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
Tape # 51
Place of Interview: Exeter, CA
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN LIFE:
bombing runs over
Bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki
Rationing in Tulare County
FN: I was born in Lemoore, California, a farmer. When I was about seven years old, we moved to Visalia in 1929, that was the beginning of the depression, and lived on 806 West Center, our old home place is still standing, right next to Dr. Neffian, an Optometrist who moved out in 2005 and Dr.Voong took over that office. I went to school, the second grade in Visalia. I went through primary, junior high, high school, and one year in junior college.
CD: At College of the Sequoias.
FN: Yes, at C.O.S. During that time, I got my Social Security card and while I was in high school, I started working as a clean-up boy in Justesen’s Food Store in Visalia at 120 S. Locust St.
CD: You didn’t get your Social Security card until you were in high school?
FN: Yeah. Now you get ‘em when you are born, you know. From there I was asked to take a job as usher at the Fox Theater in Visalia, and during my senior year in high school, I was an usher there.
CD: Were you there for the opening?
FN: No, I wasn’t. I was very ill. I just recently had open heart surgery.
CD: No, were you there for the opening, when the Fox first opened?
FN: Oh, no, no. I lived on Center Street though, and the only thing I remember about the Fox Theatre was, I was there standing on the corner of Center and, I think it is Encina, watching them put the big tank on top of the building.
CD: What was the tank for?
FN: Water, water supply. So they would have water pressure in the building. I don’t remember much more than that, I was a young boy.
CD: So when you went to C.O.S., where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
FN: I was getting ready to go to work at the Fox Theatre. Yeah, it was mid-morning or something and when I heard that, I didn’t think much of it, you know, but very soon after that, why I was headed for the Air Force.
CD: So you weren’t signed up before Pearl Harbor; you didn’t plan on having any military career?
FN: Oh no, no, I was gonna be an electrical engineer.
CD: Did you know the war was happening? I mean, were you aware much that the war was happening before Pearl Harbor?
FN: Yes, yes, yes, the European war, oh yes. Very well, up to date every day on that. For one, news we’d get over the radio and the newspaper. Ah, where do we want to go from there?
CD: Well, once Pearl Harbor happened, did you sign up or did you get drafted?
FN: Well, I was registered, so I was naturally gonna be drafted. No, I went to 49 Fourth Street in San Francisco and enlisted in the Air Force.
CD: With other people from town, with other men, did you go with a group?
FN: Oh, no, I went over there myself. I went up there myself and there were hundreds of guys going through the registration there. I qualified to get in the Air Force.
CD: What did you have to do to qualify, did you have to pass a physical test?
FN: Written and oral examination.
CD: So, if you hadn’t gone up there, you would have gotten drafted?
FN: Oh, yes.
CD: Okay, so you would have gotten drafted if you hadn’t gone up there? And everybody had to register.
FN: Everybody was registered for the Civil
Service. Selected Service, they called
it back then. Ah, all high school boys
had to register at the beginning, in 1941, immediately. It was a command from the President of the
CD: Yeah. So how soon after you signed up for the Air Force did you go into the Air Force?
FN: I went in about 1943. My wife and I were married. We were youngsters. I was just turning 20 and she was a day younger than 18, and we got together in Vallejo, California, in the Methodist Church, and got married. (Phyllis Nesbitt, see her interview. She says they were married January 25, 1943.)
CD: And that was right before you left?
FN: No, that was, oh probably, a month before I went into active service.
CD: So when you went in you were already married?
FN: Oh yeah. I was in the service, but I was in training to be a pilot at that time. That was the only way to do it in those days. Immediately she got her $50 a month from the service, as a dependent.
CD: Was that a motivating factor for a lot of people. They’d make sure they’d get married before they went?
FN: Oh, yeah, sure. The guys that were thinking.
CD: So what kind of basic training or boot camp did they have?
FN: Yep, the boot camp was at the basic training Center #8. That was located at Hammer Field, now it’s the major airport in Fresno.
CD: Oh, so it wasn’t too far away.
FN: Not too far from home.
CD: And did you both go? Did you live in Army housing, or something?
FN: Oh, no, I was in basic training, so there was quarantine for about eight or nine weeks, whatever the training period was. Pat lived in Visalia and my wife worked at Security Bank as a teller and I got home on passes in those days, every, humm, just about every weekend.
CD: During basic training?
FN: Yeah, during basic training.
CD: And what kind of shape were you in, was it hard?
FN: Naw, it was hard training, but it was a good training.
CD: Did you learn how to fly.
FN: I didn’t do that in basic training, no. From there I went to Reno, Nevada, the University of Nevada and took my primary cadet training in flying.
CD: And had you ever been in a plane before?
FN: Never had. Never had been in a plane before. It’s always been interesting to me, how they could take a country boy that had been driving mules on a cultivator and teach him how to fly. That always has been a challenge and a funny thing in my life.
CD: So what motivated you to sign up with the Air Force? Weren’t you a bit scared to go up in the sky?
FN: No. You know, a young man, 20, 21 years old has no fear at all. You see that today in your current daily activities. They were all young men committing their selves.
CD: So you basically weren’t thinking.
FN: No, oh no, oh no. From that basic training, then I went to Tucson, Arizona, and from there to Midland, Texas and got my Air Force training to fly.
CD: So how long did it take a country boy to learn how to fly?
FN: I believe it was a period of about six months.
CD: And what did they teach you in?
FN: Oh, they teach you everything.
CD: But what kind of plane was it that you went in first? They don’t let you go up in a fighter plane?
FN: Well, that’s an interesting story too. Ah, they started us out in a primary trainer, which was a single engine aircraft. Ah, it was a more high powered, an advanced engine powered aircraft.
CD: More advanced than a crop duster, or more advanced than . . .
FN: Yes, more advanced than a crop duster. The crop dusters are what we did our primary training in. Form a new mobility. Ah, I had the honor to fly P38’s, if that means anything to you.
CD: What are P38’s?
FN: A P38 is a twin boom, twin-engine aircraft, flown by one pilot, and it has a split fuselage on it.
CD: And why would it have been an honor to fly one.
FN: Well, because at that time, it was the hottest plane the
CD: Humm, kinda like Tom Cruise, (laughter), top gun?
FN: One of those deals, one of those deals, really, really very fast for those days, and the minute they built it, they was great.
CD: So, when you got in it . . .
FN: Oh, a real thrill to fly.
CD: I mean, did you go as fast as you could or were you careful?
FN: Yeah, yeah, well there was two or three of us always. They had the big towers, power lines out in Midland, Texas, running across the desert and we used to play tag and roll over those lines.
CD: And were you suppose to?
FN: Oh, we could have gotten a court-martialed if they’d known it.
CD: Couldn’t people see?
FN: Oh, yeah, but you’re out maybe a hundred miles from your base, and there was just jack rabbits out there. Ah, but from there I went to Rapid City, South Dakota. My wife came up there with the Security Bank, and she worked there for them, and was with me.
CD: And by now you know how to fly and you’d been doing your stunts?
FN: There we flew B17 and B24’s for training. Now that training loop was from the tip of Alaska to the tip of Florida and back to Rapid City, South Dakota, non-stop. Now, that’s roughly about 1,600 miles.
CD: And how many hours?
FN: Oh, in those old clunkers, it was about 15 hours.
CD: Were they considered old clunkers then?
FN: No, no, no, that’s just talk for me. Ah, then from there we went down to McCook, Nebraska, and took some advance training in B29’s.
CD: And what were you, were you the pilot?
FN: I was the co-pilot on a B29.
CD: Now, what did you think of the B29? My husband was asking questions about, like, when it was tested, he said there were a lot of crashes.
FN: Oh yeah, yeah.
CD: How did that make you feel?
FN: It didn’t scare me a bit. Didn’t have any fears. In fact, we went from McCook, Nebraska to Seattle, picked up a plane, and we were on a shake down cruise from there to Hawaii.
CD: What’s a shake down cruise?
FN: A shake down cruise is to find any faults in the plane; they didn’t even do it at the factory. Find any bugs in the plane, just like you’d check out a car to see if the brakes would work, etc…. They use the whole crew to do it, ten men. No kidding in those days, it was a little bit crude. They wouldn’t do that today. However, Chuck Yeager did. Yeah, he was a gambler, and he’s still living.
CD: Did you meet him?
FN: Oh, yeah, I know Chuck. I met him once.
CD: Where did you meet him?
FN: In the rocket engine test center at Edwards Air Force Base, back in 1958.
CD: But you weren’t in the service still were you?
FN: No, no, I was out of the service, working for Civil Service.
CD: So, you guys would do the shake down of the planes, but what would happen if something happened up in the sky, and you found out the plane didn’t work?
FN: We just suffered through it somehow. We didn’t know there were any planes around there suffering. Flying from there to Hawaii we found a few discrepancies in the aircraft, things that hadn’t been completed such as engine over heating. That’s what caused the first few crashes, like your husband said.
CD: So they had figured out why the crashes happened and they had fixed the problem before you guys started flying?
FN: Most of ‘em. Most of ‘em. We did have over heating problems. Then from there I went to the Tinian Island, which is a small island. We flew there from Hawaii. Oh know, wait, we went to Kwajalein, re-fueled and from there over to Tinian Island.
CD: And Tinian Island was the
FN: Yeah, they had just taken it back from the Japs. They took it back in 1944. Cause see we had two years there training. It was ’44. When we arrived on Tinian, it was still partially occupied by Japanese. We had problems with ‘em coming into our base.
CD: What would they do, ambush, or…..?
FN: Yeah, ambush camping units. Mainly they came in at night and would steal food or our rations, stuff like that, and water. The island did not have surface water for them. They purified some water there for us. I didn’t drink much of it.
CD: Could you spell that island, the name of the island for us.
FN: Tinian. Yeah, Tinian Island. In the Mariana group. There’s Guam, Tinian and Saipan. I served on all three islands.
CD: So what month in 1944 did you land?
FN: In ’44 we landed in November. November ’44. I was over there until Christmas of ’45. The war was over for the Japanese Empire
on September 5,
CD: And it wasn’t until Christmas. Why? Was there that couple of months and you guys were the first?
FN: Yeah, we were the first ones to get to come home. We had been out there a little over a year.
CD: So why did they keep you those couple of more months there?
FN: No, we came back to the Hawaiian Islands, spent a couple of weeks there. Debriefing and getting new threads, new clothes, ‘cause we were pretty well worn out. We only had one issue, well, we had two sets issued to us when we went off the island. When we got back to Hawaii, well we got all new outfits and then we came back to Camp Bill here in California, which is near Marysville, for discharge. On Christmas Day of 1945, the happiest day of my life, I was discharged. Best Christmas present I ever had. I hated the service after I was in there awhile. It was all men and I swore to my wife when I got back, if we ever have any children, we’re gonna have all girls. And the first two children born were boys,David Andrew and Mark Odale. It wasn’t funny, but then in 1950, we had a beautiful daughter, Anne (Hester).
CD: So, on Christmas, who was there to meet you?
FN: Nobody. You know, in those days, there was gasoline rationing and people didn’t drive their cars very much. It would have been about 600 miles round trip. They’d use a lot of gasoline. So I bought a bus ticket and came to Goshen, California. My dad was always halfway a swindler; he picked up a few ration tickets for gasoline and he came out to Goshen and picked me up. Floyd’s parents are Thomas Morgan Nesbitt and Alice Margaret Odale.
CD: So he actually had to get ration tickets.
FN Oh yeah, even then, after the war. He was something else. So, I was home then, from then on. On Christmas Day of 1945, I got home about 11 or 12 o’clock at night. Yeah.
CD: What a story.
FN: Yeah, it is. It moves me a little bit, cause we were married almost 61 years now and it brings up the tears every once in awhile. I wanted to show you something.
FN: I’ve got my second grade school, class picture.
CD: Let me make a note, so we don’t forget that. I wanted to get back to the B29, and then we can go back to Tulare County.
FN: The B29’s? We flew from Tinian Island to the
Japanese Empire. It
was 1,500 miles one way. So we had 3,000
miles. That was flying the loop
from Alaska to the
tip of Florida and
back to Tinian. That was the training for 3,000 miles. We spent anywhere from 13 to 15
hours in the air. No more than an hour over
the combat zone, over in
CD: So, when you were in the training, they knew pretty much where you were. They knew that you were gonna be going 3,000 miles?
FN: Oh, yeah, we didn’t know it.
CD: When did they let you know?
FN: When we got to Tinian Island. We were shot down twice with the crew. We started from Tinian and flew up to the empire. On our way back we got shot up pretty bad in our wings of the plane.
CD: When you got over
FN: Oh yeah, from gun fire from the ground. They were a pretty good little shot.
CD: Did they have an air force to follow you around?
FN: Oh, yeah, our crew, our three gunners, shot down five Japanese aircraft during service time. We flew 31 missions up there in the time of war.
CD: And you’re talking about your gunners, just your airplane shot out flyers?
FN: Oh yeah, our gunners and our plane, there were only three gunners in our plane. One was the tail gunner and two waist gunners. In the 31 missions, our third mission up on March 3, I think it was, we got shot up so bad, the under portion of the wings look like feathers on a chicken, that had been ruffled. Those wings all carried gasoline cells and they were perforated so we lost all of our capacity for gasoline in the wings and we went back over Iwo Jima. And the air space up there was secured because the Navy and the Marines didn’t want any planes landing there. We were able to get to Iwo, and the commander, Navy commander on the island, that was in charge of the air strips, to land on, called us off, told us not to land. So we flew around one more time until we told him to go to thunder, in pretty loud and pretty ornery terms, and we came back in and we landed right down the middle of the main strip in Iwo Jima. We were the first B29 to land on Iwo Jima.
CD: And who was the one talking to the commander, you?
FN: Yeah, a farm boy that didn’t know many good things to say to a commander in the Navy. Then they flew a pick up plane, like a C47, from the islands, aside of Saipan, up there, to pick us up and took us out. Left the plane there and junked it, scraped it.
CD: So you consider yourselves lucky, the fact that you even landed the plane?
FN: Oh yeah, saved 10 men.
note: In World War,
CD: But I mean like….was the plane about to crash?
FN: Oh no, it wouldn’t have crashed, it was still airborne, but we were out of gas and those four engines drank gas at the rate of about 100 gallons an hour. It would have taken us 700 miles from there down to Tinian, the home base. It would have taken too much gas to even try to get there. All right, now, that was on the third of March. And on the tenth of March, a week later, we were up over our target and I forget what the target was right at the moment. I’ve got it in my history book. We were up over and we got pretty well shot up this time. Oh, I know where it was, we were up over Tokyo, in the biggest fire raid that was ever known, the worst bombing activity known in World War II. All of us got shot up. We flew within about 300 miles of Saipan, which was the northern most island of our bases in the Marianas and in about 300 miles our engineer coughed up the last drop of gasoline we had. We ditched our B29 in the ocean in a north Pacific storm. Now those storms aren’t anything like we see here. They’re low to the ocean and they’re very dense and it rains during the storm, when the storm is blowing. We spent three days and three nights in the Pacific Ocean in two life rafts, 10 men.
CD: So, when you had the plane and the plane gets shot up, how do you get out of the plane and into a raft?
FN: Very carefully,(laughter). Yeah, oh, I have to say that I was the one. It was the head pilot, he has to take care of a few minor things, but the co-pilot issues the instructions to disembark from the aircraft.
CD: Is that what it’s called? Disembark from the aircraft?
FN: Oh yes, militarily.
CD: That’s awfully polite for when a plane is going down.
FN: Oh, yeah. Well after we were in the water, we floated because we had empty tanks, we floated for 20 minutes.
CD So the pilot landed the plane on the water?
FN: Yeah, he did. The pilot and I landed. It was a pretty rough landing but we did it. We landed on the water, flat, and the way we did it, there was two big swells in the storm and we went right down the middle of two swells. We skipped a couple of times and landed the aircraft.
CD: So you could still remember how it sounded.
FN: Oh yeah, I dream about that every night.
CD: Really, so you landed and what did everybody do?
FN: Well, everybody had an escape hatch and I was the only one that got hurt. I went out through my escape hatch with an escape panel over my head. Just a little bit too anxious. I broke this wrist, broke my ribs and broke my left ankle. It was just stupid. I was trying to be really gung ho, and all that. No, it was stupid, just a stupid disembarkment. Well, we sat there for three days and three nights in the water. Our aircraft was above the clouds, they knew where we were. They couldn’t see our flare gun fired through the clouds, and a submarine pickedus up the third night about 4 o’clock in the morning.
CD: And how did the submarine see you?
FN: Well, before you go down, your radio man pens in your location. Your navigator gives them the information, we’re all in the same unit in the compartment. The navigator takes a sighting and gives them his location and so forth, north, south, turn on, blah blah blah. The radio man radios it in, so they radio, or contact the Navy. The Navy had a good pickup line running between Saipan and Iwo Jima.
CD: And that is where you were, between Saipan and Iwo Jima?
FN: Yeah, yeah, there were surface vessels cruising there to pick up downed pilots and downed crews, and also there are submarines cruising that, to do the same thing. Then they took us on the submarine, the submarine was a skipjack.
CD: Were there other survivors, other people in the submarine?
FN: Not in the submarine, no. That’s real close quarters. They couldn’t take more than ten men. It was an old submarine; the space was very limited. And a corpsman taped my ribs, set my wrist back and they took us to Guam to the hospital. I was away
from my crew for about six weeks, and after that time we got to go to
CD: And what did you do there?
FN: Oh, absolutely nothing. Just R&R. Drink a little beer and relax.
CD: Where was it in
FN: Sidney, Sidney,
CD: Tell me about what kind of defense you had in the plane. You said you had three gunners shooting at the Japanese. Was it the highest technology ? Did you have confidence?
FN: It was the best we had in those days. We later had radar. Let me dig out my history book down here.
CD: My husband was saying something about the automated machine gun. Was it new?
FN: It was.
CD: And when you started, you didn’t have radar, but you did as time went on.
FN: Yeah, yeah, they installed it in the aircraft while we were out there.
CD: So you started out with no radar?
FN: No radar, right.
CD: So you didn’t know when you were going to be attacked?
FN: In the air? Yeah. Oh no they’d come out of the clouds or out of the sunlight and dive on you, tried to shoot you down. This is what a B29 looks like in my history book. See the painting on the side of that? Well, that’s a spearhead, and that’s the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima.
CD: Mr. Nesbitt is showing me a picture of the B29 from a history book, and the painting on the side of the plane is the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima . Nice painting.
FN: I did that painting. I had 14 paintings that I did in our squadron during my time. There was a lot of free time. We only flew 31 missions, that is 31 out of the year. The rest of the time we were sitting on the ground twitteling our thumbs, if we didn’t have something to do.
CD: Have you ever painted before?
FN: Well, I used to think I was an artist. I can show you something better than that. This is a history book that a group of us got together and worked up and printed it in 1995. It took us two years to get it all together. These pictures are with my initial on them. These were more than life size pictures. This was a big aircraft. (We are looking at a bigger than life size painting of a voluptuous woman, who he states is not his wife.) This is the first one I painted in a war. The reason I got onto this, is, I did the painting on my aircraft. This is the second aircraft we had. The first one went down. We didn’t get an authorization to put paintings on our aircraft until real late in the war. I took all of these pictures of the other aircraft that I did. I still have the negatives today. They are in perfect shape, perfect shape.
CD: Why did they wait so long before they could put paintings on the planes?
FN: Command! Politics!
CD: Those were the rules?
FN: That’s it!
CD: So you wouldn’t have made it to be general?
FN: Oh no.
FN: Here’s my plane. This was late in the war and it was the third aircraft. This was our third aircraft. Every time one would go down they would send a replacement out. The WAC girls, dual pilots, flew these new planes into us, out there from Seattle.
CD: Oh, that’s right, they had the women fly the planes. They take’m in.
FN: This is another one I painted.
CD: So the women would fly them over to the islands. They would be the ones to restock the planes? Did you ever meet those women pilots?
FN: Oh, yeah. They were the only white women on the base at times. Oh heck yeah. Yeah, we’d get with em and drink a little beer and hooch. (Ed: Crude Alcoholic liquor)
CD: And then how would they get back. On boats?
FN: They’d go back by C54’s, transports. They’d fly them back to Hawaii. They had a shuttle going from Seattle to Hawaii and Hawaii to the Mariana’s, the B29’s.
CD: Oh look at that! "Big time operator" (Caption of painting on plane) and that one didn’t go down?
FN: No, no.
CD: Did they ever go down? Did any of the women get killed?
FN: I don’t know that. I don’t know. I don’t think so. If it would, you would have heard about it.
CD: Okay, so automatic machine guns were in your plane. Did you feel like it was a good defense?
FN: Yeah, we felt safe with it. Yeah, and we have in our history book, pictures of every crew.
CD: Where’s your crew?
FN: I’m not in any of the crew pictures. I’m only in the front of the book.
CD: You didn’t get a picture of your ten men?
FN: No, no, I didn’t. They called me up one morning. I’d just gotten back off of a mission and they called all of the pilots out. They took the commanders. This kid here was from Visalia, Nelson White. He was an aircraft commander.
CD: What exactly is an aircraft commander?
FN: Just a second, I’ll show you in this other picture. Okay, this is my picture right here. They got us out of bed and rushed us all out to the air field and an Air Force photography guy, photo guy, came out and snapped this picture. I had just gotten out of bed; I didn’t even look halfway decent. And over here, this is Nelson White and this is myself and this is the team of McCaulis boys from Visalia. They had Nelson . . .
CD: They were twins?
FN: Yeah, they were twins. They were in radar. They came out as radar operators and they lived in Visalia. Yep, Nelson White died a few years ago. He worked for the District Attorney’s Office.
CD: Oh, this is a treasure, this book.
FN: Yeah, I bought 40 of those books, at $40.00 a piece, and I put two of them in the library in Visalia.
The title of this book is 9th Bomb Group in Action.
CD: Oh, there’s one in the library in Visalia, so your picture is there.
FN: Oh, yeah, it’s in this book. And in the back of it, there’s all kinds of stories from different squadrons and our bomb group. Right there, there’s their stories. There’s all kinds of stories in there from the bombings.
CD: Boy, this is a treasure, I’m glad you guys took the time to do this.
FN: It took us two and a half years to get all this stuff together from the War Department. Any of those pictures are all in file at the War Department.
CD: And that’s where you had to go to get them?
FN: Yep, yep, get authorization.
CD: You’re a handsome man, aren’t you?
FN: No, no.
CD: Well, that’s a good picture.
FN: Nobody can be handsome as I am (Laughter). Yeah, so I bought 40 of these books, and I put two of them in Visalia Library and at Mooney Grove in the history museum, because of the Visalia men that were in it. We were all pretty good friends.
CD: Also, my husband asked if the B29,.was that the first pressurized plane? It could go high? Was it the first or had there had been others?
FN: Yeah, it was the only warplane, other than the B38 & P51 fighters that flew over Europe and
CD: And that was because it was too high for the Japanese fighter. Couldn’t the Japanese fighter go faster than a B29?
FN: Oh yeah, they were a lot faster, at their operating level. But when you started to climb, they couldn’t come anywhere near you. You could just take off --vroom, go right on up, after you dropped your bomb load. Now while you were riding in on a bomb load, it’s a little different.
CD: You were vulnerable, cause you were slow.
FN: I’ll say, yeah. Yeah, that was my hobby out there, in my time, when we weren’t flying or painting. I had 14 of ‘em that I painted, and about four years ago.....I’ll show you the picture before you leave….our tail gunner and I are the only ones that are still alive today. He’s a little Italian boy and he lives in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Hyde Park, yeah. He went to an artist back there in his hometown in Hyde Park and had a picture, airbrush, large picture made of our B29.
CD: Of your third one?
FN: Yeah, of the third one. The ones…he came in as a replacement gunner. Our first gunner somehow got sick and the flight surgeon took him out of service, out of air service and they grounded him. And, he came in as a replacement, so he had a great love for this crew and the plane and he had an airbrush artist airbrush a large picture of our B29. That’s all it is, just a picture of the B29, just about to approach a quad formation.
CD: So your crew survived? Did you leave very many friends behind? Did you know a lot of crews that didn’t...what was the percentage of planes that didn’t come back? Were most of them rescued if they went down?
FN: Ah, let’s see, we had a reunion in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1995, and out of 36 or 38, there was only, I’d say, about 24 of us were lucky enough to survive. We probably lost about 14 pilots, and their crews. So that’s 14 x 10, so that’s 140 men.
CD: But did you hear about how dangerous it is --I guess you know --to be up there?
FN: After the Marines secured Iwo Jima, there was over 25,000 airmen saved, lives saved, because of the Marines.
CD: And because, that’s where you landed too, with your shot up plane.
CD: Let’s see. I don’t want to miss anything about that. Oh, when you mentioned something earlier about that your attitude changed a little bit once you actually got into the service and got over there. So how’s was your attitude before you got into the service.
FN: Happy go lucky. Like any high school kid or college student.
CD: But how did you feel about going into the service? Were you anxious, looking forward to it?
FN: I was looking forward to it, get going to whatever I had to do.
CD: Okay, we’re gonna start talking about Mr. Nesbitt’s attitude about the military service. So, when you started, you were anxious to get going, oh, and you wanted to fly.
FN: Yeah, I wanted to fly. It was new in those days to farm boys so to speak. My attitude, all the way through the training and everything, was very happy go lucky. I saw a few accidents in training, and I saw a few . . .
CD: Of people flying and they crashed?
FN: Yeah, they’d make a mistake and, you have those things happening around you. They’d be down for a day, attitude wise, but then you get back up real quick, because of the program, the training program.
CD: So you get over there and you’re on the island and you start flying the missions; how was your attitude then?
FN: Ah, the attitude was good to fly the mission, but you are surrounded by a great amount of internal politics and organizations. Even in those days it was worse, I believe, than it is today, because of some of the legislation that has taken place. That internal politics is, oh, I can’t explain it now. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails sometime. Now, during that time, I hated to tell people this, but I was a flight officer, and that’s just a little bit above a warrant officer in the regular Army. And I got busted a couple of times (chuckle).
CD: For what?
FN: Well, most likely insubordination, reneging against politics, internal politics. Wouldn’t do what the good old boys wanted ya to do. You have your own mind made up that you’re not gonna do it. So, when I came out of the service, I was only a PFC.
CD: What’s that?
FN? Private First Class.
CD: Is that under a Flight Officer?
FN: Oh, yeah. Let’s see, I was a Master Sergeant, they elevated us after we started flying our combat missions, to Flight Officer. My first pilot was a First Lieutenant, and he was the airplane commander. And an airplane commander has the authority to qualify or disqualify advancement.
CD: And how did he feel about you?
FN: Well, I don’t know (chuckle). See, I was a renegade. And, I was, I was. But, I was a survivor too (chuckle).
CD: You sure were. So, how do you feel about that now?
FN: Great! Ah, I feel a little stupid, you know, for what I did. I could have been a Colonel today, or a retired Colonel.
CD: Wow, really.
FN: Oh, sure. I’d probably have stayed in the Air Force.
CD: But you would have to deal with internal politics your whole life.
FN: I believe it.
CD: (Chuckle) But, you may not be sitting here today, if you’d have gone to that.
FN: Yeah, right, you’re right. It would have changed my whole life scope. It really would have. Yeah.
CD: Oh, did you have very much exposure to the Japanese? I mean, did you have any opinions about them, before the war and then during the war?
FN: No, only I don’t like ‘em today. My wife calls me an Archie Bunker.
CD: And are you?
FN: Yeah, (chuckle) as far as the Japanese are concerned, I am. Yeah. Cause, they jumped on Pearl Harbor. That was the saddest thing that ever happened in our history. You lose 1,100 men on the Arizona, in one bombing mission, bang, 1,100 men. We got even with them though, over Tokyo on December the 9th, at night. We had never flown any of our missions below 18,000 feet. We flew an elevation of 18,000 or above. General LeMay, who was a new commanding officer in Guam, on March the 9th, issued an order that all the aircraft, there was over 200 aircraft from Guam, Tinian and Saipan, 230, I’ll say. My history book has the actual figure, which is a little bit more than that, maybe. We were to fly at 5,000 feet elevation, down here, over Tokyo the night of the great fire raid.
CD: Were you part of that?
FN? Oh, yes, that’s why we went down there on March the 9th. Let’s see, we took off about 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening from Tinian. We flew about six and a half hours to Tokyo, which would put us about midnight, and then we’re on the 10th, on the day of the 10th, early morning. Dropped our bomb load and came back. That fire raid killed 300,000 plus, I’ll say 369,000 people. Burned ‘em up right in their shacks, right in their homes. ‘Cause all their homes are like bamboo and paper and fiber. Just like these are, 369,000 people!
CD: What about the planes? How many planes made it back?
FN: Oh, a lot of ‘em, a lot of ‘em didn’t make it back from that raid. Five thousand feet, that’s just like shooting a rifle from here down to the corner. I mean bang! It’s low.
CD: So, they could see you?
FN: But, that night, before we went out, yeah, they could see us real clear, cause they had spotlights on us. And their anti aircraft fire was a good fire, but they had all of their explosives set off to go up to, maybe, 18,000 to 20,000 feet and they were busting way above us. Some of ‘em would go through our wings and go straight above us.
CD: How interesting. So, they didn’t know anything about the attack, they didn’t know it until you guys arrived.
FN: Oh, no, no. We did drop a lot of leaflets, up there. We bundle the Japanese leaflets, leaflets printed in Japanese, and we dropped ‘em over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Prior to the bombing,that they were gonna get hit. Those leaflets came to us in bundles, about a big a square as that fan.
We dropped these leaflets over every city in
CD: Mr. Nesbitt is showing me a floor fan. About three feet by five feet.
FN: Like a cotton bale. Yeah. And, when it fell out of the plane, they had trip wire, piano wires on it and the piano wire would hold here, and the bundle would fall out of the plane and it would bust open.
CD: So, you did a mission just for leaflets, no bombs in your plane. You took off in your plane just with these bundles.
FN: Hiroshima had never been bombed until the atomic bomb was dropped there. And there was a reason for that. Nagasaki had never been bombed until the atomic bomb was dropped there, by Chuck.
CD: So, why was that?
FN: They were saving that for a prime target. The reason they didn’t bomb Nagasaki first, during the combat days, was that was the headquarters of the Imperial Navy’s complete command. It was the headquarters for the Japanese.
CD: And, what did this leaflet say? Did it warn people?
FN: You know something, I’ve got some here someplace.
CD: Oh, you do! That would be amazing.
FN: Where the heck are they? Oh, I know where they are.
CD: So it’s in Japanese, but somebody translated it for you. Did you know what you were dropping?
FN: Oh, yeah, yeah, we were warning ‘em to get out. We didn’t want to kill all those people. That worries me even now.
FN: The people that died. They were human beings just like you and I. You know.
CD: Oh, yeah, especially the civilians.
FN: I get real emotional about that, now. Then I didn’t.
CD: What did you think then?
FN: Kill the bastards . . .
CD: Well, you’re in the middle of a war.
FN: Yeah, yeah, it was a war. It’s what you do in a war.
CD: So how far before did you know that was gonna happen? Did you know Hiroshima and Nagasaki were gonna get bombed?
FN: No, we were told to deliver the leaflets.
CD: At the time, did you know what the leaflets said?
CD: And, it was just in Japanese.
FN: I only had it interpreted just recently, at Golden West High School by the
Nisei boys, that’s Japanese boys that were in the Army as translators. They
worked in the
CD: Right, there was a unit of Japanese/Americans, weren’t they?
FN: Oh, yeah, yeah, they went in daily during the war. Yeah, you’re right.
CD: So, when you say yeah, you don’t feel anything about the Japanese, you’re talking about Japanese/Japanese, not Japanese/Americans?
FN: Well, you know (chuckle).
CD: (Chuckle) Mrs. Nesbitt is shaking her finger at Mr. Nesbitt (laughter).
FN: (Chuckle) I told her I’m an Archie Bunker guy.
CD: So, at the time you were given the leaflets and you just delivered them to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you didn’t know what they said. Did you suspect that they were gonna bomb?
FN: No, no, we were just delivering "Hey get out" warnings. We did that in a number of cases up there.
CD: Oh, like where? Did you do it over Tokyo?
FN: Yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah.
CD: Mr. Nesbitt is looking at the history book that he and his friends wrote. There’s a picture of the islands where they flew, Tinian and Saipan.
FN: Our base was on the north end of the island. Our quarters were over here, our living quarters. I’m just trying to figure that out.
CD: We’re looking at a map of
FN: It was here, right out here. See we had to fly from Guam, Tinian or Saipan, either one, wherever our plane was. And sometimes we landed at different islands, according to what the traffic pattern was, coming back. We’d fly through Iwo Jima. That’s roughly about 600 miles to there, and another 650 or so, and about another 650 to Tokyo. And we flew some missions up in Hokkaido.
CD: Oh, that’s far.
FN: Oh, it is, it’s a tremendous amount of time spent in the air. In fact, I was the only member on our crew that would never go to sleep. The rest of them would. They’d sleep coming home. After they got back in this area here, the Bonin Islands.
CD: Well, good thing you were the co-pilot.
FN: I just, I wouldn’t go to sleep. I couldn’t go to sleep.
CD: Hum, where were you when they dropped the atomic bomb?
FN: Oh, that’s an interesting story. During our stay on Tinian, about three months before they dropped the atomic bomb, one Seabee, Navy construction battalion came in there and laid a two lane, paved highway from the port at Tinian and right up the middle of the island.
CD: And you must have wondered what they were doing that for?
FN: Yeah, yeah, it seemed kind of funny to have a highway. Here it is right here, right straight up the middle of the island.
CD: We’re looking at a map of Tinian and the highway goes right up the middle of the island, (chuckle) a highway on that little island.
FN: Yeah and it was paved just like you pave that street out there, only a better job. Those Seabee’s are good. They did it in about, I’d say probably two weeks time.
CD: And what’s a Seabee again?
FN: A Navy construction battalion. The port was on the south end of Tinian, they unloaded their barrels of asphalt and had their plant down here to add the sand and whatever else they add to it. And they added coral, crest coral, had a grinder and they paved that baby all the way up the island. That was three months before the bombing, then the battle wagon pulled into the port, here. This is the port, down here, on the map. The battle wagon pulled in there one night after sundown. Unloaded the atomic bombs, two of ‘em, and they transported ‘em from there up the highway.
CD: And you were there?
FN: And we were there, oh yeah, we were living out here in this area right here. And they transported both bombs up the middle of the island at night with a Marine escort, red lights, oh, all kinds of vehicles around.
CD: Did you see it?
FN: No we didn’t see it. It came up the middle of the island, went around the air field and they based those bombs right out there.
CD: And that’s the only reason they made the highway?
FN: That’s the only reason they made that highway. That’s the only reason they made it.
CD: (Laughter) And how long did those bombs sit there?
FN: (Chuckle) Ah, they sat there about six weeks, two months.
CD: So, we’re looking at a map of Tinian and the bombs were stored on the upper north end point of the island. If you look at the map of the island, you can see the little point and that’s where they were for six weeks?
FN: Six weeks, maybe, or longer.
CD: Wow, so then what happened? You didn’t know they were there, you didn’t know what was there or anything?
FN: Well, we had rumbles, GI rumbles, they call ‘em. The GI rumbles was, we had a big bomb on the island, or it was gonna be on the island. Just a big bomb. We didn’t know anything about the nuclear portion of it. We didn’t have that communication with our news from the States.
CD: And did they bring a fresh crew? I mean like the people that were on the plane, did they come from the island? Were they part of you guys?
FN: Oh, you mean, oh, no, they were a special crew that was trained in Wendover,Utah, special crews that were trained. There was 15 planes in that squadron and they were based right next to our squadron.
CD: And, did you know what they were for?
FN: We knew they were there for a special service, a big bomb or something. But they flew with us for, oh, I’d say, different flights, different bombing missions about two months for training to go up to the empire.
CD: And did they know what they were there for?
FN: They knew what they were there for. Yeah. General Tibbits, whom I know I have met, was the commanding officer. And there was a boy from Ivanhoe that was in that squadron, who was his first rated bombardier.
CD: He was in the squadron that was gonna drop the bomb on Hiroshima?
FN: Yes, yes, he was in Tibbits crew. And the night of the briefing for the crew -- we always had internal briefings in a hall with a map, times of departure and technical stuff. And Tibbits himself had chosen Stewart Williams, this boy from Ivanhoe. He was a young guy, he was 21. They had chosen him as his first bombardier on the crew, ‘cause he had the best rating when they were in training. And, the bombardier sat right in the nose of this aircraft, right in the nose.
CD: And what do they do?
FN: Well, they’re the ones that open the bomb bay.
CD: Oh, got it, that makes sense.
FN: Triggers the bombs to fall out of the bomb bay. The night before they attacked, they put a commanding officer, a Lieutenant Colonel in as bombardier and Stew was only a Lieutenant, First Lieutenant on the crew. They usually put a higher ranking officer in there. That’s where the politics comes in. He was a friend of Tibbits.
Editor’s note: Although Stewart Williams is part of the original crew of the Enola Gay, Major Thomas Ferebee was the bombardier on board this plane at Hiroshima and Captain Kermit Beahan was the bombardier at Nagasaki. So evidently, "politics" sidelined Stewart Williams.
CD: So you weren’t in there when they had the briefing?
FN: No, I wasn’t in there. We knew nothing; we’d been grounded. Everything in the Marianna Islands had been grounded.
CD: For how long?
FN: A couple of days.
CD: So everything was grounded. You weren’t told of any mission?
FN: We were told that there wouldn’t be any missions, due to the weather over
CD: We’re now looking at a replica of the plane. Wow, look at the bomb.
FN: That’s a bomb bay.
CD: Did you make it?
FN: No, my grandson made that for me when he was in high school.
CD: Oh, isn’t that cute. Oh, with the painting and that was your plane?
FN: Yeah, yeah, that was ours, and he did the painting job.
CD: A big time operation.
FN: Oh, yeah, he made that for me. I used to take that to the high schools and have lectures. This book and a few other items. Golden West was the key of starting this thing and now Tulare Western is doing it or Tulare Union’s doing it. Inviting all the old timers in. In transporting around, it got a little busted up.
CD: Well, that can be fixed.
FN: Oh yeah, I was gonna tell ya, the nose section of this plane, my old plane on Tinian Island which runs from right here, the forward leading edge of the wing, forward, is in that Museum of Flight in Seattle.
CD: And you went to see it?
FN: Oh well, it used to be in Marysville, California in a museum.
CD: Oh it did, in Marysville?
FN: Yeah, yeah. We were there to see it and my son went with me and took a camera.
CD: A video?
FN: A video camera with him to make a tape and did pictures of my wife and I both in the cockpit of this aircraft, the aircraft that I flew during World War II. That was only about eight years ago and then they moved it from that museum. It still had everything in the compartment, instruments and everything. One clock was missing on the wall of the engineer’s panel. But they had the clock; they took it to the Museum of Flight in Seattle across the street from Boeing. It’s a museum.
CD: That’s interesting. That’s a better place for it to be because Marysville is awfully small.
FN: It is, really.
CD: (Chuckle) It’s a tiny place. Let’s get back to the night before. The first bomb was Hiroshima, was it?
CD: And you said that they grounded you for two or three days, saying it was bad weather in
FN: Yeah, we believed it.
CD: So, you guys were grounded?
FN: Yeah, we were. Yeah, you
believe anything you hear out there when
you’re in combat. Everything was
grounded. All except the weather plane. One weather plane took off from Tinian Island everyday and it flew over
CD: Right, so what did you think when they took off?
FN: The morning that they took off, no it wasn’t, it was the evening. It was an evening flight and they were up there over day break. They took off late in the evening, say 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock, as I remember it.
CD: Wow, that is late.
FN: Yeah, very late. The only plane that took off from the island for maybe three days, off of Tinian Island, other than the weather plane. And, they flew their mission with the bomb aboard, with two aircraft flying as observers.
CD: So, there was the main plane and there were two planes next to it?
FN: Yeah, yeah, some B29’s. One was a photography plane and one plane carried all the instrumentation with it, to record, like vibration and radio active material. It was very scientific, yeah, in those days.
CD: Right, and the plane that carried the bomb was a B-29.
FN: Oh, yeah, a B-29. Tibbits was flying with Chuck Sweeney, his co-pilot. He practically lived with him. Oh, what was Chuck’s last name?
CD: You’ll remember it in a minute.
FN: Yeah, it’s come to that.
Editor’s Note: The Enola Gay’s Copilot was Robert A Lewis. On the Nagasaki run, Charles Sweeney was the aircraft commander
and pilot.This plane was called "Bock’s Car" and the
initial target for this atomic bomb run was Kokura,
CD: So, they took off at 10:00 at night.
FN: Yeah, so they’d be up there at just the break of daylight in the morning or a little later. They didn’t hurry anything going north. I mean they didn’t fly top speed or anything like that. They were pacing themselves so that they would arrive there over daylight hours. So they could get the photography and instrumentation correct.
CD: Oh, so they could see it and take pictures.
FN: Oh yeah, yeah, right.
CD: So then they came back.
FN: They came back and, of course, all the folderol, you know, I just call it "noise" started. They got their flying cross and awards.
CD: When they came back, did they talk?
FN: Oh, yeah.
CD: But they were still gonna bomb Nagasaki, it still wasn’t . . . they were able to talk to the rest?
FN: Oh yeah, they talked.
CD: What did they say?
FN: I really don’t remember. I didn’t talk to any of the boys after their first mission. I did after the second mission, when they flew to Nagasaki.
CD: What did they say when you talked to them after Nagasaki?
FN: Ah, Chuck and his crew, they were out blind. The whole crew expressed different ideas. But they were impressed by what they saw of the demolition.
CD: What do you mean they expressed different ideas? Some agreed, some didn’t?
FN: Oh, they all agreed. In those days, young guys all wanted to really blow the heck out of the Japanese and, of course, that’s what we were sent out there to do. They were amazed, in one factor, that the bomb devastated such a wide area, an expanded area. Hum, let’s see . . .
CD: And now, after all these years, what do you think?
FN: I think it was the right thing to do. It saved millions of people. Explanations in many articles that I have read, over the years, over 58 years, said that between the Japanese on the main island of Japan and the invading forces, which was already out there on Okinawa, which was an island offshore of Japan, they said that there would have been maybe a million more people die, that’s people on both sides. I believe and I will always believe that there would have been like five million people that would have died. Five million people, can you imagine that? It’s a lot of people.
CD: So what did you think after Hiroshima? Did you think, okay, the Japanese were gonna surrender, was that the prevailing idea?
FN: We were hoping; we were hoping they would. ‘Cause we didn’t want to bomb anymore civilians. We wiped out all of their manufacturing and all of their field reserves. We wiped it out, I mean, that island, the Japanese island, I don’t have a picture of that. It was a relative small area for a bombing target. And there was over a thousand B-29’s flying up there during missions. A thousand B-29’s, all leaving from those three little islands in the Marianna’s. An interesting thing, there’s two things in my lifetime that I will never forget; it was the most interesting thing to observe. During the building up of the forces for Iwo Jima, invasion forces for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, there was, at night when we’d take off, we’d take off about sundown a lot of times. And we’d fly north off of Tinian Island and the invasion force was a fleet of ships, so vast, I mean hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds.
CD: Towards Okinawa and Iwo Jima?
FN: They were moving toward Iwo Jima and Okinawa, slowly, very slowly, maybe they were going . . .
CD: And you could see them go by the islands?
FN: Well, they were far enough offshore; they were off of the curve of the earth, off of Tinian. When we got up in the air, we could see ‘em. We got up there, maybe five thousand feet, flying north, six thousand, seven thousand feet, flying north. They did that to keep the engines cool. It was such a vast armada of the fleet, ocean fleet, moving those men north. It would look like, if you were down there, you could step from one to the next walking across the ships. Now that’s how many there were. I can’t even begin to tell you how many there were. We never had time to sit there and count.
CD: And it took that much, just to take Iwo Jima?
FN: Oh yeah, yeah, Iwo Jima, they lost 4,800 Marines there. Yep, 4,800 Marines died there.
CD: So what was the second most . . .
FN: The second most interesting thing to me and I am a historian buff, just by nature, about a week before we were ordered up, I don’t know, it was September the 5th, our time. I think it was September the 6th, their time, we were ordered out; we took the crew with us.
CD: You mean the day the Japanese surrendered?
FN: Yep, the day they had the signing of the document with MacArthur and all the commanders on the Missouri.
CD: Um hum.
FN: Oh, you know about that on Tokyo Bay? You know about that?
CD: Well, I, from my history classes, I can remember that just vaguely.
FN: We took all the guns, no bomb bay loads, filled up with gasoline, 7,000 gallons of gasoline and flew over the Missouri. Some squadrons went over in squadron formation. Our squadron was gonna be different, so we flew over the deal in what we call in tandem, one behind the other, a thousand feet off the ground, right over the top of the Missouri. That was the most thrilling thing, while they were signing the papers.
CD: And you knew?
FN: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
CD: Yeah, signing. See that part I never heard. I knew MacArthur was on the ship and he was signing with the emperor, right?
FN: Yeah, with the emperor, yeah. It was so noisy and we dang near blew ‘em off of the deck (laughter).
CD: (Laughter) Well, that may not have been a bad thing.
FN: And to me, that was good. That day there was over 1,000 B- 29’s flying over the Missouri. Just to show the air power, that the Japs were about to suffer with. That’s the reason we flew in. That made ‘em feel good about signing the declaration closing the war. Yeah, those two things to me were the biggest picture. And I remember every inch of it today. And what fun it was to fly through without bombs. It really was.
CD: Right, was it because the plane was lighter or because the war was over?
FN: It was lighter, the plane held better, everything. The crew felt good. They took all the guns out and they just sat in their positions, some of ‘em took pictures, I don’t have any pictures.
CD: Did any of the people in your crew give you any of their pictures?
FN: No, I was the only one in the entire squadron, other than the military, that had a camera out there. So I took camera pictures of just about everything that was going on.
CD: Did you take pictures that day?
FN: No I didn’t. That day I was busy flying.
CD: Oh, were you the pilot?
FN: Oh, yeah, oh yeah.
CD: You weren’t the co-pilot?
FN: Oh yeah, the co-pilot. The pilot and co-pilot sit side by side. Have you flown on an airline? It’s just like an airline. Yeah, well, the co-pilot sits on the right and the commander sits on the left.
CD: Huh, wow, that’s interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about life in Tulare County. What did your, you know, the family that stayed behind, what did they say life was like here?
FN: It was difficult, very difficult for them.
CD: Did they talk much about it when you got home?
FN: No, because about six months after I got back, they took the rationing off.
CD: Oh, so you only had it for six months. I mean you only saw what it was like.
FN: Yeah, that’s right.
CD: Well, if he didn’t have enough gas, like it took a lot of ration tickets to get to Goshen. How much gas were they actually given?
FN: Ah, four gallons per ticket.
CD: Wow, four gallons per ticket. And how many tickets were there?
FN: The little tickets they issued. Dad had a black market going someplace (chuckle), I don’t know how he did it. Because when we were up in Rapid City, South Dakota, he sent us enough for, oh my, he sent us enough tickets for, I don’t know, fifty gallons of gas.
CD: Wow, and that was the year you and Pat were together?
FN: Yeah, we were up there together.
CD: So you needed gas to get around and do stuff.
FN: Well, we didn’t have an automobile, but we had some friends that had an automobile, people that lived in Rapid City, South Dakota.
CD: And what did they think when you showed up with 50 . . . ?
FN: When I showed up with the ration tickets, all of a sudden they wanted to take us to Mt Rushmore to see the area and all. So we got to see Deadwood, the gambling place. They took us up to Mt. Rushmore.
CD: And you don’t know how your dad got ‘em?
FN: (Chuckle) Ah, I don’t know.
CD: (Laughter) What did he do for a living, he was a farmer?
FN: No, he worked with Southern California Gas Company as a service person. He circulated quite a bit around Tulare County as a service man, for gas appliances and turning meters on and off and so forth.
CD: And did you have any brothers that were in the war too?
FN: Yes, I did.
CD: And what did they sign up for?
FN: My brother, Thomas Merlin Nesbitt, about a month before Pearl Harbor bombing by the Japs, enlisted in the Navy and went to San Diego for basic training.
CD: Was that common for people to enlist before Pearl Harbor? Was there a sense of . . .
FN: No, no, he and his friend, Sam Agers, just enlisted in the Navy. He was kind of a renegade in his own right. When he was younger, about 13 or 14, he jumped a rail car and went all the way to Florida from home, just to get out of school, went from there up to Ohio, riding the rail all the time. That was the thing kids wanted to do back then.
CD: Yeah, I had a relative that did that, I’ve heard, in my genealogy.
FN: And he was a little bit of, I’d say, a testy sort of a person, restless, he didn’t like school.
CD: So, how did he do in the Navy?
FN: He did real well.
CD: And he lived through the war?
FN: Oh, yeah, he lived through the war. In fact, he was in the Pacific theatre with me. He was hoping he’d get on the picket line, that’s the patrol. He was on the destroyer between Saipan and Iwo Jima.
CD: And that was called the picket line?
FN: That was the picket line, Navy picket line. They run this picket line to pick up the airmen that went down in the water. He was only down in that to meet me (chuckle). Son-of-a-gun, I don’t want to meet you that way (chuckle). But he was in the general area of the Pacific where I was flying over. He made a good rating of his own in the Navy. After World War II was over, declared over, they had a wrestling and weight lifting championship contest in the Navy in Buckner Bay in Okinawa, and he was the champion weight lifter, you know. Yeah, he was about six feet, three or six four.
CD: Oh, ‘cause that would have been too tall to be a pilot, right?
FN: Yeah, oh yeah. And he took the heavyweight, the Navy heavy- weight lifting championship in Buckner Bay in 1945. And he was, he was a very physical and muscular fit person. See that?
CD: What’s that from? Is that from your open heart surgery? Huh?
FN: Ever seen that before?
FN: From anybody?
CD: So, they take a vein out of your arm.
FN: They take an artery.
CD: Oh, there’s one more question: so, how do you think World War II affected Tulare County? Did you see changes when you got home?
FN: Saw some people with a lot of money.
CD: Oh, did you?
FN: Oh yes, farmers, with a lot of money.
CD: Like more money than when you left?
FN: Yes, oh yes. They generated . . .well, they had to feed the troops, eleven million of ‘em world wide, both in Europe and in the islands. They had to feed the troops and a lot of farmers made a lot of money.
CD: And before that, they weren’t making money?
FN: No, they were just breaking even.
CD: That’s interesting.
FN: Yeah, very interesting. And a lot of other people made a lot of money. Like when we came back from the service, we were lucky I was able to buy a fleet line Chevy for $2,100, from an honest dealer. But in Visalia, all the dealers in Visalia were taking $10,000 under the table, over and above the price of the car.
CD: And how did they get away with that?
FN: Don’t ask me, I have no idea.
CD: I mean, why would somebody pay that much?
FN: Just to get a new car. And there was a lot of veterans coming back that had money they had saved. In fact we saved, from my gambling days in the service, we saved enough money to build a house.
CD: Wow, you won at gambling?
FN: Yes, yes.
CD: Oh. Like what game were you good at?
FN: Well, a number of ‘em, poker was one.
CD: Like five card stud or five card draw?
FN: As a rule, there was only two things we played. Once in a while, a little bit of dice. But, my key bill was cribbage. I made more money at cribbage.
CD: And, where would you save all the cash?
FN: Sent it home.
CD: Oh, you sent it home, and your wife would save it?
FN: Yep. Well, she was working in the Security Bank at the time. And we built a home on Center Street in Visalia. Paid $700 for the lot. The lot today is worth $40,000 probably. Same lot, ‘cause it’s close to downtown, seven hundred block in Visalia.
CD: Let’s see, is there anything that I haven’t covered that sums this up? Oh, how, would you say that the World War II years affected you in the end? After it’s all said and done.
FN: Hum, well, I became an electrician, went into the Civil Service later on and I was at the rocket engine test center, I was a technician out there.
CD: And where was that?
FN: At Boron, at Edward’s Air Force Base, during the testing of the engines that flew the boys to the moon.
CD: Really, so you guys moved for a little bit?
FN: Yeah, we lived in Lancaster from 1954 until 1960. Yeah, and an interesting thing on that was, I worked on, technically, the engineering problems in testing these engines for temperature, heat, and many other things, thrust; and during 1965, our son, David, our oldest son, was sent by the Army, after he’d been through electronics school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, he was sent to Asmera, Ethiopia, as an Army person in civilian clothes. I called him Sam Spade of Africa (chuckle). And out there, they took mobile homes, not fancy, and they set them up and they made a tracking station with a big deal outside for the moon shot.
CD: Oh, so he got involved in some of that too?
FN: Yeah, he got involved in it also. And, you know, there was four tracking
stations around the world, and one of ‘em was in Asmera,
CD: Now, did you ever fly again after you got out?
FN: After I got out of the war? Oh, I flew commercially a couple of times (chuckle). No, I never did, you know the good Lord let me live that long. No, I’m not joking, in combat (chuckle), and, why push it?
CD: Thank you very much.
12/04/2003 C. Doe/Transcribed by PD/Edited 1/22/04 JW
Editor’s note: The words in italics are the result of research done and phone interviews with the current tenant at 806 W. Central Ave., Fontana Ranches, and with Floyd Nesbitt on March 20, 2006.