Editor’s note: This was previously printed in the Pineville Independent Herald; it is being reprinted here by reader request.
On a peaceful Sunday on Dec. 7, 1941, life as Americans knew it was changed in a matter of hours when Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Naval station in Hawaii....Pearl Harbor.
Nobody knew what was happening exactly. Not even the government. As children, we always looked to our parents and other grown-ups for explanations. They had none.
Rumors were rampant. People didn’t know if our country was actually going to be invaded or not. Soon, parents with sons old enough to fight feared the worst. Their babies would be called to war.
One thing most people were certain of, that little upstart country would be taken care of very quickly. As we know now, that was not the case. It would settle into a long, hard war and the young men would be called upon to fight for the things we had taken for granted. Our family sent two of my brothers for the better part of four years. My oldest brother’s son was only a baby when he left for the army. He would not see his son again until he had fought with the 5th Army through North Africa and Sicily and Italy, then into Germany. Roger was ready for school when his daddy came home from the war.
That story was played out all over the community and, indeed, all over the country. We, like other families, proudly hung a little red, white and blue banner with two stars in our living room window. It proclaimed to the world that two heroes came from that house.
To children growing up in the war years, daily sacrifices were such a part of life that we didn’t realize at the time that they were sacrifices.
Meat was rationed. Coffee was rationed. Gas was rationed. Tires were rationed. Butter was rationed. Shoes were rationed. If you bought a tube of toothpaste, you had to have an empty tube to turn in. Most of the time, shoes didn’t last until the next ration stamp became valid. Money to pay for the shoes was hard enough to come by, but money was no good unless you had a ration stamp.
I remember Crews’ store getting some unrationed shoes. I had gone through the sole of my clodhoppers and there was no stamp, so I got a pair. They were not bad...until they got wet. Like you would expect paper to do, they disintegrated.
In school, it was difficult to to get gym shoes for the basketball team and even for phys ed. Most would make hideous black marks on the beautiful gym floor. That was like defiling a church.
Everybody did their part for the war effort; we helped on metal drives and paper drives. We joined the Junior Air Raid Wardens. Most of us were messengers and were given an armband with a red lightning bolt on it. I still have mine somewhere. During a practice blackout, we would meet at the home of C.A. Blankenship. He was an air raid warden. In a real air raid, it would be our job to deliver messages by bike or by foot if communications were knocked out.
People used to ask why in the world there was any worry about bombs being dropped on little old Pineville, West Virginia. Mr. Blankenship told us that the chemical plants in the Kanawha Valley would be a prime target for enemy bombers. If returning enemy planes had bombs left, they would likely drop them on any sign of light that they saw rather than carry them back. Sounded logical to me.
Anyway, such was life for kids who spent their formative years learning to sacrifice even if it was on a relatively small scale. We also knew that, compared to the men in service, crouched in a muddy foxhole, or worse, we were having it pretty good.
As we near the Christmas season, you might want to stop and remember Pearl Harbor. And remember the men and women who made it possible for you and yours to live the way we do today.