It was 1944. It was wartime.
The patriotism was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
A rotund and-darn- proud- of- it, Kate Smith was belting out God Bless America causing a lump to form in all our throats, while a skinny kid from Jersey named Frank Sinatra was creating mass hysteria with millions from the bobby-sox set, including a college freshman from Brooklyn named Betty, my future mother.
That fall, while my mother polished up her saddle shoes, my future father Marvin would be spit-polishing his army boots in far off New Guinea.
Cold War Warriors
Our future Cold war warriors were busy battling a hot war.
We liked Ike, not as president but as a supreme Commander in Europe, the darling of D Day. While a tall lanky Congressman from Texas Lyndon Johnson was busy bellowing in the House, a bespectacled former haberdasher from Missouri, Harry-What’s- His- Name- Truman was FDR’s unlikely Vice Presidential running mate in Roosevelt’s 4th term bid.
A smirking, poker playing Naval Lt Dick Nixon was serving in the South Pacific, not far from where another young Naval Lieutenant, Jack Kennedy was recovering from his heroics.
But for true profiles in Courage, no one could hold a candle to those brave, Stalingrad-sacrificing, red, white and blue Russians. Led by twinkly-eyed , pipe smoking “Uncle Joe” Stalin they were, our comrades in fighting the Nazis.
Use It Up, Wear it Out or Do Without
It had been fifteen long and depressing years since Black Thursday when Wall Street came tumbling down leaving us scrambling just to make ends meet. The good ol’ American belief that hard work leads to prosperity was shaken to the core leaving our confidence shattered.
But by 1944, thanks to the war, folks were earning more money than they ever did. Deep pockets jangled with money and everyone was just itching to buy something… only there was a catch. Even though we had the dough to burn, we were restricted on how to spend. As the war drew on nearly every item Americans ate, wore used or lived in, was rationed ,regulated, or simply unavailable.
Vital to Victory
The war required a great mobilization of American society directed and financed by Uncle Sam who suddenly had a big shopping list.
Each of us was a vital part of the war effort and each day we were helping the final victory by giving and conserving.
With a big job ahead taking care of his family about ten million men and women, his job was to feed’em and clothe em and doctor’em and outfit em, from the top of their GI haircuts to the toes of their regulation shoes.
Industries were working day and night- and there still was not enough to give him everything he needed so we were asked to “help fill his list first and fast by going light on yours” as scarce material was allocated, civilian goods were stopped or limited in production.
Rubber, fuel, metals? Fuhhgeddaboutit! Which would win the war quicker Mr. Civilian? A gallon of gas in the tank of your Ford or in an army tank. Besides gas rationing, folks had to get along on pre-war tires and take good care of your pre-war car since there were no new automobiles to buy . The roads of tomorrow were all but closed. That short window of sustained speed was shut down as the speed limit was reduced to 35 mph.
Make Food Fight for Freedom
The Office of Price Administration had devised a ration system based on a point system and we became a nation of ration-wise housewives . We may not have counted calories but we sure counted ration points
My grandmother became a regular soldier of the kitchen having learning how to meet her daily problems of rationing and shortages, conserving food and prevent the waste of a single morsel. We didn’t concern ourselves with Low fat and Fat Free. Fats were highly valued and preciously saved.
Even with meatless Tuesdays there simply wasn’t a lot of meat, butter or eggs to go around! Many could afford a big juicy T bone steak if they wanted to, yet they couldn’t buy it because of rationing.
Besides which, what good was a steak dinner without a soothing cigarette to finish the meal with? There was an awful cigarette shortage too! My mother tolerated living without chocolate candy bars and learned to live with only an occasional cup coffee, but it was the damn cigarette shortage that drove her batty.
It was enough to drive you to drink. Except there was no hootch. It had been 10 years since the repeal of Prohibition but you’d hardly know it what with the darn whiskey shortage. Distillers were in 100% production of alcohol for explosives and other war materials.
Produce Conserve Share Play Square
We knew there only one way the job could get done -each of us must give everything whether its on the home front or in in a war plant making the ammunition and tools our men need to win the war !
All over America workers were helping speed up production for victory and their health was more vitally important than ever before. It was every Americans patriotic duty to stay war healthy especially since there was a shortage of doctors too.
There could be no letting down, no slacking until the peace was signed, until our men returned.
Ol’ Tojo, may have thought he hit us below the belt, gloating that: “American’s exercise of freedom to choose” had made us soft and weak and unfit for war making…but boy what a sucker he turned out to be!.
Masters of mass production, Americans began retooling to become masters of mass destruction.
Manufacturers were working night and day, turning radios into radar, and Fords into fighter plane. General Motors would take a detour on the road to the World of Tomorrow to supply our fighting men.
Even when things became available, Americans were encouraged to thoughtful buying. Meaning, going without the things you really don’t need. And when you absolutely had to buy…taking good care of everything you owned so it would last longer and require less frequent replacements. All this would save labor and vital war materials, for the men on our fighting fronts.
Wise buying, thoughtful buying would help in another way too.
Beyond the War Waits Happiness
It saved money that could then be invested in War Bonds to help that kid in the foxhole…and also …give you a nest egg for those dreamed about, post war purchases that even a year before the war ended, were temptingly featured in colorful, advertisements and articles in all the magazines
…“Beyond the war waits happiness. Engineers and scientists were busy devoting their toil and genius to the weapons of war,” manufacturers reminded us somberly, but in the same breath teasingly hinted that “already in their laboratories and assembly lines, the fruits of their efforts held un-dreamed of promise for the future. When peace come on earth returns will be ready with new knowledge and new skills to take the lead again in bringing you new comforts and conveniences and entertainment for that bright new world”
Betty and her parents, like millions of Americans, had put their money into war Bonds so that after victory they could stop dreaming and start owning!
For Our Fighting Boys
With Uncle Sam’s pledge that every man and woman should have the freedom to make dreams come true when peace comes, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
Step On the Gas
Not only did he pass the GI Bill of rights that spring promising millions of our fighting boys generous government aid for higher education and home buying, he wisely approved a plan for the building of inter-regional highways to help these returning heroes and their families get to their spanking new suburban homes
With his eye on the Post War future and the future of his fighting boys the golden age of the American dollar was hatched at a hotel in New Hampshire that summer .Retooling the world economy at the Bretton Woods Conference in July, assured that our future would be paved with gold.
This was what the boys were fighting for!
Copyright (©) 20011 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved