The Home Front, Minoa


World War II

Village of Minoa

"The Minoa Chronicle," Winter 1997*

Submitted by Kathy Crowell

On December 8, 1941--congress voted 470 to 1 to declare war on Germany and Japan.  Jeanette Rankin, the only negative vote, did not believe that Hawaii had been bombed.

In the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, recruiting stations were flooded with volunteers.  Minoa's answer to the call was decisive:

* In less than six months, 52 Minoans enlisted.

* The Red Cross Drive was 188% of Quota.

* Bond drives soared.  Students bought stamps from teachers as a way of developing the habit of thrift, but more important, as a way to show unity with our boys in service.

* Flags were flown at almost every  home.

White banners with a single blue star appeared in windows all over Minoa, to show that their son or daughter was in service.  The war really hit Minoa on July 24, 1943.  Burr Thompson Cole was killed in a plane crash.  The blue star in the Cole's home at 133 Osborne Street, Minoa was replaced by a Gold Star.  Three months later the Kiddle family of 229 East Ave. received the news of their son Edwin's death.  The Ryfun family at 112 Elm Street received the news of their son Andrew's death on March 10, 1944.  In a close-knit village like Minoa, with a population of about 870 men, women and children, the news was devastating.

Those left at home during those years lived in a turmoil of emotions.  Sadness as well as pride filled the families as they saw their child leave for war--Elation when their child came home on leave in uniform.  Fear of the telegram, "We regret to inform you..."

Air raid drills took on an added urgency.  When the sirens blared, air raid wardens patrolled the streets.  They were responsible for checking on anyone whose lights remained lit.  Families pulled their shades; turned off all their lights, and went to the cellar to stay until the all-call signal was sounded.  Small children, looking out the cellar windows often visualized squadrons of German planes swooping down on their houses.  People on the street would take refuge on someone's porch.

The railroad had become a critical cog in the war effort's transportation.  Thus, it became a source of great pride to Minoans that our efforts were so important to our nation's future.  But that pride was quickly balanced by a justified growing fear as rumors started to "float" around the village that spies and saboteurs were planning to blow up the rail yard to cut off war supplies to the East Coast.

Many women in Minoa went to work for the first time.  They became mail carriers, and worked in factories and offices.  They played an integral role in the wartime volunteer efforts.  They joined the spotters group.  A two-story building, where Edgerton Estates is now located, was the home for this group.  The top floor was mostly windows.  With their binoculars, the volunteers searched for planes.  Excitement gripped them upon sighting a plane.  A plane frequently spotted was the B-24 Liberator flown by Bill Cunningham, who often buzzed the houses in Minoa.  They would phone in the type of plane, its altitude, and direction to an office in Syracuse.  These women studied profiles of all planes and were proud that they could identify a plane with only a quick glance.  They had to take a test to prove their proficiency.  As one spotter, Pat Carhart Zappala, said, "It was a lot of fun, and we were proud to wear the wings that each spotter received on passing the proficiency test."

Rationing became a way of life.  The saying, "Don't you know a war is going on?" greeted anyone who complained about shortages.  Everyday necessities were carefully rationed.  Ration books were issued for the purchase of buying scarce items such as meat, sugar, coffee, dairy products, and canned goods.  Each item was worth a specified number of stamps.  To make a purchase, both cash and the correct number of stamps were required.  Each person was given enough stamps for two pounds of meat per week and a maximum two pairs of shoes per year.  The average family was issued an "A" sticker which allowed three gallons of gas per week.  When servicemen came home on leave, neighbors often shared their limited gas and food stamps with the family so they could have a special meal and an extra trip for their service person.  An "E" sticker allowing unlimited gasoline use was issued to police, doctors, and clergy who made house calls.  Tires weren't rationed; they just weren't available.  By the end of the war some tire tubes appeared to have more patch than tube.

Meat rationing didn't seem to be a big problem for this area.  Most families raised chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and some even kept a pig.  Hunting, fishing and trapping added to their supplies, although hunting was limited due to a shortage of ammunition and many who hunted were in service.  Fish was readily available, thanks to the Bridgeport pirates.  They set off explosions in Oneida Lake, killing all the fish in the surrounding area.  The dead fish would float to the top and the men gathered them in to their boats and sold them at local markets.  Highly illegal, but very effective.  Muskrats were trapped for their furs, but it was said that their legs were cleaned and sold in stores as marshrabbits (wild game didn't require stamps).  Those at home were working long hours and didn't have time to hunt.  Boys as young as 12 began working on the railroad.  They shoveled snow, laid rail, and went to railroad worker's homes to alert them to report to work.  These young men were given a number, and they were paid by this number, not by their name.  This insured that they didn't get any railroad rights.

Others worked on farms picking up potatoes.  They were paid three cents per bushel.  Some even dug graves for $8 per grave.  The railroads were the means of moving war supplies, and the men working the rails were working unbelievable hours.  Many farmers would finish their chores and then go to work for the railroad.  The farmers got help on the farms from German prisoners housed at Green Lakes.  Children were excused from school with only a note from home indicating they were needed to help on the farm.

Victory gardens became a part of almost every family so that more food would be available for our fighting men.  It was estimated that 1/3 of all vegetables eaten in the U.S. during those war years came from Victory gardens.  In Minoa only the name Victory Garden was new, for almost every family always had had a garden before the war.

Wheaties was the cereal of choice for the kids.  Each box would picture a plane of a tank, and then list all its fighting capabilities.  The pictures were carefully saved, and each plane or tank's features were carefully memorized.  Spirited arguments went on between students as to which plane or tank was the best.  Spam became a staple with the railroad crews.  Spam was given to all soldiers as they traveled.  Apparently they didn't acquire a taste for it.  They gave their supply to railroad crews.

By 1943 America's factories were retooled for war and they were producing a staggering amount of military equipment.  It was estimated that by the end of the war our factories had turned out about 300,000 planes, 86,000 tanks, over two million trucks and almost 1200 ships.  Minoa had no factories, but a growing number of Minoa residents found employment (part- and full-time) at factories in neighboring towns.

As part of an air rescue program, a mock plane was sunk in the water at Walsh Construction.  Air crews came to the site to practice rescuing survivors of plane crashes.

Everyone tried to do his part.  Children's pockets were often bulging from the ball of aluminum foil they carried, and still they continued to look out for more to add to their growing ball.  The foil on chewing gum was carefully removed and added to the ball.  Individuals and entire classes would go into the fields and pick milkweed pods.  The pods were used in life jackets.  Teasel was collected for carding wool.  Even rendered fat was saved and turned into a central location to be used to make ammunition.

Everyone in the village became scavengers.  Scrap metal, old tires, and paper were collected all over the village.  Paper drives under the guidance of Frank Maxwell, Minoa ag. & industrial arts teacher, took place weekly.  Many of those who worked on these weekly drives later realized that the car he used to haul papers was almost ruined from the weight of the paper and all the students riding in the car.  Detroit stopped making new cars in 1942, so the old cars were patched together and continued in use until after the war.  They also later realized that Mr. Maxwell had used his entire gas ration to insure the success of these drives.  After the war these same students remembered, and helped insure that Mr. Maxwell would have a good car going into his retirement.  Similar drives across the nation supplied much of the steel, half the tin and half the paper needed to fight this war.  Bing Crosby encouraged the drive as he crooned the tune, "Junk ain't junk no more.  Cause junk can win the war."

There was no television.  Radio was the lifeline for news.  Families clustered around the radio at night listening for any changes in the war.  Movies glorified our fighting men, and even comic book heroes took on the Germans and Japanese.  Poor Superman reported to duty only to fail his physical--his X-ray vision melted the machine that checked his eyes.  Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Mickey Mouse scavenged their neighborhoods for scrap and even had their own Victory gardens.  Posters encouraging the home war effort became an important part of the national campaign to support our troops from home.

On September 2, 1945 the Japanese signed the surrender and this became the official date designed "VJ-Day."  As the word of Japan's surrender moved through Minoa, spontaneous parades of cars began driving through the streets.  Horns were honking and people riding on the cars' running boards were waving, yelling, and proudly displaying the American flags.  Patriotic songs filled the air.  The war was over.  Minoa no longer had to worry about the dreaded knock on the door.  Shortages would soon be over and their loved ones would soon be home.  Freedom was preserved and the words, "God bless America" echoed around Minoa.  Let us never forget their sacrifices!

*"The Minoa Chronicle" is published in January, May and September by Norma Jenner, Bob Kinsella, Bev Petterelli and Loretta Sturick, and is available at Green's Hardware Store, Minoa Public Library, and Village Office, Minoa and at Brownell's Printing, Eastwood..

Submitted 9 June 1998