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Learn about the workforce shortages that were experienced during the war in Stockton California and how they were addressed.
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Narrator: Letters were the single, most important connection soldiers had to the home front. Troops romanced loved ones but they also learned how Stockton as a community was rallying behind them.
Tod Ruhstaller: Agriculture, almost from the city’s inception has been the driving economic force here. And so we had many people involved in agriculture in one way, shape or form and when war came and many of those individuals now found themselves in uniform, their positions had to be taken by other people. And so there were shortages and these shortages were addressed in a number of ways, one of the most significant was the young people in Stockton High School were finding themselves out in the fields or in the local canneries.
Narrator: Caroline Mallet was a student at Stockton High School, the only high school in the city at the time.
Caroline Mallet: School started at 7:00 or 7:30, I can't remember and we went until about noon and we took our own bag of lunch and we met in front of the school and they loaded us for various farms. Nobody liked it but we were glad to do it.
Tod Ruhstaller: They knew that it was their part to play in the national war effort.
Narrator: While students flooded the fields in the afternoons, cannery shifted into war time mode as well. Tillie Lewis Foods was one of the largest canning companies in the country. The plant was run by this woman, Tillie Lewis, better known as the tomato queen of Stockton.
Kimberly Bowden: Tillie Lewis did provide C-rations to the military and she did promote that so that people here in Stockton knew that by working in the fields, by orking here at home, they were feeding their soldiers who are abroad.
Tod Ruhstaller: Well like most Americans following the United States entry into the war, the home front mobilized. Locally, a number of industries converted to war footing.
Narrator: To accommodate women who filled factory jobs vacated by enlisted men, Tillie Lewis, always an innovator and pioneer, opened a day care for her new female employees.
Kimberly Bowden: She had, from her own background as a woman entrepreneur, she employed women ahead of time and she had started programs such as day care and she had worked with many women who had never worked outside the home before. And when the wartime came around, she was prepared more than any other industry around here.
Narrator: Stockton was seeing homegrown heroes emerge daily. The cause was pure, support the troops risking their lives in the fight for freedom.
Chet Lock: We were on peak of duty on Falkland Island in ’45 and we were hit by a kamikaze.
Narrator: Chet Lock lives in Stockton and during the war he was an officer in the Navy. He was awarded by the Navy Cross after his ship, the USS Hazelwood, was badly mangled by a suicide bomber.
Chet Lock: We were attacked by, we think three and one of them just missed us and the other one got us and it plowed into the bridge structure and killed all the deck officers.
Narrator: Dozens of men, including the ship’s captain were killed. Chet was forced to take charge of the burials at sea.
Chet Lock: This gives you an idea of what it looks like for the burial at sea.
Narrator: Cheating death, sometimes daily, Chet relied more and more on letters from home.
Chet Lock: Sometimes the mail would travel around trying to catch up with you because you're off here and you're off there and finally you get the mail and that’s the high point of the sailors’ existence is have a mail from home.
Narrator: Chet was—with a young woman named Pam, a farmer’s daughter from Petaluma. She caught his eye during a family function before he shipped out to sea.
Chet Lock: If you are interested in this young lady, who was darn important because you didn’t want to roll over and play dead and advance your cause, so you did your best and I've sure did and I've tried my best to write good letters. USS Hazelwood, July 20th, 1943. Dear Pat, how’s the farmer’s daughter, his grand and glorious days. All I need for a lift in morale is one short glimpse of those laughing Irish eyes.
I know she had plenty of boyfriends and I had to do my best to top them. There was a young lady from Street Scott whose letters to me mean a lot. She writes with her pen, was kind of a yen and slows up the navy or not, my love, Chet.
Pam Lock: Chet and I, first we had an instant connection.
Narrator: Writing back and forth, Chet officially began courting Pat when he returned home. A marriage proposal followed and they’ve been together ever since.
Pam Lock: We've dated and we began to have so much fun together that there were no question, it didn’t take any time at all to decide.
Narrator: And it all started by putting pen to paper during some of the toughest times this country has seen.
Pam Lock: It was almost like being with him. You know I’d get a letter it’s like every week or so and it was really, really good. It brought us close together I think.
Monday, October 2nd, Dear Chet, I just can't resist writing to you again tonight after your letter that came today. Chet you're marvelous.
Narrator: All these years later, who would have guessed these love letters would someday have major historical significance. But that’s exactly what happened.
Tod Ruhstaller: The letters had a function at the time they were written and they have a function now. They were a link between the soldier and everything he knew and loved back home and today they provide a link with those of us who only have a faint memory of that period or have no knowledge whatsoever. They are a link to the past and they were a link between the home front and the war front.