Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.
- The Way It Was: Part 1
- The Way It Was: Part 2
- The Way It Was: Part 3
- The Way It Was: Part 4
- The Way It Was: Part 5
- The Way It Was: Part 6
Welcome to Part 7 of The Way It Was from Eshrink. We pick up where we left off in Part 6, where Eshrink describes the mood of the country before the USA was foisted into WWII.
THE WAR YEARS
The debate about America’s neutrality was dramatically resolved December 7th 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day which according to Roosevelt “will live in infamy.” The memory of that day has never dimmed with every detail remaining firmly etched in my brain. We were visiting my Maternal Grandparents, and had just finished one of my grandmother’s fabulous Sunday dinners of chicken fried in that old cast iron skillet, which was where she worked her magic. Dad had recently completed wiring of their house and their new Zenith radio was playing as we sat finishing the mince meat pie. Suddenly Dad jumped up and ran to the living room and turned up the volume. Grandad was severely hearing impaired so Dad shouted in his ear that we had been attacked by the Japs. On our return back to our house, our radio was blasting out the bad news. The “sneak” attack had come without warning. Several of our ships had been sunk, but there was no accounting yet of the number of casualties. I went upstairs and laid across the bed aiming my brother’s 44-40 Winchester at our backyard vowing to take out any of those slant-eyed devils who might show up.
The next day, not much could be accomplished in Mr. Davidson’ sixth grade class so he used the entire day to discuss current events. Our morning Pledge of Allegiance was so loud, it was almost boisterous. When Roosevelt’s speech to congress was broadcast over the school intercom, the room became deathly quiet. With the completion of that speech, I was even more eager to take up arms. I was not alone, for recruiting offices all over the country were swamped with potential enlistees. Two days later, war was also declared on Germany and Italy. Both countries had joined Japan in an agreement that came to be called the Axis Powers Act and therefore they were assumed to be aligned with Japan.
Fear and Anger
The sense of security we felt due to physical distance from our adversaries had been replaced by fear of invasion. With our Pacific Fleet decimated, there was concern that the Pacific Coast could come under attack, and those living in coastal area were urged to be alert. There was not only fear, but anger. There were rumors of saboteurs not only amongst Japanese residents, but those of Japanese ancestry. Conspiracy theorists promoted the perception that all Japanese were by nature devious and that their loyalty would always be to the Motherland no matter their status in the United States. This would later lead to the shameful internment of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry in total violation of The Constitution that we were defending.
Many years later, I would come to know a fellow physician who had begun his life in one of the internment camps. He had little memory of the experience, but told how his parents and grandparents had owned valuable land in California that was sold for taxes while they were interred. They came out of the camp destitute.
The next day, December 8, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. The Rape of Nanking had already gained the Japanese a reputation for cruelty, which was confirmed by what became known as the Bataan Death March. Somehow, news had reached us about the barbaric treatment suffered by our soldiers following the conquest of the Islands, and our anger morphed into hatred. Roosevelt’s insistence that we were woefully unprepared for war was proven correct. However; it seemed as if the country had turned on a dime and the “war effort” was instantly in full swing.
The War Effort
It seemed that almost overnight factories all over the country were converted to producing war materials. Automobile manufacturing was instantly converted to the production of jeeps, trucks, ambulances and tanks, and planes. Soon warplanes were rolling off assembly lines in numbers no one had ever imagined possible. New factories were built in a matter of weeks rather than months. There was hardly any industry that wasn’t involved in providing war materials. Almost instantly, military training facilities became tent cities as the number of draftees and enlistments skyrocketed. Draft boards were busy categorizing potential draftees as to who should be deferred due to each person’s importance to the war effort as civilians. Those ineligible or unfit for service were classified as 4-F while those whose card was stamped 1-A would soon be on their way.
All In | Everyone Participated in the War Effort
There were many ways for all to contribute to the war effort, and the of feeling of being united in the grand cause undoubtedly did much to contribute to morale and patriotism. And patriotic we were. We kids collected scrap metal, paper, and rubber. There were paper drives in school. We saved our pennies to buy war bond stamps to be used in the war effort. We were deluged with propaganda from radio, newspapers, posters, and perhaps most effective of all, the movie newsreels. Hollywood also got into the act with movies featuring our heroic fighting men and the demonic behavior of the enemy. It was all very effective and probably necessary in order to mobilize and unite us.
Rationing cards were distributed to cover some foods, in anticipation of the needs of the those in the armed services. There was also rationing of gasoline, and other petroleum products, along with shoes, and clothing. I recall that restrictions on coffee and tires were particularly stringent. Tires were especially important in those days since they were made exclusively of rubber which was imported. As the war went on, tires became more precious and it wasn’t uncommon for a person to awaken to find his car on jacks without tires. When a car was wrecked, the first thing salvaged was the tires. When I worked at Dad’s service station during the later years of the war, I remember we did a brisk business patching tires and tubes in an attempt to get a few more miles out of “bald” tires.
Not All Ration Cards Were Equal
Every household had their ration book and every auto had a sticker on their windshield announcing their status. The A sticker was for those without special needs, the B and C stickers were for those whose driving was essential to the war effort. There were no self-service gas stations in those days and it was the attendant’s job to collect the appropriate stamp along with the customer’s money. Likewise, the station would be responsible to match the stamps to the amount of gas sold.
The Good. The Bad. And the Opportunists.
It has been said that war brings out the best and the worst in people, and it was inevitable profiteers would emerge from the midst of the patriots. It didn’t take long for a vigorous black market to develop. Although; I had no personal experiences in that regard, it was clear that those people were considered unpatriotic. Certain things were particularly valuable. For example, nylon stockings had recently been invented and were highly prized. Unfortunately; nylon was also needed to make parachutes and the resultant scarcity made the stockings very valuable. Likewise, a tire with little tread left could bring much more than the cost of a new one. A guy with a gas can and a siphon hose could find ready customers for his product. Car care became important for there would be no new cars until the war was over.
Actually, there were ample opportunities for profit without skirting the law. Companies with government contracts, which included manufacture, construction, and transportation were billed on a cost-plus basis. Consequently, there was no need to cut costs because the nature of the “cost-plus basis design” meant the higher the costs, the more the profit the company being contracted.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit Thrived
There were many rags to riches stories, but my favorite took place in my own town. He was a Hungarian immigrant who still had trouble with the English language and was frequently seen in the streets all over town pushing a wooden cart mounted on two wagon wheels. He scoured the neighborhoods for any trash of value. As the war progressed, the need for metals of all kinds increased, and Harry had a large stockpile in his back yard. There had been many complaints about Harry’s messy place, but as the scrap and paper drives went into full force, Harry became the go-to guy who could buy and sell the scrap. He became quite wealthy. His son was in my class in High school and was the only kid to come to school in a suit and tie. He subsequently became a lawyer, moved to Hollywood, and used his considerable inheritance to invest in the motion picture business. One newsreel in particular sticks with me. It must have been early in the war as it showed groups of solders training with wooden replicas of rifles. The film was to demonstrate the need for scrap metal of all kinds that could be melted down to make guns.
Support and Spirit AND Opportunity
It seemed that everyone was involved in the war effort as it was called. There was the USO whose volunteers were present wherever there were uniforms, passing out coffee and donuts and schmoozing the troops. Women were busy knitting socks and scarves and sending “care packages” hoping the cookies would survive the trip. Women were entering the workforce and doing jobs never felt appropriate for them in the past. “Rosie the Riveter” was hailed as a heroine. Factories were in need of more employees as most began running three shifts. The word was that there was big money to be made in the defense plants sometimes as much as a dollar an hour. This got Dad’s attention besides, they needed him in the war effort since he was too old to serve so he quit his man killing job, and went to Akron where he went to work the second shift at the recently built (in record time) Goodyear Aircraft factory where they were turning out Corsair fighter planes at a record clip.
Many had the same idea as Dad and housing was very scarce, but he found two rooms behind a barber shop on the south side of Akron (not exactly a posh neighborhood) and called for us to come join him. Mom got a job on the same shift doing some clerical work, and even my brother, who had just turned 16, worked there filling vending machines throughout the plant. Schools were so crowded that classes were only held in two four-hour shifts per day. Initially, I enjoyed the solitude of being home alone. I was able to spend my evenings in the darkened barber shop watching the occasional fights outside the beer joint across the street. I even had free reign to sample the many hair tonics. School in Akron was a bummer. There was a lot of racial tension largely due to a an unusual number of southerners who had migrated north to cash in on those high wages, and were unaccustomed to dealing with uppity black folks.
I was unhappy and my request to go live with my maternal grandparents was honored, but that is another story (which I have written about previously). Editor’s Note: The story of Eshrink’s experience during WWII while he stayed at his grandparents’ farm is available as a free pdf download at this link or you can purchase the hard copy here. It’s a great read…it makes me feel like I’m catapulted back in time.
Blue Star Families
Almost immediately after Pearl Harbor blue stars started appearing in windows, and soon many would be taken down in favor of gold ones. Parents lived in dread of the appearance of a Western Union messenger praying that he would not stop at their house with the “we regret to inform you…..” message in the pouch they carried. My brother graduated from high school in May of 1944 having reached his 18th birthday in April. In October he would find himself pinned down in the famous Battle of The Bulge. What letters received were by V-mail, a system in which written letters were reduced in size and printed on very thin paper in order to reduce the amount of space and weight required to ship them. Although soldiers were forbidden to say where they were or what they were doing in combat, it soon became obvious to my parents that he was there, since no letters had arrived in a long time. The plight of the troops was big news and Mom and Dad sat by the radio listening to their favorite commentators at every opportunity. I believe they attempted to minimize the danger in order to protect me, but our family was among the lucky ones for whom the telegraph never came.
The First War Correspondents
Print media was still king of the news gathering business, and correspondents like Ernie Pyle soon became household names. He put himself in the midst of the action, and sent home stories of personal hardship and bravery on the part of the GI Joes. His stories were always on a very personal level, harvested from direct observation or conversations with those spending time in fox-holes.
After covering the European theater, he moved on to The Pacific and was killed by Japanese machine gun fire. Of those who commanded our rapt attention on the radio, the most famous was Edward R. Murrow, who broadcast from London during the Blitz. He recorded his experiences on multiple bombing missions over Europe, and at times one could hear the sound of anti-aircraft. These flights were not without danger…over 2,000 planes were lost prior to D-Day, according to war department records. After the war, Murrow made the switch to television once that new medium was introduced.
Early in the war, things did not look good. The Japanese were having their way in the Pacific, England was vulnerable, and invasion was felt to be imminent. Air raid drills were conducted routinely, even in our small town in the Midwest. In fact, my future father-in-law was an air-raid warden. In spite of all this we were deluged with propaganda touting the certainty of victory, not only due to our physical strength, but the righteousness of our cause. It was fashionable to show Churchill’s “Digital V” for victory sign, and difficult to find a place where there was not a poster with Uncle Sam pointing his finger: telling you to buy bonds, conserve, collect, contribute, or sign up!
Editor’s Note: THANKS for reading! Stay tuned for the next installment where Eshrink walks us through the turning point of the war…spoiler alert (the good guys won!)