Blackout Drills (and my Flashlight)
Robert LaRue, b. 1937.
December 7, 1941 may have been “a date which will live in infamy” for President Roosevelt, but it was the beginning of all kinds of strange and scary events for a four-year-old. The wailing sirens and darkness of blackout drills stand out in my mind.
We lived on a dairy in Baldwin Park, California. Baldwin Park is located only 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. In the days before supermarkets, it was not uncommon for dairies to be located near population centers. On site retail marketing was a common practice.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, what had been considered a good location for dairy product retailing also came to be considered a prime target for a Japanese attack.
Before radar bomb sights, bombardiers relied on what they could see on the ground to figure out where to release their devastation. A primary means of civil defense against night attack was the blackout drills. If there was no light on the ground, the attackers could not identify their targets. The sound of blackout sirens in the night became a fact of life for us.
Rationing also became a fact of life. Living on a dairy, we had plenty of milk to drink, but meat was rationed even for us. To supplement our diet, Dad built some hutches and raised rabbits. He shared the fryers with the dairy’s owners, a Dutch family named Cohn, in exchange for alfalfa and grain. Mrs. Cohn also helped with caring for the animals.
One dark night, I was out by the hutches helping Mrs. Cohn when the sirens wailed and the lights went out. She had come prepared for such an event with a flashlight. She handed the flashlight to me to hold while she finished the chores. Like any kid of four, I proceeded to flash the light around and point it at the sky. Sweet, gentle Mrs. Cohn came unglued. She grabbed the offending torch from my little hands and explained to me in no uncertain terms that I could have caused us to be bombed. I suppose she was somewhat oversensitive about bombing since she still had family in Holland who had recently experienced the Blitzkrieg. But she scared the heck out of me. I quickly changed from being a carefree child piercing the night sky with a harmless flashlight to being a magnet for falling explosives.
To this day, I feel a stab of fright any time I allow a flashlight’s beam to wander above the horizon at night!