Posted in Family, Old Movies, WWII

Communications With Loved Ones During WWII

In today’s age of technology we have a variety of ways to instantly communicate with our loved ones, even those who are serving overseas in the military. We have cell phones that allow us to communicate by phone call, by text, by social media apps like Instant Messenger, Snap Chat or Instagram. We can even communicate face to face using programs like Skype.

Not so during World War II. In the 1940’s the most used form of communication was the letter. Yes. Actual hand-written, paper letters. Many a romance blossomed through letters written over the long months and years of separation.

The telephone did exist, but long-distance telephone calls were expensive. You couldn’t dial the number and have your loved one answer, not if you were calling someone out of town. You had to get a long-distance operator and have her place your call. Yes, I said “her” because all the telephone operators were women. This wasn’t a wartime thing. Women were always used for telephone operators.

It would have been rare and extremely expensive to place an overseas telephone call during the war, although these were possible due to the undersea cables. But they were very limited. Roosevelt may have called Churchill in England but the average person could not call up their son stationed over there.

Another mode of communication used in the 1940’s was the telegram. Western Union operated telegraph offices in practically every town in America. If someone wanted to send an urgent message to a loved one far away, say a son stationed at a military base in another state, then they would go to the Western Union office and send a telegram. Western Union employed delivery boys or girls or older men to deliver telegrams from the telegraph office to the addressee’s home or office. Mickey Rooney earned an Academy Award Nomination for his role as a telegraph delivery boy in The Human Comedy. It is a little known film well worth watching.

Although telegrams could deliver joyful news, like the birth of a baby or a loved-one’s pending arrival, telegrams often conveyed bad news, like a death, so many people dreaded receiving one. The U. S. Government used telegrams to notify families when a soldier was killed, wounded or missing in action.

Telegrams and telephone calls weren’t instantaneous but, for the time, they were quick forms of communication. On the other hand, letters could take anywhere from days to weeks to reach their destination. Mail sent to soldiers or sailors overseas might take two weeks each way. And they might not arrive in the order they were sent. Pretty hard to carry on a conversation at that rate. And if the mail bag was blown up or sunk the letter never got to its intended recipient.

The military devised a method to both speed up the mail and to cut down on the bulky shipments. They called it V-mail or Victory Mail. The person at either end would write their letter on a special, V-mail form. After mailing the V-mail form would be photographed and put on microfilm. The microfilm would be transported overseas, to Europe or Australia or wherever, and at the other end the microfilm would be printed. This printed “V-mail letter” would then be delivered to the addressee.

So be glad you live in this modern age of instant communication. Or maybe not. Back during World War II when you wrote a letter you had to think about what you were going to say, weigh the words your loved on would read far away on some battlefield or home worrying about you. The letters were often saved and cherished for years, especially love letters from someone special far away.

My mother saved a box of letters my father wrote to her during World War II. Reading them not only told me about the events of the time but also gave me insight into who my parents were as young people, their thoughts and feelings. It’s the kind of thing this current generation won’t have thanks to our various technological modes of communication.

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Posted in Family, History, Old Movies, WWII

“Meet Cute” during WWII

In the movie “The Holiday” (2006), Eli Wallach’s character explains to Kate Winslet’s character what a “meet cute” is in the movie business. “It’s how two characters meet in a movie,” he says. In other words, it is the scene where something brings the hero and heroine together and often the chemistry between the two is evident from the start.  In Romantic Comedies the writers try to make the meeting something awkward or unusual or “cute.”

Holiday (2006)
Eli Wallach and Kate Winslet

The term isn’t used as often when referring to novels, but romance novels always have a scene where the hero and heroine meet. There is a “meet cute” scene even if it’s not “cute.”

When I hear how couples met during WWII, I imagine the “meet cute” scene. I go on to ask what brought them to this point in their lives and how did their relationship develop into lasting love. Many had challenges such as parental disapproval, religious differences, physical separation due to the military, differences in social status or simply their own uncertainties. These challenges create conflict within the love story. Yet the challenges are overcome.

In real life the initial meeting may not seem so dramatic. Yet to those involved, it was life changing. My in-laws met on a blind date and, incredibly, married twelve days later before he shipped out. I wrote a post about Frank Towers who met his wife-to-be at a church social held for soldiers far from home, a social he didn’t want to attend. I wrote in another post how Irving Grayson’s future wife saw him showing off his skills at a skating rink. All these are “meet cute’s.”

In my novel, Kitty’s War, the hero and heroine first meet when she pulls him from the surf and saves his life, which is less of a “meet cute” and more of a dramatic encounter. Their second meeting is the awkward, unsure moment we think of as a “meet cute.”

Of course, plenty of couples knew each other before the war started. Maybe they went to school together or lived in the same town. Even in these instances, the war accelerated their desire to get together and see where their mutual feelings took them.

What makes these meetings during WWII unique? Many couples would never have met if it hadn’t been for the war. Servicemen trained far from their homes in different places across the country before going overseas. Other men and women met while serving overseas in the military. Even defense plant workers moved from their home towns to cities where factories and shipyards had geared-up for wartime production. In these places far from home, lonely men and women found each other. And the war added an element of urgency to the romantic relationships.

“The Clock” (1945) with Judy Garland and Robert Walker is a good movie example with a “meet cute” in a train station. A soldier on 48 hour leave in New York City meets a girl in Pennsylvania Station. The two fall in love before he ships out.

The Second World War caused a great mixing in our population. Millions of men and women moved all around the country during the war. Most had never traveled very far from home.  They were exposed to different cultures, different scenery and different climates. My mother told of eating Italian food for the first time while renting rooms from an Italian family in Florida. My father-in-law saw the ocean for the first time when he sailed across the Atlantic to fight in Europe. Raised in New England, Frank Towers trained in the humid heat of Camp Blanding, Florida. They had so many unique experiences.

During World War II, many young Americans found love in unexpected places. Just imagine all the different “meet cute” scenes.

 

Posted in Old Movies, WWII

The Best Years of Our Lives – The Movie

One of my favorite movies is “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Released in 1946, it’s not about the fighting during World War II. Instead the movie tells the story of three servicemen returning to their hometown after the war. The three main characters are very different yet their journey home together forms a bond between them.

Captain Fred Derry, played by Dana Andrews, was a poor kid who worked as a soda jerk before the war. In the Army Air Corp he rose to the rank of Captain and served as a bombardier on a B-17. While in uniform, he married a pretty blonde (Virginia Mayo) who went to work in a night club after he left and had a high old time while he was away. She still wants to party with her handsome, uniformed soldier while Fred wants to settle down and find a job. Unfortunately he’s not qualified for most civilian positions and can’t compete in a market flooded with returning GI’s.

Sergeant Al Stephenson, played by Fredric March, was an up-and-coming banker until Uncle Sam put him in the Army. When her returns he barely knows his wife (Myrna Loy), his grown-up daughter (Teresa Wright) and his teenage son. The children have grown up while he was gone. He reluctantly returns to the bank with a new attitude about what is important.

The third serviceman is the young sailor Homer Parrish, played by real injured veteran Harold Russell. Homer, who had been a high school football player, lost his hands in a naval battle. He has learned to use the hooks the Navy gave him and dislikes being treated like an invalid. The pretty girl-next-door waited for him and still wants to marry him but Homer doesn’t want to burden her with his disability. Hoagy Carmichael, as Homer’s Uncle Butch, adds color to the story by playing piano in his bar where the three men meet up.

The movie trailer for “The Best Days of Our Lives” bills it as full of romance. There’s Homer and his girlfriend who resolve their differences and get married. The middle-aged couple, Al and Milly, become reacquainted and fall in love all over again. And the main romance between Fred and Al’s daughter, Peggy. Attracted to Fred, she sees that his wife doesn’t really care about him, so she decides to break up the marriage. Fred finally sees his wife for the gold digger she is. He cares for Peggy but without a job he has nothing to offer her. But don’t worry, there is a happy ending for Fred and Peggy, too. You’ll have to watch the movie for the tear-jerker ending.

One of the most visually impressive scenes in the movie shows acres and acres of airplanes, both bombers and fighters, waiting to be demolished and recycled. The sweeping scene is like viewing a vast military cemetery and remembering the former glory of those buried there. All my research on the 8th Air Force makes this an emotional scene for me.