An interview with Helen Turner, First Lady of the 100th
Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, May – June 1980, vol. 34 no.3
Interview with Helen Turner, wife of Farrant Turner and her experiences as his wife before during and after war
In an earlier age, a poet was once heard to ask: “For what’s a play without a woman in it?” So, trace the history of women, from the beginning, if you will – with Eve; then Sarah, the wife of Abraham, whom God deigned to be a mother of nations.” And so on, down through the march of history. Surely, they are there, playing their part in every role. For what’s a play without a woman in it? The performance begs the question.
All of which is only to say that Helen Turner is in that long line of indominatable [sic] women who have marched alongside their men folks, playing their part in history; the man, in this case, being Farrant Turner, the first commander of the 100th Infantry Battalion.
Two Sisters: Taking A Chance On Hawaii
The year was 1920. “I came over with my sister (Constance) who was going to teach school here. She had been offered a job at a private school, Hanahauoli. She didn’t want to come alone because she didn’t know anyone. She was my older sister. She was teaching in Galveston, Texas, when she wrote to me. And I said I’d be delighted to go to Hawaii. But I had my return ticket to go back (to Illinois).”
Helen was the youngest in a family of three girls and one boy. She was graduating from the University of Illinois (at Urabana) when she received the letter from her sister, and decided to take a chance on Hawaii.
“When we were in San Francisco, I’ll never forget – everybody had a grand sendoff, people throwing confetti at each other, and things like that. And we didn’t know anybody. We didn’t know a soul. We felt so glummy[sic]. The water was so dark. We were on the old S. S. Wilhelmina. It took only about 130 people. It was a small ship, not like the Lurline or Matsonia. It was something like the S. S. Maui. The Maui and the Wilhelmina were the two small ships in the Matson fleet. And I think there was another ship called the Manoa, and the Enterprise.
“All the directors of the school were down to greet us with leis. And they took us to dinners in their lovely homes. They gave us a lovely home in Kahala. Kahala in those days was just a small place then. It was nice and quiet there. We had a lovely time at the Kahala home and I decided I wanted to stay. So I went out looking for a job and got a job at the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ experiment station on Keeaumoku Street. I published the monthly record. They had a monthly magazine and it was my job to put it together. The scientists wrote the articles; I put them together.
“Then we rented a house on College Street; today, it is called Poki Street. The Pleasanton Hotel was just across the street from it. And I walked to my job on Keeaumoku Street and my sister walked to her job which was on Nehoa Street at the Hanahauoli School. And we both went swimming every day.”
Helen Meets Farrant
Farrant Turner was born in Hilo, had attended the local schools, then Punahou. He had graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, entered the army in 1917 as a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery, and was a captain at war’s end.
“Farrant was working on Waialua Plantation. Every weekend he came to see his mother who lived on Punahou Street. I met Farrant at a weekend party shortly after I came, and we started going together. He had a surfboard and he taught me to ride it. And we had a good friend, Gus Ballantyne, who had an outrigger canoe. And Harry Steiner also had an outrigger canoe. And we went outrigger-canoeing all the time. So we really had a wonderful time. And in 1921, we were married.
“We went to the Volcano House, the old Volcano House, for our honeymoon. Then we returned to Honolulu and went out there to Waialua to live. Well, I was supposed to go out there but the house was freshly painted and the paint was not dry – so we had to be separated! I had to go back to my mother’s and he had to go back to his bachelor’s quarters – until the paint was dry!
“But we finally moved to Waialua. Our house was a new house. And we put in a beautiful garden, with papaya trees and everything like that.”
From Country To Town To Manoa
Farrant worked in the plantation office. Lighting considerations not being what they are today, the office was dark and the dim light bothered his eyes. So he finally quit his job, moved into town, and found a new job with Lewers and Cooke. That was the beginning of his long association with that big firm. It was 1922.
“We looked around for a place to buy; I don’t think he was getting much more than $125 a month. We couldn’t find a house to buy, and the lots were all $3,500 and up. So finally, we went over to Woodlawn (Manoa) and we bought an acre lot up there for $800, on Alani Drive.”
There were very few houses then in upper Manoa; the Turners built the first house on Alani Drive. That was in 1923. “It’s a white house, with a beautiful garden around it. Today, it’s much prettier than when we lived there. Of course, ours was a raw piece of property and we developed it. And there were guavas all around us, you know.”
The newlyweds then discovered an unchanging fact of life in Manoa: it rains. And at times the rain seems to go on forever and a day. Plants and trees thrive in the rain. And weeds, too. But it’s tough on humans.
“We had a little stream back of our property that ran all the time because we had so much rain. And my husband had terrible hay fever. He used to cough and sneeze and his nose ran all day long. He’d take a dozen handkerchiefs to work and that wouldn’t be enough, he’s having to go out and buy more.”
So they sold the place. “A Christian Science practitioner bought it and she lived there with this woman who was her maid or companion. And when she died, she left the property to her companion, a Japanese-American woman, I think. She still lives there. And it’s really a very pretty house. I want to go up and tell her that we built it in 1923. I want to go knock on her door and tell her who I am. I think she’d be sort of interested. After all, it’s a long time ago – ’23. What is that – 57? That house is 57 years old!”
They bought a house on Prospect Place, at the top of Wilder by Punchbowl where the avenue begins. “We lived right next door here (here, meaning the condominium where Mrs. Turner lives today). When we moved here, he was alright.” And Albert, the Turner’s only child, was born in 1926.
The Beginning Of The War Years
“In 1940, my husband was called into the service and he went out to Schofield. My son and I lived alone. Then he was sent to Ft. Benning; he was there about three months. Upon graduation, he was coming home through the (Panama) Canal so I flew to Benning to be with him. When he came back, he was still in Schofield and I was living in town. After one year, they told him he wasn’t getting out so we sold this home and I moved out to Wahiawa where he rented a home. That was October, 1941,”
Furniture And Stuff, But No Place To Set Them
“I had no home. So my husband’s brother, Curtis Turner, who was head man of California Packing Corporation out there, asked us to stay with them. But we had no place to store our furniture – a houseful of furniture and dishes and everything under the sun that you keep house with, but no place to store anything. So I began loaning them to friends. Some would take our dining room set and somebody else would take the living room furniture, and so on.”
“And, of course, I didn’t know we were going to the mainland. And when we got there, our friends kept writing me saying that they had to move, too, and what do they do with my furniture. I’d write back and say, if you can find a place to store it, store; if not, I guess you’ll just have to sell it. I sold all our furniture for practically nothing. During the war, you couldn’t get anything for furniture. Dishes, utensils – everything was gone, except for six dining chairs from our dining table; the only six things we had left. When we came back here, we really had nothing. We had to start all over again.”
While Helen was having her problems trying to keep her household stuff together, Farrant was having his particular problems also. He had a little room in his barracks at Schofield where he kept a trunk with all his civilian clothes in it, and a chest of drawers containing his army clothes. One day while he was at the beach, someone stole all these things. But for some reason, the thief or thieves left untouched his little jewelry case in which he kept his gold and silver studs, and a German pistol from the First World War. Everything else was gone.
“My husband never told me anything.”
The Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion left Honolulu on June 6, 1942. “When we left here (Hawaii), I had one day’s notice. And when we got to Oakland, I couldn’t stay with the troops. My son and I went into San Francisco and stayed at the Clift Hotel. He was 16 then.
“We found out when my husband was going but we didn’t know where. Nobody told him. And when he got on the train and found out where he was going, he wrote me a letter, but the train commander confiscated the letter and I never got it. Finally, not having heard from me, he called me up in San Francisco and asked me what was the matter. Well, I said, I never heard from you. So when I found out where he was, I prepared to leave San Francisco to join him.
“He had rented a house in Sparta and there we lived, for the summer. We moved five times in Sparta. I remember we were in a house for a few weeks, in another for a couple more weeks. You couldn’t get a permanent house. It was just a very small town. But a lovely place. And Wisconsin was beautiful country.
“And just before you soldiers left McCoy . . . people began knocking on my door wanting to rent the house. But I said, I’m not leaving. Oh, yes, you are, they’d say. No, I’m not! My husband never told me you were leaving; my husband never told me anything. It was only the day before we left McCoy that he -told me we were leaving for Mississippi – one day before we left! He kept everything from me. And when you left for overseas, I never knew you were gone until after you had left!”
Goodbye At Camp Kilmer Gate
To return to Sarah for a moment. What we know of her is derived mostly from the knowledge we have of her husband, Abraham: she, who left Ur of the Chaldees, along with Abraham, on a great venture of faith; she, a devoted wife throughout her entire life, who died mostly of a broken heart when she had to bear the inward torture of seeing her young son, Isaac, being led off to a sacrificial slaughter in accord with God’s command; she, who traced her life through her husband, rather than through her own. Much of the history of womanhood has been in this vein. And Helen Turner’s life seemed to flow in this pattern.
The 100th left McCoy in January 1943 for Shelby, Mississippi. It then moved out to the swamplands of Louisiana for the big Louisiana Area Maneuvers, then returned to Shelby in the middle of June. Two months later, it headed for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, ready for overseas movement.
By now, Helen Turner had melded herself into the role of the army wife – like the countless numbers who preceded her, the countless numbers who followed … and the countless numbers yet to come. When the 100th moved to Shelby, she dutifuly [sic] followed, taking care of her son and trying to make a home in the South during those long months while the 100th was undergoing its final field tests in preparation for overseas movement.
Her husband had told her to wait in McCoy until he found a place for her near Camp Shelby. When he did, she moved to Hattiesburg, on February 1, driving down in her car.
“I remember (John) Tanimura. He was an engineer. His wife was with him at Shelby; she and I used to work at the Red Cross there. He never went overseas. And Doris Kawano came to Camp Shelby, too. There were quite a few other wives who came to Shelby – Mrs. McKenzie, Mrs. Kainuma, Mrs. Koga, Mrs. Peck, Mrs. Fraser.”
And when the 100th left the South for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, she and several others drove to the East Coast, hoping that their husbands would have some time off to be with them before their departure. But that was not to be.
“I was staying at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and my husband called me and said, can you come to a certain gate (at Kilmer). And I think the others were Mrs. McKenzie, Mrs. Lovell, Mrs. Drolet, and Mrs. Penter. And we drove up to this gate. We were given ten minutes to say goodbye to our husbands. There were MPs and others standing around.
“What an awful way to say goodbye. No place to sit. We just stood there and just talked, just inside the gate. Then we had to walk out and get in the car and go back to New York.
“Then I came back to Oregon, Illinois. This is on the Rock River, between Dixon and Roxford. I rented a house there and that’s where I stayed until my husband came back.”
The men of the 100th had filed aboard the troopship James Parker at Staten Island early on the morning of August 20. The Parker then joined a large convoy crossing the Atlantic, the convoy docking at Oran two weeks later. And two-and-a- half weeks after that, the 100th landed at Salerno, Italy. Its training days were over. The ball game was for keeps now.
The men were beginning to get shot up. Many were killed. And, as Jim Lovell said of the Old Man (in the previous issue of the Parade) . . . “he (Turner) was visibly struck by all that was happening to his boys.” By the end of October, Turner was ordered to a hospital for rest.
“One day the telephone rang,” says Helen, “and it was he. He was in Cambridge, Ohio, in a hospital. So I went right down to see him. He was ambulatory.”
Back Home To Hawaii
Since he would be hospitalized for a while, Helen then returned to Illinois. He had a leg injury. One of the doctors thought he might have polio. Anyway, he limped, and the one leg was much smaller than the other. Then he called Helen one day to tell her of a new regulation which would permit people like him, who could no longer serve effectively in the service, to be discharged; that he had put in his application for a discharge so would she sell the car and come and join him. But being that cars were hard to come by, she said she would not sell the car. Instead, she drove out to the West Coast and stayed with a friend, to await his discharge.
“I think he was discharged in May 1944. But he was still in the Reserve. And in 1950, when the Korean War came about, he was told that he could be called up! He was 55 then.
“We got here (Hawaii) towards the end of May ’44. He went back to Lewers & Cooke. And the boys who were coming back kept dropping in to see him. And my husband went to all the other islands talking to parents and friends of the 100th. Baron Goto was his interpreter. My husband even got to learn a few Japanese words!”
Helen had kept an album of 100th doings all through the war years. In it were articles, pictures, even whole issues of magazines. “There was an awful lot of stuff in it,” she says. She turned the album over to the Club 100. It has been remade and what is left is in good shape.
Farrant’s Last Public Services
“My husband worked at Lewers & Cooke until he became Secretary of Hawaii (he was nominated by President Eisenhower and the Senate confirmed his appointment on April 30, 1953). Then he ran for delegate to Congress in the 1958 elections and was defeated, of course, by Burns. And I think running for delegate to Congress killed him. He worked so hard. And I was exhausted, too, although I didn’t get up at 5 o’clock in the morning the way he did. He’d go to all the different places – Chinatown, everywhere – and meeting all these people. And he never got to bed before midnight. And I think it just wore him out, that’s what I think.”
How long was he in the campaign? “He didn’t resign from his Secretary position till the first of September. Then he started campaigning, and was defeated the first of November. So he really had only a two months start. He won the primary on the island of Hawaii, as I remember. Then the union got very busy, after the primary, and defeated him. And he died only four months later, in March.” (After his loss in the delegate race, he was appointed manager of the Honolulu office of the Small Business Administration. He died while in that office.)
In his book, “Shoal Of Time – A History Of The Hawaiian Islands”, this is one of the things Gavan Daws has to say about the changing nature of politics in the Islands of the ’50s: “At the end of the war, Katsumi Kometani of the 100th Battalion had said he was looking for a Hawaii in which a man of any ancestry could share in the rights as well as the responsibilities of citizenship. This Hawaii seemed now to be in the making.” And the maker was Jack Burns. Says Daws of him: “Jack Burns could see victory ahead, and his deepest conviction told him that the rise of a party able to cross racial lines would bring about a profound and irreversible change for the better in the life of the territory.”
Could Helen recall how her husband felt that November morn when the votes told him that he had been defeated in his bid for the delegateship? “Well, you know, when my husband came back in 1944, he could see ahead – to the impact of the returning veterans. And he tried to get Roy Vitousek, head of the Republican Party, to go after the boys. But Vitousek wasn’t interested. He told my husband – we don’t need them.”
Farrant Turner was always looking ahead. “One of the things I know my husband did was to present a silver bowl to the University of Hawaii to be presented to the ‘Best Cadet’. I don’t know what’s happened to it; it’s never given any more. It may have been destroyed in the fire, the fire that some reverend started out there.” (Helen is referring to the campus demonstrations which took place during the Vietnam War period.)
Her Life Today
Does she dabble in the arts and things of that sort? “No, I don’t dabble in art; I don’t do anything these days. I used to knit, crochet, needle point. I used to make my husband’s golf socks, his argyles, fancy designs. I used to make them for my son, too. But I’m getting lazy. At my age, you’re entitled to be lazy.
“I used to golf. I still have a picture at the (Oahu) Country Club playing golf. One day, we had a tournament where we had to wear funny hats. Every woman had to wear a funny hat. It looked like I had a derby on. And what kind of a funny score did she shoot that day? “Well I never played very well. My long game was good but my short game was very poor. Somedays I used to keep it under a hundred; other days I’d do worse.”
“I used to be very active in the church but I just go to church now. Central
Union. I realize I’m old but I don’t think old. But I’m not active anymore. I used to serve on committees and work in the thrift shop there. And I used to work in the gift shop at Queen’s Hospital for ten years, but I don’t anymore. And I used to work for the Community Chest for years, and the Red Cross, and the Crippled Children’s hospital. But not anymore.
“But I still read a lot. Novels, any kind. I’ve just ordered a novel by Milton Friedman. And I just read a book about the first Japanese who came to Hawaii; very interesting. I gave the book away. I enjoyed it so much I thought somebody else might enjoy it. Nobody spoke Japanese when they (the first Japanese) came here. And they went to a plantation and they had no one to converse with and the luna didn’t know how to talk-to them. It was a very, very foolish thing to do – to bring over people that didn’t understand our language, but that’s what they did.” But there was a reason for bringing in immigrants who were illiterate. The plantation owners considered that an asset, believing that it made for docile employees. “It was written by a local man …”
In the ensuing discussion, the “local man” turned out to be Ozzie Bushnell and the book, “The Stone Of Kannon” (reviewed in last December’s issue of the Parade). Then she talked about “This Japanese doctor, he wrote a book . . .” She was referring to Dennis Ogawa, and the book, “Kodomo No Tame Ni”. When told that it was not a novel but Dr. Ogawa’s interpretation of the Japanese experience in Hawaii, and a big book, at that, she said, “Oh, I don’t mind heavy reading, I read some books with a thousand pages. I’d like to read that book.” So the writer has loaned her his copy of the book.
The tape on the recorder was running its course. The recorder was set on a card table which had been used for a bridge game the evening before. Nearby was a dendrobium, in a 4-inch pot, which she had received for Easter. The stem of one blossom was broken. “I broke that one. Isn’t that awful? I’m giving it to my family when they’re finished blooming. They just don’t do well on this lanai.” The lanai is on the sixth floor of the large condominium where she has been living for the last thirteen years. When she first moved in, she had a clear view of Makiki and Punahou and all the way to Waikiki and Diamond Head. The panorama is now splintered by the dozens of high rises which have been built since then along that way.
Helen talked of her son who now has three sons of his own – two of whom are married, with the youngest just having graduated from Stanford last June. She has no great-grandchildren as yet.
“My son, he’s the first vice president of Aaron Chaney, realtor. He doesn’t sell real estate. He is in management; manages big buildings, apartments, houses. He works very hard. I think he works too long. He’s interrupted by people all day long and he stays on the telephone all day long. So when the day closes, he stays till about 6:30 to get his work done. Well, my husband was the same way. But I think when you’re dealing with people, that’s the way it goes.”
The Spirit Of Tomorrow
And so it has gone for Helen Turner, too. She is 82. “If my husband were living, he’d be 84; 85 in July. I have quite a lot of friends in Arcadia, in Pohai Nani, and that isn’t my idea of the way to live. If you’re with a lot of old people, it makes you feel old. I never feel old. Although my age is old, I don’t feel old. At the present time, I go out almost every day for a big lunch, then dinners. And friends come in. So, routinely, I have a pleasant life. I don’t want to move into a retirement home. I’m hoping to go out of here feet first.”
That’s the way it was with the Old Man, too. You may recall Jim Lovell’s comment in the previous issue of the parade, in discussing the turn of events when Turner was ordered to a hospital for rest: “As a matter of fact, the doctors and the commanding officer at McCoy tried to convince him that he shouldn’t go into combat. But he was adamant. He had come this far and he wanted to go all the way.”
That was the kind of spirit that made the 100th fight the odds and make something for itself. Today, that spirit is alive and well in Helen Turner, the First Lady of the 100th.