I continued to work at Newberrys until late April 1944 when Jacque wrote that he had new orders for duty in North Carolina. He expected to be there about 4 or 5 months. When he gets there, he will look for housing and let me know when to come.
He said he would be on the island of Ocracoke, near Cape Hatteras, and he would be in training with the Beach Jumper Unit (now the Navy Seals). He sent full instructions on how to get there. I began to pack. I packed a big suitcase with all my clothes, sheets, some towels and things I might need. I packed a smaller suitcase with some nightclothes, and swimsuit and one of everything I would need until the bigger suitcase that I shipped by Railway Express would arrive. Little did I know that it would get lost and arrive my last week on the island.
I took the train from Providence and a bus to Hoboken, NJ where his mother now lived, and stayed overnight. The next morning I took the train from New York on my journey South looking smart and fresh in my 3-piece teal suit with hat to match. When I arrived at Rocky Mount, NC, my schedule called to take a train to Morehead City. What a big mistake! The train was ancient, hot and dirty. No drinking water, straw seats and so hot that you open the windows in spite of the dust from the tobacco fields. I was the only passenger and worse of all, the train took six hours to go 90 miles.
Finally, I arrived at Morehead City. The train went down the middle of the main street. The USO found me a room where you shared the bath with about 20 other people. I locked the door and quickly took a bath to get all that dust off and feel clean again. The next day was Sunday so I went to Mass at a church close by. The whole congregation was black and I felt all eyes were on me. This was the South and everything was either Black or White.
I was to catch a certain bus that connects with the Mail Boat in Atlantis. The bus was late, so when a young couple stopped in the waiting room and offered anyone a ride to Atlantic, several of us accepted. However, on the way, the car overheated and, to our horror, the bus went flying past us. When we finally arrived at the pier, the boat was way out in the bay. We learned later that the boat always waits for the bus, but that didn’t help the sailor and myself who were left stranded.
Nearby, several men who happened to be Marines, were working on a motor boat. We asked if they could catch the Mail Boat for us. They agreed and soon we were speeding up the bay. Jacque spotted the boat and asked the Skipper to slow down. We finally caught up with the Mail Boat and was I glad to see Jacque and be on our way again. He thanked the Marines for my rescue and he was teased all summer about the Marines coming to my rescue. The sailor was grateful too, as he probably would have been AOL (Absent without leave). We never did see him again.
But that wasn’t all! My large suitcase had not arrived as yet and didn’t arrive until 8 weeks later. I lived in my swimsuit and what I could borrow from the other two wives who shared the shack with us. I cut a pair of Jacque’s white pants for a pair of shorts for me. It’s a good thing the other girls were friendly because I had to borrow clothing and sheets, etc. Just two days before he received a 72-hr pass for a trip to the mainland, my suitcase was found. At last, I had some dresses to wear.
Ocracoke was very primitive. The shack we shared with 2 other couples was about l00 years old. It had a living room, kitchen and one bedroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. The front of the shack had a large porch around it with the bathroom at one end. When I had to go to the bathroom at night, I had to wake Jacque to go with me. He would take a flashlight and when he would open the door of the bathroom, you could see the rats scurry in the rafters. We never would see rats at any time except at night.
One of the wives was a farm girl from Iowa and she liked
to cook, so that was her assignment.
Guess mine was washing dishes, I really don’t
remember, I don’t remember their names
either. The other girl was
very young, maybe l8 and newly married.
We got along fine even though our upbringings were so different.
I used to make Jacque some sandwiches and he would meet me at the end of the pier that had fallen down from storms. He would come out in the crash boat to get the lunch. One day someone else was driving the boat and almost hit the pier. I saw the boat coming fast, so I grabbed something to hold on to. It was about this time that I decided to stop calling him Jacque and call him “Van” as all the Navy people did.
His training was very rugged and hush-hush The fellows had to go back to work one night and they told us they wouldn’t be back until the next day and not to worry. Well, about midnight, you never heard such a racket, bombs exploding and planes overhead. I remember that we were so scared that the 3 of us got into bed downstairs. It was war practice with the marines, but we had no idea of what it was until the boys came home late the next day, tired and exhausted.
Also, this was June 1944 and we heard over the radio that the troops crossed the English Channel and invading France. My brother Leo was on one of those ships that carried the soldiers to shore. That was the war in Europe and the guys here were preparing for the war in the Pacific. In late August his training in the Beach Jumpers was over and soon they would be going to the Pacific. We didn’t know it then but their job was to inform the natives in the Philippines that General MacArthur would soon be landing. He and another sailor, Johnny Goldie spent about a month living with the Guerillas before the General arrived on the island. There is more to the story, but I still don’t know the details. He just won’t talk about it.
Anyway, it was time for me to leave Ocracoke Island. We thoroughly enjoyed living there in spite of the primitive setting. One thing sure, I did not take the train from Morehead City, I took the bus this time. I sat in the front seat behind the driver, and I received many funny looks from the other passengers. What I didn’t realize was that I was so tanned that except from my light hair and blue eyes, I would have been mistaken for black. I was in the South and the blacks sat in the back of the bus. No one said anything to me and I did not realize how dark I was until I arrived home. The first thing my mother asked me “was I that tanned or was it dirt from traveling?”
Leo & Van 1944
While Van was somewhere in the Pacific, I
decided to go back to work and my mother and I decided to make a
Novena to bring our men safely home.
I found an office job with the Submarine Signal Co.
About nine months later as I arrived to check out at the Guard House, I
couldn’t help but wonder why everyone was standing around.
They were always so eager to be on their way home.
When I got to the check out machine, one gal said that she take care of
it for me. I still didn’t
understand what was going on until I reached the exit door. The bus was not in its usual place, but I was shocked to see
Van standing by my father’s car. I
saw the uniform first, then this young man with a mustache and a full beard with
a pearl earring in his left ear. Then
the applause from the group told me why
they were all waiting. My novena
was answered and so was my mother’s because brother Leo came home from Europe
on the Queen Mary while Van was on leave. Prayers
do get answered.
After his 30-day leave, he received his orders for Bremerton, WA. He was going to be there for a while, so he wanted me to join him. I took the train from Providence to Seattle, WA with an overnight in Chicago. My train would not be ready to board until nighttime, so I decided to go to a movie, with the INK SPOTS as an added attraction. Then back to the train depot. It was still early but the porter said that the Pullmans were already made up and I could go aboard. When I awoke the next morning, we were well on our way. I don’t even remember hearing the train leave the depot. After breakfast, I came back to my section to find that the other passengers were black and Asian. I must have looked bored and lonely because an Army Sgt. came to me and whispered in my ear “that I looked like I needed to be rescued “. He also said that they needed a fourth for bridge and would I join them. So I did. It was the first and last time I ever played bridge. The Sgt got off at Whitefish, MT and soon I would be in Seattle, WA where Van would meet me.
I finally arrived in Seattle and Van was there to meet me. Said he had a room at a rooming house for us in Bremerton where the shipyard was. It was July 2nd and on the 3rd, I landed an office job at the Puget Sound Navy Yard and I was to begin the day after the 4th. We found another place to live with kitchen privileges and closer to the navy yard. We also bought a car and rode to work together. However, we were only there six weeks, when he received a permanent change of orders to Farragut, ID. I had to leave my job on August 13. It paid very well and lots of benefits too. Such is how life is sometimes.
We were all set to leave on August l5th and we left early in the morning to catch the first ferry to the mainland. When we reached Ellensburg, WA, we stopped for gas. When Van started to count the ration coupons for the gas, the gas station attendant told us that the war with Japan was over and there was no more rationing. What a relief to hear that!