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: Pete Giotta

Date: 4/21/04

Tape # 95

Interviewer: Michael Tharp

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: The home of Mr. Giotta in Visalia, CA

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Visalia, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Grade school and high school years


MT: Today is the 21st of April 2004. The time is 6:20 in the evening, and I am going to sit down and have a conversation about the war years with Pete Giotta and his wife, Carmelina. We’re going to proceed now. I have given Pete my suggestions and questions and we’ll get started with our interview. General background questions. Your name and date.

PG: My name is Pete Giotta and the date of birth is October 16, 1929.

MT: And what were your parent’s names?

PG: Nick Giotta and Carmela Giotta.

MT: And Giotta is spelled G-I-O-T-T-A.

PG: Exactly.

MT: Where did your parents come from?

PG: From Putignano, Italy .

MT: How do you spell Putignano?

PG: P-U-T-I-G-N-A-N-O.

MT: And what year did they migrate to the United States ?

PG: Dad came over here in 19 . . . let me think a while. Vito was born in 1908 . . . 1892 . . . oh, 1912.

MT: Vito was your brother?

PG: Yes. I’m trying to place the time.

MT: Well, to help, when did your family move to Visalia or your parents come to Visalia?

PG: Originally, my dad had a brother who came here in 1909 and he moved to Visalia. There had been some other immigrants who came here because this climate, this area, was the same climate and area as Southern Italy that folks came from. My dad came here by himself in 1916 and settled in New York for a little bit and went into the Army. The U.S. Army and the First World War and fought in France , etc. and I understand he had a pass back to southern Italy to see his wife and one child, which was Vito, when he was in France . Then after the war, he called my mother and brother here and they settled in Visalia, I would say around right after the war.

MT: The Great World War,World War I.

PG: And they settled on Bridge Street, the house that my uncle had. My uncle moved onto a ranch south and east of Visalia, close to Tulare.

MT: Do you recall what the nearest cross street to your first home was?

PG: Myrtle.

MT: Myrtle. OK. Myrtle and Bridge. What did you dad do when he migrated here?

PG: Farm laborer. Then he became a farm labor contractor. That’s what most immigrants did when they got here; they went to work in the fields.

MT: So if your dad came in 1920, what year were you born in?

PG: 1929.

MT: And you were in the house on Myrtle and Bridge?

PG: Yes, at 442 South Bridge Street.

MT: So if you were born in ’29, in 1941 you were about 12 years old. What is your first recollection of the years 1939, 1940, 1941?

PG: Not much, other than going to school and working and kind of helping out for the war effort. In those days, there was no age limit. You could go to work at any age you want. We went to school, but during the summer time, we went to work in the fields. My first pay job was at nine years old picking grapes for raisins. Worked three days that year for a fellow there in Visalia on Tulare Avenue, which was all vineyards in that area at the time.

The next year I worked a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, I always worked with Dad. He had a little 10-acre ranch out there on the corner at-- Pinkham and Tulare Avenue. There was a little 10-acre place there that we farmed. And everything was done pretty well by hand. You hoed weeds by hand and you sulphured the vineyard vines by hand. You always kept busy. I don’t recollect not having something to do at all times. We didn’t get to go here or go there, you know.

MT: What elementary school did you go to in ’39 and the 40’s?

PG: The first to the fifth grade we went to Washington School and then we went to Jefferson School from the fifth to the sixth and then we went to Sierra Vista School for seventh and eighth.

MT: And where did you go to high school?

PG: Visalia High School.

MT: Which is now?

PG: Redwood.

MT: Were you still living in the same house on Myrtle?

PG: Not on Myrtle, but on Bridge Street. The nearest cross street was Myrtle.

MT: What is your first recollection of the real war starting and the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

PG: We heard about it, that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Now wait a minute, we’re talking about the Second World War?

MT: Yes. You recall the Second World War, Pearl Harbor. Do you recall where you were when you first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the reaction of you and your friends?

PG: It was at Sierra Vista School in the 7th or 8th grade. In the first place, who knew Pearl Harbor before that day? We didn’t know about Pearl Harbor. That was just something new. You found out about it in a hurry. It was part of Hawaii, etc., and we have a big naval fleet there and whatever happened. But we were pretty sheltered kids in those days. We didn’t have all the TV, computers and all this access to information that we have now. So we were pretty sheltered.

MT: How big was your circle of friends when you were 12 or 13 years old? Was it kids you mostly worked with on the ranches?

PG: No, just the kids around your neighborhood.  And then around Bridge Street, Garden Street, Church Street,kids you went to school with from kindergarten on up. That was your circle of friends.

MT: And were most the kids with you from kindergarten on up?

PG: Oh sure.

MT: For the most part.

PG: Some of them moved away and then you’d add one or two along the way, but for the most part it was all those kids you’d been with in the neighborhood.

MT: Were there Japanese kids in your neighborhood?

PG: No, we had the Gongs, which were folks from the meat market, that were some Chinese kids that came in the system in around the 3rd grade and they had to be taught English. No Japanese kids in the area at the time, though.

MT: Did you have any German kids?

PG: Sure, we had German kids right across the street, the Zeigler’s. And another German family right next door to us, they were Ziegler’s, they were brothers and they didn’t have any children. There was no . . .

MT: Was there any kind of an animosity because the Germans were fighting in Europe and the Japanese are bombing us in Japan ?

PG: No, I didn’t feel any.

MT: When you went to high school, freshman, sophomore or junior year, the war was really heating up. What kinds of things can you recall that struck you at the time?

PG: It seemed pretty normal, other than the gasoline rationing. You couldn’t get sugar and things like that and chewing gum, you couldn’t get chewing gum. I remember Wrigley Spearmint was very smart. They had billboards that said, "Don’t forget this wrapper." So after the war you had chewing gum. There were shortages but we managed. Shortages weren’t something that had any effect on us because we never did have a lot to start with. It’s not like now where you have candy and ice cream everyday. It was just not there. The billboard with Wrigley’s ad on it was on the corner of Santa Fe and Houston.

MT: Did you and your buddies, your younger friends, work on recycling programs in the war effort to go out and find recycled metal, paper and whatever else?

PG: No, but we did do some farm work and pick cotton or sweet potatoes. You had to help out in the food production or what have you, because there weren’t that many men around.

MT: Were there family members, brothers or sisters, who were older than you?

PG: Yes.

MT: Vito was older. Did you have other siblings that were older?

PG: My sister Ida. Ida’s eight years older than me. She 82. We had another sister, Antoinette, that was seven years older than me, and then my sister Louise was five years older than me.

Ed. See interview with Ida Romanazzi

MT: And then your brother Vito, where did he fall into this?

PG: He was 18 years older.

MT: Did Vito go to World War II?

PG: No, he didn’t. He was working for the government in the Customs Service and stuff like that.

MT: Your sisters were older. Did they have any involvement in the war effort, whether it be volunteer, canteen, working with the air bases, Rankin Field or Sequoia Field?

PG: No, no. Other than just working, filling in here and there. Ida worked at the cannery and stuff like that. Things had needed to be done. At an early age, you could go to work.

MT: Were they married during the war years?

PG: No.

MT: They were still single. Okay. As you were going through high school, did you have friends older than you who were being drafted as they were graduating?

PG: Yes. See, there was this gap. It was more or less the ones that were 6 or 7 years older than me that were being drafted. And we were looking to, if the war continued on, naturally we would be getting there also, but the war ended in four years.

MT: You were a freshman in 1943, so you wouldn’t have been eligible until ’46 or ’47.

PG: Right.

MT: I had a question on Pearl Harbor. Is there any particular event after Pearl Harbor relating to the war and how it might have affected this community? What stands out in your memory?

PG: We were so far away from the war and we didn’t have television like they do now. All we knew was what was in the paper or on the radio, so it seemed like something that was happening, but the only time it had some effect on you was when you heard some local person, some young man, got killed in the war. Like, we had one here that was Bert Mastrangelo, Vino Mastrangelo’s brother and he got killed over there, so that kind of affected us. But other than that, you didn’t know what was going on.

MT: Did you have any immediate family or really close friends that lost anybody overseas?

PG: Yes, the Mastrangelo’s and other close friends.

MT: You were getting a little older when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Japan . What kind of went through your mind and what was the reaction of the kids when you’d see pictures in the paper? Just a general reaction. .

PG: I thought it was terrible. If they had something of that magnitude that would cause so much death and damage, why didn’t they do it on an atoll or some island where there were no inhabitants or anything on it just to show what they could do and say, "Look, you’re going to shape up or we’re going to do this." And to do two bombs, that was inexcusable. One would have been enough.

MT: Was this kind of a general topic of conversation.

PG: That was my feeling.

MT: How did your friends feel about it?

PG: Some felt the same way. I don’t think it was justified, not justified at all. Two wrongs never make a right. Some say look what they did at Pearl Harbor. I mean, Pearl Harbor was certainly devastating. It was something like, "What’s going on? How can that happen?" It was terrible.

MT: But all in all would you consider that World War II was a just war that needed to happen?

PG: Is there ever a just war?

MT: Hard to say.

PG: I mean we said that was going to be the war to end all wars, and we’ve had more wars than we had before. I mean it was just the fact that we would be taken over by other countries and we didn’t want that to happen. And we did go over there and help all our allies, which was the right thing to do. It was terrible what Hitler was doing and terrible what the Japanese were doing at the time. I don’t know the answer.

We still don’t know the answers. Look at Iraq today. We formed the United Nations after that war. And with the United Nations, we can all be in concert with each other and have all this information and all get along and there has been more war since then than there was since before then.

MT: True. When . . . As you were going through your sophomore through senior years, did you have friends working for the government, working out at Sequoia Field or Rankin Field or performing services for the GI’s in the community.

PG: I’m sure there were. My brother was in charge in this area of the bracero program, where they brought the Mexicans over from Mexico to work the fields. I helped him on several occasions to get them into their homes. They had these camps and things and I went with him to help talk Spanish, because at the time I could talk Spanish. Still do talk Spanish and it was quite interesting. These people came over here and worked in the fields and were in these camps, farm labor camps, and they had control and after they had worked here so long, they would go back, or whatever their situation was. Like I said, I didn’t pay too much attention. At that age, you just don’t care.

MT: Being that you were general farm labor, did any of the military bases hire general labor to come out and work on those bases?

PG: I’m sure they did.

MT: But you didn’t experience that.

PG: No.

MT: Okay.

PG: We had Sequoia Field out here and that was the closest thing to it.

MT: Did you family ever have an opportunity to entertain GI’s that were here training to be pilots or anything like that?

PG: No.

MT:  So you never had any contact in any way?

PG: No.

MT: Where were you when the war ended? Do you recall?

PG: No.

MT: Do you recall your reaction when it was over?

PG: Oh sure. We were all ecstatic, just tickled to death that the war had ended. What day did the war end? Do you have the date?

MT: I’d have to look it up.

PG: We were in school and the cease-fire came. We were just thrilled to death because no one wants war. You think of all your friends that are in the Army and the potential of being killed. With all that had gone for years, Iwo Jima and that stuff, you are just glad that the war is over. We thought that was the end of it - that we weren’t going to have any more wars, but that was a pipe dream.

MT: As the war went on through those early years of the 1940’s, were there changes in your family life besides the rationing. What was going on in the community that really was different than what you were accustomed to?

PG: Well, I didn’t notice much difference, myself personally. Other than the rationing and things like that because we didn’t have much to start with. If you don’t have much to start with, you don’t know what you don’t have.

MT: Were there movies for you guys?

PG: Yes, there were movies, but you didn’t get to go to the movies because you didn’t have the money to go. The Fox Theater used to have movies and when we were in high school sometimes we’d go on a Saturday. They had talent shows, kiddie club and all that stuff.

MT: Now where did they hold the talent shows?

PG: Over at the kiddie club at the Fox Theater, Visalia. Some guy by the name of Augie Shultz, they’d have competitions. Kids would get up there and sing or dance or do different things and then they’d have a runoff at the end and then a final.

MT: Were you a participant in these shows? What was your specialty?

PG: I’d sing. And on the final, naturally, I got beat out by a lovely girl my same age who graduated with me, Patty Ann Clore. She was a contortionist, an acrobat.

MT: And what was her last name?

PG: Clore, Patty Clore. These acrobats turn themselves inside out and bend. Oh gosh. She won the competition after six or eight weeks, whatever it was. It was just fun deal. Mainly you won if you have a lot of friends out in the audience. But in her case, she won because of her talent. It was just as simple as that.

MT: Now you didn’t have to pay an admission for this?

PG: Ten cents.

MT: Oh, ten cents.

PG: Ten cents to get into the show.

MT: The show meaning an actual movie, but for the kid day, was that part of the community service?

PG: That was part of the afternoon matinee program on Saturdays. The kiddie club.

MT: So typically, you would go in early on a Saturday and then do your kiddie club first?

PG: I don’t recall. I think you’d do it during the break, one part or the other, first or afterwards I can’t recall.

MT: Let’s talk about the Italians.

PG: Basically they were all here just working away. She was talking about if they felt any difference during the war, but there wasn’t much difference during the war. There was some curfew, you know, a little bit of a curfew for the Italians there for while that I recall. It didn’t register to me until later, but other than that they felt very secure here. My dad was a veteran of the First World War, and so he had no problems at all. He always put America first. That’s the way he felt. Certainly he kept up his old country traditions, but he was an American first.

MT: We talked a little bit about rationing. Do you recall any black market activities or things going on where people were having to stretch.

PG: Not amongst the Italians, they were pretty self-sufficient. They had their gardens; they had all their food they raised and what have you. They didn’t lack for the basics, you know, the vegetables, the horse (Fava) beans, pasta, and tomatoes. They all made their own bread. They had these outside brick ovens. They saved the prunings from the trees and they used that to fire the ovens. They had their wood stoves, so they basically faired pretty well.

MT: Did the Italian community stay pretty much to themselves and keep their support within their community or did they reach out beyond?

PG: I don’t know what to say about staying within themselves. They were just in the mainstream of life; they had their own ways, but they didn’t bother anybody.

MT: Did you recall if your family participated in war bonds, those activities?

PG: Yes, we bought war bonds. If fact I had a $75 bond and that doesn’t seem like much now but it was all we could handle at that time. It was big money.

MT: Were there other savings kinds of programs that you were involved with beside the bonds?

PG: Basically, that was it. The bonds, I think you could buy them in increments and then you could buy the bond. You could buy them $10 at a time, or $20 dollars that I recall, and when you got to a certain amount you got a bond.

MT: You mentioned that your parents were pretty tight with their activities and how much freedom they allowed you. How did the war years affect your dating for instance, getting around in the community? Did you have girlfriends?

PG: Are you kidding? You couldn’t afford a girlfriend. (Laughter) I was in the first year at COS and I met the first girl I took out. I actually made a date. Actually, it was the last year of High School, because I didn’t have a car. It was my senior year. Took this girl out and she lived way over there on Houston and Santa Fe Street which was about 2 ˝ miles from where I lived, so I walked all the way over there to get her, went to the Fox Theater, took her back home. We went to the café there across the street. We called it McDonald’s, not the McDonald’s as we know it, but it belonged to a guy named Ben McDonald, which is Forlini’s Restaurant now. And that’s where I ate my first hamburger out in a restaurant. First time I ever ate out in a restaurant. After the evening was done it cost me $2.75 and I said boy, I can’t afford this and that was the last girl I took out for a couple of years. It just wasn’t there to be done. I’ll never forget that. And I’m glad I waited because I ended up with this beautiful wife, Carmaline.

Now that I think about it, there was an effort for kids to help harvest agricultural products. School opened up a little later.

MT: We’ll get back into this. I wanted to clean up a few things on community and national life. Were there any neighborhood organizations that would watch for blackouts or do special collection drives, special events related to the war?

PG: Not that I can remember.

MT: None that you can recall.

PG: There were different events for war bonds and stuff like that, but it’s not something I thought anything of.

MT: Then back on the rationing that you mentioned a few minutes ago. You mentioned that during the rationing time . . . .

PG: Gasoline, sugar, butter, I don’t recall the flour. Like I said a lot of those things didn’t mean a thing at 12 or 13, 14 years old. We didn’t have a lot anyhow. We had a lot of pasta, vegetables from the garden, etc. It was that big a thing. Meat was rationed too.

MT: Denims, blue jeans?

PG: Yes, blue jeans. Levi’s.

MT: How many could you get a month?

PG: Like you go down there, which was a store called Don McWilliams. At that time it was Frieta’s and you’d go down there and see if you could get a pair of Levi’s. Maybe get a pair a year. It was tough to get a pair of Levi’s. First you needed the money to get them. They were $4.25 at that time.

MT: How about work shoes? Were those rationed?

PG: I never remembered work shoes being rationed, because we needed those to work in.

MT: Do you recall anything about the holocaust being talked about? Did you listen as a family to the radio at night for the world events and then they would talk about the holocaust and other major atrocities?

PG: That was far away from us. We heard something about it, but at 14, it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Later on, through the years as we grew older, we call history, that was quite a shameful thing, terrible.

MT: Did you have a sense of the Japanese being relocated from Visalia to the camps when you were at Visalia High School? Were there kids you knew being moved out?

PG: Yes. That was terrible, too. We had Japanese that were in the Army here. The Japanese were just like Italians or the Germans. They were hard working people here. They had their farms taken away from them, but that was just a lot of politics, a lot of hype as far as the government was. It was a show. That was terrible. Certainly, there was someone in the Italian community that couldn’t be trusted, or in the German community or in the Japanese, but not to take a whole group of people and put them in concentration camps. That was crazy.

MT: Did kids at the high school object as a group? Were they vocal about them taking kids out of school?

PG: No, there was not demonstration like we have now. There wasn’t that type of communication. We didn’t have that kind of media to see. We didn’t have the TV that was inciting everybody. Things were done and you didn’t know about it until maybe weeks later.

MT: Did your family sit down and listen to the news every night on the radio just to stay abreast of what was going on in the World War?

PG: Mainly what we did was read the paper. We didn’t have the Times Delta. My dad had the Italian paper that came there. It was printed in San Francisco and he’d sit there at night and read the paper to all his Italian neighbors that were there in that area of Bridge Street. Let me see how many families there were, let me count, let’s see, 7 or 8 families in that general area and they’d come over and sit under the grape arbor and he would read the paper to them and they’d keep up with the events that were going on in the world. They were quite interested in world events and the war effort and what have you.

MT: Did the older Italian families, did they read and write in English? Or was is still old country?

PG: Some of them did and some didn’t, but that didn’t make them any less intelligent. Reading and writing is something, but as far as the mind being intelligent, they’re just as smart as anybody, maybe smarter. They were all hard working people. Everybody had to work hard or you didn’t eat.

MT: How do you think World War II affected Tulare County as a whole, in retrospect for you at that time?

PG: Well, it prospered. Agriculture prospered. One of the big effects was some of the farmers during the war made some money, finally. That was the greatest thing that I had seen. If a man had a piece of land and was farming before the war, he was having a tough time. And the war put a few dollars in his pocket.

MT: Was your father able to extend his farm, the ten acres he had on McAuliff through the war years?

PG: Right after the war he bought twenty acres out here by Tarusa School, north of Visalia.

MT: Where the market went?

PG: No, no, way beyond that. About 352, Avenue 352 and he bought twenty acres out there and farmed it until he died. In those days if you had twenty acres, that was a pretty good size farm. Forty acres, one hundred acres was great for just an individual farmer. Not like now. A man could make a living off of even ten acres of grapes or whatever you had. Now things have changed.

MT: Did your brother Vito farm during those years?

PG: No. He worked for the Immigration Service and he worked with the government and then he went into business. In ’51 he bought a store out here in Ivanhoe.

MT: Was he working for the Immigration Service during the World War II years?

PG: Well, like I said, he worked in the bracero program where they brought these Mexicans here to work on the farms.

MT: And that was actually during the war years and after.

PG: He worked for the Customs Service in San Francisco, so he worked for the government quite a bit.

MT: Do you recall any of the Japanese returning to the community after the war?

PG: No, I recall them coming back but not something that was of great significance. There weren’t that many Japanese in the area at that time. There wasn’t that many. There was the Sumida family that had a store in Visalia.

MT: Roy Sumida?

PG: Roy Sumida’s dad. He had a general store there that you could buy a lot of things from. Basically I’d go over they and buy knives to cut grapes with. And then they sold fireworks for the 4th of July.

MT: Were they in the same business before the war?

PG: No. Not the drug store business. The boys became pharmacists. Roy and his brother. But before the war, the Sumidas had the store right there on the corner where the drug store was, at Bridge and Center. It was kind of a general store. At the time, they had a lot of things that you needed. He sold clothes there and seeds there. It was quite a nice store, a general merchandise store.

ED: See the interview with Roy Sumida.

MT: Reflecting back now, is there anything you would like to make sure you get in on this oral history that is important to you about the war years?

PG: Not that I can think of.

MT: Something we haven’t touched on.

PG: Well the fact of it was that was important that we were hoping as young men that the war would end and we wouldn’t have to go to war. It was a situation that you generally didn’t want to be a potential target, so we were glad when the war was over, because we were the next in line. You know, they took, they drafted guys almost up into their 40’s as I recall. Some older guys. They were really hard for personnel. I remember Chuck Bastrire; he was close to 40 when they drafted him.

MT: Well, that pretty much covers your World War II years. It is presently 7:20 and this will be the end of the interview with Pete Giotta on April 21, 2004.

PG: Thank you. I wish I could give you more information, but that’s all the information I have.

MT: We appreciate every little bit.

Michael Tharp/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 5/8/04/Ed. JW 9/1/04

Words in Italics were added during a phone interview with Pete Giotta on September 1, 2004.