Nancy Pelletier was born in 1930 in Syracuse, New York, where she spent the duration of World War II. Her father left his job as a traveling salesman to support wartime production, while her mother served as an air raid warden and her aunt worked at the L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Company as part of the war effort. Nancy enjoyed summers at her family’s house on Lake Ontario, and went on to be the first female student in her graduating class to receive a driver’s license after the war and gas rationing concluded.
In this interview, Nancy provides an overview about how her childhood and schooling were affected by World War II. She shares memories of her family’s Victory Garden and the potatoes they would eat with every meal. Nancy further recounts listening to the news on the radio, collecting stamps, and saving for war bonds. She also tells stories about the women she knew who worked outside of the home during the war, and the friends and classmates who enlisted in the military.
Assembly to Announce First Alumni Casualty
I remember one day the principal had everyone go to the auditorium. All the kids assembled in the auditorium, and he got up and announced that the first casualty from our school had died, and he gave the day. His name was Russell Kiggins, and he was the first one from our school that got killed in the war.
Collecting Stamps for Bonds in School
At school, like about once a week, they would sell stamps. You could buy a twenty-five cent stamp. And they had books and you filled your book, and then you could get a twenty-five dollar bond when your book was filled. Kids, every week you’d come in and get, my mother gave me a dollar and I got four stamps every week until I filled my book.
Mother as an Air Raid Warden
My mother was like a captain for the neighborhood, and each neighborhood had their own captains. And they wouldn’t tell you that we were gonna have an air raid. All of the sudden the whistle would blow and you had to get off the street and put out all your lights. Not just pulling your shades—put your lights out. My mother was a captain and she’d have to go to every house and be sure that everything was dark.
CSK: Like around what time? Give me an example of when this could happen.
Oh, well like at 8:00 at night. That could happen at 8:00 at night.
CSK: So, what would she do? Just look at the house, or would she actually go up to the—?
NP: Most of the people would come out of their houses and they’d all be outside, and she would just be sure that they didn’t leave any lights on inside.
Oh, nylons! There were no stockings. And my sister was nine years older than me; I was eleven at the beginning, so she was twenty. She worked for the government. And you couldn’t get nylons. You couldn’t get stockings. So, they came out with this stuff that you colored your legs with. [laughter] It was this tan goop. She’d stand in the bathtub and she’d rub this stuff all over her legs, and then it would dry. If someone was real clever, they could draw a seam—your stockings then had seams, and you could draw a seam down the back of your leg, or someone else would do it for her. So then, she had these stockings on. However, this stuff rubbed off on the sheets and my mother would get so mad! [laughter]