The Home-Front Herald

Soldiers and their families on the home front brace for a long, hard war.

By Sean Stewart Price

LEAVING HOME!

FEBRUARY 1942 — America's war effort is only two months old. But already, folks on the home front have been hit with a double whammy.

First, their sons, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, and fathers are going off to war. Second, they are learning to live with rationing (using items sparingly) and shortages of food, clothes, and gasoline.

The U.S. armed forces began the draft (requiring men to join the military) even before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The bombing forced the U.S. into World War II and boosted the military's need for men to fight the Axis powers — Japan, Germany, and Italy. Now all men between the ages of 18 and 45 are eligible to be drafted.

Americans on the home front also are being asked to make sacrifices for the war. So far, sugar is the only item to be rationed. But many other items, such as clothing, are expected to follow. Each family is given a ration book with a certain number of ration points in it. For example, it takes eight points to buy a pound of sugar.

Some Americans are grumbling about rationing and shortages. They complain that there is no way to know what will suddenly be unavailable. One week it might be butter, the next week it might be meat. But those who grumble too loud usually get an abrupt reminder that there is a war on.

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U.S. Youngsters Fight the Axis

JUNE 1942 — An army of children has fanned out across the U.S. to collect scrap metal, cloth, paper, and rubber to help the war effort. Scrap metal and other recyclable products are needed so that there will be enough materials to produce weapons and clothes for American GIs (a nickname for U.S. soldiers).

U.S. government officials say that the recycling drives are a great way for young people to feel as if they are part of the war effort. Scrap drives are not the only contribution that U.S. youngsters are making. They also are buying war stamps for 10 and 25 cents each. After they have bought enough stamps, they can buy a war bond. War bonds, which come in amounts of $25, $50, $100, $500, or $1,000, help to fund the U.S. war effort.

That's not all. Americans of all ages are helping the war effort by planting "victory gardens" in backyards, vacant lots, parks, playgrounds, and in just about any patch of land that will grow vegetables. Experts estimate that the gardens will soon grow one third of the nation's vegetables.

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Frankie Wows Bobby-soxers

DECEMBER 1942 — Who's the Dream-Prince singer that all the bobby-soxers have been shrieking over at New York's Paramount Theater? It's none other than Frankie Sinatra, the King of Swoon. Frankie is popular with youngsters partly because he looks like one of them, even though he's in his mid-20s. He managed to stay out of the army because he's 4-F (unfit for military service), due to a ruptured eardrum.

Some of his adult critics say that Frankie sings like he has two ruptured eardrums. Other adults accuse him of encouraging improper behavior by their daughters. As one congressman said, " 'The Lone Ranger'and Frank Sinatra are the prime [forces behind] juvenile delinquency [misbehavior] in America." But try telling that to young girls who pack his concerts and tear at his clothes in hopes of getting a souvenir. Youngsters also are packing movie theaters across the country. For a dime, moviegoers can see the latest war newsreel, a cartoon or two, and a feature film — often, a double feature.

Despite the popularity of movies, radio remains the most common form of entertainment in the U.S. News broadcasts have become more popular than ever because of the war. But people mostly listen to the radio for entertainment. They especially like listening to comedians like Fred Allen, Jack Benny, and Bob Hope. Also popular are situation comedies like "Fibber McGee and Molly." Millions of Americans also tune in every week to exciting radio dramas like "Gangbusters," "The Lone Ranger," and "The Shadow."

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Military Loosens Censorship Rules

SEPTEMBER 1943 — In a surprising move, U.S. government censors have begun allowing newspapers and magazines to show photos of U.S. servicemen killed in action. (Censors are officials who decide what war information is safe to print or broadcast.)

Ever since Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government has closely censored the press. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press in peacetime. But the country is at war, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt has emergency powers. Information that the government feels would help the enemy is kept under wraps.

Government censorship has been toughest on photos and newsreels. U.S. officials were afraid that shocking photos of U.S. war dead might destroy Americans'will to fight.

Officials changed their minds because they are worried that people have become too confident of an Allied victory. War-dead photos may prod people into working harder and sacrificing more.

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Terrible Telegrams

The Axis leaders Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo may be the most hated men in America. But the most feared man in America is probably the Western Union deliveryman.

The military often uses Western Union telegrams to notify families when a relative is injured, killed, or missing in action. So when people see a Western Union man walk up to their door, they fear that the news is bad.

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War Helps Women and Blacks Get Better Jobs

SEPTEMBER 1944 — The war has been a terrible burden for most Americans. But it also has given women and blacks opportunities that they never had in peacetime.

Women have taken over many of the jobs of men who have gone off to war. More than two million women now work in war plants and shipyards, where they have earned the nickname of "Rosie the riveter."

Not all women are happy to be working outside the home. But the jobs are giving women more independence than ever before, even though they are paid less than men for the same work.

Black men and women also are getting a crack at jobs formerly closed to them.

Women and blacks are serving with distinction in the U.S. military. Women are taking noncombat roles in all branches of the armed forces. Blacks, who must serve in segregated (racially separate) units, have proven themselves in battle. But they still face tremendous racism.

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VICTORY AT LAST!

AUGUST 1945 — The war is over!

Japan surrendered after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Germany surrendered last May and Italy, the weakest of the three main Axis countries, was knocked out of the war in 1943. From the smallest town to the biggest city, Americans are celebrating. Yet, for many, it is a sad time, too. More than 406,000 Americans were killed in the war. Many families will never get over their losses.

The U.S. also lost its great leader, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died in April. At the beginning of the war, Roosevelt promised to make the U.S. the "arsenal for democracy." He did that and more. American planes, ships, guns, and tanks gave U.S. military forces an edge that its enemies could not match. U.S. war production also made it possible for its allies, such as Great Britain and the Soviet Union, to continue fighting when they were almost defeated. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a bitter enemy of the U.S. before the war, has toasted America's industry. "To American production," he said, "without which this war would have been lost."

World War II greatly boosted the once-ailing U.S. economy. Massive spending on the war brought an end to the unemployment of the Great Depression. Average U.S. weekly wages doubled between 1939 and 1944. As journalist Edward R. Murrow put it, "We are the only nation which has raised its standard of living since the war began."

The war has left the U.S. the richest country in the world. It also is the most powerful — the only country with the technology to make atomic bombs. This gives the U.S. a huge responsibility as a world leader.

  • Subjects:
    World War II
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