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: William Ray Allen
Date: October 27, 2003
Interviewer: Marvin Demmers
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Visalia, CA
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN LIFE: Childhood in Visalia during 1941-1946, How WWII Affected Family, Friends & Neighbors
MD: Mr. Allen, would you tell us your full name and where you were born?
WA: Okay, William Ray Allen. I was born October 8, 1913, in Stroud, Oklahoma, half way between Tulsa and Oklahoma City on Highway 66. I was born in my grandmother’s living room.
MD: Okay, and what are your parent’s names and where were they from?
WA: My father’s name is, he’s still living, he’s 90, John Hubert Allen. He was born in Oklahoma also. I’d have to get out the book on the Allen family, tracing the family tree, that was my first one. My mother was Nedra Danzella Allen; she was also born in Oklahoma.
MD: Both from Oklahoma then. Did you have any brothers and sisters?
WA: I have one sister who lives here in Visalia and she’s Nova Berdine Edgar. I only had a sister.
MD: And is she younger than you or older?
WA: She’s younger than I am by two years. They live outside of town on Ben Maddox by the St. John’s River.
MD: Okay and when did your family come to Tulare County?
WA: In 1936, I believe. My father was asthmatic and was down to weighing about 95 pounds. He was about ready to die and the doctor said go west young man, go west. So we went to Arizona and he got better, but at that time, of course, the Depression was on and so we thought there must be something better in California. So we came over here. So we took off and we came first to Bakersfield, then to another little town outside of Bakersfield and then to Visalia.
MD: Did the move seem to help his asthma?
WA: Yes, it did, he got much better, yeah, he found out that later on...he thought maybe he’d been cured. So, he went to work in the shipyards for a very short time up in Vallejo. Then he started coming down with all kinds of problems, so we came back.
MD: Well, we’ll come back to that point again, because there are a number of questions I’d like to ask you. What type of work did your father do here in Tulare County?
WA: He worked for U.S. Steel, here in the east of town. I don’t think it’s still in existence. But he went to work for U.S. Steel. And then he was feeling well enough he thought he could better himself. So he went to work for the Nash Garage. The Nash was a very super car.
Ed: This steel company in Visalia was a distributor of metal sheets and rods, just a small company.
MD: Yes, I remember that. My Dad had a little Nash Rambler. Okay, and did your mother work?
WA: Yeah. Well, my mother was always a very active person, but she had no skills whatsoever, so if there was any kind of field work to do...she loved to pick up walnuts.
MD: How would you describe, thinking back to those years when you were a young man and a child. How would you describe growing up in Tulare County at that time? What was that like for you as a young boy?
WA: Well, you know, I’ve reflected on that off and on through the years and really it was almost like being a Tom Sawyer. You trusted everybody and everybody trusted you. I had a couple of buddies that we did things that I’d never permit children or grandchildren of mine ever to do if I had had any. Riding bicycles, a bicycle was the first liberation for a young man. We would go down to the St. John’s River and strip off and there were always great grape vines that were three to four inches thick and we’d have to work ‘till we got one loose and we’d swing out, all the way across the river and drop into it hoping there was enough water we wouldn’t break our necks. And when hungry, we’d look around for a beehive in a tree and somehow try to chase the bees away, long enough for us to grab some honey before the bees came after us!
On bicycles, we would go around town, even then you could see a little bit of Mill Creek. It was not concreted over; now you don’t see it. It goes under where Santa Fe is and from there it went out and meandered around and went under the Fox Theater and the old Montgomery Ward Store. And in the very old days, (I’m getting off the subject now) there used to be several bridges over Mill Creek and through town. So Bridge Street was the first street that was bridged, so that’s why it’s called that today. So anyway, we ventured in and chased big bullfrogs and sometimes we’d catch ‘em because we came from that part of the country that ate bullfrogs. And so, sometimes we’d take some home and my mother would be happy to get them. Those were crazy things. I think what I’m getting at is, it was a very safe environment and my mother let me out the door even as a ten year old boy with just a lot of energy, who just wanted to go, go, go and do. Especially in the summer time, she saw me at night. When I got a little bit older, I would spend, maybe a few days, eight hours a day, in the library, the city library, all day long.
MD: Times have really changed. Wow.
WA: Things change. So they were innocent times. Lots of trust. No one really thought about it, if you locked your door, and for sure you didn’t worry about it.
MD: And what schools did you attend here in the Visalia area?
WA: The first school I went to was Carrie Barnett and it was a two-story brick building. Across the street was Webster School. That big brick building was gone years ago. And from there I went to Highland, which was close to RecreationPark. And then from there, I went to Sierra Vista, which is part of RedwoodHigh School and from there to VisaliaUnionHigh School.
Ed: Visalia Union High School was renamed Redwood High School some time in the 1950s.
MD: So you attended quite a few schools.
WA: Yeah, yeah.
MD: How old were you when World War II started? This will be a series of questions now that pertain to the war years.
MD: Eleven years old. And what do you remember most about the day
WA: Well, of course, December 7 was always a big
day but I’m trying to remember whether the war was in
MD: I think the
WA: We had heard about it. It didn’t ring a bell with me. My parents were very upset. My uncle and aunt were visiting and talking and they were distraught. I couldn’t understand why they were distraught, because I didn’t have a concept of war. But, then, on Monday, when I went to school, the teacher had the radio on and I remember Roosevelt talking about it. He gave his famous speech and he inferred we would go to war and since she was so very serious about it, all of us sat very politely, not knowing why we should be so quiet. The teacher was awfully good about it, because she had a German name. She wasn’t sent away like the Japanese were.
MD: Did you have any understanding at that time why our country was at war? Was it something that scared you at that time?
WA: The only thing that made it serious, and I realized it was serious, was because I was reflecting my parents’ attitudes and my relatives, because they started talking about who was going to be drafted. My father was very concerned about it, even though he had two children. They started in with the bachelors and then they took married people with no children, then one child, then two children, and unless you had a job of vital importance (agriculture fit that description, there were exemptions for agriculture), you went. And the draft board people were feared here in town. They had power!
MD: Yes, they did. I remember when I was a young man, of that age, and possibly being drafted into the service.
Did the fact that our country was at war, have an effect on your day to day activities at school or at home?
WA: Oh, that I can expand on what I wrote down. You know, the very first thing this morning; well, I was lying awake last night for a little while and I thought about the flag salute. I went to a meeting today (I’m getting off on a tangent here), of retired teachers, out at the Heritage Center, and they all stood up to have a flag salute. During the flag salute, saying it, I thought this is interesting, because we do it in a different way. Because in the old days, where we had a flag salute, we’d say, "I pledge allegiance", and our arm went out like this, out straight. And, of course, we didn’t have any "under God" in the flag salute. Our arms went "I pledge allegiance to the flag", and pointed to the flag, but during the war that was changed almost immediately, because of Hitler, "Heil Hitler." With "Heil Hitler", the palm went down, but we had always, through the ages, in Visalia schools, extended your hand to the flag with our palm up. Anyway, it went back to "I pledge allegiance to the flag", with our hands on our chests, and no God. To me people get all worked up about having God or no God in it, but, of course, God didn’t get into the flag salute until Eisenhower came in.
MD: As a note, for the recording, Mr. Allen was holding his hand, when discussing the flag salute, out in front of him. Straight out with his palm up, explaining the differences of how the Pledge of Allegiance, and saluting the flag changed because it was similar to the salute that would have been given to Adolph Hitler, at that time.
WA: Anything else you want me to go ahead with, or do you want to go ahead with your questions?
MD: If you have some other things you would like to say in regard to that, go ahead.
WA: I’d like to share with you what I have in the yearbook for ’45. It’s significant, because in the yearbook, here in the front, and in the back of the yearbook, were all the people who had gone to our high school and were in the service. I have not bothered to count them, because there were so many there. But there are, in excess, I’m sure, of a thousand, because there is no "in memoriam" list there. But, in the next year, there is a "in memoriam" list of all those who were dead, and I counted ‘em, and there was 71 of our graduates there, who were killed in the war. Interesting, along this line, was names……….down town, at the Post Office, the old Post Office is still in existence, built during the depression.
They used to have a huge billboard up there, and all the men, who had been drafted, and were in the service, and alive, had their name, and a little blue star by it. And when they were killed, the little blue star was changed to gold, and then the mother, of course, became a gold star mother. Some mothers because they lost one son, then two sons, or a husband, some of them became two star mothers, two gold star mothers. Their little flags were about six inches wide, and about eight inches tall. They had a little piece of board up at the top, and they would hang them in the window, very proud, when the son, or two sons, was in the service, especially if a son or more in the family had been killed. I thought that was rather significant. It was pretty painful for people to go to the Post Office, and that was the only place you could go to get stamps, and the first thing they did, before they entered the door, was to check the billboard there, to see how many gold stars were gathering up.
MD: Well, we can continue on with a few things. I have a few additional questions here.
When you were in class, with your classmates, did you ever discuss the war and what you thought was happening with the war, as in among your classmates and what not, when you were in grade school?
WA: Well, that kind of discussion came up when there was a death in the family, someone killed, or that they knew, Uncle so-and-so back in Texas, back in Texas had just been killed, and they had received the telegram. And, always, of course, in the old days, very, very few people had telephones, when I was growing up. The radio was the real means of communication. You got your news there, and, of course, in the movie tone news, when we went to the theatre. But, whenever there was a death, no one ever wanted to receive a telegram, because a telegram always indicated bad news. That’s the only time you ever sent a telegram. So, it either meant a death in the family; this was even before the war came along; a death in the family, or during the war it was always notice that there was a death of someone in the immediate family killed. And, of course, that was always very serious, so discussions came up in sort-of share and tell went along.
Ah, not allowed in the classroom, but as far as the teacher, the teachers carried on, I thought, well, reflecting on it, looking back…they carried on what the lessons were, and tried to make life as normal as possible. But in the classroom, of course, we were always reminded about it once a week, because, on Friday, you were suppose to bring, you were encouraged to buy U.S. Money Stamps for Savings Bonds, War Bonds. So, we had little stamps, like postage stamps, they were .10 cents, and each classroom would record the amount of money that the kids brought in to put in their little book, the .10 cents. When you got up to the point that you would buy an $18.75 bond; $25.00 dollar bonds cost $18.75. If you’d put in a lot of dimes, in the stamps, and, of course, on the blackboard, up there in the front, would be Room A-2 got $7.50, and then we’d hear what the other rooms did. Of course, the teacher would say, let’s try to do better next week. Let’s try to do better (laughter), a little competition.
MD: (Laughter), you bet. Now, this next question might be a little bit difficult, but did you know anyone, personally, that was killed in the war, and how did that make you feel about the war, if you did?
WA: You know, I did not know anyone that I can remember who was killed. Enough of their family and relatives were in the service, but my uncle (Lloyd Carpenter) was wounded, and later on he got a little disability out of it, coming back as a veteran. But, I don’t remember anybody in the immediate family being killed, so I guess we were lucky in that respect.
MD: Did you have immediate family that served…that had enlisted in the service, and were involved in combat?
WA: No, the people in my family were all drafted; they did not get that streak of patriotism.
MD: Yeah, the government was just trying to…I
know many people did enlist, because people in the
WA: Yes, oh yes, in the classroom, you know, we were taught to hate the Japanese. The "Japs", always, the "Japs", and old slant eyes, the yellow peril. And the teacher explained what the yellow peril was supposed to be, historically. Yeah, always that, and always the cartoons in the paper had, coke bottle glasses there, and a grotesque figure. Movies, cartoons, you know, papers, everything had it. In order to…I, looking back on it now, they were just trying to build up a lot of patriotism, and hatred for the enemy. You can’t fight someone you like.
MD: Did you, in just curiosity, did you have…were there any Japanese children in your school?
WA: Oh, yes, oh, yes, yes, yes, we had China Town here in Visalia, which was quite large, but the Japanese, many Japanese lived in China Town. They had businesses, and so there were quite a few Japanese in high school, by the time you got to high school.
MD: Do you recall that those children were treated differently after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, or basically was it just…
WA: They were sent off. They left here within 10 days, after the war
was declared, to my knowledge. They were
gone. In fact, my brother-in-law, (Dwight
MD: I’ll be darn. Did you feel that, at that time, again, being a child, that it was fair that our country should treat these other folks this way? In other words, some of these kids were your friends, and did you feel bad that they were taken away, or did you understand what was happening?
WA: I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand why they disappeared. We knew there was just panic; the Germans, of course, weren’t touched. Some of my wife’s family were married to Germans who had immigrated to this country, but no one questioned them. Of course, they were Germans that changed to a Portuguese last name. So they were all Portuguese at that point. But the answer is no, I just didn’t understand or appreciate what the situation really was about those people. What a big mistake we’ve made, but it only becomes a mistake historically, always in the aftermath.
MD: That’s right, hind site, 20-20. And did your feelings about the war change over time, or if they did, could you explain a little bit of how they did change?
WA: I don’t think…once again, as a very immature person, that they really changed. My parents discussed the war situation, and we listened to the radio, news, in the evening, to find out how many more had been killed, or how the war was going. My parents did not subscribe to a newspaper. Very, very few people subscribed to newspapers. That was money that could be spent for food, or housing for the family. So, I guess I would have to say that life continued on, through the way kids do act.
MD: Well, I know, and I think probably, the question could, maybe, be rephrased better, but in today’s situation, that our country is in Iraq; I know that a lot of people are very patriotic, at least initially, and then, as time goes on they realize that the war is costly, both in money and loss of human life, and stuff, and they become a little bit more jaded towards the effort. I was wondering if that was something that, maybe, that people, yourself, and maybe, people in general, became a little bit less tolerant of the war time effort, and, you know, just wanted to, basically, see it get over.
WA: Yeah, yeah. Well, there were lots of things that constantly reminded us, even as children and teenagers that the war was going on. Ah, one time when we took a drive out on the old Dinuba Highway, which goes over St. John’s River, on the west side there were a lot of men with POW on their backs and I didn’t understand what a POW was. Well, it happened to be the Germans that were brought here because, once you struck out a thousand or so, and remember the population of Visalia was smaller, you struck out a thousand laborers, you’ve got to replace them. So, here were these POW’s, and they were Germans, but they looked just like friendly people; they were young men, and, I think my dad talked to a friend who said, one of the German boys said, "we’re still lucky to be captured and sent over here, we won’t be shot (chuckle) in the war or killed." They were working the sugar beets.
MD: Well, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize that we had German POW’s around here.
WA: We had, at the Tulare Fairgrounds, was where the impoundment was, and they had watch towers up here. And, of course, they had watchtowers around. My mother-in-law (Mary Avila [ before coming to California, Sousa] Souza) served in a watchtower, you know, supposed to be watching for Japanese planes that were supposed to be coming into the valley. But, anyway, she did her duty. But, the Germans were held at the Tulare Fairgrounds. There were guards around it, and they were used as labor, and sent out to various places.
One thing, in school, in the eighth, and ninth grade, there was a shortage of labor, once again, and the high school kids were asked, almost begged to, as soon as they got out of school, would be taken by school bus, out to the cotton groves, long before cotton pickers, of course, came along. And they picked cotton, and helped out with the walnuts, anyway to contribute labor, to get the crops in. Just not enough labor here. Women and kids would go out on Saturdays, some Sundays.
MD: Yeah, another thing, because most of our men were away fighting, that the women, in the country, had to, and children too, had to fill in those gaps.
Okay, do you remember the day the atom
bomb was dropped? Now this would be
later on, this is probably, obviously this was after, or near the end of the
war, and you probably would have been, what about 16 years old then, around
that time. Do you remember the day that
the atom bomb was dropped on
WA: Well, we knew about it because it was certainly big news, and it kept being repeated over and over again. Well, for several days, and then when the impact of how much damage and how many people probably it had killed began to be discussed around the house, it did make an impression on me. It is getting to the point now that I realize that we’re not all immortal, we die, and that many people can be wiped out in a day. But, most of us felt real good, thinking maybe this will end the war and we won’t have to send in the Americans to be killed in an invasion.
MD: Yeah, I know that there was a lot of concern, at that time, that invading the Japanese mainland would result in a tremendous amount of loss in American lives, especially after we had lost so many men at Iowa Jima and places like that.
Well, okay, I have some questions I’d like to ask you, primarily about family life and home front. Those were some of the war time questions that we went through, so were there changes; and I know that we have talked about this, during my initial phone call. Were there changes in your family’s housing situation during the war? Did any people, outside of your immediate family, live with you during that time?
WA: No, no, we lived in a very small house. My father built the house next door to my mother’s sister. ( Berdine [Carpenter] King)They built twin houses, so the whole house was built for $100. So, it wasn’t much. They bought the lumber at Spaulding’s for $10 down, and $5 a month, to build the house. And, of course, it was on the north side of town and there was nothing over there, you know. You got thousands of people living on that side now.
It was at an old grape vineyard, which had been torn out and an Armenian family owned it. At any rate, they were happy to sell little lots to people. They owned the only grocery store on that side of town too. It wasn’t much; it looked like a huge log cabin.
MD: About how large was the house that you lived in?
WA: Ah, about from here to the window and to the east window, so this is about it.
MD: And was it just heated with a wood stove?
WA: No, gas had been put out into that area. The streets were, for years and years and years, always just dirt streets, so the gas company was interested in peddling more gas, so as a few houses were being built, a few more customers were acquired by the gas company. So my mother bought a stove for the same price as the house. She bought a stove for $100, an O’Keefe & Merritt Stove. She thought she had arrived when she had the O’Keefe & Merritt Stove. (Laughter) And, it lasted for 30 years, at least.
Ah, our housing wasn’t affected, but our food habits were. Ah, no bubble gum. I couldn’t find any bubble gum and that was terrible, you know, for a child. No Hershey bars, no Hershey bars which we loved, and of course, we didn’t have five thousand choices of candy bars in those days, Hershey was it. And unless you cultivated the friendship of the butcher, of course, no pre-packaged meats in those days, everything was behind the counter and cut to order. And unless you cultivated the friendship of the butcher, you didn’t get bacon, for instance. So, my mother started baking cookies and we used Purity and Safeway, I think that was the two stores that she went into. And both parents smoked, everybody smoked, and of course, cigarettes were just not available, but if you knew the clerk, of course, she would pull it out from under the counter and give it to you. Bacon, my mother would get a pound of bacon, my dad had to have his bacon for breakfast with eggs.
Ah, clothing was scarce, a lot of clothes were made by my mother for my sister, especially, and a lot of mending going on. But, from the standpoint of…I know people talked about victory gardens, we didn’t have a victory garden. We just had a garden, because we always had a garden. Always had a garden and raised chickens.
MD: So, it sounds like you had plenty to eat.
WA: We had plenty to eat, yeah. And, of course, getting those things which were short for foodstuffs, you just had to work around it and sometimes do some bartering.
MD: Excellent. Let’s talk a little bit about this: your family moved to Fairfield. Incidentally, we have relatives in Fairfield today. Carol’s sister lives there. Ah, but you moved to Fairfield and your father took a job at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Can you describe the circumstances behind your moving there and what that was like living in Fairfield?
WA: We had a relative there and interesting to me,
because housing was obviously short, we were into the war before the war was
declared, about two years, three years. We were really cranking out the ships and the airplanes and anything
else that we could sell, especially to
But the U.S. Navy furnished a bus, they had a bus fleet, and they would go out to various parts of the surrounding counties, picking up the workers and bringing them in. The only house that we could find was on an old sheep ranch; it was called a Miller Sheep Ranch and that was a fascinating place for me to live because it had creeks running through it and an old cement quarry about a half a mile away. The folks who lived next door to us were two Filipino men and they raised fighting cocks. So every Sunday they would leave in the morning and come back at night. And so many times, if they won, they got the other person’s rooster and so, here, they knocked on the door of my mother and we would almost be ready to sleep. But a knock on the door, here would be Willy, and he’s got this old dead bird that had been razored, of course, the razor blade was two and three inch razor-sharp spurs that are tied onto these legs and this bird would be so bloody. Once it was stabbed, you know, the blood, you would see a smelly bird, a lot of big feathers and of course, it still had its guts inside, so my mother would go to the door. The rest of us would stay in bed, my dad had to get up the next morning, so she would clean up the bird. Sometimes it was so bad she would throw it out.
But other than that, it was a wonderful place to live. For dad, we would have to take him over to the highway early in the morning and he would catch the bus to get into work, usually about 5:30 or so.
MD: And, what did your dad do on Mare Island?
WA: He was a chipper. You know what a chipper is? Well, I didn’t either, of course. Whenever they weld: great sheets
of metal are brought together to make the ship, there is a weld. There is a seam that is welded together, but it’s like a very bad scar that you have, there’s this lumpy kind of metal on the outside and there would be rivets that go through, so his job was to chip all of that metal off, that excess metal, so there would be a smooth finish.
MD: So, at Mare Island, were these new ships that he was working on?
WA: New, completely new. Yeah, yeah, twenty four hours a day.
MD: And what type of shift did he work, was it a twelve hour shift, or thirteen, or do you know?
WA: Well, we used to take him over before it was daylight and we used to pick him up when it was dark so I would assume, maybe ten to twelve hours.
MD: And do you recall at all, what type of wage he made there?
WA: No I don’t, I don’t.
MD: All right, when did you move back to Tulare County? How long did he work at Mare Island?
WA: About a year and a half. Yeah, and then I was back here in the summer of ’43, yeah, yeah.
MD: Did you move back because of?
WA: Asthma, my dad’s asthma was getting worse. He had to come back to the heat, dry heat.
MD: When he got back…when your family got back to Tulare County, was it difficult for him to find work here or was he able to go right back to work?
WA: He went back to Nash Garage.
MD: Oh, okay. What type of work did most people do in the county? Was it more agricultural based or was there industry?
WA: Agriculture based, yeah. My aunt and uncle (Berdine and Leonard King) had about twenty acres out by Woodlake, and they raised tomatoes toward the end of the war. The reason I mention this is because they couldn’t get any adults to work and so I went out on Saturdays and Sundays and then during the summer time. I went out there and I stayed with them the whole summer. The soil was so rich; they had Kentucky Blue Lake Green Beans. Those beans overnight would grow almost six inches and they went up and up and up, and if you didn’t top the darn things and tomatoes the same way, they got above my head. So they would give me a butcher knife and I would go out and just whack, whack, whack, like with a machete (Laughter). And, then they both put them into crates and then, of course, take them in. They had the old fashioned way, what’s called butter and egg day and all the eggs from the chickens and the butter they made from the cow milk and churned. They’d bring it into town and sell it at the feed store. The feed store bought eggs from farmers.
MD: This sounds really interesting and times are different, so different.
WA: That is true.
MD: Did your family purchase war bonds or participate in any other programs at home to support the troops and the war, such as recycling or rationing or anything of that nature?
WA: It was common practice in a lot of businesses for men to sign up to have money deducted from their pay checks to go into war bonds. That was not a real common practice among people who did not make very much money. And, I know that my folks had a few war bonds, but not very many. My dad just didn’t make that kind of money.
MD: Do you remember what denominations the war bonds were? Were they like $50…how did that work?
WA: Eighteen seventy five bought you a $25 bond. Thirty seven fifty bought you a $50 one, and $100, I don’t know, because I didn’t know anybody wealthy enough to buy a $100 bond. There may have been ones of that denomination, I just assume so.
MD: As a boy, did you ever write letters to servicemen or servicewomen over seas to send news of what was going on at home?
WA: No, no.
MD: How about, did your family ever listen to the radio? I think you did mention that you used to listen to the radio. What type of programs did you listen to? What were some of your favorite programs on the radio?
WA: Oh yes. The Lone Ranger was very popular. The Green Hornet was very popular. Ah, Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, da-da-da-da-da; ah Wheaties, breakfast of champions. Those are the ones I liked. Red Skelton also was very popular. He was just really getting started. He continued, of course. All his life he has been an entertainer.
MD: How about…
WA: Soap operas, mother loved Stella Dallas. It was a wonderful one and during the summer time I would get hooked on it, of course, as a kid. Stella Dallas, yeah, she had a daughter who was always sort of like my wife.
MD: On the radio programs did the family ever listen to the BBC, was that available on the radio?
WA: No, no, unheard of, unheard of, yeah.
MD: Okay, ah, in that time, during the war, what types of things did your family do that brought stability to your family? I know that families were oftentimes torn apart. Did you attend church? What kinds of activities did your family do? Did your family go on vacation?
WA: My parents were never religious people, but they always sent my sister and me to church. And so I was very thankful about that later, because otherwise I would not have had an exposure to a great piece of literature, which should be the background of everybody, I thought. References are made to stories in the Bible, Old and New Testament. And they were very good about sending us off and of course the pastors, in many cases, came around, mostly in their own cars, to pick up kids. So, there were two different churches that we were exposed to as kids.
MD: But, your folks never went to church?
WA: No, they didn’t go to church. Only when there was somebody who died.
MD: What were some of the types of things that people did for recreation in Visalia and Tulare County during the war time years?
WA: Well, my dad was always a great fisherman and neighbors and relatives were into fishing also. So, that they could do. Great hunters also, but you couldn’t get very much ammunition, you might as well forget that. They worked, of course, they worked through Saturdays in those days. They didn’t quit on Friday and we always went to the movies, always went to the movies, the four of us, my family.
MD: What did it cost to go to a movie in those days?
WA: Well, you know, we had the Roxie Theatre at the end of Main Street and we had the Bijou Theatre on the left end side of Main Street and then we had the Hyde Theatre, which was owned by the Fox chain and then, of course, the Fox Theatre. So my first big job was at the Fox Theatre. I was an usher upstairs, then I got to be door man, and then I was assistant manager my senior year. But kids were 10 cents and adults were 25 cents unless you sat in the loge at the Fox and that was all of 50 cents. But of course, those seats were real cushy in those days. But most of the time it was 10 cents for kids or 12 cents at the Fox, not at matinees. But that we did always together. So I was hooked on movies from the very beginning. And my mother let me and my two buddies (Ralph Gray and Junior Rockwell) go off at night, walk to town and come back by ourselves and never worried about body snatching or pedophiles or anything else. Sometimes we would do some crazy things. When we’d go to the Hyde Theatre, the old courthouse was in existence, the one that was on Court Street, not the one that was built in 1951 out west of town. But, that one had these big 10 foot railings, concrete railings that go out toward the street. We would climb up there on those things, flap our wings (arms) and jump off onto the grass, about 10 feet. If we didn’t break a leg, of course, we would go up, climb up and jump off again.
MD: Hummm, I’ll be darn. Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the community here. Was the community of Visalia affected by industry conversions, war plants, or other special employment conditions at that time?
WA: Well, yeah, we had two air bases or pilot training stations here, one over in Tulare and one out at Sequoia Field.
MD: Right, Rankin Field and Sequoia Field, I remember.
WA: Right, and to the extent that they came in on their passes for short times or longer, they were the ones who would make an impression on Visalia. But we didn’t have any war plants that I know of. And, since then I’ve learned, of course, that I didn’t know what prostitution was, but I did learn later that that had a big sweep down from Washington D.C., at one time, as word had gotten back there that there were prostitutes in this town, the town of Visalia. Well, it turned out, of course, there were prostitutes in Porterville and Tulare and everyplace else and of course they were here to render service to young men who were becoming pilots.
MD: Yeah (laughter). Had to go where the work is, I guess, in those days. How were businesses in the area affected by rationing and shortages, or were they at all?
WA: Well, they were because if they did not get things to sell, I mean, people couldn’t buy unless they had something available. So the ration book provided the means and I showed your wife a little sheet here that’s for coffee, and let’s see, this is for sugar. Sugar stamps, coffee stamps; some people made, used chickaree and carbonso beans and ground them together, mixing a little coffee into it to stretch it; to make the coffee during the war. Meat was very short, but you did have a little red stamp for meat.
MD: Ah, Mr. Allen is showing me a small piece of paper here with…and these are stamps, is that what these are?
WA: These are stamps. Each person in the family had a stamp book and then so the mother going in to buy would take the kiddies and anybody else and as long as you had stamps you could buy whatever happened to be available.
MD: This little sheet of paper has a number of different stamps, such as coffee, sugar and then a number of them that just say "spare" on them. So these stamps are apparently used to purchase goods that were needed during the war years.
WA: Yeah, considered to be rations, yeah.
MD: In school, do you remember any special events that were connected to war time activities?
WA: Ah, I was looking through some things the other day in preparation for this, and I had forgotten about this, that I had it. This was a special program at Visalia Civic Auditorium. Now that auditorium doesn’t exist anymore, but it used to be the Civic Auditorium. It was where the Convention Center is now. Hyde Park used to be there, it was called Hyde Park, after the Hyde family, pioneers here. Ah, but anyway, this was an event which took place other than at the high school, but it was a high school event. It was the dedication of the Visalia Union High School service flag. Inside they came up with, on the program here you can see that these are the people, once again, who have gone through high school and who are in the service. This is just the high school plans to show dedication to all the service men who were in here. There are quite a few; I didn’t bother to count them but I’m sure there must be over a thousand or more. In the memorial list in the back, there are those who were killed by December 14, 1944. The list was growing.
MD: Just a note, Mr. Allen was showing me a pamphlet that is five or six pages, it’s called Dedication of the Visalia Union High School Service Flag, and it’s dated December 14, 1944 and his comments regarding that. It contains the names of students at the various schools, those in the war and then those, of course, that did not survive the war.
WA: I would like to make a comment, not necessarily a comment but an explanation, regarding cigarettes. People were very resourceful and there was a little inexpensive machine that people, my grandfather (Victor Carpenter) bought it and he would give my sister and me a penny for each cigarette that we would make for him. He would buy the tobacco in the Bull Durum bags and of course, once the bags were empty, we’d put marbles in ‘em, it’s what boys did and took ‘em to school, because you always had marbles. Nevertheless, this sort of machine, I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen anything like this before, but it really was not a machine, there were no moving parts. Well, yes there was, ah, there was a slot down here and you filled that with tobacco and then there was a piece of canvas that went over this metal hump here and it rolled the cigarette and you took these old…this is the one that came out during World War II, this is R.J. Reynolds. You bought the tobacco, but you always got the cigarette papers and you can see they’re not white, they’re cheap.
MD: Mr. Allen is showing us some cigarette papers here that he has.
WA: They are for pipe or cigarette, it says. "A cool, sweet smoke." Isn’t that nice. Anyway, you licked the paper and you put it down at the right place and as you pulled this little lever forward, it rolled the tobacco inside of the paper and this side dropped out and it was a cigarette, ready to smoke. Of course you had to learn and I was pretty good at it. You don’t put too much, otherwise the paper doesn’t hold it all. If you put too little, you end up with some left over paper and, of course, my grandfather didn’t like that, but we loved to visit him and say, do you need any cigarettes made?
MD: (chuckle) Interesting, this is some very interesting information. It’s just fascinating, some of the things that you can remember. Ah, how did your family…this is in regard to the, you know, the war effort in Germany, things that went on in occupied Europe and during those times…how did your family react; your specific family reaction to the news of the holocaust when you found out about that, when that information was made available?
WA: It didn’t soak in.
MD: It didn’t soak in, you weren’t aware of what
was happening to the Jews in
WA: No, no, no.
MD: Okay. And I think we kind of hit on this earlier, how about your family, as a whole, the relocation of the Japanese Americans, at that time, being sent to concentrations camps in our country.
WA: It was not taken too seriously, because in the big sweep, there were two or three instances only, really, that I can remember, in which there were spies lurking up in Vallejo; they were caught. What were they doing, they had a shortwave radio, which is probably something they were using to contact somebody, some other Japanese, but they were accused of being spies. So, they were taken away, so as one of those people, you know, the Japanese can be a spy, just think of how many others there may be, so the safest thing is to cart ‘em all away and put ‘em behind a pen.
So there wasn’t too much sympathy for them and I think that the holocaust was looked upon as just stretching the truth. It was a myth that was coming out of the war.
MD: I guess we found out later on when the allies
WA: Then is when we saw it on the movie tone news on Saturdays.
MD: Did the movies and things that you went to as a boy, the clips that they used to show, prior to the movies, how did they portray the war? Was the information fairly factual or was it kind of slanted?
WA: Well, you know I wasn’t really aware, as a young person, about propaganda, but of course, now I realize we sat through a lot of propaganda and the news was obscured to keep everybody happy at the home front. But I do remember, even though it was just black and white, that you would see a lot of bodies lying at the roadside and while everything was black and white, it’s not nearly as gruesome as had it been in color. They didn’t show any focus on faces and it was always fast moving and very short; they would move from this one to this one, because this was the "television" for the week, you know, you watch a fifteen minute movie tone and otherwise on the radio you don’t see anything and so you have to conjure up everything in your mind and, the fact that there was a holocaust to you, what does it mean, you see. A holocaust was more effective when we went in and we saw what the people looked like.
MD: Well, I have three final questions I’d like to ask and then we have time for you just to add anything that you would like to add to this with the remaining time we have on our tape. Ah, the first question is what one event of the war stands out most in your memory?
WA: The end of the war, you know why? During the war, my father had told me, "My father,(Jim Allen) first of all, had a 210 gauge shotgun, which was very small." And, it was his father’s, so my grandfather, Jim Allen, when World War I was over, he got out and he shot it six times, it was a single shot gun and so I said, "Can I do it, can I do it, after World War II?" When the World War II ended, I said, "Can I do it?" I didn’t think about any of this as carrying on a tradition of the family, but I thought it was exciting. So I very distinctly remember when the war was over, my mother said you can do it this afternoon. And so I stepped out on the big concrete slab which was the front porch of the house and I shot that thing, and shot it again (laughter). I thought that was very exciting.
MD: (laughter) That was neat, yeah to celebrate that.
WA: Had it not been so impressive, I wouldn’t remember it today; my father still has the two ten gauge.
MD: Do you remember: when the war ended was there a lot of celebration in Visalia.
WA: Yes there was, ah, if I remember correctly, at the high school bowl there was a meeting gathering and a lot of prayers of thanks. I think that was it.
MD: Excellent, excellent. Okay, ah, how do you think World War II, the World War II years affected the way…let me back up, that’s the final question. Here’s another, yes, how do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?
WA: Hummm, after the war, ah, as it was across the country, there was this pent up demand for just about anything that money could buy. People had money because they couldn’t spend it on anything and they had a lot of savings accounts. So of course, they anxiously wanted a car; they anxiously wanted a house, new housing. They wanted new clothes and wanted to go some place. During the war, if you ever got out on Hwy. 99 for instance, there would big signs that said, "Remember at 35 miles per hour, you save gas and you help the nation." At 35 miles per hour, of course you didn’t get anywhere if you drove 35 miles per hour, but you saved gas and helped the country. So people were anxious to get consumer goods, that would be about the best answer I could give you.
MD: Okay, well, that’s fine. And, then the last question would be, how do you think World War II, ah, the World War II years in Tulare County affected you, personally?
WA: Personally, I don’t think they really affected me personally. I guess I’m saying this from many years past and it was just an era in which we were living through and a typical young person doesn’t take life that seriously. As long as you have your parents, two loving parents, and there is no sickness or problem to be faced, even with the expanded family and I had an expanded family of aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces around in Visalia; so when we got together usually the men all ate together at Christmas time, ate first, cause the women always ate second. And there were usually about twenty two or twenty five men, and then, correspondingly, that many women, so it was a big gathering at Christmas time. Ah, but I really couldn’t answer that question very well.
MD: Well, I think that was fine. Well, Mr. Allen, that’s all the questions that I have for you tonight and I see that you have some more information there that you would like to offer, so we’ll just give this time to you and you can go ahead and just tell us whatever else you have listed there for us.
WA: Well, a little trivia. Since everybody smoked, the cigarette packages used to have tinfoil around inside to keep the cigarettes fresh. So what we did was to peel that tinfoil off the paper and then keep making it into a ball and the ball would get big enough and then it could be turned in for fifty cents at Shifford’s Cigar Store down town.
I think one of the things that sort of cleared up roadsides and the backyards, and so forth, was that instead of kids playing with old tires, it was great fun, you know, with a tire. At any rate, the old tires were turned in, gathered up with the rubbish, which would clean up the roadsides and the backyards. That and any old scrap metal that was around and I was told that there was a large pen, we’ll say a cage, like a cage, down on the corner of Church and Main, where people would bring down any pots and pans and scrap metal that they could just dump in there. And then the scrap metal was hauled away to be recycled.
MD: So, there was some recycling that went on.
WA: Yes, there was recycling, and you know the way Exeter’s siren goes off at noon time still to let everybody know it’s noon. Of course, Visalia did too, but Visalia had a fire system that, if you knew what the code was, you would know when they would beep and blow and blow, that three meant the south side of town or the north side of town, just how many blasts would tell you where the fire was gonna be. So that was what the siren was and the air raid warning and also it would tell you when the threat was over by the all clear sign.
MD: So they did have air raids in the county?
WA: Yes and blackouts. Mooney Grove used to be closed at sunset because no one could stay out there and have candles and lamps and any picnics, even during the summer time.
MD: I knew that that was a common thing along the coastline, but I didn’t realize that in the inland areas it would happen.
WA: Yes, they would say blackouts, but if you ever heard the siren go off, you were supposed to be alert to it. I can’t remember . . . we didn’t have any blackout curtains or anything, I guess we just sort of turned off the lights and sat in the dark.
Ah, let’s see, kids on their bicycles, we had synthetic rubber that had come out and we had so many goat heads (stickers) growing everywhere, so kids accidentally would get into them and there used to be some white powder, sort of a powdery, moist white powder and you would push it in when you had a flat, because they also had inner tubes in all bike tires. And, you would push it in there and that was supposed to be almost like glue that would fill up the holes. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. So patching the tire was a pain.
Ah, I think a lot of pep songs came along and my wife remembers some and really what I remember was there will be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover. Do you remember that one; "There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow, da da da, when the world is free." Something like that. There were a lot of those and they came out with a lot of patriotic songs and patriotic movies. I remember George Raft back then, do you remember him? Oh, doesn’t ring a bell, no, okay. He was a U.S. Senator from California, another actor who was successful, one term, six years and he always played mobsters in films, but he was a good dancer and so they did a terrific film, which was just great and it was called "Yankee Doodle Dandy".
MD: I remember that.
WA: A lot of flag waving and very patriotic, I don’t know whether it was celebrating World War I or World War II, but you know, Yankee Doodle Dandy, it was one of the better Technicolor films, not all those Technicolor films were too good at that time.
MD: Was Technicolor just coming out at that time?
WA: Really, it really got going about that time. Black and white for so long, I can’t remember exactly when Technicolor started, but I do remember that was a very beautiful film because there were so many flags and all these girls and George Raft was in the middle.
Let’s see, they had bond rallies, try to get people to buy bonds and they would have articles in the Times Delta when a rally was gonna be held. They even had a couple of movie stars, I don’t know whether it was Mickey Rooney or someone big, come here, ride the train down through the valley and they would stop at each town and people would go out to look at them. I didn’t participate in it, of course, but everybody did their part; they were the reason to buy bonds.
I think that’s about all the notes that I had and you’ve covered your questions very good.
MD: Well, thank you, I have enjoyed talking to you. I just want to say that on behalf of the residents of Tulare County and the Historical Society, we appreciate your sharing you memories of those years and I’m sure that many people and future generations will have really appreciate having those memories down on paper, that they can draw on an account of those times.
WA: Well, you know what Mark Twain said, he said, "The older I get the better my memory gets, I remember things that didn’t even happen."
MD: (Laughter) Well, thank you very much, we enjoyed the time.
M.Demmers/PD 1-19-2004/ed. JW 9-7-2004
Ed: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with William Allen on 9-23-05.