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Dorothy Williams Rogers video interview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

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This is Suzette McCord-Rogers and Peggy Stanton, and we are at the home of Dorothy and Joe Rogers.  We are now interviewing Dorothy Rogers here in Holton, Kansas.


Dorothy, can you tell me where you were born?


Mrs. Rogers: In Wichita, Kansas.


Suzette:  And what was your date of birth?


Mrs. Rogers:  3-13-24.


Suzette:  And what was your maiden name?


Mrs. Rogers:  Williams.


Suzette:  Where did you go to high school?


Mrs. Rogers:  Holton High School.


Suzette:  When did you move from Wichita to Holton?


Mrs. Rogers:  When I was quite small.  I was just a baby.  We went from Wichita to Kansas City to St. Louis.  And then we moved back to Holton from there.  When I was, I think I spent a year on the farm with my grandparents when I was 8 years old.


Suzette:  And your grandparents lived…?


Mrs. Rogers:  They lived here in Holton, they lived on a farm out west of Holton.


Suzette:  Was your mother originally from Holton?


Mrs. Rogers:  Yes, she was.


Suzette:  She was.


Mrs. Rogers:  She was from here, and we were living in St. Louis when my father became ill and he had to go home.  He went to Chicago to his parents and my mother brought us children to Holton, my brother and I, and we lived here with our grandparents for a year, until my mother said…


Well, when we were living here in 1931, my father came to Holton to see us, and then he wanted us to go back to Chicago with him to see the Chicago World’s Fair.  He thought that was a marvelous thing and it really was.  So we went back to Chicago with him, including my grandmother, and then my mother came from St. Louis to Chicago because she wanted to be with the family.  And my grandmother went back to Holton, and my mother stayed there in Chicago with my father and his parents and my brother and I.  And we lived there for a year.  Finally, my mother said, “This is not working. We cannot live with these parents with these children,” and so she said, “I’m going back to Kansas with my folks, my mother and my dad, and good bye.”


And that’s why he stayed there and she came here.  And she established a home for my brother and I and her and her sister.  She had a sister that was just newly divorced, and so she had some furniture and so mother and she got together.  We had furniture and made do, made a home for us.  I remember that real well.  I loved having an auntie, and having my mother, and living near my grandparents.  I thought that was great!


So then I lived in Holton from that time on.


Suzette:  And you graduated from high school?


Mrs. Rogers:  Yes, I did.


Suzette:  What year did you graduate?


Mrs. Rogers:  1942.


Suzette:  What branch of the service were you in?


Mrs. Rogers:  I was in the Marine Corps.  It was the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve at that time.  MCWR.  But it has since been changed to the US Marines.


Suzette:  How did you get involved with the Marine Corps?


Mrs. Rogers:  Well, I just liked their uniforms!  I thought they were really good looking!  I liked the uniforms better than the others.


Suzette:  Did you enlist?


Mrs. Rogers:  Yes, I did.


Suzette:  And when did you go on active duty?


Mrs. Rogers:  I went on active duty in September of 1944.  They called me; I had enlisted earlier that year, but their classes were full.  So they said we will call you when we want you to come to duty.  So I said, “I’m going out to Seattle to see my father, and I’ll be there, and you can let me know.”  And they did.  And I rode a troop train all the way from Seattle to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina when I went on active duty.


Suzette:  How long did that take?


Mrs. Rogers:  It took three days, I think.  Three days and two nights.  And that was fun!!  Well, it was a troop train with all women.  We were all going into the Marines.  There were several hundred of us; I don’t know how many. 


But I do remember one episode where one evening, we were in our pajamas and robes and kind of gathered around and having a talk fest.  I didn’t know who anybody was and they didn’t know me.  But we spoke very frankly about why we wanted to be in the Marine Corps.  Some of us had husbands, some of us had boyfriends, and some of us just wanted a change in their lives.  We were tired of being secretaries, nurses, or whatever.  We were all very frank about our desires and wishes and what we expected. 


The next day I discovered that some of the people that I had been talking to were the officers on the troop train!  I was kind of embarrassed!  But who could tell, we were in our pajamas and robes.  But it was fun experience.


When we got to Chicago, we had a layover for awhile.  They said we’d be there an hour or two.  So I had an aunt and uncle that lived in Chicago and I had visited them several times.  And I said, “Oh, I know a good place to eat.” So I took a group of girls that we’d made friends and we went to Gibby’s, which was a popular restaurant in those days.  When we got there, we got ready to pay our bill, I told the clerk, I said, “This is the best meal I remember.  You know, I’ve been here before.”  And he said, “Oh, you have. When?”  I told him what year, and that I’d come with my uncle, and he said, “Who’s your uncle?”  And so I told him.  And he said, “Oh, Sam would be glad to pay for your dinners.  Sam is the kind of guy he should have been here. He would’ve loved it.”  Because I had about six girls with me.  And my uncle paid the bill for all the dinners!  The only thing he told me later, “why wasn’t I there too?!”  Well, I didn’t have any way of letting you know that I was going to be there.  He was very proud of me; he was always very proud that I went in the service.  So he was glad he had the opportunity to do that.


And then we went on to Camp LeJeune. 


Suzette:  To Camp LeJeune?  Can you spell that?


Mrs. Rogers:  LeJeune, I think.


Suzette:  OK, and that’s where you did your basic training?


Mrs. Rogers:  I did my basic training for six weeks, yeah. I wanted to be a Marine.  Let me tell you, I learned!


Suzette:  When I think of Marines, it’s a kind of tough branch!


Mrs. Rogers:  Well, it wasn’t for us.  It was if you were a little girl who had never done dishes, never had played outside in the dirt, or done anything like that.  But it was great.


Suzette:  And where did you go after Camp LeJeune?


Mrs. Rogers: At Camp LeJeune, we were interviewed about what our preferences were, whether we wanted to be on the East coast or the West coast.  And I said the West coast because my father was out there and I thought that would be nice.  Well, I was sent to Washington, D.C.! To be a clerk-typist, and that was the last thing I wanted to do was be a clerk-typist!  But anyway, that’s what they sent me to do.


Suzette:  What did you want to do?


Mrs. Rogers:  Well, I don’t really know! I hadn’t had too many experiences at that time!  I don’t know, I just thought I wanted something glamorous, what do they call them, the people that guided the planes, no not pilots.


But anyway, I was sent to Washington as a clerk-typist and when I got there, they said no, you’re supposed to go up to headquarters and are going to be working under this one Marine who draws up floor plans for all the bases in the country.  If they need a building, they want a floor plan.  This office decides how it’s to be built and all that.  So that’s what I was supposed to do, help this girl do that.  And I loved that idea; I thought that was fun!! 


Because I had had some training at KU earlier, I had a three-month training session before I went to work for the defense plant in Kansas City.  I went to work for a plant that was building B25s and I had taken this three-month training at KU to be an engineer’s assistant.  So I learned to read blueprints and that sort of thing.  And so that’s what they sent me to do.  I had written that on my entry into the Marine Corps.  That’s why they decided to send me to do that in Washington.


Suzette:  Oh, so you graduated from high school in 1942, and then went and worked at…


Mrs. Rogers:  I worked in town here for awhile.  A year and a half, and boy, was I bored!  I didn’t like it, nothing going on. All the men were in the service and so I took this training at KU to be an assistant at the defense plant.  And in order to do that, to be an engineer’s assistant, I had to learn to read blueprints and that sort of thing.  And that’s what they taught at KU. All that information was in my packet in the Marine Corps so they sent me to Washington and that’s what they told me to do.


I finished boot camp and was shipped out to Washington, D.C. and I was promoted private first class.


Suzette:  What was the highest rank that you got?


Mrs. Rogers:  I was a sergeant.  I was promoted to sergeant March 18, 1946.


Suzette:  So you were actually working for an engineer’s office in Washington, D.C.?


Mrs. Rogers:  Yeah.  He wasn’t an engineer; I can’t remember what they called that department.  It wasn’t communications, it was something else, I don’t know.  We had to keep files of all the Marine Corps bases in the United States and the files showed the pictures of the bases and the buildings.  And if we needed to know what it looked like, we had to pull that file out and give it to the general.  He was the one responsible.  We had a colonel that was in charge of our office, but when the colonel told us to do something, we had to do it.  Because the general had told him he wanted it done. So that’s the reason for that.


Anyway, that’s what I got into, and I really enjoyed it.  The woman that I worked with was extremely talented and she was an artist, really.  It was just so much fun to work with her and it was fun to work in that office.  I loved it very much.


Suzette:  And how long did you work in that office?


Mrs. Rogers:  I was there until May of 1946 in Marine Corps headquarters in Washington.


Suzette:  How long did you work in that office then?


Mrs. Rogers:  I went to Washington October 16, 1944, and I was there until May of 1946.


Suzette:  What’s it like working and living in Washington, D.C. during the war?


Mrs. Rogers:  It was very interesting because all the countries that we were allied with would send some of their officers here to talk to officers here.  So there was a lot of colorful uniforms in the town.  And it was crowded; there was a lot of people, and a lot of them in uniform, women and men.  It was just an interesting place to be because all of the embassies.  Whenever they entertained, they always had an open house and any serviceman was invited to come.  You didn’t need to pay, you didn’t need a ticket, just stop in and enjoy the program, whatever was going on.  And so there was always something to do.  You didn’t have to spend a lot of money to have a nice time.  And of course, I met a lot of people.  The girls were fun; we just had real good times. 


Suzette:  What did you do, say, like, on your time off?


Mrs. Rogers:  We went to a dance.  There was a dance going on all the time, something happening all the time.  And we just had such a good time.  I met a lot of interesting people and then some of my hometown people showed up once in a while.


Suzette:  Oh they did?


Mrs. Rogers: This was a boy that I had gone to school with and we went out.  This was one Christmas and I had mess duty and I couldn’t take any time off to come home.  So I was there in Washington and I had mess duty there and so I couldn’t go home.  But Christmas Eve, this boy and I and these two people went out and had dinner.  And afterwards, we didn’t have anything to do, until they had midnight mass, and so we just rode around in a taxicab all evening and sang Christmas carols.  And these guys were in the Navy, Navy school of music, there in Washington.


Suzette:  They probably sang very well.


Mrs. Rogers:  Oh, yes. They did.  This boy had sung in many, many musicals prior to being in the service, so he knew the words to everything.  And had a wonderful voice.  So we just had a real good time that evening.  We went to mass with the guys, and the cab driver wouldn’t take any money for driving us around all evening.  He said this was the best Christmas he ever had in his whole life.  He said, “I never heard such neat music.”  I’ve always remembered that.  We didn’t do it on purpose; we did it because we were high-spirited and having a good time.


This is another home-town boy I wrote to all during the war.  He managed to come back; he didn’t get killed.  He was stationed at Pearl Harbor.


Suzette:  Was he there when the Japanese bombed it?


Mrs. Rogers: No. He wasn’t there then.  He didn’t go until afterwards.  But I had friends in Kansas City with whom I had worked, so I went out to dinner with them when I was home on leave.


Suzette:  You got to come home on leave?


Mrs. Rogers:  I got to come home once in a while, yeah.  Then there was a bunch of us in Washington.  There were some boys that were going to officers’ candidate school at Quantico, Virginia, which is very near there.  I met them one time.  We became real good friends and those four boys would call me, and take me out with them, not as a date.  Just because they wanted me to be with them and have a good time.  And sometimes, they had dates, and sometimes they didn’t. 


This is one little guy from Arkansas that I met and I liked him.  When he was shipped out, I never heard another word from him.  So I have no idea whether he lived or died.  Here’s another young man that I thought a lot of; his parents came to Washington one time.  They wanted to take their son and his friends out to dinner.  So we went to this fancy hotel, beautiful, beautiful hotel and had a nice dinner…


Suzette:  It looks like you formed really close friendships.


Mrs. Rogers:  Yeah, we did, we did.  We really did; we all felt like sisters, you know, because we were in the same Marine Corps and there was a great bonding just like the men have.  It was wonderful.  But of all the people that were there, I never kept in contact with any except one.  We wrote for quite a while, and then finally…


Suzette:  It was a sisterhood that was important at the time.


Mrs. Rogers:  Yes, that’s exactly right.  It was great.  I took one vacation to Florida with a friend of mine.  We had one time off, so we went to the air base near there.  Service people, if a plane was going someplace and it was empty and had room, they’d take service people along to ride free.  So I got a chance to ride down to Florida in a plane and then I had to ride the train coming home.  It was one of those trains that was really crowded because it was a bunch of people, sailors, that had come back from overseas.  They were on their way home and there wasn’t any place to sit except in the club car.  We had to sit on our suitcases.  So that was a long trip home but we had a good time, talking to all those guys.


Mr. Rogers:  You ought to tell ‘em about Camp LeJeune.


Suzette:  What did they talk about?


Mrs. Rogers:  Well, they talked about their wives and their families and what they’d brought back from overseas to give ‘em.  They wanted to show ‘em to my friend and I and we just talked with ‘em and talked with ‘em and laughed with ‘em and sang with ‘em.  When we got back to the station, a big, tall, Navy officer tapped us on the shoulder and you know, we turned around, “Yes, sir,” and saluted him.  He said, “I just want to congratulate you girls because you conducted yourselves like ladies on that whole trip.  And you entertained those men and they can feel good about themselves.  I just thought your behavior was outstanding!”  I have never forgotten that!  A perfect stranger talked to us, and he was an officer at that!


Suzette:  Well, that’s wonderful!


Mrs. Rogers:  Well, you know, we did good!


Suzette:  Yes, you did.  Were they anxious to hear about what was going on in the States?


Mrs. Rogers: No, they wanted to tell us about what they had done, where they had been, and they didn’t really worry too much about what had been going on here.  I don’t even know if they knew who the president was! 


After President Roosevelt died, that was a terrible experience because Washington citizens cried on the streets.  Everybody just felt terrible, they felt abandoned.  What are we going to do now?  None of ‘em had ever heard of President Truman, or ever heard of Harry Truman, or where he was from, or if he knew anything.  In fact, the ones that did said he’s just a hick from Missouri.  He doesn’t know anything.


I kind of felt that way too.  I didn’t know what was going to happen.


Suzette:  Roosevelt was such an overwhelming man.


Mrs. Rogers:  Oh, he was.  He was the only one that I remembered in my whole life, you know.  He’d been elected to office before I was aware of presidents.


Suzette:  So did they bring him back to Washington, D.C. for the funeral?  Do you remember that?


Mrs. Rogers:  Yes, they did. He died in Warm Springs, Georgia, and then they brought him back to Washington, of course.  And had the funeral presage in Washington and it was fabulous.  I walked, I marched in the parade.  They said tall girls, over 5’7” or 5’8”, were expected to volunteer to march in the funeral procession. They wanted the tallest girls.  So I was in that group and I was real proud of it.  I remember writing home to Mom, “oh, I got to march in President Roosevelt’s funeral procession.”  And I can remember, I wished I had a chance to see film of that thing, because I was the last girl in the last group of Marine women and I would have been able to know exactly where I was.  But I never did see any film of the procession.  I’ve seen parts of the procession over the years, but never happened to see the one with the women Marines.  I wish I had.


Suzette:  Did they have women from other divisions of the military?


Mrs. Rogers:  Oh, my, yes.  We had military of all kinds, sailors, coast guard, women, and everything.


Suzette:  When you went into the Marine Corps, at that time they didn’t expect you to be soldiers, to actually be active duty.  So you had gone in realizing that you would be…


Mrs. Rogers:  During our boot camp experience, they wanted us to know what some of the people had gone through.  So they had a landing, LST, on the river.  And they said you can get in here, and we’re going to run it up on the shore, and you can get out so you’ll know what is required of the guys who are making these landings.  So we all did.  It was great on the river.  Then they rammed it up on the shore and one of the girls wasn’t hanging on and she went out over the edge and broke her arm.  She just flipped right out of place.


That was the worst thing I think that happened to us.  We were out in the boondocks, they called it, out in the timber, really.  It was wet, and muddy, and ticks, and all that.  We were walking through there, and experiencing that.  Then we had to march a long way back, a mile or two or something.  They just wanted us to experience what some of the Marines had to experience in a very short way.  We didn’t have to do what they do now.  We didn’t carry arms of any kind.  We didn’t have to go through the dust, and the dirt, muck, and all that sort of thing.  We had to climb under a barbed wire fence!…


I wouldn’t encourage a young woman nowadays to go into the service because I don’t approve of all the things they expect them to do.  They don’t have to do all that.  They are better as clerks, and typists, and they can do all those kinds of things very, very well.  But I don’t think they need to bear arms.  That’s my opinion.


Suzette:  So when you were in Washington at that time, was there a sense of patriotism, support for the troops?


Mrs. Rogers:  Absolutely, absolutely.  Everybody was trying to do everything they could that they saw to support the war.  I remember when they had bond drives, selling war bonds.  And they drives to collect metal, to collect aluminum, and to collect things.  We don’t know what it is nowadays to have to be careful, save things.  We are encouraged to do it, and you should do it.  And I think it’s going to be necessary in the future that we be more careful and not do any wasting.


Yes, that was the Marine Corps band on the steps of the Capitol.  I had a good friend that played in the women’s Marine Band.  And she traveled around a lot during her years in the service.  But I didn’t play an instrument well.


Suzette:  So you wrote back to your parents fairly often?


Mrs. Rogers:  I wrote to my mother frequently, and my father not so much because he lived in Seattle.  And my mother lived here in Holton.  But no, I kept in touch with my mother.


Suzette:  Are you in this picture?


Mrs. Rogers:  No, I’m not in that one.  I’m in this one back here.  Right here; I’m the right guide and the right guide is this person right here.  I walked two paces ahead of the…what do they call it…I was the right guide for the platoon.  And I was marching one time in boot camp, and the sergeant said, “Where did you learn to march?”  And I said, “Well, I was in band in high school four years,” and she said, “well, you’re the student platoon leader and you are in charge of marching the platoon for meals, and wherever they had to go.”  So a platoon was about 36 women, something like that, and we had to march together to the mess hall, to eat.  We couldn’t go on our own.  We had to march, line up and march.  And I had to call the cadence.


Suzette:  Give me an example.


Mrs. Rogers:  Well, I haven’t done this in years.  I don’t think I can do it.


Suzette:  Left, right, left right?


Mrs. Rogers:  Yeah, I’d say left, right, and then I’d call ‘em to order, to attention.  Platoon, attention.  And then left, right, left, right, and then they’d go.  I had to march ‘em all over the place.  And one time I forgot what I was supposed to say and they were headed for a building and just kept going right into the building!  And I was so embarrassed, it was terrible.  I had to get ‘em organized, of course, they teased me something awful about it!  But then another time, I had the platoon standing outside the mess hall and the lieutenant went by.  And so I called, “Attend hup!” You know, stand up.  And I saluted, like I was supposed to.  She leaned over and said, “Private, you don’t salute with your hand in your pocket.”  I was standing with my hand in my pocket, saluting.  I was embarrassed about that too.


I made a lot of mistakes, goofy mistakes like that, but it wasn’t enough to stop the war or anything!  Just some of the funny things that happened during the six weeks of boot camp.


And then when I got to Washington, the sergeant in charge of the barracks where we were staying, said you’re going to be the platoon leader for your group up on the second floor.  And there was 80 women in that wing of the barracks on the second floor, and it was my job to make sure they dusted around their bunks, kept things in order and especially if there was going to be an inspection.  I was supposed to see to it that every darn person in that barracks, in that wing of the barracks, had everything in order.  Had their clothes hung up or where they were supposed to or put away, and we had a dresser, double bunks, a dresser, each bunk had a dresser, and a tall, kind of….

(End of tape)    

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