Charles Lish grew up during the Depression in Salmon, Idaho, which was hit hard in those years. He joined the Navy and served at Farragut Naval Training Center in North Idaho before heading overseas.
Jim: You were talking about the depression . . . what was it like in Idaho during those years?
Charles: It was very rough, very, very, very rough. Idaho has . . . it took quite a, quite a while to get back to where you could at least have a little something of your own. I come from a very poor family and so if it hadn't have been for a little farm we lived on we, we, we would've been some of 'em that didn't make it, but we did.
Jim: You talked about the depression being hard. Do you have hard memories from being a kid growing up or do you have happy memories?
Charles: Well, they were both you know . . . although we never had much. Yes, it was very much happy times along with the hard times. My dad was a, he was a musician and he was a violin player so he taught me . . . my uncle and him taught me to play the guitar, so for recreation when the chores was all done and we'd have a little jam session so that was our happy times.
Jim: It seems like in talking to people about those years, even though sometimes they were hard years, that people have fond memories.
Charles: Oh yes, oh yes. I come from . . . all of my uncles and my aunts was musicians, my grandfather, so that was our recreation. We'd get together when we could and we'd have jam sessions and so I got to be a fairly good guitar player. I wasn't great, but I'd say fairly so I, I stayed with it. I had an uncle that was a violinist and I used to play around with different kinds of instruments and he used to say to me, Hey if you're going to be good then you pick out one instrument and you stay with it. So I did; I picked the guitar.
Jim: Where'd you grow up and what was that like?
Charles: I was born in Hanson, Idaho, Twin Falls County. When I was a baby we moved to Salmon, Idaho, and that was the worst place to move to, that's where the depression was really bad, but we had a . . . my dad had an uncle who had a little farm there so we moved there, which I can't remember you know, but the mines started to open up in about 1937, a few mines around there. I went to work in a mine when I was 14. And I'm glad I could because it helped the family out. Anyway I worked there off and on in the mine and forming until I went in the Navy. I can remember my first paycheck when I was in the mine was $124.00 for a month's work and that was 9 hours a day, but it helped my family. We got something besides beans and potatoes, but them was bad times and good times.
Jim: I know you're obviously, you're getting emotional about it and, and you get choked up, how come you get choked up thinking about it?
Charles: Well, that's pretty rough, you know thinking back. Thinking about how maybe, how maybe things could've, would've been better . . . so you had to cope with it and that's, that's hard to cope with when, when you don't have the things of life that you need, but that's life. When I went in the Navy I thought to myself . . . I well, it'd be less, one less mouth to have to feed. I left my mama and I the Navy was my mama then so that was good for me, that was good for me, it was good for me. But my dad stayed a working in the mines and on the farm and until well I guess it was 1947-8 somewhere along there, and he moved to California. He was a hard worker my dad, my mother too. I was the oldest of, of seven boys. And my mother lost four boys, which that was rough right in the depression time and they were, they were from about a year or 18 months to 2 ½ years so I'm six years older than my nearest brother. There's part of me in there that's not there. But then I got a brother and I, I got two or three other brothers and my third brother he died of cancer about five years ago. So that was number four for my mama, but anyway they go back if you want to.
Jim: How old were you when you joined the Navy?
Charles: I just turned 18. I knew I was going to the Navy, I knew that, I had a friend that served, a hitch in the Navy, and he got out just before Pearl Harbor. He and I become very good friends,. He was a Second Class Gunners Mate so we were talking one day and he says, Lish I know that I'm going to have to go back in the Navy, they're going to call me back pretty quick, let's go and enlist together. And that's all it took. So we left together and and we headed up boot camp together and when I got to boot camp I you know I'm green I didn't even, I didn't even know this was going on up here and I lived just over the you know. I didn't know nothing about that, we never had newspapers or that radio with a battery you know that you, you only used it when it's news time, so anyway, that's how I got in the Navy.
Jim: What was it like up here in those days?
Charles: You know when I landed um here I got I had to report a Pocatello, Pocatello and Pocatello. I went around to Boise and around up here. I got here at 4:00 or at 1:00 in the morning on a train to Athol and they took us to the base on a little jump train they had going to the, and I was a green kid you know I didn't, I didn't know nothing about this or nothing about that and if it hadn't been for my friend Bill who had been through it through the ropes you know he, he taught me a lot right fast. But when I got to the they gave us a three hour sleep, got us up at 4:00, took us down to chow hall and fed us beans, spiced up beans. I can still hear the guys holler, Beans for breakfast, no way! I ate the beans, I like beans, I ate 'em. Beans for breakfast, good for anybody I guess. Anyway I went in there to our last final physical examination and I got pulled out of line because I had this arm, left arm broke and when they sat it, it was so bad that they sat an half a turn, or not a half, about a quarter of a turn so it's comfortable when I'm setting like that than like this. So they pulled me out of line and put me in a little room and said, Wait there until we want to talk to you about that arm. Well, I said, well here I am; I'm going to go home, I'm going back in the old mine again I guess. Three or four doctors come in and they twisted and pried and just kept asking me, Does that arm hurt you? No, it don't bother, which it didn't, it didn't bother me; just had kind of a little handicap, but nothing. So they finally passed me. Well I'm late getting in, so I had to go through the clothes line yet to get my clothes so I learned what the Navy was right there fast. I went in and to get my clothes and this Gob I call him, Sailor, he says to me, Take that shirt and unbutton three buttons on the top, slip it over your head. Well, I started to unbutton on my kin. He said, I didn't tell you that. He says, I told you to unbutton the first three buttons and slip it over your head. So he made me button it back up. I buttoned it back up. Now I said take three buttons up and slip it over your head. I did. So I got over to the shoe line and opened my mouth again. I says, There's no use measuring my feet; I wear 8 ½. And the guy says, Oh you do, do you? So he runs it out there to 11 ½ and give me two pair of 'em. So after a while when the rain and everything hit 'em they turned up just like skis and my company commander every time he'd say About Face I, I didn't make it, I didn't make it. So he said, one day he come back there and he says, Lish, what in the H is the matter with you, you can't stand up on your feet? I said, No sir. He said, Why? I said, Well, my shoes. So he took a look at my shoes and he says, What, how come you're wearing those? I said, Well, that's what he give me. And he, I told him what size I wore and he round up 11 ½ and gave me to pair of 'em. So he says, Get some new shoes, NOW. So I beat it down and get. So that's where I learnt to never speak up. They know everything, so you just keep your mouth shut and you'll be fine. And so that's, that's how I met the Navy.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II