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Archive for September, 2008

My mother was working in Rochester, NY during the 1940s.  When America went to war,  she joined the Red Cross Motor Corps as a volunteer driver.

Back then, Rochester was known as the “imaging capital of America” because it was home to industries and Universities that specialized in optical science–technologies that became integral to the war production effort. Parts of the Norden bomb sight used in many Allied planes, along with the radio delay fuse and other components used by the military were all manufactured in town.

On my mother’s days off she was called on to transport military or civilian personnel from the airport or railroad station to these companies and industries, or to the Air Force Materiel Command building.

The volunteer drivers were required to attend classes in automotive mechanics. I remember my mother saying that although she KNEW how to change a tire, she was glad she never had to do so. But she almost flunked carburetors! She also recalled that sometimes you were told who you were driving, but sometimes not. If not, you didn’t ask, you just drove. The “loose lips sink ships” rule applied here too. There were also memories of blackouts and possible sabotage threats as some of the Rochester items were vital to the war effort.

In spite of the war, or perhaps because of it, people made friendships they never might have otherwise, and people felt good about themselves for contributing in some way on the Home Front. Life went on, although it changed dramatically.

—Mary Clark

More about the Red Cross Motor Corps, from the Red Cross Museum:

Nationally, the “Motor Corps consisted almost entirely of women who clocked over 61 million miles answering nine million calls to transport the sick and wounded, deliver supplies, and take volunteers and nurses to and from their posts. In all, nearly 45,000 women served in the Motor Corps during World War II. Most drove their own cars and many completed training in auto mechanics in order to be able to make automotive repairs on their own.”

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Heartfelt thanks to the Friends of the Thomas Crane Public Library,  the non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to raising money to pay for these and other special programs, and for raising public awareness of the Library’s vital role in the educational and cultural life of Quincy.

The Thomas Crane Library has long relied on the generosity of its volunteers and benefactors, but few libraries are able to offer its Friends the varied opportunities that exist here at the Thomas Crane for making a contribution of time, money, or expertise.

While the taxpayers and City of Quincy fund the Library building and staff, proceeds from Friends’ fundraisers pay for lectures, films, discussion series, passes to area museums and zoos, as well as an array of children’s programs, such as storytellers and concerts.

Please consider joining the Friends of the Thomas Crane Public Library. For as little as ten dollars a year, you will make a difference in the quality of life for all Quincy residents.

Thank you!

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During the summer of 1943, I received the inevitable “Your friends and neighbors have chosen you” letter from President Roosevelt. After about three weeks reprieve at home, we landed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts for processing, during which I was interviewed by a Classification Specialist. When he heard that I was a History Teacher, he threw up his hands. “If you were a Science or Math Teacher there would be no problem, but the Army doesn’t know what the hell to do with fellows like you or me. I’m an English Teacher.” He paused momentarily, then, “What do you do in the summer?” was his next question. “I have worked quite a few summers as a substitute letter carrier”, I said truthfully. His face lit up at once. “You mean you walked 15 miles or so each day with a heavy pack on your back?” I had no recourse but to answer miserably, “That’s about it.” A few days later I was one of 500 men “railroaded” to Fort McClellan, Alabama “Basic Infantry Replacement Training.”

Anzio, Italy: March 13, 1944
We moved up to the front lines tonight after six days of rest and training. Back to the same brook and ravine I had struggled with the night I went up with rations. On the way up we had to cross and bridge and road which had been receiving heavy shelling. Sure enough, we had to hit the dirt, myself in the middle of the road, and sweat out a half dozen shells about fifty yards away–possibly nearer.

I was assigned to a hole with Shorty Powell [later killed in action]. Because of the water the hole was only about a foot deep, but was built up about three feet by sods and dirt. We had been there only about fifteen minutes when a shell landed fifteen feet from our hole and seemed to almost lift us into the air. The explosion was deafening and part of our side wall was knocked in, and our blankets which we hadn’t unrolled had gaping holes ripped through them.

For a couple of hours more the shells came pretty close and had us pretty well frightened. Then it was fairly quiet. We couldn’t both sleep at once, so we slept and watched in two-hour intervals.

–Donald E. MacDonald, from his soldier’s diary of war time experiences on Anzio Beach-head, Italy, 1944.

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Just Another Day in the US Army: Abe Cohen drives a Nazi Jeep into German territory

March 30, 1945 on the outskirts of Heidelberg, Germany: An open city, white sheets and pillowcases flying from the windows. Slept under a wine tank, long as a football field. Sunrise, found the bridge across the Neckar River blown up. My battalion commander, surveying the scene, pointed out the German medical center across the river. Division headquarters wanted to know if American soldiers were patients there. Bridge kaput—pointed to a row boat. I knew my mission.

Hewitt, my faithful companion and driver, not too enthusiastic, started to row. The Neckar River was about 300 yards wide; halfway across, a few rifle shots, coming from an apartment at river’s edge, fortunately missed us.

Upon landing, we proceeded to the hospital compound, where I asked for the commandant. Soon, a medical general appeared. I informed him that I was now in charge and asked if there were any U.S. military here. He answered “no” but close by in two small hospitals, each contained a G.I.

Having no vehicle, I asked for his car. He walked us to it, a duplicate of our own Jeep, except it had the Nazi emblem and his flag attached. He gave us exact directions and we took off. After about two km, we turned a corner and there was a Nazi lieutenant. standing in front of a tank. As we passed, I saw his mouth open in astonishment, seeing two G.I.s driving a Nazi officer’s car. We kept driving, now knowing that the information given to me that another battalion further south had crossed the Necker and secured this area was wrong. Not unusual in this now fluid war. No turning back, so we proceeded on our mission.

Very shortly we came onto a small building flying the German Red Cross flag, in which we discovered an American soldat in very bad shape. He was having breathing problems and they had rigged up a gadget that kept his mouth open and his tongue immobilized.

At that moment, in stormed the lieutenant we had passed earlier. He yelled and we quickly understood that we were being arrested. We were led to his car. We came to a small village and stopped in front of a house. A major appeared and the lieutenant told him how we were detained. The major asked me the name of our unit. I refused. He then looked at the insignia on our jackets and said “Blut and Fire”, the motto of the 63rd Division. I knew then that he knew more about us than I about them. He started to ask questions, I looked dumb and in English said that I didn’t understand. He then called for another soldier who spoke English and he became our interpreter.

Hewitt pulled out his identification card, handed it to the major right side up, showing his photograph and the back which had a large Red Cross. While the major was examining it, Hewitt leaned over, kicked my ankle and jokingly whispered, “You Goddamn Jew, we will be shot”. When I gave the major my card, he turned it over, read my name—Lt. Abraham Cohen–out loud. At this point, I felt that I better speak up. I told him that my colonel had sent me on this mission to check on any U.S. Army wounded soldiers, that we had the car that belonged to the German medical general, his directions to the small hospital where we were captured and that it would be in the best interests of all if we were set free. If this didn’t happen, my colonel could take vengeance and the German hospital could suffer.

This, of course, was good talk. My colonel at this time didn’t have any idea where I was. But I could see that I had made an impression. The major said that because I was a medical officer and a non-combatant, if he blindfolded us and then when we returned would not report any military position. I agreed. The truth is that we didn’t see anything. The lieutenant then drove us back to the small hospital where we could pick up our vehicle, less any blindfold. We picked up the car, drove back to Heidelberg, where the engineer had put up a temporary bridge, and reported this encounter to my colonel.

P.S. My aid station was bombed while I was away and two young men lost their lives. I checked on our American soldat the next day and he had died during the night.

–Abe Cohen, Quincy resident

More about Neckar: Soldiers of Necker” is a 30-minute-long award-winning film by three 19-year-old brothers that tells the story of “Uncle John” who served in World War II.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany
at the time of capture by US Forces (255th Infantry Regiment).

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Voices

Sentimental Journey: Popular Songs of the 1940s

Boston trio Outrageous Fortune played an afternoon of old favorites to a crowd of more than 80 people in the Library atrium. Standards like “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” got rave reviews, including the endorsement of 12-year-old Eli Kissman.

Voices from the concert:

About the music:
Outrageous Fortune’s Rod Thomas
Reaction:
Peter Brewer
Mary Clarke
12-year-old Eli Kissman remembers his grandfather

Voices from the film series on how World War II shaped the world we live in today:

Jim Joyce: everybody was joining up

Voices from the Homefront
Angela
Marie
Kenny
Nick

More clips from our interview with Harold DiMattio:

I’d had enough
Life’s lesson
Fear

Collector of WWII memorabilia on his father’s service as a machine gunner in the US Marines

The Big Bands: a Video Retrospective Humorist and WBZ radio personality Mel Simons took a crowd of 85 people on a foot-tapping video journey back to the Big Bands of yesteryear. Musical greats Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman all did their part to help the war effort, and play the last hurrah in a musical era that would end within a few years of the troops coming home.

Mel Simons: “It was the greatest music ever”

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I asked my 79 year old mother what she remembers most about the war years. “The patriotism that engulfed the country,” she said. “Following the battles in the newspaper and Atlas. Love of country. National pride in our military. I’m sorry I was too young to join one of the Services. We, as a nation, were all together.”

Mom also remembers my father, a World War II veteran. Four years out of the Army Air Corps, dad stopped to help a young woman who was wearing red lipstick and pedal pushers fix the roof of her friend’s convertible. The rest is history: the dashing man in his leather bomber jacket sweeps damsel in distress off her sensible feet. During a marriage that sometimes seemed like the war itself, one thing my parents always shared was a sense that as Americans, they had faced and overcome a great danger not just to our country but to the world. It wasn’t anything they talked about; it was the way they lived.

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83-year-old Mildred Vento worked as a ship painter in the Quincy Shipyard during WWII when she was only 17 years old.

Listen to Mildred’s story.

For more stories from the homefront, go to A Legend on the Homefront.

Homefront: Quincy in the War Years
During the Fall of 08, Dr. Edward Fitzgerald of the Quincy Historical Society presented an illustrated talk about Quincy during the early 1940s. Ron Adams, a teacher at Broad Meadows Middle School, talked about his students’ ‘Winnie the Welder’ project–video interviews with women who worked at the shipyard during the war. A project to reformat these old video interviews into DVD is currently underway. Check back with us! Eventually the DVDs will be available at the library.

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