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: Mary Jones Richardson

 

Date: February 19, 2004

Report No: 67

Interviewer: Bob Smith

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: Porterville, CA

PERSONAL REACTION TO THE WAR

BEING NOTIFIED HUSBAND WAS MISSING IN ACTION & HIS RETURN FROM THE WAR

FAMILY WAS STABILITY OF HER LIFE DURING WORLD WAR II

HOME FRONT PATRIOTISM VERY STRONG IN PORTERVILLE, CA

THEIR WORK TOGETHER TO "BRING THE BOYS HOME"

BS: This is Bob Smith from the Tulare County Library and it is Thursday, February 19, 2004. I am interviewing Mary Richardson here in her home in Porterville, California. The project title is Years of Valor, Years of Hope: Tulare County and the years 1941 through 1946.

Mary could I ask you to please state your name and date of birth?

MR: My name is Mary Richardson and I was born March 7, 1923 in Porterville, California.

BS: And what was your maiden name?

MR: Jones.

BS: Thank you dear. What were your parents’ names, and where were they born?

MR: My dad’s name was Donald Los Jones, and he was born in Hanford, California. My mother’s name was Lea Frances Sheila and she was born in Woodville, California.

BS: And where did you grow up?

MR: I grew up right here in Porterville. On the east side of town by Roach Avenue School.

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

MR: Oh dear, I was 18.

BS: Were you working?

MR: No, I was going to college at San Jose State College in San Jose, California.

BS: So you were a Spartan.

MR: (Laughter) I didn’t even expect this, I’ll tell you that. Immediately, after the term was over, which was just before Christmas, I came home; my sister, Helen (Griswold) was with me too. She came home too and we stayed, because that area was just full of service men and trucks and, oh, convoys and everything, going back and forth on Highway 101. It was quite scary to me, I don’t know about my sister, but it was to me (chuckle).

BS: At the time of the war, were you in a relationship? Were you married or single?

MR: I was going with my husband, Barney Richardson, who was still in Porterville. Then he went down to USC later, but I wasn’t married or engaged. Trying to, (chuckle) but didn’t get ‘im yet.

BS: Where were you married?

MR: in Porterville, at my parent’s home on Morton Street, East Morton. It was 903 East Morton then. They’ve changed the numbers now and (chuckle) I don’t know what they are. I do know how to get there from here though.

BS: Did you have any children at any time during the war?

MR: Yes, I had three children in Porterville, California. The lady that I talked to on the phone thought that was so amazing that we had children during the war in Porterville (chuckle). We had a good hospital and had a good doctor. I had five children, but we had three during that period, Kenneth (1944), Patrick (1946), Sheela (St. John) (1947).

BS: What event stands out in the years preceding the beginning of the war?

MR: Oh, high school, graduation from high school. That was a big thing in Porterville. We had a lot of close friends. That was the biggest thing that I can remember.

BS: So after graduation from Porterville High School, you immediately went to San Jose State?

MR: No, I went one year to Porterville College. I graduated when I was 17. I didn’t expect the war, I don’t know why.

BS: Well, you were 17.

MR: Yeah, (chuckle) that’s it.

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

MR: I was at the sorority house in San Jose in the basement ironing my clothes, because my mother always taught us to iron our slips, you know, we had to iron everything then. That ended that, I’ll tell you, I rushed up stairs and we all gathered around the radio at that time to hear what we could. Several of the girls in the house, or two or three I should say, had people they were engaged to that were over in the Philippines and it was very traumatic for them and for all of us.

BS: How did you feel when the announcement of the war came? You were 17.

MR: Well, I was 18 by that time. Well, I felt . . . it was very upsetting to me. I don’t know exactly. I don’t know how I felt. Go on (chuckle). It was bad.

BS: What one event of the war stands out in your memory?

MR: My husband was a prisoner of war and when I got the telegram saying that he was missing in action, that really shook our whole household. I was living at home with my parents at that time because I had just had a baby, Kenny, and, you know, well, they wouldn’t even consider me living in a house by myself with a baby at that time. There wasn’t anything in Porterville to rent anyway. They had a big house and my sister, Helen, was living there with her child. Donald. Her husband, Chester Griswold, was in Italy at the time. That was a good time for our family. We stuck together, I tell you. That was the biggest thing for me.

BS: What year were you married, dear?

MR: We were married in 1943.

BS: 1943, and then where was he taking his training? Were you there with him?

MR: No, well, he went to USC and he joined the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program), but I can’t remember what it is now. It was students: "Stay in school," they kept saying. "You join this and you’ll graduate from college and then you’ll have to go into the service." Okay, so we were at USC and they took him. They took all the ASTP’ers (chuckle). He went from Camp Roberts to Stanford, then to the University of Arkansas. That’s where he had three semesters of college in engineering. After we were married, I went there for, oh, I guess it was maybe three months until they called him back again to go into the infantry. That was not good, but there was nothing he could do about that. Then I came home to Porterville.

BS: So when he shipped out, you came back to Porterville.

MR: Well, long before he shipped out, because he went to Texas and did his basic training and all that. I didn’t go there with him.

BS: So it was when you returned to Porterville, you had a child, and then when were you notified that he was missing in action?

MR: On . . . oh, I thought I’d never forget the day. January 17th, I believe it was.

BS: Of 1944?

MR: Of 1945. All we knew was he was missing in action. We never heard another thing from them until in May, I got a V-mail from him, saying he was liberated and he was on his way home.  Boy, that was the first thing we had heard. They liberated themselves, he told me afterwards, but I didn’t want to hear that, (chuckle) ‘cause that must have been dangerous, but everything was okay.

BS: So then he returned here to Porterville?

MR: Um hum, yes. His parents lived in Visalia at that time. His dad was with Southern California Edison Company in a high position and they lived in Visalia. Then after Barney got home, he was transferred to Los Angeles. My dad had a hardware store here, Jones Hardware, for years he had been here.  Barney went to work down there, just to get back into civilization, I guess (chuckle).  He just stayed there, then, until he retired.

BS: You had, subsequently, two more children.

MR: Yes, we had two more. I had five children all together. They were born in, oh God . . . They were born in ’52 and ’53, Thomas (1952) and Kathryn (1953).

BS: Okay, but you stated you had five children. What were your general feelings about the war?

MR: Well, we were all very patriotic. We did everything we could to help. I don’t know what you mean by general feelings. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the Japanese, because they attacked us, but you know that was just my . . . I didn’t go out and say, "Get them," or anything like that; I just didn’t like it.

BS: Did your feelings differ from any of your contemporaries?

MR: Oh no, no.

BS: And did you consider World War II a just war?

MR: Yeah, we were attacked.

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

MR: Where was I?  We were in a car on the way from Porterville to Camp Roberts, because Barney hadn’t been discharged yet. He was kind of late getting back to Camp Roberts and we said, "Oh gosh, you’re in trouble." And he said, "No, I don’t think so," and he wasn’t.

BS: What was your opinion on the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese?

MR: That would end the war. Get the boys home, get us back to normal. My dad and his dad were back in the backcountry, fishing at the time with my uncle and another friend. When they got out, hearing that news, it dumb founded them, they just thought, "Oh boy, it’s over!"

BS: With a happy feeling, right?

MR: With a happy feeling.

BS: Zeroing now on the home front itself, were there changes in your . . . you made mention about, you came back and you lived with your parents as well as your sister during the war?

MR: Um hum, my younger sister.

BS: Did people outside the immediate family live with you?

MR: No.

BS: How did the war affect the economic conditions of your family, the circumstances?

MR: Well, I was a spoiled kid. I tell you, it didn’t affect me at all really, the economics. Everything I got from the Army, my parents had me put in a savings account. Barney got a salary every month and I did that. I lived there, no room or board or clothes. I charged them at Bullard’s Department Store or drugs I charged at Cobb Drug Company. My parents said, "Fine that’s okay."

BS: Did you find it difficult in getting food or clothing or other consumer goods during the war?

MR: No, we had food stamps and stayed within that. Dad raised cattle. We had enough meat. Gasoline, maybe, because of gas rationing. We couldn’t travel around California to see our friends and relatives, like that, and tires, but that’s about it.

BS: You made mention that your dad also owned a hardware store and you just stated that he had cattle. So, he had the business, the hardware store, but did you live on the farm?

MR: No. Well, we lived on five acres. And dad had Arabian horses. That was his hobby. He raised Arabian horses. One time during the war, he had thirty of them there, including the colts. He had bought ten acres more next door, also.

BS: Did you know of any black market activities during the war?

MR: I didn’t know of any.

BS: Gasoline or tires or something?

MR: My uncle, Oren Sheela, had a gas station and I knew if we needed gas to go pick up one of our boys, Chet or Barney, we could get it. But, that’s all I knew.

BS: Did your family participate in the war bonds campaign and the saving stamps and all that?

MR: Oh, sure, oh yeah. Mostly I put my money in a savings account with three percent interest  (chuckle).

BS: In other family efforts to support the war, did you have home crafts, gardens, volunteer activities?

MR: Well, as I say, my dad raised beef, but that was kind of a hobby too, along with his horses.

BS: Did you have a vegetable garden?

MR: No.

BS: No victory garden?

MR: No. My mother loved to garden, but we didn’t have any vegetables. My granddad, no, my granddad, Frank Sheela, had died by then.

BS: Did you do any volunteer work?

MR: No. I worked at Jones Hardware, at the store, and I learned how to do the bookkeeping machines and all that. Fifty dollars a month, but you understand, there was room and board too (chuckle).  We didn’t volunteer. My Aunt Shirley did and her husband, George Minaker, but that’s all I can say that did that.

BS: Were other members of your immediate family separated during the war?

MR: No, I can’t say that. No. I had a cousin, Barton Sheela Jr., who was married, and he was in the Navy, but . . .

BS: In this unstable time, during World War II, when your husband was overseas, what gave stability to your family?

MR: Oh, my goodness, my family. My family was very stable, I tell you, my dad had rules and we stuck to them. They weren’t hard rules, you know, if you’re going to get engaged, no more dating. You know, things like that, but that was a very stable family. My mother, Frances, had a lot of brothers and sisters, Barton, Shirley (Minaker), Clinton, Alton [Toby], Oren, Pauline (Hutchinson), Valentine (Pender) and they were in or near Porterville. We had a lot of get togethers, a lot of get togethers. That was our main enjoyment, I guess, was getting together with the family.

BS: And that was important.

MR: Oh sure. I don’t know why, but it was to all of us. If their parents had a swimming pool, I was very lucky, and they all came in the hot summers to swim.

BS: It was their way to get away from the war.

MR: Oh, yes, but they talked about it the whole time, looked at maps, you know, and one boy was here and one was there and somebody was over there. Let’s see . . .

BS: How did women’s roles and responsibilities in your family change during the war? Did your mother go to work?

MR: No. She was the mother and the housekeeper, she canned food and all that stuff. We girls got that from her, we would do the same thing, but not much anymore. It cost too much to buy the fruit to can.

BS: How did the women’s roles change after the war?

MR: You know, I quit work and took care of my kids. I don’t think that was a change. I didn’t go back to work, so (chuckle). . . . I really don’t know in our family that it wasn’t much different. It wasn’t. Of course, we were able to travel more, but we didn’t have any money then, so we had to keep two kids, three kids. Women, you’re talking about women?

BS: Yes. Were there any neighborhood organizations to watch for, like blackouts, or to do special collection drives?

MR: There were, but my mother-in-law did that. And she did the watching for planes, but that was out of Visalia and Porterville too before they moved to Visalia. We went to church, Congregational church in Porterville. We did what they did, you know, for money drives and bonds and things like that. We just didn’t do anything else.

BS: Do you recall, here in Porterville, was there any industry conversions to wartime that you’re aware of.

MR: Not that I’m aware of. We were strictly oranges, citrus, agriculture back then, strictly.

BS: Did you hear of any problems by the farmers trying to harvest their crops? Was there problems trying to get help and laborers to harvest?

MR: I suppose they did, but I’m the wrong person to ask (chuckle). Rain was the main thing, if it didn’t rain, it affected everybody in Porterville, the businesses, the farmers, every business there was. I just was self-centered, I guess.

BS: Did different ethnic groups exist or appear in your community?

MR: Not much in Porterville. There were quite a few Mexican families, but they had been here for years. They weren’t a problem at all.

BS: Did you know any Japanese families?

MR: Well, there were some around here. One was in junior college when I was there. When my sister and I went to Four Seas Business School in Fresno, after we came home from San Jose, one of our roommates was a Japanese girl. She left and we didn’t know why.

BS: So, you don’t know whether or not the family got relocated?

MR: No I don’t, it just was very sudden. One Monday morning she wasn’t there.

BS: How did you and your family react to the news about the Holocaust?

MR: Oh, were we supposed to react? We didn’t really hear much about it in Porterville, absolutely. Have you heard anybody from Porterville say they did? It was a terrible thing, but there was nothing we could do.

BS: It was just after the war?

MR: Yes, it was after the war was over.

BS: Did your husband . . . where was he serving in Europe?

MR: Yes. ETO. In the European Theatre of operation.

BS: Did he relate any stories to you about the holocaust?

MR: No, he had no knowledge of that really. He was in Belgium and France . I should have asked him. I can’t ask him now. He’s been gone for ten years.

BS: You indicated that in your family gatherings during the summer time, to get away from the war, but it (ed. The war) was discussed. Did you listen to broadcasts together as a family and then talk over the paper about what’s happening?

MR: Every night before dinner the Los Angeles Times maps were out on the dinning room table. Every morning and every noon, we knew where each one of our husbands were. It was discussed all the time.

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

MR: (Chuckle) I don’t really. We went to every change of movie there was, because that’s all there was to do.

BS: But you don’t remember any of the movies that showed war action or the home front?

MR: They didn’t come until after the war was over. We saw some of those but not a lot, because we were busy raising our families then. But during the war, we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. My dad taught all our friends, our girl friends, how to play bridge. Really, bridge, not Auction Bridge but Culbertson Bridge and he enjoyed it and we all enjoyed it. It was something that stuck with us all the rest of our lives, so far.

BS: So do you belong to a bridge club now? Do you play?

MR: No, no, I got sick and tired of it. Nope.

BS: What were your impressions of military and political leadership during the war?

MR: Eisenhower, Patton, all of them were good, good guys. Well, we were not Roosevelt people, let’s put it that way. But, that’s the way it was, so that’s the way it was.  And then, we supported everything that he did, that all of the congress did for the war effort. But see, I wasn’t even voting then. The first time I got to vote, I was very pregnant and I was suppose to have my baby just, right about on election day. I asked the doctor what I should do, and he says, "Well, how are you going to vote?" And he says, "Well, we’ll get you there in an ambulance" (chuckle). So that was the big thing about it.

BS: So, this was 1944?

MR: Kenny was, yes, uh hum, November ’45.

BS: That’s when Roosevelt had his fourth term. That’s when Roosevelt was running for his fourth term.

MR: Yes, yes, yes.

BS: I don’t think, here in Porterville, but were you aware of any attempts at censorship or cases of news distortion during the war?

MR: No, we weren’t. We weren’t at all, I’d be surprised to hear them, but I suppose there were.

BS: Do you recall what attitudes you had or those of your friends toward Germans, Japanese, Italians or Russians?

MR: Nothing against Italians; there are Italians all over Porterville living here. Germans too, my parents, my mother’s parents were German. Russian, I was kind of naïve about Russia , believe me, I was. Japan , I know we didn’t want any around us anymore. That’s about it.

BS: How did Porterville react to the end of the war? Were there any celebrations or events to mark the end of the war?

MR: Oh, I guess, but I don’t remember anything specific. I know there must have been. I know we kids got together at potluck dinners a lot when the boys came home, but we didn’t have any money, so it was all potluck. It was fun and really nice in different people’s homes, but that was about it.

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

MR: I can’t think of any alternative that would have happened. I don’t know. My husband and I, we stayed in Porterville, had our family here. A lot of people left, you know, the young kids, because they had to have jobs. Some of them went back to college. I can’t think of any way that . . . I tell you that I was not really affected by the war. When you come right down to think about it, I thought I was at the time, but not now. When I think of what has gone on since, (chuckle) I shouldn’t think of that, I guess, but we were pretty lucky here in Porterville, because we were a small, close community, that knew when anybody was missing or hurt or anything like that. We gathered around the families that needed us. I don’t know how we did, but we just did. When Barney was missing in action, all the people around Porterville were just very sympathetic, and thank goodness, because it was very traumatic. I had a little baby, but I was living at home, that was the wonderful thing.

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

MR: I don’t think so. I don’t think so, do you? I don’t have any idea how it could have. I don’t think it did. We have more people now, but I think it’s just the population explosion.

BS: Do you think there is more patriotism now than there was during the war?

MR: No, no, about the same amount. I’m glad to say there was a lot of patriotism during that time.

We didn’t think too much of Harry Truman and, not Vietnam but the other one. God, I forget that one. What came before Vietnam ?

BS: Korea and Eisenhower.

MR: Yeah, well, Eisenhower was our president, Truman was Korea .

BS: Right, and then Eisenhower came in afterwards. He brought the boys home from Korea in ’52.

MR: Yes, yes, right. But you know that was very scary for me again because Barney was very young still and he could have gone back in, except we had three kids by then. He probably would not have, but who knows.

BS: What impact did the war have on American society, in your opinion?

MR: People working together. Everybody working together, doing what needed to be done. Women going to work, which didn’t happen here in Porterville too much. They picked oranges and things like that back then. But, as far as building airplanes and things, no. But I think that was a wonderful time in our nation, as far as solidarity went. We were all for America , the United States . As I knew it, and I suppose I’m very naïve again, but everybody I knew was. In all the newspapers, we took the Los Angeles Times, they were. The Porterville Recorder, of course. We wouldn’t take the Fresno Bee, it was too left, too radical. (chuckle)

BS: Mary, is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? Anything you’d like to say?

MR: Gosh, I don’t know. It’s just that we were all so glad to have everybody come home. It got so, (chuckle) it was kind of boring, because it was just general, everyday things, but I can’t add anything to it. We were lucky, my sisters’ husbands all came home. They were lucky, we were lucky. Chet Griswold went to . . . he wasn’t a prisoner, but he was wounded twice in Italy . My younger brother-in-law, Loren McDonald, was in the Navy on Bon Am Richard. He was a pilot, but he didn’t go into action, overseas action until the Korea war, they called him back then.

BS: Did your husband take advantage of the G.I. Bill when he came home?

MR: I don’t know, I don’t think so.

BS: I don’t know whether he could have gotten G.I. loans to buy a house.

MR: No, we went Cal-Vet loan.

BS: I meant Cal-Vet.

MR: Yeah, Cal-Vet, that was really a good loan.

BS: That enabled you to take your family to a home.

MR: Yes, oh God, what did we do? We rented from my parents . . . oh, my grandma, Grandma Jones and Grandpa Jones Los Jones and Nellie (Manning) passed away and we bought their home and moved into town. That’s was a good loan.

BS: Yes. Well, Mary, I want to thank you again on behalf of the Tulare County Library.

MR: I didn’t add too much to anything.

BS: Oh no, it was beautiful. I appreciate the time and the effort to reflect on your images of World War II and your feelings with your stories. Again, I thank you, very, very much.

MR: You see, Porterville was a really good, small town, about 5,000 people, so . . . .  Oh, our hardware store, we could sell anything we could get. You couldn’t get any kind of small appliances, not much of anything, but we sold anything we could get.  When the war was over, we really knew it at the hardware store, because all this merchandise started coming in and that’s when my husband learned when to buy (chuckle) in quantity and when not to buy in quantity, but that’s the big thing about our income.

BS: Well, thank you again, Mary.

MR: Okay.

B.Smith/pd 3-11-2004/ ed. JWood 7/6/04

Editor’s note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Katy Richardson, who consulted her mother, Mary, with some of the names we added, on April 18, 2006.