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: Bill Allen
Date of Interview: March 18, 2004
Interviewer: Anne Marks
Place of interview: Dr. Allen’s home in Visalia
Places where Mr. Allen lived during 1941 to 1946: Orosi, California
Subjects covered in the interview: Childhood in Orosi, his brother’s involvement in World War II, the family, local community and nation’s response to events of the war, and farm life.
AM: This is a taping of an oral history provided by Dr. Bill Allen of Visalia, California. Today is March 18, 2004. My name is Anne Marks. And could you say your name and spell your last name, for the sake of accuracy?
BA: Yes. William Van Atta Allen, A-l-l-e-n.
AM: And what was your birthplace?
BA: My birthplace was Holton, Kansas.
AM: And what were your parents’ names?
BA: Rebecca (Van Atta) and Harry Allen.
AM: I see. Did you have siblings?
BA: Yes, I had two brothers, John and Robert.
AM: And they were older, or where were you in the birth order?
BA: Yes, they were older. I was third. I was an afterthought, I think. They were both about ten years older.
AM: Were they in the home when you were growing up?
BA: Yes, they were. Well, my brother Bob died when I was five, of polio.
AM: And when did you move to Tulare County, then?
BA: In 1934.
AM: And moved to?
BA: Orosi, California.
AM: And you were there then until you . . .
BA: Til I went away to college, uh, huh.
AM: I see. And did you have other relatives in Tulare County, then?
BA: Yes. My father had a second cousin in Orosi.
AM: What was your father’s occupation?
BA: He was a farmer.
AM: Did your mother work outside of the home?
BA: She was a school teacher.
AM: I see. Locally? She taught in . . .?
BA: Yes, she taught in Orosi. When I got ready to go to Stanford my mother anticipated that by a year and started back to teaching, which she hadn’t done for a long time.
AM: And what grade would that have been that she taught?
BA: She taught fifth grade.
AM: I see. And what sort of farming would your father have been engaged in?
BA: Well, it was a diversified farming. We had row crops, we had orchards, and we raised chickens and turkeys.
AM: A little --
BA: Little bit of everything, uh huh.
AM: What sort of orchard would that have been?
AM: Ahh, and row crops would have been -- corn forming the bulk of your planting?
BA: Everything. Tomatoes -- he had his own label that . . . . In fact, our family still owns that farm and they still use that label. It’s called Tulare County TOPS.
AM: So he would ship then?
BA: All over, uh-huh.
AM: Engaged in any -- not really anything local, then, no truck farming, per se, it was more on a larger scale?
BA: It was on a larger scale. It was a small farm, but it was -- everything was sold commercially.
AM: I see. And where was that located, then?
BA: It was a mile and half north and a quarter of a mile east of Orosi.
AM: And how much acreage?
BA: Just 40 acres.
AM: That was a good size for that era, I believe.
BA: Well, it was average, I suppose, for small farmers.
AM: Could you describe it a bit? What did -- were there outbuildings, shops?
BA: Yeah. We built our own house. It was a kind of a Midwestern house in as much as my heritage was from the Midwest. There was a basement that we lived in for several years while we were building the rest of it. We’d just build it board by board. And eventually there was a basement and two more stories. So it was a pretty good-sized house. There was a barn on the farm when we bought it, an old barn. And we kept that. But then we built three other large chicken houses. And one part of it was a packing house for our fruit and so forth.
AM: So, did you butcher the chickens or were they egg laying?
BA: Eggs. We had our own cold storage. We sold to Safeway. And we even had an egg cleaning machine. And it was an intensive kind of thing, seven days a week.
AM: And you were involved certainly?
BA: Certainly I was. Cleaned a lot of eggs.
AM: And your older brother, he would have been still in the home when you were in Orosi?
BA: Well, he was but of course, being 11 years older than I was he was gone when the war started. And so he went into war then. He came back and farmed a while and then went back to college.
AM: Do you know what age he was when he entered the war?
BA: 1942 he would have been 21.
AM: I see. How about the surrounding area around your farm. Were neighbors also in farming?
BA: Yeah. We had a lot of neighbors. We were close to the hills, the foothills. Sand Creek went right by our place. Actually, for growing up there -- it was just an ideal place for a little boy to grow up.
AM: Were you close to neighbors, as in relations, did you visit or . . .
BA: Our best friends were the Martin family. And they had two older children, too. And then they had a daughter. She and I were born five days apart. And so we were like brother and sister growing up.
AM: How about organizations outside of the farm that your dad might have belonged to or your mom being professional,grange perhaps?
BA: Well, my dad was a member of the Farm Bureau and he was a school board member. Those are the kind of things he was engaged in. My mother, I don’t recall any -- I don’t know that she was a member of the CTA or whatever teachers’ things were -- I don’t even know if they had them then. Of course, we were in the church. My dad was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and my mother sang in the choir and so on.
AM: I see. What would you have done, say, thinking back to seven, eight, nine years of age, what would you have done for family entertainment at the end of a day?
BA: We played a lot of games. I learned probably math by playing Monopoly when I was five years old. But being farmers we didn’t have a whole lot of leisure time. It was pretty much seven days a week and working from sunup to sundown. But we had a good time. It was a wonderful time. It was a precious time in my life.
AM: No doubt. Was your family hunters, per se, or fishermen?
BA: My dad and I fished some. In the summertime in those days there were no air conditioning places. So the kids and the mothers spent the summer in the mountains. And the fathers would come up on weekends. And that’s when my dad and I would fish together.
AM: What part of the Sierras would your family head to?
BA: We had a permanent place on Woodard Creek, which is on the Generals Highway between then Grant Park and the Sequoia Park Headquarters. It was about 7,000 feet.
AM: That would be in the national forest, I presume?
BA: Yes, it was.
AM: It was somewhere carved out of there?
BA: Yeah, right.
AM: And then you were near Sand Creek, you said, so any swimming holes that you took advantage of?
BA: Well, Sand Creek wasn’t a swimming creek. It didn’t run very much of the year. And some years it didn’t run at all, so I learned to swim in the Alta Irrigation Canal.
AM: Good enough.
BA: Good enough. Although I never became a very good swimmer.
AM: How about if you got together with your boyhood friends. What sorts of activities would you look for?
BA: Well, my friends who lived in town just loved coming out to our ranch because there were just endless places to play and endless places to hide. And I had a little miniature farm set up that they all just loved to play with. And so they came out and then we, as we got older, of course, I was in school involved in athletics and things like that.
AM: What sports were you particularly . . .?
BA: Football, basketball, and track.
AM: In grade school, were you, you know, a runner . . . ?
BA: I played -- well, I don’t think we had any track things in grammar school. But we had basketball and, yeah, I competed on the team. I was recruited actually from high school by Stanford for football.
BA: I didn’t play there but I did graduate from there.
AM: Wow. How about church activities, any camps or . . .?
BA: I went to YMCA camp at Camp Tulequoia up in Sequoia several years. And I was active in the youth of our church.
AM: And movies, I know Dinuba had theaters.
BA: Dinuba did. And that was a great thing to go to Dinuba to the movies. We didn’t have a movie in Orosi. Well, we did later on. But, yeah, that was a big thing; my friends and I would go.
AM: Can you recall back to late thirties or early forties, or even through the forties, any particular favorites that you just --
AM: -- were dying to see? Yes.
BA: Well, I think the first movie that I can actually remember seeing and it was -- I think it would have been in the late ‘30s was Snow White. And I remember seeing Bambi and Fantasia. And as we got older I liked to go to the Frankenstein things and all that kind of stuff.
AM: Sure. And the adults in your family as a group generally, did they belong to a particular political party?
BA: Oh, by all means. We were conservative Republicans.
AM: And speaking of that then, segueing into FDR’s Fireside Chats, you had a radio in the home, I could imagine and . . .
BA: Oh, yes.
AM: did you -- do you have recollection of listening to those broadcasts?
BA: Well, President Roosevelt was not actually a favorite in my family.
BA: But, yes, I remember the Fireside Chats very well.
AM: Could you sum up for your folks or the adults in your family, their opinion of FDR as you gathered it as a child?
BA: Yes. It was only later in life that I realized that FDR was probably a great president and President Truman as well. But the New Deal -- my father equated Roosevelt with the welfare system and so on, so he was a kind of ‘persona non grata’ in my growing up.
AM: As far as your family’s daily needs like clothes and food: clothing, was that sewn at home or did you purchase that?
BA: Most of it was purchased, although at one time during my, I guess, grammar school years, the chicken feed came in those sacks that had -- that you could make shirts and stuff out of and my mother did make a few things out of things like that.
AM: That would have been sort of rough cotton, then?
BA: Yeah, it was -- they were -- yeah, they were nice material.
AM: Very usable.
AM: Food, you raised your own produce, obviously.
AM: Did you butcher your own meat?
BA: We did some. We had hogs that we butchered. But most -- not -- that wasn’t a big percentage of our meat that we ate. ‘Course we ate a lot of chickens, turkeys.
AM: In regards to sewing your own shirts, your mom taking care of that: during the Depression you would have been, oh, very young. Do you have a particular memory as to a lack or a limitation that you are aware of that your folks had to contend with?
BA: You know, I never felt deprived of anything. But we were all in the same boat, you know, so it wasn’t like we were poor and nobody else was. I think everybody was in the same boat. But we were never hungry.
BA: Yeah, we were well taken care of that way.
AM: But there probably were concepts of ‘making do’ and saving things that you might use later?
BA: Well, yeah. But that was a kind of way of life anyway. It wasn’t -- I didn’t think of ‘making do’ as a special sacrifice. It was just a normal way of living in those days.
AM: Now, the largest neighboring town would have been Dinuba. In the 1940 census it says that the population was 3700. So by comparison, Orosi certainly was quite a bit smaller.
BA: Orosi was always counted as 1200. But Orosi wasn’t a city with city limits. And where they came up with that number, I haven’t the slightest idea. I think might have been the high school district or something.
AM: They did have a post office?
BA: Oh, yeah.
AM: And schools. Do you remember any other businesses that you would have frequented?
BA: Oh, yeah. Randolph and Goodwin Stores was a general store that you could get groceries and hardware and clothes and everything. Mr. Rutherford’s Drug Store was there. McGee’s Grocery was there. There were gas stations, the bank, five and ten cent store, a butcher shop, Mr. Furman’s Butcher Shop. And I think there were three or four churches -- Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist. And the high school, the grammar school. It was pretty complete.
AM: Full sized community.
BA: We had a garage, Mr. Beckner’s Garage, for fixing cars.
AM: You had -- on the farm you had work trucks and farm equipment?
BA: We had a couple of trucks. We had at one time three tractors.
AM: Did you have livestock, per se?
BA: For a short time we had a little dairy. We had a couple of horses. They weren’t of any use, the horses weren’t. But my brother liked horses and he had them and fooled around with them some. But we -- in my time of life we used tractors.
AM: Sure. There was a weekly newspaper out of Dinuba, the Alta Advocate. Do you recall your folks subscribing or reading the paper?
BA: Well, actually the Dinuba newspaper was the Sentinel and it’s still there. The Alta Advocate was kind of a secondary advertising thing. But Orosi had a thing called the Cutler-Orosi Courier. And it was weekly.
AM: And you remember that being read in the home?
BA: Oh, gosh, yes. In fact, when I was away at school at Stanford, why, my parents sent me the Cutler-Orosi Courier, which was so unsophisticated compared to what all my Stanford friends were used to. In fact, I remember one time a headline was "Mrs. McGee’s Cat Came Back From Having Been Gone Five Days." Why, that was great fodder for kidding me with my sophisticated friends.
AM: No doubt. Again, during the Depression years, were you aware hearing the people being out of work?
BA: Well, yes. There was a thing called the WPA, Work Projects Administration, which was an organization, I think it was a Federal organization that had men who were out of work working on roads and things like that. And there was also the CCC, which was a Civilian Conservation Corps, I think was what that was. And young men would go to mountainous areas and so forth to work on things. Yeah, that was a big thing.
AM: Now, in contrast, when the war came along the economy improved because the production, of course, was increased across the nation, so thinking of mid-war, ’43, ’44, you would have been 12 -- 11, 12. The roles in the work force changed, men leaving for jobs either in the military or seeking out better paying jobs in defense plants or larger cities. The question being, do you remember any work that women started performing that normally would have been reserved for males?
BA: Yeah. During the war, the factories had women working in them a lot. In fact, some of our closest friends, the McGees, moved from Orosi to Oakland to work in the shipyards, both of them did. And that was -- the economic picture did change. And things certainly got better economically.
AM: Your mother had not worked out of the home for a period of time, you said?
BA: My mother taught school in Kansas before I was born. And I never knew her as a teacher until I anticipated going to Stanford. And she must have had a lot of faith in my ability to get to go to Stanford. But she started working when I was in high school.
AM: Were you aware of any family friends or your parents’ friends that a woman might have been at home and never had held a job, and maybe had a job for the very first time in her life because of the wartime circumstances?
BA: Our friends, the Martins, Mrs. Martin didn’t. Mrs. McGee did. She worked up in Oakland in the shipyards. Those are the only two I recall specifically.
AM: Okay. Now, roles in the family changed, too. Traditionally, heads of households would be the men and then when they were absent from the home, women were left to run the households, which . . . that wasn’t a new thing perhaps. But being the head of the house, they probably had decisions that they’d had to make for the first time on their own. Children, too, perhaps, made adjustments in their life. Do you have any comment on your own experiences of that being the case?
BA: Well, my parents were -- my dad was too old to go to war. So he didn’t -- our family didn’t change in that respect. But there were families that did. Of course, my brother was married during the war. But it was pretty much toward the end of the war. So, no, I don’t really have any specific memories of the women of the house taking over the running of things.
AM: Okay. Now, World War II had been going on for over two
years before the
BA: Oh, yes. My parents were avid news -- I remember
listening to Earl Godwin and Lowell Thomas and Walter Winchell and several others. In fact, all of our meals were spent with the radio on, on
the news. I certainly remember the invasion of
AM: You would have been very young, an impressionable memory.
BA: Very, yeah. We were really caught up in the war, even before we got into it.
AM: Do you recall discussion or concern over
BA: Oh, yeah. I remember -- I remember exactly where I was standing when my dad told me that -- it was on December 7th, 1941. My aunt and uncle from Albuquerque were out visiting. He was a physician. He and my dad came to right where we were all standing when he made that announcement. Yeah.
AM: What would have been the reaction? If you can describe that, if you can think back.
AM: Taking defensive action in some way.
BA: Right, yeah. And I remember one evening there was a false alarm that Japanese airplanes were over Los Angeles, which of course was not true.
AM: But a very valid concern and fair, I imagine.
BA: Yeah, it was.
AM: Hmmm. Now after the
BA: Yes, I do. My parents were a very much advocates of treating the Japanese as Americans citizens. But I remember that wasn’t always the case in our community. There were some ugly things that happened.
AM: Did you have classmates that were --
BA: Oh, yes, I did.
AM: Can you relate some of those incidents that you recall?
BA: Yes. I remember waking up -- the town of Orosi woke up one morning. This was just as the war, I guess, was coming to a conclusion because the Japanese were able to come back into our community. And a sign appeared downtown that was an ugly kind of sign. I know who put it there. I won’t mention that name, of course, but he was a man who was a respected man in a lot of ways. But certainly was an advocate of keeping the Japanese out of Orosi.
I remember also my brother had a couple of close friends in high school. They were twins and they had a sister also that was a friend of my brother’s. And before the Japanese had to leave, my mother met that sister in downtown one day and she was lamenting the fact they had to leave. And I remember my mother was trying to make her feel better and said, "Well, you know, we’re all making sacrifices, we’re sending our son off to war, and you’re having to do that." But of course, in reality, the Japanese sent their sons off to war, too.
Another incident that
was kind of an interesting thing, we had neighbors that were right down the
road from us, a farmer. And they had a lot of kids. And they had a child that
was still in
BA: But, can you imagine how he felt? It was not an option.
AM: The compulsory evacuation?
AM: And do you recall when people actually had to report to the assembly centers?
BA: Yeah, I do, I remember. And you know we had quite a Japanese population in our community, a lot of farmers. And so there were a lot of people that were having to leave. And some of the farms were taken care of by neighbors wonderfully. And some were just lost and it was just an awful thing. I remember my dad buying some things from this Nii family. You know, shovels and just whatever. But they never came back to -- they came back to the area, but they didn’t come back to that farm. In fact, their descendents are still in our Dinuba area.
AM: I see. It would have been a feeling of helplessness, I presume, for those folks who couldn’t make a change and have it different.
BA: Yeah. It was a life changing time for all of us, really.
AM: Do you recall the incident of the Japanese submarine showing up in Santa Barbara?
BA: Yes, I sure do. Actually, they shelled up in Oregon too and killed the wife of a minister by just -- happened to do that. Yeah, I remember that.
AM: That, I presume, would have caused a shock wave of fear?
BA: Well, I’m sure it did, particularly people that were on the coast, you know. It was pretty remote to think that -- well, I’ll tell you, at the beginning of the war right after Pearl Harbor I remember men saying "We’ll whip them in three or four months."
AM: Do you recall any discussion amongst the adults or your parents of relocating? Was there that kind of fear? Or moving further inland after the immediate news of Pearl Harbor?
BA: Not a word of that, not a word of it. I don’t think that ever crossed anybody’s mind that I know of.
AM: Did you have relatives outside of, say, California that you would have talked about bringing, you know, to the farm for more safety . . . Where they might have been in larger cities.--
BA: No. But I do -- I can tell you this, that my dad’s cousin that was in Orosi before we got here that I mentioned earlier, by that time they were living in Hawaii. And they actually owned an apartment building on Waikiki Beach. And so we were concerned about them to some extent. And they were there on December 7th. And of course, the island of Oahu is small enough that anything that happened on it anywhere I think everybody knew about it. I mean, it was not a remote thing to them by any means.
AM: And you got word of their safety --
BA: Safety, yes. They were okay.
AM: How did you receive that? Would that have been telegram or --
BA: I would -- I don’t -- no, it wasn’t a telegram. I think it was just in a letter.
AM: I see. Now, again, in the 1940 census, of those in the populous that were not American-born citizens, predominantly Germans were the largest group. Do you recall any resentments or acts of prejudice against Germans or Italians?
BA: You know, that’s an interesting thing because, no, I really don’t. I guess it was because of the difference in whether they’re Anglo-Saxons or not made the difference. But I don’t recall any German resentment. Of course, a good percentage of us had German blood, really. But the Japanese looked different, you know. And was a much more isolated specific thing for them than it was for the Germans or Italians as far as that goes.
AM: Now, your brother, you said, enlisted in the service?
BA: Yes, he did.
AM: And that would have been in ’42?
BA: ’42. Actually, just before the war started, President
Roosevelt had encouraged the
AM: Now, he would have been about how old then when he actually enlisted?
BA: I think -- if he enlisted in 1942, he would have been 21, probably before his birthday in July, so maybe 20.
AM: And what branch of the service?
BA: Well, he ended up being a Marine. But all Marine pilots start out in the Navy. So the Navy and Marine pilots all do pre-flight and primary training and so forth. A little story about that if you don’t mind.
He took his primary training here in California at -- not Lemoore but Livermore. Then went to Texas for basic training and to Florida for advanced training. And bear in mind, he was still in the Navy. And then they sent them to the Great Lakes to learn to land on aircraft carriers. Being an Allen, being an "A," he was the third guy in a row. The first two guys crashed right before their eyes and were killed. And so, "Okay, Allen, it’s your turn." So he makes a successful landing and -- it was about then when they had to make the decision to go either Navy or Marines. That experience told him he wanted to be a marine based on ground. He wanted that airport to be there for one thing when he got back. And he wasn’t too thrilled about making very many more aircraft carrier landings.
AM: I see. That was a treacherous position they were often in trying to land on those ships.
BA: Well, just landing on that aircraft carrier was one thing. Bad weather was one possibility. Finding the darned thing was another problem. And the fact that it might be at the bottom of the ocean when they got back. So there were a lot of problems, possible problems.
AM: No doubt. Now, what theater did he serve in then, eventually?
BA: South Pacific. Guadalcanal. That’s where the Americans turned the war around was Guadalcanal. And from there they bombed Bougainville and then when they took Bougainville they moved on up and they just kept island hopping up. He flew a Dauntless dive-bomber but not in the Midway battle. And that was the plane that actually won the Battle of Midway. But those were Navy planes, I think, because they were off the aircraft carriers. They weren’t Marines.
AM: Can you bring to mind how you felt about him serving, as a kid?
BA: Oh, yes. He was a hero to me. I relished the fact that my brother was doing that. Yeah, it was a big thing for a 12-year old.
AM: Now, the age difference would have been what?
BA: Eleven years.
AM: How would your family have kept contact with him or known his whereabouts?
BA: Well, before he went overseas, he and my parents concocted a code. And they knew where he was. We got a lot of letters from him but of course they were sent through a guy that looked --
AM: The censors?
BA: Censor, yeah. And then they were postmarked from an APO box in San Francisco, I think. So there was no postmark Guadalcanal or anything like that.
AM: Now, when you say code, you mean within the letters?
BA: Yeah, uh-huh.
AM: then they could decipher --
BA: Uh-huh, yeah.
AM: I’m sure that brought them peace of mind knowing at least where he was.
BA: Well, I don’t think much of anything brought much peace of mind to my mother. She was a worrywart to start with. And having lost one son to polio already, and having one getting shot at every day -- he had 73 missions; he never got hurt but he came home with a plane full of bullet holes a lot of times. In fact, returning one time, there was a Japanese shell, proximity shell, that was lodged in the wing right next to where he sat that was supposed to explode on contact but it was a dud. That of course saved his life. He would have never survived that.
AM: By the Grace of God.
AM: And you said you had good correspondence with him as much as the war would allow?
BA: Yeah. The letters weren’t particularly timely because it took a long time to go through all the channels to get there. And I’m not sure how they got to him, how timely. But there was lot of correspondence.
AM: Would you have -- would you be able to recall now how accurate or in sync his news of the war or his correspondence would be with what you might have heard on the news or newsreels?
BA: I don’t think that he was allowed to comment a whole lot on the war, how it was going. So, how much he knew about what was going on in the big picture or particularly in Europe, I don’t know.
AM: Sure. Or it would have been censored out, had he known.
BA: Right, yes, uh-huh.
AM: Can you remember what things may have been done to express your support of him? I know there were star emblems that were placed in windows.
BA: Yeah, there were. The biggest support that I could see
from our community and our community had a lot of servicemen. I think three
were killed during the war. But there were probably 60 or so. And there were
quite a few pilots, in fact. George Ford and Jim Halford and my brother, I think, were the first three. Albert Martin flew a bomber.
John Henry flew the route over the
But a neat thing is
that they had two war bond drives during the war. And believe it or not, little Orosi exceeded their limit of what they were required
to do. More than any other town in
AM: Wow. Phenomenal.
BA: Yeah, it really was a phenomenal thing. My brother in his training started out as a pilot; there were six of them that trained together and became close friends. They vowed they would meet at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco every five years after the war. He was the only survivor.
AM: Is that right? Well, the nation in general was supporting the war effort, certainly. Ration coupons and --
BA: It was a time of absolute national unity. A time that we’ve never seen since. We came a little closer to it recently maybe, but it was, you know, there was one person in Congress that voted against declaring war. And it was an amazing thing.
AM: The Second World War?
BA: Yes, uh-huh. Frances Perkins. I think she was a representative, not a senator. During the war we had the ration books for food and supplies and certainly gasoline. And being farmers, we got a little bit more gasoline because we had to run tractors and stuff like that. The speed limit was 35 miles an hour to conserve gas.
AM: Down from, say, what was the --
BA: Oh, we drive like we do now. 55 was -- I remember we did go to the World’s Fair in San Francisco. And at 35 miles an hour, that was a long trip.
AM: I bet.
BA: Yeah, it really was.
AM: And the rubber drives and --
BA: Oh yeah.
AM: -- metal drives.
BA: Yeah. And of course, tires were a big thing. We didn’t get too many new tires.
AM: Would you say your brother’s service in the war or even having heard him relate his war experiences later when he returned, would you say that may have influenced your attitude toward warfare or war?
BA: Well, we were in such a patriotic frenzy during that time, that nobody was anti-war. We were attacked, you know, and it was clear-cut in the minds of most Americans that we were on the right side. My brother didn’t talk a whole lot about the war when he came home. He had seventy-three combat missions. At one time he had more missions than any other Marine in the South Pacific. He was decorated twice. He was a very accurate pilot. All the planes had cameras on them during their dive and so forth. His were so accurate that they used them for education for pilots, other pilots. His rear gunners, they all wanted to be his rear gunner. One of them was sent back early for some reason and my parents met him in Los Angeles just to talk to him. And that’s what he said. Once in a while my brother would talk about the war. But most of the time he didn’t. And strangely enough, he never flew a plane again.
BA: Never did. Never had a desire to.
AM: More philosophically along that same question, would his experiences or your experience in having a brother in the war, would that have affected your own development of character, say, sense of honor or --
AM: Pride in service to others?
BA: Yes. Yes, it did. It was -- you know, I was a Boy Scout. And of course, "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent," really meant something to us. Yeah, it did. I had a very honorable family. And that shaped my life a lot.
AM: No doubt your entire family, especially your folks, were proud of him, then.
BA: Oh, gosh, yes.
AM: Did he return to the family home?
BA: Yes. Came back and by then he was married. And we built another house for him, for his wife and for him. And he farmed for about ten years or so. Bought another little piece of land adjacent to our farm. And then he decided he had to go back to school to become a veterinarian. He’d already had some college before that. But he went back to Kansas State ‘cause that’s where my father graduated in 1914. And so my brother went back and finished his pre-veterinary work there and then got into veterinary school and then went four more years to veterinary school. And then came back to Orosi. So he graduated from veterinary school in 1955 and because I didn’t farm for ten years, I was only then three years behind him in school and I went to University of California at Davis. And came back and we practiced in Orosi and Reedley. But that wasn’t too successful for him in Orosi. It was just too small a town. So then he went into poultry pathology, went to Egg City, which is down in Southern California. It’s the world’s largest egg-producing ranch. And made pretty much of a national name for himself in poultry pathology. A very innovative man, he produced things and techniques that helped that industry and also developed some vaccines. So it was an interesting time for him.
AM: Good work.
BA: He was a great guy.
AM: He’s passed on now?
BA: Yeah. I can’t remember what year it was, but I was here in Visalia so it was after 1967. And I had kind of developed a laboratory, veterinary laboratory thing, going in our practice.
When he would come up from Southern California we would go visit my laboratory over there. And I had just gotten a Coulter counter, which is a blood-counting machine, blood count machine. So I drew a little blood from him and we used it. And found he had leukemia. And this is way before he had clinical signs. So having found that, he went right to UCLA to their oncology/hematology department and they started him on medication for it. And so he lived for thirteen and a half more years, which is about twice what he would have lived under normal circumstances because they got to it so early. And in fact, he worked right up through Wednesday before the Sunday that he died.
AM: And he received a military funeral or did they --
BA: It was a regular funeral, yeah. But he was very brave about that. In fact, there was an editorial in their paper down there about that. It makes me cry every time I read it.
AM: No doubt. Sounds as if he lived his life how he served his country.
BA: Yes, he did.
AM: Can you describe his return home, the first time he stepped foot perhaps out of a car onto the soil of his home?
BA: Well, of course, he would come home on leaves periodically. And I remember he’d gone and done all of his deal in the South Pacific and then he came back and they started training him in a new plane. It was down at San Diego, Miramar Marine Air Station. And so they would fly around. And he actually flew clear up here and buzzed our ranch, scared all our chickens to death. Here he was in this huge, bigger plane than what his one in combat was. It was a Hell Diver this time. Big powerful airplane with about a 2,000 horsepower engine. Buzzed our place about 100 feet high and so forth. And I certainly remember that vividly. But as far as when he came home the last time after the war, they were training him for a second tour of duty but the war ended before that. So we’d seen him quite a few times and so there wasn’t a specific homecoming that I recall. Not near the homecoming that I got when I came home from veterinary school, which is ridiculous. But, that’s another story.
AM: Very good, well-deserved, no doubt.
BA: Well, I don’t know about that.
AM: Do you recall President Roosevelt’s death in ’45 and then Vice-President Truman taking office?
BA: Oh, I certainly do. It was so vivid in our minds. And even though we weren’t Roosevelt fans, that was a sad day for all of us. I mean, he was our President.
AM: Do you recall any concern about the change in leadership that the war was ending, as you say --
AM: It was in our favor but-- it was still going on --
BA: Well, Harry Truman was from Independence,
Missouri. He had been a haberdasher. And he
was -- somehow I got,the idea came about that he was a friend of Pendegraft, who was kind of an underworld kind of guy. (Thomas J. Pendergast was known for his control of a strong political
machine in Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri. He helped Truman win a seat in the
AM: He would not have received your dad’s vote had it been an election?
BA: Oh, no. Oh, well, of course, that was when Thomas Dewey ran against President Truman after he had finished out Roosevelt’s fourth term, I mean it was -- there was no question but who was going to win that. And as you may know the headlines came out "Dewey Beats Truman." So, that was a big surprise. Harry Truman was a tough little guy. And of course one thing that he did that didn’t have my dad’s approval was when he fired Douglas MacArthur. But that’s the way it goes.
AM: They didn’t ask your dad’s opinion?
BA: They did not. And I always thought my dad knew so much about that war that he should have been a general.
AM: No doubt.
BA: I thought that.
AM: I bet.
BA: Yeah. Well, we followed that war foot by foot.
AM: May 8th you would have been about 13. 1945, V-E Day, war in Europe was over. And was there -- certainly your brother was in the South Pacific and that aspect of the war was continuing. What sort of celebration was there or reaction around the war ending?
BA: Oh, it was just fantastic. It was -- I remember, again, I remember it so vividly, such trivial things, but I remember right what I was doing. I was unloading a semi truck of hundred pound sacks of chicken or turkey feed when my uncle came and told us that the war had ended. And yeah, it was a celebration. Ticker tape and all that, you know. It was a wonderful time.
AM: The local community would have had a parade?
BA: No. Well, Orosi didn’t have parades. But Dinuba did. Dinuba had parades every Armistice Day. And that became then "The Raisin Day" thing. But yeah, it was a fantastic time.
AM: Now, in the Pacific they were readying for the assault on the Japanese homeland. Certainly they had heavy thoughts on their mind, the military in that area --
BA: Oh, yeah.
AM: -- family at home. And then August 6, 1945, that atomic bomb was dropped on
BA: I’m sorry to say that, yes, I do. And again, know right where I was when --
AM: Don’t be sorry. It’s part of history.
BA: Well, it’s beginning to sound trite, I think.
BA: That was during one of those summers when the kids and
the wives were up in the mountains. It was in August. And when my dad and my
uncle came up with that news, I can see in my mind’s eye where everything was,
where everybody was, where the car was, where I was, when my dad told us about
that. And I remember him saying -- which was wrong -- I remember him saying
"and this bomb was the size of a basketball." Of course, it was much bigger
than that. But it was just a fantastic thing. And of course, there was a lot of
controversy in later years about doing that and killing all those civilians. But,
in reality it probably saved millions of lives because if the American troops
had to storm the beaches of
AM: On reflecting on that, it was jubilation, though?
BA: Oh, yes. It was -- it was just a time of -- oh, just freedom. I mean, we just felt that a load had been lifted off of our shoulders.
AM: Now officially declared by President Truman, V-J Day September 2nd, when they signed the unconditional surrender on the Missouri.
BA: On the Missouri in Tokyo Bay, right.
AM: Did you listen to President Truman’s later speech regarding, you know, V-J Day?
BA: You know, I don’t remember that. I don’t remember that.
AM: Now, much later another event, major event, much later, more was learned of Nazi death camps as troops went in to liberate --
BA: Yes, Auschwitz and so on.
AM: Yes. Do you recall hearing of the Holocaust events?
BA: Oh, yes.
AM: Was it believable? Did the people in the local community --
BA: Believe it?
AM: Believe it.
BA: Yeah, we believed it. Of course, we were prone to believe anything bad about the Germans or the Japanese at that time. But it was not exaggerated. That was something that was not exaggerated. I think it was so horrible. I remember at that time seeing those pictures of just pits with dead -- with corpses just stacked in there like logs. Yeah. It was very vivid. And I remember also that the Allied troops required the German townspeople, like of Auschwitz, to tour that before they cleaned it up. Yeah, it was just an awful thing.
AM: Perhaps you have already answered this. But can you express the general feelings that you had at the time when you were a young boy about the war?
BA: Yes. It was a holy war as far as we were concerned. I
mean, it was -- we weren’t the aggressors, we didn’t precipitate the war. We
had a feeling of - - that God was on our side. We had this tremendous feeling
of patriotism and honor of our fighting people. We followed it with intense
interest at all points. We felt like we were part of it. Even those of us who
were back at home who were producing produce and rationing ourselves and all
that, we felt part of it. We had the war bond things at school all the time. You know, we’d bring our twenty-five cents and buy a
stamp. And it was just almost a euphoric feeling that there would be no doubt
but that we would prevail. As hard as it might be. We
AM: Now did those feelings of any way change or alter in the years hence?
BA: You know, it was about a year ago I wrote down my impressions of America and if you would read that you would think the answer to that would be, no, it didn’t change, that I’ve always been that way. It was a great head start on my personal patriotism, I think, that war was. And I’ve always wanted to impart that to my children. And I think I have. And that piece is in my grandfather book.
AM: To pass on to your descendents?
AM: Very good. Can you describe what memory of those five years remains most vivid in your mind?
BA: Well, I think that the most vivid memory of it was my brother’s participation in it. Gee, for a little 12-year old, you know, to have that going on -- I was the envy of a lot of my little friends, in that respect. ‘Cause my parents were so much older than most people’s parents, that I was the only one of my immediate friends that had a brother in it because most of my friends were the oldest ones in their family. So - - and yet their dads were probably a little too old for it. So I was kind of in a unique little slot there.
And we had an airfield, a practice airfield, right across the street from us when I was a little boy out there in the country. And I spent most of my time, free time, over there sitting right on the edge of that watching those guys try to land and take off. And I saw some bad landings. They would bounce fifteen feet in the air and the instructor was just shaking his head, like, you know. And then a lot of those guys would -- when they’d see me sitting there, they’d turn their planes so the back was to me and then they’d rev up and just throw dust all over me. They got a big kick out of doing that.
AM: Was that a military training field?
BA: Oh, yeah. It w as an ancillary landing place to Sequoia Field out here. So I probably saw -- of course, Richard Bong was over in Tulare, but they landed there, too. I probably saw some -- Richard Bong, you know, was the great Ace. In fact, I got to meet his widow. So, I saw some fantastic flying. I remember one day there was a fog set in. And these guys landed out in the country on roads and everything. And I remember helping one of those planes up the road to get back to that field to take off, so it could take off. There’s a bridge over Sand Creek right there and the wings just barely missed that. To me it was exciting.
AM: Big adventure.
BA: Oh, big adventure.
AM: Very good. Now, this project is titled "Years of Valor, Years of Hope." Again perhaps you have answered this, but would you comment on the significance of that title and if you agree with it or if you have comments?
BA: Oh, I agree with it a hundred percent. I think it
brought our country together in a way that has never happened before. Of
course, I wasn’t around in World War I, but I think this was a bigger
involvement. I think it carved the character of our nation significantly. And I
think it carved it for a long time. The sixties were a time when a lot of that
went by the wayside. But it was a uniting factor of our country. And it was
really of the time when
AM: The two questions to end the interview with, could you comment on these? How did those war years in Tulare County, ’41 to ’46, affect you personally?
BA: Well, one of the ways it affected me personally was economics. My folks were able to send me to Stanford, you know. Not easily but they did. So it affected us economically. It took us out of the Great Depression, which was -- I lived through it but I wasn’t as conscious of it as my brothers were. Certainly from a technological point of view it demanded that we increase our technology on all fronts. Which lasted -- I mean, it boosted us in that direction.
AM: So, perhaps that’s answering the second question, in what ways did those war years affect Tulare County, how Tulare County is existing today?
BA: Well, I think it affected Tulare County by virtue of the fact that hundreds and hundreds of young men and women came back with a much broader view of the world. I think it affected us -- even those of us who were here had a much broader view of the world. The world became a smaller place. We became much more acquainted with other nations. Economically it boosted the county as well as it did us personally. Sequoia Field -- I mean, the Visalia Municipal Airport became, I think, a more usable place. It was a military airport during the war. I remember the military being there.
AM: So, if we look around today we can see aspects of that influence today?
BA: My son-in-law -- Ginger (Dr. Allen’s daughter) --you know Patrick?
BA: He’s an artist.
AM: Patrick -- his last name?
BA: Barszcz. When my wife first heard it, she says -- oh, no, it was Pam, you know Pam Conn (Flores)? Pam said, "I’d like to borrow a vowel."
Anyway, those two planes (indicating the prints of aircraft on his den wall, painted originally by Patrick Barszcz), the Ryan PT-22 on top and the Stearman on the bottom, were the planes that landed out across from our ranch. And my brother trained on the one on the bottom. And that’s what the Navy used. But that’s Sequoia Field and that’s the one, Rankin Field, over by Tulare.
AM: So, you have fond memories mingled with bittersweet memories, perhaps?
BA: Yes, I do. I think -- I think the fond memories predominated more. Cause I -- you know, since I didn’t lose a brother in the war or anybody that I knew closely -- I knew them slightly -- but since we didn’t lose my brother and we won the war and he was a military hero and economics were boosted and so on, my memories are mostly positive.
AM: Very good. Well, that concludes my questions. Do you have any further comments?
BA: Well, I think this is an interesting and great thing to do.
AM: I sure appreciate your time today.
BA: Well, I appreciate yours, too.
AM: Thank you.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS BY ANNE MARKS:
As a final note, Dr. Allen’s brother, who served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, was John Allen. He was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, later becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
Ann Marks 3-18-04/Transcribed by CP/Edited by JW 9-22-04
Editor’s note: Words in italics were added to clarify or correct information based on a phone interview with Bill Allen on September 22, 2004