Personal Narrative of Johnnie Clayton
From: Johnnie Clayton (jc)
Date: Wednesday, May 5, 1999
Place: Home of Johnnie Clayton, 3412 South Landess Marion, Indiana 46953
Collected by: Tiffany Sanders (ts)
ts: I am Tiffany Sanders. This is Wednesday May 5, 1999. This is being recorded at 3412, South Landess Marion, Indiana. I am speaking with Mr. Johnnie Clayton. Please state your name.
jc: Johnnie Clayton
ts: Do I have permission to interview you?
ts: Do I have permission to submit this interview to Marion High School?
ts: Do I have permission to submit this interview to Marion Public Library?
Oral History of Johnny Clayton
ts: Okay, well will you tell me about , um . . .being in the war during 1945?
00:36 jc: Well I went in from Chicago, in 1945. I went to Fort Sheridan, I had six weeks of basic trainin’ in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. And then from there I went ta’ North Car . . .,For, North Carolina, Fort Bragg. I had seventeen weeks of basic trainin’ there. And after that I went over seas it was peace time. They declared war uh, an’ I don’t jus’ remma’ what year it was whut dey. I remma’ they declared war and I went over in Germany. And it was peace time and I also was in the 589th medical amalance supply. And I was in Augsworth, Germany. And I was in Studcock, Germany and Munich, Germany. So after that I came back and I re-enlisted for, uh, another year. And ah after that year was out I was shipped back to Camp Kilma (Kilmer ed.), New Jersey. And from there I went ta’ Camp Camel (Campbell ed.), Kentucky and that’s where I was discharged in 1947. And after that I went back to Chicago and I got married there and my wife and I stayed together I imagine ‘bout a year or so and from job, from job to job, I didn’t have a steady job. I was mostly from job to job, from here to there. So, that just about a part of the war. As far as the war’s concerned.
ts: Can you tell me any memories that you have about during the war, anything?
jc: Well it was peacetime, the only thing I kin’ tell you from whut I jes’ heard from different ones that was in, uh, the second World War. Because I wasn’t in the second war, well I wasn’t in to fight it. In that campaign, I wasn’t in that, but uh from what I could hear from the fellas that did go over some came back and some did not come back. And that’s just about all I could tell you about concerning the wars, well the war’s concerned.
ts: Yes, you said you was, you were over there I peacetime.
jc: It was peacetime, yes.
ts: Can you tell me like, when you first . . .
03:22 jc: Well, when I, well I, on the ship it was, it was kinna not, it was kind of a frightnin’ uh uh situation. And I hadn’t been on, had never been on a big ship like that before en en plus was lotta, was sickness and when you would git seasick from the, from the ship, you know, it was tossin an’ it was uh, turn, you know jus’ from da waves, and goin’ up and it wa, it would, uh and they would tell ya, ta’, ta’ eat. And you prob’ly would throw it up, some of ‘em would, it would. Couldn’t stay on their stomach and they prob’ly would throw it up, ya’ know, and then after, it took us 21 days to, to get over. And after I got over there it was very nice. I enjoyed it, at the time I was in Germany because it was, uh just like I said before, it was peace time. And, I was in the uh, medical and I was driving supply vehicle and so it was I guess suppose about 50 of us, what they call stayed in a castle. Most over in Ger, over in Germany they had what ya’ call a castle en, en over there, it was a big house. And you’re at about 50 or 60 in --, not inmates, but uh . . . soldiers in that uh, uh, uh buildin’. And it was, it was very nice. I enjoyed the, the time I was over there.
04:47 I wish I hadda uh, re-enlisted for, for longer but I had my mind set on, on uh, uh certain girl back here and it didn’t pan out. Didn’t which it didn’t come out right. Uh, she was, she and I were ta’ get married, and ah we had corresponded the whole time I was in the service. And so after I got out of the service uh she knew that I was gonna get discharged and I was down at uh Camp Camel, Kentucky. And I got a room on the base an she was sposta’ come. An I sent the money order from the post office to her address in I had a tracer put on it. She got the money, but she never did, never did show. And so that’s basically what made me come, want to come back to the state. Because I had my mind set on, uh that woulda been, that woulda been my second marriage. So I had my mind set on, on getting married to huh. And it didn’t pan out and so I’ve just forgotten about it.
05:47 ts: Well, how did they treat you when you were over there in Germany?
jc: In Germany, over in Germany, it was, in in Germany it was it was real nice, we got treated royal over there cuz it was just like I say we had about 50 of us in one building and everybody knew everybody. And it so, we got treated by nice by the soldiers. And also by the by the Germans. You know cuz they were awfully nice about it. I liked it over there. And I could have stayed over there, but I just had of uh had a strong mind and uh you know, uh, like I feel now woulda made a career out of it. Cuz I woulda put 20 years in. But as I say I was wantin’ to get back and girl you know, wantin’ to get married. So, that was the, the si . . ., that was the situation there.
06:32 ts: Um, what did you eat when you were over there?
jc: What did? Oh we had , I guess ‘bout the choicest food you’, we had steaks, we had chicken, we had pork chops, we had ham. We had just like it was, it was home, we had a little, own kitchen ya’know. And when ya’ got something like private like you can have, you can git the best. And so we also on the weekends we’d go to uh Munich an come back on the weekends we’d uh we’d get beer. And we’d set beer out there and in the big kegs, you know it was in kegs and that was the first time in my life, it was the first time I’d ever got drunk. And I said I’d never wanna get drunk again, and I wind up getting drunk after I had started to drink ya’know. The taste, cuz mostly it was air we wouldn’t have no whiskey, we’d have schnaps see over in Germany thery call it schnaps, and uh cognac and so we’d drink that, but mostly we had that beer. I mean 12 or 13 kegs just sittin’ out there in the yard and all you’d do is just go there and turn the tap, and drink it.
07:40 So it was real nice, and at that time you couldn’t uh you could only send so much money home because I used to walk around over there with uh with six or seven thousand dollars in my pocket, everyday because I would loan guys money and I wouldgive ‘em so much to, cuz I was no gambler. I would give ‘em so much and I could send only twenty-five dollars back home for, for safe keeping. But you couldn’t send a whole lotta money back , because you was only allowed a certain amount. And so, it was real nice, over there in Germany when I was over there. And the Germans they, they treated you awfully nice over there.
08:22 I got , I remember once I had a, uh uh a lady she was a Belgian. And she knitted me a pair, I kept those socks, a pair of silk socks, uh I kept those socks until I don’t know how long. And they was real cuz she could knit ya’ know, they was made outta regular silk. She made me a pair of silk socks, she was a Belgian. She had real black, real black hair. And uh, she was real nice, a seamstress. And they would treat you awfully nice over there. The mens and also the womens over there, the chilrens. It was very nice over seas when I was there.
09:00 ts: When you first found out that you had to go over there, what , how did you react? Were you . . .?
jc: Well I was glad, I was glad, I was young ya’know, and I wanted to see part of the world, and uh it was exciting, ya’ know.
ts: I’m going to stop the tape right here.
Mother and Family
09:20 jc: My mother died when I was about four years old and I was raised by my Grandmother, Grandmother and Grandfather. And it was two, three boys and one girl. Marthy, that’s my sister, Curtis my brother, and Moses, and Johnnie, I was the youngest. And so my job was to take care the chickens at home and keep the stove wood. Cuz we had a stove and it would burn wood, and I would cut that. And down in Mississippi I would always cut the wood up small and throw some of it underneath of the uh house. For when it rained. And all I’d do when it rained I would just all I had to do was go underneath the house and get the wood. And I would, Mama kept me churnin’ the milk. Mama had uh tow or three cows, and one would go dry, the other one’d come in. We had the cows we had plenty of chickens, and ducks, geese, and mostly we had exactly what we needed to live off of. And cotton, we picked cotton.
10:39 And I didn’t, like a lotta kids today, I’m sorry today that I didn’t finish school like I should have, because it’s my fault it’s not my parents’, my grandmother, my grandfather, it’s not their fault, it’s mine. Ya’ know, I was disobedient and didn’t want to go to school. So I missed that uh quite a bit since I’ve been gone, that opportunity, to have a good job on account of I didn’t have a good education, I didn’t have enough education. So I regret that, but thank the Lord I made it over. And so I got just a little too hard-headed for my Grandmother to whoop, cuz then, back then you’d get a whoopin’ when ya’ disobedient, when ya’ did wrong, ya’ lied, ya’ stealing, anything you’d done, you got a whoopin’. So I got just a little bit too big for my grandmother to whoop. And at sixteen years old my grandmother, put me out, sixteen. And that’s when I left and went to Chicago. But I left on my own, cuz I couldn’t stay there with Mama because I wouldn’t obey her. So she just told me to go, so I did. So I’ve hit it hard cuz I’d never saw a hungry day in my life, until I’d gotten into Chicago and gotten grown. ‘Cause at home we had plenty to eat. Papa would kill six or seven hogs every year. Mama would quilt, quilts during the winter months. We had plenty potatoes, peanuts, popcorn. We had plenty of ham hanging up in the smoke house. All you’d have to do is go out there and cut you a slice off. Sausage hanging behind the stove. And Mama had plenty milk, butter. Milk was a nickel a gallon, butter was about a dime a pound. And back in those days you had, peoples had plenty. And the white peoples down there treated us nice, they wanted [inaudible] uh . . . some of them was, they would maybe treat different ones a different way. It all depends on who you was. And we was down there on the plantation and the farms, so we knew where we was at. So a lot of ‘em got education, cuz my grandmother told us that one of the family was gon’ get some education, so we did. That’s Moses, that’s my oldest brother. He the one we took, we sent him to Greenville, Colbin High. So we sent him over there so he got some education. So also my sister, and also my younger brother next to me, Curtis. So me, just me I’m what ya’ call the black sheep in the family. I was always not the one to mind, but I got a many a whoopins.
13:36 And I remember this incident. Uh, I used to make chicken coops, my job was to make the chicken coops, to keep the chickens. And I would pick up the old burnt nails and Papa would give me a old saw and I would saw, and botch it up and fix the chicken coop. So I slipped, Papa had went away one day, that was my grandfather, he slipped and went away one day and I slipped and got his good saw. And ya’ know, when ya’ got a kid doing thangs with bicycles, they fixing thangs. He just a sawing and messin’ around and ain’t paying any attention, and sawing the ground. And so Papa slipped up on me, walked up on me rather, he didn’t slip up he was coming, I wasn’t paying attention so I would never remem . . ., I never would forget that whoopin’. I never got another whoopin by Papa, ‘cause Mama had to get him off of me, ‘cause I had slipped and got his saw. And so she, see Papa had a what ya’ call a bull whip, what ya’ whoop mules wit’. So Papa went and got that and doubled that, and he was on me. And Mama had to come to the door and come call, call and tell him ta’ stop from whoopin’ me. So, I never got no more whoopins by, by Papa. So but Mama, by Mama I got plenty of whoopins from Mama. And so another incident [inaudible] I got some cousins so got had a bunch of grandchilrens that had all come to our home, to the house and eh girls and boys all her gandchilren so we got one, I just talked to her last week, Hazel. She’s down there now so she’s just like a tomboy. So we’d all get in mystery and do things and Mama would come out we’d all start pointing the finger, “he got it”, “he did it”. Well Mama said I’ll get the one, I’m a give all of ya’ll a whooping, every one of ya’, get in line. Go out there and get a switch, and she’d give us all a whooping. And Hazel, my cousin, we’d, two sisters chilren two brothers, sisters, brothers chilren. When ya’ got to Hazel, Hazel would get on her knees and say down to lay me, down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep and Mama would tap her on the shoulder and tell her to get on away from here gal. Mama never could whoop Hazel, we, we tease her ‘bout it now, but she never could whoop Hazel ‘cause every time she’d get to Hazel she’d always get on her knees. Couldn’t whoop nobody while she praying. ‘Cause she’d be like this folding her hands, looking up at Mama [inaudible] and saying down to lay me. She never could whoop Hazel. So I memba that, that uh thangs were just uh, wo, wonderful like back then. I remember them quite a bit. The old times. I never owned a bicycle, in my life. Never owned a wagon. I made my wagon if I wanted a wagon I go out in the woods cut it, and make my wagon. I never owned a wagon never owned a bicycle. But we got by, we did.
16:40 ts: Um the way, when you came back from the peacetime in Germany, how did the, how were you treated here? Were you received with open arms?
jc: I had a chance to use the G.I. bill when I first came back when I was in Chicago. To be a mechanic go to TV school, but I didn’t use none of that. Only thing I use now is from the army is for my medical. If I need anything from the medical, I’m treated awfully nice, so far. I haven’t been treated uh, bad no where, in Chicago, over in Kokomo, even here. So . . .
17:12 ts: So it wasn’t a lot of discrimination?
jc: No, no I haven’t saw that since I’ve been out the army. It wasn’t none in the army because we was soldiers. White boys, white boys there, you’d get right down there with ‘em. But when ya’ go to town then that’s when you would call cause they had the white and the colored. Ya’ know section, that you would go. White boys go in one side, and the colored same as the, as the club on the, on the post. So you knew that. And so it was discrimination back then when I went, when I went in the army there. But I didn’t [?] same as it is down South. When I was 14, 12,13 years old. They had a colored side and a white side. So yu know what side to go to so we did that. When we catch the bus, you ride the back of the bus you get on the back, you go on to the back. So we knew what to do, back in there.
ts: Thank you so much.