Mary Dougherty Wood was born on December 8th, 1918 in Philadelphia, PA. Her father, Graham Dougherty, and her brother, Frazer Dougherty, both served in the army during the World War II.
In this interview, she discusses how her mother, Maria Dougherty, was a National Chairperson at the National Headquarters of the Red Cross in Washington DC, and Mary herself had spent the beginning of the war in Washington, working as an unpaid nutrition worker for the Red Cross. She talks about her family and their service to the war and discusses her time in Washington during the beginning of the war. She also discusses various events of the war, including Pearl Harbor and the Nazi invasion of Poland, and tells more personal stories about her life throughout the war.
Nazi Invasion of Poland
Before the war, on the home-front, when I was at home during vacations and things, my parents were always listening to the news about what was going on in Europe. And there was this terrible news reporter called H. V. Kaltenborne. He had the worst voice you’ve ever heard, sort of a simpering kind of voice. And being a normal teenager, I couldn’t stand it. So I would leave and ignore that part.
And I went to a dance, where else? This was in Virginia, and it was a great party, and they had a band down from Washington and there was a tent on the lawn. My date drove me home at 5 o’clock in the morning. Our driveway went up like that (makes gesture) and our house was here on this hill. There were steps going up to the house, and I saw my father sitting on the steps. I thought, “Oh, he is waiting; he is going to chew me out for staying out so late.” Anyway, I said goodnight to the guy and started up the steps hoping my father wouldn’t notice me. He was crying. And he said the Nazis had invaded Poland. So that’s when the war started.
Living in Washington
So after [the invasion of Poland], I went to Washington. My mother — who you saw about her getting her job at the National Headquarters of the Red Cross in Washington — she got me a job as an unpaid nutrition worker. But I also had to write a paper about how to manage on wartime rationing — food. I didn’t know anything. I mean I could barely boil water but here I was writing this newsletter.
Anyway, then you saw the pictures of me that are in here driving around in a wagon to the various anti-aircraft sites around the District of Colombia, bringing coffee and donuts and flirting with the soldiers, and we wore those Red Cross uniforms. And I have to say, it was very fun to be in Washington during those years. There I was a single girl, guys were always coming through town on assignment, and they’d call me up and we’d go out.
There was this one guy who was working in Washington in the agency that decided what should be rationed and what shouldn’t be rationed. It had a name but I don’t remember it. And I guess his draft number or something came up, and he wanted to join the Marines. So he’d been taking me out. He loved jazz – little jazz clubs. Then he enlisted in the Marines, and the next time I saw him, he was in his Marines uniform. So it was just around this time of year, and we went for a walk around the Tidal Basin. The cherry trees were all out. And every time he saw another man in uniform coming towards us, he couldn’t remember who saluted whom first or which hand you use so we would turn around and go back. (laughs) He eventually learned how to do it, but it was the first day he had ever had his uniform on.
Chicken House Story
I got married – not to that guy – and we moved to Centreville. I was married in 1942. Anyway, he was what they called 4-F. He was physically unfit to be a soldier. Somebody said it was your patriotic duty to raise chickens. So we built this broiler house, and we started into the business of raising broiler chickens. And we’d go to the post office — they came in the mail in boxes — and you would get them out of the post office, little day old chicks. They looked like ping pong balls with yellow feathers. Oh, they were cute. They’d go “beep beep beep” and you could hear them through the box in the post office.
By that time, we were living in Denton which is in Caroline County. And my husband had been asked to teach school in the public high school in Denton although he wasn’t a teacher at all. But, at least they figured if he had two degrees, he must have known how to read and write at least. So one day, he said to me — this new bride in this new house— “Well, I’ve got to go get the chickens.” This is before the broiler house business. So we went to the post office, which I didn’t know anything about, and got this box of chickens. And this was quite a big house for us. We were living on the downstairs floor, but there were several rooms upstairs. So my husband had said, “Well, I’m going to build a chicken pen outside for them” but he never got around to it. So we put the box of chickens upstairs to the right of the stairs, and the chickens got too big to stay in this box. So we took all the newspapers in the house and sprinkled them all over the floor of this room that they were in upstairs. And we got a feeder and water for them. And they got bigger and bigger, and more and more unattractive and louder and louder.
And one day, the landlady called up and said that some people wanted to look at the house; they were thinking of buying it. My husband was in school. I was alone, and she said, “I’m going to bring them over right now.” So I nearly went into a panic, I did go into a panic. I turned on the radio as loud as I could and showed them all over the downstairs, every detail. And then they said, “Well, we want to see the upstairs.” So I ran ahead of them and said, “Here’s the bathroom.” It was the dreariest bathroom you ever saw. The chickens were in the next room so I got out of the bathroom and stood in front of the chicken door, and I said, “Now, don’t you think these rooms down here are lovely?” And the people I think thought I was crazy, which I kinda was, and the house was pretty dreary so they left. So then I said to my husband when he got home from school, “Get that chicken house built and get those chickens out of there!”
Reaction to Pearl Harbor
I was visiting my husband’s family. We were listening to the philharmonic on the radio, and they broke off the program and announced that this attack had happened.
Do you remember the conversations that happened?
Oh, yes I do! It’s an awful thing to even tell you, now that you’re making me remember it. My in-laws were there, and my mother-in-law’s brother and his wife were there. And he was married to a lady with a very fiery temper. And I can remember her saying, “Oh, those dirty Japs!” That was what people said in those days. We’ve mended a few bridges but, you know, they were the horrible, cheating enemy who were killing all of our people.
Well, I think one of the interesting things were these airplane spotting shacks. There was one in Centreville on the way out to Pioneer Point. We were young and had no children, so we took a 3 o’clock in the morning shift. Well, they had this little shack out in this field, and they had binoculars, and a phone, and a map, and I think a compass, and outlines of the different kinds of planes. [It was] ’round the clock, and you heard an airplane and you had to figure out which way it was going, and then you called up somebody. They had one here too, I’m sure. They had one on my family’s farm in Virginia, I know that. It seems a very primitive way of guarding against airplanes, doesn’t it?
Every day, or on weekends?
I don’t know; I think it was once a week or something, and we rather enjoyed getting out of the house. We’d have dinner in the great town of Centreville and get up at 3 AM, I think it was 3 AM.
Did you think there was a significant risk that there would be an attack on the Eastern Shore?
No, I think we were all thinking that it would be towards Washington that they would go. And there were all [these] magazines, and people would bring magazines, because hours would go by and you had to stay awake. Couple of chairs, and it was all shabby.
I did give Adam an interesting book called We Have Decided or We Have Come Not to Fight, and it’s written by a cousin of mine. It’s about conscientious objectors, and it is very interesting to read that because these were religious people — Quakers, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren, and other people who believed it was just wrong to kill. They served in many ways, driving ambulances, some of them went to war in a non-combat way like driving an ambulance, some of them worked in outdoor projects, some of them helped nature, some of them helped in mental hospitals, and some of them went to prison. Well, that was the alternative for not fighting. See, every man had a draft number, and when your number was called up, you were expected to, if you could pass all the tests, which my husband wasn’t able to, you were expected to go into the army in some slot or another where they needed you.
End of the War
I remember VE Day very well — that was terribly exciting. I was not in an exciting place. I was in Centreville which wasn’t very exciting to me. It wasn’t like those pictures you see in cities with everybody kissing everybody. And then, VJ Day. I do remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the two bombs going off — the horror of that.
Well, you were terribly led. Well, of course the surrender of Japan didn’t come until a while after that. So you didn’t know. And it was all kind of horrifying, the idea of this awful thing — the mushroom cloud and all that stuff. The surrender in Japan in a way, I think it might have been like an anti-climax. It was really over. I mean, the war was really over. I guess it wasn’t if people had been shot afterwards but you knew who was going to win by then.
Family’s Perception of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Could you touch on Franklin Roosevelt and President Truman during that time? What was your opinion of them?
Well, my opinion of President Roosevelt was high in contrast to my northern Republican parents. And one of the reasons was living down here, next door to our farm, my mother-in-law had no electricity. And he brought a rural electricity to the country so that was very proud. And he did a lot of wonderful things. And also my mother, aside from being a big shot in the Red Cross, felt that the prohibition should be stopped. So she and a lot of women friends worked for national prohibition reform. And I have a beautiful goblet over there, this beautiful crystal goblet. And mother and some of her friends, I guess as a fundraising thing, had those made. And they said “Women’s Organization for National Prohibition” — WONPR. So she worked on that, and Roosevelt came out for repealing the 18th Amendment. So he was very much in our favor.
And you said your parents did not like them? Why was that?
Well, they were more traditional; my mother did like him, started out not liking him. They were probably Republicans, and of course he was a Democrat. I don’t know.
Friends Lost in the War
I had a friend who.. was a sculptor and he was in the army. He was the guy that did those two heads that are there in the other [room]. He was in the Battle of the Bulge and he was killed and I was in close contact with his wife who was a friend of mine also so… yeah I knew about that.I only knew the… actually two guys that were killed. The sculptor and another guy. So… I was lucky.
And we did have some German Prisoners of War that had been captured and sent over here and they were perfectly nice guys and were delighted to be in America where they could get more food and they were often assigned to farmers who needed help and they made great friends with the… the families whose farms they worked on and I guess there was a camp outside of Church Hill someplace where they lived … they liked being… I mean they weren’t going to escape. It was much better over here than in war-torn Germany.