Bobby Carter

Oral History

Bobby: All right, so how old were you when the war was going on-around 1940?

Flowers: Well I'll start with 1940 if that's OK with you. I was 17 years old, getting ready to graduate from high school. I graduated in '42. I started back at '40 because that's when soldiers were being called to service and all of that...In '42, my year of graduation, it [the war] was in full bloom and we were still recovering from the 30's depression and it was rough and tough and hard then, but everything seemed to open up over night when the bomber plant opened up and Ford changed over to war materials because we were in full bloom war. They were calling soldiers that were graduating in my class. Calling them all to war was kind of a sad thing during that time because boys were being called away and they didn't know if they were going to come back and some of them didn't come back. There were quite a few black ones that didn't return that I grew up with. Then about '43 or '44, the war was still going on and things were getting rougher. Money was good, but food and things were getting tighter. We were getting rationed. (chuckles) We had government food stamps. Well, they weren't food stamps, it was a book with stamps in it for meat. You were rationed on meat, sugar, cigarettes, ladies hosiery, and gasoline. Those things you could only get with stamps and most people didn't have stamps...and that started the black marketing of stuff. Maybe this week you could only get 2 or 3 pounds of hamburger and maybe 2 or 3 pounds of steak or something like that, but you weren't allowed to just go in the store and buy what you wanted. You had to buy with these stamps and sugar was the hardest thing to be without because you use sugar for everything. That was when butter became short or expensive or something and you had to use Oreo. (Laughs) You had to put it in a bowl and break this little capsule and dump the coloring out. It was just messy have to do that all the time. That seemed to my job when I got back from school. I didn't like it, but I did it.

B: Where did you live?

F: Well, I lived here in Ann Arbor. I've always lived in Ann Arbor. This has been my home since I was a little girl. We moved here when I was nine years old and I've been here ever since.

B: Oh, OK.

F: Yeah, and uhh, they would stand in line for one pack of cigarettes. There was just certain days that they had cigarettes. There was a drugstore by the name of Peck Drugstore on Main Street and there would be a line all the way down the whole block of main just for one pack of cigarettes. (Laughs) ..And they would get off brands. You wouldn't get Lucky Stripes or Camels. You got Wings and off brands, I don't remember any others because I wasn't smoking at the time and wasn't too interested in it. I used to stand in line for my mom and myself for silk stockings and you had to take whatever shade there was. They didn't let you have a choice of shade or anything. What else was rationed??..Oh, well gasoline was rationed. You had to be very sparing with that and you had the stamps. I can't remember how they got the stamps, but they were government issue. I don't remember how my mother and father got them because I wasn't responsible for things like that at that age. Anyway, I remember they would say that had to be "sparing with this" and "sparing with that" because-"No more stamps!!" (Laughs) That was tough I didn't like that too much.

OK, the bomber plant-that brought a lot of people here who migrated from the south. Everything was overflowing with extra people moving in. They opened up...it was like a little city..in Willow Village and all around in there and in Ypsilanti. They built up little messy places for people from the south because they didn't have any decent places for them. That got to be chaos for a long time. And then the soldiers started coming because Camp Custard opened up in Battle Creek. They started putting soldiers in there.

B: What was in there? What did they do there?

F: Well, that was an army camp. They transferred from one area to another. My brother, he went from Michigan to the south when he joined.

B: Did he actually go into..

F:..Combat or anything? No. They send you through a lot of maneuvering and things like this and training and I think he caught pneumonia and they sent him home with a medical discharge. They did that with a lot of boys. They would get sick with all of that training out in the rain and cold weather and stuff. Then some of them managed to make through and go over there and come back. There's one guy here, he's got steel all in his stomach.

B: Really?

F: Yeah, Frank Bostik. He did real combat. There's also the minister of my church, Hargrave, Ralph Hargrave. He was in Vietnam were they hung him up in a tree, by his ankles. These Vietnamese, they hung him up and tortured him for, I don't know how many days. He was in bad shape when he got back home. He was just real pitiful and he's all crippled and messed up body wise... And there was another boy, Kenneth Fox, he didn't come back, he got killed.

B: That was in World War 2?

F: Yup, and then they named a VFW after him. They had a VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, there used to be a post up there on Fourth Ave. for years and I don't what they did with it because it isn't there anymore. There's lots of Ann Arbor men who are still here from the service. I had a cousin who was... he wasn't a general, he had stars on he was brass or something. He went all the way to Japan. I got a present from him over there.

B: From back then or now?

F: Yeah, back then. See that little vase there. That came from Japan. He died after he came back home. He served very well over there. He used to tell me about his experience. None of them had very happy things about their experiences. It was all sad, you know, it wasn't anything like home. It was scary and you had to hide out and all of that stuff and if the enemy caught you, you were in trouble. So they were all glad to be back home and I remember when they came back home. Boy, we all went down to the train station where the Gandy Dancer is. That's where the boys would leave from. Every morning when they would have a bunch of boys leaving out, we'd all go down there to build their morale up and bid them good-bye. Then when they came back we'd be down there again to greet them. It was lot's of fun, but they were glad to be back home none of them liked where they had to go. It was something you had to do for your country, you know, and be proud of it. You would be scared along with being proud. Then people would start growing victory gardens, growing their own fruit and vegetables and stuff, because it was scarce. We would send a lot of food over to France and England and places like that. I used to knit a lot of caps and mittens for the Red Cross for kids over in England. I did that in School and after school was over. You did things like this because it was your patriotic duty. It was fun. My mother used to work at the Red Cross. She would volunteer so many days. She was a practical nurse and most of the nurses volunteered their time, wrapping bandages or the at the blood bank or whatever. We, the candy stripers, would help out in the hospitals. That was fun. That was how I got my first experience and how I got to want to be something. Let me see what else I can think about. Do you want to ask me some more questions?

B: OK, Did you know what was going on between the United States and Japan?

F: Oh yes! That's a very good question. Yes, we knew very well what was going on. That must have been my eleventh or twelfth year in school. I had a Japanese girlfriend and she had a sister and my sister was friends with her. They lived right around the corner from us on Traver Road and we lived on Plum. They were real nice, friendly kids, and they were from Japan. They had come over because their older brother was studying at the University. Then all of a sudden they weren't at school. That was at the beginning of the war maybe 1940 or '41. They disappeared from school and everything. With them being right around the corner from us, we knew a little more about it. The FBI had come over to their house and boarded the house up, and bunched them up in a car and took them off. Finally we heard from our little friends and they were in a...what do you call them?

B: Internment Camp?

F: Yeah, and they were there for a long time. They sent some of them back to Japan, but these girls, they were born in America so there was a complication there. They were American citizens and if they sent the mom and dad back, what would happen to the kids? So, I don't remember what happened, but the last I heard they were still in California, but they were out of the camp. They were just going to live as normal people. My Uncle, he used to have a Japanese friend and they corresponded after he [the friend] went back to Japan. The FBI came to our house (laughs) because he stayed with us and they wanted to know where he was. He was at work. They intercepted mail that he was supposed to be getting from he buddy in Japan. He wondered why he wasn't getting the mail. So we said maybe the mail's slow since it was so far away. NO! The FBI was intercepting and taking the mail and opening it and reading it. So they (starts to laugh) picked him up one evening on his job and he didn't come home. We wondered where he was and we worried and worried and finally we got this call late in the evening and he said that he was in Detroit-at the FBI headquarters in Detroit. (Laughs again) They were questioning him and they held him a long time and my dad and mother had to go down there and see what they could do to help him and they [The FBI] wanted to implicate that they were into to some activities. It was a mess. Finally they found out that it was just friends and they were corresponding, but it took about a month before he got clear of that. (Laughing) My mother told him "Don't you ever pick up another foreigner to be your friend." They were still friends though and that was an episode that I will never forget. It was real tough around here any little friend that you had who was from Japan... and then German kids kind of had a hard way to go too. They were in question as to whether they had any activities with their homeland and what is was and all that stuff. So they clamped down on them and Japanese kids and it was real sad because they didn't know anything, they were just normal kids like us, trying live and enjoy life. I don't think any of them were convicted of anything, at least not that I know of.

B: Did you know about the atomic bomb when it happened?

F: No. We didn't, well I won't say "we", I didn't know anything about it because, at that time there was so much going on then. Everytime you would hear the news, it was something sad about our boys- more soldiers, more soldiers, everyone's going to war. I heard about it, but I didn't quite understand it. It wasn't here that it happened. Now the thing that really concerned us around here was when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The Japanese were over here talking and drinking and having dinner with our president and at the same time the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. That was where a lot of our battle ships were at. They were bombing that while they were grinning in our face. That was quite upsetting. There was nothing really that we could do about it, but they really got on the Japanese then. They really got on them because they were so lenient-well that's my opinion, but I can express it (laughs)- they were too friendly with everyone. Outsiders you treat them like a friend, but as a friend with a long hand swing. They were sittin' down drinkin' and eatin' and lolligaggin' with them and here they were bombin' and burnin' up the place. It was just upsetting to everyone here because it was so unexpected. It was just something.

B: When they dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan, they surrendered and the war was over.

F: Well that was really devastating because when they dropped those bombs, they just killed everything and that was really sad. Thank God it wasn't over here. Well when the war was over, it was about 8:30 at night and they announced it on the radio. We didn't have a TV or anything. In the streets, the trucks were going by-"Extra, Extra read all about it. The war has ended!" Everyone was shouting and blowing horns and everything. They were just so happy that was a real rejoiceful time.

B: OK, do you remember the movies that you saw?

F: OK, Alrighty, (excitedly) "For Whom the Bells Toll", Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, "From Here to Eternity" with Robert Taylor or Robert Stanley or something. They had a lot of war movies. They were all war movies then. I remember skipping school one day (chuckling) just to see one movie. Well I didn't skip school, I played like I was sick at home. I went and sold some bottles (laughing) to have money to go to the show and it only cost 25 cents to go to the show...And I sold these bottles and went to the show and when I got inside of the show, not outside, INSIDE, the first thing I saw was the principal and some teachers standing at the door, writing down names. (Laughs) They let you go and see it. Inside the show there was the whole Ann Arbor High school. The whole school had played hooky to go see this movie, "Anchors Away" with Frank Sinatra and it was good. We didn't care if we had to pay the piper. We had to stay after school. Everybody had to stay after school for a whole month. So they had school after school. It was funny.

B: Did you see any propaganda films?

F: Well, when you went to the movies. They'd always show the movie and then a newsreel after it- about the war. You hear the 6 o'clock news on TV and they would have the news [after] the movies. They didn't have TV. That was how you could know more about it and understand more about it. Just like TV teaches you more because it puts you closer in to contact with it and you understand it better. We used to go to the movies mainly to get the news once a week. Now that was very interesting because they would show men in battle and all those things and you could see it and understand it instead of just reading about it.

B: OK, let me see what else. Did anyone in your family, particularly the girls have to go and take over the jobs that the men were doing?

F: No. Not in my family because my sister was younger than me and I was the oldest and when it started, I was still in school. So no, I didn't have anyone that did any of that. I had cousins and distant relatives that worked in plants that made ammunition and things like that. I had one cousin that worked in a plant in Joliet, Illinois. She worked where they made these big bombs, you know, great big ones. They would stack them up real high, ceiling high almost and she went in the plant one day and she passed it and all that stuff came tumbling down. It injured her and she was laid up a long time...But not anyone in my immediate family.

B: Well that's all of my questions.

F: Did we cover everything you wanted to know?

B: Pretty much unless there was anything else you wanted to add.

F:Well, just everyday normal living was completely changed and the war interrupted a lot of things. A lot of our privileges were canceled for a while, but they weren't too bad. Not as bad as they were overseas. They were really catching it over there. So people, of course they would gripe about what we had to sacrifice. They'd gripe about anything.(chuckles) All you have to do is say the word "no" and they whine about it.

B: So after the war did everything go back to normal?

F: Well, after the war everything pretty well went back to normal, but it took time for it to change back. Making cars from making bombs and airplanes and stuff like that. In Ypsilanti they made bombs and out in California at Lock Heed they made airplanes and all over the country there were different activities for the war. Hospitals changed and a lot of little changes and I can't remember all of them because we just went along with it, everyday living. There were new materials that came out like gaberdeen... and nylon and lot of things being made of rubber and plastics.... I can't think of any more Bobby, well cars changed. Cars were at a stand still and when they started making them again, that was a big thing.

B: OK, well thanks for letting me interview you and everything.

F: It was my pleasure.