This is Melinda Beira and I'm here with my partner, Taylor Shilling. We are interviewing Mrs. Barnes in the conference room. The date is May 15, 2001.
Q: What is your name?
SMB: Shirley M. Barnes. My maiden name was Armstrong.
Q: What was your age in 1941?
Q: What is your place of birth and where were you raised?
SMB: I was born in Syracuse, New York and grew up there.
Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy and Germany during the 1930's?
SMB: Probably not very. I was in high school. Although when I was in high school I do remember discussing the Russians invading Finland and the problems they were having there, and telling my teacher that it was terrible that the Russians were attacking this little country and everything.
Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe? The invasion of Poland in 1939? The battle of Britain?
SMB: As far as when the English declared war on Germany because they had invaded Poland and they had a treaty with them that they would protect come to their aid. It was Labor Day weekend and I was up at the Saint Lawrence River with my family camping for the weekend. All of a sudden we noticed the great big boats were coming down close to us on the banks of the river and that was because Canada was part of Great Britain. Great Britain had declared war, so all the boats that were American boats had to come down the American side of the river. I can remember sitting up there on that high bank above the river and seeing all these great boats come in, and the Battle of Britain. I was in training and I read the newspaper and Newsweek and Time and whatever other magazines that were available, because they always had those in our living quarters, and I've always been a reader so that I was interested in this and heard things on the radio. But, I was putting in long hours as a student nurse and so well, it's over there, and we're not in it. Although I think there was someone who graduated from my high school that went to Canada.
Q: Do you remember FDR's fireside chats?
SMB: Probably not, my father was a Republican.
Q: What are your memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor?
SMB: Well I was in training, and we heard about it. I don't remember exactly where I was or anything. At time it happened, but we certainly knew about it very shortly.
Q: When did you become aware of the dangers that were going on in Europe, and Hitler, Hirohito and War Minister Tojo?
SMB: Well I don't know when I became aware, it was just that I was reading the newspapers and the magazines and Newsweek, and hearing it on the radio and stuff like that. I was probably more concerned about my day to day life. When I was in training we had classes during the day. We worked on the ward and had classes during the day, and we would work a couple of hours probably go off to classes, and even if we were at night duty from 11-7 we still had those day classes.
Q: So you had a really full schedule?
SMB: Oh we had really full schedule. You might have a 10 o'clock class, well if you came off duty at 7 o'clock you'd get some breakfast. You didn't go to bed because you wouldn't wake up in time for that 10 o'clock class which might or might not be in my building, because we took classes at the university, and over at the medical school and things like this. So you came off at the 10 o'clock class, and you might not have an 11 o'clock class but you might have a 2 o'clock and maybe a 3 o'clock, and then hopefully you'd have time to sleep before you'd have to get up and eat dinner and go off to duty at 11 o'clock. So you were pretty occupied with what was going on in your own day.
Q: Did your feelings about the American involvement in the war change after Pearl Harbor? After you heard about it?
SMB: Do you mean did I think it was right?
Q: Yes, I mean where you upset about it?
SMB: Well I don't think I was upset, because we had expected it for a long time. We knew about what was going on in Great Britain, you already asked me about that. We knew about what was going on in Great Britain, and most of us sympathized and thought we should be helping them long before we ever did, and of course as soon as it happened boys I knew were going and then while I was training the whole unit, from Syracuse, went out. The doctors and the men in Syracuse went. Which meant that at least half if not more of our doctors and our graduated nurses went out with that unit. They all wound up in England and then.
Q: And that was right after it happened?
SMB: No, it was probably about a year before they got them mobilized and out of there. But it made more work for us, for the students, because the graduates were leaving, was more work for the students to do. I had training as a head nurse; we all did, because all the graduates had gone. So I had 3 months training during my senior year to be a head nurse. My name began with A so I was number 1 on that list. But it was very good training for when I joined the service, and I did work as a head nurse after I graduated because they had no one else and I was 21 years old.
Q: Do you remember the mood of the country during wartime?
SMB: Everybody was doing their bit, everybody was doing their bit. They were saving fat, they were saving tin cans, and they were throwing in their old pots and pans into the metal scrap pile. We were on rations, and we had ration books. We didn't have them while I was in training, but when I got out and was living in an apartment with three other girls we had to ration what ever we could find. I don't want to ever have to see Spam again.
Q: So how did rations affect the food? How did that system work?
SMB: Well, you were allowed so much butter. But there were four of us so it was helpful as far as being in the apartment. Because we had three of them for the four of us to share. So I'd get the butter and somebody else would get something else. We ate a lot of Spam, and people were raising gardens, Victory Gardens, and women were going to work in the factories, and a lot of our housekeeping workers in the hospital left to work in the factories, because they could make a lot more money. I don't think I ever knew any that actually went off to service, but they certainly went off to work in the factories, which was their patriotic duty. So it meant we were doing things that we probably weren't suppose to be doing. But we were trained right from the beginning in the most menial tasks. They don't get that sort of training anymore in nurses training. But the first thing we started out with was washing the bedpans and washing the wash basins, and making beds and washing the beds and emptying the wastebaskets and that sort of thing. So doing it after you graduated or almost graduated couldn't mean anything different for us.
Q: So was there more of that kind of work?
SMB: There was more of it, because there was nothing disposable, you know. We had granite bed pans, the pictures and everything was white with a blue rim around it and we scrubbed it with scouring powder to get the stains out, that sort of thing, and everything was like that and everything got scrubbed and run through the sanitizer from patient to patient. Some of the patients left early and we aired out the beds on the porch.
Q: Do you remember the war bonds?
SMB: Oh yes. I had to buy them when I was in the service. The Colonel told me I had to buy them and I said, " Sir I can't afford to do this I'm sending money home to my parents," and he said, "Well you have to buy one," and I said, "All right, I'll buy one," and I turned right around and turned it back in. Oh I was furious. Everybody was to buy war bonds and so I did and kept them for a while and cashed them in and sent the money to my father. My father was chief engineer at the hospital that I trained in, but that doesn't mean that he was highly paid, and he had two other children so, and they were on rations too.
Q: Were these children boys or girls?
SMB: I have a brother and a sister.
Q: And do you remember if your brother went off to war or was he too young?
SMB: He was in the Merchant Marine. He is two years younger than I am, and he went into the Merchant Marine and he was going to serve this university but he went into the Merchant Marine. The Merchant Marine did not get veteran's benefits for a long time and but he finally got them, but they didn't pay for him to go to college. So my father was still paying for him to go to college. I was just thankful he wasn't on a tanker that was sunk . He met me, I was stationed in Madison,Wisconsin, and he came and met me with his uniform on. I don't know how he even got that far in-land.
Q: I know that your schedule was packed and everything but do you remember your social life and how it changed?
SMB: Well, there was always things going on with the service, but we had dances in our nurses home, and in the recreation room we always had monthly dances there and you always knew somebody to ask. A lot of the boys that I grew up with went to the university and I would just ask one of them. I was dating a friend of my brother's for a while. They had things for us to do. I had horseback riding lessons while I was in training and they always had things. A whole group of us tried that. We went camping and I was in Girl Scouts. I stayed in Girl Scouts until I was 18, and I went in training when I was 17. So when the other kids were going other places, I would go camping with them (girl scouts). But we did not have leave, we had a months vacation for the whole year, so when I say I went to nursing school for three years its an equivalent of 4 years because we had a month vacation. And you didn't get your month all at once. You got it when they felt like giving it to you. So you might get a week here and a week there, you might get 2 weeks. They usually tried to give me two weeks when my father would have his vacation. That was a concession, and there was another girl there whose father worked there. He was chief electrician, she was in my class too. But that's what happened. You might get a week in the middle of the winter when you really didn't care, except that you weren't working for a while.
Q: Under what circumstances did you decide to become a nurse in the war?
SMB: The war had nothing to do with me going into training. I went into training in September of 1940, graduated high school in June, and went in September 1940. My family did not want me to be a nurse, my father especially, because he knew what the nurses did, and I wanted to be a doctor, but I knew my father could not afford to send me to college, let alone medical school, because I had always been interested in science and biology and everything while I was in high school and none of this secretary stuff. He wanted me to go into business school. So I went into nurses training and I was accepted at this hospital and until December of 1941. There was no thought of us going to war or anything like that. We had First Aid classes. We joined the Red Cross. Until everybody else started going, you had to decide are you going to go or aren't you going to go. I finished in September and took my boards in November I think. I went down and enlisted in March and went in April. We all assumed we would do something. I mean I wasn't engaged to anybody, some of my classmates were engaged, some were married which they weren't suppose to be but they were, because we weren't allowed to get married and stay in training. If they knew you got married you were out.
SMB: It was the way things were.
Q: Did they just not want you to be connected?
SMB: You had to live at the nursing home, you did not ever live at home you did not commute, and with the schedule you had to. Sometimes because I lived in the city and my father was there, I could stay home in the evening with him and then he'd bring me back. So I got home more often than a lot of the girls. They just assumed, they didn't assume, you just were not supposed to get married and stay in the nurses unit. Women were not supposed to get married and be teachers. Teachers were not supposed to get married for a long time. So it was nothing that the nurses couldn't, but a couple of my classmates did before they finished and just kept it secret. So I just decided I would go. A couple movies that I went to, the nurses over in Japan or the Philippines or something, were chased by the Japanese. I can remember sitting there saying, "I'm coming, I'm coming!" So I gave all of my uniforms to a Syracuse University. Only I cut the buttons off because we were told never to give those buttons, you can give them away but you have to cut all the buttons off, I have a box full of buttons at home. I don't know what they ever did with them. But I found that I could no longer button them anymore anyway, and some of them were made of wool and I didn't want to attract moths and we were moving every two to four years so I wasn't dragging them around the country.
Q: Well obviously your husband went off to war, so do you remember saying goodbye and what that was like for you?
SMB: To him?
Q: For you saying goodbye to your husband when he went off to war?
SMB: He didn't go off. I didn't even know him, I met him on a train.
Q: Because you were not engaged or anything?
SMB: Oh no, I was in love with a friend of my brother's at that point, and he was down in South Carolina.
Q: So you were training in South Carolina or Greensboro?
SMB: I had my basic training in Greensboro, North Carolina. That's where I went in April of 1944 and I was there for 9 weeks for basic training. We started right out after a week of doctrine. We learned to march and we had physical training out on the ground. In the sand, "lie down!"
Q: So you had physical training?
SMB: Oh yes we had PT, and worked on the wards, we had gas training. We had all types of training. But they assumed that you knew what to do as a nurse. You graduated as a nurse you were supposed to know what you were supposed to be doing. The first two days I was on this ward the second day I guess it was, they said, "you're getting gas patients." People who had been exposed to gas didn't get out of the house, the thing you were supposed to go through. You went through this building in one door and out the other, and in the mean time you got gassed and you couldn't put your gas mask on before you went in, you had to put in on after you went in. So it was put it on quick. So a lot of people didn't get it on quick, and so they got some gas and they sent them to us. I said to my Ward Master, who had been in the service for quite a while as a sergeant, I said, "what do we do with these gas patients?" He said, "Run them through the shower." I said, " I think we have to have a doctor in here." "Well we'll call the O.D." and I said, " Who's he?" He said, "the officer of the day." I said, " Never mind him, I want a doctor in here." He said, "He is one." That's how much I knew about the medical ends. My cap, my graduate cap, had, as seniors we got a narrow black band in June when we had graduated. You were considered graduated seniors because we still stayed in student uniform until September of when ever we were going to finish. And if you missed and training, you had to make that time up until you had a full three years. So some of my classmates didn't get through for quite a while because they were sick. I was lucky and then when we finished I got an inch band for my cap. And so I was, they told us to wear our regular uniforms until we were issued stuff. So I had my cap with this inch band on the top, and one day I get a call from the Major. She said," You got to take that band off your cap" and I said, " But that's my graduate band, oh no I'm not going to do that!" She says, "Well only Majors in the army get bands like that." So I had been running around like a Major for about a week. No wonder I got so much attention.
Q: So did you know any men who were killed or wounded in the war?
SMB: Oh, I had lost a couple of friends.
Q: Did it change you?
SMB: No, it was news and it happened. I felt sad about it, but there's a monument to the boys that died. I lived outside of Syracuse in little corner called Lynn Court, which was like a little village of its own, and went to the Lynn Court's schools, and then went to the city to North High School, and there is a monument on the school grounds to the boys that were killed. I knew most of them at one age or another, and my mother would send me the newspapers every morning. It happened, and that was all there was to it.
Q: Do you remember any of the movies during wartime?
SMB: Oh yes, we went to all of them. And not only that, we had to go to "Why we fight" they showed on the post. We were required to go to "Why we fight" pictures. Have you seen the pictures on the History Channel, World War II pictures they have on the History Channel?
Q: I've seen a couple of clips.
SMB: Well you ought to watch those WW II movies they have on the History Channel if you can get it, because we were watching a lot of this stuff with airplanes coming down and scraping the railroads, I can remember that. I've been on nights from 7-7 and had to go and watch "Why we fight" in a darkened theater.
Q: So were you required weekly?
SMB: No, just whenever they decided they had one that we hadn't seen already. They just required everyone to go, and it didn't have a thing to do with me. But we were all required to go and so off we went.
Q: How did you get news of the war?
SMB: Oh there was radio, and newspaper and magazines, same way I'd been getting them. I went from Greensboro, North Carolina. I was there, like I said like 9 weeks. By the way officers got all their papers, enlisted people did not. I had what officers call a 201 file, and that's your own personal file, keep this! Forever! And then I went to Scottsville, Illinois, and I was there for 13 months. Then I went to Madison Field, Wisconsin and I was there 10 months, and then I went to Boloxi, Mississippi and I was there 16 months, I think. And then I went to Bulkertown, Florida and I was there 9-10 and then I went back to Boloxi. And I thought I was going to spend the winter in Madison, Wisconsin, which delighted me, because I grew up where there was snow, and I like the winter weather. A week before Christmas I was in Biloxi, Mississippi, but I was in almost 4 years. After the war they were going to let us out, and a friend of mine announced she had signed up for another, whatever, I can't remember if it was an exact period of time or not. So I went down and signed up, and I had my trunk all packed and my footlocker was packed and sitting in the hall at that point.
Q: So how much longer were you in the army?
SMB: Well let's see, about another year, and then my fiance wanted to get married and he wanted to do it before he graduated and I said, "No let's wait till you graduate," and he said, "No let's do it in December during vacation." So I went home and got married in December vacation. And when I went back into service, I had to go back and put in some time.
Q: How long did you guys know each other?
SMB: We had been corresponding, we had met on a train, I had told you this, everybody thinks this is so romantic. I had walked through the railroad station, I had been home on leave, and I used to call his house, no, I didn't this is when I met him, this was afterwards, I used to call and he never was there, just to say Hi. And I walked through the station, and his father saw me and said, "Why don't you see if you can sit with her?" because I was in uniform and my uniform is fitted, and everybody looks better in uniform, I'll tell you that much, the boys looked better I looked better. So there were four fellows, there were probably more on the train from Syracuse, but anyway, these three fellows, and there were two in front and I was sitting with somebody. And the two in front turn the seat back, so they were facing us. So we all got to talking, one boy had come from Chicopee, Massachusetts and I think he was the one I was sitting next to, and then Bob, and they all wanted to know, "Could we write to you? Would you write to us?" and I said, "Sure why not." Started writing to all of them and I don't know what happened to the one from Chicopee, he went on to B-29 trip, and that was the last I had heard from him. So I don't know if the plane crashed or if he had gone over seas or if he found another girl. But Bob I kept writing to and then he came back, got discharged and was going to R.P.I. so I called when I was home and he'd never be there. "Well he was here but he left yesterday." Finally we connected and that was in September and I knew it was some time before that. Anyway we were married in December. Like I said, so romantic. But I still correspond with patients that I had. With fellows that I knew, there's this one that lives up in Blackriver, New York. He was in the 10th Mountain Unit, which is the ski crews. And I haven't heard from him in the last couple of years, but after a while, I kept writing, and he was saying that every time he went to Fort Drum, he got such a wonderful reception, because he was an original ski trooper. I have one that's a patient, who lives down in Florida, and we get letters at Christmas time, and we each exchange letters. I always write one of those letters that Ann Landers doesn't like. But then I was engaged to one from Syracuse. When I was at Scottsville, a couple of the nurses came in and said, "Oh, we met somebody from Syracuse," and I said, " Oh really?" and they said, "yes," and they gave me his name, and I can't remember exactly how we got together. But he was an enlisted man, and nurses were not supposed to associate with, to associate with any enlisted personal. We were officers, and officers and enlisted personal did not associate with each other. And you could be thrown out, or something, punished, for doing it. So I met him in Belleville, which was the nearest little town, at night, and I use to go in and meet him at night, when we got to be more than just casual acquaintances, and go dancing at this little nightclub, and we were probably the only people in there. But the orchestra played for us. He was a marvelous dancer, and then we got engaged and then he went off the Fort Benning to go to Officers Training to become a lieutenant so then we could be seen together. I just decided that I didn't hear from him enough, and we shouldn't stay engaged. We might get together afterwards, but things didn't work out that well at that point and he had met nurse in Korea and married her. But I hear from both of them at Christmas time, about their children and their grandchildren and I wouldn't give up these friendships, it's just part of my life. I'm just dreading the day when I hear sad news from somebody.
Q: Did you perceive the media's coverage of the war as truthful or as propaganda?
SMB: Oh we thought it was the truth and everything was censored. They didn't let anyone know anything they didn't want you to know, anyway. When I was at Scottsville, I particularly remember meeting fellows that had come back from overseas. There was this one fellow who had been a Ranger, and I heard about climbing cliffs and stuff. I was in Madison, Wisconsin for both the V-E Day and V-J Day. But we knew nothing was over with. It was wonderful that Europe was over with, but nothing. We didn't know how long the war with Japan was going to go on. If they hadn't dropped the atomic bomb who knows how many more would have been killed? The best thing that ever happened, I don't care how many Japanese were killed. They would have killed just as many civilians over a prolonged period of time by dropping fire bombs over Japan as they did with one bomb. So don't let anyone tell you it was a mistake that they did it and a lot more Americans would have been killed, because they were planning on an invasion of Japan.
Q: Were you concerned that there might be…
SMB: Oh I thought I might be going, and Bob was on his way. He had been in Europe and they had shipped him back and gave him 30 days, and he was going to be going to the Pacific.
Q: So you definitely agreed with the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Do you feel the same with Nagasaki?
SMB: Oh sure. They could have dropped another two or three as far as I was concerned. I had classmate who had a brother who was a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines. He lived through all of that and died two days after they were liberated.
Q: What did he die of?
SMB: Probably malnutrition and disease. I mean they didn't treat, they treated the women bad enough, and if you want to read some books sometime, I've got some books about such things, that I've been buying. But the men they definitely treated harshly so it's a wonder any of them survived. But it was particularly bad, I mean his brother had lived through all of this and died 2 days later. One of my classmates died in France, she fell over the railing on a four story building. She leaned over the railing to talk to someone below and fell over. She was there and entitled to everything as far as that was concerned.
Q: This is going back for a second. You said that you exchanged a lot of letters with different boys, were any of them censored when you would receive letters from them?
SMB: We were very careful about writing. Another fellow that I went with went to the Pacific, and he was stationed, he wasn't stationed on an island that had Japanese on it, but he could not tell me where he was. He started hinting and after I found out more about the Philippines area and the whole Pacific area, I started to sense that this is where he was, because of what he said. But he couldn't tell me where he was, because it would have been censored right out. So everybody was very careful about what they wrote. You didn't want big black lines through your letters. And I always used blue stationary. About the shade of your blouse. It was made by someone, I thought that was such pretty paper.
Q: What was your attitude towards people of draft age but were not serving?
SMB: Well, they were usually not serving because they either had a job that needed their presence either in the factory or the laboratory, and some of them were deferred to finish their college educations. And some of them were turned down for medical reasons. They just wouldn't be accepted for medical reasons. And as the war dragged on for longer and longer than began to get more lenient about who they would accept. But we really didn't think too much about it. I just knew my serial number is N790916, and the N stands for nurse. And we knew that anyone who had a 1 in the beginning of their serial number had enlisted, they had a three they were drafted. And a lot of them got drafted, they went when they were called. That was all there was to it. Some enlisted, my husband enlisted when he was in college, along with a lot of other classmates. He said he's the class of '44 at R.P.I. but he graduated in '48 because he came back and finished up on the G.I. bill, like a lot of them did Thank God for the G.I bill. I could have gone to college. I was so stupid, I really was. It never occurred to me the government would pay me some money, and pay for me going to college when I had two kids. I couldn't think of what I would do with the kids. I lived on the Skidmore campus practically. We lived in Saratoga Springs for 4 years and I could have gone to Skidmore. Had credit for my nursing training had finished that BS in two years and I couldn't think of what I'd do about the children. And the government would have paid me $90 dollars a month, I could have hired someone to take care of the kids. I use to get a baby-sitter for 35 cents an hour, or maybe it was 50 but it was more. I'd get the baby sitter and go downtown, walk downtown, do my grocery shopping pay all the bills, take a taxi home for 35 cents, with the groceries and everything. It took me 25 years before I realized that the army would have paid or the government would have paid me. Money that I could have hired the baby sitter for. But several of my classmates did go on and get their degrees.
Q: How was the role of women changed as far as you could tell?
SMB: As a nurse, I was an officer. I had charge of any enlisted personal, we had the enlisted personal that worked on the ward. One nurse, and you might have 1, 2, or 3 depending on what the ward was. And the ward was this huge building with beds going down each side, and most of them had porches and you had people out on the porches. And I think I always had two with me, and they had been to school so I didn't have to train them, except I was fussy about cleanliness and I didn't like finding mice building their nest in my stove. That showed me that the stove hadn't been used. Each kitchen had a nice stove, and I opened the broiler one-day and "aw!" but it gave me a lot of confidence being an officer. When I was in training I use to hear, "Ms. Armstrong speak up I can't hear you." And when I had to go, first I was head nurse which gave me confidence, and then I was an officer which gave me confidence, and the doctors where usually at least a first intern, most of them were captains, and then the Colonel was the chief of the hospital. And we had a major at Scottsville. They were always over you, but you were pretty well left, as long as you stayed with in the rules. Passed inspections when the Colonel came around and did white glove inspections. As long as you cleaned and had all the beds lined up. I had them put tacks under each right wheel at the front of the bed. Put the front of the wheel on the tack and all the beds would be lined up, "Lie at attention when the Colonel comes!". The Colonel used to stand on, we used to have food carts, and they were big I think zinc tubs, and they use to put zinc buckets in to keep the food warm. And there was cover and the Colonel use to stand on the food cart and have someone push him down while he touched all the pipes going down from the roof.
Q: What was your attitude towards the Japanese and the Germans on a personal level?
SMB: I hated all the Japanese. Germans, we didn't here too much about, how they were treating people because you see the Japanese had #1 bombed us at Pearl Harbor. And I had at least one classmate that was at Pearl Harbor. He lived, he's married to a high school classmate of mine. They had bombed us, and we were afraid they were going to bomb. And of course Hitler made the mistake of declaring war on us, we didn't have to declare war on him, he declared war on us. But we didn't know too much outside of what they had been doing in France, from stories that came back with the refugees. And how they had taken over France, and the films that we saw with Germans scraping these refugees on the roads and things. But the Japanese are #1. They had captured everybody in the Philippines. We knew what they had done, they captured Bataan, they captured Corregidor, and we didn't know what happened to the nurses there. We knew they'd been there. We didn't know what they were doing to the men and as the stories leaked out and everything, we had began to notice how badly they had treated everybody. So I had no sympathy for anybody Japanese or anything. So they could wipe them all out as far as I was concerned. And I think most everybody felt that way. They made the biggest mistake of their lives when they bombed us at Pearl Harbor.
Q: So you were all for the internment camps that were going on in the US during WWII?
SMB: Oh yes, you know they had prisoners at Fort Devens. There is a prisoner of war camp up at Fort Devens. The barracks were still there not too long ago. I had a tour of Fort Devens after they closed it. Because they were going to open it up have industry up there and everything. So I don't know whether they left those or not.
Q:How far is that?
SMB: Its up in Shirley there. It's a big complex and they got a lot of industry up there now that their converting the permanent buildings there was an old place with nice brick buildings and they're converting them into office buildings, some of them. And building new stuff and there is a railroad, because they were getting stuff off the railroad, the railroad tracks ran right in there. So they didn't have to build anything to entice industry to come out there. And they were practically giving them the land.
Q: Did Americans that you knew ever note the irony of racial segregation at home and in the armed forces while fighting a intolerance war?
SMB: Yes, I did, I don't know about the other Americans, but I did. I had one doctor who told me that I was to put all the black, and I'm going to call them Negro, "Put all the Negro patients out on the porch." And I said, "why sir?" and he said, "Because I want them out there." He was from Cincinnati. And I said, "Sorry sir, I am not going to do this, I want my sickest patients closer to my office where I can see them." I had a pneumonia ward and I had an orthopedic ward. That was at Kelisler (?). And I said "I want my sickest patients where I can see them. As they get better they mover further down the ward. When they're almost ready for them to go back then they can go out on the porch where I can't see them." And he didn't force me, but I soon asked to be transferred off that ward. I couldn't stand that attitude.
Q: Were you aware of them separating black and white blood?
SMB: Oh! Oh, not the blood. But the troops were all segregated. But when they came in the hospital I didn't care, you know, it was whatever was wrong with them. They had pneumonia patients, we had penicillin, but a lot of it was viral pneumonia which penicillin didn't touch. But they weren't sure about this so everybody got penicillin. And there were wards that had sicker patients of various kinds, operative patients or whatever. They were divided up according to whatever ailed you, more than anything else. You'd have a whole ward full of orthopedics, whole ward full of pneumonia patients.
Q: Were you aware of the way the Germans were treating the Jews?
SMB: I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean they were keeping really quiet, and we weren't getting any of them in this country. The ones that came all managed to get here before hand. They either got into England and then came, or they came before hand.
Q: How did you react to the news of FDR's death?
SMB: I was happy. I told you, I was brought up a Republican.
Q: And so what was your opinion of President Truman's wartime leadership?
SMB: I thought he did a very good job. Somebody that had not anticipated this. We'd had Roosevelt for twelve years who ran things with an iron hand, really. People might not have realized it, but he certainly did. He had a lot of good ideas and I grant him that. At that time, now at that time, I was happy. But I've changed my mind about what Roosevelt did as I've read more history and everything, found out what he was doing. He was Commander in Chief but I didn't care, you know. And there was no television so you got everything out of magazines which may or may not have- 'Life' magazine of course had a lot of pictures in it and everything; that was a good thing to look at. The newspapers, I don't think I saw a newspaper every day. But I had a radio and I listened to the radio and stuff like that. But I think Truman stepped in and did an excellent job. I think he made the right decisions for something he really never expected.
Q:Did you participate in the welcoming home ceremonies after the war?
SMB: I was still in the service.
Q: How did you view the veterans when they returned home?
SMB: Thank God! Thank God they got home! But, don't forget, V.E. day was one thing, yes everybody was happy, but they were still going across. So it wasn't till V.J. day that we knew it was really over. Now you remember I was at Two Axe field at that point, and we had a big party. We had a lot of new pilots at Two Axe field. All these young fly boys that they didn't have any use for anymore. They didn't know what to do with them. They were sort of in reserve, but of course after V.E. day, then they could see well maybe we're not going to need these. They had been doing all sorts of things, driving buses and everything. They were lots of fun (laughter). And I flew home once with a friend of mine. I was in the officers' mess; no I guess I was over at the club. And I heard, "Shirley!" and it was a fella that was one class ahead of me in high school, that I had known. And, he said, "What are you doing here?" and I told him. He said, "I'm going home this weekend, do you want to fly home with me?" I said, "If I can get time off I certainly will!". I went up to the office to see if I could have time off, and I flew home on an 187 I think it was. I was in the front seat he was in the back, or maybe it was the other way around. But those planes had to fly kind of low, oh it was a wonderful trip. Because we were flying so low you could see all the lights. He'd point out all the cities as we went across, flew into Syracuse, my parents came down and got me. And I thought I was going back to Two Axe in the winter, so I took all my winter clothes home with me. Ski pants and all warm things. I hardly was back and I found out I was going to Mississippi. But, that was after V.J. day, so when I went to Biloxi we were allowed to wear civilian clothes for formal occasions, then.
Q: At the end of the war, when it was all over, did you anticipate future wars or did you think countries would find other means of settling conflicts?
SMB: Well we certainly hoped there would never be another war. My father in law was in WWI, and was gassed, and was reported dead, and then they found out he wasn't...My father worked in factories, he was an engineer. He worked in Cleveland I think. He was known as a stationary engineer, not an engineer on trains, and not a building engineer, but he ran big machines in buildings that were heated in steam and stuff like this...
Q: So at he end of the war, can you recall any of the lessons of WWII?
SMB: I don't think I ever thought much about lessons. I stayed in the reserve and was called for Korea. They said you have your choice, you can stay in the reserve, you'll probably be called up, or you can get out. Well, I had two babies. So I said well, I think I'll get out. So I was discharged from that, from the reserve. But, several of my classmates were called back for Korea. On went in the Navy, and was stationed at the Chelsea Naval hospital. Her big complaint was, "I signed with the Navy to see the world and I never got farther than the Chelsea Naval Hospital!" So, she did go back for Korea, and then she did go other places, but she never got over seas until she married somebody she met in the service...
Q: So what do you think of today's younger generation?
SMB: Well, I think most of them are going to turn out pretty well. I envy you, a lot of the knowledge that you have. We were very innocent, but I still think innocence in a sense is good. But you know so much more than we did- I have been trying to find time to learn how to run the computer... I would have gone probably, if I hadn't had two babies I would have gone to Korea. I might have wound up in Korea, I mean I would have gone wherever they sent me, but as an experienced nurse I might very well have gone on to Korea, I might have ended up in one of those M.A.S.H. units. One of our nurses became a lieutenant colonel, she was in a M.A.S.H unit. I have one friend I met in the service that was in the air evac- she stayed in and she's a retired lieutenant colonel... I wanted to be an air evac nurse. I signed up for it, I was working in surgery at Scottsfield. Got a call one day, and they said, "Shirley, its for you" well, they probably said "lieutenant" but I don't know, anyway. So I answered the phone,
"How tall are you?"
"5'1 and 3/4"
"You're too short!"
Bang went the phone! It was the major up in the office. I went up afterwards and I said to Kathy , "What was that phone call about?" she said, "That was your application for air evac, you had to be 5'2" I said, " I could have stretched another quarter of an inch, for pete's sake!"
Q: So do you have any parting advice for the youth of today?
SMB: Study hard. Stay off drugs. But still have fun, you know. And don't drink either, a little wine now and then, but be careful. Take care of your credit and take care of your bones...
1940's Nurse Cap
Mrs. Barnes' Military ID
Assorted Pins and Medals
Army Nurse Corps Hat