Posted in History, WWII

Can We Compare Coronavirus Pandemic to World War II?

Are we in a war with the Coronavirus? Some say we are and, although it’s not the same, I can see a few commonalities with World War II.

A lot of people may not know that at the beginning of WWII there were severe shortages of weapons. Draftees and Federalized National Guard troops had to train with wooden sticks as rifles and trucks as tanks. It took months for American industry to convert over to war production.

We were not prepared for war then and we were not prepared to combat this virus.

Today, we have shortages of personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers. We don’t have enough ventilators for critically ill patients. We don’t have enough tests. Some industries have converted from their normal production over to production of medical equipment and protective gear for the front line medical workers, like General Motors making ventilators, Carhartt and Hanes making gowns and masks. Many distillers have switched from making alcoholic beverages to antibacterial hand sanitizer. Others companies, like 3M and Kimberly Clark, are working around the clock to produce masks, but there will still be shortages until industry can catch up to the demand.

The people who have jumped in and are sewing cloth masks remind me of the people who rolled bandages and conducted scrap drives during World War II. People gathered up anything that could be reused for war materials, from paper to cooking oils to rubber to metal, because they wanted to help in some way, just like the seamstresses are today.

During World War II to ensure that enough raw materials went to industry for manufacturing war materials, strict rationing went into effect. Things like meat, butter, sugar, clothing, shoes, rubber, and much more were rationed. Production of consumer goods ground to a halt as industry shifted to making airplanes, guns, tanks and ships. Today some goods are becoming hard to get. These goods are not going to war production, rather we are either not manufacturing them because plants are shut down to keep from spreading the virus or we are not importing them due to the Coronavirus related shut downs overseas.

Hoarding and price gouging were also problems during World War II. Back then it wasn’t toilet paper. It was food. A thriving black market developed between people obtained goods illegally and those who had money and were willing to pay any price. If you were caught selling goods on the black market, you went to jail. In recent months, people trying to price gouge to make a profit selling hoarded items have found themselves in legal trouble as well.

During WWII people were separated from their loved ones but in a different way than what is happening now. Men and women serving in the military were sent far from home first for training and then into combat. Other Americans moved to places where they could work in defense manufacturing, leaving home and loved ones behind. People waited patiently for the mail to arrive bringing news from a far away loved one.

Finally, death is another similarity. Soldiers died far from home. If they were lucky, a friend was with them. Today Coronavirus victims die alone without family and friends at their side. Almost every household in America lost someone during World War II. The way this pandemic is going everyone in America probably knows someone with the virus. And before it is over, many of us will know someone who died from it. That is the saddest comparison of all.

Just like during World War II, we are all in this crisis together. Our weapons are social distancing and hand-washing. Meanwhile we wait for better, more effective weapons to treat and prevent this terrible disease that has invaded our country.

Posted in History, Research

Yellow Fever Epidemic 1878

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic I thought of the epidemics we experienced in the past, particularly a story about an epidemic in my hometown back in the 1800’s.

To see where I first heard this story I pulled out my copy of “A History of Houston County, Tennessee” by Iris Hopkins McClain. For those of you who have this book, the account begins on page 45. I will transcribe it here for those who don’t have this book.

“On July 18, 1878, the steamer John Porter left New Orleans and came up the Mississippi. The outcome of that trip had far-reaching effects in Houston County. This ship brought the dread disease yellow fever to Memphis and in turn to Houston County when some hospital cars from Memphis were side-tracked in Erin. This was a fearful illness and caused panic. The local editor was to remark that “some of our people have not acted as they should.”

The skin of yellow fever victims turned yellow, there was a great deal of hiccuping, and eventually a black vomit that had an unbearable stench. Victims usually died in a little while. Yellow fever played no favorites. Of every three persons stricken,two died and the third mysteriously recovered.

Some people fled Erin, but the plague followed them to the country. Business came to a standstill as “nobody felt like doing any business.” Arlington had been quarantined from Erin to prevent the spread of the disease to that place. Armed me were said to have stood on the outskirts of Arlington ready to shoot anyone from Erin who tried to pass through the “picket” line. The quarantine was not effective as Ed Schroibor,  I. F. McMillan, Mike Kelly and Kelly’s young son became ill with the disease.

A local theory had been advanced that a limestone quarry was “sure protection” from yellow fever. The editor announced, almost with glee, that Fred Williamson, who had a lime kiln and quarry, had fallen to the disease and this disproved that theory.

The Howard Relief Train, under the direction of a Dr. Hunter, visited Erin early in October and left nurses and supplies to the stricken people.

The frosts came in mid-October and the plague soon ebbed away. By October 19 there had been seven people to die in the county of yellow fever including M. M. Stanfill, C. S. Humphreys, and Mrs. M. M. Stanfill. Mrs. G. W. Simpson was reportedly dying. Those on the convalescent list included Dick Rushing, Randal Hankins, and Walter Hagler. Those ill at the time of the first frost were Mrs. G. E. Rauscher, Ira Rauscher, Mrs. Klein, and M. F. Shelton.”

For a little background, it was not known that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes until 1900. There were no antibiotics at that time and no effective treatment. If you contracted the disease, you either lived or died.

The Howard Relief Train was organized by the Howard Association of New Orleans to follow the Louisville & Nashville Railroad with doctors and nurses to aid the stricken communities. To read more see an article in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle by Melissa Barker.

In reading this account I couldn’t help thinking of what we are going through today: the panic, the unknown, the attempts at quarantine, social distancing, fleeing the infected areas as some are doing now, closing of businesses.  Today we hear some wild theories about cures or ways to protect yourself that strangely mimic the past. So over a hundred years later, we as humans react in similar ways to what they did back then.

We also reach out to help those in need. The local doctors and citizens of Erin attempted to help those people left in train cars on a siding to die. A doctor from Erin died of yellow fever, much like those health care workers of today who have contracted COVID-19 and some have died.

For more articles about the Yellow Fever epidemic in Tennessee read the following: The Yellow Fever Epidemic on the Tennessee State Library and Archives blog, Yellow Fever Epidemics in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, Yellow Fever in Tennessee in the Tennessee Magazine.

Posted in Family, Genealogy, Historical Sites

The Trip To Nowhere

Young men seek adventure especially when they are living in a small town, out of school and out of work. That’s true today and it was true in the past. The particular adventure story I’m going to tell you took place in 1937 (my estimate) and one of the young men was my father, Vernon R. Knight. He and his friends, J. V. Averitt, Charles E. Covington, and Hugh Dickson, set off to see the country in an old car that belonged to one of them.

Vernon R. Knight

My father never talked about this trip. The only way I knew about it was through a conversation with my aunt, his sister, after his death. We were going through some old pictures. We didn’t know where some of the pictures were taken so we asked her about them. She said, “Those must be from the ‘trip to nowhere.'”

Aunt Sissy went on to tell us about how my father and his friends took an old car and headed west. They drove as far as they could on the money they had, and then they stopped and found work. One place they worked was in the oil fields in Texas. When they had enough money, they started out again.

Somewhere along the road my father bought a camera. This old style camera, that expanded when you opened it up to expose the lens, was always in a drawer in the dining room along with an old photo album. As kids we would take out the camera and examine it with the natural curiosity of children. We would also take out the old photo album and flip through the pictures, amazed at what our parents looked like when they were young.

Hoover Dam

The first pictures in the album from the “trip to nowhere” were taken at Hoover Dam (known as Boulder Dam at the time). These helped me date the trip. Hoover Dam was completed in 1935. In 1936 the water in Lake Mead was high enough to begin electrical generation. It took some time for water to fill Lake Mead. In my Dad’s pictures, the lake is almost full so I am guessing it was a year or two after completion of the dam.

J. V. Averitt and Charles Covington at Hoover Dam
Lake Mead
Hoover Dam Spillway from electric turbines
Lowering Loaded Flat Car at Hoover Dam

 

The next pictures find our young men in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. At that point they would have been along Route # 66. J. V. Averitt told his son, Phil, about how many times they had to patch the tires on the old car. Back then, tires had inner-tubes, that held the air, inside the outer tire. If the tube got a hole in it, they would take the inner-tube out, patch it, then put it back inside the outer tire before re-inflating it.

The next group of pictures are landscape shots. My father probably took them because the terrain was so different from what they were familiar with in Tennessee. These are pictures of the desert alongside the road, possibly in Arizona or New Mexico.

Only a couple of the pictures featured any of the young men. My Dad apparently didn’t want to take pictures of people. After the photos of the desert there are no more pictures from this trip. Did he run out of film? Maybe, but I don’t know.

The only other thing I remember seeing from the trip was a card my Dad sent to his mother to let her know he had made it to the Pacific Ocean. I’m not sure where the card ended up.

I treasure the pictures and this little bit of history about my father when he was an adventurous, young man.

Posted in B-17, History, WWII

Ye Olde Pub B-17

The B-17 Ye Olde Pub was in Jacksonville last weekend. We didn’t get to ride this time but we went over to Craig Field to have a look. Our six-year-old grandson went with us and he had a ball.

The plane is owned by the Liberty Foundation. Along with the B-17, they also brought a P-51 fighter. We didn’t get to see the P-51 up close because it taxied away and took off on a far runway. The P-51 had its tail painted red to honor the Tuskegee Airmen or “Red Tails.” You can see the P-51 in the background of my picture in front of the B-17.

My grandson and I toured inside the old bird while my husband waited outside. We climbed into the nose through a tight passageway. Once inside the nose you can stand up and look out through the Plexiglas surrounding the bombardier’s seat. The navigator also sat in the nose at a make-shift desk where he plotted the course.  The hero in my novel, Kitty’s War, was the navigator on a B-17 similar to this one.

Back through the narrow passageway, on your knees or, like me, scooting on your behind, we climbed up into the area behind the pilots. In the picture you can see the numerous gauges and controls the pilots had to monitor. No wonder it took two to fly the bomber. The flight engineer stood behind the pilots and fired the top turret guns.

From there we walked across the narrow bridge through the bomb bay. My grandson loved this part. It was like walking the balance beam on his playground. I was busy taking pictures and pointing out the fake bombs. For the walk-through the bomb bay doors were open and we could see the pavement below. I’m not sure my grandson fully understood how the bombing worked.

In the rear of the B-17 we saw the radio room, the top of the ball turret and the positions of the two waist gunners. In this model the gunners were staggered so they wouldn’t bump into each other while firing at attacking fighters. The 50 caliber machine guns were mounted in place with the belts loaded with bullets. Very realistic.

Outside we walked around, inspecting the tail gun from the rear of the plane. We saw the ball turret hanging down from the belly of the plane. With it open we could see how small the space was for the gunner to sit. Definitely had to be a smaller airman.

The stop in Jacksonville was the first on the Liberty Foundation’s 2020 tour. Visit their website at https://www.libertyfoundation.org/schedule  to see the schedule. If they are in your area you should definitely go see the vintage airplanes. If you can afford it, I highly recommend taking a ride. It is an unforgettable experience.

Posted in Family, WWII

New Year’s Eve 1941

What was it like on New Year’s Eve 1941? Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor just three weeks before, followed by attacks on the Philippines, Guam and many other places in the Pacific. Germany and Italy had declared war on us. Prospects for the new year looked bleak.

It wasn’t as though we weren’t aware of the wars raging in Asia and Europe but strong pacifist sentiment fueled the belief by many that the United States could stay out of these wars. Until December 7th, 1941. Then everything changed.

Vernon Knight with his mother, Bessie, and his nephew, Norman.

My father had just turned twenty-seven, was married but had no children. I imagine he was debating whether to enlist or wait until he was drafted. I doubt my parents did much celebrating that New Year’s Eve.

My father’s younger brother, was in the National Guard. He’d joined a Calvary Unit to make some extra money and ride horses on the weekends. The National Guard was nationalized in 1940 so by New Year’s Eve 1941 he was already in the Army and stationed in far from home.

My father-in-law, who would later fight his way across Europe, was still in high school in 1941. I imagine he and his family worried about whether the war would last long enough for him to have to serve. Of course, it did.

Paul Whitaker in high school.

My mother’s sister and cousins lived in Sitka, Alaska, at the time. I remember reading a letter her cousin wrote in early 1942 which gave some insight into their thinking early in the war. She was concerned that they may not be able to travel home to Tennessee that year. She mentioned the possibility of an invasion by the Japanese but didn’t sound too worried.

No one knew what would come in 1942. So many lives would change and change rapidly. Although many celebrated the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, there must have been a lot of apprehension about the future. We know what came next. They were still in the precipice staring into the unknown.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and Sugar Rationing during World War II

With Thanksgiving only a few days away, many of us are planning our menus. An important part of the annual feast is the dessert and that means pies. Pumpkin pie, as well as apple, pecan, and even mince meat, are absolutely essential for the meal to be complete. So have any of you ever wondered how the homemaker managed to provide those pies for their World War II Thanksgiving table without using sugar?

No, the Thanksgiving celebration was not cancelled due to the war. It continued both at home and overseas, but with rationing of many food stuffs, it became more difficult to plan the menu. Desserts were especially hard because of sugar rationing, which continued even after the war ended. Cooks had to get creative. They often substituted honey and molasses for sugar. In my novel, Kitty’s War, Kitty’s mother made pies for her boarding house tenants using honey. In my story the family bee hives insured a steady supply of the sweet substance. The inspiration for this detail came from a family story about my grandfather keeping bees.

Since apples were in abundant supply in the early 1940’s, the government suggested apple pies for Thanksgiving. The Louisville Times published a recipe for apple pie using honey. Sure sounds good.

The Office of Price Administration put out a documentary film explaining the need for sugar rationing. I had no idea that sugar was used in so many ways during the war. Watch the video for an education on life during World War II and how our elders dealt with sugar rationing.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in History, WWII

Veterans Day

In 1954, November 11 was designated as a national holiday to honor all our veterans. Originally the holiday was called Armistice Day. It commemorated the armistice that ended World War I which was signed in 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In 1926 Armistice Day became an official holiday to honor the veterans of the “Great War.”

Later, after World War II, Congress decided to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all of our veterans.

So, a big “Thank You” to Veterans of all ages for your service to our country.

 

Posted in B-17, WWII

In Memory of the Nine-0-Nine

My husband and I flew on the Nine-0-Nine on Feb 23, 2018, at Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida. The flight was amazing. I was thrilled to be on board the B-17 and to share a tiny bit of the experience the men had who flew in it during World War II. As a writer of historical romance set during World War II, I’ve done a lot of research on the B-17. My first published novel, Kitty’s War, features a hero who is a navigator with a B-17 crew flying bombing missions over Europe. Since both the B-17 and the B-24 flew from England to Europe during that time, I researched both, finally selecting the B-17 for my novel. So getting to see a B-17 in person was incredible, but getting to fly in one was a spectacular event in my life.

I’m writing this post to honor the crew and passengers of the Nine-0-Nine who were on board when it crashed in Connecticut on October 2, 2019. Both pilots and five of the ten passengers died that day. Seven others had severe injuries and are still recovering. The crash was such a tragedy, especially for the families and friends of those who were killed and injured. It was also a tragedy for the Collings Foundation and for all of us history buffs who yearn to have the first hand experiences these flights offer.

I am posting here some of the pictures I took the day we flew in the Nine-0-Nine. Some I have posted before and some I have not.

The pictures above show where we entered the plane for our flight, the seats in the waist gun area and the exit door from the inside.

These are pictures of the crew while in flight. We weren’t supposed to bother the pilots. Note that the co-pilot on our flight was a woman. The nice guy standing was the “flight attendant.” He got us all situated and told us what we could and could not do.

During the flight we were allowed to unbuckle our seat belts and walk around in the plane.

I walked around the ball turret and through the radio room.

 

Then I walked through the bomb bay, alongside the fake bombs, on a very narrow metal bridge with only ropes as hand holds. When the B-17 is in flight there is more motion in the plane than on a modern commercial jet. The motion made it more difficult to walk around. These two pictures show the view as I started through the bomb bay and one that didn’t get quite focused due to the motion of the plane.

 

I stood in the Flight Engineer’s position behind the pilots before dropping down to the “tunnel” leading to the nose. I had to crawl so I was glad to have the polished wood for my knees.

The bombardier and the navigator sat in the nose. They had quite a view.

 

 

 

I started back to my seat in the waist. Here is a view through the bomb bay toward the waist.

 

Back in the waist area we looked out the windows.  As you can see we weren’t very high.  Nothing like the flights at 20,000 feet requiring oxygen.

After a smooth landing we were back on the ground safe and sound.

It was an incredible flight. Every time I talked about the flight I said I would do it again in a minute. And I would, still, after the crash. It was so sad to lose the Nine-0-Nine, but all the other historic military planes should keep flying and keep taking people like me for the ride of their lives.

 

Posted in Research, WWII

English War Brides during WWII

Growing up I remember this tiny English woman who lived in our town. She had hair so blonde that it was almost white and her daughter had that same blonde hair. As a child I didn’t think too much about it. Later I learned that the lady was an English war bride. She had married an American soldier while he was stationed in England. I wish I had talked to her about it. Unfortunately I didn’t become interested in these English women who followed their hearts and left their homes across the ocean until later in life.

In 1946 English war brides began arriving in the U.S. They scattered across the country, some to big cities and others to small towns like my hometown. In the outlying areas the war brides were truly alone, except for their husbands. They had no family of their own nearby and, despite a common language, there were many cultural differences. In areas where there were larger numbers, brides formed groups or clubs which gave them a sense of comradeship and shared experiences.

The English girls who married American servicemen far outnumbered all the other nationalities of war brides. This is not surprising given the fact that American servicemen arrived in England in early 1942 and remained in the country until after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Three years was plenty of time for romance to develop between lonely soldiers, sailors and airmen and the local female population. An added incentive was the lack of competition from Englishmen who had been conscripted into the Royal services and sent to the far reaches of the British Empire.

I have a number of books, both compilations of stories and individual memoirs, about war brides. I recently purchased one that delves into the media coverage of the war bride phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. “From the Battlefront to the Bridal Suite” by Barbara G. Friedman is proving to be quite interesting and I’ve only read the beginning.

Other books about WWII War Brides in my collection include “War Brides and Memories of World War II” by Elizabeth Hawthorne, “War Brides of World War II” by Elfrieda Berthiaume Shukert and Barbara Smith Scibetta, “Promise You’ll Take Care of my Daughter” by Ben Wicks, “Memoir of a French War Bride” by Jeannine Ricou-Allunis, “Entangling Alliances” by Susan Zeiger and “Bittersweet Decision” by Helene R. Lee.

At one time I thought I might write a series of novels about World War II War Brides. The subject fascinated me and still does. These women fell in love with men from another country that they barely knew. They left their own families and the only homes they had ever know to move to a foreign country across the ocean. At that time the only communications would have been by letter, with the occasional, very expensive and very inconvenient long distance telephone call which few of these women could afford. A trip back home meant either traveling by ocean liner or by airplane, both of which were very expensive at the time. So many of the war brides never saw their families and friends again. They started a new life with only one person they knew, their soldier-turned-civilian husband. Most of the marriages lasted. Some didn’t.

You cannot deny that these young women made a leap of faith and a statement about the strength of love when they made the decision to marry an American serviceman.

 

 

Posted in My Novels, Research, WWII

French War Brides

Years ago I was researching the idea of writing a novel about a French war bride from World War II. (A war bride is a woman who marries a soldier stationed overseas during a war.) In looking for memoirs I found most were written by English war brides. This made sense since the majority of foreign brides were from Great Britain where American troops were stationed for a number of years. The Americans landed in France in June 1944 so there was less time for the soldiers and the local French women to get to know each other.

I came across a book called “Des Amours de GI’s” by Hilary Kaiser published in 2004. Unfortunately this book was only available in French. I took French in high school and in college so I thought, “How hard could it be to translate this book?” I ordered “Des Amours de GI’s” and, when it came, I got out my French-English dictionary and went to work.

Needless to say, the translation went slowly, very slowly. What kept me going was my fascination with the content. Oral histories of French women who married American men in uniform filled the pages. Some of the stories went back to World War I but most were about relationships from World War II.

Hilary Kaiser did an amazing job interviewing French women who had married American servicemen and immigrated to the United States. Their stories not only involved how the couple met and became romantically involved but also the woman’s journey to the United States and how they settled into American life.

Thankfully, in 2007, Hilary Kaiser’s book was translated into English and made available as “French War Brides in America.” By this time I had translated less than half the French version. I gladly abandoned my translation exercise and read it in English. The same book has since been re-released in English both in paperback and e-book with the title French War Brides: Mademoiselle and the American Soldier.”

I did write a novel about a French girl and an American soldier who fell in love and married. The book has never been published but I still love the story…so maybe…someday…