Personal narrative of Milford Freeman
From: Milford Freeman (mf)
Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999
Place: Home of Milford Freeman, 800 E S. B St. Apt. 6 Gas City, Indiana 46933
Collected by: Becky Holstein (bh)
00:00 bh: I am Becky Holstein. This is April 29, 1999. This is being recorded at 800 East South B Street, Gas City, Apartment 6. I am speaking with Milford Freeman. Please state your name.
mf: My name is Milford Freeman. My nickname is Bud.
bh: Do I have your permission to interview you?
bh: Do I have your permission to submit this interview to Marion High School?
bh: Do I have your permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?
Oral History of Milford Freeman
Saturday Night in Marion
00:42 bh: Ok. We’ll be talking about Marion life in the 1940s, and I’m going to start out with what was the town of Marion like in the 1940s?
mf: Ok. Uh, Saturday night was the big night of the week. People would come in early. Farmers would come in early to town, and, uh, you couldn’t get through the square. You had to walk single file. There were so many people downtown, uh, visiting and, uh, going shopping in stores. There were four dime stores. There were four theatres.
And, uh, it was really a wonderful night because as young people, uh, my boyfriends and I, this was the big night. We’d see our friends, we’d walk around, and we’d go to Luna Lite Theatre, which always had a good cowboy show on and, uh, we would get in for ten cents apiece. Our parents would give us twenty cents. We’d go to the dime store and get a nickel's worth of peanuts and a nickel's worth of red-hots and pay ten cents for admission into the Luna Lite Theatre. And, uh, those were wonderful days, and we enjoyed every bit of it. But Saturday night was really a big night in Marion and I miss it and sometimes I reminisce a lot and think about it.
FDR and the CCC
And, uh, do you want me to tell you a little bit before in the '30s?
bh: You can, sure.
mf: Ok. We were very poor; well, almost everyone was. My dad was a WPA, which was a Public Works Administration, and President Roosevelt started this. And, uh, to me he was always a hero, President Roosevelt. And, uh, I forgot my train of thought here. But, uh, anyway as life went on, uh, I met a, uh . . . well first in the '30s I got out of high school in '37, and there was no jobs available so I joined a Civilian Conservation Corps. They called it the Three C, C. The CCC, and this was for boys, uh. . .
bh: I think I just read about something in my history book. Ok. What was that like?
mf: . . . and, uh, you serve six months at a time and you made thirty dollars a month and twenty-five dollars would go back to your parents and you had five dollars to spend. But, uh, that was plenty because, uh, we had our clothes given to us. We lived like we were in the army. Only we didn’t have guns. We had shovels. And we planted, uh, like for instance, I was at, uh, Liberal State Forest and that’s where the state forest is now. And we had a, and I would say that there was 350 of us there and, uh, I met real nice fellows from all over Indiana, parts of Kentucky, Tennessee.
But President Roosevelt was the one that started this. And, uh, so, you signed six months at a time, and I would, uh, if I couldn’t find . . . I would go back home for a week. And if I couldn’t find a job, I would sign up again, and therefore I was in three terms.
World War II and the AK76 Liberty Ship
And by this time I met a girl. And, uh, and, uh, finally, uh, I got a job at Daily Brother Shoe Factory, and there her dad was working at Owens Illinois in the machine shop. So, he got me a job over there, and I remember it was on a Sunday. I was working on Sunday and, uh, when Pearl Harbor was struck on December the 7th, I think it was. And, uh, at that time I really didn’t know what it meant to me. I was 20 years old, and I didn’t know what a war was. I didn’t know but I knew it was something terrible but I could hear them, uh, the fellows in the factory. They were saying, uh, “Remember Pearl Harbor; remember Pearl Harbor." And, uh, so, then we got in.
After that, we were into the war, and so, uh, I had one son then. We had been married several years and it was 1943 and I had one son and I had another son on the way. At this time I changed jobs and went to the Anaconda Wire and Cable. And, uh, finally I was drafted, even if I had a son and another along the way.
So, uh, I went to Great Lakes right out of Chicago and, uh, took my boot training and got to come home after . . . I think it was about eight weeks of boot training . . . got to come home for a week. And then they put us right on a, they called it a cattle car, a railroad track, and they sent us, shipped us to a California and there we caught a ship. And there was 5,000. It was a troop ship. Five thousand of us went over to a, we went to a French Island called Espiritos Santos [sic]. And, uh, we were there for several weeks, and all of us, there was 5,000, but we went to different ships. We were - different ships would come in, and when they’d need someone, we would be applied to that ship.
So, uh, I was a taken by a, uh, Liberty Ship, which was - Henry Kiser made Liberty Ships like, back then, just like an assembly line. And what we did was take troops in the island and take troops, wounded troops, out. And, uh, sometimes we move on aboard this ship native people that have been mistreated in, a, different islands.
And, uh, when, uh, I lost my train a thought there. Uh, ok. I got to be a, during that time, I got to be a mail clerk. And, uh, this was a good job because I would get to go over to every island we came to with a captain of the ship. My ship was A K 76 Liberty Ship. And, uh, I would pick up the mail, and that’s what the guys would be all around waiting for me to come back with the captain. "Did you get any mail for me? Did you get any for me?" And, uh, I was the same way. I wanted to hear from home, and sometimes it would take maybe 14-15 days or longer. It’s according to how long we were at sea and did not go into an island to pick up mail.
But those were, uh, I met, I had many good friends aboard the ship. I had a good time. I shot basketball down in the hole. What they call a hole is when it was empty. Uh, and the ship would sway back and forth with the waves. You had to shoot the ball here, and the ship would come back here and catch it. You probably don’t understand what I’m saying but, uh, ok.
But, uh, God was good to me and, uh, as time ran down, I lived aboard this ship for two years and it was my home. And, uh, somehow or other I blocked out, my mind blocked out the danger of war. Uh, we had, uh, we saw several, uh, what are they, kamikaze pilots. We saw a couple ships, but ours was - and we, we dropped some depth bombs but our ship was never hit and, uh, none of us was ever wounded but, uh, the war was over.
I come back and, uh, picked up my job at the Anaconda. This was 1946. I was just gone two years. And, uh, I got to see my youngest boy, Neil, for the first time. He was almost, probably a year and a half, but, uh, his mother had told him who I was by my picture. She’d say, “This is your dad, you know?” So, he kinda knew me when I came home. And my oldest son remembered me, who is older, but, uh, that was a precious, uh, that was a good time in my life. And, uh, I was so grateful to God, you know? I got to see him. I got to come home to be with my family.
And, uh, I wanted to add this, too, that in the '40s, in World War II, America, I think was the epitome of, uh, loyalty, of, uh, brotherhood, of, uh, friendship, of patriotism. Uh, they were great. I don’t think I hope it would be like that again, but I can’t see it. But America was great then.
We were, uh, it was just good to be a young man. I had my family, and the government let us buy a new home - not a new home, but it was to me. Uh, there was several. We lived out north Marion. We had about four acres. And, uh, we put basketball courts up. And, uh, well, we just had a good life, and my wife was young and healthy then. My boys was growing up, and, uh, by this time I had a, uh, 1933 V8, and, uh, the boys, we’d go on a Saturday night. We’d go downtown and try to get there early so we could find a parking space because everyone else had the same idea of, uh, parking down there and just - and the boys really got disgusted. They’d say, “There’s nothing to see but people," you know? But, uh, those were good times for me in the '40s after the war.
A Teen's Life
13:35 bh: Ok. Um, let's see, talk about maybe a little bit more about Marion and what you did for entertainment.
mf: Ok. Now I graduated in '37 and, uh. . .
bh: From Marion High School?
mf: From Marion High School.
bh: Ok, what was it like then?
13:55 mf: Uh, there was not one student that had an automobile. There was no student that had an automobile, uh, because, uh, they, uh, they just cost too much and, uh, kids either rode bicycles or walked. But, uh, that was a good time in my life also, high school.
And, uh, at this time because my dad was very poor financially, uh, I washed the . . . uh, coliseum was built (this was '30, in the middle '30s) but it was built in 1928 . . . and I washed windows in there. And I got - uh, what they call National Youths, NYA, National Youths Administration - and I got one dollar a week and four dollars a month. And, uh, I would wash windows from the inside for two hours every week, day and night.
And, uh, then, uh, every Friday night, uh, was a big night for Marion, the whole of Marion, to go to the basketball game at the Coliseum. And, uh, sometimes I had enough money to and, uh, I can’t even hardly remember the admission but it wasn’t hardly anything. But sometimes I didn’t even have enough to go. But anyway they were, uh, sports minded then.
And, uh, some of the, uh, fellows that I remember played on it was, uh, when I was a senior, was, uh, Junior Conrad, uh, was Chuck Yeager, uh, was Lamoine Duncan, uh, was Ralph Vogel, uh, Vogel’s doughnuts.
And, uh, well, there’s a lot of names, Charles Maggart, who was killed in World War II, Charley Maggart and, uh, he was a fine player. And there was two brothers that were killed, Delbert and Dale Trueman, in World War II, and they played on it at the same time. And also there was, uh, a lad, Windle Herley was his name, and he was a baton leader of the band and he was killed at Pearl Harbor, uh, the first wave on December the seventh. The first wave that came in he was on. I believe it’s the Arizona, USS Arizona, and he was on it. And, uh, today they never moved it. What’s left of him is still in there at Pearl Harbor and Hawaii. And they say that after all these years - I’ve never been to Hawaii - and you can see oil coming up from the, uh, tanks of the USS Arizona.
Softball at Matter Park
And uh, so uh, well I’m a little ahead of my story. Uh, I’ll go back to, uh, the Saturday nights and people on Friday nights. They would, uh, Marion had a very good softball team that played at Matter Park, and people would come out there by the hundreds. And they were, uh, sponsored by, uh, Fox Deluxe Beer. They used to be a whacha, what do they call it, brewery. And uh, then there was a Patrick Henry Beer here in the same place, and they sponsored these softball players. And they were, they met the best, and they were the best. Uh, there was one particular one, uh, the pitcher was Vern Marsh. He was about six foot two and real skinny, but he could put the ball and pitch underhand. And, uh, then there was, uh, Hoke Wilson was another big player. Uh, Art Ackly, who I later worked with, was another player, but we would spend Friday nights out there. We’d walk out, walk home, and to watch the game we’d sit on the hillside or someplace where we could observe it, and then again on Saturday.
And Saturday afternoon and evening we’d go to a matinee, uh, at the Luna Lite Theatre at a cowboy show. And, uh, so, we looked forward to that every weekend.
Dating and Marriage
18:37 bh: Now did you, uh, what about dating?
mf: Uh, yeah, uh I had a few girls in high shool but nothing serious. But while I was in high school, I did meet Neil’s mother, my wife, and, uh, she was, uh, just as, uh, freshman in high school. And so, we went together for awhile, and then we decided to get married so we sneaked off.
19:10 bh: So how old were you when you got married?
mf: I was, uh, twenty and she was like sixteen and we kept it a secret for six months. And she lived with her mother, and I lived with my folks.
bh: Where did you guys get married at?
mf: We, we borrowed my dad’s car. I didn’t tell him where I was going, and we went to Anderson and got married. And for six months no one knew it. And, uh, we just acted like we were dating like we had before. And so, uh, finally, uh, we came out of the closet. And, uh, we were married. We had a happy marriage for fifty-six years, and she passed away three years ago.
20:05 mf: Ok, alright, on, uh, on Sunday, on Sunday I’m sorry to say I didn’t go to Sunday School or church then. But, uh, anyway we would, uh, we go up town, walk around, and we would walk up to Matter Park and walk around. But there was nothing open up on the square of all the stores. There was Freel and Mason Drug Store and a Groom’s Drug Store and, uh, Hooks and they would take turns about . . . there was a, what they call a Blue Law, and stores weren’t open to buy, purchase things in like the mall on Sunday. Everything was closed then. And, uh, the only thing that would be open would be a drugstore in order it, you had to have drug medication or something like this, you could go to this one particular. They took turns about opening up on the Lord’s day, uh, for medicine and things like that.
But it was very, other than the four theaters, which was the Paramount, the Luna Lite, the Lyric, and they had one they called, uh, the bucket of blood. It was, uh, always had westerns on it shooting one another. And it was on Adams Street so, uh, and the Royal Grand Theater, also. Uh, so, there was, uh, always a show, and if we were lucky enough or had picked tomatoes or made enough money, we would, uh, save money and go to a show on Sunday afternoon but, uh . . .
21:43 bh: So, uh, yeah, how did you make your money for stuff like that?
mf: Uh, ok, maybe you could pick, uh, a farmery in the fall of year, pick tomatoes. And a hamper, you’d get so much a hamper to pick those tomatoes, maybe like eight cents a hamper or six cents a hamper.
Building the Charles Mill Dam
And, uh, also I forgot to interject awhile ago, uh, the Charles Mill Dam. Uh, my dad worked on WPA, and this was in the 1930s, '30, middle '30s when they built the dam. And so, WPA men built that dam there at a, it needs work on it now, but this has been many years ago. And WPA workers done that so, they did a lot of, uh, streets and, uh, things that were well worth while to help the community.
"A Dark Day for Marion"
22:35 bh: Um, so what was, uh, like was there any racial issues?
mf: Well, uh, during I think, uh, in 1932, I’m not positive the year. I was twelve, I think; yeah, I was twelve. And, uh, there was, uh, a hanging. Uh, there were, uh, as I recall, out on, uh, they call it dark secrets out around the river, uh, a, uh, some colored men were accused of killing this man. And, uh, yeah, killing him and, uh, raping his wife and, uh, not his wife, his girlfriend. But anyway, uh, Marion at this time as I don’t know how many weeks or months went by, but they, they drove, they tore the jail doors down, busted the windows out, and they took these men. I don’t know how many, maybe two or three, and they hung them there at the courthouse square on trees. There was big trees there, and this was, uh, a dark hour for Marion really. Uh, but I just know the next day we went down around the square and no whites or blacks or anyone was moving. We saw police around, but it was a dark day for Marion. That was in the early '30s.
Teachers, Respect, Discipline
24:30 mf: Also, I want to add that, uh, all of my teachers, and I can remember many of their names and the principal, every one, I respected them from the bottom of my heart. Uh, there was no, uh, today it’s hard for me to conceive in my mind policemen walking in the corridors. My mind, it blows my mind. I can’t see that because, uh, that was the last thing in the world, uh, my parents told me - and, uh, maybe Neil’s mother told him - "If you get a whooping in school, you’re gonna get one when you come home, and you respect your teachers," and I did. I respected every one of them and, uh, they helped, helped. I admired them, wanted to be like them, and, uh, I’m sure it influenced me in my life later on.
25:33 bh: So, that’s what, uh, they did? That was their, uh, they gave kids whoopings?
mf: Oh, now in high school, uh, no. In, in the lower grades I’ve seen them, a teacher, uh, for instance, he was at the blackboard and it was me and I was whispering to another fellow and he was aggravated that day but he just threw the eraser but missed both of us. But it, uh, shut me up from whispering, uh, but I don’t, in high school, uh, no, I never, I think 99 percent of the kids had the same feeling I did - they respected, and I think their parents told them, "If you get a whooping at school, you’re gonna get one at home," uh, because we held them at high esteem. And, uh, I can’t understand, uh, policemen at corridors. I’m too old, I guess, to understand that but, uh, they were good role models, excellent for me and I’m sure for many others.
bh: Ok, um.
Overcoming Fear and Hardship during War
27:00 mf: Like I said, I was on a liberty ship, and its name was USS Salino. And uh, what we did, we went into islands and took troops into islands and took troops out. Uh, those were some, were wounded, uh, and I can remember probably, uh, worry the closest call we came, uh, we were in a convoy of, uh, 15 ships. And in order for submarine not to hit us with a torpedo, they would what they call zigzag. They wouldn’t go in a straight-line see, so it, he couldn’t hit you with his torpedo. So there was, uh, this night we were in that. And, uh, there was three ships and I . . . they dropped there . . . they thought they heard a submarine, and there was a submarine around us, so they dropped depth charges, and they really jarred almost all our feet, the concussion of it aboard our ship.
28:23 bh: So, was it when you were in the war, was it just like a feeling of, in fear? Were you, how did it affect you?
mf: I somehow, I blocked, I blocked the thought of dying, of never seeing my parents again, of never seeing my wife and children again. Somehow I blocked that out, and, and, uh, I thought about other things. And, uh, because I suppose if a person concentrated on the thought about it, he would really be nervous and everything go to pieces, but somehow I blocked that out and, uh. . .
29:12 bh: Did it affect, um, your family, like your wife?
mf: Uh, I can’t imagine and she worked and her mother lived with her and by this time she had two children and she held a job at Foster Forbes Glass and probably 19 years old, 19 or 20. And, uh, so I know, and the navy sent her so much, but not enough in those days. She could pay rent and buy food, clothing for the boys. So her mother lived there and babysat for her and she worked and I know it wasn’t a good time. I know she had a hard time and, uh, but she did it and she kept keeping on and, uh, so our letters, letters from her to me and my letters back to her, I think perhaps kept both of us encouraged and going. And, uh, it was, I couldn’t hardly wait.
bh: Ok, well, that sounds good to me. Unless there’s anything else, that’s good.
mf: Ok. I probably said enough.
bh: Ok, well, I appreciate it.
30:45 mf: Thank you. Thank you.