06/29/10 — Big Band sound brings back memories of the 1940s

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Big Band sound brings back memories of the 1940s

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 29, 2010 1:46 PM

Barbara Hood Hatch, 79, doesn't have to rely on her imagination to picture how the second floor of the Wayne County Museum looked when it was the USO during the 1940s -- she has her memories. A teenager at the time, her mother was a hostess at the USO and she often had a chance to attend the dances held there.

For three hours on Saturday night, the second floor of the William Street building was once again filled with the Big Band sound of the World War II era. As the dancers swung to the music, a large red USO sign stood in the corner. Across the dance floor were two mannequins dressed in period clothing. Several photos from the period were on display as well.

"My mother, Gertrude Prince Hood, was a hostess here during World War II," Mrs. Hatch said. "During World War II, when mother was a hostess, she said, 'I am so glad you are too young to marry one of these Seymour Johnson Air Force guys and move away.' So what did I do? I married a boy from Mount Olive and we lived all over the country. So I have been all over the country with him following him around Chicago, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Fla., all over."

Nearly 30 people were on hand for the USO Tribute Dance that was held in conjunction with the Arts Council's "New Harmonies" exhibit, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian.

The music was provided by the Starlight Dance Band and professional dance instructors Norman and Ella Mae Hooker and dancers from Top Hat Ballroom performed some of the popular moves from the '40s.

The building holds many memories for Mrs. Hatch, who was 13-15 years old between 1943 and 1945.

"I remember the little lieutenants had the cutest little hats that they wore. I used to think they were so cute and mother, once in a while, would let me dance with one of them with her supervision. She would feed them and get girls from different organizations to dance with them.

"I helped her serve refreshments and talked to them -- with mother's supervision."

Mrs. Hatch recalls an area where the military personnel could write letters to their families. An area downstairs was set aside for dinners, she said.

After World War II, organizations continued to have dances there, she said.

Since moving back to Goldsboro, Mrs. Hatch has served on the museum's board of directors and represents Waynesborough Park.

"It brings back memories," she said as the dancers moved gingerly across the floor. "I love history. I enjoyed it very much. The music brings back a lot of memories. We had some Marines who came also and one of them got killed at Iwo Jima. The other one came back to see us later. Mother used to rent out part of her house in World War II."

She remembers that at one time a Jewish couple from New York had two rooms in front of the house, while a captain and his wife, who were Catholics, lived in the back rooms.

"So we were very ecumenical," she said.

The dances did not just attract military personnel stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Field as it was called then. Marines also came from Camp Lejeune, she said.

"It was all different kinds (of military)," she said. "My brother, Billy Hood, was in the Jaycees and he would bring them home and mother would have Sunday dinner for them. They'd also go to our church and we would take them home from church."

The snacks and beverages that were served at Saturday's event were donated by local establishments.

The "New Harmonies -- Celebrating American Roots Music" tour showcases America's musical heritage. The exhibit will be on display in Wayne from August to September.