IN A FAR BROADER way than in our recent wars, the battle fronts of World War II were actively supported by a sturdy home front. My own direct memories of these years were formed through a child's eyes and later clarified through conversations with my family elders, and today seems like a good time to share those memories.
Most vivid in my mind to this day--though for sure I am a great deal older now--are the night-time air raid drills when our homes and towns were ordered to be totally blacked out. I was terrified at first by the hard-hatted air-raid wardens when they approached our doors with flashlights. I thought that meant they'd found us lacking in our compliance, but my fears relaxed as I began to realize these people were our neighbors and fellow townspeople, volunteering in the interest of our safety.
My siblings and I, like many in our neighborhood, played "G.I. Joe," borrowing metal colanders from Mom's kitchen to wear as army helmets and fashioning boxes and crates into Sherman tanks. Sometimes we even secretly built camouflaged foxholes on our property, a practice abruptly discontinued after my father stepped into one of these holes as he walked to his vegetable garden.
More seriously, grown-up signs of war were all around us on the home front while our boys fought in the battlefields overseas. Blue stars appeared in front windows to denote mothers whose sons had gone to war, and the gold stars in some windows sadly told us of local mothers whose sons had lost their lives to war.
We children pressed our noses against the glass of war memorials in our town square, reading names of local men who served, and some who died, in the world wars.
I know some children were protected by their parents from much of the news of war, but I was a child filled with curiosity about everything I saw and heard. My parents (especially my father) spoke with me about the war. He answered my questions and instilled in me a certain faith that, with perseverance and courage by our country and its citizens, we would endure and overcome.
LONG TERM, there were every-day practical sacrifices on the home front. The prevailing motto was, "If you don't need it, don't buy it," reflecting shortages and price controls and rationing of everything that could be diverted to the war effort. I still have a few of my own ration-stamp books which were required for purchase of coffee, gasoline, flour, sugar, meat, tires, leather, canned goods, fuel oil, butter, tobacco, wool, cotton, rayon textiles, tires. One still-full ration book among my souvenirs is for sugar; had I sneaked and squirrelled away that book with fears our family sugar source might disappear? Who knows?
A moratorium was declared on the manufacture of appliances, new automobiles and other metal items. We watched as many grown-ups rode their bikes to work. Typewriters were at shortage level, causing hardships in educational facilities and businesses.
The draft was initiated, requiring all men ages 18-64 to register, though only those under the age of 41 would be subject to military service. Older men with special skills might be required to work in research laboratories, defense plants, etc. Families watched as uncles, sons, older brothers, neighbors were called into service, and high school senior classes were decimated when male students voluntarily left their classrooms to enlist.
Housewives and younger students stepped in to fill the growing labor shortage, and this wide-open door led many women into jobs for which they would have had no opportunity in peace time. A no-strike labor policy was established, and war plants worked around the clock. Pay decreases, forbidden overtime and restrictions on the mail were enacted, and job controls forced people to seek permission when they felt it necessary to leave employment. These and other hardships were stoically endured.
Citizen-volunteers were our homeland security, with Civil Air Patrol volunteers scanning the skies and Civil Defense volunteers organizing to prepare for disaster. In Lake County, our military veterans, housewives, scouts and public officials were among the countless civilians for our own local Civil Defense.
IN OUR NEAREST large city, even the great Cleveland crime-fighter Eliot Ness found himself establishing a Civil Defense plan to protect Municipal Light and other crucial operations. The Cleveland airport was closed to all but legitimate business; Naval Reserve guards were posted around the Armory and City Hall; and police patrolled defense plants. A huge defense scrap-pile was set up in Cleveland's public square, and one man sought to set an example by donating his own prized car.
In our local scrap drives, people donated old bathtubs, old tractors, wrought-iron fencing, a few treasured antique cannons and any other dispensable metal items that could be melted down for military use.
Cleveland Auto Club and its local branches formed a Motor Corps to aid with necessary transportation for medical, defense and evacuation. Our Boy Scouts set up a national drive for people to buy War Bonds and War Stamps; War Relief levies were passed; the Red Cross geared up to serve at battle fronts; and holiday parties were replaced with Church and prayer.
High school bands played at receptions for men going off to war; canteens were set up at train stations; and brides rushed weddings as soldiers' names began to shock us in the local death notices.
VICTORY GARDENS sprouted in every neighborhood. We saved bacon grease, tins and household fats for use in making munitions for the military. Newspapers and cellophane and even the tinfoil from our gum wrappers were other salvage items. (The tinfoil was dropped by planes to confuse the radar of the enemy).
Military convoys were frequent sights and brought out crowds along the roadsides; each convoy was truly a parade, well cheered. The beloved sport of professional baseball was continued "for morale," often staffed with older players or players who had failed to pass their military physicals. (Among the first of many athlete-enlistees was young Indians pitcher Bob Feller). Drafts and enlistments caused some pro football teams to combine in order to have enough team members, and the Cleveland Rams (predecessors of the Browns) actually discontinued play for several years.
Letters home to loved ones from the war front sometimes arrived looking like lace, as military censors cut out words that might inadvertently reveal information that could endanger our troops. Such letters, though unreadable, could nonetheless bring comfort---proof for loved ones who received them that the soldier was alive, at least when the letter was written.
Mementos saved by many soldiers' mothers spoke of the effect of war on those who waited anxiously at home. These small things might include a brass button from a uniform; some clipped and neatly folded pictures of military metals and insignias and what they signified; newspaper war maps and news items from areas in which a family's soldier was thought to be...
AMONG THESE MOMS was one Blanche Moore who years later would become my mother-in-law. Sometime in the 1970s she shared with me such World War II relics of her own, including a clipping of a quote that had been delivered by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 to the New York Businessman's League. It read:
"I have seen war. I have seen it on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed I have seen two hundred limping, exhausted men come out of line---the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I HATE WAR."
These words became a comfort to her during World War II while her first-born son Dennis served in that war under Roosevelt as U. S. President and Commander in Chief. His words were proof enough to her, she said, that Roosevelt was aware of the personal sacrifice being paid by American soldiers and their families.
I SHARED MANY of these memories years ago in my weekly column in Gazette Newspapers. More recently the wife of a veteran who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq asked that I revisit the subject in my blog.
"I saved the column because I liked the history in it," she told me. "I didn't dream that I would one day have a husband at war; I didn't realize the sacrifices day-to-day for my family... "
In honor of this woman and her family and her soldier husband, and in honor of all the soldiers and their families of every war, I choose this 70th anniversary of D-Day to equally salute the sacrifices of our servicemen and service families, past and present, on behalf of our country.