The Home Front Round Table

 

In September 2017, fifteen wonderful seniors agreed to sit and share their memories of the war years on the home front.  We met at the Elmwood Hall / Danbury Senior Center in Danbury, Connecticut.  The Director who brought us together is Susan M. Tomanio, LCSW

……………..

My strongest impression came to me a few hours after the session when I realized that no one had shown any surprise at what the others had said.  World War II was truly a shared experience for this generation of Americans.  The fifteen people sitting around the table had an understood, unspoken bond.  “The war was our life,” they said matter-of-factly.

December 7th itself did not produce the vivid recollections I imagined it would.  Most were young in 1941.  One woman attended a concert that evening and was startled when the orchestra broke into the Star Spangled Banner.  One man remembered a vaudeville show that hastily changed its presentation.

A man who grew up in New Haven said that it seemed that some sort of defense plan must have been in place all along.  He recalled how quickly sentries appeared and how soon restrictions were placed along the waterfront where navy vessels anchored.

Rationing was discussed as if it happened yesterday.  “Oh, yes, we traded stamps and often had to make do with what we had,” one woman said with no bitterness.  One woman recalled that because nylon stockings weren’t available, some women simply painted a seam line down the back of their legs.  (I wonder now how many women today even know that nylons once had seams.)

All of them remembered air raid drills.  “If the drill was planned,” one woman said, “It meant the girls could wear slacks.”

When I asked if they were afraid during the drills, they paused and looked around at each other and each said one version or another of, “No, we were all just doing what we were supposed to do.”  A former professional baseball player in the group said there was one thing that scared him and that was when they turned on search lights reaching way up into the sky.  He felt they had to mean some kind of trouble.  Another man remembered that during blackouts he was sometimes home alone, with no flashlight and that frightened him.

The words “doing what we were supposed to do” struck me as almost outdated.  When I mentioned my observation, several wondered if we, as a country could ever have that sense of togetherness and duty again.  One woman quickly pointed out that we did have a moment of that unity after 9/11.

Doing what we were supposed to do back then included collecting scrap metal, even if it meant prowling the woods to find it.  Some collected pots and pans, others collected paper, some collected fat drippings and everyone collected tin foil!

Everyone chuckled when we tried to think of whatever happened to all that tin foil.  We rolled it into balls and the ball got bigger when we brought it into school, then it got bigger at the collection center, but none of us knew where it went from there.  We were all sure it went for a grand cause, but supposed the whole collection activity might have been a way just to keep us occupied and feeling like we were contributing to the war effort.

One woman contributed to the war effort by making “ditty bags.”  I neglected to ask what was put into the bags.

War bonds and stamps were a shared memory.  One man remembered exactly that once a person had saved up $18.75 in stamps, the book could be traded in for a $25 War Bond.

One participant’s memories did jar me.  She pointed out that many, if not most people, did not have telephones.  A Western Union bicycle delivery boy was a common sight.  (While I grew up before television, we always had a telephone.)  Telegrams, radio, and the movies provided their information about the war.  For most, it wasn’t a household topic, except for worry over a loved one.  Most did not remember the war being discussed a lot in school, though one man recalled that a teacher had a wall map of Europe marked with pins denoting action.

One woman remembered that the movie theaters ran bond drives.  A short feature would have a movie star urging patrons to buy bonds and savings stamps.  Then the theater lights would come up and ushers would come around to collect.

A man started the topic of women in the war by referring to the iconic Rosie the Riveter.  He also reminded the group of the brave women who ferry- piloted war planes from the U.S. to England.  A woman who grew up in Philadelphia described her role executing classified contracts for radar procurement.  The group acknowledged that women being drawn into the workforce marked a big change and that these women were often met with prejudice both during and after the war.

We did not inter our German Americans or our Italian Americans, but one man recalled that in the Italian neighborhoods of his youth, Italians were interrogated about their families in Italy.  Several spoke about the Nazi German Bund movement, which held meetings in New York City and very nearby Danbury, but curiously, no one could recall what happened, if anything, to their members.

The sadness of separation did not come up, though one man said he almost never saw his father who had two defense jobs and was also an air raid warden.  The mention of Christmas did not bring forth anything special from this group. Bread was baked, carols sung, Macy’s visited and electric trains unwrapped.

The meeting’s final topic concerned the impact of the war on people.  “We and our enemies did awful things to each other, “one man said.  “We seem to forget and go to war again every 20 years.”  A woman remarked about the hideous propaganda posters she recalled.  Everyone seemed to remember someone who came home with battle fatigue or “shell shocked” as it was called.   “We saw a lot of alcoholism after the war,” a woman noted.  “And divorces.  You can’t go through something like that and not be affected.”

“The effects of war go on for a long time,” one woman said.  “I watched some of the first holocaust survivors come to New York City.  They were barely able to cope.”  Then she explained. “I saw it affect them, their children and their children’s children.”

The Seniors
Carl Tomanio, Lydia Tomanio, William Seymour, Eleanor Preisig, Joan Gall, Gerry Ulich,

Gil Black, Dolores Morganthaler, Robert Wolfe, Bob Saulnier, Mario Tomanio, Walter Stanley

Doris Lubin, and Sondra Schneider

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top