note: This is a true account of how life changed for college-age students and college teachers in the immediate aftermath of President Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech of December 8, 1941, as told by Letty Owings, age 87. It is a continuation of this essay.
Everything changed on a Sunday. I had come home briefly from college where I was enrolled in a nature class. I wanted to collect some puffballs from the woods for my class. My father knew where to find these things so we went to the woods where they were, collected some samples, and returned home. I sat in a room with the sample collection, and my father went to the other room to listen to the wind charger radio.
He returned a few moments later and he said to me, word-for-word, “Honey, we’re in a war.”
How Life Changed After the Infamy Speech of 1941
After my father had listened to the wind charger radio and learned that we were in a war, he drove me back to college at Missouri Central University. Since the announcement did not affect our classes, I took the puffballs that I had collected from the woods for my nature class.
The Announcement at the Assembly
On Monday, December 8, 1941, the university called all of the students into Hendricks Hall. The school chose the large hall as a meeting place because it was the only building on campus large enough to accommodate 1000 students for an assembly. A man named H Roe Bartle delivered the speech. He was a large and imposing man and his physical presence at the podium added to his powerful delivery. H Roe Bartle read from President Roosevelt’s declaration of war on both fronts. He ended the speech by quoting from the English patriotic song written and distributed in 1939 called There’ll Always be an England, by saying the words, “There’ll always be an England and England will be free, if England means to you what England means to me.”
The atmosphere in Hendricks Hall at that moment was eerie. It was like electricity and so emotional that while some students cried, others just stared. Many jumped up to enlist. Boys just shy of graduating were anxious to abandon their schooling and had to be convinced to stay in school and graduate. Since there were no speech writers to temper tone in those days, what Roosevelt said, Roosevelt said. Both Roosevelt’s announcement and H Roe Bartle’s subsequent speech conveyed the same gravity and raw heartfelt shock that we all shared. We had no concept of war, no frame of reference. We had entered the meeting as one person and came out another, with the final understanding that yes, our lives have changed forever. America became mesmerized.
Conscription and Rationing
Following the announcement almost immediately, members of regular university faculty were conscripted according to the following formula: the Army, Navy and Marines came in took whoever they wanted and told them what to teach and where to teach it.
Even before the concepts of totally non-negotiable unconditional surrender and the declaration of war on both fronts sank in academically, the government instituted a rationing system in early 1942. Everything had to go to the military, and we were issued ration cards. Rubber was the first thing to be limited: no more tires, rubber boots or yard goods were sold for civilian use. Books, gasoline and sugar were rationed, and it was against the law to trade these things. Farmers could get a little more gasoline for their tractors, but they had to provide documented proof of how much they needed and what it was for. note: Here is a bit more on the rationing from wiki:
Of concern for all parts of the country was a shortage of rubber for tires since the Japanese quickly conquered the rubber-producing regions of Southeast Asia.
Tires were the first item to be rationed by the OPA, which ordered the temporary end of sales on 11 December 1941 while it created 7,500 unpaid, volunteer three-person tire ration boards around the country. By 5 January 1942 the boards were ready. Each received a monthly allotment of tires based on the number of local vehicle registrations, and allocated them to applicants based on OPA rules.:133
The War Production Board (WPB) ordered the temporary end of all civilian automobile sales on 1 January 1942, leaving dealers with one half million unsold cars. Ration boards grew in size as they began evaluating automobile sales in February (only certain professions, such as doctors and clergymen, qualified to purchase the remaining inventory of new automobiles), typewriters in March, and bicycles in May.:124,133-135 Automobile factories stopped manufacturing civilian models by early February 1942 and converted to producing tanks, aircraft, weapons, and other military products, with the United States government as the only customer. By June 1942 companies also stopped manufacturing for civilians metal office furniture, radios, phonographs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and sewing machines.:118,124,126-127
There was no unauthorized use of the rationing system that I can remember. People adjusted to it in stride as something they were required and obliged to do. Abuse and treachery of the rationing system were not done because people had a feeling they might be hurting an officer if they cheated the system.
The Uniform as the Great Leveler
Within a short period of time, hardly any adult man was out of uniform. The men were in uniform whether they were walking on the street, attending church, shopping at the store or going about their daily business. Bellbottoms, khakis, lapel bars and hats were worn everywhere. In a way, the military uniform was a great leveler because men going about their daily lives were now part of something that they had not been part of before. There was some occasional fakery that went on when it came to dating, when, for example, a man would represent himself as rich and accomplished to a prospective date, only to have his wife eventually show up.
The uniform was important to the point where being a “civvy” required an excellent excuse or else drew extreme criticism. A boy I dated had graduated and was teaching math. He went to Scott Air Force Base to teach troops, but the troops ridiculed him because he was dressed in civilian clothing. Because of this, he enlisted and returned to the same job for less pay, where he was not the subject of criticism.
end note: H Roe Bartle went on to serve as mayor of Kansas City, Missouri for two terms. He was also an executive and an organizer for the Boy Scouts of America.
“After Bartle helped lure the Dallas Texans American Football League team to Kansas City in 1962, owner Lamar Hunt renamed the franchise the Kansas City Chiefs after Bartle’s nickname, “The Chief.””