Recently I saw a political cartoon that really struck me. Everyone has read about the “Greatest Generation.” I do not qualify for that distinction as I was an eight-year-old schoolboy at the time of Pearl Harbor. The cartoon depicted the fact that 18-20-year-olds in 1944 were storming the Normandy beaches in France or were fighting in the jungles of the South Pacific islands.
Today’s 18-20-year-old college students are cowering in fear on campus, afraid of being offended. Sharp contrast.
Today’s young people have all the latest electronics at their disposal — iPhones, iPads, computers, Xbox, Madden Sports games, 52-inch HD TVs and the like. In the 1940s, there was no Internet. We had radios and board games like Monopoly, chess and checkers. That was it.
Let me paint a picture of my life and culture in the 1940s as a war raged on two continents. The main difference between folks in Louisville and in London, England was that we were not being bombed every night in Louisville by the German Luftwaffe or by V-2 Rockets.
Communications were simple and more than adequate. Most families had a party line on their land-line phone. That meant that several families had the use of the same telephone line. Movies were our greatest source of entertainment.
Every Friday or Saturday, we all gathered at the Uptown or Bard Theater in Louisville to see the latest war or cowboy movie or a weekly serial episode of Batman, Flash Gordon or Superman. A bonus feature was the Movie Tone News where the latest war news shot by combat photographers was shown.
We would all cheer when there was a great victory on the battlefield.
Cost for the movie was 15 cents. Afterward, we might splurge and go by Cream Top Creamery and get a milkshake, if we had the extra money. Oh, and for real fun, in the summer the neighborhood kids all gathered in the evening to play red rover and dodgeball. Pretty exciting stuff.
My home was very popular. My father played the piano. He would invite the neighbors in on the weekend, pass out song sheets and have a neighborhood sing-along. We loved it.
In order to support the war effort we did a variety of things. We did clothing, paper and canned-goods drives for recycling. Most families had a victory garden to grow vegetables to help out. Our garden was on the grounds of Highland Junior High School, across the street from our apartment.
We saved bacon grease, returned it to school where it was collected and used for making munitions. The iron trolley car tracks in the street were torn up to collect the steel to make tanks and guns. Meat was in short supply. There were meatless Fridays. We made our own butter spread from a plain block of white oleo margarine and colored it with the little yellow packet provided. Butter was not available.
Moms and sisters worked in the defense plants. My dad, an accountant by trade, worked at Jeff Boat making sub chasers for the Navy. Remember Rosie the Riveter? The men were all gone. Speaking of transportation, there were gas ration stickers for autos. Citizens were allowed to only buy a certain amount of gasoline based on whether they had an A, B or C sticker.
It defined the priority as to how much fuel you would be allowed to buy based on how important it was for you to drive your auto. We walked to elementary or junior high and took a bus downtown for high school.
The funny thing about those days was that we did not feel like we were being deprived of anything or that we were making any great sacrifices. It was just understood that that is the way it was, and, that was OK with us.
We adapted and accepted. We were not depressed. What was happening around us was more important than the minor inconveniences we had to endure.
Some of today’s youths might have to go into therapy if they had to deal with life the way we did. So, my advice is to get a grip and lighten up. You’ll be fine.
Douglass Jones of Lexington is an education reform consultant.