Kids launched all-out war effort

  • Posted: 11/13/2012 8:04 PM
    6/1/2013 6:16 PM

I was 8 years old in 1943, and the United States had been fighting World War II for two years. I lived in Detroit, Mich., at the time. My dad's side of the family were boat builders and sail boaters. So I grew up learning sailing and was very often boating on the Detroit River, one of the rivers that connects Lake Ontario with Lake Huron.

My dad's brother worked for the Fisher Boat Works. During the war, many of the big luxury yachts in the Detroit area were converted into boats for the war effort. There were also several "submarine chasers" built at this location. I had the honor of christening one of them, and it was quite an event. The words I said were, "I christen thee the PC-499 for Uncle Sam. Good luck!" The champagne bottle did not break on the first swing, nor the second one, so one of the Navy officers standing next to me grabbed my hands, and together we bashed the bottle on the ship's bow. She then was rolled back and lowered into the water. What a sight.

In my elementary school in Detroit the patriotism of not only the teaching staff but also the students was very enthusiastic. A special time each week was set aside to buy war stamps. They were postage stamp-size. The red ones were 10 cents and the green ones were 25 cents. When you filled a page that equaled a dollar, by the end of the book you had spent $18.75. You then turned it in for a Savings Bond that would mature in 10 years with a value of $25. My girlfriend and I also went door-to-door selling stamps after school.

One evening, we had an assembly in the school auditorium with students and parents. One of the songs we learned "Was the Tall Man with the High Hat and the Whiskers on His Chin" (personification of Uncle Sam). It was a song to promote the selling of savings bonds. I can still sing the words of that song today.

During this time, on the second floor of our home, we kept a bucket of sand and a shovel. It was for putting out fires in case there was an attack on our City and incendiary bombs were dropped. Each city block had a person in charge of checking to see that each household had the proper equipment and that everyone did everything required during an air raid.

This person was called an air raid warden. There were also air raid practices. When the sirens went off at night, everyone had to turn off all the lights in their house. We used to huddle next to the radio in the living room to listen to the news and whether or not it was a true air raid. If it wasn't a raid, we would listen to programs until the "all clear" siren sounded. The only light that shone was about the size of a pea on the front of the radio.

There are many things we take for granted today that were not available in the '40s. There were no paper towels, aluminum foil, plastic wrap or bags, disposable diapers or tissue (they weren't invented yet.) Since there were no paper tissues, we used cloth hankies. One of my jobs was to iron the hankies (that is how I learned to iron). Another thing my mother did was to save grease when she fried something. When she filled a 5-pound can, she would take it to the local supermarket and they would pay her for it. The grease was used in the war effort.

When the war was over and all the soldiers and sailors were coming home, we took the streetcar to the Michigan Train Depot in Detroit to meet my dad, who was serving in the Coast Guard. There were servicemen and women all over the depot, kissing and embracing their loved ones. I remember the ride home in a taxicab. My mom and dad were kissing the whole way.