Questions and Answers: James F. Wykle on his 88th birthday, 29 Dec 2009
Interviewer: Debora Kerr
Q. When you were a young boy, did you like school?
A. I did like school. I was on the Monroe County Honor Roll. I was a good student.
Q. What do you remember about your teachers or classmates?
A. I remember one day I got into a fight at Sanger School with my cousin, William Wykle. The teacher, Mr. Gwinn, decided I was to blame and announced he was going to whip me. I stood there and challenged him, “You’re not whipping me!” and he backed down.
Q. You must have been intimidating [laughter].
A. I could fight. Years later I was in Chicago in a bar. Some guy came up to me and said something which I didn’t really hear or pay attention to. Then he said something else and slapped me. Then I jumped him and when it was all done he was taken to the hospital. I remember going up to my hotel room and looking in the mirror to see his blood all over my shirt.
Q. Didn’t you participate in organized boxing matches for a while?
A. Just for a short time. I remember the name of the first kid I beat: Alfred Kerr. I was 16 at the time. I beat him twice.
Q. What was your first job?
A. I worked in the coal mine at Summerlee [WV] for a short time. That’s where I learned to set blasting charges. I worked with a big cutting machine that would undercut the rock so it could be blown up. It was really dangerous and I got out and joined the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps].
Q. Did you enjoy that?
A. It was a good program. We had classes and lots of good work to do. We earned money that was sent home. I sent my money to my sister Mildred who I was living with then. I always wanted to go back and see what that park looks like now.
Q. What work did you do there?
A. We cut timber, worked in a limestone quarry, raised turkeys, and built roads. That was at Camp Bowers. [Pickens, Randolph County, WV] After that I joined the Marines.
Q. You were wounded on Saipan. Do you remember what happened?
A. I was in a foxhole with another Marine. I told him to keep down but he didn’t and we came under heavy fire. He was killed and I was hit in the leg. I kept lobbing grenades until the machine gun fire that was coming at me stopped. When the medics came to get me they put me on a C47 transport plane to Hawaii. The plane had to stop twice to refuel before it got me to Hickam Air Force Base.
Q. Then after the war, you got married.
A. I proposed to Rosa Lee [Pietkoski] at Club Charles in Baltimore.
Q. And you lived in Laguna Beach for a while?
A. Yes, when I was in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Q. In some old family movies, I saw a part with a crazy guy dressed as an old prospector. Do you remember what that was?
A. That guy used to stand outside the Pottery Shack [famous Laguna Beach store] and yell funny things at cars and people. When he saw a license plate from out of state he’d always yell out “Texas!” or wherever it was from. One day Red Skelton was in Laguna and he stood clowning around on the opposite corner and the two of them had traffic completely stopped from their antics.
Q. Sounds like they had quite an audience! Did you ever speak before large crowds when you were in the Teamsters?
A. Probably the biggest one was when I made a United Way speech at Firestone.