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Oklahoma Voices: Francis Couch


Francis Couch talks about her life and World War II.



Interviewer: Okay mom, I guess we are here to talk about your experiences in World War II, but you have discussed previously leading up to the day in infamy itself, that there were other events that you were generally aware of. Maybe you can just mention one or two of those items in the 1938-1939 timeframe that you sensed there was some impending events going on, maybe just a couple statements about that and then you can describe where you were and what you were doing in 1941, but you were born in 1923, so that would be to 1938, would be about 15 years.


Francis Couch: Well, it’s the family up until that time.


Interviewer: Living at home.


Francis: Living at home, that’s true. But yes, I would like to make a point of saying Herbert Hoover was an engineer and I guess he thought it up the best you could do in 1928, ‘29. “Let’s stock up the Colorado river and get us some water to make electricity with.” The desert in California, and I guess I wasn’t aware of it and he took the whole family to go see about it. That would be ‘29, ‘31 that Herbert Hoover was in power, but it would be reasonable to say that President Roosevelt might’ve been hampered, not being able to walk by himself, but gee whiz he had in his mind to think of things to do when there wasn’t any work to do, when it was so dry the farmers couldn’t make a living. The sky was actually pink, there’s just no blue up there. He was blowing, so Roosevelt put people to work that could earn a living. I like to say that he got al. The artists that were without anything to do, paint the inside of the post office. No matter where it is, they put them to work cheap, but it was better than nothing. The farmers were even brought plants to put in rows, trees wast and west to keep dirt from blowing into the sky. Oklahoma had the farmers not figure that one out yet, so he brought it to their minds and gave them trees to plant in rows from West. This was, you know, still in 1930, early 30s, but come to think of it, I should mention that we were a dry state and so was everybody else in the United States. I think after World War I, but Franklin Roosevelt, allowed for it to be made available to us in every state, but it was a while before Oklahoma getting with that, having beer.


Interviewer: So you’re familiar with enough as to who the president was and events occurring generally in the late 1930s after he had become president. In one or what event did you first hear as far as activities occurring overseas, that you recall, initially?


Francis: Well, I might be talking to myself but something has been said, maybe it was between, I might have dropped the name, the big round man in London? Not the king.


Interviewer: Churchill?


Francis: I would say that sounds like a good name, Winston Churchill now that I think. That was probably who was about to talk, to help and see how they could have food to spare in the

United States. He also had ships that were available and we weren’t in the war, but we were sending food.


Interviewer: How did you hear about, for instance, the bombings in London? Was it radio?


Francis: Yes.


Interviewer: Or movie theaters that would have news reels?


Francis: No, there is too much that would not be in the movie theaters, unless it was very rare to have something like that. But it was more to the effect that we had surplus and we needed jobs or people to load stuff in. Anyways, we joined the war without-


Interviewer: Did your father or my grandfather get the newspaper and read it to you and talk about those events?


Francis: Oh, I was too old to listen to my dad about that time. Probably no, we took daily, morning and evening, we had the evening newspaper come in the evening and Times come in the morning. He kept all of the stuff, but as far as me and school, I did recall trying to make sense of kids talking about Reds as if they were a tribe. Well, we’ve got red-skinned people in Oklahoma, but they were talking about something going on in Russia, in Europe, that they were fighting, arguing, it was uncomfortable. But it wasn’t until we actually got bombed ourselves, but I do have to work hard to remember that the Philippines had been under discussion. Douglas Macarthur was living there and his family had lived in Manila. The American soldiers, I mean, there were some soldiers and the very first one I had to mention would be Bill Caster. He had already left school in ‘41, you know at the end of classes and graduations, ‘41.


Interviewer: Well, maybe we can get to them. That’s in 1941, and you have heard about perhaps some of the events starting to occur in the late 1930s and 40s, then at the end of 1941. Can you describe where you were, how you heard about it?


Francis: That was when the Japanese got in it.


Interviewer: What was your reaction on that particular day?


Francis: Well, I wrote here “Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor. 8 battleships and at least 400 sailors paid the price of it.” But that was the beginning that took everyone’s attention. Now we couldn’t excuse anybody, we got along with helping Europeans. The French, we just didn’t work out anything with them and there had been a war, a civil war, in Spain so we ignored them. We didn’t get involved with them, but now when the Japanese were so rude just to get our attention, things were ignored.


Interviewer: How did you hear about actually that first day or the next day? By newspaper or radio?


Francis: Probably by the radio, but the next day, that would be headlines. I went back up a few days, this was the 7th day of December. I had gotten my marriage certificate on 30 November of 1940, and have gotten myself married. I decided I had the right to decide this and your dad, we had our photographs made at a studio in Oklahoma City for our first wedding anniversary. We were just calm and cool as you can imagine.


Interviewer: What age were you then? In December of 1941?


Francis: I’ve had my 18th birthday, I should have graduated but that’s not the right thing to say. I should have graduated at the end of May of ‘41, but your father got a free day vacation day from Macklanburg Duncan and I didn’t get to graduate. I didn’t go up the stairs and get my proof that I was graduating. I just went with your dad to have a vacation or honeymoon in Hot Springs, Arkansas, came down and rained. We rented a boat and went out in the middle of the lake and got rained on.


Interviewer: But you came back to Oklahoma City. He worked and you were in Oklahoma City for that year, your first anniversary being at the end of November?


Francis: Yeah, November, but the Japanese they-


Interviewer: So a week after your first anniversary was this event?


Francis: That the bombing occurred. We had heard that there was more going on, there were some soldiers over there in the Philippines. I have written here that, “Manila took a beating, they ordered Douglas Macarthur to get the heck out of there. He knew it was available.” I cannot find the name of the fort that the American soldiers were held down for at least two weeks, but they were starving to death by that time. I’ve got it from Ken Burns and I quote, “78,000 soldiers were marched barefooted and hungry to the north end of Manila of the Philippine Islands and loaded onto transportation to their destiny.” They were in prison the rest of the time until the atomic bombs changed things. I just have never heard anybody else say that was close to 78,000 that were alive and walking to prison.


Interviewer: So in December after being married a year, and I know Dad eventually joined the Navy prior through these events, and they needed people in about what month was that did he join and can you describe those events?


Francis: Well, the way I put it here, “After the Japanese attacked, your father resigned his job back at Macklanburg Duncan.” He wanted to get out of there, he wanted to say goodbye to assorted relatives before Christmas before the draft notice because we were drafting in those days. We are not drafted in this world, in this century, but the young men would be drafted. I had insisted on the marriage before graduation from high school and we have covered that we had a two bedroom apartment with a shared bathroom on the Northwest 10th. It had a murphy bed in the living room and a kitchen and that was it. We had to share the laundry in the

basement and the bathroom on the first floor. There is another two apartments upstairs with another bathroom.


Interviewer: Was he still here then until Christmas? He went through the new year?


Francis: Yeah, that’s what I”m saying. This was ‘40, but he immediately left his job back at Burg Duncan and on my next paragraph, I will have to say that we have been, you know, that six months when I was still going to school, my blood period didn’t turn up. I had to admit it, but that was after Christmas. My parents insisted-


Interviewer: Was this 1942, the beginning of ‘42?


Francis: The beginning of ‘42, I missed my period, but my parents had insisted that we stayed close when Patrick had to leave for service.


Interviewer: Did he go to the recruiting office and then enlist?


Francis: No, he didn’t rush down there, he was wanting to go to Bonita up in Craig county and to the folks. He wanted to do some “hi and goodbye,” he was likely to be dead before the war was over so he wanted to go visit everybody. My dad, I didn’t mean to bring that up, but right there at Christmas time while we were a family, there were three sisters and a brother under the foot of my parents. My dad says there’s a house up there in Kansas City and stickers you have to put on your windshield on the war, I don’t know how soon it was that they started issuing the stickers, but you had to be able to explain why you would need more than two gallons of gasoline a week and that was part of the dumb stuff.


Interviewer: So Dad came back from Craig county soon after Christmas back here to Oklahoma City to enlist here?


Francis: Well, he wasn’t trying to push it when he found out I was pregnant. He didn’t push it, my parents got into the act and Dad said, “Will you go up with me up here to Kansas City and we will close out this house and get us an offer from a real estate broker?” Because we cannot afford to drive from Oklahoma City to Kansas City on 4 gallons a week, so your dad went with grandpa to go clean up the house and get whatever repaired, broken glass or anything, and put the house on sale because he wasn’t going to be able to drive back and forth from Kansas City.


Interviewer: So grandfather Martin had owned the house before. I know he was selling and that was the first part of January? So they came back after putting the house on the market.


Francis: While that was done, my parents insisted that I stay in close while Patrick had to leave for service because he wasn’t called yet. I enrolled at first aid training at my church and I was proud of that, btu that was about the same time, see everything was coming apart. I had heard about Bill Caster, now he must’ve been a student at the Catholic school that your dad attended because he knew where he lived up on, pardon the expression, US 62. This was before the only

interstates US 62 out of 32nd Street before Choctaw where Bill Caster lived. He had to join the army as soon as he graduated back there in June 1941, so he has been over to the Philippines.


Interviewer: So Bill Caster got drafted.


Francis: Well, he volunteered, but he was gone, he was out there in the mess. He was the first, when I heard that your dad knew he’d been in prison if wasn’t dead. Lives in danger, his family lived on US 62, East of Bryant Avenue in Oklahoma City. He was the first I knew about the Philippines, but your dad took, Patrick took, short term jobs while waiting for a draft notice. You know, expecting it momentarily and another school friend Jim Bostick, and I gather he went to the Catholic school that lived out on Northeast 10th. His parents were farmers on Sooner Road on Northeast 10th, but he was drafted. His draft came in and I guess he was not married, so he got drafted, but he came home after basic training and we heard about radar, that was a new word for my vocabulary. I didn’t know what a radar might do but evidently, it was something that was marvelously electronic. When he talked about it, it was really serious improvement for the future.


Interviewer: Was that part of my dad’s decision to move forward in enlistment? Was that spring or summer of 1942?


Francis: No, he didn’t say anything more. Dad found little jobs, you know, tarring the roof here for three or four days, just doing little jobs. He was keeping busy to help my father. He was a neat chicken, you know, I don’t think he talked about it and Frank Junior, I wasn’t meaning to bring him up yet, but my brother that was just younger than me, he and his dad didn’t get along very well. Anyways, Pat got along better with his father-in-law better than my brother, but my parents had built a second story to their house on North Lottie Avenue with my three sisters and brother. We’re all enrolled in public school, they did like the new bathroom and bedrooms with closets upstairs. They put me and Pat with the right to move into the downstairs bedroom. That was a spare that was built at the beginning and I had dated here, “September 7, 1942. My number one son joined us, Patrick Dwight. The notice of draft duty was in the mailbox the next morning.”


Interviewer: Interesting, I did not know that.


Francis: And Patrick F. Nelson, not Patrick Dwight, this was Patrick Ferdinand, caught the train for Illinois October 1 for navy training.


Interviewer: So less than a month after my oldest brother was born, my dad left and he did enlist in the navy as opposed to going into the army.


Francis: He said, “If I was going to die, I’d rather be dumped into the ocean, I don’t know where I would be handled.”


Interviewer: His basic training was what location?


Francis: He took the train north but now I just don’t know where the navy base is unless it’s on lake-


Interviewer: Michigan.


Francis: I just don’t know where, well anyways, nobody was driving anywhere with that limit on gasoline, so I have the other data. Now he’s gone now and I am living home with mother and I guess, we had a woman coming in to help take care of the house while mother answers telephones. At one point, we had 99 rentals. It wasn’t a hotel with 99 rooms, it was houses all over the county. Cousin Olin Martin came to see us. He got his draft notice in North Carolina, but he was allowed to choose where he would like to join and he had been with his father and family in the bad days, in the dry old 30s, because there wasn’t any work in North Carolina either. His family came out to work in Oklahoma with my dad to get him jobs and my dad said, “I trained him how to hang wallpaper and how to repair things.” Anyways, Olin came to see us because he asked to be attached to the 45th division down in Lawton and he came down. Before he went to check in, he saw my dad, Uncle Frank, Aunt Tillie, then he saw me, the cousin, a new baby. Now we have two or three, it’s just two. Another one was Delbert Dehass, he was a school chum of mine. He would’ve been in the class of, what do you do when you’re making drawings of engines?


Interviewer: Maybe drafting?


Francis: Well I thought it was mechanical drawing, anyways, he came to visit me at my parent’s home and my baby kid. Here, he had selected to join the navy. Now he didn’t know Patrick Ferdinand so he didn’t have any reason to do it, but he had some opinion, maybe his father had influenced him about joining the Navy. He did a tour by this time, this was still, maybe it’s ‘42.


Interviewer: Is this the fall of 1942?


Francis: No, it would be the summer of 1942. No, ‘42 is when the boy was born so it’s the year, next season, when Dehass came. He had been out there on a boat, if he didn’t get seasick.


Interviewer: In 1943?


Francis: ‘43.


Interviewer: And now my dad, this time, he had gone through the basic training. I forgot to mention Millington, over north of Memphis. That’s where they judged him for being sharp.


Interviewer: Mechanically inclined.


Francis: Mechanically inclined, so I even put that in there.


Interviewer: So was the Memphis time period, was this in the late fall?


Francis: ‘43.


Interviewer: ‘42, early ‘43.


Francis: Well, I think he only had six weeks of training up north and he came down to see me and that was thrilling to see me. He maybe had a week or so before he went to Millington over at Memphis.


Interviewer: Did you visit him there?


Francis: Well, I didn’t put that in the notes, but I got a checkbook. $52 a month to be able to feed me and my baby and I couldn’t figure out how to spend it though. I got my dad, my parents, to agree to allow me to take the choo-choo train over to Memphis on one weekend each month so that your dad could stay in town or get the connection there. That’s where the $52 got around, for a ticket to Memphis each month almost.


Interviewer: When did that training get completed?


Francis: He graduated in May.


Interviewer: Of 1943 then?


Francis: ‘43, I went over there four, five times during that time, but my mother, she’s curious too to see what was going on. We got grandpa, Daddy, to allow us to take the car and allow us to sticker. He got 4 gallons a week and we figured out that we could drive to Memphis and back with just 8 gallons of gasoline because you weren’t allowed to drive any faster than 35 miles an hour. It burned up too much gasoline, but I was thinking about the rubber that meets the road. Good gosh.


Interviewer: They rationed tires, didn’t they as well?


Francis: They had to start making them out of cardboard. I mean, the tires were clackity-clack on the pavement. When they started making, they had to experiment before they had the right combination to make imitation rubber tires, but that was something that went on.


Interviewer: So after he graduated in the second training-


Francis: He went to Jacksonville, Florida for a couple of months and as near as he was to the war, he could look out of the airplane and they were looking for submarines. They would take the trip over to Africa and back, it would take them a couple of days. He was the chief mechanic and he had to see if there was enough food and water and resources and parachutes as well.


Interviewer: I remember that this was the Catalina Sea Plane that landed on the water, but could land on-


Francis: If he was careful, he could walk between the spinning propellers and that seemed dumb to me but smartalics, young men were smartalics.


Interviewer: So he did fly from Jacksonville, Florida across the Atlantic and back on occasion?


Francis: They didn’t land, they would just go over there and come back and reporter whether they saw on the radio a submarine, but I’m sure they did.


Interviewer: I recall at some point there was his service time in San Diego. He got transferred.


Francis: Oh, he hasn’t got there yet. I’ve got another report to make. Steve Carter, good friend. He wasn’t catholic though, he didn’t go to the catholic school, good friend of Patrick Ferdinand. He was called to be drafted. He failed the physical examination. Then, he and your dad, they would go to the Graffinreed Bakery in the morning. The leftover pies from the day before were half price, so they each had a full pie for breakfast because Steve Carter was drawing papers at the time to keep him company. Steve Carter applied for work on the west coast to prepare ships for you. He learned metal cutting for shipbuilding, but he was able to return to Oklahoma City in one piece. That was a good place for him at the time, but we are getting down to the point of California. Ray Erie, another of Patrick Ferdinand’s buddies from school, lived in the neighborhood up there. I think we were talking about where it was a while back. He was a school acquaintance that was drafted into the army. He caught a bullet in his left smallest toe, result of an early discharge. Here he was, war is still going on, but he was funning around. A little toe didn’t slow him down that much, but he had been, he had many days on Enzio Beach, Italy. He didn’t take part in the fight in the casino, I think the pilot, the air, had finally destroyed the monastery above the Enzio. Enzio Beach was where they couldn’t make any headway either. It was wet and squishy that time of the year. He looked me up to deliver a photograph that Patrick Ferdinand had in his uniform with all those little stripes on his shoulder like a good mechanic that he had on the base there in San Diego. Patrick’s training and engine maintenance had left him servicing aircraft for the Navy at the airbase in North San Diego and I finally remember the name of the base: Camp Kearny. I couldn’t remember that for several-


Interviewer: So he had transferred then from Jacksonville, Florida directly across the country?


Francis: Right, you got the point. I guess this is junk, but there were some people that were making a living hauling sailors from Oklahoma to San Diego and back and forth with big Cadillac limousines. They would charge them $25 a piece and they didn’t stop except to get gasoline. They better catch the toilets because they weren’t going to stop for anything else. The people drive when they had a weekend, if they had three whole days, they would drive out to Oklahoma City and have a day visit and then drive back.


Interviewer: Well, did my dad take one of those privately-owned vehicles from Jacksonville to San Diego?


Francis: No, he just hired them for $25 and put his head back to sleep while they did the driving, but they would have at least two drivers that would expel each other. They would keep it running in those Cadillacs, but it was cheaper than a bus.


Interviewer: What time of year did he get to San Diego?


Francis: Well, he was here in August for my birthday in ‘43. That’s where he was headed when he left here and he was there until September ‘43, until the war ended. They could scare you. Some of those planes don’t want to stop when they get on the ground. They would just slide around and it’s scary sometimes, but they would pilot the planes. That was the only thing he had to take care of, the landings up there on Camp Kearny. Now the end, Frank Junior, rank G Martin Junior, trusted his brother in law that the Navy was for him when he was drafted.


Interviewer: Let me ask this, how much younger was my Uncle Frank from you, from your age?


Francis: He was a full two years, I feel like he was born in February. I was August.


Interviewer: So he might have been around 16 to 17 when the war was started in December ‘41.


Francis: Yes, drafted when high school was finished.


Interviewer: He was pretty young going into the service.


Francis: That’s why I put them at the back of the book here. He trusted his brother in law, he observed, but this was his personal remarks when he got. He didn’t even get to complain about being seasick, he observed that he had to scrape off the paint on the ship that he was just serving and he had to put fresh paint back on the ship when they were going out. That went on back and forth to Manila for whichever island was being served, he was just a painter that painted going out and he scraped them going back in. That was all he knew about war, but I do have a remark that I would be mentioning. He was shocked at the equipment thrown overboard when peace was announced. I am too, I am just stingy, but he survived as a postmortem. He’s got kids and boys and granddaughters and stuff now.


Interviewer: So he got married after he was discharged when the war was over?


Francis: Yeah, before you were born, he wasn’t married. He was coming over, he was building a house next door to where you and I lived. He would come over and see if I needed anything, if he could make a trip before he started work, he would come here and see if I was alright.


Interviewer: Now, during the timeframe that my dad was in the navy, and as you mentioned, the total war was over, what year was that, do you recall?


Francis: It was closed down in ‘45 but it seems like your dad had to go to New Orleans to get his papers okayed to be discharged, but that was August and December.


Interviewer: But during that time, he was in the service, if my memory serves me, my oldest brother, PD, was born in September ‘42, but my sister Mike was born in a navy base in Norman. Can you talk about that?


Francis: That’s right, I didn’t bring that subject up.


Interviewer: In the navy base being in south Norman.


Francis: That’s what happened. I was sitting, waiting for the bus to bring me back home from Norman when I heard the radio that Franklin Roosevelt had died in office. I was down there at Norman, at the navy base, just checking. I didn’t live there until April, but I guess it was in February when President Roosevelt had died, but I had heard while waiting at the bus station down at the base because paying that gasoline four dollars a week didn’t get very far. You just had to make the trip to Norman from nothing.


Interviewer: Was my dad, he was not in Oklahoma then?


Francis: No, he wasn’t.


Interviewer: When she was born?


Francis: No, he wasn’t home, but he took that fast Cadillac ride to come and visit anytime he had as much as a week or even five days. He would come visit back to Oklahoma. He must’ve been pretty tight with his dollars, he kept them piled up so he could go.


Interviewer: When was that, my sister born?


Francis: The end of April.


Interviewer: In what year?


Francis: ‘45, but maybe it’s ‘44. No it’s ‘45, but she was born, we were still at the hospital down there in Norman when they were announcing the American troops going in on Germany and France. It was between the plans. I will say that about Ken Burns, he brought that back to my mind that the farms in the countryside of France had solid barriers of shrubs between their farms and the next farm. It was just hard to get a set of wheels to chew it up so they could get through the fence. The frenchmen were just awfully careful about every square foot of their beautiful land. They sure didn’t appreciate the way the Americans were treating their land, but they had to get closer to Hitler and his mischief, so they did what they had to do. I wasn’t paying attention, I was waiting for, I was anxious to get Mikey born. Anyways, I was going to saw that I had accepted the challenge to be trained for a nurse’s aid. That taught me to make beds real right, get the sheets real tight, but I had to learn to put starch in my, I had a blue uniform, blue cap. I went up and worked over at the University Hospital across the street at a 

doctor’s college there on 13th, walking distance from my parent’s home. That was my ending right there. I learned to make tight sheet corners and starch my nurse’s cap.


Interviewer: When did dad then get back to Oklahoma City from being discharged from the navy?


Francis: We’ll say middle of November, he was sent down to Orleans to get paperwork done there and then he came on, he was discharged by Christmas.


Interviewer: And so my sister Mike-


Francis: She was born down July in ‘46, Mikey was then. Marcy was not born until July in ‘46, but I did make a baby in ‘45 and July ‘46 and Gaylord was December ‘47. It was kind of crowded when we got them.


Interviewer: Well, it’s been just about an hour. That was good timing for that background.


Francis: Well, thank you because I had jitters.

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