My nephew asked, “Where were you, Aunt Ann, when Pearl Harbor was bombed?”
I was twenty and attending St. Louis School of Fine Art, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.
Sunday afternoon, December 7th, 1941, my friends Frances, Thelma, Jan and I had enjoyed the beautiful Forest Park across from the campus and leisurely headed back to the dormitory. When we entered the building radios were blaring from students’ rooms breaking the rules! We climbed the stairs to our rooms on the 3rd floor, entered, turned on our radios and then landed in the hallway at the same time in shock! In unison, we exclaimed, “PEARL HARBOR HAS BEEN BOMBED BY THE JAPANESE!”
Classes had begun at eight and that morning many of the local students must have stayed home because just a few of us gathered in the large room with cathedral windows where we drew from live models. There, with the Director, we listened to President Roosevelt’s speech. Such a still, sober group were we, in a oneness of the serious emergency change in family and friends’ lives and saddened by the loss of lives at Pearl Harbor.
A mysterious tower-like brick structure on the campus suddenly had a twenty-four hour guard marching around it with fixed bayonet rifle on his shoulder. As we girls passed by, the serious soldier wouldn’t glance our way. We heard later that it was a part of the MANHATTAN PROJECT.
The University was on a hill which when dining in the dorm enabled us to see over the trees through the typical cathedral windows. It was twilight when flames were spotted in the distance shooting high above the trees, so groups of us excitingly left the campus, hurrying quite a distance, to track down the fire. As we stepped over large fire hoses everywhere, the view was spectacular of a huge lumberyard that had been sabotaged. The flames were everywhere.
On campus, a few Japanese students seem to stand out more than usual and looked lonely.
News reports of German submarines in New York Harbor had students frantically phoning their families there.
Movie stars came on campus to help with the War Bond Drive. Burgess Meredith, Carol Landis (not Lombard) and Humphrey Bogart came together to the Women’s Building where the lunchroom was. The men wore tan belted trench coats like detectives in the movies. My friends and I stood back from the screaming coeds rushing to the actors. Now when Glen Miller and his band played at the Fox Theater that was something to scream about. We skipped school to get seats and students jitter-bugged in the aisles. I can still see the silhouettes quietly moving on the carpet to the beat of that distinctive music. It may have been the last dance for some of the boys as many had to leave their girl friends for war. There is still a lump in throat at the thought.
That Christmas I came by train in the chair car to Orlando. My two brothers, on leave from Camp Blanding, Florida as well as mother and dad met me at the train. Much later, Harry asked mother to fix his favorite food for some of his buddies at Camp Blanding as he would be bringing them home with him. The menu was mom’s special shrimp salad, cheese biscuits and lemon meringue pie. What a treat! One of the men was a well-known trapeze artist from Ringling Brothers Circus who spoke many languages. Years later Harry heard that his friend parachuted behind enemy lines to do some spying.
Besides rationing sugar and butter, saving bacon and lard grease in cans for making explosives was required. Mother had to make sure she had enough sugar to treat the boys to her pie.
Brother Sam stayed with the Infantry and was sent to Alaska from Fort Benning, Georgia as a Lieutenant. The Japanese were in the Aleutions. Brother Harry had a choice at Benning either to stay in the Infantry or join the Army Air Corps. He chose to fly. Neither brother experienced combat. Harry’s USAF experience was needed in the Berlin Airlift and Strategic Air Command as a Cold War Warrior, deterrent to WWIII.
I remember seeing leaflets distributed on how to identify enemy planes from silhouetted undersides. Maybe we civilians were all “Spotters” along with the more trained ones. Signal Corps searchlights were always beaming over the city at night and sometimes they would do fancy patterns for the public.
Blackouts were frequent now with the mournful sounding siren. All lights were to be put out including cigarettes. If the neighborhood air raid warden could see a glow through your curtains from the fireplace it would have to be doused with water regardless of cold weather. One night, when my friend Frances Jane and I were driving home from Church services, the siren sounded and we had to stop right there and turn off the lights as all traffic everywhere did. We were on a residential street alone. Surely wouldn’t want to do that this day and time!
Frances Jane’s brother James died at Normandy.
My cousin, Tommy Calhoun, was a tail gunner in a B-17 and was shot down over Germany, taken prisoner and, surprisingly, worked in a library there. I wrote a letter to him and put the only kind of stamp I had which was the V-for-Victory one. It was returned to the New York Postmaster who wrote a note on it that the Nazis had inspected the stamp for codes and returned my letter. They didn’t appreciate the V-for-Victory slogan.
The postman was a very popular man and happiest when bringing mail from a loved one. We would wait on the porch steps looking for letters from Sam, Harry, kin and friend.
The parents of one of my friends had a cottage by the Atlantic Ocean at New Smyrna Beach and four of us girls would spend the weekend there. At night, after pulling down the blackout shades, we played bridge. The next morning we beach-combed. There would be broken wooden boxes we thought were from ships and something like chunks of hardened oil. We heard that Germans would sneak into town at night and go to the movies then return to the submarines undetected. The story goes that theater stubs were found in the pockets of captured Germans from the subs along the coast.
Hosting at the USO and wanting to do something for the war effort, I volunteered to fold bandages for the Red Cross, as that is what many of us young girls contributed to the war effort.. My typing was poor so I couldn’t work at the Orlando Air Base. Instead, I took a parachute-packing course at the Vocational School but it was too heavy work and blistered my hands. The deciding factor to not use the instruction was the stories about chutes not opening! Horrifying!
Citizens took the “BUTTON YOUR LIP” slogan seriously, keeping quiet about military activities within the family as to where those in service were transferred or what they may be doing. On one of Harry’s days home we visited Mead Gardens in Orlando and a stranger asked where he was going next as Harry was in uniform. The reply was a stern, “None of your business.”
Some of the pilots in training at Orlando Air Base crashed and were killed in town yet aimed their fighter planes so as not to harm others. One crashed into a street west of the old fair grounds and another was lost on a back street near Datson Dairy. Those brave young men were unsung heroes except in the hearts of loved ones and Orlandoans.
A Squadron Instructor got a call in the late night hours that one pilot was missing when a training flight returned to base. The instructor’s car broke down on our street on his way to Orlando Air Base. Because mother often read late into the night, the officer saw the only light on in the vicinity which was hers. He was in uniform, of course, and knocked on our door. Mom let the apologetic officer in as he explained the emergency and used the phone to call for a jeep to rescue him. I was awakened by the hushed voices in the living room and joined them. Dad still slept. The concerned instructor paced the floor until the jeep arrived from the base and rushed him off. Mother and I hoped and prayed for the young pilot to be safe. We told dad about the missing pilot and the Squadron Instructor’s concern for his student the next morning, and dad too became prayerful for the missing plane to return with the student pilot.
Convoys were on the main roads, all two-lanes then. Traveling was limited by gasoline rationing and bald-headed tires. When returning from a town near the Suwannee River, dad and mother picked up a hitchhiker at night and he had a strong German accent. After letting him out they wondered if he had come off a submarine in the Suwannee, as that was a story going around that German subs entered secretly there.
One day, when driving home from north of Orlando, we got behind an open Army truck full of German prisoners, all young, blonde and the same height. We thought they were some of Hitler’s SS troops. Another rumor (possibility) was that some had escaped, married American girls and blended in the population, never to be discovered. Apparently they didn’t want to be shipped back to Germany at the end of the war.
When I worked at the tax assessor’s office, during the war, the unobstructed view from the Orange County Court House was of Lake Eola. We heard airplanes and rushed to the windows to see two fighters dog-fighting over the lake. They must have had orders to do so or were just “hot shot” pilots. We watched a long time. Exciting! Also, Military Brass would come into the office and enter a vault there. I never figured that one out.