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Second Interview, May 30, 1997: Family,
World War II, and First Photography

Harvan Home
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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 here.
      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 much older than Claire were you?

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 her.

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.

Dublin: And both of your parents were still alive at that time?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: That would have been the first grandchild.

Harvan: Yes the first grandchild. I imagine most families go through all these steps in their lives, heartaches, and good times.

Dublin: Did your mother have a lot of good women friends?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: Do you think that was a little bit general for men and women of your parents' generation? That difference?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: 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?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: So he followed politics.

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: And you figure he was a strong Roosevelt voter?

Harvan: Oh, yeah.

Dublin: Would have voted for Casey Gildea when he ran [for Congress in the 1930s]?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: Now, did they hold the various offices in the town government?

Harvan: 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 theirs.

Dublin: Was there a time that you can remember when a transition occurred, and all of a sudden you found Slovaks holding office?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: But by the time you're talking about that experience, it's probably about 1950.

Harvan: I would say late forties and early fifties.

Dublin: So in that decade between '38 when you graduated from high school, and '48 or so, there is this transition.

Harvan: Yeah. When 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
George Harvan quote.
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.

Dublin: This guy was ten years older than you, or something like that?

Harvan: 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]

Dublin: 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?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: Why don't you tell me about how you got into the service, and what your war years were like.

Harvan: I'll tell 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 never complained.

Dublin: And considering that he had black lung, it's remarkable to live that long.

Harvan: 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]

Dublin: So you were about to tell me about going into the Army, your service in World War II, and how you became a photographer.

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: And these eventually became Air Force bases? Or Army Air Force bases?

Harvan: 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, really.

Dublin: So that's fifty, sixty miles away.

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.

Dublin: And you were going to be something like an airplane mechanic, although you weren't that skilled yet.

Harvan: 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 the Pacific.

Dublin: So about how many people were in this convoy? On the ship, and were there other ships with it?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: And that would have started in '46?

George Harvan with Speed
Graphic in Japan, 1946.
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 aerial work.

Dublin: So your formal training occurred then.

Harvan: 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
Japan Photos.
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.

Dublin: So the Rolleiflex is anticipating 35mm, it's getting a little bit closer to that size?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: So were you able to bring back the negatives as well as the prints?

Harvan: 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.

Dublin: So you went back and you developed those?

Harvan: 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 me.

Dublin: About how many photos or prints or negatives did you eventually bring back with you?

Harvan: 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. 

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Miner's Son, Miners' Photographer: The Life and Work of George Harvan
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