May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

One afternoon I stood on the corner of Armitage and Lincoln and watched troops debark from the Red Rocket Street Cars and watched them as they marched East on Armitage Ave. I didn't realize my dad was behind me until I heard him blow his nose; he had tears in his eyes and we waved good bye to every soldier that passed by. It was hours later and dark when we went home. As a kid I didn't understand what the big deal was; today as a father and grandfather I know how he must have felt. I have sons and grandsons who served in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

It was Summer 1942  I was 6 years old. The war was on. We were issued ration books ( I still have them). My dad tried to enlist but was told  he was too old. He had served in WWI. He was wounded in France. Mustard gas. The left side of his face was paralyzed and  he was deaf in his left ear.

We always were a very patriotic family; its in the blood, with direct linage on both sides going back to the Revolutionary  War.

I had a pair of bib overalls that day in 1942, and my mother sent away for a patch in the shape of a shield,
and on that patch it said  "I AM AN AMERICAN." Mom sewed the patch on the top portion of the bib and I wore it proudly and would march up and down the street showing it to anyone who would look.

I had two chores that had to be done each day: watch my little sister and roll cigarettes, Tip Top or Bugler, on a cigarette rolling machine. After rolling I had to keep the supply in a cigar box.

That year we moved to Uptown and my mom got a job at Advance Transformer, as a coil winder.
Within a year the war effort went into high gear. Mom was proud that she got to help. They converted her coil winding machine to making parachute shrouds.

She earned an "Efficiency Pin" for putting in the extra effort. For her it was the Medal of Honor.

Our home was always open to any soldier or sailor that happened by, usually at dinner time. We bought War Stamps in school and at the movie theater.

In August 1945,  when I was away at summer camp,  everyone started shouting  something about an Atomic Bomb. We all packed our gear and went home. It was over.

The enemy didn't only have to fight our servicemen, It had to fight the entire nation. Because we as a nation, we put all our thoughts, prayers and efforts into defeating him. Behind each and every soldier was the community he came from,  the town that community was in, the county, the state, and the whole country. Everyone pitched in and did their share or more.

We as a country collected our old  weapons and donated them to countries, like England and Russia, where people couldn't own firearms.  We sent them through the Lend Lease Program and it was a damn good thing that our Founding Fathers foresaw the need to keep and bare arms.

Japan would never invade America, they knew the citizens were armed.

Even "Lucky Strike Greens" went to war. On a package of Lucky Strike Cigarettes where you now see the white background, well, that used to be green. The government needed all the green pigment it could muster.  Jays Potato chips used to be Japps. We had meatless days, we had rationing. Black-marketeers were beaten. Hoarders were turned in. We collected scrap metal, rags, and newspapers. We saved bacon fat and turned it in for red and blue point chips.

I never knew what chocolate was until after the war. Hershey Bars were for the fighting men and women

The woman next door became Rosie the Riveter, the woman's labor force was as large as the military.
Women pilots ferried bombers and fighters across the Atlantic, unarmed, and were in as big or bigger danger than any other flyers.

There was only one thought, one goal. No one person, no one group did it. We as a nation did it. We are one nation, under God.

—Bill Matteson

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