The recent attacks on America and the current war against the terrorists bring vividly to mind the war years of the 1940s.
Two of the real threats to our area and other coastal cities during World War II were air raids and infiltration of troops landing from foreign ships, especially submarines. Some vessels actually reached our coasts, but were quickly taken care of by our shore patrols.
By the time we entered the war, Great Britain had already been bombed heavily by the Nazis. We did not have television, but radio reports and documentation in newspapers and in the movie news films made everyone realize that the new laws made to protect us against similar fates were well worth obeying without any complaints. Our dad, and even our grandmother, volunteered as Air Raid Wardens. They were issued hard-hats similar to those worn by construction workers. They also carried a flashlight and whistle. During air raid warnings, or drills (and there were many of them), their job was to go into the streets to direct people in vehicles or on foot to take cover in the nearest shelter. At night, at the first wail of the air raid siren, all lights were to go out the air raid wardens had to enforce that law. Most people had heavy black shades and drapes at their windows so that a more or less normal life could continue for the duration of the warning. Concentrating on finishing homework during those periods was a bit of a challenge, but it kept us from worrying too much.
Our dad was over the age for the military and he was involved in a vital industry. He was also a member of our local draft board. That boards duties were to meet and interview those who thought they had just reason to be exempted from serving in the military. The board members were given strict standards to follow so their decisions were pretty clear-cut. One of our neighbors who was judged to be a prime candidate, refused to serve on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector - his religion did not permit bearing arms. He served the country thereafter in a work camp. Most people, however, were more than willing to serve in any way possible.
Of course, there were some who tried to exploit the difficulties we were experiencing, such as those who sold on the black market. These were crooks who, through unlawful activity, got control of products that were rationed strictly - meat, butter, sugar, coffee, and gasoline - and then tried to sell it at overblown prices. When those people were caught, they were dealt with harshly but appropriately. Cheats are not nice people and those who cheat during a national emergency deserve no respect at all as far as Im concerned.
As students, we were introduced to war courses. We learned first aid, and the Red Cross visited civic meetings and gave first aid courses to the adults there. They also gave adults and responsible students the opportunity to roll bandages for the troops. Our hair had to be covered, and our hands soaked in disinfectant, and then the gauze rolled carefully into manageable sizes for use on the battlefield.
They gave us directions for knitting gloves, socks, and helmets and we made plenty of them. The Automobile Association of America, the AAA, sponsored a student safety patrol. They supplied arm bands that were given to responsible, willing students who would maintain order in the halls and on the stairways during class changes, air raid drills and at dismissal. By the time we reached high school, our war courses (beside first aid) included mechanical drawing, which was my elective. My sister had already begun studying drafting and engineering at Adelphi University and went from there to work in a war plant, Ranger Aircraft in Farmingdale. Workers there learned not only to work on plans for planes, but ware taught how to pack parachutes and to make sure it was done correctly. They were then taken for a flight, taking the parachute they had packed for their escape if something went wrong. That was certainly one way to ensure very careful compliance with all instructions!
People cooperating and doing things right helped win that war.
Maybe we can do it again for this one.
©2001 Community News Group
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