During World War II
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
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
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
other stories by Ruth Richards
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