Category Archives: The Home Front

J. Malcolm Swenson ’54

Swenson '54

J. Malcom Swenson '54, back row, sixth from right

(1936–    )

From Children of the Storm: Childhood Memories of World War II, edited by Charles Perkins; page 94

The War in Straw’s Point, New Hampshire

In the summer we used to stay at Straw’s Point on the New Hampshire coast. Because of the nearness to Portsmouth Navel Base, parts of the coast were taken for defense and coastal guns. We were allowed to remain in our house but during the early part of the war the Point was defended by a detachment of perhaps twenty US Army soldiers who stayed in the Coast Guard station behind the point and immediately dug defensive positions on their perimeter. During the summer, the five- to seven-year-olds like myself who lived on the point would have a good time playing army games with the soldiers. We would often get instruction in Army tactics from soldiers who had probably just finished basic training themselves. I remember one of these soldiers solemnly telling enthralled children to “maintain frontal fire while using part of your force to encircle and attack from the rear.” Pretty heady stuff if you were a small child.

Eventually, a watchtower was built at Straw’s Point. There were silhouettes inside of German and Japanese aircraft. We kids were permitted inside and we dutifully memorized all the aircraft types. Sometimes, as a drill, the volunteers on duty in the tower would call Grenier Field near Manchester and summon a flight of P-47s, I think they were, for a mock sighting of an enemy or submarine. These aircraft would come in as low over Straw’s Point as they could – actually below the level of the flagpole – so as not to be spotted I suppose, in case there was a real enemy out there. I can tell you how exciting it was as they skimmed over the roofs of the houses, their engines roaring. In a funny way it made me happy because I felt we needed all the help we could get. About seven miles offshore are the Isles of Shoals, a string of low-lying, rocky islands. One of them was designated as a bombing range and sometimes we could see the planes dropping bombs on it, and the flashes of the explosions. It’s only very recently that it was decided that the island was safe enough to be returned to public ownership.

Once, there was a large oil slick washed up on the beach, and rumor had it that a Nazi submarine had been sunk just offshore. We never knew for sure that this was true but I have a vague memory that after the war a submarine which had gone down somewhere in the shipping approaches to Portsmouth had to be moved or blown up.

There was a woman in her eighties who lived on the Point. Everyone called her Aunt Carrie Meigs – and I suppose she was a typical New Englander of her time. Her house backed right onto the ocean, above a stretch of the coast known officially and unofficially as “Pebbly Beach.”

Aunt Carrie was very patriotic and was always urging us kids to be alert. The Enemy Were Everywhere, she said. As an example she told us about a sinister thing that had happened to her. She had been sitting outside, rocking on her porch, when a car had pulled up and stopped. Three men got out, Aunt Carrie told us. She knew instinctively that one was an Italian, one was a German, and one was a Japanese. The men asked Aunt Carrie for directions to Pebbly Beach. Aunt Carrie said that she “remained calm,” and pointed out the way to the beach past her house. As soon as the men had gone, she rushed inside and reported them to the Coast Guard. Even to a six- or seven-year-old as I was by then this seemed a bit far-fetched but, as we found out later, Aunt Carrie’s calls to the Coast Guard were real enough. And frequent enough, I suppose they must have livened up many an otherwise tedious watch for the young Coast Guardsmen on duty. So far as I know, on this particular occasion the Coast Guard didn’t send anyone to investigate Aunt Carrie’s reports about dangerous enemy aliens on Pebbly Beach.

When the war in the Pacific ended, all we children formed a parade and marched around the point shouting, banging pots and pans, and generally making as much noise as possible. As a joke, we ran up a war trophy Japanese flag on the flagpole in front of Aunt Carrie’s. As far as I know, this was the only Japanese flag raised on the American mainland during the war. We all thought it would be a good joke on the grown-ups. Unfortunately, it was Aunt Carrie who spotted it first. Within minutes of the Rising Sun being hoisted over Straw’s Point. Aunt Carrie’s daughter, clearly acting on orders, came storming outside, hauled down the flag, and gave us all a stern talking to.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Home Front

Henry K. “Hal” Love ’44

(1925–2006)
Navy, Storekeeper First Class

Submitted by his wife, Patsy

Love '44

Henry Love '44, middle row, second from right

Students in the Class of 1944 were in a dilemma. Those whose birthdays were before June 1944 could be called to join the Armed Forces at age 18, whether they had graduated or not. Several left [campus] in the fall of 1943 to graduate from schools that were more flexible with credits. Hal had a December birthday, went back to Seattle, and graduated from Lakeside School (Bill Gates’s alma mater). He was called to join the Navy ROTC in February 1944 [and spent] two years in the Navy.

Wartime correspondence between Hal Love and friend Patsy shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

December 8, 1941

Dear Hal,

War was declared this morning. I feel morbid. Seattle is going to have a blackout this evening from 11 p.m. to one half an hour after daylight. The news just said the blackout extends to Roseburg, Oregon. There are quite a few Japanese American kids at school, you know. I noticed no hard feelings yet. We talk to them about it, too. Some said their parents are very surprised and disgusted with the situation. Many kids have friends and relatives in Japan, and quite a few girls at school have boyfriends in Honolulu on battleships there. I said I was lucky because my boyfriend was on the East Coast, and I was nearer to this war than he was.

December 12, 1941

Dear Patsy,

Well, the war is not as near here as it is there; but nevertheless, we have already had a surprise air-raid warning. There was supposedly ten German bombers two hours out of Boston. The sirens and whistles blew, and there wasn’t a living thing outside, save police cars. It was indeed weird.

Patsy’s memories of the time:

December 12, 1941—Seattle: A week later in the cold December rain, a company of soldiers arrived in Army trucks, making camp in a muddy park playfield. Their job was to install a Barrage Balloon. It was an ideal spot on top of a hill.

February 1942—President signed an Executive Order for the removal of anyone of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, regardless of whether they are citizens.

May 14, 1942—The Japanese and Japanese Americans were bussed to the Puyallup Fairgrounds and found a 10-foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the area. A soldier with a bayonet was standing guard. He was enjoying his duty— flirting with the cute Japanese girls inside the compound. Students from their former high school came to visit; many felt this treatment was wrong. One visiting classmate was called into the high school vice principal’s office and told to never go to the fairgrounds again, as it was unpatriotic.

July 1942—The Japanese from the Puyallup Fairgrounds were transported to the more permanent internment, Camp Minidoka [in] Idaho.

1943—Boys 18 years and older could leave camp to join the Army—the famous 442nd, and were sent to the European Theater. Girls could leave camp to continue their educations in the Midwest if they could pass the FBI clearance.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Home Front

D. Peter McIntyre ’52

MacIntyre '52

D. Peter McIntyre '52

(1932–    )

“OOPS!”
—Adolf, Benito, & Hideki

A MicroRetrospective of “The Last Good War” & Familial Sequelæ
by D. Peter McIntyre ’52

I was an eight-year-old sitting alone in the living room of my four-person immediate family’s first-floor apartment in Eastchester, NY and listening to our tabletop radio on 7 December 1941. Suddenly, John Daly’s resonant voice interrupted regular programming to announce that armed forces of the Empire of Japan had attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor early that Sunday morning. (“Pearl Harbor? Where’s that?”)

Days later the Big Brother squawk-box (containing hidden microphone & speaker) hanging high on the front wall in Miss Charlotte E. Matzka’s Third Grade classroom ordered us all to pour out into the corridor. Only the hall speakers’ wiring was patched into the principal’s office radio, which resembled our model at home. We pupils and teachers stood listening in real time as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt nasally addressed a Joint Session of Congress about “a date which will live in infamy.”

Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the USA shortly thereafter, pitting us and our allies, “the United Nations”, against the three Axis powers. (After the War the antifascist nations yielded this title to the newborn successor to the footling and toothless League of Nations.) My older relatives quickly joined various U.S. Armed Forces serving across the Homeland and in the European and China-Burma-India Theatres of War. Some had near-death experiences, although most eventually came home and transitioned into civilian life as Veterans. But not all.

My father, future PA Parent Douglas L. McIntyre (1901-1994), a teenager during the Great War (World War I, “The War to End All Wars”), was annoyed at being too young to enlist. During the great influenza pandemic his Mt. Vernon, NY high school was turned into an emergency hospital. He volunteered to carry cadavers on a litter down the stairs to an improvised morgue in the basement. As a matter of fairness, the other volunteer and he swapped ends on successive trips, because gravity made dead feet kick the lower guy in the kidneys. And we complain today about lower back pain! By 1941, Douglas was the 40-year-old night commissary superintendent for the New York branch of the Horn & Hardart Automat restaurant chain and wanted to see action this time around.

He joined the Army Air Corps and graduated from Officers Candidate School as a Second Lieutenant. Then he was assigned to run mess halls on bases across various Southwestern States. His applying work simplification and labor-saving techniques reduced Roster KP lists by as much as 80%. Before that, bombardiers had wrecked their sensitive hands in hot water and couldn’t go back to work for three days. Grateful Airmen “promoted” lumber and paint and donated their skilled labor and free time to spruce up the hall. A cartoonist poster-painted illustrations. A photographer printed enlargements of his local mountain shots, reminiscent of the work of Ansel Adams. Morale improved.

Noting that the guys routinely loaded their mess kits with more food than they needed, Lt. McIntyre asked them to take only what they planned to eat and stood beside the garbage barrel giving each wastrel The Evil Eye. Later, an anonymous note in the Suggestions Box read, “The Lieutenant should inspect his garbage before he serves it.” Eventually Douglas was promoted to First Lieutenant and then Captain, ending the War at Bolling Field outside D.C. as Chief, Food Services Division, Headquarters, First Continental Air Forces.

Whoever said that “Family is everything” probably didn’t get euchred out of $4,500 in a business deal by a female relative, as my parents did. One day when she was very old, this lightfingered lady commanded her investments manager, “Move X dollars from my account in Bank ‘A’ into Bank ‘B’.” One of her younger brothers drily observed, “She has finally achieved the ultimate in larceny: she is stealing from herself!”

By contrast, my belovèd Aunty Florrie (Mrs. Florence Mary Caygill McIntyre), a native of England who gave me pointers about playing the piano by ear, headed the family branch which continues to give me Clan McIntyre’s happiest memories from childhood. Aunty Florrie and five of her six kids (whom she had raised as a single mother headquartered near Philadelphia after her husband divorced her to marry a younger woman) were irrepressibly congenial, optimistic, and encouraging. They regarded relatives—even distant ones—as cherished best friends whose company they preferred, given a choice. With seemingly effortless grace, they meticulously carried out the demanding, day-to-day work of nurturing friendships: remembering other people’s interests, likes, and dislikes; tactfully thinking ahead to avoid stepping on emotional sore toes; passing along news of shared interests; and warmly supporting the other person’s pet projects.

One daughter, Isobel, served in the WAVEs and married a Navy man. Florrie’s elder son, Captain Donald K. (an M.D. who interned at Hartford while treating hundreds burned in the terrible circus big top fire which spawned flame-retardant laws for all future canvas tents), and her younger son, 2nd Lieutenant Alan G. (a ticket agent for railroads), became soldiers in the U.S. Army. The “G” stands for Graeme (rhymes with “frame”), a family name on his mother’s side.

Aunty Florrie was the first year’s prizewinning correspondent for THE FAMILY BULLETIN, a 5.5” x 8.5” newsletter I founded, published, and reproduced for up to 40 subscribers on a gelatin-filled Hektograph pan duplicator and later an Old Ditto successor between Fourth and Sixth Grades (1943-45). At Alan’s suggestion, I ran a directory of the APO and FPO addresses of relatives and family friends in the Armed Services to complement his ad requesting “letters, and lots of them.” He wrote, “ …. You’ve no idea how much a letter can mean to a guy when he comes in from four hours of drilling, exercising and running the obstacle course in the afternoon. It helps a lot — just the way the USO says it does. Cause when you listen for your name and it isn’t called, you get a mighty blue feeling.”

At intervals starting when I was seven years old, Alan wrote me newsy and thought-provoking letters. The first missive (postmarked January, 1939 from Theta Xi House at State College, a.k.a. Penn State) addressed my interests in carnivorous animals and plants. It also celebrated the farsighted California rancher who single-handedly saved the chinchilla from extinction and got rich in the process.

In the first of two letters from Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1943, Alan wrote, “How is school coming along? Right now you’re taking the subjects that are more important any day than those you will take in college. One of the first things they give to the officer candidates when they arrive here … is a simple test in 8th Grade arithmetic, spelling, grammar, and geography. And you would be surprised at how many men had trouble with it. Out of our class of 200 — almost half of them flunked the test. And because of it, unless they prove that they possess outstanding qualities of leadership, they will be busted out of here in the fifth week [of the 13-week course]. In other words, they’re half licked before they start, all because they couldn’t do decimals, fractions and stuff like that there, as Fibber would say. [Alan refers to the star of the weekly A.M. radio comedy serial titled “Fibber McGee and Molly”, notorious for crashing sound effects when Fibber’s wife, Molly, opened his closet door, and an avalanche of clutter fell out.] … I passed the test, by the way. This place is really rugged. West Point has nothing on this….”

Although an avid fan of American jazz who might understandably have devoted his 10-day leave (after graduating and being commissioned on 3 August 1943) to haunting jazz clubs in Philly or New York, Alan invested that precious respite in visiting my mother, sister, me, and other kin.

On the Home Front, Joe Fitzgerald, the amiable maintenance man for our group of apartment buildings, tilled and prepped a plot of land for us to plant and tend as our family’s Victory Garden. After patient watering and weeding, it supplied our table with fresh veggies. Good thing, because we had to deal with red and blue ration stamps to buy meat, sugar, & other groceries.

Although the U.S. domestic gasoline supply was adequate, the federal government’s arbitrary curtailing of fuel was intended to make natural rubber tires last longer. The Japanese war machine conquered the Dutch East Indies, cutting off the United Nations’ supply of latex. Western chemists’ early attempts to invent satisfactory synthetic rubber were disappointing. We kids had to take off our street shoes while playing sports in the elementary school’s auditorium-gym because their synthetic rubber soles left black marks on the floor. Buffing the blemishes off was labor- & time-intensive and, therefore, costly.

Our pediatrician made house calls. As an essential worker, he merited a Gasoline Ration sticker with a reverse cut of the sans-serif, boldface letter “C” on the driver’s wind vane of his car. (Ask one of my fellow dotards what a wind vane was, and did.) This label got him a bigger allotment of gas at the filling station than a mere peasant could demand with the “A“ Mileage Ration sticker. Ration Book #4 carried a picture of a young woman with the patriotic injunction, “KEEP The Home Front Pledge. Pay no more than Ceiling Prices. Pay your points in full.” (Prices and wages were controlled by a new Washington bureaucracy.)

A counselor at my day camp had prominent scar tissue on one shoulder from entry and exit bullet wounds inflicted by a Nazi spy in our neighborhood when the counselor helped police corner the Fifth Columnist. Too close to home for comfort! A German submarine landed eight men in civilian garb on a nearby New Jersey beach to mingle with the local population and sabotage targets of opportunity. All eight were caught quickly, tried, convicted as spies (if captured in uniform, they would have been protected by various Geneva Conventions as Prisoners Of War), and executed.

Middle-aged domestic codgers were left in Home Front jobs after tens of millions of able-bodied men volunteered for (or were drafted into) the U.S. Armed Forces. A typical troll customarily replied to customers’ complaints about the lousy goods or service he provided by snarling, “Doncha know there’s a WAR on?” out of one side of his mouth, as if that justified his arrant snottifications.

My mother, sister, and I got through until VE- Day (Victory in Europe) and VJ-Day (Victory over Japan) without running out of salt print butter, although once we were down to an eighth of a pound.

The powerful dairy lobby rammed through Congress a law forbidding makers of barfy old margarine to color it yellow, like butter. (Surf the ’Net to find the emetic ingredients the French Academy dithered for 30 years to include in early XIXth Century versions of this nauseating spread, intended to put fat into the diets of citizens too poor to buy butter.) I once saw a neighbor’s malleable, clear plastic pouch of pus-white margarine with a separate dot of coloring gel glistering like a navel jewel in the middle. The customer had to punch the dot, rupturing its thin inner membrane, and then knead the mass interminably to distribute the yellow tint evenly throughout.

Once, another first cousin, Lt. j.g. Ted Stouffer, had become a Navy fighter pilot, Aunty Myrt only had to feed herself and Uncle Peeko. So she used her leftover red ration stamps to buy roasts, which she mailed to us from Narberth, PA by Special Delivery. Myrt was a generous and hospitable darling, but her wrapping skills were imperfect. One day our bemused NY Letter Carrier handed my mother a package of fresh beef with paper and string trailing down the corridor. Aunty Myrt happily devoted many hours to volunteering as a Gray Lady in a seersucker uniform at a military hospital, trundling a book-filled lending-library wagon through the wards, encouraging patients, and writing letters home for them.

Ted had a couple of close calls. Before he soloed in a two-cockpit training plane, crewmen lashed a 200# sandbag into the seat behind him to approximate an instructor’s weight. As Ted dove alone, G Forces caused the bag to unship and wrap around the joystick, which was in tandem with his stick in front. It took all the muscle on his 6’ 3” frame to pull out before crashing. Danny Hodges, the son of family friends, wasn’t so lucky. He was killed in a plane crash during a training flight.

Another day one of Ted’s fellow pilots was fooling indoors with a side arm, supposedly unloaded. But it went off. An unsuspected bullet in the chamber grazed Ted’s scalp. A Family Bulletin article for March-April, 1945 quoted Ted’s letter home. “‘Remember what I told you the other day about licking the skipper, Lt. Commander Murphy, in a [practice] dogfight? And how my chest deflated when I found he wasn’t playing anymore [because of sudden mechanical trouble]? Well, my chest is out again. This time I really did lick the skipper. In fact, three times in a row! It doesn’t mean a thing, but it is nice to outmaneuver a man with three DFCs (Distinguished Flying Crosses). What’s more important is that he told me that I am going to be his wing man!’ (ED NOTE: A wing man flies along beside the skipper on missions and is his fighter escort. It takes an excellent flyer to be a wing man, and we are sure that Ted is doing a swell job.)”

With an interest-free, $20 loan from my parents, I bought a sturdy wooden wagon with removable sides and ends. This permitted me to tour our neighborhood collecting scrap metal for bullets, recyclable newspaper bundles, and #10 cans filled with stove grease for nitroglycerine. Then I sold them for pocket change. These coins (plus earnings from my weekend shoe-shining business @ 5¢/pair) enabled me to pay off the loan and to buy War Stamps from our teacher every Friday and paste them into a booklet. When full, each booklet could be swapped for an $18.50 Series “E” War Bond redeemable years later for $25. Unless, of course, the Axis powers won, which came closer to happening than anybody wants to remember.

Among a neighbor’s discarded books hauled home one day on the bed of my wagon, I found a green, hardbound Latin grammar from the early 1880s. I wanted desperately to learn that ancient tongue. But the book was incomprehensible to me: clots of boldface Latin words strung together by tissues of meaningless English gibberish. The Greek tragedy of my early education is that I couldn’t think of a single trustworthy adult with whom to share this passionate curiosity and downright physical yearning. Our upstairs neighbor was the Dean of City College of New York, but it never occurred to me to ask him to teach me this venerable and fecund language, or at least to triage me to a tutor.

In Fifth Grade during WW II, my gray-haired and statuesque teacher (whom I admired and loved) got us kids to move her big desk from the front of the room to the rear. This permitted her to put the peek on what we were stashing in our open-fronted desks, and whether we were passing notes. She habitually carried on a rambling monologue to us all, complaining that the only two men she had loved (her father and her husband) had died and left her defenseless in a hostile world. She used us as listening machines, or unpaid psychoanalysts.

I didn’t learn until decades later that, when a woman complains, she wants a man to identify with her feelings and to validate them. The last thing she wants him to do is to offer practical advice to solve the underlying problem.

Our teacher worked herself into a screaming rage one day and yanked me out of my seat and slapped and punched my 10-year-old body in front of our entire class after insulting my wartime Captain father’s “pots and pans”. The trigger was my respectful, helpful suggestion that she take courses on the side — this in response to her stream-of-consciousness complaint to the class in general about not having a graduate degree, which she identified as being her key to a better-paying high school job. I probably wasn’t the only pupil to wonder, “How important are we mere Fifth Graders to her?” As I silently walked toward the Principal’s office for guidance, she sent big kids thundering down the corridor to carry me back horizontally like a log to our classroom. (The Principal, himself, routinely sneaked up behind us kids as we chatted innocently in line waiting for the bus, grabbed a boy by the hair, pulled his head back, and endlessly slapped the boy’s face from behind in front of everybody.) My teacher’s second verbal and physical assault followed. After the Principal’s conference with my mother three days later, I was put back into the same classroom with the same teacher (who had tenure) and spent 5th through 8th Grades with the same kids amid our burning memories of my humiliation. This unresolved, open-ended atrocity destroyed me for life as a student in a classroom setting.

Abused kids pay MICROSCOPIC attention.

Abused kids NEVER forget.

Read the full story.

1 Comment

Filed under In Uniform, Pacific Front, The Home Front

John T. Bird ’73

(1955–    )

An original Memorial Day poem…

Last Monday in May

We pause to remember those who died
With so much courage, so much pride

They’ll never come back, yet memories endure
To remind us of freedom: fragile, pure

We’re worthy of their sacrifice if we pause each day
Not just on the last Monday in May

Bird '73

John T. Bird '73

Leave a comment

Filed under The Home Front

W. Parker Seeley Jr. ’54

Seeley '54

W. Parker Seeley Jr. '54

(1937–    )

My father was an Army pilot and Air Corps flight instructor at Kelly Field in Texas in WWI, and he arrived in France a few days after the Armistice; my father-in-law was a doctor who went in with the Seabees on a number of the Pacific Islands in WWII.

I can remember WWII in Bridgeport, Conn.— a prime bombing or submarine target on the Germany High Command “Grand List” because of the huge war-effort manufacturing done [there]—particularly gas and food rationing. After rationing of food stopped I never have touched another gram of Spam!

Leave a comment

Filed under The Home Front

Stephen C. Wilson ’54

Wilson '54

Stephen C. Wilson '54

(1936–    )

My Dad was turned down as slightly too old when he tried to enlist right after Pearl. He quit his job and went to work on the night shift in a defense plant making planes for the Navy. He also served in the Coast Guard Auxiliary patrolling for German subs off Long Island on a converted cabin cruiser with nothing but a 50 cal. machine gun mounted on deck.

But three uncles served in combat. One rose to captain and waded ashore side-by-side with at Morotai in the Moluccas Islands. “All eyes were upon me, or so I thought, until I turned around,” quoted the hometown newspaper.

A second uncle flew 50 missions from North Africa over Italy and then from Italy into Austria, Romania and Germany. On a raid over Vienna his B-24 “Liberator,” named “Alice from Dallas,” was shattered in a sea of flak. My uncle had pulled the top gunner—unconscious and with an arm torn off—from his turret and kept him alive with tourniquet, bandaging and sulfa drugs. The pilot was about to order the crew to bail out but saw that the gunner could not. With the plane “shot to pieces” and two engines gone, they made for Italy and “landed at 150 miles an hour…without flaps or brakes” and “shot right off the end into a field with an ambulance racing after,” as reported in the press when my uncle was awarded the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster.

The third uncle was a fast-rising West Pointer who had made full Colonel at 32. Commanding the 311 Fighter-Bomber Group of the Tenth Air Force and flying escort on a raid over Burma in November 1943 in one of the first P-51 “Mustangs” to see service in that theater, he was shot down and captured by the Japanese. There were fragmentary reports of other prisoners encountering him in the camps. He smuggled out a letter to my aunt in tiny print on the inside of a Lucky Strike package. And then nothing. He is believed to have died on a ship sunk by friendly fire; the Japs, as we called them, did not mark P.O.W. transport ships.

A few years ago I searched for traces of him in the unit action websites on the Internet and instead was stunned to come across the first-person account of the Japanese fighter pilot who shot him down, a celebrated ace with twelve kills. It is rated as the first downing by the Japanese of a P-51. He faulted my uncle for a diving maneuver (“Split-S”) rather than using the power of the P-51 to climb. It is best my aunt did not live to see a 1981 interview with the pilot on YouTube.

We were ages 5 to 9 during WWII. We treasured the V-mail, the K-rations, the shoulder patches, the Japanese souvenirs they sent us. These were our heroes growing up.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Home Front

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Home Front