Gloria Johnson

Gloria was born in 1926 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she was also raised and attended school. Following high school graduation in 1944, Gloria worked at the Minneapolis Public Library until she went to college at the University of Minnesota. Following the war, Gloria married her husband Oscar, with whom she raised two daughters. She worked a number of different jobs over the years, including at a nursery school, an employment agency, and a trade school. In 1973, she moved to rural Hastings, where she lived during retirement. Gloria was an active member of Christ Lutheran Church, and also enjoyed gardening, sewing, and reading.

In this interview, Gloria discusses the impact of the war on her everyday life as a high school and college student. She recalls learning about conflict in Europe and the Pacific through media coverage and relates her feelings about major events and aspects of the war. 

Life Changes after Pearl Harbor

JC: So, after December 7, how did life start changing for you? Was it anything noticeable or did it take some time?

It probably took a little time, but I think people becamevery geared up, very quickly. Young men went down and volunteered right away. This was a, I think bad to say a popular war—but it was backed by the citizens, as a whole. Obviously, there were people that didn’t agree with it. But people were willing to go and put themselves out on a limb.

Neighborhoods formed watches, because we felt even in Minneapolis that there was the threat of bombing. I remember my mother bought black material to cover the windows with. I don’t remember that we ever had [air raid] drills—we might have. And very shortly they started to ration things. We had a lot of things that were rationed in those days, you know, to conserve, because there were a lot of men going overseas.

Life as a College Student

JC: First of all, where did you go to college, and what was the environment like at a college level when you were there?

I went to U [University of Minnesota, Minneapolis]. We had a lot of military based there. We had, now what was it—a Navy program that was there.

JC: ROTC?

No, “Something-12,” I think it was [Navy V-12 program]. And they did have the ROTC there, too. But we had a lot of military people. They would operate pretty much as a unit, although they would be in individual classes, whatever they were taking. And they were pre-officer training.

The first year I was at the university, I got football tickets on the fifty-yard line. So there weren’t many people there.[laughs]And each year we moved back. But yeah, there were mostly women there, or older [men].

And then I was also there when the soldiers came back. That was interesting. You’d meet fellas who had—one fella had been at the Battle of the Bulge, and of course he wouldn’t talk about it. One of the few survivors. So then you ended up with the servicemen coming back.

Views Towards Japanese American Communities 

JC: In regards to that, how did you view the Japanese? I’m not sure if there were any internment camps around the Twin Cities area at the time.

I don’t know. There were German ones around here. We weren’t always aware of them. There was one out here [in Hastings], and they worked the farms.

CH: I didn’t know that.

Yes, I didn’t either, until not too long ago.

JC: So then you really didn’t have any feeling about how you viewed the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

CH: You didn’t have like a hate for them, or a dislike?

Well, I suppose you disliked them because they were your enemies. But I don’t know if it was on a personal basis, because obviously we were not coming in contact with them in this area. It wasn’t like if you were living on the coast, with the internment camps and that type of thing. But here, I don’t recall that we would ever—now, whether this went over, there probably could be Chinese and other Asian people here. Not a lot though.

Reaction to President Roosevelt’s Death

JC: Towards the end of the war, before it was over—but it was almost over at this time—President Roosevelt died on April 12 in 1945. What was your reaction and what was the reaction of those around you to that?

I came from a Republican family. Obviously, we felt bad to have the president—and we were going to the movie again when we heard about it. AndI guess we had hoped things would maybe get better. He had done so much. But by that point, you see, you were getting some pictures where he didn’t look really terribly good. I think people were thinking maybe they should have put in somebody else. But he was such a popular president and he had done so much during the Depression and things like that.

Of course, the nation mourned for days. It’s not like now where you got all those little bits of scandal coming out. You didn’t hear that ‘til much, much later. But he was quite a hero.

I will say one thing, though. I don’t know if it was just my family—probably not. But it’s only been recently that I’ve appreciated the importance of Eleanor. A very great women, I think, and did so much. In those days, she was just considered a real busybody, and all that she did was travel around because she was the president’s wife.

They kept that so hush-hush, of how much she was really doing, and how she was his eyes and ears on a lot of things. So that was a different aspect which, I’ve changed my whole thinking on her.

Learning about the War through Media

CH: Now, did you get pieces of the war every day, or was it just when you went to the movies and saw the reels?

That’s when you would see it. But you would get the news broadcasts of different invasions, and of course it would be in the newspaper. You would hear at the news, which was not every hour; it was two or three times a day.

CH: So it still was there, but just not—?

It was there, yeah, but wasn’t visible as much. Of course, you would hear these names, and it didn’t always mean an awful lot to you. But people, that was pretty much what you talked about. You would go by houses and either they’d have a Blue Star up or a Gold Star.

CH: What did those represent?

A Blue Star was that there was a serviceman in the service. A Gold Star was [that] they were dead. And people would hang—they had little flags that you could buy that they would put in their windows.

JC: I think I have seen those at some VFWs, where they have them on the wall.

Yeah. So they were all around.

Response to the Atomic Bomb

JC: What was the response to the dropping of the bomb? It brought a quick end to the war, but—

Yes, it did.

JC: What was the feelings at the time?

See, there again, I don’t think it was played up that much at the time. We weren’t seeing it and this type of thing. We did see it in newsreels, when they were experimenting with it and that.

Of course, very quickly after that—what was it, two or three days after that they surrendered? So I think it was just such a relief that people really weren’t that concerned about the number of people. So many people already had died, and such horrible things had happened, that I don’t think that they were that concerned with the moral issue of it at all. It had gone on a good many years.

JC: And we had something to end it.

Yes, and you thought, “Well, good. Let’s end it.” It had to be some way—there had to be something there to end it.