Ge factory in West Lynnwar

Remembering VJ Day – 75 years ago, August 14, 1945

(Featured image: The gigantic General Electric River Works, along with its West Lynn plant, employed thousands of skilled workers during WWII. The GE was the life force of the Lynn’s local economy in those days. (Boston Globe photo) 

As a five year old growing up in West Lynn, I distinctly remember VJ Day. We lived within earshot of the two enormous GE factories in the city – the West Lynn and the River Works plants. On summer evenings, with the windows open, we heard the throbbing hum of their machinery as they spewed out jet engines for the war effort. At the time, these plants ran 24-7.

THE NEWS

The war was the backdrop to my early years. Newspapers were essential. The Boston Globe was delivered every morning, and the Lynn Item arrived every afternoon at our home. We had other tabloids too that contained irreverent cartoons of Hitler, the Japanese emperor, and their minions – with no political correctness.

My mother and father never missed the evening news. I can still hear the sonorous voice of Edward R. Murrow on the radio reporting, “This is London…” He often broadcast from the streets of the city. Murrow regularly used the word “propaganda” (with emphasis on the third syllable). I had to ask my father what it meant.

Another voice from the WWII era was that of columnist Walter Winchell who “opened his radio broadcasts by pressing randomly on a telegraph key, a sound that created a sense of urgency and importance.” Then his staccato greeting, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.”

OTHER IMPRESSIONS

Looking back, I recall asking why there was a large gold star hanging in the window of the house across the street. Answer – “That’s because Mrs. O’Grady lost her only son in the Battle of the Bulge.” To a youngster, it sounded like a funny place. I have a vague memory of seeing coupon books lying about. I also recall my mother “making” oleomargarine (a butter substitute) by adding yellow flavor packets to a substance that looked like lard. Then there were the dark shades on all our windows. As the war wore down, there were fewer air raid drills, but the shades remained.

VJ DAY

In those days, terrible as wars were, there seemed to be a beginning and end unlike the interminable conflicts of recent decades. I remember nothing of VE Day when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. I vaguely recall talk of the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan in early August. But I do recall VJ Day on August 14. The weather was a hot and sultry. Word of Japan’s surrender came in the late afternoon. My mother often said that she regretted that she had not gone into Boston as a young girl with her spirited older sister Sarah when WWI had ended in 1918. She had missed all the fun.

So she said to my sister and me, “Grab a pot and spoon. We are going down the street. Let’s make some noise.” We were headed to the GE where large, exuberant crowds were gathering.

All of a sudden, I saw my opportunity. I had just acquired a new pair of shoes, a significant purchase in those days. In our house, we had to wear our new shoes to church “first.” I would sporting them when I entered the first grade at Sacred Heart Grammar School in September. Then I asked before we left the house, “Mama, can I wear my new shoes when we go?” I was shocked when she said “yes.” Thrilled, I quickly retrieved them from under my bed.

That’s when I realized how important VJ Day really was.

ge-pearl-harbor

The front gate of the River Works on Western Avenue in Lynn, 1942. (from The Lynn Album, a Pictorial History 1990)

Categories: war

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8 replies »

  1. Helen: I love this piece. Your memories are so acute and your words bring to mind and eye what I never knew firsthand. You need to write a book – at least a compilation of short stories. As a forever West Lynn lover, thank you for bringing home again the importance of the work of family and friends who worked at GE – a very proud heritage, MJ McKenna Lohan

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  2. Thank you for your memories. I was a baby then and have none that I can think of at the moment. My father and uncles (7 brothers in all) were in the war. I have newspaper reports on them and their whereabouts at the time because all the sons in one family were serving. I do remember my mother kept kneading that “lard” within a plastic bag with a small “button” of deep orange to make ersatz butter, i.e., margarine. Maybe they wanted the war behind them and didn’t talk about it, especially my uncle Doug who was in a German concentration camp. I asked him about it when I was 19 and he just glared at me. I do have pictures of me in navy barracks in Medford though. Your article is prompting me to think about those times and those uncles and my father, all now gone. My neighbor in Ft. Lauderdale was even a Edward R, Murrow during my teen years. It prompts me to continue pondering and “ walking” down memory lane. Again, thank you, Ms. Breen.

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    • Gavin, thanks for your kind thoughts. I have enjoyed many of your delightful pieces on this site over the years about your days on the Ipswich police department.

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  3. Indeed, I also remember VJ Day…I was six years old, spending the summer at my grandparents house on Mt. Pleasant Ave. My three uncles were in service,,,,army, navy, marines. When news of the end came we went downtown for an impromptu parade….fire trucks, etc. the uncles all survived. Fond memory.

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  4. I don’t remember VJ day since I was only 3 months old but I’ve heard my mother talk about it. My mother and two older sister were with me at her parents house which was in a small town in New Hampshire. There was a saw mill directly across the street that had a loud horn (very annoying) that they rang at starting, lunch and quitting time. My mother said that they rang it all day. She said that they stuffed cotton balls in my ears. I was born just before the end of the war with Germany and the first thing that my father did was get me a ration book. Speaking of ration books my mother talked about the time that my mother was making a birthday cake and the dog jumped up and grabbed a piece of the cake. She rescued the cake and attached to the main part of the cake with frosting. Sugar was very precious at that time.

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