Mary Merris (Women in World War II)

Biography

Mary (Kuhnert) Merris was born and raised in Dauphin County Pennsylvania. She then moved to Mechanicsburg when she got married in 1942. Her mother was born in Dauphin Pennsylvania and her father was born in Halifax Pennsylvania. Mrs. Merris came from a family of 3, one brother and one sister. She graduated from William Penn High School. After her marriage in 1942, she had twin sons. During the war Mrs. Merris had four brothers, one of which was killed, and one husband in the service. She currently works at the Mechanicsburg Area Senior Center throughout the week.

Abstract

Mary Merris began her interview by talking about how she and her fiancée decided to postpone getting married because her fiancée wanted to enlist in the service.  When he was declared 4-F (unfit for military service) they married and decided to start a family, only to have her husband drafted in 1944. She then described her wedding on Easter Sunday 1942 and their honeymoon.  Mrs. Merris then talked about the difficulties raising twin boys, such as food shopping, and the household items she owned at the time.  She continues by talking about V-E and V-J day and how happy she was that the war was over. Then Mrs. Merris talked about her experiences at Fort Benning in Georgia with her husband, such as where they lived and how she and her husband would write to each other as much as possible.  She then discussed rationing and how down in Georgia, her husband would sell candles and sweets to other soldiers to make some extra money and how, in her area, there were not any air raid drills.

Methodology

The following transcription 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 with out sacrificing the original language. Because written English differs from original language, 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 text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, description of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, has been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as “you know” or “um.” The transcription 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 pronunciations of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested on those aspects of the interview. (Based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War Two Oral History Project)

HE: Can you tell me a little bit about your life before World War II began?

MM: Oh sure, you mean like when I was in the teens, or born, or where? Or just that I was engaged when the war was declared.

HE: Sure.

MM: Alright, I was engaged to my future husband, John Merris when was declared and we didn’t want to get married and him go off to war and me a be a widow. So we postponed our marriage and then he though he would enlist. So he tried to enlist, they turned him down because he had a bad heart. Well then he tried to enlist again, that was at Carlisle because we lived in Mechanicsburg and he was turned down again. So we thought, ok we’ll get married. So we got married and then in nine months we had twin sons and then when they were about two years he was called into the service. He was 4-F, he was classified 4-F and then they were down scrapping the barrel I guess and he was called into service, after we got married and had our children. Yes, yes right. I was 25 then he was 28. It just wasn’t fair.

HE: No. You had a plan and then they had to go and mess it up.

MM: If he wasn’t good enough to enlist then why was he good enough to be drafted, 4-F?

HE: Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

MM: Hmm…that’s a good question. I don’t think I really remember, no I don’t

 remember exactly where I was.

HE: Do you remember at all, maybe how you reacted or, just like how the news…?

MM: Oh of course it was a shock, it naturally was. Oh my, terrible shock. Sure, I think I was at home; I was living at home then of course, my home with my parents. Gosh, that was terrible.

HE: Speaking of getting married.  You got married during the war correct?

MM: Yes, because he wasn’t going to be going so…

HE: Might as well?

MM: Yes.

HE: And what was your wedding like? Was it a big wedding, or was it small because of the war?

MM: Yes, yes, but it was a lovely wedding. It was on Easter Sunday, April the fifth, 1942. And the church was full and it was all decorated with flowers, we didn’t have to do that because we couldn’t have afforded it anyway, and I still have my wedding dress, but it was a wedding dress, not a wedding gown. Difference there. It was dark blue, pleated very good with lace trim, lace inset.  It was a wedding dress and I still have it in my cedar chest and I have a blue hat with a veil. And yes it was very lovely. And [laughs] my husband, he was very, would you like to know a little bit about him?

HE: Sure.

MM: Well, my mother cried, my daddy walked me down the isle he was very brave and my husband said his toes curled up, you know he was so nervous you know, his toes curled up in his shoes, but I didn’t know that of course. It was a lovely wedding, the church was packed of course. It was a small town, Dauphin, so everybody turned out for my wedding. No announcements or anything, we didn’t send out invitations or anything. It was lovely.

HE: Did you go on a honeymoon?

MM: Oh yes, oh yes we did. He had a Nash car, you could put the

seats back and it made a bed, cause who could afford to go to motels or anything then? So, yes we did, and we traveled down through the South. We traveled the back roads and you know, where the hills are like that [makes a sharp angle with hand], and they’re really steep, where the ladies sit on the front porches with their corncob pipes and, you know back woods, way back then it was really rural back there. We went down to Georgia, as far south as Georgia, came back. I can’t tell you how many days, probably a week or so. But it was a honeymoon for those times you know.

HE: And did you husband actually go off to war, did he go off to Europe?

MM: No, no, no he didn’t. We’ll get to that, service down in Georgia, Fort. Benning, Georgia though, but he fortunately, it was over before he was sent over seas.

HE: What kind of things did you shop for during the war?

MM: Ha. Who had money? I couldn’t get to a store with babies. I was left alone with two-year-old babies, two two-year-old babies and I can’t remember shopping for anything, except for food.

HE: Were you better off or worse off financially during the war?

MM: That’s a silly question. No, I was not better off during the war financially, definitely not.

HE: What items became difficult or pretty much impossible to get?

MM: Well you know things were rationed then, you know that, but I got all I needed you know. Sugar I got plenty of and gas, you know. I wasn’t denied much. Well you did curtail your use, but I had what I really needed, especially with the babies too.

HE: Did you have a victory garden?

MM: Not then I didn’t, no not with children with no body to help me dig it and plow it or whatever, no.

HE: Did you can your foods?

MM: I did afterwards, after the war when my husband was home, but not during it. When he came home we did have a nice garden, but not during the year, and we lived in the country, we had three acres so we could have had. Yes, hey I was country, that’s why I couldn’t go down the street go to the store and pick up whatever I wanted, you know I was rural, baby.

HE: Did you regularly attend church during the war?

MM: It was difficult with the twins, very, so no. Not regular, you don’t do that with two-year old twins. In the first place, how do you get them, no car seats, you know. And no pants, you didn’t have good, what you had to use for--rubber pants, we had no rubber pants, it was some sort of a canvas coated with something that would crack and leak, couldn’t even dress them up to have them…nah. No. That’s one thing, you couldn’t, the rubber pants were gone, no rubber for the pants.

HE: Did you follow the war closely in the media?
 

MM: Oh yes, I did get the newspaper then, I don’t get it now.  Of course we have the radio now, or television now. I guess I had a radio then, I hope I did.

HE: And what was your view on the war at the time?

MM: Don’t ask me that, cause I can tell you what it was. I was resentful. Not for the war, I guess for the fact that they took my husband after he was 4-F, after we got married because he wasn’t supposed to go to the service. So my view was pretty, not favorable at all. I was resentful, I really was, no it wasn’t right to take my husband after we got married and had the children, and I resent it to this day. And I’m patriotic, too. I am very patriotic.

HE: It’s understandable to be angry, I would have been upset too.

MM: Well upsets a good word, better than angry, I say resentful.

HE: What was an average day like for you during the course of the war? Like, what time did you get up, and taking care of the kids?

MM: [laughs] Lordy, lordy, I don’t know what time I got up with twins, I guess whenever they started to get awake and wanted to get up, which was usually one would get awake and wake the other one. So then we would get up and do the normal things and, but I did have enough gas to go over to my parents once in a while, they lived in Dauphin and I was over in Mechanicsburg, but you know it was hard with these twins, they would stand up in the back seat because they were little, if they would stand on the floor in the back they couldn’t see. You know that wasn’t safe even then, so it was hard            to go any place with the twins alone and which I was alone. So, what was your question? What did I do? [laughter] I don’t even know how I got to the store to get groceries. I suppose I had my mother-in-law maybe stay with the twins while I went to the store, I had to do something. So, probably they helped me out cause I don’t know actually. I had to get groceries I know I had to. [laughs]

HE: Do you remember what appliances you had in your home?

MM: Oh that’s a happy thought. Not many, I’ll tell you. Well I know I had an iron and my mother-in-law, we built on to her house, you know there is country and there was room and she was a widow, too. And my husband was the oldest child, so she wanted him there, and I can see it. So we built on it, and then there was a washhouse out back. She had this--an easy wash machine, [it] had cups onto a little machine and that was the washer, but we had to carry our water in, heat it on the stove out there. It was pretty primitive, I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy and when the twins were little, but that was before he went into the service, I did all the washing by hand for a year or so and then I used the washing machine, what was that question again?

HE: What appliances?

MM: Oh yeah. Oh ok, so we had my mother in law’s washing machine. I had an iron. Appliances? [thinks] I didn’t have my mixer by then, I don’t think I had a mixer by then, no no not in two years.

HE: Did you have a large freezer to store meat or anything like that?

MM: No we didn’t get the freezer until later, just a refrigerator. Oh yeah, that’s an appliance. Hey I probably had a toaster, sure, toast our bread. I’d like to get into this now.  I never thought of that as an appliance. That might cover it, I know I didn’t have my mixer and that’s a wonderful thing to have.

[break]

MM: That was rough. No mixer, I mean hey that was [word unknown] as I look at it back now, but then I didn’t think of it.

HE: So how many people did you live with? It was you, your two sons, your husband for a short time, and your mother-in-law?

MM: Well she had rebuilt onto her house. She had her section and we had our own private home. It was like a double house and that’s what it was.

HE: And did you own it or rent it?

MM: No we just lived there. Because we paid, we built on to it. We didn’t pay rent, no. Hey who could afford it anyway?

HE: Do you remember V-E and V-J day?

MM: Holy moley yeah I sure do. [smiles] I can remember where I was then. I was out on the front porch and the church bells began to ring [claps hands together] and the fire whistles--I could hear them from town--fire whistles were going, sirens were going and I knew what happened. Wow! What a time, yes happy day! You bet I remember exactly where I was.

HE: And where was your husband stationed during the war?

MM: Fort Benning Georgia and I went down there with the twins and lived there a while. Yes I did, yes I did, [do] you want to hear about that?

HE: Sure.

MM: Ok. You know him being twenty-eight years old and with a wife and a family back, and he was always on K-P duty, every weekend because he would fall asleep during meetings or sit in the back and you know, cause he wasn’t, hey he was resentful, too. And so we decided that I would come down and then he’d have something to do on the weekends instead of K-P scrubbing pots and pans and latrines and things. So he had a buddy who lived in Carlisle, and so gave me her address. We got together, she had a little son a year old, and I had twins, two years old. So I had the car and we got together, his wife and it took us two days and a half the gas to get down there. We spent two nights in a motel. And we got down there and he had rented on a plantation, we had the servant’s quarters, a nice cottage. And his buddy’s wife had to live in a couple rooms at the main house. Didn’t look like a plantation house to me, I would think of them as more elaborate, but oh my cottage was lovely. Except at one time a spider went up in the corner, I am definitely afraid of spiders, but anyway that was a happy place there. It had a bedroom and a kitchen, no living room though, but hey, the bedroom was big enough to be living room. And there was lattice and those southern vines whatever they are. It was lovely I liked it, then there was a colored cemetery right by with pecan trees and we were allowed to get pecan if we wanted to and the colored people were very nice to us there, very very nice. That was a very nice time. Now, that was in Macon [Georgia], I think, and then he got us into a Fort. Benning trailer court, a horrible place. It was little wooden, like a wooden trailer.  A section here, a section here with a little metal part there for closets and things [uses hands gestures] and oh it was terrible, but anyway that’s where we lived with a little icebox, not a refrigerator. We must have had electricity though. I’m sure I didn’t have coal oil lamp there, good gosh. And some little tiny pot bellied stove, a really little thing, about that big. Well anyway, there was a little yard fenced in, the soil was all sand there, but that was all right. And what was remarkable, we spent Christmas there, and we went into town, the night before Christmas, my husband went up to some store and when he came down, here that store manager had--it was so sweet of him--he had given, practically given my husband decorations for a small tree and that really touched me, you know. My husband got us a tree and trimming for our Christmas down there. So I could cry about that.  So that was a very nice Christmas away from home, ok.

HE: And how did you get down to Georgia, did you drive down to Georgia?

MM: Yes, I drove most of the time, but, gosh I almost had her name [laughs] she drove some, but she wasn’t such a good driver.

HE: Did you have to save up rationing stamps or anything like that?

MM: Not for that.

HE: To travel down it was ok? Cause I know gas and everything was rationed at that time, but it was all right to travel?

MM: Yes, we were covered.

HE: Ok, did you have to fill out any paper work or anything like that?

MM: [shakes head] No, no. The way I was just going down. My husband took care of everything at that end and they were expecting us. When we arrived, we had to go the where my husband was living.

[break]

HE: Did you keep in touch with your husband through letters?

MM: Oh my gosh, everyday! Everyday, and maybe couple time, maybe twice a day he would write. Whenever he had a spare time and wasn’t too tired cause he was very tired cause he really wasn’t too healthy you know, and he would get very tired. But he would send me a postcard or two, whenever he had time, each day and I would write him a letter, not everyday because I couldn’t sometimes, I was too tired, but he wanted to hear about the boys. He called them his little men, he was a very good father. We ended up with six children then, course that’s what I wanted. I wanted to get married and have six children, and that what I did. [smiles] And so, yes we wrote and I have lots of letters.  In fact, we’re just going through them now. So the children, you know his other children get to know their grandfather.

[break]

HE: What are the first things that you remember happening that were different than your usual routine when the war began?

MM: When the war began?

HE: What things like changed in your routine?

MM: Well of course it was the rationing and of course everybody was going off to war, all our friends you know. It was too many, we’re at war for heaven’s sake, but you want to know what happened to us? I really can’t remember what happened to us in particular, except that we were rationed of course, that’s a change.

HE: Even though from what you tell us, you weren’t much of a cook to begin with…

MM: No but I sure learned.

HE: Did you have to change the way you were cooking when you were rationing? Did you have to change meals or substitute something with something else?

MM: Now see I don’t remember, but I presume I would have had to cook with

what I could get. So I know coffee, we didn’t use coffee that was rationed too, it didn’t affect us. But it was mostly the sugar and the gasoline. It was so long ago, it’s a period you, we sort of like to forget, too. It wasn’t a happy time.  Not happy.

HE: Did you partake in the celebration of V-E and V-J Day?

MM: Now I didn’t. Hey I can tell you something we did, this is something neat. When my husband was in the service, down there, they on bivouac and he had me go into town, see they weren’t allowed to have candles when you’re on bivouac you know, so he had me go into town and buy all the candles that I could, snacks, you know like candy and crackers and things like that. And so I bought all the candles in that one store and a whole bunch of candy and things and I put them in a gunnysack. I drove out in the country past the guards, you know that they had out in the country and there was a little old church, probably a colored one, and the back of the church was a log, a big fallen log. Now I put this sack of candles and food behind that log, then I got in my car and drove back past the guards and they never knew it. Well them my husband and his friend sneaked out and pick that up, you know, and that was A.W.O. L, and then they took it back and at nighttime they were sitting here outside their tent and everybody was coming up buying these candles and buying the candy and things, and they had their helmets their, and they were putting the money in and here come the guards around. Oh boy. Everybody froze, my husband put his head down like this and he just froze cause they knew they were going to get it, but the guards or whoever they were, sergeants, whatever. The one said to the other “You can’t over estimate these, so and so American soldiers.” and so they went on by. Didn’t do a thing, just left them have their candles and things and I thought that was pretty neat, that the M.P’s could be compassionate to them out there like that. And for my part in it, from the profits, I got a lovely kimono, which I kept for years and years and years, it was a good one. They bought it for me, I may have done that twice, but that was pretty risky. If they had been, well they were caught, but they didn’t do anything about it and I don’t think I was supposed to be in that area anyway, but I did go. So I was bad wasn’t I?! I guess if I could think about it I could think of some more things, but you wanted more about how I lived, but that’s how I lived there. That is how I lived there in Georgia.

HE: When you were at home in Mechanicsburg, you said you could hear the bells on your porch.

MM: Oh yeah.

HE: Did you also, did you have do like air raid drills and things like that?

MM: No we didn’t have those.

HE: Oh you didn’t?

MM: No we did not. No we didn’t have air raid drills here, although we had the supply depot here, but we did not have air raid drills. No not at all. I don’t know why because I know there were U.F.O’s.1 I think they were protecting whatever it was because my daughter in-law saw one, right over her garage, they were circular, but I think they were surveillance protecting the Naval Supply Depot here, but we never had any air raid drills.

HE: Thank you very much.

[end of interview]

[1] Not in the sense of extra terrestrials, but in the sense of unidentified air planes. 

Citation:
Heather Egan, "Mary Merris, July 19, 2002," in the Elizabeth V. and George F. Gardner Digital Library, http://gardnerlibrary.org/stories/mary-merris-women-world-war-ii, (accessed Month Day, Year).

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