Horace Axtell (Isluumce)
Horace Axtell (Isluumce) grew up in Ferdinand and went on to become the Spiritual Leader of the Nez Perce tribe after his service in World War II. He was one of the first ground troops on the scene after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Jim: When were you in the service, from when to when?
Horace: From about the 28th, 21st or around there in February of 1943 until about February about five days after the first it'd be like the 23rd maybe in 1946 is when I got discharged.
Jim: Okay and where did you serve?
Horace: Oh I spent a lot of time in the, in the south in basic training and stuff and I had quite an experience from there on I uh I uh when going overseas to Europe with my first unit and I come home for a leave to visit for before we went across and I came home then on my way to the port of invocation I come out with the mumps and I got left behind by my first unit so then I banged around on the replacement centers for a while and finally got reassigned in Alabama again, now I was in Texas first and then I come back to Alabama and I got put in the Combat Engineer Battalion so this first unit I was in was a, a good unit it was a bridge building unit that was into engineers and we built floating bridges and all kinds of bridges you know and most of the guys were from the northwest here and I, I really miss them and I got into this other unit and then and then I, I uh had to take basic training again, but that made me a soldier that I really didn't care what the hell happened after that.
Jim: How come?
Horace: Because I missed my guys, I went and played ball against a lot of them up on the prairie up here down here in Lewiston and places and I knew a lot of 'em good friends so with this new unit they had guys from all over the country and. But then I, I made it I knew how to be an engineer and also had to in a Combat Unit they had to learn how to bayonet drills, all kinds of drills, hand to hand combat, combat. So I that's the outfit I went overseas with.
Jim: Let me back up a little bit. Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
Horace: I was at home. In 1941 it was a Sunday afternoon in December and a rather nice day out there where I used to live on the ranch and uh I don't know for what reason we had company and we had friends come over and we had dinner at our house and, and after dinner we was out playing marbles outside, it was a nice sunny day and we was right by the window where the radio was and we kind of turned it up so we could listen to the music and then the, all of the sudden they had a news break and they announced that Pearl Harbor was bombed and we listened to that and then uh that was before I went into the service and some of my uh relatives were already in the service so uh when uh the Philippines fell well my uh one of my uh role models would got into the death march and got put in prison over there and, and he died over there so that's made me want to get into the service.
Jim: That was one of the things in talking to folks that . . . what happened with Pearl Harbor and then what they knew that happened to friends - people seemed like they wanted to do something.
Horace: Yeap, and then there was others from the tribe that were uh you know in the service and some of 'em were already hospitalized and why, why in the hell does it have to be all of them so I thought well I might as well go see if I can help some way so I was a Senior in high school when that happened, I never got to finish high school so.
Jim: Sometimes I think you look at television and movies and things and it seems that everybody talks about World War II and that time period, not just the war, but that time in America, that it was this kind of Golden time when everybody felt very, you know, now everybody's very nostalgic about it. Was that true or is that, is that not fair to what it was really like?
Horace: Well life in the old days was I think a lot happier than they are now days, we've got too much confusion going on now it, it bothers me to see in the paper everyday some of them guys getting killed over there for what? For somebody's mistakes. What we done in our war was not a mistake because we was defending our country for sure. And now it's a, it's a money making project the way I see it. Some of his friends are making a lot of money over there.
Jim: Did you feel good about joining the service and going?
Horace: Yeah I wanted to get in, I tried to get in the navy and the marine corps and my I had an accident when I was boy on a horse, riding horses, and I, I uh my cinch busted when I was galloping and I landed on my eye and damaged my right eye and that's why it's like it is now and uh that kept me out of the marines and the navy and I finally ended up in the Army so I made that all right.
Jim: You ended up with the second unit and, and went overseas . . . did you take a boat over there, is that how they got you? Was it like a troop ship or is that how they got you overseas?
Horace: Oh I had to go by ship, we had to come from Mississippi, up to Portland, Oregon, by train that took us a few days and then it was a long ride and then finally we got to Vancouver Barracks over in Vancouver, Washington and that's where we took our final shots and all the other things that we had to do and we shipped out of there and went down the Columbia River to the last time we seen land was, it was still just about getting dark so they made us all go down, down below and the next morning we woke up we was out in the high seas, way out there and it was like that for 14 days, nothing but water all different directions where you looked.
Jim: What was the feeling on the ship when you were headed over?
Horace: Well uh for one thing that made our trip longer was we had to zig zag on kind of torpedoes and that was a precaution we'd go so many minutes this way and turn and go like that back and forth all the way over until we got in within the, within the range of the uh protection over in Honolulu and then that, and we went on in straight, but that was not like a few hours, kind of a boring ride.
Jim: I can't imagine . . . how did you feel, were you scared, were you excited what, I mean about, about the bigger trip?
Horace: Well I was kind of excited because we don't have to be messing around the states just after we uh finished our basic training and everything and we was we was considered as Combat people and then we still had to stick around there and play baseball and volleyball and all kinds of stuff, if you didn't play anything you had to do, do closed order drill so I learned how to play volleyball and all kinds of stuff there, but I did like softball, I used to play a lot of that and horseshoes and stuff, but that, that same kind of stuff everyday gets boring too after a while.
Jim: So you must've been excited to finally get going.
Horace: Yeah I wanted to get the hell out of here so that's the way we all felt.
Jim: Did you think about the fact that you were heading into war?
Horace: Not really we, we, we were so uh grilled into combat situations and all kinds of stuff we had to take like helping our wounded you know helping all kinds of things, helping each other, taking care of one another that was the main thing so uh yeah we done uh a lot of training on hand to hand combat because that's the, the Japanese were more experts on that than, than the, than I think the Germans were and then they had different kinds of mine and bubby trap sets up and uh and than the other people the Germans, see I learned all most of that about the German side before I went over, went over with the first unit because they, they went over into Normandy and I could've been there, but then I ended up going to the Pacific and then we had to learn a lot of the things about the Japanese um set ups on booby traps and land mines and all kinds of the little different.
Jim: What happened to those guys from your first unit; did you ever find out what happened to those guys?
Horace: Yeah, yeah it was several years back uh about three years they were here right in this hotel we had a reunion here, they wanted to come back and see what kind of country I came from. A lot of 'em knew they were from around here and we had a good uh good reunion here, some of the guys that were from local uh already had passed on.
Jim: Were there lots of guys from the tribe there, were there lots of folks from other tribes or, or did you kind of stand out back in those days?
Horace: Oh I think I kind of stood out mainly because most of the guys that are on the first unit knew me because I used to play basketball and baseball against a lot of the uh nearby towns. And I had good friend with them, with a lot of the people and also uh I uh when I when we were going over to, to uh the Port of Embarkation to go to Europe I was bunking with a good friend from Craigmont and uh I give him the mumps too, so he and I got left behind. He was also here for the reunion when we had our reunion; he lived some place in Washington now.
Jim: That's funny all those years later.
Jim: Did you feel that in the service that, that . . . they, were they used to Native American folks or, or I mean was, was there, were there differences then or . . . ?
Horace: Well I had a little problem, my own personally, but uh the second unit I had a, I had a problem that involved my whole squad and uh the staff sergeant and the platoon sergeant we called 'em every time we was on uh maneuvers and stuff where like out in the field they always picked my squad to go and do the dirty details like digging a place for the uh what they call the latrine, now I get my squad to do all that stuff and so naturally uh some of the boys in my squad start complaining about it so uh they asked me how come they always do that to us, I said well I think it all I know why, I'll go check it out. So I went down and I caught that platoon sergeant and I told him what happened and why my boys were feeling that way and he stood up and he looks at me and he says well if you don't like it you know what you can do about it. So he gave me the license so I busted him, knocked him on his ass and, and finally some of the guys came over and helped him up and, and he didn't want to go anymore so, but then we got sent to the company commander. So the company commander decided that, that he wasn't going to pay favoritism so he, he busted both of us. I was a Corporal and that guy was a Staff Sergeant and then uh before we shipped out to the Pacific that guy became my good friend because uh I never held any grudge against him I was sticking up for my men and uh I think he finally figured that out. I had good support from my squad.
Jim: I can imagine, I can imagine, you were probably a hero to those guys.
Horace: Yeah, so uh that's one of the problems, I had a few others and, and like in a shower room, but then or some guy uh one guy I remember uh made fun of my penis because it was darker than all of them so and they start to call me you know like uh like the black people they used to call 'em so I didn't like that and I was ready to hang, hang into him, but some of my own friends were there and they, they busted it up, they broke it up. That's the only time, them two incidents.
Jim: Well, you talked about how you stand up for the boys in your unit and, and . . . I guess you sort of have to have that kind of closeness and the camaraderie?
Horace: Yeah, well to begin with when I was a kid I had an uncle, see my father never raised me, he left me when I was a baby and I used to have an uncle, he was a good uncle, in fact his name was Sam, I'd call him Uncle Sam and uh he told me one day he said uh he used to tease me a lot, and, and after a while one time he teased me and I got a little mad, so he said well he said let me, let me lets just sit down and I'll talk to you about it, he said uh I, I've been teasing you a lot and you've took it for quite a while until this one reason uh got you a little mad. I said no you're not going to be a very big guy he said uh you'll probably have a lot of people pick on you so, so he got on his hands and knees, I mean on his knees and he picked up a pair of boxing gloves and he said well I'm going to teach you how to defend yourself so that's where I learned how to do some boxing. So I wasn't afraid.
Jim: When you were on the ship after you left, after you left Honolulu did you head right for the . . . front or where, where were you?
Horace: Yeah we're headed out, our mission was uh we was headed (inaudible) to Japan we was going to invade Japan Proper and we had a big task force a lot of LSD's uh what they called 'em ships that open up when you land, I was on one of them and we had a, oh battleships and destroyer escorts, quite a lot of ships I can't remember exactly how many there were now, but it took us a long time to get from Honolulu to Japan, but on our way over they the guys with them big bombs dropped 'em in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but, but we went on there anyway. I think uh I can't remember what day it was we landed in, in uh Nagasaki, but I spent pretty close to nine months over there after, after that whole thing. So in a way I was glad and in another way what I seen over there in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, was pretty sad.
Jim: Tell me a little bit about what it was like when you got over there.
Horace: Over there?
Jim: Yeah in, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and . . .
Horace: Well what made me uh think a lot was I turned back to my own tribe, I seen like a, a vision of my people being slaughtered like that, like in Big Hole and Bear Paw Battlefield especially. The reason I had thinking that way is I had a, I had some relatives that were in that war in 1877 and one that I really didn't know about, but in later years I found out and then, then I felt that what I thought over there was okay. I mean I, I gave it a lot of thought, but then to see uh little children all banged up and part of their face all scared and part of their hair gone and no clothes and all that crying looking for their parents that's what made my thoughts that way. And then uh I'll get back to the other part of that later on when I, I talk about reuniting with my father.
Jim: You must've been, when you got there, part of the first group that went through those areas I would think, right?
Horace: Yeah we went there long after uh after the uh signing of the treaty there on that Battleship Missouri, I seen that ship over there and then I come back here on vacation one time over in Olympia, Washington, that way, by Bremerton and that uh same ship was at bay there and got to go look it over.
Jim: What was the main thing that you had to do when you first got to Japan?
Horace: Well I was uh, I was on the, uh the crew uh I wasn't Squad Leader anymore, uh and then uh after I got busted uh anyway I was became a truck driver, and I drove the big uh Diamond T Dump trucks 4-Ton'r, big guy. We had a lot of fun doing that, but we repaired roads, we built warehouses, and we built uh oh a lot of things for, we were going to build a radio station, a cemetery and all kinds of stuff, been help clean the Mitsubishi plant in Nagasaki.
Jim: What was it like . . . pretty much, those bombs basically ended, ended the war.
Horace: Powerful yeah, well I gave that a lot of thought to because uh they had to take lives to save lives so I don't see much, much sense in that, but then that's the way it ended, it did end it, but then I'd say we were, we were gaining, we were gaining pretty much and then uh, but that was one way to end it and what, what gets me is that now we're so much against them kind of weapons that and here we, we're the ones that started all that.
Jim: Well you think of it . . . the kids that you saw and the thing that happened to the people there.
Jim: Up until that point people didn't really know what these weapons were going to do, it was kind of in the abstract. Do you think the fact that people like you saw this makes people a lot more afraid of 'em now?
Horace: Well I don't know about right now, uh a lot of people that knew about these two bombs over there and, and heard a lot about it in the news and, and uh understood some of the words that people seen over there actually with their own eyes come and talk about it they, they, they know, but some of these people nowadays they don't think nothing of that. Some, some people see my (inaudible) and say were you really in the war like that? I say yeah, they don't even know, no concern of theirs.
Jim: You talk about the bombs and, you know, it makes me think about the fact that obviously there were people that were hurt right out and killed and hurt, but what do you think it did to the Japanese, to their people? You talk about the battles that for your people and . . .
Jim: And those battles have echoes that still last to this day.
Jim: What did those bombs do to the Japanese do you think?
Horace: Well you ever uh see the pictures of uh this Katrina deal down in, it was worse than that. I mean some of the scenes you see down there, the houses are still standing, but them things were flat, completely flat especially in Hiroshima it was, it was a flatter area, Nagasaki had a lot of hills and some of the homes and the places weren't hurt at all, but Hiroshima was a flat area and there was just a big, big junk pile.
Jim: Talk about the effect that it had on the area and the Japanese people to see that kind of destruction, realize how horrible it was.
Horace: Yeah well it was a, the little ones that bothered me the most. Standing around there looking, looking at everybody to see if they could recognize somebody and uh some of them little kids they'd look at me and they, they took to me because of the color of my skin and they uh and they come up to me and they look at me and some of them cry and I couldn't understand what they were saying. And uh that's the way I felt about my uh, my own people see the during that time most of my people never spoke English they spoke uh the language there, our own language and, and so they was probably begging for things and, and see a lot of 'em got shot my, my relatives, but even when they were small.
Jim: Go ahead, you were talking about your people.
Horace: Oh yeah so there again I had to uh like a comparison uh I'd feel all of that, so when we first got set up in our area where we, after we moved from Nagasaki we moved to a place called Fukioka and there we was building a hospital so we had to set a new area or a new place to camp and so I come out of this mess hall after we had our dinner there and, and I, I looked up ahead and the garbage can where people dumped the food that they didn't eat and uh see some of the guys that were coming out of the mess hall already and they pushing these little kids away and uh so when I got up there I didn't, I seen what they were doing then, and they was trying to reach in to the mess kit so these guys that were throwing stuff away and stuff cramming it in their mouth so I held mine out there so the next time I come out of there after another meal I, I didn't eat all mine, it kind of spoiled my appetite to see that so I left more food on my mess gear so they could grab and it, just grab anything by hand and stuff it in their mouth and they was hungry and some of the kids were crying there and uh there was a lot of difference between hearing a baby or a boy, little boy or girl crying just plain crying, but when they're hungry that cry is hurt, it hurts you worse. So then after that I, I began to do a little more I'd take a dish out a little more and take out more to the one then they was waiting for me, they wouldn't even mess with these other guys they'd just run right over to me. So finally some of my friends seen that and they started doing the same thing and pretty soon we had a lot of kids there after we got, they'd tell each other, they'd give each other the signal and they was all there waiting and one good thing our, our company commander never said a word about it, he didn't stop us and we just kept on doing it.
Jim: Did you ever see any actual combat?
Jim: Were you glad?
Horace: Well in a way because uh I don't know it's a, you know it's a, it's a more than 50/50 chance for when you get into combat you're going to come out of it and I've uh I've got a lot of friends that were in combat and I didn't actually uh, actually fire anybody uh at anybody, but uh I had all the training and I wasn't afraid if I had to do that I would do it. And I, we made a few training films uh with uh like us attacking a, a tank or with grenades and all things like that and these were training films we made for other, other trainees, but uh you get that feeling that and you're careful when you get close to that ground you feel like you're, you're still not enough protection, but you're right there as far as you can go and we learned how to dig uh dig a foxhole laying down and all that stuff. I mean there was a lot of training and uh I think that builds your confidence up there you can, if you do the right things you can come out of these things and I uh I wasn't too much worried about that, I mean uh why worry about it after you, you'd done what you wanted to do and get in there, realized we had to do stuff. I think one of the most important parts to my life then was my mother was uh with a, a man that was a soldier during World War I and I, I spent a lot of time with him, he was like my step-dad and he taught me a lot of things about uh using the rifle and being careful with it and, and I used to like to go squirrel hunting and stuff and then uh I shot a squirrel one time and he said well this is what happens if you get shot, you could see the blood coming out of there and it, and its dead. So you got to defend yourself and I learned quite a bit about guns from him, actually before I got in the service.
Jim: You're talking about your mother and this fellow and other people . . . what was it like for them at home while you, while you were over there?
Horace: Well uh my mom died when I was, when she was uh 45 years old in 1945, she was uh born in 1900 and uh I was born in 1924, so uh when I went in the service in 1943 she was only 43 years old and then uh she was already uh with another man that I, I really liked because he taught me a lot of things, he would anyway uh my mother uh when I was leaving, when I was at home going to school yet I got hooked on this big band music and there was a radio show on every night called the Chesterfield Program and uh, uh I can't remember this guy's name now uh huh, I know it, anyway he had this uh theme song called moonlight serenade, Glen Miller, I used to listen to that every night when I was at home, and I got hooked on that kind of music and I still am, I still listen to that kind of music. Anyway uh after I left home well people told me that they'd happen to come visit my mom and she'd have to run and turn that program on and every time she heard that, that theme song it made her cry, made her think of me. See I was the only child she had. I begged and begged for her to let me go into the service, I guess I really didn't have to, but I did. But then I don't know to me and nowadays I feel like I was the one that made her sick, she worried about me too much, because uh 1945, January 1945 she died, she got a goiter in her neck right here and it got cancerous and of course back in them days cancer wasn't being dealt with like it is now, so much amazing stuff they can do with cancer now. In fact I had my youngest son had cancer and they, they took care of him and he's back on his feet again living and working again. So that's the difference. Anyway it took her life and she was only 45 years old.
Jim: How did you find out that she had died?
Horace: I found out in after some of my mail came late uh you know it took a long time for mail to get over there, I was about ready to come home when I got my news and so that's the tough part of my coming home I, I had a hard time dealing with that and besides that the house where we were living in at in 1943 uh it must've been three or four months after I left that our house burnt down and we lost everything we had in there. So then that was the tough part of my coming home, uh so that part of my life was not too good for a while.
Jim: Before you left you said you had to practically beg your mom to let you go in the service?
Jim: How did she feel when you actually left . . . what was that like?
Horace: Well in way I was glad to be gone, to be going because that's what I wanted to do, and then being along with friends that I knew already was more comfortable and I, it wasn't so hard on me that way to be like, like you probably had a feeling sometimes when you get into a strange crowd and you don't know anybody and you're, you're there and it takes a while to make friends and all that.
Jim: What was it like for her when you left?
Horace: I don't know it must've been pretty lonely for her; I was still going to school when that happened. That was uh in the 40s and rationing was on and things were hard to get, gasoline you couldn't buy very often and uh the home front was pretty near shut down all together because the war effort, them days was a lot different than now. I mean everybody had something to do with the war them days and uh and then she had a lot to do with a lot of things that during that time, but uh I have one picture, maybe I should've brought that down of my mom, she was pretty proud of me in a way, got a picture of her she's sitting there and she's got that, that little flag with the one star in the middle, that was my service flag, she had that on her lap. I didn't think of that until just now, but that's she had that in her purse everywhere she went.
Jim: You were just saying as we were talking about hearing that music bothers you . . . so many, so many people would say oh that music is just you know I love that music and not, not the same for you?
Horace: No, but I listen to it oh I'd say an average of about once a week I'll go listen to that song that uh it makes me feel good now, I uh find that I'm, I'm alive and I find out that I, I learned many things and, and I have a position in the tribe now that makes me do a lot of good things for my people and a fact that, that I earned my respect by doing what I do whereas before I was, I was completely hurt when I come home and I, I start doing things that weren't right and got mixed up with alcohol with my friends and I got into a lot of trouble so, so uh a little over a year of my life was in prison so that's what caused it and I know and uh finally it took a lot of thinking when I was incarcerated to overcome all them things and I decided I had, had to change. So I'm the only one that had to decide that, so while I was in there I, I made my mind I was going to find a job, good steady job and earn my home and find a woman that would help me and through life and after I got out I, I began to do that.
Jim: Do you think if your mom was here now or if she's looking down on you do you think she's proud of how you've done?
Horace: I think so. It was uh wasn't the way I was brought up though, I was brought up in a, in a Christian faith and the things I do now is all uh, uh tribal things, tribal spirituality is a lot different than Christian ways, but I think the belief is a lot stronger and my way of thinking now because there's so many good things that come out of that way of life that I, I really enjoy doing.
Jim: Do you tell [people] about what you went through in the war?
Horace: Yeah, yeah I uh was privileged by a young lady uh when uh she interviewed me just like you are about, about the power of our dances, the kind of dances we do in our tribe and uh she interviewed me and, and then uh she had done a documentary on it, the call it the Power of our Dance, so after a while we uh she come back and later uh called me up and she said I think you have a lot more stories to tell, how would, what would you think of uh writing a book? I kind of laughed and I said write, writing a book? And she says yeah, I've talked to a lot of people about you and they, and they know, they told me a lot of things about you so I asked my wife and my kids and they said yeah dad do it, so we done a book called a Little Bit of Wisdom and uh it says conversations with a Nez Perce Elder that's the title that they give it and uh I guess we sold a lot of books, it's out of print now, I guess you can still find it. I still have some down here at the Art Center I think.
Jim: You do have so many wonderful stories . . . why do you think that people keep coming back to World War II? Why do you think people are attached to that? It seems that people want to know about it, I mean we're doing this show about it, we're doing about it in Idaho which is a little different, but why, why do you think people are so interested in this? What was it about it?
Horace: Well for one thing we had two wars going at the same time, I mean big wars and then it took a lot of our men, young men and a lot of women, and uh it was a, it was a hard time because uh but I think what makes it more uh more uh powerful is uh the support the people gave like had to do without a lot of stuff, but they never, they never moaned and groaned about it like, like we do now. I mean see some of the people hollering about taxes and all kinds of stuff now that, but the president was, was a different man and uh I felt bad when he died uh in one way because we had to get out on a dill field and we stood at attention while he was having his funeral all the way through the whole thing and, and we was far, far away from where he was at.
Jim: Hold on one second. You were talking about when the president died?
Horace: Yeah that was a, we didn't actually hear anything, but we, we stood at attention in his honor and uh we stood there so long uh a couple fellows just keeled over from standing so long.
Jim: Where were you, where was this?
Horace: Uh some place in Mississippi I think. I think that was before we shipped out going to Japan. . . . But then uh they uh the war effort was just as powerful I think as, as the people that were in the service, it was a, we knew we was getting support from home.
Jim: Well and people at their home had you start to talk about that rationing of almost everything weren't there.
Horace: Yeah they couldn't get new tires, they couldn't get new cars and everything was going to one reason, they took all these cars that being manufactured in them days they, they turned to the war effort and started making tanks and all kinds of things.
Jim: People talk about things like Victory Gardens and all that, do you remember all that stuff?
Jim: What was that like?
Horace: Oh it was like uh, like people uh didn't complain about it they just went ahead and done what they had to do. I think if you did that now, did that now well you'd get a lot of, a lot of flack.
Jim: Do you miss those times?
Horace: No I, I think we uh if it hadn't been for a lot of them what we, we used to get in the service we appreciated because they was, they was helping us. You hear about things now uh even at these times our people, our soldiers over there got bad, bad stuff, I mean worn out stuff and its depleting and, and yet you see all these car lots full of new cars. I don't understand that. They've got so many cars down here I don't think they'll ever sell 'em, but why when they, it wasn't like that during the war, people were giving money to us buying bonds and all kinds of things. I know a lot of people the farmers had to do with a lot of out, with all their machinery going haywire and still they was farming, but all the other stuff was being built for the war. That, that's what you call I think I would call democracy or whatever it was, everybody was pitching in.
Jim: What was Idaho like then? Did it feel the same as it does now or what?
Horace: No things are so different now I, I uh I like a lot of things about the schools and a lot of things about uh the other things and, but um as far as uh as far as our government is there's something wacky there somewhere it, its just a matter of one side against the other side and then at that, that's making us look bad I think.
Jim: This area was, I mean it's still pretty rural, but it was even more rural back then wasn't it?
Horace: Yeah, yeah there wasn't all this new technology stuff and uh most of it all pretty good, but when you get back to the people like in my day and never ever dreamed of things like we have now and uh of course I, I don't uh get into a lot of that new stuff.
Jim: Before you went in the service you were in school . . . what were things like dances like in those days in the war years . . . events and holidays?
Horace: Oh yeah, oh yeah we had uh we had uh Valentines Day and uh Christmas and things like that, but even on Christmas time you didn't get all the kinds of presents we people get nowadays. We didn't have toys like they have nowadays. I just went to a birthday party for my great grandson last night and they, they got a whole room full of toys I mean back time when I was a kid and I was lucky to get one toy for Christmas, it seemed like it well things were tough already.
Horace: Well yeah in my, in my growing up years we, I think, I think we had just as much fun and it wasn't as dangerous. I mean galloping around on a horse was a lot of fun. Galloping into town to get the mail was a lot of fun and then riding to school on a horse I used to go to high school on my saddle horse. That was fun I thought and that's something I liked to do, I still can't ride like I used to, but I get on a horse once in a while.
Jim: Where did you grow up, what town were you in?
Horace: Well Ferdinand, Idaho.
Jim: Where's that?
Horace: Its up on the Camas Prairie, it's about maybe 65, 70 miles from Lewiston.
Jim: What was Ferdinand like back in the 40s?
Horace: Oh it was a nice little village, there used to be quite a few people there, but now I, I see the, the sign that says like only 170 people or 124 I think now. There used to be like uh when I was going to school there in high school it was like uh almost 500 lived there, but uh I still go home once in a while.
Jim: You knew everybody and all?
Horace: Oh yeah I did then, but now there's a lot of different people there and.
Jim: But back in the days it was?
Horace: Yeah, yeah when we used to have gatherings like a basketball game, all the people from around town came to see the game, they all knew each other and that was fun, it'd get our high school spirit up, there's a lot of support and then uh it was uh more fun to be on a ball team in them days and all the, the students I never had any trouble in high school there was uh other people that were you know Nez Perces in the school and, but then I ended up I was the only one in school, all the others were already graduated or, or moved back to Lapwai or Kamiah, so I was the only Nez Perce in high school because there's only four, four families that lived up there that weren't around the area and then a lot of them uh already finished high school and went on.
Jim: You talked about the flags that had the little star on 'em and stuff like that; what did they used to do? Didn't . . . families hang those in windows or something?
Jim: What was that?
Horace: Well that uh, uh it was like a symbol of uh from this home we have a man in the service, some of them uh people that had three or four family members in they have a more stars, and when you got a gold star that meant uh a person had died in the war and I had a blue star and my mother had a blue star with the colors around it and that's what she carried in her purse all every place she went. And uh and she also had a little handkerchief uh I forgot what it says, I have it put away, I still have it, but she used to pin that on her coat all the time, you can still see the pin holes in it. She was proud though, yeah she died so young. She was born in 1900 and my father was born 1899. But uh part of my father I, after the war he was in World War II also and I found out about it and, but after the war was over and when people started coming home and I found out he came home and he spent 32 months overseas. He was in the aviation engineers, he spent time in North Africa and Italy and a lot of different places and uh so after I uh I come home and I dealt with all the problems I had with my mother being gone and my house burned down and, and then uh also my grandmother died soon after I got home and that caused me to go the wrong way for quite a while and, but after I, I got myself back together and I started working for Potlatch Mill down here in 1951, so I was working there maybe a couple years already and some people from Kamiah told me they said your father is getting very alcoholic up at Kamiah, that's up the river and they said uh you should help him. So I had an answer for that, but I didn't say anything because he never helped me. I could've said that, but I didn't. So I was working night shift, so all that time I was on that shift that special night I, I kept thinking about that and I said well he's my father and he's going to be my father after he dies and even after I die he'll still be my father forever and ever. So I was thinking about that on my way home from work and I caught myself driving to Kamiah, looking for him. I found him and he was drinking, I got him into my car and I sat down and told him I want to talk with you, so he come and sat with me and I told him I, I said I come here looking for you and I want to take you home and take care of you. He said for, for how long? I said the rest of your life. I said you're my father, you'll always be my father, but first before you make a decision I want to tell you, I want to forgive you for all these things that I didn't learn from you and forgive you for everything, but I want you to live with me, I'll take care of you. So after I was talking for a while it, it hurt him, he started crying and so he finally decide okay I'll go with you and he was drinking, but he said first you get me a case of beer and I'll go with you. I said okay and I bought him a case of beer and we come on home and, well for a while it was tough going because I, I'd come home from work and he'd be gone, I'd go look for him and bring him back, put him to bed, but one day uh he wanted to go to a church meeting up here at Spalding, they was having what they call a revival meeting of some kind, so I said okay yeah I'll take you. So I had a car and I bought a pretty good car when I began to work and so I took him up there and he went on to church and I went in also and I, I sat kind of back in behind and he got about halfway and he sat down. I didn't sit with him, I let him sit by, wherever he wanted to and I, I sat in the back with some of the guys I knew. So I figured well it sounds like church is about over so I, I went out in the car and I warmed the car up it was late November then, so the car would be warm after dad comes out so, went out and warmed the car up and waited and waited, people come out and got in their cars and went home and still nobody coming out of the church, but finally he came out and then he told me that he was, I just become a Christian. I said well good. He got home and he, it turned his back completely around the other way and he start, he start remembering a lot of things and uh the time I came home and he was reading the bible so that made a change. So that's about in 1963 I got married again to a younger woman and she had three little girls and I had three children already myself so we put our families together and our house was too small, I already had dad and one of my older boys, so I bought another house up here in Orchards where I still live and I had a full basement and I built him a room there and I took care of him. So when uh I come home from work I'd go sit down there and talk with him, I wanted to learn a lot of things from my side of the family, I never did know. I knew I had an aunt that was nice to me all the time and it was his full sister and she used to come and get me and take me to her home and she'd take care of me for a while and buy me clothes and things like that, but as far as he was he never, never really provided for me. But anyway I start asking him questions and, and I told him about a man all these men that used to come and visit my grandmother and that were people that didn't know how to read or write or speak English and I got to know them and several of them were warriors that fought in a Nez Perce war. So they couldn't speak English. So I, I always could understand, I knew my language already just a little (inaudible), but grandma couldn't talk either English. So they start telling me stories about a man, it was a warrior he said, they was a good warrior and they told me that in Nez Perce, but they didn't tell me the whole thing, but they told me his name, so I was telling my dad these stories about what these men told me and, and I was talking about a man called Timfousman, Timfousman that was his Indian name and uh that's the only name he had, he never had an English name so uh I was talking about him and I happen to look over and dad was sitting there with his head down like that and I seen he had tears in his eyes, I finally asked him what's the matter and he says uh he says that was my grandfather. That's when I found out that I had a great grandfather was in the war 1877. So I kept asking him more things about him and they had some of the stories that he heard about his grandpa, so that's what gave me the feeling that I want to be like that. Everything back in the old times when spirituality was the only thing we ever had here, we never had any Christian people come into our land, everything was free like most of the people were like that here in the old time, old spirituality and its powerful and its strong. So I, I sat aside that Christian that I grew up with and I took up this way after my dad died, he died in 1977, he got, developed sugar diabetes real bad and uh had a bronchial asthma and then he went blind, so then he died. So I, I, I took care of him, kept him in my home and I still I, I done the right thing.
Jim: You talked about a book you wrote and, and about the idea of wisdom; we've been talking about that time period and what you saw in the war and what you learned . . . did any wisdom come from that for you do you think?
Horace: Oh yeah, one of the worst uh best things I ever learned is how to get along with everybody, because when you're in a tough situation you've got to, you've got to listen to each other and have good ideas and good ideas and use a plan. So that's what I did, I got these ideas and I made a plan I wanted to be somebody so I uh I worked for Potlatch Mill for 36 years and I come out of there and retired in 1986 and I had my home paid for, had my vehicles paid for and all the stuff that I wanted to do and I, I uh I found a good mate and we're still together, its been it'll be 43 years for us this fall. So we have all our children gone, just her and I at home and all my kids all have their own homes and their good jobs.
Jim: Do you ever think about your time in the war anymore?
Horace: Not hardly, once in a while, I get asked about it, I have to, but uh I still spend some time uh listening to the music and I, I collect a lot of the old songs that I heard my younger days and some of that performers and I've had the opportunity when uh my wife and I would take a vacation we'd go to Las Vegas or Reno and see some of these performers that I, I uh have records of theirs. I got to see uh, uh oh Tony Bennett one of my favorite and of course I've seen Red Fox too.
Jim: But you can't repeat any of that.
Horace: No. I've seen Henry Mancini and few quite a few of them uh.
Jim: The music was important back then wasn't it?
Horace: Oh yeah, yeah we used to listen together and uh people is uh USO's and everybody's used to send records to us overseas every once in a while they'd give us a pack of records and we'd go through them to see if there something there we, we'd like to hear and some of the guys would hear a song and make 'em cry, yeah of course I, I did that too after I found my mom was gone. So its just the way music is, brings back a lot of memories and I got a song that I, I heard when I was going home from my mother's funeral I mean talking about it and uh I hear that once in a while, I picked, I got a record of it, or not a record, but a disk now, like all of these songs I, I like to hear and some of my favorite band leaders and performers and singers like uh Nat Cole and Tony Bennett and oh quite a few of them.
Jim: It seems like there was a real richness to the movies and music and . . .
Horace: Uh huh I like uh Barbara Streisand; she sings a lot of good music, she's one of my favorite singers.
Jim: You said people ask you a lot about the war and that kind of stuff; is there anything that you'd really want people to know about it?
Horace: Well uh I feel a lot of things about some of the mother's and fathers that lost children I the combat. I know how they hurt because I had this one good friend that was from Ferdinand and he was older, older than us and he was in a war before us and he got captured in uh Philippines made him do the death march and then he died in a prisoner of war over there and I seen how his father, he was an older man, he was Indian, Nez Perce Indian and I'd see him standing or sitting by himself like he was like in a, in a daze, he didn't show much emotion, but I could tell that it, it was hurt inside and I've seen other people like that from our tribe, I think our Indian people take things a little harder than other people because uh it always brings that memory back of our people being slaughtered. Like uh every year I go down to the Big Hole Battlefield and we have a ceremony that I uh I do, I lead uh, I take care of the pipe in our tribe, I, they call it a peace pipe, but we don't, we don't we call ours a different thing, it's a power that we go to have a ceremony there every year, same way at the Big Hole uh the uh the battlefield at the Bear Paw Battlefield and that's where my great grandpa's still over there. He got killed on the last battle over there and I got visit his place where they have his marker every year I get reminded of a lot of things that from that war and that takes me right back to these people that were their people that got killed there in the war uh and they was always so glad to see me come home you know my relatives that I was, came home safe and sound and but that, that's the one memory that I, I remember that this man was walking around like it he was in a daze and he was kind of like that until he died. Because it was his youngest son, he never did come back. They asked him if he wanted his son to be brought home and he said no just leave him where he's at, that's where his life ended. So he's somewhere in the Philippines buried over there, died in a prison camp. So things like that I, I think a lot about and, and then uh then I look at myself and say well I'm glad I, I came through okay whereas others a lot of my friends, my relatives too that never come back. Some of my high school friends that I went to school with never came back. If I sit back and think about the, the ones that I used to play ball with, the ones I had a lot of fun with, never got to come home. So that uh I still get that hurt in my heart from all that. So I feel for these people now that you read in the paper now, how many soldiers got killed today, how many yesterday, how many thousands do we have now that died.
Jim: You talk about the friends and the people you knew that didn't come back . . . How old are you now you said?
Horace: I'll be 82 in November.
Jim: Do you ever wonder how you're the one that's still here?
Horace: The what?
Jim: That you're one of the ones still here.
Horace: Yeah, yeah I think about that a lot because I wonder if uh a certain friend of mine that didn't come back or would have a privilege and honor of having children and raising them and helping them. That was uh one of my reasons for taking care of my family after I became reoriented and uh making 'em get educated, helping 'em get education, I know my friends would've done the same thing and they never had that privilege and uh it would be uh it would be hard, I think it is hard for some of the uh people that uh were survivors of their young men getting killed and women uh missing out on being a grandfather or a grandmother, it takes, its takes to mind a lot of things like that you've got to consider. I had some very good friends that were, they were not Indian in fact I have a lot of friends that I worked with out here that I always had this knack of making friends. I try hard to make friends. Where I live now I got some of the I think nicest people uh good neighbors and we get along real good, have fun talking and over the backyard and we help each other and that's the way I grew up on prairie where I grew up my neighbor was a German man, he had uh 10 kids, that's where I got to learn how to speak a little German and I used to teach them how to speak a little Nez Perce. So we'd play together, but this man every time he butchered a beef he'd bring like pretty near a hind quarter to my grandma every time and she used to uh make gloves for him, buckskin gloves and he, he wasn't a rich man, during the summertime he wouldn't let his children wear shoes, all barefooted and my grandma got so feeling so sorry for them that she made a pair of moccasins for every one of them and they still talk about it. They called her grandma too, they remember her. So that's how people were way back in time, now its like some places you go you don't even know your neighbors, but uh I made that, I made mine uh when, whenever I go somewhere on trips now that I take part in a lot of things and I tell my neighbor I'm going to be gone for maybe four or five days will you get my mail and paper, oh yeah sure and I came, when I come back they've got 'em all saved for me so I don't have to worry about it. I've got a mailbox that sits right next to his so he checks mine at the same time.
Jim: Well it's wonderful getting a chance to talk to you again; I don't want to take up your whole day doing this . . .
Horace: Well yeah.
Jim: . . . because I could talk to you for hours. Is there anything, is there anything else that you'd like to tell us?
Horace: Yeah uh you know in, back in the world of uh of uh our time I'd say uh there was a, a lot of uh generosity, I mean it was like I was saying that man used to come and give us stuff and, but everybody was like that, they all wanted to share with each other. I remember when I came back from the army and this one man that used to be our neighbor he lived oh a couple miles away, but he got sick in the wintertime, so uh she came into town where I was living with my uncle and uh they wanted to know if I would come out and work for them, take care of the farm while he was sick. So I used to go out there everyday and help, so one day I told her your wood pile's getting pretty slim out there, so I told her I said well I'll, I'll call around and see if I can get a few guys to come and help and you know make some wood. So I made a few phone calls and the next day I come out there to her there were guys there with their, with their equipment and everything and we had a whole wood shed full of wood that day and oh man he was so proud of that, he was older than me, he said I'm glad I asked you to come and help me work, take care of my farm, I used to clean out the barn and take care of his cows and of course we used to have that when I was growing up, but when my mom got sick she had to sell a few cattle and stuff to get along, so uh I still had a few horses left and, but then when I moved back down here I, I had to leave that stuff and so I sold some of it, but that was living in the, in the past. I remember journeys going with saddle uh horses and wagons from Ferdinand clear down to New Meadows, Idaho. That's with wagon and horses. Now I can go down there and make it in a couple hours, but that used to take us days to get down there, camp over and move on for 15, 20 miles and camp again, but that was fun, to get to ride a horse all the way down there and back, but I always did like horses and I always will and dogs, I used to have a couple dogs, uh the story about my dogs when I had to leave for the service I had two dogs I used to everywhere I went with my horse they was there with me, everywhere, so I had to leave my horse and I had to leave my dogs, so I was, had to walk into town because the snow was pretty deep, we couldn't use our car, it was parked out on the highway uh where the highway was, it was about three miles over there, but anyway I had to walk into town to catch, catch the bus to take me over to the town and seed in Grangeville where all the inductees were going to leave from that day. So I, I told her before I left uh I told my mother I said don't let the dogs out for a couple hours after I leave, so they was uh laying by the stove asleep you know and mom used to let them in every morning, because I had to leave early, so when they woke up, they woke up and they run upstairs, couldn't find me up there and they used to run up and wake me up in the morning, run upstairs and they come back down and they looked around the house and they scratched on the door, they wanted to go outside and run over to the barn and all places and then she says pretty soon they disappeared, I guess they went into town looking for me. So late in the evening they come back scratching on the door and as soon as she let him in they run upstairs again and they couldn't find me, she said they done that for about three or four days and says oh they was here about two weeks, until one day they took into town I guess, never ever come back, she don't know what ever happened to them. So I told her well maybe they joined the navy I don't know, but she missed my dogs as well as me when and then my horse. The story about how I got that horse too and it goes on and on, time I start talking like this all these memories come back and once in a while I remember something when I'm eating breakfast with my wife and I'll have to tell her a story and, but she remembers a lot of things too. Both of us grew up with our single moms, that's how we met each other. In fact her mother helped me marry her daughter.
Jim: Nice gift.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II