WWII Memoirs – 1930s – War Was “In The Air”
War was “in the air” when I was still in grade school. In fact, “shooting wars” had broken out in several places throughout the world many years before Pearl Harbor. I remember our “Weekly Reader” (an education publication used in our sixth grade social studies class) telling us that Mussolini, Dictator of Italy, invaded Ethiopia. Later I learned that Japan had already occupied Manchuria in 1933.
Meanwhile, Hitler was rearming Germany, and eventually, in September 1938, attacked Poland. Britain supported Poland, as did several other countries, and World War II was under way. I was beginning my Sophomore year in high school that Fall.
When the war broke out in Europe, I became an interested “spectator” through the mediums of radio (there was no TV then), and the daily paper. I was enthralled when the British Navy drove the German warships into the South American ports and waited for them to come out and be destroyed or to scuttle themselves. I was sobered by how easily the the German “Blitzkrieg” circumvented France’s vaunted Maginot Line and quickly subdued that country’s resistance. I cheered the British sinking Germany’s super battleship “Bismarck” and the epic evacuation of the Allied troops at Dunkirk, in which British citizens participated with private boats.
But sadly I learned too, of the atrocities taking place in Germany, which, I realized much later, was the beginning of the Holocaust.
These were major historic events, and I don’t want to imply that they occurred every day. But they were the kind of news that was increasingly beginning to fill our front pages and radio broadcasts.
Though my classmates and I were quite well-informed about world events, and radio kept us up-dated on the daily action on land, sea, and air, we felt strangely removed from the threat of war. Of course, none of the fighting had occurred on U.S. soil. And having an ocean on either side of us, gave a false sense of security, and a feeling that what was happening, was “over there.” How ancient that attitude seems today, with long-range missiles and nuclear bombs.
We were carefree high school students then; We thought we’d never be involved. Yet, twenty months after I graduated from high school, I was on my way to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri to begin basic training.
In many ways America had been preparing itself for an inevitable military clash, and the enemy would be the Axis powers–Germany, Italy and Japan. All had dictatorial governments, and all were already at war.
Our country had reactivated the draft law, and my Uncle Bill Putz, along with several friends his age, were already in the service when I graduated from high school. And it was rapidly converting much of its industry to manufacturing armaments.
Also, the United States was giving aid to the British who were already at war with the axis powers. In one instance it transferred fifty “obsolete” destroyers to the their navy through a “lend-lease” arrangement.
Eventually the draft would overtake me, but I had yet to graduate, and then to experience a few post-high school activities and events. One of the first of these experiences was to come very soon,and was to give me a taste of “military life.”
I was graduated from Martin High School on the evening of May 29, 1941. As valedictorian of my class, I had been offered a scholarship to a small liberal arts college in Jamestown, N.D.
The decision as to whether I should enter college or not that Fall didn’t seem to trouble me. My parents could give me no financial support, and jobs were not available. Also, that program didn’t seem right for me. An looking back, the over-riding argument for not going, I feel, was that “I wasn’t ready for college”. I was seventeen at the time.
Therefore, I declined the scholarship and enlisted for a six-month hitch in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
This turned out to be the right decision, because during my time in the Cs, my parents had moved to West Coast, and a week after I left the Corps, America entered World War II. Five months later I had to register for the draft. When the war ended I finally went to college on the G.I. Bill, earning B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Education.
I was much more mature, and had a clearer purpose of where I was going than when I left high school five years ago.
Next Entry: WWII Memoirs – 1942 – The Sleeping Giant
I registered for the draft in May 1942, and having nothing to do until my number came up, I took a job with the Oregon Shipbuilding Company...