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

 

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