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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Wendy P. Gellert, 2010

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Object ID: wv0493.5.001

Description: Wendy Gellert tells of her early life and career in the WAVES and United States Navy.

Summary:

Gellert emphasizes both the stages of her career and the cultural changes within the navy during the time of her service. She relates policy changed within the navy to the civilian culture during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the progress in opportunities for women in the navy.

Other topics include significant events of the time period, such as the assassination John F. Kennedy, the Apollo 12 mission (Gellert photographed the recovery of the Apollo 12 crew and developed film used to take photographs of the surface of the moon), and changes within the navy for gender and race equality made by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and Captain Robin Quigley. Gellert also mentions her involvement with various military womens’ organizations after her retirement.

Creator: Wendy Payor Gellert

Biographical Info: Wendy Payor Gellert (b. 1947) of New Brunswick, New Jersey, served as a chief photographer's mate and a recruit intstructor in the U.S. Navy from 1966-1992.

Collection: Wendy P. Gellert Papers

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

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

Well, today is June 21, 2001 [sic, 2010]. My name is Therese Strohmer. I’m at the home of Wendy Gellert in Hillsborough, North Carolina, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Wendy, could you state your name and how you’d like it to read on your collection?

Wendy Gellert:

Yes, Wendy P. Gellert.

TS:

Okay. Well, Wendy, thank you for joining me today. Why don’t we start out by having you give us a little bit about when you were born and where you grew up?

WG:

Well, I was born in New Brunswick, Rho—Rhode Island! New Brunswick, New Jersey, and my family was very nomadic, so we started moving when I was about six months old. And actually joining the navy resulted in me living in a single place longer than any time in my life.

TS:

Is that right?

WG:

Yeah, most—I think a lot of people travel a lot, they think, in the military. But for me, staying some place more than six months was a whole new thing.

TS:

So why was that, growing up?

WG:

My father and my mother apparently had never traveled when they were young, so when they got married, they just decided they were going to travel, and so they did. And I went to twenty-six schools from the time I started school to the time I graduated. I lived—

TS:

You’re talking just elementary and high school?

WG:

Right, correct.

TS:

Twenty-six?

WG:

Yeah. And I went to school in England for about a half a year—maybe it was a whole year, I don’t remember for sure. But otherwise, from east to west coast, north to south. And so by the time I got into the military, I had been exposed to a really wide variety of cultural—kind of geographic cultural ideas and interests. And our family—From a financial perspective, my father was an inventor, but he was a lousy financer, so we would go from very well off to very not well off. And as a consequence of that, sometimes we’d be living all together in a single apartment and sometimes we’d be living in a huge home in England, you know kind of thing. So it was—it was a pretty wild childhood, but it was perfect in preparing me for going into a military environment, where I was going to meet people from all over the country. And so for that part particularly, I really appreciated. When I was a kid, I kind of didn’t like the idea of having to move every six months or so and meet new kids and whatever but—

TS:

Did that help you later, though, in, you know, not being shy about introducing yourself to people and—

WG:

Oh, yeah. Because the way it worked for me is I had about a month, maybe a month and a half, to kind of check out the situation and then adapt. And so it made it really easy in the military because I was so familiar with doing it and it didn’t take me long to adjust to my environment and get to know people. I would say most people who knew me would say I was pretty outgoing.

TS:

Excellent. Now, did you have brothers and sisters?

WG:

I have two brothers and a sister and a half-brother. And one of my brothers, the oldest one, Matthew, unfortunately died of cancer when he was forty-six. And he’s my little brother, so that’s always hard. But I still have my youngest brother, Jonathan, and then Peter, who— Jonathan lives in New Hampshire and Peter, lives in Marion, North Carolina. And then my sister, who is the family matriarch now, she lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

TS:

What’s your sister’s name?

WG:

Penny.

TS:

Penny.

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

So she’s the oldest?

WG:

Yes.

TS:

Okay. Where do you fall in this?

WG:

I fall in between Matthew and Penny. If Matthew was living, he would be there.

TS:

He’d be right here? [Referring to a list]

WG:

Yeah. No.

TS:

In between Jonathan and Peter?

WG:

No.

TS:

No, you’re going to—

WG:

Oh, I’m not there. Okay, so—

TS:

I didn’t put you in there. I was just writing everything down.

WG:

Oh, okay. I would be here and Matthew would be right here.

TS:

I see, just before you.

WG:

Right.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

Right.

TS:

Well, that’s a nice sized family, got five kids.

WG:

Right, right. Well, Jonathan—of course, Jonathan—I was in the navy when my half-brother was born, so he kind of really made out as a kid because, you know, he would get things like a bicycle or something from his big sisters and brothers for Christmas, where—

TS:

You didn’t have that advantage when you were a kid?

WG:

No, no. Yeah, I was nineteen when he was born so. [laughs]

TS:

Well, now, did you—is there a place that you would call home ever? Like if somebody says, “Oh, what’s your hometown, Wendy,” it’s hard to say, isn’t it?

WG:

Wow. Well, right now I call this home. I’ve been here five years, which is almost a record. I would say I’ve spent a great deal of my career time in Florida, usually in transit. But I did buy a home there about ten, twelve years ago, and—no, it’s been longer than that—almost twenty years ago, and my idea was that I would retire there and—but if I decided not to, I could sell it, you know, whatever. And that’s ended up what happened. I retired there and then all my family lived up here. So in between hurricanes a few years ago, I sold the house and escaped so.

TS:

I see.

WG:

And I really like it up here. I’ve never been in a place that was not on the ocean. I’ve always been stationed about ninety-nine percent of the time at a naval air station, so always on the water.

TS:

I see. Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

WG:

Yeah, yeah.

TS:

Well, now, what about as a kid growing up—so you did some of your formative years in the fifties and sixties.

WG:

Right.

TS:

You want to talk about that at all?

WG:

Well, actually I joined the navy in 1966, you know, right smack dab in the really beginnings and mid part of the Vietnam War. And it was an exciting time. It was very different. Of course, when I joined the military, I was a very proud individual. And we used to wear our uniforms on leave and everything, to fly and all that, because you got a military discount, you know, for flying in that.

But I remember the military personnel during Vietnam weren’t particularly well respected. It wasn’t because of us, but the general population didn’t appreciate the Vietnam War too much, so they took it out on the military personnel. So I remember walking through Grand Central Station in New York, coming home on leave, and somebody spit at me. And it was just—and here I am, you know, in my uniform and everything. And it was really—It really was hard to understand, but I was also just a kid at the time, you know.

As I went along, you know, I realized that young people in particular go through a lot of different periods in their life with a lot of different behaviors. And I don’t think that—well, right now a good example is a military person right now who served in the Gulf War or who has served over in Iran or Afghanistan; there’s a completely different response from the society. So it’s—we’ve come kind of full circle, but not back to where it was there. There’s been so many changes in the last—let’s see, I joined in ’66—so forty-some-odd years.

TS:

Well, when that happened to you, what did you say? You said that was in Grand Central Station?

WG:

Grand Central Station.

TS:

Was it—Do you remember if it was a man or a woman?

WG:

It was a guy.

TS:

It was a guy.

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

And what was your reaction?

WG:

I was shocked, you know. I had just graduated from boot camp. Here I was—I think I had my light blues uniform on and I was about ten feet tall, you know, on my way to meet my father. And I just didn’t—I didn’t—I guess, I didn’t know, really, how people were behaving out in the community, you know, because they keep you kind of isolated in boot camp. And I was what you call gung-ho. It was all about the military and patriotic whatever, you know. I was really pumped up. So it was kind of a bubble-buster. But what happened was it just kind of made me decide that my family was the military and the civilians became the enemy. [laughs]

TS:

Really?

WG:

It was kind of funny, yeah. Because I didn’t feel like I fit. I didn’t get where they were coming from. But I was also right in the middle of that part of culture where “do your own thing” and “whatever anybody does is cool” and—

TS:

Like what?

WG:

Smoking pot and just—let’s see, there was a big movement of women’s lib, you know, bra burning and free love and flower children. My brothers were both part of Woodstock. I was on active duty, you know, so I kind of envied my brothers because they were out there having the time of their life. At the same time, I didn’t approve, so it was really kind of a—

TS:

So you had mixed responses to it.

WG:

Yeah, it was really a mixed thing. Today, of course, my brother who is still living has [some – WG added later] regrets because he did his own thing. And so now he’s in his fifties and the economy has gone down the tubes. You know, he went off to Woodstock. And though he’s had his own business, he’s in construction, and construction is—

TS:

Tough time to be—

WG:

—not happening right now. So he’s pretty lost, you know, trying to figure out what he’s going to do. And I know that no matter what happens, I have my retirement and I can always throw myself on the mercy of the court. [laughter] I can always go to the VA [Veterans Administration] if I become desperate, but you know.

TS:

So two different kind of paths you took.

WG:

Right, right.

TS:

Interesting. Well, let me go back just a little bit. So when you’re growing up in your, I still can’t believe, twenty-six different schools, was there—like, was there a favorite place that you lived when you were a kid?

WG:

Well, I know one of the most memorable was when I lived in England. I went to a Christian Science girls’ school. And I wasn’t a Christian Scientist, but it was Claremont Girls School and it was a very good private school. And we lived in North Ash Manor, Ash near Sevenoaks in England. And one of the manor houses in East Ash Manor had two daughters and they both went to this school. So it was appropriate for me to go. So they vouched for me or whatever they did back then, and I went off to this English girls’ school. So it was—

TS:

What was that like?

WG:

Well, it was, I mean, I lived there.

TS:

Like a boarding school?

WG:

Yes.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

But I lived with an English family out in the community and rode a bike to school every day. And I was, you know, kind of put into the culture. It was a cultural immersion kind of thing. I learned how to play lacrosse and wore the little uniforms and the bowler hat and the—

TS:

How old were you?

WG:

I was in seventh grade, so fourth form is what it was over there. Which was a little traumatic when it came to languages because the British start learning languages in their first year of school, so they were in seventh year French and I was in zero year French. [sneezes]

TS:

How did that go?

WG:

Well, they got a tutor for me from Paris, but she didn’t speak English. And after a couple months, she surrendered. [chuckles] And they let me stay in a study hall, and it wasn’t really until college that I attempted a language again. I took Spanish. But yeah, that was kind of traumatic for me, you know.

TS:

But overall, did you like the experience?

WG:

Oh, yeah. Oh, it was awesome. I mean, it was totally different from American schools.

TS:

In what way would you say it was different?

WG:

Well, one thing that I liked was the uniform, you know, something about uniforms. So going into the military was perfect, you know. I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to wear each day because I knew. And it was kind of structured. They had things like high tea and low tea and all the British food. It was just like being in a—a totally different world, which I was, you know, for a year of my life. Just one of those really memorable periods that, you know, the other ones—I went to three schools in one month in the US because my parents couldn’t make up their mind for sure, you know, where they were going to be. So one school I didn’t even find out where the bathroom was, you know. It was just—

TS:

Not there long enough.

WG:

“Hi, my name is Wendy. Bye,” you know. So I had a lot of practice at adjusting to that. But—

TS:

Well, did you have a sense that growing up—did you have a favorite subject or something that you really enjoyed in school?

WG:

Well, I was an athletic youngster, and [pause] gym was my favorite class. To be honest with you, my most favorite part of school was my social time. After school, I remember a lot of my friends—I still have some lifelong friends from Blacksburg, Virginia, when I was a junior in high school, that stay in touch with me after all these years. And so I remember a lot about after hours.

TS:

So what did you do? Tell me about it.

WG:

Oh, go down to the river and, you know, party. A lot of the young fellows in my class went off to Vietnam; some of them didn’t come back. Blacksburg, Virginia, is where Virginia Tech is, used to be VPI [Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University]. So we were—it was a very tight community. And there was, I think—I don’t know—twenty, twenty-five of us juniors and seniors that ran around together. And we hung out at Tech Drive-in, which was one of those drive-ins in the sixties where the people were on skates, you know. It’s just like—what is it—Happy Days{1970s TV series]. It was a lot like that. It really was.

TS:

Did you have a Fonzie{character on Happy Days]?

WG:

Yeah, we did. We did. And you know, for fun the guys would raid a slumber party and steal somebody’s skivvies and put them on the street light—the one street light in the middle of town, you know, and the fire department would have to come get it down. That’s what we did for kicks. We thought that was great fun. Yeah, those were good days. I really had a good time.

TS:

So did you have a sense of what you wanted to do after high school?

WG:

Well, I really didn’t. But I had an English teacher in my senior year, her name was Ms. Ritzenthaler. And my parents, unfortunately, divorced that year, and my mom went off to Europe with my brother and I stayed with my father and my other brother. And it occurred to me that I was going to have to do something. So I joined the navy to get the GI Bill. And my plan was, I’d do my three years in the navy and then I could go get a college education. I don’t—And the reason I went to the navy is, my father and my brother also left, so I moved in with one of my classmates in my senior year. Her family let me move in so I could finish school there. And she was a navy WAVE [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] in World War II, and she was married to an air force colonel, also from World War II. And so they encouraged me—Sharon’s mom—Krause was their last name. And so Sharon’s mom encouraged me to join the WAVES. So I went down to check it out and signed up.

TS:

Did your father or any of your relatives have any history of being in the military?

WG:

No. In fact, I was the first. [WG corrected later: My father served two years in the army air corps] The only [other noteworthy – WG added later] military history we have is the first conscientious objector in American history was my grand uncle.

TS:

What’s his name?

WG:

Ernest Gellert. And it’s kind of a sad story because he was in prison because he would not fight, and he mysteriously committed suicide while in prison, with a rifle. Go figure.

TS:

What year was that? Do you know approximately? Did you say that was World War I or II?

WG:

That would have been—Yeah, I believe that would have been World War I.

TS:

World War I.

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

That’s interesting.

WG:

Yeah. All of my grand uncles were quite interesting. One was a famous artist, Hugo Gellert, and a couple of them were writers.

TS:

Little bit of an eclectic kind of family?

WG:

Yeah. Right, yeah. From Hungary—they had come over from Hungary.

TS:

Oh, I see, interesting. Nice background. So you’re staying your senior year with this family.

WG:

Right.

TS:

And the mother was a WAVE in World War II, and so she kind of influenced you about service—the service.

WG:

Right, she was—she talked to me about the GI Bill, you know. And she had been in the WAVES and I think she said, “The army gets the toughest jobs and that service doesn’t get as much money as the rest of the services. And the air force gets the most money, but they’re more specialized. So if you want a really well-rounded opportunity, the navy’s the way to go.”

So she showed me the uniform and I thought, “That looks cool. Okay.” [TS laughs] So that’s what I did: I went off and I joined the navy. And it changed my life, you know.

TS:

Did you do it real soon after high school?

WG:

Two weeks.

TS:

Oh, that’s pretty soon.

WG:

Oh, yeah. I had already signed up while I was in high school, like I think about a month before I graduated. And I had to catch up with my dad so he could, you know, sign the permission thing. I was eighteen, but in those days if you were under twenty-one, your parents had to sign—for women, not for men. Men could come in. I think they had to be at least seventeen or sixteen, something like that, but women had to be high school graduates, could not come in if you weren’t a high school graduate, and you did have to  have your parents’ signature if you were under twenty-one. So I met that criteria and went off to an army place in Brooklyn. I’m thinking Fort Hood, but I’m not sure that—

TS:

Is that Texas, Fort Hood? It’s in Texas, I think.

WG:

No, then it’s not Fort Hood because this was Brooklyn, New York. And—

TS:

Well, first, what did your dad think when you said, “I’m joining the navy, Dad!”?

WG:

Oh, he thought it was a great idea, you know. I was joining the navy to get my GI Bill. My family was pretty progressive kind of folks, and I think Dad was happy that he wasn’t going to have to worry about what I was going to do or anything. And I was going to have an income, I was going to get an education, and I was going to learn how to do something. So he was really a pretty happy camper.

TS:

How about your mom?

WG:

Mom seemed all right with it. I was a really independent kind of kid, so they—whatever I thought, they trusted my judgment, little did they know. But they trusted my judgment, and so off I went. And it was a great adventure, it really was.

TS:

Well, I was just going to wonder about your siblings, whether they also—

WG:

My sister, she was already abroad going to the Sorbonne in Paris, and my younger brothers, at the time I joined the navy, they had run away to Woodstock, New York. And of course, my parents had separated. My father had gone off to Puerto Rico and my mother was in New Jersey. So I came home to visit Mom when I was on leave and whatever. And my mother was at my graduation from boot camp and everything.

TS:

That’s nice. You know, one thing that’s interesting that you said earlier is that when you went to boarding school, you liked the structure and uniforms and things like that. So you’re coming from a background where there wasn’t a lot of structure.

WG:

Right.

TS:

So when you got into boot camp and the military life as it started to evolve, how was that for you as a transition from the life that you had been living?

WG:

I think—I think it was kind of a relief because I was so independent, having to—I had to make, it seems to me, all my own decisions, most of my life, and when I got into the military, there were the rules and it just simplified things so much, you know. I learned early in the navy—I had this chief at my first duty station. He still stays in touch with me. And he was my first master chief, and he told me that there are rules and there are regulations, and you need to learn them. And then if you decide that you don’t want to go along with them, you just have to be prepared to accept the consequences. And so that was—I could live with that, you know, and that’s what I did. Sometimes I broke a rule or two and I fortunately got away with it. But I became really responsible in that I definitely knew what the rules were, what the regulations were, and then I decided if I was going to make any—take any risks.

And I always said—if somebody said, “Wendy, what are you going to do if you get caught?”

“I’m going to own up to it.”

I think I’m the only recruit in the navy who put herself on report. I put myself on report because I was three minutes late for a watch. And there was no one—I was the first watch, so there was no one to tell on me, but I went to my company commander with a little report chit and said—gave it to her, and she said, “Wendy, what is this?”

I said “Well, I was UA [unauthorized absence] from my watch. I was three minutes late.”

And she was just—she couldn’t believe it. So she gave me some demerits and sent me on my way. [chuckles]

TS:

Well, what’d you think of boot camp, then? How was it for you?

WG:

It was really—it was great. Having served also as a company commander, I’d been exposed to, like, two different worlds. Back in the sixties, the WAVES were separate from the men. It was still, you know, the Women’s Auxiliary Volunteer Enlisted Service [WG corrected later: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service]. So there was a lot of—all of the recruits were treated like little ladies and, you know, everything was ladies this and ladies that. I’d never worn makeup or anything in my life; I had to learn how to wear lipstick. I’d never seen—

TS:

Was that required?

WG:

Oh, yeah – bright red lipstick. I mean not something soft pink or something, no, you had to have this. There was this regulation red lipstick. You had to have—you wear seamed nylons, had to get your seams all straight. I’d never seen a garter belt before in my life. I had to learn how to fold my skivvies. We had shoeshine-fests. Everybody would sit around tables after dinner and sing songs. I mean, it was the camaraderie and the—I still remember many boot camp songs, and when some of us WAVES get together, you know, from the old days, it’s easy to strike up the—I’ll tell you, one was [sings] “To look sharp, be a navy WAVE. To feel sharp, be a navy WAVE. So be sharp, be a navy WAVE. Be a N-A-V-Y Navy WAVE”. And that was one of the boot camp, you know, kind of things.

TS:

Awesome. You can share songs as we go along.

WG:

Yeah, okay. It was a great time. It really was a great time. And back then you had what they called a big sister. One of the WAVES in a more senior company would take—put some recruit under their wing to kind of steer them the right direction, check out their uniforms for them, you know.

And I had this habit of checking my lipstick, and—to see if it was there—and so I would eat it off. And I got so many demerits that I ended up a week away from graduation and they decided to make an example of me. Now, I was a petty officer. I was a mustering petty officer in my company, and it was Company 2 in 1966. And I got setback for demerits. I had fifteen demerits for eating my lipstick off. So I had gone through all of the training, and so they didn’t require me to re-do any of the inspections or the homework or all of the classes and whatever, but they did make me stay there. And so I kind of had a good time, but I didn’t graduate with my company; I graduated with Company 4. Company 2 was—July 1, 1966, is when I actually graduated.

And as a consequence of that, also, I lost my A-school. I had been assigned as an air controlman. That was what I wanted to be, I had decided. You take a battery of tests; it was the BTBs [Basic Test Battery] back then. And I’d qualified for X, Y, and Z. Air controlman sounded awesome to me. So having been set back so late in the game, I lost my “A” School seat, so they sent me on the job training to my first duty station, which was Quonset Point, Rhode Island. And I ended up harassing my WAVE rep[resentative] weekly with a request chit.

I had met this one gal who was a photographer’s mate. She said, “Wendy, come on down to the photo lab. It’s great.”

So I put in a chit every week to the WAVE rep saying, “I want to go.” And I did my six months in compartment cleaning, chipping paint, and swabbing decks.

TS:

Do you have a picture of that that you showed me?

WG:

Oh, yeah, yeah. Right.

TS:

That’s right.

WG:

And not out of meanness, but we went and picked the paint up. And we picked this bright, bright pink paint and painted the entire head area and shower area in this pink. It was blinding. So every—

TS:

How were you able to get away with that?

WG:

Well, I don’t know, you know. [TS laughs] I really don’t know. But it was very memorable, and they were happy to finally let me off compartment cleaning. “Send that child over there to air operations, please.” But that’s how I got into the photo lab, and then started putting in chits to go to PH “A” [Photographer’s Mate “A”] school.

TS:

And what’s PH “A” school?

WG:

Photographer’s Mate. PH is the designator, or was the designator. As I understand it, there are no more Photographer’s Mate’s in the navy. They have developed a new rating, and I’m not positive, but it’s something like—something media—media specialist or something like that.

TS:

To encompass maybe more than photography or something.

WG:

Right. Well, also several services and I think draftsmen are in it, yeah.

TS:

I see. Well, now, when you—I want to get into more of your career because we’ve—how many years are we going to try to encapsulate here? [laughs]

WG:

Right, twenty-seven. Yeah.

TS:

What I want to get a sense of is, okay, so you joined up in ’66. You had this conversation with this woman, this WAVE from World War II. And what was your vision of what you were going to do and then how long did you think you were going to be in?

WG:

I thought I was going to be in three years and then go to college. That was the original plan. But when—when I got the opportunity to go to “A” School, I really was enjoying what I was doing and everything. Then, shortly thereafter, I got an opportunity to go to “B” School, which is an advanced photography school. “A” School is basic photography; it was sixteen weeks long. And I got an opportunity to go to the advanced, even though I was only a third class petty officer, which was very unusual. But I re-enlisted for six years to get the opportunity. And so that was the beginning of—you know, I was having a good time. Certainly being a photographer was interesting. If there was anything interesting happening, a photographer was there, you know, so.

TS:

What kind of things did you get to do?

WG:

Well, I got to shoot pictures of [First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita] Khrushchev when he came to the U.S.

TS:

You did?

WG:

I did.

TS:

Oh, I’m so jealous about that.

WG:

I did.

TS:

Where did you go for that? Tell me a little bit about that.

WG:

He was at Disneyworld in California. Any time VIPs would fly in—and they flew in to North Island—you would go down and when they came in you would shoot a picture of all the VI—in fact, I have a picture or two in there, some admirals and whatever, when I was at Quonset Point. All of the VIPs flew in to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, on their way over to the War College in Newport. And we just kept a public affairs record of every famous person.

In the end of my photo career, I kept pictures of Bob Hope and—I’m trying to think of what her name is. But they did a USO show in Pensacola, Florida, you know. The great fire of the seventies in California: I was an air crewman then, so I got to see a birds-eye view of the state on fire. Crashes—I got exposed to some things in crash photography and printing crash photography that I suppose are not the fondest memories, but it was part of the job.

So there was some growing up. We used to do ID [identification] photos in the sixties of young fellows who had come back from Vietnam and—post-mortem. And so there was some growing up. I was eighteen years old, you know, but this was part of what I chose to do.

TS:

How did you deal with that?

WG:

Well, I [pause] don’t know. Just went on. You kind of detach and—It’s got to be something else, you know? It’s just part of the job, kind of thing. Of course, at that time, women didn’t go into combat zones, except for nurses, and so—when those of us in the military, back particularly in the sixties, when we were only one percent of the total manpower, we made sure that we didn’t do any whining or crying about whatever we were asked to do, you know. Last thing we wanted to say is, “Oh, I don’t know about that,” or, “Oh, that’s too heavy,” you know, none of that stuff. We pulled our own weight, you know. I think we always tried to run faster, jump higher, to make sure that our male peers knew that we could do the job and we were there to stay. So that’s kind of how my career went, you know, and I just never really—I was always proving myself. Mostly, as it turns out, to myself.

TS:

What do you mean by that?

WG:

Well, some people say, “Did you ever experience any sexual harassment or anything in your career?”

And no, I never did. I’ve talked to many other women who have had some experiences. I don’t know if it’s the way I thought about my job and everything, but I was always very conscious about, “I’m a woman in a man’s world, so I need to pull my weight or I’m not going to be accepted.” So I always tried to pull my weight. And nobody ever—nobody ever gave me a hard time. And during the period in the seventies, eighties, when there was a lot of sexual harassment going on, because the women were really getting mixed in with the male counterparts, I was too senior, you know. I was a chief petty officer, and once you reach the rank of E7, no one in their right mind is going to mess with you. So I never experienced those things.

TS:

Well, I’ve had some women tell me that in the sixties, even in the fifties, that there really wasn’t any word to describe sexual harassment.

WG:

Right.

TS:

And so to try to articulate it, it was just a way of, like—how would they describe it to me sometimes? That if somebody made an advance on you that maybe was a little bit more pressure than you want, you just dealt with it. You didn’t think of it as sexual harassment or something like that.

WG:

They had a—we had WAVE reps. There was a female officer assigned to each duty station, and they were responsible for the women. So if you had any trouble or anything, you went to the WAVE rep. But like you said, the idea of sexual harassment, I think most women expected men to whistle or to say something that might be appropriate—inappropriate, you know. It was just kind of culturally accepted at the time, and it wasn’t until they started training us about equal opportunity and sexual harassment—you know, the navy started having special training for race relations and this.

TS:

And about when did that come about?

WG:

This was in the seventies. Zumwalt, Admiral [Elmo R.] Zumwalt [Jr.], was a turning point for equal opportunity. And he brought on Captain [Robin] Quigley, who was the first assistant chief in naval personnel, and she became the honcho in charge of the women. And it was 1974 that we consolidated. We decommissioned the WAVES and consolidated recruit training for the men and the women.

And at first they were calling us “WINS,” which was “Women in the Navy.” And those of us who by this time were career folks said not, “No,” but, “Heck no. That is not happening. We are not going to be “WINS.”’ So we were just women in the navy, and then over a period of time, we saw no reason to be—there was no distinction anymore. So what?

TS:

Between the men and the women.

WG:

Yeah. I’m in the navy, you know. The fact that I’m woman is incidental, and that’s the way I handled myself in my career. And most career women, you know, approach it—don’t even think about what gender you’re thinking about, you got a job to do. And as long as you handled yourself that way and you approached things that way and didn’t—and did not allow—because there was always some youngster who would, you know, bat her eyes to try to get out of doing this and that and the other. And you know, I think if they had a female boss, the chances were they were going to have a little harder time of pulling that off because we kind of frowned on that kind of thing.

TS:

Right.

WG:

The women did. I think the women were the toughest on the women. The men, seniors, they were more like, you know, father figures. And oh, god forbid that they should make a girl cry or something. And tears didn’t seem to affect the senior women. It was like, “Stop. Go out there and stop your crying. When you’re done, come back in.” But that was a big change, turning point, in the seventies. And now, I think men and women are really on pretty equal—[pause]

TS:

Footing.

WG:

Yeah, equal footing. Certainly from my perspective, you know.

TS:

Well, did you have any mentors helping you through the stages of your career, either men or women?

WG:

The senior women. I was in a very small community, photographer’s mates. I think there was only two hundred and something in the whole navy back then.

TS:

Total, men and women?

WG:

Men and women, yeah. And when I went to “A” School, I met my—Petty Officer Thomas was a first class petty officer. Mickey—what was Mickey’s last name? Mickey Henderson was a first class petty officer. That was—to me, that was like God, you know. I was a third class, and here were these women who had attained—I’d never seen a woman that senior before. I think the most senior woman I’d ever seen in the military was a second class petty officer in the WAVE barracks in Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

TS:

Did that influence you at all, seeing the senior women, I mean as far as maybe aspirations for a career?

WG:

Yeah, seeing that it was possible to advance, you know. And I think that’s the first time that it occurred to me that it might be a career thing. And I just kept on reenlisting to go to more schools. In my twenty-seven years of active duty, I would guesstimate that just under half of my time was spent in training. I have been to so many schools, and any time I saw something, I’d say, you know, “I think I’d like to do that.” And so I—

TS:

Is that something that you—I didn’t mean to interrupt you there—but is that something that you decided for yourself, or did somebody put that in your head or—

WG:

No—

TS:

It just looked interesting to you?

WG:

Yeah, I would—I still, to this day, really like being in academic environments.

TS:

I see.

WG:

And I almost signed up to go to UNC [The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] for my master’s program last year. And then I sat down and thought, “Wendy, you’re sixty-one years old. Granted, it’s not over yet, but don’t you think this is a little late, you know, to spend that much money going to school again?” So I compromised and I go off to Penland School of Art[sic—Crafts] or, you know, some specialized classes or whatever, just to kind of be in the environment.

TS:

Interesting. Well, it’s interesting how you are describing kind of some of the changes that went in the military for you. Are there—you have such a long career, and I kind of want to get a really good picture of it for people who are maybe reading this transcript or listening to it. And understanding how you—what your thought process was as you went through, and maybe some of the changes that went, like you were talking about for the women, but even maybe for technology, things like that, that were used. Like you said you were a photographer for between twelve and fourteen years, I think?

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

Did that—how did that change?

WG:

Well, when I joined the navy and I went to “A” School, the standard camera being used at that time was a 4x5 Speed Graphic. That was one of those that you see in some old-time movies where they’d open up the front of the camera and pull out the bellows and you’d hold it up here, pull the slide out of the film, and take the—change the bulbs, all of that. And that camera case weighed forty pounds—forty-five pounds, fully loaded. And one of the—One of the kind of jibes that the guys would give you when you went to photo “A” School, “If you can’t carry your case, you shouldn’t be a photographer’s mate.” So you started learning how to heft this fully loaded camera case around with you.

And by the time the seventies came, we were shifting to 2.25—2.25 [WG corrected later: 2 ¼” x 2 ½”] and then 35mm was the—Journalists only used the 35mm. It was kind of a war between the “real photographers” and the journalists, you know, because they were using this small format thing. But by the time I finished up my career as a photographer’s mate, everybody used a 35mm. It was—at first it was a Leica 35mm and then the navy went to—I believe they went to a Mamiya C33 and C3 cameras and then finally got down to Canons.

TS:

That’s a big change from the start.

WG:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

TS:

Sure. And now I’m sure they’re digital.

WG:

Oh, now everything’s digital and they don’t need—I think—As a matter of fact, when I was stationed in Hawaii, we were trying to transition navy photographers out of the, what we called, “grip and grins” photography. And we were supplying public affairs officers with a 35mm automatic camera to take their own grip-and-grins for their unit. We would print it, process and print it for them, but we didn’t have the manpower to—

TS:

To send them out.

WG:

—be sending them all out to every—

TS:

So the grip-and-grins are—what is that?

WG:

Oh, that’s awards, you know: sailor of the quarter, sailor of the year, this person reenlisted, this person did that, you know.

TS:

I hadn’t heard that term before.

WG:

Kate[?]—yeah, “grips and grins”. Handshake and the smile, you know, for the camera.

TS:

Well, I won’t forget that one, then.

WG:

Awards ceremonies. So we cut back on the public affairs-type photography that we do, and we’re concentrating on public affairs photography that impacted the whole navy, that kind of news, and broken parts, documentary-type things, historical-type things.

Another thing that kind of came at the same time—so we started out in the sixties, the women were separate. As we got into the seventies and the Zumwalt era, there was the WAVE representative, assistant naval personnel—Chief of Naval Personnel, Admiral Quigley, was put in place. Shortly thereafter, the WAVES were decommissioned. They moved RTCW [Recruit Training Command for Women] from Bainbridge, Maryland, down to Orlando, Florida, to the same location that they were training the men.

So my first tour we were still WAVES, but we were in separate barracks and kind of running two separate recruit trainings. And when I came back after my break in service, we were now consolidated. I was at the ceremony to decommission the WAVES and induct the women into the regular navy. And with that came the first trial co-ed company commanders and then co-ed companies. The men and women don’t live in the same barracks, but they were in the same battalions, in the same buildings, and then they would join up and march together. They’d put the women in the front because their legs are so short compared to the guys, to slow the units down. So there was some big changes that happened in the seventies and the eighties.

TS:

Interesting. Now, did you—I was trying to think of—if you want to give an overview of how your living quarters were from the time you started until [unclear].

WG:

Well, I lived in the barracks at my first duty station at Quonset Point, Rhode Island—Well, let me back up. Boot camp we’re in these old wooden barracks, and they were compartments, so it was all one big room.

TS:

Like a big bay?

WG:

Right, but they had partitions so that, you know, there’d be four to a cubicle.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

And so my first duty station was a similar arrangement. We were in Quonset huts. And it was a two-story Quonset hut, and there were two people to a cubicle.

TS:

Where was this at?

WG:

Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

TS:

Oh.

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

Gonna be in a Quonset hut then, I guess.

WG:

Quonset hut in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. You had like a curtain for your doorway, you know, and you had—I have a picture in there, actually, of one of the cubicles. But you had a little closet with the couple drawers and whatever and a bunk bed. But the heads and showers were joint. You didn’t have private facilities or anything.

Then as you got more senior, you got fewer people in your room. And by the time I got to Patuxent River, Maryland, I was in a private room. I was a third class petty officer. Then I went on to—I think it was that time, once I got to third class petty officer, that I was senior enough that I was authorized BAQ [Basic Allowance for Quarters], and so I was allowed to move ashore. And I don’t think I lived in the barracks again until my last tour in Australia, when I was a command master chief.

And of course, I was overseas in the Outback of Australia, and I lived in the master chief—which was an old officers’ quarters, and I had like a two bedroom apartment, you know, my own little kitchen. And it was kind of cool, actually. I really liked it. And so I was—That’s where I was stationed for two years. So I finished my career back in the barracks, you know.

TS:

[chuckles] But a nicer barracks.

WG:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah

TS:

Little bit more perks for that.

WG:

Oh, yeah. The more senior you got, the more perks you got.

TS:

Yeah. So how—you had said that when you were growing up, one of the things you liked about school was all the social activities. So how about—what did you do for social things in the navy?

WG:

Well, in the navy, I was really into sports. And so there wasn’t a lot of organized sports in the early part of my career, but in the seventies and eighties, again, things started changing. There was more emphasis on equal opportunities, so bases were having to fund like softball teams for the gals and so forth.

TS:

Where did that push come from, do you think?

WG:

Oh, Zumwalt. It was during that time. Zumwalt was really ahead of—a lot of people say ahead of his time. The career folks were not too fond of him, but he was—He was kind of like a JFK [President John F. Kennedy], you know. He appealed to the young sailor and he was—He was trying to change this old, old-school, old fogey kind of thing, and really bring the men and the women together. And to reflect more of the times, you’re trying to get people to give up some of these traditions that, you know, were as old as the navy itself. And so a lot of people remember Zumwalt and his big eyebrows. He made a lot of good changes, you know, a lot of good changes. And so I played a lot of softball. I found out that I wasn’t a bad pitcher.

TS:

Was it like slow pitch?

WG:

I started out fast pitch in San Diego [California], and then there was like a lull in sports, for some reason, in the seventies. And then back in—when I went to Orlando, my second tour, I started playing ball in Pensacola [Florida] and Hawaii. I played—you can play a lot of softball in Hawaii—nine months out of the year. And I played—

TS:

[chuckles] I imagine in Florida, too.

WG:

Yeah. And I played with local teams as well as military teams and coached, and so I was always—it seemed like I was always on the softball field or something. And the military also had really become more vigorous about its PT [physical training] program, so preparing for the swim or the run, depending on what you chose—

TS:

You got to pick?

WG:

Yeah, you got to. You got to choose whether you were going to do the run or the swim.

TS:

What’d you pick?

WG:

I chose the swim. I did. I didn’t—I always got overheated, so I really liked to swim. And I was a junior lifesaver and a lifesaver when I was a kid, so I could swim for days. Running, I don’t know.

TS:

[laughs] Maybe on a softball diamond, but other than that.

WG:

Right, right. So yeah.

TS:

So you played some softball.

WG:

Played some softball.

TS:

Any other sports?

WG:

I played some basketball but—

TS:

Too much running there for you? [laughs]

WG:

Well, no. Back when I played basketball, you got to bounce the ball twice—

TS:

Oh, that’s right.

WG:

—and you had to pass. And you only could go half-court; you had to pass to the people on the other side. I was in—I played in high school, in ninth grade, and I played in my first or second tour—no, my second tour in San Diego, California. And when they changed the rules and gave women full court and started playing by the men’s rules—See, this is kind of happening culturally, this coming together of the men and the women. Equal opportunity was happening in all areas. And so they started playing sports, you know.

There was question why the women, you know, their push-ups were different than the guys, though they did stay with that until these recent years, I think. Now, women have to do men’s push-ups, everybody does the same one. But it used to be that, you know, they would say, “Well, women’s upper body strength is just not what the men’s is.” Well, no, it wouldn’t be, unless you forced them to do what the men do, and then they would have that upper body strength, you know. So that’s kind of another change. With equal opportunity, there was some pain. [laughter]

TS:

So did you see, at the time, any pressure from the outside culture, outside in the civilian world—like, you were talking earlier about the counterculture and the women’s movement and things like that—going on inside the military with Zumwalt, maybe pressure on him?

WG:

[pause] During the Vietnam War, after my experience early in my career, I had a tendency to pretty much stick with other military folks. And I wouldn’t say I was oblivious. I was aware of, you know, the flower power and the hippies, you know, and all of that, but I was military. They didn’t feel like they had anything in common with me, and I didn’t feel like I had much in common with them, so that’s kind of the way it went. So I was kind of in—like in a different world. I didn’t know a whole lot about how to even be a civilian. When I retired it was, “Holy smokes.” I was—I had no clue.

TS:

Like the cultural change after—

WG:

Oh, it was. It was a cultural change the other direction, you know. There are no rules! [laughter]

TS:

Well, you had some—the time that you were in the service, there was a lot of really major events, I guess you could say. You had—like in ’68, right, you had Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated and Robert Kennedy assassinated. What do you remember of those events?

WG:

Well, actually, JFK, I was—

TS:

You remember JFK in ’60—

WG:

I was a junior—

TS:

Well, ’63, sure.

WG:

Yeah, I was a junior in high school.

TS:

Would you tell me about that?

WG:

Oh, I can tell you. I remember where I was and what—I was in the—I was in Blacksburg, Virginia. I was in the auditorium watching a play called Our Town. And they stopped the play, and the principal came in and made the announcement, and they dismissed school.

TS:

Did they announce first that he had died, or that he’d been shot?

WG:

That he’d been assassinated.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

Yeah. And when we left out into the hallways and whatever, you couldn’t hear—you could hear a pin drop. Everybody was just—you would hear some crying and whatever, but we were just in shock. Kennedy was the first president that ever included young people. I remember [President Dwight D.] Eisenhower and whatever, but he was an old fogey, you know. I didn’t know anything about him. He wasn’t about me; I wasn’t about him. But JFK was about me, you know.

TS:

How do you think that’s so? How was he about young people?

WG:

Well, he was younger and he appealed. I mean, he recognized young people. And when he was running for president, he appealed to the youth, you know, and he talked about the future of America. So I felt like I was somebody, that someday I might make a difference. And when it came to, you know, I went through watching the Sputnik, and the beginning of space flight. You know, all of that stuff was happening in my lifetime. And so JFK—I think I was in love with JFK. But, you know, he was this handsome young fella, he was president of the United States, he was a young guy—the youngest president we’d ever had—and somebody killed him. And all the—of course, the whole country, but the youth in particular, took it really personal. It was—

TS:

How’d you feel personally?

WG:

I don’t know. I felt kind of like I was related to him or something, you know. It was like losing a member of your family. I mean, I was devastated. I had never—I was only seventeen years old, I mean, and here was somebody dying? I mean, I hadn’t—I hadn’t even thought about that concept yet in my life. But I was going to be exposed to it quite a bit, shortly thereafter, during Vietnam. Somebody dying became a regular thing, and you would get bombarded with the details on TV every day.

TS:

Do you remember watching that on the news?

WG:

Oh, yeah, sure, sure.

TS:

Before you went in?

WG:

And—Well, before I went in, no, but when I was in, always. And I was always surprised how—as a photographer, I had clearances that were sufficient—that I was getting some information that didn’t seem to jive with some of the stuff that was coming out on the news, which I think further made me feel separate from civilians.

TS:

Can you give me an example of that?

WG:

Well, one of the things that we did was we printed aerial reconnaissance of suspected POW [prisoner of war] camps—and some in Cambodia—I mean, places where according to the news we weren’t. But I’m printing pictures up. I know that we are [there], you know. The numbers—we would get numbers from the CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] saying how many people died and so forth and so on, and you’d hear the news and it would be something totally different. Of course, as a military member, I just assumed the information I was getting was right and the information they were getting—they were the enemy, you know. And so I think there was a little brainwashing going on in the military as well, trying to keep the esprit de corps [morale] with, you know, with the troops up. I think they kind of isolated us further by saying, “Well, you’re not—Just ignore those civilians out there. What do they know?” Brown baggers—that’s what they’re called, “brown baggers.” If you were a civilian and you worked for the military, you brought your lunch in a brown bag; that’s where that came from.

But so by the time I was in my mid-career in the seventies, I mean, I was gung-ho. I was all navy, you know. It was all about the navy.

TS:

Well, when you were—So that ’68, that real critical year in the Unites States culturally, what’d you think about the events going on there? I was looking to see here. Where are you here? You’re in Maryland and then you’re in Florida. Well, you’re kind of in Maryland, Florida, Maryland—

WG:

Right, yeah.

TS:

—in ’68. So you’re going to be in Pensacola, I guess, when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

WG:

Right, I was going through—

TS:

Headed to Maryland.

WG:

—PHA school and PHB [photographer’s mate “B”] school. I also became an air crewman [pause] here.

TS:

You were looking at NAS Pax [Patuxent River, Maryland] River, I think it says.

WG:

NAS—

TS:

NAS—

WG:

NAS Patuxent River.

TS:

NAS—yeah, Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

WG:

Pawtuxet River - Patuxent River, right.

TS:

They just put a bunch of acronyms on there for me to mess up.

WG:

Right, right.

TS:

[laughs] Okay. So what—so what did you think about that time? So first—when that was happening.

WG:

Well, at about the time that that was happening is when they started putting all the military personnel through race relations training.

TS:

Was that before or after that? [pause] Hard to say maybe?

WG:

It’s hard to—it seemed like it was all kind of going on at the same time. There was a chance that it might have been post Martin Luther King, but it was, most of it, around the same place.

TS:

Well, because you had the Civil Rights Movement going on.

WG:

Right.

[Off topic remarks redacted.]

[Recording paused.]

TS:

Okay, we took a little break, and Wendy’s showing me a picture of—let’s see, it was taken in [Naval Air Station] North Island—of the photographer’s mates, right? Go ahead. Tell me what you were saying about that.

WG:

Well, like I was saying, in the late sixties, early seventies is when the—there was a lot going on culturally about race relations. And so the military seemed always a little ahead of the civilians, as far as actually implementing things. So the Chief of Naval Operations came out and said every single sailor, male and female, in the navy would go through race relations training. And I had always been exposed to a very diverse cultural experience, and so I really didn’t understand prejudice. But when I moved to—I was stationed in Orlando, Florida, I went out ashore with some of my shipmates, and we went to a local liquor store. And one of the fellows with me was a black sailor, and we all went bouncing in our little uniforms into the front door, and they told him he needed to leave and go around the back. And this is in the seventies. That is really when I first learned about the Ku Klux Klan and all that because I really was kind of oblivious. I knew—I knew there were differences between the black community and the white community—or the Negro community at that time—but I just never really thought about it. Now everything had really—there was a lot of clashing going on.

TS:

Yeah, because you had some riots, right?

WG:

Yeah, yeah. We were in Vietnam. There was sailors—There was fully integrated units and whatever, and there was a lot of tension on the ships. Women weren’t aboard ships yet, but the ships now had black and white together in, you know, in compartments, and there was a lot of crazy stuff going on.

TS:

Do you remember hearing about any of that?

WG:

Oh sure. We were getting weekly messages from the CNO. And like I said, they came up with the race relations training: bringing folks together, all different pay grades, and putting them in a room, black and white, and sitting down and talking about race relations and equal opportunity. It was pretty wild. It really was. And it was seen from that time—and of course my rating, which was photographer’s mate that was one of the ratings that they started putting women in way back. They couldn’t think of any reasons why not, you know.

TS:

I see.

WG:

Like today, this year—they put women on submarines this year. I mean, this is—I never thought I’d see the day, to be honest with you, but women are finally on submarines. That was the holdout. You know, that was the last—

TS:

What do you think about that?

WG:

I think it’s awesome. I think the—and I also am happy that the navy finally learned something, because they made a huge mistake when they put women on ships the first time. Instead of putting senior women out there and then slowly bringing the more junior folks out with some female leadership, they brought junior sailors out there and had no female leadership. And then they couldn’t figure out why all the sailors were getting pregnant.

TS:

Do you think that there wasn’t enough senior leadership at the time, maybe, to—

WG:

There wasn’t enough female—

TS:

That’s what I mean, female leadership—

WG:

Yeah, there was none.

TS:

—to be able to do it in that way.

WG:

Oh, you mean available? Oh, sure, they were available. It was just logistically a poor decision.

TS:

I see.

WG:

They brought the junior sailors out and assumed that the male leadership would know how to handle it, and male leadership had no clue. Like I said, a young sailor, she’d turn on the waterworks and the chief wouldn’t know what to do. Here he’s got this hysterical woman on his hands. So they had a lot of problems when they made that transition bringing women aboard ship.

And the first thing I saw when they made this recent announcement about the submarine community was that the first women to go on board were going to be female officers—good thinking, you know—and the next, hopefully, will be senior enlisted folks: a master chief or a senior chief, at least a chief petty officer, to keep an eye on the gals and the guys. You know, to—Any time you put men and women in a boat, underwater, for six months, expect to have some things happening. And somebody’s going to have to kind of keep a close eye and try to keep things squared away as well as you, you know, you can. Human nature is human nature but—So they’re doing some good things with this approach, and I hope that they keep it up.

But the military is always—like I said, I feel like I’ve been one step ahead of society in this country—always implementing things because it’s the right thing to do. And so a lot of strife in the military is about them being forced into changing.

TS:

What about this with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” that’s going on now, that controversy?

WG:

That’s—that’s a biggie. That’s a biggie. I don’t see a problem with it. I remember when I first came in the service: if you admitted that you knew anybody who was gay, you were discharged. Women were also discharged if they got pregnant. Women were also discharged if they got married. And also through the same period of time, they started changing the pregnancy—first the marriage thing, then the pregnancy thing, then you could have up to two kids.

TS:

They had a limitation on that?

WG:

Oh, yeah.

TS:

On how many kids you could have?

WG:

You could have up to two children, and you had to have somebody sign papers—affidavit saying they would take custody of the children when you were sent to sea or overseas.

TS:

Was that a navy regulation or was that—do you know?

WG:

That was a navy regulation. I don’t know if all of the services had that, but definitely a navy thing.

TS:

Interesting.

WG:

And then that was changed to you could have up to—you could be a single parent. The issue of gays: there’ve always been gay folks in the military. And the regulations have been what they’ve been, so people have adapted to them. Now that there’s a change, I can understand some of the old hardcore, a little bit of homophobia there. But I think for the most part, military—and in our culture—people have grown up, and they’re just growing up. I don’t think it will be a problem.

It won’t be a problem if the leadership comes out and says, “This is not a problem,” then it won’t be a problem. If the leadership comes out and says, “This is a problem and it’s never going to work,” it will be a problem. And I think the key is leadership. Whatever leadership says goes. And it worked with race relations. It’ll work with this situation. It worked with women being brought up to an equal status with their male peers, and who knows what might be next. “Hurry up and wait,” and—let’s see, what was the other thing—“fluid and flexible.”

Fluid and flexible were the buzzwords for the seventies—the seventies and eighties, in the Zumwalt era. And things have continued to progress since that time, and I hope that they keep it up, you know. They’ve set the tone, and it’ll all work out. We’re at a—we’re in wars, and that’s a whole other story. But we need able bodied men and women who are willing to lay it on the line and go out there and do the job of protecting our nation. And as long as there’s a young man or woman who is willing to do that and is willing to sign on the line that they’re going to basically do what their bosses tell them and with just an, “Aye, aye, sir or ma’am,” then they move on.

TS:

Military discipline.

WG:

Absolutely. I’ve always—when somebody talks to me about the military—A lot of parents sometimes come and say, “My son wants to join the navy,” or, “my daughter,” and my feeling has been that the best thing in the world that a young person can do is join the military, just for one tour, to give them an opportunity to grow up, get a little self-discipline but be in a safe environment, make a little of their own money, get a little training, and then start living life, you know. And I still think it’s the best thing going.

TS:

Yeah. Well, you’re giving a great overview of the cultural changes and things like that. Now, I did want to go back to the one period—so just for ’68 because it’s a time when there was a lot of racial turmoil because—and a lot of angst about the Kennedys with—so Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and then Robert F. Kennedy was shot later in June. So did you—Do you remember those experiences at all?

WG:

I do. I do.

TS:

How did you feel about that?

WG:

Well, with the—the training for race relations, [pause] like I said, I’m not positive, but it seems to me that it must have preceded Martin Luther King, or simultaneous. But I remember I was devastated. And I was still kind of reeling from my experience in the military in the South, of finding out that there was still prejudice. I was a Yankee; I didn’t know from nothing.

TS:

And segregation, too.

WG:

Segregation, yeah, I didn’t get it! I didn’t—I went to school in Blacksburg, Virginia, when I was a junior in high school. And I knew that the black kids walked to school; they didn’t ride the bus. And I knew that they kind of hung out in their own space, and I knew that they left school before we did. But I just never thought much about it.

TS:

Didn’t really put that together.

WG:

No, I didn’t really put it together until I was in the military. And then it’s like, oh, bulbs going off. Holy smokes! They were segregated but integrated in Blacksburg High School. Maybe a half dozen—at the most a dozen black kids going to our school, but they were kind of separate. And I looked around the photo lab, and right up into the seventies, though there were women, here’s a crew of forty-some-odd and there’s one black man in the whole crew. That when I was in the eighties, that was still the case, you know. So there was still a lot of work to do to shake off some of the old ideas.

TS:

So certain fields, maybe different—like, African-Americans were maybe steered in a different direction, even though technically it’s open to them.

WG:

Exactly. It was like a lot of the black men and women were steered toward galley-workers. I don’t even remember what the—I can tell I’m getting old. I can’t even remember what a lot of the ratings were.

TS:

Oh my goodness, you’ve remembered a ton of things. [laughs] I wouldn’t say that.

WG:

But yeah, there was a lot of traditional jobs that men got steered toward, black men got steered toward, Filipinos—

TS:

Less skilled pay, perhaps.

WG:

Right. And you know, that was all based on the cultural understanding that there was some kind of difference, you know, educational and capability-wise. And of course, many of us knew that was totally untrue, but opportunities had to be offered. And women had been in photographer’s mate ratings and air controlmen for a long time, but seagoing ratings: no females, you know. And so I went through the era when they first started bringing women onboard ship and changing the women’s uniform, because they figured out quickly that they can’t have a woman in a skirt on a ship going up and down the ladders—a little distracting for the young men. There was all kinds of things that they had to start thinking about that they had never thought about before.

And here we are, a couple decades now—three decades down the road, and it’s a piece of cake. Most youngsters I don’t think have a clue the way things were, you know. They have no idea how far things have come, nor should they. Though as a senior person in the military, I think this will always be. It’s kind of like paren

TS:

you sit down your sailors and try to tell them the way it was back when, you know, and they look at you like you’ve got eight eyes. Like, “So what does that have to do with me?” you know.

TS:

Right.

WG:

And so it’s exciting to see the changes. But I’m—Even though I’m part of the WAVES National, I’m pretty far away from the United States Navy. I volunteer at the VA, so it’s kind of fun when I go there because—still, in these times, to meet a female master chief is—more common [now]. I mean, there was only twelve in the navy when I made master chief petty officer. Now, there actually—

TS:

What year was that, when you made that?

WG:

I made master chief in—

TS:

On your little, yeah—Thank goodness we have this in front of us.

WG:

In 1988.

TS:

Oh, there it is, okay.

WG:

Yeah. And there weren’t a lot. There were not a lot. I was the first female command master chief in my rating in the navy. I was the first command master chief not to serve—to serve outside the PH [photographer’s mate] rating. There had been men who were command master chiefs, but it was in the PH rating, you know. And when I served at [Naval Communication Station] Harold E. Holt in Australia—That’s a black shoe base. I’m an airedale [aviation crewmember or brown shoe] serving at a black shoe base.

TS:

Can you explain the difference between those?

WG:

Yeah, black shoe navy is folks who would be principally at sea, not in the aviation ratings like aviation electronics, aerographers, photographer’s mates, air controlmen, tradesmen—just a number of ratings that were specifically associated with the aviation portion of the navy. And then you had the black shoes, which were seamen, boson’s mates, personnel men, administrative folks, electronics technicians, you know, just folks that could be stationed onboard ship or any even landlocked military installation. So it’s kind of a competition between those two navy sectors.

TS:

You have a little, like, sparkle in your eye when you’re talking about it. It’s interesting.

WG:

Yeah. It was like journalists and photographers had this little thing, airedales and black shoes, [U.S.] Navy and Marine Corps; there’s always some little competition going on amongst sailors. But anyway, I got off track.

TS:

Oh, that’s okay. No, it’s great. I was thinking, when you were talking about the kind of things that women can do now with the submarines and things like that, was there—When you were going through your time in the navy, was there something that you wanted to do that you weren’t able to do because of restrictions?

WG:

Actually, air crewman. I was the third female air crewman in navy history and—

TS:

How did that come about?

WG:

I think during the times—

TS:

And about approximately what year is this?

WG:

I started my training in flying at NAS Pax River in ’68, but I actually got my air crew wings in—

TS:

Sixty-nine?

WG:

—seventy-two, somewhere in there.

TS:

Oh, I see.

WG:

So they were talking about equal opportunity, and I wanted to know why not, you know. And they said, “Well, women just—”

TS:

So did you actually go and talk to someone?

WG:

Oh, yeah. I went to my LPO [Leading Petty Officer] and said, “I want to be an air crewman.”

And he said, “Well, no, you can’t.”

Navy regulations said I couldn’t because women could not be in combat areas, and sometimes we flew over territory that was combat. And so there was the problem of what if you get taken prisoner or something.

TS:

This is during Vietnam, too.

WG:

Right. So finally there were—there was enough things happening that they said, “Okay, well if you can go through the training, we still won’t allow you to go on any missions that fly over any other country because who knows, but—.”

So I had to go through the training. And I went through DWEST [Deep Water Environment Survival Training] in California, and there were three women in my class. One was an officer and me and somebody else. This was at North Island. That was deep water survival and—evasion and survival training. And they [pause] teach you how to survive. They put you in a POW camp and whatever, and put you through a mock POW thing. You stay out on the desert for three days and whatever and have to make your way and everything.

They decided that there was no way—they did not trust the instructors to have female trainees in their POW camp. There were still a lot of problems with people getting—having more authority—I don’t know if you saw that G.I. Jane movie, but that’s a classic example of what their fears were. So no women—

TS:

I’m going to take this away from you because you’re going to affect that microphone.

WG:

Sorry.

TS:

[chuckles] That’s okay.

WG:

So no women could go to that portion of DWEST. So they let me go through everything else. I went in the chute drag where they take you out on a boat, put you up on a platform, and have you jump off the back of this platform in a parachute harness. And they are dragging you in the water, and you flip yourself over and unhook yourself, and then they come along with the rubber boat, and you put your arm up, and the UDT [Underwater Demolition Team] people grab your arm with a loop and fling you up into the boat. They never had a 104 pound woman before, and the first time they threw me right up over the boat, back into the water on the other side. Darn near drowned me. But I finished. I completed it, and I completed all of the other requirements, the standard requirement for air crewman. And I’ve got—I’ve got my air crew somewhere around here.

TS:

How did you feel about not being able to go through the other—like the POW camp and all? Was that—

WG:

I felt ripped off, you know.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

But the concern for my wellbeing, I was kind of glad. If they thought there was a problem that, you know, something inappropriate might happen—

TS:

Nineteen seventy.

WG:

Nineteen seventy. If they thought there was something inappropriate going to happen, I don’t—I didn’t—

TS:

You were happy to have the support?

WG:

Yeah, I was happy to have somebody say, “No, we don’t think that’s a good idea.” So I thought, “Okay,” you know.

Of course, that always kind of was a—that one little thing that the guys could say, “Well, yeah, you’re air crewman, but you never went through the POW camp part.”

“I could have, I would have, but it wasn’t allowed.” You know, so it’s—

TS:

What are you going to do?

WG:

Yeah, what are you going to do?

TS:

Now, how did you actually—I’m curious about how you were selected to be part of the first—So it was the first three women who went through the training?

WG:

I had been putting in a chit.

TS:

Just kind of like with the photography thing?

WG:

Right. I was—someone somewhere taught me if you put in enough chits, they’ll get tired of your chits and they’ll do something. So I just kept on putting in a chit, and I kept on kind of bugging my LPO.  You know, “I want to do this,” and, “I want to do that.” And I worked in the aerial section, and I learned how to do mosaic maps, and I learned about the cameras, and then they let me, you know, do this and that. And finally—and I don’t know where, but finally there was a change, and they said, “All right. We’ll let women vie for air crew status with these restrictions.”

TS:

Conditions.

WG:

Right. And so as soon as that was passed, there I was.

TS:

So do you think that for women—like for yourself, you’re independent-minded and you want to do certain things and your put your chits in. Did you need receptivity of the person that you’re giving it to or maybe from upper command? At what level do you think that shift happened to give you the opportunity? How did that door open, is kind of where I’m trying to figure out where that came from?

WG:

I think it started from the top. Really I remember Zumwalt as the catalyst—Zumwalt and Admiral Quigley. And—

TS:

Captain Quigley?

WG:

Captain Quigley, right. Sorry about that.

TS:

She probably would like the promotion. [chuckles]

WG:

Yeah, I’m sure she would. Yeah, this was 1972. Yeah, so—and you know, here was a real—she was a vice or assistant chief of naval personnel, and so there was—Between Zumwalt and her, a lot of doors were starting to open. And the question kind of resounding throughout the navy was, “Well, why not?” Tell me the reason why women can’t do this. Tradition is not a good enough reason.

TS:

I see.

WG:

And like I said, the hold out was the submarine force. And finally somebody’s figured out, yes, it will take some adult supervision and you know. But the young men and women didn’t grow up with the differences between guys and gals like I did. And I remember one time in—I was the senior chief in Barbers Point [Naval Station], North Island, and I was walking through my workspaces one morning, and here’s all my young sailors standing in front of their lockers shifting colors, you know, changing their clothes. And here’s one of my female sailors and two of my male sailors, and they’re yakking and talking and they’re in their skivvies, shifting into their dungarees. And I just kind of didn’t know what to say, and so I just kept walking.

And I talked to—I called the gal in later and said, “I’m not sure about that.”

And she says, “Oh, senior chief, it’s no different than bathing suits.”

And I thought, “If they’re okay with it, then they’re okay with it.”

TS:

Interesting.

WG:

And I’ve realized that it was a social change, you know, that young guys and gals—these kids grew up equal, and so they didn’t have the issues that I had.

TS:

So you’re changing, too, your mindset as you’re going along.

WG:

Yeah, I’m having to pack up some of my old stuff. I tried to stay progressive. I tried to—When I was a company commander, doing two tours as a company commander, I had to help eighteen year olds make the transition from civilian to military in a very short period of time—started out twelve weeks, it ended up eight weeks. We had eight weeks to take a youngster and teach then enough about the military and the tradition and this and that and the other to get ready to go out to a fleet position. And understanding how they think and what’s going on in their brain was part of it. And it came in handy as a command master chief, when you’re dealing with PHA school students, you know, trying to figure out what’s going on with them and whatever.

TS:

Do you have any memorable experiences from those times?

WG:

They’re all memorable. [laughter] I was in the navy in a time where there was always something new. There was always a new regulation. There was always a first woman that or a second woman that. Folks during my era kind of tried to keep a little lower profile because the guys were sick of seeing our pictures on the front page of the paper. I got a few—

TS:

I’ve heard that before, actually.

WG:

Yeah. I got a few magazines in—the All-Navy Times, with me on the cover because I was a company commander or this or that and the other. And the guys resented that, you know. “So what, I’ve been doing that for forty years,” you know. So we were kind of glad when the first this, first that—the first female pilot, they went through the same thing. These women who were going through sub school, I’m sure they’re going through the same thing. The first ones who went through Annapolis—I mean, lot of bad stuff happened there, you know. It’s routine now, but when women first started going through training, there’s been a lot of stuff. And it was left over from our cultural bias and rules of the road back then. Things have changed so much. And I’m glad for it, you know, because women were excluded from so many things for so long. And people like Admiral Quigley and—

TS:

You promoted her again. [laughter]      

WG:

I promoted Captain Quigley. Wasn’t she an admiral before it was all over?

TS:

Maybe so. I’m going to have to look that up. I’ll look that up for you. We’ll see. What’s her first name, do you remember that? Well, I can find.

WG:

Okay. Let’s see, she was the assistant chief of navy personnel for women. And her first name was Robin—Robin L. Quigley.

TS:

Okay, well, I’ll look her up, and we’ll see about that. [Robin Quigley retired as a captain.]

WG:

And I don’t know if she was a line officer or what she was.

TS:

So then I’ll have to like retract everything I said about “you promoted her” then. [laughter] Well, hopefully—she looks like a movie star in this picture. [A signed photograph of Robin Quigley is included in the Wendy P. Gellert Papers.]

WG:

You know, I almost think that that might have been part of it. She was very feminine and attractive, and she was also a captain, you know, and this. And they wanted—there were some visual things they wanted to do. It’s just like the poster things. The favorite poster that I have is the one where the gal is in the sailor’s suit and—[shuffling papers]

TS:

I can pause it for a second while you look, if you want. Let me pause for a second.

[Recording paused]

TS:

I’m sure Beth Ann [Koelsch, Curator of the Women Veterans Historical Project] knows which one.

WG:

Sorry about that.

TS:

No, that’s okay. We didn’t find it in here, but I’m sure that we know which one that is.

WG:

Okay. All right.

TS:

So that’s really—there’s a lot of great posters. Were you influenced at all by the posters before you went in, or were you not really?

WG:

I really didn’t know much about the military until my senior year.

TS:

When you had that conversation?

WG:

When I was trying to figure out what I was going to do now that my parents were gone, and my teacher was really trying to influence me to go to college “to make sure you go to college.” And here, of course, a funny thing happens. Here I’m living with somebody whose Mom was a military person herself, so she was, “Go for it! Look at me, and I turned out fine.”

TS:

[chuckles] So kind of a turn of fate, there.

WG:

Right, right, really.

TS:

So you—now, at what point did you start thinking about making it a career? Because we had three years, out, go to college, was the initial plan.

WG:

Right. I think when I got the—when I started becoming aware of the programs, you know. By the time I was approaching the end of my three years, I had been having a good time. I’d finally got orders to “A” School in Pensacola. So now I’d been at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and Pensacola, Florida, and then I was transferred to Patuxent River, Maryland. And while I was at Pax River, Maryland, the opportunity for reenlisting for “B” School came. And there were always new programs, and I was always up on the regulations; that’s for sure. And so I shipped for six to go to “B” School, and then I had eight years invested.

And I got out mid-career for three years because I was mad. There was a real slowdown post-Vietnam of advancements, and they were trying to trim the navy and thin things out. So if you got out of the service, you couldn’t get back in. So I had to stay out. It took me three years to get back into the regular navy.

TS:

What period was that?

WG:

That would have been—

TS:

Seventy-four?

WG:

Seventy-four to ‘77.

TS:

Oh, so you were in the Reserve then.

WG:

I was in the Naval Reserve, and what I was doing was temporary active duty. I was volunteer and I did a tour, like a month down in New Orleans. I did a tour up in New York. I did a tour in New Haven. I mean, I would just check and see what kind of short-term active duty I could get, you know.

TS:

So for those three years, you pretty much filled it up with active duty?

WG:

With active duty, right.

TS:

Did you really?

WG:

Right. And the recruiter in New Haven, Connecticut, he was on a first name basis with me. I would get a call—I’d phone call him every week to find out if the regulations had changed. Because it was like three months after I got out of the military, I thought, “Oh, I don’t fit out here at all.”

TS:

Why don’t you think you—

WG:

I did not—I went to work for a professional photography studio, and I started my GI Bill right there. And these people punched the clock, and they didn’t think about quality and quantity. And the first thing I did was started looking at all of what they were doing and making—cutting man hours. That’s what I’d been trained to do, you know: do more with less and do a quality job. So my boss loved me. My coworkers hated me, and I didn’t get it. But they almost isolated me.

I couldn’t take it. I finally went to my boss and I said, “I’m looking for my niche, and this isn’t it.”

And he said, “Well, I’m going to help you out, Wendy. You’ve been a good worker for me, so I’m going to lay you off.”

And so I went on unemployment and—which was—that was a shocker for me. And I spent the rest of the time waiting for the regulations to change for me to get back on active duty.

TS:

So why did you decide first to get out?

WG:

I was disgruntled about advancement. I had gone up for first class six times, and even—Every time I would take my exam, they were raising the cutoff. And they were taking—they were raising the exam cutoff, and they were cutting down the amount of people who were advanced.

TS:

So was there like a bottleneck at the top there, at that particular rank? That, like, there was a bunch that—

WG:

There was the old folks, and then—yeah, and then there was very little advancement, navy-wide, going on.

TS:

I see.

WG:

They were trying to trim the force, so they were almost forcing you out.

TS:

Okay, I see. Were you happy with your career at that point, except for advancement?

WG:

Oh, yeah. Except for advancement, oh, yeah. I mean, I was air crewman. I had been having a great time. But I was—I don’t know. I thought, maybe the grass is greener, you know. Maybe the grass is greener. And I was living in California at the time and—

TS:

Okay.

WG:

Yeah, I got out in ’74. Okay, yeah, I got out here in ’72 and I went back—let’s see, where is the navy—

TS:

Seventy-four?

WG:

Seventy-four. All right.

TS:

July of ’74.

WG:

Got out in ’74 and came back in ’77. And so it—

TS:

About eight years at that point, right.

WG:

Right, right, eight years of active duty, and then I collected about two—two years, two and a half years, of active duty while I was in the Reserves.

TS:

Oh, right.

WG:

And finally I got a call from that recruiter in New Haven one day and said, “Wendy, the rules just changed.”

And I said, “I’ll be there tomorrow.” And I signed up and they—was very—I don’t think anyone ever has done it before. I went directly from a civilian to company commander again because I had already—

TS:

They put you in the slot right away?

WG:

Right away. I came—I went through the one month of re-indoctrination, re-issue of my uniforms, and went directly back into company commander school again.

TS:

So what was it that you liked about company commander?

WG:

My first tour was pretty frightening, actually. I was only a second class petty officer. There weren’t many senior women in the navy, you know. And the number of women they were bringing in the service—the numbers were exponential. I mean, more and more and more women were coming in. Companies were getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We went from sixty in a company to eighty in a company to two companies per every two weeks. I mean, really pushing them out. And that was a lot of responsibility for a second class petty officer. Let’s see, I would have been—I was eighteen. Let’s see, that would be somewhere—it had been—

TS:

Was that here? Was it in California initially?

WG:

And this is where—’72 to ’74.

TS:

Oh, okay. It’s all in Florida.

WG:

So I went from North Island to pushing boots.

TS:

Okay. Seventy-two to ’74 is when you were company commander for the first time, right?

WG:

Right. And that was also the other piece, I think, that made me think maybe the grass was greener, because I was kind of scared. I was overwhelmed, you know. Here I was, a second class petty officer, I had eight years in the navy, and all of a sudden I had become God. And these young gals were looking to me to tell them why the sky was blue, you know, and I was supposed to have all the answers. And I was still immature myself, you know, but I was supposed to all of a sudden be this knowledgeable grown-up, and it really scared me. It really did. So I said—I thought I—maybe it’s time to move on, I guess. And I had been this reason and that reason, you know.

TS:

Well, I see ’72 to ’74. So ’73 is when the draft ended. And so maybe that was why there was such a—

WG:

And that’s when they changed the regulations about reenlisting and things really changed there. We didn’t need the manpower. They were—started the cut down, do more with less, you know, all of that mentality. And I was up in it, you know. I was up in it.

TS:

Oh, I see. That makes sense then, because there was a lot of—even though there’s been change all along, this kind of change—

WG:

This was huge.

TS:

—is over—yeah, overwhelming, in some ways, to you.

WG:

Oh, yeah. Well, when I came back—while I was out of active duty in the Reserves, I continued to compete for advancement, and I was advanced to first class petty officer.

TS:

[laughs] Oh, so you did it under the Reserves, but because it was active duty—

WG:

Yeah, and when I came back on active duty, I was now first class petty officer. And I was also a bit more mature, and I had a whole tour as a company commander under my belt, and so my second tour was a piece of cake. And most company commanders, male, were first class and above. We had third and second class petty officers who were our company commanders, you know. When women—when we went down to RTCW Orlando—had seconds and firsts in Bainbridge, but it was twenty-seven folks in the company or something. It was a totally different situation. So this was just a big turning point completely across the board.

TS:

So why do you think you had gained maturity when you came back?

WG:

Well, one, I got to see what was on the other side of the fence. I’ve realized eight years—In my eight years of military, I had become a gung-ho sailor. I was what we called a 4-0 sailor, you know. And I simply didn’t fit when I went to work for civilians and saw that they had—they didn’t seem to have pride in their work, that it was all about the money, and I didn’t even think to ask how much I was going to be paid, you know. I was used to getting my little paycheck. My first paycheck in the navy was sixty-eight dollars, every two weeks. My last paycheck in the navy was a far sight from that. And I’ve kept my income tax since 1966 forward, and it’s quite astonishing to see the change. I peek at the pay scales every once in a while now and see I would be making somewhere around fifty thousand dollars now. That would have been nice, but you know, still.

TS:

With inflation, it might not actually—

WG:

Yeah, really. With inflation it might not be but—

TS:

The numbers look good.

WG:

Yeah, the numbers definitely look good.

TS:

So you’re a company commander. You’re back in Florida.

WG:

And now I’m for the long—

TS:

And now you’re—you know you are going to be in—

WG:

This is, yeah, this is long haul now. I’m going—so I’ve made the decision when I—that I need to get back in the military and finish my career so I can do what I want, be what I want to be, and do what I want to do and be self-employed, if I so desire.

TS:

What did you want to do?

WG:

I wasn’t sure. I just knew I didn’t want to work for anybody who was a civilian. [TS laughs] That’s what I knew. And so I went back and that was—that was my goal, you know, to complete a career so I could do what I wanted to do and not have to worry about the money. I’d always have that military income. And so I did. And I went after the rest of my career. I competed for advancement. I always liked that there was never any differentiation between the men and the women, except when I got to the senior ranks and there was a female quota, which I found out about when I went to Washington [D.C.] to serve on the board—didn’t know about that before. But when I was a senior chief, I went to Washington on the chief selection board, and then as a master chief I was on the E-8/9 selection board, and we did have a female quota.

TS:

And so what year was this?

WG:

That would have been in—

TS:

Late eighties?

WG:

—the late eighties, right.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

And the one year that we were selecting master chiefs, or that I was on the E-8/9 board, the way we selected sailors for advancement was based on a competitive basis. You got so much points for awards in college and this and that and the other. The top fifteen—they were allowing twelve people to be advanced, and the top fifteen, or maybe it was thirteen, people were women, all women. Women had a tendency to excel in the academic part. So here we are with twelve slots open for advancement, and the board turned in twelve female names. And the chair of the board said, “This is not going to fly.” So we had to raise up a couple of sailors and drop a couple of gals who should have made grade that year.

TS:

How’d that make you feel?

WG:

It was hard because I knew the sailors. I mean, we had a small community and I knew. I knew one of them; she was a good friend of mine. That was hard, it really was.

TS:

And you had to keep it all under your hat, too, I’m sure.

WG:

Right, right. So—but I encouraged her that she was very close and next year she—

TS:

She would be a shoo-in.

WG:

And she was. The next year, of course, she made it right away. And in fact, she—

TS:

Kind of almost reverse discrimination, then?

WG:

It was. It was. Like I said, academics—Women had a tendency to excel, academically, you know, which was even the same in high school and whatever. I went to the [Navy] Senior Enlisted Academy. There were sixty-some-odd folks—sixty-some-odd people in my class. I was the only woman, and I was the academic award winner. And the guys were shocked because they were competing and all this, and here I was kind of keeping a low profile.

TS:

Under the radar screen.

WG:

Under—yeah. And when it came to awarding the academic award winner, they called my name, and the two guys who had been at war with each other were—[pause]

TS:

They were expecting it to be between them?

WG:

Yeah. Yeah! And to be honest, I had—can you stop for just a second?

TS:

Oh, yeah, sure. Here, I’ll pause.

[recording paused]

TS:

Here, let’s go back on here. Okay, so Wendy just showed me her certificate where she got first, and—

WG:

And what they do at graduation is they put all of the combination caps on the stage, and right in the middle is the WAVES.

TS:

Oh, the female cap. It’s different than the rest.

WG:

Right.

TS:

Oh, interesting.

WG:

At my graduation from the academy, my mom was there and my dad was there and it was—it was one of those highlights. My mom was there for my graduation from boot camp, and she was there at my retirement from the navy. That was pretty cool. And she got a letter from chief of naval personnel and from the president thanking her for supporting her daughter, you know. This is something they started doing in the late eighties, recognizing that there were a lot of single sailors, and they didn’t have spouses necessarily to give that letter to.

TS:

Right.

WG:

And so there were a lot of moms in that.

TS:

Oh, that’s really neat.

WG:

Yeah, so.

TS:

It’s really good somebody thought of that.

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

So I know we’ve talked about a lot. There’s a couple more things I’d like to cover, though, because you’ve had such a really interesting career. So when we go back to your photography days, you showed me some of the pictures in here that are really, really neat. And one of the ones you were talking about, Apollo, do you want to talk about that experience?

WG:

Yeah. In San—When I was stationed in San Diego, and I was an air crewman, the Apollo 12 came in in the Pacific Ocean. [WG corrected later: I researched and it had to be Apollo 16, not 12; landed in April 1972; recovery ship was USS Ticonderoga] And we—we came out on the helo [helicopter] to shoot the recovery. And plus, I worked in the color department at the time. Besides being an air crewman, which was a collateral duty, I also worked in the color shop where we processed color film and then we printed the pictures. So I got to take pictures of the, you know, splashdown—the recovery of it, not the splashdown. It was already in the water.

TS:

Right, the ship wasn’t right there when it splashed down.

WG:

Right, right. And also got to process the film that was taken—this was cool, knowing that this film had been on the moon. And so I got to process the film, and then I got to print it. And of course, we didn’t know what the moon—you know, I—we had to guess. We didn’t know what the moon really looked like color-wise. So—

TS:

Put that in here for the Apollo. [shuffling papers]

WG:

So these are test prints, where we’re—

TS:

Oh, okay. So you weren’t sure of what exactly the color was supposed to be.

WG:

Right. See like, this is a test print. They kind of confiscated pretty much everything, but I was able to snag some test prints. So here’s an Earthrise, an original negative, so. And those are the surface of the moon.

TS:

So what year was the Apollo 12?

WG:

This was—

TS:

Who’s walking in that suit? Do you know?

WG:

I don’t remember.

TS:

We’ll have to look who was on Apollo 12. Oh, here—And so here’s a recovery—Apollo 12 recovery. That’s okay, I can look up Apollo 12 and find out those names. [Apollo 12 launched on November 14, 1969. The crew consisted of Charles "Pete" Conrad, Alan L. Bean, and Richard F. Gordon.]

WG:

Anyway, yeah, I don’t—and I know for the longest time I had a piece of the foil—

TS:

Oh, yeah?

WG:

—that I carried around in my wallet. Everybody on the plane that year got a little piece of the—I guess everybody on the ship, when they recovered everything—but we got a little piece of the foil, and I carried it around for a long time, and somebody stole it.

TS:

Oh, no!

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

Oh, well, you got to touch it for a long time.

WG:

Yeah. Yeah, it was cool.

TS:

That’s really—

WG:

Yeah, to know it had been to the moon and back.

TS:

That’s right.

WG:

You know, that was pretty cool.

TS:

How exciting! Now, was there any dignitaries on the ship with you at that time, do you recall?

WG:

I—

TS:

You were just busy watching the—

WG:

Well, we were the air crew—you know, navy air crew folks for the photography, and we were in an SH—[Kaman] SH-2 [Seasprite] helicopter. You hang out the hatch with a—

TS:

Oh, so you were on the helicopter when you were taking the pictures?

WG:

Oh, yeah.

TS:

Oh, okay.

WG:

Oh, yeah. Yeah, these are from the air.

TS:

I see, okay.

WG:

Yeah, yeah. We’ve flown out off the carrier deck, and I don’t even remember what carrier it was. But we were based in San Diego.

TS:

Okay.

WG:

So we may have even come directly from North Island, out to the recovery position. It’s been a long time. I don’t remember.

TS:

[laughs] That’s okay.

WG:

But yeah, but—

TS:

I remember, as a kid, seeing the pictures, and you’d see, like, the dignitaries on the ship shaking the hands of them as they came.

WG:

Yeah, I didn’t get to see the astronauts themselves, I mean, other than seeing the recovery guy over there to open the hatch and all that.

TS:

Put them in the raft and take them.

WG:

Right, and put them in the raft. That was the extent of it.

TS:

And you flew back after that.

WG:

We flew back, processed the film—

TS:

That’s what you were excited about, right, was to do that?

WG:

Oh, yeah, yeah. And then of course when the ship came in, they sent the film from the astronauts over to the lab to be processed and printed. And that was the fun part because nobody knew what the surface of the moon should look like, so we just kind of guessed. There wasn’t much—there wasn’t much you could do about that, so. But it was fun.

TS:

That’s really terrific. So were there other memorable experiences you had as a photographer? You told me about a couple of them.

WG:

Well, yeah, the—I have boxes. [TS laughs] I have boxes of negatives. I mean, I used to take so many pictures. I don’t hardly take pictures anymore, you know, because I kind of got over it. But I have three or four boxes in there with, like, pictures of Bob Hope and all of those folks, pictures of famous people—I’m trying to think. That real good-looking blonde guy that played the cool guy, him and a black fella, they were detectives.

TS:

I’m the wrong person to ask. [laughs] But I’m sure that Beth Ann will know.

WG:

Yeah, they—Miami Vice.

TS:

Oh, okay.

WG:

Yeah, and they were—

TS:

I remember that show. Don [Johnson]—

WG:

Don—yeah, him. Anyway, he was there.

TS:

What was he—

WG:

Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, she was not a nice person.

TS:

No? Why not?

WG:

She was a very self-centered person. She kicked the commanding officer off his ship for his quarters when she came for the USO show. She came onboard—Her plane landed on the carrier deck. It was the USS Lexington. And she had trunk after trunk, I mean, all these clothes. And Bob Hope and his wife were such personable folks, and they didn’t want much at all. But Liz Taylor, she wanted the captain’s quarters. I mean, she was very standoffish. And those were, you know, highlights, though.

Recruit training, being a company commander, was a highlight. Flying was a highlight. There were a lot of highlights, and I think that’s why I stayed so long. There was always another mountain to climb, you know.

TS:

Were there any low moments?

WG:

Yes, but they didn’t have anything to do with me being a female or not. I had a low point at the end of my career where I took up the banner for doing the right thing, and it wasn’t very popular. And as a consequence, some heads rolled, of senior folks, and I was kind of ostracized by my CO and my XO [executive officer]. But my enlisted sailors knew that my job as a command master chief was to watch out for the welfare of the enlisted folks, and that’s what I did.

TS:

Do you want to be more specific about what happened, or is that just kind of—

WG:

Those people are still alive. [laughter] I’d have to shoot you.

TS:

And I don’t want that to happen today. That’s no fun.

WG:

Yeah, some things are—

TS:

So you were protecting your troops and sailors and—

WG:

Right, right. Yeah, because there’s some—and this was in the times when, you know—

TS:

This is like late eighties, early nineties or something?

WG:

Late eighties, early nineties, right. And requiring officers and whatever to treat enlisted people like human beings, you know. Back in the day, sailors and company commanders used to swear at their recruits and take them back in the fan room and teach them a thing or two, and all those days are gone. By the time I was a command master chief, saying inappropriate things to enlisted folks because you had the power didn’t fly. And I had tried to stop that behavior and it didn’t stop, so I went up the chain of command until it did. And it finally did stop, but it cost me.

TS:

Price that you had to pay for it.

WG:

But I did the right thing. I knew I did the right thing. And so it was okay. It was okay. And by that time in my life I had matured a lot, and I was quite proud that doing the right thing was more important than getting an award or a pat on the back or whatever. So I’ve been able to live with that. [chuckles]

TS:

Yeah, you take that with you, but—yeah. Well now, you talked too about where you were at during the Gulf War. Do you want to talk about that experience?

WG:

I was stationed at the Naval Communications Station [Harold E. Holt] in Exmouth, Western Australia. And it’s on the northwest cape of the Indian Ocean. And it’s a satellite communication station, the only place in the world that has satellites looking two directions. So we could literally send one signal this way and it would go around, and we could receive it on the other side. And all of the Gulf War communications came through and went to the Gulf from the Naval Communication Station in Exmouth. And of course, we’re way out. We were 850 kilometers from Perth, and there was like a twelve-hour ride to Wal-Mart. We were definitely out there with the emus and the kangaroos. We had our—kind of our own community. And the only TV we had was the military—

TS:

Channel.

WG:

—you know, stations or whatever.

TS:

AFN [American Forces Network].

WG:

We would sit in the—in the lunch room watching military TV, you know, cheering as things were going on over there and whatever.

TS:

How’d you get that assignment?

WG:

When I was in Washington serving on the E-8/9 board, the master chief of the navy [MCPON] called me into his office. I had been putting in for a ship since 1968, and I thought I was finally going to get a ship. I had never received one yet. And the reason that they had given me for many years was I was too senior. Remember, when they started bringing women on board, they started out with the airmen.

TS:

Oh, that’s right. Okay.

WG:

Well, I was already down the road. I was a first class when they started bringing—

TS:

Women on ships.

WG:

—the officers on. I finally thought I was finally going to get a tour as a command master chief on a ship. I was scared to death because I was an aviation sailor. So I was an Airedale female [navy slang for Naval Aviator], never been to sea before, going to be the most senior [enlisted – WG added later] person on board ship.

And I was going to do it, and I was going to do it well. But the MCPON called me in and said, “Wendy, we’ve got a problem out in Western Australia. It’s a very isolated station and there’s some things going on out there, not quite right.” There was indicators that the junior folks, the reenlistment rates were way down, and nobody seemed to be advancing or anything. And what we found out was that when a young sailor, if they were a non-designated striker, would show up at the base, they’d put them in as a bowling alley technician or a swim—at a pool, whatever. And that’s what those kids did for their whole tour. Well, they weren’t interested in staying in the navy, so when their tour was up, they got out. So I went out there and my job was to bring them back into the regular navy, you know. And so I spent my whole last tour fixing things that were broke. But the consequence of that, even though everybody would go, “Wow, you got Australia!” I still spent twenty-seven years in the navy and never got to sea. And some of my peers, you know, give me a poke in the ribs because—

TS:

Got some ribbing about it, I’m sure.

WG:

Many of my peers, by the time I was a master chief, were now going to sea, and—as I had expected to. Some folks that I selected for advancement had served aboard ships, you know, and I never got to, but anyway.

TS:

Well, that’s—you got a mighty fine list of things that you were able to do.

WG:

I had a great time. I had a great career. If I could do it all over, I’d do it all over.

TS:

Would you change anything?

WG:

No.

TS:

Not even that part here in ’74 when you got out for a little while?

WG:

I think—I’ve come to believe that everything happens just the way it’s supposed to.

TS:

You wouldn’t have known otherwise.

WG:

That’s right. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to, and so I think that part was also what gave me the motivation to do a career in the military. And if they called me back on active duty—I got a letter from Washington about something not too long ago, addressed to Command Master Chief Wendy P. Gellert, you know, and I thought, “They’re recalling me to active duty!” which I know they cannot do. But I’d go in a heartbeat.

TS:

You were kind of excited about it.

WG:

I was. And yeah, it’s nice every once in a while, like when I got to the VA hospital or something, and somebody finds out I was a master chief in the navy, a command master chief at that, and they get all excited and whatever. And it’s—when I visit a military installation, a sailor will look at my ID card and their whole demeanor changes, you know, and that’s kind of nice. It’s kind of nice to have a little recognition after all of that time. But I’m finally settling into being just a regular person out here in the world. And my friends periodically tell me that I slip into master chief-ism and they have to bring me back to earth and remind me that I’m not in the navy anymore.

TS:

What kind of things will you do, for that?

WG:

Well, I’m—I’m very leadership oriented, you know, and when there’s a mission, there’s a mission. And I think in terms of what’s the best way to do it and the most cost-effective way to do it. And I have a tendency to just jump in there and take charge, and not always appreciated by some of my friends. And then they do it—you know, they laugh.

TS:

Well, you’re an artist, and so that’s a different kind of mentality, you would think, sometimes.

WG:

Well, this is working [unclear]—the artist part is really good because I work by myself.

TS:

That’s the not having a civilian over you, right?

WG:

Exactly. I have—I can be a starving artist. And I mean, I sell my work and—but if I was living off it, particularly in these times, being an artist—this is not a good time to be an artist. Some of my peers are having to go out and do things they wouldn’t normally be doing in order to live. And thank goodness I did do some very right things in my life, and being in the navy and retiring was one of them. And so I’m very grateful that the eagle flies and leaves me a gift every month. And now they’re paying me to be old. [laughter]

TS:

So you’ve got your Social Security and you’ve got—

WG:

Yeah, I started my Social Security. I still can’t believe it. All of a sudden, somebody’s just raised my income. But you know, I’m comfortable and I’m doing what I want to do, and I can take a cruise if I want. I’ve been on a few cruises since I retired.

TS:

Oh, so you got on the boat that way. [laughs]

WG:

Yes, I finally got—finally got to sea. But no, I don’t look back. I do miss the paycheck, but it was time for me to move on. And some of the changes now, I’d be an old fogey. You know, there’s a lot of the old esprit de corps and the old this and that and the other that I would miss.

TS:

The traditions?

WG:

The traditions.

TS:

That maybe now are changing that you were used to.

WG:

A couple years ago, I went to the luncheon that you had the Marine Corps CO from out here in—

TS:

Fort Bragg [North Carolina]?

WG:

Yeah.

TS:

Then that would have been—not Marines.

WG:

No, it was—

TS:

Camp Lejeune [North Carolina]?

WG:

Camp Lejeune. A black gal—and I was just sitting back thinking, you know, “Look how far we’ve come.” Here she is the commanding officer—not only a woman, but a black woman, you know. It just—it’s like the president. I was so proud—I hadn’t been proud of the United States of America for a while. I’ve got to tell you that these last couple of wars—pre-emptive war I don’t understand, never will understand, and that’s the end of that story. But when Barack Obama was selected as the President of the United States, I never thought it would happen. But I was so proud that Americans were grown up enough to pick the right person, and I think he was the right person, you know. So we’ve come a long way, baby, as they say.

TS:

[laughs] That is true. Well, what—Wow, we sure have covered a lot of things. One thing you talked about is being gung-ho, 4.0. I’m not sure—

WG:

4.0.

TS:

4.0. So you—If someone said, “Wendy, what does patriotism mean to you?” how would you answer that?

WG:

Well, patriotism is service to your country. I got an opportunity to do something that I was good at that was for the well-being of my nation. When I was a company commander, I got to teach young folks how important what they did—everything that they did was: you know, attention to detail, the little things where you think nobody knows what you’re doing or that it’s important. I got to learn and understand that everything was important.

TS:

What’d you say, how to fold your skivvies, right?

WG:

How to fold your skivvies. I would use examples as a company commander of—they’d say, “Well, what difference—why—what difference does it make if my bra is on the leading edge on the second compartment, folded in exact thirds?”

And so I would say, “Let’s say you were corpsman, and let’s say the way the corpsmen set things up is all the medicine bottles are in a certain place in a certain shelf. What if you had an emergency situation and you run into the medicine cabinet and you grab this bottle where there’s supposed to be—”

TS:

Morphine or something.

WG:

“—morphine, and you go and you give him the shot, and you kill that person because somebody wasn’t paying attention to that simple thing like stocking the shelf the way it’s supposed to be stocked.”

So we talked about Vietnam and how, you know, there’s—There’s not time for you to sit down and discuss whether we should take that hill or not. You have to trust [that] your leadership knows what they’re doing and follow the instructions. So I might ask you to do something here in recruit training that seems totally ridiculous to you, but trust me, you’re going to be able to take those behaviors and transfer them to your professional performance in your career, and it’s going to make a difference.

And I’ve had a lot of sailors, young sailors, who stayed in touch with me all these years. Laurie Cason, Captain Cason, who has—she was my RCPO, she contacted me after she’d been in the navy a couple years. She was a college graduate, which was why I picked her as an RCPO right away.

TS:

What’s RCPO stand for?

WG:

Recruit Chief Petty Officer, so she was—we select a recruit. We read everybody’s little bio and we have to select petty officers, like, within the first forty-eight hours, of kids who we think would have leadership qualities to help get through training.

TS:

I see.

WG:

And so she was the RCPO. And she contacted me when she was debating should she go officer or not, and so she’s kind of touched base with me throughout her career. And I watched her go from a seaman, young seaman, in the service, to a captain. And she was a lieutenant commander when I asked her if she would be the speaker at my retirement ceremony, and she did. And at that time—and that was in 1992—and at that time, I said, “And I hope that I get an invitation when you retire.” And I did, and I went up and she retired at the Women’s Memorial [Women in Military Service for America Memorial]. It was the first time I’d ever had a chance to see the Women’s Memorial, and it was such an honor, you know. And she did a super, super job in her career, and I was just proud to know that I had some influence. You know, just the beginnings of—

Because I think making a young sailor feel some pride and esprit de corps was my biggest job—not teaching them regulations or anything, but giving them that motivation to do the best they could do. And it was just gratifying to find out that there was some success, you know. There were also some failures, you know. And it certainly wasn’t me, but I got to play a part in it. And you can’t help but feel good about it.

So it’s behind me, but it’ll always be with me. I’ll always be a chief. I’ll always be a master chief. I’ll always be a sailor. I never was haze gray and underway [naval surface ships at sea], as they say, but certainly an Airedale all the way and a WAVE. I was always a WAVE in the United States Navy and very proud of it. And so the World War II gals, I’m one of the youngest ones in our unit, which is pretty funny. I’m the treasurer for Unit 144 and our president is—Norma Schrader is ninety years old, you know, and still steaming along. And they just love having us youngsters in their unit.

TS:

[laughs] Sure.

WG:

So it’s great. And it’s—I know they’re all going to be gone soon, so what y’all are doing is, I think, an awesome thing. I know there’d be a lot more history, but these were—I hear the stories of the gals back in, what, in the forties, and we had a gal in our unit who they didn’t even have uniforms yet. And it just amazes me, you know, where women have come from.

TS:

That’s interesting that you say that, Wendy, because you were in a time of a lot of change going on, and you’re following in the footsteps of women who went before you. So—but did you ever think of yourself—I mean, you said there were a lot of firsts happening, but did you think of yourself as a trailblazer or pioneer in any sense?

WG:

Well, I knew I was in some—you know, like I was aware about the air crew thing and I was aware about being a master chief and what—I mean those highlights in my career. Everybody was watching kind of our era because they were always keeping track, you know, whatever. So I knew I—I knew I was part of the thing. I didn’t really appreciate all of it until way down the road, though, when I looked back and see where they are, like where we are today. And I can look back on my career and see where I started and how things were, you know, “back in the day” as they say. Well, I spend time now with a bunch of eighty-year-old ladies who “back in the day” was long before I was born, you know, and there is a rich history of women in the sea services. You know, there’s a rich history of women in all services, and I’m just glad somebody’s taking the time to make a record of it. I think it’s similar to the black community. It’s still—we’re just now, you know, recognizing some of our black soldiers and sailors for things they did back in war that nobody paid any attention to. So it’s pretty awesome.

TS:

Just lost whatever thought—Oh, I know. If you—I think you might have answered this earlier, but in case you didn’t: If you had a woman come up to you today and say, “You know, my daughter’s thinking about joining the military,” how would you talk to her?

WG:

I would encourage it a hundred percent. In fact, that happened not too long ago. A young gal was thinking she might want to go in the service, but she was having a little trouble staying out of trouble. And so in order to get into the military, she was going to have to go through a mentoring—like boot camp, for a year, and behave herself. And I volunteered to be her sponsor, you know, and sat down with her and told her the way it is. You got to learn to accept responsibility for your behavior. And I pulled out that thing that that master chief gave me and said, “You know, you’re going to know the rules. And if you want to do a career in the navy, you know, you want to keep getting that paycheck, you’ve got to fall in line and do what you need to do. And if anybody ever asks you to do something that is not well with you, then you have to decide whether you’re willing to accept the consequences.”

And I still think serving in the military is the best thing that a young man or woman can do to prepare themselves for life and give themselves an opportunity—jump ahead, because I know I grew up—you know, you spend just one tour in the military and compare yourself to a youngster who went straight to college, and you’re going to find two different human beings, totally different mindsets. I think a youngster who served in the military knows a little bit about—Even though there’s all this regimentation and rules and regulation, they know a little bit about responsibility and accomplishment, even at a young age.

TS:

That’s interesting that you say that, because I remember the period I was in, I think I had more responsibility when I was in my twenties, you know, than in my forties even, sometimes. Because—and who’s running the country at midnight?

WG:

Exactly, exactly, Yeah, on watch.

TS:

Who’s on watch? It’s not the seniors. [laughs]

WG:

That’s right. That’s right.

TS:

So yeah, that’s interesting that you did have a lot of responsibility at that age.

WG:

Well, you know, the putting myself on report when I was a seaman recruit, they had—I had been in the navy for two months, and they had already instilled in me the importance of following the rules and how important it was to be where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there. And I figure, maybe if I turn myself in they’ll have mercy on me. [TS laughs] And they did, thank goodness!

TS:

Well, you came a long way from your twenty-six different places, because even here there’s not twenty-six different on all these twenty-seven years.

WG:

Right.

TS:

So you had more of a sense of, I guess, some stability.

WG:

I did. I did. Hawaii, I was there five years. That was my—that was the longest I ever lived anywhere in my life.

TS:

So you’re trying to beat that record?

WG:

Yeah! Right, yeah. [laughter] I’m working on that record here for sure.

TS:

Well, we’ve covered so many things, and I know we only have a tiny snapshot, really, of the time you served. But is there anything that you want to add that we haven’t talked about?

WG:

It’s just—like I said, if I had to do it all over again, I would. And it was—some of the best times of my life was serving in the United States Navy and meeting all those people and having shipmates coast to coast. And I’m still—I still have a lot of shipmates. It’s good times.

TS:

That you keep in touch with?

WG:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I’m going up to the WAVES National, and I’ve got an email from a gal who I’m giving a ride up there, and she said, “I met a gal named Marie Vellas who heard you were coming, and she is so excited.” She was stationed with me in 1968.

TS:

You haven’t seen her since? Oh, my goodness, what a wonderful time you’ll have. Yeah.

WG:

Yeah. I’m communicating with a young sailor who found me on Facebook. Apparently I gave him a parting kiss goodbye in 1968, and he’d been carrying my picture ever since then.

TS:

Is that right?

WG:

Yeah. His name’s John Soderquist[?], and we’ve been in touch online ever since. And though I didn’t remember the kiss like he did, as soon as I saw his picture, a lot of it came back to me.

TS:

You remembered him?

WG:

Yeah. I was on my way off the base, so it was a safe thing to give him this, you know.

TS:

[laughs] Well, that’s terrific. That is terrific. Do you think your life has been—this is kind of a silly question, almost, but do you think your life has been different because you joined the military?

WG:

Absolutely—Well, yeah, absolutely. My existence right now, everything I have in my life, is as a result of serving a career in the United States Navy. My ability to go out there and do my art is because I served in the United States Navy. My education that I got is because I served in the United States Navy. Everything I have is a result of that decision to serve a career in the navy. And when things when to hell in a hand basket this last year, I was eternally grateful to know that check was going to keep on rolling in, you know. And I’ll always be proud of my career. I’ll always be proud, and I’ll always be proud of the young men and women who made decisions to serve in the military and stay in the military. Somebody has to do it or none of us would have what we have today. I don’t think, unless you serve, you’ll ever really understand the kind of sacrifices that people made. I have exciting life on one hand, but I gave up an awful lot to serve a career in the military.

TS:

What do you think you gave up?

WG:

Well, I gave up the freedom to make a lot of decisions that might have changed the course of my life. You know, my brothers were long-haired hippies and they did what they wanted to do. And I did—I’d sometimes look at folks and say, “Look, they’ve got the freedom to do this.”

A weekend would come and I had duty, you know, and they’d say, “What do you mean, you have duty?”

“I have to go to work from 11[p.m.] ‘til 4[a.m.] in the morning.”

“That’s terrible!”

You know, they—and so you know, there were times when I wished that I was more like them and I had an eight-to-five or whatever. But in the long run I wouldn’t trade it, not at all.

TS:

Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Wendy. It’s been wonderful to talk with you.

WG:

Thank you. It was fun to talk about it, so thanks for asking.

TS:

I think we could probably talk all day long, so I’ll have to shut this off.

WG:

Okay.

[End of Interview]