Recapturing the texture of everyday life during a certain period of the past isn’t easy, especially when political and military events dominate accounts of that period. The memoir of a Hoosier serviceman’s wife provides primary source material that helps to flesh out the picture of domestic life in the US during World War 2.
Virginia Mayberry spent her childhood in Indianapolis, attending Brookside Elementary and Shortridge High School before matriculating in the School of Journalism at Indiana University.
In a preamble to her memoir of the war years, Mayberry acknowledges the historical value of her personal account with a certain humility. “It takes all kinds of people to fight a war,” she began, “even a popular war like World War II. There are soldiers and sailors. There are spies and nurses and aviators. And then there are those who only stand and wait. Service wives are like that; I was a draftee’s wife.”
Mayberry recalls gathering in the drawing room of her Bloomington sorority house to learn of the Munich pact, and the imminent possibility of war in Europe. With hindsight, she acknowledges that certain of her professors at IU may have been generating data at the university’s cyclotron that was used to develop the atom bomb. As a student, however, Mayberry claims that the nuclear facility was “presented to us more as a curiosity than as an instrument of warfare.”
At her spring 1941 graduation ceremony in Bloomington’s Dunn Meadow, Mayberry notes that the university’s sole ROTC representative signed up 150 newly minted grads into the army reserve.
Mayberry’s first job was to edit the in-house periodical for the L.S. Ayres department store. She met her future husband, Joe Mayberry, when assigned to interview the newly drafted employee. After Pearl Harbor, Joe was made corporal and posted at the reception center at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, where Virginia served as a USO hostess to visitors.
Having donated blood and rolled bandages for the war effort, the author then underwent the rigorous application process for entrance in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, although she was ultimately not selected.
Married in August 1942, the Mayberrys were transferred twelve times around the US in three and a half years. Virginia’s memoir recounts the arduous process of securing housing in a new town, locals’ hostility toward military families, and the rigors of rationing and air travel during wartime.
Despite the challenges of the period—including the birth of two sons—Virginia Mayberry nonetheless experienced some ambivalence on V-J Day, according to her memoir: “While I chattered and laughed in the mardi-gras atmosphere of Victory night, I had an uneasy feeling of needing to retreat, to sort things out. Of course I was glad the war was over—wasn’t I? Of course I wanted life to get back to normal, but what was normal? Our family knew nothing but the service. The foundations of our life, our wonderful, unpredictable, secure, military existence had crumbled with the A-Bomb.”
After the war, the Mayberrys moved to Goshen, Indiana, where they raised five children and lived to see the dawn of the 21st century.
Topic selection and research for this essay was provided by the Indiana Magazine of History. IMH Source Article: “Draftee’s Wife: A Memoir of World War II,” vol. 79, December 1983, pp. 305-329.