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: Donald O. Gray


Date: January 15, 2004

Report No: 49

Interviewer: Kris Gray


Place: Tulare County, CA


Place of Interview: Visalia, CA

DECEMBER 7, 1941






KG: This is Kris Gray, it is January 15, 2004, and I’m with Donald Gray at his home in Visalia, California. This is an interview for Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 to 1946.

Mr. Gray thank you for participating in this. I need to ask you first what your date of birth is.

DG: June 29, 1926.

KG: And where were you born?

DG: I was born in Porterville, California.

KG: You had all your education there?

DG: Basically, yes.

KG: What schools did you go to?

DG: I went to Roach Avenue Grammar School, Bell View Grammar School, ah, Bartlet Park, Bartlet, that would be the junior high school, and then Porterville High.

KG: Okay, and what were your parent’s names?

DG: My mother’s name was Florence Edith Greenfield and my father was Sherman Otto Gray.

KG: And where were they from?

DG: They were from Iowa.

KG: And when did they come to Tulare County?

DG: My father came to Tulare County in 1901, and my mother came out 1911, and married my father in Visalia, California.

KG: Did they meet out here or did they meet before?

DG: No, they met in Iowa. When they were younger, my father was actually dating my mother’s sister, older sister, Nellie Greenfield. And they broke up and my father came to California and continued writing, back and forth, to my mother and by mail, they decided to get married. So she came out and met him in Visalia and they were married in a farmhouse between Visalia and Farmersville on Caldwell Avenue, if I remember correctly.

KG: What did your dad do before the war started?

DG: My dad had a wrecking company in Porterville.

KG: And what was the name of that?

DG: O.S. Gray Wrecking Company.

KG: And that’s what he was doing when the war started.

DG: Yes.

KG: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

DG: I had two brothers and two sisters.

KG: Can you name them for me?

DG: I had an older brother, Albert Gray, and my next in line was Orville Gray, my sisters were Wilma (Stewart) and Anita Gray (Stewart).

KG: And, they were all born in Porterville.

DG: They were all born in Porterville, yes.

KG: Do you remember where you were living on December 7, 1941?

DG: December 7th of 1941, I was living at 421, I think it was, Kessing Avenue, South Kessing Avenue.

KG: Here in Porterville?

DG: In Porterville.

KG: Okay, and what are your memories of December 7th, what happened that day?

DG: On December 7th in 1941, I had got up real early that morning. Richard Bradley, myself, and William Overbeck, we had gone pheasant hunting. We’d come back in at about 10:00 or 11:00 o’clock, as I remember, it was just before noon. And, my father met us and said that we had been attacked in Hawaii. We didn’t know where Hawaii was.

KG: You didn’t? Well, that’s the Porterville School system for you.

Well, what did you think, were you frightened, or what thoughts did you have?

DG: Not really, as I can remember, we talked about it, there were three of us, and we didn’t know what it meant, really. We knew we were at war, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on Hawaii, as to how it concerned us that closely.

KG: Do you recall your parent’s attitude? What did your dad say about it?

DG: Ah, he was pretty over taken by it, both of them. I would say they knew more of what it meant for us as in the war than what we kids really thought about it.

KG: And you were how old?

DG: At that time, I would have been 15 years old.

KG: What did you do the rest of the day? Did you all have a radio that you listened to or did you go to neighbors?

DG: Ah, yeah, after we heard about it, we had taken Willy Overbeck home, and Richard and I came back and we listened to the radio some late that afternoon, but I don’t remember listening to it early in the afternoon. We had gotten pheasants and we cleaned those and took care of that part. As kids, it didn’t really mean that much to us, at that time.

KG: So once the war started, what’s the first thing that you noticed about how the war affected you. Were there blackouts, was there rationing?

DG: Yeah, there was, right off the bat, right at the beginning, there were blackouts, ah, everybody was excited within the next couple or three days. You became more excited, in fact, you talked to different people and you learned more of what actually the effect was gonna be on us. And I can remember, I can’t remember his full name, but Quiram, one of the Quiram brothers, he went around and checked and made sure we had the windows all blocked out and were not letting any light out.

KG: A warden, one of the air raid wardens.

DG: Yeah, one of the air raid wardens. Then it wasn’t too long after that, well then they started in with the stamps, some gas, rationing gasoline. Everything was rationed over a period of time. I can’t place exactly when it took place, but it was pretty close, right after the beginning of the war.

KG: Do you remember your mom or your dad going to get the blackout material, doing the windows, and so on?

DG: Yeah, we used blankets.

KG: Was there a fine or something, if you had any light coming through?

DG: No, no.

KG: I heard some of those air raid wardens got pretty feisty.

DG: Well, as I remember, they just came around and kind of kept an eye on it. At that time, there was people volunteering to go out and there used to be a airplane lookout station on the Tulare/Lindsay Highway, and people volunteered to stand; they’d get up there and watch during the night for planes and during the day too, I guess. I can remember the tower, but I can’t remember too much about what took place there.

KG: So, did your dad stay in the junk business during the war? That’s what he did all through the war?

DG: Yeah, yeah. All during the war, well, of course, that was an item they needed, like, as kids we went around gathering metal and tires, and stuff that was all recycled at that time, for the war purposes.

KG: So, did your dad’s business do better during the war? Do you think that your economic status kind of improved, since he was doing all that recycling?

DG: Not really. You didn’t make that money off of it. You had a lot of people that gave up their aluminum pots and pans, they were actually very good and they could probably use ‘em, but they were wanted for the war effort. They turned ‘em in with the understanding it would go to the war effort and not recycled. And, same with old cars, they were taken in and junked out. They would have been antiques now. People had saved ‘em, but during the war effort they gave them up.

KG: So, was your wrecking company kind of…is that where people brought their recyclable stuff?  Did your dad have a contract with the government?

DG: No, dad was just part of it.

KG: Okay, so then the government would come in and pick up stuff from your dad?

DG: No, the people would turn in…he’d gather the aluminum and stuff like that and it was turned in. He bought it, paid for it at the going rate at that time, then turned it in down south, took it to Los Angeles to a larger concern. The same way with the metal, with the car’s iron and stuff like that.

KG: Now, all your brothers and sisters weren’t living at home then, right, you were 14, 15 years old?

DG: Ah, I had one brother, Al, that was in the trucking business, who didn’t live at home, but he lived in Porterville. I had one, Orville, that went in the Army in 1941, and he served in England , as a truck driver, and I can’t remember the full length of time, but it was from right at the beginning of the war through the end. He spent most of his time in England . Both my sisters lived at home during the war.

KG: So, it was you and your sisters and your folks. So did rationing affect you a lot? Your family of five was still pretty big. Did your mom have trouble making ends meet as far as food and gasoline and such?

DG: No, we didn’t. Gasoline was a problem, but dad was in business, therefore he got a "T" stamp, which gave him more gas than just a "A" stamp, which is what dad first got.

KG: I’ve heard of the A, B, C stamp, but I’ve never heard of a "T" stamp.

DG: Well "T", as I remember was for trucks, heavy trucks, and stuff. I can remember the "T" and I remember we had those. "A" was for just the average stamp.  We had, as I remember, very little problem with food. Of course, we raised rabbits, we raised chickens.

KG: Did you have a victory garden?

DG: We had a garden. We lived on an acre, so we had plenty of space for a garden.

KG: But you had that before the war started.

DG: Dad bought that wrecker place in 1940. Just before the war.

KG: So, raising the poultry and raising the garden, that wasn’t something you did just because the war started?

DG: No, no, we had done that anyway. We had a calf, raised up for beef and that was hard to get during the war. Sometimes we had goats. We’d get a chance to buy a goat or a sheep, then that’s what you did. That was your meat. That and usually, one Sunday, we’d have fried rabbit and the next Sunday we’d have fried chicken and that was just about standard through the war.

KG: Because of the rationing and the war, did your family have an opportunity to take any trips or vacations during that time?

DG: I never went on a vacation. My folks took their first vacation in 1945 when I came out of the service. I bought a car and they took their first trip to Iowa in my car. When the war started, they had a 1938 Chevy. In about 1942, or ’43, it must have been ’43, cause it was just after I went in the service, somebody stole their car and then they had no car. They had an old pickup.

KG: In Porterville and they couldn’t find it?

DG: They couldn’t find it. And so when I came out of the service, well, I came out and I had bought a 1938 Ford and they wanted to make a trip back east and so I told ‘em, "Take the car." And they made their trip. That was the first time they had been home to Iowa since my mother came out here in 1911.

KG: Oh, my gosh. So, up to the time that you joined the service, while you were still living at home, do you remember what your family did for entertainment? Did you go down to the movies or get together much with neighbors? Or was it pretty much concerned with the war effort and raising a family?

DG: Ah, my mother and father had a couple of friends, they were ones that they always visited back and forth and played cards together and, let’s see, other than that, we went to the show and, once in a while, we made trips to Bartlett Park on weekends with the church organization.

KG: Do you remember much about going to the movies during that time? Did you get to go often?

DG: Hum. Well, probably once a week.

KG: Really, what theatre did you go to?

DG: Ah, I started out at Monache, and then the Molino. The Porter wasn’t there at that time . . . and the Crystal Theatre.

KG: And were those all on Main Street, there in Porterville?

DG: Monache and the Crystal was on Main Street and the Molino was on Mill Street, a block west of Main Street. The Crystal, Jimmy Lasure, he worked at the Crystal Theatre, and we used to go down there and go in late in the evening, we’ll say it that way. (Chuckle) Sneak in. (Chuckle).

KG: (Chuckle) Do you remember watching the news reels about the war updates?

DG: Yeah, that used to be the big thing. You’d go to the movie and they always had the March of Dimes. You saw short subjects of the war, what was going on in the war. They always then had the March of Dimes at that time. They would stop and everybody would have a chance to donate to the March of Dimes.

KG: Oh really. So, you were already in high school and 15 and you’re probably already thinking about joining up. I mean, did you follow the war a lot in the newspaper or the news reels?

DG: Yeah, that was on everybody’s mind. That was a subject quite a few people talked about, so, consequently, everybody, mostly young people were wanting to get involved and you kind of kept up on what was going on in the different theatres.

KG: And while you were still in school, was the war a big part of your life in school?

DG: Well, one of the first things that occurred in school was as soon as the war started, they had the draft and you had a lot of people join the service. So consequently the farmers had no help for bringing in the harvest, the oranges and stuff like that. So, one of the first things in school, was that kids got a chance to take off a half of day of school and pick oranges. You could do that like every morning for two to three hours and then you’d go to school in the afternoon. Then, also we worked in the cornfields, chopping corn down to go through the silage and you worked out around the farms part-time. Also, at that time, I got involved in forestry to help work in the forest during the summer time. They had classes on that, during school, to prepare you to be able to work in the forestry.

KG: You dropped out of school to join, right? And what year was that?

DG: I dropped out of school before, when my brother Al had a trucking business. When the war came along, well, he couldn’t get any drivers. His drivers were all drafted and so he needed somebody to drive trucks. So I started driving trucks in the summer in Porterville. I was fifteen when I started driving long haul. My first job was driving from Shafter, hauling potatoes into Fresno to the airbase up there. I forget the name right now. Then I started hauling. From there I went to Concord and from Auburn we were hauling old rotten fruit or just fruit that was no good and it was hauled down to the Bromo Winery and Madera Winery to make alcohol for the army.

KG: For the servicemen?

DG: To train the servicemen. Well, they used it for, like most of your gyrocompasses and on your torpedoes and for guidance systems on ships, that’s all glazed in alcohol. And, that’s what they used, so when it was made into alcohol, most of that had been treated so it was unfit to drink and it was used for military use.

KG: So, when did you decide to join up and what made you decide?

DG: Well, I had been thinking about joining. Jimmy Lasure and I ran around together and he wanted to join. He was a year older than I am. So, he and Carl Larson and there was about four or five of us that signed up to go and Jimmy couldn’t go, so he talked me into going with him to sign up for the Navy or whatever. So we went to Fresno and we tried to get into the Marines and they were full; we couldn’t get in. We tried to get into the Air Force and they said the chance of me getting into the Air Force would be pretty slim, ‘cause I was too tall. So then we went to the Navy and we were accepted, but Jimmy got turned down for medical reasons and so I went in by myself. And Jimmy was, about six weeks later, drafted and put in the Navy.

KG: So, what did your folks think about you dropping out and not finishing your education?

DG: Well, my dad was home alone, my mother was in Los Angeles with my aunt, due to my uncle Herbert being sick at that time. So, he said if I could get my mother to sign, he would sign too and let me go in. But, he wasn’t really super over-charged by the idea. So, Jimmy and I took off and hitch-hiked to Los Angeles. And I went to Aunt Nell’s, and my mother just about tore the house to pieces, she was not excited at all about it. (Chuckle) But after talking to her quite a bit, well, she finally agreed. First of all we went down to get her to sign and when we came back, she went with me to Fresno and I took tests up there that I would be able to go to school. They said that with the test that I took, I would qualify to go into training in factory radio or electronics or mechanics. I tested in that direction. So then she agreed that I could go in, if I was gonna be going on to school. So, when I got in, I retested up there again and I had a choice of radio school or electrical school. I chose radio and they sent me to electrical school. So, as far as my mother being happy about this situation, she was not happy with me going.

KG: And neither was your dad.

DG: Dad, he, I don’t think he was happy about it, but he could see my viewpoint, that I wanted to go at that time.

KG: What did you think you’d be doing?

DG: I had no idea. Looking back, of course, then, I thought I’d be of help saving the world, but, really, as a kid, I really had no idea what I would be doing. I thought I’d be on board ship and I’d go out and help win the war, but I really don’t know. I don’t know. It’s been so long ago, but I would say that looking back, I had no idea what I would do.

KG: Did your mom work out of the home at all?

DG: My mother was a bookkeeper for my dad. She took care of all the books and usually was down at the wrecking company every day for half a day, at least half a day.

KG: A lot of women were working outside the home for the first time, such as "Rosie the Riveter" and stuff. Do you remember being aware of that, you know, women were joining the service and, you know, building airplanes and do you remember thinking about that or hearing your parents talking about the changing roles of women? You also had older sisters; did they do anything like that to participate in the war effort?

DG: No, no, I don’t remember. Nita, when she graduated in Porterville, she worked for Safeway as a meat cutter. Wilma worked for the telephone company. I can remember that, I mean, they were short-handed and talking about how everybody was gone and everybody was short- handed and needed help; due to the fact of the war you were losing people going south. I wasn’t really that conscious of the people working in the shipyards and stuff like that.

KG: Do you remember some of the community activities there in Porterville? The scrap drives and things, do you have any recollection of some of the community activities to help the war effort?

DG: Well, I can remember some of the scrap drives for metal and stuff, but, like I said, tires, and of course, I was involved in them, and paper.

KG: Well, did you go around and knock on doors, or…?

DG: No, they had a drive and people would come and bring stuff by for collecting. Different organizations would do it usually, boy scouts or women’s clubs, churches would be involved in it. Different churches would do it.

KG: So, you had a lot of your family and your close friends who would join the military, both your brothers.

DG: Both my brothers and my brother-in-laws. Bill Stewart and Wilma were married in ’39, yeah, and Bill went in the service right off, right at the beginning of the war. As a matter of fact, he went in 1940, before December 7th. Bob Stewart went in the service; he was in the service also in the beginning of the war and Bob and Anita got married. They wrote back and forth and then they got married in 1944, I think. It was after I went into the service and they were both in the Navy. Albert went back and forth in the Navy in 1944. Orville, I think he went into the Army in 1940.

KG: So most of your buddies that you hung around with in high school and all, did they all join in?

DG: All of ‘em went in the service, yeah.

KG: Did you lose any of your friends, did anybody not survive?

DG: No. Not that I know of. The only one was Carl, I can’t think of his last name now. I knew him in school and he was quite a bit older than I and he was a pilot and was shot down and killed. I had one fella that I went to school with and he went in right at the beginning of the war. It was in 1940 he went in, I think he was 16, 15 or 16 when he went in. He was a radio operator in Hawaii and he had just got there and he was not killed but he came back out of it mentally not right. He was discharged right after . . .

KG: Was he there for the attack on Pearl Harbor?

DG: Yes, he was there at the attack of Pearl Harbor and he lost his cool, we’ll say it that way, because he came out and he was all right when you’d talk to him, but apparently he had been . . . . When I met him and that would have been in, oh, probably ’43, before I went in the service, just before I went in the service. He came and I saw him, met him and talked to him and you could tell he had problems. He wasn’t completely disabled, but you could tell he had problems.

KG: Well, you were pretty fortunate then to know so many people who went into the service and not to have to go to a lot of funerals.

DG: Right, I was, I was.

KG: Do you remember in the community, before you went in, of people expressing a lot of hatred for the enemy, or what the attitudes were towards the Japanese or the Nazi’s?

DG: Oh, yeah, there was, of course, everybody was down on the Japanese at that time. I mean there was propaganda on at the movies and everything was hatred toward the Japanese and also the Germans, the "krauts," and I think this goes along with a war. The propaganda was to keep people built up so that you stayed behind and kept working to help during the war.

KG: Were you aware of the Japanese internment camps?

DG: Yes. There used to be one just out of Tipton, between Tipton and Olive Street, the old Olive Street, let’s see it would have been 152, Road 152, going into Tipton.

KG: Did you know any Japanese/Americans before the war?

DG: No. I say that I didn’t know them, but I was aware of them. There used to be about three or four families out towards Terra Bella and they had ranches out there and gardens. I can remember, this was back in ’39 or ’38-’39, and I can remember this fella I worked for had a paper route and he always said "people don’t particularly care for the Japanese, but I find they’re real honest, they pay their bills, where others won’t pay their bills." At that time, they were very nice people, I met ‘em and talked to ‘em and stuff and they were better at paying their bills and stuff back then and a lot of the (chuckle) other people weren’t.

KG: They were rounding up American citizens and putting them in a concentration camp. Did you think about that?

DG: No.

KG: You were how old when the war ended?

DG: When the war ended I would have been 21.

KG: And where were you stationed at that time?

DG: When the war ended, we were stationed in Florida. I wasn’t stationed there in Florida, I was actually stationed in Calone, Panama and we were at Miami, Florida when the war ended for an overhaul. We had come up for an overhaul and was gonna go back down.

KG: Was that VE Day or VJ Day?

DG: VJ Day.

KG: Okay, and what are your memories of that day?

DG: Oh, glorious. (chuckle)

KG: Did you go out partying there in Miami?

DG: No, I was home. I was home on leave in Porterville.

KG: In Porterville? So tell me about that.

DG: Well, the streets were wild, the cars were going up and down the streets, people hanging on the sides, yelling and screaming.

KG: How did you hear about the end of the war?

DG: I think I heard it on the radio in the morning, ‘cause I remember going to town and they were wild when I got there and that was in the afternoon.

KG: And who did you go to town with?

DG: I think I went with Aunt Nita Stewart, I think we’d gone to town.

KG: You hadn’t met your wife at that time, right, but she was dancing around in the street, though you guys didn’t.

DG: Well, I never met my wife, Pauline Francis, until about a year after I got out of the service.

KG: So, you guys were both dancing around on VJ Day, on the same street, but you hadn’t met yet.

DG: Hadn’t met yet, right.

KG: So did you party into the night, do you remember?

DG: Oh yeah, I don’t remember much (chuckle) but I was really loaded.

KG: Did you think you wanted to go back then, when the war was over? I mean, your leave was over, it must have been hard.

DG: No, I didn’t want to really go back, but I remember now, let’s see, I went to town with Bill Stewart. He was home on leave at the same time. And we went to town together and then he went back home. Bill was in Miami when I came in for an overhaul; he was stationed there in Miami. We came home for a 30-day leave, I think, if I remember right.

KG: Were you aware of what the atomic bomb was? Did you realize what they had done to end the war?

DG: I can remember them talking about the use of the atomic bomb to end the war and the devastation it was, but I don’t believe we really truly understood it until later. It wasn’t until later, I think, until we read and saw films of what took place there, that you really understood how devastating it was.

KG: When did you become aware of the holocaust and what the Nazi’s had done? Do you remember seeing any of the film footage?

DG: Yeah, I’d seen, of course, the March of Times, we had seen some of the footage at the end, really at the end of the war in Germany . They had come out with films where they’d show ‘em going into the concentration camps and showing the people that they were getting out of the camps and stuff. That was the first time that you were really aware of how bad it was.

KG: Were you pretty surprised?

DG: Yeah, I think so, yeah. I don’t think, I had no idea they had something like that going on. You hear rumors but you really don’t believe a lot of that stuff. But after you see it, then you realize that what rumors you heard, a lot of it was true.

KG: So how, when you came home and got out of the service, how did you find Porterville had changed or the county had changed or did you notice much difference?

DG: I didn’t notice much difference in it. It don’t think it affected Porterville or any small towns as much as it would have the larger cities.

KG: Do you think that it affected the county much? Did it kind of change the direction that the county grew in and so what Tulare County is today?

DG: Well, the county is a farming county and when I first came out it was still a farming community and consequently most of your small cities and stuff tried to keep industry from coming into a town to raise up wages; they wanted to keep it as a farming community, to keep wages down. I think this starting changing right after the war more, that you had more industries coming to the small cities and then having the people going into industrial type work rather than ranch work. But that was over a period of time; it wasn’t just automatic when we first came home.

KG: How do you think that the war years affected you, personally? Did it change the direction of your life?

DG: Ah, I’m sure it did. I probably got a better education in life and also a better education for making a living. That helped me through the rest of my life, that I would probably never gotten a chance to do if I’d have stayed here.

KG: What do you think you would have done if the war had never happened and you would probably have never joined the service?

DG: Well, I probably would have been a junk yard owner, like my dad. (chuckle)

KG: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you would like to talk about? Any particular memories?

DG: No, I don’t think so.

KG: Thank you very much for participating. I appreciate it.

DG: All rightie.

K.Gray/pd 2-17-2004 /jw ed. 4-06-04

Final edit 11-16-05. Ed. note: Words in italics are the result of information provided by Kris Gray and Pauline Gray in November, 2005.