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
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,Navy Base Hospital #8
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Joined Navy to help
Civilian hospital skills presented memorable experiences.
First hand witness to the every day demands of war injuries to military
How the war years affected O.K. and consequences to Tulare County
BS: This is Bob Smith, and the date today is February 26, 2004. I am interviewing O.K. Webb in his home in Tulare. The project title is "Years of Valor, Years of Hope,Tulare County and the years 1941,1946." What is your name and date of birth?
OK: My full name is Orris Knight Webb. I was born on December 8th,
or I should say the 8th day of December, 1919.
BS: What were your parents’ names and where were they from?
OK: I’m a junior. I was named after my father. Orris Knight Webb and he was born in Warren, Indiana in May of 1892. My mother was Elsie Hesik, Elsie Margaret Hesik, and she was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1895, December 13th.
BS: So preceding your arrival here in Tulare, where did you grow up and when did you arrive in Tulare?
OK: My mother and dad met in Montana. They were married in 1911 in Minnesota when my mother was 15. Because of my mother’s age they started their family six years after their marriage and my mother was the youngest of three girls, three sisters, Lucy (m. Charles Risser), Emily (m. Howard Fleming), and Elsie and they all decided to move to Bremerton, Washington to work in the Navy yard there and that’s what they did. Then they decided in 1921 that they wanted to go down to California and it was four families with children, including James Lucier’s family and they took off for San Jose, California and they got to Salem, Oregon and worked a little while and then they picked up another family there and migrated on down to San Jose. The oldest sister, Lucy, went on down to Los Angeles and stayed there.
I left San Jose when I was 14 years old, after my mother passed away, and went to Los Angeles, my father, brother Jack and I, (a sister, Olive Webb, died at age 7) and then we were there for a while, six months, and we decided, my father was getting kind of antsy again after my mother’s death and he sent us kids back to San Jose, my brother and I. And then he started hitchhiking and he got a ride to Tulare. He stopped and saw an electric shop in Tulare and decided he would try for a few days work.
BS: After your father had secured employment here in Tulare, he then traveled to where you were living in San Jose and then brought you and brother here to Tulare. What year was that?
OK: It was 1935.
BS: That brought you to Tulare Union High School at the time. How old were you when WWII began?
OK: I would be 22.
BS: You had already graduated from Tulare Union High School and you were married shortly after high school. Is that correct?
OK: Yes, I was married in 1939. I graduated in 1937 and we were married. Graduated in 1937, my wife, Frances Wilson, graduated in ’38 and we were married in ’39.
BS: Did you have children any time during the war?
OK: Yes, our daughter, Donna Lea, was born in October of 1942.
BS: Here in Tulare?
BS: What event stands out in the years preceding the beginning of the war?
OK: My marriage to the woman I loved. My childhood sweetheart. It was always a foregone conclusion that we would get married and we did. We’ve been married now for 64 years.
BS: That’s quite a record.
OK: It will be 65 years this coming September 12th.
BS: Where were you and what were you doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
were kind of strange. You had strange
feelings. You didn’t know what was
happening next. Everybody thought that
we would be invaded on the West Coast almost immediately. We listened to all of those reports, then and
the next day. We went back home that night because we had to work the next day,
which was my 23rd birthday. No, yeah, 22nd birthday. Anyway, we went back that night, but the following morning then,
President Roosevelt declared war on
BS: When did you enter the armed forces?
OK: I had gone to . . . I had been working in the Tulare County Hospital and I was working there when we were married. I decided that they didn’t pay much money, $50 a month, and decided that I wanted to get a better job. I made application to the State of California for state hospitals. They told me what the examination date was and so I took the test, the written exam in Fresno. They held written exams in San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Fresno and all over the whole state. I had taken that test; there were around fifty people that had taken the test in Fresno. I was called to Sacramento to interview with the state board. I was called for a medical examination and then they issued the letter that gave all the names of the people that passed the test and their standing. No grade, but their standing. I was number 13 in the State of California.
During this time I had continued looking for a job that paid more money and I found one with Standard Stations Incorporated, which also paid more money than the State of California would pay for the hospital work. So instead of working for the State Hospital, I went to work for Standard Stations and asked the State of California to put me on the inactive list. They had in the meantime, before I got to do that, they had called me to work at Camarillo State Hospital at Camarillo, California down in Southern California.
From there I worked for Standard Stations and I was working for them on a station south of town here, Tulare, 279, and during that time, 1941, we had a large station. We had two bays, whatever you want to call them, on a divide between J and K Streets on the south edge of Tulare. The military, the Army was moving machinery and personnel around and convoys were coming through here all the time. We would handle them for refueling at our station. We could bring four lines of traffic into our bays there and we had the pumps and the gallonage available, so no matter how large, how long one of their convoys was, we could handle whatever they needed.
BS: And this was 1942.
OK: No, this was in 1941.
BS: Right after . . .
OK: No, before the bombing, because that’s when I was working for them, for Standard Stations. And I continued working for them through 1942, but we took care of all these convoys. An interesting thing that I saw was on one of the command cars, which was sedan, a Chevrolet four door sedan, the tires, I noticed and asked the Lieutenant there, "What kind of tires are those?" He smiled and he said, "Those are a new synthetic rubber and those tires that you’re looking at look like they’re almost brand new, don’t they?" I said, "Yes, that’s why I asked." And he said, "They have 100,000 miles on them right now, on that set of tires." And I was amazed.
I stayed with Standard Stations until December 1, 1942 when I received notice from the draft board that you are no longer a 3A, you are now a 1A, and so I contacted the draft board and I asked them, "How long will it be before you call me?" They told me that it would be by the first of January or shortly thereafter. And I didn’t want to go to the Army. I wanted nothing to do with the Army. I couldn’t see laying out in a mud hole someplace. Anyway. . . .
BS: So you weren’t really in favor of the draft or how it affected you.
OK: No, not a bit. I had a two-month old daughter and I didn’t want to be leaving her to go anyplace. But if I had to go, I wanted to go where I wanted to go. So I decided I wanted to join the Navy and that’s exactly what I did. I went to the Navy and they said, "Go back home and wait a couple of days, we don’t have any place to put anybody right at this moment." And so they called me in a couple of days and I went back to Visalia to the recruiter.
They put us on a train, a group of us, and sent us up to San Francisco and on Saturday, the 12th day of December I was sworn into the United States Navy. And with all of my credentials, my experiences, skills that I learned at the Tulare County Hospital and the papers and the high position that I had in my quest for employment with the State of California and their State hospitals and the fact that I was then 23 years old, they gave me Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class, coming into the Navy as a Petty Officer. I was never a seaman. I never went to boot camp. They didn’t want me in a boot camp. They wanted me in a hospital because of my skills and they put me in a station wagon and drove me over to the Treasure Island Naval Hospital on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay.
BS: After arriving in Treasure Island, what was your initial experience?
OK: Well, I had two experiences. First of all it was Saturday afternoon and the Chief Ironsides, that was his name, he was in charge. He said, "I have no place to put you. Where do you live?" And I told him and he said, "Can you be back here by 8:00 Monday morning?" I said, "Absolutely." He said, "You’re in civilian clothes. Goodbye, I’ll see you Monday morning." He gave me a pass to get out and get back in and I came back down here to spend the weekend with my wife and daughter. And then I grabbed a bus Sunday night and headed back and was in Treasure Island Monday morning.
I then attended an indoctrination course starting that morning. Thirty days to teach me about the Navy and so forth. Just before the class ended at 4:00 o’clock that first afternoon, they came to me and said, "Go to the Detail Office, they want to talk to you." So I went to the Detail Office and Pharmacist Mate 1st Class Whitcome says, "I understand and see by your papers that you have previous hospital experience." And I said, "Yes." He says, "Do you know anything about isolation technique?" And I said, "Yes." He says, "Now you don’t have to do this, but we have a real bad case, a man, a young man, with a case of spinal meningitis, very contagious, and very bad. We do not have anybody in this hospital to stand a watch because he has to have someone with him 24-hours. He said we don’t have anybody for the watch between 8:00 tonight and midnight, will you stand that watch and be his special nurse?" And I said, "Yes." He said, "You don’t have to do it, you’re in school, you do not have to do it, it’s up to you and it would make no difference one way or another." I said, "I joined the Navy because I wanted to help and I will do it," and I did. I stood that watch and that’s the very first thing I did. I had no uniforms, I was still in civilian clothes, but I stood that watch and he was real bad. He didn’t ask me to do it the next day, so I have to assume that he never made it.
BS: Did your attitudes towards war change during World War II?
OK: No, I never did like it, as far as war is
concerned. I think today, through my
mind goes the same thought. We have TV
and we get coverage from
BS: It appears that you knew how your part of the war related to the rest of the war.
OK: Well, I guess you would say yeah. I felt that the Navy had put me, from my request to begin with, I requested the hospital corps, because of the experiences and I knew that I could be of help in that field and it bore out. The jobs that I had,I was an Operating Room Technician, which was a surgical nurse. I scrubbed on many operations, surgeries. I even acted as the Assisting Doctor in one surgery once, when other doctors weren’t available, and the doctor that was doing the surgery requested me. He asked me face-to-face, he said, "Webb, I want you to be my assisting doctor. There is no doctor available and I want you." I said I was a corpsman, not a doctor, and he said, "I know, but I want you." So I was his assistant for this particular surgery which was making some repairs that was needed on this Marine, who had been on Guadalcanal and shot in the back by a sniper. It had never healed and was continuously infected. This was before we had penicillin, so it was an education to be able to be an assistant doctor like that. I refer to myself as Doc Webb. (Chuckle). But it was, I was in there with a pair of rongeurs (surgical clippers) clipping ribs out and feeling down in there to make sure we had enough room to put a flap in, so that is would not heal, but it would drain. We were establishing a drain so that it would heal and he would eventually get well. Along came penicillin and I’m sure if it still hadn’t healed and gotten over the infection with the drain that he probably got some penicillin. Penicillin would have healed it.
BS: Did your views towards race relations change during the war?
OK: Well, no, not really. I never, ever was a racist. I had friends, still have friends that are a different race than me, that I’ve known here and in San Jose. I’m not a racist, let’s put it that way. It doesn’t make much difference. My father always told me it didn’t make a difference if a man is black, white, red or green or what he is, a man is a man and he should be treated as such.
BS: In this part of the country, there were several, there were thousands of Japanese that were uprooted from their homes and businesses and put into internment camps. Did you experience any of these problems here in Tulare?
OK: Yes, there are two families here in Tulare that I knew. One is the Ichinaga. Jim Ichinaga used to have a café here in town. Actually it was a Chinese restaurant run by a Japanese person that made the best Chinese food. His oldest daughter, May, graduated with me from Tulare Union High School in the class of 1937. I knew her; I knew Jim. One of my wife’s aunts used to work for Jim as a waitress. They closed his business down. He had to shut the door and just walk away. They took his whole family down to the fairgrounds where they kept them for a little while. Later on, I think they had more stable places for them to stay for a while.
The other family is the Uchita family. They’re farmers out here. Two boys, Sorchi I believe his name was, and his brother, Hitakichi. Hitakichi was in Spanish class with me. He sat right in front of me. We were good friends. He, by the way, just recently passed away. I think it was the early part of this month or the latter part of January, it seems like. Time gets away from me a little bit. They were fine people. They are back farming now. And the son of Sorchi, I think his name is Bob but I’m not sure. He’s a big wheel in the Ag Expo there, the Farm Show that we have here in Tulare every February. Just got over it here in the early part of February. He and his wife were big contributors to it in ways of organization and running it and was in it every year. His wife has taken over the head for this year, the presidency or whatever they call it. They were fine people.
BS: How important was wartime correspondence to you?
OK: It was important to everybody. You went to mail call and if you didn’t get a letter, you were down in the dumps. I was lucky. My wife wrote to me every day that I was gone. Sometimes it took a little while before I started getting them, about three weeks, but she wrote me absolutely every day. Never missed a day. When they came in a bunch, I would line them up by postal mark date and read them in that sequence. So I could get them just like they were, everyday. A lot of the guys didn’t particularly like it, kind of ticked off in a way, because I got all this mail and they didn’t get anything or they got very little. Mail to the service man away from home, whether he was in the states or overseas; one of the most important things that a person can do is to write them letters. It’s really something. Anybody who has been there understands. If you haven’t been there, you don’t quite understand.
BS: Did you, during this correspondence between you and your wife, during this separation, did you experience any censorship of your letters to and from wherever you were?
OK: Oh, yes. All of your letters were censored.
BS: In what way?
OK: They were read and you were told not to write on both side of the paper. What they would do is just clip it out if you had a word in there that they determined in their mind that it might be detrimental if this letter was recovered by an enemy, they would just cut that word or sentence out. You’d get a letter that had all these marks in it, and holes where they cut it out.
BS: You may have gotten letters. I’m sure
OK: I learned not to and so there wasn’t very much, at least she never said it. I was careful of what I said and sent it in such a way that it wouldn’t be. There were things that you could not say and we knew what we could not say. One of the main things is you do not say at any time where you are. Frances and I had a code that we set up before I left. She could tell by my salutation in the letter opening where I was at. In some degree, close to, in the general vicinity of, because I didn’t know all the names of the islands in the Pacific, but we had it worked out so she would know the location of where I was at. So she would know whether I was in Alaska, Hawaii or Guadalcanal, in that area or whatever.
BS: You knew you were going to be in the Pacific Theater, some place.
OK: When we left, when I left Treasure Island Naval Hospital . . .
BS: What year was this?
OK: This was December. Well, let me put it this way. At 11:00 the morning of December 7, 1943, I looked up at the very bottom under side of the Golden Gate Bridge and I was standing on the deck of a cruiser, the USS Biloxi, on my way out to the Pacific. I had no idea of where I was going or what or why or how. But I went. I might say that the jobs that I had done and the skills that I had done for the Treasure Island Naval Hospital did not go unrecognized. The Captain, our Commanding Officer, Captain McDaniels, when my orders came from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington DC along with nine other corpsmen, and I was second class at the time, he tried to get me, tried to get my name off of that draft as they called those orders. And he was not able to. He went to the DMO, which is the District Medical Officer of the 12th Naval District, which is the San Francisco area and that DMO is an Admiral and that Admiral could not get my name off of that list, but they tried their best to do it. The Captain pigeonholed it for a couple of days, the orders, so that I could have Thanksgiving with my family, which I’m very grateful to Captain McDaniels for that. He tried his best to keep me there because I was useful to the hospital and they didn’t want me to go. But I went anyhow.
Then we left there and out into the Pacific through this horrible storm and we almost capsized. That was something else. We laid over one time 32 degrees to port and I was watching. I was hanging on and watching a seaman who was logging the rolls the ship was making. We were in midship, right smack in the middle and we rolled to 32 degrees and he started screaming, "Come back, come back, come back." And the ship just laid there on its side, shivering and shaking. It creaked and groaned. I have never forgotten that sound, but we came back. You have no idea; there was nobody on that ship that was not seasick. All of them, the old timers, they had buckets, cans, lined all over, jammed in, tied down because when it was time for you to upchuck, it came. No keeping it back. We were locked down. All the hatches were battened down because of the storm. The odor was horrendous. (Chuckle) It was awful.
BS: But obviously the ship didn’t capsize.
OK: No, it straightened up and the next morning they issued . . . after the storm was over, we still had large swells in the sea, but after the storm was over they issued all the passengers life jackets. And we couldn’t figure out why we would be getting life jackets after the storm was over. We then heard a boom, boom, boom, and we looked out and they had picked up an enemy submarine trying to torpedo us. And a destroyer that was our escort,we started out with two destroyer escorts,one of them split a seam during the storm and was taking on so much water the pumps couldn’t handle it and they had to go back to San Francisco. We had just the one destroyer and the boom, boom, boom we heard, they were dropping depth charges trying to get this submarine. I guess they must have gotten it, because we kept on our way to where we were going.
BS: But at that time you didn’t know where you were going?
OK: No, they didn’t tell you anything. Finally we pulled in to a harbor and we looked and there was beautiful green mountains back there and we looked all around and there was what was left of battleships that were half sunk and sunk, and the Utah was upside down with the keel up, nothing but the bottom showing.
BS: So you knew we were in Pearl Harbor.
OK: We knew we were in Pearl Harbor. Then they put us in what they called the "receiving ship" and handed us an Army cot to sleep on in this big building. We were there for further transfer. Nine other guys and I were there for three days and then they called that morning, everybody out to the grinder and a couple of hundred guys standing there in lines at attention, and then they started calling names. The guy would call the names and he would say, "All right, all you guys that are called by name, take one step forward. When I get through calling this bunch of names, you go over and get in that truck and that truck will take you where you are going, down to the fleet landing, and put you on the ship that you’re going on."
And they started calling the names of those guys that I was with and they called everybody’s name except mine. My name started with a W. I was the last one and they called everybody’s name but mine. And the guys I was with got into the truck and went down to the fleet landing, got on a ship and away they went down into the South Pacific someplace I guess, and I was still standing there. Suddenly the last truck started to pull away with guys loaded in it and this guy, I guess he was a . . . I don’t know what his rating was, but anyway, he looked on his clipboard and he looked at me and said, "What are you doing standing there?" I said, "You didn’t call my name." He turned around and hollered at the truck driver to stop.
He stopped and he came up to me, looked through all the pages on his clipboard and he didn’t have my name on there anyplace. So he went back inside and he was gone about five minutes and he came back out. He had all of my records and he went over and handed them to the driver of that last truck that was there and he told me, "You get in and go with these guys." They had lost my records and they couldn’t find them until just after they found out that they had lost them when everybody left but me on that draft. I never, ever saw those guys again. I don’t know where they went or what was happening.
I ended up in this other truck and these guys were all hospital corpsmen that had been shipped out right from the hospital corps school at the Great Lakes Training Center and they were going up on top of the mountain to the MOB 2 (mobile) hospital which is where we were sleeping and then we went down each day by truck to McGrew Point on the harbor beach, right at the tip of Ford Island. They were building a new base hospital down there, United States Navy Base Hospital #8. A thousand beds. All Quonset huts. All you could see was Quonset huts all over. We helped the Seabees finish building it. I had a wrench and was tightening up bolts on these Quonset huts. And then when we finished it, why, the patients starting coming in. We were in business. In other words, what do they say, there was a name they had for it; we were already commissioned for it. I can’t remember the name. But we were in business and we took in patients and when they had the invasions of the islands, the Pacific Islands, they flew the injured back to all different areas and we got our share of them and they had to be taken care of and they would send them, when they got well enough, back to the States. It was quite interesting.
BS: What were your impressions of military and political leadership during the war?
OK: I thought we had pretty dog-gone good leadership all around. We had one patient at this Hospital #8 for a while, a short while, a marine general. His name was Holland Smith. We used to call him (now we’re at the hospital and I find a different one now, different interpretations,) we called him howling mad Smith. Others called him howling Smith, but he was the patient at our hospital at one time for a while. I don’t know what for. I had no connection with him or even what he looks like, but I know he was there. We had five operating rooms, and I was an operating room technician, and they never used me once in the operating rooms. They never used me once.
BS: So what were your duties?
OK: I did everything. Mostly I did special watches on injured,
badly injured, military personnel, Navy and Marines. Actually our hospital was classified as being
. . . we took care of the fleet, but when there was an invasion we had
everybody, Marines and Navy personnel as patients. We had this one marine that was on Enewetak,
I guess it was, in the invasion of the
He had to have a shot of penicillin. We now had penicillin available to us and we were making our own in our laboratory there at the hospital and he had to have a shot of penicillin every three hours, and during the day they gave it to him in the buttocks, shots in the thigh and in the shoulder. The shot had to be intra-muscular, but it did not have to be in the buttocks all the time. But the Navy gave all their intra-muscular shots in the buttocks, except me at that particular time. So I gave him the night off so to speak, I’d guess you’d say. He was pretty well shot up. About 18 years old, his name was Graves, I don’t remember his first name, about six feet, blonde hair and maybe a little over six feet. He was a skeleton laying there in bed.
He was full of bed sores. He had been in bed so long and I guess nobody had any training as to how to treat him. I had received the training that was needed to handle bed sores when I was at the Tulare County Hospital and so I took it upon myself to make "donuts". You take a big strand of cotton and make it in the shape of a donut and wrap it in gauze to hold it together and that would encircle the bed sore and keep it off the sheet so it could get some air and I treated it medically with tincture of benzoin to harden the skin around the sore. Toughen it up. I put Balsam of Peru on the sore itself, the medication that we used at Tulare County Hospital to take care of bed sores. That’s the way I treated him and I did that the first night and first morning.
At the finish of that night, in the morning, the doctors made their rounds and the Chief of Surgery, I don’t remember his name, but he was a 4-striper, a captain. He came in and checked him all over and saw what I had been doing and he looked at me and said, "Who did that?" And I said, "I did." And he said, "Who gave you orders to do that?" I said, "Nobody." I said, "I took it upon myself to treat that." He said, "Where did you learn that?" I said. "I learned that at Tulare County Hospital. I was an orderly there." And he looked at that and looked back up at me and I thought boy, I’m going to get court-martialed for sure because there was nothing, no order of any kind for this treatment on his chart. And you just don’t do treatment that isn’t on the chart, whether it’s a military hospital or a civilian hospital. This doctor looked at me and said, and like I say, I thought I was going to get a court-martial, but he looked at me and said "Where did you learn that?" I told him as I mentioned a minute ago and he looked at me and smiled and said, "Thank God somebody around here knows what they’re doing. Carry on."
BS: That had to make you feel really good.
OK: I felt very good.
BS: Very proud.
OK: Yeah, especially when I thought I was going to be court-martialed. I just couldn’t leave that poor guy laying there; I don’t care what was in his chart. I knew how to do it and I did it and I thanked the good lord that I did. Anyway, I was with him for 30 days. I watched him get better. After I finished my 30 day hitch, they put me in the record office typing medical histories and stuff until they needed me someplace else. He came to see me. He came in a wheelchair and then one day he came walking in on crutches and then one day he came in walking in on a cane. He said, "Webb, I’m going home." And I said, "Great, when are you going?" And he said. "Tomorrow. They are supposed to pick me up tomorrow." I told him, "Okay, I will see you off." And he said, "Fine." The bus came up to the Administration Building where I was at, just outside the door practically. So the next day the bus pulled in and he came walking up . . .
BS: You’ll never forget that day.
OK: No, never. He looked at me and there were tears in his eyes, and he grasped my hand, shook my hand and I had never had a handshake like that before or since. He looked at me and said "Webb, you are the reason I am able to go home."
BS: Would you say this is the one event of the war that stands out in your memory the most?
OK: I think about it all the time. I don’t think there is hardly a day that goes by that he doesn’t cross my mind. When I woke up here a couple of months ago, in the fall, in the early morning, I woke up from a sound sleep. It wasn’t quite time to get up, the light was just lighting up from the dark and he was on my mind. I had never experienced that before. I think about him a lot, but I had never been awakened that way. I just thought at the time, I wondered if he was still alive after all these years and if this might have been his passing. Why I was awakened when I woke up. I don’t know.
BS: What was your opinion of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb? You were still in Hawaii at the time.
OK: Yeah, I stayed there all the time because
like Treasure Island hospital, they didn’t
want me to go. They didn’t want me to go
anyplace. I was assigned, I had signed
orders with a buddy of mine to go to duty as staff, two 2nd Class
Pharmacist’s Mates, on the destroyer USS Spence and the destroyer Spence is
laying on the bottom of the China Sea with
all hands on board now. It capsized
along with two other destroyers in the big typhoon that hit the task force out
BS: So when they dropped the Atomic Bombs on
OK: I felt sorry for the people. I still . . . I had no grasp of what had happened, what could have happened. I couldn’t believe what we had had heard. I thought well, the war is going to be over and it was. We dropped two of them. I don’t think anybody can say that they were against it because they didn’t know what was going to happen. None of us did. It was astounding when we got the word and what it was and what happened. Those planes when they would come out to . . . going out there on that, the Enola Gay, those were B26’s, I think they were, they had to have a long runway to take off from, as I understand. In Hawaii, the Hickham Field started right . . . the gates of Hickham Field were here, and the gates to Pearl Harbor Navy Yard was right here and the head of the runway at Hickham Field started here and went down. Down on the far end of Hickham Field was the old, what they called, the John Rogers Airport, and that is now Honolulu International.
They tied those two runways together and we could hear those planes taking off with loads of cargo and bombs and whatever they had, at night. We could hear them starting from the gate at Hickham Field right by the gate of the Navy Yard and we were across on the other side. At night you could hear it. You could hear those planes taking off and they would go and they would go and they would go. It took those two runways to get them off of the ground, they were so loaded. You could tell when they got off the ground. You would lay there and you would hear them go and you’d think, "Okay, he made it up." You could hear the difference in the sound of the motors when they left the ground. It was interesting, very interesting. Planes would take off, the navy planes off of Ford Island, their runway for takeoff was right over the hospital where I was at and the guys would yell, "Open the back door and open the front door and let them through." The squint hops they had in the early mornings. (ed. "squint hop" refers to early morning flights to secure the island by looking for enemy planes or ships at that time.)
BS: Do you consider World War II a just war?
OK: Yeah, I’ve never thought of it that way, but
since you ask, I would say yes. I say
that because of the fact that what they . . . the things they discovered and
the things we have today that we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for World War II. Computers for example, and your radar. The radar, we wouldn’t have had that, at
least not this fast. I think it was just
from the standpoint of . . . there’s no way we could know how many thousands of
Jewish people that did not die because we (The
BS: Where were you when you heard the war had ended?
OK: I was in a very unique position. I had come down with a strep throat and I messed around with it and I had the sore throat and didn’t pay much attention. And then I looked in the mirror one day and it got so awfully sore. When I looked in the mirror when I was shaving, I was Chief then, and I looked in there and the whole inside of my mouth looked like a ball of cotton. Nothing but white, just solid white in there. I thought to myself, "I’ve got a strep throat that won’t quit." I went down to sick bay and said, "I’ve got a strep throat." And the doc looks at me and says, "I guess you have." They put me in the hospital as a patient and starting shooting raw penicillin every three hours around the clock in my buttocks.
BS: So what goes around comes around.
OK: So anyway, I had a high temperature. It was up to 104. I was hallucinating and I was in and out of it, laying there in bed and all of a sudden I heard screaming and hollering. The band of instruments was on a truck going around the compound of the hospital and everybody was screaming and blowing their horns and this and that. And I came to a little bit and said, "What’s going on?" and the guy said, "The war’s over, the war’s over, the war’s over." And here I am lying in bed with a 104 temperature. I said, "So, the war is over." And I rolled over and went back to sleep.
BS: So then you came home, or shortly thereafter, to Tulare.
OK: Yeah. I’ve got to tell you a story that relates to a story. When I was 1st Class out on the islands, I went on a liberty with two other 1st Classes, three of us. We went out to Waikiki Beach, just bumming around, not doing anything. All of a sudden we heard these huge explosions. Now you won’t find this in a history book any place I don’t think. These huge explosions and they were coming from Pearl Harbor and we were out to Waikiki out by Diamondhead, and we turned around and looked at where that sound came from, and there was big black pillars of smoke coming up.
Two of us looked at each other thinking we’d better get back to the hospital, we will be needed. And we jumped in our jitney car, they didn’t have limousines and taxis and stuff to drive us out there and we went barreling back there. There was practically no personnel left in the hospital except for what was actually needed. All of our ambulances were gone. All the doctors were gone. What had happened was our country was getting ready for the invasion of Saipan. This was in May of 1944. At the area of Pearl Harbor where they anchored the amphibious boats, there was six LSTs, which is Landing Ship Tank, loaded with tanks, ammunition, Marine personnel. All six of them were loaded with them. Those are the ships that are flat-bottomed. They could run right up the beach and they open up the bow and lay down a flat thing to get off on and drive the tanks out and the personnel would run out. You’ve seen pictures of it,D Day and all that. And these six were tied side by side, parked side by side, tied together and the one in the middle blew up. One of the ones in the middle. There were six of them.
The one right next to the one that got blew up, through luck, whatever you want to call it, was able to back out of it. They had men up on the deck that realized what was happening and on all your gun tubs up on deck; they have fire axes on them. Even though it’s a steel boat, they’ve got fire axes. And these guys were just lying around on deck because they were leaving the next morning heading to rendezvous with the rest of the group for Saipan. They grabbed those axes and started chopping the hawsers that were tying the two ships together and they chopped those hawsers loose so they weren’t tied to anything at all.
It just so happened they had the machinist mate, what we call a motor mac, he was tuning up his diesel engines and had them running and he was tuning them up for the morning trip. There was a quartermaster on duty on the bridge, I don’t know what his rank, 3rd class, 2nd or whatever it was, he was on the bridge. No officers around. These guys just did what they knew they should do and this guy up on the bridge rang the enunciator, or whatever they call it. He ran it to full reverse and this guy had the engines running. He got that signal down there, he knew something was blowing up next door to him, he cracked the thing open and flipped the thing in gear, reverse, cracked open his motor and backed out of there. And they were the only ship that got out of there. There was equipment, bodies, parts of bodies in all of the sugar cane fields that were out off of the beach there, which was out in what they call the Ewa area.
BS: The beach.
OK: Well, not a beach. Ewa is a town, spelled Ewa, but pronounced with a V, as all W’s in Hawaiian are pronounced with a V. It’s not Hawaii, it’s Havaii. Anyway, they got out of there but the other five blew up and that caused a postponement of a period of time before they went ahead and did the Saipan invasion.
You want to know why I know that, so I’ll explain it to you. The LSTs did not have names. It was LST such and such. This was LST 224. We weren’t able to do anything that afternoon because we had no transportation down there. But we knew what was going on. That I had never seen and I told my wife in a letter once, I think it was the 21st of May. I told my wife, "When I get home ask me about the 21st of May." And that’s the way it went through. Nothing to be censored about. When it came my turn to come home, in October of 1945, I got my orders and they took me down to the wharf where several ships were tied up and they directed me, I was Chief, I was directed to this particular ship and I went aboard the ship and I looked at it and it was an LST. It had the number on the front of her, on the bow, 2-2-4. Now that’s how I know the story that I just told you because I talked to the crew and they told me the story.
BS: When it had happened a couple of years before.
OK: Yeah, yeah. The only one that got out of it. It was just lucky. By the same token, when we left Pearl Harbor, we went around Diamondhead . . . it took us nine days to get here. For the first two days the flying fish followed us and we just stood out there on the bow and sides of the ship and watched those flying fish. They looked like, to me, looking down on them, their fins looked like an elliptical wing, I guess you would call it, of a British . . . what is their big fighter plane? . . . The spitfire. It looked like the elliptical wing of the wing of a Spitfire and then they had a lower fin that hung down like this and they would come up out of the water and they would float in the air with these fins out, just like the wings of an airplane and then they would start to settle back toward the water and this fin that was sticking down would look like an outboard motor engine. When it touched the water it would go (whirling sound) and take off again. They’d go like that several times before they would go back into the sea, and then they’d come out of the sea flying (whirling sound). It was really something to see. I had never seen it before.
BS: While you were coming home, you have a nine day journey to get home. During this period, with all of your vast experiences with the hospital and with what you had done as your career in the Navy, you had to have thoughts of becoming a doctor. Did you every have those feelings or aspirations?
OK: Well, yes, I really did at one time. In fact one of my buddies that I was with in the operating room in Treasure Island, a Chinese young man, he went back to school on the GI Bill of Rights after he got home. He kept being an operating room technician. He was in Okinawa in a naval hospital there as an operating room technician. Anyway, he went back to school and he became a doctor and he opened his practice in Dinuba and he was Dr. Henry Leong, MD. And he was my good buddy. We have been together, in fact, his wife, his widow, was at our 60th party that our daughter gave us. She came alone.
BS: Those are treasured memories.
OK: She’s a beautiful woman, and she is not well at all, anyway, I would talk to her on the phone. She lives in Fresno now, but getting back to that LST, one thing I wanted to tell you about. We came all the way across every day at least once. The hydraulic steering would go out and we’d go in circles out in the sea in the Pacific while they were trying to get it fixed and the night before we came into San Francisco we suddenly stopped and they called general quarters. The war was over but they called general quarters, and everybody rushed to their battle stations and they lined crewmen up on both the port and the starboard sides of the ships and they had lights that they showed down and so forth. Our navigator didn’t know what he was doing, I guess, because we wound up in a mine field right off the coast of California, just south of San Francisco. One of our own mine fields and he drove right into it. We went right into it and then they discovered it, so moved very slowly and very gingerly to get out of that mine field and they had everybody posted to let out a yell if you see a mine. This was in the middle of the night.
BS: Here you were this close to being home and this navigational error puts you in harms way by our own defensive . . .
OK: That’s exactly right. So anyway we got out of that and we went under the Golden Gate Bridge coming in and I looked up . . .
BS: You looked up, and what time was it?
OK: It was exactly seven a.m., October 12, 1945.
BS: So when you got to your destination in Oakland or Treasure
Island was it, did you call
OK: I called her from the wharf when I got off of the ship. Oh, and we had a Navy band at the wharf when we pulled up to it and they played "Anchors Away" and did an about face and walked away, marched away. That was our homecoming.
BS: Your welcome home. We saluted you. So when did you and
OK: Well, when I went out in the Pacific,
Then when I came back and we came back down here immediately and this house was for sale so we had to get out of it. We could have stayed because I was a Veteran and fought them and so on, but then I’m not that type. They were building the veterans’ housing here in Tulare (on South Sacramento Street, just off Inyo Street). We signed up and got an apartment out there. It was a kind of a tri-plex, but it was very
shoddy construction. They had plyboard floors. Didn’t have the right joists. Instead of one every two feet like they were supposed to be, they had one every four feet or six feet. Plyboard sheets come 4’ x 8’ so I’m sure it was four. You walk across the floor and you go this way, like you’re walking in the swells. I had a piano and I had to get somebody to make an extra brace and set the piano up against the wall that had a bearing floor deal in it. But we didn’t stay there very long. We found another house we rented, and then we bought on the GI Bill.
BS: Under the GI Bill?
OK: Yeah. This house we bought,April 1947.
BS: Did you join any veterans’ organizations afterward?
OK: I joined the American Legion. A man by the name of Davidson, Elmer Davidson ,his son and I were in school together and graduated together, and I was orphaned. My father was killed and my mother had passed away and I was 16 years old and I went out on my own and they were one of several people who took me in and helped me when I needed help. I lived with them quite some time. I paid them board and room. I had three jobs. I worked the morning for the railroad, the afternoon in an electric shop and played the piano in dance bands at night. But anyway, I paid them board and room, and he was a Veteran of World War I and a Veteran of World War II and an officer in the American Legion and when I came home he said, "I would like to write you up and bring you up into the American Legion." And I said, "Have at it."
BS: That was a great honor.
OK: Yes it was.
BS: To be invited.
OK: Yes, and I went on and I was chaplain in the American Legion post here for three years, but then I got tired of saluting and all of the military things that they retained . . .
BS: And also the politics.
OK: Well, yeah. And I belonged to the Forty & Eight also, which was the elite group of the American Legion. Did you ever hear of the Forty & Eight?
OK: Well, ask a Legionnaire about the Forty &
Eight. That was all from World War I,
the Legion was, and the Forty & Eight made up from the boxcars in
BS: Two more questions. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?
OK: First of all, it took two years, I say two
years, I was in the Navy for three years, but it took two years away from my
family. I think about it today when I
see the Iraqi deal. We have a little
girl next door whose husband is over there. I see them coming home six months, they didn’t have to go a year some of
them, and I felt sorry for them. Letting
them come home and then go back, that’s bad. To have to go back after being there once. I was gone two years and never saw my
family. They get to come back in six
months, some of them, not all of them. I
don’t know how it works. But I know this
young girl next door, they bought that house. Her husband was in the National Guard and they called him up just after
they bought the house. They had just got
moved in and they called him up to Washington and the
next thing, he was talking to his wife; his wife was pregnant. She had a little girl. They already have a little boy, so he finally
got to come home a couple-three weeks ago and just for a deal and he’s back
over there again now, in
BS: One more thing. How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?
OK: It’s kind of difficult to answer without giving considerable thought to it. I think it probably has to do a lot with our growth, as a result of people coming home, other people wanting to come out to this general area here in the valley. We’ve got people from everywhere here, and I think it was really starting at the return. Things started going up after the war was over. We were in a Depression when the war started. The war itself actually helped the Depression,helped us get over that hump. If nothing else, it provided work for everybody,24 hours a day. I don’t know where all the money came from to get it started, but it did. Times have changed so much as well as the technology we have today. I don’t think that we would have the technology we have today or the population that we have here today had it not been for World War II.
BS: Well, Okay, I want to thank you so much for these wonderful . . .
OK: I could talk to you for a couple more hours.
BS: I understand that. I’m about to run out of the tape. Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? Closing thoughts?
OK: Yes. I think there is a lot of stories that have not been told about World War II. I think one of them is the role, not the role that I had individually, but the role of the hospital personnel. The saving of lives. There are some stories that you wouldn’t believe. The one I told you about me, it’s just remarkable, really.
BS: Well, that’s what we’ve been trying to do with this project. Talk to individuals who can relate stories and events and experiences and it has been an absolute pleasure to hear your stories and we salute you my friend.
OK: And I thank you Bob.
Bob Smith/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck 3/20/04/Ed. JW 7/22/04
Editor comment: The italics in this interview are clarifications of terms and names of family members added based on a phone interview with Mr. Webb.