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: Janet Williams

 

Date: 3/5/04

 

Tape # 85

 

Interviewer: Kris Gray

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview:

 

Mrs. Williams’ home in Visalia, California

 

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Visalia, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Rationing, blackouts, selling war bond stamps

Internment

Classmates, friends in the service

USO dances


KG: This is Kris Gray. It is March 5, 2004 and I am at the home of Janet Williams in her home in Visalia. This is an interview for the "Years of Valor-Years of Hope, Tulare County: the years 1941,1946." All right, Mrs. Williams, can we start off by your telling me your maiden name?

JW: It was Janet Cruzen.

KG: And you were born where?

JW: Santa Ana, California.

KG: Would you mind telling me your birth date?

JW: 10/26/27.

KG: And when did you folks move to Tulare County?

JW: In 1933, my dad was with Western Auto and we lived in Anaheim at that time and he was transferred way up here. They had thought they had come to almost hell. The day he and my grandfather arrived in Visalia, the temperature was about 114. It was in August and I confirmed that not too long ago in the Times-Delta. They were showing the hottest days and that was back in 1933 in August. They didn’t have a house to live in ready and it happened that the barber in town . . . I can’t think of his name right now . . . was moving out of their house, a two-bedroom. There were five children. My grandfather moved with us, and my parents, so there were seven of us. Eight of us, I guess that would be. Anyhow, they had a service porch and my grandfather and my brother and one of my sisters slept out there. It was kind of enclosed. Three of us girls slept in one bedroom and then mother and dad had the other bedroom. At that time, of course, there was only one bathroom to a house. It was kind of interesting.

KG: Where was that house at?

JW: 401 N. Highland, but I think its 1119 N. Highland now. Kind of at the edge of the city. That’s still there.

KG: What schools did you go to?

JW: We started at Highland School. I had gone to kindergarten in Anaheim and had started first grade. Mrs. Joy Bennett was my teacher. I think it was 5th grade we were transferred over to Webster School, which is not longer there. Highland is, but Webster is not. And then we went over to Sierra Vista. We were in the first graduating class at Sierra Vista and that was just the last half of our 8th grade year and then to Visalia Union High School. Then I went two years at Visalia Junior College.

KG: Sierra Vista, that’s part of Redwood now?

JW: Yes.

KG: The Rotary Theater?

JW: Yes, that was a 7th and 8th grade school when it started.

KG: Your parent’s names were?

JW: Vernon and Catherine.

KG: And your mother’s maiden name?

JW: Voorhees.

KG: And where were they from?

JW: Dad was born in Minnesota and Mother was born in Oklahoma.

KG: So your dad worked for Western Auto? All through the war?

JW: Yes, at that time, but later he became with some other jobs he had and became the City Controller, and retired from the City of Visalia. Mother was a Deputy County Auditor and she retired from the County after 30-some years.

KG: Is that when the Western Auto was across from the Post Office, or was it on Main Street?

JW: It was on Main Street. When Dad first came it was on the northeast corner of Bridge and Main. Later on it was moved down the block from where the Fox Theater is. West of the Fox Theater.

KG: How many siblings do you have?

JW: I have four.

KG: Everybody older, younger?

JW: Mae is older. I’m next. My brother Bill is the next one and then my sister Katie. Her name was Catherine, but we called her Katie. She passed away almost two years ago. Then my sister Mary.

KG: OK, so on December 7, 1941, you were how old?

JW: I was 14.

KG: So what are your memories of that day?

JW: I remember I was over at my friend’s, Norma Cooper’s, on south Court Street and all of a sudden we heard this voice outside yelling. We went out and there was a newsboy yelling, "Extra, extra, Pearl Harbor bombed." We looked at each other and said, "Where is Pearl Harbor?" We had never heard of it. Back then we didn’t have the communications that are available now, so mostly what we learned was via the radio. President Roosevelt declared war and then two newsreels if we went to the movies. We had that access and that was about it.

KG: So what did you do on that Sunday? Did you go home and listen to the radio?

JW: I don’t really remember what I did. I think I stayed with Norma for a while and then went on home. I would assume my parents would have the radio on at that point, but that’s about all I remember of that particular day. It really didn’t mean anything to me as to where it was.

KG: The next day when the President declared war, do you remember your feelings? Were you frightened or did you wonder what . . . .

JW: No I wasn’t frightened. I think our country came together as a result of that bombing. Of course we had many of the fellows that were in senior class with us in high school did go into the service early. Of course a lot of them from the other classes, that would have been ’41, I was a freshman in high school at that point.

KG: Do you remember your parents talking about the war?

JW: No, I don’t remember too much. I do remember Dad was an air raid warden, going around checking the neighborhood and that sort of thing, but I really don’t recall too much actually of what was happening. I think when you’re that young it doesn’t register with you, the immensity of it and . . . what else was I going to say about Dad? I know he would walk around the neighborhood. And other things that we would remember might be the gas rationing, shoe rationing and that sort of thing. Sugar was not really available. We turned our fat into the meat markets to help whatever they needed it for,making bombs and ammunition. That kind of thing. But I do remember things we did at school as far as trying to help the war effort.

KG: OK, we’ll talk about those. What was the first thing that you noticed or did you notice anything about how the war changed your life after December 7th?

JW: Well, I do know that we lost friends during the war. There were the blackouts at night. We had to be careful about those.

KG: When did those start?

JW: You know I really don’t remember, but I would assume not too much longer after the war started. But I do remember we lived on Goshen Avenue at that time and we were a two-story house, but all of our windows had to be blacked out.

KG: And how did you do that?

JW: We had dark black shades that we put up. I remember one time and I don’t know if this pertains to this or not but Lyle Hover’s husband was head of the National Guard here and was called back to duty. Dick and Fred Hover, the sons, were friends and she asked us to go over to the coast with them one time. My sister Mae and I. We went to the movies in San Luis Obispo that night and we could only drive with just our parking lights on along the highway. Yeah, so I remember that clearly.

KG: So your Dad worked at Western Auto during the war. Did you mom work at that time?

JW: Yes, she was working. When we first came she worked for Mr. Bailey, who was an attorney here in town, and then she went to work part-time at the courthouse and became full-time and stayed with them until she retired.

KG: That’s unusual. Of the many people I’ve talked to, their mothers didn’t often work out of the home.

JW: Her father, Ralph Voorhees,,she was an only child,and when we moved to Visalia he came along too. He had the absolutely most fantastic garden. He’d been a truck gardener when he was a younger man and grew a lot of vegetables and he knew how to do it. Mother said that really helped us survive, and of course he watched us kids then, so she was able to work, and didn’t have to hire a sitter.

KG: Did the war change your family’s economic status that your recall, or did it not have much effect?

JW: I don’t think it had much effect. Mother and Dad never discussed their financial status. I know she had told us right at the end of the Depression there, that if it hadn’t been for that garden that Grandpa had out there, it would have been a lot tougher. Raising five children, the food bills, the clothing bills, all that sort of thing.

KG: How do you remember how rationing affected your family?

JW: Only I can remember that sometimes it was difficult getting sugar. I can’t recall how many pairs of shoes we could buy a year. And then gas rationing too. I don’t know, but sometimes people seemed to be able to get it anyhow, but we had stamps. I think you are probably aware of that. That allowed you so many gallons of gas, so many pairs of shoes or whatever.

KG: Were you aware of any black market activities?

JW: No, I was not, I was too young.

KG: So you must have had a victory garden with your grandfather?

JW: Oh, yes. I would call it more than a Victory Garden because it was a good size garden and he even help furnish food to some of the neighbors and so on. He had fruits out there too. I mean there was hardly anything he didn’t grow.

KG: So as life went along during the war with rationing and all those kids, as far as recreational activities for your family, did you take any trips or vacations?

JW: The only places we ever usually went were to visit family, my grandparents down in Southern California, my paternal grandparents, Thomas and Linnie Cruzen and Dad’s sister, Grace (Cruzen) Godden and husband Stewart, children Don Stewart (from Grace’s first husband Dwight Stewart), and Helen and Dorothy Godden. And brother, Lawrence A. Cruzen and Edith (Hawkins) and one son, Lawrence G Cruzen. Or they might come up here, but not too often. As far as recreation, we had the swimming pool. We would do our own things. We’d have get-togethers, play board games, things like that and go to the movies.

KG: Spent a lot of time at the Fox?

JW: Yeah. Yes, that was the theater and then activities at school, dances and that sort of thing. We had noon dances and we still had the prom.

KG: Oh, really. At noon you had dances? Was that because of the blackouts?

JW: I think it was just part of the activities at school. I don’t think it was for any special purpose, but I don’t recall if it was one time a week or every other week or whatever it was.

KG: During school, did they incorporate the war into the curriculum? Did you study maps in your classes?

JW: I don’t recall that. Maybe you’ll bring this up later about the war bonds, things that we sold at school.

KG: Were you involved in the selling?

JW: Oh yes. In fact I have minutes from - I was secretary to the student council my senior year and commissioner of student welfare and I have all those minutes. I was looking through them and we had sold stamps as well as bonds and you got these little books and you could put the stamps in until you had it full and then you had your $25 war bond.

KG: And what were the stamps?

JW: The stamps were 10 and 25, 50 cents and one-dollar stamps. And then you could buy the bonds outright which we also sold. We did that. I don’t remember when we started it because my minutes are only for my senior year which was ’43-’44. I just happen to find those not too long ago and I couldn’t believe I still had them. There were some interesting things in there, but mostly pertaining to school activities. I do remember reading somewhere that somebody is reimbursed five cents for mileage, five cents a mile if they used their car for something. I do remember that.

KG: Other than selling stamps, do you remember at school, were there scrap drives or any of those? What other activities did you have?

JW: I don’t remember scrap drives. We had rallies, but that was usually bonfires before our high school rivalry, Tulare Union High School and that was always on November 11th, Veterans Day.  That was the big rivalry and I know there were teachers called into the service. I read that here in my notes, in the minutes. I don’t know if people had said that L.J. Williams was our principal at that time. And of course, the L.J. Williams Theater is named after him. It was called Montgomery Auditorium at that time on the high school campus and that was after DeWitt Montgomery. He was Superintendent of Schools at that time.

KG: Did Mr. Williams . . . what were some of the teachers that were called into the service?

Ed. note: Mr. Williams was not called into the service.

JW: Mr. Norris, I remember reading that one. I don’t remember what his name was. I need time to research this. I just can’t remember who else, I just remember Mr. Norris being called in. I remember reading that just last night. I also have some of the Pioneers Newspapers that we had back then in high school.

KG: Were many of your classmates, I’m sure they were drafted, did any of them drop out of school?

JW: Yes, some of them left the second semester, I believe, of our senior year. Some of them may have gone in earlier than that. I remember that there were many that would have graduated with us. Of course the one time that I really . . . I think really knew what was going on with the war was when the Japanese kids were put into Internment Camps our sophomore year in high school. We always included them in class reunions, and I asked one fellow one time, "How did you feel about being put into the Internment Camp?" And he said, "You did what you had to do." And I said, "You don’t resent it?" And he said, "You did what you had to do." That’s all he would say. We have a doctor here in town that was one that was interned and there was a fellow that ended up . . . well, he wrote my sister and I, Mae and I, from the camp at Poston Arizona and sent us some candy. I hadn’t seen him for years and years until about three years ago and it was just like old times.

KG: Do you recall his name?

JW: Yes, Lloyd Kurihara. I think his name might have been turned in to be interviewed. I don’t know. He lives over in Sanger or Reedley and he was in the Japanese unit during World War II. I don’t know whether he volunteered or was drafted, I really don’t know that. It was quite a remarkable bunch of Japanese men that were in the U.S. military.

KG: Were these close personal friends? And did you wonder what happened to them?

JW: Yes, Lloyd was. He used to come over to the house with Fred Hover and we just really enjoyed each other. I think he was a year ahead of us in school. We lost contact after that.

KG: Was he just gone one day?

JW: I really don’t remember that. I do remember my brother-in-law, Bob Line, (Mary Cruzen Line’s husband) telling us he lived out between Ivanhoe and Woodlake and Japanese people would come around trying to sell their goods and there were even people out there that took over the farming for them so that they didn’t lose their farms. But some of them I understand did lose their farms, their homes, whatever. It was a terrible thing to do to them.

KG: This is all interesting. Since your mom worked out of the home, how did you feel about the lot of women who were working in the aircraft factories for the first time leaving home? How did you feel about that or was that more accepted in your home since your mom worked?

JW: I think because it was a wartime effort it didn’t bother me. I was used to my own mother working, as you said, and I don’t think there was much of the wartime industry around here other than the air bases that were here. Going back to the recreation part of it, we would go to the USO in Tulare; mainly the class of 44D from Rankin Field was there. So we had dances there, weekly dances that we would go to there.

KG: I heard Jack Webb, Mr. Dragnet, was in the class.

JW: No, I hadn’t heard that. I don’t remember meeting him.

KG: He washed out later on, but he was in Tulare. Did you or any of your female friends talk about, because you graduated when the war was still going on, did you think about joining the service?

JW: No, I didn’t. I do know that reading from the Pioneer Newspaper, our school paper that they were really trying to get women to go into nursing because they needed nurses so badly. I don’t know if she ever went into the military, but I know this one friend went in that was a year ahead of me, to become a nurse, but if she ever went into the military, I really don’t think so. We had things like; I know that women were involved in the Eastern Star making bandages out of cloth and that sort of thing for the military. But as far as the war effort, I can’t think of anything. I’m sure that some of the women must have been employed at Sequoia and Rankin.

KG: Did any of your classmates,were any of them killed?

JW: Yes. Tulare lost quite a few during World War II and I knew some of them because I had dated a guy from high school and he was killed and was buried in Belgium .

KG: What was his name?

JW: Bob Phillips. And then there was Lou Arends that was killed. My sister May had dated him some and we just had a lot of friends from Tulare. I don’t know how it came about, how we met or anything. I really don’t. Maybe it was one of the football games.

KG: Did you write a lot? Did you have a lot of correspondence with the service men?

JW: I did with a couple. One of them was Bob Bechtel, who lives in Reno, Nevada now. He is still alive and another one we got acquainted with was Charles Leonard, who was from Knoxville, Tennessee. He met Fred Hover at the bowling alley one Sunday so Fred asked if he, because he was dating my sister Mae, and asked if we’d go, if I would go with Charles. Well, he became Chuck and became an informal part of our family. He was stationed in Fresno at Hammer Field and so every weekend just about, he was down here. And then we also had a relative, Urban Arbour Jr., that we had never met. His mother, Helen Voorhees Arbour, was cousin of my mother’s from Oregon and he was stationed at Merced and on weekends he would come down. We always had service people around.

There were times when others that we met,oh, this is another thing we’d do – Dorothy and Walter Switzer, he was a partner in Switzer-Jordan Studebaker agency here. The Switzer’s every weekend opened their home to the ones that we met at the dance over in Tulare. So they would come over and we would play badminton or dance or play cards or whatever. They were so gracious to do that. I was talking to their daughter, Jean, the other day and she said she still hears from one or two of the fellows that were out there. There were three or four with the last name of Walker that would come over. They (the Switzers) lived on South West Street, and at that time it was kind of out on the south edge of town. It was known as " Switzerland " at that time.  Now it’s all incorporated in town, but that was some of the activities we had.

KG: Could you tell me about the USO dances?

JW: It was open in Tulare. I cannot remember the name of the building where it was. I can basically remember where it was. It was kind of west of Tulare Union High School there and they would serve refreshments, the USO women, and they’d have,I guess we played records. I don’t think it was a live band. And the fellows would come mostly from Rankin Field. I don’t remember any from Sequoia Field coming, but we’d go over there, a bunch of us gals in our senior year in high school and right after until the war was over I guess. As long as they had the USO open. It was fun. We met a lot of nice young men.

KG: Your dad was an air raid warden. How did he get involved in that or do you remember?

JW: I don’t recall. I don’t recall if he volunteered. I don’t recall that. I just know that he would walk around in the evenings in our area to make sure all the blackout shades were down.

KG: Did you have a blackout every night?

JW: Yes, as far as I remember. It was dark.

KG: Thinking about driving to the coast with these parking lights. How did you guys get . . .?

JW: That was when we went to the movies, when we were already over at the coast. We went during the day, but at night we went to the movies. I guess it was just Dick (Hover) that was there. Fred was probably in the service. Dick and my sister Mae and I and I don’t recall if there was anyone else. I don’t know if it was light when we went over, but when we came back it was dark and we could only use the parking lights. That’s right along the Coast Highway there, right at Cayucos, that area.

KG: And you had to do that also around town in the evening?

JW: I don’t remember that, but maybe so. I do not recall that. Maybe just being on the coast, but I would think that if we had to have our lights blacked out, there must be some way that we could only drive with parking lights at night here.

KG: We were talking a few minutes about the Japanese Americans that were interned. Do you remember people in the community expressing hatred toward the enemy, the Japanese or the Germans? How did the sentiment run?

JW: I don’t . . . I think because you are not directly involved and you don’t get all the bad stuff that comes in, you do get some of it on the radio and the newsreel, but I don’t remember feeling any animosity. I think it was horrible what they did, but maybe I did and I just don’t recall that I did.

KG: Is everyone pretty much on the same page as far as patriotism?

JW: Yes, yes, I think so. I don’t think we have the anti-American feelings that seem to be prevalent since then, but we really were a very patriotic people. I think this thing with 9/11, a lot of the patriotism came back again. I don’t know. I’m just assuming and feeling that during World War II it was really strong.

KG: Do you remember things like,it was hard for people to discriminate against the Germans, but do you remember any store owners refusing to serve the Japanese Americans or people before they were interned?

JW: No, I don’t remember that at all.

KG: How old were you when the war ended?

JW: Let’s see. 1945. I would have been 17 probably.

KG: What are your memories of VJ Day? How did you get the news that the war had ended?

JW: You know I don’t recall, probably on the radio or it could have been in the newspaper. Happy that it happened. Naturally with any war you are happy when it ends.

KG: Did you do any partying or carrying on downtown?

JW: I don’t recall that at all. Being a small community, it was only about 8,000 when we moved here, that’s what Dad said. At that point, I don’t know how big Visalia was, not really too big. I know in New York City and some of those places they really celebrated. I’m sure we were all extremely happy that it was over.

KG: Were you aware of what the atomic bomb was or did you have any thoughts about that, especially after what you saw on the news reels?

JW: I thought it was horrible that we have to kill people, but if that’s what brought the end of the war, the United States had to do it, I guess. I don’t like wars and what it does to people. I don’t know. I really wasn’t too aware of the development of it, other than I do remember them testing them in Nevada. I remember hearing about that. We were just elated that the war was over.

KG: What about the holocaust? When did you become aware of what had been going on in Germany ?

JW: You know I don’t really recall when I first became aware of that. More so as I have gotten older.

KG: What did you do after you graduated?

JW: My dad moved down to Anaheim for a year. After high school? I went to Visalia Junior College. I worked part time.

KG: Where did you work?

JW: Out there I worked for Orange Belt Stages in the business office. Just using the 10-key adding machine adding up stuff, so I could more or less do it on my own time. That was good and it was very close to the college. We walked everywhere. People didn’t have cars like they do now. We had one car for our family, so I walked to work. It was on Kaweah Avenue, in the back part of the garage, in back of the owners, Thoburn and Ruth Hayworth’s home.

KG: Really. Must have been a lot of service people on those bus lines or did you notice them?

JW: I wasn’t on the bus lines. I was working in the business office so I wasn’t aware.

KG: Mearle’s? Mearle’s was there.

JW: Yes. It was called. What was it called . . . ?

KG: Nielsen’s?

JW: No, Tad’s. It was called Tad’s. It’s been there I don’t know how many years, but it was there. We’d go over there for a coke or coffee in between classes.

KG: What did you end up doing professionally?

JW: After I got out of COS I went to work for the Edison Company. Actually we lived down South for a year and then we came back and I went to work for Edison Company and worked there for six years. I was married (to John Skadan from Lindsay) in the meantime and then I was a mother (of Shirley[Smith] and Russell Skadan) for quite a while and then I started doing books for my sister Mae Hover and my brother, Bill Cruzen’s business here in town, C & H Reproductions, while the kids were at school. But I was always home when they got home. I ended up working for Turning Point of Central California as an administrative secretary.

KG: How do you think the war years overall affected you?

JW: That’s a hard one to answer. It was sad that we had to lose friends. Being younger, I don’t think the impact of everything was there like it would be now, when you see it immediately going on. That was all after the fact and I don’t think we say a lot of the horrible stuff as it happened. I just felt badly and I always do when people are killed, innocent people and all, but that happened at Pearl Harbor, happened in the holocaust in Europe and all, and so . . .

KG: The boys that were killed here locally, was anyone brought home and buried?

JW: No, I think at that time they buried them in a military cemetery. Bob Phillips I know is buried in Belgium . I think I must have been in my first year out at VJC and Mother and Dad and I went over to see the parents in Tulare. Visited with them. They had some things they wanted to give me that Bob had that was supposed to be for me I guess. A handkerchief, I remember that. And then there was fellow that was in our class, Harlan Awbrey that died, but I don’t recall the circumstances.  And I know other ones that were older than me that were killed. I think they were all buried in a military cemetery unless maybe they were lost at sea or something.

KG: How do you think the war affected the way the county is today? The impact it had on Tulare County.

JW: Gosh, I wouldn’t know. We started growing after that. As far as the county is concerned, I don’t know.

KG: Is there anything we missed that you would like to talk about?

JW: Let me see if I missed anything. I was talking about the annual football games in Tulare. We would ride the school buses. Somehow they would take the students for, - not involved in the football or anything, - they would take us, if we wanted to go over to the games, on the school buses. Evidently they were able to get the gasoline somehow. Of course I guess it wasn’t every game that they had. I think that’s about everything that I have made notes of. Certainly I think it was a time that united our country. My husband now that I’ve married (David M. Williams) was in the Battle of the Bulge and we were over in Brussels, Belgium recently last summer and it was in the area he was fighting. That kind of brought back things to you. I haven’t been to Normandy or the places that really have an impact on people, but I’ve seen some of the military cemeteries and tears welled up in my eyes. One in England , near Cambridge. To think that all those white crosses represented American service men.

KG: Well, Mrs. Williams, thank you so much.

JW: You’re welcome.

KG: I appreciate this very much.

JW: Hope I contributed something.

Kris Gray/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck 3/21/04 /Editor: JW 7/28/04

Editor’s note: Italicized names and comments to clarify information were added during the editing process through phone calls with Janet Williams.