DESIGN: Those Were The Times No.7 – 1942 Living in Wartime What Was it Really Like

Written by Bob Gurr. Posted in Bob Gurr, Design: Those Were The Times, Features


Published on April 03, 2013 at 4:59 am with 22 Comments

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.

About Bob Gurr

Bob Gurr is a true Disney legend who was hired on to design the Autopia for Disneyland. Over nearly four decades, Bob would become famous for developing the Monorails, Submarines, Flying Saucers, antique cars and double-decker buses of Main Street, Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway (at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair), Omnimover ride system, Matterhorn and lots more. It has been said that if it moves, Bob probably played a part. Upon leaving Imagineering in 1981, Bob worked on a number of "leisure-time spectaculars" and "fantastical beasts" for parks and developments all over the world. Most notably, he created King Kong and Conan's Serpent for Universal Studios Hollywood, A UFO for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, and the memorable T-Rex figure featured in Steven Spielberg's motion picture "Jurassic Park." You can find Bob's column, Design: Those Were The Times, right here on MiceChat. Though don't pin Bob down to a schedule, he's busy being "retired."

Browse Archived Articles by

  • disneylandfan8

    The War Years have always sounded horrific and conditions were awful. I am not a fan of reading about this time in American history, but with you beside me, I’ll take your hand and listen to what life was like for Bob Gurr growing up.

  • QPerth

    Bob, thanks so much for these memories you shared of this difficult time. I never knew about the camps for the Japanese in America (I’m in Australia), and that took me by surprise. Here in Australia our government locks up asylum seekers in camps nowadays. So awful.
    And the mention of the Battle of LosAngeles – wow!!
    Thanks again for your amazing blogs, I always thoroughly enjoy hearing your thoughts and memories. -Q

  • Eric Davis

    Thank you for talking about this!

  • Atomobile

    GREAT Recollection Bob and interesting images to support! Our kids today have become so soft by being raised by parents who’ve only known peacetime (myself included!). The rigors and discipline of civilian wartime living is in MY opinion, one of the things that made the Greatest Generation with its inventiveness and sticktoit attitude what it was. Sure there are still amazing innovators, but our populace has become fat, lazy and entitled, both figuratively and literally. This story brings it home more than ever to me. You can believe I’ll be having my boys read this entry tonight after dinner!

    Its so sad to read you never saw your Japanese-American buddy again. Like you stated, he was just another American, but just as now, Nations have knee-jerk reactions in situations like that. I am still amazed at the relative tolerance all middle-easterners were generally shown since 2001. I pray we can continue, as a society, to learn from past mistakes and avoid judging the innocent as guilty without due facts and suspicions. My manager in the auto design biz was the son of Nisei parents who were interred during WWII and according to him, they wouldn’t talk about it. They were fiercely loyal to the US, but still felt like, even if they took a “taking one for the team” attitude, they lost some of their humanity in the process. I think they had everything taken by the government in the war, but they became farmers and were productive citizens all their lives.

    Thanks again Bob for sharing an important piece of history with your fans. I know I learn more about my own times and motivations in reading your trials of life.

  • justjohn

    Wow, this is an awesome story Bob! Hitting on the internment of the Japanese and the Battle of Los Angeles in the same article. Very powerful to hear this from someone that was there.

    Thanks for sharing your stories with us!

  • chesirecat

    Thank you for the great story Mr. Gurr, it paints a picture of what actual life was like during World War 2. So much of what has happened since World War 2 has been shaped by the war. I sometimes think of Disneyland as America celebrating the world digging itself out of the mess following the war.

    During World War 2, a lot of “ends justifying the means” type of stuff happened, after all, it was an all out battle for survival. Had Hitler kept control of a large part of Europe, and survived, he would have eventually gotten a nuclear weapon as Nazi scientists were making progress with the bomb. I don’t doubt that he would have dropped the bomb on New York, L.A., wherever.

    I was a terrible wrong that Japanese Americans were rounded up, I think that the thinking at the time was that if the US government violated the rights of a million Japanese Americans . . . just to keep one spy detained for the duration of the war, then it was worth it. If that one spy might have passed along the Manhattan project to Japan or Germany, years before the end of the war, we’d be living in a different world. Though I guess security was *very* strict with the Manhattan Project, a lot of times folks working on one part didn’t know what folks working on another part were doing, it was compartmentalized that much.

    Doesn’t justify what the government did, of course, and rightful restitution should, and some has been made, but you can see guess how paranoid the G-men were that Hitler would take over Europe, and that the Axis would eventually get around to war with the US. Ethics went out the window on both sides, though it was the Nazis that did the worst stuff with genocide level war crimes.

  • Tinkerbell

    What a fabulous story, thank you! I really enjoy reading about that time in our history. I think we could all learn a lot from pulling together like people on the homefront did back then. There are so many valuable lessons to be learned from that spirit.