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
Interviewer: Karen Feezell
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Ducor, CA In Bill Braly’s home
Subjects covered in the interview: LIFE IN DUCOR DURING
WAR YEARS, BRIEF TIME IN KYUSHU,
KF: This is Karen Feezell talking with Bill Braly in his home in Ducor on January 14, 2004, about the Years of Valor, Years of Hope project.
Okay, you want to start talking about and tell the folks about what was going on before the war, and what you remember.
BB: Well, prior to World War II, it seemed as though we knew it was coming, because we read in the paper, and heard a little on the radio about what Hitler was doing and Japan, going into China and so forth. It really didn’t have too much affect on us here on the ranch, except maybe the price of some things. They were coming through here and buying a lot of scrap iron. I understand a lot of that scrap iron was going to Japan, so probably when we were at war with Japan we were fighting ships and airplanes and having bullets shot at us that came out of these scrap drives.
We more or less felt that it was coming, but we didn’t know just when or where. Now on December 7, 1941; well, just prior to December 7, 1941, I don’t remember what year it started, but they had these aircraft warning stations, where the civilians would go there and spent about four hours, once a week, but there would be somebody there 24 hours a day. If an airplane flew over, they would call in on the telephone and let them know what kind of airplane it was, which direction it was flying, and whether it was a high altitude or low altitude and so forth. That way, they were trying to keep track of the aircraft in the community.
After the war broke out, they started rationing things like tires and gasoline and sugar and meat, and so forth. But they would give you an extra allotment of sugar here on the ranch during the seasons when they were picking berries or different kinds of fruit, so you could do a lot of your own canning. They encouraged people to do that. As far as Ducor was concerned, the railroad was still pretty active; we’d see trains go through loaded with military equipment, or troop trains going through and so forth. And, we’d see that every once in awhile, and we’d go over to the coast and they had a lot of troops over there in training, and, oh I don’t know, we knew that they were building up for the war. We just didn’t know when or where it was gonna hit.
KF: Now, tell what happened on December 7th and where you were and what were your thoughts?
BB: Okay, on December 7th, I had been one of them that had
been operating the aircraft warning stations. We didn’t run them around the clock, but I was up at Ducor when it
happened. I was at church, and they had
Sunday school in the morning and; Sunday school at 10:00 o’clock and at 11:00 o’clock, they’d have church. And they had sort of a break between 10:00 and 11:00 o’clock. It was at that time we all went outside for a little and then went back
in. But we heard that
During that day they were calling people back
to man these aircraft warning stations and all military personnel, this was on
the radio, were to return to their base immediately. I don’t care if they were on a 30 day leave
or not, and they had only had five days off, they were still to report back to
their base immediately. I didn’t think
it was gonna last that long because I didn’t think
KF: How old were you at that time and what were you doing?
BB: I was still going to high school. I was a junior in high school.
KF: How did it affect the high school kids, and did anything change in the high school?
BB: Oh, definitely. I was a junior in high school; I think I wasn’t old enough to register in the draft, but on my following birthday I had to register. I guess I was 16. But anyhow, the high schools used to have football games of an evening under the lights, and everything. Well, they wanted to shut down the lights. They didn’t want all this glowing light for an enemy plane to zero in on. They wanted to conserve on electricity and everything else. So they would still have the football games, but they were in the afternoons.
A lot of time they would cut the classes short and of all the guys that had been out working, the draft had taken so many of them that they didn’t have a good supply of personnel to go out and pick the fruit, like oranges and apples or peaches, you know, whatever. So, a lot of times during the fruit picking season, or when there was a lot of work like that going on, they would let the high school have short classes in the afternoon. Then the kids were supposed to go out and help pick the fruit or vegetables or, you know, take care of the livestock and whatnot.
And of course, for me, living on a ranch, I was just supposed to come on home and help out here. They considered food quite a problem back then. But all in all, we did pretty well on food here. There was some things like, if you’d go to the store and buy, like meat or butter or sugar, and I’m sure a lot of other things, you had to have a ration coupon. But a lot of that like the meat, we raised a lot of sheep and we would butcher on our own. And we had chickens. We’d get our own eggs, most of the time and our own milk, and whatnot. So we got by really well there. But the people in the city, they were cut pretty short.
Now what we did have to do, we had to watch after things like our gasoline and our tires and so on. But, from what I understand, they had plenty of gasoline, and they had plenty of tires, but they wanted people to slow down, and they used that means to get ‘em to slow down. Also like on tires and gasoline, they had to watch out when they manufactured the tires here and they would have to ship ‘em someplace.
Well, the railroad and the truck lines were loaded with stuff like food and war materials and whatnot, that they were shipping back and forth. It seemed to me like; well, there was a lot of trucks out there, but, boy, the railroads were really catching it. They were worried about the railroads up here because all of the freight that went through, I hope I’m getting it right, it would be southbound on the railroad down through Tulare and Earlimart and Delano, and this one would be northbound. From what I understand, the trains all going the same direction like that, it was a little rough on the tracks, it took a little more maintenance, because they should work back and forth.
But as far as airplanes were concerned, we didn’t see much in the line of airplanes except commercial airlines and military planes that were either flying through or training planes and such as that.
KF: I want to ask you, how do you think the war years affected you? Did they change your life at all? I hear you saying they changed in that school hours were shortened, etc….
BB: Yeah, I really wanted to go on to junior college, but at my age, to get out of the draft . . . . I had two brothers that were already in the military, or they went in the military as soon as they graduated from high school in 1942. But they let me stay out to work here on the ranch and I really didn’t want to do that, I was really just gung ho to be in the military, you know what I mean. But, I stayed home until 1945, and then I tried to get into the Merchant Marines but I didn’t make it, and they drafted me into the Navy then. I spent the remaining part of my years in the Navy, which, actually, I’m not trying to say; it was probably better for me, in later years, that I went into the Navy, because it did qualify me for the Veteran’s. And I had different Veteran benefits coming. Whereas, had I not went into the Navy, I’d have stayed here, and I wouldn’t have had that.
But I think I would have probably done the country more good if I’d stayed here helping to provide the food and fiber for those people, because a lot of people don’t realize it, that it would have had a lot more affect on our country, the war did, than just drafting the guys in the military. The farmers had to produce the food to feed that military. They also had to produce the fiber and whatnot to clothe them. The oil fields had to produce the gas and oil to transport ‘em, and all of that was all important prior to the war, but the war brought its importance out more so, or at least I think it did. It did for me anyhow, I started to understand it a little better. Oh, I don’t know, ah, it had an affect on all of us but up until I went into the service and my two brothers were gone, it didn’t really affect me that much, I don’t think, except what I’ve seen, like the troop trains going through or, if we went over to the coast, they had a lot of military over there.
Actually, they put this air base in here in Porterville. That’s where the Porterville Airport came from. The camp wasn’t there; it was over in another location, not very far from there, a couple of miles. I don’t know what’s over there in the camp anymore, if anything. But the airport is still there and the airport, well it’s not like it was, but it’s a fine airport for the City of Porterville. It was put in there for military purposes. If another war was to break out, I don’t’ know how much good it would do. It would be too small for the jet aircraft and whatnot. But, I tell you, it’s done a lot of good since then and a lot of people have learned to fly and they use crop dusters and the Forest Service has used it for fighting forest fires and all kinds of things.
KF: Did the World War II years affect Tulare County in the way it is now, and any other ways you can think of?
BB: Well, it affected everybody, but just Tulare County, in itself, there was a few things that it affected. Like the county fair, they took it down for a while. They didn’t have a county fair.
They transported a lot of Japanese out of here, and for a while there they used the county fairgrounds moving those Japanese out. They used it as campgrounds to keep them there until they could move ‘em on to other places. We had a Japanese family up here at Ducor, that got, well, they moved out of Ducor about a year before the war. I think they had them out on the desert someplace. Just how far out, I don’t know. They did work out there and one of ‘em, they let him out to go on to school and he became a dentist. And after he got out of school and got his degree in dentistry, I think he had to serve some time in the Navy as a dentist. Then when he got back, he opened a dental office in Delano. He stayed there until he retired. I think he’s moved down south, he’s got a son or two down south that are dentists.
KF: Let’s go back to how else do you think the war years might have affected Tulare County? Growth, or . . .?
BB: Oh shoot, I don’t know, it had a tremendous affect on everybody, but just what . . . . It moved a lot of people around, of course, but, other than that, I don’t know.
KF: Okay. You had a lot of things you wanted to say, I wonder, have you got some things on your mind you’d like to say about the war right now or do you want me to just . . . ?
BB: Well I don’t know, I covered quite a little bit of it, I think.
KF: Were there any industry conversions, or war plants, or industry changes that happened in Porterville, that you remember?
BB: Well, I need time to think about that. Other than the air bases there, that was the big change, but I think that they kept going pretty much like they were. Unless some industry changes that might have been up east of Porterville, there was a lot of timber for lumber, and there was a lot of saw mills around at the time. In fact, you go over to Terra Bella right now, they had a saw mill, you can’t see it very well anymore because they put trees up there, but the saw dust and the chips and whatnot, there’s tons of it out there that they had used up from making lumber and such. But, that was one of the big industry changes. That came in after the war, I think.
KF: Was there a lot of building that went on after the war here?
BB: Building, yeah, but it didn’t seem like it was that awful much though. Of course, there was a lot of things . . . . Well I’ll tell you one thing, this old guy Pete Divizich, he came in here just shortly after the war, and he was Slovenian. And he came in and he got some land down toward Delano or Earlimart and put in a few acres of vineyards. That’s what he wanted to go after and he started planting vineyards and he built a packinghouse just right after the war. He added on to it a cold storage and whatnot up there at Ducor.
KF: What was his name?
BB: Pete Divizich.
KF: Okay, thanks. Were there vineyards here during the war?
BB: Very small. Ah, there might have been more than what I realized, but I had some relatives who lived over here about three miles north of here; they had a little 20 acres in there. And they had folded out before the war but I thought that was a pretty good size vineyard, but, shoot, it was nothing to what they’ve got in today.
KF: Did you have . . . did your family have the oranges at that time?
BB: No, we had some orange trees but just our own personal orange trees.
KF: Okay, mostly you were cattle here at that time, right?
BB: Wheat and cattle, mostly wheat.
KF: Okay, did you have trouble getting equipment, keeping your equipment up during that time?
BB: Well, it was a little harder to get parts, but they were pretty good to us, they knew that the country needed the grain for food whether used to feed livestock or whether to feed humans; food was a very important item. And we usually got most all of the equipment that we needed. Once in awhile you’d run into something that would be hard to come by, because maybe it was the material used or whatever it was to make that material item. A lot of items, they made one, and you got one on the farm, and that’s all you needed, and that applies to a lifetime.
One thing that did make a change in the farming operation here, prior to the war, most all of the grain which was wheat, barley or oats, or anything, when they harvested it, they put it in sacks and the sacks were sewed up and taken usually up to the warehouse here in Ducor. Now, somewhere along the line it was hard to get . . . well, the sacks got expensive. Then right after the war, they quit the sacks and went into the bulk, and we had some grain bins up at Ducor. There are no more there of ours but then just north of town, a little bit, down there at the Owens Grain Elevator, that used to be a Union Oil Plant. They took the tanks out and built some grain tanks in there.
KF: That was after the war?
BB: Yeah, and, then in later years, they added some more grain tanks in there.
KF: During the war, you had . . . there were three of you boys, or were there more?
BB: There was three of us boys.
KF: And two of you left. Did you have trouble maintaining this place?
BB: My two brothers left. Well, you did a lot of things that you wouldn’t have done during peacetime, because you could have done it easier. You could have got the supplies easier. We had to watch out after some of that stuff; you couldn’t always get the parts you wanted. As after all, say like the tractors, for instance, they wanted those in agriculture, yes, but they needed them in the government too, to build airbases or whatever. And they just weren’t as plentiful and, of course, they took away a lot of manufacturing like automobiles and tractors and trucks and so forth so they could build equipment for the military, which not only included automobiles and trucks, but their tanks and their aircraft. So, it was a big change here.
KF: In terms of personnel, how did your father or your family maintain this place? Didn’t they have a shortage of personnel, or was it okay?
BB: Well, it seemed like we always had enough people around to do it. Sometimes it was a little hard to come by, because your military, the draft took ‘em between the ages of 17 and whatever. After they got in the military and got older, they didn’t get discharged until they got pretty old. But, ah, it seemed like we could always get somebody to come out and do a little of the work or we did it ourselves. In fact, I’d see a few women during the war out on tractors, driving tractors.
KF: That was a big change?
BB: Yeah, you don’t see ‘em out there anymore. Yeah, there was a lot of changes. I hope we never have to go back (chuckle) through it again, but we will one of these days. I may not live long enough to see it, but it will happen again, I’ll tell y’all for sure. Why, I don’t know.
KF: Tell, me a little bit about your military experience. You were drafted and then what happened?
BB: Well, in the first place, I felt that I was gonna get drafted. I wanted to go into the service, but I didn’t think I would if I’d kept my mouth shut and stayed home and worked like I should have been, but I tried to get in the Merchant Marines. I couldn’t just go down and join the service at that time. What I could have done is put myself up eligible for draft, and they would have taken me, and then they’d put me where they wanted me, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, wherever. But in most cases, it probably would have been the Army but I thought that if I could get into the Merchant Marines, they wouldn’t bother me there.
And so I went up to the Bay area, and I had some relatives that were in the shipping industry. They got me into a school to get in as a sailor on a merchant ship; it took ten days or something like that. Well, they could have bypassed that school, and if they’d have done that and got me aboard ship, I’d have never gone into the military. But the draft board found out what I was doing and they sent my draft papers out before I got assigned to be on ship. So, I had to go into the draft. But when I got into the draft, they knew that I had been through this school, which wasn’t much of a school for the merchant ships, and I think that helped me get into the Navy. Before I came home I knew I was gonna have to go. They drafted me, and I was sort of upset about it, because I didn’t know where I was gonna go, until I got up to Oakland, I think it was, and I took the physical exam, and the guy asked me what branch of the service did I prefer. I said the Navy, and he said, "Well, you’re in the Navy."
They put me in the Navy, and I was taken down and sworn in, and then I had a day or two, I think, to fool around, and then I was to report in at Porterville; I think it was Porterville. But anyway, they shipped me back up toward the Bay area and that’s where I was sworn in. I was in the Navy, but I wasn’t in uniform. And then they shipped me to San Diego to the San Diego Naval Training Station. That’s where I went to boot camp. While we were there, they sent us through their boot camp schools and they gave us a bunch of tests. They wanted to find out what we were most capable of. I fooled around with photography a lot and I had fooled around with radio a lot and electronics. They told me I had a real good chance of getting into a photography school or radio school, not radio repair, but radio operator. But ah, he wouldn’t guarantee me any one of ‘em.
Well, just a few days after that,
They hadn’t all got their orders. But, we didn’t see much of that, but the thing that we hit worse than anything was . . . . We went out to Saipan and Okinawa and, it was in Okinawa, we hit a couple of typhoons. We were in Buckner Bay (ed: AKA Nakagusuku Bay), in Okinawa and that typhoon hit and the wind got up to about 110 knots and that’s equal to about, so they tell me, 132 miles an hour. And that’s a pretty good wind (chuckle). But a lot of the small craft, they lost a lot of ‘em. It washed ‘em up on the beach and whatnot. But we had some damage. But most of our damage was due to . . . we had another ship tied up alongside of us. They tried to get ‘em away. They should have done it a little sooner but they didn’t realize that those ships bouncing back and forth did quite a little damage. But, other than that, we came through it real good. Much better than a lot of ‘em.
Then we went into
Their lifestyle there in Sasebo was a whole lot different from our lifestyle here. Ah, we hitchhiked from one town to another and they were harvesting rice there. Well, they had taken this rice and put it up in stalks like you see in some of these biblical pictures and they were scattered around through the fields and then, it was mostly women that were going around and picking ‘em up and taking ‘em over to this machine. They were barefoot and walking around in that rice stubble. And, they had a guy over there; he was working a machine. He would work it with his foot and he’d take this rice . . . . He’d stick the heads of ‘em in there, and it would beat the rice up and blow it out into a pretty good-sized pile. It really wasn’t cleaned up like our wheat or barley is here or like our rice was here. But that’s the way they cleaned it.
And then we went over into the town. And we were not allowed to eat anything or drink anything from the town. We had to take our own water from the ship and our own food because there was so much dysentery over there. The Japanese, I guess they were used to it, they could get by, but we couldn’t. And after we got into town, I wouldn’t want to eat anything or drink anything that I saw over there anyway because their sewage . . . . They had it guttered down the street; they didn’t have a sewer. And that’s where the sewage ran. You could see it and we went by a restaurant there and they had their daily special in the window and it had been there for awhile. I wouldn’t have gone in there and eaten that (Chuckle). And oh, it was just different things like that but they were an odd group of people to us.
We went in one little old store there and there was this Japanese and one of the guys wanted to buy something, some silk or something, and the guy had to go back into his living quarters. Boy, his shoes came off and he went back there and then when he came back, he put them back on. But, like I say, their lifestyle was a lot different than ours. Now, I didn’t see any of them eating anything. Well, I take that back, I did see a couple of Japanese eat. And I’m sure they used chopsticks; I know they did.
But, like I say, we took our lunch over there. And there was a couple of little Japanese kids that sat out there. And they’d sit and they’d watch us eat that lunch and boy, I don’t know how much food they’d had but they weren’t getting what they needed and we had a couple of sandwiches, a cookie and an apple, I think, in our lunch, that we’d taken from the ship. So, me and Ollie, I started it, but I sort of cheap skated the whole deal. I gave the cookie, I guess it was just the one, and he came over and grabbed it and went back and sat down. But he didn’t start to eat it and then one of the guys gave him a sandwich and another guy gave him the apple. So as soon as he got the sandwich, apple and cookie, he didn’t eat ‘em, he took off and went home, and I’m sure he shared that with his family because things were real short on food over there. And ah, in a way, I felt like sort of a cheapskate, because I only gave him a cookie, and I could have given him everything they gave me, and I would have still been better fed that what he was. But, I don’t know, we were . . . . They tried to treat us well; they acted like they welcomed us in Sasebo. One of the things that sort of tickled us, we were in uniform and we were supposed to salute any of our commissioned officers or even the Japanese commissioned officers in uniform. And there was quite a few of them around. And sometimes they’d salute back and sometimes they wouldn’t. But the people over there, I know they knew they lost the war and they were trying to be friendly. I don’t know what else to say about ‘em.
KF: Okay, we’ve got about five more minutes. During that time, when you were here, and your brothers were gone, how did the family keep in touch, and what was the attitude of the family?
BB: Well, as far as the family was concerned, it was my kid brothers. They got to come home once in awhile, but they would write letters home too. And once in awhile they’d telephone too. We’d use the telephone a lot more, you know, communicating back and forth that way. And, what else did you want to know in that question?
KF: Was there a lot of worry in the family, did you . . .
BB: Well, I’ll tell you what, you didn’t worry too much about ‘em, as
long as they were here stateside. It was
when they went overseas; that is when they worried about ‘em. However, we had a neighbor, one of the first
local boys that got killed, was up in Idaho, on a training plane and it
collided with another training plane, I understand, and it killed all of ‘em on
board. And then we had another boy in
Ducor, I don’t know just exactly where he was at, but he was out on one of
those islands, like Okinawa or Saipan or someplace, and he got killed over
there. There was another one that, I
think, was in
KF: Talk a little bit more about the community and then that’s pretty much where we’ll end, I think.
BB: Well, as far as the community was concerned, we had these aircraft warning stations and I think I mentioned some of that. But then they didn’t want us to use a bunch of gas running back and forth to town and for entertainment. Out here about all we had, well, not all people played cards, but you had the radio and you could play cards or read a book or something like that.
We had a little library up here in Ducor, where you could get a book. But to save gas, the women’s club owned what they called the old bank building up at Ducor. The old building is still there, but I don’t know who it belongs to now. But anyway, they gave the kids their own storeroom downstairs, to where they could go there and meet so they wouldn’t be using so much gas running back and forth to town. The kids could meet down there. We’d have parties down there. But mostly, they’d go down there and I had a little amplifier and record player and we’d go down there and play music and they’d dance by it and stuff like that. And, ah, that helped keep the kids entertained. We didn’t go to town that much that way, saving on gas. But other than that, I don’t know; they probably did something down at the school too, to keep us home more. But just what they did, I don’t remember.
KF: Was the community pretty tight?
BB: Oh yeah, it was a close community. Actually, prior to World War II, before Pearl Harbor or anything like that, it was a pretty close community because they didn’t have the . . . .they had automobiles and they had the train and so forth. But, ah, they didn’t go to town and back like they do today. Ah, they would meet up at Ducor and do a lot of visiting up there. In fact, one thing we did, I think this was just before the war, we got a teacher in there, my fifth and sixth grade and she was Mrs. Higgins. She hadn’t been married very long and all of my elementary school teachers were good teachers. I had one there, she wasn’t quite up to snuff in keeping the classroom busy or anything. But all of the rest of them . . . She was a good person but she just hadn’t broke into it yet.
But, I had this one teacher, she went there and she wanted to have more things going for us than what we had. We had all of our books and all of that but she wanted to get some crafts going. The school board wouldn’t give her any money to buy anything like that and so she came up with the idea real quick like, she got a play and we put it together and it was sort of a Halloween play. I forget just what it was like. I do remember it, but I can’t describe it to you. But anyway, we got this Halloween play and we charged admission and I think they had some snacks there that they sold. She got a few bucks that way, then she went to town, she and her husband. Her husband must have got in on it and then bought us a little claw hammer and a little smoothing plane or buff plane, a few wood chisels, a saw and whatnot. Then we started making stuff and we had to furnish our own wood. But we’d start making stuff to take home to give to the family for Christmas. And they had a letter holder and they had, gosh I don’t know what all. And that kept us pretty busy. And they got another class started and a lot of it depended on what your teachers could come up with.
KF: But the community, the folks helped with that?
BB: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Ah, they had a PTA up here and the PTA somehow went to a statewide organization and somewhere along the line they couldn’t agree with the PTA so they started what they called a Parent’s Club. And they were a little freer, more individual, and they could do more what they wanted to do. They got pretty close on doing things up there at the school. Ah, I don’t know whether they ever went back into the PTA or not.
KF: But, that’s how it was done during the war, and during your school year?
BB: Yeah, maybe that’s what it was, that it was just during the war
that they did that. Naw, it was before
the war, because . . . I say before the war, but it was before December
7, 1941 anyway, because I graduated from grammar school in 1939. But like I say, we knew the war was coming,
because Hitler and Mussolini were both on the march over there in Europe and
KF: Thank you. So, the community wasn’t surprised, but . . .
BB: Well, I’ll say they weren’t surprised, but it was a shock.
KF: Yeah, okay, why don’t we stop right there. That’s a good place to stop. Thank you very much for this. This has been helpful.
BB: It really brings back some memories. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that I’ve forgotten about. (laughter)
KF: Okay, thank you.
K.Feezell/pd 1-28-2004/ed. JW 6/18/04
(Ed. Note: In a phone interview with Bill Braly’s niece, I learned that Bill never married. His parents are Josiah "Joe" Braly and Ann Riggins Braly. Josiah came to Ducor as a child with his family from northern California. Ann’s family came from Arkansas and lived in Porterville. Bill is the third generation to live in his house in Ducor.)