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What Did You Do in WW II, Neil Tucker? (Part 2 of 3)

Note: The following is Part 2 of an oral history of Cooper Neil Tucker during WW II, as told to his wife, Rebecca Tucker. Neil was a lifelong resident of Arlington, Texas, and a descendent of Arlington pioneer James Daniel Cooper. Neil passed away April 21, 2010. This document was part of a history assignment while Rebecca was attending Dallas Baptist University during the mid1990s. The assignment was to obtain an oral history of WWII experiences. Neil was nine years old when America entered the war.

Was the War discussed much at school?
Oh yes! I had a picture of my Daddy in his uniform on my desk at school. A lot of kids had pictures of their Dad, or their older brother, or whoever was important to them who was in the war. Conversation during the war I would say was at least 80% about one facet or another of the war. If you had a member of your family serving in the military you put a blue star in the front window and if someone was killed you put a gold star. Everybody had stars in the window, sometimes gold and blue. I can still remember - it was June or July in the summer of 1941 and my next door neighbor George Coke, who was 17 had just joined the Navy. He came over to the house to tell me goodbye, I was just a little kid - nine I guess, and I remember how I wanted to go with him. He had on his sailor suit; he really looked sharp. He died at Pearl Harbor on one of the battleships that went down; they never brought his body up. They left all the bodies down there. He never came home - his mother Mrs. Coke went flat crazy after he was killed; she was never the same.

Where did you spend Sundays and Holidays?
Mother usually fixed Sunday dinner! Sometime we went to my Aunt Beatty's. I loved to go to Beatty's for Sunday dinner - she sure could fry chicken. It was so good! The Cooper Hotel and its Rainbow Grill was the place to go after church on Sunday; at least if you went to the First Methodist Church in Arlington; it was right across Center Street. During the week it was kind of a beer hall but on Sundays they put the table cloths on and everybody from church went there to eat. It was THE place to go -The Rainbow Grill at the Cooper Hotel. We had our Christmas Dinners there too. Mother was from a family of seven and we always spent our Christmas celebrations with the Cooper family at the Hotel. On Christmas they would close the Rainbow Grill and all the family would gather up at the hotel and that was where we would have our Christmas celebration and dinner. I think an old negro man named Ross Pervis cooked for us; he was the cook at the restaurant. It never occurred to me that he was missing Christmas with his family or even if he had a family. I hope he celebrated somewhere.

What part of the War do you remember as being the worst time for America?
The South Pacific - we were in deep trouble in the South Pacific. We weren't ready for war and the Japanese had us on the run and we almost got wiped out; it was very close and could have gone either way. The battle at Midway Island - that was the turning point for us in the war; we beat the Japanese. I remember how excited I was when I saw the papers and how they mapped out the battle.

The Germans - we fought them in Africa to start with and finally the Americans, the British, and the Australians won the African campaign and crossed the Mediterranean into Sicily and Italy. That was the time when I was looking at the arrows to see where we were. And of course from England we invaded Normandy Beach into France and that was the beginning of the end for the German Army. The South Pacific was totally different because we were fighting more of a Naval Battle: we fought from island to island - Iwo Jima, Tarawa. The neighbor on the other side of us - he was the brother-in-law of George Coke (the boy I told you about earlier) - was killed at Tarawa. He never even got to land, he was killed right there in the water as he was coming off one of those landing barges that transported troops to the beach. He couldn't have received much training; he left Arlington only about 6 weeks earlier. They just did not have time, there was such a need for soldiers; they had to get those guys over there as quickly as possible.

Tell me how the war impacted people’s personal lives!
Well, my Uncle Johnny went through a horrible experience. He was a member of the crew that helped clean out the ovens at Auschwitz, where the Germans had killed the Jews. It impacted his life so severely he never recovered. He drank constantly and stayed drunk or semi-drunk all the time. It finally ruined his liver and killed him. He died during the fifties.

When we started fighting the Germans there was the nicest old fellow here. His name was Dutch Geisner, and he owned a service station and a little tire store up on the highway. My friend Milton Kelley and I used to hang around his station; he was always so nice and good to us. We just liked to hang around there and talk to him and help out if we could. When we started fighting the Germans, our parents wouldn't let us go there anymore just because he was German. The whole town ostracized him. He was in our church also, and nobody at the church would have anything to do with him. Nobody would trade with him and he had to move, he and Mrs. Geisner just left town. I don't know where they went or anything, but even as a little kid I knew it was wrong. He wasn't to blame for what happened, it was just the fact that he was German. I had no knowledge of the way the Japanese were treated on the West Coast. That story didn't make the Arlington papers and I don't remember hearing any gossip. After I got grown and heard about the internment of the Japanese I thought it was atrocious, but I am quite sure if I had known about it then I probably would have thought it was the proper thing. There was a general, I can't remember his name now, who convinced the American people the Japanese were a threat to the national safety and had to be incarcerated. It was just a big lie, those people weren't a threat - they were second and third generation Americans. It was terrible the way those people were treated; they were just as good a citizens as we were. The government took their property and everything. There were lawsuits all through the fifties and sixties; it’s probably still going on. I don't think those people ever got back their property; it is a disgrace and something that should have been righted long ago.

When were you most afraid during the War?
I guess when we started having to put blankets over the windows and doors. You couldn't have any lights on outside or anything. The guys who came around with the little white helmets, The Civil Air Patrol, I guess, might knock on the door and say there were lights shining through or something. That was kind of scary because to get us all to do what was needed they used scare tactics; such as reminding us about the possibility of a bomb attack because of our close proximity to Chance Vought and Consolidated; we all called it the "bomber plant" (Lockheed). They were building planes for the war and we were going to be bombed together; it was important the enemy not know where we were. If we did not pay attention and do as we were told the consequences were awesome, it was very scary for a child. I can't imagine how the kids in London coped with the constant bombings that went on over there.

When did you start feeling that the war effort was going our way?
I kept up with the war on a daily basis. I was just really interested in what went on from the time I was about ten. Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941 before I turned 10 in January of ‘42. When I was about 13 or so I really became interested in what was going on. Midway was the turning point as far as America was concerned; it turned the tide in the South Pacific, and the Japanese quit whipping up on us. Then I guess it was sort of an even battle until Iwo Jima where we finally began to overpower the Japanese.

Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
I will never forget it. After church, we had gone across the street to the Cooper Hotel and the Rainbow Grill for Sunday dinner. That’s where we heard about it. My Grandfather was sitting in his chair and listening to the announcements of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio. There was an easy chair and one of those little round-top radios set up in the lobby and that was where my grandfather spent a lot of his time. We gathered around and listened. The next day, FDR, in his address to Congress, would refer to December 7 as “a day that will live in infamy."

Read Part 3