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: Margaret Fox

 

Date: 10-28-03

 

Tape # 16

 

Interviewer: Judy Mayfield

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: Tulare County Public Library

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Exeter

Fresno

Los Angeles

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Mrs. Fox’s memories of childhood and war years

Employment in Exeter, Visalia and life on Exeter ranch


My name is Judy Mayfield and today I will be speaking with Margaret Fox. Margaret has agreed to share her memories of the years 1941 through 1946 for the Tulare County Library Oral History project, Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 1946.

JM: Today is October 28, 2003, and we are at the Tulare County Library. Margaret, would you start by telling me when and where you were born and how long you have lived in Exeter or Tulare County?

MF: My folks were married in Coalinga in 1917 and I came along August 15, 1918 and my mother and dad bought property in Exeter about 3 miles north of Exeter and that’s where I was born, out in the country, out in the hog wallows, on the edge of the swamps between Woodlake and Exeter.

JM: You’ve lived there off and on . . .

MF: All my life.

JM: How old were you when the Second World War began?

MF: Let’s see. What would 1940 be from 1918? It would be 20 something. I was probably in my early 20’s.

JM: And were you working or at school? Married?

MF: No. At first I wasn’t working. I went south to Los Angeles in 1939 and early 1940 and went to business college and then in 1941, May 30, 1941, I got married and we lived in Burbank.

JM: So you were just newly married during that time. Before the war, the years right before the war, in your life, events that stand out would be what? Can you think of anything?

MF: Well, just that I went to school and lived in Los Angeles with my aunt. One thing that does stand out was in LA, the Catholic Church celebrated their 200th year in the diocese of Los Angeles and my future husband went with me to the celebration, one of them. They had people from Italy, Bishops and what not that came over and they had these long white robes on and John wondered why they had their robes on, you know, bed robes. I thought he was terrible, but that was sort of a sideline.

JM: Where were you and what were you doing when you heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked?

MF: I was married. We were living in Burbank on Third Street above Lockheed, you know, on the hillside there and this was on a Sunday and we decided to go for a ride and just spend a typical Sunday afternoon riding around and we noticed, kept seeing, the MPs were out looking for soldiers and sailors and what not and they were picking them up every time they saw one. And every time they saw one they put them in the car and so my husband, who was a reservist, wanted to know what was going on. We turned the radio on and found out what was going on and what the Japanese had done. And then we went on home.

It wasn’t long after that this plane came over Los Angeles, floodlights, spotlights, came on and caught the plane in their lights and then there was another plane and they had a dogfight over LA. Nobody knew what had happened, because both planes disappeared. Whether they went down or not, they didn’t think we needed to know in the cities, so they didn’t tell us. Later on, say maybe five or ten years after that was over, it came out that it was a Japanese plane. They didn’t know. Whether it still is or not, I don’t know. It may have changed colors, but anyway, at that time, they had a regular dogfight with all the floods and the spotlights that fell on these planes. It was like a movie practically and I wanted to go out on the front porch and see what was going on, but my husband said to stay inside and to never mind. Don’t worry about it, which spoils your fun every now and then. I mean it was shocking what happened in Hawaii, but over here we were just sort of in the . . . we just weren’t into it yet. We just didn’t realize what it was going to be or anything and everybody was sort of complacent. They couldn’t bother us, but they did.

JM: So during the war, after this happened, you husband was called to active duty?

MF: April 19, 1942, he was called in and Lockheed tried their best to keep him, because he was an engineer in Lockheed and worked on the P-38 and all those other planes that Lockheed had, but they took him anyway. The Army just snatched him. We were married ten months before he left. I went home to live and my mom and I went over to the Jolon Base to see him before he left for Alaska and he was up there for five years then. They wouldn’t let him come home but once and that was in 1943. Was it ’44 when the invasion was? I think it was ’44, the invasion of Normandy, wasn’t it? Anyway he came home during the invasion of Normandy. They let him come home one time to Visalia, or Exeter rather. Ed: D-Day was June 6, 1944.

JM: Was he originally from here?

MF: No, he was from Kit Carson, Colorado. I met him when I was going to school down there.

JM: So then you came home to live in Exeter.

MF: And I was the only one in town who had tires on their car. I had a 1940 Ford and I had new tires on the car, so I carried the rural mail in Exeter for a year while the regular carrier took a sabbatical for a year and that was an experience, carrying the mail. Now it takes three carriers to do it, what I did in one day.

JM: How big was Exeter during that time?

MF: Well, I think you could stretch it if you said 3,000 at that time. My dad was a carrier in Exeter. He was on the west side of Exeter.

JM: In your case, you came home to live for a period. Did any other people come home to live? Was there a change in housing as far as your family went?

MF: No, we were still on the ranch. We stayed there. My folks sold the ranch in 1958, so we didn’t leave until then.

JM: What did you grow on the ranch?

MF: Oh, gosh. We had a dairy. We had Thompson Grapes, Thompson Seedless Grapes and from the time I was about ten, I guess, or eleven, something like that, we raised anywhere from 6,000,10,000 turkeys every year. That was an experience. If you want to try to raise turkeys, you can. In fact nowadays, when they have turkey over at the senior center, I eat the turkey for revenge on their ancestors. I know that’s an unworthy thing, but nonetheless . . .

JM: You really relish the turkey at Thanksgiving.

MF: Oh those turkeys, they were such devils. We had about fifteen acres fenced and one time we had a coyote, a pair of coyotes that settled in at the ditch. We had the People’s Ditch as the north boundary of the ranch and these coyotes would come, the mama or the papa, whichever one, would cavort around and the turkeys being dumb but curious too, they would follow the coyote out away and then the old coyote would slash them,either their throat or whatever they happened to hit,and kill them, so they got away with three or four turkeys. So my dad said, "OK Margaret, here’s my rifle, 30/30 Winchester. You know how to shoot it, you know how to handle it, get rid of that coyote." I didn’t kill him, but I sure toppled him. He rolled end over end and the pair of them left. They decided they didn’t want anymore of us after a while.

JM: As far as your family on the farm or ranch, did the war affect your economic situation?

MF: No, but it affected some things. The turkeys are very weird. If they see something that looks like a vulture or something flying over, it can be an airplane liked the cadets trained in at Sequoia Field, the turkeys would all huddle up in a bunch. So the cadets over at Sequoia Field thought it would be fun to make all the turkeys hunt for shelter. They did it several days in a row. My mom got so mad, first thing you know she ran into the house and got my dad’s rifle and was pointing up in the air. I was working at Bess Blair’s then and living in Visalia during the week and then coming home on the weekends and I heard all about this crazy woman over in Exeter that was going to shoot them. They decided it wasn’t so much fun anymore.

JM: I guess not. How about problems with food, food that was rationed, clothing do you remember anything about that?

MF: I don’t remember anything about that because we raised most of our food. The only things we bought were sugar, coffee, flour and things like that. Things that you needed, staples, and as far as clothes, my mom made all my clothes, so it really didn’t affect us that way, or affect my folks that way.

JM: Gasoline?

MF: No, my dad was a mail carrier for one thing, but he also delivered all the packages in Exeter. He had an old Model A Ford that he took the seats out of, all but the drivers seat. And then he piled packages into it and got an allowance for gas, so that wasn’t really a problem.

JM: Tell us about what you remember about blackouts and the air surveillance. Were there air wardens or towers around? Can you remember that?

MF: Not much about that. Not out in the country. My folks were pretty conscientious about the blackouts and we never had a lot of lights showing. Down toward Lindsay, on the Tulare Lindsay highway, there was an olive grove which had a warden’s lookout built on stilts. I wanted to go to work there. I did a little bit. We watched for enemy planes. We had a course on the shape of them. That was it. It didn’t last too long.

JM: That was something you wanted to do.

MF: Yeah, I thought that would be great. My war effort. I wanted to join the WACs, but my husband said no. He said he may not be home, but you are not going to join the WACs anyway, or the WAVEs or anything else.

JM: Other than your husband, were there other family members that served in the military?

MF: No, my father was in the Army during Agrinaldo’s insurrection in the Philippines and then he was up in Yosemite. He served for about fifteen years I expect. There was only my mother, my dad and me, the three of us and we raised turkeys. Every once in a while the turkeys would fly over the fence. We had about a fifteen foot fence. You wouldn’t think they would, but if was a moonlit night or something and they would see an owl, they would fly out of that fence and then the next day you would have to try and get them back in. And they could walk by an open gate and utterly ignore that opening. You had to try to push them in there until we got a dog that would run sheep. Then we didn’t have any problem. Every once in a while I had a stick and I’d whack them a good one and my mother would give me the standard lecture,those are $5.00 on the hoof. You don’t want to kill them.

JM: Other then helping with the turkeys, you said you had a lot of jobs during this period. Can you tell us a little bit about the jobs that you had?

MF: Well, I worked for Bess Blair. No, the first job I had before I was married was when I came home from school. I came back to Exeter from school. It was a temporary job in the Visalia Library which was, you know, the old part of the library with the huge stairway and the library itself was underneath. You went in and were under the stairs and Edith Taylor was the librarian. And I worked there for probably six months anyway till I got married in May 1941. That was quite an experience too, because I had always been a reader and I loved reading, and I loved being in the library where all these books were. Ed. There were two libraries in Visalia at that time: The Visalia Headquarters branch of the Tulare County Library and the Visalia City Library. Edith Taylor became the fifth Tulare County Librarian on Sept 1, 1942. The library was located in the Tulare County Courthouse at that time.

JM: And from there, you said you worked in a dress shop?

MF: Yes, I went to Bess Blair’s which was where Schillings was. I don’t know what’s there now, but Schillings was there and Bess Blair was quite a lady. She picked out your clothes and told you that you better like them. Usually it turned out she picked out the right kind, but some people didn’t like being told what to buy.

JM: And then you said you delivered for the rural mail service?

MF: Yes, but then my dad came in and said, "There is an opening in the Emergency Farm Labor office in Exeter. Would you like to try for it?" And I said yes. I applied for it and got it and so I moved over back home again in Exeter and worked there for the last part of 1941 and the early part of 1942 I would think.

JM: What did that farm labor office do?

MF: We got jobs for people. A grower would come in and say, "I have fifteen or fifty acres, (or whatever it was,) of oranges or blackberries to harvest and I want a certain amount of help." Like, "I want ten people." And we provided them for them. Workers would come in and say they were available and so I think we did a pretty needed job as far as that goes.

JM: Was this something that came about because of the war or just a service?

MF: The Emergency Farm Labor Office was just a wartime measure. It was funded by the extension service at Berkeley,UC up in Berkeley. They still have an extension service, but this was extra, because the farmers needed help and the help needed farmers, so they cooperated and we helped them.

JM: Was this a certain ethnic group?

MF: No, anybody that wanted to work and any man that needed help came in. I was the only one in the Exeter office except, what was his name, Everett Thomas, something like that. He died quite a long time ago, but he was from Woodlake and he was the head of the Exeter office. Then I went up to Fresno and that was Tom Dodge who was also the head of the Fresno Fair for years.

JM: You said it was all men. Were there any women or children that would . . .

MF: Not in the Exeter office. I was it.

JM: No, I meant the labor. Were there any women laborers?

MF: Oh, yes, there were a lot of women who came in who wanted to work. You know, picking oranges, picking peaches, picking grapes, picking anything that needed being done.

JM: Children?

MF: No, I don’t remember any children, but they might have taken them later, later in the day, but they usually came in very early and I got there at 8:00, but Everett was there early, like 5:00 in the morning to open the office. I don’t remember seeing any children.

JM: Can you think of any other businesses or industries around Tulare County that were affected by the war, maybe employment?

MF: Well, I think every business was, one way or another. I don’t know about some of the businesses, I don’t know a lot about them, but I think they were because everybody was affected by the war. This was a, if you can say it, popular war. People were angry at what had happened and they, up till then, more or less had been isolationists, but after Pearl Harbor it changed. Everybody hated the way things were and they all wanted to get in and get the war over with.

JM: Do their part and be patriotic.

MF: It was quite a feeling. You were doing your thing. It wasn’t like the Vietnam War or anything like that, but it was a popular war. There were a few, I would say, about three people I know from Visalia that went to Canada and stayed there during the war. I have talked to them since and they have come back to Visalia. Mostly, there were very few really, because the . . . oh, what did they call them, the something musketeers, the four musketeers. It was Bill Arends from Tulare, . . . Oh, when I need to know I can’t remember! Anyway, there were three or four from Visalia that were in the Air Force over in England and fought all during the war and one or two of them came back, but the rest of them didn’t. We figured we did our part there.

JM: So there were people you knew who were lost during the war.

MF: You could look that up. There was quite a lot in the paper about this group of men, although they were boys. They were 18 or 20.

JM: They were from Exeter?

MF: There was one from Exeter who came back there and the others were from Visalia and this one fellow was from Tulare. I keep wanting to say the Lafayette, but that was World War I. There was a name for them. They went all in a group over to England and they joined over there. They joined the Air Force over there and finally when we got into the war, the United States I mean, then they were transferred over to our Air Force. You can look that up, there was a lot of information on these 3 or 4 people. One of them was Ernie Middleton. In later years, he was Secretary of the Moose Lodge and he was a governor too of the Moose Lodge and there were . . . I’ll think of it . . . .

JM: When you think of it, we’ll fill it in. Ed.: "The Four Musketeers" were Everett Thomas from Visalia, Tom Dodge from Fresno, Bill Arends from Tulare, and Ernie Middleton from Exeter.

OK, so the community’s reaction to the war was a feeling of support for the men who were going. Even women were wanting to join and help.

MF: Yes, there were quite a few women. I would have happily gone, but my husband wouldn’t stand for it. So I was transferred to Fresno, and I worked up there in the Emergency Farm Labor office and did work for that,like Exeter, same thing, only it was a little bigger.

JM: Did you know other women who went to work who normally would not have been working, but went to work for any kind of war related jobs?

MF: You know, we all planned to go to work when we graduated from Junior College. We’d go to work then.

JM: How did you find out news of the war? Things that were going on - your husband was gone,you must have wanted to know, the paper?

MF: Once in a long while, John got to call. Letters, I never wrote so many letters in my life and I don’t write letters period now anymore. I wrote myself out, I think.

JM: Listening to the radio I imagine.

MF: Oh yes, we had the radio, an old radio.

JM: One of the things this project wants to address is how do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

MF: Well, I’ll have to think about that for a minute or two. Well, yes they did, because I was home and then gone and lived in Fresno, which I probably never would have done otherwise, and I got a divorce, which I probably never would have done and upset the status quo, but it got a little sticky. Well, it got me out, to work out away from home.

JM: You said you had a lot of jobs that you might not have had.

MF: I came home. The war was over August 15th, my birthday, in 1945, the Japanese war was and I came home. We kept the Emergency Farm Labor office open until the end of October and that was the last of it and I came home in November and applied to the Department of Motor Vehicles here for a job, temporary job, during license period, which used to be January 1st to February 4th and I got a temporary job at that in 1945. In 1946, during the licensing period, I worked all that time and then they asked me to stay for three weeks or so. I came to work one day and found on the desk a note that said it’s all yours, I’m leaving for Illinois this morning. Because this gal’s husband had come home, they discharged him and he came home and he said they were going back to Illinois. And away they went. I probably set the State of California back $25,000 at least, because I only had training to work during the registration and that wasn’t training for whatever else you got into in the DMV. I’ll tell you, that was one of the things, you needed a lot of stamina and staying power. I was the only one in the office so I know.

JM: It sounds like you had a real variety of jobs.

MF: I did earlier. I really didn’t in a way. I had the farm labor office while I was in Fresno; that was from probably the middle of 1943 out to the end of 1945 and the end of the war.

JM: You started that in Tulare County, in Exeter.

MF: Yes, I took it from there. And in 1944, John came home that one time and we went back to Colorado to see his folks. And we got there on June 6th, which was the date of the invasion and we also got there in time for his folks to get a telegram saying his brother had been shot down over Essen in an air raid.

JM: How did you feel about the dropping of the atomic bomb?

MF: Well, I really don’t remember anything about it much. I was busy doing other things and guess I didn’t pay much attention. We didn’t look at things the way you do now. People try to re-write history now and they can’t do it. Doggone it. I guess if we all sat down and thought about it, we probably would have been horrified. But nobody did. We didn’t have time. And that’s my answer. I really just don’t remember.

JM: Do you think we just know so much now with all of the news that brings it into our homes practically as it is happening and maybe it was different then because you really didn’t know what was going on?

MF: Shoot, you knew what they said on the radio news, you knew what was said in the paper, if you paid attention. Some people didn’t even bother to read the paper or listen to the radio, either one, just like they do now. Really, I don’t know. You just didn’t have the communication. Sometimes I think we have too much communication.

JM: Do you think Tulare County was affected by World War II and in what ways?

MF: Oh, sure, it grew. Expansion, more fellows stationed at Sequoia for instance, came back to Tulare County to live because they liked it here, rural, idyllic, out in the quiet and everything like that. I think it affected Tulare County quite a lot in the sense that it grew out of proportion almost.

JM: Now let me ask this the way it’s written down here, to be sure we’re addressing this topic. How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now? There’s a couple of ways of looking at that.

MF: Well, one thing, the population growth and I think that is still going on, not as much now, because people are getting disgusted with everything so it is not expanding like it used to, but I think that was the start of the expansion of Tulare County. If there hadn’t been a war, the people that lived in Connecticut or Georgia or wherever would still have been back at where they lived and never would have come to Tulare County to fly. But they liked it and they came back again. There are a lot of people who came back.

JM: Is there anything else that you have thought about that you would like to add that we haven’t talked about or that we have talked about earlier that you would like to add before we end.

MF: No, not really. I can’t think of anything. I mean, you know, tomorrow I will think of something I should have told you. But you know how that is.

JM: Anything you can think of that you remember about Tulare County that you did during the time or participated in? Anything that went on during that time? Someone was telling me about going to USO, some kinds of dances?

MF: Yes, there were dances. Oh my goodness, one time a group of us went to Los Angeles to the USO. I was flabbergasted.

JM: Was there anything like that here?

MF: No, because I didn’t dance very much. I wasn’t into that sort of thing. A lot of people did, I think. You know there is another person you might get a hold of,Myrna Rogers. She was in the Navy for about eleven to twelve months. She was a Wave and then she got married. She was stationed at the Anzo Borrego desert and she could tell you a bunch of stuff. She is in the American Legion now. However, she doesn’t have too much to do with Tulare County.

JM: Yes, we are concentrating on Tulare County. Well, thank you very much for participating in this Tulare County Library project. We appreciate your time. I know people will enjoy hearing your stories about that time.

Judy Mayfield/Transcriber: JC/editor JW 3/16/04

Editor’s note: Margaret Fox died on December 10, 2003 before we were able to contact her to add names and clarify parts of this interview. This was just a few weeks after her interview.