World War II

The way it was in Melrose - 1941

... wonderful memories

by  Len Dalton

In the auspicious year of 1941 the Roosevelt School on Vinton Street, Melrose, had grades starting with the fifth and going up to the eighth. Children spent their first four grades at the Warren School or, in my case, the D. W. Gooch School at Vinton and Maple Streets.

As World War II developed it was decided to close the old Franklin School at Franklin Square and most of those kids came to Roosevelt. The closing of Franklin was related to fuel shortages related to the War. To get to school a number of the children walked all the way from the Howard Street area. It was a good distance. My walk was about three-quarters of a mile from the end of Warwick Road at the Lynn Fells Parkway. That trip took place four times a day; to school in the morning; from school at noon and the same for the afternoon session.

Mind you, the kids at that time were the products of the worst depression the country had ever seen. Money was not easy to come by and many kids took jobs at stores, ran paper routes or magazine routes with regular customers. I ran a magazine route and at the same time I established an egg route. My father purchased cases of eggs at Harrow's in Reading and brought them home for me. With weekly customers I was able to sell from two to four cases of eggs a week and at the holidays I sold roasting chickens and turkeys. The business was very good for a kid in the sixth grade but a lot of work, too. It meant that I had to give up dances and parties, but the old bank account was getting impressive as well.

The reason I mention the depression is because the mindset of the kids in those days was nothing like the mindset of kids today. There was, of course, no television and the only transportation was by bus or train. Most of our travel was on foot unless Pop was willing to take us somewhere. That didn't happen very often with gas rationing as the war effort took most oil and gasoline. We made no complaint as that was the way things were and we had plenty of the old getup and go. Steam trains were very common and we used them to go to hockey games in Boston or to a movie. The train station was heated and comfortable. The ride to Boston was 25 cents as I remember.

Considering life for a youngster in those days involved much more physical activity than is the case today, athletics in Melrose produced outstanding teams and athletes throughout that time with coaches like Harold Poole, Dave Gavin and Henry Hughes. The football team of 1946, under Dave Gavin, was the product of depression era demands on kids. In spite of having to play all their games on the road, this football team won the Massachusetts Class A Championship. Unfortunately, my locker mate, Fred Greene, injured his spleen in the game with Beverly and died after two days. That was a blow to all of us as Fred was loved by all who knew him.

In Roosevelt School the teachers were outstanding. To start, in the sixth grade we had Miss Esther Hallington who left lasting impressions on all of us. As we got to the seventh grade, the wonderful principal, Charles Woodbury, retired and was replaced by Miss Esther Lyman. Miss Whitney in the seventh grade played the piano and the accordion and I can tell you she loved the children. In fact, Miss Whitney had taught the parents of many of my classmates! Arthur Simonds and Miss Gourley handled the gym classes and team sports with enthusiasm. Roosevelt had a dynamite baseball team called, The Trojans, who brought fear to the hearts of the competition. The Arts department under Miss Ruth Deal was so good that it produced an annual school book called, "The Rooseveltian" which was the envy of many. One of Miss Deal's students, Skip Potter, had outstanding gifts with artwork and eventually became a world class architect.

My English teacher, Miss Carney, asked me one day why I had failed to do my homework. I explained that I had been doing my egg route and was just too tired. She jokingly told the boy behind me to gonk me over the head with a ruler. Instead, he clobbered me so hard that I got up and started a fight! In no time I was in front of Charley Woodbury. He told Miss Carney, who was rightfully upset, to return to her class and then, in private, he asked me, "what happened?" I explained that the boy behind me overdid the knock on the head and I got mad and hit him. To my everlasting amazement, Charley laughed out loud but when he was finished he said, "Okay. Go back and try not to let it happen again. We have to keep the peace here." That was the end of it and I loved Charley Woodbury forever more.

As the war was well under way by then, we all regularly bought war stamps and placed them in small booklets which when filled with $18 worth of stamps were turned in for a $25 war bond. With no hesitation, the kids bought lots of them as a reflection of American patriotism which was universal then.

At one point the Roosevelt School children actually purchased a brand new Army Jeep vehicle for the war and the dedication took place right out in the playground with Miss Esther Lyman presiding.

Ceremony at Roosevelt School in 1943 when the Jeep was purchased by the pupils for the WWII effort. Middle serviceman, a Marine, was named Crawford.

At the Jeep dedication ceremony at Roosevelt School in 1943. The youngster in white jacket on the left side is author. Standing is- 1st, unknown, 2nd, Miss Esther Lyman and 3rd, Principal Charles Woodbury.

The emblem "V FOR VICTORY" was to be seen everywhere and was even painted on Upland Road opposite the school. Patriotism as we experienced it in those days has not been seen since. With ships being sunk by U-Boats right off our shores, people really felt threatened by the war and were prepared to go the limit with whatever sacrifices were required. It was a time not seen since when the very best was brought out in Melrosians. Often we saw teachers shed tears as they received word that former students were hurt or killed in the war. There were a lot of them, too.

Boys from Roosevelt fought all over the world in places like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

The blood of Melrose flowed in Europe as well as in the Pacific. God Bless these boys and their sacrifices. Teachers were no longer looked upon as just teachers. Now we could see and witness their love and affection for the students. I never forgot it.

Although we may never be witness to such a threat as World War II again, I can assure you that the fire that brought the Minutemen to Concord is still here in our veins and in the event of another such threat to our country and our way of life, we will respond with the same enthusiasm shown by our boys in that war.

Thanks for lis'nin'.

November 2, 2001 -- although the writing of Len's piece was done last summer, long before the terrorist attack on America. Editors

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