MY EARLY DAYS IN WORLD WAR II

 By Allen Dale Olson

When I came to school on Monday morning, December 8, 1941, Jesse Ripperdan, my sixth-grade teacher, told the class about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. I doubt that the significance of that news was immediately apparent to us sixth-graders, none of whom had heard about it till Mr. Ripperdan told us.

Most of us had radios in our homes but on Sunday evenings, after the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy show was over, we turned them off to get ready for school. Whatever news bulletins were aired that day were missed by most of us in that rural Portage Township in northwest Indiana.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that something really big had happened. Some of the older boys in the neighborhood – as well as some of the dads – were “joining up” to go fight the “Japs.” Even my father considered it. Much of that fervor was patriotic, of course; but many of the men in our township had been out of work because of the Great Depression. Military service would mean a paycheck.

We heard President Roosevelt on the radio more than we were used to. Families were laying in canned goods and predicting enemy action in our area “soon.” We were rural, but we were only a few miles from the United States Steel Mills in Gary, which, we all knew, would be prime targets for Japanese bombers. In fact, as the country geared up for war, word was coming down that men in critical jobs in the mills would be exempt from the draft so that they could get the mills running full blast in the war effort.

I can’t remember just how rationing started, but I recall that all at once my mother was going through ration books and counting ration tokens. We were to be allowed only so much butter, so many eggs, this many pounds of meat, that many pounds of sugar and flour and so one. People with cars were issued windshield decals with the letters A, B, or C on them. Basic gasoline rations were in the A group. My father had a C ration because he worked in the mill and was a church official. I don’t know how many gallons each privilege was allocated, but I do know that before long several men in our township were jailed for dealing in black market gas stamps.

Food Tokens

Rationing continued until I was in high school. We were able to play a full schedule of basketball games because farmers would pool their special rations (for tractors and other farm equipment) so a tractor could be hitched to a trailer over which a tarp was stretched so we players could ride in “comfort,” warmed by kerosene heaters standing upright in the trailer. Teams didn’t travel far in those days; our furthest game was in Kouts, about twenty miles across the county, but twenty miles in January and February Indiana snows were far enough.

A number of mothers and older girls went to work at jobs off the farm or outside their homes, most of them for the first time in their lives. Many went to the steel mills, some went to a new ordnance plant built by a munitions company in Kingsbury in the next county. My mother went to work in a men’s clothing store in Gary. There were just not enough men left at home to cover all the jobs. It was obvious that the Great Depression was over.

Weather forecasts were banned from radio and newspapers. There was no TV in those days. News about the wars was carefully censored. Even letters from soldiers arrived with words or sentences or even whole paragraphs cut out by censors.

As a high school student, I found the Selective Service draft approaching closer and closer. I was both proud to know I should and could serve but also very apprehensive about the prospects of going to war. But then it was all over. The Germans collapsed some months after the D-Day invasion of France, the Japanese within days of the horrific bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Even then, I knew what a dreadful thing those bombings were; and today I shudder at the very thought of what those bombing victims experienced. But I have to confess to feeling relief that those bombings occurred. Personally, they meant I would not be drafted into that war, and that that war was now shortened by months if not years. I don’t remember just how food and gas rationing came to an end, but I do know that it just seemed to happen as if it had never been in effect.

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