Ida Ostendorff was born in Gilbert, South Carolina. At the start of WWII she traveled to Washington D.C. where she passed a typing course and began work as a “government girl” working in the Judge Advocate General’s office. In 1942, upon turning 21 and meeting the minimum age requirement, she jointed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She completed her basic training at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, where she was trained to use a gas mask. She volunteered for an assignment overseas and traveled to New York City to embark on the Queen Elizabeth. She landed in Scotland on June 6, 1944, having no idea at the time that it was D-Day. She was then transported to her assignment at Stone Staffordshire, England. On her way there she remembers the commotion caused by the Normandy landings: “As we were going along, people were just waving wildly to us because they knew it was D-Day, but we didn’t know it.” She remained in England until the end of the war. She met her husband after the war when they both took the same French class. They were married for 61 years and have five children, several of whom have served in the military.
Helen Rooks was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was the oldest of five children and her father worked as a lumberman, while her mother was a homemaker. Though she was initially interested in joining the Navy, a recruiter at the local courthouse convinced her to join the Coast Guard in 1943. Her time in the service began with a rough start when the train in which she was traveling struck a cow on the way to Miami. Upon arriving at her duty station, she worked as a yeoman with Air-Sea Rescue. At a hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, she worked in the burn unit. She recalls witnessing debris floating up onto the beach from battles with nearby German submarines. Rooks spent her off-hours enjoying the nightlife in Miami. She received a citation for being a charter member of the Women in the Military Service for America and was recognized for her service by Governor Olin Johnston. She was married to her husband Milton—a World War II veteran—for 53 years before his death in 1991.
Elma England was raised in Grover, SC sixty miles from Charleston. During the war she moved to Charleston to work in the Charleston Navy Yard as a welder. At the shipyard, England worked on the USS Tidewater and she was on board during the destroyer’s ceremonial launch on 30 June 1945. As someone who had worked her whole life, she found it easy to make the adjustment to working at the shipyard. She was laid off after the war and went to work for the phone company.
Pearl James Hill was born in 1925, in Aynor, South Carolina. One of fourteen children, she was orphaned at age thirteen, and lived with various family members until she turned sixteen and moved to Charleston. Hill worked at the munitions factory manufacturing hand grenades. Later, she became a ship welder, and worked at the Naval Shipyard until WWII ended in 1945. She then briefly worked at American Tobacco. In this interview with Rebecca Michaud, Hill reflects on her childhood, work at the munitions factory and the ship yard, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Leila Kikos was born Leila Elizabeth Bailey on President St. in Charleston, SC in 1923. She graduated from Memminger High School in 1940, after which she studied drafting at The Citadel and worked at the shipyards and for the War Department as a switchboard operator on Meeting St. After the formation of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Kikos consulted with her father and enlisted. She attended basic training at Hunter College in New York City. She was assigned to Washington, D.C. as a drafter. It was there that she met her husband Peter, a Marine studying bomb disposal at American University. After the war, she and her husband moved to Minneapolis briefly before returning to Charleston, where they operated a bakery.
Gladys Pinckney was born in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1915 and made the decision very early to become a nurse. She attended nursing school and was encouraged to become a Red Cross nurse. In 1941, she received a request from the War Department to serve as Second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, and she reported to Fort Jackson two weeks later. She served at a number of medical facilities in France at the tail end of the war and in its aftermath. As a nurse with a specialty in anaesthesia, she took care of combat casualties and prisoners of war from all over Europe. When asked how she felt about taking care of German POW’s, she said, “Didn’t make any difference. When I took an oath, we vowed that we would take care of everybody who was committed to our care. That’s an oath we had to take.” Pinckney also served as a nurse in a MASH unit during the Korean War. She was asked to serve in Vietnam, but decided to retire due to health considerations. She is presently a resident of Columbia, South Carolina, where she volunteers at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and drives her own car.