California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: Harold Leland Edwards

Date: November 4, 2003

Report No: 19

Interviewer: Stan Wilkendorf

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Visalia, CA At the Visalia library.

SW: Mr. Edwards will you please state your full name and spell it out for me.

HE: Harold Leland Edwards.

SW: When and where were you born, Mr. Edwards.

HE: I was born in Hanford, California, December 28, 1927.

SW: What are your parent’s names and where are they from?

HE: My father’s name was Morgan M. Edwards, and he was born in Alabama. My mother was Katherine Elizabeth Groat, and she was born in Oregon.

SW: Where did you grow up Mr. Edwards?

HE: I grew up the first eight years of my life in Kings County and we moved to Visalia in 1936. Where I resided from 1936 until, with time off in the Navy, 1960.

SW: What were you doing in the years of 1941 through 1946?

HE: I was a student in school. In 1941, I graduated from Sierra Vista Junior High School, entered high school in the fall of 1941. Graduated from Visalia High School in June of 1945.

SW: Okay, can you tell me a little bit about your experiences during that time period?

HE: Well, Visalia was a great town to grow up in before the war. It was quiet, a little agriculture town, stable, I guess not very exciting in a lot of ways, but it was clean with good people, good people. During the war, or at least at the start of the war, that changed almost over night into a more robust, different emphasis on things; winning the war, people leaving, and military bases springing up. Uniformed military personnel were in town; we never had seen that before. It was sort of an exciting period, tragic, but exciting. For me, it was the usual thing of going to school with youngsters I’d known since grade school. Unfortunately, I was an indifferent student, but I did have a good time with all of them. Visalia was a neat place to grow up in.

SW: Great. Where were you during the Pearl Harbor attack, and how did you react to that? What were your feelings?

HE: It’s an interesting thing, because I remember it as if it happened yesterday. It was Sunday morning. It was a relatively clear day and it was a warm day for December. We lived on South Garden Street and I remember at mid morning, I walked about a half a block away to the home of a friend, Delbert Sacks, to see him. His father was sitting on the doorstep, the front door step with the doors open, listening to the radio. When I walked up, he said, "The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. You run home, right now and tell your parents to turn on the radio." So I ran all the way home, went in and first my parents were skeptical, but my dad turned on the radio and there it was. And things changed from that minute on.

SW: Yes, I bet. Okay, what were the changes? You said things changed. What kind of changes appeared? Describe a little bit about what happened in the next year or so.

HE: People were aware of this, that this was going to be a major change. Even I recognized that, at that age, more attention to the radio and the gearing up for war. We had sugar rationing and food rationing, those things were coming in and so there were some dietary changes. But one of the things that I remember was that every evening on the news, they played a radio message from the Philippines . It was keeping us up on what was going on and all that. I remember that one night it wasn’t there and my mother cried. We had lost the Philippines . So these are things that were dramatic, that you remembered. Then there was other things. We’d be reading the Times Delta and we’d lost some of our boys here and there and so forth. These kinds of things and like I say, it was tragic. An example was, my father got a letter from a young man that had worked for him at the Visalia Canning Company. He was in the Royal Air Force.

SW: Hum. British.

HE: Yeah, but he was an American in the Eagle Squadron and I remember my dad read the letter, and the young man’s name was Nick Lambert, one of the Tulare County Four Horsemen. That’s what they called themselves before he went into the service. I remember my dad said, "Well, Nick is all right, or at least he was when I read this letter." So things were pretty uncertain.

SW: He was over in the European theatre at that time.

HE: Ah, Nick Lambert, oh yeah, they were flying out of England over Europe. The others were George Middleton, and David Logan and these three were from Visalia, plus William Arends from Tulare.

SW: Okay, you were still in high school at that point.

HE: Yeah, I was in my freshman year.

SW: Let’s see, how did your family situation change during that time? Your father was at the cannery?

HE: Yeah. He came home in 1936 as a warehouse foreman at a Visalia Canning Company. He held that job all through the war and, of course for him the change was, it was more production, more shipping. Loading out trucks with products, ‘cause they had to be on the docks in San Francisco or San Pedro the next morning, so my dad worked many, many hours, so there was an increase there. He’d be at work long before we’d get up in the morning and he’d still be at work when we went to bed.

SW: Yeah, long days, yeah.

HE: And my mother was an excellent homemaker. I look back and marvel at how she could do so much with so little. Yeah, yeah. But, you know, there were four of us. I was the oldest and we just sort of grew up in this change. The others were Donald, Dorothy (Shoemaker), and Leonard. I suppose that there would have been changes anyway, every year. But there was a different atmosphere. And then, too, there was sort of an atmosphere that even we picked up as youngsters, that we were all pulling together for this. And, of course, there was the curfew for kids.

SW: Oh, I hadn’t heard that one. No, I hadn’t heard about the curfew.

HE: Oh, you hadn’t. Well, you could (chuckle) be out after 10:00, if you were going and coming. And the movies let out after 10:00, and there was a policeman . . .oh, I had gotten out of the movie and it was after 10 o’clock and I walked down Main Street to Garden and then on south to home. And I was down about Locust and Main and the police officer, don’t remember his name now, he just sort of noticed. But he knew my name and he said, "You are on the street after 10:00 o’clock." I said, "I’ve just gotten out of the movie and I’m going home." He said, "Then get home now." (Chuckle) Yeah, go home, I wasn’t to be hanging around the streets. And, of course, that was military personnel on the streets, and so forth and so on. Yeah, it was a wartime situation.

SW: Yeah.  In the movies, did they have the newsreels at that time, about the wars?

HE: They did. I guess now we’d call them sound bites. But they weren’t extensive. But, they showed us the military actions in all theaters of operations, land, air and sea and they were interesting.  Yeah, and the movies were probably . . . a lot of them were propaganda movies. And they were so much propaganda, even as a kid I (chuckle) saw that.

SW: Yeah, you recognize the whole thing now.

HE: Yeah, yeah, it really did. But this whole thing was around the war.

SW: Yeah. Your father having that very solid job, a very demanding job, you didn’t have any real hardships at home, other than maybe shortages?

HE: Yeah, you see, about the time I graduated from the eighth grade, we were evolving out of the Depression era. This job that my father got was the first steady job he ever had at 33 years of age. And I remember it was $100 a month. And we lived better. And so, just about the time things were looking good and I had a little job in a grocery store and things were looking good, then came the deprivations of rationing, so maybe we didn’t see as much difference as I thought.

SW: Yeah, but you did experience the rationing. You did have the shortages in that sense, using coupons and ration books.

HE: Yeah, right. And then tires.

SW: Yeah, tires and gasoline?

HE: Yeah, tires and gasoline. You had a sticker in the window, A, B and C cards. C was four gallons a week or whatever, I don’t recall that exactly. B card was a little more, if you had a job that required it or something. And since my dad walked to work, we had a C card, so we’d (chuckle) save up gasoline to go over to see my grandparents in Hanford once in awhile.

SW: Yeah, four gallons won’t get you very far in today’s cars anyway.

HE: Well in those cars, you’d be lucky, I guess, if you got twelve or fifteen miles to the gallon.

SW: Yeah, okay. Let’s see, so you graduated in 1945 from high school and then you joined the Navy.

HE: We joined the Navy before I graduated. A friend of mine, Jack Dilbeck and I went up to Fresno and joined the Navy and then that held until we got out of school. My induction into the Navy was four days after I graduated from high school.  Beg your pardon, it was less than that; four days later I was in San Diego, entering boot camp.

SW: Okay, so you spent some time in boot camp.

HE: Let’s see, I went in, in June. By late August I had completed boot camp and I came home on five days leave. And I don’t recall now whether that bomb was dropped on Japan , the atomic bomb, before I went home on leave or after. Seems to me that when I was home, the war was just over. Then I reported back to the replacement depot in San Diego and was reassigned to an air unit in North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego.

SW: But you did serve a full hitch, if you would call it that?

HE: Well, not a regular hitch of three or four years, but I was in for, I think it was fifteen months.

SW: Okay, you made a comment earlier, before we started, about having to sign up for the draft after you were in. That was interesting.

HE: Yeah, (chuckle) I was in the Navy. I went in at seventeen and let’s see, June, I went in. Counting full months of June and December, birthday in December, I was in a little over seven months. I turned eighteen and then I got out the following Fall. And being eighteen I was required, like anyone else, to register for the draft. And I registered at the draft registration office in the basement of the Post Office building. I went down and went in and the lady said, "You’ve turned eighteen? I said, "Yeah, some months ago," And I showed her my discharge papers, (chuckle) so then I wasn’t 1-A. A classification, whatever that was. So then I was out, although I think it was three months later, the Navy sent a bus through town and, this was in 1946, sent a bus through town and they had advertised to all former Navy personnel, if they wanted to join an inactive reserve. So another friend and I went up and joined that for four years. That wasn’t a call up. I think it was called a stand by because they were maybe expecting trouble with Russia . They wanted to hold onto prior service experience.

SW: Right, right, you said you were just up here on vacation or leave, when the bomb was dropped. What was your reaction to the bomb? What was your personal reaction, and then the people you were in contact with?

HE: Yeah, well, in the service, in boot camp, they were training us for the invasion of Japan and they made no bones about it. You’re it and this is gonna be a tough one and we’re expecting casualties and all of that. So, for our group it was a sense of relief, when the bomb was dropped, and of course, Japan didn’t surrender until after the second

one was dropped. So after the first one, we didn’t know where we were going to be or what they were doing. Then they dropped the second one and then word was that the war was over. So, us younger ones, ah, let me go back a minute. They were discharging from the service on points, and the points were how long you were in the service, your age, if you were married, if you had children, combat duty, a number of things went into this point system. Well, we younger ones didn’t have any points. (laughter). So anyway, essentially many months after that, we went in to take care of jobs and things while people were moving out. So I was at North Island Naval Air Station until May, the latter part of May 1946 and then two hundred of us went up to Alameda Naval Air Station and were re-assigned to different squadrons there. That was until September. Yeah, September 1946, I think, we were discharged.

SW: So the war effectively was over and you knew you wouldn’t have to be involved in evading Japan directly.

HE: Right, right, but at the same time, we were patriotic enough that we felt we had missed something. That’s a point and I guess that comes back to all of the people living here that were in the war effort and everything. We felt that and acted accordingly.

SW; Okay, the thing to do when the war came, if you were a young person in the right age group, was to sign up and go do your part.

HE: It was expected.

SW Yeah, it was expected, that’s true.

HE: And some that failed the physical, I knew two or three, were really dishearten by that and maybe even embarrassed.

SW: Yeah, you can be embarrassed, if you think you’re healthy and everything, capable to go and find out there’s something there.

HE: Some of them were able to serve in the Merchant Marines. So, that was another service that people don’t think of, is the men that went to the merchant service.

SW: Yeah, they were a different group, involved, and did a major job in the war effort. Ah, how about women? Did you see a change in the roll of women during this time?

HE: Well, the women I think were employed.

SW: Yeah, they got out of their homes.

HE: Yeah, I think the average family was, the man made the living, the woman maintained the home and raised the children; I know it was in our home and I think that was it at various levels of society. But when the war came along, they established military bases and stores were busy and these kind of things. I think, looking back, I noticed more women employed.

SW: How about during the neighborhood situations, were there neighborhood watches organized, airplane spotters, these kind of things?

HE: Yes, yes, but I don’t remember them being in my neighborhood. In other words, they probably existed but didn’t mean anything to me.

SW: Okay. What about the Japanese people that were in the area here? There was a very large group here. Did you know any of those people and their reactions and how they were treated?

HE: I didn’t know many Japanese kids when I went to school, here in town at Sierra Vista Junior High.  When I went to high school, the Japanese were primarily in agriculture and lived out of town. And so they came into the high school and they were just like anyone else. The school here was really diversified with a lot of different people from different national or ethnic backgrounds. So, that was it and we got along remarkable well, you know, in P.E. classes and stuff together and all that.  But, I think it was probably about May of 1942, the Japanese kids disappeared. In other words, they were being moved out.

SW: Being moved out. In other words, our government was gathering them?

HE: Yeah, and I mean moved out. And just for this record, I never saw one of those kids again.

SW: Oh, that’s interesting, because I know some of them came back to the area.

HE: That’s what I’ve been told, but I never saw any of them again.

SW: Oh, interesting. How did your family track the war? Beside the radio, you said you listened to the radio, to the news, newspapers, a lot of information on a daily basis and all.

HE: Yeah, yeah.

SW: Okay, ah, was there any censorship that you were aware of, in letters and when you communicated with people?

HE: I don’t recall being concerned with censorship on the letters we wrote to our relatives in the service. But we would get letters that had mark-outs.

SW: Mark-outs, from the servicemen that you knew?

HE: Yeah, relatives mostly. Yeah, and also they had what they called V-mail, and that was kind of a photostatic copy of a letter and then reduced in size. I remember my dad saying that we’ll have to use a magnifying glass to read these things (chuckle). But, I think it was to reduce the mail volume.

SW: Yeah, keep them small and the weight down.

HE: Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that in years.

SW: And in the service, they had free postage if they were on active duty, I believe, right?

HE: Can I tell you a story about that.

SW: Certainly, please do.

HE: I was in the Navy, and my uncle was in the Navy. He was over in the Russell Islands, in that campaign. So, when I got situated in the North Island Air Station, I wrote him a letter, saying where I was at and all these kind of things. And we had free, if you were in the service, you had "frank" privilege, and I wrote free on it and mailed the letter to him. And in due time, I got a letter back and he said, "Glad you’re in the service, hope you like your assignment and so forth, and, by the way, on your letters, put a stamp on ‘em. The United States taxpayer should not be subsidizing our personal correspondence." (laughter) So his letters always had a stamp.

SW: You could never send them free, he was establishing you could not do that. Ah, that’s interesting, he was looking out for our budgets, our finances. (chuckle)

HE: Well, yeah, he was concerned about that.

SW: When you returned back to Visalia, after your tour of duty, did you treat anything differently or did the people treat you differently here in town, locally?

HE: Well, by the time I got out, there had been a thousand before me, this sort of thing and I don’t recall being treated, you know, any different than maybe if I’d been the same age and not been in the service. I did know that employment was a bit more difficult to get, because the people had taken up that slack. Although I didn’t have a very hard time getting a job. Yeah, there was readjustments.

SW: Did you take advantage of the GI Bill, or anything of that nature?

HE: I did, but I did it later. I had been out of high school six years and I had worked for the school district as well as some other jobs before that. I decided that I needed and wanted a college degree and a college education. I was fortunate enough by working for the schools that they gave me a night job full time and I went to school full time. And by that time I was married, had a youngster, Barbara Ann Edwards (Hughes), and I had GI Bill benefits for that, so I applied for that, and it took me through, almost all four years. So I graduated from C.O.S. in 1954 and Fresno State in 1956.

SW: Okay, good, good. I should have mentioned earlier, war bonds and that sort of thing. Did your family get involved in the war bond effort?

HE: It seems to me there wasn’t an involvement, like in the sales, but it seems to me that my father had an allotment taken out for a bond for whatever he thought he could afford. He still had three children, or four, at home and it was still pretty close on the support.

SW: Yeah, $100 a month didn’t go too far even then.

HE: Well, I think by then he was probably doing a little better than that, but you could buy a bond at the theatre. Because they would have a deal over there, that sort of thing, and you still see them when they play those wartime movies back with sort of a trailer at the end of the movie saying, "Buy your bonds at your local theater," or something like that.

SW: I haven’t noticed that, I guess I just haven’t paid attention.

HE: Yeah, yeah, I see that. Yeah, there were bond efforts and celebrities would come around to promote the sales.

SW: Okay, you met your wife before you went into the service, but when did you have an involvement with courting and dating and all during the war?

HE: No, I had a couple of classes with her at Visalia High School, so I knew Eula May Thompson and I knew, slightly, her older brother, Everett Thompson.  Then I went in the service and when I came out I didn’t see her for about, I guess a year and a half or two years.  Then we met again and I thought that she was the cutest girl in the world and I still think so. And then we began going together and dating. Then we married July 1, 1948.

SW: Okay, so past our time frame a little bit.

HE: Yeah.

SW: Okay, well there is two major questions that I need to get to before we get done. Do you have any other comments or things you’d like to talk about that come to light?

HE: No, other than to emphasize that World War II was one of those exceptional things in a lifetime. I think it was probably the high point in all of our lives. Never the same after and it wasn’t the same as before. And, walk down the street or drive and you could see the windows with the blue little flag, or whatever, in the window, with a blue star, or whatever, for a youngster that was in the service. A gold star if they didn’t make it. Those were common, some windows had several. It was just a point in life that I don’t think you can really describe it well: the feeling, the patriotism, the lump in your throat when you saw our flag flying and those kinds of things. It was just unique.

SW: The Greatest Generation, as the Brokaw book described.

HE: (Chuckle) Well, I think that my parents were probably the greatest generation.

SW: Okay. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you personally?

HE: Well, I think it affected all of us. Ah, during the war, of course, there was rationing. Manufacturing was for the war effort. We were behind on just consumer goods and there was a kind of a pick up time, ah, the GI Bill, people were going to college, like myself, that never dreamed of it before. And I think that during the years immediately following the war was an era of hope, that things were gonna be better. Ah, jobs were picked up again and finally you could see cars on display and these kinds of things in the businesses. And I think that was accelerating too. We had been through this and now there was a new era and looking forward to it and I think anyone you interviewed would probably tell you this, because it was universal.

SW: Yeah, yeah, good. Okay, how do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County itself is today?

HE: Well, I think that the change was from a . . . I wouldn’t say backward, because I don’t believe it was, but I think that it was an agricultural community. And it was, I wouldn’t say necessarily slow moving, but it didn’t seem to have the tempo that came along later with this thing I was talking about.  As a matter of fact, I think that World War II, and the development afterwards changed the whole country and Tulare County was just included.

SW: Yeah, just went along with it.

HE: Well, it was more industry and the town . . . I think when I graduated from high school, the town was about 10,000, maybe. And then there was a growing boom; it became a bigger town quickly. Ah, maybe a little stall in there, but it moved on.

SW: Okay, good. Anything else you can think of? I don’t have any more questions that I can pull out of my list here. But, anything of interest that would stand out during the war years?

HE: Well, particularly our men in the service, ah, there was something in the Times Delta every evening. You might see a picture of someone and say they had been awarded the purple heart or won a decoration, you know, or whatever. Mr. and Mrs. so and so have heard from their son and, you know, these kinds of things. It was a tempo of living with all of that; I don’t think we saw that in subsequent wars. It was something that was difficult to explain.

It was . . .on my way up here to see you, I was thinking, 1941, the Japanese had struck Pearl Harbor. It evolved over into 1942 and I remember at the high school, they had an assembly, just the boys. They had, it seems to me, three Marines, maybe four, giving a presentation. I can remember a man standing up there in his uniform, that looked to me like he had chevrons and all sorts of service stripes from his shoulder to his wrist. And I never will forget, because in the auditorium, the seniors sat middle front, sophomores on the right, juniors on the left and freshman in the balcony.  And, I was sitting in the balcony and I remember him saying, "You may believe different, but this will be a long war." And he said, "Those of you in front will certainly be in the service, as well as those on the left and probably on the right and maybe even you too in the balcony will see service before this is over."

SW: He was right.

HE: And he was absolutely right. I remember that very clearly.

SW: Interesting, and you can still comment. Yeah.

HE: Yes I think, in my lifetime here, at 75 years of age, that I lived through the best of it.

SW: That’s a good feeling to have.

HE: Yeah and Visalia is my home no matter where I live.

SW: Okay, well, I enjoyed talking to you. This was great.

HE: Well thank you.

SW: And thank you for your time and effort.

HE: It was a pleasure.

S.Wilkendorf/Transcribed by pd 12/15/2003/ Edited by JWood 10/21/05

Ed. note: Corrections in italics are changes made during a phone interview with Harold Edwards on October 21, 2005.