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: Vayda Shepherd

 

Date: 10/30/03

 

Tape # A-20

 

Interviewer: Lois Owings

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview:The home of Vayda Shepherd in Visalia, CA

This interview is dedicated to the honor and memory of Vayda’s parents, Felix and Velma Northcutt

 

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Linnell Labor Camp, California

Tulare, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Life as a teenager during the war

High school during the war

Patriotism during the war years

Life as a migrant agricultural family during the war.


LO: This is Thursday October 30, 2003. Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the Years 1941,1946. Interviewer: Lois Owings. These are the memories of Vayda Shepherd. The interview is being done in Vayda’s home in Visalia, California. What is your name and the date of your birth?

VS: Vayda Shepherd. I don’t have a middle name or initial. My birth date is December 24, 1925.

LO: Since you are married, what is your maiden name?

VS: My maiden name is Northcutt.

LO: What are your parents' names and where were they from?

VS: Their names are Felix and Velma Northcutt. Her maiden name was Hardin. My mother’s maiden name was Hardin, and they’re both from Hamilton County, Texas

LO: OK, where did you grow up?

VS: I was born in Aspermont, Texas, in Stonewall County and then as a real small child, we moved to a nearby town called Stamford, Texas and we lived there until we moved to California.

LO: And when did you move to California?

VS: In 1939, we came out here.

LO: So how old were you when World War II began?

VS: I was 16 and a freshman in high school.

LO: Tell me what it was like in high school during the war.

VS: I’ll tell you, when you’re in high school you’re really thinking about activities there, schooling and studying and everything, but the war was definitely on my mind at all times. I’ll tell you that during those years, the classmates were close and we would have our high school reunions and we’d talk about how close that we all felt due to those being the war years.

LO: That’s what I wanted to ask. Was there lots of patriotism and loyalty for America ?

VS: There was so much then, there really was.

LO: What were some of the events that stood out in the years preceding the war? Before it began.

VS: Well, my being that young, we just had moved to California. We’d been out here about two years and there wasn’t anything that eventful, just making that move and coming out here and everything so different and going into migrant work and traveling around quite a bit when we were first out here. Those are the only events that I can think of.

LO: Where were you and what were you doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

VS: I was just going to school. That was December the 7th, I believe, in 1941. I was a freshman in high school. It was just so much talk of the family and the neighbors until it . . . it was just indescribable. Really. What it was like, you know.

LO: Were you frightened? How did you feel?

VS: No, I wasn’t frightened. Just like so many others, I was just concerned and wondering what we were going to do and how it was all going to take place and about the boys that would be leaving. How our lives really might change. Even though I was young, I was thinking about all of that.

LO: What one event of the war stands out in your memory?

VS: Well, since my brother (John Herschel Northcutt) was over there, fighting on a ship that was in battle all the time, that definitely stood out.

LO: Were there changes in your family’s housing situation during the war?

VS: No, there really weren’t changes in the housing. We had already moved into the house where we stayed all the rest of the time.

LO: Where did you live in California?

VS: Well, we lived east of Visalia in a Tulare County housing project for agricultural workers only and it was called Linnell, California, the community.

LO: How did the war affect your family’s economic circumstances?

VS: Everything stayed pretty much the same because my dad and my brothers did this agricultural work, working in the fields picking fruit and they didn’t make very much money, but that all stayed about the same. I don’t remember too much in economical changes there.

LO: Do you remember difficulties in getting food or clothing or other consumers goods?

VS: You mean due to the rationing?

LO: Due to the war.

VS: With the rationing going on and everything? It wasn’t a great thing. We lived very frugally and my mother sewed and she made my clothes. We never had very much money to spend but we managed and we all worked together within the family and sometimes I wonder how we made it, but we did.

LO: Did you family participate in war bond campaigns?

VS: No, not that I remember.

LO: Any other saving programs?

VS: Saving programs? There wasn’t, not on our part, there really wasn’t enough of anything to save. My brother being overseas, he sent a little allotment out of his pay to my mother and I think she tried to save that, but that allotment was only about $18.00 a month. It took everything else for living expenses.

LO: Were there any family efforts to support the war, like gardening, crafts, or volunteer activities that the family did?

VS: To support the war? Or support ourselves? I don’t understand.

LO: During that time, people did a lot of things to support the war.

VS: I don’t recall anything specifically that my parents did outside of the home like that.

LO: Was anyone in the immediate family separated because of the military service or war?

VS: Yes. My two brothers were in the service and also I would like to say at this time, of course, I’ve always believed in honoring your mother and father as the bible teaches. I always wanted to do that and therefore would like to dedicate anything that I have to offer today in their honor and memory.

My parents, like many, many other migrant workers, went to the fields and packinghouses, like my mother packed fruit, everyday working hard, long hours. Then I think of them having all of this on their minds. The war constantly with them, two sons, two brothers of mine serving, one in the Navy in the Pacific aboard a destroyer that was always, constantly in many major battles and then it was eventually sunk off the Okinawa coast of Japan . My brother survived that, but many were lost in the water and it was after dark and they were lost in the water before they could be rescued and our family was still more fortunate than a lot of others.

Talking along this line, when my brother’s ship was sunk, it was April 6, 1945. The only reason we got word of it was the next day after this ship was sunk, early the next morning, my father was listening to early morning news. We only had a radio, of course, but he never missed and he always was listening to the news and they mentioned on the news that there were three ships lost the day before. They mentioned the names of them and the third one they mentioned was the USS Bush and of course, he knew it was my brother’s ship. What he decided to do . . . it was an early Saturday morning because I didn’t have to get up and get ready for school that morning. My mother had gotten up early and the way this happened was something. Because she got up early to go to Fresno with some friends, so she was not home. And my dad came in and woke me up and told me that this had happened, but he said my mother couldn’t take this sort of thing right now and, "We don’t know what the outcome will be, so I want you not to tell anybody about it. Let’s keep it from your mother and see what happens." So we kept it and we kept it and we didn’t hear from him until about a month later when he sent my mother, my brother sent my mother a Mother’s Day card from Honolulu and told her that he was OK. We hadn’t heard a word until then. So I, of course, being in high school, was living with this and was so sad about it. But when we got the word that he was okay, the lady at the school, Mrs. Goad, who was the girls’ advisor and was there many, many years, she sent someone to my classroom and asked me to come into her office. I went to her office and she gave me the news. So, like I said, we were very fortunate and it changed his life many, many ways going through that. We just felt so fortunate that he survived that. And he had so many good friends that were lost out in the water even. It was just very, very sad.

LO: OK. Thank you. How did women’s roles and responsibilities in your family change during the war? Did they go to work or stay home?

VS: The women went to work. A lot more women then were working, started working.

LO: What about the wages and the conditions of the work?

VS: Oh, I don’t remember.

LO: Or your attitude toward them?

VS: I don’t remember what wages were and being that young, I wasn’t too concerned either. I worked at the olive company, grading olives every summer, summer vacations while I was in high school. I made, I thought at the time that it was pretty good money, but I don’t remember how much I made. My younger brother and I contributed a lot to the family because my dad was very sick there for some time. Everything that we made went into helping the family.

LO: What happened to women’s roles after the war ended? Do you know? What were the changes? Did you feel any of the changes?

VS: Yes, there were changes all right. In the way that women worked and carried on their lives, I think there were changes.

LO: Was there any black market activities on the rations or things, or do you know?

VS: I don’t know because being that age . . . there must have been some, but I don’t know enough about that even to comment on it really.

LO: Were there any neighborhood organizations to watch for blackouts or take special collection drives, or any special events related to the war.

VS: I think that at our main building at Linnell, where we had so many activities and so many meetings, that there were things that were done there, yes.

LO: How were businesses affected by the rationing and shortage?

VS: I don’t know very much about that part.

LO: What was the impact of war on the local agriculture? Do you know anything about that?

VS: Not enough to get in anything about that. I just wasn’t out and around in the world to know anything about that.

LO: How did your family react to the news about the Holocaust and relocation of the Japanese Americans?

VS: I remember my parents talking about that so much. When my dad was listening always to the news and trying to keep up with that and then if you went to the movies at that time you would see some war reviews and they just talked about things being so awful. And then along that line, my younger brother, (Talmadge "Tom" Northcutt) was sent to the sanitarium in Springville for Valley Fever when he was 12 years old. He had to stay up there for several months. He had no choice but to stay. Of all the good little friends he had and everything, he had a wonderful little Japanese friend that had moved there. Well, they lived in Hanford and this boy had to go up there and he was taken out along with his family. The family had to go to a concentration camp, but I’m not sure, I imagine he was put in some facility because of his health. I believe my brother called him Roy, and that was an impact on him losing, you know, having him leave. And a lot of us gave it a lot of thought too.

LO: Do you remember how movies affected the war and how they portrayed home life? Did you go to the movies a lot?

VS: Not a lot. I’d go when I got a chance to go, but we lived out of town and I rode the school bus to town and I didn’t have a car and my parents couldn’t take me. I didn’t get to go. I didn’t go very often.

LO: What were your impressions of military and political leadership during the war? How did you illustrate your attitude toward your country during the war?

VS: Everybody that I knew, myself and everyone in our family felt real good about the leadership then. I didn’t hear very many complaints that way.

LO: To what extent did the media cover the war? Did they try to censor the war?

VS: I think some, but we would hear things through the media quite a bit and everything. It would be nothing like today would be, but fairly well.

LO: How did your community react at the end of the war? Were there celebrations?

VS: Oh, I tell you, I will never forget it. When the war ended, I had graduated from high school and had taken an office job in town in Visalia and that was just wonderful. Everybody went to the streets in town. It was the happiest, more joyful time with everybody celebrating downtown on Main Street. I remember that I worked on East Main Street for a plumbing company ( Koller Plumbing Company) in the office. That’s where I was and everybody started celebrating in the streets. It was such a joyous occasion at that time. So everybody I knew was so happy that it had ended. (Everybody just went to Main street, and were celebrating with each other all up and down the street, very joyful.)

LO: Were you dating at that time?

VS: During the war?

LO: Yes, and while you were working?

VS: Yes, I dated some. Especially in 1944, because I was 18 and I had many friends that were in the military and I loved to go to dances. My brother, Tom, that was younger than me and I went. I loved to go to them and I met quite a few servicemen that were in the Air Force and were stationed at the old Sequoia Field here north of Visalia, which, of course, hasn’t been opened for a long time, many, many years. I did date some of them. Just to go to a movie or we’d meet at the dances. I had some really good friends and when they would go overseas, we would correspond. I enjoyed that.

LO: OK, that was what I wanted to ask you. How did you keep in touch when they went overseas? Did you write to them?

VS: Yes, I’d hear from them and their addresses and we’d just write letters. I tried to write to my brother who was over there as much as I could and I’d write to these friends and they’d write back and one of them even proposed to me in the mail.

LO: Do you think it was unrealistic wartime romances that took place? Or were people more serious about their relationships and their dating patterns?

VS: Wartime fantasies and some of that dating wasn’t real. But the seriousness was there, I thought, in the young people. I know that knowing what was going on made me very serious and I think you grew up earlier and more seriously. I really do.

LO: Do you have anything else that you would like to add to this, to your memories that I have missed? You didn’t marry during the war, did you?

VS: No, I didn’t marry until 1948.

LO: OK.

VS: I did have one other brother (Byron "Buck" Kiefer Northcutt) that I haven’t mentioned. He was older and in the Army Air Force, stationed in Texas, but he was granted a medical discharge, an honorable discharge, and so he never did have to go overseas. He felt a little like he wasn’t doing his part, because he didn’t, but he had to have surgery and he wasn’t well. I failed to mention him, but I don’t know of anything else.

LO: How did you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

VS: Like I said, there was a lot of seriousness. It affected me to a point of worry about my brother, about both my brothers and everybody. I worried about my younger brother in Springville. Gasoline was rationed and we couldn’t go and visit him every single Sunday like we wanted to and he wanted us to do. Just knowing all these sad things, it affects you. Seeing your friends going and some not coming back. Overall, I think I don’t know how it couldn’t have affected any young person.

LO: How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

VS: I don’t know how to answer that because I just couldn’t answer that. It must have been many, many ways, but I’m sorry, I can’t answer that.

LO: So there is nothing else you can think of to add to this interview?

VS: No, other than my high school years were impacted by all of this, but it was a happy time. It always is when you’re in high school and you worry, but not like your parents were worrying and the rationing and everything. We got by fairly well, so there weren’t too many complaints. Jobs were quite plentiful.

LO: OK, thank you Vayda for your memories today.

VS: You’re welcome. I wish that I had more to offer.

Lois Owings/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 4-21-04/ Ed. JW 8/20/04

Ed. Note: Felix Northcutt developed a vegetable garden behind his cottage in Linnell Labor Camp in Farmersville and provided food for this family’s table. Each family had space for a garden in that section of Linnell camp, so the four streets of houses were called "Garden Homes."

Words that are in italics were added during a phone interview

with Vayda Shepherd on August 20 2004.

Also see interview with John Northcutt, Vayda’s brother.