We helped win the war - from our backyard

World War II in the United States didn't involve only grown-ups. After Pearl Harbor, American children performed their own small role with unquenchable enthusiasm in winning the battle against the Axis.

In my Florida neighborhood in 1942, kids quickly started a "V" for Victory club. Waving a "V" flag sewn by my mom, our six club members scoured alleys, backyards, and vacant lots for old tires, scrap metal, tin cans - all sorts of useful, war-winning rubbish.

Such home front involvement was encouraged by the war-fighters in Washington, who championed the motto, "Make Yours a Victory Home."

Government posters went up in grocery stores, barbershops, and other public places. One of them, produced by the US Office of War Information, urged:

"Find time for war work.

"Raise and share food.

"Walk and carry packages.

"Save 10% in War Bonds."

The "raise food" advice was popular. One neighbor dug up his entire front yard and planted potatoes. My mom canned many quarts of guava jam from backyard trees.

I was young enough that my war-fighting zeal was never encumbered with adultlike doubts. My dad was shipped off to Europe, where he waded ashore at Anzio. Later he flew B-25 bomber missions over Italy and France. It never occurred to me that he might not come home, so for me, the war was like a great adventure.

Our lives as children didn't focus just on war. Equally important were sword fighting and tossing stink bombs. Florida's plentiful palmettos were handy, since the fronds made great toy swords. Kids also became proficient at dropping home-made stink bombs near adults, and then running like mad.

But war talk was pervasive. At my Miami school - Citrus Grove Elementary - the entire student body assembled outside each morning for a patriotic, flag-waving ceremony that included the Pledge of Allegiance.

In class, normal studies mixed with discussions of war. And we staged school plays in which war themes were common. In one show, four of us dressed in uniforms (I was appropriately US Army Air Corps) and sang a popular song called, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."

Today, many kids don't read newspapers. But during World War II, they devoured them. We particularly liked the maps that showed the battle lines in Africa, Italy, France, Russia, and Germany. Names like Tojo, Churchill, Patton, Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler were familiar to kids. Call someone Tojo, and you'd have an instant fight on your hands.

War bonds were popular. I set up a weekend fruit stand (coconuts, oranges, and guavas), and earned pocket change. On trips to the post office, I frequently picked up a few War Bond stamps at 10 cents each. Get enough, and I could buy a $25 bond. I had several bonds by war's end.

When America's current war on terrorism began, I was struck by the government's request that we all continue our lives in a "normal" way. Asked by a reporter in 2001 how much sacrifice Americans needed to make to fight terror, President Bush replied: "Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever."

From 1941 to 1945, it was different.

When that war started, my parents sold our car. We rode the bus, which was fine because gasoline was rationed.

We had a family friend, a dentist, who loved to fish in North Carolina. He solved his gas shortage by bicycling to work and saving his ration coupons. Each summer, he had enough to make the trip.

All this makes me think of our current gasoline "crisis," with fuel rising to more than $3 a gallon in California. Sure, it's bad. But compared to the Big War, it's a picnic.

Getting to V-E Day and V-J Day took a lot of small, individual efforts.

One government poster advised: "Save waste fats for explosives." We always kept a big jar near the stove into which we poured bacon fat that later went to the butcher's.

Housing was a bigger sacrifice. Rooms were in short supply. When Dad went overseas, we sold our house in St. Augustine, Fla., and moved in with my paternal grandmother in Miami. Then we opened Grandma's three- bedroom, one-bath house to three boarders - mostly workers from other cities.

The boarders took the bedrooms. An uncle who had lost a leg in World War I camped on the screen porch. The rest of us slept in the dining room.

Finally, V-E Day arrived. Sirens blew. Horns honked. People cheered. Mom asked me to run out for the newspaper.

Coming home, a man yelled from a second-floor apartment that he would buy my 5-cent paper for 25 cents. Who could resist? I sold it to him and got another.

And the 20-cent profit? I don't remember what I did with it. But I probably bought two more War Bond stamps. After all, Japan was still fighting.

May 8 is the 60th anniversary of V-E Day, or 'Victory in Europe' Day, which was declared after Nazi Germany's surrender on May 7.

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