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: Solon Boydston

Date: 12/22/03

Interviewer: Karen Feezell

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Solon Boydston’s home

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

In military service in England , South Dakota, Mississippi

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Military Experience in England

Military Experience during his entire tour of duty

Left Tulare County in December 1942 and returned September 1944.

 

KF: It is December 22, 2003 and I’m Karen Feezel, doing an oral interview with Solon Boydston in his home and it is regarding the Years of Valor, Years of Hope project. Why don’t we start with those two questions, Mr. Boydston. How do you think the war years in Tulare County affected you? Let’s start there.

SB: Well it changed my educational program because I was studying to be a psychiatrist. I had just finished junior college and the war was on so I went in the service. I went in as an aviation cadet, and when I came out I went to work on the ranch,the family ranch and forgot about my medical career.

KF: How do you feel the war years affected Tulare County,the way Tulare County is now?

SB: I think it caused some growth because of the Army installations that were placed here. Some of the military stayed and married girls in the County and in our city, so it probably enlarged it some.

KF: OK. What events stand out in your mind about the years preceding the beginning of the war?

SB: I was studying in junior college as I said before, and we didn’t really think much about war or going to war or anything to do with the war. We were mostly concentrating on our studies. Especially me because I was on a make-up program and I was trying to get my grades in line so I could enter the university.

KF: When did you enter the armed forces?

SB: I first entered at Minter Field in Bakersfield, California in June of 1942. I was finally called to active service in early December 1942.

KF: And you served in the Air Force?

SB: I served in the Air Force. I was an aviation cadet and then a navigator.

KF: What does that mean?

SB: An aviation cadet was a little higher than a private. They got $75.00 a month and studied one of the three branches of flying,either navigation, bombardier or pilot. When they got through with their course of study, they got their wings and a commission of 2nd Lieutenant.

KF: What was your attitude about getting drafted?

SB: I really wasn’t drafted. I volunteered. I was eager to serve and I had a friend who went with me and who also signed up,Bruce Ward from Strathmore, California and we were taken in the same day and called up on the same day. And we went to pre-flight together and then we were separated and I went to navigation training and he went to pilot training.

KF: Where did you serve basic training?

SB: My basic training was at Santa Ana Army Air Base in Santa Ana, California.

KF: Where did you serve during the war and what did you actually do?

SB: I served in the United States for a while in the forming of the B-17 group and after the group was formed, in Utah. I went overseas to England and flew 31 missions with the group and came home on a boat to the United States in July 1944. There were 48 bomb squadrons that was part of the 457th bomb group. We flew missions to various points in Europe, including Berlin, Leipzig, Hanover, and flew some missions on the coast of France against the V-2 bomb installations. I became a lead navigator after about 25 missions and I flew with different crews different places.

KF: What’s a lead navigator?

SB: The lead navigator was in the lead airplane.

KF: How many airplanes would go out?

SB: It varied from 12 to about 32 or 34 depending on the strength of the mission. Some missions called for maximum effort which put up about 1200 airplanes from the 8th airport and we were at maximum strength on those missions.

KF: Did you all fly out of the same place?

SB: No, each group had its own air drone and we flew three groups in our wing. Dean Thorp, Polebroock and Glatten which was us and we took off and flew to a buncher which was a radio beeping signal which went up straight in the air and we flew around that buncher until the three groups were in formation and then we took off to join the main force.

KF: And you would fly over . . . tell me again?

SB: Some cities?

KF: Yes, tell me some cities?

SB: Berlin, Leipzig, well there were just so many, I can’t remember them all. We flew over the coast of France on several missions to bomb the V-2 installations. That was a buzz bomb.

KF: What’s a buzz bomb?

SB: The buzz bomb was developed by the Germans that was unmanned and was launched from a platform that was called a ski run. It was set to shut off over London, the outskirts of London, and then it dropped and exploded. A very dangerous weapon.

KF: How many flew in your plane?

SB: We had ten people in our airplane, the pilot, the co-pilot, the radio man, 2 waif gunners, a ball turret gunner, a tail gunner, and the navigator and the bombardier.

KF: And you were the navigator, and exactly what did the navigator do?

SB: We kept track of the aircraft at all times in case of a problem either from enemy fire or malfunction of the airplane, so we could give a course back to our base.

KF: When you went out, did most of you come back or . . . I guess I’m asking about your level of danger?

SB: Different groups suffered different losses. The worst day that I was up was the first time they went to Berlin. They lost 65 airplanes and crews out of the 8th Air Force. Our group lost probably 2 or 3 airplanes out of that.

KF: And that’s out of how many airplanes of yours?

SB: Probably 30 or 35 that day. That was a maximum effort mission.

KF: What was it like living in England on the base?

SB: It was just a day-to-day existence. We went from mission to mission. We had Quonset huts that we lived in that had concrete floors and we kept them clean. We had officers that were the bombardier, navigator, pilot and co-pilot. Usually there were two crews, eight men to a Quonset hut. And enlisted personnel which were the gunners and the radio man, ball turret gunner and the tail man and the engineer gunner lived in a different part of the base under the same conditions. They lived in Quonset huts also.

KF: Were you in town?

SB: We went to town and to London occasionally. We were sixty miles north of London in a town called Peterborough, which was a big brick making town. The railroad ran right by our base so we’d catch a bus into Peterborough, and then go to the railroad station and catch the train into London. Coming back we’d catch a train going to Scotland and ride it up as far as Peterborough. That main line went from London to Edinburgh, Scotland .

KF: How did the people, the English people, treat you?

SB: Very well. The English people that we met were very nice and very happy that we were there. There was no animosity that I found among any of the people that I met. I didn’t find anyone who disliked us.

KF: How well were you able to adapt to the routine of military life? Were there things you especially liked or disliked?

SB: I liked most of it. I like a regimented life. I live that way myself. I liked the rules and regulations that the military laid down, and I got along fine.

KF: Did you notice any issues of race relations? Did your views change? Did you have any specific experiences?

SB: No, no, I didn’t. We didn’t have any Negro personnel in our unit that I recall and I don’t recall meeting many. Now I saw a lot when I was in London. There were black people there from the colonies that they had at that time, and I got along with the ones that I met.

KF: Was there recreation or special things that happened on your base,USO shows, or things like that?

SB: They had a few USO shows that came to our base and we also had dances every Saturday night in the Officer’s Club, and then we, the Officer’s Club, had some games for the men to play. I think there was a pool table and a few things like that. My biggest experience was when Bruce Ward flew his P-38 down and landed it on our base to see me. That was just great.

KF: Was he on a leave or something?

SB: No, he was on a cross country flight and came to our base and landed. Made a big impression.

KF: Was it lonely there?

SB: No, not bad. You had your fellow officers around and the officers from the other crew with all the officers. And then of course after I became a lead navigator, I used to work in the ops building and plan out the missions after the night letter came in from headquarters. We’d take the night letter and figure out what time to get the cooks up and what time the mission would start and leave our base and so forth.

KF: What time did you generally leave your base?

SB: Usually on a down day, which was the day we didn’t fly on a mission. If we were down, and we knew usually a day ahead of time, why we’d make arrangements to go some place. I didn’t go to any of the local places. Some of the men did and made very good acquaintances in the local area, but I usually went to London or Leeds or some place. One of the bigger towns.

KF: And what was there that you liked to do?

SB: I just liked the city life because I was a country boy. I liked to see the city and see the people in the city.

KF: How about correspondence? Had you been living at home with your parents?

SB: Yes, I lived at home with my parents and I corresponded with my mother regularly probably once or twice a week, and she wrote me once or twice a week. And I got occasional letters from people in other branches of the service who knew where I was, but most of us didn’t know where we were. Oh, we knew where we were, but our friends didn’t know where we were.

KF: Was the correspondence real important to you?

SB: Oh yes. Yes it was. It was very important to get a letter from home and occasionally I would get clippings out of the paper and photographs and things like that. All the mail was censored, all the incoming and outgoing mail was censored. You could send almost anything that didn’t give away your location.

KF: Did you have siblings,brothers and sisters who also wrote?

SB: No, I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. I was an only child.

KF: So on your time off, you generally went to London or Leeds or a big city and just walked around and saw the sights?

SB: Yes. Went in the restaurants, some of the restaurants like in London still serve a full course meal usually it was some kind of bird, guinea fowl, something like that. We went to the bars, and they had a big Officer’s Club in the basement of the . . . I forget the name of the hotel, but it was a big hotel on the park in London and they had the big ballroom. The whole ballroom was dedicated to the Officer’s Club, and you could eat there. They had breakfast, lunch and dinner and they also had a bar where you could get the things that were usually in short supply, like Bass Ale, scotch and things like that.

KF: Did your attitude change toward war during WWII?

SB: Well, I really didn’t have any attitude toward war. I was caught up in the thing, and I just served. We didn’t think about the whys or wherefores, and most of my friends didn’t. They just lived day to day and mission to mission and hoped that they came back from every mission. When I first went over there, you had to fly 25 missions and then you could come home. As they brought the fighters in and the missions got a little bit easier, they raised it to 28 and then it went to 30 and then it went to 35. The reason I flew 31 was I got a pro-rate on my missions. When I flew 31, you were supposed to fly 35, but I got it pro-rated to 31 and got relieved.

KF: Why?

SB: That’s just the way they did it. The was the Army way, the Air Force way.

KF: OK. Were you shot down ever?

SB: No.

KF: Serious plane injury?

SB: No, I was never shot down and I never had any serious injury except some flak burns on my arms where they were exposed through my suit, but they were just scratches. They didn’t bother me at all.

KF: Is there anyone or anyone special that you remember from your service time?

SB: Well, I remember my pilot and the co-pilot because the co-pilot finally went in to operations where he didn’t have to fly. I remember some of the enlisted . . . in fact most of my crew. I get a Christmas card every year from one of the waif gunners who was wounded and came home early. He was wounded in the arm. We lost our ball turret gunner who was flying with another crew when he was shot and killed. The rest of the crew I kind of lost track of. I belong to the 457th bomb group association, who put out a newsletter about three times a year, and I get some information from it, but I never see anything about my previous acquaintances. Most of these people are people who were ground personnel. Not many of their people left, because most of them are in their 80’s. The ones that are left are in their 80’s like me, I’m 81.

KF: You started to tell me about your co-pilot.

SB: My co-pilot: I remember him very well because he didn’t like to fly. He finally got a ground position in the Ops Building where he was Operations Officer for the 748th bomb squadron and he didn’t have to fly, which made him very happy.

KF: Do you have any impression about the people or buildings or culture in England when you were there?

SB: It was entirely different. The people talked different. The buildings were built different. There was a lot of emphasis put on the underground because that’s where many people stayed during the blitz. In fact, a lot of the beds that were used down there were stacked up and still in the underground at the stations when I was there. Everything was different. The people were different. You just had to adapt to the area.

KF: You were discharged after the 31 missions. Tell a little of your experience on the boat and what you did when you came home.

SB: Well, I was on the boat for five days. I came back on the Queen Mary and docked in New York, and went to New Jersey to Camp Kilmer and from there I was sent home on leave for 10 days, and then I reported to Santa Monica to the Air Force Headquarters there in Santa Monica which was in one of the beach clubs. They billeted us at one of the hotels that are in town and we just kind of waited around for assignment. Finally I was assigned to Rapid City, South Dakota as a navigator instructor, and I served there from November 1944 to sometime in December, and then another fellow that I knew who was a bombardier instructor and I were transferred to Biloxi, Mississippi to serve as instructors there. We had 10 days to lay over en route, so we spent it in St. Louis. We spent Christmas in St. Louis that year, and he met a girl in St. Louis and she came with us on our trip to Biloxi and they were married in Biloxi, and I was best man.

KF: Are you still in touch with him?

SB: No, he has since died. He traveled, he went back in the service and became a chicken colonel, and he retired and then after he retired he died. He wife wrote me he had died, and then I lost touch with the family.

KF: So then you went . . . were you stationed in Biloxi?

SB: I was in Biloxi about a month just waiting around to be assigned someplace. We didn’t do anything. They didn’t have an air field there, and we didn’t . . . . We thought we were going as instructors, but we were just going there to be reassigned. They assigned me to Rapid City, South Dakota again, and I was an instructor navigator there and flew missions, practice missions, with crews and instructed the navigators. I slept most of the time.

KF: What do you mean?

SB: There really wasn’t much to do except check on the navigator once in a while and see that he was on course. And from there I went to, I’ve forgotten now. I ended up down at San Pedro, and that was my discharge station and that was in September 1944 and I was discharged at this Fort ‘something" in San Pedro. I had been home and got my car and so I drove up to Los Angeles and got some civilian clothes. They gave us a clothing allowance and I bought some civilian clothes and came home.

KF: And that was in . . .?

SB: That was September 1944.

KF: What was going on here at that time?

SB: Everything was on ration stamps, of course. Gas was rationed, meat was rationed. People led a pretty Spartan existence, but they all got by. It was quite different than peace time. With the ration deal, people had to be very careful about what they bought and how they used it. We got gasoline,gasoline was in different classes, and if you were a citizen you got, I think, an ‘A’ stamp which entitled you to a very little amount of gasoline and then it went up the line. We got about a medium class stamp because we lived on a ranch out in the county and had to go to town to get food and things, so we got a little more gas. And then the service stations were always nice. They saved stamps. People had extra stamps, and the service station, if you knew the owner, would save up stamps and give you extra gas, which wasn’t entirely legal, but it was very helpful.

KF: Was gas and getting back and forth a problem for you and your family?

SB: No, we did pretty well because we got the extra gas from working in the country. You had to be careful. You didn’t make any extra trips, but it really wasn’t a problem once you got used to it.

KF: What did you do when you came home?

SB: I went to work on the ranch. My father was not in too good of health and there really wasn’t anybody else to take over the property. It belonged to my great aunt who lived in Santa Monica and so I went to work on the ranch with the idea of eventually being the manager, which came to pass. I managed it for her until her death and she left it to the three of us and then my father passed away, and my mother passed away, and I ended up with the ranch, which I sold in 1988.

KF: So what were you raising during the war?

SB: Citrus. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit and cattle.

KF: And where did they go?

SB: They went to a packing house. Early on in the war they went to Randolph Marketing Company and later they went to a Sunkist house.

KF: Were they rationed? Were they are part of the . . .?

SB: They were under price control, but they weren’t rationed. They were free of any controls except price control. They had a price control.

KF: How about the meat?

SB: The meat was rationed.

KF: How did that influence your selling it?

SB: It really didn’t, because we only sold twice a year. We had a very small cattle operation. We had about . . . maybe we sold 15 in a big year. We had about 30 or 35 cows and a bull. That was the size of our cattle operation. Our citrus operation was much larger.

KF: Anything else you can think of as a rancher that was affected by the war or changed during the war?

SB: Ranching was affected by the war because all the fuel products were rationed and you had to be careful with your tractors and things like that that ran on gasoline. Then there were certain items that were . . . new equipment was impossible to get. We finally got a tractor. We needed a tractor in the worst way and we finally got a tractor from a fellow down in Oceanside. He was the dealer down there. This was after the war. But we got a tractor from him. Things were very difficult to come by. You had to be awful careful about what you used. You could get hoes and shovels and things like that, but any heavy equipment or discs or spring tooth harrow or anything like that was difficult to come by.

KF: Anything else you would like to talk about during the war? We probably have about another five minutes. About your experience, about your memories?

SB: No. It was a matter of fact deal with me. Once I got in, I just accepted everything as it came and I got along fine. I only got in trouble one time during the war and that was on account of another fellow. We went across the border over into Mexico and we stayed out after midnight, and we got picked up by the MPs and they took us to the jail, and they put my friend in jail, but they told me to go back to the base and then I got a letter from the adjutant on the base to reply as to why I was in Mexico after hours. Which I did and that’s the last I heard of it. That’s the only time I ever got in any kind of trouble.

KF: Where were you and what were you doing and what was your attitude when the war ended?

SB: I was happy that the war was over and, of course I was very happy to be home all in one piece and I celebrated along with everybody else.

KF: What were the celebrations like?

SB: They were just mostly noise. People made a lot of noise in the streets, and did a lot of drinking. It was just one big celebration. Of course in the cities they really celebrated where they had a lot of people.

KF: Did you come to town?

SB: Yeah, I came to Porterville. They were celebrating in the streets, on the sidewalks, in the saloons and everyplace.

KF: OK. Do you feel WWII was a just war?

SB: Yes, I do, because of conditions that were happening in Germany and to all of Europe and we had a mission and I think we completed our mission. Our mission was to cripple German manufacturing and transportation, which we did. By D-Day they could hardly run a train or hardly manufacture anything. They were just done. They put up a few airplanes on D-Day, but very few. I participated in D-Day. I went out twice. I was in two missions on D-Day. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Such a wonderful sight to see all those ships in the channel. Just thousands of them. We bombed behind our lines, hopefully.

KF: To try to keep the . . .

SB: To try to keep the Germans from advancing.

KF: I see that it was a very memorable experience for you.

SB: Oh, it was. Probably the most memorable experience that I had during the war, seeing all those ships. Just fantastic.

KF: OK, I think I’m going to stop there. This is where we will end now. This is, once again, the Days of Valor, Days of Hope and the interview of Solon Boydston, and this is Karen Feezell.

Karen Feezel/JC/ed. JW 6/17/04

Ed: In a phone interview, we learned from Solon Boydston Jr. that he met and married Loretta Williamson Boydston in 1944 after he returned to Porterville. His parents, Solon J Boydston and Jennie Moore Mcgee Boydston settled in the Porterville area sometime before 1920, moving here from Akron, Ohio.