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Nostalgia October 2014

World War II in America

By Don Johnson

We endured without complaint (at least not much) the rationing of gasoline, rubber, sugar, meat and other commodities. Looking back from today's perspective we were hopelessly, perhaps foolishly, patriotic.

If, in a few years, someone were to ask me, “What was the United States like in 2014?” My answer would be far different than would one be from, say, a baby boomer.

It is much the same as when asked, as I am frequently, “What was this country like during World War II?”

I can only answer from a single perspective, mine.

However there were certain things most Americans would agree on (perhaps the last time that would happen until now).

I will give it my best shot to present a consensus of what most of my countrymen would agree was the country’s mood while in a desperate struggle for survival. It is amusing for someone of my age to hear some whippersnapper opine that it would be impossible for the United States to successfully fight two wars at the same time. Well, in the early to mid‑40s, after being caught flat‑footed and much of our naval power destroyed before we even knew we were at war, we fought, beat and destroyed three major adversaries in Japan, Germany and Italy.

My first realization of our being in a state of war came at a very early age. I was a young teenager when my parents pulled in the driveway from a trip to town to be greeted by an even younger boy, son of the grammar school principle who lived a couple of houses from ours on “teacherage” row, which the younger crowd had quickly dubbed “rat row.”

He was jumping up and down with excitement. “The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!”

So what, I thought. The Japs were always bombing something.

My answer was quickly forthcoming. It’s ours. Pearl Harbor belongs to us.

That made a difference indeed. The little Nips had gone too far now, and our armed forces would quickly set things right and deal out a proper comeuppance to the little yellow bellies. (We had not yet learned the concept of political correctness.)

We had also not learned to view the world situation realistically. The truth of it was that we were woefully unprepared for a war for which the Japanese had prepared many years, a situation we could very well allow to repeat itself today.

I remember thinking that the war could not possibly last long enough for me to take a meaningful part, and I so much wanted to get a lick in on the Japanese who were so arrogant as to brazenly attack our United States of America. Virtually everyone I knew thought very little about the Germans or the Italians. Our fierce anger was directed almost solely at the Japanese those of the sneak attack. The Germans and Italians were almost an afterthought.

We watched in horror as the Japanese war machine rolled over our weak Pacific defenses. Island after island fell before the onslaught culminating in the debacle at Bataan and Corregidor.

The humiliation of America was nearly complete. One who did not live through that period could not possibly imagine the mindset of most of the American public back then. To say we were angry is a gross understatement. Pictures of insolent, grinning Japs standing over, stabbing, clubbing and beating Americans on the Bataan Death March stunned us all. We were furious, with a strong bloodlust to strike back at the arrogant armies of what we considered to be a backward society.

Thousands of young men, including many very little older than I, stormed the recruiting offices, lying about their ages, hiding infirmities, using every subterfuge they thought they might need to get into combat. Almost no one tried to dodge the draft back then. We wanted to kill Japs.

Working women flooded defense plants determined to do their part in bringing the Asiatic monster to its knees. Rosie the Riveter was as eager to do her part as any GI Joe.

From our vantage point of today, the results were easily predictable. The Asleeping giant came fully awake. Stung from their complacency, the American people rose as one in their righteous fury. Everything was secondary to the war effort. Production of war material reached unprecedented levels.

Recruitment, as such, was not needed. It consisted almost exclusively of screening for the ability to perform military tasks. The tide of war began to turn against the enemy. Those of us still champing against the bit of what we considered unreasonable age restrictions volunteered as scrap metal collectors, air defense workers, critical industry workers, wherever we thought we could strike a blow for our country. We endured without complaint (at least not much) the rationing of gasoline, rubber, sugar, meat and other commodities. Looking back from today's perspective we were hopelessly, perhaps foolishly, patriotic.

Teenage boys, with hormones running amok, were restricted in their natural dating habits. Unlike our older brothers and cousins, we couldn't plan every weekend for dates with the family car available, filled with gas, and ready to go. We got by with double dating or even triple dating which increased our effective use of the automobile, absolutely essential for country boys to take a sweet young thing to the movies or skating rink.

For those of us actually able to make it into uniform, nothing was too good. Hitchhikers in uniform seldom stood by the road for more than a few minutes before being picked up and whisked on their way to wherever they wished to go. Those few who didn't pick up servicemen on the road were scorned by good Americans. In trains, buses, streetcars and such, members of the armed forces were seated before the general public. Restaurants suddenly found that extra table when requested by a service member.

In short, there were many hard times to endure during the war years. But, we enjoyed something Americans haven't at any other time in living memory. We lived in a country absolutely unified in a joint effort to achieve a worthy and difficult conclusion. No task was said to be too difficult. No job too dangerous. No goal that could not be attained. No whining about fairness. After all, it was for the war effort.

 

Don Johnson is a nonagenarian who lives in Palestine, Texas. He writes articles that illuminate the human condition and frequently show the contrast between our lifestyle of today with that of yesterday. He welcomes your input at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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