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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Leo Leatherwood 



NAME Leo Leatherwood

DATE: October 17, 2005

PLACE: Cimarron, Kansas

INTERVIEWER: Joyce Suellentrop

Veterans Oral History Project for Gray County


After graduation from Cimarron High School, Leo attended junior college in Dodge City for two years and went to work at Boeing in Wichita as a tool and die maker. He received brief training and learned much from his fellow workers. When he thought he was near to being called in the draft, he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to Great Lakes for basic training. He received a medical discharge due to a stammer and returned to Boeing to work. Later he and his wife moved to Cimarron to farm and they raised four children there.

SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Entering the service and training and life as a Navy enlistee. His medical discharge and work at Boeing in Wichita and return to Cimarron to farm. The dirty thirties were discussed, also.


SOUND RECORDINGS: 60 minute tape



TRANSCRIPT: 21 pages


Leatherwood, Leo

Interview Date: October 17, 2005

Interviewer: Joyce Sullentrop (JS)

Interviewee: Leo Leatherwood (LL)

Tape 1 of 1

Side A

JS - How old were you when the war started in 1939 and do you remember what you knew about the war?

LL- I graduated from high school in 1939.

JS - Do you remember hearing about or thinking about the war in Europe?

LL - A little bit, not really a whole lot. I got out of high school and went to Dodge City Junior College, then. Five us went to Wichita and were going to enroll in Wichita University, but Boeing was paying such good wages right then that we didn't go to school.

JS - You started to work at Boeing?

LL - Worked there for maybe a year. I don't remember for sure.

JS - Were you working on the line assembling?

LL - I was a tool and die maker. I made the tools; for instance, they had drill jigs and they had to be perfect. Everything at Boeing had to be perfect.

JS - Did you have any training for that?

LL - They sent me to school for a little while. If you know anything about tool and die makers they are clannish. If they like you they will help you. If they don't like you, you won't stay there. I was lucky that they liked me.

JS - What wages did you get?

LL - I can't remember. I think I started at eighty cents.

JS - Eighty cents an hour?

LL - Then it went on up. I went up pretty fast. Probably I got up to a dollar and a half.

JS - What did you spend all that money on?

LL - I saved it.

JS - Was Boeing building a particular kind of plane?

LL - B29.

JS - Big bombers?

LL - Yes, the thing I remember is I had a jig I had to make. The motor mounts for the motor on the B29; I built the jig that had to be perfect with plus or minus half a thousandth. I worked on that for quite awhile.

JS - You must have been good then.

LL - I had some help. These guys that were old tool makers would help you if they liked you. If they don't like you, they won't help you.

JS - When you went to Wichita, did you have an apartment with the guys that you went with?

LL - Yeah.

JS - Did you have a car to get back and forth?

LL - Yes.

JS - Was that different than living here in Cimarron?

LL - We had hardly ever been in a big town. After you are there just a little while, it comes around. I made a lot of jigs. It is hard to describe the things.

JS - Could you describe what a jig looks like?

LL - All different sizes, they want a hole here, one over here and another hole over here, but they have to be perfect. They put the thing that goes on the airplane and they drill in the holes so they are perfect. I started there, but then I and Wilfred Osborn decided that our number was probably getting close. We didn't know for sure, but we decided that we were going to come out. If you wanted in the Navy at that time you had to know a peer to get in there. We didn't know anybody in there.

JS - Why did you want to join the Navy?

LL - I thought it was better than that walking Army. I had a friend come back from the Army where you walked and he said, ``For God's sake get in anything, but the walking Army.''

JS - If you were drafted they put you in the Army, was that right?

LL - They might have, probably.

JS - But if you enlisted, you had a choice.

LL - Yeah, because I wanted the Navy and Wilfred Osborn did, too.

JS - So you came back and you enlisted here in Cimarron?

LL - Yes, through the draft board.

JS - Then what happened?

LL - It was a while before they took us. I don't remember how long. We were inducted in Kansas City and were sent home for a few days. We went back and went on into Great Lakes, then.

JS - That was for basic training?

LL - Yes.

JS - What did they train you for?

LL - Of course, I was going to school; that is what they wanted, but I had to go through the basics first.

JS - Were the basics the physical part of it?

LL - There was a little bit of that, but it wasn't like the danged Army where they worked all day. It was not too bad.

JS - When you went to Kansas City to be inducted and came home for a few days, then you were called and told to go to the Great Lakes?

LL - Yeah, I can't remember if we knew we were going to Great Lakes. I can't remember back that far.

JS - When you got up there, that is when you got the clothes and did you have to take a physical?

LL - You get a physical everyplace you go. I know we got physicals at the Lakes and Kansas City. It has been a long time.

JS - Was this the first time that you had been out of Kansas when you went to the Great Lakes?

LL - No.

JS - You had traveled before?

LL - A little bit, not a whole lot.

JS - What did your parents think when you enlisted?

LL - They thought it was the thing to do.

JS - Pearl Harbor had already happened?

LL - Yes, I wanted in the Navy because I didn't want in that Army. I didn't want to walk all over the country. I wanted to ride.

JS - How long was your basic training?

LL - I can't remember, two or three months.

JS - What happened after basic training?

LL - After basic training, somewhere down the line I got into a dental company. You know where your teeth need a lot of work on them. I stuttered and I could control it pretty good, but when they started working on my teeth, you see, I still stammer a little. When they started working on my teeth, that put a little extra strain on me and I had a little trouble talking to this doctor. I said, ``I'll be all right after you let me calm down.'' It wasn't long till they said they didn't think I ought to be in there if you stammer a little bit. I had seen guys that were worse than I was and I stayed there. If I hadn't gotten in that dental company I would have been all right.

JS - So, when they told you that were you discharged?

LL - It took a while. I tried to talk them out of it, but it didn't work.

JS - In between that time and when you were discharged, did you have duties?

LL - Oh yes, we did a little marching on what they call the grinder.

JS - What was that?

LL - It was a black top area. We had certain things. It gets cold up there and you might have to be the stoker to the fire. You had to make sure that the fire was going.

JS - In the stove?

LL - Yeah, it wasn't that bad.

JS - What was your uniform like?

LL - White and dungarees for work stuff.

JS - You lived in barracks?

LL - Yes, everybody on this side was white and everybody on the other side was colored. They stayed up all night playing poker and everything else and raising heck, but they put us to bed.

JS - You didn't play poker or cards?

LL - No, they didn't let us do that. The colored people did and they made a lot of noise over there.

JS - You were completely segregated from them?

LL - Just a big fence, but we could hear them.

JS - In the training they were not with you?

LL - No.

JS - They were in separate units from you?

LL - Yes.

JS - With the uniform, did you have to wash and maintain it?

LL - Yeah.

JS - And shine your shoes?

LL - Yep, they gave us everything.

JS - What did you do when you had free time?

LL - We played cards and read and played basketball.

JS - Did you get to get off the base?

LL - Oh no, well, one day we got a liberty to go to Chicago, one time.

JS - What did you do in Chicago?

LL - Stayed beside the bus station so I didn't get lost.

JS - Did you see the sights in Chicago?

LL - Most of us were country boys and we'd get lost. There is a lot of difference.

JS - Did the person who joined with you, Mr. Osborn, did he go to the Great Lakes with you?

LL - Yes, but we got separated up there. They said we were old buddies and I don't know why, but you are not supposed to have an old buddy there.

JS - So they put you in different outfits?

LL - Yes.

JS - What did you think of the food?

LL - Pretty good.

JS - What kind of food was it?

LL - Ordinary roast beef, chicken and just like you eat anyplace.

JS - What kind of friends did you make and where were the other men from?

LL - All over the country, some of them talked differently because they were from different parts of the country, but they got along.

JS - Did you get into any trouble?

LL - No.

JS - Was it hard to take orders?

LL - Oh no, I knew that at home.

JS - So the discipline part of it wasn't hard?

LL - It wasn't that bad. Oh, you got a little tired of some of it once in a while, but it wasn't that bad.

JS - Do you think you were in there six or seven months?

LL - I don't even remember.

JS - So, when they told you, you shouldn't be in there you tried to talk them out of it?

LL - I tried to talk them out of it. I said, ``There are a hundred jobs in here I can do.'' They said, ``If you are on board ship and you see a submarine and you can't tell them.'' I said, ``I'll be able to tell them.'' They wouldn't listen.

JS - When they had made that decision you just waited there?

LL - I just waited there and they sent me home. I had quit Boeing and I was married then, too.

JS - You were married before you enlisted?

LL - Yeah.

JS - What did your wife think about you enlisting?

LL - I knew I was going to go so you just as well get in there.

JS - Get in and get it over with. Did you know other young men in the community who had been drafted and had gone off to fight?

LL - Yeah, there were a lot of them, but I didn't get to talk to them because I was in Wichita. If they got a furlough, they would come home here and I wouldn't be here. I was in Wichita and one of them, Bert Robins, came back from basics in the Army and he told me, ``For gosh sakes stay out of the Army. Get in something where you don't have to walk all the time.'' So I did.

JS - When the war started and after Pearl Harbor a lot of people joined. Did they join because it was the patriotic thing to do?

LL - Some of them and some of them, their number had come up. Some were like me kind of, I wanted in the Navy. I didn't want in the Army because Bert had said to stay out of there.

JS - What part do you think being patriotic played in it?

LL - Yeah, there was a little patriotic in it.

JS - You just expected that you would be drafted?

LL - You don't really know when your number will come up. Wilfred Osborn and I figured that our numbers were getting close. We never found out.

JS - You wanted to enlist before you got drafted?

LL - That's right, I didn't want in the Army.

JS - When you were discharged and they sent you home, because you at one time wanted to go to Wichita State and then worked at Boeing, what did you come home to do?

LL - Went to Boeing.

JS - You went back to work at Boeing?

LL - Yes.

JS - In tool and die?

LL - Yeah.

JS - Was your wife in Wichita?

LL - Yes.

JS - So you just went back to Wichita. How many years did you work at Boeing?

LL - I can't remember, maybe three years.

JS - You stayed until the war was over?

LL - When I went back everything had changed. The crew chiefs were different and the foremen. Everybody was changed around and I wanted to farm so I told her we were going to go home and get out on the farm.

JS - That's what you did?

LL - Yeah.

JS - When you were going to go to Wichita State what were you going to study, did you know?

LL - I didn't know, but when Boeing was paying so much money it changed. Out here you couldn't get thirty-five cents an hour. Down there they started you at seventy-five cents an hour and had a dime raise every month for a while. It was a lot better if you stayed. Tool and die makers are different. If they don't like you, you won't stay there.

JS - But they liked you when you went back?

LL - Yes.

JS - Were there women working at Boeing?

LL - Yes, but they weren't near tool and die. They were all men.

JS - The women were working on the line?

LL - Yes.

JS - So, you had no contact with them?

LL - No contact at all.

JS - Did you get anything like what we call benefits now?

LL - No, I didn't stay. Some of them stayed until they retired. I went to farm.

JS - That's why you were saving your money. When you came back, did you buy land or was there land in the family?

LL - I did buy some land. It wasn't a big farm, but it was a little farm and we got bigger and bigger and bigger. I did pretty good.

JS - When you look back at the time that you worked at Boeing and spent a short time in the Navy, what difference do you think those years made in your life?

LL - I don't know. Every time you do something, you learn something. So that is the main thing; that you keep learning. Of course, when I went back to Boeing, the foremen and everything had changed and it was different.

JS - Were there shifts at Boeing and what shift did you work?

LL - First shift, that's all I ever worked, first shift.

JS - That is the best shift to be on?

LL - That's the best shift to be on, that's right. We were working 10 hours a day at times and seven days a week.

JS - So you didn't get any weekends off?

LL - Some of the guys wouldn't work those hours. I would, that is the most money I ever saw.

JS - You must have liked what you were doing.

LL - Oh, I did.

JS - Did you have a certain aptitude for doing that kind of work?

LL - Well, when I was in high school, I had what they called manual training where you built stuff out of wood, mostly. I took industrial arts on blueprints and learned to read blueprints. It just fit in there. I was pretty lucky; I got raises where some didn't, but if you keep your nose clean and get your work done it was good. I didn't mind it there.

JS - Were there a lot of people working there?

LL - Oh golly, thousands and thousands.

JS - Did you have to take your lunch or your breaks?

LL - It got so at Boeing they came around with things to eat and you could buy


JS - Where did you live in Wichita, was it close to Boeing?

LL - Probably fifteen miles.

JS - You had a car and your wife, did she work?

LL - Yeah, she was a beauty operator. She fixed hair.

JS - Where were you when Pearl Harbor happened?

LL - At home, I don't know if it was when I was working at Boeing and had come home for the weekend, I can't remember. I know when the Pearl Harbor attack happened, we were all home that day.

JS - How did you find out that it had happened?

LL - Over the radio.

JS - You were listening to the radio. Do you remember where you were when the war in Europe ended?

LL - I remember it, but I can't remember where I was.

JS - You were probably in Wichita?

LL - Probably.

JS - What about the dropping of the bombs on Japan?

LL - Yeah, I remember that.

JS - Were you aware of the political events leading up to the war? When the war started did you receive news or read about the war?

LL - Yeah, in the papers. Of course, if you are seventeen years old, you are not too interested.

JS - You are more interested in having fun, I suppose.

LL - Yes.

JS - During high school what did you do for fun?

LL - Played football, basketball and track. I studied a little; I was no A student, but I made Bs.

JS - You must have been a good enough student to want to go on to Wichita State.

LL - Out here you couldn't make any money. You could get a job for thirty-five cents an hour.

JS - What kind of jobs would have been available here?

LL - Farm work.

JS - To work for a farmer, this area had not recovered yet from the dirty thirties.

LL - No, that's right.

JS - Did you get married right out of high school?

LL - I went to junior college.

JS - That's right, in Dodge City. What did you study there?

LL - Football, basketball and track. (chuckle)

JS - Did you go one or two years?

LL - Two years.

JS - Was that unusual from this community?

LL - No, a lot of them did that.

JS - Did you drive back and forth?

LL - I stayed in Dodge. Part of the ones I lived with in Wichita was the same ones I lived with in Dodge. We'd come home on every Friday night or Saturday.

Sometimes I think you didn't really learn anything, but you did.

JS - Do you have a significant memory of when you were going to junior college or working at Boeing or a particular individual?

LL - Well, I had a good friend down there. His name was Dutch Zogelman.

Interviewer: Joyce Sullentrop (JS)

Interviewee: Leo Leatherwood ( LL)

Tape 1 of 1

Side B

LL - He was a nice guy. He got me a car.

JS - He had a car dealership in Wichita? What color was your car?

LL - Black and had everything on it that they had.

JS - What would be on it; was it automatic shift?

LL - Yeah, and it had a radio and all that. I can't see yet why he thought I should have a car. That's what he told me when I left.

JS - He must have thought that you were deserving of it. How long did you keep that car?

LL - Let's see, probably three or four years because when I came home I didn't have a car.

JS - You seem to have a good memory for things people told you or advice they gave you. Can you think of any other instances?

LL - Well, our crew chief and foreman were nice guys, but when I came back from the Navy, I didn't get in with those same ones. They were different ones.

JS - When you came back to start farming, was that hard?

LL - Oh no, because I had been farming.

JS - Was it sort of nice to be out of Wichita and back out here?

LL - Yes, my wife was from a little town.

JS - In Kansas?

LL - Yes, did you ever hear of Freeport, Kansas?

JS - No, where is that?

LL - Close to Anthony.

JS - You met her while you were in Wichita?

LL - Yes.

JS - And she liked coming out here to Cimarron?

LL - She didn't complain.

JS - Were your parents and grandparents farmers out here?

LL - My parents didn't farm, but my grandparents did.

JS - Your family has been in Gray County quite a while?

LL - Long time, my mother wasn't born in Gray County, I can't remember the name of the town, but my dad was born in Dodge City.

JS - They were farming here during the dirty thirties?

LL - Some of them were. Farming back in those days wasn't very good.

JS - What memories do you have of those thirties?

LL - Dirt blowing; the day of the big blow a bunch of us were at the drugstore. I was probably a sophomore or something like that. We could see it coming in rolling and we started home. We lived about three blocks from town. We started running for home and it caught us before we got there. You couldn't see your hand. I got down and felt along the curbing. I thought I knew where I was, but I went too far. There was a car parked there and it was some Indians from Oklahoma. They thought that the world was coming to an end. I got in the car and it kind of slacked up and I could see the porch light of the Methodist parsonage. As soon as I saw that I knew where I was. I was just a block away from home so I went on home then. It is a little spooky if you can't see your hand in front of your face because the dirt is blowing so.

JS - Did you have trouble breathing?

LL - I don't remember that. That real black part didn't last long.

JS - How long would a dust storm last?

LL - That part that was really bad wouldn't last long.

JS - What do you remember about the way you kept the dirt out of the house or the things that you ate?

LL - They took water on sheets and hung them up in the house. That's about all I remember.

JS - This was during the depression. Did you have adequate food?

LL - Oh yeah, we always ate good.

JS - Do you remember your parents just sitting around talking about how bad things were?

LL - If they did, I didn't pay any attention to it. I'd only be about twelve or thirteen then.

JS - As long as you had parents or somebody who loved you, you didn't worry.

LL - Yes, they took some of the houses and they taped around some of the windows and that kind of held it out.

JS - When you were in school, if a dust storm would come, they let you out?

LL - Yes, they could generally tell it was coming. Times were pretty hard. If you are eleven, twelve or thirteen years old, you don't really notice that.

JS - Did you celebrate holidays and things?

LL - Oh yeah, I remember we always had Christmas. Might have been some people that didn't, I don't know.

JS - I suppose everyone was about in the same situation.

LL - Yes, just pretty hard times.

JS - Would some young men near the end of the dirty thirties have enlisted for a certain amount of Income?

LL - By the time the Army came along, it was over. There were no dust storms then. A lot of boys went to what was called CCC Camp. They got thirty dollars a month and board and room. They were older than me. Most of them, I expect are dead by now.

JS - What did they do?

LL - They built dams and different things. I remember they got thirty dollars a month and they sent twenty-one dollars of it home to their folks and they got to keep nine dollars.

JS - When you were in the Navy how much did you get paid?

LL - I got pretty good.

JS - As good as Boeing? Probably not?

LL - Oh no, not even close. When you were a seaman, I think you got forty or fifty dollars a month.

JS - What did you need to spend that money on?

LL - I don't know. I sent home some of mine. There was really nothing to really spend it on. You couldn't go anyplace.

JS - Did you smoke?

LL - No.

JS - You are one of the few.

LL - I was too hard up to smoke.

JS - You were smarter than those who smoked. I suppose you bought candy bars or things like that?

LL - We had a real good football team here and basketball team. Francis Miller smoked a little, but he was a good player too. The rest of us didn't smoke. We didn't have any money.

JS - When you went into the Navy did you go out and drink beer or anything?

LL - No, we couldn't go off base.

JS - Was it difficult to live in a barracks and sleep with a group of men?

LL - It didn't bother me any.

JS - You were with them almost all the time?

LL - Yeah, you were with them day and night. You ate with them and everything. You get acquainted pretty quick.

JS - After you left, did you keep up with any of them?

LL - I tried to, but they moved around after that. After they got the basics they moved all over the country.

JS - Of the group that went to junior college and to Wichita, did they all go to work at Boeing or just you?

LL - Most of us did. We all went to the service about the same time. We figured our time was about due so rather than go into the Army we went into the Navy.

JS - Not the Air Force?

LL - I never thought about that. I couldn't fly an airplane anyway.

JS - Do you think that that experience of working at Boeing and being in the Navy changed you and in what way?

LL - I think so, it grew me up a lot. It did grow you up in a hurry. That's the first time I ever had any real good money. We were working ten hours and day for seven days a week and got time and a half for overtime. Double time on some overtime and on Sundays we got triple time. I worked all they would let me work.

JS - Why did you decide to save money?

LL - I never worked anywhere in my life where I could make enough money to save any and I knew someday, I would need that money. See, when you were out here before the war it was thirty-five cents an hour.

JS - It would be tough to live on?

LL - You couldn't live on it. You had to be living at home to make it.

JS - Did you have brothers and sisters?

LL - I had sisters.

JS - None of them joined?

LL - No, they worked at the Dodge City Airbase.

JS - What did they do there?

LL - I don't know what they did. They did office work, I think.

JS - Were there some of the boys from here that had other brothers in the service?

LL - The Robins boys, Bert went and Jack went, they were a big family.

JS - Were there any young women who joined the WACS or the WAVES?

LL - There was a few, but I can't remember who they were.

JS - Were there people who became Conscientious Objectors to the war?

LL - Not unless they were already were that. The Mennonite people were against war.

JS - What did they do when they became Conscientious Objector? Did they go work somewhere?

LL - They farmed.

JS - They didn't have to go work for the government or anything? They just had to register as Conscience Objectors?

LL - I suppose, I don't know. I know there were some that went to the service and their parents were Conscientious Objectors.

JS - Maybe the younger generation?

LL - Probably figured it was their time to go.

JS - In the community it was sort of expected that young men would go?

LL - I was twenty-one, I think. I may have been twenty-two.

JS - Is there any other piece of information or story that in the future that you think people would want to know about?

LL - My life has been pretty dull anyway.

JS - That's not true.

LL - Work, that is all I ever knew.

JS - I think it is unusual that you went to junior college and wanted to go to Wichita State. I went to high school at Ingalls and when I went to school, most people did not go on to college.

LL - You just as well have gone because there were no jobs.

JS - How could you afford to do it?

LL - If you played football, you got twenty dollars a month. I don't know where the twenty dollars came from and I don't care.

JS - So you played football?

LL - And basketball.

JS - Did you get money if you played basketball, too?

LL - No, I wasn't that good. I wasn't tall enough. Some were six foot five inches and were pretty big.

JS - Did you like football?

LL - I loved it.

JS - What did you like about it?

LL - I just liked to play.

JS - Did you like to hit people?

LL - Oh yeah.

JS - What was different about football then, what were the uniforms like?

LL - They weren't as good as they are now. For the time, Cimarron did have pretty good uniforms. We had pads that were all good. The ones that played before me didn't have much.

JS - Did you ever get hurt playing football?

LL - A little bit.

JS - Broken bones?

LL - I had a cracked rib, but they put a big sponge over it and I went ahead and played.

JS - That was painful, wasn't it?

LL - If you got hit there, it was.

JS - Maybe they didn't tackle as hard as they do now?

LL - Some of them tackled pretty hard.

JS - What position did you play?

LL - Guard.

JS - In a typical season how many games would you have played? Did you go out of town to play? What towns did you play?

LL - We played Garden City, Meade, Sublette, Dighton and we played ten games.

JS - Did you travel by bus?

LL - By bus, yes.

JS - The same with basketball, then?

LL - Same thing, only fewer people. Football would take maybe thirty people to make it and basketball maybe, fourteen or fifteen

JS - At that time you were living here in Cimarron?

LL - Yes.

JS - Did you have chores to do?

LL - Not very many, a little bit.

JS - What might those be?

LL - Feed the chickens and if we had a cow, I had to milk the cow. It wasn't very exciting.

JS - Did you have electricity?

LL - Oh yeah.

JS - So you didn't have to bring in wood or coal?

LL - We had natural gas and a nice home.

JS - What was the favorite meal that your mother fixed for you?

LL - Anything she fixed.

JS - No favorite deserts?

LL - I can't remember that, as long as we got enough to eat.

JS - Is there anything you want to tell that in fifty years people need to know?

LL - I don't have anything like that. My life hasn't been very exciting. I raised four kids and my wife is in the rest home. She is not doing a bit good.

JS - I don't know that life is supposed to be exciting.

LL - There are curses worse than that. She can't talk anymore, she can't walk; she can't do anything.

JS - How old are you now?

LL - Eighty-five.

JS - Did you ever think you would live to be eighty-five?

LL - No, I never thought I would ever live to be eighty-five.

JS - You must be healthy?

LL - That's what they tell me at dialysis. I have been going to dialysis for about the last two years. The doctor over there said, ``You are just darned near perfect.'' I said if I was perfect I wouldn't be on dialysis.

JS - There is nothing else you think of that you want to say.

LL - I don't think of anything.

Interviewer: Joyce Sullentrop (JS)

Interviewee: Leo Leatherwood ( LL)

Tape 1 of 1


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