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: Alan George
Date: 11/21/03 and 12/10/03
Tape # 37 (2 tapes)
Interviewer: Anne Marks
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Mr. George’s home
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
In military, on board ship.
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Mr. George’s recollection of years prior to WWII
Initial military training
Reflections and comments on Family in Visalia while he was in military
Tulare County conditions
Memories of his return home to the State and Tulare County
AM: This is a taping of an oral history provided by Mr. Alan George of Visalia. Today is Friday, November 21, 2003. My name is Anne Marks. Just for the sake of accuracy, would you say your name?
AG: I’m Alan George of Visalia, California.
AM: And how do you spell you last name?
AG: G-E-O-R-G-E, and I better spell my first name because people get it wrong. It’s A-L-A-N.
AM: And what year were you born?
AG: I was born on October 6th 1924.
AM: Where were you born?
AG: Ironically enough, I was born in Visalia, California.
AM: How many siblings did you have?
AG: JoAnn and I have two children: Kathryn or Kathy and our son is Randy. His given name is Randall and they both live here in Visalia.
AM: And your wife’s name is Joanne?
AG: JoAnn. She’s a Tularean.
AM: What were your parents’ names?
AG: My dad was Faber George, who was a realtor here in Visalia for many, many years and my mother was Marian George and she used to work in the old Model department store in Visalia.
(editor’s note: Alan George explained that the north side of Main Street between Locust and Court had the following stores, moving east: Main Drug Store on the corner of Locust and Main, then the G & I grocery store, then Woolworth’s, then Kirby’s Shoe Store, then the Model Department Store, then Peterson’s Men’s Store, then at 104 W. Main, Bonacich jeweler, Bierer Beauty Shop and Visalia Drug Store. Finally Trend O Fashion women’s clothing was on the corner of Main and Court. Verifying Source,1941 Polk Directory)
AM: And your dad’s work. Was he self-employed?
AG: Yes he was most of his working career he had his own business. That was insurance and later on real estate.
AM: Did you mother work outside the home?
AG: She worked in the Model Department Store and raised two kids, my sister and I.
AM: What was your sister’s name?
AG: Ann. She’s gone now. She was two years younger than I am.
AM: Your mother’s work was in what department?
AG: She was a clerk in the Model department store down on Main Street in Visalia and later it moved over on Court Street.
AM: I see. And you were schooled locally?
AG: I went to Washington Grammar School, Jefferson Middle School, and Visalia Union High School, ‘38-’42.
AM: Did your family have a place of worship here in town?
AG: Oh yeah. We have been Methodists most of our lives. I think I joined the Methodist Church when I was about 10 or 12 years old.
AM: Is the church still standing?
AG: Not the original building.
AM: The one you attended as a child isn’t?
AG: No, no, that was over there where the Radisson Hotel is now.
AM: Oh, is that right? In thinking of the years just prior to the war, say ’38, ’39, I’ll ask you a few questions. The country was just coming out the Depression as everyone knows, gaining economic strength. Do you have recollections of those . . . .?
AG: I have very vivid memories of the Depression. We didn’t have an awful lot. We lived in the Bay Area for a while, but my dad just couldn’t make it financially up there. He was selling Metropolitan Life Insurance, so my mother, sister and I moved down to Visalia to live with my grandparents, Harry and Emma (Frost) Gibson, on South Court Street. My dad stayed up there for a while thinking things would improve, which they didn’t, so he came down. We lived with my grandparents for quite a few years and then we built our own home over there on Myrtle and Dollner Street here in Visalia in 1938. That was the year I was a freshman in high school. But I remember the Depression very well. I have very vivid memories of the Depression and all the people that came out here from the Dust Bowl area. We used to take a ride out to Farmersville and see the way people had to live with their tents and cardboard homes and boards and so forth. It was a very trying period for all of us.
AM: Was your grandfather working at that time? Still employed?
AG: No, my grandfather was retired. He owned a mill, a flourmill, back in Maine. And they moved out here in 1918 right after World War I and then they decided they didn’t like it. He had several brothers that lived in the area. Then my grandparents decided they didn’t like it and moved back to Maine. Then they decided California wasn’t so bad, so they came back to California and they spent the rest of their lives here in Visalia.
AM: And that was your maternal grandparents?
AG: That was my mother’s family that we lived with.
AM: What was their last name?
AG: Their name was Gibson and they lived on South Court Street.
AM: I see. Is that home still there?
AG: That home is still there. A nice old home. It was well built. My sister and I had an upstairs bedroom. It was pretty crowded. Both aunts lived there, as well as the four of us, plus my grandparents. It was kind of a difficult situation at times. It got to be a little bit trying. But we made it.
AM: A lot of people moved in with one another – extended families.
AG: They had to. They just weren’t making it. I think my dad…after the war started, he got a job as a guard out at Sequoia Field to keep food on the table.
AM: We know television wasn’t in the home yet, but did your folks have a radio that would have been a central part of your life?
AG: We had a radio in the living room in the home on South Court Street. I can remember my grandfather and I used to huddle around the radio and listen to the fights on the radio, and then I had my favorite programs. Radio was very important part of your entertainment at that time.
AM: President Roosevelt started his fireside chats. Did the adults in your family take note of that?
AG: Oh, yes. We always listened to the President’s speech, although most of that family other than my dad were Republicans. But my dad was a Democrat, so he was kind of outvoted. My dad was a particularly strong man for FDR because he helped pull us out of the Depression and the economy started to improve. Under the Hoover administration it wasn’t very good.
AM: I see. You were still in high school when the war broke out?
AG: I was a senior in high school when Pearl Harbor came about.
AM: You probably would have been 17?
AG: Yes, I was 17.
AM: In school, were you aware; was there much
mention of the talk of the war going on Europe prior
AG: Oh yes. We kept abreast of what was going on when we went to the show. There was the Fox Movietone News and then of
course the radio and the news on the radio kept us . . . our family is very
oriented toward keeping track of what was going on. We can remember the difficulties they were
having in Europe when Hitler started
AG: Right. It just seemed like he steamrollered all over everything… Holland and other countries.
AM: Do you recall any, I won’t say, fear… any troubled thoughts amongst the adults…about that happening. Or was it still ‘over there’ and . . .
AG: I think most of us at that time were isolationists. I think we were hoping to stay out of the war, although we were pro-British, very much so, under the Lend Lease Program. We tried to do what we could and still stay neutral, I’d guess you’d say neutral. But we did try to help the British with the problems from the Germans.
AM: Aside from the war activities going on in Europe…your daily life at home when you were a teen. You said you had the radio that you used quite a bit. And you mentioned films just briefly. Was that something you’d go to with friends or as much as you could or was it an occasional thing?
AG: You mean the theater? Oh no, I was an avid fan of the Fox Theater. I can remember when the Fox Theater was a mecca to go to. For 10 cents you could live in another world. I have vivid memories of the Fox Theater. We thought it was such an awesome place with the stars in the sky and moon in the corner. And then of course during the summer we had such intense heat and we didn’t have air conditioning then, so we could go in there and have a very cool afternoon. And we’d come out of there and it would be 110-115 outside, but at least we got some relief for a while anyway.
AM: That’s true. That’s something in today’s world we don’t think about. Not having air conditioning.
AG: My grandfather, Harry Gibson, as far as I know, built the first swamp cooler in Visalia. I don’t know where he got the idea, but I can remember helping him. I was very fond of my grandfather. He was a very good craftsman and he could do anything with tools. I can remember we made this wooden frame and put wire in there and put the excelsior in between and we’d come up with a little drip system,water that would filter down in through the excelsior and we’d put the fan on. During the real hot weather, we would all sleep on the living room and dining room floor and that swamp cooler would blow across us and keep us more comfortable.
AM: That’s exactly an evaporative cooler.
AG: It worked pretty well because the humidity was usually pretty low.
AM: Other than going to the pictures, how about dances? Do you recall?
AG: I was pretty active in high school. I was class officer and all that. Most of my buddies and I would attend all the dances and basketball games and football games. I wasn’t a very good athlete because I was too small and I was interested, but I just didn’t have it. I mean I only weighed about 110 then. They wanted much bigger people than that for football. I loved football and I tried out a few times, but I didn’t cut it. We attended all the sports and the dances. I didn’t have a permanent girlfriend in high school, but we had a lot of good friends and girls. Cars were kind of important at that time too. We’d take dates out a little bit. We didn’t have our own cars then like they do today, but we’d get the family car once in a while.
AM: How about activities around the county? Were there swimming holes in various parts of the county?
AG: That’s a good question. We used to spend a lot of time in the river. We’d go up to McKay’s Point swimming and also Rocky Ford up by Venice Hill. We’d go up there swimming. Now I wasn’t a good swimmer. My folks didn’t want me to learn to swim because they were afraid I might drown, which was a false philosophy, but anyway, I used to go swimming with my buddies who were good swimmers. They pulled me out several times up at McKay’s, but anyway, I survived. When I went into the Navy I had to learn to swim to get out of boot camp. We used to go up to McKay’s Point a lot, but that’s closed now. Good place to swim. We had the Sierra Plunge here in the Visalia where we used to go swimming some too.
AM: Where would that have been?
AG: It was over on Bridge Street, just south of where the Signature Theater is now.
AM: Was that a city facility?
AG: No, it was privately owned. And then they had the Sierra Ballroom. The Sierra Plunge and Ballroom was a combination, so we used to go swimming there quite a bit too. I don’t think the City even had a community pool at that time. I believe that was the only swimming pool. And in those days people didn’t have their own pools either. Maybe a couple of rich people, but not very many. None of my friends’ parents did.
AM: How about if you can recall any fads or crazes or trends that would have been anything that you particularly remember about haircuts . . . cars . . . music perhaps?
AG: Yes, music was a very important part of our lives. We liked the big band music.
AM: Swing perhaps.
AG: Yes. We learned to jitterbug. We had some of the girls in our classes, they taught us how to dance. We took dancing lessons too. Vivian had a dance studio downtown on Main Street and we learned to dance there. But I think we learned more from the girls in our high school that taught us how to jitterbug and all that. We loved music. As far as fads, most of us liked to keep our hair short and we were kind of just coming into the military era, we kept our hair more or less butches. In the summertime, we’d always get butch haircuts. I don’t remember like the Levi’s where kids a little later on they used to wear them and never wash them. They were so stiff and then they’d throw them away. We didn’t do that. Of course, when I was a little younger we used to have to wear knickers with tall socks. I used to hate those things. We wore long pants after we got a little older, but I don’t think we had any fads like they do today. We were too poor to do too much. We were just lucky to survive.
AM: What would have been the hotspot for gathering? Was there a restaurant or drive-in?
AG: We didn’t hang out too much. There was what we called Bill’s Barbeque down there where Willis and Main Street intersect. We use to go down there. Sometimes we could go down there for lunch when we felt flush and for twenty one cents, ten cents for a hamburger, ten cents for a milkshake and a penny tax, we used to go down there and have lunch. That was a big treat and then after the war, that was a big hangout. Those of us in the service, we used to go down there and spend our evenings when we probably should have been studying and then on weekends too. We used to rehash all the World War II activities that we were involved in. But, yeah, that was a major hangout. Then in about 1938 or 1939 they built what was Tad’s back in those days, by the college and it’s Mearle’s Drive-In, thanks. (ed. On Mooney Blvd., still here in 2004) When we were going to Junior College we would spend some time over there. That was a very popular hangout too. Everybody liked that.
AM: That was called Tad’s?
AG: It was Tad’s. Three Armenian boys opened that and the first letters in their names began with T, and another was A, and another was D. And that’s how they got Tad’s. They had the jukeboxes and we used to listen to juke band music and all that. It was a very popular drive-in, still is. Except for the fire. (ed. 2004 fire closed Mearle’s temporarily)
AM: In September of 1940, President Roosevelt had called up National Guards in reserve and then Congress passed the Selective Service Act. Being the first peacetime draft in history I had read, in the history of our country. You would have still been 16 maybe….
AG: I can remember calling up our National Guard because I was always a follower of the National Guard because I had fellows that were older than I was in the Guard and a lot of times in the summertime when we would go over to the coast for a vacation and we’d always go to San Luis Obispo where they had the Guard training there and I can remember watching those little tanks and the war drills over there at Camp San Luis Obispo, and then when they did call up the Guard like you said, I can remember, as I recall, they put their tents up on what is now Redwood Campus, the high school campus, and I think they stayed overnight there before they shipped out the next day. So it was pretty exciting at that time. That was really the first military activity around here for a while.
AM: Very impressive to a young man.
AG: It impressed us.
AM: They were taking actually, when the draft was enacted, it was (ages) 18-39, and you were under that, but do you recall your attitude toward the draft? Or were you trepidatious about them calling you?
AG: Oh, no. I had several older friends that went into the military just before Pearl Harbor and I wanted . . . I guess I had to register but I never did even come close to the draft. I didn’t want to be drafted. I wanted to volunteer.
AM: I see.
AG: You know when you are 17, that was the big thing to do, but I couldn’t . . . I wanted to go into the Navy. I’ve always loved ships and all that, but I couldn’t get in because your parents had to sign and they wanted me to finish high school, which was smart. I didn’t think it was so smart at the time, but then when I got to be 18, it wasn’t too long before I went into the Navy. I graduated from high school in June and I joined the Navy in December of ’42. In fact, I joined just about a year to the day from Pearl Harbor.
AM: Did you have a lot of male buddies that would have joined immediately following Pearl Harbor?
AG: Oh, yeah. I don’t know, the Navy seemed to be very popular. I remember reading in a local paper how many of our class and others a little older…I can remember reading an article in the Visalia paper that said Visalia had enough enlistees in the Navy to man a destroyer. And then when I went to boot camp, all my high school friends, an awful lot of them, were up at boot camp and I can remember seeing them up there. We were all in different companies, but we saw each other once in a while.
AM: Where would boot camp have been located?
AG: I was at Farragut, Idaho. I went up there on New Year’s Eve in ‘42 and we went up through the snow on the train and got up there New Year’s Eve and we were the first company of ‘43. I was in Company 4. There were four companies of us that went through that New Year’s Eve and were issued our uniforms and all that. That was the coldest place in the world I think. We used to spend our guard duty out there guarding garbage cans at 20o below zero. That was an awesome experience I can tell you.
AM: No doubt. Especially coming from the Central Valley.
AG: We weren’t used to that kind of cold.
AM: Just prior to your enlistment, say in late ‘41, you were unmarried. You had just graduated, or you hadn’t yet quite graduated?
AG: Yeah, I had just graduated in June.
AG: Of 1942. And then like I say, all the guys that were physically able, except the Japanese in our class…we were all anxious to get in the military. Some wanted to get in the Marines because they thought that was a challenge. Some of us wanted to get into the Navy because we liked ships and liked what the Navy was doing, well not at Pearl Harbor, but I mean later on. Then some of my older friends went in the Navy and of course several of them I idolized and I thought I just have to be in there where they are too.
AM: The big question that people are asked . . . Do you recall where you were on December 7th?
AG: Very definitely. I should have been in Sunday school, but I wasn’t. Like I already mentioned, I loved big band music or swing music and there was a radio station from Southern California. I don’t remember the call letters now, but every Sunday morning they would play three or four hours of big band music. So I’d listen to that and I can remember listening to the music and then all of a sudden the program was interrupted and they told about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. That was quite a day, I’ll tell you that. We couldn’t believe that could happen.
AM: The rest of your family wasn’t in the home at the time?
AG: I think they were all there. Well, Mom and Dad might have gone to church. I don’t remember for sure. I know I was there and I probably should have been in church or Sunday school. I don’t remember if my sister Ann was with them. She didn’t listen to music like I did. She was younger.
AM: How would you describe their reaction to the news? The immediate news?
AG: Well, we were pretty scared. There was a lot of indication . . . ‘course that submarine shelled Santa Barbara. There was a lot of indication that the Japanese might come on over and invade California. We didn’t know, of course. With all the Japanese here, we weren’t sure where. Our friends we weren’t concerned about, but there were a lot of stories about Japanese sabotage; some of the farmers down in Southern California making signs on the hills to show where the defense plants or the military installations were and all that. So, we were pretty scared. Like I mentioned before, we’d go over to the coast maybe for a few days and the Coast Guardsmen were always walking the beaches or riding their horses up and down the beaches patrolling, so we were trying to do the best job we could. It was a fearful experience.
AM: Was there any talk of your family relocating? Did you know people that were too scared to be in California?
AG: No. No. We weren’t that scared. I mean, look what the English had gone through several years. We were aware what war was about, but we had to turn out the lights or darken our homes and they had wardens and all that to warn us, but I don’t think we panicked certainly, by any means. It changed our lives.
AM: And that would have been undoubtedly throughout the community. Probably a lot of people felt that.
AG: Right. I think it was a lot of concern and questions and I think the Navy thought they were pretty awesome as far as being invaded and here Pearl Harbor happened and it was just amazing that we didn’t come out of that any better then we did.
AM: It was a shock.
AM: Were you aware of or were you acquainted with any Japanese Americans in the area?
AG: We all were very close to the Japanese people
in the high school. Some of our best
friends. It was really tough on
them. They couldn’t even graduate with
us. They were under martial law and they
couldn’t be out, I don’t remember what time, six or seven at night. In fact, I was talking with one of my school
mates the other day and she said a bunch of girls went in to see the Dean of
Women about seeing if they couldn’t allow the Japanese students in our class to
graduate with us and she said, "You girls go back to class." But it was a sad day. I think they left from
the Santa Fe Depot downtown and I don’t remember it being down there and I
don’t remember why, because many of our friends that we palled around with were
Japanese. We just thought the world of
them. Tough deal to see them have to be
put in, like they were talking last night, they don’t call them concentration
camps, but they were, practically. We corresponded with some of them for a
while and then when we got in the military, my feeling was, "Well, I better not
keep in touch with the Japanese." They
might think something was wrong or something. But then a lot of them enlisted in the military too, their 442nd Division, and the Japanese were the most highly decorated unit in World War II. So they performed very well, but not against
their own people, but in
AM: You mentioned it being a sad day and you had friends that were Japanese Americans. Generally, do you have a recollection of what the community or the county in general might have felt toward the Japanese Americans?
AG: I think it was kind of mixed. Because of the treachery of Pearl Harbor, the feeling was very strong against the Japanese. If you didn’t like them, you called them Japs. A lot of them were farmers around Ivanhoe and when they were relocated some of their neighbors took their farms over and farmed them and returned them after the end of the war. I don’t know, the Japanese were well established in the community, even though they did what they did in Pearl Harbor. When you know people as individuals, I think that sort of overrides the feeling of what happened in Hawaii.
AM: You personally could differentiate between the event and the people you knew?
AG: Oh yeah. I mean it didn’t lessen our feelings. In fact, it may have enhanced our feelings just out of sympathy, we thought so highly of those . . . I call them kids now, our fellow students.
AM: When you enlisted what was the response of your family? Had they known you were planning?
AG: They knew. I had my own bedroom in our home in ’38 and I had Navy pictures all around the walls. I built Navy ship models and all and I kept begging my mom and dad to sign to let me go in at seventeen. So when I got to be eighteen, they didn’t have a lot of choice. Everybody wanted to do their part to help us survive and beat the enemy.
AM: Just following boot camp, were you allowed time at home before being shipped somewhere?
AG: Let me back up just a little bit. I got very sick up there and I remember going into the sick bay and they told me to take my jumper off and I was so weak I could hardly do it. I remember waking up three days later and I was in an isolation ward in the hospital and the commandant of the hospital and the head nurse were in the cubicle looking in on me. I had pneumonia and pleurisy and a ruptured ear and scarlet fever all at the same time. They sent my folks a telegram. They didn’t really hold out a lot of hope for me, but with the good care I got up there and everything, I was in the hospital for sixteen weeks. My left lung was collapsed and I had to go around the hospital blowing into paper bags to inflate it. But anyway, I survived. After sixteen weeks.
Then I got a boot leave. I had to go back into a new company. I finished boot camp and I came home on boot leave after being sick for so long. I think I must have had about six or eight weeks to finish boot camp; I came home on the train and my folks met me in Hanford. I can remember my mother saying, "You look so good, your face is so fat and everything for being so sick." And I said, "I don’t feel so good." So the next day they called Dr. Ginsberg and he came over and he said, "I hate to tell you Alan, but you’ve got the mumps." So they sent an ambulance from the old Army Air Corps base over in Lemoore, so I spent my whole boot leave in Lemoore Army Air Corps base. I was the only sailor on the base, so I got VIP treatment over there. I can remember some of the nurses over there used to tease me. They’d say, "How can you get in the Navy when you look like you’re 12 years old?" But anyway, I did get an extension and then I think I got a few more days and then I had to go back to boot camp and I got reassigned from there to Michigan City, Indiana to start my schooling.
AM: I see. When you were and had that short period of leave, after being so ill, were you in uniform?
AG: Oh, yeah.
AM: Do you recall being treated more as a man?
AG: The girls really liked those uniforms, so . . . .
AM: You flaunted that.
AG: Yeah, we had dates quite easily as a result of being in the uniform because all the girls were very patriotic. We used to get kind of mad when we were still in high school and these cadets were around Visalia and they used to come in and take the girls out of our class and date them. We used to dislike the cadets because they were taking our girls away from us. Terry Ommen (ed. Local historian) would get a big kick out of this.
AM: The Air Corps Cadets.
AG: Yes, the Air Corps. Training thing. It actually wasn’t a military . . . it was a military base in a way, but I forget, it was a private arrangement with these people that trained them, but it was under military jurisdiction.
AM: A contractual agreement of some sort.
AG: Tex Rankin over in Tulare did the same thing too. We were well received by the community and I can remember going to church on Sunday in my uniform and people couldn’t say enough good things.
AM: You said you were first stationed in Indiana?
AG: Michigan City, after boot camp.
AM: What sort of training?
AG: I was in electronic training. I went into what they call "radio technician" program. It was about a year of training in radio and radar. That was called pre-radio in Michigan City, in the armory there in Michigan City. From there I was transferred to the next step in the training program, to Oklahoma A & M College at Stillwater. I was down there for about three months. And then from there I went to Treasure Island, what they call Radio Material School, radio and radar training. And then I finished that . . . well I didn’t quite finish. I was getting discouraged. I just about finished and left there and went to the Presidio in San Francisco and then down to San Pedro in what they call a Harbor Entrance Control Post. That was a short-term deal and then I was able to get a brand new destroyer and went to Hawaii and then I was assigned to the carrier Bataan. That was in October ’44.
AM: That was your permanent . . .?
AG: Yes, I finished the war on the carrier.
AM: And Bataan would be spelled just like the Philippine. . .
AM: I had a question related to your training on the ship. What actually would have been your duties?
AG: As I say, I was a radio technician and our division, which was K Division, was divided. I didn’t have anything to do with radar, so those of us in the Radio Shack as we called it, our job was to maintain all the electronic equipment that was used for transmission between ships and the task force and the equipment that was used to contact the planes. So I spent some time up in CIC, which is Combat Information Center, when the Japanese planes were coming in on us. We called them bogies, and they were charting all that on the Plexiglas screen, so I got to see quite a bit of activity and what’s going on when I had to go up there for some kinds of problems, which we tried hopefully to avoid. It was kind of scary. You hated to think that somebody’s life depended on you keeping the equipment going.
AM: I imagine. You saw some immediate action?
AG: Yes, I was involved in a lot of action. In fact, I was wounded. It was friendly fire, but it still doesn’t make any difference whether it comes from the Japanese or your own shells. During the war, the carrier was probably the most essential part of the fleet. That was probably where the Japanese made their biggest mistake at Pearl Harbor. The carriers weren’t in Pearl Harbor, so all the carriers we had at that time survived, but later on in the war when things changed around from the emphasis on the battleship and cruisers and shells, aircraft became a more dominant part of the war. As war progressed, the carriers were the number one target of the Japanese. Later on they came out with these kamikazes or these planes that were targeted at your ship. Being on a carrier, our ship was one of the primary targets. There used to be about three or four carriers. I was on a smaller carrier than what they called the CVs. There used to be about two CVs and two of the light carriers, CVLs in each Task Group and then they’d be surrounded by cruisers and destroyers and that was all to protect the carriers.
Well, we trained pilots for a while after I went aboard ship out of Hawaii, but when we went to Ulithi (atoll, West Caroline Islands) and joined Mark Mitscher’s (Vice Admiral U.S.N.) 5th Fleet, we left Ulithi and engaged in the battle of Okinawa. And that was on April 1, ‘45, the battle of Okinawa started. That was kind of scary because we didn’t know what to expect.
AM: I bet.
AG: You know, the way the war is fought today, you don’t really see the enemy hardly. Probably the planes off our ship are operating 60 to 100 miles away. Going after the Japanese or the Japanese homeland. But I can remember going topside a few times and seeing an adjacent carrier that had been bombed and hit and guys floating around in the water with their life jackets. Pretty harrowing experience. We were lucky. We had some very near misses, but we never took a kamikaze, but several times we did take some friendly fire.
The day I was wounded we were operating
off of Kyushu,
I was telling somebody at the meeting we had the other day down at the library, (ed. Alan George is a member of the Advisory Committee for this oral history project, Years of Valor, Years of Hope, which met approximately once a month between September 2003 and April 2004) I don’t know, something was said about a good war. I said, "There are no good wars" And I said, "One of the saddest things that I can remember of my experience in the service was burial at sea. It was kind of a ramp deal and they put the coffin up on top of that. It was flag draped and they put a shell in the bottom so it would be weighted heavy and sink. And then they played taps and then they let the coffin go off the ramp into the sea."
AM: Was your family ever aware of the battles you were in?
AG: Yes, my folks got a telegram that I had been wounded in action and they’d keep them informed. Of course that scared the daylights out of them. I guess they received verification that I was back on duty a little later.
AM: What sort of correspondence did you folks get to have with each other? Were you able to write much?
AG: We used to have the V-mail. We had enough time when we weren’t at battle
stations to write letters. I know that an
exciting time aboard ship of course was mail call. Most of the time we’d get a few letters at a
time; when we’re operating in a fleet the supply ships would come out to
replenish and they’d always have mail on the ships and we’d get our mail that
way. Or sometimes they’d bring them out
. . . well I guess that was when we were down in the
AM: Was the mail censored both ways?
AG: No. The mail from home wasn’t censored, but ours was. My mom saved a lot of my letters. In fact, I guess she saved them all. I’ve got some that have little places cut out of them. They were all officers that censored them and I guess they thought we were giving away some secrets or something.
AM: You feel they had a pretty good idea of where you were? Or were they unaware of even which battles you might have been involved in?
AG: The Japanese had planes all over the place.
AM: No, I mean your family.
AG: Oh, well once in a while I remember my folks saved an article about the 5th Fleet or the 3rd Fleet being involved in certain operations. A lot of time they would list the names of the ships. The Japanese always knew where we were. We used to listen to Tokyo Rose quite a bit and several times we heard that our ship had been sunk when Tokyo Rose came on and gave her program. She played good music so we liked the program but then of course it was kind of a farce because they had their news so distorted.
AM: Would things they had written from home be in contrast to your actual knowledge? Do you think the public at home was ‘up-to-date’ with what really was happening or did you notice any discrepancy where they would say one thing and you knew that it wasn’t so?
AG: I think the media probably covered what was
going on as far as the war in the Pacific. Like we said before there was probably some lag as to what was going on,
but as far as battles and everything, they probably didn’t have any idea about
the extent of our activities, but they knew whether we were bombing
AM: And thinking about your family at home. They were having to make some adjustments certainly for the wartime effort. Do you recall any specifics that they might have mentioned? Their coupon rationing? The drives?
AG: Oh, yeah. I know when I came home a few times when I was still stationed in the States, Mom would save bacon or something she thought was really special as a treat for me. And I’d say, "Mom, I get this all the time." So this kind of deflated her ego a little bit. Just like when I was telling you about being stationed out at Lemoore Army Air Corps Hospital, they couldn’t come out and see me because they couldn’t get gas to come out and see me. I had one friend that had a motorcycle and he could get a lot of miles on a gallon of gas so he used to come out and see me. I think he came out several times to see me. It wasn’t easy for them, but it wasn’t easy for any of us.
AM: Had any of the family roles changed? Had your mother started any other kind of job? Were there different challenges they had to meet?
AG: I think my dad might have been a block warden, maybe, to see that the lights were out. And I know my mom did a lot of playing of the piano and organ and I know I’ve still got some of the certificates she got during the war for her contribution. I don’t know about my sister. Everybody used to collect tin cans, tin foil and string and everything else for the war effort so I’m sure they did more than their part, because with a son in the war naturally you’re going to do everything you can to help win.
AM: Was your father still involved in insurance at that point or not yet involved?
AG: Yes, he was still involved in insurance. I guess he had a fairly good business at that time because I think they passed a law in the state that truckers had to have insurance so that helped his business quite a bit. After things got real tough he became a guard and I think at one time he guarded Edison company property and later on he was a guard out at Sequoia Field. You know, that was cold weather out there guarding so it wasn’t easy for him either.
AG: Was that period of time the same work for your mom that had been previously, or had her position changed?
AG: Mom still kept her job at the Model Department Store as a clerk and as far as I know she kept that all through the war. I think she still worked there when I got back out of the service and was going to Junior College here. She had to supplement the family income because my dad wasn’t really doing that good.
AM: The family was in their own home at that point.
AG: Yes, we moved into our new home in 1938, so at that time we had a very nice home. It was certainly a lot better than living at my grandparents’ house where we were so crowded.
AM: Your sister was younger than you?
AG: My sister was two years younger, but three classes behind. She graduated in 1945, as compared to me in 1942.
AM: So she was in school during the early part of the war years.
AG: Yes, she was in the first class at Sierra Vista Junior High School We had just moved into our new home and at that time, of course, there was no freeway or depressed freeway or anything, so she could just walk to school, about three blocks. So she had it made. (ed. Today the 198 Freeway is depressed as it goes through and divides the city of Visalia just three blocks south of Main Street.)
AM: Would you know if there was an influx of workers to the area? There certainly wasn’t any industry to speak of, that would have pulled them . . . ?
AG: Other than the two academies, Rankin and Sequoia, which brought some business in. This is primarily Ag. I don’t think they had a Bracero program at that time, but they probably brought in some agricultural workers, they probably got them from some of the other states. You know, a lot of those people followed the crops and so we had very little industry that I can remember at that time.
AM: Perhaps there was a reduction in the population. Do you recall your friends who weren’t in the service working in the San Francisco shipyards or something of that nature? Do you know?
AG: Probably a lot of them did move into defense industries. A lot of the women took up jobs after they finished school. I can’t think of any gals in my class. I don’t remember them ever moving up to the Bay area or Southern California to work in the aircraft plants. Some of them may have. There was some moving around of course.
AM: On your ship, had you met any Californians or any . . .
AG: Yes, our ship was put into commission back in New York and there was a boot camp right there in New York, so most of the crew were from the East Coast. But it’s kind of ironic, one of my good friends from Junior College that I met in 1942, he went aboard the carrier the same day I did in Hawaii, and then he and I were wounded the same day and got the Purple Heart the same day. And then after the end of the war, he wound up at Davis, UC Davis, and so did I. We started up there about the same time. Anyway, I’ve got ship pictures. There was a group of Southern Californians which they put me in. And I think there was a group on the ship from Northern California. You know the pilots,they were probably more varied from different parts of the U.S in the air groups than the crew. The crew was put into commission on the East Coast. It was predominantly East Coast people. When we have our reunions they are usually back there, so JoAnn and I have to go a long ways to make the reunion. Because most of the people who put it together are from the East Coast.
AM: Was there anyone close to you that lost their life during the war?
AG: No, I was telling JoAnn the other day, I feel very fortunate. You read about all these things that happened, but I don’t remember anybody that I knew real well being killed aboard ship. I was blessed that way.
AG: I don’t even know if anybody else was wounded in the radio shack when I got hit. I think I was the only one. I don’t remember, I think it was about thirteen or so that were killed that same day I was wounded. I don’t remember how many of us were wounded. Probably about twice that. We didn’t suffer any major damage like some of the other big carriers did. Of course one of our sister ships, the Princeton, was sunk; I believe it was in the battle of the Philippine Seas. I’m not sure which action it was, but she was sunk. We were pretty lucky.
AM: Did you have leave in different ports, places that you never would have visited aside from the military service?
AG: Oh yeah, we spent a month down in the
we were the first group of ships back from the Pacific after the end of the war
and we went up to New York and
they turned New York City upside
down for us. From there we went on up to Providence, Rhode
Island for Navy Day ’45 and there were
thousands of people going aboard our ship to visit us. Then we went into dry dock in Boston. We were in dry dock for a month. They were converting our carrier over to a
troop transport. So then we made what
they call "magic carpet" duty and we made two trips to Naples,
AM: Were you aware of any of your female classmates who joined the service when FDR signed the bill that made the WAC (Women’s Army Corp)and the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service)?
AG: As far as I know, but we don’t even know where she went. I think one of the gals in our class joined the WAVES. But the rest of them went to college, I think, after high school and I don’t know, some of them probably did volunteer work, visiting veterans in the hospital and things like that. Not very many went in the service.
AM: Now you were still an unmarried man?
AG: Yes, I had no commitments during the war. I felt sorry for the fellows that were overseas and that were married. It was pretty tough. Incidentally, I should have mentioned, I think we might have set a record during the battle of Okinawa at that time. We stayed at sea without seeing any land for eighty-seven days. We’d operate, with our planes, we’d operate for three or four days and then we’d come back and they’d have oilers come out and re-supply us with fuel, food and all that, so we reprovisioned, but that was a new concept at that time, to think that ships could stay out there that long without going into a port or something.
AM: You weren’t married and didn’t have your own family, but they’ve said that there were a lot of losses in married life, a lot of stresses, which caused divorces.
AG: Quite a few fellows got ‘Dear Johns’. I don’t know of anybody on our ship that I
was close to that did, but I know some of the local fellows that I knew that
were overseas…. Their wives kind of
cheated on them or found somebody else and broke up their marriage. I feel sorry for these people in the military
today who have wives and children and everything and being isolated over there
AM: Since you were in the service this may not be a pertinent question, but would you have a recollection of wartime romances which were perhaps changed more than in peace time? Were they more superficial or do you think people felt more heartfelt connections and made lasting relationships?
AG: I don’t know. I used to date girls in different places where I was but I didn’t have any commitments. No permanent thing. Just superficial dates and things like that. Most of us, we’d go to the USO. When I was stationed at San Pedro we used to go up to the Palladium where they had the big bands all the time and go up to dances there. The USO is a wonderful place to go to. They always had good food and entertainment and all that. I can remember seeing Peggy Lee. Out at our base in San Pedro we had Jo Stafford and Johnny Mercer came out, so we had top notch entertainment. But in regard to your question, no, I had no permanent commitments.
AM: The country was in such a flux over this war that they thought was going to be over in maybe a year and it extended on.
AG: Yeah, or less. We underestimated the Japanese by quite a
bit. We thought they were related to
apes and they wore thick glasses and they weren’t much fighters, and yet we
should have known what they did in
AM: Today is Wednesday December 10, 2003, and this is the
continuation of the taping of an oral history provided by Mr. Alan George. Prior to or just at the end of our last
session, you had said that the
AG: I think our government really concentrated on
the Germans and the Italians and the Japanese were sort of secondary as far as
putting military personnel and material into the war. The Japanese, they’d had a lot of battle experience
AM: That was part of the American propaganda, certainly.
AG: Probably, yeah. I know when I was a kid, why we always
considered the Japanese copiers of everything because most of the little toys
we’d buy at the ten-cent store were always Japanese, made in
AM: Apparently, from what I had also read, for two years there was quite a bit of submarine torpedoing of freighters and tankers in the Atlantic Ocean.
AG: That was one thing I gotta talk to Judi
about. (Judith Wood, Tulare County Reference Librarian and Director of this project.) I have a friend that lives over here that
lived in Tulare County at that
time and he was on the Armed Guard and then later in the war they started
putting armed guards that were Navy personnel on commercial freighters and that
cut down the losses due to Nazi or German submarines a great deal. That was a very significant strategy on our
part when we were sending material and personnel over to
AM: I also read that it was actually in ’42 that they reinforced the U.S. Navy and that would have been when you enlisted and your ship was commissioned. So I guess there were a lot of new commissions.
AG: Well, carriers were so strategic in the war. At the beginning of the war, why, everything was battleships and dueling amongst the different military factions, but then air power came into play and then the carriers became a very dominant role and of course even today though we’ll probably never see another battleship built because it’s just passé as far as military is concerned. Our ship was a result of trying to increase the number of carriers. The Essex class came along after the original five or six that we had during the start of World War II. They were the big carriers and then ours were converted cruisers but we were fast ships. They call them light carriers and we could go up to 32-33 knots, which is very fast and they redesigned the cruisers and turned them into . . . . I think there were ten carriers in our class which was the Independence class.
AM: Talking about the Task Force, you had mentioned that previously. You had said how there were destroyers and bombers and really it was an escort system designed to protect the strategic vessels.
AG: Right. The way they were formed like in the Battle of Okinawa, just off the
coast they had what they called picket ships which were destroyers. They took tremendous losses because they were
the first line of defense and then our groups were divided up. Our 5th Fleet or 3rd Fleet, whoever was in command. Halsey (Admiral, U.S.N.) was in charge of the 5th Fleet and Mitscher, Task Force 58 in the 5th Fleet. But the Task Groups, usually there were four
Task Groups which were several carriers surrounded by maybe a battleship or two
and then a number of cruisers and then destroyers. That’s the way they operated. But then the picket ship, the little
destroyers that were off the coast of
AM: I guess World War II was the first time that was developed by the U.S. Navy.
AG: The development of this concept of fighting was the brainstorm of Billy Mitchell back in World War I, or shortly after. He proposed that air power would be the dominant means of military action, but he was court-martialed and then some of the early people, like I guess Halsey and Mitscher, were pretty much into air warfare and they turned things around.
AM: I am going to state a quote that I read and if you can relate it to your experience of Tulare County, but it was said that, "so successful was the Task Force concept, that when the war was over, businesses and organizations adopted that strategic concept." Do you have any viewpoint on how, if you noticed in your own line of business in Tulare County, in developments or concepts, how life changed, how business was run perhaps?
AG: Well, ‘course I was in agriculture and I don’t know if the Task Force concept was . . . I suppose co-ops, where people organize and market their own products and take advantage of eliminating maybe the middle man to some extent.
AM: I would think.
AG: It’s a good thought. I hadn’t really thought too much about that. I’m sure that the system that we used was passed on to the business world later on after the end of the war.
AM: Another thought. Another question related . . . I’m jumping ahead. We’ll return to the war itself, but jumping ahead, on your return to the States as a civilian, did you notice a change in the pace of the country? Like the economy? Was there trouble finding work or was it easier finding work?
AG: Anne, in my case, right after I got out, I took advantage of the GI Bill so I was about four and a half years in college and by that time things had ‘sorta leveled off. Actually, when I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1950 the job market was tight and I really beat a lot of pavement looking for a job. Then about that time the Korean War broke out and that changed the picture completely because they were pulling men in right and left, so the job market really opened up. But yes, as far as a change of pace due to the war, I think one of the more obvious things was the role of women in the workplace.
When I was a kid, although my mother had to work to help us survive the Depression, most women didn’t work. They stayed home and raised families, did the women things. Men had the dominant role in the work force and yet during the war women played such an important role in our ability to produce. They pretty much established themselves. In my experience we had a lot of women, of course not in combat like they are now, but we had a lot of women at the different military installations or Navy bases where I was. They did a lot of yeoman, or secretarial work, or they worked in the Post Offices and some of the ship services and things like that, so I would say the role of women changed tremendously between the time of the beginning of the war and the end of the war in about four years.
AM: No doubt. Well, then there would have been maybe the advent of the two-income family? Perhaps that might have been the first big . . .
AG: Yes. No doubt today two people have to work to survive. I suspect that at that time inflation was coming into play and two incomes probably were becoming more important. I think people demanded more things too. That’s probably one of the reasons why two people had to work after the end of the war to survive because we enjoyed more luxuries, I guess, than we did before. Yes, that’s true.
AM: Now during the war while you were still in the service, both your parents were employed. You said your mom worked the department store.
AG: Well, yeah. My mom worked in the Model Department Store downtown. She just had to, to help us survive. My dad, he was an insurance man and we lived in the Bay Area and then during the Depression he couldn’t make it, so we moved down to Visalia in ‘33 I guess it was and we lived with my grandparents. He tried to make it up there and then he finally had to give it up and came down. He set up his own insurance business here and about that time trucks started to come into play and he sold a lot of truck insurance. So he did fairly well. During the war itself, of course he was in World War I. He was too old to go into World War II, but he did guard duty for Edison Company I believe and out at Sequoia Field and things like that to supplement the income.
AM: The family wouldn’t have been out car shopping by any means though, or buying new appliances during the war? People probably had their belts tightened . . . ?
AG: We couldn’t buy those things anyway. No, I guess when I went in we had a ’39 Chevy. That was our car and I guess when I got out we still had it.
AM: If you can reflect back to President Roosevelt’s term, he was not well and in April, on the 12th of April ‘45 he passed away. Do you recall hearing the news of his death?
AG: Yes, we were very disturbed because I think all of us admired Roosevelt as a President. He was really a strength of our country and an inspiration to those of us in the service. I can remember aboard ship, of course we had the flag at half-staff and they kept us pretty well informed. We had a daily newspaper on our ship. I don’t remember that we had a lot of radio. We didn’t have radios to listen to at that time. I was in the radio shack there on board ship and we did pipe music around the ship sometimes and I was in charge of the records. We had pretty good music. Being right next door to the bakery shop, we did quite well on baked goods because we’d let them use our records and we’d use their bakery goods.
AM: Very good. Do you recall folks at home and their reaction in regards to Vice President Truman being sworn in and becoming President? Was there a confidence in him that you recall?
AG: I would say probably there wasn’t because Roosevelt was such a strong leader and I suspect Truman was pretty much in the background as Vice President at the time. I don’t know that people knew an awful lot about him. Then when he made the decision to drop the atomic bombs he certainly had our admiration because we were about ready to go in on the invasion of the Japanese homeland. We were some of the first ships up into Tokyo Bay at the end of the war and one of the surrender issues that we insisted on was that they mark all their gun emplacements going into Tokyo Bay, so when we went up through there the white flags were all over the place. They say if Truman hadn’t made the decision to drop the atomic bomb we would have lost at least another million men.
AM: And being in the Pacific . . . all of you knew that . . .
AG: I doubt if a lot of us would be here today if it wasn’t for that.
AM: You knew you’d be involved in that mainland fight.
AG: It’s just an awesome thing when we had our
ship’s newspaper that day and when we dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was just inconceivable that something
could be that powerful. We were used to
being bombed. Although in recent history
that I’ve read that the B-29s from Tinian bombing
AM: With the air strikes.
AM: So what would be maybe a word or a couple words of your first initial reaction?
AG: To the atomic bomb? Disbelief. I mean we just couldn’t imagine. You know, we were used to 500 lb. bombs or 1,000 lb. bombs putting on our planes and having anything that just created such havoc as the atomic bomb was just inconceivable. I don’t know if we got newspapers. We probably did, but I don’t remember now. But to picture these people just being almost cremated. It was inconceivable. I was reading one report recently where this man, he was standing in such a way that one side faced the inferno from the bomb and the other side didn’t and he just…his whole side was just extremely burned and then the other side was just normal. Tremendous issue the way that thing did.
AM: Yes. Some 100,000 just died instantly.
AM: I can only presume though there is some sort of, even with that somber contemplation, there would have been, like you say, you knew you were relieved . . . .
AG: Well, the military in
AM: Interesting. That would have been September 2 of ‘45, there was the unconditional surrender.
AG: Yeah, actually the truce was August 15th.
AM: Yes, yes, and the signing would have been aboard . . .
AG: Oh yeah, on the Missouri. That was September 2nd. We were up in there.
AM: How far off say, would you be able to see the ship?
AG: No. We were supplying air cover, our ship was. I remember going into Tokyo of course, but I don’t remember where we were in relation . . . . I was just digging out some stuff the other day and I sent some letters home and it says "anchored in Tokyo Bay" on the cancel, but I don’t remember where we were in relation to the actual Missouri and the signing. There were just a bunch of ships in there. I got a list of all of them and ours was in the list of course, but I don’t know where we were in relation to the Missouri where the actual activity of the surrender took place.
AM: Now prior to VJ Day you were involved in some pretty heavy battles. Some engagements that were quite . . .
AG: We call that the Campaign of the Japanese
Homeland and our planes were very active and involved in bombing probably most of
the industrial and military installations in
AM: To what extent was your involvement in the Battle of Okinawa? Were you there the entire campaign or engagement?
AG: Oh yes, that was a long one. We were 87 days at sea without ever seeing any land. I think that was a record at that time. We would operate in combat conditions for two or three days and then we’d go back out of the area where it was dangerous and then re-provision and re-fuel and then we’d go back up again. That was another concept. You mentioned the task group and the task force technique. This was another technique that was developed out of World War II to re-provision and replenish the ships so they could stay out for so long. I think 87 days may still be a record. That was a long battle.
AM: Certainly. One source I read said more men fell in the Battle of Okinawa than in any battle in the Pacific during just 80 days.
AG: Yeah, I know it was considered one of the top. I’m not sure about the figures on that. I thought about Iwo Jima and some of those island operations; I know that the Marine Corps took some tremendous losses. Some of those units had over fifty percent death losses.
AM: It’s horrendous.
AG: I just filed something on that. Well I don’t think it’s by battles, I’d have to research that one. Yeah, apparently we went in there and they didn’t have an awful lot of fighting there for a while and then as they got further inland, the Japanese started coming out of their caves and trenches and all that and fighting was ferocious.
AM: Would your family have known you were actually involved in that particular battle?
AG: I doubt it. I don’t think they could listen to Tokyo Rose. She mentioned our ship a number of times as being sunk. I think they suspected, yes. Then when I was wounded they did get a telegram from the Navy that I had been wounded and that I was still alive.
AM: What action would that have occurred in?
AG: The Battle of Okinawa. You mentioned the Franklin earlier this morning. It was about two months after the Franklin was hit.
AM: The U.S.S Franklin was what sort of vessel?
AG: That was a big carrier. That was what we called a CV (aircraft carrier acronym) and we were CVLs (small aircraft carrier acronym), but that was early in the Battle of Okinawa, the Franklin and then ours hit, which incidentally was friendly fire. This was toward the end of the Battle of Okinawa.
AM: Interesting. Returning to the unconditional surrender, the signing by Japanese
representatives at the end of the war with
AG: They had a point system. You got a lot more points for being overseas and then in combat. We could, sort of. I wasn’t a ‘plank owner’ on this ship. Some of the fellows were, of course, which means they started right when the ship was commissioned and started out, so their points were up there pretty good. I can remember at sea we transferred from our carrier to a destroyer transport and some of the fellows that had the most points actually transferred at sea and started their trek toward home. I figured I’d be out in the Spring sometime, but I didn’t know exactly. We could kind of figure our points.
AM: Can you describe in some fashion your homecoming? When you actually arrived home for the first time?
AG: That was the most awesome thing. Every time I hear about what these fellows went through at the end of the Vietnam War it just makes me sick. We were the first group of combat ships from the Pacific to come back home and we transited the Panama Canal and I can remember going through the Canal. We’d been at sea for so long we hadn’t seen any women and all the guys were up on the flight deck and we weighted the ship so much that the boatswain mate had to run us down below deck. Anyway we made it through the canal and then we were up into New York City among the first group of ships to come back.
AM: That was the "Navy Day," I think?
AG: No, that was a little before Navy Day, but they had all these big signs all over New York City,‘Welcome home,’ ‘Well done,’ and the fire boats came out to greet us with their hoses and everything. I can remember I was on watch and we were having trouble with our fathometer, which indicates the depth. Then when these fire boats and tug boats came out to greet us, one of them had the Andrews Sisters on it and they were singing Sentimental Journey and man, that song really impressed me. I had never heard it before. So I didn’t worry too much about the fathometer, but it was really exciting.
When we landed and they gave us liberty the New York people just turned the place upside down for us. We couldn’t buy anything or do anything. We got to call home free and all that. After that we went up to Providence, Rhode Island. I don’t know what that river is. I think it might be the Pawtuxet River for Navy Day in ’45 and we were the combat ship on display. I think there was a submarine and a brand new anti-aircraft cruiser beside us but we were the combat ship and there were thousands of people lined up to go aboard our ship. I was just reading a letter the other day,one of my relatives lived back in Maine. They came down to see the ship and I took them around and they said that they had never seen lines . . . in fact they said in one of the letters that the police had to turn the fire hoses on people to keep them from falling in the drink because they were so anxious to go aboard the ship.
AM: How long had you actually been away from the States? You personally.
AG: Oh, let’s see. We left in October of ’44 and that would have been just about a year.
AM: Wow, that’s a long time.
AG: Yeah, it’s a long time and some of those guys had been out there a lot longer than I had. See, I didn’t pick the ship up until Hawaii. They had just finished their first cruise and they went into dry dock at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco. Then they were starting out on the second cruise and I picked the ship up at that time.
AM: You would have only been about nineteen or perhaps twenty at that time then.
AG: I left in October. I had just had my birthday and that would have been twenty and just ironically, it just worked out that way, but I got my Purple Heart on my 21st birthday.
AM: Can you think of one thing, when you actually got back home to Tulare County, to your home, what would you say, if you can recall, was the biggest impression upon you? It could be cultural or it could be something personal.
AG: Of course I was disappointed. We got back from the war and we all thought
we were going to get leaves and we didn’t and we were in dry dock in Boston for a
month and they converted our carrier over to the troop transport and we made
two one day trips to Naples,
AM: And you said you attended school on the GI Bill.
AG: Yes, I went a year and a half at the JC here, a year at Davis, and two and a half years at UC Berkeley and that was all on the GI Bill.
(Start tape 37B)
AM: You had said when you returned to the states
after the surrender of
AG: When I say it was a little different, of course you remember when we first started this tape, I was just out of high school and now I’m twenty one years old and much more mature and I suppose street-wise. The way you remember things was mostly your high school experiences and the girls that you used to date and things like that. Of course, most of them were probably in different places and a lot of the people didn’t come back to Visalia that left for different places during the war, so a lot of our friends weren’t here and the town had grown quite a bit too during the war and shortly after the war.
They had a big veteran’s village there at COS on the north side of the campus. where a lot of the returning GIs with their wives lived and went to school. I think the Junior College, it’s COS now, I think the Junior College enrollment went up real fast with all the returning veterans. Ed: College of the Sequoias.
AM: Now you said veteran’s village. That was just what it was called locally and you’re speaking of housing?
AG: They were kind of Quonset type homes. Families lived in them and went to school there.
AM: They were actually erected for veterans?
AM: Where was that?
AG: It was on the north end of the campus, right in that area where the freeway comes up to Mooney Blvd. now. I think there is a ball field there now. But it was quite different then.
AM: So they would have applied to live there.
AG: Yes, they were probably living on the GI Bill money and they were married and probably had some family too. I don’t remember how many units they were, but it was a pretty large settlement there.
AM: Now you were at home. Did you return to your parents?
AG: Yeah, I came home to my parents’ home. My sister was there and my parents and getting back more to a normal routine with me being there.
AM: You said things were so different when you returned. Earlier I had asked if you could think of maybe the biggest impression that you recall, be it pleasant or unpleasant. Was there something that you recall that made a huge impression on you when you came home?
AG: Well, I don’t think there was anything unpleasant about coming home that I can tell you. It was pretty exciting.
AM: Nothing disappointing like a favorite hop that was gone, that you wished was there, or . . . ?
AG: We spent an awful lot of time down at Bill’s Barbeque which was on the corner of Willis and Main Street. All of us, you know, we hadn’t seen each other for, a lot of us, probably for three, maybe going on four years. So we had a lot of catching up to do. Of course, the girls looked awful good to us too after being gone for so long.
AM: You actually returned what year then? What part of the year?
AG: I got out in February of ’46. The start of the New Year. That’s why I was able to get into Junior College because that semester had just started. It was only two weeks old and they let me start. They had some qualms about doing it, but I was able to catch up. I don’t think we did an awful lot of studying that first semester because we were so busy trying to catch up on our other activities.
AM: Would you say you had an easy transition from military life to civilian life? Were there any kind of difficulties? Or were you just fed up with the military?
AG: I didn’t have any difficulties. Apparently a lot of them went through some difficult times readjusting but I didn’t have any. We were close as a family and church and family activities were all a part of growing up. So there wasn’t any big problem of getting back to where we were four years before. As far as my biggest impression, I really don’t know what to say on that. I guess my biggest impression was just being back together with my family who I had missed very much during the period we were gone. I never really got homesick though, like a lot of fellows did. I was able to adjust all right to a change in environment.
AM: You were still an unmarried man.
AG: Yeah, I didn’t meet my future wife, JoAnn Ledbetter, until about three years later actually. It was a blind date, incidentally. They say they don’t last, but this has lasted for fifty three years, so I guess it does work out sometimes.
AM: Excellent. Well being three years older when you returned, you’d have different interests, like you said you were focused on a career. What field were you interested in? Did it relate to your military training in any way?
AG: No, I was a radio technician in the Navy and I probably would be a wealthy man today if I had stayed with it, because television was just coming in, you know. Radar was a very important part of us winning the war. We talked about the task force and all that, but radar was so important to us and I worked with that, but I didn’t like following those little electrons around because I couldn’t see what was going on. I’ve always been interested in plants and growing things, so agriculture was my primary interest and that’s the field I chose. I was an agricultural economics major which is farm management and that’s the course of study I took, and like I mentioned I started at Junior College and then went to UC Davis, and then finished up at UC Berkeley.
AM: And have you utilized military training in any aspect of your life, would you say? Were you a different person because of it? Certainly your experiences . . .
AG: If you’d seen me about an hour and a half ago. I had my wife working on the VCR. (Video Cassette Recorder) I won’t even touch anything electronic anymore, hardly. I don’t know. I did alright with what I did in the service, but after I got out I had no further interest in it. Like I say, if I had pursued that as a career, I probably would have been on the ground floor of something real good. But that wasn’t for me. I was very happy with my career in agriculture. I wouldn’t trade my thirty four years as a Farm Advisor for anything.
AM: How would you say that had the war not come along when you were of age and you served, how would you say you might have been a different person or in contrast, how did the military service affect you?
AG: Well I think in answer to your question, Anne, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to college. Utilizing the GI Bill I was able to get four and a half years of college and university in and then furthermore, we built our first home on money that was Veteran’s Administration money too. You know, the repayment was well worth the effort, I guess, because we utilized the ‘plums’ from the service experience. ‘Perks,’ I should say.
AM: The fruits of your labor. Okay, we’ve been joined by Tippy. Ah, good dog. I was going to ask what citations you may have been awarded.
AG: I’ve got a bunch of ribbons. Well, I got the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon, for combat with two battle stars. I have the American Homeland Ribbon. I’ve got about seven or eight ribbons. Philippine Liberation Ribbon, European Theatre Liberation, which I really fell into just by going over to Naples twice. Let’s see, what else. And then the Purple Heart of course. And then I got the Good Conduct Ribbon which is for three years of not getting into trouble. I guess that’s about it. I was going to show them to you, but I better not because they’re on the wall and I don’t think I can get them off. And I don’t want you to see my den. I’ll show them to you sometime.
AM: You had a daughter and a son. Were you concerned, having served in a war, the military, during wartime? Had your son wanted to enter, or your daughter for that matter, into the military service, would you have had any. . . .
AG: No, no. Randy, our son is in the police department here in Visalia. He went through the Police Academy which is kind of the equivalent of boot camp. He grew up, well, let’s see, he would have been too young to go into the Vietnam War and of course, our daughter, Kathryn Ann Lillibridge, is just a year older than he is, so no, I don’t think either one of them, that regimentation wouldn’t appeal to either one of them.
AM: But had it appealed to them, would your experience in wartime service had affected your feelings towards them entering just during peacetime.
AG: No, I feel the military experience is something that everybody should have, really. I’m very pleased that my grandson, Jeffrey Lillibridge, who just turned 18, he’s pretty interested in the military. We just went back to Norfolk, Virginia; they had Ship Appreciation Day on the new USS Bataan, which is a helicopter carrier, and they had Recognition Day for those that served on the first Bataan and also for the Bataan Death March survivors. He went with us and our son went with us too, and they enjoyed the experience.
AM: What an impression it probably made.
AG: Yeah, it meant an awful lot to me because the young people in the military today, I’m very impressed with them. This one young man, we had hosts, or hostesses in some cases, we had at least two at each table for a total of eight of us and this young man, one of the hosts that we had, was comparable to my rating, and he took us in what would be the equivalent of our radio shack. It was just awesome. It went for what seemed like miles of equipment. They had deals in there for scrambling code and unscrambling code and all kinds of electronic equipment. I don’t how these people handle all these things today. I don’t even want a computer. I retired, probably a little earlier than I might have, because I didn’t want to get involved with computers. It’s just an awesome day that we live in, but the technology today is just fantastic.
AM: Life has changed.
AG: Yes it has.
AM: Well you mentioned life had changed when you came home. Physically the terrain, you know. Could you recall if there were new businesses you noticed or buildings that were missing or landmarks? Perhaps not, but I just was curious if there was anything.
AG: Well, other than the community growing and of course the junior college had been started about two years before I left. We were still pretty much predominantly an agricultural community. Well, of course the Bank of America building has been there a long time. Hotel Johnson was still there and they were probably the tallest buildings in Visalia. We didn’t have any Radisson Hotels or any of these taller buildings that we have today.
AM: The population had grown?
AG: I think when I left, probably Visalia was maybe six to eight thousand. I imagine by the time we got back it was probably ten to twelve thousand. I don’t know, but other than growing some, I mean, the business area still was all downtown. Mooney Boulevard was still just a little ol’ two-lane road to Tulare. Like I tell a lot of people, people said in 1939 and 40 when they built the college out there, why did they build it out so far in Visalia?
(ed. Today Mooney Boulevard has three major shopping centers and is lined with retail businesses)
AM: Exactly. And now it’s in the middle.
AG: In the middle, exactly.
AM: Speaking of the war in general, you had said earlier on the first tape, you’d said that it wasn’t a ‘good war.’ Would you say that World War II was a ‘just war?’
AG: I don’t think there’s any question about it. When people stab you in the back like the Japanese did, it’s just unbelievable that they would be carrying on diplomatic relations in Washington, DC at the same time their Navy was attacking us at Pearl Harbor. I mean I read reports that Roosevelt had planned it this way because Americans were isolationists up to that time and didn’t want to get involved in the European war, but apparently that’s all been discounted. I mean, we had no choice. We had to be in the war when they practically eliminated a major part of our fleet except for the carriers. It was a just war, it was a tough war, and we didn’t get off to a very good start. Our losses early in the war were terrible. It took them a long time to defeat us on Midway and on Corregidor and on the Bataan Peninsula, too. Tremendous losses early in the war. Even the plane losses from carriers were extremely high early. Then we came out with better planes and more sophistication, I suppose.
AM: Well, so much more to ask you, and finally, the two major questions. In speaking of Tulare County, how or in what ways did World War II influence or affect the way Tulare County is now?
AG: I suppose I’d have to say and I don’t know if it was World War II as such, but we were completely agricultural in this area. I mean, our whole economy depended on agriculture and then as technology shifted we’ve become more industrialized. I think we have a more diverse economy than we had at that time. I guess it’s better to be a little bit, you know, not to have all your eggs in one basket, but be a little bit diversified as far as our economy is concerned. We’ve done more toward industrialization. Fortunately, Visalia is still the hub of the county. I mean I still love the downtown area. I can’t get too excited about all these shopping malls.
AM: Due to those influences or changes that were affected by the war on the county, how would that have affected you personally? The effects, not just of the war, but the effects of the war on the county. How would that affect you, long-term, being a Tulare County resident?
AG: Well, of course, as I’ve already indicated, I was in agriculture and I stayed in agriculture through my career. But I was a Farm Advisor for the University of California and that was my job, working with the growers. I don’t know that it shifted from being predominantly agriculture. I think when I started my career it was still pretty much agriculture, but they were trying to bring in more industry out in the Industrial Park there. I guess the shift in emphasis didn’t have an awful lot of effect on me because I worked with cotton and cotton was a major part of our Tulare County agriculture at the time. I guess it didn’t have an awful lot of impact on me, this change.
AM: This project of the library is called "Years of Valor,Years of Hope". Can you comment on that description of that time period.
AG: I think the idea of recording those of us that lived in the area is a very important part, because in my contacts with people in the community today, most people do not know much about this area, the history of this area. I’m very involved in the history and the preservation of history and it’s just amazing how little people know about the background of Visalia and Tulare County. I was involved in the purchase and getting the Kaweah Oaks Preserve out there. I can’t believe people don’t even know how that was acquired. I guess as we become more citified, maybe these things are less important, but not in my book. I guess it’s some of our job to impress people with the significance of our history and background and hopefully some of the younger people will pick it up. But I think this project is an excellent project and I think on a national basis, you know, with the World War II Memorial being completed in the next year or so and recording, well like this Navy Log thing that I mentioned to you that’s in the Los Tulares, I mean I think the emphasis of preserving these peoples’ memories is important. I think the Friends of the Library program the other night was an excellent one, making people more aware of what happened at Pearl Harbor. Having those four veterans there was really important and I think people in the community are interested but they just aren’t exposed to too much of it. I guess we’re going to have to, you know, toot our horns a little bit more.
AM: And being a resident of Tulare County, well, you were away in the service during those designated years of the war, 1941 through 1946. Since they’ve denoted that period Valor Years and Hopeful Years, would you agree with that or have a different description for it?
AG: Years of Valor. I think that certainly winning World War II
is important to all of us. And as far as
being hopeful, I just hope we can get this
AM: Those years that you were in the service, those were predominantly hopeful years. Did you feel, and your colleagues in the military, were you hopeful? Did you feel you were getting the upper hand and that we would become victorious?
AG: Yeah, I just jokingly said that the war
wasn’t going too good ‘till I got out there and then we started to win, which
chronologically is probably about right. At the time I left for overseas we just started re-invading the
AM: Were you able to differentiate when you returned, if you saw a Japanese American on the street, as a twenty one year old, did you have difficulty, say, if you didn’t know them personally? Was there prejudice there?
AG: Probably to some extent. I mean, like I say, the kids we grew up with,
they were just a part of us. We just
enjoyed their friendship and we were all close as a class. I suppose, but those things heal easily. I mean we won the war and hopefully we taught
them a lesson. They’re probably some of
our best allies today, the Japanese, contributing to the
The interpreter was a park service employee, but he was a Japanese, I thought well that to me didn’t sound. . . I mean here we’ve got fifteen hundred men, or twelve hundred, I guess, buried under the hull of the Arizona that was due to Japanese treachery and then have a Japanese introduce the subject? And yet those people, the Japanese, are probably very regretful of what their predecessors did. When you’re out on the Arizona, they all carry flowers and put them in the ocean there and they’re apologetic. I think we gave all those people (The Japanese and Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II) that were redeployed $20,000, and I don’t think the Japanese government’s ever given some of our people that were abused during the war, I don’t think they’ve given them anything. But at least we’re allies now. And they were during World War I apparently. It just shows you when the military takes over what can happen and like I said earlier, the military still didn’t want to give up, even if we almost completely annihilated thousands of Japanese residents with the fire bombs and the atomic bombs. I think MacArthur did a tremendous job rehabilitating the Japanese people starting in ’46 and getting their economy re-established.
AM: Well, you said you were so anxious to get home. You just have had your roots here firmly if you spent the rest of your life in Tulare County and raised your family here.
AG: I love this area. I don’t know. I’ve traveled all over the world; I never did find any place I’d rather live than Visalia. I don’t know that my wife completely agrees with me although she’s a Tulare girl, but I like the history of the area and it’s a beautiful area. I’ve spent a lot of my life working with the Valley Oak trees. They are so indigenous to this area. It’s just been a real godsend to me to grow up and have my career in this area, and I’ve enjoyed working in cotton too.
AM: So it truly was home. I appreciate very much, for your time.
AG: OK, Anne, I don’t know what we have, but could you have a bowl of soup or something?
Anne Marks/ Transcriber:Jan Chubbuck,2/23/04/ Editor:Judith Wood 5/07/04
(ed. Note: Tippy the dog, who can be heard wheezing and moving around during Alan George’s interview, died a few weeks later. Comments in italics are clarifying comments in May, 2004 and during a final interview on November 1, 2005)