Betty McClintock

Betty was born on December 21st, 1921 in Truman, Arkansas. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where she attended college shortly before the start of the war until she ultimately left the school. After 7 months of courtship and dating, she married her husband whom she met while working for Monsanto Chemical Company, which was important for the war effort because of their nutritional research. Her husband was initially unable to join the military because of his job.

In this interview, Betty talks about her experiences of being in her early twenties during the war. Betty discusses the heavy patriotism that surrounded her community. She recounts times of seeing Hitler in newsreels at the movie theatre and describes the time she first heard about the Pearl Harbor attacks. She provides insight on how women participated on the home front to support the war effort and gives accounts of college sweethearts who were drafted, working for a large company that supported the war effort, and marriage during the war.

First Hearing About Pearl Harbor

We were all on tenter hooks practically all the time wondering what was gong to happen tomorrow. And then, of course, the decision was made for us by the Japanese because at that point there was no turning back. And I think we all kept worrying about Europe and keeping up with what was happening, but we had our hands full here trying to cope, coping with that. I think we weren’t really quite prepared to have it happen that suddenly without any discussion over whether we should go to war or not. It was made up for us. And I remember being at home on December the 7th and having my father—I believe we were at the dinner table—coming in, and someone had called him, and he found out about Pearl Harbor. And we had the radio on right away and all that. And then the next day, I was at luncheon at Famous Bar, the biggest department store in St. Louis and having luncheon with friends. I don’t know how I managed to be there on Monday but maybe I didn’t have classes or anything. And they came into the dining room and announced that they had declared war. 

College Boyfriend Thinking About Marriage

My college boyfriend Freddy had promised me that if we declared war that we would get married immediately because he knew he would be drafted, and he was prepared to go and all that. So I had kind of mixed feelings. I thought, “My goodness, this is going to happen right away.” And then he got very noble on me, and said, “No,” that he couldn’t do it, that he might not come back or he might come back injured,” and so on. And I was very disappointed about that happening. And I wasn’t going to talk about that but you got me talking, and so here I am, you know? And I didn’t know that it wasn’t going to be like I thought it was. 

Newsreels about Hitler and growing concerns for Europe

Hitler, we would listen to him yelling and so on, on the radio, and if you went to the movies they would show the newscast. Paramount News, I believe, would come on before the movies would come in. They would show the Gestapo walking with their special marching tactics that they were doing. There was so much concern over the Jewish population and what was happening with them. Lots of political discussion and arguing on whether to start helping Europe or not to. A lot of division among our politicians and the people too on whether to go to war or whether to stay home and be comfortable in our own little cocoon. And, I think for morality’s sake, we had to face the fact that we were not comfortable being back here and just sending them—. Well, I know that they were making planes and warfare things that we were sending to Europe, to England and France at that time, trying to help them monetarily and with equipment to help them. But it wasn’t enough to be, to have us satisfied with it all.

Victory Gardens and Shortages

We had a victory garden, and a lot of people dug up their front yards. You were lucky if you had a back yard to do it because going to the store there wasn’t—sometimes the shelves were bare because so much was going into, even before we were involved, going to help the Europe, and, of course, they were also trying to build up our servicemen here too. They were very short on doctors, people with the expertise and everything like that.

First Husband- V-12 Program and Med School

After I got married, my husband was a research chemist, and he was frozen in his job. But they were so anxious for doctors; they didn’t have enough doctors at all. This was after Pearl Harbor, the next year, and he finally got permission from the government to go into a program that was called the V-12 program. They were sending young men, I don’t think women were invited to do it, but ones that already probably had their college degrees and the background to it. He was a prime one that they wanted because he had all the research background and so on, and they sent them to medical school. That was a Navy deal. So early in our marriage, he was going to medical school instead of working, and I had a child ten months after we got married so it was a little rough then with all that. But he did get almost through medical school until the year that the war was over. But there’s a lot of people that don’t know about the V-12 program. They were desperate to get young doctors for the service in. I’m sure there were other programs too where people if they were eligible. The government was trying to look forward wondering how long we would be in the war and trying to prepare for the future. So lots of wheels were turning government-wise then for us, and it was just a very traumatic time in our lives.

Social Attitude on Weddings

Oh, and this is something else that was happening during the war things. I talked about quite a few marriages going on. But it was considered very, very bad taste to have a big wedding, a big church wedding. It was just one of those things that you did not flaunt your clothes and style and things like that. People were having to be very frugal, and if they could afford not to be frugal, they still didn’t brag about it. And I know when I got married, I had a a rust-colored linen suit and a hat to match. And that was the proper way of a wedding, an at home wedding, and not a big church wedding or anything like that.

USO Dances - Description

Well, we did dance, and that was one thing that I think I did tell whoever called me, and that the program here, giving the program, There were USO dances on Saturday nights. And at that time, young women certainly did not go to a dance by themselves. It was not acceptable behavior. You either had to have a date, an escort, or be with a group of friends or something. My mother offered to be a chaperone, and I could drive, and I would get my daddy’s car and get maybe three or four of my girlfriends, and we would go to the USO dances. And that was one wild affair when you went in there because no one ever sat on the sidelines because even my mother got asked to dance, and she’d get up and dance. But the poor young men that had just been inducted and so on and were still at Jefferson Barracks in St’ Louis where all this was going on. They would be so excited when we came in, and then there were some nurses. That was another thing too. If you were a nurse, they were very anxious for you to be part of the service. And of course, I wasn’t a nurse so, but I know that a lot of the friends that were nurses enrolled in the Army or the Navy, something like that. 

USO Dances – Attitudes towards Soldiers

Oh, they were very excited about dancing and very wild, a lot of them that were jitterbugging. And there were several times that I would—that I think they were scared. And it was like I would just imagine that they knew that pretty soon they would not be able to go to a dance again. And so they were very excited when we walked in, running up and trying to be the first one to grab one of the girls. And I think that they temporarily enjoyed themselves, but you had to feel very sorry for them too. And, you know, try to talk to them a little bit about where they were from and all that bit. And they were very anxious young men, and I don’t blame them because I know they were facing a future that they didn’t know what was going to happen next to them at that point.