Memorial Day -- In My Father's Words -- The Mining of the Santa Barbara Harbor
The "first time US soil has been under attack"? My father was a truthful man. Living 160 days under heavy artillery attack will make you that way. He was a war hero who was honored by Belgium. Something I only discovered reading his obituary.
Plant some expired seed today. Play. Love. Thou. Art. Now.
PRELUDE TO WAR, 1939 - SANTA BARBARA
~by Luís Cervantes - San Francisco, 2004
We were just kids, hanging out at the beach like we always did during summers. There was a gang of us from the east side of Santa Barbara that spent most of our days running around the beach playing football in the sand, diving into the surf, riding the waves into the beach, swimming as a group out into deep water, diving down and touching the bottom, or swimming along the bottom with our eyes open through the kelp beds, coming up and floating on our backs. Sometimes we swam out to the anchored fishing boats and sunbathed on the deck. After, we dried out with a good burn, dive in and swim back to the beach.
I was a freshman in high school so most of the guys were older. Three of the guys that hung out at the beach were seniors, and the talk at bonfires was what they were going to do for a living. The Depression was still on and work non-existent for young guys without job skills. The talk was of going in the army. Montez was talking about going to Panama Canal in the army. Kipur, a good football end, wanted to go to the Phillipines and see the wide wide world. Things changed for us Beach Boys, I was now one of the old guys. Montez and Kipur ended up in the Phillipine Islands, at Corregado Island. Jerry Lamb went to Alaska in the army. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor—we were in a war now. Montez, Kipur and Lamb never made it back alive from The Phillpines or Alaska. That was 1941, I was 15 or 16 years old, going to school at Santa Barbara High. Things changed fast in Santa Barbara. For us in the East Side, we could see before us how our mix played out. By mix, I mean Mexican-American, Mexicans, not-US-citizens, Chumash Indians, Chinese-Japanese, Blacks, with a few Hawaiians, Peruvians, Chileans, Puerto Ricans; whites were in the minority, mostly Italians, Germans, Russians. In schools and in town, the Japanese families, and Chinese, were disrupted disasterously out of the east side of town. There was a Chinatown and a Japanese Town that had been in Santa Barbara for a long time. Jimmy Lee, and Susuki Moto disappeared right away. Japanese Navy submarines kept appearing around the Santa Barbara area for months. The Japanese subs lobbed some shells at the oil fields north of Santa Barbara at Elwood. Some of the guys joined the Navy, Air Force, Marines, paratroopers, and Army. No other work for the pay. I was making 1 dollar a day working out in the fields. I didn't know that one could earn more than that. There was chaos in Santa Barbara. We were not prepared to go to war with anybody: no army, our navy was sunk at Pearl Harbor, hardly any Air Force patrols over our coasts. When the Japanese subs lobbed shells at the oil storage tanks at Elwood we had blackouts in town as a protection. No one informed the towns-people that this was going to happen. I went to a sporting event on a thursday night, to watch some boxing matches, when the lights went out and the sirens wailed. We sat in the dark for half an hour, when a flash light went on in the middle of the ring, with the announcement that the fights were over, to leave and go home. Out we all go in the darkness with our heads going around in circles. Out on the streets police blocked intersections to have cars put their lights out. Everybody out on the street wondering what to do. Newspapers' headlines with pictures: "Japs Shell Elwood Oil Fields", the war had struck Santa Barbara and the U.S., 'Where Will They Strike Next?" The Army sent 4 soldiers, an army truck, and a 30-caliber water-cooled machine gun set up on the end of Sturns Wharf pointed out to sea. The Japanese sub could have come in close and mined the harbour or shelled Santa Barbara without anyone knowing what happened. We were lucky nothing happened, everything died down, life went on, in a war. A lot of the guys enlisted and dropped out of school. I dropped out of school in my junior year, going on 18, 1942, I left for San Francisco to work in the shipyards at Moors dry Dock in Oakland. After working in Santa Barbara for 3 dollars a day, I now started at $1.25 an hour as a sheet metal worker on the outfit docks. I stayed in San Francisco, working at Moors for 1 year. When I turned 19, the Army called me, so I returned to Santa Barbara before I was inducted into the U.S. Army Engineers in Jan., 1943. Before, while I lived in San Francisco, I had bought myself a Brownie box camera to take pictures of San Francisco and send them to my mother, to show her what San Francisco looked like. I happened to bring that camera with me to the army to shoot pictures of my army life. Cameras, guns, knives, liquors were not allowed, they were not permitted. No one saw the camera, and I didn't want to throw it away, it was mine, and I had it mixed with my dirty socks and shorts where nobody looked into, so that became my box camera's hiding place, and it traveled with me to England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and home again. When ever my duffle bag caught up with me I would do my laundry, and bring my camera out. The guys got used to it, and would pose and fool around. I picked up film and had my pictures developed at local shops where ever I was without any trouble. I ran out of film on the ship home, Dec., 1945.
I left New York City on board the Queen Elizabeth, the second largest ship in the world, its sister ship, the Queen Mary was 4 foot longer so it was number one. The Queen Mary was lying on its side in Manhattan habour, out of service. These English ships were the only way to cross larger ocean spaces fast. It took the Queen Mary and Elizabeth 3 days to cross from New York to Scotland; large freighters, seventeen days or more. Airline flights were unknown. Something like 80,000 soldiers pile on from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, plus U.S. troops, paratroopers, Air Force, Army infantry, tank troops, artillary, and us, engineers, on this floating hotel. I meet three guys from Santa Barbara that left with me for the army on 3 busses that day, on board the Queen Elizabeth, bumped into them on board in the middle of the ocean going to war.
Copyright c 2005 by Luís Cervantes. May not be copied or reproduced in any form without the expressed permission from the Cervantes family.
c/s con safos