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: Theresa Mastrangelo

 

Date: 3/18/04

 

Tape # 87

 

Interviewer: Diana Jules

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: The home of Theresa Mastrangelo

 

 

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Visalia, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Curfew of "aliens" during World War II

Visalia history

Flooding

Patriotism


DJ: This is March 18, 2004 and I am interviewing Theresa Mastrangelo. We are doing it in Visalia for the Tulare County Library. The project is the "Years of Valor, Years of Hope: 1941-1946. Theresa, could you tell me a little bit about your family background?

TM: Well, I was born here in Visalia from immigrant parents, Italian. They were married here in the United States . My father John (Giovanni) Lombardi served in the First World War and he volunteered, by the way, in that war and then married my mother, Lena (D’Olivo). There were three children in our family, my brother Renato, myself and a sister Eleanor (Simon). We grew up during the Depression. I only remember the late 30’s and early 40’s and of course the war broke out in 1941. I was a sophomore in high school. I think I was about 15 at the time. Of course it was a terrible tragedy here to hear about Pearl Harbor. I remember I saw in your notes there that you wondered where a person was at the time. I remember I was playing out in the back yard on Sunday morning and heard that Pearl Harbor had happened. I really didn’t know what to think at that age, but I knew it wasn’t good. Then later on I continued to go on to school. There were Victory Gardens and victory work, where they let us out of school if you were 16 by that time and we worked at the local cannery. The girls in our class were all lined up and we did fruit and worked for the canning and so on.

DJ: And for the younger generation, why did they call it Victory Gardens?

TM: I don’t know, I think it was towards victory. This was helping the community towards the victory of the war. It was very stylish to do it. Maybe that isn’t a good word to use, but the girls all wanted to participate. It was good for the economics of it too.

And then of course during the war, my brother Renny was old enough to go into the war. It was 1943 that he went in and he was in the Battle of the Bulge over in Europe, in Belgium in 1945. He was injured very seriously. He was shot through the face and the bullet extracted near his jugular vein on the side and it was a very trying time. The telegram from the Army was delivered to the house the same time that my mother was receiving her citizenship papers at the courthouse. I remember getting notes from the Adjunct General,I remember that term


on his progress of getting well. He finally was moved to England and then to the United States to repair. Of course it was a terrible injury. The bullet went through his mouth and came out. Luckily he was saved. They thought it was miraculous because it missed his jugular vein just by a fraction. And he lived to be 70. The only bad part was that he contracted, they think through the plasma he received, Hepatitis C. But he lived a very normal fruitful life for the rest of his life until he was 70 and we’re thankful for that. But he never regretted any of that. He thought his duty to the country was justified and I was proud of him for that. My mother fretted and fretted of course. We corresponded and he kept us informed of moving through and going overseas.

DJ: When he was gone, what did all of you do back here?

TM: How did it affect us? Well, of course, going to school and then for enjoyment there was a Sierra Ballroom that was here at the time that all the teenagers attended. The soldiers from the local Sequoia Field would come in. They were young cadets and very interesting. And we all enjoyed. They danced with us. I was 15-16. My mother allowed us to go to the neighborhood ballroom and that was exciting. We never got involved with any of them, but some of my older friends did marry some of the cadets out there. They were so handsome you couldn’t believe. At the impressionable age that we were, of course they were soldiers, you know. I don’t know that they had anything else for teenagers at that time.

We had rationing. Food was rationed. Sugar and gasoline, of course, was rationed. Coffee I believe. They issued stamps and you could go and buy your allotment. We did not suffer from any lack of food at any time but they did ration, because so much of the commodities were going overseas and that sort of thing. I think that was what the rationing was all about.

DJ: Did most people in Visalia grow their own vegetables?

TM: Yes. Of course, coming from an ethnic background, my folks always had a garden. They grew tomatoes and peppers and squash and eggplant. Things like that. My father worked at the warehouse, the local cannery. His job was always in the warehouse there, where they canned the food and then moved it out.

DJ: Was that in Visalia?

TM: Yes, it was Visalia Cannery. I think that’s what they called it. My mother was a homemaker. She was not a citizen. My father was a citizen because he enlisted in the First World War and immediately became a citizen. Usually those that married, then their wife became a citizen. But my parents married after 1923, so that did not happen for my mom.

She was an alien during World War II. They had a curfew for the Italians and the Japanese and the Germans. I don’t know of any German community here at that time. Anyway, my mother was . . . she dreaded that horribly. She dreaded the curfew and then there was uncertainty about whether they would go to a camp. She was very fretful over that, but I do want to comment about how badly she worried. The Japanese left from Visalia, I don’t remember myself, I was in school, but they were all evacuated and she watched this and she thought, "Oh my, if they do that to the Italians, my three children will be left here." My dad wouldn’t be able to go. So one day I came home from school and she was sewing frantically and crying. I asked, "Why are you crying?" And she said, "Well, I thought I would make you kids some extra clothes so if I’m gone you would have something." Isn’t that sad? It so happened that they did not intern the Italians.

DJ: That’s good.

TM: Yes. There is another little thing. My sister and I were little scoundrels. There was a skating rink down the road and we would wait until 8:00 p.m., curfew time, and then we’d scoot down to the skating rink. We knew she couldn’t come down and get us. Isn’t that awful? We do recall that. As mothers do, they overlook things like that. But anyway, that’s what we did.

Let’s see, what else can I say? My brother came home and that was very touching. We found out that the letters from the general, the War Department, kept saying that he had face wounds. We had no idea what kind of wounds, but then when he came home it was okay because he had recovered. It was okay.

DJ: The anticipation must have been intense.

TM: Oh yes it was. I remember all our girlfriends. We lived on Bridge Street, east there, what would be south of town, and the park was there where the convention center is now. There was a big Hyde Park there. Everybody congregated there and someone happened to see my brother. The National Bakery lady, Anna Ziegler, was our friend and she saw my brother go by the store and she phoned and said, "Renny’s coming!" And everyone ran out and met him at this park. It was exciting. And really we weren’t restricted. The community wasn’t restricted. I had no discrimination that I knew of. Maybe some of the others did, but I don’t recall any.

DJ: You mentioned that there was no Japanese community. Was there an Italian community in Visalia?

TM: Well, yes, but they didn’t colonize. They were spread out throughout the area. I didn’t mean to mention about the Japanese community. I’m sure there was a large Japanese community because the evacuation train was cars long. They came from Hanford and all the surrounding counties. Well, Dinuba is in Tulare County, but they came from Kings County I think and then Dinuba and that area, so that was a large ranching community for the Japanese. That’s where they lived. And there on Center was a Chinese settlement and some of the Japanese lived there. Our very good friend today, Roy Sumida, was from the Sumida family that had the general store there on Center Street, and that was quite a center for merchandise during my father’s time.

DJ: So you’ve seen Visalia change a lot.

TM: Oh my, have I ever. Especially during the last 15 years, it’s been tremendous. Tremendous growth.

DJ: So if you could go back to those years, the war years, you’ve described a little of Visalia. Could you tell me a bit more?

TM: I remember it as maybe 5,000 people and now it’s 100,000. It was a very small community. I can remember going downtown with my skates. I used to run a little errand business for my aunts and other people that wanted something from downtown. I’d put on my skates and go downtown and I could skate through some of those stores and nobody bothered me. It was a very small community and then Main Street was from about Bridge to, oh, I would say West Street. And that’s where the buildings ended and the rest was residential, beautiful homes. Of course the high school was further down and I’d walk the ten blocks to and from school and then coming home in the evening we would come through Main Street and see our friends. It was a very homey place. I practically knew everyone in town. The sales people were there for years on end, as compared to now. Every time you go to your favorite store you see someone new nowadays. It was a very nice community. I remember salespeople calling us that certain things came in, "Would you like to come in and see the clothes that came in?" And things like that.

School was the same way. I graduated with the class of 1945 and the one thing the war affected us was the boys were all away during my four years of high school, because 1941,1945, when I graduated, those were the war years and all the boys that were old enough were off at war.

DJ: What age was old enough?

TM: I don’t know. Some of them enlisted. I would think 18, but that wouldn’t fit, would it? When I graduated I was 17. Well, maybe my class, the ’45 class, those boys went to service. It was very fashionable, or whatever word you want to use, to enlist because of the war effort and everyone was very patriotic, hoping that the war would end soon. The things that happened during the war were terrible. The news wasn’t anything like it was today, but the papers carried the news of the Germans and the Holocaust and all that sort of thing. I remember that was very bad. Everyone followed their own family in the service and they issued flags for how many children you had in the service. The stars indicated how many children were in the war effort from that family. You hung it proudly in your window.

DJ: So it sounds very different than the way things are today.

TM: Yes.

DJ: Did people take the initiative to slander the President during these war years?

TM: Heavens no. No one ever thought of doing such a thing. I remember when President Roosevelt died. We were devastated in school. They shut the class down and everyone was crying and carrying on, and during his funeral and everything. We kept being informed and everyone was very sad that we lost our President. The first part of the war, he was the Grand Chief and no one slandered him ever. You never even thought of it. Later on they did. They made comments on how the war should have gone on. But no, it isn’t like it is today. Whenever we have these discussions, I always tell the person I’m talking to that we’ve lived too long so we have something to compare. Those years as compared to what is going on now. It’s hard to adjust to it when you’re used to thinking one way. Of course some of our thinking has changed as we have progressed. Basically it’s the "great generation" that was patriotic and serving our country.

DJ: Well, that is favorable, definitely. To shift a little bit, I know the dam wasn’t built yet up by Three Rivers. Could you tell me a little about flooding in Visalia?

TM: Oh yes, I can tell you a lot about the floods. The first one was in ’45 that I remember. What we enjoyed, my sister and I, was that we didn’t have to go to school. So we plowed through the streets in our boots and went around the neighborhood. I think we had three feet of water in our yard and we had the basement filled and we lost a lot of our canning things, and mementoes too. We had a trunk down there that got flooded, pictures and other things that we had in storage down there. Let’s see, the last flood of course was in Visalia, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of it. The water was down the middle of Main and I remember on Garden Street, south of where the park is now, on Garden Street, the Mill Creek went through and it flooded. All those stores had a lot of water. At least 3 or 4 feet. Then the ’55 flood, the same thing happened again, so it was before the dam went in. After that we didn’t have the flooding.

DJ: Did it seem common to have excess water every year?

TM: Oh yes, we dreaded it, because when it rained for days on end we’d think oh goodness, here we go again and it did. Cameron Creek flooded desperately. They had six feet of water in places.

DJ: Where is Cameron Creek?

TM: Cameron Creek, oh I think it’s Packwood Creek. I think Cameron goes into Packwood, I’m not sure. It was out in that area in back of Packwood, way east. I kept thinking. We heard the radio announcement say that. We were down here north of where they were talking and they said they had six feet of water, and I told my mother we were leaving. Six feet of water is up here. We went over and stayed with my sister at that time. That was in ’55.

DJ: During those first flooding years, did many people leave or just stay?

TM: No, they stayed. You mean, evacuated during the flood? Well those stayed when the water wasn’t too high in their homes. Some of them had 18 inches. Well, the silt and all ruined the furniture. I remember my mother had rugs laid, this was three or four months before. This was at Christmas time, I think. She said, I’m going to stay here and keep the water out and keep my rug from getting spoiled." Needless to say with three feet of water, the basement filled, the furnace went out and we had stucco walls, lathe and stucco, and by the time we came back six days later it looked like the walls were damp. The water was not inside in the home because it had three steps up, but the moisture from the basement affected the house. But the rug was okay. However, the furnace went out. So that was the flood years. But, you know, I don’t think people decided to move out just because of the water. At least I wasn’t aware of it.

DJ: It’s interesting because now, if there is some kind of natural disaster, there will be government help.

TM: Yes.

DJ: Do you recall anything like that?

TM: I don’t recall anything like that, no.

DJ: So the businesses just . . .

TM: Absorbed what came to them. Yeah, they took the loss.

DJ: What about in Tulare County, employment or unemployment. What was that like when you were in high school?

TM: They did have unemployment. People worked out in the fields, but there was always the winter months, that were always lean. In the later years, maybe in the late 40’s I guess, I remember unemployment compensation. I was going into the work market then and I remember the employment office. The people went to get unemployment, but it was nothing like it is now. What do they call it now?

DJ: Welfare?

TM: No, not welfare. Anyway, it’s the same as unemployment, but I think they call it something else. Maybe it is unemployment. Anyway, the amounts were very small. Just barely enough to keep people going. Other than that, the employment was, I don’t recall anything very desperate. Maybe I was too young to realize. I had no trouble getting a job. I graduated from High School and I walked down Main Street and there were several people asking me to come to work, so it was okay for me. I always say that if you are looking for work, people know it and there are openings. And so, the day I came home, graduated from high school, the last day of school I should say, there was a dress shop that was hiring and I went in and got me a job as a sales clerk that day. And then I went to work for the credit bureau after that. It was in the Bank of America building and I did typing. From there, I went on to the Welfare Department and was there for 36 years. I was in the clerical end of it. I didn’t do social work, but I was exposed to the social work, of course. And that’s about it.

DJ: How do you think the World War II years affected Tulare County, at least the way it is now? Maybe the people who are still here from the World War II years or just any way that it affected Tulare County?

TM: I don’t recall anyone from the people that lived here during the war. Of course they are gone now. They are too old. They’re either dead or very old. I don’t believe they relocated. I think Tulare County just maintained. To me, I don’t recall anyone moving. At least, all our relatives and acquaintances remained here. They’re still here. Those that were older are gone, they’ve died. I don’t know; it was a community of stability I think. Those of us that are left here wonder what is going to happen with all the incoming population. It’s really different because as I said before, I remember when there were only 5,000 people here. Giddings was the end of the town. Everything west of Giddings was farmland and dairy land. Everything south of Walnut was dairy land or farmland: grapes and cotton clear to Tulare. A lot of that is gone to redevelopment. My husband and I are both born here, in fact, just down the street from each other and we just marvel when we drive around Visalia, we just marvel. The development is so far-reaching. But I don’t recall anyone really leaving this area.

DJ: What was a typical Sunday like during the war years when many of the men were gone?

TM: Of course movies. I went to every change of the movies there was. They changed it three times a weekend, I was there. The admission was very little compared to now. Now it takes almost $20 to go to a matinee or a movie. At that time, the movies were where it was at, you know, for children of our age and also teenagers. Sunday was spent at the movies because they changed the movies on Sunday. It was a new feature. I would stay for two showings and then be afraid to go home because it got dark. Isn’t that silly? But I just loved it. The "now" generation says you can’t be influenced by the movies. Yes, you can. I was terribly influenced, but it was all good stuff. I was influenced. I saw how people acted and what you did in those homespun stories. You derived a lot of good things from it.

DJ: What movie do you think was the most influential on you?

TM: Oh, I think, my first one was San Francisco, with Clark Gable. I wasn’t a fan of Clark Gable, but Gregory Peck was my . . . that was my first movie. My brother took me and I don’t know how old I was and I just marveled at the beauty of it all. It was the story of the fire in San Francisco. Then later on, the movies stars were so glamorous and you looked up to them and you devoured everything they said because it was so wholesome.

DJ: How nice.

TM: They were wholesome. I can remember going to the movies to see Kings Row where Ronald Reagan gets his legs chopped off. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. I can remember. There were three of us, my sister and a girlfriend and we just wiped our eyes until they almost fell out because of the crying. The girlfriend and I walked out and our eyes were just like this,bulging,and my sister was just a little prissy thing. We asked her "So how come?" She said, "Because I dabbed my eyes instead of rubbing them." Anyway, I remember those kinds of movies. They were very touching. We enjoyed crying too. It means that you were moved personally, you know.

DJ: And you mentioned it was something younger kids and teenagers did during the war years to pass the time. Did the adults go as well?

TM: No, not during the war years. There were picnics and we visited a lot until television came in. Every night we would either go over to our aunt’s home or uncle’s home or a friend’s home. We lived by Washington school and we played on the playground until 9:00 o’clock. This is what we did for entertainment. We played ball and tag and so on, children’s games. There were a lot of friendships. On our block there were always children from toddlers to 18 year olds and we congregated over at the school.

DJ: I know it’s very hot here in the valley in the summertime. Have you noticed a change?

TM: Yes, yes. Decidedly so. I think it’s hotter and we’ve discussed it and we’ve come to the conclusion that there was so much vegetation around the city that it kept it cooler.

DJ: That makes sense.

TM: Now that it’s streets and so on, and homes and we don’t have the vegetation we used to. There were clover and alfalfa field near here and it got a little warm in the summer because the cotton got dry and it got a little bit warmer. No, that would be the fall. But no, it has changed.

DJ: Also during those war years, was your mother very careful, very frugal with . . . well, I imagine after the Depression everybody was.

TM: Yes, very frugal. She taught us management. They had to manage what little income there was to make it worth our living here. There was a lot of canning and preserving. Of course the gardens provided a lot of the vegetables and we were able to go out and buy a box of peaches and can them for the winter and tomatoes. That supplemented our grocery bill quite well. I remember my mother making jelly and it lasted all year round. People were very giving, too. I noticed farmers coming in with big bags of grapes and naturally you made jelly. After you ate enough for table grapes, you then canned the rest of them or made jelly out of it. There were times when my mother made homemade bread. During the war years they both worked at cannery, so wages did get a little better.

DJ: And did your mom work because of the war effort?

TM: No. Out of necessity. The cannery worked a lot during the war years because they supplied food and whatever they can. You wouldn’t say that was helping, but because it was an economic thing and they needed a job and so that’s what they did during the summer months.

DJ: And did you find many of the mothers went to work or were gone during the war years?

TM: No, I didn’t. There were a few ladies of our group that had to go to work at the cannery. That was the only outlet for them to work. The mothers did work in the canneries during the season, but most generally they were home caring for their children. I never realized my mother being gone especially. During the war year we were in school and we got out at 3:30 or so and by that time she was home. I don’t know that we were aware of that.

DJ: In school did they teach much about current events as far as the war? Was there discussion on that?

TM: Yes, we had social studies, but I don’t recall them having special programs or classes where they discussed the war. We knew it was there and there were some deprivations such as the food stamps that everybody had to have. It wasn’t, you know, the economic level where the lowest level got the stamps. Everybody was rationed. The rationing was enough that you weren’t deprived. It was just rationed so it would last for many people instead of people hording.

DJ: Did people do that?

TM: I can’t say for sure, but . . .

DJ: I guess when you’re in high school you don’t really pay attention to that stuff.

TM: No, but I don’t think there were. I remember my mom ran out of sugar and asked my grandmother if she could have her sugar stamps one time. Other than that, I don’t think so. I don’t think people had the smarts to defraud. Is that the word?

DJ: Maybe they didn’t even have the desire back then.

TM: Maybe it was that,that they didn’t have the desire. People are so conniving and I can’t imagine how these people come to the conclusion to doing certain things to take advantage. I don’t know where they get the idea. Of course it’s smart once you learn of it. I’m sure that generation didn’t do that. Maybe in some areas I didn’t know.

DJ: In closing, do you have any comments about the war or any advice you’d give to the next generation?

TM: Advice I’d give to the next generation things have changed drastically. I know that my husband was in the landing at Normandy and we’d go to reunions for the Army and of course they were from the "Great" generation and they were very patriotic, but they have changed their attitudes towards,they’re saying there hasn’t been a war that solved anything. This is how they feel. That they should think a little bit more deeply before going into war.

DJ: The "Great" generation feels this way?

TM: This group that I hear is saying that we should look into it more deeply. They felt at the time that they wanted to defend their country. And my husband said, "I would do it again, under the circumstances." We’ve become more aware of what’s going on. The world has gotten smaller and we can’t save the world. That sort of thing. It’s just a different climate now.

DJ: Do you find a parallel between Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers?

TM: Oh goodness. I don’t know. From the standpoint of a 15 year old, we thought the attack was terrible and war was inevitable. I think people followed that. With the Twin Towers, I’m sure it was just as devastating. I’m sure it was, to say the least. But to go into another war is kind of jumping the gun. I think we could have negotiated.

DJ: It’s definitely a tough call. I’m glad I wasn’t in that seat.

TM: True, true, true. But overall this is the sentiment that some people have. I think that’s my sentiment. I came to the conclusion,I was patriotic, I’m patriotic also, but you stop and re-think some of it. War has never,I think throughout mankind’s history, they never resolved anything by war. Never. I think there are other means. Of course if you’re attacked, that’s another story.

DJ: Any closing comments about the area?

TM: I love it here. I just love it here. Even though it’s growing, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Tulare County has been good for me and my family and my friends and relatives.

DJ: I’m so thankful you were able to share your story with us. It will be preserved for generations to come.

TM: I hope it’s edited.

DJ: Thank you very much.

TM: You’re welcome.

Diane Jules/Transcriber:J Chubbuck, 3/30/04/Edited JW 8/05/04

Editor’s note: Italic clarifying words, phrases and family names were added as a result of a phone interview with Theresa Mastrangelo on August 5th, 2004.