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KPBS Commentaries

World War II

The poet Joaquin Miller described San Diego, many years ago, as a city born suddently as it shot from a gun. Maybe it was. I first saw this city during World War II. At a party on Point Loma, a Convair employee introduced herself.

"Hi", she said. "I'm Brenda!, We're in Nose Cones."

Thousands of anonymous young men like me in uniform, and a few young women too, jammed the sidewalks on weekends, lounged in the green parks, and wasted paydays in sailor joints that pumped beer and pretended glitz.

Sleepy little San Diego was suddenly at the crossroads of the world: Its harbor afforded the short course to the Western Pacific and the Japanese. This city's quiet, reclusive residents watched arriving trainloads of military and civilian aircraft workers. An alarming number of the locals cackled like jealous birds whose nest had been discovered.

They were guessing that after the war, all of us would go away and leave them alone again. But most of us, even just passing through, suspected they were wrong. We hadn't seen or felt anything like California before. It wasn't just climate. It was a vibrant, open society. We knew we'd come back.

San Diegans came from everywhere. During a lunch hour at the Convair aircraft plant, a metalsmith climbed to a high mezzanine rail and called out, "Hey, Okie!" When hundreds of faces looked up, he grinned and waved.

Shore Patrol officers thronged sidewalks. The hottest ticket in town was the Hollywood Theater on F Street, where Texas Jo Bobbie Roberts, a San Diego High alumna, was a burlesque queen. Real San Diego girls, we thought, were only for officers.

At a San Diego Club party, I finally danced with a real girl. But we never escaped from her mother, who was stalking in the shadows.

About 25,000 dwelling units for aircraft workers were built in 30 days after Pearl Harbor, and that's how Linda Vista was born.

There were four aircraft plants, mostly on 24-hour shifts: Convair, Ryan, Rohr, and Solar. Camouflage nets hung over Pacific Highway, shielding Convair, at least, and on one scary night the air raid alarms went off. Three small Japanese submarines were submerged off Bird Rock, but that was as close as World War II came to San Diego.

Nickel-snatcher ferries plied the harbor from the foot of Broadway to North Island, and car ferries ran between San Diego and Coronado. Fishing boats were adapted to sea patrol service.

There were only 700,000 people living in San Diego 60 years ago, when I decided to stay.

We Navy people have never left San Diego. For decades after World War II ended, half of the physicians in the San Diego Medical Society had come here with the Navy. And, like the rest of us, they stayed on. San Diego is good at taking in strangers.

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