Saturday, June 06, 2009


Some items were hard to come by during World War II. Many items were rationed and each family was issued just a certain number of tickets, so many times people had to do without needed items until the next month or so. I remember that sugar was rationed, as well as other food items. Then, too, there was gasoline, of course. Sometimes people would trade tickets when things got desperate. Sometimes one just had to somehow make it through somehow.

In our town was a little grocery store that had been in business for many years. It was common knowledge that, if you were really in need, the grocery store owner would slip you some contraband items. Mom sometimes bought sugar and flour there, the two basic items we used every day and the owner would slip her a little extra sugar now and then.

After the war, he was investigated by the authorities and was charged with fraud. It was a heartrending situation because he was very well liked among the townsfolk and he had only been trying to help.

Silk stockings were impossible to buy during the war years, because silk came from Japan. So women used the liquid stockings that Sissy and I used to paint our faces, and the result was always an orange-hued mess. Because silk was needed to make parachutes, they substituted the bounty from the silkweeds. We had fields full of silkweeds on the farm and the silk from them would be gathered periodically by a flock of people who would arrive without warning and go to the fields to harvest this crop. Then, someone invented nylon and that was used for both stockings and parachutes, so our silkweed was no longer needed.

The early plastic was stiff as a board. Even the stockings were stiff and shiny. One had to struggle to put them on and sometimes the crotch section stayed at knee height, no matter how hard one tried to pull them upward. The soft, bendable plastic came along later and now, in a world peppered with plastic sacks, plastic containers, and plastic shoes, we learn that there are some dangers connected to using this substance. Don't microwave it, we are told, don't use it to store food in the refrigerator or use it for freezing. Don't use plastic drinking containers or store water in plastic jugs, lest a poisonous substance seep through the other materials to cause all sorts of health concerns. So, the same plastic that we hailed as miraculous during World War II has become a menace today.

With my brothers in the Army, Mom haunted the mailbox daily, awaiting letters from overseas. We seldom knew where they were stationed, since there was censoring of all mail, and "Loose Lips Sink Ships" was a popular warning. We did gather that Bud was in France, but we were never sure about Deed. Mom lived in fear of becoming a Gold Star Mother, worrying constantly about the activities of her boys. Hubert never made it out of Hawaii because of his hearing loss. He spent the war years fighting mosquitoes in Hawaii.

It was a heyday for the movies. Propaganda films were cranked out by the dozens and I can remember sitting with Junior, Sis and Norma Jean in a darkened movie theater sobbing bitter tears over the carnage on the screen. The favorite character was usually shot, drowned or tortured to death by the dastardly Germans or cruel, expressionless Japanese. Oh, how we despised them...the enemy! How dare them shoot Robert Mitchum or Van Johnson or Clark Gable!

We also spent a lot of time clustered around the radio, listening to the war news or listening to President Roosevelt speak. He conducted what was called Fireside Chats and everyone wanted to hear what he had to say. He had a deep, Patrician voice, a New England accent and a way of using words to calm the fears of the populace. He was so popular that he won elections, one after the other, until finally, he died. The fact that he won four elections caused Congress to pass the "two term" rule.

We didn't think much of Harry Truman at first, but it didn't take long to realize that this feisty Missourian was determined, outspoken and honest. He was no FDR and did not have the knack of leadership that Roosevelt had, but he proved to be a very good President. The one decision he had to make that probably caused him many sleepless nights was whether to use the atomic bomb. Even Einstein wrote him a letter warning of the lethal effects of this weapon. Truman finally made his decision and the Enola Gay and the other planes took off on their deadly journey. Leaflets were dropped over the cities where these bombs would hit, advising them to leave their homes and get a safe distance away from the holocaust. They didn't listen and the huge number of dead were only outnumbered by the droves of people horribly burnt and disfigured. However, Truman had decided that using these bombs would save thousands of American lives.

When my brothers came home, it was a time of jubilation in my family. Deed was sick. He had caught malaria and spent weeks on the couch in the living room, his skin yellow, with a very hot fever. He swallowed atabrine, drank lots of water, and kept Mom busy hovering over his prone figure, but he was young and otherwise healthy, so he eventually regained his health.

Bud had changed. He had always been quiet and introspective, and became even more so after the war. It was as though he had seen things he couldn't describe and his deepset brown eyes reflected some kind of inner sorrow. Hubert, who was his usual teasing, laughter-filled self, spent a great deal of time with his brother. They were very different, but each filled a need in the other's life, and it was Hubert who brought out the laughter in Bud, who made him smile again and joke again and act like the young man he had been when he left his home for war.

It was a time of upheaval for everyone, with men returning from the battlefield to face mundane working lives again. Their wives had to cope with all of this and, in Deed's case, his early marriage failed. I think it would have failed anyway, because they were both so young and emotional. War takes its toll on family life and, in a way, it was like welcoming strangers into our midst.

Roosevelt was gone, the jubilation of victory had been celebrated, and the women drifted away from their jobs in the factories to return to the dishes and diapers that they had left behind as they worked to make the weapons of war. It was a time of excitement, but a time of drifting. Almost every young family bought a house. There were low interest rates for veterans and many of them took advantage of the housing rates or the educational advantages that were offered.

As for the country, it had become a Super Power. Out of the darkness of a deep and degrading depression had sprung a vibrant and prosperous country, ready to lick its weight in wildcats. I can only pray that the current collapse of our economic security has such a wonderful ending! Think of it! A united, busy, gentle giant of a nation, its partisan foolishness set aside in a quest for mutual security, tough when need be, but possessing a heart that reaches out to help those in need. Think of it! A country with revitalized energy, safer highways, better cars, and plentiful food for its people! Think of it! A nation with old animosities set aside and healthcare for each and every person! Think of it! Pray for it! Ask for the wisdom to insist upon it! A nation so vital it leads the world by its example and offers the most valuable commodities ever, equality and freedom!

In France, there is a large section of ground that has been given to America forever. This acreage is the scene of thousands of white crosses, each of them signaling the grave of a brave American fighter. Many Americans visit this gravesite, to shed bitter tears and remember the lives that were lost. There lie our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our nieces and nephews, our neighbors. If they had one wish, I would imagine they would ask that such a world wide holocaust never happen again, that the people of the earth learn to live together in peace and harmony, hands joined in mutual prayer. Perhaps such a world is unobtainable, just an unreachable dream! But we can try if we work together. If nothing else, we can try!