Roger P. Whitcomb ’54

Whitcomb '54

Roger P. Whitcomb '54

(1936–    )

During 1941-1942, my father was a civilian air raid warden in Chicago. At age six, from our darkened apartment, on two separate occasions, I distinctly remember looking up into a totally black night sky except for a filling of slow but steadily moving, tiny red and green wing lights on squadron after squadron of loudly roaring, four engine, B-17 Flying Fortresses. We shuddered at the helpless terror we might experience if the planes had been enemy. They were conducting night fight training exercises for cockpit crews, bombardiers and gunners and may also have been on a cross-country leg toward the Europe war zone.

Then in Toledo, Ohio, from 1943-1944, my father was a management engineer at a secret fiberglass ball bearing plant whose eerie green night lighting appeared as a glow on the horizon from my bedroom window. Our car windshield proudly displayed a “B” gas rationing sticker due to his “importance” to the war effort. At school, each week we pasted ten cent or twenty-five cent stamps in our little war effort books until filled to $17.50. That purchased a $25 war bond to help “Uncle Sam fund the war.” The competition was keen.

In second grade, I distinctly recall a time when I became frustrated at the near uniform answer to every child’s and many adults’ questions regarding how long the shortage of this or that might last. Most often, the answer was “for the duration, you know.” When my mother finally explained that meant however long it might take for the wars in Europe and the Pacific to end “and then some,” I finally understood the word “duration” and that “soon” wasn’t yet in the picture.

In 1945 and 4th grade, I lived in Glenview, Illinois, about a mile from the U.S. Naval Air Base where student pilots trained. Our small house was directly in line with final approach to the most active runway. We had become used to the noisy yellow planes descending low overhead—until at dinner one night, the bother was accentuated by a full thrust of power, followed by a bang, chimney bricks falling into our fireplace and a cloud of ash filling the living room. My parents tried to explain that our fright was brief and not comparable with anyone’s who suffered a single bombing or near endless ones.

At the Japanese surrender in August of ’45, people ran out of their houses and into the streets with an excitement I have rarely experienced since. It was predominantly glee, but one family was crying because notice of a son/soldier’s death was only days old. Another cried because a son had just been drafted and was leaving for boot camp that very evening. Tears of completely different sorts.

My family was so lucky.

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