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 grandfather was from Cleveland. He owned a clothing store and held some stocks and lost everything in the depression. He took a job in a small steel mill where he earned 50 cents an hour. He was too old for the war. He heard about the need for workers in the war plants so he moved his family to Camden, New Jersey and got a job in the shipyard. His pay went from 50 cents an hour to a dollar an hour with plenty of overtime. Grandad, my grandmother and my mother also got help to pay for some of the rent. He always told that it was fated for him to make that move because the first ship he worked on was the U.S.S. Cleveland.
World War II made me love this country because there was a spirit of love in America which has never been here since. I had respect for my country and fellow citizens. I felt the country had great promise, and I was really happy that I was living in a period of history when I could play a part.
During the war we didn’t have a lot of violence here. People were future oriented. You had a sense of purpose, a sense of moving with the country.
(52- 20 was a subsection of the GI bill. It promised $20 a week for 52 weeks to tide veterans over as they searched for work.)
My name is Arthur Poretz. I was honorably discharged from Navy in 1946 and applied for 52-20 payments. I’m writing about the period but have no recollection of how I actually received the $20 each week. No checking account, no credit cards, it couldn’t have been cash in the mail. Very stumped but sure there is an answer since I’m writing about 1946 and my life after war.
Perhaps some reader remembers how these payments were made. Please comment.
My grandfather, Walter Bielkins, was born and raised deep in the North Carolina backwoods on a small, horse-powered farm. They had jury-rigged electricity which they used for lights and the radio, but no running water. He had never traveled much beyond the farm drive.
He enlisted right after Pearl Harbor and was sent to Fort Bragg. He told me he had some trouble adapting to being in such crowded quarters along side so many strangers, but it was for the war. His big shock came when he took a weekend pass to Fayetteville. He had never even imagined what a city was like. He was awed by so many cars and so many tall buildings. He saw houses all jammed close together. The restaurants and stores were a big shock as he had never been in either. He wasn’t alone because there were other country boys in his unit all discovering the same thing. He told me that with tens of thousands of boys being moved all around to new and different places, the war changed far more in the country – and in its soldiers – than anyone could imagine. He came home safely from Europe and lived to be 76
My sister, Alice Mary, had a boyfriend who joined the army.
Before he went in, he bought her an engagement ring. Alice Mary didn’t want to be engaged, but she felt bad because he was going off to war. In 1945 her boyfriend was coming home and she was worried about how she was going to break the news that she didn’t want to marry him. She felt sorry for him, but that’s how she felt.
She met him at a restaurant downtown near the train station. My parents, my brother and I were all waiting for her when she came home that night. “How did he take the news?” we all asked. “I never gave him the news,” she said. “He gave me the news that he was engaged to some girl he met when he was on leave in New York. He said he was very sorry.”
Alice Mary felt she should be happy that he no longer wanted to marry her, but she felt jilted nonetheless and cried all night. The next day she was fine and was glad her pretending to him was over.
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.