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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Our "World War II" Moment

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

There has been no event that has affected the life of each and every American citizen since World War II, until now. We are all, if following the advice of the CDC, staying in our homes and wearing face masks when we leave our homes. This is a time of inactivity, rather than activity. The Viet Nam war did not affect each and every citizen this way, if only because fewer men left, and fewer women left. Opinion about that war was not united ( nor was public opinion about WWII before Pearl Harbor) and not every one had a son who was involved in the Korean conflict or the Viet Nam War. Even now, when we are involved in the longest wars this country has ever known, news of the war is infrequently in the media. Our lives are not impacted by the war because the percentage of people, out of the millions of Americans, affected directly is so small.

I read an interesting fact about Waynesville in February of 1942. It was a tiny place then and that tiny town had contributed 70 men to WWII by February of 1942. Those men represented one tenth of the population of the town. So many absent men was not a fact that could be overlooked in Waynesville, nor could the shortage of rubber or the restrictions on gasoline. Cars were not being produced at the same rate, so the car you owned had to last until the end of the war, if not longer.

Nancy Organ had raised her 4 boys alone after her husband's death in 1916 of a sudden heart attack. She was saying good bye to two of those sons, Elmer (33) and Glen (31). Her third son, Albert did not pass the army physical and stayed in DeWitt County, which was probably a comfort to Nancy. (Her fourth son, Louis, died at the age of 12.) Glen was present at Normandy Beach with a field artillery battalion and served from 1942 until 1945. The only information regarding Elmer's service was that he was sent to Africa in the spring of 1943. After her lonely years of raising her boys alone, I am especially glad that Nancy's sons survived the war. She was 71 years old in 1942 and had tears in her eyes as she talked to the reporter.

Minnie Booker was more stoic about her sons going to war -- "I guess it is their duty." Her family had a history, or tradition as she described it, of going to war. Her father and her husband's father had both fought in the Civil War. Her son Welby was a propeller specialist with the Army Air Force and served in Europe for 16 months as well as on stateside airfields. Son Eugene was a radio man with the Navy and had been serving since October of 1938. He was stationed in the Pacific during the war and received a special commendation for keeping a cool head during one particular action. Her third son, Donald, was also a Navy man. He was injured during action in France and the only record of his service was a mention of being sent to New York for recuperation from his serious leg fracture.

Mary Maxwell Adair had only been married for a year when her husband enlisted in the army. She was shutting up their house in Waynesville and moving to Bloomington, where she planned to attend business school and find a job. She knew she would need to be making money if she hoped to visit her husband wherever he was stationed. In less than a year, Mary Adair was working as a cost accountant at an ordnance plant in Illiopolis. Hubert Adair was in an antiaircraft battalion, mostly on the west coast and in the Aleutians.

Arthur Swan was the postmaster for Waynesville and he was kept extra busy, selling war bonds and stamps to the patriotic citizens of Waynesville. There were also more letters being sent to and from Waynesville, with so many men away from home.

E.E. Richards had a daughter working in Decatur. Prior to the war, she had come home every weekend to see her parents, but with gas shortages and rubber shortages, she was conserving her tires and staying in Decatur on weekends.

Mrs. Mossie Edwards said that her income was drastically cut when her two sons joined up. A third son was preparing to sign up as well, and she thought that they could get by. She was another widow, and was receiving just $18 in a mother's pension for her fourteen year old son. Her oldest son, Robert, enlisted and was eventually sent to England in March of 1944. Duane Edwards spent three years in England as a warrant officer. Mossie's married son, James Gordon, was a pharmacist's mate in the Pacific. After the war he reenlisted and spent 23 years in the Air Force. Mossie's fourth son, Victor was initially in the medical air corps but was later transferred to the infantry, but nothing is known of any action he served in. He married Shirley Perlman at the St. Louis United Hebrew Temple in 1943. Shirley had been a student at IWU and Brown's Business College in Bloomington. After the war Victor reenlisted and was an MP at Chanute Air Force Base. In 1948 he was discharged after a 10 month recovery from a motorcycle accident which caused him to lose one of his feet. Victor married a second time in 1951 -- to Rose Ella Meadows of Kenney, and they lived in Springfield.

Mr. Aaron Hoffman, the Waynesville High School principal had noticed a certain amount of unrest and excitement among the students. "They're very enthusiastic about doing things. I think all the changes and excitement have stimulated them. Whether it's a beneficial change psychologically, I don't know. It will take a while to tell." In his own personal life he was investing in war bonds and driving less to save gas and rubber.

Extra note: During WWI, Waynesville sent 62 men to that short war (short for the US, not for Europe).

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