Thoughts on World War II

DID WORLD WAR II LEAVE MEMORABLE IMPRESSIONS ON YOU?

If you’re willing, perhaps stirred by the 50th anniversary of D-Day, please tell us.

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  • Al Chambers June 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    In retrospect, this is an amusing story to tell on myself. During the war, we lived in Manhattan near Central Park. I was aware that there was a war and had some vague idea of what that meant. In 1945, there was some sort of project in the Great Lawn (we called it the Circle) of Central Park between the Belvedere Castle and lake around 77th Street and about 86th Street. It included temporary construction of quite high green wood fences around the entire expanse. That took away much of our play area.

    When the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, somehow I learned that there had been a Manhattan Project connected with the triumphal end of the long war. I immediately concluded what had been going on behind the fence, which I could see, was the Manhattan Project. My parents tried to explain that wasn’t what had happened, but probably didn’t want to discourage my imagination or early interest in asking questions and following current events.

    I am glad that they didn’t but also am puzzled that I continued to believe for some time that the plan for ending the war had taken place right in my Central Park play area. I never found out what they were doing behind the fences of the Great Lawn during those months – quite possibly seeding new grass.

    Central Park has always been my favorite place in Manhattan. I grieved when it deteriorated so seriously in the 1960’s and 70’s, and cheered at its reclamation by the people and the Central Park Conservancy starting in the 1980’s.

  • John (Jay) Hatch June 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    No family involved in the war but I remember rationing concerns of my mother’s (and my father’s with gas) and being “allowed” to make butter by popping the yellow pill in the plastic oleo container and mushing it about until the contents turned yellow. At the end of the war I was helping my father clearing brush on the outskirts of Albany, NY and hearing a long low rumbling sound only to see eventually a column of tanks parading down the road towards Albany from the airport on their return. Post war my father was Albany’s representative to the reconstruction of sister city Nijmegan, The Netherlands so we spent the academic year living with my grandparents in Lenox, Ma.

    I have just read Bill Mauldin’s Up Front for the first time. I highly recommend his reflections—written before the very end of the war— on being a doughboy and his work as a cartoonist for The Stars and Strips for a sense of what it was like to be there.

  • Henry Childs June 13, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    (Will Taylor’s father was a very close friend of my parents, a friendship initially formed at Yale Law School.) But my father was seconded to the British government by his boss, John Foster Dulles, as of January 1, 1940, and served as General Counsel to His Majesty’s government for all matters North American for the length of the European Campaign. As such, he came up with the idea of Lend Lease, a measure that was to help Britain survive until Pearl Harbour brought us into the conflict directly. Dad also contributed to the war effort by single-handedly transferring the French assets to the British during the night of the fall of France, June 1940, the year before I was born. (Without the French orders for munitions, often made in tandem with British orders, the UK would have been rendered defenseless in a matter of weeks.) I was just short of three years old on D-Day. My brothers and mother and I had been flown (by the Pan Am Clipper flying boat) to Bermuda, so memories of my father’s concerns were gathered only much later.

  • Willard Taylor June 13, 2014 at 10:16 am

    My father landed at Normandy a week or so after D Day. He had enlisted as a private in the infantry shortly before we entered the war but, as a lawyer, he was subsequently transferred to the JAG corps. He was at Dachau shortly after its liberation, and that, together with subsequent war crimes work at Nuremberg, made a profound impression. He rarely spoke about his military service, but I remember well that in retirement he went on a Baltic cruise and when the ship docked for the day at a German port he chose to stay on board.

  • Bill Weber June 12, 2014 at 11:19 am

    My memories of the war begin in Charleroi, PA where I lived until 1944. The air raid warden would come around each night to check for lights showing through our curtains. Charleroi was in the Mononga Valley where half of the world’s steel was produced, so there may have been a threat from enemy bombers, or perhaps the black-outs were simply war morale boosters. The when the USA got into the Pacific war, I remember when the boy next door was one of the first killed in the island invasions. This brought the war home to us very clearly and sadly.
    The in the 1960’s whilst a student at Oxford, my wife and I would tour the continent and always go to as many American cemeteries as we could on our travels. The most dramatic for me was the one at Belleau Wood, France which was the sight of our first WWI encounter where over 2500 American soldiers came up missing in action, presumably killed in the massive shelling common to that horribly unimaginative war. The cemetery was established before WWII and the marble structure there had some damage from German shells from WWII. The most searing memory of the visit to that cemetery was in the visitors’ book where the theme was almost invariably from Frenchmen thanking the USA and saying God Bless America; what are they saying today? The the other WWI battle fields had huge memorials where the American involvement was duly noted. In all the cemeteries and monuments the French Gov’t maintained them with the great care and precision.
    It has been a long time since the cataclysmic days of WWI and WWII and I wonder how many people in Europe have any idea of what America did for them?
    Of course, the celebration of the Normandy invasion was a great and important event, but i am disappointed to see how little credit has been given to the Russians for their horrific battles and losses on the Eastern front which gave us the opportunity to invade fromn the West. Today there is so much scar tissue left over from the Soviet Union days, it seems we paint Russia in the worst colours and cannot recognise some legitimate issues they may have in the Ukraine.

    Enough said! Bill Weber

  • Eric Eitreim June 12, 2014 at 11:15 am

    In 1943 my father was transferred from the Embassy in Ottawa to the Embassy in London. We crossed the Atlantic on a Portuguese tramp steamer that had spent the prior 50 years on the colonial trade route to Angola and Mozambique. The unescorted voyage took 21 days from Philadelphia to Lisbon. After several weeks in Portugal we flew one night to an unmarked air field in Southern England on a plane operated by the Free Dutch air force. Waiting for housing we stayed at a hotel near Piccadilly Circus and were introduced to the War by a V-2 rocket that hit between our hotel and Marble Arch. We moved to a house in Hempstead Gardens northwest of London. Among my earliest memories are visits from two of my uncles who were in the Army.
    One of my uncles was stationed at an air base in northern England and would visit every few months when he could get a weekend pass. My other uncle was in the Army Transportation Corp and criss-crossed the Atlantic commanding troops fresh from training bases in the US and returning with a contingent of POWs. We would go to Southampton to see him when he would come to England.
    Another memory is of the airplanes. Bombers from multiple airfields would assemble in giant formations over southern England at dusk before heading out across the Channel. The roar of thousands of engines and the sky full of planes is still a vivid memory.
    My favorite place was a multi-story military cafeteria in central London. I liked it because we didn’t have to use ration cards and we could get ice cream. The real draw however for a little boy was looking at the soldiers. Like many children at the time, I collected toy soldiers and spent a lot of time with my nose pressed against the display cases of toy soldiers in the shops, but this place was better, these were real troops passing thru London eating there and they were from all the allies and colonies. The colorful uniforms of the colonial troops from India and Africa made a big impression on this little boy.

  • David Honneus June 12, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Four very distinct memories. One of my mother peeling off ration stamps at the local butcher’s in St. David’s, PA. (Penna. then.) The second was being taken by my mother to the St. David’s station and watching freight trains carrying tanks and trucks and guns to the Port of Philadelphia from factories in the Midwest. The trains seemed endless to me and I fell in love with the huge steam engines. The train engineer, upon seeing a three year old waving would always pull the cord and blow the train whistle! Loved it! Third, after moving to New York in January 1944, every journey back to my mother’s family in Philly involved both Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station and 30th Street Station in Philly. Easily 80% of the travelers were in uniform. Lastly, my Dad worked for Time, Inc. and the talk at home was always about the WAR. Time and Life were read cover to cover and maps were posted with the progress of the war. No wonder I have been fascinated since then with military history!

  • william stork June 12, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I will not comment on Rob’s fine essay, but an only here to add a snippet.
    At that time I was a ‘navy brat’ living in Arlington.

    Security was a bit different then (!) and I just happened by, at Arlington Cemetery, to witness Clement Atlee and Harry Truman honoring the dead at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

  • Rob Flint June 11, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    My earliest recollections of Hitler was as a rival for my Dad’s attention. My Dad would come home from work (at the DuPont Company) and turn on his portable radio while I was trying to get him to play with me. On the radio I kept hearing the word “Hitler” while he was half-heartedly playing with me. That’s why I say that Hitler and I were rivals for my Dad’s attention.

    Other memories of the war: We went to Rehoboth Beach in the summer. Every afternoon, there were large explosions out to sea – shells shot from Fort Miles on the Delaware coast. Only after the war did the public learn that these explosions were tests of proximity fuses – a secret system to make shells explode over the sea – much more lethal than contact fuses. Proximity fuses were an important technological improvement developed during the war.

    There was a kid a few years ahead of me in school who was a bit difficult – he could be a bit of a bully. His father was Richard Chichester duPont, who was an experimental glider designer and pilot. Richard’s work led to the gliders that were used land troops on D-day, but he was killed in an experimental glider in 1943. My mother attributed his son’s aggressive tendencies to lack of a father – my tenuous personal connection to D-day.

    I do remember my parents and friends discussing the atom bomb just after it was dropped on Japan. I had no idea what an atom bomb was, but the seriousness of my parents and friends in their discussion of it made a lasting impression: this was something very important.

    Finally I do have a clear recollection of V-J Day and all the sirens, whistles, and bells that my family could hear from our house. I suggested to my Dad that we should ring our own school bell. He said, “That’s a good idea”: the first time I remember being credited with having a good idea.