World War II was a war during which everybody did their part. It meant making sacrifices. Materials that were needed “over there” were rationed over here. Gasoline couldn't be bought without coupons. The same held true for anything made of rubber. If you were lucky enough to have a car, you had to make do with worn, patched tires and inner-tubes. Meat, butter and sugar were needed to keep our troops fit and fighting.
Every smoker saved the aluminum foil that lined cigarette packs, formed them into shiny round balls and donated them to the war effort.
Scrap drives were common, too. It seemed that nothing was wasted – if it was metal and no longer of use, it would be collected, melted down and turned into a weapon of war.
At 13 Liberty Street, the backyard garden was expanded, and even the venerable Italian custom of growing your own vegetables became support for the war – they suddenly became Victory Gardens, turning a tradition into an act of patriotism.
Eddie Case tried to enlist, but with a wife – Esther – and a child, me, and a heart murmur from his undernourished childhood, he was labelled 4F by the Selective Service, known as the draft board, and so kept his job at Cluett, Peabody & Company, now turning out army issue clothing, and joined the others in the Case clan in following the progress of the war on two fronts.
After dinner, the family would gather around the big console radio in the living room, and hear commentators like Edward R. Murrow, H.V. Kaltenborn and Lowell Thomas report from exotic locations, spewing names of places and battles that we had never heard before, but would become famous or infamous in future history books.
My father was an early graffitist – I told you earlier how he painted the romantic words of a song on our backyard wall to impress my mother when they were courting. Now, he turned the stone retaining wall into a kind of memorial of honor, listing the names and titles of our relatives who were serving overseas.
And as each of them came home – and as fate would have it, they all did – he would make a banner of letters that spelled out each name with a big “Welcome Home.”
The children of the Case family followed the lead of our fathers and uncles, and put on our own fund-raising shows. I was pretty young, but the older cousins always found a way to include everyone of us kids in our USO shows. We'd learn dance routines, songs and poems. We'd perform our versions of the popular musical stars of the day, like Al Jolson. I'm sure we didn't raise a lot of money in those days, simply because there wasn't a lot of money to be had, but whatever it was, we felt like we were doing our part, and it was a good feeling.
Trains ran through Troy's Little Italy in those days, and passenger trains were given over to transporting troops to the various training camps and points of embarkation. Those troop train schedules were noted by the families, and the women would pool their resources and make sandwiches and whatever sweets they could bake with limited ingredients, and hand them up to the uniformed boys as they eagerly reached out of the train car windows. Of course, the USO was always there, with coffee and doughnuts, cigarettes and smiles.
Keeping up the morale was important, because as prevalent as the propaganda was, the news from the front was not always good. The Allies – Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and Russia – were playing catch-up in troop strength and war machinery. Factories in American became dedicated to turning out tanks, jeeps, airplanes, guns, rifles, bombs and bullets. Shipbuilders turned out battleships, tenders, PT boats and landing craft.
We listened in early June of 1944 as D-Day was launched, and despite the terrible losses of so many Allied soldiers, we felt that the might of our forces and the rightness of our cause would prevail. There was hope building for success in Europe, and in the Pacific.
One by one, the welcome home signs went up, and all our cousins returned to Liberty Street sound of body and limb, but forever changed by the experiences we could only imagine, and the stories they were so reluctant to share.
Things were never going to be the same again, even though an era of prosperity was on the horizon. Tensions in the Case family had been put on hold for four years. But when the last bomb had been dropped overseas, the battles on the domestic front were just being joined.
©Copyright 2010 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: Peace in the world, war at home.