World War II

The Home Front - and The USO

... and a top prize in the jitterbug contest!

by Bernadette Mahoney

World War II was definitely in the air when my high school class (l940) graduated. I was attending Malden Business School on December 7, 1941, when our whole world turned upside down. I joined a club at the Malden YWCA called the Malden Minute Maids, formed to run chaperoned dances for servicemen on Friday nights. We posted information about our dances on the bulletin board of the "Buddies Club" (USO) on the common and a few girls were assigned to go pick up the servicemen who had signed up and bring them to the Y, (Gas rationing prevented us from using a car.)

The servicemen who came to our dances were very young and missed home. As one Canadian sailor whose ship was in Boston for repairs said "Sundays I would sit in a lounge chair, put my feet up and read the funnies. "We had a lounge chair and the funnies so that was easy. It was also easy to get him and his buddies dates to go bowling or to the movies during the time their ship was here.

A competely new experience awaited the two Jewish sailors from Brooklyn when they called on New Year's Day to take us up on our promise to take them sightseeing. They got invited to dinner with our guests instead. Our guests were a couple who lived down the street and the man's brother, a priest, Father Eugene Bailot. The sailors were fascinated by our Christmas tree. They looked at everything on the tree and under it. We went into gales of laughter as they tried to figure out what you'd do with a pair of knit "socks" open at both ends. (Knee warmers we had given my mother.) They sang along when Father played carols on the piano. They must have enjoyed the experience because they accepted an invitation to dinner at our guests' home for the following week. Note: Father joined the army as a chaplain a short time later. I like to think he got a head start with the two sailors.

Before long servicemen's organizations invited us to all kinds of dances. Sailors whose ships were in Boston would pool their money and hire a ballroom at one of the hotels to have a dance party. Thinking of those dances brings back memories.

One night we were invited to the Vendome Ballroom. We all received corsages. The band sounded great. The young sailor who asked me to enter a jitterbug contest with him seemed nice. It looked like a fun evening ahead. Then, when my partner and I got onto the dance floor, I discovered he was drunk. He must have arrived drunk because only soft drinks were served at the dance. Boy, I had to do some fancy footwork to keep from getting stepped on. Of course, I had had some experience keeping out from under the boots of the Tennessee mountain boys who were wearing shoes for the first time. Oh well, I thought, we will be eliminated right away. As the couples disappeared from the dance floor, my heart sank. And then there were only three. As the judge stood behind each couple, the clapping and cheering indicated the winner. Yes, you guessed it! My partner and I won! How could this happen? Maybe people thought it was a new dance step. But it was more likely they thought we were a couple of clowns acting crazy. Who knows? Anyway, I won a pair of white leather gloves and all my toes were intact.

One of the most memorable invitations was from the men on an aircraft carrier. They sent the aircraft off (who knows where) and we danced on the deck. Now that was a ballroom! With lights along the border of the deck and the dark sky beyond, it was like dancing on a platform floating in the middle of the ocean. We had a glorious night of dancing under the stars and, after the dancing, one of the officers took us on a tour of this huge ship. It was so big that I wondered how the men found their way through the maze of corridors. Everything about this ship was big, even the galley, but what really got our attention was the thousands of pounds of butter there not even refrigerated. The officer told us that the butter often became rancid. What a waste! Our tour guide felt sorry for us civilians who had to endure all the shortages, I guess, because he offered us a pound of butter. I didn't hesitate. I was glad I always carry a large handbag. What a night! A grand evening of dancing and a pound of butter to take home!

We had some wonderful times at those dances. We met a wide variety of servicemen from as far away as Australia. We danced with them for one evening only and then never saw them again.

However, when a barracks was built near the Schrafft's Candy Factory in Charlestown to train an airborne division, all that changed. The division held dances at the barracks every week for both officers and enlisted men. We got to know everyone at the camp especially Tony, the cook. Tony baked the biggest and best pies and cakes you've ever tasted -- no diets allowed! Army trucks picked us up and brought us home. I can still remember how cold it was riding in the back of those trucks in the winter. Even with the flap down, it was bitter cold. The men gave us the blankets off their beds for the ride home which helped. If the men didn't get leave at Christmas or Thanksgiving, we took them to our homes. I remember Christmas at my brother's house. The "men" spent most of the day playing with the electric trains my nephew got for Christmas. When summer came, the men challenged us to a game of baseball but when it was time to start the game, they decided it would be more fun to have mixed teams. My team didn't win but we sure had a lot of fun. The officers let us use their quarters to shower and change before we had dinner with the men in the mess hall. They were wonderful guys and it was very sad when it was time for them to go overseas. Days after I told my nephew they were flying overseas, he told me a big plane had flown over his house and the "boys" had waved to him from the window.

One Thusday I got a call from the Y. Someone at the Buddies' Club had put Thursday's date instead of Friday's on the posted notice of our dance. Some ten servicemen had signed up before the error was discovered. What to do? I called one of our chaperones, Mrs. Glaze, who said to round up ten girls and she would open her home. That was the start of a wonderful spin-off group. Mrs. Glaze, with the help of two neighbors opened her home to a small group every Thursday night for at least two years. Over those years some 2,000 individual servicemen came to Mrs. Glaze's home. In good weather, one of her neighbors opened her home too so that we could use her player piano or the miniature bowling alley in her back yard. If Christmas and New Year's fell on Thursday, Mrs. Glaze and her neighbors would cook a dinner and, of course, there was always a Thanksgiving dinner.

A blizzard was brewing one Thursday night when we went to pick up the servicemen at the Buddies' Club. By the time we got to Malden Square, the weather was really bad and no buses were running. At this time I was working as secretary in the law offices of the Mayor of Malden and he had just appointed as Police Commissioner a young man whom I knew. The only thing I could think of to do was to call the commissioner to see if he could help us out. He told me to stay put and he would think of something. In a very short time, Malden's Paddy Wagon pulled up. The driver got out and said "I understand you have a transportation problem." With much laughter, we piled into the back of the wagon. Snow drifts were getting higher and higher and there were no snow plows in sight so we knew there was no possible way we were going anywhere that night. It was a winter wonderland outside but it was cosy inside. At first, everyone was dancing as usual. But, as the night wore on, some would have spurts of energy and dance while others talked quietly in groups. Most of us, however, found a place to curl up and try to sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, Mr. Glaze came trudging through the snowdrifts. He had walked from Boston where he worked the night shift at the B&M Railroad. Mrs. Glaze's food supply ran out just about dawn and, when the sun came out, everyone began to stir. We assessed the situation and decided we would follow the snow plow which was just starting down the hill into Malden Square. I worked in Malden Square so I went to work. When the local paper came out, we discovered that some reporter had read the police blotter which had recorded the comings and goings of the Paddy Wagon. We had made the news -- the Malden Evening News, that is.

Sometimes the boys would ask us to write to them because they loved to get mail. One day the war became real and horrible to me. One of the letters I had written came back to me with a black stamp on the envelope, DECEASED. I sat down and cried not just for that particular young man but for all the wonderful servicemen we had met and who went off to war never to return.

Many of the men who attended the parties at Mrs. Glaze's home found their way back there. I doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Glaze had many weekends completely to themselves. To the young homesick ones, she was like a mother. She wrote letters to their mothers and she even carried on a correspondence with at least one mother in England.

Pretty soon the wounded began coming home and we were invited to the Naval Hospital to a dance. This gave Mrs. Glaze an idea. She got the Red Cross to bring a small group of wounded veterans to the Thursday night home party. Recently, when my sister's granddaughter got a "swing" tape for her birthday, we were reminded of an incident that happened on one of the first nights we had a group from the hospital. I was dancing with a fellow who told me he and his sister were a professional dance team before the war. I thought "oh sure!" I had to admit he was a good dancer, but a professional dance team? Someone put on a jitterbug record and he took off. Everyone made room and the first thing I knew he was bouncing me off one hip and the other and then right over his head! I wanted to scream "I believe you. I believe you. Just put me down." This incident is even more exciting if you picture Mrs. Glaze's small ranch house with ceilings that were only seven feet high.

Once the Red Cross began bringing the wounded veterans to the home parties, Mrs. Glaze's fame spread. She was interviewed on a morning radio show as the Woman of the Week and the Globe sent a photographer and a reporter to one of the parties in preparation for an article in the Sunday Globe.

We had the parties until the servicemen came home including Mrs. Glaze's son, Bud, who had spent the war in the Italian Alps on ski patrol. Only Bud didn't come home to Malden. He came home by way of Hawaii and California. Since his father was then retired, he talked his mother and father into retiring to California. In July of 1947, my sister and I visited them in California. Mrs. Glaze was still corresponding with her "boys". She arranged a meeting with Glenn Fisher on Catalina Island where he was working for the summer. I corresponded with Mrs. Glaze until her death in the fifties.

March 1, 1999

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