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Oral history interview with Janet Swope Shepherd conducted by Brad Larson for the World War II project. Janet Swope Shepherd joined the WAVES in 1943 with several other Oshkosh women. Also discusses the Great Depression and the Camp Fire Girls. Janet (Swope) Shepherd Interview 13 September 2002 Conducted by Brad Larson {B: denotes the interviewer, Mr. Larson; J: denotes Mrs. Shepherd}. B: This is Brad Larson on September 13th, 2002. Sitting in the home of Janet Shepherd. We're gonna talk a little bit about World War II. So are you ready Janet? J: I guess so. B: Why don't you tell me your full name and date of birth? J: My maiden name? Janet Swope. Ah, and my date of birth is October 12th, 1918. B: Did you grow up in Oshkosh? J: Yes. B: Where did you grow up? J: On Monroe Avenue. I lived there for the first forty-some years. Then we moved to Doemel's division. And from there to here. B: Do you have very many memories of those years before World War II, growing up in the twenties and thirties? J: Oh, sure. B: What was the city like then? J: Well it was kinda humdrum, I would say. Ah, the city was divided into the south side and the north side. And "Inky" Jungwirth, you've read his books, I'm sure; he described it very well, how the south side was. And ah, people on the north side were considered a little higher than the south side. But they really weren't but they thought so. B: Do you think that's really true, that's the way it was? J: Oh, sure. B: What were some of the things you did for recreation as a girl, Janet? J: Well, I was a Campfire Girl for one thing. And ah, I joined Campfire at age 10. And I'm still a member. And ah, I ah, I earned some money in high school playing for the [ ] dancing school. Ah, tap dancing, ballroom dancing, toe dancing. Whatever she taught I played for her. And um, then I took a business course in high school. When I got out, I went to Business College. When I finished there, I got a job at Public Service. And I stayed there for quite awhile, 'til I got married. B: Were jobs hard to come by at that time? J: Well, they were. Um, hum. B: That'd be during the Depression. J: Sure. During the Depression. That was the, I got out of high school in '36 and ah, I started to work the first of June in '37. In the Public Service. B: Did the Depression hit Oshkosh pretty hard? J: I think so. B: Do you have any memories of those depression years? J: My father, fortunately, worked all the time. We weren't that poor. But we didn't have any money either. But ah, my dad was a travelling salesman. And he was gone up north all the time. So we always had a car but it was always off on the road. We never had it at home. B: So what were some of the things that you would do in your neighborhood? You probably had a neighborhood [ ]. Campfire. But what did some of the kids do for recreation? J: Well, they played hide and seek, and baseball in the street. And that's about it. As far as I know. I was in a Catholic neighborhood and I wasn't Catholic. And I wasn't very popular there. They were quite tight together in the Catholics in those days. St. Mary's. B: Was that common to have that religious… J: I think so. B: Not so much today. J: Unh unh. Then, not enough people go to church today. B: Well, that could be a subject in itself, couldn't it? J: Yeah. B: When did you start to become aware of what was happening overseas? J: Well, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, I guess. That's about the first that it really dawned on me. B: Did you, prior to that, when Hitler invaded? J: Well, we knew about it but you know, it wasn't ah, as wide, the knowledge wasn't as widespread as news is today. Today you hear about it {snaps fingers} just like that. TV wasn't around. B: How did you hear about news? For the most part? J: Well, we had a radio, always. And ah, that's how you got your news. The newspaper of course. B: What about what was happening in China with the Japanese? J: Didn't pay any attention. I didn't pay any attention to that. I was too far away. It didn't affect me, I thought. B: Do you think that most people had that…? J: People my age did, I'm sure. B: How about people like your mom and dad? J: Well, I'm sure they knew about it but they didn't talk about it that I remember. B: What's your recollection of Pearl Harbor? That seems to be one event…. J: That was a horrible event, of course. We heard about that at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I remember we turned on the radio and there was this awful news. And ah, war was declared right away. B: Were you living at home then? J: Unh huh. B: You were? What was the family's reaction? J: Well, my family was just my mother and dad. My brother had, was older and he had gone on. And ah, 'course they were all shocked by it. But couldn't do anything about it. B: Well then those days after Pearl Harbor, you know that was a pretty tough time in America. What went on in your family and in the community that you can remember? As the nation started gearing up for...? J: I don't remember anything special. Ah, of course the fellows were called for service. And a lot of em were gone. And then, I ah, decided to do something about it and I joined the WAVES. And there were three others from Oshkosh who joined, not at the very same time. But two of us went together. And there were two other girls from here. Only those four that I know that were in the service at all. B: Who were those people? J: Well, one of em is Pat Perkins. And Viola [Stovener] and Virginia [Samer]. And myself. B: What made you decide to do it? J: Well, I think I was patriotic. My dad, my grandfather had been a Civil War veteran, and my father was a Spanish War {Spanish American War} man and, and ah, I guess I, it rubbed off and so I thought I'd do my part. B: How did you pick the WAVES? J: I liked navy blue. I don't know. I wouldn't have joined the WACS, I don't think. They didn't have too good a name at that time. But the WAVES were, I thought, a little better. So I did that. And I was in for over two years. B: Where did you have to go to enlist? Here in town? J: Unh huh. Yeah, the post office, I think. And then I went to ah, New York for basic training. And then they had taken over some apartment buildings. And we had our basic training there. In the spring. And then finished there and I was to go to Yeoman's school in Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Iowa for three months. And when I finished there, then I was assigned to [Farragaut], Idaho. And I was out there a couple of years. B: Had you traveled much before that? J: No, not a lot. I'd been to New York before. But I, unh, huh. That's all. B: Well, then this was a new experience for you. J: Yeah, it was. It was kind of scary but it was exciting, you know. B: Why was it exciting? J: It was so different. And here were all these girls from all over the country out in New York. And you got to meet em all, you know. And you got out and you marched on the street every day. You marched for every meal and ah, if it rained, you went anyway. It didn't matter. We were dressed accordingly. It was kinda fun, looking back. B: I imagine you have some pretty vivid memories of that period, don't you? Some good things…? J: Oh yeah. Good things. They were good things. B: Tell me a couple of those. J: Oh, I'll never forget, we had to have shots. And ah, we had our shots on one day and the next morning when we were assembled in the hall in our pajamas for morning muster, as my name was read, I fainted. And it was from the shot effect. But it [ ] to me. I came to right away and then I was fine after that. So I remember that. And I remember when I went to Cedar Falls. Oh, it was hot in Iowa in the summer. And we, our summer uniforms hadn't come and we had to wear our navy wools. And just about died of the heat. And then when they finally did come, it was time to go out to Idaho and my baggage was lost on the way. And I never got it for three weeks and I had just what I had on was all the clothes I had. So I had to do a lot of washing. And drying. But it came finally and I got my baggage. B: How did you do most of the traveling? J: On trains. Troop trains. B: Are those trains crowded? How would you describe those? J: Oh, terribly crowded. You just found a place to sit and you sat. That's all. I don't remember how we had meals. We must have had something to eat but um, I don't remember that. B: What were some of your duties after you were assigned to Idaho? J: Well, I got, I was a yeoman and that means I would be an office person. Because I had done that before. And I was assigned to the central administration building. Um, and ah, to the legal department. And we did the wills for any of the fellows that wanted them. And we did court martials of all kinds. Typed em up. And we had general court case that went on for a couple of weeks with an officer. We were busy all the time. We could take shorthand for two hours and then take two hours to type it up. And then go back in for two hours and come back out. And that's the way that went. B: Sounds like you were very busy. J: Yeah. We were busy. There were civilian ladies there too doing the same thing. B: Did you ever have time for recreation amongst all this busy schedule? J: Well, you had weekends off. And Spokane was nearby. And we did go to Seattle one weekend, I remember. It was kinda exciting. Never been out west before. B: How about getting back to Oshkosh during the service? J: Came back to Oshkosh on the trains. The trains were slow and dirty. And I had to transfer at Minneapolis. Otherwise the train went to Chicago. And if I transferred, I could get off at Portage or some town halfway. And ah, I got off the train at 11 o'clock at night in Minneapolis and my train didn't leave until 7 or 8 in the morning. And I was all alone. And there wasn't a soul around in that big depot. And I took off my raincoat and put it under me and put my purse under that and laid down on the bench and went to sleep. And I slept until 7 o'clock in the morning. They woke me up when they opened the canteen. I had breakfast and I got on the train. But you couldn't do that today. You'd never have been left alone like that. Somebody would have mugged you. B: But at that time America was different somehow. J: Oh sure. People weren't so mean as they are today. Everybody's trying to get something. B: What was the mood in the country during the war? How was everybody - how did people act, especially toward servicemen and women? J: Oh, I think they liked em. They liked them a lot. They were doing something that would affect them in the long run. B: Did you ever think at the beginning of the war or during the war that the United States and its allies would lose the war? J: Never thought that. Knew they would win. B: Why? J: They had to. I just thought they'd just have to. I couldn't see how we could possibly live with Hitler. B: Do you think that was shared by most people? J: Oh sure. There was no question. B: None at all? J: Unh, huh. B: I look at those time, from what I read and from the citizens I've talked to, as a hard time. J: Oh, it was a hard time. Everything was rationed. Of course when I was in the Navy, I didn't know about butter rationing and all that. My folks had to go through that. But the Navy had plenty of everything. In the way of food. B: Did your mom and dad write to you regularly? J: Oh sure. Unh, huh. See, Farragaut was a big base, you know. Maybe you don't. It was the, one of the largest naval training bases in the country. Eleanor Roosevelt picked it out when she flew over Idaho. It was a huge thing. The road was four-lane highway leading in. And the first camp was central administration where we worked. And our barracks were there. Then there was, down the road to the east, were five or six camps where regiments trained and drilled and did whatever they do. And then at the very end, down at the lake at the end was the hospital. A base hospital. It's a beautiful scenery, mountains all around. I loved it. B: And you'd never been west before so it was even more special. J: Been back there a couple of times. B: Have you? Has it changed a lot? J: Well, the base is gone. And the last time I was there, nobody was living in that area either. So it was still just a place. But it was pretty. B: Quite a change from the hustle and bustle of the war years. Well, it's amazing how things have changed. You know I've talked to several veterans who have gone back to the place where they served just to see what it was like. J: Well, there's nothing there in Idaho. Just gone. Completely. Of course the buildings were temporary. Just put together out of siding. And they were, you know, just, the walls were just one layer of wood. No plaster anywhere or anything like that. B: It must have been pretty cold in the winter. J: It didn't get cold in Idaho. And there no bugs. No mosquitoes. There were no birds. There were not birds - that's why there were no bugs. I mean, if there had been any bugs, the birds would have eaten em up. But they couldn't live there so there weren't any. It was a lovely place, really. Just beautiful. B: did you ever get homesick? J: No. B: Probably too busy. J: Yeah. Busy every minute. B: Do you think that people treated women in service differently? J: Some did. But most didn't. B: Anything ever happen to you? Any experience that you could relate? J: No. Unh unh. B: How about the end of the war? What happened when the war ended? J: Ah, we had, they had to ah, release a little at a time. I think it took six months before I got to go to Great Lakes to be discharged. Then I came home. B: When was that? J: '46. Two years. A little over two years. So then I came home and I could go back to my job. They let me do that. But I missed, well you couldn't, while you're in the service, you couldn't even take a bath alone. Everybody's all around you all the time. So when you go home, it's back the way it used to be. And it's quite different. You're by yourself. When you have a big family, okay, but I just had my mother and dad. And it was kind of quiet and lonesome. For awhile. B: Just another adjustment. J: Yeah. B: So you got your job back. Was that a…? J: I got my job back. B: Was that common for servicemen to… J: well, I don't know if it was or not. But ah, but Public Service was very good that way. We both - there was another girl from there that went with me - and we both got em back. B: Where was the Public Service located at that time? J: Corner of State and Washington. No. Yeah. It's gone now. It's a parking lot. B: When you came back, did you find that Oshkosh had changed at all? J: No. I don't think it had changed much. That was then. And it didn't change a lot until just lately, I don't think. B: When do you think it started changing? J: Oh, let's see. That's a long time ago. Forty-seven to ninety seven. That's fifty years. I guess it just changed gradually. I really couldn't tell. It was always a small town. But I liked it here. My family was here. My friends were here. B: When you came back, had you found that any of your friends were missing or killed during the war? J: Not that I knew of. You hear about different ones and you might have known them. But I didn't know them well. Put it that way; nobody that I knew well died. B: After the war, a few years after the war, the community, the Ohio Street Civic Association erected a monument in South Park to those fallen during the war. Did you attend that? J: Unh huh. B: Tell me about that ceremony. J: I don't remember. No. B: Can't remember if there were big crowds that day. J: Probably was but I don't recall. B: As you think back on those years, do you have one memory that sticks out above all the others? J: Well I just, all I can say is that I remember living in Idaho and that I liked it out there. It was a beautiful spot. B: Do you think of the war years very often? J: No. Unh unh. B: When you hear a song on the radio or something like that? Or? J: Well, my favorite songs were always the Glenn Miller area anyway and that's what was popular then. And ah, I still like that the best. B: It's good music, that's for sure. I like it too. J: Yeah. It's good. B: Well, do you have anything else we ought to talk about, of those years, or before the war? Anything that you can think of? J: Nothing of that type of thing. I wanted to tell you about our Campfire Girls. B: sure. I'd like to hear that. J: Well, 12 girls, age 10. And Mr. Williams. Russell Williams - did you know Russell? Didn't you know he died here recently? B: I know he passed away. J: Charlotte Monday's mother ah, who was the wife of an attorney. Ah, agreed to take on these 12 girls as a Campfire leader. And she had ideas that we, you join, you don't drop out and be replaced by somebody else. It's gonna be the same 12. Well, we all stuck together. All 12 of us. And we still meet once a year. There's four of us left in town, counting Charlotte. And we generally get together for a lunch or something. And we, and we talk about old times. Hah! Then we took all the ranks, 100%. And we all had every office that there was. She was a parliamentarian and we learned how to conduct a meeting. And we all had to be president at least once. And we all had to secretary, and we all had to be scribe, and we all had to be treasurer. So we did everything. And, and she got the national Harriman Medallion for her work as guardian. And that's a national thing. A couple of years ago, I decided to write to the Campfire [ ]. And I wrote to the director in St. Louis. and described our group. And he wrote me back a letter. And ah, {a lot of static here and a long pause}. B: You have some very good and endearing memories of those… J: Oh, lots of them. B: That was an important part of your life. J: Oh sure. Sure. B: It sounds from reading this summary, it sounds like you made your own fun. J: Oh, sure. We did. B: You did what you had to… You had a group of kids and you got together and… J: The Williams' had a cottage at Sunset Point. And every summer, she invited us all to come and stay overnight one night. But she had a maid who could, you know, they could, they were people of means. And they had a sleeping porch with all kinds of beds on the porch upstairs. And that's where we all were. And ah, her maid cooked meals for us and we cooked our meals out on a campfire too. Made bread on a stick and a lot of stuff, you know. But we had a good time. Every year we did that. She invited us out there. Ah, great. You didn't know Mrs. Williams of course, but B: It also sounds like the Congregational Church was important to you. J: Well, that's where we met. Now we didn't all belong to the Congregational Church. Ah, I belonged to the Presbyterian and one other girl did too. And ah, but we were gotten together. Seven of em went to Training School at the Normal School. And five of us at Dale. So where we went to church didn't matter at the time. We got together because, well looking back I see that two of the girls from Dale belonged to the Congregational Church and that's how we got hooked in together. But we stayed together and … B: At the time you were living on Monroe Street? I think it's remarkable, the fact that you still stay together all these years. J: Well, when Charlotte comes to town, which is usually right after EAA. She comes for a week. Her sister is, she comes to help her. Then we get together and have a lunch. And talk about stuff. And that's all I see of her all year. Because we do that. B: Thank you for sharing this with me. J: I'm glad to have you use it. I have my ceremonial… {The tape ends here}.
Oral History Interview with Janet Swope Shepherd -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Janet Swope

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