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: Ronald T. Martell

 

Date: January 11, 2004

 

Report No: 29

 

Interviewer: Tania Martell

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: Visalia, CA

NEWS OF PEARL HARBOR ATTACK

LIFE ON THE FARM; VICTORY GARDEN, FOOD, FOOD STAMPS, RATIONING

BUYING BONDS AT SCHOOL

AIR SURVEILLANCE

GERMAN POW’s AT TAGUS RANCH

TM: I’m Tania Martell, and this is January 11 2004. I am interviewing Dr. Ronald T. Martell, in his living room at his home for the Tulare County Historical Project, Tulare County during the years of 1941 through 1946, Years of Valor, Years of Hope.

I would like to ask you a few things about yourself first, Dr. Martell.

What is your name and date of birth?

RM: Ronald T. Martell, and I was born 7-25-34.

TM: And who were your parents, and where were they from?

RM: My parents were Ruth (Lovely) and Orville Jones, and they were from Iowa, originally, although they had been in California since 1928.

TM: And where did you grow up? You were born here in Tulare County, weren’t you?

RM: I was born in Visalia.

TM: Do you remember anything about the war? You must have been a little boy about seven years old at the time.

RM: I turned seven in July and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was December the 7th. I remember the date very well. It was a Sunday and we were driving to church. We drove to town to church, in our 1936 Ford, four-door sedan, listening to the car radio, when they announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

TM: How did you react? Did your father stop the car?

RM: No. I remember more the emotional tone than what was said. I, of course, being that young didn’t have a lot of notion about what bombing Pearl Harbor really amounted to. But from my parent’s reactions, it was very clear that they thought it was catastrophic. They had stopped the car, but we drove on into church. I know people were talking about it at church. I can’t remember whether anything was said during services, but certainly after services, people were in small groups talking about it. I overheard, of course, and children my age were seen and not heard, but I overheard what they were talking about.

TM: So, after that, do you remember…can you talk about how the war affected your family? When that happened, was your family affected economically any way?

RM: Well, a seven year old is really not oriented to the economy, if you will. However, my parents were in California in 1929, which was the year of the Great Depression. I remember my dad talking about working for 17 cents an hour and picking grapes for two-quarters of a cent a tray. He was somewhat frustrated to find out that the contractor, who got them the job picking grapes, got the other quarter of a cent per tray. But, anyway, the point I’m trying to make is, economically, times were very hard in Tulare County for our family, anyway you look at it. The depression didn’t end in ’29. It started in ’29, but economically Tulare County was depressed in 1941 when the war started. It was starting to pick up, from the war.

My dad was a farmer and he had rented some additional land and that sort of thing, so things were starting to pick up somewhat. But, times were still hard, for example, my mom always raised chickens for meat and the eggs. She was doing that before the war started and continued after the war. During the war, we had little choice, because meat was rationed, particularly beef was rationed. You had to have ration stamps to get beef, because it was being sent overseas to the troops, and so we raised our own beef and supplemented that with chicken. We had a big garden during the war, in which we grew most of our vegetables. We had fruit trees. My mom canned, by putting up peaches in glass fruit jars when they were ripe. She would put them away for the winter and that sort of thing. So that was how we got our fruit and vegetables. We did have to buy staples like salt, sugar and flour. We didn’t raise potatoes, so we had to go to town, on occasion, to buy things. Those items weren’t rationed, except for the sugar. Sugar was also rationed, as I recall. There was O.P.A., as I recall, O.P.A. stamps, ration stamps. Each family had a booklet, which they had their allocation of rationed products in it. If you didn’t use the full stamp, they had little, kind of, paper, pressed paper, coin shaped markers, so they could make change for the food stamps. They were blue and red, I remember. But, because we lived on the farm, we were pretty well off, as far as food was concerned.

As the war progressed, economically, things got somewhat better. More people were making more money. A lot of the men folks were off to war, which put a burden on the women they left at home, but a lot of them got jobs. I know my uncle worked in the shipyards up at Vallejo, and that’s the first time he’d ever worked with women, in the shipyard. So, I remember him mentioning that. As far as the economic importance of that, that will probably come to me later. But I remember my uncle (Lyle Horton) talking about working with women, shipyard workers.

TM: Did you have any employees on the farm? You know there was the bracero program to work on the farm. Did anybody come to your father?

RM: We hired seasonal laborers, except for one fellow who stayed on year round. He came to work every day and then, of course, on the farm, things are much slower in the wintertime than in the summer time. Then when we picked fruit and of course, in those days, everything was done by hand, so we made raisins by picking grapes and putting them on the ground and drying them in the sun. We picked cotton and I picked cotton and picked grapes, both from that era.

TM: You did that when you were a little boy?

RM: Yeah. That was how I earned my spending money for school clothes, was picking grapes and picking cotton on our farm. Pulling the cotton sack and putting cotton in the bags.

TM: Did your family do anything besides, you know, using the rations, in order to support the war, something unusual or different than they’d ever done before?

RM: Oh, I know there were a number of -- it wasn’t recycling in those days, it was savings drives.

TM: At school, you mean?

RM: I think it was associated with school. What I remember particularly was saving toothpaste tubes. They were made out of lead, I think. Of course, lead was needed for the war effort to make bullets. So we saved lead toothpaste tubes. We turned them in, I think, at school or it may have been in town, I don’t remember that exactly. I think we saved paper. I’m not real sure of that, but I know there were a number of things that we saved toward the war effort.

TM: Did you buy any bonds or anything? Do you remember any advertisements or anything?

RM: Oh yes, there were bond drives, the $25 bonds was considered quite an investment in those days. They only cost $18.75 when they bought them and then when they matured, they were $25 bonds.

TM: How did they do the bond drive? Did somebody advertise or did somebody come from town? Did they go house to house?

RM: Well, I bought them in school. I had like a little stamp book and each stamp was worth, I don’t remember the denomination, but say a quarter. So, when you filled up each page, you had purchased 70 stamps towards your savings bonds. Then when the book was full, you got a $25, Series E, I believe it was, savings bond.

TM: And did you, yourself, buy one?

RM: Yeah.

TM: One or more?

RM: I don’t remember how many. Twenty-five cents was pretty important in those days. I remember when the gas man would come to deliver gas, he would give me a shiny penny and I considered that quite a prize. Of course, I had to have another .24 cents to buy the little stamps, but it was a start.

TM: (Chuckle) Did your mother stay at home in those days or did she work outside? I know she was a teacher, but was she teaching then?

RM: She had taught before coming to California. After she came to California--basically, they lost all of their savings, of course, they had only been married, let’s see, I think they were married in 1923. So in ’29, they had been married six years. They lost everything. So my mom also worked in the fields, along with my dad, picking fruit, picking cotton, doing that sort of thing. But in 1940, I believe, we moved to what I call the home place now. That’s where we had the garden and all of that, which was already in before Pearl Harbor happened. We were doing better and my mom didn’t have to work anymore. My dad was working, but he was now a foreman and also working his own land. He was a foreman for another farmer. So things were getting a little better. She continued to be the primary gardener. I helped out in the garden with other heavy chores, like spading the soil. My dad would help with that. Then during the war, another thing both my dad and mom did was they were in the Air Observation Corps.

TM: And what was that?

RM: Well, over by Packwood school, they built a tower on wooden stilts that I imagine was about 30 feet high to the platform. It had windows around all four sides; it was a small square building with a counter inside. It had a phone and the observer’s job was to phone in any plane sightings to this central control number, because they didn’t have radar in those days. They used visual sightings on planes and frankly, we were expecting a coastal attack from Japan . So, I think it was during most of the war, they had a schedule and it was like round the clock.

TM: Both men and women did that?

RM: Both men and women did it, yeah. My dad had to register for the draft, but since he was a farmer and also a little older than most of the registrants, he was never called out.

TM: Did they have the 4-A and the AA, and the 4-F system and all that? Because I remember my brothers . . .

RM: Yes, they had deferments. Yeah. Now, I think the first one is sort of the priority, you know, you are 1-A, or 4-F, but he had the one number that meant deferred.

TM: Yeah, right. Did the laborers also do participation in that observation?

RM: Yes. Oh, it was a community project. Yes. In fact, that may be one influence of the war. We got to know, being in a rural area, we got to know our neighbors better. Although in those days, we also used to go to the school house on Friday night and play cards or have dances, for the community members at the school house. About once a week or once every couple of weeks.

TM: Who were your neighbors? I mean, were there different groups with different kinds of people? Like, did you have any Japanese for example, in your neighborhood? Because I know there were lots of Japanese farmers around here.

RM: Yes, as a matter of fact, before we moved in 1940 to a farm about nine miles west of Visalia on the west side of Tulare County, we lived on County Line Road in King’s County. We had a Japanese family (The Hori family). that lived directly across the street from us. There were two girls and a boy. I remember the girls were Fukiko and Isako and they had a younger brother a little bit younger than I. His name was Hideo, and the girls used to play house with another girl about their age and they were two or three years older than I. So, I always played sort of the child role and they were the, you know, the important adults. But anyway, they were eventually relocated to the internment center.

TM: Did you understand what was happening at the time, when you were a little boy?

RM: Oh definitely, the feelings was…well, first of all, you can imagine, if we went to the trouble to build observation towers and all that sort of thing, the feeling in the community was that attack was imminent.

TM: Yeah, but did that affect how people felt toward the Japanese neighbors in the community?

RM: I still played with them, but also adding to this was, let’s see, I think it was about February, a Japanese sub had surfaced off the coast of California.

TM: You heard this on the radio?

RM: Yes, I knew about it, I think. I don’t remember reading the newspaper, so it was probably on the radio. I heard somebody talking about it. But, they had surfaced and shelled an oil field, an oil facility of some sort. It was the southern part; I think it was . . . yeah, it must have been above Santa Barbara or in that area somewhere.

TM: But you had definitely heard this on the radio as a young…

RM: Yeah, yes, and as a matter of fact, there were submarine nets strung across San Francisco Bay. They were large, steel cable nets with large, round metal ball floats and those balls stayed for years, stacked along the coast after they pulled the nets out. ‘Cause, what do you do with large steel balls?

TM: And did the people here in the county, or did you or your family or anybody that you knew, actually --were you afraid that they might be able to come into the valley?

RM: At that time, I mean, why would the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor if they weren’t going to follow it up? And we were on the west coast, which was the direction they were coming from.

TM: To get back to your playmates, what happened with them and that family?

RM: Well, they were given advanced warning. I don’t know whether they packed stuff or put it in storage or whatever, but a specific date was set. They made arrangements with a neighboring farmer to rent their farm to him and he farmed it and paid them the rent while they were gone. Then, when they returned, they just started over at the same place and went on.

TM: That’s so nice.

RM: Yes. In fact, they had some younger children too, but their names were Yuki and Amy. They were more anglicized than Isako and Hideo. But anyway, they were accepted very members of the community. But now that part I don’t know, of how they felt about it, but there was never any overt resistance. The reason being was that in those days, being different was not accepted very well, particularly ethnic or racially different. I’m not talking about just Japanese, I’m talking about blacks and Mexicans and other ethnic groups in the valley. I think prejudice against these groups started early and lasted well beyond the war.

TM: Was anything different in school that you remember? You know, was anything different in school? Did you have any kind of air raid drills or anything like that?

RM: I’m tempted to say yes, but I think we had the air raid drills after the war, because we were taught to get under our desks. (chuckle) I was in elementary school, and of course, I was already in elementary school in ’41. During those same years, yeah, we had drills where we would get under our desks; get down on the floor, that sort of thing.

TM: Did you get then, did you ever hear anything . . . I know this is a hard question for you, ‘cause you were a little boy. Did you ever hear anything about what the Nazi’s were doing, the Holocaust, or anything? Was anyone here aware of anything like that?

RM: Well, I certainly was not aware of the holocaust until after the war.

TM: You told me once that you had German prisoners of war here in the county that you knew about.

RM: Oh yes, yes. At that time Tagus Ranch was a giant farm with hundreds of acres and they had workers’ camps and residents. So they also set up a prison camp for German prisoners of war. I remember going past it before and they had a high fence and I think I recall a couple of towers and it was secure. They did farm labor and were paid, I believe.

TM: You mean they were paid?

RM: I think so; otherwise it would be like slave labor, wouldn’t it? I don’t know. But one thing I remember is, there was a lot of grumbling in the community, cause someone said, you know, "They’re eating steak, while we’re having to turn in ration stamps." And someone else said, "Well, you know, that’s the rule, they’re technically soldiers. So they are guaranteed the same food that our soldiers get, so that’s why they’re eating steak." But, there was some grumbling about that.

TM: I’m sorry, I forgot, were they confined to working at the Tagus Ranch, or did they do something else?

RM: Yes, they worked on Tagus Ranch. Don’t forget Tagus Ranch was literally hundreds of acres of peach orchards and other fruit trees.  They may well have picked cotton or built fences. I remember seeing a detail out once and they did have somebody with them.

TM: I was going to ask about supervision or some kind of guarding. And were they sheriffs or were they soldiers, the ones who were with them, or you don’t remember?

RM: I can’t remember. I think they had somebody with them who appeared to be military, police kind of thing. There was never any concern about their escaping or being any particular danger to us. In fact, I heard later on that the German prisoners of war after they’d been repatriated, a number of them returned to the San Joaquin Valley because they liked it so well. So, I don’t think they were mistreated and they contributed to harvesting the crops and so forth. Don’t forget, the labor available for the crops, a lot of young men were away in the war so we needed labor.

TM: Yeah, yeah. I didn’t realize they were paid too. In American money, of course?

RM: They were probably charged some for their food and clothing and that sort of thing too. I don’t know exactly how they did it, but I remember people talking, you know, they get good food and paid and everything else.

TM: You mentioned earlier that you were a boy and didn’t read the papers. Did you all get more news from the radio than the newspapers in those days, or what?

RM: Radio and, in those days, the pace of life was a little slower. I can remember some times when my dad and I were out working in the fields, the farmer that lived next door to us would be plowing just the other side of the fence and we’d stop and turn off the tractor and just talk a while. And, of course, children listen to everything adults say, and I may have learned a few things that my dad didn’t intend for me to learn by that listening. But, you know, there would be exchanges about the war and what was going on. The neighbors kind of shared information, whatever they got.

TM: Where ever they got their own information. How did you hear about the end of the war? Do you remember anything about the end of the war?

RM: It was another emotional event. I since, of course, have seen the troops on ticker tape parades and that sort of thing. But I do remember that the word was out that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to McArthur, (chuckle) I believe I heard that at the time. I, of course, know it now, you know. It’s hard to separate what I know . . .

TM: What you know and what you . . .

RM: One thing I was aware of before Japan surrendered, that we were bombing them with the atomic bomb.

TM: Oh, you knew that as a little boy? Of course, you must have been 10, or 11, or 12. You’d know what a bomb was and everything.

Was there any kind of celebration that you remember? Did the community do anything?

RM: Not anything, per se, I mean, we still had our social hours and card games . . .

TM: Oh, in the school?

RM: Yeah, that was kind what the community did. So, the kids would go and they would play what kids play. Throw clods and wrestle and fight and stuff like that, children’s games. (laughter) And, the parents would be inside playing cards. They also had dances, but my folks didn’t go to the dances too much.

TM: Well, they were older, you said. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you? Or do you think that they did at all?

RM: Well, I think the main effect of the war was just the improvement in the national economy and consequently, the county economy. By the end of the war, my dad, I remember him saying that he was making more money than he had made since he started farming by the end of the war.

TM: Oh, so your life must have gotten better than what you had.

RM: Yes, yes, because, of course, the war effort put the demand on food production, textile production, all of that got stepped up because of the war effort. And, of course, a lot of it’s wasted and bombed and otherwise utilized in non-productive ways.

TM: So, you answered my second question, which was going to be how the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now.

RM: Now? Well, of course, Tagus Ranch is no longer the large, single conglomerate that it used to be.

TM: Do you think the war had anything to do with that?

RM: I don’t think the war had anything to do with that, or the German (chuckle) prisoners for that matter. I think in those days . . . oh, I know an effect, the machinery. During the war, of course, machinery wasn’t available. I drove a team of mules during the war, to haul, particularly hay, the mowers and the rakes and that sort of thing. We had a tractor, but it was old and not too dependable.

TM: And wasn’t there gas rationing or something?

RM: Yes.

TM: I mean, for the farm equipment?

RM: Well, no, there was a special allocation for farmers, for their equipment. And of course, the gas man from Union Oil came every week and we had our gas cards and he would check the level of the gas in the gas storage tank. He was the same guy who gave me the penny. But anyway, there was more gas for farm equipment than for pleasure trips in cars. They didn’t make any cars during the war. The newest car was a 1941, whatever. Then, they started in 19 . . . I don’t think I saw a new car until 1947, in relation to the public.

TM: Yes, all the factories probably were devoted to the war effort.

RM: But we had old cars. Tractors were very difficult to get hold of. But after the war we could afford a tractor. We could afford a better car and so that was one direct effect. And they weren’t available and you didn’t have any choice during the war.

TM: I can’t say for sure how close the tape is to finishing, but that was very interesting, thank you very, very much.

RM: Oh, my pleasure.

Tania Martell/pd 4-30-2004/ed. JW 9-06-04

Editor’s note: The italic words are clarifications as a result of a phone interview on September 14, 2004. Mr. Martell also shared, when talking about car production (see p. 13), that other companies retooled for military equipment production, and typewriter companies such as Underwood and Remington produced the 1911 A-1 model of the 45 semi-auto pistol, carried as a sidearm by people in the military.