Helen Fulton (Women in World War II)

Biography

Helen (Baker) Fulton was born on August 23, 1917 and lived on Baltimore Road just outside of Shippensburg until she was ten years old when her family moved to Queen and Orange Streets in town. Her ethnic background is Scotch-Irish. Her parents were also from Shippensburg and her mother was born and married in the same house. Her father was a farmer. Helen did not have any siblings. For elementary school, Helen attended Gilbert (Rowland) School and then went on to Shippensburg Junior High located on the corner of Burd and Washington Street. She graduated from Shippensburg Senior High School in 1936. Helen was married in August 1936. She had three children – a daughter born in 1941 and two sons, one born in 1936 and the other in 1938. She worked at Shirtcraft, Letterkenny and Burkhart’s Restaurant and as a seamstress at home throughout her life. None of Helen’s family members served in World War Two. Helen attends the Messiah United Brotherhood church.

Abstract

Helen begins the interview by telling about her youth and her father’s work. She recounts her experience working at Shirtcraft, a shirt factory in Shippensburg, where she sewed sleeves into shirts from 1934 to 1941 and from 1943 until the factory closed in 1975. Helen tells about leaving Shirtcraft when Letterkenny Army Depot opened in 1942, and working at the depot as a chaufferette and on a mail route until 1943. She also talks about how Letterkenny affected employment in Shippensburg. Helen returned to Shirtcraft in 1943 and gives an account of sewing Eisenhower jackets for a government contract during the war. She provides information about the war contracts that other factories in town had. Helen also worked at Burkhart’s Restaurant, a popular dining spot in town and talks about how she was able to interact with soldiers who were home on leave while she was working as a waitress.

In addition, Helen talks about the changes in Shippensburg during the war. She relates that many women left, following their men to where they were stationed throughout the country and that because of Letterkenny, new people also moved into town. Helen conveys Shippensburg resident’s, reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the declaration of war, the death of Franklin Roosevelt, and the end of the war. She talks about the reaction to men leaving or being drafted to fight in the war. She tells of buying war bonds, rationing, air raid drills, black outs, and Victory Gardens in Shippensburg. Helen states that Shippensburg’s social life was hopping during the war and gives examples of the nightlife in the community. She also discusses a trip to New York during the war and what it was like there. Helen talks about seeing soldiers home on leave or returning after being prisoners of war in town, particularly at Burkhart’s. Because none of Helen’s relatives fought in the World War Two, she feels that she had a different reaction to the war than other townspeople and expresses this. She describes and empathizes with the loss that other people went through. She also talks about Roosevelt’s presidency and the effects of the NRA and the New Deal. Helen states that she thinks that Shippensburg did not change much during the war but that in a few years after the war, there was more prosperity in the area and that the war had broadened the resident’s view of the world. She elaborates on these changes.

Methodology

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 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 methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War II Oral History Project)

Transcript

Steven Burg: Where were you born?

Helen Fulton:I was born and raised in Shippensburg on August the twenty third of 1917. I lived in Southampton, Cumberland [County] until I was ten, moved a mile and a half in town – that was in 1927. I lived there from ’27 until ’38 and then moved into an apartment on [South] Prince Street.

SB: What did your family do for a living?

HF:My father was a farmer. But before the war they only had the forty acres and that was pretty hard, so he had a wood saw and he went around and sawed firewood for people and cut trees down.

SB: Where was the farm?

HF:On Baltimore Road.

SB: Was your first job working for Shirtcraft?

HF:Yep.

SB: When did you start to work at Shirtcraft?

HF:I went to the Shirtcraft in May 24, 1934, just in the summertime. I did that in the summer of ’34 and the summer of ’35 and that next year I graduated from high school. But they would hire people just for the summer.

SB: Why did you choose to work at Shirtcraft?

HF:Well, that was the only place you had to get a job. I set sleeves in the shirts and the pay was good, about four and a half cents a dozen for putting two sleeves in a shirt. The quota was ten dozen an hour.

SB: Did you have any experience sewing?

HF:No. No, you went to work and you have to sew on a patch for two days and then they gave you a small bundle of work, no bigger than four dozen. And I think you had six weeks to make your quota but you were required to do at least ten dozen an hour.

SB: Did you build up your skill over time?

HF:You didn’t get paid extra for overtime. That was just the same pay all the way through.

SB: Depending on how much you did?

HF:Uh huh.

SB: Was that in the midst of the Great Depression?

HF:Well, that was after the Depression from ’29 untitil, well, ’39, actually. Unemployment was bad and after I graduated I stayed at the Shirtcraft and every year you had four to six weeks off.

SB: Was that in the winter?

HF:Whenever you worked real good.

SB: When did you get married?

HF:I got married August the first of 1936.

SB: What did your husband do?

HF:Worked at Domestic Engine Pump.

SB: What was his position there?

HF:I don’t know what he did. [chuckles] His father worked there.

SB: He worked there during the Depression?

HF:Well, he was two years older than I was…

SB: When you got married was he working there?

HF:Yeah, he was working there at six dollars a week.

SB: Did you continue working at the Shirtcraft Factory?

HF:Until 1941. My badge number is 74. I still have the badge.

SB: Did that number mean anything?

HF:Yeah, because see they started out with badge number one.

SB: The next question I wanted to ask is…. Do you remember where you were when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and how you heard about it?

HF:We did not have a radio but my parents did and my father came and said that Pearl Harbor was bombed. [I] said, “What was Pearl Harbor?” And he explained what it was. That was on a Sunday. Ok, then Monday, noontime, we were home for lunch and Roosevelt gave the speech about declaring war on Japan. And then we went back to work.

SB: But you didn’t have a radio, how did you hear that?

HF:A lady across the hall. She had a radio and we knew that he was going to make this speech so we’re all standing out by her door and she turned the volume up real loud.

SB: Was this everyone in the building?

HF:Just on our floor.

SB: How did people react?

HF:Well, some people got all shook up and excited because their sons would be taken. I guess I didn’t get excited. First of all, it was way over my head that the war was declared but I still learned what it was all about.

SB: Was your husband home for lunch too?

HF:Yeah.

SB: Was he concerned because he might be drafted?

HF:I guess, but he never was drafted. He had a problem with his legs, which we knew but we didn’t think about it at the time.

SB: Do you remember if changes occurred in Shippensburg in the early days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

HF:Yes, because everybody’s son, everybody’s husband, everybody’s father, everybody was going to war. Of course, right away they had the draft board set up and I don’t know exactly when they did leave. The whole town, in general, was just in turmoil. You didn’t know what was going [to] happen from day to day and you had these people that, I said borrowed trouble before it happened, to me they made it worse than it really was but I guess it depended on the individual, how you took that.

SB: What do you mean?

HF:Well they would be upset and they were crying and they didn’t eat and “I don’t want my son to go,” and “I don’t want my husband to go.” Well, they took ‘em anyhow so you may as well just…

SB: Is that what people would talk about when you ran into people on the street?

HF:Yeah.

SB: Did organizations in town like churches and civic groups in town change?

HF:I know at the Lutheran Church they had an organization that knit blankets and shawls and things like that. What really got the people excited was about the rationing – no gasoline, no sugar, anything that would take to make gunpowder or make ammunition or anything like that.

SB: Do you remember that affecting you?

HF:Didn’t affect me. It affected a lot of people. Like I said, I’m a poor one to talk

about it because I never realized it was a depression.

SB: Was that because things were just the same as they had been?

HF:Yeah, but I know as time went on, and I had no idea that it was going to last for four years which is a long time.

SB: Did you think it would be over quickly?

HF:Yeah, I did. What’s their problem? But I learned – very quickly that is was very sad, very, very sad.

SB: Do you remember changes like recycling or bond drives in town?

HF:Oh yeah. Seems to me they sold war bonds on the square.

SB: How did they do that?

HF:I don’t know exactly how they did that. They would have a like a platform up there and they would have entertainment, some celebrity would come from Harrisburg or Pittsburgh or something, and then they was to sell these war bonds, right away they started to take $16.50 off your paycheck.

SB: Automatically?

HF:Automatically, to buy war bonds they automatically took that off of your check. They didn’t take the whole thing all at one time but they would take so much off a week until you had a bond paid for. Then they would send you that bond. I think if you kept it until maturity it would be $25. But we didn’t have any money so as soon as the bond came; you took it to the bank. The banks in Shippensburg would not cash them and we had to go to Orrstown.

SB: They would not cash them because they thought it was unpatriotic?

HF:I don’t know but we had to go to Orrstown. Orrstown cashed them and a $25 bond was worth $16.50. I think that’s what you got, but you had to wait like three months to get it.

SB: Would crowds gather when the speakers came?

HF:Yeah, you had to get there early or you had to stand in a line for an hour and a half to get your bond cashed. But the people that could afford it, they did well because they accumulated thousands of dollars in bonds.

SB: Did you know anyone who sold bonds?

HF:No.

SB: Do you remember if there were any steps taken for civilian defense or air raids in Shippensburg?

HF:Yes. We had air raid [drills] and I don’t know where you went to but I do know we had air raid drills. And we had black outs. And at night you were supposed to keep your window blinds down and the lights were turned down low in town.

SB: Were there civil defense martials in town?

HF:Yeah, and they had little signs up where they was air raid shelters. There was a lot of those – in somebody’s cellar. I think there was somebody in town that built a big air raid shelter, maybe Dr. Freeman, I don’t know.

SB: Did people think that Shippensburg might be attacked?

HF:Oh sure, I didn’t though. I was just not afraid. But I know a lot of people were.

SB: Were there any other ways that the war affected your daily life?

HF:It didn’t affect mine. The food rationing, they had Victory Gardens. People had gardens that had never had gardens before.

SB: Were there Victory Gardens in Shippensburg?

HF:Yes, uh huh. Over on Dykeman Road, [by the pond] there’s a field there from that medical center. They had Victory Gardens there.

SB: Was that a community garden that people from town planted?

HF:Yes, you could go over. They marked them off on little lots. And up on Burd Street, there was a big Victory Garden. The Civic Club was very, very active in the war. Those ladies made surgical dressings and they made robes for in hospitals and I guess they volunteered to go to the churches and work.

SB: You had said that while you were working at Shirtcraft that they converted over to war production. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

HF:The second year, supplies were hard to get so then they changed over to Army work. They made the Eisenhower jacket – the big wool ones and they made officer’s shirts out of real fine wool. That was supplied by the government so there was plenty of that.

SB: Did you work on the shirts or the jackets or both?

HF:I set sleeves, so every garment had a sleeve so the sleevers always kept jobs.

SB: Was it different working on something like an Eisenhower jacket than a regular shirt?

HF:A regular shirt is cotton, fine cotton and an Eisenhower wool jacket – the machines had to be changed, they had to have heavy feed put in, they had to have heavy needle

and the thread. Everything was O. D., olive drab color and they soaked the thread in some kind of oil to keep it from the thread breaking all of the time. I think the stitches on a cotton shirt are something like eighteen stitches to the inch. On the Army work, the stitches were fourteen stitches to the inch so therefore the machines went a little bit faster. That was just on the heavy Eisenhower jacket but when they made the officer’s shirts, they were fine fabric so it was put back to, like, cotton.

SB: Was it very different working with wool as opposed to cotton?

HF:Yeah, of course. Your fingers got sore. The sleeves were over here and the shirt went underneath the machine and you had to keep your finger down here and push the work through. But this finger [middle] – that wool – nothing like working your fingers to the bone.

SB: It was much harder work?

HF:Oh yeah.

SB: Since the whole factory was working on wool, did everything think it was harder?

HF:Oh yeah, uh huh.

SB: Did people feel like although it was harder it was for a good cause?

HF:Yeah, and see a lot of the people in the factory, they quit right away and went to work at the depot. As soon as Letterkenny was finished, they all went up there because the pay was higher.

SB: Did you work at Letterkenny?

HF:Yeah, I went too.

SB: When was that?

HF:I must have gone there in January of ’42.

SB: Had Letterkenny just opened as a base and was looking for people to work?

HF:Yeah, they advertised.

SB: Do you remember how you heard about positions at Letterkenny?

HF:My brother in law worked there. He worked there as a guard for the engineers when they were building Letterkenny. Then when they were finished those guards automatically got a job as a guard and I think that is how I found out.

SB: Did a lot of women leave the shirt factories to work at Letterkenny?

HF:They left the factories and went there.

SB: Did they make an effort to try and keep you at Shirtcraft?

HF:Oh sure. Well they just said, “Oh please don’t go,” and what could they do? They didn’t pay the money that they did up there.

SB: What did you do when you worked at Letterkenny?

HF:I was a chaufferette, that’s the only thing I ever did. The first job that I really had was to drive these two officers around to all the factories – Chambersburg, Orrstown, there was a little factory in Orrstown, and any place where there was a business where people worked you went. And they interviewed them to find out what their wage scale was.

SB: Did you go into the factories with them?

HF:No.

SB: You stayed in the car?

HF:Uh huh.

SB: What did they do with that information?

HF:I guess they turned it into the government, I don’t know. But I do know that that’s how the wage analysis was set up at Letterkenny.

SB: By trying to figure out what the general wages were in the area?

HF:It was higher than what you actually made, but it wasn’t as high here as it was in Carlisle and it was still higher in the Harrisburg area.

SB: Were there many drivers at Letterkenny?

HF:There was fourteen.

SB: Were they all women?

HF:Yes, all but two.

SB: How did you become a chaufferette? Were there other positions open to women?

HF:Well, I don’t know, it was just advertised.

SB: Did you want to be a chaufferette?

HF:No. Hey, whatevers up there, I’ll do.

SB: What other jobs did you do as a chaufferette?

HF:Then, they had a maill route and you had to apply for it. They put these jobs on a board, so I applied for that. I got that and I really like that. I was a happy camper driving those.

SB: Would you describe an ordinary day on the mail route?

HF:Well, you had to wait at the administration building until they brought the mail from the post office. I don’t know who sorted it. Then, you had to take it to the different

warehouses out in the ammunition area.

SB: Would you get the mail in a bag?

HF:No, it was sorted just like at the post office. Like it was sorted for the ammunition area, and if you had to go to Warehouse 10, you just dropped it off at Warehouse 10. But you had to do that, I think, twice a day.

SB: So you drove around to all of the different parts?

HF:Yeah, I liked that. I didn’t like going off the base.

SB: Did you get to meet people all over the base?

HF:Oh yeah, you got to see the operation of Letterkenny in the beginning and of course, as time went on it advanced bigger and bigger.

SB: Would you describe what things were like in the early days at Letterkenny?

HF:Well, my personal feeling was they had four people to do the job that one person could do. I either have to be busy or not even be there. I just didn’t like because to me, there was too much gold bricking. I just didn’t care for it.

SB: Was there a lot of security at the base?

HF:Oh yeah, uh huh.

SB: What was that like?

HF:There was a guard at each one of the gates and you had a certain parking lot that you had to go to. Sometime later I think they inspected cars because people confiscated some of the stuff. They had guards clear up there until it closed.

SB: Did you wear a uniform or civilian clothes?

HF:I did yes, when I was on that mail route, you wore a uniform - everything was O.D. [olive drab].

SB: Does that mean you were considered to be a member of the service?

HF:No, you were employed by the government.

SB: Did you wear it off the base?

HF:No, well, you wore it to work.

SB: Did people treat you differently when you were wearing the uniform?

HF:No.

SB: Were you there when they brought the prisoners of war to the camp?

HF:No, I was not there but my brother in law was there. They had Italian and German prisoners there.

SB: I definitely know they had Italian prisoners.

HF:They stayed there and they did work there. I don’t know what they did. Have you ever been in a government installation?

SB: No.

HF:They have an office called the Locator’s and everything that was in that depot went through that Locator’s Office and there’s numbers put on everything. In those warehouses there was bins from the ceiling to the floor with every screw and nail and hammer, anything that was ever made was in there, but it was very well organized. If you went there and asked for a ten-penny nail, they knew exactly where to send you to to get it.

SB: Did you have any other jobs at Letterkenny?

HF:No.

SB: How long did you work at Letterkenny?

HF:I went there in January of ’42 and I must have quit in March of ’43 because they changed the mail route. We did not have that mail route anymore; they did it some other way. I don’t know what and I was supposed to go work some place else and I didn’t like it.

SB: What did you do at that point?

HF:I went back to Shirtcraft and set sleeves. That’s when I worked on Army work.

SB: Were they happy to have back?

HF:Oh yeah, no problem.

SB: When you went back were they having difficulty finding people to work in the factory?

HF:Every place had that kind of problem.

SB: Did having a shortage of workers make your job more difficult?

HF:No.

SB: Were they short-handed?

HF:All the time, yeah. When you have 600 people working at the Shirtcraft, and when we were doing Army work, I think there was about 300 there.

SB: Where was the Shirtcraft located?

HF:Do you know where the Orrstown Bank is on Lurgan Avenue [121 Lurgan Avenue]?

SB: Oh yeah. Is that still the Shirtcraft there today?

HF:It came here in 1928 and it was there until ’75 and then L’Aiglon Apparel came and it was there from ‘75.

SB: There is still a clothing factory out there.

HF:Yeah, but they make men’s pants. That was not there during the war.

SB: Was it where that apartment complex is, near the Peerless?

HF:Where the apartment complex is, yes.

SB: You had mentioned that many women had left town during the war. Could you talk a little bit about that?

HF:When there husbands and their boyfriends were drafted, after they got through basic training and got sent to some base, they were supposed to be at that base forever. Well, they would go trooping across the United States on the train and when they got there, sometimes they were only there like five or six hours and they were put on a ship and sent overseas. A lot of my friends just stayed there and worked.

SB: Where did they stay?

HF:I have one friend that went to work. She went to Bend, Oregon and worked in the shipyards.

SB: Was she from Shippensburg?

HF:Yeah, uh huh. The majority of them went to the coast and worked in the shipyards.

SB: Was it strange to see your friends leaving town during the war?

HF:Yeah, but I thought, “Gee, why can’t I go?” [chuckles] Again, there was a lot from the west coast and places came here because their husbands were stationed at Letterkenny, so they came here.

SB: Did the sound seem to be changing with new people coming in?

HF:Yeah, the people from the west coast had lived a different life than we have here. It was more or less a quiet community and it was hard for them to see all these people come bouncing in here with different ideas. I remember one lady came from Los Angeles and she said she was from L.A. So, where is L.A? But she was always dressed up and she complained because she couldn’t buy this brand of clothing and another brand of clothing. Well, at that particular time, we didn’t know one brand from another; you went to [C.G.] Murphy’s or Kirssin’s or Viener’s and bought what they had. It gave a lot of people a higher perspective of life. They knew there was more on the other side of the tracks than before.

SB: So it really changed a bit of the culture in town?

HF:Yeah.

SB: How did a lot of men leaving affect the town?

HF:The men were drafted. I don’t know what the ratio of the men that were drafted that first eight months. I was tremendous. It took away so that women have to fall in line and do the men’s work.

SB: What kind of work?

HF:To my best of my knowledge, there wasn’t anybody worked at the Domestic because that was a foundry. The women from town that had never worked before went to work

at Letterkenny. They were typists and they were checkers. There was just a job for everybody. When the war was over, they stayed there. I don’t think that factory workers took their job as sincere as the older generation did.

SB: Was it hard for women to suddenly have their men leave?

HF:Well, I guess it was. I didn’t experience that but I’m sure. I know I worked beside three or four people that they had five sons in the service. All five were taken at one time. That was hard. We felt sorry for them but everybody had a son or grandson or a husband or somebody that was in the service.

SB: Did the fact that so many people were leaving town hurt the community? Was there still a social life in town?

HF:The bars were full.

SB: Really?

HF:Yes, over here at the Fort Morris – it was called “the Fort” – where the King’s Inn is now [105 West King Street]. That’s a very old establishment. They used to have a big long bar in there and they had bands and they had the soldiers from Letterkenny. The whole community was just buzzing all the time.

SB: Why do you think there was that level of social life?

HF:They didn’t have anything else to do, I guess. Burkhart’s was the main restaurant. On the corner where the Select Restaurant [is] was the Sherman Hotel and they had a big bar in there. Everybody got dressed up on Friday and Saturday night and lived it up.

SB: Did you go out?

HF:I wasn’t too interested. Well, another thing, I worked part time at Burkhart’s so while everybody was out doing their thing, I worked.

SB: What did you do at Burkhart’s?

HF:Was a waitress.

SB: Did you enjoy that?

HF:Yeah.

SB: Was Burkhart’s the restaurant in the Sherman Hotel?

HF:No, Burkhart’s is where the Gingerbread Man is [13 East King Street].

SB: Oh, ok.

HF:I think “Burky” opened that in 1929 and it was the main place to go. Really it was the only place in town to go out to eat. They had Morrison’s Hotel, which was where the Legion is now [15 West King], but that was more or less for a different class of people.

SB: Was it more expensive?

HF:Yeah. And up where the Shippen Place is, at the extreme end, where that alley is, Johnny (?) had a little restaurant in there. It was called the Sugar Bowl. Everybody went there, but that was just soup and sandwiches. He made delicious sundaes and things like that. But to really get a meal, you had to went to Burkhart’s.

SB: Was it a big place?

HF:No, it was just one big long room. On this side was the counter, the isle and had booths over here and went back to the kitchen. I would think he could seat maybe 75 there at that time.

SB: What was the special there, the thing to get?

HF:Hot beef sandwiches and French fries. He had a special everyday. He had a big sandwich board up there. They were open from 6 o’clock in the morning until 1:30 the next morning.

SB: Did you work that whole time?

HF:No, they had shifts from six to two. And they had a broken shift from six to eight and then somebody would come in and work eleven to two and maybe that same person would do that.

SB: Did soldiers come in there?

HF:Oh yeah.

SB: Did they get treated any differently?

HF:No. I just thought it was sort of bad. Of course I learned later, this is the way people lived. It really changed the community.

SB: The war?

HF:Yeah. The Tollgate Tavern, well some Greek man, Steve Lewis, had that and he made Friday night spaghetti night. And beer had just come in in ’32 – prior to that this was sarsaparilla and birch beer. It was mostly beer, I don’t know exactly when they did get liquor license, but they had three or four types of beer. But, oh golly, “Burky” had a big ice refrigerator and I think they could put maybe five or six cases of beer in there. Well, they’d fill that up three or four times in a night.

SB: How long did you work at Burkhart’s?

HF:I worked there until ’46, I guess. Then my oldest son was born in ’46 and that next winter ’48. I must have worked there, maybe until the ‘50s.

SB: Did you have two sons?

HF:Yeah, I had a daughter and two sons. My daughter was born in September of ’41.

SB: Then you had a son in 1946.

HF:And the other one in ’48.

SB: So, your daughter was born just before the war broke out.

HF:Yeah, she was three months old when the war was declared.

SB: Was it difficult having a small child during the war?

HF:Well, you had to work and you had to find a babysitter. Luckily my mother lived close by and she watched her. Everybody had a babysitter; they made three dollars a week. I would say that the war brought prosperity to this area.

SB: The Shirtcraft was able to get a military contract. Did other factories in town go into war production?

HF:Yeah, the Pants Factory, they made the wool trousers that we made the jackets for.

SB: Was that Hoffman Mills?

HF:Beistle made some kind of parachutes and Hoffman Mills, they wove material and I know they had Army contracts but I really don’t know what particular thing they made.

SB: So the war brought prosperity to the town?

HF:Uh huh.

SB: Does that explain why people were living it up during the war?

HF:Yeah, I guess so.

SB: Did that prosperity continue after the war was over?

HF:Everything continued and it got bigger and greater. After that, I guess in the ‘70s, is when I think the biggest building prosperity came, like (Hallwood?) Heights, (Kaypo?) and they started to move out of downtown.

SB: Did you have any friends, or family, or classmates who served in the war?

HF:Yeah, a lot of my classmates, I graduated in ’36. There was only 97 in our class and I think there was 30 some and quite a few lost their lives. I don’t know how many.

SB: Did you keep in touch with any of them during the war?

HF:Not really, I didn’t have any really close friends and I didn’t have any relatives. I had a couple cousins but they lived in the Harrisburg area.

SB: Did you follow what was going on in the war?

HF:Oh yeah, after the first year, this is for real; this isn’t anything that you read in a book.

SB: How did you get your news about the war?

HF:You listened to the radio and the papers and everybody was getting mail back from the G.I.s that were in the service and when they came back on leave.

SB: Do you remember talking to anyone who had come back on leave?

HF:Oh yeah, everybody that came back on leave went to Burkhart’s.

SB: So you were at the center of the news. What was it like talking to people who had been in the war?

HF:I guess they were just glad to be back. They were home on a thirty-day leave and then they would go again. I just remember them coming into the restaurant with these uniforms on. You know what a uniform does to some man – makes him look gorgeous. It was a thrill to see them back. A lot of them went to Officer’s Candidate School and they went to flight school and they got their wings and they had their stripes.

SB: Those men from town who came back….

HF:…they were heroes.

SB: Were they heroes compared to the men working at Letterkenny?

HF:Yeah. I guess there were a few that said, “Look at me, look how great I am,” but we had two that I can think of that had been in Concentration Camps and a couple had been prisoners of war over there. I know when “Steamer” Easterbrook came back he was so thin it was pathetic. [His right name was Stanley; we always called him “Steamer.”] I think he was in a prisoner of war camp for eighteen months but he finally came home.

SB: Was that a big event when he came back?

HF:Oh yeah, because they lived out on the avenue and his mother was so excited. There was a couple of other ones. Down on Penn Street, out North Penn, toward Eckles Field, there was four young men, they all left at the same time. They were only overseas six or eight weeks and all four of them were killed and they were neighbors.

SB: What was it like when you would see people who had family members killed?

HF:It was a tragedy. That is when I realized that this war was for real – when they started to come back.

SB: During and after the war?

HF:Uh huh.

SB: Do you remember when Franklin Roosevelt died during the war?

HF:Yeah, the people that lived beside my home, she was a big Republican and the day that he died, she came out the door and hollered, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah! He’s dead, he’s dead!” My mother was so humiliated. But a lot of people thought that the whole world was just going to collapse because he had passed away. Because I think a lot of people thought that he held this country together, which I guess he did but his last years in office, I don’t suppose he did much.

SB: Did you have any reaction when you heard about it?

HF:Well, he was the president. I always thought you had to have respect. But as I grew older, you can’t tell me that he didn’t know that we were going to be attacked.

SB: Did your husband have any reaction?

HF:Not so much him as his father. His father was very well read. He was a Republican too. I made all my money during the Democratic administration because prior to that you were just making pennies, and as he went on, NRA went in, raised the hourly wage, and all that kind of stuff. I had the highest regards for him because President Hoover was the first president I remember and things were bad. And Roosevelt was in all those years so I had no

reason not to think that he wasn’t a great person until later years.

SB: Did the programs of the NRA and the New Deal affect you working at Shirtcraft?

HF:Through those programs they raised the hourly wage periodically but those Work Progress [Administration] things that Roosevelt put out got the people off the street and got them jobs.

SB: Was Shirtcraft unionized?

HF:Not then. Shirtcraft didn’t unionize until close to [the] ‘60s. That was a big thing. I guess they did a lot of good for some people but I think they caused a lot of companies to go under because they demanded so much.

SB: Do you remember how you and/or the town reacted to VE Day in May 1945 and VJ Day in August – to the end of the war?

HF:When the war was declared, the fire bells rang, the church bells clanged and everybody got out in the street. I was not downtown but I was told that the streets were just full. But I do know that the cars were just lined every street.

SB: Where were you?

HF:I was at home. I just could not see myself jumping in my car and blowing the horn and running up and down the street. That was not me! [laughs] But I guess if you would have had the tragedies that a lot of the people had, you would have felt that way too.

SB: Did you have a radio by the end of the war?

HF:Oh yeah, uh huh.

SB: Is that how you heard?

HF:By the end of the war, you had everything, you had a car and you had a radio. The rationing was over and everybody was excited about the rationing and all that sort of thing. I am not an excitable person.

SB: Even though you didn’t hop in the car and start honking your horn, how did you feel when the war was over?

HF:Well, I was glad because I felt that it would get things back to normal but it never got back to normal.

SB: What do you mean?

HF:It took a long time. Soldiers came back and their wives were with somebody else and to me there was as many hardships after the war as there was during the war.

SB: Really?

HF:A lot of homes were broken up. It just took a while for things to right itself.

SB: What was the cause of those problems?

HF:You were gone for four years so your wife’s here, some other body comes a long and there was a lot of that.

SB: Four years was a long time. Did the businesses in town change? You were still at Shirtcraft at that point.

HF:Yeah, after the war, merchandise – the stores became plenty full. I guess after the war was the one of the first beginnings of self-service stores. You could buy a car. The garages were full of new cars. Everybody got a new car. When the G.I.s came back, they got

$25 a month for I don’t know how long. A lot of the guys felt that they had served their time so they didn’t even bother finding a job. They just stood on the corner.

SB: Did things change within the factory?

HF:Oh, yeah.

SB: How did things change?

HF:Of course Army work stopped right away so it went back to civilian clothes, which was not big thing. The machines had to be put back but as far as anything else, that just went along normal.

SB: Did Shirtcraft have an easier time finding people to work after the war?

HF:Yeah, they did. But like I said, Letterkenny hurt industry here.

SB: That continued after the war?

HF:Yeah, Letterkenny did, uh huh.

SB: When the war had ended and soldiers started coming home, did your friends come back who had moved to California and Oregon?

HF:Yeah, a lot of them did, but there was some that had stayed out there. A lot of the G.I.s married girls from the west coast or wherever they were stationed – Oklahoma or wherever they were stationed. My big problem was when the G.I.s brought back the girls from France and England. I think the G.I.s made them believe that the United States was like Hollywood. Everything was just great and all they needed to do was just sit here and everything would be handed to them. Well, that’s not the way it was.

SB: Did you know people who brought brides back?

HF:A neighbor lived right across from where I lived, brought this girl back. She couldn’t stand Don’s mother, she couldn’t stand me, she said, “Jump in door, jump out door, get up and go to work.” She didn’t do that. So I said to her one day, “How did you live?” She said, “Well, if you needed a new dress or a pair of shoes you went to mission and the government would buy.” You didn’t do that here. I think it was very, very hard for those girls and some of them made it and some of them didn’t. I thought that was hard.

SB: I noticed that your two sons were born after the war. Is that because the war was over?

HF:No, they just arrived. (chuckles)

SB: OK, I was wondering if there was a connection there.

HF:No, huh uh. I was going to say, we never touched on the farmers. During the war it was hard for the farmers. This is a farming community, it was hard for them to get work – to have people to come and help to work. A lot of the farmer’s sons were deferred because they were needed to work on the farm. After the war is when farming really progressed in a big way here.

SB: It really grew?

HF:Yeah, it really took off.

SB: Is there anything else about the war years that you remember and you wanted to mention before we talk about the post war period?

HF:I think everybody learned a lot about each other during the war and I think people mingled more among themselves, between each other, because I’m sure a lot of the people were lonely. The war was a little bit like 9/11 [September 11, 2001]. It was such a dramatic thing.

SB: But the duration was much longer.

HF:Yeah, four years is a long time. A lot of the service men were gone, especially the Navy, they were gone for ten months at a time. That was really hard.

SB: If you were to compare Shippensburg in 1940 with Shippensburg in 1946, how had the town changed?

HF:I don’t think there was that much change in that period of time. I think the biggest change was a few years after. Because of the rationing, nobody could go anywhere and you couldn’t buy anything. They did go on the train. We had four passenger trains here and sometimes six. The troop trains would go through town. They had convoys when they moved from one base to the other. But I really think the big change came, I would say, three to four years after the war. Things remained the same in town. There was no way to do too much because they had nothing to work with and nobody to work for them.

SB: Did the fact that so many men had gone off and been in other parts of the country and women had moved and then came back have an affect?

HF:[They] say how great it was some place else, yeah. This is a farming community and nobody was much in favor of broadening their knowledge that much until after the war. I think that’s what brought a lot of prosperity and new ideas.

SB: Do you remember anything about the University during the war?

HF:I think it just sort of remained. They did what they could with what they had. With the gas rationing and with the food, and hardly anybody went to college because the young people that were ready to go to college, they were drafted. It just left the few women to go.

SB: You had mentioned that you went to New York during the war.

HF:Yeah, one time. I had been to New York a couple times before and I was amazed at the black out, especially on Time Square.

SB: Why had you gone to New York?

HF:My father was quite a traveler, so we’d just get on the train and go to New York for the weekend or something. My mother wasn’t too happy with it but we did it anyway.

SB: What had been the reason for you to go to New York during the war?

HF:I only went there one time with a friend. I guess she went up there to bring her brother back, that’s when he was wounded.

SB: That is when you saw the black out?

HF:Yeah.

SB: What was that like?

HF:The whole city was really dim. It looked like the streetlights were candles. I know a couple of the chauferettes let convoys into Brooklyn port of embarkation and they said too.

SB: Did you ever lead one of those?

HF:No.

SB: In the bigger picture, do you feel that those war years affected you or changed you at all?

HF:I don’t think so. I wasn’t involved with anybody that was killed or that was injured. I think it would be nice if you could interview somebody that had a lot of that experience but I never did. I just was not involved with anything. And like I said, it took year for me to realize that this is a terrible thing. I am not one to borrow trouble. I don’t cross the bridge before I get there, which a lot of people do. I think it must have been very, very hard for your husband to go. I had a couple friends and their husband went and they had a four or five month old baby and they got killed. That child never knew who its father was and that’s hard.

SB: Do you feel fortunate that your husband was here?

HF:Yeah, maybe it would have been better for me if I had experienced something like that but I just never did.

SB: Anything else that you would like to add?

HF:I can’t think of anything. Did we answer all these?

SB: We answered all of these questions.

HF:I don’t really think so, if you’re satisfied with it.

SB: I’m satisfied.

[end of interview]

Citation:
Steven Burg, "Helen Fulton, July 31, 2002," in the Elizabeth V. and George F. Gardner Digital Library, http://gardnerlibrary.org/stories/helen-fulton-women-world-war-ii, (accessed Month Day, Year).

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