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Ask the Expert

Signal Photos

 

A Santa Clarita Valley resident recalls Pearl Harbor

Posted: December 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.

In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, the destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

“Pearl Harbor was bombed this morning on this day of December 7th, 1941. Japanese bombers made a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Guam and other United States possessions in the Pacific.”

The announcement came from the radio beside my bed. The following day we were told that at 4 p.m. EST on Dec. 8, 1941, Japan declared war on the United States. On Dec. 11 we were also at war with Germany and Italy.

I always had a radio at my bedside. I had a feeling that life as I knew it would change, and it did.

The young men disappeared from our streets and blue stars appeared in the front windows of homes. They signified that this was the home of a serviceman who was fighting for his country.

The rationing of gasoline changed everyone’s lives. Carpooling began and Sunday drives became a thing of the past. Food and clothing were rationed.

I can remember my aunt rolling her own cigarettes — she had a little machine that did the job quite well.

When the adults were able to buy cigarettes or chewing gum we painstakingly peeled off every bit of tinfoil, rolled it into a ball, and saved it to turn in to help the war effort.

Some of the local stores were set up as collection stations. At the end of our street was a grocery store owned by a German couple. A few months into the war a rumor went around that they had a short-wave radio in the back of the store and were transmitting messages to the enemy.

I was horrified because I had been giving them my tin foil.

I cannot say if the rumors about the German couple were true because my family left in the fall of 1942 for California. I did talk to my cousin years later and he confirmed the store had closed shortly after we left.

I remember the night we received our ration books. All the residents in town were asked to meet at the local high school and bring documents to prove their eligibility to receive rationing material. Meats, canned goods, shoes and gasoline were the primary items to be rationed.

We met in the high school auditorium. Since there was quite a long line and we were being assisted alphabetically — our name started with an “S” — I had plenty of time to check out the building.

After a while some of us played hide ‘n seek in the halls. Our parents, being in the auditorium, did not know or we would have been made to sit quietly.

I remember that night fondly. I think it was because it was the whole town being together. There was no grumbling, just a lot of patriotism and willingness to do whatever we could.

When we finally walked home from the high school, the reality set in. Things did change. Older members in the extended families gave their allotment for shoes to the children. Little ones’ feet grow more quickly.

Ration stamps couldn’t keep up. With sugar in short supply, cakes and cookies were hard to come by.

Young women painted their legs tan and drew a line up the back to look like they were wearing stockings. Silk was going for parachutes. Rayon was thick and shunned for stockings.

We got through those times that would forever shape our lives. Lights were dimmed. Remember the song “When The Lights Go On Again All Over The World?”

The streets were dark — no neon signs on store fronts. Headlights on the cars were dimmed along with street lights.

I do not remember black-out curtains in Pittsburgh, but I do in Hollywood. We moved to California in the fall of 1942.

My Dad became an air raid warden. He went out at night and checked the neighborhood windows to be sure not a speck of light showed through.

One night while he was out we heard the sirens going off, and later the all-clear sounded. When he came home he told us that Japanese planes had been detected.

Our coast was always in danger. There was an attack off of Cambria along the Central California coast.

Gold Stars began showing up in windows where blue ones had been before. They signified the death of a serviceman fighting for our country. Men came home from battle injured, maimed, and with many stories.

I prayed that we wouldn’t be bombed before I reached my 12th birthday. We lived in the unknown.

I was 15 when peace was declared. What a day that was! I had been visiting an aunt in Hollywood. She was the sort who had to be where the action was, so she took me by the hand and we boarded a streetcar and went down Hollywood Boulevard to to Vine Street. That was where it was happening in her mind.

The streets were full of humanity. Service men and women were all over. People were on top of street lights and street signs just everywhere you looked. No vehicle could move — and no person, either.

Everyone one was kissing and hugging each other. One sailor grabbed me, kissed me and passed me right along the line of other sailors. My aunt held my hand very tight. I just pulled her along with me.

I will never forget that day. No one could be there and not get caught up in the joy and excitement of those times. The celebrations said, “it’s over now. We can go home, we can go back and pick up where we left off.”

But you can never go back. Too many things had happened during those years that changed our lives. We had seen and heard too much to be those innocent kids again.

Jeanne Wray is a Valencia resident. She was an 11-year-old girl living with her family in Pittsburgh on Dec. 7, 1941.

 

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