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Interview with Martha Putney [3/26/2004]

Kathleen M. Scott:

Good morning, today is March 26th, 2004. We're gathered at the Women's Memorial at the gateway of the Arlington National Cemetery to collect the oral history of retired officer, professor and civil rights activist Dr. Martha Putney. Dr. Putney served as an officer in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. She has dedicated her life to education and pursuit of equality and civil rights. She received her Bachelor's degree and her Master's degree from Howard University. Dr. Putney subsequently earned her Ph.D. through the G.!. Bill at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Putney is the author of When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps During World War II. In this important study, Dr. Putney argued that the integration in the military was the first step towards greater social opportunities for blacks nationwide because, at that time, society was segregated and discrimination was a way of life.

My name is Kate Scott and this interview is being conducted for the Women's Memorial Oral History Program in the Library of Congress Veteran's Oral History Project. It is truly my honor to be here today with you. Thank you for taking the time to record your memories. Let's start at the very beginning. Please introduce yourself for the record, and tell me when and where you were born.

Martha Putney:

My name is Martha S. Putney. I was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, 88 years ago, or thereabouts. I proceeded through the Norristown Public School System.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell us about your parents.

Martha Putney:

My parents were Ida Bailey Settle and Oliver Benjamin Settle. They were born and raised in Virginia. Both of them were born in Virginia. My father then went to Norristown, Pennsylvania where he got a job at the Norristown State Hospital and then mother followed him. Subsequently, there were eight children. We had a big family. All of us worked together because during this time the Great Depression was upon us. We took jobs, odd jobs, collected trash, took it to the dump, washed peoples' kitchens and all of us were urged to get a good education. Time was set aside for us and places at the table were set aside for us to do our homework. All of us finished high school.

One brother, who wanted to be a doctor, enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania but the Depression cut off his hopes and he was unable to continue. Another brother followed me to Howard University and subsequently became a renowned Methodistminister. At the same time, he was Assistant Superintendent of Schools -- of Black Schools in South Carolina. I had another sister - well, all of us finished high school, some of us went to business school, at a great burden to my parents, who did without - sacrificed. They were able to offer all of us an education. Some of us didn't avail our self of anything beyond high school. Some of us went into beauty shop work. Others OfllS took jobs as chefs or cooks. Not any ordinary cook, but fancy cooks, and mother taught us all how to cook.

During the Great Depression we had a garden plot and all of us were required to tend to that garden. We got up early in the morning. My father got in -- he had a Model T truck -- got us in that Model T truck and we went to the garden plot, and worked, came back, got ready for school.

I looked around as I was growing up and I noticed the type of jobs that blacks had, and I wasn't satisfied with what was being offered in Norristown. Indeed, only one black in town had a job on a county payroll. He went to work dressed up. He was honored and respected. But, I went to pass by his workplace at the courthouse and I saw him out there in work clothes. He was in janitorial clothes, scrubbing, cleaning the brass, shoveling the snow, sweeping the sidewalk. I said, "So, that is the top that the town and the county is going to offer us." Incidentally, we lived in one -- what I think, what I was led to believe -- the richest county in the United States at that time, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. That's the county where Grace Kelly, the Pews, those people lived.

So when the Depression hit, we did not feel the Depression like other people did, because those people made available, with their own sacrifice, with their own funds, clothing, food, anything we needed, and made sure that anyone who wanted to work worked at least one day a week. And my father never was without a job, because he knew that he had eight children to take care of. Sometimes he had two days a week, sometimes he had three days a week, sometimes he had one day a week, but he always had a job. The same way with my oldest brother; he always had a job. It wasn't a full time job, but it was enough to keep the family together. And a peculiar thing about that, as contrasted from, I imagine, the other families, neither my mother nor father required, or even asked us, to give any of the money that we made on a Saturday -- we made plenty of money on Saturday. "Keep it. Put it away for your education." So all of us had a little savings account, and when the time came at least we could start off the first year. And got to thinking as a result of what I saw at the county courthouse, and how they employed that black guy, decided that Norristown was not the place for me.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did you have any particular goals or aspirations [inaudible]?

Martha Putney:

Oh, yes. I was determined to go to college. I had saved enough money, at least for one year at Howard University.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What year is this?

Martha Putney:

This is 1935. And I was even more fortunate than that because it lasted me two years as a result of my involvement in an election campaign in the county. Since Roosevelt -- President Roosevelt was sweeping the elections, and since the county was deeply Republican, they were afraid of how we would vote, and they asked me to go out and serve, I imagine, as a campaign aide. I indicated to them, "I'll give out your literature, and that's all, because I didn't believe in your principles, in your ideology." And they accepted it. And the man said, "Well, I want to help you." And he happened to have been on the Education Committee in Congress -- a representative.

And which Education Committee had as one of its activities to determine the appropriations of Howard University. And as a result I got not only a full tuition scholarship; but also a room and board scholarship. And I was told -- he told me himself, "If you keep up your work, you won't have any problems." I had no problems whatsoever and, indeed, the savings that I had accumulated were used for my own personal items; you need personal items -- and I got through Howard University. Then I went to graduate school. That was on my own.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What major? What interested you?

Martha Putney:

My major was history and education because I was preparing for a teaching position. And I took a Master's Degree in Modem European history because I was more interested in what was happening over there than I was with what was happening here because I already knew what was happening here. After I finished my Master's Degree I applied for a job in the District Schools and I understood -- they told me, if you didn't have -- if you didn't involve in networking, and you weren't a graduate oftheir teacher college, your chances were nil. And as a result thereof, I took several civil service examinations. Junior professional, which was I considered one of the top jobs for entry applicants, and clerk -- not only clerk, but -- what was it - well, I took several of them for various clerical positions.

I finally was called, as a result of the expansion of the bureaucracy during World War II, and I was given the title of Assistant Stockroom Clerk. That was the title. I was going to be paid at that level. As soon as I got in the War Manpower Commission -- that was the New Deal, which was just organizing. The supervisor set me in front of her Frieden Typewriter, having known that I had a Master's Degree, she said, "You can learn this!" She taught me the job. As new ones came in, she put me to teaching -- instructing them, and they leapfrogged over me. One of them eventually became my supervisor, and brought her problems back to me, and I decided then and there I had had it, and I was only being paid -- not as a statistical clerk, but as an assistant stock clerk. I never spent an hour -- half-hour in the stockroom.

Kathleen M. Scott:

How did you handle a situation like that?

Martha Putney:

Well, what you have -- when you have a society like we had at that time, you grin and bear it until you can do better, and that's what I did. And when my supervisor came back and told me, "You've got a good job;" -- I already taught her -- "you ought to be satisfied." And I went down to the recruiting station. Nobody recruited me. I went. [laughter]

Kathleen M. Scott:

How did you hear about the Women's Army Corps?

Martha Putney:

Oh, it was a lot of publicity in papers. Anyone who read the papers or listened to the radio knew that the Women's Army Corps was in business. And I told them I'd like to enroll if I could be -- I could become a commissioned officer. And of course the man -- it was Army looked at my kind of funny. I said, "You have tests, don't you?" I said, "Let me take the test and see if I qualify." So, I took the Army General Classification Test, even before I really enrolled, and he told me that he'd let me know whether or not I would make the grade. Evidently, I did very well on that test because I got a notice. I was invited to come down and formally enroll, and I did. I got orders -- that's what you have in the Army, orders. [laughter] I received orders to proceed to Ft. Des Moines.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell me how your family reacted to your decision.

Martha Putney:

Well, my brother -- youngest brother was already in the Army. He was in the Quartermaster Corps, and she thought he was safe, but later on he was sent over and he was in the Battle of the Bulge. My mother trusted my decision. They trusted my judgment, both of them; and I indicated to them that I'm going to be state-side. I said, "I'm going to make sure, because this is a volunteer organization, and if they give me orders to go overseas, you can ask out, no problem there." So, when I told them that they were assured, and they had no problem whatsoever.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did you realize at the time how political that decision really was?

Martha Putney:

No, it really wasn't political. The way I saw, it was pragmatic. [laughs] Okay? It was really pragmatic. I was making -- I think 1600 in the Federal Governrnent, in Manpower, and I had to use most of that to keep a roof over my head, and [laughs] bread on my table. Whereas the Army -- even if I got 70 dollars, and of course I would plainly get more than that, all that was pocket money. That was the difference, pragmatic, okay?

I went to -- was ordered to take the train, Union Station, Washington, D.C. It was the first time I ever rode a Pullman, and since the train started at Washington they gave you a choice whether you wanted an up or down berth, and I had read -- heard somewhere that the lower berth was more comfortable, so I selected that. Oh, about 100 people got on the train -- on the Pullmans, and all along the way, from Washington D.C. to Chicago, more enrollees were taken on those Pullman coaches. And of course by the time it got to Chicago -- I don't know how it is today, but in those days everything stopped at Chicago. That was a transfer point. And we got off the train, walked around the station, our Pullmans were uncoupled from the Pennsylvania line and hooked to the Rock Island line, and we got back on the train and, as we were getting back, we saw maybe 200 more people waiting to get on line -- to get in that coach. And of course we finally got to the city of Des Moines.

On the way, I should say, it was a very, very instructional session for me. It was a long, long trip with the train stopping at every little place. And we exchanged views; we wondered how Women's army life would be like; we played cards; we talked, and there were people of all ethnic groups on that train. Only -- [inaudible] I'm talking about Washington. Only about 100 were black. There were about 500 by the time we got to Ft. Des Moines, because those people at Chicago, it was about 500. We were met at the depot in Des Moines by a female -- by WAC officers, one commissioned officer and some non-commissioned officer. We didn't have the Army titles at that time, incidentally. A sergeant was called leader. 2nd lieutenant was called 3rd officer. 1st lieutenant was called 2nd officer. Captain was called 1 sl officer. We had those titles. And a buck private was called auxiliary. Those were the titles we had because we were auxiliary; we were an auxiliary to the army. I don't remember all of the names, but those are some of them -- and we got out to the point where the officer stopped and told us to listen. And -- in addition to listening I looked and I saw nothing but a caravan -- really a caravan of Army trucks lined up to take us to Ft. Des Moines. And of course it was difficult for us to get on those trucks where you have to lean close on them [?]. [laughs]

We got on there, seats were of course -- we faced each other on the seats because they had benches on the trucks and it rolled on to Ft. Des Moines, stopped, and we lighted out of the trucks one by one, not all together, one by one. And as we lighted the officer of the day referred to us -- the OD called the names and, without looking up, pointed to the position on the parade ground where that particular person was going to go, and I immediately realized that their lists were coded. I immediately realized because all the blacks were in one place -- without looking up and all the non-blacks in another place. So I realized, right in front of Post Headquarters, segregation began for me in the Army. [laughs] And of course, after we had all been placed in our proper unit, we then walked-- I won't say marched because we didn't know how to march -- up to Boomtown. It was called Boomtown, I imagine, because of the rapid growth as a result of the Women's Army Corps. But that was where all the basic training companies were, all of them.

They didn't put all of the companies -- they didn't put all the black companies together, they scattered them. For instance, there was a black company, there was a non-black company, there was non-black company, another black company, like that. So there was a whole lot of give and take among the companies. The point I'm trying to make was desegregation in the Women's Army Corps was not as rigid or harsh or clear-cut as desegregation in the Army. Now, even though at the time Army officers were in charge of all of our installations -- in fact, when I got to Ft. Des Moines, all of the entire staff was made up of Army officers. They taught us every thing -- that's when I first got there -- and gradually they were replaced by female officers. But the female officers were never on the staff until much later. The staff remained Army male, okay?

The very first lesson we got, even before we got into civilian clothes, [inaudible] was how to make a bed. And what I want to say about that is the operative was, as the Sergeants showed us, was "tight"; make it tight -- tight enough for a coin to bounce off of it. Now, I made a tight bed after that, but never, never that tight. So that was the first lesson that I got in the Army. And, of course, they walked us down to the noonday mess -- noonday lunch. In the Army, they call food "mess". And, of course, we went down in formation. We did not march, I guess they called -- they thought -- we went out in formation with nobody in step, of course, okay? [laughs]

And we entered the mess hall, one by one, and took the designated seats. Now, they so ordered the companies -- they so scheduled companies for mess to make sure there would be no mingling in the mess hall. It was, "Sit in the next seat!" You went one-by-one; you ended up at an all black table, or an all non-black table. I want to make a point of that later on. Before I finished basic training we got in the barracks and we start talking because on Saturday and Sunday there was no formation for mess. And we decided that we were just going to sit anywhere we wanted in the mess hall on those two days. And the first Saturday we did it, a couple of the non-blacks picked up their trays and moved, picked up their trays and moved, but as a result of what we did, and we talked about it ahead of time, and not only our company, but by Sunday -- we did it on the first Saturday -- on Sunday every black company got the message and we had, at Fr. Des Moines, desegregation days in the mess hall. Saturday and Sunday were desegregation days. That's what we called them.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Were you ever reprimanded for that?

Martha Putney:

No, we had -- put it this way. When I got there they had already changed the post commander two or three times. You know the Army was hogtied to southern tradition and he just didn't get along with Mrs. Buthoon [spelled phonetically] or anyone else, and they had changed him two or three times. And there was -- The Colonel who was there was an affable man. He was a northern man and he understood things and once you did something, and he saw no harm in it, that was it, okay? . We thought -- the officers thought we were going to be reprimanded. They weren't going to reprimand us, because in their eyes we were doing the right thing, but we were never reprimanded and nothing was done to stop it.

Now, basic training was hectic. Five days a week I was dog-tired, so tired that, after the last class, I'd go into the barracks, because we had time between the mess and the last class, and it was not many of us, and lay on our cots or beds, and go to sleep, because we were so tired. But we made sure that all of us -- those who were standing make sure we woke up to meet the mess time, but it was a hectic thing. But I will say this -- I felt better after basic training, physically, than any time before or since.

In addition to the hectic pace of the program, the schedule, using the showers and using the laundry room was even more frustrating because all of us had to use the same laundry room, and that's everyone -- the barracks were two stories. Everyone upstairs and downstairs used the same laundry room which meant that you queued up and waited and waited. So, we decided in our barracks, and other people followed suit, to stake out a place and let everybody know in that line where our place was and that if they staked out a place it would be honored, so that's what we did. Indeed, they called those who had gone to do some other chores. "Time's up. Time for you to come; got a place." So we had no problem there, except we couldn't get a place to hang our clothes once we got them washed, and we just hung them anyplace we want over the barracks, or the rails of the bunks. It was Saturday or Sunday, usually, when that happened. There was no inspection.

I guess my most embarrassing moment, or moments, in basic training were the complete lack of privacy in the shower. You got down to your birthday suit -- and you were exposed to everybody when you went into the shower. There were no shower curtains. In other words, the barracks were constructed under Army regulations, I guess, and the men, I imagine, didn't need any showers. In fact, they only needed mirrors because they shaved, and mirrors were all in the shower room, and so far as women were concerned they were impossible to use because they were always steamed up. So I was uncomfortable, really, dressing and undressing, and I remained uncomfortable throughout my basic training. I hid myself behind the bedposts, bunk posts, and exposed only my backside, but I really was uncomfortable throughout my basic training in that one respect because there was absolutely no privacy.

Kathleen M. Scott:

[inaudible]

Martha Putney:

Want to stop it for a minute.

Kathleen M. Scott:

All right. Let's go back to [inaudible].

Martha Putney:

Yeah. Finished basic training. The most hectic six weeks in my life -- never a moment to myself. When I finished duty there were extra duties. And we had to do KP. I was lucky to miss KP, because some of my company mates did, but I did every other -- had every other type of chore. Cleaning, scrubbing, using bleach on our gym shoes to keep them white because we drilled in muddy, [laughs] dusty -- a muddy and dusty drill field. Going through what they called "white glove inspection". We were just busy the whole time, if not doing duty, doing extra duty.

There was the PX, the chapel and the theater. They were the only three places on the Post that were not segregated. We didn't get a black chaplain until much later, after I had finished basic training, but the chapel was integrated, the PX was integrated -- the Post Exchange, and the theater was integrated. You could sit anywhere you want, stand anywhere you want, do anything you want in those, and that's where most of the socialization took place, incidentally. Maybe I should mention here, I think I did mention, among females, and this was my most important lesson that I learned, so far as socialization was concerned, there wasn't as much isolation among between the ethnic groups at Ft. Des Moines. There was always some interchange.

We talked to the company cadre next to us, both right and left. We stopped in front of post headquarters and we talked, and you did not feel that you were not being respected. There was respect among the generality of us and, hence, the segregation in the WAC was much more humane than segregation in the Army. It's only when the Army officers interfered that you had that. And as I indicated to you, all of the major installations where WACs were sent were controlled, were commanded, by Army officers. Okay? I wanted to make that clear. And that existed from the time -- maybe before, but the time I got there until I got out of the WACs. Now there were one or two or three instances where the rednecks were still appearing in the WAC.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell me about those.

Martha Putney:

I'll tell you about those a little later. When I finished basic training I had my first opportunity to watch a retreat parade because our unit was never invited to the retreat parade. It was my first opportunity. Our drill sergeant had told us it was a thing of beauty when you can look at it -- observe it. So I had 72 hours between the time I finished basic training and the time I was supposed to report to administration school. And I was busy reconnoitering the post, finding out what was happening on the post. I was a walker, and I walked all around that post and found out just what was happening on that post and where things were located on that post. I went to administration school, which is the school that taught people how to do the Army's paperwork. In mid-course I was called back to Ft. Des Moines to join the 35th Officer Candidate Class. I got there about midday -- incidentally, while in Ft. Des Moines, we were housed in hotels, and blacks I were on one floor, even though we were only about, maybe a dozen, and non-blacks were on the other floor. Not many blacks went to administration school when I was there, okay?

Kathleen M. Scott:

How did you get selected for Office Candidate [inaudible].

Martha Putney:

I think I mentioned you --

Kathleen M. Scott:

You enrolled and said, "I will only come in as a commissioned officer."

Martha Putney:

And I had them put it down on my 201 file. So when I finished basic training, the first class that opened up, okay? That's how it was done. That's why I went to administration school.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Oh, okay.

Martha Putney:

The first class that opened up, I was called.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Okay, sorry about that. You were housed in a hotel in Des Moines.

Martha Putney:

Yeah, and they had shuttles back and forth, and we always came back and forth to do the various things we wanted to do.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did you have any trouble in the community in Des Moines?

Martha Putney:

No, the black community -- churches invited us in, and there weren't too many blacks in the Midwest. And, of course, so far as socialization was concerned there were very few males; they were all in the Army. And, so, it was a lonely life for most of us -- a lonely life for most of us. Incidentally, by order of the commanding officer at Ft. Des Moines, none of the places of amusement -- entertainment, were to be segregated. None. So, legally, we could eat anyplace we wanted to. Iowa did not have a segregation law. We had -- I didn't have it, but while I was there, there was a problem with one restaurant owner who didn't want to serve blacks, who made them wait, and the Colonel put him off [laughs] put him off duty. No blacks could enter that place. None of us. And he found out what was happening, he opened up, and we can go there now. There were frequent shuttles back and forth to the post so that we went back and forth to movie, to the PX, you know, things like that.

I was lucky again, I escaped KP at administration school. In fact, I never did KP but a lot of people around me in basic training did it, and they complained. Everyone complained. They didn't complain too much about the other chores, like mopping, putting lye on the floors, picking up trash, cleaning latrines -- they didn't complain too much about that, but they complained about KP. And especially those who worked in the kitchen, that cleaned those great big vats, you could hear them come home, come back to the barracks, crying about what they did. And so I was lucky I didn't do KP in the Army. [laughs]

Let's go back to OCS, I got there in the middle of the day. Time for me to unpack my things, put it in my footlocker, get everything straightened out, and then, of course, eat the meals that we were supposed to eat -- we went, but the first day we went on our own to the mess hall. There were about five of us in the class -- 100 or so. Got to bed early because I knew OCS was going to be more hectic than basic training. I knew that, so I got to bed early. People came in from all the parts of the country, staggered. My roommate came, my bunkmate, upper bunkmate, came in the middle of the night. The Charge of Quarters, that's the non-commissioned officer in charge of each barracks, I brought her down by flashlight and showed her where she's supposed to sleep.

She grumbled about being assigned an upper bunk. Then at daybreak she woke up, greeted the person to her left, the person to her right, in a southern drawl and looked down, I imagine, intending to greet me. When she saw me I got everything distasteful, rude, disrespectful that any person shouldn't have gotten. The N-word was used three or four times, "Get out of here," was used five or six times. "Damn" used before the N-word. The whole barracks on the first floor was listening to it. Nobody said anything, just listening to it. And the CQ came out, gave the order, "At ease." "At ease" in the Army -- you say nothing, get quiet. Well she got quiet.

She got down off her bunk and gave me a mean look. If the look she gave me could kill me I would have been dead. And she went on into the shower -- took a shower. I waited until she got out and I went in, and came out, and lined up for mess, went to march to mess -- we happened to be in the same platoon because we're in the same barracks. It was alphabetically integrated. Her name, incidentally, was --last name was S -- started with S, and my last name started with S, so we were -- okay? I couldn't eat. I knew I had to go through the line, so I went through the line, came on back, walked around the huge parade ground. The parade ground was the circumference on which Officer's Rowand OCS like this -- Officer's Row on this side; OCS on that side. I finally decided I had to get back to get ready for my first day.

I went back in, the other people in the first floor of the barracks came up to me and said how sorry they were -- not every one of them was sorry. I knew there were southern among those in the barracks, but they didn't even come out and tell her anything. They didn't tell her to shut up or stop; they didn't do anything. Her harangue was maybe 8 minutes before that CQ came out there because we were asleep, you know. I guess it was about 4 o'clock in the morning that she woke up.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What did you say [inaudible]

Martha Putney:

I knew if I had said anything I would have been the one. I knew that, so I said nothing, absolutely nothing. She -- same thing happened when noon mess -- she still gave me nasty looks. When we got finished mess in the evening I felt like I didn't want to go back in that barracks until she was out of the way. I don't know how she was going to be out of the way -- I felt like that. But it was a whole different atmosphere, that they had talked to her, and they had told her she goes -- she straightens up or she goes. And told her to apologize to me, and do it in public since she yelled at me in public. So here she was sitting on her bunk -- sitting on her footlocker, waiting to make an apology. That's what she was doing. And used the word, "You kids," because she found out there were other blacks in there. "I didn't know they let you kids in here with us." This is an apology. And then she ended with the phrase something like this: "If my mother knew that I was sleeping with you people," that's what she said, "She'd want me to come home." All of this was supposed to be an apology. [laughs] So I looked at her. Incidentally, other people in the barracks were hearing her make this apology, and they didn't think it was an apology either. So I looked at her, and told -- in a voice that only she could hear, "I suggest that you do what your mother would want you to do to feel comfortable." She looked at me, said nothing, got out of bed.

The next morning I went to mess; she went to mess too, and I indicated, I wasn't in a hurry to get back to my bunk. I got back just in time to get ready. So I came back in, my bed was made, my shoes were in line, my pajamas were hung, everything was straight. I assumed she was doing it, but I didn't know. The same thing happened the next morning, and when Saturday morning came, I came back in, she's coming down the hall with a bucket and a mop, and I stood aside and let her mop the whole area, clean it, and I said to her, "Your mother should see you now!" [laughs] That's the first time she smiled. That's the first time she smiled, when I told her -- see her working for me, you see. [laughter] That's right. That's what I told her.

Kathleen M. Scott:

That's a great story.

Martha Putney:

And from that time, the ice was broken, and --

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did you ever hear from her again?

Martha Putney:

Commissioning Day, she left on my bunk two sets of bars, and a note. And I got the thing -- got the notation at home now, "To a fine gal," gal, "From a reconstructed southerner." I never met her again, but some of the people in the barracks said that she really has changed because she gave me -- she threw everything at me she could throw at me except for fists, but she learned that she couldn't do it, and that one incident gave me to understand that the Army could have done a lot if it just wanted to. Because those officers told her she goes if she didn't apologize -- didn't straighten up. But we know, we should know, at that time, I don't know about now, the Army was bred to southern traditions, and it wasn't about to change during that period, but it could have done a lot and lived up to the reasons why we were fighting that war. We were supposed to be the arsenal of democracy; we put out those four freedoms, and they were supposed to be our goals, and it could have lived up to that if it wanted to, if it broke with the southern traditions. And no one is asking anyone to love us, you know, just accept us as fellow human beings.

Once having gotten through OCS, Officer Candidate School, which I said was very hectic, we did just about everything we were supposed to learn -- bivouac, long marches, gas drills, everything except the use of the firearms. We did just about everything, and I took copious notes, of course. [laughs] Once I finished OCS -- I can give you a precise date, 7 July, '43 -- I spent about two months in what they call Intermediate Officer's School, lOS, and that was a staging area for officers until they had an assignment. And then I was assigned to a basic training company as a junior officer, and junior officer in a basic training company was usually the supply officer, and I was glad of that because you learn a whole lot as a supply officer; you know how to provision the company, order various things, work orders, clothes, provide linens -- in other words you provision the company; you learn how to do that. So it was a basic training company, every new company called for going back to the warehouse to get clothes, and things like that for them.

I suppose I was lucky in that I had one of the best drill sergeants on the post on my platoon, and those women were instructed by us. I don't know whether they needed the instruction, but if they did need it, it was extra -- that they had to make an effort, a great effort, to show not only that they belonged, but also they could do as much as anyone else could do. They could serve as well as anyone else could serve. And the most physical way they had to show it was on the drill field. That's the most visible way. And the drill sergeant, in addition to the regular drill, regular [unintelligible] drill, was out working with them, anytime they were willing to work. Any time she went out there, she had a group. Sometimes she had a whole company -- not only a platoon, a whole company out there, and I learned from her the intricacy of drilling a company. [laughs] I learned from her. She taught me, even though I went through basic training, I went through OCS, but it was she who taught me.

I stayed in the basic company until the number of blacks being enrolled began to decline, and --

Kathleen M. Scott:

Why?

Martha Putney:

Well they had a quota on us in the first place, and then they claimed that a lot of us did not have the skills to do some of the Army jobs. That was the claim that they made. What they called -- they did not meet the Military Occupational Specialties -- MOS they called him -- and hence they pulled the black recruiters from the field and no more blacks were coming in at that time.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Do you think it had anything to do with the slander campaign?

Martha Putney:

I think it had a lot to do with the assignment of blacks to appropriate jobs, and they're complaint [unintelligible]. That's what I think it had to do. Some of them were sent out there as I've indicated by [unintelligible]. Assigned to KP jobs, that was their assignment, or orderly jobs. Now orderly -- nothing was wrong with orderly jobs, but to mop all day and everyday as a job was asking too much when they were given to understand that they would be taught a skill, okay? And I think that was the reason. Now I don't know, it's speculation, but there was a drop in the black enrollment and, as a result thereof, they had established at Ft. Des Moines an attached unassigned group -- unit, and that unit was overflowing with black officers, and I didn't want to be in that unit because I wanted to do something, or go home [laughs] rather than play cards all day. [laughs] So I decided to apply to Adjutant General School, and my bunkmates laughed at me, they jeered at me, the wanted to bet me, "They're only going to assign us," they said, "To Mess Officer's School, to Quartermaster's Officer School and maybe to Personnel Administration. They aren't going to sign you to AG school."

Kathleen M. Scott:

First tell what it is. Tell me what it is --

Martha Putney:

Adjutant General.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What does that mean? What exactly were you trying to do?

Martha Putney:

Well, they were only assigning black officers to certain schools, that's what they were doing. And they were laughing at me when I said -- I told them I had applied for it. One of them even offered to bet me and I told him, "If! were a betting person I'd bet you, but I'm not a betting person." So when my orders came to go to the AG school they were surprised. And, of course, I had three or four weeks to prepare for it. In the meantime, I was assigned to Opportunity School on the post. Let me tell you what Opportunity School was. It was a place where individuals who had finished basic training, and had no suitable Army specialization that the Army could use. There were about a dozen blacks in that company, and the rest of them -- only one company-- . and the rest of them were non-blacks. And I was assigned I imagineto make sure that they-had a black presence there, okay? [laughs]

There was also a black Sergeant assigned and she was apparently trained as an English teacher, and she came for Boston, she had that Bostonian accent. In other words, she was a person who would be an excellent role model not only for them, but even for the other cadre. So she invited me into the barracks -- only stayed there three weeks -- she invited me into the barracks. She said, "I want you to see something." Officers go into the barracks to inspect, that's why they go in there. So I went into the barracks, and saw the blacks all jammed up in the comer, bunks just toe-to-toe, head-to-head, no space in between, and I looked, didn't say anything to the Sergeant, but she knew that I felt the same way that she felt.

Now she lived in that Barracks, and evidently the company commander heard that I'd gone in the barracks -- I had been in the barracks. I don't know who told her, but evidently she knew. Monday morning she wanted me to do an inspection with her. Now, it doesn't take two officers to do an inspection -- simple inspection. I went in there Monday morning and everybody was alphabetical. Alphabetical! Spaces were all right and everything. I didn't tell her anything. I told the -- I congratulated the Sergeant for having straightened out the problem. [laughter] So that was straightened out okay. But she didn't say anything, all she asked me to go in and inspect with her, and everything was straightened out. [laughs]

Kathleen M. Scott:

My gosh!

Martha Putney:

They were alphabetical. They weren't jammed in the corner. They weren't head-to-head and face-to-face. [laughs] So, I went to AG school; it was in Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. San Antonio, Texas. Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. About 10 officers went from Des Moines. I was the only black and they were my protector shield throughout the whole course. They were my protector shield. And the most important one who set up the protection was a Texan herself. When I went in the Pullman she saw that people didn't want -- people looking at us, eyeing us, and she would say something like, "I'm a Texan," she said, but she was making conversation, talking to herself, "I'm a Texan, born and raised in Texas, but we're in a war now." That's what she said, [laughs] those kinds of things. They really formed a protective shield around me the whole time I was at AG School; that's a six-week course. I had no problem whatsoever.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Where did you sleep -- you slept right in the same barracks with--

Martha Putney:

Same Barracks. They had female barracks because there's a whole lot of -- I guess it was about 600 people attending AG School at that time.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Now what were you training for specifically?

Martha Putney:

Well I don't whether you know what the work of an adjutant is.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Fantastic [inaudible]

Martha Putney:

No, no adjutant. No, no this was -- the adjutant is the Army's Chief Secretary. He takes care of all of the paper work. He sends out orders. Everything goes out under his signature and the signature of the commanding officer -- you see those signatures, Adjutant General of the United States Army and right now if you pick up any orders Adjutant General of the United States Army. He is -- that's the best that I can describe. He is the Chief Secretary of the Army and you learn everything that a Chief Secretary or secretary would learn. That's what they taught us. I came back to Fort Des Moines still under the protective shield. When I got to Chicago I didn't need it, okay? [laughs]

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell me about that trip from Texas.

Martha Putney:

Well, just a minute.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Okay.

Martha Putney:

I had no sooner gotten more or less straightened out then I get orders to be the officer in charge of troop movement to Midland, Texas [laughs] and I said to myselfloud enough for all my quartermates to hear, "Oh, no not Texas again," because I knew I'd be on my own coming back. I knew that, but like a good soldier I got ready for the job. I talked to the woman before we entrained, in fact two days before we entrained, I told her what I expected from them and what they could expect from me. We had a nurse, Army nurse, to accompany us and the nurse and I are given five day extensions if we want -- [break in audio]

Kathleen M. Scott:

Let's go back.

Martha Putney:

I was troop commander of a company being assigned to Army Air Force Base in Midland, Texas. We went, of course, from Fort Des Moines to Chicago where we got onto a troop train, or we hitched to a troop train, all Army, and of course we had no problems going down with the all Army thing. It was a slow trip, though, because the train stopped at every little place to take solders on and let them off and we finally got to Midland, which was a long, long train ride -- appeared to be. Even longer than San Antonio -- even though San Antonio was further out than Midland.

I turned the troops over to the company officer and decided I wanted to get back -- out of Texas as soon as possible, because I knew what problems were down there. So they provided a staff car and took me to a train station and told me just where to stand to get my Pullman meal voucher I had. The Pullman came; I hoped on by Pullman porter -- they were always black or generally black. When the conductor saw that he called the man's name Jack or somebody -- Tom? -- I don't know what the man's name was. They called them by the first name. "Not that way, that's the way Tom, not that way. I'll take her over." So he walked me all the way -- the Pullman coaches are generally on the back; I don't know whether you know that or not -- so, he walked me all the way through that train, people glaring at me, things like that, to the Jim Crow coach.

As soon as he opened the door to the Jim Crow coach all kinds of smells and odors came out. I mean they just hit you, even the smell of urine and, of course, that Jim Crow coach is right behind -- in the old days they had steam engines pulling those trains and Jim Crow coach is right behind the engine which had to be fired up with coal which meant that coal dust was flowing in there and it was, I think, in June. It was hot as it could be and the windows were open and everything. Food packages and things like that -- the coach was dirty, filthy, encased with coal dust, and coal dust you could see it coming in and I decided then and there that I wasn't going to ride that coach. I made that decision.

So, I got out of the coach stood between the two coaches which rock up and down like that. The conductor saw me out there, "Get back in there," he said. Now I wouldn't dare look at him because I didn't want to be charged with disorderly conduct. I looked straight out the windows" between those coaches. He came back three or four times telling me to get back in there. I didn't look at him. I didn't even show my face; he saw the side. Then he came back and told me, "They're coming after you." I had hoped it wasn't the local police because I know what I would be in for.

So, when the train slowed down. He went down the steps. He wouldn't let me move until he was sure that I'd be taken care of and when I went down the steps [unintelligible] the Second Lieutenant saluted me; Sergeant driving the car saluted me and he yelled what they're doing they had a funny way of saying Nigger -- Nigra [spelled phonetically], I think that's the way they pronounced it. Damn Nigra [?]. [laughs] I didn't have to tell those people anything they knew what happened. They knew I'd been without rations, without food, for that long trip back and so they called Midland. Midland told them bring me back. They took me back to Midland. As soon as I got to Midland the officer of the day told me that in about 3 hours they're going to have a routine flight to Elgin Air Force Base, which is outside of Chicago.

They took me into the Officer's Club for a meal. The first and only time I'd been in the Officer's Club in the Army. We weren't allowed. We weren't allowed in Fort Des Moines. There's a little story there that I should have told, too, that German prisoners of war who were stationed at Fort Des Moines as a clean up detail-- their officers were invited to the mess hall. In other words, German prisoners of war went into that mess hall at Fort Des Moines and blacks were not allowed to go, but that's the first and only time I had the occasion to eat in an Officer's Club, and when they took me to the airfield --I'd never ridden -- I'd never been on an airplane before and this great big airplane -- you say butterflies [laughs] just grabbing you right and left and as I got closer and closer the butterflies multiplying.

I got on it and they helped me, you know, everything like that. They helped me put a parachute on and I noted that the plane was equipped for parachute training. I knew that. [laughs] They put a parachute on me and told me how to use it and I'm just ... nervous as I can be. Finally, of course, they took off and I got off at Elgin Army Air Base. They took me by staff car to Chicago, the station, and, of course, I had no problem getting the Rock Arlen [spelled phonetically] train getting back to Des Moines.

I went back I turned in my empty unused voucher and train ticket. They said absolutely nothing to me but they knew what had happened. I'm sure that Midland called them and told them what happened. I never did mention that to anyone until I got out of the Army.

Then, at Fort Des Moines they assigned me to the special training unit -- the special training unit. Now this was a group whom they felt could not take basic train -- could not productively take basic training either because of the lack of dexterity or the lack of something upstairs. So, they had this unit, about 100 -- 150, incidentally that's the unit in the book there. At this unit a Jewish officer was the commanding officer. She had already made known her views so far as socialization was concerned. I had no problem with the assignment, bunk assignment, because they were always alphabetized and everything. Now the -- I was a plans and training officer. We got along well together.

The one significant episode that happened was the assignment of hours of the swimming pool to various companies. I indicated to you that companies were coded on their records, not coded on what they sent to us, and they assigned the special training units swimming hours with non-black groups, okay, that's what they did. A woman looked up and said, "When can we swim?" I said, "Swim with your unit." They said, "What?" "Swim with your unit." I said, "Look, I'm ordering you to swim with your unit." They knew what an order was. They swam with their unit. When that happened all the rest of the people saw what was happening. They began to swim when they wanted to, when the pool wasn't full. I broke down desegregation -- I desegregated the swimming pool at Fort Des Moines and to my knowledge, as long as I was there, it was still desegregated.

As I indicated to you the Colonel in charge, he understood what was going on. He didn't order it. When it happened I guess he figured if it wasn't too egregious he let it go on. Nobody was complaining too much; lets it go on. [laughs]

Before I leave Fort Des Moines let me make a couple of statements. We lived on officer row and we were scattered -- for instance, quarters I and 2 were black, quarters on that side were nonnblack, quarters on this side were non-black, Quarters 42 and 44 were black. In other words we were scattered among them yet we were isolated. The only time we met, we met on the street. One or two of them would come and play cards with us. There was no social life whatsoever for us, absolutely none. There was social life for them, because they had men on the post. No black men were on the post. No black men were within 50 miles of Fort Des Moines, and then only enlisted men.

Kathleen M. Scott:

And you couldn't ride--

Martha Putney:

No, I indicated an incident in the book [?] what happened. So, it was a very lonely life and I spent most of my spare time reading. When I left the Army I was a well-read person, a well-read person. My next assignment was to be commanding officer of a WAC hospital company. This was the company to be assigned to a WAC Army General Hospital. There are three stages of Army Hospitals. There are based, or post, they were the lowest one. Then there are regional hospitals. Then the highest level was a general hospital. Now the general hospitals usually took patients brought from overseas -- wounded patients brought from the battlefields and they were very specialized.

This group of women, and to the best of my knowledge was the only group of blacks given specialized training in medical and surgical technician, the only group, to the best of my knowledge. The commanding -- my orders from the War Department was to report a certain day -- I can almost give you the day, the 27th of May, that's what my Army orders said. This was '45. It was after VE-day, but then my commanding officer at Fort Des Moines gave me a verbal order -- they call them V -O-C-Os, verbal order -- to report four days earlier because he said the commanding officer at the hospital wants to talk to you.

That was a choice assignment, I should mention. In fact, I had choice assignments. I was kind of lucky, and I got to Chicago in the early morning hours and the staff man -- the corporal who drove the staff car told me that the man's name was Hall-- Colonel Hall wanted to see me. As he said, "10 hours," that's 10 o'clock in the morning [laughs] and I had time to clean up and look around. He drove me to the barracks area and I found that it was enclosed. In fact, it looked like a stockade. It was newly constructed. It looked like a stockade, coiled wire on top of the lO-foot fence. It was in a public park incidentally, area of scenic beauty. In fact, once we got out the gate you looked out there and you saw nothing but manicured lawn -- manicured lawn. Then Lakeshore drive -- have you been to Chicago? And of course Lake Michigan not too far -- it was nothing but a quarter mile -- less than a quarter mile away. It was beautiful out there. [laughs]

So, I figured the reason they wanted me because some problem -- that's what I figured as I walked a quarter mile to the hospital. I told the corporal I could walk -- show me where it was I could walk. I got down there -- he was a very affable man, I'll be frank with you. He was very frank with me and, of course, I'll mention a little later something else. He told me that there were people in the area that didn't want us there. They talked about the property values. They talked about the type of people we would draw there, men you know; They- talked about not wanting them in the swimming area -- he indicated what they talked about. He says, "Now you're going to find out that I was one of them, too." [laughs] So, he was one of them and he gave me a pack of letters, documents when I left. He says, "But the War Department sent you here. It's my duty to accept you, tolerate you," but I noticed he was a medical corps not the infantry, so the doctors train differently, you know.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Yes.

Martha Putney:

Okay. He was very frank and very fair and told us he would give us a fair deal, but he didn't want any problems, and he gave it to me like an order and I looked at him curiously and he looked at me and he said, "Neither of us wants problems," but there was a whole lot of protests before we got there. The women there before I got there and they were put up in a hotel. I didn't know they were there -- they told me after. Shortly after I got there, a day after the cadre came, we had our separate mess and everything like that. We had young kids -- 8, 9, 10 come around the fence, outside the fence, not using profanity, but looking at us wanting to know why we were there -- that kind of stuff. One of them kicked one of the young women on the ankle. I had already told them what to do -- just walk away.

We had a guard outside the gate and the guardhouse was out there. In other words we were well protected. The patients in the hospital I guess you'd find about 4 or 5 blacks, but everybody else was nonnblack so it was that type of patient population.

Kathleen M. Scott:

[inaudible]

Martha Putney:

[unintelligible] I understand the building has been demolished. It was right on lakeside. They had a veranda out there where you could take the patients out.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did any of the white patients object to your presence in the hospital?

Martha Putney:

Well, no that's the point. None of them, to my knowledge. In fact, they praised them, because I'd already schooled them what I expected of them and what they expected of me, and we had an excellent cadre -- a well experienced cadre. I indicated that if they had a problem bring them to me and bring them to the First Sergeant and we'll talk care of them. I said, "I don't want you to take care of any problem. I don't want you to even get hurt --", put it that way. No, we had no problems that way. But once they started working, and the people saw the quality of their service, they wanted more. They really wanted more.

A hospital company has a separate table of organization. I don't know whether you know anything about table of organization. A regular company does not have, attached on the sign company, the other WAC companies did not have a separate table organization which meant that they were all categorized in there with the company, the post or whatever. And I told the young woman, in fact, the Colonel told me, "Once they get on the job training you can use your table organization." That's what he told me. So I told him, I said, "When the nurses or the doctors praise you, tell them to put it down. Put it down, write it out." And I said, "Bring it to me, and I'll see what I can do with it." So, not a single person in that company was below a T4, a Sergeant, not a single one, except the newcomers, and they -- the Colonel complained. He said, "I've got course men here, and they've been in longer than your women, and they're still PSC, Private 1 sl class." I said, "I'm not exceeding my table of organization." [laughs]

So we had a good time. And before we left, the people who had complained and protested apologized in writing, and signed their names, and congratulated us for having done an efficient job. The people in Chicago, they had a -- I think it was an activist organization-- they had welcomed: us there, mainly a black -- it was interracial, really, it was. They had welcomed us there, and they made sure that we enjoyed our stay. They purchased items for our rec room; they purchased items to play out in our enclosed stockade. [laughs] [coughs] Excuse me.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Take your time.

Martha Putney:

It was a hospital and, of course, all kinds of rations were available at the hospital, and they let my Mess Sergeant draw any rations that she wanted for the whole company, and we had gourmet meals because those women knew how to cook. In fact, the woman said, "We see the same stuff given to the patients and it doesn't look like ours." She said, "Our food has character." [laughs] So we had a good time there, I mean we had an enjoyable time, and the women really served. They served. I would go down, maybe once every six weeks, and check to make sure, put a presence in, let them know that I cared.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Now, let me ask you a question. Chicago, Norman, Texas, all these different places [inaudible].

Martha Putney:

Midland.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Midland. You were a very hard worker. It sounds like there was no time for recreation.

Martha Putney:

We had none. No social life, as is understood, we had no--

Kathleen M. Scott:

In Chicago, there was a good jazz scene and -- "

Martha Putney:

In Chicago, they assigned me one officer, junior officer, and she came and she noted that she had finished a class before me, and she should have been the Senior Officer, but I was assigned as Commanding Officer, Senior Officer. So she left and then they assigned me another officer who was really a Junior Officer. She came and she really felt -- she stayed about six months, and she stayed that -- maybe four months. She really felt that there's nothing for her to do, because the company ran, once the cadre got going, the company ran itself.

In fact, my busiest day was payday, okay? Because I had to pay them, and I had to see their signing. That was my busiest day. The workhorse of the company was the Staff Sergeant, was the Supply Sergeant. She came there as a Sergeant, she became Staff Sergeant. [laughs] She got up before dark every morning, go down to draw a truck out to pick up rations, bring the rations back, then go back and take the containers that she brought the rations the previous day -- take them back, pick up laundry. She did everything. In other words, she really was a workhorse so when she wanted to kind of slack off in the middle of the day, I had no objection.

In fact, I told her to go get a nap because she got up before 4 o'clock in the morning, and she was there -- our work really stopped about 1, maybe 2 o'clock, because she had put in the day. The Mess Sergeant came there as a Corporal and she became Staff Sergeant. [laughs] All of them got promotions, every one of them.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Thanks to you!

Martha Putney:

No, they did the job, they deserved it. I wasn't giving them anything more than they deserved. The [unintelligible] decided that they want to welcome us big time, so they invited us all down to a night on the town. Now, since all of us couldn't go -- some of the women in the hospital staff had evening hours. All of us couldn't go. Those who really wanted to go, even though they had evening hours, found someone to substitute for them who weren't into nightlife, okay? [laughs] And so we all went down to the classy nightclubs and they wined us and they dined us and they had a surprise visitor, Joe Louis. He was a Sergeant in the Army at the same time, and he came and he shook hands with everybody, shy as he could be. Shy as he could be. I'm glad I'm here, okay. [laughs] He came around to all of the tables, and shook hands. That was I call a night on the town.

Now, the Colonel had indicated that he would make a bus available for us to go anyplace we wanted in Chicago, and especially to the section of the beach that we were supposed to go, you know, they had sections we weren't supposed to go. And they worked hard. They earned a lot of praise, and as the hospital was about to deactivate put it this way. Army General Hospitals -- if you're on the staff of Army General Hospitals, the war wasn't -- I mean the hospital didn't close down because the war was over, the hospital closed down because the patients were well. So we stayed there until '46, until July '46, and when they decided to go back to -- deactivate the hospital, they wanted to know how many of us wanted out, and I had wanted out before when war in Japan -- when V-J day came, I was ready to come home, but knowing there was a bond between -- among the cadre and the women, I figured 1'd stay until that hospital was deactivated. They -- some of them wanted to stay, and some of them wanted to go, and they prevailed upon me to stay with them until they got to their next assignment.

Now, a lot of them were separated from the company right there, in Chicago. But they prepared, by the First Sergeant in effect [?] just stick with them until they got their next assignment. I didn't want to, and I told them I didn't want to, I wanted to go home and begin my life again. So I stuck with it, went to Ft. Custer, which was the dumps. Ft. Custer is in Michigan, which was the dumps. I'm not going into that part; that's the most miserable time in the Army I spent.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell me more.

Martha Putney:

It was miserable. It was miserable, mainly because of what they did to the women -- how they treated the women. Put them down an isolated part of the fort, was in June, July, something like that, mosquito infested part, no screens. If the windows were kept down, they -- [laughs] they had problem breathing, if the windows were up, the mosquitoes would eat them up. They assigned some of us as Kitchen Police -- now, they were technicians -- assigned some of them as Kitchen Police. The mess hall was about two or three miles away, which they had to walk to. We were to be attached unassigned [?] to another white company.

We was -- I know her name, I'll always remember her name, but who was a arrogant, officious, southern redneck. And I had to deal with her [?]. And she came to us every time she thought she wanted to show her authority, and told us what we had to do, and doing nothing for us. The women started out to the PX, wanted to find out where the PX was, or the commissary, so they can buy some -- went on their own, I was going to give them the money. Buy some screening for the windows. Some members of her company saw them on the way, and she ran up in her staff car and turned them back. "You go to the PX when I want you to go to the PX." How do you like that? All they want to do they want to get something to clean up the barracks, and get something to put screens up, or curtains up. She turned them back. "You'll go when I tell you to go."

So right away I wanted out. I had good relations with -- each Service Command had a WAC Service Command Officer -- I had good relations with her. Excellent relationship. Colonel Boyce had visited me once at Chicago, she was the Director of Women's Corps, wrote me a nice note. So out of channels I wrote to this 7th Service Command WAC Director, whom I had a personal relationship with, and told her what the story was, and told her I was ready to seek discharge, but I'd rather not seek discharge now because if I'm discharged I can't help these women. So I want to transfer. So she wrangled a transfer for me plus a stop off at The Pentagon. And she had already talked to people at The Pentagon. She said, "Go ahead and tell your story," that's what she said. "Tell your story." So I did.

I was reassigned to Staten Island, because I wanted the transfer. You can't complain if you're' out of the Army; Okay. [laughs] So I told my story, and they listened to my story, and my First Sergeant told me, "She's got a paradise up here now." But she said, "The women are running wild but I've got to leave," she said, "Because they're running wild," but she said, "Everything they wanted, and more than they wanted, was given to them."

Now isn't that something? But they didn't have the discipline to really appreciate it. But, as I said, I had done -- I was a workaholic, still am. Now, I know I made a contribution to the Women's Army Corps, but both in the short run and the long run, I also realize that I learned a lot. It was a tremendous learning experience in the Army. If they profited from my service, I really profited from having served, okay? Anything else you want to talk about?

Kathleen M. Scott:

Yes. Maybe -- the benefit of hindsight, thinking about you talk about this in your book, that the Army was running an apartheid style --

Martha Putney:

Yes it was, yes it was.

Kathleen M. Scott:

-- operation.

Martha Putney:

But I mentioned also that I was lucky.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Yes, now, Dr. Putney, what do you think have been the key legislative changes for black women in the military?

Martha Putney:

I think they had an excellent opportunity, once they opened that corps -- which was an entree to the Army United States -- to establish a model and do what they said were the war aims -- arsenal of democracy, the four freedoms. That's what I think they should have done. And I think they could have done it, and it would have worked better with women than it would have with men. And, of course, it could have been imposed on the men's Army, too, that's what they should have -- men were dying over there and forced to do jobs that they would assign nobody else to do, you know? I know you've heard about the Port Chicago -- I don't know whether you've heard about that or not, and the ammunition, being ammunition depot men, losing a life I mean that could have been done at that time, especially in view of the goals, the war aims.

Kathleen M. Scott:

I'm going jump around a little bit here --

Martha Putney:

Okay, okay.

Kathleen M. Scott:

[inaudible] but, tell me about the all-black military band incident that got, eventually, to Mrs. Roosevelt.

Martha Putney:

Yes, it got to Mrs. Roosevelt. Now, I wasn't part of the band. I knew it was being organized, and I knew the reason it was being organized, I knew that. The women, really most of the women couldn't play an instrument. They had had musical experience, they were in church choirs and things like that, but the officers -- I was one of them -- encouraged all those who had any musical talent, or thought they had any musical talent, to join in. So, it got started, unofficially, the Colonel knew it was happening, everybody knew it was happening, and Colonel gave them eight weeks to produce some type of concert or something.

And of course the members of what they call White Band number 1, they came up, not all of them, but they came up and taught them how to play the instruments, in many instances from scratch. Taught them, also, how to march with the music. In fact, they became very, very, very good friends, no problem. I contacted, subsequently, the Master Sergeant of Band number 1 -- incidentally I wrote an article on that - - are you aware of that? [inaudible] It's in the Army history. Okay. They stuck with them until they were able to play in a respectable manner, and the women kept on practicing until they really'; outplayed band -- they had music. [laughs] They knew music. They outplayed Band number 1. And when Band number 1 went away to West Coast, on a celebration, or anniversary of the WAC, first -- I think it was the second celebration, they were invited to hold retreat parades in the celebration at Fort Des Moines, and they did an excellent job.

Now, the War Department woke up one day and found out they had too many bands or so they said, and they ordered the band to be deactivated and the Colonel knew that it was going to be a morale breaker at Fort Des Moines. He knew that. There's no question about that. He knew that. The women on their own -- this is according to subsequent information I got, and it's in my article, okay -- the women on their own decided to start a letter-writing campaign, and they wrote to every individual they felt could make a difference. And, of course, Mrs. Buthoon [spelled phonetically] was the first one. The Executive Director of the NAACP, the Director of the Urban League, and I think also POW, I don't know whether you know POW, from New York. And they wrote to everyone they though could make a difference -- everyone. And of course, Mrs. Buthoon [spelled phonetically] got in touch with Mrs. Roosevelt -- she couldn't get in touch with Mrs. Harvey. [spelled phonetically] Mrs. Harvey [spelled phonetically] wouldn't respond to her request for an interview, so she got in touch with Eleanor Roosevelt. And letters began to come, not only to Eleanor but to FDR, [laughs] and finally they decided in the War Department this is too hot a potato to handle, let them reactivate this band.

So the band was reactivated, and it went on really to a glorious operation. It was really -- it really had soul, and it could do a whole lot of things. It could do more than a martial band. It could be an orchestra because they had other people. It could perform operettas. It had a chorus and then, later on, it played -- I think the biggest moment came when it played at Soldier Field. I don't remember what that day was -- some big occasion. I know what they called it -- "I Am An American" day. But I don't remember what day it was. They played at soldier field, and all the movie stars were there -- Ida Lupino -- who else -- a whole lot of movie stars, I don't remember everybody; it's in my article, though. They sang -- their chorus sang. Incidentally, they weren't invited for "I Am An American" -- it was a bond-raising thing. They weren't invited to appear at Soldier Field. They were invited to induce the black community to buy war bonds, but they did so well that the director in charge of the whole operation invited them to stay for the main activity, which was at Soldier Field, and they had a bandstand down on Madison Avenue -- you know anything about Chicago? I don't know too much -- I was there -- Madison Avenue, Bandstand. They had the soldiers there, who -- the Marines there -- Iwo Jima, they were thereit was a big affair. So they sang at Soldier Field and they got a lot of praise from that. I have some documentation that shows they were well received. That was their highlight, but they went all over. They went all over.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Is the military a good choice for women of color today?

Martha Putney:

For those who would prefer that type of life, I think yes. For, those who prefer that type- - in fact, more so today than -- it's time that I went in, because some now are general officers, have been -- you know that, don't you?

Kathleen M. Scott:

Let me ask a controversial question about -- you know, as a professor I'm interested to know why issues of homosexuality are so controversial in the military. What do you think about that?

Martha Putney:

Well, you know, they indicated that the problem existed in the WAC, but I saw none of it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

I think that it was -- the WAC was targeted, you know, because -- the reputation it was --

Martha Putney:

These women --

Kathleen M. Scott:

Because the military was a male place --

Martha Putney:

Let me say -- these women were in a male domain, that's the whole thing, that was it, but they said there was a problem in the WAC during the time I was there, but I saw none of it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Not many did, honestly -- do you have any regrets [inaudible]?

Martha Putney:

I have no regrets, I was in -- at that time -- in fact, I think I made the right move at that particular time in history. I don't think I could have made a better choice, again, at that particular time in history. I'll tell you one thing, I was glad to get back in civilian life. [laughs] And as I indicated to you, I learned a lot from my experience.

Kathleen M. Scott:

And, in closing, why don't you tell -- in closing, tell me, as a veteran, what your military service has meant to you.

Martha Putney:

Well, without that military service, I would have missed an opportunity to know more about America, the various ethnic groups, the socialization or absence of socialization. I would have -- without that service, I possibly would have had a hard time going to graduate school to get my terminal [?] degree, because the GI Bill of Rights was available. In other words, I think I provided a valuable service and, in turn, I received valuable benefits, okay?

Kathleen M. Scott:

Thank you so much for your time today. [End of transcript]

 
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