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Thursday, February 13, 2020

1945: Hanging On Toward Victory

7TH BOND DRIVE. In May 1945, the U.S. Government called on citizens to buy additional war bonds. This effort to raise funds for the war effort and to combat inflation exceeded all expectations with over $156 billion raised.  

THETFORD RINGS OUT VICTORY.  Citizens, young and old, gathered at the Timothy Frost Methodist Church in Thetford Center to ring the church bell to celebrate the end of World War II. (Thetford Historical Society)


HOMECOMING MARINE. On October 13, 1945, The Saturday Evening Post featured this Norman Rockwell tribute to returning servicemen. This local study of hero worship features a local garage handout in Arlington, VT in which the young man worked before the war. 

”We are just getting into the toughest part of the fighting in the shooting and killing war. The toughest days for us on the home front are ahead of us.”  Charles A. Pumley, U. S. House of Representatives, January 30, 1945.

“This is the day we have waited for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.”  President Harry S. Truman, August 14, 1945

In the seven months between these two statements, Americans continued to struggle with the challenges of total war. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. This column deals with those challenges and expectations, especially on the local home front. The public seemed to recognize that this last difficult period was just an interlude before the end, before victory.

To understand the yearnings for peace, one needs only to understand the local contributions to the war effort. Hundreds of young men and women joined the services in numbers equal to that of the Civil War. Many more left to work in war production. Vermont had 38,000 men and women in service and New Hampshire had 60,000. Dozens of local men and hundreds statewide lost their lives.

Daily life on the home front was challenged by a state of total war, with virtually every aspect of life affected. The prospects of peace meant the end of food and gas rationing, news censorship, the blackouts, the scrap and war bond drives and so many loved ones stationed far from home.

The winter of 1944-45 was one of the most difficult of the entire war. Despite successes in both theaters, America suffered 77,000 casualties in the Battle of the Bulge and the Pacific campaign was taking a heavy toll. That winter brought the war-weary nation increasing costs for consumer goods, increased rationing and continuing concern for local men and women in the service.

There were continued shortages of food, fuel and manufactured consumer goods such as automobiles, farm machinery and household appliances. It was reported that civilian supplies were at their lowest level than at any point and every effort would be made to “assure equitable distribution.” It was also reported that there was a flourishing black market for many rationed or unavailable items.

 In an effort to conserve fuel, gasoline continued to be rationed. In February, several local libraries were closed until coal could be obtained.  Residents were encouraged to conserve electricity. They were also encouraged to limit evening telephone calls and unnecessary train and bus travel, allowing service personnel easier access to those services.  

As the nation had to feed millions in the armed services as well as well as citizens in ravished war zones, food continued to be rationed. The United Opinion continued to feature point-saver recipes to help families deal with shortages. Gardens for Victory were still encouraged, an encouragement that probably was not needed as family gardens were a time-honored tradition. Extra sugar was made available for home canning.  

The importance of agriculture locally was reflected in almost weekly newspaper articles. Farmers were encouraged to increase production but struggled with severe shortages of grain for livestock. As with virtually every other enterprise, they suffered from the lack of labor.  

The government continued to rely on bond drives to pay for the cost of the war. Asking citizens to loan their extra money to the government at a time when there were fewer consumer products available helped to fight inflation. In May 1945, the 7th War bond drive was announced. There was concern that the defeat of Germany might weakened the appeal.  However, the drive exceeded all expectations and over $156 billion was raised. The United Opinion carried both news items and advertisements for this drive.

Local newspaper columns continued to report newsy items of civilian life. They also reported on the various stages of military life of local men from induction to discharge. While news from the war fronts was fragmented and censured, the news of  citations, injuries and deaths of local service men was common during this time. With the surrender of Germany in May, more information became available.  

The following is a sample of those news items about local men beginning in Jan 1945. S/S Harry Hinman of Newbury and Pvt. Harvey Oliver of Fairlee both killed in Belgium; PFC Arthur Bean of East Thetford awarded the Bronze Star; Bernard Bean of Orfordville “has seen plenty of action for one boy”; Lt. Harold Chase of Ely “in the thick of the European scrap.”

Additionally, PFC Daniel Bennett of Piermont was killed in Italy; Charles Zwicker of Bradford home on leave having shown “high standards of courage, initiative and discipline required during long periods of combat.” Sgt. David McLam of Ryegate returned after participating in eight major battles.  

Another local man who was assigned to the European Theatre was Major General Ernest Harmon. Harmon had grown up in West Newbury and graduated from Bradford Academy.  In Jan 1945, Harmon took command of the newly-created XXII Army Corps and led its invasion of Germany. After the surrender, he was assigned the command of the VI Corps in Germany and developed it into the US Constabulary.

Harmon was not the only man with Newbury connections in Germany after the war ended. PFC Robert Atwood was in Germany and, in 1946, served as driver for Judge Walter Beals, the presiding judge in the Nuremberg trials of major Nazi leaders.

The United Opinion featured weekly syndicated columns on war news, Hollywood gossip, sports and government activities. There were several serialized action or love stories.  Kathleen Norris’ weekly column for women warned its readers about extramarital affairs while husbands were in the service. It then turned to the subjects of the joys and challenges of a returning husband who had seen action.

As Germany and then Japan lost territory to the Allies, private American citizens as well as military personnel were freed. Lieutenant Gerald Smith of Piermont was released from a German POW camp as was Milton Partington of Topsham. The Allied capture of the Philippines brought freedom for the Day/Harrell family of Orford and the Wells family of Newbury, both of which had been imprisoned after the fall of Manila in 1942.  

Popular music mirrored the feelings of the nation during this period. The need for hope and the dangers of negative thinking were reflected in the January hit “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” During the last few months of the war and during the period of reductions of military forces, popular songs reflected the changes. Reunion was a popular theme reflected in the musical hits “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” and “My Guy’s Come Home.”   

In the spring of 1945, the war in Europe came to an end with the surrender of Germany in May. In the Pacific, the island-hopping continued to make the Americans pay a heavy toll with the capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa adding an additional 70,000 casualties. Many feared that to take the Japanese home islands by invasion would add thousands of American casualties.  

In April, President Roosevelt died. There were memorial services locally and many stores closed for two hours during the national funeral service.  The editor of United Opinion, a Republican-leaning newspaper, wrote of Roosevelt’s as a master politician with a “charming personality.”  He went on to say Roosevelt “was idolized by millions and hated by many. Few people were lukewarm toward Franklin Roosevelt.” Articles implied that most Americans were unfamiliar with President Harry Truman.

As the end of the war came into view, the United States began to move away from a war-time economy. In early June there was news of the relaxing of production controls on heavy metal products including automobiles. The newspaper also carried an advertisement that read: “Take care of your refrigerator, new ones will not be available in quantity for a long, long while.”

 Leaders were determined to avoid a post-war depression. War production began to be scaled back and Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, known as the G.I. Bill.   Post-war projects began to be mentioned in the United Opinion as winter turned to spring.    

Another aspect of post-war planning was to prevent international conflicts.  In 1944, an international conference was held to formulate what was to become the United Nations.  Vermont’s Senator Warren Austin helped to create the draft model for that organization.

 In March 1945 most New Hampshire town meetings considered a resolution in support of “a general system of international cooperation…having police power to maintain the peace of the world.” Both Orford and Haverhill were among those that considered the issue. State-wide the support of 2-1 in favor, but in Haverhill the vote was 178 in favor and none opposed.  

 V-E Day in May was accepted with quiet thanksgiving as Americans realized that the end of the war in Europe gave the world only partial peace. Observances were largely confined to schools and churches. In Fairlee, the children from the elementary school walked to the monument in the park for a brief ceremony. In West Newbury, the church bell rang out an invitation to an evening service of thanksgiving.

The war against Japan came to an end in August with the dropping of two atomic bombs. Locally, V-J Day emotions ran the gamut from celebration to sadness.

 In Bradford, plans had been underway for several days to welcome peace. In the previous week’s edition of the United Opinion, businesses that would be closed on whatever day peace arrived were listed in bold print. Plans were underway for a community victory church service that would be held on “the evening of the announcement.” Wood was collected for a bonfire. But when peace came, it came in a wild “orgy of celebration.”

The Opinion’s front-page article described the celebration. “The fire siren kept up a continuous noise with the whistles of the Veneer Mill and Vermont Cooperative Creamery adding to the din. Later the two churches and the school added the ringing of the bells to the other noises of joyful observance. Impromptu parades were formed; the fire truck and apparatus, autos full of delirious citizens and a host of people on foot filled the Square and street to overflowing.

 A piano on a truck appeared and dancing was indulged in. Three caskets, donated by A. E. Hale, were burned with appropriate ceremony thus committing the three War Lords to their proper places. Fun waxes fast and furious for the remainder of the evening.”

In Woodsville and Wells River a similar spontaneous outpouring was taking place. Dean Rowden, 17 years old and owner of a Model T Ford, gave little thought to gas rationing as he joined “an endless parade of people and automobiles that snaked its way back and forth between the two communities.” Six locomotives added their steam whistles to the clamor from auto horns, mill whistles and church bells.

Smaller town centers experienced smaller but no less joyful celebrations. In Thetford Center, a group gathered at the Timothy Frost Methodist Church to ring the bell. A local columnist described it as follows: “The people of the town welcomed the surrender of Japan with ringing of the church and school bells, and by several people out ringing cow bells and blowing horns. James Hovey, 88 years old, was one who helped ring the church bell on Tuesday evening. With him was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Sperry, giving the oldest and the youngest the honor of ringing for victory.”

The war had consumed the lives of Americans since Pearl Harbor. It seemed as though it would go on forever. And now it was over. Americans had survived the Great Depression and total war.  These, the military personnel and the laborers who supported them, have been called the Greatest Generation. And they were now ready to get on with their lives.