I worked as a welder, in a factory making ammunition boxes for the Navy. It happened like this...
When school was out at Deer, Arkansas in 1944, I am barely 16 years old, between my Junior and Senior year in school and the day school was out, mother told me she wanted me to go to Oakland where my Dad was working in a war factory, and
find a place for her and the little kids to move to as she wanted to get a job out there too. Dad said he could not find any place for them to move to...She just knew if I went out there we could find them some place to live, so...
She bought me a ticket to Oakland on the Greyhound bus out of Russellville, gave me money to eat on and enough for a taxi to the house where Dad was boarding, with Anna Mae and Eldrich Davis from Big Creek, Arkansas. What
she didn't know, was that there was ten other men boarders from Big Creek,
all sleeping in a one room basement on army cots. Anna Mae cooked breakfast and supper for all of them and made lunches for all to take with them to the
factories where they worked. (After the war was over, Anna Mae and Eldrich bought a big farm in Newton County, Arkansas on Big Creek.)
In 1944, it took several days to get to California from Russellville, Arkansas... along
Route 66 on the Greyhound bus...You slept as you rode along with blankets they provided...Oklahoma City, Amarilla, Gallop, Pheonix, Winoma, San Bernadino..finally to Oakland. In every city we had to change buses and the driver
would stand at the door of the bus and say, 'Service Men and wives to the front,
please.' I missed a few busses this way and finally asked one of the sailors in line if I could be his wife long enough to get on the bus, and he said, 'shore'...so finally got to Oakland...
Got me a cab (never had done this before, someone helped me do this) and gave the address where Dad was boarding and when we got there, Dad hugged me
and said, 'Sis you can't stay here, its only for men boarders'. I started crying and Anna Mae put her arm around me and said, 'Don't cry, honey, you can
sleep upstairs here, on a cot at the foot mine and Eldrich's bed...' So, I did this and went to work as a welder at Pabco (Pacific Aluminum Box Company). I
still have check stubs where I made $21. a week as a welder of the ammunition boxes...
Here, I tied my hair up in a bandana and wore the helmet and goggles to do my job...I walked to work in Oakland California in the dark and fog every
morning and I lived there in Oakland from April until August of 1944. The
place was packed with sailors and I met a lot of girlfriends who were out
there working, so we went dancing a lot down to the Pier...Never with a date so
we could go to the USO dances and anywhere else they had a juke box.
One lady I worked with, I remember her name was Edith and her husband was
Howard and she called him 'Howie', I thought that was cute at the time...At
some point she decided they would take me (little Arkansas kid that I was, to
them) to dinner so I could see a nice restaurant, told me how to dress up for this...I bought me a new white dress trimmed in red, a pair of silk
stockings and a garter belt. Never had worn stockings before...Anyway...we had a great time at the restaurant with a live band playing swing music...a group of
sailors were at the next table and one came and asked me to dance.
Edith said, 'go ahead' and dance...So we are out there Jitterbugging away, when I felt something around my feet...I looked down and it was my garterbelt broken and stockings were on the ground...We stopped dancing and he pointed
down and said 'what's that?' I said, 'I don't know' (I had forgotten about the thing)...as it turned out, the belt had no elastic as was all used for the war effort, so it broke...
His sailor buddies saw what happened and came to the rescue, put their
jackets around me and walked me, stockings between my feet... across to the
ladies room. I took off my stockings...came out and gave them to my lady
friend ...and kept on dancing. Got a big round of applause from these sailors who saw this all take place!
When summer was about over, Dad came in one day and told me he was going
to help Berry Hefley drive his truck load of Arkies home to Lurton...Did I want to ride with them or buy me a bus ticket? Decided to ride home with them as I knew the families on the truck and they were a lot of fun to be with, so
again, I rolled up my hair (because I wanted to look really good when I got to Lurton to see the boys I left back there...) tied my head up with a bandana
and got me a straw hat...and off we went in Berry's cattle truck he converted to people carrier to make trips back and forth to California the entire war...
They drove the truck 24 hours a day, stopping for gas and bus stations along the way to use the bathroom...(at times out in the desert we had to resort to the ladies going to one side of the road and the gents to the other side.
Dad was one of the drivers and they slept on a mattress in middle of the truck bed... the rest of us (about ten or fifteen) sat on seats around the
sides. On this truck was an 11 year old boy who later became my brother in law...married my sister...and is now a contractor in Little Rock...He slept most of the way on that mattress with the drivers as he was the only 'youungun' on
the trip. It was mostly men going home to visit their families back home.
Back in Arkansas after a week on the road, I have a photo of our family and long my hair is curled clear to my scalp because of the week it was rolled up. As scattered as we all were during the war, we managed to make a
photograph almost each time we were together. We treasure these now as nothing helps remember like a photograph...
At my now stage of life, its mostly about remembering. So many are gone on. We lived in a busy, exciting time for a teenager to grow up...the years
of the WW2 were about taking care of each other....no matter if we knew you or not...