Interview with Helen Gilbert in her home in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 8/6/07.Interviewer: Kathleen Ryan
KRWe are currently recording. We are going to start out with what is probably myeasiest question. If you could please say your first and last name as well as the name in which you served in the Navy.
HGOK. My current name is Helen Gilbert, G-I-L-B-E-R-T, and my name in the Navywas Helen Edgar, E-D-G-A-R.
KRAnd you were in the WAVES.
HGYes, I was one of the first WAVES in the Navy.
KRI'd like to back up a little bit and start before you joined the military.Tell me, where did you grow up?
HGI was born in Philadelphia and then at the time of the Depression we movedover to New Jersey in a group of houses that my aunt owned. It was a necessary move because my dad lost his job and didn't have any money. We refurbished a 00:01:00bunch of houses for her.
KRWhat did your dad do before the Depression?
HGHe was an electrician and then he was a salesman.
KRSo these are jobs, especially a salesman, that would have been pretty precarious.
HGYes. He was a very well-known salesman for Clem (sp?)_Electric inPhiladelphia. They put the sign up on the Philadelphia Savings Fund thing, one of the first tall buildings in Philadelphia then. That company went bankrupt.
KRSo he obviously had no work.
KRHow many brothers and sisters?
HGI had one brother.
HGHe was an only child. (laughs) He was older.
KRFrom what you're saying I'm assuming a lot older.
KROK. So what do you mean when you said he was an only child?
HGWell, he had all the brains and talent and, you know, my mother doted on him.00:02:00And I was the klutz. I was the one who didn't measure up during those years.
KRSo did you kind of idolize your brother? Or did you --
HGOh, god, no! (laughs)
KRThat was going to be my other option.
HGNo, we had a -- in our early years we had a touch and go relationship. It wasreally never close.
KRHow -- how old were you or where were you when Pearl Harbor happened?
HGI was working at RCA in Camden, New Jersey.
KRAnd RCA, is it the same RCA I'm thinking of?
HGOh, yes. I was working for inventive engineers who are not on this planet.00:03:00Their minds are just totally different from ours. They were inventing sonar for submarines and stuff. You know, it was top secret. They were concerned about me. You know, I had no idea what they were talking about. All I did was type up what they said and transcribe it and gave it to them (laughs). That was it. I never said anything to anybody.
KRHow did you get -- because you said in your family you were klutzy and didn'tmeasure up, in your family not measuring up -- so how did you get this job? It sounds like a pretty high powered job.
HGWell, first I worked for a little company in Collingswood, New Jersey. My deardarling brother, you know, I talk about him like that, but he was the one who put me through business school after high school. I did learn Gregg shorthand 00:04:00and typing. That's pretty rote. I did work for this little coal and heating place in Collingswood. Then right prior to all the war stuff I transferred up to RCA because I could triple my salary by going up there over what I was making in the coal and heating place. So I transferred up to RCA and it was a stenographer job. Just typing and shorthand and so on. I just happened to be put into a department where they were brainy.
KRWere you thinking of these sorts of jobs, were you thinking of them as wewould think of a career, or were these more temporary jobs you would do until you got married?
HGI think at that point in time I was thinking about the jobs so I could eat. Itwas after the Depression and we were looking for jobs with money so we could 00:05:00make some money so we could live. I had to take the bus. Of course, I didn't have a car. It was a different world. It was just a job that I got because of my typing a shorthand.
KRDid you have any goals you were hoping for in the future? I mean, kids planall the time, a lot of kids do, did you have plans for your life? Things you were hoping would happen in your life?
HGAt that point in time my memory of it is is all I was doing was working andhaving fun. Dating boys and men, young men. Life was just good. We were doing 00:06:00well. After the Depression, anything was good.
KRYes, having work and being able to --
HGYes, that was enough. My brother went to college.
KRAnd why did you go to business college instead of to --
HGThe family just didn't have enough money for me to go to college. I wouldn'twork my way through. If I didn't have cashmere sweaters to do it the right way, I didn't want to go. I was a snob (laughs).
KRWhere did your brother go to school?
HGBucknell. He graduated.
KRDid things kind of shift after Pearl Harbor because you were working in this company?
HGWell, yeah! (laughs)
KRSo how did they shift?
HGUpside down. All the war rallies, "V for Victory," We were in fear. We were in00:07:00confusion and not ready for a war. If the Japanese hadn't been drinking tea and sucking teeth, they could have taken us easy. We were vulnerable. All they would have had to do is come over. But they didn't know that. Thank god.
KRDid your brother enlist right away?
HGI -- he enlisted, I think before I did, yes. He went out of college into.
KRDid anything after Pearl Harbor personally change for you? Did your life shiftin any way -- and I'm talking about before you enlisted. 00:08:00
HGOnly that, you know, the whole country was into saving frying iron, flyingpans. I remember the margarine, oleo was white and we had to mix color into it. Everything was for the war effort. It was -- our country was more united during World War II than it's ever been. Ever since it's been fragmented as it is today.
KRWhat do you think it was about World War II, about that era, that made thingsmore united?
HGI think the Depression had us ready for it.
HGWe had to make due and it was difficult to get jobs. It was difficult to eat.00:09:00It was difficult to live. Men were on the corner selling apples or pencils or anything they could. It was -- the Depression was rough. And after that -- I mean for a lot of us. There were some people who went through the Depression great. The majority of the people had a rough time of it. I wore hand-me-down clothes and worked in the school cafeteria for a free lunch, so we were pretty tough by the time Pearl Harbor came along. My memory of it is, it was just a total 100 percent war effort. Because we finally got it. That even though Europe seemed far away and the Nazis and all that was going on -- back in those days that was so far away that we really didn't get too concerned. I don't remember 00:10:00being too concerned until Pearl Harbor. Then, you know, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor -- we, as our group of people, I was over in Philadelphia visiting friends -- we didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was. We didn't know where Hawaii was. We knew it belonged to us and had a lot of pineapple (laughs), but we really didn't know what was going to happen. And I think the whole country -- you know, we had transform our factories into making war stuff from the things they had. My work changed. It was, it just became -- I remember RCA every Friday afternoon would have rallies. And these movies stars would come. I remember Carole Lombard coming out once and getting us all fired up. "V for 00:11:00Victory" and doing everything for it. That was going on all over the country. Just, it was -- (laughs) they were brainwashing us really. And it worked. Then -- my dad had been a sailor in World War I and I adored him. So personally, I wanted to get into the Navy if they were taking girls. But they weren't taking girls. The Army was the first to accept women, then about six months later the Navy accepted them.
KRI know there was a lot of discussion if it was proper. There were a lot ofworried about women in the Navy and should they be allowed.
HGYes. The Navy, I think, thought of themselves as differerent from the Army.00:12:00Sort of a higher class, shall we say? I think they though well, the Army could take women, but I don't think the Navy really thought it was proper for women to come in. The Navy was full of a lot of -- I'm not saying the Army wasn't, but the Navy was even more so -- snobby. With their traditions and their rules and regulations and the sailors and the difference between enlisted and officers and what went on. That went on in the Army, too, I'm not saying it didn't. I don't know whether they -- I don't know whether it was my idea they were cleaner and better (laughs), I don't know. Or whether it was theirs. That's the way I saw 00:13:00it. I wanted to be in the Navy.
KRWhat was your -- how old were you when you enlisted.
HG21 and 22 when I went in.
KRSo you didn't have to have your parents' permission. I know girls who were 20had to have their parents' permission to get in.
KRWhat was your parents' reaction when you told them that you were going to do this?
HGThey didn't think they'd take me.
HGWell, I had flat feet, so they thought that would keep it. And they didn'tthink I would pass all the tests, the written tests and so forth. I really don't think it concerned them any. I don't think they thought I'd go.
KRSo what happened when you passed the tests? Was there any concern at that point?
HGThey were amazed! (laughs) You know, remember I was the nerd of the family,not the nerd, but the one that couldn't do it. They were in shock, really, when 00:14:00I went.
KRDid they -- did they think it wasn't the right thing for a girl to do, or werethere other reasons for their shock?
HGWell, they were in shock that I was accepted and then when I actually left. Iremember at the Philadelphia train station when I boarded the train to go to Madison, Wisconsin, you know, it was a whole gang there. There were a lot of parties. My office gave a party. And there were a lot of newspaper articles put out about me, of course. I have them in this album. It was just a really exciting time. My mother and father just I think couldn't grasp the fact that I 00:15:00was going until I got on that train. Of course, it was a hard for them. I wrote letters and I sent part of my money home every month. I kept in close touch with them.
KRSo you went to Madison?
KRAnd what sort of training were you getting at this point?
HGRadio. Morse code, morse code, morse code. And then a little bit more morsecode (laughs).
KRWhat was this, what was this like going to Madison. Because was this the firsttime you had been --?
HGOh, I had never been north of New York or south of Delaware. I had never beento Washington or any of those big places. It was a shock because when I joined the Navy, I'll be honest. I thought I was going to be stationed in Philadelphia. 00:16:00See, the Navy in World War I had yeomen. You knew that. And, by the way, the last one just died recently. The last yeoman. I read that, or somebody sent me an e-mail. Anyway, I really thought I'd be at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia or some place like that. I never thought they would send me away (laughs). But away we went. It was really funny because in Madison, the people there were very friendly and very hospitable and so forth on weekends when we would get off. We didn't have uniforms, but we had to wear black oxfords. So everybody in town's going around looking at feet (laughs) to see which ones are the WAVES. We were known by our feet. It was a shock for them, too, I think. They had sailors there 00:17:00in training for radio, but to have this group of girls arrive --- ooh! They put us in -- oh, gosh, we had lush quarters. Barnard Hall. They put us in the University of Wisconsin campus. That's where we trained.
KRWhat was it like being put in this setting with all these young women? It'snot as if you had gone away to school and stayed in a dormitory, things like that, correct?
HGNo! It was learning how to share. Learning to lose your privacy. But, on theother hand, learning to bond and learning what friendship was really all about. And what sharing was really all about. It was a terrific learning lesson. (wild sound) 00:18:00
KRSo, aside from learning morse code were there any other things you did -- wasthis the first, were you in the first group?
KRThe very first group to go to Wisconsin?
HGOf women, yes. We had storekeepers and yeoman at other schools. Oklahoma andat this point I can't remember the other one. We learned Navy principles and I 00:19:00still have my blue jacket manual. The rules and regulations and we learned the Navy procedures and how to send messages, the format of them. Started to learn about different bases. They tried teaching us a lot of stuff, like how to tie knots (laughs). What were we, what in the heck were we going to tie knots for? I don't know. And we'd be shot at dawn or hung on the yard arm if we misbehaved. These were just threats. They worked. We were scared of them. But we were -- the first Christmas in Wisconsin, it was very sad. We were all homesick. We were just a bunch of young girls who wanted to go home.
KRAnd you couldn't at this point.
HGNo. Couldn't go home. I remember Bing Crosby's White Christmas. Every time it00:20:00went on we were just sobbing. It was crazy, but we lived through it and finally graduated.
KRDid you have any idea when you graduated -- were you thinking, "Oh, I might gohere. I might go there"? Was there a place you wanted to be stationed.
HGEverything was all so damn top secret. They wouldn't tell you anything. Theyput us on a train and we didn't know where we were going.
KRThis was after graduation?
HGYes! Like it had something to do with invasion or something -- I don't know.Top secret where we were going. The train was -- we were in the middle area of the train, well, car, and on either side were men. Of course, we were blocked off like like we were precious cargo. They couldn't get near us. When we got to 00:21:00St. Louis, Missouri, from Madison, Wisconsin, they broke out the orders of where we were going. Our group was going to Corpus Christi, in Texas.
KRDid you have your uniforms by this point?
HGYes. We had gotten them by December. This was early January.
KRWhat did you think when you saw -- because a lot of women had seen theuniforms. They had seen pictures of them and things like this. Did you have an idea of what the uniform was going to look like?
HGNo. Absolutely not.
KRSo what did you think when you saw it?
KRYes? Tell me about it.
HGOh my god, they were gorgeous. They were a navy blue serge made by Handmocher,a well known designer back then. Those uniforms, you could do anything in them and they took it. Even -- I fell in the Corpus Christi bay one night and 00:22:00(laughs) it was dry off and go home. They were nice looking and we felt -- they made us feel good. They made us feel worthy and like really distinguished women. We had seersuckers in the summer. Later on they added stuff like jumpers to hang out in, seersucker dresses in the summer and then the Navy whites, like the navy blue uniform, in the summer for dress. Magnificent uniforms. They made us stand better, walk better and feel prouder. They really know how to do it (laughs).
KRI'm sure --- you were talking about having hand-me-down clothes during theDepression, so having something like this -- now we, you can go to Macy's and 00:23:00get a designer outfit, but this was something you didn't do in those days.
HGNo, no! And, you know, one angle of that that, if you are with a huge, a largegroup of women like in the barracks in Corpus Christi, you dress alike, you work at the same place, you eat at the same place, you play at the same places in town, you have your parties with the same people, the bonding that goes on is beyond belief. You know, when I look back -- it's like being in the womb. They're feeding you and telling you what to do. You don't have to think or do anything (laughs). You just get dressed and go and do what you're supposed to do and go home. It's just really -- I am jealous when I go visit Navy bases. When I 00:24:00used to live in Hawaii, I'd go, like in Kanaioi (sp?) I'd go over to the base sometime. I'd look around and think, "Boy, they don't really know how good they have it." No stress, no -- just you get up in the morning and you put on the same thing. You don't have to figure out what to wear. You don't have to figure out anything. They just took care of you. And they took good care of us. We ate with the chiefs. And they give the chiefs good food.
KRWhy did you, why did the WAVES eat with the chiefs?
HG I don't know. I guess they didn't have anyplace else to put us (laughs). Theycouldn't put us with the officers and they didn't want to put us with the sailors. 00:25:00
KRThis was in Corpus Christi?
KRWhat was the reaction, since you're the first group of women going down there,what was the reaction?
KRTell me about that.
HGSome of the men were very derogative, nasty, didn't want us. We're relievingthem for active duty. Do you think they had open arms? No. You know, they swore and talked behind our backs and said nasty things to us. We had to just keep going on. We had to put one foot in front of the other, go to work, do the best we could. They finally began to see we were good at what we did. We knew how to take morse code. We knew how to transcribe. We knew how to work the fox machines 00:26:00and the teletype and so on. We were good at that kind of stuff and they finally realized that. They finally began to like us and accept us, but they had to work -- in the book I tell about this one guy. See, we worked around the clock. Eight to four, four to midnight and midnight to eight. We were on the mid-watch, sitting around talking about the pros and cons of women in the Navy. This one old Texan let us go on and on about the pros and cons and discussing it and all. Finally at the end of it, he was so cute, he sat back in his chair and said, "Well, I don't know much about what y'all talking about, but I know one thing." We said, "What's that?" He said, "It sure smells better around here." (laughs). So I thought, "Well, that put it in a nutshell!"
KRIt's a good pro.
HGHe had a good point. It was a mixed reaction at first. Luckily we had a Navy00:27:00chief who adored us. Of course, he always said he wanted to make money off of us, if he would let him run our sex life in town (laughs). He was kidding. He was kidding. He'd come in and put his hand on his chest and say, "Do you realize how much money I can make off of you girls if you would let me?" (laughs) He was a doll.
KRBut again, that's a very different time. I can't imagine someone in today'sNavy saying that even jokingly and getting away with it.
HGWe had, back in those days, and I think I mention this in my book about whatthey consider sexual harassment today, we took as complimentary. You know, we 00:28:00had a totally different -- somebody whistled at you? Good! You've still got it. I don't know where all of this sexual crap got started. It got out of hand in my mind. Yes, there are some men that crossed the line. But kidding around? They take it so seriously now. My god, you know, if we were -- back then if we took it seriously, we would have had the whole Navy court martialed! I mean (laughs) -- and we liked it. Which doesn't speak very well for us, does it?
KRSo you were working these very difficult -- you were basically working 'round00:29:00the clock?
KRDid you always have the same shift?
HGNo. We'd have three days eight to four. Three days four to twelve. Three daystwelve to eight, Then three days off. And watch out.
KRWhen you were off?
KRWhat did you do when you were off?
HGYou don't want to know (laughs).
KROh, come on. (laughs)
HGYou know, we had parties. We rented hotel rooms and we had big parties andall. In a way it sounds like we were always being promiscuous and that. But that's not the way it was. There were parties. Stuff went on that may be -- I don't know. Sometimes we had 30 or 40 people in one hotel room. Well, you can't tell what's going on during the night. You know? Especially if you're drinking 00:30:00all this creme de cocoa stuff that we used to drink. But it was fun and most of the time it was like shopping for what we needed in between. Our bath powder, our underwear, stuff the Navy didn't supply. You know, going to the beach going swimming. We had a little house on a pier this guy let us use for awhile and it was fun. There was no sex involved with any of that. We'd go out to Port Oranzous (sp?) and rent a place for the weekend. And just kick back in the sand dunes. Go out in the Gulf of Mexico and swim and have fun. We'd play cards. Listen to the radio. We didn't do -- we weren't all the the time running around 00:31:00with the idea of getting a man or being in bed with a man or whatever. We were young and we were at the peak or our hormones and there was a damn war going on. There was a war going on. OK. We went to bed with guys. We made love. It felt good. It felt safe. It wasn't something that we were running around getting money for or doing every days. We were in some people's eyes promiscuous. In my eyes, we were normal.
KRYou say "a war was on." How did that change your attitude? It seems, you seemto indicate in the way that you said that that there was a big -- it gave you a big -- it maybe shifted things in ways.
KRSo how did that, as far as your relationships with men, how did a war being onchange your attitude?
HGWe knew they'd probably be shipped out. We knew they'd probably would bekilled. Most of them were getting killed back then. We didn't know whether Hitler and the Japanese could take over our country. We didn't know what the results would be. We didn't know how it would go. It was Guadacanal rumors, not rumors, but we heard about all this stuff going on. We're down in Corpus Christi and then in Pensacola toward the end of the war. We were scared. We didn't talk about it. It was only in night in bed when the lights went out that you wrapped yourself up and thought, "Oh my god. How's this all going to end? Is it ever going to end?" It was a whole different feeling than if we had been at home working and, you know, maybe dating. It was just a different lifestyle and a different attitude. I'm not ashamed of anything I did during the war. I'm not ashamed I went into the mile high club. God, what a night that was! Totally illegal to be in the airplane. See, they didn't think that we as women should be in an airplane because if there was an emergency we wouldn't jump because we were women. That's the kind of thinking they did with us. We were not allowed in airplanes. And, you know, me sneaking off into a PBY with an officer was just "Oooh!" I went on the mail runs too in an SNJ with the chief who was flying that. It was a no-no. I put on a sailor hat and jumpers. Sneaked in, took a ride with him (laughs). We did that kind of stuff just because we wanted adventure. We were, you know, young enough to think if we could get away with it it would be kind of fun.
KRYou said you ended up in Pensacola?
HGTheta, my close friend and I were transferred to Pensacola. In general, theysaid we were troublemakers. I don't know where they got that idea (laughs).
KRWell, you've left some tantalizing hints out there as to where they may havegotten that idea.
HG(laughs). Theta was always the -- she hated wearing the uniforms on dates. Soshe would always go into town and put on her civilian clothes. That was a no-no. You know, the shore patrol would pick her up. She was prisoner at large during most of the war. That's in your own bunk, in your own barracks with a sign on the bottom of it. You weren't allowed out of the bunks, out of the barracks. That was strictly from uniform, her civilian clothes. She always said, "Well, they won't notice me,." Of course they did. They knew her very well. They kept arresting her (laughs).
KRI'm surprised that she didn't get kicked out.
HGOh, no. It wasn't that bad of a deal. You know, so she liked to wear civilianclothes in town. It wasn't that big of a deal.
KRWell, you know, prisoner at large.
HGYes, she was prisoner at large a lot. That meant she read through magazinesand ate Mars bars. That's my memory of Theta.
KRSo why were you considered a troublemaker?
HGIt was, had something to do with being transferred. I think the Navy chief hada lot to do with it. He allowed me to bid on and be transferred to the main hangar of the base where pilots checked in and stuff. They had a sea plane town and the communications officer didn't like the fact that I got out of the realm of in the communications station and went to the base and all that. I think it had something to do with that.
KRSo there was kind of like a power play going on between the two of them?
HGMmm-hmm. And I was caught in the middle. I think they were trying to get ridof Theta because she was always running around town in civilian clothes (laughs). And we were friends, so they lumped us together and sent us over to Pensacola.
KRMake you into somebody else's problem.
KRWhen did this happen?
HGAbout six months before the war ended.
KRHad you noticed a shift in the mood by this point in the -- because you weresaying before how the mood was in the country and the fear. Toward the end of the war did the mood shift?
HGMy memory of toward the end of the war was absolute horror of hearing thestories of the battles and of the men we were losing and we were getting word then of the Nazis and the holocaust and absolutely horrible stuff we couldn't believe. And VE Day came, it was in June. At VE Day we knew we lost a lot of men. I don't want to make a comparison because every man is important and every man his whole family is in grief over, And I understand that completely. But today if we hear five are dead we get all upset. We were hearing hundreds every day. It was just like a massacre of all our young boys. All our young men. It was just -- it was very difficult to be so safe and secure and be where we were and know what was going on out there. And know we were training them for it. That was not easy either. It got so you almost didn't want to meet anybody. You know? It just got that way. Anyway, in Pensacola we loved the beaches and we loved the work. It was easy. We loved the base. After VE Day then came more word of more battles and more stuff going on. Then, of course, the bomb. Whether that was right or wrong, I still don't know. I can't make peace with that for me. I know that the Japanese -- I lived in Japan for six months in '65 -- I know their personalities and I know they wouldn't give up. Iwo Jima -- did you watch that movie?
KRI didn't. But I know the stories of the battle and it's just devastating.
HGThey knew they were gone. They knew they were beat before it ever happened.And, you know, that was toward the end. Then when they dropped the bomb we were supposed to celebrate. It was hard.
KRDid you -- was this something you knew at the time that it was such adevastating thing, or is this just with hindsight that you're looking back and realizing --?
HGNo, we knew.
HGWe were working in communication and there was -- a false thing came throughon the teletype about a week before that they dropped it. It was quickly hush-hush and quieted down. Then a week later they did drop it. Both bombs. We knew that it was bad, real bad. I don't know whether we knew how bad. I don't know whether I knew how bad until I went over there and visited the site. I really don't. But when I went -- we went to Hiroshima. Of course it's all built up, it's a whole new town now. We went to the bell and rang it for peace. The Japanese are really -- I know they were barbaric during the war. I'm not minimizing that. But the regular -- they're just like us. They're human beings just the same. They have a marvelous culture and beliefs and a way of life. I love them, and I was taught -- I was terrified when we went to Japan in '65. I'm terrified over the round eyes. They're going to get me, because I was so brainwashed during the war.
KRSo even 20 years later it's still --
HGYes, yes. My husband got temporary assignment over there. He was an airlinepilot. He was assigned there for six months and we went with him. Until I was living there for awhile I was really, I told about it in my book -- I really -- they were having the student riots in the universities at that time. The hotel we were staying at, every morning at seven this group of people would gather. Well, I'm up there in the hotel room thinking, you know, that they're going to have a riot here. So I'd tell the kids, "Duck. Don't let them see your round eyes." They were getting ready for a sports car rally (laughs).
KRHad nothing to do with you.
HGBut that's where my brain was from the war. Crazy.
KRDid you meet your husband during the war?
KRIt was after --
HGI met him at the LA Airport.
KRWhen the war ended -- you mentioned, you said you got out illegally.
KRSo how did you get out so quickly?
HGOK. Remember we were the first ones in, and Theta was my dear friend. Thetawas from Shinson, West Virginia. She looked like Susan Heyward. Do you remember Susan Heyward? You're probably too young.
KRShe had red hair, right?
HGYes, darling. OK. that's what Theta looked like. I don't know whatannouncement she heard on the PA, but I was on the beach. Theta came down -- they called me Johnny during the war. She said, "Johnny, they just announced we're supposed to report to personnel tomorrow morning for discharge." I said, "Theta, you're out of your mind. They're not discharging it yet." This is the 24th -- like the 22nd or 23rd of August. And VJ Day was the 10th.
KRAnd you're supposed to be in for the duration plus sixth months -- at leastwhen you signed up that was the deal.
HGI didn't know that we were supposed to be in for the duration plus six months (laughs).
KRWell, maybe not for the first group of women, but at least you weren'tsupposed to be getting out 12 days after VJ Day.
HGNo, I didn't think so. But she said, "Well, we were the first ones in there.They're just going to let us out first." I said, "OK, if you say so." Well, we went over to personnel the next morning. The little sailor in personnel said, "No, we're not discharging WAVES yet." Theta said, batting her blue eyes at this poor little sailor, "Well, they said over the PA we're supposed to come in this morning and start the process and pick up our papers." Now the place is full of Navy chiefs, hash marks denoting time in service all the way up their arms. The old time Navy chiefs and us. Two little WAVES. (laughs) It was crazy! And the poor little sailor got out the papers and gave them to us and said, "OK. You start with" and gave us all the offices we were to report to. Every office we went in said, "What are you doing here? They're not discharging WAVES yet." And Theta would say, "Yes, see, we have this signed and we're supposed to be." We went through the whole process and when we got to the medical office, the Navy doctor in there said, "No way. I'm not even set up to discharge WAVES yet." And she said, "Well, we're being discharged. We have the papers signed." He said, "Come back in the morning and I'll do it." So we go back the next day. He examines us and finds out that we're still sound and OK, signs us off and we went through the whole process, ended up in personnel and this Navy ensign, WAVE, woman came roaring in, just fire shooting out of her eyes (laughs), saying, "What are you girls doing?!" "We're getting discharged." She said, "We aren't discharging WAVES yet. We aren't even close to discharging WAVES. How did you do this?" "Well, they told us to do --." She said, "Who told you?" "Well, Theta heard over the," you know, "Well, I heard it over the PA that we were supposed to report in." And she said, "You girls, you were troublemakers from the very beginning and you're still troublemakers!" And, you know, "You can't do this. Just sit down and wait here!" And we thought, "Oh, god!" A dishonorable discharge or something terrible is going to happen. She came back with a Navy officer and he is laughing like heck. I'd say hell, but for this (laughs). Anyhow, he's laughing and he said, "You know, you're talking to two civilians. They're out of the Navy. All we have to do is give them their money and they go." We got out. Everything was signed off. There was nothing they could do. They did ask us, "Please, leave quietly. You know, just don't talk to the press. Don't tell anybody anything. Just get on a train and go home." So we said, "OK, we'd love to."
KRSo you were ready to get out at this point. You didn't want to stick, youdidn't necessarily want to stick around.
HGOh, we wanted to go home. We had things to do and people to see and places togo (laughs). We had grew a lot in the Navy. We both grew away from our home towns. We wanted to come to California. We heard about California.
KRSo did the two of you come out here?
HGYes. Oh, that's another story. You have to read the book!
KRWell, part of the oral history process is the oral part. Telling the stories (laughs)!
HGIt's too long and involved. You'd be here for three weeks!
KRSo you ended up in California?
HGYes. We bummed a ride on an armored plane. Air Force. Illegally. They gave usthe little yellow -- ruptured ducks they called them. To put on our uniforms to signify we were out. We took them off and went to Dayton, Ohio together. Stayed in the Army barracks. There again, they don't ask for papers, they don't ask for anything. We don't have anything. Put us up for the night and put us on the first flight out. The furthest we could come west was Clovis, New Mexico. So we took it. We sat in the bubble of this B24 all the way cross country. It was terrific. When the pilot found out we were out and illegal, he was going to throw us off the airplane. We told if we crash, it won't make any difference. If we get there, we promise we won't tell anybody (laughs). So he said, "OK, fine." We got to Clovis and we took the train in. I won't tell you the details of that. There are a lot of stories.
KRWhy did you want to go to California?
HGBecause we heard about it. Oh, and Theta in the meantime had -- she's an(indecipherable) and I'm from New Jersey. We both went home for a few days. She decided we wanted to continue radio work and that was airports. So she decided to go to Washington, DC to find out about it. That would be Theta. You know, don't mess around, go to Washington. So the interview that she got in Washington, they told her, "We're not taking women in the civilian work anymore. Women are out now, so you don't have a chance." Well, Theta bats her blue eyes again and he said, "Well, there's only one guy who might and that's in California. His name is Capp. He's in Santa Monica. He likes women, so he might." So we come to California to see Capp. Capp at first took our applications and while we were walking out threw them in the wastebasket. They did not want women in that field after the war. I went to work for the employment office in Santa Monica, so I heard when they were hiring. And I went back over and said, "We're veterans. You have to hire us." So, to make a long story short, they hired us.
KRAt the Santa Monica Airport?
HGNo. We were stationed in Oakland.
KRBut working for the civil service or --?
HGYes, the CAA. The CAB now.
KRAnd did you both go up there? Both you and Theta?
HGYes. But her pilot guy returned from -- he was flying the hump in China and hereturned. They got married, so that was the end of Theta. She was out of my life. (laughs)
KRSo your instigator is gone?
KRSo you had to instigate for yourself.
HGThe funny part of that was years after the war Theta and I got together and Itold her how I felt that she was the one who got the men and, you know, I was just following in her little path. She was the one who attracted all of this. And she said, "I don't believe you thought that. Because that's what I thought about you. That you were the one that (indecipherable). That's what made our friendship so great, I think. We were each in awe of each other. And didn't know it.
KRThat's funny. That's really funny.
KRHow did you end up in Los Angeles. You said you met your husband at LAX?
KRHow did you meet there? Were you working there at the time?
HGOK. We went to Oakland and she left and then I got in a little trouble with amarried man (laughs) so I had to get out of there. I asked to be -- well, I transferred to Winslow, Arizona. That only lasted less than a year and I came back to LA begging to be transferred back. So, I came back to LA and that's when I met --
KRThat's when you met your husband?
KRAnd he's a pilot?
HGHe was an airline pilot.
KRHe worked in commercial airlines, correct?
KRI forgot about them. They haven't been around for a long time.
HGYes. I lost him in that crash in Mexico City.
KRYes, yes. How long were the two of your married.
HG30 years almost.
KRAnd how many kids did you have?
HGThree. Four. I always say a hundred. No, we had four children, three girls anda boy. That's why I said three, I was thinking about the girls. And, well, he died in that crash and then I found out he had been having an affair with a woman who I thought was my very good friend for five years before he died. And he was already dead and I couldn't kill him. Before that, I had worked through -- I was an alcoholic. I had recovered, or I was in recovery as they say.
KRI understand, it's a process.
HGThe phraseology is so important (laughs). Anyway, since then I've been just, Itravel a lot. I moved a lot.
KRDid you continue working when you married and had the kids, or did you comeout of the workforce at that point?
HGI came out with my first, after I had my first baby.
KRI would think with four kids it would be really hard.
HGWell, back in those days you take one look at that baby and think, "I can't goback to work. I have to have that baby."
KRI think a lot of women do that now too.
HGI'm not sure that's the right decision.
HGFor me, an alcoholic. See, I'm not sure -- I'm not blaming my alcoholism on mychildren. Don't misunderstand me. But I'm not sure it was the healthy thing for me to do.
KRStaying at home and not having the --
KRThat makes sense. Why did you decide you wanted to write the book?
HGWell, now that's another story. How much time do you want?
KROh, we're fine. This could go for 23 hours. I do have to get my flight.
HGWell, I've to go to bathroom if we go that long (laughs). I've had a lot ofcoffee! I mean, come on! Where were we now?
KRWhy you decided to write the book.
HGOh. My granddaughter married a guy by the name of Jeff and he's a historybuff. He lives in, he lived at that time in Arlington, outside of Washington. When he heard I was one of the first WAVES, he said, "Helen, you have to write a book." I said, "No way. I don't have enough discipline. I don't really want to." And he said, "Please, please. You've got to write down your experiences." I said, "OK, Jeff, what I will do is write you a letter and tell you about the Navy." So I hand wrote several yellow pages of a letter to Jeff, threw it in the drawer and forgot. That was in 1993. In 1980, I turned 80 and I decided I needed to be in a retirement community --
HGIn 19 -- in 2000, I'm sorry.
HGWell, my birthday is the same as the year. It's what gets me confused. Well,20 years difference. In 2000 --
KRYou turned 80.
HGI turned 80. And decided to go into a retirement community so I wouldn't be aburden to my children. I got into this retirement community and I'm telling you! I know a lot of people like retirement communities. More power to them. For me, it was the worst mistake of my life. They sit around talking about their damn blood sugar and sugar count and who had a stroke and what the ambulance was doing their last night and -- well, you know? (laughs) Boring! Anyway, I thought about the letter. "I know what I'm going to do!" I was bored. I got out my old electric typewriter and I thought I'll type up the stuff so they could read it. I begin to type on my typewriter and the typewriter breaks. Now, prior to this I'm anti-computer. Don't even say the word to me. That day, I call my son and I say, "Get me a computer and get me one right now." Of course, he had to come up and teach me how to turn it on (laughs), what to do with it and all. I got out the letter with the computer and that's what started it. One thing led to another. I highly recommend to anybody as they age to do it. You will be amazed at what your hard drive has up there. The stuff that I remembered -- as I typed and wrote about stuff, the more I remembered. The more I remembered, the more I typed, blah blah blah. And one thing led to another. I finished all the military stuff and decided the Depression should be included because it made us ready for the war. And I thought my early childhood in the '20s, the roaring '20s, was so dysfunctional it had to be told (laughs). And then, and then the rest of the story about my marriage and my alcoholism and the airline crash and the recovery, my recovery and my learning how to live life on life's terms and be at peace within, you know? I stay as active as possible. I think that's important. Every morning I try the crossword puzzle to see if my brain is up there. I think that's a necessary thing. Check you brain. I play around on the computer, just to keep, you know? And that's it.
KRA lot of the women I've spoken with have said this process, the tellingprocess has also been very helpful for them.
KRYes, and in helping them to remember, and helping them bring stuff back. Asthey start talking, they start thinking. And then they have more to talk about and that sort of thing, you know.
HGSee, talking with you this morning I'm skipping over a lot.
HGBecause if I start to go into detail about all this stuff, it's just too much.
KRWell be there for days. Which isn't a bad thing, except when I have totranscribe (laughs).
HGI'm glad you have to do it and not me (laughs). It's like the book. Therewouldn't be a book without Jeff.
KRDoing the editing and all that.
HGHe did all the graphic work. Everything about the book. And, you know, itsimply wouldn't be a book without him. And I know that. I will be forever indebted to him for that. Because god knows, without him I would have never gotten it out. You know, I could do the writing of it -- and you know, I look back now and wonder how I did that.
KRIt's kind of amazing when you get those sorts of things done and think, "Thatcame out of my brain?"
HGI know. I say, it's amazing. We're like a computer. Your hard drive is there.You know how things kick up your memory as you live.
KROh yeah, absolutely. Well, I should probably pause on this because I do haveto get my flight unfortunately (track ends).