Second World War: Small-town Gas Station

Illinois woman remembers soldiers on leave congregating at her father's gas station and telling stories of the Second World War.

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I remember the war years of the early '40s and the honor roll that stood proudly downtown with all of our boys fighting the Second World War. I remember the sign on the window of the door to my father's two-door grease room, garishly showing the pictures of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo with a big "X" over all three, meaning "get rid of them." 

Dad had a gas station, and the farmers and truckers gave him their extra ration stamps, as well as the ones they needed to cover their own needs. The stamps were pasted on big sheets of paper from the board in Dixon. I used to help put the stamps in place. The extra stamps were held for the boys home on leave so they could visit friends and take their girls out.

My father was like a family member to most of the young men home on furlough. In the office of the station, he had a closet door covered with post cards from all over the world that the fighting men of our town had sent. When a soldier boy hit town for a few days, the first place he seemed to go was my dad's. I remember lying awake at night with one or two of the soldiers sitting on the couch just outside my bedroom door. I listened with great interest to the tales they told of what they had seen and done.

When I was in seventh grade, our teacher retired; her man was home from the war. The new teacher who greeted us right after Thanksgiving was a man - our first male teacher in grade school. He is still part of my class reunion. He had been a machine gunner in the South Pacific. He had taken one in the knee and was just out of the hospital at Great Lakes. He had lost a sister in the Philippine Islands when MacArthur left. She was a nurse and had not been heard from since. He needed to get a lot out of his system about the war. We heard it all; no matter what he taught, it ended up in stories of the war. It was the best education anyone could have.

He had a lingo we had to learn. When he told us to do some¬ thing "on the double" or to "go to the head," at first we just looked at him. That Christmas while shopping with my aunt, I found two books on the leathernecks with vocabulary lists in them. When school started in January, I knew what he was talking about.

After the war when the men came home, they wanted to form a VFW Club. They met for several months in my father's filling station grease room. They brought card tables from home and folding chairs so they could play cards and drink beer.

Grandma Hazel learned to crochet, and made afghans for the veterans at Hines V.A. Hospital. When she had several made, her daughter, my Aunt Hazel, would take her in to the hospital to give them to the men personally. One I remember in particular went to Jim. A happy-go-lucky guy, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was thrilled with his, for it was made with his high school colors - black and red. He was the center of activities for the other guys at the hospital. He planned trips to ball games, ice shows, etc. Everyone looked up to him. Grandma made him a second afghan when the first was stolen from his wheelchair, which sat just outside his room.

I remember sitting at my grandfather's knee night after night, listening to the big radio as he followed the march of the enemies. Later, I remember when Poland was taken. He said we would soon be in it too. He was right. I grew up listening to the 8 o'clock news on WBBM, eating breakfast and cheering as each mile was taken, closer and closer to the Rhine. I followed it on Uncle Wilbur's big map pinned up in the den, hearing of places I had never heard of before.

I remember the day the War ended in the Pacific. Lots of kids had firecrackers and caps left from the Fourth of July. I took my uncle's hammer, and laying a whole roll of caps on the sidewalk, hit roll after roll. There was laughter and tears. It was over at last. We hugged each other.

Crescence Stadeble
DeKalb, Illinois

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.