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Virginia A. Kurata video nterview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

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The World War II Years:

An Oral History Interview with Virginia Kurata



Ellipsis (…) indicates incomplete or fragmentary utterances.  Square brackets ([ ]) enclose questionable portions of the transcript and transcriber-added material.



Interviewer: Today is October 30th, 2007. My name is Deborah Pye. We’re in the Watkins Community Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas on Massachusetts Street. I’m speaking with Mrs. Virginia Kurata. Mrs. Kurata, could you begin by telling us when you were born and where you were born?


Virginia Kurata: I was born May 25, 1922 in Morgantown, West Virginia.


Interviewer: What did your dad do there?


Virginia Kurata: My father was in the coalmining business. It wasn’t very long after my birth that my family moved over to Pennsylvania, which is not too far. Probably it was about fifty miles across the state line.


I: Whereabouts in Pennsylvania?


VK: Washington, Pennsylvania, about thirty miles or less from…southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


I: I did part of my graduate work at Pitt [the University of Pittsburgh].


VK: Did you! Well, you know that area. A very old community.


I: You went to school there?


VK: I went to a small town called Avella, Pennsylvania outside of Washington. I graduated from high school in 1940.


I: I should ask you about your brothers and sisters. 


VK:  I have one sister who’s after me and two younger brothers.  I’m the oldest of the four of us.


I: Did you have chores that you had to do at home?


VK: Well, of course!  Everybody has to help with the…. Particularly, like, on weekends when we were out of school, we had to help clean the house.  Our home was heated with coal furnace and especially in the spring there was always a big housecleaning at the time.  Curtains had to come down to be laundered; walls had to be washed because coal is very fume-making heat. So there was always a big springtime housecleaning.  And of course, helping around the home like all kids have to do or used to do.  We lived in a town so we did not have farm work to do.  We had relatives who lived on farms.  We’d go out to visit with them, and we learned about gathering eggs and watching the milking going on.  We didn’t actually get to do any of that, but that was my childhood. And then I had jobs like babysitting I could do while I was in school.  I didn’t go to work at earning any money till after I had gone to Penn Commercial Business School.


I: Was that what happened after high school?


VK: Right.  And then I went to work for J.C. Penney’s as a clerk.  And then I just….  In high school I had studied business track for typing and shorthand.  I really wanted to do that at work, so I just found an ad in the newspaper about a steel mill having…looking for office workers.  So I applied and was accepted and went to work in the office for this protected steel products company.


I: Did you live at home?


VK:  I lived at home.  Everybody I knew lived at home.  We did not have a college in our town except a men’s school.  It now is integrated with women students, but at that time it was only a men’s school—W & J, William and Jefferson. I don’t know when it became integrated, but, anyway, it was not at that time.  So I went to work at this mill for….  And that’s where I met my husband.


I:  Oh, really?


VK:  He was there working as a chemist in the laboratory.  He was single, and we got acquainted with other single girls that worked for the company.  We started going out to lunch with him.  He was the one that had the car.  Otherwise, we would have had to ride the streetcar to go to the restaurant.  So when he would drive us, there was about four of us, and we’d go with him to have lunch. One day I had to work a little late in the office to finish up, and so everybody else had left. I left a little late to catch the streetcar to go home.  While I was waiting, he drove by and saw me waiting, and he asked if I needed a ride. I said, “Yes.”  I said I waited for the streetcar, and he said, “Well, I’ll take you home.” I said, “Fine,” and as I got out of the car he asked me if I’d like to go to a movie coming up that weekend.  “Gone with the Wind” was playing at the theatre, and I said, “Yes, I’d like to go see that.”  That started our seeing each other.  We were very…. [We] tried to be discreet about it because companies do not exactly frown on…


Technical Assistant: Fraternization?


VK: … fraternization, I guess they call it.  So we would be very professional-like in the daytime at work, and then he would call on me in the evenings or on the weekend.  I knew the area because that was my home area.  He had come from California and Michigan, where he had been a student and got a Ph.D. in Michigan.  He was finished to go to work in 1941, but the war broke out with Japan, and the job that he had lined up was cancelled.  He was able to stay on and work on graduate projects at the university until he could find work away from the university.  That turned out to be when he attended a meeting in Pittsburgh, and he met a man who turned out to be the head of the company where I was working, who offered to give him a job.  So that’s how he got to my hometown in Pennsylvania.  He was the only Oriental besides a Chinese laundryman in Washington, Pennsylvania, so he was not…. It was a little scary time for him.  He was not accepted.  People were a little bit nervous about him being there, but he knew that he could do the work, and he did.  He was also looking for a job with a bigger company.  And during that time, he did get on with Wilmington, Delaware—with the Atlas Powder Company.  They were building…making a lot of matériel for World War II.  And as a chemist and engineer, he felt more satisfied at having a better location. 


Anyway, when he was ready to go, he asked me if I would go along and get married.  I was afraid. I knew it was coming, but I was a little unprepared; in a way, I wasn’t really ready for it.  My family were always hospitable, but they were a little worried about his being a Japanese: our country at war with Japan, and our getting too familiar.  But they were open-minded about it, to not get too upset over it.


I: Good for them.


VK: So when I decided, I turned him down. I said, “You know, I’m the oldest in my family, and there’s the war going on.  My younger brothers are too young to go to the war.”  My sister was in nurses’ training, and she was already in what they called the Nurses Corps. Whenever she finished training she was going to become one of the military nurses in one of the branches, but the war did end before she got finished.  So I decided that I would join the service and get away from my family and away from him to make sure that I was really ready to take that step to marry a man of another nationality.


I: But he was American?


VK: He was American, but he looked different, you know, and in my area that was a little scary for people.  One family had told my folks that if I was their daughter they would forbid me to have anything to do with him.  That, of course, is just what a rebel will not accept.  So, anyway, I was in the service for a year and a half, and all that time I was in Camp Lejeune for training, in North Carolina.  After I had served, I went through boot training, and then I went to quartermaster school, and after that I was assigned a job at Quantico, Virginia.  That is about forty miles south of Washington, DC. 


I: Could I just stop you?  What years are we talking about here?


VK: That’s 194-- …. ’43 was the year I went in, September 1943.  And the boot training was about six weeks.


Technical Assistant: How was boot training for a woman as opposed to [for] a man?


VK: Well, …


TA: And were you in a camp that had men also?


VK: Let me think.


TA: [Were you] in a boot camp with men and women or just women?


VK: There were men there, because that really was a basic school for training officers. They called it OCS, Officer Candidate School. Those were the main men that were there, and they were mostly in classrooms. They were out in the field some, but we were never together.  Ours was like exercise classes.  We went to classes for military learning about…. We also learned about…. We had health care, health teachings about our health and our bodies.  We were all young women.  There was hardly anybody under the age of 21. [We were] mostly 21 and more.


TA: But you didn’t have the rigorous training that the men had in boot camp, the marching?


VK: We did not have…. We did not learn anything about weapons or arms.  We mostly attended a class.  We did…. Some of the physical things were like running obstacle courses.  We all moved together as a group, you know, in a platoon, I guess they call it, and we all had our place in that platoon.  We knew who was beside us, in front of us, behind us.  That was our place.  And we all marched together with a superior, another women who was a drill…


TA: Instructor? 


I: So you did do the drilling.


VK: We did learn….  We learned to drill. We learned to dress properly; our uniforms had to be just….  We had to learn the housekeeping in the dormitories where we lived.  And we had punctuality for timing when we had to eat at a certain time; we had to all be ready to fall into formation at a certain time, and we moved together to where we would go through these exercise programs.  But we had.…  That was sort of, like, daytime learning. After work we were free; you could take off your uniform and put on more comfortable clothes


I: Really?


VK: Yeah, you could wear a T-shirt or slacks.  And we could have weekends that we did not have to do that.  We could have picnics together.  We always were with the women; none of the men were part of our.…


TA: Had you ever worn slacks before then?


VK: Yes.  I’d had pants, I guess they called ’em.  When I was just a young kid, when I’d go to the relatives’ farms, we had a little overall-type.  Some…. They were made out of, like, you remember how feed bags were flowered fabric?


I:  Yes, yes.


VK: My mother would make those, and those were wonderful to have to go to the farm where we could ride the horses.


TA:  But most women at that time, until the war came around, did not wear pants. They all wore dresses; is that not correct?


VK: Right, but I had had that experience as a younger kid.  I can’t remember ever wearing ’em around home.  We had a sewing machine; we had fabric, and we would sew up comfortable clothes.  My mother had made…had used some old coats to make snow pants for us.  We used to have very deep snow. I think we’ve seen a very deep snow at times here in Kansas since I’ve lived here, but not very much lately.  She’d put elastic around the bottoms, and we wore those over other underpants—long pants for protection against the deep snows—in the wintertime.


I: Was it considered radical to join the service?  How did your friends feel about it?


VK:  Not too much.  I think everybody felt like this was a war that had to be won, and everybody had to do something to help.  Women went to the factories to work.  Washington, Pennsylvania was very well known also for its glass-making, and they made a lot of canning glasses, jelly glasses.  A lot of women worked in those places.  There was one company called Duncan Miller that made fine glassware, tableware.  A lot of women worked there.  In fact, I have some of that glass myself in this….


TA: I could see the canning, because there was a lot of victory gardens.


VK: Right.


TA: But the fine glassware, you wouldn’t think there’d have been a call for that during the war.


VI: Well, there was, and they made…. It’s a very nice glassware. They made stemware for glasses, you know.  I bought some of that when I got older.  I’ve got it at home and rarely use it because it’s just too much work to get it out.  A few pieces have been broken.


I: So you’re in training.  How long did your training last?


VK: The training, boot camp training, was about six weeks. And then quartermaster school.  People were designated for different jobs after boot camp, and some went into other bases like San Diego for.… The other kind of work they could do would be the motor transportation.  They could drive jeeps. I don’t remember anybody ever driving a truck, but our work mostly was to release a man for active duty.  In peacetime, there were men Marines who did office work.  This base that I worked on was a maintenance base…[corrects herself] I mean, maintenance department for the base. They took care of carpentry work; they took care of plumbing, electrical, painting and just general repair of the whole base.  One of the sections that we never saw…. But they had men that were in care of the water works to make sure that the plant had safe water.  That part came under the maintenance department.  There were about three of us women that worked in this office to do the paperwork.  It takes a lot of paperwork in those days.


I: Did you have a mechanical typewriter?  I assume, it wasn’t an electric typewriter.


VK: No, it was not electrical; it was more like an Underwood. You know, almost all offices had….  That’s what we used, mechanical [typewriters].  Our man in charge was a captain of Marines.  He was an elderly man.  I don’t know how long he’d been in the service, but he answered to the main director of the whole base, who was a colonel. 


I: And this was a little bit south of Washington?


TA: Quantico.


VK: This was at Quantico.  Yeah, the connections with the people in the boot camp was all with women.  I don’t remember any men.  I would see the groups of men, like a platoon of men, doing their marching.  They had to march to go to classes.  But it was really kind of a women’s only, well-protected, well-guarded overseas. Our staff—people who were our drill instructors—lived in the same building with us.  They had their, like, apartments, and we all lived in a great big long room with double bunk beds.


I: How did people feel about the officers? Did they, in general, like them?  Were they considered tough?


VK: We had very little contact with them, except the drill officer, drill instructor, I guess you’d call him.  It was not difficult, as I remember, to deal with them.  They could be very insistent that you learn things right and about taking care of your little space in the barracks. They called them barracks.  They would give inspections, and anything that was not quite right, your bed not made quite right or your box with your belongings in it or your little…. We had a cubbyhole to hang our uniforms in.  Things had to be placed just right, and they would make sure that we learned how to do that properly.  They would give a demerit for anything out of line.  Demerit punishment was mostly being assigned to KP duty.  I got that one time for allowing my fountain pen to be on my bed when I left for work.  I came back, and…. You’d find a big bulletin board in the hallway as you entered, and you always looked to see if your name was up there. I got a demerit for allowing my pen to lay on my bed.  So there was some rigidness and discipline, but it was not a hardship at all.  We were girls, you might say, 21 years old.  We were all from all over the U.S.  I gave my name when it was payday, and the lady officer who was giving out the pay looked at me closely, and she said, “You’re not the Virginia Nefford I know in Nebraska.” I said, “No, I’ve never been to Nebraska.” So there are people with the same names.


I: How did your parents feel about you being off on your own?  Were they pretty supportive?


VK: Yes, they were supportive.  They were not too worried about it.  They knew that I would not be leaving the country or going into any dangerous place.  They were busy with the younger children in the home.  I had….  Well, my sister was really away from home; she was in nurses’ training.  But I had two younger brothers that were still, like, high school age.  ’Cause I was 21 [unintelligible].


I: Were they concerned that your brothers would be drafted when they reached eighteen?


VK: Well, they hoped that that would never be, of course.  The older one of the younger two brothers did go and enlist.  He wanted to get into paratrooper training, and he did do that.  He was trained in Georgia, then he was sent to California. He developed [an] illness, and they had to put him in a hospital there. It was during that time that the war ended, so he was spared from having to go overseas.  And the other one never did make it.  He didn’t get into the service until the Korean War.


TA: Where did your sister take training for Nurses Corps?


VK: In Pennsylvania, in another community called Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  Probably about…. I don’t know if it was fifty miles away or not.  It was not in our home town, so she stayed where they had a place for all the nurses who stayed, and those days, they.…


TA: Would she have been sent overseas?


VK: We don’t know.  The war ended before she got finished.


TA: What about your husband’s family during the time that you were in the service?  Was he still working, and his family…?


VK: His family were, like, southern Californian farmers.  His father had built, or planted, I should say, a lot of the citrus groves of southern California: oranges, grapefruit, lemons.  When the war broke out, why, they just knew that that was going to be a really difficult time for them.  But they had lived there, you see, for twenty-some years in that same house.  All their kids were raised there and went to school in southern California.  Rialto, California was his hometown, but he went to high school in San Bernardino, which was the next, bigger town.  Then my husband went to Cal Tech. This was in the 30’s, 1930’s.  I think that he went to work. He worked his way through school a lot; he did a lot of truck driving for produce.


TA: Did his family have a hard time during the Depression, being farmers?


VK: The Depression during the thirties: I never heard so much about that.  They always seemed to have plenty of food.  I think they even had a car.  They were out in the country; it was about sixty miles east of Los Angeles where they were.


TA: What about your family during the Depression? How did they…?


VK: Well, my father was in the coalmining business, and there was always a need for coalmining.  A lot of coal was used in building, in the furnaces for steel making, so he always had a job, as I remember.  We didn’t always have a whole lot of amenities, but I remember he liked to garden.  He was good at gardening; he had a really, really green thumb.  We always had nice vegetables.  My mother liked to do that, too.  I don’t know; it just seemed like we weren’t any worse off than any of our friends or any of our relatives.  We had Uncle…relatives who lived on a farm, and they would bring us butter and eggs, I think, you know.   We had milk, I remember.  Let’s see; I can’t remember; it just seemed like it was all pretty much the same for everybody, and there wasn’t anybody that seemed to be suffering too much that I can remember.  My folks…. My mother liked to can, and she was….  It was just always work to be done and we….  I can’t remember that anybody was ever very ill [or] that there was any lacking of food or anything, you know.  There was always enough, apparently.


TA: When you were in the service, did you stay in contact with your soon-to-be husband?


VK: Oh, yes. He really wanted to marry, get married, before leaving for the other job that he was going to in Wilmington, Delaware, and I said, “Well, you know, I really want to do this.  If I don’t do it now, I never will.”  And I really wanted to get away from my folks, who were not too pleased about my association with him.  I just thought they needed to see how serious I was and [to see] my ability to be separated and to see if it would really work for us. Or for me.  My husband had no doubts that it was all right for him.  Although I had never met his family, he knew my family. My family liked him.  I mean, enough to like to have him around, and [were] always hospitable.  We had him for meals.


TA: Was your husband ever interned during the war?


VK: No, he was not.  The war broke out while he was in Michigan.  He had a job lined up to go to as soon as he got his Ph.D., in Chicago, but the Chicago job was canceled when they found out that our country was going to be at war with Japan.  So that’s when he had to find other ways to survive.  His family was there in a camp in Arizona, and he went to his people that he knew [in] school: his advisors, the dean of the engineering school, people that knew him from all the five years that he had spent there getting his Ph.D.  And they told him that they would do everything they could to help him to look after his family.  So it turned out that he had to go to see a man who had a farm outside of Ann Arbor, who was a conscientious objector.  He was also anti-war, and he also would give people work on his farm who he thought were treated with an injustice.  So a friend found him and told him this story, and he was willing for his [Professor Kurata’s] family to come out of the camp.  People could leave the camp if they had another place to go internally, out of California. So he was able…. I guess he had to get permission from the police department, from the police chief, because there wasn’t that many Orientals around, and they could be suspicious of them, you know.  So they had to have people who approved of them being there. 


He had a younger brother and sister that were in the camp.  He had two older brothers that went to the war. They volunteered out of the camp to go, and they were part of that 442nd regiment that lost a lot of men fighting in Italy and Europe.  But they both came back.  They did.  A lot of people, men, died in that.  And so with my husband having been that far away from California…. Everybody was afraid that California was going to get invaded; a submarine would come up and launch a bomb or something.  So they had to get the Japanese all together and get them relocated.  So he went and found permission, got permission, from the area of Ann Arbor for his family to….  They did have a car, but, I don’t know, they must have had somebody, maybe, who looked after their car [and] their house.  They had to pack their house up; they tried to put everything in one bedroom, and then they had a friend who would look after the house.  It was on an orange grove.  Maybe he lived in the house, too, part of the time. I’m not real clear on some things. But they had a car, and they drove to Michigan. They moved into the farm outside of Ann Arbor, and they lived there till the war ended.  They were still there when Fred left for Wilmington.  He went to Wilmington in 1944 or ’45.  It all kind of runs together.


I: Let’s get you back in the story here.  When V-E Day happened…. Do you remember V-E Day? 


VK: Yes, I do.


I: What were you doing? What happened?


VK: Well, it was the news that came over the radio, and then I remember seeing the newspaper with great big blocks of “V-E Day! Wins! The war is over.”  And that’s was, like, in August, I believe, of that year. [V-J Day was on August 15, 1945; V-E Day occurred on May 8, 1945.]  Was that August of ’45?  I was in for the whole year of 1945.  I went in in 1944, in the fall. Like, September, I guess it was.  I had 18 months, and I was discharged after the war was over. They allowed people out in small groups so that not all the base work was terminated.  They had to do things gradually.


I: Not come to a crashing halt?


VK: Well, it never came to a crashing halt.  So it was around the first of December.  I think I had spent Christmas there so it was after December, after Christmas, and around…close to the first of January.  And then my husband and I married January 14, right after I got out.


I: Did you get married back in your hometown?


VK: No, we eloped, you might say.  We went over to Maryland and got married.  That was another close [unintelligible] state.  That was because there was very little waiting time, and he got a little time off from work. We went there, and we went back, and I went back with him to the little town where he was working in Pennsylvania.  He worked in a lab that was under the supervision of the Atlas Powder Company, which is a big company in Wilmington, Delaware, but this was a lab in the mountains area of Pennsylvania.  Eastern Pennsylvania.  Tamaqua was the name of the town.


I: Oh, my goodness!


VK: Do you know Tamaqua?


I: Indeed I do.  My mother and father-in-law, who are now gone, lived in Bethlehem.


VK: Oh, really.  Yeah: Reading and Allentown, Pottsville, and all those little [towns] in that corner.


I: That is a small town.


VK: Yeah. It was a very busy railroad town, as I remember.


TA: When you enlisted, did you enlist for, like, so many years, or duration of the war?


VK: No, duration. I knew it was going to be till the end of the war.  No, we did not need to say we’ll stay for a year.  They really didn’t want us after the war.  But they did allow women to leave and take civilian jobs in Washington, D.C.


I: Did you ever have any ambition of taking a civilian job?


VK: No, I guess I was ready to get married and to be a housewife.  And whatever would be necessary for me to make a home with my husband.  That first year that we were married I became pregnant, and I spent a lot of time writing letters—typing letters for other students.


I: I’m thinking we’ll just wrap it up by you talking about how you got back. [Tell us] anything else you want to say, too.


VK: Okay.


I:  You got married; you’re living in Tamaqua.


VK: Right.


TA:  Pregnant, and writing a lot of letters.


VK: I’m typing a lot of letters out to a lot of schools.  My husband wanted to get into education. He had his Ph.D. and [was] qualified to teach at university college level.  And so we sent letters out to a variety of schools.  Already the soldiers were being released from service, and the schools were starting to grow in enrollments.  So he came out [to the University of Kansas]. He wrote a letter here to the school, and he was invited to come for an interview.  He had qualifications that they were looking for, and so they hired him.  The dean of the engineering school was…. I can’t remember his name now, but he told the department chairman, “If you feel like you can work with this man, you just go ahead and make him an offer.” That man had worked in the war for Du Pont, so he also was familiar with the same type of work that my husband had done and with the Atlas Powder Company.  And so another man…. They were, like, a three-man department, and they just needed to start hiring more people. 


So he was accepted, and we moved to Lawrence into what we called Sunnyside. They were old barracks buildings that were divided up into apartments, and we had one of those apartments.  And I arrived…. He drove out.  He had what few things we owned.  That whole year that we lived in Tamaqua we lived in a rented house—a fully-furnished, rented house.  So we did not have any furniture, although we had a baby and his crib and personal things and wedding gifts that we’d received.  So we sent some things out on a train, and other things that he could get into the car.  He arrived, and the apartment was available to us right away.  I had stayed with my folks till he was settled here, and then I flew out with the baby from Pittsburgh to Kansas City in February of 1947. It was cold and bleak!  But I was…. You know, we were just glad to be together and having a start at the work that he was going to do for the next 31 years.  In the meantime, we’ve had three more children, and they were born here in Lawrence.  Nancy [the technical assistant] knows my daughter and went to school with her.  And I have two younger, two more sons.


TA: Is Gail the only daughter?


VK: She’s the only daughter.  Philip is my oldest son.  He lives in Wheaton, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.  My next son after Elizabeth is Douglas.


TA: Gail and Elizabeth, by the way, are the same person.


VK: That’s right; that’s right. 


TA: Gail Elizabeth.


VK: We had a year’s….well, a leave of absence for a year and a half, so we went to South America, to Peru.  The friends that she met there could not pronounce her name, Gail, too plainly. They had a little difficulty with the Spanish accent. When we came back to Lawrence she was ready to start to KU, and she said, “I’m telling everybody my name is Elizabeth. I don’t want to be called Gail anymore.”


TA: She will always be Gail to me.


VK: As with me too, Nancy.  I catch myself all the time. I try to remember, because that’s the way she really prefers it.  Elizabeth was my mother’s name, and that was…. It’s a pretty name.  I liked it and wanted to give it to her.  Then [we have] a son who’s Douglas Kurata, and he also graduated from KU.  He is a medical doctor in family practice, and he lives up in Washington State.  Then my youngest son is Tom, and he’s here in Lawrence.  He has been three years living in China; he’s been back in Lawrence since just this year.


I: That’s a really spread out family.


VK: Yeah, they are.


TA: Gail—Elizabeth—owns “African Adorned” downtown. [“African Adorned” is an import store in Lawrence, Kansas.] I suppose when you guys were in South Africa she took a great liking to that type of thing.


VK: She had a friend from KU, a girl named Jackie, Jackie [last name unintelligible].  Jackie was from Russell, Kansas, and those girls were just like sisters.  Jackie graduated, though, ahead of Elizabeth and she went off to work in New York City.  She had a degree in interior design.  And so she got a job working for one of the big department stores in New York City, and just was having a pretty good time.  But the civil rights and things were going on, I think, and she got a little bit restless.  She decided she did not want to live there any longer, and so everything that she owned she got in a backpack, and she just took off for Europe on a cheap flight.  She just started to travel, and she traveled through Europe and went across the Mediterranean and into North Africa, joined up with some other young people who were like she was, just traveling, and she ended up in Nairobi, Kenya.  There her funds had just about run out, and she went to an architect who was working on the big conference center that was being built in Nairobi and asked him for a job. [She told him] that she could do interior design, and she could design furniture for this big conference center.  He gave her a job, and she just started living a terrifically interesting life.  She still lives there.  And this is [unintelligible] forty…no, thirty years, maybe 35 years.  She kept writing these wonderful letters of all the exciting things…about [what she was] doing in Kenya, and [she] encouraged my daughter to come over there.  So she did. She asked us if she could go, and of course we said, “Well, I think you ought to work.”  She’d already finished KU.  “You ought to work and earn the way to go, the money to go.”  So she did.  It took her a year or so to save up enough.  And [she] live[d] at home.  But she had to buy a ticket out of Kenya into another country. Then she got there, and she and her friend Jackie just had a pretty good life together.  Jackie was living in a house with servants.  She was taking her designs for furniture building to a young man who lived there in Nairobi.  He was a single guy, and they [had] become very good friends, but her friend Jackie said, “I have a friend who’s coming from the U.S., and she’s going to…. You’ll really like her!” She introduced them, and they did. They did get married, and she lived over there, then, for ten years.  And she had her three children.  They are…. Her daughter now is running “African Adorned.”  That’s Elizabeth’s daughter, and her two sons…. One of them is working on a Ph.D. here at KU, and the other one has a little business like his mother’s—was his mother’s—in Savannah, Georgia.  So there are grandchildren continuing on.


TA: How many grandchildren do you have?


VK: I have nine grandchildren.


TA: Great-grandchildren, any?


VK: No. One grandchild married this summer, and she’s coming in a couple weeks with her young husband.  The other grandmother lives in Erie, Kansas, and she’s not in very good health, and she couldn’t attend the wedding this past July, which I did.  I went to her wedding.  So she’s bringing her young husband, new husband, back to meet the other grandmother and other relatives from around Lawrence, around Kansas, and Kansas City.


I: I want to end this with a question.  Why did you choose to join the Women Marines, as opposed to the WACS, or the…?


VK: Ah, yeah, the other branch of women.  Okay, I knew two people in the women’s… [corrects herself] in the men’s Marines.  One was a cousin about two years older than I, and one, the other one, was a boyfriend of my sister, and I thought…. I liked their uniforms! I thought they made a striking appearance.


TA: I’m goin’ want to get a picture of your hat; we really liked your hat there.


VK: And the men’s…. That was really the reason.  I guess I talked with my cousin a little more than I did the boyfriend, but anyway, it did not last for her, for their relationship.  She was in nurse’s training, and so…. That was kind of the main thing, I guess.  I think people…. Opinions of the women in the Army was a little not too flattering.  Women of the Army, maybe, were…. I think they were going overseas.  And the women of the Navy were also…. [They] were on the ships, I believe.  And I did not care for…


TA: Water?


VK: …doing that.  Well, I think water maybe had something to do with it.  I never did learn to be a good swimmer.  I could play around in the water and swim a little bit, but I still liked the uniform for the male Marines, and these two guys that I knew made handsome, striking, appearances.  So just to…. That was just about the only thing, I think.


I:  That’s a good enough reason!


TA:  Yeah, why not?  Good as any.


VK: The fact that they stayed in the United States. I had no idea where I would end up.  I knew that the Marines were on the West Coast, too, in California, but….


TA: Where did you enlist?


VK: I enlisted in Pittsburgh.


TA: In Pittsburgh?


VK: Uh-huh. Yeah, I just lived about, you know, forty miles or so.  I could take the streetcar to Pittsburgh.  There was a streetcar service that ran between Pittsburgh and Washington. I did not take anybody with me.  I just took a day off from work and went in there and did it.  It was a one-day business.  You had to fill out some psychological questions.  I don’t think I even had to have a physical to make sure I was physically fit.  At the end of the day, I just raised my hand and said that I would, you know, I would do my duty to protect my country and all.  I met great friends from California to New York to Maine.  This is a little aside.  I don’t know if you want it.  There was a girl from South Carolina, from the south.  I never knew many people from any other places much, except from around my own home area.  This girl one time made the remark that…. She said, “You know, I was eighteen years old before I knew that ‘damn Yankee’ was two words.”  I knew that we were…that I was a “damn Yankee” to her.


TA: Was your husband’s family bitter about being interned?


VK: Yes. I don’t think the father was so much.  The father was kind of beaten down in a way, you know, mentally.  He had strokes.  When I knew him he wasn’t very well.  But the mother was pretty strong.  She was pretty strong-willed.  And there was a time when there was trying to make amends with the government for the Orientals that they had rounded up, put in…. Fred called them concentration camps.  The newspaper calls them internments.  They were given a chance to become citizens and to be able to vote, and she turned it down.  She said, “If they could not have seen what good citizens we already were before the war….” She didn’t care if she was given the chance to vote.  So she refused it.


TA: Did the rest of ’em do that?


VK: No, all the kids were native-born, California[n].


TA: Oh, of course, they were already citizens.


VK: Right.  They all had strong feelings about the war.  My husband was bitter a lot about it, about Roosevelt was President.  He said that a way that they could have done…. His opinion, and maybe I disagree with him, was that that war could have ended without so many killing of the atom bombs if they had just taken an island that had no inhabitants in the Pacific and shown what that atom bomb could do.  But then there’s arguments…. It took two of them to bring the Japanese to surrender.


TA: How did he feel about you being in the military?


VK: He was not too pleased about it, but he cared enough for me that he said he would wait for me to be discharged.  And I was not…. I was out, and I was in civilian clothes when we married.  We just went off to [unintelligible] Maryland and got married; [we] got a license at a county courthouse and went to a Methodist minister and had his wife as the…


TA: Witness?


VK: … the witness, right.  Yes, it was non-traditional, but it worked for us in a lot of ways.  My mother often said she felt badly that we didn’t go ahead and have a wedding, and I said, “Well, the circumstances were different in those days, and it was just better that we did it the way we did.  And it was good enough. We stayed married for 35 years.  He’s been dead now 25 years. 


TA: Did he work on nuclear power at KU?


VK: No.


I: No, okay, I don’t know where…. I think…


VK: He was…


I: …Mr. Mesler gave me that idea.


VK: Right, Russ Mesler and my husband worked in the same department—chemical petroleum engineering.  But my husband worked…. When he did not get the job [corrects herself] or, the job was canceled, when he was going to leave Michigan to Chicago, why, the people who were, like, you know, department chairmen and advisors and the dean of engineering, they had contracts, government contracts, that graduate students were working on.  They didn’t know what it was really for until after the war that they realized they were doing parts of preparing for the atom bomb to be built.


TA: And was your husband involved in this?


VK: He was, but he didn’t know it.


TA: And that’s probably why he was bitter, a little bit, about the bomb.


VK: Well, he was not bitter enough to really do anything drastic about it. He had thought, he said, you know, at one time, maybe if he had stayed single, he might have left the country and gone to Japan and helped to rebuild it.  But you know, I was there, and he wasn’t going to subject me to that kind of experience.


TA: You said you guys went back to Japan once?


VK: One time.  There was a meeting in …. Oh, it was an international meeting.  It was all the countries from around the Pacific Rim.  It was Latin America, Asia…. At a chemical engineering international meeting.  KU agreed that he could attend that, and they paid his way, every cent that was needed to go and study.  And so we paid my way to go along.  And that was the only time he’d ever gone back, ever went to Japan.  So he hadn’t been retired long enough for us to do much traveling.  He lived for three years following retirement.  But in that time, we’d had a year and a half to live in Peru, where he taught.  He did speak English… [corrects herself] I mean, Spanish; he’d learned that from Mexican people in California.


TA: in California.


VK:  Right.  And we did have a year before he retired to live in Mexico City where he taught engineering in Mexico City.  And then after retirement, we had a year to live over in Algeria.  That was French and Arabic language, and so he taught in English, and they had Peace Corps workers who were able to do some translating for him into Arabic or the French.  Most of the students were Arabs from around the Arab world. 


TA: Did he speak Japanese?


VK: Oh, yes. Only good enough for family.  He said it was never good enough to be able to teach or to talk anything serious, like politics or religion or anything like that.  It was mostly in the home Japanese.


TA: And did you learn any of it?


VK:  No. Just a few words.  I visited with his family through the years; when the kids were little, we’d go out there almost every other year for several years.  All the children got to know their Japanese relatives.  But my children took an interest in it, and they complained to him, “Why didn’t you teach us Japanese when we were little?”  And he said, “Oh, but you didn’t want to learn.”  But as they got older and got into KU, they did take Japanese classes, and they took….   The youngest one went to a school in Monterey, California, where there’s a language school that.… [She probably refers to the Defense Foreign Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey California. It is the primary foreign language school of the Department of Defense. Under the jurisdiction of the Army, it provides linguistic and cultural training for foreign service as well as military service personnel.]


I:  A famous school.


VK: Yeah. So he took Japanese there. Now, you see, I have a Japanese daughter-in-law, and I have a Chinese daughter-in-law, and I had an Indian son-in-law. Elizabeth’s husband—she was married for ten years—was of Indian descent, Asian Indian.  So she learned…. But she learned a little Swahili with the black people. That’s the black African language.  And she had servants she could speak Swahili with. [They] had a housemaid; they had a yard man.


I: You were a United Nations in yourselves. 


TA: Yeah, wasn’t she, though!


VK: And I have a lovely, beautiful 23-year-old granddaughter.  Her mother is Chinese, and her grandparents live in Taiwan.  Her mother married my oldest son. They’re divorced, though.  She’s a very capable certified public accountant, and she travels, does some international work.  She’s been to Europe, and she’s recently been to Brazil. The daughter, [my] granddaughter, is a graduate of Bryn Mawr college in Philadelphia.  She’s working for the Defense Department in Washington, D.C.  [She] also studied French, so she’s….  She does not know Chinese, though.  Her mother just wanted to speak English.  But the other grandmother is Japanese, and she speaks with those children.  There’s two of them: they’re thirteen and ten years old.  And they speak with her in Japanese only.  My son, Tom, had lived in Japan for three years, also, and he learned…. He’s the one that went to the Monterey school.  And so they’re familiar with the language.  I learned a few words, but that’s….


TA: Back to your military [experience], were you allowed to use the GI Bill?


VK: I was, if I had applied for it, yes.


TA: But you didn’t have any….


VK: I did not apply for it.


TA: Not even to buy a home, or anything, huh?


VK: No, I did not.  I think partly that was my husband’s feeling about it.  He was a little bit bitter about the war, and we were having our children pretty fast, you know, within …. He did not want me to be out, away from home that much.  He had the old-fashioned kind of ideas: mothers are with their children.


TA: Now, do you, like, get…. [Do you] use the VA hospital or anything, over in Topeka?


VK: Never tried.


TA: Never went to get medication or anything?


VK: No, I never did, never have.  It’s just like it’s never….  I never used anything, any of the benefits.  I think it was just sort of a pride-like thing for him, to say that we did not need that.  And we did not try for it.


TA: But you would do it all over again, I can tell.  You would do it the same way, I think.


VK: I don’t know about that.


TA: Really?


VK: It’s good to know what it was like, but I think perhaps I would have maybe waited before starting a family as early as we did.


TA: But I’m talking about your service. I think you would have gone into the service and had that time for yourself.


VK: Well, It was a nice enough experience that I don’t regret.  And for a long time I was able to keep in touch with a lot of the women.  One of them kind of kept a newsletter going.  But you know, as we’ve aged, people have passed on, and we’ve lost contact.  One of my friends who never married went on to become a lawyer, and she was one of the big lawyers of the city of Los Angeles and worked in their…oh, one of their utilities, I don’t remember exactly.  But most of them all returned home to get married, have children, raise a family, and I don’t know of anybody that’s ever regretted it.  I regret sometimes that I haven’t taken advantage of the educational and veteran….  It would have been useful.  We needed it more soon after marriage, soon after coming to Lawrence, but I was just…. [I] just couldn’t see the way of leaving a baby in other people’s hands.


I: Well, it’s never too late.


VK: [It] still isn’t. I have taken courses, but I’ve never achieved to get a degree.


TA: Didn’t you have to use the GI Bill within a certain length of time for schooling?


VK: I don’t know about that.  Somebody told me that that’s probably still available if I want it, but I haven’t looked into it, and I don’t think I ever will.  But I do enjoy taking courses, and I’ve taken some classes with some great professors.  I’ve had some wonderful trips with a couple of them.  One’s a geography professor; I took his class, and I had two trips to China with him.  Another professor was in the architecture department, and I found out that he was taking a group of people to Italy.  I got in on that. I guess I just didn’t have the motivation or ambition enough to….  I have just kept a home and have people coming and going a lot.  My family have all been to all parts of the world.


TA: Sounds to me like you’re all well traveled.


VK: Well, that’s true.  My son left KU to go to Peace Corps. He was in North Africa, in Tunisia, and then he wanted to know…. After he had finished that, he wanted to know more about his heritage.  He was single, had some money, and went off to Japan to learn about his heritage in Japan, and stayed for three years.  He taught English. That was a big thing and maybe still is—teaching English in foreign countries.  He came back, and then he went back to KU and got a master’s degree. Then he went to China—Taiwan—and that’s where he met his wife.  So they left there, and he went to France, ’cause his degree at KU—his undergraduate [degree]—was in French and Education.  And he got a master’s in East Asian Studies, so he handles different languages.  And my daughter, she just wanted to make money! 


I: We should probably stop and say thank you to you very, very much.


VK: Oh, well, thank you.  It’s been so nice.  I think I’ve rambled.  My kids have said that when I get to talking I just ramble, and I get off the subject.




Length: 73 minutes

Item Description

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