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World War II Veteran: Phyllis Freymann Koopman
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I wanted to be a sailor when I was a little kid because of a member of the family who was Navy. And I couldn't because I was a boy, not a boy, excuse me. And then in 1943 the summer they opened the Navy to women, and in the fall of '43 I turned 20 and I joined.
And how old did you have to be to join?
20. You had to be 20 to join.
So they opened it just as you turned 20. Who was your family member who was in the Navy?
My fathers brother was a doctor in WWI and he stayed in during the interim and then he was again in during WWII.
Did you know any other women who were joining the services?
No, I was by myself.
What did you expect?
I really donit know. I had thought I was going to make it my lifeis position and probably would have except after the war was over they decided that women didnit belong where I was and they put us in offices. And I thought no, office work is not for me. I had done that before I went in and nope. So I got out.
Tell me about what you did during the war.
Well I took the mechanics training. We took boot at Hunter College in New York. And took mech training in Norman, Oklahoma. And then I was stationed in Chicago at Glenview Naval Air Station. I donit think its there anymore. Then they opened overseas duties so I put my name on the list and got a free trip to Hawaii where I spent the last 5-6 months of my time in.
What did you do in Hawaii?
Same thing basically. I went through the mech training and when I was stationed in Chicago. In those days it used to be ejoin the Navy, free a man for servicei, well I met the man I freed. He taught me how to do my job. Back in those days the training planes were made of fabric. The boys used to delight in seeing how close they could come to the clothes line pole, telephone wires, gates. And theyid come back in with the underneath side of their plane split open. So I had the job of sewing them shut.
Sewing a plane shut?
How do you sew a plane shut?
Well there is a system of how you stitch it and then you put a coating of..I can't remember what we used to call it, anyway you put a coating on it and you put a piece of fabric over that and coat it again. And when it dries its hard, until the next time. Most of them had quiet a few of those patches. There or in the wing flaps, which were also fabric of course, places like that.
Was that kind of their badge of courage to do that?
I think they thought it was a sign of what a good pilot they were. Either that or how bad, one of the two. So that was the extent of my, it was fortunate. Iive always said Iid feel sorry, well you used to have to fly in the planes you would fix. I didnit mind flying in mine. Donit know if Iid want to fly in one where I worked on the motor, but anyhow.
So tell me about mech training, what did you learn there?
We took the same training that the boys took. Very interesting. I donit remember any of it now, but when you never used it, how would you? We were stationed at Norman, Oklahoma. It was a combination, there were a number of English students there also. Its on the, right near the campus of University of Oklahoma. We were part of the campus, or used to be, I donit know if it still is or not. They used to use our gym for their wrestling meets and I saw Iowa State wrestle a few times down.
How many women did you serve with, when you were in Hawaii?
At the time when I was in Norman there were a couple thousand of us down there in different stages of training for different things. When we were on our way to Hawaii the war came to an end. So then our job was more un-doing. We went to painting everything back to battleship grey and that kind of stuff. So Iid say there would be 2 or 3 women and a dozen men in a shop.
Painting it back to battleship gray, from what?
They had, I donit know why they had all these different colors that theyid
use. If they were in uniform I could understand out in the woods, but I never
could quite understand why they painted some of the other things that they
How about the women that you served with once you were settled in the station. Did you form a close unit with them or was it more with everybody?
It was with everybody pretty much. The women were from all over. Like when my husband was in, he remained with a group. The boys here talk about being in with a group from here. There was one of us from here, one of us from there, one of us from someplace else. But we kept in touch after it was over by letter. Notified each other when we got married and had kids and that kind of stuff.
Do you have any reunions?
No we've never had a reunion. We weren't that large of a group at any stage of the game.
Have you got a story that you like to tell? When someone says 'Phyllis, tell us about your time' What do you like to tell?
Well it was interesting. To me flying has always been fascinating. I can remember as a kid watching that one plane a day that went over. You know stuff like that. So it was interesting working on that and being stationed in Hawaii was quite a treat because it was no longer war. If it hadnit been for the war, it would have been a great couple of years. I canit think of anything in one particular, just a lot of little things.
Whatis a little thing you like to talk about? Or you want to talk about?
Well, I imagine that most of the boys when they were in Hawaii went to a hula house. Well I did too, I went with a date. But when they got to a certain stage they made me leave. They made all the women leave. I thought that was rather strange. I knew why they did it but I still thought it was rather strange. I was probably one of the very few people that has ever laid on the beach in Waikiki fully clothed because I sunburn at the drop of a hat. But I still enjoyed laying out there. We were stationed at Kaneohe Bay, which is on the east side of the island across from Hawaii. A lot of very nice Marines stationed on the same base. Lots of fun, once it was over with.
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