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: John Owen Kirkpatrick    

 

Date: March 29, 2004

Report No: 93

Interviewer: Lois Owings

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Exeter, CA

SEEING MOVIES ABOUT ADOLPH HITLER AND THE GERMANS

STORY OF A GERMAN PRISONER WHO ESCAPED FROM PRISON AT TAGUS RANCH

KILLING COTTONTAILS FOR STEW

GOING TO WORK AT 12 YEARS OLD, AS YOUNG MEN HAD ALL GONE TO WAR

LO: This is March 29, 2004, Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 through 1946. This interview is being done by Lois Owings. These are the memories of John Kirkpatrick. The interview is being done in John Kirkpatrick’s home in Lindcove, California.

What is your name?

JK: My name is John Owen Kirkpatrick.

LO: Your birth date?

JK: September 15, 1930.

LO: What were your parents’ names and where were they from?

JK: My father was Albert Frank Kirkpatrick. He was born in Waterman, Illinois and came to California in 1908. My mother was Elva Maurene Couch. She was born near Lawrence, Kansas and came to this area in Tulare County, in 1904.

LO: Where did you grow up?

JK: The earliest years we lived in Southern California in the communities of Monrovia, Arcadia and Duarte and we lived at Monrovia until 1942. We then moved to Tulare County to the home on our farm located three miles east of Lindsay, in a place known as Round Valley.

LO: So, how old were you when World War II began?

JK: I was 11 years old.

LO: And, were you in school prior to the war?

JK: Yes.

LO: Tell me about going to school, and what it was like at that time.

JK: Going to school in Southern California, at that time, was kind of being in a magic place at a magic time. (Chuckle) It was a wonderful climate, nice people, a good place to live and we were in school there until I finished the sixth grade.

LO: When did you come to Tulare County?

JK: In May or June of 1942.

LO: Where were you and what were you doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

JK: I don’t know exactly where I was, but we received the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor while we were walking home from church in Monrovia. It was a little after noon. I can remember the exact spot where I was and a friend came out of his house and told me that his family had heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and we were at war.

LO: How did you feel when the announcement of the war came?

JK: I was totally shocked.

LO: Did you have an opinion of the dropping of the atomic bomb?

JK: Yes, it was just an awesome event. It was almost unbelievable.

LO: Were you frightened at all?

JK: Not concerning that.

LO: Did you and your schoolmates play war games?

JK: I don’t recall that we did. I think we still played cops and robbers.

LO: Tell me about it. How or what did you play? You said cops and robbers and also what were your general feelings about the war?

JK: I think that I and my family felt that we needed to do everything that we could to support the war effort. We and others, I think, were very much unified in our resolve to support the effort to win the war.

LO: Did your feelings differ from those of your friends?

JK: I think not. I think that we were pretty much unanimous

in our feelings about the war.

LO: As a 16 year old, by 1946, did you want to go into the service?

JK: People were coming out of the service at the time and I was too young to enlist or be drafted into the service at that time. So, I really didn’t have any desire to do that. I wanted to finish high school and go off to college.

LO: What did you think about the draft and those that were drafted?

JK: I think that, in general, it was conducted very fairly. It served its purpose very well.

LO: Were you working by the time you were 16?

JK: Yes. I actually started to work when I was 11. When we came to Tulare County, the family that had been taking care of the family farm had moved away. I think that they moved to Northern California and were engaged in some of the defense industries and there were some teenage boys, who may have enlisted or been drafted into the service. But it was necessary for me and my brother to take over farming operations, so I actually started work on the farm when I was 11, going on 12.

LO: Okay, so you were working. What about the wages and the conditions of work and your attitude toward them?

JK: I don’t recall what we were paid for working on the family farm. Perhaps I was not even paid, but when we picked oranges, I can remember that we were paid .03 cents a box. (laughter) That was .03 cents per field box. Olives, we picked in field boxes, I think maybe .10 or .15 cents. Olive picking really was big money. (chuckle)

LO: I was going to ask if you thought that was good wages?

JK: Yeah, we thought so, yes.

LO: How did the war affect your family’s economic circumstances?

JK: I don’t think that the war affected us one way or the other. My father had a salaried position before the war and worked for the same company through the war. I really don’t think that it affected us one way or the other.

LO: Okay. Do you remember difficulties in getting food, clothing, gas or other consumer goods during the war?

JK: We couldn’t get all of the meat and sugar that we wanted. Those items were seriously rationed during the war. I do recall that occasionally we would shoot a cottontail and have cottontail stew. (laughter) The family had a cow also, so we provided ourselves with milk and butter on the farm, so they were not in shortage for us. However, butter was rationed for those that didn’t have their own cow.

LO: How about your margarine. I was told you had to put something in it to make it yellow. Do you remember anything about that?

JK: Yes, I remember when margarine came out. I don’t recall the exact year, but it came in a big white cube and it was very white; it looked like lard. There was a little package of coloring came along with it and you would open this package and pour it out on the white bar and take a fork and stir the color in. It took a lot of stirring to make it come out uniformly yellow and look like butter.

LO: Tell me about the rationing. What did they use? Did they use stamps or coupons?

JK: They had ration books that my parents kept. There were both coupons and stamps, as I recall. If it was necessary to make change, we had some little fiber/plastic tokens that would come up with a fraction of the rationed item, whether it was sugar or butter or meat, or whatever.

LO: Where did you get these from?

JK: We had a ration board. I don’t know where they were located. I just don’t recall. It may have been at Lindsay or it may have been in Visalia. But I just don’t recall where they were issued.

LO: Did everyone in your family have these? And you answered me, you don’t remember.

JK: I don’t remember, yes.

LO: Okay. Did you or your family do anything to support the war? This is like gardens, rolling bandage, etc.

JK: My father joined the local militia. I think they met from time to time. He was beyond draft age and I think that probably his occupation was considered to be critical as well. Students in school participated in scrap drives. Our athletics coach had a truck, I believed it belonged to the school, and we’d go around and gather up scrap iron, bailing wire, tractor parts and farm machinery at all the farms. We would do this after school and on weekends and we really cleaned out a lot of scrap on the farms around the area.

LO: Did your family participate in war bonds or campaigns?

JK: Yes, we bought war bonds, and I can remember that most of the money that I earned I took to school and we bought war stamps which we redeemed for bonds. After you accumulated, I think it was $18.70 cents worth or $18.50 worth, you could exchange a booklet of stamps for bonds. Those stamps came, as I recall, in denominations of .10 cents and .25 cents and possibly a dollar.

LO: Perhaps other savings programs?

JK: I don’t recall any other savings programs, but by the end of the war, I think I had a collection of war bonds. I don’t recall how many, but I had several.

LO: In your home, did you have people outside of the immediate family living with you?

JK: No.

LO: Was anyone in the immediate family separated because of military service or war work?

JK: No.

LO: Did you have friends that were in the service and you wrote to them or anything like that?

JK: Yes, there were family friends that we would write to from time to time. My mother’s brother, Uncle Howard (Howard Hunt Couch), was (a colonel) in the Army Air Corps, and we wrote to him frequently, and he wrote to us frequently.

(Colonel Couch was M.I.A. in South East Asia in 1943. He was never found.)

LO: How was the mail service?

JK: The service was good. I do recall when we received mail from overseas, that it was censored. There would be a censored stamp on it and occasionally there would be a blacked out word in the letter.

LO: This was an unstable time. What gave stability to you and your family?

JK: I think that the effort to support the war unified us and that gave us the strength to overcome any instability or anything. We were young. I think that if there was fear and trepidation that it didn’t really rub off on us.

LO: What became of particular importance to you?

JK: I think the most important thing is that I had an opportunity to go to work and be productive and support the war effort from age 12 on. That experience I still value. I think it was a very good experience to have to take responsibility. The men went off to war and we had to go to work.

LO: Any memorable vacations or travel?

JK: We didn’t travel much during the war. We would go to McKay’s’ Point, (chuckle) which was like ten miles from home. I think we made two or three trips to Sequoia National Park and I think I went to Fresno maybe once or twice. (Chuckle) But we were pretty close to home.

LO: Did women’s roles and responsibilities in your family change?

JK: A little bit. My mother went to work as a bookkeeper at the Stark (and Waddell) Packing Company in Lindsay and she worked there for the two years that we were there at Lindsay. My father’s work did not change. (My father was an entomologist employed by American Cyanamid Company, who produced agricultural chemicals. My dad was their technical representative in California during World War II.)

LO: Okay, what did you do about childcare? What arrangements were made?

JK: My mother took me with her. (Chuckle) She would go to work in the morning and after school I would walk across town and wait for her to finish the days’ work. The packinghouse was kind enough to let me do some minor roles, such as filling out shipping tags or making inspection tags and that sort of thing. I don’t recall that I was paid anything for it; I just was there, so I helped out.

LO: How did you feel about any of these changes?

JK: I don’t think they impacted us negatively.

LO: Were there any neighborhood organizations to watch for blackouts?

JK: Not that I recall. We did have blackouts, but I don’t remember any neighborhood watch organizations.

LO: How about the towers? Were there any in your neighborhood?

JK: We had an aircraft-spotting tower located about a third of a mile away from our home, right in the center of Round Valley on the property owned by the Glick family. They had a tower there and our family took turns staffing that tower. I don’t recall, maybe once or twice a week.

LO: If you were in school, do you remember special events connected to the war time activities?

JK: None that I can recall. We did have one time a week when we could buy bonds or stamps. I don’t recall any other special activities.

LO: Did different ethnic groups exist in your community?

JK: Yes, we had several Japanese/American neighbors. There were not many Hispanics here at that time.

LO: What were race relations like in the community?

JK: Race relations were strained when the war started. We had friends who were Japanese/American and we were very disappointed that their ancestral land had gone to war with us or us with them. One of our neighbors was a high profile Japanese National, who was re-located very early, it seems to me in a matter of days after Pearl Harbor. We were east of Highway 65 and Highway 65 was the dividing line or became the dividing line for relocation. The people who had been on the coast had to move to the interior and then the interior was divided on Highway 65. The relocation was staged from the fair grounds in Tulare as I recall, I believe that that’s where that was done.

(Japanese Americans in Visalia were not sent to the fair grounds before being relocated in August 1942.)

LO: Do you remember anything about the holocaust?

JK: I remember hearing reports about it and it was so horrible it was almost unbelievable.

LO: How about the relocation of Japanese/Americans? Did you know anything about that, which you said you did, but can you tell me, elaborate on it more?

JK: No, I think I’ve told you about all that I know about that. We welcomed our Japanese/American neighbors when they came home. I don’t recall much else about the relocation.

LO: How did your family found out about the war?

JK: I think we mentioned that we were walking home from church. The entire family had walked to church that morning and we were all on our way home. Our friend’s family had heard the report on the radio and he saw us walking home and he came out of the house to tell us about it.

LO: Did you listen during the broadcast or talk it over, with the paper at regular times?

JK: Yes, we did. We listened to the news every morning and every evening and we did keep the maps from the newspaper and I think we had some discussions about the war, if not everyday, frequently.

LO: How was your family? Were they closer back then? Tell me about your family.

JK: I think my family’s always been close; perhaps the war brought us even closer together.

LO: Do you remember how movies reflected the war?

JK: Yeah, there were some wartime movies that were more on the order of entertainment. I recall one called "The Great Dictator" (starring Charlie Chaplin). It was a comedy, poking fun at Adolph Hitler and the Germans. I do recall that when we went to the movies, there was always a newsreel that preceded the movie and this was how we saw the action of the war, through the newsreels at the movie theatre.

LO: What were your impressions of military and political leadership during the war?

JK: I think that my personal impressions were that we were politically unified and that militarily our leaders were doing a good job. 

LO: Were there any celebrations or events, when you heard the war was over?

JK: Yes, there was ringing of church bells, firing of firecrackers (chuckle) and dragging the main. A lot of people drove their cars up and down the main street of town. We just sat on the curb and watched. It was a happy time.

LO: What town was that?

JK: That was in Monrovia. We had moved back from Lindsay to Southern California by the end of the war.

(My dad was called back to work at the West Coast headquarters of his company in Azusa. I can remember traveling the ridge route at 35 miles per hour, the wartime speed limit, for the whole trip between Lindsay and Monrovia.)

LO: Do you consider World War II as a just war?

JK: Absolutely, I do.

LO: In your opinion, what was the overall impact of the war on American society?

JK: That’s not an easy question. I think that it brought us together politically and unified our patriotism. You know, I think it brought us together.

LO: How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

JK: I grew up rapidly. (chuckle) I think that going to work at such an early age and all, probably made me mature a little faster. It made a more responsible person out of me at an early age.

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

JK: I don’t know that Tulare County was affected in any other ways than the rest of the country. I think that some of the educational programs that followed World War II, like the GI Bill, probably advanced agriculture technologically and just how that impacts us now, I don’t know. I think that did have perhaps some long lasting effect on Tulare County.

LO: How was it with the agriculture, you mentioned that, so can you tell me a little bit about the agriculture in Tulare County at that time?

JK: Well, agriculture was certainly the principle industry, but it was irrigated agriculture. It was scattered at various locations near the rivers that diverted water from the rivers for irrigation. We didn’t have a Friat/Kern Canal then; it came later. So, there was a lot more dry farming and cattle ranching in those days.  There were not a lot of dairies, I think enough to sustain the needs of the local population. So, agriculture has grown a great deal since then.

LO: How were businesses affected by the rationing and the shortages? Do you know anything about that?

JK: I think business my have been complicated a little bit by the need to do additional bookkeeping. I don’t know what other impacts there were on business.

LO: I was told that you had some memory of the flood. Can you tell me about that?

JK: Which flood?

LO: The flood that happened during the years of 1941 through 1946. I think they happened in 1941.

JK: I don’t recall that one. I remember the heavy rains of 1937, but I don’t recall a flood during the war years.

LO: How about the Germans? Did you know anything about the prisoners, anything about a German prisoner escaping or anything?

JK: Yes, there was a prisoner of war camp located at Tagus Ranch, north of Tulare. I can recall driving down Highway 99 and the outer fence of the prison was right there by the highway and the prisoners would watch the traffic go by. One of them escaped and came over, walked over to Round Valley, it would have been maybe fifteen or eighteen miles from Tulare. He surprised the son of a tenant who was living in a house on our farm. This boy had stayed home from school, because he was ill. He went out to the kitchen and there was this man, with the back of his blue denim jacket torn out, where the POW apparently had been torn off. It surprised this fellow.

We later found the place where he had built a little makeshift shelter on the hillside, where he could see all of the country around and see if anybody was approaching. He was later captured, somewhere southeast of Lindsay, over toward Strathmore. I believe that was in 1944, possibly, or 1945.

LO: Is there anything that you would like to add, that we have not covered in this interview?

JK: I don’t think so.

LO: Well thank you Mr. Kirkpatrick.

L. Owings/ pd 04-19-2004/ ed. JW 08-20-04

Ed. Note: Words in italics are clarifications or changes made during a phone interview with John Kirkpatrick on August 20, 2004.