The Real good old days!
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World War 2
How We Helped Air
Raid Wardens Touch
& Feel of War
Living in The Danger Zone Our Heroes War Time Shortages War Games
Souvenirs Of War What If? My War Room The Battlegrounds Normandy Photos
I have finally reached the age when I can begin to talk about the "Good old days". The trouble is that the only people remotely interested are those who lived through them themselves. Young people are generally bored by all this and think of me and my thoughts as archaic and belonging to another era. OK, so they’re right! I keep going anyways.
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No, I wasn’t old enough to be a soldier during WWII. Frankly I wish I had been. I still revere those who did serve in perhaps America’s greatest era. As a child I still got to share some of the excitement of living in that time. I remember back to being three years old when my father came to my bedroom and told me that someone named Hitler was going to try to come and kill us all, especially us because we were Jewish. At three, that didn’t scare me much. Certainly my mother and father would not let that happen. As I got slightly older and my brother and just about everyone else’s brother, father, uncle etc became soldiers sailors or marines, the war became more of a reality. There wasn’t a boy living at that time who couldn’t spot a P-47 or P-38 flying overhead or who couldn’t spot a ship in the distance and tell you what it was and perhaps its name a well. Ice cream cups, bubble gum cards and the like all had pictures of ships and planes on them. You couldn’t avoid them. As the war progressed, families would hang little banners with blue stars on them showing the number of men in that particular household who were serving. A gold star meant that someone in that home had given the ultimate sacrifice. My friend Donny, across the street had a gold star in his window. His brother was MIA flying somewhere over Germany in a B25. Although I certainly didn’t want anyone in my family dying, I did at the time, envy Donny and his Gold star.
We Did Our Part.
At school we were always urged to purchase savings stamps which accumulated into war bonds. We were doing our part to end the war. Collecting scrap iron to kill Japs with was everyone’s passion. We even picked up discarded cigarette packs in the street, removed the liner, and soaked them in water until the silver foil separated and then cautiously rolled that into a large ball. The movie theaters would let you in for free if you collected enough scrap or silver foil to donate to the war effort. I heard many years later that little if any of this stuff was actually used to make bombs but we felt good anyway just thinking we were helping; something like the anti-aircraft efforts of the British during the London Blitz. It was totally ineffective but it made the people in England feel like they were fighting back. The government issued ration stamps that allowed you to purchase limited amounts of food. This made a lot of people wealthy as it initiated a black market that made wealthy men of many butchers and dairymen. Getting gas for your car became a status item. You were issues A B C & D stickers to place in your windshield. This determined how much Gasoline you were allowed to buy during a given period. An "A" sticker allowed you 4 gallons per week. A "B" meant you drove long distances and were entitled to more based on need. Ministers and doctors got a "C". "D" was for motorcycles and of course congressmen and politicians got an "X". It became a means of telling just how important you were deemed to be. Kids would brag about their father’s gas sticker.
Air Raid Wardens
If your dad or uncle was too old to become a soldier as my dad was, he joined
the Air Raid Wardens. He was issued a white helmet, armband with a Civil Defense
emblem on it, a stick with a hook on it to turn off the gas lights that we had
on our streets at that time, and most important, a Stirrup Pump. This was a
covered can about 3 feet tall with a hose and a pump handle to supply pressure
for the water spray. We needed these to counter the incendiary bombs that were
sure to come to America just as they had in England. We had lots of fun with
those Stirrup Pumps. They were the original soaking guns that are so popular
today. Who knew?? The Air Raid wardens were constantly trained by having air
raid alerts. This required them to take their hooked sticks out, put on their
helmets and shut down all the gas lights on their particular block. They would
then check each house to make sure no light was leaking from their windows. Some
of the Wardens (not my dad) became ersatz policemen and really got off on the
power to tell people to shut their lights off. One other piece of equipment
issued to these wardens was a gas mask. Of course they had to learn how to use
them, so they were all taken to *Franklin field in the Dorchester section of
Boston and exposed to tear gas. As a kid I had to go see this exciting event. My
eyes are still burning.
* Believe it or not, there exists a Franklin Field Alumni Association in Florida. Click here to see some photos of the last reunion.
A Touch and Feel of the War.
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One of the highlights of those days was whenever one of our warships visited Boston Harbor. My father took me to visit the Hornet and the Wasp aircraft carriers when they docked. We stood in line for hours for a chance to go aboard these huge magnificent ships. I remember one of my chief thrills of the time; riding down to the hangar deck on the actual elevator used to bring those Wildcats and Hellcats to the flight deck. There was one occasion when a captured German U-boat was brought into Boston. That too took many many hours of waiting in line just to go aboard a smelly Untersea Boat, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. There were frequent parades and military exhibitions, all I am sure, to build moral. For the first two years of the war history shows that the Allies were taking quite a beating. We never knew it though. The news was carefully crafted to show only the great victories. My father would listen every night to Gabriel Heater begin his opening with "There’s good news tonight."
Living in the Danger Zone.
We lived along the coast during the summer months, (Revere Massachusetts). Autos driving near the coast had to have their headlights taped over with black tape so as to allow just a slit of light through. There was an oil storage area near where we lived that managed to bury all of those huge oil tanks and build little miniature houses with a small street light atop them to confuse enemy bombardiers into thinking it was a peaceful little town. I am sure they were fooled because no bombs ever fell there during the war. The beautiful amusement park on the Revere Beach Boulevard had to dim or hide all their lights along the waterfront so as not to silhouette any American ships to all the many Nazi Submarines waiting to sink them. It was an eerie feeling to be in a totally darkened amusement park at night. There were, I am told, several sinkings along the Florida coast and several U-boats spotted along the New England coast during the war. It was impossible to avoid the grease and oil along the shoreline when swimming as well as all the burned pieces of wood from the sunken ships. Every home had a bottle of gasoline to clean your feet with after being at the beach.
The amusement park along the water was naturally a playground for the many sailors that were always in Boston while their ships were being repaired or refitted. These young boys were all totally worshipped by everyone, especially the young girls in the area. I remember my sister and her friends planning their forages to the amusement park with the hopes of meeting some of these heroes. And heroes they were to all of us. Anyone in uniform was worshipped and respected at that time. As a youngster, I couldn’t wait for some of the returning army guys to come home and tell their stories. I remember sitting in awe as one of my older sister's friends who had just come back from fighting with the Marines in the South Pacific tell how they were given $2.00 for every Jap ear that they brought back to their company commander. Yes, these were American guys doing that! (The Japs did it too).
Shortages for Some
Many things were in short supply during the war, not the least of which were nylon stockings. Any guy could have his way with just about any woman if he offered her Nylons. To counteract this, the girls began painting their legs to appear to be wearing stockings, seams and all. The nylon was used in parachutes. Chewing gum was also in tight demand. My brother was a chaplain’s assistant on a liberty ship during the war and brought home tons of chewing gum. I still have no idea what the army used gum for. Boy, did I have a lot of friends. He also brought home boxes of a candy bar called Bit-o-Honey. I hated these so I gave them all away. More friends.
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About the only games we ever played in the street other than stickball were war games. We always had trouble finding kids to play the Japs but eventually someone would. The reward was play acting the best roll in dying after being shot. Any one of us could have won a part in Private Ryan. We found more ways of dying than you could imagine. Rolling down a hill after being "shot" was the best! Every kid had some form of toy rifle or pistol to play these games with. It was all pretty even until one of the kids, Marty, got a machine gun. This was totally unfair so my dad went out and bought me one too. It was basically a wooden pole with a wooden gear that clacked against a piece of wood touching it. When you cranked the gear it made a machine gun sound. Now we were equal, but who wanted to play the bad guys against such sophisticated weaponry. Thank God the war soon ended. Who knows what we might have escalated to?
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As a kid, I had tons of souvenirs from the war. Every kid did. Nazi SS daggers, hats, helmets, insignias, and the real lucky kids, guns. I was never lucky enough to get a Jap or Kraut gun but I had damned near everything else. Eddie, across the street got a Jap rifle from his brother. Lucky stiff! As the years passed, the stuff became worthless pieces of junk to me, and most of it eventually disappeared. I had other priorities. My ham radio set and girls. Now, I find that that worthless junk is worth fortunes and I have no idea what happened to it all; or the girls either, for that matter.
I Might Have Gone Up a Smokestack
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As I grew older, I couldn’t help but compare our later wars to this great time. Even though our country tried to make heroes of the Korean and Vietnam vets, there was never the uniform feeling of hero worship that existed during those days. We were without doubt the "Good Guys in a Good War". The passing years also made me realize that had my parents not emigrated to the USA when they did, that I was of the very age that would have been useless to the Germans and would no doubt have ended up as some of those cinders going up a chimney in Auschwitz or Bergen Belsen. As a result I became fascinated with the whole Holocaust era and began reading too many books about it. I visited Dachau which although a concentration camp was not used primarily for extermination as the other camps were. My wife and I argue about visiting the death camps. This will be one of the few battles that I will win. I feel compelled to go there and try to get some feeling or understanding of how a civilized nation could do the horrible things that I have read about.
Ernie’s War Room
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I now have, what my wife has named "The War Room" at home. It is packed with books, mementos and toy models of WW II stuff. I have some old miniature copies of the Boston Herald reduced in detail to about 7 " x 5". I have lots of old V-Disc records. The first unbreakable records to be sent to servicemen overseas. I keep expecting them to be worth something. So far, everything that I have lost or misplaced is worth a fortune. Everything that I have managed to save is worthless to everyone but me. I am sure many of you have had the same experience. I do have one treasure. As a result of one of my radio shows that I did right after returning from visiting the famous Monte Cassino battleground, a listener who called himself "Old Dogface" dropped by the radio studio and gave me one of his most treasured war souvenirs.. a pistol taken from a German officer at the battleground. His real name was Bernie Feinberg from Hollywood Florida. Dogface was a term used to describe the look of the US soldiers fighting in Italy during this part of the war. I think it may have been author Ernie Pile who coined the term to describe their dog tired lonely look when headed back from combat. I have that particular treasure prominently framed and displayed in my "War Room". The war for the U.S. lasted less than 5 years, yet it had more impact on me than all the years since. When it ended of course everyone was thrilled but in my mind there was a certain amount of sadness. The excitement would soon be over. Indeed it was. I thought that perhaps the Korean conflict would renew it. It didn’t. Neither did Vietnam!
Because I was so intrigued by this era, I made it a point to try and visit many of the places that I had read about once I was able to travel to far off lands. Fortunately, through a connection that I made during my radio talk show days, I had a personal guide from the French Foreign Office as a guide to the Normandy Beaches. I arrived there on a cloudy miserable day that must have been much like June 6th 1944. The place has been remarkably preserved and it was easy to envision the chaos that took place that day. There was hardly a piece of ground without a depression from some bomb or artillery shell from 50 years ago. There were a few armored track vehicles strewn about the beach and the German bunkers were mainly intact. You could easily see the Mulberrys, artificial piers towed to the Normandy coast to serve as temporary landing places for the ships that came after the invasion. I rolled out my camera and began taking a series of black & white photos (see below) to capture the feeling of the place. (My wife never left the comfort of our guide’s auto.) I visited Arnhem, Dachau, The Imperial War Museum in London, Churchill’s War Room, The British Cruiser HMS Belfast, Responsible for the sinking of The German battleship Sharnhorst and also fired the first salvos at Normandy, Hendon. Royal Air Force Museum, where you can see the Spitfires and Hurricanes that Churchill referred to when he said "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" and other places of note. My wife now refuses to travel anywhere near possible WWII locations. She may not know it yet, but there are still a few that I have to see.
One of my treasures: This painting is of one of the original C-47s that led the way for the Normandy Invasion and carried paratroopers of the famous "Screaming Eagles" into St-Mere-Eglise. It was piloted by Col. Bob Gates who's signature appears below the painting. Col. Gates had the pleasure of piloting Bob Hope and his troupe several times. Bob Hope gave Col. Gates the nickname of Growin Pains; hence the name of the plane.
The painting was sent to me
courtesy of the Commemorative Air Force
(Formerly the 'Confederate Air Force') of which I am a life member.
You may visit their site by simply clicking on the painting.
See More Photos Below!