Speaking to folk who still remember Pearl Harbor and the war years (that is WWII) December 7 1941 through VE day victory in Europe, May 8, 1945, and later that year VJ day victory over Japan, August 14, 1945, the recollections are at times crystal clear and for others, not so much. It is nearly impossible to find anyone that has any recollection of WWI, The Great War to End All Wars. It ended on 11/11 at 11:11 in 1918. Assuming a person would have had to have been at least ten years old or so just to have any memory of that war the child would be 109 years old now. Today it’s remembered here by little plastic poppies, red/orange with a black center handed out by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) The late Bud Chenoweth from Green Valley remembered he was riding his bike home from playing with friends in Graton. When he walked into the house his family were gathered in the kitchen around the radio. His mom said in a whisper, “Bud, Japan attacked America today.” He recalled, “Everyone was frightened and in shock. We knew we were now at war but the idea was like getting hit by a club.”
Rosie Smith, a bright woman with a sparkling wit, at 93 is a retired teacher of 36 years, now living in Oakmont. She recalled, “I was still in high school when it happened, it did not dawn on me how much the world changed that day. I was interested in the matters of being a senior, we graduated in June of ‘42. By then the war was really getting underway. My husband to-be being in college, he later told me all the guys in his fraternity gathered in the living room and silently listened to the radio news that Sunday. Next morning, they went down to the induction centers and joined up. The Navy put his activation on hold until his graduation the following year. He was then enrolled in Naval officers training school and was assigned to a destroyer in the Pacific. He saw plenty of action.” Rosie remembered how things were rationed in those years, “My father had to have meat at most every meal and it was strictly rationed. He would go out to farmers and trade for a half a hog or a side of beef and bring it home. Butter was rationed, dad processed whole milk and made butter by hand every week. One time we decided to trick him and put margarine on the table, we made it look like butter. It was a blob of fat and a little package of dye that would turn the fat yellow; almost like butter. Dad sat down to dinner, looked at the margarine and said, “get that off my table, we eat butter!” Rosie was the youngest of four sisters, like most girls they found ways to make do with what was available. “You couldn’t get hose, so some company put out a little vial of dye that looked like you were wearing silk stockings, once you rubbed it on your legs. Some girls painted a fine black line down the back of their legs that replicated the seam real hose had.”
At a veteran’s assistance fund raising dinner at the Petaluma Vets building Saturday evening, another kind of veteran sat next to me. Elsie Stummier told me of her war time experience in her native Scotland. “We lived near the river Clyde, on one side was a giant steel mill and on our side there were dry docks for building ships. For us the war started in September of 1939, after Hitler invaded Poland. We didn’t think much of it until the German bombers came at night.” Her Scottish brogue has faded so much over the years that you can understand her version of English. An engaging little fireball of energy, she was willing to talk about the war years. “I was but a wee girl then, we thought it was fun to run for the air-raid shelters when the sirens went off. Then there was a real effort by the Germans to shut down the plants, every night for weeks they would come and bomb us. One time a whole wall fell on us hiding in the basement at our school. It took men two days to dig us ‘oot.” Elsie is a world renown kilt maker, she co-authored the ‘bible’ of kilt making. “I’ve tried to retire but they keep bringing me back to make kilts, teach kilt making and talk about kilt making.” She said the Scottish and the whole of Great Britain were on rations until 1953.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.