by Jeffrey A. Haaz
Initially I was to interview solely my grandmother, of my father's
lineage. However, my subjects had doubled in number as my grandmother required
the aid of her sister who currently resides in San Francisco. As a matter
of attempting to fashion the reader into understanding fully the forthcoming
interview, a short biography is required. Toby is an old fashioned woman
who will neither accept anything not to her liking nor anything insulting.
She worked full time until the age of seventy-seven and lost her husband,
Steven, my father's father, in 1981. He was a hard nosed soldier, who enlisted
in the French Foreign Legion at the age of seventeen. The Legion was, by
many standards, organized mercenaries. He emigrated to the United States,
and met my grandmother in Chicago were she grew up. Much of my family has
roots dug deep into the military. My mother's father, Harold, a captain
in the Army Air Corps was shot down over Germany and was held as a prisoner
of war until the war's end. When I queried my grandmother (maternal) about
this, she declined to answer, and I did not pursue it any further.
10:24 A.M. Tuesday March the 3rd
North Hollywood, California...Toby Haaz's Living Room...The living
room is far from barren. Pictures adorn all walls and tabletops. One in
particular caught my eye as I entered the extremely modest home; this was
a set of poorly aged photographs of her late husband and his medals of honor,
received during combat in North Africa (which are not commonly out in plain
sight, though knowing my intentions, Toby removed them from their dust filled
cases and laid them out on the glass coffee table).
JH: Do you remember where you were at the outset of world war ii?
I was living in San Diego, I was twenty-seven years old. Oh, well I
was living at um, thirty-eight twenty-four division street, San Diego. Well
across the bay was National city, but it was San Diego. Now you want to
know what happened?
Toby: At twelve o'clock, on December seventh, nineteen forty one, H.V. Cultenbourne, the commentator, came on the air, and grandpa Steve was listening to him, and he announced that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. It was bedlam. Everybody ran out of their homes, we lived in a du-plex, and into the yard...and began talking. And all of a sudden we heard loud speakers come on, loud, loud speakers, heard all over the place, saying "all leaves are canceled, all leaves are canceled, 'cause it's a Navy town, "servicemen return to your bases immediately". Well the people were all understandably upset. Because the Japanese had just bombed Pearl harbor. The couple who lived below us, the husband was an ensin in the Navy, so he began to get dressed and get ready to go. His wife was hugging him and crying, he had to leave. And he went, and all the servicemen went down to the corner were the buses take them to their bases. The people who were driving, they were offering the servicemen rides to their bases.
The next day, President Roosevelt got on the air and said that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor, and that we have declared war on the Japanese. The West coast was a complete blackout. No lights can be seen, every shade must be drawn. Paula: yup, yup. Toby: We had to get blackout curtains or shades. No (in a deliberate tone) light could be shown through a window, if it could, you would get a ticket. No lights none at all. Grandpa Steve had to go to work, he worked the swing shift at Consolidated Aircraft. He worked for the Department of Defense, (proudly) the D.O.D. He worked for the government as a civilian. He drove to the plant, but they were not allowed to drive home. They couldn't use their headlights. So he walked, he walked the seven miles home, at night. Everybody left their respective cars their, and the next morning he took the bus to the plant and drove the car home, and this went on, back and forth, for the complete week. (catching her breath) Our neighbors, he worked the swing shift at,... at the island... Paula: Coranado. Toby: So what we would do is, we would get together every night, with the shades drawn, visit with one another and listen to the radio. That week the radio would only go on once an hour, for only five minutes. And that was the news, that was it, nothing else (sounding amazed). It was because we lived across from the Destroyer base, it was across the bay. So it went on for five minutes every hour,... we would lay on the floor, lay the radio on the floor and we would cover it so the light wouldn't show from the radio. Paula: was I with you already? Toby: yes, yes (sounding as if she could not believe that her sister did not remember) you were; it was December 1941, yes, you were here. That went on, the blackout, for a week, everyone (clearly emphasizing) called us from Chicago, saying you better come back home, you and Steve, you'll be bombed on the West coast. But Steve said "no, no we're not going back home", because you know, it was war. But that's the way it was. Let me tell you something about your grandpa. He was, he was in the French foreign legion, Paula: He was a big, musclely man. Toby: He was Hungarian, and he was a trained soldier from another country, but he was a flag waiver. You know, he loved this country. People would complained about it, he would just tell them to leave.
Toby: Everyone was being recruited; recruiting , recruiting, recruiting. Everyone was signing up. The Navy, Army and the Marines were all stationed in San Diego.
Paula: I also worked at consolidated aircraft, but let me tell you first, that it was your grandma who convinced me to come out here. So I saved up my money and came out here by bus, five nights and four days from Chicago. But anyway, I lived with your grandma, and I worked, and I also worked at the USO and helped out at the hospital as a nurses' aid.
JH: What was regular life like?
Toby: We had rationing. Rationing of food, meats and such, coffee, sugar, cigarettes, butter and nylons. Because they needed the nylon for the parachutes. Paula: I want you to know that we did not wear slacks. Only dresses and so forth. But life was not for the raises. Toby: Had to watch the gasoline. Paula: Life was very, very difficult. We had to make use of whatever we had at the time. We knew that this was not going to stay ...forever.
Toby: Things were hard to come by. You couldn't buy a washing machine to save your soul. We scoured the city, and put our name in at every appliance store. Paula: You could not get anything, because everything being made was being made for the war effort. I had to wash your father's dirty diapers by had in the sink. But I wanted to do more. I always wanted to help out.
Paula: Because of the war. I always had a lot energy, and I knew that they could use me. They could always use more help.
JH: How did you know they needed your help?
Paula: (matter of factly) Well we lived right there on the base. Also there were the news reels.
JH: What news reels?
Paula: The ones asking for additional help while the men were off fighting.
JH: Do you remember any? or remember what they were like?
Paula: Not really. But they made you feel patriotic, and that the country needed, and appreciated you. But besides that, you made good money there (laughs).
JH: Where were either of you working?
Paula: I was working at the time, at Consolidated Aircraft. My being a nurses aid was just volunteer work. First, at the plant, they had me in a cage, handing out screws and bolts and so forth, but I told them I couldn't stand the noise; (laughs) so they put me in the office upstairs. Toby: A lot of women were going to work. Like "Rosie the Riveter" but they could not wear their hair down, it had to be kept up, and under a cap, because of the machinery. Paula: And glasses too. Fortunately I was put into a cage, you make good money, but the noise, ugh it was riveting. There were three shifts, the day, swing and the graveyard shift. They needed everyone working. We knew this wasn't going to last. that it was only temporary, we accepted it... we had no alternative Toby: Well this is our country, we didn't want it to get... ruined. Paula: What we did was, we tried to relax, but there wasn't too much time to do those things. We went on a couple of picnics. Toby: Steve was stationed at the Air Force procurement, he was hired as a civilian air force inspector. He tested the machine gun torrets.
JH: Did you go to any movies?
Paula: We went to movies didn't we? Toby: Not that much. Well, the servicemen who were on leave, they frequented the movies, so that when we went to the movies Steve and I would not stand in line, we'd just let the servicemen go first. Paula: Also our entertainment was um..., not the nightclubs, the USO. They had dances, they were to make sure that the service men were o.k., that you would go up to them and hug them, and hope you could make them feel better and make sure they had a good feeling about themselves. Toby: And there she met Ben. A friend of my mother's came to me in Chicago, a while before, and asked me if I would please look up her son, "he's in the cavalry and please take care of my son". I said "I would". But when I got back I couldn't get in touch with him because he was in the cavalry, up in the mountains. That is who Paula met at the USO (in amazement). We decided to meet up with Ben in the mountains, but on the way back from the mountains, back in San Diego, that very day, she met her future husband. After they were married, they contemplated moving back to Chicago, but they stayed and Mel ended up being drafted into the Army. But life was different, they slept on my sofa bed on the night of their honeymoon. He was young. In the mean time Paula was going to dances at the USO four nights a week, while Mel was overseas. Paula: I enjoyed it, you were able to help these men who were so lonesome, who missed their families. Toby: But your grandpa, he was big, and he was very protective of Paula and the rest of the servicemen. But we were brought up strict, we had a lot of step- mothers. We just accepted what hardships came along. But Paula, she would tell all of the servicemen to come here, "come to Toby's house". Every weekend the USO would be at my house. Sailors, Marines, the Army, and the Coast Guard, all of 'um. I would feed them. Steve would be mowing the front lawn, and the servicemen would come along and say, "Mr. Haaz no, we'll do that". And I would take them in and cook for them. But everyone back then was gracious to the soldiers. Everyone welcomed them into their homes. We'd just sit there and talk, and I'd cook and listen to the radio. Paula: The radio was great. There would be these, um... what did you call them, they were like soap operas,...serials.
JH: Do you remember what any of the movies were like?
Toby: When went out, when we went to the movies, which were mostly musicals, they were romances, movies that would uplift people. We had our routine. There wasn't much to do. We would work, we worked the swing shift, come home very tired, go to dinner or some other place. That was our routine.
JH: What did you think of the Japanese, back then?
Paula: I was hurt by what the Japanese did, I was disappointed in them. What did we do to deserve being bombed. How could they do something like that to human beings. Toby: We were upset. Very angry (in a deliberate tone). But we could not do anything about it. Whatever the President did, we went along with. Paula: We took care of them in our way. Their back again though, they own part of Hawaii, and a bunch of golf courses in California. But now they are not doing so good. They have to sell now, because of the crash in their money markets. (change in intonation) We were told that all of the Japanese people were being held. Practically all of the Japanese living in California were isolated. Toby: They were segregated, they had to report to a certain station. Paula: They were not free because we were afraid that they might be an agent. They resented that. I don't think that that was right to take them out of their homes, but it was war, and we were..., everyone was very afraid.
JH: I don't want you to feel uncomfortable, so don't answer if you don't want to, but who did you know that was in the war?
Paula: Oh, don't worry about it. My husband was drafted after he was reclassified to a 1A, and he was sent overseas. he went to...Maryland for basic training. Then he was shipped overseas. He was killed on July 21, 1944. Toby: He was killed by a sniper in Saint Loux. Paula: After that I went to go visit with my mother-in-law, but I did not want to go back to San Diego. There were just too many memories there. I had to start all over again. Toby was pregnant with your father, so I stayed until a little while after he was born. But then I had to get out of San Diego, and I went to live with my brother in Los Angeles. But I didn't really like it here, so I moved to San Francisco. Toby: Our brother Nate had just graduated high school, and he asked me if Steve could get him a job out here in California. The winters in Chicago are horrible (laughs). Nate was drafted later that same month while living with us in San Diego. He was sent somewhere in New Jersey for basic training, that was were the enlisted men were sent. Nate was in the Army, and was stationed in the Philippines, in 1942. (after some thought) Or, it was the China, India, Burma Theater, with the Army Air Corps. My brother-in-law was to go overseas, but he wanted to visit with his mother in Chicago before he left. Right then, Steve went to go enlist in the Navy. They wanted him to be a warrant officer. But the government would not grant him a release to allow him passage into the Navy. Our sister Mary, her husband was stationed in Okinawa, in the Pacific.
JH: Did you correspond with them?
Toby: Oh, I would write to Nate all the time. I would send him dehydrated soup. I had to look all over the specialty shops for dehydrated soups. Nate told me in a letter that the whole infantry would gather around and devour the soup (beaming with pride). Then I began sending him cookies and canned fruit, I had to get boxes that would not break. Did you know that I still to this day know his A.P.O. number? 39292955. (she leans in a little closer) 39292955. All of those times, and years of writing, at least twice a week for three years, all the way over the hump. His letters were very distressing. He spoke about how the Chinese soldiers, how they would shoot any dog that ran by. They would shoot it, and eat it. The officers told his company that they were to shoot any Chinese soldier who did that. They were starving, I don't think that was right.
JH: What happened after that?
Toby: Well the war was over. They dropped the bombs on Japan and that was it. Truman began cutting back on government jobs. And Steve lost his job at Consolidated Aircraft, and went to work for Solar Aircraft. Paula: I am still bitter about the war. Toby: Well you lost your husband. Paula: Yeah. You know, I still to this very day, am not able to ever watch one of those awful war movies.