FEBRUARY 2009 – NO. 30
Recollections of a wartime childhood
It was so dark at times, but my mother inserted a small red light bulb into a table lamp, and it provided some light for a corner of the apartment. Any light that was visible from outside would be noticed by the patrolling air raid warden. I was only a child of about five or six, and I was frightened of the dark, but children in London, and elsewhere in Europe, had a lot more to fear than I did in 1940s New York City.
I was fascinated every night by the reflection of the giant searchlights flashing across the sky, on the watch for Axis aircraft. During the day there were air raid practices in school that seemed like a game. All the boys had to hide underneath their desks, and the girls were herded into the clothing cupboard. In other parts of the world such actions were serious matters.
While walking in the street with my grandmother, I recall seeing stars hanging in many apartment windows. She explained to me that they signified the home of a Gold Star Mother; a mother who had lost a son fighting somewhere in Europe or Asia. The effects of the world war were being felt in America.
It was a time of food and gas rationing; each family was allotted a certain number of stamps to purchase rationed items. I remember that there weren't any metal toy soldiers for sale and Christmas ornaments were skimpy. Those particular items meant something to me as a child, and that is why they stand out in my mind.
People were urged to invest in United States war bonds. My grandmother used to buy stamps that she pasted in what was known as a defense stamp album. When it was completed it could be turned in for a savings bond. I still have one of her partially filled books.
No one in my family served in the armed forces during World War II, but some of them served in the Merchant Marine. My father would be away from home for long periods of time, on one occasion more than a year. Letters that he sent home to my mother were perforated by the censors. One of my uncles was torpedoed in the Mediterranean Sea, but he was fortunate enough to be rescued by a Red Cross ship. When I heard that his ship had been sunk, I pictured him walking in the sea wearing an old iron diving suit.
I remember hearing about the atomic bomb that ended the fighting, but I did not realize its impact on the world. All I knew was that I didn't have to be afraid of the dark anymore.
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