My Memories of Two World Wars

World War I

I do not remember much of this war because I was just 9 years old and lived in Colorado, but, I do remember standing on my Grandmother Willden’s large front porch and waving to my Uncle Oscar as he went away to war. He returned safely when it was over, and I do not remember of our area being affected much by what took place.

World War II

By this time I was married and had three daughters and we now lived in Los Angeles, California.

One morning we picked up a friend of one of my daughters to go to Church with us. After church, we stopped at the friend’s home to let her out of the car and her mother came running out and told us that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and we were now at war with Japan. We rushed home and turned on the radio, there were no TV’s then, and began listening to what happened.

Our lives were changed from that point on. We heard of the terrible casualties at Pearl Harbor, and how we lost many of our battleships (Actually, Mother, most were our huge ships were on maneuvers, but we lost a lot of other ships.) and our future was very uncertain, although we felt that with our huge country and its capabilities, we would be successful.

Our country geared up quickly for war. It was amazing the things that happened in a comparatively short time. Women went to work in the defense industries by the thousands, and the draft went into effect for our men, but thousands volunteered and posters appeared everywhere with a picture of UNCLE SAM pointing to us with the words UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU.

Los Angeles feared being attacked by the Japanese, so everyone was required to have ‘blackout blankets’ at their windows at night if the practice (or real) sirens came on and we had to make sure not a bit of light showed through. Wardens were appointed as volunteers to go through their appointed neighborhoods during the night to see that no light showed through the windows of any home. At one point the newspapers reported that a Japanese submarine had been sighted off our coast; which later turned out to be a true story. They shelled off of Santa Barbara, but it was kept quiet for years because they didn’t want to panic the population.

Our country declared war on Japan and Germany so we were fighting on two areas of the world. Before then, we were supplying munitions and other things to the British and their compatriots, but now we’d be sending troops to help. So, now we were fighting in two areas of the world. But, in spite of our huge war effort, it took some time to get the amount of weapons and vehicles and ships ready. The news reports via radio were very bad. My sister, Donna’s husband joined the navy and she often didn’t hear from him for many weeks at a time.

Meantime, we had moved to Arcadia, California and Donna moved in with us and we continued to have the radio on almost 24 hours a day to hear the news.

The war brought rationing. We were given ration books which we used for the things like sugar, butter, meat, etc.; then came rationing on gasoline. Since Al had the kind for business he did, we usually had all we needed, but we tried to be very saving on it; like everything else. Many items were in short supply, especially gasoline. The military was sending it to run their war vehicles. We were allowed only enough to get to work and back and there was none for pleasure trips. Butter was in very short supply and if a store ever received a shipment of nylon (Joan asked if they were silk.) hose for women to wear, they were sold the minute the store opened. With the rationing books for scarce food, but plentiful supplies, otherwise, we didn’t suffer in the food area. We did save any fat or grease and turned that in for the war effort.

We also bought as many war bonds as we could. We kept our ears glued to the radio from morning until night. It was a stressful time.

In the defense area, the country was turning out huge quantities of materials for the war effort–guns, ships, tanks, uniforms, and whatever was needed. The Japanese Ambassador in Washington, D. C. tried to tell our President there was danger and he told the military in Japan that they would awaken a sleeping giant if they attacked the U.S. and they had no idea of our capability. They thought they were invincible. They had no idea that we could manage all this so quickly and efficiently. Still the news continued to be bad both in Europe and the Far East. We were losing ships and thousands of men. In the Pacific we later learned of the Bataan Death March where American, British and others were forced to march a great distance to a POW camp. Thousands died on the way of sickness and hunger. In the middle of the war, I especially remember during the so-called “Battle of the Bulge”, although I don’t remember the exact year, that things were going especially bad for us in Europe. Christmas was a very sad time that first year. Donna had no idea where her husband’s ship was and no one felt festive, but we tried to make it a happy time for the children.

Hitler and Germany were threatening to cross the channel and take over the British Isles. At this time it was felt that this would be successful, even though we had many Army forces and bases in England that that area. But Hitler could have possibly captured this area. But, for some reason he decided to go against Russia and this was a bad decision because it took the heat off England which was being shelled every night by Nazi planes that crossed the channel. Winston Churchill was a great leader at this time and he got on the radio and said something like, ’we will fight on the beaches, we will fight in the trenches and the streets…etc.’; he rallied his people who were suffering from the bombs destroying much of London and the surrounding area. The bombings created havoc in London especially.

We also began to hear rumors that we were sending enormous amounts of supplies of weapons to England because the Allied Forces were planning an offensive against the Nazi’s in Europe. Security was very tight, but news leaked out about huge supplies and plans that were taking place on the English coast. General Dwight Eisenhower was in charge of the entire offensive and he and the other military men did a masterful job. He knew it was imminent but the date and location of the landing was only known by the military. (Marilyn: In fact, they sent General Patton to another part of Europe to confuse Hitler. It sort of worked. The invasion of the Normandy coast (or D-day) came as surprised the German troops. We lost thousands of our troops in this offensive, but by the end of the day, our troops had established themselves on the coast of France.) Steve was born nine months to the day after Pearl Harbor for which we took a ribbing. He was just a baby and then young child during the war. Since polyester had not been invented, I always had large baskets of ironing each week. One evening everyone else was in bed, I decided to stay up and iron and listen to the commentators. It was about ten o’clock at night and our whole country was waiting to hear news of the expected invasion of Europe.

At this time in the United States there were two radio commentators who were very popular and almost everyone listened to their daily broadcasts which came perhaps around 10:00 p.m. every evening. One was Edward R. Morrow, and the other, Walter Winchell.

On this particular evening when the commentators began their broadcasts, it went very differently from their usual news. They seemed very excited and rambled in their reports and all of a sudden, I suspected that the invasion was on. As I remember, I stood and ironed most of the night and before morning it was announced that we had invaded Normandy on the coast of France. There were enormous numbers of casualties of our American soldiers, but it was successful and turned the tide of the war.

(Marilyn: I remember living in Arcadia and we had company over. Our radio was on in the kitchen where Mother was doing something. She came running into the living room yelling the war was over. She slipped and landed on the hardwood floor. We found out right away that the war wasn’t over and we all laughed at mother, company included. She commented, “Well, I guess I fell for that false story.”)

It took another two years for the Allied troops to march through Europe and defeat Germany. When Germany finally surrendered, we celebrated with VE Day (Victory in Europe.)

We had thousands of casualties in the Far East. Japan and many islands of the Pacific were tough fighters. Their code was to die rather than surrender. There were stories of terrible atrocities against our soldiers. President Roosevelt had passed away suddenly and Harry Truman was now President. Toward the end of the war, we began to hear rumors about an atomic bomb being built and about its enormous capabilities and before long it was a reality. (Linda and I conversed about this and she said there were rumors of a ‘secret weapon and when it went off the whole world was astounded at its destructive capability. “The atomic bomb was now a reality and President Truman finally gave Japan a warning that we would drop the atomic bomb if they didn’t surrender. They paid no attention to this warning and the war continued so the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and a few days later on Nagasaki and destroyed the cities and most of the population. It was a terrible thing, but we felt it was better than having this terrible war continue with the loss of thousands more of our American and allied troops.

Within days Japan surrendered. America celebrated VJ Day (Victory in Japan Day).

World War I was called “The war to end all wars.” And then a few years we were embroiled in World War II.

We have been involved in the tragic wars in Vietnam; which actually didn’t end in a victory for anyone involved. We lost more soldiers, and before that the War in Korea, but neither came close to the enormity of World War II, nor did the people in America respond with unity like they did in World War II. Now there are ‘wars and rumors of wars’, and while we have peace here in the United States, there are many sad wars being fought in the world. We can only hope that someday peace will come throughout our world.