All of us, whether we think so or not, have lives or parts thereof that are interesting to others. For most, it is something in our adult years that commands attention. But Claudia Cook and Cindy Tilton’s childhoods stand out compared to most of the rest of us because they grew up often outside of their native land. Their father, Claude Turner, Jr., was born in south-central Oklahoma in 1920 where his family owned a cattle ranch.
Going to college in 1937, Mr. Turner joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 which became a separate branch of the military, the United States Air Force, at the end of World War II. Mr. Turner’s love of flying and his ability to perform at the highest level in any conditions, including dense fog, made him a test pilot during the war, not only for the United States but also for the Egyptian Air Force. He also flew non-combat flights carry important supplies wherever they were needed.
As happened often during the war, in 1942 he met Lou Ann Scheitter, soon to be his wife and the mother of their four children. They married six weeks later in St. Joseph, Missouri where he was training. At a family gathering on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth in 2020, the youngest Turner daughter, Lori, described it as “another war marriage that wasn’t supposed to last — but last it did,” until his sudden death at age 64.
Mr. Turner’s flying abilities helped him find employment easily in the growing aviation industry at the end of the war. He went to work for Trans Ocean Airways, an Oakland-based company that did not have regularly scheduled passenger flights but instead was hired to haul cargo or humans wherever they were needed. Trans Ocean, for example, specialized after the war in flying Muslims to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage.
The flights, mainly from the Middle East and South Asia, featured many very, very pregnant women who were hoping that their child, whether boy or girl, would be born in Mecca thus guaranteeing a successful religious life, according to Cindy.
Mr. Turner also flew Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek’s horde of gold bullion out of China in 1947 to his exile in Formosa (now Taiwan). Later, in the early 1950s, Japanese Emperor Hirohito had his first airplane ride piloted by Japan Airlines’ Chief Pilot at the time, Claude Turner, Jr. While the earliest flights such as Flight 1 and 2 from Tokyo to San Francisco were piloted by Americans, Mr. Turner trained the incoming Japanese pilots giving the fledgling airline a good beginning with skilled, confident pilots.
Claudia, born in 1946, became the first of the ‘flying Turner children.’ Living in the San Leandro house they bought and kept through the years of his career, the three Turners were sent to the Philippines for a year or two while Claudia was still a baby. Consequently, she has no memory of that trip. When they came home, Mr. Turner took to the skies again while Mrs. Turner took care of their home, Claudia, and a few years later, Cindy, born in 1952. Ted was born in 1954 and the youngest Turner child, Lori, was born in 1958.
Cindy remembers “a very happy childhood despite moving frequently. We were close together,” she says, although she notes that Ted, being the son, got preferential treatment on some things from the household help. In the family, Claudia and Cindy were known as “the girls” and Ted and Lori, the youngest, were referred to as “the kids.”
In 1955, the Turners packed up for a three-and-a-half-year assignment in Japan. Mr. Turner was hired by the new Japan Airlines to organize and train Japanese pilots to replace the American pilots who were manning the early flights including the first from Tokyo to San Francisco. To this day the San Francisco-Tokyo flights are still numbered Flight 1 and Flight 2.
Those who read Blanche Perry’s story of life in occupied Japan from 1950 to 1953, will remember that they lived in the ‘American part of southern Tokyo’.
But those with families who were no longer in the military had to live in Japanese neighborhoods rather than the area designated for the American military families. Thus, the Turners lived in the ‘Japanese part,’ the neighborhood of Nanitadal in southern Tokyo. The family could use American military facilities such as the PX and medical care, but they had to pay for all services they received.
Claudia was in third grade when the family arrived in Tokyo. She rode a military bus to the Department of Defense (DOD) Dependent School near the American military airport. Her childhood friends there were Americans. These schools were established after World War II near many US military installations outside of the United States.
Cindy was two years old when they arrived in Tokyo. While she attended kindergarten at the DOD school the final year they lived in Japan, before that she played with the Japanese neighborhood kids whose family owned the compound including the home the Turners rented. The Turners also had servants in the house who kept track of the children and made sure that the little Japanese kids Cindy played with were suitable socially to play with the Americans. “Japan had a real caste system,” she recalls. Her mom and dad also encouraged her to play with her little sister. To this day, Cindy feels that as a child, “the best adjustment (to a very different language and lifestyle) was my baby sister, Lori.”
The result of that experience was that Cindy learned enough Japanese from the neighbor kids to translate for her father when needed. Her little brother and sister learned the language also. To this day she is able to wish her Carlton Pleasant Hill neighbor, Setsuko Brockman, good morning in Japanese when they meet at breakfast time.
In 1960, Mr. Turner signed on as a pilot for South Pacific Airlines, part of the Dollar Cruise Line headquartered in San Francisco. The airline provided air travel options in the South Pacific for tourists and residents just as the cruise line did when it sailed to popular tropical islands locations such as Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and Fiji.
The impact of that job was that the Turner family were able to live in Kailua on Oahu for four years and take two vacation trips in Tahiti. It also reinforced Cindy’s Japanese language skills obtained in Japan. “All my elementary teachers were Japanese. Spanish was taught by Mr. Igashimoto,” she recalls.
The most memorable South Pacific trip for Claudia and Cindy was going to Tahiti while “The Mutiny on the Bounty” was being filmed. The Turners were visiting the set when Claudia met Marlon Brando who played the leading role of Fletcher Christian. “I was so in awe of him that I didn’t say a word,” she recalls. Her sister used the meeting later as a school essay topic.
Cindy also had a ‘Marlon Brando moment’ much later after they were home and the movie had been released. “It was the first time I saw anyone who had died with their eyes open!” Brando in his lead role as Mr. Christian acted the last scene perfectly apparently.
Claudia finished her high school education at Kailua High School in 1964 and moved to Missouri where she attended a private college for two years before transferring to UC Berkeley. Later she joined her parents when they returned to Oklahoma and enrolled in Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas where she was trained in Special Education which was just beginning to revolutionize teaching children based on how they learned information and by using techniques to help students learn in a variety of ways.
A teacher for 30 years in Wichita Falls, Claudia not only “found different ways for her students to learn,” she also became a diagnostician who led appraisal teams identifying and planning programs for students at a number of elementary schools and one middle school. It was a revolution in teaching during the 1970s as this writer knows from working with Special Education staff in my classroom. They made a big difference for those students.
“I helped a lot of students” Claudia says with quiet pride. “My job was to teach them, not to raise them. I found different ways for them to learn.”
Claudia and her second husband moved to Lompoc in 2000 where she was a Resource Specialist with the mildly handicapped until she retired in 2012. She and her second husband moved up to Rossmoor. She has two sons from a previous marriage who live in Texas and Minnesota. Two years ago, as health problems developed, Claudia moved to Carlton Pleasant Hill where Cindy had moved a week before.
Cindy worked for Kaiser Permanente for 38 years after graduating from Sonoma State in 1974. Most of those years were at the Martinez Kaiser. “Initially, I started on the medical/surgery wards as a ward secretary. Martinez Kaiser had a hospital in its early days.”
She then was assigned to the mental health unit as an “activity therapist.” Cindy describes that as helping people who were very tense and unable to relax or rest on their own and who had “a need to learn leisure.” A range of mental and physical health professionals at all levels for a team to develop a program that works a significant percentage of the time. 90% of the patients she and others worked with were over-stressed, suffering from depression and anxiety and usually, Cindy notes, needing a vacation from their families. “Groups would go to the Renaissance Fair or a basketball game, or a walk in the woods” were among her examples. There was a lot of success, she says. “I worked with amazing people at Kaiser.”
Cindy transferred to Kaiser’s Antioch Hospital and then to Walnut Creek as the patient care coordinator. She also returned to school for a master’s degree in Social Work. That was followed by her becoming a case manager and then her last and most challenging job before retirement, a senior consultant in Expedited Review handling patient appeals. A complicated process with short time limits, the Review’s findings of a case might end up being fought or appealed through Kaiser, Medicare or even the United States Supreme Court. They were often difficult cases with difficult decisions to be made.
Cindy retired in 2016. Her two daughters had thrived in the Martinez schools, she says. As they married and had children, Cindy instituted the “no call” rule. It could also be called the “just bring ‘em over anytime you want or need to” rule. Grandma’s house was always open until she moved to Carlton.
The Turner sisters have led very interesting lives, starting in childhood and continuing on to their adult lives and the important professions they successfully worked in. Even Marlon Brando might be impressed.
Written by Harriett Burt, Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez Resident.