My 80 year old views of WW2
Today on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, I was reminded of several requests that I have had with regard to the war and my observation of events regarding it. Let me start by saying that I was never in active combat. However, WW2 affected everyone in many ways at the time and probably had high impact on the way each individual views the matter of war.
You should keep in mind that during the late 30’s and through the war, we had quite different news/communications technologies. Newspapers were the major source of world news. Pictures of world events had a significant built-in delay while video material was almost exclusively via news reels in movie theaters with a delivery delay of weeks.
As a typical teenager, I do not recall paying much attention to what was going on in world events. Most folks during this period had not traveled more than about 60 miles from their birthplace and their interests were correspondingly local. I do not remember any global world affairs discussion in school until after Pearl Harbor. I do remember people discussing Adolph Hitler’s being upset by Jessie Owen’s performance in the 1936 Olympics. Yes, we heard of Germany invading Poland but it was too remote and European to attract much attention among my family or friends.
The first event to attract family attention was the invasion of Holland/Belgium in 1940. Ann Meyers (an aunt of my mother) and her family were traveling in France at the time and had to cancel and came home.
Pearl Harbor changed everything very quickly and dramatically. I recall listening to the radio the day it was announced and rushing to the living room where my parents were playing bridge with Walter Vest and Georgia Rouse. As I recall, my father was taken aback more than the rest of us since he had experienced WW1 and knew better than others the implications of the event.
Looking back, for me the most important thing that happened was the unification of essentially all Americans in the defeat of the axis powers. Even school children (which I was at the time) were recruited to gather scrap iron from wherever we could find it, disconnect tin foil from food packaging and cigarette packages and roll it into balls, buy “saving stamps” at school with our pocket money which after accumulating $18.75 would buy a war bond maturing several years later. Very shortly after Pearl Harbor, every family I knew had someone in the military. There were some that volunteered before Pearl Harbor but after PH the draft quickly inflated the size of the Armed Forces. It is amazing think of the efforts required to organize and implement the recruitment and drafting of civilians into a trained military force in such a short time. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the efforts and speed in the construction of the military equipment and supplies industry. It all seemed to appear overnight. My brother enlisted in the Marines shortly after PH into an officers training program at Hanover that insured his graduation in 43 and an electronics training program which he attended at Harvard and MIT. He and Ann were married after his graduation and after boot camp at Quantico, moved to Boston. After that he went to the Pacific and hopped across many islands. As I recall, he had stops in Midway, Wake, Guan Tinian and Saipan (and maybe others). Luckily, He was not in major battles. His unit was follow-up on captured islands that required communications capabilities and served as the supply channels for our massive migration across the Pacific.
Very quickly in 1942, rationing of food, gasoline, tires, shoes and other consumer products became prevalent. Local rationing boards were established to issue coupons for consumer products. I do not remember our family suffering much of a shortage. We grew most of our own food and farmers generally got a “C” gas card which provided 12 gallons a week. The only real shortages that I recall were shoes. At the time my feet were growing fast and we only got two pairs of shoes per year. I had to spend one of my coupons on a set of roller skates. Fortunately, basketball shoes were exempt and a set of Converse helped tide me over that year. In order to save gasoline, there was a national speed limit of 35 miles per gallon during the war. I remember getting good lessons from a local State Trooper as I was approaching driving age. He would gather a bunch of teenage boys in the ba1ck seat of his cruiser and let us witness him issue speeding tickets. There were not radar speed detectors at that time and he would make an estimate of the speed of violators for the ticket.
At the beginning os 1943 my family moved to Florida for three months. We drove a bit over thirty five miles per hour and made it in three days. Living on Clearwater Beach were not allowed to have any light leak from our rental house which could be seen from the Gulf and there were civilian patrols for enforcement. Also our car lights had to be taped over except for about a square inch to avoid light being seen from the Gulf. I think there were a few German spies that had landed from submarines during that time period. There was an Army training Base in Clearwater which was used a gym there for boxing matches. My father and I would go there to watch them. I also used that gym on my way home from school on a bike for basketball practice. I was on leave from basketball at Crittenden when we were there.
Over the period from 1942 until 1945 many casualties and deaths occurred and it was traumatic to hear of people you knew being lost
in battles. Fortunately, I had no close relatives who suffered such events. One event stands out in my mind and that was the drafting of my parent’s friend, Walter Vest. He was 38 when drafted into the army and had to survive boot camp at Ft. Benning in Georgia. We visited him on our trip to Fla. in early 43 after his boot camp bivouac in the Georgia wilds sleeping on wet ground and trying to keep up with a bunch of teenage recruits. I do not mean to compare his problems with more serious casualties, but I heard Walter describe his experiences. I am amazed at how little returning vets talked about their most serious battles. I do not recall my brother saying much about his experiences. The only exception to this was my friend, Dunbar Dickey, who was wounded in the Battel of the Bulge near Bastogne. This may have been because we fished a lot together and did not have anything else to talk about.
I recall several important events of the war but few details. Across the Pacific, battles at Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam Iwo Jima, Midway, Doolittle’s bombing of Japan, the recapture of the Philippines and of course, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Europe the sweep across North Africa, invasions of Sicily and Solerno, the bombings of London, heavy aircraft bombings of Germany, the invasion at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, Crossing the Rhine and final defeat of Germany are still impressed on my mind.
For one major event I recall, details. That was VJ Day, victory over Japan, Aug. 15, 1945.I was stationed at Hugh Manley High School in Chicago undergoing training for electrical theory. We had a MIT instructor who knew enough physics to explain to us what had happened with the atomic bombs. On VJ Day everybody except me were given a day’s leave to celebrate the end of the war. Unfortunately, it was my day for guard duty. I marched around an old high school carrying and unloaded rifle to protect the Navy’s minimal possessions from raucous invasion of civilians celebrating the event.
Every member that was sober enough to make it back had glorious stories of how the civilians had feed, drowned them with beer and kissed by every girl over 15 in Chicago. THE WAR WAS OVER.
My military career was centered on a program set up by a Captain Eddy to train young novices in electronics. I think my brother had heard of it and suggested that I apply for entry. I took tests at the Navy recruiting office in Cincinnati during the 1944 Christmas vacation and was officially inducted into the Navy in Feb. with permission to stay in high school until graduation. I graduated on a Friday at the end of May 1945 and was inducted and transported to Great Lakes Navy Center north of Chicago the following Monday for about six weeks of boot camp. Training there included:
1) Lots of PT.
2) Climbing ropes 30 feet high.
3) Heavy duty fire fighting (Yes, ships can catch on fire).
4) Gunnery – pistol and rifles I got a Sharp Shooters metal).
5) Anti-aircraft gunnery.
6) A bit of boatmanship and navigation.
7) Drum and bugle corps.
I do not recall any spare time in boot camps except for the minutes between finishing supper and going to bed. It was all probably a good lesson in discipline for a bunch of teenagers. We had one guy who was 38 that had a lot of electronic experience and we called him “Pop”.
After boot camp we had a week of leave and I returned home on a train for that. At the end of the leave, I returned to Chicago to the school mentioned above for about two months of training in electrical theory. I then moved to a Naval station in Gulfport, Mississippi that dealt more with the mechanical arts of building and repairing electrical circuits in general. I was there for three months. The only
non-electrical training I got there was guarding German prisoners of war. It was boring for both sides. They did cleanup services around the base and we stood around on guard duty seeing that they did not escape to a local beer joint. They were starting to export them to Germany but administration and transport delayed their immediate return to Germany after the wars end. We communicated with them very little because of the language barrier. We gave them cigarettes and they picked up our cigarette butts. While there we got weekend leaves so could travel to places like New Orleans and Biloxi. I recall going to a girl’s college near Biloxi where a cousin of Marg’s, Louise Hume, was in attendance for dances.
At the end of the three months in Gulfport I was transferred back to Chicago Navy Pier. Training there concerned the specific devices aboard ship that we would service and maintain. These included sound powered telephones, radio receivers/transmitters. Sonar and radar. Radar circuits and technologies were highly classified and not taught until nearly the end of the course in July 1946. Actually my first view of radar equipment was at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Navy Pier was within walking distance of downtown Chicago there were good USO (United Service Organization) facilities that supplied us with tickets to most any event in Chicago at the time. Our housing was less than optimal. We slept in triple decker bunks. Our ratio of occupents to bathroom facilities was very high. Also the temps in a warehouse like facility could get preety cold on a windy night in winter.
I was discharged from active duty on July 12, 1946 and immediately enlisted in the Naval reserve for a 4 year hitch. My duties were simply to maintain the radio equipment that the USNR had on the Purdue University campus during my four years there. Shortly after my enlistment expired and we left the campus, my USNR unit was called up to go to Korea. I missed going there only by a few weeks.
That’s the end of my WW2 memories.