Rene Coxon & Charlotte Slagle
Rene Coxon and Charlotte Slagle are sisters, born five years apart from each other with Rene being the oldest. Rene was born in 1927, and remembers the struggles of the draft and rationing very well growing up in rural Chestertown. Charlotte was born in December of 1932 and also lived in Chestertown during the war. They were part of a family of eleven. Rene and Charlotte were teenagers during World War II and had two brothers who were drafted in the military who spoke little about their experiences. Rene spent some of her time living with a German couple who owned a shop in Chestertown and Charlotte worked managing a switchboard directing calls.
In this interview, Rene is the dominant speaker. She speaks about experiencing the war during her teenage years, growing from a young girl into a young woman during the war. Rene speaks about how she volunteered as a plane spotter and Charlotte mentioned how she managed a switchboard to direct calls. The sisters also discussed times when they would walk to the train station to send off the local boys and men who were going off to fight. They talk about their brothers returning safely from being drafted in this interview and what it was like growing up in Chestertown during the war.
Volunteering for Airplane Spotting
So when the war started, I lived in there for four years. From ’41 until ’45. And that’s when our defense plant came to do the ammunition for war effort and some of us volunteered too. I happened to be one that volunteered for spotting airplanes. You all don’t know it but we didn’t have radar, right? So we spotted airplanes. We went to school, classes, and then I spotted airplanes under the big tree right at the end here. Our high school was right over here where your building is, your new building. On Washington Avenue was our high school. So, you learn what your enemy’s airplanes were, you picked up the phone when you saw one, you described it, which direction it was going, and somebody else picked it up on the other line. We only lived, maybe, is it two hours from Washington, to drive. But not according to how the crow flies, therefore, we were fairly close to Washington. And of course you had radar then, but not around like that.
Brothers in the Service
Charlotte: Well, one of theme didn’t know how to read or write and he had another person write his letters. But mom only got maybe two letters from him. Now the other one, he was his mother’s eyeballs.
Rene: And that was part of our help. Send packages and write to the boys. Your friends, boyfriends, or family. And the one that couldn’t write started out in Panama and we only heard from him twice in four years and he wound up in Saigon. And when the boys come home they don’t want to talk about it. None of it. But when they did come home, on furlough, where did they go? We only had a bowling alley and a movie hall. They hung out at the bar. So, we ere too young. Thank goodness.
Interviewer: They never talked about it?
Rene: No, no. And most veterans you ran into, no. The one brother was an MP and he said “it’s an awful feeling, when you’re standing out in the middle of the road, directing a convoy and nobody’s got a light on but you.” So he said, “it’s an awful feeling when you know you’re the target.”
Chestertown Men Drafted and Seeing them Off
Charlotte: There’s something I want to say going back to the war. They drafted a whole lot of men from here and we met down at the movies which is now the Garfield Center. And we walked the family that was seeing them off, and God, it must’ve been, they filled a bus. Anyway, they walked up High Street uptown until they got to the edge of the park and made a left and went down to the railroad station, got on the train, and left town. Talk about, I was just a kid and it broke me up, I remember.
MB: There was a railroad station at Cross Street right?
Charlotte: Yeah, at the end. You know where Cross Street is? Well, go to Cross Street and sitting right in the middle of the road before you make the curve, that was the railroad station.
Germans in Chestertown
Rene: We had German Prisoners come into town. I got to know, or a girlfriend and I, got to know them. We, we would hangout at Gil Brother’s downtown which was sodas and ice cream and just, you know. And downstairs they had a jukebox and you danced. So of course it was broke, we didn’t have enough money to put one nickel in. All you had to do was keep pushing the buttons so we had plenty of music. And then after that, you know, there wasn’t much else to do. But with the German couple, nobody thought anything about them. They had two sons and they worked with the lions’ club and everything. They were hard working people just like others, looking for a home.