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Today, we honor the lives of our members, present or retired, who were part of those terrible years of World War II. It is the purpose of the talk today to bring their stories to light.
In his book, The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokow so aptly put:”…for women in uniform, for those who worked, who kept during WW II, shaped that generation of women as much as combat shaped the men of their time.”
Always the question of a historical event is this: What were you doing at that time? What do you remember?
Most everyone remembers exactly what they were doing and the effects that the war had upon their lives.
Jean Fishlock
Jean Fishlock heard of the war at a big family reunion. The news shocked the members of her family. Her dad became a Warden. He had to wear an arm band. Every night, he patrolled his territory to make sure that everyone had pulled down their blackout shades so that not a mere speck of light showed into the night. At school there were drills before classes began. The students had assigned places to hide for protection. She belonged to a 4H club and grew a victory garden.
She especially recalls that her family had some land at Cape Cod. She said they weren’t allowed to swim on the beaches anymore. A large battleship was moored on the water with planes coming in all the time. Jean got her first look at a jeep when at school. It was put in the playground. The adults tried to explain what was happening. All they achieved was to make the kids more nervous.
Betty Mahon
Betty Mahon and her cousins had gone out for a hamburger when they heard the news. They ran home to find her parents in front of the radio, also, in a state of shock.
Most of the boys she knew joined the military. Her boyfriend was learning to be an air force pilot. They knew they would always be together so they married before he shipped overseas. He was stationed in North Africa. One day, when he was flying to Johonnesburg his plane went down. To this day they don’t know what happened to that airplane.
She recalls when an officer showed up to give her the heartbreaking news. He said that after reviewing all the records whether the plane is ever found or not he didn’t know but accept the fact that he is probably dead. He said I know widows who never give up hope. Don’t do that he said. It is too hard. At the time she thought he was very cruel but in retrospect he was right.
At the young age of 20 and widowed Betty entered into what she called her “yo-yo life.” How her parents put up with her she didn’t know? She wanted to work, she didn’t want to work, she wanted to go to school and she didn’t want to go to school. She had a good voice and thought maybe she’d become an opera singer having played the piano since age five.
Finally she settled down, married her second husband who flew B 49’s over Germany. He was shot up and shot down many times. How he ever lived through it she couldn’t imagine. She had known this fellow most of her life but never thought of him in her life. But “boom” it just happened.
A funny story: planning their reception after the wedding, her fiancé asked what kind of wines and liquor they would serve. Being a southern Baptist she said oh my good ness we can’t serve liquor because the Baptists won’t come. Being Irish, He said, “If we don’t have liquor the Irish won’t come.”
Somehow a compromise was reached.
Marilyn Killian
Marilyn Killian said that her memories of the war are limited because no one in her family was in or destroyed by the war. She remembered knitting afghan squares and taking them to school where they were put together. She made one that looked the American flag. Her afghan square was put in the center of the quilt. These were sent to the soldiers. She said they collected everything from rubber, metal to aluminum foil.
They talked about the ration books: ration stamps for sugar, flour, meat, eggs, milk, butter, gasoline, shoes, and coffee. Each family received so many stamps depending on the family size. Often, the grocery items were not available.
It became a challenge for Norma Chisolm, who cannot be here today. In her town there were two grocery stores. Each store had two doors but no one knew which door they would open. When goods ran out at night, Norma’s family, in the morning, divided up and stood in front of the doors hoping their door would open and they could get some sugar or whatever they needed. Always they didn’t have toilet paper, just a Sears Catalog. Then there was the “mystery” meat that was wrapped in butcher’s paper. You’d buy the mystery meat with your stamps, take it home and be happy you had some meat at that time.
Dorothy Reynolds
Dorothy Reynolds said that her dad missed chewing gum. Not available during the war. Dorothy missed pineapple she just loved pineapple.
But, a sad moment came for Dorothy when she had to write a Dear John letter. Not easy to do. It all be began with a red coat that Dorothy was wearing to one of the USO dances on a Saturday night. This sailor, a signal man, and his buddy followed her and her girlfriend’s home. He wanted to meet the girl in the red coat. Dorothy thought: Who is this stupid guy? He was stationed in the area for only a month but they agreed to write each other which they did for four years.
When he came home he wanted to see her but she was engaged to another. He said, “Well that’s okay. I’ll just stay a few days and I’ll leave. When it was time for him to leave Dorothy decided she liked him better than the other fellow. She had to write a Dear John letter. They were finally married except some hitch in the military caused him to be two days late to the wedding. I didn’t ask her if she still has that red coat.
Jonnye Dickard
Jonnye Dickard remembered thinking that after the war they could get a car, buy butter and all the groceries that one used to expect to be on the shelves.
She said that outside Austin TX an army base called Camp Swift was hastily built. All the young boys/men, who trained there were sent into the battle of the Bulge.
Because housing was scarce Jonny’s mother converted a room in their home for lease to soldiers who wanted to bring their wives with them. The room was modest with a bed, a chair and a gas hot plate that had a hose connected to a gas jet that came out of the wall. A dangerous situation. The family of five and the renters’ shared the same phone and bathroom. The room was leased the entire length of the war.
However, for Jonnye, the war touched her family in an up and personal way. Two uncles served on submarines and the third uncle, by marriage, was stationed in the Philippine Islands.
Tom Brokow’s book, The Greatest Generation, inspired Jonnye to include her three uncles and spouses in the back of the book. It is a beautiful tribute to her memories of them.
One touching story of hardship during those times was of her mother’s sister, Aunt Melba, who was pregnant when her husband shipped out. The baby was born with a heart defect and not expected to live. However, the child lived for 18 months and seldom slept yet Melba cared for that child by herself until the child died. Melba’s husband received emergency leave to come home for his daughter’s funeral. The next time he received emergency leave was a year later to attend funeral services for his mother. When the Phillipines were bombed, the family waited in anguish to learn if Melba’s husband had survivied the attack. It would be two months before they were notified of his safety.
Jonnye is very proud to be the niece of those very brave people.
Helen Gilster
Helen Gilster lived in Alabama. She said she was always “a dam Yankee.” Her dad commuted 50 miles to and from his work. Unusual during that time. He shared with others in a car pool. On Saturday afternoons, Helen went to the movies. There was always the war news, then a short serial followed by a western and another grade B movie. They too collected aluminum foil, metals and rubber. She recalled that they walked and walked and walked everywhere.
Syble Kraft
Syble Kraft, a real southern gal, grew up on a farm in Arkansas. Her older brother was stationed in the Pacific. She said that many of the boys thought the war would be short. They joined up thinking it would be easier than working on the farm. During the family dinner hour her dad outlined to them where the armies were marching.
The southern girls learned to milk the cows. This caused their mothers much concern because they didn’t wear their bonnets to protect their fair southern skin from the sun.
The mailman became the beacon of bad news. When he drove quickly down the road kicking up a plume of dust, the community knew that someone had been killed. When the men died they were not shipped home. As a very united community she said we tried to console the grieving as best as we could. Sadly, the mailman would visit Syble’s home. Syble’s brother was a casualty of the war.
The day Syble celebrated her 16th birthday, the newspapers carried the story that the Germans had made lampshades out of human skin. She said that was a turning point in our lives. We were not so innocent anymore. We had been fighting with our honorable soldiers against their honorable soldiers. After that the Germans became unbelievable.
Mary Mollie Bryan
As for Mary Mollie Bryan, in 1939 her parents went to Italy for a visit. They barely got out of Europe, as Hitler was already active. They had to pay extra fare for their passage home.
Mary Mollie’s story took a twist. At age seventeen she oversaw her parent’s grocery store. She learned to cut meat, roasts, pork chops, chickens, and so on. After a stint at a Commercial School to learn bookkeeping she took on the books alongside managing the grocery store. On the side, Mollie said: “They had a little bit of that Black Market stuff.”
Farmers, independent from government contracts, would sell a quarter of beef to the grocery store and in turn they’d sell the beef to those who had no stamps and who were willing to pay for it. As Mollie said, “It was an honest Black Market. They all had to stay business.”
If you will, in my opinion, it was not only an honest Black Market but a patriotic Black Market. Everyone worked together in an honest exchange.
Much like for my family when we visited my farmer grandparents in Missouri. We came home with eggs wrapped in shirts, skirts and underwear with wrapped butter tucked into shoes. Appetizing, maybe not, practical, you bet.
Mary Mollie also had a boyfriend to whom she became engaged with but would not marry until after his commitment to the war. When he returned home things didn’t work out so well between them. She decided that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life with him and returned his ring. But not to worry about Mary’s love life. Along with some girlfriends she went to a USO dance. The cutie soldiers arrived on a bus for the dance. Guess what! Her brother introduced her to one of the handsome soldiers. They spent 52 years of bliss together.
Mary Thieme
Mary Thieme grew up on a ranch outside of Deming, NM said they went into Mexico for their galoshes and gasoline. They saved their shoe stamps for dress shoes.
On the day of Dec. 7, she was babysitting her nieces. She said she couldn’t believe it. After the war started they had no cowboys as all the boys and young men, members of the New Mexico National Guard, the 200th Coast Artillery, had been shipped off to the Philippines. When the Philippines were overrun by the Japanese they were captured and forced into the Bataan March. Few returned.
The girls had to become cowboys. She said they rode with the older men and the younger boys. They branded calves, they flanked the calves picking them up by the front leg and the back leg, throwing them to the ground, branding them, giving them their ear marks and vaccinations. They rounded up the cattle for cattle sales.
Mary met her man in college. They became engaged but she wouldn’t marry him until after the war. He was stationed in the German European Theatre. He would fight in the battle of Overloom. One horrifying day his parents were notified that he was missing inaction and presumed dead. Mary said she stayed in college and just drifted along for six months until one day she went to the post office. There was a micro film letter from her guy. She couldn’t believe it. She thought someone was trying to play a dirty trick on her. She didn’t call her fellow’s parents until she verified the authenticity of the letter. He had been severely wounded and didn’t know where he was for a long time. Captured by the Germans he was sent to a POW camp in Poland. He would not be released until General Patton raided and freed the camp where his son-in-law was also held prisoner.
Trell Murray
Trell Murray graduated from high school in 1941 and finished a year of college at Texas Tech. She then had a part time summer job before she worked at the bombardier school in Midland, Tx. There, she was assigned to plot the statistics of the young boys who were training to be bombardiers.
Trell would meet her fellow at a dance in Midland, Texas where he was training to be a bombardier. Very rigid rules were attached to that dance. Girls went alone as well as the guys and there was to be no hanky panky after the dance. There Trell met her guy. He fell head over heels for her and her for him. They loved to dance and they became a twosome. Six weeks later they were married. But that isn’t the end of the story. Receiving her parents blessing to marry this man, they rode the train to Las Vegas, NV for three days and three nights for he had to report for gunnery training. When they arrived in Vegas, they were married that night. Trell, feeling grubby and dirty said that she told Bill she had a little money and wanted to get her own room.
Bill said “Oh, no!”
Trell didn’t say whether she got her own room or not.