Karl Brown was born on November 4, 1929 in Seaford, DE. He was twelve at the time of Pearl Harbor. Karl was a boy scout and sold war bonds in school. His father was a local banker, and his brother-in-law served in the Army Ordinance and was stationed in England. While his brother-in-law was in England, Karl’s older sister and her children moved from New Orleans to live with him and his parents in Seaford. Karl currently resides at the Manor House in Seaford.
In this interview, Karl Brown discusses the effect the war had on him and his family as rural Delaware citizens particularly through rationing. He remembers rationing shoes and rubber and recounts a story of getting a flat tire while on the road in Alabama. He recalls watching the movie newsreels, singing patriotic songs in school, his family’s opinions of FDR and manning airplane watchtowers with his father.
Newsreels Before Movies
Oh yeah, well the movie cost a dime as I recall, and it was important to go to the movies on Saturday to see the double feature which would probably be Gene Autry and Buck Jones or a couple cowboy shows, you know, something like that. That was the staple. But you always got the “RKO News of the Day” or whatever it was and the music and the pretentious sound all the way through. And it was a significant source of information. How believable it was, that depended on the hearer, of course. So, yes. Well, the music was pretentious. [hums song] Blah blah. And then the speaker had to have a deep voice and be very concerned generally because it was, well, it wasn’t necessary to be sensational and disastrous at all times or politicized in the same sense that news is these days. But they were focused on a lot of stuff that was going on that was not good, you know.
Patriotism in School Music
One of the many things that we had was a pretty good music teacher, choir director, and I think one of the things that happened maybe not every day but several times a week was you’d have a music session. So what were you singing? It was not Rock-n-Roll. It was by a little after Pearl Harbor certainly and probably before, it was patriotic songs in many cases. “Anchors Aweigh” didn’t date from Pearl Harbor, you know. It was a song we could sing. And so it goes. I don’t know what those songs all were, but you know those were the kinds of things that we would hear. And I think there’s a certain amount of conditioning in that. Wouldn’t that make sense?
Life Goes On in Rural Areas
There were prisoners of war down there a few times doing something or other, I have no idea what, when I was passing on the way to the riverfront where I had interest in the boats. Didn’t think much about them; they were just people so far as we mostly were concerned. Life goes on. This was backwater. We were concerned about polio, we were concerned about tonsils, and getting our tonsils out and simple things that go to make up life. We had vegetable gardens. Many people in this part of the world probably had some kind of— well, there was a thing called a Victory Garden, you know. But down here, remember we’re just getting out of the Depression or we hadn’t gotten very far out of it yet, and we were probably still keeping chickens in a barn in back of the house. And we were doing it for the chicken and for the eggs, and for the eggs as a trading medium with a local grocery store which would be a couple of blocks away. Because these were days way before big grocery stores. Nothing was frozen, of course. Frozen food only came later. And in little towns like this, you’d go three or four blocks in any direction, you’d probably find a small grocery store; it’s a mom and pop shop. But there you could get the local produce, there you could find eggs, or there you could get, you know, pork chops, or you could get liver if that’s what was available today or whatever it was. And such a different world. I’m sure it’s very difficult for you to imagine it at all.
Rationed Shoes on a Kitchen Floor
Shoes—if you were a young family, you might have a problem with shoes if the kids were big enough to be wearing shoes. If they were still in booties, that’s no problem. But, it wasn’t a lot. And the quality was never very good. I can remember getting a pair of shoes at some point when we had a linoleum floor in the kitchen, and it was a light color. And man, I hadn’t had those shoes more than a day or so then I was in the doghouse with Mom because there were black marks all over that kitchen floor. It did not look like the same linoleum, and just like a crayon, you could hardly move without making a mark. It was what was available. There were lots of those kinds of problems.
Blackouts and Manning Watchtowers
Well, town early on—of course, we were more concerned about the Atlantic side so we had a whole lot of oil washing up on the beaches from ships sunk off the coast here. And we were real concerned about the German side of things. There were a lot of watchers. I went with my father to man one of those stations. It was a routine thing at night. Well, we were watching for airplanes, matter of fact. And I don’t know how long that went on. That may have ended fairly early. But for a while in town, all the windows were blacked out at night. If we had shutters, and most of us did, then not only would the shutters be shut but there would be black tar paper kind of stuff on the shutter before it was shut so that there would be a minimum of sky shine, I guess. And same way with headlamps on automobiles. They were all round, practically always round, and the top half would be painted black. The top half like a copper plate, the top half would be painted black so there’d be less sky shine. You could still use the cars at night if you had to.
Veterans Reentering the Community
You were trying to pick up life, resume life, here in this community as they all did, I think. They went back to something. A great many of them were very grateful for the GI Bill. Very important thing to many of those kids, those young men. One of my fraternity brothers said, “You know, if the war hadn’t happened and the bill hadn’t happened, you know, I’d still be pumping gas in upper New York state. And here it is— I’m about to graduate from college. Totally different future. He had survived the war, and for a lot of guys that was a major thing. If you—we can’t even imagine it, you know. I was talking to some of my friends here today about this kind of thing and one of them was Iwo Jima. Unbelievable if you had to go into that place. Unbelievable. I can barely imagine it, and I didn’t have to do it. But, you know, a different world. The ones who survived it knew how fortunate they were, and they made our world a whole hell of a lot better, I think. They lived their life very well for the most part.