Bethine Church

Bethine Church grew up in Idaho Falls and moved to Boise when she was in high school. Her father, Chase Clark, moved the family to the Treasure Valley when he was elected Governor. At Boise High she met future US Senator Frank Church whom she would later marry.

[Image: Bethine Church]

Jim: Tell what that was like growing up there, because that's really where you grew up, you didn't grow up in Boise?

Bethine: Well, I grew up in Mackey in the mountains of the Sun River Mountains and in Idaho Falls. For Idaho Falls in those days, I was 17, it was the middle of my senior year in high school, and suddenly my father was elected governor. Idaho Falls was a potato place, a quiet little farm community. It didn't have the INEL, it didn't have any of the big push from anywhere outside of the state, and so coming to Boise was just like uh well maybe like years later going from Boise to Washington, D.C., when Frank was elected. It seemed to me I was always uprooted.

Jim: That is, much like the potatoes?

Bethine: Yeah.

Jim: Actually getting dug up and thrown somewhere else.

Bethine: I was always dug up and thrown out.

Jim: How would you describe to people what Idaho Falls was like back in those days before you came here?

Bethine: It was really a wonderful place to live. It, we marched over by the . . . I was in the marching band for the Idaho Falls High School . . . and we marched over by the river and the wind blew off of it and it was either icy cold or full of dust and I didn't play a clarinet very well anyway, but we kept winning as a marching band and my school was wonderful and I was in, I think I was the federal court judge in it. So that's how I first met Frank. I came over here with the people who were elected in school, and my best friend was the student body president and she still to this day I talk to her in Idaho Falls and she's still one of my best friends. So it was a very personal life I was leading, and suddenly, boom.

Jim: Everything changed?

Bethine: Uh huh.

Jim: You grew up sort of on the, on the edge of the depression. I wasn't around back then, but I read history and you read the books and it talks about how hard it was, how horrible it was, how awful it was for everyone; I've gotten a completely different view when I talk to people.

Bethine: Well, in Idaho, in a way you did get a different view. It wasn't like the dust bowl where people just had to put everything on the wagon and haul out. It wasn't like the early pioneer days when it was such a struggle. But I have to tell you at a movie one night they used to have drawings and we were trying to figure out what we were going to have for Thanksgiving dinner and I drew a turkey so I was the famous one. I think it's one of the few things I ever, ever won, but it was really nice. But my dad, my dad had this terrifically optimistic view — when the banks crashed and we lived in uh Mackey he put all of his money that he had into helping people who had no, no security because you didn't have any federal insurance. So he put all the money that he had into that. The only thing he didn't sell was the ranch in Stanley Basin. Then we moved to Idaho Falls and he started his law practice all over again. But my mother was one of these people that we always used to laugh — she used to make what we called Ice Box Stews, everything that was left over went into a casserole and, and but it was wonderful.

Jim: Well and, and it has been interesting. When I've asked people about that time period usually the first thing, and it happened with you and I wasn't, I wasn't going to say it, I was waiting to see if it happened, I mention those years and there's a smile that crosses your face.

Bethine: Yeah it was, it was very, it was wonderful. My father was always giving my mother presents he couldn't afford and my mother — I give her the best credit in the world — she never said when she was worried about when the, where the next meal was coming from. He'd give her, he gave her an extravagant watch for Christmas one time and I remember her saying, Oh this is really beautiful Chase. She never said we can't afford it, we should take it back; she always said thank you.

Jim: Was, was the depression, depressing?

Bethine: I think it must've been to lots of people. There were people on the fringe in Idaho Falls that my mother would help out and that just never got on their feet. You know, I guess it just depends. Pop was a lawyer and a very good one and managed to come back after the crash, but I think for lots of people it's like now, there are people who have just fallen off the, the record, maybe they say the economy is doing well, but think of all those people down at the bottom of the economy who have fallen out of terribly good jobs, had too expensive of house, had too much to pay for and are just out of it.

Jim: What was your childhood like, what did you do for fun?

Bethine: Well, we got together at the church and after church went out skiing on terrible equipment. I remember getting a black eye just before one of our, I think it was my junior high dance, and my mother made me a patch to go over it to match my dress I was going to wear, so we went out anyway. But just all got together — we'd have popcorn, we'd talk and I had a, a unique upbringing, upbringing. My dad — when you think of how long ago that was and I'm 83 now, so you know it was a long time ago — my pop would talk politics, he would talk religion, he would talk about everything that was happening in the community, what needed to be done for people, what needed to be done for the community. We didn't have the kind of dinner table conversation that left all the, the problems out; we talked 'em over so I was always part of it. From the time I was in grade school I remember being involved. The only thing we never talked about was sex.

Jim: Probably just as well. When you moved to Boise from Idaho Falls, you were kind of a celebrity; I mean people knew who you were?

Bethine: Well you know it was really funny. Once after I, I'd been going with a basketball player and, and things sort of came apart and of course I was going with Frank and all of his friends too because they'd come to the house on Sunday night and we'd talk politics. But when I sort of broke up with this one guy I sat on the steps at our house and told my father, "He ruined my life." I was in tears and Pop for once had the smarts of laughing at me and said, "Bethine no one worked harder to have me become governor than you and you've had more celebrity than you'll ever have again." And he said — of course it didn't happen that way, but he said it — and he said, "So you just roll with the punches and tomorrow will look a lot better." And that was his philosophy. He loved people and I think the reason I've always loved campaigning is my father taught me that everybody, whether they were in the kitchen, whether they were helping out, whether they were attending something, they were all equally important, that you should go talk to all of them and be part of whatever they, they had as problems or cared about.

Jim: And, and really be in touch with the people I mean.

Bethine: That's right.

Jim: You know, representing the people in Washington, not vice versa.

Bethine: That's exactly it. I never left home in that way, my mind never left home. When I decided in '89 to come home I'd been 33 years in Washington and I had waited about five years after Frank died because I just didn't feel comfortable not coming home without him, coming home without him. But the main thing was all my friends there said you've been in the Potomac for so long, everybody gets Potomac Fever you can't go home again. I said you just watch my dust. And I went home and it's been the best decision I ever made. I've been gloriously happy here.

Jim: There must've been something about Boise that you came back to Boise and not Idaho Falls?

Bethine: Well, I had left Idaho Falls when I was 17, I was really connected here, we had a house on Idaho Street that after Pop was defeated as governor he became a federal judge and we stayed with that house, when pop died Frank and I helped my mom keep the house and be there, she was 96 when she died so I used to fly back and forth to be at Idaho Street house and to be in Boise and I had always just wonderful friends. Frank's friends that used to come over and raid my kitchen on Saturday night, we'd talk politics and everything and you know when, when Pearl Harbor happened uh I remember Pearl Burke and Frank Church were lifelong friends from grade school, came rushing over to my house to tell me how it was going to change their lives, how they'd be in this war and how it would change everybody and you know when you start thinking about it from a personal point of view you know what a change it made in everybody's life. For example, even when we came over here in '41 pop as governor had started to build the basement of the museum over at Julia Davis Park, the History Museum and he had to stop because the money ran out, everything was going into the war effort. All of us, the same kids and several cousins of mine in town and everybody went out and thinned beets because they didn't have enough workers, of course I'm not sure how much damage we did to the beet crop, but we were there and, and Life Magazine uh covered us, we have wonderful pictures of it, but we were aced by some very much more important thing in the world. So we were never printed.

Jim: You talk about you moving here from, from Idaho Falls. What, what did you think when you, when you got to Boise and this was, this was like, the difference between going from here to D.C.

Bethine: Well, you know I was covered by the newspapers. My two best friends from Idaho Falls came over for the inaugural ball and we were all dressed up like princesses. I've got the picture hanging in my house to this day of the three of us — there was so much magic in it, it was like uh changing from Cinderella and going to the ball.

Jim: What was Boise like, what do you remember about it back then?

Bethine: Oh I remember so many things. I came over here when I was in grade school, when pop was in the legislature, and then there were places like the Cherry Blossom and the Mechanafe and everything, but there was still these old buildings downtown and there was still, there was still a feeling of real, real close community. The people I knew in high school were families that had been here, most of them, many years, so there was always a good community feeling. I remember loving it. I just had a great time and, and our house was right across from St. Margaret's and it, it was just sort of the center of everything. And because my pop and my mom didn't have any time I was one of the few people in, in school with a car because they didn't have time to get me anywhere. So I used to take all my friends up to Lucky Peak picnicking and you know it was just wonderful.

Jim: Was it the kind of place where when you walked around downtown there were a lot of strangers or did you know everybody, or what was it like?

Bethine: Well you know you really knew almost, there were people of course you didn't know, but you kept running into people you'd, people who you knew in stores like Falk's, like The Mode, C.C. Anderson's and they were all sort of part of an established part of the city. So people that worked for them — Mary Lou Burn's father was named Diamond and he worked at Falk's so there were always these connections.

Jim: You know I've talked to some of the folks that you went to school with and I wanted to go over a couple of things that they said about you, and it's all good stuff don't worry.

Bethine: My friends are generous.

Jim: Well they're generous when it comes to you, I definitely got that. One of the things that they said was that when you came to Boise and Frank was there that regardless of what else was going on, he set his sights on you and never took 'em off.

Bethine: Well you know it was funny, everybody said that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but we were really more like just really best friends. Even after — I was a year older, I had laughed years later and said I helped raise him, but he, he was not affected by my politics because even though his family were Republicans he had changed his own mind in high school and I used to go to the ROTC dances with him even after I was out at BSU I was going with him — even after that all of his friends were still coming on Sunday evening and we would raid the ice box and talk non-stop about the world and the war, all the things that were going to happen.

Jim: Did you feel that as teenagers? Did you feel a connection back then, did it grow, was it just always there? What do you think?

Bethine: It was really always there, it came apart various times. He wrote me, I have all of his letters, they're really wonderful. I keep thinking I should publish them because he was so articulate about being a young soldier at 19 and the China and Burma Theater and he wrote me all through that. We had a small altercation by mail. I remember one year I was out with friends who had been at Ann Arbor and were staying in New York for a summer and we had an altercation by mail and that's the only time we sort of came apart. So when he came home he thought that I was involved with someone else, which I had been, and he, he sort of gave up. Stan Bird says you can't, if that's who you want you've gotta call her and tell her and then we were engaged practically that night.

Jim: You talked about Pearl Harbor and how that changed things. Take me back again to what that was like when you heard that it had been bombed, what that meant to you?

Bethine: Well, you have to understand we were all terrific supporters of Roosevelt. He was my dad's hero and the things he did to put the country back on its feet for my father was just the most important thing. And it isn't like today with the things that we're involved in abroad. We had a feeling that FDR told us not to be afraid, but to be strong and it made us feel good. They didn't say fear everything, they said the only thing to fear was fear itself. So when we heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed we knew that the boys were going to . . . Frank enlisted right away, even though he was going to Stanford. He thought he might have a year, but they pulled him in right away. They were all involved in it, every one of the young men that I talk to. We had one friend that was 4F and he went ahead to do other things to help with the war. But everybody was just, they knew that we wouldn't have life like it had been the, the kind of college careers, the kind of steadiness, the kind of, it just was going to go right then.

Jim: You talked about FDR saying the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but were there times when you were scared?

Bethine: Well, I was frightened for my friends. One of our young friends that we used to Bobby Wardwell who was our only friend that was killed during that time and it was right after the war and he used to fly a fighter plane that he names Clarkie's Kitchen, after the evenings we'd have and they didn't feel good and fortunately he didn't die in that plane. They had rented a plane to go to Northern Japan, he and a friend did and so it, you know . . . I wasn't afraid for me although I was often lonely and if I hadn't read all of Shakespeare that year that I came home from Ann Arbor from graduating from the University of Michigan at night I would, I had all these little collections of Shakespeare that the people who had sold the house to the folks that left and I read through the whole bunch of them. You know there's nothing to feel a spot of loneliness like a really good book.

Jim: You talked about everybody being involved and I get the sense that it truly felt like the whole country was at war?

Bethine: Oh absolutely and they were. Dad Church for example ran a thing where you distributed tires and stuff and things, people really gave up something, lives really, really changed. Well sure our guards had been sacrificing our families of soldiers over there are sacrificing, but every household is not sacrificing like they did then. You ate, my mother for example used to get a little mad at my father because he had never taken sugar in his coffee, but he did then. Of course sugar was rationed so she was very careful cooking everything, you know. There were just, it affected everybody not in, in a huge way except for those who were fighting and dying, but every household had certain things that they did for the war effort. And women, women went back to work in factories that had never worked in anything like that. You know, it changed from a mom and pop and pop brings in the bacon kind of family environment, it changed entirely.

Jim: I've heard there were, there was actually quite a lively scene going on back during the war with dances at Gowen Field and Mountain Home and things like that. Did you?

Bethine: Well I never did that, but I went out with a couple of the soldiers that came into town and didn't have any place to go to have dinner or things like that. I remember telling one that made a slight move on me, I said my parents are asleep in the, in the little room above us, the little, little outdoor bedroom and if I yell they'll hear me. No, it was fun and you know it was.

Jim: You didn't have to go screaming into the night?

Bethine: I didn't. And he almost did, but I didn't.

Jim: Was it fun dating then? I mean there were all these, I mean some of the folks we've talked to talk about the fact that there were always young servicemen coming through?

Bethine: Yep, well actually a number of my friends dated a lot of them — Bev Pratt who lived next door with a singing teacher that we'd always known; she went out with lots of the fellows from Gowen Field. I didn't. I was writing Frank, I was writing Bobby Wardwell, I was writing Carl Burk I, I just had a different sort of kind of life. I did have a friend who was taking his flying lessons that I would see regularly. In fact he gave me his first little wings and he said, Don't ever lose these or I'll crash, and I have them to this day. But you know it, but it was friends and when people who'd come back from serving or getting ready to serve and they'd call on me we would go out, but it, I never had the dating scene that most people did; I just had all these other connections.

Jim: What was, what was Frank up to at that time? I know he was overseas you said . . .

Bethine: Well he was in India, Burma and China. He actually when, when he left and was called into the service he was part of the ASTP program and he was uh he was learning Spanish in an accelerated way uh back in uh I'm not going to be able to think of it, back in the east in this, in a college and Lafayette College and he suddenly they realized that we were not at war with any Spanish speaking country so they stopped the program cold and were just getting ready to ship him overseas. I got ready to leave Ann Arbor and go visit cousins in Washington D.C. so I could say goodbye to Frank and instead his professor said he's too bright just to dump him to the service right now when he's not trained and so they sent him to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, for intelligence training and he was barely 19 years old and he finished that training and though his commander was not thrilled about it sent him on to Fort Benning to take Officer's training because he said that you're just too young, but by the time Frank was 19 he had his First and Second Lieutenant bars and was immediately shipped out to Burma and went into India and took a team over the Burma road he was the only infantryman so when the Chinese got slightly drunk one night they thought they were going to be attacked this small team of and Frank moved them carefully back to the riverbank and then he called under his blanket which was you know one of those army blankets because he found out his gun hadn't been cleaned like it should be and he turned on a flashlight and afterwards, after the scare was all over and everybody came back and everything was fine he looked at this light under this blanket and thought he'd have been the first one shot. So Frank said he, he, he could laugh at himself no matter what happened Frank could laugh and that happened all of the time he was in the Senate, all of our married life which was 36 years, he had cancer early one when my son was very young, but Frank could laugh at things and he could put things in the funniest possible way although he was a terribly serious human being. So it was good and all of our friends were that way, just really good.

Jim: When you read his letters from over there, was it, did you feel like you were part of this grand adventure that he was on?

Bethine: Oh sure because he never, he never other than it was never personal other than Dearest Bethine or Dear Bethine and Love Frosty, because we called him Frosty in those days and um in fact when we started campaigning he said Bethine you can't call me Frosty anymore; you'll have to call me Frank or else nobody will know who you're talking about and I said they'll think I'm mad at you. But that was all in it excepting from the moment he arrived he told me all about India, about the Officer's Club, how very British they were and how snobbish they were about it and how then they finally welcomed him and then he talked about the Chinese children and he wouldn't do any of the things that he was supposed, you know don't eat the food, don't mingle with the local people, he did that all because he said what's the use of my being there if I'm not going to find out what it was really like and so that was the way his letters went and when they had to surrender at Nan King I was there with him, I knew exactly, I knew about the banquet, I knew about the Mayor he met that they went out on the boats and sang because the mayor had been Chinese Mayor had been a graduate of American school, they sang I want a girl just like the girl who married deal old dad. So you know and then when he got to Shanghai and got so frustrated because he was there so long after the war and took troops up to Yang Sea which didn't do any good because they just sold the stuff to the Chinese marching down and you know and the effort over there with the, with the Chinese communist in Shang was just a big laugh and I think it's what made Frank immediately doubt Vietnam. He said you know if the local people don't want it you can't do it and I think we're in that same position today. If the local people don't want it, you can't do it. And if you don't have friends worldwide you cannot, he, he always used to say it's not the might of our arms, it's the might of our ideas and our ideals. So this is the kind and so I was always immersed in it, every letter he wrote was just I waited anxiously to get 'em and wrote him back all the time.

Jim: What was it like to be, to be here, you said you were immersed in it but obviously the news of the day was not always good, everybody was, optimistic, you talked about not being too fearful of things, but what was it like to be here and not know?

Bethine: Well at first I was at Ann Arbor and so involved in getting my, my, my degree that I was just so busy I, I just couldn't and Pop came through on a train and took me back for Christmas one time, but other than that I, I came by train to Ann Arbor and there wasn't any chance to fly and so then I, I was, I was aware of it and, and reading about it and we were all worried and a friend and I went over to sculpture lab the night that Roosevelt died and both of us cried together and I still hear from her regularly and she still remembers that night. But then when I got back to Boise I knew I had to be busy and I had no talent, so I went down to Fritchman's and I sold gifts part of a day and learned to frame pictures and, and the senior Mr. Fritchman was a gem of the old school it was just wonderful and then the, then I went to work for Boise Junior College because they were out of anybody to do anything and the English Department with Mrs. Hatch who everybody speaks well of Mrs. Hatch, gave me the job of setting up their files, you know I've always wondered about that, I didn't know a darn thing about setting up a, a set of files I wondering could they find anything for years after and then they, they ran out of teachers. So I would have to substitute although I didn't have any training in that, I just had my degree. So I'd sit up all night practically at Idaho Street in front of the fireplace learning verbs and adverbs and adjectives I was, I had a great minor degree in English, but I had you talk it's the little things that you don't, if you're going to have to teach 'em you have to know 'em, what are nouns, what are adjectives, what are adverbs and it was fun and lots of the people were coming back from the war going to school so many of them were my age. I can remember a Davidson who was in my class and decided he would put me down and so I said you can, you can put all of this on the Board for us and after that he stopped nagging me.

Jim: Do you ever get flashes, driving around town here, of what it used to be like? Are there things that strike your memory and take you back to that era at all?

Bethine: Probably the most is when I come down Depot Hill toward the Capital and it used to be clear and beautiful, you could see right from Depot Hill right to the Capital and it was just a beautiful vista and so and also when we'd have dates I can remember one time we were coming in from some place or other and Frank was driving, I was with him and Stan Burns was driving ahead of us and he got picked up by a cop and we just left him there and he complained vividly about it, you know and I, when I drive certain streets and they're just full of traffic and I remember being the only, the two of us were practically the only two, two cars on that street.

Jim: Does the music bring back memories?

Bethine: Oh you know I have a friend that was a wife of a Senator and she said Bethine you shouldn't listen to the old songs they'll be the things that make you sad. They are the things that make me the happiest. I love the Paper Moon song from the war, I, I love the music, I love the early when Frank was in college the, the beginning of those wonderful musicals. I each of the musicals going on through and later into my Fair Lady are just the joy of my life. I often just get them on so that I can go back and, and Brigadoon that came out about the time that Frank was in, in college and you know it's just wonderful.

Jim: We were starting to talk about listening to music and how it takes you back when you want to go back, do you like going back?

Bethine: Oh absolutely, you know I have the best memories, you know you can be alive on or dead on your memories. I have such good memories that I'm really happy most of the time. I have a friend who said Bethine how can you be as happy as you are? I said well because I really have terrific memories and terrific friends here now and I worry about my children, my eldest son is a minister in New York and has suddenly been diagnosed with cancer, but I just have to be optimistic about him because Frank and I went through cancer twice, the first time he, he lived and had 36 years, the second time he wasn't that lucky, but I just have this hope that it will all work out that way for Forest.

Jim: You talk about the memories that you have and, and the people that you miss, what, what is it like to, to get to this point in your life and look back on all that's happened and, and know that, that you're one of the one's who's still here with the memories and still thinking of it?

Bethine: Well actually I'm one of the lucky ones, because I loved my dad, I loved my mother, I had a fascinating life, I often think back to for example with the Korean thing that's just happened, I think about spending Thanksgiving on a DNC with Frank with some young Idaho soldiers and so I, I can envision it. I know what it's like to be out there on the edge of North Korea, when I flew into China for the first time in through Taiwan and went out to the islands of Kumoi and Matsu and then heard heard the debate with Kennedy about Kumoi and Matsu I'd been there. Uh it, it's wonderful to think I was, I was the luckiest of all people I had terrific parents, I had a great marriage, in fact it was so good that in Washington they were always trying to find something wrong with it, they fortunately never did, but you know it, it's always been once I was not feeling terribly good and my eldest son said to me did you say to yourself why me? And I said no I've always wondered why not me? And he said well then you're, you're mentally pretty, pretty solid, but, but you know it's easier to be solid if you've had all the breaks. You know I worked hard for 'em, we campaigned during the '76 presidential campaign I campaigned 18 hours a day for about three months and was on the worst airplanes you ever saw and nearly crashed going into to Washington on an Alleghany, don't ever fly Alleghany and then we had a old prop plane that we named the Flying Turtle and all the lights went out just as we were about to land some place in Montana and they came on just in time and we never had any extra money it was a mom and pop operation and the, the all the people who were following us, all the reporters went out one time and bought sandwiches for everybody because they said it was the only campaign that we never had any food on. You know so I, yes I love thinking about it.And the alternative is saying well my, my hip doesn't move very well, and I don't move very well I'll just sit here in my chair and eat bon bons and, and be miserable. But that isn't, that would not make me very happy.

Jim: Well and it seems that some people do that though they, they dwell on the negative and they think about what's wrong with them, they think about death. Are those things you think about?

Bethine: Oh well I've always thought about death because my father was an older father and he was always telling me how he was preparing for mom and myself if he died. And at first it sort of bothered me, but then I got used to it, we organized things, we prepare 'em so I've never had that fear of death, in fact they've, they've finally found out that there's a whole era of people who never ever contemplate the fact that they were going to die and my son's as a minister always says you have to approach life and handle life knowing that one day you'll live, but you live because you're going to die. And that's the way I face it, and maybe I wouldn't be brave, I'm not a really terribly brave person, but if something really bad happened to my health I think I would know. I think probably the only thing that scares me is not dying, but the way some people die. I would hate for example to have a stroke, my dad had a stroke, but he died in two weeks and I think to have a stroke and be on the hands of say my youngest son who lives here would be just dreadful. So there are things like that, but I don't dwell on them because I'm too busy living.

Jim: You talk about how some people get the, the sort of the why me thing you know?

Bethine: Uh huh.

Jim: And some of the people we talked to for instance Vernon Baker who is a Medal of Honor winner from up in North Idaho, said he looks back and thinks why, why am I the one left telling these stories?

Bethine: That's exactly it. You see, I think of Bobby Wardwell and what kind of a life he might have led, I think of Frank who died before he was 60 and how much he had to offer and I think how could I have been left when he had all that talent and could help everybody and every once in a while when I'm so frustrated particularly in these last six years I look at the ceiling and say where are you when I need you, because I just like that clear voice about things that are happening now.

Jim: And yet you have to keep going.

Bethine: Yes.

Jim: Why me, but in a sense it's not something to dwell on.

Bethine: No, no and I have to do it because it makes me I'm not unhappy working on things, I had 90 people in for a pep rally for the Democrats on Monday night because I wanted to, of course that would be Monday night months ago before the election, but nonetheless.

Jim: So by the time this runs we'll know whether the pep rallies really brought enough pep or not.

Bethine: Well yeah we'll yes and it's hard when everybody's in our in this state you don't need to have that on TV, but it is hard. But it is hard pursuing it, I came back and everybody's known what a staunch democrat I am, but, but they still call on me locally to do other things and to support other causes because they know I'm fair about it and I'm really not ever mean to anybody. I'd like to be occasionally, but I'm not.

Jim: Well feel free now if you want to, because you know it's just us. I'm getting off topic here, but what happened to the democrats in Idaho?

Bethine: It never has been a democratic state.

Jim: There were democratic governors.

Bethine: Yeah well I know, but each time it was because of the person often or the person on the other side, like Frank you know when he first ran he was not known, we ran for nine months and Herman Walker was known to be, they thought to be a drunkard, he, he did drink a lot, but it he had a brain tumor and Frank would never campaign against him on that, just on his ideas. But you know you have to have, everything has to fall out just right and the thing that's happened now is they dump so much money in here uh Gary was just telling me as we came they have listed the Larry Grant/Sali Race as one of the one's that the Republicans are going to target. Well they've already targeted to the tune of three to four hundred thousand dollars have come in for him from other from out of you know different groups and you're not supposed to have any connection with those outside groups. I understand now that Risch said on his debate that the NRA was, was doing some independent funds for him, well he shouldn't know that. So every once in a while funny things happen that help you.

Jim: Well politics always keep it interesting.

Bethine: I love it, I just love it.

Jim: Going back to the war. When I say FDR what comes to mind?

Bethine: Oh just a most wonderful person. And I knew Mrs. Roosevelt well because she used to do a lot of the women's things I did after I was early in Washington, but Roosevelt was my hero, he, he, he couldn't move his legs, he had those awful braces they hadn't developed any of the things they have now and so it was a great agony to stand at a podium I knew that, I just knew it and I admired him so much and everything he did when you think that he came from this privileged background and he knew what it was not to be privileged just to me is, is, is my view of public service, it's to know that you've got more than anyone else and that you have to help those who don't have.

Jim: It was really something, it was really something when he would come on the radio and, and speak to you.

Bethine: Oh his radio and do you know my mother who never drank anything in her life and never had anything in the house never ever was put off at all by you know there were always pictures of him with two or three martinis lined up and a cigarette and my mother never mentioned it.

Jim: It's amazing.

Bethine: I know because she was just more impelling than that.

Jim: And there was something about how he spoke about fear, and bringing the country together, he really did sort of wrap a warm blanket around America in those days.

Bethine: He did and, and no matter how bad things looked, for example I really, I've been reading back of that time I didn't realize that, that Churchill actually stayed at the White House almost three months to the point where Eleanor was really furious at him and my funniest story I've ever heard was FDR was so excited about something that was going right one time and as soon as he got up and in his wheelchair he went in to the bedroom where Churchill was staying and just threw open the door and there was Churchill just having crawled out of his shower stark naked and, and the President apologized profusely and Churchill said there is nothing the President of the United States cannot know about, the head of the English Government, it was just wonderful.

Jim: Because apparently that was true after that moment that would be.

Bethine: Yes, but you know there was a, everybody, he had people around him that thought it out the reason I like Doris Kerns Goodman's book is that Lincoln had people who had contested him, people who did not believe as he believed, people who you know they were unexpected to be his main cadre of people that he depended on and it was because he got different advise from them and he listened to them. It's just as different today as you can imagine. No other, no advisors saying you really shouldn't be doing this, everybody spouting the same line. How do you, how do you govern that way?

Jim: Well, and talking about FDR, he actually was in Idaho, he was up at Farragut.

Bethine: Yeah, yeah with my dad. I've got a wonderful picture of them both raving.

Jim: People forget that Farragut was so plugged in to everything that was, now it's a Park and I think forget about the role it played.

Bethine: Yeah oh he went to the Yellowstone Park that's where I first met him and I met him with his wife and then they'd gotten him out of this touring car which was open and they were both dusty and undoubtedly tired and he was standing there you know and they'd locked his brace he was standing there against the car and she was standing by him with this sort of chiffon thing around her head and I'd always heard she was ugly, to me she was just beautiful and, and they treated me like an adult human being and he thanked me for my part and I always remembered it. You know there are people who can reach out and touch anyone from little teeny people to big people and, and make them feel better and both of them could do that. And when he couldn't move she took a lot of flack because she went out and was his eyes and his ears to the soldiers, to the poor, to the black, she did everything for him.

Jim: I wanted to ask you about the internment camps here.

Bethine: Oh yes and, and they were probably the thing that my father you know he and the governor of California and the president they were so sure that, that we were in imminent danger, they had, had those little subs hid up in Washington State and along the coast. They were so sure we were in imminent danger that they just panicked and did this. I . . . my dad never talked much about it because it happened when he was governor and he said some things he probably regretted his whole life through, because everybody was really very awful about it, but I know, I know that his way of making it up was when he was Federal Judge, he never liked anything more than making Japanese Americans citizens and I, the best pictures I have him are with little Japanese children of the parents he'd just made a citizen in his office. So I think it was his way of trying to give back.

Jim: You said he didn't talk about that time much, it was a different time, there's a feeling now I think sometimes people look back at the interment camps and with, with a kind of collective guilt about that.

Bethine: Well you had guilt, but, in that time they didn't because they thought they were protecting the country. And you know we did do dreadful things, thinking we're going to protect the country, look at all of the awful things that are being done now and, and it doesn't always work.

Jim: Knowing your father and again you said he didn't talk about that much, but how do you, what do you think it was like for him to make that decision to say yeah we're going to do this?

Bethine: I just think that he followed Roosevelt, just exactly like uh why can't I think of the, I'm having a senile moment the uh Governor of California who became Chief Justice Warren was Governor then. He did and said exactly the same things my dad did, the same way and therefore about the time that he was going on the federal bench people were remembering that and thinking maybe he shouldn't serve and of course he turned out to be a simply terrific uh Supreme Court Judge.

Jim: What was it like when the war ended?

Bethine: Oh it was just sort of magic. You know everybody felt good. Just everybody felt good and, and of course you know when you think that right now we've been in this thing almost as long as World War II it's fairly scary because there are no good answers, then there was a good answer and it was over.

Jim: And then it was, I think there was a feeling that I mean we wore the white hats in that?

Bethine: Yeah absolutely.

Jim: And so when it ended it was?

Bethine: It ended and it was good and everybody thought so.

Jim: Not everybody was happy with the bombs being dropped though?

Bethine: Oh no, but you know a lot of that was later, but some of it was during that time. But there were never the mass protests and there was never the feeling that, that it's not like now where, where we're all so intimately connected uh by television with it. It, it wasn't you know for example Dresden only became horrible to us years later.

Jim: But, but Frank knew about those bombings and knew what had happened?

Bethine: Oh yeah, he was in China when they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and his mother said it's the wonder of age and he said no it's not mother, we'll have to be careful or the whole world will have them and it will terrify the world and he was what 20?

Jim: What did he think about the thought that was, we had to do it, it was, not that it was great in the sense of the good thing, but that it was, we had to do it, it was great that we did it?

Bethine: Well you have they're exactly, they're every, every viewpoint on this in Idaho is different, there are those who absolutely believe we had to do it, they didn't realize that they were intoxed right then, but they felt like at least the first bomb that it ended the war. The second one people were more iffy about, but in general everybody thought it had to be done and, and now you'll find in your conversations I'm sure people who thought it was just the right thing to do, people who thought it was just the wrong thing to do. I look at it in the perspective that Frank did of it was overkill, with, with something that was already going down. Now Stan Burns would think the other way I think, because we talk occasionally about such things.

Jim: There, there's been a lot of talk, when I hear people talk about World War II and, and I read things about it I think there's tendency for people to paint it with a sort of golden brush of nostalgia that it was this wonderful time and everybody was proud that they were an American, there was all this patriotism is that, is that fair to what it was really like do you think?

Bethine: Oh absolutely I think you know if, if any war is justified and I'm not sure, but this one if there ever was one that was, with the things that were happening in the Holocaust and all of that, if there was ever a justified war this was probably it and basically it was done with everybody's help and everybody's belief. I mean just think of it in comparison with now, or even with Vietnam, I mean just look at it, it was entirely different and there was a golden glow in that everybody felt pretty good about themselves, they'd been attacked and that was the way to respond.

Jim: There's been a lot made out of it being the greatest generation?

Bethine: Sure.

Jim: Agree or disagree?

Bethine: Well oh I agree, I the people I knew then the elders that I knew then were beyond a doubt, here was dad Church who couldn't stand Roosevelt later and had voted for him once and always regretted it and here's my dad that he was hero, but they were so honest about how they felt and they were so straightforward and they were such good Americans you know I you hate to, to waive a flag in front of a generation, but they were. And the people who went out to fight were so terrific and Churchill and, and how the English were hit and were so amazingly brave. You know you put it all together and, and it sort of rubbed off it was as though we were part of England about there being bombed and therefore it was okay to bomb back.

Jim: When you look back and, and think about those days what do you miss?

Bethine: Oh I just miss I miss government honesty, I miss people who serve because they are natural servants, not because of all the money thrown into things. I hate the way politics has become a money-run thing. We ran the whole race for the Senate on about $45,000, and the first seed money we had was because we had about $6,000 in the house that was a $12,000 house and we had paid off six of it and so we sold the house, lived with my pop and mom and ran on it. That can't be done today; you almost have to be a millionaire or be willing to ask everybody for money and, and our the people who represent us have to spend so much time asking for money and so much time running for the next election that serving the people becomes only secondary and I despise it and the fact that little TV clips, instead of half an hour forums in which they really say how they stood. Frank used to do half hours saying exactly how he stood on foreign aid or how he stood on foreign entanglement, or how he stood on agriculture or any of those things. So it, it's just not the way it should be and I worry about it a lot. I worry for the next generation. The one good thing is I think young people are beginning to realize this uh maybe, that's these citizen movements that have started that they're beginning to realize that, that you can give a dollar and be involved and that your dollars all, if there are a lot of them, add up and will help against these big monies. I think the only reason they kept that Foley in is because he was giving so much money to various candidates and he had a sure seat and they could count him as a sure count in this election and that's why they just went like this, see no evil, hear no evil.

Jim: If you were trying to talk to some kids today about what the war years were like and what that era was like . . . Is there any way to say anything you think that conveys what the spirit of the day was like?

Bethine: Well you know I talk to young people all the time. People will call me and say they want to bring a young person over that's really interested in politics and I tell 'em how it was back then and how different and how we respected each other's ideas of what kind of life we were leading then, like it's only a Paper Moon song. Yes it's so easy, but it's easy for me to talk about the past, it's always with me just like the present is.

Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II

walmart logoFunding provided in part by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., The Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation, Anne Staton Voilleque in memory of her Uncle Keith Ingalls, and by contributions from these supporters of Idaho Public Television: The Shelton Foundation, Pete and Freda Cenarrusa, Jane Pritchett, and Gritman Medical Center. Special thanks to Bob Wakefield.