Tag Archives: WWII

Sweet Memories

23 Oct

I was cooking the other day and managed to spill a good bit of sugar on the floor – the better (or worse?) part of a quarter cup of the stuff. I stared at it for a moment, and then went after the broom. I stood there with the dustpan full of sugar, and The Squire laughed. “You look as if you are going to put it back into the bowl.”

And there by hangs a tale.

I was born in the summer of 1942, a few months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.   We had a fairly safe and stable life; after my dad got out of the hospital he had a “day job” with the Navy as an “abatu”, training men to go overseas. Sometimes Mum and I lived in the house my parents had bought as newly-weds, and other times we stayed with my mother’s parents. I think I must have stayed there more than she did, as I have a lot of memories associated with the place.

Nearly everything was rationed during the war – shoes, orange juice, canned veggies, eggs, fabric, and of course, sugar. We were luckier than most people, as my grandparents had a five acre farm. Even so, The Government Egg Man came around each week and collected some of their eggs for “Our Boys Overseas”. The only thing that wasn’t rationed  was chicken, as very few people liked it back then. Can you imagine what would happen to American tables if chicken was taken off the menu now?

The highpoint of my three-or-four year old life was going with my grandfather to buy chicken feed, and I got to pick out the two feed sacks needed to make me a new dress. Later on, he joked that I took for ever to select those bags. Much hmm-ing and umm-ing, walking back and forth before I made up my mind.

My grandfather was working for the B&O at the time, and one evening, whether by accident or design, a bag of sugar broke open as they were unloading a freight car. Sugar poured out onto the ground! Pure white gold!  My grandfather said the men scooped it up and put it into whatever was handy – lunch boxes, paper sacks, even pouring it into their hats.

One of my earliest memories is standing between my grandmother’s knees as she gently shook a bowl of sugar back and forth. From time to time, a speck of dirt or cinder would come to the surface, and she’d move that into another bowl. Naturally, each time she removed some dirt a bit of sugar would come with it.  That was the sugar they used in their coffee. The dirt sank to the bottom and you never knew it was there.

Under the Eagle

26 Jun

I am about halfway through a book by the above name, written by Samuel Holiday. Mr. Holiday was one of the last Navajo Code talkers, and just died on June 11 of this year, at the age of 94. It is a really interesting book, talking not only about the war itself, but about his experiences growing up.  The first time he ever met a white man, and his time at an Indian boarding school are something we could never imagine. I went to a boarding school, and it was quite different. But then, nobody was fussing with me about my language. He was also captured twice by American military, thinking he was Japanese. He described the experience as “degrading”, but led him to be much more sympathetic to the Japanese. It is a fascinating book, but please don’t judge it by its cover!

The cover of the book must have been designed by the same people who do the cover art of science fiction.  The Squire enjoys sci-fi, but often remarks that the cover doesn’t have any connection with the story. The cover of Under the Eagle shows a man wearing a breechcloth and war paint, carrying a quiver of arrows – but no bow – and holding an eagle feather in his hand. The soldier beside him is wearing full GI battle gear.

Now, tell me – why would anybody march into battle in 1944 wearing a breechcloth?




An “Aha!” Moment

23 Mar

Last night I was chatting with a friend and she remarked that when she was a young girl her hair was the same shade as mine. “I washed it on Saturday night and wrapped it in a scarf, so it would be nice for Sunday. We only washed our hair once a week. You couldn’t get soap, you know, because it was rationed during the war.”  My friend is British, a war bride and closer to my mum’s age than mine.

And suddenly it all clicked!

I have several Woman’s Day magazines from the 40s, saved by my ever-thrifty mother and grandmother.  There are frequent articles about making-do, turning men’s unworn suits into clothing for the rest of the family, and such. Some of them referred to substitutes for soap. Fat is used to make soap – and munitions. It just didn’t register with me that there was a reason for the things my mother did.

We washed our hair once a week, and took three baths a week. Saturday night so we’d be clean for church, plus Monday  and Wednesday nights. You don’t sweat in the winter, and in the summer there’s nobody around to know if you stink.  And we always wore our clothes two days, letting them rest a day in between.  The idea of wearing things twice never fazed me, and I made sure our girls did the same. Even my uniforms at school were purchased with the idea you wore the blouses twice. Too much washing wears things out, and although nobody had a dryer in the 50s (and precious few in the 60s) bashing things around weakens the threads.  I much prefer to hang our clothes on the line; it’s such a Zen thing. Bend and reach. Bend and reach. No hurry, no pressure, no grabbing things out of the dryer before the wrinkles set.  I always told the girls, “that stuff in the lint filter is your underwear”.

So there is was. Not some aberrant behaviour on my mum’s part but a hold-over from the frugal days of World War II – the war her husband and her brothers-in-law were waging overseas.


Red Tails

13 Nov

I have been lollygagging. Between my thumb and this stupid rash I have not felt up to doing much. Well, it’s not a very good excuse, but it’s the best one I can think of at the moment.

Monday evening, the 10th, a standing-room-only bunch of us went to the local library to hear a talk from one of the last surviving Tuskegee Red Tails. For those of you who have not heard of these gentlemen, they were the first black – all black – flying group in the United States, founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend Mary McLeod Bethune. At that time, the military was strictly segregated, and any blacks were cooks, broom pushers and garbage men, but these two ladies saw a great untapped potential and “convinced” poor Franklin (he didn’t stand a chance against two such determined women.) that this was all a good idea.

And it was.

There is plenty written about them on the Internet, so I won’t go into it all of it here. The gentleman who spoke to us was not himself an original Red Tail. He normally acted as an escort, but the original program had been scheduled for some time in September and had to be postponed because that speaker was ill, and then the man who was to talk to us on Monday had just gotten out of the hospital, so the escort felt enough was enough, and he did the presentation. (These men are all WWII vets, and a bit on the old and feeble side, so someone younger always accompanies them. The speaker was a retired pilot who had served in Viet Nam, Desert Storm,  and (I think) the Bosnian conflict, and was a member of a sort of axillary group.) There are also many women who qualify as Red Tails, as they worked as ground crews, repairing engines, packing parachutes, and so forth. “Flying isn’t all airplanes, y’know. You have ten men in a bomber and about forty people on the ground, backing them up, fueling planes, checking for damage, and so forth.”

It is not true that the Red Tails never lost a bomber; they did lose 27, but the average was 48, so that is not too bad a score.  The base commander had wanted the tails of the planes painted with some sort of insignia, and all they could find was red paint, so red it was. Or, he said, we could have “thinned it with white and painted them pink”.

The children in the audience were absolutely fascinated. One little girl simply could not grasp the idea that blacks and white were not allow to associate with each other. Another story was about two pilots who were grounded for some infraction, and a young man wondered out loud “how do you ground a grownup?”

The Godson, who is black, came along, rather unwillingly, although he admitted later he was glad I had insisted he join us.  He knows about the “separate but equal” policy, and asked if “you guys got all the old planes”.  The speaker said that when the U.S. entered the war, “all anybody had was old planes” but that as soon as new planes came off the assembly line, the Red Tails got them along with everybody else.

There are fifty chapters in the States, so if you ever get a chance to see one of these gentlemen before they join their lost comrades, do so. It is inspiring.