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: Jack Simon

 

Date: 3/ 9/04

 

Tape # 102

 

Interviewer: Colleen Paggi

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview: The home of Mr. Simon in Visalia, CA

 

 

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Visalia, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Life in town

Family life

Race relations

Working Conditions


CP: My name is Colleen Murphy Paggi. Today is Tuesday, March 9, 2004 and I’m at the home of Jack Simon in Visalia, California. This interview is being done in conjunction with the Oral History Project of Tulare County entitled "Years of Valor, Years of Hope in World War II during the years 1941-1946." Good morning, Jack.

JS: Good morning

CP: We’re just going to do some preliminary questions. Could you give me your full name please?

JS: John Jacob Simon, Jr.

CP: Like "John Jacob Jingle Heimer Smith?"

JS: Just like "John Jacob Jingle Heimer Smith."

CP: But they call you Jack?

JS: That’s a nickname. My father’s name was John also. And they called him Jack. My mother called me Jacky.

CP: I like Jacky. Were you born here in Visalia?

JS: Yes I was.

CP: Did you go to school in Visalia?

JS: I went to school here in Visalia. I started at Washington School for the first grade and then I went to the Highland School. From Highland, I went to the Webster School and from Webster I went to the Visalia Union High School.

CP: I don’t even know where those are. Are they still here?

JS: No, they’re not. Washington School is still here, but not the original buildings. Highland School is still here, but not the original building. Webster School isn’t here anymore.

CP: And the Visalia Unified . . .

JS: Visalia Union High School is Redwood High School now.

CP: What year did you graduate?

JS: I didn’t graduate.

CP:From high school, you didn’t graduate?

JS: I didn’t graduate.

CP:Why?

JS: Because after my junior year I quit and went to work.

CP: Did you like working better than school?

JS: It wasn’t what I liked; it was what I had to do.

CP: Oh, tell me about that.

JS: It was necessary at the time because Pop, my dad, was just going into business and he helped to support the family. People had to work and that’s the way it was.

CP: What was your Dad’s name?

JS: John Jacob Simon, Sr.

CP: What was your mother’s name?

JS: Anna.

CP: What was her maiden name?

JS: Her maiden name was Anna Steitz.

CP: Were they both born here?

JS: No, they were both born in Russia . My mother came to the United States in 1900 when she was three years old and my father came over to the United States in 1908 when he was nineteen years old.

CP: Really.

JS: They met in Del Rey (Fresno County, California) and were married in 1914.

CP: Where were they married?

JS: Here in Visalia at Grace Lutheran Church on South Court.

CP: How did they end up in Visalia?

JS: That’s where my grandfather settled,in Visalia,when he came over in 1906.

CP: Oh my. What part of Russia was it?

JS: My father was born in Warrenburg, Russia and my mother was born in Straub; that’s right along the Volga River. They were both what is known as Volga Germans.

CP: So you have siblings, I understand?

JS: Siblings, yes. I had five brothers and five sisters. One sister, Emma, passed away before I was born.

Ed: Per a phone interview with Betty Simon, the following are the names of the children in Jack’s family. The girls (including their married names) are Anna Frampton, Louise Cree, Margaret Baty and Frieda Parsons. The boys are Conrad, John [Jack], George, Richard, Carl and Robert.

CP: There were ten children?

JS: There were ten children for years and years.

CP: Are they all still living?

JS: No, another one of my sisters, Louise, passed away about three years ago.

CP: Did they all grow up here in Visalia? All the kids?

JS: Yes, all the kids.

CP: Are you the oldest one?

JS: No, no, I am the sixth one born.

CP: So if you are the sixth one and you left school to help your father, what did the ones before you do? Were they working also?

JS: That was my brother Conrad; he was working too.

CP: What kind of business was it?

JS: At that time, it was the garbage business.

CP: The garbage business?

JS: Dad was in partners with a few Italians. They held a contract here in the city of Visalia until 1935 and then they lost the contract. They lost the contract and dad went into business for himself. So with dad being in business for himself, he needed help from his sons.

CP: The garbage business then was not like it is now. Now it’s city-owned, right?

JS: That is correct.

CP: Before, it was privately owned?

JS: Yes, then somebody else bid on the contract and they got the contract and held the contract for many years until the city took it over.

CP: So then what kind of business did your dad have?

JS: What other kind?

CP: After the garbage business.

JS: From the garbage business, we hauled garbage outside the city limits and from that, we went into the trucking business. We hauled rock, sand, raisins, peaches and anything that could be hauled.

CP: Anything that fit on a truck.

JS: That’s right. In rain or shine, we worked all the time.

CP: Seven days a week?

JS: Whenever the work was there.

CP: Really. How old were you when World War II began?

JS: I was born in 1922. World War II began in, I think about 1941, right about that time.

CP So you weren’t in school and you were working when the war broke out.

JS: That is correct.

CP: Do you remember where you were when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked?

JS: We had just come home from church.

CP: Oh, it was Sunday?

JS: It was Sunday.

CP: What was the reaction? How did you find out?

JS: Well, everybody found out at the same time. Radio.

CP: Do you remember that?

JS: Sure.

CP: What was your reaction?

JS: It was a surprise.

CP: Were you married at that time?

JS: No, I didn’t get married until 1949.

CP: After the war. Who did you marry?

JS: Betty Stevenson. She’s a third generation born in Visalia.

CP: Really.

JS: Yes.

CP: So you had no children during the war then, since you were married later, right?

JS: Yes, I’m positive I didn’t have.

CP: Okay. Well, I wanted to see about the family’s housing situation during that time. Where there any changes in the housing situation personally because of the war?

JS: No. I lived with my folks from the time that we moved from south of town when I was seven and we moved over on North Willis Street and we lived there until I was married.

CP: Willis?

JS: North Willis. 1205 North Willis.

CP: Where did you live south of town?

JS: On the Santa Fe railroad track. By it. I don’t know whether it was the wrong side or not (chuckle).

CP: So the war didn’t affect the housing situation. You guys were in the house and didn’t have to worry about where you were going to live or anything?

JS: That is correct. We weren’t concerned about where we had to live. We were concerned about what we were going to put on the table to eat.

CP: Did you have a problem with that?

JS: No, but our main interest was taking care of ourselves.

CP: Because all the kids were still at home too.

JS: That is correct.

CP: How was your economic situation because of the war? Did it affect the business?

JS: As far as we were concerned, we were busy and we made money; we lived. We were satisfied. We didn’t have to have everything at one time.

CP: What was it like around here during the war?

JS: Well, we had the airport out there at Sequoia Field and then there was another one over by Tulare and a lot of the people were able to work there. We were busy. Everybody had things to do.

CP: Probably a little different than now. There seems to be a lot of leisure time right now, looking around town sometimes.

JS: Well, that is true. There is a lot of leisure time. But in those days, if you wanted to eat, you worked.

CP: How about clothing? Was it difficult to get clothing in Visalia?

JS: No. No, it wasn’t difficult. The only thing we had, we had food stamps, naturally, sugar and the different stamps. We had to see to it that we stayed within reason of what we were eating.

CP: That was the rationing?

JS: Rationing, yes.

CP: How about the gas rationing? Was that difficult for you because of the business?

JS: No problems. Actually, for getting merchandise or anything we needed, we didn’t have any problems. Nothing like that.

CP: But you had a lot of automobiles or trucks or something, right?

JS: Well, I wouldn’t say we had a lot of them, but we had some. We bought a few trucks, but they were used trucks. They were flat beds for hauling raisins to Fresno and so forth and we couldn’t afford to buy anything new at the time; we bought used.

CP: But you had plenty of gas?

JS: Yes, we had gas.

CP: And there was enough. I always thought because it was rationed, that no one had enough gas to work.

JS: We stayed within reason. We had gas stamps, naturally.

CP: Were there any family members that you were separated from during the war?

JS: The first part of the war there, my brother was over in England . Lee Cree, he was the one who married my sister; he was in the National Guard. And when the National Guard was inducted into the regular Army, he went in with Company D 185th. Went into the regular service and spent all his time in the islands.

CP: What was his name?

JS: Lee Cree.

CP: Did your sister live with you while he was gone?

JS: No, she didn’t. She lived in a place of her own.

CP: What was your brother’s name that went to England ?

JS: Conrad. August Conrad Simon. I was in the National Guard too. I went into the National Guard when I was 17 and in 1941, we were inducted into the service. We had our examination right here at the Civic Auditorium and I didn’t pass my physical. Therefore I was 4F.

CP: Why didn’t you pass it?

JS: I had a hernia and the doctor said, "If you want to go with us, you go home, get that fixed and then come back and we’ll take you." I told him that if he wanted me, then fix me. I was ready to go, but I was darned if I was going to go home and have my father pay a hospital bill to get my hernia fixed and then go to war.

CP: So the Army wouldn’t fix you.

JS: The Army wouldn’t fix me.

CP: They would now.

JS: I’m too old (chuckle).

CP: How did you keep in touch with your brother when he was in England ?

JS: He communicated by letter.

CP: Did you ever write to him?

JS: No.

CP: Did he ever write to you?

JS: Not to me. He wrote to the family. I mean, it was just one of those things.

CP: Did he have children?

JS: No, he was single too.

CP: Oh, it was the sister that was married.

JS: My sister was the only one that was married.

CP: What did you do for fun during the war?

JS: Actually, I spent a lot of time down at the church with the young people, the young people’s organization there. And I did a lot of roller-skating. Besides that, we went swimming. Of course, we had only had the one swimming pool here in Visalia and that was the Sierra Plunge, but I didn’t go there very often. I couldn’t afford it to begin with. We swam out at Cutler Park a lot. A lot of people swam out at Cutler Park.

CP: What was the name of th4e swimming pool?

JS: The Sierra Plunge.

CP: Where was that?

JS: It was on Acequia. Oh, it’s a shame I can’t remember the other street’s name. I go down it all the time.

CP: Is it downtown?

JS: Bridge. Acequia and Bridge Street.

CP: Oh, I know where that is.

JS: And the park was right across the street. The Sierra Ballroom was right next to it.

CP: Oh, my mother used to talk about the Sierra Ballroom. Did you go there and dance a lot?

JS: I never danced until I was 25.

CP: Till you were 25?

JS: I was a shy boy.

CP: Ooohh. Well, you’ve grown up now. You’re not shy anymore. How about your dating habits or your romantic relationships during that time? Was it difficult because of the war or how did the war affect that?

JS: Well, I was young for my age. I wasn’t interested in dating.

CP: Did you date at all?

JS: Very little. I associated with the young people down at the church and when we went to parties or something like that, it was as a group, not as individuals.

CP: What church was that?

JS: Grace Lutheran Church.

CP: Where did you meet your wife?

JS: Skating rink.

CP: Where was the skating rink?

JS: That’s where I met her, but it was years later that she married me.

CP: Did you go together a long time?

JS: No, we didn’t.

CP: Where was this skating rink?

JS: The skating rink where I first went skating was right across the street from the Fox Theater.

CP: Right downtown on Main Street?

JS: Right downtown on Main Street right across from the Fox Theater.

CP: How long was it there?

JS: Oh, I don’t know. It seemed like it was mostly during the war. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long, but it was five or six years anyway.

CP: Do you still skate?

JS: No, but I still have skates down in the basement.

CP: How did you get your skates on?

JS: When we skated down at the Fox Theater, they had clamp-on skates. They didn’t have shoe skates.

CP: Was that with a key?

JS: Yes, they clamp on and then they changed when they went with the new Rollerdome and it was there.

CP: Rollerdome?

JS: A roller skating rink.

CP: Where?

JS: That was over on . . . just right there by the park.

CP: Where the ballroom was?

JS: Right around the corner from where the ballroom was. That’s where the skating rink was.

CP: I never knew that. All I knew was the one out here off of 198, Roller Town. Did your responsibilities change at all because of the war? (Ed: Roller Town now is at Linwood and Noble Streets in a shopping center, just off of Highway 198 on the west side of Visalia.)

JS: No. My dad ran the business and we worked for him.

CP: He was the boss?

JS: He was the boss, but then he took his three oldest sons in as partners in 1943. It was the Visalia Disposal and Trucking Company.

CP: Visalia Disposal and Trucking Company?

JS: That is correct. And he took his three sons. My brother was over in England . I was working and my brother George was still going to school.

CP: Were there any family efforts to support the war?

JS: Nothing more than . . . no, I don’t think so.

CP: Did you have a Victory Garden?

JS: Well, we had a garden with different things all right, but we weren’t too concerned about the war. The war took care of itself.

CP: Americans were pretty lucky during the war.

JS: That is true, that is true. We didn’t have to do without anything except be careful.

CP: It was just a shortage more than . . . ?

JS: That is correct. Just a shortage.

CP: Did you get any hostile feelings from any of the soldiers that you encountered that were stationed here at Rankin Field or Sequoia Field because you were 4F?

JS: No, it was never considered. The majority of the soldiers that stayed here were welcomed. They were entertained and so forth. They were taken care of. A matter of fact, many of the boys that served out there at Sequoia Field married Visalia girls.

CP: They did? Did they stay here?

JS: Some stayed here and others left.

CP: But nobody said anything to you about you being 4F?

JS: No.

CP: That’s good, you know, could have been. Did anybody in Visalia ever say anything to your father racially about him being from Russia ? Was there any problem with that at all?

JS: Actually, it wouldn’t have been because he was from Russia . It would be because he was German.

CP: I thought you said he was Russian.

JS: He came from Russia , yes. But he was a Russian German. His ancestors had gone from Germany to Russia and they had settled along the Volga, but they remained Germans.

CP: Oh, they did. Were there any hostilities toward him or the family because of that?

JS: It was never discussed. As far as hostilities, no, not that I know of.

CP: No one ever said anything. That’s good. What about your last name? Was it always Simon when they lived in . . . ?

JS: Always.

CP: When they lived in Germany too?

JS: Originally, in Germany the man’s name was Simon. He left Germany in 1766 and went to Russia .

CP: You’ve got some good genealogy.

JS: I have a genealogy chart that goes all the way back to Germany . But I can’t get any further back than that.

CP: I bet I could help you with that. What about the house? Did you ever have to black out your house? You know, in the movies you always see the houses blacked out.

JS: We had to be careful at nighttime. We always had the warning. The thing was this: we were always secure in this area.

CP: That’s good. Is there any event that happened in Tulare County that really stands out in your mind before the war?

JS: At the time that the Japanese were moved out of the area it took us by surprise, but everybody understood why it was and they went along with it. How they were treated, I don’t know, the individuals and so forth. It was something that was accepted because of the fear of the Japanese coming in and attacking us in California.

CP: Was there much publicity about it or was it done pretty quietly?

JS: It was just a matter of fact. It was done and that was it. It was just like anything else when a new law comes in, a new law comes in and that’s it. And usually the majority of the families, many of the families who were farmers, they had friends who would take care of their places while they were gone. And when they came back it was made available and others were cheated. It was one of those things.

CP: What do you think about the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan ?

JS: It was a necessity. If they hadn’t dropped the bomb at the time, there were many people here in the United States that would never have been born.

CP: That’s right. Where were you when the war ended?

JS: When the war ended, I was down there at the cannery.

CP: At the cannery?

JS: Yes, we were hauling fruit away from there. Peach-pits and that. I was there when they said the war was over. Then everybody started to celebrate.

CP: My grandmother worked at the cannery her whole adult life. Right down there off of Garden, right? That cannery?

JS: That’s the cannery.

CP: So what happened when you found out the war had ended? Was there great jubilation? Was everybody jumping up and down?

JS: Oh, absolutely, everybody was happy. It brought a crisis to an end.

CP: What happened to you and your family after the war was over? Did it change at all?

JS: We grew.

CP: The family grew?

JS: Oh, yes, I mean, the different ones, we got married. The business grew; we prospered.

CP: Do you think that the economic situation changed a lot because the war was over?

JS: Everyone was able to proceed on with their life, where before everything came to a screeching halt and everything was geared to the war. After the war, everything was geared to what can we do for ourselves.

CP: There are a couple of questions that are pretty important and I want to ask one right now. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

JS: I actually didn’t have any problems with the war. It didn’t have any affect on me because I was busy working all the time and life just moved on. I enjoyed life as time went on and I did the things I wanted to do. And then after the war, I got married.

CP: Your general feelings about the war,did they change over time?

JS: Looking back at the time, the attitude of the people today didn’t really understand what we went through. They didn’t understand the necessity of dropping that bomb. All they could see was fifty years later and the consequences. That’s my opinion.

CP: Were there any community organizations that you belonged to?

JS: No, I didn’t belong to any. I didn’t have time. I only belonged to the church.

CP: How about your dad or your mom?

JS: He didn’t either. They were busy making a living. They didn’t have time to belong to any organizations except the church.

CP: Did you have friends who were in the Army or in the service?

JS: Oh yes, I was in the National Guard. They all went to war.

CP: They were drafted?

JS: No, they were inducted into the regular service because they were in the National Guard.

CP: Oh, oh.

JS: Company D,185th Infantry was just taken in by the government, automatically.

CP: So if you’re a member of the National Guard and you haven’t been drafted during the war, the government just said, "You’re going?"

JS: The war hadn’t started yet.

CP: Really?

JS: True, the war hadn’t started yet.

CP: So, I don’t understand. The National Guard . . .

JS: We were in the National Guard and the government saw a need and they inducted the National Guard into the regular Army but this was before the war.

CP: I didn’t know that.

JS: Well, ’40, ’41, and the war didn’t start until later.

CP: Where was the National Guard?

JS: Right here in Visalia.

CP: I know, but where was it in Visalia?

JS: The Civic Auditorium, still on Acequia Street.

CP: Where it is now?

JS: In that area,across the street from it. I had the privilege of demolishing that building.

CP: You did? So how did the National Guard work in Visalia? They call them now "Weekend Warriors."

JS: They could be called "Weekend Warriors," I suppose. We met once a week and we went to camp at San Luis Obispo, usually for two weeks in the summertime and we got a dollar a day.

CP: A dollar a day?

JS: That was good money.

CP: So when you were 4F, you were no longer in the National Guard.

JS: No. I have a medical discharge from the Army and it says on there that I served three days and I had a discharge with no benefits.

CP: How long had you been in the National Guard before that?

JS: I joined when I was 17 and when they went into the regular service I was about 20 years old.

CP: Why did they say it was only three days?

JS: Because that’s the time I was inducted. We were all inducted into the service and then we had a physical. It took three days for them to take care of my physical and they found out I had a hernia and they gave me my discharge.

CP: What other things did people get 4Fs for?

JS: My brother George had a heart murmur and he was 4F, but then when they came to the Korean War just before he was over the age, they inducted him and he went to Korea .

CP: They figured his heart murmur was okay then?

JS: He still had his heart murmur, but he went to Korea .

CP: Oh, that doesn’t make any sense.

JS: Well, there’s a lot of things that don’t make any sense.

CP: What else did they do 4Fs for? Eyes?

JS: Eyes, yes. Different impairments?

CP: Couldn’t you wear glasses?

JS: I suppose, but what their reasons . . . if a man couldn’t do it, you got him discharged.

CP: Were there very many women in the war? Did you see very many women around Visalia that were . . .

JS: No, really. I didn’t see too many because they came later. They weren’t in the war right at the very beginning. As the war proceeded and time went on, the needs that had to be filled were filled by women.

CP: Were there women stationed out at Sequoia Field or Rankin Field, working in the . . . I don’t know.

JS: Women worked out there, but I’m not aware of them being in uniform. I don’t know, I can’t say.

CP: It sounds like your family was almost in an agriculture type business,some of it, right?

JS: Yes, I would say that. We hauled fruit. That was in the summertime and in the winter, we starved (laughter). We hauled fruit. Whatever needed to be hauled, we hauled.

CP: The war didn’t affect the agricultural community?

JS: Well, it made us do things differently. When we were working, you worked with what you had at that time.

CP: Did you get much news about the war here in Visalia?

JS: Whatever the government wanted us to hear.

CP: Where did you hear it from?

JS: Here and there and everywhere (laughter).

CP: Could you be a little more specific?

JS: Well, actually, we would go to the Fox Theater and you’d see your news there. The paper would have certain items, but the communication wasn’t what it is today. Today if something happens, you hear it at the time it happens, it seems like. Where before, you never heard about it until it was over with, and with our reporters going around, going to the front lines and so forth, it comes out. During the war, nothing came out that the government didn’t let out.

CP: Did you go to the movies a lot?

JS: Not too often. Now, this is before we were married. But after we got married we went to the movies, but that wasn’t until 1949.

CP: Did you go to the Tulare Theater very often?

JS: We went over there a couple of times.

CP: During the war?

JS: Yes, just a couple of times. Not too often.

CP: Did your family talk about the war at home? Did you discuss it?

JS: The war itself, no. It was not a topic of discussion.

CP: Why?

JS: We were too busy doing other things. Whatever was related to the kids, the ones that were in the service, yes, but as far as knowledge as to why we are doing this and why we are doing that and what they’re doing over there, we didn’t say anything about that. We didn’t have enough knowledge on it.

CP: Did you discuss your brother being over there?

JS: What he was doing?

CP: Yes.

JS: Not really.

CP: He just stayed in England ? He didn’t have to go to Germany ?

JS: He had an opportunity to go to Germany after the war and he wishes he had of, but he didn’t.

CP: The war ended. What was the reaction in Tulare County toward different ethnic groups after the veterans came back? Was there any hostility, for instance, toward the Japanese when they came back here?

JS: I don’t think so. I don’t think there was much hostility against anybody.

CP: That’s great. Do you have an impression about the military or political leadership during the war?

JS: I had opinions of it after the war, but not before then.

CP: Tell me what your opinion was.

JS: No.

CP: You’re not going to tell me?

JS: No, I will not tell you.

CP: Okay. Did you receive news at the end of the war about the Holocaust? How did you find out about it?

JS: Eventually it came out. I knew nothing of that before the war. We really didn’t know what was going on over in Germany or over anywhere else in the 30s.

CP: What was your reaction when you and your family found out about the Holocaust?

JS: Well, we just figured, "How did that happen in this world?" Where our people, our government, different governments knew that that was occurring and did nothing about it.

CP: This is another really important question. How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

JS: Well, actually, the world, as far as World War II, the one thing it did . . . all the people in the United States moved. Many people moved from here. They went from east to west, west to east. More people circulated. They got married. They changed places where they lived and so forth. As far as Visalia is concerned, we grew slowly.

CP: Yes, well, it grew a lot now.

JS: Yes, a lot is growth. But the growth we have now came after 1980.

CP: Oh it did.

JS: It was accumulation. Gradual.

CP: Is there anything else you would like to tell me that went on in Visalia or Tulare County during the war?

JS: Not really. I think all the people here, they knew what their job was and they did it. We had to support the war and we did.

CP: Did your family buy any war bonds?

JS: We weren’t as fortunate as a lot of people were. They had a lot of money and they could buy a lot of them. We did buy bonds but it wasn’t in huge amounts, no.

CP: Did you cash those in?

JS: I don’t know whether they were cashed in or just discarded eventually.

CP: You think they could have been discarded?

JS: Yes, you have these war bonds, you store them somewhere, time goes on and all of a sudden they’re gone.

CP: Do you have any lying around here?

JS: Well, I don’t know. I don’t think so, no.

CP: What did they look like?

JS: I can’t even tell you that. I didn’t buy any personally. I was just lucky to survive.

CP: So you were married after the war. Did you have children?

JS: My wife and I have four daughters.

CP: What are their names?

JS: Cinda Anne, Gail Jean, Susan Lee and Jacqueline Kay.

CP: Did you call her Jack?

JS: I call her Jake. That’s a personal name. Nobody else calls her Jake.

CP: Just you.

JS: No, except someone that’s very close to her.

CP: Her husband?

JS: No, a friend.

CP: All right, I think that covers about all the questions I wanted to ask you. Are you sure there is not something else you would like to add?

JS: No, I led a normal life throughout the war.

CP: It sounds like you led a good life.

JS: I believe so.

CP: Okay, thanks a lot.

Colleen Paggi/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 5/12/04/ Editor: JW 10/7/04

Editor’s note: Words in italics are based on a phone interview with Betty Simon on October 7th. Her husband is the narrator. Betty Simon’s interview is also part of this project.