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Interview with Martha P. Mitchell

Mitchell, Martha P.
Desmarais, Melinda H.
Date of Interview: 
World War II; Evacuation; 38th Evac Unit; Hospital; Nurse; C-Ration; Camp; U.S.S Hornet; Air Force; Pearl Harbor; POW
Martha P. Mitchell, of Charlotte, North Carolina, talks about her experiences as a member of the 38th Evacuation Hospital Unit. The 38th Evacuation Hospital Unit was formed with personnel from the Charlotte area and served overseas in Italy and North Africa during World War II. Ms. Mitchell talks about camp life conditions and also about her husband who flew a plane off of the U.S.S. Hornet.
Charlotte; Italy; North Africa,1937-1945
Interview Setting: 
Charlotte Morrison Regional Library
War Reminiscences
Collection Description: 
Melinda H. Desmarais interviews Martha P. Mitchell at the Charlotte's Morrison Regional Library
Interview Audio: 
MD(Melinda Desmarais): This is Melinda Desmarais from the Special Collections Unit of the University of North Carolina's J. Murrey Atkins Library. The date is March 13, 2002. We are at Charlotte's Morrison Regional Library, where we are working on the oral history and book project known as World War Two Home Town and Home Front Heroes, which will feature life experience stories from the Carolina's Piedmont. This project is co-sponsored by the Atkins Library, the Levine Museum of the New South, and A. Borough Books. Around this table today are people who served their country in the European Theatre. I am going to ask you your name and to tell me a little bit of biographical information about yourself please state your full name.
MM(Martha Pegram Mitchell): Martha Pegram Mitchell.
MD: And Ms. Mitchell tell me where you were born and what date you were born.
MM: November 1, 1917 in Mecklenburg County. Grew up in the county and came to nursing school at Presbyterian Hospital in 1937. And that was a three-year program and I graduated in 1940 and did work at Presbyterian for five or six months and I went to Dundee Private Beauty for a while. And the war was beginning to escalate a bit in Europe we knew that was. And so in the history book of the 38th Evac you will find that General Marshall, who was the chief of staff of Washington came down to Charlotte for a football game and these people had, his son's family had a party. And Dr. Paul Sanger, who was a doctor here, chest surgeon, no he wasn't a chest surgeon at that time yet. Anyway, he, they chatted. And he proposed to General Marshallwhat about an evacuation hospital formed here with local physicians and nurses and so forth. And so, he thought that was a good idea. And, many communique's went back and forth, from Charlotte Memorial, chief of staff, and, and Washington. And it was agreed upon finally that yes that would be a good idea. So then we heard all these rumors about this hospital unit being formed, and those of us might my age who had graduated and had a little nursing experience thought, wonderful, wonderful. And so we went out to Marsh field and had, physical.
MD: uh-huh.
MM: And if we passed, we were swon in. And, we passed. We were duly. So then we met, had little meetings here and there over atCharlotte Memorial to sort of get acquitted with each other.
MD: So it was almost, a volunteer, you wanted to volunteer to do this.
MM: Oh, it was all volunteer. I need to back up a moment. While I was a senior nursing student, right, just as I was entering my senior year. This young man was brought in as a patient. And he was a student Chapel Hill. And I was his night nurse. And from there it blossomed this romance. And he was determined to learn to fly at Chapel Hill in a student program. And in August of '41, he went to flying school.
MD: uh-huh.
MM: And so I didn't want him to be into this, and I didn't have that experience either. So, it was not all patriotism. Some of it had a little romance in it.
MD: And what was his name?
MM: Kat Mitchell. Ramon M. Mitchell. And those are the papers that I gave her. That I had made her.
MD: So was it, although there was a little romance involved, were you afraid about volunteering to go into war?
MM: No, no. Oh no. No, no. I don't whether I did. We didn't have enough sense to be, or, but it, but it seemed just a great thing to do. And I had had an uncle in World War I, a grandfather in the Civil War. And I, I don't know. It seemed the thing to do. But as I say, it was not a hundred percent patriotism, I must be truthful.
MD: So when you were having these meetings that you were talking about, coming together with the other people who were going to go. What were those like? Was there, what was the feeling like in the meeting?
MM: The feeling, I think we were all enthusiastic about joining and about participating, active participating. And, bringing our experience or know how, you know to take care of the sick loads. We didn't know what sort of hospital we would have. But we just knew it was one that was supposed to move and move and move.
MD: Right
MM: And, it was a tent hospital. We didn't know what it was going to be. But there's a lot of enthusiasm among all the, they wanted. We had a, 30 nurses from Charlotte.
MD: So did you, are these other women that you worked with, in the, a lot of them anyway?
MM: A few, a few of them. Maybe, eight or ten, I think, I knew. And then we got to know each other in these meetings over there at Charlotte Memorial. So, we became friends. We knew we were going to be collaborating for however long it took.
MD: So how did they prepare you as women? Specifically, you know, going to who knows where and to what kind of situations.
MM: Well after, after the meeting in April, mid April 1942. The men, officers were sent to Fort Bragg. And in a week or two we were sent, the nurses were sent to Fort Bragg. So we, at the station hospital down at Fort Bragg, we tried, they tried to teach us about being, you know, military. About the, paperwork of which there was quiet a bit.
MD: Right.
MM: We had to take, hikes with our backpacks, a five-mile hike. We didn't do too many of those but a few. Calastinics. We had to learn, airplane identification: ours, theirs, whoever's. We had to go through a gas chamber, you know with or with out your mask to breath. Learn how to travel light. And, I guess, that's the way they sort of prepared us. And also they introduced us to the fact that we were going to have just meager rations sometimes, and this sort of thing.
MD: Did they simulate that, in terms of what you had to work with?
MM: I believe they did. They, we knew we were going to have a mess. Which is what the army calls their food preparation area, and, we didn't know what it would be like. We didn't know what we'd have to eat. We had no idea. But they did show us, you know, some of the things that, that, that were in use at that time. C-rations and this sort of thing.
MD: And what's a C-ration.
MM: C- ration's a little can about this high. About this big around [uses hands to show height and size] it's a tin can. A can tin. And you got several different, variety. You have, hash. Cold hash is not really inciting. But anyway, and, beans. Different, I think we had meat stew type of thing in these. And you just-
MD: Were they good?
MM: If you were hungry they were good. [laughs] And you know we ate those off and on when we did various landings and so forth.
MD: So what was it like when you prepared to go? Was your family nervous for you or were they supportive?
MM: Well, it didn't ever dawn on. I'll tell you when it dawned on me that my mother might be concerned: When my son had to go to Okinawa during the Vietnamese War. And all of a sudden I thought I bet my mother felt this way. We were given a leave of eight or ten days to go home before we knew then we were going to be sent to a staging area in Pennsylvania where we were issued coats, and, , knit caps, and boots, and coveralls, you know all those, and bed rolls, all those sorts of things. And then we went from there to The Port, New York, and got on board a ship. And the way, we put in at Nova Scotia at Halifax. And the next, I think late in evening, but the next day, as we began to merge into this armada. It was as far as you could see was ships, ships, ships, ships. Destroyers, and a, and a we had an aircraft carrier, had a battleship.
MD: What that feel like to be-
MM: Cruisers-
MD: Standing there, seeing all that? A part of that?
MM: Well, I thought, I don't know how to swim. [laughs]
MD: And you didn't.
MM: No I didn't know how to swim. I still don't.
MD: [laughs]
MM: But, you know, that really, I thought, wow look at all this. But we knew, also we knew, there were subs out there because they had been sinking things all up and down the North Carolina, the whole east coast. So we knew that they were there, and we knew the danger was there. But I think we, we weren't terribly brave. I don't ever remember actually being afraid. So, now I'll have to stop a minute to think. [laughs] What else should I add.
MD: So tell me what it was like when you, where did you go first? Where were you first?
MM: We went to, as I said to Nova Scotia, where we didn't get off the ship. We were just joining forces with all the others.
MD: But when you first opened the hospital unit, and where were you?
MM: Well, we went from Nova Scotia to England. And we were stationed there for about two months from August to a, later parts, maybe six weeks. But we actually tried to learn to be military people. And we sort of practice these hospital sorts of things. But in fact, we didn't actually set up the hospital until we got to Iran when we went over on, on which. I don't think it was called D-Day when we landed in Iran. But it was the first time the United States had invaded anywhere. And we had a group, I mean a group landed at Casablanca, Algeria, and Iran, simultaneously.
MD: And what was North Africa like? Had you ever, had you, did you travel a lot before?
MM: Oh no, I hadn't been anywhere.
MD: [laughs]
MM: I hadn't been anywhere.
MD: What was the camp like? What was the?
MM: Well, we got onto, we clambered over, they let down a rope ladder and you clambered over the side of that rope ladder. And dropped into a little dingy that was down there to take you to shore. To an area that had been cleared by the infantry. So we knew it was landmine free. But we had to stay within certain ascribed areas. And, then, we, I can't [pause] oh, we washed up to this building that had been inhabited by, I think the Veche French or the Germans, or some, some of those friendly to the Germans. I think it was the Veche people. Dirty, so, dirty. But we would, and we dumped our bedrolls, and, we had a little musette bag on there where we had our canteen, you know, so our food we could eat and drink. And so we laid that in there. And but we always had a deck of cards. So we went out back out the door to play a little bridge.
MD: [laughs]
MM: And about this time we heard this gunfire. And everybody dived back inside because a sniper was, some snipers were out there.
MD: An enemy sniper.
MM: Yeah. So they were taken care of. By whom I do not know. But we were, you know we felt safe then. And so we stayed there a few nights and that's when we had our first real introduction to this c-ration business of cold food and dirt and.
MD: That a hard transition to make?
MM: Kind of. Then the, the, whoever the CO of our hospital unit had sent a little detail up the road and they, had been granted use of a wheat field. And, there we set up tents. And we, in the army you have a detail to do this and a detail to do that and a detail to do the other things. So the detail who was to set up tents, set to work, set up a few, but it was late in the afternoon by the time we got up there on these old army trucks, you know you know, these dump trucks things you see up and down as much.
MD: Yes
MM: They were not very skilled because this was their first experience in doing this. And so that night we had this rain, I believe they called it a sherape, but a tremendous wind. It blew the tents over on top of most of us, and, we had, you know we was climbing around in the dark with our flashlights and all, but anyway. We survived that, and the next day they had to reset everything up because we were going to begin to receive. And we received I think maybe five or six, seven patients maybe that day. And by the end of the week, we had taken in about 300.
MD: And did that really change sort of the tenure of the camp and how you felt?
MM: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Because then we knew here we are we are now a working hospital. And what we had to do was help unload the transport trucks of cots. And I know you're familiar with army cots, and unroll the old mattresses about [uses hands to show] this thick and lay them out there and get the pillows. And nurses, you put two rows, one on each side. And in the center was a big old package box, which served as a nursing station. And in it we kept our records, which were very brief indeed. But our nursing trays so we could change dressings on people who were wounded and this sort of thing, and our medicines, and our basins. Because we, you know they would come from the field just dirty and so we had to clean them up and this sort of thing. And we also had a detail that set up a great big tank of water. And another detail that set up a what they call a lister rag and in it was water that you could drink because it had been decontaminated-
MD: Treated.
MM: Yeah, treated. And, it was out there, and so you know. We had little towels, and we had a detail that went back to Iran to a laundry facility.
MD: Now you talked about the mud. What was the mud in the camp about?
MM: Well, right then it was, this was November, several weeks in November. I guess we had been out there about two weeks. And it was out in a wheat field. So it had been a sort of a tilled area. And it began to rain, the rainy season set in, and it rained and it rained and it rained and it rained. And, it was just, we were cold. In our big mess tent we had a little round pot bellied stove. And so if you were lucky you could get in there and maybe get a little bit of warm water. And then we, course we ate in there. But basically these chances, we did have in each tent, patient tent, one little pot bellied stove. So we get a get a scuttle of coal a day. And, that took the chill off a little bit. And that was all we had to warm, you know, we had to wash the patients in cold water.
MD: Did you ever wonder, what am I doing here? [laughs]
MM: Well you know, here we had been taught and you were corrected if you didn't do it just right. These neatly formed beds and everything in it is perfectly mitered corners, and-
MD: Sort of military?
MM: Well, no, it's duty in nursing school-
MD: Oh, oh, oh yes.
MM: Oh, my goodness. If you didn't do things [laughs] up just such, you were reprimanded. And, here you were, dirt floor, little dab of water. But these people would be, when soldiers came they were so appreciative of whatever we did. And in fact, just the other day I was talking to a gentleman. And he said, "Now I want to ask you who cleaned me up? Because when I came out of the foxhole wounded I was taken down there to ya'll. Who cleaned me up?" And I said we did of course. [laughs] So he said "Well I didn't know." You know, I guess he was just not real cognizant of what was going on around him. So, what, but yeah we did, and dressed their wounds. Found out what, to begin with we had what was called a shot board, which is now called triage, but anyway. And you evaluate the people as they came in.
MD: Who gets the most.
MM: Who gets what, yeah. Initially we didn't have as many wounded as we did boys with mumps and things like that. And you know, and they were sick. They were grown men and it seemed to hit them pretty hard. And, so we had a lot of medical stuff as well as wounds to take care of.
MD: Was there a specific role that you tended to perform or did you rotate around and do all sorts of different jobs as a nurse?
MM: Well, we sort of rotated around for a while. At first I was in a I had three wards I believe. You know that your in charge of. Now we had a core man, an enlisted man, who has had some of medical training in each ward to help you. And, so you took care of the lot of them. They didn't stay with us very long because we were just exactly what it said, evacuation. We got them stabilized and in pretty good shape to travel back to a station or general hospital, which was back in the city. And so you rotated, and then after I did that, then for a while you did the shock ward and then back. But mostly it was just ward duty taking care of the sick.
MD: Let me ask you if you a few of the things that we have here that the author of the book wants to know. What was one of the most dramatic things that you witnessed or remember during your time? [papers shuffled]
MM: Seems like, is it, is it in here? [looks at pages]
MD: uh-huh. [laughs]
MM: Cause I hadn't thought about it. I think the most dramatic thing was looking out from our ship in the middle, because surrounding us was cruisers, and destroyers, and those sorts of things protecting the troop ships as best the could. To look out and see nothing but ships as far as you could see anywhere at all. And I think that was the most dramatic thing at that point in my life.
MD: If I'd been thinking "I can't swim," how, how did it make you feel to see all that and be in the middle of all that?
MM: Well it was rather reassuring to see, know, that those ships were out there. And, that we had so many people on board crowded on our crew ship that you took a bath. I think I put that in the other little book I'd written. You, you were assigned a day you could take a bath, and that was it. So you better be there. Well, my turn came and here I was all lathered up and sitting in this good old tub of water. And the siren went off, you know, off, boat drill, boat drill. And you never knew wither it was a boat drill for, for a drill, or for real.
MD: For real.
MM: And so I thought, "Well, well, well I'm going to just stay here. I can't swim anyway." So [laughs] I just finished my bath and went on. [laughs] And sure enough, my colleagues covered up for the fact, because you were supposed to say "here, here, here" you know, and respond.
MD: You weren't giving up that precious bath? [laugh]
MM: Well didn't have another one for a long time, for a good while either.
MD: How about an event that you remember that was really traumatic. Was there anything that was really striking or traumatic for you?
MM: Over there?
MD: umm-hum.
MM: [long pause] I don't remember anything over there that was particularly. The most traumatic thing that happened to me was after I was rotated back home I had gotten married. And my husband was flying cover for fighters, for, the bombers and he was shot down. That was the most traumatic thing that happened to me during the war. But I don't remember anything specific over there that was particularly dramatic or traumatic or. It got to be, you know you were there. You had a job to do; you didn't have time to fret about stuff.
MD: Did it almost become routine? I mean-
MM: I guess it did. Because you knew there that was what you had to do. You didn't, you might be there however long you did not know. And all the time, only one time, I guess we were in Italy, that we were in place with concrete or terrazzo, one of the other floor. And we'd been on dirt so long, till we were, we got so fatigued on this floor. We, we had to work sometime ten or twelve hours however long a day.
MD: uh-huh.
MM: So.
MD: What was it like in Italy? Was it different, had the war?
MM: Mud, mud, mud. [laugh] It was muddy there I think a good bit of the time.
MD: uh-huh.
MM: Not when we first got there.
MD: But you're surrounding were sort of similar I guess because you were always working in these, in the hospitals.
MM: Yeah, and we were always, except for this one brief interval, in a tent hospital. But we did have, we did have leave every so often, we would get a little bit of leave. We actually had a chance to go to Ottobiano for a few days, r and r.
MD: So there was some time, was there time? Could you find some time for fun in or relaxation within the camp, or?
MM: Yeah. We did. Mostly what, mostly what we did or a few was, well, you had to wash your own clothes you know and take a bath. And you had, this was such a procedure to take a bath. Writing letters home and occasionally we would gather in the mess tent, which was the only place I think that had lights. Because someone had to hook us up to local power so that we'd have lights in the surgical, in the operating room and to you know for the x-rays and those things that had to have power. But the mess tent was the only place that had light, so we'd sit in there and read or play bridge, something like that. And I think the doctors probably play gin rummy and stuff like that. Wrote home, we wrote an interminable letters home. [laughs]
MD: So did you, did you, I mean, I. This is getting a little off the subject, but I'm just curious about this kind of making your own sort of entertainment and fun. Were there romances that blossomed between doctors and nurses, or soldiers and nurses?
MM: Doctors were. Well no you couldn't fraternize with the, the admission personnel. And the only officer we had, were, I mean our officers were all doctors and they were all married. So no there weren't any. However, the air force was always nearby. And, and they weren't roommates, they were friendships. And, because one morning my tent mate and I had come, were coming from out of the mess tent. We had had Spam. And, we said "Umm, we smell bacon." So here was this little group down there under this tent of air force people. And we said, we ought to go and introduce ourselves. So we did. And they had the bacon and invited us to share their breakfast. One of the guys there had flown off the hornet [U.S.S. Hornet] on the Tokyo raid. So we got to be friends with him.
MD: uh-huh.
MM: So they were just, they were friendships. I don't think they were romances. Now some of them did, matter of fact, my roommate in nursing school got married over there and another girl got married over there. They married air force guys.
MD: So some of those may have blossomed?
MM: Some of them blossomed, but not this one. Because mine was [laughs] carried on by letter from the time on. He was flying cover over the canal.
MD: What was the most inspirational moment for you being there? In your experience?
MM: [pause] I think we had a patient, in Italy I believe it was, this young gentleman named Walker who was, I guess it was in Italy because I think that a Richard Trugasus was one of our patients and in the bed next to him was this young man. And he had so many wounds and we worked so hard for this young man too and we umm finally got him stabilized. And I did not know what ever happened to him. You know we'd give him IV's and blood transfusions. Incidentally we one, one of the medical doctors set up our own little blood bank and the contributors donating blood were, were the guys. You know [cough].
MD: You mean the soldiers?
MM: Yeah.
MD: um-hum.
MM: And, not the combat ones, our men.
MD: [laughs]
MM: And we worked so diligently, so hard over this guy. And he was so dreadfully wounded. I guess to get him stabilized enough to move to a hospital in the rear was one of the most satisfying things for me. However, I did not know what happened to him, if he recovered or not until they had the Museum of the New South had the exhibit and I said to Jean Johnson about. Well, she found his wife and his two sons and they came down to see that exhibit and called me.
MD: So you got to meet them.
MM: But that many years later.
MD: And he apparently did make it through.
MM: He did make it through. He had died but just a few years before that. And so I wrote his wife and she wrote back. And it was just so satisfying to find out what a, what had happened to this man. [pause]
MD: How about the most sort of funny story or how about well see the most fascinating. What was the most fascinating thing that you remember about your, or witnessed during your time there?
MM: Oh my. I have to think.
MD: How about the funniest? Do you have any funny stories that you recall of things that happened to you or other people there in the camp in the hospital?
MM: I don't think of anything really funny at the moment. It was a, I may sometime, but today I really don't remember anything in particularly. I think the most improbable that Margaret asked, I don't know if you have or not. When we were in England, we were on the Salisbury Plainyou know and the cathedral there. And we went there, to service. And the local people had us go home with them for lunch. And their food was so rationed you know. And I look back, and I think "How did you have the nerve to eat any of their food?"
MD: Do you remember what it was like the family that you went home with?
MM: I really do not. I bet one of the most dramatic things I guess too that happened. And it was funny come to think of it. We had a few days we could go into London, because we were not yet in combat or anything. And, we went into Forbes. And gone got on train from Salisbury, went into London. And we were walking down the street, and we heard troops marching along the river. And we looked around, and here were a lot of American troops you know, militarily marching along. And came an old ambulance and you know they were so crude and slow and everything. And so Audrey one of the girls stepped over to the curb and said, anyway, she said, Where are yall going? to the driver. And he said, "Well we are going to have lunch with the Lord Mayor of London in the Guild-Hall". And she said, "Oh." He said, "Yall want to come?" And we said sure. So we all got in the ambulance. And went and we had lunch with the Lord Mayor of London, Queens Cold Dream Guards we played. And, we just had a great day.
MD: [laughs]
MM: Somewhere we were not supposed to be at all, uninvited. But it was a good experience, we, we enjoyed it.
MD: Good food?
MM: You know I think I still might have the menu. But it was good; as good as they could produce at that time on a limited.
MD: So it was a treat for you.
MM: Yes it was. Yep, it was.
MD: Do you have any stories that you remember about Pearl Harbor Day or VE Day?
MM: Well, excuse me, Pearl Harbor I was doing private duty at Presbyterian.
MD: Do you remember hearing, when you first heard about it?
MM: Yes, I went on duty at 3:00. I worked from 3 to 11 with this man who had had gallbladder surgery. And, he was you know recuperating at that point pretty much. And he said something about when I went on duty about did I, had I heard on the radio. Well, actually I had not. I didn't even have a radio. And so he said, "Well, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor." Well, Pearl Harbor was in the next planet as far as I was concerned, I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was.
MD: Right. It wasn't like the, like we know it now?
MM: No, no. Oh no. And so this is the first that I knew. And so the next day I, we did turn on the radio and hear President Roosevelt talk his infamous 'infamy' and whatnot.
MD: And did you know that that was going to be a seminal event in American history, I mean when you experienced it?
MM: I think we did. I think in our own naive way we did realize, this is an event that's going to change us. And, and it sure did.
MD: Now you mentioned that you were one of the first to rotate back to Charlotte. How long were you abroad in your capacity?
MM: I came back in January of '44. We'd gone in August of '42.
MD: And what was it like to come back and make that transition? Did, did you want to come home?
MM: Well actually I did. And I'll tell you why. Once again I had gotten a letter from this young man. [laughs] "When are you coming back to the states? I think I'm going to have a leave. And I want you to, can't you come home, can't you?" And I thought when I got that letter, I thought, "What are you thinking boy, there's a war over here." And, so, so I was on duty that afternoon. In fact, I was rubbing this guy's back and our chief nurse said, "Does that mean you want to go home?" And I said, "Sure." Well I thought-
MD: Yeah right. [laughs]
MM: I can't go to my tent.
MM: That's not very exciting. Anyway, and she said "No you can go home." And I said, "Huh?" And she said, "Your orders were received today, you can rotate home." You know, and everybody in the ward just cheered, "You can go home, you can go home." And I did too you know. But it was such a surprise. Had I not received that letter, if it had been a few days later, I would have said, "I'm not going." But I did feel like you know, the job was done. But I did come home.
MD: So did they debrief you or how did they prepare you to come home?
MM: We just, well. I got one of the doctors and six core men and I went down to Naples and we got onboard an LST and went over to Bizerte. And the doctor was in charge of these six enlisted men, and his responsibility was to get them home [hits table with hand] to the States. Well I, I didn't see much of him anymore at all. And they did take us to a billaging officer, office. And this guy said, "You would be over here in this building and I'll take you there." And so he took me there in a jeep and showed me a room, "Here's your room." And he said, "Now it's about the meal time, so here now let me show you were to go to get your food, your meals." And I went downstairs and sat down at a little table by myself. You know, got my food and sat down. Well, right over here were four air force guys. They were going home too. So they came over and said, "Where you going, are ya'll going home?" And I'm like, "yeah I'm going home." They were all going home too, and they were all going home to get married. And I hoped I was.
MD: [laughs]
MM: So we bummed around Casablanca for a week. And then we got on board a ship, came back and landed in Virginia, at Virginia, not Virginia Beach but one of those ports up there. And and then the orders there were to go to Fort Bragg, which I did do. And, and I got the bus to Charlotte. [laughs]
MD: And so did your family meet you?
MM: Yeah, picked me up at the bus station.
MD: And how did it feel to be back in place that was, not a war zone or?
MM: Well, you see always, always in daylight there were planes, planes, planes going on missions and stuff. And so after visiting with my folks for about a week I made an appointment and I was to get a perm. And so I rode the bus uptown and got off at the square and was walking down to Ivy's. And it was about noon. And I didn't know that the sirens went off at noon in Charlotte. And they did.
MD: Like the air warden type something? [cough]
MM: Yeah, and I heard this thing and I thought "Oh my Lord, I don't know where the safe spot, you know, I don't know where their safety place is. I don't know where it is here." And I was frantic and everybody was walking along. And all of a sudden I realized, "You're home, you don't have to find a safe place." Same thing that first Sunday at church. My church's out in the country near the airport and we were sitting there listening to the sermon. And I heard these planes. And I thought, "That sounds like a" you know.
MD: Identifying them.
MM: Yeah. Mentally I was trying to identify it.
MD: So tell me how was your life changed by the war? What, what sort of changes, how did it affect you?
MM: Well I think you're affected by your sense of values. I think you, we, we got along fine with nothing. We didn't have plumbing, we didn't have sidewalks, we didn't have, you know it was primitive and we did fine. We felt good. We were healthy. And, and so I, I think your sense of values changes dramatically. And you know what's more important I think. We had a couple of pretty good chaplains who you know that sort of preached to us from time to time. [laughs] So, I think that's amazing thing.
MD: And what kind of helped you to kind of hold it all together in that kind of situation? I mean I know you talked about sort of it got to be almost commonplace and a routine. Where there other things that you drew on to, to kind of?
MM: [cough] Each other. I think we were all in this, you know, in this thing together. And, and we all, just from, we drew strength I think from each other. I would say to keep things on, on an even keel.
MD: What else would you like to tell me? Are there any other stories that you have? I know you've got some.
MM: [laughs] Oh I don't know. [pause]
MD: Any other things you remember?
MM: Oh, here's what I said about the funniest thing when we went to, Onsarno to the Island of Capri. We went to be back, we left Naples at Saturday 9:00.
MD: This was during your leave?
MM: Yeah, no, not. Over there in Italy, yeah. And we actually had a free day, three or four of them, four of them as matter of fact. And so we went down and got on the ferry. And we were told on the way over to Capri that it would leave at 4:00 going back to Naples. And if you weren't there, you missed the boat.
MD: Too bad right.
MM: Yeah, too bad. Well, we sort of missed the boat. [laughs] And so when we got back, boy our chief nurse did chew us out. We, but we, had two days to see instead of a few hours. So that was sort of a funny thing that we did. Irreverent. [laughter]
MD: Anything else that you want to share with us? [pause]
MM: See if I have anything else out here.
MD: Okay, take your time. [pause]
MM: Well after I got back home, you asked me about VE Day.
MD: um-hum.
MM: And of course obviously I was back home by then.
MD: Right.
MM: And married. And-
MD: And, did you marry the airman?
MM: Yeah, I did.
MD: [laughs]
MM: Yeah, not then. He, he came up, showed up from Panama. And we had about, we were in Charlotte about one week at the same time. And so we decided then that, he was going to come out of Panama pretty soon and we'd get married then, which we did do. And then he went to England and flew out there and was shot down. And, then after he was shot down, I, the chief nurse at the Brooke Army Medical Center wanted to know. She needed some volunteers to go to a POW hospital in New Mexico. And so I worked there for about three months. You know, within the confines of the compound. With guards.
MD: Oh, what was that like?
MM: It was very interesting. That was, is as, interesting a thing as anything I did.
MD: Yeah. Well, where in New Mexico? Do you remember?
MM: Roswell. Roswell, New Mexico. And a.
MD: And these were European prisoners of war? German?
MM: German prisoners of war. Yeah. And so you know we had this hospital in there. And we had, oh, didn't have appendectomies and different, oh whatever they were. Many of them went out on work detail. Not difficult work detail. I mean it wasn't slave labor type stuff. It was just difficult work stuff, in and around out there where there was room to farm out there. And so if they were hurt or something like that we'd take care of them. But I had really good core men. Robert was, spoke excellent English and he had been a student at University of Heidelberg, pre-med and was drafted. They were drafted too. They didn't want to be in there anymore than some of our boys did.
MD: Did you have any experiences with particular prisoners of war that you treated, that you remember? You said one, some spoke excellent English.
MM: Well, actually. Heinz, and Fritz, and Louie, and Robertwere my four main ones. And they all talked, spoke English, Robert better than the rest of them. One of the wards that I had had boils. I had a ward full of them darn prisoners with boils.
MD: Oh my.
MM: And we had to work on them. Put soaps on them and put all this stuff on there. And I and I worked hard on them. But they were very, respectful. Except for once in a while, some of them, I don't know whether they were, I, this one over here would say something and they would all giggle. And I'd say, "Robert what did he say?" Then and he would say whatever you know. And I didn't know. But I'm sure they, I felt like they made some derogatory remark. But I don't know.
MD: uh-huh.
MM: But anyway, they were all very respectful. We did have one, German major who would not eat in the mess with the prisoners. Because they were all enlisted personnel and he was way above them. So he- TAPE 1, SIDE B
MM: Wouldn't eat then till they had been fed and cleared out. You know, and our CO got pretty ticked about that attitude. [laugh]
MD: Did, I, you said they were respectful. Did you feel that they were like appreciative? Like your, like the US men that you treated?
MM: Yeah, I think so. Yeah I think so. I think they were, were glad to be taken care of actually. I think they were.
MD: And you, and you served there three months? Is that what you said?
MM: About three months. Yeah.
MD: So I had interrupted you because that was so fascinating. What was VE Day like for you?
MM: Well, as said, was about to say a while ago when I took off on another tangent. See, I was back at Brooke Army Medical Center at that time. And Jack had, war was over of course. And so he got a long tale about that too. But at any rate, he was a stationed at a little airbase about a couple hours drive away. And we came out of a movie and flashed before on the screen was this thing you know ( ). I mean, that was VJ Day, excuse me.
MD: Oh okay, in Japan.
MM: Yeah.
MD: So what did, what did that feel like? What did, how did the people react?
MM: Well, we knew then that the war was over.
MD: The whole war.
MM: The whole war was over. And so I thought, oh, I wonder if Jack can get away. And he did. And so you know, we had a little drink or two to celebrate this event. And, no, VE Day was extremely wonderful for me, because I, you know, had hadn't heard anything from Jack. We never, I got two letters I got from him the almost nine months he was in prison camp. So it was a great relief to me. And a, but I still didn't hear anything from him till he got to Boston. He called from Boston.
MD: Now where was he shot down?
MM: Over Auenheim, Germany.
MD: Wow. And how were you notified about that?
MM: Well, you see each of us had left our parents as next of kin, because we didn't know where the other one would be. And so, the Mitchell's got this telegram from the war department that he was missing in action. September 23 shot down over, and that was all we knew for a month. And then they got the notification. And oddly enough the day they got the message from a, that he was a POW, the Mitchells called Brooke Army Medical Center and the post-operator called down to the ward and said, "Who's there with you?" And I said nobody. And she said okay. And so in a little bit the nurse from the other ward came over and sat down. And I thought, "Well, what, you know, what are you doing coming here and sitting down?" And so we chatted and the phone rang again. And it was the post-operator and she said, "Is anybody there with you?" And I said yeah the nurse from next door is here. And she said, "I have a call for you from Charlotte." And she knew what it was. And she thought this was terrible new. But she didn't know how great this news was, you know, that he was alive.
MD: Anything else you want to share with us?
MM: I guess, heavens. I've talked all day. [both laugh]
MD: Well, thank you very much for your interview.