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: Allen Arnett

Date of Interview: March 29, 2004

Interviewer: Lois Owings

Place of interview: Home of Mr. Arnett.

Subjects covered in the interview: Family life in Visalia

LO: This is March 29, 2004: Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941-1946. These are the memories of Allen Arnett. The interview is being done by Lois Owings. This interview is being done in Mr. Arnett’s home in Visalia, California.

What is your name?

AA: Allen Arnett.

LO: What is the date of your birth?

AA: April 10, 1931.

LO: What are your parents’ names?

AA: My mother’s name is Opal Arnett; and my father’s name was Carl Arnett.

LO: What was your mother’s maiden name?

AA: Steward.

LO: Where did you grow up?

AA: Basically I grew up in Visalia.

LO: How old were you when World War II began?

AA: Ten years old.

LO: Were in you school prior to the war?

AA: Yes.

LO: Tell me about going to school and what it was like at that time.

AA: Well, it -- it was just about the same. The only thing, we heard a lot about the war. We had drills and things to do for safety sake. And that sort of thing.

LO: What would the drills consist of? Like today, in a fire drill the children leave the classroom. Tell me about the war drill?

AA: As far as I can remember we did not leave the building; we stayed in the building. Like under the desks, that type of thing.

LO: How did you know it was a war drill? Was there horns or sirens that blew?

AA: There was a bell that rang. The same bell as the fire bell.

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

AA: Well, the morning I heard about it we were getting ready to go to church. And someone said they’d just heard it on the radio.

LO: How did you feel when the announcement of the war came?

AA: You know, not having anyone in a war before or anything, it really didn’t have much of an impression on me at that time. I thought, well, that isn’t very nice of them. But it was a while later before I really realized how bad it was.

LO: Did you have an opinion of the dropping of the atomic bomb?

AA: Yes.

LO: Tell me about it.

AA: The sooner the better. I think if we hadn’t dropped the bomb, I think the war would have gone a long, long time. And I think dropping the bomb stopped it. Although it was a very bad thing to do. But the Japanese did a lot of bad things to American soldiers and things when they captured them.

LO: Did you and your schoolmates play war games?

AA: Yes, we did, sure.

LO: Tell me about it. How or what did you play?

AA: Well, like Cowboys and Indians, the bad guys and the good guys. We lived next to a sandpit so we could build all kinds of forts and things down there. It was great.

LO: What were your general feelings about the war?

AA: Well, I just -- I didn’t -- I actually didn’t have any Japanese friends before that happened. And I just -- I wanted it to get over. I didn’t want any more of our people to be killed in it. But really didn’t have a strong feeling about it one way or another.

LO: Did your feeling differ from those of your friends?

AA: Well, they certainly did after my cousin was killed. I changed my opinion about the Japanese a whole bunch at that time.

LO: Where was your cousin killed?

AA: In Iwo Jima or Okinawa, I don’t remember now. But one of the islands.

LO: What branch of service was he in?

AA: He was an Army person.

LO: As a 16 year old by the time the war was over, that would be 1946 probably, did you want to go into the service, did you think about that? Before the war was over, did you think about yourself joining in the military?

AA: Well, when I was seventeen I joined the National Guard.

LO: Were you working by the time you were sixteen?

AA: We had a ranch, yes.

LO: What did you do on this ranch?

AA: Oh, just fixed things, tractor work, planted trees and picked peaches and tomatoes; we raised tomatoes one year.

LO: What about the wages and the conditions of the work and your attitude towards them.

AA: Well, working on the ranch, I didn’t get paid anything. I did it so I could have some place to sleep at night. But, you know, I don’t know how other people were being paid. I have no idea.

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

AA: Actually, my dad owned a bar and at that time they were training pilots at our airport out here. So, that branch of the service would come into the bar and have a good time. So, really it was very good for our family.

LO: What was this field out here that you mentioned?

AA: It was the Visalia airport. And I don’t remember if they called it something other than that at the time or not. No, I take it back. Actually they were trained at Rankin Field.

LO: Do you remember difficulties in getting food, clothing, gas or other consumer goods during the war?

AA: Oh, yes. They had rationing. And you got little rationing coupons. And you couldn’t always do what you wanted to do, especially with gasoline and also tires were rationed. You couldn’t just take off on a trip unless you had enough coupons to get you there and back. Cause if you got stranded you were in bad trouble.

LO: You say it was called rationing. Was everyone rationed or was it just certain people?

AA: I don’t know if government officials were rationed or not. But the general population, everyone was rationed, yes.

LO: And you said they used stamps or tokens or was it coupons?

AA: Coupons and they had tokens but I don’t remember exactly how the tokens differed from the coupons. I remember there was a book and you had all of these coupons in there and you would go to the ration board and they would give you the book and then you would take it home and be very sparing with it.

LO: Did everyone in the family have these or was it just the parents who receive them? Did the children have them, too?

AA: You know, I can’t really -- if we did, I wasn’t told that we had them. I don’t know.

LO: How about margarine? I was told you had to put something in it to make it yellow. Do you remember anything about that?

AA: Yes.

LO: Tell me about it.

AA: You got -- the margarine was white when you got it. And you had a little color tablet that you broke and put in there and mixed it all up and then it looked like butter.

LO: Why do you think they used that little color tablet?

AA: I guess so you thought it tasted more like butter. I don’t know. However, we didn’t really use very much of that. We had a cow. And we milked the cow and we had like what they call a separator that separated the milk from the cream and we churned our own butter.

LO: Did you or your family do any anything to support the war like gardens or crafts or rolling bandages; just anything to help out with the war?

AA: I know my mother did some volunteer work. And I’m not sure exactly what she did. But at that time everyone had what they call the Victory Garden where you raised a lot of your own vegetables and things.

LO: Did your family participate in war bonds?

AA: Oh, yes. In fact, we did at school. We would bring so much money every week to school and when we accumulated enough then we got to buy -- I think it was 18 dollars and you got a war bond.

LO: How about any of the war campaigns, did you participate in any of those?

AA: No.

LO: Was there any protesting of war at that time?

AA: If there was, I wasn’t aware of it.

LO: Perhaps there were other exciting programs that your family participated in; do you know?

AA: No.

LO: In your home, did you have people outside the immediate family living with you?

AA: No, the only people that we had outside of our immediate family, we had a niece that came and lived with us for a while and worked in a bakery because she was from Texas, as I remember and there was nothing for her to do there. She was like 20. And then we had some of the servicemen that came and spent weekends and stuff when they were off duty.

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

AA: No.

LO: Okay. Did you write to friends that were in the service?

AA: Yes. I became acquainted with a fellow that my cousin had brought when he came and visited us one time. He was also in the Army. And he was a young man and we just kind of hit it off and we corresponded until he -- he was also killed apparently at the same place my cousin was.

LO: How was the mail service?

AA: As far as going to service mail, you had to write it on a certain form or something as I remember and it was sent like that. And I think it was sent to a distribution point, not to where they were, you know, not like to Tokyo or Hong Kong or something like that. It was sent to some certain point.

LO: Was any of it censored?

AA: I imagine it was. I know they had the right to censor it if they wanted to.

LO: Did -- was any of it called V-mail?

AA: I think that’s what they called it, V-mail.

LO: This was an unstable time. What gave you stability to you and your family?

AA: Pardon?

LO: What gave stability to you and your family?

AA: Well, I think any time you’re in a crisis like that I think a family pulls together more than they normally would. It was a lot of fun growing gardens and we had -- we raised some pigs at that time. And we raised some goofy turkeys, one of the dumbest animals in the world. And we had chickens and everything that you basically needed to live on because everything was rationed, it was so hard to get. So you just grew your own.

LO: What became of particular importance to you?

AA: Probably just the fact that I knew that people were getting killed and I just wanted the war to be over so that that would stop.

LO: Any memorable vacations or travel that you did?

AA: Yes, at that time we had some good friends that lived at Pismo Beach. And I think for about probably three summers in a row we went and spent a couple of weeks.

LO: What was it like over there in Pismo?

AA: Basically like it was here. The only -- you couldn’t have lights at night sometimes and that kind of thing. And you had to have a certain kind of shade so the light wouldn’t show through and stuff. And if they had an air raid or signal, which they did just to practice, you had to turn off lights and that sort of thing.

LO: Did women’s roles and responsibilities in your family change?

AA: Not particularly in our family. But I know in a lot of families it did because there was a lot of women who worked in the war effort as far as working in the shipyards and that type of thing.

LO: What did they do about childcare? How did they arrange those things? Do you know anything about that?

AA: No, I don’t.

LO: How did you feel about any of the changes that you saw women going to work and more women in the work place? How did you feel about that?

AA: Well, I think that was the first time I ever saw women wearing long pants and jeans and that kind of thing. Before they always wore dresses. And that was kind of a shock at first.

LO: Were there any neighborhood organizations to watch for blackouts?

AA: I don’t remember.

LO: Were there any towers here in Visalia, like watch towers to watch for planes and enemies?

AA: I think there was out here at our local Visalia Airport. I know out there at the airport they had bunkers that were camouflaged that they kept airplanes in. And I’m sure they must have had towers out there. But I didn’t see them.

LO: If you were in school, do you remember special events connected to wartime activities?

AA: The only thing I really remember about something different in the war at school was the war bond drives.

LO: Did different ethnic groups exist in your community?

AA: Good question. I do not ever remember anyone but white people living in the neighborhood where I was. The school I went to, there was only one black family at that time in Visalia that I knew of.

LO: What were race relations like in the community?

AA: They were great.

LO: Do you remember anything about the Holocaust?

AA: Oh, yeah. You saw it in every paper you picked up when they actually came out with it. Yeah, you heard a lot about it, how bad it was. I never really knew that people hated Jews till that point. My mother had always taught us, you know, a person is a person. You don’t discriminate against anyone regardless of what they looked like or anything else. So, that was a new revelation to me.

LO: How about the relocation of Japanese-Americans, did you know anything about that?

AA: Yes, I knew that they put them in internment camps out on the desert or some place in Nevada. I knew that they existed. But I don’t know exactly where they were.

LO: You didn’t go to school with any?

AA: I don’t remember any Japanese children in school until I got to high school. Then I saw them.

LO: How were they treated in high school?

AA: Well, actually I wasn’t in high school until after the war was over. So, I don’t know at that time.

LO: How did your family find out about the war?

AA: We heard it on the radio.

LO: Did you talk and use the paper and talk at regular times about the war as a family?

AA: Oh, yes. At dinnertime we did a lot of talking. That was the time everybody sat down and ate at the same time and we talked about family matters and the war and everything else.

LO: How were families, were they closer back then?

AA: Oh, yes.

LO: Tell me about your family.

AA: Well, I have a brother, Bill, that is two years older; a sister, Betty, that is two years younger than I am; and then I have a sister, Linda, that is ten years younger than I am. And she was kind of -- the young one was kind of an outsider. She was kind of like a guest more or less because the three of us had grown up together. But my dad worked a lot. Owning the bar, he worked at nights. So he would be sleeping during the daytime, especially in the mornings when we got ready to go to school and things. And then by the time we got home he was gone. So about the only time we really saw him was on Sunday morning when we had breakfast together. But family was very close. My mother was a very loving person. So, family life was good.

LO: Do you remember how movies reflected the war or did you go to movies?

AA: Not very much. But when I did go -- in those days you would have a newsreel at the beginning or before the movie started and that was pretty graphic at times, what they showed; getting killed and planes getting shot and that type of thing.

LO: What was your impression of military and political leaders during the war?

AA: Well, I thought the military was great. And the political leaders, I -- of course, Roosevelt was the President at that time. And as far as I was concerned, he was doing a good job.

LO: How did your community react to the end of the war?

AA: Everyone was very grateful. Everyone was -- I can remember when the war was over people just coming out in the yards, in the front yards and yelling and screaming and saying, "Yea, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over."

LO: Do you consider World War II a just war?

AA: Yes. In comparison to what we have now, yes.

LO: In your opinion, what was the overall impact of the war on American society?

AA: Actually, before the war started we were just coming out of a depression and things were still pretty scarce. Money was not too abundant. With the war effort and all of the buildup in the military and everything, there was a lot more money to be had, going around. So, I think it really improved our economy.

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

AA: There wasn’t too much that affected me, really. And the war didn’t have a great effect on me because I was too young to go and so forth. And none of our immediate family was, you know, in the war.

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

AA: That’s a good question. I don’t know that it -- you know, I can’t say that -- I don’t really know. I just have no idea.

LO: You don’t see a lot of difference from back then to right now?

AA: Well, economically, we’re a lot better off, that sort of thing. We’ve come a long, long way in technology and so forth. And a lot of the technology is always because of the war effort and things that they built, you know, we use them in civilian life, too. So, I guess in that respect there was quite a bit of change.

LO: Okay. Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

AA: You know, you’ve covered more things than I thought about. I think that’s pretty well covered about everything I had thought of, you know, before. Other than it was such a different life, having to grow all your own vegetables and raise your own cows and all that because we had never done that before. And that was a different way of life. I really fell in love with it. I could have been content being a farmer all my life. But we didn&'t have that much land to do it with.

LO: Okay. So you were a farmer. So and here was Visalia, a little town. Where was your farm? Was it out in the country?

AA: Our ranch is about where Viva Blunt School is now. (On South Chinowth St. at Tulare Avenue.)

LO: Okay. Well, I’m going to tell you thank you, Mister Arnett.

AA: You’re more than welcome. I hope this gives somebody a kick years from now.

Lois Owings/ Transcribed by Colleen Paggi/Edited by JW 11/10/2004

Editor’s note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Allen Arnett on November 10, 2004