Too Young To Fight - - - Old Enough To Remember
Clealon Campbell, Jr.
I want to dedicate this simple little narrative to my family. They are the ones who shared these events or encouraged me to write about them later.Prologue:
I was born June 16, l932 in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the middle of the Great Depression. My dad had worked in the CCC (Civilian Construction Corp.) and was looking for permanent work. Times were hard for most families but especially those with young children and out-of-work parents. The old phrase "misery loves company " must have been coined during this period in our country's history. There was plenty of misery, yet people seemed to be willing to share what they had with others. I know we lived with some of our relatives for a while. Later some of them lived with us for a while.
My dad finally found work as a Sheet Metal Worker. When I was 5 my parents purchased a small house on the North side of Tulsa near John Burroughs elementary school. I lived there until leaving for the army in 1953.
During those years I would experience the most influential events of my life. It was a time of resurrection from the depression and a molding of our nation into a patriotic cohesiveness the would has not experienced before or since. It was the times of World War II.
This is not intended to be a history of the war or an exhaustive presentation of the events on the home front or even a family history. I simply want to pass along my memories of how the war affected and influenced almost every aspect of my life from years 9 through 13. Maybe this will cause you to recall some of your experiences during these times. If you lived during other times, I hope you will be challenged to develop your own catalog of memories for future generations. How will others know the times of your life unless you tell them?
It's obvious that I was too young to fight but certainly old enough to remember!Introduction
On December 7, 1941, at age 9 1/2 years, I was just arriving home from Sunday School and found my parents huddled around the radio. They had a puzzled and concerned look on their faces. The United States had a naval base somewhere called Pearl Harbor and it had just been bombed by Japanese warplanes. We later leaned that Pearl Harbor was located in the Hawaiian Islands. My uncle Eugene, dads youngest brother, was in the army stationed in Hawaii. and had sailed on a troop ship two weeks earlier for New Guinea, another place we did not know about. It was the next day or so before we really got much information about this attack and the extent of the destruction. Then we learned that our country was at war not only with the Japanese but also with Germany.
I didn't really realize what all this meant at the time, but during the next few years nearly every aspect of my life would be touched in some way be the actions and needs of a world at war.Getting a country ready for war:
To fight a war, there had to be guns, planes, tanks, and ships in greater numbers than we had on hand. This meant that manufacturing plants of all sorts had to be built all over the country. They began building what we all called the bomber plant in Tulsa in 1942. They were going to build a huge bomber known as the B-24 Liberator. designed by Consolidated Aircraft Co. There was a picture of it in the newspaper and one of the bombers was going to be flown into Tulsa for everyone to see. My dad and I went out to the Municipal airport terminal one Sunday afternoon to see it. They had it roped off so you couldn't touch it but you could walk all the way around the plane. I had never seen anything so big in my life and to think they were actually going to build it right here in our city.
After production of this great plane began, dad would occasionally drive us out to the plant and park along the highway outside the fence where we would watch them take off. That was a real thrill. Later, other planes were built at the plant, the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber and the Douglas A-26 Invader.
Of course this meant that many people had to be employed in these plants. They came from everywhere, homes, the farm and other industries. I had uncles, aunts and cousins who began working in what were called defence plants. One family of my relatives moved to Michigan to work in the plants at Ypsilanti. They had grown up in Oklahoma and were accustomed to eating okra in the summer. So my aunt asked a store clerk if they had any okra. He said "no but you might try the drug store". Obviously he didn`t know what okra was.
Though many young men volunteered for military service, a large number were drafted. There were exemptions from the draft given to those working in what was considered essential defense jobs. This was the case with my dad. His skill as a sheet metal worker was deemed necessary to the war effort because he was helping build defense plants. He worked on the Tulsa bomber plant and the munitions powder plant at Choteau. Oklahoma. He would leave early in the morning and come back home late in the evening. They had a long drive and he car pooled with other workers because of tire and gasoline rationing.
My sister, Carolyn was 5 years old when the war started and we were joined by my brother Franklin who was born in 1942. Shortly thereafter my mother decided that she should get a job at the bomber plant. So she got my grandmother to come in off the farm and baby sit us kids while she went to school to learn to be a riveter. However it wasn`t long before my grandmother became ill and mom had to give up riveting.
Occasionally these plants would have an open house and let the public go through them. I remember going through the bomber plant with my family and my aunt Minnie who worked there. She proudly pointed out the tool room she worked in to help keep production going. These defense plants never shut down during the war. They worked around the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And we think 24/7 is a new term. The hours were long and hard but everyone had a common goal, producing the needed equipment for our boys on the front lines at war. There was hardly an industry that wasn't producing something for the war effort. All over Tulsa there were manufacturing plants that had made another product during peace time but were now making artillery shells or other war related products.
Another important need was housing for all those coming into town to work in the defense plants. I can remember large tracts of houses and apartments being built where one at a time was the usual.
Yes, America had been shaken out of her slumber and was rapidly becoming a producer of war materiel in monstrous proportions.Getting the war news:
Today the number one form of getting news is the television. In fact during recent conflicts such as the Gulf War we could set in front of our television sets and actually watch the events of the war unfold before our very eyes, then have General Schwartskoff explain the strategy used. Well that may be exaggerating a little. But during WW II television was not yet available for mass media use and we had to rely on other sources.
There was radio and newspaper as we have today. However as a kid, I was much more interested in listening to Jack Armstrong-The All American Boy, Terry and the Pirates, and The Lone Ranger. As far as reading the paper, the funnies and the sport page was about all I could digest. But I got my real war news at the movies. This was accomplished in several ways. One was the news reels. At every movie there was the main feature, a cartoon and then the news reels. They would show the latest film from all war fronts which included actual coverage of the fighting and the big picture of what the strategy was. I didn't always understand how it was all working together to win the war but seeing all that equipment in action was very exciting for a young boy. Many main feature movies concerned specific battles of the war such as" Wake Island", and "Guadalcanal Diary." The cartoons were usually a spoof on military life or making fun of our enemies. There were also documentaries about certain aspect of the military, the home front, war production. new weapons and many more subjects.
The movie theatre was a very important part of life during the war years. Movies were made to inform, boost morale, or simply to entertain. I remember a banner day in my life when I saw three movies in one day. I had ridden to town on the bus with a friend to see a movie. That afternoon I went to another film with a friend, then that evening my Aunt Minnie called to see if I would like to go with her. I sure wish I could recall what the movies were.
My aunt always got very emotional at movies. My grandmother died in 1944 around Christmas time and we went to see a war movie that next year. One scene was during a lull in the battle and they sang "I'll be home for Christmas". She cried the rest of the movie.
Another form of receiving war news was a moving light sign on one of the bank buildings downtown. It wrapped around two adjacent sides of the building at about the second floor. Any news of the war could be read like an electric light ticker tape. Many people were down town in those days for shopping, business and movie going. Nowadays everyone goes to outlying malls.
The movies were also used as a propaganda medium. When things were not going well on the battle front, people needed to be encouraged. We all needed to be challenged to continue our support for our men and women in the armed services. Most of the war pictures were made to make us look good and our enemies look bad. I recall that music played a big part. When the enemy was shown on the screen the music was sinister and somewhat annoying. But when our boys came into view the music became upbeat and patriotic. The key went from minor to major and it made you feel good about our successes.
One of my favorite recollections was the sound of the aircraft engines. When the enemy planes were shown, not only did the pilot look hostile and mean but the sound of his engines had a sinister buzz, while our airmen had the look of wholesome determination and their engines had a pleasant hum to them.
At the end of the feature film, a message would be flashed on the screen that war bonds and stamps were being sold at this theatre and they could be purchased in the lobby or concession stand as you leave.School days:
During the years of the Second World War most of my activities were centered around school. Here patriotism was really learned. We had dedicated teachers that not only loved our country but wanted to teach there students to have that same love. I can remember beginning each day with the salute to the flag. We would begin by placing our right hand over our heart. Then we would begin by saying, "I pledge allegiance to the", and when we said "flag", we would stretch our right arm out and point to the flag with our hand open and our palms up. Then we would complete the pledge in that posture. It was impressed upon us to have our palms up because the German Nazi salute was similar but with the palm down. I guess it was soon after that that the salute to the flag was changed to simply holding your right hand over your heart during the whole pledge. In music class we learned all of the songs of our various military branches and the national anthems of all of our allies and sang them often. When I was in the sixth grade, I was picked along with a few other boys to represent our school in the all-city boys choir. We practiced once a week at Central High School down town for several weeks in the spring. At the end of the school year we gave a music festival at the Coliseum. There were about 300 of us and several thousand spectators. We wore white frocks that our mothers made from a standard pattern and had a large black tie at the neck. Patriotic songs were featured along with "Beautiful Dreamer" and "White Cliffs of Dover". It was a thrill to hear so many voices joined together in patriotism.
The Red Cross sponsored care packages for the displaced children of Britain. Periodically we would receive a shipment of light weight cardboard Red Cross boxes, about the size of a shoe box with a list of articles to be placed in them. Included were toothbrush, toothpaste, wash cloth, bar of soap, comb, and a small toy. The toy could not be anything that looked like a weapon such as a knife, gun, plane or tank. We would bring these items from home and put them all together. Then on a certain day we would sit at a table and pass the boxes down the row, each of us putting in an article until they were all filled. Later the Red Cross would collect these and distribute them to our overseas friends. It really gave us a feeling of being a part of the war effort.
Another important project that school children were a part of was the purchasing of war bonds and stamps. This money went to finance the cost of fighting the war. Bonds were many different denominations but the most popular was the twenty-five dollar bond. It cost $18.75 but would be worth $25 in ten years. Of course not many school children could afford to purchase a bond all at one time. So they made stamp books available. You could purchase a stamp for 25 cents and paste it in the book. When the book was full it could be turned in for a bond. Homeroom classes had contests to see who could sell the most and recognition given to the winner. During one bond promotion, a soldier and a jeep were dispatched to our school. Anyone who bought a bond on that day would get a ride around the school grounds in the jeep. Did that ever cause excitement! But of course there were a lot of us who couldn't buy a bond so we just watched in envy of those that could. I remember during one bond drive I saved nickels ( with my parents help of course). That's 375 nickels for a $18.75 bond, It took a couple of large bags to carry all those nickels. I was then in Junior High School and riding a school bus. I remember ceremoniously carrying those bags to school and plopping them down on the teachers desk and requesting a bond. No problem, as soon as I counted them out in nice neat stacks. Boy what a task. But it was worth it all. It was the first time I had ever been able to purchase a bond in cash. I wasn't exactly big man on campus but I was proud of my accomplishment
Another way that students could assist the war effort was to collect scrap metal and paper to be recycled and used in making needed goods. I can remember a huge pile of scrap metal on the corner of our school yard. Kids would bring anything they could get there hands on. They would divide the metal into separate piles, aluminum, steel, cast iron, and copper. Then one day a large truck would come and haul it off and we would start all over again. Scrap paper would actually be brought into the school. Most of it would be brought in small bundles , but occasionally we got a little more ambitious. During one homeroom contest for scrap paper, some of my friends and I decided we were going to win this time. My dad had a spring scale that we could hang up on our back porch and weight the paper. I had a wagon with sideboards so we weighed and loaded and hauled paper in that wagon till we won. No prize, just satisfaction.
It seems the boys were particularly interested in keeping up with guns, planes , tanks and ships. I had airplane spotters books and cards that I had collected and I could tell you the name of any military aircraft of most any nation, but especially American. There wasn't a day went by that someone at school didn't have a new picture or drawing of a warplane. If one of the guys was particularly gifted in drawing an airplane, everyone wanted a copy. He would blacken the back of the paper with pencil lead and pass it around for others to trace over his lines and make a copy for themselves. I wish I had kept some of those sketches. I'm sure they would look mighty crude now.
Planes were my thing. One time in art class, the teacher assigned the project of making a poster depicting some theme. We were to pick partners and the two of us were to decide the theme and paint the poster on our own. Well my friend Karl Schmidt and I decided we were the perfect match. We were both crazy about airplanes and our theme would be something like "Keep 'Em Flyin'". We envisioned a squadron of sleek fighter planes flying in formation in fluffy white clouds. This scene was to be repeated several times on the poster in a formal design. With visions of grandeur we drew the formation then traced it in many other places. We finished by watercolor painting the sky and clouds and planes. What a masterpiece. We had a mental picture of our teacher praising it before the whole school. She didn't. It was just hung in the halls of the school along with the many others without fanfare or accolades . We just had our own personal satisfaction.
One day at school we were told that a medal of honor winner was coming to visit. He went around to all the classes and shook hands and showed us his medal. I can't remember the circumstances for his receiving the medal but I do remember his name was Ernest Childers. He was an American Indian I believe from around Muskogee.
My uncle was home on leave and he was at our house that evening. When I told him about meeting Ernie Childers, he told me that he had had breakfast with him that morning. Small world.
The Tulsa Public School system decided it would be a good idea to have personal identification tags for each student in the event of an attack on our country. So they issued each of us a light gray disc about an inch in diameter with a number stamped on it. It had a small hole for a clear plastic cord to wear around our neck. This number was recorded as belonging to us and we were to wear it at all times. One day I was playing in the park on the sliding board and caught the cord on something and it popped off. I never could find it and they never checked for them again. I guess it's too late to report it now.
My friend Karl had an uncle who was a soldier in the German army. I`m not really sure how it came about, but every so often his family would get a letter from him telling how things were going from the other side of the war. He would occasionally bring one of these letters to school to share with the class. I believe this was done through the International Red Cross. It sure put a different perspective on the war.The home front:
The war changed many things about home life that became routine after a while. One was the rationing of certain goods. It was impossible to buy a new car from 1942 to 1946. They were not rationed, they just weren't available. All new automobiles produced during that time were for military or official government use only. Even theses new cars were produced with 1941 or 1942 tooling. Auto manufacturers switched from car to military equipment production. So you had to make do and repair your old car. I remember we had a 1939 Pontiac that served us from 1940 to 1950. Dad had the engine overhauled once during the war, something almost unheard of today.
Some of the goods that I can remember that were rationed were meat, sugar, gasoline, and tires. Ration books were issued based upon the number of people in the family and priorities based on how important your job was for the war effort. Now just because you might have sufficient ration coupons didn't necessarily mean you would get what you wanted. Things were in short supply with our armed services got first priority. Mom would have to be there early to get certain items at the store.
My aunt and uncle were staying with us for a while. One evening my mom and aunt fried some steak for supper. Since my dad and uncle were working different places, they didn't get home at the same time. My dad got home first and sat down to eat. He began to cut the meat but it was very tough. After sawing on it for a while, he said "what is this, horse meat"? That didn't go over too well after all the trouble they had getting the meat and cooking it. Then my uncle came in. He sat down and began cutting his steak with a great deal of difficulty. Again after sawing for a while, he said" what is this, horse meat"? Well, I'm not really sure whether it was or not but I guarantee you they never asked that question again.
Tuesday was declared "meatless Tuesday". People were urged to voluntarily cut meat from their diet on this one day of the week to help relieve the short supply. I believe it was around this time that oleomargarine came into being to replace the shortages of butter. The name was usually shortened to Oleo. The first Oleo was just plain white in color and looked like lard. It fact people hesitated using it because of it's looks. So, they came out with it packed in soft clear plastic packages with what appeared to be an orange pill inside it. It was actually a coloring agent. If you didn't want your Oleo white, you pinched the pill and released the coloring agent. Then you kneaded the package and worked the coloring into it until it was uniformly yellow. I kinda liked doing it for a while, then it became work.
Another thing that was in short supply was cigarettes. It seems as though a larger percentage of people smoked then than they do now. I remember that dad smoked at that time. They weren't rationed but the bulk went overseas to our military service people. I remember that the word would get around that they had a supply at a certain store and people would stand in long lines to get one pack. A popular brand in those days was Wings. I always asked dad to get them when he could because on each pack was a small card with a picture of one or our warplanes. I had quite a collection. Boy I wish I knew where they were now.
To supplement dad's supply of cigarettes, he rolled his own. Or should I say we rolled his own. I can recall long sessions at the dining room table with a large can of Buglar smoking tobacco, cigarette papers and a cigarette rolling machine. I got pretty good at it after a while. But I still preferred him buying wings.
I mentioned that tires were rationed or extremely hard to get. Most people had there tires recapped just before they wore out. Even then, they were not really very good. My dad and several of the guys he worked with decided to go fishing one week end and I went with them. They pooled their gasoline rations and dad drove our car. On the way we had a blowout on one of our tires and really needed to get another one. We stopped in Pryor, Oklahoma and one of the men called a fellow he knew there. I`m not real sure how it all happened, but before we left town we had a brand new Jeep tire, one with those big knobby treads on it. It must have been on the black market or something but there were no questions asked. We were still running that tire on one of our vehicles long after the war. In fact it was on my father's company pick-up when I was driving.
A couple of notes about that fishing trip. One of the guys had taken his 22 pistol along to target shoot. He asked one of the fellows to throw his hat up into the air and he would shoot a hole in it. The guy chuckled and said "there's no way you can do that" and threw his hat up. The guy with the pistol waited till the hat landed then walked over to the hat and shot a hole in it. He said" I didn't say when I was going to shoot". Boy was he disgusted. Later when it was time to leave they all went down to the water's edge to retrieve their live box with all the fish they had caught. It was made out of wooden lath and full of fish. When they picked it up the whole bottom fell out and the fish darted everywhere. They slammed the box down immediately but it was too late. All but a couple had gotten away. Talk about disgusted. That trip didn't save many meat ration coupons.
People were continually given information concerning civil defense. Even though we were nearly in the middle of the country, there was always that possibility that Tulsa would be a prime enemy target since there was a bomber plant here along with the petroleum refineries. I remember one all-city drill we had. Bombers were scheduled to fly over different parts of the city and drop flour sack bombs. If a person got flour on them they were to be considered casualties They were to remain there until properly attended by medical personnel. I'm not sure what happened if someone took a direct hit by one of those flour sacks. It's gotta hurt. I believe they must have just dropped flour and not the whole sack. I Know it sure was talked about the next day.
Another activity that many participated in was gardening. We called them victory gardens. People raised many of their own vegetables. Here again it helped the war effort by lessening shortages. I remember dad had a very big garden in the back. There were no power tools such as a tiller, it was all done by hand powered shovel. He mainly raised tomatoes and okra. It makes my mouth water just remembering going to the garden with a salt shaker, picking a big, warm vine-ripened tomato and eating it right there in the garden. Our preacher's son, who was my age, said he couldn't imagine anyone eating a tomato, He wondered why God ever made such a thing. I always did feel sorry for him.
We also loved okra. Mom fixed it about any way you could imagine. She sliced and fried it with corn meal, stewed it with tomatoes, and pickled it. I guess we ate it about every way but raw. She also canned both so we would enjoy them all year long.
Some of us guys in our neighborhood had B-B guns. But B-Bs were hard to come by. They were made mostly out of lead but good ones were coated with copper to hold there shape and give them strength. Of course during the war copper was in very short supply and therefore so were B-Bs. Every so often someone would hear of some hardware store having a small supply. We would quickly catch the bus for town get in line and if we were lucky, get to buy one tube of B-Bs. It seems like there were about 100 in a tube, so we were very stingy with them.. If at all possible we tried to shoot at something with a backstop so we could try to retrieve some of the B-Bs. That was only possible it they were coated with copper. If not they would just mash flat when they hit and could not be used again. Times were tough.
The Fourth of July was a special time during the war. People could see that their freedom and our nations independence could not be taken for granted. We had loved ones fighting and dying to preserve the freedom we all enjoyed. I really feel that Independence Day celebrations all over the country helped focus our country's resolve to be victorious over our enemies. However, solemn resolve did not keep us from picnics, family gatherings and fireworks.
Some of my fondest memories during these war years was large family picnics on Bird Creek near my grandparents farm north of Tulsa. Our families would gather early the morning of the 4th of July at the farm. My dad always brought about 4 cases of Nehi pop, strawberry, grape, orange and probably a few other flavors. We would put them in a large wash tub with large hunks of ice from the ice plant, pour in a little water then cover with an old quilt. They would ice down some home grown watermelons the same way. All the food, chairs, and utensils were loaded onto my Grandpa's old flatbed truck and with kids riding up close to the cab they would take off followed by a convoy of other cars and pick-ups to Bird Creek. My aunt would always bring about 5 gallons of ice cream from a plant in Tulsa that had been packed with dry ice. The cousins especially liked taking pieces of the dry ice and putting it in the pop tub or throwing them in the creek to watch the bubbles form. Main dish was always fried chicken and lots of it. I can see my grandmother now wringing two necks at a time. Yes, this was before Tyson's packaged chicken. Of course there were all the trimmings and pies to go with the ice cream.
All during the day we were busy shooting all kinds of fireworks. Blowing up ant hills, blasting tin cans, throwing firecrackers off the bridge down to the water where people were swimming. But the main event would come later in the evening. One of my aunts had a brother from Missouri that always came to these picnics. We could count on him to bring some outstanding and probably expensive aerial bomb. It was always saved to the last as the crowning event of the day. The whole day we would pass by and look at this magnificent object of pyrotechnics, imagining how wonderful it was going to look and sound. I especially remember a seven section repeating aerial bomb. I believe it had six smaller bombs around one very large one in the center. We could hardly wait. The time at last came for the big finale. Everyone gathered around, some holding their ears. Of course the boys didn't, that was just for sissies. The match was lit, the fuse sparkled the first report went off . This continued until all seven had shot up and exploded. It was over in just a few moments. It was kind of a let down after all that anticipation. But what a day etched into our memories. It just reaffirmed what we were fighting for, the freedom to gather where and with whom we wanted to and pay tribute to a country such as this.
I had an uncle and two cousins serving in the military. and we would occasionally get letters from them. They were usually sent on "V-mail". This was very thin and small sheets of paper. The envelope was made from the same paper so that the letter was very light in weight. This way more mail could be sent with the same weight. Sometimes you would hold the letter up and it would look like Swiss cheese. The sensors would read all the mail and then actually cut out anything they thought could jeopardize war security in any way. Usually you could piece together and read between the lines and figure out what they were trying to tell you and it never seemed like war secrets to us. But it was always better to be safe than sorry.
There were lots of slogans printed during the war as warnings or encouragement. I remember a poster that showed a ship sinking in the background and the slogan "A Slip Of The Lip May Sink A Ship!" One of the radio personalities used to sign of his program by saying, "Bye, Bye, Buy Bonds!" Of course one of my favorites were the posters with airplanes flying in formation with the slogan "Keep `Em Flying". "Remember Pearl Harbor" was used throughout the war as a slogan to keep us focused on the job at hand. Outside the military recruiting offices and it seems like the Post Office, there was a sign with Uncle Sam pointing straight out and read, "Uncle Sam Wants You".
One of the most exciting things especially for a young boy were the War Shows that came to town. I can remember three that I attended. There was one at the Coliseum, one at Bolder Park, and one at Skelly football stadium.
The show at the Coliseum filled the inside pavilion and spread outside onto parking lots. They displayed military equipment of all kinds with demonstrations going on by military personnel. Outside they had the larger equipment and even wrecked enemy equipment and planes.
I remember riding the bus to town with a friend and spending hours walking around and looking at the many displays of military equipment and demonstrations. Even though I was fascinated by all the things I saw, there were two things that really stick out in my memory.
In a large room they had a continuously running movie about the mosquito and malaria. The film was produced by Walt Disney Studios and was used by the military to train the troops about this hazard of the South Pacific jungles. It was an animation that was both informative and entertaining. I recall watching it 2 or 3 times.
The other thing that I remember well was a participation type of exhibit. They had set up a real army kitchen outside and were continuously making and baking bread. The participation was, they made it and we ate it. They posted the time for the next batch to come out of the ovens. We carefully saw to it that we were always there on time to sample that delicious fresh-baked bread. Boy was it good and we certainly got more than our share. It seems like this show lasted about a week so that everyone that wanted to would have a chance to attend it. Of course there were plenty of propaganda posters and War Bond booths. There was plenty to talk about at school following one of these shows.
Another fairly large show was at Boulder Park. It was much smaller but featured several destroyed Japanese planes. I remember how they pointed out the inferior quality of the materials and construction of the aircraft of our enemy as compared to ours. They also pointed out how much better trained our pilots were than theirs. Of course these boasts were simply to build citizen morale. later these boasts would be proven untrue. Their planes were built lighter weigh but were extremely maneuverable and their pilots, at least at the beginning of the war, were highly trained and talented flyers. This show was held in a large tent with a few displays of enemy equipment outside.
Actually the two shows I just mentioned were more accurately displays. But I do remember one that was an actual show. My father took me to it and It was staged at Skelly Football Stadium in the evening. The football field was set up to look like a Japanese fortified South Pacific island with palm trees , fox holes, artillery, sandbag defenses machine gun nests, tanks, the works. Then an American invasion force landed with all their war materiel. A mock battle ensued using blank ammo and preset explosive charges to simulate actual combat conditions. They even had a squadron of planes fly over and drop bombs. Preset charges went off to really look like the bombs had exploded. Now this was exciting and I guess as close to actual front line conditions as they could make it. It sure beat the movies. The Americans won of course.
The stadium was filled to capacity that evening, probably about 20,000 people. After dark and the mock battle over, they turned out the lights then asked one side of the stadium at a time to have each person light a match or a cigarette lighter and hold it up. It was a spectacular sight. They pointed out that a single light made little difference, but with everyone's light blending together the results were overwhelming. Of course the emphasis was sharing in supporting the war effort by buying bonds. It was most effective. Lots of bonds were sold that night.
One day a train came through Tulsa called "The Freedom Train". I`m sure there must have been other things on this train but two come to mind. The train carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence you could view by passing through one of the cars. I remember it was behind glass and well guarded. Also on a flat bed car they had a captured Japanese midget submarine like the ones used at Pearl Harbor. I just remember walking by the car and looking at the outside. Again, this was designed to leave the impression that their equipment was far inferior to ours. As always the War Bond booth was near by and doing a brisk business. The greatest teamwork the world has ever experienced. Everyone could and pretty well did participate in achieving the final victory.
There were some live stage shows that came to Tulsa during the war years and played at theatres like the Ritz and Orpheum but I never attended one of those. These were always geared to prompt patriotism, lift morale and sell War Bonds. Some of the best War Bond salesmen were celebrities. Many of them gave liberally of their time, talent and drawing power to promote the sale of bonds. It was a time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country, and they did.
Most of the kid's radio programs like Jack Armstrong had some kind of war related adventure story going. It was continued each day in a 15 minute episode. They usually started about 4 in the afternoon and continued for about an hour and a half. Many of them had some sort of prize you could sent off for along with 25 cents and a box top from the sponsor's product. One of my favorite prizes was a wooden bomb sight with bombs. Most of the toys made during war time were made of wood because of the shortage of metal. This bomb sight was about 3 inches square and about 1 inch thick. It had 90 degree intersecting holes with a mirror at 45 degrees at the intersection. This way you could look straight ahead and see straight down. In the bottom of the block was a solid wheel with a pin in the center so it could be rotated. There was one hole in the wheel that could be rotated to line up with a hole in the block. A small wooden bomb was inserted up into the block and the wheel rotated to hold the bomb in place. Then you could look through the sight and pick out an object, rotate the wheel until the holes lined up and drop your bomb. I kept this devise for years. Again I wish I had it today, maybe I`ll find one in a flee market some day.
One Christmas during the war years I wanted to get mom and dad something. So I took the bus downtown and went to my old standby shopping center, Kresses. After a great deal of looking I finally decided that I would buy them an 8 x 10 inch framed picture. I had narrowed my choices down to two. One was a photo of the American flag waving in the breeze. The other was a photo of General Douglas McArthur. I really had a dilemma. I paced that store for a long time, going back time and again to look at these two photos. Finally I made my choice, I wish I could remember the logic behind that big decision, but Old Glory won out. Mom displayed that old picture till way after I was a grown men. I wish I knew where it was today.
Another great Christmas gift purchase I made at Kresses during those years was a necklace for mom. It was a sterling silver cross with some sort of black stones in it. I recall quite well that I paid 50 cents for it. You would have thought I had broken into the British Crown Jewels to get it the way mom carried on about it. By the way, my wife, Judy, now proudly wears it. Every man should have women like these two in there lives.
It seems to me that crime was low during the years of World War II. There was always some black market dealings with shortages and rationing. But people in general were so involved and interested in winning the war and getting loved ones back home, that they were very intolerant of anyone doing anything to jeopardize this mission. I guess most thieves and crooks were either serving in the military or working in defense plants and were too tired or just didn't have the opportunity to break the law. I believe that patriotism was just that strong in all elements of society.
There were many Prisoner of War (P.O.W.) camps in the United States during those war years. The only one I was familiar with was at Camp Gruber, not far from Tulsa. They frequently brought prisoners to Tulsa in army trucks to pick up food and supplies. They wore clothing marked P.O.W. and were well guarded when in town. I never remember hearing of an escape attempt, thought there surely were some. I know I heard about our military personnel attempting to escape from enemy camps. However, the prisoners over here had it so much better than they did in their own military that they were mostly content to sit out the war in comparative ease.
Toward the end of the war many new types of weapons were introduced. I can remember hearing about Germany's V-1 and V-2 unmanned bombs that were used as terror weapons against Britain. Then the first jet fighters were used by them. One of the most terrifying weapons though was being used by the Japanese in the Pacific. They were called Kamikazes or suicide planes. They were deliberately flown into our ships by their pilots who were sacrificing themselves. We had not seen anything like this before. However, the most fearsome and devastating weapon of all time was being developed right here in the United States. It was kept top secret We would later know of it as the Atomic bomb.
I remember very distinctly the first time I ever heard of this weapon. I was 13 years old and working at Crawford softball park in the evening working the score board and shagging balls hit over the fence. I was riding my bike to the park along with another boy and we were talking about the headlines in the paper that evening. "A- Bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. I recall we wondered what A Bomb meant. Of course later we were to find out what this weapon could do. One of the most important things that this bomb could do was to end the war.
A few days after this our family made a trip to a little town of Tamaha, Oklahoma near Muskogee. My grandfather on my dad's side who had died the year I was born, was buried there. They had never been able to have a grave stone set for him, so my dad had one made in Tulsa. One Sunday we put the stone, cement and sand in the back of our old Pontiac and went to Tamaha. I can remember all the way there and back we listened to the car radio hoping to here that the war had ended.
It was announced a few days later that it was over and that the surrender by the Japanese was to be aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo harbor. The papers, radio and movie newsreels were full of celebrations going on all over the country. That went for Tulsa also. There were extemporaneous celebrations breaking out everywhere. It was a happy time. With the fighting over, the Service Men would be coming home. The sad note was that many would not be coming home. Many thousands had willingly given their lives to preserve the freedom we enjoy today.
Years later my wife, Judy, and I had the opportunity to visit an American military cemetery in Luxembourg. Most of the approximately 5000 graves there were of those that gave their lives at what we later called the "Battle of the Bulge". General George Patton is also buried there with the men he commanded. It was probably the most moving moment in my life. I did not know any of those men personally, but as I stood there looking at those graves I knew that they had each helped pay the price for my freedom for which I say, "thank you!"Epilogue:
As I stated in the beginning, this was certainly not intended to be a history of WW II nor an exhaustive account of events on the home front during the war time. My intentions were to give some of the memories I had as a young impressionable boy growing up during those times. Though I tended to ramble somewhat, my intentions were to somehow tie my experiences to events of the war years or the war effort. In many ways, these years of WW II were the worst years the world has ever seen. The destruction of property and facilities was staggering. Worse, the loss of young irreplaceable lives was unforgivable. Wars of any kind and size are devastating to those involved, but global world war as experienced in the 1940`s cannot be tolerated by civilized nations in the future. The means of mass destruction has grown to such proportions that complete annihilation of mankind is foreseeable.
In another way, the years of World War II in America were some of her best years. Patriotism and love of country was at it's zenith. People pulling together for a common cause under hardships and restrictions was heart warming. Not only was there a feeling of camaraderie and willingness to sacrifice, the actual accomplishments achieved were enormous. The production of necessary materiel and equipment was something the world has never seen nor may never see again. The versatility of American industry and the prodigious output of goods simply drowned the enemy in ships, tanks, planes, guns and most importantly, American fighting men.
Yes, I was too young to fight, but old enough to remember!
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