Sometime in the first part of 1942, before my brother left for service in the US Army in October, government men came to our home in Moss Beach.
My brother, Raymond Martini, recalls they showed some official papers, but said they were not given to the family to read, and we do not know if they were FBI or what was then called G-Men. My Dad was not a citizen; he was born in Brazil, though of Italian heritage. He came to America from Italy; the family returned to Italy after a few years in Brazil, where they had gone to find work. My dad and one brother were born in San Paolo, Brazil.
I do not know what these men said exactly, but the family was told that my Dad had spoken well of Mussolini. When my Dad came to America at 16, sometime in 1913, he probably did have a good opinion of him. it was much later that Mussolini became more of a controversial, political figure.
When my husband & I toured Italy in the mid-eighties, people said Mussolini had done well for the country when he first came to power; he did similar things as our president had done; he built up the roadways, trains, etc., had tunnels constructed through the mountains and opened up Italy to travel and transportation to France and Switzerland. Additionally, this gave work to the men who were unemployed.
My Dad never returned to Italy after he came to America. I can say, he never spoke to us about the Italian government, or said anything particularly favorable about it. He neither wrote or read in either Italian or English; he probably did not know a lot about the situation in Europe. My father was certainly not a political type of person. He was just a hardworking man raising his family.
I remember being in my bedroom and my Mom came and said we needed to get into the living room as these men had arrived. There were at least 2 or 3 of them, and they wanted us all in one room. They proceeded to search the house. We did not see a search warrant, or anything else, to indicate they had official status to be there there. Maybe, during the war, it was not necessary, and I am sure my parents did not ask about it. We were all rather afraid of what was going to occur.
Additionally, they might have been looking for a shortwave radio. Mainly, they found some rifles that belonged to by brother, as he was an avid hunter. One rifle might have been my Dad’s; he was a farmer, and they were allowed to shoot rabbits that ate the crops. My brother took responsibility for the rifles so they would not cause any additional problems for my father.
Mostly, my older sister, myself and my younger sister were sitting in the living room, and what transpired was related to me, later, by my Mother. She felt that someone who may have been upset with my father over something, probably had reported him to the authorities.
Finally, after quite some time, my brother, who was visibly upset, reminded the ‘G-Men’ that he had enlisted in the service and would be leaving for the army air force. He asked: Did they feel my dad would send messages to the enemy so they could sink a ship that would be taking his own son to Europe to fight?
The government men had no answer for my brother’s question. They left and we never heard from them again.
To view a youtube video that tells more about the LA STORIA SEGRETA (secret story in Italian)
During WWII, Half Moon Bay’s Main Street, and everything to the west, including the beaches, was off-limits to those folks without citizenship papers
It was a frightening time on the Coastside. If you were Italian in Half Moon Bay at the beginning of World War II–and didn’t have citizenship papers–there was a possibility of danger and humiliation.
At the time was broke out, Half Moon Bay was a close-knit farming community and Main Street was the hub of the small town’s commerce. The locals shopped at the same stores, ate the familiar restaurants, raised their glasses at the saloon, prayed at the beautiful Catholic Church and sent their kids to the grammar and high schools.
But all that changed after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
“I was in church that Sunday,” Josephine Giurlani Silva Revheim recalls, “and the next day the U.S. Army and Navy signal corps trucks were driving into Half Moon Bay. They took over the hotel and other buildings all the way up the coast towards Devil’s Slide.”
Today (2003) “Jo” Revheim is a retired nurse, a widow and longtime Pacifica resident. At the start of the war, she was the 15-year-old daughter and only child of farmer Antonio Giurlani and his wife Marianna.
The Giurlanis grew sprouts and chokes on land adjacent to the old Catholic church that once stood west of Main Street. In between masses, Jo helped tidy the church, and she recalls ironing shirts for the much-loved Father.
The Giurlanis had come from Lucca, Italy, but Jo’s mother was actually born in Marseilles, France. Still, everyone in Half Moon Bay considered her Italian.
Soon after the army trucks rolled into Half Moon Bay, Josephine remembers, her father received an offical letter from the U.S. government ordering the family to move to the east side of Main Street.
They were also required to register in San Mateo.
Why did the officials select Main Street as the place to draw the line, separating east from west? Main Street was the Highway 1 of its time, and everything to the east, including the beaches, was off-limits to those folks without citizenship papers.
Josephine recalls that the grocery store, the bakery and everything else was on the west side. The east side was where people lived, and unless you had a relative to help, there was no place to move to.
Printed notices ordering all “aliens, German, Italian and Japanese” to re-locate were plastered on telephone poles in the town. The Japanese were rounded up and detained at Tanforan racetrack in San Bruno. Their history is well documented. But in Half Moon Bay, Josephine notes, there was no central location for the Germans and Italians. After registering in San Mateo, they simply had to leave their homes on the west side.
The while line painted down the center of Main Street not only separated east from west, it made some lcoals suspicious and fearful of those who did not have citizenship papers and had been pushed away. A person who had been your friend a week earlier might turn sullen and threatening.
“We were never to cross that white line!” Josephine exclaimed today (2003).
Crossing meant that they would surely be reported and possibly dragged before the local judge, or worse. Fortunately, not everybody was mean.
For example, Judge Manuel Bettencourt, was kind and showed compassion when dealing with non-citizens.
But there were exemptions to the order, and Jo says since she was younger than 16, she was not required to move. Neither was her mother, being French. The order was clearly aimed at Jo’s father, an Italian with no papers and little education.
Technically, Josephine and her mother could have stayed on the farm but she asks: “How could we maintain a large farm without dad’s help?”
The decision was not difficult. Whatever the hardships, this family would stick it out together.
How many families faced similar circumstances? Jo estimates some five to ten Half Moon Bay families were in the same boat.
In instances, where some family members had papers, and some didn’t, they had to decided whether to break-up or cross the white line together.
There’s the story of one family that operated a business on Main Street. The parents, without papers, had to shout instructions to their citizen children across the street.
How could this happen? How could a white line tear apart the social fabric of a small farming community?
The attack on Pearl Harbor had created an atmosphere of near panic. It’s no surprise that people on both sides of the white line were faced with impossible decisions.
Would the Japanese invade California?
Military experts had long recognized the logistical importance of the Coastside. In the late 19th century they warned that Half Moon Bay could prove to be a “back door” for a foreign, hostile fleet. The enemy could land at Pillar Point and march, without resistance, conquering all of San Mateo and San Francisco.
After Pearl Harbor, desperate measures were taken to protect the Coastside, to close that vulnerable door. The military patrolled the beaches, bunkers were built–some of those WWII relics can be seen today from Highway 1 near Devils Slide–and gun emplacements dotted the hills overlooking the Pacific.
Local citizens volunteered to scour the beaches looking for submarines and scn the skies for enemy aircraft.
Meanwhile, Josephine’s family dealt with their own emergency, scrambling to find a roof to put over their heads. The government had given all the aliens a two-week deadline to relocate. The Giurlanis had to harvest their crops and move everything they had, including the goats, chickens, rabbits and horses. Incidentally, they were prohibited from taking radios and guns.
As the two-week deadline crept closer, it was like a noose tightening around theirs.
Then a fortuitous turn of events.
“Luckily,” Josephine says, “Dad had a farm friend, Mr. Cassinelli, who owned a large ranch in Higgins Canyon, south of town. He not only hired dad, he gave our family a place to live in the Johnston House. In those days it wasn’t called the Johnston House–we called it ‘the old house on the hill’.”
The old house was vacant, and the local kids were convinced it was haunted.
“Finally, at midnight, the deadline time for the great move,” Josephine says, “we loaded up all our belongings and animals and made our way through town and landed in the Johnston House.
“the next morning,” she continues, “it hit us, what we were in for. The rat-infested house had no windows, and vagrants had slept there, leaving behind garbage. Straw covered the dirt floors, the outhouse was halfway up the hill in the back, and when it rained, it was like a waterfall, but there was plenty of room, and thank God there was cold running water to drink.”
Most important, the house was located on the “East” side.
But the worst part for Josephine, the teenager, was not knowing: “When could we go back to our home, if ever?”
Sitting in her charming two-story home in Pacifica today (2003), Josephine Revheim reflects on those tumultuous days. “We had no way to purchase food for our families, unless we disobeyed the law and crossed the street to buy it, and guess where all the stores were?”
They were on the wrong side of the street for the Giurlanis.
The school was also on the west side, and she couldn’t go there.
The most humiliating part of the whole experience for this teenager were the stares and unfriendliness she and her family encountered.
There were times when the Giurlanis were able to circumvent the restrictions. On one occasion Josephine and her mother harvested the artichokes at their farm on the west side while her father, prohibited from going himself, waited in the car on the east side. They got the chokes back to the Cassinelli ranch where they were crated and sent to market in San Francisco.
Some of her remembrances are so unpleasant that Josephine is uncomfortable even thinking about them today. She quirms when recalling that one malicious neighbor actually reported her mother’s visits to the farm on the west side.
Even though she was French she had to appear before Judge Bettencourt to prove she wasn’t subject to restrictions, and the good judge reassured her of her exempt status.
The worst recollection of all was of her mother successfully fighting off an assault by some angry, unthinking local.
“For the Italian families, the nightmare ended after about five months. Josephine reminds us that “the Japanese had it so much harder and suffered so much and lost everything.”
As to those German non-citizens on the Coastside, Jo had no information.
“We came home,” she says, “and at least the house and barn were still there. Everything else was gone, the crops were gone, and even our wild pigeons that had nested in the barn were gone.”
The Giurlanis were back in the house and it wasn’t long before they received a letter from the U.S. government advising them to become citizens or face deportation. They all got their citizenship papers.
For a time, the family continued to farm the land beside the old Catholic Church. Later, they moved to Pacifica, where Jo’s father worked in construction for the developers Doelger and Oddstad.
Josephine married, became the mother of three children and attended the College of San Mateo, earning her degree as a licensed vocational nurse in 1963. She spent 15 productive years working on the eighth floor at Peninsula Hospital in Burlingame.
(Jo Giurlani Silva Revheim (center) with fellow College of San Mateo nursing graduates in 1963.)
When Jo’s parents fell ill, she tended them with great love until the end of their lives.
Jo Revheim still has friends in Half Moon Bay and visits regularly.
One source of constant amazement to Jo is how magnificent the Johnson House appears today, compared to the hovel she lived in with her parents more than half a century ago. She takes particular pride in the help she provided to the Johnson House Foundation when they asked her for sketches of how the house looked in the 1940s.
Shortly after my interview with Josephine Revheim, we took a ride to Half Moon Bay to see the house she had lived in as a 15-year-old before her family was ordered to move out of it. Surprisingly the house was still standing, but it was vacant and uncared for, with broken glass on the floor, grafiti on the walls, empty paper coffee cups, somebody’s crash-pad, and, right there, in the middle of town.
Here are some photos from that day; arriving at the house, looking at the washing machine inside. Josephine is the lady in pink.
“Japanese capitulation, ending World War II, has lifted the wall of military secrecy on San Mateo County’s magnificent contribution to the fighting machine of America and her allies in mankind’s greatest conflict of arms.
“It was no small part that we of the Peninsula played in winning the victory over Nazi Germany and a Japan bent on world conquest. And it was no small peril in which the the county, as key to the defense of San Francisco and the metropolitan bay area, found itself when the foe threatened invasion of our shores in the dark years of 1941-42.
“Ships launched in South San Francisco helped beat the submarine menace in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
“Parts turned out in small factories in San Bruno, South San Francisco and San Carlos and other parts assembled in San Mateo, helped produce the miracle of radar that enabled our fighting ships to detect enemy aircraft and send up planes to intercept the foe approaching shores of our allies.
“Millions of gallons of aviation gasoline and tons of ammunition were funneled through Port Redwood City to power our Pacific aircraft and provide the shells that pounded the enemy into submission.
“A thousand other vital instruments making up the mightiest war machine in history were made here.
“Lastly, parts used in the manufacture of the most terrible weapon ever devised by man–the atomic bomb which brought on Japan’s surrender, were turned out in a San Carlos laboratory.
With the war finally over in 1945, the cloak of miitary secrecy which smothered the Coastside during the war was finally lifted, and some information was leaked to the local newspaper.
It was as if a signal was given; the military pulled out as fast as their convoys had arrived. The airport used for target practice was returned to civilian use. The soldiers abandoned their temporary living quarters in the schools and the hotels. The mandatory “blackout” ordinance was repealed.
Overnight, the Montara naval station, including barracks, vanished.
What remained of the military presence was what could not be easily carted away: the secret tunnels and caves; the artillery outposts carved out of immovable rock at Devils Slide, the jeeps and other army-navy gear.
The Coastside turned into a perfect and mysterious playground for the local kids who romped around the jeeps, collected the targets, climbed the mountains to examine the rocky outposts, and, in the nearby forests stumbled upon stray bullets left behind.
The war had ended, the military was gone, yet something wasn’t right. The Coastside was a close-knit community and there were still secrets untold.
“Mills field navy installations totaling $5,000,000 are to be turned over to San Francisco and 85 acres of the property will be promptly leased to Pan American Airways as its Pan-Pacific terminus.
“The explanation was made by Capt. Bernard M. Doolin, airport manager, in clarification of the navy’s announced intention to abandon its facilities at the field.
“At the same time the navy further announced it will the north of Half Moon By air strip, one of the erstwhile secret installations of the war.
“Both actions are expected to take place by June 1946.
“According to earlier agreements, Doolin said, the navy has agreed to hand over to the city property and $5,000,000 of improvements within two years after the war. The contract for lease of the acreage to Pan American has already been signed.
“The arrangement was unique, said Doolin, and was done because the city wanted Treasure Island as an airport and the navy demanded it as a base. The army made similiar use of the field with the same understanding. The government paid for $10,000,000 worth of improvement, Doolin said. In November, San Francisco taxpayers will vote on a $20,000,000 bond issue to complete the Mills Field expansion program.
“Installations at Treasure Island, declared surplus, meanwhile, will either be offered to another naval bureau or air operations will be reduced, said naval spokesman.
“Local naval authorities were unable to disclose disposition of the Coastside air strip, which is operated as an auxiliary to the Alameda base….”
Around the same time the “blackout resolution” was repealed by the County War Board.
“A Japanese-owned home, barn, tool shed and farm equipment on a hilltop between Pescadero and the new coast highway were destroyed recently by a mysterious fire, it became known Friday.
“The place was owned by Elizabeth Kiyoko Monometo Matsuki, who resided there with her three children prior to being evacuated by military order three years ago.
“The residence was a four-room house, with a large barn and toolshed. Considerable farm equipment were stored in the barn. The loss is estimated at several thousand dollars.
“Reluctant to discuss the fire, Robert Wilson of the Pescadero grocery, said that return of the Japanese to Pescadero and that locality would not be welcomed by many residents and signs had been erected on roads warning them that they were not wanted.
“I do not know of any investigation being made and do not know whether the fire was incendiary,” Wilson said. “All I know is that fire destroyed the place about the time the announcement was made that Japanese would not be allowed to return.
“The place was burned on the morning of December 21, the blaze being discovered about 4 o’clock in the morning.
“No report of the fire was made by the county fire warden’s office and residents of Pescadero were reluctant to discuss the fire at all.
“A check in Pescadero revealed that no report had been received of any proposed return of the Matsuki family.
“A power pole, transformer and electric wires leading to the house and supplying electricity, were destroyed in the blaze.
“Since the evacuation of the family, the place was under lease of Mrs. Isabelle Artiego, who, in the past had raised starwflowers on it…”
What’s interesting to me is that there are so few stories about the military presence between the years 1942 and 454. Those two years are the silent years, the secret years, the years of self-censorship. In addition to the self-censorship, The only information the government allowed was essentially war propaganda.
Where are the photographs of the soldiers, of the sailors? Where are the photos of the temporary military barracks? Of the military equipment, of their jeeps, of their guns? Where is everything?
If you’ve been following my Coastside WWII series, you’ll see that the years of secrecy end in the beginning of 1945 when bits of information start to come out in the local newspaper, the Half Moon Bay Review.