YEARS OF VALOR, YEARS OF HOPE:
TULARE COUNTY AND THE YEARS 1941-1946
TRANSCRIPTS OF TAPED INTERVIEWS

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

MEI-RICE

 

 

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Claude Meitzeheimer was 14 and living in Tulare when the war began, living “out in the country” near Mooney Boulevard on a farm with his family with five siblings and attending Tulare Union High School. He was drafted in March, 1945 during his senior year and did not graduate with his class. He had to go into a segregated all black unit and that was new to him. He learned leadership in the service. He believes there were about 3-4,000 black people in Tulare at that time, “larger than it is now.” He said his father was working in shipyards on the coast, and there were automatic deductions from his paycheck for war bonds. Claude was the chairman of the annual Tulare Easter Hunt for 50 years. And at the beginning of the war, he was working for someone who had the clean-up detail at the Tulare County fairgrounds where the Japanese Americans were before they went to internment camps – he calls them “concentration camps” and he described that vividly. He believes the war made Tulare County worse off, because very talented people left to seek jobs in cities. Only the people that had stability stayed. His last comment was “I just think people in general need to understand that it’s a big world and we all have to live in it together.” Interviewer: Catherine Doe.

Alice Mitchell’s interview begins with her obituary. She was born in 1913 and died in 2005. Her family moved to Tulare County in 1924. She was 27 and newly married when the war began. She was a teacher, and talks about a “resignation paper” presented to her after working for three years, a regular action by the superintendent. Her husband was drafted in May, 1942. She followed him in this country until he went overseas, and then settled in Visalia with her mother. She had received a letter asking her to return to teaching in Visalia. She talks about living in Elderwood, five miles north of Woodlake. She said one result of the war was the change in packing for oranges, from wooden boxes to cardboard boxes. Wood was hard to find. Interviewer: Judy Mayfield.

Ralph Moore’s father, Orlando Moore, was born on a ranch near Cutler, Tulare County, in 1869. He and his brothers helped to develop agriculture in this county. Ralph has a miniature rose nursery in Visalia, started in 1937. He develops new roses, which are sent all over the world. He was born in 1907. His nursery is on Noble Street just west of Lover’s Lane. He said that when the war began, his business was way out in the country. His profits were small and he supplemented his income by taking care of the gardens of several doctors who were drafted. He describes a terrible flood beginning on December 23rd 1945, and also talks about Visalia before the war started. He said the two airfields here where airmen trained introduced people to Tulare County, and many airmen came back here after the war was over. There is a good description of the work of LeTourneau, a local person who invented the caterpillar tractor, and also about the “Fresno Scraper,” at the end of this interview. Interviewer: Sheryl Strachan.

Louis Harold Murphy was 19 and had graduated from high school in June of 1941. He and two of his buddies went to work for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica but were back in Tulare County when the war began. Louis was in a movie theater that Sunday, along with cadets from Rankin Field. People got up on the stage and interrupted the movie ordering the cadets back to Rankin Field since war had been declared. He joined the service in 1942 and talks about being part of a convoy of tanks that crossed the English Channel three days after D-Day. He describes what he saw in the D-Day area of France’s coast. He was in the European theatre when the war ended and describes dumping all war materials, including clothing, ammunition and vehicles on the beach in France and seeing all this bulldozed into the ocean there. He also talks about driving a Model A. the gas rationing and it being hard to get lumber. He does not believe the war had any effect on Tulare County. Interviewer: Colleen Paggi. (Louis Murphy’s daughter.)

Betty Nagel with help from Robert Nagel. Her interview begins with a copy of an article by Jeff Edwards about the locations of the German prisoner of war camps in Tulare County. She was born in Tulare County in 1923, so was 18 when the war began. She was attending Compton College. Douglas Aircraft recruited Compton College’s students. She went to work for them in 1942. In late 1943 she returned to Tulare County with her family and went to work for Rankin Air Field, keeping records. Her husband, Robert Nagel, was still in High School and was working as an aircraft mechanic there, when she met him that February. In June they married. She said it was hard, living on a ranch after she married, with no electricity. She carried ice to her icebox and did her laundry on a washboard. Robert remembers all the car dealers closing down because they couldn’t get cars and also remembers how the guard for the German prisoners would lean against a tree and fall asleep. Betty said that because of the shortages during the war, she learned to be frugal and save, which is a value her children don’t have. Betty said near the end of the interview, “When I went to work for Rankin, the first thing Rankin said to me, ‘this is not a dating game.’ And he meant it. He really meant it.” Interviewer: Carol Demmers.

Alice Nanamura’s interview includes an article written by her describing what she remembers of her nine-year-old experience being transported and living in an internment camp. She expresses a sentiment heard from most of the Japanese Americans who were interviewed: They learned the value of how to do the best they could with what they have and had. Her family were the Ichinagas, who owned a restaurant in Tulare. They were Tulare residents and were bused to Fresno’s fairgrounds where they lived for about eight months. Then in October her family was taken by train to Jerome, Arkansas. She remembers armed guards in Fresno, on the train and at Jerome Internment Camp. There were people at that camp from Lindsay, Dinuba, Fowler and other places. Her father was the head cook for that entire camp. She describes how members of her family found sponsors and moved further east. Her brother enlisted. In 1943 her father took his remaining family to a farm in Nebraska where he sharecropped. They returned to Tulare in April, 1945. She said they all felt as if they had lost four years. Her family home was intact and her father was able to open another restaurant. One affect of the war, she said, was that her ethnic family had proved that they were good citizens and were better accepted by other residents despite some lingering resentments. Interviewer: Tania Martell

James Nanamura was born in Lindsay in 1931. His parents were Isei who migrated here in 1916 and 1919. His family owned their home and about 20 acres of oranges and James was in the fourth grade in the Strathmore School District when the war began. On weekends he went to Japanese School. He lived east of Mirage Avenue and was required to have a police escort to cross that street with the businesses on it. He was on a train being taken to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona on his eleventh birthday on July 23 1942. His family found a wonderful man who took care of their home and property and gave them the income from that orange orchard. Two older siblings went from the camp to Minnesota and one, Frank, enlisted. He believes the World War II years “opened up more doors (to Japanese people) in every way in Tulare County and all over the nation.” James married Alice Nanamura the year after he returned from Korea. Interviewer: Colleen Paggi.

Jane Nash’s interview includes a history of medical care in Visalia starting in the early 1900’s. A handwritten letter from Dr. Karl Weiss who began his surgery practice here in 1927 ends this interview. She was born in the Garcia House, a small hospital located where the Visalia Times Delta parking lot is now. Her father had a small market at the corner of Acequia and Willis St. Jane was a freshman at Visalia High School in December 1941. She said everyone in the family received food stamp booklets. She said there was a lot of fear of the Japanese invading California. There were sightings of subs off the Central coast and boats that were taking oil overseas. Her father and others were prepared to leave and move further east if they got word that the Japanese had invaded. She describes going to pick cotton, oranges and grapes in the afternoons instead of school. She discusses floods, particularly the one in December in the early ‘50s that affected Visalia so badly. She talks about a special fundraiser done by a united effort of the clubs in town with the goal of raising enough money to build one airplane through buying war stamps. Interviewer: Catherine Doe.

Phyllis Nesbitt was a junior in high school when the war started. Her husband, Floyd, was her high school sweetheart, one year ahead of her. He enlisted and when he was sent to Vallejo, she went with him and they were married in 1943 when she was 17 years old. She traveled with him but when Floyd was sent overseas she came back home and worked at Security National Bank on Main Street. She believes the war brought people together because they had to work together and share, due to the rationing. She talks about what it was like to be a young working wife with a husband off fighting the war. She mentions not having outside lights on at night, learning the world news at the Fox Theater, the patriotism, the hatred toward the Japanese who lived here, and riding her bike, her only transportation. She mentions the library across from the Fox Theater, a drive-in restaurant called Reed and Bell, and the two floods during that time. She said one result of the war was the fact that women went to work in all sorts of job, and when the men came home, they wanted to continue working. The family nucleus was lost. It became very hard to have a meal or a time for the family to be together. She feels this led slowly to the crime filled days and nights here. She then talks about her own family. Interviewer: Diane Jules.

William Floyd Nesbitt is Phyllis’s husband. He worked at the Fox Theater and was going to C.O.S. when the war started. In 1943 he went to San Francisco and enlisted in the Air Force. He married his wife in Vallejo, and then went into basic training near Fresno. He flew B17s, B24s, B29s and P38s. He flew overseas to Tinian Island, part of the Mariana group in November ’44. They flew 31 missions over Japan from that island, including a mission where they had to land in Iwo Jima even after being told they could not land there. He discusses March 10th’s raid against Tokyo, landing in the ocean during a Pacific storm and his crew being picked up by a submarine. He said that when they lost a plane, WAC’s flew a new plane to them from Seattle. He said they dropped leaflets over every city before they bombed them, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, warning people that they had to leave. He remembers when the atomic bombs were placed on Tinian Island, witnessing the B29 taking off from Tinian and talking to the crew of this plane that carried the atomic bombs. When he came home, he found that some of the farmers that had been living day to day now were very wealthy, due to the war demand. Interviewer: Catherine Doe.

John Northcutt was interviewed in October, 2003. He died in July of 2004, before the final edit was possible. He said he moved here with his family in 1939 when he was 15 and he worked at Tagus Ranch picking peaches for 25 cents per hour. He had dropped out of school in the ninth grade. In 1941 he was working as part of a road construction crew when he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He hitched a ride home to Visalia, California. His dad let him enlist in the Navy in late 1942 and he said that changed his whole life. He was a Seaman First Class all the time he was in the Navy, in the Pacific. When he came home, he got a job right away working for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a receiving and shipping clerk. Interviewer: Lois Owings.

Albert Nunes had a trucking business in Tulare County, so he obtained tires, gas, tools and equipment fairly easily. He was 29 in 1941 and was married. He hauled tires and food to the various bases in California, metal to San Francisco to be recycled and hay for cattle. He had four trucks and three other drivers. He said blackout notices were sent by radio, when people had to turn off their headlights and any lights that could be seen outside a building. He married Betty Compton in 1939. They lived in a two bedroom home. He said his drivers would trade the “T” stamps, meant for gas, for cigarettes. He’d catch them doing that. He talked about savings bonds. His family’s recreation was playing cards with his neighbors. He believes the war years helped the agriculture here. Farmers improved the land with tractors and put orchards in areas where nothing would grow before they had tractors. He discussed the German prisoners at Tagus Ranch north of Tulare. He received two certificates that allowed him to add two trucks to his fleet during the war years, so he could haul for the cattle in this area. Interviewer: Stan Wilkendorf.

Donald Pinkham was 17 and living on a vineyard farm S.W. of Exeter when the war began. He was a senior in Exeter High School. He volunteered for the Army-Air Force after he graduated and was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco for boot camp. At boot camp he met Joe DiMaggio. He then received training in Communications from Reed College and Yale University. He was sent to Agra, in India. He was responsible for radio messages from the U.S. to the group flying the “hump” to the war zone. He also served in Bombay and he describes a revolt in the Royal Indian Navy there. He had a “bearer,” or servant, while he was in India. When he returned in 1946 he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and received a degree in Science from the U. of C. Davis. Then he decided to come home and go into the ranch business with his dad. He talks about Boys State, sponsored by the Veterans’ Association. He discusses how Pinkham School and Pinkham Street were named and about his extended family. Interviewer: Judy Yoder.

Arlene Pratt has two interviews done with two different interviewers. There was some difficulty with the tape equipment during the first interview. They were different enough that we decided to keep both of them. Interview 1 on 2/1/04: Arlene was 15 and a sophomore at Visalia High School in 1941. Hers was the first graduating class from Sierra Vista Middle School. She remembers hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio. Then a newsboy delivered a special edition of the Visalia Times Delta. On Monday, her class went to the auditorium and listened to President Roosevelt. She related an incident where the Sumida Japanese family’s dynamite and powder were in powder houses on their ranch. The Sumidas’ helped clear land for the farmers. That Monday three big trucks came and tore apart the powder houses and took their contents. Her mother was a volunteer “spotter” in a watchtower in Recreation Park. Arlene would go to her friend’s house , called Switzerland, to meet cadets from Rankin and Sequoia fields on Sunday afternoons. Switzerland was a special home where her friend, whose last name was Switzer, lived. She met her future husband in 1943. Glenn was a farmer and had extra gas, so they traveled to different towns and the mountains. Her dad worked for Edison and had to travel, so he had extra gas also. Arlene said the speed limit was 40 MPH during the war years. When the war ended she was working at Penney’s, then located at the corner of Locust and Main Street. She talks about not trusting the Red Cross. Interviewer: Judy Yoder.

Arlene Pratt’s interview 2 on 5/12/04: Arlene talks about a friend who married an Italian Prisoner of War who was part of the POW’s at Tagus Ranch. She said Tulare Avenue ended just 3 blocks west of Mooney. Her home was on Tulare Ave. there, and she used to walk across a field to C.O.S. She talks about her husband’s family, who came to Tulare County and the Visalia area in 1882. She said that when she became a senior in High School, the guys in her class would enlist without finishing school. She said there was leg makeup. They would plaster it all over their legs; it made them brown. Then some girls put a line down the back of their legs. They had to wait for it all to dry before putting on a dress. She worked in the office of Penney’s and was able to buy all her clothes on a pay of about $9 a week. She remembers hearing that Carole Lombard came through Visalia promoting war bonds. She describes picking cotton, and not doing very well at that. She talks about Jean Switzer and her family providing dinner and entertaining the cadets on weekends. She said that West of the Mineral King Bowl, which is bordered on the west side by Giddings, it was all open fields with occasional farm houses. C.O.S. and Tad’s were there. Glenn went to Reno and earned money building an airfield, bought a ’40 Mercury in 1942 and then came home. Then he asked Arlene out for a date. They went to basketball and baseball games, ice skating at a rink on Mooney Street three blocks south of Tulare Avenue. She discusses some of the various organizations in this area, the Masons, the Granges and the boy scouts. Interviewer: Catherine Doe.

Virginia Radeleff lived on Ward Street in Springville and was 22 in 1941. The telephone company’s switchboard and a bookcase with all the library books were in her house. Her mother ran the switchboard and ran the small county library branch. Before the war, there were three lines out of Springville, and no one could make a call at nighttime. After the war started. Virginia got a job with North American Aviation in the planning department. Both North American and Douglas Aircraft, which was across the street, were covered by a camouflage net which made them look like a big park with many trees when viewed from the air. She came back to Springville in 1943 to teach school and taught there for 52 years. This interview has a long commentary about marriage and owning a house and how this has changed since the war. She discusses rationing and the rationing books. There is a history of radio added to this interview at page 24. Virginia is a local historian in Springville, and her interview has a wealth of history about that area of Tulare during the first half of the 20th Century, especially during the ‘40s. Interviewer: Judy Yoder.

Beverly Rice had two interviews due to faults with the equipment. They are with two different interviewers and have been combined into one interview. There is one tape. Beverly graduated from high school in 1942. She talks about hair styles for women and how they managed to put together pompadours. And she describes the social life when she was in High School. Right after the war began, there were lots of young men aged 18-22 at the Fox movie theater (cadets from the two pilot training fields) where she worked. She eloped with her high school sweetheart, Roy Cassaday Jr., in June 1942 right after graduation. Her husband tried to enlist and was told the enlistments were closed. So he got a job as an aircraft mechanic at Sequoia Field. And when he was drafted on January 2nd of 1943, he chose and did get assigned to the Army Air Corps. Her called and asked her to join him, so she traveled to Texas by train. There is a great description of her trip to meet her husband. She returned briefly to Visalia and then joined her husband in Kansas. They had their first child there. Then her husband agreed she should go back to Visalia. She describes the wonderful celebration in Visalia when the war was over. She feels the war brought families, neighbors and even strangers closer together. Hitchhikers were welcomed and conversations with strangers were common. There are pictures of Beverly leaving to join her husband on page 10A. Interviewers: 2/14/04 Tania Martell and 4/27/04 Diana Jules.

Royal (Wally) Rice, who is now married to Beverly, the previous narrator, was 18 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He grew up on a ranch that was very close to Kaweah River and ranch house is underwater now. His father, Royal Rice, was a trapper and taught his son how to trap, how to track animals, and how to tell directions in the wilderness. He describes his home and his life there, in a farmhouse built in the 1880’s. He describes some incidents in his basic training in the army. He was part of the Howitzer Division that hit the beach in France three days after D-Day. He describes his unit being pinned down in Chartres and then he describes liberating a city in France. He has a marvelous description of his activities in the Battle of the Bulge. This was the first time he had talked about this. He talks about being wounded and what happened then. He believes the war changed everything in this country. People raised during the depression did not want any debt. People born during the war and after that war did use credit cards and many of them have huge debts. Interviewer: Diane Jules.