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INTERVIEW WITH HELEN MINOR MICHIGAN WOMEN'S HISTORICAL CENTER

Katie Cavanaugh:

This is going to be easy.

Helen Minor:

Good.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Basically, we just want to find out basic information about you, like why did you decide to enlist, and what your daily routine was, that sort of information.

Helen Minor:

What?

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, like what your daily routine was, that sort of thing.

Helen Minor:

OK, fire.

Katie Cavanaugh:

OK, well, why did you decide to enlist? You enlisted in 1944.

Helen Minor:

I think that was the date. It's hard to recollect after all these years.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yup. October 27,1944.

Helen Minor:

Good, sounds reasonable.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And you're from New York.

Helen Minor:

I'm from New York State. Born in Batavia, New York, western.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And then you enlisted local, from home? You just enlisted at a local recruiting _

Helen Minor:

I enlisted from New York State.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Were you recruited or did you go?

Helen Minor:

I just went and said here I am.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And why did you

Helen Minor:

Why did I do that? Is because I had dropped out of school in Massachusetts and I was casting about wondering what next and I decided that with the training that I had had, I possibly, if I went in the Army they could use it Because there were many casualties at the time and I wanted to get into the medical part of it

Katie Cavanaugh:

Is that what your training was before, were you training for that in college, medical?

Helen Minor:

Well, yea, in a way. I went to the Boston School of Occupational Therapy and so that is medical, uh-huh, it's a rehab type of medicine and I did get a signed paper before I enlisted that I would be involved with that particular phase of work and strangely enough, it worked. It went through.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Well, I was wondering how you ended up in occupational therapy. That makes sense.

Helen Minor:

Because I had a signed paper. And so I just, actually I wasn't recruited, I enlisted, in Rochester, New York, which was the closest area to my home. And left quite soon after that. And the strange part of it is, you didn't know where you were going.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Just got on the train and they sent you.

Helen Minor:

Yup, that's right. Sworn in and go. My folks took me down there, and we were transported to the train station and off we went.

Katie Cavanaugh:

How did your parents feel about you joining?

Helen Minor:

I think OK. Because I think they realized, well, that I wouldn't know what to do if I was just staying at home at that age. I think I was what, about 22, or something, then. So, they were happy about it, I guess. None of us knew what was implicated or what was going on. It worked out fine.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Right, right. And the Army had been having, women had been serving in the Army for a few years by then, at that point, so _.

Helen Minor:

Yea, a few years. I had three brothers and none of them went in the Service and I was the only one. Kind of odd.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yes, it is.

Helen Minor:

They were either too old, too young, too sick, or too something and just none of them went in. Don't think it ever occurred to them, really. Let's see, there was a draft then, I think, wasn't there?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, so they must have been some way to avoid it for them?

Helen Minor:

They didn't get drafted.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And then you went to Georgia for your training?

Helen Minor:

I went to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. It was quite a long trip on the trains back in those days. They weren't very nice, not like now. Yes, took basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, which also was a center for men and women to be inducted into for basic. But, of course, we had a section off by ourselves.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So you didn't really come into contact with men very often, they had their own...?

Helen Minor:

Practically never.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And you were trained by women?

Helen Minor:

Oh, sure, exclusively.

Katie Cavanaugh:

What was training like?

Helen Minor:

Arduous. And not like home at all, or school, or anything like it. It was quite a jolt, really.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Oh, yea. Big shock, I would think.

Helen Minor:

But, I took it in a kind of benign way that whatever they said, OK, do it, just do it, and you got along fine that way. Actually, it's tremendous good discipline for anybody, men or women.

Katie Cavanaugh:

That's what everybody keeps telling me, that they just learned great things.

Helen Minor:

It is. It's too bad that young people now can't get out of high school and go right into the military for a while.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, what was your daily routine like in basic training? Get up early?

Helen Minor:

I think it started at 6:00. I'm not quite sure but it was early. It was earlier than I'd ever experienced before. And, let's see, we had to make our bunk up, and of course we had to be shown, we had to be taught everything to do it their way. And the blankets had to be all tucked in just exactly so and everything had to be just perfect. And then everybody out into the common area, out of the barracks, and all line up, and make sure everybody was there and then they would say, then we got released back into the barracks to finish up, go down a long, big, long catwalk into the latrines, and wash, shower, do whatever you wanted to do, clean up. And then, we had each barracks, in the barracks living at the end, in a private room, was a sergeant, in charge of all of us. And the whistle blow, all out, the barracks were double bunkers on each side of the building. And being, I'm very, quite tall, and I always had the top bunk. I sometimes wonder how come I, you never saw anybody fall out of one, but it's up there quite a ways. And then for an hour, we did calisthenics, right in the middle, right down through the middle of the building.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Were you all used to that, were women in shape or was that kind of a shock?

Helen Minor:

No, we weren't in shape, not a bit. It didn't take long, though, and there was no slagging around or she'd yell down the whole row to us, you know. And there were funny moments of course, but we didn't chitty-chat or goof off or anything like that, and actually, it was just great for us, because we were not in shape, and that puts you in shape by the end of about six weeks or something. You were in shape. And, the same way with eating. That was strange, too, because when you're home if you don't like something, you sit there and say I don't like that, I'm not going to eat that. In basic, you eat everything on the tray. And some of the officers were serving it to make sure that everyone had an apportioned amount and you were expected to eat everything on that tray, everything. And, they had it off, when you got through eating, you went through the line and went to dump your paper napkin and whatever, bones, it had to go all separated. And there was the officer standing there to make sure there was no food on that tray, you've had to eat it. But the strangest part of it was, was that, the girls that came in that were overfat and really out of shape, they slimmed right down.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Even after eating all that.

Helen Minor:

In six weeks time they were great. And the ones that were too scrawny skinny looking, they seemed to have put on muscle tone and put some weight on, they looked good, so it evened out.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So the Army must have known what they were doing.

Helen Minor:

I think they did. And then it was a time, too, when they had issued uniforms for us and clothing and they very often had to go back and have them altered. And some of them had to have new issues, they had changed that much.

Katie Cavanaugh:

That much, after six weeks?

Helen Minor:

That's really a health way, isn't it?

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, what were the uniforms like? Were they-?

Helen Minor:

Uniforms, well they were khakis, of course. Then your hat, your poplin raincoat, and lisle stockings and either you went in there with a garter belt to hold up your stockings or roller rubbers they put on. And wool socks, because we were issued the high top shoes, which we referred to them and they were called "Little Abners." And they were clunky, big old brown things and they told us, don't lace them all the way to the top because your ankles are going to hurt. And they did hurt, because they were stiff. Everybody was limping around for quite a while. And then in conjunction with that shoe business, every night everybody was polishing shoes, every night Had to have them good looking. And Georgia got kind of muddy there at times in the winter and snowy and sloppy and so we had to do that every night. The rest of the uniforms, I dont recall. We had knit hats, I think. And our dog tags, which always had to be in view, worn a certain way, in a pocket, whatever, with the chain showing, so you had them on 24 hours a day, all the time, so they knew who you were.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did they issue underwear, or that kind of stuff?

Helen Minor:

Yea, I was thinking about that the other day. I think, I don't think, we didn't have issue, government issue, GI for government issue. I think we had our own brassieres, but the underpants were this rayon khaki color and they weren't really like, well they were like bloomers more, they were straight legged, but they were, kind of, just big old pants, that's what they were, and a slip of the same kind of stuff, that rayon-y stuff, I don't know what they called them then. And we wore them all the time, all the time. And pajamas were all blue and white striped, flannel, we all looked alike.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did you have summer pajamas also?

Helen Minor:

I don't ever remember that. I think they were the blue and whites, if they were a cotton-y type of thing, they were still blue and white. Some manufacturer had a good deal going, furnishing all those.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Definitely.

Helen Minor:

We had a footlocker and everything had to be in exactly the same place in the foot locker. And folded just the same and nothing else in that footlocker, no personal goods. We gave up our lives. We had no personal life at all, nothing. Maybe a pad of paper and some envelopes or something like that, but not clothing, no clothing at all.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did that just get sent back home, or did you leave it there?

Helen Minor:

Oh, yes. They shipped them back for us, and our suitcase or anything else we came in with, they said we'll take care of that, we'll ship it back home, and they did.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Could you have photographs and that kind of thing?

Helen Minor:

Oh, yea, we had photographs. And then we started getting our shots, too. Immunization shots. They came every Saturday and we marched over to an area, Med area, and lined up. Of course, we were always in a lineup. And you go through and they're doing both arms at the same time and then we were free to walk home by ourselves. Home, being the barracks, and swing your arms to circulate it and make it so it wouldn't hurt so bad. And that was always on a Saturday so by Monday we were always back in shape again.

Katie Cavanaugh:

That makes my arms hurt.

Helen Minor:

It did hurt, though.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, I can imagine.

Helen Minor:

I've forgotten what they were, it's on my records there, but the regular antibiotics and all that kind of thing. I've forgotten what we got, but it was enough of them.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, oh god, I can imagine. So, did you feel, when you entered the military, were there certain stereotypes that there were about women in the military, that people think about military women as unfeminine, or?

Helen Minor:

Oh, no, because we were like penguins. We all looked alike and there was no stigma at all and as far as any relationship with men in basic, there was none.

Katie Cavanaugh:

You didnt see them.

Helen Minor:

No, we never saw them. Once we saw a bunch of recruits coming in, they were draftees and there was a big old saying in the Army, "You'll be sorry." So we were over there yelling at them, "You'll be sorry." Poor young kids, right out of school and off the farm and we were standing there yelling you'll be sorry. No, we had all women instructors and most of them were officers and we saw a lot of films and one in particular, "Victory at Sea," we saw that so many times.

Katie Cavanaugh:

I think you mentioned that.

Helen Minor:

Yea, that was intensive.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, did that get boring? Basic training?

Helen Minor:

After a while, sure. After they didn't know what else to do with you and they weren't sending you someplace, they'd always throw Victory at Sea on. No comics, no nothing else, but. We also, once a week, we had a female officer give us the news of the world, what was happening in Italy, and like that, the big battles. Of course, we didn't really have an idea of the whole picture and we really didn't know what, we were just doing our thing. Actually, I guess we could have cared less unless we had somebody over there. Because we didn't know what was going on in the world other than what they fed us.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Right, and how true was that, you don't know if it's slanted some way.

Helen Minor:

Propaganda.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did everybody know what was going on in Germany with the concentration camps and that sort of thing?

Helen Minor:

No, I didn't know anything. No newspapers, no magazines, no reading materials, no books, not anything, just that one hour a week of orientation.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And what they told you.

Helen Minor:

It didn't matter. What are you going to do?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Right. So, what were your training, or what were you trained in during basic? Did you have classes?

Helen Minor:

Well, one thing for sure, marching. And that had to be exactly so, in how to make the turn, and drilling, and that was an hour a day. So that was another slim down activity. So, what else did we learn? Hard to remember.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, it's been a while.

Helen Minor:

Yea, it's been a long time. What we did. But I know we had classes, but I'll be darned if I can remember what we learned in those.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Didn't stick, huh?

Helen Minor:

Did, but it loses itself after a while.

Katie Cavanaugh:

But, you were busy most of the day.

Helen Minor:

Oh, yea. There was meals and that took up an hour each meal.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did you get much free time?

Helen Minor:

Very little. Just a little in the evening. And the lights went out quite early, I can't remember exactly when but like 8:30 or 9:00 the lights were out and if you were down in the latrines taking showers or washing out some underwear, doing anything like that, you had to get back on, walk up the catwalk and get in the barracks and go to bed in the dark. One funny thing that was happening, one girl came back up from the latrine area and she felt around in her foot locker and pulled out ajar of underarm deodorant cream and was putting it under her arms. The next day she discovered she had her shoe polish. She thought something dire had happened to her. We were all sitting around cracking up and laughing about it. There were some funny things that happened. Class-wise, well after class-wise, after the six weeks, we were in what they called a staging area, that's when they decide what they're going to do with you, I guess, and where you're going to go next, and where you're needed and where they're going to ship you, so I was in a classification where they had a need for my work, and a school for it, but the school wasn't open right then so I had to stay around in what they call a staging area, which means you've packed, everything was packed up in these big old khaki green bags and walk over to another area and settle down in that barracks, which was the same thing which we came out of. There, there was nothing for us to do, they did repeat classes on some of them, some of them were what like what you call, orient, what do you call that?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Orientation?

Helen Minor:

Orientation? Well, you go out, you know, like compass reading, orientation, something like that. Well, they made up things, you know, and if they needed you someplace for the day to do some work of some kind they would take you but we all, of course, I see this compass said the golden rule. The golden rule was never volunteer for anything. Never step forward say, I will, I will. Dont ever volunteer.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Because you don't know what you're getting into?

Helen Minor:

Usually it would be KP duty. KP, standing for, do know what. Kitchen Police. It could be anything. I well remember my day behind the mess hall. There was great big barrels where they threw the garbage. One barrel was definitely for fats and oils and things of that nature and another one was for vegetation and another one was for just any old thing. And, they, somebody, had dumped them all in together and they had to be separated. I'm out there in the pouring rain separating garbage with my bare hands. I well remember the menu that day, it was oatmeal and grapes. I still remember that menu. And it was just miserable out there. But, got through it, what else do you do?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, right. You have to do it.

Helen Minor:

So, I volunteered once. I did. I volunteered to take care of the furnaces for our barracks and it was a huge great big furnace down in the lower part of it. And that's how each building was heated individually. And you had to make sure that it kept going and shovel coal. I didn't come from West Virginia, I'd never shoveled coal before. I didn't really know how to take care of a furnace but I learned.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, quickly, probably.

Helen Minor:

Everything starts getting cold, you hear about it. But they had a lot of newspapers down there to start the fires and all that, and some kindling wood, so I learned how to be a fireman. It wasn't too bad, because you could read the newspapers and see funnies, you know, and be nice and warm there, and keep out of sight and out of mind and you're all right, you know. You didn't get drafted for any other kind of job.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Kind of hide out down there.

Helen Minor:

Yea, it wasn't bad. Took so little to please us then, I guess.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, how long was it that you were in a holding station, or staging area?

Helen Minor:

Oh, a month, maybe. It was long enough. Got our orders that we were going to shove out. Pack up your stuff again in the big bags. They took, came around,

you reported up to Headquarters and you were loaded onto a big old truck. And they took us down to the, I think it was in Chattanooga, is where we went which is right across the border from Tennessee, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, is right on the northern edge of Georgia. Got on the train, still didnt know where we were going. There was maybe a half dozen of us at that point. And somebody says you're going north. And we thought OK, where we going. We don't know. Cant tell you. So we got on the train and ended up, we pulled into Washington, DC. You lived in Washington, what's the name of that station?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Union Station.

Helen Minor:

Union Station, yea. And most of us, or some of us, had never seen Washington before and they said, well you won't get your next train for just a little while, you can go out, don't leave the area, don't leave the station, but you can go out and take a look. It was neat, you could see, I believe the Washington Monument and Capitol, from the front step.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, it's all right there.

Helen Minor:

But we didn't leave. Went back, and somebody says where do you think they're sending us. We don't know. They had given me the whole packet, so the manila, the big manila envelopes full of orders for everybody, so one person had to be in charge, and I got to be it. And so, they had them sealed on the back, and you weren't supposed to look at them, you were not to open those envelopes. Well, as soon as we got on the train, we opened them. And we said, hey, we're going to Staten Island, New York. So, we sealed them back up and went on. They had the big trucks waiting for us over in, well, I guess it was New Jersey. I'm not sure, it'd be right across the river from Manhattan. And then they go around this southern part of the Manhattan Bay there and Staten Island and way back on the hill was this huge great big facility. It was a hospital facility and they had trucks there to take us right up to our barracks. They had just started the fires in the barracks. It was an empty barracks and so they put it into use for our group coming in. So, as soon as the barracks warmed up, it warmed up the bees, and that thing was just a buzzing with bees. We were throwing blankets over our heads and everything. It was awful. Well, the next night they let the fires go out so it would get cold and they could capture the bees. That was our introduction to the next base.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Really nice.

Helen Minor:

Well, that's the same thing, you know. It was still regulation, march, march, march, everywhere you go, you marched. You were in a group, you didn't stray. And we went to school for a month on this particular program, the occupational therapy, and then you would have orders to go wherever they needed you next. And, of course, there was no speculation because no one knew, least of all us. But it was very nice there and I had some, oh, we got to go to Manhattan quite a few times on the weekends, and that was really neat. Even though I came from New York State, it was still about 4 or 500 miles from New York City and Td only been there once in my life. It was nice. We did a lot of things.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Lots to do.

Helen Minor:

Yea. Ifthere wasn't anything to do, there was always, I don't know why but we just didn't go in for the cultural aspects of New York. We'd go to a bar, and you could not pay for one drink there. All the civilians wanted to pay for your drink.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Oh, really.

Helen Minor:

Oh, yea. Yup, that was quite an opportunity. And, so, but, you know, we had to be back by certain hours so we had to shove off. Rode the ferry back and forth which was real fun because you went skinnying right past the Statue of Liberty and saw the big ships coming and going Manhattan.

Katie Cavanaugh:

get then?

Helen Minor:

them.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, that sounds neat.

Helen Minor:

It's really neat. And you could see Ellis Island over on the East side of It's a nice place to be stationed for a while. Yea, it was, it was.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, you had a month training there? Was that all the training you would

Helen Minor:

Sure.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, it must have been very intensive training to learn everything?

Helen Minor:

It wasn't to me because I had already done that. But it was for many of

Katie Cavanaugh:

And did the other women, had they had any experience in that?

Helen Minor:

No.

Katie Cavanaugh:

How did they get chosen for that? Did you have to take tests? Or were you just assigned?

Helen Minor:

I don't know how they got in. They were there. Other places, you would enlist, but you didn't know why you enlisted but you wanted to help the cause, I suppose. Some of the girls said they didn't know what to do with them, do you type, NO. Of course, there was no computer then. So the authorities were kind of at odds what to do with you and what slot you would fit into. And finally they'd give you questionnaires, what kind of work have you ever done in high school or anywhere. We had to laugh because this one girl says, "I haven't done anything. All I did was wait on tables." So they sent her to cook school. She said, "I don't want to go to cook school. I don't want that" And to cook school she went. So we all did a duty.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And that was it. So, what did you do, did you work in the hospitals during training?

Helen Minor:

No, we didn't. We had classes all day. We did not go to training. And the only other thing that I did at all was to go down and meet ships in Manhattan. I think I wrote about that in my little resume there. And, the idea there is that they started returning soldiers, personnel, military personnel, from overseas in Italy and North Africa and Germany, wounded.

And the ships took, there was no flying of airplanes to return personnel, it was all by ship, and they were, I guess they were hospital ships. But they were just so overcrowded. You've probably seen pictures of like on submarines where the personnel on the submarine sleep on one bunk right on top of the other. You couldn't even sit up in them. You had to just roll out to get out of them. Well, that's the way the wounded were returned. They were scared, they were hurt, they were wounded and they had, they didn't really have adequate care to turn people over or do anything much other than feed them and try to dress their wounds. And it took a long time because the German submarines, the "U" boats, were all around the Pacific at that time so they took zig-zag courses across the Atlantic and it's slow travel anyway and then zig-zagging took longer. But when, then they got into New York Harbor and they landed right in the east side of, the west side of Manhattan at the docks there. Well, the hospital in Staten Island would send trucks over, ambulances, and load them up and we would go, and there would be one patient and one of the WACs in a ship, or in an ambulance, to just, HELLO, GLAD YOU MADE IT, YOU'RE BACK, YOU'LL GET GOOD CARE. Just human, humaneness, and rode back with them to the hospital, and we were told absolutely, after they unloaded them, you were never, never, even if you saw them in the hospital anywhere, never talk, because there was a lot of secrecy going on. You know, it was security. Don't, no more contact with them at all. Names, don't give your names, you don't do anything. I saw one of the guys one time and they'd been told the same thing. We just nodded and smiled, we'd met before. And that was it. But there were some pitiful cases coming off those ships.

Katie Cavanaugh:

I bet. I bet occupational therapy would be so important at that time.

Helen Minor:

Not at that point. That point right there was to get them stop bleeding, stop infections and -.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Were they stable when they were sent over, or were they still in critical care?

Helen Minor:

They had been to first aid over there and some of them in the hospitals, but then they have to keep moving them back to the states where the bigger hospitals are. They were bewildered, they were hurt, and they were feeling sorry for themselves and everything else. And well they should. So, then from mere, they stabilized them and took care of their immediate needs and then they would ship them to different hospitals in the United States that specialized in their type of wounds. From there, I got transferred out of there after the school was over, to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. And that, oh gosh, is way out in the country, way out in the woods. It was awful. The closest town was six miles away and none of the women were allowed in the town. You couldn't go to town.

Katie Cavanaugh:

How come?

Helen Minor:

It was a tough town. It was the home of the, I think it was the 5 Division or something, and it was a huge, big place and it was a huge, huge, big training area for the men. Men were allowed to go in the town but not women, it was too tough.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Really.

Helen Minor:

Yea, yea. And the next closest was 30 miles away, and, of course, forget it. So every woman's barracks had a mail catalog and if you needed or wanted anything or wanted a gift to send home to somebody you would order it out of the catalog. We didn't get off the base. We had movies -10 cents. Ten-cent movie, if you didn't know how to sneak in.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Do you know how to sneak in?

Helen Minor:

Yea. You have your friends that are taking tickets. Well, I mean, in enlistment, we got $50 a month. Of course, everything, room and board were provided, your clothing. But if you wanted to buy anything at all, like candy, or go to the PX, or do anything. First place, you didn't have room to put it, unless you ate it. And, so, there wasn't too much activity. They had some NCO clubs on the base, which were noncommissioned officers, well, the key word, was officer, and we were not officers, we were Privates, so we didn't go to those. But, we just didn't do much, really. By the time you got through with a day's work you were glad to go back to your barracks and rest.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, what were you doing there on a daily basis, were they all sorts of different kind of patients, or?

Helen Minor:

Well, the crazy part of that was that we were there, our mission was to go to a base and work in the occupational therapy department. If there was none, we were to create one. And get supplies ordered and start in organizing one. Well, when we got to Fort Leonard Wood, there was some women from the local towns that were doing that job, and they were no doubt very good at it. But they resented us very, very much because we were sent there to run the department and we had a lot of, they didn't cooperate with us at all. And so, I think the officers gave up, the planners, and said that as long as these women were doing the job, let them do it, and then they'd send us somewhere else. Well, when we found out, I think we were only there, I'm going to guess, maybe six months, or not even that long I don't think. And we kind of were sort of free rangers. We didn't have to be anywhere, or do anything, and we could, I dont know, oh, one time they sent us to projection school. We had to learn to run all the movie projectors. The training films and like that. We did that.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Were you supposed to be instructing there? Or was there a hospital there?

Helen Minor:

Yes, there was a hospital there and we were supposed to be treating patients, but these women were doing it. So, they finally said, well, we're going to send you to another hospital. We're going to let this program keep on going like it is. And when we went back to the barracks and told them we were leaving, everybody in the barracks just laughed their heads off. They knew we weren't going anywhere because nobody ever got out of there until they got discharged. It was so isolated. And we said, "Yup, we are." And they couldn't believe it and then their disbelief kind of turned to anger. How come they're getting out of here, we've been here for two years. And, it really, we thought it was funny. And they sent us farther in Missouri to Springfield, Missouri. I think Springfield is the capitol, I'm not sure. But it was a city, it was big and they had this huge reservation area right at the borderline of the city. And, it was a huge, big hospital and they had big departments on everything including mine so we were assigned to the occupational therapy department and started treating patients in the hospital. We could treat them at the building we worked in or we could go to their bedsides, either one.

Katie Cavanaugh:

What kind of work did you do? I guess I don't really know what occupational therapy is.

Helen Minor:

Well, physical therapy is where a person learns how to manipulate and move limbs and arms and like that. Occupational therapy is doing, healing and treating, the range of motion of arms and legs, but through the use of certain techniques of crafts, handiwork. So, like, if they were going to make something out of wood, we had bicycles that when they pedaled the bicycle it moved the saw. So, it gave them a range of motion for their legs, or their arms. We had all kinds of different things, hands, mobility of the hands, and arms, and fingers. That kind of thing. So, there was a big, big range of just crafts. And you had to know something about crafts to teach and then you had to adapt it to their particular injury. So, that and physical therapy gave them, well, it'd be like our exercise programs, getting back to health and mobility. So, I don't know why they sent, we never knew why we were being sent anywhere. But the next place happened to be in El Paso, Texas, which happened to be on the side of a bare mountain and a big old sand valley down below with a big Air Force base there. And, every time we moved it seemed to get better or else we were getting used to it, I don't know why.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did you go with the same group of women?

Helen Minor:

No, not always. I remember when we landed in, by train again, in El Paso, it was so hot down there. After, I do recall one thing, two things actually, when we arrived at Fort Leonardwood. It was in these big open air trucks that have canvas tops, and it was cold, it was just awfully cold. I do remember it was April because that was when we got on the trucks, someone said, "President Roosevelt just died." I think it was April 23, 1945. And so we said, oh, big impact on us, you know, riding 30,40 miles in an open truck in April was cold. Well, anyway, we got to El Paso and it was HOT. And here we are in our winter clothes. We had summer, summers and winters, and wool and cotton. It was just terrible, and you cannot go out of the barracks unless you have full uniform on, every button buttoned, and everything, and all the bells and whistles. And, it was, I can remember it being so hot in the sun there. But there was certain nice things. It was close to town, you could get to town. And we had swimming pools there and it was kind of nice.

Katie Cavanaugh:

How much time did you get off? Were you able to travel at all?

Helen Minor:

Yea, every place you'd go you had more freedom. You either go to town or go to movies, you didn't really go to movies because they cost money. You could do moneyless on the Base. But just go anywhere, just go in the department store and just look. But you still had to be in uniform, you never got out of your uniform. But it was fun, it was something else to do, plus the fact that we could go across the border, go across the river and get into Mexico. But only on the Main Street, we were not to leave that Main Street, nor, you could only go down so far till the Cathedral and that was your limits. Those were your limits.

Katie Cavanaugh:

That's what the Army told you?

Helen Minor:

Oh, yea. That's it. Because if you get off on the side streets, and they're bad, bad, bad, you know. You could go to the bullfight. We went to the bullfight.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did the Army teach you self defense at all? Were you taught, you weren't taught anything with weapons?

Helen Minor:

No, none. In basic we went through the, what do you call it, the gas, the gas chamber. It was a tent. And they, we went in there at first, and they explained what they were going to do and what gas was like, and, they don't call it mustard gas, what do they call it?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Was it tear gas?

Helen Minor:

Tear gas, yea, sure. And, so then they said, all right, they showed us how to put our gas masks on. Every where we went we had gas masks on us, that was part of our equipment. And, they showed us how to put it on, and they said, when you get in there we are going to set off this tear gas. And then, you will take a whiff, then take your mask off, take a whiff, and then immediately leave the tent, go in one door and out the other, one flap and out the other. So we, did, and right away, have you ever had tear gas?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Oh, no, but I can imagine, it must be horrible.

Helen Minor:

Oh, the tears are going right down your face. You're gasping. You think, if you were ever in the hospital in the old days, and you had ether, and you just can't catch your breath, and the more you go gasping for it, the more ether you got. So, we all came out of there choking and coughing and spitting and everything else. And they said, you're all done, you can go back to the barracks on your own. It was different. We had to hike through a woods and every little ways all of a sudden there'd be a big explosion of some kind. They'd set them off to scare us, I guess.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Was there ever, did you guys ever think that the US would be attacked? Was this ever, you know, like, training in case there was an attack?

Helen Minor:

No, you mean were we ever put in a defensive mode?

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, right?

Helen Minor:

No, because we were in the States and the war was over there.

Katie Cavanaugh:

So, people who went overseas, the WACs that went overseas, they received different training, then? Did they receive more survival skills?

Helen Minor:

Yea, yea. Some of the people we ran into have been overseas and they had been issued pistols, even. Like, over in the Philippines and some of those islands over there. They never went anywhere without their pistol. But we didn't get into weapons at all.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Right. Did you know you were never going to go overseas? Did they tell you?

Helen Minor:

Yea, because of the nature of the work. They were sending the guys over to us. Some of those guys, had, if they're still alive, they're still buggered up with injuries. Not only loss of limbs, but. One of the hospitals I went to was dealing with shrapnel wounds and where they would get hit in the head and practically all of them had developed epilepsy after that, which is a lasting affair. Well, they tended to the wounds and some of them had open scalp, kind of, and they would put a little plate up in the top of their head with silver screws and screw, and drill little holes, and screw that plate right on to cover the brain.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Wow!

Helen Minor:

And then they had to give them medication to keep down the seizures. So they kept them long enough to regulate the seizures and then either sent them on to the next hospital closest to their home or discharged them.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Were the men in good spirits usually, when you would see them?

Helen Minor:

Were they what?

Katie Cavanaugh:

In good spirits? I mean, they weren't bitter?

Helen Minor:

Oh, yea. They were all jovial, they were most of them, if they were, you know, if they were on the recuperation side of things, not the critical side. Oh, yea, they were full of fun. They were always joking, making light of everything, and accepting. They didn't have any problem with that at all. And any of the personnel, like myself, that were working in the men's area. They were always very, very respectful, and nice, and fun to be with. We were all in the same boat. We all had the same rank. We did not fraternize with any officers. They told us that when we first went in, that we were not to be with an officer, because we were a non-com, non-commissioned, and they were commissioned, so there was a division there between top sergeant and lieutenant. One's officer and one isn't. I don't mean that we disregarded that rule, but they never talked about it. You just did not fraternize with an officer. The only contact you might have with them is your immediate bosses, who sometimes were men, or the patients themselves. And the officer patients were in a barracks, in hospital rooms, they were like barracks, really, by their own selves.

Katie Cavanaugh:

They were even separated there.

Helen Minor:

Oh, yea. So there's a division there.

Katie Cavanaugh:

How do the ranks work? I guess I'm really kind of unclear.

Helen Minor:

Pardon?

Katie Cavanaugh:

How do the ranks work? You come in as a Private?

Helen Minor:

You come in as a P V T, a Private. And you stay that way until you get out or till you move on. And, then, somewhere shortly after that I became a P F C, Private First Class, which didn't mean anything. I think the only thing it meant to us, everything was still the same, jump how high, go where, you know. The only thing it meant to us was maybe $5.00 a month more pay, which we were paid once a month and by the end of the first week we were all broke. So everybody had to stay on base whether we could get off or not. There was not much to do if you got off base. And you could not go to the, they had non-com, non-commissioned, clubs but you could never go there because you were PVT, you were Privates, you weren't anything.

Katie Cavanaugh:

You were the lowest, huh?

Helen Minor:

Lowest that they came. And then gradually I began to get a few advancements, like, Private, Private First Class, Corporal, I think there was two kinds of Corporals, and then you got into the Sergeants, and they were just plain old Sergeants, S

G T, which they call Buck Sergeant, I don't know why. You were Buck Sergeant. Then there was Sergeant First Class, and then Tech Sergeant, and then they had Master Sergeant, was the top and he was, he/she, either one was just the same as, men or women, no different. They were all the same kind of ranking. So I got up to, next to top Sergeant, next to the top one, and the top ones were, like, kind of in charge, they had officers in charge of their areas, but they didn't make up the rules, but they ran things the way it should be run. So, I didn't get to that one, but I got up so that I think when I got out I was making like, I'm guessing, $115 to $120 a month. That's quite a big thing, after $50. $50 a month but $50 went a long ways because you couldn't go anywhere to spend it.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, oh sure. So you were able to save quite a bit?

Helen Minor:

Transportation. We could go home after we'd been in a certain time and you could go home any way you wanted to. You could get money from your folks at home which I never asked them for, or you could, I don't know, mere wasn't much flying then. There was not much passenger flights - train or bus. We could get three-day passes once a month, maybe, but you had to be back there right at the end of that weekend. I took a three-day pass once down in Texas and I went to Los Angeles because I'd never been to California before. And I just wanted to see what it was like. But you spend all weekend worrying about how am I going to get back. So I went down to the airfield, I think it was Fort Bliss Airfield. You could get a free plane ride any time you wanted to. There was planes coming and going all the time and they were going all over the United States, and you'd just go in and sign a, we'd find out how you go to the airfield, just go the airfield and sign up. They say where do you want to go. We tell them our final destination. They said, well, we don't have any going right there, but you can go here or there. Sometimes we'd just go to go. And I went to Los Angeles. I was so worried about it I took a train back that I wouldn't be back on time. They had weather planes, too, that went out every day to certain areas. They might go from Texas to upper New York State and back for weather reports. Of course, they do things quite differently now. I went to Washington one time and spent the weekend there. Every place you'd go, it was really neat because you'd go to the airfield, and they'd say check your chute out. You always had to check out a parachute and the planes were very crude, they were C-47s which means they were transport planes and there was just two rows of metal seats down each side of the whole interior and noisy, awful noisy. Usually there weren't too many people on there. And, finally, one of them, I was the only woman on one of them. Finally one of the pilot guys came back and says we're going to be up here for a while, if you have to go the bathroom, he says, I can show where to go now. He says, it won't be nice, and it wasn't. He led me to the back of the plane, opened the door, there was a hole in the floor, and you could see sky and he said, do your best. So, what do you do?

Katie Cavanaugh:

You do your best?

Helen Minor:

You do you best, yea. And then you get an Army truck or some kind of transportation in to the closest base and just go to the headquarters and say you want to spend the night. They issue you some bedding and tell you where to go sleep. And you could go to that area mess hall so it didn't cost anything when you're there.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Oh, that's nice. Could you only go to Army bases or could you go to other military navy bases?

Helen Minor:

You could go anywhere to any military base, anywhere.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Did you ever have any interaction with women from other services, from other branches?

Helen Minor:

Never (INTERRUPTION IN TAPE)

Helen Minor:

.......from the State Senator. Each one of those Senators and the House of Reps, they have those and all you have to do is call any one of them in the phone book and they'll mail one right out to you.

Katie Cavanaugh:

And they'll send it to you? That's a good thing to have.

Helen Minor:

You don't even have to know what district you're in or anything else. Just ask any of them, they'll mail them out to you. Sure. It's a service to their state and their constituents.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Right, right.

Helen Minor:

No, I'd go back in tomorrow if I could.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Really?

Helen Minor:

Uh-huh. Because as you grow older, and I don't like to dwell on this thing, but your mind dims somewhat you forget. Now, I was in Tai Chi class a couple of weeks ago and this woman came into class and I hadn't seen her in two years. She hadn't been around. And I looked at her and I said, are you Nancy Snow? And she said, yes. And I remembered her name and yet you could go through a whole class, you could go through a whole series of classes, and nobody would know each other's names and yet I had copied them all down and made contact with them and the name just came to me. At any rate, you're not as capable in some respects of holding down jobs, and yet you are. If I can deal with tenants, I guess I can deal with a lot of folks.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Oh, yea, I would think so.

Helen Minor:

I don't like to work any more, though.

Katie Cavanaugh:

I don't like to work any more, either. ;

Helen Minor:

I don't like to go in and paint and all that stuff.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Oh, I know, it takes so much.

Helen Minor:

Take care of trash, somebody else's trash. Nasty.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yes.

Helen Minor:

But, anyway, I'm glad to see this project get underway.

Katie Cavanaugh:

Yea, I'm very excited about this.

Helen Minor:

Are there any other questions you're curious about?

Katie Cavanaugh:

No, I think we've covered a lot. That's great. I really appreciate your coming in.

Helen Minor:

OK, fine. Ifyou want to make a copy of that we agreed on, OK.

 
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