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: Don MacMillan

 

Date: December 8, 2003

 

Report No: 39

 

Interviewer: Russ Dahler

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: at Russ Dahler’s home in Visalia

FAMILY/BACKGROUND

TULARE COUNTY IN WORLD WAR II YEARS

TIPTON AREA IN WORLD WAR II

GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN TIPTON

RD: This is December 8, 2003. I’m going to be interviewing Don MacMillan in Visalia, California for the library project entitled Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 through 1946.

What is your name and date of birth?

DM: My name is Don MacMillan. I was born on July 17, 1933 in Mt. Holley, New Jersey. We came to Tipton six weeks after I was born.

RD: What are your parent’s names and where were they from?

DM: John and Carolina (Manning) MacMillan. My father was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My mother was born in the small community of Lebanon, New Jersey and they were married in Lebanon, New Jersey, 1930, I believe.

RD: And where did you grow up?

DM: I grew up in the Tipton area, in fact, I live less than three-quarters of a mile from where I first lived. It was east of Tipton, about six miles.

RD: How old were you when World War II began?

DM: I was eight years old.

RD: So I assume you were in school prior to the war and during the war.

DM: Yes. And the day of the war I recall very well. I think we were picking cotton; it was in December. We were picking cotton; in those days cotton harvest went all through, sometimes up into the middle of January. We came home for lunch and my folks had the radio on and that’s how we found out there was something major going on.

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

DM: Well I was pretty young and I know it affected other people, but to me, and this is thinking back, it seemed like it was an era of great patriotism; as kids in school, our teachers kept us aware of what was going on constantly. At home, we had our newspapers and radios. It sure has affected different people different ways. But we were in the country, so we were somewhat isolated.

RD: Okay, how do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

DM: I believe it probably brought more people into Tulare County after World War II. There was probably an exodus during the war, because people went to work in the defense plants, and there was an influx of people during the harvest season. I know there was a shortage of labor in Tulare County at the time. What happened later, I guess because I was so young, I don’t know.

RD: Okay, thank you. What event stands out in the years preceding the beginning of the war?

DM: The depression, I vaguely remember it.  In my opinion, we had a very happy childhood. I sure my folks were worried constantly, but we always ate and in my mind, everything was great. I know my father worked very, very hard, as most people did, just to put food on the table.

RD: Did your family participate in War Bond campaigns or other savings programs?

DM: Yes, we did, in fact, it was a fascinating thing for us, and we were very proud to do it. The schools had . . . every week I believe it was a Wednesday, they would have a war stamp sale and the stamps, I believe, were ten cents and I know that in our family, I had two older sisters, Mae Macmillan and Joan (Miller) and, I believe, one younger sister, Janet (Weaver) in school then, and we each would take $1.00 every Wednesday to school. When the $18.75 for a $25.00 bond was reached, we would rotate. We started with my oldest sister, she would get the bond and we would rotate through the family, there was seven of us altogether, Phyllis (Buie) and Gloria (Discoe) were not yet in school, at that time and John Jr. was born in 1947.  I think there were four of us in school. We would rotate through and by the end of the war each of us older kids had five bonds apiece. I can remember that; in fact I cashed my bonds somewhere in the late ‘50’s and gave ‘em to my daughter, Susan (Winmon).

RD: Very good. Since this is the 8th of December and yesterday was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, do you remember when Pearl Harbor was bombed and do you remember any of the announcements or the feelings you had around the house or maybe heard at that time?

DM: Yes. I remember, at home, when it happened. I knew it was a huge event. I want to say I heard the President’s talk the next day on the radio; I may not have, because we heard him talk a lot, when he would do these talks, but from that moment on, we were very aware that there was a war.

RD: Were there other family efforts, other than the war bonds? Did you have gardens or volunteer work that you did to help the war effort?

DM: You know, it’s interesting that you brought that up, I had forgotten about the gardens. We all had victory gardens as kids and my mother worked in those about every day in the summer. I can remember the school had a metal drive, which I think a lot of them did. Going out with my dad around the countryside, we’d go out and we’d pick up iron and junk and then haul it to one area, next to the school. There was a huge pile of metal which eventually they hauled away.

RD: Well, that’s interesting. You did stay involved with agriculture and country life during most of your life.  What was the impact of the wartime mechanization and mobilization on the local agriculture in Tulare County?

DM: I can probably tell you more from my specific family. My father worked, at that time, in the Tipton area, for a fairly large ranch, I think it was about 400 acres. He also farmed a small ranch next door and share-cropped it. He had us kids out there; there was never much labor. He worked unbelievable hours, which I’m sure a lot of people did. They never had enough labor to do everything they wanted to do. And then the schools would let us out, during harvest season, which would begin either late September or early October. I’m vague on exactly which side of those months the date was. They would let the schools out. I don’t know if it was all over Tulare County or not, but I know that Tulare Schools and Tipton School was out for two weeks, so that the kids could help pick cotton, which most of us did. It was kind of a way of life then and it was one way of getting crops out because there was a very big shortage of cotton pickers and labor.

JD: Now, did that only happen during the war years or was that before the war and even after the war?

DM: I don’t recall before the war and I don’t recall it happening after the war. I think labor became more plentiful and, of course, in agriculture, there is always a shortage of labor at certain times of year, but after the war it brought upon the cotton picker, which was probably a blessing in disguise for everybody.

JD: Okay, in this Tulare County area here and particularly around Tipton, did different ethnic groups exist, up here in your community? Were there any racial relations that you remember or any changes during the war?

DM: You know, usually there was about two black families and there were quite a few Mexican families and for the life of me, I don’t remember any racial problems at all. We were all friends; some of them I know to this day. I grew up with a lot of the Mexican people down there and they’re all getting older and we still associate. It was a different world then.

JD: How did your family find out about news of the war? Did you listen together on the radio during broadcasts or talk over the paper at regular times?

DM: Ah, my folks received, if I remember right, two papers, the Fresno Bee and whatever Tulare paper there was at the time. Radio was on, it seemed like, every evening and at lunch time, if we were home. It seemed like we were constantly aware of what was going on in Europe and in the Pacific.

JD: Do you remember when the war ended? Were there parades or anything around Tulare County at that time?

DM: I know Tulare City had a wild celebration, the town of Tulare. I wasn’t there, but my wife tells me that she remembers climbing on the top of one of their chicken coops, so they could see some of the downtown going ons. They lived in the outskirts of Tulare and they could see what was going on downtown. I remember the end of the war; I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember the atomic bomb being dropped and knowing that that was going to be a very big event in the war.

JD: As a child, did you have any opinion on the dropping of the atomic bomb.

DM: Because of the times, I still have that feeling that it saved lives, not killed people.

JD: What were your general feelings as a child about the war in those years?

DM: Very patriotic, I think possibly because we knew of families that had their sons in the war. It was just generally a very patriotic era.

JD: Ah, and in your particular family, was anybody in the immediate family separated because of military service or war work of any particular type?

DM: No, ours was just an isolated family; the rest of my family was in New York and New Jersey and there was no real connection there.

JD: Did you communicate with parts of the family that were on the east coast very much during that time?

DM: Ah, if my folks did, I didn’t know about it.

JD: Is there anything else about those war years that you recollect or would like to share with us at this time?

DM: I particularly remember the German prisoners of war.

There was a prison camp set up in Tipton and, if I remember correctly, there were about six or eight farmers that financed it and set the camp up and worked with the government. The prisoners were brought in, I believe it was in the late 1940’s, 1945, or maybe late 1944; I know it was late in the war. They came in to pick cotton, to chop weeds in cotton and chop cotton and probably do a few other things; that was the main crop then. My father used to haul ‘em to the field in a pickup and an old cotton trailer.

It was my first personal recollection of ever seeing a German and found out that they were human beings and these guys were nice guys. We talked to ‘em, some of ‘em could speak English and, up until then, I thought they were all Nazi’s, as I would read in the paper. They were paid, I couldn’t tell you what they were paid, but they had a quota each day in picking cotton and that quota, if I remember right, was 80 pounds per person and collectively, if there were thirty pickers out there, they would make 30 times 80. As soon as they hit that total, it was time to go home and they knew they could go home. If my father wasn’t there to haul them home, they’d start walking home. The first time I remember ever seeing ‘em, there was a guard with ‘em. After that, I never recall a guard ever being with ‘em. If I understood right, there were never any escapes from Tipton or attempted escapes.

JD: Hum, very interesting. So were these prisoners quartered together or were they just free to roam around the town or did you ever see them? Did they attend churches with you guys or did you see them anywhere?

DM: No, as I understand, they were kept in their barracks and they weren’t allowed out. I do recall, the ranch that my dad worked on, there used to be two that would come out and I used to talk to ‘em.  One of ‘em could speak pretty good English. He was a dentist by trade. They would do yard work for this farmer and I understood later that they weren’t supposed to do that, that was just . . .things got informal. That’s why they were out there, but they had no guards, I don’t recall. Now, how they even got out there, it seemed like once a week, they would come out, work around the yards and do some stuff around the buildings and work in the shop. One of those fellows was a dentist, I remember that and he could speak fair enough English for me to talk to him. The barracks originally was a Bracero camp, I believe, and I don’t recall too much about it, except I remember the Braceros being around, but they were taken in every night, and I’m sure there were guards at the camp; I don’t have a big recollection of the camp except where it was, and kind of what it looked like.  The main barracks and the mess hall is still on a ranch east of Tipton on the Faria Ranch and it’s part of their garage and shop setup from the old days. It’s still out there.

JD: Well, that is very interesting. And what is the name of that ranch?

DM: The Faria Ranch. It would probably be at least two and a half miles east of Tipton.

JD: Well, that’s very interesting. How many prisoners do you think there were totally?

DM: You know, I can’t remember, but there must have been two or three hundred of ‘em, anyway, there might have been more, may have been less, but I don’t recall the exact makeup of the camp. These farmers owned the camp and these prisoners were allowed to go to work for any farmer there and that was just how that worked. I did know the man, A. E. (Spud) Panetta that was, he’s passed away now, in charge of the camp. He was more or less in charge, in fact, I went with a writer, Jeffrey Geiger once to visit him about ten years ago. This writer was getting some information. Pretty well, what he had told the writer is what I understood. The book was called German Prisoners of War at Camp Cook.

JD: Well, very good, that is a very interesting story. Do you remember where you were when the war ended and how you heard about that?

DM: I don’t recall the exact moment; I’m sure I heard it on the radio, because, as I remember it, people were waiting for the war to end. They knew it was going to end, either hourly or daily, after those bombs were dropped. Ah, I’m sure I lived in the same house. I know I did. We were on the farm, that would have to have been the middle of August and I’m not sure what we would have been doing. I can’t remember what I was doing that exact day, like I do when it started. Ah, I know our life didn’t change a lot; my father, I believe, in another year or so, he bought a ranch and went on to farm for quite a few years. I got into farming. I’ve spent my entire life farming and I’m still farming. My life, in the war years, for myself, other than being very patriotic and everyone seemed to be, it was good time of life for me.

JD: Other world events since World War II, we’ve had several other wars. Did any of those have the same type of effect around the San Joaquin Valley or Tulare County that World War II did, in terms of victory gardens or bond sales and things like that?

DM: I don’t think we ever mobilized like we mobilized in World War II. It was a necessity, ah, maybe it was the last of the type of wars that they had and after that the wars were different, they were fragmented. I don’t pretend to be an expert on wars and how wars are fought, but I know they’re necessary, I feel they’re necessary. World War II was very necessary. I think we brought some people back from World War II who shaped this world, who were fantastic people. I have nothing but admiration for any of the military people and what they had to go through. I know quite a few of ‘em, and I can’t believe what they went through during World War II.

JD: Well, thank you very much for this interview. Once again, this is being conducted in Visalia, California, December 8, 2003, and this interview was with Mr. Don Macmillan of Tipton, California.  Thank you.

1-23-2004 J. Dahler/pd 2-06-2004 ed.jw

Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Don MacMillan on January 27, 2006.