Winkie and Bill B.
have been married for 50 years and lived in New Orleans for 32 years. Bill grew up in Oklahoma;
Winkie in Texas. She taught all over Central America before moving to New Orleans to teach
Spanish. Bill is a retired engineer who served in World War II and the Korean War. They are
currently busy working with the Ulster Project. I interviewed them together since they always work
as a team.
What is the
It is an effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland by
bringing teens - boys, girls, Protestants and Catholics - to stay with host families in America. A
man once told me when he became involved in the project, he thought we were just giving teens a
good time. One day, though, he was at home with two oft he Protestant girls and overheard their
conversation about one of the Catholic girls from the Project whom they would have lived close to
but never gotten to know otherwise. That really changed the way he saw the project. It keeps us
as busy as working ever did, but it sure is fun.
havee xpectations of teens changed from when you were young?
the Depression, everyone came together and supported each other. As a matter of survival, everyone
was expected to do the best they could. Parents demanded that their children strive to make the
most of their education to get a better job and make a decent salary.
I do not
think people have changed, but the way of life has. Family today is not always as valued because it
is not as much of a necessity.
During the Depression, people worked as one
because it was clear we were fighting for our own existence. With America's booming economy in the
last decade, teens are less expected to pull their
What changes have you noticed in
School in general is very similar to when we went.
Luxuries such as proms and yearbooks were less common because of World War II, however, and there
were no extracurricular activities because the rationing of gas and rubber made transportation
hard. Because technology was not as advanced, fewer resources were available.
Classroom discipline is the most obvious difference. It was almost universal
that if someone got in trouble at school, they also got in trouble at home. In the past, with
higher expectations, students' performances were higher.
do you believe caused the outbreak of school shootings?
The sense of
community people used to feel is not really there anymore. I think this is especially true in
bigger schools. Instead of feeling supported, people feel left out and looked down on.
A big part is also probably the isolation people feel. A lot of this feeling is
the result of television and Walkmen. I do not believe violence on television causes violence, but
it takes away from social activities. When I went to school, we did not feel threatened at
Suicide is another result of the isolation people feel today. When I was
young, it was very rare for a teenager to commit suicide. There are no simple answers to what is
obviously a horrible problem.
What is the hardest decision
you have ever had to make?
Some of the hardest things we have ever
had to do were taking Winkie's mother to a nursing home and committing someone close to us to a
mental institution. In both cases, it was what had to be done, but that did not make it any easier.
I have also been too close to too many people who have committed suicide. With
that, there is always the guilt that you may have made the wrong decisions and could have done
something more. It may not really be rational, but you still feel
What do you
Family, church, friends, loved ones, and each other. You
meet a lot of people and have friends who you will love as much as blood. This is one of
the advantages of the Ulster Project: Appreciate people for what they do and what they are and not
what they say or look like. We have people in church and good friends who are always there for us,
but the people with the most influence are not necessarily a good
Tell me about
We have two children. Our daughter is a doctor and lives
a few blocks away with her husband. Our son lives with his wife and two daughters in Virginia. Our
grandchildren were adopted from China. Because of China's strict policy of one child per family,
infant girls are often abandoned. They are now nine and six years old.
have two brothers. One is retired from the Navy and the other is a lawyer in Tennessee, where my
mother grew up. I have no sisters. That's one of the reasons Winkie says I never quite understood
Winkie: I have a brother who is four years older. We fought a lot,
and it took a while before I believed he was even human. Those things work themselves out,
What were some important events for you, Bill, in the
Very few Americans realize that the fighting ceased in Italy and
Austria several days before the rest of Europe because of the S. S. Commander
The S. S. were responsible for running the concentration camps. There was
one branch, though, that had nothing to do with the camps. It was a very elite combat group.
General Wulf decided that further fighting was a waste of life and simply surrendered the forces.
This general was taken to Russia and tried as a war criminal. The decision was that anyone involved
in the S. S. was a war criminal. I can't understand how anyone could say that a man who moved to
stop the waste of human life was a war criminal.
My division was brought home
fairly quickly after the general surrendered. The idea was that we were going to go home for 30
days and then move on as part of the invasion of Japan. As it turned out, we got to New York the
morning the Japanese surrendered. Many of the recruits thought the atomic bomb was a scam to fool
the Japanese into surrendering. People came onto the ships to explain how an atomic bomb works.
I had read about it and knew it was something big, new and terrible.
We were also
greeted by the representative of the general who said that if we weren't on our way for our 30-day
leave by the following afternoon, the general wanted to meet with each of us personally. All 15, 000
were on trains, and he didn't have to see any of us!
When we got off the ship,
some of the older guys hadn't had anything like a fresh glass of milk in years because everything
was powdered. There were Red Cross girls with coffee, donuts, and milk. Nobody wanted
coffee;everybody wanted milk with their donut. What you don't have is what you find yourself
One time, after some bad planning, I found myself without anyone I knew
in my division. No one spoke my language. We were all miserable, and the first person I saw when I
finally was reunited with my division after three or four days was a guy that I didn't like at all.
He didn't particularly like me, either. He was a regular Army type, and I was a college kid. But
after that experience, he seemed beautiful, and there are few people I wanted to hug more than
What was the war like for you, Winkie, back at
The people in the war were motivated and united, so it came out
in interesting ways. For example, there were scrap-metal drives. All the homerooms in school
competed to see who could bring in the most junk. People brought in everything, some things the
parents didn't even know about, in order to win. War stamps were also turned into a contest at
Everyone was encouraged to grow their own food to save resources for the
war. We found out later that the government didn't have any real expectation that anyone would
do this. It was just to make people feel proud, like they were helping. It turned out that nearly a
third of the country's vegetables were grown in gardens the size of an average flower bed. My
cousin and I decided to plant one, but it was in the shade and didn't do well. We didn't contribute
much to that effort.
Everything was rationed - sugar and coffee. I got my
brother's coffee ration because I drank it but was too young for a ration. Canned goods and meat
were all rationed. It was a mess. People fought in stores about it. Then, before you could even
rush out to buy some, shoes were rationed.
Fabric was all used for uniforms and
civilians were left to make do. People who lived in the country with animals bought feed in huge
cloth bags, and so we made dresses out of those feed sacks that were pretty and had nice floral
prints. Nylon hose were absolutely a black market item. I did okay with chocolate because I
knew people in the military, which made me popular at
When were the happiest times in your
Getting married and having our kids of course, were some.
There was also the day the war ended. It was a national day of celebration that was almost like
Mardi Gras. It was crazy, people were pouring into the streets and hugging everyone. These were
people you had never seen before in your life, but you knew the war was over, it was okay, and we
were alright. Most people went to church. Bells rang - school bells, church bells, city hall bells -
any bells we could get our hands on.
Winkie, how did you two
I met Bill when I decided to go home for Easter. I almost didn't
go because I was having a hard semester and was loaded down with things to do. The break wasn't
very long, and I planned on staying back to get work done. We would have probably ended up meeting
Bill: Her brother Charlie is a fine fellow and was my friend before I
met her. We all went to the same university. I had gotten out before Charlie and went to see
him during the break. Charlie is a picky eater and I tell people (because it is partially true) that
Winkie and I met because I liked to sit by Charlie in the dining room to eat his
Bill, how did you end up working for
Necessity. I graduated from Texas A&M with a degree
in chemical engineering, which is mostly working in plants. Petroleum engineering is much more
diverse; it's everything from drilling wells and handling regulatory matters to designing
facilities. When I got out of college, plant jobs were few and far between. The semester before I
graduated, everyone in the class had three job offers. A single semester later, I was third in my
class and had pretty good standings but had only a single offer.
What has been your most important life
I think it is important to remember the saying about not
sweating the small stuff, and most stuff is small stuff. You cannot worry about what will happen
because although everything may not turn out the way you would like, it will still be okay. When
problems occur, all you can do is accept them by
Have you accomplished everything you wanted
No, there are always things that you consider doing but never do
because there are other things to be done, and what you want to do is always changing. That is
One of the myths about retirement is that when you finish
working, you don't know what to do with your time, but that just isn't true. Those who were active
before, stay active and busy. People change and your target is always moving, so no one can
accomplish it all.
Life is like a pinball machine: You can be rolling along
when someone suddenly flips you and sends you somewhere you never expected to
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.