage because I had been married to a man in the military. I had been around the military.

BK:

Right.

LH:

So, I was a little bit more savvy. I had been overseas and, you know, I thought I was a hip cat. You know, this was of course—that helped me to get through, too.

BK:

Now, when you were overseas with your husband, where were you stationed? I don’t think I—

LH:

Remember, he was stationed in Germany.

BK:

Germany. Okay.

LH:

In Germany. We were over in the occupational force. Again, it was segregated.

BK:

Right.

LH:

But this is the army.  

BK:

Okay, I just couldn’t remember.

LH:

But it gave you—

BK:

Yes, definitely.

LH:

You had experience of being around the service.

BK:

Right, and internationally.

LH:

Internationally, yeah. And I had gone all through Europe touring, at that time, because money was—a little money—even though he a first lieutenant—a little money went much longer and farther than it does now.

BK:

Right.

LH;      And you had a lot of accommodations for people—military people. We went to the Garmisch[-Partenkirchenin] in Germany, we went to Switzerland, for cheap prices on the train. You know, all kinds of tourism trips that we took, that was inexpensive.

BK:

Oh, okay. Great.     

LH:

I haven’t been back. Well, I did go when I was in the service. I had a chance to tour a lot of Europe.

BK:

Great.

LH:

I haven’t been back since.

BK:

Okay. So, you were sent—how did you feel when you realized that you weren’t getting—?

LH:

I was disappointed, but, you know, you get over it.

BK:

So, you went to Florida and then—? Talk a little bit about that.

LH:

Well, we were shipped down there. And then we were assigned down there what we consider—these were [U.S. Army] National Guards they were bringing up. You know, at this time this was the Korean Conflict, and they needed bodies. So, they sent some of these guys, who we’d say were truck drivers from Massachusetts, and they were stupid. [laughs] This is our take on it.

BK:

Right. Okay

LH:

And then we all—we were in school down there together. Again, the racial part was worse because we couldn’t live on the base. There was no housing for female officers.

BK:

Oh, wow.

LH:

So, they had housing—off-base female housing that they had leased, but I had to stay with other female white officers. Well, that wasn’t so bad until you went into town. And these were your friends from Officer Candidate School.

I will never forget the time I was—everybody was—Tyndall was down in the [Florida] Panhandle, on the beach just down there. They had a base beach, which was okay. But I went to downtown Panama City. I’m sitting in the car. I don’t own a car, but I’m with the guys. Some guys had cars. And these people kept looking at me and kept looking. I’m in civilian shorts and, I guess, flip-flops, or whatever you had on. They kept looking strange, and all of a sudden it dawned on me: “Kid, you can’t run fast enough. Because you’re with all these white guys sitting in the car.” Now, this is 1952, and you’re sitting downtown in Tyndall. So, when we get ready to go to a restaurant, they would not serve me.

BK:

Wow. So, I guess on base you sort of—

LH:

Base was no problem.

BK:

Right, you’re not always having to think about the racial tension.

LH:

No, there was no problem on base. We didn’t live on base. We lived off the base, but that was a government—they leased these places. We were WAF [Women in the Air Force] officers living in these places, going to training school, which was—.

I think my girlfriend had a car. Lou got a car; my girlfriend that later—later we became friends. She was from Chester, Pennsylvania. And she thought, you know—she had an idea that all black folks were spending all their money, and then they went on welfare. And then she met—you know, we got to know each other. We have a different view point, and still—we still have some viewpoints that we differ on. But she was with me when I got married a second time.

Well, anyway—Yeah, we were there. And then we were there—everybody else had been shipped out almost. We stayed there—I think the training was about two months or three months. And we were waiting around. We go get our paycheck. Somebody said, “Are you two are still here?”

We said, “Yes!” [BK laughs]

They didn’t have any place to send us. They didn’t know where they were going to send us.

BK:

So, there were just two of you left?

LH:

Two of us left. Everyone else was gone. One women—and I won’t name her because this might be—she’s from Mills, South Carolina—North Carolina. And she washed out; she got pregnant. At that time, the woman who was in charge of female officers, they kind of had a way of taking care of you. You could either have the child [or] go on leave and have it adopted and come on back. She got pregnant by an officer who happened to have been there. And he—they kind of—in other words, they nudged him into marrying her.

BK:

Oh, wow.

LH:

If not, he would have been, like, out.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Yeah. I mean, at that time—but if he was—He was single. He wasn’t—I don’t think he—They ended up having a happy life, but I don’t think he was interested in getting married at that time.

BK:

Right. Wow.

LH:

So, we had that. I don’t know what happened to one other one. I think she got washed out. I think there was Lou, myself—there were, I think, four of us. No, Louiterna[?] didn’t stay in, too. She married a guy, and she became a pilot or something. Of the six of us there, I kept up with them for a good while—some of them.

But I think three or four of us stayed in the same field. The other people dropped out, of the six of us that were there. And then they sent my girlfriend and I to McChord [Air Force Base] in Washington State.

BK:

Now, what kind of training do you have in Florida?  I mean, what were you—

LH:

It was learning how to direct aircraft. You were—This was fighter airplanes.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And the job description was intercept—You ran the intercepts from the ground, from a radar screen. And you scrambled the fighters, and you ran the intercept to an enemy target.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

Now, we had targets that was flying over the Gulf [of Mexico]. And we are in this radar tent—hut. First you would do it simulated; like pilots in flight; they have simulators. And then you did that, and then you were put on a scope. Then you were actually flying—I mean, you actually were running fighters. We had 94s [Lockheed F-94 Starfighter] and 89s [Northrop F-89 Scorpion] and—I forgot the planes.

I used to eat, sleep, drink—you had to know their characteristics: you know, how much fuel they had. You had to know how far they could go. You had all this knowledge. You had to have it. And you compute—you know, compute it in your head. You had things—It was not sophisticated like it is now. This was when you were doing this stuff somewhat by the seat of your pants. You had to know what height they were. You had to know what height the enemy plane was, and you had to know your angles.

I was a home-ec major. I had no idea about a three hundred and sixty degree scope, and vector this, and degree—you know, here we were—And my girlfriend was a business major, the one that I remained friendly with, Esther Beanstock[?]. She was Louis then. And we were—one was a business major and one was a home-ec major, and they sent us—and the requisite—prerequisite for it was that you had to be an aeronautical engineer. You had to have a pilot—All of these things were what you were supposed to be. They needed a warm body, so they sent the warm bodies there, which had nothing to do with that.

BK:

Did you like it?   

LH:

It was difficult.

BK:

It sounds it.

LH:

And the pilots did not like the fact—when you’re not there training, but when you got out in the field—you see, training is one thing, but when you’re actually out in a field—They didn’t have the confidence of a female voice, even though you were better than some of the guys that you were working with.

BK:

Oh, right. So, you were in Florida how long?

LH:

Approximately two months, two and a half months, and then they sent us to McChord [Air Force Base] in Washington State.

BK:

And what did you do there?

LH:

You did the—Actually, we were aircraft controllers. We were at the division headquarters, where you had the whole—they call it the block house. That was a place that the only way you got in was personal recognition. [It was] tight security, because you controlled an area—we had Alaska all the way from Elmendorf [Air Force Base], West Coast, down to California, was our area of control. And that was during the Korean Conflict. We’d get the MiGs [Russian fighter aircraft] coming in from Russia, coming into, you know, the straights up in Alaska. You’d have to—We had bases that we would have to scramble planes. They used to play tag back and forth. Now, you don’t visually—you know, you’re looking at a little blip on the scope. But we were the people who, when we got there, we were not directors, we were controllers. We made the decision to call the sites. We were directing it. They would call like a squadron to scramble a fighter plane, to go out and see what it was. But we saw the whole big picture.

BK:

Did you feel a lot of pressure?

LH:

A lot of pressure. Then you had, of course, you had a senior officer who was in charge. But you had to sit there constantly and watch this—yeah, they had a Plexiglas board. Huge, it was dark. It was sitting up on daises like this, elevated up.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Yeah, you—it was a—and we worked shift work. You didn’t work—you’d work from maybe, say, from 8:00[am] to 4:00[pm]—3:00 or 4:00—and then you’d work from 4:00[pm] to 12:00[am]. You had three days on, three days off, and that kind of stuff.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Yeah.

BK:

So, how long were you there?

LH:

We were there—let’s see, I got there—I can’t remember. I got commissioned in March. I took vacation. [pause] We were there—Oh, gosh. [pause] Probably, it’s on my—that—I think I gave you the sheets that I had. We were there approximately, maybe, half a year to a year—not a year. Not a full year because my girlfriend wanted to go overseas, and they had some overseas assignments.

BK:

Did you—You didn’t want to?

LH:

I wasn’t that interested. I was interested in—because I had been dating somebody who was overseas. And she would go over to—we, at division headquarters—just like the Pentagon, you know, the hierarchy—we had the first assignments. You could go to personnel and find out what was—what assignments were coming in, and where did they need to send you. Well, she went over one day to personnel, they had something for the European Theatre of Operations, and she said, “Oh, I want to go overseas.”

So they said—they wanted to get rid of us anyway—“Does Williams want to go?”

She said, “Oh, yeah, she wants to go.”

BK:

Why did they want to get rid of you?

LH:

We were women.

BK:

Yeah, okay.

LH:

It was not a field that you really wanted, you know—They could do without women. I mean, they had no choice, because they couldn’t get rid of—we had a limited—this was a critical—that’s the term I better use—critical AFSC, a specialty, and they could not get rid of you, because this—we have a shortage of these people. But—

BK:

They don’t have to be happy about it.

LH:

Well, let’s put it this way: They were not exactly, no.

Well, anyway, so they said, “Does she want to go?”

She says, “Yes.”

She was the one who wanted to go. I got the assignment first. And I went to Germany. And I was assigned in Spangdahlem [Air Base], which is in—I think it’s in Breitsch—no, it’s Breitsch-something, I believe—yes, Breitscheid [sic, in Spangdahlem]. They were building the base, because Bitburg [Air Base]—I guess you’ve heard of [Robert L.] Scott and God is My Copilot. He wrote all these—well, he did. Anyway, it was parallel bases, five kilometers apart. One had a reconnaissance mission. Ours was a fighter mission and, like, a supply mission.

BK:      And this would be for fighting Soviets?

LH:

Let’s say, “Yes.”

BK:

It was Cold War.

LH:

It was during the Cold War, yeah. And I was sent there. The BOQ [Bachelor Officer Quarters] had no lights in it.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

They were building it. They had water pumps.

BK:

So, you showed up, no lights—

LH:

Well, I had to be assigned there. And, of course, I later went to Bitburg, which was five kilometers—because they had a nurse’s quarters there. They had a couple of female officers that were not assigned to tactical, they were administrative officers. They lived there. But in the meantime, I just got there. So, I stated in the BOQ.

Well, one of the funniest things happened to me. We went over to Quonset hut, which is where we had the officer’s club, and you drank and you partied and you ate. And about three or four—two or three o’clock in the morning, I had this [unknown gesture] up my arms. You saw in the moonlight coming in. Like a boxer dog, that’s what I’d describe it as. You know how their mouth salivates. And it was a male officer, who turned out to be a colonel. I told him to get the hell out of my room. And I’m a second lieutenant.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

And he left but—

BK:

He’s drooling on your arm?

LH:

He was drunk. He was drunk. He was [unclear] on my arm.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

He was looking for—I mean he’s drunk. And, of course, we had no locks on doors. I had to put my—they had chairs. I mean, they had, you know, you had a bathroom in between each room. And so, the next day I saw him, and he had chickens on his shoulders [eagle colonel insignia]. [BK laughs] I think he was embarrassed and I was scared. A second lieutenant cursed this guy out at night and told him to get—I said, “Oh my god!” That was one of the funniest things that happened to me.

BK:

He was embarrassed.

LH:

Oh, yeah. I’m sure he was embarrassed. I’ve never mentioned—

BK:

No one ever talked about it again?

LH:

No, no. But he—No, of course not! But when I looked at him I was saying, “Oh god! I’m insubordination because I cursed this guy out”—even though he wasn’t in uniform. I said, “Get out of my room!” I guess he was embarrassed. He got out. I guess he was looking for some woman, or whatever it was. So, that was one of the funny things I laughed about.

But then we got—we were assigned to live in the—Oh, my girlfriend was sent to Casablanca [Morocco].

BK:

Oh.

LH:

That was on the opposite side of—not to Germany. She said she must have seen, she didn’t know how many colonels. Because they said, “We can’t have this woman,” because they were going to send her out to a radar site. And they hadn’t seen—at the radar sites, the guys had no bathrooms—you know, toilets outside, no screens. The guys were dirty looking; they stayed out six months remote. And that was where she was assigned. The chaplain said, “She can’t go out there.” 

She was there for twenty-two days. And then they—She called me up. And she said—I said, “Where are you Lou?”

She says, “I’m coming to where you are.” So, they assign the two idiots together. [laughter]

And then we—I moved. We were—we shared—we had a bedroom. You know, she had a bedroom with a bathroom in between. We were in the women’s quarters.

BK:

And this is on the second base—

LH:

This is—

BK:

—with the nurses?

LH:

—where the nurses are, which is five kilometers.

BK:

Right.

LH:

But the bad part of it was, we would have to—We had alerts. They were hot alerts.  You had to get up.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

You had to have your carbine. And you have your hair in rollers, and you’ve got to put a helmet—try and pull these things on. And suppose you have your period or something. You’ve got to go over—trucks come and pick you up. You’ve got to go where we were assigned. The men can smell all day long, but you don’t have—you don’t have deodorant. You’re over there. And you can’t come back over; you don’t have a car. You’ve got to wait until you’ve got some transportation. That is the problem.

BK:

Wow. Did that happen a lot?

LH:

Several times. When it’s a hot alert, you don’t question it.

BK:

Right, right.

LH:

Because we could be under attack. We might be moved out to some—You’re in the unit. But we could not go out on maneuvers with the guys. We had a—I was in tac[tical], and we were the first women to be assigned to any tactical unit in Europe.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

In fact, I was the first assigned because I got there first, and then Lou came over. They didn’t have provisions because the general, who was General Struthers[?] at the time, who was in Wiesbaden, said, “You can’t have women going out on maneuvers with men.”

I was the only woman assigned to the unit, but because I had a limited—a critical AFSC. They needed bodies. But they’d have to have military police to guard you—your little Quonset hut.

BK:

Right.

LH:

And you’d have to have another toilet built. Because when we were at one place—I was—when I went to training down in [unclear] in Africa—I went through training down there. They guys used to—you had a little thing that slid on the door: “his” and “hers”. And the guys would leave “his” and watch—[laughs]. But you know, it was not that—But those are the problems that we had.

BK:

So did you go—so you didn’t go on maneuvers then?

LH:

No.

BK:

Right.

LH:

That’s when they assigned us to be mess officers. You know when I had this—

BK:

Oh wow! Okay.

LH:

They gave us additional jobs. So, when the guys went out—

BK:

So, you had two jobs, or, when they went on maneuvers, you were mess officers?

LH:

Well, we actually had an additional duty. Most people had additional jobs on base.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

You don’t get stuck with one job. You had an additional job. And that’s when they would assign us when we would go over, you know, and work.

BK:

Were you excited because that is kind of what you wanted to do?

LH:

No. Mess officer is not dietician.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

This is seeing that these people get fed.

BK:

All right. So, you don’t have any planning or—

LH:

This is—No.

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

You had major meals that were planned by division, supplies coming in. You were more or less an administrative person. You were managing. 

BK:

All right.

LH:

And you had to have—Then you had an officer who was in charge of the three or four mess officers above you. And then they had the sergeant, who really ran everything operational, under you, the first sergeant. He was in charge of all of the crew chiefs that had these different people. You were feeding a thousand people.

BK:

Right. Now, this is the officer’s mess?

LH:

No, no, no. This is enlisted mess.

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

The officer’s mess is different. No, no. This is—we had one—we had three mess halls lined up, thousand-man mess. One, you know—

BK:

Wow.

LH:

They built the base where logistically it was feasible. And these people would be outside waiting to get feed, because they had to get back to work.

BK:

Right. Did—what did you—Did you like being a mess officer?

LH:

No.

BK:

No.

LH:

But—and then my girlfriend, Lou, became—she worked—She said she was the highest priced typist. She worked in the office because she had been a business major. I couldn’t type and stuff like that. They gave us assignments to keep us busy because we could never go out. We did training, but we were never actually out in the field. And the actual action in Europe was out in the field.  

Then they reassigned us because—how we got reassigned—

BK:

Now, how long were you there about?

LH:

Oh, six or seven months—eight months.

BK       Is this ’51, ‘52?

LH:

This is fifty—this is ’53.

BK:

Fifty-three.

LH:

Fifty-three. Okay. And then they assigned us—

BK:

You and Lou?

LH:

Esther. Her name is Esther Louis, but we call her Lou. And I always call her Lee.

And how we got to go to our new assignment in Kaiserslautern [Air Base], to the headquarters, which did what we were—originally what their mission was, put us in a place where—in a control center.

BK:

So you should have been doing that the whole time?

LH:

This is what—but there’s no difference in your training.

BK:

Right.

LH:

So when they need a body for here, you go. Well, what happened was, Lou would hang out at base ops [operations]. And when we weren’t doing—When the guys were out, we’d get flights to go to Norway or anywhere they’d go. They’d say, “You want to go?”

“Yeah.”

“Well hang around.” And we didn’t have anything to do.

And she told the colonel off because he told her, when she got to Norway, that she was going to go to bed with him. And she said, “No, I’m not.” [laughs] We—

BK:

These colonels.

LH:

The two of us—They gave us orders to be moved out. The two of us went up to—Now, that was when we went to Africa. I’m getting ahead of myself.

But we were shipped down to Kaiserslaughtern [Germany] where we actually could function. And then we had to live in the BOQ with army. There were few air force women; there weren’t many. We were on an army—they called it Flak Concern—an army installation. It was not like a big army base. And the whole unit was on an army place. And we had nurses and military women that were administrators there. So that’s when we used to hang out a bit, when we got shipped to Africa because Lou told the colonel off.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

[laughs] And—

BK:

And you went? You were hitched to—?

LH:

She went up to Wiesbaden. Here’s the two second lieutenants—first lieutenants at the time—went up to see the colonel who was in charge of the women officers, in the air force, in Europe—you know, European Theatre. We were crying. [laughs] Wait till you see—We’ve got more experience and training than those little dodo men, and they sent us over to Africa.

BK:

Oh no!

LH:

She said, “Now, you can stay there and have a hard time, because if the colonel doesn’t want you, you can have a hard time, or you can go to Africa.” [laughs] We were sent to Libya. We were [unclear].

BK:

Oh my. So, how long were you in before you—how long were you in—I’ve already forgotten the name.

LH:

In Kaiserslautern.

BK:

Kaiserslautern.

LH:

You know, I don’t have—I wrote on that—on my—it’s actually in detail on what I have down there because I—when I gave you my—

BK:

CV [curriculum vitae] kind of. Right. Okay.

LH:

It’s on there. But then we went—and the dates, I think I authenticated by—I had that for years, but I think it should be on there.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

So let’s just say five months—five or six months.

BK:

Wow. So, if she was going you were going, or—

LH:

She—we both—shipped us together. We went together.

BK:

Wow. Okay.

LH:      They sent us to—

BK:

You were a packaged deal. Okay.

LH:

A packaged deal down to Africa. And that was a training place.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

In training we got all the fighters from Europe rotating through Libya. This was this Wheelus Field for training. And we did work as directors, because we were training the pilots. The pilots had to be trained for intercepts.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

These were fighter pilots from Europe. They’d come in by one squadron; they rotated in. And we were down over the Mediterranean, where we had the base there.

BK:

What was the name of the base?

LH:

Wheelus—Wheelus Air Force Base.

BK:

And how many other directors were there besides you?

LH:

Lou and I were the only two women.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

There were quite a few—then of course we had squadron. It was a training outfit. And I can’t recall.

BK:

And how were you received down there?

LH:

You know it was okay. The men—again, these guys [pause] under you did not particularly care for you being there. I mean, look, it’s a man’s world. This was back in the fifties. They accepted us, because we were not in any way—we were not in a situation where—but we did direct the intercepts. We did do more work there because you’re again on shift work. A lot of shift work. The whole thing was shift work.

BK:

Right. Wow.

LH:

And that was where—then from there I went back to the States. And she—

BK:

And how long were you in Libya?

LH:

Oh, about a year.

BK:

About a year.

LH:

About a year.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And I met my children’s father. He was a navigator with a psychological warfare outfit.

BK:

Wow. In Libya?

LH:

In Libya. They had so much stuff. I mean there’s so much stuff that goes on that it would rattle people if they knew what went on at that—this is back in that time—I mean in the service. What outfits were where—he was in an outfit where they—he was an SA-16 navigator. They brought these people down and they’d bring in spies and things into places like Czechoslovakia, places—they would land on the lakes—

BK:

Oh wow!

LH:

—and they’d drop people off and pick people up from these countries.

They did their water—I went up to Rome with him several times. And again, there was a racial component with that. But they would—They went up to Ciampino in Rome, out of Italy, to do their water landing training. Because it was a controlled lake and they could go in. The Mediterranean was not the place to do that. And the whole group—plus, they could—they had B-29s [Boeing B-29 Superfortress].

This was a partying group of people. It’s the first time that I saw somebody drunk at seven or eight o’clock in the morning.

BK:

[laughs] Okay.

LH:

Officer club—they’re out there shooting craps. It was their club, because their club was one of those—they were—was it—the 586, I believe it was. I can’t remember exactly. But then they had—one of their planes went down in the Philippines. Because what they would do is drop—their mission was propaganda to countries.

BK:

Right.

LH:

Not as—It wasn’t CIA, but this is done through the military. And then they would drop and bring in people and pick them up. One guy—one little problem: one guy flew a B-29 to England. He said it was too bad to land. He had a plane for—he wanted to party, so he went back to—he got half way back to Libya, turned around, and went back to England, because he wanted to stay over a couple of days.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

So you know, they—

BK:

Nervy.

LH:

They bring the liquor in from Italy, because they had a base down at—either from Tangiers or—where was it? It was Trieste, I believe, is where they used to get the liquor run. You’d wait for the liquor run because—

BK:

So they didn’t have any in Libya.

LH:

Libya had liquor, but they brought it and it was cheap.

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

You get Canadian Club for a dollar a fifth. You know. In fact, you couldn’t drink the water at one time there. You’d have beer at noontime because the water was contaminated.

BK:

Wow. Even on base?

LH:

On base. Well, it wasn’t contaminated, but they suggested you not. Even in Germany there’s times that you didn’t drink some of the water, because this is back in the fifties. Things weren’t as well processed as well.

BK:

So what were you drinking? So you had to drink beer?

LH:

You could drink a beer, or you could drink some liquids of some other juice or something. And our milk was brought in. In fact, underwear—When I was in Libya, they didn’t have women—that many women. They had some dependents that came in, but they weren’t on the economy. We’d get married men to go. They’re going flying into France now. This is a lot of flying. And they’d bring back the underwear. And one guy, he is living in Washington State, had my underwear—I asked him to bring me some underwear back—on my door when I got there. It was all taped up on the door.

BK:

[laughs] He enjoyed that I’m guessing.

LH:

Oh, it was a big joke, you know: brought me back the underwear. Because single men did not like to do that. It was not—like Tampax and Kotex. You’d think—I mean, they’d bring them back in from where the major supply place was, which was in the France in Châteauroux, and they’d bring these things over. This is the fifties.

BK:

Yeah. You had said that there was a racial component in Italy?

LH:

In Libya. What they would do is—my ex-husband, who was—he died—well, we got a divorce before he died. The racial component is that they didn’t particularly want him to date Italian women. And the guys went over there and they partied, so they would always ask me if I’d like to fly. He wanted to know, “How did you know I was going over to Italy?”

I said, “Well the guys, your captain and your colonel, said, ‘Lee, don’t you want to go?’”

BK:

Wow.

LH:

This is what, you know, at the time—

BK:

So you were steered towards him?

LH:

It was steering. Yeah, he would say, you know—because one time I guess he went over and he was hanging out with the women, just like—Italy was not racially, you know.

BK:

Right.

LH:

Germany was, when I went back Germany. Germany—when I was in Germany’48 to ’50, there was not an overtly—We were occupying their country. There was not a racial issue as such. Of course, they depended on the economy. A lot of people had married, or what have you. But when I got back and we were guests of the Germans, you could not call up and get a hotel room just easily, unless you said I’m—you know, go through the process where the military booked your rooms. They would find they weren’t available.

BK:

Wow, I did not know that, in Germany.

LH:

Oh yeah. Well this is in the fifties. And of course, some of it, it was—[pause] They had some bad incidents, I guess. That’s like all over. Like when I was in Vienna, they hadn’t seen an American black woman, I was told. I had my bunions operated on in 1948 in Vienna, Austria. They had not seen the typical straight haired American. Of course, mine is not, but, you know, I had it processed and stuff. Because the fact that they had only had pygmies or people from Africa they had in the cage in Vienna.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Now this is what the doctor who did my operation on my foot had not—and when I went to the hospital there—this is 1948—I bet I had never seen so many come. They’d come in and look and see my “tan.” They’d come in with lotion. I mean, I got so many people coming in looking, you know.

BK:

Wow. That must have exhausting.        

LH:

It wasn’t. You know, at that time I was young. You know, you didn’t think of it. I knew what they were looking at. It just came like, “Oh, hello.” You know, “Wie gehts” or whatever in German. But so many people came because I was a curiosity. And when I’d walk in the streets—now look, if you had—you were in a black community and you were white, and nobody had seen too many whites here, everybody would turn around and look. So I mean you get to the place you know that’s what happened. These are just—these are things that occurred in my time.

Do you mind if I stop for a second for the bathroom?

BK:

Oh, not a problem.

[End of CD1—Begin CD2]

BK:

All right, we’re back. So we were in Libya.

LH:

Yeah. Well then I got—met my children’s father and I got engaged and came to the States.  And I was assigned to Williams Bay, Wisconsin, where I could not be sent, because they had no accommodations for black officers. This is assigned to an AC&W [Aircraft Control & Warning] segment—you know, aircraft—where you actually were a director for the site.

BK:

So for no black officers? I mean, wasn’t the military integrated at that point?

LH:

They integrated, but this is a resort in Wisconsin, Williams Bay. And the only other black person they’d had—This is the United States. This is ’55.  I got back in, I think, April—was Billy Daniel’s brother.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

And he was like white. Billy Daniels, who was the singer, you wouldn’t know if he was white or black. He was quite a singer years ago. And his brother apparently was a captain, and he was assigned there. Now as my—My daughter, who is a researcher, said, “I don’t have it on paper.” But this is what I told. Then they transferred me to Syracuse, New York, to the 25th Air Division, I believe—no, 25th—37th because the 25th was out in Washington State. And my ex-husband came back from overseas later.  

BK:

Now, you and Lou haven’t been transferred together now?

LH:

No, no. We never transferred together. Lou got out. I’m sorry, Lou got out. She got out when it was up. She went to the State Department. And she was in Honduras and she was in Norway. And she met her husband in Norway, after going to Honduras for the State Department. Now she got out when her time was up. I stayed in.

BK:

So you re-upped?

LH:

Well, not re-, just continued.

BK:

Just continued.

LH:

And she came back to the States before I did.

BK:

Okay. And how long were you all in Libya?

LH:

We were there for about—I think it was thirteen months. I believe it was twelve or thirteen months.

BK:

Okay. So your husband stayed and you were transferred—

LH:

No, no, no. I was not married to him.

BK:

Right. Okay.

LH:

We were—became engaged. He stayed.

BK:

And you were transferred.

LH:

Because if we had gotten married overseas, he’d have to stay there. It’s considered a hardship duty in Libya. He would have to stay there for eighteen or twenty months.

BK:

Wow. Okay.

LH:

He didn’t want to. And he also wanted to go to pilot training, because he applied for pilot training. At first he applied for the astronauts program, which he didn’t get; but pilot’s training he went to, because he was a navigator. He was flying, but he was not a pilot. So, I came back. Then we got married in August of ’55. I came back in April and he got back later, and we got married in August.

BK:

In Wisconsin or Syracuse?

LH:

No. Wisconsin—I didn’t stay there. I was sent to Syracuse [New York]. Then we got married in Syracuse. And then I was going to stay in and get a compassionate transfer to where he was. He was down in Bartow, Florida, for primary training, which is, again, back in Florida. But I got pregnant. Of course, at that time, you get pregnant, you got—I got married, but I got pregnant after that—and you get out. So, I got out in October of ’55. And so then I followed him all around. He was stationed in Bartow and then we later were stationed in Moody Field [Georgia]. I stayed with my mother in Georgia, which was close to Nashville, Georgia. And then we were assigned then from there to Laredo, Texas. And from Laredo, Texas, we were sent to—let me see: assigned to Laredo first, and then we came to Georgia, and then we were assigned to New York. Griffiss Air Force Base, is where we stayed.

We were divorced when we went to Long Island. And I stayed there and I went back to work. I had five children. My oldest daughter was born in Texas. Four of them—three of them were born in Rome, New York, Griffiss Air Force Base. And then the last one was born at Suffolk County [New York], where I have house, you know. So.

BK:

Just to clarify, Wisconsin, you were just sent there.

LH:

I did not physically go. I was assigned there. Before I could go, they intercepted the orders and sent me—I was on leave from Europe—I mean from—Libya is considered European Theatre of Operations.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

I was sent and ordered to go to Syracuse instead. Because all of my bags and everything overseas—

BK:

Were sent to Wisconsin.

LH:

—were sent to Wisconsin, then were shipped down to Syracuse.

BK:

Excellent. Let me just make sure I have a number of these questions. Maybe it’s just me, I’m still missing this. So, you saw the ad, it was for the air force. And then you were going to transfer to the dietician in the army medical—

LH:

After I was interviewed and I was told that I could—no, I applied and I was accepted. Then she said to me [that] because I did not have all of the qualifications to go directly into the—that particular branch—which was the medical branch of the air force, you know.

BK:

Okay, so it was never army? Army was used for—

LH:

I was never army. Never army.

BK:

Okay. So, it was the dietician branch of the air force. Okay. Why did you pick the air force versus any of the other branches?

LH:

That was the—they were the ones that were advertising. I never really wanted to be in the army. I was around the army. And the air force: that was what was advertised in the paper. They were recruiting people in the air force.

BK:

May I have—What did your family feel about when you joined?

LH:

My mother did not know. I told her I was getting a government job, because—

BK:

Which is not a lie.

LH:

Stretching it.

BK:

Right. Right.

LH:

It’s quibbling. Because of the fact that all women in the service at that time were considered bad. They were, you know, whores or whatever you want to call them. They were not—if not they were lesbians.

BK:

Right.

LH:

That was what people thought.

BK:

Still in the fifties, there was—

LH:

In the fifties. Yeah.

BK:

What about your step siblings?

LH:

They—I didn’t know them very well. I knew—got to know my sister, who was older—they were both old—the oldest one—but it was just like, she lived in Cleveland. She was married and had her own family. And I got to know her. I’ve  known her when I was in college. She used to help me out. She used to send me money and clothes in college. And then I did not know the sister that lived in Chicago—the last one that lived—before she passed.

And then when I was in Cleveland, Ohio, my nephew told me, “Your sister lives in Chicago.” And he says, “I talk to my—,” you know, he was in contact. She and I were more alike, and I’m still in contact with her son, who is my nephew. He is three months older than I am. However, he goes out—he says he calls me Aunt Leo when he gets out.

“Man, you’re three months—.” They love—you know, they tease me. Both of them were older. In fact, my mother—my father had a son that was two years older than my mother. You know, one of those things. This is third wife, third family. It was only—I was the only surviving child. They had one other that, like I said, that died before I was born.

BK:

So, how did you mom find out it wasn’t just any—?

LH:

When I finally—when I finally told her. I guess she did a lot of praying, but I was already in there and I didn’t have to listen to her praying over me. If you don’t know the Southern Protestant—you know, prays over you and pray about you and for you. [laughs] You know, verbally. I wanted no parts of that.

BK:

So, you—I mean but you bucked the trend. I mean, you knew that there were negative stereotypes, and you just set—you know, you had your eyes—

LH:

Well, I actually wanted to go back to school.

BK:

Right.

LH:

I was divorced. I was teaching. When I got back from overseas, I was divorced. I went to a one teacher school out in the sticks. First, I attended school and got certified in elementary education. And I was partying and having a great time because I had been overseas.

Well, it turns out that I just got tired of this. And I said—and then I had gotten a job working in the demonstration school at Fort Valley [State University] when I saw this ad. And I said, “I think I’m going into the service,” because I really wanted to go back to school. And I thought it would be a way for me to do what I—I wanted a master’s at that time. I thought it was a way to do it. A lot of people actually went into the service because of education.

BK:

Right.

LH:

You don’t have money.

BK:

Okay. What would you say the most difficult and the most rewarding part of your experiences were?

LH:

Well, I consider myself being global. And I think I’ve learned to [pause] be less prejudiced. There’s as much prejudice on one side as there is the other. This is my feeling: that people don’t know each other. For example, like my girlfriend and I—she didn’t—when she got to know me, I wasn’t that different from—but she had an idea of what people were like, and that’s just what goes on.

Like when I had a maid in Germany, I’d treat them—Because I had heard how Germans were, I treated her poorly. Here I was a Southern girl from Georgia, been treated, you know, and I’m treating her—I thought about myself. Have you ever read the book The Ugly American [by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer]? I read it and I said, “I am just that person.” I think I am much more global. I think that’s what happened to my children. I think all of my children are much more [unclear].

BK:

Yes, there’s definitely a—

LH:

Because the fact that out of my eight grandchildren, seven of them are all mixed. I only have one that is not allegedly mixed.

I used to tell people that I was a true American. I was Heinz 57.

BK:

[laughs] Right.

LH:

You know, humorously saying it. But you know, you get your point over that none of us are pure people. And if we had a DNA to indentify, there would be some upset people—you know, racial identification. But that’s—that was that. But I think it broadened my scope. And I’m able, I think, to adjust. I think I am. Being aware of who I am, but being able to adjust and not look at how people might perceive me because they don’t know me.

BK:

Right.

LH:

So, I think that has helped me tremendously. And it also—going in the service, I was able to go back to school. Even though I was married with children, I got my master’s. And even when I was divorced I was able to utilize—I didn’t use up all of my GI Bill. But I think my children became more global because of that. And because of that I met my children’s father, and I had five children and divorced. [laughs] And I was able to support my family, not from him.

BK:

From teaching once you had your master’s?

LH:

I got my master’s after. I mean I had a degree and I had advanced work, but I didn’t get my master’s until after I was divorced. But I was able to move on. But [pause] yeah, I think it made me a better—a broader person. Because I think right now can find myself comfortable in most situations. I mean I don’t see—I don’t have that feeling of hostility. I look at them for what they are. And I am able put them in the right perspective. And sometimes I don’t like things, but you’re able to—say they’ve got a problem; they don’t know. I think it’s kind of the education that you don’t always get in a book.

BK:

Right, definitely.

LH:

You learn people. And I think I’m a people person more than I am—Now, there are people who are academically smart, like the fella I’m friendly with. He’s academically—but I told him I’m very smart. I’m smarter than he is. He’s a physicist—atomic and all that kind of stuff. But you know, he’s not a people person. He’s very limited in the scope of the world. Give him a book, give him math and he’s great. And you give him common things to live by, he’s not.

BK:

So, would you say the most difficult or the, you know, more upsetting memories you have?

LH:

[sighs] I don’t know. Some of the most—it’s—it still bothers me, at times, of the prejudice against women at that time—I think might have been rightfully so. It was difficult for men to accept the fact that women are equal. And then you had to add the racial component to it. You were looked at—I was scrutinized much more than I would if I had been the general population. But anybody in a minority population is scrutinized because you sit separate. [pause] And that’s something that’s going on right in America. It’s no different today. It’s a little bit. On the books it is, but it goes on.

And also you have to be able to be comfortable with yourself with people. That’s the whole thing. But that was a challenge of—as a woman and then as a black women—being accepted into different areas. And then you get the backslapping.

The one incident that happened to me when I was in Syracuse: the colonel was from South Carolina, and we were at the club. Of course, most of the time this is alcohol. He said to me—Well, you know, I couldn’t find housing in Syracuse!

BK:

Oh my gosh.

LH:

[unclear] But that’s not so different from now. You call up any place you want, and you want to get an apartment—even in New York, Long Island, where I live—“It’s not available,” or, “We just rented it.” It’s not saying, “We don’t want you”—especially when you go into an area where you might to be the only one.

And this colonel said to me at the club—I can visualize it now—he says, “Lieutenant Williams—.” I hadn’t been there long. I didn’t stay there long, only a couple of months. He says, “Now, down in the South, we tell people we don’t like them. But in the North, you know—.”

I said, “You’re right.”

And then he got to talking. He was saying where was I from, and I told him. And then I opened my mouth and I said to him, “You know, Colonel, I’m probably your bastard cousin.”

BK:

[laughs]

LH:

And his face—what he was saying was that—you know, I was from—my family was from Rome, Georgia, and Sparta, Georgia. And his name was the same name as my mother’s side of the family.

BK:

Got it.

LH:

So, I looked at him—of course, again, it was alcohol now.

BK:

Right. You and the colonels, I don’t know—

LH:

It loosens your tongue up.

BK:

Right, right.

LH:

And I was a first lieutenant sitting at the bar. He was telling me that the South was not that bad, because we tell you that we don’t want you, which was true. And in the North, where we were—because I was having housing problems. He knew that. He was personnel office—was subtle. “We’ve just rented” or something.

And I told him—We got to the racial component. That was one of the things I remember telling him, “You know, I could probably be your bastard cousin.”[laughs]

He looked and he said—he kind of like, “Ah!” He was giving me the, “Okay. You know, we’re from the South. We’re better than these people.” That was what the whole tenor was. That’s when I told him. That was one of the few incidents I said was an “Ah!” [laughs] Nothing he could do about it at that time.

BK:

Exactly.

LH:

Because I put it in a very crude, flat way. It could’ve been, because there was so much integration in the South, variation of hues of color throughout. You know, even in slavery time you had—they integrated sexually but not socially and economically. But that was one of the few things that I said that I can look back and say—this colonel looked at me. He never gave me this old, you know, southern backslapping kind of thing—

BK:

Right, right.

LH:

—socially. But overall I don’t really look at it too badly that—.

Going through Officer Candidate School, sometimes I was really picked on. But I made up my mind I was not—I was going to be like Teflon. I was going to be like [President Ronald] Reagan, you know. It wasn’t going to bother me because I had a goal. But it did. [I] couldn’t go to the parties, things like that.

BK:

So, what did you do instead socially?

LH:

I told you we went to—

BK:

Just study? Went over to—

LH:

—we went over to—well we had—we could go in San Antonio where whites—it was off limits to white—or to troops. It was not off limits to blacks. This is in the black area, which was not—we could go over there. But they said it’s off limits. They had certain areas that was considered off—Syracuse was the same way.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

That’s where I had to go get my hair done in Syracuse. That was over near the university. And I was black. There was a couple of other black officers—one of them, one or two—in Syracuse. It was a headquarters division. And we laughed about it. But it didn’t say black or white, but white officers or white enlisted people were not permitted in a certain area. They didn’t say white; they said “troops.” But if you were black, nobody paid any attention, because this is a predominantly black area.

BK:

Even if you went in uniform?                     

LH:

They didn’t bother you in uniform, no, if you were black. Same thing in Texas because we couldn’t—we had to wear uniform, but we could go to these couple of places that were considered off limits to troops. But they didn’t—some of the black places [were the] only place you could go.

BK:

Right. So the MPs just didn’t—

LH:

Nobody challenged you because I mean—overtly. Some of this is on paper and people didn’t go out and look for it, but they did if they saw you and they were patrolling up and down the place. They would say, “You can’t be over here.” But they never bothered blacks. Because you had to get your hair done there, and this social club that you go to was black. But they didn’t want predominately—primarily the white troops going over there.

We did go to one club, when I was going through Officer Candidate School, where you could go to the club in Texas, but you couldn’t sit at the same table.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

My girlfriend in Florida, who got out—she was in my upper class. She had health problems and she got out. They tear gassed the place [laughs] in Texas where she was. And she had a gas [unclear]. And we were laughing about it. Because blacks and whites were kind of like mingling together for Officer Candidate School.         

BK:

Wow.

LH:

Yeah. You could go to this club, but you couldn’t sit at the tables with your white friends.

BK:

[sighs] So, you just sit next to them and—

LH:

You could sit at—you know, they’d sit at this table with their friends; you’d sit at your table with your friends.

BK:

Wow. [pause] Remarkable.

LH:

No, facts! [laughs]

BK:

Facts, I know. Remarkable facts, I guess.

LH:

And that’s why sometimes people are very bitter.

BK:

Right, yeah.

LH:

But if you look at—That’s the way they felt about it. They didn’t want it to happen, and that’s what happened. But I think they were mingling the time that Jenny—her name was Jenny Crawford. She—I hadn’t seen her since she left Officer Candidate School. I was going to an elder hostel program, and I knew that she had lived—had lived in Daytona. And the woman who was presenting it was a professor who had a profound—she had a memory that was like an elephant. So, I said, “Well, you know I had a schoolmate—an upper classmate who was in the army—air force.” She said—I said, “Her name was—.”

She said, “Oh, here’s her telephone number.” Just like that, in class.

And I called her and we got connected. And the whole nineteen years I’ve been going to Florida we’ve been friends. In fact, I spoke to her the other day. She was trying to get more disability.

But anyway, no, I really can’t say that—the biggest part was the subtleties of segregation. And then some of it was just downright overt in some cases, but not exactly. And being from the South it did not hurt me. I knew—I was not [sighs] as shocked about what was going on.

BK:

How was your adjustment back to civilian life?

LH:

Well, I got married.

BK:

Married and were pregnant, right.

LH:

And then we had children. And then when I was—we were stationed in—

BK:

Right. So, you were sort of still a part of it?

LH:

We were military. In fact, until I was divorced in ’63 or sixty—no, ’64, that’s when—my son was born in sixty—’66—it was all military. I was just like—in fact, that was probably one of the failures that I had in my marriage, is the fact that—the guys I was sitting down with my ex-husband—I was—I was a guy. I mean I was not—I don’t mean I was a guy, but I lived the guy—I was with guys more than I was with women. I could out drink them. I could out—I knew planes. The few black guys that were going through the program with my children’s father were intimidated by a women who outranked them—you know, then they were a higher rank than I was—but who outranked them and who knew more about planes and stuff. I didn’t know how to be the nice lady and keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned now how to be a woman, and you smile and let the men think that they know everything. [laughs] You know what I’m saying? But I didn’t know that. I was—I was the boy with the guys. I was never with females that much. My whole army air force career and everything was with men.

And you know, you—the dynamics is different. You weren’t their lovers, you were their buddy. And they would take care of you if they found you getting in a situation they thought, you know, that was not good. And that happened to me quite frequently. Guys overseas, they were just my friends, but they wouldn’t let somebody take advantage of me. And there’s a tremendous amount of drinking in the military.

BK:

Yeah.

LH:

It was. I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but it was. It was very available. Smoking—that’s why I’m COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] now. But if you weren’t smoking, you were around it.

BK:

Right.

LH:

So, that was—I think that’s one of my failures, was the fact that I did not know how not to—how to be, you know, the lady. Men want you to be tough and they want you to be sane, when you’re married to them they want you to be different. That’s my interpretation of it. As I said, my opinion. My daughter, who is a researcher, said to me, “Mother, can you document that?”

“No, that’s just my opinion,” I always say, “for my anecdotal records.”

They don’t. They want you to be sweet and they know everything, and I didn’t know how to be that way early on. I could change a tire on a car. I could, you know—I could, you know—

BK:

That shouldn’t be a bad thing.

LH:

[sighs] They want you to be that way, but then they want you to be the other way, too. But then after we got—you know, we were—I had the five children and they all went to school. And after we were divorced and he remarried—and he subsequently died about three years ago—but he had made colonel. He stayed in and made colonel and had one other child by his wife. And my children all went off to school, and they’re doing okay.

BK:

So none of them joined the military?

LH:

Absolutely not. My—

BK:

Did you discourage them or that’s just what—

LH:

My ex-husband took my oldest daughter—whose up there behind you—and wanted her to go to Colgate [University]. And he said, “You can get a free education.” And she says—I did not encourage them. She said, “You didn’t encourage—.” I didn’t encourage them to go in the military. I don’t think they had—I was an adult, and as an adult I knew what I was getting into.

BK:

Right.

LH:

I had been on military bases. I had seen military women in the army, that I had been acquainted with overseas. I was a grown woman. I was experienced. I was twenty-five when I went in. I was not a youngster.

And I wanted my daughters, including my son, to—you know, if it’s the only way out. With the wars like they are now, things aren’t that nice. You don’t know where you—you might be here today and you might be going. We weren’t worried about—as a woman in my position—of actually getting in combat. And today these people overseas, whether in combat or not, they are getting killed and maimed and psychologically—and they’re getting raped, from what I’ve been—.

I belong to women organizations in the military, and I’m very active. I don’t go as much as I can now because I don’t drive. I was—I think I’ve probably told you—PR with the black women in the military [National Association of Black Military Women]. There’s a whole organization there, civilian and otherwise. Some of these women were World War II people. In fact, I’ve got some of their—I had pulled their pictures out.

And I was with the officer’s—air force officers association—women officers association [Air Force Women Officers Associated]. I didn’t go to the last one because it was San Antonio—I believe it was. No, it was in Colorado. It was Colorado Springs. I didn’t go because my mobility is not that great. I don’t know where this one is going to be this time—maybe San Antonio. And we’ve met quite a few places. We were in Washington.

And you know you get stories of what’s going on now that you don’t always see in the paper. And it isn’t prudent, so far as I’m concerned. And I’m a very liberal minded person. I just did not want my children—I never even thought about them going in, and none of them did.

And my ex wanted my daughter, who lives here, to go in the CIA, because he later went in the CIA. And she was going to go. She had passed—or she had graduated from Smith [College]. She graduated and she was—she had had the test, background check, and everything.

BK:

That can take a while.  Right.

LH:

And he told her she couldn’t go to a party in the city. [laughter] She says, “Mom—.” Now I’m divorced from him. She says, “Mom, I’m not letting Daddy rule me.” So, she dropped out. And she had had her language test.

BK:

Wow.

LH:

I was surprised because they called the house. And what they do, I guess—I don’t know maybe if you’re CIA or anything—but they just start talking to you in the language on the phone. You pick up the phone, they ask for Jean Hamilton, “Yes,” and they start talking to her in the language of which they wanted her to be proficient in.

BK:

Right.

LH:

They had two languages: German and French. And she—he told her that she could get a free education. She could go to—because it was in Virginia. Langley is where it is, or wherever it is. She could go to school. She could get her master’s and doctorate. She said, “Mom, I’m not letting Dad—.” This is when she was looking for a job. She was right out of Smith at that time; it’s been about twenty-six, twenty-seven years ago. She said, “I’m not letting Daddy boss me.” Because he was in the CIA at that time.

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

And because when he graduated—when he graduated, we were divorced—he came in and told me, “See, I’ve got this shield.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, big deal.”

And that’s the closest to the military anyone ever came. And she didn’t. She got her doctorate from [University of California,]Berkeley. That’s when she met her husband, who is at Duke [University]. And my youngest daughter met her husband [when] she was at the Harvard School of Music. My son didn’t get a degree and he made more money than my daughter with a PhD.

BK:

Isn’t that always the case, right?

LH:

[laughter] He’s a massage therapist. [laughs] He’s the only one not married. My oldest daughter, as I said, got her—she was in the early group of women that went to Dartmouth [College] when they integrated with women and men. She was, I think, second class or third class that had women. [Nineteen] seventy-eight she graduated there. Before it was all men.

BK:

Right. What a trooper.

LH:      Horrible! Yeah. Because Jean is the one—I call her Cathy—she graduated from Smith. She’s the one who go to Dartmouth. And my second daughter, Carol, wanted to—she wanted to go to school at Williams [College], but her grades were not for Williams. I think it was Williams, yeah. And her grades were not—and I didn’t have money. I had three in college at one time. They were on scholarships partially and financial aid and everything else. And so she graduated from [State University of New York at] Brockport. She’s the one that played five years, but she worked for twenty-five years for Verizon, more than anybody else, and made more money, you know. And so that’s it. My daughter from—that’s here is the reason why I’m here at Carol Woods [Retirement Community].

BK:

So, what are your thoughts on women in combat? I mean women aren’t officially supposed to be.

LH:

My belief, women in combat—I have questions. Even though European women, in Israel and places—I don’t know everywhere else. Israel I know particularly that women are in certain areas. From a physical standpoint, having been in the service, I kind of think it’s a little sticky. Because of our—if we didn’t have to have any more periods, then they could give us a shot. They’d probably have. And things like that, it would be okay. But I remember the time getting on the back of that truck. Not because you’re getting on a truck, but you don’t have a chance to pick up and you don’t have the facilities to change—you know, we didn’t have Tampax that much—and dispose of stuff. Now to me, just those items alone—In combat there is no such thing as having a bathroom. There is no such thing. You’re in a foxhole. What do you do? Those are the questions.

Now, doing the normal things—If you’re out in a silo and you’re shooting a gun, you can do that. But then where—What happens if you’re actually under combat conditions? Now, that’s my whole thing. You’ve got to sleep in a foxhole with a man, and he’s finding you desirable. What do you?

BK:

Right, right.

LH:

What happens? And this is going on—I mean from what I’ve been told. I can’t document it. But those are my—not so far as the ability. I still think women should have all the equal opportunity. They fly planes. Because women were flying planes—We had a couple of WASPs [Women Airforce Service Pilots] that were in my outfit who came on—

BK:

Oh, really?

LH:

—that went into the military. They got direct commissions. One woman told one man, she said, “I’ve flew more planes upside down than you fly straight and level.” [laughs] Because they were ferrying planes to England and places all around.

BK:

So, when they were in the air force they were able to be pilots?

LH:

At this particular time, no.

BK:

No.

LH:

Women were not pilots at that particular time.

BK:

Right.

LH:

Later on—subsequently—

BK:

Right. Okay. I just didn’t know.

LH:

—my roommate who was in there—in fact, one woman is here now who knew the mother of my—one of my roommates.

BK:

Okay.

LH:

She was one of the first women congressmen—woman congressman in Utah. She pinned my bars on me. Her name was [Reva Beck] Bosone. And Zilpha Lee, the only one who had a name like mine.

BK:

I know. I saw that. I was like, wow.

LH:

With a redhead in there. She was there. And her mother might have made life a little bit better for me, because she had an aid, you know. In fact, they had all over Zilpha Lee—Zilpha Lee Bosone’s PR, you know—not pus—PI, I think, political influence.

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH:

And she allegedly came in to help her mother get elected again to Congress. She was the first women congressman out of Utah. And this is in the fifties. And her mother came out there. And there were a couple. There was another one named Pratt. And she—I made her wedding dress. She was as cute as she could be, but she wasn’t too smart. Her dad was a general—a colonel up in Alaska. And she got special privileges. Not overtly, but they didn’t handle it the same way. Her mother was very nice to me, and that might have helped me a bit along the line.

BK:

Just in terms of promotion or just—

LH:

No, no, no, getting through the system. This is all after I got out, you know. That’s over with and done. And her daughter, I think, went into intelligence. But I heard somebody say later that she got into piloting. But I don’t think women were—I haven’t kept up with the history. I don’t think—we didn’t get any pilot training until far later.

BK:

Right. I just thought maybe the WASPs would have been grandfathered in.

LH:

Well, the WASPS wasn’t even—they weren’t considered military.

BK:

Right. I just—

LH:

They were just—before that were ferrying planes back. They just got recognition recently.

BK:

I know, Congressional Gold Medal.

LH:

Yeah, that they can get some of the benefits. But no. [pause] It was up and down. Looking back it’s kind of like, you don’t feel it like you do when you’re in it, maybe. It’s kind of like, you know, like you had a fall and it’s over with. At the time it’s traumatic.

BK:

Exactly.

LH:

You kind of—This has been a long time. And not being nurses. And that was the thing that bothered me. Even now when you say something, “Oh, were you a nurse?”

“No, I wasn’t a nurse! I was a tactical officer!”

“Oh.”

A [unclear]. That’s what I was. You know, I was not—I was a line officer. And they want to put you in the category of nurse, if you were an officer, in general. And nurses did have a different situation and it was difficult. I guess they were in the camp combat conditions.

I guess I did influence my ex-husband’s cousin to go in. She was in—she was actually was over in Vietnam. She was actually over there with combat time, in one of the field hospitals. She later got out and then worked for the VA [Veterans Administration]. But she said she was fascinated by him and by me. She didn’t know me when I was in, but I had been in. Well, she did see me when I was first married to him. I was still in the service. She thought it was real glamorous and stuff.

BK:

[chuckles] So, you kind of got out of the whole military world in ’66, ’67?

LH:

Well, I was divorced in ’66.

BK:

Right. Sixty-six.

LH:

But I still have maintained connections with a lot of the people. Right today, in fact, I had a crazy guy who was stationed Rome, New York, that I’ve stayed connected with. His wife died. I was out—when I was out in California I went to visit him. He was in SAC [Strategic Air Command]. And then another one, who was also in SAC, that lives now in Arizona. And of course, I called him up. And it made my day. Because one day after his wife died, I said, “You know, maybe I might—I’m divorced. Maybe I should marry you now.”

His word was, “H, no.” [laughter]

We had the biggest fun the other day. He called me up. And it was just—no, we were friends. His wife and I were friends. We were just kidding each other. I mean, you stayed connected with some of those people. And yeah, I‘ve had—not a lot, but I’ve stayed connected with quite a few.

In fact there are three of us that were stationed in Libya. Madeline [Lopez?] made colonel. She was the first—she’s so—I’ve got somewhere in my stuff—first Hispanic to make colonel. Yes ma’am, Madeline. Yes, ma’am. And she would—because I had outranked her out the time when she was there. She was with MATS [Military Air Transport Service]. That’s the transport group of people that got materials and transported people. That was their branch of the air force. And she went on and she worked in the Pentagon. She came up the ranks and went to officer candidate—she was enlisted, went up the thing. She was from New Jersey, and we’re still friends. Now, I’m close to the girlfriend and I, Lou. And we three of us are friends, but I’m closer to each one of them than they all—than the other two.

And Madeline is kind of a spoiled—and she is a staunch Republican. [laughs] And of course she—we went to the breaking—the ground breaking for the women’s memorial [Women in Military Service For America Memorial], and we had VI—we stayed with her. She was living in Alexandra, where you had to have all the security to get into her apartment. She’s done very well for herself. But she got out, and she was in the Pentagon. She was the Deputy for Logistics for the whole air force, in the Pentagon. Of course, she had a tick like this. [demonstrates] But now that she’s not. But she’s all hawk. And she, “Oh, hi General This. Hi, General!” We were all tagging along behind her, you know, because we got VIP seats. And we got stuck because [President Bill] Clinton and—what’s the lady—Ann Landers, the lady who was—and Swit, who was in M*A*S*H, was there at the groundbreaking.

BK:

Oh, Loretta Swit.

LH:

Loretta, yeah. Yeah. And then Dear Abby—

BK:

Oh, okay.

LH       —was there. And we got stuck because she parked her car in Arlington [Virginia], and we couldn’t get out into the VIP because those people, the president and all this. So she, “Oh, hi, General this. Hi, General [unclear]. Hi.”

“Come on Madeline.” [laughs] And we tagged along behind.

She’s a little younger than we are, but she’s a trip. And she, “I’m colonel.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. But we were all there and stationed together. “I remember when you were second lieutenant and I was first.” But the three of us have maintained. There are some that just connected.

BK:

Right. Are there any other adjustments—post-military life adjustments or things that you were surprised about back in civilian life? I mean the late sixties were very tumultuous.

LH:

No, because I was—it was just like you were married. I was in the mil—I left from being in the military officially to being married to a man in the mil—whom I had met overseas.  

BK:

Right, but after that?

LH:

So it was just—and the only thing is that—and it really wasn’t because I stayed in the same area when I was divorced. It was that I was not using the military facilities as a wife. Which meant the same as if I’d—.

And here now still as a—belonging to the military organizations. I belonged to the—not the—it used to be retired—the military organization. And I go to—all these people—most of these people are retired. And that was just military officers, period. And so, you know, you stay connected here. These people from World War II and World War III and World War V and World War VI [chuckles] and they’d talk the same thing. Everybody laughs and they get together socially. And again there’s drinking and partying and getting together.

I have not connected here. Because, number one, I haven’t been here that long. I went back to New York. I went to New York twice. I went to California when I was here because the fellow I’m friendly with had a conference out there. And I was in Florida for the winter for three months.

Then I belonged to a lot of women organizations that were fostering—League of Women Voters [of the U.S.], [American Association of] University Women. These are the kind of things. I mean I’ve always had connections to—yeah, so it wasn’t a transition. I was not like [makes a sound]; I was one sided.

BK:

Okay. Well, those are all of my questions. Is there anything that you wanted to add?

LH:

No, no, no. It’s just that I’m—I think you’re doing a great job. And when I saw the archives—they took us down, you know—it was quite exciting. I was talking to Sandy. She said, “I don’t even know what I gave.” She gave all the uniforms away. I said, “Well, I had my coat dyed and I wore it as a regular coat.”

BK:

Right.

LH:

And I don’t know where my bars—I think my ex-husband mixed my bars and his bars together, because I think he was wearing—because I outranked him, which was another thing at that time. He went on to make colonel. But he used to—I had some gold bars that almost looked like silver. I would put them on and people would think I was a first lieutenant, when I was still a second lieutenant. Yeah, that kind of stuff.

It has not been as difficult for me because I never really—I didn’t get out of it abruptly and go to civilian life. I was married, military partying. He was an officer, wasn’t like civilian. The same thing all the way through until we got a divorce. And I lived close to the base. I had friends that were on the base.

I didn’t go out as much because he brought his now wife out there when we were divorced. I was too busy working. I had to go back to work. I couldn’t live on the little money you get for child support and alimony, when you get it. It is not necessarily coming in the way that the courts say it’s supposed to be. And then I had five, that’s a lot of people.

I got involved with community, the church, because I’m a Catholic. And we had lots of things, of course. Even though I’m not too happy with the Pope right now. [laughs]

BK:

No, it’s hard to be.

LH:

But you know, I had a fine family. And I’ve had a good time after I’ve been retired. I’ve been retired since ’91, so I’ve been retired now nineteen years, which is hard to think because I’ve been volunteering and doing this and that. Of course, I’m in Florida for the winter and come back in the summer and try to pick up the pieces. I’ve lived the life of—I don’t know how you describe it. It’s not been one where I’ve just been sitting as a woman sitting in a house waiting for—make the meals and stuff like that. [sneezes]

BK:

Bless you. Well, any last things before I turn off the—?

LH:

No, no.

BK:

All right.

LH:

I’ve enjoyed you.

BK:

Well, thank you very much.

LH:

I think you’re doing a worthwhile thing. I did—we did write our story with the black women in the military. The theme is “our story has not been told.” I’m—I was very active. In fact, I was the treasurer and I was the PR person for the Eastern region of black women in the military. And my girlfriend and I, the one who is the colonel, said to me, “They say you’re segregating yourself. You’re calling yourself—.”

I said, “Well, the thing is that I think we, as a group—not me—the women were army originally. The group was army, and they wanted their story told, because their story was different.”

Because they—when I hear some of the people in World War II talk about how bad it was, when they went up to Des Moines [Iowa]. I’ve been to Des Moines to all the meetings and stuff, reunions. I had it easy. They were in the mud. They didn’t have things. They really had it bad. But still they volunteered. They wanted to fight. I didn’t have this kind of situation. This was when it was—they were pleading to go do that because they wanted to have equal rights. Some of those people are dying. I met quite a few of them. When they told me their story, mine is nothing like that. Mine looks like I was walking through the tulips in a cocktail, you know. I was never enlisted. I never go—I would have never made it had I gone through basic. If I had gone through basic, I would have never, never made in the service.

BK:

Because—?

LH:

I just don’t think that I would have had the stamina to put up with all the crap—excuse the expression—that junk that you put up with. And some of it is just because this is the way it’s supposed to be. Somebody is screaming in your ears. Because one time I was standing in parade, I had hysterics and they thought something was wrong with me. You’re standing, and these guys are tall. We marched together now. The hot sun in San Antonio, Texas, standing, and I looked at the guy’s ears behind me. As he would swallow, this part of—if you ever look, your eyes are caged. And I was—I couldn’t laugh. I just got shaky. They thought something—that I was sick. But I was in hysterics.

[dog barks]  My neighbor next door has dogs.

BK:

Yes, I did hear I had disturbed the dogs.

LH:

She has a doctor’s from Princeton in Chinese. She’s not Chinese, so—she’s a very lovely woman. No, but my ears. I watched him. If you’ve ever seen his hair is cut down straight. And when his back—I—just I found it hysterical. They thought that I was going to pass out in the heat. [laughs] It was the funniest thing. They came over and said, “Are you okay?” I couldn’t tell them I was cracking up.

BK:

Right. So, what did you say?

LH:

I just said, “Oh, I’m okay. I’ll just shake it off.” I just thought about it, standing there in the sun looking at someone. Cage eyes, just every little wrinkle of skin. [snorts]

BK:

Well, thank you very much. We’ve taken up a—

LH:

I don’t know if I gave you what you wanted.

BK:

No, this is wonderful.

[end of interview]