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: Arlene Pratt

 

Date: February 21, 2004

Report No: 12

Interviewer: Judy M. Yoder

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: Visalia, CA

GENERAL

HOME FRONT

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY

JY: This is Judy Yoder interviewing for Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years of 1941 through 1946. The name of the interviewee is Arlene Pratt.

The date of this interview is February 19, 2004, and we met at the Visalia Coffee Company at Main Street and Church Street.

Our second interview will be February 21, 2004, and we were meeting at Best Buy Market off of Walnut Avenue.

It is 11:15 a.m. I am now sitting at Best Buy Market in the parking lot with Arlene Pratt in her Lincoln Town car.

Arlene, go ahead, and what is your name and date of birth, and make sure you spell your last name.

AP: My name is Arlene Pratt and my date of birth is July 9, 1926.

JY: And what was your maiden name, and will you spell it?

AP: Donkersley.

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

AP: My mother’s name was Angele Borel, a little French lady, she was born in Delano, and my father was Harry Donkersley, and he was born in Yuma, Arizona.

JY: Okay, and what did your mom do for a career?

AP: She was a housewife, a homemaker.

JY: Okay, and what did your father do?

AP: He worked for the Edison Company for 25 years, before he died at age 46.

JY: Wow, he died young.

AP: Yes he did.

JY: And what did he die from?

AP: Heart attack, massive. As did my youngest brother, at age 59.

JY: Okay. Can you spell your mom’s name, since it’s French?

AP: Borel.

JY: And where did you grow up?

AP: Visalia. Born and raised here.

JY: Okay, and what schools did you attend?

AP: Washington Elementary, Jefferson, Sierra Vista Middle School and what is now known as Redwood High School, VUHS, and college at C.O.S.

JY: Wow. You’ve been here a while.

AP: All my life.

JY: So how old were you when World War II began?

AP: I was probably fifteen.

JY: Okay. At the time of the war, were you in a relationship?

AP: No, not really.

JY: Okay, so you were single.

AP: Um hum, I was a sophomore in high school.

JY: Okay, when did you start dating?

AP: Freshman in high school. My first date, I remember very vividly, was with a fellow named Avery Dula, and we went to the school dance, the opening dance of the year. His brother had to drive us, because he wasn’t old enough to drive a car yet.

JY: Okay. We’re going to go to some personal reactions to the war. What event stands out in the years preceding the beginning of the war?

AP: Nothing really. We were the first graduating class from Sierra Vista though, in the eighth grade. That’s when the north schools and the south schools got together.

JY: Where were you and what were you doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

AP: It was Sunday morning, and I remember hearing it on the radio, and we were just all amazed. A fellow that was in my class at school, delivered a special addition of the Times Delta that Sunday morning, on his bicycle, cause he was too young to drive too.

JY: So this young fellow, who was on his bicycle delivering his papers, where did he deliver them to?

AP: All over the south side of Visalia.

JY: (Inaudible) So how did you feel when the announcement of the war was made?

AP: We were all in a state of shock, I believe. I didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was until the event happened. We learned very fast. I remember President Roosevelt’s speech, the next day, the day of infamy. His famous speech that you hear excerpts from now.  I remember it very vividly.

JY: Where were you when you heard his speech?

AP: I think I was at school, on Monday morning, and they had us go to the auditorium and we listened to it.

JY: By radio?

AP: Um hum. Yeah, that was before TV. (chuckle)

JY: What one event of the war stands out?

AP: Hum, that’s a hard one, because there were so many things that happened. Many of our classmates quit school to go to war before they graduated, and we lost some of them. It’s hard to say just any one particular thing, it was just all devastating, having all the young fellows go to war.

JY: Yes it is. What was your opinion of the dropping of the atomic bomb?

AP: My opinion is that if we hadn’t dropped that bomb, we would have lost thousands and thousands of more American lives. So, it was necessary evil.

JY: Do you consider World War II a just war?

AP: Oh yes, they attacked us. They sunk all those ships with the boys aboard. It certainly was inevitable.

JY: Where were you when you heard the war had ended?

AP: I was working at Penney’s, down town on the corner of Locust and Main. Everybody just ran out into the streets and hugged each other, and greeted each other. We were just so happy. It was a wonderful feeling. We knew our boys would be coming home.

JY: Just as a note, J.C. Penney’s, as of today, is located at the Visalia Mall, which is on the corner of Walnut and Mooney Boulevard. We gonna go ahead and switch gears. We’re gonna go into the home front, family life.

How did the war affect your family’s economic circumstances, and do you remember difficulties in getting food, clothing, or other consumer goods during the war?

AP: No, not really, we had rationing, we had gas rationing, butter and sugar was also rationed, but I don’t ever remember a hardship because of it. (Inaudible)

JY: From the effects of rationing, do you ever remember having to stand in line for (inaudible).

AP: (Inaudible)

JY: Did your family participate in war bond campaigns?

AP: Yes, and my mother was a spotter. They had a kind of, I don’t know what you’d call it, it was out at Recreation Park, it was on a platform, and she would scan the skies to watch for airplanes going over, friendly or otherwise, and she did that as a volunteer during the war.

JY: Now if she were to spot something up in the sky, how would she make a note of that?

AP: I’m not really sure. I just have a picture of her standing there scanning the skies and I don’t know if she had a telephone. That was pre-cell phone years, and I don’t know if she just noted it on a piece of paper and handed it to the wardens or what. I don’t know what happened.

JY: Was anyone in the immediate family separated because of the military service or war work?

AP: No.

JY: How did you keep in touch with your boyfriend/husband?

AP: I wrote letters, constantly.

JY: Did the separation have a significant effect on the family? Well, particularly you since your husband was . . .

AP: Well, of course I missed him terribly. He was gone two years. He was in the Marine Corp for two years and twenty months overseas. And, uh, when he was a marine there were only two kinds of Marines: those overseas and those going overseas. And he always says if he dug a foxhole more than five foot deep that got him for desertion (chuckle). That is one of his favorite old stories.

JY: He has a nice sense of humor.

AP: Yes, he does.

JY: I’ve got another question for you: When he enlisted in the Marines, were you dating at that time?

AP: Uh huh. His dad just about had a conniption because, "Of all the services to pick from, why did you pick the Marine Corp?" Because they were right on the front lines. But he could have stayed out of the military because his dad had a dairy at that time and they had preference. He could have stayed home to help with the cows, but he wanted to serve his country and he did not want to be left behind by the rest of the fellows that were going into the service.

JY: So it was his choice?

AP: He was drafted, but enlisted in the Marine Corp before he was called up.

JY: How long have the two of you been together.

AP: Probably since 1943. That’s when I met him.

JY: So then, when you’re dating, what would be a common date?

AP: We’d go to the show. Being a farmer, he had unlimited gas at that time. I forget what the ration was at that point for the farmers but they had a lot of gasoline. We traveled to all the different towns around and different theaters and shows and went to the mountains a lot. We traveled a lot.

And we still travel. We’ll be married fifty six years in May.

JY: What is your husband’s name?

AP: Glenn.

JY: And did you have any children?

AP: We had three. We lost our only son, Dale, in 1972. But we had two daughters, one here in Visalia with two grandsons, Caleb Gunning and Jacob Gunning, and one great granddaughter, Caleb’s daughter, Cayla. And I have a daughter in Texas with one son, Coty Viselli and one stepson, Zack Viselli.

JY: And your daughter’s name that lives here?

AP: Glenda Gunning.

JY: And the daughter’s name that lives in Texas?

AP: Laurie Viselli.

JY: And the reason why I asked is because the person at the library who is in charge of this project said the tapes and interviews will be in the history room at the library and future generations, your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and generations to come will be able to listen to the tapes and if someone later is interested in genealogy, they might be able to do that and locate names. These might be digitized. Technology is so quick to change, and that’s why I’m asking different questions than were in our first interview.

In our first interview, you were talking about a restriction on speed on cars.

AP: Oh yes. My dad had an Edison car. I think it was a Plymouth. And it had what they called a "governor" on it. And it did not allow him to go over forty miles an hour. He had to travel,he was a (inaudible) superintendent and he had to travel around to different towns and check on different things and, going forty miles an hour took him a long time to get around.

JY: So I was asking about your dates, and your husband. I was thinking about that forty miles an hour.

AP: It didn’t pertain to my husband.

JY: Oh, it didn’t?

AP: Just my dad’s car. The Edison company car.

JY: And in our first interview, you were talking about how the family would take a trip to Delano, and I was wondering how long that would take?

AP: About an hour and fifteen minutes. It is about forty or forty five minutes away now. That is where my mother’s family is from.

I told you I was going to tell you a little story about the Sumida’s. Back in the old days, they didn’t have bulldozers to knock trees over; they used dynamite and black powder to uplift the stumps and they had two powder houses on our ranch. They are made out of brick and they stored TNT and black powder and everything they use to destroy the stumps. Well, the day after Pearl Harbor, three big trucks came out and loaded all that TNT and dynamite and took it away and we don’t know where they took it, but they hauled it all away from the ranch. And now the brick lays all around our flower beds in our front yard. They tore the brick down. But I thought that was kind of interesting. They knew exactly where that was and they were there the next day, December 8 to take all that away.

JY: December 8, was that in 1941?

AP: Yes.

JY: (Inaudible) I’m not aware that they did any documentation like that, to keep track of what kind of materials . . . .

JY: I’m not sure either, but they knew it was there and they came out and got it. I don’t know if it was County, State, Federal or what, but they did confiscate it and took it away. And a long time later, my husband found a safe along the St. John’s Ditch. We live out on the St. John’s River.

It had belonged to a Japanese person and there was a bankbook in there, and the last entry was dated December 8, 1941, and a zero balance. They’d taken all their money out of the bank. What happened with it I don’t know, but I thought that was an interesting note too.

JY: That is an interesting note. Panic, it sounds like panic.

AP: Yes, it did to me, too.

JY: So did the war affect your dating, courting or romantic relationships?

AP: Not really.

JY: Do you think unrealistic war time romances took place, or were people more serious about their relationships?

AP: That is hard to really ascertain. We were all so young then. Nothing was like, say it wasn’t serious, but it ended up being serious because I married Glenn. That is a hard question to answer.

JY: It is. When I think about Time Magazine, that one particular picture, I think it is in New York City, it is a ticker tape parade, it seems like the sailor who bends this young lady over and gives her this kiss. To me that’s romanticizing.

AP: But everybody was so romantic.

JY: Yeah, that was the end of the war.

AP: Yes, exactly. We went screaming out in the street and hugged everybody who came along. We were so happy.

JY: So it was like, that is not realistic as to how people dated and it’s not even related to the patterns of dating. How were dating patterns of 1941-1946 possibly different than today?

AP: I have no idea. I have been out of the dating situation for so long. I really don’t know. All I know is that during the war, I think I told you on our first interview about a gal who lived on South Court Extension. It was called extension because it was out in the country but now it is surrounded by houses. Her last name was Switzer and they called it Switzerland . And the cadets from Rankin Field and Sequoia Field would come there on Sunday afternoons and we would all get together and just have a good time. We had a wonderful time. The fella that I really was very friendly with, he was just a good friend and he was killed in the war. I was corresponding with him also. Dave Leatherman was his name. I got my letter back saying that he had been killed in action.

JY: How do you spell his last name?

AP: L-E-A-T-H-E-R-M-A-N. I have some music at home that he had given to me. He signed it.

JY: What kind of music did you listen to back then?

AP: Big band. It was the Big Band Era.

JY: Big Band Era which would be Glen Miller.

AP: Glen Miller, Stan Kenton, Dorsey boys, Jimmy and . . . Jimmy Dorsey. Al those, it was wonderful. In fact, it still is today. I still have tapes of the big band era.

JY: What kind of dancing? I know it was called . . . is that like back when they were doing the jitterbug?

AP: Jitterbug, yes.

JY: That looked like a fun time.

AP: Oh, it was. It was very fun. Of course, my husband doesn’t dance. He never has danced and he has two left feet. I always tell him that when I get married again I am going to marry somebody who can dance (chuckle). I miss it.

JY: In an unstable time, what gave stability to your family? What was of particular importance to you? What activities did you enjoy as a way of "getting away" from the war? Any memorable vacations or travel?

AP: No, we didn’t travel too much, because of the gas rationing. My parents didn’t travel much during the war. I did go to Lake Tahoe with my husband-to-be to visit with his aunt and uncle that lived at Lake Tahoe. We did that a couple of times. And that is about it.

JY: Your parents trusted the two of you to travel all the way to Lake Tahoe? Were you supervised or unsupervised?

AP: We were staying with his aunt and uncle, Alice and Franklin Sunkel.

JY: Considered supervised.

AP: Supervised (chuckle)!

JY: I thought that was a current day thing (laugh).

Were there any neighborhood organizations to watch for blackouts or to make special collection drives? Any special events related to war efforts?

AP: Yes, and I think I told you previously, I worked for the Edison Company. I worked there for four years. They had a drive there for the Red Cross and my husband had written home to tell me that, "Don’t give to the Red Cross because they pulled some real shenanigans overseas." He saw it with his own eyes. So I refused to donate any money. They wanted to make it 100%. I got called on the carpet for it but I stood by my guns and I did what he asked me to do. I did not donate because of what the organization had done. I think it was taking one truck out driving it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and making it look like a lot of trucks. They had to pay for stuff that was given to them which was supposed to be donated to them. So I don’t have much love for the Red Cross.

JY: That is what we call a current Enron and fraud. You make something look bigger than it really is. You choose to fool those . . .

AP: Right. Look what happened at 911. What they did after that with all the contributions that . . . I don’t know what happened to them. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do with all the money they received. It might have been corrected but at that time, I thought that was horrible.

JW: Yeah, I do recall reading on occasion (inaudible), that there was difficulty getting funds to families. And then I know they were weighting who had more need than others and there was a scale, and I thought no, they’re all victims, they are all suffering; they are all equal. And to me, I don’t think, why was any more deserving than any other And I don’t know how you gauge who earns it and who doesn’t, and who’s to say? How do you sit in judgment?

AP: Exactly. Very good. There was one thing that I did recall: My husband is a veteran but he was denied at Veterans’ Hospital in Fresno. Veteran’s hospital has denied anything there because he had too many assets. Yet he is a veteran in the service. Veterans should have been able to have prescriptions and all that sort of thing through them, but they choose to deny him because of too many assets.

JW: Unfair practices. Anyhow, I wanted to commend you on your moral principle about the letter you received from Glenn. What type of situation did that put you in where your employer was willing to fire you?

AP: But he didn’t.

JY: We are in this great nation that says we have the freedom of choice but they put the pressure on you.

AP: They did put the pressure on me to get the 100%.

JY: I know you were in school. Do you remember special events connected to wartime activities? Did school curriculum or extra-curricular activities seem to change?

AP: Yes, mainly because we did entertain the cadets. (inaudible) . . . from Rankin Field and Sequoia Field and we tried to make the boys feel good, being away from home, some of them were very lonely. (Inaudible).

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

AP: Probably not. My brothers, Harry Donkersley and Robert Donkersley, were younger than I. I don’t think my parents wanted to worry the younger ones about that. I just picked up what I could out of newsreels and the newspaper myself.

JY: So you didn’t have to worry about developing any kind of anxiety from being overloaded with war news?

AP: No, right. Exactly!

JY: Do you remember how movies reflected the war and how they portrayed home life during the war?

AP: It was probably unreal. I mean everything was oversimplified, I’m sure, as compared to what it was really like.

JY: How did they seem to portray expected gender roles?

AP: Well, I never thought too much about that. I’m sure it was probably: mom was home with the kids and dad was out making a living.

JY: Still a one income family.

AP: Uh huh.

JY: So unlike today. I thought men were more like, um, how they would show it? It would probably be men were more strong. They were our protectors.

AP: Never saw a man cry.

JY: That too. I hadn’t thought about that.

AP: And now, gosh, even my husband is strong and he is six foot two. A very strong man and they say, "Once a Marine, always a Marine." We just went to a Marine gathering over at the coast a couple of weeks ago. His friend has a ranch over there. We would meet there every year on President’s day. Even him, he can get very teary-eyed when something very emotional happens. I think more so after we lost our son. It made him more vulnerable. He makes no bones. He doesn’t try to hide it. I commend him for it because he shouldn’t have to. Men have feelings just like women do. I think it is very important that they are able to show how they feel.

JY: Yes, I agree with that. Interesting that you would say that. I have an uncle that was in the Marines.

AP: Oh really.

JY: Very big Indian, about six foot three but I find he is far more in touch with his emotions than most other men.

AP: Isn’t that amazing.

JY: I just thought he was unique, but now that you shared about Glenn, I’m like maybe they offer more to the men in the Marines.

AP: It’s really I had never met a Marine yet . . .and I have met many, many of them. They are so patriotic and they never give it up. It becomes part of them. Semper Fidelis: "always faithful." It’s very true.

JY: Did Glenn smoke prior to the war?

AP: No, he never smoked or drank. Never drank coffee even.

JY: Even when the cigarettes were being passed out for free during World War II?

AP: He gave them to his friends who did smoke. He says, "It is tough even getting through this world. Why ruin my body by doing something like that?" Never did smoke.

JY: That’s incredible. What were your impressions of military and political leadership during the war?

AP: I never really thought about it much. I just thought how patriotic everybody was. It just drew the whole country together.

JY: How did you illustrate your attitude toward your country during the war?

AP: I don’t think I illustrated it. I just lived it. I just lived it!

JY: Now, remember you are a teenager. What are teenagers focused on?

AP: Boys (laughter)! Boys and girls.

JY: Were there people with whom you disagreed on how loyalty or patriotism should be shown?

AP: Not in those days. Everybody was focused on one thing.

JY: And that was?

AP: Getting that war over with and getting the boys back home.

JY: Were you a part of any voluntary organizations for the war effort?

AP: No, I was too young.

JY: How did your community react at the end of the war? Were there any celebrations or events?

AP: Only thing I can remember, just running out of Penney’s and just . . .so happy and thrilled it was over. It was just unbelievably wonderful.

JY: It was a great relief.

AP: Oh yes.

JY: They didn’t have a local parade?

AP: Not that I remember.

JY: In your opinion, what was the overall impact of the war on American society?

AP: Well, like I said, it drew America closer together as a body. Everybody was patriotic. You didn’t question anyone’s patriotism. It was just a solid effort during the whole war.

JY: When the Japanese-Americans were interned, did you ever go out to look at the camps?

AP: No. My husband did. Matter of fact, he helped smuggle one of his friends out over the fence and then took him back later that evening. Alan Ansai.

JY: Interesting. Why did he want to smuggle him out?

AP: Because he was a friend of his.

JY: What did they do in their free time?

AP: They just traveled around in my husband’s car.

JY: Do you remember what kind of car that was?

AP: It was a 1940 Mercury club coupe. Wish I had it today.

JY: He smuggled him back in. Do you have any idea how he got him back in?

AP: No I don’t.

JY: I’ll have to interview your husband!

Okay. There are questions that I need to ask all interviewees. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

AP: I really don’t have any thoughts about that. We just lived through the war and that was it. It affected me because of all the ones that went overseas and Glenn going overseas also but we just coped.

JY: Well, do you think if there hadn’t been a war, would there have been a " Switzerland ?"

AP: Probably not.

JY: So you wouldn’t have had those cadets to go out and visit with and dance with?

AP: Nope.

JY: How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

AP: I don’t think the war years had anything to do with the way Tulare County is now. We’re getting too big. Visalia is getting too big. There were 7400 people in Visalia when I was in Washington Grammar School and 11, 000 . . .10,,000 or 11,000 when I graduated from high school and look now, we’re 100,000. I just watched it grow from a little village to a metropolis. It’s just too big and I don’t like it.

JY: I hear you on that one. Do you think there would have been a Rankin Field or a Sequoia Field, if it hadn’t been for the war?

AP: Probably not. We trained the cadets.

JY: Do you think the baby boom would have been?

AP: I don’t really know. I don’t know. I have no thoughts on that.

JY: Is there anything that you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

AP: No, I think we pretty well covered it. I think I probably told you where we live now. We live north of Visalia on the Saint Johns River. The south side of Pratt Road is in the city and the north side of Pratt Road is in the county. The city is barking at our door too. I don’t like it. We can look through the walnut trees and see the houses going up like mushrooms.

JY: That’s a hard feeling to take, and I’ve only been here ten years and that’s why the city is bursting out of its seams.

AP: (Inaudible) I don’t want to call it naiveté, but the people here are more generous then people in Bakersfield, LA or…

JY: Try New York City.

AP: Oh yeah, I agree heartedly. But we are losing our country charm.

JY: I agree. Well thank you very much.

AP: You are welcome.

Judy Yoder/ Transcribers Pat Dilley & J Wood, /Ed. Judith Wood

ED: Words in italics are clarification or were added during a phone interview with Arlene Pratt on September 1, 2005.