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: Barbara Brown

Date: 3/6/04

Interviewer: Kris Gray

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview:Mrs. Brown’s home in Porterville, California


Visalia, California


Scrap metal drive

School drills

Air Raid Warden

Japanese Family in Ducor

Families who lost sons

Brother in service

KG: This is Kris Gray. It is March 6, 2004, and this is an interview for the "Years of Valor-Years of Hope, Tulare County, and the years 1941,1946." I’m here with Barbara Brown at her home in Porterville, California. Barbara, can I start out by asking you a few things? Can you tell me your date of birth and where you were born?

BB: I was born at Ducor, California on November 8, 1933.

KG: Did you grow up there?

BB: I lived there until I was twelve and then I moved clear up the road five miles to Terra Bella and lived there until I was married.

KG: What schools did you go to out there?

BB: Ducor Elementary and Terra Bella Elementary.

KG: And your parent’s names were?

BB: Ernest and Ina (Walter) Hawkins.

KG: Where were they from?

BB: My father was from Illinois and my mother was from Indiana. He moved to Ducor in 1919 and she moved there in 1920.

KG: What did your Dad do before the war?

BB: He was employed by Tulare County Road District #5.

KG: And what did he do?

BB: He was a motor grader operator.

KG: Did you have brothers and sisters?

BB: Yes. Two of each.

KG: Tell me about them.

BB: They were all older than I was. First was a sister Mary, then a brother, Wyman, and then another sister, Pauline, another brother Harlan, and then I was the last.

KG: You are the baby of the family.

BB: They all said so.

KG: So December 7, 1941, you were about . . .

BB: Eight years old. I had just passed my eighth birthday.

KG: What are your memories of that day?

BB: We lived right across the street from the Ducor First Baptist Church and all of sudden my dad was in with his head stuck up against the radio. The radio didn’t really come in well in Ducor at that time, but we could hear everything they were saying. He told me when the church let out across the street, it was a Sunday morning, and he said, "Barbara, you go across the street and tell Uncle Joe Braley that the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor." So I walked over there and all the people were coming out of the church and because we were taught never to interrupt an adult, I stood around on one foot and then the other while this group of men were talking. Finally, Joe Braley looked down at me and I said, "My daddy said to tell you that the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor." I really didn’t know what a war was, but all the men just scattered, and the women. They jumped in their cars and they were gone and I was all by myself standing around. So I went back and told my dad that I had done what he told me. But, from then on that day, all we did was listen to the radio and hear what war was for me. It was very shocking.

KG: Did you get a sense of fear from your parents or the adults?

BB: Anger I think would be more what my father felt, because it had happened. My mother was a very quiet person, but she was really upset too and I could tell. My oldest brother, Wyman, was just graduated from high school in 1942, so he was still home at that time, and he immediately was thinking of going into the service. They told him he should go ahead and graduate in June, and he did. My oldest sister had already moved away and was living on the coast where her husband was already building air force bases and Fort Ord also. Everybody was involved in the war immediately.

KG: Even though you were only eight and didn’t quite have a handle on what was going on, were you afraid because of what the adults said and how they were behaving?

BB: I think I was concerned, if not afraid, because at Ducor School, immediately we started putting together drives for metal and drives for rubber. We went everywhere around town, every kid went scrounging, collecting, and they would bring it all to Porterville and dump it into rail cars. We had a lot of trains coming through Ducor at that time and we watched the trains. It was very shortly after the war started that the troops came on the trains and were going back and forth. It was big and exciting to run down to the railroad tracks every time a train was whistling. At Ducor School they took sheets of canvas and they would wrap a blanket in it and tie it with rope and we had drills at school to get under your desk in case of an attack, to grab those bundles of bedding and we would walk an eighth to a quarter of a mile down the hill from the Ducor School and stay in the middle of the olive grove, and that was part of our drill in case of an attack. Now that I think back about a town the size of Ducor and how likely it was to be attacked, it was probably silly of us to do that, but we were all prepared.

KG: What was the thing that you noticed as life changing, if you can recall, after the war started, how things changed? Was it the blackouts?

BB: My dad was a warden, an air raid warden. He had a metal hat and all. My parents and one sister did the air surveillance for planes going over. They had to learn the design of the planes and how many motors. We had sheets of things at home so we could identify anything that happened. They had the air warning shelter at the Ducor School. It was in an old sheepherder’s wagon that they had made into that and had put a phone into it. But there were so many planes shortly after the war started. Porterville Air Force Base came in and there was one at Bakersfield and the planes were training and flying constantly. So they finally limited . . . I used to go with my parents there. They called only every half hour after a while to report them and how many planes had been over. They realized because of the training much of the air traffic was from the local area.

KG: Where did your dad do his air raid duties? I mean, did he climb onto the roof of the house with binoculars?

BB: They used to walk the streets in Ducor occasionally. He had an armband, I remember. It was as if he was a police officer and he was a special policeman in Porterville. He was just checking things out mostly.

KG: Do you remember how you did your blackouts?

BB: Yes, in our home we had heavy drapes on the inside of the windows and you never opened them. In that same window I remember everyone had a star flag for how many people in their family were in the service and if they had been killed it was a gold star. And Ducor had a tremendous number of deaths for the population there and many of them were friends.

KG: How big was Ducor back then?

BB: It probably wasn’t more than 350, but there were lots of farms and ranches surrounding that area and many of the boys came off those ranches. Everyone knew everyone else. As I said, there were so many deaths for the population that it was shocking and something that we were told to remember at all times.

KG: There were a lot of your friends?

BB: My brother’s friends. They were all my brother’s age approximately and many of them were close friends of his. At least four of those were killed that I recall and there were many more than that from the area.

KG: Did the community have memorial services for these men when they were killed or was the family left mourning in private?

BB: I think it was mostly private funerals. I don’t recall going to . . . we had community potlucks, but I don’t recall them being concerning the war or the people at war. Everyone knew where everyone’s son or daughter was serving. For a small town it was amazing to me. I still remember all the people that were involved.

KG: Did you dad continue to work for the county throughout the war?

BB: Yes, and for many years after.

KG: Did your mom work out of the home?

BB: My mother was the librarian at Ducor, from, I think, 1942 until we moved from there in September 1948 and then she became the assistant librarian at Terra Bella and then she worked there until she was forced to retire at age 70 which made her very angry. She wasn’t ready. Both had worked for Tulare County.

KG: How did rationing affect your family? Do you have any memories?

BB: Yes I do. There were just certain things you just could not have. It was very rare that we would get them and we had those stamp books. I still have my old stamp books with a few of the stamps and a few of the coins or round tokens that they had for stamps. And at school every Friday, if you could save up any money at all, you took it to school with you on Friday and you bought savings stamps. We had books that you stuck the saving stamps in and when you collected a certain number you could get a bond with them. We were from a relatively poor family and we were lucky to save a dime a week to get one stamp to put in. But we didn’t eat as much candy because of that. We also didn’t have any ham or any shortening, which was hard to get. Sugar was very hard to get. Flour was relatively available, but still rationed. Everything was rationed, so we were told not to waste anything - to remember the war. It was very prevalent for everyone.

KG: Did you come into Porterville to do your shopping?

BB: Yes, every two weeks.

KG: How did you handle that with the gas rationing?

BB: We had an "A" stamp. Everyone had a stamp in the front window of your car. And the ranchers, of course, had more gas available to them because of their equipment and stuff, so they had a different stamp. The family cars all had "A" stamps in the corner. We were very limited on those, so you didn’t go once a week, you went once every two weeks. Everyone parked on Main Street in Porterville and the guys all sat on the fenders of the cars and visited and the women did all the shopping and then they walked up and down the streets talking to everyone. So you knew people from the whole area. It was fun to get to go to town. We rarely got to go to the show, but there was a show in town and when we could we would go once a week on a Saturday to see the show. I remember there was a Mickey Mouse Club and things for the kids too.

KG: And that was a show in Porterville?

BB: In Porterville, on Main Street, it was the Monache Theater.

KG: Do you remember seeing newsreels and things related to the war?

BB: Oh, yes, every week that we got to go we saw war film, we saw film on Europe in particular because they were already on the continent then. It seemed like every week there was a story about Pope Pius in the newsreels and what he was doing and where he had been. Lots of war film, but it’s nothing today like you see on television.

KG: Since Ducor was such a rural little town, what did you have for recreation? Much of anything?

BB: Through the school you had recreation and games and things that you played against other schools, but mainly we made our own entertainment. We made our own slingshots to kill birds with. The boys were lucky if they had a BB gun. But we made our own scooters; we skated a lot. There were cement sidewalks at least. Our family was great skaters. We didn’t have a lot of bicycles, but my brothers would put one together occasionally and we’d had a bike until we lost the tires and couldn’t run because there weren’t any tires available. You patched them as long as you could.

KG: What about radio programs? What were your favorite radio programs at that time?

BB: I recall in particular my brother and I sitting on the floor. The radio was probably three foot high and two foot wide and I don’t know if it was an Emerson, but something like that and every week we heard the Grand Old Opry on Saturday and sat on floor and cried about Old Shep, the dog in the song with that name. My parents listened to the news always. My mother rarely heard the soap operas, but occasionally I remember hearing those when I walked home from school for lunch because there was no cafeteria. Actually we ran home and we ran back so we could play as much as possible, but we had to go home for lunch. Radio,the usual Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny and the Old Time Familiar Things were always on and looked forward to because there wasn’t a lot of entertainment.

KG: Did you have a Victory Garden?

BB: Yes.

KG: You lived in town?

BB: In our backyard we had chickens and a cow and we had a goat which was a pet until my folks ate it. My brother and I wouldn’t eat any of it because it was our pet. We always had mostly radishes, carrots, and tomatoes, things that were easy to grow and didn’t take a lot of care. We always had them available.

KG: When you were in school, tell me about your exercises, the raid exercises going into the olive grove. What would you do out there and how long would you stay?

BB: Well, the teachers of course, walked down with us. There were only two teachers in the school and whenever the alarm went off, it was a beep, beep, beep and everybody grabbed their bag or whatever they had. If anyone had a sleeping bag, they took it. But we were all relatively poor at that time. Not all, but mostly, so depending on whether you had just the canvassed wrapped blanket and everything, but it was great joy to put it over your shoulder and march down there like you were going to war or something. Basically you just went down there and if they told you to sit down, if it wasn’t wet or anything, you’d just sit down and wait for a while and they would talk about if a plane came over and dropped a bomb and what to do, how long to stay there and get back to your families and stuff. It was just a drill, but it was exciting.

KG: Did this talk frighten you, or was it more . . .

BB: It was kind of a game for us. I’m sure that the teachers were pretty serious about it.

KG: On the scrap drives that you did through your school, what did you do, take your little wagons around the community and knock on doors?

BB: Yes. And you asked if anybody had anything. Our parents told us don’t ever throw away any piece of inner tube from a tire or anything like that. We used them to make our slingshots and our guns which we made and shot at each other with. We were limited, very limited about what we could have. But you still took the wheels off your skates and made your scooters and everything and if you could find a piece of 2 x 4 you could make almost anything. My dad was very good, very handy at making things. He made stilts for us. And we walked stilts a lot for entertainment.

KG: How did you get the scrap to Porterville?

BB: The parents took care of it.

KG: Did you get any prizes? Were there any competitions of who could collect the most?

BB: I think they did. I don’t think I ever won one. But I think they did have contests about who could do the most. Off at some of the ranches there was a lot of scrap metal because they had a lot of old equipment and after the war, there weren’t many pieces of scrap equipment left. As they collected later, you know. If it was good steel it was taken.

KG: One of the other people I interviewed told me if he had just a small amount of the antiques that were tossed away in those scrap drives he would be a quite wealthy.

BB: That’s true.

KG: So did your brother end up joining after he graduated? Tell me about that.

BB: The Navy. He was sent to Iowa to train as a diesel mechanic and diesel engineer and he attended Iowa State College at Ames and I guess there was a large base near there for the training. He was there several months and then he was assigned to a ship. It was a supply ship, a cargo ship, not a fighting ship that had done some things on it, but they were moving equipment to the fighting forces. He made many, many trips over from San Francisco mostly, some out of Long Beach or Port Hueneme, but it was exciting because he got to come home occasionally, where so many boys went away and were never back on leaves or anything. He ran a landing ship. In some of the big battles he did land troops off of boats and take them in, but mostly he was running ammunition and cargo, food and everything in to the troops on the islands. He served in many of the big battles of the islands, the Marshall Islands , the one out of Hawaii. After they got there they often picked up supplies there out from San Francisco too. I was really proud to have a brother serving and we had this star in the window all the time. It was better for us than for some because he got to come back occasionally.

KG: Did you write to him a lot?

BB: Oh yes. And my mother saved every letter that he wrote when he was in the Navy. He was in from 1942 to September 1945 and she bundled them all up. And when she died in 1998 we found them and gave them all back to him. He and my other brother, who served later in the Korean War, she had every letter they had ever written and they went back through them and remembered all their old friends and all the things they had done. It was very good that she had saved them.

KG: Did you have any other family members that were in the service?

BB: Had many cousins. All of our cousins. One of them in particular was particularly heroic. His name was Jess Hawkins and he was my first cousin. He was a member of the Carlson’s Raiders in the Marine Corps. They did one of the very first raids on the islands. He was extremely badly wounded and we read about him in the Life Magazine and in the Saturday Evening Post, because he was particularly lucky to have survived his wounds and how he did it was very touching. We kept those magazines and I gave them back to his children after he had died.

KG: So did he grow up around here?

BB: No, he visited frequently in Ducor, but he was from Phoenix, Arizona.

KG: So did you write or develop any pen pal type relationships with service people you didn’t know? Or just within your family?

BB: Mostly to people from Ducor. Everybody wrote lots of letters and it was really exciting to go to the Post Office to see if any came back in. My husband had a cousin from Ducor who served in the submarine corps. I have letters packed away,V Mail letters, that’s what they called them, that the servicemen could send for free and he used to write to my husband who was about the same age as I. So he liked getting those from his cousin in the submarine corps.

KG: Did his cousin get through okay?

BB: Yes.

KG: So you have some pretty vivid memories of people in Ducor who had lost their sons?

BB: Yes. I had many friends of my age in my class that had brothers that were killed and everybody was real involved because they were so close. Many of the boys killed from Ducor used to be at our house frequently with my brother before the war.

KG: I estimate you being so young, especially, that must have made a tremendous impression on you.

BB: Yes. Yes, it really did. I knew that I was lucky that my brother didn’t get killed. My parents, my father was particularly patriotic and he had been in World War I so he expected a lot of his sons and he expected every one of us to be patriotic because he was in the Porterville American Legion. Right after the war ended in 1918 he joined the American Legion I think in 1919 here in Porterville. Every Memorial Day we had to come to the cemetery to pay honor to the troops and every Veteran’s Day. We called it Armistice Day at that time. You saved up your nickels and dimes for that time too, because there would be a carnival in town. But it was particularly to pay honor to the service people and we continue that always.

KG: What are your memories of the community’s attitude toward the enemy? Did you have any Japanese American friends in the area?

BB: We had one Japanese family in Ducor, the Nagatani family. I don’t recall Mr. Nagatani’s first name, but there were quite a number of children. One of them was about my age. We called him Tommy. I think his name was Tomiko, but we called him Tommy. There was a girl named Lilly, a boy named Ralph. I believe he is either a dentist in Delano or a retired dentist from there. My father was working with his motor grader, clearing the side of the road south of Ducor and he hit a box along the edge of the road in the White River bed and it turned out to be a box the Nagatani family had buried before they left for the camp they were sent to. It had family pictures and family mementoes in it. When his blade hit it, it broke that box open, but since it was buried in the riverbed, most of the pictures, he said, had been ruined by water.

There were two knives in particular that were there and he brought them home. The handle of one of those knives, which was wooden, had Japanese writing all over the side of it. We kept those knives until about 1992. My mother decided that she had heard that one of the Nagatani boys was a dentist in Delano. She asked my sister who was teaching school in Ducor at that time if she would find out. My sister found out that Ralph Nagatani was there, so my mother and my sister took those knives back and gave them to them and explained where my father had found them. He was just overjoyed and in tears. The lettering was family history that had been written on the handle, so they were very pleased to get them back into their family. They were friends of everyone. They went to school with us in Ducor. We went to their place to buy tomatoes. As far as I can recall they just had vegetables they were growing and selling to earn their living. But they were a nice family.

KG: Do you remember, did they just disappear one day?

BB: They were just taken one day.

KG: Did they have time to sell their farm?

BB: No, their farm was taken over by someone.

KG: How sad.

BB: That really is the inequity of it, that they lost that property.

KG: How sad that they felt they had to bury their . . .

BB: Yes, to hide them. They couldn’t take them with them. It’s too bad they didn’t trust any one to store them with someone because they were destroyed in that riverbed. Most of them. Maybe the knives were the only things that were recovered. I don’t know. I remember it happening though.

KG: So the community, since everyone knew the Nagatani family, did many people express hatred toward the Japanese or did they kind of separate their feelings,well, these are our neighbors and friends and the Japanese are different?

BB: I don’t know how other people did, but I know how my sister felt about her friend, Lilly, to see her taken away, because she was such a sweet, gentle person. I never heard anything in my family said against the Nagatani’s. Maybe they didn’t feel it, but they never said it to us kids. I never felt anything against them. I knew that people in Ducor were interested in where they were sent. I’m not sure, but I think they were sent to Manzanar on the other side of the mountain. Some of the boys then, there were older boys that I didn’t know but I think they served in the U.S. Army.

KG: What about the Germans? Was there any talk about the Nazis?

BB: Yes, in particular, because east of Ducor was called the German Colony. It’s basically where the first Lutheran church is, Zion Lutheran, east of Terra Bella about three miles I think. Everybody wondered, I think, as much about the Germans and the German Colony because there was a large number of them living there. Many, many of them served in the Army and Navy and everyone knew them also. There was also an Italian Colony just east of that. Those were all countries involved in the war in the beginning. Most of those Italian boys were in the American Army also from our area. Everybody sort of respected them for that. I always heard about the Germans, the Nazis, and I saw that. Particularly we saw Hitler in the previews of the war things if we went to the show. It was amazing how many films they had of him that long ago, with his arm stuck in the air, yelling, "Heil, Hitler!" We were never to do that. Everybody was patriotic.

KG: So you were how old when the war ended?

BB: In 1945, I was 12.

KG: Do you have any memories of VJ Day?

BB: Oh yes.

KG: Tell me about it.

BB: It was an exciting day and everybody was just walking up and down the streets. Actually, we were in Ducor when the war ended. I think it ended about June, July, or August. We didn’t move to Terra Bella until the first of September of 1945. We were in the process of getting ready to move, and my brother and I ran up and down every street in Ducor yelling, "We won the war, we won the war, yeah, yeah, we beat them, we beat them." Parents were coming out and cars were honking and it was just very exciting.

KG: Do you remember how you heard the news?

BB: On the radio and even in a little town like Ducor, there was great joy expressed. Anytime you saw anyone else they were all smiles. It was a very happy time.

KG: How long after that did your brother come home?

BB: He came home, I believe, in October of that year. His ship had come in on the West Coast, but then it was going to be mothballed so they took it around the Horn and took it into Norfolk, Virginia. When he got there cars were almost impossible to get, but he and a bunch of boys from Terra Bella and from California, different areas, put their money together. They had their discharge pay. They found an old ’36 Ford and my brother bought that old ’36 Ford and they drove cross-country coming home. They either had to hitchhike or get a train or buy something. He got as far as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and had flat tires, and there were no tires available. So he hitchhiked. The others that came with him hitchhiked home. My family collected all the old worn out tires that were available from anyone and drove a pickup load back to Albuquerque and put them on that car. They both came back together and they did get that car back home. But it was a real chore to get it back home.

KG: Do you have any memories of hearing about the atomic bomb and seeing the newsreel about Hiroshima? What were your thoughts about that?

BB: Well, we didn’t have television, so the only time I saw pictures of it was in the newspaper. My family has always been a real newspaper family, reading it from cover to cover, and the pictures of the people and the numbers. I read the newspaper everyday to get the statistics on the war and what was happening. It was just so wonderful that the war was over and the boys were going to come home. I really didn’t think about the horror of the bomb. I was just so happy that they had given up and it wasn’t going to be war. It wasn’t very many years until the Korean War came along, but that was just such a relief to know that our boys were coming home. To me that was the most important thing.

KG: Do you remember learning about the holocaust and what the Nazis had done?

BB: I remember reading about it. Jews was a name that I recognized and I didn’t know why it occurred, and everyone kept blaming Hitler, so I knew he was responsible and that I wasn’t supposed to like him at all. As far as thinking about individual families, Jewish families or anything, I didn’t think about it until after the war when I was older and studied it particularly in school.

KG: How do you think the war years affected you and your family?

BB: I think that my parents were proud of not just what my brother had done, but what everyone had done. My sister’s, one of them, did the aircraft warning, and everyone had jobs that they had to do in particular and follow the war effort, whether it was collecting metal, rubber or anything else, but we were all expected to do it. My parents were proud. We had many members of my mother’s family that were in the service, and my father’s family and it was just a proud feeling and the patriotism that you owed to your country.

KG: Do you have any thoughts on how the war affected Tulare County?

BB: Well, I think the fact that there was an air base in Porterville, there was one over at Rankin Field near Visalia and you saw military personnel all the time, particularly Air Force people around this area, walking the streets on weekends. It definitely had an effect on the economics of the area. There were people with money to spend that wouldn’t have been here otherwise. The war effort, whether it was of raising grain, particularly around Ducor, or of shipping oranges or whatever to the military, I think everybody had something they were doing for the war effort, and it had to affect the economy. The economy is very important.

KG: Is there anything we haven’t touched upon? Any stories that you would like to tell?

BB: My brother, who lived in South Carolina now, was two and a half years older than I. I’m trying to remember; he told me particular things to recall. Mostly what he was thinking about were the boys that he knew that had been killed and he became world history teacher and an American history teacher and then became a Doctor of Geography. He still remembers everyone and everything and is very patriotic. He was in the service also. It was just a feeling of pride to have survived it and to have known so many that didn’t come home.

KG: Well, Mrs. Brown, we thank you very much for participating.

BB: You’re very welcome. Glad to do it.

KG: It was a pleasure.

Kris Gray/ Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck 3/24/04/ Editor JW 7/29/04

Words in italics were added to the transcript for clarification or corrections of the interview by Barbara Brown.