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
I grew up in a small town near Dallas. My cousins and I played marbles games back then. We had lots of kinds of marbles; glass, stone, “aggies” of agate, and there was the rare ‘steely’ that my cousin, Maryann, used for her shooter.
. Our games were simple: draw a circle, put in a marble from every player and then take turns trying to knock the other players’ marbles out of the circle. She won lots of games with that steely and prized it above anything she owned
When my father was killed in France, Maryann came to our house for the wake. We were both about 10 years old. As a kid, she didn’t know the right things to say, but she gave me her steely. I knew what it meant to her and understood what she was doing.
I won some games with the steely, but never used it against Maryann. Today the steely is in my jewelry box where I see it and think of Maryann’s war time kindness often.
(It’s summer and time for re-runs. Here is an earlier post from Col. Bob Mosely, brother of Zack Mosely, the cartoonist who created the popular war time strip “Smilin’ Jack.)
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) had been given a mission by the US Army Air Forces to perform shore patrol duties off the Fla. coast from Palm Beach up north to Cape Canaveral (about 130 miles of coast) and then there was another CAP unit out of Miami for the area south of us and others on up the north coasts, all the way to Maine (as I remember it). German submarines by that time were sinking many cargo ships along the east coast. The Gulf Stream is a current of water about 50 miles wide (just a guess) and moves at about 10 to 15 knots and flows around the bottom of Fla. out of the Gulf of Mexico and north along the coast and then on out into the Atlantic.
The US ships moving south would often get in very close to shore, to get inside the Gulf Stream and avoid the current so as to not lose that 10 to 15 knots of speed. At this time the Army Air Forces were short on planes and could not provide much in the way of patrol coverage. And if a submarine was spotted by some other source, a call would have to be made through channels and a very slow observation plane could then be dispatched, but if the observation plane did not happen to be in that particular area at that, it might have to come all the way down from Savannah Georgia. This was obviously no threat to the Germans so they were having a field day out there sinking merchant ships.—- When the ships were in so close to land, inside the Gulf Stream, the Germans would silhouette them against the lights of Palm beach at night and blaze away at them (this led to more strict blackout rules). They were in so close we were awakened several nights (living in West Palm Beach) by torpedo explosions sinking ships. Some of the broken hulls stayed around for a long time; one in particular off of Vero Beach was visible for as much as 20 years later.
These sinkings led to a bunch a things; one being a lot of oil on the beaches, one being a total black out at nights (we had to tape up the head lights of our cars and leave only a little slit of light for night driving, but with gas rationing there wasn’t all that much driving going on anyhow) and another thing it brought about was the change in the mission of the CAP being upgraded from an observation/rescue role to a more aggressive role, to try to help out with the German submarine menace. The idea was to put 100 pound bombs on the little Stinson 10 A, 90 HP planes we flew. Now we really did not expect to do a lot of damage with those little planes, although they could possibly inflict some damage. But, mainly it was figured that the Germans had some kind of electronic gear to detect an airplane was over head, and it might deter an attack.
With the advent of the beginning of the war, that sleepy little airport in West Palm Beach that I had fallen in love with when I arrived in West Palm Beach in 1940, became Morrison Field and a bee hive of activity with military planes of all sorts parked everywhere. Thus, there was no room for any civilian operations like there had been for the original Florida Air Patrol and early CAP operations, so the CAP operations had to be moved to the new Lantana airport, about 5 miles to the south of West Palm Beach.
It was at this time, thanks to my brother, Zack, that I got into the CAP as a pilot because I had my pilots license. I went from a grunt working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for $10 dollars— washing, fueling and hangaring airplanes— to a Second Lieutenant in the CAP, where they paid me $8 dollars a day and I could get all of the flying time I wanted. They called that pay Per Diem; a word I came very familiar with later on in my career. I had definitely moved up in the world and I was beginning to realize that my decision to become a military pilot; i.e. work for the Government, was not a bad idea from a monetary stand point as well as getting to fly their beautiful airplanes.
I really loved that CAP experience. For as mentioned before, nearly all of those Civil Air Patrol pilots were of Zack’s age or older (a couple of them had even been in World War One). They were successful people by my standards in that they had made enough money to buy their own planes, and also they were very experienced pilots. I had enormous respect for them and it was an honor to get to fly with such men. They seemed to respect me also even though I had done nothing to prove myself except that I did have a pilot’+s license. Part of their respect for me, I’m sure, came from the fact that I was Zack’s brother. But I suspect it also was the fact that they knew I was going to be getting in the real shooting war very soon and they were too old and would not be able to get to do that. That is a strange thing to think about as I write this, in that people really wanted to go to war which could mean getting killed. But a person needed to have lived at that time, when your country was really in danger of being taken over by the Germans and the Japanese, to understand how Americans wanted to get in the fight. It was an extremely threatening period and almost everyone wanted to do their part.
At Pioneer Parachute is was really possible to pack a parachute for your son
By Claire Stafford b. 1936
My Aunt Marie worked at the Pioneer Parachute Company in Manchester, Connecticut. Pioneer was the first company to use nylon instead of silk for parachutes. It was an important factory for the war effort. Mostly women worked there making and packing parachutes that paratroopers would use.
A woman named Adeline Gray who worked there tested the first nylon parachute by jumping out of a plane.
My Aunt Marie told me that women had to put their name and identification number on the chutes they worked on and that one woman’s chute actually got to her own son. She wasn’t sure it was true but it didn’t matter because every woman felt she had to do her best because somebody’s son’s life depended on her.
Everywhere you went during the war there was something that could scare a little kid.
Tina Bouchard b. 1938
I thought that spies were around every corner, listening and reporting back to Germany or Japan. In downtown Mobile there were posters on lamp posts that said “loose lips sink ships.” I didn’t want to have loose lips and worried about what that was. The pictures of Japanese soldiers they showed were terrifying to me. The worst was in the movies where we saw the endless lines of German soldiers marching. My friends and I wondered how we could ever beat such an army. My uncle Roy was in the Army and he said we would beat them for sure, so I held on to that.
It’s funny that when I talk to people my age today, they mostly say, “Oh, yes, I forgot about that. I was afraid back then.” I hope I forget someday.
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.