Brooklyn On Line Bedford Styuvesant Memories
The following narrative of The Home Front in WWII is written from the standpoint of Bed Stuy Boy who was 12 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor and had just turned 16 when the Japanese surrended in August 1945.
Until 7 December 1941, the war in Europe was seen as a boon to our economy. People for the first time in years had jobs, money in their pocket and things to spend it on. Inflation was non-existence. There was a surplus of consumer goods with no rationing. New cars at $700 each were coming off the assembly lines along with military vehicles like the Jeep. The war news was terrible for the English and French;however, this was their war. Suddenly, we started having meat for dinner instead of beans and franks. We were able to go to the movies. New clothes were now affordable and we had money to spend. It was a wonderful time. None of our boys who looked wonderful in their new uniforms were being killed or put into harm's way. This was all to change on 7 December 1941.
My father said, "That war meant full employment." My older brother then 20 years of age knew that he would be drafted shortly. I can remember that one of the first things I did after the US declared war was to go up on my roof with a pair of field glasses and carefully search the seaward skies to detect any Nazi planes that might be coming on bombing missions.
It seems like almost immediately we started to have scrap metal drives and we begged our parents for pots and pans that we could give to the collections. The Boy Scouts instituted merit badges that had war time focuses. Our seventh grade wood shop class started making airplane wing jig assemblies. Patriotic songs filled the radio waves. War movies started appearing at the local cinemas. Windows starting displaying flags to indicate loved ones serving in the military. In school we given instruction in moving ourselves under our wooden desks in the event of air raids and we had practice drills. We started bringing in ten cents a week and buying war saving stamps. We learned that every little bit helped the war effort. Buckets of sand and water fire type fire extinguishers appeared on the top level of our tenaments, adjacent to the roof doors, and were to be used to extinguish incendiary bombs dropped by German aircraft.
THe British suddenly became very popular and everything German was suspect. A great display of military equipment was opened at the Manhattan Museum of Science and Industry in Rockefeller Center and was free to school students. Our 7th and later 8th grade classes became lsupporters of the Merchant Marine. I remember as class president, I was invited by the beautiful movie star Madelyn Carroll to come down to the Manhattan Merchant Marine Building and receive an appreciation award for our classes efforts in their behalf.
You have to understand that these were very exciting times for your people of my age. One of my neighbors became our block/area Civil Defense Warden. He asked me, since I had a bike, to become a messenger. It was exciting when an air raid alert was called and the streets cleared of all traffic and pedestrians and all lights extinguished. I would then carry messages between our post and others. I can still see myself wearing my WWI type CD helmet a civil defense band on my arm hurtling my Schwinn Racer down those now silent and darkened major thoroughfares carring a message which I imagined might be all important to our winning the war and of course keeping one eye pealed for those German planes which I knew were coming in over the Atlantic Ocean horizon
Pearl Harbor provided us with a clearly defined enemy and a national focus which had not existed previously. We were told to report anyone speaking with a distinctly German accent to the authorities. Patriotic songs both comedy and ballads flooded our radio. Comic books now defined their heros as fighting the hated enemy. Service men were looked upon as heros. USOs opened- nothing ws too good for our boys in uniform. A wartime histeria took place which replaced the gloom and doom of the the depression years. We all had a goal to make the world a better place. Young girls were caught up as volunteers for service with the red cross serviceman clubs. Others became Victory Girls, dressed in red, white and blue skirts, and provided sex for the more than willing GIs. Veneral Diseases became a much more common problem.
Military jargon came into our everyday language: GIs, Jeeps, Swabbies, Gyrenes, Dogfaces, Flyboys, Sad Sacks, 4Fs, SNAFU, Jills, Doughnut Dollies, AWOL, Section 8s, P-Shooters, Flying Forts, Spits, Hurries, K-Rations, Thunderbolts, Ersatz and Blitzkrieg.
The sneak attack by the Japanese had proven to us that all Japs and that meant orientals in general were not to be trusted. I know this might be hard to believe but the mindset of those on the Bed-Stuy Homefront who had spent years of deprivation and lack and fear of the poor house during those depression was suddenly lifted by the influx of wartime money. This instant weath, with still consumer good available, provided great euphoria and happynesss. Boys, whose father died in May 42, became the man of the family overnight as older brothers left for the armed forces. Having your Mother and Grandmother look up to you as the man of the house was a tremendous boost to my ego and I knew that I was up to the task.
I still remember my June 43 graduation from P.S.138. In a play we each took the role of a now conquered country and gave a recitation of its history with a patriotic fervor. I remember I represented Yugoslavia. The starring role went to the female student who represented Mother Russia. She played this role for all it was worth and we all knew from the media and Russian Propaganda about the sacrifice of these people in the face of the German invasion of their homeland.