As a result of reading Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation, I began to think about what I remembered about World War II. I never realized how much I had been affected by wars in my lifetime until this book precipitated my thinking about it.
My father had been a Mess Sergeant in
World War I and had shared some stories about that war, although not actual
accounts of fighting and the gory side of armed conflict. I clearly recall
his army uniform hanging on a hanger in our basement, along with lace-up
leggings, for many years during my youth.
Postcard (dated February 13, 1918)
sent by Frank Stenger to his mother
Postcard reads: "Dear Mother and
all, We are now in Washington. It is 7:45 a.m.
On June 9, 1919, my father's unit, the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, landed in Bordeaux, France, to fight in the "war to end all wars." (see map)
Since my father's Aunt Mary (sister of his father, John Baptist Stenger) and her two daughters lived in Lyon, France, he visited their family while he was on leave in France. I remember seeing photos of the two cousins, Ninon and Helene. Both are walking down a beautiful street and both looking like fashion plates - tall, elegantly dressed and imposing. During this visit, my father attended his first (and perhaps, only) opera. The cousins took him to see the opera, "Manon" by Jules Massenet. (As far as I know, neither of these two girls ever married. Their family name was Du Bois.)
The French people were very grateful
to the Americans for coming to their aid in World War I. Ninon did this
pen and ink drawing as a gift to my father.
The inscription on the back reads:
Some 25 years later during World War II, another member of our family, John Baptist Monier, visited the same relatives in France while he served as a member of the US Army. "Butts," as he was called, was the oldest son of Julia Stenger Monier and Emil Monier.
John Baptist (Butts) Monier
We have kept many post cards sent from
France during 1918 and 1919 from my father to his mother, brothers, and
sister. There is also a journal which my father kept denoting the marches
they made, what the weather was like, etc.
This picture was taken in Lyon,
France, while Frank Stenger was on leave from W.W.I
My father also had occasion to tell me how superstitious his mother was as a result of the fear she felt when he was assigned to the 313th Machine Gun Battalion and left for the Army on the 13th car of the train. I don't think it changed her superstitious nature at all when he arrived home safely in the US on June 13, 1919.
My Uncle Danton Caussin, brother of my
mother, Leah, was also called to serve in the First World War. He was the
only young man from North View who was called to the service and could
speak French. As the son of immigrant Frenchmen, he spoke both French and
English fluently. Yet, he was the only young man from this area who was
not sent to France. Instead, he was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia, to instruct
other young recruits in the proper use of a gas mask. Doesn't that just
sound like something a government agency would do?
Danton Leon Caussin, as he appeared
in his army uniform
Unfortunately, "the war to end all wars"
didn't and so my husband, John Hardman, was a soldier in WW II. He went
to the army in 1943. He really wanted to join the army and tried to but
was rejected because of poor eyesight. He was devastated at the rejection.
However, shortly thereafter, he was drafted and accepted as a medic, when
restrictions for medical qualifications became less stringent. His sister,
Freda, recalls that on the way to Japan, his ship was caught in a typhoon.
John told his sister that he prayed for the first time in his life during
that frightful experience.
John Hardman as he appeared in his US Army uniform in WW II.
World War II broke out when I was a student in the 9th grade at North View Junior High School. So I experienced the residual effects of war throughout my high school years.
I remember going to Jackson's Mill to play the piano for a singer who entertained young naval aviators who were stationed there. I also remember going to the U.S.O. on Hewes Avenue in Clarksburg to entertain soldiers who were always in transit to somewhere else. U.S.O. was an acronym for United Service Organization, which was an auxiliary organization formed to keep up the morale of servicemen.
I also remember ration stamps. Because many things were in short supply, such as tires, gasoline, coffee, meat, sugar, chocolate, butter, etc., they were rationed and citizens were issued books of ration stamps which they forfeited as they were able to purchase such items. Nylon stockings were almost impossible to get because most nylon was being used to manufacture parachutes. I can remember waiting in a long line in front of the local Lerner's Store on Main Street to purchase a pair, only to learn just as I approached the counter that they had run out. Many young women (sweethearts of returning service men) sported beautiful blouses made from the nylon parachutes their boy friends had brought back after the war.
There was a time during World War II when we, as civilians, were preparing for possible bombing attacks on the US. I remember how proud I was that my father was chosen to be the block leader on our street during the practice black-outs. I remember the special hard hat he wore which bore his new title and granted him the status and authority of civilian police. Fortunately we never had to use our newly acquired, practiced skills since war was never fought on our soil.
On May 8, 1945, the newspaper headlines read: "V-E Day proclaimed by Allies." Although this meant that the war in Europe was officially over, the Japanese didn't surrender until August 14, 1945.
I remember well that August day in 1945.
The church bells all over town peeled loudly. St. James Church, on the
corner of 21st and Pride Avenue in Clarksburg, WV, rang its
bell incessantly and as the bells rang out people ran from every direction
toward the church. There wasn't a person in the community who didn't feel
sincere gratitude that the conflict was finally over and their loved ones
would soon be returning home.
© 2000 Olga S. Hardman