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: Alice Mitchell


Date: 10-27-03


Tape # 18


Interviewer: Judy Mayfield


Place: Tulare County, CA


Place of Interview: Alice Mitchell’s home



Washington, D.C.


Elderwood, California


Life in Elderwood

Husband’s service in the military

JM: Today I will be speaking with Alice Mitchell. Alice has agreed to share her memories of the years 1941 through 1946 for the Tulare County Library Oral History project, Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 1946.

Today is Monday, October 27, 2003, and we’re at Alice Mitchell’s home in Elderwood, California. Elderwood is a community about five miles north of Woodlake.

JM: Alice, would you start by telling where you born and how long you have lived in Tulare County.

AM: I was born in Kentucky: in Salvisa, Kentucky in August of 1913. When I was 11 years old we moved to California. That was in 1924, which was 79 years ago, and I have been in California, in Tulare County ever since. Her parents were Clyde and Verna Hawkins.

JM: About how old were you at the beginning of World War II. Can we figure that out?

AM: I was 27.

JM: 27 years old. And at the time, were you married?

AM: Yes, we were married in April of 1941.

JM: So you were working?

AM: I was teaching school in Visalia at the Carrie Barnett School.

JM: Do you want to tell us a little about your teaching experience? I thought that was interesting what you told me about how many years you were allowed to teach and how that was.

AM: Well, I taught three years in Elderwood when I was first out of college, 1935 through 1938. Incidentally, I received $110 a month for 10 months. Then I was hired to teach in Visalia at the Carrie Barnett School and I received $1,500 a year, which was quite a big jump in salary. I taught 4th and 5th grade for Elsie Crowley, who was a wonderful principal. At that time, they did not want to give tenure to teachers, that is, if you taught three years. At the end of three years, Dr. Dwight Montgomery, our superintendent, brought around a resignation paper for you to sign, so that ended your teaching career in Visalia. And you weren’t supposed to get married during that time. If you got married, you couldn’t sign a contract, if you only taught one or two years. But teaching in Visalia was a wonderful place. Carrie Barnett School was on the north side of town. We had some wonderful families there.

JM: Do any events stand out in the years immediately preceding the war, some concern that stands out in your mind before the U.S. got into the war?

AM: Well, I can’t particularly think of anything before the war, but I know about my fourth grade class in Visalia. I had Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Portuguese and everyone got along very well. There was no antagonism at all. We tried to encourage them to be kind and courteous to each other and they were. I don’t remember anything particularly before,that was in 1942, wasn’t it?

JM: 1941. Do you remember where you were and how you heard about Pearl Harbor begin attacked?

AM: Well, yes, because we were married by that time and my husband and I had our mother out here for lunch on a Sunday, and we heard the announcement about Pearl Harbor.

JM: And how did everyone feel at that time? Were you . . .

AM: Well, it was kind of a shock; my husband had to sign up for the draft, so we knew eventually he would be called to go into the service, which he did.

JM: So he was drafted?

AM: He left in May of 1942. Do you want to know where he went? He was sent over to Camp Roberts where he had basic training and then after basic training he was sent to Officer’s Training Camp at Fort Benning, Georgia . I think they called them 90-day wonders. He was there and then he was stationed in Macon, Georgia at Camp Wheeler. And that’s when I went back to be with him. He was a Range Officer so he didn’t have to be at camp every night and was able to come to town and after much searching we found a small apartment. There were lots of soldiers there, so housing was difficult to find.

JM: Did he ever have to go overseas? Was he able to stay?

AM: No, we were there for about a year and he had maneuvers in Louisiana and then he was sent overseas, but we had some time together before then. I moved to Louisiana, Natchitoches, Louisiana. He had time off before he was sent overseas and we bought a car and drove up through Kentucky and got to see some of my relatives. Then we drove up to Washington, D.C., where I had some friends who were staying there. They were all teachers. One of them was working in the Pentagon, one was a Navy officer and one was with the Library of Congress. And they had a house there and they had extra rooms, so I stayed there until Frank was shipped from Camp Mead to overseas.

In the meantime, one of the girl’s sisters came back and we went up to New York and got to see the sights and enjoyed all of that, of course. And then there was no way you could get an airplane to come home, so I had to wait for a month or more so I could get passage on a train to come home. I sold the car and part of my ration stamps, because gas was rationed, as was sugar and shoes, meat. I came home in the late summer and Frank was overseas.

JM: So then you came back to this area? This was where you lived?

AM: Yes, I came back and stayed with my mother, Verna Hawkins, instead of being at our house alone.

JM: And she lived in the Elderwood area?

AM: No, she lived five miles west of Woodlake, between Woodlake and Ivanhoe. That’s where I stayed. And then Frank was wounded a couple of times, first not too seriously. And then the second time he was wounded very seriously with lots of shrapnel in his back and lungs and he did spend Christmas in a hospital in Paris. But then he returned home in March of ’45. He was retired, medically retired from the Army and then came home. After being in the convalescent hospital in Palm Springs for a couple of months, he was released and we came here to Elderwood and he took care of the ranch. He was able to do that.

JM: So he was in Europe during the . . . .

AM: Yes. He was in combat.

JM: And so then, one of my questions that we talked about was, were there changes in your family’s housing situation? Obviously, you moved in with your parents while you were . . . .

AM: I lived with my mother while I was waiting for my husband to come back. And then we came back to this little house on the ranch.

JM: Did anyone else come in to live with you?

AM: No.

JM: Family members?

AM: One of the neighbors took care of the ranch while Frank was gone.

JM: You mentioned that you remember rationing. Do you want to talk a bit more about that? Did you have problems getting different kinds of foods, or clothing, that you can remember?

AM: Well, gas was rationed and I can’t remember if tires were rationed or not and sugar was rationed. And meat and shoes were rationed and that was a difficult thing. But it was nothing we couldn’t live with. We seemed to manage all right. There were observation posts around, which were manned 24 hours a day, and I was on a team with two other women and we worked over at the L.L. Richards Ranch which was just west of here and you were to report any planes that came over.

JM: Were you worried about this happening? Were you fearful at the time? Or did it seem like something that wasn’t going to . . .

AM: That’s been a long time ago and you do get over those fears. Sure we were concerned. We had a brother-in-law who was overseas and some of our close friends were killed during the war and men that we had known in the service were killed.

JM: Did your family do things? You said you volunteered to be watching for the planes and such. How about Victory Gardens, that type of thing?

AM: I don’t remember it. Victory Gardens, the name is familiar, but I couldn’t tell you where there was a victory garden. We had a garden; we had our own garden and raised vegetables, being out on the ranch.

JM: Being out on a ranch you were more likely to have something like that. You mentioned that your husband was in the military. Were there other family members in the military, serving during the war?

AM: Well, a brother-in-law did, Wes Brown, and he was overseas, in Europe. And of course many friends around were in both theaters, both in Europe and in the Philippines .

JM: You were working at the time, during the time that the war started. Did you have friends or know of other women who went to work as a result of the war? Taking the place of men who had gone off? Did that happen around here very much?

AM: Not that I know of. There was one gal from Woodlake who moved up north and worked . . . I don’t know where she worked, whether it was in an airplane . . . I really don’t know. I know one person went up north. There may have been others, but I just can’t recall right now.

JM: If the men were off in the service, that would have affected women. They might have gone off to work to help support the family. Wondering about childcare, was that a problem during those years that you know of? Were there any changes in family life that you might remember?

AM: Well, no, because our daughter, Janet (Livingston) was born in December of 1945, so that was after.

JM: Do you remember blackouts? Collection drives? Things like that.

AM: I remember blackouts. When Frank was over in Camp Roberts, I would go over on the weekends and I would meet him on Friday afternoon and then I had reserved a room in a little motel in Atascadero. You didn’t go over to the coast because there were blackouts over there, but not in this area as I recall.

JM: But you can’t remember any around here? We talked a little bit about whether or not you could remember if businesses or industries around here would have been affected by the war. Could you think of anything that would have affected businesses?

AM: Off hand I can’t think of anything, but I’m sure businesses were affected. There is something where we lived . . . packinghouses. Elderwood had packinghouses just across, torn down now, where we shipped our oranges, but I think that one thing that was interesting at that time and for a number of years was that the oranges were wrapped individually in tissue paper, a little orange paper and they were packed in wooden crates. Of course, that is long gone. Now they are in cardboard boxes.

JM: The people that worked in those packinghouses, were they basically the same groups of people?

AM: They hired many local people to work in the packinghouse.

JM: So you didn’t see a big impact on the agriculture around here during the war?

AM: Not particularly. I couldn’t tell you what the prices were. I don’t know how it affected them, but I’m sure it must have had some affect on them.

JM: Other ethnic groups that lived in the community,were there any problems during the war times? Did people get along fine?

AM: I believe everyone got along. The Japanese who were here who took care of the ranch before Frank came down here to work on it were put into an internment camp, but they were later released and have become very affluent people.

JM: Were they farmers or ranchers?

AM: They became ranchers and bought their own. They were very good workers.

JM: In general, how do you think the community reacted to the war? Was there a feeling of patriotism and support for the soldiers?

AM: Oh, yes, I think there was. Of course the USO,even now they are asking for support for the USOs, but we weren’t near a base and I think that makes a difference. If you are near a military base, I think it would make a difference in how you reacted and how you helped out.

JM: But in general there was a feeling of support for the troops?

AM: Oh yes. I think there was great moral support for the troops.

JM: How did you get news of the war? Your husband was over there; you must have wanted to know what was going on?

AM: Of course we were glued to the radio all the time. We did write. The Army let you know . . . when my husband was wounded, I received a letter and then I got a couple of letters saying he had improved and then when he was wounded very seriously, they let you know.

JM: Mainly you would have to get your news from the radio, newspapers?

AM: Newspapers and radio.

JM: How did you feel about the dropping of the atomic bomb when that took place?

AM: Well I suppose there were mixed emotions,a feeling that this was going to end the war, to help us. But at the same time you couldn’t help but have sympathy for people who were being bombed.

JM: In general, can you think of ways the war affected you in your life, during that time? Of course, your husband was gone, but did it make any lasting impressions?

AM: It did in him I know because he was never without pain. He was not a person who complained. It affected him physically, but mentally and spiritually he was a wonderful person and he didn’t let things like that get him down.

JM: How do you think the war affected Tulare County? Do you think the war years changed Tulare County or the people in the county?

AM: I really can’t say. It must have made them have a certain patriotism for their country, an appreciation for what our men had done while in the service.

JM: I know you have been thinking about this interview. Is there anything you would like to add? Little incidences you would like to tell us that we haven’t talked about already? Is there any anecdote that you can remember about that time?

AM: It was rather interesting that I and others were given resignations to sign,after we had been teaching three years. After I had been in Georgia for a year, I got a letter from them asking whether it was my patriotic duty to come back and teach. That was rather amusing in a way.

JM: Yes, especially after they practically invited you to go.

AM: But Visalia was a good place to teach.

JM: Can you think of any other patriotic things that people did during that time? Can you explain how Elderwood is? It’s a farming community. Explain what Elderwood is like.

AM: Well, Elderwood is five miles north of Woodlake. There was a three room school and it has always been a very good community. The school was sort of the hub. They had a very active PTA and people came and people knew each other. It was a very friendly community. One of the things the PTA had was a chicken pie supper every year and people came from very far away to enjoy their homemade chicken pie supper. I remember that. Many things just drew them together and they would have their own Halloween party thing for the kids in the community and it has always been a good community. And the packinghouses here, many of the people who lived in the area worked at a packinghouse.

JM: During the war years did those parties continue?

AM: As far as I know they did. Yes.

JM: About how many people lived in this area?

AM: I couldn’t tell you, but there are more and more people coming to this area. More of the farms . . . Minnehaha was the biggest ranch north of here and it has been broken up and sold in smaller parcels and people have moved in. The farmers right now, there are many acres of oranges being taken up right now. What’s going to happen I don’t know. Agriculture is having a rough time right now.

JM: Mainly in this area are oranges and what else?

AM: Oranges, olives and cattle.

JM: And that was the same during the war years?

AM: Yes, only more oranges.

JM: Is there anything else you can think of along that line?

AM: I can’t think of anything else, other than Elderwood has been a very good place to live. I’ve been here for sixty one years in the same place.

JM: It’s a beautiful area out here. Looking right out you can see the mountains. It’s very clear, a pretty place to be.

AM: Yes, a pretty place to be.

JM: I would like to thank you very much for participating in this Tulare County project. We appreciate your time and I’m sure people will appreciate listening to your tape and hearing some of your memories.

10-27-2003 Judy Mayfield/JC/ed.JW 3/02/2006

Editor’s note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Alice Mitchell’s daughter, Janet Livingston, on March 2, 2006. Alice died in January, 2005.