Tuesday, 12 November 2013 16:24

A Kid In Santa Fe During The War Years

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A Kid In Santa Fe During The War Years


Arthur Scott

   For the purposes of this paper I am defining “War Years” as World War II. During the later years of the war I ranged in age from five to eight. My dad had owned the Santa Fe Typewriter and Radio Repair shop on Water Street so we had a late model RCA floor-model, wood cabinet, furniture-grade radio in the living room.  Every evening the norm was for the family to gather around the radio for the latest war news. My most formative years were ingrained with hatred, sacrifice, fighting, killing, wounding, victories and defeats.

    This war, unlike many of our later conflicts, was totally approved of and supported by our civilian population. We all knew we were fighting for our country and way of life. We hated the sneaky, sadistic “Japs” (Japanese) that started the war by bombing Pearl Harbor (at the time I had no idea where this was), perpetrated the Bataan Death March on our hometown boys and wanted to govern the eastern world while the “Krauts” (Germans) were stealthily taking country after country in Europe to control the western world..

    As a war time child, one of my most vivid memories was rationing.  Of prime interest to me, there was NO bubble gum available during these years. The pressed cardboard tokens shown above were allocated and  issued to each family by the local ration board (The Office of Price Management had created 8000 across the US.) and then could be used, along with cash to purchase groceries such as meat, sugar, coffee, fats (wonder how we made tortillas and biscochitos without manteca), and canned goods. Along with cash, each rationed item required a specific number of tokens.

    I remember the yellow and black “A” sticker on our car windshield which I just learned meant our family was allowed four gallons of gas per week. No pleasure driving was allowed. Each family was allowed five tires with all excess tires required to be turned in to the Government. Other families had B, C, and D stickers, depending on what the local ration board determined their driving-priority was. For example law-enforcement and medical personnel had higher priorities than other families.  Among items rationed or not produced during the war years, that I remember, were shoes, automobiles, bicycles, and metal toys. Production of plastic items did not occur until after the war.

    The war was a time of prosperity for Santa Fe and Santa Feans. Santa Fe had always been dependent on tourism, skiing, and government to provide jobs. Industry was unheard of. During the war there was most likely little tourism. However, we had three important government war-time facilities. Bruns Army Hospital was constructed on Cerrillos Road. It was a large facility for the care and rehabilitation of wounded troops. After the war this facility became warehouse space for Federal agencies in town. A portion of the land was donated and became St. Michael’s College and later became the College Of Santa Fe.  At the lower south end of East Alameda, then unpaved, was an interment camp for American-Japanese run by the US Dept of Justice. As I remember it was a dark, foreboding, high barbed wire fenced area with tall guard towers. To the town it was known as the “Jap Camp.” Although much injustice was done by this program, to us the wisdom at the time was anyone of Japanese ancestry owed an allegiance to the emperor and would either spy on or sabotage military installations in the US. It was certain that after Pearl Harbor California and our west coast was the next target.     The third facility that employed a large number of Santa Fe citizens was known as “The Hill,” later to become Los Alamos. This of course was top secret but the town abounded with rumors of what was going on at “The Hill.” As I recall hearing as a kid these ranged from rockets to explosive tape. Many of us in town had friends or family that worked at one of these facilities.

    Every family seemed to have men in battles. There were many Blue Star flags in doors or windows. Women in the Red Cross Auxiliary were rolling bandages. Plaza store windows abounded with anti- Japanese or German posters. I remember “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “Slap the Japs with Iron Scrap.” We had metal scrap drives in the Plaza. Our kid’s contributions were tin-foil balls made by peeling the foil from gum and candy wrappers and forming a ball with the foil. We made them as large as possible by saving over a long period. Tin cans were gathered and turned in. Also any rubber material, such as shoe soles and rubber bands formed into balls were turned in. We had “Black-Out drills. Light proof shades had to cover windows or no lights turned on during certain periods. Block wardens checked to insure total darkness.

    Most families had their heroes. I had two cousins wounded in action. My cousin, George March, had been among the early Santa Fe skiers. He lost a leg serving in the ski troops in the Allusion Islands. After he was discharged and returned to Santa Fe, his other leg had to be amputated because of some complications with the wound.  He never skied again but with crude 1940’s prosthetics he was able to live a somewhat normal life. Another cousin, Captain Morton Seligman (my grandfather’s brother’s son), served as executive officer on the aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington when it was sunk by the Japanese in the battle of the Coral Sea. “Uncle” Mort was an Annapolis graduate and had been awarded a Bronze Star for bravery during World War I for service on a mine-sweeper. . In the Coral Sea attacked by Jap suicide bombers he fought fires on the ship and was badly burned. He insured that sailors could get off of the ship before he and the Captain were the last to abandon ship. He was awarded a Silver Star for saving lives and bravery. He stayed in the Navy after rehabilitation and eventually retired as a Captain in Coronado, California. In later years he offered me an Annapolis appointment which I wisely turned down as I was not cut out for military school at the time.

    Of course in the midst of all of this we children also had our own pitched battles against the hated “Japs” and “”Krauts.” On East Palace Avenue, next door to the Montgomery’s house and property was a large vacant lot that ran down a steep hill all the way to the Alameda. This was our wartime battle ground.  The hill was pock-marked with fox holes and bunkers which we defended with homemade wooden rifles and pistols. It was several years later before we could get rolled caps to shoot in metal pistols. After the Japanese surrendered and war ended in 1945 the government sold much of its military surplus. Gus Mitchell opened the Army Navy surplus store on lower San Francisco Street. Now we could continue to fight our battles with genuine Army helmet liners, canteens, canteen belts and back packs, this was forty five years before backpacks were popular. I am very proud to report that this strategic hill was never taken by the enemy!






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  • Comment Link Maria Montez-Skolnik Friday, 15 November 2013 07:54 posted by Maria Montez-Skolnik

    Enjoyed this, Pete. Gracias.

  • Comment Link Mike Lord Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:51 posted by Mike Lord

    You really painted a wonderful word picture, compadre. Gracias.

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Wednesday, 13 November 2013 15:06 posted by Arthur Scott

    I had forgotten the most common war-time poster of all, "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone To War!" American Tobacco furnished free cigarettes to soldiers. They changed the package color from a forest green to white and launched their war-time ad campaign. There were posters in the windows of every drug and grocery store.

  • Comment Link Rebekah Crown Wednesday, 13 November 2013 03:34 posted by Rebekah Crown

    Great story. Thanks

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