TRANSCRIPT PART 1 & 2
Welcome Wilson Sr. – WWII and Texas (PART 1)
My name is Welcome Wilson Sr. and I’m going to talk about World War II and how it affected those of us in Texas.
Interviewer: Start by telling me where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Wilson: On December 7, 1941 my family and I had been out to a new place that we had purchased out of town about 8 miles where we were planning to move in a few months. When we drove up, it was my brother and I, I was 13 years old and my brother and I were in the car with my parents and a friend of ours from school, came running and saying, I’m volunteering, I’m volunteering and we didn’t know what in the world he was talking about and then he told us that the Japs had attacked Pearl Harbor. And the first thing we had to determine, where the hell was Pearl Harbor because nobody had ever heard of it, so that was quickly clarified. So we rushed to the radio, which was the source of all information in those days and listened carefully to the reports and blasts and so forth, it was an exciting time and I remember my brother along with half the nation said we will beat them in 3 weeks. Well those dirty Japs, we will beat them in 3 weeks, etc., etc., didn’t turn out that way.
Interviewer: How did things, you think things changed immediately after that did the whole tone of the country changed or did it take a little bit of time.
Mr. Wilson: Well, let me answer that in two ways, one is remember that the War had started in Europe in September 1, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland having signed a Treaty with them saying he wouldn’t invade. So, that’s when England got involved and whatever and it was right after that Churchill was elected Prime Minister of England and so we had been in sort of a war mode for some period of time because it looked inevitable although there were still those elected officials who were saying we gotta stay out and start business etc., but everyone got serious after December 7 and everybody settled down and got busy over how to win this war.
Interviewer: You mentioned your friend saying he was volunteering, was that the feeling across the board was there a big surge in that.
Mr. Wilson: Not question about it and let me tell you that one thing that was characteristic of World War II that I haven’t seen since is patriotism was everywhere, volunteers for the service for example, people willing to make sacrifice, I often say today that we have farmed out out patriotism in America to 1% of the population that is over there fighting wars and at home we are unwilling to make any kind of sacrifice of any nature because of the war, we expect that 1% and we think that we do our part where we stand up and applaud when a Veteran walks in the room but in those days everyone was ready to put their shoulder to the wheel and so forth and the optimism about quick victory was high, turned out to be so wrong.
Interviewer: Let’s expand on that patriotism and sacrifice that was going on here, tell me about things like rationing and price controls and how that affected everybody’s lives.
Mr. Wilson: Well remember I was 13 years old and when the war ended in 1945 I was 17 1/2 so my perspective is not like my mother or father’s would have been, who were trying to keep food on the table and things like that, but my perception was that everyone was willing to make the sacrifice and no one argued about it, no one complained about it that much. For example, we got 3 gallons of gas a week, 3 gallons of gas per week. So you had to be very careful where you go, gasoline was very cheap at the time, my recollection is it was about 14 cents a gallon and I remember one time during the war that I ran out of gas and all I had was one penny, so I put that one penny’s worth of gas in my tank and believe it or not I got 7 blocks on one penny worth of gas. But another thing that you don’t think about but American manufacturing converted to the war effort, so no one had new automobiles, no one had parts for old automobiles. I remember buying shirts during the war, no new shirts had been manufactured for several years, so what the stores sold were detachable collar shirts, literally that they had left over from the 1920’s, that’s where I learned to tie a bow tie because you could not get a regular four in hand tie, all we had for sale was bow ties. So bow ties became very popular, there were no suits and things like that that you could buy, but my perspective was off base because of me being a kid, I felt like everybody was willing to sacrifice and so forth, of course my parents may have had a different point of view.
Interviewer: Do you remember your food, how did it affect what you all had for dinner?
Mr. Wilson: Well the food situation, we never had any shortages that I knew of, except let me change that, certain foods were in short supply. There were less fruits, less vegetables because we didn’t have people on the farm to work the fields, they had price rationing and the only price that I remember was that, not price rationing, price control and the price that I remember is that coffee was 25 cents a pound and that probably the only thing I could remember about price controls. But there was food but you had to show up on time or it might be gone, so I don’t remember any sacrifices regarding the supply of food.
Interviewer: You mentioned nobody was there to work the fields, and in certain parts of Texas a little bit later they had the POW camps, do you remember any of those in the valley or was that too close to Mexico.
Mr. Wilson: No there were no POW camps in the Rio Grande Valley where I grew up, I grew up in Brownsville, Texas from the time I was 12 years old to the time I was 17 1/2, actually 18 and if they had any impact it was minor because there just weren’t that many prisoners of war and they were all Germans by the way.
Interviewer: Did the Mexican border make a difference for people, well let me back up and ask you something else first, how was the troop population down in the valley.
Mr. Wilson: How was the what?
Interviewer: The troop population, were there service bases down there?
Mr. Wilson: Yeah, in Brownsville, Texas we had Fort Brown which was built after the war between United States and Mexico and it had a heavy population of soldiers in training for the Calvary and believe it or not they were on horses, so the American Military was not very modern in 1941, so we still were training horses, training soldiers to use horses in combat but they had a big impact on Brownsville, they were very good for local business for one thing and all the local girls loved dating the soldiers and it also helped in the patriotism, for example we would attend certain events at Fort Brown where they would parade and things like that.
Interviewer: So did the population of the city swell with soldiers I mean was it a noticeable busier place?
Mr. Wilson: I would say we had no more than about 3000 soldiers and the population at Brownsville at the time was about 30,000 people. Population at Matamoros directly across the street was greater, it was probably 200,000 people and by the way it didn’t seem to me that there were that many differences in the ability to go across the border, in other words we were used to going on Sunday and having dinner next to the square in Matamoros Mexico and I don’t remember any special precautions or security or whatever as a result of the border.
Interviewer: Tell me about bond drives and war bonds and things like that, is that something that you remember becoming a part of life?
Mr. Wilson: Very well, I spent most of the war as a newscaster on the local radio station and the reason that I at age 15, 16, 17 was a newscaster was that anybody qualified was in the military and gone, so all of the jobs were held by teenagers and older people and it was a great opportunity for experience for a teenager, I was a disc jockey at age 15 and a station break announcer and then later a newscaster. And as a newscaster it gave you the opportunity to keep up to the minute on the war. We had Associated Press at the radio station so our newscast were written by Associated Press in effect and just given by us 2 or 3 times a day, but it was,` it did give you an opportunity to know what was going on in China and all over the world.
Interviewer: How closely did, I’m guessing this is an obvious answer but tell me about the closeness that people would follow the war news and how much was it a topic of conversation.
Mr. Wilson: Well the war news was closely followed but what you have to remember is that we had censorship then, it wasn’t like the Vietnam War, in a sense there is no censorship to speak of, so most of the news was good, and now we know that was totally misleading, for example in the Pacific, the Japanese were beating us everywhere in the Pacific and literally running us out of the Pacific, well there wasn’t that twist on it at the time, everybody knew it wasn’t going well but no one knew what a disaster it really was, and so there was a lot of propaganda involved as well. For example, all of the movies were about the war typically and it would be our heroes winning the battles and things such as that and it is reprehensible when you look back on it but the Japanese and the Germans were portrayed as total villains, the Japanese love to kill Americans and rape women and all that kind of stuff and later on in the Korean War, I served in Japan as a Naval Officer and learned that the Japanese are the warmest, best cultured, most wonderful race of people you can imagine they are a wonderful, wonderful race, family oriented, hardworking, intelligent and just a great group of people but that’s not the way they were in World War II.
Welcome Wilson Sr. – WWII and Texas (PART 2)
Interviewer: Let’s go off on a little tangent here for a second, tell me how often did people go to the movies and what were, with the distractions any different during war time, is that something that changed or did that remain exactly the same?
Mr. Wilson: Well I thought it was the same and in terms of whether or not there was distraction during the war, for example as a teenager we saw every movie that came to town and which meant you went to the movies 3 days a week, because that’s when the movie theaters ran 3 movies a week and then in the second movie theater they ran Cowboy movies and B pictures it’s called, and then there was a movie for Hispanics, Spanish language movies but life as a teenager was built around the movies because that’s when you.