Dublin: So, George, when we spoke
yesterday, you told me about your three older sisters. And now, why don't
you tell me about your younger sister and younger brother as well.
Harvan: As I
mentioned yesterday, I had three older sisters: Julia, Margaret, and Rose.
They were spaced about three years -- between each birth. My younger sister
was Claire, who also graduated from high school, became a nurse, went
to New York City, worked in Mt. Sinai Hospital, in the cancer center.
In those days, cancer was kind of almost a new disease, so she decided
to get into that field of work when she became a nurse. She also treated
a number of local people, some who even came from Lansford. In one case
-- Mr. Sam Weiss -- a local merchant up on Ridge Street -- had a son,
Joseph, who developed throat cancer, and they sent him to Mt. Sinai. Claire
more or less adopted him there, and took care of him, as a nurse would
do. Mr. Weiss would always tell my mother, "Look, anytime you need any
clothes, you come up to the store and take anything you want." Claire
was a very nice person. When my mother developed cataracts in her eyes,
she decided to come back and take care of my mother when she was going
through her operation, which was in Coaldale Hospital. During the course
of her taking care of my mother -- after the operation which was performed
by Dr. Houser, from Tamaqua. He noticed this young woman, taking care
of her mother, this after he had just lost his wife. He saw this beautiful
girl and became very attracted to her -- started courting her -- eventually
they got married and she moved to Tamaqua, where they had a big home.
He also had an airplane and liked to fly. He had two daughters. I would
say one was in her late teens, and the other in her early twenties. The
younger girl, after she got out of high school, decided to become a stewardess.
One day, he had an operation to perform but the youngest girl had to be
in New York to take a test, and fill out forms for this stewardess job.
A friend of his, a Mr. Christman from Palmerton, was to pilot the plane,
so the three of them -- Mr. Christman, my sister, and her stepdaughter,
flew to New York. She had the interview, and on the way back, while trying
to land at the Lehighton Airport, for some reason, the pilot never made
the landing field. He hit a cement building at the edge, both my sister
and Mr. Christman were killed, the girl was severely injured. Claire was
only thirty-four at the time. And it kind of devastated my mother. She
used to sit on the back porch here and cry every night. They were very
close, and when she died a few years later, she died of a broken heart,
just on account of that accident. She was very sentimental, but subjugated
to my father. I think I mentioned, before about how the men kind of dominated
the women. I think that was the case here. The women were more or less
afraid to do many things on their own. If it was all right with the men,
they did it. It's still the case around here. I notice a lot of people
my age, where the men still dominate the women, more or less.
Dublin: Can you recall some examples,
some incidents, from your growing up where you could see that going on
with your father and mother?
Harvan: Well, mostly in buying things.
She couldn't go out and buy anything. She used to like Hershey Kisses,
and she had to sneak out to buy them and hide them at home so he wouldn't
find them. Then at night she would have a couple of Hershey Kisses, just
a couple pieces of chocolate. He never beat her or anything like that,
but when it came to spending money, and buying things, well, it was all
up to him. He made all the decisions, whether it was to renovate the house,
or whatever, I mean, she had no say in anything, really. When you have
to go out and buy Hershey Kisses in order to enjoy them, and hide them,
it was kind of an extreme thing. But I don't think it was unusual around
Dublin: How much older than Claire
Harvan: There was a gap of about four
years there. As I said, she was a very beautiful person. Rose was also
very shaken by her death. Rose was so happy when Claire got married. I
remember the day she got married -- in Chester, south of Philadelphia.
After the ceremony, she said, "Oh, I'm so happy for Claire -- she found
somebody, a professional person, a nice person." She was so happy for
My mother had a good friend right
down the street, a Mrs. Pekarik. They also had a big family. In fact,
Julius -- well, we used to call him "Dula" -- was my age. We went to school
and graduated together. She would come to our home, and they would talk
on the porch, and her husband was -- I think he was even worse than my
father, as far as being domineering. In fact, I think her main pleasure
was coming up and talking to my mother, really, you know. Financially
they were a little better off because he was a pretty good bootlegger.
He'd make whiskey right in his back yard and would sell it. When the mines
weren't working, he'd sell the moonshine. They also had a little store
in the front room -- a little room about this size -- they would have
canned goods and things like that for people to buy -- and he would sell
the whiskey out of that store also, too. They were a little better off.
But she was in the same boat. The Pekariks also came from the same town
-- from Kudloce in Czechoslovakia. So, that was about the extent of my
mother's life. Like I said, she was very devastated by the death of Claire.
In fact, we all were. It was really hard -- you can't sleep at night and
feel things would never be the same.
Dublin: How long was it between Claire's
marriage and the accident?
Harvan: Just about two years. Little
over two years, it wasn't very long. I was working at the Bethlehem Steel
at the time, it was in the afternoon, and over the intercom someone kept
calling my name to pick up the phone. Well, I was in the darkroom at the
time, and couldn't get out right away. Finally, I heard a person getting
kind of angry, "Pick up the phone! Pick up the phone!" So I finally got
to the phone. It was my wife and she said that Claire was in an accident,
and I'd better come home. They didn't tell me at the time that she was
dead, they said that she was in a real bad accident. By the time I got
home, everybody was crying, so I knew at that time that she was dead.
It was one of those things that happens while growing up that you never
forget. Especially when it happens to a member of your family. You see
a lot of deaths, but when it is part of your family who was a nice person,
it's hard to take.
And both of your parents were
still alive at that time?
Yeah. My father never showed
much emotion. I never saw my father cry, really, or anything like that.
He was tough. In his seventies he developed prostate cancer and when he
was eighty-four he had an operation, and I never ever heard him complain
about anything. I knew he was in pain, because he would sit there, almost
where you are there, and I would see the expression on hs face. When he
retired at sixty-five, he would just wheeze when he breathed, you could
hardly stand it. In fact, it would be so annoying after a while, you would
have to leave the room. I would say, "Okay, Pop, I'll see you tomorrow."
He would just wheeze and wheeze. He came up with the cancer later on.
As I said, I never heard him complain, though. He used to have a bottle
here so he wouldn't have to walk up and down the stairs when he had to
urinate. As I said, he never showed much emotion. I don't know if he was
just tough that way, or if it was his make-up, but he never seemed to
grieve. When my mother died, he just went along with things, through the
motions of going to the funeral, etc., and life went on for him. I never
saw him do anything to be physically mean to her, or anything like that.
He wasn't a big man, in fact, he was kind of little. My mother really
didn't have much of a life, except the family, and cooking, baking, doing
the dishes, and going to church -- later on, in her life, going to church.
She decided to go, regardless of what my father said. And that was her
life, really. She just lived for when the children would come home for
a visit. And for Margaret, who was living next door, they were very close.
Margaret's first child was born next door. He only lived eighteen months
when he died. His name was Frank, he was named after his father. And that
also was kind of hard to take for my mother.
That would have been the first
Yes the first grandchild.
I imagine most families go through all these steps in their lives, heartaches, and good times.
Did your mother have a lot
of good women friends?
Not many, no. Mrs. Pekarik,
you know, and Mrs. Zonka. Mostly neighbors. They never had a car, never
drove, never really went anywhere. In the early years, my father was a
hunter, he would get out with his friends to hunt rabbits, pheasants and
deer. Of course, when the mines were working, his first stop after work
would be at the bar, up in Kanyuk's, next to the Am Vets Building, which
was a pretty good watering place for miners, they would stop and have
their shot and beer. So he would get out more than my mother. He was also
the treasurer for a Slovak insurance society -- members would meet here
maybe once a month. So he had friends, but my mother never did have many
-- kind of led an isolated life.
Do you think that was a little
bit general for men and women of your parents' generation? That difference?
I think so, yeah. Especially
. . . . I don't know if it would apply to the Welsh or the English or
the Irish, because they came over before the Slavs. But when you can't
read or write English, you can't get too involved socially. Later they
did get a radio. Rose bought them one, a Philco. In fact, that's the radio
there -- the one Rose bought them. See it back there -- that old Philco
stand-up radio? That was their main form of entertainment
later on. They would sit around here in the evening and listen to Amos'n'Andy,
Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Gabriel Heater, and the news.
I'm curious, just because
you're mentioning it, do you recall -- you would have been at the age
when you might have been home -- do you remember, for instance, listening
to any of Roosevelt's Fireside Chats?
Yes. In fact, I especially
remember his speech on December the eighth, when war was declared. We
listened to many of his Fireside talks -- yes, we did. My father was --
interested in world events. I think we got all our curiosity traits, Rose
and I, from my father, more or less. He would read a lot, even in his
eighties, he would sit and read as long as he could. He would especially
like to read magazines.
So he followed politics.
Yes, definitely. Like I mentioned
before, he was a strong union person, too. He never talked much about
John L. Lewis or the mines or the union -- maybe he didn't want to discuss
it at home. But I'm pretty sure, at the bar, he discussed it.
And you figure he was a strong
Would have voted for Casey
Gildea when he ran [for Congress in the 1930s]?
Yes. We all followed that
trend, we're all Democrats. I know Rose was, and I am a registered Democrat.
We kind of followed in that line. We more or less had to, because the
Welsh and the English in Lansford -- more or less controlled everything.
I mean, you were second-class citizens then. There's no way of getting
around it. They looked down on you. I guess it was probably that way in
the other parts of the coal region, too, where people were entrenched
in a certain town, and didn't particularly take to the people who couldn't
read or speak English. I went through high school, and I could still remember
-- there was pupils there who never spoke to me, all through high school.
But then I wasn't an outgoing type, either, where I would go looking for
people to talk to. And it was a time of the Depression, you know, there
are other things on your mind. You were more worried about food and things
like that as your parents were. There was two classes in Lansford. There
was an upper class and a lower class. It's changed a lot now. Before,
if you were a Slovak or Polish, you could never belong to the fire company.
You had to be Welsh or English. They started it, and they just kept their
people in charge. They were the bosses.
Now, did they hold the various
offices in the town government?
Oh, yes. In fact, there was
no elections, really. It was always Republican, and they always elected
the burgess. They controlled the council and police. For certain reasons,
I guess, it was just like a survival thing for them, too. And they were
-- more or less -- pawns of the coal company, because the coal company
ran the town, really, through these people, the Welsh and English. They
were just trying to hang on to what they thought they deserved and was
Was there a time that you
can remember when a transition occurred, and all of a sudden you found
Slovaks holding office?
I really don't know . . .
When I graduated from high school, I went directly to the CC camps, and
stayed there for two years. Six months after I got out of the CCs I found
out that there was some jobs open at an air depot outside of Harrisburg
in Middletown. I was there for six months when the war broke out. I was
gone for five and a half years in the Pacific, and then I came back to
Lansford in 1947. I imagine the war changed a lot of things. I think the
war did it -- I think they realized, that all classes could get killed
just as well as our kind. I think the war changed everything. I think
the war finally kind of put us all, more or less, on an even basis. And
then when I started taking pictures for the coal company, on a freelance
basis, I associated with all the bosses at the collieries and up in Edgemont,
and I didn't have any problems. But in the beginning you were looked down
on, held down a bit.
But by the time you're talking
about that experience, it's probably about 1950.
I would say late forties and
So in that decade between
'38 when you graduated from high school, and '48 or so, there is this
I was going to high school, I was not a very good student. I was interested
in sports, in my junior year I went out for football, got on the football
team, and then I played football junior and senior year. And I
was on the track team. I wasn't very good, but it was something to do.
You didn't go to movies, or anything else, so you went out for sports.
But my marks were terrible! I just barely got through, -- I can't ever
remember taking a book home to study. My parents wanted me to go to school,
but they never knew enough to say, "Well, do this, because this is the
way you should do it." So I never really studied. And when the girls went
away, I figured eventually I would get out of high school and go away,
also, and do something . . . .
When I talked about going to the CCs,
they knew that I was going to leave. And since the girls left earlier,
they accepted it. They felt, "You've got your life to live." I imagine
my mother would have been happy for some of us to have stayed at home
like Margaret did. She would have liked it, but there was nothing here.
Well, you're familiar with the condition of the coal regions at that time,
during the Depression, there was nothing here, really. [deletion]
In our graduating class -- we had
125 pupils -- and I think there was only one boy who went to college.
Out of the 65-70 boys -- only one boy, he was Joe Skellshock who became
a dentist, down in the Philadelphia area. But that was it. We didn't have
much choice. When I was in the CC camps, after I became a leader, and
I became very good friends with my foreman, Charley Crane. He always drove
the truck out to a job site, and had a crew in the back, I would ride
in the front with him. During the lunch break, he would start sharing
philosophical thoughts about what's going to happen to this world, and
this was '39, '40. He'd say, "George, there's going to be a big war. You're
going to be caught up in the middle of it. You're going to be at the right
age." For me, it was going in one ear and out the other. War was the farthest
thing on my mind.
This guy was ten years older
than you, or something like that?
Oh, at least, maybe more.
He could have been in his late 40s, early 50s. To run the camps, they
used to have a military person, reserve officer who treated us like military
people, too. We went out and did our jobs during the day, but when we
came back to camp and had our supper, he made us go out -- up to the woods
and cut a stick into the shape of a gun, and he would start drilling us
out in the streets! The company streets, there. And we also had to take
up some type of sports -- boxing, running, or whatever. This really conditioned
us, at this time, we were pretty trim and in good shape. If someone threw
something at you after a while, you felt, "Well, this is the way it should
be," and we accepted it. [deletion]
Now your high school graduating
class, would you say that eventually a good share of them left, or that
really, they found ways to make it around here?
No, I would say eighty percent
of them left. But a lot of that had to do with the war, too. A lot of
people got involved with other sections of the country, like Ed Ogozalek.
But anyway, he settled in Alabama, because he was at an army base in Huntsville,
Alabama and liked it there. When we would have class reunions, he would
always come up from Alabama. People settled in New York City, Washington
D.C., California. . . . I never thought I'd ever come back to Lansford.
You know, when you get out in the Pacific and it's so big, and you've
seen places like Hawaii, the Philippines, and Japan -- and then you come
back to a little house in a little town like this. It's almost like a
miniature village. Everything is confined, everything comes down on top
of you. I remember walking in this door when I first came home, after
I got out of the service, and I couldn't believe that I lived in this
house. It was so small. But you get used to it after a while. It comes
back to you.
Why don't you tell me about
how you got into the service, and what your war years were like.
you a little bit about [my brother] Ted, first, and that'll clear up the
family, more or less. Ted was about four or five years younger than Claire.
And Ted was pretty good with radios and electronics. He liked electronics.
He could make radios, and listen to short wave broadcasts. When he got
out of high school, he decided to go to school with RCA. He got a job
with RCA and worked with them for many years. . . . After my mother died
he came back to Lansford, he met a few fellows, and they decided to go
into an electronics business here. The venture flopped; he lost all his
savings. Kind of devastated him. . . . After that, he started to work
for the television cable company here, in Lansford. Cable was just starting.
He installed sets for subscribers. He then went into business for himself
-- repairing television sets. He did that for a number of years[, but
finally] started to work for an appliance store in Lehighton, the Koch
Brothers, who sold television sets and other appliances. He repaired T.V.
sets, washers, dryers, etc. He worked there for about six or seven months,
and it was on Thanksgiving Day, we had dinner at our house next door.
I noticed he was talking a little strange. I asked him, "Ted. What's wrong?
You're slurring your speech." He said, " I had a wisdom tooth pulled and
maybe it's not healing properly or something like that." "Farina" Kalny,
who was his best friend, mentioned that it seemed like his speech was
getting worse. "Farina" said, "Let's go down to the doctor." Farina took
him down to the doctor in Jim Thorpe. I was working down at the steel,
so he took him to the doctor -- Dr. McGimley -- he examined him, diagnosed
him immediately as having Lou Gehrig's disease. . . . We had a couch right
here in the parlor, and he used to just lay here and watch television.
And . . . he would get very frustrated. Lou Gehrig's disease attacks all
your muscles and nerves, but your mind stays intact. The doctor once told
me, "If there was ever a disease that was devised by the devil, it is
Lou Gehrig's disease." [deletion] It was kind of a sad thing, the way
a body could deteriorate with this disease, a tube in his stomach and
being fed that way. But he was getting worse. . . . He got to the point
where he would try to write, but he couldn't grasp a pencil properly,
and all of a sudden he would get frustrated and everything would go off
the table -- the pencils and paper and everything else that was on it.
And then I would pick it up. [deletion]
The only one that died before my mother
was Claire. And then the rest passed away. My father died in '74. Ted
was alive then. In fact, Ted had just seen him at the Gnadden Huetten
hospital. He was sitting in a chair, and it was in February when Ted last
saw him. It had snowed the night before, because I had stopped in from
Bethlehem on the way home, and I remember him telling me, "You'd better
get on home. It's snowing out there." The roads were bad, and all that.
So I stayed a while and went home. Ted visited the next day, and talked
a while. My father said he was tired, and felt a little sleepy. So Ted
headed home, and by the time he got there, we got a phone call informing
us that my father had died. Ted never had a phone, so they called us at
our home. He died sitting in the chair. He was 89. As I said before, he
And considering that he had
black lung, it's remarkable to live that long.
It's a funny thing, though,
about the black lung, Tom. Through the years, he used to like to walk
a lot, from the time he was 65 to the time he was in his eighties, his
lungs seemed to get better. I mean, he didn't wheeze as much, not near
as much. In the beginning, when he would spit out in the basement sink,
all this black stuff would come up, it would be horrible. He would gag
almost like Ted was gagging when he had Lou Gehrig's disease -- not quite
as bad as that, but he would cough -- to get all the coal dust up. He
did like to walk, however, and would get out every morning, and walk up
through the woods, up in the back hills, up around the Acme store, up
in the mountains, and come back and have a meal. He had a routine. He
was in bed every night at nine o'clock. [deletion]
So you were about to tell
me about going into the Army, your service in World War II, and how you
became a photographer.
I mentioned I was working
in Middletown for six months after I got out of the CC camps. I knew nothing
about airplanes. I don't know why they hired me, but I had an interview,
and I put down my CC experiences, and how I worked myself up. I think
that had something to do with it. I filled out all the forms and got the
job. There were about four or five fellows from Lansford working at the
depot. The two Melnick boys up the street here, Mike and Johnny, "Petie"
McHugh -- he was a little older -- "Bunker" Boyle, Joe Philipovich, and
"Speed" Piaia, they all worked there -- and also Joe Sniscak. Through
them I found out about the job. We all stayed in the same house -- same
rooming place -- taking turns sleeping, some were on night shift, some
worked days. I got the job about May of '41, and they put me in the engine
department where all I was doing was tearing down aircraft engines and
cleaning the parts and putting them on racks, and I would then have to
polish certain parts. And after a while, I started to do other jobs around
the hangar. The air depot was -- as I look back now -- something the government
had been planning. They anticipated perhaps there was going to be a major
confrontation in the future. So they started to utilize these air depots
-- civilian air depots all up the United States, to repair aircraft, rebuild
engines, replace skin on the fuselage, change electrical components, or
whatever else had to be done. They had a number of them in the east --
one in Middletown, one up at Westover Field up near Boston, and they had
one down in Florida -- Homestead Field. And I know they had one out in
California at San Bernardino.
And these eventually
became Air Force bases? Or Army Air Force bases?
No, these were just air depots,
they called them -- where they would bring airplanes in to have them repaired
-- . . . military planes. At that time, they must have felt, "This is
a good way to start training people, in case we do have a war, we will
have trained people." So they started to train people, and that's how
they took me. As I said, I didn't know anything about an airplane. I'd
been up in small planes, but that was about it. After I worked there for
about six or seven months, when it all happened, World War II broke out.
It was December the seventh, 1941. I was on a night shift at the time.
I was with "Dula" Picarik that Sunday night, who was working at the Mack
plant at the time. His brother got the job for him at the truck plant
in Allentown. He did have a car, and went out for a ride, and we talked
about the bombing at Pearl Harbor. That was Sunday night, and then the
war was declared by President Roosevelt on December the eighth. I remember
listening to the speech right here, the declaration of war. I had to be
at work Monday night, so I headed back to Middletown. A couple of the
fellows who worked at the depot had cars. We'd come home practically every
weekend -- because we were so crowded living in the same house. Petie
and I had the same bedroom. I would use it in the daytime, and he'd use
it at night. So it was cheaper that way. We weren't making that much money,
So that's fifty, sixty miles
Harvan: Harrisburg. No, it's ninety,
one hundred miles. Harrisburg's about eighty-five miles, and then Middletown's
about seven, eight, ten miles south, along the Susquehanna. And we would
have to go from Harrisburg to Middletown, but there was always a ride;
people had cars. When war was declared on December eighth, I had gone
to work Monday night. The first thing they told us was to meet in the
hangar, and I still remember the steps. A Captain got up on them and
started explaining about the damage that was done at Hickam Field to
the planes. They didn't have too much information, he said, but they
are looking for people to go to Hickam Field, on a volunteer basis,
to work on the damaged planes. That's all he said. Well, there must
have been about two hundred people there, on the shift, and somebody
in the back said, "I'll go." I was up in front, and the Captain looked
me right in the eye, and he said, "You'll go, won't you?" And I said,
"Yeah, I'll go," just like that. I never much thought about it. They
got about eighteen volunteers, and we went back to work. When I did
get back to my job, John Correl who was my foreman, said, "George, what
do you want to do that for?" I said, "John, they're not going to take
me." I said, "I don't know anything. They're going to take people who
know a lot more about airplanes than I do." I never heard another word
and never gave it much thought. Christmas came, New Year's passed. No
one heard anything. Just a dead silence about the matter. I was on a
night shift again, and was in the men's locker room, I just got to work,
when I heard my name being called. I was informed to report to headquarters.
I went up to the office, and they told me that in two days a plane is
going to take us to California. They told me to be at the depot the
next day to get some shots. I said, "I can't. I have to remove all these
clothes at my room and get them back to Lansford." So they said,
"Just before you get on the plane you can get the shots." It was a military
plane, an old DC-6. It didn't have regular seats, it just had a benches
along each side. So I immediately left work and I came back to Harrisburg,
got a little sleep, got up early, and took a bus to Harrisburg and then
to Pottsville, and to Lansford. Got in here about two o'clock in the
afternoon. My mother was surprised. She said, "What are you home for?"
And I told her, and she started to cry. I said, "All I had to do was
sign up for a year." I said, "After a year, they'll send me back." In
those days, we knew little about the Japanese, and thought the war was
going to last a few months and will be all over with. We're going to
be back soon, and that would be it. My father was not home -- we waited
around here a while, and finally my mother calmed down a little bit,
and started to make supper. She said, "You're going to eat?" And I said,
"Yeah, I'll have supper." Frank, my brother-in-law, was living next
door, and he said, "I'll borrow my father's car and I'll take you back
to Harrisburg." We waited for my father and it was starting to get late.
When he never showed up, I went up to Kanyuk's Bar. And he was surprised
to see me. So he told Steve, the owner, "Give him a beer." Told the
bartender, what I was up to so I had a free beer. After I told him what
was happening, my father came home. He had a pretty good load on, but
he wanted to go to Harrisburg with Frank and I.
. . . they let me off. And the next
morning, I go down to Middletown. They gave me the shots. And at that
time -- they had eighteen volunteers -- I got the required shots. The
other people got them the day before. For some reason, one of the shots
they gave us, a yellow fever shot, was contaminated. Well, we go on
the plane, and the engines wouldn't start. [laughs] This was January,
just after the New Year. We got off the plane, went into the hangar.
They worked on the problem for a while and then they started the engines.
Then the engines quit again. I thought, "Oh brother, this a good start."
So finally they got the engines working and we took off -- we were supposed
to land at New Orleans. Spend the night there, and then go cross-country
to California. We ran into a very bad storm over Tennessee, really bad.
In the meantime people on board were getting sick. Everybody was throwing
up, I mean, it was a mess. I was the only one that wasn't sick. I couldn't
believe it. Things were really bad. Some people were worse than others.
They were bent over. So the pilot decided to land in Maxwell Air Base,
outside of Birmingham, Alabama. It was raining very hard at the time.
We ran off the runway into a muddy field, and when we got out of the
plane and we were knee-deep in mud. When we got to the base, they put
all the sick into the infirmary because they had a bad case of the heaves.
I was the only one not throwing up, but the next day I got it. It took
a day to get the bug working as I had taken my shots a day later . .
. We never knew what it was. It turned out we all had Hepatitis B. After
I got to Hawaii I never did anything about it, and I had the illness
practically all my time I was out in Pacific. I never really felt good
after that. . . . I found out about the contaminated shots when I came
out of the service, years later. I was reading one of the service journals,
and they mentioned how they were looking for people who had gotten these
shots early in the war -- and you're talking something like fifteen
years later, would they contact the veterans [administration]. So I
went up to Wilkes-Barre, and they started checking me out. The effects
were still there, but eventually I got rid of the symptoms. [deletion]
That's how I got to Birmingham,
Alabama. After a few days, when people picked up a little, we took off,
and landed at Moffett Air Base just outside of San Francisco. It was
an air base run by the Air Force. We were there about two or three weeks,
lived in tents, rained practically every day. One day they informed
us that we were going to board a ship in San Francisco the next morning.
It was four o'clock when they got us awake, we left everything there,
mattresses, and bunks and everything in the pouring rain and mud --
and took what clothes we had on us -- a bag -- and that was it. It was
still dark when we got to San Francisco, it was still pouring. The ship
was called the U.S.S. Grant. It had just come down from Alaska with
dependents who lived in Alaska, they brought them out of Alaska, back
to the States. They must have had a rough journey, because the place
was full of vomit. The crew had no time to clean up the mess, it smelled
to high heaven. I went down into the hold and couldn't stand it. You
had to just get out of the quarters and get out on deck. I can still
remember, when dawn broke, going underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
That's how we set sail for Hawaii, and Hickam Field.
And you were going to be something
like an airplane mechanic, although you weren't that skilled yet.
I didn't know what I was going
to do, really. I was just doing the basic things -- well, what can you
learn in seven months? Not much. It took us seven days to get from San
Francisco to Hawaii. I would always stay up on deck, it was kind of cold
and chilly, I still had my CC jacket. It was a three-quarter length --
a little bigger than a suit coat -- but it was pretty heavy and it kept
me warm. I remember wearing that thing practically all the way. They gave
us life jackets the first thing. I would always stay up on deck. I would
sleep on deck. It was an old ship. The U.S.S. Grant was confiscated by
the United States from the Germans after World War I. It actually was
the yacht of the Kaiser but was a fairly big ship -- it still had the
brass railings and other ornaments. This was 1941 and the World War was
over in 1918. You can imagine how old this ship was, and boy did it creak.
I'm telling you, it was like a haunted castle down below. As I said it
still had some of the brass railings and the carpeting in the officers'
dining. We ate with the officers. We had troops on ship, also, GIs. In
fact, it was the first convoy to leave San Francisco after the war, for
So about how many people were
in this convoy? On the ship, and were there other ships with it?
Oh yes, we had two destroyers,
a cruiser, a freighter, and our ship -- the troop ship. As I said, we
had GIs, enlisted men. They had their own quarters. We more or less stayed
with the officers. We ate with them. The enlisted men had their own mess
hall. Well anyway, it took us seven days to get to Hawaii. I can recall
watching the sun, it seemed sometimes you would be going west, other times
the sun would be off to the left. You knew that we were zig-zagging. It
was about six days later -- it was a Friday then. We had set out on Thursday.
That Friday, at night, the Navy personnel chased us off on deck, and told
us, "You have to go below." You didn't ask questions, you went below.
We go down below in the hold of the ship and some time later the engines
quit running. Everything was very quiet. Then the depth charges started
to go off. Evidently, the Japanese had been following us all the way,
in submarines. They decided since we were going to land shortly -- we
did land on a Sunday. The Japanese figured if they're going to do damage
to our ships, they should do it now. The cruiser and the destroyer tried
to get the submarines, so they dropped the depth charges. It was very
quiet below, and we were told, "No one could make a noise," and you could
hear whimpering, and crying -- the tension getting to them, because it
lasted some time. You were almost expecting a missile to go through the
side, a torpedo or shell. Finally, after a while, the engines started
up again and we were on our way. I was quite relieved to be moving again.
But they never would allow us up on deck again to sleep. First thing in
the morning, I went up on deck, and asked one of the crewmen, "What was
going on last night?" He replied, "The Japanese -- we were trying to get
the submarines that were after the freighter." They never did get it.
What was on the freighter? We didn't know it at the time but the ship
was carrying B-26 Bombers packed in crates. That's why they were sending
us to Hickam Field, to put these bombers together. We didn't land in Pearl
Harbor but at a small naval station, Kanehoe, between Honolulu and Pearl
Harbor. After departing the ship they put us on a train. I can remember
going by Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, and then I saw the devastation.
Up until that time, I never realized how much damage the Japanese did
on the 7th. Then it hit me! Even more than the encounter with the Japanese
subs but that changed when I saw the damage. Well that's how I got to
Hawaii, to Hickam Field, as a civilian, supposedly for one year, to work
on air planes. We worked practically day and night assembling the B-26's,
on different shifts, putting them together and checking them out. The
B-26 was called the Martin Marauder -- it was a very hot ship, had a Davis
wing. It wasn't really fully tested at the time, but we didn't have much
of an Air Force in those days -- the early days of the war. We were at
rock bottom. The plane was built down at the Martin plant in Baltimore.
And evidently it took all that time to crate them, the engines, the wings,
the fuselage, and everything else. And that was our job, to put the parts
together and make a flyable airplane. . . . the main thing I did . . .
after we got through with the B-26s, was repairing and rebuilding engines.
Dublin: How long did you stay?
Harvan: Well, I was too young for
the draft. I was twenty. The draft was for age twenty-one. I got to
Hawaii in January. I wasn't twenty-one until February 25th. So when
the time came, I signed for the draft, in Hawaii. They sent me up to
Schofield Barracks. I was there a few days. And since the work I was
doing at the time was important -- putting these planes together --
they sent me back to Hickam. But they put me in the Reserves. We could
have very easily done the work as GIs, but I guess we were working as
a team, certain people had certain jobs to do. Then the next year, when
my year was up, they came and asked if I would stay for another year.
And I said, "No," at first, I said, "No, I signed up for a year and
I want to go home." And the other fellows felt the same way. We lived
in these homes, and we were all kind of together -- close-knit. Finally
six of us decided to sign up for another year. . . . So I did that.
And then it was two years. And after the third year -- it was '44 --
they put me in the service as a G.I.
[While serving in the Army,
George Harvan became sick with an ulcer. After a lengthy recuperation,
he returned to duty, though not to work on airplanes. While awaiting
his discharge, an opportunity emerged that would give him his life's
work. He described the incident.]
I didn't have much to do,
not much of anything, really. Just trying to recuperate, more or less.
I worked for a Captain there, one day he came to me, the war had just
ended. "George," he said, "I know you like photography." I said, "I
like taking pictures." I used to, on my days off, go to Honolulu and
use the camera. The war, as I said, was over now. A few months later
he came and told me that he was going to Japan. "Special services,"
he said. "You want to go?" I said, "No. I have a few months to go. I'm
going home." So then he replied, "If you change your mind, let me know.
I could rig up a deal for you to get a leave back home. You'd have to
join the regular Army, however, for eighteen months. But it would be
a chance for you to see Japan, with the Army of Occupation." I wasn't
in the mood at the time. I thought about it after a while, and then
one day accepted the offer. "Put the papers through. Will the thirty
days be from Hawaii?" He said, "No, I'll set it up from Ft. Meade, Maryland."
So all the travel time was on the government. So I got to Ft. Meade,
Maryland, got my thirty days leave, spent a nice thirty days here. It
was in the summertime, in June. After it was up I went back to Ft. Meade.
I did this all on my own, I had to go cross-country again, to Ft. Lewis,
Washington, again, and get on a boat there and go to Japan. And that's
how I wound up in Japan, with the Special Services, and that's how I
became a photographer.
And that would have started
Late '45, yeah. The sergeant
who had gone to Lawry Field, through the photography school there, was
in charge of the photo lab. His time was up so he left the service. I
never went to any service photography schools, or had any photo training.
They did change my MOS to photographer. They put me in charge of the lab.
We were doing aerial work, developing aerial film, for reconnaissance
and mapping. They gave me a Speed Graphic with film and flashbulbs. And
I also had a Jeep. I had a patch on my sleeve that was able to get in
off-limit places, and for almost eighteen months I had a pretty good experience.
I was able to learn about the Speed Graphic and how to use it, at times
some important people from the Air Force would be coming into Yokohama
on ship, and they would send me down to get pictures of them getting off
the boat, or meeting other dignataries. I never did any combat work because
the war was over, but it was a good experience for me. We did do some
So your formal training occurred
Yes, as I had a Jeep, I was
able to roam around Japan quite freely. I would often go to off-limit
places. This one instance I would like to relate was when I didn't use
the Jeep and I took a train. Train travel was the best way to get around
Japan. If the Japanese wanted to go a hundred miles, they thought nothing
of it, they would travel by train to get some rice or other food stuffs.
This one day, when I used the train, I got lost. I really got lost. I
got a little confused to where I was. I had my camera with me, and I also
had some C-rations. I just didn't know where I was, because in most off-limits
areas, there was no GIs around. As it was getting dark, I got off at this
one railroad station, and when I did, all the Japanese people at the station
just circled me -- completely around -- I'm asking them about "Johnson
Air Base." Where it was located. Well, they couldn't understand English,
and I couldn't make myself known, so finally I walked off to the side,
and some kids followed me, I sat down on the stoop, pulled out the C-rations,
and they were staring at me. Finally I just threw the rations at them,
they grabbed the rations and started eating them. I thought, "Well, I
can't stay here." So I got back on the train, and I rode the trains all
night -- different trains -- it would stop, and I'd get on another one.
It was starting to get crowded in the early morning. I remember the Japanese
getting aboard with chickens, pigs, and other animals -- going to market,
I guess. Finally, late in the morning, I got off and I ran into an MP
-- I wasn't too far from my base, maybe fifty or sixty miles, but I had
been going in circles all night long. Finally, I did make it back to the
base. Being as I was in charge of the lab, I was more or less my own boss.
I had three Japanese working for me then, who used to clean up the place,
mix chemicals, and stuff like that. Two of them were good. The other one
was a former officer who felt he was still in the Japanese army, and every
now and then, we would find things missing. So, I mentioned this to the
MPs, and they caught him one day, stealing things, and they beat the daylights
out of him. That was the end of him. But, I had another fellow -- a fellow
by the name of Watanabe -- we became pretty good friends. I wasn't too
happy with the Japanese for the things they had done to the Americans,
especially the prisoners, in the early part of the war. It took me a while
to really get used to them. This guy -- he would speak in broken English
to you about his family and the trouble he was having getting food to
them. I even got to the point where I would get things out of the mess
hall, canned things, and I would slip them to him, so he could take them
home. He would tell me about going two hundred miles up to the northern
part of Japan on a weekend, to get rice. I guess we're all human beings
after a while. You get compassion for some people when they tell you these
stories . .. And they were just people in this country. You were told
to do certain things and they did them. There was just this minority up
on top who decided to make war. The ordinary people had to suffer for
it. As I said, I used to slip him some food, every now and then. When
I was ready to go back to the states, I was there for almost a year and
a half. I also became pretty good friends with other Japanese. There were
some who had converted to Christianity, and had their own services. Every
now and then, I would drop in. All during the time I was in the Pacific,
I never went to church, never went to Mass. I went by hundreds of services
being said in the field, and I never bothered to stop. I would go right
by. But, when I got to Japan, I started to see things a little differently.
I would, now and then, participate. It wasn't a Catholic mass but a Christian
service. I would just stop in, and I would just sit there. When I was
ready to go back home, Watanabe came to the lab one day with a nice looking
case, a jewelry case, and he wanted me to have it. I asked him what was
in it, he said a string of pearls. When I opened it, it was a hand-cultured
set of pearls that had been in his family for hundreds of years, and he
wanted to give them to me, and I didn't want to take them. Finally, he
insisted, and I accepted. We didn't have any lockers in the barracks at
this base. The place was called Iramagaua. It was here where the Japanese
trained the Kamikaze pilots, so it was kind of a spartan camp. We had
just a plain, wooden building which had a false ceiling, every night the
rats would run up and down the ceiling. You could see spots where they
made their droppings. They seemed to have a race from one end to another.
So it was a very simple camp, with no lockers. We did have barracks bags;
that's where we kept all our clothes and all other possessions. If you
had a camera, as I did, you carried it with you, because it would be surely
stolen. I couldn't carry the pearls with me, I thought, if I wrapped them
in a lot of clothes and put them in the bottom of my bag, no one would
find them. Some GIs used to go around and feel around the barracks bags
for solid objects, they were into the black market and anything they could
acquire they would peddle. One day I checked on these pearls, and sure
enough they were gone, someone stole them. I never told Watanabe what
happened. I guess he always felt I still had them. I didn't have the heart
to tell him the truth. When I would have some free time, I started to
take pictures with a Rolleicord -- a twin-lens reflex -- a German camera.
Being that the Germans and the Japanese were allies during the war, they
were trading partners. So we were still able to pick up some good German
cameras -- like the early Leicas and the Rolleiflexes -- in Tokyo. I didn't
smoke at the time, but every week I got a carton of cigarettes. You couldn't
keep them in the barracks because they would be stolen. However, I knew
the head cook, and I'd make prints for him. When I got the cartons of
cigarettes every week as a ration, I asked him to keep them for me. He
kept them in the mess hall, locked up. After I got about twenty cartons
of cigarettes accumulated, and it was three or four months before I was
scheduled to go back home -- my time was up -- I felt I should get me
a Rolleiflex. Which at the time was the top of the line. I'm going to
be sitting on the top of the world owning a Rolleiflex. So I packed up
the twenty carton of cigarettes in the barracks bag, got on the train,
and I didn't want to go all the way into Tokyo itself, too many MP's.
So I got off in a suburb of Tokyo called Wayno. While walking down the
street, I saw a Rolleiflex in the window, I quickly darted into the shop
and showed the cigarettes to the owner, and he agreed to give me the camera,
took the camera out of the window and gave it to me. It was a standard
Rolleiflex. The standard had little levers on the side while the automatic
had little wheels that designated your F stops and shutter speeds. When
I walked down the street a little further I saw an
automatic in a window, so I
ran back to the first store, got my cigarettes and gave him the camera
-- he was quite upset. That's how I got the automatic Rolleiflex, my first
good camera. Well, I guarded that camera with my life.
And, as I had more free time then, I used to walk the streets of Tokyo.
I started to photograph the people on the streets. I couldn't get any
standard film for the Rolleiflex, but what I would do so I could use the
camera was use aerial film. I had some old paper backings -- and I would
go in the darkroom and I would cut the aerial film into strips, and I
would tape the film onto the backing, it was kind of flexible, aerial
film was a little thicker than regular film, but I was able to utilize
it. Making twelve exposures on the spool. That way I had film for the
Rollei. I had film packs for the four by five Speed Graphic, but it was
much easier for me to take pictures on the streets with the Rolleiflex,
so that I did.
So the Rolleiflex is anticipating
35mm, it's getting a little bit closer to that size?
Well. . . the earlier 35mm
films weren't as good as they are today. They were grainy, and you could
blow them up to five by seven, or just a bit larger, but that was it.
The lenses were faster. But the Rolleiflex had a real good lens, a Tessar
F 3.5 AS. The film size was bigger, you didn't have to blow up your negatives
as much. After the war, magazine and newspaper photographers weren't shooting
35mm, most were using Rolleiflex or 4 by 5 Speed Graphic -- people like
Fritz Henle were making a name using the Rolleiflex. They were utilizing
the two and quarter square image. When Rose worked for Holiday, she used
three or four Rollei's, two for color and one for black and white. I still
have three of her cameras, which she gave me. She liked working with these
cameras, because the negatives and transparencies were bigger, you did
get a bigger color image, too. So, it helped in the reproduction, and
in selling your work. The Leica really didn't come into vogue until about
ten years after -- during the Korean War -- when David Douglas Duncan,
a Life photographer, and a number of other photographers started
to use the 35mm. There were some who used the 35mm in World War II, like
Eugene Smith, but not many. Most of the good work was done with the four
by five Speed Graphics, or Compat Graphics. Joe Rosenthal's picture at
Iwo Jima of the flag raising -- that was made with a four by five Speed
Graphic. Well that's how I got into photography -- it
just seemed to grow on you, as if you had to take pictures. It never seemed
like I was happy or contented unless I was taking pictures, or out with
the camera. I spent all my spare time in Tokyo taking pictures of the
people on the street. That's how I accumulated a sizable group of pictures
of the people at that time.
So were you able to bring
back the negatives as well as the prints?
Yeah. We had trouble with
the mail, things getting lost, but I did manage to get my negatives home.
I would like to relate another incident when I was taking pictures as
the base photographer. I got a note from our Commander that a General
in the 5th Air Force, his name, I believe was Burns, had requested that
a photographer be sent to Tokyo on a certain day, that the Emperor of
Japan was having a birthday party for his son, Prince Okihito, who was
eight years old at the time. The emperor was inviting members of the military
government to this party in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The palace has
a moat around it, to isolate it. People who worked in the Imperial Palace
weren't allowed to leave. They had to work and live there on the premises.
Very few people from the outside world had a chance to really get into
the Imperial Palace, and here I was, going to see the inside of the Imperial
Palace. Well, I got in there, went across the moat, went into this huge
room where all the guests were, the Emperor was present, and also his
son. I had to take pictures, posed shots with them and the General. After
the session for pictures taking was over, they retired to the dining room,
to which I wasn't invited to and I had to leave. But I did my photographs,
I was there for maybe an hour or so, forty-five minutes or an hour, but
I did get into the Imperial Palace.
So you went back and you developed
Yeah, I went back to the base,
made prints, enlarged them to eight by ten and delivered them. They were
real happy with the results. Actually they were nothing, really -- you
know, just group shots, people standing around, talking and drinking.
A lot of military people. I thought General MacArthur was going to be
there also, but he wasn't around at the time. He was at the dinner however,
at the seating, but I never saw him. I did, however, see General MacArthur
many times, coming out of the Dai'Ichi Building, which was the headquarters
for the Army of Occupation. I would wait outside the building with my
camera, so did make some negatives of him, these negatives got away from
About how many photos or prints
or negatives did you eventually bring back with you?
Oh, I have about three, four
hundred negatives. I never really counted them. From those, I would say
I have about fifty or sixty that I really thought are worthwhile. About
six months before I was ready to come home, I got word that there was
a bad Japanese train wreck, about twenty miles away. I went to headquarters
and asked permission to photograph the wreck. After I got this, I got
in the jeep, taking my 4 by 5 Speed Graphic. When I arrived at the scene
I found bodies all over the place. Evidently, a train -- like most Japanese
trains, at that time, the cars were made of wood, the only thing made
of metal on them was the undercarriage and the wheels, but the rest was
all wood. The train had been coming down the side of a mountain, and when
it got near the bottom, there was a sharp turn which it failed to negotiate.
It went off the tracks, and the cars, which were crowded, went down an
embankment. Most of the Japanese trains were almost always full. The undercarriage
come down on top of the passengers and just squashed a lot of them. By
the time I got there, they were starting to lay the dead in the open field,
some were still being pulled out of the wreckage and laid in rows to be
identified. I started taking pictures of the tragedy. Even then, I started to look
for the human interest angle. I just didn't want to show bodies -- I looked
for people showing -- in what I wanted to record. Most Japanese had these
little buggies with the one wheel in the front and two in the back, and
they would lay the corpse in a buggy and pull it away. When I got back,
I developed the film, and the negatives came out all right. As far as
I knew there were 156 dead, that was a lot of corpses. I didn't know what
to do with the photos when I printed them. While in Tokyo, I went into
the AP office, just for curiosity. A man by the name of Russell Brines,
who was head of the AP Bureau there, I showed him the negatives, along
with a few prints -- it was just the next day. He liked the pictures a
lot and wanted to use them. I gave my permission. I never saw any in print,
but he did send them out. I never got anything for them, because the negatives
weren't actually mine as I was still in the service. The military had
no use for them. The pictures were strictly civilian, so they didn't care.
Anyway I got to know Russell quite well. Every now and then, I would stop
in the office. One day, he asked me if I would like to stay here and join
the AP. I refused the offer and told him I was going home soon. I had
been here a long time, since January of '42 -- and this was about April
of '47. I had decided that I was either going to either go to journalism
school or to photography school. I had sent some pictures to the Art Center
School in Los Angeles in the meantime. They wanted to see about six pictures
-- work I had done in the past. I corresponded with them, told them I
would be discharged in June. They told me to stop in the Center on the
way home in June. I was discharged at Ft. Hamilton -- and I went down
to Los Angeles, and I saw the school, and I thought, "This is going to
be neat, and get a good education. I'll finally get some instruction."
They informed me that they could take me in after Labor Day -- I thought
I'll go on home for a couple months, and I could start school in September.
Well, anyway, Russell was kind of disappointed that I didn't take the
job. I often wonder -- as you look back, what would have happened had
I stayed. I mentioned this once to Rose, and asked her what would have
happened if we had stayed in Europe -- and I said what would have happened
if I had stayed in Japan? You make certain decisions, later on, you look
back, and you ask yourself, "Why did I do that? What prompted me to do
that?" I guess, sometimes you don't even think, I guess. You do a certain
thing, you make up your mind, and you do it. That's all. Probably, if
I hadn't contacted the Art Center School, was thinking about going there,
I probably would have taken the job with A.P. I think I would have. I
probably would have wound up in Korea, because the Korean War started
a few years after that. That's when the Japanese started to manufacture
lenses and camera again. It took them ten years, but they did make some
real good lenses. At this time, Duncan put some Japanese lens -- Nikkor
lens -- on the Leica body -- he was working for Life Magazine at
the time -- when he sent the negatives back to New York and the people
at the lab couldn't imagine why the images were so clear -- and so sharp.
They wanted to know what lenses he was using. The Japanese had decided
to try the lenses out with some of the American photographers. And they
gave these lenses out to compare them with German lenses. They're worth
thousands of dollars now, these were the early ones. The early Nikons,
was the range finder camera. An early Nikon now will run you about ten
or twelve thousand dollars, just the body. They made very few of them.
It was a well-designed camera, a little bigger than the Leica camera,
a little boxier -- not a round, but very efficient. It was built more
on the German Contact design than the Leica. That's how the Japanese broke
into the camera market, which they practically dominate now, all the good
cameras are made there. The Leica cameras are still very good, and are
made in Germany -- but most of the good cameras now are made in Japan.
George Harvan with Speed
Graphic in Japan, 1946.
1 | Interview
2 | Interview
3 | Interview
4 | Interview
Miner's Son, Miners'
Photographer: The Life and Work of George Harvan
© 2000, 2001 by The Journal for MultiMedia History