My first recollection, as a 7-year old Milwaukeean, with imminent world war, was listening to WGN radio broadcasts by commentators HV Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heater on Sunday afternoons with my parents, sister, aunt, uncle and cousin. These late spring and summer 1939 broadcasts included partial speeches at Berlin rallies by Adolph Hitler. Vivid in my recollection was the loud, raucous, vehement roar of Hitler and his followers denigrating America and England. We shuddered with fear and trepidation for Europe. Shortly thereafter Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.
About 9 on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, I opened our front door to reach for the Sunday Milwaukee Journal newspaper, lying on our front porch. Immediately I saw in huge, black letters: "Japs Attack Pearl Harbor in Hawaii!"
Instantly, I yelled to my folks to run and look at the front page of the Journal. Of course, we were all flabbergasted, shocked and speechless! We had known that for several weeks there were peace negotiations ongoing in Washington between Japan and the US It seemed as if peace would prevail. The sneak attack by the Japanese was an unanticipated, excruciating event that befuddled and disheartened peace-loving Americans. The next day President Roosevelt, in somber, resolute tones declared war on the Japanese Empire. Prior to this, on September 11, 1941 FDR had declared war on Nazi Germany. World War II was now a reality!
Years of hardship and food and gas rationing (we weren't affected, as my folks never owned a car) ensued. I remember butter, eggs and meat products were getting scarcer. My mom would carefully drain all the chicken and meat fat into jars and I would take them to the butcher who would turn them into the government authorities for processing into soap products, etc. The butcher would issue ration points and stamps for use in buying more items.
During the war years I became an ardent enthusiast of world maps. I would follow and track the progress of the Allies in Africa, Europe and the Pacific. I would pull out my huge world map and lay it out on the living room floor and try to find the locations of the various battles and conquests. This also led to years of addictive stamp collecting, used and mint condition. I especially enjoyed collecting stamps from the various war zones and enemy-occupied territories. I became acquainted with previously unfamiliar countries such as Aden and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Finally, after a long, exasperating, frightening four years of war culminating with Allied victories in Europe and atomic bombings in Japan, unconditional peace was declared by the US over Japan on August 14, 1945! I was almost 13 and World War II was over! My dad, the night before, used his astute business sense and ordered several gross of miniature, decorative paper hats and paper, musical horns (New Year's Eve). He asked me to join him in selling these celebratory items in downtown Milwaukee. So, we arose early in the morning of August 14 and took a bus downtown and picked up our merchandise. We peddled our wares from mid-morning to mid-afternoon amidst the hordes of overjoyed people of all ages (thousands in the blocked off streets of downtown). People were enthusiastically buying our product; we couldn't sell it fast enough! Dad tried to buy more merchandise but there was none to be had. To unwind after the sell-off we squeezed into the Riverside Theater (famous as a movie and burlesque venue), amidst hundreds of celebrants and watched a few free movie shorts and newsreels; at least, we sat and rested! I remembered being impressed by a young singer, Teresa Brewer, an up and coming star. August 14, 1945 will always be remembered most fondly, by this 13 years old!
December 8, 2010
Written by Norb Eglash