During this pandemic attack on our nation, I’ve thought about another such time in our history. During World War II, we were called upon to do whatever was needed to win the fight of our lives.
I was only eight, when the war started. But I remember the national mood. For the next four years our country was determined to win the victory whatever the cost.
Our family observed Meatless Monday and the 35-mile-an hour speed limit to conserve gas and tires. My mother pulled out her rationing stamps along with cash when paying for coffee, meat, sugar, and butter. Americans went without new autos, tires, gas, oil, coal, firewood, nylon, and silks.
Mama made sheets from bleached feed sacks, cut apart and sewed together. They were terribly scratchy, but a small sacrifice considering our troops were sleeping in foxholes. If anyone complained about the everyday sacrifices—and few did—they were told to “Quit yer bellyachin’.”
The Small Things That Made a Difference
Kids were encouraged to do their part in the war effort as well. Along with our parents, we bought $18.75 war bonds. My classmates and I saved our allowances to help pay for a jeep that gave our school naming rights for the vehicle. We picked Fighting Pennies.
Instead of collecting Pep Cereal buttons, I collected military insignias and learned to identify the shape of enemy aircraft should they reach our shores. Rather than playing Cowboys and Indians, kids on our block played army.
My father, too old for the draft, worked three jobs and kept the neighborhood cars and appliances repaired. He planted a Victory Garden each year and served as an air raid warden. We all bought blackout shades and everyone pulled theirs down during air raid drills.
My First Business
My most enterprising endeavor was collecting newspaper from our neighbors for the war effort. I scoured the Daily News for the best prices offered by local junk yards. Papers usually brought 50 cents a hundred pounds and magazine went for 75 cents. Old phone books were especially “collectible” since they weighed three pounds.
Now, a New, More Subtle War
I recount all this, remembering the war slogan, “We did it before and we can do it again.” Yes, we threw everything we had at a global menace. The tragic loss of life and freedom around the world convinced us that we were all in this together.
Today the worldwide pandemic is an unseen enemy, one that doesn’t wear a uniform or come at us with guns, tanks and bombs. Covid is far more subtle. It would be way easier if we could all go out and buy war bonds, plant victory gardens, or collect newspapers.
But until the vaccine is widespread, our best defense in this new war is to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid travel.
This is a time for for our country to again exhibit oneness of purpose in the interest of our personal safety and that of our family, friends and neighbors. As Carl Sandburg once wrote: “We are Americans. Nothing like us ever was.” We have proven that time and again. We can do this.