WWII HOMEFRONT: A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

May 1945, 7.2 million men and women were in uniform and Big Band tunes dominated the airwaves. On the 8th, the nation was ready to “Sing, Sing, Sing” along with Benny Goodman when the Axis forces signed an unconditional surrender in Europe. Now, full attention could be given to the war in the Pacific Theater.

In Santa Barbara and Montecito, the Army Ground and Service Forces (AG & SF) commandeered the Biltmore, Miramar and Mar Monte hotels as Redistribution Stations. Soldiers returning from the battlefronts of Europe and the Pacific received a furlough here and were processed and evaluated for further duty. The Cabrillo Pavilion was pressed into service as the check-in and processing station.

While Harry James crooned his hit tune on the radio, the wives of returnees flocked to Santa Barbara to join their husbands to “kiss them once, and kiss them twice,” for it had been ”a long, long time.” Some couples had not seen each other in years.

The furlough included recreation and entertainment but also compulsory appointments and classes. Medical and psychological assessments, group discussions and educational presentations were interwoven with a sports program and social activities and amusements.

Required was a class called “Let’s Be Normal,” and men “over here” were encouraged to leave behind what they’d experienced “over there.” For those for whom the horrors of “over there” had a deeper impact, one-on-one interviews with a psychologist were offered. Topics of others classes included “The American Way,” and “Post-War Plans and Problems.”

The AG & SF offered a free sports program. Returnees played golf at Montecito Country Club, swam at Miramar and Coral Casino, fished in the Channel, and shot arrows at the Archery range near the Cabrillo Pavilion. By June, Santa Barbara’s beaches were “Bustin’ Out All Over” with the sunbathing wives of returnees. Guided horseback rides along miles of Santa Barbara and Montecito bridle paths as well as sightseeing tours via bicycle were popular.

Dances, bingo, parties, buffet suppers, movies and special U.S.O. shows were held regularly. Tea dances at the Biltmore, Miramar and Coral Casino had returnees “Swingin’ the Blues” with Count Basie. (After all, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”) The Biltmore Theater saw a variety of big name radio comedians providing entertainment, and sightseeing excursions to the Mission, local ranches and mountains were offered. The artistically inclined could visit the art museum or study the architecture of Old Town. And for those who wanted to wet their whistles, several tap rooms at the hotels and in town proffered “Rum and Coca Cola” along with the music of the Andrews sisters.

After several weeks, the returnees were reprocessed, refreshed and reclassified and it was “Anchor’s Away” for the Pacific Theater. As wives rode home on eastbound trains, Tommy Dorsey’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” lingered in their minds and hearts.

Hoff General Hospital

Just 12 miles away from all this relative frivolity lay the battered bodies of another group of American soldiers. Opened on March 1, 1941, Hoff General Hospital included more than 102 buildings on 58 acres of land on the south side of State Street spanning Las Positas. (MacKenzie Park is a remnant of this acreage.)

Determined to “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” the Hoff Hospital magazine, The Tip-Hoff, used Donald Duck to deliver its upbeat messages. New patients were treated to “Welcome, Brother! You have just checked into one of the most famous resort towns in the U.S.A. That’s right – you are now a temporary resident of sunny SANTA BARBARA! . . . Yes, mister – we think you’re going to like this town of SANTA BARBARA. It’s a great place to get well in QUICK!”

Getting well meant physical therapy, which included heat, massage, electricity and ultra-violet treatments. It also meant occupational therapy. Donald admonished the patients, “For the luvva Mike – do something! Don’t just sit there! DO SOMETHING! That’s what the Occupational Therapy Workshop is for – to keep you busy. Better give it a whirl.” Woodworking, printing and repair jobs interested some of the men. Others chose to work on the 15-acre Hoff Farm located west of Las Positas Road a bit north of Hendry’s Beach.

The Red Cross promoted sports, recreation and entertainment services as well as special rides and parties sponsored by the Red Cross Motor Corps. The Special Service Office lined up entertainment for the patients. Bed-ridden men were entertained in the wards.

Hoff Hospital served more than 27,000 fighting men during the war. Afterwards, the hospital buildings were used as temporary housing for several years until they were torn down.

Pentimenti

(Many thanks to those of you who shared your recollections of Santa Barbara and Montecito during WWII with me. Following are a few of your stories from the Homefront.)

Kevin C. Scott, academic services representative at UCSB, reminded me that there are still some military Quonset huts and wooden buildings on the UCSB campus. He also pointed out that there was a German POW camp north of Goleta. From Highway 101, the remains of a water tower marks the location. Kathi Brewster, local historian, says this was a minimum security camp and that the inmates, who were involved in farm labor, would occasionally show up in Santa Barbara. (I can’t imagine what kind of reception they received.)

Martha Clyde remembers dancing with the officers at the Biltmore to a 12-piece band. There was a soldier’s canteen in a restaurant on lower State Street where women volunteered to serve coffee and goodies. “I was amused,” she wrote, “that many were ladies from the Little Town Club who had servants at home. They enjoyed the challenge of learning how to make coffee for the first time!”

Martha’s husband, the late George Clyde, was deferred from the draft because he was a reporter for the News-Press. When the Japanese shelled Ellwood on February 23, 1942, he left her and their new baby at home alone because, he said, his duty was to be at the News-Press to help get the story out.

When they visited Wheeler’s Hot Spring’s restaurant in early June of 1942, they found the place crawling with soldiers. These men were camped on the Ojai Valley Inn Golf Course with orders to sleep in their clothes because Japanese warships were headed for the California coast. Since there was a chance the Japanese would land at East Beach, they were getting ready to fight them there. “The threat,” she says, “ended with the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.”

Barbara Parker Robinson picked and packed lemons during the war and danced with Marine lieutenants at the Coral Casino because, she says, “Pearl Chase insisted – not that we didn’t love it.”

Barbara also corrects my earlier comment about nylons. She says, “I’d like to point out that nobody had nylon stockings. If we had them at all, they were silk (equally scarce) and when we didn’t, we used leg makeup, unless we had a good tan acquired at the beach, which most of us did.

“While the captain of the High School football team, Johnny Bianchin, spent his war years as a tail gunner in Italy (extremely dangerous work),” she wrote, “we learned to change tires, drink Moscow Mules made of vodka and ginger beer (also dangerous), and wear rope-soled espadrilles instead of shoes.

“On the February night when Ellwood was shelled, the manager of the Granada, having shown us a double feature, showed us a third, and we all cheered,” Robinson goes on. “We weren’t allowed to go home until 1 am, well past my curfew.”

Barbara convinced her friend, Dara Bradley, to give me a call. Dara worked as a plane spotter on a platform behind the San Ysidro Guest Ranch. She also made sandwiches at the AWVS Canteen at 413 State Street, knitted olive drab socks for the army on a knitting machine, picked lemons in Montecito during spring break from the high school, and attended tea dances at the Biltmore and Montecito Country Club. Dara worked for the ration board and remembers standing in line for meat and butter and Red Tip Raleigh cigarettes. She remembers the Red Cross Motor Corps and disaster drills held on the Montecito Union campus.

Well, that’s the end of this “Sentimental Journey.” If any of these stories have put you “In the Mood” to share your own, please write to me at news@montecitojournal.net. And to all you veterans of the homefront and overseas service, two inadequate but heartfelt words – thank you.

(Sources: brochure of the AG &SF Redistribution Station and The Tip-Hoff.)