Mina Miller Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
MINA MILLER INTERVIEW- Recorded 10/29/94
Mina Miller, that wasn’t my name then, I was Mina Peoples, and I came on the train, and happened to be...if I go from the beginning, I had taught school for one year and I had decided that was not for me, I had to have a job. And I was sent to the United States Employment, and they were shipping everybody out here. They said we can’t put you on the train tomorrow because that’s Memorial Day, can you go Tuesday, and I said sure. I got on the train in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and it was a troop train but I didn’t know that, and I didn’t know what a troop train was anyway, I came out just open and naive. I carried a lunch with me and shared it with the troop, and there were several other young women but I don’t remember any of them. This group was going back to Pasco because they had just become young ensigns and they were flying the Hellcats. So the whole thing was a big adventure for me. I had been through a small college and didn’t really want to teach anyway, but I did that one year, so I was open to anything.
I got off the train in Pasco and was met by DuPont and brought me to the Hotel, I guess it’s still the same one. This was in 1943, and I was put in a suite with six other women, and I got there late and had to share a bed with another women, well that wasn’t too upsetting to a 23-year old that had never been out of town; the other was really fussing, her husband was down the hall someplace. And in the morning they said as we went through Pasco to the hotel, in the morning you go to the gray building and I, it was two in the morning, I just knew I couldn’t find that place in Pasco, I had no idea how small Pasco really was at that time. So in the morning, I said who can I hang onto now, who won’t be so dumb as I was and couldn’t find the place we were supposed to go. And I met this lovely lady, who looked like she could be my mother, and asked could I have breakfast with her and go to the gray building, and she kind of put me off, and then later she said yeah, I’ll meet you downstairs and have breakfast, and we’ll talk. And that turned out to be Gwenna Maris, first person I met. I think I had it, so easy going that I just grasped at everything I could to hang onto. And when we got downstairs to eat breakfast she said I didn’t get off the train with you, and then told me she had been hired to take care of women’s matters at Hanford, and would I keep notes when I go through the second orientation, and see if there’s anything that upset me. Apparently, early on, the women were getting off the trains and turning around and going home. When they got in there, in Hanford finally, and found that their spouses wouldn’t be in the same place with them, and that was one of the things, she didn’t tell me that, but I found that out that it was men and women, and the families were really upset, of course. So I went through that, the orientation in Pasco... Before she left, and I was sent up to Hanford on a bus, she said, she knew then that I was hired as a... gosh, I did it for three years... she knew I wouldn’t get the job I was hired for... TALK... I went to US Employment and they were shipping people out to Hanford, I’d never heard of Hanford and when we found out, my parents and I looked it up in the atlas to see where it was, Pasco I think had 1100 people. I had no idea what I was walking into, but I was open to it, it was an adventure. My friends, we graduated that year from college, and some went into the service, some married their sweethearts and sent their husbands off to war, it was anything goes. And I think a person my age was just about the right age for it.
A recreation leader was what I was hired for... a recreation leader in a construction camp... nothing seemed to bother me. I had a roommate when I first got there, she was from the Deep South, and I was from Minnesota, the cold winters, and we really sometimes had trouble understanding each other...
She said that she didn’t think that what they had hired me for would be forthcoming and said if you get out there and they put you to work in a filebox, women’s work, and she said if that happens you give them this telephone number, and sure enough it happened, and the poor man had a hard time even understanding that I had any clutch at all, or any, I didn’t know either, who she was, and sure enough, he called her, and he sent her right over to me, and she hired me for her, for a time that she could use me, and from then on I went right on into the building where we had the recreation hall for women. I worked for her for about six weeks, and then the opening came, the building was ready, the other people who were going to be running it were ready, and there I was. And it was a really nice job. I did some things for women like exercise classes, and really didn’t have a lot of, I just did it, there was no real push to get a program going. It was really good for me. I worked a swing shift.
I didn’t really realize how important it was to the people that came there. It was supposedly a place for women and their friends or their husbands to be with them, well, of course what they really need was a home of their own, so it didn’t work that much, but we did produce a lot of niceties for them. I’ll back up a little. There really wasn’t anything for people to do in the way of recreation, except what men do in a construction camp, they played cards, they drank, they wrote letters home, so it was something that we need, and from that they went to the big things, putting in the coliseum like that.
But we were a small group. I’d never chaperoned a dance, and when they built the mess halls, before they opened them, they opened them up to dancing. So there would be about a week or two of dancing, and men and women coming around. It was needed.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HERE WHEN YOU ARRIVED?
I have no idea... there was nothing to do but go to the mess hall and eat, but it got better and better, they were really concerned about this... At one time there was a popcorn stand...on the main street... and they were wide, these streets, maybe eight people or more walking the streets at the same time. Later on, after I met Blake, we would go to the mess hall at eleven o’clock when I got off and have breakfast.
I’d never really been in a big city very much...
HOW SPENT DAYS?
Just taking care of people coming in, talking to them, people were lonely. One of the things that got me was that I think it was on Saturday that peop[le got paid and they’d go to the commissary, and long lines of people calling home, sending money home, that was pathos, I felt really sorry for them, they’d be crying, not all of them, but it was a touch with home, and we were certainly, all of us a good long ways from home. There really I don’t think at the beginning, any buses going out, though later we saw that, there were buses going to Yakima. And if you got out to go to Yakima, you couldn’t find a place to sleep when you got there, so that wasn’t a very good idea. But you could go, later on, you could go overnight and if you had someone that had gotten a room for you, but of course there was the military coming in from the Yakima Firing Range, so that was overrun by the military and hangers on. I did go a couple of time alone on the bus and got back all right. The bus always stopped in Moxie so they could pick up liquor, because they weren’t furnishing liquor, beer or anything in Hanford at that time until they built the Beer Hall.
WHAT DID HANFORD LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU WERE FIRST THERE?
I didn’t see much. I kind of went from my work to the mess hall, and of course you make friends and have buddies and that’s what I did. We had in that recreation hall a good jukebox and a good hardwood floor for dancing. It was actually the other half of a barracks, so it wasn’t very big. But when it first opened they said the men can’t come in unless they’re escorted by a woman. But we had a terrible time because I think they had 26 openings, doors that people could come in and out, and trying to keep the men out was just impossible, and cruel, too. So we learned a lot of things along the line.
The woman I worked for had been in USO, and she was running it like a USO, and we were just trained along the way in what went and what things didn’t. The floors were just really good for dancing and having people in.
...Store in Portland, they were sort of like Frederick and Nelson but even better. They found, that company found that the war was going bad and they sent their people over there to gather all the music that was coming out, and we got it..
We made a request to the people who were working with...oh, well they were working with us but there was another way about it... I have one or two of them still...
OVER A COUPLE OF YEARS THE ENTERTAINMENT EFFORT EXPLODED?
Yeah, they had the auditorium, then they began to bring in the big bands, over the summer, the thing was going down and people knew it... they brought in the big bands, I can’t tell you who they were.. I didn’t see a lot of it because I worked till 11 o’clock at night...
WHAT WAS SUMMER OF 45 LIKE?
I just stayed laid back and let it happen, yeah, people were leaving, that was true, and we just sort of said good-bye and we’ll see you again sometime...I was married then, and I couldn’t live there if I didn’t have a job, and I couldn’t live in Richland because I was married to somebody who was still on the payroll out there, so I went to them and said I have to have a place to sleep, they put me in a place where we were shoveling paper into big wastebaskets. Then they found me a job in Richland, and I had a nothing job, but I still had to go back and forth on the bus...
DID YOU KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON AT ALL?
No. In fact we were visiting my sister and her husband in Nacell, and when we heard the news on the radio, and then we had to come back here by train, and people around us knew nothing; we were all excited about it, we didn’t know what it was, but we were excited about it and that we’d had the good sense to stay there, because it was all good for us. And we walked right into Richland and made friends and neighbors and there was no... by that time I was working in DuPont’s closed files, right down here where the post office was, and then I went to GE until I had my baby (post-war)
EXCITEMENT WHEN BOMB WAS DROPPED?
No, that’s what upset us, then. I mean, we knew what it was, we knew what we had been doing and what had come to pass. But the people in the streets, well in the first place we were in Nacell, Washington, you know how big that is? Not very big. Then we went to Portland to get a train home, and there was not a lot of understanding of it, maybe they knew something terrible had happened but people were really pretty cool.
HOW ABOUT WHEN YOU GOT BACK HERE?
I really don’t remember..
DID BLAKE TELL YOU WHAT WAS GOIN ON?
WERE YOU CURIOUS?
We were told not to ask. So it was a very successful put-down. And still I think sometimes, well am I supposed to know this, you know when I hear about things that are going on at the plant now, I think am I supposed to know this...
Had a house in Richland and we were settling down to housekeeping, and he never told me anything what he was doing, and he was one of the first, first...what do they call them? He went out and monitored the sagebrush way out as far as Ritzville, but I didn’t know... But we just didn’t talk to people or to each other about it, it was just very carefully kept.
I stay to my sisters in Minnesota, but this is my home, and they can’t fathom that. We just had our fiftieth anniversary, and of course they couldn’t be here because they’re older than I am; Blake’s brother came, same situation. It’s hard to let go of the old thing, I still love Minnesota and the people there, but I love the people here.
SENSE OF LOSS WHEN PEOPLE LEFT?
Yeah, but a lot of them come back...to retire