My Mom, Olga — Part Four: The War Years

These new orders would take him away from CCC camp responsibility to a regular army assignment at Fort Ord, on the coast of California, 120 miles south of San Francisco. Joe and Olga arrived in June 1941. Joe was assigned to be the executive officer of a brand new cavalry outfit called the 68th Quartermaster Pack Troop. They were to train their soldiers to be a backpacking outfit, using mules to carry supplies where trucks and jeeps couldn’t go.

When Joe arrived, there were no soldiers yet, and no mules. It was just Joe and his new CO, who had no experience with horses or mules. The two spent the first three days filling out requisition forms for saddles, bridles, reins, ropes, and everything they could imagine they might need. Joe was probably given this assignment because he was a cavalry officer and his ROTC training at the University of Illinois had included horsemanship. He had been on the ROTC equestrian team and won awards for his riding ability—jumping and riding through obstacle courses. He was an excellent rider and knew his way around horses.

The 83 enlisted men in the outfit were all black. This was in the days prior to an integrated army. With the exception of three sergeants and Joe, none of them had ever been around horses or mules. The day before the train arrived with 140 wild mules, Joe had requested some pickup trucks or jeeps from the colonel in charge of Fort Ord. His plan was to tie the mules to the vehicles and walk them the four miles from the train depot to the stables at the east garrison. But the colonel denied Joe’s request, and told him pretty crudely to just use his soldiers to walk them. Joe argued, saying that wouldn’t be a good idea. The colonel disagreed and Joe was ushered out of his office.

The next afternoon, the train arrived with the mules, pretty wild and ornery after their long hot train ride. At the close of the day, 90 of them were enjoying their home in the east garrison stables, the other fifty were spread all over the fort. It took two days to round them all up. Even worse, a couple of dozen soldiers had to be treated in the infirmary because they’d been dragged or kicked. The poetic justice in the story is that some of the wild mules had run through the colonel’s garden and destroyed it.

Joe and Olga rented a beautiful home in lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea on the corner of Fifth and Guadalupe. After the three years in Clam Lake and the short stay in the little house in Medford, this must have felt like pure luxury for Olga. The white sandy beaches of Carmel were just a half mile down the hill. Grocery shopping at Piggly Wiggly was three blocks away. The house sat at the front of a very large enclosed lot, with multiple six- and eight -foot walls, walkways, spacious patios, a sunken garden, and a huge barbecue area, all made out of sandstone rock. The grounds were exquisite. They rented from a man who was the auditor for the State of California. It was Olga’s sixth home in five-and-a-half years.

She made good friends with a lady down the street, fondly referred to as “Grandma Price.” Grandma Price took care of Patty, almost four, and Judy, two, whenever Olga needed help. Olga was pregnant with me by this point, and I was born November 2, 1941. Evidently I was anxious to arrive because she almost delivered me on the steps of the little Carmel Hospital.

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The Western Union Telegram Joe and Olga sent to Olga’s mother, Mrs. E. O. Miller, announcing my birth. I was the third in a series of three Joes. November 1941.

Eight days after I was born, Joe’s outfit took a cross-country trip to see how the soldiers and mules would make it going through terrribly rough country crossing mountains up to six-thousand feet. The 51 men and 140 mules rode and trekked from the back of Fort Ord south all the way to Jolon, making twenty miles a day, each mule carrying two-hundred pounds of supplies. As the newspaper described it, “They went through the most dangerous paths, trails and gorges of the great Santa Lucia Mountain range.” The ten-day exercise was successful in every way and was written up in several local newspapers and in Collier’s Magazine. The animals and the troops had performed well, even through the rain on the way home. The downside was that many of the troops got poison oak in places you don’t want to get poison oak.

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Dad, now the executive officer of the 68th Quartermaster Pack Troop at Fort Ord in California, heading off cross-country on a ten-day trip into the Santa Lucia Mountains on the central California coast. The 51 soldiers and 140 mules would cover twenty miles a day, going through the most rugged and remote part of the mountains. Fort Ord, California. November 1941.

Two weeks after their return, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the United States entered World War Two. There were very real and immediate fears that the West Coast would be invaded by the Japanese. As a result, Joe (who now I will call “Dad”) stayed on the post for weeks at a time, blackouts were required every night in all homes and businesses, and it was a dark and alone time for Olga (who now I will call “Mom”).

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Mom holding her happy third-born, me, in Carmel, California. 1942. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened a month and five days after I was born, bringing the U.S. into World War Two.

A month after Pearl Harbor, the owner of the house called Dad to meet with him saying that he needed to discuss the rent, which was $50 a month. Dad had a speech prepared, and was all ready to say that on a lieutenant’s pay of $150 a month, he and Olga simply couldn’t afford a rent increase. The man very kindly said that, on the contrary, as he was too old to be in the military, he wanted to do his part, and that the rent for the remainder of the war would be reduced to $35 a month.

Aside from those scary days in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Mom enjoyed her Carmel years. She definitely had her hands full with three small children. And, as the new guy, I was not particularly easy. I cried a lot, got eczema frequently and had to be painted with this purple medicine.

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Judy and I became pals at an early age. Carmel. December 1942.


One day two-year-old Judy left the house on her own to try and follow Mom who had just left to drive Patty to school. Judy normally went with Mom in the car, of course, but that day refused to get in because the car trouble Mom had experienced the day before had really scared the diaper clad two-year-old. Knowing that she would be back in less than four minutes, Mom just left Judy home, so Pat wouldn’t be late. Somehow Judy got out. A truck driver found the little girl, and was with her on the side of the road when Mom drove home. Surprise, surprise! Oh, the fun of taking care of three little ones!

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A smiling trio of Kempston women, Patty, Mom and Judy, in Carmel. July 1942.

On weekends, we all enjoyed picnics on Carmel Beach, beautiful Point Lobos, and occasionally down the coast on the Big Sur River. And Dad and Mom definitely got their money’s worth out of that barbecue in the backyard. Dad planted a victory garden and even had a chicken or two for fresh eggs.

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Captain Kempston and family in the beautiful backyard of their home in Carmel in September 1942. I’m ten months old, Mom 33, Dad 32, Patty 5, and Judy 2.

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Two Joes. I was always so proud of my Dad. He called me his “Little Shaver” because as often as I could, I’d watch him shave in the morning. Carmel. 1942.

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This soldier, our Dad, would always be absolutely in love with his two beautiful daughters. The pony’s name was Sockeye, and we all got to ride him occasionally. Carmel. Autumn 1942.


Visitors came to spend time with them during these Carmel days. Grandma Miller and Carl visited once, and Grandpa and Grandma Kempston also came to see them.

The family took one more trip north to Lorane in March 1943. Because gas was rationed, Dad had to conserve his driving and save gas coupons for a long time in order to make the trip. Dad made this ten-day trip to put legs on that dream of owning a ranch. His father had found a good property, and they sealed the deal on that trip. The plan was to pay $25 a month on the place until the war was over, dad was out of the army, and we could move there.

Sometimes Dad would take Pat out to the stables at Fort Ord, where Sergeant Lilly would load her up on a mule and walk her around. Dad’s own horse was a beauty called Dark Day. And all three of us kids got to ride a little pony called Sockeye at our own home. Dad would rent him from a nearby stable and walk him over. Mom and Dad took us kids to church at the Church of the Wayfarer there in Carmel, and Pat began school during the Carmel years.

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Pensive Mom—always a good thinker—and very smart. Carmel. 1943.

In the winter of 1943-44, Dad contracted double pneumonia twice, probably as a result of bivouacking outside in the wet, foggy, coastal winter. The second time this happened he was extremely sick, in Fort Ord’s infirmary when his outfit was scheduled to go overseas. He was replaced and the 68th Quartermaster Pack Troop shipped out to Australia and then to Burma without him. Although I never thought to ask Mom about it, I’m sure she was relieved tremendously to find out that Dad would not be going overseas. But this did precipitate another move.

In March, 1944, after almost three years in Carmel-by-the-Sea, we moved again, this time to the Presidio at San Francisco. Dad—now a Captain—worked at Sixth Army Headquarter on temporary duty. We lived in army housing at 540B East Terrace. Pat’s pregnant cat, Catherine, delivered five little kittens within days of our arrival. Pat was sick in bed with a cold when they were born, and Mom put them all in the basement. That night Catherine moved them all—one by one—up to Pat’s room. Whereupon Mom moved them all back to the basement. Dad hurt his back carrying a sofa into the house during this move. This would prove a hardship for him in later years.

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Our car and trailer all packed up—leaving Carmel and heading to the Presidio of San Francisco where Dad would be on temporary duty with Sixth Army Headquarters for three months. March 20, 1944.

Four months later in July, 1944, Dad received his last official army assignment. He was to move to Fort Douglas, near Salt Lake City, Utah, to become the supervisor of subsistence supply for all army installations in the eight western states Mom and Dad were glad to leave the fog and wind of the Presidio. On the way to Utah, when we drove past Lake Tahoe on old US 40, Dad took some photos, and when he put them in the photo album, he noted “beautiful country, but can’t compare with Oregon.” He was still thinking about that ranch. Our new home was located at 320 East Fifth South in Bountiful.

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Me getting a haircut from my personal barber, Dad, in the backyard of our home in Bountiful, Utah. August 1944.

Mom endured a tragedy that year when war struck home. Her brother, Dick, was going through US Army Air Corps pilot training in Oklahoma, when he was killed on June 7, 1945. There had been a miscommunication with the tower and somehow two planes tried to land at the same time. They collided, mid-air, killing Dick who was just 22-years-old. We were in Chicago at the time. Mom had taken Pat, Judy, and me back to Chicago on the train to see Grandma Miller and Mom’s sisters. On the train ride home, Judy, now five, spotted some Catholic nuns in the restroom. They were wearing the big black hats that protrude out. Judy had never seen a nun before, so came running back to Mom screaming that there were witches on the train. Meanwhile, I had a great time making friends with the porter who served our car. He was very kind to Mom and watched out for us kids.

A year later in August, 1945, we moved a few miles away to Holladay, Utah. Here we were still close to Dad’s work. We rented another home at 1945 East 47th South. This house had a little bridge going over an irrigation ditch as part of the driveway. We were living there when the war ended.

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Our home in Holladay, Utah, October 1945. World War Two ended during the months that we lived here. The bridge went over an irrigation ditch, infamous for my kitten incident.

Uncle Carl visited us in that home. Just seventeen, he’d taken the train from Chicago to see his big sister. While there, he was quite intrigued by the spectacular Rocky Mountains because they were so close. One morning, carrying a tasty lunch from Mom, he took off hiking towards them to see if he could get there. When the sun started to go down and it began getting very cold, Mom got worried. She was almost ready to call the local Sheriff’s office. Much to her relief, Carl finally returned, incredibly chilled, but safe. As it turns out, he’d reached the first small hill, climbed it, and then kept going up for some time. He’d run into a herd of deer on the trail he was following, and lost track of time. That next Sunday we all drove up to the ski area at Alta so he could try skiing. Carl meant so very much to Mom and the rest of us.

During his train ride out, Carl had taken a stroll the length of the train to stretch his legs a bit, and encountered a big surprise. He bumped into his father’s little brother, Victor, who just happened to be on the train also. Victor, a perennial bachelor, had always been a welcome and frequent visitor in Mom’s home as she was growing up. He would invariably show up with a big bag of pork chops, his favorite, and some sweet rolls and the family would enjoy a big pork chop dinner. Carl found out that Victor was headed to California, and he asked him if he was in a hurry, or could he stop off and see his niece, Olga, for a day or two.

So when Dad met Carl at the train station in Salt Lake City, there was Uncle Victor, too. He was our guest for a night or two and that’s when he made his contribution to our family lore. It’s the only thing I know about him. At dinner he’d buttered his roll with the butter knife and there was a little butter left on the knife after he was done. So he licked it off with a flourish and put it back on the butter dish, probably much to Mom’s horror.

It was in that house one day, that I remember picking up our kitty by the tail, whirling it around, and throwing it off the bridge into the water of the irrigation ditch. I figured it could swim. As I let the kitty go, I looked up at the house to make sure no one had seen me. I was out of luck. There was Mom, motioning from the window, and it didn’t look good. The kitty incident was only a string in a long line of stupid things I would do as a boy. I didn’t think I was bad at the time, but, now, looking back on a lot of my actions, it makes me realize that original sin is not just a theological concept; it’s a real deal, and I am living proof. And, yes, I got spanked, as I deserved.

With the war being over, Dad—now a major—was happily discharged on the last day of March in 1946, although because of unused leave, stayed on the payroll until the end of September. He received superior ratings for his Fort Douglas assignment, and was awarded the Army Commendation medal for his efforts.

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Six-year-old Judy, all bundled up for the cold December weather. Holladay, Utah. December 1945.


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