Interview with Josette Wingo in her home in Oxnard, California 8/2/07.Interviewer: Kathleen Ryan
KRWe are recoding. OK. And like I say I'll probably glance over here once inawhile to see how things are going because every once in awhile it gets its own little mind. If you could start out, say and spell your first and last name. That's for my transcripts, so I know who I'm talking too.
JWOK. And I became a three name author because I became -- I became JosetteDermody Wingo because they put it on because the protagonist in the book is Josette Dermody (laughs). By that time I was Josette Wingo. I thought, "Oh good, I get to be" so it's J-O-S-E-T-T-E D-E-R-M-O-D-Y Wingo W-I-N-G-O.
KR And Dermody is the name you served under when you were in the WAVES. I want00:01:00to start before then, where did you grow up?
KRAnd what did your family do?
JWMy dad was an Irish cop. My mother was a housewife. She worked as an officeworker from time to time. It was during the Depression.
KRIt's luck that your father was working as a police officer because that's afairly secure job.
JWYes, except Detroit kept running out of money and they didn't pay him. Thekept giving people script --
KRInstead of an actual paycheck.
KRSo what did the family do?
JWLike everybody else. He had a fairly steady job so you could live on creditpretty much.
KRSo that helped. How many kids were in the family?
JWTwo. My brother and me.
KRJust you and your brother. And was your brother younger, older?
JWTwo years younger.
KROK. So you were the oldest in the family.00:02:00
JWOh yeah! Birth order.
KRSo what were your -- did your family, did you and your family have, were therethings you were going to do when you grew up or be when you grew up?
JW I was not going to work in an office. I was not going to be a nun. All thesisters wanted me to be a nun (laughs). I wasn't sure what I was going to be after that.
KRWhy not a nun?
JWSeemed like the end of the road for life. When I was growing up, thesubculture I grew up in the only thing girls could be was a mother with a dozen kids and probably a drunken husband, at least that's how it looked to me, a teacher, a nurse or a nun. That was it. 00:03:00
KRAnd you mentioned office work, probably doing some menial sort of office laborwas another possibility?
KRThere weren't -- I know there weren't a lot of choices. Did you think aboutgoing to college or something like that?
JWOh, yes, but I came from the kind of family who couldn't afford it. And itwasn't in their, in wasn't in their psyche. They got their kids through high school and that was very good what they had done. I really wanted to go to college, but --
KRBut there just wasn't going to be the opportunity to do it. When you hadgraduated from high school, if you can just refresh my memory from the book -- when you graduated had World War II started?
JWI graduated in '41. Sort of, it was starting.00:04:00
KRYou knew stuff was going on in Europe, but Pearl Harbor hadn't happened yet.
KRSo what did you do after you graduated?
JWWell I got a job in an insurance office filing. That was exciting. A real peakopportunity. But then I had a lot of trouble with my back. So I ended up for two years with what they called a bradford frame to get my back straightened out. So I had a kind of hiatus in there.
KRSo this was from 1941 to '43, something like that?
KRWas this like scoliosis?:
KRThey had to do something to help you straighten it?
KRNow were you serious -- you spoke about avoiding office work -- were youserious about the job as a good opportunity? 00:05:00
JWNo no no. I was being ironic.
KRI thought so, but I just wanted to make sure I was reading you right.
JWOf course, it didn't help that my back was hurting. So anyway, but that waswhy I failed all my office tests in the Navy.
JWYes. Yes. They couldn't make me type if I couldn't spell. They couldn't makeme type if I couldn't alphabetize. (laughs)
KRDid you ever worry that that would backfire on you and they would say, "Well,we can't use you at all?"
JWOh yes. I was worried that they were going to count the buttons off my uniformand play the drums backwards and do the whole thing (laughs).
KRWhat were -- did you, were you able to do any sort of work while you had the00:06:00brace on or was it just staying home recuperating, that sort of thing?
JWWell, the deal was my mother went to work and I did the housework. So theywere very good about it, you know. It was home health care, but my dad built me a frame because I was lying on my back like this. He built me a frame that would hold books so I could read (laughs). I read all of Mark Twain.
KRSo there are advantages.
KRMaking the best out of a difficult situation. Did you want to do something atthis point? Because at this point the bombings happened at Pearl Harbor and there's beginning to be this push. Did you want to do something at this point or did you, were you content to be at home.
JWOh, no. But, you know, I don't know what I was going to do?00:07:00
KRSo how did you hear about the WAVES?
JW(laughs) Have you seen the WAVES propaganda?
KRI've seen some of it.
JWIt was everywhere. They did a really great job convincing the parents ofAmerica to let their daughters go.
KRSo did you see -- one of the ones we're looking at is the one with the women-- I'm just describing it so people will know -- the women in the white. I think actually you talked about this one in your book.
JWI know. "Don't miss your great opportunity."
KRWhat is is about this -- this piece -- because this was a poster wasn't it?
JWIt was a poster, yes.
KRWhat was about it that was so appealing to you?
JWYou could get to New York. You could travel. I've got some more of these somewhere.00:08:00
KRIf you look at them, they look, they're very sharp appealing looking young women.
JWOh, yes. Confident. Ready to go.
KRAnd so you saw stuff like this?
JWOh, you couldn't go down the street without seeing it. It was all over. Theyreally blanketed the country to recruit.
KRYou were saying they had to convince parents.
KRWhy would they have to convince them>
JWTo let their daughters go? There are some wonderful posters, one is of amotherly looking lately in a Hubbard -- you know the aprons people had? And the daughter says, "He'll be home sooner, Mother." Really, you know, one was after another. Another one about we're on the same team, that stuff. 00:09:00
KRIt was something unusual for women to do?
JWIt was impossible. You, you know the WAVES I think were the last one to letwomen in. The admirals were having hissy fits everyplace. "What?! Women in my Navy?!" Oh, god. And,. but there was such a manpower shortage.
KRAnd it's kind of ironic because there were the yeomanettes in World War I whowere in the Navy. It was kind of ironic that they didn't want to let them in.
JWBut Americans are so ahistorical They didn't really go in in the sense that wewent in. We were serving on bases and everything. These ladies were in, like, telephone offices in New York City and weren't far from home. 00:10:00
KRWhat did you parents think when you told them you were going to do this?
JWHa! That's another whole chapter of the book that I left out. Most of myfriends -- you had to be 20 to go in. Your brothers could go in at 18. And so I had a lot of friends that spent their 19th year trying to persuade the old man to sign for you.
KRHow about you? Did you have to spend the year trying to persuade your dad tosign for you?
JWOh, yes. "What about Rosie O'Donnell's father letting her join the Marines andyou don't mean to say the O'Donnells have more moxie than the Demodys!" It was a campaign.
KRDid he -- but he finally -- was there anything in particular that made himbreak down and say it was OK to go.
JWNo, I just -- I was the kid they didn't know what to do with. My mother was00:11:00very sweet. She said, "I never got a chance to do anything" so - the whole thing was if you were going to have any kind of adventure or anything, have it before you marry and settle down because that was it.
KRMarriage was kind of the end of the road? You didn't do anything excitingafter you got married?
JWWell, it depended upon who you married, and all that stuff. But your autonomywas gone, such as it was.
KRYou signed -- were you ever worried your problems with your back might preventyou from serving?
JWWell, one of the things they did (laughs) was I figured it would be a test tosee if I was going to be alright and be able to have children or anything. The doctor said I would probably be OK. But I got terribly spoiled, because I didn't 00:12:00do anything. "Pick up that postcard for me!" I thought I better go ahead an do something. The doctor, bless his heart, said, "When you go for your physical, don't mention the word 'back.'" (laughs) So that's another reason I was afraid they were going to find out about me.
KRWhy the WAVES? Why not one of the other branches of service. Because therewere choices.
JWRight. And everybody -- we try to say at this age that it was patriotism andthen we can feel like decking somebody who says, "Oh, I joined the WAVES because they had the prettiest uniforms!" WE were after all, kids.
KRYou know, a lot of the women mentioned that to me though.
KRAnd not only the uniform, but that you could wear your own underwearunderneath the uniform.
JWYes, the WAACs has a terrible time of that underwear stuff. But, I don't knowwho it was, it was one of the admiral's wives who told Mainbocher, "Let's give the girls some glad rags." And so the made this really, nicer clothes than any of these kid growing up in the Depression had had.
KROh, it's a designer.
JWDesigner, beautiful wool, tailored to fit.
KRSo that was kind of the deciding factor for you?
JWWell, I grew up in Detroit. And Detroit is on the river. There are a lot ofboats and a lot of ships. We were Depression kids, but various people had uncles who had boats and they would take you sailing and stuff. I read every book about sailing there was. Sea Here, Mr. Boditch and All Sails Set and all that stuff. 00:14:00It seems if I was going to be doing something adventurous, it might as well be something with the sea. I still love being by the water.
KRYou live close enough that we're hearing the breezes. So you got sent toHunter. You got accepted.
JWYes. I think my poor parents thought maybe I wouldn't pass the physical and Icame home all signed in. But by that time they had made their peace with it.
KRAnd so you ended up going to Hunter.
KRWas at this point when you were pretending not to spell and type and whatever.
JWWell, they gave us all these aptitude tests. To see what -- they were doing arough sort of what they were going to do with people. Some of the stories are very funny. There's one whole class of high school kids who joined together from 00:15:00West Podunk, not West Podunk, West Williamsburg, Wisconsin or something like that where they had graduated from high school with home economics and all the usual things. The Navy tests came up that by the grace of god they all had exceptional mechanical ability so they sent them all to aircraft mechanic's school (laughs). So nobody would write in her yearbook "I want to be an aircraft mechanic."
KRNo that's not typical. Did you have something you wanted to do? Because youhad to have known the jobs, right?
JWOh, yes. I wasn't -- well I didn't want any typing job because I didn't wantto spend the war in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That wasn't so smart. I had a friend 00:16:00who ended up as the admiral's yeoman in Washington. But I wouldn't have been very good at it anyway. I wasn't big enough to be a parachute rigger.
KRYou had to be?
JWFive foot seven.
JWWell, I thought that would be exciting because parachute riggers had to jump.And I thought, "Well, that will be exciting." So I couldn't do that. Then I couldn't be a cook because you had to be five foot eight, I think, because the coffee pots were like this and you had to get up there to clean it. All kinds of crazy regulations like that. My math ability was absolutely nonexistent. 00:17:00
JWYes. I wasn't good with numbers. So it ended up that everybody went this wayand that way. Went to storekeeper's school or went to, some people went over payroll people. Other people were master at arms which was being a housemother. So they didn't know what to do with me (laughs). That's not quite true. They sent me to gunnery school and it turns out most of the people in my gun crew had been teachers or were going to be teachers because we had to teach sailors how to do stuff. The thing that was unusual about it is we weren't teaching girls, 00:18:00we were teaching guys.
KRI think that would be considered one of the more desirable positions becauseyou're working with men. Is that a fair guess?
JWWell, I'm not sure. It was desirable to me. My father was a cop and it wasinteresting to be able to shoot. These things are all piled up, one thing on another.
KRHad you ever shot a gun before you went into the WAVES?
JWMmm-mmm. So anyway, they piled us, we went to Great Lakes. We went to gunneryschool because they said we had to be able to face down the sailors. "We don't need girls who've never even fired a shot." So they, you know, being in the 00:19:00gunnery thing was hard work. It was hard work because the guns were so big. You had to break them down and put the back together again and all that. They were always laughing. "It takes two of you to carry what one guy can carry!" Then I went to California.
KRWhat did your folks thing when they found out that was going to be your assignment?
JWI don't they thought anything about it. When I brought my husband home, myabout-to-be-husband home from college the relatives all said, "Let's see what Josette is bringing home now!" (laughs) His name was Wingo, I guess they thought, by that time.
KRSo your family just sort of expected the unexpected or the unusual from you?00:20:00Did you go home to see them on leave before you went to California?
KRWhat was their reaction when they saw you, was this the first time they hadseen you in the uniform? What did they think at that point?
JWBy that time everybody had had a kid in uniform. It was -- among theneighbors. Did you grow up in a parish?
JWOK. The parish was keeping track of people (laughs).
KRConstantly reading it at Sunday mass?
JWYes. The monsignor was making a big fuss about women leaving for the serviceand I was saying, "Hasn't he ever heard of Joan of Arc?" (laughs)
KRSo the monsignor didn't think it was a good idea?
JWHe was the holy terror of my childhood. Giving out report cards and all that00:21:00sort of stuff. And then I came back after I had been in the service for a year and I looked at him and I said, "He's a little guy. Why was I ever afraid of him?" (laughs) So you see, they WAVES does change you.
KRSo you sent to California?
KRAnd you went to Treasure Island?
KRMy mom was a pharmacist's mate there.
KRSo tell me what that was like? What were your living quarters like in San Francisco?
JWThey had WAVES, by the time we got there they had WAVES barracks on TreasureIsland. We were in WAVES barracks, but the thing that was interesting about us 00:22:00was the gun crews, the armed guard center was way down at the end of island where women didn't go. So, we ended up with liberty every night because we couldn't stand watch with the guys in the gun crew. Otherwise, we were just doing the -- we had the cubicle with four bunks and two desks, lockers. You know, they standard -- I'm trying to say, I fall into Navy jokes. We called the blankets the admiral so you could write home and say, "I was sleeping with my admiral" (laughs). And so, you know, there was a lounge upstairs with no men 00:23:00allowed. And a phone, I think one phone in the hallway, which meant you had to train your roommates to take your messages. "Tell Ronald I'm dying of pneumonia and tell my mom I'll call her back next Tuesday (laughs) and tell Gerald I'm" -- you don't want to sound too eager. "Oh, it's you Gerald! Yes da da da da da." You get your roommates -- it's, everybody talks about all the camaraderie so in one sense we were particularly not exactly careful, but close to each other. We made a circle around where they guys would not wear us down.
KRWere the women that you were living with were they also gunnery instructors?
JWNo no no. They were, you know, the people that worked the ad building and the00:24:00people in psychiatry. Everybody but the officers. And pharmacist's mates. Although pharmacist's may have been at the bunker in the hospital. I'm not sure.
KRI don't know. She never talked about where she lived when she was there. Didyou find most of the people you socialized with were gunnery mates or did you socialize with people from all different areas?
JWWell, mostly we stuck together because, you know -- let me see, there wereprobably 30 of us. And depending upon your duty hours and that sort of stuff -- then since our work was with the guys, it wasn't with the gals as much -- although it wasn't exclusive particularly. It was just the way the work went.
KRI know also, often you'll hang out with people who -- you're with them at work00:25:00and so you kind of socialize with them afterwards.
JWRight. So I don't remember. Really when my book came out, I met a lady, awoman who was working with sailors. And she said, "Why I was in the Navy for two years and I never saw a sailor. I was underground breaking code."
JWIt's probably an exaggeration, but there were all kinds of people who had allkinds of jobs. It was amazing what -- they were going to have them typing and handing out paychecks, but boy they were doing everything. They were running, I had one friend who was an air tower communicator. Then all my friends -- I belong to two WAVE groups here. The WAVE friends, four or five of them were 00:26:00aircraft mechanics and they worked on repairing airplanes. They'd pull the motors out and put them back in. Then the captain would make them go up (laughs). And it was really funny. Because have you seen the Camarillo Airport Museum? Well one time we had a meeting. We were talking with the guys about restoring planes. And so the WAVES went over. We were sitting around and talking to them. The old guys knew how to do it, but the young guys were doing it with a manual. The WAVES knew how to do it. They still remembered how to get the planes in and out and all that.
KRI'm sure it just became so ingrained in your memory, you trigger it and itcomes back instantaneously. What about your job? Tell me what your job was like?
JWWell, it was a kind of early audio visual arcade. They did a pretty good job00:27:00of using the state of the art audio visual stuff at the time to teach people. Because they took all these people out of the farms and out of the factories and stuff and taught them all these different jobs. So, they had these anti-aircraft guns. They were oral-cons (sp?). They were bolted to the floor in long rows. They had on them where the gun sight would be they had a movie of airplanes coming at you. Psssseeew. Not where the gun sight would be because the plane had a gun sight. I mean the machine had a gun sight. They had just brought in a new 00:28:00and improved gun sight so we had to teach the guys how to, you know -- it was teaching them but it was more practice. Because we didn't have the big guns and the big ships had by that time -- I'm trying to think of the works. The things that precess? Anyway, the fancier gun sights which you could set different things. These were just rings and the guys had to learn to cap, you know? If a plane was coming in they had to recognize it and remember how fast it was going and the angle and then shoot at it with the gun. Shoot at the movie. They'd get "ding ding ding" if they got a red one and would get the card. Then they'd get a rating. 00:29:00
KRHow many men did you work with at one time? Was it one on one training, or wasit a group of them?
JWWell, it was a whole classroom.
KRAnd there would be one of you?
JWOne per gun.
KR One instructor per gun.
JWYes. See, they had shoulder things and we'd strap the guy in so he could movearound and everything then we were telling them, "English! English! Move 'em! Lead 'em!" we were yelling them.
KRWhat does English mean?
JWLike in tennis or something? They're all, you have to use your body. You learnto do these things. We would come in in the morning. We all had somebody: husbands, boyfriends, brothers, lovers in the war. And we would come in in the 00:30:00morning. Load up our our guns. The coffee kid, the youngest one was always making us coffee. Which terrible. They heated it with a blowtorch. Then we would read the paper and try to figure out what the hell was going on and where Jerry was and so on and so forth. It was totally schizophrenic when we caught onto it because the newspapers were full of good news. "The Seventh Army is advancing in Gerdenkruten" you know, "They've made a stand yesterday" but nevertheless, the sailors would get the Armed Forces radio. I have to tell you our sailors were in 00:31:00and out all the time. Because I was in armed guard. Armed guard were the people who were stationed on the freighters and the tankers and stuff. So they would go to Hawaii or they would go to Eulithea (sp?) or something and load and unload and reload. And then they would come back. So they were in and out all the time. The radio men would get the Armed Forces stories which were probably full of the same type of propaganda but usually the opposite because the psychology was to comfort and encourage the home folks but to make guys mad enough to fight. OK?
KROK. So you're getting more of not necessarily the reality about the war butthe more negative stories about the war.
JWWell, it was the reality if we knew people, if we -- we heard about themassacre at Malmadie (sp?) before they released it, about that stuff. And then 00:32:00the guys would clump in -- sorry.
KRNo, I'm just getting a buzz. It was the angle was all.
JWThe guys would clump in and the petty officer in charge of them would makethem stand there and listen to the WAVE who was going to give them the lesson or whatever we were going to do. Then we always had the thing that somebody had gotten the short straw and that was his day to make the WAVES cry, so (laughs). That was a joke. I mean, it was -- I met a sailor -- I met all kinds of sailors after I was going around talking about the book. And he said, "Oh, I was on Treasure Island. I made a WAVE cry once." And I said, "Oh, I remember you. You're in the book." (laughs). 00:33:00
KRIt was just because they didn't want to do the work or because they were beinggrumpy and mean --
JWThey were just kids. They were like, in one sense we were like their kidsisters. So we were just -- it was called giving somebody a hard time. Got to be an art form (laughs).
KRDid you ever feel any of the guys resented you or didn't want to be learningfrom you?
KRSo how did you deal with that?
KRAnd that was effective?
JWWell, what could they do? (laughs) And then, you know, we were girls. Andthere are ways -- and ways. We would tell the beautiful girl, our leader, who was the most popular girl in town, not to talk to somebody (laughs). And then we 00:34:00had the, we had the officer who -- god, I forgot his name, but half the time I made up people's names anyway -- who was a lieutenant and he hated the WAVES. He hated having a command full of women. And he was -- all the guys were desperate to get into action. That was a different war. They were desperate to get into action and they were desperate to get another promotion. He was afraid he was going to have a breakdown of crying women that would ruin his career, his command. It was awful. (laughs) So he took what revenge he could and we took what revenge we could and there -- he took. He was sweet on Mary but Mary wouldn't talk to him because he wasn't nice to us.
KRThat was your revenge.00:35:00
KRSo what was his revenge? What would he do to you guys?
JWOh, well, he would cancel leaves and things like that. But the best guy thatwe dealt with was the chief. He was the one -- chiefs have a (indecipherable) type as you've noticed. (laughs) He was a great big guy, regal guy. He probably would have been retired but he came back for the war. He was wonderful to us. He had one rule: the sailor shouldn't use bad language around ladies. So we had this thing because the sailors would swear. The chief would say, "No bad language! We're going to take your names!" We had devised a face for the man, 00:36:00you know. And we'd put on our innocent faces and we'd say, "Bad language? Bad language? Did you hear anything???" (laughs) We didn't want the guys to go on report for something stupid like that.
KRWere there only women doing the training or were men doing the training too?Were men working as gunnery instructors as well?
JWNo in this section. I think they had been but they all went to sea. They werenot exactly happy to see us when we arrived.
KRBecause it meant going to sea.
JWYes. The motto was "release a man for active duty." And that was a shore job.
KRAnd some guys were eager to go but others not so much?
JWRight. Especially the young guys were. San Francisco was full of energy.00:37:00Energy of the young guys. They kept saying, "See any action yet? See any action yet?" But they wouldn't -- the reason now that I think about it and I heard from other people -- I learned a lot after I wrote the book because I kept talking to thousands of people -- they didn't let the wounded come to town. So we didn't see, we didn't see the ones that were in the hospital.
KRYes. I've talked to a couple of women who had the hospital duty, seeing guyscoming back either injured or emotionally shocked because they had seen their buddies die. One woman said, "I had a completely different military experience than anyone I've talked to," because of that. 00:38:00
KRShe was seeing things that other people didn't see.
JWThat's right. Because unless you knew somebody who was in the hospital, youwouldn't hear about it. Except that I had big ears and I heard a lot. It was terrible. They wouldn't let wheelchairs around or anything. That gives you the picture -- we still have this idea that this was a "good war" quote. There's no such thing as a good war. But we don't have the picture of the streetful of, you know, the armless, the legless, the blind and the insane that come back from war.
KRDo you think that's just -- do you think that's because there were not thatmany people who came back in that condition who survived? Do you think the casualty rate was higher or do you think it was because -- because you think 00:39:00about Vietnam and you certain saw all those people come back. And you're seeing those people come back now from this current battle.
JWWell, things were much more controlled in World War II. No, it was just that-- I saw the other day, I've been on this big kick about the Veteran's Hospital and fussing at the VA, which is another story. They were saying, for one who died, I mean for one who -- I'm trying to think who the name was. Anyway, the ratio was 14 to one. Fourteen people died for every one who was injured. And in this one, in this war because of the medical care it's three or four to one. Something like that. But, yes, the hospitals were -- I have a, I have a couple 00:40:00of friends. I have a friend who was a nurse on Guadacanal with the Marines. Then when she got back she was at the hospital doing rehab at Okinawa, I guess. There was an Army hospital there. The guys were doing their best. They were having wheelchair basketball games and stuff like that, but still, it was enough to break your heart.
KROh, yes. Talking with this one woman, I could -- she said it was a completelyexperience because she saw so much of that. Or guys who weren't necessarily hurt but they needed to talk because they were so emotionally scrambled that they needed somebody to talk to after seeing the things they had seen.
JWWell and the WAVES, even our WAVES acted as sounding boards for these guys00:41:00when they got a Dear John letter and stuff. But we used to see the hospital ships coming in. We saw the ships all torn up with the kamakazis. It looked like a can opener had taken the flight deck.
KROh my goodness.
KRIt's amazing to think the ship would come back, that it wouldn't sink aftersomething like that happened to it.
JWAmazing, isn't it? But we're talking about the "can do Navy" and that sort ofthing -- we did lose, well they brought the Franklin back. They lost early the first Lex. But they do fantastic things with saving ships. Look what the girls 00:42:00did with the USS Cole. They saved that ship. These are 19-year-old girls that -- a totally different generation. That's another thing that's sort of -- the difference the WAVES made. It made you sort of -- I guess "can do" is the word, but whatever happens you can deal with it.
KRLike you can adjust a little bit better, or cope a little bit better?
JWNo. It's just that your expectations are different. You just turn to whateverhas to be done.
KRAnd you think that came from the military rather than something inside of --
JWWell, they get a certain personality type that goes into the military anyway.
KRWhy did you decide to write the book?
JWBecause in the first place my husband is, is a professor, an academic. Was.00:43:00And then when, I had read all of these seafaring books (laughs) I can still name Where the Force will Go or The Clipper Ship. My life as an addict. It was, it was so dumb because everybody kept telling stories but it was just as if what the women had done in the war was just erased from history. Like one of those early ads for deodorant soap, wiping off the blackboard. Then the people were beginning to, women were beginning to do things. The reporters would say, "Isn't it marvelous! The first women to do so and so!" And I would say, I kept getting 00:44:00so sick of it. I kept saying, "We were doing that in World War II" but nobody knows about it. So then I decided, that's where the title comes from, because my kids kept saying, "Nobody believes my mother is a gunner's mate" (laughs). And so, and then I started, then we did a biblio search. There were a couple of books about women in the Navy. Joy Bright Hancock and a couple of others. Most of whom were admiral's daughters and stuff and the officers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, and we did a pretty good search. Because there wasn't a word mentioned. And so, that sort of intrigued me. So my motto is, "Write women back into 00:45:00history." I wanted, when I wrote the book I decided A. I wasn't going to publish it myself. Because in those days, self published books didn't go into the library. I wanted to write a book about what it was like for women. And what it was like going practically straight from parochial school into a man's world. And trying to cope. So then I started to write it. We lived in Washington then. I went tootling around to the Navy Yard. It was a different world. "I'm writing a book about the WAVES in World War II!" "Oh, how can I help you?" You know? But 00:46:00it took me -- then I had a long time getting it published. People said, "Who wants to read about World War II?" and "who wants to read about women?" Times changed. I ran into Jean somebody or the other who is a historian from Annapolis. We ran into each other at Norfolk. They were coping with Tailhook. She said, "Send it out again, Josette. Times have changed." So I did.
KRAnd it got published.
JWIt got published by the Navy.
KROne of the things I thought that, that I found interesting about the book, alook of things you went into that didn't -- you don't really see in other 00:47:00places, other research that I've seen. I know from reading, I told you I had gone to see, I had read Mildred McAfee's oral history up a Columbia. And I'm going to Radcliffe in a couple of weeks and will actually be able to listen to her talk.
JWThe Navy Historical Society hasn't been able to find it.
KRIt's in Columbia's Oral History office.
JWI know. I had a long discussion with the lady there. I've seen it. I sat inthe archive, in the not the archive but the Navy and I read it. I practically memorized it. So she said she looked around. I said maybe it's at Radcliffe.
KRIt's at Radcliffe. Because they asked me to you want to read the copy orlisten to the tapes, and I said I wanted to listen to the tapes. Because I've read the transcript. I want to hear her. 00:48:00
JWOh, I think that really made them -- I was having so much fun doing all thisresearch, because I wanted people to know what the time was and what the girls are like. 'Cause we weren't that different from our brothers. Working class kids mostly, you know. A certain amount of American chutzpah and the cookiness. You could tell the sailors from the Marines. And you could tell - as recruits -- and you could tell them from the Army. Because even though the services sorted people out, the personalities sorted in the way -- and the sailors are much larkier. They're given to things like -- I remember when they brought a whole 00:49:00bunch of refugees from somewhere and they had this great big banner up. Not "mission accomplished" it said, "If we had known you were coming, we'd have baked a cake" (laughs). I mean, that's one of the things I love about the Navy.
KROne of the things that was interesting about her, her oral history, I knowthey were very concerned with some of those Navy assumptions. Like the guys are going to go into port and a girl in every port, that sort of thing. But they were also worried about some of the rumors that were going around about the WAC and the rumor campaign about the WAC and lesbianism and everything. And yours is one of the few books that I've seen as happening -- not necessarily being accepted -- but as happening in th Navy.
JWOh, yes. Well, that's the way it was. And I thought, I don't dare -- I was, Ihad my story about what happened, but I was trying to fill in the background 00:50:00about what it was like in the '40s. And I said, "It would be so corny if I made somebody get pregnant." Then I thought back to these gals that were such good friends. And I was so dumb! "I wish I had a good friend like that!" (laughs)
KRNot realizing that they were more than friends.
JWWell, my friends thought I was really stupid. They kept saying, "What did theyteach you at that school you went to?" So I tried to find out more about it. They said, "If you have to ask, you're not old enough to know!" So there were still all these kinds of taboos around it. But, as I say, I set out to write what it was like. It wasn't War and Peace or anything.
KRWere there, did girls get pregnant. Do you remember anyone leaving because she00:51:00got pregnant at that time.
JWI have a -- yes. But not anybody I knew. But I have a friend who was anofficer. She's Lieutenant Kaufman in the book. A wonderful friend. She did her master's thesis when she got out. It's not true that people weren't writing about women but it wasn't published, so people didn't know about it. She would get the pregnant girls and so I remember one of them, this gal got a discharge. Her friends said to Dorothy, "You don't think she's going to have that baby, do you?" So, you know.
KRThese acknowledgment that something else, illegal activities might be going on.00:52:00
JWOh yes, right. Here I was, and really in those days particularly the nuns,they liked to keep -- of course, they didn't know anything because they went into the convent at 16. In Ireland yet, and out of a village. But the, we liked to keep our girls dumb. They called it innocence. So here we were moving into this world.
KRBut you were also moving into a world where other women might not have been so innocent.
KRSo how was that for you as an adjustment.
JWI said, "I think other people are having all the fun!" (laughs) We were -- if00:53:00you look at the book and somebody else pointed it out. This was before the pill and we were all terrified of getting pregnant.
KRSo you stayed safe rather than trying to --
JWYes, and that's partly for the humor. One thing you learn in a Catholic schoolis to deflect people with a joke. It becomes second nature. Everybody used to drive me nuts because they thought I was nuts. Somebody'd say, "Oh, I want to have a baby by you" and you'd get some little quip back instead of "piss off, brother."
KRDid you meet your husband in the military?
JWNo. He was in the Air Force. And he was in, I forget, one of those stations up00:54:00there. Victorville. He and I probably passed each other in the streets of San Francisco because we had all this wonderful leave and stuff. I said, "I probably am not going to marry a sailor." (laughs) I met him at college. I went to college on the GI Bill.
KRWhere did you go to school?
JWUniversity of Chicago.
KRSo you went to home but not exactly at home.
KRClose enough that you could go home on the weekends.
JWYes. But I didn't really. But I thought -- it seemed like, I didn't know verymuch about going to colleges. I had taken a correspondence course and all the teachers seemed to be from the University of Chicago. So when the war was over and they were trying to sort people out, I walked into Lieutenant Pasco's 00:55:00office. You know, there was always the thing between the good officers and the pains in the ass officers. But I said, "How do I go about getting into the University of Chicago?" And he said, "I suggest you send for an application." Gosh, when I think about what we went through to get our kids into college! So I sent for an application and they sent me the test and I was in before I knew what was happening.
KRWow. And that's one of the -- that's a powerhouse school.
JWYes. I didn't mess around. Lon graduated from there too.
KRWhat did you study?
JWPsychology and education. I worked with -- this is off the thing --
--Edited from transcript, per interviewee request--
KRIt's a school that has noted, noted communications scholars. So I'm veryfamiliar with the university.
JWOh, really? When I was there everybody had a German accent.00:56:00
KRThat's where a lot of them were from. A lot of them had done the escaping fromEurope and ended up in the United States. For some reason a group ended up there.
JWYes. Somebody says, called out Hutchinson and said, Hutchinson was thepresident of the university at the time, and said, "Oh, we've got this fantastic professor from the University of Turrigen" or something and Hutchinson said, "Does he have a German accent?"
KRWhy did you decide to go back to school when you were getting out?
JWBecause I wanted to go to college and all of a sudden they were handing methis gift.
KRMmm-hmm. And so your idea was -- what were you going to do afterwards then?
JWStart the baby boom.
KREven though you didn't have a husband?00:57:00
JWI mean that was the next step. To get married and --
KRSo you weren't anticipating going out into the workforce or anything likethat? You just wanted to get your degree so --
JWWe were four years late in our life. There was this big hole in our life. Mykids hated it because we had two sets of friends. One was a set from Chicago and the others were the -- I mean the ones who had been in Chicago were five years younger than we were because they went in at 15. And then there were the ones who were our age. And the children were all different ages. (laughs) They said, "It's so hard to know what to do!"
KRMy mom made it even worse because my sister was born right after the war and Iwas born in 1962. So we have the two generations within the family.
JWOh. Where did you grow up?
KRIn Los Angeles. San Pedro. That's where they all are, my sister is still downthere. How many kids did you have? 00:58:00
KRBoys or girls?
KRSo -- what were your goals for them? Were they different from say what yourparents' goals were for you and your brother?
JWWell, the goals were, of course the world was so changed at that time. Thegoals were for them to be themselves. You were supposed to raise kids to be free and so forth and so on.
KRDo you think that the Navy had any influence on that? Was that something elsethat came to that decision you came to?
JWIt came out of Chicago. I mean, we were in every anti-war parade in the VienamWar in Chicago -- I mean in Washington.
KRBecause that's where you ended up. Where did he end up teaching?00:59:00
JWWell, first he worked for the Ford Foundation in an outfit called Resourcesfor the Future. He was an economist and a planner. So we lived there for 16 years, with one year out. So, we were there through all of that. Through, I loved that poem from Stanley Kunitz and I used it for Lon's 70th birthday party. "I have lived many lives, some of them my own." (laughs) It was so wonderful because we were there through civil rights, we were there through Vietnam, we were there through the riots, we were there through all this stuff.
KRIt must have been really wonderful to witness all of these things first hand.They can be kind of scary in some circumstances, or dissettling, but also really 01:00:00really fascinating to see.
JWOh, yes. I taught black kids in the ghetto and that was learning about whatwas going on in the civil rights movement. Not learning about it. I was involved in it. And so all this stuff was going on. In those days, Washington, you could go downtown and walk into the capital. Walk around and admire the paintings.
KRYou couldn't do that now.
JWOh, god, you can't even get near anything!
KRDid you end up teaching?
JWYes. I went back to college when Laird was in kindergarten, I think.
KRAnd this is your youngest one?01:01:00
JWYes. Then I taught and I taught black kids because everyone was into thisblack and white kind of stuff and that was fun.
KRThen he went on also to teach? Your husband went on to -- he taught?
JWOh, yes. He taught -- well we went to Texas.
JWAnd I didn't like Texas. It was hot and it was provincial. Too much family.But anyway, and we had two little boys, And we needed to get out -- by that time he was a city planner and he was like 29 years old. There was nothing ahead of him except going to the office every day for 30 years and getting a gold watch. He didn't belong to that generation. We said, "How are we going to get out of here without breaking the hearts of the family who had their whole family together and all that stuff?" I said, "If I don't get out of here, I'm going to 01:02:00end up in an insane asylum." But that's just daughters-in-law, you know?
JWEspecially if it's in Texas. They kept, you know, beside the point. So hemanaged to get a fellowship to Harvard. He was in the, it was Lit Ar center (?), it's the John F. Kennedy Government Center. And then he, we went back to Washington, or went to Washington and we lived there, worked there at Resources for the Future. They were early environmentalists and stuff. When we left there he went to the University of Pennsylvania and then, then he came out here to USC. 01:03:00
KRSo two more good communication programs, another one is my Alma Mater.
KRI was at USC in the journalism program before I --
JWBefore you changed to communication?
KRNo, that's where I have my master's from. My master's is in broadcastjournalism. That's where I did my graduate work.
JWSo what is this one in?
KRCommunication and society. It's in the journalism school with the Universityof Oregon but it's a communication degree, not a journalism -- communication and society is the degree. I want to teach. I did broadcasting for 18 years or so, but I really want to teach. I want teach I the collegiate level. I don't have the patience to teach younger. I'd want to throttle them. I figure, I know that about myself going in, so I might as well -- 01:04:00
JWNo, that's OK. Everybody has their favorite age. I loved teaching 10 year olds.
KRThey're cute at that age.
JWYes, they're cute at that age and their mind, they're beginning to beintellectual. They're beginning to understand you can't walk to Africa. That kind of stuff, so you feel that there is some teaching going on. Besides, they were funny like the sailors. They're funny people.
KRIt's cute when their personalities begin to emerge. I just know I don't havethe patience to teach the younger ages. Besides, I want to teach journalism or broadcasting and that tends to be older, unless I want to do high school and that --
JWI'm not sure I could do that either. So anyway, getting back to the WAVES whatdo you ask me?
KRIs there anything you think needs to be added?01:05:00
JWYes. They don't call me the fastest opinion in the west for nothing. I thinkthe WAVES, and the women generally, but my WAVES are my expertise, are kind of the hinges of history.
KRWhat do you mean by that?
JWThey were there when the world changed. And they didn't cause it particularlybut it wouldn't have happened in the same way if the women hadn't have been there. They say, "Oh, the women have been forgotten blah blah blah." But I can remember when I first heard a woman commentator.
JWProbably on the radio. They wouldn't hire them because "people didn't likewomen's voices." All these things I've grown up with that aren't true.
KRBut you still see struggles today. Because half of Katie Couric's criticismhad nothing to do with her news judgement, it has to do with she changed her hair color, she's wearing too short of a skirt, those kinds of things. People are paying attention to it certainly.
JWRight. But nevertheless she's getting 10 million dollars a year which shewouldn't have before. You learn to put up with an awful lot of crap --
KRFor 10 million a year? Oh yes.
JWI mean generally. We, our own fathers used to make cracks about women drivers.It was conventional. And you didn't fight with him about it. You know? You just passed these things off and got used to it. That's another thing that got us through the Navy because you learned -- it was such a different world. Men and women learned to get along with each other in different ways. (laughs) As I say, 01:07:00we were the hinge. We grew up in this old world watching our mothers and our fathers and then our marriages were completely different. For instance, the father was the head of the house. And you had to get, if it was a serious decision he made it. But Mother picked the day to bring it up. Mother made his favorite meal. Mother got everything all organized so he feeling mellow and stuff. There were all these different ways that nobody bothers to do anymore, but they were kind of survival things. They were just the way the world went smoothly that way. 01:08:00
KRAnd it changed after the war? Even though, you think about that whole '50s-eraand it was almost a return to super-traditionalism.
JWYes, it was, but what happened? They didn't stay. The feminist movement poppedall over. It was as if it wasn't going, it wasn't fitting anymore.
KRIs there anything else you want to add?
JWI'll think of dozens of things when you go. I think it's an interesting thingbecause the way we communicated in the Navy, there were, there were a lot of -- 01:09:00I can understand why guys never get over their military experience. I don't mean the ones who were wounded and destroyed. Because the communication with each other was so one on one, you know.
KRYou were talking about almost forming a little circle around people, to me atleast indicates you've got a pretty tight group that's --
JWNo. It wasn't so much that. We were taking care of each other. I had aterrible temper. And we had a really stupid instructor who hated WAVES. WAVES and lezzies. And that's where I'm "What do you mean by lezzies" "Oh, shut up Josette." (laughs) It's a wonder they ever let me out. But we had to take this, 01:10:00his name was Motivating Joe and he was teaching us, people were supposed to be teaching us how to motivate sailors. And I can remember the blackboard and it had an S and an arrow and an R, and all that stuff. So he was really nasty. We bugged him so much that he didn't even notice it anymore. One day we had this homework, a mimeographed paper or something. One day I went to work, and I came remember why, and I hadn't finished it and I handed it in. He just exploded all over the place. And laid me out in lavender and all this kind of stuff. It was a 01:11:00big deal. I walked out just steaming and threw my homework into the trash. Mary grabbed me by the arm and said, "Josette!" She was our mother hen although she wasn't much older than us. "Josette, go and fish that out. You're not going to ruin your career now. And besides, if you act like such a baby and such and idiot, you're going to make it bad for the rest of us." That's what I mean by haloing each other. That day my Naval career didn't end, but it might have.
KRSo when you're saying about the communication, what's different about that?01:12:00What is the difference is in the communication that you feel was happening between people. You said that was so --
JWWell, you know, in that case, it was like pulling us back from falling off a curb.
KRBut you said that you understand why people didn't --
JWOh, the guys in the service.
KRYes, they weren't lionized, but have this golden glow about their military service.
JWIn the first place they were all young then. I don't know. One of my WAVEfriends was buried in her uniform. She said it was the happiest days of her life. Of course, she met her Marine, Charlie, and they spent the next 50 years together. That gives you a halo effect. It was something about coming into your autonomy, even with the stupid Navy and all their stupid rules. You know? 01:13:00
KRMaybe part of it is the growing up thing? And you're experiencing it together?
JWYes, and you're helping each other through it. I could have, you know, gone tomy 10th wedding anniversary if I had stayed back in Sacred Blood or wherever it was without ever knowing what a lesbian was (laughs). You know, that kind of thing. But also, there was a lot of knowledge about how to get things done that I'm amazed people don't know. Having a friend who doesn't have any friends and she's in -- all of her family has died. She's in a nursing home and she can't get out. I was giving Jennie advice. "You go down there, take yourself a notebook. Look official." And talk to, get the name of her doctor, get the name 01:14:00of her nurse, get the whole thing, in other words and then sit there and don't leave. Girls weren't taught that to kick butt and take names, because there was a certain deference pattern that you needed. You were expected to have.
KRThe being a lady thing?
KRYou weren't considered being a lady if you weren't -- behaving other than thatway you weren't being ladylike.
JWRight. And even if it didn't come down to ladyness, if it was an idiot like mymonsignor, you had the "face for the man." The black kids all have the "face for the man" to deal with white people the expression is. But by that time we weren't quite that innocent. We knew what we were doing. I think I have the 01:15:00story in the book about the uniforms and it was coming up to St. Patrick's day. Everybody was talking about how they could wear green, a green slip or something. I put on a, I guess we weren't wearing covereds. I didn't have a hat. I had a little tiny green hair bow. And I was down looking for my pay and went across a quarter deck. The master at arms, who didn't like WAVES, was chasing me and I got on the stairway and he couldn't touch me. There were all kinds of ways of learning about rules. (laughs) Because it was out of his domain. And I was 01:16:00just toodling up the stairs and some lieutenant, some middle aged, it looked like a middle aged dentist who had been drafted to to dental work or something. A perfectly innocent looking man. But he said, "Young lady, you're out of uniform!" They made fusses about things like that. And I said, I just looked at him, "No sir. It's St. Patrick's Day. The skipper is Irish and this is the uniform of the day" (laughs). And then I scooted upstairs. So, you know, the way you got along was, you learned when to push it.
KRWorking on your wits.01:17:00
JWYes. It was fun. I kept telling the girls about it. I said, "I bet the onlywater he saw was in his bathtub!" (laughs) But, anyway, then there was another thing too. I started to tell you about the chief. The chief never gave us a hard time. He was wonderful because he treated us like everybody else. Like we weren't girls. We were sailors. Just do your job and then, you know, and everything will take care of itself. Of course, we used to think we were probably driving him to drink. We go running up and say, "Where's my leave papers?" "Dermody, you know you're not due for leave!" "But chief, I'm getting 01:18:00so sick of this place I need a leave." He'd say, "Oh, one of these days we're going to send you home for good" and all that kind of stuff. But one time, one time we went on an illegal -- it's in the book, I think -- and illegal thing about the Russian ship that invited us. We shouldn't have been there. The chief never said a word.
KRHe found out about it?
JWWell, everybody know everything that's going on, you know. He never said aword. Didn't tell that nasty -- see, I've forgotten names. Put it all behind me. That lieutenant. But anyway, there was a lot of learning to do your job. Just do it. And O-J-T -- all these Navy terms. On the job training. (laughs) They kept dropping you into places and it was O-J-T. 01:19:00
KRYou just had to cope. It's the sink or swim mentality.
JWBut that's the way your buddies would pull you out. We used to watch thesailors. We had these cattle cars which were like vans with an open door. They had a pull and the door on this side. An open door on this side and on this side. They would pick up the sailors at the edge of Treasure Island at the entrance or they would bring them home -- they would pick them up at the bus station. These guys were hammered. They were really drunks. Of course, some of 01:20:00these guys were just kids and it didn't take them much to get that drunk. They were really drunk. It was marvelous just watching how they'd take care of each other. Somebody would be swinging on the pole and somebody would gather them in. Little Mexican kids are like that. Have you seen it?
KRMmm-hmm. To a degree, taking care of each other.
JWThe baby starts to fall off of the - and the four-year-old brother sticks hisarm out like that. It was cute. So there was that kind of thing. There was always somebody watching your back. We weren't in that much danger.
KRIt was also at that time in San Francisco there were so many military peoplethere. I'm sure that you had people -- you almost didn't even stand out at that point. You were almost constantly within your own to a degree. 01:21:00
JWYes. But in San Francisco, everybody was wonderful to us. They gave us freestraw -- free streetcar rides and everything because we were in uniform. And that was nice too. We were there when the United Nations was starting. By that time they had gotten used to us. They sent some back, they had this big stage in the Opera House. The honor guard was soldier, WAC, Marine, woman Marine, sailor, WAVE, etcetera, etcetera. By that time, technically, we were part of the whole thing and that made you feel so good.
KRDid you want to -- were you ready to leave by the time it ended?01:22:00
KRYes? Even though you were enjoying yourself, learning things, it was time tomove on -- you didn't want to stay in the Navy.
JWNoooo. I wanted to go to college. I had a single minded thing. Besides, Ididn't have a rating or a training that the Navy would have wanted. There was just this enormous big parachute -- millions of of people and they were squeezing it down like that.
KRI know some of the women who did stay in were definitely in the yeoman orstorekeeper ranks or the more administrative positions.
JWYes. They didn't need any more anti-aircraft gunners (laughs). Uht-uht-uht-uht-uht.
KRWell, be prepared.01:23:00
JWThe sailors would see the G on our shoulder and go uht-uht-uht-uht-uht.
KRAs if you were shooting stuff down.
JWOh yes. We had a good time but we also nearly died of homesickness. We had --I remember one time I went to midnight mass at the last minute. I wept on top of the theatre and the priest was this big. And the alter boys and the choir were grown men who were this big. And they guy was singing, the soloist was singing Adeste Fidelas. I belong to the church universal "You learn Latin, blah blah blah. You can go anywhere." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Little did I know. But I said, "That sounds funny. It sounds funny." It finally dawned on me that he was a 01:24:00German prisoner of war. It came over all funny. The poor guy, he's so far away from home and from church. Every once in awhile the war would come home and really hit you. So, we knew there was a war going on. And then not only that, but people were getting killed. People's boyfriends.
KRDid you lose anyone close to you?
JWNo, but my friend Mary did.
JWYes. My cousin was a Marine and he was killed at Iwo Jima. So I did lose afamily relative. 01:25:00
KRIt's hard because it's striking everyone is involved.
KRWhich is different from what we're in now where not -- you can be hard pressedto know somebody who's a part of it.
JWI have a step-grandson.
JWYes. Who -- my son Laird in Alaska got married about three years ago and hewas in high school. AJ. It was the same thing. He had grown up in Arkansas. There was nothing there for him. He wanted to go college. He had been in an automobile accident and so he didn't get his football scholarship. So he, his grandfather was a Marine. So he joined the Navy and I said to Laird one day, "What's AJ doing in the Navy?" "I think he's blowing things up." (laughs) Still 01:26:00the same kid. He was an explosives expert. In a minesweeper, isn't that cheery? In Bahrain, or Dubai. It still goes on. Anyway, I told you I'd talk you to death.
KRThat's OK. I'm good with that.
JWWell, that's what you do. You learn by listening.01:27:00
KRSo these are you --
JWNow have you heard about this?
KRNo, I haven't seen this one.
JWThe U.S. Navy. Together We Served.
KRI've seen the U.S. Navy site. The Library of Congress. Obviously WIMSA. TheWAVES National site and I've been to -- a couple of others -- there are a couple of archives on line that have women's oral histories. There's one in North or South Carolina. I forget which state, I always have to look at when I'm on line. But I haven't seen this.
JWThis is -- I thought it was fairly new. We had one of the Navy girls talkingat our WAVE group and she said, "Oh, Together We Served, I go to it all the time."
KRI'll have to take a look at it.01:28:00
JWI think it's all together. You can find it?
KRThis is great.
JWAnd there is our force of nature. You know her?
KRI recognize her.
JWWilma Vaught. She is a force of nature. She managed against all the oppositionin Washington to get a women's memorial.
KRI'm really looking forward to seeing it. I'm going to be in Washington nextweek, well Wednesday, less than a week. I'm spending some time at the Library of Congress and I'm really looking forward to it.
JWWe had a meeting, at the 50th anniversary of the war or something, we had ameeting at the Library of Congress. Then there's a new one going up out in the woods, in Silver Spring or something. They've got a new marble palace. It's turning cold all of a sudden.
KRI'm going to need my shawl.01:29:00
JWSo -- sorry -
KRIt's wireless. So it does move.
JWI was just going to close
KRWell, I'm going to go ahead and stop this (track ends)