While we hear many stories about WW II
and view many excellent pictures like "Saving Private Ryan
" I never heard much about the internal defense of the home
front. These are some of my recollections:
During the war years, 1941-45, we all feared for our safety. I
am sure it was proportional to one's age. The youngest fearing the
least as would be expected. As a little boy remembering attending
Lincoln School we were given special attention. We were all given
body tags to wear around our necks. It was a piece of hard asbestos
(similar to a Saint Christopher's Medal), we had our name written
on it with indelible ink (today's magic marker). Asbestos, as you
know, is heat resistant and it would be somewhat impervious to flames
associated with bombing. We hung this around our neck with string
(maybe it was metal wire) and were expected to wear this 24/7.
Periodically, during class, we would have air raid drills not
unlike fire drills of today. The main difference with the air raid
drill was that we did not leave the building. Initially we would
get under our desks until the all clear bell was rung. At a later
date it evolved and we were told to go into the hallway and sit
on the floor. This was thought to be safer since there was no exterior
glazing to cause injury. In the early years of the war we would
salute the flag in school by extending our left arm forward with
the palm upward. As the War went on it was felt that this salute
was too similar to the Nazi salute. The Nazi salute was with the
right arm extended and the palm turned down. We changed our salute
to what it is today; that is, with our right hand over our heart.
At home we also had air raid drills. The closest air raid siren
to our house on Mead Street was on top of the Police and Fire Academy
on 18th Avenue. Up until recent years it would be tested every Saturday
at 12 noon. These drills were usually done after dark. When the
siren went off we were obliged to draw all the shades in our house.
Every block had a air raid warden. It was his responsibility to
make sure that all shades were lowered and most of those shades
were blackened. If they weren't he would knock on your door and
make you conform.
These were the years before radar. Lights from a city could be
used for navigation and identification by enemy aircraft. The street
lights were painted black with a small peephole in the bottom to
emit a minimal amount of light. The headlights of cars were also
painted half black. The top portion (like half a pie) was painted
to minimize the beam from diverging upward. If you were driving
a car during an air raid drill you had to park and shut both the
lights and engine off. My father had a gas mask as did all the police
in that time frame.
Every year our family spent the first two weeks of August in Belmar.
Seaside Heights was out of the question. The old cars would never
make it. All the lights on the boardwalks were subdued.
Several times we were not able to go swimming in the ocean or
Shark River because of crude oil. Our ships were being sunk by German
submarines out in the ocean as they left or entered the New York
area. The crude oil from the sinking tankers would wash up on our
shores. I remember as a kid hearing about a German submarine being
sunk off Asbury Park near the end of the war. This sub was recently
discovered (6 years ago). No one knew were it came from. It amazing
how quickly people forget events of the past.
My mother had a job with Celanese who were the inventors of cellophane
in the Ironbound section of Newark. Talk about how far we came in
communications. She was working for Celanese making small celluloid
capsules (plastic was not invented yet) to attach to the leg of
a passenger pigeon. Paper messages were placed in these capsules
and flown through enemy lines to supply information and give orders
to our military.
That was just a thumbnail of the internal defense of the home