(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 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.”
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.
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.