Interview of Norma Shaver
Transcript Number 104

JANUARY 22, 2002

Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a consultant with the University of North Carolina Wilmington. This is the World War II Veterans Video Tape Project. This morning we're at the home of Ms. Norma P. Shaver. Ms. Shaver, a North Carolinian, enlisted in the, well I'm going to ask her.

INTERVIEWER: Where did you enlist, why did you enlist and when did you enlist? When, where and how.

SHAVER: It was 1943 and at that time they were trying to get a company to represent each state and so I joined the North Carolina company.

INTERVIEWER: And where were you living at that time?

SHAVER: In Winston-Salem, North Carolina and I was working for Hanes Inc. which was a, classified as a defense industry and we eventually got recognized for supplying men's underwear to the Army. 

INTERVIEWER: I asked you off camera and I'm just going to do it again because veterans know what we're talking about. What was your serial number?

SHAVER: 845421.

INTERVIEWER: And how long ago was that when you were given that serial number?

SHAVER: Over 60 years ago.

INTERVIEWER: And we never forget those numbers, do we? Well, where did you do your basic training, oh I'm sorry. Why did you go into the military?

SHAVER: Well I had one brother who was being drafted in the Army soon after Pearl Harbor. I had three sisters and I decided that I could join and help out. When they formed the Auxiliary Army Corps, I considered joining, but I wasn't quite old enough. So when it turned into the regular Army, I decided to join.

INTERVIEWER: Now you enlisted in when, 1942?

SHAVER: '43. 

INTERVIEWER: And at that time it was then officially part of the United States Army?

SHAVER: That's right.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And where did you do your basic training?

SHAVER: At Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me about your basic. 

SHAVER: Well there were a lot of drills and we learned a lot how, you know, just general Army regulations and procedures.

INTERVIEWER: Did you fire any weapons?

SHAVER: No.

INTERVIEWER: So it was drilling and getting an orientation to the Army, how to wear your uniform and stuff like that.

SHAVER: Yes. 

INTERVIEWER: How long was basic training?

SHAVER: Six weeks.

INTERVIEWER: And then what happened to you after that?

SHAVER: After that I was sent to New York, Long Island, as a finance clerk, working in the finance office and we paid the soldiers and kept the records of the finances.

INTERVIEWER: What was your rank at that time?

SHAVER: Well I was just a private then.

INTERVIEWER: Did you like it?

SHAVER: Well yes I did. I enjoyed being close to New York. It was an interesting place. 

INTERVIEWER: And here you are, a young woman from North Carolina and you're billeted outside of New York City. That's kind of exciting, wasn't it?

SHAVER: Yes it was.

INTERVIEWER: Did you go into the city?

SHAVER: Yes, we went in about every weekend. You know, it's quite a trip, about 60 miles on the Long Island train into New York, but we did go in.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you leave your camp in New York?

SHAVER: Well they ordered people overseas and I decided I'd like to go. I really wanted to go to Europe. They send you where they need you or want you.

INTERVIEWER: Where did they send you?

SHAVER: Well, I went back for more basic training at Fort Oglethorpe and then they sent me to California and a troop ship across the Pacific and I was sent to Brisbane, Australia where General Harding had his offices at that time.

INTERVIEWER: How long did it take you to cross the Pacific?

SHAVER: I was aboard ship about 30 days.

INTERVIEWER: Were there troops?

SHAVER: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Where were you quartered on the ship?

SHAVER: It was a luxury ship. They used to go between Hawaii and New York, but we had cabins that were set up and 12 people stayed in those cabins.

INTERVIEWER: Did you say 12?

SHAVER: Yes. It had four decks, double double deckers.

INTERVIEWER: You must have had to ask permission to turn around.

SHAVER: (Laughter) It was pretty crowded.

INTERVIEWER: 30 days.

SHAVER: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Did you get seasick?

SHAVER: No, I never did.

INTERVIEWER: Was there any stormy weather that...

SHAVER: No, not at that time. I can't remember any stormy weather. A lot of people did get seasick.

INTERVIEWER: Sure. Well you got to Australia.

SHAVER: Yes up to the northwest corner of Australia.

INTERVIEWER: Now what year was this, ma'am?

SHAVER: In '43. 

INTERVIEWER: Let's see, did you get there in their summer or in their winter?

SHAVER: It was winter.

INTERVIEWER: And what did they have you doing there?

SHAVER: Well I was in the headquarters, I was assigned to the headquarters and they had me getting letters to... at first they said General McArthur. People would ask about their sons. They hadn't heard from them in a long time and ask where he was and we would know. We would send out letters and find out where he was and notify the writers. We would give the information exactly where he was stationed if it was possible.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever see General McArthur?

SHAVER: Yes I did. I saw him, you know, going in and out of the office. The day that they had a memorial service for President Roosevelt, he was there and I saw him. 

INTERVIEWER: Was he a big man, a small man?

SHAVER: Yeah, a big man. 

INTERVIEWER: What was his reputation? Did the troops like him?

SHAVER: Well, everybody, well he had a lot of criticism. Sometimes they said nobody liked him, but people were all for him at his headquarters.

INTERVIEWER: Why didn't they like him?

SHAVER: Well he was arrogant, that's what they said (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER: Stuck up, huh?

SHAVER: Yeah. And he was old Army, you know, his family was Army. But I was pretty low down on the totem pole. I didn't have much to do with him, whether I liked him or didn't like him. 

INTERVIEWER: Were you promoted to PFC by this time?

SHAVER: I can't remember exactly what year...

INTERVIEWER: You were probably making a ton of money, what, maybe $50 a month? How were living conditions? Where did you live?

SHAVER: In Brisbane, we lived in a park and had stationary tents. Then I moved up to New Guinea, we had just regular tents. In the Philippines, we lived in a schoolhouse set up to ... and then when I went to Manila, we were at the university there. But the buildings were not, you know, in too good a shape.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me, as a woman in the military service back in those years, what were the regulations about your behavior? Could you, for example, go out with an officer? Could you date an officer?

SHAVER: No, you're not supposed to. You were supposed to be strictly with enlisted men.

INTERVIEWER: But you could date an enlisted person?

SHAVER: Yes. It was against the regulations, but you know things happen.

INTERVIEWER: (laughter) Did you have to wear a uniform 24 hours a day or could you put on civilian clothes?

SHAVER: No, you're supposed to wear a uniform.

INTERVIEWER: Well, tell me about the food. Let's go back to Australia. When you were, you just got off the ship, you got assigned to a duty station. You got your bunk. Was it a mess hall?

SHAVER: It was just a regular mess hall. 

INTERVIEWER: With those tin trays?

SHAVER: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: How was the food?

SHAVER: Well it wasn't always what you wanted, but it was not too bad (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER: Were you off duty on the weekends?

SHAVER: No, we worked on the weekends.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, how did you get and why did you go to New Guinea?

SHAVER: Well the headquarters moved.

INTERVIEWER: McArthur and all?

SHAVER: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: An earlier interviewer said that there was a big, I think he said it was a big house built for McArthur.

SHAVER: Yeah, there was a house and I worked in that house.

INTERVIEWER: You did?

SHAVER: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: It was supposed to have been like a big, huge place.

SHAVER: Well part of his headquarters were set up in that house.

INTERVIEWER: Was McArthur's wife there too?

SHAVER: No, she stayed somewhere else.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever see her?

SHAVER: No, but she was there.

INTERVIEWER: Were those good days or...

SHAVER: Well they were not too bad as I remember them.

INTERVIEWER: And how old were you now? You're in New Guinea, you were what?

SHAVER: 21.

INTERVIEWER: Were there other WACs from North Carolina there? Did you have buddies?

SHAVER: Yes, there were a couple from Raleigh, I think and one from Charlotte.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have a reunion after you got out of the military?

SHAVER: No.

INTERVIEWER: Have you seen any of those ladies?

SHAVER: No, not really. 

INTERVIEWER: Well all right, take me out of New Guinea. Where did you go after New Guinea?

SHAVER: I went to Leyte. We took over the headquarters and that's where we had our offices, in the town headquarters. 

INTERVIEWER: Was McArthur there?

SHAVER: Most of the time.

INTERVIEWER: So you started off with McArthur in Australia, went with him to New Guinea, went with him to the Philippines.

SHAVER: Yes, that's right.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. Did you think he was arrogant?

SHAVER: No, not really because I didn't have that much to do with him. I just got letters, you know, his signature was on them under his direction. I didn't have that much, interrelating with him.

INTERVIEWER: Four star general didn't talk much to a private, did he?

SHAVER: That's right. 

INTERVIEWER: That's why he had all those colonels. Okay, tell me how was life in the Philippines?

SHAVER: Well it was tropical. We worked in the mornings and we took a couple of hours off in the afternoon and then we worked, then we'd go back to work after the evening meal. 

INTERVIEWER: Why, was it so hot?

SHAVER: Yes, that's right and it rained just about every day.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, did it?

SHAVER: Yes. 

INTERVIEWER: Were you living under canvas? In a tent?

SHAVER: We lived in the town hall in Leyte. 

INTERVIEWER: Dormitory?

SHAVER: No, it was a college, I think.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have much to do with the Filipino nationals?

SHAVER: Well yes, they were around all the time because they were always waiting for our food scraps. It was really, really bad. There was so much...people just wandering around that didn't have any place to go because the city was getting destroyed.

INTERVIEWER: You never saw any Japanese, did you?

SHAVER: The only time I really saw Japanese is down in New Guinea. Two of them showed up at the mess hall. All kinds of different people and nobody paid much attention (laughter).

INTERVIEWER: (Laughter) You mean there were Japanese soldiers? And they walked into your mess hall?

SHAVER: Yeah, that's right.

INTERVIEWER: And they got fed?

SHAVER: Yeah. When the war was over, by the time the bomb had been dropped, when the Japanese people came to set up to surrender on the ship Missouri, but they did come to headquarters where I was and I did see that group of Japanese soldiers come into the headquarters.

INTERVIEWER: What an exciting life you've had. Well did you stay on Leyte or did you move to another island?

SHAVER: Well Manila is on Luzon.

INTERVIEWER: So you moved up to Luzon and again you were assigned to the McArthur headquarters?

SHAVER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of work did you do there?

SHAVER: I worked in the adjutant general's department and that's when I answered those letters from civilians about where their friends, people who wrote into McArthur to find out about their sons and then we answered them. Well of course it was a form letter we sent out to where they were and everything.

INTERVIEWER: So there would be a family, am I correct, there'd be a family in the United States, they had not heard from their son for a long while. They were concerned. They would write to McArthur's headquarters, is that right? And then the letter would go to you.

SHAVER: Yeah, you know, it would be assigned to me or a lot of other people that were working in the office.

INTERVIEWER: How would you find the soldier or whoever who hadn't written?

SHAVER: Well we had, that's where the records were, the personnel records, McArthur's headquarters. Of course they weren't always there. They moved around and you had to check where they were last or whatever. 

INTERVIEWER: We went off camera for just a minute in order to fix the light and make you a little more comfortable. Well so the military records could be found in your office. You would find the name of the unit of the soldier. Would you write to the soldier and tell him to shape up or what would you do?

SHAVER: Yes, we would write to the...well all military correspondence goes down through ranks and so it was sent to his commanding officer and we told him to write home to his family and to continue to write and then we'd notify the family of exactly where he was stationed at that time if we could find him. We usually did, but there were some that we did not locate all the time. 

INTERVIEWER: You know, that's such an important job. I mean it's not dropping bombs or shooting rifles, but it's an important job.

SHAVER: Yes it is. It's part of the process that needs to be done.

INTERVIEWER: Well you know, people are going to see this video tape that have not had your military experience and they're going to wonder why didn't they write home.

SHAVER: Well I guess they just lost interest in writing home or when you're moving around, it's very hard to write home. 

INTERVIEWER: And I suspect there wasn't much to write about.

SHAVER: That's right. 

INTERVIEWER: It rained again today (laughter) and it's muddy. Well how long were you in Luzon?

SHAVER: Just about three or four months before the war was over. I think that's right.

INTERVIEWER: Where were you when you heard that they had dropped the first atomic bomb?

SHAVER: I was on Luzon and I was getting on a bus going early in the morning and I heard that they had dropped the bomb and we had heard something, rumors, we didn't know what the rumors were, that something was going to happen, but nobody knew exactly what it was or anything. 

INTERVIEWER: Did you know anything about an atomic bomb?

SHAVER: No I didn't. 

INTERVIEWER: Well there were two bombs dropped. Do you remember where you were when the second bomb was dropped?

SHAVER: Well they were really close together and the war was over so I can't remember exactly.

INTERVIEWER: Well you certainly remember when the war was over, don't you?

SHAVER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Where were you and what happened?

SHAVER: Well we were in the office and everybody was celebrating, but we didn't have anything to celebrate with (laughter). Everybody was really happy that the war was over.

INTERVIEWER: How did you get the news?

SHAVER: Well somebody just came in the office and told us. We didn't have a radio.

INTERVIEWER: They just came in and shouted the war was over?

SHAVER: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I'll be darn. In your office, were the enlisted people men and women or ...

SHAVER: Yes, men and women.

INTERVIEWER: And did you all do the same work?

SHAVER: Well typing up letters, there are all kinds of different letters and they were divided up. The same people did the same, it was more or less reading what they had to say and then sending out form letters.

INTERVIEWER: Well by this time you've been promoted, haven't you?

SHAVER: Well no, I don't think I got promoted again until I was about ready to come home which was in the end of '45.

INTERVIEWER: How did you get back to the States?

SHAVER: I came on another troop ship.

INTERVIEWER: Was that another 30 days?

SHAVER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: That's an awful lot of water, isn't it?

SHAVER: It is. It was a much slower troop ship than the luxury ship I went over there on so it did take longer. See I went from, to go over, I went from San Francisco down to, we stopped in, some of those other islands where we left people off in, I think, three or four places and it was actually just about 100 and some people that went to the headquarters in Australia. So that's why it took so long. It took about the same time to get back because the ship was much slower.

INTERVIEWER: Where did you land in the States when you came back?

SHAVER: In San Francisco.

INTERVIEWER: And what they'd do, you marched off the ship and where'd they'd put you?

SHAVER: Well they had all these barracks around for transients that you had troops moving in and out of. 

INTERVIEWER: They finally what, put you on a train or did you come back on the airplane?

SHAVER: No I came back on a train.

INTERVIEWER: And where did you go, back to Oglethorpe?

SHAVER: We went back to Charlotte. We went to Fort Bragg.

INTERVIEWER: And you were mustered out there?

SHAVER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And when was that?

SHAVER: The end of 1945. I think I got home the 1st of December of '45.

INTERVIEWER: So you came home for Christmas.

SHAVER: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Had your hometown changed much?

SHAVER: No, I don't remember that it had. My brother had gone to Germany and so he came home about the same time which was nice. 

INTERVIEWER: How did you earn your bread and butter after you got out of the Army?

SHAVER: Hanes took me back right then.

INTERVIEWER: And you picked up on your old job?

SHAVER: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I'm going to ask you what I ask the other people. All the places that you went and all the people you met and the good times and the bad times, what does it all mean to you now when you look back on it? What did you learn from all of that? What would you tell your grandchildren?

SHAVER: Well it was an experience and I met lots of different people and went to a lot of different places, but war is not good and we should learn to get along without it. And we're still doing the same thing.

INTERVIEWER: Yep. We should learn to get along without it.

SHAVER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: There's really very little glamour.

SHAVER: That's right and so much suffering.

INTERVIEWER: I guess in my experience and I wonder about yours, the thing that kept me going were my buddies.

SHAVER: Yes, that's true. 

INTERVIEWER: You were all faced with the same difficulties at the same time and there wasn't and even with the rank, one person wasn't better than another, he may have been in charge, but they weren't any better than me or I wasn't any better than them.

SHAVER: Yes, that's right.

INTERVIEWER: But I sure did meet an awful lot of interesting people. Would you do it again?

SHAVER: Not right now (laughter). Yeah, I think I would.

INTERVIEWER: It wasn't such a bad experience that you wouldn't touch it...

SHAVER: If I were young, I think I would now. I'm not in favor of war though.

INTERVIEWER: I think you've had a real interesting life.

SHAVER: I'm sure you have too. 

INTERVIEWER: Well I've never been a WAC (laughter).

SHAVER: Are you originally from Tennessee?

INTERVIEWER: No maam, we lived there for 30 some years, but I'm not. Let me ask you one last thing. If your grandchildren came to you and said should I go into the service or should I not go into the service, what would you tell them?

SHAVER: Well as long as things are set up the way they are, I think it's better to go in and not be a deserter, but I still don't want them to.

INTERVIEWER: We're back on camera. You got to the Philippines ...

POLLY: (SHAVER'S DAUGHTER): When she got there, it was either March 8, I'm not sure, she wrote this letter to herself - Okay, this is a letter that my mom wrote to herself. 

INTERVIEWER: First of all, who are you?

POLLY: I'm Norma's daughter, Polly. So I had this framed because I thought this letter was so neat. It's dated March 9, 1945, so I think maybe it was the 6th that they, the United States forces ended up back in the Philippines. I'm not positive of the date, but she was there just a couple of days later and she wrote this letter to herself. It's kind of a diary - 

"Today I arrived in Manila. The landing strip on which we were supposed to land was bombed last night so we had to go on farther to another one. There were no trucks to meet us so we just sat out in the middle of a landing field waiting. All up in the hills over to one side, we could see the smoke from the artillery fire and hear the shells bursting. The front line is only five miles away. We are nearer to the front lines than WAC's have ever been before. 

Finally the trucks came and we made it out through the city. Hardly a building is left standing, just great heaps of what one could tell was once beautiful, modern buildings. We saw the hospital which figured in one of the stories that came out of Manila. We finally arrived at our quarters which was once a beautiful university, but now the walls are blackened and the windows are broke out. Up on the third floor in the chemical lab there was still Jap writing on the blackboards. 

There were stories that the Jap bodies and the body of a horse were only taken out the day before we arrived. There was still a terrible stench from the bodies that are left in the (I don't know what that word is) in the something, but in our backyard. Out of my window I can see what the fellows say is a Japanese body and I can believe that it is. I can't go near the yard for it is full of booby traps and something is fenced off, but we can only walk where the ground has been carefully gone over for mines. There are still blood stains in the chapel in the something wing of our building where, (I'm sorry I can't make out all your handwriting, Mom) where somebody was killed, where the priest were killed. 

There was a fellow living in the middle wing, but there is a fence between. The latrine which is right next to the building has only been there one day before. There was no water except what is hauled in from town and we can only have a helmet full of water. (I can't read your writing.) All over the building there are Filipino boys carrying our bags, making use of the new mosquito nets for a little bit of food (That doesn't make sense.). They were trying to sell something and begging us for food. 

When we ate supper tonight, there were children and women waiting to grab the scraps off of our mess kits when we went out to wash them. Today while we were waiting for the truck to convey or to use as a conveyance, an ambulance came from the hills with wounded soldiers to be evacuated by air. They were too far away to talk to, but you could see they had only temporary bandages. They were straight from the front.

Three snipers were killed in the building next to ours only last night and the night before. We are well guarded though. Some of the bombs are in the yard and have exploded last night when fellows were burning trash. Now I can hear the guns in the distance."

INTERVIEWER: Does that seem like a short time ago?

SHAVER: No.

INTERVIEWER: A long time ago?

SHAVER: It sure does. 

INTERVIEWER: That's an awful lot of growing up to go through, isn't it?

SHAVER: It was a long time ago. It's hard to believe it happened. 

INTERVIEWER: Were you saying there was another story?

POLLY: There's a story about Tokyo Rose that ---

SHAVER: It was over the announcer, where a different meeting was going to take place and she did an announcement they were going to bomb the WAC's and they did.

POLLY: But they didn't get you.

SHAVER: No, they didn't get anybody.

INTERVIEWER: This was when you were in the Philippines?

SHAVER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Again years from now people who see this video tape won't know what you're talking about. Who was Tokyo Rose?

SHAVER: She was a radio announcer, I think she was in Japan, I'm not sure, and she made an announcement to scare people about what was going to happen and make predictions.

INTERVIEWER: My land. General McArthur, Tokyo Rose, snipers, was it LaSalle University did you say? My, anything else you'd like to add?

SHAVER: No.

POLLY : I know Christmas 1944 you spent in Brisbane, Christmas day you went to the beach.

INTERVIEWER: Ms. Shaver, you're a grand lady. Thank you for the interview.

SHAVER: Well thank you for coming. I really appreciate it.