California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: Gig Ruddell

 

Date: March 9, 2004

Report No: 86

Interviewer: Judy Mayfield

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview:   Visalia, CA

SEQUOIA FIELD PILOT TRAINING EXPERIENCE,HOW HIRED

MR. RUDDELL’S LIFE IN TULARE COUNTY DURING WORLD WAR II

JM: My name is Judy Mayfield, and today I will be speaking with Gig Ruddell. Mr. Ruddell has agreed to share his memories of the years 1941 through 1946 for the Tulare County Oral History Project: Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 through 1946.

Today is Tuesday March 9, 2004, and we’re in his son’s law office in Visalia, California.

Mr. Ruddell, would you start by telling me when and where you were born and how long you’ve lived in Visalia?

GR: I was born in Butler, Missouri, in 1920. My folks, Harvey and Lora (Shonk) Ruddell, moved to Caldwell, Idaho about 1928 or 29. I stayed there through all my school years. Then the third year at the College of Idaho, now called Albertson College of Idaho,  the war broke out and by this time, I had an instructors rating in flying, so I was pretty much in demand because they needed instructors.

It was interesting to me about Kings City, because my friend, who had come down to California with me, failed a check ride on a Friday afternoon, so he decided to come over to Visalia, Sequoia Field, and he passed his check ride over here. So he came back and got me. I came over to take a check ride Sunday morning and never went back to Kings City. I was called into the office and Mr. Carr was the head of the flight program at Sequoia Field at that time. He called me to the office. He had gotten a call from Kings City, wondering if I was over here and he said I was. Then he asked me if I signed any papers and I told him no. So, he said, "Well, that’s fine." The reason I bring this up is it changed my whole life, because if my friend hadn’t failed a flight test, I wouldn’t have been at Sequoia Field. (Chuckle) I later met my wife here, we were married and we’ve been married 61 years now. So, that was pretty interesting to me. It changed my whole life.

JM: Now, were you actually in the military or were you a civilian instructor?

GR: Civilian, and what they did, they put us in the Army Reserve. I was in the 8th Army Reserve. They did that so that nobody would draft us or touch us because they wanted us here as instructors.

JM: So, you didn’t actually go through any kind of military basic training or anything like that?

GR: No, the only thing we did was they put us through their program. I don’t know, I think I was in it two or three weeks. We were teaching the maneuvers. They wanted us to teach cadets, but we lived off the base.

JM: Did you live in Visalia at the time?

GR: I lived in Visalia. There was one of the boys I came down with from Idaho. The other was also from Idaho. Three of us lived in the same house. Later, when I met my wife, we were married about a year after we got here.

JM: So, could you describe a little bit about Sequoia Field at that time?

GR: Yeah, Sequoia Field was later enlarged, but we had a tower, of course, and the cadets lived right on the field. They had barracks there. It was out far enough. The interesting thing was that we had a problem with mid-air collisions, because we had 150 airplanes flying from the boundary lines, which were Woodlake, Dinuba, and Highway 99, on this side. You had to keep your head up all the time, because there were a lot of airplanes flying around. (Chuckle) We had 10 or 11 mid-air collisions.

JM: Okay, and then how did they get the cadets? Were they in the Army, or what?

GR: Yeah, they went in. They signed up for the Army Air Corps. We were their first primary flight school, actually. They had primary, basic and advanced.  In the primary, we taught them to fly in the smaller airplane and the basic was BT’s, which was a larger airplane. Then on advanced, you went either into multi-engine training or single pursuit planes.

JM: So they had to pass their primary training before they would get to . . .

GR: That’s right, that’s right. We had the dirty job of washing out or keeping them.

JM: How long did they train there?

GR: Well, actually, they were there about, if I recall, three months for the entire training. They got 60 hours of flight training. Most of them passed primary. My thought was when I first started instruction that I could get everyone through. But I found out that in the length of time you had, there were some that couldn’t make it. I spent the first year as an instructor, then I was made Assistant Flight Commander, then I made Flight Commander. Our job, as Assistant Flight Commander and Flight Commander, both, was to ride with the students that the instructor sent up for elimination. In addition to that, we checked with all the students every 20 hours. That was our job.

JM: So, you checked them out after. First, your job was an instructor.

GR: Instructor, that’s right.

JM: You weren’t very old when you started that, right?

GR: No, I had just barely gotten in at 21. Yeah, I had a lot of cadets who were older than I was. Cadets at that time went in between 18 and 26. We had a Sequoia Field reunion a few years back, oh, several years back and I was so thrilled, because two of my cadets came up from Los Angeles. One of ‘em was a lieutenant of the police department down there. At that time, I was about 76. I’m 83 now. I was 76 and he was 81 (chuckle).

JM: That was going to be one of my questions; if you kept in touch with any of the people that you trained?

GR: Yes, I did then, at the Sequoia Field reunion and about five years or longer than that, 10 years before that, I got a call from Fred Walker and in that particular class I had five Walkers. He was a cosmetic salesman and wanted to know if I would meet with him and four other cadets of that class in Los Angeles. So we went down to Disney Land and had lunch with the cadets, all but one of them. It was a very enjoyable thing.

JM: Okay, you’ve mentioned a little bit about Rankin Field, was that the same type of thing?

GR: Same type of thing as we were. In fact, I had three of my buddies from Caldwell, Idaho who were taking flight training in Idaho, same time I was. See we had a program called CPT Civil Pilots Training in college and that’s where I started flying. Later on, while we were in school,  the four of us bought an airplane and I flew it between that and basic (for basic and secondary pilot training). Then we had a basic training, we called it secondary, where we flew a little larger airplane, acrobatics and that sort of thing. But I gave $200 for my interest in that plane. See the difference with today. And when I got through flying, at 300 hours, I sold my interest for $175. So it cost me $25 (chuckle) for the airplane.

JM: One of the questions I wanted to ask you is race relations. Were there minorities in the training at all?

GR: Yes, there were some. I had one African/American boy, who incidentally was real good. I can’t remember exactly where he was from, but he was a good pilot.

JM: Now after the war, did you continue with your flying?

GR: Yes, yes, when I learned that Sequoia Field was gonna close, the government had enough pilots, I applied at United Air Lines and I went to United. I was there for two and a half years.

JM: Was Sequoia Field open throughout the war, the Second World War?

GR: No, it closed a little before the war ended. It closed the last part of ’44, because I went with United by September of ’44.

JM: You said you met your wife during this time. Was she . . .

GR: Right here in Visalia.

JM: Was she from Visalia?

GR: Yeah, yeah, she, Betty Suhovy, was born in Tipton and her mother, Xenia Zeeder Suhovy passed away when she was quite young, but her dad, Alexander and stepmother Mary  lived on ranch out by Strathmore. She went to Beauty School and was working here as a cosmetologist in Visalia.

JM: So you got married during the war.

GR: Well, I went over to see a friend, a girl friend, I thought. And this one was living with her (chuckle). So I left the other one and went with this one. And it’s been pretty good. We’ve got 61 years of it.

JM: Let’s go back to before the war. You were in college. Do any events stand out in your mind just before the war, anything that you can remember?

GR: Well, we were all cognizant of the fact that it looked like that we were going to get into something. There was no doubt about that. I was in my car on my way to Boise to fly, when I heard about the Sunday morning event in the Hawaiian Islands. I can’t recall anything in particular, except I’m sure we were all aware that it was coming.

You’re too young for that, aren’t you?

JM: I don’t know. I was born, but I . . . (chuckle)

GR: You don’t remember that. All right.

JM: So, how did you feel when the announcement of war came?

GR: World War II was a little different than some of the wars we’ve had. We wanted to participate in that one. It was a little different than Vietnam and some of the others. Not that we didn’t appreciate the soldiers in all of them. I just think that World War II was one where there was a real desire to get in and try to do some good. So I was a hot item, because I had an instructor’s rating already, you see. So, they grabbed me right away.

JM: You said you came out here on your own. Did you find that, economically, the war affected you at all? Did you have trouble getting any kind of supplies, or clothing, food, or anything like that?

GR: No, no. For those days, we were paid fairly well. As an instructor, I think I got started out at $340 a month. Now it doesn’t seem like anything now, but at that time . . . . When I was going to school, I was working for $17.50 a week. So that seemed pretty good to me. When I got to be Flight Commander, I think I got about $450 a month. Then I went with United and flew overseas. I flew from San Francisco to Tokyo for 14 months and they paid us overseas pay then, when I was with United. United, of course, the salaries in those days were a lot different than they are today. As a co-pilot, starting in with United, you got about $275 a month. So it’s a little different than it is today.

JM: I’m sure. Do you remember anything about how families in Visalia and Tulare County supported the war, like volunteer activities they might have had, such as war gardens, air patrols, anything like that?

GR: Yes, I do. They supported us very well, I thought. In fact, many of the people that had very prominent jobs in Visalia also helped out at Sequoia Field as dispatchers. In fact, the one I remember the most, Johnny Keogh, was my dispatcher when I was flight commander. His job, of course, was to keep the cadets flying at certain times and all that. He was a golf pro then at a country club here. Oh, there was all kinds of help from Visalia. The people would come out. You see, we flew half-days. They’d come out and work half a day and then work at their other jobs. They were very supportive.

Saturday night was real lively. The cadets got out and had a ball. I’d have to say that people in Visalia were very, very supportive.

JM: Was there something like a USO or something that the cadets would go to?

GR: No, not really, but they had places where they had dances and this sort of thing. They had a good time on the weekends.

JM: How about women in this area, did their roles change? Did they volunteer as well? Do you remember anything about that?

GR: Not a lot about that. Of course, most of the instructors were older than I was and were married. Most of them were married. The ones that I knew personally in Idaho that came down, they were married and had their wives here. Except the one that I came down with and he later married. I don’t recall too much on the ladies.

JM: Of course Sequoia Field -- one of my questions -- was the community affected by industry conversions, war plants, and special employment conditions that went on here in this area during the war? Sequoia Field, obviously, became a place to train pilots. Anything else that you can remember, industries and so on?

GR: No, I can’t think of anything. I’m sure the restaurants and this sort of thing, profited some. We had buses that took us out to the field a lot of times. We tried to get together and go out with a group to save gasoline. Gasoline was pretty rough at that time. That’s about all I can think of.

JM: Did you know of any impact on agriculture around here?

GR: Hum, that the field might have? 

JM: Oh, just the war in general.

GR: Well, not really, except the increase in numbers. Of course the people had some impact, I’m sure, on all businesses. We bought cars. I bought a 1941 Buick Convertible which was the last car they built before the war ended. We bought and, like everybody else at that time, we had pretty good money to spend. I mean, in comparison, I went from $17.50 a week to (chuckle) $450 a month.

JM: How about censorship? Were you aware of any attempts to censor or cases of news distortion during the war? Do you feel like you knew what was going on?

GR: No, I don’t. I think we were kept up pretty well. Not as well as today, of course today we’re on the front lines (chuckle) with the TV, but that then obviously was before TV. I think radio kept us pretty well informed.

JM: How did you feel about the dropping of the atomic bomb?

GR: Well, I didn’t like it, but I think, probably, it was the decent decision. It was a sad thing for those people but I think, in the long run, it probably saved us a lot of lives. When I was flying United, San Francisco to Tokyo, we were carrying a VIP and we still had Japanese running around out on Guam and that sort of places, even though the war was over. Well, we had to win the war, that’s all. We had to win it or we’d have had a sad story if we didn’t.

JM: Was anyone else in your family in the military?

GR: No. My son, Gary Harvey Ruddell, here at this law office, was in the National Guard for a number of years, but he was kind of in between. My dad was in World War I.

JM: So, how do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

GR: Well, I think it affected my whole life. As I say, that one little instance where my friend failed his flight check and I came over to Visalia and then met my wife and got married. Then I was about ready for United to transfer me to Chicago, when we decided we had an opportunity here in Visalia. Actually, it was for my wife in the beauty shop. And then later I decided to go into the monument business.  Then I bought out the monument dealer here and I was there 50 years. So it had quite an impact on me. You see, none of that would have happened if I hadn’t . . .

JM: Yeah, it changed it definitely.

GR: Yeah, the whole thing changed me.

JM: Okay, how about Tulare County, how do you think World War II affected the way Tulare County is now?

GR: Well, I think it gave it a little impulse as far as business is concerned. Having the two fields here, I think, did promote Tulare County considerably. Some of my great friends, of course, I don’t know if you remember, but Tulare was started by quite a renowned pilot. He was quite a pilot in those days. Tex Rankin, and they called it Rankin Field. The funny thing about him, when I was flying for United in domestic here, one of my runs was through Klamath Falls and up to Portland. And the day before I landed at Klamath Falls, Tex Rankin . . .that’s where he was killed. He had an underpowered airplane which stalled and he was killed at Klamath Falls. He was quite a pilot.

JM: Anything else that you can think of that you would like to add, maybe? Anything else about the area during the war that you can remember, that I haven’t asked you?

GR: Well, what I remember, for me, was the heat. Idaho is a little different temperature than here. It gets hot in Idaho at certain times, but it cools off at night. And all these sort of things is what I noticed most here. But I think California is a great state. I never went back to Idaho. Visalia was very good to me; I had 50 years in the monumental business. It treated me real good. I

wish I wasn’t 83, so I could be there right now. This retirement is for the birds.

JM: Oh yes, you would have noticed the heat. There weren’t air conditioners in those days.

GR: I can remember when my wife and I, while we built our first house here, we rented a room over on Locust, an upstairs room, and there was no way you could go to bed until twelve or one o’clock at night. So we saw most of the movies (chuckle) during those years.

JM: But the town was supportive of the war?

GR: Oh yeah, oh yeah, very much, very much so. I never heard any derogatory remarks about it.  Of course, there was a guy, in those days, who ran the Wonder Bar which was downtown on Main Street near Court. I don’t know if you recall that or not, but he would cash all our checks. They were extremely rich, no question about it.

JM: Do you suppose some of these young men came back and lived here after the war?

GR: Oh yeah.

JM: Because they were from all over, weren’t they, that came into Sequoia Field?

GR: Oh yeah, from all over. Sequoia and Rankin both, they were from all over the United States . I can recall four or five people and myself that were instructors that came back here. Al Thomas, he was on the police force for quite a while and then he also was a crop duster for many, many years. He’s dead now. Most of ‘em are now.

JM: Okay. Well, if there’s nothing else you would like to add, I thank you so much for participating in this Tulare County Library project. We appreciate your time and others will enjoy hearing your story, I’m sure.

GR: Well, I’m sure there are many other things that I could have added, but I enjoyed it.

J.Mayfield/pd 4-17-2004/ ed. JW 8-16-04

Ed note: Italicized changes are as a result of a phone interview with Gig Ruddell on August 16, 2004.