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
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
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
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
How ironic that war should breed goodness.