Jack Beebe was an elementary school student during World War II, and lived with his parents and sister in West Sayville, New York. The Beebes were a well-established family name in the tight-knit Dutch community of West Sayville, having worked the Great South Bay for many years previously. Jack’s father was the manager of an estate in the neighboring town of Sayville and his mother was a schoolteacher. Jack spent the war years living what he considered to be a typical childhood, including exploring the surrounding woods, playing with his friends, and attending school. He later served in the military in Korea, and went on to a career in radio and broadcast television.
In this interview, Jack discusses the effects of the war on his life and family in West Sayville. He recounts how the local baymen were tapped by the government for monitoring enemy vessels offshore, as well as his family’s concerns for an uncle who was serving in the Philippines. He also recalls how he and his friends participated in scrap drives and airplane spotting, and how his friends once returned an abandoned military parachute they found in the woods.
School Closure Due to Oil Shortages
It was December during wartime, and I was in fourth grade at the time. And at school, we were practicing for the Christmas pageant. All of a sudden, the phone rang—because there was one phone for the school. And it was the Sayville principal calling up telling the principal of the West Sayville School that they had to close the school because they wanted to conserve oil. There wasn’t enough oil to heat the school for the month of December. And so, all of a sudden out of a clear blue sky, the whole school was dismissed. They had to close it up because they had to conserve oil for during the war.
Ship to Shore Radios on the Local Fishing Boats
West Sayville was not only a clamming industry, but it was [also] a fishing industry. The fishing boats would go out from West Sayville through the Fire Island Inlet. [They’d] go out to the ocean and they’d be gone for maybe five days, six days, or whatever, and so forth and so on.
And word got around town—as it would in any small town or any town—that the fisherman were spotting what appeared to be German submarines in the area close to Long Island. So, the government got interested in this whole situation. And what the government did was they put ship to shore radios in almost all of the fishing boats in West Sayville, so that the fishermen could call back if they spotted something. And they became a coastal observing operation for the federal government.
The Dutchies [Dutch Americans] weren’t stupid people, so they also figured out, “Well, if the government can hear what’s going on then, why don’t we get ship to shore receivers for our houses?” So, I remember going riding my bicycle up and down Atlantic Avenue in West Sayville and certain times during the week the radios were blasting full blast, “Bwawawawawawaa!” Because the wives were looking for clues to when the fishing boats were going to come back.
Newspapers Piled High
[During the wartime paper drive], you went around to all your neighbors and collected newspapers and you brought ‘em somewhere. Well, where you gonna bring em? In this area everybody brought the papers to Old ’88 [the headquarters of the Sayville School District]. And they were piled in a classroom. Now, I didn’t want anybody to know at the time, but there some of us who knew where the classroom was. It was piled to the ceiling! Months of newspapers piled up and we played on them.
Now, of course when you play on newspapers, especially if you’re afraid that you’re gonna get caught, sneaking in there running up and down these mountains of newspaper. And they would knock ‘em down and fall all over the place. And what a firetrap! But somehow, it didn’t burn at that time. But we collected newspapers, and they were brought in this area; brought right to Old ‘88.
The Siren Would Sound for the Shades to Come Down
The siren would sound and it was an air raid—or it was a practice air raid. You had to be alert to it. It was a practice, you know. If you heard this in real time, you’d do the same thing. So it was to get everybody used to the fact that you might have enemy planes flying over. You blacked out your area.
And it was like a double shade. [On] the regular shade, there was a dark shade that actually pulled down to make a double face on the window. So, if the air raid siren sounded, you had to pull down those shades.
[laughs] I’m not going to mention any names, but a relative of my father’s was an air raid warden. And of course, this was a very, very important job. It came with great authority because it was the federal war effort and his word was whatever he decided it should be to make this a proper way of behaving for the issue, whatever it was.
One night—oh!—my mother was just upset so badly. That door knock came after the air raid siren. What could that be? And it was uncle so and so saying, [gruffly] “You’ve got to cover up that window. I can see a crack of light coming out.” And, oh, it was just an awful thing. But I remember that. We thought it was funny, but my mother did not think it was funny.