My Memories of World War II Homefront
I was born in mid North Dakota in the depression era and grew up in a large, poor rural family. Thanks to a government program I was able to go to a Teacher's College in the Eastern part of the state to get a 2 year teacher's certificate. It was there that I met my future husband, who was in the same financial situation as I but wanting a music career, not teaching. He joined the National Guard for financial reasons and it decided his career for him. He was Federalized and became career military while I went on my way teaching.
After he was far into pilot training he decided he wanted wedded bliss so invited me to join him in wedlock in Moultrie, Georgia when he "got his wings".
And so began my military career--or so I considered it as I followed him for the rest of his 23 years of meandering for Uncle Sam and toted 4 children with me.
My trip started from mid North Dakota and took me by bus, with 12 station changes, to Moultrie, Georgia. Now, remember, I am an inexperienced, naive, untraveled 22 year old with 2 years of college and 2 years of teaching to prepare me for life in the wild world. I had never seen black people, never knew there were homosexuals until we had two children, nor knew how to act on my own. There were many Gi's traveling and they were allowed on the bus first, so would often offer to take my bag on and save a seat. Many were standing as the busses were crowded. The country was on the move. Fortunately I made the trip safely and was welcomed into the home of a widow lady who had befriended my "intended" and there I stayed until we were married.
Plans had been made for our wedding to take place in the military chapel on the base, but at the last minute a buddy of Roy's (Chuck) who was to be his best man, asked that we be married at the same time as he and his lady friend. It didn't matter to him that he was engaged to a girl back in Ohio. The new lady's parents were members of a church in Moultrie, so hurried plans were made and we got married by a preacher in a church with a small group of family around. Their marriage lasted over 50 years, when we last had contact, and we were able to visit the church the month of our 50th anniversary.
Two days later we were on our way to Montgomery, Alabama where Roy was sent to instruct British flying cadets. With only suitcases and a barracks bag as possessions, we stayed in our first air conditioned hotel and moved into an efficiency apartment that was decorated all in pink. A large mansion had been made into apartments for the influx of military personnel and were all decorated in different colors--so no numbers were needed. It was close to the main part of town so our entertainment consisted of movies and eating out. We could walk that far and a small grocery allowed us to charge goods that we needed until pay day. Oh, what a thrill that was!! It included the pay, flying allowance, spousal allowance and clothing allowance!!
We were able to find a two bedroom apartment and get comfortably settled in when orders came to move. It was so sudden that even the groceries I had just bought were taken with us. In 24 hours all necessary moves were made, including closing utilities, lease, packing and on our way to Starkville, Arkansas. The orders were for immediate transfer so we drove all night and arrived at the hotel in Starkville to be told the base had been closed. We sat for two weeks at the hotel and enjoyed the friendship of a local couple who remained friends for years and took us to see the area, including getting me into a school to visit and listen to the local church's gospel singing.
Finally a transfer came sending us to Panama City, Florida. Once again we were living in a hotel--this time for 2 months. During that time I tool a train home to North Dakota to see family and Roy lived at the Officers Quarters on the Base. It was Tyndall Field and they were flying the planes that trained gunners to shoot targets.
We finally got into a two bedroom house with another couple and their 10 month old son. I got a job working in the Selective Service Office so the living was easier. Then we moved to a tourist court that had been made into permanent living for the military families. There were 5 cottages in a semi-circle and the couples there became quite close. There was just one baby in the group and it was there we lived when our first child, Constance Lee, was born in January, 1944. I had no problems but it was the custom of the time what I couldn't sit up for 4 days, out of bed for 10, and had to beg to go home on the 13th day. It was only that my mother was there that it was allowed. She had come on her first trip to Florida for the birth. It was not her first grandchild, but I was the baby of the family.
When Connie was two months old Roy answered "the call" and was shipped out in 12 hours to the West Coast to go fly against the Japanese in the Pacific. When they arrived in Fresho they were told there were no orders for them and they sat for two weeks. Meanwhile I had loaded Connie in our 1940 Nash and drove to Iowa where my brother lived. He went with me then, to North Dakota. He said he didn't want me on the road alone, but I think he was lonesome for the family there and wanted a time for fun. My mother was living in a small apartment--one of several in the lower level of the local hotel and I rented a room there and was near her. Roy called to tell of the change for him and when he was sent to Lincoln, Nebraska to prepare for fighting the Germans instead, I loaded Connie again, and went the 500 miles. We were there for just a matter of weeks when he was given a crew and sent to Sioux City, Iowa for bombing training in a B-17. We found a small upstairs apartment in a private home and made good friends with the owners which lasted for years. There were 3 other crew wives that came and the entire few bonded for a lifetime. They remained close as they aged and met often for reunions and there are still 4 of the crew alive and keeping in touch.
At the end of about 3 months the crew was ordered overseas, to make their take off from Langley Field, Virginia. Roy took me to Bismarck, North Dakota and got Connie and I situated in an apartment there. I was 60 miles from my hometown and knew a few people there. I rented a cozy, roomy furnished apartment from a friend's mother and who lived in the upstairs level. We were fast friends and she had a girl a few months older than Connie. She, herself, was a few years older than I so became the older sister I needed to look after me and keep me in line. I was left with the car so was quite independent. Some wives of service men were left without transportation but Roy always left the car with me. I was, and am still, most grateful. We kept in touch through v-mail and listened to the radio news and watched the newscasts on the screen when we went to the movies. There was an active Service Wives Club in Bismark and I joined and found companionship there and made lifelong friendships.
In May he returned. I met him in Minneapolis and we went for a quick overnight to Chicago to see the wife and parents of the chief of the crew. He had been killed on a mission while in Italy and Roy felt it necessary to know the details.
So once again we were on the road. This time to Seattle to see family and then to California for R&R--two weeks at a rest resort. It was good for him to get back to normal living and people and to being part of a family again. I had a sister near who generously allowed Connie to stay with them for the time we were at the resort. Then the orders came sending us to Memphis, Tennessee--Ferry Command.
My memories are a bit vague about that time in Memphis, other than that we lived with a couple with no children in a large, old home with a huge sloping lawn that the men tried to keep up. We were there on VJ Day--the day honored the Japanese surrender. Roy was flying for the Ferry Command and flying all kinds of planes all over the country. A transfer sent us to Ft. Dix, New Jersey in time for the birth of Charles LeRoy II. My mother experienced her first airplane ride and came from North Dakota to be with us. Gutsy lady!! The baby was induced because the New York obstetrician used the excuse that he was ready to be born and the weather was 'iffy' and we lived 40 miles from the base, but I still think he didn't want to give up his weekend.
Our time there was short and in just a few months we were sent back to Memphis. Because housing was very scare, we lived in a rundown motel. When Grandpa Childs came for a surprise visit he was shocked and invited Roy to bring the two children and I to Anacortes, Washington to live with him. He was alone in a two bedroom house. So with "the sturdiest trailer around" and cheap, too (not so!!) we started out. The trailer broke down and with a spare tire that didn't fit the rims and no tires available that size, so it was put on a railway box car and sent west. My stay with Grandpa was most pleasant and Roy's relatives made the children and I most welcome. It all went well until two married sisters of his decided to leave their husbands and come home and the two bedroom house wan't big enough. So I told Roy I was coming to Memphis, housing or not!
I was still driving the 1940 Nash and when I went to have it serviced in Portland, Oregon, where I had a sister, the dealer said I had no business taking two children all the way across the country in it--this was winter of 1947. He had gotten one more car than ordered in the newly post war requests and allowed me to buy it, with his recommendation and Commercial Credit. It was the first post war Nash Rambler--4 door, bright red with a white top. It was classy and I felt like a million dollars driving it.
It got lots of attention across the states as there weren't many to be seen. The children were 1 and 3 and were perfect travelers. I had a good radio and it even had a clock. I went south to California and east from Santa Ana, where I had a brief stop with a sister. I drove late, as the children slept and the music was good and we all slept late in the morning. Housing had been found I was most happy to get to Memphis, safely.