Katherine Stella Camps

                           Interview with Katherine Camps

                 Veterans’ Memorial Hall Oral History Program

                                      Duluth, Minnesota

                                        August 10, 2015

Veterans’ Memorial Hall is a program of the St. Louis County Historical Society.


August 10, 2015 by the St. Louis County Historical Society

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the St. Louis County Historical Society.


Veterans’ Memorial Hall Oral History Program

Interview with Katherine Camps

Duluth, Minnesota

August 10, 2015


Penny Schwarze, Interviewer

Katherine Camps: KC

Penny Schwarze: PS

Track 1


PS:  So are you ready to begin?

KC:  I am ready.

PS:  And thanks again for doing this. Would you tell us a little bit about your family background?

KC:  Okay. I grew up a block away from where I live now, Central Hillside. My son has got the family home now. I’ve got one sister. I graduated from Duluth Central in 1957 and worked a little bit here. Then I went into the Army.

PS:  Was there a military background in your family?

KC:  Absolutely not.

PS:  So what provoked your interest in joining the Army?

KC:  I don’t know. First of all I wanted to join the Marines. I could not—the recruiters were busy, so I went down the hall and joined the Army. I wanted to be an MP [Military Police]. I just wanted to be on my own, you know. Believe me, I grew up a lot. You know, I’d never been away from home before; I think the furthest place I went was Superior. [laughs] We never went anywhere because my parents didn’t have a car, so it was buses. We just never traveled or anything, you know.

PS:  So you had the wanderlust?

KC:  I did.

PS:  Was this in high school that you were recruited?

KC:  No, I took college after I got out; I went on the GI Bill.

PS:  So this was right after high school?

KC:  No, 1958.

PS:  Okay. Did the recruiter come to your high school, or where did you—?

KC:  No, I just went to the Federal Building, and found a recruiter that would take me. [laughs] My parents did not want to sign, because women in the military were terrible people. It was a disgrace to have a woman member of the family in the military, so it was never discussed.

PS:  But they did sign eventually? How did you persuade them?

KC:  Well, I had two cousins that were lieutenant colonels in the Army and I called them and asked for help. They came and talked to my parents and were there when the recruiter was there.

PS:  So your cousins were sort of mentors to you? Or that’s what gave you the idea you could do this?

KC:  No, no, I knew that they had been in the military and they would support me. So, they came to the house and my father and mother relented and signed the papers.

PS:  So you were recruited into the Army. Did you know at that time you had the opportunity to be in a band?

KC:  No, no.

PS:  Tell us how that came about.

KC:  Well, you learn in the Army that you never raise your hand to volunteer for anything, and of course, I didn’t learn that then. [both laugh] I really did want to be an MP and so they came and wanted to know if anybody played a musical instrument. Of course I raised my hand right away. They said, “Come with us, you have an audition.”

PS:  What instrument?

KC:  Trombone. So I went down the road, because the Army band was stationed at the end of the basic training barracks. So I went there for an interview. They loaned me a trombone and put a bunch of music in front of me and said, “We’ll be right back.” So I just kind of picked up the horn and played a little bit.  I didn’t know that they were in the other room with the loudspeaker on, to see exactly if I would do anything, instead of just sitting there waiting for them to come back. So I went through the music and whatever and went back to the barracks. The next day I was told that I was in the Army band.

PS:  So let me backtrack a bit. This happened after you were already in basic training? Can you backtrack and talk about going to basic training and that transition?

KC:  Sure. First we had to go down to the Cities for a physical and whatever. Two of us got food poisoning down there and they sent us back home again. [both laugh]

PS:  Was this Army food?

KC:  No, but it was bad food. [both laugh] We went back again, I think it was the next month and was sworn in. I’d never been away from home with strangers before and we stayed in a hotel. The next morning we were on a plane, and I’d never been on a plane. I was terrified. I got on the plane and landed in Birmingham. Then they had a bus take us to the fort which was in Anniston, Alabama.

PS:  The name of the fort?

KC:  Fort McClellan. It was so fast, but I went with three other girls that I knew, from Duluth.

PS:  From Duluth? I was going to ask if you knew anyone you could buddy up with.

KC:  Yes. So, it wasn’t so bad, but like I said, after basic training, they all went their separate ways. I cried after everyone got on their special busses. [both laugh] Then they came and got me in a car and loaded my stuff into the car and drove me down the hill for a block.

PS:  Tell me a little bit about basic training. What was that like?

KC:  I loved it.

PS:  What was a typical day like?

KC:  We’d get up in the morning for reveille and go to the mess hall for breakfast. We had classes all day long, different kinds of classes. We would have military history, the bugle calls and all that kind of stuff. I can’t remember the other classes. We went across the street, there was a school there. I remember we had to walk on the right side of the hallway; you just didn’t walk en masse. You walked down the right side of the hall way where ever you were going; we had PT [physical training] in the back. We were not allowed to wear—this is later on, pants or slacks outside of our company area.

PS:  I was wondering what you got to bring with you. You could bring a certain amount of your civilian attire?

KC:  I don’t think I brought anything other than what I was wearing, and probably a change or two of clothes. That was about it, because then we were in PT dresses almost the whole entire time.

PS:  PT dresses?

KC:  Yes, they were a short dress with a pair of shorts underneath. They buttoned all the way down the front and had a sash. That’s how you took PT, in those dresses because you were ladies.

PS:  What was some of the physical training that you did?

KC:  We went—we had to go through the gas—oh, what was it called? We had to put on gas masks and go through that. We used to laugh because the squirrels used to live underneath the gas house. [both laugh] Whenever we went on field marches, which we didn’t like, we would string around and the officers would try and infiltrate our lines.

PS:  What do you mean?

KC:  Well, they would kind of sneak in and we were supposed to handle all these spies and whatever the heck they were called.

PS:  How long did this go on for? You said you didn’t like them. Why was it, _____?

KC:  No, because there’s snakes around and creeper crawlers. [laughs] I don’t like that kind of stuff, and I was always scared a snake would be there, you know.

PS:  Was this summer in Alabama?

KC:  Yes, and it was very, very hot.

PS:  I imagine. So you survived. How long was basic training?

KC:  Gosh, I can’t even remember anymore.

PS:  So was it at the very end of basic training when you were hoping you could be a MP?

KC:  No, it was when I went in. Like I said, they had to come in—dummy raised my hand and of course I’m glad I did because I was very happy with what I, you know.

PS:  Why had you wanted to be an MP?

KC:  I don’t know, it just seemed interesting to me, you know. Then I figured later on I would probably join the police force, career minded.

PS:  So you went into the band. Were you reconciled to it early on?

KC:  Right away, because of the people, I had about sixty sisters and a few mothers. There was quite a few, I can’t remember, I’ve got it in a book there. They all took—the older ones took care of the younger ones. Our first Sergeant, gruff old lady, on Mother’s Day one year we went up in the hills and picked a whole bunch of wild flowers, so we went back down and knocked on her door and said, “Happy Mother’s Day” to her. [both laugh]

PS:  So all sixty of you were in one band at the same time or did you divide up?

KC:  No, no it was—and then there was the dance band. I played in the dance band too, and that was for the service club on Friday night. Then we would play at the officers club maybe once a month, the NCO club, we’d play there a few times too.

PS:  What was the repertoire that you played for these events?

KC:  Dance music.

PS:  Big band era?

KC:  Yeah. We started a Dixieland band but then the newer girls came in and they wanted to take over, so they kind of did. They had more people than we did so we kind of let them take over. It was marches. We had lessons, plus we had theory lessons and we practiced.

PS:  Were there individual practice rooms, or how did they accommodate all sixty of you practicing your instrument?

KC:  Either in the band room or in our private rooms.

PS:  So you had private rooms.

KC:  So to speak. [laughs] They had dividers; I mean they were open in the top and the bottom and curtains on the front. We practiced there.

PS:  About how many hours a day did you practice?

KC:  It depended, because we did all our parades, all the graduations, orientations we played for. We would also go and teach reveille and the bugle calls and stuff were taught to the recruits. We did all the parades. We were mostly a recruiting tool, so we would go to Georgia a lot; we played at fairs and marched in parades there. In Florida we went to Pensacola and played for the Festival of Five Flags, so we were there a few days. In Colorado Springs it was the same.

PS:  So you would actually you would go on overnight tours?

KC:  Oh, we would go for a few days at a time. Military planes would take us. It was funny because we were in the Deep South at that time, and it was very segregated. We could not have black bus drivers to drive us off the post. That was a no no.

PS:  Was the band itself integrated by that point? I had read that during WWII, there were two separate women’s bands, white and black.

KC:  No, it was not integrated.

PS:  So it was all white. Tell me a little bit more about the South and the integration, segregation issues.

KC:  It was funny because we’re from up north, kind of like backwards country folk. We didn’t realize the whole extent of segregation. We went downtown the first time; during basic we got a pass. We couldn’t walk with one of the girls because she was black.

PS:  She was in your band?

KC:  No, that was in basic. You would go and the blacks would go around in the back and some of ______? liked the bus station, it was in two parts. Drinking fountains had black and white on there. I remember after I got married, we lived in town and I woke up one morning and there were crosses burnt across the boulevard a few blocks from our house going up towards the post. That was the time that you didn’t associate at all. You’d walk down the sidewalk and they’d get off the sidewalk. I mean it was a total new world, you know. Then when we were in the band, we went to Atlanta at one time. We decided—we were at Fort Benning, and we decided to tour. We got on a bus and we went downtown. We got on the bus and all the front seats were taken. We proceeded to go to the back and the bus stopped and told us we were not allowed there, we had to sit here, up front, because the back was not our place.

PS:  If there were no seats, what were you supposed to do?

KC:  You stand. [laugh] But we couldn’t understand that, you know we were young and never had anything like that at all.

PS:  Were there other people from the South in your band who this was second nature to? Had you been in contact with African Americans in Duluth before that?

KC:  Oh, definitively, I mean I grew up in this area; I went to school with them. My mother-in-law couldn’t understand how I could learn. How could I learn what?  She said, “In school, how could you learn? You have black people in your school.” I said, “Yeah.” “Well how did you learn?” She was from the back hills of Alabama; she had absolutely no idea, that’s the way they were raised. It was just a whole new ball game. [laughs]

PS:  When you were out recruiting, you were doing those kinds of events in public. Was the recruiting directed to young African Americans as well as to Americans?

KC:  It was just, you know, here we are. But at that time, I kept thinking it’s not going to do a lot of these people any good. Black people aren’t going to get in there. Well then after it was dissolved, they had to integrate, because they integrated with the male bands then. We were supposed to be an elite group; we would be checked for every parade to make sure the seams in our nylons were straight. Our section leader would check to make sure, there weren’t any wrinkles in our dresses, so we would stand going up to the parade, so we wouldn’t wrinkle our dresses, as if anyone was going to see the wrinkles on a parade field. [both laugh] But that was the way it was, all the dresses had to be even if you stood in a line, you were checked.

PS:  Did you all have to be of a similar height then?

KC:  No, just the dress. [both laugh] Like I said, we weren’t allowed to wear pants outside the common area. Well, we all had bikes and we’d go to the commissary to get groceries because we had kitchens on each of the floors, and refrigerators. We did mostly our lunches there instead of walking up the hill, because none of us drove. We didn’t even know how to drive, half of us. So we had bikes and the baggers would say, “Where’s your car?” We’d say, “Here.” [both laugh] They would look as if— well, it’s a bicycle.  When we would go venture out, we would take a pair of jeans and bring then along and go up in the cemetery and change clothes into our pants and that. Coming back we would do the same thing, so that when we got back on post, we did not have jeans on. Otherwise you’d end up with extra duty if you were caught doing that.

PS:  So you could wear pants off post?

KC:  No.

PS:  Oh, so you were breaking the rules?

KC:  Oh, definitely, definitely.

PS:  Did you ever run into any officers and their teams?

KC:  No, I don’t know about the other outfits there, but I know the ______? band couldn’t. I remember, after I was married and we went to somebody’s house for supper. I had jeans on. As far as I was concerned, I was a civilian, I lived off post with a husband. I got really sick, and they took me to the base, I wouldn’t get out of the car. Finally the doctor came out and he said, “You have to get out of the car.” I said, “I can’t, I’ve got jeans on.” He said, I don’t care what you have on, you get in here.” Well, I was in bed rest for three days, because I was so sick. I was scared, especially on post with pants on.

PS:  Oh, my gosh, interesting. There’s a lot of questions I want to ask. So you met you’re husband while you were in the military?

KC:  Oh, yes.

PS:  Was that a common occurrence, did other young women—?

KC:  Oh, yes, in the beer halls. [both laugh]

PS:  While you were playing or off duty?

KC:  Off duty.

PS:  So you didn’t play for civilian clubs or anything, as a band?

KC:  No, no. Like I said, we played at county fairs and stuff, concerts and things.

PS:  So people could meet, marry them and live off post?

KC:  Yeah, but you had to be there first thing in the morning, you had a room to clean. Once you got on post you had pretty much to do what—

PS:  So, your own room?

KC:  Yeah, so, I mean we didn’t get away with much.

PS:  Was that stressful to have a kind of—?

KC:  It was. I’d have to take the bus up to the post and the bus driver knew where I cut off and would let me off if I happened to fall asleep or something. [both laugh]

PS:  What about being in the military—you had a hunger for traveling. Did that meet your expectations did you enjoy the experiences? Anything stand out, places, people?

KC:  Yeah, I did. Well, I met Kitty from Gunsmoke; we played on the same bill with Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme. I met Kookie?, it was comb your hair—I don’t know, he was an old rocker, I met him. I met I think it was Doc from Gunsmoke, there were two of them, I remember Kitty.

PS:  Those were all on shows that you were playing with?

KC:  Yeah, and I met a lot of neat people, got autographs, of course they were lost a long time ago moving off post and all that stuff. They just kind of went by the wayside. I remember them, so a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything.

PS:  So, you traveled to Florida? Did you live there as well for a while?

KC:  Pensacola. No, I did not live there; we went to the Naval Air Station and stayed in the WAVE barracks. Then we would go to town. There were three or four parades. Then we would go downtown Pensacola to play for the festival. I remember we went to the beach one day, and it was overcast, so we never thought anything of it. Well, we got the worst sunburns and of course you could get in real big trouble if you can’t perform your duties, especially sunburn. Our commanding officer knew exactly, and she would put her arm around us and pat us on the back. You would just about, you know— and to put long nylons on, over sunburns and whatever. So, we never said we were hurting, we didn’t dare. Then we would parade and I remember they would throw Mardi Gras colored beads. We would pick up all those beads, and where you gonna put them when you’re in uniform and you got a musical instruments? So we stuffed them down the front of our uniforms. When we got back to the barracks, all the colors had run off, we sweated them. [both laugh]

PS:  What were your uniforms like? Were they white?

KC:  They were taupe, cotton, and real stiff, we had three I think it was. There were black ladies from in town that would do our dresses and stuff. We paid them. That was nice that we had somebody to do that.

PS:  You didn’t pay them personally, it was the Army that paid them?

KC:  We paid them.

PS:  Oh, you paid them, personally.

KC:  Yeah. Then at Christmas time they would tell us of a family in need. We would all get a Christmas tree and decorations and buy presents, because we would know how many kids.  Of course, we were always gone at Christmas, we all took our leaves at the same time, you had to. The ones that couldn’t take lean or didn’t want to, would deliver all the stuff to the one family in need, you know.

PS:  How much leave did you get during a year?

KC:  I can’t remember.

PS:  Christmas for sure.

KC:  At least that. It must have been Christmas, because I was always on post by New Years Eve.

PS:  How did your family respond after you’d been in a while? Did they come to terms with your being in it?

KC:  No.

PS:  Was it uncomfortable for you to come back home during the holidays?

KC:  At that time I didn’t realize how uncomfortable they were until later on when I had kids and whatever. And my mother said what a disgrace I was that I had tarnished the family by going into the Army.

PS:  What had they hoped you would do?

KC:  Stay at home; take care of them until they died. That’s another reason why I felt I had to get out of here and get my own life. But they said that’s your duty as the oldest child to take care of your parents until they die. Well, my mother died ten years ago, well, you know. What life would I have had? I kept thinking, I can’t do that. Well, I was disrespectful because I disobeyed their wishes.

PS:  Did you have any brothers?

KC:  No, just us two, my sister and myself.

PS:  Had you had a brother, do you think they would have been fine with him going into the military?

KC:  No, because my dad never went into the military. He had to stay home and take care of his elderly parents.

PS:  That’s the family tradition.

KC:  Yeah, and his brother, the same thing. He went and worked while my dad took care of his mom and dad. He did the house cleaning and the cooking and everything and my uncle Mike went out and brought in the money.

PS:  What did your sisters think about you going into the Army?

KC:  My sister, when she was young, thought it was great. She would write me little pictures with—in fact you know, I’ve still got them somewhere, a drawing of a WAC [Women’s Army Corps] and she would say cute little things. Then after a while, my mom and dad would talk about how terrible I was and whatever. So she just kind of—and even to this day, she’s not excited about anything. Up at the airport, my picture was up there with women in service. My son and daughter- in-law went up there to take pictures and whatever. I told my sister about it and she said, “What’d they do that for?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, they just asked.” She said, “Oh, oh, all right.” In fact this interview, she asked, “What are they doing that for?”  I said, “Because they asked if I would do it.” She said, “Okay.”

PS:  Interesting.

KC:  Yeah.  

PS:  Was that a common attitude? Did your friends from high school and their parents, elder relatives have a somewhat negative view?

KC:  I kind of felt funny. I went to the USO dance one night, and I felt really uncomfortable, because I was in uniform and the rest of them were all guys. Of course, the gals were the ones entertaining them, and here comes this woman in uniform. I felt very, very uncomfortable.

PS:  So that was in town? And you were wearing your uniform in town?

KC:  Yeah, it was like, “She’s here to steal,” you know—like yeah, right. You know when I’m only here for five days, I’m gonna steal somebody’s boyfriend? [both laugh]

PS:  The general question of women in the military; did you feel that you were treated any differently from men or did you not have much interaction with men in the military at the time, with regard to pay or some evaluation of you?

KC:  See, that’s why a lot of the women I think pressured them to let the women go into combat, because combat soldiers, you know—the men got most of the promotions. There are certain slots you can only have, say ten privates and six sergeants or whatever. The men took most of those slots, the same with the band, the MOSs; the men took most of them.

PS:  What are MOSs?

KC:  How do I explain it?

PS:  I can figure that out later.

KC:  I was listed as a drummer, because there were too many trombone players at first. I wasn’t playing it, but that was what my MOS [Military Occupational Specialties] said.

PS:  Oh, interesting. [both laugh]

KC:  Because they needed more drummers, so you know.

PS:  But you never did play drums?

KC:  No, interest in playing drums. [laughs]

PS:  Within the band, it was hard to get promoted because you were women.

KC:  We were segregated; the men’s band would come over to practice with us for the Easter ceremony, Easter service. They would come in through the front door and be directed right through to the practice room. After practice they were gone. We would meet them for the service; it was always an open air service. There we would play, that was it. There was no interaction.

PS:  So are they trying to discourage fraternization maybe? Or they don’t want you to compare your salaries?

KC:  I don’t know what it was, but I’m thinking that—and I don’t know what they were paid for. My ex-husband never said anything.

PS:  Was he military?

KC:  Yes, but I was a higher rank than him, so it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway.

PS:  What rank did you achieve?

KC:  I was Spec-4 and I don’t even think that’s there anymore. I think that’s obsolete. [both laugh] When I went in the Guards, they had said, “We’ll get you uniform boots.” I said, “I have boots.” He said, “Bring them in.” So I brought them in and he started to laugh. I said, “What’s so funny?” He said, “They’re obsolete.” I said, “What?” He said, “They’re obsolete.” [both laugh]

PS:  They still fit, right?

KC:  Yeah, I still have them upstairs. [both laugh]

PS:  Was playing in a military band quite different than playing in a high school band? Were you in a high school band?

KC:  Yes, I was in Duluth Central band and then I played in the Junior Symphony, too. The band was probably more intense, because that was our job. Our section leaders would sit down and you towed the mark. This was our job and we had to be very good at it, because we were representing the United States Army.

PS: Was the musical experience itself, rewarding? You talked about the camaraderie.

KC:  Of course, I loved marches, anyway. I loved parades; don’t ask me about it now, because it’s all on my top? [both laugh]

PS:  Don’t want to be in the Christmas City of the North Parade?

KC:  I march enough, because I’m in the Color Guard with the NVVA [Northland Vietnam Veterans’ Association], so we do march in parades. I used to love it.  

PS:  So is there anything else with your time in the service that stands out, that we should know about?

KC:  We played in a theatre production, in the pit band. That was kind of fun, because we played with men. We were integrated, that was something special I guess, for whatever reason.

PS:  And it was a military production?

KC:  Oh, yeah, everything was.

PS:  What was the musical?

KC:  I can’t even remember, I was just so excited that I got into that. We just had such a great time and whatever.

PS:  Just one little question for myself. What about instrument maintenance? Did you all have to learn how to take care of your own instruments?

KC:  We had one of the women from the unit that would do that. If you stayed in long enough, and you were recommended, you could go to the Naval School of Music. I would have liked to have done that, but I didn’t want to stay in that long, because I had gotten married. I probably should have, but I didn’t.

PS:  So you did consider a career in music, perhaps, as continuing after this?

KC:  No, just to stay in the Army, but I didn’t. Then I quit playing for about ten years. Then my friend got me back into again, so I’ve been playing ever since.

PS:  So you had signed up for how long?

KC:  Two years.

PS:  And the end of that time came, and you decided?

KC:  Well, like I said, I got married and it was easier I think, because we were traveling. It caused a lot of conflict. There was a lot of conflict there and I thought, well, best not to re-enlist again.

PS:  How did you feel about that? Good decision at the time?

KC:  I thought at the time it was a real good decision, because I was young. If I look back at it and had that same decision to make now, it would not be that decision. Granted, I love my kids, but the rest of it, would have been different decision.

PS:  So after you left the service you continued in some way to be associated with the military?

KC:  No. Then I went into the Guards for a while and then I got out of the Guards and that was it.

PS:  And how long were you in the Guards?

KC:  I wasn’t in there too long because we had kind of a disagreement. At that time, I would have had to sign over my parental rights to someone. If we went to war, and at that time women weren’t going to war, but in case that happened they had to make sure my children were taken care of. I said, “There are men here that have children.” But that was different and there were a few men that didn’t have wives, but they had children. That didn’t make any difference. So finally I said, “Forget it. I want out.”

PS:  So men didn’t have to sign over parental rights, but women did.

KC:  I’m assuming that. That’s the way it came across and I figured if I did that, because my mom and I had a very tenuous relationship, I thought, I can’t do that. I had three children.

PS:  So you were in the Guards while you had your three children?

KC:  I already had my children, and I thought, why not? One of my Army buddies said, “Oh, you should.” So I did it and then like I said, I got out and tried to build my career. I had a few jobs and finally I went to the school district. I worked there and the railroad and then I just went to the district. It was too hard working two jobs and raising kids.

PS:  What did your military training give you as a civilian?

KC:  Self assurance. I’m able to take care of myself, manage my money, it made me grow up?

PS:  You were what age when you left for the service?

KC:  Nineteen. I was twenty-one when I left. I remember my twentieth birthday, the girls gave me a birthday cake, and the only topping they could find, was “Happy Birthday Cowgirl.” [both laugh]

PS:  You did become active in veterans’ organizations as some point. Tell me about that.

KC:  I had gone to Maryland to visit one of my Army buddies, she invited me there. She and her husband were involved in their organization there. They were having a picnic, and said, “She has to come along, because she is visiting here.” So, I went along and all these guys kept saying, “You have to join the Vietnam Veterans’ Organization.” I said, “Well, I don’t know.” They said, “No, you have to.” All these people from Maryland kept saying, “You have to do this.” They gave me tips on who to contact. It happened to be when I was working at Woodland, Durbin Keene walked by, and he had his jacket on, with NVVA, so I went up to him and asked him about it. He told me to come to a meeting. I wasn’t really sure about the meeting, because when I came, they all assumed that I was there to ask for something. “Well, what do you have to say?” I said, “What?”

PS:  Did they think because you are a woman, you are not really a veteran?

KC:  I think that’s what it was.

PS:  Were you the only woman in the room?

KC:  No. It just was strange. I have picked up on that a lot, people say, “You were a veteran?” It’s like, you know, women aren’t veterans. We may have been in the military, but we are not veterans. I was really surprised, and some of the people that surprised me most were some of my new friends that I found. 

PS:  Some of the veterans.

KC:  No, non-veterans, and few of the wives of the veterans. So, it’s out there, but it’s not like it would have been in the 50s and 60s.

PS:  About what year was that when you got back involved with the veterans organization?

KC:  Goodness, when I worked at Woodland.

PS:  So more than ten years?

KC:  Oh, yeah. Probably twenty years. I stayed with the organization and now I am president of it.

PS:  So what kept you in it, and what did your Maryland friends think you would get from this?

KC:  Well just, I don’t know what they expected, but I know what I got. I’ve got a good group of people that we meet every Thursday. We talk just about everything. Let’s say I’ve got a problem or something and I will ask, “Does anybody know anything about this? Somebody will come up, or two or three will come up. They’ll get on their phones and whatever, they heard about this and that. So it’s kind of a sharing thing. It’s camaraderie, you listen to their stories, and they listen to your stories. Somebody will walk in and it will bring in a memory of something and we’ll go on and talk. It’s just a fun group, I can call any of them and ask them a question and two or three will email me information. It’s kind of a group just like it was when I was in the Army. We’re all in different services and that comes up too.

PS:  Is there a kind of competition?

KC:  Yeah, friendly competition.

PS:  So, even though the war was not active when you were in the service, in Vietnam, you still identified yourself as a Vietnam era veteran. I can’t remember when active participation started.

KC:  I can’t either. I know a few of my friends after the band dissolved, they went overseas a few of them. Of course, they died now, because they had Agent Orange.

PS:  So the band did dissolve. Was that in 1978? How did you feel about that?  I know it had been twenty years, since you had been in it.

KC:  1979, I think it was.  It was hard because they gave the name Fourteenth Army Band; they took the WAC out of it, it was just the Fourteenth Army Band. There was a lot of hard feelings there, as they should have changed the whole name to the group.

PS:  What percentage of women were in that band? Did the quality go down?

KC:  There aren’t many and that I don’t know. I went to one of the reunions, and they had the band—if we wanted to sit in. When we would go to our reunions, we would play a concert. We have reunions every two years from the Fourteenth Army WAC Band. The reunions are held in Fort McClellan. I’m involved with the Association of Military Musicians. It’s once a year and we’re going to Indianapolis in September for that. We bring our horns and we have a jam session in the morning with just military music that all of us have played when we were in the service. A lot of the guess will direct, which is really fun. We don’t practice, we just say “Okay, here’s the music, let’s play it. Remember when we used to play this in Germany or whatever?” It’s just kind of a fun time to do that. There was resentment—I gotta tell you this story, it was funny; last year the WAC band had a new recruit that was a male.

PS:  Was he a conductor?

KC:  No! He was a sax player, so he was the only man that ever served in the Fourteenth Army WAC Band. They would introduce him as the WAC with substantial facial hair.

PS:  How did he get in?

KC:  I have no idea and of course he couldn’t live in the barracks. He had to live off, away from the barracks. You could not ride on the busses with him, so he would trail behind in the car. His name, I can’t remember, I think it was Bob, or something. He wouldn’t have any connection with any women’s name, but he was the one and only male in the band. He said he just loved it, because he had all these sisters. [both laugh]

PS:  Did everyone have their own instruments when you were in the WAC band?

KC:  A lot of them did. I think I brought mine after, not right away.

PS:  This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your service, but do you play in organizations other than the military music?

KC:  Yeah, I play in the Windjammers, I play in the Swingaroos, and I play in the National Community Band. I go once a year, somewhere in the country, next year we’re going to Lafayette, this year we went to New Orleans. I play in the AMM band; I joined the Spirit Valley Day Bugle Corps. What other bands? I play in a lot of them.

PS:  I know you said you were gone for a week in July, what was that?

KC:  That was in Las Vegas with the National Community Band.

PS:  Is there anything we missed talking about, that people would find interesting?

KC:  Well, there’s some things I couldn’t say. [laughs] Better left unsaid. [both laugh]

PS:  Should we do an anonymous interview so you can reveal the secrets? [both laugh] Lessons people can learn from your experience, or recommendations you would give to young people, considering their futures in music or life in general?

KC:  I always thought that it wouldn’t hurt for everyone after they get out of high school or before they go to college. Half the people don’t really know what they want to do, until they get a degree and find out that’s not what they want to do and all that money is gone. That they have to serve at least one year in the military in some form or other, so that they can kind of grow up a little bit and get their priorities straight.

PS:  Sounds like a good lesson.

KC:  I went to college on the GI Bill after I got out, and that was also against my parent’s wishes.

PS:  Did they not want you to go to college at all?

KC:  Absolutely not! College is not for women.

PS:  Were they equally against college and the military?

KC:  Probably on the same thing.

PS:  Okay, that puts it in a different light.

KC:  First of all they said, “Women do not belong in college; they belong at home taking care of their husbands and having children.” I thought, yeah, right. It was, they couldn’t afford to send me to college. I said, “Well, I’ll get a job.” They said, “You’re too stupid to go to college.” I said, “Okay.” So when I signed up for college, they were very upset with me. “How dare you do that?” I said, “You’re not paying for it.” But they just could not understand why I was gonna go to college. “You’re so stupid anyway.” I don’t know what their mindset was. I guess I’m a rebel in a way, and if you say I can’t do something, I’m gonna try it.

PS:  Maybe they were using reverse psychology.

KC:  It didn’t work. [both laugh] Like my cousin said, “You were the one that always did the unexpected.” I said, ‘I guess, I don’t know.” [laughs]

PS:  Any other final thoughts?

KC:  I can’t think of anything.

PS:  I’ll pause it for now, in case you think of anything. In the mean time, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us.

KC:  Like I said, there are some that can’t be on there.

PS:  Are you sure you don’t want to even give me a hint? [both laugh]

PS:  I am just going to pause it though.

End track 1


Track 2


PS:  So you were mentioning the dedication of the Women’s Memorial. Can you tell us about that?

KC:  Well, I had found out about it through my Army buddies in Alabama, and I thought I’d like to go. So this young friend of mine, who used to work with me said, “I’d like to go too.” I said, “Great, we’ll have to find—there should be a group going down there.” I checked around and could find no group. One of the girls from Alabama put me in contact with somebody in Austin, Minnesota. She called me and said, “You are very welcome to come with us, we’re bringing a bus down. We’re leaving from Austin, but if you drive to the cities, park at this one motel, we will have a bus come and pick you up. Then we will leave for Austin.” I said, “Fine.” So we got on the bus, I spent my birthday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They bought me a cupcake for my birthday. [both laugh]

We got there and it was absolutely fantastic and we stayed in a hotel way out, because they had our hotel reservations messed up. I played in the band there, and it was all the members of all the women’s bands. We played a concert in the armory there. The next day we went to Arlington, we missed the bus because my roommate putt’s all the time. We had to take the subway, and we ended up right out at the entrance of Arlington. In fact, we beat our bus there, because they stopped for breakfast and whatever. I met all these people and had this luncheon in one of the hangers. Gosh, I was sitting near the door and these people that I knew were coming in that I hadn’t seen for ages. Then we were standing outside the hanger waiting for something and I’m listening to the conversation behind me. These women were saying, they came with the bus and somebody said,  “Where are you from?” And they said, “Duluth, Minnesota.” I turned around and I said, “Excuse me, you’re from Duluth, Minnesota?” And they said, “Yes.” I said, “And you took a bus from Duluth, Minnesota?” They said, “Yes.” They said, “Well, where are you from?” I said, “Duluth, Minnesota.” They said, “Well, how did you get here?” I said, “From Austin, Minnesota.” They said, “Well, it was advertised in the American Legion magazine.” I said, ‘I’m not a member of the American Legion or the VFW.” I knew nothing about that. We could have met downtown and left, instead of going all the way to Austin, Minnesota. But it was just fantastic, we’re sitting there and all these Hueys came over the rise, all female pilots, going over the rise. It was just really, really neat. Then we toured around and stuff.

The march at night, I still have the candle, it’s got a bulb in it. We all had those and we walked from the starting point across the bridge in Arlington, with the candles. It was the Army first, Navy, Air Force and the Marines. It was just absolutely something that you’ll never forget. I was wonderful. I’ve got the souvenir and pictures of the people. Then I ended up joining the Minnesota Women’s’ Veterans’ Association, because some of those women were on this bus too. So, I ended up joining that organization and of course I belong to Chapter 62 in Fort McClellan.

PS:  Where does the Minnesota organization meet?

KC:  In Minneapolis. Once a year they have a meeting, it’s a special meeting. I don’t get down there because I don’t like driving and I’m not going to have one of my kids drive me down. My oldest son probably would, or my youngest son. He’s got a job and has to take off from work to do all of these things. He and his wife go with me on all of our trips.

PS:  Are there other members from here that might car pool?

KC:  No.

PS:  Back to the dedication, when was this exactly, what year approximately? I don’t remember hearing about it.

KC:  I can’t remember. [both laugh] I don’t remember, it was a big deal. In fact, my bio is there, my son went.

PS:  So this is your photo and your bio and it’s at the memorial in Arlington. Wow!

KC:  Yes, my son gave me this as a Christmas present one year.


end of interview

Track 2



Transcribed by Helen Hase

Site by 3FIVE