On Veterans Day, I have the opportunity to share some of my father’s reflections about his personal experiences during World War II with my readers. This opportunity came about eight years ago as a result of a school project undertaken by Mykaela, a then-12-year-old school girl from Kentucky.
Mykaela contacted me after reading several posts — no longer online — about my father’s experiences as a soldier serving in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. She had an assignment to interview a World War II veteran, but didn’t know any, so contacted me. After exchanging e-mails, we arranged for my father, now living in Texas, to answer her questions about World War II. Those answers appear below:
Q1: Where were you when you first heard about Pearl Harbor?
A1: I was a senior in high school and was living with my parents. We did not subscribe to a newspaper but got our news from a tabletop radio. I remember (the news) came as a “news flash”. “Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor. We do not have the details yet but will give them to you as soon a they become available” Later, the president, Mr. Roosevelt, came on the radio with an address to the nation. In his address, he came forth with the words that everyone has heard over and over by now: “This day, the 7th day of December, 1941, will go down in history as a day of infamy etc…”
Q2: What were your feelings?
A2: I was a boy of 17 years of age. My feelings were of both fear and excitement. The fear of the unknown future. The excitement of the anticipation for whatever was going to happen. At age 17, one does not comprehend all of the future events that could come and many more that would come with a declaration of war. There was also the feeling of anger at what the Japanese did to our military men in Hawaii.
Q3: Did you see any signs of fear, anger or rage?
A3: There was the feeling in the community of being double-crossed, violated, tricked, and lastly, of anger at the enemy for their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Many Americans boys were killed by that attack while the Japanese diplomats were smiling in Washington, D.C., and pretending all was going well within the Japanese-American diplomatic relations. As the people took the time to digest what had happened, they did become more angry and wanted revenge.
Q4: What did people so during the next few days?
A4: During the days that followed the attack, I think the people began to realize that this was not just a news item. It was real. Parents of sailors killed at Pearl Harbor began to receive telegrams from the Defense Department saying, “We regret to inform you that your son, (John or Robert or Harold or ??) was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. His remains will be shipped to you etc…”
Q5: How was life different during the war?
A5: Soon after the attack, material things in civilian life were much the same, but it was not long before many items were available only in small quantities. A few months later, gasoline, coffee, cigarettes, sugar and most anything else was rationed. People stayed home, launched paper drives, metal drives and did anything else to help make the tools of war. A young man who was not in uniform came under close scrutiny by his neighbors and the local draft board. This group of people decided who was going to be drafted next.
Q6: What items were the hardest to get for your family?
A6: Sugar and coffee for the table along with gasoline and tires for the car. These were items that I remember my parents said were very hard to come by.
Q7: What slogans and patriotic posters were being shown?
A7: On posters: “A slip of the lips may sink a ship.” “Uncle Sam wants you” which had a picture of Uncle Sam pointing directly at you. “Buy Bonds”.
Q8: Describe V-E (Victory in Europe) day and V-J (Victory in Japan) day. Where were you then?
A8: I was in a convalescent camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., on V-E day and at my parents’ home on V-J day. There was intense excitement, especially on V-J. day. After V-E day, people were worried that soldiers who had been in Europe would have to go to invade Japan. This worried the soldiers as much as, or more than, civilians. With V-J day, they were relieved of that worry. Now they were ready for their sons, daughters, husbands, sweethearts all to come back home so they could take vacations, go on picnics, etc.
Q9: How did the people feel about the atomic bomb?
A9: The American public was tired of their boys being killed fighting the Japanese who were fanatics. They would not surrender but would kill themselves first. This was a part of their religion. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima first. The Japanese government would not surrender, so a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki a week later. “If the bomb would stop the war, then drop it” was the feeling in the U. S. It was anticipated two million of their soldiers and civilians and one million of our soldiers would have perished in an invasion of Japan. After all, it was they who started the war, it was they who killed Chinese civilians as well as soldiers, it was they who marched captured American soldiers to prison camps but provided no food or water for them on that march, and it was they who killed the prisoners who could not keep up on that march.
Q10: What should an 8th grader remember about this war?
A10: I would say remember there are bad guys in this world who want to control the world and will do anything to do it. Sometimes we have to fight for freedom, but it is worth it!!
After providing Mykaela the answers above, my dad ended his response by noting what I suspect was a bittersweet feeling shared by many American members of what has come to be known as “The Greatest Generation”:
“I had three brothers in that war. We all came home alive!”
Having not been born yet, I’m very glad they did!