All "Tales" on this page are excerpts from Nona Johnson's book. "Our Home On The Hill" and are reprinted here, with her permission , for your enjoyment,.
I had gone to the movies at the Rec Hall on the night of 14 August 1945 at 1830. The news was broadcast at 1900 that the war in the Pacific had ended. When I came out of the movie I was greeted by shouting coming from the vicinity of the beer garden. I could see the buses as they passed our gate, each one filled to capacity heading for downtown D.C. "The War is over!", was on the lips of everyone I encountered. The word spread rapidly and soon everyone was laughing and crying all at the same time. There was jumping and shouting and there were prayers. And then the strains of the Star Spangled Banner came over a radio in the barracks, everyone stood at attention and there were tears in our eyes.
Then the revelry took control, conga lines, jitterbug contest, singing and general hilarity kept the squadroom lights on until the wee hours, much to the security NCO's consternation. Bunks were decorated and GI paper strung from one end of the barracks to the other. Some of the resourceful WR's had been saving confetti for two years, they took it with them downtown. By this time there was virtually no one in or around the barracks, so Polly [Esther Efhelman], Sunny [Pauline Kovach] and I decided to head for town also. I
t took one hour to make the normal fifteen minute trip, traffic was so heavy and people jammed the streets, running and shouting. Our barracks CO, Captain Gai [Former Major Constance Gai Doty died March 6, 1997], was reported driving around town in her newly renovated convertible along with others singing, "When the war is over, we will all enlist again!" The three of us ended up in front of the White House with everyone yelling, "Harry." What a mess. We had to carry our caps as people were snatching them right off our heads. Fire engines were answering false alarms, cars were loaded with as many as 15 people on the fenders and riding on the roof.
We walked the length of the mob just once then waited for a bus to take us home and arrived at 2230 to find the beer garden still as busy as when we had left. It remained open until 0100 with everything free. 28 barrels of beer were consumed and 100 cases of cokes, 50 dozen packages of popcorn, 50 dozen packages of pretzels and 100 dozen bags of potato chips. Some of the WR's gave up their private celebration to serve as needed for the extra work that night. A $40 kitty was collected for them, they stayed until 0300 to get the place cleaned up and ready for church services scheduled for 0730 the next morning. Many went to churches of their choice and both base Chaplains lead the services on the post, giving thanksgiving for final victory.
We were given various jobs during mess duty and one of them was preparing the vegetables. There was a separate room for this, located near the refrigerators, and we had to slice, peel spuds, and all the other vegetables for the meals. On one particular day we had to slice onions!
Now in a closed room this really was a problem unless you held the onions under water. It was also an inspection day when the officers came around to check on the handling of our duties in the mess hall and we knew they would be coming by so...we peeled onions without putting them in the water and the room filled with the onion fumes, bringing tears to our eyes but we had thought about that.
When the inspection party came into the room, they wre greeted by overwhelming onion fumes, they didn't stay...turned and left without looking us over in the usual manner. As soon as they were out of sight we threw open the windows and congratulated ourselves on taking advantage of the situation to avoid a dreaded inspection.
Henderson Hall had its own maintenance crew of Leathernecks. When we had a plumbing or electrical problem they were called upon to make repairs. We tried to spread the word when such an emergency developed that the maintenance crew would be coming to the barracks. On any given day the 'heads' were a busy place and more than once I heard the shout, "Man Aboard," as one of the crew arrived to fix a problem.
If someone failed to shout the warning, and they sometimes did, the guys just might enter thinking it was 'all clear' only to encounter a WR coming out of a shower. Hard to say who was the most startled, but when a scream was heard that left no doubt in our minds as to the encounter. Out the door would go the male Marine until he was assured that the 'all clear' was confirmed.
The Christmas of 1944 was the first holiday I had been away from home and family. I was not alone, for not only did we not have time off from work, many of the WR's lived a long way from home. Travel was almost impossible out of Washington, D.C. during the holiday week. Trains were jammed and even though uniformed personnel were given priority, it still meant sitting in the aisle on one's suitcase for the entire trip.
Some of the fortunate WR's lived but a few hours from home and they, of course, left the rest of us for the holiday stay. There were, as always, those individuals who could take over and get us all into the holiday spirit. So out came the decorations and after work the barracks were a beehive of activity as we did our best to see who could decorate their squadrooms and win the prize that was offered. My bunkie and I took over the mirrors in our squadroom. Sunny was quite artistic and she created a full sized WR on the mirror with show card paints, complete with fur garb. Our lounge took on a festive look as well, and yes, we had a Christmas tree and a fake fireplace. Yuletide music filled the room each evening as we sat around....secretly wishing we were home.
We had put our gifts under the tree and lo and behold on Christmas Eve, with a loud noise in the corridor, the double doors burst open and there was Santa! I had a camera and recorded the entrance of St. Nick. In spite of the holiday spirit that we were able to create, our minds of course were far removed at time, thinking of fathers, brothers, husbands and other loved ones who were far from our shores, as the war was still uppermost in our minds, but more so on these special occasions.
As a Midwesterner, Christmas meant snow, but on Christmas Eve, 1944 in Washington, D.C. it rained and it was as warm as April. Of course the mess hall gals were always good to us, and for our party on December 22nd they brought goodies and we enjoyed every morsel that evening. Company E sponsored the Yuletide dance in 1944 in our Recreation Hall. It was held from 2000 until 2400. Servicemen were invited from the surrounding bases and we also were able to invite our own guests. The door prize was a long distance phone call home to any part of the United States. There was a service band from the Washington area to provide music. Needless to say, the compound was 'invaded' and it was apparent that there were many, many service people who appreciated the efforts to enjoy the holiday with us as they, too, were far from home.
I remember the New Year's eve movie at the Compound theater. We were given hats and horns in anticipation of heralding in the New Year. At midnight, they stopped the film and someone shouted, "This is it." Every horn in the room gave out with a blast, there was yelling, laughter and tears....1945 had arrived and we knew in our hearts that this would be the year that the war would end.
I was still at Henderson Hall for another Christmas in 1945 but the atmosphere had changed as the war was over and so many of us were preparing to take up our lives as civilians once again and leave our home on the hill. However, during that holiday week we were treated to an unusual sight, the officers were serving in the mess hall! They took over mess hall duty for a day during the holidays of 1945, both Christmas and New Year's to relieve some of the WR's assigned to duty during that period.
A little dubious of the invasion of the officers to the realm of pots and pans, some remarked, "This I gotta see." So on the Saturday before Christmas there was one lieutenant serving poached eggs, another wiping silver and so on down the mess hall duty line. On New Year's Day, there she was, Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson, our Commanding Officer, serving turkey. A bemedaled, hash-marked, male Marine sergeant was heard to say, "Now I've seen everything." But our officers were good 'guys' and they enjoyed the detail I'm sure, and it enhanced the already high regard that we had for them. The officers agreed that the highlight for them was the expression on the brave souls' faces who made the morning chow on January first.
The first part of July 1945 there appeared a notice on the bulletin board that a precision drill team was being formed. There were to be about 24 in the platoon, 6 to be chosen from each barracks. No one above the rank of Sergeant and they had to be 5 ft. l inch to 5 fl. 3 inches in height. Thus they were to be named the Half-Pint Platoon.
I signed up and was accepted to be a part of the unit. Corp. Pearl "Doby" Dobrzynski was to be the DI and we were given just one week to prepare for our first public appearance. We were excused from work until 0930 each morning and we practiced every evening after work. It didn't take us long to shape up under the skill and snappy cadence of Doby. Some of the group dropped out but there was a waiting list of alternates.
All went well, we were enjoying the venture and the prospects of the participation in special events. Among the countless memorabilia that I have kept in my foot locker all these years, is a 'thumb nail sketch' of Doby, our Half-Pint leader. On 10 July 1945 we were ready. Shoes were spit polished. Our seersucker uniforms were crisp and pressed and we were to wear our dress covers with gilt emblem, white gloves and cordovan brown shoes. We were off to our first public appearance.
We were a bit apprehensive but confident as we arrived at Griffith Stadium Park where the War Fund Rally benefit baseball game was to take place, complete with movie celebrities. The Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the Washington Senators were to play before a crowd of 30,000. At 2130 we marched onto the infield following a color guard to the strains of The Marine Hymn. Without a flaw Doby guided us through our drill routine and it was quite a feeling to march off the field knowing we had performed well as the crowd cheered. As we left we noticed the WAVES group who were to perform next, polishing their shoes with whatever piece of cloth they could find and we heard whispers, "Did you see the shine on their shoes?"
Major Ferguson, our Commanding Officer, had arranged for the Half-Pints to enter drill platoon competition with the SPARS, WAVES and WACS at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds the very next night on 11 July 1945. It was a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to the Proving Grounds. The judges, who were officers of the 1st Ordnance Training Regiment, were seated at the reviewing stand as we assembled for our drill in front of them. But just as we started our routine, we were unable to hear the commands of Doby as two large amplifiers were blaring out with march music.
We figured we were doomed as we looked like a bunch of boots in their first attempt at close order drill. Without hesitation, Doby halted the platoon and with a determined stride, advance to the reviewing stand. With a polished Marine salute and in a firm voice addressed the officers, "Sir, will you please turn off that damn music, Sir." With that she again saluted, executed a flawless about face and returned to our platoon. The music stopped. She immediately barked out the drill commands and we responded without hesitation and with precision.
When the judges had made their decision, we found ourselves with the first place trophy. Doby was presented with a special trophy for her skill. The Half-Pints were by now the official drill team of Henderson Hall and were called upon to perform whenever the occasion warranted. Since its beginning, Henderson Hall had always been honored by visits from a number of distinguished people from other services and countries.
In mid-September 1945, Major Ferguson hosted a group of visitors with a luncheon in the mess hall and a brief reception in the lounge of the Women Officers Quarters. Following this the visitors assembled on the steps of the Administration Building to review the Half-Pint drill team. The platoon fell in near the rear of the mess hall and were to march past the flag pole towards the reviewing party. Doby had added a new twist to our repertoire. As we approached we were winging to cadence.
What do you think of the WR's?
Twice as good as the WAVES and SPARS.
The 2nd lieutenants are at it again,
Winning the war with their fountain pens.
We make our sacks so gosh darn tight,
We sleep at attention all the night.
We like our whisky and we like our beer,
Gee, I wish I had some here.