Wartime Sacrifices and Opportunities

As greater numbers of men enlisted or were drafted into the armed forces following the attack on Pearl Harbor, citizens of all ages stepped in to fill their shoes. Lyle Feisel learned to drive a tractor at six years old to keep his family farm in Iowa afloat, while Rogers Smith volunteered for the local fire department alongside a Methodist minister, who operated the trucks since the boys were too young to drive. In her rural Los Angeles school, Barbara Finneson was instructed by her teacher that she would be expected to do her part for the war, and the school fulfilled their duty by collecting enough newspapers to buy the military a Jeep. Alice Bradshaw’s brother attended MIT and graduated just in time to make room for a swell of returning veterans going to college under the GI Bill.

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.

Junior Firemen and the “Sky Pilot”—Rogers Smith

The young men who had been active members of the fire department were not there. They were replaced by older men and we boys. At that time if you were 14, because of the necessity to have somebody to help, you could become a member of the fire department and the older ones trained us as best they could. The school, as you go into Churchill, sitting up on a hill, is an elementary school; it was where I went to high school. Now the fire department was in the center of town further down, maybe a half mile it was. When the fire siren blew, those of us who were members of the fire department could immediately get up from our desks and race down the street to the firehouse to help put out the fire wherever it was. So the man who drove the fire truck was a Methodist minister and he had no experience fighting fires or driving fire trucks, but he did it. His nickname was the sky pilot. (laughs) I’m not sure what the connection was to his ministry, and the fact that he was driving the fire truck, but it was an affectionate nickname. You know, he liked to be known as the sky pilot.

Heroes Head Off to Fight—Howard Cook

What was it like when you were younger seeing a lot of your heroes go off to fight in the war? Bob Feller, Ted Williams. Bob Feller and Ted Williams gave up their career. If Bob Feller hadn’t gave up his career, God knows how many strikeouts he’d had, and if Ted Williams hadn’t gave his up, he’d been the greatest home run hitter of all time. There’s two guys that deserve recognition, those two; and there’s plenty more down there, but those were two great ones. Johnny Pesky, he was a good one too, he gave up his career. But Bob Feller and Ted Williams. And then Yogi Berra give up a lot of his, and so did a lot of them did. A lot of them did. Frank Robinson did too.

School Efforts to Support the War—Barbara Finneson

I just remember all of the teachers telling us that we would be expected to work. I remember them saying that we would do our part—whatever we could do as a school to help the war, it was to help the war and help in any way, and we did. And, of course, we became very patriotic, but nothing was ever said about any of the Japanese students in derogatory way or any way that I remember. They just didn’t talk about it.

And then, you remember the story about us buying a Jeep. We saved newspapers, and we made enough money. I mean, we became very competitive, this little tiny school that was seven bungalows in rural Los Angeles, if you can believe it. Got every scrap of newspaper we could, and the different grades were in competition to get the most newspaper. We went hither and yon as far as we could and got every paper we could. And sometimes the stacks, I swear they were as high as this ceiling before the trucks would come and take the papers away. And we tied them up in very neat bundles. We did all that stuff. We finally raised enough money so that we bought them a Jeep. They were so pleased that this little school had done that, that they gave everybody in the school a ride in the Jeep.

An MIT Education for Free—Alice Bradshaw

Oh, then my younger brother, he had a lucky break because when he graduated from high school, he went on over to the Navy recruitment office and signed up. Well, he was a very smart kid and worked very hard in school, and the next thing he knew, his assignment was to go up to MIT. So he did MIT in three years, and they really worked him! And then by the time he got out, the war was over. So he got his education thanks to Uncle Sam. But then many of the service people coming home too under the GI Bill [got an education]. That was a wonderful thing, unbelievable. I mean, you can’t imagine what that meant to people, changing their lives. And construction was open; it was just amazing.