Interview with Helen Sowers at her home in Mt. Holly Springs Pennsylvania on July 15th 2002 as a part of the Cumberland County Women During World War II Oral History Project. Sowers discusses growing up during the Great Depression in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania, working in the C. H. Maslands and Sons factory, and as a volunteer airplane spotter in Mount Holly Springs. Sowers also talks about the difficulty of rationing for a large family.
Catharine (Gray) MacCaffray was born on February 23, 1915, in Newberry Township, York County, Pennsylvania. She lived on a farm and her father was a farmer. Both of her parents died when she was a senior in high school. She attended a one-room school in Newberry Township for grade school and North York High School. Mrs. MacCaffray married her husband, Rex, in 1938. After marrying, the MacCaffray’s moved to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. She volunteered for the American Red Cross, Carlisle Chapter during World War Two. She is a Lutheran and attended the same church in which she was baptized and married after the war. Mrs. MacCaffray is now widowed and lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. MacCaffray begins the interview giving a brief description of youth and her first job at the Bon Ton Department Store in York, Pennsylvania. She explains that she moved to Boiling Springs after marrying her husband, Rex, because of his employment with C.H. Masland and Sons. She describes her reaction when she heard about Pearl Harbor and some of the changes that took place after the war started. She also talks about Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech and the day that he died. She briefly explains her experience working for the Ration Board but mostly recounts her experience as a volunteer nurse’s aid for the American Red Cross. Mrs. MacCaffray volunteered at the Carlisle Hospital, the Army War College, and a Presbyterian nursing home on North Hanover Street. She talks about the shortages of nurses and doctors who were being sent overseas, some of whom were sent after training at the Medical Field Service School at the Army War College. She talks about witnessing a trainload of German prisoners of war disembarking at a siding in the Army War College before being taken to Pine Grove by bus and the reaction to the Germans of Carlisle citizens. In addition, Mrs. MacCaffray tells about her month of volunteering at Fort Lee, Virginia as a nurse’s aid with Emily Masland. As well as volunteering as a nurse’s aid, Mrs. MacCaffray also worked at Masland’s while the Vice President’s “right hand” was having a baby. She explains that Masland’s was manufacturing hospital tents, airplane hangers and tank covers from duck and boring guns for the war effort instead of making carpet. She describes one of her husband’s patents for waterproofing seams for the airplane hangers. When describing her experiences with rationing, she recounts that because of gasoline rationing, she was only able to go a few times to her home church, the Lutheran Church where her brother in law was the pastor, during the war. In addition, she adds that their dog ate one month’s rations of butter she was softening for baking one day.
After the war was over, Mrs. MacCaffray talks about the celebrations and homecomings she experienced with her friends and family. She describes hearing about the bombing of Hiroshima and provides her reflection on the use of the atomic bomb. She describes the gradual return to normalcy at the Carlisle Hospital and at Maslands after the war. When the volunteer nursing ended, Mrs. MacCaffray began volunteering for the Community Chest and tells about other community service in which she was involved. She also reflects on the opportunities and experiences that she had during World War Two and after. Lastly, she describes her work experience after the war as a paid employee for the Red Cross as a social worker, as a manager of the employment office for the State of Pennsylvania, and as an assistant to Dr. David S. Masland.
The following transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview that is available from the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The project's intent in transcribing the interview was to create a clean, readable text without sacrificing the original language of the interview. Because written English differs from spoken English, the project adopted conventions to deal with the variations. No words have been added or changed, and no changes have been made in grammar or sentence structure. Words or short phrases added to clarify the text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, descriptions of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, have been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as "you know" or "um." The transcript does not include language from the interviewer that is purely procedural (such as references to turning over the tape) or language that repeats or rephrases a question. No attempt was made to preserve the dialect or pronunciation of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested in those aspects of the interview. (based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War II Oral History Project)
Steven Burg: My first question is could you tell me a little bit about your background before you came to Cumberland County—where you were born, where you grew up.
Catharine MacCaffray: I was born in York County on a farm, my father was a farmer and I went to grade school in Newberry Township. It was just a one room school and in order to get into high school, which my parents were determined that this would happen, I had to take an all day written examination in the township seat which was in a strange schoolhouse in Newberry township, and you had to pass that all day written exam or you were not permitted to go to high school, and my parents had to pay tuition to send me to high school. So I went North York High School and I graduated with top honors. I went to work—do you want to know my first job?—well its interesting, my first job was in the Bon Ton Department Store in York, Pennsylvania, and I went to work in the office. And I worked there for about six months when the comptroller, who was Mr. C. Thomas Jenkins, called me into his office and he said, “Miss Gray, I have an offer to talk to you about,” and he said, “I would like to train you to take the responsibility to review all applications for credit and either approve or disapprove those applications.” And I said, “That would be great.” So, I added that to my regular office duties, and I worked there until I was married in 1938. I graduated in 1933 and I had taken college prep courses but both of my parents died when I was a senior in high school. My father died intestate, without a will, consequently, he owned two property, two small farms, and the estate could not be settled until I was twenty-one. And there was no money, so there was no choice but for me but to go to work, and that’s how I ended up in the Bon Ton. I stayed there until I was married in 1938, and then I stopped working, moved to Boiling Springs.
SB: What year did you move to Boiling Springs?
CM: 1938. The first of May, 1938 and I lived in South Middleton Township ever since.
SB: What led you and your husband to move to this area?
CM: My husband was worked for C.H. Masland and Sons, and they came from Philadelphia, they had a carpet mill in Philadelphia, and Rex’s father was their engineer, and Rex’s father was one of those chosen to move to Carlisle when the Masland plant was built. Now Rex was then at the University of Michigan but the family moved here. And his sister was just in grade school. At any rate, when he returned from college he went to work for Masland’s. He was there for a short period of time—he worked in the machine shop, he was not a machinist, it was an office job but for the machine shop—and he worked for C.H. Masland who was the vice president of Masland’s. And Rex was very inventive—back here I have thirty-two of his patents, all accept one assigned to Masland’s, and the other is assigned to the U.S. Government. So Rex became very much involved in Masland’s Carlisle Masland’s. When we were married, that was where he was working, so we came to this area. I stayed at home, and Pearl Harbor happened the seventh of December, 1941.
SB: It was still the Depression when you arrived…
CM: Oh, yes.
SB: What was your impression of Carlisle and the area?
CM: Well I don’t think I want to go on record to tell you what my first impression was! [laughs]. I felt totally alone because I had come from York, Pennsylvania, had gone to school in York. I could hardly walked down the main street in York without seeing someone to say hello to or someone who would very politely nod their head and say “Hello.” And I came to Carlisle as a bride, and there wasn’t anyone to nod their heads or anyone to smile, there wasn’t anyone to be welcoming in any way. It’s a beautiful town, and I have come to consider it my second home. My first home will always be my home in York County which was a lovely farm.
SB: You had mentioned Pearl Harbor. Do you remember where you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
CM: Oh absolutely, yes. At that time, still unmarried, I was living with my sister and her husband—her husband was Lutheran pastor—and I was living with then in the parsonage in Goldsboro which is just across from Three Mile Island. The post office is Etters. But I was living with my sister Carrie and her husband John and we had just returned from church and we had a big radio in the living room—that what you had in those days, you had radios—and suddenly the news broke that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Seventh of December.
SB: How did people react?
CM: Oh my, we were horrified. We couldn’t believe our ears, actually, we couldn’t believe. Within the family group that day was a young man who had just donned his uniform, he had just put on a uniform, he had been called for service, and he knew where he was going. He was going to the service immediately, and he did. And he ended up in Fort Lewis (sp.), Washington, but we were simply horrified.
SB: Can you describe how things changed after Pearl Harbor for your family.
CM: My immediate family was not significantly affected because my husband was ten years older than I, and so it wasn’t until after we had been married for--I think it was ’40 —that he received a call for his physical. Understand, he was working at Masland’s, and at that time, following Pearl Harbor, they never made carpet for—I don’t know how many years it was—they became engaged in all war production. So Rex, while he was very excited about the possibility of being called to serve, he really was beyond the age and it was not until—I don’t know how many calls they had made before they would have have reached a man of his age, but in truth he was bitterly disappointed I think because he was noble man and a courageous man and he would have wanted to. But he served in the capacity and there was a need for his service within the plant, within the company.
SB: Do remember other types of changes that took place in the community, things like rationing…
CM: Oh yes, and I worked for the Ration Board, and helped to issue ration books. Now, I wasn’t the determining person, but I became involved, I became very much involved.
SB: Could you explain a little bit about what that entailed working with the Rationing Board? Where were they located?
CM: You know, I cannot remember [where they were located]. Well, you know gasoline was rationed, butter was rationed, meat was rationed, sugar was rationed, and so you had ration stamps.
SB: Did you determine how many stamps a person could receive.
CM: No, that was determined by a higher authority within the group. I simply helped to fill out the books and hand them to people. But I also worked in the blood bank. They would go into churches—it was in the basement of one of the churches in Carlisle. But it was very interesting, because this was after I had been trained as a volunteer nurses aid.
SB: Why don’t we move onto your time as a nurses’ aid.
CM: Well the first class—I incidentally called the archivist at National Red Cross and I have minutes from the Carlisle chapter of the American Red Cross, and I was hoping that they would be able to give me the names of some of the other nurses aids who trained, but they can’t. So I called the Carlisle chapter, and unfortunately they had all of their records stored in the basement, and they had a flood, and their records are gone forever.
SB: So how did you decide to get involved with the Red Cross?
CM: Well, there were articles in the newspaper and it was obvious that nurses were being called to serve in the armed forces and there was desperate need, and there was a need and I had been married for four years and had not had a family as yet—hoping to have one—but had not had a family and so I was free to do these things whereas other women my age were raising families or they were gainfully employed, and they just weren’t free to do that. I was free and I felt a great need to do it.
SB: Were there a lot of women locally who got involved with the Red Cross?
CM: No. There were not very many. I trained in the second class to be trained in the Carlisle chapter and we took our courses of study in the basement of what was then the old Carlisle hospital. And we were taught—we had eighty hours of training—and we were taught by specialists in the field of medicine, and surgeons, and nurses, and we had to take an all day examination, and we had to pass it in order to be certified.
SB: At that time what did you think you were being trained for?
CM: Oh, I knew what I was being trained for. I was being trained to serve in civilian hospitals, military hospitals, with the blood bank, with nursing homes. In fact, I also served in one of the nursing homes. I was a busy woman. [laughs].
SB: Did you have any previous experience as a nurse?
CM: No, I had no previous experience as a nurse.
SB: Was that interesting for you to suddenly be immersed in nursing?
CM: It was fascinating. It was a wonderful experience, and it made me very hungry to learn more and I did go on to learn more. That’s unrelated, but I had several careers, I had two career.
SB: Tell me a little bit about the things you did once you were trained as a nurses aid.
CM: Well, I worked three days a week in Carlisle Hospital from seven in the morning until three in the afternoon, and what we did was we gave bed bathes to patients in those day, these were patients who could not bathe themselves, and who had to be bathed in bed. So we gave bed bathes to patients, and this isn’t nice to talk about, but we emptied bed pans, and in those days there was one on each floor in the hospital—I think it was just one big place where you took the bedpans and you put them in some sort of a machine and they were emptied and cleaned, but we had to complete the cleaning. And we administered any kind of care that was necessary. I served a full shift.
SB: Were there any particular areas of the hospital that you worked in or did you work throughout the hospital?
CM: We worked wherever Miss Green who was then the superintendant of the hospital assigned us. . . but most of it was bed care.
SB: Were there many of the nurses who had already been there, or had many of the nurses left to go off to war?
CM: Well you see, this is what created the need for Red Cross to step in and train people who could function in hospitals, you see, and really start with the basic care which was needed. Because the few nurses that were remaining didn’t have time to do this. Now we were [only] allowed to give a patient their medicine with supervision. Now we always stayed within the boundaries of what was proper and what was legal, remember now we are dealing with a possibility of legal problems.
SB: How did the few nurses that remained how did they react to the Red Cross nurses?
CM: They welcomed us. They welcomed us because we actually were in a position to do what they simply did not have time to do.
SB: And how about the doctors?
CM: Oh the doctors were wonderful. They were also very appreciative. As were the people in the military hospitals, you see I also worked in military hospitals.
SB: That was at Fort Lee, correct?
CM: Oh no, I served hours and hours at the Army War College which was at that time the Medical Field Service School where every doctor in the United States Army was trained before he went into active duty.
SB: I want to have you talk about that, but I have one other question about your experience in Carlisle…
CM: It was wonderful.
SB: Were there any memorable experiences, any stories you can remember from your time there?
CM: I only remember my first patient. . . . I was assigned to give a bed bath to this gentleman who was an African American and he was quite elderly and he really was precious, and when he saw me coming toward him, I know he must have thought, “Oh my.” [laughs] Here’s this girl—I would have looked like a girl to him because I wasn’t all that old, and the poor man--he looked at me, and I introduced myself and said, “Now I am Mrs. MacCaffray and I am here to give you a bed bath and so we’ll just proceed. How are you today?” You know because you had to establish rapport with your patients as you do in every walk of life, be it a patient or a businessman. So he was dear, and that was my very first assignment. And I think maybe it was a little subterfuge. [laughs] I think maybe I had appeared too sure of myself. [laughs] I don’t know.
SB: Did you feel more confident after that?
CM: Oh no, I felt perfectly confident but I felt sorry for him because he must have been real scared, he must have felt real anxious about this girl coming to give him a bath.
SB: When you were working as a nurse did you feel that it was something that came to you?
CM: Oh I loved it, I absolutely loved it. I just simply loved it.
SB: How long did you work at the Carlisle Hospital?
CM: Well, you know that’s why I wish they had the minutes, why I wish they had survived. The first class was graduated in 1942 and I was the second class, so this means that it was probably early 1943. And I went to work in the hospital right away, Rex was working at Masland’s and I came in with him—I reported for duty, and you signed in, and you signed out—it was business. So I reported for work at seven o’clock and I worked straight through until three. Oh, we ate, but you brought your own meals. You also bought all your uniforms. If you had transportation, that was your responsibility. I was there for—I’m sure it was a year.
SB: And there where did you go?
CM: And then I had a call from the Executive Board, no less, of American Red Cross, Carlisle Chapter, to come in to meet with them. I met with them and there was Mrs. [Fred] Reese and Mrs. [William] Barnitz and I guess I’m not sure who else it was. They told me they had received a request from the Carlisle Barracks for nurse’s aids who would be willing to work there and would the local chapter select and interview the people they selected to see if they would be willing to serve there. And I was one who had been selected, one of several, but I was one who had been selected and would I be willing to go there, and was I aware of the fact that I would have to have a clearance. I could expect someone from the federal government to come to my home, and they did.
SB: And what kind of questions did they ask?
CM: Well, first of all they interviewed the neighbors.[laughs] We were living in a second floor apartment on Third Street in Boiling Springs, which Pat Strickler’s father owned. [laughs]. Anyway, getting back to the meeting with the board—not the whole board, but the people who had been assigned the duty of selecting aids who would be willing to work at the Carlisle Barracks. I said, “Yes, I would be happy to go.” And so I sort of split my time.
SB: Between the hospital and the barracks?
CM: Yes, uh huh. I was busy.
SB: Tell me, what did they want you to be doing at the Carlisle Barracks?
CM: The same thing, taking care of patients.
SB: They had a hospital at the Barracks?
CM: Oh, yes, oh yes. It might have been called an infirmary. But you know, I don’t think so because they had an operating room, it was there—I just remembered—that’s where was assigned to an operating room. I was called one day from duty at the military hospital to go to the operating room—and of course I had to be especially prepared for that and gowned—I was to report to the operating room and there was I met by an R.N. who got me ready to go into the operating room. They were doing a Caesarean on an Army nurse who was pregnant with twins and who had threatened eclampsia. And she was delivering twins, and they said I had to be there to receive one of the twins [laughs] when they it brought it out of the womb. And I was scared to death. I took this little teeny morsel, you know, and well they wiped it off a little bit and all I did of course was carry it covered to an R.N. but I was scared. I wasn’t very sure of myself that day. [laughs].
SB: What else did they have…
CM: Well, they had patients who had been called into the service, and who had come for their training, their medical field training there and who had become ill. And they had to be taken care of. There again, there were very scarce of Army nurses.
SB: So the people who you were working with at the Barracks were people who had come there for their field service training.
CM: Yes, yes, uh huh.
SB: Were they mostly doctors?
CM: They were doctors, they were dentists, they were pediatricians, and they were obstetricians, and some of them wondered, “What under the sun am I doing here, you know, me an obstetrician?” Because, you see, as long as they were doctors, and they were sorely needed. But then I have another story to tell about my time at Carlisle Barracks.
SB: We were talking about your experience working at the Carlisle Barracks with the Field Service…
CM: School. That was the Medical Field Service School.
SB: And you were working in the infirmary…
CM: I was working in—it was called a hospital.
SB: And the doctor who were there were being trained to perform combat medicine.
CM: Oh yes, they were going into battle, actually, they were going into areas where we were fighting. They were going to Europe, they were going mostly to Europe.
SB: And those doctors who go sick then were your patients?
CM: Yes, uh huh.
SB: How are doctors as patients?
CM: Well, the doctors I had as patients were wonderful. [laughs]. I never had any problems.
SB: Were they nervous about the fact that they were on their way to the war.
CM: Well, some of them were I’m sure, yes, because they were leaving families. Now they were willing, they were perfectly willing. They were all courageous men and they were soldiers in their own field of endeavor. You know, you don’t go into medicine and not be a soldier. You really don’t.
SB: Would you keep in contact with people you met?
CM: You know, I’m so sorry that didn’t continue it, but yes, I kept in touch with—and their name was Cunningham and he was one of the doctors there. They had two young children and there was no place for them to stay and they came to me and asked if they could stay with Rex and me for a while, and we let them stay with us for a while, while he was a student here, while he was getting his [training]. He was going to combat, there was no doubt about it. And they were from Montana.
SB: So it must have been interesting working on a military base during the war.
CM: It was very interesting, and working as one of the physicians who was--actually one of the attending physicians at the hospital there--was a German who with his wife had come to the United States. He was Jewish, and he and his wife had come to the United States in 1938 and they barely escaped, they barely escaped Hitler’s destruction, and all of his family and all of his wife’s family had been killed in the ovens.
SB: And he was working at the Barracks?
CM: And he was now an American soldier physician.
SB: Do remember his name?
CM: Oh, I don’t. But you know I think probably that would be a matter of record. . . . Let me tell you about this man. I was there serving, as was he, when the word came—and there was great excitement about this—that they were bringing a train load of German prisoners of war who had been with Rommel’s Africa Corps. Now there was a siding—a train siding—right into the military establishment there. I don’t know if it’s still there.
SB: When word came down, was this something that was supposed to be secret?
CM: I don’t know, but the base knew it, we all knew it. And we all went out to view them disembarking from the train. They were in full military uniform, they goose-stepped off that. And behind me stood this German Jew doctor, and around him and around me were the other physicians who were at that time stationed there and were soldiers. And I heard—back of me I heard this—almost a whining, a whining sound, and this man almost crying and saying, “The son of a bitches. Let me go. I must kill them.” And he had to be restrained by his fellow men.
SB: How did other people react?
CM: Well, I was only close to this one man.
SB: But were there guards there? Did people from around the base turn out to see them?
CM: Oh yes, oh absolutely. It was a very exciting time! And they transferred them to buses, and we knew they were going up to Pine Grove somewhere. Now that was 1943. And you’ll find that, that is recorded in one of the monthly magazines from the historical society.
SB: Now was this something that you could tell other people about or were you supposed to keep quiet.
CM: Sure! Well no one told us to be quiet! [laughs]. And it was seen by a lot of people, all the workers, you know, because that was a fully staffed military establishment. Oh, I was very excited to tell my friends. Of course! [laughs].
SB: What did people think about having these German prisoners so close?
CM: Well, do you know I never heard any one of my friends talk about it.
SB: But it was something that everyone knew about?
CM: We knew, um-hum. Evidently. I wouldn’t have known had I not been there. But we were never told not to say anything. Because if we had been, indeed, we would not have. You know we witnessed lots of things that we had to never, ever talk about.
SB: Like what kinds of things?
CM: Well, you couldn’t talk about the patients you had cared for, you couldn’t give names, ever. That was all a matter of ethics. You know, we were part of a system that was operated ethically, hopefully. And so we observed all the rules of ethics and it wasn’t difficult because in our private lives most of us lived that way.
SB: Were there any special restrictions on you because you were on a military base?
CM: You know, I don’t remember any. Of course, before we ever landed there we had been investigated and so they were reasonably sure, I suppose that we were trustworthy.
SB: Is there anything else you remember about your time at the Barracks?
CM: No, I’ll probably think of things later, but I also well remember my time at Fort Lee.
SB: That was the next thing I wanted to discuss.
CM: Then there was a call from the reigning committee at the local chapter of American Red Cross to come in and see them. And Emily Masland was one of them and she was the wife of the treasurer—she was married to Morris Masland—maybe he was Vice President. And they were living in Carlisle and she had completed her training as a Red Cross nurse’s aid and she was one of the others who had been called for an interview to determine whether or not we would be willing—we were interviewed privately and individually—whether I would be willing to go to Fort Lee [Virginia] to serve there and work with wounded soldiers. Some had already been to service, and had returned, some had been injured even in training.
SB: Would your husband be able to travel with you?
CM: Oh no, no, no. We had to leave our husbands. Well my husband was perfectly in agreement because of course I discussed it with him, and of course he wanted me to go. He couldn’t serve in the military, he couldn’t serve as a soldier, but he was certainly doing his part for the firm, and the firm was not anxious at all to have him leave. So Emily Masland and I—I group us because she drove and I went with her. But to start at the beginning, yes, I gave my consent to go. We were told that we would live in officer’s quarters, and we would dine in officer’s mess, and we did. And we would be there a month, if we agreed. And we would work six days a week.
SB: Could you describe your duties once you arrived.
CM: Yes, I worked in a ward with thirty-four male patients, most of whom were in casts, one place or another. [laughs] And they did present a challenge when it came to bed bathes. [laughs]. And they were so dear to me, they were wonderful to me, they were just like brothers or fathers.
SB: And some had come from combat.
CM: Yes, some had come from combat, and they were most appreciative of our help. For thirty-four patients there was one orderly and one R.N. for a shift, that was for a shift, and we were busy.
SB: That sounds like that must have been not only a longer week but much harder work.
CM: Well, it was the same, you know, we did the same thing. We gave bed care and whatever we were asked to do. Now, we sometimes were asked to sit—even at Carlisle Hospital—we were asked to sit with a patient who was receiving an intravenous and we would watch very carefully to make sure that there was no leakage and that it wasn’t in danger of emptying. We knew of all the hazards that we were trained about this, how serious that was, how important it was.
SB: By this point, though, you must have been having quite a bit of experience.
CM: In civilian hospitals, yes.
SB: Was there a significant difference between a civilian hospital and the military hospital? What were the differences?
CM: I hadn’t thought about that. Perhaps because there was a military air about it all. There was certainly very little difference except that these were all patients who were indeed in a small cast, a large cast—that was different.
SB: Did Fort Lee specialize in that type of care?
CM: Oh no; no, no, no. They were a military hospital.
SB: So they would take any kind of case.
CM: Um hum.
SB: Were there any stories or special experiences that you remember from your time there? Any cases that were unusual?
CM: No, except I think we had one patient who was in a cast practically from his ankles to his neck [laughs]. You didn’t give very many bed bathes! No, I really can’t think of anything extraordinary. But each patient was an experience itself, because first of all you dealt with a man who was in an entirely unusual circumstance, not always by his own choosing, you know--even to be where he was. There was a different air about it, there’s no doubt.
SB: Were the men when they recovered going back into service?
CM: Oh yes. And the physicians were all military, you see. At that point the physicians were all military. It was very worthwhile, and I use the word enriching because that’s exactly how I felt.
SB: Were there military nurses there?
CM: Oh yes, oh yes.
SB: How was it working with the military nurses compared with the civilian nurses.
CM: Well they were wonderful. They were so happy to have us come. And they received us with open arms.
SB: For the soldiers who recovered and were going back to combat or back to the service, how did experience feel for you?
CM: Well, of course, we were there just there a little [while]—I was there a month. But before I left, they called me in—the men in the ward called me in one day and they were so excited, and they had this little ceremony and they had purchased a very beautiful pin for me with a big, brown jewel in it. And they said this reminded them of me, and that it was for me to remember them. It was most unusual that they gave me this piece of jewelry in gratitude. [Do you still have it?] You know I can’t find it, I have looked. And you know my nurses aid uniform I could just—not too many years ago I thought, “There’s absolutely no use to to keep that, so I pitched it.”
SB: Now after your month at Fort Lee, did you return to back to Carlisle and working at the Carlisle Hospital and at the Barracks? And did you continue there until the end of the war?
CM: [nods yes]. Well yes, that was 1945.
SB: Do remember when the war ended?
CM: Oh heavens, yes.
SB: Can you describe it? How did Carlisle react when the war was over?
CM: Well, Carlisle beautifully lost all of its reserve and went wild. [laughs]. The streets were loaded with people. It was a time never to be forgotten. It was August, 1945.
SB: Were people as excited when V-E Day, Victory in Europe Day, occurred in May, or was the big celebration when the war was finally over.
CM: Oh, I think the big celebration was [in August]. It had to have been V-J Day. It had to have been, because V-J Day was in August.
SB: What did you do when the war was over?
CM: We had a party [laughs]. We had a big party with all of our friends from Boiling Springs in our home. Oh yes, we were traditional party givers.
SB: Did you hold parties throughout the war?
CM: Oh sure. Oh sure. Well, as I said, I didn’t work--I had a brief time
working for C.H. Masland, the Vice President, in his office because the woman who really was his right hand was having a baby and they called and asked me if I would come in and work and take Marie Rule’s place. And so I said, “O.K.” So I went in and worked in his office for a while, and what we did then was, Masland’s had an almost quotient of duck—oh, I have lots to tell you—they were using duck—the Army was using duck for hospital tents, for air plane hangers, to cover tanks, and one of Rex’s patents for cemented seams which he assigned to the Army—I have it hear—was used to cement seams for airplane hangers. And he went to Wright Paterson (SP?) Air Force Base. Before he went he shipped the tent for an airplane hanger, and he had been given the specifications, the sizes for it, by the Air Force, and he shipped the material and the seamed tent to Wright Paterson Air Force Base, and he went out to witness the test of that. He called me from there, and he said, “Well, it worked.” [laughs] He was very happy, he never doubted but that it would work. But he was elated because they were so excited, they had covered an enormous airplane that this tent was designed to fit, and they had covered it. I mean, it was a hanger and so they had revved up the engines, and that was the test.
SB: That’s an amazing story.
CM: Well, that’s a true story.
SB: Could you tell me a little bit more about your experience when you worked at the Masland Company because they were at that point were converted to war production.
CM: That’s what they were doing. Well every morning I had to call Major Julio [sp?] and tell him how many—what were they called—of duck that we needed for the next day. It was brought daily. It was in short supply. Major General—he was a major general.
SB: Was he local?
CM: Oh no, he was in Washington, he was I guess in the Defense Department, I don’t really know. But it was Major General Julio. Now that I should be able to find that out. I mean, that’s who he was. And C.H. Masland knew him personally, and my desk was very close to C.H. Masland’s desk, and C. H. Masland would call him fairly regularly because C.H.Masland’s son Daniel was a German prisoner of war at the time. And C. H. would call daily to find out whether or not major general Yuleo had had any news about his son Daniel who was a German prisoner of war.
SB: So you were right next to Mr. Masland.
CM: Oh yeah.
SB: In terms of the production, did you have much interaction with other people who were working at the factory?
CM: Only my husband [laughs]. No.
SB: How did people feel about …
CM: Oh, they were excited. They wanted very much to be a part of this horrible attack on us. They were anxious to do anything they could. They were all soldiers, you know. We were all soldiers then.
SB: Was it difficult? Did the factory extend its hours?
CM: Oh yes, heavens yes, sure. And you must understand that they gave up the production of carpet which was their livelihood. That was their contribution.
SB: For you husband, he was working at the factory, since it was part of war production could he discuss what was going on at the factory and how they much they were producing and other information?
CM: Oh yes, that was not a secret. Because also, however, they were in the machine shop—I had forgotten this—they were boring guns, certain kinds of guns, I don’t know what they were.
CM: Oh yeah, uh-huh.
SB: I had heard about the duck, but I had never heard about the guns before.
CM: No, in the machine shop they were. I think that is a matter of history, written record. Maybe at the historical society.
SB: I know they had a lot of information about the production of the duck, but I hadn’t heard about the guns.
CM: In the machine shop they were. What would that be called? I know they were doing it. They were doing something about guns. They were.
SB: And that was public as well?
CM: I don’t know if that was public, I really can’t tell. I just knew about the duck. And it was terribly important to get it, as I say it was in short supply.
SB: Now during the war did you experience any hardship in terms of getting things for yourself.
CM: Oh no, no, no. Well, were on a limited supply of sugar, and gasoline, and meat, and butter. [tape paused—story retold at end of interview].
SB: So we had talked a little about V-J Day and the celebration. . .
CM: That was so exciting, we were so happy we could hardly contain ourselves. Neither could anyone else. One of our very dear friends was injured—Bob Weiss (SP?)—and he was a runner for the Army in Germany, and he went all through the fronts. And we knew he would be coming home, and were ecstatic about that.
SB: How long did the celebration continue?
CM: Well, all night [laughs]—at least. And then of course we planned parties to continue celebrating. Well, we’ll go to this person’s house on Tuesday, and this person’s on Wednesday. You know, it was such a happy time, because it was such a horrible [pause]—and of course I remember the day that Paul Shearer (SP?) who was one of the superintendents at Masland’s came in and he announced that they had just dropped some kind of a horrible bomb on Hiroshima. [pause] Paul Shearer came to the office where I was working, filling in for someone, and he said, “Oh, the news just came on the radio that they’ve dropped a terrible bomb someplace in Japan, and it must be awful because it just has practically melted things. Thousands of people have been killed by it.” It was horrible, we were truly horrified. But, you know then there was the other side of this. My dear friend Nan Weiss said to me, “If we had not dropped that bomb, my husband was on his way to Japan to fight the war.” How many of our men would never have come back had we not dropped that bomb? There are two ways to look at it. You know, self-preservation is born into us and love of life. And usually love of fellow man.
SB: Once the war was over, how long was it before things started changing? Did you continue working at the hospital and the barracks?
CM: Well, for a while yes, until gradually the nurses began returning, and then there was no longer any need. But I also failed to tell you that I also worked in nursing homes. I only recalled this the other day. There was nursing home owned by the Presbyterian church, they had bought a private home on the north end of Carlisle on [North] Hanover Street and it was nursing home where they had perhaps six bedrooms and there were patients there, mostly women, and I was asked to go out there on a regular basis and give bed bathes and nursing care and back rubs following bed bathes. Give personal care to patients there who were elderly. And I also did that, I squeezed that in with my other schedules [laughs].
SB: How was that working at the nursing home?
CM: It was the same. It was just very rewarding because there again those dear souls, they just welcomed anyone who would come in and spend a little time for them and then in addition to that just give them a good bath. It made them feel so good. I remember this one elderly woman would say to me, “Now press real hard when you wash my face,” she said, “I’m not strong enough to do that.” You know I was so fearful of hurting her. But she’d say, “No now harder, harder.”
SB: No when the war was over and the nurses were coming back, do you remember when you stopped working at the hospital?
CM: No, I don’t remember precisely because it was a very slow deactivation, so to speak. Consequently, because it was slow, it was not very memorable.
SB: Was that the same with your service at the Barracks?
SB: So there was no sudden good-bye?
CM: No, no. It was just gradual. And it was better that way?
SB: How did you feel as you began doing less and less nursing?
CM: Well, I just did other things. [laughs] I became very active with the Community Chest and at one point I organized all the rural areas for Community Chest. There was always something to be done.
SB: How would you say your life changed when the war was over? Were there any major changes?
CM: Well, friends who had been in the war began returning—men friends. And also I had one woman who was an Army nurse, her name was Critchfield (SP?) and I kept in touch with her for many years, and then I don’t know what happened. But she served at the Medical Field Service School, that’s where I met her. Then she went on to—I think she went to foreign service—I think she served in war zones. You celebrated with every person who returned who was a dear friend, and you celebrated when they weren’t dear friends because it was worth celebrating. And life was gradually returning to normal. I know that speaking of the rationing, gasoline was rationed, and so Rex and I had been in the habit of traveling thirty-five miles every Sunday to return to my home church which is where my brother-in-law was pastor, and had married my sister, and the church that my mother and father had helped to build, and where I later lived with my sister and brother-in-law, in the parsonage, and where Rex and I were married. All of my brothers and sisters had been baptized there, as was I. And we couldn’t get there because we didn’t have gasoline. So we scrounged around you know [laughs], we begged and borrowed from our friends, and we would go back as often as we could. Go back to the parsonage and have Sunday dinner together. Now that dinner was at noon because we were all starved. My brother-in-law had two churches and they were twenty miles apart, so he would get up very early in the morning to go have services at the one and then come back and have services in Goldsboro. And then we’d eat.
SB: How did the church respond to the war? Did services change?
CM: Oh well, the church trained chaplains. One of our former pastors was a chaplain. His name was Gus Borliss and he was in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor the day it happened, he was a chaplain there.
SB: Was there a special service after the war was over? Do you recall?
CM: Oh sure, oh yes we had services of thanksgiving. I’m a Lutheran, so we did those things. [laughs] And so did the Presbyterians, and so did the Methodists. We were all so thankful.
SB: With your husband’s experience at Masland’s, when the war was over.
CM: They just gradually returned to weaving carpet and knitted it, as in his case, he had developed patents—there they are [points at desk]. They are somewhere here. So he had all these patents that he was developing.
SB: Was the transition difficult for the company?
CM: I don’t think it was difficult. First of all, they were ready, as was the world. They were ready to return to non-wartime goods and carpets. Masland’s simply gradually converted the mill to doing what they had done before the war. And they were awarded many honors for their service, for the things they produced during the war for the war effort.
SB: I guess they got the “E”.
CM: Yes, they got the famous “E”. I have that someplace a little pin.
SB: One other event I wanted to ask you about. Do you remember when President Roosevelt died?
CM: Oh my, yes. Oh, it’s etched in my memory. And I of course also remember his speech, “The Day of Infamy.” That was the speech following Pearl Harbor, December the seventh, 1941, the day of infamy. Oh my, yes I remember. And I remember his death. Rex and I were having a meal at—what was the name of that restaurant the Heinzes (sp?) had just on South Hanover Street, just below the Molly Pitcher—it was a dear little restaurant. Well, they started out at the Turnpike but they had a restaurant. We were eating, having a quick meal there--we didn’t eat out very often. First of all we couldn’t afford it [laugh], and secondly Rex preferred my cooking--which was O.K. with me. We were having a quick meal there and someone said that President Roosevelt had died. And of course we were all terribly sad and really momentarily very crushed. Although we knew he was ill. And people all around, silence reigned. Suddenly, in a place where there had been a lot of conversation, and some laughter and small talk, no one talked. We were all struck by the enormity of that death. And then think of Truman who really was ill-prepared for that because Roosevelt didn’t care to train him. Roosevelt didn’t want Truman, you know. And he did an admirable job—he did a good job.
SB: How do you think your wartime efforts experiences influence your life since?
CM: I think my experiences, not only what I did, but what other people did, I think in spite of the fact that it brought death and sadness and sorrow into so many homes, that I think it also had a final effect of increasing and emphasizing the importance of the quality of life. What we do in our time. And I was thinking about doing a book about that. Each of us has our time—we can make good use of it. You know, I believe in play. I love pleasure, I love enjoyment of life, and I love sharing pleasure with my friends and have done it all my life, all my life, from childhood. Sometimes I think we are too caught up with the necessity of earning money. Its just has to be, it has to happen.
SB: Have there been ways that . . .
CM: Well I grew up, you see, there was no welfare system. There had to be a welfare department, I’m sure. I’m not sure—that could have been started following the war. See, I worked with families of people who had men in service. When I worked for the Red Cross. That’s when it was a paying employee.
SB: Was that after the war?
CM: After V-J Day. I worked for them for a while. I did social service work for them.
SB: I was wondering if you could just talk a bit about your life after the war.
CM: Well you know, I’m a retired manager of a large employment office for the State of Pennsylvania. And then after that I took a course and went to work for Dr. Masland in his specialty of endoscopies and was specially trained to assist. I’ve had a very, very full and interesting life.
SB: So you were assistant manager. . .
CM: No, I was the manager of the employment office for the State of Pennsylvania, and retired as such.
SB: How long was that? Was that immediately after the war?
CM: Oh no, no, no. I went to work for them, I retired in ’77. And I worked twenty-three years.
SB: What did you do immediately after the war? Is that when you went to work for the Red Cross?
CM: Yeah. Not immediately following the war.
SB: But you worked with the Red Cross after the war?
CM: Yes, it was after the war and we still had men and women in service. The local chapter was requested to set up what they called a social welfare aid service which would provide the service to families who had family members in service wherever, and who maybe they had illness in the family and they needed to have someone intercede for them to the military. Red Cross to military to get sick leave, to get emergency leaves, or maybe they had financial problems and they needed some financial help. The role that we played was as a go-between the family and the military to offer assistance. And we were very effective in providing this service, because you know we all have our pride, and some of these families who were really suffering, well emotionally, and needed help. They were so happy to have someone just come in and say, “Now what can we do for you?” And I was that person locally for the years that I worked them, I worked for them [for] four years.
SB: And then after that?
CM: Well, I took civil service exams, I took five. I took civil service exams for five different positions in the state, for the State Labor and Industry, and I was accepted to be examined for all five of them. [laughs] So, I received a call to come to report to the examination center in Harrisburg which is one of the high schools, at seven-thirty in the morning, and Rex took me over and he said, “Now when should I come for you?” and I said, “Well, this time next year.” [laughs] I was facing five very difficult examinations and very fortunately, blessedly I passed them. And then later I was called to report to the local office, and there I was very soon made a supervisor. I had passed all of the necessary criteria through manager, but we had a manager at that time, and he had been a former school teacher and a wonderful man, and he was thinking about retiring. But in the meantime, I went in as a supervisor of the unemployment compensation claims division and then I did that for a few years and then my manager decided to retire and there was an opening, and it all had to be done according to civil service rules, you know, because that’s the service I worked under. And then I was appointed manager.
SB: You did that until 1977?
CM: Until ’77. And during those years--they were absolutely wonderful--I still continued with some community service. I worked with the local board for the handicapped it was then called—Carl Sailor was the executive director for the local association for the handicapped. His offices were in the old post office building. I worked on his board, I was a member of his board. I’ve always been a busy person.
SB: Is there anything else you would want people to know or that you’d want to add about your experiences during the war?
CM: Well, they were just the same experiences that everyone else was having. Some of us, unfortunately, didn’t have the privilege of doing the things that I did because they were busily engaged in rearing families and earning livings. And I actually was just very fortunate to be able to spend my time the way I did. I consider it a privilege, and an enjoyable one.
SB: You would do it again?
CM: Oh yes, in the drop of a hat. Yes. No regrets.
SB: Well thank you very much.
CM: You are welcomed.
SB: You have one other story about rationing?
CM: Yes, I do have a story about rationing. It early in our marriage and we were living in our second floor apartment in Boiling Springs. We had this very, very small apartment, but we had a big dog. He was a red setter. It was during the period when butter and gasoline and sugar were rationed, and so that each of those items was very precious to us. And so in anticipation of doing some very special baking for that night when my husband came home, I took a pound of butter out of our refrigerator and put it on this little table in our tiny kitchen and I went about my business to do something—I don’t remember what it was. But when I came back that dog had eaten the whole pound of butter. [laughs] A months rationing practically, you know! And I could have killed the dog. [laughs] That one of the stories about rationing. [laughs].
SB: Well, thank you.
[end of interview]