World War II

Mount Suribachi Iwo Jima
February 23 1945

WW2 Japan
Nazi Germany
WW2 Italy

Sunday, December 7, 1941. It was early evening in Pittsburgh, and my neighbor Clemmie Bauer and I were putting the finishing touches on a model, cut from the back of a Kellogg's Pep cereal box. The Bauers round-topped Fada radio crackled out the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We were nine years old, and the significance of this event wasn't immediately apparent to two carefree youngsters.
Our world revolved around neighborhood, family, games, school, church, movies and radio serials. Jack Armstrong, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and Superman were our heroes. We all had our Ovaltine Secret Decoder Rings, which we used to hide our clandestine plans from our parents, sisters and enemy spies. We even anxiously decoded the insipient secret radio messages from the Ovaltine Company and various superheroes. These were great times, but this "Day of Infamy" spawned many changes in everyone's lives.

On December 8, 1941 the U.S. declared war on Japan.
On December 11, 1941 mutual declarations of war were made
by the U.S., Germany and Italy.

Brother Larry
Brother Chuck
Brother Bob
Army & Army Air Force
Army Air Force

My brother Larry had been in the Army, joined the Army Air Force and was soon sent to the South Pacific.
My brother Bob enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force on December 22, 1941. He was trained as an airplane mechanic on the B25, P38, A20 and A26. He was stationed in South Carolina during the war, to train and support the combat crews.

Bob Center, With his B25 Crew

Bob and Chuck in Later Years

My brother Chuck enlisted in the Navy in early 1942, and in 1944 was assigned to the Heavy Cruiser USS Pittsburgh in the Pacific Theater.
To view the Intact USS Pitsburgh and a brief history
Click on picture

USS Pitsburgh
Missing 180 Feet of Her Bow
Three blue stars hung in our dining room window throughout the war and thankfully none were ever changed to gold, which would indicate that the honored serviceperson had been killed in action. 295,000 Americans lost their lives as a direct result of WW2.

For a chronology of the war and deaths by country

Click Here

The view of the war through the innocent eyes of a nine year-old consisted mainly of frequent Air Raid drills, (Cookie was a Block Warden, complete with muted flashlight and helmet) many new G.I. heroes, "Eyes And Ears Of The World" newsreels shown ahead of the weekly movie serials, and an explosion of lapel buttons and posters. Many of the buttons depicted Uncle Sam, V for victory, and slogans like "Loose Lips Sink Ships", but most were derogatory depictions of Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini. Some buttons were cleverly mechanized to hang their hated subject with the pull of a string. These were all part of the intensive propaganda to encourage patriotism and spur the massive war effort. This propaganda no doubt contributed to shortening the war and saving many lives, but there was a downside to all this patriotic fervor.

World War II Posters

Prior to the post-war boom Pittsburgh, like many large cities became divided ethnically with immigration. Our little borough of Overbrook was mostly of German descent, just as were we Theobalds. The only German that was spoken around our house was the occasional swear word or disparagement, such as "du bist ein dummer Esel". ("You are a stupid jackass") However, many of our neighbors were first and second-generation Germans, and often communicated in Deutsche. There is no need to go into the ill treatment of the Japanese-Americans during the war, but we citizens were also guilty of distrusting those prone to speak "the language of the enemy". Stories abounded about these good people, from cheating on the meat-sugar-butter-gasoline rationing program to out-and-out espionage. Folks got ridiculously upset over the most innocent of activities, such as membership in any social organization of German-Americans or Italian-Americans. Our whole family and that of many friends were members of Der Deutsche Sports Verein. (The German Sports Association) I doubt seriously that there was a subversive in the whole bunch, as Der Klub prevailed due exclusively to the mutual love of beer and family parties. I remember that one German neighbor woman was ostracized for using some of her meat tokens to buy hamburger for her tiny dog. No! It was a Chihuahua, not a Dachshund!
Ironically, the German-Americans hated the Nazis more than those of us 3rd and 4th generation Americans, and many of the bravest U.S. fighters were of recent Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry.

Impressionable as we were, my little friends and I discounted these stories, and launched into daily support for our country's war effort. We were formed into a platoon of "Junior Commandos", sponsored by the U.S. Government, and we were issued armbands designating our rank. I was a Corporal, and to my lasting regret my 12 year-old sister Theresa was my Sergeant. During much of our free time, we scoured our neighborhood collecting metal and rubber for the community scrap drive. At our Five-Points intersection, the scrap mounds would grow to house-size proportions before being hauled off. This was repeated all during the war. Our efforts were often rewarded with free movies, comic books and War Stamps. These were the child-size version of War Bonds with denominations of 10 cents and 25 cents. I could be mean and say that my sister stole all of mine, but truthfully I can't remember what happened to them. They probably went to a good cause with the rest of our spare money, to help with our family finances.

As the war stayed its bloody course, daily routine was mixed with a heady dose of worry for the safety of our servicemen and women. Lil attended 6 A.M. Mass at St. Norbert's every single day, rain or snow. V-Mail became the highlight of every weekday, even with all of it's censored words. Every letter mailed by a GI in a foreign area was censored to eliminate any possible military or location references. These words were blacked out, and the letter was photo-copied on microfilm. The reels of microfilm were shipped to the States, and printed at about 1/4th letter size. The V-Mail that finally arrived often looked like a small thin piece of black and white Swiss cheese, but it was always treasured nonetheless.

V-Mail May 25, 1945

From Brother Chuck
To Sister Rita

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