The Corcoran Community Foundation and the local Rotary Club have joined forces to highlight and thank Corcoran soldiers for their service to our country. The two entities have donated funds for the Downtown Military Banner Project. Banners which were hung last week will feature names, military branch, military rank and years of service of each serviceman and woman in Corcoran. Banners will be hung periodically throughout the year. The first set of banners includes Walter Thomas Putzel, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.
Mr. Putzel, 85, of Corcoran was born in Red Bluff, Ca. He was a resident of Cottonwood, Ca where he lived with his family, his parents Louis and Edith Putzel, his sister, Louise and brother, Jim.
A resident of Cottonwood, which was home to 350 people, as young child, Walt kept himself pretty busy. At four years old he attended first grade grammar school in his brother’s class.
“Both my parents worked. So, that I wouldn’t stay home alone I would go to school with my brother who is just a year older than me and in the first grade,” Walt said.
Cottonwood was that kind of town, Walt added.
“It was a little old family town. My grandad lived there and owned a little property—about four little houses,” Putzel commented. “We used to pick persimmons there during the season.”
At just nine-years-old, Walter started to deliver the newspaper.
“I made more money than the other kids,” Walt noted. “Paper sold for three cents each and I would make one cent per paper sold. I would take the other kids to Joe Ross-a milkshake shop and buy them candy. I worked six days a week.”
When he went to Redding, which was five miles North of Cottonwood to sell newspapers Walt said he had to have his brother sign-up to work delivering the newspapers.
“You had to be 10-years-old to sell papers in Redding so I had my brother sign-up for me and I sold them. I remember going to California Street there and we go to the bars and there would be some drunk who would buy all of the newspapers and give them back to us. And we’d go out and sell them and make three cents per paper. There was a Mr. Sampey who owned a shoe store and he’d buy a paper every day and that’s the first place I’d run was to his store. He would stand outside holding a nickel and say ‘do you have two penties?’” Walt remembered.
After attending Anderson High School, which was located five miles south of Cottonwood Walt said he decided to enlist before he got drafted by the Army. He along with about nine other young men made the trip to Redding to enlist in the Marines.
“There was about 10 of us. The first seven got into the Marines but after that they had met their quota and were full so I joined the Navy. Since I was 17-years-old and a senior in high school my dad had to sign for me to join,” Putzel commented. “About 15 days later I was a on a train to San Diego.”
After finishing boot camp, Walt said he was sent to Boiler Tender School in Illinois. A Boiler tender is a crewman aboard a steam-powered ship who is responsible for tending to the fires and boilers in the ship’s engine room.
“That’s how those ships were powered by steam. Everything mechanical was steam powered,” Putzel added.
Walt was a member of the crew on the USS Wiltsie. He served from 1951-1955 during the Korean War. His ship would sweep mines in the waters.
“There were a lot of mines around the harbor. The ships would hit the mines and blow up. So we would find the mines and blow them up. I remember being in Wonsan Harbor in North Korea when the cease-fire was called,” Walt noted.
The Wonsan Harbor was located along the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula, on the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the provincial capital.
During his time in the Navy Walt remembers visiting many ports including Hawaii, Japan, China and Hong Kong.
“We went lots of places. We went to North Korea four different times and we’d come home to get repairs. We would go through Hawaii,” he said.
Walt also remembers being fired on many times throughout his service. And, he says, he remembers his liberties as well.
“I don’t want to tell you about the liberties. We’d just get drunk and get into a lot of fights,” Walt quipped.
After being discharged from the Navy, Walt returned home to Cottonwood. He went to work at a saw mill and my brother moved to Southgate, Ca to work for General Motors. He called me a year later and said, “Are you tired of working the saw mill? Come work for GM.”
“So I went down there and worked for G.M. I worked on the docks driving a fork lift and unloading box cars with car parts,’ he noted. “I was single at the time and I noticed all the good looking women were going home with the bald-headed bartenders so I decided to go to Bartending School.”
Walt completed the six week course in three weeks and they were going to assign him a job. He asked for one close to where he lived and they said “how about Tulare”. “I drove down to the Merton hotel in downtown Tulare and worked in their bar called The Emerton Club. I got room and board and $12 a day,” Walt noted.
And that’s where he met his wife, Reva, who at the time was working as a cashier in Corcoran.
After moving around from Emerton to Laton and then Coalinga, Walt begin work for Century Geophysical setting off charges; he was trying to find oil in the ground. He ended up living in Ventura, following the company’s work and throughout the five years he left Tulare he kept in touch with Reva off and on.
“My birthday March 31 and Reva’s is April 3 so one time we decided we were going to Las Vegas and on the way there I asked her to marry me. She said yes and that’s where we got married,” Walt added. “They couldn’t find anybody to marry us so we waited a long time. It was late Saturday night and we said we’re going to get a beer and they said they’d bring us one and they did. Finally they found a catholic priest who said he would come by before mass in the morning. It was three or four o’clock in the morning and we got married and got in the car and came back.”
The pair has been married for 60 years, he said. After deciding that Reva would move to Ventura to be with Walt, Century Geophysical shut down so Walt moved to Corcoran. He went to work at the Coalinga Golf Course and ran the bar and restaurant. Then, he said he had an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Chick’s Bar was for sale in Corcoran so he bought it from Dorothy McDonald and her brother, Bobby Davis.
“So we went into the bar business,” Walt said.
Putzel owned several bars throughout the years including the bar owned by Ernie Souza. Walt bought Souza’s place and named it Thee Office. He owned that for a time before selling it to the Tolbert Family. He also bought Earl’s bar in Tulare and sold Chick’s bar to a farmer from Waukena. After some renovations at Earl’s he opened it and ran it for a while before selling to Vejar’s, who still own it today.
Throughout the years he bought some property in Corcoran and rented homes. His wife, Reva had a store. They raised two children, their son, Brett and daughter, Gina. Today they have four grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Walt enjoys spending his time working for “free” for his daughter Gina at Reva’s Secondhand Store, located on the corner of Chittenden and Brokaw. He likes to visit his hometown and see his friends and go to class reunions. One of his favorite things to do is have coffee with the boys in Corcoran. He said he’s had coffee with the group for years.
“When I started we used to pay 10 cents a cup and now we pay $2.58 per cup. It used to be a different group. Jim Rich and I are the only two old ones still around. Now we are having coffee with the kids—the younger ones. We used to meet every morning at Tolbert’s. There was also a coffee shop across the street before that but I can’t remember the name it’s been so long,” Putzel commented. “After coffee I work for Gina and that’s it.”
Walt thinks it’s great what the Corcoran Community Foundation and Rotary Club have done regarding the purchase of the military banners.
“I think it’s a wonderful deal. It’s very nice,” Putzel said. “You know I’m glad we didn’t move to Ventura and we moved to Corcoran. I don’t know what would have happened to us if we had. I know we wouldn’t have had the opportunities there that we’ve had here in Corcoran.”