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San Diego in World War II: Crowds on Broadway, women riveters at Convair, new housing in Linda Vista, fear-gripped Coronado

We desperately needed workers

B24s at Convair. "At peak capacity Convair was building about one hundred Liberator bombers a week! From scratch!" - Image by San Diego Historical Society
B24s at Convair. "At peak capacity Convair was building about one hundred Liberator bombers a week! From scratch!"

"I was pregnant with our first child and we were remodeling the house, our first programming was interrupted and the announcer started saying Pearl Harbor was being bombed. At fi we thought it was just another Orson Welles War of the Worlds thing so we listened to it very calmly. But as the newscast went on, we began to realize, 'My God, it’s real!’”

— Doris Edwards

"When you stood at the foot of Broadway and looked up the street, you saw nothing but a sea of little white sailor caps."

“I remember riding downtown in the car that Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t a soul to be seen, which was very unusual. We always had sailors in sight. Navy. This town was full of Navy. But then the streets were deserted and I was wondering what had happened. It was scary, eerie. But we hadn’t heard a word about what was going on until we pulled up in front of the Hollywood Theater. Then my stagehand ran up and said, 'I guess we won’t be doing a show tonight. They’ve bombed Pearl Harbor.’ Then somebody said, ‘Now we’re in for it!’”

— Frances Johnston

Belmont Park. "We staged huge dances at the Mission Beach Ballroom. The dances started on Saturday night, every Saturday night, at 12 o’ clock midnight on the dot."

The outbreak of war in 1941 transformed San Diego. Virtually overnight the city changed character from an isolated, quiet little town to a frenetic city overflowing with strangers. The population increased 67 percent in less than four years, a military presence became military domination, and factories that didn’t exist a few years before ran 24 hours a day.

Gunnery practice, Ft. Rosecrans

Wartime San Diego made national headlines all across the country. It became a media darling, earning the public’s attention in a way no advertising budget could ever hope to achieve. The popular national magazines — Life, National Geographic, and the Saturday Evening Post — ran major San Diego-related stories. A motion picture, San Diego, I Love You (1943, Universal Films), was written by Ruth McKenney and starred Louise Albritton and Robert Paige. In a single year, the Eleventh Naval District alone released more than 2000 San Diego stories, 13,000 photographs, and more than 400 network radio programs.

Hollywood Theater. "We spotlighted a strictly live show, 480 seats at two dollars a ticket, from noon to midnight. There would be a lineup of sailors from the box office, down the street to the Knickerbocker.”

Planes were needed and that meant workers and that meant housing was needed, too. Kearny Mesa and Linda Vista were built by fiat, almost instantaneously. Housing for 15,000 was constructed from scratch in less than 200 working days. Eleanor Roosevelt took special interest in the project and dedicated it herself. “Money was no object,’’ recalls Morrie Slayen. president of Morrie Slayen and Associates in San Diego. “And when money is no object, anything and everything is paid in wages, in overtime, day and night, seven days a week, nonstop. At peak capacity Convair was building about one hundred Liberator bombers a week! From scratch! There was no fixed price. The government said, ‘Build!’ and it was built. And if there weren’t enough plants, under the War Acts Administration the government itself would build them, equip them, and then lease them out to operators. We had big problems and we fought our way out, bought our way out, and everybody paid for it gladly.’*

“Well, fabric wasn’t readily available, and what was available was kept deliberately expensive. So a big hem-facing business started up."

Slayen, a recent high school graduate when the war erupted, took his first full-time job at Consolidated Aircraft (later Convair. then General Dynamics). “America hadn't wanted any part of the war until Pearl Harbor was bombed. When that happened it was all suddenly a different story,” he says. “America mobilized. Until then the United States had been a major island, so to speak, surrounded by protective oceans on both sides, and until Pearl Harbor we had been immune to threats. The attack was stupid. It didn’t accomplish that much, but it got the dander up. It was provocative in the extreme and we responded, all of us, each and every one of us. Everything was wrapped up in patriotism.”

"By the war's end all banks had most of their deposits in the form of government bonds. "

Frederick McLaughlin was the plant superintendent at the height of Convair production. “Before the war you could walk in and out of the plant without a badge,” he remembers. “That changed, of course; it had to. We were building thirteen B-24s a day,the big bombers, at a cost plus ten of about one million dollars each. We were also building other planes, including the Navy’s fighter planes, the PBYs and the PBY2s, a twin-engine craft. Of course supplies were a big problem, that’s always the problem in the aircraft industry. But this was total war. Everything that was needed for the war effort we got for the war effort. That was the first and only national priority.

Horton Plaza, V-J Day, 1945. "Virtually overnight San Diego changed character from an isolated, quiet little town to a frenetic city overflowing with strangers."

“And we desperately needed workers, so they came in by the thousands and the tens of thousands from all over the country every week. And the women came into the plants, too. Before Pearl Harbor they were excluded; that was corporate policy. But when the war broke out, training schools were set up downtown and all over the city. Either that or we'd train them on the job. We’d take women in, give them a couple of weeks training with a rivet gun or whatever, and they’d become Rosie the Riveter. And they did one helluva good job, too! A great bunch of workers!”

Clara Marie Allen was one such Rosie the Riveter. She and her friend Constance Bowman were both teachers at San Diego High School in 1941. “I was teaching art at the time; my friend Constance was teaching English, and many of our students were falling asleep in class. We then found out they were working full time at Convair. They were already leading adult lives, and who could blame them? For those who sincerely tried to do both — school and work — all the teachers cooperated and tried to be useful.

“That’s the overwhelming feeling I have about that time — everybody was pulling together and working hard. Well, not everybody, but the vast majority. We did have a common purpose, a common goal, and it was important and good. In a way it was sort of uplifting.

“Well, Constance and I, we wanted to do something more for the war effort, to ‘do our bit,’ and we had our summer vacations coming up and Convair had started hiring women to work the assembly lines. So we decided to take a job and write a book about it. The other teachers in the lounge laughed at us. but we said, ‘Well, we can do it and we will do it!' And we did. We felt we sort of had to.”

The book, Slacks and Callouses, written by Constance Bowman and illustrated by Clara Marie Allen, was published by Longmans, Green & Company in 1944. It was an outstanding achievement in that relatively few books were published during the war. Paper was in rare supply. Says Clara Marie, “I’m sure the reason it got published was that it had to do with the war. Everything existed for the war effort then, even books. For ourselves personally, writing the book made working at Convair especially interesting. Having a dual purpose for being there, we were especially alert to everything.

“The book had been originally titled We Were Available. That was changed to Slacks and Callouses at the publisher’s suggestion. In any case, it had a tremendous sale in San Diego, as you can imagine. Convair people and others bought it and used it as a kind of yearbook. They took it to work with them and had their friends sign and autograph it. Working at Convair, especially on the swing shift, meant living for the job. So the book was a way of partying. There was a lot of partying then and people partied at odd times, whenever they could, despite all the problems, despite the brownouts and the blackouts.”


Frances Johnston and her husband Bob were the owners, managers, and soul of the Hollywood Theater, a much beloved institution made world famous by loyal servicemen fans. “We had such a beautiful marquee at the Hollywood, but at the beginning of the war and because of the blackouts we couldn’t light it and business was terrible. Then business boomed, all the downtown businesses did. We spotlighted a strictly live show, 480 seats at two dollars a ticket, continually from noon to midnight for the duration. When we opened every day there would be a lineup of sailors from the box office, down the street and round the corner to the Knickerbocker.”

Frances Johnston taught Lilly St. Cyr her first striptease and made her first big break possible. Other stars in the Hollywood Theater galaxy (now the Lyceum Theater) were comics Eddie Ware (he stayed with the show for twenty-five years) and Say-No-More Joe. who got his moniker because he'd open his act and punctuate it frequently with those immortal words, “Say no more, Joe!”

“We had about 48 people dancing on the stage at one time, small as that stage was. About thirty-five girls and ten to fourteen boys in the chorus. A four-piece band in the pit. It was a terrific production. We made it a big thing.”

It was burlesque and by today’s standards it was the cleanest show in town. It wasn’t topless, much less bottomless. There was a flash at the end of some numbers and what you saw was pasties. That was that. "It was a very clean show, but people figured it was burlesque and not many women attended, and if they did they’d always sit in the balcony. Our audience was mostly sailors and even during the blackouts we'd pack them in, regardless. It was a Navy town, always Navy, and the boys loved their Hollywood Theater.

“After each show. Daddy [Mr. Johnston ] would get them all out and bring in the new group for the next show. We couldn’t let guys stay for the second show, not with thousands waiting to get in. Later, what the hell, we were glad to have ’em stay over for a second look. The boys, they’d just scream and yell at everything, a very appreciative, enthusiastic audience. And they just loved our comics. Yes, the sailors loved the comics even better than the showgirls.”

Yvonne Early, now an executive secretary with the Navy, remembers what it was like to be young and live in San Diego. “Boyfriends were easy to come by. You just reached out and grabbed yourself one. They never lasted very long before they were shipped out. Here today and gone tomorrow. You didn’t worry about it.

“I was eighteen when I went to work as a soundproofer in B-24s. It was all new to me. I had never done that kind of work before, riding the planes down the assembly line, getting lost in the huge plants, working outside in the rain, the thousands of us. During fifteen-minute breaks I’d climb up into the cockpit of a Liberator, put a piece of soundproofing down onto the control pedals, and take catnaps. I had to because I was going out at night, all the time.

“When I fell, hurt my hip, and had to leave Convair, I went to work for the Zellerbach Paper Company. Downtown, of course, was very crowded then. There were bars every thirty feet, little holes-in-the-wall. When you stood at the foot of Broadway and looked up the street, you saw nothing but a sea of little white sailor caps.

“I remember the old Hamilton store. It was gourmet foods and a bakery. And they always somehow carried items that were hard to get because of the rationing. Some kinds of Campbell’s soups. Some kinds of canned meats and tuna, luxuries like that.

“It was good working at Zellerbach when the rationing crunch was on. Paper was in very short supply, and I could get paper supplies, good for the bartering system that developed. Sometimes we actually traded goods company for company. We’d give one of our customers a case of toilet paper (really scarce and treasured!) in return for them letting us buy Sunnybrook whiskey. It was terrible whiskey, that Sunnybrook, but it was the only kind available so I swapped toilet paper for it and gave the whiskey to my father and his friends. They complained but they drank it well enough.”

Everything during the war years was rationed, in short supply, or nonexistent. Gasoline, soap, sugar, leather goods, fabric, tires — everything that wasn’t immediately rationed eventually was. Soap rationing, however, was eased in 1943 because there was a rise in the collection of household fats.

“It was probably hardest on the families with infants,” remembers Clara Marie Allen. “A jar of baby food cost as many ration stamps as an adult-sized can of food. You paid for items with both cash and ration stamps. You couldn’t make a purchase of anything scarce without both. For the stamps, we all had to sign up, something like registering to vote. We might have done that at post offices, or people might have been stationed at tables set up on the streets, that detail escapes me. But once that registration was made, your allotted stamps came regularly in the mail.” Jannette Branin, now the food editor at the San Diego Union, recalls how shortages made keeping up with fashions difficult. “When the war started, skirts were rather short and tight. Then fashions began to change very rapidly and, totally out of sync with rationing logic and the war effort, skirts began to drop, lower and lower,. until they finally ended up at about midcalf.

“Well, fabric wasn’t readily available, and what was available was kept deliberately expensive. So a big hem-facing business started up. The idea was to let your old skirts down to the last quarter inch, then face the hem up. Another tactic was to drop yokes around the hips of your skirts and cover up the hip yokes with a blouse worn outside the waistband. Everything was very tailored and uniformy. If you had a good suit, you wore it and wore it and wore it.

“It was during that same period that the fashion moguls introduced, for the first time ever, that wonder of the chicest of wonders, nylon stockings. Nylons were touted as the greatest invention the world had ever seen, probably second only to the wheel itself. But we couldn’t buy them, they were introduced from the very beginning as a high-shortage item, so we wore leg make-up instead.

“Leg make-up was horrible but it was popular because there was nothing else you could do unless you wanted to be seen in public with white legs. It came in two ghastly forms, cake and liquid. Both were very reddish so we all walked around with orange legs. Naturally it was very uncomfortable to have your feet bare in your shoes, but it was in fashion, and we did it.”

“There were no houses, no cars, no refrigerators, no small appliances, no nothing available for purchase during the war,” recalls Ernie Yahnke, now vice president of Bank of America and manager of the downtown branch. “To my knowledge not a single home was built by its owner during that period. Other than to businesses servicing military accounts, there was very, very little lending to the private sector.”

Still, money flowed into the banks, primarily because of rationing and the lack of anything to purchase. And the banks, of course, invested almost solely in government bonds. By the war's end all banks had most of their deposits in the form of government bonds. This wasn’t a legal requirement, merely the only form of investment available. It also had the added benefit of being patriotic.

“The black market was something like Prohibition,” Yahnke reports. “It wasn’t vicious, but there was a ton of chiseling. The theft of scarce materials, for example; if you had a toolbox at work, you kept that baby locked tight because you couldn’t buy a hammer anywhere. A friend of mine owned an egg ranch. But the price of everything was rigidly fixed and he could only get so much legally for, say, a case of twelve dozen eggs. So as he handed the case over to a regular customer, the customer would have six bucks or so over and above the regular price palmed in his hand. That’s how things were done.”

Most on-scene observers of the period agree that rationing in general was honored by the vast majority. Most “chiseling” was essentially bartering. After all, the newly imposed system was rigid, but if it were too rigid, it would simply crack, the whole grand scheme. But it didn’t. American rationing worked; it was a combination of fair play and old-fashioned ingenuity.

As Yahnke explains, “Whatever was going on, I was young and couldn't care less about that sort of thing. Everything anybody wanted you could pay for. It was accepted. Some would get greedy or selfish or careless, of course, and they'd get caught and get sent away. One guy was a wholesaler of chickens. He'd raise 'em, kill ’em, pluck ’em. and freeze ’em. The Navy would weigh them, pay him, and buy them. He was chiseling and got away with it for a while. But one day they set a stack of his chickens aside and a helluva puddle of water formed on the floor. He had been freezing water into the birds to add to their weight. He went to jail.”

Others were incarcerated, too. But they went in large numbers, were innocent of wrongdoing, lost their properties, homes and businesses, and were confined in the worst of circumstances. Without trial or benefit of legal process, 110,000 Japanese-Americans who lived on the West Coast, 70,000 of them U.S. citizens, were carted away overnight and kept in internment camps until the war was over. They were victims of mass hysteria, rumor mongering, and a public blinded by a need to protect the homeland and defeat the enemy at all costs.

Morrie Slayen remembers that “we had a tremendous friendship with a Japanese family living next door. They had a restaurant business, very nice. In April of 1942 they were literally uprooted, forced to sell out. My dad bought the things from their home and helped them get a fair price for their stuff. It was a traumatic experience, seeing your friends dragged away to camp. It was one of the worst things Americans ever did to other Americans. There was no reason for that.

“Most did not get fair prices for their things. They were forced to sell fast and didn't have time enough to get what was coming to them. The wheeler-dealers sensed they could get houses and businesses full of stuff for practically nothing, and they swooped down on the Japanese like vultures.”

“I don’t remember the general reaction at the time.” Jannette Branin recalls, “but it must have been supportive. I did know it was not too many years later when we became aghast that we had ever been so caught up in propaganda. Many of us became dreadfully ashamed before the war ended. Especially when the all-Japanese battalion went over to Italy and fought so magnificently.

“I know one Japanese man named Muroaka. Saburo Muroaka was a truck farmer well on his way to becoming a wealthy man. He worked with his hands, had dirt under his fingernails, a good family man. And of course, he lost everything. He came back to San Diego after the war and started all over again. He recovered. He recouped. But he had to work a second lifetime after he was a middle-aged man. It was very, very shocking.”

Saburo Muroaka has lived in Chula Vista for sixty-five years. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he was arrested and jailed in San Diego. Until that time, he grew celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans, selling half his crop in Los Angeles, the remainder in San Diego. “In 1941 I was farming and the government came and took me over and put me in jail for two weeks,” he says. “Separated from my family, I was then shipped to a camp in Oklahoma. After that I was shipped yet another time to a new camp, this one in Louisiana. Some time passed. I was then again shipped to yet a second location in Oklahoma.

“My wife, Haruko, was arrested in April, 1942. She was shipped by closed train to Santa Anita. There she was ‘ housed’ in a horse shed. Both of us were kept in internment camps until the late spring of 1945. Then, reunited, we returned to San Diego and started farming crops in Chula Vista again. We just worked, worked, worked every day.”

Clara Marie Allen recalls a Japanese-American student in her art class. “He came to me to say good-bye, that he was being sent to a camp with his parents and family. I'm afraid that at the time I didn’t quite realize what all of that meant. He was one of the best students I've ever had. A lovely boy, very gifted and hard working. Well, he said good-bye and I just smiled and shook hands with him. Looking back on it I wish I had hugged him and wished him well and been much warmer. We just didn’t know.”

Ernie Yahnke had had many Japanese-American friends, “kids I went to school with, because that was a big farming community. South Bay. Well, I guess the government just picked them all up one day, because suddenly they weren’t around anymore and I’ve never seen any of them since.

”I don’t recall how I felt about that. They were my dear friends. I can’t believe I was angry with them. I know I wasn't. Certainly I wouldn’t have attacked any of them if I saw one in the streets. But by the same token, I didn’t try to stop what the government was doing. You didn’t ask questions.

“Later, we had further thoughts. I strongly doubted that my friends Kenji and Karla and the fellow I played football with would be capable of plotting against our country. I looked upon them as upon myself: They were one of us. My dad’s was a German family. Why didn’t they pick me up?”


Larry Booth, now with the San Diego Historical Society, recalls the difficulties wartime residents had in finding housing. “San Diego’s population had exploded during the war, and it was hard finding a place to live. Except for public housing built primarily for the aircraft workers, new homes or apartments simply weren’t being built. My wife and I, when we first moved to the city, lived in three or four different places until we settled down.

“We stayed for the first few weeks in one room in a house in Chula Vista, not a boarding house, but a rented room with kitchen privileges. You had to know somebody to find a place. A friend of a friend of a friend told you about somebody who was leaving and you followed up the lead, that sort of thing. We moved three more times before we found a place we liked well enough to stay.”

Doris Edwards remembers the great shortage of housing. “One night my husband and I were down at Bemardini’s and we met a couple, a very charming captain and his young wife. She was a little deb from Chicago and the captain was in tears because they had no place to stay. So we offered them the use of our home and they stayed as our guests for six months. That's how it was here then. Everyone was very cooperative."

Most downtown businesses stayed open long hours every day, which was necessary if the numbers of customers were to be accommodated. It was a time when the most was made of everything. Buildings did double duty — a community hall by day, a USO by night. The city was open twenty-four hours a day.

Larry Booth recalls that few people drove cars; there weren’t any to be had. And since most of the all-night stores were located downtown, it was "pedestrians' heaven.” The streets were crushed with people, shoulder to shoulder, at every hour of the day and evening. ”I remember seeing four sailors walking arm-in-arm down the middle of Broadway, singing, happy, friendly, high. Not causing any trouble and nobody bothering them. It was good seeing people let off steam, not getting into any trouble, and being tolerated.” Mari Lu Stewart remembers starting a conga line down Broadway in broad daylight. With her mother at the head of the line, their conga soon grew three blocks long, snaking in and out of Horton Plaza, across streets in unbroken coils, and out of sight. There were no problems and no hassles from the police. It was the era of the spontaneous party.

Despite this sometimes festive air about the city, there was a need for a structured way of dealing with the leisure time of the servicemen, tens of thousands of whom lived in the city and county at any given time. In addition, tens of thousands more would disembark into the city at any one time. And what were they to do, having returned from combat? Walk up and down Broadway in an endless circle of searching? An organization whose motto was The Heart of San Diego, the USO, provided the answer.

San Diegans responded beautifully. Hearts went out to the young servicemen, many of them lonely, confused with worlds beyond the smaller ones they’d only recently left behind. And scared, too, some of them, but that was seldom discussed. So civilian USO volunteers came forward, welcoming and nurturing, by the tens of thousands. They gave their time, money, goods, talents, and concern. Whatever was needed was shared. It was a spontaneous outpouring of generosity unmatched in American history.

“We had one facility operated by the Army/Navy YMCA,” says Sheridan Hegland, executive director of the San Diego USO council during the war. “The rest of the thirty-four clubs were primarily hospitality and entertainment centers. The downtown units were open twenty-four hours a day, 365 days of each year. Clubs in the outskirts of the county opened their doors early in the morning and didn’t turn the lights out until late late.”

Hegland recalls the early days of the USO in San Diego. “Primarily because of the military involvement here, San Diego was probably the least isolationist city in the country. Even before we officially entered the war there was a tremendous build-up here. The military was much more important to San Diego’s economy then than it is now. Downtown merchants often used to display window signs that read, ‘We Reopen When the Fleet Returns.*

“So it was only natural that our USO program was well underway before late 1941 when the national organization joined us in the city. By that time the San Diego council was already operating thirty USO clubs throughout the entire county. Churches, synagogues, and fraternal organizations like the Moose, Elk, Masons, etc. housed them. We used whatever space we could get or take. Some of the clubs were staffed by professionals, some by volunteers. The point is the older San Diego USO Council ran parallel to the younger national organization.”

George Scott, of Walker-Scott department stores, was extremely committed to the San Diego USO effort. “We’d run my stores in the mornings, and in the afternoons we’d work on USO matters in my offices. We had thousands of volunteers. It was a very, very big program, and it grew so large that after a while we could no longer afford to finance it, so we joined up with the national organization. Well, they came in here and tried to tell us how to do it. Of course, we did as much as was necessary and more to get financial support from them, but we ran our own program.

“After all, we’d been at it longer than they had. We were all volunteers, of course, but we had learned how to do things the hard way and had developed an expertise. We worked with the national

USO on some fronts because it was collecting money from all across the nation and we here in San Diego had a disproportionate, a'greater concentration of need.” Sheridan Hegland talks about the numbers and logistics involved in running the USO here. “Locally we’d stage a minimum of ten dances a week. We screened first-run movies at the smaller installations throughout the county, from San Ysidro up to Fallbrook, and Oceanside to Rancho Penasquitos, frequently as many as fifteen showings a night. Three hundred thousand servicemen attended our screenings every month. We operated our own camp show program; our mobile units, manned by local show business people, would go wherever they were needed to make the world a stage again. I remember Mrs. Kittleson in particular. We’d load her piano into the back of a truck and on the way to Camp Callan or Camp Kidd or wherever, she’d practice her pieces right there in the moving truck all the way.

"At Christmas time we set up a large tent in the middle of Horton Plaza and distributed wrapped gifts and surprises and treats by the warehousefull. We had an ongoing program of supplying the men on the ships with current magazines and newspapers, food, gifts, and every which game imaginable. At one point the Navy told us, ‘For God’s sake, stop giving the men dart sets!’ We set up hundreds of little sheds all over the city and county so servicemen could hitchhike with convenience. Hitchhiking was okay and everybody did it. Even gray-haired grannies would offer sailors rides in the family coupe. It was the patriotic thing to do and — besides — they had sons and grandsons in far-away places, too. We also serviced civilian defense workers. They, too, were a part of the USO obligation and responsibility.

"So we staged huge dances at the Mission Beach Ballroom. The dances started on Saturday night, every Saturday night, at twelve o’ clock midnight on the dot. The late starting time was posted so as to accommodate the Convair plant’s swing shifts.” So every Saturday night a big-name band (Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, you name ’em) would pump it out until five in the morning while 5000 swinging boogie-woogie fanatics (“Zoot suit with the reet pleat and the drape shape!”) would jump and jive, swing and wing it well into the big-beat dawn. “It was a lot of fun,” Hegland reminisces, “and also a bit wearing.”

Of course there were problems and prejudices. World War II was a tremendous stirring of the fabled American melting pot. It startled some people, those who came from more provincial, homogeneous backgrounds. Sheridan Hegland remembers that “there was a black cavalry outfit stationed at Camp Lockett, and when the USO first started, the clubs had been segregated.

"Blacks had their own club in a reconverted Buddhist temple in Golden Hill. Another in Fallbrook. But we broke that situation down. We changed that when I became executive director. I don't recall any active resistance on the part of our professional or volunteer staff members, but it did take about a year of integrated club activity before it got to be psychologically accepted; once the program got rolling there was no problem with its functioning. But that’s patriotism for you. You can wrap a lot of things in the flag. It’s like a magician's trick: You wrap prejudice up in the flag, turn it around, make some deliberate passes, and when you unfold it and openly display it again, why the prejudice is gone! Let’s just say that virtue prevailed.”

Patriotism and the genuine desire to be helpful in a time of universal need helped to overcome other restrictions, too. With gentle but persistent persuasion, the womens’ division of the National Catholic Community Services finally agreed to hold USO dances during Lent. It was for the war effort, wasn't it? After considerable discussion, the Jewish Welfare Board eventually agreed to serve, along with the other kinds, sandwiches made of ham. Didn’t all the boys deserve the snack of their choice? But the most difficult task had to do with the Junior Hostess program. It took a lot of persuading to finally convince the Young Women’s Christian Association that it was perfectly all right to allow sixteen-year-old girls to attend dances with the younger servicemen, not in the relative security of the USO clubs, but actually in the camps themselves. Hegland reports that ”in all of our USO dances over all the years and with the tens of thousands of men and women involved, there was never a single case of rape ever reported.” In fact, the USO leadership wasn’t worried about any of the so-called problems reported above. What did worry them was the potentially explosive problem of one-to-one counseling.

Matters of the heart are important. People were falling in and out of love. There were questions of sensibility, fidelity, heartbreak. As Clara Marie Allen describes it, “There was at the time a widespread feeling of ‘Who knows what will happen next? Who knows what will happen tomorrow?’ Lovers and families and friends were separated. Most women had husbands who were away in the service. If they didn’t, they had brothers or cousins or dear friends, or somebody. And there were an awful lot of young wives who got married just before their newlywed husbands got shipped out to heaven-knows-where.”

“We thought it was potentially dangerous for our middle-aged hostesses to be giving specific action-oriented counseling,” Hegland says. “We were dealing with an extremely wide range of people and types daily, people with different background and histories. We felt that when intimate matters were being discussed it was vitally important not to send people off the deep end with suggestions or comments that would upset, offend, or even damage them.

“To avoid those unpleasant possibilities we flew a Doctor Rogers in from Chicago, and three or four other noted psychologists from all around the country. They counseled our volunteer counselors, lecturing and meeting with our neighborhood hostesses to instruct them in the aims and art of nondirectional counseling.

“We chose Doctor Rogers and others like him for this task because they belonged to what we then called the ‘A-ha’ school. That is, whenever anyone said anything, the counselor was to listen sympathetically, even with empathy, and give support and encouragement by simply saying ‘A-ha’ and nothing more. It was a matter of teaching our very fine people that when it came to personal affairs on the part of others it wasn’t necessary for them, the counselors, to have personal opinions; or, if they did, it certainly wasn’t necessary for them to express those opinions. The ‘ A-ha’ method served quite nicely without muddying an individual's psychological waters.”

But even the conscientious efforts of the USO could not do much to counteract the widespread psychological trauma — panic — that occasionally gripped the city. Many believed the West Coast to be vulnerable, a fear made real by three incidents: Japanese submarines fired shells into Seattle, fifteen Japanese fighter planes strafed Los Angeles (they had been launched by an aircraft carrier), and more submarines heaved bombs into Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara. Rumor and gossip frequently spread uncontrollably.

“It struck mostly in Coronado,” Jannette Branin recalls, “because of its vulnerability — you know, like a duck sitting right next to North Island with all its ships and planes. Any number from a couple of dozen to a couple of hundred Coronado residents fled to Pine Valley, just scared to death and afraid to go home. They thought they were going to be bombed or shelled.”

Branin recalls one Coronado matron, a very, very wealthy woman, loaded up all her personal treasures — fine art, silver. Oriental rugs — with the intention of taking up residence in her townhouse in Westwood. On the way up Rose Canyon, the van stalled on a steep grade that’s no longer there and burst into flames and exploded. Everything the woman was trying to save was destroyed. Not long after that, a munitions truck blew up while traveling over the same grade. Bombs, shells, and ammunition were scattered all over the mountainside. The explosions were heard all over the city.

That sort of accident didn’t help the jitters any. The civilian population, already staggering under the pressures of real and imagined attacks, suffered greatly when this kind of incident took place. Alone, sitting at home in the dark, how was one to know those earth-shattering explosions were accidents, not attacks? One’s serious side developed.

Iris Ingstrand, now the chairman of the history department at the University of San Diego, was just entering grade school when the war broke out. “The threat of attack was always very real. I remember being frightened a lot as a child. Fear was contagious. Lamp posts were covered with black cloth. The barrage balloons (about one-third the size of a football field) floated ominously in the skies. Sirens wailed at unexpected times — air raid alerts. As far as I was concerned, we could have been bombed any day, any time.”

Total blackouts were instituted in San Diego the first few nights after Pearl Harbor was bombed and periodically thereafter. That meant light from any source.

Tijuana, at the insistence of the military, was also plunged into total darkness. But blackouts proved too dangerous and brownouts became the order of the day — an efficient little shot of tension every night.

“You had to coat your windows,” Morrie Slayen reports. “Keep the shades down, pull drapes. Automobile headlights were painted out except for tiny slits. You could see cars oncoming, but where he was going, the driver couldn’t see. Panic would occur when people thought attack was under way. Then if a light was shining through your window, an angry person or three might well come banging on your door. If people thought there were cars on the street that shouldn't be, they'd throw rocks at the offenders or take baseball bats and break in the headlights. But this would pass and people would start hunkering down again, moving from shock and dismay and back to a little bravery. Then a ‘We’ll-get-back-at-those-guys’ attitude would start developing again and everything would be all right for a while, until the next time. It went on like that.”

“A slip of the lip can sink a ship.” That slogan was taken seriously in and about San Diego. Certainly one didn’t make jokes about it, nor was it merely a matter of poor form. Talk out of place and you just might well be visited by interested people from one of the intelligence services. Stranger things happened.

Pressure increased. Volunteers were taken out of state and federal prisons to build strategic roads. U.S. Highway 395 is in large part their contribution to the war effort. High school principals and university deans extended holiday vacations so that students would be free to work in department stores and service industries when seasonal demand was greatest. In fact, children were definitely part of the war effort. It was so pervasive, so consuming at all social levels that there was no practical way for them not to be involved. Ole Kittleson, now a teacher at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, talks about the happy fact that his mother, father, and sister were all frequent performers, for several USO troupes throughout the city. “I was too young to leave home by myself, luckily enough, and babysitters were impossible to come by, so I went along with the scenery.

“The military would come and pick up the whole performing troupe, usually at a downtown area meeting place. They’d load up the costumes, scenery, lights, instruments, gear, and performers and off we’d go. That was part of the fun. There was a romance to it, an adventure. Perfect for an often-scared kid. After the final curtain, the military then drove each of us home. I mean personally home, right to the front door. That’s how I got my start in show business.”

Iris Ingstrand remembers that every activity at school was directed toward the war effort. “We did nothing with our allowance money except buy defense stamps. We’d buy them in small denominations and paste them in our defense stamp books until we had enough to buy a Series E War Bond for $18.75, just like grown-ups. We collected grease for ration stamps and old newspapers and scrap metal — coat hangers. We kids were mobilized. We learned how to be airplane spotters. Every time a plane flew by we’d check our illustrated Spotters’ Handbook and have little contests to see who could correctly identify it first. We played at being soldiers and building model airplanes. We formed little war clubs, going around the neighborhood to see what we could do for the war effort. One of the big activities for the girls was the eternal knitting of woolen squares which the adult women would later bee into blankets or afghans.

“As far as we were concerned there were only three enemies — Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. They were very neatly packaged. We had posters at homeroom showing the three of them. None of them were particularly attractive men so they were easily caricatured, and that's how they were presented to us, as graphic grotesqueries. And every time you bought a defense stamp, you were given a black self-sticking piece of paper to stick over the poster. The motto was: ‘Help Blackout Hitler,’ or whomever. We divided, then, into war teams and whichever team first blacked-out the caricature, that team won the war. I really didn't understand what was going on, but it hung over our heads all the time.”


On September 2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, World War II officially came to an end. And on that day San Diego once again was transformed. It was commonly believed that the city, bloated by its wartime industry and population, would soon collapse economically. But the fears were unfounded. “In September or October of 1945, Convair laid off 40,000 employees in one week,” Frederick McLaughlin recalls. “But it really didn’t hurt that much because many of the workers were professionals or skilled craftspeople who were happy to get out and back to their civilian occupations. And most were women, former housewives, and they were sick of the labor and the dirt and tired of the war.”

Clara Marie Allen remembers that “a lot of the Convair women took jobs because they wanted to do their bit for the war effort and because they wanted the wages and a better way of life. The majority had worked and saved for the day when they could finally quit and go back to the kitchen and take care of their man and have a family and all the nice things that we were denied during the war and the Great Depression before it.”

Ernie Yahnke says, “The civilian sector was ready to take over again. The G.I. Bill was passed immediately and private housing started going up fast. I went back to the Bank of America in 1946 and was made the G.I. loan officer. When I asked what I was supposed to do, I was told to call the Veterans Administration. When I called the V.A., they said, ‘We don’t know. It’s all new to us, too. Do whatever you people do, and we’ll okay it.’

“Well, I was lucky enough to have an associate, an old-timer, who had done real estate lending before the war started and he knew how to make a real estate loan. So we did it on bank form — made the loans, closed them, and forwarded reports of what we’d done to the V.A. Then, without questions, they’d send us the guarantee certificates.”

There had been few houses built during the Depression and none to speak of during the war. Every G.I. wanted a house, and every G.I. who could get a job qualified for a loan. “The government guaranteed forty percent of every house loan,” Yahnke explains. “Processing was so easy it was often done right on the tract. All the G.I. had to do was bring his papers to the bank and — bang! — finished! We even lent closing costs. When I purchased my first home as late as 1950 the monthly payment was only fifty-seven dollars. There was a post-war building boom and it absorbed a lot of people, a lot of people. There had obviously been a lot of preplanning.”

In the next weeks, hundreds of thousands of soldiers began returning home. In San Diego, the 50,000 war workers and their families who left the city were quickly replaced by returning G.I.’s. There were countless homecomings similar to the one recalled by Wally Schlotter, now director of the San Diego Motion Picture and Television Board. He was five years old when the war ended and his father came home. “I remember Mom was cooking dinner and I heard a knock at the door. I went to it and answered and looked up at him — green aviator’s uniform, wings on the pocket. He had a duffle bag in his hand. But I really hadn’t seen him in a long time, so I said to him, ‘Just a second, please,’ and I went to the kitchen and said, ‘Mom, there’s a man at the door. . . and I think it’s Daddy.’”

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B24s at Convair. "At peak capacity Convair was building about one hundred Liberator bombers a week! From scratch!" - Image by San Diego Historical Society
B24s at Convair. "At peak capacity Convair was building about one hundred Liberator bombers a week! From scratch!"

"I was pregnant with our first child and we were remodeling the house, our first programming was interrupted and the announcer started saying Pearl Harbor was being bombed. At fi we thought it was just another Orson Welles War of the Worlds thing so we listened to it very calmly. But as the newscast went on, we began to realize, 'My God, it’s real!’”

— Doris Edwards

"When you stood at the foot of Broadway and looked up the street, you saw nothing but a sea of little white sailor caps."

“I remember riding downtown in the car that Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t a soul to be seen, which was very unusual. We always had sailors in sight. Navy. This town was full of Navy. But then the streets were deserted and I was wondering what had happened. It was scary, eerie. But we hadn’t heard a word about what was going on until we pulled up in front of the Hollywood Theater. Then my stagehand ran up and said, 'I guess we won’t be doing a show tonight. They’ve bombed Pearl Harbor.’ Then somebody said, ‘Now we’re in for it!’”

— Frances Johnston

Belmont Park. "We staged huge dances at the Mission Beach Ballroom. The dances started on Saturday night, every Saturday night, at 12 o’ clock midnight on the dot."

The outbreak of war in 1941 transformed San Diego. Virtually overnight the city changed character from an isolated, quiet little town to a frenetic city overflowing with strangers. The population increased 67 percent in less than four years, a military presence became military domination, and factories that didn’t exist a few years before ran 24 hours a day.

Gunnery practice, Ft. Rosecrans

Wartime San Diego made national headlines all across the country. It became a media darling, earning the public’s attention in a way no advertising budget could ever hope to achieve. The popular national magazines — Life, National Geographic, and the Saturday Evening Post — ran major San Diego-related stories. A motion picture, San Diego, I Love You (1943, Universal Films), was written by Ruth McKenney and starred Louise Albritton and Robert Paige. In a single year, the Eleventh Naval District alone released more than 2000 San Diego stories, 13,000 photographs, and more than 400 network radio programs.

Hollywood Theater. "We spotlighted a strictly live show, 480 seats at two dollars a ticket, from noon to midnight. There would be a lineup of sailors from the box office, down the street to the Knickerbocker.”

Planes were needed and that meant workers and that meant housing was needed, too. Kearny Mesa and Linda Vista were built by fiat, almost instantaneously. Housing for 15,000 was constructed from scratch in less than 200 working days. Eleanor Roosevelt took special interest in the project and dedicated it herself. “Money was no object,’’ recalls Morrie Slayen. president of Morrie Slayen and Associates in San Diego. “And when money is no object, anything and everything is paid in wages, in overtime, day and night, seven days a week, nonstop. At peak capacity Convair was building about one hundred Liberator bombers a week! From scratch! There was no fixed price. The government said, ‘Build!’ and it was built. And if there weren’t enough plants, under the War Acts Administration the government itself would build them, equip them, and then lease them out to operators. We had big problems and we fought our way out, bought our way out, and everybody paid for it gladly.’*

“Well, fabric wasn’t readily available, and what was available was kept deliberately expensive. So a big hem-facing business started up."

Slayen, a recent high school graduate when the war erupted, took his first full-time job at Consolidated Aircraft (later Convair. then General Dynamics). “America hadn't wanted any part of the war until Pearl Harbor was bombed. When that happened it was all suddenly a different story,” he says. “America mobilized. Until then the United States had been a major island, so to speak, surrounded by protective oceans on both sides, and until Pearl Harbor we had been immune to threats. The attack was stupid. It didn’t accomplish that much, but it got the dander up. It was provocative in the extreme and we responded, all of us, each and every one of us. Everything was wrapped up in patriotism.”

"By the war's end all banks had most of their deposits in the form of government bonds. "

Frederick McLaughlin was the plant superintendent at the height of Convair production. “Before the war you could walk in and out of the plant without a badge,” he remembers. “That changed, of course; it had to. We were building thirteen B-24s a day,the big bombers, at a cost plus ten of about one million dollars each. We were also building other planes, including the Navy’s fighter planes, the PBYs and the PBY2s, a twin-engine craft. Of course supplies were a big problem, that’s always the problem in the aircraft industry. But this was total war. Everything that was needed for the war effort we got for the war effort. That was the first and only national priority.

Horton Plaza, V-J Day, 1945. "Virtually overnight San Diego changed character from an isolated, quiet little town to a frenetic city overflowing with strangers."

“And we desperately needed workers, so they came in by the thousands and the tens of thousands from all over the country every week. And the women came into the plants, too. Before Pearl Harbor they were excluded; that was corporate policy. But when the war broke out, training schools were set up downtown and all over the city. Either that or we'd train them on the job. We’d take women in, give them a couple of weeks training with a rivet gun or whatever, and they’d become Rosie the Riveter. And they did one helluva good job, too! A great bunch of workers!”

Clara Marie Allen was one such Rosie the Riveter. She and her friend Constance Bowman were both teachers at San Diego High School in 1941. “I was teaching art at the time; my friend Constance was teaching English, and many of our students were falling asleep in class. We then found out they were working full time at Convair. They were already leading adult lives, and who could blame them? For those who sincerely tried to do both — school and work — all the teachers cooperated and tried to be useful.

“That’s the overwhelming feeling I have about that time — everybody was pulling together and working hard. Well, not everybody, but the vast majority. We did have a common purpose, a common goal, and it was important and good. In a way it was sort of uplifting.

“Well, Constance and I, we wanted to do something more for the war effort, to ‘do our bit,’ and we had our summer vacations coming up and Convair had started hiring women to work the assembly lines. So we decided to take a job and write a book about it. The other teachers in the lounge laughed at us. but we said, ‘Well, we can do it and we will do it!' And we did. We felt we sort of had to.”

The book, Slacks and Callouses, written by Constance Bowman and illustrated by Clara Marie Allen, was published by Longmans, Green & Company in 1944. It was an outstanding achievement in that relatively few books were published during the war. Paper was in rare supply. Says Clara Marie, “I’m sure the reason it got published was that it had to do with the war. Everything existed for the war effort then, even books. For ourselves personally, writing the book made working at Convair especially interesting. Having a dual purpose for being there, we were especially alert to everything.

“The book had been originally titled We Were Available. That was changed to Slacks and Callouses at the publisher’s suggestion. In any case, it had a tremendous sale in San Diego, as you can imagine. Convair people and others bought it and used it as a kind of yearbook. They took it to work with them and had their friends sign and autograph it. Working at Convair, especially on the swing shift, meant living for the job. So the book was a way of partying. There was a lot of partying then and people partied at odd times, whenever they could, despite all the problems, despite the brownouts and the blackouts.”


Frances Johnston and her husband Bob were the owners, managers, and soul of the Hollywood Theater, a much beloved institution made world famous by loyal servicemen fans. “We had such a beautiful marquee at the Hollywood, but at the beginning of the war and because of the blackouts we couldn’t light it and business was terrible. Then business boomed, all the downtown businesses did. We spotlighted a strictly live show, 480 seats at two dollars a ticket, continually from noon to midnight for the duration. When we opened every day there would be a lineup of sailors from the box office, down the street and round the corner to the Knickerbocker.”

Frances Johnston taught Lilly St. Cyr her first striptease and made her first big break possible. Other stars in the Hollywood Theater galaxy (now the Lyceum Theater) were comics Eddie Ware (he stayed with the show for twenty-five years) and Say-No-More Joe. who got his moniker because he'd open his act and punctuate it frequently with those immortal words, “Say no more, Joe!”

“We had about 48 people dancing on the stage at one time, small as that stage was. About thirty-five girls and ten to fourteen boys in the chorus. A four-piece band in the pit. It was a terrific production. We made it a big thing.”

It was burlesque and by today’s standards it was the cleanest show in town. It wasn’t topless, much less bottomless. There was a flash at the end of some numbers and what you saw was pasties. That was that. "It was a very clean show, but people figured it was burlesque and not many women attended, and if they did they’d always sit in the balcony. Our audience was mostly sailors and even during the blackouts we'd pack them in, regardless. It was a Navy town, always Navy, and the boys loved their Hollywood Theater.

“After each show. Daddy [Mr. Johnston ] would get them all out and bring in the new group for the next show. We couldn’t let guys stay for the second show, not with thousands waiting to get in. Later, what the hell, we were glad to have ’em stay over for a second look. The boys, they’d just scream and yell at everything, a very appreciative, enthusiastic audience. And they just loved our comics. Yes, the sailors loved the comics even better than the showgirls.”

Yvonne Early, now an executive secretary with the Navy, remembers what it was like to be young and live in San Diego. “Boyfriends were easy to come by. You just reached out and grabbed yourself one. They never lasted very long before they were shipped out. Here today and gone tomorrow. You didn’t worry about it.

“I was eighteen when I went to work as a soundproofer in B-24s. It was all new to me. I had never done that kind of work before, riding the planes down the assembly line, getting lost in the huge plants, working outside in the rain, the thousands of us. During fifteen-minute breaks I’d climb up into the cockpit of a Liberator, put a piece of soundproofing down onto the control pedals, and take catnaps. I had to because I was going out at night, all the time.

“When I fell, hurt my hip, and had to leave Convair, I went to work for the Zellerbach Paper Company. Downtown, of course, was very crowded then. There were bars every thirty feet, little holes-in-the-wall. When you stood at the foot of Broadway and looked up the street, you saw nothing but a sea of little white sailor caps.

“I remember the old Hamilton store. It was gourmet foods and a bakery. And they always somehow carried items that were hard to get because of the rationing. Some kinds of Campbell’s soups. Some kinds of canned meats and tuna, luxuries like that.

“It was good working at Zellerbach when the rationing crunch was on. Paper was in very short supply, and I could get paper supplies, good for the bartering system that developed. Sometimes we actually traded goods company for company. We’d give one of our customers a case of toilet paper (really scarce and treasured!) in return for them letting us buy Sunnybrook whiskey. It was terrible whiskey, that Sunnybrook, but it was the only kind available so I swapped toilet paper for it and gave the whiskey to my father and his friends. They complained but they drank it well enough.”

Everything during the war years was rationed, in short supply, or nonexistent. Gasoline, soap, sugar, leather goods, fabric, tires — everything that wasn’t immediately rationed eventually was. Soap rationing, however, was eased in 1943 because there was a rise in the collection of household fats.

“It was probably hardest on the families with infants,” remembers Clara Marie Allen. “A jar of baby food cost as many ration stamps as an adult-sized can of food. You paid for items with both cash and ration stamps. You couldn’t make a purchase of anything scarce without both. For the stamps, we all had to sign up, something like registering to vote. We might have done that at post offices, or people might have been stationed at tables set up on the streets, that detail escapes me. But once that registration was made, your allotted stamps came regularly in the mail.” Jannette Branin, now the food editor at the San Diego Union, recalls how shortages made keeping up with fashions difficult. “When the war started, skirts were rather short and tight. Then fashions began to change very rapidly and, totally out of sync with rationing logic and the war effort, skirts began to drop, lower and lower,. until they finally ended up at about midcalf.

“Well, fabric wasn’t readily available, and what was available was kept deliberately expensive. So a big hem-facing business started up. The idea was to let your old skirts down to the last quarter inch, then face the hem up. Another tactic was to drop yokes around the hips of your skirts and cover up the hip yokes with a blouse worn outside the waistband. Everything was very tailored and uniformy. If you had a good suit, you wore it and wore it and wore it.

“It was during that same period that the fashion moguls introduced, for the first time ever, that wonder of the chicest of wonders, nylon stockings. Nylons were touted as the greatest invention the world had ever seen, probably second only to the wheel itself. But we couldn’t buy them, they were introduced from the very beginning as a high-shortage item, so we wore leg make-up instead.

“Leg make-up was horrible but it was popular because there was nothing else you could do unless you wanted to be seen in public with white legs. It came in two ghastly forms, cake and liquid. Both were very reddish so we all walked around with orange legs. Naturally it was very uncomfortable to have your feet bare in your shoes, but it was in fashion, and we did it.”

“There were no houses, no cars, no refrigerators, no small appliances, no nothing available for purchase during the war,” recalls Ernie Yahnke, now vice president of Bank of America and manager of the downtown branch. “To my knowledge not a single home was built by its owner during that period. Other than to businesses servicing military accounts, there was very, very little lending to the private sector.”

Still, money flowed into the banks, primarily because of rationing and the lack of anything to purchase. And the banks, of course, invested almost solely in government bonds. By the war's end all banks had most of their deposits in the form of government bonds. This wasn’t a legal requirement, merely the only form of investment available. It also had the added benefit of being patriotic.

“The black market was something like Prohibition,” Yahnke reports. “It wasn’t vicious, but there was a ton of chiseling. The theft of scarce materials, for example; if you had a toolbox at work, you kept that baby locked tight because you couldn’t buy a hammer anywhere. A friend of mine owned an egg ranch. But the price of everything was rigidly fixed and he could only get so much legally for, say, a case of twelve dozen eggs. So as he handed the case over to a regular customer, the customer would have six bucks or so over and above the regular price palmed in his hand. That’s how things were done.”

Most on-scene observers of the period agree that rationing in general was honored by the vast majority. Most “chiseling” was essentially bartering. After all, the newly imposed system was rigid, but if it were too rigid, it would simply crack, the whole grand scheme. But it didn’t. American rationing worked; it was a combination of fair play and old-fashioned ingenuity.

As Yahnke explains, “Whatever was going on, I was young and couldn't care less about that sort of thing. Everything anybody wanted you could pay for. It was accepted. Some would get greedy or selfish or careless, of course, and they'd get caught and get sent away. One guy was a wholesaler of chickens. He'd raise 'em, kill ’em, pluck ’em. and freeze ’em. The Navy would weigh them, pay him, and buy them. He was chiseling and got away with it for a while. But one day they set a stack of his chickens aside and a helluva puddle of water formed on the floor. He had been freezing water into the birds to add to their weight. He went to jail.”

Others were incarcerated, too. But they went in large numbers, were innocent of wrongdoing, lost their properties, homes and businesses, and were confined in the worst of circumstances. Without trial or benefit of legal process, 110,000 Japanese-Americans who lived on the West Coast, 70,000 of them U.S. citizens, were carted away overnight and kept in internment camps until the war was over. They were victims of mass hysteria, rumor mongering, and a public blinded by a need to protect the homeland and defeat the enemy at all costs.

Morrie Slayen remembers that “we had a tremendous friendship with a Japanese family living next door. They had a restaurant business, very nice. In April of 1942 they were literally uprooted, forced to sell out. My dad bought the things from their home and helped them get a fair price for their stuff. It was a traumatic experience, seeing your friends dragged away to camp. It was one of the worst things Americans ever did to other Americans. There was no reason for that.

“Most did not get fair prices for their things. They were forced to sell fast and didn't have time enough to get what was coming to them. The wheeler-dealers sensed they could get houses and businesses full of stuff for practically nothing, and they swooped down on the Japanese like vultures.”

“I don’t remember the general reaction at the time.” Jannette Branin recalls, “but it must have been supportive. I did know it was not too many years later when we became aghast that we had ever been so caught up in propaganda. Many of us became dreadfully ashamed before the war ended. Especially when the all-Japanese battalion went over to Italy and fought so magnificently.

“I know one Japanese man named Muroaka. Saburo Muroaka was a truck farmer well on his way to becoming a wealthy man. He worked with his hands, had dirt under his fingernails, a good family man. And of course, he lost everything. He came back to San Diego after the war and started all over again. He recovered. He recouped. But he had to work a second lifetime after he was a middle-aged man. It was very, very shocking.”

Saburo Muroaka has lived in Chula Vista for sixty-five years. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he was arrested and jailed in San Diego. Until that time, he grew celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans, selling half his crop in Los Angeles, the remainder in San Diego. “In 1941 I was farming and the government came and took me over and put me in jail for two weeks,” he says. “Separated from my family, I was then shipped to a camp in Oklahoma. After that I was shipped yet another time to a new camp, this one in Louisiana. Some time passed. I was then again shipped to yet a second location in Oklahoma.

“My wife, Haruko, was arrested in April, 1942. She was shipped by closed train to Santa Anita. There she was ‘ housed’ in a horse shed. Both of us were kept in internment camps until the late spring of 1945. Then, reunited, we returned to San Diego and started farming crops in Chula Vista again. We just worked, worked, worked every day.”

Clara Marie Allen recalls a Japanese-American student in her art class. “He came to me to say good-bye, that he was being sent to a camp with his parents and family. I'm afraid that at the time I didn’t quite realize what all of that meant. He was one of the best students I've ever had. A lovely boy, very gifted and hard working. Well, he said good-bye and I just smiled and shook hands with him. Looking back on it I wish I had hugged him and wished him well and been much warmer. We just didn’t know.”

Ernie Yahnke had had many Japanese-American friends, “kids I went to school with, because that was a big farming community. South Bay. Well, I guess the government just picked them all up one day, because suddenly they weren’t around anymore and I’ve never seen any of them since.

”I don’t recall how I felt about that. They were my dear friends. I can’t believe I was angry with them. I know I wasn't. Certainly I wouldn’t have attacked any of them if I saw one in the streets. But by the same token, I didn’t try to stop what the government was doing. You didn’t ask questions.

“Later, we had further thoughts. I strongly doubted that my friends Kenji and Karla and the fellow I played football with would be capable of plotting against our country. I looked upon them as upon myself: They were one of us. My dad’s was a German family. Why didn’t they pick me up?”


Larry Booth, now with the San Diego Historical Society, recalls the difficulties wartime residents had in finding housing. “San Diego’s population had exploded during the war, and it was hard finding a place to live. Except for public housing built primarily for the aircraft workers, new homes or apartments simply weren’t being built. My wife and I, when we first moved to the city, lived in three or four different places until we settled down.

“We stayed for the first few weeks in one room in a house in Chula Vista, not a boarding house, but a rented room with kitchen privileges. You had to know somebody to find a place. A friend of a friend of a friend told you about somebody who was leaving and you followed up the lead, that sort of thing. We moved three more times before we found a place we liked well enough to stay.”

Doris Edwards remembers the great shortage of housing. “One night my husband and I were down at Bemardini’s and we met a couple, a very charming captain and his young wife. She was a little deb from Chicago and the captain was in tears because they had no place to stay. So we offered them the use of our home and they stayed as our guests for six months. That's how it was here then. Everyone was very cooperative."

Most downtown businesses stayed open long hours every day, which was necessary if the numbers of customers were to be accommodated. It was a time when the most was made of everything. Buildings did double duty — a community hall by day, a USO by night. The city was open twenty-four hours a day.

Larry Booth recalls that few people drove cars; there weren’t any to be had. And since most of the all-night stores were located downtown, it was "pedestrians' heaven.” The streets were crushed with people, shoulder to shoulder, at every hour of the day and evening. ”I remember seeing four sailors walking arm-in-arm down the middle of Broadway, singing, happy, friendly, high. Not causing any trouble and nobody bothering them. It was good seeing people let off steam, not getting into any trouble, and being tolerated.” Mari Lu Stewart remembers starting a conga line down Broadway in broad daylight. With her mother at the head of the line, their conga soon grew three blocks long, snaking in and out of Horton Plaza, across streets in unbroken coils, and out of sight. There were no problems and no hassles from the police. It was the era of the spontaneous party.

Despite this sometimes festive air about the city, there was a need for a structured way of dealing with the leisure time of the servicemen, tens of thousands of whom lived in the city and county at any given time. In addition, tens of thousands more would disembark into the city at any one time. And what were they to do, having returned from combat? Walk up and down Broadway in an endless circle of searching? An organization whose motto was The Heart of San Diego, the USO, provided the answer.

San Diegans responded beautifully. Hearts went out to the young servicemen, many of them lonely, confused with worlds beyond the smaller ones they’d only recently left behind. And scared, too, some of them, but that was seldom discussed. So civilian USO volunteers came forward, welcoming and nurturing, by the tens of thousands. They gave their time, money, goods, talents, and concern. Whatever was needed was shared. It was a spontaneous outpouring of generosity unmatched in American history.

“We had one facility operated by the Army/Navy YMCA,” says Sheridan Hegland, executive director of the San Diego USO council during the war. “The rest of the thirty-four clubs were primarily hospitality and entertainment centers. The downtown units were open twenty-four hours a day, 365 days of each year. Clubs in the outskirts of the county opened their doors early in the morning and didn’t turn the lights out until late late.”

Hegland recalls the early days of the USO in San Diego. “Primarily because of the military involvement here, San Diego was probably the least isolationist city in the country. Even before we officially entered the war there was a tremendous build-up here. The military was much more important to San Diego’s economy then than it is now. Downtown merchants often used to display window signs that read, ‘We Reopen When the Fleet Returns.*

“So it was only natural that our USO program was well underway before late 1941 when the national organization joined us in the city. By that time the San Diego council was already operating thirty USO clubs throughout the entire county. Churches, synagogues, and fraternal organizations like the Moose, Elk, Masons, etc. housed them. We used whatever space we could get or take. Some of the clubs were staffed by professionals, some by volunteers. The point is the older San Diego USO Council ran parallel to the younger national organization.”

George Scott, of Walker-Scott department stores, was extremely committed to the San Diego USO effort. “We’d run my stores in the mornings, and in the afternoons we’d work on USO matters in my offices. We had thousands of volunteers. It was a very, very big program, and it grew so large that after a while we could no longer afford to finance it, so we joined up with the national organization. Well, they came in here and tried to tell us how to do it. Of course, we did as much as was necessary and more to get financial support from them, but we ran our own program.

“After all, we’d been at it longer than they had. We were all volunteers, of course, but we had learned how to do things the hard way and had developed an expertise. We worked with the national

USO on some fronts because it was collecting money from all across the nation and we here in San Diego had a disproportionate, a'greater concentration of need.” Sheridan Hegland talks about the numbers and logistics involved in running the USO here. “Locally we’d stage a minimum of ten dances a week. We screened first-run movies at the smaller installations throughout the county, from San Ysidro up to Fallbrook, and Oceanside to Rancho Penasquitos, frequently as many as fifteen showings a night. Three hundred thousand servicemen attended our screenings every month. We operated our own camp show program; our mobile units, manned by local show business people, would go wherever they were needed to make the world a stage again. I remember Mrs. Kittleson in particular. We’d load her piano into the back of a truck and on the way to Camp Callan or Camp Kidd or wherever, she’d practice her pieces right there in the moving truck all the way.

"At Christmas time we set up a large tent in the middle of Horton Plaza and distributed wrapped gifts and surprises and treats by the warehousefull. We had an ongoing program of supplying the men on the ships with current magazines and newspapers, food, gifts, and every which game imaginable. At one point the Navy told us, ‘For God’s sake, stop giving the men dart sets!’ We set up hundreds of little sheds all over the city and county so servicemen could hitchhike with convenience. Hitchhiking was okay and everybody did it. Even gray-haired grannies would offer sailors rides in the family coupe. It was the patriotic thing to do and — besides — they had sons and grandsons in far-away places, too. We also serviced civilian defense workers. They, too, were a part of the USO obligation and responsibility.

"So we staged huge dances at the Mission Beach Ballroom. The dances started on Saturday night, every Saturday night, at twelve o’ clock midnight on the dot. The late starting time was posted so as to accommodate the Convair plant’s swing shifts.” So every Saturday night a big-name band (Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, you name ’em) would pump it out until five in the morning while 5000 swinging boogie-woogie fanatics (“Zoot suit with the reet pleat and the drape shape!”) would jump and jive, swing and wing it well into the big-beat dawn. “It was a lot of fun,” Hegland reminisces, “and also a bit wearing.”

Of course there were problems and prejudices. World War II was a tremendous stirring of the fabled American melting pot. It startled some people, those who came from more provincial, homogeneous backgrounds. Sheridan Hegland remembers that “there was a black cavalry outfit stationed at Camp Lockett, and when the USO first started, the clubs had been segregated.

"Blacks had their own club in a reconverted Buddhist temple in Golden Hill. Another in Fallbrook. But we broke that situation down. We changed that when I became executive director. I don't recall any active resistance on the part of our professional or volunteer staff members, but it did take about a year of integrated club activity before it got to be psychologically accepted; once the program got rolling there was no problem with its functioning. But that’s patriotism for you. You can wrap a lot of things in the flag. It’s like a magician's trick: You wrap prejudice up in the flag, turn it around, make some deliberate passes, and when you unfold it and openly display it again, why the prejudice is gone! Let’s just say that virtue prevailed.”

Patriotism and the genuine desire to be helpful in a time of universal need helped to overcome other restrictions, too. With gentle but persistent persuasion, the womens’ division of the National Catholic Community Services finally agreed to hold USO dances during Lent. It was for the war effort, wasn't it? After considerable discussion, the Jewish Welfare Board eventually agreed to serve, along with the other kinds, sandwiches made of ham. Didn’t all the boys deserve the snack of their choice? But the most difficult task had to do with the Junior Hostess program. It took a lot of persuading to finally convince the Young Women’s Christian Association that it was perfectly all right to allow sixteen-year-old girls to attend dances with the younger servicemen, not in the relative security of the USO clubs, but actually in the camps themselves. Hegland reports that ”in all of our USO dances over all the years and with the tens of thousands of men and women involved, there was never a single case of rape ever reported.” In fact, the USO leadership wasn’t worried about any of the so-called problems reported above. What did worry them was the potentially explosive problem of one-to-one counseling.

Matters of the heart are important. People were falling in and out of love. There were questions of sensibility, fidelity, heartbreak. As Clara Marie Allen describes it, “There was at the time a widespread feeling of ‘Who knows what will happen next? Who knows what will happen tomorrow?’ Lovers and families and friends were separated. Most women had husbands who were away in the service. If they didn’t, they had brothers or cousins or dear friends, or somebody. And there were an awful lot of young wives who got married just before their newlywed husbands got shipped out to heaven-knows-where.”

“We thought it was potentially dangerous for our middle-aged hostesses to be giving specific action-oriented counseling,” Hegland says. “We were dealing with an extremely wide range of people and types daily, people with different background and histories. We felt that when intimate matters were being discussed it was vitally important not to send people off the deep end with suggestions or comments that would upset, offend, or even damage them.

“To avoid those unpleasant possibilities we flew a Doctor Rogers in from Chicago, and three or four other noted psychologists from all around the country. They counseled our volunteer counselors, lecturing and meeting with our neighborhood hostesses to instruct them in the aims and art of nondirectional counseling.

“We chose Doctor Rogers and others like him for this task because they belonged to what we then called the ‘A-ha’ school. That is, whenever anyone said anything, the counselor was to listen sympathetically, even with empathy, and give support and encouragement by simply saying ‘A-ha’ and nothing more. It was a matter of teaching our very fine people that when it came to personal affairs on the part of others it wasn’t necessary for them, the counselors, to have personal opinions; or, if they did, it certainly wasn’t necessary for them to express those opinions. The ‘ A-ha’ method served quite nicely without muddying an individual's psychological waters.”

But even the conscientious efforts of the USO could not do much to counteract the widespread psychological trauma — panic — that occasionally gripped the city. Many believed the West Coast to be vulnerable, a fear made real by three incidents: Japanese submarines fired shells into Seattle, fifteen Japanese fighter planes strafed Los Angeles (they had been launched by an aircraft carrier), and more submarines heaved bombs into Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara. Rumor and gossip frequently spread uncontrollably.

“It struck mostly in Coronado,” Jannette Branin recalls, “because of its vulnerability — you know, like a duck sitting right next to North Island with all its ships and planes. Any number from a couple of dozen to a couple of hundred Coronado residents fled to Pine Valley, just scared to death and afraid to go home. They thought they were going to be bombed or shelled.”

Branin recalls one Coronado matron, a very, very wealthy woman, loaded up all her personal treasures — fine art, silver. Oriental rugs — with the intention of taking up residence in her townhouse in Westwood. On the way up Rose Canyon, the van stalled on a steep grade that’s no longer there and burst into flames and exploded. Everything the woman was trying to save was destroyed. Not long after that, a munitions truck blew up while traveling over the same grade. Bombs, shells, and ammunition were scattered all over the mountainside. The explosions were heard all over the city.

That sort of accident didn’t help the jitters any. The civilian population, already staggering under the pressures of real and imagined attacks, suffered greatly when this kind of incident took place. Alone, sitting at home in the dark, how was one to know those earth-shattering explosions were accidents, not attacks? One’s serious side developed.

Iris Ingstrand, now the chairman of the history department at the University of San Diego, was just entering grade school when the war broke out. “The threat of attack was always very real. I remember being frightened a lot as a child. Fear was contagious. Lamp posts were covered with black cloth. The barrage balloons (about one-third the size of a football field) floated ominously in the skies. Sirens wailed at unexpected times — air raid alerts. As far as I was concerned, we could have been bombed any day, any time.”

Total blackouts were instituted in San Diego the first few nights after Pearl Harbor was bombed and periodically thereafter. That meant light from any source.

Tijuana, at the insistence of the military, was also plunged into total darkness. But blackouts proved too dangerous and brownouts became the order of the day — an efficient little shot of tension every night.

“You had to coat your windows,” Morrie Slayen reports. “Keep the shades down, pull drapes. Automobile headlights were painted out except for tiny slits. You could see cars oncoming, but where he was going, the driver couldn’t see. Panic would occur when people thought attack was under way. Then if a light was shining through your window, an angry person or three might well come banging on your door. If people thought there were cars on the street that shouldn't be, they'd throw rocks at the offenders or take baseball bats and break in the headlights. But this would pass and people would start hunkering down again, moving from shock and dismay and back to a little bravery. Then a ‘We’ll-get-back-at-those-guys’ attitude would start developing again and everything would be all right for a while, until the next time. It went on like that.”

“A slip of the lip can sink a ship.” That slogan was taken seriously in and about San Diego. Certainly one didn’t make jokes about it, nor was it merely a matter of poor form. Talk out of place and you just might well be visited by interested people from one of the intelligence services. Stranger things happened.

Pressure increased. Volunteers were taken out of state and federal prisons to build strategic roads. U.S. Highway 395 is in large part their contribution to the war effort. High school principals and university deans extended holiday vacations so that students would be free to work in department stores and service industries when seasonal demand was greatest. In fact, children were definitely part of the war effort. It was so pervasive, so consuming at all social levels that there was no practical way for them not to be involved. Ole Kittleson, now a teacher at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, talks about the happy fact that his mother, father, and sister were all frequent performers, for several USO troupes throughout the city. “I was too young to leave home by myself, luckily enough, and babysitters were impossible to come by, so I went along with the scenery.

“The military would come and pick up the whole performing troupe, usually at a downtown area meeting place. They’d load up the costumes, scenery, lights, instruments, gear, and performers and off we’d go. That was part of the fun. There was a romance to it, an adventure. Perfect for an often-scared kid. After the final curtain, the military then drove each of us home. I mean personally home, right to the front door. That’s how I got my start in show business.”

Iris Ingstrand remembers that every activity at school was directed toward the war effort. “We did nothing with our allowance money except buy defense stamps. We’d buy them in small denominations and paste them in our defense stamp books until we had enough to buy a Series E War Bond for $18.75, just like grown-ups. We collected grease for ration stamps and old newspapers and scrap metal — coat hangers. We kids were mobilized. We learned how to be airplane spotters. Every time a plane flew by we’d check our illustrated Spotters’ Handbook and have little contests to see who could correctly identify it first. We played at being soldiers and building model airplanes. We formed little war clubs, going around the neighborhood to see what we could do for the war effort. One of the big activities for the girls was the eternal knitting of woolen squares which the adult women would later bee into blankets or afghans.

“As far as we were concerned there were only three enemies — Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. They were very neatly packaged. We had posters at homeroom showing the three of them. None of them were particularly attractive men so they were easily caricatured, and that's how they were presented to us, as graphic grotesqueries. And every time you bought a defense stamp, you were given a black self-sticking piece of paper to stick over the poster. The motto was: ‘Help Blackout Hitler,’ or whomever. We divided, then, into war teams and whichever team first blacked-out the caricature, that team won the war. I really didn't understand what was going on, but it hung over our heads all the time.”


On September 2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, World War II officially came to an end. And on that day San Diego once again was transformed. It was commonly believed that the city, bloated by its wartime industry and population, would soon collapse economically. But the fears were unfounded. “In September or October of 1945, Convair laid off 40,000 employees in one week,” Frederick McLaughlin recalls. “But it really didn’t hurt that much because many of the workers were professionals or skilled craftspeople who were happy to get out and back to their civilian occupations. And most were women, former housewives, and they were sick of the labor and the dirt and tired of the war.”

Clara Marie Allen remembers that “a lot of the Convair women took jobs because they wanted to do their bit for the war effort and because they wanted the wages and a better way of life. The majority had worked and saved for the day when they could finally quit and go back to the kitchen and take care of their man and have a family and all the nice things that we were denied during the war and the Great Depression before it.”

Ernie Yahnke says, “The civilian sector was ready to take over again. The G.I. Bill was passed immediately and private housing started going up fast. I went back to the Bank of America in 1946 and was made the G.I. loan officer. When I asked what I was supposed to do, I was told to call the Veterans Administration. When I called the V.A., they said, ‘We don’t know. It’s all new to us, too. Do whatever you people do, and we’ll okay it.’

“Well, I was lucky enough to have an associate, an old-timer, who had done real estate lending before the war started and he knew how to make a real estate loan. So we did it on bank form — made the loans, closed them, and forwarded reports of what we’d done to the V.A. Then, without questions, they’d send us the guarantee certificates.”

There had been few houses built during the Depression and none to speak of during the war. Every G.I. wanted a house, and every G.I. who could get a job qualified for a loan. “The government guaranteed forty percent of every house loan,” Yahnke explains. “Processing was so easy it was often done right on the tract. All the G.I. had to do was bring his papers to the bank and — bang! — finished! We even lent closing costs. When I purchased my first home as late as 1950 the monthly payment was only fifty-seven dollars. There was a post-war building boom and it absorbed a lot of people, a lot of people. There had obviously been a lot of preplanning.”

In the next weeks, hundreds of thousands of soldiers began returning home. In San Diego, the 50,000 war workers and their families who left the city were quickly replaced by returning G.I.’s. There were countless homecomings similar to the one recalled by Wally Schlotter, now director of the San Diego Motion Picture and Television Board. He was five years old when the war ended and his father came home. “I remember Mom was cooking dinner and I heard a knock at the door. I went to it and answered and looked up at him — green aviator’s uniform, wings on the pocket. He had a duffle bag in his hand. But I really hadn’t seen him in a long time, so I said to him, ‘Just a second, please,’ and I went to the kitchen and said, ‘Mom, there’s a man at the door. . . and I think it’s Daddy.’”

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