Throughout the month of July, we have been celebrating our veterans. We asked our residents to share stories of their experiences during World War II and several of them even hosted their own radio shows, sharing these stories and some of their favorite music at the time.
“I was young during World War II, and all I remember was that my dad was an air raid warden. He had a hat he wore and a flashlight he carried. He went around to make sure there was no one on the streets. He had to walk up and down the streets to make sure there were no lights shining to attract attention. I was very proud of him, but it always scared me when he went out. When the sirens went off, it scared me to know he would have to go out on the street. Then we’d turn all the lights out for the blackout. In the living room we had a big radio that had a face on it. There was a panel with a light in it that glowed. That’s what we used when the sirens would go off. It gave off just enough light that you could see around the room. That would be the place that everyone would look, to see that you were still there! Everything else was dark black. It was something! It was an interesting and scary time for a child.”
Imogene says she has so many fond memories of her childhood during this time. She was only nine years old during WWII when her family moved to Marion, Virginia. She recalls seeing all the soldiers in their uniforms riding through the town in their big jeeps and how everyone in town would stop and stare in admiration. She remembers the courthouse sounding off an alarm for a drill which meant everyone in town would either have to turn off all the lights in their homes or put something over their windows so no light would shine out. The patrol cars and airplanes would ride around and make sure they couldn’t see any light. As a child during those times, it was really frightening because you just never knew. Thankfully, her good memories far outweighed the bad. This photo shows Imogene holding her book of generations in her family tree.”
Burton grew up in tiny rural towns in Wyoming and Nebraska with farming his only interest and church hymns his only exposure to live music. In 1945 after graduating from high school, he was drafted into the army where recruits were told that one our of three would not return from the Japanese beaches. But when Japan surrendered, Burton was sent to sunny Italy. After a freezing winter as a machine gunner in the mountainous border between Italy and Austria, Burton was reassigned to Livorno, Italy where he stood guard day after day in front of a door. He never knew why. As he stood there, he would occasionally hear beautiful music wafting from somewhere in the town. One day he asked a young Italian who knew some English where that music was coming from. The guy replied that it was from the opera house and offered to take him there. So Burton attended his first opera with his new friend as a translator. He was thrilled by the music, pageantry and powerful voices. Burton and his friend attended a variety of productions until he had to return to Nebraska. Burton never saw another opera, but he enjoyed live theater whenever possible and told this story about a music-loving Italian who expanded his horizons.”
Fred was drafted into the Navy at 17 years old and served as a Gunner’s Mate on the Destroyer Escort in the North Atlantic Ocean during the latter part of WWII. His ship was responsible for capturing three German submarines. Fred completed his education after leaving the service when he was 20 and became a mechanical engineer, designing and earning three patents for machinery to be used for manufacturing. Originally born in New Jersey, Fred retired to North Carolina with his beloved wife, Julie. After retiring, he became a master modeler of historic sailing vessels and has completed over 50 models which he has shared with his family and friends.”
Elizabeth is now 100 years old, and says she remembers being 21 during WWII. At the time she was attending Virginia Tech, and recalls the college’s president at the time, Dr. Burruss, gathering everyone in Burress Hall. There were not enough seats for everyone because there were so many military students attending in addition to civilian students. He told them the United States was at war and that all the senior military students would be drafted as lieutenants. At the time there were only 100 female students, so those being drafted were the majority. Elizabeth said she learned what was happening over the radio on Sunday when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Her great uncle was her only relative that served as a lieutenant in the Philippines and was beheaded due to an argument over a boiled egg. She wasn’t married at the time, but she was concerned for all the “fellas” she knew who were drafted during their fall semester. She remembers that everything essential was rationed. From meat, vegetables, and sugar to gas for those that had cars. Elizabeth says she didn’t get many coupons as she wasn’t living at home, but those she did get she gave to her grandmother. In 1943 Elizabeth started working for the government headquarters in New York City. She didn’t remember any particular air raid drills, but that all of the stoplights in New York were painted over, and at night everyone had to use black or dark green window shades to keep the lights from shining out. At the end of the war, she never had a victory garden herself as she was continuing to travel along the east coast, but her family planted one on their farm.”
Sarah Williams was born on April 12, 1926 in Shelby, NC. She lived in North Carolina and Virginia throughout her life, and is a retired kindergarten teacher. During World War II, Ms. Williams worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee building the atomic bomb. The experience she and other girls had there is documented in the best-selling book, “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan. This is Sarah’s story: “In Manhattan, New York, there were a few people who met to plan, and they invented the formula for the atomic bomb. They then bought all the available land in the mountainous area of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The locals of the area had no idea what they were doing or why they were buying the land. I’m not sure how it was kept a secret with so many people involved! They advertised the need for girls to help with the war in the paper and in posters at the college I attended. My suitemates saw the advertisement and we all applied. They investigated everyone who wanted to work there to make sure we weren’t spies or that we might tell secrets. We got a call back in about three days informing us we were hired and should come in. So, we went out to Oak Ridge. There was nothing to do there because the town was built almost overnight! They built dormitories without air conditioning. It was so hot in that valley, and it rained almost every day! The streets weren’t paved, just red dirt that turned into mud. Every time we wanted to leave, we’d get on the bus and ride into town. Before we left they would come on the bus and check our name tags and do the same thing when we came back. You weren’t able to just come and go as you wanted to. There were signs in the town saying something to the effect of ‘See nothing, tell nothing.” There were even monitors in the dorms listening for what we said! You were never supposed to say a word about your work. My job at Oak Ridge was working at Y-12. That was one of the buildings housing the machines putting together the formula for the bomb. They had big, wide machines as tall as this room with little windows and knobs on them. In front of each machine, one person was sitting on a high stool turning the knobs. Every hour, the other girls and I would go down the hall, walking down the aisle of machines. We’d check the meters and write down the numbers that the needles were showing. Then we’d go back to the office and call it in. We didn’t know to where, it was just a telephone number to us. The would gather the information, see that the machines were working, how much they were producing and so on. That happened several times a day. When the war was over, they called us into the very large dining hall. Everyone was curious what we were doing there and what we were making as we stood there waiting to find out. We knew the bomb had just been dropped on Hiroshima and then they told us that was what we had been doing, creating that bomb. What an interesting thing! It was such a shock since we had no idea we were doing such an important job. At that time, my husband, Dorman, was in the Navy and waiting to be sent to Japan. But when they dropped the bomb, he was off the hook from that deployment. I never forgot that timing. I had no idea this picture had been taken! Dorman and I went back to Oak Ridge one time, just for a visit and saw all these cards and I said, ‘That’s me!’ I knew because I remember that blouse and a little black purse in my left hand. I needed a white blouse and had gone into Knoxville to buy it. It was such a big surprise to see myself there!”
Cheryl’s father, Bernard F. Gasky, was born in Harvy, Illinois, where he lived with his parents and two brothers, Charles and Raymond. His girlfriend, Judy, lived in Roseland, Illinois, with her parents, three brothers, and two sisters. Bernard was drafted into the Army Airforce and assigned to be a gunner in the bottom of a U.S. plane for a mission. When his plane went down, he became a prisoner of was in Germany for 13 months. During his imprisonment, he was interrogated about his German last name. While he was away, Judy constantly checked the newspapers for something about Bernard, but nothing was ever written. Finally, she received a telegraph telling her he became a prisoner of was after his plane was shot down. Once Bernard was released, he and Judy were married on December 26. Cheryl was born on September 13, 1946 and her brother was born on May 16, 1953. Bernard became part of the Caterpillar Club for his time as a prisoner of war, and he wore the lapel pin symbolizing this with pride.”
Sylvia is 95 years old. Wally, her brother, was examined to be drafted, but in a few days the war had ended, so he didn’t have to go. Her nephews, Mitchell and Connor, served in the military as well. She recalls that they had ration cards which they had to get most of your groceries like butter and sugar, but that they managed.”
“At the beginning of the war, there was the draft for all eligible men. When they were called for service, they weren’t able to choose what they would like to do. My father was too old and not physically able to be drafted at the time. Many of the men who had careers were taken away for the draft. My husband enlisted in the war at the beginning of 1945 even after attending two years of medical school because he didn’t want the draft to catch up to him and not have a choice. He enlisted in the Navy Air Corp and stayed for 27 years. For the first time, women left the home for work in factories, as typists, making books, and helping with anything else the government needed for the war. Everyone wanted to be Rosie the Riveter! Many men objected to this, but most women were excited to join the work force. When the war began, they gave everyone a coupon book. It was six or seven pages of stamps with labels for their purpose like shoes, butter, or meat. Everything was rationed. You could buy two pairs of shoes for the year or a certain amount of meat or bread. Once you used a stamp, they took it away so you couldn’t use it again. Once I left home, my mother would sometimes send more stamps to help us out. There were no new cars during the war, and like most things, gas was rationed. On our way to New York for our honeymoon, the police stopped us for going above the speed limit of 35mph, but didn’t give us a ticket because we were on our honeymoon. While we were in New York, the United States Service Organization was supplying donuts and anything else that would please or entertain the servicemen. We were able to get free tickets to all the shows since my husband was in the service. We were very pleased because we couldn’t have afforded them otherwise. Because of the gas shortage, most of the travel was done by train, and they were always jam packed. We took the train from Chicago, Illinois to San Diego, California, and had to eat and sleep on the crowded train. It wasn’t the pleasant travel it is today. I only know what I saw in the news at the movies about the Battle of the Bulge. It was in the cold of winter in Russia. Some men lost their feet and froze their toes, but they fought on during the difficult war in the forest. The Russians were very persistent fighters and wanted the U.S. to bend to their forces. They even asked a U.S. general to surrender, to which he replied with one word, ‘Nuts.’ The Russians were stunned by this jab. The blackout first began in England. There were shelters for people when the sirens alerted them to German bombers. Some people had to stay overnight there, even with children, until they got the clear sign. Everyone dreaded those sirens. Victory gardens were little plots of land wherever they could to provide vegetables for their families in addition to helping the government. The whole family would help tend the garden, especially the children. On Sundays nights, everyone sat by the radio to listen to Fireside Chats. This was when Roosevelt would talk about the war and what was going on. It was very intense. Men that died in the war weren’t able to be brought home, so now many people go to visit the gravestones and the names of those recognized at the cemetery in Normandy. It’s sad to see how many never made it home. Those mothers who had lost a son at war were known as Gold Star Mothers. They were given gold stars to hang on their front doors, so you were able to recognize who they were. I don’t know too much about the war in the Pacific, but they had the Iwo Jima with the raising of the flag on the hill. They also had the Black Sheep Air Squadron. They called them that because they were just men and boys taken off the street that were made officers and quickly taught to fly. I can’t remember the name of the ships or admirals, but there was a famous fleet that came down the space between the islands and the mainland that ran into a hurricane and almost lost the ship. Fortunately they had a very well trained crew. Mostly I remember the hardships. We couldn’t go to the store and pick out a wedding dress or furniture. There weren’t too many people in the stores anywhere, but we managed. Many began to make their own clothes. Some started to use parachutes for making wedding dresses because you couldn’t buy the white fabric otherwise. I was a teenager at the time. It was a depressive time during school. The teachers were supportive, but we didn’t know where our lives were going or if we’d ever have children. I don’t remember many babies, but most children were taken care of by the elderly because everyone that was young, men or women, were working. I had one boyfriend from high school who was in the coast guard who’s ship was bombed and he was killed. When I came back from my honeymoon, all of my friends were gone, so I had to make a new life. That’s how the war was; it dispersed people.”
Charles’ home town is Ashland, Virginia. He served in the Navy as a 2nd Seaman until he was discharged in 1946. Charles met his wife, Sara, at college in Richmond, Virginia and they have two daughters. His hobbies include fishing and hunting. A few of his favorite songs: “Til Then” ~The Mills Brothers “Put the Blame on Mame” ~Rita Hayworth “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” ~Kate Smith
Frank is from Remington, Virginia. He was a reservist in the Army Air Corps and watched for anyone that was trying to harm the U.S. until he was discharged in May of 1944. Frank met his wife, Claire, in LaGrange, Georgia, they got married August 14, 1954, and had two boys and one girl. His hobbies include wood working, especially making canes out of interesting wood he’s found. A few of his favorite songs: “The Way You Look Tonight” ~Frank Sinatra “Dream a Little Dream of Me” ~The Dorsey Brothers “There’ll Be Bluebirds Over” ~Kate Smith
Richard is from Richard, Indiana. His job in the Army was to take care of sick soldiers on the hospital ship until he was discharged in November of 1946. Richard married his wife, Frances Jeanette, on September 3, 1951 and they had two daughters. His hobbies include listening to music and signing. A few of his favorite songs: “Young at Heart” ~Frank Sinatra “Gilda (Part 1)” ~Rita Hayworth “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” ~The Andrews Sisters
At Commonwealth Senior Living, we appreciate the sacrifices our armed services have made for this country, and we feel it is our duty to show our thanks in return. To learn more about our Promise to Veterans and lifetime rate lock at the community nearest you, click the button below.