:: Maurice W. Carlson
Maurice W. Carlson
Sergeant, United States Army Air Corps
As told by Doris E. Carlson, widow of Sergeant Carlson
Maurice Carlson served in World War II in the 8th Bomber Command, England
Mrs. Carlson was interviewed on 1 July 2003 at her home in Corona, California
Appleton: My name is Ann Appleton and today is July 1, 2003. This interview is taking place in Corona, California, as part of the Riverside Veterans History Project, a Riverside Public Library partnership with the Library of Congress.
Now, could you give us your full name please?
Carlson: My full name is Doris Eva Carlson.
Appleton: And what was your family name?
Carlson: Slankard. It’s a German name.
Appleton: Just out of curiosity, do you know where your family was from in Germany?
Carlson: My folks were both born in the United States. I think my mother’s parents were probably from the Alsace Lorraine area. (Appleton: Right near the French border.) Yes, and my father was born in Missouri. My mother was born in Illinois.
Appleton: Where were you born?
Carlson: I was born in Branscomb, California in the heart of the Redwoods.
Appleton: How did your family get from the mid-west to California? Is there a story to tell?
Carlson: Not really a big story. My mother and father were married in, I think, Metropolis, Illinois in 1909 and they came to San Francisco where my father was going to work on the railroads that were being built from San Francisco up through the Redwood country.
Appleton: Had he worked on the railroads in the mid-west?
Carlson: He was an engineer and so he primarily was into that kind of work. When he worked on the Skunk Train out of Willits. (Appleton: Oh, I know that.) Yes. He worked on the Skunk Train from Willits to Fort Bragg and then he settled . . . they lived in Willits for a while and then they moved into Branscomb which was total wilderness at the time.
Appleton: Did you go to school in Branscomb?
Carlson: I went just for a part of a year. There was only one teacher (laughing) for the first to the eighth grades. Then we moved out of the Redwoods because my father felt that we needed to . . . it was a big family . . . that they needed to get the children to where there was a better schooling situation for them.
Appleton: How many children were there?
Carlson: All told, there were eight of us and then I lost a little sister when she was only six years old, in 1936. So there were seven of us then.
Appleton: And where were you in that order?
Carlson: I was the fourth child.
Appleton: Now I’m assuming that your father, having the position that he had, that your mother stayed home. Is that true?
Carlson: Absolutely. Yes.
Appleton: Certainly with seven or eight kids, how could you possibly find time?
Carlson: She had lived a very protected life as opposed to my father who had lived . . .(laughing) It would be hard to come up with a word. (Appleton: A more vigorous life?) Very much so. He was a veteran of the Spanish American War so he had traveled extensively. He had been around a whole lot where my mother was an only child with a half-sister who was twenty years older. So she practically was raised as an only child. My father taught her a lot. (Laughing)
Appleton: I’m sure. Now when did you get married?
Carlson: We were married in 1939 on July the 30th.
Appleton: And how did you meet your husband?
Carlson: His sister moved in next door to me. (Appleton: What town was this in?) This was in Lakeport, California, just north of San Francisco, about 125 miles, and he came to visit his sister and got a job in Lakeport. He never went back to Turlock where he was born. He moved in next door to me and I wasn’t 17 years old yet when I met him. I met him in April and I had my 17th birthday in July. So he was a big part of my life early on.
Appleton: Were you both in high school then?
Carlson: He was in high school in Turlock where he was born, as I said, and when he came to Lakeport he started school there but he got a job and, because of the Depression and everything, he didn’t finish high school. (Appleton: But you did.) But I did. Absolutely.
Appleton: How long had you been married when the hostilities broke out for the World War II?
Carlson: Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 and we were married in 1939, so a couple of years.
Appleton: And did you have children?
Carlson: No. No. We didn’t have any children.
Appleton: How did your husband happen to join the military? Was he drafted?
Carlson: He was drafted. But, if I remember correctly, I think he had a choice of what branch of service he might want to go into, because he was inducted, I think, in Monterey and they asked him if he had a choice. He chose the Air Force. The Air Corps.
Appleton: Do you know where he was trained? Where he went to his training?
Carlson: He trained some at Fort Ord. I know he went to Casper, Wyoming and he went to, I believe, Jefferson City, Missouri and then he had some of his training in Denver. Before he shipped overseas, I think he was just waiting to be sent from . . . I believe it was Bangor, Maine.
Appleton: Now, in the Air Corps, what was his job? (Carlson: Tail gunner.) Oh, he was a gunner. (Carlson: He trained as a tail gunner.) And they flew their raids out of England then.
Carlson: They flew their raids out of England.
Appleton: I see. Well, meanwhile, you’re at home and did you move back home with your parents?
Carlson: Not at first. No. When he was first drafted I was working in Napa and I worked for a women’s sports store called J.V. Sports Clothes and then I went to work for the telephone company. Then from the telephone company I went to work for Basalt Rock Company which later went into building barges. They made barges for the Navy.
Appleton: Now where you doing clerical work then? (Carlson: Yes. Bookkeeping.) I see. Did you have some special training in bookkeeping?)
Carlson: In high school I had taken a complete business course, shorthand, bookkeeping.) (Appleton: That’s interesting. My mother did the same thing about that same time.) And I’ve always been so thankful for the teachers that I had. I was just really fortunate. They encouraged me in every way and I had good teachers. Really good teachers. Because I had such good training in high school . . . teachers who were really into teaching . . . I was able to get a job as a bookkeeper rather than something that paid less. And Basalt Rock Company was making barges at the time for the Navy and the barges would be completed and then they would be taken down through Vallejo and out underneath the Golden Gate on test runs. Trial runs. I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the girls who got to go out on the barge. It was very special.
Doris Carlson was working at the Basalt Rock Company in Napa, California during World War II. She was just filling in as switchboard operator when this
photograph was taken in 1943. Normally at Basalt Rock Doris
was working in the bookkeeping department.
Appleton: Did you wave? (Laughing)
Carlson: Oh, and of course the barge was full of sailors ready to be, you know, ready to ship out. It was a really special thing to be chosen to do that. I felt really, really honored and I loved my job as bookkeeper. Also because I had had a job with the telephone company prior to going to work for Basalt, I had the experience on the switchboards and when the Basalt Rock Company found out that I had this little experience, they would take me off the bookkeeping machines to relieve the girl on the switchboard. And you will see here pretty soon, a picture of me at the switchboard, way back when, because the photographer kind of took this little liking to me, I guess, (laughing) and he wanted to take my picture and he did, at the switchboard. So I do have that picture as a fond memory.
Appleton: Did you have friendships with other women whose husbands were gone or was it mostly just work and go home and work and come back to work with the company?
Carlson: No. I had friendships with a lot of different people and, coming from a big family, I had sisters and brothers and sister-in-laws and brother-in-laws, all connected with the service primarily. I had a lot of friends. A lot of friends in different vocations. So, as I said, I grew up in a small town and my father was adamant about . . . even though it was Depression time and nobody had any money . . . and certainly not my family . . . but my dad was adamant about how we treated older people and taught us early on, when we walked down the street, and we can’t do this today, but to say “hello” and to smile. He said, “You speak to everybody and you smile.” And that’s exactly what we were taught to do, as kids growing up. And I knew everybody. Everybody, virtually, in the little town that I grew up in and I have happy, pleasant memories.
Appleton: So unlike some military wives, you didn’t feel isolated because you hadn’t had to uproot and go to another place where your husband was stationed.
Carlson: Not until he came home from overseas.
Appleton: You say you came from a small town. Did most of the people in town have someone who was associated with the military? A son or a son-in-law or a husband?
Carlson: Almost all of the people in the town. Our little town . . . I can go through my yearbooks and . . . a lot of the boys were lost. Some of them in the Pacific . . . most of them in the Pacific. One boy was killed even before he ever got overseas. In Texas in an airplane accident in the service. And no, the town was very committed to the war. The whole town. And they worked together.
Appleton: How did they share that commitment? (Carlson: How did they share it?) Yes.
Carlson: Well, because it was such a small town, everybody knew everybody. I think they shared it more from communication with each other constantly and also they shared it, probably in . . . if somebody had sugar stamps and maybe they didn’t need the sugar stamps, they would, you know, share. They would share. They shared things. They shared all the information that came in from the soldiers that they knew or sons and daughters, whoever they happened to have in or connected with the war. They always shared. It was a tight, small community.
Appleton: So you knew where other people’s families might be in the war.
Carlson: Oh, very much. Absolutely.
Appleton: Now, was your husband fortunate enough to have anyone that he knew from home in his group?
Carlson: Nobody. Are you referring to after he got overseas?
(Appleton: Yes.) No. The closest would have been his brother who had been captured by the Germans and was a prisoner of the war . . . in a German prison camp.
Appleton: I see. But your husband was never shot down?
Doris Carlson (right) and Ann Appleton are examining the aviator’s silk scarf
worn by Maurice Carlson and all other air crew members. They carried these
scarves to help plan escape routes if shot down.
Carlson: My husband’s plane was shot to pieces. (Laughing) And they just got across the Channel . . . just made it across the Channel and they all had to bail out. Just did get across.
A close-up view of Maurice Carlson’s aviator’s scarf indicating mapped escape
routes for downed fliers, which fortunately he did not have to use
because his bailout was over friendly territory in England
Appleton: Well, we’ll get into some of those stories in a few minutes. Were there groups in town that got together and knitted socks or sent care packages to the boys in the military from your town? Or was that more of an individual thing?
Carlson: I think that . . . because I didn’t stay in the little town . . . my job was in a bigger city and I was living in Napa when I worked for Basalt Rock Company and so I do know that they certainly sent packages. They sent all homemade goodies and things like that to the soldiers, to the Army and Navy boys.
Appleton: How many boys in your family were in the service?
Carlson: I had two brothers in the service. They were both in the South Pacific. They were both in the Navy. The one brother was on the Enterprise when it was hit but he made it home. They both made it home without any injuries. Both of those brothers.
Appleton: Amazing. And your husband’s family also had more than one son in the war. Is that correct?
Carlson: Right. They had three sons, counting my husband, in World War II and then their youngest son was in the Korean War.
Appleton: I see. Well, during this time that you’re living on your own, and working, and your husband is overseas, could you call up some of your feelings and thoughts for us? Were you afraid for him?
Carlson: Oh, I was petrified. When he first went to England I wasn’t really aware of what he was going to have to be doing. Probably young and (laughing) so much was secretive. A lot of the letters . . . things were cut out, censored. Some things cut out of the letters from my brothers and him and I was really worried sick when I realized just exactly what he was doing. It was nothing short of a miracle that he made it. I’m sure everybody is aware of the first crew that came home, they all made it back, that they did the picture about. It’s on the tip of my tongue but it doesn’t come to me right now. But it will. I’ve got it down someplace but anyhow, when I found out that he was going on these missions, it was terrifying. It really and truly was terrifying.
Then, as you will see later on in the interview probably, the interview that he gave to the Richfield reporter, which came back to us, and his sister heard it. I was not at home and didn’t hear it, but she got it down. She asked for it and they sent her a typewritten copy of that interview. We were aware. We were certainly aware of the danger that those boys were in all the time, and it was scary.
Maurice Carlson is checking his tail gunner’s equipment on his B-17. This photograph was taken at his base somewhere near London, England in 1943.
Sgt. Carlson (front row, left) is shown with his air crew at an air base outside of London. The photo was received by his family on October 28, 1943.
Front Row: Maurice W. Carlson (Turlock, California) Tail Gunner,
Lowell Southam ( Salt Lake City, Utah) Radio Operator,
W. J. Hannigan (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 1st Engineer,
S. J. Cavallaro (Syracuse, New York) Left Waist Gunner,
R. L. Allman (Concord, North Carolina) Right Waist Gunner,
J. G. Arthur (Jackson, Mississippi) Ball Gunner
Back Row: R. E. Bohne (Spanish Fort, Utah) Pilot,
W. J. Degataire (St. Martin, Louisiana) Co-Pilot,
W. Mangum (Provo, Utah) Bombardier,
H. D. Bellmer (Tucson, Arizona) Navigator
Special Note: After World War II Lowell Southam was killed while driving in an automobile race in Riverside, California. He was an only son and had
kept in close touch with Maurice Carlson and his wife.
Appleton: How did you cope with that?
Carlson: Well, fortunately, like I said, I had a lot of friends and, I think, youth is on your side because you keep busy. You keep your mind occupied. You keep close to your family. You stay focused as much as you could. We stayed focused because we knew that it was important . . . what we were doing at home was important because we had to win this war. This was not a fun game here. The Japanese had made that plenty clear. So we knew that we needed to keep our heads and let the boys know that we were behind them. “Rosie the Riveter” was not just a phrase. Those girls were in there, doing their jobs, big time. Big time.
Appleton: What was the first change, or some of the first changes that occurred in your life after the war began?
Carlson: When the war began. You want to know the changes . . . (Appleton: In your life.) In my life. Well . . .
Appleton: When you were talking about the sugar stamps and things. How soon were things rationed? Right away? Or after a while? Tell me a little bit more about how your community responded as a whole to the war.
Carlson: The small community reacted quickly and even though I wasn’t there all the time, I was aware of what was going on. There were a lot of churches and the churches especially all stuck together, worked together and the Red Cross, they worked with the Red Cross in keeping in contact with the boys. Just anything they could do. Anything. Any way. And, of course, everybody raised a Victory Garden, (laughing) because we didn’t have things on the market that we were used to having.
Appleton: All right. Talk to me a little bit more about those shortages and rationings.
Carlson: The things that I remember . . . one big item was the gas. We were rationed for gas and those of us who worked in war industry type things, would have stamps, gas stamps, so that we could get back and forth to work. Tires were a big problem because of the rubber. A big, big, big problem. And shoes were rationed. I mean, not necessarily rationed, but they weren’t that available. And sugar. Sugar was big. Bacon. We couldn’t get bacon (laughing) because, I guess, most of the pork and hams and those kinds of things were being sent to the boys, which was right.
Appleton: Well, they weren’t as perishable as fresh meat.
Carlson: Right. A lot of that was true. So we just took it kind of all in our stride and actually, as far as I’m concerned, in comparison to what our soldiers and sailors and servicemen were going through, it was nothing at home. The churches were behind everything in this small town that I grew up in.
Appleton: Well, how did you cope with these wartime shortages? Did you just do without? Or what?
Carlson: Well we tried to make do with what we had. Of course there were some people who wouldn’t maybe need all their sugar stamps, if they didn’t need the sugar stamps they would give them to a family were the sugar was maybe needed more. Or if they didn’t eat bacon, they would give their meat stamps. And older people who didn’t wear the shoes out and maybe didn’t need as many shoes, but stuff like that. They all worked together. I tell you, it was a really big endeavor on the people at home to stick together. Hang together. Be there for each other and, as I remember it, even though I was pretty young, I look back on it and I think: Tom Brokaw just about had it right. It was the greatest generation.
Appleton: I think perhaps also it was a time, if not the time, that this country was most united.
Carlson: Oh, absolutely. Really united. They were so thunderstruck by the bombing of Pearl Harbor that they went into full gear so quickly that it shocked even those of us who were working at home here in the United States. We couldn’t believe how quickly they started building ships. They had ships built and out there and airplanes like you would not believe. So fast. So actually, a lot has to be said for the people . . . big aircraft companies that made airplanes and the shipyards that built the ships. To take nothing away from our soldiers, or our Armed Forces, but they were right there.
Appleton: They made the transition very quickly.
Carlson: Oh, I couldn’t believe it. It almost seemed like over night the country switched to the fact that they knew that we had a problem and we had to get with it. We had to get with it quickly. So consequently the churches all worked together. Seamstresses and people like that who sewed, knitted and sent the Red Cross big time. They raised Victory Gardens those who had a spot to do it. At the time I was living in an apartment so we were not living anyplace where I could raise a Victory Garden but those people who did raise, I would say primarily in the little town that I had grown up in, probably carrots, cabbage, beets, radishes, green onions, and anything like that. They also canned. The canning was a big, big thing. My mother canned everything that she could. And my father had, years before, always helped her do the canning because she really didn’t have much of that in her background. So he had taught her. He taught her how to make homemade bread. (Laughing) He taught her how to make biscuits and he was an outdoorsman and he was a real sport-minded man . . . he went deer hunting. You wouldn’t think of shooting a deer unless it was for food. That was the only way. The same with fishing. You fished for food for your family. And that’s the way it was prior to the war. So I grew up with that kind of a background. And, as I said, my family was really poor. I mean, poor as the poorest.
Appleton: It’s very hard to can meat. Would people just divide up if somebody shot a deer or was there a place that you could can it safely or did women just learn how to do it?
Carlson: I don’t recall that my mom ever tried to can any meat. I don’t remember even that my father did that. Because like I said, he was an outdoors person and so before the war he could fish and hunt before he died. And he could fish and hunt and bring it home fresh. So she didn’t have to do that. However, she learned to can fruit because in the county that I grew up in, it was pear country. Prunes. Mainly pears. Grapes. Grapes, pears, prunes, but my dad, who was, like I said, a real outgoing sort of a guy, and he would make (laughing) . . . he would make all kinds of concoctions out of things that were not really tasty. (Laughing) But he knew how to do it. He knew how to do what he had to do. He died in 1939.
Appleton: Can you tell me a little bit about the Civil Defense Program?
Carlson: The Civil Defense Program. I really wasn’t too connected in any way with the Civil Defense other than that I worked for a company, like I said, building . . .
Appleton: Maybe I wasn’t very clear. When I think of Civil Defense I think of the precautionary measures that all families were expected to take. Like the blackouts.
Carlson: Oh, ohhhhhh. There again, the towns were right on top of that. They worked right with the people in charge of all of that and they had the blackouts and they had certain, you know, times that they wanted you not to do things, especially not have a lot of lights and things, but the way I was fortunate was that the town, even when I worked, when I worked for the shipyard, that area would have been certainly subject to any kind of . . . I want to say, whatever the Japs or the Germans could think of and attacked us with anything . . . or would have done . . . we never had a problem that I knew of. But the people were all very, very civic minded. If they were told to do something, and told that we needed to pull our shades at night, well, we did it. We didn’t even question it. If it came from the head honchos, we went along with it because, to us, that was part of our duty.
Appleton: I remember saving cans of drippings of fat. That kind of thing. I never knew what they were used for. Do you?
Carlson: Well I think that probably back in those days they probably used the lard for a lot of things. I really don’t know what war product or what they might have been used for. I don’t recall, actually. I do know that tires . . . the rubber situation was serious. You had to really have special privileges almost to get tires and to work someplace where you needed it . . . or farmers. There again, the farmers were given leeway from a lot of things simply because they were growing the things that . . . like in the pears, they canned pears . . . we dried pears . . . they made baby food out of the pears, which was nothing new, because prior to the war, with the Depression on, we had pretty much buckled down simply because we had to. So I don’t think I ever felt that I was any more deprived of anything during the war than I was during the Depression. Truthfully. I think that I was just thankful for anything I got, no matter how I got it.
Appleton: Meanwhile the home front is trying its best to keep things going and to keep up their own morale. Nevertheless, you knew that your husband was over there somewhere and you probably didn’t know exactly where much of the time and how did you feel when you heard news on the radio of the war or you saw it in newspapers or if you went to movies, you saw it on newsreels? What were your thoughts when you saw that kind of information?
Carlson: Well, it’s hard to describe exactly how you feel. You know they’re in danger and furthermore early on in the war I had two classmates I had already lost. My closest girlfriend who stood up with me when I got married, her brother was killed in Italy. Boys that were in my class had died. It was a terrible, terrible thing and it was such a devastating thing at the time that I think most of us just felt that we needed to all work together and just do what we could do and what we had to do without. We just knew we had to do without. I don’t remember hearing anybody even complain. As a matter of fact, there were certain situations like maybe with the gas . . . we wanted to do something or go someplace, we just had to make, you know, do our own entertainment. A lot of our own entertainment. We had picnics. We had wiener roasts. We had taffy pulls. We had popcorn parties. We just made our own fun at home wherever we were. And the churches were behind us a hundred percent there. The young people, and I belonged to the Baptist Church, and I was active. I sang in the choir and when I moved away from my little hometown to go to work, that was a different thing because I didn’t have all of that. But there was so much other stuff going on that my mind was active all the time. I was active in a lot of different things as far as just keeping occupied.
Appleton: Did you seek news of the war or did you avoid listening to the radio, for example, when the news was on?
Carlson: I didn’t avoid listening because it was too important. My age group was the big age group and that was the big, big, big, concern for the kids from this school. So I had too many, too many who were just exceedingly close to me, not only family, but close, close, close, close friends and you just took each thing at a time. And you tried to do what you thought was best. You stayed on top of things as best you could. And we just kind of all did our thing. What we knew we had to do.
Appleton: How did the community react when someone received news of a death of someone in the service because you said many of your classmates were killed.
Carlson: Oh, it was devastating. It was so devastating that I just . . . even the thoughts of trying to remember it. The first casualty was a boy that was in a couple of classes above me in school. He went into the service. He wasn’t even overseas. He was killed in an airplane crash in Texas and he was an only child. An only son. And it was so heart breaking that it was . . . (voice breaking) impossible. Impossible. Just impossible.
Appleton: I heard stories of the stars that people put in their windows and I have always thought that that was a very trivial recognition of the sacrifice of their family. Were people comforted somehow to be a “Gold Star” mother? Or did everybody display if they were entitled to that “Gold Star” that somebody had been lost in their family?
Carlson: You know, I can’t really comment too much on that even though I knew the families of . . . the closest family that lost their son in Italy, that I was the closest to, I don’t recall them having a “Gold Star” but I’m sure that if they had one, and they probably did, they probably put it in a window but it would have been certainly something for all of us to have given great thought to at the time because not only had I grown up with the kids, but I knew these parents and were close to them . . . some of them and so I’m sure that probably most of us didn’t comment too much on it because at the time we were so young and probably in my own mind, I might have been afraid of saying the wrong thing, you know, at the wrong time. But outwardly, they stuck together. They all stuck together. (Appleton: They kept a stiff upper lip.) And they really kept a stiff upper lip. And they didn’t complain. They just kept on going. The church services continued and the boys were remembered in the services and the families were remembered. All the ministers and all the churches worked together. That was a beautiful thing too.
Appleton: Can you talk to me about corresponding with friends and family in the service? Did you use those little Victory Mail, little thin sheets? Or was that only the servicemen that used those?
Carlson: Actually I did use some of the little thin sheets because of the weight they wanted but the thing is that I might, before I forget to mention this, is that our mail was censored. The mail going to our servicemen. Our brothers and husbands would receive mail with stuff cut out. And, on the other hand, the mail that we got back from them would be heavily censored. If they even mentioned something that might be a clue, like “I sat under the palm trees”, (laughing) that’s a bit of humor . . . they would . . . (Appleton: You knew they weren’t in Germany.) Right. We didn’t know that they were probably in the South Pacific.
Appleton: Were there many people that you wrote to?
Carlson: Yes. I wrote to quite a few people. First of all I had two brothers and three brother-in-laws in the service. I corresponded with them and I corresponded with kids from high school that were in the service. And my younger brother, who was in the Pacific, would write and say “Would you write to so and so?” and he’d give me a name and I would. Both of us coming from big families I had quite a bit of corresponding to do.
Appleton: When you heard the news that the Allies were actually, finally winning in Europe, did you allow yourself to believe that it was going to be over soon? Or did you still keep caution in your heart?
Carlson: You know, that’s a good question. That’s a good question because when that war broke out, we didn’t have a doubt in our mind that we would win that war within months. The general consensus was that we’d beat them and I don’t know whether that was more among the other people, or whether it was just the whole idea of the country, but we never dreamed that it would go that long. We just didn’t think it would. And actually, probably it wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been fighting on two fronts which made it more difficult.
Appleton: Certainly. (Carlson: Took a longer time to get it ended.) Right. Do you remember where you were when you heard about VE Day? When you heard that the war was over in Europe? Do you remember that moment with clarity?
Carlson: I have to stop and think. I can remember very, very definitely where I was when I heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. It was on a Sunday morning and I was on my way home from my job in Napa, to my mom’s in Lakeport, and I was thunder struck. I couldn’t believe it. I absolutely could not believe it. But getting back to where I was when the war was over, because when it ended, my husband was at home. I mean, in the states. He wasn’t out of the service, yet but he was in the states. So that pressure was off.
This family snapshot shows (l to r) Floyd Savage, Vera (Slankard) Savage,
Sgt. Carlson’s wife Doris (Slankard), and Maurice Carlson in one of
their lighter moments in Lakeport, California in April of 1944.
Appleton: But he wasn’t back with you.
Carlson: Yes. As a matter of fact he was back with me. He came home and they gave him, I think it was thirty days of R & R and he got sent down to . . . well, we were living in Vallejo at the time, or Napa, up there, and we got to come down to Santa Monica and at that time there were three beautiful . . . this was in February 1944, and he got to come home and he got sent for R & R down to Santa Monica and we had, I don’t know how many weeks, at least three weeks, and there were three beautiful hotels on the beach in Santa Monica. There was the Miramar, the Edgewater and I don’t recall the third one but three big, big, fancy, lovely hotels at that time. And the Army had taken them over especially for the soldiers. (Appleton: Wow!) So we got to eat . . . all our meals were served in the Edgewater Club (Appleton: Oh, my!) and we really had a ball. We had just an absolute ball. Everything was just honky dory but, of course, he was still in the service. And even though he had done his overseas thing, there was still a chance that they might ship him off to the South Pacific. But, fortunately, he didn’t have to do that.
After he shipped out of Santa Monica, he got shipped to Tennessee. They were going to use him as an instructor to train the young soldiers coming on, that were going to be sent overseas. He was in Tennessee and I went back to Tennessee. I took the train. My mother had given me some lessons on the South because in the South, back then, we they were still fighting a little Civil War (laughing). So anyhow she had clued me in on some proprieties as far as the South was concerned.
My husband was stationed in Dyersburg, Tennessee until October and in October he got sent to Texas and I went on the train with him to Texas and we found a room. A delightful Texan . . . beautiful Texas lady, and we had a great time in Texas. The Army entertained us off and on and we went to the church and there was a lot of entertainment through the church. Lots of nice musical things.
Then, from there he wasn’t sure where he was going so I went home and then he eventually got stationed in Victorville and I went to Victorville. I stayed with him while he was there. And here’s where he got . . . (Appleton: Discharged?) No. He got an Army disability because at Christmas, we were really enjoying our stay in the desert because it was totally different from anything that I had seen . . . the desert. I had been raised in redwoods and lakes and mountains, so it was all completely new to me. But anyhow, I loved it.
For Christmas I gave him a wedding band and he’s wearing the wedding band and he was working on something connected with an Army truck and he was standing on the . . . I want to say a running board but I’m not sure that’s what it would be, but anyhow, he went to jump off and he caught this ring finger on the wing nut of the truck and tore the finger off. So consequently he later, way down the line, was able to get a ten percent disability.
Then from Victorville he got sent to Spokane, Washington to fight fires . . . (laughing) which seems ridiculous but . . . (Appleton: Was that after the war was over?) No. The war had not ended yet. Then from Spokane he got to come home and then I think he got his discharge . . . (Appleton: In ’45. Did he actually get his discharge from Spokane? Engineers Fire Fighting Company. That must have been in Spokane.) Spokane. Yes.
Appleton: Well, how did you feel about that? About his finally getting his discharge?
Carlson: (Laughing) Well, of course . . . believe me, it was a great, great, great relief because as long as there was a war on, and even though some of the soldiers had done their duty, or tour of duty, I should say, a lot of them were being sent to different places and he could very easily have been sent someplace else. But he was fortunate. From there he didn’t get sent anyplace else. He got to come home.
The Turlock Journal report of Sgt. Carlson’s 25 missions over Germany appeared in March or April of 1944.
Appleton: Can you think back and tell us a little bit about how you think the war changed not only your life but your family’s? Your husband’s? How was your life different after the war because the war had happened?
Carlson: Well, for my personal life with my husband, it was so good to have him home. We were all so relieved and most especially since he’d had a brother in the prison camp. The brother came home and his life was never the same. That life was changed, totally and completely, and he died at a very early age. So it affected all of us in so many different ways that probably the best thing we could say is that all of us were so thankful, so grateful for the ones that did get to come home to us and just so thankful that it was over. And boy, it was a blessing for everybody at that time.
Appleton: Do you think people appreciated the U.S. more than they had?
Carlson: Oh, I think so. I would be willing to bet that at that particular time we were at the height of appreciation to our boys and thankful for our country and for everything. We were just grateful. And, I might add, that after the war businesses picked up. They didn’t want to be caught again, like they were at Pearl Harbor where all of our ships were . . . virtually every battleship we owned, stuck in Pearl Harbor. I don’t think they ever would do that again. They wouldn’t make that mistake of having that much military in one such vulnerable spot. And I think it made all of us more aware of what could happen to us. All of us were aware that it could take months and months for the thing to end and be costly lifewise, as far as our boys were concerned, and financially, to the country. And we were all anxious to get on with our lives. Get started with our families and get back to what we would consider a normal life. Actually, afterwards, as soon as things got kind of back to normal, wages went up. The Depression was over. We were through that miserable life and so all in all I think we were just grateful and thankful. That’s probably the best way to describe it.
Appleton: Well didn’t Maurice ever consider making the military a career?
Carlson: Oh, no. No. (Laughing) That would have been the last thing on his mind. He was so thankful to be home. He was so thankful to be out of it and so thankful to be back with his family. He was a real homebody. He loved his home.
Appleton: Can you share with me some of the stories that he did tell about the war? Whether they were funny or scary or what was he willing to say about it?
Carlson: Well, first of all, my Swedish husband had a terrific sense of humor. He could see humor in things that probably other people would never see. And consequently the fellows that were on his ship with him, the B-17, strange as it may seem, they had an Englishman, an Irishman, a Frenchman, a Swede (laughing) and an Italian. So they had all of these boys. You could tell how diverse the situation was. The total comedian of the lot was this young, young Air Corps boy named Hannigan. (Appleton: Oh, the Irishman.) An Irishman. (Laughing) Apparently a total Irishman with a terrific sense of humor. So my husband was constantly relating Hannigan stories to us. They were always so funny. Some of them, maybe not necessarily something we would want to put on tape, (laughing) but they were always really funny.
Appleton: During his time in the service, Maurice experienced some very difficult events. What awards did he receive for his service that he was most proud of?
Carlson: Of course the most important medal that he received was the Distinguished Flying Cross. Let me read an excerpt from an interview he gave about it. “It was the 20th raid over Wilhelmshaven, Germany on November 3, 1943. Instead of being at my usual post of tail gunner on the bomber, I was serving as left waist gunner. We had bombed the life out of their big docks and the ack-ack was giving us a bad time when, socko, right through the fuselage by the right waist gunner a shell tore through it. It hit the armor plating close to where I was plenty busy, and burst. The explosion knocked my gun off its mount and my heavy flying pants were riddled but I wasn’t scratched.”
Maurice Carlson displayed the significant mementoes from his military service— his parachute “D ring” release handle, his medals, and a newspaper article
describing how he bailed out of his damaged airplane. The medals are
(top) Air Medal, (middle) Good Conduct Medal,
and (bottom) Distinguished Flying Cross.
Appleton: There you have it, in his own words.
Carlson: Yes. There you have it in his own words.
Appleton: And there were other awards that he received, I’m sure.
Carlson: Right. He also has the Blue and Gold Ribbon as a winner of the Air Medal and Three Oak Leaf Clusters signifying that he has really won the Air Medal four times. He received the European/African Mid-East Campaign Medal, one Bronze Battle Star.
Appleton: When he came home was it difficult for him to find a job?
Carlson: No. It wasn’t. It wasn’t difficult. His father was working for a company in Vallejo at the time and he went to work for this man pretty soon. Before he went into the service he had worked in the Safeway store as manager of the Safeway store. Eventually he went back to Safeway store as a manager and he worked for Safeway for quite a long time in Mill Valley, as a matter of fact, in the Bay area and we settled in to a normal life after the war.
This summary of Maurice Carlson’s 25 bombing missions in World War II was probably given to him when he was discharged in 1945.
Appleton: Well now, your family was growing. Did you have any children while he was in service?
Carlson: No. Not while he was in the service.
Appleton: So, fortunately dad was home then when the first child was born.
Carlson: Dad was home when the first child was born and we’re talking about dad being a six foot, big, strong, healthy Swedish guy, and, for some unknown reason, our first little baby, a beautiful little baby girl, weighed five pounds. Five pounds and they had to keep her in the incubator. So the Swedish people, as I think most people know, are pretty strong, healthy able-bodied people so they never gave birth . . . I don’t think any of them ever gave birth to anything under 8-l/2 or 9 pounds. So here I am with this tiny little baby girl, and they ribbed me to death. My husband’s brother, the one who had been a prisoner of the war, teased me and said, “Doris, you don’t get ‘em any cheaper by having them littler.” And I laughed and said, “That’s not even funny,” because she had to stay in the hospital. I had to stay in the hospital two weeks. She had to stay in the hospital two weeks longer because they had to keep her in the incubator until she reached . . . she lost weight and she had to be back up to a certain weight before they’d let me take her home. Our son Maury was born in 1948, and he is the image of his handsome father.
Appleton: Right. Well after you have several children though, you might look on that as a blessing to have the baby stay two more weeks in the hospital. (Laughing) What do you think?
Carlson: And that’s absolutely the truth.
Appleton: Well, was your husband willing to talk about the war or did he just want to forget it?
Carlson: He was willing to talk. He was perfectly willing to talk. Now that’s a good question too, Ann, because my younger brother who was in the South Pacific, as I said, you could hardly get him to talk. You could hardly get him to say a word. It wasn’t until just . . . I want to say maybe a few years before he died, that he was willing to even give us half the information that we should have had years before. He did not want to talk about it, but my husband was perfectly willing to talk about it. He would have talked to anybody about it.
Appleton: Can you share some of the stories that you remember, that he told you about his experiences?
Carlson: Like I said, he had a great sense of humor and the stories that he told were just normal little things that maybe happened on their passes to London and the English girls that were so . . . (Appleton: Fascinated with . . .) fascinated by the Yanks. (laughing) A bunch of them went to a burlesque show in London and (laughing) and the Yanks, of course, made a great big to-do over this burlesque show, and they clapped and whooped and had a big time because it was a fun thing for them. It was a big deal. And the English, who are so, so prim and proper, and the English men, whose wives probably didn’t have a clue they were at a burlesque show, (laughing) sat . . . he said they sat so stiff and so poised (laughing) and you would never have known (laughing) they were watching a burlesque show. There was just a bare little clap, clap, clap. But the Yanks made up for it. They made the girls think they had done a really big thing.
Appleton What about some of his friends that he made during the war? Did he keep up relationships with them later?
Carlson: The radio operator stayed really close to him and he lived down here in San Bernardino and you’re not going to believe this story because it’s horrible, but he took up car racing. Auto racing. After the war. And here again, we have an only son from Utah and he was killed in a car-racing thing here after going through all of that in the war. And my husband was very, very close to this one fellow. That was the only crewmember that was out here. But one of the soldiers that we had met while he was stationed in Tennessee, absolutely the most delightful person . . . soldier. I adored him. He was just so comical and he stayed close to us until the war ended and for quite a long time. I was always really sorry that we didn’t keep in contact with him because he was such a laid-back, easy going and always a big tease. He teased my husband a lot. He would kid him. He would get off work. He would get out of whatever he was doing at the Army base before my husband and he’d come right directly to our apartment in Tennessee and when he heard my husband coming up the stairs, he’d kick back, put his feet up and just relax and when my husband would walk in, he’d say, “Well, where in the heck have you been? I’ve been here for the last two hours.” (Laughing) He was just a big tease. He loved to tease. So, yes, we had a lot of happy, happy memories. A lot of very sad memories and it’s something not too many people had.
Appleton: And it’s something that will never leave your memory.
Carlson: No. Well, I’ve always said my life was never boring. Not ever. Not at any time did I have a boring part of life.
Appleton: Now, Doris, many years have passed since World War II, but as you reflect back, how do you think the experience of having lived through, very intimately, World War II affects your attitude towards war in general?
Carlson: Ann, that is in one way a very difficult question because of the world situation today, as opposed to what it was then. We had to go to war and everybody knew it. My opinion about that war was that we had to do it and get it done with, but as far as war in general is concerned, no. I think if it’s necessary to save our country, and our lives, then we have to do it. It has to be done. But just to blatantly go to war without pretty darn good excuses, is not a good thing in my mind. I would not ever say that I was for that.
I think that I would be in favor of attempting to make some kind of compromises to make it right so that we don’t have to lose these boys, these young kids. And here again we might look back at what happened here in the United States before we actually went into war because we have to remember that Hitler had gone into these countries and taken over and it was horrible. It was absolutely horrible what he had done. So, in my mind, nothing short of war could have solved that. He had to be . . . (Appleton: Eliminated.) Absolutely. We had to get rid of him and if the circumstances were like that again, I would say we have to do it. We have to do it. But in general, just in general, I say “No.” I say, “Let’s try and maintain some peace.”
I personally feel that most of the countries should try, probably to fix their own problems without a lot of interference from the United States. This is my feeling about it. And I just think that the need to find ways to make the best possible circumstances, living conditions and everything else, for their own country. Well, they’ve got leaders that don’t want to abide by this and get totally out of hand, I’m sure then that there are times when we have to step in. But barring that, as far as war, I would say, “Avoid it if we can.”
Appleton: Would you have said that if World War II had never been part of your life experience? Or do you know? Perhaps that’s not a reasonable question.
Carlson: I probably would have felt pretty much the same way. It’s a little difficult to answer that because . . . (Appleton: Well, certainly. No one knows ‘what if’.) Yeah. (Appleton: Exactly.) I would not have been in favor of just walking into a country and ever just taking over without good reason.
Appleton: Thank you for sharing your ideas and your experiences during World War II. Your interview will be reviewed and you will receive your own personal copy. Copies of today’s interview will be placed in the Riverside Public Library, as well as the Library of Congress in the Archives of the National Veterans History Project.
Carlson: Thank you Ann and I really want to thank you. I have enjoyed every minute of my time with you and it’s been a real joy. I hope that you’ll come back and see me some other time and we can just visit. Thank you so much.
Appleton: We appreciate your input. You have a valuable story to tell.