December 7, 1941

Bill Neinast

December 7, 1941, the day that lives in infamy, is just another day on the calendar for the 16 year olds Nancy Pelosi wants to lead to the voting booths.

That date, however, has much meaning for Americans of all ages.  Eight decades ago, it was the first day of a new America.  Every family, regardless of size and age, was affected.

Except for the too old, too young, or disabled, men were whisked away from home and sent off to places they had never heard of before.  There was Kasserine Pass,  Rapido River, Bastogne, Iwo Jimo and many more.

Which of those names would you have recognized 80 years ago?

Those who returned home found a new home.  An agricultural economy had been transformed into an industrial giant.  The little farm house on the prairie was no more.

Every home in the country had been changed.  Even if there were no family members wearing a uniform or manning a rivet tool, those at home knew a war was raging.

Everything was rationed.  In addition to a gasoline ration book (if there was a vehicle in the barn), every home had a red and a blue stamp ration book and individual stamps for coffee and sugar.

The red stamps were for meat products and the blue for all other processed foods other than coffee and sugar.

This required merchants like my Dad to keep three accounts in a bank.  One was for money, one was for red stamps, and one was for blue stamps.  The stamps collected on the items sold were deposited in their respective bank accounts just like cash.

When the merchant took delivery of meat and groceries, he had to write three checks; one for cash and one each of red and blue stamps.  

This may or may not have saved food to assure a steady supply of food for the troops, but it definitely reminded every citizen every day that our men were fighting and dying in a war somewhere.

The question whether it saved food was raised by an incident I witnessed in Dad’s store in August or September, 1945.  A man brought two pounds of coffee to the counter and put them down with his two coffee stamps.  Dad said, “You don’t need stamps anymore.  The war is over and so is the rationing.”  

With that, the man turned, walked out and said, “I don’t need the coffee.  I just didn’t want to ‘lose’ my stamps.” 

As the ration books were being thrown out the back door, the soldiers were coming back in through the front door in civilian clothes.  Generally, however, they did not stay home too long.

After some hugs and a few war stories, they were off to school under the GI Bill, possibly the best social program ever invented.  Many went to trade schools to get their GED and learn a trade other than farming.  Just as many, or more, were off to college to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, and such.

The wedding chapels were also overflowing and a new industry, the housing industry, was born.  Single family housing complexes, called Levittowns, sprang up all over the country.

This meant old Dad was left home with no one to help with his 13 and 14 hour work days.  So the snail, one mule and plow farms were quickly swallowed up by the larger, mechanized mega farms.

College graduates began filling those modest Levit homes that came complete with single car garages.  Their rapidly growing families were supported by employment in things like that new fangled TV and work to reduce that multi-room computer that produced the A-bomb to a size that would fit on everyone’s desk.

Simultaneously, our former enemies in both the East and the West were digging out from the rubble left by our bombers.  Within 25 years under capitalist systems, both were economic power houses in their own areas.

So here’s the perspective.

December 7, 1941, changed the world.  It took more than four years and many lives, but the innovations and inventions it spawned made life so much easier than the existence described here last week.

Was it worth it?



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