We were the right age group, where men had not been too active in combat before, and it was enticing to us, exciting to us, to be kind of the first in line for that sort of thing. We graduated from school, but we had to be 21 years old to get our license at that time. So, during the time that we waited for a testing and so forth, we worked. We prepared for going away. Sometimes we had to prepare our families for it because it was unusual for young women to go into military service at that time.
Did your family support your going?
My family very much supported me going in. My father was a polio victim, and during the early war, my father was fifteen years old. One leg was shorter than the other because of the polio, and so he used to march— my grandmother tells me that he marched up and down the street trying to get rid of his limp so that he could [walk straight], and he did succeed and enrolled/enlisted in the army, in the National Guard. And he reported for duty, and some neighbors saw him there down at the Common, and ran down and told my grandmother that he was there, and she ran and took him by the ear out of there. A couple years later when he was still too young, he succeeded in enlisting. He got her to agree to let him go. So, my father was a very patriotic man. My brother enlisted in service first, and he was proud to have a son, but how many men had a daughter that went away? So he puffed his chest all the time about the fact that he had a daughter in service. At that time, my parents were living in Staten Island, New York, and I enrolled in the army there and reported for duty at Halloran General Hospital on Staten Island, but I was only there probably not more than two weeks, just long enough to get our orders. I was shipped to Camp Rucker, Alabama, supposedly for basic training, but when we got there, there was no opening in the nurses’ classes in Camp Rucker. So they had some GIs give us a little quickie training on the side. We then were shipped out to Boston, and we went out of Boston, and there we were issued our overseas, supposedly, I think we got out for old commissions at that time. Prior to that, we had relative rank. But the Congress had voted that we could have full commissions, so we were all commissioned first lieutenants, second lieutenants. We also were issued new uniforms because some fashion designer decided to design a new uniform for us as long as we had the rank. We were there only a short time. We were on a boat, and it took us thirteen, fifteen days to go across the ocean because you had to zig-zag in convoy.
So you were worried about U-boats, then?
Yeah. We had the ack ack stuff on top, at night and stuff...
Did you have any encounters with U-boats on the way over?
They shot our stuff and made noise, I don’t know what [happened]. We did have a little trouble with them, because there were women on board ship. We had to be put under armed guard at that time because there was a group of disgruntled soldiers on board, and they had a right to be disgruntled, because they were put on after the ship was full and they were going to sail on deck, across the Atlantic for fifteen days. And they slept on deck, and it was not right.
So, the first sergeant assigned to us made up a program where they would rotate the fellas in and out, and share the sleeping accommodations, but during that process there were those soldiers that were disgruntled enough to threaten when they found out that there were women on board. They said, “If we don’t get what we want, we’ll go after the women. So, we had to be put under armed guard, but it was straightened out and settled, and so forth. But we were only in the service such a short time that it was kind of a frightening thing for us, you know? And we landed in Liverpool, England and were taken by a truck from Liverpool to Stafford, England, on the Earl of Lichfield’s estate, where they had a hospital set up. And we were there, but I’ll tell you, from the time I got in—September 13th is the date I enlisted, and I landed in England December 7th, so I had very little basic training, you know? It was a fast trip. They needed nurses for a unit that was already performing over there, so they took us, you know, to catch up.
Sort of “on-the-job” training, wasn’t it?
Absolutely. And we were all kinda green. And we set up in there and they taught us the kind of work that we were going to be doing, which was the research and treatment for combat fatigue and battle fatigue or whatever they call it today, what is it… you know.. Nerves… But, they..
Oh, shell shock? Is that one of the things?
Shell shock was World War I. Combat fatigue was World War II. But now, they call it something else.
Are they similar problems though?
Yeah, yep. We set up a hospital and school on the Lichfield estate, and we treated patients that were getting ready to make the Normandy invasion, so they had boys that had problems come to us to see if we could help them to prepare for the invasion. You know, to take boys with emotional problems. We gave them treatment, we reassigned them sometimes. And in the process of doing this, we also taught doctors and psychiatrists, or psychologists. Different people in that field would come to us for two-week courses, and we would take them on our units and we would teach them what we would learn, and they came from all the Allied armies. So we kinda taught people that couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak [their language]... but it was very interesting because it was a great responsibility; we were just out of school!
Did you have to worry about air raids and potential bombings while you were at the hospital in England?
Not at that point, not there. That was a pretty quiet area. It was up in the midlands of England, and it was a quiet area. When we went to London, we were each given a week off to go to London for a leave. And in London, we had to live in supervised hotels, and the matrons at the hotel got us out of bed, only nurses in one building, and we had matrons walking up and down the halls. And when the air raid sirens went off, we had to get up and get dressed, and go down on the street and be escorted to this one subway where only the nurses could go. We couldn’t mix with the other people, they kept us constantly under [supervision]. For those who think the nurses were living it up when they worked hard, they didn’t. But we were constantly guarded because it was their first experience with handling larger groups of nurses in the combat areas. We worked through the time, then came time that we were also told we were going. You didn’t have to be told, because one of the things the government issued us was a raincoat. Every soldier had to have a raincoat, and they didn’t prepare for women so they gave us men’s raincoats, and they were huge. And they were impregnated with anti-gas chemicals. They smelled awful, and every time we knew we were going to be moved, the order was issued, “From now on, you have to wear your raincoats.” Oh, they smelled awful! So that’s what we wore going. And they took us by truck transport to the South of England, and we were on the Leopoldville Yacht, which was the king of Belgium’s private yacht. And just the personnel were on there. It was just big enough for the personnel of the hospital, and we went over to the beach in Normandy, and got on with those awful raincoats on. We climbed down the side of the ship on the rope and down into the landing barges with those stinkin’ raincoats on! They were our nemesis, but you had to have them. We went onto the beach at Normandy, but we had to go into the fields and pitch tents and stay there, because our equipment was on another ship, and it was bogged, so.
How soon after the initial invasion did you go into Normandy?
Well, we went into Normandy the end of August, I think, so. But it was still ending, you know? There was nothing there except beach and stuff like that. You know, it still wasn’t developed. And [when] we got in there, there were other nurses ahead of us with the field units, but we went in to follow because we were general hospitals set up to be mobile, and we followed the troops up through Europe. But we had to wait until we got equipment. But what they did with us, ‘cause they never let you sit quiet. But what they did with us was we slept in puff tents in the fields, and we had to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go on trucks further up toward the front where there were other hospitals operating, work for the day as volunteers, extra, and then at the end of the day get back on your truck and go back to your puff tent in the fields and you go to sleep! And that’s how we did Normandy, because you know, we couldn’t set up. But we went then all the way up through, following all the way through, and we acquired a building in Belgium that was a monastery that the Germans had taken away from the Church that owned it, and made a hospital out of it. So it was then given to us to work with. So we were inside of a building, and they kept the women, patients, office space. And the women were up here on the third floor, (motions) this was administration, patients here, and patients in the tent out behind the building. And the women were always kept indoors. We had to be there; the stairway up to our quarters was blocked off except one stairwell, and it was always 24 hours a day armed soldiers sitting there as armed guards over that area so nobody could ever go up the stairs.
Did you ever have to treat civilians also, or were you solely limited to soldiers?
Well, actually, if I guess you looked at the real rules, you weren’t supposed to. But you never saw a group of nurses turn kids away. There was one doctor in the village that was an elderly, elderly man, and because he was elderly he couldn’t handle it. So they did come to us. They would evacuate children and bring them back to their homes. There was a lot of farmland, and they would take the children out because they were bombing toward the coast and it was going over us so the children were in danger. And they sent their children away like the British did to get them away from combat. And when they brought them back, these kids had been away from that area, we had a lot of injuries from children picking up explosives of any kind: they had hand injuries, body injuries- they’d go running in the fields, and you know. So yes, we did take care of children. We had one time a group of youngsters, quite a lot of children that were on a truck coming home, and the truck turned- you know, went off the road. We had some head injuries and so forth. So, yeah. I went there and all of these people from the village came to tell me that they had their hands done at my hospital. They thanked me for all of the other medics that had been there and done it for them. If you could see, I was surrounded by flowers and all kinds of things. They would come in and say to me, “Look at my hands, Madame! When I was seven years old, I picked up an explosive and the American doct[or]—“ we were always called the “Americans on the hill”, because you had to go up this little hill where the building was. Lots of people were hired by the hospital to help too, so they knew about us up on the hill. But, these people… There were all people that were just sixty plus ‘cause it was the sixtieth anniversary and they were little children. Another woman came to me and said, “Madame,” and she gave me a big bouquet of flowers and she says, “Madame, my eyes! I couldn’t see. I was ten years old, and my mother got scared so she ran to the Americans on the hill, and the doctor did a little operation and I’ve been seeing beautifully all my life!” And on and on, course I sat there crying like a big [baby], and I’m not a crier, but I couldn’t stop. And this whole thing went on and on, and we did find the group of children in that picture that was up over there. The group of children, we found four or five of them and other people had been treated- they just flooded the place.
I want to check this. We’re doing good.
All of the trip that we went back to, you know, going back has kind of started me. Before that, yeah, sure I was overseas, yeah, sure. But going back and having them relive it for us. The Belgium people teach their children in school at a certain age. They have to learn the history of World War II; what the Americans did for them. Every child is taught; it’s part of their life. They take a pledge, they hand you a paper that’s signed, pledging that they will always teach every generation from now on the value of the American soldiers. It’s kind of heavy stuff, because, well, I guess I shouldn’t... I don’t want to talk politics, so ... But hearing about all the dislike there is for Americans around the world, it certainly was a great tonic to go there and have these people treat you so [well]. They chased us like we were rock stars! And since I’ve been back, I have been asked to talk. I’ve been on the television, the local television station from our town, and I’ve been to churches, I’ve been to veteran groups, I’ve been all over just talking. They all wanna know about my [story]- I couldn’t talk [back then], I was very shy and quiet. Now, they can’t shut me up! Old age has kind of pushed me into [talking]— I just love it! I just think it was a gift at the end of my life if I had the opportunity to do this because I’m 85 now and I’m not sitting in a wheelchair drooling someplace. I do have such a gift because I have been able to talk to people and that sort of thing. And I have lots and lots of young soldiers, but some of those old soldiers behind me there are all great friends. If you’ll notice, they’re very respectful to us nurses, and they still remember, so it’s made a great life for me. It really has.
That’s fantastic. Well, when you were over in Belgium, what was it like being in the hospital? You know, would you constantly have about the same amount of patients, or would all of a sudden you’d be overwhelmed with patients?
Well with us, they’d be sent in and interviewed, and there was a whole process they went through with medication and so forth … and treatment with insulin shots for the ones that couldn’t eat because that would stimulate their appetite and besides their nerves. And it was all study and teaching and going to class ourselves. We had to go to school, [then] to work and teach somebody else that came in because all of these doctors came to us, so we were constantly busy. Not in maybe the standard, but when the Bulge came, we became a surgical unit, and they took all but twelve of the nurses out of there. But we were behind so I was there to experience that [time] we had the severely wounded [soldiers]. Before they took us out of there, they took the three soldiers that I had on my unit, and they took them out and buried them in the Catholic cemetery behind it and they had a Christian burial for them. There was a priest still in the building that lived in a house across the street. So you can’t compare with something else at any time. It’s just different, you know? And I think, of course, the main thing is that it should be taught. It should not be forgotten, and it sounds like trite, old stuff but it is the truth because a lot of the things that are happening especially with young women today in the professions in the nursing field and medicine, the things that nurses do today drastically changed and improved at that point in life. We saw it change ourselves and the things done today by nurses is because we had to pick up and do work that was then doctors’ work. Doctors weren’t there; they were doing other things. So, you know, when we started we weren’t allowed to give an IV. Now, the doctor doesn’t even know how to give an IV because they don’t bother teaching them, the nurses do it!
Did you have to do with shortages of supplies at any point, or were you always well-supplied?
Um, we weren’t too bad. We were all right. See, actually we were behind the line [and] we had good supplies there. But I think our biggest thing to deal with was determining what we had to do. Because what I had was a room and they had cots, army metal cots, and they started bringing in the wounded into us. What I had to do—it was just me, twenty-four hours a day for ten days, it was just me in that room—I had rows of cots and on each cot was a stretcher with a wounded soldier on it. And in between on the floor of each cot was another soldier on a stretcher. They were all wrapped in army blankets [and] they had been transported... The only thing that showed was that they had what they called their medical jackets, which were their medical records pinned here at the neckline. We had to every three hours, no matter where, day and night, give each one of those boys a shot of penicillin. No matter where you were in the world, every three hours they got penicillin. That’s how they regulated the giving [of] penicillin; [it] was that every patient got it every three hours. And my job was to determine which ones went to surgery first, and you couldn’t take the time to unwrap all those blankets. Many atimes what you did was run your hand under the stretcher, and ones that had the most blood through the blankets were the ones where you said, “Take this one!” You know, because you didn’t have time to get their arms out and put a blood pressure cuff on their arms and stuff like that to determine who was in shock and who wasn’t. You just looked. You used your eyes and your feeling, and that was [it]. Actually, prior to that, we would never have had to do that job. We would have stood at the doctors’ elbow and “Yes, sir!” at him. So that’s when nurses were allowed to do what they do today.
I’m gonna pause because this particular disc has about a minute to go. So, I’m gonna stop it here and if I may put in another one, I would like to hear about-
And you’re gonna keep on going?
Well I would like to, yes, if you will. Because I want to hear how you got rescued from behind enemy lines—you said you got rescued; I want to hear that! So let me go ahead and change this. And I was curious, did you ever— you know you told me you had [treated] children, but did you ever have to deal with enemy soldiers or anything?
I had one of those patients that I had one episode with, but the sergeant of my ward took care of that. He asked me to step outside and there was a much-subdued patient when I came back and that was all. I let the boys handle the rough stuff. That was kind of one of the things a lot of doctors would say when we were especially handling the boys with the jitters and stuff. He’d say, “Don’t be the disciplinarian, you don’t have to. You’re a woman in the lines. Just be female and talk to the men. Be stern with them if you have to, but that kind of fills in the mother image.” We were in our early twenties, but we were told to act like mothers. But that was frequently told, we didn’t have too much trouble anyway. I told you, respect was the biggest word over there.
Yeah. I brought this to show you. This is one of the little things we got for my class. It’s an Air Force soldier, royal Air Force diary, and he kept a little, um... Well it has information about identifying planes and medals, but he wrote little notes each day…
Oh, isn’t that cute? ‘Cause I have books like this but I have no writing in them. My father would— you know what he did to me? Of course, he worried about me. I was so bad about writing and I still am today. My father used to address a letter to me and when I would open it up, it would be a self-addressed, stamped envelope and inside it would be: “dear dad, love rose.” nothing else. I took the hint I had to write my dad a letter. It’s funny how I’ll call and talk to them but I can’t [write to them]. I’ve been told to write for years and I can’t put it down.
When could you find the time when you were overseas? Was there really time for you to sit down and write a letter?
Oh yeah. We had time.
Oh yeah. There was time. It wasn’t all “shoot ‘em, Charlie” but no, there was time. But we had to take our priorities and one of the things was that every nurse, or most that were in my group, ‘cause with that many woman traveling you almost sometimes don’t know them all, because you go to your job and so forth. I guess it’s like working in a very big hospital when you don’t know the people that around the other wards. When we traveled we had red nail polish, red lipstick, and a deck of cards in your pocket. Because we sat on the floor of the troop train, sorta the back of the truck, sit in a group, and play whatever your card game was. I was a bridge player at the time; I couldn’t possibly play a card today, but I played [back then]. there were a couple of doctors and this other friend of mine, who were [players]. They taught me, but they told me I wasn’t knowledgeable about cards so they let me learn with them because they were avid card players. So I learned to play bridge and every night or every quiet time. We could always sit on the floor or at the table no matter what, playing bridge. Those four of us would get together, have a cocktail or whatever if we were with the officers or anything like that, and play bridge. So you had to have a deck of cards, you had to come out with a deck. You had to have nail polish ‘cause you never get a chance. They give you one helmet full of water a day. You took the outside metal part of the helmet, filled it with water, and you had to bathe yourself and your clothes. You take off your dress, you know, and rinse your undies, and you didn’t get to do that every day. But- I’ve lost my train of thought. Oh. The nail polish was to cover up your grungy nails! It wasn’t legal to wear red nail polish in uniform, but we did anyway, because your nails get- you know, you know what it’s like if you don’t get a good soaking and your nails don’t get [cleaned]. After we washed, we’d cover up the grungy line around with dark red nail polish ‘cause everyone had felt like a woman if you put lipstick on, so those kinda things were must-haves. ‘Course then we had the personal items that we had to take care of also. Which I’ll come to later in the story of my evacuation, if you’d like to-
-I’d like to hear that.
At the time of the Bulge, this was even the day of the Christmas they took us out, because we were stationed the front row, this row right out here (motions), it was part of General Patton’s Red Bull Highway where he got his supplies, that was an unusable road where only the supplies go into the front were allowed to be on. So of course everyday those roads were in terrible repair, they were just country dirt roads and they would have these teams of engineers that were stationed with us that repaired the roads on our hospital property, but also maintained the roads where the trucks would go through. And sometimes they did have what we called our “officers’ club” which was a little repaired building over across the road. That’s what we called our officers’ club where we went to play cards. We’d go out there, these young soldiers, and I’ll interject here, these boys were black soldiers. They were segregated, and also forbidden to us but we were always friendly with them. You know, talk to them, we didn’t, you know. But the black soldier was there, and you pass by them and you joke a little bit with them, they joke back and laugh and so forth. So, they knew us, but also [one of] the white officers who had proposed to one of the nurses was there. So, he used to come into the officers’ club with us, so they knew that he was upset. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even know whether they had taken his fiancé out or not, he just didn’t [know] whether she was with one of the twelve. But he was upset about it, and they were aware that the twelve of them had (inaudible)… So, they went and made arrangements and came in during the middle of the night, and took us out of there. And we walked with them, they took us with round flashlights through the fields, we couldn’t even go on the roads, we had to go through farm fields until we got to one of the main roads and they had a truck waiting there for us. They put us on that back of the truck and drove us down to where the rest of the unit was in France, and they even took care of our ablutions, those big hunks of guys used to stand- you can talk to any nurse, and they’ll tell you that that was their bathroom- [it] was soldiers’ shoulders because we had to do what we had to do at the side of the road. We couldn’t go into the bushes because they weren’t checked for landmines. And those guys would stand facing the street with their shoulders together so that other vehicles going by wouldn’t be able see to give us the privacy to do what we had to do. Isn’t that a wild thing? And that’s why I’m doing this black project. I finally found a black soldier I can say thank you to, so. It’s been a search of my life every time I went some place where there were black soldiers that were in the right age group. I always asked them where they were stationed hoping I’d find one that was there, but that never happened. So honoring these black men makes me feel that I’ve done what I want to do for the boys that helped me. I also used my story about that to teach my children tolerance and so forth, but that was always my story to teach them.
Why did you have to be evacuated, the twelve of you at that point?
Because we were surrounded by Germans and we had to be snuck out of the back door. They were there.
Could you hear the fighting going on at that point?
Oh yeah. We could see it. Looking down the hill, we could look right down and see them. We could go on the roof, and you could see the abandoned German tanks down in the fields because it was when the Germans ran out of gas, it stalled out their tanks and they were all right down there. No, we could look out and see ‘em. We didn’t go to bed, we didn’t go back to our quarters. We stayed in that room for ten days. One woman and seven corpsmen. They were from the lab because they could get into vans, but my crew was lab technicians.
So you didn’t-
You just had to quickly put together a crew to work.
You didn’t know if the Germans were gonna capture you or not then-
But you had to take care of the soldiers while you wondered, oh...
I was wondering how with the Germans closing in around you, you were able to take care of the men and-
Well, you need time to be afraid. You have to think it out, your brain has to tell you there’s something to be afraid of. So if you have something to do, not sitting. You know many times they show fear of those things like Anne Frank sitting in an attic room, shivering because she was locked in a attic. She had nothing to do but think. We didn’t have time to think. Every once in a while like for food, we never thought about food. What they did was to bring a big tray full of sandwiches up from the kitchen whenever somebody had the time to go there and make sandwiches. You know, they had cooks down there in the kitchen, and we did have personnel in the building. The German prisoners had used to do that, cause there was a time prior to that when our patient load was heavy that we had German prisoners undoing the plasma boxes for us because it took too long to rip open the plasma and use it, you know, to give it. And here’s another thing: we used German prisoners. They stood there with a guard, one soldier guard at a group of them and they tore open those wax boxes that caped the plasma – it’s a big job. You had to cut the boxes open ‘cause they’re sealed in wax!
Were they still in their uniforms? The prisoners?
Well they have a P.O.W uniform. It’s like a fatigue.
But I was a little annoyed because they sent the order to send them, send the stockade back to the main stockade because we had a stockade on our grounds. We had a stockade of Germans on the ground and they did a lot of the labor around ‘cause we weren’t [able to]… But they were opening plasma for me. I couldn’t even handle the boxes, you had to have a bayonet to, you know, cut the boxes open and we women weren’t that good with bayonets. The room that we were in had formally been a dormitory for boys, the boys’ school that was in the building, and there was one bathroom with a little sink in the corner. That’s all that was, in that, for all those boys to use. But when I had to use the bathroom, I just signaled the boys and went in and shut the bathroom door and came back out again, but I’d just call them so that nobody else would be embarrassed by coming in, opening the door, you know so, I’d just let them know I was going in there. But we walked around with a sandwich in one hand and touching bloody soldiers with the other. You didn’t worry, you know it was all that kinda stuff that you think of now. It’s amazing as you get older that some of the past comes back more— like, with all these guys, they’ll say something and you go, “oh, I remember that!” You know, so this is great for me. It’s really great for me because my girls go to business and I’d be sitting home alone all the time so this way I just relive the past and have fun with it.
Well, what did you do after the war? Did you continue with medicine?
I went to Chicago and went to school for a little bit. I was engaged to a doctor who was going for a residency at that time. We had religious problems so we finally, you know, separated. But I came back to the East Coast. But I’ve worked… up until I was fifty, I worked up until during the time I was having my children. And I did, I think, terrific because I worked up until I was fifty years old, in charge positions, never had a point of a degree.
Because every time I applied for a job wherever I was, if I looked for part-time work or full-time work and went to the hospital and put in my resume, and I just asked for staff position and I’d get it, and after I had worked for a while they would approach me and asked me if I’d like to have it [a higher position] and they’d put me in. I was night supervisor for ten years at a hospital in Brooklyn. In charge of the whole hospital, running the operating room, the delivery room and everything. And I never had a point of a degree. Now you can’t get in the front door of the hospital without a whole string of degrees but I did it without [one]. But it was because I’d learned. I know it was because they saw I knew how to do it. We were assigned [corpsmen]— the corpsmen that we had were all trained at Walter Reed. These boys knew more about nursing than we did. But we learned to supervise them! So that put us another niche higher in the education level. And I would never come back – I never had different jobs. I never asked for a supervising job, because I didn’t have the credentials for it. But, after I was working for them, they put me in and gave me the promotion. So, it’s a lot of positive things with it.
Yeah. Hard work pays off, doesn’t it?
What about any medals or citations? Did the government recognize your service in any way?
I have a unit citation that the hospital got. It was a high unit citation but the colonel refused because the enlisted men got drunk during that evacuation and disgraced themselves and he refused when the big brass offered him a unit citation for something else. He refused, he said that they don’t deserve it. The twelve nurses and the male doctors and the enlisted personnel who stayed behind that time, we were all recommended for the bronze star. And one of the things that we were told under the table, what the story turned out to be, now, I do know as of this day, and John and my chapter, there is a fellow who is an ex-paratrooper that had been injured. When he got over his injuries because he was a medic in the paratroopers, he chose to stay with us, rather than be sent home. So, Gerry was one of the ones that was with us in the building that time, and he has a bronze star on his chest and all the doctors and enlisted men, but the nurses didn’t get it because the chief nurse turned it [down]... “We were only doing our duty,” it was her excuse. It’s not fair to give all the men a medal, but it has been put before Congress and so forth, but… it’s on my records, crossed off and put back on again, and they still won’t accept that. The state Senate in Massachusetts and all has had it researched and they won’t give it to me. But I know I got it, anyway.
I was recommended, I don’t care whether they [acknowledge it].
And then you got to meet some royalty in Europe a few years ago?
Oh Yes! There are some pictures over there. There was Kate and Dottie Davis, I don’t know whether you know enough about this group to know about Dottie. Dottie’s been with us, with the Washington Bureau part of the Battle of the Bulge, and she’s been there corresponding, secretary, she’s written books and so forth, and this I think is the first time she’s ever missed. But the three of us went to Belgium with the men, when we went on that six years anniversary celebration, and a part of the schedule was that we were to meet the king of Belgium, and that there was a private show, just the veterans; their families couldn’t go with them. They just took us into a special room, and we had kind of a mix up, because in the morning when we were supposed to meet him privately, we had a break in security. And they couldn’t bring the king into that room, so they made arrangements for him to meet us in the other building. But, at that time, it was when he wanted to meet the family too, so that was a general meeting in this other building. So the press went in the morning, we couldn’t have our own camera people, you know my cousin was with me, but she couldn’t be with me supposedly when we had the appointment. So in the afternoon, she was allowed in, and that’s how she was able to get the picture. And we had to line up and one at a time approach the king, and he had this big defense guy that was standing at his elbow, and a couple of generals that were part of the king’s staff, standing around him and we had to one at a time walk up to him and tell him what our name was, where we lived in the states, and where we were stationed in Belgium. And he bowed to us, and said, “It’s so good to [meet you]!” you know, the usual proper things to say. And we walk off, and we had to stop because they were gonna give us a medal, and we were gonna have that ceremony later. So, we went off and sat down, and next thing one of these generals is at my elbow, and he said, “Madame, the king wishes to speak to you!” He puts his arm out and escorts me across the hall. Kate’s comin’ from this way, Dot’s comin’ from this way. He lined the three of us up, and in this crowded room, he was so jolly with us. He had to meet those three ladies! He wanted to meet the three ladies! And he said, “I didn’t know that the Americans had ladies with them!” and Kate says to them, “Well, sir, we were dressed like the men, so they probably didn’t know we were women!”
It’s those raincoats!
But, of course, you know what that triggered off: another session with the press! Once the king separated us three women from the men, and of course we were teased ‘cause John... with his name of McAuliffe, he gets a lot of attention in Belgium, because General McAuliffe is a hero to them! They have statues of McAuliffe all over the place. So when he goes over to Belgium, they make a big fuss over him, because of his name.
They weren’t related though, were they? As far as you know?
I don’t think so.
He didn’t tell me that they were.
I don’t think he would because he likes to [joke]. If he wants to joke, he will say something like, “Yeah, he was my uncle, and I’m the one that taught him his mouth!” ‘cause McAuliffe had a salty mouth. I don’t know where we [were].
Well you were mentioning that the press came over and you were talking about the king and the audience...
They chased us in the streets. They would come up. Not only the press, but the people in the villages. You know, we were in those great big army buses, if you’ve ever been on, a sort of troop transport bus, they’ve got these big high stairs and great huge things. But in every little community and village in Belgium, they have an American memorial behind a wrought iron fence. They put equipment that the Americans left behind, and they preserve it, and make a monument to Americans, in every, every little farm village. Well, we tried to get those big buses through those villages, and they’d have to kind of back and forth, you know, try to get through there, and that gave the local people a chance to bellow around town, “The Americans are here!” And they would come out and we would have to get off the buses and have another memorial sermon. We have memorial services from four o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night. Every village wanted us to pray with them, and to salute with them, and to do whatever. It was just fantastic and of course I had been on the television on Monday six o’clock CNN news. They had my story on TV on a local station, so everywhere I went, (knocking motion) “Madame! I saw you on television!” So it was kind of more than I expected.
Well is there anything you’d like to say directly to my students?
Oh, yes! The young ladies, especially: I just think that you can make a life for yourself, and you don’t have to be pushy or anything. You can be a woman, you can be a sweet lady, maintain yourself as a lady, and still do what you want to do. Make what you want out of your life. How’s that?
That’s great. Thank you very much.