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 Emmitsburg During World War II

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

We knew it was coming. Everyone knew it was coming. There were signposts all along the way. Poland fell to the Nazis in the fall of '39. Russia moved in and conquered Finland in '40, and then the tragedy of Dunkirk that same year that Britain turned into a triumph of courage and determination. Also that year Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all men between the ages of 18 and 36 to register for the draft, each man given a card with a rating of IA to 4F, ablest to least able. Waiting, waiting, holding our breath.

Then dawned December 7th, 1941. Do you remember where you were that Sunday when the news bulletin came over the radio telling us that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii? I will never forget where I was. I was sitting with John on the couch in Mrs. Patterson's house working the Times Sunday Magazine crossword puzzle when the announcement came loud and clear from the radio in the apartment above us. Our Navy station in Hawaii was virtually destroyed by the attack. We were stunned. Everyone was stunned. How dare "they?" We now knew that it was War.

Twenty days later, on December 27th, registration for rationing began. I volunteered to help with this registration to issue Stamp Books to everyone, limiting the purchase of items that would be needed for the war. Nearly everyone accepted the fact that rationing was necessary, but there were a few who were personally offended by having to give their names and ages before they could get a Ration Book. (Most of these were unmarried women. I am still puzzled by the number of unmarried women in Emmitsburg at that time.) After some coaxing and bargaining that number was either whispered or writ- ten with solemn promises of secrecy given.

Then, of course, there was the rationing itself. It is interesting to remember the various items that were rationed. Sugar was available in only small quantities. Rumor said that sugar was plentiful, but rationing it would produce the feeling of patriotism and sacrifice. Americans do love their sweets.

Because mass transportation was needed to move troops and supplies, fresh produce and canned goods were in short supply. This shortage later inspired Victory Gardens. One day a rumor raced through town that bananas were being sold from a truck in the square. The rush to buy them emptied the truck.

Sliced bread disappeared from the grocery shelves. The steel from commercial bread slicers was needed for the war machines. That was a bit of silliness as steel bread knives were available to households that had none. Another scarce commodity was Mayonnaise, but the ingredients were not, so I, and others bought the eggs and oil and made Our own Mayonnaise

Gas tires and cars we're also rationed. We had bought a new car in October to replace the worn-out, second-hand one we had driven to Emmitsburg the year before. We felt lucky, for as soon as rationing began, the manufacture of all cars for non-military use was prohibited. Anyone needing extra gas or tires had to apply to the Rationing Board and prove "need'. Sometimes the request was honored, sometimes not.

Cigarettes were scarce. Great quantities were being sent to the armed forces. both at home and abroad. That prompted smokers to buy the little packets of tissue and little bags of tobacco and roll their own cigarettes. I knew, as did everyone else, that there was some fudging on rationing, but I also know truly, that the feeling of "doing my part" prevailed and rationing was accepted with only a bit of complaining.

Despite the rationing of gas, we occasionally drove to the Majestic Theater, in Gettysburg to see a movie. Remember, seeing a Movie also meant seeing coming attractions and newsreels. The newsreel was the only place we could see live pictures of the war.

On one of these trips we saw Jimmy Doolittle crew of B25 bombers that had flown a raid on Japan in April 18th, 1942. As the camera closed in on the crew of this raid, there, in the front row was a college friend of mine. I gasped aloud, "There's Henry Potter." Of course I was heard throughout the theater.

At another time in the same way, I learned that a high school classmate of mine, Joe Foss, was the first Ace of the war, having shot down the greatest number of enemy planes up to that time. After the war he was rewarded for his heroism by being elected governor of South Dakota. Such is the short life of fame.

There were ways that non-military individuals could get personally involved in the war effort. Red Cross volunteers from Frederick taught an elementary course in First Aid at the Fire Hall. First a technique was demonstrated and then the students were to prove to the instructor they had been attentive. After proving ourselves proficient in head-bandaging, a friend and I went home to practice head-bandaging on our husbands. It was hilarious. Husbands were not amused.

Emmitsburg had its own Air Raid Wardens. In our part of town Mr. Norman Hoke played the part gloriously and proudly. it was his duty when the sirens sounded to stop all cars from the west. I can see him yet as he stood in the middle of the street with his hand in "stop" position instructing the drivers to turn off their lights. If anyone had house lights on, even during daylight practice alert, those lights had to be turned off. The drills were taken seriously, although no one believed that enemy planes would choose Emmitsburg as a target. There was even a airplane spotting station atop the VFW building.

Fort Ritchie was a training camp and on several occasions soldiers were sent on a forced marches down through Emmitsburg. These marches brought gawkers to the windows and sidewalks up and down main street and excitement filled the air and greetings were exchanged between gawkers and soldiers.

At other times a soldier might car at our front door with a map with place names and directions tinted in a foreign language. These soldiers were asking for help in finding these destinations. I think it was contrary to their orders to get assistance, but if we could, we helped Translate the maps.

One day I was told that Miss Ruth’s Notion Shop was handing out yarn donated by the Red Cross to be net into sweaters for the troops. I knew how to knit. I Picked up a bundle of maroon yarn and began to turn it into a sweater.

Beaming at myself, I took this very well knit sweater to Miss Ruth’s. There were several other women in the shop and when they saw my sweater, they laughed. My directions were for a ‘large’ sweater. This one was large - it was huge - it was enormous. When I held it up to myself, this sweater reached from my shoulders to the floor. I have often wondered if anyone ever wore it. That was my contribution in helping some serviceman keep warm.

I was too new to town to know the names of the men and women from Emmitsburg who enlisted or were drafted. Because John taught at the Mount I knew that the Mount became a training school for Pilots, and the professors taught in that program. This isn’t my story to tell, but I can say when officers connected with this program brought their families to Emmitsburg to live, the social life of the town changed. There weren’t many but there certainly was a desire by the residents to get to know them and make them feel welcome.

There are so many, many memories. So many stories stones yet to be told. The war in Europe ended in June,1945 and the War in the Pacific, as everyone knows, ended with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in August of that year.

I was in the Midwest at the time, having taken our first child ‘home’. She was more than a year old and not one of her relatives had ever seen her. I and they could wait no longer. When we heard the news that Peace had finally come the first thing we did was to take a ride, a pleasure we had been denied all during the war.

When I was fourteen I saw a movie that remained forever engraved on my mind and in my memory. 'Journey's End' depicting the true horrors of World War I. It was so utterly terrible that I couldn't believe that war would ever come again. I believed and wanted to believe a slogan of that war 'The War to End Wars.' Not even World War II could do that.

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg In World War II? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards

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