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
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
In military service
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Life in rural Tulare Country,Lemon Cove area,Lake Kaweah
Life in the military,vivid account of life in the trenches
Life as an infantryman in the Army
DJ: This is the Years of Valor, Years of Hope project and I am interviewing Wally Rice and it is November 2003 and this is in Visalia, California. Wally, what was your date of birth?
WR: You know I’ve got a long time. In my time, that you are talking about, in my life, I went through the Depression. I went through a war; I went through a Cold War and on. I have so many things to tell; I don’t know where to start.
I was born in 1923 where Lake Kaweah is right now, which at that time of course, wasn’t a lake. And I was a member of a pioneer family that came here in 1880, which was Great Grandpa and Grandma Marks. And then my grandfather, Jacob William Boliver Rice, came out to visit from Iowa and he married one of the Marks daughters, Cora, who became my Grandpa and Grandma Rice. So I was raised on that ranch which was 1100 acres and it was time of the Depression and we were having a rough time. So Grandpa had all that property with 12 kids. He had a log cabin that he lived in with 4 children, and then moved across the river to the present ranch that is there now and had eight more children. One of them was Royal, who married Zora Bingham in 1919. Royal and Zora Rice are my parents. I was born in 1923 in the log cabin.
So we had kind of a rough life at that time. And I had all my relatives around me,my aunts, my uncles, everybody, so I lived a very protected life. I knew that if I did something wrong, one of my relatives would correct me and I also had all my cousins to play with. But that wasn’t good some times because every time I’d get a girl friend they’d happen to be a cousin and I couldn’t go any further. Anyway, I grew up in that kind of a life.
I was born, I think, with a fish pole in one hand and a 22 rifle in the other hand. My father was a trapper. That was his living. In the wintertime, we went on a trap line. We would trap for pelts. One of the things I can remember about that and come up into my later years, was very valuable to me, was my father taking me on these trap lines and going through all these stops and ask which way is home. And I was to tell him which way was home. And he taught me how to tell direction at that time. That’s part of my story later on.
But at 14, I lost my father through death. He had a heart attack. He was an atheist and he wasn’t employed by anybody half the time and when he did he usually got sick and came home and so all he knew was deer hunting and trap lines. But I was proud of him because he still was a very good father. He was disciplined but the best part was my mother who was a Christian and she taught me the Christian way of life. And it so happens, I was Mama’s favorite son and my next brother under me was Daddy’s favorite son.
But Mama…when Daddy died, Mama was pregnant with my youngest sister. There was five children in the family. Once she was born,three boys and three girls. When Daddy passed away I can remember my Grandpa Bingham took me aside and told me now that I am the man of the family. From Grandpa’s estate, we were given 70 acres of land. We had to build our house on the top of a rock pile, because we didn’t want to waste any of that valuable land for anything else. So each one of us boys had a crowbar and every night we would remove rocks in the backyard so we could have a place to play,have a backyard. And I can remember it cost $87 dollars to get electricity to our house at that time. The telephone was removed because we couldn’t afford to pay it. We had an old car that sat out in the driveway that wouldn’t run. We had one old milk cow. So Walter and Wilbur, my two brothers and Eunice and Bernice and my baby sister, Darlene, along with my mother were my family.
So anyway, we survived. I got a job trapping gophers for a farmer there and Walter got a job cleaning out stalls at a dairy and my sister went to work for Bank of America at about 16 ½ years. We also finished school. Mom made sure we went to Sunday school, but she couldn’t go with us because she didn’t have any clothes to wear to fit the rest of the community, but she made sure we always went. I don’t know, I could go on about my childhood. It was so wonderful to have a life that nobody else had.
I can see the people down in town had nice green lawns and nice flush toilets in the house and lights and everything. Here we sit with outdoor toilets 200 feet down the canyon, and a pump in the front. We packed water up to the house, and come time to take a bath, you’d pull a sheet around the fire heater that we had in the house and an old galvanized bath tub, and another pail because as soon as you put your foot in the water you had to go pee. We had that one so you could pee. The girls took a bath first and we emptied the water out and hauled more water up and the three boys took theirs. But I’ll tell you one thing,in that little house, I never saw my sister that didn’t have their clothes on.
We were a very moral family, a very good family, but having an old shack like that wasn’t like living in a mansion. I envied those city kids. I couldn’t take on sports because I had to milk cows and do chores at night, 7 days week, milking cows. And we built our little herd up to about five, but every night there was a fight in the house, whether it was my turn to milk or his turn to milk. And the girls, whether it was their turn to wash the dishes or their turn to dry the dishes. So we grew up in a family that knew how to fight, but we knew how to fight without hurting each other.
I can remember one time when we were down milking, and Wilbur was a baby in the family, so we cried because the baby never had to do anything. One day we got him down to the barn because Momma said he was old enough, and he came down to help milk cows. Now we knew we didn’t need him, so we just teased him. So we gave him a little Jersey cow to milk. While he was milking I saw how hard it was and he was getting furious, so I tipped my cow’s tit up and I sprayed the side of his head. Well he jumped up mad as heck and grabbed the closest thing he could find, which was a cow chip, and I took off running, and he hit me with the cow chip between the shoulder blades. Now it was my turn, so I turned around and grabbed one that was a little fresher and I hit him right behind the head with it. Next time, Walt and Wilbur both said let’s take him. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t fight and they were laughing so hard they couldn’t fight either, but we all fell on the ground wrestling and the next thing I know there was Mom with a broom in her hand over top of us swinging the broom. But it was that kind of a home we grew up in. And we loved it.
At that point on, responsibility fell on me. I had a little sister that was a baby who thought the world of me and I thought the world of her, so when you asked me what it was like to go to war, here I am an 18-year-old boy making a big decision. I had my mother with all those children to take care of and I had just planted out 500 tomato plants and that was going to be our living, our farming, when I heard about Pearl Harbor, I was in school at the time.
By the way, we didn’t have a radio. So I heard about Pearl Harbor at school. What went through my mind at that time was the fear of my mother and family as I knew I had to go to a war. I didn’t know how to do that, so I waited. And my friends all joined the Air Force and got good jobs. Finally, I got that little letter, saying that the army needed me. It was very much a relief in one way because then they couldn’t accuse me of running out on my family. Then I had the freedom of saying, " I have to go, Momma." And Walter had to become the man of the family real fast. We lost the tomato crop because he couldn’t take care of them, but . . . I think what hurt me worse was that all of my family loved each other so much and I knew if they went to the bus with me when I went, there would be a lot of bawling and everything and I was very bashful. Didn’t want any crying over me.
So I told them all I didn’t want them down at the bus depot in Exeter to see me off, but I tell you when I got down to the bus depot there was all my family. A most wonderful feeling. And of course a lot of bawling. Some of my best friends was with me and we went into the service together. Of course I had to go into the infantry at the bottom, because the Air Force, when you’re drafted you don’t get an option, so I went into the Army, the Tank Destroyers, not the Infantry.
When I got into the Army that first night I could hear bawling all up and down the barracks where these children were bawling because they missed their momma or their wife. I tried to be brave and not cry, so I covered my head up. It was quite a thing for all of us to leave our homes. It wasn’t a matter that we were going to become heroes, the matter was our problems were making it so we could go and stop what was taking place in this world. We just knew it was our job, it wasn’t that we wanted to be heroes. There was nothing brave about it,you’re poor.
When they took me in the first thing they told me, they’d send me to camp in Texas which was commando training. I wondered why these were mostly single men and they said because what you are going through it’s best if you don’t have a family. And so I went into the tank destroyers and we would stop right behind the lines and bust through the lines. Through this training, we were taught how to kill a man with our bare hands, and take care of ourselves any way or means. Dirty fighting and so one of the worst parts of the war was the training I went through,how tough and rugged it was and what it brought out in us. But I turned out not being a bashful little boy. When that was over with I thought I could whip Joe Lewis, I was that good.
So at the time that the African campaign ended, they decided they didn’t need this operation with tanks, so they ended the tank destroyers to that volume anyway and I was transferred into the field artillery. So in the field artillery, it was quite a nice job because the discipline wasn’t there and I was taught discipline and so I felt when you were on guard duty, you were a guard.
And when you were down at the PX and they put you on guard, you were to tell them to button your shirt and all this, and so the first job I had that night, here comes the Lieutenant with three cokes to take outside. And I said, "Sir, you don’t take those outside." He had come into the PX to buy cokes. He said his wife was out in the car. I told him to have his wife come in. He said she didn’t want it here. I said well then, you drink the cokes. And he had three cokes. Well he got up and told me he was a lieutenant and I wasn’t nothing but a PFC, and I said, "Yes sir, but I’m the guard. And right up there on that sign it says you do not take cokes out of this building. And it doesn’t say anything about privates or lieutenants, so either drink the cokes here or bring your wife in." Well, the next day I was removed from the guard duty at the PX.
Well I took my basic again in field artillery in Kansas and I was put in as a battalion mail clerk because I had already finished my basic somewhere else instead of going through this, so I became a mail clerk, and we took our training again, and I left Camp Kilmer to . . . I’m not sure of the town, in New York. Anyway I was shipped from there, went by the Statue of Liberty and waved goodbye and went into South Hampton and South Wales and we waited there for umpteen days for D-Day to hit.
We knew we would be hitting the beach. So there were no heroes, just children scared half to death, and I was one of them. We didn’t know what was going to happen because we knew the Germans were good soldiers and they were out to kill, and so I didn’t hit the beach on D-Day. When we heard they had hit the beach head, the infantry had, we got in the ship and took off as the field artillery and it was about 3 days after the initial landing in Normandy.
There we hit the beach with our 12 hot pieces as Colonel Hinkley called it, the howitzer division. Right there was when I started in the war. And the first thing I remember was the hedge rows at Normandy, and that’s when I wished I wasn’t 6’2", but 5’2" because I had to stoop over when some could run along behind the hedges where my head was sticking up above the hedges. The next thing I knew I’d seen airplanes overhead shooting at each other. I was fascinated until somebody yelled, "Idiot, get down in the ditch!" I didn’t know why because those airplanes were up there, but I found out that’s when the sniper shoots you, because we can’t tell where they’re shooting from. So that was the first thing. Anyway, have you got any questions you want to ask?
DJ: No, keep going, it’s wonderful.
WR: The next thing I know after we got to
When we hit there, champagne was free. They gave it to us free. And the next time I went back there was in the rest area and it cost me 200 francs and the next time it was 400 francs. I just couldn’t buy it. But I wasn’t a drinker so it didn't matter much to me.
Next was the most fortified city in the world and I think it meant something to General Patton, who was my general of the 3rd Army, to take Metz. Anyway, we lost, I understand, most of the 5th Division and they moved the 26th in. They ran out of infantry, and then I was put in the infantry because I didn’t have any children and so someone volunteered me to go into the infantry and I felt like I was being aborted, because I wanted children as much as anyone else, but it didn’t make that big a difference, because I didn’t go over there for that reason. Anyway, I went into the infantry…and I got up for the interview and he said, "How tall are you?" And I told him. And he said, "Did you ever fire a B.A.R. (Brownie Automatic Rifle)?" I said, "I have never seen one, sir." And he said, "You are a B.A.R. man now. That’s your Browning Automatic Rifle which you don’t shoot from the shoulder. So I became a B.A.R. man and we started to go ahead and finish the town of Metz.
Then they got a call they had pulled off the Battle of the Bulge and that’s when we forgot about Metz. We were all put on trucks and were shipped to the Battle of the Bulge. I was a B.A.R. man and I was already a T-5 because I had that rank before, so that made me Assistant Squad Sergeant also. I was never so scared in my life. They drove us up there and the snow was about three feet deep, freezing to death. We had our overcoats on and all of our gear, our blankets, we walked fast, and they made us run until we found the enemy. The trucks stopped and didn’t go any further because they didn’t want to lose the trucks. So they stopped and unloaded us as soon as they saw we could hear guns, and we started running. So many things happened. I can’t go through all of them.
Anyway, when we did strike the enemy, we could see them across the canyon and we were in a town looking down into the canyon when they held us up. The problem was the bridge was knocked out in the river down below us and we couldn’t get across. So it was our job as infantry to get across that river, into that enemy territory, and secure the land so that they could rebuild that bridge. And I was the B.A.R. man and the B.A.R. man has an ammo carrier with him. He carries your ammo for you as well as you do. So we went down this narrow trail, and all at once my ammo carrier disappeared. I kept wondering, "Where is my ammo, where is my ammo," and somebody said, "I don’t know. The last I seen he was back up in the town on the hill." So I went back up to look for him and I found him and he had deserted. He was scared to death and wouldn’t go any further, and he was hiding. So I took the ammunition and carried my own ammo. I got down to the river. They had an old boat to get across in and I was fortunate as a B.A.R. man and I went across in the first boat. Scared to death.
I want to back up. When we were in this little town to clear that area across the river, we had artillery just blast that mountainside where the Germans were. So they were all undercover. We knew a lot of them were killed, but some Germans got over the mountain and got away, but we also knew there were Germans still up there. So we went across the river, the fear was that we wouldn’t make it. Being in the first boat, I got across to a little town. I remember the first dead man I saw. I was standing up near this building to protect myself and there was a German over there all bloated and I thought, oh my gosh, and I looked over at him and he blinked. I didn’t know whether he was dead or rigor mortis had set in or what, but I watched every move. I didn’t see him make any more. He was dead.
Anyway, until we got down to the bridge, where the blown out bridge was, the reason we went above it was so the Germans wouldn’t know we were above it and would take the fire off the engineers trying to put the bridge in. That was a mistake. Our captain said we’d take the town on the top of the hill and we took that town at the top of the hill. The only thing was the artillery didn’t know we were doing that. So the next morning, we realized that we were being shot at by our own artillery! And the Germans knew we weren’t German so life was really scary. That’s when I said my first prayer,really prayed. And my prayer wasn’t to save my life, because I had already given my life.
My prayer was, "Don’t let my momma get that card. It would kill her. Don’t do that to her, please." You don’t prayer for your own self, you pray for the people you love. Anyway, they started shooting high bursts in on us and I felt something hit my leg but I thought it was snow, and the kid in the foxhole with me, he said, "Did that get you?" And he said, "It got me, it got my leg." I looked up and it looked like a ham had just been cut off of his leg. It was wide open, but it wasn’t bleeding, it was like a cold ham. So I gave him my pills to take if you are wounded. He had filled his canteen clear full so it had frozen. We always just filled half full to keep it from freezing, so I gave him my water. I gave him what I could; I realized someone had to get back and tell somebody that our artillery was shooting at our own troops.
Well, when I looked up out of that foxhole, I couldn’t see another human being, except him and I were there. I didn’t know what happened to my outfit. I knew I had to get down to notify somebody, and I had to be relieved of the responsibility of running out, so I looked at this guy and said, "Tell you what, you go down there and you tell those engineers to contact the artillery to hold their fire as they’re killing our men up here." And I knew what he had to say,I can’t walk, but that didn’t relieve me, because he was still a burden. I said, "You get on my back and I’ll carry you out." And he says, "Wally you’ll never make it out. I weigh more than you do."
And that’s when I realized that gave me the freedom…that I’m leaving to get back down there. I gave him my B.A.R. and hung two grenades from the button holes in my coat collar,one was phosphorus and the other a shrapnel grenade, and I took off running down this hill, this steep hill in through that canyon. I thought I was running until I heard one of our shells go over the top of my head and land right behind me, and I realized I was just trotting. And I’ll swear I jumped two fences in one jump. There was two fences about 10 feet apart. I don’t think I hit the ground between them, and I slid down in the snow in this canyon and I heard a tank.
In my mind, I knew that tank was not ours because they couldn’t get over the bridge. Now I figured I got it. I took my shrapnel grenade and pulled the pin on it and I was going to sneak up over this grade and if I had seen the tank, I don’t know what I intended to do with this grenade, but that was the only weapon I had. When I remembered that old movie of Sergeant York going gobble, gobble, gobble with the guy sticking his head up and I thought I was that guy sticking his head up. So I pulled my head back down and I said I’ve got to get down there and I went on down to the road, and as I hit the road I looked and here was the bridge but a 50 caliber machine gun swung right at me. And I realized they couldn’t tell who I was as there was that mud and snow covering me, and I started yelling, "I’m a GI! I’m a GI! I’m a GI!"
Some officer put his hand up in front and motioned for me to come down. And so I got down where they were, and I said, "Sir, get a hold of field artillery and tell them they’re killing our guys off." He said, "I can’t get a hold of field artillery." I said "Don’t sit there with your finger so and so, do something!" And he looked at me and said, "Soldier, tell you what you do, you just be calm. You let me have that grenade you have in your hand." And he took the grenade that was in my hand and threw it out in the water and it went off, and he turned to me and said, "I’ll tell you what, you go and we’ll get the medic to take care of that leg of yours." I looked down and here on my leg there was blood all over. I had been wounded and didn’t realize it. And you know what, I couldn’t take another step. They had to carry me. I guess the fear was overriding the hurt that I had. It was so cold, and it wasn’t bleeding very much too, so I guess you could say I was "ETO happy" (European Theater of Operation) at that time. I was scared stiff. So they took me into the medics and they shipped me back and operated and took the shrapnel out, and I ended up back in Rheims, in the hospital, and I was going to be there for few hours and I’d go on back and I heard somebody talk about Ralph Butts. I heard him say Ralph Butts. That was the cousin I grew up with. I thought that couldn’t be.
DJ: The cousin in Three Rivers?
WR: Yes. I yelled out and this guy came in and I said I heard you talk about this guy Ralph Butts, where’s he from? And the guy said California. Well, he was up at the front building a first aid station, he was in the medics and got a field station, and as soon as they got back they would let me know. In about 30 minutes they got back, and there was two hours of crying, but I know God sent him to me, because I needed somebody so bad from home. Anyway, they shipped me on back for surgery and later back up to the front. I’m glad they did. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had been left in the state I was in at the time! So I went back up to the front and they were in a holding position and it was a whole new outfit, because the outfit I was in had gone, and replacements had taken their place, so all I knew was one guy left from that hillside I was on.
In this holding position we would have to send out patrols to another outfit down the river. It was on the river, the Seine River I think it was, and the Germans were on one side and we were on the other and we would send a patrol out at nighttime every two hours to make contact with the other outfit. They told me I didn’t have to do anything. They realized I had just gotten up there. I heard these guys talking about how they couldn’t find that place at night and they were not completing that patrol. I asked them the next day if I could take a day patrol with them. They said I didn’t know the area. I said I’ll take that patrol. I want to go.
So I went up through these mountains and there were mines on the trail. It was about 3 miles up this steep hill in a Sequoia Park kind of terrain and up there was an outpost and two guys were in the outpost and we were supposed to meet with them. We went down this dirt road and through a couple of towns to get up there and I come back and they asked "Who is going to take the patrol?" And I said, "I’ll take it out." I was gaining my strength back, because I had something they needed now that they didn’t have, because I went on the trap lines with my Daddy. I could find that outpost with no problem.
So we took the patrol out that night, I couldn’t believe what people did at nighttime if they didn’t know the mountains. Number one: I saw or I knew a log was there because I remembered it. I was ahead, in front. It was so dark in that forest. We were hanging on to each other’s guns in a line like a choo-choo train going up that trail. And I felt that log and I said there’s a log right here, now step over it. Three of my men fell down after they even knew the log was there getting over it. But then I looked up and I could see through a lot of trees. The first guy was going under a big tree. And I yelled at him, "You never go below a tree at night." You don’t know what’s below, but you always know what’s above it. I never thought that anybody wouldn’t know that. So I took the patrol clear up and then from then on I was the night patrolman. Every night I took the patrols out.
I felt like I could handle anybody at that time. I became squad sergeant later, and went on through the rest of the war and we went on to Frankfurt, and we crossed the Rhine in Frankfurt and after I got into Hoff, I think it was, I was riding a tank and we busted through right through the enemy. When we came under fire the tank had to speed up and start zigzagging and I was on the corner and I turned to one of the guys in my squad, and I said, "Hang on!" And I turned around and there was no tank under me.
The tank had turned and I was sitting out there in mid-air. So I hit the road doing about 35 miles an hour and that put me back in the hospital. That was just before the war ended. And I was more homesick for those guys in the front then I was for leaving home. I wanted to go back with my buddies to finish off the war and so they tell me I’ll be able to see them, and we’ll get you back to Paris.
When I got on the airplane in a stretcher …. Well, first they got me back on that tank because that was the only way, and I had a contusion of the left hip and it was just hanging. It pulled out. It hurt and I passed out every once in a while. And they finally got me back to a building and I put my arm in the building window and then I swung myself off and then I passed out again. The next thing I knew I was in an airport laying with a bunch of guys on stretchers, lined up for the airport. The guy next to me had a leg off, the other guy was unconscious. I felt I was really lucky ‘cause I only had a contusion of the hip. They took me back and after we got on the airplane I asked, "When do we get to Paris?". And he said, "Paris? You’re headed for London. You’ll never see Paris again." They lied to me.
Anyway I came home on a hospital ship and back to California and I think it was an experience I would never want to go through again, but I am so pleased. I got out of that Army being a very positive person. I have no fears of anything or anybody for my own life. I do have fears for other people. It’s hard to explain that inside.
Remember I came out of the service and I had learned things that I wouldn’t use, I couldn’t use. I wanted to show people what strengths I did have and I couldn’t. And I remember I went to a dance and this guy, twice as big as me, he hit his fist right in front of me. Said "Ever since I’ve seen you I’ve wanted to stomp you." And I smiled and backed up and thought I’d met him. I said, "Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t think it costs anything. Get off. Try getting on." Just try to get off without cost, and I heard somebody in back say Look out, Teeny, you got something you can’t handle here, and he quit. I didn’t want him to quit. I was going to show him what I could do. But anyway, that’s all in the past. Now do you have any questions?
DJ: Now when you came back to Tulare County and Three Rivers, what was it like?
WR: It was entirely different. I couldn’t believe the difference in Three Rivers. The first thing was when my grandpa . . . if you wanted to go across his land, it was free, and if you drove cattle down the road, it made him mad. Get out there in the river bottom. That was his land. When I got back, I went to go across a piece of land and they stopped me. I said I had been using that road all my life, through that property. She said we bought this property and now it’s ours. I said all I want to do is go through it to get up on the mountain there to go quailing. Well, Mr. Marks don’t want you through there either. I asked if I could go see Mr. Marks. "No," she said, "You’re Mr. Rice, aren’t you?" And she said "Well I’ll have you know I prayed for you when you got those two purple hearts overseas." I said, "And you won’t let me go through your land." I said, "Lady, you keep your land." It was a different world to me. It was as if we owned it, where before it belonged to God, it belonged to everybody. People would come down to our swimming hole; the Rice’s swimming hole was the best in the country. Now, you swim in one of those and they give you a ticket, if you’re a kid."
The whole world has changed to a different philosophy, which I guess it had to, the same as I had changed in my life from a little timid bashful boy to a man who was not afraid of anything. Everyone has to change, and I know that when we went to that war, I didn’t feel like I was a hero. I was a feared little kid that knew he had to knock a bully down, and everybody was so patriotic. They had something to fight for because we had been attacked, and that made a difference in the war. Are we starting the war? Are we the bullies? Are they the bullies? Well, we were not the bullies. We went over there and knew we had to do a job and we’d give our life for it and we were proud of it.
And by the way, when I went to school, we sang The Star-Spangled Banner loud and we said our prayers to ourselves. We didn’t need to say it out loud and I bought that little harmonica of mine when I was a kid and I played My Country Tis of Thee. That was my first tune, and the rest was the Army tunes. That’s what we thought was the greatest. Now it’s pop music instead of those kinds of songs.
I think the morals are way shot. And we had morals. I can remember when I was in the Army they wanted me to tell about the girl I had been out with and it was kind of a boastful thing, you know. And my name was Windy in school. I could tell stories, so I start telling about this date I had and I got half way through and I said to myself, "You’re lying, I know you are." So I stopped and I told them all, "I’m going to tell you something. Where I come from we respect women. I’m a virgin and I’m proud of it, but the girls I took out were virgins and I was proud of it." And oh boy, they wouldn’t believe it. They just laughed, "How could you tell a story like that?" I said, "I don’t care, I’m a professional storyteller." So I got outside and here comes a soldier, and he said, "No kidding, you mean you never went out that way with a girl?" And I said, "No I didn’t." He said, "If you won’t tell anybody, I didn’t either." And there were several then that came up and told me because when men get together they have to brag. Well that’s the way we were then.
We didn’t think . . . Our goal in life was to be able to support a family, Number 1. And I didn’t want to get married and I didn’t want to have an affair with a girl until I could support a family, and I was proud of that. I can’t understand now how they can look at it any other way. Now they have to have children first and keep on welfare. So many kids don’t get married, as they get welfare and would lose it. I don’t know what to tell you.
We went to a war and I was proud of it. We had to have that war. The Bible says we have to stop Evil and that’s what we were doing and I was proud of it. But there’s some things that I haven’t told you, that I can’t tell you, because there are things I did in that war that I don’t want to tell anybody what I did. It isn’t that I’m ashamed of it, I don’t want people to know that I did things like that.
To give you a small idea of it, I threw a grenade one time in a foxhole, not in a foxhole, but in a pillbox, and I heard a noise in the bottom. I had another guy with me and we were searching it out and I yelled, "Come out!" and we heard him yell. And he yelled in German, and I don’t know German. He didn’t come out. Well it ended up I threw a phosphorus grenade in the hole. That’s the first time I really realized what a war is because this man came out of that hole crawling and he fell and started to turn toward the other guy first and he saw him and he turned and he threw himself across at me and laid on his back. And his eyes were watering where that phosphorus had hit him and we yelled for the medics. We got them to come and take care of him. They opened his billfold up and here was his wife and two children. And that picture is worse on my brain. And all the purple hearts in the world can’t erase it. . . but those are the things that had to be done. I’m not ashamed I did it, but it’s still there in my heart. But I was in combat in the infantry for eight months, and everybody knows you had to be doing something.
I was proud of myself after coming out of that war. I was proud of all the other G.I.s. In my grammar school class in Lemon Cove, 1938, there was 5 boys and 4 girls. Two of the girls were my cousins, and one of the boys was my cousin. The other two boys were my best friends. Those two boys didn’t make it back. Out of the five, there was two killed, and I was wounded. I think little Lemon Cove was really hit hard, but when they ask about memories, I can’t remember Jackie because he was the best friend I had then, and stayed overnight many times. He was just like a brother to me. So it’s what we lost, and losing our friends during that time hurts too.
DJ: When you got back did you live at home with your Mom?
WR: No, before I went in, I should have said, I was told in high school, that with my grade level, I would be wasting my time to take college prep courses. I think that was good. I’m not kicking it. I’m so glad that teacher did that to me. So I took manual training, and auto mechanics and prepared for life. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was more mature, I started to get a grade level where I could prepare myself for college. My dream then was to be an architectural engineer.
One of my grandfathers was a carpenter and I used his tools, so I got one semester in junior college when I got this draft letter. By the way, I had to pay my way. I had to pick oranges every weekend and pull weeds about trees, and things like that. But Mom kept us all in school, and my mother never remarried until the war. All of her three sons went to war,Walter went into the Navy, Wilbur in the Air Force, and I was in the Infantry. She had the three stars in her window and so after we all left home, she met some guy and she wrote to us to get permission to marry. So we all wrote back and said to go ahead. Of course, that knocked it out. I didn’t have a home to come home to, because I lived at home when I left. When I came out I had to get a job, so I went to work as a Laborer for the State of California on highways.
I didn’t . . . when I got out, within three weeks I had a job, and worked on the highways, and gave them 34 years and then retired. Now what was your question again? Oh, about my school. I went to work as a laborer, but then I got an ICS course in highway engineering. It took me four years. I started as a laborer and then in four years I passed and got my certificate in highway engineering, which everybody said you don’t finish those kinds of courses, but I finished it, and 12 years later I was superintendent over the highways in East Los Angeles,the freeways. Because of that and taking administrative courses in college, I was in one school after another after I went to work. But now the only one that was paid by the GI Bill was the correspondence course when I first started. So that’s about . . . and I did take advantage of buying my first home on the Cal-Vet loan. Now what was the next question?
DJ: I was wondering about your little house where Lake Kaweah is now. What happened to that after the war after you got back?
WR: Oh, well, I was the superintendent down in East Los Angeles when I got the call from my mother that the government wanted our property to put in a dam and my mother lived on the ranch up there. So they bought her land and we moved her into Visalia. There was quite a battle over that, but we won. That little place . . . it was awful to think of my childhood that is all buried under that lake. All my fishing holes, all my cousins little jokes we played on each other. I had a wonderful . . . the good lord blessed me with the best childhood that anybody could have because it was so protected.
It was hard getting out of little Tulare County and seeing the big world. The first one I noticed was in Camp Hood, Texas. They took me down there. They put two colored boys and two Caucasians together on the train, and we got so far and they said to the colored boys, "It looked like you have to go with us." I said "where are they going? "They have to go to that back car. Well you can’t go." I said, "If they go, I go." And we almost had a fight because I couldn’t figure why they were taking them back to that back car. I didn’t realize people treated people like dogs, you know.
DJ: Just because of the color of their skin?
WR: Yeah, but I wasn’t raised that way. And I remember in high school, some of my best friends were Japanese children and when I got into the Army they started telling me they were inferior and all this, and I had my training class, and I came back and told the guys I can’t understand this. They were the star track players and were on scholarships. I was brought in and told, "We’ll teach, you just listen." I wasn’t allowed to do anything like that. It wasn’t mean, because I know it had to be that way to win a war. You couldn’t sit there and love your enemy. They’d shoot you. It was something very necessary but it was very cruel.
the way, when I came home Momma said, Son you’ve got those pictures from high
school that you traded. You better take
them. So I went up and went through them
and came across one of those Japanese children. I don’t know how I ever traded pictures with that guy. Gosh, anything like that, and then I realized
how I had been brainwashed. Felt bad,
you know, ‘cause that was my best friend. Well the next class reunion, he and I were the best of friends yet
because he came back to what he was when I knew him, not what I had been taught
in that war. I realized the things we
went through had to be done or we wouldn’t have had a chance. And I know that
DJ: And what about your friend that was Japanese? Do you know what happened to his family during war?
WR: No. Neither one of us talked until I saw him. I don’t want to tell you his name, because I don’t even know where he is, but he went to Exeter High School; several of them did.
DJ: So you went to Exeter High School?
WR: Yes, four years at Exeter High School. But I couldn’t take sports, and I thought of all those heroes, those football players, they were tough, and here me…just a little old skinny kid up there, but when I went into the service was the first time I got to compete and so I went down and they wanted us to do pushups, and I’m doing my pushups and I heard this guy say, "What are you guys quitting for?" And I looked around and all the guys had quit and I’m still doing my pushups. When I went over the obstacle course I could take them all.
DJ: I wonder if that has to do with the way you were raised,in hunting with your dad?
WR: Yes. Running up and down those hills and milking those cows, feeding the chickens and all that stuff, and I had to do that even when Daddy was alive because Daddy wasn’t well, and my mother used to say she felt so sorry for us boys because we didn’t get to be children like the others. But I was so glad it was that way, because when your Daddy died you were able to take over the ranch. And we actually improved the ranch because of it.
And I do have the nicest family. Eunice is a millionaire on top of Signal Hill. Wilburn’s got a big boat down in Florida, Walter deceased now. My older sister was, as mom said, that was her cross to bear, she was, still is, mentally handicapped and so she’s 12 years old. She’s 84, but she’s still 12 years old. We have her in a home. I had her here for about 15 years in Visalia, but that held us all together. We were a family that . . . I could fight Walter, but nobody else could fight him the same way. And Walter was a roughy and I was not, but I was the oldest boy and the strongest, and Walter was as big as I was. Walter’d get into a fight at school and he’d whip that kid. Then that weekend here came the gang up and they were going to whip those mountain kids.
DJ: (Laughter) Those mountain kids.
WR: And we always had it made up. We were usually down in the evening milking cows or something, and Walter if he got up there we would help if he whistled. And if you got whistled it meant we had to go up there. We had a gate that was about three feet high down the road, and I would hurdle that gate just to impress them, and we’d run them home.
DJ: And how do you think WWII affected Tulare County now?
WR: I think WWII was a big change in the whole world. The philosophies of people are entirely different. When I was a little boy and I went to my Daddy, and said, "Daddy, can I have a nickel?" He said, "What do you think I am, the Bank of America?" I remember that clearly and then I got my first VISA. I tore it up. I cut it up because I didn’t want that kind of responsibility. OK, because of the war the people became strong like I was and the economy went up. And all of us had jobs and could support our families. So when my kids came to me and said, "Daddy, can I have 15 cents?" I’d say, "Are you sure that’s enough? What are you going to do for 15 cents?" And when they got that credit card, they thought oh boy, look what I got, pow-pow-pow.
The security we had going, not only from the war, but from the Depression was tight. We held onto our money. To go into debt was the worst. The pride we had in our families. My brothers and sisters were our world and to violate somebody else’s world before it was time, like insulting some woman, you got hit in the mouth. I can remember…some guy touched a girl I was with, and I told him, "Don’t you ever do that again. I don’t know what you think of that girl, that’s none of my business, but when she’s with me, it’s because she a lady, and you’re going to treat her as a lady. Or I have no choice, so don’t do it again." That’s the way it was when I grew up.
And when I get out and see on the TV . . . it wasn’t necessarily the war that did it, it was what happened after the war. Not only the new people, but it's our fault as much as theirs, because we spoiled them. We don’t have the discipline we used to have with our children. The schools do not have the same discipline. The whole world has changed to a different morality and everything else. And it all happened from the date that war was over,these things started taking place.
Now I can’t blame it on the war, and I can’t give the war credit for it, but like I say, when we came back, it was a different world. When I came out all I could think about was getting a job. There’s a lot of servicemen who didn’t take a job and lived off unemployment insurance for 52 weeks or something like that and then they had a problem getting a job because all the good jobs were taken. But I was blessed that I got a job and went to school and I think that what happened to me was the best. I think I was born in a family with a mother that was spiritual and the father that taught me the other way. I think I have a good constitution.
other thing I thought too, we were loyal to the Constitution of the
What shall we talk about now?
DJ: I suppose we’re done.
WR: I would like to elaborate on my house that I grew up in. We moved in there. They took the wood out of the bottom of the river from floods and built our house and it had one big room. Then they added the little room and that was my momma and daddy’s bedroom and then they added on to it and made the kitchen. There was no electricity and no water. And we had an outhouse about 200 feet down the hill and that was when the war . . . by the time war broke loose, we still didn’t have indoor toilets. We had one faucet in the house,cold water. We had light bulbs that you snapped on up in the ceiling as electricity, but it was such an exciting life, and I look back now . . . how many children could tell you how much it cost to put electricity in your house? That’s what we learned at that time. Expenses we knew as well as our children. It wasn’t to keep the kids out of it.
DJ: So your parents shared that with you?
WR: They shared that with us and we worried about it also. I remember when Daddy died . . . you know what I did when Daddy died? When I heard it was night time and Mom was making us do our homework and we heard someone knock on the door, and Daddy was up deer hunting and Momma answered the door and I heard Uncle Charlie say, "Zora, Roy’s dead." And the shock really hit my family because we had no idea about that. Well, then here came people, aunts and uncles all over.
And all I knew was I had a problem. I knew I was the oldest boy and I knew we were already having a problem. I went clear to the top of that hill where the Marina is now, that’s where my house was. I went to the top of that hill and cried and I talked to God. "What are you doing to us? We’ve got to have something." And that’s when I realized I really knew about God and didn’t realize how valuable he was to me. But he did it. He took my family and we are the best in the world. We love each other. I get calls from them. We help each other out. There’s no hate in us. It’s just wonderful when you feel the presence of God in your life,what he can do for you. And you don’t have unhappy times. You have bad times; you thank God for them as well as the good times.
And that’s how I look at that war. Everything that happened in that war made Wally Rice. And he’s known all these military that went up ahead and became leaders of our nation. But that little shack we were up in . . . we could do things that other kids couldn’t do. Somebody gave us a screen house, so they put that out and put a hole in the kitchen wall and that was the boy’s bedroom. Winter, summer, spring and fall. And in the spring the lizards came up on that screen and we had a BB gun and we’d shoot them. Momma wondered where those holes came from on that screen. I can remember we were practicing and all of them was gone and that’s after Daddy was dead and Daddy had a hunting knife that was sharp on both sides and it had a deer’s hoof for a handle. We learned how to throw that and stick it. I’m in the front room and Walter’s in the kitchen and he would say go ahead and I would throw that knife and stick it in the door, this old plywood door.
DJ: I’m assuming your mother wasn’t home at the time?
WR: Right. So I went back in there and Walter said to come get it and I did so just as the guy outside was opening the door. He was a potato salesman, with a sack of potatoes. All I know about him was that, because he took off back up that road. (Laughter)
DJ: I want to thank you for sharing your stories with us. Your stories are so rich. Can I ask you how old you are right now?
WR: Eighty. And 20 more years to go.
DJ: Thank you very much, Wally Rice.
WR: Thank you.
Diane Jules/ Transcriber: JC /JW final edit 4/15/04
Editors Note: This interview was augmented by interview changes with Wally Rice on 4/15/04 and his editing changes on 4/23/04.