Interview with Calvin Hilty
The following are excerpts from an interview by Stan Wilkendorf with Calvin Hilty and his wife, Arline, about his time in Civilian Public Service for the Years of Valor Project. He discusses his experiences in CPS (primarily his time in Tulare County, California) and the German prisoners of war who were imprisoned on American soil:
"Ok, what did you do in the service? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I was a Conscientious Objector (C.O.). I was raised a Mennonite and I went in as a Conscientious Objector. The first seven or eight months I was in a Conservation Camp in Iowa. And then a bunch of us were invited to come out to California as fire fighters. I signed up for that and came out here in May 1942, at a camp above Fresno, North Fork, California. And I was there for about a year and a half. No, actually I guess it wasn't quite a year and then I went into smoke jumping up in Montana and I was in smoke jumping for two years.
Tell us a little bit about your smoke jumping experience at that time.
It was the first year that they'd expanded smoke jumping. It had been on a very experimental basis earlier, but during the war they were short of men and somebody wondered if us CO's couldn't qualify as fire fighters. We were all farm boys or most of us were and in pretty good health and I was one of about eighty boys in the first group that trained for smoke jumping. And it was sort of a rigorous test. Quite a few people that took the test couldn't pass, but in the actual smoke jumping test, there were only a couple of boys that were injured in some of the training, and the rest of us qualified. I was a smoke jumper for two years. Fought in about seven fires the first year and about that many the second year. And I had twenty one jumps altogether and we had practice and refresher jumps. We were quite physically conditioned. We would hike for miles with a backpack to tune our muscles up for this rigorous work. It was interesting work and was pioneering of smoke jumping. Most of us were farm boys, or a lot of us were and we didn't mind the physical training and exercise that qualified us for smoke jumping.
Your general feelings about the war, have they changed any? Do you still act as a C.O. or how do you feel now about the war, looking back?
I am still a C.O. I wouldn't voluntarily be drafted. I think there are better ways to settle disputes than the violence of war. I know it probably wouldn't be practical in a lot of ways, but I think it's a good opportunity that we had in this country and I had a distant cousin in Germany that we visited after the war and he was in the German army and he was given a non-combative position because of his beliefs about the war and that surprised me.
...How do you think World War II years in Tulare County affected you?...
Well, I was pretty much separated from making a living and farming. I was in camp and I got thirty days of furlough like all service men got, and everybody was patching up their cars and getting by and I saw a lot of hardships during the war. There was a shortage of fellows to take care of the hard jobs on the farm, but everything was pretty well mechanized at that time. Here, the cotton pickers weren't available yet and people relied on the migrants to pick the cotton and the fruit. Her [his wife, Arline] father, Edward Aeschbacher, had a peach orchard and they used German prisoners. Yes, that was the answer to a lot of the...
I understand over here in Tulare...
Tipton, there was a big prisoner of war camp...They moved in some old 3C barracks and built temporary shelters for the German prisoners.
[Arline]--They came by busload, I guess that's how they got there, I can't remember, but we had quite a few pickers.
So they'd bring them by the busload, and you'd have the pickers and they'd take them back to the camps at night. This is during the end phases of the war, '45, '46?
...Back to the prisoner of war camps. How long did that stay in the area? Are you familiar with what happened? How that evolved?
I think pretty quick, after the war, they were shipped out.
[Arline]--We used war prisoners, and my father had a peach orchard. We used them.
...You used them for about three years, you said, and as soon as the war was over they were sent back to Germany?
[Arline]--Yes, they were sent back.
These were combatants that were captured over in Germany and brought over here to stay out of the way when the war started.
For the full interview see: Years of Valor, Calvin Hilty.
Used with permission from Tulare County Library.