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.
War Disrupts a Family
Robert LaRue b. 1937
Even as a six-year-old, I could sense the change in my parents. I understood my own anxiety. The move from Baldwin Park to Chico had toppled my entire world. But grownups were not supposed to have those feelings. I could only hope that our life would somehow get back to normal.
I did not have long to wait. My dad was a very resourceful man. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he had just turned seventeen. He entered adulthood during very trying times. He was a product of the Great Depression.
His parents were schoolteachers. Thus, education was paramount in their lives. Dad tried to keep peace in the family by remaining in school. But money was short and he was of an independent nature. For the next seven years until he was 24, he alternated between academic pursuits at Northern Arizona State College in Flagstaff and Arizona State College in Tempe, and the “school of hard knocks”; riding the rails and living in hobo jungles throughout the United States. He learned at an early age to be “quick on his feet.” Survival required it.
The free life ended in 1936 when he married my mom. They were married on the first of June shortly after Mom graduated from high school. I was born nine months later on March 24. Dad was now a family man.
Dad was up to the task. With the help of my grandparents, he bought a lot in Baldwin Park, California and built a home for us. He went to work for McMullan’s Dairy milking cows.
He worked his way up to foreman and we moved into the foreman’s quarters on the dairy. My mom helped out in the little store where they sold the dairy products they produced. Despite the war, their life seemed secure.
The World Changes
By Robert LaRue b. 1937
As World War II wore on, life on the home front became increasingly chaotic. Everything was in short supply. Ration stamps came into being. The “black market” raised its ugly head. Outside forces were taking over people’s lives. Unwelcome regimentation was extending from the military down into the civilian population.
The magician we call memory has many tricks up its sleeve. Trivial things often stand out ahead of major events. Its slight of hand hides some experiences and makes clear others. Perhaps we choose what we remember; perhaps what we remember chooses us.
As a first-born son and grandson, love and security surrounded me. A doting grandmother watched over me while my mom went to business school. Three aunts, age 17, 19, and 21 the year I was born, spoiled me. My world was safe.
I remember bits and pieces. Aunt Sue’s idea of babysitting was to strap me in the front seat of a Piper Cub and fly around Southern California as she built up flight hours. She let me take hold of the stick and bank and turn and climb and dive. At least I thought I was in control. I loved it. Aunt Fran had married and her father-in-law lived with them. He had a handcart he pushed around the neighborhood selling fruit and vegetables door to door. I delighted in tagging along as his “helper.” Aunt Rae was busy with nursing school but always had time for a hug and a kiss for Bobby.
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 remember 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.
We 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.
If you didn’t live your childhood during World War II, please read one account (mine) below. If you did live through the war, what are your war time memories? Submit your story – or just a comment – below. I’ll share them.
“If the Japanese win any more battles they could win all the way to California,” I heard my grandmother say. She was sitting at the scarred desk that served as the hub of our small dairy farm speaking on our only telephone.
I was sure I shouldn’t be listening so I slipped out to be with the men in the dairy.
I had I overheard some of the men talking about how all the Japanese out west were being rounded up and sent out to the desert. Today they were talking about which of their friends were going off. We were a Navy family – my father and two uncles were gone. Two of our men were headed for the army. That would leave just my grandparents, my mother, my Uncle Carl, and me to handle the farm. We did share help and work with our neighbor farms.
Part 2 of 2 (If you missed Part 1, please click here)
Every day we pooled our eavesdropping, snooping and overheard talk of war from each of our homes. Roosevelt’s radio talks were occasions for excitement and serious deliberation by adults. We watched adults closely for signs of fear. We figured out they intended to keep bad news from us. They didn’t want us to be afraid and I think they did a pretty good job. (I never heard Edward R. Murrow’s chilling reports from London until I was a grown man.)