A Southern Belle Remembers the War Years
This is my attempt to give you a feminine viewpoint of what it was like to live during WWII. First, I remember, going to college with a Navy and Marine Corps training program on campus. Then, after graduation, I worked in an army hospital where all the janitorial, maintenance, and nearly all the kitchen help were German prisoners of war from the nearby POW camp. I would not necessarily expect my impressions to be the same as those of other females in the same circumstances, but I have to say that I think my feelings were not too different from those of my peers.
My first year at Millsaps college was a rather normal year with a large percentage of the student body from Mississippi or surrounding states. During my second semester many of the boys started going into the service. By July, the Navy and Marines landed on campus, which was the real beginning of a most exciting time of my life up. As a seventeen-year-old who had grown up in a rather sheltered household, this was a whole new life! The college really went all out to try to make the servicemen feel a part of the school and to have an opportunity to get to know the other students (girls, primarily!)
Many of the boys in the V-12 and V-5 (Navy officer/aviation training) programs, were just out of high school. As time went on, there were more and more from the fleet who came back to the college training program and then on to Officers Candidate School. There was a place on campus that was open a couple of nights a week where we were free to go, with or without a date, to dance and have light refreshments at no cost just to have something to do. The Marine program, which was transferred to two other colleges after the first two semesters, had many very young men but also a number of men who had seen action in the South Pacific.
As time went on, there were many who went back to regular duty and saw action mainly in the Pacific. There were some who didn't come back or became casualties. I corresponded with several after they left Jackson. Also, Mr. Everett, our postman, would sit on the steps reading the magazines and post cards from the front. He would then tell all of us who was writing to whom and how they were doing. It was a small town with small-town concerns.
We all lived in a state of heightened emotions for no one knew what was going to happen to us or to the country, or even the world. There was this underlying desire to "live for today, for we don't know what tomorrow will bring." I think everyone made a real effort to have a good time. There was a great deal more social life than, I believe, goes on at most college campuses today. Among my friends, someone who lived off campus had a party every Wednesday night. If you had a date, fine, but if you didn't, that didn't matter. This was more an act of getting together to roll up the rug and dance, have snacks and just enjoy a good time. None of the boys were allowed to have cars and only two or three girls on campus brought "family" cars to school so the city bus was the only transportation. Since I lived just a block off campus, my house was a favorite place to have our get-togethers. This was primarily because, when the bell rang on campus for the boys to be back in their dorms, they had time to run from my house and get in the dorm on time! At the end of each semester, it was very sad to see some of the boys going back on active duty if they did not maintain their grades; to Officers Training School if they did.
There were quite a number of couples who dated seriously and quite a few marriages after training. Marriage was not allowed until the men were out of the program but it certainly did not stop engagements!
Upon graduation from college, just after VE Day and still only 19, I went to work at the Army hospital in Jackson. It was only then that I began to realize what a sheltered life l had lived! These people were a revelation about the things that went on in the world! When l first started working at the hospital, in the Admission and Disposition area, I was a bit uncomfortable about the fact that German prisoners of war were there, doing all the menial jobs: janitorial, yard work, or what have you. After a few weeks, l realized they really were people just like we were, only they were much luckier than the American prisoners who were being held in Germany. I never went to the POW camp so did not know first hand about the conditions under which they lived, but I know they were reasonably comfortable. They were treated humanely at work and had better food then they had probably had for a long time. As l recall, those working at the hospital ate in the cafeteria where civilian employees ate. We got wonderful food for around 17 cents a day! It was apparent that some of the Germans we met were really cultured people. Others you were not so sure of. One I understood had been a member of the Hitler Youth Organization. Hans spoke rather fluent English; I spoke to him when necessary but, knowing that he was truly a Nazi, I tried to be civil but not particularly friendly. In later years, I understand, some of the POW's actually made some trips downtown for a movie or entertainment. I don't know whether that was the truth or how they managed, but I do think they were quite well treated. They had to have left thinking that this was a pretty good place to be because twenty or more came back with their wives for a reunion. They wanted to see and show their families the "prison" in which they were held! They were warmly welcomed by the people of Jackson.
Just about the time the war ended, one of the POW's hanged himself from a tree on the hospital grounds. I did not know anyone who knew him, but I can remember we all felt very saddened for him and for his family. Why he had chosen to end his life in that way we never knew. He was actually quite a lucky man to have been captured unhurt and held under these conditions.
It was during the time working at the hospital that I first dated men that I knew absolutely nothing about! A lot of the girls who were friends of mine went to USO dances, dances at the Jackson Air Base and even some at the POW camp (these were for the personnel stationed there, not for the POW's). My parents were not enthusiastic, to say the least, about my going out with men neither I nor my parents knew. Even though I knew little about the boys of the Navy or Marine units at college they were a part of an organized group, who were presumably trying to get an education and better themselves, so we felt more comfortable about them.
Of course, I, like everyone else, was delighted when the war was over, but there was never again the excitement we experienced during the war. Afterwards, we got married, had babies and got down to the routine of everyday life: trying to get jobs or going back to school to finish our education. In many cases money was in rather short supply and there was just not much exciting going on. Mundane living rarely is!
Recognize the classmate (picture on right) ? Picture from the 1945 "Bobashela," the Millsaps College annual. He did magic and was called "Kit Carson."
Editors' note: Becky Bufkin was and is a true Southern belle in every sense. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi . . . as was her mother before her. She is cultured and "well bred." "Although we were careful during the depression, we still had two full time servants . . . a maid and a nurse until we outgrew the need for a nurse." Though born and raised in a privileged environment in the old South, she pitched in and went to work work outside of the home, a concept for a young debutante that was unheard of before the war. "Before the war, I never considered doing anything my parents didn't approve of . . . "
It is, perhaps, the best indication of the unusual relationship between Jacksonians and the German prisoners (See Camp Clinton) that during the interview, Ms Bufkin was still a little upset over the suicide of the German "boy." "He was just missing from a work detail. They found him hanging from a tree. Why would he do that? The war was almost over and we didn't mistreat him"
June 6, 2000