Born in Elkton, MD, Rambo was 15 years old when the war started. In this interview, she tells of her experiences working with the War Manpower Commission, which, in her words, “was designed to move people to areas where help was needed to provide ammunition” or other war-related services. She also details the influx of new people to Elkton that occurred during the war.
Interviewee: Mary Jane Rambo
Interviewers: Teddy Connell, Rachel Treglia, Andrew Darlington, Michelle Ramstack
Date: June 22, 2016
Elkton Munitions Plant
We had a local fireworks company right outside of town that became the manufacturer of most of the ammunition that was used in the Pacific during the war.
Well, actually the war was in progress when I graduated. I went to business school for a semester, and then they closed the college for two weeks for vacation. Instead of going back to school, I got a job at what was known then as the War Manpower Commission or the Employment Service. And it was designed to move people to areas where the help was needed to build ammunition or whatever else needed to be done. In doing so, they sent out people who recruited into Virginia, West Virginia primarily, North Carolina, some in Pennsylvania and some up in New York. They brought people in here by busloads to work in the munitions factory.
Rooms for Rent
All of the residents in a radius of like fifty miles were asked if they could spare a room to provide room for these workers. My mother did. We lived in a nice home about three blocks from here. She had many different roomers, but it was fun because they were nice people. We had one episode where a woman came up from West Virginia with her son who happened to be the same age as my brother who was in high school. They became buddies so he slept with my brother, and Mrs. Davis had her own room. It wasn’t too long until my mother was inviting them to have dinner with us, and that’s how they became part of our family. But we had several people from the South who lived with us during the war.
Skilled Migrant Workers
You didn’t know all the people; you just know the ones that maybe stayed with you or you got acquainted with somehow or other. Most of them were really nice people, but they were very backcountry. They were not terribly educated, although they had many talents. We had two elderly ladies who lived with us who could sew. She could cut a skirt off without ever putting a pin in it. She could just take the scissors and do it, and it would turn out perfectly. So they had their own talents that they brought with them.
We had episodes of getting the notice that someone had been killed that we knew. I know that there was a young man that lived down on Main Street. His name was Henry Jeffers, and he was a member of our church. His sister played the organ there. He was a handsome young man, and he was so much fun. He was stationed down in Fort Meade near Baltimore, and he would come home occasionally to visit his parents. In order to get to the train, he had to walk by our house. So I happened to be on the porch one Sunday evening [when] he was going by. I didn’t have any shoes on, and I said, “Henry, if you wait I’ll put my shoes on and walk down to the station with you.” Which I did. [I] got up there and stayed with him until he left. Then he wrote me a note and I wrote him one. He went over to Europe – to England, really – and the last letter I got from him was returned to me because he had been killed. His body was finally brought back, and he’s buried in this cemetery right over here.
End of the War
Oh, the whole town was ablaze. Everybody was running around screaming and crying and going to the bars. People were having parties, and it was fun. It was fun. We had a parade. Then the guys came home, and the girls got married and started their families. We had – we still have it down at this far end of town – a place called Hollingsworth Manor. During the war, they built these houses – they were double houses – and that’s where a lot of the war workers lived that had families. After the war, that became the place where all the young men who came home and got married started their married lives.
That was the era when pants, slacks for women became okay. Before that you had maybe beach pajamas with big floppy legs and that sort of thing. But you didn’t have real slacks. We had stores in town that opened, and I had worked in one of them, and they had these big boxes full of these slack suits. That’s what these women wore to work in the factories, the plants, because it was safer. They didn’t have something, a sweater or sleeve or something, that was going to get caught because we had a lot of accidents here during the war. We had one young man from a very prominent family who had not gone into the service, and he was working in a dangerous area up there. It exploded one day and killed him outright. So of course that was one of the things that happened up there during the war.
It Changed Our Lives
It changed our lives; there’s no doubt about that. It changed mine, I know. The many different work experiences that I had – a lot of other girls had the same thing I had. Girls that I had gone to school with [and] graduated with.
My husband never went to war because he worked for AT&T. He worked in Washington and in Baltimore and Philadelphia. He was deferred three times because from Boston to Washington, this was a direct route for communication. We have a big building here in Elkton that was an AT&T building that was where the power was given to a message to push it on to Baltimore and to Washington. He was deferred three times, and in that time, he worked in those different places. It was very uncomfortable for him because he walked around in suits, and he did not have a uniform on. People resented that very much. Finally, he was not deferred anymore. He went down for his physical in Baltimore, and he was not accepted because he had a bad eardrum. They wouldn’t let him join. So he did not have to go. But it always made him sorry that he didn’t go because he felt the people that came back were revered, and he felt that he had not done anything. When, in truth, he had because he had worked all the time in that communications industry.