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: Steve Edwards

Date: 2/6/04

Tape # 90

Interviewer: Colleen Paggi

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Mr. Edward’s home in Tulare, California

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Rankin Field

Flying

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Rankin Field

Mr. Edward’s military life

Life in Tulare County

Great perspective of the times


CP: My name is Colleen Murphy Paggi. Today is Friday, February 6, 2004, and I am at the home of Steve Edwards in Tulare, California. This interview is being done in conjunction with the oral history project of Tulare County entitled, "Years of Valor, Years of Hope" in World War II during the years 1941 to 1946. Hello, Steve.

SE: Good morning.

CP: I want to start with some general background and I wondered if you could just give me your full name and your date and place of birth.

SE: My full name is Stephen H. Edwards, Jr. I was born in Post, Texas on January 12 1925.

CP: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

SE: I have two of each. I have two brothers younger than I am, Jay S. Edwards is seven years younger, and Willis E. Edwards is fifteen years younger and I have one sister, Mary Inez (Quiroz), a couple of years older and a sister, Flossie Mae (Neate) a couple of years younger.

CP: You were right in the middle?

SE: I was the number two youngster. I was the oldest boy but I have a sister a couple of years older than I am. I was number two out of five.

CP: What were your parents’ names and where were they born?

SE: Both born in Texas. My father’s name, of course, is the same as mine. He was the senior and I was the junior. And my mother’s name was Robbie Edwards and her maiden name was Stewart.

CP: Is her first name spelled Robbie?

SE: Yes. Actually that’s how we spelled it and that’s how she grew up. But her first name is Robert and her middle name is True. She was named after her grandfather. She was supposed to have been a boy. (Laughter)

CP: So they named her a boy’s name. How cute.

SE: Texans do funny things when they name their kids.

CP: Were all your siblings born in Texas?

SE: No. My two brothers were both born in California.

CP: So you moved here as a child?

SE: A small child, about three years of age. And my sister younger than I was just a babe in arms literally. She was not even walking, just a wee small baby.

CP: Where did you come to in California?

SE: Came to the San Joaquin Valley. I went first of all to kindergarten in McFarland. I went to first grade in Earlimart and then we moved. We were kind of nomadic. We were the quintessential Okies. Anybody from the Dust Bowl was called an Okie, whether you were from Texas, Missouri, or Arkansas, whatever. And we were very poor. Didn’t have two dimes to rub together, but we were part of the massive exodus from the Dust Bowl out here to the San Joaquin Valley.

CP: Yes, I think, just about everybody . . .

SE: We were kind of nomadic. We moved around a bit and then we moved to Porterville. I went to school in Porterville through sixth grade and then we moved out east of Tipton and we were cotton farmers. I went to Tipton Grammar School and Tulare High School. Tulare Union was the only high school we had. We only had one high school in Tulare.

CP: Wasn’t it called just Tulare High School then?

SE: It was Tulare Union High School. It was the Tulare Union High School District.

CP: My grandmother graduated from Tulare High School in 1917 and I have her class ring and it just says T.H.S. How old were you when World War II began?

SE: When World War II began I was just seventeen years of age.

CP: So you were still in school?

SE: Yes. When World War II began I was just sixteen years of age, because it started on Pearl Harbor Day as you will recall in December 1941. I was a very young high school senior and then January, a month after the war started, a month after Pearl Harbor, I had my 17th birthday. So I graduated and I was seventeen years of age and worked out at Rankin Field. There were several of us kids that worked out at Rankin Field when it first started. And we got to take care of the airplanes, crank them up, rev up the engines, check the magnetos and taxi them up to the flight line.

CP: And how old were you?

SE: Seventeen.

CP: When you went to Rankin Field?

SE: Yes. We’d get up at four o’clock in the morning and go out there and do all of that stuff and then get to school by eight o’clock in the morning.

CP: So you were going to school while you were working at Rankin Field?

SE: There were several of us high school kids that were doing that.

CP: So you were still single when this war started?

SE: Oh, my goodness, yes. And then we would go out in the afternoon, after school, when the cadets had finished their flying and taxi the airplanes out and tie them down, cover up the cockpit, cover up the engine cowling with a canvas cover.

CP: How did you learn to do all that?

SE: I don’t really recall how I got that job, but there were six or eight of us high school seniors. We were all buddies and running partners and we got that job. And when I graduated from high school I just stayed out there as a full time airplane mechanic until I was eighteen years of age and I could take the exam to go into the old Army Air Corps pilot training program as an aviation cadet.

CP: Do you suppose recruiters came to the high school? Do you remember anything like that?

SE: If they did I don’t recall that. It was maybe just a matter of convenience to sign them up because they didn’t have to do any recruiting. World War II was a popular war, maybe the last popular war this nation or any nation in the history of mankind will ever see again. But we had kids running up each other’s back to get through the doorway first to join the Marines, the Army and the Air Corps.

CP: What a difference from now! What year was it that you arrived at Rankin Field or started doing this work? Do you remember?

SE: Yes. It was in my senior year. That was in ’41. Rankin Field started at Mefford Field here at the south end of town.

CP: Really.

SE: They were training some aviation cadets there, off of that little Mefford Field, while they were finishing or completing what we know as Rankin Field several miles out there to the east.

CP: You know I have never been to Rankin Field. I was born in Tulare and I have heard stories and I have never been.

SE: Well, I got to be a pretty good friend of Tex Rankin and the Rankin family. Tex Rankin had two sons and two daughters. Dale, the older of the two boys, was killed in a P-38, killed in action in the European Theater and Willard was the other son. So one was just a little older than I and one was a little younger than I. To go into pilot training in the Army Air Corp, one of the requirements was that you had to have a birth certificate because they checked you very carefully to see that you were old enough, American born and a citizen and all that. Then you had to have three letters from three different individuals attesting to your good character or that they thought you were smart enough to learn, dedicated enough and had the right kind of moral character, don’t you know, to become a pilot and an officer, and dumpty, dumpty, dump. Tex Rankin wrote one of those letters for me.

CP: He did. Did you save those letters?

SE: I did.

CP: Oh, that’s good.

SE: I still have it. Bob Norswing, who was the Vice President to Tex Rankin at the flying academy, he wrote a letter for me. And then Ed Ball, the old retired Navy man out at Rankin Field who was in charge of maintenance of aircraft and everything . . .

CP: He just died a couple of years ago.

SE: Oh my. He wrote one for me.

CP: Did you know my mother and father bought Ed Ball’s house on the corner of Merritt and Manor?

SE: No.

CP: Yes. They didn’t have it too long and sold it and moved again, but just about, I think it was 1998, they bought Ed’s house.

SE: Now was this the same Ed Ball I wonder, because this Ed Ball I’m talking about, he was an older man who had retired from a lifetime of Navy service when World War II broke out.

CP: Well, maybe not.

SE: It may have been another Ed Ball. But yes, I still have those.

CP: The Museum loves things like that.

SE: And when I graduated from my primary flight training it was Tex Rankin who got me back through Rankin Field for my primary flight training.

CP: When you first started going out there, how did you get there?

SE: (Laughter), I had a Model T that I bought from a kid here in town, Harold Revel, and it had very good tires on it and was in good running shape. It was a 1924 touring sedan with a top that would come up or down. I paid big money for that. It cost me thirty dollars.

CP: Thirty dollars for a car?

SE: Yes and with good tires on it. Hey, that’s all right. Gasoline was only ten or eleven cents a gallon but we lived on a farm and had a tractor and a gas tank and all that. But it was Tex Rankin that, when I was going to leave to go into the service, asked me, "How would you like to come back through Rankin Field for your primary training?" And I said, "I would love that. That would be a little bit of heaven on earth." So he told me to write to him periodically when I was in the area and to let him know where I was, how I was doing and where I was stationed and all that. "Most especially," he says, "if you hear or know anything about a move, if they are going to transfer you or move you from one base to another, let me know a couple of weeks before they move you," and I said, "OK, I will."

And I kept in touch all the way along the line and when I was down at Santa Ana for what they call preflight training down there and we were ready for our assignments to primary fields, I was the only one they called out to come to Rankin Field in Tulare. Others were going to Hemet and they were going to Sequoia Field up here in Visalia and other primary fields, but I came to Rankin Field for my primary.

CP: You had a little bit of pull, I would think.

SE: Absolutely.

CP: Now when was this? Do you remember what year that was?

SE: 1943.

CP: Well, what did you do before ’43?

SE: Worked at Rankin Field as a mechanic. See, I was eighteen years old in January of 1943 and then eligible to sign up for pilot training in the Air Corp program.

CP: When you became eligible, where did they send you? You stayed at Rankin Field?

SE: No, after I went into the service, I went to Buckley Field in Denver, Colorado. And that was kind of a general type of boot camp with extended order drill. They treated us just like infantry there. It was a boot camp for all intents and purposes and we had that training. Then I went from there to what the Army Air Corp called a CTD,it was a College Training Detachment. The Army Air Corp had those all over the United States , at colleges and universities. So you went there for a full academic program.

CP: Really.

SE: And it was intense. Before daylight and well after dark and we didn’t even see an airplane. It was all academics.

CP: Were there a lot of people in that? I’ve never heard of the Army Air Corp.

SE: During World War II the Army Air Corp trained about a quarter of a million pilots.

CP: They did?

SE: Two hundred fifty thousand, roughly.

CP: So this Army Air Corp is part of the Army?

SE: Yes, the Air Force as we know it today was not a whole dog as they say. What we knew then, it was the tail of many dogs. There was an Army Air Corp. There was a Navy Air Corp. There was a Marine Air Corp.

CP: Oh, I didn’t know that.

SE: Yes. We were all coordinated. But yes, that’s the way it was. And the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs did not come into being until well after World War II was over. And by an act of Congress, the United States Air Force Academy became an entity such as the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point and so forth.

CP: After your CTD, then where did you go?

SE: I went to the Aviation Student Training Program at Central Washington College of Education in Ellensburg in the state of Washington. That was the 314th CTD College Training Detachment. From there I went down to preflight, what they call preflight training, in Santa Ana, California. And there we had all of the psychological and psychomotor tests, the continuation of physical training and all. At that point we were called aviation students. We were not aviation cadets until we started flying. So at Santa Ana all the psychological and psychomotor tests, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and they were extensive, that’s where they determined whether or not you were going to wash out, as we say, if you would be rejected or whether you would be accepted.

CP: Gosh, I just had a thought I was going to ask you. When did you first get in an airplane and start becoming a pilot?

SE: The first time I got into an airplane to become a pilot I got one or two little airplane rides that was just kind of an orientation thing when we were aviation students with our college detachment up in Ellensberg, Washington. But I didn’t touch the controls. They just took us for a ride.

CP: So what was it like when you first got to actually pilot for yourself? Were you scared?

SE: No, I thought about that a good deal. No, I was kind of puzzled because I didn’t know what kind of feeling to expect, but I got upstairs. That’s the terminology you use when you leave the ground and start gaining altitude. That’s called going upstairs.

CP: Oh, it is?

SE: Uh huh. So when I got upstairs or got up in the air, you were so busy with so many new things and so many things you had to do that there was absolutely no thought of fear of flying or getting killed or injured or falling out of the thing. None of that ever occurred.

CP: That’s good. There is one specific question that I really want to ask you about Rankin Field. Were there temporary landing strips at Rankin Field and Sequoia Field?

SE: Well, temporary in that they were built for a purpose and that was to train aviation cadets. Like a lot of other things, they were expendable. But after the war was over, they were still there. They served their purpose, and the government had no more use for them, so they were sold or dispensed with in some manner.

CP: What was it made out of?

SE: Black top.

CP: Just like a . . .

SE: Just like your streets are here today, your streets and your roads.

CP: Were there more landing strips at Rankin Field than there were at Sequoia Field? Or was it just about the same?

SE: No, they were pretty similar. During the war years they trained about ten thousand aviation cadets at Rankin Field. About eight thousand aviation cadets went through Sequoia Field.

CP: Good heavens.

SE: So, just in those two little primary training fields alone. But, like I say, in the total mix of things, for the war years, in its totality, the Air Corp trained about a quarter of a million pilots.

CP: When you were working, did you land your airplanes at Rankin Field or did you ever land at Sequoia Field?

SE: No, they told us to stay away from Sequoia Field.

CP: Why?

SE: Because that was a different airfield and they flew a different airplane and they had their piece of paper they worked from, if you will, and we had ours. So there was a little bit of good natured competition among aviation cadets just as there are kids that go to Western or Tulare High and they play football. They didn’t want us "feeling our Cheerios," as they say, and flying over there and jumping one of those guys, getting in a dog fight or a rat race and destroying a couple of airplanes and killing a couple of kids.

CP: Oh.

SE: We stayed out of their territory and they stayed out of ours pretty much.

CP: When you got sent to Rankin Field, that was in 1943. Did you live at Rankin Field?

SE: Yes.

CP: Where?

SE: In the barracks out there.

CP: They had barracks out there?

SE: Yes.

CP: What were the barracks like?

SE: They were okay, but it was temporary, too. My bunk was stationary and it was made out of plywood and board and it had a little mattress on it. You know, you’d expect something better than that in a nice motel or hotel today, but, hey, it worked wonderfully well at that time.

CP: What do you mean it was temporary? The barracks were temporary?

SE: Yes.

CP: They just put them up with the expectation of tearing them down later?

SE: Right. Sequoia Field has been pretty well preserved because many of the buildings out there that were taken over by, I guess county, governmental agencies, the Sheriff’s Department and so on. They have utilized that and maintained it very nicely. Poor old Rankin Field out here looks like the "Wreck of the Hesperus." It’s gone to rack and ruin, but again . . . 

CP: What is the Wreck of the Hesperus? What did you say?

SE: The Wreck of the Hesperus?

CP: What’s that?

SE: That was a ship. You can look it up on the Internet.

CP: How do you spell that?

SE: H-E-S-P-E-R-U-S.

CP: Okay. I’m sorry (lots of laughter).

SE: Oh, it’s just an old expression.

CP: Oh, that’s cute. Oh, shoot.

SE: Rankin Field just passed into the pages of history and it’s not an edifice that has been maintained.

CP: It’s really too bad that they didn’t do more. I‘ve never been out there. Is there anything that even tells you that this used to be Rankin Field?

SE: There is an old hangar out there that still exists. I went out there just a few years ago to a Rankin/Sequoia Field reunion of pilots and so there’s a building out there and the old central area where the flag pole was. It’s still there. There’s a building or two.

CP: The barracks are gone?

SE: Yes they are.

CP: All during that time that you were at Rankin Field, how many men did they process through there? During the war years.

SE: During the war years, Rankin Field trained about ten thousand pilots.

CP: I’m assuming there were other people employed at Rankin Field. How many people were actually at Rankin Field?

SE: I don’t know that.

CP: Were there women employed there?

SE: Oh yes. Yes.

CP: So they employed civilians?

SE: Yes. Yes, they did. There were a few military personnel there. There would be a captain or a lieutenant. But all of our instructors were civilian instructors.

CP: They were?

SE: Yes. Now that was true in primary training, but when we got beyond primary training and I went down to Minter Field just north of Bakersfield, for my basic training there, that’s when we had twin engine basic flight training there, all of the instructors were Army personnel.

CP: What was the name of that field?

SE: Minter. There’s a museum there today, an air museum that is beautiful if anyone wants to go down and take a look at it.

CP: There is? And it’s down by Bakersfield?

SE: Just about ten miles this side of Bakersfield where you’re going south on Highway 99 and it cuts off to go out to Shafter. That’s where Minter Field is. They still have a hangar out there. But, you see, all of those old barracks that we’re talking about, if they could be moved, many of them were moved onto school grounds and sold to whoever wanted to buy one. They were Quonset huts. If they couldn’t be moved they were just demolished.

CP: I wonder if there are any of them left around here that people even used?

SE: Yes, probably. I don’t know where they would be.

CP: What did you do on your time off? Did you have time off?

SE: Didn’t have much time off, if any, because there was a war on. If we were flying, we were on a schedule and we flew.

CP: Where did you fly?

SE: All around the area here. You mean for training purposes?

CP: Yes.

SE: Yeah, we just flew all around the area. The sky was full of airplanes, like crows coming in to land at night.

CP: Really?

SE: Oh yes.

CP: But did you go into town?

SE: Sure, we could come into town. It was quite nice for me because this was my home. I lived here. So while I was at Rankin and Minter Field I got to see my parents . . .

CP: You were lucky.

SE  . . .and my brothers and my sisters. Very lucky. I’ve had some classmates and others that went through pilot training as I did and they said, "How did you get to come back here? They sent me to North Carolina. Man, I was in Montana, Texas."

CP: As I said before, you had a little pull.

SE: I had a lot of pull. If it hadn’t been for Tex Rankin, there’s no telling where they would have sent me.

CP: Were there a lot of social activities between the people in town and the soldiers that were all at Rankin Field?

SE: Absolutely. Those of us who were aviation cadets and went through the pilot training program at Rankin Field, we were treated royally.

CP: I’ve heard stories. My mother was here during the war years and she was always telling me about all the soldiers coming in to town and flirting with the girls and things like that. She said it was exciting here during the war.

SE: It was and as a group, if I might brag just a little bit, but as a group we were young, we were very athletic, we were well coordinated, we were smart enough to learn, we were dedicated and also the military reminded us continually, "You are going to be an officer and a gentleman, and if there’s any conduct on your part unbecoming an officer and a gentleman at any point along the line, for any reason, you’re gone. You’re out of the pilot training program. We’ll put you in the walking Army and you’ll be on a ship to Europe or the South Pacific." So we were very disciplined. We responded in like manner and we could not speak unless we asked permission to speak. And anytime we were asked anything by a superior officer we had only three replies,you could say, "yes, sir," "no, sir," or "no excuse, sir."

CP: It was very rigid.

SE: It was RIGID in capital letters. Yes, it was. And it worked.

CP: You didn’t stay at Rankin Field the whole time?

SE: No. I stayed at Rankin Field until I got ninety hours of flight training there and then moved to Minter Field for another sixty hours of pilot training, and from there I went to Pecos, Texas for more multi-engine, what they called advanced pilot training, where you learned instrument flying, formation flying, all sorts of advanced flying things that the military required. We had primary training, basic training, and advanced training in those three stages of our training.

CP: So how long did you stay at Rankin Field?

SE: Um, probably a couple of months.

CP: And so then, after you left Texas, where did you go?

SE: I went to Lincoln, Nebraska. I graduated from pilot training at Pecos, Texas. That’s where we got our wings and our commission.

CP: And then you went to Nebraska.

SE: I went to Lincoln Army Airfield in Lincoln, Nebraska.

CP: Was that out in the middle of nowhere?

SE: It was centrally located. It was right in the middle of nowhere.

Lincoln, Nebraska has a few more people now than it did sixty five years ago, but it was just a big town. We had about thirty five thousand people on the base at Lincoln Army Airfield.

CP: How many?

SE: About thirty five thousand. About one thousand of us were pilots.

CP: Do you suppose that’s still there?

SE: Probably there is some remnant of the old Army Airfield there, but my assignment, along with the others, was, we were in what they called a holding pattern. But my assignment was the invasion of Japan .

CP: It was?

SE: That’s what we were there for. That’s why we were building up. I was doing a lot of flying there and checking out multi-engine pilots who’d come back from overseas from either the European Theater or the Pacific Theater or the Chinese Burma/India Theater, wherever. And they were pulled in there and they hadn’t flown a single engine airplane for a long time. So I was checking them out and giving them some flight time and some instruction on the premier single engine fighter plane of the day which is what we called an AT-6.

CP: AT-6?

SE: There are a lot of them still flying around. About 650 horsepower and had a Continental, maybe a Pratt and Whitney engine in it. It was a good engine and a good airplane and the best we had at the time, but that’s what our assignment was,the invasion of Japan . We were just waiting for the green light. And of course they dropped the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that shut off World War II.

CP: So, they told you you were being trained for the invasion of Japan .

SE: Oh, absolutely. We all knew that.

CP: I didn’t know that. I always heard they were thinking about it before they dropped the bomb, but I didn’t realize that people were being trained.

SE: Absolutely. We were primed and cocked and ready to go as they say. We didn’t know the details, young pilots such as myself. All I knew, like some of the guys a little older than I that went through the program a little earlier, they’d say, "Okay men, you’re going to England," or, "You’re going to the European Theater operations." You didn’t know the details.

CP: Were you scared?

SE: No. No. Not at all. In fact, it’s kind of like getting pumped up ready for a homecoming football game or something. You’re just all revved up and ready to go. That’s what you have been trained to do. You know, dying was not a thing that was on the mind of anyone that I was ever associated with. I think we were all young and that’s not a part of the real world. It wasn’t realistic to sit around and think about dying. We all had a great fear,we didn’t want to get hurt; we didn’t want to lose an arm or a leg or go blind or get burned, or whatever. Now that was real.

CP: But when you’re young you think you’re invincible.

SE: True, true.

CP: Tell me what your attitude was about the draft. Were you drafted?

SE: No.

CP: You joined up.

SE: There were a few pilots in the Army Air Corp. They trained about 250,000 of them. None of them were ever drafted; all of them were volunteers. You were there because you wanted to be.

CP: That’s amazing. That’s just amazing. I can’t imagine that happening today.

SE: There were a lot of young men who were drafted. And so when they were drafted they’d say, "Where do you want to go? Do you want to go in the Army, do you want to go in the Navy or do you want to go in the Marine Corps?" Then they kind of had a choice. But nope, if you wanted into the Army Air Corp pilot training program, you had to volunteer for it; you had to take the initiative; you had to do everything on your own. And if you didn’t have that kind of initiative and stick-to-itiveness and tenacity, they didn’t use you. They put you in the walking army.

CP: What was your attitude about the draft? Did you think it was okay?

SE: Yeah, I thought it was, you know, the thing to do. But I had nothing to compare it with. The war broke out. I was a sixteen year old kid, seventeen years old, eighteen. That’s just the way life was.

CP: When you were in Lincoln, Nebraska, was that when Jimmy Doolittle . . . didn’t he bomb Tokyo?

SE: He did.

CP: Were you in Nebraska when he did that?

SE: Oh no.

CP: Did you leave Nebraska?

SE: No, the Jimmy Doolittle raid was very early on.

CP: Oh it was.

SE: Yes, right after Pearl Harbor.

CP: Oh, I thought it was at the end of the war.

SE: No, no. The Jimmy Doolittle raid was right after Pearl Harbor, not too long after Pearl Harbor, very early in 1942. We had to do something to retaliate after the devastation of Pearl Harbor. We had to do something to strike the enemy in their heartland and that was the result of the planning of the strike, what to do and how to do it. And that was the Jimmy Doolittle raid.

CP: Okay. Were you awarded any medals or citations?

SE: No.

CP: None?

SE: Oh, I think I had a marksman or a sharpshooter’s medal or something I qualified for on the shooting range, but no, I didn’t even have a Good Conduct medal.

CP: Why not?

SE: They wouldn’t give them to those of us in pilot training. They said there was a Good Conduct medal which everybody got for good conduct, but not us. They said, "We expect you to be an officer and a gentleman. If your conduct is not good you’re not going to be here. So you don’t need a ribbon." So I had no ribbons at all. None.

CP: When the war was over, where were you? 

SE: At Lincoln, Nebraska.

CP: What did you do when the war was over?

SE: You mean when we first got the news? Oh, everybody went to downtown Lincoln and stopped all the traffic. The buses couldn’t run. Nothing moved except foot traffic.

CP: Everybody was happy.

SE: Screaming and hollering and pandemonium and throwing hats in the air. Everybody was just totally elated.

CP: Did you find opportunities because of the service you did during the war? Did it help you later on?

SE: You bet.

CP: What did you do?

SE: You want me to fast forward and tell you what I did and when I retired?

CP: Yes.

SE: I finished a career in education. I came home and I had the GI Bill.

CP: Oh, you used the GI Bill.

SE: Every day of eligibility that I had I used for my college education. And I chose to move into education for my profession, and I retired as, they didn’t call it a CEO then, I was President and Chairman of the Board of the California Teachers Association.

CP: You were? For heavens sake, where did you live then?

SE: Well I lived up in the East Bay area. In the Walnut Creek area, in the little town of Martinez, when I moved from Tulare. That was in about 1955 and I lived there for a while. Then I lived over in Burlingame where the California Teachers Association office was right near the San Francisco Airport.

CP: How long were you the president?

SE: Five years.

CP: Did you teach in the classrooms?

SE: No, not then.

CP: But have you?

SE: Yes, I’m an old battling bulldog from the class of 1949. I came back home here. I went to Visalia Junior College, which is what it was called then.

CP: Was that when it was still at Redwood High School or not?

SE: No.

CP: It was built . . .

SE: It was at its present campus, but it was called Visalia Junior College and we were called the Tartars then, not the Giants.

CP: The Tartars?

SE: T-A-R-T-A-R-S. Yeah.

CP: Well, you know I’m going . . .

SE: I was president of the upper class. You only had two classes, the lower and upper class.

CP: Really.

SE: Just a two year junior college. I was president of the senior class or the upper class and was editor of the sports page of the little paper there.

CP: How fun.

SE: Which was kind of fun, yeah. But I had enough solid academic work with legitimate transcripts from Central Washington College of Education. When I came home I got those transcripts, took them to Visalia Junior College and I was given a year and a half of college credit.

CP: That’s wonderful.

SE: So I was a year and a half there to start with and I got in three semesters at Visalia Junior College and then I went up to Fresno State College and got my B.A. there in 1949 and hung on for a year of graduate work. Then I was teaching down here.

CP: I wanted to ask you two really important questions. The first one is: How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you personally?

SE: Affected me personally? Well, I had an opportunity which I still cherish to this day to move from a little kid following along behind horses and mules on the farm out here on the alkali flats to move into the field of aviation. I can’t tell you how exciting that is. One would have to experience it. But it affected me because I knew that I could learn just as fast as these other kids could and I went into the job at Rankin Field as being an aircraft mechanic which held great responsibility and I got all of these opportunities that I never would have had if it had not been for the war years and Rankin Field being established here, right where I happened to live. So it opened my eyes and gave me great opportunity and gave me a confidence that I could do as well in competition with any segment of society that I wanted to, but I would have to have the initiative and carry the responsibility to do that. So I think that was about the greatest thing that happened to me. The opportunity just dropped into my lap if you will, but I happened to be here at that time and that was the opportunity that I had. That was how I grew up and grew into it and I’ll be ever thankful for that.

CP: That’s a wonderful statement. It’s too bad Tex Rankin can’t hear that.

SE: Yeah.

CP: Did he live to an old age?

SE: No.

CP: He didn’t.

SE: No. Tex Rankin was killed, and I forget what year it was, but he was in his 50’s. He was a man in his mid-50’s. He was killed in an aircraft accident on take-off when he was up in Washington, where he had moved after he left Tulare.

CP: Oh, I didn’t know that. I just don’t know much about Rankin.

SE: But he, Tex Rankin and his wife, Shirley, and their son Dale Rankin, who was killed in the war, they’re all buried right here in the old cemetery.

CP: They are?

SE: Right out here just a little off of Blackstone across the fence there.

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

SE: Well, a couple of things come to mind. One, if you just look at Rankin Field and Sequoia Field, we pulled a total of 18,000 young men through here during those war years, who were the brightest and the best that you could find anywhere. And the people of this county, I’ll tell you, they treated aviation cadets royally. They really did. And the aviation cadets interned were very thankful for that. I’ve been to some reunions of cadets, all of them we could find. They’re dying off; they’re getting up in their 80’s. But they come back here and they all have a tender spot in their heart for Tulare. But there’s also that segment who came here and made this their home. So out of all those young men coming through here about the age of finding a sweetheart and marrying, much of that happened. And this became home for a lot of people.

CP: The best and the brightest.

SE: They were pulled in here from all over the nation and Tulare has greatly benefited from that. Another thing, too, I think that we found during World War II that we had to step up the pace. When you have more than eleven million people in the armed forces of the United States and you have a full blown global war going, you have to feed those people and we did a lot of feeding of an awful lot of troops with everything we could grow here in the San Joaquin Valley. And a lot of technology was on the cutting edge in those years and has advanced in this valley since. We feed the world, literally.

CP: Yes, we do.

SE: There is no greater, more fertile, area for farming than Tulare County.

CP: Did they have gardens and things like that out at Rankin Field?

SE: No, didn’t have any gardens and things like that out at Rankin Field, but everybody in town here, just like everybody over the United States , grew a victory garden. You didn’t have a lawn in your yard, you grew your tomatoes, your okra, your peppers or cucumbers or whatever. You had a victory garden.

CP: I just want to talk just a little bit about your family situation during the war. Did it affect your family’s economic situation?

SE: I don’t think so. You mean my immediate family? We were farmers. Life went on. You did what you did.

CP: Were there difficulties getting food or clothing or housing in Tulare County?

SE: I don’t believe so, except the difficulty that we experienced was experienced by everybody everywhere all over the United States because things were rationed.

CP: Right.

SE: You couldn’t just get a new set of tires for your car. Tires were rationed. Sugar was rationed. Beef was rationed. Everything was rationed. Gasoline, shoes.

CP: Shoes were rationed?

SE: Absolutely. Women couldn’t get silk stockings.

CP: I know. My dad tells me that.

SE: It’s true. That’s a true story. They used all of the silk for the war effort.

CP: Dad said when he was over in Germany he could get, not him personally, he could probably, anybody, if they had a pair of silk stocking to give those girls over there, boy oh boy . . . laughter.

SE: Or sometimes even a candy bar.

CP: Yes.

SE: Or a package of cigarettes.

CP: Did any of your siblings or brothers serve in the war?

SE: I have a brother younger than I; Jay, he is about 7 years younger than I am; he was Korean War age. And then my youngest brother, Willis, was kind of a ‘tweener, you know. He was about the age for the service when there was no war going on.

CP: Oh, yes.

SE: So he does not have any military service in his background. My brother did during the Korean War.

CP: Did your family take any vacations during World War II?

SE: No.

CP: Did anybody? Do you suppose? I can’t imagine . . .

SE: Maybe some did, but not much if anything, because see, they weren’t building any automobiles during the war for people to buy, so you had whatever car you had when the war started. And gasoline was rationed and you just didn’t take trips. "Well, let’s take off from Tulare and go to Shasta Lake to the boat house for a week or so." You just didn’t do things like that.

CP: I still have my grandmother’s ration cards that they used. The gas . . .

SE: Oh my gosh.

CP: Gas rationing cards. Did your family ever participate in war bond campaigns or any other savings programs?

SE: I don’t know. I presume so because that was the popular thing to do, and I know those of us who were in the service, myself, I bought war bonds. Not very big ones. The smallest ones with some of my service pay all the way along through my years in the service.

CP: Tell me exactly what a war bond is. Is it like a savings bond?

SE: Like a savings bond.

CP: And then did you redeem them after the war?

SE: Yes I did. I had some, not much money, but then very little money looked like a lot of money then when you were going to school, so that’s what I did. What little I had I redeemed later to help pay for my education.

CP: Oh, that’s good.

SE: With my GI Bill I got $65 a month. And they paid my tuition and bought me a three-ring binder and a dictionary and some basic things like that.

CP: I think that GI Bill was one of the greatest things that ever came out of World War II.

SE: Absolutely. It was my salvation because there was no money in my family and I knew that my family could not send me to a college or a university. The GI Bill was absolutely . . . I attribute to giving me everything that I’ve got.

CP: Do you remember . . . were there a lot of wartime romances?

SE: Oh my goodness, yes. Yes.

CP: Was it like spur of the moment romances, or did they last?

SE: Well, I think probably was kind of a mixed bag there. I think a little bit of both. I think of some of my classmates that got married and hey, if they’re both still alive, they’re still married, I guess. I wouldn’t know how to quantify that. How to put a number on how many lasted and how many didn’t.

CP: You know, when you weren’t alive during World War II, then when you hear people speak about wartime romances, then they make movies about it, it just makes it sound so romantic.

SE: It was. We were, I think, more a nation of romantics then than we’d ever been before during World War I, what they call the Great War. They didn’t call it World War I because they didn’t know there was going to be a World War II. So it was simply called the Great War, the war to end all wars, which didn’t happen and then along came World War II. But yeah, I think the music, the art, both performing and visual art and everything of the times, it’s lasting and some of those old movies are just real motion picture epics.

CP: I know. I just wanted to ask you if you have an opinion about the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

SE: You bet.

CP: What is it?

SE: The best thing we did. People don’t understand and of course there again there’s no way to quantify how many lives we did save as a result of that. But I have about a ten or twelve page document which was top secret in 1945, for eyes only for commissioned officers.

CP: Do you still have it?

SE: I still have it and I’ll give you a copy of it. It explains to you what we were doing and the buildup and the preparation of the invasion of Japan ; what we could have expected. It would have been the annihilation of two civilizations. You had to understand the mindset of the Japanese at that time. It brought to a close the global conflict of a terrible world war. We, and I say we, I speak as one of the Army Air Corp, we did checkerboard bombing with incendiary bombs in Dresden and Hamburg and we burned those cities worse than an atomic bomb could destroy one. We did the same thing in Japan . These two atomic bombs, they just stopped the war.

CP: Saved a lot of lives, don’t you suppose?

SE: We had an armada of ships, not like the olden days when you think of the Spanish armada, but out in the oceans that were heading with full crews and personnel, pilots and everybody, heading for Japan for this invasion when it was called to a halt.

CP: Really.

SE: I’ve talked to some of my old pilot friends that I’ve come to know over the years and they said, "Hey, I was on that ship when they got the news that the war was over and that ship did a one hundred eighty and just came right back from where we left from."

CP: Really. I bet they were glad.

SE: Oh, you bet.

CP: I’m going to backtrack just a little bit, because you were in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

SE: Yes.

CP: What happened in the town of Tulare, probably Tulare County also, but since you grew up in Tulare, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, what was the response of everyone? How did you feel?

SE: Most people didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was. See that was a time in 1941, that was a time when in a rural area such as this, we had many people living in homes that had no electricity and no running water. We had many homes where you might have had those two, but they might not have even owned a radio. Television hadn’t been invented yet, so you see, what I knew about anything was what I had learned in school. What did I know about Pearl Harbor? I didn’t know anything about Pearl Harbor. Someone says. "It’s in the Hawaiian Islands." I said, "Okay." I could visualize that.

But we didn’t know what kind of war machine the Japanese had nor what kind of capability they had. Automatically all of us hunkered down and we turned out the lights and had blackouts; people didn’t go anywhere. We had people with rifles and flashlights out on the sand dunes along the coast of California wondering when the Japanese were going to invade our beaches. So, there was a lot we didn’t know. So, our reaction was mostly to what we didn’t know. In that day and age, probably the old adage would prevail, that you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. We really, as a nation of people, prepared in case an invasion did come to the continental United States .

CP: What was your attitude or those of your friends towards the Japanese or the Germans or the Italians or the Russians?

SE: With the Japanese it was kind of different, because the Japanese were markedly different from you and me as White Anglo-Saxon, Protestant American types, don’t you know. And it was easier for us to, just by their ethnicity, set them aside. They were easily identified. Now the Russians and the Germans, the Italians,they lived just like you and me. That’s where most of us in this country came from. Having said that, I think we resented not so much the Japanese people, but we resented the attack on Pearl Harbor. It just happened to be the Japanese who did that. You see, I was going to school here with a lot of Japanese kids.

CP: Really.

SE: And the boys I was playing ball with and going to high school with, they just disappeared. They went into the service.

CP: They went into the service?

SE: If you take a look at the contribution of the Nisei Japanese to our total war effort during World War II, that is an amazing story of bravery and dedication to country and everything else. I had some other Japanese friends who just disappeared and we knew where they went. Nobody would say anything about it, but they went off to an internment camp and that’s another great story, too.

CP: I think this is just about the end of the questions I have for you. I could sit here and talk for two more hours and I think you could too.

SE: Come back some time when you don’t have anything to do, and we’ll just sit here and talk. I love to do that.

CP: Thanks very much for your time. Would you like to have a copy of this?

SE: Well, if you’ve got the machine rolling and you want to crank out a copy of it, yes.

CP: Would you like a typed copy?

SE: That would be wonderful.

CP: Okay, thanks a lot.

SE: You know, someday my kids and grandkids might like that. Patrick Edwards was adopted, and I married his mother, Shirley (Lindley Harrill) in 1950. We had one child together, Christina, who adopted Kayla Edwards. Patrick and his wife Jolene (Jacobsen) had four children, Jackie, Stephen, Yvonne, and Quirt.

CP: You should tell them so they can go to the library and listen to it and read it. But if you have a copy, that would be great too.

SE: Thank you so much.

CP: Thank you.

SE: I appreciate it.

Colleen Paggi/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 3/4/04/ed. JW 6/22/04

Ed. note: Words in italics are changes and additions made during a phone interview with Stephen Edwards on January 30, 2006.