Seaford, Delaware native, Arnold Spicer, nearly 90 years of age, is the fourth out of five children who were raised under his parents through World War II. Arnold was 13 years old when America announced its involvement in the war. His oldest brother was then sent to fight in the war followed by his second oldest. Then later on in life, Arnold served in the National Guard for 20 years.
In this interview, Arnold Spicer discusses his upbringing during the time of World War II while in his hometown of Seaford, Delaware. He shares stories about his days as a boy scout positioned as a runner, about his encounters with prisoners of war and about receiving mail from his oldest brother revealing the injuries he sustained during battle.
Memories of The Microscope
(Arnold:)Well, I had a magnifying glass, what do you call it? You put it on a stand, put things under it and look it, its not a magnifying glass.
(Interviewer:) A microscope.
(Arnold:) Yeah! Yeah, I got that, and I saw a lot of things I didn’t even know existed. And saw a lot of things and what they are made of. First thing I remember looking at was a strand of hair. You gotta be kidding. I didn’t say that, but I mean it was amazing. Here, I could see some things I couldn’t see with these [pointing to eyes].
Turning Off the DuPont Plant Sign
The Dupont Plant had their letters, “DuPont”, on it, and they were lit. And somebody got the bright idea that somebody out there on the water, because we were only thirty miles from the water, could see that sign, and that might be a target. DuPont turned it off. They turned the light off. I don’t remember, I remember seeing the letters, and I don’t remember not seeing the letters. I mean I was a kid; I didn’t pay that much attention.
A Brother’s Worry
Shelley didn’t—he was on his way to the South Pacific when the war ended then made a U-turn and came back. Quite concerned about Jennings. We got word somehow; I think it was a letter from him that he was in a hospital. And we hadn’t heard anything. Whether he’d be wounded or what was he doing in a hospital? We found out that the Germans were having a meroge over and a shell exploded not too far. He had bad eyes and kicked up a lot of mud, and he got mud in his eyes. He couldn’t see for a while, and they sent him back to the hospital.
Sergeant Thorndike Story
I didn’t know him, but I did hear that he was missing-in-action. And never heard any more about it, until one day, he was walking in town. And everybody was around and walking because he came back from being a prisoner of the Germans. For some reason, the Red Cross never got the information. That happened a lot of times. Oh, it was in the papers. But the first time he came into town, I don’t remember if it was in the newspapers before he came home or not. Or rather he showed up here one day, and then it got in the newspapers. I don’t remember that. Everybody was saying, “It”s Thorndike! He’s back!” I happened to be downtown when I saw it. I saw him, and that was the only time I remember seeing him. The only thing I remember about him was that he started growing a goatee when he was taken prisoner. and he had hair from here [touches chin], down to about here [lowers hand to area in front of chest]. Maybe he trimmed it, I don’t know. He was in uniform then.
The Holocaust and Recording the Camps
The first I knew of a—we knew that Germany had prisoners. But we didn’t know that they had—I may have known that they were putting the Jewish prisoners, homosexuals, handicaps in prison camps. But we didn’t know that the prison camps were like they were. Not until, a matter of fact, I don’t think Eisenhower knew it. And he may have, but as soon as they got to the first one, and word got back to him, [he said] “Get there, and get the cameras, get the reporters there. Get this on records because people are going to say it never existed.” And they got pictures, they got pictures. A lot of pictures.
Following the War with Maps of Europe
Well, usually in the Sunday paper, there was always maps of activity that was going on here and there and everywhere else. Somehow or rather, I got a map of Europe. And to see where they were moving, I’d draw the lines on there. And ’cause it was a big map, about yea big, it covered up the kitchen table. I couldn’t leave it out so I had to take it back. And I was forever drawing lines where they changed, even I think it had the very Northern part of Africa, and that’s where the fighting was. Of course, as the troops moved up to Sicily and through Italy, of course Italy dropped out of the war shortly after Italy was invaded from the South. Then I followed it on that as it was going, of course it was better later on because all of the movement was toward Berlin and before that all of the movement was away from Berlin. So I think I got, matter of fact, I think I had so many marks on there, I got another map somewhere and started there. And I don’t know where they are now.
Mom and Pop Stores
Oh, we worked in grocery stores in the Mom and Pop—see then we had mom and pop grocery stores. There was an Acme and there was an A&P in there. They were on the main street, and all of these other stores were around town, down on corners. And we didn’t have enough money to pay the bills so we charged it. And when the bill got over $75, the store manager, he wants some money. That was a big bill. That was probably a month, month and half worth of groceries. Groceries were a lot cheaper then. But Coborn’s Store is the first one I worked in, and I was a delivery boy. A neighbor would call in, an old woman would send the list down. We’d pull the orders and put ‘em in bags, and I would take them to her on foot. Two or three blocks away was the limit because two, three, or four blocks away was another store.
Blackout Practice Ambulance Story
Blackout practices, oh, one blackout practice, my story, I guess. We went to—I went to my location, and they came over and said, ” You, you’ve been wounded. Lay down here.” So I laid down there, and first thing I know, here come a lot of people with red cross arm bands. And ‘course I had been out and playing, I hadn’t gotten home. I was dirty, I was muddy. It had rained, and I had mud all over me, and if I’d been home, I’d have probably cleaned up a little bit, but I didn’t have time. So I remember they bandaged me up and put me on a stretcher, and I think they took me to the hospital in an ambulance, but I’m not sure ’cause I think I remembered telling somebody I’ve been inside of an ambulance, and I’ve ridden in an ambulance. And St. Lukes Church had a parish hall, and that became the first aid station. The nearest hospital was in Dover and Salisbury, no other hospital, well, one in Milford, but none of them were close. The one in Salisbury was 22 miles away, something like that; Dover was 45, Milford was about 38. They took me into this place, and of course I was embarrassed because they took me in there, and two of my teachers were in the first aid center, and they said, “My gosh, did he really get covered with mud.” They made a joke of it; I didn’t like that. So finally the all clear came, and said “Okay, you can get up and go home now.” They took the bandages off, and then I went on home. But that was my experience on that that I remember. Let’s see—I didn’t get injured. Oh, I was just a dummy. I was just a dummy. I didn’t get injured, no. They said, ” You’re injured.” I mean they designated me to give them practice, give the people carrying me practice.
Segregation in Seaford
No, everything was segregated then. We had a colored section of town, I know they had their own school, and they were having the same programs that we had. They were having the same collection things that we had. I didn’t have much contact. When our mother had a big dinner, we had a lady that helped her out, and she was wonderful. What brought that to mind was we had an Eskimo Collie dog that my aunt had, and she lived in New Castle County. And they moved into the city, and they couldn’t have the dog. So she thought with five kids, this would be a good place for the dog so they brought him down. The first time this woman came to help my mother put on this dinner, Frisky looked at her and growled and growled and growled. We didn’t know what was going on, and, of course, she was scared, the lady was scared. So we got Frisky, we held him, and she came in the house, and we talked to him. When a colored person would come by, he’d show his teeth, and I don’t know why. We never did anything. Maybe it was up in New Castle County, I don’ t know, but that was just the way it was. Later on in years, he got older, and we would try to comfort him, “That’s okay, that’s okay” and try to comfort him. And when somebody would walk by—he had a place that he liked to lay next to the stoop, underneath the bush next to the back door. He would sit there, and he would wake up if he was asleep or I thought he was asleep. He would wake up when someone would walk by. That was the first time I really noticed that there is a diverse, I guess.