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: Ted H. Iles
Tape # 22
Interviewer: Kris Gray
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Tulare County Library
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Rationing - Having the background of being poor to begin with, it wasn’t a big step, it was just a transition
His friend finding a German concentration camp.
This is Kris Gray. It is October 13, 2003, 4:00 p.m. We are at the Tulare County Library with Mr. Ted Iles of Strathmore, and this is an interview for Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County, 1941-1946.
Mr. Iles, thank you for coming. We really appreciate this. It is going to be very interesting. I’m going to start off with just a couple of housekeeping type things.
KG: What is your date of birth?
TI: January 22, 1933.
KG: And you were born in?
TI: In Strathmore.
KG: And your parents, what were their names?
TI: My dad was Theodore L. Iles, and my mother was Olga.
KG: And her maiden name?
KG: Shelton. And where were they from originally?
TI: They were married and first resided in Henrietta and Prague, Oklahoma.
KG: And what did your dad do before the war?
TI: When he was in Oklahoma, he was a pharmacist. His father was a doctor in Prague. My father had a drug store in Prague and he sold that, he didn’t like being confined, so he sold that and came to California to make his fortune making oranges. And then the Depression hit and terminated that rather early, so he did numerous things just to make ends meet. It was kind of a survival time for everyone. He did everything from servicing trucks to delivering ice to the various icehouses, cutting meat. Being a pharmacist, he was a relief pharmacist for a local drug store, and did a little of everything.
KG: And those are the things he did during the war?
TI: Primarily during the war he was working for a lady, Mrs. Irene Ward. She had some 40 acres of citrus and some olives. He took care of the oranges and olives for her. Her husband had a trucking firm and he serviced the trucks for him, so this was what he was occupied in during the war.
KG: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
TI: I have a sister, Jimmie Jackson, who lives in Porterville. She is 80.
KG: Let’s go back to your memories of December 7th. Can you tell us what you remember about that morning?
TI: I remember my mother and I had gone to Sunday School. She was a Sunday School teacher for a girls’ class. After Sunday School we had stayed for the church service and I was young, about eight years old and I don’t remember if something had been said about the war, but I wouldn’t have understood what they were talking about anyway. When we came home from church, we only lived about a half a block away and so when we came home, my dad was sitting in front of the radio and listening to various commentators talking about what had happened and what they anticipated, much like they do now. Much analysis going on. I remember my mother expressing concern over what my father might have to do. He had been a nurse, or medic we call them now, on the front lines in World War I, but he was too old to serve in World War II, but with his pharmacy skills and some medical background, he thought he might ultimately be used in that way during the course of the war.
KG: You were only eight, but did you feel any fear or anxiety or just not really know what was going on?
TI: I remember hearing the news. It was an ongoing thing, because the newspaper we got was the Los Angeles Times, that had the maps of the war with large arrows showing the movement of the troops. My dad was following this almost religiously. A couple of times on the radio, and I don’t know where they picked up the broadcast, you could hear Hitler booming out in one of his speeches. And it affected me to the extent that . . . I think I had the measles at the time and with the fever, I remember having dreams of Hitler speaking and I could see him from photographs in the paper. I could see him with his manner of which he used his hands in talking. It was closer to a nightmare than a dream.
KG: Because you were so young, did you notice that life changed suddenly after the war or was it a gradual change or can you really remember much about life before the war started? What did you notice first?
TI: With everybody being poor, at the time, when they cut off the usual supply of meat, sugar and so on, it didn’t have a great impact on a lot of the families, especially in small towns because you couldn’t afford much more than salt pork to go into the beans anyway. But the first thing that I really noticed that made a difference, so to speak, was when the Americans of Japanese decent, the students in school, just weren’t there all of a sudden. They were gone. And this was at a time when they were essentially rounded up with their families and sent all over the country to relocation centers, they called them. If it had been our people, the white people, in the same situation, it would have been called a concentration camp. It boiled down to the same thing. That was the first thing, I think, that caught all of our eyes, as young people. Suddenly our friends were gone and we couldn’t understand it.
KG: Was there a large Japanese population in Strathmore?
TI: Much more so than now. Right after the war we had a pretty good percentage of them that came back. Some did not, but there was a real high percentage of Japanese kids in high school and elementary both and prior to the war.
KG: Do you think that the war changed your family’s economic status in any way? Do you think your father did better during the war years?
TI: I don’t think it changed that much, because I remember him telling me at one point the house payments were $11.00 a month and we were 5 months behind. He went to Mr. Roth, who was essentially the founder of Strathmore. Its first name was Roth Spur. That the name the railroad had given to it and he was buying the home from Mr. Roth, and he went to him and said he didn’t see any way out of this, and Mr. Roth said, "It will get better one of these days, Ted." And it did, by having half a dozen jobs.
I don’t know, the war, in the small communities, where everyone was poor to begin with, it didn’t impact us that much. The farmer was much better off in the sense that they got, what we jokingly called tractor gas, they had much more gasoline available to them. We were all on ration tickets. You got an ‘A’ sticker for your car, that was four gallons a week, but with the farmer he got more, because he had to cultivate his ground and he had to haul his crops. So they could go deer hunting, fishing, and things like this that others, locals, couldn’t. So it didn’t really hit us that bad. I think it was worse in the cities probably.
KG: Were you living on the acreage that your dad worked or were you more in town?
TI: No, we were in town at the time.
KG: Rationing. You couldn’t buy the candy or Mom had trouble cooking? How did that affect you?
TI: I was never such a candy nut anyway, but it did curb that. My dad was the one who smoked roll-your-own cigarettes before the war. He regarded "tailor made’s" as they called them, as kind of a sissified thing, so he rolled his own, and smoked Bull Durham, and he decided that was hard enough to get and he would chew gum instead, and that would help him stop the craving for the cigarette. Come to find out, gum was as hard to get as the Bull Durham or the tailor made cigarette. So he could make a piece of gum last a week. Usually you would find that your store owners knew the needs and preferences of the individual customers and they set things back for people. And he got his gum and somebody else got maybe silk stockings. They didn’t have nylon in those days, so whatever was available . . . they just knew who needed and who wanted what. It wasn’t really playing favorites; it was just knowing people’s preferences. I guess there’s a difference.
KG: Did your mom have trouble cooking? I know meat was rationed. Do you have any memories of her trying to stretch things out?
TI: Not really. We had a small garden, not a large victory garden like many people did, but most women of the small communities of those days canned an awful lot. Tomatoes were the real staple. You canned them when they were in season and then in the winter they went into soups and everything else. And she had some spicy ones, one that had cinnamon and cloves, and green tomatoes; they were just fabulous. Then she had some others that had some spicy peppery elements, whatever those were, and they were very good too. String beans, peaches, things of that nature.
My father built a dehydrator out of the framework of an old refrigerator and he put an oven gas burner in the bottom, and made trays out of window screen on wooden frames. He would par boil the string beans and some salt pork and then spread these out on the screens, put them inside the dehydrator for maybe a day and a half at the very low flame, and they would shrivel up, turn black, crinkle up very small. You could store several meals of them in a single jar, and keep them from absorbing the moisture from the air. And then when you cooked them, they had the good flavor. All you had to do was add water to them, bring them to a boil, and they would come back to size. The color was awfully dark, but the flavor was exceptional. I preferred them to regular canned green beans. But these were things people adjusted to very easily. Again, having the background of being poor to begin with, it wasn’t a big step, it was just a transition.
KG: You dad sounds like an ingenious guy. Quite the handyman.
TI: Very much.
KG: Tell me about your memories of gas rationing and your car.
TI: Well, we had an ‘A’ sticker for people who depended on their car to drive back and forth to work or to town for groceries or things of that nature. The nearest community was Porterville, which was six miles. I say the nearest of any size. And Lindsay was to the north, four miles. We did have old steam locomotives that had a couple of passenger cars. I remember riding from Porterville to Strathmore and after we took our old car and set it up on blocks, we would ride to the Porterville depot, get off, and it was a two block walk to Main Street. Main Street business was pretty much confined to three blocks I think. Everything from Woolworth to you name it. This kind of saved everyone. It was 10 cents for me. As a child, I don’t know what it cost my dad to ride from Strathmore to Porterville on the locomotive one way.
The gasoline rationing, it wasn’t the price. It was probably no more than 11-12 cents, if you could buy it, but it was the fact that there wasn’t adequate volume available for the car we had. We had a 1928 Cadillac which we had in 1938. It wasn’t that we were rich, but it was a beautiful old car and had a large V-8 engine in it and it took almost the week’s ration just to start it and drive it maybe two days and then back. It was just a mile to work, and my dad just walked that and took care of the citrus and olives, and then walked back in the afternoon or evening.
But the car, we finally set it up on blocks to keep the tires from rotting and so on. It was a beautiful, beautiful car. It had a tan body, black fenders, cast aluminum running boards. It had thermostatically controlled louvers in front of the radiator so that on a cold day they would remain closed and as it got warmer and warmer, the louvers would open like vertical, venetian blinds. They would open a little bit and let air through to maintain your engine temperature. The temperature gauge was in the radiator cap and you could see that through the windshield. Those were the normal things with vehicles in those days. The doors and the dashboard all had fine wood inlaid trim. There were small flower vases between the front and back seats at about head level. Quite a car. The only thing wrong with that vehicle was the black fenders. The paint on top had a little bit of a crinkle in it. The tan body, you could rub your hand across it and bring out a real high luster without using any kind of cleaner or polishing compound. So really, when the war was over we could have put gas in the tank and air in the tires and driven the car.
However, we had friends in Visalia and I don’t recall whether their name was Moody or Mooney, and they came to see us. They had tractor gas; they could come over and see us. They were farming in the Visalia area. They would come see us during the war, usually on a Sunday afternoon. I remember at least twice that we came to their place here near Visalia and one Sunday they came over after the war and things were going to get back to normal. His problem was that he had a cotton crop that was coming off pretty soon, but he didn’t have a cotton trailer. Cotton was picked by hand and was stuffed into long bags that were drug down the furrow, where they were drug to a trailer where they were weighed. A note was made as to how many pounds were picked by each individual and then it was dumped into the trailer. The trailer, when full, was pulled to the cotton gin and vacuumed out.
Well, he didn’t have a cotton trailer, and needed one badly, so my dad said, "Well, you give me time to get some of the things (that he wanted to keep) out of the car and you can have the old Cadillac and you can make a cotton trailer out of it." So they came over a couple of days later and cut the body off and dropped the engine, transmission and everything and we hauled it off to the county dump east of Strathmore. Actually it was a creek. And it was thrown into the creek. It was just the wheels and frame that were left, and it was ultimately made into a cotton trailer. I have since seen the same car in a collector’s catalog that had been restored to about sixty percent of normal condition, and they wanted $120,000 for it at that time. And this wouldn’t have required any restoration at all. It makes me sick. Not just the dollar, it was such a beautiful vehicle.
KG: So what car did you buy after the war?
TI: It was actually probably a couple of more years before my dad actually purchased a vehicle, because we were poor. But when he did, it was a 1936 Chevy pickup. They were extremely heavy vehicles and they would take just about anything. They just didn’t have the engines we have today.
KG: So the train was really your only transportation, with your car up on blocks. Was it a regular passenger train?
TI: It was a locomotive with the old steam engine and of course it blew smoke like crazy. They had a coal car behind because they hadn’t converted to oil yet. It was immediately behind the engine. I think there may have been a couple of box cars right behind that and then I think there were two maybe three passenger cars. They were not fancy by any means and they would stop long enough for you to jump on and take off again, and I’m not sure where it went after it left Porterville and continued south. It would go through Terra Bella and I’m not sure where from there. Time we heading back, I don’t know if it was the same locomotive or not, but somebody would stop and give us a ride back.
KG: Do you know if that went on before the war or was that something they started when gas was rationed and people needed to get around?
TI: I really don’t know. I’m not sure. All I know was the trains were a normal thing going through town. When we would hear one coming, all the kids would run out to the street. You might live blocks from the railroad tracks, but we’d run out if we were close enough. Highway 65 ran through Strathmore at that time, and not very much traffic. The railroad tracks ran parallel to it and so if we were very close to Main Street we would run out and then count the cars to see how many cars were on the thing. It was something to do; we didn’t have a traffic light to watch.
KG: So you went into Porterville for most of your shopping?
KG: So Porterville was the place to go? Did you get to go to the movies? I mean, with your car on blocks, and you weren’t very well-to-do, did you take any family trips or did you have a once a month treat to the movies?
TI: Before the war we would go up toward Three Rivers. There was a place called Terminus Beach. When we would drive past the road that led down toward Terminus Beach . . . nowadays I am tempted to drive down that way sometime to see what it looks like, but it was the Kaweah River, it had a large beach area and had mowed lawns and a lot of trees, including cottonwoods as I recall. Then it had a large raised floor area where they had dances on Friday and Saturday nights and they had lights strung around this large floor area and then there was kind of a wire screen around that, so no one would fall off, I guess. People picnicked an awful lot there.
When we were freshmen in high school, I remember our freshman trip, we all got on a bus and went to Terminus Beach and spent the day there, picnicking and swimming. We did this as a family. I have photographs that my dad had taken. He was quite a photographer. Pictures that were taken on picnics.
During the war, there were a couple of families, if they were able to, if they had a friend or two that didn’t drive their car, or maybe they consolidated their fuel supplies; everybody would pretty much jump into a car and drive to Porterville and go to a movie. It cost, I think, 12 cents to get into the movie and that was a sacrifice on the part of my folks for me to get to go to that. I never went with them; I went with this other friend and his family and a lot of them were war movies. At least one feature and the other was a cowboy movie.
KG: At school, you were in second grade when the war started?
TI: I think so. It started in 1939, the first year that Strathmore Elementary, the present building in fact, was in service. So I was there the first day, 1939-40. Yes, I would have been in the third grade (1941-1942). We didn’t have kindergarten in those days.
KG: Oh really.
TI: Not there anyway.
KG: Were there daily activities in school that revolved around the war, like teachers showing you locations on maps or including it in a geography lesson or was it incorporated into part of the curriculum?
TI: Not in the lower levels, the early
years. In fourth grade I remember in
social studies, trying to bring kids out and getting them to speak in public,
the teacher would ask who could share something from the news today, something
they had heard on the radio or read in the paper. A lot of the families got the newspaper. It was either the Fresno Bee or the L.A.
Times and I do remember the one day, one kid got up, he was the first one
up. His name was Maryl Kissick, and he announced the
KG: Your buddies sold war stamps. Did you sell any?
TI: No, selling was primarily the seventh and eighth grade kids’ activity. And we had, I can’t remember if this was a daily activity or maybe they emphasized it on Friday or what, but the one girl, Loicene Longley (Walker), she was I believe eighth grade, she had sold so many stamps. There were 10 cent stamps, 25 cent stamps, these were glued in a book and when they reached $18.75 in value could be traded into a war bond. The war bond I think paid 7½ percent interest and in ten years it was worth $25, and you could take it to a bank and cash this in. I think over the years of the war, I ended up with three, I personally ended up with three war bonds, but this Loicene Longley had sold so many stamps and bonds that one day when I went home for lunch, we only lived a half block from school, my dad had the radio on, hearing what was happening after he had gone to work. This H.V. Kaltenborn, probably the best known newscaster and voice on radio at that time, gave the names of some of the kids that had placed so high in the nation selling stamps and bonds in their schools and at least once Loicene Longley’s name was mentioned.
This one day I remember that they announced she had the top sales in the nation and went on to say she was from Strathmore Elementary School, Strathmore, California, and I was excited because here was little Strathmore . . . if you lived in Visalia, you didn’t necessarily know where Strathmore was, twenty miles away, but here we were mentioned nationally and my mom was all excited and my dad was quite proud. I’m not even sure, Loicene’s sister Roberta was in the same grade I was and she doesn’t recall this. So I don’t know if Loicene even knows or recalls it.
KG: That’s interesting. What were your favorite radio programs during the war?
TI: There was Captain Midnight. There were some I thought were too juvenile. I mean if the guy could fly, no, I didn’t like that.
KG: Was that part of your routine in the afternoon? Would you go right to the radio like kids do with television?
TI: Yes, it would start about 4:00 p.m. and most of the programs were fifteen minutes long and it was usually one or two people doing all of the voices and then you had the sound effects man in the background. But it would start at about 4:00 p.m. and at 5:00 p.m. the news would come on. They would get four of these programs in. One of the things they did, they would sell to you for a quarter and it was safe to do that in those days, you’d send that to Ovaltine along with an Ovaltine cap and they would send you a ring that had a little dial that would turn on the top and at the end of every program they would give you a code, a secret message by code, and you would turn this thing on your ring and follow the letters or numbers they gave you on the broadcast and supposedly you would know what was going to happen during the next program. But it was worded in such a way you never knew what it meant, until it happened. And then you would say, "Oh, I knew that." But almost all of us kids had the ring with the secret code.
KG: Tell me about the original flag salute.
TI: Ironically I ran into a picture in a book purchased about a year ago, and it was about children of the west, and a picture that was included in the book was of a class in Monterey in the 1880’s. It had gone back that far, and the picture showed them outside the old schoolhouse and the teacher was standing at the corner of the building holding the American flag and here were these children standing with their arms, they were standing at attention, and their arms were extended straight from the shoulder, out toward the flag.
KG: With the palm up?
TI: The palm was up and the thumb was supposed
to lay in the palm. I have run into two
people that remember this. On this past
Wednesday, this lady remembered it. She
said, Oh, I remember that now. You’d
start out with your hand over your heart, and you say I pledge allegiance, and
then you extend your arm, and you say, to the flag of the
KG: Your school principal, Jay Bessey, tell me about his announcement that he made to you.
TI: I might explain that they did not want . . . some things were kept very quiet, such as forest fires that occurred in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. They didn’t want the Japanese to know that these were happening, so these were dealt with very quietly. The reason being, the Japanese were using balloons made of, I guess helium, that would carry them to higher elevations. They were made of rice paper and suspended below that were incendiary devices that when they fell to the ground they would start a fire wherever they landed.
Well they wanted to occupy as much of our manpower as they could doing something other than national defense work. So they were using the air stream that originated over Japan, they’d release these things, they would go straight up, they’d get into the jet stream, and they would be carried over Washington, Oregon, and Northern California where eventually the helium leaked out or lost its strength, or whatever happens. These incendiary devices would fall to the ground and start fires. They did start a few and this was not publicized, because like I say, they didn’t want the Japanese to know they were successful to any degree.
Mr. Bessey had come around to the various individual classes, I’m not sure why other than to emphasize the importance of this. He announced that if we saw anything that looked like a dead bird or a butterfly or a dead squirrel laying on the ground, that we were not to touch it, but to get a teacher. If there was an older seventh or eighth grader, we were to leave it in their care and they were to keep people away from it. Because there was a possibility these were brought over the same way and a child could go out and pick this up and it would explode and take fingers and eyes.
Ironically when I was in Basic Training at Fort Ord a few years later, there was a young Englishman who was taking Basic Training at the same time. He was getting his American citizenship and we were talking about events in London during World War II when he was a child, and he mentioned that the Germans had done this. They were using airplanes in night raids. They would drop these things and the next morning children on the way to school or going out to the yard to play would find these things and when they picked them up they would explode and cause injuries. And it was demoralizing. That was the reason for the warning. We didn’t know it for several months, the cause for it, the reason for the announcement and what the concern was. But here was this young fellow telling me this is what happened where he was in London.
KG: When you were a kid and you would hear an announcement like that, did that frighten you at all, or was it just kind of par-for-the-course?
TI: No. We didn’t have any psychologists on campus and if anything ever happened, you just kind of rolled with the punch. I don’t think anybody found it hard to adjust to anything. We were maybe a tougher lot than we are today. I’m not sure, but there weren’t too many people of my age that had any psychological problems as a result.
KG: Did you have anybody in your family or any close friends that were in the military?
TI: My brother-in-law, Lawrence Jackson, had been in the Navy for six years at the time
the war started and his main duty in the Navy was competing as a diver. He was quite a swimmer, but we’re talking
competitive diving like you would see in the Olympics and he traveled all over
the world on ships and competed in
We had neighbors, almost all the neighbors had sons that went to the service. One family in Strathmore, the Groh’s, they had twin brothers that were both declared missing in action and were never heard from again. There was another young man, Eugene. He was a pilot; I think he flew a B17 and he still had the old pilot’s cap that had kind of a limp thing where their headsets went over the top.
KG: The "50 mission crush" they called it?
TI: Yes. He had been captured; his plane was shot down and he bailed out and was captured and put in a German prisoner of war camp. He had written; it wasn’t so much a diary as it was a daily activity thing and he’d written on any kind and every kind of paper he could get a hold of and he used different writing instruments. Usually a lead pencil, but varying hardnesses and you could see the difference from day to day. But he was quite an artist too. He would sketch mice nibbling on a piece of bread or something up in the corner. Or other pictures of maybe scenes of the bunks and the way they were constructed into the walls. They had hay serving as mattresses. They took a blanket outside and showed guys holding the perimeter of the blanket, holding onto the thing and bouncing a guy up and down and they managed to bounce one fellow over the fence and he escaped. Anyway, he was quite unique. Kroells was his last name.
His father lived in Strathmore and he had a seventh or eighth grade education and he was a self-taught man and extremely intelligent. Quite an astronomer and he had a Model T that he had made a canvas-like covering over the back of it and he had invented a carburetor fuel system that burned . . . you started it on gasoline and warmed the engine for just a couple of minutes on gasoline and then you’d slowly put, essentially put discarded oils and water and these two gradually blended in and the gasoline was eventually turned off and you were running on old oil and water.
He went everywhere he wanted whenever he wanted and gasoline rationing did not bother him at all. But he could not interest anyone, not even the government, in this . He lived in a little house, a one-bedroom house that sat up on piers probably 18" high and had steps going up to the front and steps going out the back. There were two trees; there were no flowers, I remember this; there was no lawn, nothing, but a very simple lifestyle with two sons, the pilot being one of them and at the end of the war he sold his home and left. I always hated that because I wanted to learn under this man. Come to find out he ended up in Marysville, a facility where they were doing research on missiles and he ended up being one of the principal developers of some of our missile systems. A man with an eighth grade education.
KG: From Strathmore.
TI: From Strathmore. Quite interesting.
KG: Did you correspond with any of the guys in the service? Did you have any pen pals?
TI: No, no. I didn’t.
KG: Do you have any memories of the adults in the community expressing hatred toward the enemy?
TI: Not in Strathmore. You know, they referred to them as the Nazis and the Huns. They were the Huns in World War I. That’s what my Dad called them. The term Japs was used routinely, but that’s what was shown in the movies. In fact the movies in those days, there was a book written on it, how Hollywood used that as a propaganda tool because they show the Japanese pilot with a mad sneer on his face and a grotesque look in his eye as he’s coming down with his guns blazing from his airplane.
There was one in the Lindsay Gazette. We have a copy of the Lindsay Gazette, that I think one was VE Day and one was VJ Day. I believe that in both of them, if you get them out and open them up, there was one business in town there, still in Lindsay, whose sign said the name of the company and then in the wording on it, said "We don’t want any Japs in Lindsay." It was quite a Japanese community in Lindsay at the time and there still is now as well. One of my friends, Yosh Imoto, just passed away here a couple of weeks ago, was one of the Japanese Americans of Japanese decent that was picked up and herded up to the relocation center and then joined the military. He ended up in the 442nd Regiment, one of the most decorated units in history and except for the officers, when it was first organized, who were white, everyone else was of Japanese decent. The bravery shown and practiced there was just unbelievable.
Yosh was a very quiet, easy going, laid back sort of a guy and he told me of some incidents. One time he came home and here he was in an American Army uniform, stars and stripes, ribbons and he got off the train and was walking to a friends place in Lindsay. They had invited him to come and stay with them whenever he got a weekend pass or leave, so he was walking through town and I think it was a constable or chief of police, saw him in his car and he knew him. Yosh had been a mechanic there locally and worked on airplanes and everything else. Well, he knew too he was in the American Army.
But he stayed back and idled along behind him about a half a block and Yosh walked out to the friend’s home and they acknowledged him and gave him a hug and brought him in and sat down to eat. In a little bit there was a knock on the door, and the man of the house got up and went to the door and here was the Police Chief standing there asking if everything was all right. The owner of the home said, "Yes, why shouldn’t it be?" The man looked over at Yosh over at the dinner table and nodded his head that way and the owner of the home kicked the man off his property and told him never to come back.
I didn’t realize until talking to Yosh several years ago that before the war there was a swimming pool north of Lindsay, in a little settlement they call Tonyville, a mostly Hispanic community there now, probably 500-800 people, but there was a swimming pool they called Lindsay Heights and Japanese were not allowed to swim in that pool. Some of our Strathmore students from the 30’s tell about the time they went to Green Mills swimming pool in Porterville and got off the bus to go in swimming and the fellow at the ticket booth wouldn’t let the Japanese kids in. So everybody got out of the pool, got on the bus, and came back to Strathmore. Very strong support. That even existed before the war. But I don’t remember other than this one company’s advertisement; I don’t remember anything just outright racist.
KG: You were 12 when the war ended?
KG: What are your memories of VJ Day?
TI: While I was walking to town (chuckle), it was three blocks to "Main Street", there was a little gasoline station on this one corner and the fellow, his name was Pete Bartlett; he had a beer joint, pool tables, saloon down the street and he had pulled in with his car and had the owner of the station -- in those days they called them service stations or filling stations. You sat in your car while they washed your windows, checked your oil and pumped gas -- so he is sitting in the car and took all of his ration stamps out and said fill it up and pump in a little extra in it. And it ran all over the ground. They were just laughing over this whole thing, about how great it was, to know that the war was over. We were small enough that there was no dancing in the street and we didn’t have enough people to make up a band.
KG: So there was no big party?
TI: No, no big party.
KG: Do you remember your parents’ reaction?
TI: Absolute relief. Yeah. It was quite an emotional thing for everybody. I mean there were a lot of tears. Especially when they thought of the families who had lost people in the military. The Groh’s especially were a well-known family. They lived just south of town, but they were a wonderful mom and dad that these fellows had and a sister, Elva, and they were going to have to live with the fact that these boys were gone and nobody even knew where they were.
KG: You talked about your friend getting and up and announcing the "automatic bomb." When did you become aware of what the atomic bomb was or did you even conceive of the amount of destruction?
TI: Life, Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post, Liberty magazines were the main magazines in those days and Life, well all of them, not so much the Liberty magazine, it was a little smaller, like Newsweek and Time are today. The others were quite large and had quite a lot of photographs and when they showed the air photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and you could see the devastation from just one piece of equipment, you chin dropped, because we had seen in the movies how you throw a hand grenade and it made a cloud of dust and an artillery round left a hole two or three guys could lay in, but this just flattened miles and the fact that it was an air burst. It was just hard to understand and comprehend how something could be that powerful. I think it was that way with everyone.
KG: You were pretty young. Did you have the feeling of "What have we done?" Now somebody could use this on us.
TI: I don’t know if I even thought about that part of it or not. By the time we got into high school and there were discussions that it wouldn’t be long before other countries had it, even though we were supposedly making efforts to keep it from getting out of our hands. It became a concern. Of course, later on, in my 20’s and early 30’s they had a kind of flash-in-the-pan where everybody was excavating bomb shelters in their yards and stocking these with powdered milk; they just couldn’t make them fast enough.
KG: Scary times.
TI: People were being told things much like the children who need the psychologists on campus now. They were reacting to what they were seeing in the news which, I think, had been exaggerated a lot.
KG: When did you become aware of the
holocaust? Do you remember becoming
aware of what had happened over in
TI: Actually in our Sunday School, we had a Sunday School teacher, Mr. Clarence Goin,. He was the teacher of quite a few very active Sunday School teams of teenagers. When it came out what had been found about the holocaust, he was speaking of it prophetically, what they said was going to be happening with the nation of Israel and that Hitler and those who had done this against the nation of Israel or the Israeli people, that there was going to be eternal consequences beyond those of the average person. He was able to expand on it from that standpoint; the severity of it became more obvious than the news coverage told about it.
This Yosh Imoto I was telling you about; one day he mentioned to me, he said, "I can tell you now what I couldn’t before." And this was maybe six years ago, during Kiwanis together. And I said, "What’s that?" He said, "When we were in the 442, the Army unit, we were advancing and they had Japanese American officers as well as Caucasian. And this one Japanese officer," he remembered his name, the First Lieutenant. He and a corporal had motioned Yosh and some others up and they were looking at a large fenced area and there were people laying all over the place and not any activity that he could see. They were trying to figure out what this was. They assumed initially this was a German military establishment, so the Lt. and the Corporal each had a carbine and they walked toward the front of the facility. He said some of the men got up wearing these pajama-like outfits and they came over to the gate and they looked rather terrified when they saw these two fellows, both of Japanese decent. The Lieutenant and the Corporal were speaking English and finally one of the Jews on the other side of the fence realized they were speaking English and asked who they were. They told them they were United States Army with the 442nd Infantry Regiment Unit, and who are you? Well, they turned around and announced they were Americans. Some of them were so frail they couldn’t get up. But some of them came to the fence and they started talking back and forth and they opened the gate, but the people wouldn’t leave. They stayed right there. The Army then came in and encircled the area. The German military had disappeared and left these people inside the fence. In talking to this fellow he initially contacted, the man asked the Lieutenant if he was really from the American Army. And he said yes, that he was Japanese but American born. He was relieved and said that when he first saw him, he thought the Japanese had won in the Pacific and now were fighting here with the Germans.
And anyway, he said it was kind of comical. But they were not allowed to speak of this under threat of legal action until about six or seven years ago. And a lady, a woman journalist, war correspondent, traveled with these men and she wrote a book, Years of Valor, something like that, and she traveled with the 442 through most of their European engagement and she was known to them and she wrote this book telling about all of this in her later years. When it was published she mentioned this incident and that may be when the government decided we may as well let them talk about it. And so they were told they could now talk about it.
KG: I wonder why.
TI: I don’t know. The credit was given to Caucasian units, so to speak for having found them. The Japanese American 442nd held the place until the first Caucasian units came in. But the first Caucasian units to come in were kitchen, medics, and things of this nature.
KG: That’s a great story. Looking back again, because you were so young, most of your early memories are probably of the war, probably than before. How do you think the war years affected you personally? Do you think it changed your attitudes as you grew up?
TI: Well, my Dad having been in the military, a patriot, in fact he was State Commander of the VFW in Oklahoma in about 1920, 1921, and he was a flag waver so to speak, a quiet man, but I didn’t learn prejudice from my parents because they had drawn a line. That just wasn’t anything you did. But because he had been in the military and he had such high regard for those who had been in the military, I was not afraid of it. I was more anticipating the day that I could go, whether or not it was a lifetime commitment.
Finally I went into the service when I was eighteen and I could have stayed, in fact, it would have been to my benefit probably if I had because before I came out I had made Staff Sergeant and I could easily have gone much higher in the Enlisted man’s ranks, but that was not my lifestyle I didn’t think. But anyway I’ve always had very high regard for and respect for those in the military. Because I have regarded that even in peace time, theirs is really a sacrifice because exposure to danger even in training exceeds what most people do, like in law enforcement, you don’t know what’s going to happen the next moment and they don’t make a lot of money. It calls for great sacrifice on their part and so I admire them for it. I think that was part of it. Here were men who might not have succeeded at anything else had they not gone to the military and learned some of the values from that that they were able to bring home and apply to their lives, in business or even as an employee, dedication that might not have been there before.
KG: How do you think the war affected Tulare County?
TI: I’m not sure. I know that in Tulare itself, because of Rankin Field having been there and a lot of pilots going through Rankin in training. You had a lot of pilots taking their weekend passes and what-have-you there in town, I’m sure. All up and down the valley there were small airstrips used for training including the one in Strathmore and probably there was a closer relationship to the military in Tulare than anywhere else. Although now the center of patriotism more or less rests in the Porterville area. They have a very active Veterans organization and they’re the ones that have the Veteran’s Day parade every November 11 and so on and they have always made quite a big thing of this. So far as any other effect, I think that in a town or what we call a cow county, which is what we are accused of being I guess, like you were saying a while ago, people kind of rolled with the punch much more easily than in other areas and I don’t think anything was ever taken for granted about it. People just appreciated the fact that those who had gone to serve their country had done so well and that a lot of them came back. Those who didn’t they have made a point to remember. Here’s Visalia that has the avenue of the flags they call it at the cemetery each year. I’ve heard so many comments on this. You go to the larger cities, they wouldn’t even think about it.
KG: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you would like to get on tape?
TI: I do wish that within our educational system that there was more patriotism. I know there are people who talk against nationalism. I don’t know that that’s the same thing. Patriotism, love of country. I heard a man from Exeter speak who had been in the Bataan Death March and he survived. He was one of the survivors of all that and he described in detail some of the things they had gone through. It was difficult and I guess he has spoken numerous times; there were still times when he choked. Where he choked the most was when he talked about the disrespect that he sees for our flag today and the fact that he could look in any history book used today and you couldn’t find any reference to the Bataan Death March. You’ll find five pages on Marilyn Monroe, but there won’t be anything on the Bataan Death March and some of the other things that occurred during the war. We’ve accused the Russians, as an example, of rewriting and cleaning up history to make it look better. To a degree, we are almost doing the same thing by leaving out key areas. Our young people should be aware of the relocation centers we had in this country. They should be aware of the Death March and how these people survived.
There was a book written by someone who talked to survivors of the Bataan Death March. There were only a couple of women, nurses, a Captain and a Lieutenant, but the rest of them were military and he, in writing the book, had found that they were going along in the march and things were getting worse and worse. When they would finally let them lay down in the evening for the soldiers to rest, some of them would will themselves to die. And some of them could die within a couple of minutes. They said I can’t handle this any longer and they were gone. He said there were two reasons for survival. One was a strong religious conviction and they survived. And then there were those who were just meaner than a junkyard dog that were not going to let this get them down and they survived. It took some kind of a commitment to make you go. I think our young people need some kind of commitment and I think a lot of that is being missed today.
KG: Mr. Iles, it was a pleasure.
TI: Thank you.
Kris Gray/ transcriber: J Chubbuck/ ed. JW 6/15/04
Editor’s note: Words in italics are corrections made during interviews with Ted and Marilee Iles on January 10, 2006.