On The Other Side OF The Coin
By Ellen De Shay
There has been articles, books, etc, written about the many Veterans of WWII, RIGHTFULLY SO, however few have been written about the wives, mothers, or girl friends who were left to manage the home front. For whoever wants to read it, this is my story:
Joe and I were married August 26, 1937 in Johnson City, NY. We rented a small third floor apartment on Crocker Ave. for $35.00 a month. Joe and I both worked at Endicott Johnson Corp. with each of us earning about $16.00 a week. In those days, we budgeted $5.00 per week for groceries even keeping track of a pack of gum. When we returned from a weekend honeymoon, we had exactly $6.00 left. We were married at 6 P.M. on a Thursday night after Joe worked all day until 4 P.M., however I took the day off. Had 3 days for a honeymoon.
We bought our furniture by charging in just one store and by summer of 1941 we had paid for our furniture and bought a new Hudson Car. Also had a few hundred dollars saved towards a down payment on a house. My father was working at the time for a man named Archie Wright on new homes on the hill between Johnson City and Endicott, NY. He took us to meet Mr. Wright. We liked the houses and location and beautiful view of the valley. It was agreed with the money we had and the $300.00 credit for painting two coats of paint inside and outside and finishing the hardwood floors, that we could buy 3710 Rath Avenue for $4900.00.
We moved into our new home on Sept. 1, 1944 owing payments of $49.00 a month and still paying on our new car. In the meanwhile problems in Europe forced the U.S. to start a Draft System. All males between ages 18 and 45 (I believe) had to register. A lottery was geld and of course, Joe pulled a very low number so this was the first blow to our "Heaven On Earth."
December 7, 1941 was the attack on the U.S. Pearl Harbor and we were immediately drawn into War. May 28, 1942, Joe was drafted and sadly left for Fort Niagara Induction Center leaving me to make house and car payments and take care of the home front.
June 1, 1942, he was enroute to Miami Beach Replacement Center, which seemed like the end of the earth to a wife of five years who he had left behind. We wrote to each other every day, but of course with the vast drain on the postal service, letters were not delivered daily but sometimes I would get 3 or 4 letters in a bundle. Miami Beach is where Joe had his basic training in the heat of a Florida summer.
I continued working at Endicottt Johnson Corp. Joe's mother and father stayed down on the hill with me and the three of us rode to work and home with Grandpa De Shay driving which was an experience in itself. Each month another contingent of men was drafted and soon most eligible young men were serving Uncle Sam. However, Joe was the only man from our street who was drafted. The rest had children or deferments for working in defense work. Foods were needed to feed this vast Army of men, so rationing started. Tires, gasoline were also rationed.
July 12, 1942, Joe was transferred to Lincoln Airbase for Airplane Mechanic Training. He found out it would be a 6 week course so Ellen asked for a vacation and went to Lincoln, Nebraska to be near Joe. We closed up the house and Joe's mother and dad went back to their own apartment. Joe was allowed to come to town Wednesday evening an Sunday afternoon. I arrived in Lincoln on August 8, 1942 on a Saturday . Joe had found me a room in a private home right across the street from the University of Nebraska., We spent our first afternoon together at Antelope Park. August 17, I had to return home and back to work. Spent our 5th Weeding Anniversary alone, a very sad day for both of us. Spent hours other than working by raking the dirt as level as I could in our front and back yard so I could plant grass seed. Also planted an apple tree, a pear tree and a small vegetable garden. Most everyone had planted their small "Victory" gardens.
Joe was doing well in school so I decided to ask for a "Leave of Absence" and return to Lincoln to be with him. Arrived Sept. 19, 1942. Able to spend the day with Joe, but he had to return to the base at night. Wed. night he came into town for a short visit, but again had to return to the base. On the weekend, Joe was able to get a "Weekend Pass" so we went out to dinner and a show. really living! Wednesday night another visit and I made a lunch of sandwiches, cupcakes, grapes and Pepsi. This was the usual routine during my stay.
While Joe was at the base and I was alone in town, I started buddying with Doris Rohrbaugh another army wife from Gettysburg, PA. Some days she and I went to the cafeteria at the University and had a cooked meal for 25 cents. One day we took a bus to nearby "Boys Town" and took a tour.
Joe was able to get weekend passes so we went to several University football games and out to eat with Doris and Paul Rohrbaugh. Oct. 11 I had to leave for home and back to work to make ends meet. I was getting $50.00 a month from the Government. $28.00 taken out of Joe's pay and the Government added $22.00 so that kept my house payments up to date. I had to work to meet other expenses at the house, car payments and food. Thus the days and nights went on and on till November 23, 1942 when Joe shipped to Niagara Falls, NY for more schooling at Bell Aircraft School. Thanksgiving was upon us so my mother, Aunt Anna Miller and I took off for Buffalo where my Uncle Phil and his family lived. Joe was able to bum a ride into the city so WE WERE TOGETHER AGAIN. Sunday A.M. My mother , aunt and I had to drive home through a terrible snow storm. It had sleeted first so the road was treacherous. I drove most of the way, hit the center groove in the highway which put us into a spin but thankfully I was able to keep control and no oncoming traffic. After that we drove with 2 wheels on the shoulder and a 4 hour drive took us 10 hours, but we made it.
A couple weekends Joe was able to catch a train with the help of my uncle to come home, sleep in his own bed and 2:30 P.M. Sunday, back on the train to Buffalo where my uncle met him and drove him to Niagara Falls. Another weekend Ellen went to Buffalo so we felt we were very lucky to spend so much time together. We even spent Xmas at our home. December 28, Joe was transferred to Fresno, CA, on to Squaw Valley by January 7, 1943. Mail delivery for both of us was very bad. Conditions were bad at Squaw Valley and the Group had to stay longer because of a Meningitis Quarantine.
In the meantime back home, my Uncle Mark Miller, a meat cutter was working for my dad and they had moved into my house from Montgomery paying me $50.00 a month rent which took care of my house payments. Before tat, it was difficult for me to live there with food rations for one person so I had moved to Johnson City and stayed with Joe's mother and father. If I bought a pound of bacon and that was the smallest in which it was packaged, that was my meat ration for the week. I lived mostly on frozen vegetables. My weight soon dropped to 92 pounds. Working hard and worrying about Joe took a toll on my weight.
Finally Feb. 5, 1943, Joe left Squaw Valley for Hammer Field. Was only there 2 days and shipped out to Hamilton Field. Here Joe was assigned to the 357th Fighter Group, 364th Fighter Squadron and was issued sheepskin lined jacket, pants, boots and gloves. Until Feb. 22, 1943, Joe's days were filled with Rifle Range and studying Tech Orders. Soon found out he was to attend Allison School at Indianapolis, IN. Also promoted to Corporal. He arrived at Indianapolis after traveling by bus, ferry and train on Feb. 24. Immediately and as soon as possible he went to town to find a room for me to come and stay while he took the 4 week course on Engines. This time I cold no longer take time off with Endicott Johnson, so I quit my job and went to Indianapolis by train. We found a room at the Barnes Hotel and Joe could visit in town form 7 P.M. to midnight every night. I caught an Intestinal Virus and was very ill for several days. Tried to find a doctor but none were available. Joe finally asked the base Doctor for help and he prescribed a bottle of Castor Oil with the instructions "DRINK IT ALL." It was torture but did the trick. By March 25, Joe was shipping out of Indianapolis. We both via train went home. Joe had a 7 day furlough.
April 1, Joe left home again. Each time he had to leave it became more difficult to face the coming days. This time he went to Tonopah, Nevada, where he said I couldn't be with him because he would have very little leave time. Tonopah was a bombing and gunnery range and the men worked long hours mostly 12 hour days.
I had to find another job so I went to work as a File Clerk for Remington Rand in Johnson City and stayed nearby with Joe's parents in their apartment. Mail was very slow coming from Joe even though he continued to write every day. Life was just working , worrying and sleeping for me however I was able to save a little money to go and stay with Joe again wherever he was sent. Joe's mother and I sent a package of goodies to Joe every week so gathering things he liked to eat kept me busy. By late May there were rumors that Hoe would be shipping to Santa Rosa, CA.
June 4, Joe arrive in Santa Rosa, CA, and sent me a telegram asking me to come and stay. He found a room for me in a private home on B St. I immediately quit my job at Remington Rand and by train went from Binghamton to Buffalo, NY. There I had to get another train from Buffalo to Chicago. Trains were very crowded, straight wooden seats and very uncomfortable. I finally arrived in Chicago which was a complete stampede at the station. Service men had priority and crowed on every train which stopped at the station. Trains came and went after filling up with service men. Finally after standing and sitting on the platform with my suitcase for 24 hours, I was exhausted and started to cry. A very considerate Private from Virginia saw me knowing the problem asked me if I wanted to go on the next train as his wife. Of course I agreed and we made it onto the train crowding past a bunch of wild, noisy and inebriated Navy men into a hard wooden seat. The train had no food, gas lights which the conductor had to light with a torch and as he went into the next car, the sailors climbed on the seats and blew out the lights. I regret I never learned the soldier companions name, but he certainly saved me from the actions of the sailors. We rode 4 nights and 5 days to get to San Francisco, CA. At one stop in a small town somewhere in Utah, my Private jumped off the train along with a lot of other service men and bought each of us a sandwich and a clod drink. The train was dirty, crowed and the rest rooms were used only in dire necessity. I shall never forget those long days and nights on the train and the Private who was a perfect gentleman who watched over me and threatened any of the drunken sailors giving me the eye. I was the only young girl in that car along with two older ladies who were most happy to entertain the sailors, On June 9, we finally arrive in San Francisco. I saw Joe standing on the platform, thanked the Private and never saw him again. I hope he survived those horrible days of war.
Joe found me a nice room inn a private home owned by a widow of a former minister. She had about 5 bedrooms on the second floor which she rented to wives and friends of service men. She liked me and the way I kept my room and sometimes let me make a cooked dinner for Joe in her kitchen. In Santa Rosa, Joe could get a pass to leave the base every night but had to be back by midnight. We treasured those evenings and walked to parks where we sat and talked, went to a movie or visited with our many friends. It was here that I met Marie Grupposo and Betty Donohue who became life-long friends.
While we were there, two movies were filmed. One with Don Ameche and Ann Rutherford and the other a football film. We girls were able to do stand-in work for $5.00 a day. I worked 1 day in the football film sitting in the bleachers with a fur coat on in the heat of the summer. Again our Shangri-La in Santa Rosa came to a halt when the Fighter Group was transferred to Marysville, CA. August 14, the fellows went by convoy and once again we girls had to figure out a way to follow. Again travel was difficult because so many service men were on the move and they of course had priority. Finally about 4 of us and I don't remember who except one was Virginia Bandringa, got on a bus to Vallejo, CA. Had to change buses in Vallejo but couldn't get on. Virginia and I became tired, decided to get a room at a hotel for the night and try early in the morning. When we turned down the covers on the bed, there were little red ants allover the place. We dressed and went down to complain to the desk clerk. Our answer was "Take it or Leave it." We sat up all night in a chair. The next morning we met a couple other girls gong to Marysville so we chipped in and hired a cab. Cost us $35.00 which was a lot of money in those days to ride about 25 miles. Arrived Aug 19. Virginia and I found a room in a former funeral home. My room was the whole 3rd floor (attic) and she was on the 2nd floor in Yuba City near Marysville. the summer was so hot in CA. that the fellows worked all night on the planes and came into town to sleep during the day. Many a day I sat by the bed with a cold wash cloth wiping the seat from Joe's forehead. It was so hot that stores closed at noon and reopened at 4 P.M. because no one was out in that hot sun during those hours. It was peach canning season and some of the fellows in order to pay their wives expenses, worked a shift in the DelMonte Cannery. My money was still holding out, but we had to be very careful spending. entertainment might be getting together with another couple.
Our 6th Anniversary came and we splurged and went out to dinner with Virginia and her husband. Other wise we ate in our room and I did the dishes in the bathtub. We were told not to cook in our rooms so we lived mostly out of a can or sandwiches. Every day and every night was the same with Joe working long hours and dong tired when he came to town BUT WE WERE TOGETHER. Most of the couples were newlyweds. Several of us girls walked out to the camp one day when the fellows worked overtime and it happened to be payday and of course our men were razzed about their wives coming to picked up their checks. Never did that again. Rumors flew all the while about the men getting moved again in preparation for overseas. Time went on and finally Joe found out he was to go on furlough Set 23 and could take me home in our own little 1st class compartment on the train because Joe had a certain rating. We had a bunk, even dinner in the dining car one night otherwise we had our usual sandwiches,. The trip home was the exact opposite of my trip to CA and I really enjoyed it especially being with Joe. We saw a lot of beautiful scenery on the Northern Route on the way home. This only lasted to Chicago and then we took the Erie RR into Binghamton. Arrived home 27 September. Time was spent visiting friends and relatives and even went to Montgomery for a couple of days. My uncle Bill saved enough gas coupons to get us back home.
On 8 October, Joe had to go back to camp. His dad, my sister, Geraldine and I took him to the station. As I write this, tears come to my eyes all over again. Unless you have gone through those days, you will never realize the loneliness and fear that went through our young minds. The fear that we may never see each other again. Joe reported back to camp at Ainsworth, NE and again worked long hard hours trying to keep the planes in flying condition with engine changes after so may hours in the air and keeping them ship shape for the pilots who were also training for overseas and battle. Some of the wives moved on to Ainsworth with their husbands but only for a couple weeks as more men were granted furloughs before going overseas.
November 10, 1943, the men left Ainsworth for Camp shanks near New Your. Joe had sent home some clothes and his diary. In order to pull myself together and do my bit, I immediately went to IBM and applied for a job. Passed a physical and was hired immediately. I was put on a 10 hour night shift starting at 6 P.M. and started in Final Inspection of some parts. I liked the night shift because I was afraid to stay alone in the house at night. I had only worked two nights when I got a phone call from betty Donohue and Marie Grupposo that they were in a hotel in New York and the boys could get a leave at night until they shipped out. I went to work because I was new on the job and needed the money, but after a few hours, the tears started to flow. My boss asked what was wrong and when I told Joe was in New York ready to go overseas, he said "What are you doing here?" Take a couple of days and go. I rushed home got a few clothes and on to NY by train. Betty and Marie met me at the station and took me to the hotel. The fellows had been with them for 2 nights. We waited all night and no fellows appeared because they had left port that day. ONCE AGAIN A VERY SAD TRIP HOME. I went right back to work that night and made up my mind I would work as much as I could and put every penny I could earn on our Mortgage on the house. We were allowed to work 10 hr. nights for 2 weeks straight but then we had to take a night off.
It was at IBM I met Ann Richards our lifelong friend and from then on we were pals, always together and transferred from one department to another together. At that time we were transferred a lot mostly because we were good workers who put out production with very few rejects. We went from Final Inspection to Drill Press Operator, Bench Lather Operator and Milling Machine Operator and on to light assembly pounding contacts into PC Boards. Ann was mechanically inclined and taught me to read blueprints, set up my own jobs and grind my own tools for the bench lather. She and I were productive because we didn't stand around and wait for a set-up man to set up our jobs. We asked questions and learned to work independently but always side by side. Every pay day, I went to Binghamton to the bank to make one or two extra mortgage payments. Days were spent sleeping and caring for the house. I had to learn how to stoke a coal furnace and bank it off for the night when I went to work. Several times when I came home in the morning, the furnace would be roaring and it was almost 90 in the house. It's a miracle I didn't burn the house down because I was exhausted from working long hours and trying to do a man's job at home besides. The winter of 1943 and 1944 were the worst winters I've ever had with snow sometimes piled so high on both sides of the driveway that I could no longer throw the shovel full on top of the heap. We had a wonderful neighbor 2 houses down the street who was a manager at IBM and knew how hard I was working to keep going. Sometimes I would get awake in the P.M. hearing a snow shovel scraping the driveway and it would be Mr. Yeingst shoveling my drive. Hoe was the only man on the street who was drafted because we had no children and he worked in the shoe factory which was not considered defense work. Mr. Yeingst was the only neighbor whoever helped me. He was always there if I needed him and I did have to call for help several times. One afternoon I was wakened by the sound of drip drip in the hallway. Snow had blown in our attic louvers and with a little sun on the roof, it was melting and dripping down thru the opening to enter the attic. Mr. Yeingst crawled up there with a shovel and shoveled it in a pan and handed it down to me to empty in the bathtub. Then he replaced the panel which Joe had put up and had blown down.
Riding back and forth to work was another problem, because of the gas shortage, people care pooled. Mr. Yeingst and I walked out to the corner and down the hill tow long blocks every night to wait for our driver. After work the driver left us off at the same location and snow, sleet, rain or whatever we walked back up the hill. Being a manager he had to work overtime many nights and I had to walk up the hill down the street alone in the wee hours of the morning . I was often frightened but so tired I didn't care what happened. It was during these two years, while Joe was overseas that my weight kept dropping. However, we made it through those long days and nights and when I met Joe at the station after he was discharged, I HANDED HIM THE DEED TO OUR HOUSE, fully paid up just a few weeks prior.
I am sure many wives and girl friends went through the same ordeal and that is why I am putting this in writing. Sure the general public suffered from rationing etc., but it was not the same as living day to day for over 2 years wondering if you husband might be injured, dead or alive. A LONG LONG TWO YEARS WHILE HE WAS OVERSEAS.
Ellen and Joe fifty years later.