Douglas Gates was five years old and living in Wilmington, Delaware when the United States entered World War II.
In this interview, he shares stories about his parents taking in female defense workers and gives a glimpse into what it was like as a child during the war. He also speaks about the rationing of bubble gum and his uncle who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Female Defense Workers
Probably the most influential thing that I can remember is that we had a fairly large house, and we took in defense workers—females. I think one male we had at one time, but they were generally females. They worked in ship building in Wilmington. They had small plants, and they had other things too, I guess. I can’t remember. But the thing that is most memorable for me is that in the evening (you know, no television in those days), we’d get down in the living room, and we had a piano. And the girls—there was always a piano player, there seemed to be. The girls would get down there and gather around the piano with me because I always stuck my nose in there and sing songs. As a result of that, you know, my head right now continues to be full of nineteen twenties, thirties, forties songs. That’s what we sang, and that’s what I memorized with those gals, and it was wonderful. You know, this little twerp standing there and they’re having a grand time, and I’m having a grand time too. I loved it [laughs]. And they’d pat me on the head, “Oh, Dougie, you’re such a cute little kid,” [laughs] and I knew I was, of course [laughs].
The Last of the Bubblegum
So many things were rationed, you know. Bubblegum—you couldn’t get bubblegum. Double Bubble? Remember the round single pack. The guy would get some down at the store near the school where I went to school, Mary C.I. Williams. He’d have bubblegum, and the kids would rush in there. Each of us left with about ten or so, and he’d stand out on the front steps. We’d all gather around, and he’d throw them out to us. We’d all scramble for the last of the bubblegum.
Childhood and the War
You know, on the one hand, when I think back on it, we were fairly protected from it for the most part except to the extent that we were cheerleaders. I think that that was pretty effective, the way in which that happened. Being four square in favor of the war and killing Japanese and killing Germans and getting it over so Uncle John could come back home. Never felt really deprived. I think the whole thing about rationing and so forth seemed to be more of a game that we played, that we participated in. “Oh, well, we can’t do that.” Or we—“Uncle Joe wants to borrow the car.” “Well,” my father says, “Well, make sure he puts gas in it and uses his own ration stamps so I don’t have to use mine.” You know all that was sort of a game. That’s how I remember it, not so much as a tragedy that it was for so many people. Not so much of a happy game, but, you know, something you participated in, and yet you were so remote from it, protected from it.
I think the Bulge, the most difficult part of the Bulge, was probably during the Christmas season. He [uncle] didn’t talk much about it. He did tell a couple stories [laughs] that I hope—I guess they were true. They were bringing up everybody from the cooks to the stenographers and anybody and giving them a gun saying, “Boys, we got to fight our way out of this.” So after it was all over, he went up to one of the fellas and said, “Well, what’d you think of it?” He says, “Oh boss, it was really terrible.” He says, “The thing I hated the most was the talking 88s!” He said, “Talking 88s? What’d they say?” He said, “They said, ‘You ain’t going back to Ala-BAM!’ [laughs]