Oral Historian: Alice Black Glass
Interview Date: 26 July 2006
Interviewer: Angela Nemecek
What is your full name and date of birth?
My full name is Alice Black Glass, born February 23, 1924. I'm 82 years old.
Where were you born?
In Albion, Indiana - Noble County.
Were there ranks in the WACs, and if so, what was your rank?
I ended up a corporal.
And where did you serve?
I went to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for 8 weeks. The first week was processing, then 6 weeks of basic training and drilling, and information about regulations, dress, and responsibilities. Then the last week was processing out. We didn't all go to the same places. I was designated to go to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. So from Des Moines, we went on the train to Dayton. And we traveled at night, even in 1944 we seemed to think that we needed to travel at night. In this day and time, things are more secretive, I think, and cautious about the dangers in the world. But I didn't feel afraid then, but we did travel at night.
How did you come to join the WACs?
After I graduated from high school I worked for 2 ˝ years for Production Credit, a bureau that loaned money to farmers for productive purposes such as buying livestock and so forth. In April of 1944, a recruiter came to our little town of Albion, and I was interested. Well, my Dad thought that was great because I had a brother that was a Captain in the Signal Corps and he was in Italy. He'd been in England, North Africa, Sicily, and he was presently in Italy. My Dad thought that if the women helped out in the service, the men could come home earlier. But that didn't work out to be true in most cases. So I went back and told my boss that I had interviewed with the recruiter and that I was interested. Oh, he didn't like that. He thought that if I went into the service that would be the ruination. But I said I would remember and stick to the values my mother and father had taught me. So he more or less talked me out of it. Each time the recruiter would come to town every few weeks, Mr. Harold would talk me out of joining. So in August, I signed up, and in September, I was sent to Fort Des Moines.
What did your boss say would happen if you joined?
Well, he just thought I would start smoking or drinking. Neither one of those things appealed to me then or now. So when I had a furlough at Christmas time, I went back to the office to visit him. Of course, he had a new secretary, which was necessary. But he was happy that I was "all right." He accepted it then.
I was only 20, so that meant parental consent. Both of my parents needed to sign for me. I was under 21. They both signed, and in my scrapbook I have a letter from the recruiter telling me to bring my birth certificate and my parental permission slip with me the next time I went to Ft. Wayne to talk about joining.
Were there other girls from your town that joined the WACs?
There was one other girl from my town, Mildred Jean Cart, who was married. She graduated from high school a year before I did. And I did run into her once at Ft. Des Moines before I was shipped out from there. Just one time though, but there were so many different companies and just one time that I ran into here.
So were there people from all over that went to Ft. Des Moines, or was it just mostly from the Midwest?
I guess that was the main training place for WACs. Maybe not, I'm not sure.
What else did they train you to do?
We had calisthenics - exercises -- every morning. And then we had drills and marching - precision work.
Were your instructors men?
Oh, no - ALL women. Let me show you a picture of our company. (Alice talks about a company photo in her scrapbook) This was the commanding officer and then these two officers were just under her. And all of these were sergeants, and they had different groups of us. I'm right there on the second line. I guess we must have been in alphabetical order because I was a 'Black.' And you can see that a lot of my friends signed on the back of this photo. This photo was taken at Ft. Des Moines on 14 November 1944 - Company 18, 3rd Regiment, First WAC Training Center. And here it tells the names of the commanding officers. Lt. Murphy was the commanding officer, Lt. Louise Wheeler was second in command. She was always frowning - now see what a happy face she has? But this officer always looked so stern. I don't think she scared anybody but this sergeant tried to imitate her (Lt. Wheeler). And we all laughed about that. But she tried to act just like that all the time. And Lt. Latine was the recreation officer. And they were all women at Ft. Des Moines.
Alice Black's Co. 18, 3rd Regiment, Women's Army Corps at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, 1944
Alice is sitting in the second row, fourth WAC from the left.
But when we got to Dayton, Ohio, the women had barracks in an area completely separate from all the men. We could go to the mess hall, though, which served both men and women. The women's barracks were not too far from the Headquarters' building, and that was where I was secretary to a WAC major. When I went into the Air Force, I wanted to learn more about airplanes. But they said, "You already know shorthand and typing." Of course, you take an aptitude test, and they categorize you to what your aptitudes are. So that's why I ended up being a secretary.
I was secretary to a WAC major, and she was liaison between the male and female companies. When she moved to Washington DC, I worked in the Officer Personnel Unit - well, I wasn't a secretary although I probably typed a few letters. I was mostly working in the officers' personnel records.
When you entered the WACs, what was your rank?
Private - Private First Class, I guess, and then Corporal. I was promoted to Corporal on December 1945. And these are just little clippings from the local Albion newspaper. Whenever I'd go home, they'd put it in the paper. For the weekend or whatever. I didn't get to go home real often, but sometimes the pilots would be taking a training flight from Dayton to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which was about 30 miles from home. So often on late Friday or early Saturday morning, I'd fly to Ft. Wayne. Of course, I couldn't fly back and would have to go back on the bus. Dayton was about 150 miles from my home - so I was pretty close to home. I probably went home every two or three months. Not every week.
What was happening at Dayton? Were they training Air Force pilots?
Yes, I think so.
Did you enjoy your time in Dayton, and when did you leave there?
Yes, I did. Then I met my husband, David Glass, in the Spring of 1945. He'd been in Panama for over three years and then was stationed in Wright field in Dayton. Then he was discharged in July, and then we were married the next January in 1946. So then I got out (of the WACs) in February 1946.
Where did you meet him?
Well, it happened to be in the mess hall. Then we had dates and enjoyed each others' company. We ended up coming to Virginia, and this is home now. He was from Scottsville, and his parents had a poultry farm 3 miles east of Scottsville. So this is home now after 60 years.
After we got married, I had to wait for a month before I could be discharged after we got married. Of course, I had to fill out all of the paperwork for my discharge, and then I went from Dayton to Chicago to be discharged.
What was it like coming to Virginia?
I like it, and my in-laws were very loving and kind. So I got all settled in here.
Was it very different from where you're from or pretty similar?
Well, Indiana is mostly flat but there are some hills in southern Indiana. But the mountains here are beautiful. The seasons are changing - I think they are changing everywhere now. But I thought when I first came down here that we always had more snow in Indiana but the seasons, I think, are a good deal alike. Both places have a lot of farming.
What did you do for fun when you were a WAC in Dayton?
Sometimes we'd go swimming, and sometimes we go to the movies real often. The girls had a long barracks with bunks. Each one had a tall locker and then each one had a footlocker at the head of our bed. In our barracks, they alternated the head of the beds where your pillow was. One bunk would have the girl's head up against the wall. Well, the bunks on each side of her would have your head out in the aisle. And then there was just very little aisle - probably the aisle was about the width of this table between bunks coming out from both sides of the room. It was a narrow barracks but wide enough for the bunks to come from both walls.
Alice Black with WAC Friends, Wright Field, Ohio, in 1944
L to R: Joe Gebhart, Alice Black, Grace Aldred, and Betty Sanderson
One time a girl came in during the middle of the night and stumbled over my foot locker. We found out she had been drinking. Most everyone in our barracks didn't drink - a few of them smoked. But this girl, they just had to tell her about it. And so after that, I put my pillow up against the wall. I wasn't going to have my head out there for someone to fall over me. That was about the worst experience I had. Yes, they disciplined her for that - probably took away a pass or privileges for going off the base.
Our barracks was #310, and we were always commended for the cleanest barracks. Here's a photo of a group of girls on the outside of our barracks. There were about 20-30 girls per barracks which were narrow and long.
Here's a picture of a farewell party for a Major - he was being discharged. So they had an office party. That was when I was over working in the officers' personnel records. The WAC Major was gone, and this photo was taken over in the Headquarters' building. This girl was one of my friends who worked with me, Emily.
Did they have movies on the base?
Ten cents-we could go for ten cents! We had a movie on the base. And once in awhile we would go into town just to window-shop, but we didn't go into Dayton very often. Some girls probably did, but I didn't. And then again on Sunday morning, church… The girls on either side of me were Catholics but we were all best friends. The Catholic service was early Sunday morning in the same little chapel that we had our Protestant service at 10 or 11 o'clock. I always thought that was interesting. And for awhile, I kept up with three of the girls writing back and forth. But it's been years and years since we've been in touch - a long time ago.
They had a priest for the Catholic services, and the chaplain was a Protestant. So the different faiths went there.
Did you keep a diary when you were in the service?
There might have been, but I don't know where it is…if there was one.
I had some postal cards from that time period. Here's that letter I told you about from Sergeant Mahlum about bringing my parental consent form. "Please bring your birth certificate or certified copy when you come down next week along with a parental consent form which I am enclosing. Look forward to seeing you soon, I am."
When I left Ft. Wayne for Des Moines, this postcard is written to my sister on Wednesday morning, 9/27/1944 at 08:30. "Ate breakfast at Otoma (spelling?), Iowa 7:00. Be on my way soon. Slept well on the train last night. Lots of sailors on same train. Hope you had a nice visit in New Haven. Love, Alice."
And there's a card sent to my parents, giving my address in Des Moines.
I did write a letter to the newspaper "Noble County American" in our town of Albion. It was the Democratic paper and then there was a Republican weekly paper called the "New Era." But the 'American' publisher wanted a picture of every service person from the town of Albion, and in his newspaper office, he had a lot of display cases in the front room with these photographs. He begged each service person to send them a picture of themselves. So his office was filled with service people from Noble County. And he sent a copy of the American to every Albion person in service. (Alice reads from her letter to the Noble County American publisher that she sent with her photo while stationed in Des Moines): "Here comes another of your children. Your comments on the letters you receive makes each edition seem like a personal letter to the boys and girls in service. I have been here almost 4 weeks and am happy to be in and not waiting. There is another 'Black' girl in our company, and strange as it may seem, we have bedroom slippers alike. Same color, same size, and same style. Isn't that a coincidence? She is from Anderson, Indiana - another Hoosier." So evidently if I said 'another Hoosier', we had girls there from other states…from all directions. "And we have many like views on what's what. Last Sunday, another WAC and I went into Des Moines for the day. We attended church and then spent the afternoon looking over the town. We also did some window-shopping even though we can't do anything about fashions, which fill the windows. We visited the Capitol building and walked to the top - 387 steps. Working and drilling every day and then go to town and track all over. I am enjoying all of it and have had many pleasant experiences. While at the USO in Des Moines last night, I talked to Mildred Jean Cart for a few minutes. She is also enjoying this new life. I may not write again until I move from here. It depends upon our time. "Funny, the only time I ran into Mildred Jean Cart from my home town was that one time, and it was at the USO in Des Moines.
What was the USO like?
Well, there was dancing, games, refreshments, and entertainment for servicemen.
There's one of my labels - you had to label all of your clothes with your serial number. Mine was 515155.
And then we had the Company 18 farewell party on November 9, 1944 - so that was my napkin. My sister helped me fix this scrapbook.
What was Company 18?
That was our Company number. So that was the farewell party we had when we were all being sent out to various areas.
And that's our first Thanksgiving dinner in Dayton (November 23, 1944). We happened to be working in the office, and so the Major said "Well, I'll go eat lunch with you. " So I thought that was real special. So after she went to Washington, she wrote me a letter and said she recalled often eating Thanksgiving dinner with me in our mess hall.
And this photo is my friend, Hildegarde Hoeckel, but she didn't like it. So she called herself 'Jeff.' She worked at the flight line and was the one who always got me lined up to fly home on these training flights. She was the one on the bunk next to me and was from Colorado Springs. And we did write for a while afterwards.
Alice Black's Barracks at Wright Field, Ohio, in 1944.
L to R: Edna Curie, Hildegarde 'Jeff' Hoeckel, Betty Sanderson, and Grace Aldred
Here's a newspaper clipping with a picture. "The WAC contingent of this base shown in a festive mood occasioned by the pre-Christmas party recently held at the NCO Club." And that was in 1945. And I happen to be in that newspaper picture.
And then this girl is Beverly White - and we were really good friends, too. We would go to the mailroom, and the clerk would say, "Well, are you Black or White? " They couldn't remember which one of us was which. If we both went together they'd just hand us the mail for both of us. But if I went to pick up hers or she went to pick up mine….
And here we are in the Wright-Patterson newspaper and I was mopping the floor. And these girls were shining their shoes. And every Friday night, we had to clean the barracks and get everything just right for Saturday morning inspection. And if we got our tetanus shots, they'd give them to us on Friday. They said that the exercise on Friday night would keep us from getting sore.
And here we have our laundry room with ironing board and laundry tubs - you had to wash your laundry by hand. You didn't have a washing machine like the service people these days have automatic washers. But we washed our clothes and ironed.
There were some of our officers at Wright field.
How did the officers become officers?
They went to officer training. Some of the instructors were women.
When did they start letting women serve as WACs?
Early 1940s, I think.
There is my separation-qualification record. Back here it says 'civilian occupation' and tells about me being employed at Albion Production Credit Association, 1942-44.
What happened after the War?
We came back to Scottsville and worked in my in-laws' poultry business. White leg chickens, and sometimes we'd have 3000-5000 laying hens. We gathered eggs three times a day: 9:30, 1:30, and 4:30. There were 30 dozen eggs to a wooden case. And once a week, the eggs would be delivered to Charlottesville: University Cafeteria, Albemarle Hotel, University Diner, Thomas Jefferson Inn (out on Rt. 29 - now it is some other business). The University Cafeteria up from The Corner is no longer.
Now we have 3 children, 4 grandchildren (one grandchildren are deceased), and 14 great grandchildren. And I'm active in the Scottsville Baptist Church. I was raised a Methodist, but when I came to Virginia, I was hoping that we would have a family. And if we had children, I thought that David and I should be in the same church. He was a Baptist. We were married in January, and in October there was a revival. So I was baptized - I was immersed - (in the Methodist Church, you are sprinkled; in the Baptist Church, you're immersed). So I was baptized in October 1946 as a Baptist.
Did you have experience doing farming before you married your husband?
Oh, yes, I loved to be outside. I grew up on a farm. Before we had a tractor on our farm, we had horses. When I was a teenager, probably 14-15, I drove a team of horses while my Dad and brother pitched hay onto the wagon. In a few years, we were able to afford a tractor. So we got a tractor, and eventually we were able to get a hay loader which was a real improvement. We went from pitching the hay from both sides of the wagon with pitchforks. The hay loader just put the hay right up on the wagon. We had three slings on each wagon, and when each sling got full of hay, we would go to the barn. I was delighted to get to drive the tractor. I was real anxious to turn 16 so that I could get a driver's license and drive a car.
We had cows to milk - I didn't milk any---, chickens, pigs, and sheep. Dogs and cats…
Moving to Virginia was no big adjustment. I like it.
When were your children born?
September 1947, September 1949, and February 1954
Did you join any veterans' organizations?
I couldn't join the VFW because I was not in a foreign war. But my husband was. And at one time -in 1946-47- we did have a ladies auxiliary of the VFW, and I was in that. But that's no more. The interest just faded away, I guess.
What other kind of jobs did WACs have besides the job you had?
Some were in the motor pool - driving jeeps to escort officers - and of course this friend of mine, 'Jeff' Hoeckel (Hildegarde Hoeckel), was a real energetic soul and she worked on the flight line, charting courses for the pilots. And there were cooks in the mess hall. And other jobs, too, that I don't know about.
Were any of the girls married?
No, when WACs married, then they had to get out of the service. Also when we were in basic training in Des Moines, they kept stressing the fact that we shouldn't lie about their age. There was one girl that came to a couple of us and said that she was only 18. And we told her, "Well, you'll be in trouble if you don't go ahead and admit that you're 18, and they'll discharge you." She was a huge girl and looked as old or older than some of us. But we got her convinced that she should turn herself in. So she did, and of course, she had to go home.
What was the youngest you could be?
20, but that was with your parents' permission. If you were 21, you could get in alright. But I was anxious to go, and so Mother and Dad signed. I think Mother wasn't as anxious about me going as Dad. I wrote to my brother in Italy and asked his opinion about it. He said that as long as I stayed in the United States, he didn't like the idea of me coming overseas. You could sign a paper that you wanted to stay in the United States, and so that's what I did. If you didn't sign that paper, you agreed to go anywhere.
I was at Wright Field when President Roosevelt died in April of 1945. And of course, we had to have a parade, and that was men and women. I don't have any idea which Company but we are one of the companies way back there (in a photo Alice is showing Angela).
Everyone is all lined up, very organized.
Yup. You had to be in step and you had to stand straight. And be quiet.
Do you think that your experience as a WAC affected the rest of your life?
Well, it brought me to Virginia. My husband always thought that he would have found me somewhere even if we hadn't both been in the service. But I think that we both had to be in the service at the same place and at the same time.
Did a lot of the girls meet their husbands in the service?
Well, this Beverly White, my close friend - she met her husband, Joe Ryan. A lot of times we double-dated and had fun together. They lived in Philadelphia, and we did go to visit them one time before either one of us had children.
So people were dating - WACS would date soldiers? There were no rules against that?
No, but you could not date an officer unless you had permission-I guess from our commanding officer. But I don't think that happened very often. I think the enlisted and NCOs mostly stayed to themselves.
When you went to Virginia, you mostly worked on the farm?
When all three of my children were in school, I went to work at Miller and Rhodes department store in Charlottesville. When I first went there, I was just working in the general office and eventually I was secretary to the general manager. That was in 1962, and I worked there until my husband had a stroke in 1980. And I worked there some in 1981 while he was in the nursing home and taking therapy. When he came home to stay, it was necessary for me to be at home and to care for him. I was hoping to stay 20 years at Miller and Rhodes, but it was about 18 ˝ years I worked - commuted back and forth to Charlottesville. We had a car pool and took turns driving back and forth.
There were three of us that worked at Miller and Rhodes: two sales ladies and me. Then there were two that worked at Leggett's at sales ladies. The ladies in my car pool were Mary Conrad, Thelma Cunningham, Frances Butler, Doris Rogers, and me.
I interviewed Frances Butler for the home front as well as veterans. And she had a lot of experience on the home front with farming. While Earl was in the service… And their baby was born while he was gone. She told me about driving tractors up the hillside with the baby right next to her.
Oh, she did? Oh, my….
I used to drive a tractor for my Dad when we were cutting oats. We had the binder behind the tractor and one time we were going up the hill and the tractor cut off. Well, we started going backwards, but I put the brake on fast and just in time. The binder was going to be 'cattywampus!' But I saved any trouble, got the tractor restarted, and went on up the hill. But I think my Dad - he was on the binder - we don't know what might have happened if I'd not been speedy.
Those hills sure sounded dangerous on a tractor.
Yes, they were.
Well, those are all my questions. Thank you!
Thank you, Angela!