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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

C. D. Peterson, "Pete"

My Friends and I “Do Our Part” (and maybe a bit more)

 

“Do your part,” was a sign we saw all around Aiken. 

by J. Devine b. 1932

The Standard did picture stories about women who volunteered at various things, and families who grew big victory gardens.  Paper drives were publicized and you could get a map of all the drop off places for the fat, rubber and other things  you saved.  At the movies you would see President Roosevelt looking straight at you urging you to “do your part.”

My friends and I were urged to form a team and scavenge for scrap metal – old farm machinery parts, tin wash tubs and such.  At first we went at it because we felt it was our patriotic duty and, honestly, because of some pressure on us from our parents and teachers.  But then someone got hold of a chart that showed what could be done with the scrap.  “100 pounds of scrap can turn into X combat helmets,  Y machine guns,” and so forth.  I don’t remember the exact numbers.

Image result for images WWII scrap
Photo credit The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center

Once we saw how we were really helping our boys and the war effort we went hammer and tong every scrap drive.

We did have a problem one time.  One of the boys turned in a new looking car bumper that wasn’t scrap.  The owner of the car figured out what happened.  He was mad, but when he saw what we were doing he said he wouldn’t tell the police if we promised not to “create” scrap again.

From Buicks to Bombers

During the war my dad was Traffic Manager at the General Motors plant in Linden New jersey.

By Marilyn Singerle Wood    b. 1937

He was responsible for getting the necessary parts to build the cars. But during WWII, his job changed. General Motors, being adjacent to the Linden Airport, was now also building airplanes, primarily the FM Fighters. He now had to make sure the necessary airplane parts were also available

During the war, the GM plant in Linden, New Jersey enlarged their facility and organized a new division.   On January 21, 1942 Eastern Aircraft was born.   The new Eastern Aircraft division produced 7860 Wildcats and 9839 Avengers.    These airplanes helped the U.S. Navy and Marines dominate the sky over the Pacific during WWII.

(this picture was pulled from https://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/career-advice/military-transition/from-building-buicks-to-bombers.html)

 

 

I moved to Framingham, Mass. In 1947 when my Dad was transferred from the General Motors plant in Linden, New Jersey to the new General Motors plant in Framingham.

So many things were in short supply that many things were rationed; gas for cars and many food items – butter, milk and eggs. We had a huge “Victory Garden” in our backyard and grew all kinds of vegetables. My mom and dad spent hours in the garden and my brother and I helped. The most fun was picking the vegetables. After picking the vegetables, my mom and Dad spent several more hours in our basement canning them. Tomatoes straight from the vine taste a lot better than the ones from the grocery store. We also had a few chickens so we had a good supply of eggs and of course the occasional chicken for Sunday dinner.

One thing that was a little scary was when the air raid sirens sounded at night and seeing the search lights moving around in the sky searching for airplanes. In order to keep as much light as possible from being seen from the air, the cars had to have black tape across the top half of the headlights so you could still drive at night, but with a lot less light being seen from above. Also dark shades on house windows had to be drawn when the sirens sounded. I can’t remember how often they sounded, but when they did it was scary. My mom and dad were Air Raid Wardens along with some of our neighbors and they would walk around the neighborhood making sure everyone was following the rules.

When we moved to Framingham I was in the third grade at Jonathan Maynard. I have many fond memories of my school days and the friends I had growing up there, but  the New England accent and some of their words were different than I was used to.

When the principal at Jonathan Maynard, I think her name was Miss Cushing, asked me to get her the green tumbler I had no idea what that was. I quickly learned that it was a glass. Also, I learned that soda was pop or tonic.

 

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My memories of the war years are few, dark and scary

I lived in Boston, not far from the airport and Navy Yard.

By John Peterson  b. 1937

 

I recall talk about both being possible targets of German submarines and aerial attack by Japanese bombers, which of course was a remote threat.  However, they seemed all the more real to me when I was told, truly or falsely, that an anti-aircraft gun was mounted atop the roof of the Navy Yard.  But I think that the older boys in the school liked to tease the first-graders about this and other things.  Yet the possibility seemed real to a five or six year old who regularly participated in air-raid drills, standing against the wall in the basement of the school, and who had to wear an ID tag around his neck.

I recall trying to identify the shape and size of US bombers such as the B-17, B-25 and later the B-29, so  that when I saw a bomber overhead (which occurred frequently) that didn’t match these I would be ready to run for cover! I also had a book with pictures of Japanese bombers one of which as I now recall we called “Betty”.

The whole thing was made more real by the fact that I had two older cousins serving in the Navy aboard the Wasp and the Portland (a carrier and a cruiser, respectively)  in the Pacific and hearing some bad news about both ships. The Portland took a hit on her rudder at the Savo Island battle but returned after repairs to participate later on in the Battle of Leyte Gulf where she came through unscathed.

As for the original Wasp which as a child I believe I once boarded when she was in port in Boston, my memory is that she was sunk.

I remember we had to stand in line for some food items which were rationed. The government issued red and blue tokens to be used for food. the red ones I recall were for meat and the blue ones for non-meat items.

Sorry I can’t right now think of any other memories of this time.

 

 

 

 

A Japanese Zero Over Ohio!

Peter Onksen   b. 1937

A very big memory for me during WWII was seeing a Japanese Zero fly overhead.  The US Army Air Force was flight testing the captured Zero from its airport, Wright-Patterson.

My dad, Joseph Onksen, worked for AeroProducts, a subsidiary of General Motors, at the Dayton Ohio airport during WWII.  They made propellers for military aircraft.   We lived in Tipp City Ohio.

I attended the first 3 grades in the Tippecanoe School system.  We lived on First Street with a levy behind the house that was to protect the town from flooding from the local river.  We kids played war games in tall weeds beside the house and “flew” paper airplanes from cereal boxes.

My sister, Susan, was born when I was  three years old and we were living in Anderson, Indiana (my home town).  By the time she as one we had lived in Louisville Kentucky, Morgantown West Virginia and had just moved to Tipp City.  My dad had been transferred to various General Motors subsidiary plants.

On December 7, 1941 we were over at my dad’s folks house in Anderson.   The men were in my grandfather’s “special room” playing pool and the women were cooking in the kitchen and I was playing with my cousins, after the women heard the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack, they told me to go to the cellar and tell the men.

I also remember thinking that when the war was over that there would no longer be radio news programs and we could listen to my favorite radio mystery programs.  We lived an easy walk from the town center and I often walked to the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon where I could watch the movies, eat popcorn and drink a Coke for a quarter.

After the war my dad was transferred to the Framingham General Motors plant.  In fact he was the plant electrical engineer and he worked there during the plant’s construction.  We arrived in Framingham before the school year was over, as the mid west school year ended earlier so the kids could work on the family farms.  My first school year in Framingham was grade four.

My memories of moving to Framingham, Mass. include a surprise in how New Englanders  pronounce their words.   My name is Peter, but in New England it’s Peetah.

My Recollection of the War Years in Framingham, Mass.

Bud Thayer  b. 1937

Like many other Depression Era kids, our family was on a very tight budget during those early formative years. Welfare was not an option so we made do and got by just fine. This experience provided us with a very valuable lesson which I’ve carried on with:  if you watch the nickels and dimes, the dollars will take care of themselves.


I was 4 years old when the war broke out but can still remember our family sitting next to the old Philco radio as President Roosevelt announced “ This day will live in infamy.”  My uncle John was already in the Navy as was his best friend, Cliff Carter who was my neighbor. John was on a destroyer in the Pacific and saw Cliff’s aircraft carrier, the Bunker Hill, when it was attacked by Japanese Kamakazies. Cliff along with several other pilots were killed in the attack. That was my first introduction to the Gold Star Mothers as Cliff’s family lived next door to us.

 Although my Dad was drafted into the Navy, when they learned he was a machinist at Lombard Governor Corp. in Ashland making parts for the guns on our battleships, they decided he was more valuable staying right there.

I can certainly recall the air raid sirens going off and everyone keeping their homes dark, shades pulled, etc. My Grandfather was a Civil Defense Warden during this period, and since he lived with us, I got to see this situation quite often.

Living near Cushing Hospital at the time where they would bring in soldiers from the front to treat their wounds, we kids went over there often to visit those soldiers that were able to spend some time outside. They seemed to enjoy our visits and often would play ball with us. My own neighborhood had a large ball field where we often played football, baseball, etc and the Sudbury River was close by where we all swam when it looked clean. Of course, Polio was a big concern at the time so everyone tried to be as careful as possible. In the winter the swamp just off the river would freeze over providing us with a place to play hockey.

When I turned 10 I went to work part time caddying at the Framingham Country Club and around 12 or 13 I went to work and live on Wilson’s Farm in Sherborn for the summer. I guess that’s where I obtained my love for horses because I’m still riding my horses in Civil War and Seminole War re-enactments.

After graduation from high school in 1955, I along with four of my classmates including Doug Peterson, all joined the Navy. Although Framingham was a good place to grow up, I’m glad I moved to Florida in 1962 to raise my family and I’m still married to the same wonderful wife 59 years later.

A Short Summary of My War Time Life

 David Hilliard b. 1937

Our Sudbury House confiscated in 1942 by the U.S. Army to create an Ordinance Depot (and never seen since by any of us).

In 1942 we lived in a large house in Sudbury, Mass. After war was declared in December 1941, the U.S. Army confiscated our property (and 2,750 acres as well!) to create an Ordinance Depot in Maynard, Stowe, Sudbury and Hudson. The facility featured one large building (our house?) and a huge underground building. Some of the facility remains government property to this day with trespassing forbidden.

Our family moved to another house in Sudbury where I started first grade in a wooden school house where grades 1-12 were all taught in one room! What I liked best was listening to the teachers instruct the 11th and 12th grade students. The pledge of allegiance began each day by everyone raising their right arm in salute in a manner which resembled the Nazi salute. With war declared this was quickly replaced by placing our right hand over our heart.

Still in 1942, we moved to Framingham where I joined the first grade class then already in session where I became a lifelong friend of Irving Smith. My dad enlisted in the Army and left for the European front. Dad seldom talked about his wartime experiences except one near the end of the war. He was walking alone on a dirt road near the front when a young German officer came out of the woods in full uniform with his hands in the air. “You look like an honest man” he said (in perfect English!) “can I surrender to you…and my platoon too?” Dad said yes and some thirty German soldiers came out of the woods! Dad lined them up and marched them back to the U.S. camp for processing.

We were glad to have my dad home again

Just Bits and Bobs

Jane Runyon calls these snippets ‘bits and bobs.’
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Another “bit”

Rosalie Bourlund’s 1945 parachute bridal gown.

An example of ingenuity on the home front around World War II, a young bride in Texas fashioned a wedding dress out of the parachute that saved her groom’s life while he bailed out over the Rhine near Wesel, Germany.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and wedding
 
Another “bob
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Winoah Drake tells that her grandmother remembered one of her brothers giving a girl one of the ultimate signs of love during the war: his sugar ration. Their mother wasn’t happy about that, but she couldn’t fault him, since it really was a generous act. He joined the Navy soon after that. They didn’t get married when he returned, unfortunately, but I still love that story.

The Forgotten Language of the Home Front

Our friend Don Parker received this with no author credit.  I’ll bet you remember lots of other words from back then – send them in!  If we get enough, I’ll try to write a story using only the old words.  Thanks.      Pete

Murgatroyd, remember that word?  Would you believe the email spell checker did not recognize the word Murgatroyd?   Heavens to Murgatroyd!   Lost Words from our childhood: Words gone as fast as the buggy whip!  Sad really.

The other day a not so elderly lady said something to her son about driving a Jalopy and he looked at her quizzically and said “What the heck is a Jalopy?”He never heard of the word jalopy! She knew she was old, … but not that old.

Well, I hope you are Hunky Dory after you read this and chuckle.

About a month ago, I illuminated some old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology.  These phrases included “Don’t touch that dial,” “Carbon copy,” “You sound like a broken record” and “Hung out to dry.”  “Loose lips sink ships.”

Back in the olden days we had a lot of ‘moxie’. We’d put on our best ‘bib and tucker’ to ‘straighten up and fly right’.  Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumping Jehoshaphat! Holy moley!  We were ‘in like Flynn’ and ‘living the life of Riley’.  “Don’t be a tail end Charlie.”

Even a regular guy couldn’t accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill. Not for all the tea in China!

Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything was swell?   Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the DA., of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes, penny loafers and pedal pushers. And don’t forget Saddle Stitched Pants.

Oh, my aching back! Kilroy was here, .. but he isn’t anymore.  And nobody minds their beeswax anymore or gives anybody the bum’s rush.  (You might have to put up your dukes.)  When was the last time that all was copacetic?  Try to spend four bits today.

We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap and before we can say, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” Or, This is a ‘fine kettle of fish’! We discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

Poof, go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind.  We blink, and they’re gone. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. Where have all those great phrases gone?

Long gone: Pshaw, The milkman did it. Hey, it’s your nickel!   Don’t forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper. It looks like a dog’s breakfast.  Well, Fiddlesticks! Going like sixty.      I’ll see you in the funny papers. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Wake up and smell the roses. It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter has liver pills.

This can be disturbing stuff! (“Carter’s Little Liver Pills” are gone too.)  We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeable times. For a child, each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age. We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once existed and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memories.  It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging.  Leaves us to wonder where Superman will find a phone booth.

See ya later, alligator!      Okidoki!

See ya later, alligator!      See ya soon baboon!

See ya later, alligator!     After a while crocodile!

Being a German American in a Defense Plant

by Emil Bechler  b. 1944

I was born in 1944 so I don’t remember much about the war, but my father told me his story.

He came to the US in 1937 when things were getting bad in Germany.  We were not Jews, but life there for everybody was getting very stressful.  He got to Detroit and became a machinist in a Briggs plant that made parts for cars.  When the war came, Briggs went over to war production.   He became a citizen, but my father never lost his thick accent and while other workers used to poke fun at him once in a while, when the war started some of the comments became unfriendly and even threatening.

On top of that, there was a lot of union activity and some people thought he was involved.  He was not.  Fortunately for my father, he was very good at what he did.  When pressure was on for production, he could produce excellent work and high output.  Other workers became persuaded that he was a loyal American.

My father never complained about what happened, but I know it affected him.   Briggs closed the plant after the war and my father went to work in a small machine shop.

 

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.

 

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