Interview of Marjorie Tinker
Transcript Number 110
Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with UNCW's library. We're in the Porter Neck community outside of Wilmington, North Carolina. Today's date is the 15th of May in the year 2002. We have the privilege this morning of interviewing Marjorie Tinker.
INTERVIEWER: Ms. Tinker, when did you go into the military, where did you go into the military and why did you go into the military?
TINKER: Well I had just graduated from nursing training six months before...
INTERVIEWER: Before what?
TINKER: Oh it was in 1948, '47, and it was kind of like they made you feel like it was your obligation to go into the military and do your part because so many of the boys were gone.
INTERVIEWER: Excuse me, you said 1947, did you mean 1941 right after the war started?
TINKER: Yes I did. I think it would be '43 that actually I went in.
TINKER: It was a hospital unit that was formed by a doctor, one of the doctors from New York City, and they organized all of their medical men and all of their nurses and so we had a station hospital which was called the 119th Station Hospital and we went to Texas. That was where we trained down there and that is where we girls had to climb under the barbed wire with a firing squad and climb the ladders and do all....
INTERVIEWER: So this was really basic training.
TINKER: Basic training, military training, yes, we went through everything the boys went through.
INTERVIEWER: How long did the training go on?
TINKER: About six months there down in Texas and by that time we had organized, our doctors really did a great job. They had the ingenuity to buy us washing machines and a lot of the essentials for setting up a hospital in New Guinea, which we didn't know where we were going. Maybe they did, but we didn't, the girls didn't, none of them. As far as I know, nobody knew where we were going.
So we went to Washington state and we boarded the Liberty ship that was taking us across the water.
INTERVIEWER: When was that, do you remember, spring, summer?
TINKER: It would have to be two to three years after I graduated which was '43, '44, '45 possibly. So we all boarded this big boat and of course we had to zigzag all the way across because of the torpedoes. You'd just get settled in one turn and you'd be turning for the next one and it was so funny because our bunk beds, you know, were should I say nose deep (laughter). If you turned over, your shoulder hit the top. So that's the way we went and we were on that boat for three weeks.
INTERVIEWER: You were in a cabin with other...
TINKER: With other girls, yes.
INTERVIEWER: How many in a cabin, do you remember?
TINKER: I would say at least a dozen, possibly more. It was funny. We had a lot of funny laughs because funny things happened.
INTERVIEWER: For example?
TINKER: Well (laughter) if you raced up, you hit your nose on the top spring. If you turned over, your shoulders probably hit another spring (laughter). We had a lot of fun, funny laughs. Some of the men, you know, the boys, they weren't men, they were boys because they had been recruited also. They did some funny things. We had a lot of good laughs.
INTERVIEWER: What was your military rank?
TINKER: When I came out, it was a first lieutenant.
INTERVIEWER: But at the time that you were on the ship and going?
TINKER: You were just a second lieutenant.
INTERVIEWER: How many nurses were there?
TINKER: I think there would probably be 35 of us. It was a big hospital. It was a New York unit hospital.
INTERVIEWER: And how many physicians roughly?
TINKER: Oh, I would say probably 12. Many of them were very old and many of them should not have been, but they were volunteering. My doctor was a Captain Gentile out of New York City and he was doing psychiatric care and never saw a psychiatrist in his life (laughter). So my ward was hysterical, but my ward boys wouldn't' let me go into the ward because we had, well they just didn't know what kind of people I was going to meet down on that ward.
INTERVIEWER: Let me take you back, you're on the ship and how many days did you say it took to get across?
TINKER: I would imagine we were on a good two weeks.
INTERVIEWER: Okay and when you got off that luxury cruise, where did you find yourself?
TINKER: Well that was the exciting part because we pulled in to ______ Bay, New Guinea, the most beautiful place in the whole wide world and there we sat and I said, "I'm not getting off here". It was two days later they came with the ducks and we were taken off and we didn't....
INTERVIEWER: I'm sorry, you said the ducks?
TINKER: Well the ducks were the transportation from the ship to the land and the boys loved them because they were
INTERVIEWER: How did you get from ship to duck?
TINKER: That's the ducks.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go down a rope ladder?
TINKER: Oh yes, you had to climb down a rope ladder, sure.
INTERVIEWER: Complete with duffel bag?
TINKER: We weren't treated any different than the boys at all.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a helmet?
TINKER: Yes, we were given a helmet. Not then because we didn't have any clothes. See we went over there with just what we had on, our nurse's clothes. When we got over there, we didn't have anything to wear that was cool. We were given, well, I don't know if you should put this in or not, but Eleanor Roosevelt designed woolens for us (laughter). That was silliest thing I had ever heard of.
Here we got all these beautiful woolen things that Eleanor Roosevelt had designed and there were two shades of blue, dark blue on the top and light blue skirts. Well we could not wear those over there, woolens (laughter).
So finally after we disembarked, we had tents and cots that we stayed in. My first, I had a tent and I had, of course, the first patients we got were the epileptics that nobody knew what to do with. We had a lot of epileptics which should not have ever gotten over there. So most of our work was screening and sending back the ones that we couldn't use and I would look outside my ward and there'd be an epileptic in seizure.
I don't know if they...I suppose I shouldn't say they faked it, but they got out. They weren't too cooperative. They weren't happy with that war. It wasn't their war anyway. But then....
INTERVIEWER: What do you mean it wasn't their war?
TINKER: Well it wasn't the colored boys' war, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: Oh these are Afro-American troops?
TINKER: Yes, yes, yes. When we disembarked, we just had tents to live in and then somehow, I don't know, the military got us a hospital unit with wards and the beds and the whole setup.
INTERVIEWER: Under canvas?
TINKER: Yes and then most of the roofs were tin so when you had a heavy rain, you didn't sleep very much (laughter). But we did have a beautiful location. We were right off a beautiful beach. Of course nobody dared go down to the beach because the waves were so severe that you couldn't do it, but you could look down and my barracks were right off the beach with the big drop down.
INTERVIEWER: What were your hours?
TINKER: Our nursing hours were 7:00 to 3:00 and 3:00 to 11:00, same as everything else.
INTERVIEWER: Did they rotate the shifts?
TINKER: Yes, rotated the shifts. I was the only nurse in this particular ward with Dr. Gentile and he was like a father to me, it was just wonderful. He and I were the only two in that ward because we had, well we would screen the epileptics and ship them out and they went out pretty fast. But can you believe that we had to spend our airplanes to send all these people back that should have never been sent over there.
INTERVIEWER: How many patients in your ward at any time?
TINKER: I think I could have had probably 40. They were big wards with tin roofs and the office was in the middle. Captain Gentile's office was across from mine.
INTERVIEWER: And one doctor?
TINKER: Yes, I had one doctor.
INTERVIEWER: And there was one nurse per shift?
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember, what was the treatment, medical treatment protocol for epileptics in those days?
TINKER: I suspect it was mostly medications and I don't remember that because that was Phenobarbital in those days. It was just simple medications until we got the atabrin, you know, we didn't have any protection at all from malaria. So we were all really yellow, beautiful, when we had all that atabrin in us (laughter), even your eyeballs.
We had a really good unit and we saw all of the USO people, Jack Benny and all the guys came through, Bob Hope, they all came through and that was just wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: Back to your ward, what was it referred to as, a psychiatric ward, a neurological ward.
TINKER: A combination of everything cause we screened the epileptics and sent them out.
INTERVIEWER: When you say screen, what....
TINKER: Well we had to write them up.
INTERVIEWER: Clinical notes.
TINKER: Typical medical routine and then I think Dr. Gentile apparently got notice that they had to be sent home so I don't know how they really got rid of them, but I'd come in in the morning and they'd be gone.
INTERVIEWER: You must have had orderlies?
TINKER: Yes we did. I had Big Roberts, he was my orderly from Texas.
INTERVIEWER: What was his name?
TINKER: Big Roberts. He was a great guy.
INTERVIEWER: And called Big because?
TINKER: He was so big and so handsome and he was so southern and he talked so southern. He had such a good disposition, he was just wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: Were most or were all of your patients Afro-American?
TINKER: No, we had some, I don't know what you really want to call, I'd call them fairies.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, sure.
TINKER: We had a lot of the white boys. Now whether they were faking or whether they were not, I have no idea, but I know they were ______.
INTERVIEWER: And that sent them back to the States.
TINKER: Oh yes, they went right away. Funny experiences.
INTERVIEWER: Were you ever in any danger from patients?
TINKER: No, not to my knowledge. We were very well protected. The colored boys, you know, built the roads and were in construction because that was their thing. They could get behind a bulldozer and they were in seventh heaven. They built a lot of roads for us. No, we were not in any danger. However, three of my friends decided they wanted to go north where there was more action and I was told that they never made it. They didn't make their destination, that they were killed before they got there.
INTERVIEWER: These were nurses?
TINKER: Three nurses, uh huh, friends of mine that decided they were going to get more action and they decided to go. You could probably get a ride if you sweet-talked the boys who flew the airplanes. The boys would come in from their ride during the day and if they circled, it depended on how many times they would circle above us, would be how many planes they had shot down and that's how we knew. We did get occasional milk, fresh milk from Australia if the boys were, you know, had to be down there, they'd bring us milk, fresh milk. That was the only milk we ever had.
INTERVIEWER: What was the rest of the food like?
TINKER: Well it was all C-rations, rations. We had a nice chef, but what can you do when you don't have a lot of stuff to work with. It was all canned, bagged, but it was, they tried to make it as tasty as they could and we survived. We had to take a salt pill every day and the atabrin every day. That was in front of our plates. We had a good unit, it was, you know, real nice.
It wasn't really a hardship, but I have to tell you, you know my father and my mother never knew where I was because I was shipped out. See nobody knew where you were and I wrote home to my father and I told him to look at the Life magazine on a certain page. They had the jungle in there and so my father knew where I was all the time. He was the only one and he told everybody in the whole world about it (laughter), that his daughter was over in New Guinea.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a military base connected...were you connected to a military base?
INTERVIEWER: You were just a freestanding organization?
TINKER: No, we were just there as a unit, a hospital unit. Now Mayo Clinic came in shortly after and they built a huge hospital and I don't know where it was because I didn't see it. It was farther up the New Guinea coast I guess.
INTERVIEWER: But it wasn't a tent? It was a building?
TINKER: Well there were tin roofs and screens. There were all screens and cement blocks for floors and the cots went in there and there were dividers, probably two to a room.
INTERVIEWER: That's kind of swanky, isn't it?
TINKER: Well it wasn't really .... I didn't suffer that much really. There were a lot of friends, I had a lot of friends. You have a lot of friends when.... Now I have to tell you about this one boy that was a patient of mine. They had this Dungee fever where their temperature would just soar and he had bought opals over there for his girlfriend and he was so sick with that temperature, we nurses had to just really work.
There was nothing, no medications and we were just getting the antibiotics and they weren't very successful at that point. So actually it was nursing care by sponging him and keeping him cool and keeping their temperature down.
So he had bought these opals for his, I suspect, girlfriend and they were under his pillow and that poor boy just watched those opals like you wouldn't believe. I think if he had ever missed them that we would all be dead cause he was going to get those home and I sure hope he did, but I never did know what happened to him because after they were discharged, they went back to their units and we never saw them again.
INTERVIEWER: That was the question I had. How would the patients physically get to your hospital?
TINKER: Um, well, they didn't have...well we had ambulances, yes we did. The ones that went over the hump, you know, that was the 41st division that was practically wiped out over there, there weren't many of those boys left. They had ambulances to get to us. Transportation, they built some good roads over there. That's what the colored boys, just loved the big bulldozers.
They could drive those all over the place and they built roads for us cause we had a road to the beach. If we had transportation, we could go to the beach in the afternoon. It was up the road away. The beaches were gorgeous. The water was beautiful. It was just a beautiful place. I would love to go back over there to see how that has built up because I'll bet you there's the most beautiful hotels over there.
INTERVIEWER: There wasn't any town there was there?
INTERVIEWER: Just the bay?
TINKER: Not to my knowledge. The natives slept up in the hills and the natives were tiny people. I think I meant to look at those pictures. I had some pictures of the natives. They're very, very tiny and they lived up in the trees. They would climb the palm trees you know with their bare feet, but they would have a snake around their neck (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: Did they come into your camp?
TINKER: Yes, yes, they came, they would walk through. They weren't afraid of us.
INTERVIEWER: They're just sort of inquisitive.
TINKER: Yeah, we'd see them all out on the road and they'd all have a skinny dog or somebody had a snake around their neck, but they all had a grin. They didn't have many teeth, but they all could smile.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any problems with thievery or with some clash of culture where they didn't understand and did something that got them into trouble?
TINKER: No, they lived up in the trees, you know, that's where they lived. They'd climb up those trees with their bare feet and they'd get up to the top. No, no problems.
INTERVIEWER: Aren't you glad that you didn't have to provide nursing care in that way? Climbing the trees....
TINKER: Uh, I think that they would have been very receptive.
INTERVIEWER: Had you climbed a tree?
TINKER: Oh yeah, I think.... (laughter) no, I didn't climb the trees, no way. And I mean they were high trees. Those were those big palms with all the coconuts and that's what they lived on, coconuts. We used to get the coconuts and we had to crack them and then eat them. I think we did pretty good. One time we got some beer (laughter) shipped over to us, yeah we really got beer.
INTERVIEWER: Did the Navy bring it? Who supplied it?
TINKER: Yeah, it was, it must have been ordered for us. Somebody did. We had beer sometimes. Really it wasn't all that bad.
INTERVIEWER: Was it monotonous?
TINKER: Well naturally you...no, I don't think it was. It was interesting.
INTERVIEWER: Am I correct, you were on duty eight hours a day?
INTERVIEWER: How did you fill up the other 16 hours on an average normal day?
TINKER: Well you know how we girls are. We washed our clothes and ironed, we could do that. We had washing machines. They sent us, our C.O. bought washing machines before we left the States so we had washing machines set up. We had a washroom. We washed our clothes. We could iron if we had an iron and I happened to have an iron. I think they told us to take an iron. We all took irons and we had an ironing board. It really wasn't that bad and it was a beautiful place. We didn't suffer that much.
INTERVIEWER: So you had electricity too?
TINKER: Yes we did. We had power generators. Yeah, we had electricity.
INTERVIEWER: So you had lights at night to...
TINKER: We had lights at night, yes, it really wasn't that much of a hardship. The only thing...on the way back, we went up to the Philippines and I was there a month before we got to go home. We got on this hospital ship that had come from the ETO.
INTERVIEWER: I'm sorry, ETO stands for?
TINKER: European Theater of Operation. We boarded this hospital ship and I was on the top bunk. There were hospital rooms and hospital bunks and we got out in the middle of the ocean and the engine stopped. This poor little boy was down there trying to fix this engine and when he fixed it, the rudder stuck so we went around in a circle. (Laughter) We were going around in circles. If you got on the edge, you know, you'd slide off into the water.
I watched that little boy. It was way down where the poor thing was working and I talked to him while he was trying to fix that darn boat so he could get home. We were on the water three weeks in that hospital ship. That was the worst part of the while trip.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a large ship?
TINKER: It was a transport ship. Yeah, it was well-equipped except it leaked, started to leak (laughter). All my clothes got wet. Then we went around in circles and we were playing bridge one day, a bunch of us, and we almost went off in the water because we'd start to circle, we were going around sideways.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any patients on the ship?
TINKER: No, not on the ship. This was amen, we were on our home.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you land?
TINKER: I think it was not San Francisco, it was lower.
INTERVIEWER: San Diego?
TINKER: No, it was farther up than that. It wasn't San Diego. I can't remember where.
INTERVIEWER: Well when you got off the ship...
TINKER: It was so cold, I froze to death that night. Absolutely froze to death.
INTERVIEWER: In California?
TINKER: (Laughter) Yes, it was one of those nights where I had everything out of my suitcase on and I was still freezing. We were used to the tropics by that time. Yeah, I was sure cold that night.
INTERVIEWER: That's why Mrs. Roosevelt ______.
TINKER: Then they put us on a train and we went up over the mountains to get back to Chicago. That was where I was mustered out in Chicago.
INTERVIEWER: At Fort Sheridan?
TINKER: Yeah. So that was the end of my...my brother was wounded over in Germany so my mother was really concerned about him, but he came through fine.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you in the military?
TINKER: I was in two and a half years. See our hospital wasn't put together, I guess, until...you had to have the whole unit together before you could ship out. You had to have all your doctors and all the nurses. Then the Mayo Clinic came over with a big hospital.
INTERVIEWER: And you were honorably discharged at Fort Sheridan?
INTERVIEWER: Never went back in the service again?
TINKER: (Laughter) No, no, that was enough. I got married and had children. I raised my family.
INTERVIEWER: You know, one of the interesting things that happens, is happening right now is that through the miracle of video tape, you'll never be a day older than you are right now. The video tape will capture you and you will always be the same to the video tape. So you have two children? Do you have any grandchildren?
TINKER: Yes, I have two.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Would you look right in the camera and pretend you're talking to your grandchildren and would you tell them what did you learn from being in the war and seeing all the things you saw? What did it teach you?
TINKER: Well I learned to be very self-sufficient and to take care of myself because there wasn't anybody there to help me. I had to do it myself. Actually it wasn't such a bad life. I felt I was helping, doing my share which was necessary at that time. So many of our boys were lost.
INTERVIEWER: Does anybody ever win a war?
TINKER: Well that's difficult. I don't believe anybody ever does win a war.
1 Ducks (DUKW) were amphibious trucks used the US navy in World War II.