John Greenwood’s experiences during World War II
I was almost 10 when World War II started with the German invasion of Poland. Not all Americans sided withGreat Britain. A family friend, who was a senior officer of Texaco Oil, hated the British for business reasons. He and my father argued frequently as to which side should win. All the controversy stopped withPearl Harbor. My father had recognized the Nazi threat long before the start of the war. He had been in theRhineland when the Wehrmacht occupied the territory in direct challenge to the Peace Treaty of 1918.
My family returned to the USA from Brazil in 1934 because my parents were concerned about the growing German influence in Brazil, especially in the educational system. Later, in 1940, before the USAentered the war, my father was director of a survey sponsored by the US Export-Import Bank to explore the feasibility of a major integrated steel mill in Brazil. He recommended the project, which became Eximbank’s first international loan project. Historians agree that the USA’s providing Brazil with the first major steel mill inSouth America was a successful bribe to keep Brazil on the Allied side in a bidding contest against Nazi Germany.
Brazil not only declared war against the Axis powers, but they sent an expeditionary force of a reinforced army division and air force squadron to fight as part of the U.S. 4th Army in the campaign in Italy. The Brazilian navy helped the allies patrol the South Atlantic to protect the sea routes to North Africa from the German submarines and raiders.
My older sister’s first husband joined the Army Air Force as a cadet, earned wings as a navigator, and was part of the first contingent of the USAAF 8th Bomber command. He was reported missing in action in a B-17 raid over Wihelmshaven, Germany. My sister married again to a veteran who had lost his leg as an Army Air Force B-17 bomber gunner. My older brother was seriously disabled while undergoing training in the AAF. My sister served in the American Red Cross. She was particularly useful as an aide in an Army hospital on Long Island to which Brazilian casualties from the BEF in Italy were sent for medical treatment and recuperation. My father spent part of the war as a dollar-a-year man at Wright Patterson Army Air Force Base.
On the home front in Scarsdale, NY, a suburb of New York City, we experienced shortages of gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, butter, and many consumer appliances, such as autos, refrigerators, and washing machines. Many urban residents, for the first time in their lives, grew vegetables in their yards. I ate so many home grown green beans during the war that my appetite for green beans did not return for ten years.
There were many wartime restrictions on long distance rail, air, and bus travel, as well as availability of hotel rooms. Public transportation facilities gave priority to military and important civilian travelers. The traditional Spring trips to Washington DC for junior high students were suspended.
My wartime para-military experience was in the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts started the war in uniforms reminiscent of the Spanish American War and WWI army with knickers and smokey hats; the Scouts finished the war in long pants and overseas hats. We concentrated more on close order drill than we would have in peace time. The Boy Scouts were continuously participating in scrap drives to collect newspapers, rubber, aluminum, and all types of metal.
Our school life was affected by the war primarily in the loss of many male teachers, especially athletic coaches, who were inducted into the armed forces to train new recruits. Admission to universities was relatively easy, because so many college-age men and women were involved in the military or defense industries. For teenagers interested in world geography, WWII provided daily lessons in the far reaches of the globe.
The worst aspect of the war on our home front was the frequent casualty reports of the deaths and injuries of our older brothers and fathers in uniform. With a population of about 10,000, our town sent over 2,000 men and women into the uniformed services and suffered almost 300 “killed in action.” casualties.
Before the USA entered the war, our town had its share of intrigue and espionage. Shortly beforePearl Harbor, several families claiming to be Dutch but suspected of being Nazi spies, suddenly disappeared from New York and ended up in Mexico. In one situation, more humorous than serious, New York Citynewspapers reported that a silhouette of a cut out H was displayed in the late afternoon in the window of a suspected German agent’s home. The FBI discovered, what any kid in the neighborhood could have told them, the lighted H was to signal the Good Humor truck to stop for a sale of ice cream to the residents of the house.
John Greenwood Fullerton, California Revised August 30. 2008