Maggie Gee | Interview 3 | May 20, 2003

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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0:00 - Life in WASP

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Keywords: Air Force; WASP

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

4:57 - Training for WASP

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Keywords: Berkey, CA; Texas; Traveling; WASP Training

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

9:50 - Minorities in the military

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Keywords: Airforce; Deep South; Minorites in Military Service; Minorities

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

14:23 - Family perceptions

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Keywords: Family Reactions

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

17:12 - The women in WASP

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Keywords: Pilot Training; Socialization; WASP Program

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

21:41 - Being a woman in an air-force program

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Keywords: Gender norms; Sextual harassment; Society perceptions

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

23:59 - Life in WASP program

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Keywords: airplanes; Daily Routine; WASP

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

27:29 - Segregation and racial perceptions in the 1940s

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Keywords: gender differences; Minorites; Segregation

Subjects: Community and Identity Politics, Law, and Policy Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

31:28 - Public perceptions of women in service

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Keywords: euphemisms; Gender perceptions; small towns

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

35:03 - Realities of being a woman in service

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Keywords: Fatalities; gender differences; morale

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

38:48 - WWII complications of women in service

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Keywords: 1940s; family ties; Gender differences; non-combat roles; rationing

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

43:50 - Early political beliefs

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Keywords: 1940s; elections; FDR; naturalizations

Subjects: Community and Identity Politics, Law, and Policy Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

49:52 - End of service and community relations

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Keywords: Community; End of service; philanthropy

Subjects: Advocacy and Philanthropy Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

52:28 - Being politically active

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Keywords: candidates; Political beliefs; politically active

Subjects: Community and Identity Politics, Law, and Policy Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

57:30 - Community relations after WWII

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Keywords: community relations; minority representation; Politics

Subjects: Community and Identity Politics, Law, and Policy Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

65:56 - Organizing in Oakland

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Keywords: Oakland; organizing; politics; state representation

Subjects: Community and Identity Politics, Law, and Policy Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

71:56 - Coming home after the war

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Keywords: perceptions of veterans; Post-war; traveling; women’s jobs

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

77:31 - Emotions in war

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Keywords: fear; motivation; Optimism

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

77:31 - People's emotions in war

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Keywords: fear; motivation; Optimism

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

80:46 - A mother's example

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Keywords: Parental inspiration; working after the war

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


STINE: It’s the 20th of May, and we’re here with Maggie Gee. This is interview three, with Robin Li, Leah McGarrigle, and Kathryn Stine.

GEE: I really would like to tell you a little bit about an organization that I belonged to during World War II. Today it’s called the WASP. It’s the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. Well, in 1942 is when the WASPs began. There was no Air Force, so we were just part of the Army Air Corps. At the beginning of World War II, we had very few male pilots in this country. The war was in full bloom in Europe and there was bombing of Germany, from England. So there 1:00really was a need for pilots, so this country -- I don’t know how many male pilots they produced during a month, but they were just grinding them out. Not so long ago, when I was in Los Angeles, I was talking to a friend of mine who was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. His name is Delbert Wong and today’s he’s a judge. We were just chatting about the days of the war. He wasn’t a pilot, but he was a navigator. He said that he went to navigator school and went to officers training, OTC or whatever it was called, and they sent him overseas immediately, which was quite a surprise to him. But they were sending everyone as soon as they trained them overseas to the Air Force. He said, “We were so young and we started flying missions over Germany.” We 2:00really lost a lot of people, because there was a war going on, but everyone was very green, young, eager. So at home there was need for pilots to do the more mundane things at home, like taking the planes from the factories to the point of embarkation, and also there was a need for instructors. Jacqueline Cochran, who is a well-known pilot at that time, had decided that she wanted to form a women’s group, use the women at home to do the domestic flying, so she talked 3:00the generals into that. It was very difficult at that particular time, but she finally did talk them into it and Congress decided to allow women to fly. So what she did with the first group of women was, she asked all the women who had pilot licenses, the commercial and the private license, as many as possible, to join with her to form this women’s group. There weren’t very many. These are women who flew before the war, and she finally depleted that entire group and they decided to reach down in age and in the requirements. So they reached down to eighteen and a half, and I guess you had to have a minimum of thirty-five 4:00hours of flying time, and that’s when I got in. I was nineteen and a half or twenty, I don’t remember. I knew I couldn’t get into the other services; I was too young, and I did have my flying. I learned to fly in Minden, Nevada.

STINE: How many hours did you have?

GEE: I had about fifty hours. What I did was, I had gone to Minden, Nevada to learn to fly. You could buy fifty hours worth of flying time with six months training -- I don’t know whether it was four or six months training. So, when they came around to do the interviews, I was interviewed. I passed the physical, and I was accepted.

MCGARRIGLE: Was that the farthest away from home you had been at that point?


GEE: The furthest away from home I had been was Nevada. I hadn’t been out of the state of California, so it was a big move for me. I had to go back to work because they didn’t call me right away. I went back to my job as a draftsman, and then they called me and I went to Sweetwater, Texas. I had to pay my own way. We were part of the military, but we weren’t in the military. We had all the rules and regulations of the military. That’s how all the women organizations started. The WACS started as Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, and the WAVES the same thing, too. So I got on this train in Berkeley, at University and I don’t know what street it is. Probably First Street, the train station. 6:00I think I stood all the way to Texas. I was on a train that was full of Army people, and you know, we were moving troops around. That’s the one thing I remember, just never sitting down except on my suitcase. It was interesting. I don’t remember the details of it, but I remember that it was very crowded because troops were moving. I got to Sweetwater, Texas, took probably a day and a half or something like that, because I had to transfer. I don’t know whether I transferred in Barstow or Texas, or someplace. This little cow town -- I mean, it’s out in no place, in West Texas. Big skies, just like they say. Big skies, 7:00and very flat. There were trees there, but they looked like bushes. They were called mesquite trees. It was hot, but it was dry heat. I got there, there were other girls on the train, so we found our way to the Bluebonnet Hotel. I think we walked there; I don’t think they had any taxis, and we spent our first night there. Then they came out and got us the next day to take us to the airbase. This airbase only had women pilots. It trained about two thousand women, and we got the same training that the fellows got. You know, we went through basic, we learned ground school, instrument training, and then we went 8:00into advanced. We went cross-country, we did everything that the fellows did, but we didn’t go to war, to battle. We all did different things. During World War II, after a certain number of missions, I think it was fifty missions, you were sent home. By 1942, going on to ‘43, a lot of the men had gotten their fifty missions, so they rotated home. Fifty missions, if you’re out almost every day, you could do in about three months. If you survive, you know. You’re lucky to have survived. The Air Transport Command, when I graduated was 9:00no longer taking women, but the first group of women that did graduate, they went into the Air Transport Command. The idea of the organization was they picked up the planes at the factory, and the factories really were on the West Coast, and they flew ‘em to the East Coast, all kinds of planes. All of the military planes, whether they were checked out on them, or not. So everyone had great adventures, great, great adventures. Then after you get the plane to the destination, then you got to find your way back to the base. Some of them partly by bus, hopping rides and trains and things. There were no commercial planes or anything like that to take you home. So that was part of the adventure of those 10:00days. For me, I was stationed at Nellis Airbase Field. I did a bit of cross-country while in training, which was really nice. So I did get to see some of the Southeast, which I had never seen before, Atlanta, Georgia; Stuttgart, Arkansas, Greenville, Mississippi; all those places. So many of our airbases were in the South. It was nice. I had not seen that part of the world, and it’s different. These small towns are very different than they are out here, 11:00at that time. I had no problems in these towns. If I were black, it would have been a different story. We had no black women in the WASPs. There were qualified black women, except Jacqueline Cochran told the women that she could not take them, because it was hard enough just being a woman in the service, but if you’re black in the South, they’d have to have separate quarters for them. It just couldn’t be done. It really was unfortunate, but in a sense, in those days it had to be that way. There were black women who were pilots at that time, with commercial licenses. Well, I think there were three. Not very many, though, but there were some. Some of them had applied. Two had applied, I think, and she 12:00turned them down.

MCGARRIGLE: Did you ever meet those three women?

GEE: I never met them. I gave a talk recently about early minority women in flight, and that’s how I knew about some of these black ladies.

MCGARRIGLE: That was at the Berkeley City Club?

GEE: It was Zonta Club at the Berkeley City Club.

MCGARRIGLE: When you went back to work as a draftsman, was there a reaction among those men who you worked with, now that you had your training? Were they aware that you had been trained as a pilot?

GEE: Oh, yes. They thought it was great. They thought it was very nice. The draftsmen were just a little older. The fellows who were the draftsmen, they 13:00just thought it was great. None of them were; they were all 4Fs. Not all 4Fs, though, but they were an older group of men. I would say, they were in their thirties and forties. At that particular time, that was considered old. During World War II, it was interesting. You had to be in perfect condition to go to war. We had a lot of people, 4Fs, who had bad eyes. They wanted to go to war, but there were COs, too. I knew people who wanted to be in the service who couldn’t be in the service, because of bad eyes or something, or maybe a 14:00little bit of a heart condition, but nothing major, as I remember. I mean, they were still young, they still could go out and fight, but the requirements were very high. The requirements aren’t so high today.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you recall your mother’s reaction to your leaving on that train trip?

GEE: Oh, yes, I remember that. I was so proud of her. She said, “If I were younger, I could do something like you are doing.” That was pretty good, for her. But then, after all, she did go out and work in the shipyards, too, which very few of her friends did. None of her friends, but there were other women. She was one of the older women -- she might have been the oldest. She was in her forties at that time, to be working in the shipyards.

MCGARRIGLE: Does that strike you as an unusual reaction that she had, that kind of enthusiasm?


GEE: Oh, I think she always had that. She learned to drive when she was quite young.

MCGARRIGLE: I was just wondering if some of your cohorts as you were flying, if that had that kind of support from their mothers, or what kinds of reactions --

GEE: Some did, and some did not. I’ve had several friends where the parents really didn’t want them to go. You’re young, you’re stubborn, you wanted to go now. It was something that girls didn’t do. Also, even in those days, people were concerned about a lot of women getting together; there might be homosexuality. That’s hard for me to believe, but recently a friend of mine told me -- and she was a very good pilot -- she had her instructors rating when she went into the WASPs, and her parents didn’t want her to go because they 16:00were concerned about that, which really kind of surprised me, because I didn’t even know what homosexuality was then.

LI: Would parents talk about that that openly? Would they say, this is what would happen?

GEE: Well, she told me that, yes. I was really surprised that there were a bunch of -- what do they call women at that time -- you called men “queers” at that particular time. You didn’t call ‘em “gay men,” though. I don’t know what the expression was. “Butch”? I don’t think the expression “butch” was there at that particular time. I said, why didn’t you join much earlier? And she said that her parents did not want her to go. She was in the class after me, in fact. Some of the women were married. There are always, 17:00you know. If you have a thousand people, there is -- I can’t think of anyone I know that didn’t get married in the end except myself and maybe another person.

LI: The women that you were in the WASPs with, were they all from similar backgrounds?

GEE: No. I think the first group of women were quite wealthy women. Not only wealthy, they had enough money to fly, but they were also independent girls. Except, the first group was older. The maximum age was thirty-five, and it was sort of twenty-one or twenty-two to thirty-five. They’d been flying. They were -- when I see the pictures -- good-looking women, good-looking young girls, right. I always remember, I’d seen this Life Magazine where they featured the 18:00girls. Well, just being young helps. Most of them came from well-to-do families. There were opportunities to learn to fly at the Piper Cub company in Ohio, where they made planes, the Piper Cubs. I cannot remember the name of the town right offhand. I should, because I visited. If you worked for the company, they would give you flight time, so women went to work for the company and they would be able to get some flight time. That’s a very special type of woman, too, if you do that. Those women -- girls, they were really girls -- who didn’t come from 19:00a bit of wealth and learned to fly. Most of them, I would say, were educated women, a little bit educated, that went on.

STINE: Would you ever talk in training, or just in downtime, about your ambitions?

GEE: All we wanted to do is fly. That’s what made the organization so good, because everyone loved flying so much and they wanted to do it. So we had this commonality and [were] very supportive of each other. That’s important. If you had a bad day, everyone knew about it and they sympathized. We helped each other. It was really nice. We bound together. We remained friends all our lives. 20:00It’s like if you live in a dormitory, I think that whoever your dorm mates are for those four years or three years or whatever time, two years, they’ve suffered with you. Exams, personal -- none of them are really tragedies, but your personal experiences --

MCGARRIGLE: Did you interact with the male pilots when they were either training or returned from their missions?

GEE: No, we interacted with our instructors; we had to. We’re not supposed to, but I have to say that like anyone at a young age, we would sneak out and we would have parties with them, but we weren’t supposed to. It’s a dry area. I 21:00can just tell you about some of the things we did, though. It’s a dry area; Texas is dry, no liquor, but you always could find it. I really never drank; I drank very little, but one day we were going to the instructors’ house to party, and wanted to bring some liquor. Some one had a car, and we drove to this place and we knocked on the door, and someone looked out from this little window in the door to see if we were okay, then we went in. Just like the speakeasies. We bought some liquor, then we went to the instructors’ house for a party.

MCGARRIGLE: Was there anything that you encountered or heard about that was reminiscent of what we would call sexual harassment today?

GEE: There was a lot of sexual harassment, but we just accepted it. You wouldn’t accept it, the nonsense that I even went through when I started 22:00working. [laughs] It’s really changed. A lot of sexual harassment, yes. But that’s the way society was.

MCGARRIGLE: There was no recourse, then.

GEE: Oh, of course not. You gave in in order to continue.

MCGARRIGLE: I would think that would further bind you to your women friends.

GEE: That’s part of it. It’s true. I guess that’s true, but we didn’t even know. We didn’t even think about it. We wanted to finish and do well, and get our wings, so you took anything anyone gave you, anyone, any nonsense. No one had to go to bed with anyone.

MCGARRIGLE: That’s what I was going to ask you.

GEE: I don’t think so. Some of them, I’m sure there were romances and things 23:00of that sort, but you could get washed out. If you were caught with an instructor, you could be washed out, so people were very cautious about that. And some people were.

MCGARRIGLE: And somehow it stopped short of this requirement that the women pilots sleep with the instructor.

GEE: So they could pass.

MCGARRIGLE: Didn’t go that far.

GEE: Oh, no. It wouldn’t have paid off either, because if you were not any good, you had check rides by the Army, and there was no sleeping with the men who gave you the check rides who were in the service, because they were -- sounds ridiculous, but they were all married men and they’d really had little social interaction with us, just to check you out, so that you’d go on to the 24:00next step. Or, if you had a accident, they check you out to see whether you’re really a decent pilot or not.

LI: What would a normal day have been like, when you were a WASP? How early did you get up?

GEE: Got up at six o’clock, we cleaned up our Bay just like in the Army, maybe it was 5:30, but it was early. There must have been the horn that told us to get up, reveille. We took care of our bay, cleaned it up, then got out and lined up and marched and marched to breakfast. We marched everyplace. I can’t remember 25:00whether we’d have P.E. in the morning. We learned to march, just like in the service, and we had classes in aeronautics, and also a class in weather. We learned the Morse code. Those were the days that everything was done by Morse code, so you know where you are. That was our communication with the ground. Then we’d go to the flight line, either in the morning or the afternoon, just depending which flight we were. Then at nighttime, you had to study. March here, marched to lunch, marched to dinner. A little bit of recreation time. So it was a very full day, but it was interesting. You were tired at the end of the day. 26:00It was interesting. We were in Advenger Field, that had only women pilots there. But we had so many forced landings by other men pilots from other fields. They’d come to see us. They’d have forced landings. [laughs]

MCGARRIGLE: They’d come to call on you?

GEE: Well, just to come and see us. They landed because they were having “trouble with the airplane.”

MCGARRIGLE: What would happen?

GEE: They’d just come down, whatever it is. You know how they come and we look at them and they look at us, and they get out of their plane. I remember that. We had so many guys. They weren’t supposed to come there. Texas is full of -- 27:00at that particular time -- airfields. That’s where they learned to fly, because probably 363 days a year, it was clear. I didn’t get to know any of the fellows. I don’t know how some of the ladies got to know some of these fellows. We had time off. They would meet in town on weekends. No pregnancy that I know of, but romances.

MCGARRIGLE: Did you see segregation in the parts of the South where you were?

GEE: In the little town that I was in, there were Mexicans, I think, but not too many. It was such a small town. It’s a larger town now, because they found oil 28:00there after the war, but in that particular town it wasn’t obvious. It’s interesting; I’m sure that if you’ve been to the South, the Caucasians in the South are really very, very nice and warm people. They’re inclined to be very kind, more so than in big cities. They spend a little time with you, as long as you’re not black, I’m sure. So that’s the one thing I remembered about the South. I didn’t have any trouble. My brother, when he was traveling through the South, since he’s dark like I am, a little darker, so he had to stay at all the black places. The black Y, because you look a little bit like you’re a Mexican, and I guess the Mexicans weren’t able to stay in public 29:00places where the Caucasians were. There aren’t very many Asians, but I think that’s where they put them.

MCGARRIGLE: You and I have talked in the past about the difference for minority men, how being a minority male was different at the time we’re talking about, then being a minority woman.

GEE: I even think that during World War II that was true. I just gave the example of my brother. I have found that it was much easier as a woman to mix with all groups. I guess that much is true today, too. You see with the African-American women, they can move ahead, where it’s difficult for the male African- American. It was that way at that time with the Asians, too. So the 30:00reason why, I really don’t know, but women aren’t a threat to society as much as a male is, an economic threat or a sexual threat, I guess in a way. That’s the feeling of a lot of white Americans.

LI: I was watching this documentary, The Forbidden City, which is about that dance club that was in San Francisco called the Forbidden City, with an all-Chinese revue. Some of the dancers, Chinese-American women were saying that when they would tour in the South, they were sometimes treated as colored people, and sometimes not.

GEE: Is that right, in that particular group?

LI: I was wondering if when you were traveling in the South --

GEE: See, I wasn’t with a group of people. I’m just an individual. I find 31:00that very interesting, though. They were all such pretty girls. I knew some of them. But they were a novelty -- that’s interesting, Forbidden City. They were very different. You don’t find at that particular time women who were in that particular group, out there dancing without too much clothes on. Do you ever write about Noel Toy?

LI: Yeah, I have.

GEE: See, I remember her. I knew her at Cal at that particular time.

LI: She was a fan dancer.

GEE: A fan dancer, yeah. She was a smart girl. I don’t know what happened to her, finally. I knew someone out of Livermore, and she was a programmer. Her 32:00mother danced at Forbidden City and her father was one of the pianists there. She said her mother never talked about it, as if it were something of shame. I was really surprised. I said, that was no shame. I mean, good for her being out there so early.

LI: Did you ever have people react as if you should be ashamed as a woman wanting to do something so manly as flying? If you’d walked around in uniform in public, were people generally supportive?

GEE: I never noticed if that happened. When I stop and think about it and look back, people probably thought a lot of the women were tomboys or lesbians, 33:00because they were doing a man’s job. That was sort of underlying, because people didn’t talk about things like that in those days, about men who were gay or women who were lesbians. They were tomboys, and maybe the expression “tomboy” meant the same. You see it today, women who are in golf or tennis, any sports. Part of society does put them in that particular category as being lesbians. Some are, some aren’t, like anything else, though.

STINE: Do you remember what kind of reactions you would get, say, when you would 34:00fly into a small town in uniform?

GEE: I loved it. [laughs] We all loved it, because we’d fly in and you don’t know who’s coming in. Then you get out and the crew looks at you, you know. [laughs] That was always kind of nice, a nice shock. I think we all loved that shock value. “We can do it, too!” you know. “Look at us!” It’s true. Forgot about that.

MCGARRIGLE: I wondered if you heard stories from the men about their bombing missions and what was happening on the day to day of the war.

GEE: I didn’t get to know too many of them. It was scary, and not. I think when they were flying the missions that you were really concentrating, so you 35:00know there’s danger, but you’re there and so you just do the job. You always hope; there’s always a certain amount of luck, but you hope that you make it back.

MCGARRIGLE: And you lost women in your group, also.

GEE: Yes. They were lost in various kinds of accidents. There was another Chinese woman who was quite well known -- she’s getting to be better known now, who was killed. Her name was Hazel Ying Lee. She was very early in the service. She was killed in an accident. She came in for a landing and someone landed on top of her. They were in Fargo, North Dakota and there was a big storm 36:00there, so lots and lots of planes were at this particular airport. They were trying to get them out very quickly, and there was just a lot of confusion. So women were killed different ways. Some were killed during the training, and some were lost. Some of them ran into other planes. There were thirty-eight that were killed.

LI: How would that affect morale, when you lost one of your own?

GEE: It was very sad. Also, you think well, it could be I, too. Just as well, whatever the circumstances are -- since we were a small group of women, though. 37:00Our percentages of death or accidents were smaller than the men.

MCGARRIGLE: Was that something that you discussed all the time?

GEE: We always said that.

MCGARRIGLE: There must have been a great awareness about statistics like that. Was there an awareness about the perception of --

GEE: Yes. Women are more careful, though. Even though we do dumb things; I mean, we do a lot of dumb things. We did a lot of dumb things when you’re out there by yourself. You know, you’re buzzing this and you’re playing around, but with a little more caution. It’s the nature of women, that’s it. We don’t drink, is the thing. You’re not supposed to drink and fly, and women just didn’t do that. They knew that. In fact, the days when you had your period -- 38:00today, it wouldn’t make any difference. We didn’t fly during our period. We were told we shouldn’t fly, and at that time, we didn’t.

MCGARRIGLE: Why was that, that they told you so?

GEE: Because you’re sick at that time, aren’t you? [laughs]

MCGARRIGLE: So there was this awareness that you would be --

GEE: You’re different, that’s all. Your hormones are acting up in some way.

MCGARRIGLE: So how would you make it known that you were having your period?

GEE: We just didn’t fly, that’s all.

MCGARRIGLE: You didn’t have to tell somebody so they wouldn’t schedule you?

GEE: I think you’d just say you’re not feeling well. At least, sometimes. If you don’t have any problems in your period; some women do have problems with their period. So they really aren’t feeling well.

MCGARRIGLE: Did the women who you were flying with want to fly the same missions 39:00as the men, or were they relieved not to have the same status?

GEE: This is 1940, though. You have to remember we were so lucky that we were able to fly that we didn’t even feel that we wanted to do the same things that men did. Just to have the ability to fly. It took the women a long time with the new Air Force even, to be able to fly combat. There are certain types of missions they don’t fly, but I think they fly almost everything now. But it took a long time to accept women in war; always the fear that women might be captured and whatever happens to a woman is pretty devastating. I mean, being captured for anyone, but a woman, sexually it would be very bad in most cases. 40:00We never had that problem at all, since we weren’t flying combat. It was always in this country. We all felt we were very fortunate because we could do what we were doing.

LI: Could you have friends and family come visit you?

GEE: I didn’t, no. People didn’t travel then, not very much then. We had a few people visit at graduation time, but just a few. Very few. I think it was difficult to travel.

STINE: Probably with rationing --

GEE: Is that right? I think so. You certainly couldn’t drive, because they didn’t have the gasoline.

MCGARRIGLE: How long was it, between the time you left and the time you saw your mother? How long were you away without seeing her?


GEE: Oh, I don’t know. Probably a year or something. I was too busy. At that time, it was a long time, because nowadays people go far away for a couple of years, not seeing family. But then, people did not. I guess I’m kind of sorry my mother didn’t come to graduation. In fact, I thought about that, but there was no way that she could have come, unless she was willing to stand up all the way. [laughs] Assuming she could get a ticket. There were planes flying in those days, prop planes. Let me see -- the first time I crossed-country it took quite a while.

LI: On a commercial flight?

GEE: A commercial plane. It took quite a while. Did I fly across country before 42:00the war? No, because the first time I went to Nevada was when I went to learn to fly.

LI: I was reading in {Xiao Jin’s} book about you and the three women who you were working as draftswomen. You all went together to Nevada?

GEE: We all did. There were just two of us. One of the girls didn’t get in.

LI: Did you stay with them the whole time you were --

GEE: No, I was the only one that finished. Jean didn’t finish; she washed out. After the war was over, we sort of went our own way, and then we got together again for a short time. But we never really lived together, so there really wasn’t that closeness. One of the women, she was part Filipino. We stayed fairly close, off and on. The last ten or fifteen years, we did get together. We 43:00saw each other. She died a few years ago. But talk about a small world -- I was having dinner in a local restaurant, it’s a restaurant that’s called Downtown. The top chef there came by to see me and said, “I am Mary Stevenson’s son.” He said, “I recognized you from the pictures.” So one of the three women that I flew with and was a draftsman with, her son has become a well-known chef in Berkeley. Well, he was over in San Francisco, now he’s a top chef here. Small world.

MCGARRIGLE: Do you recall the first election that you voted in?


GEE: Yeah, I voted for FDR. He’s the only person that I knew. I’m trying to remember where I voted. I don’t remember. Was it after the war? It must have been -- he came in ‘32, four years is ‘36, 1940 -- was I twenty-one by then? No, I wasn’t. So it had to be ‘44. So it was some time afterwards. No, that was during the war. The war was going in ‘45. Who was running against him? I can’t remember; it was no question. When he died, that was the sad part. I 45:00think I felt like a lot of other people, that I just can’t imagine this country going on without FDR. There were some people that really hated FDR, because they really thought he was ruining this country, as you know. He did so many wonderful things, and even at that particular time, I had worked before the war and I don’t think I paid -- was there a withholding tax? I guess there was withholding tax; it had just come in. I just can’t remember whether I had to come up with some money at the end of the year for income tax, or whether it was withheld or not. But you know, there were so many wonderful things that we were able to do at that time. Social Security -- I have a relatively low Social 46:00Security number, because you got one when you got any job, very early. I actually have worked very little in Social Security, but I worked enough because all I needed were 16 quarters, which is equivalent to four years in Social Security, to draw Social Security. I had those, from odd jobs here and there. I put hardly anything in Social Security, and what do I see a month? I see about four hundred and thirty-six dollars a month in Social Security, having put nothing in to speak of. Worked at the dime store, worked as a waitress, just odd 47:00jobs. Pretty remarkable system. As someone said, if you really feel that you shouldn’t get it, just give it back. [laughs] I should go off once a month and treat myself, instead of just putting it in the bank, just having it sent to the bank, don’t even notice the small increment.

LI: Do you remember your mom’s first election, because she got her citizenship back, right?

GEE: She did, yes. She got her citizenship back, and she was really happy to do it. She had to take a little test, I think. I don’t think it was much of a test, but a little test.

LI: The naturalization test, I think?

GEE: I don’t know what it was. I just don’t remember exactly, but maybe she had to apply and answer some questions. I think people did get it back.


LI: Do you remember when that was?

GEE: No, I don’t. Thought it was in the ‘50s sometime. I wasn’t living at home. I know my sister kind of pushed it, or saw to it, how to do what she had to do.

STINE: Were there any other programs that were started during the war that you remember as being kind of --

GEE: Good programs?

STINE: Or important to you, personally.

GEE: I can’t think of anything right offhand, from the outcome of the war. When the war was over, it was an empty feeling. This is a terrible thing to say, in a sense. There’s joy, and I think with a lot of people, we knew what we had 49:00to do during the war. Then, everything is over. It’s up to you go ahead and do something with your life and if you’re not directed, in a sense you were a little lost. During times of war, there’s a certain amount of excitement. It’s not good excitement, but there’s something going on all the time. You’re more aware of what’s going on in the world, and then it’s all over. I mean, there’s a great deal of -- people are coming home, you’re happy that this is happening. No one’s getting killed anymore, but then on the other hand, it’s a little bit of a let-down. I mean, it’s a nice let-down, of course.


MCGARRIGLE: When did your brother come back from his service?

GEE: Pretty much right after the war was over, yeah. He was in China at that time on the CBI, the China- Burma-India front, where General Chennault was in Chongqing. He came home, that’s right, and we were happy to see that. But he was married, so I didn’t see much of him. He settled down, in one’s routine again. I think he had a job to come back to. He was an accountant.

LI: When you talk about the let-down, I remember you talked, the last time we talked, about the sense of everyone coming together and pulling together for the 51:00war. So did some of those connections stay strong even after the war, or did people stop doing such community-cooperative things and turn more to their own families?

GEE: You’re talking about within the community?

MCGARRIGLE: You were talking about gardens last time, and preparing for air raids and that kind of thing --

LI: Yeah, and the philanthropy, working with the Chinese orphans, or just people pulling together --

GEE: They were pulled together, very much so during the war, but I think afterwards things just kind of began to fall apart, a little bit. But you got to know people a little better already. There was no commonality to do something. Today, in this neighborhood, I know quite a few people. More, when we decided there was crime out there, where we formed a neighborhood watch, so that now 52:00we’re not so concerned about the neighborhood. We know each other. I think after the war, people begin to go their own way, and they don’t want to be bothered, because we all have our own lives. I don’t know. Do you know a lot of your neighbors? You know a lot of your neighborhood neighbors because of the children. If you didn’t have children, would you think you would know this many neighbors, at all?

MCGARRIGLE: No, and when the children didn’t go to the neighborhood school we didn’t know the neighbors.

GEE: So it does make a difference, yeah.

MCGARRIGLE: If you look back on your political identity, when would you date it --

GEE: Why am I a Democrat, yes. I guess it’s where I come from. I’ve always felt that our society is rich enough to take care of everyone, and so I felt 53:00that the one party, even though a lot of Chinese-Americans -- I called them Orientals at that time -- identified with the Republicans, because these were the business people. People more of wealth. But I just never identified with that group. I just felt that our society was rich enough to take care of everyone. I felt that I could take of myself, but there should just be a lot of social legislation, more social legislation. Maybe at that particular time, I could become a Socialist. I remember watching Norman Thomas. I used to listen to Norman Thomas. I never joined the Socialist party, but he made sense to me. Our 54:00society is moving in that direction, part of it, very slowly, because we do take care. We do have programs for people in need. We talk about having medicine for everyone. We do take one step forward in that direction and a couple steps backwards, but we seem to move forward a little bit all the time. It may be changing now, but I think it will move in that direction.

MCGARRIGLE: What is the point at which you became politically active?

GEE: I remember working for Henry Wallace a little bit. Henry Wallace ran 55:00against Truman. I joined the Berkeley Young Democratic Club, and I was living in I-House [International House] at that particular time. I just felt that I wanted to do something. I guess I was also attracted to people who were politically active, and then I got involved in Berkeley’s politics in the ‘40s. We had a neighbor, and that might have been somebody influential as well. His name was Byron Rumford. My mother had a neighbor named Byron Rumford, and Byron Rumford is the one that did the California Fair Housing and he was our [state] 56:00assemblyman. It was someone I knew when I was young, before I could vote. I knew his wife; they were a little older. They were schoolteachers. His wife was a schoolteacher who couldn’t find a job at that particular time. She had two sisters who were schoolteachers, too. They went over to San Francisco State, took the ferry over in those days, and became schoolteachers. There was no job for them. It took a few years for them to get jobs as schoolteachers. I think two of them became principals in the Berkeley school system in the sixties and the seventies. But Byron Rumford was somewhat influential.

MCGARRIGLE: Did he talk to you about --


GEE: Oh, we just followed him. Yes, we talked. I mean, he lived behind my mother, the backyard was pretty close.

STINE: We were just talking about politics and the influence of the war, or lack thereof. Maybe we could talk a little bit more about the end of the war?

MCGARRIGLE: Also, what we said off-tape about the black community, reflecting about Byron Rumford and what was happening in Berkeley.

GEE: Byron Rumford -- we all know who he is, now. He was the assemblyman.


MCGARRIGLE: We talked about him being an assemblyman and the Fair Housing but you then mentioned --

GEE: The black community here. I recently had a discussion with local politicians about the black community here. The black community has somewhat integrated, but not really. In the very early days, if you were a non-black it was difficult to get into the black community as a politician, that you had to deal with someone. In Berkeley there was a man called D.G. Gibson, and he was powerful. Maybe it’s like the big city -- what’s the word for in Chicago, 59:00you have these ward leaders. You had to deal through D.G. Gibson at this particular time if you wanted to talk in the black community. The community, I believe, considered him their political leader. There was one political leader; in fact, it was he, I am sure. So he dealt with the so-called outside world of the non-black community. He was an interesting character, as I remember. You had to kind of wheel-and-deal with him if you wanted to get into that community. I 60:00think today you can do it through the churches. I’m looking for words to try to explain myself. He had control, I guess that’s about it.

MCGARRIGLE: What would the reach of his control have been?

GEE: I think if D.G. says, or whoever the leader is, you should vote for the person-a WASP-y type -- that was running for city council or mayor, that you probably would. They would vote as a group, as a bloc. I can remember that people just courted him. That’s the one thing I always remembered. Very important individual. Byron Rumford wasn’t that way. I’m just trying to 61:00think, how did he ever get elected? Once you’re elected, it really makes a difference, because you just get reelected. He educated himself. He was a pharmacist. He was a businessman; he had a pharmacy down on Sacramento Street and people congregated there a great deal. But then he went back to school and got a degree in public policy. I don’t remember whether he ran for any other office except for the assembly. I can’t remember. I know he wasn’t in the city council. I guess he just decided to run for Assembly, and he got the support of the community, feeling that it was time to have a black person. I 62:00don’t remember; see, I’d have to think about it. Now that you just asked me -- I’d probably have to talk to someone to find out exactly how it all went.

MCGARRIGLE: But this is early on that you were paying attention and were closely involved.

GEE: I enjoyed the people and the politics, and it was early. I was paying attention to politics in Berkeley, to see it change. We had all Republicans here. Well, that was in the Assembly, that was a little different. Earl Warren was around in those days. Another person that influenced me -- I grew up in a black neighborhood, and there was a man named Walter Gordon that lived on my 63:00street. He had a law degree from Boalt, but also he was a football player. He was a pretty good football player. He played for Cal. I’m trying to think; he must have practiced law in the black community, but he was appointed by Earl Warren to head the State Probation Board, I believe it was. Senator Knowland was our senator for a long, long time. They were part of the [Oakland] Tribune family. They owned the Tribune, so they were very influential. And then Earl Warren, who was a district attorney, then he became the governor of California. He was considered more -- he was a Republican -- more of a liberal Republican, that’s how we classify him today. But he was a Republican and had certain values. Then he became on the Supreme Court. He was a very good Supreme Court 64:00justice. Chief of the Supreme Court, I think. He was a person who moved our society forward. Then, on the other hand, I guess he was governor at the time the Japanese were asked to leave and move a hundred and fifty miles, or be interned. He interned the Japanese. So it was kind of a mixed bag. But I just became very much aware of what was going on and I felt that I wanted to get involved, never run for anything, but be behind the scenes with various people.


MCGARRIGLE: Did you know Cecil Poole, who was in Pat Brown’s administration?

GEE: Cecil Poole was about at that time. He was in Oakland. There were a lot of people who got involved and moved up forward, at that particular time. He was involved in sort of grass-roots level.

MCGARRIGLE: You mentioned Berkeley Democratic Club from early on. What kinds of things were you involved with organizing?

GEE: Berkeley was run by Republicans, so we wanted to replace all the Republicans with Democrats. We finally did that. Started with Bernice May. I don’t know if you know that name, but she was a very good woman. She had been 66:00the president of the League of Women Voters throughout the state. She was smart about how politics should be, how to run government. The League, once upon a time, was a place where women learned about government, particularly women who stayed at home. Most of the people that I knew that ran for city offices and then they moved on, too, started with the League of Women Voters. They were housewives who had time and wanted to learn about government. Today, the League has a little bit of problem finding young women to join them, because young women work. People don’t start at the bottom anymore. They just move up to the 67:00top. If they’re going to run for something, you decide run for president or run for senator.

LI: Do you see that as a change, then, from what you remember when you came into being political? When you became political, was it different? Did you work your way in?

GEE: There were very few Asians that were involved in politics when I was working in politics. You just kind of work your way in. But you can start at almost any level. You don’t even decide to run at various levels, but you can always stay behind the scenes, when they’re running for office, be on their campaign committees.

MCGARRIGLE: You must have been asked this a lot of times, but did you contemplate running for statewide office?

GEE: I thought of it at various times, but no. No, I guess not too seriously. 68:00Thought about it. There was one Chinese woman that did, whom I knew, March Fong Eu. She became Secretary of State. We’re about the same age. I remember she was in high school in Richmond when I was in high school here. She had a family; she started with the school board and she moved up. A lot of people do that today still, too.

MCGARRIGLE: Why was that not appealing to you?

GEE: It just didn’t appeal, that’s all. Why would I run for school board? She had children, and I think that’s how you get involved, really. Or if you live in a neighborhood where changes are being made, if you own a house or something like that, and you didn’t want a neighborhood to change -- a lot of 69:00people start at the planning commission. Then, you don’t want changes. You don’t like to see the changes that are happening, or you want to make the changes according to how you would like to be, so you find that just being on the planning commission is not enough. You have to be where you make real policy, by being on the school board. Then you just kind of move up.

MCGARRIGLE: What were some of the positions that you held? You held positions in Berkeley politics but also state and Democratic party politics.

GEE: Oh, yes. I’ve always held some sort of position, yes.

MCGARRIGLE: What was the first one?

GEE: The positions you get, if you’re not running for things, you serve on commissions. You get appointed to commissions, you serve. I’ve served on most of the commissions in Berkeley, like the rent board. I was on the rent board, 70:00housing commission, public works. That’s what you do. You do get an opportunity to make a little policy that way. Then I ran for one small thing, and that’s the Democratic Central Committee. You have to run for that. I do that every year; I’m an incumbent, so it’s just automatic. Most people don’t even vote for it, and I’m the incumbent. Makes a difference. That gives you the opportunity of going up into the state level.

MCGARRIGLE: We could focus several interviews on Berkeley politics, but if we want to go back to post-war employment and career, do you want to talk about that? We could propose a whole project and come back and talk to you about 71:00Berkeley politics, but within the scope of our time today -- post-war, can you describe your return? You took the train, standing room, to Texas. How did you come back to Berkeley after the war ended?

GEE: I came home after the war -- how did I come home from where ever I was? I hopped rides. We could do that.

LI: On airplanes?

GEE: Hop rides on airplanes, yeah. I hopped rides on airplanes for a long time afterwards. You go to the airfield, and you just wait around to see if there’s a plane available, coming your direction. That’s how everyone got home, if someone were flying in this direction from the airfield. That’s it. Hitchhiking, in a way. After the war, when I could get my uniform, I did it a couple of times. As far as checking your ID, I just had my uniform on and I went 72:00back east once. I went over to Novato; there’s the airbase -- Hamilton Field. Just sat around, waited for a ride. Someone had a seat in their plane -- people did that for a few years after the war. It was easy to do. So there was a little excitement there.

MCGARRIGLE: What was the first job you had after you came back? I’m not sure 73:00of the timing of when you went to work in Europe.

GEE: Oh, that was a couple of years afterward. Everything was kind of hodge-podge for awhile, with the end of the war, I think.

STINE: Amongst all the WASPs, the other women that you were working with, did people have a plan? Everybody knew that the war would end at some point, and how did people deal with it?

GEE: Some women were married, so their husbands were coming back. There were not very many, but a few. But a lot of the women got married afterwards with men they met while they were in the service. Couple of my close friends met their husbands while they were in the WASPs. So they married and then they settled 74:00down. They started families just like anyone else.

LI: When you came back, were you welcomed as a veteran?

GEE: No. I wasn’t really a veteran; I didn’t become a veteran until much later. No, everyone had been away, so you just sort of came home, that was it. Your generation just sort of came home, and then you move on. I must say that I had the feeling that all the people who went away and came back, I had a feeling of -- kind of felt close to them, in a way. We were a little older than just out of college, or just out of whatever it is. We had sort of a different-type experience. I wondered what was going to happen in this world, and then the 75:00Korean War came. I thought, oh my goodness, I felt everything was falling apart again. That’s the one thing I can remember. The Korean War didn’t happen until -- was it 1951, or something like that? It was a few years later, but things had not really settled. Europe and Japan were not rebuilt by then, and this war that we got into was terrible, just terrible. People I knew that fought in World War II and stayed in the reserves went to Korea. That was a bad war, and I guess it hasn’t even finished yet. So there was uncertainty. I knew other people felt: why start a family? Why settle down, because the world is so 76:00uncertain. Well, of course you do. You settle down, you do all those things. The world was uncertain, but it might be okay. You might feel the same today; I don’t know. If a person comes back and sees what’s happening to this country or the uncertainty about [are] my children going to live in a world where there are nothing but terrorists around? We hope this will blow over some way, in the next twenty years or ten years, or whatever it is. We don’t have a big enemy; I can remember when we felt the Russians were going to come over and take us, and they’re going to send those missiles and big bombs and things like that. There was a period where a lot of people built shelters. Even out at 77:00Livermore, I remember there was a big community shelter. So when that whistle goes off, you all go to the shelter. You couldn’t even imagine that, today. It sounds like a dumb thing to do.

MCGARRIGLE: Did that happen when you were out there?

GEE: No, the whistle or the bell never went off and said that there was a missile coming in, but the shelters -- people built shelters. There are some in Berkeley. I’m not sure what my point is, but even though you feel that the world may be coming to an end, it isn’t coming to an end, but you don’t want to live in this type of situation, that things do change. After the war, after 78:00the Korean War, there was a very peaceful time in our society, and then the Cold War came. People did fear things. There are so many things that happened. There was the McCarthy era and there were just so many things, but you just go on living and doing your best.

MCGARRIGLE: I think people want to know: how do you stay optimistic in the face of all of that?

GEE: You mean, today?

MCGARRIGLE: You had the consciousness and the sensitivity to know all of these things, but you stay involved and you stay engaged, and you stay optimistic.

GEE: How do you stay optimistic? Because you see a few changes that happen. You just want to keep working at it. I have the time, and I have the inclination. I have the inclination; I mean anyone can make the time. I’m very optimistic 79:00about the world and people, even though it doesn’t look very good right now at the moment, but it will be all right, if you only manage to survive. [laughs]

MCGARRIGLE: I think that’s an interesting question, because some people like you remain engaged in the face of all of this difficulty.

GEE: I want to get Bush out! [laughs]

MCGARRIGLE: There’s a strong motivation.

GEE: You can make changes, though. They’re small changes. I think just one small person can make a little bit of change some place. You rally the troops. I think what you have to do now, today, is to really educate people. In the paper the other day, it was 67 percent approval -- it was in The New York Times -- of 80:00Bush. You talk to anyone you know, and you wonder: who are the 67 percent? That’s because we live in a different world. You have to see the rest of America. We don’t have any confidence in this man. I’m sure, even the person that read that that aircraft carrier out there had to stop and go back a little bit, so he could come in and fly onto this carrier, if you even read that and you were for him, you would think it’s okay. People just think it’s okay. I mean, he looked so great, got out of that plane, carried his helmet here and he struts a certain way, he’s just an all-American boy. We love that.


LI: Do you think that your mother -- because you seem to say, [she was] so positive in terms of rededicating herself to new challenges that came up --

GEE: It has to rub off a little bit on everyone, I think. The world could be a bad place. I mean, she had a lot of difficulties. Having six kids at the age of thirty-something, widowed, in the middle of the Depression; sounds terrible to me.

LI: She continued to work after the war ended?

GEE: She continued to work. She was involved in her club, in the church. She continued to work. She had to be involved.

LI: Where was she working?

GEE: She worked in the Post Office, and she worked afterwards for a friend who has a florist. He was a widower, so she worked in the florist. She really liked 82:00that, because she liked to fix flowers and things and also people coming in to talk.

MCGARRIGLE: That was the florist on University.

GEE: Yeah, it’s still there, Lee’s Florist. The one next to the co-op. It used to be the co-op; it’s Andronico’s now. It was interesting; there was the Sunday supplement about two months ago had an article about the florists. Homer Lee was the owner of it. He’d come over with nothing, and he bought much real estate in the city. And yet he still goes down there every day and has lunch. He cooks a little bit of something. Typical Chinese. He’s probably tight. [laughs] I mean to go down; I have to do it before. I’ll be sorry if 83:00Idon’t go and tease him. I’ll have him join the Berkeley Community Fund and leave a house to us. [laughs] And say, we’ll remember you. I’m going to do that. I’m going to do that! I’m going to say, give us some money for a scholarship and we’ll name the scholarship in your name. That will be nice. Nice for him. [laughs] He can designate it -- no, I don’t think so. We have to decide who’s worthy of it. That has nothing to do with anything, you know.

MCGARRIGLE: I think we could talk to you about other things for future projects.

GEE: There isn’t much, but this has been fun. Thank you very much, though. I thought we’d talk more about my mother, except that I can’t say too much 84:00about her. I think it happens with many generations, that the community really liked my mother a lot, thought she did a lot for her children. Because it’s your mother and she’s telling you what to do, you don’t appreciate her until you get a little bit older. Or your parents; I know that’s not unique at all. You’re fortunate if you’re a parent, that your children, all their lives, have an appreciation of you. I guess it depends on how you handle it. So, Leah, you’re the mother now. You want your children to stay your friends, and not be critical of you.

MCGARRIGLE: It’s a very long-range expectation.


GEE: I want to thank you. It’s been enjoyable; it’s been very nice meeting you all. And Leah, it’s always good to see you more often. Leah, I have a chair for you like that. Do you still want it?

MCGARRIGLE: I do. I definitely do.

GEE: I have it there and it’s probably never been used, but it’s worn out.

MCGARRIGLE: That’s okay; I’m going to have it refurbished. I have someone. Thank you. That’s very special.

GEE: I have to get it from the basement. I’ve got to start cleaning out the basement. Famous last words.

LI: Thank you so much.

STINE: Yes, thank you.

GEE: Thank you. And good luck to you.

[end of interview]