Helen Tyson was a young girl living in a town called Lansdowne, near Philadelphia, during World War Two. She was born in late 1935 and was about 6 years old when news of Pearl Harbor reached her family. She had two younger brothers and lived with her mother and father. Her mother took care of the house, and her father was a railroad mail carrier, as well as an air raid warden during the war. She had several cousins who were in the navy.
In this interview, Helen recalled several major events as well as different ways the war affected herself, her family, and her community. She focused on her family’s contributions to the war effort such as rationing and saving stamps. She also remembers several key events including Pearl Harbor and the attitude after the attack, as well as the war’s end and the dropping of the Atomic Bombs. Helen also describes the basic fears and concerns she had during the war, particularly the distress that the newspapers and newsreels caused by showing casualty lists from the fighting. She also talked about being pen pals with people in Africa and Europe that she corresponded with during the war.
Newsreels, oh yes! For 25 cents we could go to the movies; entrance was 15 cents, and that gave us 10 cents for candy. And we always bought candy in a box that had lots of pieces. It didn’t matter if we liked Milky Ways or what, we got Good & Plenty’s because there were a lot of them in there. But yes, the newsreels, when you went to the movies on Saturday morning there was a cartoon or two, a newsreel, and then the main feature. The newsreels, I do not understand how they got pictures in those days, because a reporter would have had to have been there, and that wasn’t done in those days. Maybe somebody in the army took them and sold them to the movie people. … But yes, I remember seeing them lots of times. Soldiers, certainly in uniform, looking very tired, sometimes in the mess hall, eating, a lot of times just sort of out in the field area. It was always, ‘This many people died. So many japs’ – everybody, even the newsreel people, used that derogatory term – ‘So many japs, so many Americans, so many British, had died last week.’ It was discouraging to listen to.
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
HT: Yeah, oh [the newsboys] were so cute. The boys, they must have been ten, twelve years old or something, and they’d have a stack of papers in a canvas sack on his back, and he would pull them out and he’d roll it up and just call “Extra, Extra! Read all about it!” And, [chuckles] I don’t know if anybody bought the papers or not, but he had a morning paper, and an evening paper, and then this extra that came down the street. The other papers were delivered silently, he had the paper and he’d put it on the porch and dot-dadot-dadot, but the extras he walked up and down the street. Well because the headline was always “so many people have died”. “Three hundred people have died”, “One hundred and twenty-two people have died”, “Seventeen people” well it was never that low. It was always in the hundreds. And I don’t know what else was in the paper, I didn’t get one. I was able to read at that time, but it didn’t have comics in it, so I probably didn’t read it.
MD: Were you ever fearful that [the US wasn’t] going to win the war?
HT: No. No, everything was very positive. All the newscasters [would say,] “We are winning the war. In the next month we are going to be in a better position.” It never occurred to me that, number one we would not win the war, and number two somebody else would come into our country. I don’t know how much they protected little children then, from that information. But no, I was anxious because I didn’t like to hear that people had died. But I wasn’t concerned that because they had died, we were going to be invaded.
Atomic Bombs on VJ Day
HT: I don’t remember them specifically, but I remember everybody saying, ‘The war is over! The war is over!’ And ‘Oh yippeedoodles’ And then we would hear, well there was a little fight here where the people had not yet heard that the war was over and people were killed. We didn’t hear much about prisoners of war. At least as a child, I did not hear much about prisoners of war. But when it was over, some of that started to leak out, that there were still people over in Europe who had not been released. Of course, the atomic bomb was such big news that we heard an awful lot about the damage in Japan, or Hiroshima, because of that bomb. And you know, many years later, Bob [my husband] and I went to Pearl Harbor as a tour, and we stopped at a museum for Hiroshima, and they had in the museum a stone lintel, maybe a foot by two-and-a-half feet, and there were marks on it. And they said they’ve begun to fade now, but what had happened was somebody had been sitting there when the bomb exploded, and material from the body was soaked into the concrete, and stained it. It was kind of eerie to think that somebody’s tissues were on that stone. We didn’t hear that much gory stuff during the war. after the war. But, we did hear a lot of people disfigured. And certainly many years later the effects of the chemicals on the genes so that they had deformed children. I think to this day they still are suffering the effects of that.
MD: At the time, the United States [citizens] supported the droppings of the two bombs?
HT: Oh, yeah. Yes. We’d already been hearing that bombs had been dropping. On the newsreels, they would frequently show a plane with bombs going ‘weeoo’. So the atomic bomb, to me, was just another bomb, and I was glad that it ended the war. But I did not realize that it was radioactive, that it did damage as extensive as it really did.