WWII Years for Grayson & Eleanor Bass Hayes 1942-1945
In October, 1943, Grayson was in Clovis, New Mexico in process of being assigned to a bomb group for deployment to England. He couldnít get a furlough long enough to go home to see his family before leaving the country. For 21 months he had asked me to visit him. He asked one more time and really encouraged me to go for a visit. I had matured to the age of 21 on October 27, 1943 and decided I would take a leave of absence from the Quartermaster Office at Morris Field Air Base in Charlotte and just go.
When he found out I would finally make the trip to visit him, he asked me to resign my job and marry him. This time I said, "YES."
We had no phone anywhere in the neighborhood so I spent the night with some friends in Charlotte who had one. They let me use it to call him. That was the first time I had heard his voice since he was drafted 21 months before. It was the most beautiful sound I had heard since he left. We made our plans and we were both so happy. We both started making arrangements. He found a room for us with Mrs. Perry Keith, 1104 Ross Street, Clovis, NM. I walked from work in Charlotte down to the train station and made my reservation. I was to leave at midnight on November 9th and arrive in Clovis at 3:15 A.M. on November 12th. I wasnít happy about the arrival at night but I didnít need to worry since trains were having difficulty keeping to schedule.
I told my parents I was going and they understood and supported me. Daddy got me a big wooden crate to ship my clothes in and Mama let me have the old battered family suitcase. That crate was set up in the dining room behind the table with a quilt over it. I wanted to hide it because we were always having friends and relatives over and I didnít want them to know I was going all the way from Matthews, NC to Clovis, New Mexico to get married. I had respect for my Aunts and Uncles but they always had such strong advice. This time, I wanted to make my own plans.
Daddy took me to the train station in Charlotte and helped me with my ticket and to check in my crate. I had a sleeper on the first portion of the trip from Charlotte to Atlanta. After I boarded and was dressed in my night clothes and was comfortably settled in, I was suddenly very still and I began to think. The train had not left and all of a sudden, I panicked. I thought I must be crazy; I just couldnít do this crazy thing. I started getting dressed and I was going to go find my Daddy. Then, all of a sudden, the train started and I knew I had no choice but to stay still and try to get some sleep. Well, I did get a few short naps but the motion and roar of the train kept me alert. I started thinking about my purpose for making the trip and settled down and looked forward. We got to Atlanta about sunup and I had to change trains. Sleepers were not available for the rest of the trip.
All trains were troop trains and military people had priority. They were boarded first and civilians boarded last providing there was enough room. Soldiers were everywhere and I wasnít so sure I would get on. I did get on board as scheduled and we headed west. The soldiers were all so kind to me and made sure I had a seat. When I got to Memphis, the next train was full and actually ran on by and didnít stop. It was really packed with troops. There were a lot of people including me who had to wait for the next one. Everybody was worried if we would be able to get on the next one, but sure enough, we were able to board. It was daylight and I was delighted to be able to see the landscape.
As the train crossed the Mississippi river, I was amazed at the change of scenery. There was not much vegetation and no trees. It was like the river divided two worlds. There were a lot of huge open fields. The trip was really an eye opener for a country girl who had never been outside the Carolinas.
The next layover was in Little Rock, Ark. That was boring and I felt impatient. Finally we were able to board the train for Oklahoma. The oil wells were strange looking contraptions going up and down and the soldiers were happy to tell me all about them. When we left Oklahoma City I became more and more anxious because we were going to be so late getting into Clovis. I had no way to let Grayson know why we were late. It was such a long trip on over to Clovis and I worried it would be dark when I got there. But it wasnít.
I was truly lucky to be able to travel on the troop trains because I was the only civilian and a girl at that and I was sitting right in the middle of a lot of soldiers. I saw very few civilians traveling. The soldiers were naturally curious about me and when they found out I was going to meet my boyfriend to get married I was really in for a lot of teasing. They even told me they were getting out with me and were going to escort me and tell Grayson all kinds of things. I kidded along with them because they were a bunch of guys that reminded me of my own six brothers. I did not take them seriously.
The train finally started slowing down. We had arrived in Clovis, New Mexico and my Grayson was supposed to be there waiting for me. My face was glued to the window and I couldnít see him because there were so many people. The train kept moving slowly down the track and I was getting very anxious. I thought that train would never stop.
Suddenly we passed an area where there werenít quite as many people. I saw a lone soldier standing against a wooden rail at the edge of the track. He was in his soldierís uniform, arms crossed and one foot folded on the other so tall and handsome. I squealed, "There he is." Well, do you know that train still didnít stop; it just kept on moving down that track. Grayson had met every train since 3:15 that morning and it seemed I would never get there. This was the last scheduled train for the day. He didnít know what to think. Of course, we had absolutely no way to communicate with each other at that time.
The train finally came to a full stop. I wasted no time getting off and darn if a bunch of the soldiers didnít get off and surround me and walked with me back towards Grayson. I stopped and said, "Hey, this is enough, let me go." They did retreat and had a good belly laugh. I walked back towards Grayson and then he saw me. As he drew closer and closer, my heart pounded harder and harder.
When we got together, he grabbed me and held me so tightly. I buried my head against him snugly. He was 13 inches taller than me and I just barely reached his heart. I could hear his heart beating fast and hard!!
He pushed me back and looked into my eyes and said, "Letís go get married." I suggested we wait until the following day so we could visit and I could freshen up and change clothes. He looked at me with hurt in his eyes and said he made up his mind a long time ago that he wanted marry me, did I not do the same? I told him I was indeed ready to get married but I did not have on the clothes I planned to get married in.
We walked with my luggage, dirty and in travel clothes and got married. I did have on a blue dress and was glad because of the old saying, "Marry in blue, your love is true."
It was close to 4:30 pm and the courthouse closed at 5:00 p.m. He already had the license and the appointment with the Justice of the Peace and it was just a block away. We rushed on up there, walked in and were married before five oíclock. That was a very simple ceremony but it felt so good when he pronounced us husband and wife. That was all we needed.
I think this was the first wedding I ever attended. I would not have known how to have a church wedding; therefore, this wedding was just perfect for me.
We walked over to a restaurant and ate supper. As we walked in, there was a Sunday school friend of mine from Charlotte sitting in there waiting for her husband. I never saw her again after that day but it was interesting that I would see her there. Anyway, we had a delightful dinner and talked. Then we walked a few blocks to the home where we were to live while we were in Clovis.
Our wedding room was just beautiful. It had elegant furniture with pink satin draperies, dresser skirt, and bedspread. Even the headboard had been upholstered in the same material as well as a chair and dresser stool. It had other accents like beautiful pictures, lamps and mirrors. It really was a lovely room for newlyweds.
We had a lovely night but I was so ignorant and naive that I really didnít understand anything about the intimacy of married people. However, I had married a very tender, loving and patient man who was always tuned in to my fears, needs and hang-ups.
The family that we were to live with kept looking at my left hand and of course, I did not have a ring. About a week later they saw our names in the paper under the listing of marriage licenses issued. They made a point of showing that to us and asked why I did not have a ring. On pay day, Grayson and I walked downtown and he took me to a jewelry store and we picked out a nice wedding band together. That got approval from our hosts.
I got a copy of the newspaper article and mailed it to my parents back home. I found out later that they were relieved to get it and to know I made the trip just fine. Then they felt comfortable telling about my marriage to my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and church people after they knew I was legal. I wrote to them often so they would not worry.
Grayson was able to go into town to spend the nights with me but had to leave early every morning to get back to camp. The weekends were free so we really enjoyed that time together. At the base they were intensely making test and training runs on the planes. I could hear the formations coming and I would go outside to watch. It was very impressive. Sometimes they got pretty close and I could see what they looked like.
Around the first of December, his group was shipped out to Bruning, Nebraska and of course, I couldnít wait to join him. They were there for a very short while and soon Grayson wrote me they were being moved to Alamogordo, NM. He sent instructions for me to catch a bus and travel on down there and he gave me a contact. I had a room with Mrs. Ida Wofford on Texas Street. I wasted no time and was there before he got there.
Again, he was with me nights and week-ends. He had a friend to pick him up really early in the mornings because they had to be on the base at six oíclock. Sometimes the car horn woke us up. He would jump up, get dressed and rush out. It was a privilege to live off base so he couldnít afford to be late.
The airbase was near the White Sands of New Mexico. I went out for a visit and the area looked like white dunes as far as I could see. It looked like white salt. I was told it really was white salt. I thought about applying for work at the base but we decided we might not be there long enough for me to work. I told Grayson I could just go to work in a little grill down the street but he said, "No, my wife will not be a hash slinger."
It was so cold in Alamogordo. We had a small oil burner that we could light up for our bedroom but it was smelly and smoky. Sometimes Grayson was very late because he had to stay for night flying. I was so cold without him to keep me warm. Mrs. Wofford would heat a brick wrap it in a towel and put it in the bed to warm my cold feet. This was a small old house without insulation and she only had a little oil heater in the sitting room. She was very elderly and a true pioneer. She went west from Georgia in one of those covered wagons and had a very hard life. She lost her husband early and had to work like a man to etch out a living for her children and herself. She had a poor living, but had a heart of gold and her home was warmed with her love. She acted like a true mother to us while we were there.
Grayson and I knew our time together would not last long. I wanted him to go with me to a photographer and get a picture made. I did not want him to leave me without a picture. He said he didnít want me to idolize a picture when he left. We had some adjusting to do. We were very much in love but we had to get used to living together. He thought I was spending too much money. He would give me money and I just took it and put it in my wallet in the secret area. He looked in my purse one day and found I was saving money and that seemed to surprise him. It was just my nature to be very careful with money. We had never discussed it before. He told me to never hide money from him. I told him I hadnít realized that it would appear that I was hiding it.
Every day and sometimes at night, huge formations would fly over. They were testing and assigning men to the different planes and flights. He was assigned to a pilot, Norman Riegel. They always flew a lead plane. Grayson was the flight engineer, responsible for the maintenance and care of the entire aircraft, top to bottom. He stood between the pilot and co-pilot without a seat belt on takeoff and landing watching instruments and every action the pilots made. Once the plane was in the air, he checked all personnel to be sure they were safe and was then responsible to be top turret gunner.
On March 1, 1998, I received an article from Pilot Norman Riegel called "A Tribute to a Man." This article will be a part of my book and I would like for all Graysonís descendants to read it and to be as proud as I am.
Time was near for the beginning of Graysonís trip overseas. He applied for and received leave to take me home and visit his family. We packed up and caught a train for our long journey back to North Carolina. This was a hard trip because of the crowds and delays. One night we climbed onto a luggage shelf at the end of the crowded car and snuggled up uncomfortably and slept. There werenít any seats left. My Dad picked us up and we were happy to be in NC. We were welcomed with open arms and treated like celebrities. Soon Grayson had his orders to get back to Alamogordo and I was so sad to see him go.
Departure from US
I did not know when I would be able to see my husband again. He had orders to return to Alamogordo to finish assignment and final training for the trip to England. Before he left we decided we would see each other again if there was any worldly way. We made our secret plans and put a lot of thought into it. We would have to be very careful because everything was supposed to be so secret. It took several days for him to make the trip back to Alamogordo on the train and when he got there, the departure date had been set. He wrote me all he could and told me to get ready to travel in case he got something worked out. As soon as he got back, the travel orders were in place. I got a wire that told me to go to see his Uncle Clyde and Aunt Bee in Atlanta and wait for him to contact me. He said that he couldnít tell me anything about his itinerary but if I went to Atlanta I should be close enough to make a further trip and get there while they were stopped for fuel.
That was the beginning of another wild and interesting adventure. I packed and caught the train to Atlanta. At that time Aunt Bee worked in the office of Rich Department Store. As soon as I got off the train, I went into the station to find a Business City Directory. I looked her up and got her office number and used a pay phone to call her. She told me to go to the mezzanine of her store and she would meet me at lunch time. I had never seen this lady or her husband so I did not know what to expect.
It was lunch time and many people were coming onto the mezzanine to use the rest rooms and getting cokes out of the coco cola machine. Finally I saw this lovely lady come in and she was looking straight at me. She asked if I was Eleanor Hayes. I felt at ease and loved her from the start. I was to call her Aunt Bee and we made good friends right away. She bought me a coco cola and a sandwich and we sat there and talked until it was time for her to go back to her office.
She sent me to a movie at a theater across the street and gave me a key to her house which was located in Decatur. She gave me directions and told me where to catch a street car, the place to get off and how to walk to her house from there. I was right proud of myself and so was she.
When she and Uncle Clyde both got home from work they were happy and relieved to see that I followed instructions and found my way. We had supper together and they got me set up in their guest bedroom. The next day, Uncle Clyde told me Grayson had called and told me to catch a bus right away and go to Macon, Georgia and gave him the name of hotel for me to check into. Uncle Clyde stayed out of work and took me to the bus station.
When I got to Macon, I walked to the hotel and checked in and waited and waited. Finally, late in the day as I sat in the lobby looking at every person that came through the door, he finally walked through the door looking and searching. It didnít take long for him to see an animated creature headed straight towards him.
We were both so very happy to see each other again that we didnít want it to end. However he had to go back because they were there for just a short time and he couldnít afford to miss the plane or get caught off the premises.
We discussed the next leg of the trip which was to West Palm Beach, FL. I caught the next bus out so I would be there in time. He told me I had to be very, very secret because we could get into trouble. Every time he walked away, I watched my tall, slender, handsome husband walk proudly but sadly away. I was so in love with that wonderful man.
I caught the first bus out the next morning and when the bus stopped at the station in West Palm Beach, I looked out the window and he was standing there searching with his eyes back and forth to see if I was there. His face lit up when he saw me and of course he grabbed me as I walked down the steps. We were near a hotel so we checked in and had our last sad rendezvous before he left to go do his part for his country. When he left, he told me to stay a few days, rent a bicycle and go over to the beach if I wanted to.
Sometime after midnight I heard a big roar and I realized that it was the formation of the planes leaving on their journey. Grayson told me to call the base the next day to see if they had left. He told me what to say. When I called, the man who answered was very stern and asked me why I would be calling. I told him that my husband said he might be there and I could take a chance and call if I wanted to. He told me they had already left so that confirmed that they were gone.
Aunt Bee and Uncle Clyde asked me to go back by their house and stay a few days so I did. They were interested in my trip to Clovis and Alamogordo and then this trip to Florida to catch up with Grayson. They were impressed that I would know how to travel, use a directory to find them and the courage to catch the trolley and go to their house alone, etc.
I would have followed that man anywhere he would let me. At that time I felt old enough and experienced enough to travel with confidence.
Back to the States
Grayson left Alamogordo, NM in March, 1944 to go to Lavenham Air Base in England. In November, 1944, after 28 missions, he returned to the United States.
After he left, I went back to Charlotte to live with my parents and to work at Morris Field Air Force Base again. I stayed there until he came back. Being separated for another 8 months was sad and stressful. He was there for D Day and the Charlotte Observer had big headlines every day about what was going on. When they reported that 45 to 50 planes went down on a single day, I was terrified. He wrote letters as he could and I lived for the arrival of each letter. Soldiers got free postage but many times words or lines were blacked out. Censoring was normal for that period.
Back home, most of my friends and family worked in some way to help the war effort. We had a shortage of supplies, gas, food, etc. My brothers turned off the motor of the car and coasted down every hill they came to. We had carpools and of course gas stamps were priceless. Some people hoarded some things. When the war was over and supplies were plentiful again, I remember one lady that wanted to sell some of her cans of lard but couldnít because it had gone stale.
It was a great day, when Grayson walked in the door after he came back to the states. He was due to go to the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Miami for R&R in December and I was to go with him. Oh, happy day. We rode the train and it was a long ride but that was just OK. We had a grand time in Miami, rented bicycles and rode all around, sat on the beach, saw some shows and ate out. It was the first time I ever ate lobster. That was at a dinner provided for our whole R&R group.
We went on a night dinner cruise and met friends of his who were there with their wives too. I felt so wicked because he had me to drink a beer one night when we were out eating. I was surprised that I liked it. Then we had another one on the dinner cruise. We started talking about starting our family at that time and we got lucky.
We had orders to report to Amarillo, Texas next. We had a sleeper on that train which was very nice. For some reason we went through New Orleans and stopped over for just a little while Ė or maybe we changed trains there, I donít remember. We finally made it to Amarillo, and got all settled in. We were able to stay off base so we started off with an apartment in town. Then we found a converted chicken house on a farm near the base. It was owned by a dentist and he had made all his barns, cribs, etc into places to rent to soldiers. Ours was one room with a bed that we sat on to eat at the table. We had a wooden box built into a raised window with a door on it and that was our refrigerator. It got so cold that winter that the milk would freeze. That was rough living but we had a good time roughing it.
We applied for an apartment on the base and finally got into one. That was really nice except that we had to do the laundry in a building that had old time washers with wringers and the tin tubs for rinsing. That was interesting because I met nice neighbors there and even learned some things about housekeeping. I even learned that you can fold clothes and place them away instead of ironing towels, etc. At home, my mother and I ironed everything.
Oh yes, Grayson really liked dried beans cooked until they were soft. I cooked a pot full one day and when the water cooked too low, I added more water but it was cold water. Those beans were determined not to get soft. When I found out the problem, I was so embarrassed that I didnít know better. Back home, I helped with cooking a lot but I had never cooked some things.
I went to work in the office of the hospital section at the base and enjoyed it very much. I resigned in July, 1945 so I could travel back to Charlotte. Grayson had gotten enough required points for discharge and was due to leave in September. I was a little over 7 months pregnant and I was advised to go on and do my traveling. Grayson knew he would be shipped to another base for discharge and he didnít want to leave me alone.
We enjoyed Amarillo and talked about our future after his discharge. There was a big farm and house across the road from the base and he was tempted to buy that. Then we talked about homesteading in Alaska. He talked about moving back to farm for his dad. He talked about building onto their house to make an apartment for us to live in.
That was not my idea of an ideal life. I wanted my own life with my husband and our future children.
The GI Bill sounded so interesting to me and I had read up on it when I could. One day we were talking and I dared to say, "What do you think about going to college?" He looked at me almost in shock as though why hadnít he thought of it. His response was so good. We talked about that possibility and he told me to write for applications. He seemed more interested in State College in Raleigh so I located the address and wrote immediately.
He was accepted and was to enter around September 20, 1945.