Bob has once again spun the Wheel of Years and this time it has stopped at 1942. WAR!
Just two months after the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, war began to take over our lives in North Hollywood California where I was 10 years old at the time. One of my 5th grade buddies was sad and crying that we can’t play together anymore. The big US Army truck had arrived at his home to pick up his whole family and take them away. He was an American, born in Los Angeles just like me, except that he was of Japanese descent.
President Roosevelt had ordered all Japanese to be rounded up immediately and sent away to internment camps. They could take only what personal items they could carry, the rest, along with their home, was confiscated by the US military. I never saw him again. I had followed the war in Europe in the newspapers since 1938, and knew that the Nazis had put people in concentration camps, but with the war now here at home, we had concentration camps too – to lock up American citizens!
In a few short weeks, everything had changed. We had to put blackout curtains on all our windows at night because of the air raid drills. All our lights had to be turned off. Everyone had to arrange a safe place deep inside our homes where we were to hide during the drills. All of this was inspected every week by the the local Air Raid Warden, a volunteer who turned out to be the neighborhood snoop. You had to let him in – he’d prowl thru all your stuff – empowered by the US government. The air raid sirens went off randomly a couple of times a week. It interrupted my homework, so it was OK.
Many city lights were turned off, no more brightly lit business signs. The idea was that Japanese submarines could target war plants by reference to these lights. My dad had a sandwich shop in Glendale that had to have a light trap double black curtain entrance so customers could enter without any light leaking out. If you drove your car over the hills to near the ocean, you had to drive with your lights off. My grandmother would take me from North Hollywood to visit relatives in Pacific Palisades only on full moon nights. It wasn’t very dangerous since the war time speed limit was only 35 mph.
Gasoline was rationed, maybe 3 or 4 gallons a week per family, more if you were a doctor or government official. That sure put a halt to any trips anywhere for fun. The worse situation was that whatever tires you had on your car – they had to last until the end of the war, whenever that was going to be. All the rubber was directed to the war effort, none for any civilian products period! Golly, even balsa wood was forbidden. I had to make my model airplanes out of pine and cardboard.
Lankershim grammar school in North Hollywood, where I was in the 5th grade, was next to the local fire station, which had the biggest, loudest air raid siren in town. Whenever that thing started up we had to run and hide in the hallway, hands over our ears, head buried between our legs – sometimes for an hour or more until the all clear sounded. We had paper drives to collect any kind of paper for the war effort. All kinds of metals were in short supply to build tanks and planes. We had scrap drives too – bring in every piece of metal you could scrounge up, including your mom’s favorite old aluminum pots and pans.
Going to the grocery store was always a scene. You could barely buy anything without ration stamps. Everyone was issued their very own personal war ration stamp book. We received a new one every once in a while. But if you used up your stamps too soon, sorry, you go without. Sugar was really tightly rationed, I never knew why. But mom’s could bake cookies without sugar anyway. Before long anyone who had a bit of yard space soon planted a victory garden. By golly, the government can’t ration what you grow yourself! Chickens were super valuable, un-rationed free eggs. By summer 1942 I had a ton of stuff growing that fed our family real good, just as long as you could stomach tomatoes, swiss chard, carrots, and the like. Luckily we had fruit trees – apricots, peaches, and plums, but only in the summer. Besides the garden, I was raising chickens and goats for milk (future spin story).
Any big vacant lots were taken over by Army anti-aircraft gun emplacements, great places for us kids to hang out with real soldiers. Every few miles, elevated airplane spotter towers were built, manned by civilians to watch out for invading Japanese bombers. Little booklets were published showing the outlines of their planes for reference. One night was real spooky – seems some mystery airplanes were seen flying over Los Angeles, which triggered spotlights and the anti-aircraft guns. The noise sure scared me. Some of the shells fell back to the ground where they blew up a few buildings. No one ever figured out what that was all about.
The sky was filled with our trainers and warplanes, Stearmans, P-38s, B-17s and such. It was a fabulous time for me, being such a rabid airplane kid. Don’t get me started here – that’ll have to wait until the Wheel of Years stops at another war year.