Public themes and events
* World War II’s production effort created a voracious demand for workers in war industries. The onset of the war put an end to the Great Depression of the 1930s, it quickly soaked up the nations manpower and eliminated unemployment. By 1944, nineteen million women were employed in the labor market, a thirty percent increase in only three years. By 1945, there were two hundred fifty thousand women in military uniform.
* Almost immediately after the explosion of the first atomic bomb, glowing reports of the peaceful use of atomic energy began appearing. It was said that, “all other forms of energy would be antiquated, such as fuels and explosives. Dams and electrical transmissions would be as out moded as stagecoaches.” The energy was a breath of air and “would operate a powerful airplane for a year continuously.”
* Consumer advertising promised that consumer goods would be back in production as soon as wartime demands ended.
* Plastics exhibits are the rage across the U.S.A. bringing the promise of durable, cheaply produced, inexpensive consumer goods.
A train trip to Seattle (2 years 6 months old)
16 January 1945 – 5 April 1945 [Hazel writes]: “Larry went to Seattle, Washington with mother January 16, 1945 to see Daddy while he was in the Navy and we stayed until April 5, 1945. Larry was sick all the way home.”
I remember only bits and pieces of this trip. We took a passenger train from Chicago, undoubtedly right through St. Cloud, Minnesota enroute to Seattle, Washington.
We had coach seats, but slept in a “sleeper” where there were curtains which provided privacy for our small bed at night. I don’t recall if the coach seats folded down into a sleeper or if we slept in a separate room. The trip to Washington was boring for a small child. All there was to do was look out the window at endless miles of snow covered land, during the three day trip. I remember going through the high, rough, snow covered mountains of western Montana and Idaho. I’d never seen mountains before, so these were exciting.
Throw Larry from the train?
My recollection of one series of events is not pleasant: Next to our coach seat, on the wall, were several buttons, one of which signaled the Coach Attendant. Apparently I’d been playing with and pushing the buttons against both Mom’s and the attendant’s instructions. Finally, the Coach Attendant, a big black man, told me if I pushed the button again he’d throw me off the train. Shortly, I pushed the summoning button and the Attendant came with a big white mail bag.
I never have understood how Mom could have gone along with the gag, but Mom and I followed the colored man back to a train exit located between cars. There, inorder to teach me a lesson, he put me in the bag with only my head and neck sticking out. Then opening the door he began swinging me back and forth getting ready to throw me off the train, all the while counting, “One…two…and…three!”.
We were in the midst of the mountains. As I swayed back and forth inside the bag, I could see Mom behind the man, looking on and smiling. I was frightened and didn’t like my treatment. A moment later I was set free from the mailbag. I never touched those buttons again and I’ve never forgot what happened. Thinking about the episode now, makes me sad and hurt. I would never let someone treat a child of mine like that.
When we arrived at the Seattle train depot, I remember Mom running to a man in the crowd, their hugging and kissing. He was my father. He was wearing a Navy suit just like the small one I had on. There were many other men in the large building all wearing Navy uniforms. I don’t remember any other specifics from the trip other that being sick and throwing up, on the way home.
First memories of father
Now, as I compile these thoughts, it is interesting to note that the trip to Seattle brought my first memories of my father. When I was a baby, my Dad was working and therefore gone from the house during the hours when I was normally awake. Soon after my second birthday, Dad was drafted into the Armed Forces and was out of the household. It has always seemed to me that there has been a discontinuity in knowing my father, that he wasn’t around during my early life.
30 April 1945: Allied Invasion
It’s been a year since the Allied invasion of Europe and nine months since the German Armies resistance was broken in Western Europe. On this date, as Allied troops closed on Berlin, Germany, Adolph Hitler, infamous leader of the “Third Reich” committed suicide in his Chancellery bunker.
A lunch of crackers and milk
Due to war rationing and our small military dependents allowance, Mom and I ate frugally. I don’t know why the following memory has stayed with me for 67+ years, but there was a particular meal we once had, which I recall:
‘I’m sitting in a high chair at our white metal kitchen table. Mommy is sitting next to me, on my right. She is wearing a dress. We’re eating saltine soda crackers and drinking milk for lunch, nothing else. Mom shows me how to dunk the crackers in milk. She tells me something about our lunch, something about money, and about the war. I don’t understand what she means, but my meal of crackers and milk taste kind of funny.’
On 7 May 1945 Germany surrendered “unconditionally”. The German nation was crushed and destroyed. Her major cities are heaps of rubble. Her factories, railways and private dwellings are destroyed. The countryside has been laid to ruin, “scorched” by retreating armies. Across Europe, millions of people are homeless or in exile. Great Britain is so impoverished and deep in debt that she will eventually recover, but only as a Second Class world power.
With Germany’s defeat, the Allied war effort begins to shift against the Japanese, in the Pacific.
By 12 June father had been transferred from Fire Control School in Seattle, WA to a new assignment:
Robert F. Pierce, S 2/c, V7 Unit, McKean Hall, Room 422, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
Baby Book entries: Concern for deceased baby sister Susan [Robert]: In June, “When Larry was almost three years old his mother told him the story of his little sister (Susan). Several months later in his prayers he asked, out of the clear sky, if he could ‘God bless Susan too’? He had remembered her name these many months. It was good to know he was learning to think not only of others, but was also developing within himself.”
First wartime use of the A-bomb
In order to hasten the end of the war, the USA used a secret weapon, the Atomic bomb, against the Japanese. This, the first nuclear weapon used in war, was dropped on Hiroshima 16 July 1945 , devastating most of the city and eliminating the entire Second Japanese Army, 100,000 die.
25 July 1945 (3 years old): My birthday telegram. Robert was stationed in Philadelphia, PA. from whence he sent me the following Western Union telegram:
“DEAREST SON HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE FINEST LITTLE FELLOW IN THE WORLD MAYBE WE CAN MAKE UP FOR THIS ONE LATER BE GOOD TAKE CARE OF YOUR MOTHER AND GOD BLESS YOU: DADDY.”
“Larry got a large Teddy Bear, almost as large as he is on his first birthday. He bites ‘Teddy’s’ nose for a kiss. When Larry gets tired he loves Teddy up a lot.”
Melting a hairpin (3 years, several days old) [Robert]: “Near the end of July 1945, when Larry was almost 3 years old, he put the hair pin, at left in a electric outlet which melted the hairpin about 1/2 inch. He burned three fingers. He was taken to Dr. Deardorff but was found okay except for the electrical burns. He needed to keep one finger wrapped up for several days.”
US War production
Big Business continued to prosper. By 1945, eighty two percent of the Army and Navy obligations were held by the top one hundred U.S. Corporations. American war production had been prodigious, between 1 July 1940 and 31 July 1945, U.S. factories manufactured;
• 296,429 aircraft and 41.5 billion rounds of small arms ammo
• 5,425 cargo ships and 2,455,964 trucks
• 71,062 naval ships and 5,822,000 aircraft bombs
• 372,431 pieces of artillery and 102,351 tanks & self propelled guns
6 August 1945: The Japanese refused to surrender and a second A-bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki, Japan, thirty six thousand died.
Japanese surrender: Seeing the frightful destructive power of America’s new weapon, the Japanese military government ceased fighting and unconditionally surrendered on 14 August, thus ending World War II.
Larry starts saying his prayers 1 September [Robert]: “At the age of 3 years and 6 months Mom first started telling Larry about prayers. Started saying prayers alone about a week later. He didn’t need any prompting then, however he did afterwards for some reason.”
A shopping trip to the butcher
Memories of a shopping trip from this period: Mom and I are walking down the sidewalk in town. Mom is holding my hand. We enter a meat market. There is a man near the back of the store, he approaches us wearing a white apron. Mom and the man chat for a minute while I stand nearby, looking around. I don’t remember ever being in a store like this before. The meat market was a small narrow shop with a glass cased meat locker — cooler, a scale, counter and cash register. Mom ordered some lard and a pork chop. The butcher walked from his counter a few steps to a glass case, where Mom pointed out the piece of meat she wanted. The butcher removed the meat from the case, weighed it and wrapped it in white paper. He then scooped the lard out of a large tin can and put it in a small, square, white cardboard box. Mom paid the man and we left the store.
Seeing a helicopter
Another experience: One day, Mom took me for a late morning walk to the local park. Something important was going to happen. At the park, a small crowd of people had gathered, they were listening, quietly talking and looking about. We were waiting to see the arrival of a ‘helicopter’. I didn’t know what a helicopter was. After a few minutes we heard a “brrRrrRrrR chop-chop-chop…’ and this flying machine came flying in, low over the trees. It settled to the ground about one hundred feet away. The crowd cheered as the pilot stepped out. This was the first aircraft I recall ever seeing. Mom said that helicopters were newly invented and this particular one was making the first ‘airmail’ delivery between Chicago and Berwyn.
Don’t wet your pants!
One bright and sunny morning, while Dad was still away in the Navy, Mom got mad at me for wetting my pants. She threatened to “put me in a dress like a little girl if I didn’t stop wetting my clothes.” I use to have a dress when I was very little, I didn’t want to be a little girl again. The threat made me cry.
World War II ends: On 2 September, Japan formally surrendered. With the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific Theater, World War II came to and end.
On 30 September Robert’s military address was:
Robert F. Pierce, S 2/c, Receiving Station, Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Staying with my Shafer grandparents [Robert]: “Between Thanksgiving 1945 and Christmas 1945 Larry was left at Grandma and Grandpa Shafer’s while Hazel was out to see me at Newport, R.I. At that time he learned not to wet the bed or his pants and has been perfect in this respect ever since.”
[Robert] “Now Larry’s grandparents (Shafer) had a bulldog named ‘Pug’ and she would jump all over Larry and kiss his face clean with her tongue. Larry also liked their kittens too. At his other Grandma and Grandpa (Glen and Elsie)’ he liked the chickies, kittens, the calf and the piggies. He always wanted to go out and see them”.
Christmas: (Three years & 5 months)
[Robert] “Daddy just discharged from the Navy. We spent Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa Pierce’s in Michigan. Larry had his stockings filled with nuts, suckers, an airplane, boat, candy cane, candy bars and a small potato. He got a good laugh over that, as the potato symbolized the times he was a ‘bad boy’. The more potatoes, the worse the boy. He also received 8-9 books, blackboard and chalk, two telephones (toy), tea set, table and two chairs, bath robe, comforter, two trains and crayons. He certainly enjoyed Christmas 1945.”
Sights soon to disappear
1) Internet image: Wooden ice box. Similar to the one we had in Berwyn. “It was made of oak wood and looked like a hutc h or cabinet with brass hinges, knobs and levers. The top had a door that opened up to drop in the big block of ice. That section was lined in heavy galvanized metal. A small tubular hose was attached to drain the water away from the melting ice. The drip pan which held the hose had to be emptied regularly to keep the floor dry.
The front door of the ice box opened with a brass lever. There was a wire shelf in the center so that it appeared to have two shelves for food. It was necessary to do a lot of stooping and bending over to get the food in and out.
2) Internet image: The ‘Ice Man’ had a flatbed truck with short side rails. He drove it to the ice house downtown, filled the truck with 25 and 50 pound blocks of ice and covered the load with a heavy tarp. He parked his truck in the street. Then opening the ice tongs wide enough to sink the points into both sides of the big ice block, he hoisted the ice onto his shoulder, and carried it on a leather pad on his shoulder, up the stairs and into the apartment where he dropped it in the metal ice box compartment. When Mom needed small chunks of ice she used an ice pick to chip away smaller pieces from the big block.
While living in the Berwyn apartment, our food refrigeration was accomplished like just about everyone else’s at the time – in an ice box. I only vaguely remember our big old ice box, but retain the image of the ice man, who delivered the ice every few days. I remember him stompinging up the apartment stairs, to our apartment and then others; each time carrying a block of ice on the leather skin draped over his shoulder.
By the mid 1940s, electricity was being used essentially everywhere in the nation, the old ways and technologies were dying out. Just three years later, in 1948, I saw for the last time two disappearing phenomena: 1) a wooden icebox in common use, the last I would ever see and, 2) a horse pulling a wagon through town that was on business and not part of a parade.
The USA, a new superpower
At the end of World War II, there were only two great powers left in the world: the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (The USSR was more commonly referred to as ‘Russia’.) Russia emerged from the war victorious, but with considerable human suffering and materials damage. These losses would require years to recover from. The USA, not having suffered materials damage at home, became undisputedly the greatest industrial power in the world. The country had emerged from her prewar isolation and was the sole nation in possession of the Atomic bomb.
The return of American servicemen from the war lead to a marriage rate that was the greatest in US history. The explosion in marriages and the ensuing birth rate, lead to an acute housing shortage.