Veronica "Vicky" Trego
Veronica Trego was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on a small island by the name of St. Clemens. She would later on move to Oakland, MD as well as Leonardtown where she spent the majority of her childhood. She was 17 years old when the war broke out, still living with the Gibson family.
In this interview, she discusses how after she graduated from St. Mary’s Academy, she left the farm life back at home to volunteer and eventually study to become a nurse. Some of the stories she shares include her recollection of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, the writing of the letters to the military men stationed overseas, her engagement to Tom McArthur, her personal and community perception of FDR, her encounter with Japanese-American Ed Sawada, and her brother’s experiences during the war.
Writing to Soldiers as Dorothy Lamour
I don’t know where the nuns, of all people, I can see where the public school would have gotten the letters. How nuns got them, I don’t know, but they had a letter from the government with some names and addresses of Maryland boys in the service, and they asked us to write letters to keep them happy and let them know what’s going on at home. So we did. I had two. You just select a couple names, and you never knew who they were. So I had two names to write to. We wrote once a month. I think it’s twice a month at the beginning, then we petered out just once a month.
So I got my letters out once a month for a couple of months, and we got letters back. And they always wanted to know what you looked like, and, you know, stuff like that. So being a teenager, my friend Dorothy and I got a magazine or a newspaper, and I cut out some pictures of Dorothy Lamour and told him it was me. And she took a picture of Ginger Rogers – no, not Ginger Rogers – Rita Hayworth, and that was her. And we wrote letters, and it came back and forth the whole time of the war.
It was fine; they never found out. Except when the war was over, I was in Washington working, and I get a phone call from the guy I had written letters to. And he said, “I’m going to be at Union Station on my way back to Pennsylvania after the war, and I would like to meet you.” Well, I felt terrible. (laughs) I knew I didn’t look like that! But, anyway, I met him, and we laughed over it. It was funny, but it was not a nice thing to do! (laughs) But I met him for lunch, and he was going back to his old job, which was a phys. ed. teacher for one of the high schools in Pennsylvania.
Franklin D. Roosevelt & “God’s Time”
My uncle that raised me hated him. Lot of farmers hated him. My uncle hated him because for one thing, he started Daylight Savings Time. And cows and horses do not live on Daylight Savings Time. So in the living room, we had a Daylight Savings clock, and in the kitchen, we had God’s Time. He would not let us change the kitchen clock. So he had to milk the cows on God’s Time. So that was a big thing that I remember about him.
But they did a lot of things for the farmers that wasn’t particularly what the everyday farmer. It was great for the big farmers out west. It helped them a lot but it didn’t do a lot for the small individual farmers. And he didn’t like being told what he could plant and what he couldn’t plant. All this restrictions and things so he was very much against him. In fact, he told me to swear that I would never tell anybody that he voted for Wilkie over Roosevelt, the second or third time (laughs). “Don’t tell anybody but I wouldn’t put him there again.”
Ed Sawada & Anti-Japanese Sentiments
Never saw a Jap. Well, there was… (laughs) This is going back to something silly. I was at Georgetown, and Father Gallagher and I got along real good. He was over at Georgetown College. He and I were buddies. And he came to me once on Saturday, he called me and said, “Are you busy tomorrow?” and I said, “No.” He said, “It seems that when we took over one of the islands in Japan in the early part of the war, we hit their islands.” I don’t know which island it was, Iwo Jima or something. But we hit the islands. And that island had… the Catholic Church had a big school there — trainer and school, college — trying to make people Catholic, I guess. And they were bombed and this guy Ed Sawada, I’ll never forget his name. He was a student there at that island, and his parents and his sisters were all killed when we bombed them. He was the only one left so when the priests had to get out, he got out with them, and he went to Georgetown. He came to Georgetown. He was a pre-med student. And he had been in Georgetown about two years, I guess, and Father Gallagher says, “Ed doesn’t know anybody. He never goes anyplace, and he is such a nice guy. Would you take him out on a Sunday afternoon?”
“Okay, I’ll take him out.” So, I got together with Ed, and we went out on a streetcar, and we went downtown and went to a couple of museums, and we decided – he was very anxious to not show of money but to be nice to me. So finally, I said, “Well, we’re just go on back.” “No, I want to take you to dinner.” So he had enough to know that the Willard Hotel was a very nice hotel, very old and very nice. So we went to the Willard Hotel, and we walked in. Well the first guy said, “we don’t have any openings.” And Ed said, “Well, it’s 3:00 in the afternoon, you know. So finally, the manager came, and he said, “No you can’t get in.” He said, “We’re not letting anybody with Japanese ancestry come in.” So I got kicked out of the Willard Hotel.
Volunteering Drives during Study Periods
At first, it was just talk. There was not going to be a war, you know. And it was Roosevelt’s fault, and it was this one’s fault, back and forth. But when we realized it was a war, then they got down to ‘What do you do?’ So the first thing we did was, American Red Cross came down, and they all agreed that we would be part of that. So they brought down a box, half the size of that (indicates a piano in the corner of the room) full of cheesecloth. But it was cut. It was cut in about 4 inch strips, just cut, the whole thing. It was up to us on our study periods… We had two study periods a day. And those study periods were automatically turned over to war effort. So we would go into a room, and we would cut off about two yards of cheesecloth, and we had to roll it. You know those little rolls you see. We had to roll that up. And they gave us a box about twice the size of this with little cubby holes, and we put them in the cubby holes. And when that was finished, they came and got it, and they brought us another box. So for a long time, that’s what we did.
Then it was found out that for the ammunition, cigarettes were wrapped in what’s called aluminum foil now was lead foil. And so was chewing gum. So you would save the silver part of chewing gum and the silver part of cigarettes. Everybody saved them. Older people, younger people, black people, it didn’t matter. You saved them. And I guess other schools did but our school had a big box of it, and you took them and you straightened them out and you made a ball of them. When the ball got about that big, you put about twelve in a box, and you sent them because to make the bullets. And we did that for – it was the second and third year of high school that we did this during the war effort. And that was the main thing we did at school was take care of the American Red Cross.
How did you feel about doing that work?
It was fun. We enjoyed it. Heck, anything was better than school work. We had a good time (laughs).
Brothers’ Service in WWII & D-Day
My brother Whitey was too old for the war. My brother Bish was too old for the war. But my brother, Chick, who is Elmer Thompson, he went, and he was in France most of his time. And my next brother Al went, and he was in Italy. And he was there when the Americans chased the Nazis out. He got cut on his leg in the war in Italy, and it never healed. When he died about eight years ago, that sore was still coming and going. It would heal up, and it would break out, so it never, ever went away. It was one of the Nazi knives that hit him, and he never got over it. But he came home.
My younger brother — well, he wasn’t younger than me — he was two years older. Joe, he joined the Army, and he was in England. And on D-Day, he left England to go to D-Day, and he was almost ashore. But he didn’t make it ashore; he was killed on D-Day.
So all three of them were at the battle. Al came in, ’cause he had left Italy ’cause the Nazis had been chased out; we had Italy. So he came into the southern end of France is where he was. Chick was in the middle of France. He and a buddy were coming to the battle, and as they were coming, the American planes bombed an orphanage in France. And he and his buddy were in a Jeep, and they went over, and they saved, I think he said, 32 orphans and 4 nuns. They saved them out of the bombing. And later on, the French army gave him a medal of something that is one of the highest that they could get. And when that was settled, they went on to the battle.
So, on D-Day, Joe was coming in from England, Al came in from France, from Italy to France, and Chick was on… So all three of them were there on D-Day. They didn’t know it ‘til they got back home, of course, so that was the end of their military service.
You mentioned that one of your brothers didn’t make it through D-Day. When did you find out that he had passed away?
His buddy that did make it talked to my older brother and said that he was within six feet of getting on French soil when they got him, when the Germans got him. When they were there, the ocean was running red, you know? And that was him; he was killed there. So we left him to be buried over there; we didn’t bring his body back.
Death of Her Fiancé, Tom McArthur
So, we were in there having Cokes, and two Marines and an Air Force guy came over and started talking to us. It ended up that I became engaged to the Air Force guy, Tom McArthur. And that must have been about April of ’44. And so I started going with him, and he was sent oversees in September of ‘44, and we were engaged. We were going to be married in April ‘cause his — you took 26 or 28 trips over Germany bombing, and then you were allowed to come home. So his period to come home was in April. And we were to be married in April because then he’d be going to Japan. And so, he finished his term — all of his bombings – that December. But the pilots that were coming over to take their place were sunk by the German U-Boats. So when they were all gone, the pilots there had to continue the bombing until another three months or four months when the new ones got there. And so on January the 22nd, it had rained. England had a lot of — the Air Force was there — they had a lot of airplane planes, you know, but they were poorly built. They were built in a hurry, and they weren’t real good landing. Tommy and his crew got in and started to go, and it had rained the night before, and there was problem. And the plane turned over and caught on fire, and they were all killed. So, he was killed January 22nd, and his mom and all of us, of course, were upset, and his two sisters. And that happened January 22nd 1945.
But if he had come home, we would’ve got married in April and then he was going to Japan. But at that time Japan gave up, so he wouldn’t have had to go to Japan, I don’t think. I think it would have been the end of his Air Force career.
I was going to work every day. You went to school in the morning, and you worked all day at the hospital. You didn’t get any time off at all. If you weren’t in school at Georgetown training, you were working the hospital. And nothing was happening so I don’t know, must have been about January the 10th. No, he was killed on the 22nd so it was probably the 1st of February. His sister came to Georgetown. Well, she was over here at Catholic University (gesturing to one side of the table) and Georgetown was over here (gesturing to the other side of the table) so I knew something was up for her to be there.
“What’s the matter?” They had called the hospital or the school to tell them to get in touch with me and tell me. But Sister didn’t. It was midterm exams so Sister didn’t want me disturbed or upset so they didn’t tell me. And his mother was calling, “Why haven’t you called?” You know, they didn’t talk to me. “I left a message and she hasn’t called.” “Well, we’ll give her the message.” But nobody gave me the message because they didn’t want to interfere with my exams.