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: Robert Newton Line


Date: November 10, 2003


Report No: 33


Interviewer: Sheryll Strachan


 Place: Tulare County, CA


Place of Interview: Visalia, CA in Robert Line’s home.





SS: This interview is with Mr. Robert Line for Years of Valor, Years of Hope: the years of 1941 through 1946. The interviewer is Sheryll Strachan. Could you give me your parent’s names and where they were from?

RL: My father was Walter Line and my mother was Alice (Glynn) Line. They originally were from Missouri in the Midwest. They moved to California in the early 1900’s.

SS: And, where did you grow up?

RL: Actually, I grew up on a citrus ranch that my parents owned. It was between the small communities of Ivanhoe and Woodlake, just about in between those two communities.

SS: And your family at that time?

RL: I had two sisters, two older sisters. My oldest sister was Mary (m. Combs) and my other sister was Virginia. (m. Williams)  I had a brother, Bill. We were all close together in age and yet, I was about nine years younger than my older brother was. So, he did have to go into the service. I did not.

SS: And how old were you when World War II began?

RL: I had just turned, I think, eight years old in September, and the war started in December. So I was about third grade.

SS: Did anything stand out to you before the war, and a couple of years before the war?

RL: Well, let’s see, before the war. Of course, we were in the middle of the Depression and I can remember a lot of people standing in line to get relief, what they called relief funds. I remember driving with my parents into Visalia and watching the long lines of people getting help and assistance. I also remember, of course, both the CCC workers, which were young people that were employed by the government to work, particularly up in our mountains here. My sister, Virginia, actually ended up meeting one of those young men, (Joel B. Williams) up there and eventually marrying him, and then, of course, he went into the Air Force; he was a CCC’er before that and worked near the Grant Grove area, up in the mountains here. So there were a lot of programs that were going on in the government and they were building. I remember various public buildings being constructed by the Public Works program, WPA, I guess it was called. In fact, the Sierra Vista School here in Visalia was originally constructed by that group, so it is well built (chuckle). It was really built. So there was a lot of work going on trying to stimulate the economy and trying to get people back to work. So I remember that, you know, prior to the war breaking out.  There were a lot of different things going on of that nature. (Ed: CCC stands for Civilian Conservation Corps which was 1930’s New Deal program for boys and men eighteen years and older.)

We were always, our family was always pretty well taken care of, as we lived on a ranch and even though it was a citrus ranch, we had lots of acreage that we could plant various food stuffs to eat and we kept animals of all sorts, hogs and beef cattle, and of course we had horses and mules and all that sort of thing too, so we had a lot of animals. But there was always food available. We didn’t have to worry about that. Times were difficult, but I never went hungry.

SS: And do you remember Pearl Harbor?

RL: Oh, yes.  Yes, I remember listening; I was, of course, just eight years old, but I remember the family coming together in the living room and listening to the radio as the reports came in on the attack on Pearl Harbor and, of course, President Roosevelt addressing the nation. Yeah, it’s very vivid in my memory, because it was, of course, the whole family. And all families, of course, in the whole area, everybody was talking about it immediately, concerned and worried. Of course, in those days too, there were always, with wars, a lot of rumors going around that the Japanese would be attacking the West Coast within a matter of days (chuckle), which wasn’t too practical, I guess, in terms of logistics to do that but there was a lot of concern and people worried about the West Coast and what was going to happen.

SS: And, how did the war affect your life? You were young.

RL: Yeah, yeah, well, it affected everybody because, of course, having an older brother, who was just about the right age to go into the service, my mother was naturally very concerned about that. Because we lived on a ranch, he did get a deferment, I think for about a year to help my father because we needed the assistance to work on the ranch. So of course, they had set up the draft boards in the area and they would draft different groups of young men and you could apply for a deferral and I think you got one for like a year. Because, I think when he finally went in the service he was about 19 and they were drafting down into 18 years olds in those times. So he obviously was very much affected by it and went and trained at Camp Roberts, here in California and then eventually became a part of the Tenth Mountain Division and was sent to Europe and fought in the Italian Theatre there and went through quite an ordeal there. I can remember him writing home with the V-mail that was sent then. Of course, it had to be censored and everything.

We, of course, had a lot of concern about him, but even prior to that time when the Japanese, after that, Pearl Harbor, and after the threats here, even, I guess, there was a little shelling that went on over on the coast from Japanese submarines. People were concerned about the planes coming over and so I can remember my sisters participating in a program that was Watch Towers where they had observation towers constructed. And one was constructed out near the Ivanhoe area and one of the ranchers out there built this huge tower and it was then manned 24 hours a day. I remember my parents taking my sisters over to do their three-hour shifts. They had binoculars where they would look and any plane that was coming through would certainly be reported. There was a certain number that they would call in and say, "Yes, we’ve spotted an aircraft," and they would report that. It seems sort of silly now, you know, when you look back on it (chuckle) and say how in the world would they ever think the Japanese could get this far with airplanes.

And, of course, the other thing that I remember that impacted me as a child was: we had several Japanese children in our classroom and just up the street was a neighbor who was a Japanese neighbor and one of the youngsters there was about my age (Katsumi) and so we used to play together. We did for several years and, of course, the government, then, required them to be shipped off and I remember him coming down with his older brother and leaving with us a .22 caliber rifle that they had, because the government made them turn them in. They would have to give them all their weapons, so he said we would rather that you have it than give it to the government. Also, they had a short wave radio that they had to turn in, so they gave that to us. I remember being very sad as a youngster, because I had befriended this young Japanese child and I never saw him again after that.

Now some of the families in the area did come back and are still around today, but I never did see them again.  Unfortunately, one of the other things that happened was, times were real difficult about the time the war broke out, but as the war progressed then the economy picked up and, unfortunately, many of the Japanese families had to sell their ranches and all at a very low price. So many of the people in the area picked up a lot of the ranches here and, of course, did very well economically during the war. Many of them paid off their ranches within a year or two, you know, with some of the prices that they got from some of the fruit and all.

Then, of course they became some pretty well to do ranchers in the area. It was a shame in terms of the Japanese families that didn’t realize what they should have. So as a youngster I did not understand why this was happening. There was a lot of discrimination even while they were here. Before they were shipped off, I can remember seeing signs saying, "No Japanese served here," in front of the different business establishments and people began to take, sort of, a little bit of sides in that issue. There were people who defended the Japanese families, saying "Hey, these are Americans," you know, that were our neighbors and so forth. And others who obviously thought they were very suspicious and there were rumors abounding like the one I can recall about the Japanese farmer who was supposedly putting white caps on his tomatoes and he was pointing them with an arrow toward Sequoia Field so that the Japanese (chuckle) planes could come in and bomb Sequoia Field. Which was, again, ridiculous but, you know, these are the kind of things that float around and then, of course, that makes people suspicious.

But, on the other hand, to try to be a little bit balanced about the times, people were very frightened. Very similar in what you see today with the war on terror. They were very frightened and they kept hearing all this, that the Japanese were going to invade the West Coast and they did things and had attitudes, I’m sure, that wouldn’t be acceptable today, but they just were very, very concerned and so they over-reacted as we sometimes do, I think, to those things. Anyway as a child, growing up, these were things that were hard for me to sometimes understand or appreciate.

I also remember some friends of ours (The Pritchard’s) who had a store, who had a grocery store in Ivanhoe. He was also the postmaster for many years in that town.  And they were very friendly to the Japanese, the families, and they were about the only store where the Japanese could come and buy food. Not all the other people would sell to them. And then their neighbors began to turn on our friends and began to boycott their store and it was because they were serving the Japanese families. So, you know, there was a lot of that kind of thing that developed, which was probably not a real positive thing about that period of history. But as a child we always had, usually, I would say two or three Japanese children in our classroom. So you got pretty well acquainted with them and just like any other child, you know, back in those days, there were no innate prejudices that children had, but some of them began to develop as the war progressed. Anyway, those are some of the things as a child that I remember.

And, then of course, I remember the rationing, which I’m sure everybody does. And I still have, today, some of the rationing coupon books that I kept, that I was issued. They were issued to each member of the family. You got it for sugar and you got it for, you know, different things that you could buy with it. We were fortunate in being ranchers; the gasoline really wasn’t rationed to us. Now the normal person, going to work, had to have coupons worth of gasoline. But the ranchers were exempt from that because they had to have gasoline to run their tractors and their other equipment and so forth. They had to produce the crops, so we never had a problem that way, but I do remember my father having to go into the ration board and they had a local board that would determine who could get, for instance, tires for their automobiles and tractors and trucks, and so forth.

I remember him having a dickens of a time trying to get . . . well, you really didn’t get new tires, you would get recaps. And if you were lucky, you’d get recaps, otherwise you ran the tires until they were just bare, almost. But that was really, really difficult and it got to be a little political too, you know, who you knew and that sort of thing. So some people would get very angry. They’d go in and make an appeal to get tires and they would be turned down by the board. And of course, you had both the draft board and then you had, I guess they called it a ration board. I can’t remember exactly, but it was a board of people, local people.

And then my wife’s father (Vernon Cruzen) was also an air raid warden here in Visalia. He used to go out with his flashlight and they would say from certain times, from a certain point on, the lights were all to be out and so he had to check his particular neighborhood to make sure everybody had their lights out. They would look back and sort of laugh about that now. But then they used to wear their little air warden hats and so forth. So, anyway, it was an interesting time, but a lot of activities going on with the civilians as well as with, you know, people in the military. The one thing about it was the entire country was united. Especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the people came together and even though we had these problems with people treating the Japanese poorly, as it was in many cases, there was still a very strong, patriotic feeling throughout the country. I don’t recall any opposition to the war or anything like that, it was: let’s get in, produce what we need to produce, win it and get out and get it done. 

Of course, the more they learned about what was going on with the German situation there with Hitler and all of his crew, well, people were even more determined that they were gonna win the war. And of course, you had a strong wartime leader in President Roosevelt and others that were in positions of leadership. So that kept the country, I think too, sort of united.

So I remember that, plus you’d go to school and you were always asked if you were going to buy war bonds. So the kids, we would all come and bring our twenty-five cents, I think it was twenty-five cents for a stamp. And then you got so many stamps in the book and that would get you a bond (chuckle). So that was the way the children would help with the war effort.

Of course, as we got older they used to actually dismiss us certain days to go out and work in the fields because we didn’t have enough help. The older children usually, I think probably 12 years old and up through high school, there would be certain days they’d go out and pick cotton or pick grapes or pick plums or whatever, to help harvest the crops because we were short on labor in the area, because most all of the young men were in the service. So that’s another thing I remember as a youngster, that everybody sort of had to get in and do those things.

SS: Do you remember what effect it had at school?

RL: The war itself? Well the teachers and we did discuss, sometimes, what was going on and people would talk about their families that were in the service and where they were and what they were doing and that sort of thing. I guess it was good therapy for the class to do that. And then, of course, there were some tragic situations too, where people would lose . . . we had, I remember, at least two or three families that had lost people in the war, whose children attended school there. That, of course, was a very sad time for folks. There was hardly anybody that didn’t have somebody that was either killed, wounded or were prisoners of war. And of course not having the instant communication like we have today, with all the news media being able to let you know what’s going on, I mean it was, from the time certain battles occurred or certain things happened, by the time you got the information, there was a lot of lapse there in time. So you weren’t really getting up to date information always on what was happening, you know, during the war.

Anyway, yeah, as far as school, you know, the teachers and everybody were pretty much together in what was happening and there were discussions and, I think, our minds were, you know, it never left your mind. And I think as a child, you know, obviously, you began, especially as you begin to mature a little bit, you begin to realize what war was all about and that we could easily be occupied (chuckle) by a foreign country. So that always sort of weighed heavily, I think, on children. So just about everything that went on during those years, somehow, got back to the war. And of course, the shortages of not only food, but other things, and people did sacrifice. I used to save tin foil balls that they would gather and ship them to use for the war effort. I don’t know, just different things that they would do, of course, to try to help the war effort.

Then there were some families that were affected, in that they were here in the valley in the rural setting, who, because of the various war plants or whatever, munitions plants and building planes and building all things that were going into the war effort, I know a number of families left this area and went either to the Bay Area or to Southern California to work in the war plants. I guess they called them that, I can’t remember, we called them war plants, (chuckle) where they actually built the planes and built the guns and did all the things to produce the materials and equipment that they needed for the war. So there was quite a bit of mobility at that time for people who normally probably would have been more stationery, who were going where the jobs were. Especially after the Depression years, where many of them were having a struggle anyway, they were able to go work in the munitions factories or such and make good money.

SS: So what did you do for entertainment? There must have been a lighter side . . . something you did?

RL: Well yeah, you know, there were still movies; picture shows we used to call them. Where I lived I was only a few miles from Woodlake and they did have a movie theatre there and so, you know, Saturdays we used to go to the matinee, ride our bikes up and go watch Roy Rogers and Dale Evans or Tex Ritter, (chuckle) you know, usually some shoot-em-up cowboy thing that was on. And all the serial stuff they don’t have anymore, but they used to have every Saturday, you’d have a serial to bring you back next week, you know (chuckle). But that was big entertainment in those days.

In the summer time, of course, there were reservoirs we used to swim in and so we did a lot of swimming and everybody went bare footed just about all summer long. And actually, when it was really, really hot, there was no air conditioning, in fact. I guess when I was probably three, four or five years of age, before the war, my mother just could not take the heat and so every summer we would pack up and go up into the mountains and stay all summer long. In those days, you could actually get what they called a permanent campground. You could stay there all summer if you got there first, you know. You’d try to get up there early, get a good spot and then you stayed there.

We’d set up our tents and so forth and my father would come. He would do the irrigating of the oranges and taking care of the animals and all that and then he would, on weekends, come up to the mountains and stay a couple of days and then go back and have to go through his routine of cultivating and thinning out the groves and then starting the water and irrigating during the summer time. But we stayed up all summer so I really got to know those mountains well.

But even during the war years too, we were just beginning to get swamp coolers and so forth. And prior to that there was nothing, I mean, you just sat there. I can remember my mother just sitting and fanning herself, you know, with a fan and saying I can’t take this any longer. You can imagine if you had the power go off here recently, you know what you’re faced with (chuckle). So, my father probably said, "Well, I’ll just take you up to the mountains. We’ll put up a campground." And so my brother and my two sisters and I, we went up there. Of course, you developed an awful lot of friendships up there because a lot of other people did the same thing.  You know, if they were wealthy enough they might have a home or a cabin or something up there, but most of us, you know, (chuckle) in those days during the Depression years, you were just lucky to eat well.

So there were other forms of entertainment. We entertained ourselves a lot, played a lot of games at home, I mean board games, Monopoly and cards of all kinds. That was something we did as a family. We used to have family card parties and give prizes. We used to play what was called "500" and we’d keep track of that and, in fact, even to this day, our family, we sort of passed that on as a tradition. We continue to do some of that and get all our kids to learn how to play and they do it, you know. But those were ways in which you entertained yourself and I was so much younger than my brother ‘cause he was off to the service and I would, I guess, either go find a neighbor to play with or played a lot by myself, you know, entertain myself with imaginary (chuckle) folks.

And so it was a time also where everybody had to work because when I came home - I would get home from school when I was like, maybe sixth grade, seventh grade, just before the war actually ended I was old enough to do quite a little work so I always had to go home and I would go out and do some kind of an assigned job.  And it was probably good for my family, I mean, in order to get the work done ‘cause my father, having relied on my brother to help him, was doing it pretty much all himself there for several years. And he was older; he was actually 52, I think, when I was born, so you can imagine, you know, he was a man in his sixties trying to do all that work and take care of the animals and everything. So I did a lot of the work and you didn’t have time to do a lot of other things. By the time you worked and did your homework and so forth and had your meal that was it. I can remember during those years listening to the radio. My father would have on the news always; he’d go onto the news and hear about the war, the report on the war effort, what was going on.  But then we would always listen to Li’l Abner, Red Rider (chuckle) and all the evening programs that were on the radio networks. And they had a lot of them; I could mention a number of them, but that was the way we had our entertainment. And then we usually went to bed pretty early.

SS: Was there one event that stands out in all the years, during the war years?

RL: Yeah, other than Pearl Harbor itself, I guess VE Day and VJ Day, those two days stand out. I remember I happened to have been in Fresno, I guess it was on VJ Day, and people were just going crazy, celebrating and so forth. I don’t remember so much about VE Day but I just remember my mother being so happy that my brother Bill had come home. He had actually gotten back from Italy but they were getting them prepared and mobilized to join into the Pacific Theatre to do the final invasion of the Japanese Islands. He was just getting ready to do that when the atomic bomb was dropped and that was, of course, a major thing that I can remember. To be honest with you, everybody was, even though it was a horrible thing, as you look back on it, everybody was pleased at that time because they knew it was going to end the war. They didn’t want their families anymore devastated by having to go over there and fight, you know, island by island to finish that war. So I have mixed emotions about that. I mean it was a very terrible thing that people had to suffer, to go through it. I mean, there may have been some other way that it could have been done, I don’t know, to show them the devastation that could occur, but the Japanese lords just would not give in until they finally saw that it was just gonna destroy them. So that was a memorable time and I remember them announcing it and, of course, all the aftermath of that. Anyway, those were pretty indelible things in my mind as a result of the end of the war.

SS: And you have already kind of said things changed and your feelings, at the time, compared to how you look back at it now.

RL: Yeah, as a child, too, you don’t have the maturity, you know, to fully understand what was happening totally. But, I don’t know, it was a totally different society than we have today and I think the lack of communication, like we have now, with the internet, radio, television, everything that goes on now, I mean, you are more informed. In those days, a lot of things were based on hearsay and rumor and what somebody else had heard and whatever. So looking back on that, I can see where that created a number of problems and certainly it did result in the treatment of the Japanese.

So anyway, yeah, the lack of real factual information sometimes, being able to know what was going on and I’m sure there was propaganda on both sides. You know, just as there is today to some degree but you don’t always know if you’re getting the right information. Sometimes battles were reported, only the good things that occurred and not the loss of life and planes and all the rest that went on. And later on you found out that, you know, that there was that side of it too. So now-a-days they can hardly get away with any of that because of the instant communication that comes back. It was probably easier to wage a war in those days and get the full support of the people because you only knew what information was given to you, pretty much. So, that’s probably one of the differences.

SS: When did your brother get back?

RL: He got back, I’m thinking, I don’t remember exactly when the war was over. It was just before the Japanese - before the atomic bombs were dropped and the Japanese actually surrendered. So that would have been maybe ’46 or something like that. He had been fighting, as I said, in Italy with the Tenth Mountain Division and, in fact, Bob Dole was in that same Tenth Mountain Division and he was not too far from him when he was wounded. They took heavy, heavy casualties and my brother was actually wounded a couple of times; hit with shrapnel and had a number of close escapes but he did make it back all right. He received a bronze metal and so he was right in the thick of it over there. Fighting the Germans down through what they called the Po Valley in Italy and in the mountainous areas there too. Of course, they were a mountain division and so when the war ended there, of course, they were out of it. They got out of there and they shipped them back and came back to the East Coast and then, I think, he was in Colorado. They went there and then the process of retraining for whatever they might have to do over in Japan while the war was ending.

So, we were fortunate in that my brother-in-law, Joel, the one who married my sister, the one who had been in the CCCs (California Conservation Corps) and in the Air Force, ended up in Saipan helping there in the Air Force. Neither one of them was injured. Well, my brother was injured some but not seriously. And so our family was not devastated like so many families were by the loss of someone. And there were a lot, lot, of people killed and then some of my brother’s friends here that he knew before he left came back and they were wounded, seriously wounded. One had been a prisoner of war for a year or two and so on. So that took awhile, I think, for them all to adjust, just like any group that comes back from a war. So there was an adjustment period. And right after the war, of course, the economy and everything kept really changing ‘cause you had all these people back now and they were building homes and they had the GI Bill and they were able to go on to college, a lot of them, and take advantage of that.

SS: Okay. Now I have two questions. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

RL: Well I don’t know, I think it made us closer together as a family because we had to really rely on each other and everybody had to do their part, so there was a pretty close bond that developed. And then, of course, having someone over there, fighting over there, so when they got back, well, I think my brother and I have grown closer together as a result of that experience and thinking that you might not have a brother, you know. As a child you worry about those things, knowing that people were dying everyday in the war. So I think, family wise, there’s a little more of closeness, maybe as a result of going through those years. I don’t know what else, maybe, to add to that.

It was interesting times and I think also that the people, not just families, but the people came together around a common goal and common purpose and the war was really priority number one. I can remember the mothers putting the stars up in the windows, you know, and if they lost a loved one, well, you’d put a gold star, I guess it was in the windows. And as you would go by the homes you would see those. So that tends to bind a community together, everybody having concern for everybody else and looking after your neighbor and helping. I can hardly remember much in the way of crime or stuff going on. Of course, I was small but I’m sure there was some. I don’t remember ever locking our doors; we left our doors open and so forth; nobody worried about those things. Now, that wouldn’t be possible.

SS: And, how do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is today?

RL: Well it obviously affected those Japanese families that didn’t get to return and go back to their property and ranches and so forth that they lost during the war. So those folks were rather dramatically affected by it. And some people, because of the war, and it was not necessarily a bad thing but people got wealthy. I mean, there were some, you could look around today and see some of the large, maybe land owners or ranches or whatever, that many of them were able to get into it during the war and make big money and buy more property and expand their enterprises and a lot of entrepreneurships.  It wasn’t just luck necessarily but because of the war; it did change the economic situation somewhat in the county. A few people emerged with pretty large holdings and interests. I don’t know what else the war caused, you know, different than anywhere else in the United States . I don’t know where Tulare County would particularly be any different except in those respects that I’ve just mentioned. Yet obviously, for those people who lost someone during the war, I’m sure it has impacted them much over the years. But that occurred everywhere in the United States , I’m sure.  So I don’t know anything else to add to that.

SS: Okay, is there anything else you remember that you’d like to add?

RL: No, I think I probably (chuckle) said everything that needs to be said. It’s something that occurs in your life at a time when you’re pretty impressionable and it never goes away. I think it probably makes us, this generation, maybe a little more traditional in the way we look at things. And maybe, maybe to a fault, a little too patriotic or too trusting sometimes, of government, and what goes on. But on the other hand, I think also there is something to be said for the unifying affect that it had on everybody. Since that time I really haven’t see that completely, as complete as it was during those days.  To me, it seemed like everybody wanted to come together and see this thing through and there was no negativism at all that I can recall. If there was some, I didn’t hear it.

SS: Okay, well, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you.

RL: You’re welcome, you’re very welcome. 

1-12-2004 S. Strachan/Transcriber pd/ed. JW 6/21/04

Ed. note: The words in italics were added during an edit and phone interview with Bob Line on January 25, 2006.