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: Pauline Gray

Date: 1/15/04

Tape # 48

Interviewer: Kris Gray

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: 31410 Road 132, Visalia, CA

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Los Angeles, California

Porterville, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

School, Boys

Rationing, hitchhiking servicemen, nylons, lipstick

VJ Day in Porterville


KG: This is Kris Gray. It’s January 15, 2004 at 6:50 p.m. in her home in Visalia. This interview is for the Years of Valor – Years of Hope, Tulare County in the years 1941,1946. Welcome, Pauline. May I call you Pauline?

PG: Yes you may.

KG: Thank you for participating so your memories will be engraved in marble forever. (Laughter)

PG: My pleasure.

KG: I have to ask you your date of birth.

PG: 5/12/30.

KG: And where were you born?

PG: Fort Smith, Arkansas.

KG: And when did you come out to California?

PG: In 1936.

KG: And what were your parent’s names?

PG: Vida (Henry) and Miller Francis.

KG: And where were they from?

PG: She was from Arkansas and he was born in Oklahoma.

KG: What did you dad do before the war? Did he have a profession?

PG: He worked in a furniture factory in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

KG: And do you have any siblings?

PG: I have a brother, James R. Francis (J.R.), who is in Terra Bella, California.

KG: And is he older or younger that you?

PG: He is younger.

KG: How old where you on December 7, 1941?

PG: I was 11 ˝ years old.

KG: And where were you all living?

PG: In Los Angeles, California.

KG: And what are your memories of December 7, 1941?

PG: The only thing I remember was that my brother had the measles and was very ill and he was in bed. My Dad, at that time was working for a water heater company and they were having a Christmas party that night. My grandmother, Hallie Danley Henry, was coming to babysit us while my folks went to this party. Someone, a neighbor, came to the door and said, "Did you hear about the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor?" As a child 11 years old, I’m thinking, "Are they out in the front street or how far away are they? Are we in danger now?"

KG: That must have been scary.

PG: It was scary.

KG: When did you all move up to Tulare County?

PG: 1944.

KG: Where did you move to?

PG: To Porterville, California.

KG: How did you end up there?

PG: My dad was going to work for a lumber company, a logging company, up in the mountains above Springville.

KG: You would have been how old then?

PG: I had just turned fourteen.

KG: Had you started high school?

PG: I started high school in Porterville then in September 1944.

KG: What was the first thing you noticed once the war started that affected your life?

PG: Blackouts at night. At the time we lived in Los Angeles, close to the coast and you always had blackout curtains pulled. You never let light shine at night. Food was rationed. I remember standing in line with my mom at the grocery store when they were lucky enough to get meat in. You had coupons and you were allotted so much meat. Same with sugar and other canned products. Shoes were rationed, and I went through them very fast, so the stamps didn’t keep up with my needs. So Mom would buy me what they call, what Hollywood would call, play shoes, which were cloth and sometimes they had the little wedge heel and some were sandal types because there was enough stamps for shoes to go around.

KG: Do you remember the blackouts in Porterville?

PG: I don’t ever remember a blackout in Porterville.

KG: And what about rationing?

PG: Yeah, things were still rationed when we moved to Porterville. Gasoline was hard to come by.

KG: What did your dad do all during the war? Did he work for that lumber company? Did he change jobs?

PG: When he finished the job up in the hills above Springville he went to work for the ice plant in Porterville, where they would make the big blocks of ice.

KG: Did you mom work at all?

PG: My mom worked in the packinghouses.

KG: Did you think that the war changed your family’s economic status? Was your Dad working more than he had been during the Depression?

PG: Oh yes. It improved it a great deal.

KG: Oh, you were better off?

PG: Yeah, much better off.

KG: And did you have family up here? Why did you come to Porterville?

PG: He just heard about this job and we moved up here.

KG: When you were living in Porterville, did you have a Victory Garden?

PG: Didn’t have a Victory Garden. No.

KG: Not much into gardening.

PG: I do know in high school, when I started in high school that fall, it was time to bring in the crops and there wasn’t the manpower to bring them in and so we went to school in the morning and you could be excused in the afternoon. And if you wanted to be excused in the afternoon, you could be excused, and you were excused to pick oranges, picking cotton, because they needed to get the crops in.

KG: So did you really do that?

PG: I did that a couple of times. But it was a fun thing.

KG: With gasoline rationing and both your folks working, did your folks take any trips or vacations?

PG: Occasionally we would go to Los Angeles to see my mother’s parents and you always saw servicemen on the road hitchhiking and you never ever passed up a serviceman. You always gave them a ride, even if you had to go out of your way to take them where they were going.

KG: And I’m sure you enjoyed that.

PG: I enjoyed that, especially the sailors. Yes.

KG: What did your family do for entertainment? Did you go to the movies a lot?

PG: There was no TV. There were radio shows that you listened to and yeah, you’d go to the movies.

KG: OK, school. Let’s see, you were a freshman in high school in 1944-45, so were there daily activities in school that revolved around the war? Or was it pretty much once you were in school you concentrated mostly on boys and . . . .

PG: That was my major,boys.

KG: Was the war a big part of your daily life?

PG: Yes, it was because at that time, when the boys turned 17 they usually dropped out of school and dropped into the service. They felt that was the patriotic thing to do. Everybody had a brother or a parent or an uncle, somebody in the service. So you were aware of it all the time.

KG: Were you more concerned that the boys were leaving or were you thinking about the war? You know, self-centered teenager girls, they kind of . . .

PG: You are always aware of the boys, but no, especially when we lived in the Los Angeles area, you had a fear, yes, that your city would be attacked. So yeah, you worried about those things.

KG: Did you feel frustrated or guilty because you didn’t feel you were doing enough for the war effort?

PG: I picked the oranges. (Laughter)

KG: Did you feel like you should have been doing more? Did you feel like a slacker?

PG: No, I guess I didn’t really think about it. I guess I just felt I should write the letters if I had a friend in the service. I had an uncle, Paul Wiley Henry, and I wrote to him two or three times a week, and I had a cousin, Kenneth Oates, who was in England flying bomber missions, and I wrote to him every week. I felt that was what I could do.

KG: So you lost a lot of your classmates? They dropped out to join?

PG: Soon as they reached 17, that’s what they did.

KG: Do you remember any discussions about the draft?

PG: No I don’t.

KG: A lot of women were working outside the home for the first time and your mom was working in a packinghouse. Do you remember thinking or hearing discussions about the changing roles of women like the Rosie the Riveters and hear any negative things that women shouldn’t be joining the service and should just be staying home keeping the home fires burning? Did you feel they should be out there building aircraft and joining the Army?

PG: Well, I thought it was only fair that the women should take up the slack and do things, but one thing in particular . . . I had a cousin in the service and his wife, Mona, while he was gone worked outside the home and made decisions on her own. When he came back from the service, he wasn’t happy that she was making her own decisions and not letting him make all the decisions. So there was some dissention there. It wasn’t just that couple but I think a lot of couples had to go through that.

KG: Did you ever think about women getting outside the home and working for the first time? Did you ever think about how that might affect your future that maybe you could do something else?

PG: Oh I always thought I could do something else. Oh yeah.

KG: Community Activities…do you remember any scrap metal drives or what did Porterville do to pull together? Do you recall?

PG: I can still remember when we still lived in the Los Angeles area, we had big scrap metal drives at the school where I went. They also sold stamps towards savings bonds when we would take our lunch money. The girls would try to outbid the boys in buying the most stamps. Sometimes we won and we didn’t have any lunch. But in Porterville they always had big scrap metal drives.

KG: You don’t recall anything else they did?

PG: No.

KG: Any blackouts in Porterville? Do you remember people working as air raid wardens?

PG: Yes, I can remember air raid wardens. And they would have certain . . . like a light pole; only at the end of it would be a siren that would go off for air raid practices.

KG: That must have been scary.

PG: Yes it was.

KG: Did you have any drills during school?

PG: No, to my recollection, we never had a drill at school. We used to have earthquake drills.

KG: So you had several of your family and close friends in the military?

PG: Yes.

KG: And you were writing to a lot of them. Did you get any letters? Did you do any of the stranger pen pal things?

PG: No, I had enough family to write to. I didn’t need a pen pal.

KG: Do you remember any families there in Porterville that lost their sons or fathers?

PG: None of my close friends lost any close family members. I can’t recall.

KG: How about some outstanding memories? What were some of the things you remember in Porterville or most about the war?

PG: I remember hearing a rumor that there were going to be nylons on sale at J.C. Penney’s so we all, all the gals, just left school and went down on Main Street, got in a line at J.C. Penney’s and stood there like three hours waiting and I think they actually got in 24 pairs and there were probably 100 people standing in line for them, so you know. And they didn’t make lipstick in a metal tube anymore. It was in a cardboard tub. I can remember going to the dime store and buying lipstick in this cardboard tube. Of course at that time nobody had air conditioning in Porterville in the summer, so if you left your tube outside of the refrigerator it kind of melted and absorbed into the cardboard. So you had kind of a mess and sometimes you’d end up just putting your finger down in the tube, getting some out and putting it on your lips.

KG: Do you remember what nylons were selling for?

PG: I have no idea.

KG: Did fights break out at Penney’s?

PG: No, but there was some shoving sometimes. "I was here first." "Your friend can’t cut in."

KG: Oh my gosh, a hundred people in Porterville. All the way down Main Street.

PG: Oh, yeah. Two dozen pairs of nylons.

KG: Do you have any memories of adults, or actually kids your age, expressing hatred toward the enemy? Do you remember what kids were saying about the Japanese and the Germans?

PG: I just remember when the war broke out we had some good friends who were Japanese, and they owned a little mom and pop market. The girls were my age and we were good friends and the young man was a teenager and he was a close friend to my uncle and it was like one day they were there and the next day they were packed up and gone. And everybody is talking about the Japanese and what traitors they were. I’m trying to think what happened to our friends. Why one day we were their friends and the next day they are traitors and we should hate the Japanese. And I never knew what happened to them.

KG: So you were aware of the Japanese Internment Camps?

PG: Yeah, oh yeah.

KG: What did you think of that?

PG: Well, they’re telling me that these Japanese are very evil people. They attacked us and I could relate that to these very nice friends that we had who were just like us other than the fact that their skin color was different and their facial features were different. But they were our friends. So I had a hard time. These are the Japanese. They are not evil. I don’t know what they are talking about.

KG: What about the Nazi’s?

PG: I never had any contact with them, but you know, all you know is that they were evil, evil people, invading and killing.

KG: Do you recall in high school, especially since many of your classmates were dropping out to save the world, did everyone pretty much feel the same thing that you did or were there disagreements about patriotism? About the enemy? Or was everybody pretty much on the same page?

PG: Everybody was pretty much on the same page. And if ever anybody made a comment different to that you never heard about it, but I’m sure they never made it more than once because this was the high feeling of patriotism. If you’re going to live in this country, you’re going to love this country and you support it.

KG: You were fifteen when the war ended?

PG: Yes.

KG: Did you ever have any thoughts that if the war went on and you were to get out of high school, did you ever have any thoughts about getting into the military? What were your plans?

PG: I thought I would join the Navy. Yes I thought that.

KG: You had a thing for sailors.

PG: Yes. Oh yeah. Navy blue, that’s my favorite color.

KG: So what are your memories of VJ Day?

PG: We lived just out of town. Probably about a mile from the main part of Porterville and the news came over the radio and all of a sudden everybody gets in their car and heads for Main Street. Anyway, we heard it on the radio. We got in the car and went into downtown Porterville. Everybody else was going to downtown Porterville and converged on Main Street and the cars were just lined up going back and forth, honking their horns, beating on garbage can lids, anything that would make noise. And it just went on and on, up and down. Those that weren’t in cars on the sidewalks, paraded up and down, yelling and hugging and it went on till one or two in the morning, that the war was over.

KG: So you just wandered up and down Main Street?

PG: Up and down Main Street. Right. Stopped at Holtz Malt Shop a few times. Had to have a coke or milkshake. Everybody’s making all the noise they can. Anything they can use as a noise maker.

KG: Were you aware what the atomic bomb was? Did you think much about what happened to end the war?

PG: I knew, I heard and I read that is was very lethal and destroyed miles and miles and everything it came in contact with and I knew that it was a terrible thing to unleash, but then again you felt sorry for the people that died, innocent people, but then again you think, I guess, and this is terrible, better them than us and it was a means to end the war.

KG: Did you worry about other nations getting hold of this technology and using it against us?

PG: Yes. If we can do it, what’s to keep someone else from using it on us?

KG: Do you remember when you learned of the Holocaust and what the Nazis did to the Jewish people? When did you first see those newsreels and what did you think about that?

PG: Not until several years later that it came to life. I started to say common knowledge, where it was in newsreels all the time and pictures in the paper. It seemed like it was six or seven years after that, you were aware of the terrible things that happened in Europe.

KG: What did you do after you graduated?

PG: I graduated and went to work for the telephone company in Porterville.

KG: How do you think the war years affected you?

PG: Looking back on it, it made me think that you just go along complacent in life and take every day for granted and just do the same things over and over and then all of a sudden it can change. You can lose friends and members of your family, your country can be invaded and there can be death and destruction.

KG: How do you think the war years affected the county? The way you see Tulare County today, do you see any difference in what we went through during the war?

PG: Well, you do see the remains of the Internment Camps out in the Tulare Lake Beds. I think for so many years the Japanese were instrumental in our agriculture department and our fields. They were producers. They lost their lands. I think they probably had a lot to teach us about agriculture and it’s only been in the later years that people had put aside those prejudices and accepted them again.

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

PG: I think I’m pretty much memoried out right about now.

KG: Well, thank you very much for your participation.

PG: You’re very welcome.

K. Gray/jc/jw ed. 4-08-04

Ed. note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview in November, 2005. And Pauline said she met Donald Gray in Porterville in 1949.