Life after Pearl Harbor

Stories from the home front

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK
Sharing stories at the St. Clairsville Senior Center about life in America in the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, from left, are Jenny Miller-Stewart, Rosalie Harris and Jean McMahon. Their memories include rationing, bracing for air raids, and supporting family in the service during World War II.

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK Sharing stories at the St. Clairsville Senior Center about life in America in the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, from left, are Jenny Miller-Stewart, Rosalie Harris and Jean McMahon. Their memories include rationing, bracing for air raids, and supporting family in the service during World War II.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — From the rationing of everyday items to the sense of fear that gripped them every time an airplane passed overhead, almost everyone old enough to remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has a story to tell about how it impacted them.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration that Dec. 7, 1941 was “a date which will live in infamy” still holds true 76 years later, as memories of the attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii — and the ways in which life changed as America was drawn into World War II — remain fresh in the minds of local residents, some of whom shared their recollections during a recent visit to the St. Clairsville Senior Center.

“My husband’s cousin was killed over there,” Jenny Miller-Stewart said, recalling a trip she and her husband took to Pearl Harbor in 1983. “All of a sudden, I set foot on there, and it was like a feeling comes over you that you can’t even explain. It’s eerie to say the least when you step on that memorial. His name was there, and we saw it.”

Rosalie Harris and Jean McMahon recalled the ration tickets issued during the war years.

“I remember the stamps. Some had tanks on (them), some had airplanes on,” Harris said, adding that everyday items such as nylons, coffee and sugar were also rationed. “The women couldn’t buy nylons because (the military) used them for parachutes.”

“There was no nylons to be had … ,” McMahon, who was 11 years old at the time of the attack, said. “I remember, we had to get coffee or gasoline. We had to have coupons because it was rationed. It was a shortage because I suppose they left it for the servicemen.”

Ron Jeffers Sr., who was 6 years old at the time, recalled the sense of solidarity and support throughout the country during that time, when even the youngest tried to do their part to aid in the war effort.

“I remember gathering up scrap iron. I had boxes for different kinds of things in the garage, different kinds of metals,” he said. “I never retired on it. I got 30 cents or 50 cents. … Everybody was gathering up scrap.”

Meanwhile, children would collect milkweed pods, a valuable stuffing material used in life preservers.

“We also had to pick (milkweed) for lifejackets. I remember picking that,” Jeffers said. “We went out and picked.”

Footage from the war also caught the imagination. Harris recalled her and her friends playacting the conflicts as children.

“We lived on Concord Street, in Martins Ferry, when the war ended. We used to play in a wooded area across the street from my house. We dug a foxhole to play, and one day a B-52 bomber flew over, just above the treetops, and we were standing there waving our arms at him, and he dipped his wings at us. So we thought that was so neat.”

“I loved watching all that stuff,” said Jeffers, ruminating on footage from combat.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, the sense of danger was ever-present in the precautions and training among civilians who viewed the grim images of devastated cities as World War II unfolded.

“We had (mock) air raids. We would hide,” Jeffers said. “We went and hid under desks.”

“I just remember sitting in a doorway between mom and dad. Air raid wardens, two of them, would walk down. They had helmets and an arm band,” Harris recalled. “You had to turn out all your lights. You could have a dim light on, but you had to pull your blinds, cover your windows indoors so no light could go. I could remember being so scared if I heard an airplane go over. It was scary, watching that.”

McMahon added that her father was among those working on war materials for use in battle.

“They made anti-aircraft guns,” she said.

The war struck close to home, since many had family in the service.

“My brother (Norman Thornton) was in the Air Force. He was a tailgunner on a B-17 bomber,” McMahon said.

“I had an uncle, Stanley (Yablonski). He was on Saipan,” Jeffers said, adding that he still carries the memory of seeing his uncle featured on a magazine from the period. “I can’t remember the magazine … but he was on the front page of it. I don’t know the name of the magazine, but I did see it when I was a kid. It was him. He was on the beach. Him and another guy were walking along the beach.”

“We sent air-mail letters,” Harris said. “They were written on onion skin paper. A real thin paper. You could only have your letters weigh a certain amount, and they were censored. Mom would get letters from my dad’s brother, and there would be stuff that was blacked out. … They checked incoming and outgoing mail, both.”

“I remember sometimes when they were home on leave,” Jeffers said. “This one … he had a Marine outfit on. I always thought that was pretty neat looking — pretty sharp.”

For many who were left at home, details of the events that unfolded across the globe in the wake of Pearl Harbor remain a mystery even to this day.

“When my brother came home, he would never talk about what he did or anything, even after the war was over,” McMahon said. “After he passed away, we found he had a Bronze Star, but he never told us. We never knew what he went through. … I don’t know that he ever told anyone what he did.”

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