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Section below transcribed by Joren D ('09), cleaned by Noah SJ ('09) and Elana L ('07).
My name is Howard Levin, my name is Jessica, my name is Andrea, my name is Emma, my name is Rory, and my name is Jimmy. We are here in Modesto, California on January 27, 2008, interviewing Mr. James Sanders from the Urban School of San Francisco's "Telling Their Stories" project.
Mr. Sanders tell us your one minute spiel.
Jim Sanders. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. Soon after I moved to a farm in Iowa. I went to a country school, it had two rooms. Eight grades in one room and two grades of high school in the other room. The last two years they would go into Grinnell, Iowa to a high school. In 1933, in March we came to California. My father had sold his equipment and everything in Iowa. He had enough money to buy a brand new Ford and drive to California and buy a ranch here. Then I went to various schools here because my grandparents lived here and my great uncle lived here. So it wasn’t like going to a new place where we didn't know anyone. They made sure I went to the schools here. In 1935, we moved to a ranch in Ceres, California. From there I went to seventh and eighth grades in Ceres grammar school and four years to Ceres high school. At that time in 1942, I was seventeen years old and I did start at the junior college but at the same time I was working at a union service station in Modesto. I knew that I was going to be in the service so I didn’t do too well in my first semester of junior college because we knew we were going to leave and I spent more time working and earning some money so I could buy another car. I think I had four cars in my first four years of driving. None of them cost more than thirty dollars and I could work on all of them myself because they were very easy to do. Today I have to go to a mechanic that charges $95 an hour just to look at the car. So what else would you like to know about my background?
What else would you like to know about my background?
No stories, just geographic movements.
In 1942, I eventually was inducted into the army and did my tour of duty from there on.
Big geographic. Ok. Monterey, California and then by train to Colorado Springs, Colorado to a camp called Carson—which is now Fort Carson—and from there down to Tennessee for Military Maneuvers with the Third Army. Then, at that time, we went on after the maneuver up to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey where we learned how to climb down the ropes off of a ship and then on from New Jersey to the New York skyline and a pier there where we got aboard the Queen Mary. There were 22,000 soldiers on the Queen Mary on our six-day trip to England where we landed near Glasgow at a place called Greenwich. From there we went by train south into England—on the boarder of England and Wales—to a town called Hay, H-A-Y, on the Wye river, W-Y-E. And from there we just did maneuvers around England with our ambulances, and got ready for the coming invasion, which was June 6th, 1944.
On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, we left Hay, England for the English coast. It happened to be D-Day when we arrived at the English coast and, because they didn't move out of Normandy in France as rapidly as they thought, and the Germans were pretty tough then, and they were well seasoned troops and we had new troops that had to learn the ropes. So we didn’t actually move to the continent until about the middle of July. We were there for the breakout into Brittany from Normandy on August 1st when Patton's Third Army broke out into Brittany. From there, on across France with very rapid movement because the Germans were in retreat by that time and they wouldn't let us go into Paris. We were in a town called Fontainebleau, just south of Paris. And you said no stories, so I won't tell any stories about going back to Paris.
We're going to come back to that.
And then from there onto Verdun, France—a scene of the First World War which had only been ended a few years before. There are more stories there. Then, onto Metz, France and from there, the Battle of Bulge occurred which was up in Belgium. Patton told Eisenhower he could be up there in thirty-six hours or something. That was the first time we ever drove with headlights and went up to Belgium. After the battle of the Bulge, the war should have been over, but the Germans didn't want to quit. We moved on then into Germany. Our first big city in Germany was Bitburg, and then down to the Rhine River where we crossed the Rhine River at a town called Oppenheim just west of Durnstien. Then from there on up it was the first time we came across the Autobahn. We went north then to Frankfurt and up the Autobahn to Hersfeld, Gotha, Weimar, Vienna, and on to Kemits—which is not Kemits now. And then south to Munich and down to Regensburg on the Danube, from there into Czechoslovakia near a town called Hof. We ended the war in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia on May 8th 1945. And from there.
Huge step, within one minute.
A trip back across Europe to Aachen and then, myself, I had to go down to a Paris hospital. Then I traveled down to a ship in Cherbourg Harbor—It was a hospital ship. When we came back to Boston, we landed in Boston and then were transferred to a hospital train across the United States to Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys, California where I spent six months recuperating from an operation they gave me. From there, home to Modesto, California and to continue life.
I have a few questions about your childhood. Can you tell us a little bit about when you grew up?
A little bit about when I grew up. From the first seven years I was in Iowa and I had a pony—we were on a farm. I rode the pony to church, a little country church. The school was about a quarter mile away from our house and I used to walk to school. In the wintertime, there was snow—I had a sled and used to slide down the hills that were on the farm. There was a little forest behind the house that I thought was a big forest, but wasn’t. I would follow rabbit tracks to where they were hiding and downed logs. My parents had apple trees back there and berry vines. It was quite an interesting life because there weren’t any other children around yet and I was the only one and it was pretty nice. Then the rest of them came along and things changed. So, does that answer your question at all?
Do you have an earliest memory?
Yes I do. My father was a farmer and my earliest memory—we had outhouses—it’s not a bathroom in a house. There was a big rooster and I would go into that outhouse and that big rooster would keep me in there. I was afraid of that rooster and my father finally had to kill the rooster for dinner—Sunday dinner. I was so happy. That was one of my first remembrances.
And then you moved to California when you were seven?
Seven. I was eight just before we got here.
And then when you were in California you went to school in Modesto, right?
What were some of your memories from school?
Well when you have to move around to different schools you have to make new friends. I don’t know whether you have ever had that experience. It’s difficult to make new friends. I always found someone though. I was in the first one maybe for a year, and then we moved to a ranch east of Modesto. Then, I went to another school called Coles School. I went there for at least two years, and there again I had to make new friends. So you learn how to do that—I think that might have helped in the army later on. Then my dad sold that ranch on Merle Avenue. We lived in Modesto for a short time and I went to Roosevelt Junior High School for a semester. In 1935 he moved to a ranch in Ceres and I went to Ceres Grammar School in the last half of the seventh grade and the eighth grade. Then onto Ceres High School until we graduated in 1942. Then I worked until I went into the service, which we were all doing at the time. I was probably young in the class because some were already eighteen. Most of the graduates were already eighteen and I was seventeen. Not because I was smarter, my mother just started me earlier.
What do you remember about the move from Iowa out here to Modesto?
Ah yes, what do I remember about that. It was rather traumatic to leave. I remember the sale of the auction that all the things of the farm—I had a brand new American-flyer sled and they sold it for fifty cents. It was very traumatic. And then they shipped a lot of our belongings by train to Modesto and we came then across the old Route 66. It was the only time that I remember my father crying at one of the stops—they were just like a cabin. They had cabins then, not motels—it was like a motel. My youngest brother was just six weeks old, my sister was two, and I had just turned eight. We were all sick and I think he regretted leaving Iowa. I know he did later on. And then we arrived in Long Beach where we had relatives. We arrived there just the day after the big earthquake in Long Beach. My father's cousins were so happy we were there after because the living room fireplace had fallen into the living room. It was difficult. And then from there we came up the old 99 Highway to Modesto and our life went on from there. What’s the next question, Jimmy?
You said that you went to Junior High not in Modesto but in...
No, in Modesto.
But you went to High School in...
In Ceres. I went also to seventh and eighth grade in Ceres. I only went to Modesto for a half a year.
What do you remember about moving from Modesto to Ceres?
Another move—it was a better ranch. My father never liked California ranching. He always liked Iowa farms. He even went back one year to see if he could find a place back there and the banker told him better to stay in California, it was better weather and that whole bit. He came back and bought the place in Ceres. We moved down there—it was a small house. Eventually, over the years, they rebuilt it. Then I met neighbors there and it was a good childhood. It was Depression time. Do you know what The Depression was in the 30s? But we were on a farm so we had plenty to eat. We had chickens that my mother could fix and all the food we ever needed and all the clothes we needed. My grandparents also lived on the ranch and they helped us too. So it was a good childhood. The neighbor, one of the young men, had a horse and we used to ride the horse to the bus stop and then the horse would go home by itself. It was good, I met a lot of people, and of course I know them today. We still have reunions—we had our sixty fifth high school reunion this last year. There are still eighteen actual students left, but we're leaving rapidly.
How old were you when Pearl Harbor happened?
When Pearl Harbor happened I was sixteen years old.
What do you remember about the day Pearl Harbor happened?
What do I remember about the day? I was at the neighbors’ where I told you the horse was. My friend’s father was listening to a little radio and he heard there had been an attack on Pearl Harbor. We all wondered where Pearl Harbor was—we had no idea. I got on my bicycle and rode home to tell my parents that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Then my father turned on the radio and we finally found out where Pearl Harbor was, it was in Hawaii. And then of course from then on it really changed our life. There were young men leaving for the service and they had a group that were volunteers to go out—what they called an aircraft watchtower. We were supposed to call in when we saw an airplane fly over. We were supposed to tell them how high it was and which direction it was traveling. That was such a farce. We had no idea how high it was and no idea what direction it was going. But we had a good time because we'd go up there and maybe there would be a girl who was watching with you.
What was your emotional reaction to the attack? Were you scared?
I don’t recall being scared because it was so unbelievable that it happened to us. No I do not recall ever being scared.
Was there a large Japanese-American community in the area?
Yes, in the area there was. Some of those people were our friends in high school. I talked to my wife about this because she was in the same class. We didn't realize when they left. We were going on with our own lives, we were going to graduate this next year, '42? '43? They were just gone. They were gone. They didn’t get on the bus, they were gone somewhere. They built the first relocation camp in Turlock, California. All the people in the country who had been in depression all of the sudden they had jobs because they could go down there and build this relocation camp. Did they know how to be a carpenter? No, they had a hammer and they could pound a nail and somebody told them how to do this so right way we went from depression—which I think happens in every war—to good times as far as money was concerned. People were getting paid. Of course rationing came on and gasoline was rationed. Then sugar and tires and all that. But of course to our Japanese friends that was nothing compared to what they had to go through. They had to go and be relocated with their family and leave their farms and the whole bit. But we didn’t realize any of that at the time.
I'm assuming you went to school the Monday, the day after Pearl Harbor. Was that day any different from any other day before?
It was different in that everyone was trying to find out where Pearl Harbor was and what was the loss, how many people were killed, what happened. The whole thing. So, yes, it completely disrupted the school. The teachers, everyone was concerned. But as far as changing the life at the moment, it didn’t seem to. I can’t remember if it did. We were still pinching pennies out on the sidewalk and sitting in the yard talking, just like you do today. All of our teachers were having to leave too because they had to go in the service, so they were bringing younger people in. I know the secretarial lady came in—she was only about a year older than we were, maybe two or three. So, it didn't really affect us at the time.