|Oral history interview with Jean Fuller by Bradley Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. She discusses her experiences in Oshkosh on the homefront, Marriage to WWII veteran Douglas Fuller and the death of his brother, flyer Brice Fuller. A transcript is on computer file in the archives.
INTERVIEW WITH JEAN FULLER
BY BRAD LARSON
February 22, 2002
BL: This is Brad Larson and I'm talking to Jean Fuller. Now Jean, the way I like to start out with this is we start out by saying your date of birth and…I know it's embarrassing sometimes, but, and where you were born.
JF: I was born in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin, St Joseph's Hospital. I was born 6-20-23.
BL: When did your family come to Oshkosh?
JF: My Mother and Dad came to Oshkosh in um…Well I was two years old.
BL: Why did he come to Oshkosh?
JF: Because my daddy worked at what they used to call the feeble minded home which is a central colony for children that are emotionally disturbed and my mother worked in the laundry as a matron. My mother and father were both widows and widowers. Daddy had one son Joe and my mother had two boys and a girl and they decided to get married. Mother had her two boys at (Gowslin?) school for boys and she had Phyllis, who I call Fowl because I couldn't say Phyllis when I was a little girl, and anyway Mom and Daddy met and they both worked there and got married, the money was not enough to take care of four children and so somehow or other they heard about Paine's Lumber Company. So, they moved here and they were one of the first families, and I've never told this. I was rather embarrassed and now I'm not anymore because, I'll tell you why, the first families to live in that housing development that Paine's' had had constructed for their employees and mother had a picture of it so…There I'm two years old a Kewpee doll on the step. Mother said she always put a geranium in the window so when I was out, I'd remember to come home cuz they all looked alike. Those buildings are still in existence.
BL: One of my staff members lives in one.
JF: Really? Okay. Well anyway, so that is why they came to Oshkosh.
BL: What do you remember about growing up in Oshkosh in the 1930's, what kind of town was it? What kind of a place was it to live?
JF: Um…It was a nice town, beautiful parks, years ago there were trolley cars here, street cars and I went to Rosie Swart Training School, and my mother…They had to pay to go to Rosie Swart Training School. Are you familiar with the school I'm talking about?
BL: Tell me about it though.
JF: Beautiful school, I roller-skated to that school. That's before of course, the University came in. Quite a school.
BL: What did you do for recreation as a little girl growing up in the thirties? What were some of the things you would do?
JF: There was Girl Scouts, Junior Campfire, Girl Scouts, and you roller skated and you helped your mother with the house work, and uh…
BL: You also snuck into Boy Scout Meetings.
JF: Yessss. (Laughs) I certainly did.
BL: Do you remember it?
JF: Do I remember it, how can I forget when everybody brings it up! I lived on Wright Street, I grew up on 81 Wright Street and my friend Betty Beck lived on Scott Street. There was a big barn behind her house and I don't know why, there were three of us girls out in the evening. I don't know why. You know, ordinarily, you know people are supposed to be home…I know I had to be home by eight o'clock though, so. It must have been like, in the fall because it must have been dark. So anyway, we meandered around and we heard these boys upstairs in this barn, and so Betty said, "I dare you to sneak up there." So I climbed the fence and I started up the stairs and this skinny blond guy started chasing me and I run. I jumped the fence and then the three of us ran in her house. So, he must have gotten a good look at me cuz the next day, when I walked to school, here's this skinny short blond kid and he says, "Hi, what were you doing checking up on us boys, sneaking up there." And I started to laugh and I said, "Well, just having fun." And that started it.
BL: Who was the skinny guy?
JF: Douglas Francis Fuller, twelve years old.
BL: And how old were you?
JF: Eleven. So, it started out that he'd be roller-skating and I would be roller-skating, we'd just happen to meet by Carl Geeslefs grocery store on the corner of Scott and Wright St. and then some bunch of us kids would hang out there in the evening and sometimes we'd go to Lexy Brothers Hospital, are you familiar with that? Okay, it was a hospital for Catholic Monks and they had a garden and apple trees and plum trees and we could skate around there, we could help ourselves to apples. We did that.
BL: It sounds like it was a good…a good childhood growing up in Oshkosh.
JF: I had a playhouse. My parents um, my mother loved children and she became aquatinted with a Mrs. Thorn, who was a probation officer in Oshkosh, and there was a young woman next door to us that was expecting a baby and she said to my mother, "Mary Grace, when I have my baby, would you take care of my baby? My mother said, "Yes, if I can." So my mother became licensed to have a foster home. The child was born and he came to live with my parents, in fact, this child died on my birthday last year. My foster brother. He fell out of a tree on his property, eight acres of property, and um…That's where that goes. Anyway, so he came to live with us and he was a cute little tyke growing up and we grew up together. And I had a wonderful childhood because I was taught to like all kinds of people, mother would have....She had a Mexican, she had a black one, she had all kinds of children, and Dr Minaker would call and he'd say, "Gracie, I've got another baby for you" and mother would always make room. I had a wonderful childhood. I think I am what I am today because of where I came from. I have a past like that.
BL: Do you think it was different than it is today?
JF: You mean the area, the surroundings, and the whole um…we listened to a radio, we didn't have a television of course.
BL: What were some of the things you listened to, do you remember?
JF: Music. The Shadow. The Shadow, that was kind of a mystery um…and we played games, we played cards in out homes. We played…as we were growing up, when we were little, you sat outside and played with stones, like I said, roller skating and uh…baseball, things like that. When you became a teenager there was a pavement dance. You did things…you were active in school.
BL: Pavement dance, what's a pavement dance.
JF: Well there was an orchestra, a band would come and the city sponsored it and it was out on the pavement on the streets.
BL: Since it was the depression, did a lot of people participate in that.
JF: Yes, especially children, the young kids, teenagers. And then of course there was the cinema; there was always the movies to go to. You could go to a movie for twenty-five cents and sit through two movies, and uh…at one of them, on the south side, which I think they are bringing it back to life now. You go there for about five cents or something and they give you a bowl…they give you dishes. I got dishes for going to the movies.
BL: Did you know very much as a child, about the war, what was happening in China with the Japanese or, in the late thirties with Nazi Germany, did you…
JF: I was not aware of any of that, uh…except that…I actually was too, because my parents would talk about it.
BL: What would they say, do you remember?
JF: Well, daddy would say, "People are inhuman." mmhmm, mmhmm, and my mother and dad were Democrats.
BL: So they must have thought Franklin Roosevelt was probably right when he started…
JF: He was a king. Mmhmm.
BL: Now, your father was a World War I veteran…
JF: No he was not.
BL: No? Your Uncle? No, I'm sorry, we're talking the other side of the family.
JF: We're talking about my side of the family, right now. My father was not in the service, no.
BL: When do you think you became most aware of what was happening overseas?
JF: In 1942 we graduated from high school, and when he( Douglas) enlisted in the service before we even got out of high school, because his brother was in the service…then I was more aware, and then I started to read TIME magazine. I think we all did.
BL: Most people can remember where they were and what they were doing on December 7th, do you remember what you were doing?
JF: December 7th…yeah, I was coming home from the library…I've always liked books, I'm fond of books, and when I came home my mother said "Jean, a terrible thing has happened to our country, we're at war." I remember that. I can see myself right now, walking down Wright Street, carrying these books going up to that old house, up the stairs, mother meeting me at the door, her white hair that was always piled up on the top of her head and she always wore an apron. She says "Jeanie," with tears she says, "A terrible thing has happened to our country." Mhmm, you're taking me way back aren't you, to my childhood?
BL: What was the mood among your friends, among your family in those first few weeks and months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, do you remember?
JF: People were talking about it. Young people especially, people of high school age, that had boyfriends that were afraid they'd have to go into the service, and mothers, I suppose.
BL: Now think back. Put yourself back to 1942. You've gone with Doug since you were
eleven years old, you and him must have had conversations about what was happening.
JF: We did, we did. He wanted to enlist to help out country and he was so proud of his brother that his brother was in the service, and his sister also, we must remember that Rosemary joined too after she graduated from nurses training. Did she tell you that she went to nurses training here in Oshkosh Mercy Medical Center.
BL: When did Bryce go in?
JF: Mmm, probably 1939, or 1940.
BL: Ohhh, so he had been in the service for a while.
BL: Did you and Doug pretty much assume that when he got of age or when he got to a certain point, that he would go in the military?
JF: He didn't talk about it till just when the war began. He said, "We are too young to get married." But he said "I'm going into service but when I come back we'll get married." Well then what happened, Bryce was lost at sea in 1943 and he came home.
BL: Let's talk about that whole story, I know this is going to be kind of hard for you but if you'd be willing to talk about it, we should probably talk about that whole chain of events.
JF: Well, he came home to be with his parents, to go to the memorial service for his brother Bryce at Eternity Episcopal Church, in fact, Doug and I were both baptized there in that church, unbeknown to each other. There was a party at the Legion.
BL: This would have been around…
JF: This was in 1943. Bryce was lost at sea; this was December 1943. The party we were at, was New Year's Eve, January 1st. So that was 1944, and we were down at the Legion, Dougee and I were upstairs in the Ballroom, we were dancing and he said…he told me that he loved me and he said "We're going to get married." and I said "Wonderful!" I was real happy about it. So we went downstairs to the bar, and mom and dad were sitting there having a drink and Doug
said, "I just proposed to Jean and she accepted and his mother started to cry, she said "No, it can never be, because I just lost one son." His dad said "Tess, they want to get married, they're in love and they've known each other since they were little kids," he said, "They should get married." So we could not have a big wedding, this is what's sad for me. I did not have a shower, I did not have a big wedding, I had nothing, except I did get married in a church.
BL: Were war weddings common?
JF: Yes! Yes, mhmm…but under the circumstances we could not have a big wedding. It wouldn't have been right with the loss of Bryce. You see, understand? So I was married in the church and we went to Milwaukee for out honeymoon and we had two days and two nights together and then we came back here to Oshkosh.
BL: In the oral history that Gordon Doule did with your husband, he said there were perhaps six to ten people at the wedding, it was a small ceremony. Do you think that was common in a war wedding, it would be small ceremonies or maybe not….
JF: No, it depends on where you were or the circumstances. With us, because of the death and no body found, you know, you couldn't celebrate a wedding but I know of my friends that had big weddings. So my daughters had big weddings. I made sure of that, let me get your coffee.
BL: Okay. Well you know, I'm always interested in these war weddings, we have great things in our collection, nice wedding cake toppers that show service men in uniform, being married in uniform. I've interviewed some people who were married during the war and married in uniform. Was Doug married in uniform?
JF: He was in his Tailor-made, this is what bothers me because I cannot find those pictures, and they had to be somewhere in this house and the only place they could've…this is really strong…
BL: Thank you very much.
JF: I don't know…
BL: That's the way I like it.
JF: You can always add water to it.
BL: It must have been very tough for Doug's parents to lose a son, especially around Christmas.
JF: Yeah it was. It was. Mmhh, mmhh.
BL: What do you remember about that?
JF: Well, I remember that Tess sat in back of the church and my mother did too and my dad and my sister and Doug's sister, one sister and my little foster sister Marsha was there. Everybody was crying and they were crying because we were getting married or they were crying because of Bryce's death. It was a very sad time for his mother. Their first child. Mmhm, she became ill. She was emotionally ill from all this, she was very, very sick. Douglas and I wanted four children, and God blessed us with four children. Number one was Roxanne, and she was born here where I worked here at this hospital by the way. I was a nurse's aid and then I went on to become a LPN. Anyway, Roxanne was born here and then I followed Dougie around as much as I could, through the service and our son Ross was born in Dublin Georgia. Then Doug retired from the Navy, he was an X-ray technician by the way, but you know all that. So anyway, we were in Milwaukee and I had Sandy there, another child and then we came back here and our fourth child, that's what we wanted, two boys and two girls and God gave us those. A beautiful little boy was born and Tess and Earl said, "Would you please name him Bryce?" And I said "Why not." So we did. When he was two and a half, he woke up paralyzed with polio and he died within nine days. We couldn't even see him in those days because they thought germs…you know. Tess was terribly upset and she cried so hard and said, "Oh Jean, you should never have named him that." I said, "No, it's foolish!"
BL: What year would that have been?
JF: 1954. Then, because I guess I was a good person, God said 'Gene you can have another baby,' so I was thirty-nine when I had my fifth child and he is my baby, and he will be thirty-nine. So now you know how old I am. You knew already.
BL: Well I'm sorry to bring up some sad memories.
JF: That's okay. It has to be.
BL: Do you remember, other than your family, do you remember flags hanging in the windows in Oshkosh, Gold Star Flags?
JF: Oh yes, definitely, definitely.
BL: What do you remember about that?
JF: Well it was just something new. When you walk down the street and all of a sudden you see all these Gold Star Flags and then you know the sadness that was in that home and you knew these people. Now some of Douglas's best friends were lost too. Yeah, I hadn't even thought about that.
BL: Did everybody know what those flags meant?
JF: I hope so!
BL: What did you do in Oshkosh during those war years?
JF: I worked in Mercy Hospital as a nurse's aid. Yeah, and I enjoyed it, I was going to go on to Nurses training and then Douglas sent me an engagement ring and he said, "I'm going to get home as soon as I can" no, no, no….I got the story all mixed up, cuz he proposed to me first on January 1st, and then we were married, so I already had that ring…I don't know. No, I did not get a ring. I didn't have a ring, an engagement ring; I just had a wedding band. He put a wedding band on my finger. Okay…he couldn't afford an engagement ring, and then he sent me one. That's the way it worked, it was absolutely backwards. I suppose other people had the same situation. I don't know.
BL: I imagine you followed the war news with eagerness, didn't you?
JF: Sure, trepidation.
BL: Did you know where Doug was most of the time?
JF: Yes, I knew where he was.
BL: Did you?
JF: Mmhm. Yeah, he was on a LST and they'd ship him out and then ship him back. When he got sick with this cancer that took him, he always said he wanted to go back to Panama. He liked Panama and he wanted to go there, so we had that on our agenda. We were going to go to Panama and we were going to go to Hawaii. It didn't work out that way, but we had a wonderful life together.
BL: You said that you followed Doug around when he…
JF: Well, I went to Georgia, we were in Norfolk Virginia, we were in Georgia and we were in Indiana…just different places that I could go, I went with him.
BL: Was it hard to do?
JF: Terribly hard to do, especially in the South.
JF: You walked down the street and you're white and even though you saw these beautiful little black children, and you'd say "good morning," or "Hello," and they would say, "Go home, you damn Yankee." It was hard to find a place to live. It was costly and sometimes you lived in a dump. One time we lived in a house with people by the name of Mullens, this was in Dublin Georgia, and the bathtub and the toilet, commode was outside in the shed and that was the dirtiest bathroom I've ever seen, and you're sharing it with three other people. Then there was another place that there was a kitchen and a bedroom and a small bathroom and there were slats that were broken out in the wall and there was a rat in there. So Douglas put some Lysol in there, finally we got rid of the rat but we had to move, because of the stench.
BL: Then how did you get around? Was it by car?
JF: I didn't have a car, I don't drive. He didn't either. We walked. We didn't go anywhere; we didn't have any money.
BL: How did you get from Oshkosh Wisconsin down to Georgia.
JF: We took the train. My first train ride, and I took my Roxanne, who was three and a half months old and I lost her booties in Bransen. This was taken…this was Roxanne…you'll see her pictures and you'll…This is Roxanne, she was eighteen, Ross is sixteen, Sandy was fourteen and there's Slayton, he was nine months old.
BL: Gosh, that is a nice photograph.
JF: I have a lot of nice ones but I haven't got the picture that I want for you. I know it's in this house.
BL: Let's talk a little bit about, um, what was happening in Oshkosh during the war. Can you remember anything like bond drives, or rallies?
JF: There was the Red Cross, in fact I helped fold bandages with Douglas's mother. There was…
BL: Where did you meet for that?
JF: In people's homes. Takes me all back, doesn't it? The ration stamps, the rationing stamps.
In fact I have a friend who found a whole box full of these stamps. He calls them war stamps and I told him he should take em to the museum, the Veterans museum.
BL: Well now, what would you do with these stamps?
JF: Well you took em to the grocery store, they were rations. For food.
BL: And what if you wanted a pound of sugar and you didn't have a stamp?
JF: Then you didn't get sugar. Then in Dublin Georgia, I joined the Episcopalian Church, a charming little church, just down the hill. This priest and his wife were coming to visit me; you know what they wanted? Sugar…That takes me back.
BL: Was sugar hard to get?
JF: Not hard…well not really…yes, yes, yes, yes because of the rationing. They had to ration things. There was no butter, you couldn't get butter, there was margarine and you could buy margarine…I'm going to get my coffee here…you could buy margarine, people would drive in from a different state and sell it, black market, and um…you're not aware of this? You are not?
It was pre packages like margarine is today and it had a capsule, like a vitamin E capsule…okay…Only that was the coloring, you see. Then you had to squish that into the margarine to make it look like butter.
BL: What did people think about that?
JF: I don't know what they thought, all I know is they had something to put on their bread. I must tell you this, I still love to cook, I call myself a gourmet cook, anyway Douglas and I took cooking classes together, not together, but in high school and we happened to have the same desk, so we'd write notes to each other on the bread board. So it was his mothers birthday and we were still in high school, and I'm backtracking with you…I hope I'm not confusing.
BL: Go right ahead.
JF: I like to talk, as you can tell. It was his mother's birthday in April, her birthday was April 9th, and she didn't have any butter in the house and she didn't have any sugar and we wanted to bake her a birthday cake, so she did have margarine. So I went over to my mothers house and got some sugar and brought it over to Doug's house and we baked her a cake and we used margarine and it didn't turn out very good, it was kind of flat. But she thanked us and she said, "Well it worked out okay," she said, "Just cut up little pieces and put whipped cream on it." Well where she got the whipped cream, I'll never know because cream was expensive. Unless, you know, there were milk bottles. Guernsey Dairy…you're probably aware of the milk bottles, they have the high crown on them and there was a special spoon, you took the cream off the top, and if you chilled it you could eat it.
BL: Do you remember any shortages of food during the war?
JF: Yeah. The butter, the sugar.
BL: How did people make due? If you couldn't just go out and buy something, let's say you needed a new pair of shoes.
JF: You didn't.
BL: How did you make due?
JF: I don't know, because I never…I don't know because I did not have that problem.
BL: Do you remember anything about any labor shortages in Oshkosh?
JF: During the war? No.
BL: Enough people, men or women to go to work in factories…
JF: Okay, all right…I did…there was because that…what was it…the government organized these camps, CCC camps they were called and there were bums, well not bums but unemployed gentlemen, riding the trains going around…hobos, they called them hobos.
BL: Were you frightened of hobos?
JF: I never came…was never introduced to one. So it didn't bother me.
BL: What happened when the war was over in Europe?
JF: Everyone said Halliluia, but the war is not over in Europe. The war has been going on all these years. Controversies with countries all these years this has been going on, hasn't it?
BL: Where were you when you heard that the war was over?
JF: I was with Doug.
BL: Do you remember where?
JF: Yeah, we were in Georgia and he had put in his six years and he came home to our cozy little apartment and he said, "Should I stay in, or should I get out?" I said, "I'd like to call a place home, just to hang my hat," I said "Let's go home." So we did, and his first job as an x-ray technician was in West Bend. I always was sorry that Dougie didn't go on to be a radiologist. He had the intelligence and that is what he always had talked about and then I think back, if one really wants to do something, you can do it, you cannot say 'well so and so didn't have enough money or this and that, you can always do what you want to do. It's the matter of having the will power to do it. But he enjoyed his life.
BL: Do you remember when they dropped the atom bomb on Japan?
BL: What do you remember?
JF: I remember I cried, everybody cried and this gentleman friend…
BL: Why did they cry?
JF: Because people were being killed. It was not just a matter of fighting back. We were killing other people. So that isn't right, even though they were bombing our people, I mean…other people were being killed, everybody was being killed, not just the Japanese. It was a terrible thing.
BL: Did you hate the Japanese or Germans?
JF: No, no. One does not hate anybody. If we…
BL: But thinking back to how you felt as a young woman, try to think…
JF: I was afraid, I was afraid for the whole world, I was afraid for all of us.
BL: What were you afraid of, do you remember?
JF: I was afraid that God was punishing us because we had turned away from him. Now, as years progressed and I got older, God does not do those things, Mr. Larson, we are responsible for what has happened to our country, it is because we stopped loving each other, is because we stopped going to church, we stopped believing.
BL: Do you think other people were frightened?
JF: Of course they were. Course they were.
BL: Was it a topic of conversation among your people at work or families? Did you talk about it over supper?
JF: Ummm, the younger people mostly talked about it. Working in the hospital, you saw a lot of things, heard a lot of things. Doctors talking about it. Reading, we had TIME magazine, a fantastic magazine, in fact, I should have that somewhere, from 1939.
BL: Do you think that there were people among your acquaintances, or perhaps people that you worked with that did harbor a great hatred.
JF: Of course they did. Sure they did. There was a family that used to come to our home and um…about every other Sunday cuz they knew my mother would have chicken and dumplings and um…I'm being recorded on this and I shouldn't, oh I'm going to say it anyway, they were Russian people and there was quite the controversy about what was going on, I remember Daddy would say he was glad when they left. He'd say, "You know they're kind of glad we've got all this war. I'd say, "Oh daddy, that's not true, some people are very happy we're in war." Well as a kid, I was just a young girl; I didn't understand what he was talking about. But now I know. There's some people, they learn…not learn, they um, it makes their life better because, they feel better because somebody else is suffering, do you know what I'm saying? I can't find the word for it. He didn't like that, he'd say, "I can't get along with those people, I'll have a terrible fight." My dad was crying for the people in the war, people who were being killed on both sides. Now my brother Raymond, he was wounded in the Korean War, and they sent him to Japan to recuperate, I have all kinds of pictures of him. He became really good friends with the Japanese and that's how come when he came home he built his greenhouses.
BL: By the time you got back to Oshkosh after the war, do you think Oshkosh had changed at all? From the time the war started?
JF: People had a different attitude, they were happier, they didn't go around all hunched over and crying and miserable. You know? And the churches, people, when there is a catastrophe or a disaster, you find that people go back to church.
BL: Did that happen during the war?
BL: Again, thinking back now, put yourself in the mind of a young girl, what is one of your most vivid memories of World War II, living through those awful years? What do you recall most vividly, good or bad?
JF: Waiting for my lover to mail me a letter. Happy times to have letters. Reading the news, listening to the radio. Apprehensive about what was happening, but not like it is today, with the terrorists, this is entirely different.
BL: How so?
JF: No country was coming over here to bomb us or tear us apart. We were going over there to fight, we were retaliating. It wasn't happening right here. Like the Anne Frank hiding, we didn't go through those things; we didn't go through prisons.
BL: If you saw a telegraph runner in your neighborhood, did it have any meaning to you, if you saw someone delivering a telegraph?
JF: I did not see anybody, but yes.
BL: I wanted to ask you about mail, because it sounds like mail was really important.
JF: Yes, it sure was important. I'm trying to think of what I did with all those letters. The airmail there…I gave all that stuff to Rosemary along with the telegram…I gave all that to Rosemary.
BL: Do you remember the day that telegram came, about Bryce?
JF: No, there was a letter with it.
BL: Do you have anything you'd like to add, or anything we didn't touch on?
JF: Pertaining to World War II? It was just a very sad time for the whole world, like it is today.
BL: But were you proud that your fiancé, first was in service and then later of course your husband?
JF: Yes, of course I was proud of him and I was proud of his parents, and I was proud of his brother and his sister. His sister joined the service.
BL: Was it uncommon for women to be in the military?
JF: No, mm. No it was not, but if you sit down and think about this, what happened in WWII, the emotions, it's just exactly what happened in WWI. We're still the same people; human people have the same emotions and feelings, don't we? It could be WWI, WWII, or Korea or whatever war it is and now this right now, what's going on with the terrorists is horrible. It's like these people aren't human are they, and we can be so thankful that we are in the United States of America. We're free to speak if we want to.
BL: One more question I have for you. Did you think, did you ever think that the United States and its allies would lose the war, or did you always assume we would win?
JF: I never thought about it. I really didn't think about it.
BL: On purpose?
JF: No, I probably was so involved in things that I just went along day by day, just hoping things would work out. But I never really concentrated on it. There's a trust you know, you trust in God to help us each day.
BL: Well thanks very much.
JF: Well I don't know what you got on there.
|Oral History Interview with Jean Fuller
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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