In October of 1951, 27 year-old Marjorie Ramsey of Logan, WV won a statewide US Defense Department Bond Selling Contest for schoolteachers. During the two-week contest, she sold $50,000 worth of defense bonds.
The US government’s heavy spending on the Korean War (June 1950-July 1953) had set off a bout of inflation that neared 8 percent in 1951. Furthermore, the Chinese Air Force had begun to participate in the war starting in September of 1951, meaning the Defense Department would have to redouble its spending efforts to address that new threat.
To pay for the war, President Harry S. Truman raised the top tax rates to 91 percent for individuals and an all-time high of 70 percent for corporations, while imposing wage and price controls. And the Defense Department, which had promoted the purchase of War Bonds to the public in both World Wars, geared up its public advertising effort once more.
In West Virginia, Lewis Tierney, president of Charleston radio station WCHS and volunteer chairman of the state’s bond selling drive, sponsored the contest to teachers to help stimulate war bond sales. The winner was to be shepherded around Defense Department sites in Europe by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s War Finance Agency. The 3-week tour was intended to show the “observer for West Virginia’s US Defense Bond Purchasers” just how their monies were being spent. And presumably once home again the “observer” could then be counted on to help drum up support for additional bond sales. Tierney offered to pay full expenses for the winner.
“I was teaching science and music at Logan Junior High School,” said the former Ms. Ramsey, now Mrs. Oakley, in a recent interview, “and principal Pat Hogan said to me ‘Well now, you’re the only one I know who would jump on that.’
“And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ And he showed me the flyer that described how the teacher who sold the most defense bonds in the state would win a trip to Europe. And I laughed and I said ‘Oh sure! I’m going to Europe!’ Then, as I walked out the door I thought to myself ‘What did I say?’ Well you know, I’d never flown or been to Europe, but I thought it sounded like a pretty good idea. I walked back to the classroom and said to the kids ‘Well, I might go to Europe. Do you think I should go?’
“I had 7th grade homeroom. ‘Sure, Miss Ramsey, sure! We’ll help you find some people to buy bonds.’ I said I’d have to think about it for 24 hours, but when I came back the next day I said ‘Let’s go kids, let’s go!’ That was it. I started, and Joe Fish bought the first 5,000 bonds (I taught his daughters music—piano). My father didn’t even buy any! He thought I was on a wild goose chase.
“Every teacher was on their own. The night before the end of the 2-week selling period, it was Halloween, and I was told there were $2,000 or $3,000 that had been sold that day at the post office. The chief of police and someone from the post office found out it was true, and they got in there and picked up those last few bonds and sent them on to Charleston. They had to be in the mail by the next day.
“Over in Kanawha County two women came in 2nd and 3rd, but I never did know how close they were to me.
“Some fellow from Washington came over and asked ‘Would you be interested in First, Second or Third choice on the prizes?’ And I said ‘I’m only interested in going to Europe.’ Second choice was a refrigerator, and third was a stove! (laughs)
“So I went to Europe about 3 weeks later—flew for the first time. It was very exciting, very fast. It’s wonderful after you get back to savor it and think about all the things that you saw.
“I flew from New York to Goose Bay, Labrador, and it was a cold, cold trip. And then from there into London. And at London the Air Force and the Associated Press met me. And one of them said ‘You don’t wanna have anything to do with the Air Force; we’ll be able to help you. The other one said ‘You don’t wanna have anything to do with the Associated Press, we’ll be able to help you!’
“There was always somebody taking me someplace. In London I went to Parliament, and had a meeting with Lord MacIntosh of Halifax. I was there 2-3 days, and then we flew to Heidelberg, Germany—such a picturesque place! They had a restaurant way up on the hill with exotic fish, and a person who sang opera when I had dinner. They found 3 or 4 West Virginians that were in the WACs there. I stayed in the WAC billets.
“I went out in a jeep in Berlin, to the Brandenburg Gate. In Berlin I met General MacDaniels. He was… he was NOT a P.R. person…he was a general! (laughs) In Berlin the thing that struck me most was the Garden of Remembrance—where Allied soldiers from WWII are buried. Every hedge, every bush around it was pruned perfectly. At the very end of it, it had a huge statue of an American soldier. Along the inside of the base was a tiled mural in bright gold, red and blue of soldiers crushing the opposition. I felt very much alone in Berlin. When I’d go to bed everybody else around me was jabbering in German, and here I didn’t even know English very well!
“Then I left Berlin and was on my way to Malta. We had a forced landing in Zurich, Switzerland—it was storming. I was there for 5 hours. I’ve always been thankful for that because I had time to walk down the streets of Zurich and see in their shops what they had.
“I took a train from Zurich to Malta and on down to Naples. I didn’t have time to be scared or anything. There was Admiral Carney and his crew, and they were very attentive. They took me over to the Isle of Capri and into the Blue Grotto there. (Not every place they took me had military significance.) They even took me down the streets of Pompeii in front of the brothels—you see the ruts where they stopped in a hurry! (laughs) I saw things I’d never seen before on this trip.
“I flew from Naples to Paris and there I had an interview with [General] Anthony Drexel Biddle. The AP men took me there. Then I flew to Washington; I was on DuMont Television talking about the trip. I had an interview at the Pentagon with General George Marshall, who was a delight—just like somebody’s grandfather. I saw Omar Bradley that same day.”
General Bradley told her, “You have had the unique experience of meeting our military commanders in France, Italy and Germany, and of seeing first hand our foreign policy in action. The interest of the individual citizen in national defense is essential for successful mobilization of our resources. It is this personal interest that was responsible for your trip to Europe. When the women of America appreciate the urgency and importance of defense, we cannot fail to accomplish our objectives.”
The three weeks were over.