The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, we didn’t go to church because my sister and I were sick. Our family doctor diagnosed our illness as measles, but he and our parents hardly paid any attention to us because they were listening to the radio. I remember it was the first time I ever had a sense that the grownups were afraid. This made me afraid, too. I will always have memories of the day the war started.
One night Dallas had a practice air raid and all the lights in the whole city were turned off. It was very cold, but my parents wrapped us in blankets and took us outside to see the stars. Because of the city lights, we had never seen so many stars.
My Dad and I began to collect the cartoons from the editorial page of The Dallas Morning News and put them in a scrapbook. The book was accidentally destroyed later, but I remember the one when the island of Truk was retaken; it was a big army boot about to step on the island, because Truk was the first island retaken from the Japanese and it was a “first-step.” My father was too old to enlist; he had served in WWI and had been given a medical discharge after the flu epidemic, but my uncle and cousins all went into the army or navy.
When rationing started we moved to my grandmother’s house so that we could pool our ration coupons. I especially remember my mother waiting in line to get bacon and coffee. Sugar, too, was rationed, and the artificial icing made from Karo syrup was especially nasty on birthday cakes. Later, my mother saved up a bit of sugar and my grandmother would make birthday cakes that tasted good. Shoes were rationed and at least once we made it halfway to town to get our school shoes when my mother remembered she didn’t have coupons for them. We had to go back home on the streetcar and start over.
I really hated not getting lots of shoes, but I did not mind going without a bicycle, because it would have been unpatriotic to use steel and rubber for children’s toys. I had one of the first dolls made of a new product, “vinyl.” It was a baby doll Santa brought me, and I loved her because she was so soft and cuddly.
I had two jobs at home specifically to help the war effort. Margarine was white to identify it as not being butter, but the package contained a small envelope of food coloring. My job was to mix the food coloring into the margarine and because it then needed to be shaped, we had a butter mold in a flower shape. I packed it into the mold and put it in ice water for a few seconds to harden it. My other job was to prepare tin cans to be recycled. This was before frozen foods and many vegetables that could not be raised locally came in cans. Mother saved the top of the can and after dinner I rinsed the top and the can and cut out the bottom. The hard part was to stomp on the can to flatten it, because I was small and not heavy enough to mash the can flat. Once that was accomplished, the two ends were slipped into the flattened can and we kept them in a box until we had a certain weight and then turned them in.
The Girl Scouts had endless scrap paper drives. We also collected old pans, lids, and anything made of metal, to be recycled. We lived near the end of the Seventh Street car line, and when we passed the stops where people would drop their gum and cigarette wrappers, we picked them up and took them home to peel off the foil and save it.
Our father had always had a garden, but during WWII, many businesses divided their empty grounds among employees who planted a “Victory Garden” to help grow food. My mother and grandmother would spend days and days canning the produce. We all helped to wash and peel to get it ready to can. There was always some anxiety that something would blow up if it spoiled, but I don’t think any of ours did.
Tuesdays at school were “banking” days, and we bought U.S. savings stamps for twenty-five cents each. When your savings book was full ($18.75) you could trade it in for a savings bond that would be worth $25 when it matured.
Before the War we loved going to the train station, but once the War started it wasn’t so much fun. For one thing, the polio epidemic had started and we had to be careful not to touch anything in public places. The steps going up to the waiting rooms had these beautiful highly polished brass railings that were so tempting, and we couldn’t touch them! It was important to make sure our family members coming home on leave would receive a great welcome; so we had to go, even with the dangers of polio—then we would find that the trains were late. Sometimes it would be many hours later before our loved ones arrived.
On VE Day and VJ Day we were so happy. We were safe again—we had won! We were so proud of every serviceman, no matter if he had served at home or overseas. There were never greater heroes than “our boys.” They gave up their youth for our country, and were willing to give up their lives. They will always be my heroes.
By Dorthy Clanton Smith for Dallas County Pioneer Association‘s Proud Heritage, Vol. 3. Photo courtesy Allen Holender Founder, CEO at Boomer Public Radio. Additional World War II information can be found here.