Bette J. Barto correspondence
This collection is available digitally through Chapman University's Digital Commons at https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/wla.
This collection contains 139 correspondence from Maj. Bette J. Barto, USAFE to her parents while serving as a nurse during the late 1950s and 1960s. Also included are three photographs, one special orders document, and one marriage license. In several cases, Bette refers to her parents as "Lizzie" and "Hugh Elmer," or simply "Elmer." Three letters from 1961 or 1962 are undated and placed in a separate folder.
The photographs include one 8x10" black and white of Bette and one of her husband, Maj. Raphael "Ray" Barto, USAFE. Both photographs are busts taken in uniform. The third photo was taken while at the altar during their wedding, in uniform.
The special orders were for Captain Raphael Barto (Ray) for reassignment from 7272 Air Base Wing (USAFE Weapons Center) at Wheeler AB in Tripoli to 4th Tactical Fighter Wing (TAC) at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina.
The marriage license is written in Arabic and Italian and was administered in Tripoli, Libya.
The correspondence began in July 1958 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas and shortly after from Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli while Bette was a captain, though not commissioned (she obtained a "regular commission" in July 1960). Early on she discussed exams and classes during training and continued schooling for Ray as well. Most of the discussion in her correspondence is of daily activities in her ward, activities with Ray, and in 1960 Ray's transfer to Seymour Johnson Air Base in North Carolina while they were attempting to plan their wedding back where she was in Tripoli. Other items mentioned are air travel and aircraft such as F-100s and Model T's, Italian culture in Tripoli, illnesses such as the mumps and emergency evacuations in which Bette took part, the beach, her ward and the patient count at various times, other nurses dating soldiers and pilots, as well as training duties. Later back in the States, discussion includes preparing their household and gardening, as well as daily work and home life activities while living in North Carolina. She also mentioned that while Ray was stationed in Libya he was the Aerodrome Officer (A.O.) and his duties as such.
She also mentions some of her nurse friends including First Lieutenant Pauline "Polly" Lester, USAFE, Emilee, Ann Bullington from South Carolina, and Jerry Fitzpatrick whom she met in flight school. Polly and Emilee left in December 1959 to Richmond, Virginia.
Letters of note:
- January 21, 1959: a napkin was sent from the 1608th Air Transport Wing at Charleston Air Force Base
- October 3, 1959: one letter to Bette from her father.
- October 25, 1959: a tornado came off the water in the Mediterranean and caused some damage at Wheelus AB.
- February 29, 1960: travelled to Harmon Air Force Base in Newfoundland with Ray on leave. She also discussed "ghiblis," which were hot, dust-carrying desert winds.
- May 22, 1960: Ray boarded a British Royal Navy ship in the Mediterranean to participate in a mock air strike. F-100s from Wheelus were to advance on the ship and fake an attack without the ships knowledge, testing its defenses.
- Early July 1960: Ray left Tripoli, transferred to Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina. Bette received her commission as an officer in the Air Force which allowed her and Ray to marry. The next several months discuss wedding planning while Ray is away. He met a Colonel Graham at the Pentagon to discuss assigning Bette to Seymour AFB.
- August 21, 1960: Bette wrote from Weisbaden, Germany. She was called to an emergency evacuation of a child in Italy. She mentions needing to get married twice; once at the Libyan Consulate and once on base with a Christian pastor. Ray has to spend leave for 18 days in Libya before their marriage to comply with Libyan marriage laws (they have this waved).
- September 4, 1960: an emergency evacuation came to Wheelus of soldiers "who were beaten up in the Congo." They remained overnight and told the nurses their tale of battle, but Bette had the night off and missed the stories.
- October 5, 1960: Bette wrote on the envelope of a letter telling her mother that Ray's plane was featured in a story in the September 1960 issue of Argosy Magazine.
- October 24, 1960: the waiting period to marry has been waived, final arrangements being made with the "Moslem [sic] mayor of Tripoli." The wedding was by Italian law with a Muslim officiant to be legal in Libya, to be conducted October 27, but they also wish to have a military ceremony, so shortly after they were also married by a Methodist Chaplain in the base chapel in uniform (a white dress was worn for the other, described in earlier letters). Also included is one short note to the parents from Ray, telling them that he is there. In this letter and the next couple, Bette discusses changing her name and the details that go into that in the military, including waiting until she has orders before she can use the new last name.
- February 1961: Bette has been reassigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base where her and Ray can live together finally.
- October 10, 1961: Ray is gone on a trip for work. "The only consolation is that I'm not the only one, about every 4th house around here has a 'gone' husband most of the time. At least I don't have children to rear by myself like sister."
- October 15, 1961: disaster alert practice with very detailed and gruesome "fake" injuries, performed for the wing commander General Moore and several colonels and local hospital staff and civilian doctors; "They all were impressed with the way we worked, and I had more than one doctor compliment my war staff for the decisive manner in which each in-coming victim was handled."
- November 5, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis; shortly after the main period of crisis, Bette wrote explaining that Ray has been in Florida and might return soon, "so I hope things continue to improve down South." She continues, "We are still on an alert status here, so there is no chance of my getting over to Knoxville for my long weekend...All leaves and passes have been cancelled until further notice here." In reference to deciding not to buy a car she says, "we feel as uneasy about the future as you do--but we can't stop living can we?"
Writing the next day (same letter), after the alert had been downgraded from a 2-hour standby to a 48 hour standby, Bette gives details of the alert status. Her and several nurses were told to be ready on a 2-hour standby. "We were issued a complete field pack with blankets, mess kit, flash lights, and helmet. We were ordered to buy fatigues like the army and Castro are wearing." Ray had a fit when he got home, "I guess it was the first time he realized I was in the military for better or worse too." Ray is still on a half-hour standby.
- Creation: 1956 March 27 - 1968 July 15
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This collection is open for research.
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There are no restrictions on the use of this material except where previously copyrighted material is concerned. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all permissions.
Biographical / Historical
Major Bette J. Barto neé Harris, United States Air Force Europe (b. 1/22/1928) was born in Tennessee and lived in Etowah, TN through high school with her parents Hugh Elmer and Elizabeth Marie Harris and her older sister Helen. She studied pre-nursing at the University of Tennessee, Nashville for two years, then Vanderbilt School of Nursing for three years in Nashville. She joined the US Air Force and trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas before beginning her career in Tripoli, Libya at Wheelus Air Base. She left Tripoli for a short period and trained with 3882 School Group, Training Class 58-T at Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, then returned on January 22, 1959 and served with 7272 USAF Hospital in Tripoli.
She met Major Raphael "Ray" Barto, United States Air Force, a captain and a pilot at the time, and together they served in Libya for some time, living apart and awaiting her regular commission as an Air Force officer to be married. She was commissioned in July 1960 shortly after Ray was reassigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. In October, he returned and they were married about a week later on October 27, 1960. In January Bette was reassigned to join Ray and live with him in Goldsboro, North Carolina near Seymour, working at the 4th Tactical Hospital.
Bette served at the Veterans Affairs in Wichita, Kansas where she also earned a masters of arts degree in nursing from Kansas State University. She retired from the Air Force as a major and last lived in Northampton, Massachusetts.
0.5 Linear feet (1 box)
Language of Materials
This collection contains correspondence from Maj. Bette J. Barto, USAFE to her parents while serving as a nurse during the late 1950s and 1960s. Also included are three photographs and one photocopied marriage certificate
This collection is arranged by material type and chronology. The correspondence is arranged chronologically and other materials, photographs and documents, are arranged separately by material type. Three letters are undated, but inferred to be from 1961-1962, and are in a separate folder.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Bette J. Barto.
- Finding Aid for the Bette J. Barto correspondence
- Andrew Harman
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description