'Soldiers without guns' crucial to effort to win WWII

Echoes of our past
William Wangemann • for The Review

World War II was not yet a year old in September of 1942. Already the effects of the war were being felt in Sheboygan. The draft was in effect and young, single men were being drafted by the hundreds.

Groups of draftees would meet at the Sheboygan Post Office then would march down 9th Street to Penn Avenue and then west on Penn Avenue to the depot to await the arrival of a train that would take them to their assigned boot camps. Many times the local band would volunteer their service and lead the procession of the nervous draftees to await the arrival of the train. Often large groups of family members and sweethearts would assemble at the depot to kiss their loved ones goodby as they headed into an uncertain future.

Local factories were beginning to gear up to try and meet the ever increasing demand for war supplies. Sheboygan’s leather industry began making shoes for the tens of thousands of young men flooding into camps for training across the country. Kohler Co. Vollrath and Polar Ware just mention a few all produced vtial war goods. The September 1, 1942 issue of the Sheboygan Press carried an article stating that meat rationing was not far off.

The article went on to say that it was expected by December of that year shoppers would be limited to purchase two and one half pounds of meat per week for their family. Food items were given ration points. Each family member was given a booklet which contained red and blue ration stamps. Red and blue stamps in the war ration book were worth ten points each. For instance various types of meat had different ration point values, as an example, a pound of Porterhouse Steak would cost you 12 ration points where as a pound of hamburger was seven ration points.

The blue ration points were used to purchase canned goods and other non-meat items. A 46 ounce can of pineapple juice would cost you 22 ration points so you can see that Pineapple juice did not appear on the table too often. A jar of baby food was but one ration point as was a six ounce can of orange juice. There were also red and blue tokens that the grocer could us to give the person change for the ration points they used and from time to time the values of the stamps changed which caused a absolute nightmare for the grocer trying to keep track of all the changes in the regulations.

Products such as coffee and sugar became nearly non-existent. Nylon stockings so popular with the well dressed ladies of the day absolutely disappeared from the market place. Rubber products, tires in particular, were not available at any price. To blow out a tire on your car during the war years was a disaster as the tire could not be replaced and unless you had a serviceable spare you had to put your car up on blocks for the duration of the war.

Most people drove their cars very little anyway due to gas rationing. Many people grumbled about the rationing but the most unpopular form was gasoline rationing.

The average driver received a small card with a large A on it which he had to display in the windshield and it limited him to 3 gallons a week. Farmers on the other hand were virtually unlimited in the gas they used in their tractors so that food production would not be affected by the gasoline shortage. As with food products you were issued a ration stamp book just for gasoline

Unfortunately what was termed as “gas chiseling” became a national scandal as drivers had discovered it was possible for them to apply for a second ration book under a different name. After the scandal came to light in newspapers across the country regulations were tightened and the government clamped down.

As more and more young men were called into the military factories producing war goods started to experience labor shortages. At this point many women who had never worked in industry before stepped forward to fill the worker gap .

After a rapid period of training women began to operate complex machinery that only a few month before they didn’t even know existed. Riveting, welding, installing complex wiring in aircraft and ships and the construction of weapons, tanks and guns were all done by women.

As aircraft were constructed pilots were needed to fly them into war zones where they could be used. The Air Force reluctant to use military pilots to ferry aircraft looked toward civilian women pilots who eagerly offered their services. By war’s end these women pilots could fly every type of aircraft from huge four engine bombers to fast single engine fighters.

To help with the food shortages that affected all families’ people were urged to plant what was termed “victory gardens”. Even in large cities parks were plowed up and gardens were planted. Then scrap drives were organized. On a designated day trucks would come slowly down the street so that residents could bring scrap metal out to the trucks.

Special drives were held for aluminum which was needed in the aircraft industry. I can recall my mother taking some of her pots and pans which she used daily and throwing them into the truck. There were paper drives, rubber drives and even drives to collect hunting knives for the marines and binoculars for the navy.

Ladies were urgently requested to turn in any nylons they may have to be used in the manufacture of powder bags for large guns. Even fat drippings from cooking were saved and taken to the local butcher to be processed into gun powder. Empty tooth paste tubes and padlocks were collected for the metal they contained.

In Sheboygan two bronze cannons from the Spanish American War that were on display in Fountain Park for many years were scrapped.

One of the items which came into demand in the manufacture of life jackets was Kapok. At first when the demand for Kapok was made there was a great deal of puzzlement over just what was Kapok? Kapok is the white fluffy material that appears in milkweed pods when they burst open and often could be seen floating around in the air.

Once it was identified the problem was, how do you gather it? There were no Kapok farms around as Milkweed is a wild plant. So where was the military going to get the tons of Kapok they needed?

If you were to fill a boxcar with Kapok it would probably weigh no more than a few hundred pounds. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts stepped forward and tons of the fluffy material was indeed collected from which tens of thousands of life jackets were made saving an untold number of lives.

By now it must be very apparent to the reader that nearly everyone in World War II put their best effort forward. Not only the military but the people on what was termed the “Homefront” or as one writer called them “soldiers without guns”.

If anyone has any comments or suggestions for future columns please feel free to contact me, Bill Wangemann at 920-458-2974 or e-mail me at wangemann@yahoo.com.

Note: Each Tuesday morning at 7:30 Am a discussion of today’s column can be heard on radio station WJUB “The Breeze”, 1420 on the dial

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