Genevieve McLaughlin Ison
Genevieve McLaughlin Ison grew up in Pocatello and served with the WAVES. She worked on flights bringing soldiers, and often the wounded, back to their homes in the United States from the fighting overseas.
Jim: Tell me about where you grew up. You said you grew up where?
Genevieve: Grew up in Pocatello, grown and reared in Pocatello. In fact, I'd gone away to business college and it was still Pocatello, little town of Pocatello, and I was gone for three months, four months something like that. In the meantime, when I came back they had built the Pocatello Air Base and the town has never been the same. It was just climbing, swarming with the cutest little Army guys you've ever seen. Oh, I was so busy. Anyway, and I had so many of my dear friends of the guys I've dated, they end up working down overseas and were killed so I just decided that I got mad and I decided I had to -
So my dad, who's a very conservative Irishman, had a sporting good store and I told him I thought I was going to join the service and he nearly blew his top. "Good girls do not go into the service." He was, you know papas in those days, they were the boss of the house, so I had to outfox him. I went down to his store when it was full of his fishing buddies and everything, with the Navy chief and said I'd like to join and I remember the Chief said to my dad, "Oh, Mr. McLaughlin, don't worry she'll have a good time," and my dad grabbed the form and he grabbed the pencil and he says, "I hope she's miserable," and he signs his name, threw the pen down, and I was in the Navy and then I couldn't get out.
Jim: And for how long were you in?
Genevieve: I was in from January until the fall, for a year and a half.
Jim: What years?
Genevieve: God, you know I lie about my age so much I have to stop and figure out when it was. When was the war over?
Genevieve: Forty-six. Okay then, I went in '45, '46 until June of '47.
Jim: Tell me a little bit about what you talked about, Pocatello, how you went, what was it like back in the '40s, I guess pre war.
Genevieve: Very quiet, very, very quiet. As I say, my dad had a sporting goods store and I got out of high school and went to business college. When I came back the town had completely changed and I got my first job on the railroad which was just marvelous. I had the best office in the Depot downtown. Of course it's closed now, which just breaks my heart when I go there, but we had just such a lovely office and a marvelous boss. I worked for Division Engineering. Troop trains would come through and whenever they did, all us gals, we'd walk out on the balcony and watch all these cute guys and they'd whistle at us and we'd whistle back at them and then after the train left we'd go back to work.
Jim: Now, I was thinking this was going to be another one of these, "Ah, shucks, I was just a small town girl from Pocatello and I was far too demure to ever whistle at any of these."
Genevieve: Oh God, I had a ball. I didn't miss a dance. My father, after he got over the shock and to realize that I could still be a good girl even if - I went to all of the dances at Memorial Hall and they had a bus that went out to the air base. I had one girlfriend that he approved of, one he didn't like, but one he approved of. And if I'd go with Alice I could get away with almost anything. Of course, I didn't drive. Kids didn't drive like they do now and we'd catch the bus and go out and dance out there. Then one contingent would be sent overseas and some new guys would move in and back to the drawing board.
Jim: Everybody I talk to about the '40s looks back and they get this sort of wistful nostalgic look in their eye like it was just this -
Genevieve: I'm not wistful. I'm a depression child. It was not a wistful time for me. My father had a sporting goods store, there were four children in the family and it was a struggle. The air base being built in Pocatello really relieved a lot of our financial anxieties and then, as I say, I got a job at the railroad. My sister, my older sister, was teaching school for eighty bucks a month and I got a job as a messenger at the railroad for $125. She was so mad at me because she had gone to school for two years at Airmo. and here she was teaching for eighty dollars and I got this great job. That was the hardest thing about going to the service was to leave, and by then I'd worked my way up as a secretary and I was making a hundred eighty bucks a month. Hog heaven! Boy, I couldn't get to the stores fast enough on payday and so it was hard to leave that. It really was, it was hard to leave that money. But as I say, it was an emotional decision. I had so many friends who had been killed and I just thought -
Jim: Gonna go get 'em?
Jim: Well, it's interesting that you say that it was hard times because I think there's a tendency sometimes for people to talk about the war years, and not just during the war, but the time leading up to the war, and through the war, that it was this sort of wonderful time painted in golden light and it -
Genevieve: Oh, it was.
Jim: But you hear that, don't you?
Genevieve: When I think of my very early years before the depression, I think of painted in light, for some reason. Isn't it funny? My memories all seem bright with sunshine, playing in the front yard, out in the street because there wasn't enough traffic or anything. But then after the depression hit, my dad - and he had a fairly successful store in Pocatello and then he lost everything and had to start all over again - and from then on, my memories are gray. I can't and I wouldn't think of it except you mentioned sunlight and there was just no sunlight until when I came back from business school and got my job. And by then the air base had been built and the town, when I came back, was just completely changed. You couldn't get into a restaurant, lined up to go into the Chief Theater or the Orpheum or whatever and it was very exciting.
Jim: I'm taking notes as we're talking just because one of the things I want to do is try to find pictures of some of these places. The old depot is still there isn't it?
Genevieve: The old depot's still there. The last time I saw it though it'd had been abandoned. I went up to my old office.
Jim: Yeah, it's just kind of boarded up.
Genevieve: Oh, it just broke my heart because that was such a lovely place.
Jim: What was the feel of the town when you walked around and saw people?
Genevieve: Camaraderie, camaraderie. As I said, my dad had a sporting goods store and he was also on the council at Fort Hall so he was quite an active sportsman and well respected in Pocatello. We weren't very well off, but my dad was highly respected and everybody in town would come in to Ben McLaughlin's Sporting Goods Store and shoot the bull and then there was always somebody in there. I knew everyone in town of course because everybody had been in dad's store. We kids worked in my dad's store from the time we could look over the top of the counter and help one for sale of licenses or whatever or watch the store when dad had to do an errand and so everybody knew us, Ben McLaughlin's kids. So we had to toe the line because if it got back to dad we'd be in big trouble.
Jim: First of all, what'd you do for fun though? You talked about the dances, but what did you do for fun?
Genevieve: Well, I mentioned about playing in the streets. Every neighborhood had a vacant lot and you played marbles or jacks or ran and I was the fastest runner in the neighborhood so I always got to play in all the games. And when we had the money we went to a movie once a week and as I said we helped my dad at the store and my mother worked at the store too. There were three of us and we had a kid brother, three girls and a kid brother, and we took care of him and helped keep up the house when mother was at the store and -
Jim: What was it like, dating in those days? You talked about all these servicemen coming through and all that stuff, but what was that like? You make it sound like a feeding frenzy.
Genevieve: It was for me because I had never dated anybody. I never had a date in high school or anything. I was very shy and when I came back I sort of blossomed and went to the dances, went to movies. Of course my father was a very strict Irishman family man, we were a tight family. Although I dated and I enjoyed it and everything, I was always a good girl. I never went further than I think a few of the girls did. I wouldn't have had the nerve. If my father would've found out I would have been thrashed for good.
Jim: What was it like? You talked about how the servicemen would come through and it was obviously a lot of fun. And at the same time it must've been tinged with a certain something because they were headed off to war.
Genevieve: They were going, yeah. Very emotional all the time. I met quite a few of the guys in my dad's store. In fact, my early first love was somebody that came into my dad's store to find out about fishing and then when he was killed, that kind of threw me for a loop for a long time. And that was another reason why I decided to join the service, that I was going to go do something.
Jim: Obviously we have a war that's going on now, but virtually everybody I've talked to who's of a certain age from the World War II era talked about that. They knew people that went over, they dated people that went over, almost everybody you know either knew, went out with, dated, was in love with somebody who went over and didn't come back.
Genevieve: And didn't come back. There were other boys, other guys later on that I went with and -
Jim: But it was typical, I mean.
Genevieve: Finally, I got so superstitious I wouldn't date anyone. I said no, not going to go with anybody whether they went to the South Pacific or England. And of course Pocatello was a bombing - you know B24s and later on B17s - and they were there, the last stop before they went overseas. And it was inevitable of course that a lot of these people would get killed, but you'd get to know a crew and dance and talk to them and get acquainted with them and then next thing you'd hear, you'd write them a letter and it'd be returned.
Jim: It can't be the sort of thing you ever got used to.
Genevieve: Oh, of course not, very hard.
Jim: You said you wanted to do something and joined up.
Genevieve: So I joined the Navy. Took boot camp in Hunter College in New York. Don't ever go to New York in January and go to Hunter College because the wind blows off that - what is the bay there? I can remember we'd be marching in poor dumb boot camp but we did have a nice heavy blue overcoat. We had to chip the ice off of our buttons to unbutton our overcoats. It was a terrible time, terrible time. Then I went from there after boot camp and they just opened this new thing called Specialist V. You were stewardesses, but they called 'em flight orderlies. They had these up till then, just sailors, just the guys were able. And they were going to open it for WAVES, and so out of the whole company and of course everybody wanted to do it. I think everyone in the company - there were 2,000, 3,000 gals - we all applied for it, we're all interviewed. Speaking of good 'ol Pocatello, my theory is when I walked in shaking like an aspen and I walked in to the WAVE officer, I got the sympathy vote. And then I think she thought, Pocatello, Idaho, we've got to have somebody from Idaho. Because out of the whole company with two or three thousand people, there were five of us who got that training. One was from New York, one was from California, one was her dad, a big shot in some international thing, then she had lived in Rio and she'd come up and joined the Navy.
So there were five of us went to Olathe, Kansas for flight training and got flight trained there, learned about airplanes and all sorts of stuff. And then from there we went back to Putuxant River, Maryland, which was a Naval Air Station, a huge Naval Air Test Station, big station. I saw my first jet there. I'll tell you, so I went with this Navy pilot and of course enlisted people weren't supposed to go with officers, but that's the only people I met were the guys I flew with so I used to sneak out and go anyway. But anyway, somehow I met a Marine pilot. Navy and Marine - we didn't get along at all - and so he said he was going to fly the next day and be down at the terminal. They had some new planes at Putuxon and he was a test pilot. They were called jets. He said he was going to fly it the next day at noon, to come on down to the air terminal and he would fly over. So anyway we were down there and he flew over just like an airplane should, and all of a sudden he goes into this spiral going up and he must've turned on the afterburners. Then God I thought his plane was on fire. Oh my God, he's blown up, he's going to get killed and some of the guys that were standing there watching it too and they said, That's the jet, that's the afterburner. That was my first jet.
Genevieve: So one day I was at the barracks and my girlfriend Bea who had worked at the air terminal, in fact worked in flight control, she called me and she said, "Gennie, Gen, get down to the terminal right now," and I said, "Why?" She said, "Get down to the terminal right now and if it's secured, come in through the cargo door. You've got to come down to the terminal." And I said, "Okay." So I went down there and I walked in and she said, "Go upstairs," and there was a room upstairs with a big window in it. She said, "Sneak upstairs, Lindbergh is landing." So I did sneak upstairs and they secured the terminal. There wasn't a person that made it, and we're talking about a regular naval air transport service, it was the largest airline in the United States. We had terminals, we had flight crews, we had a - I'll show you - we had published schedules that we flew that we kept our schedules. Most of our pilots were commercial airline pilots that had been pulled into the service. Anyway, so of course the terminal was always full of people drinking coffee or waiting for a plane or da da da, a lot of activity out there and they cleaned 'em all out. They all had to go into a back room and they locked all the doors.
And so there I am up peering over through the glass and Lindbergh walked in with a couple of these escorts and they came across and I watched 'em walk across the terminal. I peaked over the top so they couldn't see me and then there was a VIP lounge and they walked him into the VIP lounge and I think it was when he was going overseas for Roosevelt. Remember? He was supposed to go over and inspect the airports or something there and I'm not sure, but that must've been what it was. So he was up in the VIP lounge while they were refitting the plane and gassing it and everything for the next leg of the trip where they'd go from Putuxon. Probably Newfoundland I think, and then to London. So anyway, I got to sit there and I couldn't leave so I sat there and I watched him sitting there drink coffee and they took him up a sandwich and he talked to all these people. And one by one the officials of the base would go up and meet him. He seemed very gracious, but no one was allowed in the terminal while he was there.
Jim: Oh, well that is a story.
Genevieve: Isn't that nice, isn't that nice?
Jim: That's very nice. For people that are watching this that don't know, you said you were a part of what?
Genevieve: It was the Naval Air Transport Service.
Jim: About the WAVES.
Genevieve: Oh, about the WAVES.
Jim: First off, you said you were part of the WAVES?
Genevieve: I was in the WAVES, yes, and I had boot camp and then from boot camp, as I say, they picked out five of us for this flight training and we went from there to Olathe, Kansas, for the flight training.
Jim: Okay, that's where I was getting.
Jim: So you started out in the WAVES and then got - ?
Genevieve: Oh, I'm still in the WAVES.
Jim: You're still in it. Now tell me what the WAVES are, for people who don't know this.
Genevieve: Women Accepted for Voluntary Enlistment, I think that's what it stood for. I never did know I don't think. Women Accepted for Voluntary Enlistment Service, Emergency Service. Okay, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service that's what it stood for.
Jim: The WAVES.
Genevieve: To Olathe, Kansas, for flight training and after that, then they were just then opening the billet - I think that's what they called it in the Navy - for WAVES to start flying. And they flew us from Olathe, Kansas, back to Putuxon River, Maryland, which was the headquarters for the Atlantic wing and the up and down wing from Boston down to Miami. Big outfit. I went back there and worked in the terminal for a couple of months before I got my flight skins and then we, I started to fly.
Jim: Your flight skins?
Genevieve: That's what we called it. When you got to fly, you got your skins, you got your flight skins. I have no idea where it came from.
Jim: Was it a piece of paper, was it a jacket?
Genevieve: No, you were just called in. You were called into somebody's office and I got my leather flight jacket. I still have it. I gave it to my son last year for Christmas because he's always admired it, my leather jacket and my boots. Oh God, I thought. I used to, when I worked in the terminal, I'd watch these guys, the crews come in the terminal. We had terminals just like a airline terminal now. They all had coffee bars. You had to check in, we had scheduled flights. Putuxon was Washington and we'd go fly to New York, Cherry Point, Boston, and on down to Norfolk, Charleston, Jacksonville, Miami and then they started - and those were in the smaller planes the R4D, the two engines that just carried how many passengers?
We used the R4Ds. The Army calls 'em C47s and the British called 'em the Dakotas, but they were two engine planes. Then when they started the hot shots and I'll tell you about that. That was originally set up to bring prisoners back, terrible flights some of 'em.
Jim: I know that's making you emotional. Why does that strike a cord with you?
Genevieve: Well, I was just a kid and of course every plane, every flight I got I was hoping there'd be somebody that I knew that had been reported missing in action would be on. It was an eight hour flight, eight, ten hours by the time we stopped, gassed up and everything like that. A lot of the kids were in stretchers, had been prisoners for - I'll tell you about some of them later on, not right now maybe. And it was a very informal flight. In fact, we'd put a blanket down on the back of the plane, down on the floor, and they'd get back there and shoot craps and drink milk. They couldn't get enough milk. Go out and we'd load up with the whole crates of milk and by the time we landed at Olathe, the line crew would come and unload those empty cartons, those empty things and bring in more milk and they'd sit back there, stand back there and shoot craps and the ones who weren't shooting craps would exchange stories.
I don't suppose a lot of them ever talked about it after they got home. I've heard people say they never discussed it, but they did discuss it on my plane and they just absolutely weren't even aware I was standing there handing them milk or coffee or sweet rolls or whatever. In fact I remember one time my favorite pilot, William Shannon McNamara - God I loved him - he was a commander and he knew how to throw his weight around when he had to and he buzzed me up and he said, "Gen, I'm flying the plane with the nose straight up. You've got that tail end so full of passengers. Make some of 'em go back to their seats, will ya?" I did some, but they'd get back there and they would talk and I'd stand there in the corner and listen to 'em and they talked about the Bataan Death March. It was rough and as I say, anyway I'm Irish so I'm a walking tear duct anyway.
Jim: I come from a long line of those Irishman, so I know.
Genevieve: So you know what it is, don't you?
Jim: Yeah, I do.
Genevieve: And I detest it. I just detest it when I'm trying to say something halfway intelligent and I fog up. Anyway so -
Jim: But those were tough times.
Genevieve: They were tough times, they were tough times.
Jim: And again, sometimes there's a tendency to talk about World War II as if everything was just wonderful.
Genevieve: It was the most exciting time in the world because we knew what we were doing, we felt we were doing right. Now, this is what bothers me so much. We were so admired by the world then, and I resent like hell the fact now that we have been demeaned and we're the bad guys.
Jim: Why, what was exciting about it?
Genevieve: Oh, okay, so I'm from Pocatello. I never thought I'd get further than Salt Lake or Rupert where our cousins lived and we occasionally went for dinner. We'd get in the car and drive over to Rupert. Big damn day. Boy, all day over, dinner there, all day back, get back in Pocatello at nine or ten o'clock at night, just exhausted. And here we were, in Pocatello, just starting out, meeting kids from California, God, Long Beach, California, New York. I remember the first time I danced with a guy from New York. I couldn't believe it. And then my mother, my dad would go down on Sunday. Mother would fix dinner. There were rations of course, but my dad was a hunter and a fisherman and we always had fish or something like that and also there are a lot of farmers around there that needed shotgun shells and black market. So my dad would drive downtown and if he'd see a serviceman that looked like he's lonely he'd ask him if he wanted a home cooked meal and he'd come home with a car full of service guys and we'd have dinner. It was exciting, you know, when you're in Pocatello. I did go away to business college in Salt Lake and came back and got my job at the railroad, which I really hated to give up to go for $74 in the military.
Jim: It seems like it was such an exciting time to be alive.
Genevieve: It truly was because everyone sort of had a common goal, and don't put this, but you know we were going to kick the shit out of the Japs and they were primary for some reason. They were primary and beyond that, I suppose it's because most of the kids who were in Pocatello - the B24s and everything - went to the South Pacific. When we started, of course I was just a kid, but I wasn't aware of the atrocities the Germans had committed until afterwards and I had German blood.
Jim: What was it about them?
Genevieve: Well, of course they were different, right off the bat. And that's a silly thing to say because in high school there was a fairly large population of Japanese in Pocatello. My very favorite friend in Pocatello in high school - not socially or anything, but we played basketball - was Shita Tenabie and man, we could whip anybody that played us in basketball and we were quite close. But on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed, I felt so sorry for the kids the next day in school because of course we all stood up and we listened to Roosevelt and they piped it in on the high school. Roosevelt made his speech and everything and then we all sang the National Anthem and pledged allegiance and I looked over and watched some of those kids that we had and they looked so, I felt so sorry for them. And quite a few of them were killed. The boys were killed in that Japanese Nisei thing in Italy, but they were different. The rest of them, when you talked about the Japs and you heard off the bat of the atrocities and the cutting off of heads of prisoners and even before the war you'd hear about the rape of these Chinese cities, how the Japanese had acted over there. They were just bad people.
Jim: I talked to somebody who was saying that after Pearl Harbor, living over here sort of on the west side of the United States, that it was even heightened, that was such a fear.
Genevieve: Oh yes, there was a fear. I remember going out at night. Wow, that's been so long ago, but I know we were afraid. There was good information that they were going to come over and bomb Seattle and not Portland and then we were watching pretty carefully. And we're talking about darling Japanese people that used to be my dad's customers and I knew in high school, but boy they'd better not be sending out any radio messages or anything like that because were watching. It was a bad time, it was a wicked time.
Jim: And it was, and it was. They ended up putting a lot of these people in internment camps.
Genevieve: Yeah, they did.
Jim: There's been a lot of collective guilt over that.
Genevieve: I don't feel guilty, I still don't. I'm sorry, but I don't. Maybe a little, maybe just a little. But we were convinced that if you're Japanese you owed allegiance to the emperor. I didn't feel guilty because I felt we were protecting ourselves and we had been so badly done when they had attacked Pearl Harbor, and it was such a dastardly thing.
Jim: Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed?
Genevieve: You know, I couldn't remember but I happened to be going through some stuff and I found my high school senior class diary and I happened to flip it over and I had put a big black circle around December the seventh. So, I reread that and I found out where I was. Our neighbor boy, Buddy Loveland, ran over to tell us, "Turn on your radio! They've bombed Pearl Harbor! What the heck is Pearl Harbor?" I think it was time to go to Sunday school or something and then we didn't even do that. We stayed home and turned on the radio and listened.
Jim: Was it morning or do you remember?
Genevieve: Well, it was morning when we found out about it. But that doesn't sound right for the timeline does it?
Jim: Yeah, but maybe sort of the way you remember things.
Genevieve: But, it's just the way I, it must be the way I remember it.
Jim: You talked about after that and flying during the service. Are you glad you did it?
Genevieve: Oh, the best, the smartest thing I ever did. Oh, oh yes. I made friends then that have - of course they're all dying off so fast - but I made friends then that we've had and especially our squadron, we all got together every other year we had reunions. We had reunions all over the United States, oh gosh, Florida -
Jim: But friendships that stuck with you.
Genevieve: Friendships that stuck, absolutely. Nora, Nora O'Conner from Pebble Beach, Bea from Long Island, she was reared in Brooklyn, boy could she be tough, Ruth from Rio De Janeiro.
Jim: You mentioned that a lot of these folks are gone and you know this was many, many years ago.
Genevieve: Many, many.
Jim: How does it feel to sit here now and look back at that, and you're still telling these stories?
Genevieve: It's surprisingly fresh, isn't that funny? I can't believe it's that long ago. I can't believe I'm as old as I am. I can't believe they're all gone. And I used to lecture Bea and Nora and Ann and smoke - they used to smoke five packs a day. Damned if they didn't both die of lung cancer and the last thing Nora did was to turn off her oxygen thing and run into the bathroom and have a cigarette. She was such a bad girl, oh, she was so bad.
Jim: Did you think you'd be one of the ones still here thinking about those days, keeping those memories alive?
Genevieve: Oh, how can you ever? You're not as young as I was at that time, but still, do you even contemplate being an old man? It sneaks up on you.
Jim: But you said it still feels fresh.
Genevieve: I can still get excited about it. I think of Nora and Bea and I just want to love 'em. Bea was such a funny little thing. She's the one that took me down and called me, she said, "Gen, get down here. Lindbergh's landing." One time we were coming in for a landing in Putuxon and there was something wrong with the plane. We couldn't get the wheels down so we were going to make this big emergency landing and we were loaded with gas and so we had to fly around and fly around and fly around and burn all the gas out and then go out over the ocean and dump as much as we could and all of that sort of stuff and we finally land. Of course, we didn't have passengers at that time. We'd been down to the Miami Air Show. There's another historical thing - I was in the first Miami Air Show.
Jim: Oh, wow.
Genevieve: Yeah, they sent the R5D down to the Miami Air Show and flying down it was so fun. We were going along, just you know, big four engine plane. We just thought we were the cock of the walk, flying along and passing up all these planes. And by the time we left from Putuxant and by the time we got back down into Florida, we had all these little planes we were just passing up like dirty shirts. And I was up standing in the cockpit with my pilots and we were just laughing and snorting away, and then all of a sudden, first appearance of the Blue Angels. They whipped past us like we were backing up. Man, voom, voom.
Jim: You were talking about the excitement of the whole thing, when you knew that the war was over?
Genevieve: Well, there again, I'm Irish. Everybody else, they set up a special plane and went to New York. And for the first time when I was in the service, I went to church. I sat in church and cried. And that was my little chapel right there in Putuxon.
Jim: Why'd you cry?
Genevieve: It was just so marvelous that this terrible, terrible thing was over. All these people had been killed and injured and I told you I flew hospital flights. Oh, I had one passenger - usually you got a heads up when there was a special passenger aboard. They didn't say anything to me and I went up and it was an R5D. It was a big plane and I went on as I go up and got on the plane and I talk about the ladders. You've seen pictures of presidents coming out and standing? We had those same kind of ladders because the door at the back was about ten, fifteen feet off the ground. We'd go up the ladders. So I went up the ladder and I walked in and I could see this head up. Somebody had brought somebody aboard and you just never do that and so I walked up and he was sitting in the front row, right in back of the bulkhead. And I went up and here was this best looking young Marine, so handsome, sitting in this chair and he had no legs, none at all. And my first thought was, How do I buckle him in? But I helped him and then we filled the flight up and then we got to Olathe. He was getting out at Olathe. He was going to the hospital in Kansas City. What is it, the Fitzsimmon Hospital or something, I can't remember, but we used to get some of the passengers there.
But anyway, so we landed and all the passengers got off he of course had to wait. And I looked down and there was the ambulance and his mother and the stretcher. They came up the ladder and they couldn't get the stretcher around into the plane they were having trouble. I'd gone down to talk to the mother and that's when I found out how he'd - he's nineteen years old, he'd gone in the service when he was fifteen - run away from home and had been a prisoner the entire time he'd been in. So I went back and they were still jerking this stretcher around and I went up into the cockpit and my pilots of course had been shutting the plane down and I said, "You'll have to wait a minute. There's still a passenger there." I can't remember who it was, but I had some of the nicest, nicest pilots. They were just dolls. And he came out. I remember they were both tall and they came out and here was that poor 'ol kid sitting there and the guys back there struggling with that stretcher and I remember the pilot looked at him and he said, "Hey son, would you trust us if we made you a chair and the kid said, "Yeah." So they made a chair and then he said, "Put your arms around our necks," and they did and they carried him out and down to his mother and the ambulance.
And I told you we had reunions. So about ten years ago, about our last reunion, we were in the ready room just telling lies, you know, having a great time and most of the guys had flown overseas before they came back to Putuxon. They had a lot of overseas experience and they were telling about what they'd gone through and been shot, da da da. This one pilot, and I still can't remember his name, he said, "You know, of all the experience I had overseas, the one thing I remember the most," he said, "the one thing that affected me most when I carried a young Marine off my plane." And I said, "Oh, was that you? That was my flight too." And we just grabbed each other and hugged each other. It was the highs were higher than they are, and the lows were lower than they are.
Jim: Adelaide McLeod.
Genevieve: Oh, yes.
Jim: How long have you known her?
Genevieve: Oh, man. Addy showed us our house when we moved to Boise in - what'd I tell you - '59? And we ended up buying from somebody with it not going to a realtor. But that was when I first met Addy and then we were on the bench and then we moved down and lived on Warm Springs for 25 years. And well, when you live in Boise awhile, you know everybody anyways.
Jim: Well, I was going to ask you about that. It's nice that you're talking about Pocatello because this is sort of a statewide thing that we're doing and all that. In Idaho, no matter who you talked to, from where they lived a lot of the stories were the same it seems like. I mean, the growing up in that era and kind of stuff, there were a lot of similarities.
Genevieve: It was a quiet era. I think most people were broke and there weren't the pressures, and I do think that the war changed that. It brought everybody in. Like I said, I was so excited the first time I met somebody from New York, New York City, my God.
Jim: I guess in some ways you can break this up into before the war and after the war. When the war happened, was it the same or did everything change?
Genevieve: Gosh, I don't think I can answer that question. It did for me because I got my job. Well, of course I grew up seventeen, eighteen, nineteen.
Jim: Everything changed for you?
Genevieve: Everything changes for everybody at that age doesn't it? You go from a kid to being an adult and earning your own money and then go from there.
Jim: When you're back in Pocatello, do you ever go places and get almost flashbacks of those old days?
Genevieve: I haven't been in Pocatello in so long and the last time I went it nearly broke my heart. Our neighborhood was such a nice little neighborhood and it was so run down and the house looked so shabby and I haven't been back in a long time.
Jim: Do you ever get flashbacks to those days? I find that I'll be driving in the car and it's like, for some reason, something will spark a memory and then it's just like, Wow!
Genevieve: My happy memories started after I started my job. Before then it was a struggle except for my very early years. Like I said, I can remember until I was two or three years old everything seemed to be laughing and sunshine and everything, and then from then on it was nothing but gray.
Jim: What about during the war when you were up in the sky and flying and - ?
Genevieve: Oh God, I love to fly. That is the most marvelous feeling in the world. I used to love to hear those old wheels whamp, whamp, you're coming in for a landing and feel those wheels go down and walk along and take care of the passengers, loved it. All men, all military. No, except for, as I say, the civilians. We had those reporters at one time and I had one woman one time. She flew from Washington to New York. Yeah, you know a half hour or whatever and she was a WAC officer and she was going to be discharged because she had been married. She was married and she was pregnant. She spent the whole time saying, "Am I going to have a miscarriage because I'm on the airplane?"
Jim: It was unusual back then. People didn't fly all over the place.
Genevieve: I think so, and yeah, no forget it lady. Will it be deformed? Forget it lady. Is this strap too tight on my stomach? Forget it lady.
Jim: It's been called the greatest generation. What should people remember about those years, do you think?
Genevieve: Getting out of 'em. I know Tom Brokaw, the greatest years. Well, they were hard, but they did teach you to be tough and that you had to do what you had to do and that's a good lesson for anyone to learn. I hope I've taught my kids that and if you make a commitment you do it. I have to tell you one more passenger I had and then I'll go. So I got a heads up one time, San Francisco to Washington. They called me up into the office and they said there's a passenger aboard now he's, he's been a prisoner the whole time. Of course, most of these hot shots started to bring back prisoners of war who had been rehabilitated, but this one didn't speak English, he was Dutch. He had been a prisoner of the Japanese from Java or whatever forever and he was dying and the only thing they wanted to do was get him back to his family before he died. So they showed me how to use a portable oxygen mask and they said, "Keep him alive." So I got on there and he was in one of the passenger seats and after we took off I put him up in the crew. There was a bed up there so then when they landed in Washington he didn't have to get off, but then Washington said he had to.
So he landed in Washington and of course they had the ambulance down there for him from Walter Reed Hospital and the doctor and everything like that so they could take him and let him rest before they put him on the next leg of the plane. Of course we'd been flying all day and traditionally when the crew landed in Washington, the NATS terminals was just a little way away from the commercial terminal. We'd always go in and had something to eat because we'd been flying all day and hadn't eaten. So we started to go and I could hear this real, you know upset to-do and I went over to see what it was and these poor guys, the guys from the ambulance of Walter Reed were trying to put this poor Dutchman into the ambulance and he wouldn't let them. As sick as he was, he was holding on bracing his arms and everything and he wouldn't let them put him in the ambulance. I could see right away he was scared to death and he thought they were unloading him there and going to take him to a hospital.
I had learned to communicate with him in our flight so I went over and I explained to him, "No, no, don't worry. They're just going to take you," and I showed him the time, "to the hospital and you're going to sleep for the night you come back here." And then of course they were loading up other planes and everything and I said, "And tomorrow, you come back and you'll get on that plane and go further." And I got him calmed down, so he did go. And I didn't realize it - I hadn't paid any attention - there was an admiral on my flight and he had been watching this. So a couple weeks later, a month later I was called into the main office, the headquarters, and I thought, Oh, I'm in trouble, I've done something so bad. And I had a letter of commendation and not only that, but that sweet old admiral had kept track of the Dutch person and he let me know that he got home alive and he lived for a week at home before he died so he got to see his family. And it was the Captain who was telling me and he said, "And I have a note here that I am to tell you for sure that Mr. Whatever-his-name-was got home and spent a week with his family." I was so thrilled.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II