When we moved to College Station in 1944, the war—yes, WWII—was still on. Texas A&M's students—Aggies, as they are known practically everywhere, especially by college football followers but also with no little help from a play and a movie called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas—wore khaki, military uniforms. I didn't understand until later about ROTC; all I knew when we got there was that my brother Hale, then a PFC in the army, was wearing a similar uniform (see the picture back in Chapter 6—he was pretty much the classically handsome hero at the time, complete with moustache). He got hit with rheumatic fever while still in and got an honorable medical discharge without having been assigned overseas...something of a relief to all of us. We'd had the regular star on our door; didn't want the gold one any more than anyone else.
There were not-too-successful ex tempore attempts on my part and that of friends to collect stuff for the war effort. We didn't know what to collect or where to take it, but we knew others were doing it somewhere, and the radio was full of exhortations to do so, so we made one or two efforts, the first more successful than the second, to actually go out and find and bring home stuff. To this day I don't remember what, nor what finally happened to it.
There was this stuff we'd get at the grocery store called oleomargarine that was supposed to take the place of butter. It came in clear plastic bags with a red part that was dye which, if one mashed the bag right, broke and after mauling the bag around for a while made the stuff yellow like butter. I helped with this a number of times, but dropped the bag once and broke it, leaving this mess on the floor that had to be cleaned up. I felt guilty as sin over that.
There were planes flying around the area, one of which had a double fuselage. I believe it was a P-38, and was proud I'd learned to "spot" it—there were plane spotting charts available all the time in those days—but there was another double fuselage plane around which had a different designation and slightly different configuration—double cockpits instead of one in the middle or something like that (Black Widow?); could have been that.*
We had a big console radio in the living room, on which we listed to the news or short wave broadcasts. The console also included a phonograph with changer; 78's only, of course—the LP and 45s hadn't yet been introduced. The button to select it had PHONO/TLVN on it—the system had been designed to have a television replace the phonograph should such a unit become available. It would have been set into it in such a way that the screen would face up, and a mirror would be set into the lid, so the screen could be viewed through it. I wasn't to see a real TV screen until toward the end of our stay in Texas, and then only as part of a demonstration put on by engineering students at A&M. (Oh, yes, this was still Texas A&M College, then—its status and name as a university did not come about until after we'd moved away.)
Like the radio in the living room, a smaller radio in the kitchen also included short wave option—like TV, FM radio was not to show up for a few years yet—but most of our listening to the standard radio fare of the day—Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy (with Ray Noble & his orchestra), Fred Allen, The Firestone Hour and the Bell Telephone Hour (both classical music showcases), the Breakfast Club with Don McNeill, Big John and Sparky—took place in the kitchen.
I remember only vague things about VE Day and VJ Day, but some of the events leading up to them have stayed with me. Especially the news stories of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remember hearing the sounds of an A-Bomb over the radio, later, from when they were doing further testing, in Bikini and Alamagordo, NM, but of course that was just noise. It didn't sound that much different from radio static. High Fidelity hadn't yet reached us in the general public... And even so there's only so much one can do with sounds like that! (An apt comparison with more recent events is watching rocket launchings on TV and hearing the sputter and crackle coming through the little TV speaker.)
Of course the end of the war was a great relief. At the personal level, which at that age is about all I could relate to, it was a matter of looking forward to the end of various shortages, especially in foods. Sugar, butter, all those things (with, in my case, the exception of coffee) which had been rationed would now become generally available again, I thought, and was impationt when it took a while. We started hearing about inflation, then, and housing shortages, and prefab houses.
And, as time went on, I learned that Russians, our allies while the war was on, were now the bad guys. I'd been given at some point a flat, black wool garrison cap with a red star insignia that I rather prized, and often wore, until someone told me that I maybe shouldn't wear it in public any more... I kinda reacted badly to that, though to be sure I didn't suddenly become a flaming pinko fellow traveler in reaction! Still, it was an early lesson in political realities, and I didn't much like it then, nor the continuing education I'm still getting in it today. Dunno whatever happened to that cap. I was determined to keep it, then, but the exigencies of moving, you know...
Somewhere in there the Korean thing came along. I had a school buddy who went there and came back. I'd written him quite a bit while he was gone, and sent him pictures clipped from my brother's copies of Sunshine & Health (yeah, they apparently got there to him okay; and Hale never said much of anything about it later, so I survived that), but when Tom got back, even though I don't believe he saw much or anything in the way of combat, we kind of drifted off into our own directions. I was just a kid...
|* Okay, I checked out the planes at a couple of WWII historical websites; both the Lockheed P38 Lightning and the Northrop P61 Black Widow actually had similar profiles as seen from the ground, with twin engines & fuselages and a central cockpit on the wing; the P38's cockpit was shorter, single-piloted, while that of the heavier Black Widow was longer and had a crew of two or three men, though it seems both were fighters with bombing capability. One source indicates that the Black Widow was the first fighter plane designed to carry radar, but it seems that getting this actually implemented took another 2 or 3 years...||
After putting the above image together, I realized they wre probably not to scale. The P38 Lightning's wings spanned 52 feet, its length was just under 38 feet, while the P61 Black Widow spanned 66 feet and was just over 50 feet long. (These specs vary a little depending on what source one looks at, but there were varieties of both planes made, so that's not unexpected.) Just—think of the P61 as a little further away...