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Monday, 21 November 2011

It’s Been A Long, Long Time

By Madonna Dries Christensen of On Worlud Pond

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I was six years old. I have no recollection of the date that would live in infamy - December 7, 1941. Within months, my two oldest brothers were in the Navy.

My memories of those years are clouded and fragmented. We used ration books for meat, gasoline, coffee, sugar, butter, nylon stockings and shoes. We recycled newspapers, tin cans, rubber and metal scraps. Small banners appeared in household windows with a star for each member of the family in the war; a gold star for those killed.

Several families my parents knew lost a son. A billboard in the park listed the names of servicemen and women from the county - those who’d died had a special column with a gold star. Years later, I wondered about the term Gold Star Mother. Was a mother’s grief considered greater than that of a father, a sibling, a spouse?

Santa Claus brought my sister and me Little Army Nurse kits. We did our duty while my brothers played war games. At the Royal Theatre, The March Of Time newsreels brought the battles home. I waited impatiently for the movie to begin.

Real life air raid drills excited us. We called them blackouts. When the siren sounded we turned off all lights; even the streetlights blinked out. Wardens patrolled the neighborhoods looking for violations.

I didn’t realize how little chance there was that a rural town in northwest Iowa would be bombed. There was an airbase in Sioux City, about 60 miles away, and on the rare occasion a plane thundered overhead, we scanned the sky for a glimpse.

One afternoon, an army plane crashed on a nearby farm. My older brother recalls, “I was in music class and we heard a tremendous crash. After school we learned the news and raced out to see the wreckage.”

In addition to his memory, I resorted to a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from World War II. It tells me that the time was January 1943. The plane was a two-motor Martin B-26 bomber en route from Florida to Omaha, Nebraska. When trouble erupted, they were instructed to fly to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They didn’t make it; six crew members and one passenger parachuted to safety before the plane crashed and exploded in a field.

My two older sisters worked in Sioux City, in a dry cleaner near the airbase.

One time, they came home to visit bringing a drawstring from a pajama which they’d taken as a souvenir from Jimmy Stewart’s laundry. To shore up this memory, I checked Google:

”Early in World War II, the U.S. Army established a major training base at Sioux City. The Air Base became one of the prime locations for B-17 heavy bomber basic flight qualification training as well as home to various support and maintenance units. Hollywood actor and Pilot-Captain Jimmy Stewart was posted to Sioux City with his squadron in 1943, where he and his crew completed their B-17 qualification prior to deployment overseas.”

In April of 1945, President Roosevelt died. A couple of weeks later, Adolf Hitler shot himself. I recall those events; I was nearly 10.

The 1940s remain my favorite era for novels, movies, and music. Glenn Miller’s orchestra, Sinatra, The Andrew’s Sisters, Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, The White Cliffs Of Dover, We’ll Meet Again, I’ll Be Seeing You.

My clearest war memory involves a song. Both my brothers had married and one sister-in-law lived with us for a while. One day after the war had ended, Iris received a letter from my brother. “Joe’s coming home,” she announced after reading the V-Mail.

From the radio came the trumpet of Harry James accompanying Helen Forest singing, “Kiss me once, and kiss me twice, and kiss me once again; it’s been a long, long, time.”

With a smile that defined her personality, Iris said, “It has been a long, long time.”

Madonna Dries Christensen Photo

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Isn't it interesting how age group have such memories in common. Your story could have been written about my memories as a little girl growing up in Michigan at the time you describe. Your story certainly brought back different names in my memories and fortunately no one in my family was old enough or too old to join up. We even had an airplane, similar to the one you described, crash in our neighbors corn field. All but one of the neighbor boys came home from that war.
Thank you for reminding me about those years.
Michigan Grandma

I was ten years older than you and I remember those years of our country at war. I was in High School and we didn't have a Senior Prom, but we had a scrap pile in front of the school that grew to nearly the height of the school. In addition to rationing (One minor correction - nylon stockings weren't rationed; they just vanished as the nylon was needed to make parachutes) we had scrap drives, victory gardens, and we bought war bonds.

You brought back memories.

Thanks, I am about 1 year older than Madonna and also share these events. Add to the rationing scene that we had to turn in an empty toothpaste tube in order to purchase a full one. Oh, that new margarine stuff came in white with a packet of coloring to mix in to make it look like butter. I believe that was due to resistance from the dairy industry.

To this day I frequently do a double take when I see trousers with baggy legs. Cuffs had disappeared during the war to conserve fabric.

War Bonds. Seems to me that Wednesday was Stamp Day in my grade school. We bought stamps for 10 cents (or a quarter?)& put them in a stamp book that would be traded in for a $25 War bond.

I am a tear older than you and I DO remember gathering around the radio to hear the announcements about Pearl Harbor on that fateful day--it is emblazoned in my memory just as JFK's and MLK's deaths are. One of my memories is of going to sleep with the nightly news on the radio, then dreaming of airplanes crash-landing in a field outside our house. It only happened in my dreams, thank goodness.

Year, not tear! (Freudian, maybe.)

I thought "tear" was poetic..I am a l94l arrival so lots of my memories are pictures of my Father and so many uncles and first cousins of my Father in uniform..the day my Father came home, l945, a neighbor's husband, also Navy, was being waked at home in our tenement and for years that was a solemn memory at all holidays..The widow lived in our building with us until it was torn down for the whole Lincoln Center project..her name was Anna Donahue and I never see a movie or read something about WW II that her face doesn't come to my mind..I do remember the ration stamp books and seeing my Mother pass them to the butcher and her little book was in our buffet for years and years...all of the relatives in all of those pictures came home from the war...what a great line Lyn: "It only happened in my dreams, thank goodness. I just love these writings and all your comments...Happy Thanksgiving to all...

Love the memories Madonna. My folks said they didn't remember where they were on Pearl Harbor Day; but every single morning of my 1950's childhood, I remember my Dad grabbing the morning paper off of the front stoop, unrolling it so he could read it - & asking out loud: "Well, are we at war yet?" And now that you jog my memory I do remember hearing the drawstring story -- but don't think I ever saw it in the house. Wonder what did happen to it.

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