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: Betty Nagel & Robert (Bob) Nagel
Report No: 64
Place of Interview: Tulare, CA
WORKING AT DOUGLAS AIRCRAFT
WORKING AT RANKIN FIELD, TULARE
AUXILIARY FIELDS FOR RANKIN SCHOOL OF AERONAUTICS.
RANCHING AS A YOUNG, MARRIED WOMAN WITH A BABY
JAPANESE AMERICANS IN TULARE COUNTY
CD: Today is February 28, 2004. I am Carol Demmers, and I will be interviewing Mrs. Betty Nagel in her home near Tulare, California. This is part of the Oral History Program entitled Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941 through 1946.
Betty, when and where were you born?
BN: I was born on Lover’s Lane, here in Tulare, on my grandfather’s ranch.
CD: And, when was that?
BN: October 25, 1923.
CD: Okay, and what was your maiden name?
CD: Did you have brothers and sisters?
BN: I had one sister, Eve Young (Durmond)
CD: What type of work did your parents do?
BN: My father, John Dale Young, was a rancher. My mother, Nancy Wells Young, was a homemaker.
CD: So, how old were you when World War II began?
BN: When World War II began, I was, let’s see, about eighteen.
CD: Eighteen, had you graduated from high school?
BN: I had graduated from high school in 1941. I had gone on to Compton College.
CD: So, you had gone to college, but where were you when you…do you remember where you were when they first told about Pearl Harbor and all of that?
BN: Well, it was one Sunday morning.
CD: Were you at home?
BN: Yes, we were home. I can’t remember too much about it, to tell you the truth. It was such a shock, you know, this happening. One of my cousins, Richard Cone, was at Pearl Harbor, at the time. He was in the Navy, and we were extremely worried about him. His ship was tied up right next to the Arizona.
CD: So had you heard about this on the radio? Did you have the radio on, or did a neighbor came and tell you?
BN: I think we heard it on the radio, and it was kind of unbelievable.
CD: Yeah, I bet. Now, some people have told me that at that time, they weren’t really sure where Pearl Harbor was when they heard the news. They didn’t know, but you probably did.
BN: I did because of my cousin being there. It was very terrifying.
CD: I’m sure. So, your family then probably had the radio on all day, listening for further news.
BN: Oh yes, right. Actually, though, I just can’t remember exactly what went on. That was 60 years ago. (laughter)
CD: And trying to remember one day out of that. (laughter) And so, your cousin was okay, you found out later?
BN: Well he is one of the most decorated of our Navy boys. I’ve got a lot of pictures of him. He just died a few months ago.
CD: Yeah, so he came through that okay, huh?
BN: Yes, but it was six years he was in, it was a bad thing.
CD: Six years before you saw him again after that?
BN: He came in one time. We received word that he was missing in action. Then his mother was at our house and he had been missing…they were getting ready…they had said well, he was gone. His ship was sunk and everything. So anyway, what had happened was he was taken to Guam. He was in the hospital in Guam, but they weren’t bringing the boys back at that time because everything was such a mess. He had been hit in the head and he was in this hospital. One of his old Navy buddies walked in and said, "Well, Cone, what are you doing here?"
He didn’t know who he was until he heard the word Cone, which was his last name. He realized, "I’m Richard Cone," you know. Then they sent him home. He came up to the door and he rang the doorbell and his mother, Mattie Wells Cone, answered the door and, of course, she fainted. They only let him stay…Bob can you remember? It was just a few days.
RN: Three days, I think.
BN: They sent him back out, and he went back overseas. It was a real hard time. That’s the way they did things at that time.
CD: Well, so then did any of your other family end up going overseas then, after we entered the war?
BN: Oh yes. My one cousin, Llewellyn Young, was head of the Navy Seals. He was the head of that and he went into Corregidor two weeks before.
CD: Before, Pearl Harbor happened?
BN: No, that happened after Pearl Harbor when Corregidor had been taken over. He took his troops in and they went in and got it ready for our Navy boys to go back in. It was…there was a lot to that.
CD: And you probably didn’t know for sure where he was then.
BN: No, and his brother, Ralph Young, was over there. Well, a lot of my family was in the service.
CD: So, this was a really scary time for you, I assume, worrying about them. Did you write a lot of letters and send care packages, and such?
BN: Yes, but not a whole lot. I’m not good at writing. (Chuckle) What happened was, Douglas Aircraft went into the college and they had a deal and you took tests and if you were good at certain things, they had classes for you. These classes were so we could go to work for Douglas Aircraft. And they paid us to go to school, even. I got .60 cents an hour for studying.
CD: So this is what you did? You were at Compton College then?
BN: Well, I was the 37th girl to go to work on the graveyard shift at Douglas. Within two months, that plant was full of women. It was just one of those things. They had to take the men into the service, so the women took over.
CD: So, what did you do? What was your job there?
BN: Well, actually, right at first I worked on C47’s, mostly. Right at first, I just, oh gads, it’s been too long.
CD: That’s okay, you don’t remember if you were like doing one little thing, all day, or a variety of activities then?
BN: Well, they had the lines up and they were building the ships, you know. At first it was on pick up, after the airships were put together. Then some of us would go back in and if there were problems, we would fix the problems, you know. So we did a lot of things, I mean, it was mostly riveting and cleaning up things. Then later on, I went into inspections. The Navy and the Army needed people to buy the airships for them, and so I would examine the airships and then buy them, B17s and C47s.
CD: So, then did you get a chance to come home for visits or were you just really away from home for a long time?
BN: Well, my folks were living down south. Then, in late 1943 dad decided to come back up to the ranch. So I wanted to come up here with my dad because they were moving back up to the ranch. So we moved back up. I went over to Rankin Field and because we were sealed into our jobs, we could not quit a job. We had to find a job that was the same type of job.
CD: You couldn’t just say I don’t want to do this anymore and I want to do something else?
BN: Right, I had to get another job that would be in the same line of work that I was used to doing. So I came up to Rankin and applied and went to work the next day, (chuckle) I think it was. My dad knew Tex Rankin and he was able to release me from Douglas Aircraft.
CD: And so you did kind of the same sort of work then?
BN: No. I kept track of all the flight books and flight time and everything on the airships that the pilots would make out. First thing in the morning, I’d go in to Rankin’s office and there were huge boards and all the ships were listed in order on those boards. Every ship, every 25 hours, has to have a full inspection. So you have to keep very close records on those ships. And every morning we would change that board, because Rankin wanted to know everything. So it was right there on his boards. He could just look up from his desk and see where that ship was.
CD: How long it had been flying since its last inspection?
BN: Uh huh, and we kept watching the books real close and if there was anything that went wrong with that ship, it was pulled off the line immediately. All that had to be done.
CD: Okay. So, you were around a lot of young men at that time. When did you meet your husband?
BN: (Chuckle) He was the line chief.
RN: Well, I can tell ya. There was a line broken, and I had to go out and see that new girl that went to work there. It was a couple of months there, and she came stormin’.
BN: Oh, it was raining like the devil that night.
RN: The logbook was still in the airplane and I had to go find it and nobody wanted to go out. So, she drove up in a station wagon and blew the horn, outside of where we were. And the captain finally looked out and said to me, "Hey, you go." And I said, "okay, I’ll go." And I just had to ask her for a date.
CD: Just had to ask her for a date. (Laughter).
BN: (Laughter). Yes, he crawled up in the airplane. It was raining like the dickens and the airplanes, of course, were all covered and so he crawled up in the airplane and got my book out for me. I knew then . . . .
RN: They were having a show. The cadets were putting it on at the high school and to go to it, you had to buy a $100 bond. So I had to buy two of them, so we could go to the show.
CD: Buy $200 worth of bonds. (chuckle) One for each of you. And you say it was at the Tulare High School. So that was your first date.
BN: Yes, our first date cost him $200.
CD: Oh, boy, that’s a pretty expensive date. (chuckle). And so you both worked there at Rankin Field for the remaining time?
RN: Well, I still was in high school and went to work after school and on the weekends. Our mechanic teacher, he really gave us a course on aircraft mechanics. After I went to work steady, I had to take a test the Army gave us there. I ended up with an aircraft mechanic’s license.
The draft came and I had to go report to the draft and they put us into this group for Rankin. We were all put into the Air Force Reserve and you were sent back to Rankin. You were still a civilian, but you had to work there. When it started to close down, then you went into the service in active duty. I went from there to Texas and from Texas to Pine Dale to an Air Force community.
BN: We had bought a ranch and we thought everything was fine.
CD: You had to put your life on hold again, huh?
BN: Well, I had the ranch and I had a baby, Dale Ann Nagle (Emken). And I had the ranch to take care of. I had an old fashion baby buggy and I put my baby in the buggy and with a shovel, I (chuckle) irrigated the ranch that way. I mean, what are you gonna do?
CD: So, tell me about that time then? So, you had gotten married and then he was sent off and there you were. And, so what was your daily life like? You just took care of chores around the ranch and you had your family around you or what?
BN: Yes, well, see this ranch where we are today is the original home ranch down on the Tule River in Tulare. Four of the Nagel brothers farmed the home ranch. John Sam, Bill Williams, Albert Garfield and Ed Theodore and dad, John Sam, was the oldest of Nagel brothers. Anyway, another ranch they farmed, then called the Foster Ranch, on what is now the farm show ground, was 2,000 acres and they farmed that too. But, our ranch we bought was over south of Exeter.
CD: So, you were a distance away then?
BN: Well, my dad, John Dale Young, had a ranch at Exeter though. He was out north and I was out south of Exeter, about five miles apart. Something like that. But Bob had one uncle, Uncle Bill, oh, he was wonderful about bringing his kids, Shirley (Crane), Clive, and Gene, over to help me, and all. My neighbor, Ike Boone, saw my irrigation water was out on the road, and he stopped and said, "Little lady, you need some help. Let me go get a tractor and I’ll help you." And he did. At that time hobos would come through and they would help out. Lloyd Way, another neighbor who had a bunkhouse for "bundle stiffs" camping on his ranch, also helped us. In those days, we all helped each other.( Ed: Bundle Stiffs were men down on their luck that had a tendency to stay in one place.)
CD: What did you have on the ranch, you said you needed to irrigate.
BN: Grapes. We had everything you do for grapes.
RN: Our first date was in February and we got married on June 30th.
CD: So you knew she was the one for you.
RN: I guess. (laughter)
CD & BN: (Laughter)
RN: You know, there wasn’t a dull moment in high school, they all got married and they’re all still married.
CD: Different times. Even though it was tough, people still stuck it out and learned to stick it out together.
BN: Yes, because when we got married, our wedding gifts were mostly crystal ones, stuff like that, because you could buy crystal and all, but you couldn’t buy pots and pans. You couldn’t buy sheets or towels or anything. That stuff was completely not available. I didn’t have a washing machine; I didn’t have a refrigerator. I would carry ice in the car from the ice house in Exeter and bring it out to the ranch.. I had a laundry tray; I’d put it in there and that was my icebox. I mean, what else can you do? And when I would wash, I washed on a washboard. That washboard is down in my son’s bathroom, (Rob Nagle II) hanging on the wall. You just didn’t have those things; you had to do the best you could.
CD: Can you remember some of the things that maybe you couldn’t get then, that you were used to having, that you really missed?
BN: Oh, the main thing was having to wash on a strong board and not having a refrigerator; that was very hard. It was a good thing I nursed my baby, (chuckle).
CD: Yes, it did have to have milk.
BN: It wasn’t easy.
CD: But you had enough gas to go into town?
BN: Well, yes, because we didn’t have…
RN: Well, that could be quite a story. We supplied…oh, Mel Rogers worked at Rankin too, but he had a service station and off hours, he would be open. But we’d have, you know, your gas stamps. Here on the ranch we had extras, so if you didn’t turn it back in, you’d get that much less gas the next time. So, we gave him the stamps and he would buy gas and sell it to service men, you know. There was no money. There was just a barter system and he would have gas there. It just took a matter of hours. They would come from one end of the state to the other and stop at his station. The word got around, up and down, you know, that servicemen could buy gas at that place without stamps. My father had a gas tank there on his ranch. The cadets would bring cigarettes, the land leveler just couldn’t get along without his cigarettes. He had a lot of gas stamps, so they would trade. The cadets would buy the gas. And when they wanted gas, anyone who had a car would stop there to fill a car up.
BN: People shared. They really did. I can remember when we got married, our wedding cake - we had it baked at the bakery in Visalia and the whole family had to chip in with stamps for sugar, because they couldn’t make the cake without sugar.
CD: Without that sugar.
BN: Um hum, so we had quite a few . . .
RN: Really, some people really complained about how terrible it was and I didn’t think it was bad at all, because we did get to go to the park (Sequoia) and things like that. I liked the park more then than I ever did before, because if you had servicemen with you, you could get into the park free, and they (the servicemen) had (would pay for) the gas. They would buy my dinner and everything; I just drove the car.
BN: Well, Bob had a real nice car. He had a…
RN: Well, that was something else. We got out of high school in June, and in August I bought a car from Leo Ford up here. He went into the service and he had this 1941 Chevrolet Club Coup. It was just a year old, for sale for $800. Well, he had a good job, good pay, so he went and bought the car; he had a year old car. You know, you look back and that was really something. A kid out of high school with a year old car, paid for, and we got to do a lot of things that way. Maybe we weren’t supposed to have the gas, but it was service men that was getting the advantage of it. I didn’t think I had a rough time at all.
CD: You had plenty to eat, I take it.
BN: Oh yeah, because we had our own beef and everything, you know.
RN: Yeah, because I was born here and Rankin was only two miles over there, so I had a good deal.
CD: And you probably grew vegetables and some of those things right there at home and had that, huh?
RN: Oh yes.
CD: So you probably didn’t have much time, Betty, because you were so busy on your ranch. But do you remember what people did for entertainment?
BN: I can remember we went to the dances quite a bit and different things, because they would have real good orchestras. Orchestras would come up here. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were even at Rankin. I can’t remember all of the different orchestras that would come.
RN: Yeah, they’d have it at the fairgrounds in Tulare and everything. Of course, there were many, many servicemen that were always there. You really had a good time; I did more then than I do now. Of course, I was a little bit younger. (chuckle)
CD: What was the city of Tulare like before the war?
RN: Just a little town.
CD: A little town. Do you think it grew a lot during those years.
BN: Yes, quite a bit. Visalia grew more than Tulare did. I need to write some of this stuff down. (Chuckle)
RN: Building-wise, it didn’t grow; but you know, more people were there.
CD: Mostly because of all the service men at Rankin and Sequoia Field?
RN: Yes, guys moved in and would go to work there, but the town itself didn’t grow. Most all car dealerships all closed down because they couldn’t get cars. That was at a standstill through that period.
CD: So, the businesses did change a little bit, as far as some closing. Were there any, other than the two fields, do you remember if there were any factories or anything that opened or changed from one business to another, specifically because of the war?
RN: No, not here.
BN: You know, you were talking about the fields. It wasn’t only the two fields, we had auxiliary fields.
RN: Well, we had Rankin, over by the airport, (This was on road 140 and Avenue 200.) and one over by Exeter, Hunter Field.
BN: And Eckerd Field by Strathmore . . .(Harman Field by Pixley, and Tulare Airport.)
RN: And then where Guthrie’s Feed Yard near Porterville is, that was an auxiliary field called Trager Field. You’d go and take a flight over there. We’d fly our crews during the day, because they had to scatter them around. They’d all fly off of the one field.
BN: They had the five different fields that they would use for their landing and taking off, and so forth. They had to split it.
CD: Oh, uh huh, that makes sense, I just hadn’t thought of that before.
BN: I don’t know what they had for Visalia because we were really involved with the Rankin Field cadets.
RN: Well, like right here, you see the oak trees. The cadets would be practicing and they would come over. You know, we’d wonder what they were doing always and they said they were using the trees for their figure eights. All day long, planes would be flying over the place.
BN: (Chuckle.) We had cattle, and sometimes it would bother the cattle a little bit.
RN: It didn’t bother anything. We just were used to it.
CD: Okay, so Betty, basically, you worked at Rankin Field and then got married. Then, after your husband . . .
BN: Well, we bought the ranch and Bob and I also had hay trucks. A lot of the boys at Rankin had hay trucks and they’d all get together and haul hay for the different ranchers on their off hours. He would go to work . . .what time . . .five o’clock in the morning.
RN: Five to one; I’d work a straight eight hours and eat when you could, you know, for your lunch.
BN: And then, if he would work that shift, we would haul hay in the afternoon. Then other times, when he would work the late shift, his brother, Elden, was on the opposite shift that Bob was on. So, we just shared a lot of stuff.
CD: So, were you still working at Rankin then, or had you…
BN: No, no, I was pregnant then.
CD: Oh, so you were out of your job by then.
BN: I had the baby then. Yes.
RN: You know, the crew you were on (haying), they’d all arrive together to work. They’d go around town and pick everybody up and go to work.
CD: I see, okay. And so, then how long was it before you husband came home?
BN: Well, Dale, our oldest daughter, was . . .
RN: Well, it wasn’t any long period . . .
BN: She was 16 months old.
RN: I went to Texas in September and went to Pine Dale in December and in the spring from there to Utah, And then Utah to Hawaii and I was there one hundred and some days. Then I came back home. So actually, active duty time was actually one year.
CD: Um hum. And was the service, was the war basically, over when you came home?
BN: Yeah, yeah. When he went
CD: How did you remember hearing about when they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and all? How did you feel about that? Did you have some feelings about that?
BN: Well, we felt like they had to, because that war was just dragging on and on and on and as soon as that happened, well then they called it quits.
CD: Were you aware before that time of the holocaust and all of that?
BN: Yes, we were.
CD: You knew about that.
BN: See, we had German prisoners, here on the ranch. Just south of Tulare . . .
RN: The fair ground.
BN: Yes, the fairground in Tulare was a German war prisoner camp. We would bring them out here to work on the ranch and all. You see, Bob’s father didn’t speak English until he was nine years old. He just spoke German and those guys were very happy to have some one to talk to.
RN: They’d bring ‘em out and the guard, he’d lean up against the oak tree there and go to sleep, take a nap. And they’d just laugh; they thought that was so funny, you know. But they said, "Well, there’s no place to go." So he didn’t need to watch ‘em.
BN: We didn’t have any trouble. The German war prisoners were really nice kids. And then they brought in some Nazi’s and we had some problems then.
RN: The Germans were ready to kill the Nazi’s really. They used to have this one big camp in Texas where if they found out you were a Nazi, they took the Nazi’s to that camp in Texas. So they kept them separated.
CD: Oh. So, it wasn’t the way people felt about different ethnic groups then, it was, kind of, the Germans were just people like anyone else, but the Nazi’s were like the bad guys.
BN: There was a lot of difference between the Nazi’s and the Germans.
CD: Yeah. So what were the feelings about Japanese at that time, were there Japanese living around in your area?
BN: Yeah, Uchida’s were here and Bob and Soichi Uchida were…well, as I said Soichi’s son was named for Bob. They were very close. They had worked over at the farm show in that area, then called the swamp ground. It was called the Turner Ranch. Turner had the East part of the farm and Foster had the West part of the farm. Jeff Turner was Foster’s brother–in-law, he married Foster’s sister. and the Uchida’s still farm the Turner ranch today.
RN: Because they were there before the war, as long as I can remember. Then when they took them (the Japanese Americans) away, they (the government) came in real quickly and said they had to get out, they had so many hours, "Sell your stuff." They were all shook up and Jeff Turner said, "You’re not selling anything." He said, "You put it in that house and it’ll be there when you come back." He was so unhappy that they took his Japanese family, that had worked for him for many years and lived on the ranch, away from him. He had my uncle take this great big caterpillar and disk up his whole ranch, and it stayed that way until the Japanese Uchidas’ came home.
BN: But there were some problems, because like Lorr, what he pulled.
RN: Yeah, he sent him a letter, Jap lover hanging by a tree, you know. Well, of course, the FBI got in on that and they wanted to know what Jeff wanted to do. He said, "Just go tell him that I know that Lorr, he’s the one that did it." He said, "Because he’ll be looking over my shoulder, watching where I’m at all the time."
CD: So, there were some negative feelings among some people, but it was not widespread.
BN: Some people, yes, but it was not…no, no.
RN: Soichi, when they had the signing of the treaty in
BN: Um hum, medals and things.
RN: You see, he probably won’t tell you about it, he just didn’t talk about it.
CD: Hard times for them, I’m sure.
BN: Yes, it was very hard.
CD: So, when they were able to come home from the camp, their home was there and everything was still there.
BN: Everything. In fact that car, one of those cars, is still sitting there in the barn, isn’t it?
RN: Well, that was Turner’s car.
CD: Hum, interesting. Okay, do you remember anything about how the media covered the war? Did you read about it in the newspapers or listen to the radio a lot?
BN: I have a lot of papers still.
CD: Do you think they did a good job or were they too biased, or…
BN: I think they did a pretty good job. Don’t you Bob?
BN: Some reporters are biased, but some of them aren’t.
CD: Just like today.
BN: Yes, just like today.
CD: And, did you go to the movies? Do you remember going to the movies a lot?
BN: Oh, yes. We didn’t go a lot, money was pretty tight for us. After a while, it was hard, because we didn’t dare spend the money. I only got $80 a month to live on and when you’ve got a baby and all your bills to pay, you don’t . . .
CD: Don’t go to the movies, even if it’s inexpensive, or do much of anything like that.
BN: But, we did swim a lot and we’d take picnic lunches and go swimming and stuff like that, you know.
CD: Where did you swim?
BN: In the rivers.
CD: Mostly Three Rivers?
RN: Yeah, uh huh.
CD: And do you remember then, when it was announced that the war was
over and that
BN: I can’t, right now. Actually, I block things out sometimes.
CD: So you don’t remember that. Do you remember if there were celebrations in the towns or anything like that?
BN: I can’t remember.
CD: Okay, that’s fine. Okay. Well, I think we’re just about through my questions, but I have two kind of tough ones that we ask everybody. First, how do you think that World War II affected you personally? How did it change your life?
BN: Oh, it really changed my life because it was a different world before it happened.
CD: You may not have met your husband without it.
BN: No, what’s funny is we were both born on the same road (chuckle) and all. Our families all knew each other.
CD: So, you may have met him eventually anyway.
BN: Well, in fact, several members of our families have married into the other, you know. My cousin is his cousin, you know, stuff like that.
CD: Well, it is a hard question, because who knows how your life would have gone without that time.
CD: Hard times, but it maybe helped you grow tougher.
BN: Oh yeah, you learned to save. My son gets very upset at his dad because dad keeps everything (chuckle) and I keep everything.
CD: Okay, and then the other question is, do you have any thoughts on how those years affected the way Tulare County is now?
BN: Well, we wouldn’t have this ranch if Bob hadn’t been in the service, because when dad got ready to sell this part of the ranch, we used Bob’s Cal Vet loan to buy it. We could not have bought it if it hadn’t been for that loan. It was great because dad got the cash.
CD: Did you lose anybody close to you in the service during those years.
BN: No. A lot of my family was in the service, and a lot of his, but it was . . .
CD: A miracle. It was a miracle.
RN: Well it didn’t really affect you except, you know, you had plans. I thought, well, I’ll go to college and all, but I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do. So, this completely changed and I went to work at the airfield there and had a job that really had a lot of responsibility for a kid. You know, 18 years old, and I was assistant line chief there for a while. Well, their (the army flying students) lives depended on us, because we had to make sure that airplane was in good shape to fly. Now a day, you look and you have kids trying dope and that and you wouldn’t dare have them doing something where your life depended on it.
BN: Well you really felt for the kids too. The cadets and all, a lot of them had their wives here with them. They were real nice.
CD: And others were away from home by themselves.
BN: Um hum, but when I went to work for Rankin, the first thing Rankin said to me, "This is not a dating game." And he meant it. He really meant it.
CD: Um hum, he had to keep a close watch on that, I’m sure.
BN: Um hum, cause it was all kids that was working out there.
CD: Okay, well, thank you Mr. and Mrs. Nagel for doing this interview with us today.
C.Demmers/pd 3-18-2004/ Ed. JW 8-04-04
Editor’s note: The italic words in this transcript were added during the editing time, during phone calls with Bob and Betty Nagel. Some names and clarification of the conversation were added. Bob Nagel also informed us that Rankin Field trained over 11,000 cadets and only had 10 fatalities. 4 of those fatalities were because two of the training planes collided.