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From the Left Hand Corner: The day of infamy

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It was toward the end of a cold December Sunday. I don’t remember much detail, but I believe the outside chores were done. The only radio in the house was tuned to the only station that played through the nighttime static.

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President Roosevelt was on the air. His voice, in slow and measured fashion, sounded deep and commanding to this barely 6-year-old boy. Whatever was programmed was interrupted.

The family huddled around the wood cabinet radio, listening and wondering with every word.

Our rather humdrum existence was changed profoundly. Some aspect of “The War” entered most every conversation thereafter.

Many area young men went off to war immediately. Enlistment was strongly encouraged for all males from age 17 upward. I remember the angst in our house when my big brother announced he was quitting school to enlist in the Navy on his 17th birthday. The draft brought into service most single young men and later married men as well.

The War permeated daily life, not just for the military, but for all of us at home. Daily radio news reports generally emphasized whatever success or loss had been reported for the previous day.

Most daily newspapers started out with headlines of the losses or gains that occurred in battles against Japan in the Pacific and Germany and Italy in Europe and North Africa.

Smalltown newspapers carried pictures and reports of all area servicemen and the few women who left, came home on leave, finished aspects of training or were promoted in grade. Headlines and front pages covered every injury or death.

Most everyone around Pequot (“Lakes” had just been added) supported The War in word and deed. If there was any opposition, it was unspoken.

Nothing was too good for “our boys in service.” They were sent off with acclaim in advance. Then every step was noted and applauded. When home on leave or furlough, they were welcomed everywhere and celebrated by family and community.

As little kids, we scrounged for scrap iron and carefully removed tinfoil from gum, cigarette packs and wrappers. We saved to buy Defense stamps for as little as a dime. Bigger kids emulated their parents in saving up for War Bonds that started at $18.75.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was encouraged to do their best in America’s total war effort. Motor car manufacture was curtailed in 1942, and factories revamped for production of war-related wheel and track vehicles. Shipyards started up and airplane manufacture boomed.

Males who couldn’t serve in the military were fully engaged in war manufacture and production, and women left their homes to become dominant in all sorts of war manufacturing. Women stepped in everywhere and took over roles in business and farming, and expanded to new areas of the professions and education that had never been women’s roles before.

Entertainers such as movie stars and professional athletes joined in military roles or spent large effort in entertaining the troops.

It was with great and concentrated cooperative effort that the people of America gathered together in The War effort. The military men and women risked the most, and many paid with their very lives; others with substantial lifelong injuries.

The expense of war was huge and dominated government expenditures. Yet no one complained about increased taxes. Scarcity of familiar products including food and clothing was accepted. Strict rationing was adhered to, and supported, including farmers being rationed on the very meat products they produced. Gas was rationed, and the speed limit was reduced to 30 mph.

Farm vehicles and cars were run on bald tires and sort of held together with welds and wire while awaiting unavailable replacement tires and parts.

The status of The War was of daily consideration. Sporadic letters or cards from overseas were treasured and shared. I remember someone bringing a Japanese prisoner uniform and bayonet to school. It was modeled in derision by an eighth-grade girl. Farmers of German descent were confronted and criticized if neighbors didn’t think they were contributing enough of their available scrap iron.

The War even permeated our movies and other entertainment vehicles. War movies were shown seemingly every week at our new Lakes Theater.

The whole mood of America changed in 1944 and 1945 as the tides of War turned in favor of America and its allies. Every battle victory on the Atlantic and Pacific, every island and European battle were hailed in the headlines. The joys of celebration and relief following VE Day (Victory in Europe) in April and VJ Day (Victory in Japan) in August 1945 were unparalleled.

How different was the American experience for World War II? It was correctly viewed as a war required to keep our freedom and preserve our very existence. How different that war climate was from those that have followed since.

The day of infamy grew into four long and costly years of war that ended, not just in military victory, but with American recovery, economic growth, emphasis on education and joint resolve of Republicans and Democrats together building a better America for ourselves and each other.

Too bad it couldn’t have remained that way.

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