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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
For Memorial Day, I am honoring the memory and the service of Maury Thomas Brewer or Tom Brewer as he was known in my hometown. When I was growing up, Tom lived next door to us and he taught Agriculture at the local high school. I didn’t realize until I was grown that he had been in the Army Air Corps during WWII, had been shot down and held in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany.
Originally from Big Sandy, Tennessee, Tom joined the Army Air Corps on March 3, 1943. After months of training at various places across the U.S., Tom was assigned to the 325th Squadron of the 92nd Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force, at Podington airfield, near Rushdin in Bedforshire, England.
I couldn’t find a record of how many missions Tom flew. Rob Hutchings of the 92nd Bomb Group Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page sent me a document compiled for another airman, Tech Sergeant Walter E. Papunen. On four of the missions recounted in this document, Sgt. Maury T. Brewer was a waist gunner.
On Aug. 1, 1944. Brewer and Papunen flew with Pilot 2nd Lt. William F. Schramm to Orleans and Chateaudun, France. On Aug. 5, 1944, the mission was to bomb the airdrome at Hanover, Germany. On Aug. 6, they bombed an ME-109 plant in Brandenburg, Germany.
The mission on August 9, 1944, was to bomb the marshaling yards at Karlsruhe, Germany, near Munich, with 2nd Lt. William E. Schramm piloting B-17 #42-107090. They were hit by flak and the plane crashed at Echterdingen, Germany. All nine crew members survived the crash and were captured.
I cannot imagine what it was like for Tom’s mother, Mrs. Thelma Penick, when she received the telegram from the War Department telling her that her son was missing in action. It would be months before she was notified that he was a Prisoner of War.
Tom Brewer spent nine to ten months as a Prisoner of War (from Aug. 9, 1944, until his camp was liberated in April or May, 1945). The National Archives Records of Prisoners of War report for Maury T Brewer lists the camp he was held in as “Unknown.” A newspaper article reported that he was home on leave after being released from a Prisoner of War camp near Bitterfield, Germany. That information did not help since I could not find a POW camp listed in that area.
In my research about the German POW camps for my novel, Kitty’s War, I learned of conditions that ranged from poor to deplorable. Red Cross packages, when distributed to the men, supplemented the meager German-provided food. Medical care was provided primarily by other prisoners. The wooden barracks were poorly heated and the thin blankets gave little warmth during the bitter cold winter of 1944-45. Beatings and torture were not uncommon. The camps run by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, were better than those run by the German Army or Navy, yet they were all miserable places. As the war grew closer to its end, conditions in the camps deteriorated since the Germans barely had enough supplies for their own military. When several of the camps were threatened to be taken by the Russians, prisoners were marched to other camps through terrible weather with next to no rations. Many died. This is sometimes called the “other death march” since few know about it.
Liberation by American, British or Russian armies brought joy to the Allied prisoners. After much needed medical treatment, the American ex-prisoners were transported back to the United States. Here is the newspaper article reporting Tom’s leave home to visit his family. He was discharged on November 15, 1945.
After the war, Tom returned to Big Sandy where he married Beatrice Price on December 2, 1945.
Tom passed away August 22, 2009, at age 86. He is buried in Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. Here is a link to his obituary. Thanks to Tom and all the others who have served our country.
Also, thanks to the members of the 92nd Bomb Group (H) Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page for their help in compiling this information, especially Robert McHugh, John Davidson and Rob Hutchins.