Last month I wrote a post about the men in my family who have served in the military. In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, I thought I’d share my Nana’s experiences during World War II.
Madge Wyse was my paternal grandmother, and she was living in Agnew, a small suburb of Santa Clara, California, when the war began. Her husband Ben – my grandfather – was serving in the Navy, which left Nana to find work and keep life going on the homefront.
Nana first went to work in the ship yards near Los Angeles, where she swung a sledge hammer as part of a welding team. It was back-breaking work, so she happily moved on to the Douglas Aircraft plant in El Segundo, where she worked with the inventory department.
Nana once wrote to me that,
“The whole plant was covered with chicken wire and sod. Trees and shrubs and grass were planted all over it. From the air it looked just like the surrounding countryside.
“We had air raid drills frequently. We had to clear all buildings in 3 to 5 minutes. Each building had their own shelter. They had a maze of zig-zag tunnels that had to be traveled at top speed to reach the large center room. There were planes overhead, diving and making war-like noises. We never knew if it was a real raid or a practice drill until it was all over.”
Nana later quit that job when they refused to give her time off during her husband’s two-week leave from the war. “I told them my husband had been in the war and I didn’t intend to work even one hour while he was home,” Nana wrote. Her bosses thought she was bluffing. Obviously, they didn’t know her well.
Later, Nana became the “block warden” in her neighborhood, patrolling the streets after 10:00 p.m. to ensure everyone had their lights out or heavy drapes over their windows to avoid detection if there was a nighttime air raid.
Rationing is something else Nana wrote about, sharing her experiences with limited availability of everything from coffee to car tires. With nylon going toward parachute production, many ladies had to bare their legs. Nana, though, made her one pair of stockings last the duration of the war.
We so often honor the veterans of World War II – as we should – but sometimes forget those who remained here, working and surviving amid sacrifice and the constant threat of attack. For all those who had a hand in the war effort, whether as a soldier, factory-worker, or supportive family member, thank you for being an inspiration to us today.