WW II empowered even the powerless

BY PHYLLIS HARPER

The casualties of World War II were heavy. So many families in the Tupelo area lost a husband, father, son, brother, uncle or cousin during the unprecedented global upheaval.

Among the 212,000 Mississippians in uniform during those four years, 4,187 were killed on foreign battlefields, and many times that number injured.

Northeast Mississippians suffered along with the rest of the world. The war was said to be the first one ever fought in "everyone's living room" because radio communications brought daily news from the battle fronts.

Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, was a day that President Franklin Roosevelt said would "live in infamy" as the United States declared war after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Less than a month later, the 26 allied nations at war against the Axis powers joined in a declaration in which they pledged united efforts and no separate peace until the war was won.

News was grim, figures frightening, and Americans responded in an all-out war effort that affected every home in every village and town in the nation.

J.M. "Ikey" Savery, chairman of the Lee County Selective Service Board, told a story that was recorded by Olivia Napoli and it says something of the fears and emotions of the time. Savery and others on the board attended breakfasts with the boys and their parents as groups left Tupelo for military camps.

On one occasion the expected transport buses failed to show up at the farewell breakfast, and Savery hired taxis and private cars to take the boys to Hattiesburg. He received "unshirted hell" from state and federal officials for the unauthorized act, but said he couldn't have done otherwise:

"It was like a funeral, parents sobbing and boys leaving home for the first time. I had no idea of sending them home and repeating the performance two days later."

Signs of the war were everywhere. "Remember Pearl Harbor" or simply "Remember Pearl" was even embroidered on some dress and shirt pockets. Posters depicting the evil-looking Axis powers, especially the Japanese and Germans, were displayed in all public buildings including schools.

Even town families grew vegetables in "victory gardens." V-for -victory signs were found in V-shaped flower beds in many lawns and yards.

Gasoline was rationed, along with shoes, and so was foodstuff such as sugar. Coupon books gave each family its allotment. Such items as candy and chewing gums were scarce to nonexistent on the home market, because they were sent to the men overseas.

Every scrap of metal that could be found was collected and turned in for making war goods. For the duration of the war, no new automobile or household appliance could be bought, and finding repair parts was difficult. TVA's rural electrification program ceased while thousands of Northeast Mississippi homes and farms were still without electricity.

Progress at home came to a halt, but World War II became something of an economic turning point. Following the example of Rosie the Riveter depicted on posters, women went into the work force doing jobs once held by men only. And men too old or physically unfit for military duty also found work in the war plants.

National historian William Manchester tells the perhaps apocryphal story of two women riding on a bus. One said, "Well, my husband has a better job than he ever had, and he's making more money, so I hope the war lasts a long time." The second woman stood up, slapped her face once, and said "That's for my boy who was killed at Pearl Harbor," and then slapped her the second time and said, "And this is for my boy who is somewhere in France." Literal or not, the story has a ring to truth.

One of the biggest economic assets, especially in rural sections such as Tupelo and its surrounding trade area, was the veterans who returned with government compensations that included educational opportunities and other assistance in reestablishing themselves in civilian life. Also, demand for production of domestic goods from housing to automobiles to clothing to toys increased after the four-year hiatus. It took time for the job market to develop, but once it had begun, the growth continued.

Nothing could compensate for the lost lives, or the injured men who returned, but there was a general feeling of elation that at last it was over. After the example of atomic destruction in Japan, future wars were too horrible to contemplate, and many believed there would be war no more.

America's famous scientist, Albert Einstein, said that the world war after the next one will be fought with rocks.

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