War on Their Minds
1942   Ruth L. Fields
Age in 1941: 21

Interview Team: Naomi Axe, Rebecca Marsters

Q: What is your name?

Mrs. Fields: Ruth Fields.

Q: What was your approximate age in 1941?

Mrs. Fields: Twenty-one.

Q: What is your place of birth and where were you raised?

Mrs. Fields: I was born in Omaha, Nebraska and I grew up there.

Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany the1930s?

Mrs. Fields: I would say very aware. I attended a high school and then went to the
University of Nebraska Omaha and in history courses which I took. It was watched very closely and I also happened to grow up in a family where the newspaper was read daily and the radio was listened to and we'd discuss such matters over the dinner table.

Q: How did you first become aware of the dangers in Europe and Asia such as Hitler and Emperor Hirohito?

Mrs. Fields: I was aware of it because my father listened to short wave radio from Sweden and my parents disapproved of the reaction of the Swedish people and were very much in sympathy with Norway because the Swedes were permitting the trains to go through with German military and Sweden was also shipping iron over and military equipment to Germany. My parents were simply irate over this and could not understand and yet, you see, that was a decision made by the government and the letters which my
parents received from Sweden said that they simply did not understand either. Relative to Germany also I might say that we had a neighbor who had been my campfire leader who recalled as a child having a brick thrown through the window. She was of German extraction and she was fearful of this happening once again.

Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe, for instance the invasion of Poland and the Battle of Britain?

Mrs. Fields: I think it was somewhat frightening and it was also the fact that we had the draft. You see I was in the age bracket of young men being drafted or enlisting and very close friends of mine were in the service and some unfortunately did not return. I also read books. There was one in particular: Jan Valtin's book "Out of the Night" which told of the torture in the camps of the Jewish people and the gypsies and that skin was even used from some of the people to use for lamps.


Q: When your friends were leaving for the war because of the draft, what were your female friends’ reactions to that? Were you angry or did you think it was just something they just had to do for their country?

Mrs. Fields: It was loyalty. True patriotism, the likes of which has not been known in the Korean War or the Vietnamese War. But at that time, I would say that it was overwhelming patriotism, there was no doubt. When my brother went, there was no doubt but that he should go. My father had served in World War I, so it was an acceptance, and I think that we also felt a close alliance with England and my father was stationed at Lo Bourge (?) in France and certainly thought that we should come to the defense of France.

Q: Do you remember Roosevelt's fireside chats?

Mrs. Fields: Oh yes, oh yes.

Q: And how did they impact you?

Mrs. Fields: Well, they were very impressive and I would say that they were well worded; very fine vocabulary and that he spoke to fellow citizens. It wasn't appeal, it was reassuring that he had met with Churchill and others and I think that he inspired confidence on the part of the listeners.


Q: Would you say that the majority of the people that you knew would listen to them, would tune in to the fireside chats? Was it again with the loyalty thing, everyone did it and everyone listened to them?

Mrs. Fields: Everyone who had a radio, not everyone did.

Q: And what about those who didn't?

Mrs. Fields: I imagine that we'd have to trust that they read the newspaper.

Q: What do you remember about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mrs. Fields: I remember the Sunday I remember the day that the announcement came over the radio and we couldn't believe it. It was a frightening experience. Omaha is right in the center of the United States, as you know, and it probably is thought by people in the east to be backward. I assure you it's not, but there was one family in our neighborhood. The mother was of Scandinavian extraction, the father was Japanese. He was a photographer and we were very concerned about what would happen.

Q: What would happen to them?

Mrs. Fields: What would happen to them as a family. They had a son who attended Creighton University. At any rate, my brother was at Iowa State University at the time and we felt that he would no doubt be called out, and he was because all the young men in the junior class in the ROTC were called immediately too active duty and the military has a saying "Hurry up and wait" and this often times proves to be true. They were called to active duty, they were sent to Camp Roberts for basic training, Fort Sill was not ready for them so they were sent to Iowa University. So they were in Iowa City for a time, my brother got disgusted and decided he wanted to transfer to theAir Force which he did but the general that I happened to work for happened to be in charge of ROTC so he said just two more days and they will arrive at Fort Sill which happened to be true. They were sent to Fort Sill, went through officer training there, became a Second Lieutenant there and then because of his marksmanship he was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia to become an infantryman. He was then sent from Fort Benning, was able to come home, went on to Fort Ord California where he taught swimming to older ROTC reserve officers who were called to active duty so that they could at least tread water as they crossed the Pacific Ocean. Then he was flown from Fort Ord to Okinawa, spanking clean in his uniform, met by a young sergeant who was from the trenches and as my brother said, he said it was not a friendly exchange because he said obviously my brother was freshly showered, clean uniform, and this man was coming from the trenches. So he learned a lot in a very short time.

Q: Throughout the war, did your feelings stay constant?

Mrs. Fields: I think that relative to Europe they were constant. Relative to the war in Japan, I think that probably our feelings were somewhat ambivalent in that, yes, after the bombing of our ship at Pearl Harbor there was no choice but to become involved and we were there in the islands and then in Japan and of course, fortunately, Japan was conquered. So I would say that while the feelings may have been ambivalent at times, the loyalty remained and patriotism certainly. It's interesting to review this because I think that we have not experienced patriotism such as that since that particular war.

Q: Do you remember what the mood of the country felt like during the war?

Mrs. Fields: Well, of course I'm speaking from the Midwest now, and certainly there was pronounced loyalty and cooperation, after all the Midwest produces a lot of the food and farmers, of course, young farmers were exempt from the draft because food production was required and my father worked for a transfer company and there was the transporting of food articles, dairy products and so on to Chicago from Omaha and I would say that it was a ver cooperative spirit. We had ration coupons for gasoline, we had ration coupons for certain food items, we were fortunate in that we had access to butter so we shipped butter to relatives in California and you'd take your package to the post office and the postman would say "Refrigerator car?" and we'd say "yes" because a lot of people were doing this and so it was possible to do. We sent coffee to relatives in Sweden because they couldn't get coffee, so there were certain items that were available to us and were not available elsewhere. There were shortages, we did not have meat in the quantity or quality that we had had before but I can honestly say that there were no complaints. None. Because I think everyone felt that in some small way, you could make a positive effort relative to the war in contributing.

Q: So everyone was willing to do their part?

Mrs. Fields: Mm-hmm, absolutely.

Q: Would you say that you gained from it in a sense, you learned a sense of

Mrs. Fields: I think that we gained. I think that we gained in that it was a togetherness, it was cooperative, that we worked as a unit. Omaha, interestingly enough, was made up of the stock market, in the southern part, where the livestock was brought in and butchered. A lot of Bohemians, a lot of Italians, and so on. Then we had another section of predominately black population and so on and then the northern part was
probably predominantly Caucasian. But, everyone worked together. In the
school which I attended, a very large high school of four thousand students, everyone was together and working together.

Q: Do you remember any other effects that rationing had on clothing, shelter, or any other areas?

Mrs. Fields: Umm gasoline, food mmm- we had victory gardens! We had a garden where we raised tomatoes and we had some potatoes. Mother suggested that we might have chickens, my father said ‘no way.’ But I can't really say that we experienced much in the way of shortages, in that regard. My mother made all my clothes and there was a shortage of fabric- skirts went up! They were shorter than they were before. But they didn't become micro-mini as they did not to long ago, but they were up to the knee which was eventful I guess, because there was a shortage of fabric, and you didn't find my age group at that time with as much in the way of clothing as you young people have today.

Q: So there wasn't as much of an expectation, would you say?

Mrs. Fields: That's right. And also salaries were minimal. I think looking back, as a mechanic for a transfer company my father may have made about forty dollars a week. But then forty dollars bought more because a loaf of bread was probably ten or fifteen cents a loaf. And a soup bone! A soup bone for twenty-five cents and enough meat on it to make meatballs.

Q: To feed the whole family?

Mrs. Fields: Oh sure. It's just that a dollar went farther at that time. There were shortages, yes.

Q: Were the victory gardens for just your family or for the whole neighborhood, would you share it with another family if another family was in need?

Mrs. Fields: No. No, I think it was each family taking care of itself. At least in the neighborhood where I lived. It wasn't as it was during the depression.

Q: What do you remember about war bonds? Did you have any experiences with that?

Mrs. Fields: I bought them. Because when I worked for the military, I had so much taken out of my monthly pay and I made purchase of war bonds.

Q: What about recycling initiatives?

Mrs. Fields: I can't recall very much of that, garbage in Omaha, you weren't permitted to put anything other than food stuff in your garbage can - paper and tin cans, and so on, you paid to have that hauled away and a man took care of it. The reason for all food items going into the garbage can was that that was then sold to the stockyards and that was fed to the livestock that arrived to be butchered.

Q: Did your social life change in any way during the war?

Mrs. Fields: Yes. Few, if no young men were around. Young girls got together and, let's see, we had picnics, we went horseback riding, we went bowling- we had bowling groups, we went to movies, but it was always girls.

Q: Were you always talking about boys?

Mrs. Fields: Oh, writing. Oh yes, writing letters because in my class in high school
there were a number of young men who were in Europe or in the Asian area so there were many, many letters. And we would compare what so-and-so said was happening and so on.

Q: Would you say that a strong sense of sisterhood grew?

Mrs. Fields: Oh I would say so, yeah. We would see one another on the bus in the morning going to work, coming home in the evening, get together to go to dinner, and one thing or another. It was just a social group, really.

Q: Did you have someone specific that you wrote to?

Mrs. Fields: I wrote to three. Kept busy that way. We were all in the same class. One went on to Annapolis in the Navy and unfortunately did not return- a brilliant man. Although in chemistry class, he threw something down the drain and got my skirt all spattered, put holes in it, I remember that.

Q: How do you remember the movies during the war?

Mrs. Fields: I would say that by and large they were very light compared to what is on the screen today. Mostly to be lighthearted and entertaining and not serious and that was true also of songs. You know, "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me", I would say humorous, not serious by and large.

Q: Do you think there was a reason for this, to provoke a lighthearted feeling in the people waiting at home anxiously?

Mrs. Fields: I think so, right, to lighten the load. If you were concerned about a member of the family, a relative, being somewhere and waiting daily to hear, it did ease the emotions. So something that was entertaining was something that at least for a moment you could come out and you'd had a laugh or that you'd enjoyed the music. Because there were musicals that were lavish at times.

Q: What about wartime movies, were there any movies that were encouraging the men away?

Mrs. Fields: To be honest with you I don't remember much in the way of wartime movies, I do remember that there were segments where we had news, it would be archeopathae news, the rooster would come on and crow and you knew that news would follow and then you would see shots taken on the Battlefield and you would see various conflicts, and you would see events happening in the European Theater or the Japanese Theater. But I personally do not recall having seen any war involvement in movies but that may have been my personal choice, I don't recall.

Q: What was it like for you to see the actual footage on the battleground?

Mrs. Fields: Frightening, frightening. Really frightening. And particularly knowing
certain individuals who were there.

Q: Were you employed during the war?

Mrs. Fields: All the time--by the military.

Q: What were the different positions that you had?

Mrs. Fields: Well, I was a secretary to General Briggs who was in charge of the reserve officers training program in the seven service command which had its headquarters in Omaha and he was responsible for all ROTC units in high schools and in the university, also responsible for calling hose reserve officers who were not presently on active duty to active duty and being aware of their deployment to various areas. Then the government also devised a new program called the Army Specialized Training Program which gave tests to people who did have college backgrounds to see if they could qualify for medical school. The military was in desperate need of doctors and so ASTP gave a number of tests and there were a lot of men who were then enrolled in medical school and this to, shall we say, increase the numbers who were desperately needed. Then, I was also later involved in the personal affairs division. The military is known for taking care of its own and in the personal affairs division we went with a major and we called upon the bereaved; mothers, wives, relatives, to let them know that the military was concerned,that it wasn't just a matter of a military man appearing at the door with a telegram which is traditional, but that there was a follow-up and was there anything that they needed help in, in applying for financial assistance, was there anything in the home that they needed help with. I remember we called upon a grandmother who's grandson was killed in action and the only thing she could think of with winter approaching was he wouldn't be there to put up the storm windows, so we got someone to come and do that. So actually it was an office that took care of a lot of different types of things.

Q: That must have been hard for you to see all those people who had lost so much.

Mrs. Fields: I was just in my twenties, and it was very difficult, but maybe it was also a matter of maturing early, really and developing an appreciation. There were some who were very accepting, there were those who were angry and bitter, and I think one has to have understanding for all of these emotions.

Q: How was it like saying goodbye to all the people who went off to war? Did you consider the fact that might not return?

Mrs. Fields: I don't think that when you're in your twenties, I don't think you think of they’re not returning. I think you have the optimism and I also think that we were so positive about the rightfulness of our participation that we felt that, you know, it would be over soon, it took longer, certainly, than we thought it would.

Q: How did you react when you discovered that certain people you knew would not be returning from the war?

Mrs. Fields: I think that they are a person who will be missed, you know that you will not see that person again, and you develop an appreciation for the individual as he was and of his worth and contributions, and a deep felt sorrow. In the two instances I knew the two families very closely and so I spent time with them also.

Q: Did it change you in any way, did it make you harder to have to hear these things?

Mrs. Fields: I think that there needs to be a time for grieving and I think it also helps as with these two families, it helped to talk.

Q: Were people quite open about talking about it or was it just "suck it up"?

Mrs. Fields: No, it was talking.

Q: Were any of the letters you received censored?

Mrs. Fields: Oh yes, goodness I can think in particular of my brother’s. Scissors were used and they were just cut out and disappeared and so you know we would look and say — " what did he intend to say?" Then at that point we had no clue. As for letters I got from Europe they were just like a dark pen had gone over it, but yes letters were censored.

Q: Was that often?

Mrs. Fields: No, there were many letters that were not censored.

Q: Did you perceive the media’s coverage of the wars truthful or as propaganda or a bit of both?

Mrs. Fields: At that time I think we accepted it as truth. And I say this from having lived longer and gone through other phases with our country. But with regard to WW2, no I think that it was accepted and that it was presented as it occurred. The media did an excellent job.

Q: What was your attitude to anyone of drafting age who was not serving in the armed forces? (Long pause)

Mrs. Fields: Very good question because there were some I can think of, one instance of a young man in my class there at the University suddenly got married.

Q: And this made him ineligible because he was married?

Mrs. Fields: No that did not happen in all instances but maybe he knew someone, I don’t know. But no, the general feeling was, if you were on the draft you went.

Q: As a woman yourself during the wartime, would you say that the war changed women’s roles in any way?

Mrs. Fields: Oh, for those who went into military service, yes. Like my friend who went into the Women’s Army Corps and then I had a friend who went into the WAVES and I think that they experienced (the one in the WAVES in particular) a required discipline which she had not experienced previously. I know that I myself could not have done well, I would have rebelled (laughter). But she said at times it was extremely hard and very difficult to conform. She was very feminine and I think that there were those who did have opportunities. However, I don’t really think that the women’s role during WW2 achieved in numbers what might have been hoped for. This took a much longer time to realize, much longer.

Q: Do you recall any wartime dissent?

Mrs. Fields: I can’t say that within my area I did, I really can’t. I know a friend of mine who lived in Minnesota and looked upon the area where my son in law lived, which is in the southern part of Minnesota (which is a large segment of German families, probably fourth generation) that they were thought to be Nazi’s. Of course my son in law just stormed when he heard that because he said that was not true at all. But I think if you have a group of a given ethnic background, the accusation can sometimes be made. And like I told you about the women who lived just a couple of blocks away from me, she feared that a brick could be thrown through her window once again because there was this association.

Q: What was your attitude towards the Japanese or Germans on a personal level? Did you hate them?

Mrs. Fields: Oh I knew this German family and this Japanese photographer, however as my brother said, during WW2 he spent the better part of his time in the photography studio under his black cover behind the camera with his wife at the desk to receive people and placing them for being photographed and you rarely saw him step out from behind the camera and I think he probably was concerned because of course we had these large encampments of Japanese families who had been brought from the West Coast and placed in various places in the Mid West.

Q: So you were aware of the internment camps? Were you also aware of the 110,000 Japanese Americans in detention camps?

Mrs. Fields: Yes, very aware.

Q: What was your reaction?

Mrs. Fields: We thought that it was wrong and because I had relatives who lived in California and they had known many families who had their own gardens, their own shops and so on. They were accustomed to patronizing them and then they suddenly disappeared and they had to relinquish their property and they were not a threat as such. I think it was over estimated by a given group and I think there has been some acknowledgement that there was an error but I am certain it was done to protect the general population. In the U.S. the feeling was that perhaps these people did have an alliance with the Japanese government. There had been a rumor of germ warfare on the West Coast.

Q: Did Americans whom you knew ever note the irony of racial segregation at home and in the armed forces while fighting intolerance abroad?

Mrs. Fields: I don’t think so, I can tell you of my brother’s experience at Fort Sill. There was a young black man, in his group that got their second lieutenant (they had gone through Ohio State in their junior year, they had been together throughout high school). The young operates name was General Grant Green, with his lieutenancy he became Lieutenant General Grant Green. When they got on the bus to go to the rail station the bus driver told this young man to go to the back of the bus. These young people all from Iowa State college said " he is one of us, he is not going to the back of the bus." The driver said," this bus does not move until he gets there." So they walked off the bus and they walked to the rail station. Because you see, we were from the North, and we did not have such discrimination.

Q: How did you react to the news of Roosevelt’s death?

Mrs. Fields: I think that it was indeed a tremendous loss for our nation, he had been president during a very trying time, he had worked closely with Churchill. I recently read a biography of Eleanor’s and in it tells about that he was a congenial individual and that he believed in having a drink after a full day of work. Also that Churchill would join him and Churchill became a resident at the White House. I think that he was a very hard working individual and of course in the news talks that we saw in the movie theatres, we never saw him in a wheel chair. Nor did we ever see him with the arm braces, never. So we never recognized his disability, it was never bought to our attention. Also he certainly had a very commanding voice and he conveyed his messages so articulately. I think he was a president to be admired. I think he had ways of getting people to agree with him.

Q: What was your opinion of President Truman's wartime leadership?

Mrs. Fields: I think he did an excellent job, he was gutsy, defended his daughter, didn’t become a wealthy man after his presidency, and out spoken. Yes, I think he did an excellent job. Quite a contrast but maybe the man for the particular job at that time.

Q: What was your reaction to Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Mrs. Fields: That was no doubt a very difficult decision. My brother visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The medical school was totally wiped out in Nagasaki. When my brother visited there he said he was from Omaha and they knew ‘boys town.’ They had a rapport initially, but it was devastating and my brother at the time thought that he was going to enter medical school and so he attended surgery for a number of young women whose faces were so brutally damaged and some were bought to the U.S. for dermatological surgery.

Q: Would you say the decision was justified?

Mrs. Fields: I really can’t say. It was a feeling of shock because we hadn’t ever used anything of that dimension ever. And I don’t think the general population was aware that we had such a powerful weapon. There was one man who lived in Los Gato’s who was the bomber on that #1 flight.

Q: Did you participate in a welcoming committee after the war?

Mrs. Fields: No, but there were some in Omaha and also organizations that had welcoming ceremonies for young men coming home. It was a big thing.

Q: How did you view the veterans upon their return home?

Mrs. Fields: I think that once again that they had been loyal to their country. Some had come back and were injured and I think that there was the general feeling that they were to be taken care of. Maybe more so because of the fact that WW1 veterans were still alive and that they had not been cared for and during the depression they had marched on Washington so I think there was a general feeling that we must provide for them.

Q: At the end of the war did you anticipate any future wars, or did you think that countries would find other means of settling conflicts?

Mrs. Fields: The optimist that I am, I certainly hoped that we would have no more wars, I continue to hope for that. Unfortunately, mankind isn’t made that way and there are innumerable wars that are going on right now.

Q: What are the lessons of WW2?

Mrs. Fields: I am certain that there are many and those who are history teachers, sociologists and physiologists probably can think of innumerable lessons. I think that it proved to the U.S. that we could work together and provide the means for waging war and could work with other nations. Also that our men in military could be in the air, on the ground and work in different groups and didn’t distinguish that " I am an American" or " you’re a European", rather they could work together.

Q: Do you think that today’s generation of young Americans is different to that of your generation?

Mrs. Fields: I think that you have experienced changes in your lives, compared to the generation of WW2. You are surrounded by plenty, your standard of living is higher than it was at that time. We didn’t have T.V, the schools are different, I think that you are more knowledgeable at your age than we were at an identical age. But I fell that the world is presenting you with challenges unlike those which we experienced I trust that with your knowledge and conviction that you will meet the challenge and do well. I have great hopes. I have a Grandson who’s 21 and a granddaughter of 19. Life is very different, I point this out to him. Do you read Doonsberry? It’s so good, he’s hitting hard right now. We have a lady who hangs her clothes on the line and people complain, saying that it’s wrong and lowers the retail value of the neighborhood. Forget that one, she’s green, and she doesn’t know it.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth of today?

Mrs. Fields: Be optimistic, do your best at all times, and take advantage of all the opportunities that are put before you. I think that you have many advantages and I think there are so many changes which occurred. My Grandson is going into a masters program with artificial intelligence, Robots!. Just think, Robots? TV wasn’t around, washers and dryers either, we hung our clothes on the line outside. I hope that with the mentality that man has been graced with that, there will be hope that we can sit down and disguise differences instead of pick up a gun.


Mrs. Fields describes her memory of FDR's death. (Quicktime)

Mrs. Fields' Friend Shirley Boren

Mrs. Fields' Brother Robert Johnson