MAD: “I lied about my age.”

What is your birth year?

1925. 

How old does that make you today?

It makes me [93] going on [94.]

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

The WAVES, which is Navy.

Where were you born?

In Eugene, Oregon. Did you grow up there? Yes. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

Oh, yes. Did the Great Depression have any effect on your family? Yes. My mother did a lot of baking- she baked pies, and bread- and sold them on the public market. My dad took any job he could get- he would not take welfare, or whatever it was. The kids down the street dressed better than I did- that used to be a complaint. “How come?” “Well, they’re on [welfare], so they get clothes.” But no, a lot of good times. I had three older brothers, and one that I was close to. He grew up and became a teacher and a vice principal. He was principal of vice, he would say a lot. {Laughs} Kids at that age were just starting [to] talk back to a teacher. When he first started, he had a paddle, the kind they’d use in sports. He’d tell the kids, “This is the paddle of learning. If you are in the class, and you’re acting up so no one else can learn, this is used.” He only used it once, and the child went home for lunch. His mother came back, and said, “Mr., will you tell my son you still like him?” That was all he could think of! I have so many great memories. I was in sports; I swam, I played softball, I was a tomboy. After high school- I graduated from Eugene High in 1943. 

What was the technology available during your upbringing? Did you have an automobile or telephone?

We had a telephone. It was on the wall. I still remember [the phone number], I still remember where we lived- it’s where I was born. When I was born, they sent my brothers to the grocery store. This one brother- just older than I by three years- says, “Can we name her Oleomargarine?” That’s what they were buying. I’m glad they didn’t! {Laughs}

How did WWI affect your family? Did any family members serve?

No- well, I guess someone did, but I don’t remember. I don’t think my dad did- I would’ve heard more about it. 

President Roosevelt was in office for the majority of your childhood. Do you remember hearing about him?

That’s one of the pleasures I had in the WAVES. We marched up 5th Avenue in New York to the pleasure of the president; we all turned and saluted. That was really- that was the main point, or spot, that I had in the WAVES. 

What year did you join the WAVES?

’43.

That means that you would’ve heard about Hitler and the Third Reich before joining. What was that like?

Not good. Not good at all. 

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor? 

Oh, yes. I definitely remember that day. I was in school- December the 7th. You just don’t forget things like that. 

How old were you when you joined the WAVES?

I lied about my age. {Laughs} You were supposed to be 20 with your parent’s consent, so I lied about my age. Of course, my folks didn’t even know I did it; I helped the WAVE recruiter, who was from Portland, recruit friends that I knew that were old enough. The chief petty officer that was in the post office recruiting the men says, “Why don’t you join?” I said, “You know I’m not old enough to join!” He says, “Well, did you ever think of taking that little tail off of the 5 and making it a 3?” {Laughs} I said, “No, I didn’t know you could do that!” He said, “Oh, yeah, use White Out.” Did you have a strong desire to join the WAVES? No, not really. Two of my brothers were in the Navy, and I worked at the newspaper in Eugene. I thought, “[I] could learn something, maybe.” Well then they wanted to send me to school, and I said, “Eh.” Didn’t want that. So I went into communications. 

Do you remember your first days in the WAVES? What were they like?

We went to Hunter’s College in New York. It was a lot of marching, I remember that! Really, I don’t remember too much except for the marching and learning about the Navy. And about the war- we talked about that some, but not a lot. They didn’t dwell on it. The things that I remembered were good. When we got to go into town- that was fun! I got to dance! This fellow was from Los Angeles- he was from New York, but he was in California, so he’d learned to do the swing. I was just sitting there dying. The gal that he was with- a New Yorker- didn’t do the swing. He finally came over and asked if I did the swing, and I said, “Yes.” So I got to dance! 

Our barracks were at an old western women’s club that’s now a hotel. I just walked down the hill, down the main street, and to the build. 

What was your job or assignment?

In communications. I was in the federal building in San Francisco, and all I did was take strips of paper from one spot and put it in another spot. Back and forth, back and forth. That was my big job. 

Can you tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out?

Oh, very definitely. Walking down the hill on our way to duty- two other girls were with me. All of the sudden, I looked across the street and there were sailors. I looked, and I said, “Vernon!” He says, “I don’t know any of those damn WAVES!” I walked across and said, “Vernon.” He said, “Who are you?” I said, “You know Cal?” “Oh, he’s my brother!” I said, “No, he’s like a brother. You live down the street from him!” “How do you know?” I said, “You remember his little sister?” That was best memory. He turned around then, and told them, “Don’t you ever say anything bad about the WAVES.” I just laughed. Years later, my husband had family over at the coast, and Vernon happened to be the mayor or something at that time! Mom came back and mentioned him, and I said, “Vernon? Was he from Eugene?” “Yes, and he knew you!” He should! {Laughs} I had a lot of good memories while I was in, and a lot that were just [okay]. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service? 

I was in the hospital- seeing the people who had lost their limbs. One fellow lost his face, and he would not let his wife come to see him. We’d say, “Well, we’re talking to you. What’s the difference?” “No, not until I look human.” Things like that, that really hurt and bothered you. You knew what happened to them, and there you saw a lot of it. 

Were you kept updated about the status of the war in Europe and the Pacific? If so, how?

Mostly through the radios. 

Did your brothers ever go abroad?

Not really. One went to Cuba. How did you stay in touch with them? I didn’t. Except through my mother when I would call her. What was their reaction when they found out you’d joined the waves? Eh! {Laughs} Whatever. 

One of my brothers wanted in the Air Force so bad, and he was going to college at Mount Angel. They kept telling him, “Too tall, too tall.” He was 6″5. Finally, one of the fellows says, “Bend your knees.” So he did, but he didn’t get to fly. He was a mechanic. It was worth it, [he said]. He went all over the United States. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

They found out how old I was! {Laughs} It was easy! How did they find out? Well, I kind of suspected it, because people were really looking at my deals that were printed out. I just had to hold my breath, and I kept looking. Finally, they called me in and said, “What year were you born? Really, what year were you born?” I said, “1925.” “Well, this says 1923!” I said, “I know.” I told them what happened. I didn’t say what the chief’s name was! They gave me a discharge, which was fine because I just went home to Eugene. Then I came back later- it was military, but I wasn’t in the WAVES now. There were a lot of prisoners of war that worked [there] when they came off ship. They did time cards, and I was the one who did the time cards [at a] Naval institution. It was in great big long buildings.  

Was the war still happening when you were discharged?

The war was still on. 

What was your reaction when you heard that the war was over in Europe- VE day?

It was wonderful! I was in Oakland, California, and we were dancing up the main street, doing the Conga line! That was a big day. Dancing in the streets and hollering- wonderful. 

What was your reaction when you heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki- VJ day?

We were very happy about it. I think I was still in Oakland, I’m not sure. I could’ve gone home at that time- I mentioned I went home and then came back. 

Did you stay in contact with any of the women that you met?

Did for a while, the ones that I had grown up with. They’re all gone now, all of them have passed. 

What was your job or career after your discharge?

Well, I didn’t really have a career. I was going to go on to school, and I went in to talk to a professor about what I wanted to do, and all of the sudden I thought, “I don’t want to do any of this.” I went to work for the city of Eugene. My boss was someone who knew me when I was born! It was very fun. I got to meet so many people. When it snowed, I really had fun, because I got to send all these truckers out to different places. It was good, and then because I got pregnant, I had to quit. I had two daughters; one of them is alive. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

Today, to me, it isn’t a war. It’s just a battle. They’re killing a lot of people, but they aren’t doing it as nasty as walking them into fires. I remember I was someplace downtown, and some little girl was saying that that was all made up, about the war. I couldn’t help it, I turned around and said, “Honey, you just don’t know. It was terrible. Someone should come to your school and talk to you that was in it.” You can’t really get to them. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about WWII?

Yes. What about? Sending the boys home, they weren’t put back into civilization- they were put back here without the knowledge of what they were going through. I think that’s what created so many of them getting into drugs and that, because they didn’t know what to do. 

You have a unique experience of being a woman in the military during WWII. Do you think this impacted you strongly?

Not really. The only bad experience was coming home on the train, and these gals from the East Coast had joined to meet a fella. That’s all they could talk about. Not me! 

How do you think your military service impacted your life as a whole?

I don’t really think it impacted my life at all. Except for being able to tell people! My husband was in the Navy- that isn’t where I met him, I met him at a ballgame in Springfield, Oregon. We had 68 years before he passed away. 

IMG_4058 (2).jpgAuthor’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

 

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