MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II -
Through the Eyes of a Young Child
I would like to share my recollections of World War II, as I saw them as a young child, ages 6- 10 years of age. Both of my brothers were in the Navy, following my father’s footsteps in World War I. We lived in Southern California, (South Gate) ten miles from the coast near the Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbors.
South Gate was an industrial, suburban town eight miles from Los Angeles. It boasted of industrial plants: Goodyear Tire and Rubber and General Motors. I’m sure these plants were used extensively in the war production effort. We lived at 3416 Southern Ave, corner of Virginia Ave. (long before my father built the new house on the corner.)
Southern California at that time was very much on alert, with the recent bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Certain steps were taken to protect our coastline, our cities, factories and establish defense plants, therefore protecting our country and us.
These recollections are mine only, and therefore some may disagree with my observations. But they are very much etched in my memory. It occurred to me one day that perhaps I should write down these events, when one night at a dinner with my family and friends, I was asked many questions about the war years. It seemed not one of them had even a vague idea what we went through as a family, as a community, and as a country. It reminded me of the generation not knowing about the Holocaust, because no one ever talked about it.
Perhaps things were different in other parts of the country, but probably not on the East Coast. But I’m sure many of these events occurred there also. I cannot attest to those events. I only write about what I know happened in Southern California during the War years.
World War II was a time when the United States acted as a complete whole, every move being for the war effort and our country’s preservation. Patriotism was at an all time high. You knew who your enemy was. You knew what must be done by home sacrifice in order to help our boys and our country. Every aspect of our life was directed toward this goal. I wish to talk about some of these war efforts as they affected me and my feeling at the time about this effort.
The whole country came alert and various war measures were in place to protect us in case of bombing. The Japanese threat of bombing was very real. The coast was so vulnerable with all of our shipyards and factories, especially aircraft factories. (Lockheed in Long Beach). Los Angeles was a key harbor for ships, as was San Diego and San Francisco.
Since growing up and having my own family, I have often thought about the sacrifices my folks must have made, and the unspoken fear of one’s sons going off to war and possibly not returning. Both of my brothers did come back in one piece and so did my husband’s two brothers, who also served in the Navy, stationed in the Pacific.
We felt fortunate as a family. And I did feel such a part of that experience, even at my young age. I wish to write about my families’ way of dealing with the war and other experiences. I also wish to convey the role of the schools in the war and the whole Southern California area, where I was born and went to school.
My first recollection of the war came when my 17 year-old brother Bill joined the Navy in 1942.He hadn’t finished high school. In those days, you could sign-up with parent’s signature. He and I shared a room with built-in bunk beds. I was seven years old. I was his little baby sister and waited on him all the time. (So it seemed) He panicked once when I came down with the measles during his finals, because he hadn’t had them. But he never did get the measles.
With Bob it was different. He was 14 years older than I was. (Bill was 10 years) He had his own life. I don’t remember much about it, until he met Marie. They were married in 1943 and that is my first memory of Bob at the start of the war. It was raining hard the day of their wedding, and I knew it was special. He was stationed on the East Coast (after boot camp) and wasn’t around very much. Marie moved to Connecticut to live with another war wife and to be near Bob.
My father was an Air Raid Warden for our block. He wore a special hard hat and armband. We had air-raid warnings often and blackout drills at night. We all had special drapes installed to block out any light. Dad would be on duty and walk the bock to see if anyone showed any sign of lights at all. Even a cigarette light could be seen from an airplane.
My mother did not go to work in the factories like so many women did. I know she thought about it because she once said she wanted to learn to drive army trucks. They did use women to do many menial jobs for the war effort. I heard her say she felt she should stay home with me, as women did in those days. I don’t remember any of my friend’s mothers working either. They all did their part in other ways.
I know she knitted and crocheted Afghans, rolled bandages and many other related activities. Her church group did many of these things. I even remember learning to knit in school to make 6-inch squares. They were given to women to sew together to make blankets for hospitalized servicemen. Mom taught me to knit. I wasn’t very good at first, but I soon learned to do a decent square.
Ed’s Mom (Nana) worked in the Hospitality Club cooking at the South Gate USO. She was very involved. They cooked meals, held dances, wrote letters and so forth. The USO played a very big part in my community. Dances were held at the Hospitality Club. It was very famous and popular with the men. Bill had said that he had heard about it all over the Pacific.
Servicemen would come for miles to go and meet local girls. My mother always said she was glad that I was young and that she did not have to worry about servicemen and me! (Now I understand why, having raised 3 daughters.
Some of the favorite songs during the war years were, “Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me”, “Johnny Come Marching Home”, “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and many others. Newsreels in the movie theaters showed war footage and the progression of the
War. Radio broadcasts did the same. I can still hear F.D.R.’s voice.
We entertained servicemen in our home many times, especially for the holidays. We had one or two every holiday for dinner. Bill often brought home buddies when he was on leave. They were always so lonesome for home. They really appreciated our hospitality. I always got a lot of attention, because I probably reminded some of them of their own kid sister.
All families with servicemen hung small, approximately 8 x 6 inch white mini-flags in their windows or on the door. One blue star represented one family member in the service. Of course we had one with two stars. We were proud to show our family’s servicemen. Gold stars were servicemen killed in the war.
At school, patriotism was evident also. History classes reflected this loyalty. School décor followed suit. Every Friday all of the students at elementary schools assembled in the main yard and learned to march. We marched in formation to patriotic music. Usually it was John Phillips Sousa Brass Band. This probably went on for an hour (or so it seemed). To this day, every time I hear march music I think of those days.
We all loved it. We felt so patriotic. We felt like we were in the reserves of the Armed Services, learning to march and take marching orders. I considered it fun. We all shared about our family members in the services. Of course there were a few who did not have anyone in the service.
My biggest thrill was when my brother Bill came to see me at school one day to say goodbye. He was being shipped out to sea. I was so thrilled he did this and so very proud to have him come in uniform! He looked so handsome in his uniform. It was one of my thrills in my lifetime. He made me very proud to be his sister.
At school we had air raid drills. They were similar to Earthquake drills that we had had since the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. (Before my time) We had to get under our desks with our hands over our heads and away from the windows, which the teacher pulled the blinds shut. We also had to learn to evacuate the building when the siren warned. It was strange to hear the sirens go off instead of the usual bell. I don’t remember any Air-Raid shelter. The “All Clear” sound and life would return to normal.
I don’t remember being particularly upset during the war. But I knew it was serious, and everyone obeyed without question. My mother bought me a ankle bracelet with my name and birthdate on it. This was in case we separated. The only upset I can remember was when airplanes flew overhead in formation, very low. We thought they were our planes, but the sound was eerie. On the roads, we were often stopped and pulled over to let convoys of army/and or marine trucks pass.
Our family had a world map hanging in our kitchenette where we ate our meals. My parents marked where the battles were and the war’s progression. Bill and Bob’s location were supposed to be secret. But they and my parents had a code system they used in their letters home. Of course I did not know them, and my parents never told anyone. This was strictly against the rules. All servicemen’s letters were censored. But my brothers never were blocked out, so evidently their system worked.
Our country responded to the war effort by a system of “rationing” gas and certain food items. Rationing Stamps were issued for gas, sugar and flour. Other items too, but I don’t remember what else was rationed. My mother, friends, and relatives traded stamps to get what they needed. People didn’t travel much. Long vacations were not done. We took many Sunday drives for our pastime.
Scrap metal was at a premium for the war effort. I did not get a new bicycle, only a used one for Christmas that another child had outgrown. But I was thrilled anyway.
All of us in the community had a Victory Garden. We all grew our vegetables, and of course we had apricot and avocado trees. We had a grape arbor over the carport in front of the garage. We also had chickens, which my family ate and had fresh eggs. My mother canned, as most women in those days did. All of this helped in food production for our boys in the war.
All aircraft industries were camouflaged. Military netting was stretched over them to make them look like small hills, with plants, grass and trees inserted in the netting. We used to drive by Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach a lot. They made B-17’s. You would never know a factory was there. In other parts of the city, balloons reached into the sky, in case of enemy planes. (I really don’t know the purpose of this).
As I said, we took many Sunday drives. Our favorite was to drive to the harbor to see the ships. Not all parts of the harbor were restricted. On Sunday afternoons the Navy frequently held Open Houses to let visitors tour the ships. I must have toured 20 ships throughout the war. The sailors were so glad to see us as a family. The ships were mostly destroyers and battleships. I never did see an aircraft carrier, on which Bill served.
Patriotism was so strong in our country at this time. One was proud to be an American. Prouder still to serve in the war, or have a family member in the services. All the country’s efforts were war-related. Any “foreigner” or their ideas were suspect. Japanese (which were called “Japs” and foreign-born Germans were especially suspect. Movies, newsreels, newspapers all reflected these opinions. We would probably call that propaganda today, from our side. It was the American Way.
One of our patriotic duties were to buy “Saving Stamps, and/or Bonds” to help finance the war effort. Us children at school saved our change to buy saving stamps to put in a book.
We were taught not to speak of our local involvement in the war out in public. The fear was an enemy agent would overhear. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was the motto. We never repeated what our servicemen told us to anyone. There were spies around.
We had several Russian neighbors on our street. One in particular was suspect of being a “red” (Communist) because he never enlisted in the service. He was about 40 though and possibly was waiting to be drafted, I don’t know. Russia were our allies, but all was not well. They were feared, even then.
Our neighbor (Bill S.) was under suspicion because the FBI came to our house and talked to my mother. They lived next door to us, on Southern Ave. He and Julia were a family and had a son named Gregory, whom I played with once in a while. He was a few years younger than I was. I used to go a lot of the Russian family parties in the Old Russian neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. The older women wore crocheted white headscarves and long skirts. Food was abundant, and we had a good time. Bill and Julia were good to me, I think they liked me to take care of their child at the parties.
We were friendly with Bill and Julia as neighbors. But I often wondered what my parents said behind their back because he never served in the military. Mother never told me anything about that. I’m sure there were some hard feelings, because everyone else was in the war effort.
Johnny and Luba were across the street on Virginia Ave. They were Russians too. We were friendly but they kept to themselves. They had a lot children, but they only played in their fenced yard. I never played with them or knew their names. This was unusual for those days, since all of us kids in a neighborhood knew each other and played in the street a lot. (At least on Virginia Ave.) These neighbors gave your Dad and I a wedding present, I guess out of kindness to my parents.
As I mentioned before, we called our enemy “Japs.” I guess now it is considered the equivalent of the N word. It was the way of the war. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fear was at an all time high. I used to feel it, and I was very young. Fear of the Japanese was rampant. . The California coast had a lot of Japanese living near it, fishing and farming on lands near the coast. It was feared the Japanese would spy for their Mother Country, even if they were citizens. The country felt they would be loyal to their ancestors. Ancestry was very important to the Japanese. That is why all Japanese were sent to internment camps. American or not. They had a disadvantage of being known. It was feared they would radio Japanese ships from their fishing boats and coastal farms.
I don’t question now the morality of what we did as a nation – but all I do know is that we weren’t attacked on the West Coast. Whether if was right or wrong is a question for the history books. But remember they were the enemy and had bombed us first.
The Germans were feared but of course they didn’t round up all Germans. Many Pro-Nazi Germans were arrested by the FBI for spying, sabotage, especially on the East Coast. It didn’t pay to speak German or acknowledge your ancestry at that time. They remained low-key.
Many American-born Germans were also rounded up for “holding camps.” The FBI had been keeping track of the American Nazi party members for several years. In the 1930’s there were 20,000 members. Most did eventually drop out of the party. The party changed names and party leaders in the 30’s.
The German families detained were not all Nazis, but supposedly of “suspicious activities.” The largest holding camp was in Crystal City, Texas.
The Germans that came to the United States in this century tended to congregate into their own areas or cities. For instance the Germans founded Anaheim, California. The name means Aunt Anna. The Phoenix Club in Anaheim is still very active socially. They serve German food, beer and have weekly dances. Skokie, Illinois was another German city.
(Note: some of this historical information came from the History Channel and Internet.)
The Americans and our allies were winning the war. By August of 1945 the war was over. The United States had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, August 6th and August 9th. I have listed my brother’s ships and war activities in a separate chapter.
When the war was over our whole country celebrated. My mother and father took me to downtown Los Angeles on the “J” streetcar to watch the celebration. It was a sight to behold. I shall always remember it. Confetti, paper and balloons were flying out of the tall buildings. Southern California had a “downtown” then. The streets were wall-to-wall with civilians and servicemen shouting and partying. It was like New Years Eve and the Fourth of July combined.
The servicemen and every available single girl were kissing each other and shouting.
You couldn’t move for all the people. The streetcars could hardly get by.
It was a special time for my folks and me because we knew our boys would be coming home. I was always grateful to my parents for taking me downtown. It’s a memory I will always remember and cherish. We Won!!!
The World War II was the second global war of the 20th century. It also was the last war that the United States has won. The WWII generation hoped it would be the last global war. When communism came into its own, it looked as if history could repeat itself. I feel the atomic bomb kept all the nations fearful of mass destruction. Smaller wars started by the communists came into focus, the Korean, Viet Nam. The Gulf War erupted over Kuwait and oil, and then the various Balkan territories over aggression.
Our nation had a different attitude about these other wars. In WWII the country came together as a whole. I feel that it was because our shores were threatened. Fear of internal threats produced paranoia and at the same times a patriotism which I have never seen since.** It was a time when some of our civil rights were on hold, especially the right of free speech and the right to assemble.
As I began to write these memoirs, I became very emotional at times. It re-kindled some -of the inner thoughts and turmoil that have been hidden a long time. There were times when I had to walk away from this project and return several weeks later. I was surprised at the emotionalism it aroused in me. But I’m glad I returned and finished. And it was fun to research some of the forgotten facts of history.
After talking to several war veterans and those of my generation, they too had “stuffed” their thoughts and feelings.
After a brief time when the war was over, the country wanted to return to “normal”, to get on with our lives. But the country was never the same. War changes everyone. War is hell. We won the war. We had come together as a whole for our preservation. We wanted to move on the make a better life for our children.
Factories returned to peace-time production. New “GI” tract homes were built on former farmlands. Cars, toys, appliances were manufactured again. Some of our boys that came back went to college on the GI bill, married and started families. Bill and Bob, and Dad’s brothers, Jim and Dick did just that.
We had a booming economy with many changes from the war. The US settled down to a growing prosperity, hoping threats were behind us, and we could pursue the American Dream.
And then communism reared its ugly head – but that is another story-
**(Written in the years 2000 and 2001 before September 11, 2001.)**
My brothers were always deeply loyal to the navy. They talked about it a lot. In fact when Bob retired at age 65 he went on a trip on a navy ship in the Pacific Ocean. They did let former Navymen go on a “cruise”. He was thrilled. He always had a sail boat, mooring his at Dana Point Harbor.
Bill was buried at sea per his instructions. His naval services at sea took place on May 6, 1981. The ship was stopped for the ceremony, the flag was flown at half mast. A six man rifle squad, 2 flag bearers, 6 pall bearers and a 30 man platoon were formed from the crew. A picture of the ceremony was sent to his widow, Sylvia, along with the flag and a nice letter giving details.
12/01/42 Enlisted. Boot Camp, Farragut, Idaho
Quartermaster First Class
09/13/43 USS Mission Bay – American Theatre of Operations and
Asian Pacific Theatre
10/31/44 USS Mendecino – Tokyo-Yokohama Area
04/13/45 Philippine Liberation
04/45 Okinawa Gunto Operation
08/28/45 Invasion of Okinawa
04/15/46 Discharged with Full Honors:
1. Victory Medal WWII Asiatic Pacific Area – 2 stars. Also African-European American area.
2. Philippians Liberation – 1 ribbon
3. Good Conduct Medal
4. Medal-Bronze Star Enemy Aerial attack, Tokyo, 2-45 to 4-45
03/03/42 Enlisted, Boot Camp South Dakota, transferred to Norfolk, VA
01/43 SS Permian – communications liaison, Signalman First Class
04/43 SS Cearaloid
07/43 SS Yoma
08/43 SS Roger Williams
08/43 to 03/45 Detached Duty “US Armed Merchant Vessel” Signalman
SS Montgomery City, Communications Liaison
02/09/45 SS Andrea Gritto (sp) detached
06/42 Guantamano, Cuba
07/42 Key West, Fla. – Gulf Sea Frontier Convoy Center
07/43 Armed Guard Center, Brooklyn N.Y. for duty
Duties: Signalman First Class
10/16/45 Discharged with honors and Good Conduct Medal
SPECIAL NOTE: Bob’s and Bill’s Military Records were received by me per my written request (as their sister) from the National Military Records. Nothing personal, medical or confidential was sent to me. I mainly wanted the ships they served, and the battles they were in. –Joanne Ingram Frost