My First View of the War

My parents were driving us from Miami to Bridgeport Conn. in summer of 1942 along A1A in Florida…..we stopped the car to look at three sunken tankers miles apart.
And not too far from shore….a ten year old kid saw war for the first time….and it frightened me.

Richard Onkey b. 1932

I am sending a picture made in 1943…..taken at the time of my father’s funeral…..My oldest brother John was in The Army Air Force.  He later flew P51s out of England and is credited with destroying three German planes. My brother Phil was 13 and my younger brother Tommy was 9. I was 11 and am standing between my two younger brothers. This is the only picture I could find about this time period.

 

A Child’s Long Island Home Front

The 1930s were challenging years for my Mother and Father, they were beginning to recover from the depression.

George Rodgers  b. 1933

 We lived in an attached house, or row of attached houses in Jackson Heights, on Long Island, NY.  Standing on the front steps we could see the passengers looking out the windows as their DC-3 airliners were landing at La Guardia Airport.  Mother said she could see the ladies putting on their make-up.

One day, shortly before Christmas, Mother was taking me into “the city” (as they called New York).  It was snowing as we walked to the subway.  While passing one row house, the family was moving their furniture out on the front lawn.  It bothered me, and I asked my Mother why they we doing that on a snowy day.  She bent down and whispered. “They didn’t pay their rent and they are being evicted from their home.”  This really upset me.  What would happen to these people?

Could that happen to us?  This was my first touch with life’s realities.  And there was nothing I could do to help this family, or my own.

On  a Sunday afternoon I was allowed to play with my lead soldiers in the living room.  There was an artificial fire place where I was positioning my troops among the logs.  Mother and Dad were sitting with my sister listening to the radio.  It was a wonderful feeling to be with them and have my favorite toys, too.

After awhile, there was a news flash that interrupted the radio program, “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor…….”

After much shock and amazed adult conversation my father said,

“This means war……”

My father at 40, married with two children, was not an immediate candidate for the draft. However, he tried to join the Navy offering his experience planning the loading of cargo, which was what he did for American Steel Export Company.  But, the Navy physical revealed a heart murmur, so he tried the Army (who ran their own supply corps freighters).  It looked like the Army would take Dad, so our row house was sold and we sat up all night on a train called “The Silver Meteor” going to Miami.

Dad rented an Apartment over a garage on Lincoln Avenue and we awaited his orders.  All the major hotels were taken over by the Army.  I was thrilled to see real live soldiers marching in the street, calling out cadence.  This went on all day, and the golf courses had them drilling with rifles.  However, I was disappointed that they were not firing them.

On rare occasions we went out to diner where the grownups raved about Florida red snapper followed by key lime pie.

The best part was I did not have to go to school, but after a couple of months the Army discovered Dad’s heart problem, and turned him down.  So, back we went to Long Island, but this time to Centerport, a village about 60 miles from NYC.  Dad commuted leaving at 6:00 AM (returning about 7:00 PM) daily planning cargo loads for the same company he worked for earlier, but now  his customer was Uncle Sam.

We followed the War with maps in the newspapers the Allied and Axis forces struggle.  Several of Dad’s business friends were caught up in the fall of Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  There was bad news all over the world.  London was being bombed and the news reels show fires and buildings toppling down.  Germany was advancing all over the world, even in North Africa.  Japan captured the Philippines and we heard terrible stories about the “Bataan Death March”.

Then there was a wonderful event shown on the movie theater newsreels.  U.S. Army bombers could be seen staggering into the air, taking off our Navy’s aircraft carrier Hornet….Jimmy Doolittle thrilled the world leading an attack bombing Tokyo !

Months later Dad received Capt. Ted Lawson’s Book of the Month Club selection “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo”.  I still have it.

Next, came the jungle war in Guadalcanal.  A high school class mate of my sister’s was wounded there, and was shipped home in time for his graduation.

When the Battle of Midway took place the newsreels showed the carries and their aircraft in exciting action.  For me, and my friends, this was more than “visual history”, it was the “wild west” at sea. We learned the names of our carriers.  During any free time in school we would draw airplanes firing on the enemy aircraft and ships.  We used rulers to draw strait lines of our fire.

As kids, all of our lives were involved in war.  I even remember the comics featuring Terry & the Pirates and Steve Canyon, fighting for China against the invading Japanese, before Pearl  Harbor. Madame Chiang Kai-shek was schooled in the US and toured the country promoting support for China. It was all very romantic,

Eventually, the big day arrived.  People went to church to pray for the troops landing on “D Day” the 6th of June 1944.  The news reels of the landings were frightening, and the death on the beach was very real.  But the day by day advance of the Allied Forces appeared on the front page of newspapers.  Victory in Europe seemed to be on the way.

The Pacific War featured island hopping invasions with Marines storming ashore under deadly fire. Despite heavy naval bombardments, the resistance was heavy and the losses were terrible.  Flame throwers made war look horrible, but we had to win.

Then one night our family went to the movies to see the first newsreel of the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  That was shocking, but it made the war end, and everyone we knew was thrilled.

George announcing himself c. 1941

 

War’s End on The Home Front

 

The end of WW II in 1945 brought many changes to the home front.

 Robert LaRue    b. 1937

Germany surrendered in May. In August, the worlds first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan gave up. Living in the farmlands of the Sacramento Valley, I do not remember a lot about the celebrations that took place. I do remember that shortly thereafter, we were loaded up and on off on a new adventure.

Migration from farm to city marked the American experience from the beginning of the Industrial Age. That movement accelerated during WWII. Although he would not have thought of it in exactly those terms, my dad determined to do the exact opposite. He decided get as far away from city life as he could, own his piece of land, and farm full time. With the war over and the government’s control of his movements ended, Dad set about to fulfill his dream.

In short order, he sold our little farm in Chico, California and quit his job at the air base. He loaded our belongings into the back of a 1937 Chevrolet pickup truck, loaded Mom and we three kids into the cab, and headed north. The young hobo of the depression had traded his knapsack in for a truckload of family and possessions. But he was determined to live by his own rules nonetheless.

Dad drove, Mom sat on the right side holding baby sister Deanne, I sat in the middle straddling the gear shift lever, and little brother Wes variously stood and lay down at Mom’s feet. Our route over the Sierras remains unknown to me. I do remember stopping at a wayside, perhaps around Lake Almanor, for lunch. A cool breeze wafted through towering Ponderosa Pines, a welcome relief from the summer heat of the Sacramento Valley. The scent of the pines combined with the delicious pan-fried pheasant Aunt Marie had packed in our lunch hamper remain with me to this day.

We pressed on to Alturas, a small ranching center in the northeast corner of California. We arrived in late afternoon. The town was in a festive mood with banners stretched across the main street announcing its annual fair and rodeo. Cowboys and cowgirls, afoot and horseback, lined the streets and sidewalks. We found this all very exciting until we discovered that there was no lodging available. The war was over and it was time to celebrate. People coming out of the hills and valleys surrounding the town had taken every room available.

Lakeview, Oregon is about 55 miles north of Alturas. It was dark by the time we got there. It too was full up with the overflow crowd from its neighbor.

With the aid of a flashlight, Dad found a dot on the map about 85 miles north of Lakeview called Wagontire. We passed through the dark starry night until a small sign and darkened buildings announced our destination. A gas pump, a café, and living quarters for the owners made up the entire town. A lighted window in the living quarters indicated that someone was still awake. Dad knocked on the door with the intention of asking if we could camp in their parking lot.

The people of Wagontire, Oregon showed us kindness. Perhaps it was learned behavior from his hobo days, or perhaps it was just in his makeup, but my dad always exuded an air of quiet confidence and honesty. I like to think it was the latter. Anyway, he explained our plight to the man of the house. The man looked us over, invited us in, and they put us up for the night. Who knows how often the Wagontire proprietors were called upon to tender such an act of charity along that lonely stretch of highway? I can only attest to this one event. And I have no way of knowing if any money changed hands. I am sure that we patronized their café before we departed.

That’s just the way things were done out in the country, on the home front, in 1945.

In 1945 a family in Wagontire put us up in their home. Years later the town could boast of a motel.

 

 

The Winds of War in Carmel, CA

World War II affected my world even before Pearl Harbor

Diane Lewis Hanger b. 1933

Many young men of Carmel, as was true across the U.S., joined the military before the outbreak of the war, realizing the country’s involvement was inevitable. My brother Carlyle, 18 years my senior, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in January, 1941. My 7-year-old mind, then, was focused on his activities as he progressed through advanced photographic school at Lowry Field in Colorado to become a Staff Sergeant and gunner/photographer. Pearl Harbor brought us into the war, and I was proud of Carlyle and confident our country would prevail.

I listened intently to nightly news, tracing the war in Europe and the Pacific, read newspapers to follow our troops’ movements and kept a list of the dozens of war correspondents. The progress of the war was a constant conversation in our home. In my young mind, there was no possibility we would lose the war.

I earned a nickel every time I brought a letter from my brother from the post office. And I was encouraged to write to all my uncles and cousins who were in the service via V-mail (Victory-mail). I wrote each letter on a special stationery sheet, which folded to form its own envelope. These letters, then, were censored, put on film, and sent to their overseas destination, a method that conserved space in transporting them, then printed again to deliver. I learned that servicemen didn’t want serious news, and filled my letters with details of everyday events in the family’s life and happenings in Carmel.

Family members served on both fronts. I lost a cousin on Omaha Beach, another, a paratrooper, was wounded shortly after. One lost his life at Pearl Harbor. My uncle, the oldest in the family to serve, fought to capture South Pacific islands from the Japanese. The youngest cousin to serve was a Seabee, building airfields on those islands as we won them. A lot of emotion for a youngster, but I remember feeling immensely proud, and confident we were doing what we had to do to secure peace.
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The Villain in Our Childhood

If you grew up in the 1940s you remember this villain who could – and did – strike anyone.  Did you have a special experience?

Not all memories about this era make me smile.  A villain lurked in all our childhoods back then.  We talked about the villain, but always in quiet tones.  We worried because we didn’t know when he might strike or who might be stricken next.  We heard he could strike when you took a drink at the water fountain in the Hollis Theater or went swimming in Learned’s Pond.  Parents couldn’t protect you.  Nothing could protect you from polio.
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Children of the 30’s – “The Last Ones” A Short, Generational Memoir

This post introduced our blog in April.  It’s a special post about those who came of age in the 1940s and early 50s,  “the Last Ones.” We are the last ones who personally experienced the scarcity of the depression, the patriotism during World War II and the exuberance in that brief, post-war period when we felt safe and when the middle class was born.  Your stories are special. Post your stories here.  I’ll share them.

Excerpted  from “A Memoir from the Homeland 1941-1955 ©  C. D. Peterson
All rights reserved
Born in the 1930s, we exist as a very special age cohort.  We are the “last ones.”  We are the last, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the war itself with fathers and uncles going off.  We are the last to Children of the 30'sremember ration books for everything from sugar to shoes to stoves.  We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans.  We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available.  My mother delivered milk in a horse drawn cart.

Children of the 30'sWe are the last to hear Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.  We can also remember the drama of “D Day” and the parades in August 1945; VJ Day.
We saw the ‘boys’ home from the war build their cape style houses, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.


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Saturday at the Movies 1950s Style

Almost everyone from our era shares this common experience: we went to the Saturday matinee at the local movie.  It was part entertainment, part social and part tribal. 

“Gene Autry, a war movie, (maybe Tarzan) seven cartoons and a serial!” That was Saturday afternoon at the movies for many of us.  Boys never sat with girls.  We threw popcorn. And the noise level was deafening.  Here is my account of one such Saturday afternoon and a story that made two of us  minor legends.

Leave a comment about your experience at the end of this post.

……………………….

He was big and I was fast. It wasn’t talked about, it was just understood the way kids understand things among themselves.  My cousin Dick at 13 stood as big as some of our teachers and I could run like the wind. These facts took on significance on Saturdays as we prepared for the matinee at the Hollis Theater.

movies 1950s style

 

Our Saturday matinees were probably like Saturday matinees everywhere in the 40s and early 50s.  We saw two features, usually one western and a war picture. Five cartoons ranked OK but seven was better. The serials, though, were pretty poor. We could always spot where they changed something that allowed the hero, who was doomed last Saturday, to cheat death this Saturday. The oldest of my four cousins did like Nyoka the Jungle Girl, however.


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