Hanging in pride of place in my grandmothers office was an aged poster print. It was a once popular poster that hung in fraternity houses and university boarding houses across the country. It shows a group of insouciant college boys playing poker. Though it was my grandmother Annies I somehow imagined it to be a depiction of my dad’s fraternity house days at Cal Berkeley. I thought he must have whiled away those idle hours passing the old pasteboards across a baize cloth covered table like the young men in the painting, killing time in the way young men do when the horizon is just at hand but not yet touchable. It seemed vaguely romantic when I was ten.
In the days before television people played cards. My grandparents played Canasta with Clayton and Cornelia Conrow every Wednesday night for decades. She had a little round table in her front room as they called it, stocked with decks of cards, pencils and tally slips always at the ready. The folding card tables even had a special deep closet in the entry hall where they lived between games.
My grandmothers bridge club motored along for over fifty years. I knew most of them, I used to drive her to Mrs Brisco’s or Mrs Jatta’s house after she could no longer drive herself. As those old girls dropped away and the group got smaller, they still kept it up until they could no longer fill a table. Listening to them talk was a better way to get the news than the local paper.
My mother belonged to a bridge club too. Mrs Loomis, Mrs Taylor, Mrs Wood, Mrs Waller, Mrs Rust, Mrs Talley formed a rotating group of Bridge players who stuck with it for fifty years. In those days the women would dress in their best, hair done, makeup on, the good heels and when I was little, she still wore glovesto go out. . Putting her purse under her arm, mom would offer her cheek for the good bye kiss, saying. “Careful honey, don’t mess up my lipstick.” She would be off for an afternoon of card playing and serious gossip. It had to be the gossip because my dad always said she never won a trick in fifty years. She was an artist not a mathematician. They played for fun but were very serious about friendship. When my mother was dying of cancer, they all came to see her and say goodbye. Every single one.
When my parents first met, what do you think my mother was doing? She was playing solitaire of course, something she did almost every day for the rest of her life. When you visited in the morning, dad would be in the fields and mom would be sitting at the enamel kitchen table ensconced at her end, drinking coffee, smoking the first cigarette of the day and playing solitaire.
In our family, card playing was a serious business, especially Poker. Not your namby-pamby wild card games or community poker games like Texas hold-em but guts-ball games of stud, draw and high-low. Fancy-schmancy games that made it easier for a novice to win were not only discouraged but at the family table, forbidden.
They started us early. After Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner the big kitchen table would be carried into my grandmothers office and chairs gathered from all over the house. The file drawer opened, the top drawer mind you, business files were relegated to the lowers. The the baize table cloth was taken out and very carefully spread across the table. The walnut carousel with it’s genuine ivory chips was placed in the very center. Each chair got a coaster to protect the fabric, there was no eating during a game.
My grandfather Jack sat at one end and my father George at the other. My grandfather had a view of the wild horse hatrack and my dad looked over the “Burning of the midnight oil.” They were the Stud Ducks at the table. Most of the others were also rans. My uncle Jack, a big bluffer, My grandmother Annie, serious but without deceit, my mother; well we already know what kind of a player she was. My great uncles Bob and John and their wives Marion and Eva played most years too. Uncle John with his big deep voice and hearty manner was a journeyman player, so was uncle Bob. Marian was very sweet, not an advantage at a poker table. My great aunt Eva was sort of fluffy and cackled a lot. As a poker player she was no-account, sorry aunty.
All three of us kids had a place too, even when we were very young. Cayce the youngest sat next to my mother. He was pretty little then and since he has not a mean bone in his body his refusal to use the “Skip and Draw Two” cards in the Uno deck tells you everything you need to know about how he played poker. My brother Jerry sat across from Uncle Jackie and being the oldest, I had the place of honor next to my grandfather. Being at the table with the adults was a real treat for us but as youngsters we were not very good players and our elders would have to slip us chips under the table when we were doing badly.
The best games of all were when my dad’s poker club came to the house. They were another kettle of fish entirely. Many of them were college grads. Schools like Stanford, that was Vard Loomis and Berkeley, which was my dad and Oliver Talley. As fraternity boys they had learned to play for keeps. In my dad’s case, poker helped pay for his tuition. He said his fraternity brothers and the firemen in the house where he cooked and bussed tables were not that good and with the five dollars a month his parents sent him from his home in Arroyo Grande he got along pretty well with the skills he had learned at the family table. He also had a head for numbers which didn’t hurt either.
In the afternoon we would help my father move the kitchen table and chairs, slide in the leaf and spread the tablecloth setting it all up in the living room. Those guys didn’t eat while playing, just a plate or two of mixed nuts, sometimes right out of the cans. They did drink though. When they came in the house they brought bottles of their favorite, fifths of scotch, bourbon or whiskey right off the shelves of Kirks Liquor on Branch street. They sniffed at cognac, too upper class, wrinkled their noses at gin, too British and drank their whiskey straight in a Low Ball or Old Fashioned glass, no ice if you please. There was a sort of hierarchy to it all. None of those guys put on airs, they were dirt farmers or worked in businesses which served the farm and ranch community. Putting on airs was frowned on. If you had dared to show up with beer you might well have been sent home. That marked you as less than serious, a lightweight. Wine was; well I can’t repeat what they said about that! Even Scotch was given a little fish eye, un-American to say the least.
As a youngster I had little opportunity to see these men, my fathers friends, fathers to my friends, in their natural habitat. On most social occasions kids were to be seen and not heard. They didn’t talk out of school around children. They were kind of just there you know, like trees or buildings. They inhabited a world we weren’t privy to just yet.
But the poker club offered a rare opportunity, like going to a zoo where yo could see a wild animal in the flesh. There were no bars or fences to look through but there was a keyhole.
Our little farm house was built by Thomas Records around the turn of the 20th century. Originally just three rooms, kitchen, living room and a single bedroom, it had been modernized off and on over the years and when we were growing up had an indoor bathroom and a second bedroom for the kids. My parents bedroom was right next to the living room and in those old houses the doors had old fashioned mortise locks with beautiful glass door knobs, each one with a large keyhole under the knob.
My mother would make herself scarce on those nights, fleeing the house and no doubt meeting the wives for some socializing of their own. Us kids would be trotted out to practice our social skills, saying hello and shaking hands with Ed Taylor, Oliver, or Don Rowe and all the others, but soon we were shuffled off to bed. Or so they thought.
We used that keyhole the way a scientist uses a microscope. They were right there, just feet away. They all talked at the same time, there were jibes, cross talk and comebacks, barks of laughter, they grimaced, they frowned and muttered under their breath when they lost a hand. They joked and took a slug of whiskey. Oliver lit his cigar, Dad a cigarette, Milt Nelson chewing on his pipe as always, all of it creating a shimmering cloud moving hazily around the room. Raise you five, pass, hit me, gimme two, call, the language of poker running just beneath the surface like a lazy stream. The jokes, nothing we were ever going to hear in polite company and oh my goodness the teasing. They knew each other so well that gentle commentary about noses, bald heads, skinny legs seemed to pass almost without notice.
The flick of a wrist, a red chips clicking onto the pot, “I call,” the chips raked in and then without any visible signal the game stopped. The players sat back and dad an Ed or Oliver stood and went to the kitchen. A loaf of Webers bread in its blue and white livery, Mayonnaise and mustard from the fridge and a stack of baloney and the went to work. Sandwiches were made, though they were farmers they used no lettuce or onions, vegetables were for market not eating. For a while it was calm and quiet as they refueled but soon enough the chairs slid across the floor and the action picked up again.
We didn’t know when they quit, for we had nodded off in our parents bed. Waking in our own beds in the morning, everything in the house was back to normal. My dad stayed up very late, washing dishes and putting things away, not wanting my mother to have to do it. As we slipped into our chairs for breakfast, my dad already gone to the fields, it seemed as if perhaps it was a dream or perhaps just a sudden glimpse of what was behind the curtain of adulthood.
George Carlin said it best. “Baseball is a nineteenth century pastoral game in which the object is to take a walk in the park, go home, and be safe.”
History likes to put each thing in it’s place, tag it, annotate it and make a profound statement. But thats not it. Nope. No one knows anything in its entirely, can’t put a finger one it, when did it start, who did it, no one really knows. Somethings just are. Like this.
The boy threw a rock at his friend. The friend tried to catch it. A game for two. A third boy joined in and then another. Soon there were too many boys. They would Gang-Up on someone and soon enough someone got hurt. Without thinking too much, they made up some rules. There we go, its done.
All games are created by kids. The best games. They all come out of little boys and girls imaginations. The very best are stolen by adults. They are refined, packaged and marketed and become a part of society and community, but the most important parts belong with kids.
When I was ten, I used to walk home from school with two friends, Charlie Silva and Kenny Talley. We were forbidden by our parents to walk on the county road so we walked through the farm fields. In the upper Arroyo Grande valley the dirt is known as adobe. It’s heavy and chunky and black and it makes the best clods in the world. Before baseball came to our valley the adobe was used to build houses. The Californios and other early settlers built everything from it. Near our little two room school was the site of the very first permanent home built in our valley by Don Francisco Branch and his wife Manuela, that was in 1835. Long melted away, its adobe walls tumbled down and returned to earth it provided us with a bountiful supply of ammunition. All of us farm kids could throw, no one “threw like a girl,” not even the girls. Melody Patchett could throw and hit a baseball a mile by the time she was 13. Hilda Antonio may have been even better.
Rural schools in the fifties were not overly blessed with playground equipment. We had a teeter-totter and a slide and a little set of monkey bars thanks to the time and generosity of our fathers, but that was it. The playing field had been gouged out of the hillside and leveled after a fashion but the ballfield was more of a rectangle than a diamond. There was a big oak tree hanging over home plate, the fence on the first base side cut off anything resembling right field and if you hit the ball over the fence it could roll down the hill, across Branch Mill Road and end up in either Kaz Ikeda’s irrigation reservoir or all the way down the hill into his broccoli fields. That would effectively end the game as we never had more than one ball and to fetch it took up the rest of recess. Center field had another old oak as a feature which was backed by a Bob wire fence and a pasture beyond. If someone flew to center, the centerfielder had to climb through the four wire fence and root around in the Foxtails and cow flops in order to dig out the ball. The hitter could just stroll around the bases for a home run and the centerfielder got a ration of foxtails in the socks, the cuffs of his jeans and hair and maybe, if lucky, some rich manure on the shoes which would excuse them from wearing shoes the rest of the day. This was not, as town kids might think any kind of tragedy, it was a bonus and taken in stride by both students and teachers. Bare feet are always better than shoes. Left field was a cutbank and any ball hit up there might actually roll back into the field of play or if the hitter was lucky, get stuck in a gopher hole or one of the foxholes boys dug in order to fend of the Nazi’s who might attack our school at any moment. Boys actually brought shovels to school and yes, it was allowed by the principal Edith Brown. That was along with “Gun Day,” or “Huck Finn day.” Those are both stories for another time though.
Baseball is an American game. There are mentions of the game as far back as the revolutionary war. There are old photos of both Union and Confederate soldiers playing when in camp. After the war between the states the game exploded across the country. Just before the war the Brooklyn Excelsiors had toured the east which took them as far north as Canada and as far south as Baltimore. The outbreak of war had smashed any thought of new tours until 1867 when the Washington Nationals, a club that had formed prior to the war, announced that it would take a trip unlike any thus far attempted.
The famous Washington club will start upon their proposed Western trip on the 10th of July, visiting and playing friendly games with the leading clubs of Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago, reaching the latter place on the 24th. . . .The Washington Clipper newspaper.
The Washington club was not yet famous, but wished to become so. They had played only five match games in 1865, when they had welcomed clubs from Philadelphia and Brooklyn to play on the lot behind President Andrew Johnson’s White House. The President had the first box seats. During the three weeks of their Western tour the Nationals made a show of maintaining their amateur status by refusing payments of any kind, even declining reimbursement for travel expenses; these, of course, were covered by their employers, who had graciously permitted them to abandon the desks at which they had seldom been anyway. The aim of the National Club directors in going out on tour was not monetary gain but social distinction and pride. Western teams of hayseeds had been getting a bit chesty about their brand of baseball and, it was thought back in the East that they needed a dose of reality at the hands of a real experienced ball club.
A trip to the far reaches of the country in 1867 would have been quite an adventure. They traveled by rickety railroads and horse drawn coaches. They took a steamboat down the Ohio and when they reached Saint Louis they were on the edge of civilization. It was a long, long trip west to California. A wagon train or stagecoach was the only way across. California boys were playing ball but it was going to be a long time before they would play on Eastern teams. The baseball world ended at St. Louis.
The Nationals prepared for their trip by posting lopsided wins over some local cupcakes until it was time to head west to Cincinnati to play the Red Stockings in a battle of two unbeaten nines. The Cincinnati Base Ball Club, already called “The Red Stockings” for the new style of pulling up the cuffs of their trousers the better to display their manly calves sheathed in form fitting carmine hose while all other teams still wore long trousers, had already given a drubbing to four local clubs.
The Reds were humiliated by a score of 53–10. The Nationals showed their sportsmanship by treating the humbled Red Stocking to a champagne dinner after the game. This would be the Red’s only loss of the year and it came against their only opponent from outside Ohio. A lesson was there to be drawn. At the end of the season the Red Stocking directors instructed the manager to follow the Nationals’ model and begin recruiting professionals from all over the place. The brazenly professional Red Stockings of 1869, undefeated against all comers from coast to coast became the first all professional baseball team and no longer a club.
Boys followed the exploits of their favorite teams and players just as they do today. In the days before radio, newspapers like the Arroyo Grande Herald Recorder carried box scores of not only the national teams in the east but local clubs, high schools and even grade schools. Every town of a few hundred or more had teams. Just before the turn of the twentieth century local clubs were traveling the state to find games.
The San Luis Obispo nine, The Invincibles are about to travel to the southland to take on a team from Los Angeles. Their splendid hurler, Colin Dana of Nipomo intends to spin the spheroid and baffle the opponents hitters. The team will take the steamer from Port Harford on Friday and arrive in San Pedro Saturday morning. After the inevitable defeat of the local Los Angeles club the Invincibles will return on the Sunday night boat.—-San Luis Obispo Tribune, 1898
Johnny Donovan of the Nipomo district had just donated new uniforms for the entire team and they were quick to praise him as a fine fellow to all present. Bragging right were taken seriously, very seriously.
As time has passed, the professional game has been tamed. Players are such valuable commodities that the rules have been changed to protect the owners investments. That hasn’t always been the case. In the old days especially before WWII men and boys played hard. Most were not white collar workers especially here in the west. They were blacksmiths, vaqueros, field hands, fishermen, men who worked with their hands. It might have been called the industrial age but the term applied to how industrious a man was, he was still doing most things with a strong back and hands that were hard with calluses. They played just a hard for free as they might have for money. Mickey Mantle worked in the Zinc Mines of Oklahoma, Warren Spahn was a cowboy in Texas, Eddie Matthews who played his high school ball at Santa Barbara High worked in construction. (The ballfield there is named for him.) In 1947 the average baseball player earned $5,000 a year—the average salary for the everyday American worker at that time was $3,500. That’s why players often had to work ordinary jobs in the offseason to feed there families. They didn’t live high on the hog either, Willie Mays lived in an apartment house in Harlem and used to play stickball with kids in the street.
That was my grandfather, a man who never did anything by half. He worked when he worked, he plowed when it was time and he played some hardball. The year after the above he came sliding into home and snapped the leg of his closest friend Asa “Ace” Porter. They dragged Ace off the field and the game went on. Revenge was had though, Ace defeated my grandfather in the the 1930 election for district four county supervisor, by 47 votes. Probably Huasna Valley baseball team “Cranks” who objected to Jack’s style of play.
By the turn of the century the game had evolved into the form we see today. Bases were 90 feet apart, home was a plate, gloves were in pretty universal use and the baseball was no longer the “lemon peel” which had been both lighter and smaller. The baseball is now made to an exacting standard which has not changed in over one hundred years. In 1893 the old “pitchers Box” was replaced by a mound to cut down the advantage pitchers had and increase scoring. Fans, or “cranks” as they were called liked offense. As Oakland A’s slugger Mark McGwire once said, “Chicks love the long ball.” The sense of it is that a pitcher throwing from level ground, particularly sidearm pitchers who deliver the ball at an up and sideways angle which is more difficult to see than a pitcher throwing from a 15″ high hill which gives a much better view for a batters eyes to pick up the flight of the ball. The boys of old were no slouches, they could throw a ball in the 90’s just as pitchers do today
The nicknames of early twentieth century hurlers demonstrate what hitters thought of them. “Smoky” Joe Wood’s reign as one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history left an indelible impression on those who witnessed it first-hand. “Without a doubt,Joe Wood was one of the best pitchers I ever faced in my entire career,” said Ty Cobb. In 1911 and 1912, Joe Wood won 57 games for the Boston Red Sox, including a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns on July 29, 1911, and an American League record-tying 16 straight wins in the second half of the 1912 campaign. He wasn’t large or overpowering, standing 5’11 3/4″ and weighing in at about 180 pounds, but concealed in his lanky frame was one of the most overpowering fastballs of the Deadball Era. “I have seen a lot of speedy pitchers in my time,” Red Sox catcher “Tubby” Spencer quipped in the spring of 1909, “but Joe Wood can make sparks fly better than anyone else I ever saw throw a ball.” Three years later, Walter Johnson, nicknamed the “Big Train” for the sound of his hissing fastball could only agree. “Can I throw harder than Joe Wood?” he told a waiting reporter. “Listen, mister, no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood.”
Here in our county we had the Paso Robles Sycamores, San Luis Obispo’s Invincibles, The Cambria Nine, a Nipomo team almost completely made up of sons and cousins of the pioneer Dana family. They played on sandlots and behind high schools. They played on fields that would be unrecognizable by today’s standards. A little leaguer plays on a finer ball field than their own great-grandfathers did. Dirt infields used to be so rough that a shortstop or second baseman was likely to have a chipped or broken tooth or two. They had to catch a bouncing ball with both hands because their little unpadded gloves had no leather strings between fingers or a net between the thumb and index finger. My mothers father had broken his hand several times during his baseball playing days.
Baseball was so popular that the box scores from grammar school games were published in the local paper. Large crowds turned out to see fifth, sixth and seventh grade boys play on a Saturday afternoon. Both my father, George and my uncle Jack played in this game. I still have uncle Jack’s glove which he gave me when I was about the same age. Obsolete by then but I have it still. It shares out sweat.
Consider that professional sports other than Boxing, Horse racing and baseball were practically nonexistent before television. Football was almost entirely a college sport. You could listen to a radio broadcast but if you wanted a major league game it had to be Saint Louis which was then the team farthest west. Out here it was the Pacific Coast League with teams like the San Francisco Seals, The Los Angeles Angels, The Sacramento Solons, the Oakland Oaks, the Salt Lake Bee’s, the Portland Beavers and the Albuquerque Dukes. Formed in 1903 it was the first serious west coast league. The level of play was so high and as the old story goes when Joe DiMaggio signed with the Yankees in 1936 he took a pay cut to go east. The east coast teams figured out pretty quickly what a goldmine the west coast was and Joe was quickly followed by his little brother Dominic, “Dom,” to the Red Sox, San Diego’s Ted Williams, and Bobby Doerr, all Red Sox. All Hall of Famers.
My dad always remembered a guy named Thornton Lee who was from down in the Ocean district. His family lived on a little farm next to the Hodges. He was a big, Lanky left-hander who went on to play a couple years at Arroyo Grande High School with my uncle Jack. He also played at the little agricultural Cal Poly college in San Luis Obispo where he starred in every sport he played. After graduation he was signed and played in the minor leagues for a number of years with the Salt Lake Bee’s, the Globe Arizona Bears, the Tampa Florida Smokers, Tampa was the cigar manufacturing center of the US at the time, hence the name. He bounced around some more, playing for the New Orleans Pelicans, Toledo Mud Hens, Wilkes-Barre Barons and finally made it to Cleveland Indians where he launched what was to be a 16 year career. He pitched until he was 40, quite a feat in the days when pitchers threw complete nine inning games.games.
“The Margarita nine has Lately added some flash players and sent the humbugs packing. They are going up to play the Atascaderans on Saturday. The contest will only last five innings so the Margaritas can catch the last train down.”—-San Luis Obispo Tribune, April 26th, 1893.
We played in plowed fields with a broken bean pole and rocks. We threw balls over the roof of the barn to someone on the other side, we played catch with dad whenever we could corner him. He did it whenever asked, though he had likely put in a full day working in his fields and was bone tired. He taught us to take a step back first on a fly ball to make sure we could see it. He showed us how to hold a bat and which side the label should be on. How to move on a ground ball and best of all how to hold a baseball. Across all four seams for a fastball, he showed us the grip for a sinker and the curve ball. He explained how the spitter worked and where to cut the ball to make it move. How the hand and wrist could make a ball hop, twist and fade away. To think if you are a pitcher, anticipate if you are a fielder and don’t ever think if you’re a hitter. No time for that. He said, “If a pitcher can make you think, you’re a dead duck.” He would say, “It’s a game of physics, geometry and speed.” He emphasized that size and strength meant less than agility. In this he was right.
We have an old high school photograph taken of the Santa Maria High School baseball team of 1904. The diminutive short stop in the military type bib shirt with red piping and Santa Maria emblazoned across the front in old style Gothic letters is my great uncle Robert “Bob” Gray, my grandmothers older brother. He is twenty in the photo which is a comment on the school imperative in those days at the turn of the century. Taking time off to bring in a crop or work the fields was a common thing for young men. He seemed to have plenty of time to play ball though.
Mu mothers parents were married in 1915. They were both nineteen and fresh off the farm. Sometime in 1916 they were living with his parents, Samuel and Vancey Hall in a little house in Deer Canyon in what was then known as the Verde District. Arroyo Grande was just a short three miles away. My great-grandfather Sam made his living managing ranches. Bruce, my mothers father loved to play ball. He and his brothers played at every opportunity. Town teams roamed the county, riding the trains to games as far north as San Miguel and as far south as Santa Maria and Guadalupe. There was no real season in those days, games were played whenever two teams could arrange a contest.
My grandmother Eileen had been raised by an indulgent mother who was focused more on herself than her only daughter so grandma was a little short of the basic wifely skills such as cooking and cleaning. She soon found out that she and her mother-in-law were to cook for the field hands that grandpa Sam managed. Grandma would have been satisfied with toast and a cup of coffee but she soon learned the the men working the haying crews burned huge amounts of calories in the days when it was still mostly hand work and they needed to be fed twice a day. Breakfast was fried pork chops, fried potatoes, eggs, bacon and gallons of coffee. Vancey knew her duty and she taught my grandmother how to navigate the kitchen. She was just nineteen and already six months pregnant with my aunt Mariel. Being young, it was an unexpected burden and she got to feeling the blues. One Sunday grandpa Sam walked around the corner of the barn and found her sitting against the side with her head down on her arms crying. When Bruce rolled in after the game his father took him aside and lit into him. He said, “You’re a married man now Bruce and you have to act like one. Eileen needs your help and attention because she’s having a hard time. You have a good wife to think about now and you’d better do it.” He did too, they stayed together and raised four great children including my mother Barbara. He still played ball though. The old photo below was taken in the oilfields around Orcutt California where he was working as a driller for Associated Oil Company. The two little girls are my mother and my aunt Mariel. It’s 1919 and though he looks much older in the old wool uniform he is just 24
The Old Ballgame Part Two
Sometimes in little towns threads cross each other and create a human fabric woven from disparate and yet similar experience.
What they did was to build a brand new society where none had existed. Vacuumed up by the military authorities were literally every profession from fisherman, farmers, business owners, college professors, housewives and even Eagle Scouts. If you made a list of the people who were imprisoned you would be hard put to find a gap in lifestyle, profession, age or education.
Somehow the powers that be had not considered education and the first prisoners to arrive at Manzanar found no school facilities available for the nearly two thousand school aged children that arrived in the early summer of 1942. The camp administrators were ill prepared to offer any kind of organizational help to the inmates beyond very basic shelter. The first buildings only had doors in the ends so that families had to walk through their neighbors to get in and out. A building in every block was finally designated for a school but there was no insulation, no carpet or linoleum on the floor. There were no textbooks, pencils or paper and not even a chair to sit on. Whatever they needed would have to be provided by the prisoners themselves.
“The teenagers had nothing to do and the little children ran around like wild animals. On very hot days they would play underneath the barracks to stay out of the sun. The older boys kept getting in trouble so we decided we had to have schools to keep them busy.”——Momo Nagano
Each block elected a committee and a block manager which petitioned the camp administration to be able to form schools. Once permission was obtained Japanese American teachers were found inside the camp and informal schools put together. School supples were not initially available from the WRA so people donated paper, pencils and what money they could spare so school supplies could be bought at nearby Independence and Lone Pine. Books to form a small library were requested from the Los Angeles Public Library. The National Library Association also came through. None of this was easy. Getting a government agency to move is a very difficult thing but by October of 1942 Formal schools had been approved, block buildings selected and on the 19th all the school age kids went to school for the first time since early spring.
“In the first months at the Owens Valley camp there were no schools. Instead, college-educated evacuees taught makeshift classes in bare rooms or on shady patches of ground outside. There were few texts, so teachers read to their classes from a single book or led discussions on topics such as the U.S. Constitution.” Some Irony there. ——“Chickie” Hiraoka
It’s back to school days for Manzanar children today as hundreds of youngsters returned to their elementary school classes. Still handicapped by lack of insulation, floor covering and furniture the school doors were re-opened nevertheless, on a recommendation by the Manzanar Educational Council. Headed by Marshall Miler, principal, the faculty of the elementary school consists of the following teachers; Genevieve Baird, Eve Beekman, Janice Dales, Miriam Emus, Lois Ferguson, Libby Gratch, Florine Harding, Lois Hosford, Eleanor Jones, Martha Job, Lucille Lewis, Ellen McFarland, Bernice Miller and Marcia Price. ——Manzanar Free Press
Japanese-American teachers were now to be used only as classroom aides not withstanding their sometimes superior education and experience. It was thought the white teachers would be better at teaching an “American” curriculum. When Ellen McFarland was asked years later why she would go out to the desert to teach “Japs,” she said. “I didn’t think it was right, what they did. Some of my UCLA classmates were in the camp.” She laughed and also said, “The pay was double what I could make in Los Angeles and that didn’t hurt. The children were wonderful though and I never regretted it.”
Very quickly organizing committees formed and an atttempt was made to corral the kids that were wandering everywhere around camp. Teenagers would leave the barracks for breakfast and not return until dark, a practice that was mystifying to their more conservative parents. In a way the camps provided a level of personal freedom they had not had at home. Organizing schools and sports for them was seen as a way to re-establish a little control. Elementary school was the first with junior high and high school to follow.
Organizers had little money to spend as no jobs program had been instituted in camp for the internees. That was still to come. Block committees began to scrounge for what they could find in the way of things as simple as pencil and paper. School books were simply not available. A former high school student said one of his teachers in chemistry class actually said, “Pretend this is a Bunsen burner,” which made them all laugh, but that was the state of things at the beginning.
Furniture was hacked together from whatever scrap wood was lying about the camp. There are photos showing small piles of lumber shoved under barracks for future use by the families that lived there. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) provided almost nothing for schools. All furniture had to be made or purchased by the prisoners. In a stark contrast, the administrative staff, known as the, ‘White staff’, lived on site in staff housing that was painted, air conditioned, and had indoor plumbing, refrigerators and whose buildings were fully furnished. Their children were initially bussed into nearby Independence for school but after the camp schools were opened they attended school with the children of the prisoners.
Scrounging became the order of the day, nothing was wasted and if an opportunity to add to the stockpile of usable material appeared it was taken advantage of. This was not without some peril though, a soldier shot Hiyoki Takeuchi in the chest for stealing wood from a scrap pile. He said, “He was warned to put it down and then ran, so I shot him.” The boy who survived his chest wound said he asked and received permission before he was summarily shot. The soldier was later reported to have said “I got my Jap.” Admin ruled the shooting justified and no punishment was ever applied to the soldier.
Many of the communities from which the Japanese Americans came sent inquiries to the camp administration about sending school books, materials and other supplies for the kids that had been in their schools. In this way the various grade levels began to acquire curriculum materials. Public libraries through out the western states also sent books to staff libraries. By the fall of 1942 schools had been organized for every level of student, white teachers hired and imported and most all of the functions of normal school life existed. Their were music programs, dances for the older kids, and a complete set of athletic programs. At its peak, Manzanar could field a hundred baseball teams from grade school to adult leagues. There were cheerleaders, majorettes with their own handmade uniforms topped off with high crowned hats with feathers made of paper. All of this from almost nothing.
School organization was a major endeavor led by the adult leaders at Manzanar and by 1943 all grade levels were functioning smoothly and a new Junior College was opened that fall. Transfer students to Eastern universities was allowed by government and many students began to take advantage of it and it was deemed necessary to initiate a JC to facilitate transfer.
Throughout the time in camp, parents and kids worked hard to foster a sense of normalcy, albeit it behind barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with guns loaded. By the end of camp, schools were fully functional and were sending graduates to prestigious schools for further high level education such as Yale, or Harvard. Japanese-American kids were allowed to go to east coast schools but not the west. Some very famous schools refused admittance such as the all girls school Smith College, though they denied it after the war. Attending an eastern university was a way to escape from camp and many older students took full advantage of it. The number of prestigious school attended by children of the internees is astounding considering the number of college age kids eligable who left for higher education over the roughly three year period the concentration camps existed.
You see, children of any so-called racial group are really the same. The contents of the suitcase they each carried is fascinating. They carried books like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden. They packed their clarinets and trumpets, some took their high school baseball uniforms. They took as much of their normal life as they could. For comfort and security are important to children.
Fortunately adults took things like the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. Since they couldn’t leave the camps the catalogs became a way buy things that weren’t available inside. People had very little money so the sent away for things they considered necessities. Whatever limited money we had we spent it on purchasing things to make the camp life a little more comfortable. And one of the most popular things that people purchased, and the stores kept running out of, were chamber pots. Maybe you don’t know what a chamber pot is. They’re little ceramic pots, with a lid and that’s what you used to defecate and to urinate in. Because our toilets and bathrooms were way far away and in the middle of the night, people didn’t want to go in the freezing cold to go to the bathrooms. And so they’d use those. All modesty was gone they hid behind a curtain, hoping nobody could hear all this tinkle, tinkle and whatever. It was a new way of life.
My mother packed one entire suitcase with Kotex.—-Grace Nishi.
I took my Guadalupe YMBA baseball uniform.—-Tetsuo “Tom” Fukunaga.
My father took the Pasadena telephone book.—-“Mits” Kaminaka.
Mother packed onlysummer clothes, we lived in Glendale and didn’t know winter.—-Nami Dohi.
“My little brother “Teddy” packed his little suitcase with comic books. My mother was upset but it made him very popular with other kids.“—-Yoshi Akinaka
The administration allowed Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange to come in and document life at Manzanar though they imposed restrictions on what they could portray and then censored all of their work. The intent was to whitewash as best they could the life there. The prints from the National Archives used here all have censors comments on the reverse as to whether they could be released for publication. A subtext of the camp story was that many in government were opposed to relocation and the powers that be were careful not to give them any ammunition that could be used by any critics of official policies.
The prisoners themselves had little subversive groups among them, particularly amongst younger adults who were absolutely and completely Americanized. The educated knew the constitution and their rights as American citizens and worked to document the real life in camp not the homogenized version released to Life Magazine where the “Volunteer” internees were happy and smiling in their new life. The camps “Were just a MINOR CONVENIENCE and the Japs were happy with their little farms and gardens, safe and protected by the United States Government.”
Toyo Miyatake was one. A professional photographer from the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, he was removed to Manzanar with his wife and children in 1942. As radios, firearms and cameras were forbidden Japanese-Americans, Toyo took geat pains to very carefully smuggle two camera lenses into camp with his luggage. He found a woodworker friend who made him a little wooden lunchbox which was really a secret camera and he then went about photographing true camp life. The photograph of the three small boys at the barbed wire fence is his, a photo that would not have been permitted under any circumstances but which trumps anything taken by Adams or Lange.
Toyo worked with a man he had befriended years before in Los Angeles who made a business call at Manzanar once a month and smuggled in photo supplies. If the items were small he would leave them in his jacket pocket, tell Toyo, “The jacket is hanging on the coat tree in the Admin office” and Toyo would get a camp policemen to go and retrieve it. If the items were too large for the pocket he would leave the trunk to his car slightly open and again a policeman would fetch them.
There was a surreal twist to this method of retrieval because the uniformed camp police officers, excepting the chief were prisoners themselves. In a strange twist of fate the government had made those who were prisoners the guarantors of their own imprisonment.
Miyatake took wedding photographs and family photographs, He took graduation photos and did engagements. He did sports too. He also continued to document camp life with all its warts and then smuggling the film out of camp to be printed by a white friend in Los Angeles. His courage and superb eye for detail has left us a true image of camp life the government went to great pains to conceal. Eventually he was able to strike a deal with the camp administrator to become the “Official” camp photographer because he argued that people in camp wanted photographs to commemorate their time there. On the surface this seems strange but there were so many requests that he had to set up a rigorous schedule, allowing only two photos per family in order to keep up. If he had been caught with his clandestine photos he would have been immediately transported to the punishment camp at Tule Lake California.
On April 11, 1942, the first issue of the camp’s Manzanar Free Press was published. The first newspaper to be published in a U.S. internment camp, this independent record of the internees’ lives at Manzanar was distributed in the camp until shortly before Manzanar closed on November 21, 1945.
The entire staff were internees and worked without pay.
The hypocrisy of the papers name didn’t go un-noticed by administration, but in the interest of harmony it was allowed to stand. Still each issue was submitted for review by officials before publication was allowed.
Aside from the enjoyment of the work and the relatively liberal minded staff, “The human element did not appear in the printed pages. There were no personal views from any writer. We could and did not write about what was happening to us, the poor food, the poor medical care, the lack of privacy, having to take showers together, overflowing toilets, being behind barbed wire, never free. We knew if we wrote about a certain thing, it wouldn’t get in the paper. The complaints of the internees was not ever voiced in the Free Press.” ——Sue Embrey, Editor
There was also some degree of irony because General DeWitt dropped by for a little visit and to look over his handiwork. A small article on page one of the newspaper was addressed to DeWitt, complimenting him on his understanding and humane operation of the mechanics of the evacuation. According to John D. Stevens, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Michigan who researched assembly and relocation center newspapers, these were the “first and only kind words which ever appeared in an evacuee publication about the man most” evacuees “blamed for their removal.” A week later DeWitt, perhaps influenced by the article in the Manzanar Free Press, gave official blessings to issuance of newspapers in all centers. Few are immune to flattery, even a Major General.
Interestingly, the Manzanar Free Press combined a national outlook with a newsletter feel. One can find articles on such topics as mess hall rules, school graduations, and results of games in the camp’s eight-team adult baseball league, alongside articles touting the contributions of Japanese-Americans citizens and soldiers to the national war effort. Like all American newspapers of the time it even ran an “Our boys in the Service” column.
Camp newspapers kept residents informed, relaying administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other tidbits concerning daily camp life. They published not only straight news, but also editorials, opinions, human-interest stories, and entertainment pieces such as sports news, literary works, and comic strips. They recorded the daily activities of residents for whom, even in detention, life continued.
Camp cartoonist Iwao Takamoto went on to work for Disney Studios after Manzanar and then Hanna Barbera and was one of their chief designers responsible for, among others, Scooby-Doo and the Jetson’s dog Astro. Another cartoonist, Chris Ishii who was snatched out of the Disney studio wrote Lil Neebo. A “Little Nisei” boy who had all kinds of camp adventures.
Editorially, the Manzanar Free Press was devoted to the expression of American patriotism and mindful of the synthetic distinction of ethnicity made to limit Japanese-American participation in the war. In a January 1, 1944 editorial addressed to the “People of America,” the paper eloquently captured the resolve of these loyal, yet nonetheless demonized people:
In three months, we will have spent two years in these centers. We have had time to rationalize our own predicament. The tragic experience of evacuation, the untold volume of business losses of the evacuees, the unwarranted hatreds engendered toward us by some people because of our hereditary kinships with the Asiatic foe—these we write off our ledger.
She looks exactly like any teenage girl. This photo, taken by her friend Wilda Johnson who drove up from Glendale to visit her in the camp shows a trendy young girl right on the edge of womanhood. White tennis shoes and socks, gray skirt and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar fastened at the neck by a small brooch. She has her hair up in Victory Rolls, the fashion of the time and is flashing a bright and genuine smile. Her brothers Roy and Akira have the shy, reserved look of teenage boys, not quite sure what they are expected to do. No such thing for Honey though. Wouldn’t you like to know her?
We know about her today because her letters from camp were saved. She wrote in a beautiful copperplate hand with long graceful serifs. The letters are genuine. She tells of Christmas parties where everyone from her block attended, “Little tiny babies and the Grandpapas.” Santa Claus in his beard and red suit chuckled as he handed out presents to the little ones. She is captivated by the first snow on the Sierras, something she had never seen in Glendale. She talks about the freezing weather, both inside and out. She talks about the constantly swirling and dusty dirty wind and the affects of war rationing. “Only tiny babies get milk,” she says. In a bit of wonder, she never really complains about anything. She mentions the requirement that all visitors must apply for permits. Honey also mentions the prospect of being in Manzanar for a long, long time. She also says that camp life will not stop them from having fun, such as a picnics and teen dances with live music. She mentions “weiner bakes” along with hot, dusty conditions. She also notes that her free friends work on swing shifts and urges them not to let the work get them down, but rather to “do your part for the U.S.A. – ‘Keep them flying!'”
The sense of wonder and everlasting optimism of teenagers is hard to kill.
Song in Exile
Printed in the Manzanar Free Press, August 17, 1942
Song in exile The other night we sat enchanted in the deepening dusk before a drab recreation hall listening to the ageless strains of a Brahms symphony. Around us was the oppressive monotony of black bar racks and dusty roads beyond, the jagged outlines of the towering peaks softened now to a blue shadow. As we sat there night slowly cast its black sorcery over the land and as the violin quivered on a tremolo note the first evening star appeared miraculously in the sky, shining in the gathering darkness like a symbol of the beauty that still flickers in a darkened world. We let the mystical exoticism of Debussy fill the night as each star came out to take its exact place in the wheeling universe, until the night was misty with a million stars. Man’s universal love of art and beauty is inextinguish able. “Wherever beats the human heart, in the lush jungles of Bataan, along the muddy banks of the Yangtze, in bomb scarred Sevastopol, and even in Manzanar, man yearns for ‘beauty.’ The democratic universality of art does not distinguish between nationality or race. Brahms was a German Debussy French. Tschaikowsky was a Russian. As we listen to the music of these great men let us breathe a prayer for the men who are today giving their lives that men may not only live again in peace and security but that art may again be unfettered and freed from the fascist censorship that would stifle it.
Closing the Circle….
On Wednesday afternoon July 28th, 1944, the boy found Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa sitting on the steps of her barracks Block 31, Building 3, Apartment 4, in the Manzanar California concentration camp. He walked slowly up to her, removed his cap, bowed and handed her the envelope. He knew what was inside. She did too…..
Aiko Hamaguchi Born June 15 1924, Died 25 Sept 25, 2006 San Gabriel California.
Miss Hamaguchi wears the nursing pin of the Los Angeles County Medical Center School of Nursing. She is just twenty years old and one of the nurses working at the Manzanar “War Relocation Center” hospital in 1944 when this photo was taken.
Ansel Adams had received permission to photograph in the camp from the WRA which ran it. Aiko is the subject of several of his photos and it’s obvious why. Adams was only allowed to photograph inside the camp, all of his photos had to be approved by the camp commander and could not show guard towers, barbed wire or armed soldiers. He focused mostly on personalities though the famous photo of the gatehouse and flag pole is his.
When the internees initially arrived the few doctors and nurses treated patients in a single barracks without adequate supplies or much equipment. The government had stocked the type of medical supplies which were provided combat units which was wholly inadequate to their needs.
The dust howling through the floors and windows, the poor and inadequate food, and very crowded conditions of Manzanar’s early weeks heightened fears of serious illness and epidemic. Many of the older people were fearful of the governments attentions and had every right to be.
“There were only five doctors to serve ten thousand people. There were 90 year olds and babies, pregnant women and teens, every body had needs. Many were not vaccinated against the common diseases of the time.—-Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Miura.
“We started working as nurse’s aids for the Public Health Department, we were going from barrack to barrack in the howling dust storms, and around the still open ditches to urge residents to complete their typhoid shots. — Rose Bannai Kitahara
“Here people are all scared, worried, and . . . you can’t tell them not to worry because you’re in the same position . . . You don’t know what the outcome of the war is going to be. It’s just impossible to kind of counsel them. You have to console and comfort them.” —-Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Miura
Aiko Hamaguchi, Chiye Yamasaki, Catherine Yamaguchi and Kazoko Namahaga play bridge. Ansel Adams photo, National Archives
In July of 1942, patients, staff, and equipment finally moved into a new 250-bed hospital. Housed in sixteen connected buildings, the hospital housed operating rooms, laboratories, a pharmacy, dental and eye clinics, a morgue, and quarters for the staff.
Though there were more than 60 midwives in camp the administration would not allow them to practice and all babies were birthed without their assistance. A terrible waste of skill which added strain on the already overworked staff.
In February 1942, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. targeted the Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. One of them was 31–year–old Fumiko Hayashida, a pregnant mother of two. Fumiko was one of 227 members of her community who, dressed in their best clothes, assembled at the Eagledale ferry landing on March 30th, 1942. As they waited to be taken off the Island by armed military escorts, Fumiko, holding her 13–month–old daughter Natalie Kayo, was photographed by a Seattle Post–Intelligencer photographer. She is obviously not a dirty Jap but an educated American Citizen just beginning the process of race shaming. Note the little fuzzy dog she carries for her little daughter. Everything about this photo speaks to a mothers care.
One of the first of the 541 babies born at Manzanar was Fumiko’s. The hospital clinic was not yet finished so she gave birth in her room lying in an army cot. A Japanese doctor, also interned, delivered the baby without anesthetic and with no access to blood plasma should she need it.
A 28 year old unwed mother had given birth to a stillborn just days before. She hemorrhaged and soon bled to death The doctors had nothing to give her and she bled out on the wooden kitchen table that was used for birthing. That stillborn baby, never identified is one of six graves left in the cemetery. There was no one to care for it and it lies there today all alone, never given a name and long forgotten. The baby was an American.
In 1990 the Smithsonian planned on using the photo of Fumiko in an exhibit and managed to track her down in Seattle where she lived at the time. During an interview she was asked if she angry “Well, no,” she said. “In a way, but you know you do your duty. If the President wants us to do it. …We didn’t like it but that’s okay. I think no use fighting the government.”
“I was known as ‘Mystery Girl.’ ‘Mystery Lady,’” she said in 2007. Her highest-profile appearance came in 2006, when she testified before a congressional committee considering legislation to build a memorial on Bainbridge Island to internees.
It was a role she assumed as a result of the photo, but not one she sought. Like so many Japanese Americans of her generation, she preferred to be quiet about the events of the war years.
“My first reaction was of disbelief and anger,” she told the congressional committee. ” … My disgust soon changed to fear, for I realized that I now had the face of the enemy. I was very scared of what people might want to do to us. Rumors began to fly. Will we be arrested? Will angry people come and vandalize our homes, ruin our farms, or do us bodily harm?”
“Nobody knew where we as were going, how long we would be gone or if we could ever come back,” Hayashida said. She packed only what she could carry, making sure to place as much cloth in her case that she could later cut up for diapers. “No disposable diapers then,” she reminded. “The train trip from Seattle to Manzanar was the worst time of my life. They kept the shades pulled and there were two armed guards in each car.” She was eight months pregnant and was holding a 10 month old baby.
Natalie Ong, the child in the photograph, finally asked about the camps when she was in the third grade. “One day,she came home from school … and she asked us, ‘Did we? Did you go into camp, you know?’ That was the first child in the family that asked because I have a lot of nieces and nephews who are older than her but they hadn’t heard about it. Somehow she was the first one. Then we told her because of the war we had to leave home and she said, ‘Mommy, Daddy, you are American citizens. How come? That’s against the law.She is still angry about it to this day.”
Natalie said of her mother, “She was nobody and yet, she was everybody.”
Fumiko Hayashida died at age 103 in 2003. At the time she was the oldest l,iving survivor of the camps. The baby boy born in Manzanar, a second generation Nissei served his country as a soldier in Vietnam and earned a purple heart. Loyalty is an ephemeral thing and must be constantly guarded.
Alan Nishio was born in captivity at Manzanar on August 9th, 1945 the day the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. His grandfather lived there and was vaporized in the blast which killed an estimated 170,000 people. The story of his birth remained a closely-guarded family secret. It wasn’t until the 1960s,
while poring through the stacks of books at University of California, Berkeley library, that Nisho accidentally discovered the truth about his birthplace. He knew he had been born in a place known as Manzanar, but he had always assumed it was a farm labor camp in Northern California. The paper he found on campus identified Manzanar in quite a different way: as one of ten detention camps that held Japanese Americans during World War Two. He tried to discuss his birthplace with his family when he returned home for vacation, but was met only with silence. His parents would not speak of it.
Alan retired from CSU Long Beach after a career teaching in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and serving as Associate Vice President of Student Services. Within the community, Mr. Nishio was a founder and co-chair of the National Coalition of Redress/Reparations, an organization that played a significant role in the redress campaign for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.
Dennis Bambauer, Senior Photo, Bishop HS. Used by permission
Manzanar had a section in the camp dedicated to orphans which was known as the “Children’s Village.” Before 1942, the majority of orphan children of Japanese ancestry either lived with distant family members or foster families. Some were placed in one of three orphanages in California specifically for children of Japanese ancestry: the Salvation Army Home in San Francisco, the Maryknoll Home in Los Angeles, and the Shonien in Los Angeles. One of the kids was Dennis. Of Japanese and French-Irish descent, his mother was Japanese American. He was born October 1, 1934, in Los Angeles, California. As a child he resided in the Children’s Home Society Orphanage in Los Angeles. During World War II, he was scooped up by the authorities along with all the Japanes staff and sent to Manzanar concentration camp’s “Children’s Village” for orphans.
“Well, I was an orphan, and my mother took me from her familyto an orphanage, and I remember well my days in the Children’s Home Society in Los Angeles as a small child. I was the only Japanese American in the orphanage, but I really didn’t know that I was different than the other children. It wasn’t until we got evacuated that I suddenly discovered that lo and behold, for some reason, I was different. I didn’t learn until later when we, as small kids, were faced with the American patriotism of the workers at the camp. It was about that time, shortly after arriving there, that I realized that I was there because I was part Japanese. My mother was full-blooded Japanese; my father was French-Irish. So 50 percent.” Dennis laughed at that. When asked how much Japanese blood was necessary in order to be sent to camp, he said, “ I recall something that the director of the relocation, his name I believe was Meredith, who said if you had a drop of blood, you got interned. So any kind of Japanese heritage, you were interned if you were living on the West Coast. Even if you’re only six years old. Just like me.
The Village held children from newborn to high school age and was for the most part completely segregated from the rest of the camp. If you were born to an unwed mother you were immediately removed from the mother and placed there. If your parent or parents died in camp you went to Children’s Village. They took you even if you had relatives nearby.
“The worst memories was that we were prisoners. Every night the searchlights would flash, circle around the camp and would come through the barracks so you would see the light out the windows, searching. The barbed wire fence held us in. When little kids were playing and a ball rolled under the fence the guards wouldn’t let you go get it. Sometimes they just kept them. The fact that we were prisoners, that’s the worst memory. And the soldiers had to do their job. But the soldiers were a little lenient, it seems, for us little kids. They didn’t try to be mean. We would walk by the towers, and they would chat with us. So that’s a better memory about the situation, but that was because of the individuals more than the system.”
Dennis was adopted out to the Bambauer family and went to live in Bishop when he was in third grade. He had to be fingerprinted before he left and the soldier who did the printing told him, “This is in case you do anything bad; we’ll be able to catch you.” That was a, that was a traumatic experience for me, and I’m sure that the soldier didn’t mean anything by that, but it really knocked me for a loop. It was really… I was really sad. It didn’t make me angry because at that age, six or seven, you don’t get angry. You get scared. So it just made me even more scared. I didn’t know what I was — I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know anything about the Bambauers except that they had come to the camp and they wanted to adopt a child and so they selected me. But other than seeing them, I didn’t know anything about the family so it was a traumatic experience leaving my friends and a comfortable place, and then to have that warning, I just have never ever been able to overcome that. Also I was known as the yellow Jap in Bishop. Those things never go away. ——Dennis Bambauer earned a degree at Occidental College and became a teacher and a philanthropist in Redding Ca. He died in 2017 at 84.
Lieutenant General John Lesesne DeWitt, Commander Western Defense Command.
John Lesesne DeWitt was a general officer in the United States Army, best known for leading the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War two. DeWitt believed that Japanese nationals and Japanese American citizens on the Pacific Coast were conspiring to sabotage the American war effort, and recommended they be removed from coastal areas. following the Roberts Commission report of January 25, 1942 accusing persons of Japanese ancestry of widespread espionage in Hawaii prior to Pearl Harbor, along with his perception of public opinion as anti-Japanese, he became a proponent of internment of all west coast Japanese. He felt that the lack of sabotage efforts only meant that it was being readied for a large-scale effort. “The fact that nothing has happened so far is more or less . . . ominous, in that I feel that in view of the fact that we have had no sporadic attempts at sabotage that there is a control being exercised and when we have it it will be on a mass basis.” DeWitt stated, “Let me warn the affected aliens and Japanese citizens that anything other than strict compliance with this proclamations provisions will bring immediate and severe punishment.” Numbers of studies into sabotage or any other spying both during and after the war revealed not one, not one single instance of sabotage by any Mainland Japanese or Japanese American, none. Zero.
DeWitt was never sanctioned by the military or government and went on to serve in many other military capacities including commandant of the War College. His grandchildren were completely unaware of his involvement in the transportation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. DeWitt died at age 82 in 1962. It is common for children who did not grow up in the camps to be ignorant of their family history. The adults kept their knowledge to themselves. My friends whom I have known all my life has never spoken about Gila River or Poston where they were born.They left there as infant or very young children and their parents never spoke about their experience. Much of the original research has been done by those too young to remember or who were born after the war. Without them and their activism most of these peoples stories would have been lost.
WHAT THEY DID…
What they did was to build a brand new society where none had existed. Planners had not expected this.
.Ten thousand and forty six souls. 10,046 in counting numbers. In 1942 Manzanar was home to over ten thousand Japanese Americans. It was one of ten camps scattered around the United States. From Camp Rohwer in the dismal, mosquito infested swamps of southwestern Arkansas to remote Tule lake in California, they had one thing in common, they were all isolated, inhospitable and barely livable. For the people who were incarcerated there it was to be a long time before the would see their homes again, if ever. On March 25th the first buses from the temporary assembly centers in California rolled through the front gate. Surrounded by barbed wire fences with eight machine gun towers at regular intervals they belied the fact that west coast newspapers and politicians were advertising the voluntary evacuation of patriotic Japanese Americans. There was no doubt that they were in for a hard time. They would have precious little to volunteer for.
The first blocks of barracks were barely complete. The camp was organized like a military base with orderly rows of buildings designed to hold three or four families each. Buildings measured 120X20 feet and were divided into six one-room apartments, ranging in size form 320 to 480 square feet. Each block of 15 barracks shared bath, latrine, and mess buildings. Each family would be housed in a twenty by twenty foot “room.” The room itself was nothing but an undivided space in the barrack. There was no partition between families, no toilet or sink, no insulation or wallboard no ceiling nor carpet on the plank floors. Each of these building was provided with one oil heater to fight of the winters brutal cold and the only air conditioning was the gap between the floor boards which let in the
Family life in a room the size of your garage. National Archives photo
wind, the sand and the dust, for it was nearly always windy in the Owens Valley. The city of Los Angeles owned the land the camp was on and when the US government condemned it for wartime use they simply bulldozed the already barren square mile of all of its vegetation. There was literally not a blade of grass to be found within the compound in the beginning. Keeping the inside of the building clean was a hopeless task, made even more difficult because the people imprisoned there came from a population where cleanliness and order were very important staples of their culture. There was also little or no privacy in the barracks and not much outside either. The 200 to 400 people living in each block tried to achieve some privacy by hanging blanket or sheets on ropes between families but it did little to help. They were provided no furniture, no chairs, tables or dressers in which to store their meager belongings. Nearly everything that made life comfortable was simply denied them.
——We couldn’t cook in the barracks. They told us it was a fire hazard plus they had confiscated our hot plates at the assembly centers. We had to eat in the halls. We stood in line outside no matter the weather, winter and summer We had to eat whatever they had to serve. In the beginning the food was terrible. Once we had jello over rice. I guess they didn’t deport enough cooks.——Yori Kageyama
For the women in particular, the showers and restrooms were excruciating. There were no stalls or enclosures at all. In a culture where modesty is a virtue, having to shower naked in the open or use the toilet was almost more than some could bear. The earliest arrivals had only outhouses located between the barracks. The cess pits were soon overflowing exacerbating the concerns of a people whose entire culture was built around privacy and order.
——-My mother was so humiliated that she would get up at three in the morning with the hope that the shower room might be empty. It almost never was. She simply had to learn to live with it.——-Shigeru Ito
,Absolutely no thought had been given to cultural differences, religious needs or education. There were no schools, nurseries or churches. No playgrounds, no ball fields and only a rudimentary hospital which would be staffed by the prisoners themselves. There were no farm fields for growing crops, no orchards and no parks. Rooms had no furniture beyond an iron bed frame and a mattress which you had to stuff yourself. Nothing had been done to provide for family life in a room the size of your garage. The absolute bare minimum of shelter, period.
At Manzanar, many residents complained about a lack of food. The white camp employees were stealing their already limited supply of food. Sugar and other supplies that were rationed throughout the United States, and many Americans were willing to pay high prices for these goods. The employees cheated camp residents out of part of their food, took the surplus into nearby Lone Pine, Bishop and Independence and sold it at high prices on the local black market. Camp administrators simply turned a blind eye.
Henry Ueno who headed the kitchen workers carefully monitored the theft of sugar and other food items, trying to verify that the prisoners were suffering from this lack of food. He found the supply of sugar delivered to the mess halls to be 6,000 pounds short and went to the camp officials showed them the records and complained. He was quickly removed from his job, labeled as a subversive and troublemaker and promptly jailed in Lone Pine. The next morning he was returned to Manzanar and thrown into the camp jail. People in the camp formed a large protest outside the main administration building. The camps military police quickly formed and surrounded the protestors, armed with fixed bayonets and canisters of tear gas. Someone in the crowd threw a light bulb which popped when it hit the ground. Soldiers then threw tear gas at the crowd. Ueno recalled: “That stifling smoke quickly covered the whole area. People were gasping and coughing and trying to get away. The sergeant in charge was yelling, “Remember Pearl Harbor, hold your line.” Some one amongst the soldiers fired a shot and then they all started firing.” When the smoke cleared, one Japanese American boy, just seventeen lay dead in the dirt and eleven more were taken to the camp hospital where a twenty-one year old died from a terrible stomach wound. This became known as the Manzanar Massacre.
One of the results of this was the immediate removal to the Tule Lake punishment camp in northeastern California of all collaborators (Spies) who were working for special treatment and favors by the government officials who ran the camp. Things gradually settled down after this but the blackmarket thefts never stopped. The prisoners had no direct access to camp supplies in the warehouses and little was ever done by the camp director to stop the practice of theft.
One of the outcomes was that administrators came to realize that the prisoners were not just ignorant farmers or fisherman but were comprised of people from all walks of life. Highly educated people who represented every major profession. Lawyers, educators, business owners, bankers, college students, architects, engineers and union organizers were among those imprisoned.
Manzanar had 36 residential blocks each with 14 barracks all separated by streets and firebreaks. There were no streetlights and it was hazardous to move around at night. The streets were unpaved of course and there was no water in the buildings. In the winter the ground became a sea of mud, often covered by snow and in the summer it baked under the heat to a brick like consistency. At its height the camp held nearly eleven thousand people of all ages who lived, worked and played there.
The blocks held people from they same area which turned out to be a blessing. People from Arroyo Grande or Guadalupe for example were mostly in the same buildings or were close neighbors. This wasn’t done through any sense of sympathy for the deportees but simply because when you were checked off the train or bus from your hometown it was simply easier to keep the group together. For the initial internees it helped to build a small sense of community.
From the very beginning people tried to organize their lives. As thousands of people began to flood into the camps the authorities scrambled to organize and educate them in the rules and schedules of the camp. For people who had recently run their own lives it was a shock to be herded from place to place, stand in long lines and go through the humiliation of being treated as if you were just a number. Just like going to boot camp one said. Poked and prodded by doctors, issued numbers in lieu of your name, standing in line to be issued bedding, a thin mattress for your single iron bed and an two gray Navy issue wool blankets. In a nod to the temperature extremes each resident was also issued a Navy peacoat and in the old photos you can see small children wrapped up in these man sized jackets. Eligible citizens were even issued identification cards that would allow them to vote in the November election of 1942. Wrap your mind around that, imprisoned against your will, deprived of your property and livelihood, locked in a desert hell hole guarded by guard towers manned by soldiers with loaded machine guns and rifles but we are going to make sure you can exercise at least one of the rights given to American citizens by the constitution, the right to vote for the candidate of your choice. The elected officials who sent you here without any due process who said, “It’s for your own protection,” but who also made sure the five wire barbed wire fence was constantly patrolled and machine guns pointed, not outward but inward.
Amongst different age groups two stand out as the most affected. Adults who had managed their own lives and businesses could and did organize themselves, electing block committees, advocacy groups and attempting to build communities within the many, many restrictions set down by the authorities. As with all government agencies, especially those removed from the center of power as the administrators of the camps were, they were charged with imposing rules they did not agree with or had no hand in writing.
It was forbidden to speak, read or write Japanese, . For the oldest among the prisoners this was a major hardship as with many immigrants from foreign countries they had never learned rudimentary or perhaps no English. This was true of people of all countries who had come to the United States though it was only applied to the Japanese. Old folks who came with no family who could translate had real difficulties. Even the Buddhist churches were forbidden their own languages during services.
Then there were the young, the teenagers who had just left their home towns, and high schools where they had never given much thought to any differences in race or ethnicity. This was especially true in small towns like ours where there were differences between adults but not so much amongst kids. Elementary and Secondary schools are a world of their own.
It was April 1942. Arroyo Grande’s Japanese were ordered to report to the high school. They were allowed to carry only one bag with them. Everything a family thought they would need had to be stuffed into that bag. High school kids stood in small groups talking in low voices. Amongst the crowd were kids who were not going, friends who had shown up. Friends who saw no differences.
The busses ground their gears as they pulled up the steep hill and pulled into the parking lot behind the school. The doors hissed open and the WRA officials began checking people in as they boarded. A group of teenage girls were holding each other, some crying out loud some just stunned. Only some were going to The collection center in Tulare, some were not, they didn’t have to because they were white. Really the only difference, they were white. Twenty five of the 58 students in the class of 1942 were Nisei. In one hour the school was reduced by nearly half. Most would never return.
Lapel tag for No. 04220 bound for Poston Camp.
At Arroyo Grande high school, as the busses pulled away and the woman across the street cried, classmates and friends stood quietly, some girls quietly crying boys standing mostly silent, stoic in the way young men must be at times of stress and hurt, one or two reaching up to the window and shaking hands with other boys who they had known all their lives. Boys who they had played with as little children, boys they knew like brothers.
High school kids are for the most part united against the adult world and though they have their differences they can stand together against what they consider unjust behavior by adults. Don Gullickson, Gordon Bennett, Marylee Zeyen, Tommy Baxter and the irrepressible John Loomis would never, as long as they lived, forgive what was done. Teenagers hate injustice.
Clarence Burrell, the principal of Arroyo Grande HS took it upon himself to drive to the Tulare fairgrounds racetrack in June where his students were being held and personally deliver their diploma’s. The Arroyo Grande Women’s Club passed box lunches up through the windows of the busses to people many of whom had lived in this little valley for generations, my grandmother and her friends among them. Mrs Gladys Loomis, Miss Barbara Hall, Mrs Ole Gullickson, Mrs Chester Steele and Mrs J W Shannon, some but not all. Not everyone felt the same way.
The owners had left their keys in the ignitionAt literally the same time, doors were being kicked in, windows broken and the homes and businesses of the departed were being vandalized. Furniture, farm equipment and belongings that could not be taken were destroyed. Cars and trucks were stolen. The owners had simply left the keys in the ignition knowing they could not be saved and before the busses left many of the cars were simply driven away never to be seen again. The hateful had a field day. It was the same town of just over a thousand people. Two sides of the same coin. Many still not reconciled to this day. Uneasy lies the issue of race.
The country the Japanese Americans loved had kicked them to the curb and they felt isolated and alone. Camp administrators at Manzanar did little help overcome this belief. The only thing they could do was to rely on each other as they were all in the same boat. Having a tight community and close friends to rely on would help make the suffering a little bit easier Though locked up in the camps and taken away from their normal lives they organized and tried to bring a sense of normalcy into the camps. The brought tradition with them. They brought philosphy with them and they brought religion. They brought what they had learned in America. They needed to somehow outlast the tough times they saw coming and they did it by relying on things that could distract them form the hardships and atrocities all around them.
What They Did…. Their Stories.
Aiko Hamaguchi RN, Manzanar, National Archives, Ansel Adams
Yuki Okinaga Hayakawa aged three, National Archive Photo
I took my first trips up and down U S Highway 395 when I was just two years old. Manzanar had been closed for just two years. Over the decades I have passed it by many times. It was always notable for the fact that there was nothing there. No road sign announcing it’s site, no buildings other than an old run down auditorium and the cut stone gatehouse. It was like all the rest of the open high desert land that surrounded it, Saltbush, Mormon Tea, Rabbitbrush, and Lupine that, when in bloom gave just a splash of color in the dry, desiccated ground bookmarked between the eastern Sierra Nevada’s Mount Williamson and the massive Keynot peak, lurking in the Inyo mountains to the east. It was like all the rest of the open, high desert land that surrounded it, Saltbush, Mormon Tea, Rabbitbrush, and Lupine that, when in bloom gave just a splash of color in the dry, desiccated ground bookmarked between the eastern Sierra Nevada and the massive Keynot peak, lurking in the Inyo mountains to the east. Midway between the tiny towns of Lone Pine and Independence my dad would point it out in a matter of fact way as the place they kept the Japanese during the war. That was all.
I’ve driven that stretch of road almost more times than I can count but on this trip something about Manzanar was different. We decided to stop. There were a couple buildings I had never seen before and it was obvious the National Parks Service which owns the site was making an attempt to make Manzanar accessible. The place was almost completely deserted and only a young woman from Germany and an older couple were there. You can drive and walk completely around what was once the home to more than 13,000 Japanese Americans. About one third of the disingenuously labeled internees who were in fact prisoners guarded by guard towers with armed soldiers on duty 24 hours a day, were ineligible for citizenship because Federal law forbade native born Japanese from becoming American citizens. The other two-thirds were born in this country and by Constitutional right were citizens of the United States.
As far as I know nearly every kid of Japanese Ancestry I went to school with was born or lived in one of the ten so-called re-location camps spotted throughout the western United States. None of them were old enough to remember what it was like at Gila River camp in Poston Arizona or Tule Lake in the bleak scrublands of California’s far northeast corner, the camp built especially for the most troublesome prisoners. Freezing in the long cold winters, stovetop hot and constantly windy in the short summers, Tule Lake was reserved for those considered most disloyal. Sixteen guard towers, searchlights, a lighted perimeter fence and a fifty foot deadline manned by 1,200 fully armed soldiers all looking inward, “For their own protection” said the camp commander. All of this overlooked by the eternally frowning Castle Peak, it’s brow lowered and radiating disapproval. Whether it was the Japanese Americans or the military overseers know one knows but nonetheless, equally oppressive.
“Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku,” Tomorrows wind will blow tomorrow. This Japanese saying means, “tomorrow’s another day” and to not worry about the future. I love this elegant proverb because it encourages perseverance in the face of hardship. Hardship it would be.
A very old woman who lived across the street from Arroyo Grande High School stood on her front porch, holding the door knob to steady herself, unashamed tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched the Japanese-Americans loaded on the line of busses parked on Crown Hill. They were her friends and neighbors, each one with a dangling name tag in a button hole. The group waiting quietly, some sitting on suitcases or bundles of personal possessions rolled up in bedsheets or stuffed in gunny sacks. They did not know where they were going, only that their lives were completely shattered. They were leaving their homes, farms and businesses and as yet had not an inkling of how or when they would be able to return.
There was Family #41605. The father, an American citizen, born right here in Arroyo Grande. His own father was also born here as was his wife. She was pregnant with their third child and she was destined to conceive and deliver another in the concentration camp at Gila River Arizona. It would be a boy with a kings name and we would be lifelong friends and high school classmates in the nineteen sixties. The father was my dads age. They were friends too. We have an 11th grade high school photograph where they sit in the front row, right next to one another. They wear crisp white shirts, dirty corduroy pants, both destined to be farmers in our little valley.
There was a 17 year old high school student, slim and earnest looking in his glasses, his family was #14436. His was a farming family too. A former Boy Scout in my scoutmaster father’s troop 13, Dad always said that he was one of the funniest boys he ever knew. There was no smile today, he stood with his brother waiting patiently.
They were all apprehensive and slightly bewildered by this turn of events. They were hardly surprised by the hatred that had so intensified since December 7th.They had heard General John L DeWitt, commander of the Western Approaches command which covered Washington, Oregon and California state that “The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United State soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted. It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will certainly be taken.” A comment of such self serving purpose can hardly be believed.
That bewildering logic didn’t deter California’s Attorney General and the next Governor, Earl Warren. Warren, a future Supreme Court Justice was a proponent of forced evacuation and helped to drive public opinion to support the Army’s policy. President Franklin Roosevelt signed order number 9066 on February 19th, 1942 ordering that all Japanese and Japanese Americans be removed from the zone of the Pacific to evacuation centers and then taken to the so-called war relocation centers for internment. No matter the sex, no matter the age, University students, National Guard serving soldiers, Teachers, Professors, nurses and doctors and even adopted Japanese American children were ordered sent. Photographers, artists, architects, it didn’t matter. All.
Japanese Americans and other Asians in the U.S. had suffered for decades from prejudice and racially-motivated fear. Laws preventing Asian Americans from owning land, voting, testifying against whites in court, and other racially discriminatory laws existed long before World War II. President Roosevelt had ordered the FBI, Naval Intelligence and Military Intelligence to conduct thorough investigations into the loyalty and sympathies of Japanese Americans in 1940. Both the Munson Report of 1940 and a second investigation finished in 1942, written by Naval Intelligence officer Kenneth Ringle and submitted in January, likewise found absolutely no evidence of subversive activity and strongly urged against mass incarceration. Both were ignored.
General DeWitt was quoted as saying, “A Jap is a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is a United States citizen or not.” Mrs Roosevelt as well as some cabinet members in Washington were against the policy but with a by election coming in November 1942 the president was concerned about west coast voters so he turned a blind eye to those who though the policy was both unwise and wrong.
In August 1942 the busses from Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Guadalupe arrived at the little town of Yellem just outside Tulare in the San Joaquin Valley.
“…we had to get off and carry the things we could carry and march, walk into the town to the racetrack. People came out as if it was some kind of parade, but a parade with soldiers on the both sides, with their bayonets fixed and up. It was just a very humiliating experience.” – Yosh Nakamura, Densho Archives
They were ushered off the streets and into the stables and the infield of an old horse racing track. They waited quietly with their meager belongings while they were processed in. Some of the people were settled in newly completed temporary barracks buildings, so new that they still smelled of pine sap, the floors covered with construction debris. Others not quite so lucky were marched to the old stables and installed in horse stalls, still covered with dirty straw hay and reeking of horse urine and manure.
Bedding was not provided, just an old mattress cover that the prisoners had to stuff with straw themselves. Quietly and stoically they set about making the best of it. One of the qualities of Japanese Americans at that time was not to make waves, strive to give no offense and to endeavor to fit in by remaining almost invisible to non-Japanese people.
Most were to remain at the racetrack for as long as five months. They were in almost complete ignorance about what their fate would be. Where would they be going. No one knew and no one in authority would tell them, Rumors and gossip had to fill the void. Radios had been confiscated and no newspapers were allowed. Nearly every periodical in the country was foaming at the mouth with outrage and printed every kind of rumor and falsehood. They encouraged removal of the “enemy race” from the West Coast as a military necessity, and fully supporting the president‟s final decision.
The prisoners themselveswere deliberately kept in the dark. The justification for the removal was ostensibly to thwart espionage and sabotage, but babies, young children, the elderly, the infirm, children from orphanages, and even children adopted by Caucasian parents were not exempt from removal. In all, over 17,000 children under 10 years old, 2,000 persons over 65 years old, and 1,000 handicapped or infirm persons were removed.
“……my mother got us up before dawn. She had us dress in as many layers of clothes as we could wear. She had packed everything she though we could carry in suitcases and duffel bags the night before. They were left by the door. Just after dawn a military truck stopped in front of our house and two soldiers hopped down and marched up to our door. The carried rifles with the bayonets attached and pistols. One of them knocked on the door using the butt of his rifle until my mother came and opened it. No one said a word. She had us carry our little duffels down to the truck where the soldiers lifted us up. I looked back to my mother standing in the street, carrying her suitcase with my little sister held tightly against her breast. She had tears streaming down her cheeks.” ___James Ota Koga
Stuffed into the fairgrounds in the blistering heat of a San Joaquin valley summer where temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they waited patiently. Most followed the lead of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and cooperated with the removal as a means to prove their loyalty. A few were vocally opposed to the removal and later took legal action that eventually reached the United States Supreme Court.
It was to no avail. In 1944, when the Pacific War was well on its way to being won and there was no rational argument for keeping Americans in the camps ,the court handed down its ruling in Korematsu vs United States. In a majority opinion joined by five other justices, Associate Justice Hugo Black held that the need to protect against espionage by Japan outweighed the rights of Americans of Japanese descent. Black wrote that: “Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race”, but rather “because the properly constituted military authorities … decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast” during the war against Japan. The dissenting justices Frank Murphy, Robert H. Jackson, and Owen J. Roberts all criticized the exclusion as racially discriminatory; Murphy wrote that the exclusion of Japanese “falls into the ugly abyss of racism” and was akin to the “the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial Fascist tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy.”
The other side of the coin was represented by Harold L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior and personal friend of both the Roosevelts who wrote: ”It has long been my belief that the greatness of America has risen in large part out of the diversity of her peoples. Before the war, peoples of Japanese ancestry were a small but valuable element in our population. Their record of law-abiding, industrious citizenship was surpassed by no other group. Their contributions to the arts, agriculture, and science were indisputable evidence that the majority of them believed in America and were growing with America.
Among the casualties of war has been America’s Japanese minority. It is my hope that the wounds which it has received in the great uprooting will heal. It is my prayer that other Americans will fully realize that to condone the whittling away of the rights of any one minority group is to pave the way for us all to lose the guarantees of the Constitution. As the President has said, “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” ___Harold L. Ickes
Notwithstanding any of this resistance, the massive engine of the federal government simply rolled on. What had been put in motion could not be stopped.
The Howlings of the military, government, and press drove the evacuation forward…..
“The best bugler in the G-damned United State Army,” so said First Sergeant Milton Warden, a soldier of the 298th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division stationed on Oahu in December 1941. A line spoken about Robert E Lee Prewitt, a character in James Jones novel “From Here to Eternity.” Made into a film, a quite wonderful film, in 1953. In the film Prewitt plays the greatest rendition of Taps ever recorded. He plays it for his dead friend Maggio and as an ode to the “Crummy Life” of the soldier.
Taps refers to the three traditional rim-shots, or taps played on the drum at the end of the call.
It ends with the words, “All is well, safely rest, God is nigh…”
To all our troops who gave up their lives for our country. Rest in peace.
The bugle call, “Taps”, was likely composed by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, who commanded 3rd Brigade, 1st Div in the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac during our Civil War. Butterfield wrote the tune at Gaines Mill, Virginia in 1862 after a bloody battle in which his division suffered severe losses and he, himself was badly wounded. Gaines mill was one of the seven days battles fought near Richmond Virginia. My great-great-grandmothers young husband was killed there as was his brother. The third brother had died at Bull Run. Butterfield himself was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the Civil War Brigadier Generals led from the front and suffered enormously heavy casualties on both sides.
Within a year of its composition it was being played by both armies, Confederate and Union.
The actor shown above, Montgomery Clift learned to play the bugle for his roll in the movie though the recording was actually made by trumpeter Mannie Klein. Klein was a swing band trumpeter and played for such greats as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whitman and in the fifties, many West Coast Jazz groups. He played the bugle parts in “Here to Eternity” and Picolo Trumpet on the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
The book on which the movie was based almost perfectly encapsulated army life at Schofield Barracks, Oahu just before the of WWII. The characters are based on the old depression era professional army. These are the men that fought at Guadalcanal and the early island battles of the Pacific war. Almost all were killed or wounded holding back the Japanese while America geared itself up. There is a great debt owed their memory.
James Jones, the man who wrote “Here to Eternity” was an enlisted man who served during the war and was in fact, a shadow of these men and their times. He enlisted at 17, lying about his age. He served with the 27th Division at Schofield, witnessed Pearl Harbor and was wounded at Guadalcanal.
His book is considered to be one of America’s best wartime chronicles, ranked along with other combat veterans who wrote after the war.
Joseph Heller, B-25 Bombardier, “Catch 22,”
Kurt Vonnegut, Scout, 106th Infantry Division* “Slaughterhouse five,”
Paul Fussel, 2nd Lieutenant, 103rd Infantry Division “How I learned to Love the Bomb,”
Norman Mailer, Reconnaissance, 112th Cavalry, “The Naked and the Dead,”
Herman Wouk, Lieutenant U S Navy, USS Zane, “The Caine Mutiny,”
J D Salinger, Counter-Intelligence Unit U S Army France, “Catcher in the Rye.”
John Hersey, War Correspondence, “Hiroshima,”
Roald Dahl, Fighter Pilot, “The BFG,”
Eugene Sledge, Marine Rifleman, “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa,”
Martha Gelhorn, war correspondant, she was the only woman to land at Normandy on June 6th 1944. She was the first writer to enter and report on the Dachau Death Camp. She also served in Korea and Vietnam.*
And James Michener, Lieutenant U S Navy, “Tales of the South Pacific.”
I’ve walked through this quad at Schofield and yes it still exists as do the bullet holes from Japanese machine guns. It will give you the Chicken Skin, particularly at night when it’s filled with ghosts.
Whatever your personal views on war and the U S Military, this war was fought for all the right reasons. Not every war has been but the boys and girls who served in all of them and died for it deserve your respect today. They paid the highest of prices for you.
Note: She was also one of Hemingway’s wives and the only one to dump him for which she deserves a medal.
Barbara and her mother sat down on sofa. Side by side on the sofa. “Mother, I don’t know what to do? I’m scared, What should I do.”
“Barbara, you have to tell him. This is a small town not like Santa Barbara or Long Beach. People here will not look on a divorce lightly. You have to tell him. If he or anyone else ever found out, well, you can’t just let it go. If this relationship is that important, George has to know.”
The next time the were together she waited until the end of the night and then she found the courage to tell him. She told him all of it.
He didn’t call for a week.
Four years earlier Barbara had a boyfriend in Santa Barbara. She loved her life there. She lived in what was still a pretty small city, a city defined by wealth and privilege. It was like night and day when compared to Taft or Bakersfield, a couple of hardscrabble oil towns where she had lived growing up. She’d met a teaching pro at the Montecito Tennis club where she played when she could. She hung out with a crowd of high school friends who were financially better off than her parents and it was exciting to have a glimpse into theat life. At seventeen it must have seemed the weight of that existence, the constant moving, leaving friends, and then having to repeat the cycle all over again and again and again could be over. She felt she was in a place where she could stay a long time, as her father was fond of saying “We’ve lived in practically every hellhole in the state and I’m tired of it.” She was too.
As if to drive the point home they moved several times in the two years they stayed in Santa Barbara. Houses, apartments and even motels. Bruce was hoping for a promotion and expected to leave Santa Barbara and finally when they were living out in Goleta it happened. He was drilling out at the Elwood lease on the old Dos Pueblos rancho when they called and ordered him down to Long Beach and Signal Hill. The family was headed out again and Barbara didn’t want to go.
Her solution was to marry. Her parents weren’t happy, particularly he father, but she was determined to stay. After all she was eighteen and she could do what she wanted. Her father though that he was a poor choice and he let her know it. He had now spent nearly twenty years in a hard job with hard men to handle and he wasn’t particularly sensitive to her wants. There were some hard words spoken but she went ahead and married anyway. Bruce was hard on her about it. Her mother perhaps less so, her own mother had been divorced, though she was a fiercely independent woman and really didn’t care what anyone thought. She was entirely different than her granddaughter. Nevertheless Barbara was left to fend for herself. Neither Barbara nor her parents backed down.
He was a good looking guy, athletic and personable on the surface. He worked as a tennis pro and as a bellboy and bartender at the Biltmore Hotel. It was a ritzy place in the thirties and catered to the wealthy, movie stars and politicians. A short drive from Los Angeles, its Spanish California revival architecture set in 22 acres of land tucked between Butterfly Beach and the Santa Ynez foothills in Montecito would have been a paradise for a girl raised in the oil patch.
Barbara was a cocktail waitress and they lived in the workers bungalows on the hotel grounds. Barbara’s family saw them occasionally on the holidays. Her parents missed her but these gatherings were often strained by the disapproval they had difficulty hiding. In 1940,she and her husband came up to Arroyo for thanksgiving staying in the old motor court north of town. There is a picture of the family taken in front of it, everyone looking directly at the camera except Barbara. Here husband has his arm around her shoulders, a cigarette dangling from his fingers while she looks to her right. She looks desperately unhappy. She has the look of the thousand yard stare, something seen on the faces of soldiers who have seen combat. It’s prophetic.
Later that year her aunt Martha who lived in Goleta while her husband worked the Elwood Oil Field saw her niece walking down State Street in Santa Barbara. Martha crossed the street to say hello. Barbara looked unhappy and sported a black eye she had unsuccessfully tried to cover with make-up. They spoke just a few words, shed some tears and both continued on their separate ways. When Martha returned home she told Elmer and he said we need to call Bruce and Eileen and tell them, so they did.
Bruce got on the phone and called her in Santa Barbara. It was a rough conversation. She cried over the phone and Bruce was very careful not to tell her “I told you so,” instead letting her talk herself out then telling her that if she wanted to, she could come home. And so she did, arriving the next day, stepping off the Greyhound Stage at the depot in Taft. She was welcomed with open arms.
Bruce and Eileen helped her get a divorce, not a common thing in California at the time. Roughly two divorces per thousand couples were asked for and granted. People saw divorce as a failure both ethically and morally. “You must be attentive to your spirit and you must not be unfaithful,” Says the Bible in Malachi, the 39th and last book in the old testament. The feeling that divorce was a failure was common belief and that women were considered more at fault than men. It wasn’t the Scarlet Letter but it was close. Things like this were kept secret for shame, deserved or not. Barbara divorced him for good reason but the shame would have been entirely hers.
To top it all off she needed twenty-five dollars to legally change her name but didn’t have it and neither did her parents. She had to keep it. She very carefully stowed the marriage license at the bottom of her trunk and never spoke of it. It remained there until her death. Hidden away for fifty-four years, unknown to us.
Then after a week, George did call. It was alright. It was all put right.
Jack and Annie Shannon and brother Jackie adored Barbara as Bruce and Eileen did George. Some common sense and a great deal of love made it alright. Bruce, Eileen and Patsy were to leave for Long Beach and Barbara didn’t want to go, but this time for a good reason. She stayed in the little house on Short Street and her new friends cheered her on for George was quite the catch and they all knew it.
George was a man of good character, he never lied, he would wave at you on the street even if you weren’t looking and I was once told by a man who knew him well that he was the “Finest man he ever knew.” A child can never know his parents as young but I saw the way men, and particularly the generation of women who watched him grow up treated him. Those old girls were indicators of the esteem in which they held him. I used to go with my dad to buy birthday presents for my mother. I Can’t remember anything he ever bought her, but in Louise Ralph’s dress shop, Louise and Florence fussed over him like a couple of mother hens, gently nudging him toward the perfect gift. I certainly remember that. The way they treated him said a lot, even to a kid. My mother was the recipient of a running commentary of hints and nudges, for a married woman can no more see a single man stay single than she can stop her own breath.
Things got serious in ’42. George was growing tomatoes for the army at Camp San Luis and Barbara was working steadily downtown and for the both of them the future looked bright. No need to worry about the war, he was deferred as essential industry and it seemed to both of them like it was inevitable. It was and he asked her if she would marry him. She said yes.
For those of you who have lived in small towns you will know what newspapers were like eighty plus years ago. Each and every event in town was chronicled, births, deaths, who was visiting out of town and where the boys in the service were. They printed addresses and phone numbers too. Marriages were a pretty big deal. The weekly Herald-Recorder made a science out of them. First the betrothal, then the bridal shower and finally the nuptials.
In the wedding announcement above Barbara is listed as Barbara Hall which was her maiden name. When she signed the wedding register she would have to use her married, legal name and the paper would surely pick up on that.This presented a problem. Barbara’s divorce was not to be divulged, ever. It would open the door to sniping and moral judgements that neither family wanted to see. The question was, what to do? Run away, elope?
Elope it was. Georges mother Annie and family friend Billie Records would stand up for the couple so it was decided to motor up to Salinas and get married. They took dad’s little gray Plymouth coupe and my grandparents Chevrolet sedan and made the drive. My grandmother made the arrangements with the minister through the First Presbyterian church in Arroyo Grande of which she had been a member for over fifty years.
Marriage by a minister with only two people in attendance doesn’t take long and they were soon taking pictures and even made a short film celebrating the event. Eighty eight years later you can still view the little film. There are hugs for the new mother-in-law and Billie. A kiss by the newlyweds after which Barbara turns away from the camera in embarrassment and George takes his pocket handkerchief and grinning with absolute delight wipes off his wife’s lipstick, another big squeeze, a handshake with the minister who appears equally delighted. They say their final goodbyes and were off headed for San Francisco on their honeymoon.*
They avoided judgement and there the secret lay, hidden from view for over half a century.
They stayed together for 54 years until my mother passed away in 1997. Cancer is cruel but they hung in it together. Barbara’s friends came to say goodbye, some of the same girls who celebrated her marriage those many long years ago.
Barbara was 79 when she died, young enough that many of her friends outlived her. Her funeral was a big one. The kind where people come to celebrate the life of friend, a well known community member, some one who spent her life working downtown in a very small town like ours. She knew everyone and they knew her.
Her only surviving sibling, little sister Patsy came down from Shingle Springs to say goodbye. If you’ve forgotten who she is, she’s the little girl Barbara took for a walk so it wouldn’t seem as if she was trolling Traffic Way for George. She didn’t fool anybody especially George. Who hitchhikes just a block from home. The rules of romance are immutable though and lovers must do what they must do. George used to tell us that story at the dinner table, he with a twinkle in his eye and she with a blush. We loved her the more for it.
A lingering death, a funeral, a wake are exhausting things. After Barbara was laid to rest aunt Patsy and her children had to leave for home and it was decided to meet at the Apple Farm for breakfast before they went on their separate ways. After eating we all sat around enjoying coffee and a little catch up when Aunt Pat turned to me and said, “Did you know your mother was divorced?” I was absolutely stunned. I was fifty two. My brothers and I kept wondering how did we not know this? They kept a secret for fifty three years, fifty three years and never told anyone.
Barbara’s family knew of course and Billie Records, my grandmother Shannon too but no one else. As far as we know not a single soul in Arroyo Grande knew of it and if the did they never spoke where we could hear them.
When I was a baby I lay in a crib with my life long friend Dwight as our mothers drank coffee and chatted in the kitchen. His mother was always a special friend of my mother and as I grew up, mine too. She was a kind and generous person and raised her son to be the same. Years after my mother passed he and I spent some time together and I told him the story and then he told me that his mother had been divorced too and he never knew until after she died and he found the divorce decree in her private papers.
In todays world where no one can or cares to keep secrets it seems to me that something has been lost. Mom and dad weren’t afraid of it. What they were afraid of was the effect it might have on their children and families. They weren’t the only ones either. So have we lost something? Tell me if you can.
Notes: The honeymoon letter my mother wrote is in the index under “Letters.”
“Mom, Mom, there’s somebody at the door.” Eight year old Patsy yelled as she ran into the kitchen and began yanking at her mother’s apron. “There’s a man at the door.”
“Just a minute, Patsy, hold your horses please,” she said, wiping her hands on the apron and turning for the front door.
Bruce and Eileen had just returned to the little house on Short Street the month before, bringing Their daughters Barbara and little Patsy, the Midlife Surprise with them. Surprise it was too, supposedly Grandma had locked herself in the closet and cried all day when she found out she was pregnant again. Her youngest was already fourteen and it all seemed too much to bear. Little Patsy turned out to be a delight though and she got over it.
Bruce had been transferred by his boss at Signal Oil to oversee oil production in the Santa Maria and Price Canyon fields. They had had to wait for the renters to move out and stayed in the old Arroyo Motor Hotel on South Bridge Street. Eileen and her daughters had made the miracle Thanksgiving dinner that fall of 1941 in the tiny motor court kitchen, cooking the turkey and fixins’ on a single hot plate. Twenty two years an oilfield wife teaches those kinds of skills. Make do with what you got, learned the hard way.
Eileen had called the Hillcrest Dairy as soon as they moved in and opened an account to have milk delivered. They had had milk delivered from the Shannon’s dairy when they had lived in Arroyo Grande in the early thirties. She picked up the phone and dialed 223 F-13, smiling to herself, remembering their slogan, “You can whip our cream but you can’t beat our milk.”
When she headed for the door she heard whoever was at the screen knock politely again. As she neared the door she saw a tall young man with a shock of dark hair standing there and smiling.
“Mrs Hall?” he said, “I’m George Shannon from the dairy and I have your bill.” Eileen saw that he was looking at Barbara, doing the I’m not looking but still looking as young men do. Not exactly sly but just getting a gander at her.
“Why don’t you come in while I write you a check?” She turned for the kitchen to get her purse and checkbook, walking back to the rear of the house her low heels clunking on the wooden floors.
George waited in the front room. He was looking out of the corner of his eye at the girl sitting on the sofa and playing solitaire at the coffee table. She looked up at him and smiled, laying down the Jack of hearts on the Queen.
Eileen could hear a conversation in the front room so she took a few more heartbeats to get the check written before calling from the kitchen, “Barbara come and get the check and give it to the young man, will you?”
Barbara went back, took the check and then handed it to the milkman, George, and smiled again. He smiled back, took the check and said “Thank you,” and walked out the door. Barbara watched him from the doorway and when he got in his car, he looked back and she was still standing holding the screen open. She smiled again and waved. He smiled too.
Eileen Hall, my grandmother was nobodies fool. She came into the front room and she could smell the ozone left from the lightning strike. Zap. Mission accomplished. She though perhaps the hook was set.
After he was gone Eileen and Barbara talked a little bit about it. When George was talking he mentioned a his schedule, what he did each day and Barbara remembered that he brought milk into the creamery next to the Methodist Church each day. After a couple days when he hadn’t called or stopped by she thought she would try and force the issue so she took her little sister and walked up Valley Road toward Marsalek’s. She knew he’d be coming down to the creamery and about what time. Patsy was along so it wouldn’t be too obvious what she was up to.
Sure enough the old dark blue Hillcrest Dairy truck came along and he pulled over. She tried to appear casual as if nothing was going on, like she hadn’t even seen him. George offered her a ride home so she and Patsy climbed in, Barbara next to George and Patsy on the passenger door.
Remember that Arroyo Grande had hardly a thousand people at the time. That included people living in pretty distant outlying areas and the town itself was pretty small. Barbara’s home was just about a block away. George would have been pretty dense if he couldn’t read the situation. When the truck rolled up to the house, George reached across and pulled the door handle for Patsy to hop out. She climbed down and ran into the house. Barbara lingered. When she came in the door Eileen asked her what had happened and she smiled from ear to ear and said, “He asked me out.”
And so it began. Once a week or so George would show up at the door and the two of them take in a movie at the Mission theater on Bridge Street, sandwiched between the bus depot and the telephone exchange on one side and an old Saloon on the other. They went to first run movies of the day such as Walt Disney’s Bambi, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby which my dad particularly liked, being a life long fan of Crosby’s voice. They saw Casablanca there too.
The old Arroyo Grande hall known as the “Rat Race” had slowed down because of the war. Harry Chapek, a lifelong friend of my dad had joined up on January 21st and was training as a 5th Armored Division tanker. He had fronted the house band at the hall since high school but with so many boys gone already local bands were hard to come by. They danced there too when they could.
Weekdays touring big bands came to the Pismo Pavilion where George and Barbara danced to Benny Goodman and Woody Hermans “Thundering Herd.” The managers would spread cornstarch on the dance floor to make it easier to glide and slide when twirling to the Lindy and the Two-Step Foxtrot. There was The Ward theater in Pismo and the pleasures of dining at Plessa’s restaurant or drinks and dinners at Matties where Mattie herself would tell ribald stories to the customers waiting for a table.
Mattie Belle was from Texas and a “Corker,” my grandfather said, meaning she was loud, profane and knew all the little town secrets. She had the gift of remembrance and she could remember a person she hadn’t seen for twenty years. “Jack, how are you,” she’d say, “Let me buy you a drink.” The secret was, that if she could get one in you, you’d buy more, wherein lay the profits. As for the secrets, a secret well kept is a lever. She kept her girls down in the cribs on Hinds Street where she collected information as well as currency. It’s the secret to being a good operator and the security needed to stay in business and out of trouble. It was a wide open town in the early forties and if you needed it you could get it. If they didn’t have it , it didn’t exist.
Dad had it made with these places because his family delivered milk to all the restaurants and cafes, grocery stores and homes in all the five-cities. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. Barbara was charmed.
For a girl raised on the go, moving and shedding friends was what she was used to. Dating a man who was firmly rooted and the recipient of all the friendliness and care a small town can lavish on a person was a wonder to her.
Our little town was so small that you could contract all your business in just one block. Barbara left her home and walked across the swinging bridge on the way to work. She was the Jill of all trades at Cornelias dress store. She could stitch and sew, she had a marvelous eye for color and she could charm, the residue of a life trying to find the popular girls and boys in each school she ever went to. “Corny” Conrow treated her as a daughter. Barbara was starting to feel as if she was living in a place where she belonged, not just passing through. She liked it.
The Conrow’s were good friends of George’s parents and played cards with them once a week. No doubt Jack and Annie heard about this new girl George was seeing. Cornelia liked her very much and they would have known that. The Women’s Club, The Rebekahs, the bridge clubs, local festivals was where women shared what they knew. This new young woman was being investigated. It’s a little town thing. Is she good enough for our George? In a place like this you marry everyone. The good is shared, the bad is locked away. It’s like a Mafia.
She soon knew everyone on the block. The Pruess’s who had the Rexall, Hilda Harkness who owned the other dress store. Buzz Langenbeck and his wife Vareen, he cut men’s hair and she gave women their perms right behind the pink curtain at the rear of the barber shop. Clair Gibson down at the bank on the corner. There was Madsen’s hardware store, The Greyhound bus stop and cafe, The Quitman’s in their little men’s store and Bill Zeyen selling workingman’s clothes just up the street. Across from Cornelias was Bennetts grocery where “Rusty,” a confirmed redhead and his wife Muriel held court in their apron’s. Judge Jerry Dana presided over his municipal court and was fond of leaning out of his second story office window and waving to folks on the street.
She told us kids that in those days, women didn’t smoke on the street nor wore trousers, it was just too daring. Men tipped their hands to the ladies, never swore where a woman or child could hear them and kept their business to themselves. A safe place to be with kindly people who made you feel welcome.
As George was doing his courting he was slowly changing from formal dates at restaurants and theaters to the more mundane but even more important time together doing the ordinary. He would pick her up dressed in his boots and jeans, she in “Overhauls”, her hair up in a blue bandana which was becoming the fashion for young women and off they would go in the old milk wagon hauling milk and cream to the Golden State Creamery or running the routes to the grocery stores. There is an old movie film where she runs around the truck, laughing, and climbs in the passenger door as George smiles and waves from the drivers seat. Thats how she met people like Jack Ford who owned Ford’s Market in Pismo Beach or the Montgomery’s who had a little corner market in Oceano. They delivered to the old CCC camp down by the Southern Pacific tracks which was being converted to an R & R Center for the tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors flooding the county and filling all the new training camps to capacity. The war was everywhere and it was busy changing the entire population. As my father would say, Adolph Hitler stamped out the depression just like stepping on a bug.
Early in 1943 things between them were getting pretty serious. When a young man writes songs for a girl its all over for him. He has willingly put his foot in the tar baby. If you think you know your parents, well, you only know the version standing in front of you. You really only know what they let you see. That younger version is packed away somewhere, a place you will likely never go. The sad tale is, most never have an opportunity to dig that young person out, either because they never ask or when they do, it’s “Oh, you don’t want to know about that. It was long ago.” A child who listens carefully to adults gets glimpses of those people but most of that life is hidden from them. When they talk to you, everything they say is censored to some extent. Snippets from their lives are presented as lessons for you to learn. They are building character and only some blocks fit.
In the fall of forty-two, Bruce was promoted to Chief Drilling Superintendent for Signal Oil and Gas. This meant a move to Long Beach and the end of the families Arroyo Grande adventure. Barbara was not happy. She thought things were going so well that she didn’t want to leave. She had her job and she had George. She wanted to stay.
Part Four next.
Barbara and her mother sat down on sofa. Side by side on the sofa. “Mother, I don’t know what to do? I’m so scared.”
My family had been in the dairy business since 1923. Both my uncle Jackie and my father, George had literally been raised in a dairy barn. My father was barely eleven years old when my grandparents, Jack senior or Big Jack as everyone called him, and his wife Annie Gray Shannon started their business. They lived and worked on land she had inherited from her uncle, a prominent pioneer in the Arroyo Grande valley.
Both boys were at work as soon as they could carry a bucket or push a broom around the mangers after the milking was done. As they grew, more chores were added until many of the hours they weren’t in school were consumed by work. Anyone who has done it will tell you that it is the hardest farm work of all. Cows never take a vacation or a day off. Your customers expect their milk will be delivered on time every day. Jesus waits, Santa waits, even dinner waits until all the chores are done.
My grandmother was determined that both of her boys would go to college, a pretty rare thing for boys from Arroyo Grande. She herself was a graduate of the University of California, something pretty rare for women in the early twentieth century. Her uncle, a successful and wealthy landowner paid the tuition of numerous young women in order that they could attend college.
Two of those girls did teach, one the daughter of a neighbor has a local school named after her. The other was one of the Tyler sisters. Margaret and Harriet, more fondly known as Mamie and Hattie grew up with my grandmother in the big house on the hill above Arroyo Grande. They were part of an extended group of young people who practically lived in Patrick and Sarah Moore’s home. You see, the Moores were childless themselves, and so they welcomed any and all kids who wished to to share their home. Though my grandmothers siblings lived in Oso Flaco she never lacked for friends her own age. The promise made to my great-grandparents that the Moores would pay for my grandmother’s University education if they allowed her to be raised by Patrick and Sarah Moore was fulfilled when she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1908.
My dad, George, attended the Arroyo Grande Grammar school when the old building on south Bridge Street housed the elementary school kids downstairs and the high school upstairs. He spent his k-12 years, all in the same building. His teachers did a good job helping him prepare for college and when he graduated in 1930 he moved to the new Santa Maria Junior College. Already deep in the depression his parents didn’t have the money to send him to Cal for four years so the school in Santa Maria was his only option.
At the time it was housed in the beautiful old brick building on south Broadway where portions of it still stand today, chiefly the Ethel Pope auditorium. Ethel was one of my dad’s teachers. Allan Hancock College was still twenty four years in the future and the school was not relocated until 1954 when it was renamed for Captain Allan Hancock who donated part of the land for the new campus.
By 1930 when dad started Junior College, the highway from Arroyo Grande to Santa Maria had been paved in concrete but kids still did not have cars as they do today. He would hitch a ride with a classmate on Monday morning and spend the week in the home of Walter Word and his wife. Walter was the football coach and taught Physiology and was greatly admired by my dad. On my first day a Allan Hancock College, the renamed SMJC, he came to my classroom to introduce himself and offer me any help I might need. That was 33 years after my dad stayed with them. I could see why my father felt he was such a good man.
SMJC had about seventy students, freshman and sophomores and though small, featured the kind of campus life typical in the nineteen twenties and thirties.
Old photos in my dads yearbooks for that time are typical. They feature the same subjects you see today. Students, still just kids at heart recline on the lawn in casual repose, dancing, acting self-conscious and wacky. There are sports and their stars, poetry, including my fathers “Ode to Nature” for which he got an A in English 1B, Miss Pope’s class There is a little moral tale written by Arroyo Grande’s Katherine Routzhan too. You may have known her as Kay Phelan, wife to Gus.
In the above photo the girls are trying to look serious in their newly shortened skirts and “Middy” blouses. Note the feet. They no doubt have their stockings “rolled”* in a style once considered scandalous by their mothers. Simply shocking.
Dad had been student body president in his senior year at Arroyo Grande High School and his parents expected him to do well in college and he did. His mother Annie certainly expected that but perhaps his father Jack, even more so. Jack Shannon hadn’t completed the eight grade and though a successful man had learned the value of a first rate education. Dad was elected student body president his sophomore year at SMJC. He played football ran track and captained the basketball team where he earned the nickname “Ding.” I asked him why, expecting some funny answer like dingbat or dingus or some such thing but he said that in the 1930’s style basketball when you made a shot the bell rang. This was to both signal a scoring change and to stop play. In the 30’s they had to jump ball after every score. It was a much slower game then than it is today. There was no dunking, and the two-handed set-shot ruled the day. Foul shots were two-handed and under handed, the so-called “Granny” shot. Dad was a prolific scorer, hence the nickname. When I was young he couldn’t be beat in a shooting contest.
At school, boys who played any sport apparently had to have a nickname . Going through the books you find Herb “Tog” Tognazzini, “Buster” Rice, “Artie” Classen, and Albert “Gunboat” Souza who obviously had the biggest feet, hence the “Gunboat.”
A funny point of contact between us was a father-son discussion we had when I was in high school and I was explaining that kids were feeling oppressed by Mr. Hitchen and his strict dress code. He laughed and said that all teenagers push against parental restrictions. He said that when he was in high school and college the style was for boys to wear a sparkling clean white shirt every day and that each would endeavor to have out do all the other boys with the filthiest corduroy pants. He and my uncle Jack would wear their cords to work in the dairy barn where they would be spattered with cow manure and milk mixed with a dash of sticky adobe dirt and some dead flies thrown in for extra measure. It was considered lucky if you lived on a farm because you had a great advantage over town boys. He said he used to compete with his friend George Oliver for cords that were so dirty they could stand up on their own. His mother didn’t care for it one bit either. She had to hand launder those shirts and she made the boys leave their pants outside at night so as not to disturb her delicate sense of smell, being “Lace Curtain” Irish and all. I didn’t believe any of it of course because I knew my grandmother to be a stickler for cleanliness. Long afterwards when I got ahold of his SMJC yearbook and his photos at Cal I found out it was all true, perhaps even more then he described. Ralph Hansens’s cords predict his future as the owner of the largest tractor dealership in Santa Maria. Perhaps oil and grease are even better than manure and milk.
Those old photos were also part of my “Sex” lectures. When I was in high school, creeping hemlines were the bane of Miss Varian and Mrs Mankins existence. Girls would secretly roll their waistbands to hike the hem just a little too much for the dress code. My vote, of course, was all for it. It had a tendency to reduce grades among boys but I don’t think that bothered anyone but the powers that be. At least in my senior year typing class Mister Simons had the good sense to place the few boys in the front row demonstrating his male astuteness. Dad and I were looking at the old Mascot yearbook and I commented that the girls dress was pretty conservative with high neck blouses and mid calf skirts, and loose fitting too, like they weren’t trying to draw any attention to themselves. Dad laughed out loud, he said, “Mike, girls always find a way, they didn’t wear their “shimmies”** under those cotton dresses and when they walked through the sunlight you could see right through them.” It was one of those revelatory moments when you begin to see your father as perhaps not the grown up you’ve always seen him as but a once young guy like you.
My father went up to Berkeley in 1932. Sadly, one of the few from his Junior Class to do so. Nearly every person in his graduating class in Santa Maria indicated in their bio’s that they planned on attending university, particularly the girls. For most it was not to be. The depth of the depression in the mid-thirties was a reality and many of that generation weren’t able to further their education beyond Junior College. Instead of an education at one of the finest universities, a job as a typist was what the the future held. An awful lot of “What ifs” are connected with the Great Depression, sad to say.
I have a letter written by my dad to his parents on his first day in Berkeley. He visited his aunt Sadie, my grandmothers sister and stopped by to visit Flora Harloe, a very old friend of the family and widow of the renowned sea captain Marcus Harloe. Later he went to the Bursars office to pay his fees and collect his books. What is most striking about it is the cost of that education. His class fees and books for fall semester 1932 were $37.50. A very modest sum by todays standards. But, if you take into consideration that the Average hourly wage across the country was .45 cents an hour and could be as low as .15 cents it was not quite so modest. The average annual income for a family of four was roughly $1,300.00 a year and not coincidently my grandparents paid income taxes on $1,372.76 in 1932. To help support himself he worked as a waiter/busboy at a nearby fire station and pledged a fraternity where he lived. Jack and Annie were able to send him $5.00 a month to supplement his living. Gasoline was .10 a gallon but he had no car, when he came home to Arroyo Grande for summer he hitched a ride with someone he knew or stood on the side of the highway with his thumb out. He said that sometimes it was hours between cars and he depended mostly on trucks to get home.
My father was fortunate to attend Cal during its largest expansion. In 1930, Robert Gordon Sproul became the first native Californian and alumnus of the University to serve as its President. He was to guide its fortunes longer than any of his predecessors–through three cataclysmic decades that included the Depression, World War II, and the birth of the atomic bomb. And he was to see the University attain world renown for scientific achievement in a period when the body of scientific knowledge began to expand at a rate unprecedented in history.
Sproul instituted expansion of the library until it was considered the finest in the nation. He attracted professors like Ernest Lawrence whose study of Physics resulted in him developing the Cyclotron and smashing the atom. The Lawrence-Livermore laboratories are named for him. Robert Oppenheimer was a professor during my dads tenure. Some of the finest academicians in the country were on campus in the 1930’s. Cal was famed for professors who had or would win the Nobel Prize for physics, medicine and economics. My father worked hard, made good marks and received a first class education.
Dad graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1934 and though his parents thought he should become a lawyer, his only desire was to come home and be a farmer. Thats what he did too.
Both he and my uncle Jackie worked for their parents on the dairy for the rest of the depression and were still there when the war began. They lived at home in the little house on the state highway now called El Campo road and built by my great-grandparents in 1922. It was pretty typical of houses built in those days. Simple board and batt siding, you went in the back door every day of the year except Christmas eve when you used the front. Family and friends knew those kinds of social graces. A knock at the front door meant a stranger to that house. It had one little bathroom, two bedrooms and a tiny office for my grandmother to do her books in. The entire dairy operation was run from that room. Dad said he nearly bought a house in town on Garden Street next to the Kitchell’s for $1,500.00 dollars but his brother convinced him to rent some property together on the mesa and grow hay to sell to my grandfather for the dairy cattle. It was a drought year, the oats didn’t amount to anything and the money evaporated. A lesson in hard farming. No money, no house. He figured that it was a lesson about buying real estate and didn’t buy another a piece of property for another forty-four years.
Through all the years after University dad kept his head down and worked. He worked for himself, doing some farming on the side but primarily worked the dairy for his folks. He once told me that in all those years he was never paid. He said he was just given room and board. He said jobs were very hard to come buy then so perhaps he was fortunate in that. I don’t ever recall him showing any desire to see the world. He was perfectly content with where and who he was. He once asked me why I wanted to travel so much, saying, “Why you can spend your entire life in San Luis County and never drive every road or see everything worth seeing.”
The war started in ’41 and he took the train out of Oceano for Oakland and volunteered for Navy OCS on December the ninth, a Tuesday. People on the west coast were anxious, confused and afraid. No one knew what might be coming. Young men like my dad were enraged and wanted to do something, anything. His parents took him to the depot and waved him aboard the train in a scene all too familiar to folks of that generation or any generation for that matter. With his degree in hand he left his aunt Sadie’s house in Oakland and walked into the Navy’s recruiting office. They were more than happy to sign him up right there. He filled out the paperwork, was interviewed and sent for a physical.Thats where he ran into a problem, during his physical. The doctors found that his right leg was quite a bit shorter than the left. This was likely from a football back injury he suffered in high school. He always had some nerve damage after that but In those days kids just toughed it out until it stopped hurting. At the beginning of the war, the Navy was only taking the perfectly fit so they sent him home. He told me that if he’d done it again in 1943 they’d have taken him, saying “You don’t ever standoff a level floor in the Navy. Things would change a great deal for him by then though so he couldn’t. He went home, back to the dairy.
So there he was, 29 years old, living at home working for his parents again. Get up at 4:30 and go milk. Hook up the milking machine, strip the teats, run the Pasteurizer, run the bottler, load the delivery trucks, hit the road on the routes, take the leftover milk up to the creamery, do it all again in the afternoon and when necessary go out to the customers houses with the delivery receipts and collect the money.
He didn’t know it yet but he was about to catch a break, a lucky break. A very lucky break
My grandmother said, “George, can you go make the collections today, please?”
“Sure mom,” he said, and he went out and got into his little grey Chevy coupe with the box of delivery receipts on the seat next to him and set off.
He was 29, single and very handsome.
Note* The rolled stocking, complete with roll garter, had its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. It was sandwiched between a period when women wore corsets with garters used to hold up stockings and a time when women’s undergarments included less bulky, but still cumbersome garter belts, also with attached garters. So how’d it work? You’d slip on your stocking, slide the garter roll up your leg to the edge of the stocking (mid-thigh, usually) and fold the stocking edge over the garter, rolling it down your leg until it was just where you wanted it (generally below the knee).
Note** In Western countries, the chemise (Shimmy) as an undergarment fell out of fashion in the early part of the 20th century, and was generally replaced by a brassiere, girdle, or a full slip. Panties for the first time came to be commonly worn.