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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Effects of war and the memory of war on childhood

Much of Lane's early life was framed by war. In addition to being born during World War I and married during World War II, she reflects on the influence the memorialization of the Civil War had on her life. This leads her to a discussion of the gendered nature of war and commemoration.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MARY TURNER LANE:
In thinking back on those forces that were important in my life. I thought particularly of war and wars, and I thought particularly of the movies. In terms of the war or wars, I guess its important to recognize, or it is for me, that I was born in 1918 in a war, and I married in 1942 in a war. And by strange situation which I think was certainly part of the South, even the Civil War was a significant part of my life. It's hard to believe, but in New Bern, North Carolina in the 1920s and the 1930s, children were still very much involved in memorializing the Civil War and in honoring the Civil War dead. One of the strongest memories I have as a child is that of marching with other little girls on Confederate Memorial Day, which was May 10. We were dressed in white dresses, carrying red roses. We marched to the cemetery, dropped these roses on the Confederate Monument, and sang this marvelous song, which I can almost sing today, and covered them over with beautiful flowers. Now, that went on all the way through high school. In fact if I tried to put it in a chronology, I would say it went on until World War II. And so much of it was done by women. These were the strong women in the social and cultural life of the town who organized the United Daughters of the Confederacy, organized the Children of the Confederacy. They saw to it that we were brought up knowing that poem, "The Sword of Lee," singing the songs that were supposed to be part of the war, and being very conscious of the great sacrifices made by the men of the South. Then the first World War, at the time when I was born, I had a unique situation in the town of New Bern because my father was overseas serving in France. I was, according to the newspaper, the first war baby born in New Bern. In a very small town where everybody knew everybody else, my mother said that was a very important event. People came to the hospital to see this little baby whose father was in France. When the nurse pushed the carriage out later on, there was much to-do about this little baby who was born then. So my father came back from France when I was six months old. When he returned, he organized or began with other men to organize the National Guard. So I grew up seeing parades on Armistice Day, which was November 11, of seeing men in uniform, not particularly hearing stories of World War I. That was not really part of my background. The men didn't tell stories of the war, but we were constantly honoring the dead, seeing men and little boys in uniforms. All of the little brothers in the different families had little soldier uniforms that they wore. And then in 1941 came Pearl Harbor. Two years before that we had had the draft, and I was married in 1942 to a man in uniform and in a sense was faced with another war. So somehow or other the glory, the sense of duty as it related to war, was a strong thread in the messages that I received from the community, from friends and family. I never had really tied that all together until now, but I think it was important.
PAMELA DEAN:
You said something that was very significant when you were talking about the Daughters of the Confederacy, and the women were the ones who organized and perpetuated this awareness of sacrifices the men had made for the South, and parades, and glorification of the war, and memorials to the war dead. What does this say to a young girl about the reciprocal responsibilities of women in war?
MARY TURNER LANE:
Well, it was very clear that the role of women was really to support the male. To take care of the home front, to mind the children, to bear the children even while the man is away fighting the war. Now that we have gone back to look at the role of woman, we have learned so much about what women truly did in war, in running plantations, in serving in so many ways. But truly, the woman served the man in war. The woman had no discussion, or no role in a discussion as to whether or not men would go off to war. They were to support the decisions and to take up whatever the situation was.
PAMELA DEAN:
It seems to be that the chief public message was that women were simply to admire men and honor them for what they did. That was a prime component of what….
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, that truly is what we were doing. We were honoring men all of those years.
PAMELA DEAN:
That was an important public function for women.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, it was, it was. It was done in the community, and it was done in the home as well. So even as I married I knew that this man that I married would shortly go overseas. As it turned out, we were together maybe six weeks. He was sent overseas for two years, during which time I wrote a letter every day of my life. That's exactly what all of my friends were doing. I had friends whose husbands were gone three years. At the same time, I had a job and was doing the community things such as knitting for the Red Cross. I was a plane spotter once a week, which seems strange now, except that the town was located near the largest Marine airbase on the east coast so it was reasonable. We were also thirty miles from the coast, and there had been a number of submarines, German submarines, that had been attacked, as well as a number of American ships that were attacked on the coast, not by planes but by other submarines. But for there to be that was reasonable. The concept of war certainly was one that was significant in my life.