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: Maurice Wilson

 

Date: January 26, 2004

Report No: 54

Interviewer: Arvilla Boswell

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Ivanhoe, CA

WORLD WAR II YEARS

Ivanhoe before and after the war.

Life in the Navy Aircraft program.

AB: This is Arvilla Boswell and it is Monday, January 26, 2004, 3:30 pm and I am at Maurice Wilson’s house to interview him for the "Years of Valor, Years of Hope of World War II" and now we will start.

Maurice where were you when the war started?

MW: I was up a ladder in an orange tree about a mile west of Ivanhoe on a cold and foggy Sunday morning and somebody came up and told us the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I was connected with the citrus industry, had a sack and a pair of clippers.

AB: Did you hear through somebody else or by radio?

MW: Somebody else came to work a little bit later and they had heard it on the radio.

AB: And who were you working for?

MW: I can’t think of the guy’s name, oh, it was Russell Davis; it was about a mile north of Ivanhoe.

AB: How old were you at that time?

MW: At that time, it was 1941 and I was about 17 years old.

AB: Did you volunteer for the service or were you drafted?

MW: Well, my brother, Roger Wilson, went into the Navy in early 1942 and I wanted to go but my parents said, "You are graduating from high school in June of 1942, and you’re not going to go before then." So when that came around, my mother, Hazel Nimmo Wilson, said, "Look, I have a son already in the Navy." So she talked me into staying.

My folks then moved to Los Angeles. My dad, Everett Wilson, got a job working at the shipyard. Then I got a job working at the oil refinery there. Again, I thought about enlisting and I was told "No you can’t because you are in essential industry working for the oil refinery." So shortly after that I quit and went back up to Ivanhoe. While I was working around, seeing about getting into the service, I was working on the farms. They got me a six month exemption because I was working on the farm. When I would go down to enlist, they would say "No, you can’t because you are exempted." When I finally went into the service, I asked, "How can I go in?" And they said, "You can volunteer to be drafted." I said, "Well I’ll quit my job and volunteer to be drafted." So I went into the Navy in February of 1944.

AB: February 1944, you went into the Navy and was that from Tulare County?

MW: Well, actually we had to go to Exeter to volunteer to be drafted and then they put us on a bus to Fresno and then on to Idaho for Boot Camp. It was cold up there. When I left here, it was February 2 and it was probably about 60 degrees here, and a few clouds. When we got to Idaho, it was 17 below zero. Man it was cold there!

AB: How did that make you feel?

MW: Like I wanted to be back in Ivanhoe. I was born in Oklahoma and we were not "dust bowl" Okies; we were Depression Okies, ‘cause my folks were farming about 233 acres on a nice farm in Oklahoma. The crash of 1929 came along, wiped us out, so we first went to Arizona in 1932, back and forth. We saw the Depression on the road. Then in 1938 we came to Ivanhoe. Just south of Ivanhoe, Jackson’s camp, that is where we stayed. My dad had itchy feet, wandering lust, so we went back to Arizona for a year and then back to Ivanhoe and stayed. I have been here a long time.

AB: When you left boot camp, where did you go?

MW: We went from boot camp to Norman, Oklahoma, for an aviation mechanic school there and we served for six months. At the same time I was training as an Air Crewman for the Navy, so that meant to work at regular school. For three hours we did the crewman stuff, like shooting, marksmanship. We had to learn Morse code, how to do the blinking and signaling. We did extra work because of the Air Crewman training. Then we left there and we went to Priscilla, Oklahoma for two weeks of gunnery school, how to operate machine guns. How to take them apart, put them together. Then after that, we went to Jacksonville, Florida and that is where I met my wife, Ethel Wilds.

AB: That is where you met the "love of your life"!

MW: We met on a blind date on Valentine’s Day in 1945, so I always hold Valentine’s Day a little special. Then we started our flying in PBY airplanes. PBY, that is a Patrol Bomber. We flew in those, I was the mechanic. My job was to start up the engines and stuff like that for the pilots. I had never been in a plane before. The first time they said get up in the control tower and start them up, I was a little bit nervous, but we did all right.

AB: You were the mechanic for the PBY airplanes?

MW: I was an Aviation Machinist Mate. Then we went from there to Kansas. They were flying the B24’s up there. After that we went back down to Florida and started flying in the B24’s. They gave us some new Privateers, which was the Navy version of B24 bombers. They had a single tail, four engines, extra machine guns on it and so forth, a little more modern.

Instead of going to the South Atlantic, our crew was picked to go to the Azores. We spent a lot of our time there in the Azores Islands.

AB: How long were you there?

MW: We were there six or seven months. We would fly from the Azores to Morocco to Port Leode in North Africa. That country was just almost like Ivanhoe. It was kind of semi-arid, big barns and they had oranges.

AB: Were you married then?

MW: No, I was single then and when I got out of the Navy in 1946, in July, I came home and worked for a while. Then we decided we were going to get married. She was still in Florida. I went back and forth. We were married in Florida on Thanksgiving Day.

AB: You met there as a result of being in the Navy, being stationed there?

MW: Yeah, I blame the Navy for everything! (Laughter) That has been quite a few years ago. I just turned 80. Ivanhoe has changed a lot. When we came to Ivanhoe, there was very few rentals around. Most of the people bought a little plot of ground and built a house on it. Some rented them out but most lived in them. Everybody here at that time, in Ivanhoe, were probably either from Arkansas, Oklahoma or Missouri. Might have been a few Texans around, but most of them came from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and everybody owned their own house.

AB: How do you think the war affected those people?

MW: Not much. I’d say that probably 95% of the people were involved with farm work. Some worked in Visalia. But most people picked oranges, cotton, grapes and you know in those days, when you went out to pick oranges, grapes, or cotton, they didn’t give you no water, no bathrooms, they didn’t give you nothing. All they gave you was, if you were going to pick oranges, they gave you a ladder and a pair of clippers. Most of the time you had to furnish your own bag, but they would give you a ladder, no water, no food, no nothing. And cotton, they didn’t give you nothing. They said there is the field, go pick. And the people think they have it bad now.

AB: Do you remember, in those days, did they have any black outs here in Ivanhoe?

MW: No, we didn’t have anything like that. There was nothing worth to get here. After the war was over and I came home, I went back to work farming because I could make more money picking oranges. I made $2.00 an hour and I know Exeter Mercantile wanted me to go to work for them but they only wanted to pay $1.10 an hour and that wasn’t much money. So we waited till Ethel got pregnant and so on March 15, 1947, I went to work at International Harvest as a mechanic for $1.10 an hour, because I wanted to get a steady job, two weeks vacation and insurance. Not many people had that kind of benefits in 1947. A friend of mine went to work for the Post Office at .83 cents an hour. I wanted a steady job, being as Ethel was pregnant with Ellen. I spent 43 years to the day at that same place. They had several name changes over the years. I enjoyed it.

AB: Did you do mechanic work there?

MW: I did about three years of mechanic work and then I went into the Parts Department. I did everything.

AB: How did your mother feel when you enlisted in the Navy?

MW: She did not want me to go in; she fought it all the way. She said you are my only son at home and she didn’t want me to go. But she was okay after I got in.

AB: So you didn’t see any real action?

MW: I was never shot at. I just had three years of "wine, women and song"! A paid vacation, compliments of the United States Navy. I can’t say I wasn’t in harms way, because when you are flying with a bunch of amateur pilots every time you got in a plane, you were in harms way, because none of those guys were good pilots.

AB: Is there anything else you can think of?

MW: Well, the face of Ivanhoe changed a lot after 1946, because when guys came home, they didn’t want to work on the farms. They got other jobs and they didn’t want to stay in Ivanhoe. Mom and dad stayed there, but the younger guys went to Visalia or Los Angeles, and when the older people of Ivanhoe started dying off, then their little old places went up for sale. That is when the immigrants, the Mexicans came in. They started buying the places up. Ivanhoe is now probably about 80% Hispanic and about 75% of that is illegal.

AB: Were you acquainted with any of the Japanese people that lived around here?

MW: Oh, yeah, we knew all of them.

AB: What happened to them?

MW: One case around here, my brother-in-law, Alvie Davis, who married my sister Jean, across the street from him was the Yamashita Family. They had to go to a concentration camp. But Joe Davis, Alvie’s brother, was a preacher, and he said. "We will take care of your place while you are gone." Yamashita’s said, "We don’t want any money off of it and whatever you make, keep it. Just keep the trees pruned and so forth." The neighbors, including Alvie and Joe, took care of that place while they were gone. Good care of it. When they came back from the concentration camp, the neighbors gave them back their property, and gave them the money too that they had made. That is one of the cases. 

There were several Japanese families who had to leave. In my high school graduation class, there were about six or seven Japanese kids. They had a curfew. They had to be in before dark. So we had our graduation ceremony at 6:00 o’clock, so they could be in before dark. We thought they were great people; we had nothing against them.

There were quite a few Japanese people around here that farm and they were good loyal Americans, all of them. In fact, I worked for several years with Judy Yamishita at Exeter Mercantile. You probably knew Judy.

AB: Yes, I did. What happened to your brother?

MW: He was in the Navy. He served a lot of time in the South Pacific. He was in all of the Pacific campaigns there. He was on a destroyer most of the time. When he got out of the Navy, he had met this girl in New York City and they got married. They had a boy; she came and lived with my folks until he got out of the service. And then after that, he went into construction work. He died about three or four years ago in Bakersfield.

AB: Do you recall any one particular incident that was memorable to you when you were in the service?

MW: Oh my goodness. Well, I met my wife.

AB: Well, that was memorable and from what I can see, that was very good.

MW: I enjoyed flying to Africa and different places. I enjoyed flying in the Navy. You had those old bombers; they had no insulation in them whatsoever, very little seats, you just sat on the old hard metal.

AB: Was that scary?

MW: Yeah, We were flying over Kansas, putting time in and I was lying on my back on this aluminum floor, reading a book and I kind of dosed off. They have those big up and down drafts, and all of a sudden, I looked up and the book was floating in the air, I was laughing. All of a sudden I am floating and I realized I better get my feet down, because when they came out of the draft my feet would hit the floor and I would break my back. (Laughter)

AB: Maurice is there anything else you would like to add to be remembered in history?

MW: Well, I wasn’t involved in a lot of programs before I got into the service. But, when I got out, we had kids going to Ivanhoe School. We had three girls, named Ellen (Kellerher Mullin), Hazel (Coburn) and Ann (Hanson). First of all, I was involved in American Legion here. We formed a post here. Then Ethel got involved in the Cub Scouts, because the American Legion formed a cub scout pack here in Ivanhoe.

Ethel and Clara Shouse were den mothers and leaders and they needed someone on a committee and I found out they had made me scoutmaster. It took me 35 years to get out of that. At one time, I was the Explorer Adviser, Assistant Cub Master and Scout Leader all at the same time. We would go places and take two cars to haul kids back and forth to camps and such. Now, I will be someplace and this gray-headed guy will come up to me and say, "Mr. Wilson." I know he was one of my scouts. In those days, they called you Mister. They had real respect for their leaders.

AB: As a result of all this, and your time in the Navy, you’ve become very involved with the veterans.

MW: Yes, I have been very active. I have been on the county level, state level, and I have been department manager a few times. My wife and I have become involved with the VA Hospital in Fresno. We go every Wednesday and work for seven hours assisting people. We are all over the hospital. We wear nice red shirts.

AB: So, you’ve become quite involved with the veterans.

MW: Yes, the Avenue of Flags at the cemetery -- I was instrumental in getting that started.

AB: You also are very involved with the Veteran’s Day program they have at the Visalia Cemetery, then.

MW: Anything to do with Veterans, I have been involved quite a few years now. We enjoy it all. I still go down to the Ivanhoe School, once a month and give out school awards there.

AB: And you have been involved with Golden West High School on Veterans’ Day.

MW: Yes, and for the last few years, I have been Santa Claus for Ivanhoe School.

AB: This has been Maurice Wilson, and as you can see, he has done a lot for the Veterans down through the years. His wife, Ethel, has been right by his side through all of these experiences and they have made a big contribution and we want to thank them for what they have done.

MW: I know I have had some influence on some boys’ lives through some of my programs. We have the Boys State program at Golden West High School and Woodlake High School. They are great kids and will go on to great things.

The Girls State program had the Ivanhoe Pelzer girl and when she graduated, she went on to the Air Force Academy and is doing real well. You look at them and think, I hope I had some affect on their success. I hope I had some affect on someone’s life. Maybe someone will help me sometime. Boy, it is hard to get me to stop talking sometimes!! (Laughter)

AB: Thank you Maurice for your contribution to Tulare County History.

2-25-2004/A.Boswell/pd/ed. J.Wood 5-11-2004

Ed: I asked Mr. Wilson about the rumor in 1941-42, about Japanese farmers in Ivanhoe putting arrows that could be seen from the sky in their fields pointing to the Army Air Corp training fields. He said, "I think that was a false rumor, I knew many of their farmers, went to school with their kids, and I don’t believe they would have done anything like that. I went to Visalia Union High School, and our class voted to hold our graduation at six p.m. in order to allow the Japanese students, who were subject to a curfew, to graduate with us."

I also asked him how he felt the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is today. He said that the biggest positive affect on Tulare County was the migration of the Dust Bowl people from the Midwest during the Depression. After the war, the G. I. Bill meant people could get loans to build or buy houses and farms and improve their education and get professional degrees.
Then they came back here. That really helped the County to grow.

Ed. note: The words in italics were added during a phone interview with Maurice Wilson on June 8, 2006.