A child’s memories of World War II


The time was Dec. 7, 1941 and I had just turned 9 years old five days before. My mother, younger sister and I were sitting in the living room listening to the radio. I remember it was a big behemoth piece of furniture that sat on the floor and was probably five feet high.

I remember distinctly hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt declaring war. I can remember him saying, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

How can I remember this? No, I didn’t know what war was, but I never before nor after saw “that” expression on my mother’s face, one of alarm and dread.

My dad, a steam engineer who worked at Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, located a mile away, was at work at the time.

One of the next things I can remember are the coupon ration books. No matter what you were used to buying before, unless it was a loaf of bread, you couldn’t buy it now unless you had a coupon for it.

Firestone shifted into making synthetic tires; rubber tires were for the military only. Prior to this, you couldn’t smell anything coming from Firestone or the other five major tire plants in town. But, boy, could you smell the synthetic ones.

Our grade school was just two blocks north of our house on Firestone Boulevard and just a stone’s throw from Firestone Methodist Episcopal Church. In fact, my sister now lives directly across from that grade school, and yes, it’s still in business.

Our principal at that time, Bessie Householder, is of course no longer there. Thank heavens — she had the face of the wicked witch of the west.

Daddy always had a good-sized garden and Mother always had fruit and vegetables to can in the fall. Making jelly required sugar, and you guessed it, it took coupons to buy the sugar. Households in the fall were able to obtain enough sugar to can, however.

When I speak to our Fayette high school students about World War II, and I explain about rationing and show them the coupons I still have, I also explain that we were only allowed one pair of shoes a year. Bless their hearts. They cannot decide whether to believe me or not. Only one pair of shoes a year? Yep, it was so, students.

I had several cousins and an uncle to serve in World War II. One cousin ended up a prisoner in Germany, and his folks didn’t know any more than that until the war was over and he came home.

Each neighborhood at that time had to produce so many men to be drafted into the Army. My Uncle Raymond was in his 30s at the time, and unfortunately lived in a neighborhood of teenagers and old men. Consequently he was drafted. He ended up in a tank corps in the Pacific and came home a little worse for the wear. He was missing a lot of his teeth, I remember.

At that time, he gave me all his service ribbons. I don’t remember what they were all for.

Years later, I felt he would probably like to have them back and I returned them.

My kin returned from World War II in fairly good condition.

Those men who could not serve in the war effort, for one reason or another, served in the local Civil Defense Corps.

Because we were so close to a factory making items for the war, there was a good chance we might be bombed. So every once in a while, these ungodly sirens would go off, and you had to turn off every light in the house. Like, right then. Immediately.

The aforementioned guys would walk up and down the street, making sure everything was black as could be, including Firestone, and hopefully the enemy could not see anything to bomb.

Well, folks, one night my mother had left a light of some kind on in the basement. I can still hear those men yelling at her to turn it off. As you can well imagine, the only way to get down there was to turn the light on in the kitchen, the light over the steps down to the basement, and the basement lights on to wherever this sucker was burning.

You never heard men yell in your life like these guys did, until Mother got down there and back up.

And that’s some of the things I remember about World War II.

[Carolyn Cary is the official Fayette County historian and the editor of the county’s first compiled history, “The History of Fayette County,” published in 1977. She lives in Fayetteville.]