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: Jo Ann George
Tape # 59
Interviewer: Robyn Lukens
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Jo Ann George’s home in Visalia, California
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
A lot of Japanese people in Dinuba were upset at the news of Pearl Harbor.
Father had the "A" ration sticker’
Was 10 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor (seemed like millions of miles away).
Family friends had to go to Japanese Internment Camps.
RL: Hello, my name is Robyn Lukens and today is Wednesday, February 4, 2004 and I am sitting here in the home of Mrs. Jo Ann George and we’ll be talking today about how WWII has affected her life and how it has changed Tulare County. So, for the record, can I have your full name please?
JG: Jo Ann George.
RL: OK, and your date of birth?
JG: October 30, 1931.
RL: So it sounds like you might have been ten years old?
JG: Yes, I had turned 10 years old just a couple of months before actually, before December 7th, so that was my age at the time. I hadn’t been 10 for too long.
RL: Do you remember where you and your family were when you got the news of Pearl Harbor?
JG: Yes, I don’t think that would be anything I would ever forget. My mom and myself, I was an only child, were home that day. My dad had gone fishing. They usually went up to Pine Flat and did their thing. Always had a good time, but I remember when they came back and I told them. I went running out and I said, "Pearl Harbor was bombed today." And they were just shocked. They couldn’t believe it. All I remember was my dad said, "That’s why all the Japanese were so upset when we went through (I believe it was Dinuba) at that time. That’s why everybody was so upset. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. We didn’t turn on the radio." But he said, "We did hear and see that something was wrong." He said, "Now I know what it was." So that’s how my dad found out. But we were home at the time and we heard it over the radio.
RL: I’ll have to back-peddle here in a minute. May I ask your maiden name?
JG: Yes, Ledbetter from Tulare. I grew up in Tulare.
RL: And may I get your parents full names?
JG: A.B. and Evelyn (Foster) Ledbetter. My dad was known as Leddy, and he was, he started with the Triple A and then he went into business for himself and was in the insurance business for 40 years in Tulare before he retired.
RL: Does A.B. stand for something?
JG: Arthur Bernice.
RL: Is that Bernus?
JG: Actually it was spelled Bernice, but it was pronounced "Bernus" instead. And he went by that more. All the family called him "Bernus". They never called him Arthur for some reason. It was always "Bernus" or Leddy.
RL: Wonderful. May I ask where and when you were married?
JG: Yes. We were married in Tulare, September 23, 1950, so we will be celebrating our 54th this September.
RL: So as a ten year old child, you probably didn’t have any special feelings about the announcement of the war?
JG: No, not at that time. It affected my parents very deeply. But to me, as I told you before, it seemed like millions and millions of miles away and would not affect us that deeply. But as it turned out, it did, as time went on.
RL: You were a couple of years older when we dropped the atomic bomb. Do you have special feelings or memories about that?
JG: Only particularly because of what I think people said mainly. I was only in junior high, or middle school as it’s called now, but all most people said was that, "We hope that will stop the war."
RL: And sure enough, I suppose it did.
JG: But it was just something that you couldn’t fathom at that time. You just couldn’t realize the destruction, but I just remembered people talking. Friends that would come over to my parents home and saying, "We hope this will end the war." Because it had already ended in Europe and we just felt hopefully this would do it. We didn’t want anything that terrible to happen. We didn’t know the extent to what would happen, at that time, but we hoped that it would bring it to a close soon.
RL: So before I go any further with the other questions about the war, I should ask how do you think the WWII years here in Tulare County affected you, while you were here in this county?
JG: Like I said, the war didn’t really affect me at the beginning until one of our class who I had started with from kindergarten was Japanese. And she and her family, of course, had to leave Tulare and go to a camp. That was very hard, because we did not think that anything would affect us as much. And then there was rationing. I can remember my mother saying, "Oh, I need more stamps." She made a lot of pies. So my dad had to give somebody else some of our stamps that we didn’t use, for coffee or things like that, in exchange for sugar, so my mother could keep making her pies.
My dad had an "A" card which actually was the best you could get because he was an insurance man and carried insurance for people all over the county, so he had to have in order for his business to keep going. He had to be able to go to these homes in the county, everywhere in Tulare County, so they did give him an "A" sticker for the car. So we always had plenty of gas. We never worried about that, but other things like coffee and things like that, nylons and all that you just kind of take for granted and everything, you didn’t have. But of course I was still young so I didn’t worry about nylons, and I didn’t really worry about coffee. Sugar, pies, yes. Sugar in the pies, yes.
think the biggest thing was the fact that we lost one of the kids from our
class and her family. They were
wonderful, wonderful people and we thought at the time, "How can you do
this? Why is this being done? They didn’t do anything." So I think that’s why in a lot of ways today
we have feelings about things as to persecuting some people, because it is not
right. And we know that they had a hard
time because they did eventually come back to Tulare County and
they live here now. But I think it
changes your views on a lot of things. You are more tolerant, I believe, from
that and even though things do happen, you can’t judge all people. It’s just like the trade center (in New York, destroyed by terrorists in planes on September
11, 2001, who
JG: And some of these people have been here for years and years. They didn’t do it. They didn’t want it done, so you can’t just go off half-cocked. I think we all went off half-cocked because it was a surprise, just like 9/11. It was a surprise attack, not hardly any different from Pearl Harbor. It affected you the same. When Pearl Harbor was bombed we did not have all of this in our living room. It didn’t come to us on the TV and you felt like you were right there on 9/11. Like I say, it was just like being a million miles away and it wouldn’t affect us. But it did. It came home. That’s what happens, I think. I think it has made us more tolerant of things that do happen and the people around us. I guess that’s kind of how it affected us.
The only time I remember the war situation was my aunt and uncle lived down in Playa del Rey, which is right on the coast down below Venice and Santa Monica and we would go down there and they would have air raids at night where we would have to turn off all the lights. You could not have any lights on in the house at all and it might be fairly early if it was in the winter time. It was really early. But you couldn’t do anything. They would have search lights. They would have bombers go over. They would have mock anti-air craft. You would hear the booms and everything and it was. That was the only thing that brought us up fairly short being the age I was. Because, okay, this is here, but we knew it was fake. You thought this was, like they say, "Cool!" But it’s different. It was different down there. Came back to Tulare and thought, "Okay, that’s what they have going on down there." But we really didn’t have anything. My mother and I were airplane spotters and so that made us feel like we were doing something. We would go to the places where you’d have to sit and watch for airplanes. And we did that and if you saw one you had to report it.
RL: Was that here in the county?
JG: Oh, yes. Right here in Tulare County. Yes, yes, they had several of the stations. They built them and we would go and they gave us little books that showed the different planes and you would have to identify them. My mother didn’t know one from the other, so I was the one who had to identify them and then she would call in, if there was anything. There wasn’t anything going on very exciting anyway, but not around this area. Down south, yes, because they did find that miniature sub that had come in. Other than that, it was very peaceful.
We just did our own thing. We still went to the shows. Kind of like today. If you didn’t have TV, would you really know there was a war going on or anything like that? No, you would go on. There’s no rationing, there’s no nothing. If you had a loved one or a relative that was there, but otherwise, how would you ever know? There’s nothing here. You see on TV where the fellows are getting ready to leave, but that’s all you notice, but other than that, I mean at least we had the rationing and people worked together.
We were always picking up uniformed men because they were hitchhiking. They had to hitchhike to their homes or to wherever they needed to go, back to the station or wherever. So we always picked them up. And many times, if we were just going to Fresno or we had to turn off at Selma usually to go to my grandparents, E.W. and Clara (Mann) Foster because they lived east of Fresno actually, so we’d have to go through Selma, so we would pick them maybe outside of Tulare, Goshen and say, "Okay, we are only going to Selma, would that help?" And if they said, "Yeah, that would help," they’d get in, sometimes there would be two with us at a time and if we stopped and said, "Okay, we can take you as far as Fresno," they were thrilled to death to get as far as Fresno. But you never worried about stopping and picking up somebody. You never worried about that. You never locked your doors; you never worried about anything like that. During the war you never worried about it. So it’s very different today as far as that goes. You’re very conscious of everything. Like they say with the orange and the yellow and alerts and all this. (The Federal Government has announced possible terrorist action alerts, color-coded, several times since shortly after 9/11.) I think they’re questioning now whether that’s really a good idea to do that. So, I don’t know. Am I talking too much?
RL: No, we like it. How honorable to help out the boys by driving them places.
JG: Oh, yeah, that’s just something you did. I mean, just to try and help them get to where they were going. Because like I say, most of them, even like Alan, my husband, had to do a lot of hitchhiking. They even stopped a train once and the train gave them a ride.
JG: I think he said that was in Oklahoma, and he and his buddy were in Stillwater at that time and going to school and he said they wanted to go into, I can’t remember whether it was Oklahoma City or where, but anyway, he said they were trying to hitchhike and they heard the train coming, so he said to his buddy, "Shall we try?" And his buddy said, " Oh, I don’t know, I guess we could." So they went over and they stuck out their thumbs just like they were hitchhiking. And the train stopped. He said, "Where are you guys going?" And they told him. He said, " Go run and jump into the caboose, but stay low." So they did and they got clear in.
RL: Stay low because of planes?
JG: No, he just didn’t want anybody to see that he had actually stopped to pick up two sailors.
JG: But that’s just some of the stories of what happened in those days. And you didn’t, you didn’t even think, you just stopped and did it because that was one of the things you should do.
RL: They probably made you feel so good and so proud.
JG: Yeah, you did. You felt good just about helping them out. Even if we were going from Tulare to Selma. That’s a big stretch and at that time it was only two lanes. Two little ol’ cotton picking lanes, so it was hard for them to get rides, some of them. Some of them had to go from Bakersfield to San Francisco, and to think about having to hitchhike because they didn’t have any money. Nobody had the money to go on the train or the bus. A lot of them did travel on a bus. If they saved their money, they could travel on a bus, but then that was probably, oh I’d say, in those days, you’d might be on a bus eight or ten hours because they stopped at every little place along the road and so you were in for a long day. And many of them thought, "Hey, I can get a ride, hitch a ride and do better than that." But they didn’t have that much time, so time was of the essence. It was interesting.
But I can remember those days. My dad was very good about doing things like that. He was not of the age that he could go in, so he tried to do all he could. He was an air raid warden and he did things for the Red Cross and that’s when he started in with the Boy Scouts. He was a scout troop leader for years and was in the Boy Scouts for over 50 years. But, you know, you just stepped in. If somebody stepped out, you stepped in and did their job.
RL: Did your parents live in Tulare County all their lives?
JG: Yes. Well, not all their lives. My mother was born in Ohio and she moved out here with my grandparents, A. W. and Clara Foster, when she was very small. They were all from Ohio. And let’s see, my grandmother had two more children, Don and Robert, after they moved back to California. They were here, they came out because my grandfather’s brother, J.W. Foster, was already in Fresno, had been since about 1900 and they came out and joined him and got a ranch and then my grandmother’s mother passed away back in Ohio. So they went back there and my grandfather took care of the ranch back there for them, but then he decided he didn’t like it back there any more and he wanted to come back to California. So they did and they were here for the rest of their lives. I’m really the only first generation Californian, actually, except for my two uncles, but otherwise that was it.
RL: And you were born in Tulare?
JG: Actually I was born in Clovis. My dad, at that time, worked in Sanger and then he moved in Visalia. We were here in Visalia for six months. That was the first six months of my life and then we moved to Tulare, so it worked out pretty good. That’s where I was until I got married.
RL: Great. I’m just dying to ask. Do you have any Amish descent in you?
JG: Not that I know of. My grandfather Foster and all of his family came from
RL: Second most important question is: how do you think the World War II years affected the way the county is now?
JG: Well, I don’t know. I think in a lot of ways, after the war, it changed considerably because I believe so many of the men who were at Rankin Field during the war taking their pilot training before they went to war came back. They were mostly all from the east. They came back, they married and they had family here, children, so of course the schools became bigger and better and the towns like Tulare and Visalia, Visalia of course has grown more than Tulare, but they began to mushroom. So many came back to farm. They knew when they were here they could see what was being done here as far as agriculture was concerned and they said. "Yes, that’s what we want to do, we want to become farmers." There was a lot of opportunity here, a lot of opportunities. It wasn’t like going to San Francisco or Los Angeles or places like that. I think even though we don’t like to see growth, it’s inevitable. I think that changed a lot.
A lot of the Japanese people came back because they did have friends here. They had roots here and they came back. They didn’t say. "Oh we’ll never go back to that place." They didn’t blame us for that. It was just something that happened and they were just a casualty of war. That’s what it amounted to. I think it changed definitely and I think in a lot of ways it changed for the good, especially after the war. Many good things came about. I was telling our grandson, Jeffrey Alan Lillibridge, the other day, I said, "Jeff, you will never know in your life again, you will never know the peace that we had in those years, until 9/11." Sure, there are a lot of things happening, but the more people you have, the more things are going to happen, some for the good, some for the bad.
But I think the education and the agriculture, particularly agriculture, because it’s practically the garden basket of the nation, and I think that’s what people could see that could happen by coming back here and I think that’s what happened. I think that really made for a better community. People still worked together after the war. There was just so much going on, so many things happening. I think you could kind of see it. It was great. A lot of good people coming from the east came and they just decided that this is where they wanted to be and that was amazing. I thought, "Gee, why aren’t they going back home where they came from?" You’d think they’d say, "The minute you get out of the service, got to go home." But no, they came back here because they could see the potential. I think that’s what makes it interesting. I think it really does. There are a lot of people that have migrated out here, just like through the Dust Bowl and things like that. People just wanted a better life. And I think that’s what a lot of people thought, that they could do better here than they could if they went back home. So I’m sure it was hard for a lot of t hem because they left mothers and dads and everything back home, but they were young and they didn’t have that much, so why not. So that’s what I think came out of it. There are still a lot of Japanese people around here who were taken to camps and have come back. But I think that was great, that they really wanted to come back. It was just like old home week.
RL: There was a camp in Tulare, right?
JG: Yes, they had one there. I think most of the people that were from Tulare at that time went to Arizona.
RL: Oh, I see.
JG: And of course they did bring in Germans. They brought Germans in to be here. They were kept in camps and I think Italians were too. There were a lot of things going on. I wasn’t too involved with a lot of that, I just heard stories, you know, how you hear things from your parents. That was about it. Most of the time I was out on my broomstick, riding my broomstick instead of a horse. But my dad finally got me horse.
JG: When I was 12 he got me a horse. So I was out riding all the time. The world was going on without me. You get involved in school activities. And then when I went into high school in ’45 and the war was over and so things were good.
RL: Did you already know your future husband in high school?
JG: No, I didn’t meet him then. In fact he probably wouldn’t have given me a second thought. I had just graduated from Tulare Union High School a month before at age 17 and I met him and he was 24. So he had been through the war. My folks gave him a kind of "eye look," you know, this man of the world, so they weren’t too happy about the whole situation, but then we married a year later. It was okay; it was fine. We’ve had a good life; we can’t complain about anything. He’s been very fortunate.
RL: And what part of the service was he in?
JG: He was in the Navy. He was on an aircraft carrier. The USS Bataan, which was named after the Bataan Death March and in November, we went back to an Appreciation Day. We got an invitation to come back. This is the new Bataan. She is a brand new ship, beautiful. Beautiful aircraft carrier. We call her the Harrier-Carrier, because she only carries Harriers (A type of helicopter without blades). They don’t have launching pads anymore on some of these carriers. All they have is the one that can go up and down, so it’s a Harrier-Carrier. It was a wonderful opportunity. Our grandson, Jeff, and our son, Randy George, went, and they said they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
RL: Out of Southern California?
JG: No, back in Norfolk. That’s where she came in. She had already been deployed three times to
RL: The same one your husband was on?
JG: No, this is the brand new one. The other one was scrapped. They tried to save her, but they couldn’t get enough funds to do it. It’s pretty hard to save them, so she was scrapped, but they did build a brand new one and we went for the commissioning, which was very exciting. We went about seven years ago for the commissioning of the new one. That was utterly fantastic, so we’ve been very fortunate. My husband’s been to a lot of ship reunions. We’ve been to about ten of them and have enjoyed every single one. He was in the radio shack and there were only three or four fellows in that radio shack, so that’s all he practically knew. Some of them now, one has already passed away, the others have debilitating diseases and they can’t go anymore, so we just stopped going. Even though we met a lot of people back there, it’s not the same. So we haven’t been for several years. But we did go to the commissioning and the Appreciation Day. That’s the main thing. We saw a lot of the ones we knew, so it was fun.
RL: Is it Botan?
JG: B-A-T-A-A-N, isn’t it? Back there they say baton. Back east they say Baton, we say Bataan. It’s supposed to be Bataan, and why the east says Baton, I don’t know. Maybe that’s another world. (Chuckle) It’s kind of strange, we go back there and they say Baton and we say Bataan. Anyway, it’s kind of interesting. That’s pretty much it.
RL: That’s some interesting stuff. Did you and your family do any sort of celebration when you heard the news that the war was over?
JG: My folks went to some parties, they went to some parties. My dad was in several lodges and they were in Eastern Star together. I think the city itself had a big celebration as such. Of course the churches had many wonderful programs and all and of course we were very tied up in the church. In those days people were more so, particularly because of the war. We lost so many and so even though . . . well, my uncle Robert was in the war. I can’t remember, he was stationed in Texas for quite a while and I don’t know if he ever went overseas. I don’t believe he did that I can remember, so we never worried about him like a lot of families do. He was the only member of our family that was in the war. We didn’t have that large a family to begin with.
The only other thing that kind of stuck in my mind was shortly after Pearl Harbor, maybe five or six months after, one of the boys, Bob Bernard, that was in my dad’s Boy Scout troop was killed. He was in the Navy and he was on a ship and he was killed. All I can remember about that was my mom saying, she always said, "I should have taken more time to talk to him." You know how you kind of get wrapped up in everything. Of course, they were busy, they were going constantly, and I can kind of remember her saying, "Yes, I should have taken more time to talk to him." But he was in my dad’s Boy Scout troop before he went in the service. He was young. He couldn’t have been more than 20. He just went right in as soon as the war started and yet he was one of the first in town that was killed. It’s just something that kinds of sticks in your mind. You do, you think back . . . even today, you’ll think back when a friend dies, that you should have gone over to see them more or that sort of thing. That’s always kind of stayed the same, that and the fact that I was born during the Depression.
The only thing I can remember about the Depression was the fact that we lived in Tulare and Tulare was a railroad town and we got a lot of what we used to call "hobos" in those days. They would come to the door and ask for food and my mom always had food for them. She never turned them away. That was just something you did.
RL: And this was during the time the war was going on?
JG: The Depression. We were always all right. I don’t remember a lot of things that went on at that time, because I was young, but I can remember that. But we were always OK. We had food, we always had clothing, but I can just always remember them coming to the door to ask for food and my mom would always give them food.
RL: Did it scare you?
JG: Yes it did, because they weren’t always the best looking kind in the word. I was young. But they were never turned away. That was just something you did, because everybody was having a hard time. You didn’t know. And nobody worried about being robbed or somebody coming in and stabbing you to death just to get a cookie or something. You never worried about things like that because people that were there were genuine. If they wanted food, they needed food, and they weren’t going to go on welfare or anything. Everybody knew this was just a time and it would pass. This too would pass. Who knows, maybe some of those people went on to be millionaires. You never know, they were just having hard times. A lot of people lost every single thing they had, but you knew that if you had it, you were going to give it to them. You were going to give them something. Certain little things just stick in your mind once in a while. Otherwise, I think all of us were oblivious. We went to the show, we did our own thing.
RL: I was going to ask. Did you go to see any war time news reels at the Fox Theater?
JG: Well, not at the Fox. At the Tulare Theater. Of course, they tore that down. That was very stupid. But anyway, that’s Tulare. I won’t go into that one. I only lived there 18 years of my life, but anyway, they should not have done that. But anyway, not to the Fox. Alan did. They lived at the Fox. And we went, you know, you could get in for a dime. The Tulare Theater was a beautiful theater and it should have been saved, just like the Fox but it wasn’t. We did, like I say, that’s where we got all our news, instead of television.
RL: Right, right.
JG: Otherwise you just got it over the radio. But if you went to the theaters . . . oh, we went to a lot of movies. We went to the theater lots, lots and lots of times. My dad was always too busy. He always had something going on, but my mom and I went, or a lot of our friends when I got into Junior High, then friends went to the show, but during elementary school, I went with my mom. We saw the newsreels and that’s what we looked at. We wanted to see what was going on. That way you kind of knew. But, like I say, it still seemed a million miles away.
JG: Just a million miles away. Not like today where you have jets and everything that can take you here, there and every place in two or three hours, so your world was a big world then. I guess that’s about it.
RL: I also wanted to ask about the pies. Did your mother sell them?
JG: No, she never did, but she made lots of pies for friends that were ill. She made pies. Every time you went to church, of course in those days, you had potlucks, maybe two or three times a week. We didn’t have restaurants like we have today. There might be one decent restaurant in town that you might go to once or twice a year, but you stayed at home, you ate at home. If not, you ate at the church. That’s where the potlucks were. So every time we went to the potluck my mom always made a couple of pies. They went first. Everybody would say, "Now Evelyn, next time we have potluck, I want you to make a peach pie. Can you make a peach pie for us? Or something, strawberry?" She always said, "Well, I’ll see what I can do," because they canned, mom canned, every single summer. She and my dad would put up umpteen jars of peaches from our tree, or berries from the Fresno County Foster farm. This was something they did until they were 90 years old. My dad would always help her. He would peal the peaches and pit them and this sort of thing and she would do the rest. This was just a ritual because everybody did it in those days. You put up what you ate.
And we didn’t always have big freezers like they have today. You just had a little dinky thing up at the top and that was always full with stuff. And then my dad was a big hunter, so we lived on what he would get – deer, dove, pheasant, The Foster brothers had a ranch/farm so we’d have beef, pork, but everything was raised and skinned right at the ranch. You just had everything right at your fingertips and so we didn’t worry about restaurants or McDonald’s or those kinds of places.
If we wanted to go to McDonald’s or some place like that, it was Nielsen’s in Tulare, or they had the root beer places in Visalia, the old root beer stands and all (A & W’s). I didn’t get to any of those until I started going with my husband, because my folks would not let me come to Visalia, although we did. I ran around with two or three girls from the class ahead of me so they all had cars at the time. They were seniors. We would come over quite often to Visalia and that’s how I met some of his friends before I even met him. So we went to a lot of the root beer stands here. I was never allowed to go to the big dance hall here in Visalia. I got here to the dance hall once without my folks knowing, but I never did it again, because you weren’t allowed to go to a dance. No way. So it really made it . . . you just stayed right in Visalia or Tulare, but I’m sure glad I had friends that had cars, even though it was a Model T. One had a Model T and one had a Pontiac Roadster.
JG: And it was really cute. It had the rag top and everything. It was really a neat car. We had more fun in that. We never told our folks how far we went. I don’t know if they checked the mileage, but anyway we did come over for that. But no, other than coming in when I met my husband, then I was able to go around to a lot of places and we did a lot of things, because at that time he was going to UC Berkeley and so I did a lot of things up there. We went to a lot of places up there, to fraternity dances and things like that. It was fun, but I couldn’t get into the Top of the Mark, unfortunately. I wore a black dress, heels, I had a fur, a hat with a veil of course. He kept saying, "Let’s see if we can’t get in. It’s such a beautiful view; you’ve got to see the view at the Top of the Mark," because that was the place to go. So we walked in and the guy stopped me immediately and asked, "Can I see your ID?" Real quick, Alan said, "Can I just take her in for a minute just to have a look around? We’re not going to stop for a drink or anything." You couldn’t get into that unless you were 18. We’re just going to go look around. So the guy says, "Okay." He says, "But I want to see you back here in just a few minutes. No stopping and no sitting." But he did let me in. We did get to walk around.
RL: The Top of the Mark in San Francisco? Very nice.
JG: Particularly nice in those days. That was fun, but I couldn’t pull anything over on them, even with the veil on. I think about that every time I go to San Francisco. All dressed up,heels, gloves, fur, hat with veil, and he still says, "Can I see your ID?" (Laughter) How disgusting. I felt terrible. Here he was, 24.
We couldn’t do a lot of things. It was a fun time for us kids. It was still okay because it didn’t affect us like say 9/11 has affected us today. Because we never thought of being invaded. You know, that was the last thing on our mind, to ever be invaded. Hawaii, like I said was a million miles away, but there were so many similarities between Pearl Harbor and we always thought that would never happen again. Nothing like that would ever happen again and then it did and right here on our own soil. They say history repeats itself, so maybe that’s true. And if you let down your guard . . . and we had. They had let us have, what, almost 60 years of not having to worry and so you just can’t do it.
RL: One question I have is back during the war years, you didn’t really have a feeling of where are all the men because they were off fighting?
JG: Yeah. No, we didn’t because we had Rankin Field and that brought in a tremendous amount of men, even though we knew they were only going to be here for a short time. But then there was another group coming. So you had this influx constantly of men coming in. They were all over. So that was the only thing that kind of brought you to the war because they were walking around in their uniforms.
RL: Was that right in Tulare?
JG: That was inside of Tulare, just kind of east of where the Ag Center is now. They had a big base out there. I know my dad went out there many times. Like I say, we had soldiers all the time in for dinner, because most of them were from out of state, they were from the east. It seems like so many of the people that were raised here, they were sent that way, to the east. And the Easterners, were sent this way to come to California and that’s why when they returned finally, those that could return, came here. They came back. That’s what I think has made the whole difference. But we never noticed that. Like I say, we knew they were going to be leaving, but then another group took their place for all that time. They had a tremendous field out there. Tremendous. Oh, once in a while the planes would crash, but it would happen because that was a training base. I mean when you see those old students flying around today, you wonder how in the world did they. Why didn’t they have more because that was what they trained in. They look pretty harmless today compared to the jets. Pretty harmless, but that’s what they had to fight in.
(Ed. Note: This was the first of three phases of flight training for the Army Air Corp. The planes became more complicated for each phase of training. See Gig Ruddell’s interview.)
: Rankin Field was named after a famous pilot and his family lived in Tulare. He was a stunt pilot and very good. He was a very wonderful man, he really was. His family was good. His son was killed in a plane crash. In fact, his son was killed with a good friend of ours. They were flying one day and they, for some unknown reason, ran into each other.
RL: Oh dear.
JG: They were friends, close friends. So that was a shock to the community. But anyway, his name was Tex Rankin and he was quite a man; he was a legend. That’s why they named it after him.
RL: So when you went to church it wasn’t just a group of women and the pastor.
JG: No, no, not at all. There were a lot of men who weren’t accepted into the service. A lot of them had to stay back,4F for some reason. They might have some sort of disability or they didn’t meet all the requirements. Also, they may have been just over the age. Say, you know, a lot of the farmers couldn’t go. They had to stay here. If their sons were able then they went, but even a lot of the sons had to stay because they had to run the dairies or they had to work in the fruit or something. Not everybody went. It made a big difference. So there still were a lot of people around. And like I said, if someone did leave, then someone else took their place. Maybe they were even retired, but they stepped back in. Teachers, I can’t really remember losing a teacher to the war, or him having to leave like today. If they’re in the reserve, then off they go. Most men at that time were not even in the reserve. There really hadn’t been a war since World War I so nobody stayed in the reserve. You didn’t need to. It was the young that went. The real young that went.
RL: OK. In tip-top shape.
JG: Yes. They were the only ones, but most of them probably would have been going to college unless, like I say, they worked on a farm or they had a dairy. Then they had to stay with the family to take care of that. Even though they wanted to go. A lot of them were excluded because of that. A lot just couldn’t go.
RL: Fellows could actually escape the draft by going to college.
RL: That’s wonderful.
JG: Yeah. It made a difference that way. I mean, even our dentist has been called up. We had to go without out dentist for a while. Even his wife has been called up. He stayed here and his wife got called up, and they have two kids, because they are both in the reserve. So we didn’t have that, particularly. They just wanted the young. If you were qualified, you went. With the draft and everything, if your number was called, you went. But there was a lot that were deferred because of that. And a lot of hard feelings sometimes. A lot of hard feelings, because this person or that person was allowed to stay when this person had, maybe a father or mother that might have been disabled or this sort of thing. In some instances it did cause hard feelings. Why didn’t he go? Why wasn’t he called up?
RL: I see.
JG: Oh, because of that. Every once in a while you’d hear that, but most of the time I think people were okay with it. They were okay with it.
RL: Well, these are great stories this evening. Is there anything else you would like to add about how the war affected the county before we sign off?
JG: I don’t know. Tulare was
kind of off in the boonies, perhaps more so after the Korean War and the
Vietnam War. I know the Vietnam War
changed a lot of things because it was not a popular war. I think people’s feelings definitely, I mean
everybody knew that something had to be done. We had tried to keep out of World War II as long we could but then when
the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, that
hit us and so I think that completely changed. The war in Europe at that time,okay,
there was a war in Europe and we had some people
over there and that sort of thing, but it wasn’t a declared war. We did not declare war, we were just over
there to help with it. It was like
they’re trying to do today with
RL: Yes, definitely. And one more thing for the sake of the transcriber, can you spell your maiden name?
RL: That’s what I was thinking.
JG: There are Ledbetter’s here, but as far as I know we are not of any relation. I’ve seen it spelled Leadbetter many times, but when we went to Salt Lake City several years ago, took my folks, and my dad and Alan went into the genealogical there at Salt Lake City and my dad looked up and he said there were only maybe a couple of possibilities. We might be related to some up in Fresno, but he never got a chance to go up there and see them and find out. They said as far as the ones around here, in Orosi, as far as we know, we aren’t related to them. And it’s kind of funny, my dad was in lodge, and of course being as I was an only child and a girl, he always wanted a son, and low and behold, Alan Ledbetter married a Jo Ann. So there was an Alan and Joann Ledbetter, so he always considered him the son he never had. That’s how they got together because they were involved in the lodge together. And my dad really enjoyed him thoroughly. But that’s as close as he ever got.
RL: Wonderful. Well I really appreciated your stories.
JG: Thank you so much. I didn’t mean to keep you all this time.
Robyn Lukens/ Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 3/14/04/ Ed. JW 8/18/04
Ed: Words in italics are based on a phone interview with Jo Ann George on September 1 2004. See also the interview with Alan George.