Barbara Cangiano was born in 1925 on New Years’ Day in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She was a sixteen year old high school student when the United States entered World War II. She had a brother who served in the Navy Seabees and a boyfriend who served in the Army. She currently lives at Heron Point in Chestertown, Maryland.
In the interview, Barbara recalls where she was during Pearl Harbor and how the news impacted her and her community. She remembers her male classmates and teachers going into the service and discusses her memories of rationing and participating in USO events. She also discusses her memories of the Great Depression and taking care of her mother during that time. In concluding the conversation, Barbara shares advice for the current generation.
It was a Saturday as I recall, and I was in a beauty parlor having my hair cut. And the radio was on, and the announcement when Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States, he declared the United States at war. I remember it clearly. Oh, it was frightening! I mean, it was something that had never affected us. World War I was never like World War II. World War II, no matter what we say was, other than the Civil War which was a horrible war, (and being a Gettysburg-ian as I am), I’m very aware of the Civil War—but World War II was probably about the worst war we probably could have in normal conditions of war with this technology going on. Future wars could be worse. And I was having my haircut, and it was very devastating to everyone and much concerned for various reasons—one being concerned with their teenage young males and sons and what it was going to do to their business and to our country and to what was going to happen next. And very quickly, you know, all the announcements were put on the radio regarding our surprise in this attack which meant that we were really not up to snuff in our military preparedness. Anytime that you watch a movie that has to do with World War II, which you see frequently during Fourth of July—we just had Memorial Day when they show a lot of World War II movies and which I watch them from morning until night because I thoroughly enjoy reviewing that which I lived through.
So while we were not prepared, that then changed our whole lifestyle in which everybody had to go to work either in the service or that’s when women went to work. That’s the first time we have women out of the home taking care, doing the normal things such as taking care of the house, and the children, and cooking, and doing laundry, and being a wife and mother, but they went to work in the factories to build and create those things that were needed immediately while many of their husbands went to war. The men who were eligible to be drafted or who signed up to go, were all men who had the same interest in mind and that was to win the war. And women had that same challenge as men did to win the war which meant they had to go in factories and build all the things that were necessary to build. Once women went to work—that’s the time that we now have women in the workforce all the time because they enjoyed the money, they enjoyed the income which has made a two-person income from then on. Women never worked before until they went to serve the needs of women in World War II and that was in the factories.
We had very severe rationing in which all of us were involved. There were three coupons that were pasted on our car. One was “A,” which meant unlimited gasoline which my father had on his car. “A” meaning as a doctor, they could fill up his car with gasoline. I carried “B” because at 16, my father bought me a car because I went to a school that was eight miles from my home to my school. And, therefore, I could pick up three students who lived on the road on which I drove to Gettysburg, and, therefore, I got a “B” tag in order—the fact I carried students to school like a school bus would do. But anytime there was an area that a layperson could pick up a student to go to school, they were given the ticket to take them because the school buses had a hard time with the rationing. Now the other things that—”E,” sorry. There was an “E” tag too which meant that no one got any extra gas. They had to live on next to no gas—in which they had no reason to have anything more than the regular gas. And that meant, I was trying to think if I could remember, but it was very little, it was like five gallons, and I don’t know how frequently that was renewed. It wasn’t very often because people had to be—they had to think about combining their errands into one. It helped them—instead of just getting in the car and going to get a loaf of bread or going to get, you know, some ice cream or something, when they did something, they had to figure out how they could do all the things that had to be done in the least amount of driving.
The other things that were rationed were tires, tires on cars. My father was a very fast driver, and he could go through back tires within 8,000 miles. And he had a hard time even as a doctor to be allowed to get two tires to replace them so tires were very rationed. The other thing that was rationed was sugar and butter. And women were encouraged to, when they used any grease like lard in the good old Crisco days which are no longer here, when they cooked with grease, they always had that container in which to pour the leftover grease. And they took that pot or container of grease to the local grocery store. And they had a huge container in which it was dumped and eventually taken off, taken away. Don’t ask me what for; I only know that much.
So that entire area was policed by army personnel. The boys, they patrolled it during the day and all night long, Twenty-four hours a day, it was patrolled. And all of us had to pull our curtains tight, tight, tight closed at night so that there would be no light at all from the houses on the shore. And no one ever lighted a cigarette or a cigar while they were out of doors. So that’s probably where I was more aware of the seriousness and the severity of feeling the need for security in that situation. And that continued for a long time, and they were nice young men doing nothing but walking and looking at—. Eventually we had plane spotters, and a lot of women did plane spottings and reporting planes to the center. We had a lot of people involved with this war one way or another. They wanted to, they volunteered, they volunteered. Men and women volunteered to spot planes. My mother used to go out at night. She’d feel so badly for these boys walking up and down, she would take them food and some coffee at night. And she wasn’t supposed to do that but she did it, and they loved it, and she didn’t get reprimanded or put in jail for creating a violation. But that’s very close for me, that situation.
I put my mother to bed for two days, because of the closing of the banks. So yes, I never felt I suffered from that, but I’m aware of it. In other words, during the Depression, I was certainly much younger, and I couldn’t understand why my mother was not up and moving around as she normally did. And my father, who was a doctor, an MD doctor, said, “Your mother—the bank closed in which your mother had her money.” My mother was a Delawarean, and so the bank that she dealt with while we lived in Gettysburg was in Delaware. You know, we all took it very well, and we all survived very comfortably, but I’m only referring to the fact that I remember the Depression years and the people that it affected greatly. I lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which is in an area that features farmlands and orchards. And those people suffered greatly in the Depression years because they could not sell their produce whether it be fruit or vegetables or farms. I was aware of business people having difficulty with their businesses whether it be stores or farms or orchards. It was a down time in everybody’s life. We all lived more fruitfully, but we all survived.