When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered the second World War immediately. During those years it was hard to realize the immensity of the second World War - but the fear, trauma and sadness were always there. There was no television, so we got our news from papers, the radio, newsreels before a picture show and word of mouth from the families who had heard from a loved one. As I think back, it was like being on an emotional roller coaster.
I had just graduated from high school in the spring of 1941. As more and more young men were called into the service, jobs became more plentiful. I held various jobs before a girl friend and I went to visit my oldest brother in western Iowa. The Nebraska Ordnance Plant at Mead was hiring, so we went to work out there, helping the war effort. We stayed in a dormitory, where there was a big cafeteria, recreation hall, post office, etc. It was like a small town.
We rode a bus to the line we worked on. In a locker room we had to take off our clothes, then line up naked to be searched by a guard matron. Next, we dressed in their clothes, which included a coverall uniform. Since we were working on bombs, no matches or metal of any kind - not even bobby pins in our hair - was allowed on the line. Nothing that might cause a spark that would set off the powder was allowed. I worked mostly at the beginning of the line where the bombs were painted, and did lots of moving with fork-lift trucks. As you got closer to the area where the powder was, the trucks were electric.
This was a learning experience, but it was also a fun time for me. Twice weekly a bus took us from our dormitory to the small town of Wahoo, which was nearby. The bus also took us to Omaha on the weekends for shopping, and we saw some stage shows featuring well-known stars and musical groups. This was a treat for a small town girl!
I will always remember Christmas 1943. It was the first time my friend and I had ever been away from home at Christmas, and we were both homesick. On Christmas morning, a father came to pick up his two daughters. He said, "Come on home with us," and needless to say, we went. They welcomed us with love and a big traditional meal, and we sure appreciated it.
Eventually, it was necessary for me to move back home with my mother in Illinois. I got a job at the Iowa Ordnance Plant in Burlington. All the workers there were bused in from all the little towns for miles around. We got on the bus at 10 p.m., worked from midnight until 8 a.m., then went back home at 10 a.m. the next morning. We went through the same procedure as we did in Nebraska before we went to our job on the detonator line. The line consisted of small rooms called bays, with one machine in each bay. Each machine was a wheel - completely enclosed - with four small openings. Each opening was covered with heavy glass, with just enough room to put your arms inside to work. One girl put the detonator on the wheel, and two more girls put a tiny scoop of powder in it as it went by. The powder was leveled off with a rubber band stretched across the cup. The fourth girl packed them, and another girl carried little cups of powder to the line. One girl dropped a cup of powder one night. It exploded, but it was not in our bay. The potential danger kept everyone awake and careful.
On August 14, 1945, we heard the news that the Japanese had surrendered. We went to work that night, but nobody did any work - we just celebrated. We were laid off immediately.
My husband-to-be served in the Army in Maui, Molakai, the Philippines, New Guinea and Japan. He was a mortar crewman and a radio and switchboard operator; he drove jeeps and Army trucks and was in Special Services.
B. Alice Holtsclaw
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.