World War II

I remember: Page 1, Newark News, Dec. 8, 1941

... everything changed -- and nothing changed.

from the SilverStringers

Once again we rummage through the attic-- and find age-old memories of some momentous occasion. Like this scrap of newsprint, for instance. It was discovered in the collection of Douglas M. Norris, who with wife Ruth and two sons, lived on Cochrane Street after World War II.

There, among Mr. Norris's effects, was a tattered brown envelope, containing a clipping of the front page of the Newark (New Jersey) Evening News, dated December 8, 1941.

It was the morning issue, on the day following the Sunday, December 7th sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy and air force. It was the day we entered what was to become World War II.

During that time our family lived in Bloomfield, New Jersey, some 15 miles due west of Times Square in New York City. It wasn't long before word got out that Axis submarines had sunk two freighters within sight of Long Island and New York City. Now that brought the war right to our doorstep.

My father (too old for army service) volunteered as a warden and was issued a white helmet with a Civilian Defense emblem on it. It was his duty, during practice air raid drills, to insure that not a single light was showing anywhere in our neighborhood. Blankets covered all windows so we could have a dim light in the house. We listened to the radio to find out if this was a practice air drill or (heavens forbid) the real thing.

Soon we were issued gasoline ration cards -- I believe it was for a couple of gallons a week -- and we had to put an "A" sticker on the front windshield of our 1940 Pontiac. No sticker, no gas. And you had to surrender precious gasoline coupons before the man would pump any fuel.

In short order, things like rubber tires were unavailable as the nation geared up quickly for the war. Meat was rationed, and we were issued ration stamps, based on the number of people in the family. I remember the market {we called it Mike's Black Market) where Mom always shopped; Mike would cheat a little for Ruthie, for his regular customers.

Douglas and I were too young for the draft. He was a freshman and I was in fifth grade in 1941. I remember the New Jersey State Guard, with their old-style helmets and bolt-action rifles, marching past our Brookdale Grammar School. Those part-time soldiers were quickly swept up, shipped to army training bases all over the country. They were the nucleus of the new American Army, the first to be shipped out to the war zones.

Everything changed and nothing changed. We were still a family, there was enough food on the table, and once a month in good weather two fathers would somehow get their gas tank filled in order to take us Scouts to camp -- which was some 70 miles across the state, near the Delaware Water Gap. Scouting was important then, and like the war effort, we boys struggled to learn, to earn merit badges. It was almost a junior army, for we were always ready to lend young bodies to the war effort.

Not infrequently we senior Scouts would hitch-hike the 70 miles to Camp Ochsner, our troop cabin. Times were different then, and people weren't afraid to pick up hitch-hikers. At 14 years old, a retiring army colonel gave me (through my father) a .45 revolver, which I'd pack on our trips to Ochsner.

(The first time I ever fired an automatic handgun was in Uncle Carl's woods, in Valdosta, Georgia, in the summer of 1941. It was our last motor trip south (from New Jersey) until 1946. I was ten years old, and scared to death of that .32 automatic. But a couple of years later I got that .45, and became quite the shot -- the only place I could shoot it was when we kids hitch-hiked across Jersey, to our private Camp Ochsner.

Years later, Lorry and I motored through northwest Jersey, and visited that 1939 scout camp. It was still there, intact, with more modern outhouses -- but not much had changed. Kittatiny Mountain still rose abruptly, across the old, gravel road; the Delaware Water Gap was on the other side of the ridge.

December 6, 2013

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