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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Creator: Alexander, Maxine H.

Date: March 15, 2007

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: World War II Oral Histories Project

Unit ID: 213225

Biographical sketch: Maxine Alexander grew up on a farm in Iowa and attended Iowa State Teacher's College, which is now known as the University of Northern Iowa. She taught school for four years, until the war came along, and then interviewed and was accepted in the Red Cross in April, 1942. Her initial training was in Washington D. C., then she was assigned to Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis, and after that her assignment was at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. That was where she met Alf Thompson, the head of the Red Cross Unit there, and who she described as a "wonderful person." Her job was recreation, for both the ambulatory patients and the bed patients, and she said that sometimes you had to "rack your brain" for something to do. They had dances and lots of games, "the inevitable Bingo game," and church services were available through the military. She enjoyed the winter in Wisconsin, but in the spring she applied to go overseas and after being accepted, returned to Washington to train for that duty. In the summer of 1943 she left by train to go to San Francisco and was in awe of the mountains in the moonlight as they passed through Colorado. After 7 days of instructions, physicals, sight seeing, shopping and dining in San Francisco, they boarded the Dutch Liner New Amsterdam, along with 5,000 soldiers. The captain didn't want them out among all the men so they were limited as to where they could walk and had to stay up on their own deck, until he finally gave permission for them to mingle, as long as they kept where he could see them. After 42 days they docked at the Suez Port on June 13th, 1943, and then went on the most dangerous part of their trip up to Cairo, Egypt. The trip turned out to be uneventful, and when they crossed the equator there were festivities held. They had visitation days by states and on the day that everybody from Iowa got together she met an old boyfriend of hers. There were Red Cross places in Cairo, Naples and Rome and sometimes she said you would get an assignment out in the boondocks, and that was what happened to her. She was flown to Benghazi, which was Mussolini's camping area in Libya, and she said it had been beaten up by the fighting. She was assigned to a tent and was fortunate to have one of the good tents that the British had fixed up with a second roof top to keep out the desert heat. A Red Cross man who was attached to the military asked her if she would like to come over to their club and she met a pilot that evening who showed her a B24 and asked her if she would like to go swimming the next afternoon. The next day he was killed while test hopping an airplane and she described attending his funeral and how the cemetery was just rocks and hard dirt. She said is was her first experience at that and "it was a sad, sad thing." On July 11th her coworker came, a social worker from New York named Sylvia, and they soon found out that they had both been working in Knoxville, Iowa at the same time. Sylvia had been at the Veteran's Hospital there and Maxine was teaching school. There were limited supplies at Benghazi and they spent a lot of time "scrounging" for them. In September they got orders to pack up the hospital and move so she and Sylvia put their luggage in the back of an ambulance and sat on top of it, traveling across the desert to Algiers. The rain set in and they were there for what seemed like quite a while before going on to Corsica, arriving in November. On December 2nd they arrived at Bastion, which was on the northeast side of the island, and were put up in a count's villa. Three wings were used for the hospital and the fourth one was their living quarters. With approximately 4,000 men stationed there, when the pilots had time off they wanted to have dances and also the GIs had to have a bar. Of course there weren't a lot of women there, just nurses and the women with the Red Cross, so she said they certainly had tired feet. It was at one of these dances on Corsica that she met her future husband. Her next assignment was to Paris, France, where they had to live in town and took the subway out to the hospital. While she was in Paris and her future husband was in Italy, they decided they wanted to get married and with the help of friends were able to get a wedding dress and a wedding cake. Alf Thomson was also in Paris and managed to get them a car and they went to Grenoble, in the southeast part of France for a honeymoon. Shortly after that the war ended and they returned home to civilian life; she had spent 27 months overseas. During her husband's career he owned several Ben Franklin stores and they ended up in Hutchinson, Kansas, where they raised their family of five children. She also has thirteen grandchildren. Maxine is active in the Soroptimist Club and her church, and has also done a lot of volunteer work.

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Title (Main title): Interview on experiences in World War II

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019-14-03-02  DVD 

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