I fear losing the collective memory of a generation, a very unique generation. Born in the 1930s we are small in number and all aging into our 80s. We are what I call “The Last Ones” We are the last who can remember the war, it’s rationing, its tensions and its joyous end.
We are the last ones who remember the post war boom and the formation of the American Middle class. We are the last ones who grew up without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio.
We are also the last ones who grew up feeling safe. By the mid-fifties all that began to change.
Some call us The Silent Generation. That may be the case, but I hope this blog can capture and celebrate the memories of other children of the 1930s from around the country. The focus has been the post war years of 1945 to 1955, but that can change with your guidance.
I know there are lots of nostalgia pieces flying around about old time radio shows, 78 rpm records, and the candies we had back then. That's not what I’m hoping for. I'm hoping this blog can capture our stories and feelings and observations of those times.
Please read on. Share this blog so that more can remember, some will learn and none may forget
At Pioneer Parachute is was really possible to pack a parachute for your son
By Claire Stafford b. 1936
My Aunt Marie worked at the Pioneer Parachute Company in Manchester, Connecticut. Pioneer was the first company to use nylon instead of silk for parachutes. It was an important factory for the war effort. Mostly women worked there making and packing parachutes that paratroopers would use.
A woman named Adeline Gray who worked there tested the first nylon parachute by jumping out of a plane.
My Aunt Marie told me that women had to put their name and identification number on the chutes they worked on and that one woman’s chute actually got to her own son. She wasn’t sure it was true but it didn’t matter because every woman felt she had to do her best because somebody’s son’s life depended on her.
Everywhere you went during the war there was something that could scare a little kid.
Tina Bouchard b. 1938
I thought that spies were around every corner, listening and reporting back to Germany or Japan. In downtown Mobile there were posters on lamp posts that said “loose lips sink ships.” I didn’t want to have loose lips and worried about what that was. The pictures of Japanese soldiers they showed were terrifying to me. The worst was in the movies where we saw the endless lines of German soldiers marching. My friends and I wondered how we could ever beat such an army. My uncle Roy was in the Army and he said we would beat them for sure, so I held on to that.
It’s funny that when I talk to people my age today, they mostly say, “Oh, yes, I forgot about that. I was afraid back then.” I hope I forget someday.
My family ran a small beachfront resort – today you would call it a motel – near Newport Rhode Island. We thought the war would shut us down, but soon after the war started business was just about back to normal. People had money they couldn’t spend on things like cars and they did want some recreation. With gas rationed, people often came in a group, piled into one car.
Being on the water we had special blackout regulations. We invented our own ways to keep the light from shining out to sea. We built frames the size of a door and hung them with black oilcloth. At sunset we put them in front of the doors so that people could go in and out, but no light could be seen from the sea. We fitted all our outdoor lights with tin cans that we cut the bottom out of so that the light would shine only to the ground. We had wardens who patrolled in boats to check to be sure no lights could be seen. Sometimes we had to make changes.
When a boat got sunk or someone saw a German sub we thought people would be too afraid to come, but it turned out they were excited to think that they might see some war action close up.
With most of the moms staying at home, this meant the dads worked a five day a week job. Three of the 13 families had dads who worked at Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company. My dad was one of those three. All the fathers seemed to work the regular 40 hour week and had weekends off. My dad loved being a dad. He didn’t have such a great one himself, so he really went all out for me. Virtually every weekend, he would take me to the movies. Of course I loved the scary ones and he took me to those mostly. In many instances, he also took one or two of the neighbor kids. Some of the other kids had dads that took us to the movies or the park on occasion, but it was nothing like the schedule dad kept. I remember when House On Haunted Hill came out in 1959. We went downtown to see it in one of the oldest and most ornate movie theaters in Indianapolis. At one point this skeleton came sliding down over our heads on a wire. That made quite an impression on a ten year old.
One other thing I never knew was shortages. Mom once told me there were a few times when she and her sister had to take turns going to school because they only had one pair of shoes between them. Dad was just about as poor too. But when they married and dad got the job at Lilly’s, they started having a little. Dad started at Lilly’s in the pill factory making sixty cents an hour in late 1950. By the time we moved into our own house in 1954, we were very much middle class. We could live a fancy lifestyle, but when it came to the necessities like food and clothing, we had plenty. This was especially true for me. Mom always made sure I had top of the line shoes.
Another thing we never lacked for was food. This may have been my undoing in a way. I lived three minutes from a drug store and always had a little money to spend. Much of that was spend on candy and I was a little fat in my younger years. Mom and dad had gone through their childhoods just dreaming about candy. Mom especially craved fruit her entire adult life since she almost never got it as a child. To me fruit had little appeal since it was so readily available.
I vaguely remember Korea, but was very young at that point. I also remember film clips of bomb tests when the USSR got the H-bomb. And I certainly remember getting under our desks for bomb drills. Still, I can not remember a single time when I sat around and worried (or even gave much thought to) all of it. For a kid in grade school, all of this seemed was off and very remote. I think the only nervous time for me was in 1962 (by then I was 13) with the Cuban missile crisis.
In short, I grew up during a period when the US had a strong middle class, when we were allowed to be out until dark because no one worried about safety, when we had never heard of a school shooting, when drugs were virtually unknown in most middle class neighborhoods and when the future looked nothing but bright.
I was born in 1949. That made me one of the Leading-Edge Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1955. I have always felt those of us Leading-Edge boomers were more fortunate compared to those who came later. In some respects we were more fortunate than those who came just before us as well, since we had no sad memories of World War II.
For the most part, we were the only ones to remember when most every family had two parents at home. We were also lucky that most of us (in our neighborhood) had a stay at home mom. In 1954 my parents and I moved into a large housing addition that had just been completed. The houses were modest by today’s standards, but they were the dream of our parents. The house my parents bought in 1954 would end up being the only home they ever owned.
Our little block was a cul-de-sac with just 13 houses on it. We always referred to it as “the circle.” Everyone moved in at about the same time over maybe a two month period. Of the 13 families, one couple decided to have no children and one couple was much older than the rest and were already retired. Of the remaining eleven families, five already had kids and the other six would soon start having kids after they moved in. Of the eleven mothers on the block, only two worked outside the home. Much of our play time was spent right there on our own street, especially in our younger years. With so many mothers around, it was no problem for my mom to go to the grocery and ask another mom to kind of keep an eye out for me.
The moms back then seemed to cherish their roles as stay at home moms. This
feeling may have changed with mothers who came later, but I know at that point
moms loved their life. Of those thirteen wives on that little block, I am
fortunate to still have two of them still living. When I get together with
them, they love to talk about the 1950’s and early 60’s. I’m sure if you asked
them their major accomplishment in life, they would say raising their kids.
Of course times changed. Women started going back to work due to economic necessity.
In other cases, the mothers of that day were more likely to be seeking the
self-actualization that came from not just a job, but a career. Thus my
Leading-Edge group was the only ones in a sense. By the times these
changes came, I was already in high school.
Several of you have asked to be notified when Home Front A Memoir from WWII is released as an audio book. The release last week means that the audio book joins the paperback and eBook editions. It is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets. Here is one link https://www.amazon.com/Home-Front-C-D-Peterson/dp/096008150X/
When most of us who were there at the time think about the
end of the war we think about the parades and celebrations, but the
readjustments were difficult – for both the servicemen and their families. We had four boys in our town who had what we
called shell shock. They stayed to
themselves mostly, but It was awful to see them on the street.
But lots of other boys who came home found it hard to get
back into civilian life. My uncle James had troubles adapting. He tried some work but just needed more time
to settle in. One day he told me he was
joining the” 52-20 Club.” It was a
program that gave men like him $20 a week for 52 weeks, or until they got a
job, to help them. He joked about it, but he was a little embarrassed
I could tell. He got a job in a short time.
We don’t often talk about these kinds of things that happened
after the war. There were lots of
Comments :Pete: Thanks so much for all the “memoirs” you’ve published from WWII. These memoirs from those of us who were children on the home front are very moving and historically important. Because it is filled with children’s memoirs of the war, your subscribers might be interested in reading my book, “Daddy’s Gone to War”:The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (Oxford University Press).
— The author is William M. Tuttle, Jr. I have read the book and commend it to those who care about this era.
My brother, Raymond, the oldest, went into the Army as soon as the war started. My sister Phyllis went to work at the Watertown Arsenal. The arsenal was a huge collection of old brick buildings with its own railroad. They tried to keep it secret, but everybody knew they made weapons. Phyllis probably wasn’t supposed to tell me, but she said they made big anti aircraft guns. She told me because she wanted to tell me about what she and the women did to the guns.
The women called themselves “WOW” – women ordinance workers- and made jokes about that, but the most fun they had was writing on the barrels of the big guns in lipstick. Mostly they wrote notes to the soldiers like “Go get ’em G. I Joe” and sometimes they wrote fresh things, but some, like Phyllis wrote the names of family members and friends. Phyllis wrote “This one is for you Raymond” and other messages.
It sounds like a joke about Okies moving from Oklahoma to California, but we did.
Several people have sent in posts describing how the war forced them to relocate. Here is one from Duncan Eisley of Oklahoma b. 1935
I was eight when we made the move. My dad enlisted in the Army as soon as the war started so my mother and I lived with my grandfather. We lived in pretty poor conditions outside of Stillwater. We had no electricity or running water and we didn’t exactly live off the land, but close to it hunting, trapping and fishing. My grandfather was old, but strong and healthy. One day a member of our church told him and some others that if you could work a twelve-hour day the airplane factories in California were begging for men and paid big money. They even gave you a house to live in.
My mother was afraid for us to set off by ourselves in our
old truck, so my grandfather talked to some other people and we gathered up
three families to go in a caravan. The
trip wasn’t too bad as others had given us tips on how to do it.
We ended up in Santa Monica and my grandfather got work
right away at Clover Field working for Douglas.
It was a big change for us. We
got to live in a small trailer, but it had electricity and water. One thing I remember liking the most is that
I could go to a store and buy food.
It was like a big camp and we all learned about each other
and where everybody came from. Sometimes
someone lost a family member in the war and people gathered to help out.
Mostly there was a good spirit because we knew we were all
working for the war effort.