Friday, October 26, 2007

The "Greatest Generation"

Story by Esther Avila
Contributed photo / Ivanhoe watchtower
The Fresno Bee / October 26, 2007

Watchtowers sprang up all over Tulare County
after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They served as lookouts for incoming Japanese aircraft.

Stories of the 'Greatest Generation'

Tulare County members of the 'Greatest Generation' share memories of World War II era.

TULARE -- They remember rationing their food, school air raid drills and blackouts.

More than 100 Tulare County residents who are members of the "Greatest Generation" have shared memories of their experiences during the World War II era as part of an ambitious project aimed at preserving history. These "oral histories" are now available to the public.

The stories, part of a Tulare County history project, span from 1941 to 1946.

"This whole program was conceived in 2003 when I needed to write a grant," said Judith Wood, county reference librarian and project director at an Oct. 14 celebration party for the people involved at the Tulare Historical Museum. "I thought it would be good to get California stories of what the people were doing here in Tulare County during World War II."

The project, titled "Years of Valor, Years of Hope: Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946," was born.

"The main question we wanted answered was how that time frame affected them and how it affected the way they are today," Wood said.

They recruited 20 people who were then trained to do the oral histories, she said. In addition, they found 100 people who lived in Tulare County during that time frame.

"We started interviewing in 2003 and started editing the stories in 2005," Wood said. "We ended with five boxes of tapes and transcripts of 104 different interviews."

Among the stories is that of Strathmore resident Ted H. Iles who was 70 in October 2003 when he was interviewed by Kris Gray for the project.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in December of 1941, Iles said he was 8. Because his family was poor, the rationing that followed of meat, sugar and other essentials did not create a great impact on his family. But something else did. He could not understand why his Japanese-American friends suddenly disappeared.

"They were gone. They were essentially rounded up with their families and sent all over the country to relocation centers," said Iles during that interview. "Suddenly our friends were gone, and we couldn't understand it."

Iles also said he remembers the original flag salute, which included extending the arm towards the flag.

"This continued until the early days of the war -- until they decided that Hitler's salute and that of Mussolini in Italy were too similar," Iles told Gray. "So they terminated the extending of the arm [to] just a laying of the hand over the heart the way we do today."

Iles' stories are but a few of many that have been transcribed into hard copies. The original tapes, as well as transcriptions, can be reviewed at the Annie Mitchell History Room at the Visalia Library.

Five other libraries and museums are also recipients of the four-year project: the Tulare County Historical Museum, the Tulare Historical Museum, the Porterville City Library and the Fresno County Historical Society.

"It is such a great contribution to our local history room," said Sandi Farnsworth with the Porterville Library. "We are losing the history so rapidly. This is great for future generations and a great way to honor our veterans."

Ellen Gorelick, executive director and chief curator of the Tulare Historical Museum, agreed.

"We're losing people of that era. It is a wonderful project that Judith has gotten involved in," Gorelick said. "The project is a combination of a lot of people's hard work. It has been very successful, and we will all benefit from it."

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