Home Front Memories

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When America was catapulted into World War II, life on the home front changed in ways it never had before—and probably never will again, according to people who lived through those times.

“So many people don’t know what it was like then. Everything was for the war effort,” said Shirley Compton, a vivacious 80-year-old who lives in Colonial Beach. “Everyone was close and loving and patriotic. I remember that feeling most of all.”

She grew up in Arlington, where families were encouraged to rent out rooms to workers who flocked to Washington to keep the war machine chugging.  Her childhood memories are of air-raid drills at school and blacked-out windows at home. She confesses she “did carry on a bit” when factories that made Coca–Cola and Double Bubble Bubble Gum shifted their focus to war supplies and stopped making her favorites.

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But even 6-year-old girls quickly learned to support the cause when everyone else was doing it, she said. “I never saw such a good feeling about everything, people working together,” she said. “I remember that still.”

So does Wayne Colton, a 78-year-old with an incredible memory for detail. Perhaps he paid so much attention to adults because he was an only child.  His family lived on the outskirts of Fredericksburg when it was still rural enough to be considered the country.

He was only 4 when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, but he sensed the seriousness of the situation—and the subsequent four-year effort to defeat Japan and Germany.  “I knew it was a life-and-death struggle,” he said. “It made a profound impression on me.”

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To those in the city or country, an account of life on the home front starts and ends with one word.  Rationing.

Processed and canned goods were shipped overseas for Allied soldiers; gasoline was used to transport troops and supplies instead of food; and sugar and coffee were limited due to war-related restrictions on imports.

Because of the shortages, the government established a system to make sure the few items available were distributed fairly.  Each American got ration books with stamps for particular items, such as cooking oil, shoes or meat.

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Living in the country, Colton and his family raised chickens and got pork from relatives who had a farm. They were able to grow most of the food they needed, unlike city-dwellers who relied on the market.

The mere mention of meat brought up a subject that made Compton cringe. Spam, a spiced ham served in a can, became popular during the war to supplement the meat shortages.

“I hate it to this day,” she said. “I don’t ever want to see it again.”

Copper was needed for wiring for every piece of equipment that rolled, floated or was flown in the war, along with the millions of radios being produced.  Zinc replaced copper as the coating on pennies, Colton said.

As much as civilians felt the shortages, they were also keenly aware of the need—and “no one complained about it,” Compton said.   Radio programs, movies and school events stressed the need to support the war because the American way of life depended on it.

“You woke up every day, realizing we were in a conflict,” Colton said. “The war was the predominant theme, and you were totally aware of how much people were sacrificing for it.”

In the months after the Pearl Harbor attack, communities appointed civilians to keep an eye on the sky and water. Volunteer spotters, who learned to identify aircraft from their silhouettes, were posted around the Fredericksburg region.

Guards were placed at the Falmouth Bridge, as well as other bridges and railroad crossings. Civil defense patrols in Fredericksburg had air-raid drills—the same kind Compton experienced in Arlington—when all the lights had to be blacked out. No one wanted to give would-be bombers a target to hit.

As a boy, Colton saw these exercises and the regular troop trains that ran through Fredericksburg, headed for training at Fort A.P. Hill. He was absolutely fascinated by the war machine.

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Woman inspecting bullets…

He learned that the nylons his mother coveted were used to make parachutes, that the metal and paper he and other children saved were used in weapons, armament and posters asking people to buy war bonds and further support the effort.

Even the fat left over from cooking was saved and turned into soap.  “It was significant to see these things,” Colton said, realizing at a young age that this wasn’t normal.

Colton was so fascinated by the military, he eventually joined the Air Force and earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam—the same medal an uncle received at the Battle of the Bulge. He retired after 20 years in the military, then worked as a defense contractor.

Rev. Wayne Colton & wife, Linda.

Rev. Wayne Colton & wife, Linda.

About 25 years ago, he answered a different call of duty: to become a minister. At 78, he’s the senior pastor at Triangle Baptist Church.  Colton never forgot the wartime experiences of his childhood.

“It gave me a sense of pride in the country and the sacrifices men and women were making,” he said. “It was a life-forming orientation.”

cdyson@freelancestar.com 

©2015 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)
Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at http://www.fredericksburg.com/flshome
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Click on images to enlarge.

For past detailed stories of the home front check into my category Home Front.

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Home Front & Political Humor –

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Pittsburgh Gazette

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Dorman Smith, Lynchburg News, 1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes –

William Aynes – Columbus, OH; US Army, WWII/ US Air Force, Korea, Vietnam

Paul Barnhart – Endicott, NY & AK; USMC, Korea, Purple Heart Arlington_Burial_Worl_Smit_2_t755_h8a94edf1cc6e40113d3605995d57b0e00c11f81c

Charles Booth – Guildford, AUS; RA Army # 171790, WWII, 82/13th Battery/19th Div.

Bob Falen – Ontario, OR; US Army, Vietnam, Helicopter pilot

Richard Kelly – Wilmette, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, HQ Co/11th Airborne

Walter McCreary – San Antonio, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Tuskegee Airman, POW

Levon Raybon – Showlow, AZ; US Air Force, Korea

Robert Smith – Montgomery, AL; US Army, WWII, PTO

Jock Turner – NZ; RNZ Air Force # 437355, WWII

John Woods – Ottawa, CAN; RC Army, Korea, 25th Canadian Inf. Brigade Group, paratrooper

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on December 31, 2015, in First-hand Accounts, Home Front, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 128 Comments.

  1. AS children of the depression and 20ish during WW II most woman in the family never lost the nature of stretching things, not wasting things and providing creative alternatives when doing without. Socks with holes were mended and no vegetable leftovers ever went into the garbage. They went into the end of the week stew or soup. The tiniest of things were appreciated. Before she died my mother’s favorite food was bread and butter. They never had real butter on the table through all those years.

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    • So true, Carl. My mother told me about the margarine with the color cube they would mash in the bag to give it a butter-look. And no one could get more out of a dollar bill than her either!! I can’t guess how many times I heard the expression – “Waste not – Want not!”

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  2. My father and grandfather has telling me a lot of the life in War

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