Interview with Peg Trout, author of Sisters in War

1. You wrote the book Sisters In War to honor your great aunt Flo who served in W.W. II. Tell
us about her.

When the Women’s Army Corps was established in 1942, she was one of the very first to
enlist. She owned a beauty salon in our home town. She closed the door to her shop and
stated ‘my country needs me.’ The age range for the WAC was 21-45. She was 37. Her first
assignment was basic training in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. It had been used in W.W. I by the
Army Calvary. There were no barracks built for the women so they swept out the barns and set
up cots to make barracks. She was then trained as an Administrative Specialist. In October of
1943 she was sent to High Wycombe, England, assigned to the 8th Army Air Force
Headquarters as a teletypist to send and receive messages for the command. The office she
worked in was three stories underneath a mountain. She sat in open trenches during German
air raids and lived in a steel Quonset hut which was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
On the evening of 5 June 1944 she typed the orders to the B-17 squadrons that would attack
that night and on D-Day. She took the message when President Roosevelt died and the one
declaring the German surrender. She was discharged in August 1945.
I could write volumes about her. She was a woman way ahead of her time. She was my hero
and role model for many reasons throughout my life. And she was the main influence for me to
join the Navy after high school. I wanted to recognize her for those three short years of her life,
yet exceptionally significant ones. She was one of the shining stars of the Greatest Generation.

2. Your biography briefly describes your seven years in the U.S. Navy, some of it during the
Vietnam War. What did you do in the Navy?

I was in the aviation side of the Navy. My title was Aviation Maintenance Administrationman. I worked in the maintenance control center of squadrons where we briefed the pilots on the operational condition of the planes they would be flying that day. On their return, we debriefed with them to take down any ‘gripes’ (discrepancies) they found with the plane during their flight. We then radioed the gripe to the appropriate maintenance shop to be corrected. When fixed, the paperwork would be turned into us, and we would write the corrective action in the aircraft flight log. Maintenance control was the ‘heart beat’ for the operational readiness of the aircraft. It was a great job. I enjoyed it. During those seven years I worked in squadrons at Norfolk, VA, Washington, D.C., and San Diego, CA.

3. In your Zoom meeting, you indicated these stories began as an assignment for a course.
What was the course and how did you select this particular project?

I was teaching in 2002 but began working on a photography certificate in my spare time at
the University of California San Diego. One of the very first classes was ‘Family Portraits’. My
large extended family all lived in Ohio, so I asked my instructor if I could center my project
around my great aunt’s W.W. II Army photograph and interview. I then went to the Veteran’s
Home of California in south San Diego to photograph and interview nine other W.W. II women
veterans to display with my aunt’s picture and service story. I received an ‘A’ on the project
and put it away. Two years later I pulled it out to show another instructor. Before I even had it
completely out of it’s folder, she said, “Oh Peg, you can’t stop here. You need to continue and
try to get this published.” At that instant, a fire lit deep inside me. I knew I would do just that.
It was her few words that led me to write the book. So the book found me — I didn’t find the

4. Did your Navy service allow you to have more empathy or at least an idea of what the 53
women you interviewed may have gone through?

My Navy service certainly gave me a huge advantage to write stories of military members.
However, there is no amount of empathy, or ever could be, strong enough to identify with what
all these women had to go through. I listened to them in awe! They were the ‘very firsts’ in
every single aspect of women in the military. They were forming something that had never
existed prior to them. From sleeping in horse barns; to having no uniforms until time of their
basic training graduation; to being trained by only men instructors; to not seeing their homes
and families for three years; to enduring the name calling and nasty rumors from both their
fellow military brothers and civilians who didn’t want women in the military. Many men believed
‘a woman’s place was in the home and that’s where they should stay.’ These brave women
truly are the shoulders on which every woman veteran has stood on to further advance military
women’s places/positions in the services. Any woman in the military down through all the
years should be so thankful and full of admiration for their bravery, strength and dedication.
Women in W.W. II endured a long, rough road of being ‘a first’ woman in the military compared
to any woman’s enlistment tour of duty since.

5. How did you choose the women to interview? How did you learn about these women?

When interviewing the nine women at the Veterans Home in San Diego, several of them
gave me names and contact information for other women veterans they knew. Often when
interviewing a W.W. II woman veteran, she would lead me to another. I also went to the other
two California Veterans Homes in Yountville and Barstow as well as one in Sandusky, Ohio. In
each facility a few women would say, “Here’s my friends name and phone number. We served
together in …….” I also got names from friends of mine once word got out I had taken on this
project. They knew grandmothers of some of their friends who had served. So I never was in
need of names. They always seemed to find me, and eventually I had a list. The women were
anxious and excited to be photographed and interviewed because the history of their
contributions and sacrifices were finally going to be recorded.

6. Your book covers a wonderful variety of women who served including all of the services,
plus the WASPs. Do you have a favorite story? Who was the most challenging to

It’s very hard to pick just one. I have several, each for different reasons. But if I had to pick
one it would be Corporal Norma Gallagher, U.S. Army. She lied about her age to enlist. She
was first assigned to hospital work but disliked it. She called herself a ‘bedpan commander.’
Then she was assigned K.P. duty and listed as a cook. On one inspection she told the base
colonel she was no cook and wanted a transfer. She was transferred to Muroc Army Air Field
in the middle of the Mojave Desert. She did do well there, working twelve hour shifts in
maintenance control and was thought of highly by the base colonel. But trouble always
seemed to be around the next corner for her. One evening she and five other WACs consumed
a little too much to drink at the local watering hole. They missed the truck to return them to
base and had to walk back the three miles. They laid down and fell asleep on a 650’ wooden
replica of a Japanese heavy cruiser used by the planes for target practice. Early the next
morning they were awakened by floor bag ‘bombs.’ (Real bombs were not used for practices.)
She didn’t get her sergeant stripe because of that adventure. Prior to Norma enlisting, her
mother said she would go along with it as long as she was not sent overseas. She had two
sons overseas and did not need a third child over there to worry about. But after a year at
Muroc, she did request overseas duty and hoped she could get there before her mother found
out. She did not know about the Army’s letter notifying the parents of a WAC being sent
overseas. The Army sent the standard letter to her mother informing her of Norma’s request.
In return, her mother sent a copy of her birth certificate to the base colonel. She was
honorably discharged six weeks later. These are just a few of her shenanigans she told me
about. She was an unforgettable character!
The hardest interview to take was with a Navy veteran. I asked each woman to hold
something from her war time service, connecting the past with the present in the photograph.
One veteran said she didn’t have anything. When she was discharged and returned home to
her small home town, her father made her burn everything she had brought back with her
including all of her uniforms. He told her never to tell anyone in town where she had been for
the last three years or what she had been doing. He did not want anyone to know his daughter
had served in the military. She told me he was ashamed of her. I had a hard time holding
myself together throughout our session together.

7. Do you have any plans for additional stories?

Unfortunately, gathering more stories today would be a very big challenge. Those few
women veterans who are still alive are in their late nineties and more than likely in fragile health.
The last living one of the 53 that I interviewed for the book turned 100 last year. I don’t doubt
there are a few still alive who would be able to be interviewed, but it would take some deep
searching. Of the 16 million Americans who served (approximately 400,000 of them women)
167,224 are alive today. They are dying at the rate of 180 per day. It is estimated they will all
pass away within the next ten years.

8. What was the most difficult part of writing this book? What was the most rewarding?

The most difficult part would have to be working full time but wanting to be home to write.
Once the idea of writing a book presents itself, a ‘passion’ takes over your heart and mind.
You eat, breath and dream it 24/7. Work just gets in the way. At least that’s how it was for me
and I have talked to other writers who had the same experience. As a teenager, I knew I
wanted to teach and I loved every minute of those twenty-six years of teaching. But after
teaching 400 very noisy and rambunctious middle school P. E. students all day — which I
describe as ‘controlled chaos’ — I found it almost impossible to change gears to a quiet,
creative state of mind to write in the evenings. From 2004 to 2008 I spent weekends, summer
breaks, holiday breaks and even a few ‘sick days’ interviewing, researching, and writing. Time
wouldn’t go by fast enough until I could get back in the den and get lost for hours in my ‘labor
of love.’
There were two rewarding parts that stand out to writing the book. The first was to have the
honor of sitting and listening to these women heroines. What a humbling experience it was
each time I met with one. They have my highest respect and admiration. In the beginning of
the interview, many times the veteran would begin with, “Well, I didn’t really do that much.”
Historically, and even today, many women tend to minimize themselves. Yet, I would sit there
astounded to hear about the job she did and the conditions she had to do it under. I was
captivated with every story. Each one captured my highest esteem for its’ teller.
The second rewarding part was when I placed the book in their hands. To see the wide smiles,
pride, joy and happy tears on their faces was the greatest form of repayment I could ever
receive. No words were needed.

9. Do you think the American public is aware that during W.W. II, women served on more than
the Homefront and as Rosie the Riveter?

Most people only think of the military nurses when they associate women with W.W. II.
After many of my book presentations, at least one person would approach and tell me they
never knew women did all those different jobs in the war. One of the problems I had in writing
the book was finding other books about W.W. II women veterans for my research and fact
checking. The few I could find, again, were about the Army and Navy nurses. That fact
became an added reason for completion of Sisters In War and to the significance of hearing the
women’s voices tell their own histories

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