Maggie Gee | Interview 2 | April 29, 2003

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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0:00 - Life after Pearl Harbor

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Keywords: blackouts; community relations; invasion fear; Pearl harbor

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

3:57 - Realities of daily life in WWII

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Keywords: Community relations; food; rationing

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

7:19 - News and community in WWII

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Keywords: community; foreign language newspapers; Information; newspapers; radio

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

10:21 - Shopping in WWII

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Keywords: retail changes; shopping; Traveling

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

11:52 - Personal reflections on aftermath of Pearl Harbor

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Keywords: childhood perceptions of war; community; FDR; Fear; Safety

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

17:25 - Asian women getting involved in the war effort

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Keywords: armed forces recruitment; Segregation; service; USO

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

21:46 - Application, training and other aspirations

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Keywords: cultural perceptions; dreams; training

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

26:11 - Bay Area Housing in the 1940s

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Keywords: discriminations; Housing

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

30:33 - Effects of Pearl Harbor on Chinese Americans

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Keywords: cultural dividers; discrimination; identifiers

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

36:17 - Dating & socialization in the 1940s

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Keywords: Interracial relationships; racial perceptions

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

40:50 - College transition

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Keywords: college; effects of education

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

44:01 - Cultural differences

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Keywords: ges; minorities; socialization

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

48:00 - Memories the new deal

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Keywords: family stressors; FDR; New deal

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

51:57 - Mare Island

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Keywords: Photo ID; security

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

53:48 - Understanding being a female pilot

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Keywords: gender roles; Socialization

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

59:31 - Aspirations for life before Pearl Harbor

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Keywords: cultural perceptions; Socialization,


69:17 - Pilot training specifics

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Keywords: airplanes; pilot simulations

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

73:30 - Memories of flying first aircraft

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Keywords: Airplane; controls; mare island

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

80:04 - Ending the WASPS

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Keywords: Disbanded; Ending women pilots; Gender Labor switch

Subjects: Community and Identity Subject -Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front


STEIN: This is the 29th of April. We’re here with Maggie Gee for a second interview.

GEE: I was just trying to think, what was life like? I think that’s the question, after Pearl Harbor? I lived in Berkeley, I lived with my mother and some of my brothers and sisters. Some of them had already left home. As I recall, the community -- I’m talking about the neighborhood, really, right at the moment, is that we did have some meetings to see what we should be doing. We had been warned that what had to be considered about the Japanese that might land in the bay. We had some meetings, as I recall, in the neighborhood. There 1:00was a civilian -- some sort of patrol. There was a bigger organization that was to tell what we, as citizens in this community, should be doing. In particular, we were on the coast, so since there was fear of an invasion of some sort, we had to have blackouts. That was the first thing as I remember, that we were told. We were able to purchase all this black material so we could put it over the windows at nighttime. We could have the lights on, of course, but you had to 2:00put this black material over your windows in case Japanese submarines or planes came over, that they wouldn’t be able to see the community, or they wouldn’t be led into this area. You think about it today; it was highly unlikely that the Japanese would land, but we didn’t think that Pearl Harbor would happen, either. So what made it nice was we got to know each other much better in the community. At least, my mother did. She knew everyone in the area pretty much already, but we started looking after each other and there was that sense of community. Since I wasn’t head of the household, so I didn’t know how the stamps came, but I’m sure there was a form that was filled out, how many 3:00people you had in the house and whether you had an automobile; just a lot of questions, so that you were given stamps for various items. I knew about the gasoline stamps, but I didn’t know about the other items. But there was probably shortage of oil. Someone else probably could tell you, or you could just read about it, what kind of stamps there were.

But I do remember seeing stamps my mother had, these books of stamps. Life went on, and we looked after each other quite a bit in the neighborhood.

MCGARRIGLE: Are there specific examples of how people looked after each other differently?

GEE: Prior to that in the forties, and before the forties, people did know each 4:00other in the neighborhood. Today, so many of us want to be alone. There’s lots of entertainment we have within our households, so we don’t need our neighbors quite as much. When I said they looked after each other, they became aware of who the children were in the family and made sure they were taken care of. Also, as I remember, we had a relatively large family, so there probably wasn’t enough for whatever you needed. I didn’t know anyone who shared their gasoline stamps. I don’t recall that ever happening, but some of the items that were being rationed at that particular time, I remember my mother and some of the neighbors wanting to know whether she had sufficient -- maybe you can tell me, 5:00was sugar on that list? Yes. Maybe oil, sugar and oil?

STINE: And meat.

GEE: And meat -- yes, meat was on that list. Oh, what happened then, horsemeat showed up. I don’t know whether you had to have a stamp for horsemeat. Do you know?

STINE: I’m not sure. I don’t know if that would have been a replacement, maybe.

GEE: I don’t think so. I think horsemeat was plentiful. I had horsemeat, too. I wouldn’t eat horsemeat today because I like horses, but horsemeat, as I remember, there were these funny stores that had horsemeat.

Some people bought it for their animals, but you also could buy it to eat. It was a very dense meat. I didn’t like it, as I remember. So I’m quite sure 6:00that you did not need a stamp for that. In fact, I could almost tell you where that horsemeat store was. It was up in the Lorin area. That’s up by Alcatraz and Adeline; there was a big horsemeat store there. I don’t think the family had much horsemeat, because we weren’t a meat-eating family.

MCGARRIGLE: Was there more emphasis on gardens then? Were people even more focused on growing vegetables?

GEE: Yes, because there was a shortage. That’s right, people started having Victory Gardens, though. In my neighborhood, there was an empty lot. In the 7:00neighborhood I grew up in, most of the people did have backyards, though. But there was an empty lot. People got together and grew vegetables and shared them. If you grow radishes, for instance, you have more radishes than you can eat, so you’d share them with your neighbors. So that was part of the community. As I said, there was more of a community than before the war.

MCGARRIGLE: I was wondering how you got information about what was happening during the war. Was it newspapers and radio?

GEE: When things happened, the radio was always very much available. We listened to what was going on. But if there was a big event happening, a battle or something like that or something that the public should know about, there were 8:00these “extras.” The newspapers would publish a special edition. They were young men, usually, or older men; they would come down the street and say “Extra! Extra!” and you’d come out and buy a newspaper to find out what was going on. There was a lot of human interaction, which was nice in that respect. So they probably weren’t young men; they were probably older men doing extras during the war, because the young men were out fighting in the military.

LI: Did your mother read Chinese newspapers as well?

GEE: Chinese newspapers, yes. I didn’t. I can’t read Chinese, though. But in Chinatown, I think there were several Chinese newspapers, and they really 9:00concentrated pretty much on what was happening in China.

LI: Did your mother read them?

GEE: My mother could read some Chinese, yes, but she didn’t keep up with what was going on. She talked to her friends. I was very much aware, they were very much aware what was going on in China, what the Japanese were doing in China, because everyone had close families. They would send packages to China. They were our allies, also.

LI: What kind of packages?

GEE: I belonged to a Chinese church and there was a women’s group. I think the 10:00supplies they sent to China were -- I’m not too sure, but there was some clothing. Clothing is a little bulky, though, and it took a long time to get there. I mean, everything was sent by boat. A little hard to get there, I think. I don’t know the details of that. Gosh, you gave me things that I didn’t even think about.

MCGARRIGLE: Something about talking out loud to somebody triggers the memory.

GEE: Is that right? Is that how it works?

LI: I think it does. It works for me that way.

GEE: I haven’t even thought about these things for so long, so you have to kind of visualize what was going on. You have all this information from so many other people now that’s it a little different.

STINE: Oh, but finding out from everybody’s personal experience how you actually went through things.

GEE: I just want to remember what my mother did with her driving around. We always had a car.

LI: Would you shop with her after work? Would you go with her to the horsemeat store?

GEE: My mother worked, and she worked in the shipyards. She worked at first the graveyard shift. I think everyone worked the graveyard shift to start with, because it’s the least desirable. Then, as you get a little bit of seniority 11:00you can switch to the day shift. My mother did; she shopped. We did have a Safeway, I remember, in the neighborhood. It was small, but it was walking distance. At that particular period, people had neighborhood stores and even though there were chain stores, there were a lot of just small neighborhood stores, independently run. Then there was the local meat market. They were open late, and that would give her opportunity to go shopping. But she would send her kids out to go shopping, as I remember. We went and did some of the shopping.


STINE: Do you remember hearing about Pearl Harbor and what that was like? That specific event, if you have any personal recollection or hearing the extra, what that meant?

GEE: Having gone along life and having life pretty easy in a sense, and feeling very safe in this country, not even thinking about it, knowing that there was a war in England, in Europe. Really, I was young, so I was quite happy that we weren’t in a war, even though we probably should have gotten in earlier, maybe. I can’t pass judgement on that. When I heard about Pearl Harbor and when FDR got on the radio, it was really scary. I think if I had ever been to 13:00Hawaii, it would have been a little more meaningful, but all of a sudden I felt unsafe. I think that was it, that this was something that shouldn’t have happened. Being very selfish, that it shouldn’t happened to us, because we hadn’t done anything to anyone. That’s kind of ridiculous -- that’s a very naive statement to make today. Since I was young and not very worldly, I felt “What is going to happen? That we’ve got to fight this enemy, though -- ” 14:00I really felt that the Japanese were really the enemy. Then there were cartoons depicting these terrible Japanese. Cartoons worked very well for young people. I always can remember the cartoons with the glasses and the Japanese pilot with these little round glasses and big teeth, kind of very evil. That made an impact; I wasn’t a child, though, but I saw many of these cartoons like that. All of us, the whole nation, including, I should say about myself, felt that “I got to do something. What can I do? What can I do to help this country?” That was for the moment and then you go on doing the things that you’re doing, 15:00but behind your mind you think, “What are these options I have?” The options were to go to work; they were rounding people up to go to work. Or to join the service: Uncle Sam needs you, and so you don’t want to be a 4F. Help this country. Made you feel very patriotic.

LI: Would you and your friends talk about what you would do? Because you were young -- when you would hang out with your friends, would you talk about it?

GEE: We did, in the neighborhood. People were going -- I was going to say the boys, but the men were beginning to have to. Women didn’t have to do anything; the men had to sign up for the draft and they started leaving. I think there was much more chaos in their lives. Well, not chaos. They were more directed than 16:00the women -- the girls were. We’re talking about teenagers, twenty-year-olds. So you see your friends go. They’re going out to fight this war. You felt that you must do something, too. I actually was in my first year in college, so I saw my college friends leave. Some of the women just continued going to college, the Chinese Americans -- I was one of the few that joined something or did something else. Quite a few of our friends got killed, as I remember. It was kind of hard to believe that they were gone. Now that I’m older, of course I’m much more 17:00sensitive to all these things, but at that time I was sensitive and sad about it, though you just seem to move on. You move on easier, I think, when you’re younger. You’re more involved with yourself, because you have to direct yourself to do something with your life.

LI: Why do you think you were one of the few Chinese who joined something?

GEE: Well, only in hindsight, now, because I know there were very few Asian women -- I’m going to blanket Asian women -- that joined the forces. A lot of the young Asian girls worked in the USO here, which was good. They formed clubs. 18:00Things were segregated at that particular time, so when the Asian or Chinese soldiers came back to town, they would not go to the USO that the Caucasians did. They needed entertainment with the Asian community, so there were people that organized places in San Francisco and the East Bay for them to come to. So they had dances for them, and there’d be a type of entertainment, recreation type of entertainment, because they needed it.

MCGARRIGLE: What was your first organized activity along those lines? Was that working at Mare Island? What was the sequence of your involvement with the Armed Forces?

GEE: I did some work at the Y first. I remember that the Y had some things. I’m not sure exactly what we did there. Later in my life, I did go work with 19:00soldiers. I ran -- in Europe -- a service club. I remember now that I used reference of having done organizational work at the Y during World War II for recreation for soldiers that came by. Also, we had soldiers on campus. I just did it for a very short time, the V5 and the V12 program. These were programs of education for soldiers. The International House was taken over by the Navy. They had a program there where the men were going to school getting, I think, degrees 20:00in engineering at that particular time. So there were things at the Y for them in their spare time. We’d hang out for a while, maybe just fed them a little extra, just talked to them. So that’s sort of the first type of work that I did related to our volunteer work that I did related to the war. But I was busy doing something a little more -- make some money, I guess, do something I could make some money. That’s why they needed people to work in the shipyards, and U.C. had this program to train you if you wanted to become a draftsman, if you 21:00had trigonometry. You had to have a little bit of mathematics. If you had a little bit of trigonometry or you knew how to draw a line, or you had the concept of what a ship looks like, how to draw things. We had little, mechanically-minded. I must have read something in the Daily Cal and decided to go for this training and get this job. It was really more direct; one felt that it was more directly involved in the war effort. It was the war effort. You wanted to get involved in the war effort.

STINE: How long of a course was that?


GEE: It was all day, and it might have been six, or eight, or ten weeks. I’m not sure, now. It was just training to work as a draftsman. You’re working as a draftsman, you’re working with an engineer, and he needs some drawings. You have to understand a little bit of what you were drawing, though. You were an assistant to him. You started out as an assistant to an engineer. I was pretty good at that, because I was mathematically inclined and I knew I could understand a lot of things that an engineer might understand, just as a lay person, so it didn’t baffle me at all.

MCGARRIGLE: Were you at that point already a physics major?


GEE: No, no. I wasn’t anything. I just started college. A lot of Asians start pre-med at that particular time, because you can finish and you can have a job.

MCGARRIGLE: Did you consider medicine yourself?

GEE: Oh, yes. In my particular family there are no medical doctors, but I have so many friends where everyone in the family is a medical doctor, it seems, in my generation. At least, there are four or five. My best friend, Julius Chang he’s not a medical doctor, but all his sisters and brothers are and they’re all married to medical doctors. They have four children. So it’s not unusual. 24:00I wasn’t interested in physics. But I was pretty good at mathematics at that particular time, so that’s why I chose to train to be a draftsman.

MCGARRIGLE: Was it an application process that you had to go through before you got appointed as an assistant?

GEE: Yes, it was a civil service job, so you had to take a civil service examination and have an interview. But I would say at that particular time they needed people, so it wasn’t as if you were really competing with a lot of people. If they thought you knew how to do something, you were hired. Mare Island was the only place that I looked at. I think there were places like Hunters Point and probably the Richmond shipyard, doing design work. Yes, of 25:00course they’d need engineers and draftsmen.

MCGARRIGLE: Were there very many other women then?

GEE: In my group, there were three of us at Mare Island, in the engineering department. There were three young ladies.

MCGARRIGLE: Out of a total of how many, do you think?

GEE: A hundred, maybe fifty to a hundred. Women just didn’t do this. There weren’t very many women engineers in those days. I don’t think there was a single woman engineer there. The men who were there were exempt from the war and most of them were married. There were no young, young men. I would say the average age might have been mid-forties. There weren’t a lot of old, old men either, then. I don’t remember -- maybe a few twenties, but not very many.


MCGARRIGLE: Did you take a leave of absence from university studies then, to do that work?

GEE: I guess one had to. I’m going ask you: are we going on to -- ? This is not about Richmond anymore. [laughs]

STINE: We also just want to find out, since you were around in the Bay Area at that time, what it was like. Another thing I was curious about was when you left your mother’s home and how you found a place to live, and what that experience was like, being a single woman and being out on your own for your first time.

GEE: In the Bay Area. I didn’t do that until later on. I lived with my mother 27:00for a long time. Like we all do; it’s cheap. [laughs] It’s inexpensive. When I came back from being in the service is when I -- I’m just trying to think. I’ve lived around town in Berkeley, and Berkeley was a very difficult town to rent in, for non- whites. Very difficult. I think that was a discouragement, ‘cause my sister and I had tried to rent, I guess several times. We really couldn’t find a place to live, because there would be a place available but when we came to see them, the place was rented. It became very discouraging.


LI: Were they pretty overt about why they weren’t renting to you?

GEE: Well, you knew already. I sort of gave up. My sister, she’d call ahead of time and say that she was Chinese. That kind of settled things, pretty much. It’s sort of hard to believe today that that’s the way it was. The Chinese church that I belonged to had housing, because for years Chinese students had a very hard time finding a place to live, unless they worked as a houseboy for someone. So the Chinese church bought a house, and that’s where the church was. Also, there was a Chinese student club on Etna Street, a big house that was 29:00purchased by -- it might have been the Congregational church. I’m talking about the regular congregational church, because there was no housing for Chinese students, men particularly.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you remember at the time, what your feelings were about that kind of discrimination?

GEE: I was hurt, more than anything else. Many years later I served on a commission on housing discrimination in the city of Berkeley. This was actually before the Rumford bill, and that was in the sixties. You’d think Berkeley, being a university city it’s an enlightened thing -- it’s just like any other city, though. People are frightened. If you allow a minority person to 30:00live, it would allow all the rest of the other minorities in. It’s really quite stupid. Economics really determines where you live. Yes, I was really disappointed in Berkeley.

LI: How did Pearl Harbor affect Chinese Americans in particular, in terms of their treatment?

GEE: America’s always had a love affair with China. Why its had, there are various reasons, but I always felt that particularly the missionaries who went to China, because there’s no religion in China, really, they converted all these Chinese to be Christians. But I don’t know whether that’s the real 31:00reason but I think that had a lot to do with it. I think that the Chinese here became more proud of themselves, because they were Chinese and it was the Japanese that were our enemies. You let people know that you were Chinese. I wish I had whatever I wore at that particular time; I don’t know if they’re around, saying “I’m Chinese.” I don’t see whether you had Chinese American. I don’t think there was that expression, Chinese American. Just Chinese. I mean, they must have been around, a dime a dozen, like little Mao red 32:00books that you probably can’t find anymore. So we wore them. We were proud.

STINE: Did you wear those throughout the war?

GEE: Oh, I didn’t wear them throughout the war, but around here if you went over to San Francisco on the Bridge you wore them, but it was obvious after a while because all of the Japanese were moved out, then.

STINE: I remember being very struck last time -- we didn’t get it on tape, but you had talked about how in your house you had thrown and broken things made in Japan. I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.

GEE: Yes. I mean, it’s so ridiculous, though. There were a lot of things in this country that were made in Japan. Not a lot of things, but a lot of china-type things. One thing I remember about Japanese goods, they were poor 33:00quality. They do such fine quality things, but whatever they imported here, a lot of it was children’s toys and little dishes and things. The workmanship, in fact, I will show you something I have that is Japanese that is a plate that is just beautiful handwork, but the quality of porcelain or whatever they used was just so poor. So the idea of taking everything and breaking it that was Japanese was ridiculous, though. There was just a lot of junk that we had, bottom line. We had no money; these were the very ordinary, just common things that you would buy, dishes. That’s the one thing I remember, dishes.


LI: Was everyone doing this in their homes? Was there an announcement on the radio?

GEE: How did people start doing this? I’m sure a lot of it, among the Chinese, was just word-of-mouth. Just break all these things; throw ‘em away, and I think people did. There was so much -- do you know how the dislikes are? Here, I’m speaking among my Japanese friends, part-Japanese friends. [laughs] There was really so much dislike of the Japanese, from the Chinese. Not the people you knew, because I lived in a town where there were as many Japanese as Chinese, and we all went to school together. We were friends. I guess you didn’t think of them as being Japanese, though. Japan was the invasion of China and 35:00Manchuria, them coming in. The military was so cruel to the Chinese. You didn’t see it in the newspaper necessarily in this country, but since everyone had relatives in China that they felt it very personally. So one of the worst things you could do, that I could remember, [was] my sister dating a young Japanese schoolmate. I remember someone said, it’s better that she dates a black man than this Japanese young person. But it was really frowned down upon. 36:00It’s interesting; it’s really stuck in my mind in a sense, though. There are so many marriages now between people of Chinese ancestry and Japanese ancestry, and I think oh, that couldn’t have happened with my generation. There aren’t that many in my generation. I can’t think of anyone.

LI: Was there much other cross-racial dating? As far as dating people of different backgrounds, what were the sentiments about that?

GEE: Well, I’ll have to tell you a story, but I don’t know if you want to keep this in, though. I had this friend of mine, and she started dating a Caucasian. This was, I would say, in the 1930s. Her grandmother was outraged. I 37:00don’t know how it resolved, but it came out that [the grandmother thought] he was a lowly person, in a sense, a Caucasian, because he had so much hair on his body. [laughs] That was the feeling, though. It’s a dumb story, but --

LI: I’ve heard similar kinds of --

GEE: Have you heard stories like that? Animals! [laughs]

LI: Was there a hierarchy, a perception of one?

GEE: Of course. The hierarchy was the Chinese were on top. [laughs]

LI: Were the Caucasians the next down?

GEE: Well, let me think. The Japanese certainly weren’t there, and the Koreans have always been considered -- because the poor Koreans have always been a conquered nation. The Chinese were over them and the Japanese were over them -- 38:00I guess the whites were next, somewheres along the line. I would say the Japanese were on the bottom for a while. I guess Koreans didn’t count.

MCGARRIGLE: Did your mother talk to you and your sisters and your brothers --

GEE: Well, yeah. She didn’t mind, in a sense, but what would her friends think? It’s always that, isn’t it? What do your friends think about anything? Less of you, for doing this. I had a sister that was dating very early -- well, you live in a community and who do you know? You go to a high school, and there’s a cross section of people. I’m talking about a young lady or a young man, there’s no one there of your own race. Just people.


LI: Was Berkeley unusual in that sense, ‘cause it was such a diverse community.

GEE: We always think of diverse communities. In a way, yes, it had all different kinds of people, but everyone stuck to themselves. Today, I always think of Hispanics, the Mexicans in particular, that they will integrate in one generation. I don’t think so. They live within their own community, and they will marry other Hispanics, or I think Mexicans in particular. That’s very important. There are very few that marry out of that group. One of these days you’ll be speaking Spanish here. [laughs]

LI: Last time, I think you had mentioned that you hadn’t dated many Chinese boys.


GEE: I hadn’t. The reason why, I think is because I’m not very tall for today, but I was 5’6”. I guess that I had grown up in Berkeley; I didn’t know very many Chinese boys. There were quite a few in Berkeley, but we were never attracted to each other. We’d go out in groups and then I moved on. I was tall, too. Taller. You’re tall, too, but everyone’s taller now, no matter who you are or what your racial background is.


LI: So when you say moved on, was that to college?

GEE: Oh, when I “moved on?” I shouldn’t blame you, that’s a bad expression. Yes, in a way. I found when I sort of came back from the war, I had a different perspective on the world. I was more mature. I had a lot of very close friends in very short time who were not Chinese. I found that my Chinese friends who had gone to college here were still interested in things that I was 42:00no longer interested in. Their world had remained somewhat small. I mean, I have lots of Chinese friends still, quite a few. I just went to a reunion of one Chinese fraternity that was on the campus. It was two weeks ago. It was a hundred of my old Chinese friends.

MCGARRIGLE: What’s that called, the Chinese reunion? What’s the name of the fraternity?

GEE: Pi Alpha Phi. There’s a Chinese fraternity. There was just one Chinese fraternity.

MCGARRIGLE: That would be men and women, then?

GEE: There was a Chinese sorority, too. Sigma Omicron Pi, or something like that.

LI: Did you find then that most of your friends became the other people that had been part of the war effort? That was a bond?


GEE: Oh, yes. It’s always like if you have a unique experience and even though it’s a short period of time, it’s something you always have, even though your values may be different. When I say your values, I have found that the women that I was in the service with for a very short period of time, that a lot of them are inclined -- my close friends are inclined to be more conservative politically, so we never talk about it. [laughs] We know that. Actually, politics is more important to me, how the world goes. I’d like to see more social legislation and it’s very important. I mean, this country needs all that. For them, they probably don’t think much of it. They just think of taxes.

MCGARRIGLE: That’s a majority/minority point of view, maybe?


GEE: It’s a majority/minority point of view. You mean to say within the group of women, or what?

MCGARRIGLE: Well, I’m just wondering to what you would attribute that to. Sometimes as minorities and having experienced discrimination, there’s an awareness about the necessity for social legislation that’s not always prevalent in the majority community, that hasn’t, for example, not been able to get an apartment and experienced this very -- .

GEE: I can’t say that completely, though. I think it’s just people are different. They’re more aware of things. Why I say that is because a lot of Chinese are very conservative, once they’ve made it because they feel that -- I really feel that some people in this country will never be able to make it. With the Chinese, they come to this country and they work very hard. A very 45:00large number -- not everyone does -- becomes successful monetarily. They have material things, and so they feel if they have done it, that the rest of society should be able to do the same. Well, it’s not true. I mean, it just doesn’t work that way. I personally have always felt that our society is rich enough that we can take care of everyone, and by not having everyone educated -- some people you can’t educate very well, but we have a better society if everyone is taken care of. I would benefit by it. I wouldn’t have ill people on the streets begging if we would really address this problem in Berkeley, the 46:00homelessness, as an example today. I don’t know how to solve these things, of course, but there’s no reason why they can’t be resolved much better than they are today. There are a lot of negatives in capitalism. I can use public transportation as an example. It would be cheaper, I think, and I think there’s been studies made, if public transportation were almost free, everyone would use it. The streets don’t have to be repaired, you don’t have to use space for parking lots, but capitalism doesn’t allow you to do that. Instead, 47:00what we do is we cut back on services and so fewer people will use them. But I’ve always felt that for those who really can afford a better system for themselves, that’s fine, they can spend the extra money, but for most people you should have a bottom line that’s a little higher than we have today for our society. You didn’t want to hear all that.

LI: Oh yes, we do.

STINE: Most definitely. I think it’s so important in the context of thinking about World War II, just to bring it back, I wonder if you could maybe speak to your emerging political identity at that time, if you had any thoughts about FDR, about New Deal programs, about the social services that implemented during World War II, if you had recollections distinctly of those, or how they fit into 48:00your own ideologies emerging.

GEE: [laughs] That’s a hard one. I don’t know. I just felt it, though. If you look during the Depression, at that particular time FDR, when he was trying to get us out, we have so many wonderful lasting things that were done by some of the public works things that were done in this country. I only can give a few examples: some of the wonderful lodges and things, jobs were created. Also, some of the art that was created. Those were unfortunate times, but we do need the public sector in times that are very difficult, and I would say we were 49:00approaching this very difficult time now. I guess I don’t believe in supply-side economics. I guess that’s what you call it, or tax-relief things when things are very difficult. Is that what it is? Supply-side economics? I don’t think it’s ever worked, though. Today, our society seems to be crashing upon itself, if you look at the stock market. You look at corporations and you even look at the government agencies -- where will we be in the next fifty years? Whatever the solution is -- there are people who are Communists who 50:00are trying to make this happen. Whether that would be influential or not, I don’t know.

LI: Would you talk about these things at home? Would your mother talk about it?

GEE: No, my mother was kind of quiet.

LI: With your brothers and sisters --

GEE: She was, but we would talk a little bit about it, you know. Where are we going, a little bit. The days of the Depression, I was young so I didn’t have to worry about getting food on the table. That really makes a difference. There was always food on the table. Didn’t have a lot. It didn’t make any difference. You didn’t have mass communications; you had movies that told you how other people lived, but they were not realistic at all. Today, it’s 51:00another story, what you can see. Of course, our society gears you into wanting things, just look at the advertisers. But that isn’t what it’s all about. We’re not talking about that today; we’re talking about what it was like in the thirties and forties, or during the war.

LI: It’s interesting how that leads up to the anti-communism that comes afterwards. It’s an interesting arc, the whole story.

GEE: Another thing that was very interesting at Mare Island -- I don’t remember whether it was at the shipyards, but they had these balloons like dirigibles, not quite that large, that were all around Mare Island to sort of 52:00protect it so that in case the Japanese came over and try to strafe it. There would be these balloons that would protect the island and the facilities. Have you seen any of that?

LI: No. Was there high security? Did you have a badge to get to work?

GEE: They were. They were considered very high security at that time. You had to have a badge to get in.

MCGARRIGLE: That period that you went to Mare Island, after that training that you did: how long were you working at Mare Island before you entered the armed forces?

GEE: I worked at Mare Island a year, maybe.

MCGARRIGLE: You spent a while there.

GEE: It was quite a long time, yes. Seemed like a long time. Ships were coming 53:00in. The ship that I worked on, and the one ship that I always remember, is the San Francisco. Ships were coming in that were to be repaired there. I think they did build some submarines. It was a submarine base, but the destroyers came in, that were shot up. We were really repairing, most of the stuff I was doing. I don’t think I was on any construction at all. It was repair work to get the ships back, the destroyers, cruisers. It was exciting, in a way. It really is. That’s terrible to say, a war makes things -- well, it isn’t terrible, but it does. A war creates a lot of activity going on.

MCGARRIGLE: A lot of adrenaline around.

GEE: Oh, yeah. It gave you a sense that you were doing something. You felt that you were doing something for the effort.


MCGARRIGLE: How did those male engineers treat the very few women who were working there?

GEE: We were girls. [laughs] They were very nice, but we were girls. No discrimination at that time. I mean maybe they would never promote us to anything, no matter how good we were, but we didn’t stay around long enough.

LI: Would you all hang out together, the girls?

GEE: Oh yes, the three of us would hang out together.

STINE: Do you remember what you wear to work?

GEE: We wore skirts. I don’t know whether we wore pants in those days. I never wore pants. But I think that you could wear slacks, yeah. You didn’t have to dress up. You couldn’t be quite as casual as you might be today.


LI: Did you have a vision for what you were doing? A sense of yourselves as women doing this unusual --

GEE: No, no. I didn’t, and I don’t think the other two women were either.

LI: But it was exciting?

GEE: I think it’s not so unusual today that we think more about women’s role in society, and the struggles, really, to get recognition. At that time, I would say there were a few women that did, but the majority of women, you accept your lot as a second-class citizen. You’re lucky if you get the opportunity to go 56:00out into the world and get a job. There’s nothing wrong with marriage and a family, but that’s what is expected of you.

STINE: Did you feel lucky have this opportunity?

GEE: I think that World War II gave women a lot of opportunity to do things, much more. But when the war was over, the opportunities were taken away because there were more men back. They were jobs that the men could fulfill, and given the choice, a man would get a job, always.

MCGARRIGLE: Were those wages really good wages, that you earned at Mare Island? Was that relative to the other kinds of employment that were available?


GEE: The wages at Mare Island were okay. They were civil service wages. They weren’t a lot of money.

MCGARRIGLE: It wasn’t like the shipyard wages, then.

GEE: It depends on what you do. They were comparable. A man would get the same wage. I don’t know how much the shipyard wages were. Do any of you know how much they got an hour?

STINE: I don’t remember offhand, but considerably more.

GEE: Five bucks an hour?

STINE: No, nothing that high.

GEE: So it wasn’t very much. But it was plenty at that time, because you could buy a dinner for twenty-five cents. For a long time, I didn’t understand why bread was more than nine cents a loaf.

MCGARRIGLE: How did you end up getting from Mare Island in the draftsperson role to the flight training?


GEE: I’ve always been interested in flying. I had money. See, money really makes a difference, so I could go learn to fly.

STEIN: That’s such a big question that I’m going to stop the tape.

GEE: Oh, I don’t want to talk about the flying.

LI: You don’t?

GEE: No, because we’re talking about the war.

LI: So many interesting things. As you’re talking, I’m just writing down entire chapters. It’s amazing.

GEE: Now, when you’re interviewing someone, people go off on tangents --

MCGARRIGLE: But it’s all related.

LI: That’s where the best stuff happens, because I always feel that my questions are based on existing sources that I’ve already read. Then, when people go off on stuff that’s new, that no one’s ever known to ask about, the most interesting things come out of.

STINE: I wanted to talk about you joining the Armed Forces and how that happened, but I wanted to actually just go a little bit in before that. I’m always curious especially of the age you were when the war broke out, if you had a sense of what you wanted to be when you were in high school. I know you said you weren’t quite sure what you were going to do in college, but if you had a sense of where your life was going and if you ever thought that you would be flying a plane.

GEE: When I was in high school -- I don’t know. I think that I really didn’t have a sense. There was always in the back of your mind, why don’t you go to 59:00medical school because you’ll have a job afterwards, but that was just vaguely in my mind. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford to do it, so that really made a difference. So that was kind of removed from my mind. No, it just takes money to do so many of the things that one might like to do, and flying in particular. There was no way that could work your way to be a pilot, in the sense that it takes a lot of money and I never thought that I would be able to make enough money to learn to fly. It was sort of a dream; it’s not an ambition, it’s a dream that one has. Because of the war, I could earn a little bit of money to learn to fly. But it was being in the service that gave me the 60:00opportunity to do all the flying that I wanted to do, large planes. I think I’m no different than a lot of men, though. The war gave the men the opportunity, the young boys who wanted to be pilots, they got to see sort of a dream. They had to go fight and I didn’t have to fight, and that made a lot of difference, because they could have lost their lives, and a lot of people did. Did I think I would ever be able to do anything with it afterwards to make it a career? I knew there would be no opportunities. There were only a little over a thousand of us, let’s say 1100. I would say, one percent maybe made a career 61:00flying. Less than five percent. There were no jobs, just absolutely no jobs at all. How did those who made a career flying is they owned airports or they set up something for themselves. So there was no way. They instructed, just kind of odd jobs that you would create for yourself.

STINE: Is that something you would have liked to have done, was continue?

GEE: No, I don’t know what I’d like to have done. [laughs] Maybe just as well. I don’t know what I could have done. What is there in flying you can do? You look at today, all you can do -- well, I shouldn’t say all you can do is you’re a commercial pilot of some sort. Well, no, that isn’t true. Well, I 62:00guess it is, pretty much so, whether it’s a small commercial pilot, whether you’re in Africa or whether you’re in Alaska flying people around to get from here to there, it’s pretty much the same. There’s something about flying, though. There’s a love of flying that I think I would have been happy if I could have done that. I really did like flying. It’s hard to explain. It’s a disassociation with the Earth, that’s really what I liked so much. I felt as if I were above, looking down. But doing it for a living every day, you might have a different feeling about it, but I really liked that feeling.


LI: Was it a completely different sense of yourself when you were flying, versus when you were not?

GEE: Yeah. It’s really hard to explain. My problems seemed to go away when I’m flying. It’s so ridiculous to say it, because my detachment from earth. We’ve done so much since, though at that particular time I felt that I was in another dimension that gave me a sense of freedom. Today it still might; since I 64:00haven’t done any flying by myself, it still might give me a sense of freedom. There’s something very special about being up there and looking down. When you’re in a commercial plane, it’s something else, though. But even in a commercial plane if you have a good window, a good seat, you’re up there looking down -- I can’t say whether it’s spiritual, but it is a little spiritual. It doesn’t make me more religious, it doesn’t give me a sense of who I am or anything like that, either. It’s a different feeling.


MCGARRIGLE: Some of the astronauts talk about that experience when they’re out looking at earth.

GEE: Down there, I know. I can understand that. I think I told you, I did have the opportunity to be, a few years ago, at NASA where I went into one of their trainers with Eileen Collins. It’s the same trainer that the astronauts have. We go out in space; it’s simulated. This is where the astronauts get their training before they really go out. You have all the sensations of going out into space, where you’re boosted up and then you lose the rockets and then you go out in space and it’s very quiet. Then you see Earth. It really was nice. I 66:00flew with Eileen Collins. I think she was the first woman who had a crew of people that she took up in space. I don’t know if you know her name, Eileen Collins. I can’t describe the sensation. It was very unique, because I could look back and see Earth. I knew I hadn’t gone anyplace, but I had all those sensations. I didn’t have weightlessness, though. I felt very fortunate. Just by chance, two of us had been asked to come down to NASA. I wasn’t to give a 67:00talk, but my friend was to give a talk. They showed us around. They treated us very nicely. Not very many people get to go to use the simulator. Most of the people there have not used it, but we got the opportunity. Not all the astronauts in training get to use it, not anyone can go into it and go out into simulated space.

MCGARRIGLE: So when you say just by chance, how was it that that connection was made, that you and your friend could?

GEE: Well, they were looking for someone, so the two of us were -- it’s people you know, when they come across a name. I had not been asked; my friend had been asked to give the talk. They were looking for another person, so she had me come 68:00with her, which was very nice.

STINE: How did you seek out the opportunity to get involved with the armed forces and flying? How did that happen, that transition from Mare Island to flying? How did you make that choice?

GEE: There were three women, three girls, and we were looking for something else to do that was joining one of the services, but we were too young. I don’t know whether I was eighteen or nineteen at that particular time. I was too young. I was almost nineteen years old by then. I think that also was by chance 69:00in a way, too. But I went to learn to fly on my own, because I had enough money to buy the flying time. I went up to Minden, Nevada to learn to fly. The recruiters for the WASPs at that particular time were coming through Reno, Nevada, so at that time I got interviewed. I passed all the examinations and qualifications, and I was accepted. There were twenty-five thousand women that applied, and I felt very fortunate. About two or three thousand of us were accepted, and then half of us washed out of training. I didn’t wash out of training, I was lucky to finish.

MCGARRIGLE: What did the training consist of?

GEE: The training was the same flight training that the men got, so if you 70:00failed a flight test or you didn’t do things correctly, you were washed out. After they examined you, you were taken for flight checks.

LI: Some of the friends you went with, were they friends from Mare Island? The other draftswomen?

GEE: Yeah, the other two ladies. All three of us. They lost all their women.

LI: You said that you had the money; was it from the Mare Island work you held?

GEE: From Mare Island, that’s right. Well, the money was eight hundred dollars.

MCGARRIGLE: That was a lot of money, if it was nine cents for a loaf of bread.

GEE: It was a lot money, eight hundred dollars a piece to learn to fly.

MCGARRIGLE: And the men didn’t pay for their own flight training.

GEE: No, no, that wasn’t for flight school. The men who were pilots though, they gave physical exams and they said they wanted to be pilots. I’m not sure how they were chosen to be pilots. They would go into training, those that they 71:00chose, and a lot of them washed out, but then they became foot soldiers. For us, they wanted us to have some sort of flight time, because you didn’t know whether you wanted to fly or could fly, at all. But the first group of women that they took were the women who had commercial and pilot licenses. That particular pool was depleted quite early because there weren’t very many women that had those licenses. Then they looked for women that had some flying time.

MCGARRIGLE: I see. And you had the private school time.

GEE: I had the private school time, yes. But everyone had to have some flying time. Otherwise if they’d take anyone and it’d be a waste. You don’t know, they’d get up in the air and they’d get sick. It would be a waste of expense to even try, so they wanted you to have some flying time, to know that you 72:00really liked flying and that you could do it.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you remember your first time up in an airplane, at the controls?

GEE: I can’t remember the first time up, but I remember when the instructor got out and said, “Take it around. It’s all yours now.” [laughs] Mine? “Just pretend I’m there.” That’s true, you know. I know you’re there, you can tell me to do this, do that -- [laughs] I remember that quite well.

MCGARRIGLE: What did your mother, at that time, think about your going off?

GEE: My mother was very proud of all her children, like all mothers are. She thought if she were younger, that she’d like to do something more than what she was doing. She was one of the older women at Richmond, so she was doing her part.


LI: What were your supervisors like, once you were accepted into the armed forces?

GEE: Supervisors in flying, or at Mare Island, engineers?

LI: At flying.

GEE: Well, they were all different. They weren’t supervisors -- I guess they were. They were our instructors. Some of them were not very nice to the women, though. The instructors, some of them were very nice and some of them weren’t. Our instructors were older men, maybe, or men who couldn’t get into the service. They were all good pilots.

LI: But for some reason or another --

GEE: For some reason or another. The qualification was very high, to go to war. You had to have perfect eyes. Even as a foot soldier, the qualifications were 74:00very high. Much harder than today, I think; I’m not sure. Just seemed always strange that you couldn’t wear glasses if you were a cadet in training in the Army or the Air Force. All kinds of things just always kind of baffled me. If you were good, you’re out there to get killed. But they were very strict in your health and physical.

MCGARRIGLE: Was that training highly physical, then? What kinds of exercises and things did you have to do?

GEE: Oh, I could do many push-ups then. [laughs] We had pretty much the same training. I never really learned to swim very well, but you had to jump into this huge pool with a bunch of stuff on. That’s one thing I remembered, in case you parachuted and you landed in the water.

LI: Must have been exhausting. It sounds so tiring.

GEE: Yeah. At that age, you’re in good physical condition. You can do all kinds of things, oh yeah. Push-ups and all those things, though; chin-ups, 75:00push-ups and what everyone does.

MCGARRIGLE: Then how did you make the transition? You said there were twenty-five thousand who applied.

GEE: They chose about -- I’m not sure. There were several thousand. Only eleven hundred graduated, so half of them washed out. I mean, they probably had a couple thousand that went through partial training, and only eleven hundred 76:00graduated, got their wings.

STINE: And your other two colleagues, did they make it through?

GEE: We loved it.

STINE: You were with them throughout the whole time?

GEE: We were good friends. Let’s see who am I going to see, when I go East -- no, I won’t see any of my friends that I flew with.

LI: Did your siblings serve in the military?

GEE: My older brother did. That’s how my mother got her picture in the local newspaper, because that was the only day she missed, when her son went overseas.

LI: Did she go to see him off?

GEE: She saw him off. I’m not sure how she saw him off, or how he went off. He 77:00just died this last year, and I’m sorry I didn’t ask him. Did he fly? Probably not. By boat, I guess.

LI: How old were you, when he went?

GEE: I was grown up. I was working probably out at Mare Island or some place like that. The war had started.

MCGARRIGLE: So can you describe to us what those days were like, once you were accepted and got your wings and started your flight missions? What kind of assignments did you have?

GEE: I spent almost a year, not quite, I forget how many months, through training. It was good comradeship. I really felt it was an opportunity to meet people from all over. I think with everyone at that age, you really don’t know 78:00very many people except within your own community, and now you meet women from all walks of life. Because you’re living with them day in day out, and you’re struggling with them, you bind with them. There’s a lot of bonding there. As I said, afterwards we all went different ways, and we’d come from all different types of backgrounds, but nevertheless we always remained very good friends. I always felt that I could call upon a half a dozen women. We’re all the same age, so we’re all getting older, but when I was younger, even, I 79:00felt that I could call upon these women if I needed help. I’m not talking about financial help, but if I needed someone to talk to, or maybe those who did have a little extra, then I had financial help, but mostly emotional-type things. They’re very close. I still have about three friends that are very close. What we’re going to do this summer is that I’m going to fly to Boston, rent a car, and my friend Elaine from Washington D.C. is going to come up there and we’re going to drive down the coast and visit all our old friends. Both of us are in good shape. That’s what we decided to do, and I said “We better do it in a hurry, though, while we’re still in good shape.” [laughs] So we’re going to do that, and I must do all these other 80:00things first before I get to that.

STINE: Why don’t we just wrap up. Towards the end of the war, how that happened for you -- how long were you with the WASPs?

GEE: I was there one year, that’s all. The war lasted how many years? Four years?

MCGARRIGLE: Four plus years.


GEE: Was it four-plus years? Started in ‘41, ended in ‘45 -- less than four years, then. The WASP was around for about two years, is all. They disbanded the organization before the war was ended. The men pressured Congress to disband it, because they wanted our jobs. They just didn’t like to see the women fly. When they came back from the war, there were so very few of us that some of them wanted our jobs that we had. Jacqueline Cochran says “We were never militarized.” She said, “Militarize these ladies, or disband us.” [laughs] So they disbanded us. Congress did away with us. Even though, there was no 82:00question we did a good job and there were thirty-eight women that were killed, which is a small percentage, relative to the fatalities amongst the men pilots. They were different types of things: some of them were accidents. Of course, they were all accidents. But there were planes running into each other. It’s always hard to believe that planes run into each other, but they do.

MCGARRIGLE: How were your duties defined, the women’s duties?

GEE: The initial duties, why the organization was started -- that was for the women at the very beginning -- was part of the Air Transport Command. It was to get a plane from here to there. The first group went to England, but that’s 83:00entirely different. The rest of the group, they stayed within this country. We were pilots towing targets, doing mock gunnery missions, delivering planes, instructing, and test pilots. Also, testing planes out. So there was a variety of type things that had to be done. It really gave you an opportunity to fly. I think the women who were with the Air Transport Command flew everything. Those were the very early ladies. Those were the ladies that really had lots of flying time, commercial. A lot of them had commercial pilot’s licenses. So they flew 84:00every type of plane. Some of them were never checked out on them, though. Some of the stories that they tell are really quite exciting. They were asked to take this plane, never seen it before, from here to there, and they could do it. I admire them. So we have our hierarchy. We have the ladies who were very early and then as time went along, we became more service pilots. Instructing, and also flying mock gunnery missions. What is a mock gunnery mission? A mock gunnery mission is -- I’ll give you a phrase there -- towing targets, so gunners could have practice. A mock gunnery mission is as if you’re flying over Germany, a bunch of large planes, whether B-17s or - 24s, flying in 85:00formation, going over to bomb whatever it is in Germany. These missions would have pursuits or fighter planes from the opposite side, really simple flying. Germans, making passes, trying to crash these planes. The gunners would try to shoot ‘em down. So this was practice for the gunners in these big planes. I recently, about two weeks ago, went up to Solano County, the airfield there, because they had some of the Doolittle Raiders, and they had their B-25s there. Do you know who Doolittle is? See, you don’t know who Doolittle is, that’s 86:00right. It’s an entirely different generation. During World War II, Tokyo was bombed by Jimmy Doolittle and this group of Doolittle Raiders. That was a big, big, unusual project to do that. There was no way they could come back. I don’t know which island they took off of in the Pacific. They flew over Tokyo and they bombed it, and then they were to land in China, places they’d never been to. Some of the planes crashed; they weren’t coming home again. I don’t know the number of planes that made their airfield they had to go to, but that’s public information. You can find out that. Some of them didn’t go to the various airfields. They had never been to China, you know, small airfields. 87:00I think there were some that were captured. The Japanese were occupying China at that time. It was really not a suicide mission, though, but there was uncertainty of their coming back. So what they had up here, they were B- 25s that did this mission. You hate even knowing how much damage they did and how many people were killed, but war, being so awful, is war. They had two of these planes that flew over. Today, I saw them -- they were so slow, and they were so small! [laughs] And then they had a couple of old men there. [laughs harder]

MCGARRIGLE: You must have had a discussion.

GEE: It was fun, because it was my generation. It was fun to talk and hanger fly 88:00a little bit. I said “My generation, I don’t believe this! That old?” But the planes were the more interesting thing. When they came by, they went so slow, they made so much noise. That was one of the major battles. I don’t know how much of Tokyo they destroyed. Of course, Tokyo was easy to burn.


GEE: It was all wood. It’s very sad. Very sad, you know. You stop and think about it, because we’re in a war right now. It’s hardly a war, was it. I mean, people getting killed. Your president -- did any of you vote for him? [laughs]

STINE: You mentioned you did some instructing. Who would you instruct?


GEE: None of us instructed cadets, but there were pilots coming back to renew their license, so those were the people that you instructed. Instrument license and things of that sort.

STINE: Men, or women?

GEE: Men. Oh, no, women didn’t. Because you’re servicing the Army -- we were Army pilots -- so someone had to instruct these fellows, because they have to renew their special licenses.

LI: Did you do all these different jobs, then? You would do a little bit of everything.

GEE: I did some of that for a while. There were different jobs, yeah. Now, the fun job to have been in was the Air Transport Command. Those were the ones that 90:00were very early, the women that had lots and lots of [flying] time.

[end of interview]