Interview of Frances Lane Shaw
Transcript Number 006
concerning her part on the Home Front during WWII
Kitty: I want to introduce to you Frances Lane Shaw of Wilmington, NC. During WWII, she worked for the War Department and the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Her husband, Alfred Shaw, of Evergreen, NC, was on a destroyer tender in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Frances grew up on a small farm in the pan-handle of Florida. During the 30's, did you have any thoughts concerning international politics?
Frances: During the depression years, rural families had limited access to the news,
no newspapers and very few radios. I was lucky in having a closely knit family who was interested in national and international news. When my grandpa died, Granny Lane was left to raise their five children with the oldest being only 9 or 10 years old. She taught school, was post mistress of a small post office at
Garrard's Cross Roads in south Alabama, and kept boarders.
Kitty: What was probably the most important lesson your Granny taught you?
Frances: She instilled in her children and her grandchildren a desire to know what was going on in the world. When she heard that the railroad was coming to Graceville, FL, she moved there with her brood, anticipating a big economic boost.
Kitty: What was the main source of your grandmother's news?
Frances: The newspaper. Because of the newly built railroad, Granny was able to get the Atlanta Tri-Weekly. When Mobile, AL, put out a daily, Granny subscribed to the Mobile Register. The first daily available to my
dad's family was the Dothan Eagle by way of a Star Route from Dothan, AL, to Chipley, FL. We lived on the family farm 5 miles south of Graceville.
Kitty: How did your family pass the news on to you?
Frances: When my dad's family members were together, and this was often, there was much discussion of news among the adults. We children listened and asked questions. I remember Granny was very concerned about the Floyd Collins incident. She could hardly wait until the next edition of the newspaper came out, so she could find out whether or not his rescue had been successful.
Kitty: Who was Floyd Collins?
Frances: Floyd Collins was a cave explorer who lived in Cave City, KY. On January 25th, 1925, he was trapped in a small cave in the Mamouth Cave System when a 27 pound rock fell on his foot. For 17 days, he was provided warm clothing and food while attempts were made to free him. Finally, a passage way above him caved in forcing his would be rescuers to give up. It is unbelievable how the rescue effort was hindered by moonshiners, drunks, and the mountaineers distrust of
"city people" (engineers and skilled stonemasons). Finally the army took over and restored order. Poems, songs, books, and many stories have been written about him. A stanza taken from the poem
"Trapped," written by John Edward Dickey, sums up the significance of this story during the early history of our newspapers and radios.
Kitty, since you have a copy of the stanza, would you like to read it?
Kitty: Save war, >twas biggest human interest tale
In more than hundred years.
It caught world-wide attention and
moved many folks to tears.
You must have done some research on Floyd Collins, didn't you?
Frances: I did. I came here to Randall Library at UNCW and told Ron Johnson what I needed and asked him to direct me in the right direction. He turned around to his computer to search the internet. In a few minutes, he handed me 12 pages of information about Floyd Collins. What a contrast to the Tri-Weekly newspaper we depended on for information in the 1920's. First, the Floyd Collins news appeared in the newspaper as a minor article saying he was expected to be freed the next morning. Then, the story got bigger and bigger until it dominated the front page of every day for over two weeks.
Kitty: That was a big news story. I understand the newly invented radio got heavily involved in this story, too.
Frances: Yes, that's true, but the radios at that time, were few and far between. No one in my extended family could afford one.
Dad's oldest sister, Aunt Linnie Lane, followed in her mother's footsteps teaching school and working in the post office. She was my mentor. During the school term until my junior high school days, I stayed in
"town" with Granny, Aunt Linnie, and another aunt and her 2 daughters; so, I could attend the large 8 months school instead of the small 4 months school near my home.
Kitty: How did you react to the aggressive behavior of Germany in the late 1930's?
Frances: I was very concerned with the invasion of Poland in September of 1939. I was a student at Florida State, then Florida State College for Women. I well remember Armistice Day, November 11th, 1939. On this particular day, a large number of us students rode through the streets of Tallahassee on the back of a flat bed truck singing,
"Ain't gonna study war no more." Little did we realize that within 2 years, we would be in a full scale war.
Kitty: How did your life change after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941?
Frances: During December of 1941, I was a teacher-librarian in the high school in Malone, FL. After the announcement of the Pearl Harbor bombing came over the radio, my roommate and I , along with the wonderful couple with whom we were boarding, jumped into their car and went to a theater in Marianna, FL, so that we could get the news from the
theater's big screen. After finishing the school term, I started thinking about trying to get a civil service job.
Kitty: What made you decide to seek a civil service job?
Frances: There were two main reasons. First, I wanted to become more involved in the war effort, and second, I needed a job that paid more than $800.00 per year. At that time, my mother was seriously ill. We were still under the throes of the great depression; so I assumed the responsibility of
mother's hospital bill.
Kitty: What did you do then?
Frances: When school was out for the summer, I visited a cousin who lived in Mobile, AL. Her husband was already in a defense job. While there, I went to the civil service office to check on available jobs. The job of air traffic controller trainee appealed to me. I submitted the necessary application to the Civil Service Commission. Six weeks passed with no response to my application.
Kitty: So, in the summer of 1942, you didn't know if you'd be changing jobs or be back in the classroom by September?
Frances: I loved the classroom, but I needed a better paying job. By this time, Army training bases were popping up all over the South! One was located in my county seat, Marianna, FL, on July 16th, 1942. I started working with the War Department, Army Air Forces at Large, at their 65th sub-depot in Marianna.
Kitty: Did this job require special training?
Frances: I went through a training period at Napier Field in Dothan, AL, and Dale Mabry Base in Tallahassee. These army air bases trained beginning war pilots, even some Chinese pilots. By 1942, China and Japan had been fighting for several years. My office at the 65th Sub D was located upstairs in the hangar. I, along with three helpers, were in charge of aircraft status reports and the Library of Technical Orders used as guides for the maintenance and repair of army aircraft B mainly PT-6's and AT-6's, primary and advanced trainers.
Kitty: Tell us something of your experiences while on this job.
Frances: I had fun learning to identify various types of war planes, but learning something about the mechanics of these trainers was a different story. I had a hard time believing the cause of the damage one PT-6 sustained in flight. Luckily, the flight instructor and his student were able to land safely. One wing had been severely damaged by a buzzard. The worst part about this job was having to put up with all the hangar noise B the revving up of engines, etc.
Kitty: How long did you work there?
Frances: Only one year. My tour of duty with the 65th sub-depot suddenly ended in May of 1943.
Kitty: Why did it end?
Frances: I was notified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, that I had been accepted as an air traffic controller trainee effective June 1st, 1943. Unknown to me, the FBI spent about a year investigating me and other trainee applicants. We were to report June 1st to the municipal airport in Atlanta for training. This was an exciting time for me B my first time living in a big city and my first trip to a big airport. At that time, Atlanta was the busiest airport in the world.
Kitty: What kind of training did you receive?
Frances: We had three months of extensive training in airway and airport traffic control, CAA and FCC B Federal Communications Commission rules and regulations, radio aids to navigation, and meteorology. I had three excellent instructors. One was Max Chennault, General Claire
Kitty: I remember that General Chennault commanded the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteers who fought the Japanese in China before we formally entered the war. You must have been one of the first women to go into flight control? Is that correct?
Frances: I was in one of the first classes that trained women for airway and airport control. The CAA was unable to recruit the male trainees needed for these jobs because of the heavy build up of our military forces.
Kitty: Following your training, where did you work?
Frances: I was sent to the Airway Traffic Control Center at the Jacksonville, FL, airport. In the 1940's, the airport was located near Trout River. Here I was, an assistant airway traffic controller. I assisted in the control of air traffic on the federal airways for estimating
aircraft's time of arrival over check points and at destination, by giving clearances during good weather and light traffic, by keeping close check on weather conditions throughout the area, and by receiving and relaying aircraft flight plans and position reports.
Kitty: This must have been a stressful job at times?
Frances: It was very stressful, especially during heavy traffic in bad weather. One incident that had controllers pulling their hair out was when we received a request for landing clearance for and unknown PBY from Canada. A PBY could land on either water or land. The weather was very soupy. The tower had a number of planes stacked up waiting for clearance to land. Suddenly, this PBY landed in Trout River by the airport. This guy was one lucky pilot.
Kitty: What other memories do you have of air traffic controlling that you would like to share with us?
Frances: At one time, we had a group of pilots from McDill Field in Tampa training with us. They had returned from combat in Europe. They stated that handling heavy traffic during instrument flying weather was more stressful than their experiences in combat. There were sad times, too. All military planes were required to file instrument flight plans even if they were flying in contact flight rules weather. We received many flight plans from Lincoln, NE, and Topeka, KS, where the planes were equipped with armament. We knew they were headed for their point of departure in Bangor, ME, in the summer and Key West, FL, in the winter, to their respective war zone.
Kitty: Tell us more about your working conditions.
Frances: My co-workers were wonderful people to work with, but for me, there was one
"hold back." Our work hours (shifts) changed every week. I had a hard time adjusting my sleep schedule. I had lived on a farm too long to get used to sleeping in the daytime. For this reason, I resigned after 16 months, even though I enjoyed my work very much.
Kitty: What did you do next?
Frances: After a few months off, I resumed my work with the War Department and continued to work with them until June of 1947. I became a classification analyst with the Harbor Defenses of Pensacola. Our headquarters were at Fort Barrancas, a small army base and at one time, was a Spanish fort.
Kitty: What did you do there?
Frances: My job was to write up job descriptions of civilian workers at the installation, based upon interviews and observations. I then graded the jobs according to civil service guide lines. One of the most interesting employees I interviewed was the gentleman who maintained the big guns on Fort Perkins, which was under the Fort Barrancas command. In the second year following the surrender of Japan, Fort Barrancas was deactivated. In the meantime, I married a North Carolinian, whom I met before the war and moved to his hometown of Evergreen, NC.
Kitty: Frances, your husband was a veteran of WWII. Tell us something about his experiences at Pearl Harbor.
Frances: My husband, Alfred Shaw, was on a destroyer tender, The USS Whitney, in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. He was sun-bathing on the deck that fateful Sunday morning. When he noticed the large group of planes, he thought some of the Army Air Force pilots from nearby Hickam field were out practicing early. Then the planes started diving toward the ships in the harbor. All of a sudden, there were torpedoes dropping, and bombs and more bombs. At this point, he and his friends saw the rising sun symbol on the planes. Immediately, he and other crew men rushed to their battle stations. They were thankful
"Battleship Row" was on the opposite side of Ford Island from their ship and that the aircraft carrier, The USS Enterprise, which was berthed in the
Whitney's area, had gone out to sea on Friday before the attack. After the planes dropped all of their torpedoes and bombs, many of them came down on strafing runs. The bullets chewed up the
Whitney's wooden deck and sent splinters flying, but not one sailor was hit by a bullet. One sailor caught his rear in his hands and started yelling,
"I'm hit! I'm hit!" He was sent to the aid station where a splinter was removed. He was then sent back to his battle station. In 1944, Alfred was sent back to the states to be trained for LST (land, ship, tank) duty as a commissary officer, having made
chief's rank. Instead of going to Europe, as he thought, he headed back to the Pacific on the LSZ 821. His ship participated in the landing of invasion troops on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Kitty: Since Alfred was already in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, when did he actually enlist in the Navy?
Frances: Yes, since jobs were few and far between during the depression years, Alfred joined the Navy in July of 1940 for 6 years.
Kitty: Were you sweethearts during the war?
Frances: Just casual acquaintances. Most of my news about him and his family came through his Florida cousins who were friends of mine. Toward the end of his military service, we started corresponding.
Kitty: Did other members of your family serve in the war?
Frances: Two brothers and a brother-in-law served in the military B two in the Army and one in the Navy. Guy Lane, my oldest brother enlisted in the Army in June of 1941 after learning that he would probably be drafted in July under the draft program requiring a year of military service for young men in the 18-28 age bracket. After he spent a few months of training in Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina, the draft law changed allowing those over a certain age to get out of the Army. Guy was in this age group, so he got out. Within a few weeks of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Knowing he would be called back into military service, he immediately called his commanding officer at Camp Blanding, inquiring if he could get back into the same outfit. He could, as a medic, so he enlisted again. In 1942, he was sent across the Atlantic in a convoy of ships, zigzagging to Africa. In the North African campaign, he was assigned as a medic to an anti-aircraft unit. After the allies successfully overran the Germans in North Africa, Guy was involved in the Italian campaign, still as an army medic. A few days after landing in Naples, members of his group were searching for a warm place to sleep. They found a vineyard with stacks of ammunition stored in it. This would give them protection from the bitter cold biting winds. During the night, they were awakened by a rumbling noise and the shaking and rattling of the piles of ammunition. Frightened, they rushed out of the vineyard and way from the stacks of ammunition. Volcano Vesuvius had erupted and this was in March of 1944. Vesuvius is only 7 miles from Naples. Soldiers of allied armies helped people of nearby towns escape the lava and volcanic dust. The Battle of Anzio beachhead was the fiercest battle in which my brother was engaged. After the Italian campaign,
Guy's unit crossed the border into Austria where they stayed until the European conflict was over. In August of 1945, Guy was on a ship crossing the Atlantic for the dear old USA, knowing his unit would be retrained for the Pacific Theater. Several days before reaching the states, they received the wonderful news that Japan had surrendered. This was one happy group of soldiers and sailors.
Kitty: What about the brother who was in the Army? What was his experience?
Frances: A younger brother, James Lane, was a senior in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He enlisted in the navy in January or February of 1942. All seniors who enlisted in a branch of the military service prior to graduation were issued their high school diplomas, anyway. After a training period, James was assigned to a carrier aircraft service unit as an aviation machinist mate. His unit was stationed at the US Naval Base at Espirito Santo in the Hebrides Island group. His group repaired and maintained fighter torpedo bombers, and dive bombers home based on various aircraft carriers throughout the Pacific, which were involved in our war with Japan, especially in the battles of Bouganville and other Solomon Islands encounters. His unit did not experience any heavy fighting. There were a few light Japanese bombing raids over the New Hebrides group of Islands. Once they noticed a convoy of Japanese warships off the coast of Espirito Santo. Had they attempted to fight and capture the naval base at this time, they would have succeeded for Espirito Santo was briefly left with practically no protection. After returning to the states at the end of the war, James met Lenore Alfieri, of Chicago, at a dance at the Aragon Ballroom. She also had a defense job during the war with Gen-E-Motors in Chicago making generators for walkie-talkies. Lenore later became his wife.
Kitty: What army experiences did your brother-in-law have?
Frances: John Richard Hessenius of Rockford, MI, served in various army activities of WWII, but mainly in the Quartermaster Corp. He was in the North African and Italian campaigns, landing in Anzio as replacement troops after the fierce battle at Anzio Beach Head. From Italy, he was sent to Iran through India. Iran was a neutral country but allowed the Allies to ferry war supplies through Iran to Russia. After the surrender of Germany, he was flown back to the states from Tehran, Iran. While in flight, they received the good news that Japan had surrendered. His military service ended at Fort Barrancas, Pensacola, FL, where he met my sister, his future wife.
My sister, Jeannette Lane, who was a college student during the first part of the war, worked one summer at Wainwright Shipyard in Panama City, FL, where some of the Liberty Ships were built. Later, she worked for a short period of time with The Harbor Defenses of Pensacola at Fort Barrancas.
Kitty: What would you consider some important economic effects of the war?
Frances: Prior to WWI, the US was very sectionalized. The "Great
Depression" played a great part in this. Most of the WWII generation teen-agers and young adults did not own cars and they could not afford them. This ties in with an unusual experience I had while working as an assistant airway traffic controller. My friend Beth and I decided to spend our day off at Jacksonville Beach. This required a 10 mile bus ride. When we were ready to return home, we waited and waited for a bus which had room for us. Several crowded busses had passed us by. A couple type car with two young adult males in the front seat stopped. The driver said,
"We have room for some passengers going back to Jacksonville." Beth and I
weren't about to get in the car with strangers. A mother and her young pregnant daughter got in. The driver said,
"We have room for two more." Beth and I looked at each other and decided it would be safe for us with the other two passengers. Now, here were four women sitting very crowded on the floor in the back of a small coupe gong back to Jacksonville. When we reached the first stop light in Jacksonville, a policeman and a young man approached us. The young man said,
"Yes, this is my car B same radio and everything." The policeman told the driver to move over,
"I'm taking you to jail." The driver asked, "Cant we let the women out? We were just giving them a ride from the
beach." The policeman said, "No, all have to go to jail." We entered the jail area through a gate with a sign reading,
"Enter with prisoners only." The male passenger told us that he did not meet the driver until that day and did not know that the car was stolen. After two or three hours, we five passengers were told we could go home. So, we left not knowing that we had been riding in a stolen car.
Getting back to economic effects, prior to December 7th, 1941, the Lend Lease Program was helping make more jobs available in the industrial cities. It was not until our formal entry into the war, that new job opportunities became widely available in small cities and many rural areas. It is impossible to separate the economics of the Great Depression and the WWII era. We, of the WWII generation, are very grateful to our government, the military, and the civilians for the wonderful job they did. Our government had some very helpful programs. In the 1930's, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) helped many poor families survive. Many young men of this era spent time in a CCC camp before being drafted into the military. My oldest brother spent time in a CCC camp in Louisiana planting pine trees. My husband was in a CCC camp in Swan Quarter, NC, feeding Canadian geese during their migration and protecting them and other wild life in the Lake Mattamuskeet region.
During my years as a high school librarian, in Columbus county of NC, I came across many library books that had been repaired by young men in the CCC. While taking a waterway tour in Winter Park, FL, which included Rollins College and other areas, I noticed that the connecting canals were constructed by the CCC. These young men received only $35.00 or $40.00 per month for their work and of course, their board was furnished. The government sent $30.00 of this home to their families. They could keep the balance for their spending money. I well remember what a great help this $30.00 was for my family.
Let's not forget the REA (Rural Electrification Act). Through this act, many rural home owners could enjoy many of the modern conveniences. As a result of the GI Bill, many WWII veterans were able to further their education which enabled them to be better providers for their families and better and more efficient community, industrial, and governmental leaders. May this generation and future generations never forget the debt we owe to the WWII generation.
Kitty: What about the social effects?
Frances: Socially, there was much missing of populations from all over the US B north, south, east, and west. Before the war, I knew only three
"yankees" and probably no westerners. When I was a child, I remember the unforgettable 4th of July celebrations in Graceville, FL. These celebrations were planned and engineered by a
"transport" from up north B a Mr. Graham. "Climbing the greasy
pole" was one of the 4th of July activities he introduced, that has stuck with me all these years. On our way to school, my cousin and I passed by Mr.
Graham's small cottage by the railroad tracks. In his garden, he had the most luscious dew berries we had ever tasted. Another northerner closely associated with me, was Tressa Driggers from Princeton, NJ, who was a fellow teacher and my roommate.
Kitty: Who was the 3rd Yankee?
Frances: Bert Norris from Coshocton, OH. He was the husband of my cousin, Altha Mae Hall, whose father was a traveling salesman up north. Bert, his wife, and mother-in-law, often played rook, a popular card game, and dominoes with my mother and father. He was also our electrician after electricity became available though the REA. During the war, many northerners ended up in the South for their military training. We southern girls had a ball dating those
"yankee" boys. I even ended up with a "yankee" brother-in-law and a
"yankee" sister-in-law whom I love dearly.
In all seriousness, it is amazing how quickly all sections of the US came together and worked as one in the early 1940's. Intense patriotism was evident everywhere. I would like to end with a quotation from Stephen
Ambrose's column, entitled, "A Generation That Saved Liberty," which appeared in the Wilmington Star, July 4th, 1998.
"Perhaps the greatest gift the WWII generation gave us, was hope."
Kitty: Frances Lane is a participant in New Hanover County, North Carolina's WWII Remembered group.