Lyle Feisel was a farm boy and had three brothers enlisted in the military during WWII. He lived on an Iowa farm with his family.
In this interview, Lyle spoke of his experiences working in the local farming communities. He discusses being loaned out as a communal laborer as a child, his memory of V-J (Victory Over Japan) Day and the ensuing celebrations, and viewing newsreels of the war in movie theaters.
Kids Put to Work
One of the interesting things probably about the war—Pearl Harbor, I was 6 years old. And so, by the next summer, 1942, a lot of the young men in the area had gone away so the kids got put to work. At the ages of 6 and 7 and 8, I was driving tractors out in the field, you know. Can you imagine putting a 6-year-old on a tractor today? I was driving horses, haul hay up into the barn and so on. And I worked not only on our farm, but, as I said earlier, we traded labor a lot. So I would go out and work for these other farmers on loan. And one of them had a tractor; it was an old tractor with a foot clutch. The tractors we had had a hand clutch, but this one had a foot clutch just like you’d have on a car except the springs on it were so stiff that I couldn’t push in the clutch. So we would go out to the field, and the farmer that I was working with would get down, and he’d start the tractor up, and I would sit there and steer. And he’d be up on the hayrack loading the hay. We’d go around, and when it came time to stop, he would climb down and push in the clutch, and it would be fine. So that was very common. It wasn’t just our family, there were 6 and 8 and 10-year-old kids working all over the Midwest. I guess, if you go back in history not so very long, it was not uncommon for 6 and 8-year-old’s to be working in mines and factories and so on so we kinda went back to that for a few years.
VJ Day Celebration
I remember more about V-J Day because, you know, well, I don’t know why because. I guess it was a greater celebration because it was really the end of the war. I think I remember these things. I remember them, whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but I remember them. It was in August something or other, and one of the crops that was growing around in Iowa where I grew up was sweet corn. And at that time, sweet corn was all picked by hand so you do it out of the field with these wagons and picked sweet corn. And the tradition there was for neighbors to help each other so we were picking sweet corn. I was driving the tractor in the field, and suddenly somebody started yelling, “Hey, what do you hear, what do you hear!” And we lived about two miles from this little town of Tama, Iowa. And we heard the whistle at the paper mill going off, just continuously. And pretty soon somebody came running out, and said, “The War is over!; The War is over!” Well, that was the end of the sweet corn. Everybody took off for town, and they even took us little kids along which was kind of interesting because they were all going in to party and celebrate. So we went in, and I can still remember they had a big bonfire in the middle of the town. They were burning tires. Saving tires was one of the big deals, and we don’t need to save those suckers anymore so we burned tires. It was a great celebration. We had a lot of relief because we all had brothers and sisters and cousins and what not in the military, and this was now over with so—quite a thrill.
Newsreels about the War
There were movies—we went occasionally to movies and that was—one of the features of a movie was the newsreel. It was the Movie Toon News. And it always opened the same way with showing military recruits or somebody training, what I remember. I haven’t thought about this for years, but what I remember was, there was one scene in the introduction of the Movie Toon News with soldiers doing jumping jacks, a whole bunch of them doing jumping jacks. I remember that. So and that’s where we got a lot of our military, or our news about the war was with these.