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: Louise L. Longan


Date: 1/17/04


Tape # 70


Interviewer: Carol S. Demmers


Place: Tulare County, CA


Place of Interview: Mrs. Longan’s Home



Tulare, California


Life in Tulare, California as a young married woman during WWII.

CD: It is January 17, 2004. I am Carol Demmers and I am interviewing Mrs. Louise Longan in her home in Tulare, California as part of the Oral History program entitled, "Years of Valor,Years of Hope, Tulare County and the Years 1941,1946." Louise, when were you born and where?

LL: I was born on August 7th in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1914.

CD: And where did you grow up?

LL: My folks came to California when I was about 5 years old. Then they went back to Kansas and we came out a second time and I was 12. We stayed ever since. I feel like a native Californian.

CD: Did you move right to Tulare then or did you move somewhere else?

LL: We were in Corcoran.

CD: Oh, and what was your maiden name?

LL: Stewart.

CD: Did you have brothers and sisters?

LL: I had two brothers. I’m the oldest and then I had a brother Drexel Stewart and a brother Dean Duane. He passed away two years ago. My brother Drexel is living with me now and he’s recovering by-pass surgery. He had five bypasses so the two of us make one good human being. He’s been living with me now for several years. He has no family.

CD: You’re each other’s family.

LL: Well, you know, brothers and sisters don’t get along too good sometimes, so we continue where we left off.

CD: And what type of work did your father do?

LL: Dad (Louis Stewart) was a mechanic. He made tools. I’ll think of it pretty soon.

CD: Like tools for what. What kind of tools? Tools for autos, for doing . . .?

LL: Lots of times he made parts for automobiles. He worked for the Chevrolet garage for a long time here in Tulare. Many years.

CD: OK. So how old were you when World War II began?

LL: It began in 1947, 1942 . . .

CD: That’s kind of a tricky question. The war was kind of going on before the United States got into it.

LL: We got into it in 1947, I think it was.

CD: A little before that. Do you remember where you were when you heard about it?

LL: We lived on K Street in Tulare and the houses are all gone where we lived.

CD: So were you a schoolgirl then?

LL: K Street where it comes down and goes across the railroad tracks. Just before you get to the railroad tracks there was two blocks of houses and there were areas that didn’t have a house and then there was a house. A schoolteacher lived next door to us and then our house was the other on K Street just before you would make that curve and go over the railroad tracks. We lived there and I had moved home with my mother (Julia Dodd Stewart) and put all of our furniture in storage.

I kept on working and kept my job, so I went to the milk testing for a while, but shortly after that I got a job with Tulare City, at the library. I had taken some courses in Library Science in college, but did not have a librarian’s degree. But I knew what it was about. So they hired me to begin with as a part-time employee and then shortly after they made me full time. Not too long after that, the librarian that was there and I were made co-librarians. Both of us were supposed to be in charge, so we worked that way for a while, but then, you know what happens. I got to where I just couldn’t take it, so I was going to go to the Board and resign and see if I could find a different job. Tulare, everything then was right downtown and so. . . .

CD: And was this like after the war had started?

LL: Yes.

CD: And you were already married?

LL: Yes I was. And I had moved in with my mother and she helped with Pat. (Patrick Bart Longen) He was just a baby. Then my mother-in-law (Julia Glover Longen) was alone and she came and lived with my mother too. So the two mothers-in-law lived together, which is unusual in the same house. I remember the day that they let us know that war had been declared against Japan . Right on the corner, there was the Dodge garage on one corner and across the street there was another garage, but there was a pole up there that had a horn on it. I was coming from town, walking out in the street and that whistle blew just at the time that I got there. I about jumped out of my skin! They were announcing the United States was at war with Japan.

CD: So that’s the way you heard it, rather than through the newspaper?

LL: I heard it right there. It just blasted. But George was already in the service.

CD: How did that make you feel? Were you nervous about that?

LL: Well, you just accept what comes because there is nothing you can do about it. He was drafted. I thought too, we had a baby and he was older, but still they drafted him. They were taking anybody that had two legs, really. He was sent to Guatemala . They had soldiers in all those South American countries.

But he was a salesman and he had also had some Spanish language training, so they made him in charge of the Army PX. So he was in charge of that down there for five years. He saw a little bit of action, but very little. When they were getting ready, he had been moved from there after about five years to the Panama Canal. He was shipping out of the Panama Canal and they were going to Japan . He never got to Japan . He was at the overseas place in Panama . . . .

As I say, the Tulare businesses were all downtown and you know where the Central California Implement Company is? It’s on Inyo Street. That was on the very edge of town and most of this property here was just bare land. Mostly grape orchards. Grape vineyards. The businesses were all right down there together. Now, mostly downtown we don’t have any businesses, you know. Like then we had Leggett’s and they had general merchandise. Everything you could think of. It got to where you couldn’t even buy a spool of thread in Tulare because of the businesses that moved and closed and the ready-to-wear, people went out of business.

CD: You think because of the war a lot of this happened? Because of the war?

LL: Well, I think people were ready for a change. I really don’t know why all that happened, but the cities, even now, since this war, they are looking for new ways of doing things and hiring people. New space and all. That seems to go along with war and all. But it’s gotten to where actually when you want to buy anything you go to the merchandising stores that we have. You don’t go to the 15-cent store. All of those little stores that we had, Kresge and all, have closed. The 49-cent store is another one that closed.

CD: Ben Franklin and all of those.

LL: All of those.

CD: So when they announced that the United States was going to war against the Japanese and they talked about Pearl Harbor, did you know where Pearl Harbor was?

LL: Oh yes.

CD: You did, good. You had paid attention to that. So how did you feel? Do you remember how you felt when you heard that?

LL: Well, I was depressed. I had two young brothers, Drexel and Dean, and a husband that were all in the service. I knew they would be right in the thick of it. My youngest brother was a reconnaissance P-38 pilot and he flew out of Florence, Italy over Germany and he took pictures. This brother here was sent to Alaska. He was sent to the island of Attu and they lived in tents in Alaska. He transferred into the Army Air and he was made a weather observer up there. My husband was with the Air Corps and he was shipped out of New Orleans to Guatemala . He was sent from New Orleans to New York and I don’t know how he got to Guatemala from there. But I knew we were involved in it up to here, so . . .

CD: Did you spend time listening to the radio, to what was going on?

LL: We had the radio. We didn’t have a television at that time. You looked for the newspapers to see what they said. And then my mother always had the radio on, so if you would come home, she would let you know what was going on. As I said, I was depressed, but yet I was excited. You are waiting to see what is going to happen, but not that you could do anything about it.

CD: So your husband was already in the service, it’s not like he went away, but do you remember that your family changed at all? Did friends that you knew move in together?

LL: I moved home with my baby. It was that way a lot. The kids would come back and the parents would take care of the children while the wives worked. You couldn’t live independently on about $64 a month.

CD: Did you stay at home with your child or did you go back to work?

LL: I was working. My mother kept the baby. . .with my mother-in-law, they together kept the baby.

CD: Did it seem like there were a lot more women that went to work at that time?

LL: A lot of women went to work that had never worked before. But I’d worked all the time.

CD: You had gone to college which wasn’t real common for a young woman then.

LL: No, there was a lot that didn’t, but I didn’t graduate from college.

CD: Do you ever wish you would have? Did it matter to you?

LL: At one time it did, but then later on I probably couldn’t have gotten any further in my job than I did. I was full librarian in Tulare for a good long time.

CD: Did the war affect your family’s economic status? I remember it was so difficult to get some things at that time.

LL: Oh yes, it was funny. There was a scarcity of toilet paper. There was little store back on J Street and every time I went in there I would take Pat with me. He would go back in the back and he could reach a roll of toilet paper, so he would come back with that. So I always bought a roll of toilet paper. They accused me of hording it because after the war went on, other things became scarce and toilet paper was one of the things. You had to have stamps to get it. Yes, there were a lot of things. Gasoline, we were only allowed so much gasoline per month and I had a friend here in Tulare. I don’t know if you knew him or not, but he had a service station and I had bought gasoline from him for years. So he asked me if I would be willing to give him all of my gas stamps and then that way he could buy more gas with the stamps when he had them all at one time. I said yes and he said he would see that I got gas any time I needed it. So I gave him all of my gas stamps when I got them and that would help him to get it. His name was Wilson Burnett. But people worked together, you know. Nobody had any money. Everybody was poor.

CD: So you didn’t feel poor, because everyone was the same.

LL: Well, you don’t need anything.

CD: Do you remember anything you really missed a lot that you really felt bad . . .

LL: That I missed?

CD: That you couldn’t get anymore,that you had to give up so you missed it? Anything in particular?

LL: Well, I think about a lot of things. We quit having things, like the Tulare County Symphony Orchestra. They didn’t have it for a while. Cultural things you missed.

CD: That’s what you missed. Uh-huh.

LL: You couldn’t afford to go to a lot of them.

CD: Did you go to the movies?

LL: Not much. My needs were very small because I had that baby to take care of. We got $65 a month from the service and part of that was out of George’s paycheck and you can’t do much on $65 a month.

CD: Even then. That’s interesting. But during those particular years you were still working mostly in the milk plant? Or was this when you had gone to the library then?

LL: This was when I was at the milk plant.

CD: Doing the milk testing. So everyone helped each other. Did your family have a victory garden? Do you remember having a garden and growing anything?

LL: No, we really didn’t because my dad worked in the shipyards and my mother was taking care of the baby, so we just . . .

CD: Was your dad still here?

LL: No, he was working in Oakland.

CD: But your mother continued to stay here then?

LL: My dad would come home on weekends.

CD: That was hard on her I’m sure, on your mother to have him gone. Did you write letters a lot to your husband?

LL: My husband and my two brothers. We sent packages. Mother and I sent what they called Care Packages about once a month to my two brothers and George.

CD: What did you put in them?

LL: For some of them I baked cakes, cookies and without knowing I used some of my stamps and bought Spam and put that in and they were getting Spam and little wieners all the time.

CD: Sugar was something that was hard to get a hold of, right? So to make cakes and things you had to save your stamps to do that?

LL: Yes, saved the stamps.

CD: And did they tell you they received them? Their care packages?

LL: Well, a lot of the fellows, their families didn’t send them anything. A lot of them didn’t have families. My husband said he used to share the letters with them because they were so anxious to have news from home. My letters were passed around.

CD: Laughter. Oh gosh. Did you know that when you were writing them.

LL: No, but everything was opened and censored and a lot of times we would get a letter and there would be a whole page missing or you get something and a lot would be cut out of it. They would cut the area out.

CD: They didn’t want you to know where everybody was. It was kind of an unstable time. What do you feel gave your family stability during that time?

LL: I think that the fact that I was able to work and had a good job. We knew that anything in money needs, we could take care of. Everybody was healthy, in good health then.

CD: And you already mentioned that you helped each other. So you knew you had some support there, I think.

LL: And as I say, nobody had any money. Our friends were all in the same boat we were.

CD: Do you remember any kinds of things you did in the evening? You didn’t go to movies. So in your free time . . . you were a reader I would guess.

LL: I read a lot. Of course, I had to wash clothes and all. My mother couldn’t do all of that. I had plenty to do. I helped her with the house.

CD: But for recreation, did you play games?

LL: We used to play a lot of cards.

CD: How long was it before your husband came home?

LL: He was overseas for five years.

CD: Five years.

LL: And he never got home in all that five years.

CD: So had he ever seen your baby?

LL: No, I had a picture of him on the piano. We had moved the piano to mom’s house and I would show him George’s picture and tell him, "That’s your daddy." When he came home, he got down on the floor and said, "Come on, give daddy a kiss." He ran to me and I picked him up and he said, "No, that’s my daddy. That picture."

CD: (Laughter)

LL: He didn’t have a daddy. George wasn’t his daddy at all. "That’s my daddy up there in the picture." We had an awful time getting him to realize that the picture and George was the same person.

CD: Oh, that’s tough. Yes.

LL: Hard for the kids.

CD: Yes, hard for the kids. How do you think the war changed the city of Tulare? Do you remember plants closing and some things closing and other things opening?

LL: It immediately started growing. The influx of people coming to this area. Building enterprise,they were immediately building houses. It went from a little country town to a small city in a way.

CD: Why did people come here right then?

LL: A lot of them were looking for jobs wherever they could find them.

CD: So there were businesses here,you think they were coming here for,factories, Sequoia Field maybe?

LL: No, this is a farming community and so anything to do with farming they were coming to do.

CD: You think they were coming to do farming. And then a lot of the men that had been doing farming were gone.

LL: Farm workers and a lot of the men,their jobs were done away with and when they came back they didn’t have jobs. They just had to take what they could find.

CD: But you think the war is partly responsible for making the city grow right during that time?

LL: I assume so.

CD: I know you were already working, but do you think the role of women changed a lot after that?

LL: Oh yes.

CD: Did your mother ever end up going to work?

LL: No. But there were lots and lots of women who went to work in the shipyards. And other jobs that women had never worked in before.

CD: How did you feel about that? You were already working,did you think that was a good thing?

LL: I sort of admired them. If you need something, there is only one way you can get it and that was to go to work.

CD: What about the Japanese? Do you remember when they were,some of the Japanese families,were taken away?

LL: I had a good friend.

CD: You had a good friend.

LL: Alice Nanamura.

CD: Did you know she was going away? Did she just disappear?

LL: No, we knew she was going. There in back of the Tulare County Hospital, they had put a big fence up there and they had prisoners of war in there for a while ,Germans,that they had, that were prisoners of war. And they brought them in there and they were all in that area. They moved in barracks, I think, from over in Kettleman City. They had Army personnel and all. Before the Germans they had the Japanese they had gathered up in there for a while.

CD: In the same kind of place where the prisoners of war had been?

LL: Where they brought the prisoners of war in, later. It’s hard to remember because it was all going on and then it was off, but I know the Nanamura family had their home here and had lived here all their lives. They were born here in the United States , so they were American citizens, but just because they had Japanese ancestors, why . . .

CD: You felt even then that was very unfair?

LL: The thing of it was the government wasn’t prepared for it and they did the best they could at the time. So whatever criticism we had, why you didn’t say anything about it.

CD: Right. People were more accepting of what the government was doing than they are now.

LL: Not as outspoken as they are now.

CD: So did you ever see your friend again after the war was over?

LL: Oh yes.

CD: They came back. And was their home still there for them?

LL: Yes.

CD: Somebody had taken care of it for them.

LL: Oh, yeah. She went back to work here for a while. I can’t remember where she moved to. Her friends all gathered around her, you know.

CD: Do you remember attitudes of people around you and people you worked with and friends where they had negative feelings toward Japanese or the Germans?

LL: Yes, but they wouldn’t voice it.

CD: Oh. So if you felt it, you didn’t say anything.

LL: At least I didn’t.

CD: And you don’t remember hearing a lot of negativity like that. Interesting.

LL: Not now. I’m sure there were people that spoke up. But I think that happens more in cities, not in small country towns.

CD: Well, you remembered very well when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered the war. Do you remember when they announced the ending of the war?

LL: Yes.

CD: Where were you then?

LL: My memory isn’t very good any more.

CD: That’s Okay. How did you hear about it?

LL: I think I got a telephone call from George saying he would be coming home and he thought he would be coming right straight home, but he wasn’t. He was gone for quite a while. He was gone for five years.

CD: A long time. So do you remember if there were celebrations?

LL: Oh, there were in the cities.

CD: Maybe fireworks and things?

LL: When the kids came home, everyone had a big meal and invited people in.

CD: Kind of ‘welcome home’ celebrations and things like that. Anything else that you remember that we didn’t talked about from that time?

LL: No, I don’t. You sort of had to get your life back into the swing of things.

CD: So once the war ended it was kind of starting over again.

LL: Starting over again.

CD: So here are a couple of tough questions to kind of end the interview. First of, how do you think World War II affected you personally? How would your life have been different if that didn’t happen?

LL: I realized the need of working. That I needed to work. Otherwise we were not going to be able to survive. My husband was employed at the Rankin Academy and they didn’t need all those men that they had out there before, so he didn’t have a job when he came home. We just lived on what I made. And of course that big paycheck from the Army didn’t come in.

CD: So probably if the war didn’t happen and he hadn’t been drafted, he would have been working here and maybe that would have been different. Perhaps you wouldn’t have continued to work through all your children, especially the first one. And you wouldn’t have gone home to live with your mother probably.

How do you think World War II affected Tulare County as a whole? Do you think it had a big impact on what happened here?

LL: I think that they realized the farmers are needed because of the food supply that they were keeping going. People have to eat, regardless. I think they realized the important of the farmers.

CD: OK, thank you, Mrs. Longan, for sharing your time and memories.

Carol Demmers/ Transcriber:Jan Chubbuck, 2/16/04 / ed. JW 5/11/04

Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Louise’s daughter in law, Rosalie Longan, on January 25, 2006.