Growing Up on the Home Front

Youth and Childhood During World War II

According to the 1940 U.S. Census, approximately 30% of the nation’s population would have been under 18 years old at the beginning of the war in 1939. By listening to the voices of those who experienced the war as children and young adults, students will explore how World War II both interrupted the innocence of childhood and became internalized as part of daily life and childhood play. Students will hear how children learned about the war through a variety of sources, including school, movie newsreels, and the radio. Encouraged to collect newspapers and sell war bonds, children learned that it was everyone’s responsibility to support the war effort. While their elders and childhood heroes went off to war, some children were put to work. Still others replaced “Cowboys and Indians” with “Germans and Americans” and played games of four-square. Although certain aspects of civilian mobilization on the Homefront lent themselves to childhood play and enthusiasm, children were also confronted with the chaos of air raid drills, the horror of concentration camps, and the fear that American cities would resemble the bombed-out streets of London.


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The War at School—Joan Rosenberg Kovachi

Well, when we were at school, we had to practice what they called air raid drills. A siren would sound, and we would have to crouch under our desks and wait until we heard the all-clear.

We were also encouraged to give money for war bonds. They gave you a book and when you donated money, you got a stamp for the book. And when the book—I guess, if I can remember—was filled up, you got a war bond. It was something that you really, really wanted to do.

Kids Put to Work—Lyle Feisel

One of the interesting things probably about the war—Pearl Harbor, I was 6 years old. And so, by the next summer, 1942, a lot of the young men in the area had gone away so the kids got put to work. At the ages of 6 and 7 and 8, I was driving tractors out in the field, you know. Can you imagine putting a 6-year-old on a tractor today? I was driving horses, haul hay up into the barn and so on. And I worked not only on our farm, but, as I said earlier, we traded labor a lot. So I would go out and work for these other farmers on loan. And one of them had a tractor; it was an old tractor with a foot clutch. The tractors we had had a hand clutch, but this one had a foot clutch just like you’d have on a car except the springs on it were so stiff that I couldn’t push in the clutch. So we would go out to the field, and the farmer that I was working with would get down, and he’d start the tractor up, and I would sit there and steer. And he’d be up on the hayrack loading the hay. We’d go around, and when it came time to stop, he would climb down and push in the clutch, and it would be fine. So that was very common. It wasn’t just our family, there were 6 and 8 and 10-year-old kids working all over the Midwest. I guess, if you go back in history not so very long, it was not uncommon for 6 and 8-year-old’s to be working in mines and factories and so on so we kinda went back to that for a few years.

Images of American Causalities—Lew Halin

One of the things that I think would be remarkable to put in your memory was that early on in the war, they did not allow any pictures or any notice about American casualties. And the first time that they allowed, any to my knowledge, I must predicate it with that statement— that the first time that were any public pictures of American casualties was after the invasion of Guadalcanal. And there was a picture I’ll never forget—pardon me — (tearful) of the beach at Guadalcanal with the bodies floating in the water. All these years later it still gets me. Did we know? No, we did not know very much. I guess the adults knew, I have to predicate that I was ten, and eleven, and twelve years old. I was only fourteen when the war ended, so I was relatively young early in the war. But I remember when Life Magazine had that picture, and it was a big thing that was talked about on the radio — the first pictures of casualties that were coming back.

The Newspaper—Linda Hall

I remember asking my mother, “What’s on the front page of the newspapers when there is no war on?” That’s all I’d ever seen, all I’d ever seen. She would say, “Well, you know, they put the local news and put that on the front page then.”