The Life Story of John J. Joyce
Well, I was born in South Shields England. My father was an electrician in the shipyards there and my mother actually came from London. And in fact, the church my mother and father were married in was built by my mother’s father. He was a carpenter. Evidently work got real bad in the shipyards at that time and so my father came over first. He had a sister in Portland, Maine, but he went to Chicago, and worked as an electrician in Chicago there and he also had some relatives there, I think. I was born January 10th, 1921. My father came to Chicago in 1923. He worked in Chicago for some time and then he came to Maine because he had a sister that lived here. And when he had enough money he sent for my mother, my sister and I. That was in 1925. And we actually landed in Boston and went to Portland from there. I was five years old and my sister was three, and I don’t remember too much but I was told we all got seasick quite a bit.
So from there on in anyway, I went to schools here in Portland and I graduated from Portland High in 1938. Right after school I joined the CCC, which was the Civilian Conservation Corporation. This was a program that President Roosevelt started to help get the kids off the street and find some work for them. And what you did, you worked in the woods or you built roads and things like that. And I was stationed in Augusta for about a year, and worked as a tree surgeon. We worked on trees and doing tree surgery work. When you go there, when we first worked there, you get paid 21 dollars a month, just like the army, the army was 21 dollars a month. But they sent that money home and then if your parents wanted to send any back, that was fine. Most of the parents kept it because they needed it. We lived in barracks; we got our three meals a day and all that stuff.
Through that I got a job as a tree surgeon working in Connecticut. And we worked in all these big homes like in Greenwich, CT, where all the wealthy lived. And we worked on their trees and gardens and things like that. And I probably did that for about a year and then came back to Portland and started my electrician apprenticeship, in local 567 here in Portland. I didn’t complete that because at that time the war started. Well of course the war started in December of ’41. And at that time I was working in the shipyard where they were building these liberty ships, and sending them to England to carry all the war materials and all that to England and Russia. So I was working in there when the war started. And right after that another buddy of mine went down to sign up for the Navy. And at that time you couldn’t go in the service if you weren’t 21without your parent’s approval. And my father wouldn’t sign me off because he had spent four years in World War I and he wasn’t about to see his son go to war. So I had to wait a few months until I was 21, and in April of 1942 I went into the Navy. Once I went in, it was fine with my parents.
I went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, yeah, not too far from Chicago. And from there I went to radio school. And that was a really good deal. They went to the University of Chicago. And lived right there in the dorms, and the students would wait on us in the dinning room and all that stuff. It was a pretty nice time. From then I went into aviation radio school and to school in Memphis, for about six months. I was in radio; I had a choice of staying in radio or going to aviation radio, so I chose to go into aviation radio, and I went to Memphis for that school. And when I graduated from there I went to Florida for flight school, and gunnery school. And so actually my rate at that time would have been aviation radioman, and gunner. And we flew in Torpedo planes. After my training there, my class got sent to Clinton, Oklahoma, of all places, for the Navy. And that was a kind of disappointment. But what it was, it was something new; they were working on droning planes, planes that you could fly by radio. It was just developing. So we were trained in television, to a small extent. We had other people there who were in the Navy but they actually come out of civilian life…people that were well informed in this trade. In other words, most of them were our teachers. So we studied television and that, and after that on that class, I was sent to Travis City, Michigan. And there they had put this equipment in planes. In other words what it was…we had a television transmitter in the nose of the plane. And we had the receiver in the plane. Of course, we didn’t have the drones at that time; we had regular planes. So we could operate the drone from the follow up plane. We received the message from the drone and we had a control box just with a little handle, and you could turn left or right, dive or climb, and arm the bomb. You could then fly the drone into the target. And you could do all of this from a little box. So when we did some studying there, then I ended up going to Monterey, California. And we still didn’t have the drones, but we had the regular two motor planes with this equipment installed. So we trained there for about six months. The pilot that would take the plane up in the air and at a given signal from me, he would throw the controls over to me. We had an automatic gyro in the plane, and that gyro would fly the plane. And if you start to go to the left, I had my control where I could bring it back and steer it that way. And so that’s the way we practiced.
So then in May of ’43, we went overseas. And I went over on what was made over as an aircraft carrier, and we put all of our equipment on it, planes and all that. And when we got to where we were going finally in the Pacific…we went to Banika, in the Solomon Islands. And by that time our equipment started to come; these drone planes would come all crated up. Well flew against Japanese airbases on the islands there, and on their transports or any freighter we might run across. And now we did this actually for about four months. And then there was a lot of controversy. They were getting ready at that time for the big invasion in Guam. There was a lot of controversy between the big shots in the army and they navy, what to do with us. Anyway, the top Admiral King, who was in change of the Pacific, finally decided that this wasn’t ready for any action at the time, so they disbanded us. They just broke up the whole organization, and sent people to all different places, in other different units in the Pacific. And luckily for me, our outfit got sent back to the states. And I ended up in a base in Florida and I flew in planes there and we did mostly cruising over the Atlantic and that stuff, submarine work and that. And that’s where I was when the war ended. And I got discharged in January 1946, so I was just shy of four years in the service.
When I came back, course I went back into the apprenticeship program again, and completed that and became a journeyman wireman. I would have been about 24 or 25 then. Then as a journeyman wireman I worked in all kinds of constructions, in Maine for local contractors and then I went on the road with constructions all over the country. And I did this for pretty near ten years, when I finally come back to my local union and went to work here. I didn’t mind traveling around working. I was single so I didn’t have a problem with that, and you usually end up with a partner and we would board in different houses. Wherever we were working we would find a boarding house to stay. I did a lot of work in Michigan, and of course Michigan is a lot like Maine anyway, and went to Las Vegas, worked there, worked in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey. So I moved around quite a bit, and worked on a lot of plants, power plants and things like that.
When I came back to Maine I was working here and in 1964 I was elected as business manager for the local union. And I held that job for 12 years. And during that time I was appointed by Governor Curtis onto the Maine Electricians Licensing Board to examine electricians for their licensees. And I was also on the board for the labor department, where we determined the wages on work that was being done by the state. I was involved in politics at that time. At least every Thursday if we had the opportunity we would go down to Augusta and that’s when they had the labor hearings, mostly on labor. So we were very involved in that, and with the reps and the senators that worked there. My motivating force was of course for the benefit of the electrical workers and workers on a whole. So we would support any kind of bill that was in favor of labor.
So eventually in 1975 I was appointed from Washington as an international representative. And the international is divided into nine districts throughout the country and in Canada. And so my district was District 2, which is New England. So I serviced local unions within New England. Mostly construction unions and some telephone, but very little. Of course I helped them negotiate their wages and health benefits, and whatever help the local unions needed. And I service three of the paper mills in Maine besides the construction unions. S.D. Warren was one of them, Millinocket was one, and Rumford. I knew a lot of the representatives from all of these local unions and I got to know a lot of the manager, of course, with negotiation. And it was very interesting, and especially with the paper mills, because it wasn’t something that I was used to, cause I was used to construction. And so the paper mills and their types of agreements and things were a lot different than constructions. So it was new and interesting, and tough at times. In fact we had a couple of bad strikes, one in Rumford. The people were out for about a year. So, there some tough times for the paper mills. While I was on the international, I also was put on a counsel of the IBEW Construction Contractors called NECA. They set up all kinds of different agreements that they worked amongst each other. One agreement they had was they decided there would be no strikes. If you didn’t come to agreements at home then you would go to this counsel, and the counsel is made up of IBEW, International reps. or business managers, and the other side would be the contractors. And they would sit and hear these arguments and make a final and binding decision. And this would be on wages and many other things. So I was on that counsel for two years in Washington. We didn’t stay in Washington. They held those for about two or three weeks every year, usually in and around March or April. And all of the contractors came too. And whatever was decided on, that’s what they had to live with. I guess that was it. I held that position until 1987, and I retired in September of ’87.
Evidently, my father was a big influence in the lives of two of my brothers because he got us into the electricians union. So he was a big influence of where we went. That’s how we started our lives anyway, with a trade. I have two brothers and two sisters. I’m the oldest. And then my sister Mildred is next, as the oldest girl. She was married for several years to a hell of a nice guy, Harold Whitmore; he was a great golfer; worked for the post office. And my sister worked for Porteous, Mitchell and Brown, for a good many years in the office. And he died a few years back, and so she’s been a widow since then. My next sister was Peggy, and she had five boys and a girl, and her husband worked in the grocery business. And he died young of cancer. He was about fifty. And she went to work for the Sheriff’s department, and she was there for about ten years. And she died a couple of years back of cancer. And next is my brother Dick. Richard is an electrician. He’s 72 years old now. He has a family of eight. (Laughter) All nice family; all doing well. He’s retired and lives in Portland. Mildred lives in Portland, and my sister Peggy lived in Portland. And my youngest brother Bob (chuckles)…he was interesting. He graduated from the University of Maine. And he was into theatre in Maine. He played in many plays. In fact, they traveled to Europe several times and put on their plays. Then he went to the University of Cleveland, and he got his masters degree there. Then he went on over a period of years to get his doctorate degree. He was a professor of speech in the University of Michigan. Course he was a director of plays. He directed all the plays there. In the summertime he would take the crew to go to Europe, and mostly England, and chase down Shakespeare and all that stuff. Or he’d take them to New York to see plays there. He was a very interesting guy. And he traveled a lot. When he was at the university we saw all the plays he was in. He and another friend started the theatre at Monmouth, which had been closed for years. So he and another friend got together, Richard something, who lived in the area…very interesting, and so Bobby wanted to see if he could get it started again. Course the other Richard was the one that did all the fund raising, and as electricians, my brother and I, and three or four other electricians used to go up there at nighttimes, and on Saturdays and Sundays and wired the theatre for him. It was kind of fun. He left after a few years, and it’s still up and running. It’s good. He had the theatre in him. Bob died a couple of years ago. He just retired. He retired at 65, and about two years later he died of cancer.
As far as my live goes, I didn’t get married till I was about 44. And I married a girl that had five children (Chuckles). Her name was Colleen Garrigan. And she lived in Rumford. I met her in Rumford when I was working at the mill. She was a hairdresser. Course I would just see her during the week and come home on weekends. And anyway, after about a year of that, we got married. We lived in Portland. Her children then were…like I said she had five children. The second oldest was Greg and he was just starting at the University of Maine. It was his first year when we got married. And the oldest was Colleen and she was out of school. Then there was Ronnie, Steve and Maureen who were still in high school. So you can guess at their ages…they were all teenagers. Maureen was the youngest. Anyway, we had a very happy marriage for twelve years. And she died of cancer. And I was a bachelor for ten years.
Of course I was going with my present darling in there for ten years. Simone was a part of our group that we went out together, and danced together, and partied together. We had a group of about 6 or 7 couples. Simone was part of that group, so we had known each other for years. And her husband had died a year before Colleen. So after awhile the gang got us together, when they were going out dancing and that, and they said, “Why don’t you call up Simone?” So anyway, we started to go together, but I was reluctant at first. And of course she was still working. She had a family at home. She was a nurse at Mercy Hospital. Before she retired she worked there for 44 years, which is a long time. Anyway, the youngest girl got married, and the boy moved out; he was working at different jobs out of state a lot. So when Simone retired, she sold her house to her oldest daughter. And we got married. (Chuckle) Let me see. This coming week we will be married eleven years? (Simone yells from the bedroom, “13!”) Thirteen. (Lots of laughter) We married in ’91. I was living here, and she moved in with me after we got married. We got married at the Holy Cross Church in South Portland, by Father Knox.
Both of us are Catholic, and active Catholic. Simone is a very active Catholic. She goes to church almost every morning. My father was Catholic and my mother converted for him prior to being married. And like I say, they got married in a Catholic church; one that her father had built, in fact. We were all raised Catholic. The church plays a big part in my life. In fact I drifted away from the church at one time. This is when I was working away. It was about three years. It was Colleen that got me back in the church, because she was a good Catholic, and she got me back into it, so we went to see the priest and got all squared away, and got back into the church again. Originally we weren’t married in a Catholic church, because that’s when I was out of the church. Anyway, that’s when we went to see the priest, and then he married us in the church. And Eddie Welsh and his wife stood up for us. He was a good friend of mine. They stood up for us, and we got married in the church. It wasn’t too long after we got married originally. So I’ve been back in the church and Simone keeps me straight ever since.
I will go back to Colleen’s family and her five children. The oldest boy got married and has two children and is living in Connecticut. And Ronnie’s married, and Colleen the oldest, she died of cancer. Steve is married; he’s a policeman in Auburn, Maine, no children. And the youngest, Maureen, is married, and has two girls. And Simone’s family- the oldest girl is Patty, and she’s the one that bought the house from her mother and lives in the house where she was born. And she worked for the telephone company for many years. Right now she’s out on disability. The boy, Tucker, or Thomas, works for the telephone company, and he’s single. And the youngest one Kaykay, Kathy, she’s married and has two boys. The oldest, Danny, is thirteen and the youngest, Neil, is nine. I have an interesting family…I’ve got a big family and I never had any of my own. I’ve got a bigger family than most people when you put it all together. So, all together, I’ve been married 25 years.
We had a good and close family growing up. We were very fortunate. A lot of families are not like that anymore. We never argued, and we were always close to each other, ever since we were small. And have been through our lives. Well, this instilled an understanding of family in me. It’s been helpful with my two marriages and the children that came along with them. That’s just the background I come from and that’s what I expect and that’s what I got. So I’ve been very fortunate that way. I never had any of my stepchildren have any problems at all; minor ones maybe, but nothing that amounted to anything. They’ve all been good. I had nothing to do with it, they were all of age at the time when I was married, but…well, and they’re all close.
My father never got back to England, but my mother went back after 50 years. And she had a brother and a sister living when she went back, which was interesting. Then I went back with my sister Millie and her husband. I don’t know what year that was. It was just the three of us. And I met what relatives I had there. I had a couple of aunts living, and a couple of cousins living. And they had some children. So I had some first and second cousins, still living and I met all of them. That was interesting. They were poor. England was bad for many years and a lot of people were on what they call “the dole”, which we would call welfare. I took them out to a couple of fancy restaurants, but they didn’t go for them. I guess it was too much or they felt out of place. After that we ate fish and chips and stuff like that. (Laughter) It may have been in the early 90’s when I went. I still have some family there. My cousins had a boy and a girl and they were young then, so they’re probably around thirty now.
The Joyce’s are in Ireland. I tried to get in touch with some of them, but we couldn’t. My brother Bob went over there quite often and he did that too. He was trying to get a family tree and tracing back. He found a lot of things about our family and where they come from and who they were like my mother’s people and my father’s people and that. My father’s people were originally from Ireland, but he was born in England. He went to Ireland to school for a couple of years, with some aunts and uncles that he had there, because I can remember him telling stories about it. My mother was born in London. Their family was very interesting. One of her uncles, I think, was the first one to invent the steam engine. I had some papers on that at one time. I don’t know what’s become of that. Maybe Millie’s got them. Course her father was a contractor; construction. He built a lot of buildings and stuff like that in his time. She had seven children; I know that. Cause she was the seventh of seven. So she said that she had these special psychic abilities because she was the seventh child of a seventh child. She was a quite a woman…she was a lovely lady.
Course it seemed to me that I was very accident-prone. When I was nine, it was wintertime, and we lived up on Munjoy Hill. And course the hills were fun to slide on, up there. So this one particular day or evening, I went piggyback with a kid. In other words, he lay on a sled and I kneeled in back of him. And we went down Waterville Street, which is a steep, steep street and we come down around and we ran right into a car. We ran right under it. And I got a fractured skull out of it. And I don’t know how long I was in the hospital, but it was around Christmas time, and we some gifts, and some games and that. And we had beds side by side in the hospital. And this one particular day he said to me he wanted to play some game. And I said, “No, I don’t feel like it. I want to sleep for awhile.” And he said, “Oh, you’re a pain” or something and he just flipped and hit me in the head with the pillow. And I guess not too long later they came in and they found me unconscious, and blue in the face. So anyway, they rushed me upstairs and I had a blood clot in the brain and they had to take a piece of my skull out so they could relieve that blood clot. So I had a close call on that one. And in the meantime they had an ice storm, which in those days it was a terrible one. The lines were all down and the streets were all ice and you couldn’t get any transportation. Everything was down. And my mother and father used to walk all the way from the hill everyday all the way down to the hospital, in that ice storm, all the icicles hanging off the trees and the branches broken. And that’s a long hike. Cause they didn’t have a car anyway, in those days.
Then another time I was down the promenade. I lived on Atlantic Street at the time. So I hopped a ride on a trolley, on the back of a trolley car. And we got up by my street and I jumped off and behind the thing I ran right into a car when it was coming. I saw it coming and I tried to get out of the way and I jumped back, but I guess my leg went up and I hit my leg, and I broke my leg. I was dangerous guy in those days. I gave my parents a run for their money! I really did.
See I lived right on Morning Street when we were kids. We used to go down there all the time, down to the beach. In fact, my mother used to give us a sandwich and we’d go down there and stay there all day. And we always had a whole gang of us, right through high school. We used to hang out down there all the time. Right around the promenade, around the sand there, and we’d play cards and all that stuff. So, yeah, that was a favorite spot. And of course it wasn’t polluted in those days. It’s not now either. But it was polluted for a good many years. It’s too bad. I liked it there. We lived on Munjoy Hill until shortly before I married Colleen, cause that’s when we moved out to Deering. Then they tore that house down, the one that we had moved from on the hill; the one that I got married in. In fact, after we got married, Steve lived with us for a while until he lived in the service. Yeah, I enjoyed growing up in Portland. I always missed it when I was on the road. Missed the ocean. In New Jersey we got the beach once in awhile when I worked there, but most of the places, no. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere away from the water. I’ve always been able to see the water, except when we moved to Deering, but from the hill there we could see the water where we lived. When we lived on Morning Street, we used to just go down to the park and sit and watch the boats come and go. It was a nice spot, a good place to grow up. And I managed to grow up even with all the things that happened to me.
So, when we talk about that, the last few years I’ve been slowed down with different physical problems. But I always expected it. Course, working construction is pretty rough; you’re climbing and doing all kids of different things. And I’d get pains in my legs or something and I always used to say to myself, “Geez, if I live long enough, I’m going to be in awful bad shape.” (Chuckle) And it was true.
But we’re still enjoying life, and we’re fortunate enough so we could get a place down in Florida, and we go there for six months every year, from November to May. In fact, we’ll be going in just another month; we’re going back. And then again with all these hurricanes down there, we’ve been fortunate that none of them have come and hit us down in Sarasota. It’s very fortunate. It’s a disaster down there right now, as you well know. I was talking to one of my friends down there the other day and we’ve had some erosion on the beach and that kind of thing, but beyond that we haven’t had any problems, just rain.
We’ve done a lot of cruises. In fact it’s getting to be an average of a couple every year, I guess. In fact, we get so much of that stuff now, cause they all send it. So we’re always sitting around saying, “Well, where we gonna go next?” The only thing that’s slowed me down…my legs have slowed me down now. So when you go on a cruise it is fine, but when they go ashore to do any touring, then I can’t keep up. So that part is sad…I miss that. But I enjoy the cruises anyway. Oh, yeah. If I get bad enough I’ll have to get a little motorized cart. Of course, when your aboard, you can get a wheelchair anytime you want to, like if the cabin gets too far away from the dinning hall. So we try to get in the middle of the ship all the time, and that way you’re close to the dinning halls and the theatre and that, and so you don’t have that much walking. Cause boy, you can walk your legs off on a boarded ship.
My life? Oh, my life has been fine, far as I’m concerned. I’ve been very fortunate in most everything I’ve done. I was very fortunate when I got elected as a business manager and then going on to be an International Rep. And that’s a little prestige as far as your local unions go, and not only that, it leaves you very secure, as far as pensions go. And they have conventions every once in awhile. Well they have a big one every five years. Districts has one every year, somewhere within New England. And I always get invited. They still invite us. At the convention they get all the retired guys; they put them all in one hotel. And it’s nice. And they give you all the other things, the benefits that go with the convention, so it’s nice. Oh yeah, I still have good contact with some of them. A couple of my good friends have died since I retired, but I still have several that are close. In fact, we get together every year in February, in Coco Beach. And one of our reps that that work with us, she’s a good lady. She’s got a beautiful condo there and she has a get together every May. And it’s all the reps down there for two of three days. And we go out to dinner and do different things, and have a ball. It’s nice. You can see all of Cape Canaveral, and the towers where they go off and it’s just down the road, and if fact, you can see the cruise ships from the window when they go by.
This Stag One outfit gets together every year. But I don’t think I’ll go this year. See we’re going down on the 28th. And I think on the 30th, we might be going to Key West, because they have these air boats that go down there. And we wanted to stay overnight and come back the next day. But the hotels, you can’t find them, and when you do they’re expensive. So both my friends that are going down with us are both retired Army officers, and of course they’ve got that base down there, where President Truman used to go all the time, that big Naval base down there. And they have barracks in that and they have rooms for non-commissioned offices, and these guys can use them if there are any openings. So I think he’s made arrangements this time. He’s been trying for three years. I think this year we might be going down. So we’ll be going to Key West for two days. And this convention is in Pensacola, Florida, and it’s a long eight hours drive, and we’ve been there once before. And of course this hurricane went through this area, so I don’t know how that’s going to affect it to start with, but the hurricane went right through there. So we decided we wouldn’t do it this year, so we’ll skip that one.
Course we just got back from Canada. That’s always fun, they’re nice people. We’ve got a nice agent down there in Florida, and she’s gotten some good trips for us. She makes sure we get some benefits or something. Given the opportunity we’ll see many more interesting places.