Interview with Eleanor B. Anderson

From the interview with Eleanor B. Anderson of Bainbridge Island, WA conducted by Oran DeBois at the Fort Worden History Center on September 9, 2002.  Mrs. Anderson came to Port Townsend as a caseworker for the Jefferson County Welfare Department in 1940. She met her husband Alistair R. Anderson, American Red Cross Field director at Fort Worden and the couple married in the post chapel in 1942.  Here she described life as a young single woman in Port Townsend:

“My friend Fran McMahon and I shared an apartment over the pharmacy in town.  She worked for the telephone company.  Between the two of us we knew everybody in town, because I knew those who couldn’t afford a home and she knew everybody who could.  It was certainly an interesting and amusing place for young ladies at that point because there were the Coast Guard, the Army, the Navy all stationed in and around here.  There was a dearth of females, so I enjoyed a new popularity.  It turned out that I had some cases in conjunction with personnel at the fort.  Sometimes it was because the young man may have impregnated a girl whose family were on my caseload, and there were other reasons, too, that we got involved in an unofficial way with Fort Worden. I came out here on business a few times.  There was one time when I was asked by Colonel (later General) James H. Cunningham to review the troops with him.  I believe I was standing in for his wife.  We stood saluting the men as they went by on Battery Way.  It was a windy day and I remember the feather on my hat blowing around.  I’m sure part of the reason I was chosen to stand beside the colonel was that I wore a hat and gloves, which social workers were expected to do at that time.  The colonel was a little bit of a man, I might have been an inch or two taller.  I’m sure his wife was taller than he.  She was certainly larger, a high bosomed woman who, like so many officers’ wives, took her role quite seriously. It sticks in my memory because it was a unique experience to stand and watch the men marching by as we saluted.

Fran and I would often hop into the car in the evening and go out to the Fort to visit her cousins who were soldiers. We would get waved in very casually.  I didn’t even have to present any kind of identification.  Here we got to meet many of the soldiers because they were basically just a bunch of homesick kids who were just sitting out the draft.  They were just putting in their time, not going to make a career out of the Army. Then Pearl Harbor happened and immediately the whole situation was different.  You couldn’t get anywhere near Fort Worden.  There was no way that we could just go out there, and the fellows had very little time away from their duty.  There was also the situation where the soldiers were involved with the internment of the Japanese-Americans who lived in the area.  I had a stenographer in the Welfare Department whose folks were from Japan.  They had to leave.  I thought it was a strange situation and I still feel that way, there was no point to it.  In fact, they found out that they didn’t have that many spies around as they expected.  I think it was an economic thing.  They wanted to get a hold of land that the Japanese had made into very nice farms.

There were still some occasions when my work necessitated going out to the fort.  It was there I met my husband, actually regarding a case.  He was 4F, so he joined the Red Cross.  He had a pretty responsible job as field director not only for Fort Worden, but Forts Casey, Whidbey, and  Flagler, and the Coast Guard and Navy facilities here.  He had an office at Fort Worden, wore a uniform, and lived in the Bachelor Officers Quarters.  I met him in May 1942 and we were married the day after Christmas.  The chapel was beautifully decorated with flowers and plants for the season.  The officiating clergyman was the Catholic chaplain, who was from Chicago and spoke with a Chicago accent.  We had one problem: the sergeant who was supposed to play the organ had celebrated Christmas too much and couldn’t make it, so we had to recruit someone else at the last minute.  It was a small wedding, but very, very nice.  We left the Port Townsend area in spring 1943.”

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