World War II Experiences
by Luella Rentz, August, 2002
Interviewed by C. Wangrin
I graduated in Ridgeville Corners in 1938 and I took all my subjects in science and math, thinking of going into nurse’s training, but my Dad wasn't even at my graduation. He was in the hospital, so how could I tell my mother that I wanted to go to college? Well, I was fortunate enough that the Commissioners asked me to work at the Henry County Home. I worked there as a hospital maid and cook. My sister was working in Ft. Wayne. She was getting homesick and wanted to quit her job. But she was making more a week than I could make in a month so I said, "Don't come here; I'll come up there." So I worked at General Electric six months. And then I saw the sign pointing at me, “IF YOU JOIN NOW YOU CAN GET IN THE HOSPITAL CORPS IN THE WAVES,” and so I thought, "Boy, that's for me!" and so I quit my job at General Electric and I went to St. Albans, er, I went to Hunter College first for training and then all those that had some hospital experience, which I did--I worked at the Henry County Hospital and the County Home Hospital--we were sent directly to a hospital for training. So I was sent to St. Albans, Long Island, the Navy hospital there.
Well, the handwriting was already on the wall that there was going to be a war and it wasn't long. When D-Day come I remember staying up till ten o'clock one night helping to admit fellows to our ward and it's something that you never, never will forget because they looked like kids, young boys that had been into battle. I remember one fellow that had both arms and both legs off and so you had to do everything for them. And I remember lighting a cigarette for him so that he could smoke. I enjoyed my work in the doctor's office of this orthopedic ward, but then we had to take turns cleaning the Waves' quarters. And while I was there on duty for that the girl that was in charge of the ship's service quarters got a call, so I was just handy to be put in charge of the store, temporarily. So there I was managing a ship's service store in Waves' quarters. I sold uniforms and cosmetics and cigarettes and things like that to the girls. And, ah, I really liked it there. It wasn't what I intended to do but I got $25.00 a month extra for this job so how could I say no?
That was a lot of money in those days.
Yeah, and besides they were right next door to a beauty shop and they were so grateful that I had cigarettes for sale and so I got my hair done for nothing as an appreciation for it.
I might be called a religious fanatic but I think sometimes we're put in a certain place for a purpose, because here I was in New York when my brother got leave, Well, he jumped ship a couple times and he came to see me. And my husband-to-be at that time was in New York and he came to see me, and a classmate, Wilford Bockelman, was taking some classes there and he came to see me. So it just seemed it was supposed to be that I was there at that time.
My grandmother didn't want me to go into the service but at the same time she was looking up addresses for me to look up: her cousin that was in Brooklyn and a lady that she at the age of seven got to know when they came here on the ship from Germany, so I had to look them up, and so I had places to go. It was just like I said, the Lord looks after you and it was that when those people came to see me it was as if it was meant to be.
And then I learned a lot too when I was in the service. What do we know here in Ridgeville Corners? 'Lutheran, Lutheran.' And when I got there, they had a party once for the Waves and I got a box with an invitation inviting me to some people's house, and they were Christian Scientists. And so I learned a little bit there, and my two roommates were Catholic so I learned a little bit there. Yeah, it broadened my education in that respect. And they had services right there on the base too and, uh, so I went to several baptisms and some people saw to it that I went regular.
I had a dry cleaner that picked up Waves' clothes and he was Jewish, a real friendly Jew. I was invited to their house at different times and I learned a lot there. I remember one time, it was Easter time and I, being brought up in Ridgeville, knew that if you went someplace you should take a hostess gift. So I went to a delicatessen and I picked up a couple big Easter bunnies to give to their children. And when I got there I found out that was the wrong thing to do. The father said he'd find a way to sneak it in to them but his wife said, "If you do I'll break every finger in your hand!" because it was against their religion to at that special time to have any kind of food in the house. I don't know what happened to the bunnies. But I learned. I meant no offense by doing that but I was just too dumb about their religion. (laughs) I think a lot of people should go different places and learn different life styles that they have.
I made a lot of lasting friendships while I was in the service. In fact, I had one family, I think it was the Christian Scientists, that came here to Ridgeville to visit me. We had an outside toilet so that was an experience for them too!
C: Coming from New York City…
Coming from New York City, but they learned too. It was a real good visit. And some people from here came to visit so while I was on duty these people took them around and they got to see a lot more of the city than they would have otherwise.
At Easter time somebody--I guess they thought it was a good joke--they brought me a little live chick and they even brought food for it. It was an attraction and people enjoyed it. But then I heard we were going to have an inspection so now what would I do? I knew they weren't allowed so I put it in a shoe box and hid it behind some boxes in the spare room. Well the inspectors came and looked over everything. They got in the back room and sure enough--'cheep, cheep!' One of them said, "You can sure tell it's spring." He evidently thought the noise was coming from outside.
The next weekend I looked up an address that my Grandmother had given me--they lived in the Bronx--and so I took the chicken on the subway ride with me and delivered it to them. It was quite an experience, yeah. (laughs)
Somebody thought that was funny I guess and so they brought me a little wooden dog. Well I tied it to a table leg and pretty soon an article came out in their newspaper that said, "Well, _____ must want to be transferred to Brooklyn. They have a tree there.
When you were in the hospital did you take care of any returning sailors?
Yes, as I said on D-Day. They were in casts and things like that, but my roommate worked in a mental ward and she'd come back and cry a lot of times. It was hard on her. They'd think they were out on the field and they'd yell 'Medic! Medic!' and it was hard. They were just kids fresh out of school. It was hard on them.
My brother wanted so bad to get in the Navy and he thought he might be drafted into the Army, so my father had to go up and get his diploma when he graduated. Yeah, it was definitely hard on the boys.
People are the same all over. It was a real education for me.
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