Aline MacNeven was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1922. She was one of six children and grew up on the family farm, which was located about ten miles outside of East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
In May 1941, Aline relocated to Washington, D.C., where she spent World War II working as a civilian in the War Department. She was a stenographer and helped keep track of transport ships all across the world, including confidential information.
In 1945, Aline returned to Minnesota and completed nursing training, a field she would work in for the next forty years. She married Leonard “Scotty” MacNeven in 1950 and had one child, John. Aline passed away in 2015 in Roseville, Minnesota.
In this interview, Aline MacNeven discusses her work as a stenographer in the War Department and her experiences handling confidential information. Aline further recounts her experiences living and working in the nation’s capital during World War II.
Finding Work During the War
A girlfriend and I, we were looking for work. We were through with high school, and in fact, we’d gone to business college for a year or so. But still there was no work. So, her mother said to us, “Civil service is hiring. Why don’t you two go to Crookston [Minnesota] and take the civil service test?” So, we found out about that, and we did.
My girlfriend got called first, and the job was in Washington, D.C. And I got called about a week or so later. And then she was already there, so I thought, “Well, yeah, I’ll go too.” It was okay because we were friends through high school. So then, I went there. It was May of 1941.
Hearing About Pearl Harbor
DB: Do you remember the date, 7 December ’41, then?
DB: Where were you and what were you doing?
It was on a Sunday, as I recall. And my girlfriend and I were home and listening to the radio, and we heard that. It’s hard to believe, but that’s what happened.
DB: Okay, so you were at your apartment, then, in Washington?
DB: How did you react right away? Do you remember what you first were thinking?
I don’t really remember, except it was rather scary. You know, here we are, and are we safe here in the nation’s capital?
I remember just when they started doing blackouts, we had to keep sheets drawn all the time at nighttime. I remember that.
Securing Housing in Washington, D.C.
DB: Did the War Department help you find that apartment? Or how did you find housing when you went out there?
That’s a good question. You know, when I first went out there, the Walther League sponsored a place, just a room and board. And it seems like I first went there when I first came there. But girlfriend was there already, so then we decided to get an apartment together.
So, I can’t think of the name of this place we went. It was sponsored by the church or Walther League for Christian young people. That’s where I was until my girlfriend and I decided to get an apartment together.
DB: So, it was actually a place set up for people coming out there, to help them with transitional living?
Yes. I don’t know if they could live there indefinitely or not, but it was just until we found an apartment.
Japanese Cherry Trees
You ever heard of the—I think they used to call them the Japanese cherry trees, around the Tidal Basin there in D.C.? If remember right, I think they took that Japanese name off of it and just called it “the flowering cherry trees.”
I remember that because they were always the “Japanese [trees].” And the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and they thought, “Well, we have to get rid of that name.” So, they cancelled out the “Japanese” off of those cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin.