I fear losing the collective memory of a generation, a very unique generation. Born in the 1930s we are small in number and all aging into our 80s. We are what I call “The Last Ones” We are the last who can remember the war, it’s rationing, its tensions and its joyous end.
We are the last ones who remember the post war boom and the formation of the American Middle class. We are the last ones who grew up without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio.
We are also the last ones who grew up feeling safe. By the mid-fifties all that began to change.
Some call us The Silent Generation. That may be the case, but I hope this blog can capture and celebrate the memories of other children of the 1930s from around the country. The focus has been the post war years of 1945 to 1955, but that can change with your guidance.
I know there are lots of nostalgia pieces flying around about old time radio shows, 78 rpm records, and the candies we had back then. That's not what I’m hoping for. I'm hoping this blog can capture our stories and feelings and observations of those times.
Please read on.
Share this blog so that more can remember, some will learn and none may forget
C. D. Peterson, "Pete"
“Do your part,” was a sign we saw all around Aiken.
by J. Devine b. 1932
The Standard did picture stories about women who volunteered at various things, and families who grew big victory gardens. Paper drives were publicized and you could get a map of all the drop off places for the fat, rubber and other things you saved. At the movies you would see President Roosevelt looking straight at you urging you to “do your part.”
My friends and I were urged to form a team and scavenge for scrap metal – old farm machinery parts, tin wash tubs and such. At first we went at it because we felt it was our patriotic duty and, honestly, because of some pressure on us from our parents and teachers. But then someone got hold of a chart that showed what could be done with the scrap. “100 pounds of scrap can turn into X combat helmets, Y machine guns,” and so forth. I don’t remember the exact numbers.
Once we saw how we were really helping our boys and the war effort we went hammer and tong every scrap drive.
We did have a problem one time. One of the boys turned in a new looking car bumper that wasn’t scrap. The owner of the car figured out what happened. He was mad, but when he saw what we were doing he said he wouldn’t tell the police if we promised not to “create” scrap again.
During the war my dad was Traffic Manager at the General Motors plant in Linden New jersey.
By Marilyn Singerle Wood b. 1937
He was responsible for getting the necessary parts to build the cars. But during WWII, his job changed. General Motors, being adjacent to the Linden Airport, was now also building airplanes, primarily the FM Fighters. He now had to make sure the necessary airplane parts were also available
During the war, the GM plant in Linden, New Jersey enlarged their facility and organized a new division. On January 21, 1942 Eastern Aircraft was born. The new Eastern Aircraft division produced 7860 Wildcats and 9839 Avengers. These airplanes helped the U.S. Navy and Marines dominate the sky over the Pacific during WWII.
(this picture was pulled from https://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/career-advice/military-transition/from-building-buicks-to-bombers.html)
I moved to Framingham, Mass. In 1947 when my Dad was transferred from the General Motors plant in Linden, New Jersey to the new General Motors plant in Framingham.
So many things were in short supply that many things were rationed; gas for cars and many food items – butter, milk and eggs. We had a huge “Victory Garden” in our backyard and grew all kinds of vegetables. My mom and dad spent hours in the garden and my brother and I helped. The most fun was picking the vegetables. After picking the vegetables, my mom and Dad spent several more hours in our basement canning them. Tomatoes straight from the vine taste a lot better than the ones from the grocery store. We also had a few chickens so we had a good supply of eggs and of course the occasional chicken for Sunday dinner.
One thing that was a little scary was when the air raid sirens sounded at night and seeing the search lights moving around in the sky searching for airplanes. In order to keep as much light as possible from being seen from the air, the cars had to have black tape across the top half of the headlights so you could still drive at night, but with a lot less light being seen from above. Also dark shades on house windows had to be drawn when the sirens sounded. I can’t remember how often they sounded, but when they did it was scary. My mom and dad were Air Raid Wardens along with some of our neighbors and they would walk around the neighborhood making sure everyone was following the rules.
When we moved to Framingham I was in the third grade at Jonathan Maynard. I have many fond memories of my school days and the friends I had growing up there, but the New England accent and some of their words were different than I was used to.
When the principal at Jonathan Maynard, I think her name was Miss Cushing, asked me to get her the green tumbler I had no idea what that was. I quickly learned that it was a glass. Also, I learned that soda was pop or tonic.
This is the last of four posts from Nancy Hubener Warner b. 1937
They all came home safe.
One brother, Doug, had joined the Seabees at age 18. He served in the Pacific building airstrips, barracks, etc. while fighting the Japanese. Doug never talked about the war or his part in it. When his ship arrived in San Francisco on his return home, he threw all of his memorabilia overboard and he hitch-hiked all the way back home to Framingham, Mass. in September of 1945. He worked for a short time at the Dixie Lee Diner as a short order cook.
Later, still carrying mental scars of the war and trying to discover what life had in store for him he moved to New Hampshire, married, went to college and had a family. He died in California in 1998 at the age of 75.
Another joined the Army and became a paratrooper, a member of the 11th Airborne, “the Angels”. He, too, served in the Pacific Theater in the battles of Luzon and Manila. “Following Manila’s liberation, the 11th Airborne Division launched a daring raid behind enemy lines and liberated 2,200 Allied POWs from the Los Banos Internment Camp. Rescue at Los Baños is the spellbinding survival story of more than two thousand American and Allied civilian prisoners of war—men, women, and children—held in the Philippines by the Japanese during World War II, and the elite 11th Airborne Division’s heart-pounding mission in a race against the clock to rescue them from behind enemy lines.”
While fighting on Okinawa he was chosen to be one of Gen. MacArthur’s personal body guards and was one of those who escorted the General to the shore where he was taken to the Battleship Missouri to sign the Japanese Surrender. We had heard about liberating a prison camp and General MacArthur, but didn’t understand the whole significance of either.
In January of ’46, Bill came home. After a year or two working odd jobs he found work at the Roxbury Carpet Company in Saxonville where my mother was working. He soon married and bought his first home on St. Lo Road in the new post-war subdivision at the Muster Field. He died in 2011 at the age of 91 in Florida.
A third brother, Alfred, served in Germany toward the end of the war, during the cleanup phase. He was drafted at the age of age 28. He passed away at age 84 in 2001.
Most every family had someone serving far away. We were all in it together. It was a time when we kids knew there was a war far away and that we had big brothers fighting there. About all we really knew was what we saw in the newsreels at the movies. We’d take the bus at the corner of Old Connecticut Path and Concord Street to the stop at the corner where Newbury’s store stood and make a mad dash to one of the three theaters…Gorman, St. George, or Hollis, hoping to get a seat on the front row! We got to see a feature show, a cartoon or two, a serial that insured we’d be back the next week, the world news and popcorn or candy. All for about 50 cents. Imagine!
We played “army” using the “fox holes” left after removal of trees in Wyman’s nursery across the street where lived on Burr Street. Even as little kids we sang songs like: “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun”; “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me”; “Coming in on a wing and a prayer”; “It’s a long way to Tipperary”; “Now is the hour” and many, many more.
Not long after the end of that war, another one was looming. In March of 1950 my brother Wayne, who was 17, joined the Army. Soon after, war broke out in Korea and he was sent into battle. He turned 18 in October 1950 and the following April 25, 1951 he was captured and sent to a prison camp in North Korea. Two years later on April 24, 1953 he was released in Operation Little Switch, the first group to be repatriated before the end of that war. He was 20 years old. You may remember the celebration when he came home. There was a big parade and he was given a new car by the people in Framingham and surrounding towns, presented to him by Mr. Cavanaugh, the principal of Saxonville School. Everyone was wearing Welcome Home tags that had been sold to make the day possible.
Times have changed. Wars will never again be fought in the same way as in those years. Those of us who remember are getting to be fewer in number.
I lived in Boston, not far from the airport and Navy Yard.
By John Peterson b. 1937
I recall talk about both being possible targets of German submarines and aerial attack by Japanese bombers, which of course was a remote threat. However, they seemed all the more real to me when I was told, truly or falsely, that an anti-aircraft gun was mounted atop the roof of the Navy Yard. But I think that the older boys in the school liked to tease the first-graders about this and other things. Yet the possibility seemed real to a five or six year old who regularly participated in air-raid drills, standing against the wall in the basement of the school, and who had to wear an ID tag around his neck.
I recall trying to identify the shape and size of US bombers such as the B-17, B-25 and later the B-29, so that when I saw a bomber overhead (which occurred frequently) that didn’t match these I would be ready to run for cover! I also had a book with pictures of Japanese bombers one of which as I now recall we called “Betty”.
The whole thing was made more real by the fact that I had two older cousins serving in the Navy aboard the Wasp and the Portland (a carrier and a cruiser, respectively) in the Pacific and hearing some bad news about both ships. The Portland took a hit on her rudder at the Savo Island battle but returned after repairs to participate later on in the Battle of Leyte Gulf where she came through unscathed.
As for the original Wasp which as a child I believe I once boarded when she was in port in Boston, my memory is that she was sunk.
I remember we had to stand in line for some food items which were rationed. The government issued red and blue tokens to be used for food. the red ones I recall were for meat and the blue ones for non-meat items.
Sorry I can’t right now think of any other memories of this time.
This is the third of four posts from Nancy Hubener Warner b.1937
In August of 1944 my father was sent to Walter Reed Hospital where he was diagnosed with cancer. Six months later, in February of 1945, he was transferred to Cushing General Hospital in Framingham, Mass. It was a new military hospital built for the wounded soldiers of World War II. It was dedicated in 1944 and had a capacity of 1,800 beds.
It was then that we moved to Framingham. We were in the lst, 2nd and 3rd grades at Hastings School at Framingham Junction. Often when visiting at the hospital we saw trucks carrying men with POW written on their clothing. They looked like us but Mama explained that they were prisoners of war from Italy and Germany who had been captured and were now working jobs at the hospital. We daily saw the results of the war in the injured servicemen that were patients there. My father never left the hospital. He died in December of 1945 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
I remember standing in line with my mother, by the Arcade downtown, whenever she needed anything that was rationed. Actually I don’t remember butter, but a plastic bag filled with something white…..(lard, oleo?) that had an orange ball inside. To get whatever we considered butter, we had to burst the ball and knead the whole thing until it looked and tasted like butter. Remember? Who knew the difference?
Peter Onksen b. 1937
A very big memory for me during WWII was seeing a Japanese Zero fly overhead. The US Army Air Force was flight testing the captured Zero from its airport, Wright-Patterson.
My dad, Joseph Onksen, worked for AeroProducts, a subsidiary of General Motors, at the Dayton Ohio airport during WWII. They made propellers for military aircraft. We lived in Tipp City Ohio.
I attended the first 3 grades in the Tippecanoe School system. We lived on First Street with a levy behind the house that was to protect the town from flooding from the local river. We kids played war games in tall weeds beside the house and “flew” paper airplanes from cereal boxes.
My sister, Susan, was born when I was three years old and we were living in Anderson, Indiana (my home town). By the time she as one we had lived in Louisville Kentucky, Morgantown West Virginia and had just moved to Tipp City. My dad had been transferred to various General Motors subsidiary plants.
On December 7, 1941 we were over at my dad’s folks house in Anderson. The men were in my grandfather’s “special room” playing pool and the women were cooking in the kitchen and I was playing with my cousins, after the women heard the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack, they told me to go to the cellar and tell the men.
I also remember thinking that when the war was over that there would no longer be radio news programs and we could listen to my favorite radio mystery programs. We lived an easy walk from the town center and I often walked to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon where I could watch the movies, eat popcorn and drink a Coke for a quarter.
After the war my dad was transferred to the Framingham General Motors plant. In fact he was the plant electrical engineer and he worked there during the plant’s construction. We arrived in Framingham before the school year was over, as the mid west school year ended earlier so the kids could work on the family farms. My first school year in Framingham was grade four.
My memories of moving to Framingham, Mass. include a surprise in how New Englanders pronounce their words. My name is Peter, but in New England it’s Peetah.
This is the second of four posts from Nancy Hubener Warner b. 1937
I remember, as a second grader, delivering packets of seeds to families to raise “victory gardens”. Most everything was rationed. You couldn’t just walk into a market and buy whatever food you wanted nor could you fill up your car with gas whenever you liked. Tires and nylons were difficult to come by. The government introduced rationing because certain things were in short supply during the war, and it was the only way to make sure everyone got their fair share. Every American family was issued a series of ration books. They contained removable stamps good for certain items. A person could not buy a rationed item without also giving the grocer the corresponding stamp.
Once the stamps were used up for a month, people couldn’t buy any more of that product. This meant not wasting food. Mama always said “clean your plate up, think of the people around the world who haven’t anything to eat.” I often stood in lines with her waiting to buy sugar, shoes, nylon stockings and many other rationed items.
We didn’t own a car however the national maximum Victory Speed was 35 miles an hour. The purpose was to conserve rubber, not gasoline.
Families who had members serving in the military always had a small banner hanging in the window with stars designating how many men or women they had in their family who were serving. If they had lost some in battle, they hung a gold star. It was a sad but too common sight.
Bud Thayer b. 1937
Like many other Depression Era kids, our family was on a very tight budget during those early formative years. Welfare was not an option so we made do and got by just fine. This experience provided us with a very valuable lesson which I’ve carried on with: if you watch the nickels and dimes, the dollars will take care of themselves.
I was 4 years old when the war broke out but can still remember our family sitting next to the old Philco radio as President Roosevelt announced “ This day will live in infamy.” My uncle John was already in the Navy as was his best friend, Cliff Carter who was my neighbor. John was on a destroyer in the Pacific and saw Cliff’s aircraft carrier, the Bunker Hill, when it was attacked by Japanese Kamakazies. Cliff along with several other pilots were killed in the attack. That was my first introduction to the Gold Star Mothers as Cliff’s family lived next door to us.
Although my Dad was drafted into the Navy, when they learned he was a machinist at Lombard Governor Corp. in Ashland making parts for the guns on our battleships, they decided he was more valuable staying right there.
I can certainly recall the air raid sirens going off and everyone keeping their homes dark, shades pulled, etc. My Grandfather was a Civil Defense Warden during this period, and since he lived with us, I got to see this situation quite often.
Living near Cushing Hospital at the time where they would bring in soldiers from the front to treat their wounds, we kids went over there often to visit those soldiers that were able to spend some time outside. They seemed to enjoy our visits and often would play ball with us. My own neighborhood had a large ball field where we often played football, baseball, etc and the Sudbury River was close by where we all swam when it looked clean. Of course, Polio was a big concern at the time so everyone tried to be as careful as possible. In the winter the swamp just off the river would freeze over providing us with a place to play hockey.
When I turned 10 I went to work part time caddying at the Framingham Country Club and around 12 or 13 I went to work and live on Wilson’s Farm in Sherborn for the summer. I guess that’s where I obtained my love for horses because I’m still riding my horses in Civil War and Seminole War re-enactments.
After graduation from high school in 1955, I along with four of my classmates including Doug Peterson, all joined the Navy. Although Framingham was a good place to grow up, I’m glad I moved to Florida in 1962 to raise my family and I’m still married to the same wonderful wife 59 years later.
This post is the first in a series from Nancy Hubener Warner b. 1937
For the last several years I have been writing a history of my family for my children. I want them to know about the different world that you and I grew up in. About the war years that we lived through that are nothing like they are living in today and about the patriots in their family who helped to save and build an America they could be proud of and feel safe in.
I was born in Sanford, Maine in 1937. I was the 8th of 9 born to my mother, the first five from a prior marriage. My father had been in the U.S. Army for years but was at the time of my birth he was a civilian. In 1942 he re-joined and was stationed in the Boston area with the rank of Master Sargent.
Sanford wasn’t far from the coast so there was a fear of a possible attack from the sea. The Coast Guard was always watching for enemy submarines. There were practice air-raids, or “blackouts” unannounced now and then. A loud piercing siren would sound and we had to turn out all the lights and pull down the window shades to shut out any remaining light. After a while another siren would sound telling us that we could go back to normal. Often, heavy armored tanks, jeeps and other military vehicles would drive through town right down Main Street in front of our house. We all ran to watch.