Waiting at Home
My Teen Years During World War II
By Frances West
On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked America at Pearl Harbor. Four years later Japan committed “hari’ kari” (surrendered). I remember hearing of the attack at school over our loud speaker system. There was no television or other forms of communication as we have now. I don’t think as 13 year old 8th graders we really grasped what this would mean in our lives, although we were shocked, and later when we began to hear of the deaths of the people we knew and some relatives the reality came to us.
America was united in the cause and every activity became something to do with the war effort. It was our main focus for the next four years. Uncle Sam called up all the 18 year olds to serve by way of the draft. They received a letter saying “Uncle Sam wants you”. Your friends and neighbors have chosen you, etc, etc. Many of the boys enlisted, though. So during my teen age years there were not many fellows around to go out with. But that was OK. I don’t recall anyone complaining about the so called sacrifices. We were all busy collecting things to be recycled and used for the war effort. Things like aluminum gum wrappers, used cooking fat, and old newspapers. I never really knew what these things were used for, only that they were somehow needed by Uncle Sam.
Some of the things that were rationed that I remember were gasoline, sugar, soap, tires, shoes, nylon hose, coffee, and other things I can’t recall now. I don’t think anyone was really deprived of anything necessary. In fact we were allowed 2 pair of shoes per year, which was more than I would have anyway. My dad had an old truck and so he was eligible for gasoline rations stamps, which was more than he needed. Farmers were allowed gas for their farm machines and also the sons of farmers and lot of farmer themselves did not have to serve in the armed forces. They were needed to run the farms.
One of the things I remember being very scarce was anything made of rubber. This resulted in some embarrassing moments for some ladies as their underwear, usually held up by elastic, was not dependent on buttons and button hole on the side. There were quite a few stories of the ladies losing their panties when the button came undone, including Mom, who as very modest and indeed humiliated by this. But it also happened to the president’s wife herself, so that made it a little more tolerable.
Our school activities were cut short of course, as the busses did not make many trips for school functions. But nobody seemed to mind. There were very few “dateable” boys in school as most were in the armed services. I wasn’t much on dating anyway. It would not have been allowed by my parents to go out with boys the way the girls do now, but it was all for the best. I went to school activities: ball games, band concerts, and girls athletic events (I loved sports, especially basketball) and I could walk t here as we lived quite close to the school and the athletic field. Anyway the school days flew by. We were kept very busy.
One of the things we did was to write letters to the service men. The teachers would get a list of addresses and we would write whether we knew them personally or not. I still have a letter written back to me from a fellow stationed in Japan. Letters were so welcome by them. The mail would come in bunches to them. Sometimes they would not get mail for long time and then get a lot at once.
When the war finally ended with the surrender of Japan and German the men began to come home. Not all of them, of course, as there were many casualties. One of our friends received her son’s clothes in the mail before she was notified he had been killed. It was very sad for lots of families.
With the return of our military men there was a great rush of weddings, including Bob’s and mine. It seemed everyone wanted to settle in and make a home. I was still a senior in high school when we began to date. Our first date was arranged by Bob’s cousin, Don Batten, who was a classmate of mine. We were a foursome and went to a basketball game. After that, since Bob didn’t have his own car he would walk to see me in the evenings. We went to movies in those days, as Palouse had a theatre, and we could walk there. Sometimes he would borrow his Dad’s car and we would go to a dance. Bob later was able to buy his own car (cars were still hard to get) He bought a Chevrolet convertible and we thought we were pretty “classy” riding around with the top down.
During the summer months in 1945-46 I went to work in a pea cannery in Walla Walla, Washington. I stayed with my married sister who lived there. There was a shortage of man power for workers so we were allowed to work there if we were 16. We worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with ½ hour for lunch. I took a bus from my sister’s house to the cannery about 6 a.m. I didn’t mind the work at all. Of course I was young and it was quite the adventure for me.
There was a German prisoner of war camp there in Walla Walla. They also worked in the cannery. They would come to work in a bus accompanied by a guard. The guard paid little attention to them because as he said, they didn’t want to leave. They had good accommodations, food, cigarettes, clothes and a nice barracks. Why would they want to return to Germany and fight in the war?
Anyway, they were very good looking young fellows and seemed very pleasant too. We were not allowed to speak with them (we couldn’t speak German anyway). I had a hard time thinking of them as the “enemy” As I am older now and look back I realize they were young boys away from their homes and families and were probably frightened, too.
I graduated from High School in 1946 and Bob and I were married September 21, 1947. They war was over and we were ready to settle down. As horrific as the war was it did unite the American people. The emperor of Japan was quoted as saying “We awakened a sleeping giant.”
We had a chance to visit the war memorial in Hawaii and see where the Arizona was sunk on that December 7th attack. The oil from the ship can still be seen rising to the surface of the ocean. This is a very sobering memorial, which is what is needed so that the world can’t forget and pray it never happens again.
Bob participated in the most famous (infamous?)Battle in history to date. He was a part of the invasion of the Normandy Beaches in France which resulted in the fall of Hitler’s Germany.