Dominic:and Dominic Schwenter, student historians for the North Coast Rural Challenge Networks Oral History Project in Anderson Valley.
Morgan: We are here to today with Carroll Pratt. Thank you, Mr. Pratt, for joining us.
Mr. Pratt: You are very welcome. Glad to be here.
Morgan: OK, good. So lets start off with your childhood, do you want to talk about that?
Mr. Pratt: Sure. I was born in 1921, 79 years ago, in the latter part of the Depression. After I was old enough to understand much, my father got a job in the beginning of the motion picture industry, as far as "talkies" were concerned, and started working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; I was born in Hollywood, we lived in Santa Monica and when I was about eleven years old we moved to Australia because my father was doing a picture there, the first Australian talkie, and after a couple of years we came back and I continued at Santa Monica High School and started collegeI was in my second year of college when Pearl Harbor occurredso from then on it waswell, for something to doI always loved to fly although I didnt have a license, so I was aiming for the Naval Air Force, but the Army Air Force dropped their requirements quicker so I could duck outta college and run and enlist, which I didbecame a pilot after about a year of training, a little short of a yearwent overseasthats my childhood in a nutshell.
Morgan: Ohand the beginning of the War.
Mr. Pratt: Yes.
Morgan: So that gets us right into World War II now
Sefan: So how did you learn to fly?
Mr. Pratt: How did I learn to flyit was at the hands of the Air Forcethey taught me and I dont think I was the best they ever had, but I got through all right and Id always wanted to fly in fighters so they put me in bombers which is usually what happens, you know, so I went into four-engine bombers, went overseas in 1943 and flew out of England for quite a few months. Then we had to go down to Africa because they were having trouble flying out of North Africa getting enough crews together so we flew down and flew out of Africa for awhile, went back to England, back down to Africa again in time for a mission that history records as the Ploesti mission, was a low-level mission where there were high losses.
After that we flew out of Africa and over Wiener Neustadt, a small town outside of Vienna, I was shot down. I can give you the details on the shoot-down or
All: Yeah, thatd be good.
Mr. Pratt: Flying out of North Africa there were no fighters that had enough range to take care of the long flights into Europe where we were going and Italy hadnt been taken yet so we flew without fighters. Usually when we got over the mainland, flak (anti-aircraft fire) became a big problem, and we flew this timethe time I was shot downwe were flying toward Vienna went in and dropped our bombs on target. About that time I looked upthere were lots of clouds around usand it looked like somebody kicked a beehivethere were fighter planes all over the place. Wed already had a few holes shot in us and we started back to base in tight formation and one by one this huge amount of fighters began shooting down our planes. I was co-pilot on that flightwe were lead planeand they just started shooting down all our wing men and we were getting pretty filled full of holes. Finally one incendiary shot hit our hydraulic supply, set it afire and its right next to the long-range tanks which are big rubber cells in the plane. And it looked like any moment it was blow-up time so I rang the bail-out bell for the crew and one by one we hit the silk.
Because the hydraulics were shot out we couldnt open the bomb bays very far, just enough to really squeeze through, and that was our escape routefor the pilot, myself, top gunner, and the radiomanand the, ah, radioman, either out of fear, or I dont knowhad wedged himself into the opening of the bomb bays, and somehow his chute had popped out and been released, and caught in the windstream, and then gone back in one of the waist windows, and (I heard this later) caught on fire, but there was so much pressure, and the shrouds were around his neck. I thought maybe if I could get him out, free of the bomb bay, and hold onto him until his chute opened, he could make it all right. So these things happen in instants, in seconds, and you dont have much time to think; so I did squeeze out with him in my arms, soon as we hit the airstream, took off a few fingernails, and I just couldnt hold on any longer, and, ah, so I lost him. I dont know if his chute ever inflated or not, because officers and enlisted men were sent to different camps so I could never find out. But I assume that he was killed.
Stefan: You mean killed by the impact, by the impact on the ground?
Mr. Pratt: Probably, if his chute had any flare to it at all, it probably was not enough to stop it. Webecause the fighters were all around us, and they were shooting at guys hanging in parachuteswe all delayedthe people I talked to later, all delayed until we got pretty close to the ground, and then popped our chutes, so that we wouldnt be just hanging out there, and, ah, I hit the ground, fell against the hillside, was knocked out, came to, buried my parachute, (part of the rules), and hid behind a hedgerow, and I saw a farmer with a horse plowing along, not too far from the hedgerow. We been trying to get to Yugoslavia, where Mihailovitch, who was sympathetic to the Allies, would intercept us, and get us back by submarine to North Africa. So I thought maybe I was in Yugoslavia, and I called the guy over, and said, "Mihailovitch." And he nodded, and waved and took off and I sat behind the hedgerow and waited and pretty soon more guns than I had ever seen were pointed towards my head
Stefan: Oh my God!
Mr. Pratt: We werent in Yugoslavia, we were still in German territory. They put us in jail in the town and then transported us by train up to Frankfurt Au Mainz and put us into solitary confinement there for a few weeks and we didnt eat much, but we were tapping on the walls trying to stay in touch with each other
Morgan: How many were therepilotshow many pilots?
Mr. Pratt: How many air crew? At that time, I had no way of telling, Morgan, but at that time we had lost upwards of forty aircraft and there were ten to eleven men to a plane
Morgan: Oh, wow. Thats a lot of people
Stefan: Yeah, that is a lot of people.
Mr. Pratt:Yeah, they took the officers into solitaryI would assume there were about forty of them. We were daily down-briefed by German intelligenceall of them spoke beautiful Englishand tried to get some information from us which we couldnt give.
Stefan: And if you didnt give information, did they try to do anything about it?
Morgan: Did they torture you?
Mr. Pratt: No, no torturethere was not a whole lot of food, but no torture and it was usually just trying to induce you to drop something that would help put their information together. They did know the date of my high school graduation, where I went for flying school, and they had all this on paper when they talked to methey got it from my dog tags
Stefan: What kind of information were they looking for?
Mr. Pratt: Well, piecing together detachment of troops, detachments of aircraft, where certain groups and squadrons were locatedthat kind of thing.
Stefan: How did you get out of thereout of prison camp?
Mr. Pratt: After the interrogation they took us again by boxcar to a prisoner of war camp outside of Poland about ninety miles from Berlin called Stalag Luft Three and I stayed there for the next twenty months. Then we were marched in the winter of 44, down to Stalag VII just north of Munich. We lost quite a few guys on the march to north of Munich. I got tired of waiting when the war was almost at the end. It looked like the guard towers were being emptied as the troops had to go to the Russian front. They were allowing fewer and fewer guards to stay in the tower. So that maybe every third or fourth tower was unoccupied, so finally it looked like the end was near. And so I took off right through the fence.
Stefan: So you escaped?
Mr. Pratt: Yeah, and met up with some other guys who also escaped, four or five of us finally got together and we were the first POWs we had to, you know, go through hedgerows and hide and stay down; when an American tank would come by we could show out and stand up. But the rest of the time we were in ditches, hidingwe were the first group of POWs to get into Paris.
Stefan: That sounds exciting.
Morgan: How long did it take to get there?
Mr.Pratt: To get there? That I dont know, I couldnt count the days, Ive tried to think about it. We did loseI did verify that I lost my bombardier, tail gunner, ball turret gunner, and the radioman probably, and one waist gunner. So we came through with five out of ten.
Dominic: And what year was that?
Mr. Pratt: Sometime in late March, 1945. Thats about all I can tell you about the war. Did I tell you too much?
Stefan: No, that was good.
Morgan: No, um, I was wondering though, was it your choice to go to the war. You said that you liked to fly, but did you want to go fight in the war or because you had to?
Mr. Pratt: No, at that time there was such a flurry. I meanlater wars there was a concern should I, or shouldnt I, but in this case, after Pearl Harbor, there was such a play on patriotism and I was young enough like all the other guys that I went in and just got stirred up and wanted to go gung ho, not looking at the consequence. It wasnt tough.
Morgan: Yeah, well, you are very lucky.
Mr. Pratt: Yes, I am, I certainly am.
Dominic: Um, I was kind of interested about the escape, how youcould you give us a little more detail about that?
Mr. Pratt: OK, as I say, the war was already slowing down; there were battles going on over our camp north of Munich there from both sides, shelling was continual and it looked as though the Allied forces were coming farther and farther south and the German forces were retreating. So, as I said, the guard towers were cut down fifty percent because of the need of fighting people and not taking care of the POWs and guarding them. So when it was opportune, I took off and just went through the same old double barbed wire fence with the coil of barbed wire in the center andwe were all getting very hungry by thenso I took off and met up with a couple of other guys; we crept along and stayed undercoverran across a sergeant of a tank battalion whose tank was being repaired and he had confiscated a German Opalhad no windshieldit was snowing and the snow kept blowing in, but he wanted my old fighter jacket.
So he traded the carhe was gonna go back to his tankand a pistol that had no hammer, but nobody knew that, for my jacket. So I put the rest of the guys inthere were five of us altogetherand we piled in this little old car and started around. The German people were in deep trouble by then. The transportation was dead and we were in a farming area. There was no way they could get rid of the food. They had plenty of food for themselves, but they couldnt sell it. So people in the city were very hungry, and people on the farms had more than they needed. And all the guys in the camp were hungry. So we went out the five of us; this was dumb heroics, and went to farms and with my dumb gun that wouldnt shoot we would get some potatoes and chickens and we went back to a little town near Mooseburg and found a tailor whose family was very hungry. The wife agreed on the QT to cook up the chickens and potatoes and give a percentage to a family and wed take the rest and threw it over the fence into the camp. That was pretty dangerous, even with the reduced forces. So we did it over a few days and wed go at night and throw it over the fence. And finally it became obvious we had to get out. So we took off
Going north we found more and more troopsit was a very frightening period. There were bodies and explosions all around. It was frightening for anyone observing it, I guess. So we hitchhiked with American troops and thats how we ended upactually we got into France and bummed a ride on some kind of planeI cant even remember what it wason into Paris. We were welcomed there like ohthey would give us all kind of feasting and hello, but I was crippled by then. I weighed about 111 pounds and I had such ulcers from louse bites and all that I couldnt walk and they put me in a hospital.
Morgan: And then it wasnt that much longer until the war ended?
Mr. Pratt: Not much longer in Europe. They put us back on those old liberty ships and we were followed by the last German submarine to enter the waters and we managed to elude it. We were in a group of ships. So it took us, I think, about three weeks to get back. But we got back.
Stefan: Werent the hospitals overfilled though. I mean, in the wartime
Mr. Pratt: No, it was called Camp Lucky Strike as I recall, and there were wounded, but most of the wounded then, because transportation was so good, that was sort of a reception point for evacuees and troops that had been mildly wounded. I dont think they performed heavy surgery there. You have some more questions?
Morgan: No, I just find it interesting that our other two interviewers, Stefan and Dominic, are both of German heritage and here we are talking about World War II and the Germans and Americans. So, do you guys have a different perspective on it than
Stefan: I didnt really study World War II in school because I moved here at the end of fifth grade so I was starting sixth grade, but in Germany you start history in seventh grade, so I didnt really go through that, I didnt have history, but I know about World War II; thats when I first knew about it when my aunt always told me night time stories about. I always wanted to know about the Russians and how she escaped from her house and how she had to hide in the train.
Morgan: How was your aunt involved?
Stefan: My aunt?
Stefan: She was living in Poland which used to be Poland, but now it is part of Germany, and she was forced out of it. So she had to sneak around the border and hide in trains and all that stuff, so she always told me about that. What about you, Dominic ?
Dominic: Yeah, I also think it is kind of interesting because all these people say like stupid Germans and like it is still brought up as a hate factor almost, and that most of the Germans were actually forced to fight. There was only a small number of Nazis who were the really high-ranked people under Hitler. And like my grandpa, he was in the war, he was a general, but he really didnt ever get the chance to fight because he was marching his troops against Russia that winter. It was probably the same winter. And his toes froze off so he had to get them amputated. And that took him out of the war, which was probably good for him, but he died a couple of years later from smoking anyway, so you dont really know. Ive never really been able to talk to him or anything, but, yeah.
Stefan: Yeah, my auntI was doing a history day project last year on World War II and I wanted to get some information from my aunt, but she, she didnt want to talk about it because she said it was too painful tobecause she lost all her brothers in the war and family members and stuff so she didnt want to bring it up.
Dominic: Because like the Germans that were involved, they always had everybody bombing them, they like constantly, were being bombed.
Mr. Pratt: The war is tragic, we know that, but I just found out that both of you are from Germany yourselves, your generation really heard a lot about it, I must hesitate to add that even in combat, it isnt fun being a bomber pilot and knowing when your bombs drop that theyre killing people down there. Its not as personal as standing and shooting, but it isthere is some pain there, and I found, as you say, Dominic, that, ah, most of the German guards, they felt for us. You know they had to follow the rules. There were some branches of the Germans under the Nazis such as the Gestapo and the Schutzenstaffel, but there were some very dedicated people who believed in Hitlers approach, but the general public was dragged into something they didnt want to be involved in and suffered greatly because of that and we all know it was horrible, but I dont know any returneesof the people I know now, none of them held any bad feelings about the Germans except the head man and the Gestapo.
Stefan: I get it all the time, though, even though people say its joking, I dont know if thats true, though, because they call me stupid German or whats up, German always just like that. Its not just like that, you wouldnt say whats up, Mexican
Morgan:Nazis or something
Stefan: Yeah, you wouldnt say any other race, its just German, I dont know what its all about, but people always do that.
Dominic: Also likeand itsI guess people have kind of forgotten, but I mean, I know whos like the Nazis that started and that Hitler was commanding, but you never hear anything bad about like that Italy was part and that Japan was part of it. That really brought up what I just think was kind of interesting.
Mr. Pratt: Well, with all your studies nowdont you think, whenever there is someone in power who wants to retain power, despite what it means to the citizenry, theyre the bad guys and citizenry suffers, and I think that Germany was a prime example.
Dominic: Actually, while we are in the subject, me and Stefan, actually went together last spring to visitwe went to visit with my momwe went to Germany and we visited the Berlin Wall and the museum of the wall there and saw like the remaining of the strip and like how people got through and stuff, so it was pretty interesting.
Mr. Pratt: Wow.
Dominic: All right, so moving on when you came back to the U.S. was it kind of hard to come back into this society or ?
Mr. Pratt: Not really, I still had the fervor of staying in the military, by then I had some rank and it looked like that would be my future; I didnt realize how really unimportant or how dull it is to be in a peacetime military unit. So I stayed with it for about a year. We still had a lot of Italian and German POWs who wanted to stay in the States and we had to clean up the camps, send them out, and that was part of my job and I was commander of the base down in Central Valley; finally gave up and got out and went back and just prior to the warwhile I was still in college I wanted to follow in my fathers footsteps mostly for monetary gain. So I started working in the studios myself in audio.
Morgan: This was in Hollywood?
Mr. Pratt: Yes. That was back in Hollywood. And so I started back at the studios and went up through the ranks, which one must do, from what they call a recordist to a boomboy, to a mixer and intowhat I really likea re-recording mixer where a technician has the artistic control to a degree and that was the most satisfying. So I stayed with that for many years in motion pictures and then television came along. I started doing both and it wasduring that time it was a star system. We had big stars and it was fun to know all those people, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and these people. I was star-struck, so that part was fine, but then the star system began falling apart, television began coming in, stronger.
ThenI want to dispel one rumor at this pointI did not invent the laugh machine. I worked finally in televisionmet with a fellow who developed the laugh machine and had been besieged by work and wanted help and he liked the way I worked, for some reason. So he asked me to go with him and I did. And stayed with him for ten years and I had my brother come aboard too. We were doing things like I Love Lucy and The Bob Hope Show. These shows were sort of intriguing and kept us busy. Long, long hours, but it was a great time, but finally, because technically everything was developing except our audience reaction machine, my brother and I said, "We gotta get a better machine than this." So we spun off and developed a new one and went off on our own. For the next fourteen years we did our own thing and my brother retired and I stuck it out for as long as I wanted to and then I thought it was time to retire. Am I jumping ahead on you here?
Mr. Mendosa: No, no.
Mr. Pratt: And so it became obvious that there was going to be a retirement forthcoming. Id always loved to be in the country anyway, that was my hope, and my folks had a ranch. So I had been backpacking with mywho now is my wifemy girlfriend. And we were backpacking up through the Sierras and in this part of the woods, up in Trinity Alps. Came through the Valley and sawam I stealing somebodys story here?
Stefan: No, its OK.
Mr. Pratt: I just happened to come through the Valley on a side trip, and it was just what I liked. So I went back to work of course, in Hollywood for another, almost ten years, and in that time started looking for a place and we looked at every teepee and geodesic dome and everything that this country had to offer at that time. It was hippie invasion time and you had to tiptoe around all the pot plants, but we kept looking at places and went out to the coast because I had always lived in Santa Monica and Malibu, and wanted to go near the water. I tried to swim in the water here a couple times and decided Id just as soon be inland. So we came back inland, finally found a place, and bought it. It was a hydroponic pot farm, which I found out later, but when I bought it we didnt know that. As soon as we could break away we came up here. We bought it in 79, moved here in 89, ten years later, and weve lived here ever since.
Dominic: And just before we get to far into this story, Im just kind of curious, we interviewed another interviewee
Mr. Pratt:an old buddy of mine?
Dominic: Yeah, Ross Murray, and he told us also that he worked with youyou guys worked together? What was that like?
Mr. Pratt: Yes, Ross wasIll do a little bit on Rosshes a great guy and he had done muchactually to go back into his career, he waswhen I was still working in the studios even before I went in the serviceI was working on what they call the playback. You play the music for the dancers and all. It turned out that Ross Murray was one of the dancing boys and they had teams, you know, these things likeGene Kelly and all the babe shows with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and those kind of things. All required a lot of dance teams and Ross was very good on his feet, Im a klutz (all laugh). So he was a dancer, and survived that way.
Then he went to the military and wanted to go overseas. He followed me just shortly after I went. I didnt know him personally as Ross Murray then. Then he went in, and actually he contributed an awful lot to the war effort because he was an instructor pilot, and taught a lot of guys how to fly. And all I did was go out and crash one of the airplanes, you know. So I cost the government money, but he did a lot of good work and, uh, stayed with it. Then we met after the war; he was working at CBS and I was working freelance, with by then, the audience reaction machine. So I would cross paths with him whenever Id go to CBS. But we really got to be good friends after we encountered each other up here.
Stefan: Didnt you also work on the, the, whats it called? I think its the MGM lion roar from the Warner Brothers or what it is?
Mr. Pratt: MGM.
Dominic: The signature lion roar.
Mr. Pratt: Oh, the lion roar, oh yeah. The lion was filmed once in black and white, obviously. Then again in color, but sound had caught up so like dubbing in voices we, I was involved in dubbing in a new lion roar inI dont knowin the 60s sometime.
Dominic: How do you get the lion to roar?
Mr. Pratt: I believe they went to a zoo and I think they just sat around and ran film. We didnt have digital; we ran film until we heard a good roar and then probably edited, edited, edited to fit picture. We couldnt get the lion to do lip sync very well. That was the story.
Morgan: Um, I heard you also knew Woody Allen.
Mr. Pratt: Um, yeah, I worked with Woody Allen in New York on a few shows with the laugh machineI keep saying laugh machine myselfno, uh, you would sit there and take instructions and I worked on a few things that Woody was doing, and got to know him a bit. I dont know if anybody really knows Woody Allen a lot.
Dominic: Interesting. Can you compare movies now to movies then? I mean, obviously the technology has changed.
Mr. Pratt: Uh, well some things have gone full circle, um, I think you know we were all much more Victorian in those days and, and even allusions to things like sex, remember they couldnt photograph even a husband and a wife in bed. It seems things are a lot more open and up front. And thats a change. Technically, of course, theyve just gone on, by leaps and bounds.
Dominic:a lot more violence, tooisnt it?
Mr. Pratt: Yeah, thats true the violence then one usually didnt see a shot hit anybody, you just saw them fall over later on. But uh, yeah thats changed a lot, if thats what you mean, in the techniques, of course, theyve galloped ahead, its just it looks like theres no end.
Morgan: Do you have a favorite show that youve worked on?
Mr. Pratt: Favorite showum, talking of fun. The most fun Ive ever had was working on a show called uh, Oklahoma, and it was well done; there were great people. I happened towhen I was in Australia, I met the writer and producer, ah, Oscar Hammerstein. He was there and then there was a producer, Mike Todd, who was then married to Elizabeth Taylor. He was the money man on the show, and they just hired so many great people, so many great dancers, so many great ah, ah, dance directors, musicians and all. And we did it, not in Oklahoma, we did in Arizona because the skies were bluer. And dont think the governor of Oklahoma wasnt angry about that, but ah, that was one of the favorites. There were a lot of other shows that I worked on that were heavy, that made an impact, but ah, they didnt go very far in the box office.
Dominic:the blue sky thingjust really quickly, thats kinda interesting because my parents actually moved to California because they said, "Yeah, its beautiful, and the sky is bluer."
Stefan: Yeah, same here.
Dominic:which makes absolutely no sense to me becausemaybe I havent lookedbut I cant tell the difference. (Mr. Pratt laughs). Its just funny.
Mr. Pratt: And are you from Hamburg?
Dominic: Yeah, well, my mom is.
Mr. Pratt: This time of the year, Hamburg skies are not very blue.
Stefan: Its raining all the time.
Morgan: This time of the year, the skies here arent very blue. (Everyone laughs).
Mr. Pratt: Thats true.
Morgan: Its kind of overcast.
Stefan: So, did you ever have family, children?
Mr. Pratt: Yes, I dont want to dwell on it. I have been married three times, and my daughter was born in 1944, while I was in prison camp. And she now lives in Arizona. And then a son from a second marriage who lives still in southern California and is a producer of still photography. Yes, those are my two children.
Dominic: Do they come up here and visit you?
Mr. Pratt: All the time.
Morgan: Do you have grandchildren?
Mr. Pratt: Yes, I do, I havewow, youre making me think here, I have three grandchildren, and one great-grandson.
Mr. Pratt: Yes, that goes along with being old.
Morgan: So we were talking about you moving to the Valley here and then we got off topic. So, you have your own show here on the local radio station right?
Mr. Pratt: Yes, well, at the time I moved up here because I had big connections in Hollywood, obviously anyone wouldthey were starting up the radio station here. A gentleman who has leftSean Donavanwas starting up the station. He contacted me and knew that I had property and asked if I would be part of getting the station going. So we contributed to get things underway. I felt then that all the places I had looked at for a ranch up here were so remote. There was no newspaper, and there was absolutely no available radio. I mean, at that time even the big broadcasts out of San Francisco or Santa Rosa werent available. So I thought this is the only way to get news to the people. So I became a big fan of public radiothere were two companies who were changing over all of their audio equipment. So Sean came down with a 28' U-drive truck, and we loaded to the gunnels with sound equipment. Thats what got KZYX and KZYZ started. I was with the administration for awhile, and on the Board of Directors. Now I have a little short feel-good program on Friday mornings.
Morgan: What kind of stuff do you talk about?
Mr. Pratt: Oh, mostly whats happening. People who are doing the most good around, people helping people, and then events, whats coming up in Mendocino County; nothing political. Thats a rule. So thats what we talk about mostly just feel-good, fluff. We talk about Mitch Mendosa, this kind of program, all that he has done, and what the teachers are doing here. But we dont stay in Anderson Valley by far, we try and hit one different town every week.
Dominic: I guess Im kind of skipping back againyou mentioned your brother. Where does he live now?
Mr. Pratt: My brother lives in Tasmania, which you probably know is an island just south of Australia. Its part of Australia and because of our earlier ties with Australia, he went back down and fell in love with Tasmania and bought property, much property, down there. We talk by e-mail regularly, but I visit him every two years and he comes up here about every two years.
Morgan: Are we ready to move on? Anyone have any other questions?
Stefan: Wrapping it up then?
Morgan: Yeah, this is what weve done at the end of each interview.
Dominic: Yeah, big climax. Do you have any event that you consider the most significant of your life?
Mr. Pratt: I think to answer the best way I canI think the war probably shaped all of my attitudesmy philosophy on life. And probably more than any other one thing, its one of those things where that is sort of a nucleus and then you come back into the real world, and see how people should get along. It has just given me a philosophy personally, right or wrong, that building the self-esteem of everybody you know and not putting down anyone is the most important thing. I think its really basic, but thats what happens.
Morgan: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Pratt.
Mr. Pratt: Thank you, youve all been wonderful and I wish you a lot of luck in your program.
Stefan: Thank you very much.
Dominic: Thank you.