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
My family ran a small beachfront resort – today you would call it a motel – near Newport Rhode Island. We thought the war would shut us down, but soon after the war started business was just about back to normal. People had money they couldn’t spend on things like cars and they did want some recreation. With gas rationed, people often came in a group, piled into one car.
Being on the water we had special blackout regulations. We invented our own ways to keep the light from shining out to sea. We built frames the size of a door and hung them with black oilcloth. At sunset we put them in front of the doors so that people could go in and out, but no light could be seen from the sea. We fitted all our outdoor lights with tin cans that we cut the bottom out of so that the light would shine only to the ground. We had wardens who patrolled in boats to check to be sure no lights could be seen. Sometimes we had to make changes.
When a boat got sunk or someone saw a German sub we thought people would be too afraid to come, but it turned out they were excited to think that they might see some war action close up.
With most of the moms staying at home, this meant the dads worked a five day a week job. Three of the 13 families had dads who worked at Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company. My dad was one of those three. All the fathers seemed to work the regular 40 hour week and had weekends off. My dad loved being a dad. He didn’t have such a great one himself, so he really went all out for me. Virtually every weekend, he would take me to the movies. Of course I loved the scary ones and he took me to those mostly. In many instances, he also took one or two of the neighbor kids. Some of the other kids had dads that took us to the movies or the park on occasion, but it was nothing like the schedule dad kept. I remember when House On Haunted Hill came out in 1959. We went downtown to see it in one of the oldest and most ornate movie theaters in Indianapolis. At one point this skeleton came sliding down over our heads on a wire. That made quite an impression on a ten year old.
One other thing I never knew was shortages. Mom once told me there were a few times when she and her sister had to take turns going to school because they only had one pair of shoes between them. Dad was just about as poor too. But when they married and dad got the job at Lilly’s, they started having a little. Dad started at Lilly’s in the pill factory making sixty cents an hour in late 1950. By the time we moved into our own house in 1954, we were very much middle class. We could live a fancy lifestyle, but when it came to the necessities like food and clothing, we had plenty. This was especially true for me. Mom always made sure I had top of the line shoes.
Another thing we never lacked for was food. This may have been my undoing in a way. I lived three minutes from a drug store and always had a little money to spend. Much of that was spend on candy and I was a little fat in my younger years. Mom and dad had gone through their childhoods just dreaming about candy. Mom especially craved fruit her entire adult life since she almost never got it as a child. To me fruit had little appeal since it was so readily available.
I vaguely remember Korea, but was very young at that point. I also remember film clips of bomb tests when the USSR got the H-bomb. And I certainly remember getting under our desks for bomb drills. Still, I can not remember a single time when I sat around and worried (or even gave much thought to) all of it. For a kid in grade school, all of this seemed was off and very remote. I think the only nervous time for me was in 1962 (by then I was 13) with the Cuban missile crisis.
In short, I grew up during a period when the US had a strong middle class, when we were allowed to be out until dark because no one worried about safety, when we had never heard of a school shooting, when drugs were virtually unknown in most middle class neighborhoods and when the future looked nothing but bright.
I was born in 1949. That made me one of the Leading-Edge Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1955. I have always felt those of us Leading-Edge boomers were more fortunate compared to those who came later. In some respects we were more fortunate than those who came just before us as well, since we had no sad memories of World War II.
For the most part, we were the only ones to remember when most every family had two parents at home. We were also lucky that most of us (in our neighborhood) had a stay at home mom. In 1954 my parents and I moved into a large housing addition that had just been completed. The houses were modest by today’s standards, but they were the dream of our parents. The house my parents bought in 1954 would end up being the only home they ever owned.
Our little block was a cul-de-sac with just 13 houses on it. We always referred to it as “the circle.” Everyone moved in at about the same time over maybe a two month period. Of the 13 families, one couple decided to have no children and one couple was much older than the rest and were already retired. Of the remaining eleven families, five already had kids and the other six would soon start having kids after they moved in. Of the eleven mothers on the block, only two worked outside the home. Much of our play time was spent right there on our own street, especially in our younger years. With so many mothers around, it was no problem for my mom to go to the grocery and ask another mom to kind of keep an eye out for me.
The moms back then seemed to cherish their roles as stay at home moms. This
feeling may have changed with mothers who came later, but I know at that point
moms loved their life. Of those thirteen wives on that little block, I am
fortunate to still have two of them still living. When I get together with
them, they love to talk about the 1950’s and early 60’s. I’m sure if you asked
them their major accomplishment in life, they would say raising their kids.
Of course times changed. Women started going back to work due to economic necessity.
In other cases, the mothers of that day were more likely to be seeking the
self-actualization that came from not just a job, but a career. Thus my
Leading-Edge group was the only ones in a sense. By the times these
changes came, I was already in high school.
Several of you have asked to be notified when Home Front A Memoir from WWII is released as an audio book. The release last week means that the audio book joins the paperback and eBook editions. It is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets. Here is one link https://www.amazon.com/Home-Front-C-D-Peterson/dp/096008150X/
When most of us who were there at the time think about the
end of the war we think about the parades and celebrations, but the
readjustments were difficult – for both the servicemen and their families. We had four boys in our town who had what we
called shell shock. They stayed to
themselves mostly, but It was awful to see them on the street.
But lots of other boys who came home found it hard to get
back into civilian life. My uncle James had troubles adapting. He tried some work but just needed more time
to settle in. One day he told me he was
joining the” 52-20 Club.” It was a
program that gave men like him $20 a week for 52 weeks, or until they got a
job, to help them. He joked about it, but he was a little embarrassed
I could tell. He got a job in a short time.
We don’t often talk about these kinds of things that happened
after the war. There were lots of
Comments :Pete: Thanks so much for all the “memoirs” you’ve published from WWII. These memoirs from those of us who were children on the home front are very moving and historically important. Because it is filled with children’s memoirs of the war, your subscribers might be interested in reading my book, “Daddy’s Gone to War”:The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (Oxford University Press).
— The author is William M. Tuttle, Jr. I have read the book and commend it to those who care about this era.
My brother, Raymond, the oldest, went into the Army as soon as the war started. My sister Phyllis went to work at the Watertown Arsenal. The arsenal was a huge collection of old brick buildings with its own railroad. They tried to keep it secret, but everybody knew they made weapons. Phyllis probably wasn’t supposed to tell me, but she said they made big anti aircraft guns. She told me because she wanted to tell me about what she and the women did to the guns.
The women called themselves “WOW” – women ordinance workers- and made jokes about that, but the most fun they had was writing on the barrels of the big guns in lipstick. Mostly they wrote notes to the soldiers like “Go get ’em G. I Joe” and sometimes they wrote fresh things, but some, like Phyllis wrote the names of family members and friends. Phyllis wrote “This one is for you Raymond” and other messages.
It sounds like a joke about Okies moving from Oklahoma to California, but we did.
Several people have sent in posts describing how the war forced them to relocate. Here is one from Duncan Eisley of Oklahoma b. 1935
I was eight when we made the move. My dad enlisted in the Army as soon as the war started so my mother and I lived with my grandfather. We lived in pretty poor conditions outside of Stillwater. We had no electricity or running water and we didn’t exactly live off the land, but close to it hunting, trapping and fishing. My grandfather was old, but strong and healthy. One day a member of our church told him and some others that if you could work a twelve-hour day the airplane factories in California were begging for men and paid big money. They even gave you a house to live in.
My mother was afraid for us to set off by ourselves in our
old truck, so my grandfather talked to some other people and we gathered up
three families to go in a caravan. The
trip wasn’t too bad as others had given us tips on how to do it.
We ended up in Santa Monica and my grandfather got work
right away at Clover Field working for Douglas.
It was a big change for us. We
got to live in a small trailer, but it had electricity and water. One thing I remember liking the most is that
I could go to a store and buy food.
It was like a big camp and we all learned about each other
and where everybody came from. Sometimes
someone lost a family member in the war and people gathered to help out.
Mostly there was a good spirit because we knew we were all
working for the war effort.
From a January, 1944
advertisement by Swift brands of beef in Good
WIFE! She knows that her husband can carry on the war pace of his job only if she keeps his home a peaceful, happy place. She’s a loving and lovable person, doing a fine jobof home-making. A salute for being that kind of wife.
MOTHER! She guards her youngsters’ health, body and mind. She sees they get foods from the “Basic 7” Nutritional Groups daily. Sensing their shock from wartime headlines, she calmly explains why American men go off to fight.
PURCHASING AGENT! She realizes rationing means fair sharing. She sympathizes with dealers – understands why she often cannot get just the cut she wants, or the Swift’s brands of beef or other meats she’d prefer to have.
COOK! She cooks with car to save nutritive values. She makes the most of meat; reduces shrinkage by cooking at low temperature; prepares attractive dishes from leftovers; learns to cook every kind of cut so it will taste its very best.
SALVAGE EXPERT! She wastes nothing, for she knows that Food Fights for Freedom. She uses every bit of leftovers, even bones are saved for soup. She regularly takes to her dealer the drippings of fat that have no further cooking use.
WAR WORKER! She joins wholeheartedly in the community projects of civilian defense. She sends neat bandages on far errands of mercy. And (to her it is a matter of special pride) the honor list of blood donors includes her name.
WAR BONDS BUYER! She does without things she wants so our men will have the things they need. Over 10% of her husband’s pay goes for war bonds, plus dollars she saves in her household budget.
She walked into the college cafeteria avoiding his glance. He was cleaning off neighboring tables and she pretended she didn’t see him. He knew better though.
Duke was playing “Sophisticated Lady” on the radio in the
background and this tall, skinny, basketball jock thought it appropriate
indeed. He had always liked brunettes. This one
reminded him of his favorite actress, Jane Russell. She had an
edge to her and he wanted to find out more. She liked to
present herself as not being interested.
were about to change, he thought to himself, as she pushed her long hair to the
side while feigning a quick peek his way.
I get you anything at all, sweetheart” he asked with a boyish grin and a wink.
just fine, thank you,” she retorted, thinking him extremely forward, even
though a little bit of her sort of enjoyed his arrogant mannerisms.
few months later, she, who had not an athletic bone in her body, would show up
each day at the campus tennis court with borrowed racquet in
hand. Sometimes, he would be out there furiously slamming the
ball, and at other times, he would be talking to Sally, the chunky blonde at
the end of her dorm hall. “See ya doll,” he would shout to
this Sally, knowing full well that the brunette was watching and hearing his
every word and moves.
roommate came back to the men’s dorm one afternoon with news about the jock’s
brunette interest. “Hey, Mel. Your brunette is going out
with me tonight.”
might have a date with her, pal, but I’m the guy she’s going to marry,” the
jock told him forthright.
Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and lives in the nation and world suddenly
jock did manage to have a couple of dates with the interesting brunette, and
his roommate’s chances were nothing more than history.
plan was to get up to Pittsburgh and sign up for the Army.
of his buddies, who usually joined him in following The Big Bands on weekends,
were heading back to their home states and becoming the start of The
in a line forming for Army recruitment, the jock was somehow redirected into
the line signing up for The US Marines. He shrugged, and a proud
Marine he became.
brunette told her friends…and in later years, her extended family…that the real
reason she had gone to college was to “be where the boys were, of
course!” So, this brunette followed the jock. He
was assigned to Quantico, VA, and she was given nurses’ training at Bethesda
Naval Hospital as a Wave in the Navy. The two of them often
met on leave in DC, pounding the pavement and enjoying one another’s company.
jock called the brunette suddenly one afternoon and informed her that she had
only one chance to answer his question. He was “shoving off”
for The Pacific and he wanted her to marry him. She never gave
it a second thought…although years later, she often told folks that maybe she
just might have been a wee bit hasty in her decision. But the
war was on and the likes of The Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, and other
romantic bands, tore away at many a heartstring.
eloped, found a seedy little hotel (the only kind they could afford at that
time), sent telegrams to their parents, and brought in a bag of “White Castle”
hamburgers to munch on for their wedding
night. Oooops! The jock promised he would be
right with her. First of all, he needed to hear Johnny
Boyer on the radio with the sports announcements of the day.
so it was……the jock was injured in a jeep accident in Okinawa and missed the
first six months of his daughter’s life.
Their marriage lasted for more than sixty years and produced four children, seven grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren.
Mom and Dad have passed, but their memories linger…
was always his happiest singing Sinatra tunes and reminiscing about Big Bands
and sharp brunettes on college campuses.