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The Home Front

Posted: April 27, 2012 10:31 a.m.
Updated: April 30, 2012 5:00 a.m.

What impact did Russian squirrels have on a particular profession?

Why were pennies made of steel?

Did your family sacrifice its car bumper?

What was a "sugar book''?

What was the difference between a blue star and a gold star in a window flag?

What was the name of the A&P store brand bread?

What was V-mail?

Who was Betty Crocker?

What did your family grow in its “Victory Garden”?

What percentage of draftees was turned down as unfit and what was the major reason?

Which country, which had the oldest democracy in the world, became part of the lend-lease agreement?

How did the old practice of French workers throwing their shoes in the machinery lead to such horrific losses at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines?

Which cigarette company stated in its ad that smoking helped women lose weight?

What was blackout trim?

Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, what did the U.S. offer Japan to change to a “peace” economy?

Which means of transportation moved the troops across America?

The people who recall the days of World War II are now in their sunset days. While most WWII veterans and their spouses are close to or are now in their ninth decade, millions of good citizens who can recall those home front days are around three quarters of a century old. WWII caused the greatest economic, personnel migration and scientific impact ever. The influence of this war and the Great Depression are still major historical benchmarks. During the war, Americans moved to new industrial work sites, women and minorities had new job opportunities, and servicemen and women went to foreign locales. The world changed. Daily life was different.

Americans unified and sacrificed in their efforts to whip Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini. Food and gas rationing became a daily ritual. Gas rationing was as much for the reason of a rubber shortage as a lack of petroleum. Tom Rainwater would use his gas ration card to get his 4 gallons and then they would mix in a gallon of cleaning fluid. Sometimes the car was hard to start on a cold morning.

 Copper and other imported products became scarce. People grew their own vegetables and bought store brands such as the A&P's Marvel bread in order to save. Betty Crocker, the name on major cookbooks, was voted the second most famous lady in America in 1945 even though she was a fictional character developed in 1921 by the Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills.)

Ration books were also needed to buy shoes. Sabotage is derived from the French word for shoe and American military leaders were so concerned about sabotage that all of the planes in Hawaii and the Philippines were lined up wing tip to wing tip to prevent local sabotage when the Japanese launched their sneak attacks.

Americans quickly joined the military after the Pearl Harbor attack, but almost 50 percent of the draftees were turned down. That was mostly for being malnourished or having poor dental health. Most Americans had gone to bed hungry during the Depression although there were twice as many cigarettes sold in 1940 as 1930. Old Gold cigarettes claimed to help the ladies with their weight.

As the war progressed and troops were sent to fight overseas, the major means of communication sent home was V-mail, which was highly censored. Families placed flags in their windows to signify the number of family members who were away in the service. For those unfortunate families who received news that their loved ones were Killed in Action, Missing in Action, or Prisoners of War, the unwanted notification came by telegraph. Everyone knew some family who had a gold star. There was much community grief.

Scrap metal drives were common and many families donated their bumpers for the war effort. Blackout trim was used on cars starting in 1942 and auto production was cut in half. Trains were used to move troops and to accommodate the large number of servicemen. The sleeper cars were removed. Jim Thorton rode a coal-powered train from Camp Lejeune to Charleston to St. Louis, and then to Amarillo and to San Diego.

All professions were affected by the war -- even the artist and painters who could not replace the brush bristles because the bristles most often came from Russian squirrels.

Prior to the war, America helped its eventual allies by the lend-lease agreement. FDR used the analogy of helping your neighbor by allowing him to use your hose if his house was on fire. Through this agreement, we had troops stationed in Iceland, the country which had practiced democracy for over a thousand years.

Because Japan had been a warrior nation and had invaded China, we had placed an embargo on them which had cut 75 percent of their imports. We offered them $100 million to convert to a peaceful economy and help Uncle Joe in the Soviet Union fight the Nazis. Prior to the days before Dec. 7th, 1941, much of their fleet was in Cam Ranh Bay in Indo-China and it looked as though they were preparing to invade Thailand.

On one summer eve in the mid ’50s, I can remember several male neighbors sitting in our back yard and talking about their war experiences and allowing me to listen. These five citizen soldiers told of their war experiences in Italy, India, the Philippines, France, the south Pacific, and Germany. Four of the five are now deceased and unfortunately many of the stories they told that night are buried with them. Time and tides are continuous.
  Thank you for your attention.

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