Virginia Babbitt

Virginia was born on March 4, 1926 in Portsmouth, Virginia. She was a sophomore in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She had a younger sister who was around five at the start of World War II. She graduated high school when she was seventeen and started attending USO dances, where she met her future husband whom she would marry and start a family with post-war. Additionally, Virginia worked at a bank and was able to witness the economic boom that came with the war. 

In this interview, Virginia retells her life during the war as a teenager. She describes the fun she had in post-war celebrations and the USO dances. She gives insight on FDR and even Winston Churchill by sharing her views on both figures. Virginia recalls women’s work experiences and various stories pertaining to her family, including an aunt and cousins in Australia. She also shares her experience of writing and maintaining a relationship with two young men in the service. 

Taking Shelter at the Funeral Home During an Air Raid Drill

Well, we started having blackouts, I mean, air raid drills. And that was all over Portsmouth, Norfolk. My father was an air raid warden which meant on his block, he had to go and check that air raid drill. They had to check everybody’s house to see they were doing what they were supposed to, keeping no light out. So it was kinda eerie, you know, when you were a teenager. But the eeriest thing was that I was a cheerleader, and it was a small town, and we would go downtown on the courthouse steps and stand on the steps. They’d block off this block, and all the people would come and cheer with us. So when we were leaving one time, they had an air raid drill, and we had to stop our car and get out. We were right by a funeral home, and we had to go in the funeral home, and some of the kids were saying, “I don’t want to be in there with all those dead people.”

Rationing – From Meats to Hose

Yeah, I’ve got these I was gonna show you. These are the ration books we had to have. They had all the names in the family, and you had to present these when you bought food because you were only rationed so much food. I think mostly the meat was one of the main things. But you couldn’t buy a lot of things like when I got married soon after the war, I couldn’t buy any hose because they weren’t manufacturing them. So I think that’s when people started going barelegged a lot instead of wearing hose.

Meeting Boys During the War

Yeah, I met him [my husband] at the USO. You know I was telling you about that. We met at the USO, and then we were allowed to date them, I guess afterwards. I mean they weren’t allowed to take us home, anything like that, but they could come to your home. So he came, and of course he was attached—Shangri-La was the name of the ship. I knew it would come back to me. He was attached to the Shangri-La and so when it was going to ship out, I guess I only knew him maybe about three months. And then we, you know, wrote letters all the time. Of course, I was writing letters to two boys, one in Germany. [laughs] I mean you can’t write and tell somebody you’re not sure about them when they’re overseas. That’s the way I felt.
But because of the war I met both of those boys really. And I kinda liked both of them because they were different from our hometown boys. Do you know what I mean? They had a little more sophistication maybe. Or maybe I thought that.

Husband’s Experience as a Serviceman

But anyways, so then he [my husband] spotted the kamikaze pilots. He would spot them. He said he’d get sunburn because they had to stay up there all day. And they had to distinguish between the planes that went by. Then he was there when the bomb was dropped. And then he was deployed home, you know, gotten out right after that. And his family had moved to Texas. They were from New Orleans, and so, he was let go of—I’ve forgotten the word when they let them out. But anyway, they let him out, and he was let out in California. So he didn’t have much money so he thumbed all the way to Portsmouth from California to see me. And then he stayed there and got a job, and he never went back home.

The USO Dances

Oh, I just loved it because I just loved to dance. And that was when you were dancing—I don’t know whether y’all know that you could cut in, the boys could cut in. So you’d be dancing, and then another boy —sometimes you didn’t like it because you wanted to be dancing with that boy because some of them were really good dancers, you know. And I loved to dance. It was a lot of fun. And we would kinda sit down—it seems like to me that we would sit in chairs along the side, and then I guess the boys would come and ask you to dance. But I remember when I started dancing, I never sat down again. So I guess I just kept dancing. And they had really good bands.

Working at the Bank During the War

I didn’t have a —yes, I did. I worked at a bank. I’d forgotten that. That’s where I worked during the war. I didn’t go to college, and I had an opportunity. I knew the guy that ran the bank, and he said, “Come on,” when they needed people. We had so many paychecks to cash, you know, all the influx of all the men and women that were in the Navy. And so they needed extra tellers. And so I worked in what they called the proof department in the bank which was upstairs. But at night they would open up five o’clock to eight o’clock to cash checks, and they’d take us by boat to the different naval installations. They had booths set up, and they’d take the money and everything. So that was interesting.

We had a lot more business, you know, because of the volume of people that came to our town. You know what I’m talking about, just our town. We had a lot more business, and we had to hire a lot of extra people, and that’s when I first remember a drive-in window. And what they did, we had an old building, a beautiful building, and it had brass all around it. And we were right on a corner, and so they dug down and made a basement. And you came in the car, and the man in the basement was the one that helped you in the drive-in. So it came from that. In the building where they made steps so that we could go down there and get the cash from them. And then, he would stand here and the cars would go by. I’ve never seen a drive-in like that since but that’s the way they did it. And that’s the first drive-in, and that was the dominant reason, part of the war. That was why we had that.

Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt

Oh, I can remember it was just devastating. I remember we stayed right by the radio ’cause then all we had was the radio. I can see myself in that living room right now. And everybody was around there just aghast at what was going on. It was just so unheard of in a just a normal little life. So, yes, it was very upsetting to everybody. I guess, we didn’t know where to turn, and that’s when I think everybody became attached to Roosevelt ’cause he kind of led us through the war. I can remember when he died, everybody cried.

I couldn’t remember anything except he gave us a good feeling. I mean I think that was probably the thing I remember more than anything was the feeling we had that he was like the father of our country, you know. I mean, I don’t know. I never really thought about it, but I know he was right to us. And I think Churchill was the same way, and they were fast friends. And then, I just remember when he died, and I just, you know, he was just a big figure in my life. I didn’t know about Democrats and Republicans. You know, it didn’t mean anything to me then at all. It was just he was good to us and good for the United States at that time.