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: Calvin Albert Hilty


Date: 10-01-03

Tape # 2

Interviewer: Stan Wilkendorf


Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Road 168 north of Woodville, California


Dansig, Poland


Tulare County

Washington, D.C.



Served as a smokejumper as a C. O.

This is Stan Wilkendorf speaking. Today is Wednesday, October 1, 2003. I’ll be interviewing Mr. Calvin Hilty in his home on Road 168 north of Woodville, California. This interview is for the Tulare County project, Years of Valor, Years of Hope covering the years of 1941,1945.

Mr. Hilty, would you please state your full name and spell it out for me?

My name is Calvin Albert Hilty, shall I tell you where I was born?

SW: Thank you. Tell us where and when you were born.

CH: I was born in 1919 in Donaldson, Iowa. My dad was a Mennonite preacher in Iowa and when I was six weeks old, the family moved to central Missouri, in a Model T Ford. They tell me that I was in a swing that hung from a bowoak on top of the Model T, and I don’t remember any of it, (laughter), at least they said I was the cutest baby in the church, but of course, I was the youngest baby too at the time. And that’s where I lived until I was six years old.

SW: What are your parents’ names and where were they from?

CH: My father was Peter P. Hilty. He was born in Bluffton, Ohio in 1871. And my mother, Barbara (Koller) Hilty was born in Donaldson, Iowa, in 1882. She was quite a bit younger than my father.

SW: Where did you actually grow up?

CH: I grew up in Missouri. My dad was about 100 yards from the Mennonite church there, and I went to school. I walked about a mile and a half to go to school, a rural school, and then we moved onto a farm. Dad had quit the ministry and he thought he would raise us on a farm in Missouri. I went one year to the Westview School close to the church there and then I went to Prairie Valley Rural School for seven years. And then I grew up and graduated from Vervaile High School in 1937 and I worked on the farm there until I was drafted in the service.

SW: When was that?

CH: That was November 7, 1941.

SW: Just before Pearl Harbor.

CH: Just before Pearl Harbor, a month before Pearl Harbor.

SW: Ok, what did you do in the service? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

CH: I was a Conscientious Objector (C.O.). I was raised a Mennonite and I went in as a Conscientious Objector. The first seven or eight months I was in a Conservation Camp in Iowa. And then a bunch of us were invited to come out to California as fire fighters. I signed up for that and came out here in May 1942, at a camp above Fresno, North Fork, California. And I was there for about a year and a half. No, actually I guess it wasn’t quite a year and then I went into smoke jumping up in Montana and I was in smoke jumping for two years.

SW: So basically during the war years, you were a smokejumper.

CH: Yes.

SW: Tell us a little about your smoke jumping experience during that time.

CH: It was the first year that they’d expanded smoke jumping. It had been on a very experimental basis earlier, but during the war they were short of men and somebody wondered if us CO’s couldn’t qualify as fire fighters. We were all farm boys or most of us were and in pretty good health and I was one of about eighty boys in the first group that trained for smoke jumping. And it was sort of a rigorous test. Quite a few people that took the test couldn’t pass, but in the actual smoke jumping test, there were only a couple of boys that were injured in some of the training, and the rest of us qualified. I was a smokejumper for two years. Fought in about seven fires the first year and about that many the second year. And I had twentyone jumps altogether and we had practice and refresher jumps. We were quite physically conditioned. We would hike for miles with a backpack to tune our muscles up for this rigorous work. It was interesting work and was pioneering of smoke jumping. Most of us were farm boys, or a lot of us were and we didn’t mind the physical training and exercise that qualified us for smoke jumping.

SW: That sounds like an exciting career there. Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese?

CH: Yes. I had been in camp a month when Pearl Harbor was attacked and I was in Dennison, Iowa and I stayed there until I transferred to California in May and of course, we had sugar rationing and everything else that all the citizens went through. We got furloughed just like the army fellows; we got thirty days a year and before I came to California, they allowed us a trip to say goodbye to our parents, I guess. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t come back from smoke jumping, but we came out to California and I was in just a regular fire fighting group for about six or seven months until I transferred to smoke jumping.

SW: What event in the war area timeframe stands out in your mind? Anything particular about the war that stands out in your mind?

CH: Yes. We all wondered what was going to happen after Pearl Harbor and I had been in camp a month and we didn’t know what would happen but we were treated fairly and went on pretty much the same routine, except they changed our diet quite a little. We weren’t given the sugar we had before the war. Actually our positions didn’t change too much during the beginning of the war.

SW: The unit that you were with when you were originally training back there, did they go on somewhere?

CH: No, that camp was maintained during the war. I think it was still there, being used at the end of the war. These fellows, some of them stayed right there but most of them transferred to other positions.

SW: What was your opinion of the dropping of the atomic bomb?

CH: Well, I was in camp when the atomic bomb was dropped and we didn’t know about the atomic bomb like a lot of people did know about it. I was quite shocked that such a thing would be done. But, it seemed to be the solution, because it ended quite quickly after that.

SW: Your general feelings about the war, have they changed any? Do you still act as a C.O. or how do you feel now about the war, looking back?

CH: I am still a C.O. I wouldn’t voluntarily be drafted. I think there are better ways to settle disputes than the violence of war. I know it probably wouldn’t be practical in a lot of ways, but I think it’s a good opportunity that we had in this country and I had a distant cousin in Germany that we visited after the war and he was in the German army and he was given a non-combative position because of his beliefs about the war and that surprised me.

SW: Yes, I’m surprised at that. I hadn’t heard of that.

CH: (Chuckling) Yes, that even went on in Germany .

SW: The people in your camps, in your training sessions, were they mostly C.O.’s as well, or did they have . . .

CH: Yes, probably half a dozen went into the military after Pearl Harbor. They didn’t think war was going to be that close; it was just a place for us to stay for a year, we thought.

SW: Uh-huh.

CH: And when the war actually broke out, some of the fellows went into the service. But a lot of them stayed there through the entire war like I did.

SW: Were you discriminated against in the sense of being a CO? Did you see any negative people?

CH: No, no. I was always respected. We went to town to the movies and so forth and I don’t know of any instances where the fellows were discriminated against or made fun of. There were instances in other camps and later, when the war drug on, there were instances.

SW: Back to the end of the war, looking back now, do you feel justified in doing that? How’s that feeling?

CH: I, of course, was an outsider in many respects. We read the papers and so forth and kept on, but I lost several close friends. One of my closest friends was killed in aircraft training and I’m thankful the war ended the way it did. I wish it could have ended sooner, but I would have mixed feeling about going to war. My children were never drafted. A couple of my grandsons volunteered, Benjamin Bohl, went into the Air Force and Nicholas Bohl, the Marines, and I have feelings against the war. I know there are times when maybe it’s the only alternative, but I would wish, I would think that the invasion of Iraq was probably premature.

SW: Where were you when you heard the war ended? Were you still in smoke jumping at that point or were you out?

CH: I was in Maryland. I was transferred to Maryland after a couple of years in smoke jumping, I was given the alternative for something else and I went there for relief training to help after the war and to heal the wounds and rehabilitate people. I went and took the training for that for about a year and the war ended and we were just outside Washington, D.C. We went in to see the parades and so forth and I got a chance to go to Europe as a sea-going cowboy, as they called us, to take care of horses on board ship, as they were shipped overseas, and that was quite an experience for a country boy.

SW: Yes.

CH: That we had to think about three hundred horses on this ship and they were shipped to Dansig, Poland and we had one of the roughest trips, according to the old sailors, that they had ever been on.

SW: What year was this?

CH: This was in ’45 and ’46. We were there over Christmas.

SW: Okay.

CH: The boat rocked something terribly; it would go up and then slam down in the water. I read recently that the sea was the roughest it’s been since 1946. So it was quite a rough time.

SW: What type of boat was it?

CH: It was a Victory ship. One night it rocked so the horse’s corrals were broke down. We had the horses in the third deck down and we went down there and they had all broke loose. The sailors had to build all the stalls back up and we kind of corralled the horses back there. It was quite a trip. We lost about forty or fifty horses on the trip.

SW: Because of the roughness of the water?

CH: Well, they would get seasick and they were pregnant mares that they were shipping. I think maybe morning sickness got to them (laughing).

SW: That’s sad, but that’s quite an experience, I’m sure.

CH: Yes, yes and I think probably a lot of the horses were butchered, that they were very hungry there and they said quite a few of them were butchered, but I don’t know.

SW: That would be awful sad. Send them over there for other purposes, but I understand the food was scarce over there.

CH: Yes, it was very.

SW: Back to Washington, you said that when the war was declared over, you said you went into town and there was a big celebration . . . parties . . . ?

CH: Yes, we saw Eisenhower come home and he was parading at the head of the parade.

SW: Okay.

CH: And the planes were flying over. Hundreds of B-17s and large planes. I guess they had enough gasoline to fly them over for a demonstration.

SW: Now, during this whole time, you were communicating back to Tulare County.

CH: Yes.

SW: Your wife to be or wife at that time . . . ?

CH: In about September, I went to church, as I always did on Sunday and my friends said there was a girl from California back here. And I saw her; our church had a balcony up there and I picked out this California girl and I thought she was a pretty nice looking girl. I had had kind of a girlfriend. My friend said, "Hey, we’re going down to the lake and how about you coming along and you dating that Arline Aeschbacher girl?" I said. "Fine, I might do that."

SW: This was in September.

CH: It was before I went. I was drafted in November 7th, and this was . . .

Arline H.: This was September.

SW: September 1941.

CH: September 1941, yeah.

SW: I met her and we went down to the lake and of course, I thought that was probably it. I wouldn’t have a chance to go see her. And one of the things that brought me to California, I thought I might look that girl up. We weren’t writing or anything, but I was stationed above North Fork there and my mother sent me this girl’s address. She knew the family. They had lived back in Missouri and transferred out here in 1921 or 23 I guess, (talking to Arline), cause you were two years old. And we got together a time or two. She invited me down and I’d hitchhike a ride to come down and see her. It kind of kept alive and we got to writing back and forth. And after the war I thought I’d come out here and get a job and that’s what I told her. She wrote back and said her brother, Carroll, needed a hired man and I worked for him for a couple of years, but we were married within six or eight months after I got here. I was 27 and she was 25 and it was time for us to settle down.

SW: Settle down, yes. During that time, you came back here and in your family life, was there housing situations on the home front you were aware of that was changed, rationing . . . how did that affect you and families?

CH: Well, the family was rationed. They were farmers and they got gasoline to farm with and go to town and so forth. My brother, Peter. worked in an optical plant that they started back there and he worked at that. My sister, Dorothy (Baumeartner) worked in the County agent’s office in different places.

SW: Ever have any trouble getting any food? Sugar, I know, was rationed. Shoes. We heard people say shoes were rationed.

CH: Yes

SW: Any problems with those kinds of things?

CH: Course we turned our sugar rationing coupons into the camp. They took care of that. Shoes, I don’t know. I had a pair of shoes I guess, I don’t remember that. I guess I got tickets to buy a pair of shoes, but I don’t remember. (Laughing) I didn’t go barefooted.

SW: You wouldn’t, but how about your family back here?

CH: I think they got by pretty good; they got enough gas.

Arline H.: We didn’t have too much trouble. We were farmers, I never wore shoes anyway, still don’t.

SW: I understand. Okay. How about in the blackouts, air raid warning, sirens, things like that. Do you remember anything about this area?

CH: One of my jobs at North Fork was as a telephone operator. And on our night shift, where we were with the aircraft warning service, where we had to phone in any airplanes that flew over or that we saw. And we never had blackouts up there that I know of. Of course, I don’t know that they had any blackouts. It was in the forestry there, and pretty much in the forestry.

SW: Unpopulated area and that wasn’t too likely.

CH: Yeah.

SW: I’m trying to think of other kinds of things that could be appropriate. Something you can think of, off hand, back here in Tulare County, that related to your communication back here particularly that is of interest.

CH: Yes, I thought I would come out here to work after the war, even before we were engaged or anything. We were writing back and forth and I wasn’t too happy farming back in Missouri and I thought maybe this was good time to make a change. My brother, Peter, did a good job of operating the family farm; he was a better operator than I was, but he was a 4F. He was very short of stature and his arms were a little short, but he did a good job of taking care of the place. He was the intelligent brother. He was valedictorian of a large class and then after the war decided to go to the university and became a teacher then. But they got by pretty good during the war. Let’s see, how was that question?

SW: Any conditions you can talk about.

CH: Yes. Okay, well, I thought they would miss me a lot on the farm but my brother just took over and he was just two years younger than I am and he had gone to college a year and I was disappointed that he couldn’t go on in college but he had to handle the farm at home. After the war, he went ahead and finished his college education and went into teaching. I worked for my wife’s brother in 1946 after we were married. We were married in September of ’46 and I was working for my brother-in-law before. I kind of think they wanted to see what kind of a worker I was (Laughter).

SW: They were checking you out.

CH: But I found out that work in California was a pretty hard deal. We had an old time bailer that we pitched in the hay and I wondered if I had made the right choice but I really never doubted it, I liked the work.

SW: It’s farm work. Hay and what other products?

CH: Hay and cotton. Hay and cotton was my brother-in-law’s.

SW: That’s right here in Tulare County?

CH: Yes, just down the road a quarter of a mile.

SW: Oh. Okay, so you’ve lived in this area for a long time then.

CH: Yeah, we bought this eighty acres across the road here that was undeveloped but her dad and the whole family had some money that they loaned us and we were able to have the place leveled and drilled a well and built a house. Do you want me to go into that?

SW: Probably not, just the general area there. Back to the war years, did any of your family or any people buy war bonds or get into that aspect of it?

CH: My brother told me that he did, but outside of that, I never heard about any of the family. To Arline: Did your folks buy any war bonds?

Arline: They might have one or two . . .

SW: But it wasn’t a big thing.

Arline: No, they were Mennonites and that wasn’t the thing to do.

SW: Did anybody in your family go in and serve in actual combat?

CH: No, none of them were drafted. My three older brothers, Carl, Hiram, and Paul, were married and of course they were deferred, and my younger brother,Peter, was 4F. I was the only one that had four years.

SW: You got to serve but you did serve it your way, which was better.

CH: Yes.

SW: Two main questions that everyone should be aware of and answer: How do you think World War II years in Tulare County affected you? Probably didn’t affect you too much, but you did have your future wife back here. You were in contact with her.

CH: Well, I was pretty much separated from making a living and farming. I was in camp and I got thirty days of furlough like all service men got, and everybody was patching up their cars and getting by and I saw a lot of hardships during the war. There was a shortage of fellows to take care of the hard jobs on the farm, but everything was pretty well mechanized at that time. Here, the cotton pickers weren’t available yet and people relied on the migrants to pick the cotton and the fruit. Her father, Edward Aeschbacher, had a peach orchard and they used German prisoners. Yes, that was the answer to a lot of the . . .

SW: I understand over here in Tulare . . .

CH: Tipton, there was a big prisoner of war camp.

SW: OK, so . . . .

CH: They moved in some old 3C barracks and built temporary shelters for the German prisoners.

Arline: They came by busload, I guess that’s how they got there, I can’t remember, but we had quite a few pickers.

SW: So they’d bring them by the busload, and you’d have the pickers and they’d take them back to the camps at night. This is during the end phases of the war,’45. 46?

CH: I might say we were given two dollars a month spending money and then they cut that out.

SW: When was this?

CH: During the war.

SW: During the war. $2 a month.

CH: When my service in Iowa and out here at North Fork, but that was suspended because the churches had to maintain these camps and they bought all the food for us. But I was fortunate. When I was on the telephone job, I would get days off during the week and I’d go work for a sawmill and I’d get $.75 an hour. Big pay.

SW: Big money.

CH: And I got by on that and then when I went in smoke jumping and we were in southern Oregon was where our camp was, out of Grants Pass.

SW: Okay.

CH: We would get jobs in the evening and we would work for the people that wanted help and help was hard to get and they were glad to come and pick us up. And then during the last of war, I was in Washington, D.C., as I said, and I had a job with a milk processing plant. It was an experimental place, dairy experimental place in Beltsville, Maryland and I had to work on Sundays and then I’d get a day off during the week and I’d go with a fellow who was a house builder and we would work for him.

SW: So you were able to make extra spending money go a long way by doing these odd jobs filling in for the people who weren’t there.

CH: I can’t remember, I think we got more than $.75 an hour, but we made money there. We were pretty tickled. But some of the guys were kind of envious that we could do this. And then when we went on this cattle boat, we got $150, and that was big money then. I had money to go to California (Laughter).

SW: Great. How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is today?

CH: Well, there was a big demand for crops after the war. During the war, equipment was old and it was hard to get good equipment, but after the war, it broke out and there was tremendous demand for the crops we could grow. I think a lot of it, of course, was shipped overseas, where there was a need for the crops. And I think a lot of people came out here and were introduced to California and they stayed. That made quite a migration to the area here and there was a lot of labor required. They used a lot of Mexicans, but not too many Mexicans at first. I got $150 a month working for her brother for a couple of years. Her dad kind of felt sorry for us and he’d share us a little money. She just has the one brother that was farming here just across the street and he had helped him out. And then he moved after ten years or so and went down south and he stayed there.

Arline: But this was on the edge of the great American plain between here and Tulare. This is the last well, my brother’s house down here was the last one. And then you went to Tulare.

SW: So very open country.

CH: It was a little marginal land. Streaks of sand and alkali.

SW: Well, water’s made the difference.

CH: And water’s made the difference. And the dairy, they just love the sand and alkali, you know.

SW: Yes. So that’s the reason there’s a lot of dairies around here, that’s for sure. Dairy country and cotton, that the two biggest in this area now.

CH: But cotton is being outranked for hay cattle feed now. Everything is going to cattle feed.

SW: Back to the prisoner of war camps. How long did that stay in the area? Are you familiar with what happened? How that evolved?

CH: I think pretty quick, after the war, they were shipped out.

Arline: We used war prisoners, and my father had a peach orchard. We used them.

CH: Do you remember, were they still working that VJ Day when the war was over?

Arline: I’m trying to remember the time of the year.

SW: You used them for about three years, you said, and as soon as the war was over they were sent back to Germany .

Arline: Yes, they were sent back.

SW: These were combatants that were captured over in Germany and brought over here to stay out of the way when the war started.

Arline: Good workers.

SW: Good workers, yes.

SW: OK, anything else you can think of interest in this area?

CH: Well, I have been very fortunate that I could farm here and was helped out and that I could get established in the farm and actually I didn’t suffer much by not being paid during the war. That was pretty hard for the soldiers to save much money up.

SW: Right, they gave you room and board and clothing. That’s basically all you really had to have.

CH: Right, right.

SW: I don’t know if you had a chance to go into town. What was the situation like then?

CH: Now how was that?

SW: In the towns up there where you were smoke jumping and back in Washington, D.C., would you tell us the town atmosphere during the war period?

CH: We were well treated. Some fellows would get into trouble when they would go out to the bars at night. They had to come home. One time, some guys were going to give them a rough time and they come home. We were in a work that was a little dangerous, you know, and people thought we weren’t yellow bellies, that we do that.

SW: That was hard work. That’s good work.

CH: It was a good project for us.

SW: Did you come into Tulare County at all during that timeframe?

CH: I just came down on short visits.

SW: How did you find the County? Did anything stand out about that time?

CH: No, I was well accepted. I, of course, didn’t get Veteran’s benefits to get started farming, but my father-in-law and brother-in-law helped me out a lot and I was able to buy the place, and level it, and we were in hock $25,000 when were done, but in 3 years we were out of debt and we paid them a little interest and it worked out good. It was a good opportunity that I had here in California, because land prices increased and we bought the land for $65.00 an acre but it had to be leveled and developed for water and we built a house on it. There wasn’t anything on there.

SW: You all don’t have any idea what the land sells for around here now, but I’m sure it’s more than that.

CH: Yes

SW: $65.00. Probably $65.00 a square foot.

CH: It’s all the way from $4,000 - $6,000 now an acre.

SW: Quite a price change.

CH: Yes, quite a change.

SW: OK. Well, I thank you. I don’t know of any other questions I have.

CH: Well, I guess there’s a lot I could have told you that I didn’t, but I tried to . . .

SW: You’ve got a lot of information related back to Tulare County and that’s very important.

CH: I’ve appreciated farming in California and in Tulare County here and was very active in the Farm Bureau and this was a good place to raise our four children.

SW: Yes, I’m sure. They were born after ’46. You married in ’46 so they were born later.

CH: We were married seven years and didn’t have any, and then we adopted a girl,Wanda (Bohl) and then it started. We had three more, Norma (Goings), Duane, and Nicholas.

SW: Well, they say that’s what happens.

CH: Well it sure did in our case. They’ve all grown up.

Arline: They’re all still here in the county except for our pilot, Nicholas.

CH: Yeah, he wanted to fly and he got his flying license on his 16th birthday and then he went into instructing and went into helicopters. A guy came to see him and wanted him to fly his personal helicopter. They made a deal and he kind of started in with an old rattletrap, $8.5 million helicopter.

SW: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your time and we thank you. I’ll turn this in and we’ll go from there.

Stan Wilkendorf/transcriber: Pat D/edited by JW 01/21/04

Both Calvin and his wife Arline participated in this interview.

Editor’s note: Names in italics were added during a phone interview with Calvin Hilty on December 21, 2005.