Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Memories of WWII

It has been my desire to write about my experiences I had as I grew up so my children and their children could have a little insight into their heritage. My grandmother wrote about her life growing up in the middle of Nebraska and I read things she wrote with great interest.

I found out there is a local college that offers adult education classes so I signed up for a writing class. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I soon found out that the class time consists of each class member reading aloud what they have prepared each week. There is no restriction about subject matter. There is no critique of the writing, nor are there suggestions given on how to improve. So I guess the main purpose of the class is to write.

So I am posting my first effort and will continue to do so as the class moves along. I have added picture in this post of the sake of providing further impact to support things as I remember them.

Memories of WWII

I remember the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dec. 7th 1941. I had just turned 6 years old. The reason I remember the day was because my parents were huddled around the radio listening with obvious angst. Children are very sensitive to the fact that their parents are in stress as their well being is at stake. Had I not walked in and witnessed them, I would not have remembered this day. It was their tension that I remembered more than anything.

I asked what the matter was and at first they were at a loss for words to explain something like this to a six year old, but they told me something that did not cause me worry, but did solicit further questions.

The next time I was really aware of the war was in 1943 when I was in 3rd grade. Our school held regularly scheduled paper, rubber, and scrap metal drives. Our school went up to 5th grade, and all students from 3rd through 5th grades were let out of school for a morning to scour our neighborhoods from door-to-door collecting what households had set aside for us.

Toothpaste tubes were metal in those days as were the caps. Every household saved these for our collection although the volume of metal was slight. When a tin can was emptied, both ends were pealed off, stuck inside the can cylinder and then stepped on to flatten everything. Then the paper was stripped off

If you had a wagon you brought it to school, to be used it to collect stuff. When it was full you pulled it to the school yard, emptied it, and hurried off for more precious cargo.

Another war effort could be found in school. Every Friday, students would bring a dime or quarter if they had one and buy a U.S. saving bond stamp to put into stamp book.

Eventually, the ultimate goal was to have enough stamps to buy a $25 savings bond. In a way, it was my first indication of social class. Because students of parents not well off had no money to buy stamps, most of us brought a dime, and those better off, brought a quarter. The dime ones were pink and the quarter ones were green.
When I was a year older, I would go to the movies with my parents every Friday night. The cost was 10 cents for children under 12 and 25 cents for adults. Usually there was a double feature, a cartoon, and a newsreel which usually began by showing the latest news about the war. This is General MacArthur returning to the Philippines in 1944.
When the Nazi or Japanese flag was shown, there would always be a loud boo from the audience. When the 48 star American flag was shown, there would be a very loud cheer. These were mostly adults voicing their emotions.

I never witnessed nor knew about the dark, early days of the war. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day) I was almost 8 years 7 months old. Therefore most of my knowledge about the war was when America was winning the war on both fronts.

My father, Floyd, had flat feet which kept him from being eligible for the army even though he was an outstanding athlete. He was 27 when the war started. He had two brothers, Clifford (7 plus yrs younger) and Charles (5 plus yrs younger), and I know that Uncle Chuck was in the army. For some reason, I don’t know if Uncle Cliff was in the army but I think he was later in the war.

I remember vividly the day FDR died in April 1945. I was fourth grade almost 9 ½ years old. I remember hearing then unknown Harry Truman gave a speech on the radio the next day, but I have no idea what he said. But most people I was around thought it was a good speech.

During the war, certain commodities were very difficult to obtain. Being able to get an inner tube for a tire was a big deal. Families had ration books filled with stamps. One had to tear out stamps and give them to the grocer when you wanted to buy meat and certain other staples. There were separate stamps for meat, appropriately colored pink. Each stamp was good for some given amount of weight by ounce. Stamps had an expiration date on them. If you ran out of meat stamps, you had to wait until the next time slot to buy meat again which may have been a week later. Back then everyone wanted to be friends with the butcher.

We didn’t own a car. But if we did, we would have had to worry about having enough stamps to buy gasoline. Transportation for us was walking or taking a street car, which fortunately ran right past our house. We took the street car to the center of Council Bluffs, and then transferred to a bigger Omaha bound street car if we wanted to do something in Omaha. My father was a restaurant manager in Omaha, for what would now be called a fast food chain of restaurants, It was a sit on a tool, and get some food cooked on a grill type restaurant. He told the car street to work every day, expect Sunday.

We dug up about 10 square feet of our back yard to plant a victory garden which was a way to produce more food. We planted peas, carrots, beets, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and green beans. It was mostly my job to weed the garden with a hoe and make sure the plants got enough water. Our garden did indeed supply us with fresh vegetables and they were much better than those out of a can.

The German front had already fallen to the Allies when the Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The news was widely received as a hope it would end the war with Japan. There was absolutely no criticism to be heard. The war propaganda machine had been already preparing us for the difficulty of invading the Japanese homeland which lay ahead. By that time we knew that the suicide bombers had had some success attacking our ships and it was expecting that the Japanese would fight to the very end. The casualties would have huge for both nations. Hiroshima below.
Everyone was greatly relieved when the war was over and there was much celebration. Not necessary a Times Square type celebration,
but the end of the war was also celebrated with thought and remembrances of those wounded or who lost their lives.
The newsreels kept me informed about the closings phases of the war and big coverage was given to the peace signing on the Battleship Missouri, which now rests in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor where the war started.
More than anything else concerning the war, I learned how it felt to be a part of something that every American was part of. The War effort. All Americans were truly united in a way that proved the core strength of our country was the ability to come together and achieve a difficult task. United we stood.

I have always considered WWII as the first conscious phase of my life. In November 1945, I was 10 years old and moved into phase two. It began an age of optimism.


GETkristiLOVE said...

Funny, the story I remember the most out of all of this is that my Granfather had flat feet and couldn't be in the war.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to write about your first-hand experiences from WWII. I am doing research on civilians on the home front, and it is difficult to find any information. People don't realize how valuable their memories are. Thank you.