Column – A world at war 

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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In the 1940s, the Pledge of Allegiance ran above the newspaper’s banner. In the top left corner ran a censorship notice reading: “The News-Herald cautions and reminds its readers that all War News is subject to censorship and makes no effort to distinguish between propaganda and actual truth.” 

The beginning of 1941 saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt building up the U.S. military. Billions of dollars were sent to countries in Europe.

Across the country, more than 20,000 were on strike against defense contracts at factories as of mid-February 1941. Most would be resolved by fall. 

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War progressed throughout Europe. On March 5, headlines read “Hitler turns war of nerves on Turkey and Jugoslavia,” “British officer tells of U-boats” and “Britain breaks relations with Bulgaria.”

As early as April 2, 1941, reports of local servicemen injured in war time training appeared. The first I came across was D.F. Barnett Jr., a cadet at Army flight school in Florida, who was injured when his plane stalled on a turn and fell from the air. 

War requires material, and Suffolk saw that in many defense contracts in the local area. Due to these contracts for material, Suffolk’s waterfront again hummed with shipping activities as ships were loaded. Lumber was shipped out at an increased pace with almost a traffic-jam pace. One of the boats loading lumber was a three-masted schooner using sails. In May, with increased traffic from defense contracts and with the approach of warm weather, a plan was created to re-route traffic around the business district of Suffolk. The routes avoided left-hand turns and attempted to break up traffic headed to different destinations. A bypass in the process of being built was mentioned in the article as a long-term solution. 

In June, headlines highlighted discussions of life in a war-torn world. “Mrs. Sheffer suggests Suffolk collect aluminum,” “Food cost here going up as everywhere else,” “Powers to draft private property up” and “Studying use of oil pipelines” all told of the news of the time. The country was sending supplies and preparing for what it seems everyone knew to be inevitable. Stories detailed the air battles between the Royal Air Force and the Nazis, providing reported downed planes for each side. Notably, the reports never matched, each side saying more of the opponent was lost. 

The July 2 paper listed all who were mailed Selective Service questionnaires. War preparation was well under way. A July 30 headline, “Japanese bombs strike American Navy gunboat during Chungking raid” hinted even more at the looming war. The ship was in a “safe zone” yet still hit by bombs dropped from Japanese aircraft. 

In late summer, Boy Scouts held aluminum scrap collections; more than 4,500 pounds of aluminum was collected from the area. In Suffolk alone, 1,130 pounds was collected by the Scouts. 

Some still hoped for peace. On Dec. 3, 1941, a headline of what appears to be an opinion article reads “European war’s end seen by some in another year.” It mentions comments from the New York mayor and several others proclaiming that by the following Thanksgiving, the war will have ended. 

On Dec. 7, 1941, a special Sunday afternoon edition was published, with what looks to be a 150-point headline announcing the bombing of bases in Manila and Pearl Harbor. America had been attacked.

As of Dec. 17, 91 officers and 2,638 enlisted Navy, as well as 168 Army men, were buried on the hills of Honolulu. The story detailed the simple burial ritual as well as the detailed labeling of each body to ensure they could be sent to their hometowns after the war was over and won. 

Censorship laws took effect in mid-December as the country now entered the war full force. 

Locally, air raid and blackout alarms were tested. The Red Cross began offering first aid classes, open to the public as reports of war poured in. 

The year ended in war. Headlines from the final day of 1941 included, “Half of national income going for war next year,” “1,122 volunteers services in civilian defense corps,” and “More blackouts, raids, tests sure.” A local story featured a Suffolk man who survived a U-boat attack. Ship’s fireman Frank Bowles of Grace Street was tending gauges on a U.S. freighter, Sagadahoc, when a German torpedo struck. “The damned thing struck the starboard side only 30 feet from where I was standing,” Bowles said. The story goes on to detail his escape from the engine room as it filled with water and the steam lines exploded. He was rescued with others after seven days in a rescue raft. According to the story, his ship was torpedoed Dec. 3 by a U-boat that made no attempt to ascertain the ship’s identity.