WW II Secretary Mary "Nana" Lawlor | Teen Ink

WW II Secretary Mary "Nana" Lawlor MAG

By Anonymous

   So, Nana, I'd like to ask you some questions about your timein the Army. How old were you when you signedup?
Well, let's see. I got through high school when Iwas 17, and had to work until I was 21; that was the earliestwe were allowed to enlist.

Why did you join theArmy?
Things were happening in Europe. Hitler was goingcrazy, so the U.S. went to help England - they were gratefulfor us. At this point the Germans had already taken overFrance and some other countries.

Did you seeany combat?
No, women weren't sent into combat. Wejoined because - well, there were these ads about 'freeing menup for fighting' so I became a WAAC (Women's Army AuxilliaryCorps). Women weren't drafted - we werevolunteers.

What did you do in theArmy?
I was living in New Jersey and they sent meorders. This was my life in the Army, getting orders from menin Washington. They made up a train of women to go down toDaytona Beach, Florida. That was our post, where we weretrained to be WAACs. We were taught the basics - who tosalute, how to wear the uniform and such. Then we learned howto march, and were assigned different tasks. Sometimes youwere KP - kitchen patrol, where you helped out with the cooks,or in the mess hall where we ate. We had guard duty at night,too.

After six weeks of training, we dropped one A fromWAAC and became the Women's Army Corps.
From there mycompany was sent to Bolling Field -

Uh, how'sthat spelled?

Okay,sorry. I had it spelled Bowling, like the sport. Please go on...

We were sent to Bolling Field, outside ofWashington. There all the WACs were assigned jobs. I worked inthe Intelligence Office - don't laugh (she chuckles) - Iworked for the S2, we called it, running their office. Ityped, I wrote shorthand; basically I was asecretary.

At this point I decided I wanted to be anofficer. You had to try out for Officer School in those days... so I went before a panel of people. It was funny, Ithought I looked so spit-and-polished, but afterward one ofthe people came up to me and said, "You know, your slip isshowing" (she laughs). Luckily, they weren't looking at slips.I got in, and went to Ft. Oglethorpe in Georgia. You know, Iwas in the first group of women to be trained for three months- the same time as the men.

In Officer School webasically learned how to instruct other volunteers. Theinteresting thing was, the class was integrated.

Therewere men in your class?
No, no, this was back whenthings were segregated into black and white people - therewere two black women in our group. Alfreda St. Anne Lebow - Istill remember that name after all these millions of years,and the other one was, oh, let me see, Georgia ... Georgiasomething. It was a lot of fun, because most of us had nevermet a black person before, but we got along well ... I believethere were 50 of us in the class.

Anyway, I graduatedfrom Officer School and was sent to Des Moines, Iowa, thefirst real WAC center, and there I helped train more WACs. Weall lived in big houses, but, oh, Katie, they were in themiddle of cornfields! We were so bored! I remember we'd gointo town every week and each of us would get a pint of icecream - we were fat as sows.

Now, I know youwere in Berlin ...
Yes, one day orders came for a fewof us to go to England. It was a big deal in those days,flying across the Atlantic. Granny and Aunt Patty came tovisit me the night before I left.

I flew on thoseplanes where you sat facing one another, we called them bucketseats, and it was a long flight. We landed in Scotland, andthen flew to London.

The thing is, we were on our own.We lived with a lady in London, but didn't eat meals there.Every day we took a bus to Bushy Park. King Henry VIII used tohunt there, but now it's open to the public. During the war,they gave it over to the Americans. I was assigned to a groupwho was planning how they would set up thegovernment.

And then one day orders came. They said,'We want you to lead this platoon over to Paris.' Paris hadbeen liberated. This was maybe six weeks after D-Day. We gotdressed up in our combat clothes, and then went over on a LCI- that's where the door comes down and the troops just walkout (hopefully) onto the beach. We landed at Omaha Beach, andsomehow we got up onto the cliffs.

This is agreat story.
We got up that cliff, somehow, and therewere men there, working on the roads. They'd set up a placefor us to live, well, they were just tents where we stayed forseven or eight days, then we got into trucks to go to Paris.You know all of those truck drivers were black. The Army wasstill segregated, but these men had their own unit, drivingtrucks. We drove to Paris - I'm not sure how many hours thattrip was - and then I flew back to England.

I went backto Bushy Park, covered in camouflage - in nets. I worked foranother general who was in charge of deciding what to do withthe German Army after the war ... all those millions ofpeople! I was a personal assistant. I worked for him about ayear, taking care of him. I was just a glorified secretary. Weall went to Versailles and stayed in the palace where MarieAntionette used to shack up. Are you taking European history,Katie?

Nah, we're learning about theGreeks.
Well, you'll get to it sooner or later. At thepalace, we were well-treated; it was a grand palace. But afteronly three or four months, we were sent to a big manufacturingtown for the drug companies in Germany and moved right intotheir buildings.

Were any Germans nasty toyou?
Well, of course, they hated us. We were takingover their town, and some had to move. But there were so manyof us, they were scared.

From there, I finally went toBerlin. We had our headquarters in a college. The city hadbeen torn apart by bombs, but there were some areas where thebuildings were still standing. I'll never forget - I decidedit was time to get a haircut, so during my lunch one day, Iwent over to this little place that said it was a salon, andas I was getting my hair washed, I noticed the whole place wasfull of Germans! They could have broken my neck, and nobodywould have known what had happened to me. You can imagine Iwas very anxious to get out of there.

V-Day came, thenVE Day, the E for Europe, VJ Day for Japan. We worked for theControl Counsel - a group in charge of running Germany afterthe war. England, the U.S., France and Russia - those four hadto make laws for Germany. I had to take notes. Each of thefour leaders had a group of workers, together we were calledthe secretariat. Eisenhower was in charge of the Americangroup.

When did you leave theArmy?
Well, once the war was over, I decided to gohome. We went by boat, this time landing at Ft. Dixon. I wasdemobilized - they gave me some money and said, 'It was greatto have you. Good-bye.'

I went home for three months,but it was so different. I had been in the Army for so long, Ifelt like nobody was speaking my language. So I went back toBerlin to work for the Army as a citizen. I worked for theeconomic division of the Control Counsel this time. I got inon a Sunday night, and went to Mass. And there was yourgrandfather.

You met at Mass? That's sosweet.
Well, actually, I had known him a little beforeI had left. I was mad at him - he and his friends had tried tostop me from getting on my bus to leave. They tried to make melate.

But he asked you out?
Yes, heasked me out, and we dated in Germany. We got married inDecember - it must've been July when Iarrived.

Anything you want to add?
I dowant to tell you, that the Army is so different now. They'vemade a big mess of everything. Your grandfather was neveraround to see all of this, but I remember he didn't thinkwomen should be in combat.

Oh, and one funny thing:when I went back to Berlin, I worked for President Eisenhower.I was his secretary, but he didn't stay too long. Eisenhowerwas a grouch! I know he had a lot on his mind, but he was sogrumpy, Katie!

Our conversation ended, but afew minutes later, Nana called me back ...

I justthought of something else - When I was working in London, itwas bombed all the time. Then it changed from airplanes towhat we called V2 rockets. You couldn't hear them coming, theway you hear planes.

But you had air-raidshelters, right?
Yes, yes, we would all try to diveinto them and cover ourselves up. It was remarkable. Londonwas being destroyed, but the people were still so gung-ho.


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i love this so much!