My memories of WWII are few but vivid, for I was young, and I realize now- as an octogenarian- how much that era marked and shaped me. My WWI veteran father, Clarence John Taylor, was rarely living with us during that period, as he worked at various war plants throughout the South, including the Atomic Bomb Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and an artillery factory outside of Borger, Texas. Mostly, my mom and I lived in Jacksonville, Texas, my birthplace then and my retirement home now.
I recall not so much the big events of wartime Jacksonville, but rather the small things, things a child would notice. I understood my Uncle Bill Holcomb was a B-17 pilot in the war, but did not grasp that he was in England with the 8th Air Force. I knew we did not have a car and walked most places with Mom hoisting me up on her shoulders when I was tired as we hiked from our small house on Ft. Worth Street to Aunt Reba and Uncle John Tom Ahearn’s place on San Antonio Street. Even if we had a car, there were no tires available due to war-time rubber shortages. Dad drove a 1941 Plymouth, but he lived far away from us, so we walked.
Home activities are particularly clear. Tin cans were collected, cleaned and squashed as a mother-son project all in preparation for the scheduled Boy Scout pick up. Mom said we were helping the war effort because those tin cans were to be converted to bullets and tanks to defeat America’s enemies. I assisted in other ways too. At meal time the phrase “Have a victory plate” was repeated regularly. In short, eat all your food, waste not, for that small accomplishment was a step toward victory. I raised my two sons, Mike and Chris, using that very line to encourage them to finish their food. I have often wondered if other people used the phrase.
Of course, we attempted a Victory Garden as well, but I only remember eating one lone carrot and perhaps a radish as Mom was not much of a gardener. Our heart, however, was in the right place on the issue.
Regarding food, one additional thing sticks out. Butter was rationed (I still have the family ration books that Mom had kept under her bed until her death). So margarine was invented as a substitute, but it was white and did not have the butter appearance. A packet of yellow food dye was combined with the margarine, and I helped Mom stir it all together until the color was acceptable.
Sometimes children draw wrong conclusions based on what they see and hear. In the home of my grandparents, Jess and Lois Holcomb, on Bryan Street, there was a framed picture in their bedroom of General Douglas McArthur. Since every framed photo in the house was a relative, I assumed that the general was my uncle! And that is what I told people. Even after I learned different, Douglas McArthur remained an important figure for me as I grew up; after all he was once my uncle for a few years.
Vividly I recall military uniforms, especially on trains. I think Mom and I were on the way someplace to visit Dad, and the train was packed by solders. Often, they took me off my mom’s hands by offering to walk me up and down the aisles. It was a GI on the train who gave me my first piece of Double Bubble chewing gum, another casualty of war time shortages. I usually asked them if they knew my Uncle Bill. Keeping me happy, they said they did, and that made me feel good.
But things were not always good. On Dec. 9, 1943, Uncle Bill’s B-17 crashed flying out of an airfield in Bovingdon, England. All ten men aboard were killed. Mother was in the kitchen with Aunt Louise Stripling when she got the call from her older brother, JH Holcomb. Later I saw the Gold Star on my grandmother’s window and was told what that meant. Many tears were shed and would continue over the years.
My last firm recollection from the war was on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 1945. I heard a loud whistle blow from the Jacksonville city tower announcing V-J Day (Victory over Japan). The war was over, but the memories remained.