Olive Wetherholt was born in Kentucky in 1928. During World War II, she moved to Huntington, West Virginia, to work at plant run by Sylvania Electric Products. Her brother served in the Army during the war. Olive went on to marry a World War II veteran in 1947.
Olive recounts her birth in Kentucky and her family’s subsequent move to West Virginia, where she and her two sisters later worked and lived together during the war. She then narrates her wartime job at the Sylvania plant binding together tubes in the mounting department and reflects on different aspects of the home front experience, from rationing to nylon panty hose. She goes on to discuss marrying her husband, a veteran, after the war. Olive concludes the interview by giving advice to younger generations.
Two Brothers in Wartime and a Bomb in Saipan
Yes, I have two brothers. And one, he just stayed around Wayne County. He lived in Huntington part of the time, just in this area. And the other one did too, but he went to service. And he was in service.
AM: So did he serve during World War II?
AM: Where did he [serve]?
He was in Panama, and then they went to a little island called Saipan. He was in the engineer corps, and his division was making runways for planes to land. Of course, there was a bomb about every night. One of the bombs got too close to him and burst his eardrum. He could never hear after that—I mean, very little.
AM: Did they keep him in the service or did they send him home after that
Well, the war was over, I think, when he came home. But I guess he just served his time and then he come home. But that was one of the things that happened. He had hearing aids, but they didn’t really help him very much.
AM: I’m sure they didn’t. With the eardrums burst, that’s pretty serious, isn’t it? So it sounds to me like he was in the military and was basically injured during the war, and they probably kept him. What branch of the service was he in?
Engineer corps. He was in the Army.
AM: What is his name?
Paul Hensley. He’s passed away now.
The Hardest Part of the Job at the Plant
Well, that would, because you have to inspect that and make sure that no wires were touching. You had a little pick and you had to get the wires out of that jam, so they wouldn’t short out. So I think that was the hardest part, was getting that and having to go back and straighten all that up.
My Husband’s Memories of a Warehouse Mystery in France
He liked France. He would have liked to have just stayed there, but of course his time was up and he had to go. But this was a pretty country—he liked it.
He said there was some interesting thing that he was telling about, that this warehouse had food in it—I guessed they baked and whatever. And they kept missing some knives and things out of their inventory. They couldn’t figure how, ’cause these people, they were not soldiers that worked there. They were just the natives that lived there, the Frenchmen that lived there. And he said that a lot of times they would take a loaf of bread home. He got the idea of looking at that loaf of bread a little closer. And what they’d do, they’d split that in two and hide that knife and walk on out with whatever they had. [laughs]
Closed Stores on V-J Day and Celebration in the Streets
Well, when victory was declared, down in Huntington they closed all the stores and we went out in the street and we celebrated. There was music, and everybody was dancing and just having a happy time—of course, noisy. And I’ll never forget that: they said the war was over, and everybody said they were closing up the stores. And that’s what they did. I don’t remember how long they kept them closed, but it was enough time for people to get out and celebrate.
AM: You know, I was six. My birthday is July 15, and this essentially was August 15. I was just barely six, I was getting ready to go to school, and I remember V-J Day very, very well. I wrote an essay about it maybe ten years ago. All the horns honking, and every factory in that area was blowing whistles.
And my grandfather was very crippled. He was maybe then about eighty at that point, and arthritic. And he came around—I told him that the war was over—and he came around to the front of the house. It was so touching to me that the men who would pass by with the automobiles would stop and they would get out of their car and even salute him. And of course, he wasn’t a military person, but they just wanted this old man to know that everything was all right. It was very sweet.
The other thing I remember about V-J Day is not exactly that time, but maybe a month or two later, they had one of the cars that one of Hitler’s generals had driven. They brought it into Huntington and showed it off. I met a man fairly recently whose father was the one who actually arranged to have those cars brought around. But the American public was really very united at that time, weren’t they?
I remember that just like it was yesterday. It was just so happy.