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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Other Views

When war held a nation together

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Even as a pubescent early teen more than 60 years ago, I could see we were involved in something big in a war with Japan, Germany and Italy.

Not because of khaki and Navy blue uniforms everywhere around South Florida where I lived

The overwhelming impression was of sacrificing, sharing shortages and pitching in amid inescapable symbols of a nation under arms—a national effort not seen before, not seen since.

The glue was President Franklin Roosevelt. Although paralyzed by polio, he’d already lifted Americans out of a desperate Depression. Now he’d mastermind a war with 16 million American citizen soldiers, a production line unequaled in industrial history, and homefolks rolling up their sleeves. "The Greatest Generation" was born.

From FDR’s uplifting radio "fireside chats" to enlisting Hollywood to pump up morale, his strategies were masterful.

Our home like others had a Victory Garden to free up commercial produce for the troops. We collected cooking grease for explosives, scrap rubber and metal for war materiel. Kids bought War Stamps with their dimes.

Families were issued ration stamps for gasoline, meat and sugar.

Neighborhood air raid wardens with white helmets and armbands were recruited. Our windows had blackout curtains. Auto headlights were blacked out except for slits to prevent ships at sea from being silhouetted and exposed to German submarines prowling offshore.

Movies demonized the enemy, lionized our troops. World War II had its own music—"Praise The Lord and Pass the Ammunition," to name one. Betty Grable’s bathing suit pinup photo boosted GI morale.

Posters were ubiquitous. "Uncle Sam Wants You!" appealed to patriotism. "Loose Lips Sink Ships" warned about enemy agents.

Homemakers became "Rosie the Riveter" at the Miami River shipyard producing minesweepers and at the Consolidated Vultee B-24 bomber plant at Miami Airport.

Miami Beach hotels were turned into military barracks: actor Clark Gable occupied one. Russian seamen exercised in downtown Miami’s Biscayne Park.

The University of Miami included uniformed Navy and Royal Air Force aviation cadets marching to classes.

A few of us convinced the Army Air Corps Aircraft Warning Service to allow pre-teens to man a tiny cubicle with a 360-degree view for maybe 50 miles in the tower of the 32-story Biltmore Hotel, telephoning aircraft sightings, their direction, altitude, speed and type, plus any abnormal occurrences, to a central Filter Center. I still remember our spotter post code, "Uncle Peter 611."

The Biltmore became Pratt General Army Hospital. Khaki-colored ambulances arrived with casualties ferried by air from overseas.

Navy blimps scoured the Atlantic for German subs. Nazi saboteurs landed up the coast from Palm Beach. The glow of burning ships torpedoed off Miami could be seen on the nighttime horizon.

A new person emerged in neighborhoods--Gold Star mothers, whose sons were killed.

After the war, Americans who’d seen battle or done duty at home became community pillars.

Harvard professor Robert Putnam writes that World War II’s generation belongs to more civic groups than their grandchildren, are twice as likely to vote, more apt to work on a community project.

How ironic that war should breed goodness.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.