Chapter 26-The Life and Times of William Roy Caple-1930-1941

Iva and Jack didn’t stay in Tacoma. Before long they moved to a place near the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Though Roy hadn’t been crazy about the marriage, Jack had grown on him. When they announced they were expecting a baby Jacks’ parent’s gave them permission to build them a small place on their property to save on rent.

“I would be happy to build it for you,” said Roy when they told him. “With a little help from my brother Richard we can have it built in no time. But are you sure you will be okay living in a place without running water.”

“It’s okay at least it will be all ours,” said Iva. She smiled and added, “And you can be sure I will be by often for a warm bath or to do some laundry.”

Roy chuckled, “the two of you can come by anytime. The house seems lonely without you around.”

On September 29th, 1939, Roy sat on his porch basking in warm sunlight when his son-in-law pulled up in front of the house in his car.

 He jumped out of the car wearing a broad smile. “It’s a boy!”

Coming up onto the porch he handed Roy, a candy bar, “Here you go Grandpa.  Iva and baby are both doing well.” 

He patted Jack on the back. “Congratulations! There’s nothing like the moment you welcome your first child into the world. Now tell me about him. Have you named him yet?”

“Yes, we named him Jerry Verle. He has dark hair and blue eyes like his mother and all his fingers and toes. We can’t wait for you to see him.”

When Roy held the new baby in his arms for the first time he felt filled with the same love he’d felt when he’d first held his two children, if only Mae could have been there with him.

He wasn’t the only one smitten with the new baby so were Mae’s parents. Iva brought the baby round frequently, which gave her grandmother the opportunity to fuss over him and give motherly advice.

Meanwhile Verle excelled in school especially in Math and Physics. His teachers encouraged him to go on to college. Roy wished with all his heart he could help pay the necessary tuition but he barely had the funds to keep food on the table.

On June 5th, 1940, Roy and Mae’s parents sat proudly in the audience at Puyallup High School and watched Verle graduate. He found himself wondering where his son would find employment. There still were no jobs to be found in the community. And now there’d be the competition of another graduating class.

With the war escalating in Europe, Bremerton’s Navy yard, hummed with activity as boats from overseas sailed in for repairs. That summer Jack found work there and he and Iva moved.

 A new bridge had recently gone up over the Tacoma Narrows, eliminating the time-consuming ferry ride. So, Roy saw them frequently on weekends.

During one of Iva’s visits, Verle grumbled. “There’s no work to be found around here. I can’t spend the rest of my life picking berries.”

Iva scooped little Jerry up off the floor. “I bet you could find work in Bremerton. Why don’t you come back with us and look?  We have an extra bed in Jerry’s room.”

Verle Looked at his father. Roy could see the hesitancy on his face.

“Tell you what,” Roy said. “Leaving today is kind of short notice. Why don’t you let him mull it over and he’ll let you know next week?”

Later that evening Roy advised his son, “Go over and look around, you have nothing to lose. If you find work great if not you come back home.”

The next weekend Roy loaded his son’s suitcase into the car and they headed across the Narrows bridge for Bremerton. Roy had heard tales of the bridge moving up and down when the wind blew. Iva and Jack said they’d never encountered it. As he returned to Puyallup that evening a storm began to roll in. By the time he reached the bridge it was quite windy. Ahead in the center of the bridge he noticed a car disappear only to reappear a few seconds later as the bridge moved up and down.

 “Now see why they call it Galloping Gertie,” he said to himself when he reached the other side. But they say that’s what it was designed to do.”

Verle found work in the shipyards and settled in with his sister’s family. Roy felt a bit lonely without him.  But the boy still had plenty of friends in Puyallup, so most weekends he made the trip home.

On Friday morning, Nov 8, 1940, Roy went to the corner store near his house.

Mr. Bryan looked up from the newspaper spread across the counter. “Roy, what do you think about the bridge collapsing last night.”

“What bridge? I haven’t heard about it.”

“Why ‘Galloping Gertie’ over in Tacoma. Don’t your kids cross it, often?”

“Yes, I’m expecting Verle this evening.”

“Guess he’s going to have to go the long way around if he’s coming this weekend.”  said Mr. Bryan. “Can you imagine that great big bridge and all the money spent on it and it only lasted 4 months.”

“Was anyone on the bridge when it went down?”

“No, one guy did try to cross but he got off before it collapsed. Here look at the picture. Sure, looks like it was a galloping.”

Roy looked at the photo. “Thank God no one went down with it.”

Listening to the news on the radio that evening Roy was surprised when he heard the latch on the front door click. Looking up he saw his son standing in the doorway.

“Didn’t expect to see you this weekend with the bridge being down.”

“I found a ride going the long way around. Can you imagine that long bridge just collapsing? The good news is they say the old ferry system will be running across the narrows by next weekend.”

The summer of 1941 Roy and Verle enjoyed following their baseball teams, while the Nazi’s conquered the Balkans and invaded the Soviet Union. Still the conflict seemed distant to him until August 11th when the  newspapers reported a badly damaged British warship had limped into the Bremerton navy. Then he began to worry the U.S. would soon become involved.

Home on a weekend at the end of August Verle confided to Roy, “Iva, and Jack haven’t charged me any rent. I saved most of my earnings and have enough to swing a year at the University of Washington. What do you think? Should I go?”

“Verle, you have no responsibilities to hold you back.  Yes, go! “Your Uncle George Mackay has a house near Green Lake. It isn’t far from the University. I’m sure he’d let you stay with him now that his two girls are gone. That would help you save on rent.”

At the end of September, he left Verle at his brother-in-law’s house happy to know he’d still have family to keep tabs on him. Two weeks later Roy decided to accept his daughters invitation to look for work in Bremerton.

As the news from Europe became more dire by the day, the Bremerton shipyard hummed with activity bringing with it an influx of thousands of new workers. With housing in short supply his carpentry sill were needed. In no time he landed a job building needed new housing. He took Verle’s place sharing a room sharing a room with his grandson and an adopted a cat named, Blackie.

Each day he scanned the headlines of the newspapers. The news from Europe seemed to grow more ominous by the day. He knew it was only a matter of time United States would be drawn into the conflict and both Verle and Jack would be prime candidates for conscription.

On October 9th, he, Jack and Iva discussed the war news over dinner.

 Jack took a sip of his coffee. “Seems like Japan is growing restless again.”

 Roy nodded. “Didn’t you say your sister’s husband is stationed at the naval base in Hawaii.”

 “Yes, and my sister is living there, too.”

Iva began to clear the table. “Surely, they are safe, its’ not like they are in Japan.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Jack as he rose to switch on his and Roy’s favorite radio show.”

On the morning of December 7th Roy awoke to a cloudless day.

“What a beautiful day,” he commented to his daughter as he sat down for breakfast at the kitchen table.

 He looked over at Jack, “After we eat why don’t the two of us go out and see if we figure out the reason for the racket your car started making.”

“Good idea , agreed Jack, “I could use you know expertise.”

After eating the two men donned their jackets and went out to work on the car. Meanwhile Iva switched on the radio to listen to music while she washed the dishes. Mid song the music stopped.

An excited sounding announcer shouted. “We interrupt this program to report Japanese planes are bombing Pearl Harbor.”  

Iva dropped her dish rag and ran to the front porch. “Jack, Daddy, I’m not sure what it means but the radio says that Pearl Harbor in Hawaii is being bombed. Isn’t that where your sister is?”

Jack stared up at her. “Oh my God!”

Both he and Roy laid their tools down and hurried into the house where they spent the rest of the day glued to the radio. It wasn’t until late that evening they remembered the tools they’d left out in the street with the car’s hood still up.

The next day the fear in town was almost palpable. Everybody thought Bremerton with its vital repair facilities would be the next target for the Japanese. At work in the in the navy yard Roy along with everyone else kept their ears on the radio and eyes on the sky.

One of the men working with him said ,“What should we do if we see a Japanese plane on horizon.”

“Run for cover, I guess,” Roy answered, wondering exactly where that would be.

And what about Iva with Jerry and Jack? Would they be safe? Would his son be across the bay in Seattle? The thought of something happening to one of them sent chills running up and down his spine.

On his way home that evening he joined the grim-faced cluster of people in front of the newspaper office to read the fast-breaking news come over the teletype. That night Bremerton conducted their first blackout.

On December 9th the phone awoke Roy at 2:30 A.M. Outside his door he heard Jack scurry toward the kitchen to answer the phone. His heart pounding  he rose, dreading the worst.

In the kitchen he heard Jack say, “thank you for letting us know.” Turning around and seeing Roy he smiled. “It’s good news, Western Union called my folks.  Sis and her hubby are alive and well.”

Later they learned his brother-in-law hadn’t been on duty that morning. Running to get to the navy base he had fallen into an old outhouse pit and it had taken him most of the day to get out, perhaps saving his life.

Overnight the city of Bremerton was fortified. Barrage balloons, held in place by long cables that could entangle enemy planes, encircled the city. Thick smoke screens were put in place to impede an enemy plane’s view. Nets were erected in Rich Pass to allow ferries to come in and out but not submarines. Air raid sirens and drills were conducted each morning at 9. Soon anti-aircraft guns were displayed throughout the city, in schoolyards, parks and sometimes even in backyards. Roy helped Iva and Jack install the required blackout blinds on all their windows. The Puget Sound Navy Yard was the only place on the Pacific capable of repairing large battleships so naturally people feared the worst. 

The town filled with even more young people coming to work. A town with insufficient housing before Dec 7th, now had people living in tents, garages and converted chicken coops. Roy felt grateful he and his family had a house to live in.

Life had again changed. Now his and everyone’s thoughts were on the war.


Author’s notes:

Most of the information about Bremerton before and during the war came from memories both my dad and aunt wrote or recounted to me. Some came from newspaper articles and a book titled ‘Victory Gardens and Barrage Balloons, A Collective Memoir’,’by Frank Wetzel. In it he gives a very factual account of the events in Bremerton during this time as well as his and others memories as teen-agers living in there at that time.


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