Interview with Marian Soutner at her home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, on July 9, 2002, with Heather Egan as a part of the Cumberland County Women During World War Two Oral History Project. Soutner discusses her involvement with United Service Organization (USO) as well as her families daily efforts during the war including canning, rationing, and growing food.
Mrs. Winifred (Bixler) Kegris was born on June 16, 1923 in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. She has four brothers and four sisters. She graduated from high school in Shamokin in 1941 and began work at the Middletown Air Service Depot in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Two years after she began working in Middletown, Mrs. Kegris transferred to Hawaii as part of her job. In Hawaii she joined the United Service Organizations (USO). After the war she got married and had two children who were born in Shamokin and New Jersey. She currently lives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Kegris began by discussing what life was like for her during the war. She told where she was when she heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She also discussed her involvement with the Red Cross, her training, and her duties in the organization. Mrs. Kegris then described her work at the Middletown Air Service Depot and her transfer to Hickam Field in Hawaii. She continued by describing how she joined the USO, her work within the organization as an entertainer. She also described her experiences in Hawaii, such as her reaction to viewing the wreckage at Pearl Harbor. Mrs. Kegris concluded by discussing the end of the war and her life after the war, including how she maintained relationships she established during wartime and the war’s affect on her family.
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)
Jennifer Elliott: Can you tell us a little bit about your life before the war began?
Winifred Kegris: Well, I was in high school when it was announced that the war was on. They called us all to the auditorium and we thought they had a surprise for us and they did. It was very happy before. I was a junior in high school when the war was on in 1941 and in 1942 I graduated.
JE: Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
WK: In high school.
JE: So that’s when you heard about it first, was when you were in class?
JE: And how did you react to the news?
WK: Well I guess sort of was frozen.
JE: Was the like the reaction of your whole community? Were they all shocked?
WK: Oh my yes. Oh my yes. It was very sad. I mean I was with the boys that were going to be called. They were all going to be drafted.
JE: How did the war affect you and your family’s life? Like the changes, rationing, conservation, and victory gardens. Did you participate in those?
WK: All that, yes.
JE: Did your church become very involved in the war effort at all?
WK: All yes, the churches were all involved, everybody became involved.
JE: How did you become involved with the Red Cross?
WK: Well, they sent us to school to learn different projects. So that we could go relieve the men that were working from their jobs at Middletown [Air Service Depot]. And I went to study instrument repair and from there they said I should be involved with the Red Cross. So they sent me to a course and I carried a card with me in the [war]. That I could help anybody that was injured on the street or any place.
JE: What was your training like for that?
WK: It was mostly everything that concerned someone being injured, in shock, or if there was a bombing. We really didn’t know where they were going to bomb.
JE: With the Red Cross, did you feel like you were contributing to the war effort?
WK: Oh yes, I took it very serious.
JE: I guess everyone did, their involvement and such.
WK: Yes, they did.
JE: How did you become involved in the USO?
WK: Well that was after I went to Middletown. They needed some people over in Hawaii and I had transferred to Hawaii. I had worked at Middletown for two years. I was still with Olmstead [Air Field]1 but I had transferred over to Hawaii. And that was in Hawaii when I became involved with the USO.
JE: What were your duties with the USO?
WK: Well, they had dances for all the servicemen, that’s all the servicemen. They’d bring them from down under [Australia]. And they would go to the USO and we’d dance with them or we’d put on shows for them.
JE: Were you involved in the shows?
WK: Oh yes.
JE: What was your involvement in the show?
WK: [laughter] A singer and a dancer.
JE: Why did you decide to join the USO?
WK: I guess everything concerning the war involved us. We were interested in anything.
JE: You were talking about Middletown. What did you do while you were in Middletown?
WK: Oh I was a stock tracer.
JE: What was that?
WK: I ordered parts for the planes. And delivered them in all different tubs and things. [I rode] scooters, went from warehouse to warehouse.
JE: While you were in the Red Cross what was your daily life? What would be a daily routine in the Red Cross?
WK: Well, we did serve them refreshments and everything. But that was not our main concern. Our main concern was being there if we were ever needed in an emergency.
JE: Were you ever involved for an emergency? Did something ever..?
WK: Well, I visited the hospitals and everything, the servicemen over in Hawaii. Which was very sad, especially one. We went in to see him--they didn’t expect him to live. And he just kept his face towards the wall. And I went over to the other side and he said, “Please don’t go to that side.” But I did and the whole side of his face was blown off. [chokes up]
JE: Are you okay continuing? Do you want a few minutes?
WK: No, I’ll be all right. I still remember that poor fellow.
JE: Do you remember V-E and V-J Day?
WK: Oh yes, we were all in the cafeteria and they called us all up. The president made a speech.
JE: So I guess you were a little elated and excited it was over?
WK: Yes. [smile]
JE: How did your life change when the war was over?
WK: Well, I came back home and I went to dramatic school.[laughs]
JE: How did the war overall change your life?
WK: Well, I have three brothers that were in the war and three of them were injured. One lost an eye, the other one had what they called then shell shock, and the other one had malaria. He was sent home. It affected us very bad.
JE: While you were in the USO and the Red Cross did you meet a lot of people from all over the United States?
WK: All over and they were so glad to see someone from the mainland. At that time Hawaii wasn’t a state. And it [the United States] was called the mainland. They were so glad to see us over there.
JE: Do you keep in touch at all with the people you met during the war with the USO at all?
WK: Oh yeah, I have a friend living in Hummelstown. Not the soldiers and sailors. I mean, it’s been so long.
JE: Yeah, but with the people you worked with while in the USO?
WK: Yes, I still have.
JE: Do you think life would have been different if the war would have never happened?
WK: Oh my, yes. For sure. Because I was right at Hickam Field when I was in Hawaii, and that’s right next door to Pearl Harbor. There was only a fence that divided the two places. So when I went to Hawaii I saw the actual thing. The bullet holes in the buildings and everything.
JE: That had to be quite an experience.
WK: It was terrifying.
JE: I can imagine.
WK: And planes used to fly over practicing all night long.
JE: How’d you sleep? [laughter]
WK: When we could. [laughter]
HE: When you were in Middletown how did you get involved with that job?
WK: They came to the school and asked if anyone was looking for a job and I said, “Yes, I’ll go.” Of course my mother wasn’t too happy about it.
[end of interview]
 Olmstead Air Field was the name of the airport at the Middletown Air Service Depot. Olmstead and Middletown were often used interchangeably to refer to the Air Service Depot.