Stories from the Home Front

These pages contain stories of those who served on the Home Front:


Charles “Chuck” Hanlen was only six years old when the United States entered World War II, yet he has some very clear memories of his childhood years. After his parents separated when Chuck was very young, he lived with maternal grandparents in a row house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was an era when coal heated homes and blocks of ice in a refrigerator kept food cold. Chuck’s grandfather worked in a steel mill and Chuck himself got a job at an early age. He delivered newspapers when he was only eight years old. After arriving home from work, Chuck’s grandfather listened to the radio. And it was the radio that told Americans about the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the years following that famous December 1941 date, Chuck explains that, “the war and the government were everything.” His mother took a job at a distant military installation. Chuck remembers uncles who joined the military. His grandmother, who already knew how to stretch food on a limited budget, now contended with rationing. But as Chuck explains, “gizzards were not rationed,” so the family ate animal hearts, livers, and kidneys. He recalls blackouts, even though they lived “hundreds of miles from the coast.” Chuck also remembers children taking a quarter to school on Thursdays to buy a stamp for a war bond book. One book took $18.75 worth of stamps. When the pages became completely filled with stamps, the book was turned in for a $25 bond. Chuck still recalls the embarrassment children felt if they could not bring in the twenty-five cents. The war’s omnipotent presence is perhaps best seen in Chuck’s childhood belief in those war years that the label or stamp, “Made in the U.S.A” stood for “Made in the United States Army.”


Freda Lott lived through the war as a child. She spent her earliest years, as Freda puts it, in “a small, isolated town” in Missouri. The community had been “hit hard by the Depression.” It could be that growing up in a rural area where “life had been the same day after day,” together with the gloom cast by the economy, explain Freda’s first reaction to the news of America’s entry into World War II. She found the war “exciting.” Not quite seven years old in December 1941, Freda still has vivid recollections of the years that followed the attack at Pearl Harbor.  In her Missouri town, she recalls how “the boys” looked so “sharp” in their military uniform. Freda did not spend all of the war years, however, in a small town. After her parents divorced, she and her mother relocated to the Los Angeles area in California. Her mother underwent a transformation there. When they had lived in Missouri, Freda recalled a woman who did not use makeup, wore cotton housedresses, and acted in conventional ways befitting a southern woman. In Southern California, however, Freda admits to being “mortified” when her mother, now a “Rosie the Riveter,” started to apply makeup to her face, wore slacks, and even smoked cigarettes. After some time in the Los Angeles area, Freda and her mother moved back to Missouri, settling in Kansas City. Freda continued to see the war all around her. Her grandfather tried to walk to places rather than drive his automobile, because, as he explained, “our boys need that gasoline.” Freda joined the Junior Red Cross. She also collected tin cans and bacon grease “and any other materials that could be recycled” for the war. Speaking for the children in the World War II Generation, Freda concludes, “We were very proud of ourselves and thought that we were making a tremendous contribution to the war effort. Thinking back, I can still remember how seriously we all took this responsibility. I think that gave birth to the strong sense of patriotism that most people of my generation have.”


John Marote lived in Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, during World War II. Born in 1932, he spent his adolescent years with the war much closer to him geographically than it was to other Americans. As with so many of his generation, John learned about the attack at Pearl Harbor, on the nearby island of Oahu, while listening to the radio on that infamous Sunday in December 1941. He admits that he did not quite understand what the news meant, but John sensed the fear in the adults. This proved especially true on that night of December 7th. Inhabitants on all of the Hawaiian Islands, as well as members of the military around Pearl Harbor, expected a land invasion by Japanese forces that evening. As the war progressed, John did what children on the mainland were doing--he helped support the war effort. He recalls cutting out crossword puzzles from newspapers, the original one and another published the next day that contained the answers. From these, he and his friends made booklets for wounded members of the American military. As patients worked on a puzzle page, they could flip the page up. Underneath the puzzle they were working on, they found the second puzzle with the answers on it. John also contributed on another project that Life magazine featured in its March 23, 1942 issue, the building of small, wooden airplanes for the American military. These models served more than one purpose. The Army and Navy used them to train pilots and gunners. Civilian Defense Air Wardens studied them to help identify the types of  planes that might one day fly overhead. At the time when this issue of Life came out, students throughout the United States were working on two hundred thousand such models of America, British, Italian, and German planes. The article added that Japanese and Russian plane models would soon be added to the list. When they were, John might even have made some of them. Read more of John's story here.


Pat McGruder lived through the war as a high school student in Denver, Colorado. With her parents, Pat frequented the USO, and with classmates she visited wounded soldiers at Fitzsimmons Hospital. With some of her babysitting money, Pat bought war bonds. Like other young people, she collected tin foil that the military used to confuse enemy radar. Along with the rest of her family, she worried about her brother who served in the Navy, clearing out mines, ships, and bodies in European and Pacific waters. Pat’s father must have thought of his son when he volunteered to be the local Air Raid Warden. It was his responsibility to make sure his neighbors followed blackout regulations. At night, no porch lights were to be left on. Windows were to be securely covered to make sure no indoor lights showed through to the outside of the house. Pat recalls one difficult woman who believed Denver was far too inland to be attacked. She stubbornly left her porch light on and was lax in her use of blackout curtains. Pat’s father visited that woman many times, admonishing her to obey Civilian Defense regulations. Pat remembers, too, rationing which limited, among other things, sugar, meat, and gasoline. Her family dealt with rationing in several ways. Her mother used corn syrup as a sweetener and a friendly butcher did not tear out all of the rationing stamps he should have for meat Pat picked up. Some of her male classmates used counterfeit stamps to obtain more gasoline. Fabric was also in short supply, a fact that benefited Pat in one memorable way--she did not have to wear the traditional Catholic school uniform throughout her four years in high school, a fact that pleased her immensely even though it upset the nuns.


Takeo (Tak) Sugimoto divides his war story into four segments--losing his freedom, reclaiming it, losing it for a second time, and finally, finding freedom again towards the end of the war. For more than one reason, in the spring of 1942 the federal government forcibly moved Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast to “relocation camps” located in areas far from the coast. On that pivotal date of December 7, 1941, fourteen-year old Tak and his family had just come in from picking squash in a field located in the San Diego coastal town of Encinitas, California. Two months later, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that detailed the conditions for the relocation. The Sugimotos had only a few weeks to prepare for the relocation move. They did not know where the military was taking them. All they knew was that they had to report to the nearby Oceanside train station. Japanese Americans could only take what they could carry. All other personal items had to be sold in a buyer’s market, stored, or just left behind. Armed soldiers, with bayonets mounted on their rifles, guarded the Japanese Americans at the station. One of many powerful memories Tak has is of the train trip itself. With shades drawn, the train headed east, into the desert. At one point, the passenger cars went off onto a siding where the families waited for hours. A rumor, probably born out of fear, circulated among the Japanese Americans that the soldiers were going to shoot them. Eventually the San Diego County families arrived in Poston, Arizona. A relocation camp built by the government awaited them. Armed soldiers guarded the camp that was surrounded by barbed wire. Only under limited circumstances were the Japanese Americans allowed outside of the Poston camp. At one point, authorities permitted Tak to leave for a job in another state, yet he returned to Poston of his own volition when his father died. Tak did not experience freedom again until the early months of 1945 when the government allowed Japanese Americans to depart the camps. Tak returned to Encinitas, graduating with his high school class.


Dorothy “Dot” Tanner married and had her first child during the war. In this way, and others, her experiences reflected the lives of millions of American women at that time. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dot intended to marry her college sweetheart, Jack Tanner. The war, however, accelerated their wedding date. Both attended Pomona College in Claremont, California, although Jack was one year ahead of her. After his graduation in May 1942, Jack left for the Marine Corps’ Officers’ Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. Dot joined him there in the fall, foregoing her senior year at Pomona. They married soon after her arrival. Before Jack shipped out for the Pacific, their first child, John, was born. With her husband’s departure, Dot focused on their toddler son. As she put it, “John was my life.” In the evenings she directed him to kiss an eight by ten inch photograph of Jack in uniform, so John would recognize his father once he returned. Every Sunday she took a picture of John and mailed it weekly to her husband. By the time Jack returned in 1946, Dot had written him over seven hundred letters and Jack over six hundred to her in their three years apart. World War II impacted Dot’s life in many ways. An early marriage meant she did not finish college. Due to Jack’s military service, Dot missed her husband’s presence at their son’s first steps, first words, and first birthday party. As Dot observed, too, she and Jack “missed [part of] their twenties.” Yet the war brought something very positive to her life aside from her son John. It transformed her in ways she perhaps would not have experienced without the war. Raising John as a single parent for most of his toddler years, Dot was “amazed” at what she did on her own during the war. Her self-confidence grew. In this way, Dot’s life again mirrored the lives of other military wives.


Glenn G. Miller served, officially, as a civilian in a military capacity in World War II. He received an honorable discharge from the Army Air Corps in July 1945. Glenn’s service began, in a way, before the United States entered the war. In the spring of 1940 Glenn’s employer in Minnesota received a federal government contract to train college students as pilots (the Civilian Pilot Training Program, or CPTP). Washington, D.C. planned to create a pool of potential military pilots as Americans debated our possible entry into another world war. Glenn taught students under this program. In mid-1942, just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army tapped Glenn to train male cadets in Texas. That initial assignment lasted about a month, after which the military sent him to Avenger Field, outside of Sweetwater, Texas. At first, his students were still male cadets, but in February of 1943 a new group of young Americans arrived to be trained to fly military aircraft--the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). They would be the first group of American women ever to fly military planes. Glenn served first as their instructor and later their “check pilot,” signing off on their abilities before they could graduate. Glenn took his female students seriously at a time when many people did not; he did not ridicule them or complain about his assignment. He shepherded seven classes of WASP through primary, basic, and finally advanced training. In so doing, he became part of a historic moment for women, the United States military, and for United States history.  Read more of Glen's story here.


Polly Felix married her husband, Jim, in June of 1943.  They had known each other for years before that since they both grew up in the same area of Ashtabula, Ohio. Jim was close to Polly’s mother before he married, a relationship that grew out of Jim’s role as the neighborhood paperboy. The newlyweds were together for a year before the Army shipped him out to the European Theater. Jim and Polly lived near two Army bases in the months Jim went through training. Housing proved a “terrible” problem in both places. At one point in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, near Camp Shelby, the young couple lived in an enclosed back porch with no heat. Polly found a job in a flower shop to occupy her days and supplement the Army’s meager paycheck. In Little Rock, Arkansas when Jim was based at Camp Robinson, they lived in an old upstairs apartment they shared with mice. Polly worked in a shoe store. Once Jim left for Europe, Polly moved back to Ashtabula, staying with her parents. Letters and boxes flowed back and forth across the Atlantic in the year Jim served in Europe. To document those war years, Jim and Polly saved an amazing collection of memorabilia. Among the items are Jim’s draft card, two Valentine Day cards dated “February 14, 1943,” items from their wedding, pictures of them together in the States, photos of Jim and his buddies in Europe, the Blue Star banner that hung in the window of the home that belonged to Polly’s parents, and of course, letters they wrote to each other. They also have an almost empty box of cigarettes from Camp Shelby. Jim shipped home several items from Europe, things he acquired or, as Jim put it, articles he “rescued.” Perhaps the most touching piece, though, is a very small three-frame picture collection, held together by hinges. On the left is a shot of Jim in uniform, in the middle is one of Polly and Jim, and then the one on the right is a picture of Polly’s parents and her younger sister. Jim carried that with him throughout his combat service in northern Europe.


Charles “Charley” Conway moved to the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 1943 after he finished his sophomore year in high school. He and his stepmother joined his father who had been transferred from the Du Pont Company’s plant in Pryor, Oklahoma to a new Du Pont project in Hanford, Washington. When Charley and his stepmother reached the Army’s guard gate at the outskirts of Hanford, “armed security personnel questioned us.” Unknown to any of the Conways, they were now living in one of three “atomic cities” that were part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. The military charged Hanford with producing the plutonium that would trigger a nuclear chain reaction. Starting that summer, Charley’s life intersected with one of the most dramatic stories of World War II. Upon their arrival at Hanford, Charley bunked with his father in the men’s barracks while his stepmother lived in the women’s barracks after securing an office job at “the Project.” They ate their meals at mess halls where, in a time of rationing, Hanford residents “took all you wanted,” in Charley’s words, from the huge serving dishes on the tables. None of the fifty some thousand workers knew what they were building. The Army, that oversaw the Project along with Du Pont engineers, made it clear, though, that the work was vital to the war effort. The Conways moved out of the barracks about a year after their arrival to a pre-fabricated home in Richland, another nearby, small community that was part of the Project. Charley graduated from the town’s Columbia High School in June of 1945. Just a few months later, everyone at Hanford learned the importance of their work when the government announced that two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, one at Hiroshima and one at Nagasaki. Japan surrendered the next week. Like others in Hanford, Charley felt an understandable, and deserved, pride in the small role Hanford had played in ending World War II.


Joan Klinke lived through most of the war as the wife of first an Army Air Forces cadet who became a B-17 pilot, and, eventually, a prisoner of war (POW). After dating Ray Klinke for five years, Joan married him in 1942. Once he joined the military, Joan followed him from state to state as he trained to be a pilot. Housing shortages existed throughout the country, and the young couple confronted this as Joan tried to rent a room near Ray’s base. In Montgomery, Alabama, their room came furnished with just a cot and a chair. In Tampa, Florida, Joan found only a porch to rent. In Savannah, Georgia, a kind stranger offered a distraught Joan a place to stay. Once her husband left for England to fly with the Eighth Air Force, Joan returned to her parents’ home in Illinois. Everyday she wrote Ray a letter. In September of 1944, however, Joan stopped receiving letters from her husband. As Joan admits, she “knew there was a problem.” There was. Antiaircraft fire hit Ray’s plane over Germany. Captured by the enemy, he became a prisoner of war. The date that occurred, September 28, 1944, turned out to be the same day Joan left a hospital after giving birth to their first child. It took another month for the military to notify Joan that Ray was “missing in action.” Two more months passed before she knew he was alive as a POW. Joan volunteered at local Red Cross meetings where she met other wives such as herself. Throughout the winter and then spring months of 1944-1945, Joan mailed Ray letters and packages, most of which he never received.


Dorothy “Dot” Roosvall’s early experiences in the war were not unusual. But that was not the case for the last year. Born in 1921 on a Kentucky farm, Dot was one of seven children. Their home did not have electricity. Dot attended a one-room schoolhouse, and she studied by the light of a kerosene lamp. After high school graduation, she moved to Detroit to live with a married sister. Eventually Dot relocated to the home of another married sister in Evansville, Indiana. This move put her closer to her parents, now only a few hours drive away. While living in Evansville, Dot worked in an office. Bored, and inspired by a recruiting poster, in September of 1944 she joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). Her mother worried this enlistment meant less visits home from her daughter. Dot knew it meant adventure. After “boot camp” at Hunter College in the Bronx, the Navy sent her to Washington D.C. to be trained in communications. New York City became Dot’s duty station for the next year and a half to two years. Dot’s excitement in joining the WAVES is still seen today when her eyes light up as she describes the camaraderie between herself and fellow WAVES. It can also be heard in the pride Dot had in wearing her uniform (really three, one the standard Navy blue, another a crisp white dress outfit, and the last a seersucker dress and jacket for warm weather). Dot may have stayed in the Navy as a career WAVE if she had not married in 1948. She doesn’t regret the decision to leave the Navy, but she does wish she had worn her WAVE uniform, one of them, as her wedding dress.

Read more of Dot's story here:  Chapter 1   Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Epilogue