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 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.
Newton Tolman of New Hampshire told journalist Roy Hoopes:
I was interested in the State Guard, because I knew a lot of
these young kids who had never gone through the sixth grade and I thought “Jesus they’ll get drafted and
they don’t know how to kill or drill; they don’t know nothing.” So I went all
over the area, not only in my town, telling the young kids to get into the
State Guard. They’d say, “What for?” And I’d say, “Well you’re going to get
drafted. Don’t you know there’s a war
Well, I talked a lot of them into it. A fellow who was in here this morning got into the Marines. He has only one eye now. He had a terrible time, but he made it out. If he hadn’t had this State Guard preliminary training he wouldn’t have. These guys could hardly read or write or anything, but they learned to drill, they learned the routine, principally the phony part of it but you have to learn it. Once a week we’d have encampments, and then we’d go out there or four nights and have sham battles in the woods and that kind of stuff. All the officers got drunk as hell. These kids remember that training to this day. I saw one yesterday who I hadn’t seen in about fifteen years. He said, “You know, you saved my life with that State Guard thing.”
Credit for this story goes to Roy Hoopes (1922-2009) “Americans Remember the Home Front”
My mother and I and my baby sister were left alone as soon as the war started.
By Caroline McCarthy b. 1938
My dad volunteered for the Navy right away because he didn’t want to fight in the mud like his father had done in the Army. We didn’t live way out in the country, but we were up the coast, pretty far from town. You couldn’t call it a real farm, but my dad liked to raise our own chickens and tend a big vegetable garden.
Taking care of our place pretty much by herself was a big job, and she was not a big woman. On top of that, I used to see how hard she had to work to figure out how much gasoline she had to get around and how many ration stickers she needed for this and that.
With no end to the war in sight, she became weary, but not discouraged. “Lots of people have it worse than we do,” she would repeat. I had my chores and tried to help, but a five or six-year-old can only do so much.
A memory I have is when I once I found her sound asleep, with her head resting on her arms at the kitchen table. She tried to look perky when I woke her, but to me she looked so tired. That’s what I remember from the war.
I also grew up in New England during WWII, but before that, we were at Hickam Field, Hawaii, from 1939 to 1942. You know what that means. We were THERE on Day One of the US entry into WWII.
Jacqueline Holcomb b. 1933
My father was in the Army Air Corps. He was a crew chief in charge of the maintenance of the B-17, Flying Fortresses, while they were on the ground at Hickam. On December 7th, 1941, my father was at the hangers on duty. My mother and we 6 kids were in our quarters not far from the runway. We were situated on a path from the bombers to the battleships at Pearl. The Japanese flew right over us, so low you could see their faces. A bomb from one of their planes landed in our quarters in a closet. It didn’t go off because the plane was flying so low when the bomb was dropped that it didn’t have time to detonate. Lucky for us.
My mother was remarkable. Only 29 at the time with 6 kids ranging in age from 4 to 9 (set of twins in there) she kept her composure while trying to keep us safe. She (unsuccessfully) tried to fix breakfast. But when a bomb exploded one street over, it shattered all the windows on the side of our house where the kitchen was, so she herded us into the hallway, removed a mattress from a bed and placed us on it and covered us with another mattress. After a while, a soldier came in a Jeep to evacuate us from the base.
We spent a week or so (I have no idea how long) with friends in Honolulu until we were allowed back on base. Our windows had to be replaced and then covered with blackout shades. There were bomb shelters dug into the ground in our backyards, etc. We had a lot of air raid drills and had to go into the bomb shelters. Since we went to school on the base, there was no school for us until we returned to the states at the end of February, beginning of March. Our school, among most large buildings were commandeered for troops, etc, coming over from the mainland.
We travelled from Hawaii on a Navy ship to San Francisco (11 days) and by train to Boston (4 days). My mother was a Bostonian. We stayed there until my father returned in May. He was stationed at Grenier Field in Manchester, NH.
He was a New Hampshirite. My dad was TSgt. George T Lord when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was a Warrant Officer when he returned to the states. He retired a Chief Warrant Officer in 1950 after 34 years in the Army Air Corps/United States Army Air Corps/United States Air Force.
My two younger sisters and I followed in his footsteps and joined the Air Force. My husband and the husband of one of my sisters served over 20 years in the USAF. For several years I have given my story to civic groups (Civitan, Rotary, DAR, etc), Veterans Day programs, schools and colleges. Now, I only speak to the 6th graders of the local Middle School. I was 8 years old when we were bombed, so I am really up there in years now and can barely get around.
Your book arrived in the mail this morning so I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I wanted to share my story.
We all knew when it was a troop train because of the color of the cars.
Frank Galvin born. 1934
The Southern Railway’s cars were a bright ‘livery green’ and the troop trains were plain gray or brown. The trains all stopped just outside of Charleston, we guessed as a safety check, and that gave everyone a chance to go down and greet the troops, mostly recruits, heading to Fort Benning, Georgia.
We brought them food, of course, mostly sweets, and we also brought them toilet items like soap and razors. What I remember most about all that was how everyone from all around came down together. It was like all those soldiers were our own family, including the black soldiers.
For that time we were all together. It was too bad it took a war.
Some people thought you were a bad girl if you went to the USO
By Mary Long born 1930
I was too young to go into the USO canteen, but I did hang around to see what it was all about. At our USO in Portland it was mostly sailors. The girls who did go said that they were nice. Some were afraid of going overseas and wanted a girl to write to them. My friends, Marie and Claire, would get their names and a bunch of us would write to them. Sometimes we would get letters back from sailors we hadn’t even met.
When the war was over they all went home and the letters slowly stopped coming.