Richard Polite was born in Charleston in 1951 and raised on Strawberry Lane before his family
moved to Cannon St. near President St. After attending Burke High School, where he played
football, Polite served in the U.S. Army and served one tour in Vietnam. In this interview, Polite
recalls growing up in segregated Charleston and later working at the Naval Shipyard. He
explains why he enjoys the job he has now held for 12 years driving a truck for the City of
Charleston’s environmental services department. The job affords him the opportunity to serve
and interact with the public. Hazardous working conditions and mismanagement have
nevertheless led Polite and many of his coworkers to establish a union this past year. While there
is no shortage of dissatisfaction among his coworkers, fear of losing their jobs in a poor economy
has kept many of them on the sidelines.
Leila Kikos was born Leila Elizabeth Bailey on President St. in Charleston, SC in 1923. She graduated from Memminger High School in 1940, after which she studied drafting at The Citadel and worked at the shipyards and for the War Department as a switchboard operator on Meeting St. After the formation of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Kikos consulted with her father and enlisted. She attended basic training at Hunter College in New York City. She was assigned to Washington, D.C. as a drafter. It was there that she met her husband Peter, a Marine studying bomb disposal at American University. After the war, she and her husband moved to Minneapolis briefly before returning to Charleston, where they operated a bakery.
Gladys Pinckney was born in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1915 and made the decision very early
to become a nurse. She attended nursing school and was encouraged to become a Red Cross
nurse. In 1941, she received a request from the War Department to serve as Second Lieutenant in
the Army Nurse Corps, and she reported to Fort Jackson two weeks later. She served at a number
of medical facilities in France at the tail end of the war and in its aftermath. As a nurse with a
specialty in anaesthesia, she took care of combat casualties and prisoners of war from all over
Europe. When asked how she felt about taking care of German POW’s, she said, “Didn’t make
any difference. When I took an oath, we vowed that we would take care of everybody who was
committed to our care. That’s an oath we had to take.” Pinckney also served as a nurse in a
MASH unit during the Korean War. She was asked to serve in Vietnam, but decided to retire due
to health considerations. She is presently a resident of Columbia, South Carolina, where she
volunteers at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and drives her own car.
Helen Rooks was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was the oldest of five children and her father worked as a lumberman, while her mother was a homemaker. Though she was initially interested in joining the Navy, a recruiter at the local courthouse convinced her to join the Coast Guard in 1943. Her time in the service began with a rough start when the train in which she was traveling struck a cow on the way to Miami. Upon arriving at her duty station, she worked as a yeoman with Air-Sea Rescue. At a hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, she worked in the burn unit. She recalls witnessing debris floating up onto the beach from battles with nearby German submarines. Rooks spent her off-hours enjoying the nightlife in Miami. She received a citation for being a charter member of the Women in the Military Service for America and was recognized for her service by Governor Olin Johnston. She was married to her husband Milton—a World War II veteran—for 53 years before his death in 1991.