Alvida Goguen

Interview with Alivda Goguen Lockwood conducted by the NCR Archive at the Montgomery County Historical Society during the 2001 Reunion

Alvida Goguen Lockwood interviewed by Mary Oliver, Oct. 19, 2001

MO: This is Mary Oliver recording Alvida Goguen, a WAVE who served here in Dayton, Ohio. It is October 19, 2001 and we are in Room 901 of the Crown Plaza in downtown Dayton. Alvida, when did you join the Waves?

AG: I joined in January of 1943, no wait a minute. Yes, I joined in January 1943.

MO: Okay. What may you decide to join the WAVES?

AG: I was working in a bank in Boston and I didn’t think that contributed much to the war effort, so I applied for a Civil Service job and what they offered me was being a chauffeur to a General in Maine. And I thought I’m not spending a winter in Maine, so then my boss got drafted. He was about 35, 40 and I was offered a raise and everything and so I decided that I would join the Navy because they didn’t have to go overseas. They didn’t have to fight.

MO: Right, and did you have any siblings that were also signed up, or?

AG: I had a sister who was signed up, she was an Army Nurse and she was already in North Africa.

MO: Okay. And when did you arrive in Dayton?

AG: I arrived in Dayton around April 1 from Iowa State Teachers College which was a recruiting station, it was a boot camp.

MO: Okay. So you did your training there before coming to Dayton?

AG: Yes.

MO: What were your first impressions when you arrived here, in Dayton?

AG: Oh, I thought the landscape was lovely. I was impressed, the cabins didn’t matter. At that time we were four in one room, you know it was double bunks. And, so that was eight for the shower, but I worked only days, so there only so many of the girls that would want a shower at the same time.

MO: Now, when you were sent here to Dayton, did they tell you before you arrived what you were going to be working on?

AG: No, but, at Iowa State we were given a test and, a day-long thing, and it had so many questions about electronics in it that I thought that was interesting because I had taken a course with a man who wanted to be, I think he wanted to get into ham radio, so I took the course with him just because he didn’t want to take the course alone. It was at night, yeah. And then another one wanted to take the aviation ground tests, instructions for the ground tests, so I took that. And, so I think that that had something to do with, yes, because there were four of us girls that were chosen to be repair people and we all had had some interest in electronics before.

MO: Okay, and so that was what you did here in Dayton, you repaired the machines?

AG: Yes, no in Dayton I helped build them and then when I went to Washington I was in that room that repaired them.

MO: What was your job here in Dayton, what part did you work on?

AG: First I learned to solder and then I was in charge of distributing the work to each shift, the shifts all changed. Yeah, and I was in charge of distributing the work to them. And, whatever my boss told me, my boss was Lieutenant Deger and I haven’t heard anything about him whatsoever.

MO: Did you have any clue what the end result was going to be from your work?

AG: Oh, yes I knew. Well, when they told us that we were to keep this a secret. What can you do? You know there is something. Oh, well I knew the numbers, you know. We had 32 wires.

MO: 26

AG: No, you see the alphabet has 26. We had 30 and some of them were just blank. Yes. And so I knew it had to do with decoding. Oh, and also, I had always been interested in decoding.

MO: So, you were a natural for the asignment.

AG: Well, yes. I didn’t, it didn’t bother me at all you know. I thought it was interesting, I thought it was intriguing.

MO: Did the girls you worked with, did you guys all talk among yourselves about what you were working on, or because I heard that was not allowed.

AG: Well, we never talked about ourselves, because it wasn’t that interesting.

MO: No, I mean between yourselves about what you might be working on.

AG: Oh, no, nobody cared, I mean they–I was older, most of them were young girls and they were interested in what young girls are interested in at the age of 20, yes, and we lived together in a house. Eight of us rented a house and we were given an AGlowance to pay, a rent allowance. And we never discussed it at the house because there was too much fun going on. I mean there was no point in, it wouldn’t have been something interesting.

MO: Where was the house that you rented, do you remember?

AG: Yes, it was 3709, it was near the Washington Zoo. This was in Washington. It was close to the Zoo because I could hear the lions roar. They would wake me up in the morning and we had to take the bus to work, but it was within a mile of the building at Nebraska.

MO: Back in Dayton, how long were you here, when did you leave Dayton?

AG: I was just here the one summer. As soon as the machines were ready, we went to Washington with them. No, not with them, but we went to Washington with the wheels, because the machines were set up by somebody else.

MO: So, you transported the wheels from Dayton?

AG: Well, I don’t how they got there. There were enough ready, I think there were 50 machines, I’m not sure, but I think there were 50 machines ready. And afterwards there were a lot of extra machines that came in.

MO: Right, what did you do for free time here in Dayton?

AG: Here? Well, I swam, and I swam. I thought the pool was just wonderful. A marvelous place to be.

MO: And, that was at Sugar Camp?

AG: Yes, oh yes, it was a beautiful thing and it was almost olympic-size and all my life I swam.

MO: When you were here did you have the chance to meet Joe Desch, or work with him at all?

AG: No, no. The men that were in our place were Staples and Lund and, well, I have a picture of them over here.

MO: But, you never had a chance to work with or meet the engineers.

AG: No, I was told when Alan (Turing) was going through that if I would look out I would see a short man and that was Alan (Turing).

MO: That was as close as you got. What did your family think of your decision to join the Navy, were they supportive?

AG: My mother said if she had had a chance, the same chance when she was young, that she would have taken it. Of course, my sister was already in and I had no brothers, so there was no problem there and I had a sister that had moved to California, she was much older than I was, we weren’t close anyway, so that didn’t matter.

MO: And, were you in Washington through the end of the war?

AG: Yes, yes and when the Germans surrendered, there was no more work for us, but we had to wait until, and then we had to wait because the men had the right to priorities and the ones overseas had the right. I didn’t mind that. We gave up our house and moved back into the barracks, because we would be leaving at different times. And one girl wanted to get married so she had a reason to get out.

MO: How long after did you stay in the service or were you discharged following the war?

AG: No, well I asked for a discharge. Oh, yes.

MO: What rank did you achieve during your service?

AG: Well, I was 2nd class Electronic Q something, Electronic Specialist.

MO: Do you think your experiences with the Waves and what you did with the war, do you think that may have changed your life, or maybe influenced what you did after the war?

AG: No, when I was about 17 years old, my sister and I both decided, my younger sister, we decided we wanted to see the world and nothing was going to stop us. And, so I thought going into the Navy would be a break from ordinary life and I applied for a job with the State Department with the U.S. Foreign Service, because I knew that was the only way that I was going. I found out that I could not afford to travel the world, so I had to work my way so I applied for a job and I got a job, and one of the reasons was because I had been in the service and AGl these new embassies had opened up and they needed personnel and they were in horrible places, so, they knew that I had gone through three years of Navy, so that I would probably be stable and I think that that made a difference, but AGso I was an accountant at the bank so I had that for, I had experience.

MO: So that is what you did after the war, you traveled.

AG: Well, first I went to school, to Emerson, just across the street from where I lived anyway in Boston and I just specialized in English literature and history because I knew that I was going, I was just waiting for my FBI check to be completed.

MO: Did you keep in touch with some of the people that you spent your three years with? Have you maintained friendships?

AG: Always. As a matter of fact, I’m visiting one next week. She is celebrating her 80th birthday and invited me over. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. And the other three that I lived with live in Florida. And every two years I would stop by a visit them, yes, and we would get together.

MO: When you came in to Dayton, you came on the train to Union Station. Is that how you arrived?

AG: Yes.

MO: What was your impression of Union Station?

AG: Well, it was all right. Actually I didn’t think it was bad. I was rather impressed.

MO: It’s no longer here. They did take it down a few years ago. We’ve seen the photos of the Waves marching to work. What was that like?

AG: I didn’t mind, except that one day a car hit a dog and splashed blood on me and I thought that was pretty awful. But, otherwise, I didn’t mind. I don’t mind wAGking. I still wAGk 2 miles a day. Yeah, I feel like I have to wAGk. Use it or lose it.

MO: I heard a couple of people mentioning today that they, that you guys would sing while you marched.

AG: We probably did. We used to sing before we left the house. When one of the girls was working shifts, the week that she, so many of us went to work each morning because there were always some sleeping and we would get down by the piano before we left and we would sing “Born to Lose”, oh, it is one of those sad, sad songs and we’d laugh and we really had a great time.

MO: Now, when you were here in Dayton did you, were you restricted in any way? Could you guys go wherever you wanted in town?

AG: Well, I didn’t have any desire to go anywhere anyway, so that wasn’t my problem.

MO: Okay, so you pretty much stayed out at Sugar Camp.

AG: I stayed out at Sugar Camp, well, there were a few of us that didn’t feel like running around. To begin with I didn’t think it was that attractive a town. And movies didn’t interest me.

MO: In your shift, your first assignment was soldering.

AG: Soldering the wheels.

MO: And, how long was your shift? How did your day go?

AG: Mine was always 8 to 5, 8 to 4. Yeah, mine was always 8 to 4. Oh, I only soldered between times when I wasn’t doing the work, to keep me occupied. Otherwise–

MO: Your other work being assigning duties, or handing out assignments.

AG: I was gathering the material for these people to work with.

MO: What type of material?

AG: They were cords, I think they were this long and they were heavy and I could put, I couldn’t carry in my hands, I put so many over my shoulders, I don’t know how many pounds I have on my shoulders, but it wasn’t any worse than after I got to Washington when I had to pull out chaises at my arms length and they weighed at least 40 pounds and put them down on a cart and take them into the repair room. And pull out one that’s AGready fixed and bring it back and see if that works. If that doesn’t work, or I took the wrong one out, I’d have to go to the next one.

MO: Now, when you did the repair work in Washington were you one of the few women doing that type of work?

AG: Yeah, there were four of us.

MO: And, how many men?

AG: Well, there were a lot of men because they were all sailors that were in from overseas, their ships had been attacked. And, they got hurt and they came back to Washington and went to hospital and when they came out of the hospital they weren’t fit to go over yet, so they went in there and –they were all the coders and the encoders, only those that were in that room.

MO: Did you have to, when you first joined and arrived here in Dayton and started working on this project, were there oaths of secrecy or anything like that?

AG: I don’t remember anything. Oh, I do remember having a meeting one day in the Chapel, I think it was, and they said if we ever discussed this in public, and they knew we discussed it in public, that we would go to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the rest of the war. That’s what I was told.

MO: Oh, really. So a kind of an isolation then.

AG: It was hospitAG for the insane, you know.

MO: Was that here in Dayton?

AG: No, in Washington. Oh, yeah, that was when we arrived in Washington. Actually, here there was nothing, just soldering wheels.

MO: What were the conditions like here in Dayton? We’ve heard that it was very stressful.

AG: Nothing stressed me anyway, so you can’t judge by me. I know there are women that are high strung and they are going to be high strung, but it didn’t bother me at all.

MO: That’s good. And when did you first start learning as a whole, you know after the war before you started to hear about what you had worked on?

AG: Ah, well I bought the books and the books were printed England and I realized then that that was it, you know. And I knew about Alan Turing and of course he had been there and then I thought isn’t that interesting that they can publish those in the United States. And then I saw, my husband and I, we went to New York a lot to the theater and we saw Derek Jacoby in “Breaking the Code” and it was the story of Alan Turing and I poked my husband and I said I don’t see how they can do that in New York. And then I told my husband, I hadn’t told my husband, and then I told him this was, 1976 or something like that, and I had bought all the books that I could find on the code, so I had AGl the books. And then one day he went to a reunion, a Stanford reunion, in New York and the speaker was the life of AGan Turing, so he bought me the book, so I had the life of Alan Turing. By then I thought certainly they can’t be publishing this, it is still going to be secret. So that must have been in the 70’s sometime.

MO: You said you were aware when Turing

AG: Oh, my boss told me that if I looked out that day that I would see some men, inspectors going through. There were quite a few inspectors that went through and, so he said he’ll be the shortest man there.

MO: But, were you aware of what he did over in England?

AG: Yes. Oh I knew about Alan Turing. I knew that he was a mathematical genius. But I wasn’t aware of ___________yet.

MO: Okay. Did you ever have a chance to meet or to interact with Captain Meader?

AG: No, but everybody certainly knew about him. I think he was the kind of person you would be afraid to turn your back on, he would probably pinch you.

MO: Oh, really.

AG: Oh, yes, he really had an eye for women. And to think that he was there with all those young girls. He must have been in Paradise.

MO: Did you have much interaction with the people who actually worked for NCR when you were here?

AG: I don’t think I ever met one. Well, the thing is that the cafeteria had–that was the only place we met them when he had to go to the cafeteria. I had to go there for lunch and the night shift had dinner there and the evening shift had a meal there.

MO: Are you aware of any type of background or security interviews that you had to go through before moving on to Washington?

AG: No, I wasn’t aware that because I thought, no, I can’t imagine. Well, in Washington we did have to go into the Chapel and be spoken to, about the secrecy, that was it.

MO: But, that’s all.

AG: Yes.

MO: Do you feel that your work has received the same recognition as the men who served in World War II?

AG: Well, they couldn’t because nobody knew about it. However, I must say that, as a Wave, I didn’t get much recognition, as a woman, you know. I didn’t mind that. That had nothing to do with it. I wouldn’t hold a grudge about that. I did what I had to do and I was satisfied. I would never hold that against anyone.

MO: Now, when you–after the end of the war and after your service in the Navy, did you tell your family what you worked on or what you thought?

AG: I never shared it with them, but, well my mother died right after and my father was AGready dead when I went in. He died when I was 19. But, I uh, well, I wasn’t living at home to begin with see, so. I had a sister there that lived in our house. She still lives in that same house where we were born and brought up and she didn’t have time to listen to me anyway. She had children, she had 4 children.

MO: Now, how about in later years. Did you talk about it with friends or your husband or did you just not tAGk about what you did.

AG: Oh, well, oh I could always talk about it with my husband because he was a very broad-minded person and he liked women as well as he liked men. He didn’t have any prejudice against any woman that was in the service. See, he was in the service himself. He was in England in 1942, I think it was and stayed over in England and then went to France, so he was, he knew a lot of women that were in the service.

MO: Okay, that’s good. Do you have anything else you would like to add about Washington or Dayton? Any memorable experience.

AG: Well, the thing was, there was nothing unpleasant about it whatsoever. It was, if I was going to be in the service, I thought that section was the best place I could be. I mean after all I was living in a beautiful house. We were 8 girls and we had a 6 bedroom house that we rented, three floors in Washington. Yes, it was really a beautiful house and well furnished.

MO: So you are obviously very glad that you joined and very proud.

AG: Oh, of course. Yes, I had to do something for the war. I was twice a week in the evenings in Boston, I worked at the Plotting Board which plotted all planes overhead. And there was a great big floor and the men would call in the planes going over and they would tell where it was and we had to find, the floor was like a map and we had to find the map and we wore it was like erasers on our feet, very soft things on your feet and I was asked if I would join the Army. There was a General in charge of that. We were no more than ten people, I don’t suppose and he asked me if I would like to join the Army because they wanted some body over in England. And I thought no, I’m not doing that.

MO: Well, I think if you don’t have anything to add that about covers my questions. Thank you very much for talking to us.