Civilian memories of World War II

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Donnie and Ronnie Lappe


Memories of people who lived during WWII were recorded. These are two excerpts.

From G. Stanley Sawyer

World War is vividly etched in my mind. I remember a December morning when we were sitting down for our after church dinner, the broadcaster on the radio announced that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. My wife and I had bought our first house in August of 1941, and I began to wonder if we would lose it, if I had to go to war. We had one child at that time, and I was working as an Engineer.

Soon the construction industry was immersed in the war effort, and as a Civil Engineer, I was kept busy, working long hours, helping to build or lay out additional facilities for the armed forces. I worked on six Auxiliary Landing Fields for the Air Force and cantonments for the army. We had one job in Abilene, one in Brownwood, one in Bracketville, and one in Comal County, northeast of New Braunfels. The other were in San Antonio, or nearby.

The construction crew was housed in army barracks and fed in army mess halls. It was there that I learned to eat scrambled powdered eggs and fried bologna for breakfast. After approximately six weeks of army chow I could see I did not want to be in the army even though we occasionally had T Bone steaks at night.

One job was a mobile target range with all sorts of cables, pulleys and other interesting hardware most civilians had not seen for several years. Because I was an assistant to the superintendent of construction, I took home some surplus items that were abandoned by the military when the project was completed. I was able to use these gadgets in making playthings for our children. By 1944 we had three children.

Military construction began to wind down. I remember one project at Randolph Field where it was necessary to set up a transit on the center line of the main runway. We had cleared our operation with the control tower but one B 29 bomber came in with a dead radio and landed on the runway where I was working. I think the pilot saw me, and did his best to avoid hitting me, but the blast of wind from the landing plane knocked over my transit. We had to retreat to a safer place to test and readjust it. The project was then completed without further incident.

In late 1944 military construction began to taper off, and I decided to apply for a commission in the Navy, Before I could could complete the process, I was reclassified to 1-A by the draft board. Eventually my number came up and I was ordered to report where I had registered for the draft, for my pre-induction physical. It seemed foolish for me to drive a hundred miles, get on an army truck and be transported a long way for the physical, then transported back where I would have to drive back, so I applied for a transfer. The transfer required several weeks but eventually instructions arrived, and I reported for my physical.

There were been several hundred naked boys standing a long time in an examination line, and a clumsy sergeant who kept dropping the hypodermic needle with which he was drawing blood samples. The many drops of the needle dulled the needle, and he had a hard time penetrating my skin, causing the needle to hurt.

Since I was able to walk into the examination room, eventually a card came telling that I had passed the physical examination and I was in the Army, and to wait the call to report for active duty.

My application for a commission in the Navy had been processed and I was told to report for a physical examination.

Eventually I was informed that I had passed the physical,and the Houston office recommended that I be commissioned a Lieutenant, and forwarded the papers to the New Orleans office. In time I heard from the New Orleans office that my application had been forwarded to Washington, recommending I be commissioned a Lieutenant, Junior Grade. After some time I heard from Bureau of Personnel, Washington, that the Navy was no longer commissioning older men, I was thirty five at the time.

Fortunately the war was over before my draft notice came, and there was not much construction work. Jobs for engineers were hard to find and those I found were of short duration, but we struggled through.

From Helen K.Ashmore

All civilians of the United States were affected by World War II, but the families of servicemen felt most keenly the fears and deprivations of wartime. Their greatest concern was, for their soldier and for his morale and safety.

They shared with other civilians the difficulties of scarcities, rationing and anxiety about the war. I was one of those wive of servicemen who chose to follow their soldier husbands from one fort to another in the United States. Housing was very scarce and expensive because of the influx of service families in the area around military bases. The search for a place to live was often long and discouraging and limited in scope because of gas rationing. At first we usually moved into one room, and moved again when we found an apartment.

My boyfriend and I were married in June 1941, and lived in Brownwood,Texas, until February, 1942, when the 36th Division, then stationed at Camp Bowie, Texas, was ordered to Camp Blanding, Florida. We followed a convoy of Army trucks to Camp Blanding and found an apartment in nearby Gainesville. Several weeks later, my husband was transferred to Fort Lee, Virginia, as part of a new group to be set up as a new division. In nearby Petersburg we found a small apartment. In May my husband was sent sent to Fort George G.Meade, about half-way between Washington, D.C.and Baltimore. We found another second story apartment in Laurel, Maryland. Where we were there we bought a 17-foot house trailer, hoping that this would solve our housing problems.

The Army shipped two large wooden boxes of our household effects from Camp Blanding to Fort Meade. The rest of our belongs we took in the car. When the wooden boxes finally caught up with us they were heavily infiltrated with coal dust.

We moved the newly purchased house trailer to a rural trailer camp a few miles from the gate at Fort Meade, and we enjoyed the lovely wooded countryside there in spite of our rather primitive living conditions, and the winter was colder than Texas. We saw several outstanding stage shows at Fort Meade. I remember that “The Cherry Orchard” and “Arsenic and Old Lace” were two of the plays.

There was fine comradeship among the young couples whose husbands were in the service, and we helped each other in many ways. When I suffered a third-degree burn on my ankle and foot, another Army wife in the trailed camp helped me during the day until I could use my foot again. We shared transportation when possible. The group were from many parts of the United States.

Making the decision of whether to have a child was fraught with so many uncertainties. In spite of everything we decided we wanted a baby, and in the fall of 1942, I became pregnant. Since the base hospital did not have prenatal or obstetrical care, I went to a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and made arrangements to have the baby there.

But this was not to be. The following spring my husband was transferred to Camp Lee again, and we moved the trailer to a small rural trailer camp surrounded by woods where the dogwood bloomed and the wild strawberries grew.

In June there was great uncertainty about where my husband would be sent. To complicate things, the woman who helped me decided to move back to her home in another state. Our baby was due June 30th, and because of my advanced state of pregnancy, I was denied air travel.

On June 24th my husband received orders to go to Vancouver Barracks, Washington, near Portland. I did not feel that I should go with him and live in a house trailer. There seemed to be no one to help me in Virginia, and even if there had been, I did not feel capable of driving the house trailer across the continent after the baby was born.

The decision was finally made. I was to go with my husband, and we would pull the trailer as far as St. Louis, there to board the train for Austin where I could stay with his folks. We traveled through the hills of West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania and across the fertile farmlands of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. Anxiety followed us every mile of the way. We arrived in St. Louis on June 30th, the probable date of birth set by the doctor. Since no sleeping berth was available, my ticket was for a chair car. After bidding my husband a tearful farewell, I boarded the train. I shared a seat with a young soldier, and since there was no other with whom to share my dilemma, I told him of the imminent birth. It was a mistake to tell him that. He became even more nervous than I was.

I arrived in Austin some time that night, where my husband's parent met me. The baby, a little girl was born to us on July 5th at Seton Hospital in Austin. Her father did not see her until September after Marianne and I had made the three day train trip to Portland, Oregon.

There was still a tour of duty at Seattle and one at Cheyenne,Wyoming, before my husband went overseas, but this time he was allowed time to drive us back to Austin before he flew to California en route to the Philippines. He was injured there, and he arrived at McCloskey Hospital in Temple, Texas, in July, 1945. Then, after his first leave, we had a son born to us. This time my husband was given leave to be with us.

After over two years in Army hospitals my husband was discharged in October, 1947. He was home to stay.

The Brown County Museum of History has a large World War II exhibit.This was take from “WAR TIME AMERICA An anthology of Memories” from the Austin, Texas Institute of Lifetime Learning.