Tag Archives: World War II

Blue Star Mother: Family Letters

Blue Star Mother flag

Blue Star Mother flag with three stars.

Blue Star Mother

In December, I shared my grandmother Vera Anderson’s letters written in December1943.  During that month, she was thinking about Christmas and in her role as a Blue Star Mother. She was very concerned about her Navy SeaBee son, William. Through her letters, we saw a bit of what life was like on the homefront during World War II.

Many homes in Killbuck Ohio displayed a small banner with one or more blue stars embroidered on it. Grandma’s silk Blue Star Mother’s flag looked like this, with stars for Uncle Bill (William) Anderson, Uncle Herbert Anderson and my cousin Bob (Robert J.) Anderson.  When these letters were written, only William had joined up the Navy, but the other two would join before long. (I don’t know whatever happened to the banner, but it is one heirloom I would love to have.)

Articles on the Internet provide contradictory information about the beginning of the Blue Star Mother banners–with some claiming they started in World War II. However, this story seems to be the more accurate one. A soldier from Ohio designed the original flag in World War I.  By the time of World War II, the government codified who could fly the banner and the size and design.

Since December, I have selected snippets from Grandmother’s letters to my mother that showed her role as a gardener (and preserver of vegetables) and in her role as a Rosie the Riveter as she tries to make enough money to support her sick husband and herself. Now I am going back to grandma’s role as a Blue Star Mother. Some of the excerpts below are from December letters, so you may have read them before, but I wanted to put the whole story together.

During World War II, no matter what else was happening in people’s lives–and she related births, deaths, marriages, a bank scandal, basketball team and grandchildren’s accomplishments–the war was never far from her mind.

[I will be publishing the entire letters on a separate page for the benefit of relatives and anyone else who would like to see all the details of life on the homefront in a small Ohio town.]

I have struggled to date some of the earlier letters, but still do not know for sure the order of the letters. She wrote them in October and November 1943, but in many cases only put the day of the week rather than the date, and if I do not have the envelope or other clues, I cannot date them with certainty. The December letters all had dates on them.

The October Letters

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, Aug. 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

This is an earlier letter, because there is no mention of William leaving California.

Sent Wm. a letter and a compass this morning. Will send you his letter. Didn’t I send you his address?

For good measure, she includes his address at the end of the letter:

  • W. J. Anderson E.M. 3/C
  • 12 Spec. Batt. Platoon #2
  • Port Hueneme
  • Calif.

This letter seems to have been written before the October 12th letter.

Sarah (his wife) … had a letter from Wm saying there were 12 boats in there to be loaded and they was working them awful hard. He said his boss said he was the best checker he ever had and Wm. Says he always asks for him. He said they was loading their equipment on one of these boats so he thought they would be going this week. He said he thought they would go to Espiretu[Espiritu] Santo, an island east of Australia. It is 15 x 168 on map. We found it and put a flag on it. I do hope they get across and nothing happens. I guess all we can do is “Hope for the Best.” I do hope this D- war is soon over. Wm says he wants to go so I guess he will get his wish. I hope he never regrets it but we will never know if he does. It will be a wonderful trip and experience for him but he is sure taking an awful chance.

I was very young, but I vividly remember the large map of the Pacific that we studied and studied during the war, trying to figure out where my uncles and cousin were.

In another letter, Grandma show that although their mind is on the war, there is time for levity. (Bob–son of William the sailor)

Bob put on quite a show imitating Hitler last night and we laughed until we cried. He is good.

Another October letter, written before Oct. 12:

I will send you William’s address as I am afraid if you don’t write right away he won’t get it as he wrote Sarah they will be on alert after Fri. was the report now. Thinks they will be sailing before many days. That isn’t just what he said but I can’t think of the word he used but that it meant they will not be allowed any leaves or any liberty after Fri. He said they all were ready and wanted to get it over.

October 12. Sarah and Bob (William’s wife and son) visited grandmother with news. Sounds like William’s departure is imminent and he has been having an adventure. Grandma almost sounds like she envies him, but she is terrified that he will actually be going to war.

Sarah and Bob was here a little while. She had a letter from Bill yesterday and he thinks he will be sailing around 15 or 18 for where I told you. [Espiritu Santo—island east of Australia] He says he weighs 175# and can take the training with any of them and better than most of them. He says he has been having some wonderful trips out on ocean with Coast Guard that Flying isn’t any thing to being out on rough ocean in one of those boats. Every thing is closed up tight and you look out in the water through the windows and wonder some time if it will ever get on top again. He is ready to go. I think it is terrible. I wake up at night and it seems like a dream that it can’t be so. I wish it was over. I am afraid Wm is getting right in the midst of it. He doesn’t write us very often. Herbert had a nice letter. I am glad he wrote you.

A letter probably written October 25, she lists some of the local “boys” who are facing the draft.

Wm is still in California. I hope he never leaves there. But he would be disappointed.

Earl and Elliot told me he was going to Cleveland and enlist in C.B.s Frank Kinsey passed and they say Bob Purdy has been called out of Coshocton Co. Mr. Click got reclassified in A-1. Franklin Day got his notice also.

You may notice that “Mr. Click got reclassified A-1”  This is the same Mr. Click who later gets arrested for embezzling from the local bank. Ironically, his crime kept him out of the armed forces.

November Letters

November 19, she writes:

Wm is still in Calif. He was out fighting that forest fire.

The LA Times in September 1992 reported on the 60 worst fires in southern California in the past 60 years, including this, “DATE: November, 1943 AREA: Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Los Angeles County ACRES: 40,000 ”

On Google Books I found interesting information on the American attitude about forest fires during World War II.  On page 42 of the book, “The Culture of Wilderness: Agriculture As Colonization in the American West” I learned the the FBI suspected foreign incendiaries as the cause of the California forest fires in 1943.  They learned, instead, that it was caused by Americans not used to dealing with the dry conditions.

America had good reason to worry about forest fires and produced posters (Yep! more posters) warning that preventing forest fires was defense against the enemy.  In fact, Japan had incendiary balloons that they successfully floated over the western U.S., particularly the states of  Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful in starting forest fires.

Toward the end of November, she writes:

We haven’t heard from William for several days. I am afraid he is going to have to go. They called them all together and told them they would leave this month. I had sent him a fruit cake and cheese. Hope it got there before he left. Sarah also sent him cookies and pickles.

Another letter still is hopeful that he will not go overseas. She includes a list of Killbuck men who are enlisting or reporting for examinations. Mrs. Alderman apparently has not heard from her soldier husband.

William is still in Calif. Said in his last letter some talk of going up coast to some port in Wash. I hope they do keep him in States. He got my box and said it came through in very good shape. He said they had a farewell party and the boys put on a show and I will send you a part of the program.

Bernard Click Bernard Gallion and Franklin Day, Loudell Lanham’s man all go to Columbus next Wed for examinations. Helen Alderman told me to day she didn’t know where Louie is.

December Letters

December 10, she is feeling melancholy about Christmas.

I think William has sailed as he thought he would go into Secure last Sun or Mon. I am all broke up about it. He mailed his Xmas cards last week.

December 14, some ominous news from William.

Sarah had a letter from Wm saying he was sending clothes etc home as he thought he would go into Secure last Mon. nite. Didn’t know where they was going but a lot of tents on boat so thought must be somewhere it would be warm. I am so sorry I was so in hopes he would never leave the States. I feel awful bad about it.

In same letter she mentions working at the movie theater for another woman going to a Blue Star Mother meeting, so apparently she is not active in that organization.

Worked for Amy last Sun afternoon and Mon night as she went to Blue Star Mother meeting.

About December 22, she writes the last letter that remains in this series. It is the letter that unveils the bank scandal but also starts with  specific news about William.

Yes, Wm sailed Sat Dec 11. Only wonder where he is and how he is tonight.  I know he would have been disappointed if he couldn’t have gone.

After all the hints that he might be going, and the periods of waiting, it is definite. Her son has gone to war and she is officially a Blue Star Mother.

 

 

 

Grandma’s World War II Garden: Family Letters

Vera Anderson, August 1944

Vera Anderson, August 1944

Throughout the letters that my grandmother, Vera Anderson, wrote from Killbuck Ohio to my mother in Ames Iowa in 1943, she included many reference to her World War II garden.

Victory Gardens

Victory Gardens were just one of the many ways that everyday citizens on the homefront were enlisted to help the war effort.  The government helped people learn how to grow gardens, gave them brochures and recipe books to take advantage of the vegetables they grew and exhorted them to save the produce grown by farmers for the troops. And of course–Posters!

World War II Garden Poster

Patriotic gardening poster during World War Two

I’m pretty sure, however, that Grandma never thought of her World War II garden as a Victory Garden–let alone a Munition Plant. She planted gardens every year. She was still doing so more than ten years after the war when my family lived in Killbuck and my father also planted a garden.  People in small rural communities like Killbuck did not need the government to tell them that growing gardens could save money and provide healthy eating.  They always planted in the spring and harvested everything before the first hard frost.

Grandma grew flowers as enthusiastically as she grew vegetables–possibly more so, because flowers caused a lot less work, as you can see below.  An apple tree in her back yard provided small, misshapen but delicious apples as long as I could remember.

In her letters she is as obsessed with the effect of weather on the crops as any farmer would be.

Grandma Writes about Her World War II Garden

Undated letter, probably October 4th :

I gathered in my green tom. & mangoes [ bell peppers] also flowers tonight as they will surely go tonight. The frost hasn’t hurt anything yet.  The trees are beautiful.

Letter written October 12, 1943

Well we are having lovely weather –awful dry. I hear farmers say they are afraid the wheat will not get started for winter. (Coshocton Tribune front page article on October 11 reports the area has had only .77 inch of rain in six weeks, and none in 25 days.)

Later in the letter, she says,

I made 16 pts. of green tom and mango [bell pepper] relish last week and also 7 more pts of tom juice and 3 cans of Kraut like you said.

Salted Green Tomatoes for Relish

Green Tomatoes and Red Peppers, salted. (These look like tomatillos, but the seller at the farmer’s market said they were small tomatoes.

Unfortunately, Grandma did not leave recipe cards for these items. If you would like to make something like her green tomato and mango relish, check out this recipe that I found for “green tomato pickle” in a Mennonite cookbook. Or you might want to try grandma’s recipe for red pepper jam”.  I wrote about her canning in general and in a later article related my experience in following her recipe for “red pepper jam.” When you read these articles you will see that it would take A LOT of “mangoes” to make 16 pts of relish!

Making Canned Food--Re Peppers

Red Peppers for Ready to Make Grandma’s Red Pepper Jam

In an undated letter probably written in soon after the one above, Oct 13? she wrote:

I made some more catsup today. That is the last of tom. Only green ones now. Frost hasn’t hurt anything here.

Another undated October letter remarks on the weather, “No killing frost yet.” then later says:

We haven’t had any frost that harmed anything. My flowers are beautiful yet.

Oct. 16

It is raining here and cold. Glen Orr said it hailed a little.

 

But she is starting work at her GoodYear “Rosie the Riveter” job, so she would have no time for her World War II garden, even if the weather were favorable. Another letter in October says that Irene, my father’s sister, is busy canning.  Irene was a prize-winning gardener. November letters have remarks about rain and December it is ice and cold weather. But Grandma and Daddy Guy would have vegetables galore all winter.

While other vegetables had been harvested earlier in the summer–beans, peas, cucumbers, and most had been canned, at the end of the year, we hear that she is canning tomato catsup, tomato juice, green tomato relish and sauerkraut.  Her basement shelves were full of those jewel-tones in glass jars (like these from a farmer’s market) created from Grandma’s World War II garden.

Preserves at farmer's Market

St. Phillips’ Farmers’ Market in Tucson, Grammy’s canned foods

My Grandmother and Rosie the Riveter

Family letter 1943

Letter and envelope with 3 cent stamp, October 25, 1943 from Vera Anderson to her daughter Harriette A. Kaser

My favorite photograph does not exist.  It is a picture of my Grandmother, Vera Anderson, as a “Rosie the Riveter.”

The collection of old photographs passed on to me by my mother and to her by her mother and to her by her mother, contains many gems.  I have shared many of my favorites from those photos–Grandma Vera Anderson in her baseball uniform; the whole clan of Andersons and Stouts in front of a farm house that still exists; my mother and her two brothers dressed up like fancy dolls when they were toddlers, the Anderson family during World War II….and many more.

But the photo that I have only in my imagination shows my grandmother as a Rosie the Riveter. You’ve seen the popular poster of Rosie, who went to work in factories building war materiel during World War II.

Rosie the Riveter

J. Howard Miller (1918–2004), artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee.

In a note from “Daddy Guy” (my grandfather) sent October 16, 1943 to my mother:

Guy Anderson 1934

Guy Anderson August 1943, Killbuck

Mom is going to work Mon. morning  at Goodyear. She has her slacks (Hell) and all that goes with the job.

Later in the letter he says:

I may get job caring for three Parks in Holmes Co. $124 year around. I am afraid of inflation. Mom working and if I get parks I can work in Williamson about 4 days a week but just so it doesn’t inflate Mom’s Slacks I don’t care.

He and grandma did care for parks for a while. I remember going with them when I was a small girl.  And Williamson refers to a man who roomed with them, and ran a factory putting together wooden boxes.

Leter from Guy Anderson

Letter from Daddy Guy (Leonard Guy Anderson) to Harriette Kaser, 10-16-43

Vera Anderson

Vera Anderson,August 1943

Since Grandma did not leave behind a picture of her in the slacks that my grandfather hated so much, I have to rely on a picture in words from her letters in 1943 to recreate her life as a Rosie the Riveter factory worker during World War II.

Daddy Guy had more reason to resent Grandma’s job than just the slacks.  He almost had the job himself.

In late September or early October, Grandma wrote to mother:

Dad got notice to come and take ex{am}. For work at GoodYear in Millersburg today at 60 cents an hr. He is all excited about it. I wonder if he will pass. I think we could get along but he seems to want to try and that will be a good way for him to find out. I hope he can for it would be better for him to being doing something and I think he would be happier.

However in the next letter we learn it is not to be.  Grandma and Daddy Guy had closed the restaurant (pictured at the top of the page) when Daddy Guy had a severe heart attack. He had not had a regular job since then.

Dad thought he had a job. They called him and told him to bring birth certificate Social Security Card and come up so he did and they said you go to Dr. Cole for examination and come back here in morning at 7:30. So he did but when they opened the letter from Cole. The man said he was very sorry but Dr. said No. He had a bad heart and there wasn’t any thing they could do. Dad was awful disappointed.

Mr. Williamson said for him to come up to {his} place and see if he could stand to make crates. He could work just as fast as he wanted to or as long as he wanted to as it would be piece work. So I guess he will try that.

On October 16, Grandma tells Mother that she will start “school”–training for her new job–at the Goodyear Plant in Millersburg. At the age of 62, Vera Stout Anderson is becoming a “Rosie the Riveter.” Just a couple weeks after her husband was turned down because of his health, she has been hired. He writes his comments about slacks that you read above, and Grandma says:

Yes I am starting to school Monday. 8 hrs until we go through school which is 6 days then we work 10 hours. I am riding with Mrs. Bernard Smith and Priscilla Spellman at 7 a.m. but at 6 when we work. I am still going to help out at the show as I won’t work night shift. I will not stay if I have to.

Sunday night, Oct. 24:

I am sending my exam papers so you can see what a dumb Mother you have. You needn’t return them. I start to work in morning at 6 o’clock. The school was hard for me. I just couldn’t study I am glad it is over. My grades in shop were 92% -85%, 97-94. Not so bad for an old woman. We only went 8 hrs to school {a day} but will work 10. I will tell you all about it after this week.
Vera Anderson letter Nov 1943

Vera’s letter to her daughter about her WWII factory work Nov 29 ,1943

Her factory work was not her only contribution to the war effort. [Delmar Alderman was the owner of the hardware store and good friend of my father. You can see his picture here.]

Buy War Bonds

Buy War Bonds poster WWII

I was out today getting War Funds for Delmar he put me on to get from here up to Apts and railroad St. Which I did. The ones that were at home.

Even while working eight hours a day at the Goodyear Plant, Grandma was taking care of rooms she rented and she also worked some nights at the end of the week at the movie theater which was only three doors away from her house. She sold tickets.

Nov. 18 she writes:

I am still[working] at the show and it makes it awful late for me when I have to get up at 4:30 every morning.

Mon. Nov 29.

Would have written you last night but I was so tired I just couldn’t. I cleaned my house all over yesterday and washed and then ironed my blouse & slacks so I could have them today. I have never bought but one suit.

We know we was somewhere today. They are trying to increase production so we had to step on it. We have had one raise and another one due now soon we are getting $.50 an hour for 8 hours. All holidays and over 40 hrs time and a half. We go to work at 6 and get off at 2:30. I get up at 4:30 every morning.

Note that Daddy Guy was promised sixty cents an hour when he applied for a job at the factory.  After working two months and having a raise, Grandma is still only getting fifty cents an hour. The Rosie the Riveter revolution brought new jobs to women, but at a lower wage than men were paid. Women are still waiting for the satisfactory outcome of that particular revolution.

December 14, she proudly writes:

I must tell you how I rate at shop. They transferred me over to Pre Assembly and it is much nicer and cleaner. We make parts on jigs and then they are drilled. They told Mrs. Bell and me today that tomorrow we would build them and each of us would have a man to drill them so it will be nice.

I must get some new slacks. I only have one pair and they are getting pretty thin. I wash them and dry them in evening.

Apparently the working conditions are not ideal, as she writes in this December 20 letter:

I didn’t work today as Dad had an awful night coughing last night. I guess he took my cold. I have just been sick. 1/3 of the people that worked was off with colds. They did not get the shop warm those cold days and we just stood around and shook. My cold is better. I took tablets every 1/2 hr for 2 days.

Nowhere in her letters does she mention what she is working on.  It is possible that since they were manufacturing parts, they really did not know what the final product was, but as I explained in this post, the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation plant in Millersburg, Ohio, was making Corsair airplanes for the Navy.

It is also possible that Grandma was just being cautious.  Everywhere, posters warned people not to give away where their servicemen were going, and in factories, the Rosie the Riveter gals were warned not to talk about what they were doing.  These “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters were not an abstraction to Vera Anderson, whose letters are filled with her concern for her son William J. Anderson, a SeaBee deployed to the Pacific.

World War II Poster

A WWII “Loose Lips Sink Ships” warning poster.

Words and posters paint a picture of my Grandma in her role as Rosie the Riveter.  I do not know how long she worked as a Rosie the Riveter, but as long as she was needed to help, she would be there.

[This has been my response to the prompt “My favorite picture” for the 52 Ancestors project.]