Social Question

Arisztid's avatar

What was your family doing during WWII?

Asked by Arisztid (7113points) December 28th, 2009

If you had ancestors who served in the military, what did they do, what ranks were they, and the like in WWII? If they were not in the military, what were they up to, how did WWII affect their lives? My family were (and obviously still are) Rromani Gypsies. That pretty much explains what they were doing.

I would love to hear stories from both Allied and Axis forces and nations.

It is my personal belief that stories like this are often not heeded and that this actually leaves quite a deficit in history.

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95 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

Not to give you a short answer, but they were making me.

bandit77's avatar

my grandfather escaped poland and was a slave in austria and we are not jewish the nazi’s made slaves out of a lot of people

Schonberg's avatar

My father, mother and her sister were all in the army.All my fathers brothers (6) were in the army too,and all survived.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Arisztid I have Romani background too :)

Most of the family members that lived long enough to tell me about their lives in the War were only young children or teenagers at the time and so didn’t have roles as such. My Grandmother (who has told me the most about her life back then) had her education severly affected by the war. Throughout the years of the war she hardly had any schooling and then, by the time the war was over and she could go back to a normal education she would often play truant as she didn’t like the fact that, all of a sudden she was forced to go to school. I think that is the most rebellious thing she has ever done throughout her whole life.

Jadey's avatar

My Paternal Grandparents were both children, so were evacuated to the countryside. I don’t know about my Paternal Great-Grandfather (although I know he was in the Army in WW1 and fought at the Somme) although I believe that may have been in the Royal Engineers in WW2. Other members of the family joined the war-effort working at Vickers.

My Maternal Grandfather and his cousins and brothers were all in the Navy (I think my Grandfather was a gunner). One was in the Merchant Navy. My Maternal grandmother was a child and was evacuated also. Some on this side worked at Vickers too.

After the war most stayed working for the Navy, Merchant Navy, Military in various respects and most of the family was moved from the UK to work in South Africa – the last member of that side of the family only left SA this year. Those who stayed continued to work for Vickers.

Seek's avatar

I don’t know a thing about my family… but my husband’s grandfather is a 100% legit war hero.

He stormed Normandy and invaded Berlin, was shot, his body is full of shrapnel, and he has a foot that’s completely dead from frostbite. Lots of marching. He was never awarded a Purple Heart. He calls that a “pussy medal”. In his time, you got shot, and if you weren’t going home in a plastic bag, you got taped up and sent back out.

Now he can’t get his full veteran’s benefits, because there’s no one in his unit left alive to testify that he was even there, much less vouch for his numerous injuries.

He’s still a mountain of a man, and 55 years later he’s still fighting the war, only it’s against the neighbor’s dogs. Long story, though a very funny one. ^_^

(edited to fix a couple typos)

Snarp's avatar

My paternal grandfather was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he built airfields for the allies as they moved across North Africa and into Italy. My maternal great uncle was an aircraft mechanic who essentially followed him, repairing the planes at those airfields. My paternal grandfather was a farmer helping to feed the country. I think it is the women’s stories that are sadly forgotten though. I don’t know what my grandmothers were doing. I do know that my wife’s grandmother was essentially a Rosie the Riveter. She worked in an aircraft engine factory, and also played professional women’s baseball while the men were all overseas fighting.

WhyIam's avatar

During that my country anchestors started struggling for their independence..We got Independence at 1947…Peace shown the way at Last

shilolo's avatar

Dying in Auschwitz. That accounts for ~75% of my family. My maternal grandparents had emigrated to Palestine in the 30s. My paternal grandparents escaped to Russia and were refugees.

daemonelson's avatar

Apparently a few relatives died or got lost. I’m not entirely sure because it was never really spoken about.

JustPlainBarb's avatar

My father was in the US Air Force—My Mom was in the Canadian Navy. They happened to both be stationed in Newfoundland and met there .. it was a love story for them. After the war, they became engaged and my Mom moved to IL and they were married there. She became a US citizen before I was born. It’s always nice to know that happy things like this can come from horrible things like war.

Arisztid's avatar

@john65pennington I was made in 1962 and no worries about the short answer.

@bandit77 Wow! I am glad that they escaped. Were they in a concentration camp, labor camp, or other? I know very well that the Nazis did not only target the Jews. My grandmother’s family was killed in the Holocaust and I am not Jewish. The rest of them were hiding in the foothills in Romania. It is kind of sad that we have to specify “I am not Jewish”.

@Schonberg That is impressive. To have so many survive is rather miraculous. What did your sister do?

@Leanne1986 cool beans that we share some heritage. Do you know how much? I am ¾ blooded. :)

Things like that are often not thought of. The affect of the War on the homefront when it is not “officially” caused by the War just go by the wayside.

Arisztid's avatar

@Jadey I am planning on asking a similar question about WWI. It is often ignored.

If I remember correctly, you are from the UK? From everything I have read and been told, those of us from the USA did not have as much homeland impact, such as having to evacuate. That had to be terrifying.

@Seek_Kolinahr Wow… and I mean that with enthusiasm. How can they deny veteran’s benefits with him having a Purple Heart? That just shows how sick this nation is.

He really sounds great! I would enjoy hearing the story. :)

@Snarp I will agree with you about the women’s story. One of my best friend’s grandmother worked in a munitions factory (like your wife’s grandmother) and went deaf from it. Women also had to do the jobs that were left vacant due to the men being off to war along with caring for their families.

@WhyIam May I ask which nation they were from? I am probably being a moron and forgetting history.

@shilolo We have more and more in common the longer I know you. Na Bister! (‘never forget”). Would you be interested in reading my Holocaust poetry?

@daemonelson I know of some veterans who refuse to talk about it.

@JustPlainBarb I am very pleased that some good came out of this. :)

janbb's avatar

My parents were Jewish Americans. My Dad served in the army in Europe; my Mom worked as a chemist. I have distant relatives who died in the camps and I volunteered for many years as publicity chair at my college’s Center for Holocaust Studies. I have heard many survivors’ stories over the years.

oratio's avatar

Many things. One grandfather was a navy captain, among other things rescuing Balts and Jews. Another one was a military agent screening out soviet infiltration in sensitive areas in Sweden and among the refugees. You could say one picked them up, and one sent them back.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

My father was a Naval aviator, my paternal grandfather commanded the Tenth (Mountain) Division in Italy, I lost an uncle (a cavalryofficer) in the fighting on Bataan in Philippines in 1942 and another uncle (a navigator on a B-24) killed in the Ploesti raid. My maternal grandfather, who had served in the Imperial German Army in WW1 served as a US intelligence officer. His elder brother was a General in the Waffen SS and disappeared after the fall of Stalingrad. My fathers youngest brother was training to become a B-29 pilot when the war ended. My father served as a fighter squadron leader on the USS Hornet, Air Group Commander on the USS Princeton and captain of the CVE (escort carrier) USS Omanney Bay, He shot down 11 Japanses aircraft and later shot down six North Korean aircraft in the Korean War, and was awarded the Navy Cross.He later was captain of the USS Essex and Task force commander of thr fist all-nuclear powered Suface Battle Group (Enterprise, Long Beach and Bainbridge) in their unrefueled cruise around the world. He retitred as a Vice-Admiral in 1971.

Seek's avatar


Grandpa denied a Purple Heart on several occasions, in favor of going back to the frontlines. He was never awarded one. “Pussy medal” and all.

Pazza's avatar

My dads dad was a warant officer stationed over in India, and my mums mum worked on parts for the spitfire.

My dads mum was half Indian, and I don’t know that much about my mums dad, my nan doesn’t really talk about him and he died when my mum was only 21, though I think he’s pays us a visit every now and then in my mums house. Everytime theres a new grandchild on the way.

Snarp's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Was your grandfather George P. Hays?

daemonelson's avatar

@Arisztid It’s nothing like that. No one came back to talk about it, I think. And anyone who knew about it is no longer living.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Snarp Yes, my fathers step-father actually.

Arisztid's avatar

@janbb I used to work in a hospital in California that had, for some unknown reason, more Holocaust survivors than most.

Kudos for working in the Center for Holocaust Studies. It is difficult to hear those stories and difficult to research. I have been studying the Holocaust since my late teens and it is a bit of a mindfuck to realize that I might be looking at my family in that archival footage from the camps.

I worked, and still work, night shift. Being in a hospital to begin with was hard for them, especially at night. My presence comforted them for some reason and the staffers knew it so I was always assigned these patients. I would spend extra time in their rooms, talking to them and listening to their stories. I also looked at their medical charts and saw the extreme damage, to that day, they suffered from the Holocaust.

So, I guess you could say that I worked specifically with Holocaust survivors. Not as much as you, but I learned quite a bit and was happy that my presence could calm them.

@oratio That is an interesting combination. The screening is not a job that immediately leaps to mind.

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Wow! Just plain “wow”! That is a heartfelt “wow.”

@Seek_Kolinahr Ohhh ok. I am certain that, even without one, there is record of him. The US government is, like it so often does, finding excuses to not treat its citizens. It is criminal that they would do such a thing to a veteran.

@Pazza Not everyone who was in the War talks about it. As I said in an earlier comment, the role of women often was forgotten.

@daemonelson Oh ok… sorry for the misunderstanding. :P

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My grandfather was making plane parts from Azerbaijan for the USSR forces – my grandmother was a secretary at the plane making parts factory – she was ‘forbidden’ to him for many reasons, one of which was that she was Russian and he was Armenian…but they went for it anyway, despite their families’ disapproval…my other grandmother was a very strict math teacher and I never knew my grandfather because he left them

sliceswiththings's avatar

My grandma was a total flirt so she was very upset when all the young men were deployed. She said the only men around were too old for the military or mailmen. So she dated the mailmen.
I interviewed her for a paper in high school, and she said the phrase, “All the men were gone!” twenty-six times through the interview.

MissAusten's avatar

Both of my grandfathers were veterans and were probably active during WWII. I’ve never really thought about where they might have been. One died several years before I was born, and the other left his family and never had contact with any of us. He has also passed away. Both from the US I’ll have to look into it.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Arisztid I feel that I must aologize to you and your family for the actions of some members of my family during WW2. My great-uncle had apparently directed the actions of some of the Einsatzgrupen and would have stood trial as a war criminal had he survived the war. Other family members were lower-level officials in the Nazi Party.My grandfather von Natterer actually prepared criminal cases against some of them.

Arisztid's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Good on them and they had to be tough to make it through that.

Has either of them told you enough to know any difference between wartime life in that part of the world compared to America?

@sliceswiththings :) That is amusing, I hope you do not mind. I know there was quite the lacking of men of dating age back then.

@MissAusten Stories from that time are, to me, fascinating. As I said in my question, I believe that stories from the day to day people, soldiers and civilians, are important to history itself.

If you decide to look into it, I hope you find and hope that you have fun!

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Why should you apologize for them? You had nothing to do with it and owe nobody an apology, including myself. I am not one of those people who holds the sins of the fathers against the sons. My “wow” was because of the sheer volume of history in your heritage.

How did it affect the family that some of them were war criminals and one prepared the prosecution? That had to be very strange.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Arisztid they’re both gone now – when they were here in America, they felt like there was no use for them…even in Russia, they farmed hardcore and did something every day…but here, there is little community for the elderly…I never asked them much about the war…I was a teenager and didn’t find value in such stories…I do now but it’s too late

Pseudonym's avatar

My family is jewish. Around the 1890s/1910s a few people from my family came to the US from Poland. Therefore, I happened. The rest of my family stayed in Poland, and were never heard from again. I need not say more.

aprilsimnel's avatar

My maternal grandfather was an air raid warden for the Michigan National Guard in Saginaw. He had a wife and several children by the time war broke out, so he wasn’t drafted. I don’t know my father or his family, so I couldn’t tell you about their activities. I can only guess they were doing something related to the war effort in Buffalo.

Seek's avatar


You’ll have to get a mental picture – the man is a 6-foot-7, 270 lb mass of solid, 86 year old muscle. He has one dead foot, so he gets around the neighborhood on a riding lawn mower.

One night, he’s going out for a ride around the block, and the neighbor’s dog gets out of the fence and pounces Grandpa, pulling him off the lawnmower. It wasn’t pretty. Grandpa managed to fend him off, and get home without more than a few bruises.

The next night, Uncle Rob (who lives across the street) sees Grandpa headed out his side door with something in his hands, looking quite determined. Rob runs over and asks Grandpa what he’s up to.

Grandpa: “I’m off to kill that goddamned dog. Out of the way, boy.”

Grandpa had his old Bowie knife wrapped up in a pair of underwear, so Grandma wouldn’t see it.

Jadey's avatar

@Arisztid Yes, you remember correctly =) The impact was huge!! But, not always bad. For instance, it paved the way for women’s empowerment as a consequence of the very important jobs in the military, industry, nursing and agriculture etc they had to take on as part of the war effort. Some women were enlistd into these roles, others saught them out. So after, they were seen very much more so as legitimate members of the work force. In terms of other effects, our food and goods were rationed. Food was awful and in short and tightly controlled supply (although healthy and well balanced) right up until the 1950s. Evacuation was scary for some city kids, exciting for the others, a bad experience for some and a good for others. For very many children, they left the cities so young that they grew up in these new families and were devastated to be sent back “home” away from the country to their real parents. They didn’t know them anymore. My family all had good experiences and were easily re-integrated back into city life.

Arisztid's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Unfortunately, a lot of people are now finding value in stories of the War and it is, in most cases, too late.

WWII is not going to be forgotten like WWI was. I actually consider WWI to be the “forgotten” war.

@Pseudonym No, you do not need to say more.

@aprilsimnel I am currently in MI. From what I know we do not have any military bases or direct military involvement out here.

@Seek_Kolinahr Wow! Now that gives one hell of a mental picture. :D

@Jadey I would think that women having to take a role in traditional male jobs did pave the way but they were wedged back in their boxes right after the war.

I live in America and think of civilian WWII life from two points of view: American and the part of my family not already gone hiding in the foothills, hoping that Hitler would not take them too. From the side that thinks of America, I think that we had it a lot easier than Britain because 1) we entered the war later, 2) we were not at real threat of homeland invasion.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@Arisztid – Every good-sized town in those days had an air raid warden for each neighborhood. Warner Bros. cartoons made “PUT OUT THAT LIGHT!” practically a catchphrase.

Seek's avatar


Wow. I didn’t know a thing about that! It’s amazing how much cultural relevance those old cartoons have, and yet, we 80s children never had a clue what we were watching.

Here’s some info for anyone interested. (The last section on the page)

casheroo's avatar

My husbands maternal grandfather was too young for WWII, or in school..I forget the reason he couldn’t go. But, he then served in the Korean War as a Dentist.
His paternal grandfather was a combat medic at D-Day.

My paternal grandfather helped build planes. He was missing part of his lung, from an illness as a child, and they refused to send him (which was completely devastating to him, as most men wanted to help) So, he helped build and was a mechanic at home. I believe he was in Michigan at that point, not Kentucky.
I’m unsure of what my maternal grandfather did. He was quite younger than my grandmother, so he may not have been old enough. He died right after I was born, so I never really heard anything about it. I could always ask my grandmother though. (although, they divorced on terrible terms)

Arisztid's avatar

@aprilsimnel True. I am used to living near some major military installations, like Travis AFB.

@Seek_Kolinahr You should check out some of the old Warner Brother’s cartoons. :)

@casheroo I have known people who were denied military service for that reason and were very upset about it for the reason you mention. I was not allowed to enter the military due to a congenital cardiac condition but I wanted to enlist for future schooling.

At least he was able to help. Without the homefront the front line would not have functioned.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Arisztid My mothers family were minor landed nobility in East Prussia. When my great grandfather was killed in the Battle of Tannenburg, my grandfathers older brother inherited the lands and title. At the end of the war my grandfather emigrated first to Montreal, then NYC (he was trained as an economist).

About two-thirds of the family’s lands fell within the territory of Poland and were taken from my family. This drove my great uncle into membership in the Nazi Party (he had a gold party badge) and later into friendship with Himmler and high office in the Waffen SS. His primary reasoning seemed to be nationalism and restoring the “stolen” estates. When Poland was invaded, his division complete with Einsatzgrupen rounded up all officers, intellectuals, community leaders and “undesireables”. They were either shot out of hand or sent into concentration camps. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, he did the same in Ukraine and Southern Russia (Volga Region). When the German encirclement of Stalingrad was itself encircled, he was reported wounded in action and then no further news after von Paulus surrendered.

My grandfather had joined the NY State National Guard in the mid-twenties and was selected as an economic intelligence officer, gathering records of Nazi financial crimes; some of this evidence was against his own relatives. Several of them recieved prison terms as a result. Within our branch of the family, Grossvater von Natterer was considered a heroic man of great principle. He died in 1989 at the age of 98.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – Yup. The interplay between pop culture, entertainment and politics of a country at given points in history fascinates me.

Brian1946's avatar

My father served in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force).
He met my mother at a USO in Los Angeles in May, 1945.

I read in the LA Free Press that when WC Fields was living here, there was a confrontation between him and Cecil B. DeMille.

IIRC, DeMille was on Fields’ front lawn telling him to turn off his lights, and Fields aimed a shotgun at him, telling him he wasn’t going to turn off his lights and to get off of his property.

Seek's avatar


I love the Warner Bros. cartoons. It’s just so funny that I’m just now noticing all the things that went completely over my head when I was a kid – like whenever Daffy blew up, he turned into a little black boy with big lips, begging for change. Or the tar baby, in that one hillbilly skit.

Arisztid's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land So your great uncle did what he did partially to restore “stolen” estates? Wow. That is pretty low. Himmler, from what I have read, was not a very engaging person, unlike Hitler and Goebbels.

That had to have caused quite the familial rift but I say “good on him!” and “thankyou.” That took balls on his part.

I am lucky that most of my family saw the writing on the wall and, literally, headed for the hills. Because of that only my grandmother’s family was killed. We have no clue where or how they were killed but, considering that there were children and Mengele’s “love” for Gypsy children, I am guessing they went to the camps rather than the Einsatzgrupen

How has this affected your family today?

@Brian1946 Honestly, I do not remember much of anything about Canada vis a vis WWII… you just do not hear about them.

Holy crap re DeMille and Fields!

@Seek_Kolinahr There is a lot in the old Warner Bros. cartoons that people miss. I do not remember Daffy blowing up and turning into a black boy begging for change. Do you have any youtube linkage to that? I remember the tar baby skit.

Seek's avatar

@Arisztid Upon searching, I find I was mistaken in my memory – I was thinking of Tom and Jerry. They are famous for blackface gags. Here at about 3:30, and Here for example. I can’t find the one particular one I was thinking of.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Arisztid Unfortunately I don’t. I am sad to say that I seem to be the only one that is proud of this part of my families history. I do know that the Romani is on my paternal grandmothers side and although my grandmother denies it I have been told by some reliable sources that my great grandmother was Romani so it’s not so far back in our history.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Arisztid I’m the only one left of my family now. His wife, my maternal grandmother, passed away in 2007 at the age of 101.Meg and I were unable to have children, so the line ends with me. Grossvater was considered a hero in both the US and in Germany. His evidence was also key to the prosecution of many of the economic crimes that Herman Goerging and Julius Streicher were convicted of. He also recovered many of the assets of Jewish families that had been stolen. He was given a United Nations Medal in 1949 and was later decorated by the State of Israel. After the war he went back to working for the investment banker Jeremiah Milbanks until his retirement in the late 60s.

Jadey's avatar

@Arisztid… True to a certain extent. Not all though. Very many women did not go back to the role of subdued and obedient housewife after the war. They continued on working in industry and in civilian roles which they had gained experience of during the war, I don’t know about the military.

bandit77's avatar

my grandfather was working on a farm i don’t think it was a labor camp he passed away in 2004 and he didn’t want to talk about it but he did say it was so cold in the winter and he had no shoes so to keep his feet warm he had to stick his feet in the fresh cowmanure to keep from getting frostbite i get real mad when i watch these reality shows with all these spoiled people and teenagers complaining that they didn’t get a brand new car on their 16 birthday ! on the bright side about 10 yrs ago the austrian goverment sent him & his 4 kids ( my mom and uncles ) $1000 each for this travesty he endured during WWII

Arisztid's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Oh ok… I remember that.

@Leanne1986 A lot of people of our grandparents and and great grandparents generations hid Rromani heritage to protect themselves and their children from discrimination in the USA. It was safer to get in and fade away, often having to lie to get in because Ellis Island tended to turn us away. To this day many lie. I am 1st generation American.

@stranger_in_a_strange_land You have a fascinating family history! I would have loved to have had a chat with Grossvater.

@Jadey I do think that the war helped the feminist cause quite a bit. From what I understand, women were generally not thought of us “able” to do these types of work.

@bandit77 I have been told that many simply do not want to discuss it and I understand why. I guess that was some recompense but hardly enough by a long shot.

Even I kind of roll my eyes when I hear teens complaining about not getting a car or a video game console (or whatever) and I have had it bloody good by my estimation.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Arisztid He was a man of great courage and principles.

tedibear's avatar

My mother was in Buffalo, living with her parents after her first husband died. My dad was in the Navy, serving on Mackinac Island. They did radio control testing. He spent a brief time on a testing ground in the Mojave desert, too.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Arisztid I live in England but I think, in years gone by the reasons for lying about heritage was the same as those in America. I’m doing a bit of research myself regarding my heritage but it is very hard when certain people aren’t comfortable speaking about it.

galileogirl's avatar

My Dad was the 1st one in his family to graduate from high school. His father had been an itinerant oil field laborer but in the mid-30’s they had settled in the East Texas. My Dad graduated in June 1941 and received a full football scholarship to college. He managed to complete his freshman year before he went into the Army Air Force. Luckily he became a staff sgt in supply so he was seldom under fire.

My mother came from an upper middle class IL family that went in different directions. Her father, an architect, went to work for the military, designing and acting as managing architect for facilities on the West Coast. Both of her brothers went into the Navy. In 1943 she went to nursing school in Kansas City and her mother went to work as an in-house secretary to executives and officers in a Kansas City hotel where she lived.

My daughter’s other grandparents were in the Phillipines and worked in the resistance stayed on the move until 1945.

downtide's avatar

My paternal grandfather served in the Royal Navy (British) and was a sonar operator on a minesweeper. Basically the ship would survey an area of ocean sending out sonar signals and it was my grandfather’s job to interpret the return “pings” to determine which were mines, so they could be found and safely defused.

King_of_Sexytown's avatar

Some of them were coming here from Europe, mostly Holland.
In a different part of the family I had a B-29 bomber pilot who went MIA in January 1945.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

My father grew up reading and dreaming about the great architecture of Europe, European history, culture, etc. He was seventeen when the war broke out and immediately asked his parents for permission to join the Marines with the intention that he would fight Nazis and get to see Europe. After boot at Paris Island, they sent him directly to the South Pacific. He was one of those guys that hit the beaches under fire. First in, last out. I could never understand how any of those guys had the balls to go down that netting into those landing craft a second time. From what I’ve been told, these men were lined up six abreast in echelons and when the ramp dropped, the first ranks were ground to hamburger by incoming Japanese machine gun fire.

He took part in numerous island assaults until Eniwetok, where he was hit by shrapnel in the forehead. He remembered awakening the following dawn surrounded by dead marines when a couple of corpsmen came up ready to bag him. It was the million dollar wound. He was transported back to the Navy base at San Diego on a hospital ship and was waiting to get his discharge when he was re-assigned to Boca Raton for “Tropicalization” and, with thousands of other marines from the European Theatre, they were being trained for the invasion of Japan. Expected losses would be near 100,000.

In late July ‘45, he was put on a crowded troop train that meandered from Boca to Tampa to Tallahassee, to Mobile—hooking up more cars and cramming more and more GIs onboard—then it stopped for three days in the middle of a swamp just east of New Orleans. They sat there in the wet heat, playing cards, singing, eating K-rations. A few fights broke out. None of these guys ever expected to go home again. There were kids selling them sandwiches, cokes, liquor, newspapers, etc., through the windows. A couple guys just walked away into the swamp. Then one morning a kid shoved a newspaper through the window. Three inch headlines read: Atomic Bomb Dropped on Japan. It went on to tell how Japan was expected to surrender at any moment. My dad told how the guys on the train passed the paper around in shock. He remembers the train being fairly quiet for the first time. Some of the guys were quietly crying. They were going home.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

My grandparents came over from Poland and Romania in 1930. My grandparents were too old for military service, and my parents too young.

boffin's avatar

My Dad served in the Army Air Corps
Italy and North Africa

I have a good friend whose Mother was part of the Bataan “Death March”

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

My grandfather served in the Australian Merchant Navy. Two of the ships he served on were bombed or torpedoed by the Japanese. He couldn’t swim until the day he died.

janbb's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh And then he could? (I’m sorry, it just struck me funny.)

SuperMouse's avatar

My mother’s father was too old to serve, but after the war moved to Paris to cover the Nuremberg Trials for the Chicago Sun Times. Not long after he got his draft card, my grandfather began working for a large motion picture studio, and never ended up being drafted. Theory has it that the powers that be at the studio pulled some strings, but he still does not know for sure. My grandmother drove a street car in Los Angeles during the war. She had seven brothers and at least five of them served overseas, I’m not sure where though.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@janbb No…. although we did scatter his ashes at a beach. You’re right, it is funny worded that way.

janbb's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Thanks for the clarification.

mattbrowne's avatar

My father was too young to be forced to serve Hitler’s army. He lived in a large town and was very scared when all the bombs fell while he took refuge in shelters. Eventually there was no food, no water, nothing. Just ruins. They had to walk into the countryside and hope people would help them. My mother was more lucky. She lived on a farm. But she saw horrible things. In 1945 more and more German soldiers deserted Hitler’s army. Some where caught and hanged immediately in the middle of the villages for everyone to see. Even the kids saw the dangling dead bodies.

janbb's avatar

@mattbrowne There’s an excellent novel called Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum which is about n American scholar’s discovery of her German mother’s experiences during the war. It gave me a lot to think about.

Snarp's avatar

@mattbrowne Thinking about your family wandering the countryside reminds me of a classic German story about refugees in the East immediately after the war. Just can’t remember what it was. You’ve probably read it, we covered it in a German literature course. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Arisztid's avatar

I apologize for taking so long to get back.

@Leanne1986 That is very common and, unfortunately, you are not likely to be able to trace your heritage under these circumstances.

@tedibear39 I know that back then was a ground breaking time in military radio.

@galileogirl You have quite the familial history. I am fond of architecture but know little of military architecture. Would he have desiged anything I would know about? And the resistance? Wow!

@downtide… and he lived?? Yeeks that had to be a high stress job.

@King_of_Sexytown A lot of the pilots and crew were MIA unfortunately.

@Espiritus_Corvus Holy crap! Err… that is a tough guy. I hear about guys like that and it is a bit mind boggling. I am glad he made it through.

@PandoraBoxx Mine were not in the service, obviously. Some of my people were actually in the German army (German Rroma) until 1942 when they were pulled out and sent to the concentration camps.

@boffin Yikes! I did not know there were any women in the “Death March.”

@FireMadeFlesh In the navy and unable to swim? Did the Navy know this?

@SuperMouse I have heard of people in power getting others out of the draft but they had to be very high.

@mattbrowne I hear stories of living through the bombings. That is something Americans did not have to do and, I think, Americans do not really understand. Regarding the rest of what she saw, I am certain that that lived with her throughout her time.

galileogirl's avatar

@Arisztid In the 1920’s he was the State Architect for Illinois so he was responsible for a lot of state buildings including Manteno State Hospital, the largest in IL and designed to be a model for taking care of the mentally disabled but evenyually became just a warehouse of the forgotten

Felmley Hall. Illinois State U

McCormick Hall, Ilinois State U

Supervising Engineer
Student Services Building, Eastern Illinois Univ

In 1929 he opened a private practice, what great timing! He was involved in the Italian Pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair

After WW II he worked for firms building skyscrapers. His last assignment was in engineering on Kaiser Center, Oakland, CA

galileogirl's avatar

@Arisztid My daughter’s other grandparents were a new recruit in the Philippine Constabulary and his bride. He was ordered to Bataan from his post in Pangasinan when the Japanese invaded but they were unable to get through. The Japanese forced as many PC to work for them as they could by holding their families hostage so he took his wife and headed for the hills where the resistance organized. After the war resistannce fighters were offered immigration and US citizenship but he was offered the job as police chief in his city so he stayed there

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Arisztid That makes me sad.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Snarp and @janbb – Thanks for the reading tip ! I think personal stories are far more effective in conveying the horrible consequences of fanaticism, violence and war. There’s an excellent novel and DVD called

I think it got English subtitles. I can really recommend it. It’s about a peasant woman in Bavaria called Anna Wimschneider (1919–1993).

mattbrowne's avatar

@Arisztid – Well, in retrospect things always look different. The bombings were a reaction to Goebbels absurd

“The speech was an early admission by the Nazi leadership that Germany faced serious dangers. Goebbels exhorted the German people to continue the war even though it would be long and difficult because he asserted Germany’s survival and the survival of Western Civilization was at stake.”

“I ask you: Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even yet imagine? (...) Now, people, rise up, and let the storm break loose!”

And the storm did break loose…

The Nazis started it and the allied forces reacted to it.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Arisztid I really don’t know. He never spoke about it until his dementia had set in. Unfortunately I only ever had one good conversation with him about the war, because he was 71 years older than me, and was already on the way out when I began to fully appreciate his knowledge and experience. It is one of my greatest regrets in life.

Arisztid's avatar

@galileogirl I am familiar with a couple of those buildings and very familiar with the history of the old mental hospitals. That was a dark stain on mental health/medical history. I am a huge fan of Frank Lloyde Wright and Rennie MacIntosh but I have noticed buildings that are not built from students of the Bauhaus school (Bauhaus school is my favorite).

Regarding the Phillipines… I have heard of family being held hostage to assure compliance and that was done throughout WWII by many nations. Good for him for heading to the hills. My family was pretty savvy because they headed for the hills too so only one branch of my family went to the camps. I am glad that he got a good life!

@Leanne1986 Pm me and maybe I can help? It is not as impossible as it would be for someone with Rroma ancestors, say, from EU… like mine (luckily I know my heritage). I have some sources to trace Romanichel roots and, most likely, your ancestors were Romanichels, which are the largest Vitsa in Britain and much better documented. You might be able to trace them through last names and, if you wanted to actually fork out the $$ for DNA testing, Romanichel DNA is very well documented.

@mattbrowne That sounds interesting indeed and, yes, the Nazis hold all of the blame.

@FireMadeFlesh A lot of people I know have that regret in life. I have spent a couple of decades encouraging people to speak with their elders about this because, as I have said, I believe it is an essential part of understanding the war.

downtide's avatar

@Arisztid yes indeed my grandfather survived the war and died in 1972. He never went back to sea after the war though. Many of my ancestors were sailors, either in the navy, or in the trawling trade, and he was the last one to ever go to sea.

Keysha's avatar

My father was driving a semi. He went down to join the army, and when they asked what he did for a living, he said semi truck driver. They smiled and said, ‘You are doing more for the war effort by driving that truck than you would by being another body on the front lines. Go home to your family and continue working.That’s the best thing you can do.’ They then gave him a pass.

My mother went to work in a factory that made parts for guns. She worked at a machine that put a little bend in a pin. She said she sat for hours just putting a tiny piece of metal in a machine, pressing a button, and watching a press come down and kink it.

Arisztid's avatar

@downtide He really sounds, well, cool. Man, what a job. I am glad that he lived a long life.

@Keysha You tell a story that many people do not think about: civilians who stay in their civilian occupations because their civilian occupations are more important than them being in the military, like your father. Your mother helped in the war effort by doing, again, jobs they would never have a woman do.

Good on them!

downtide's avatar

@Arisztid an interesting little bit of trivia about minesweepers – they were all made of wood and not metal, so they didn’t trigger the mines to go off. The one my grandfather served on was used as a fishing trawler before and after the war. I just found out an interesting thing I didn’t know: “The last attack to be made on a U-boat during WW2 was carried out off Iceland by armed trawler HMS Northern Sky, just one day before Germany surrendered.” That was his ship.

Smashley's avatar

My paternal grandfather was in the US armed forces, though he died long before I would ever get a chance to meet him and ask him about it. Apparently he was very tight lipped about his whole experience. The only piece of family lore that has survived about him was that he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Likewise was my maternal grandfather very quiet about his wartime experiences. He had a newborn child he had never seen at home with his wife as he was fighting for the Axis. Family legend about him was that he participated in the failed offensive against the Soviet Union, but nearer to the end of the war, he was fighting the Allied invasion into France where he was captured. He remained a POW until the end of the war and once released, he had no option but to walk back to Austria, returning on Christmas Eve to his wife and daughter.

Arisztid's avatar

@downtide That is interesting. It makes a lot of sense.

The boat your grandfather was on is the kind of thing that, if it was in my family, I would consider that an interesting part of my personal history.

@Smashley It is too bad that you did not get the chance to meet him. Regarding your grandparents, both, I have known quite a few WWII vets (and Vietnam vets) who simply refuse to talk about it.

Battle of the Bulge? As I told Downtide, that is the sort of thing that I would consider an interesting part of my personal history.

How was your maternal grandfather treated as a POW, if you know and do not mind saying. We hear about how the Axis treated its POWs but not about how the Allies did. The Allied forces were painted as almost saintlike figures in America, however, such things as how Japanese Americans were treated during the war is solid proof that the Allies were not.

I am glad that he got out and was able to make it to his family by Christmas Eve. :)

HungryGuy's avatar

Mostly farming.

Smashley's avatar

I wish I knew the answers to your questions. Like I said, both my grandfathers and their wives have passed, so there is precious little information other than the tidbits that they had told to their family members. At times I’ve considered trying to track down their service records, but I’m not really sure where to start.

Arisztid's avatar

@HungryGuy , I would imagine that farmers were highly valued just like truck drivers (@Keysha ‘s answer).

@Smashley I wish I could give you some advice on that but I would have no clue where to start.

It is too bad that such stories as your grandfather’s are lost. A huge chunk of history is not being taught to Americans. American history is often whitewashed, with the bad bits, like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment , completely buried on purpose.

Strauss's avatar

My father was in the US Navy on destroyer. My older siblings were in school, and my mom drove a forklift at a Navy yard. I wasn’t born until 1948, so all I know is by oral tradition. I also had several uncles on both sides who served.

HungryGuy's avatar

@Arisztid – I would imagine as well… But as for me, I’m a city boy—I don’t know a chicken from a duck (I say as a glance over at the stack of Linux servers in the corner of my dining room :-)

Nullo's avatar

My paternal grandfather spent the war as a machinist. Being an Italian immigrant (and too old, besides), I do not think that he was considered for war-work. His wife was a houswife. And I believe that their first son, my uncle, was about 10.
I have no information about my mom’s side of the family, beyond that her mom’s family lived in the Italian part of Chicago, and her dad’s family was out in California.

Arisztid's avatar

@Yetanotheruser I have a friend whose male family served, a few of her female ancestors were nurses, and her grandmother worked in a municians factory, going deaf from it.

From what I read, this is the first time women were able to branch into male dominated jobs, like my friend’s grandmother and your mother.

@HungryGuy Yeesh… a stack of servers?? Before the advent of computers in cars <makes sign against evil> I would often have a carburetor or some other part on my living room table and one of my sheets was stained because I kept cylender heads on them as I rebuilt them. That shows the level of tech savviness between us.

@Nullo Was he an American citizen? I would not think that being an immigrant would make a difference. It might have been the “too old” thing. Or… he was considered more valuable in his civilian job. That is something that is often overlooked; there were many, like Keysha’s father (truck driver), who were considered absolutely essential to the war effort by staying home to do their job.

HungryGuy's avatar

@Arisztid – LoL! Tech is tech :-p

Now, I don’t know the first thing about auto mechanics. I don’t know a carburetor from a muffler bearing….

In fact, I have a car, but I hardly use it. It’s parked behind my house covered in a tarp and hasn’t moved in months! Where I live, having a car is a pain. I’ve even considered selling it, but it’s a nice car though it isn’t worth much, and it is handy having it for the few times a year I do need it. But I take mass transit to work and most other places I have to go. And I prefer to go by train when traveling long distance.

Strauss's avatar

@Arisztid That era did seem to be a big door-opener for a lot of women into traditionally male-dominated areas. Most “Rosie-the-Riveter” types took the jobs to help with the war effort, and went back to more traditional roles when the guys came home. I had one aunt, though, who kept her job as a welder right up until she retired in 1978.

Arisztid's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Good on her! I think that women entering the male dominated areas of the work force was greatly speeded by WWII.

Strauss's avatar

@Arisztid well, she had an advantage over other women of that era. She did not have any children, so she didn’t have to stay-at-home, as was the norm then.

Nullo's avatar

He was a citizen, yes, but Italian immigrants were only somewhat less suspicious than Japanese immigrants in those days, since Italy was one of the Axis powers. They were allowed to remain in their homes, but could not have radios, and were probably monitored in some way.

Arisztid's avatar

@Yetanotheruser My friend’s grandmother did not have that advantage. She was raising 4 children while working in the municians factory. The oldest child babysat while she was at the factory and they did not eat well.

@Nullo Now that is true. I had not thought about that. At least they were not sent to the camps like Americans of Japanese descent (I do not like hyphenating “American” so I avoid it). I wonder how Americans of German descent were treated? Hmmm… I feel a question coming on.

V_Scofield's avatar

All day long the men have labored,
Tired out and feeling mean-
Now sacked off in solid comfort,
But There’s a Bogie on the Screen.

“Get the hell to General Quarters,”
Threats and growls and oaths obscene,
“Bugler! Where the hell’s the bugler?
There’s a Bogie on the Screen.”

Dah-dah-dah-da, Battle stations
Breaks upon their sleep serene,
“Hit the deck there, on the double.
There’s a Bogie on the Screen.”

A little dot in Radar Plot,
Is the cause of all this scene,
All this running, all this cussing,
There’s a Bogie on the Screen.

“What’s the Range, and what’s the Bearing!”
Shouts the gun boss, wild and mean,
Tousled hair and pants still drooping
There’s a Bogie on the Screen.

Round the guns the crew is huddled,
Eyes are wild like Halloween
On the Bridge the Skipper’s shouting,
“There’s a Bogie on the Screen.”

Up the Halyards flags go racing
Signals flash in red and green
“At the dip, to block those Foxes,
There’s a Bogie on the Screen.”

“Distance twenty, closing slowly,”
Down the deck the planes careen,
Roaring like the Bulls of Bashan
There’s a Bogie on the Screen.

Tally-Ho, a snooping Betty,
Streaks of tracers can be seen,
And the Dot in Radar Plot
Is fading slowly from the Screen.

Comes the word- “All hands secure,”
In their sacks they sit and lean,
Tired still but plenty happy
There’s no Bogie on the Screen.

~Warren L. Scofield (January 1921-January 2004)
U.S.S. Independence CVL-22

That’s my grandpa’s poetic way of describing his time in the Navy, serving against the Japanese. He went to a special school in Arkansas to learn how to read radar and received a leg injury when his ship was hit by a torpedo. He went on to work on military aircraft and Apollo I. Great-uncle Doc drove one of the vehicles that carry troops from the ship directly to shore that you can see in the movies. My great-uncles Paul, Harry, and Levi were exempt because they had careers needed for the war effort (railroad). Great-grandpa Paul was a World War I veteran (Allied) and a dentist; Dad and I can’t remember whether he was involved with WWII, Korea, or Vietnam in later life, but he was involved with one of them.

Sunny2's avatar

All the men in my family, except my grandfather and one uncle, were in the service. My dad, a physician, was called back into the Navy in 1940. (He had taken his internship in the Navy.) His hazardous duty was testing poison gases on himself and other personnel. One uncle was a bombardier in the air force; the other was in the infantry on Okinawa. They all came back safely. We were lucky.

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