RJR Alumni President Harry Corpening asked those alumni who graduated before 1950 (via a mass email to RJR alumni and also via a posting on this website) to send their thoughts about living through the crisis of World War II in Winston-Salem. Only the first name of the responders will be shown.
Anne replied with:
I graduated in 1944. As you know, we had only 11 grades, graduating in the 12th grade, but skipping from 8 to 10 to account for the addition of the new grade. Many of us had older siblings who were drafted. We were 16 when we graduated so didn’t drive, though we were aware of gas rationing as it applied to our parents being able to go places. The city’s buses, owned at that time by Duke Power, were our mode of transportation. I went to RJR football games at Bowman Gray stadium by catching a bus in my neighborhood, changing to another bus at the square which took us all to the stadium, then reversing that to come home. Once a week we had a table set to sell stamps which we could put on a book - a full book was $19.75, and gave us a stake in our country’s defense. Those bonds at maturity were worth $25.00. I continued to buy bonds until I retired. Many of the boys in my class took an extra year of high school, and were ready for the draft when they graduated. All served, returning to college afterwards. Some never came home! We found simpler ways to enjoy each other, not necessarily because of the war but because it was a simpler time. We were very conscious of this nightly radio broadcasts from London and Berlin which our parents listened to.
--------------------------------Floyd replied with:As you know, the war began on December 7, in 1941 (which was my sophomore year). Mr. Claude R. Joyner was our principal and on Monday morning, December 8, he directed all of the teachers and students to the RJR auditorium. In the auditorium, he had set up an upright radio on the stage with speakers and we listened to President Roosevelt give his declaration of war speech. (One of RJR’s former principals said we gathered in the gym, but that would have been impossible due to size, seating, etc.) Our school annuals were also war oriented in 1941, 42, 43 and 44.All of the 18-year old male students had to register for the draft, and many of the 17-year olds volunteered right away and there were a lot of them who left school accordingly. Several teachers also enlisted and were gone practically over night. (I enlisted in the U. S. Coast Guard in 1945 at 17 years old)With the war came rationing. There was a rationing board established by the city to determine what you could buy with the ration books and stamps. Families applied for and were issued ration books covering shoes, meat (we had “meatless Tuesdays”), automobile and truck tires, (my Dad had some of our tires recapped 3 times) sugar and of course, gasoline. The gasoline ration books consisted of 4 basic levels: “A” book – 3 gallons; “B” 4 gallons; “C” 5 gallons. There was also a “T” book for truckers, but I’m not sure how their's worked.You were given a sticker to put on your windshield (A’s were white; B’s green; C’s red) indicating which letter you were issued by the rationing board. The books had removal stamps and were dated with beginning and expiration dates which meant you could not use them before a specific date or after the expiration date. When you went to the service station for gasoline, you had to surrender a current stamp. I’m not sure of the inclusive dates, -- maybe 10 days -- 2 weeks -- I’m not sure. The A book holders were basically the general public. B book holders had a job that required some travel. C book holders could buy 5 gallons if their job required more essential travel. Again, I don’t know the format for the truckers. There was also a national speed limit of 35 mph, to conserve gasoline, which was pretty well enforced.We were also instructed to take our empty canned goods cans, remove the tops and bottoms, insert the lids into the cans and then step on the cans to flatten them before dropping them into collection boxes to be smelted down for the war effort. We were even told to save any used aluminum foil and also strip the aluminum foil from chewing gum wrappers and candy bar wrappers and wad into balls to contribute to the conservation. This, of course, when you could find chewing gum and candy bars due to shortages.Hershey bars and Coca-Cola were always few and far between.We also had neighborhood air raid wardens. We would have nights when we practiced air raid drills when all of the lights in our houses, businesses, etc., would be shuttered so that absolutely no light could be seen anywhere in the city. The air raid wardens would then police the neighborhoods to be sure everyone was in compliance. I served as an air raid warden messenger on my bicycle.RJR also had “war time” starting times. School began at 9 a.m., and as I recall, this was so the city buses could get the working public to work early (remember, no gasoline) and the students who also rode the buses would go to school later so as not to interfere -- to save gasoline. RJR had students enrolled from all over the city who rode the buses. (Duke Power owned and operated the city buses.) RJR also had an activity bus, which wasn’t in very good shape, but I don’t know what kind of gasoline ration book it had. I do remember in 1944, we won the Western Conference baseball championship and we had to go to Wilson, NC, to play the Eastern Conference champions. Our baseball coach, H. C. (Joby) Hawn, had a black 1940 Ford sedan and our football coach, Tom Brown, had a red 2-door 1940 Chevrolet. (Coach Brown also had a Collie dog named, Sparky, that accompanied him almost everywhere, including in class when he oversaw the study halls.) The players for the trip to Wilson, including me, got our parents to “donate” gasoline ration stamps (all “A” stamps) so the coaches could drive their cars as the activity bus would probably never have made the trip.As far as celebrating the holidays, this as I recall went on a usual, with special attention to the military dates, i.e., Pearl Harbor Day, Armistice Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, etc.) As for a fear of possibly losing the war, I don’t think it ever crossed anyone’s mind that we would lose the war.--------------------------------------------Martha replied with:RJR Principal Pop Joyner assembled all of the student-body into the Auditorium on December 8th to hear President Roosevelt declare war after the "day of infamy." A big radio was rolled out on stage. This event changed the lives of all in attendance forever!We grew up quickly!Several of the students had already joined the Canadian Air Force. We joined together in patriotism. Creighton Sawyer was the first RJR student killed in action.Rationing was the immediate effect of the war declaration. There was no gas and no sugar.Some joined the armed forces and some were recruited. Several teachers joined. I think we had teachers from Gray and other high schools filling in. I seem to remember that Marvin Ward (who later became the Superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools) taught phyics at Reynolds, and had to to teach some at other schools.The city of Winston-Salem came together in supoport of students. The YMCA on Spruce Street was the the city's place for a swimming pool and gym.Never ever were we so together!-----------------------------Bill replied with:Things were pretty much normal for students, even though the country was at war. Because of the shortage of gas, essentially everyone walked to school. Just as is the case now, Reynolds had a good band and orchestra back then.The members of the Class of 1943 were the last ones to only go to school eleven years. The Class of 1944 and beyond had twelve years of schooling before graduating. After graduation and additional education, most RJR students left town in search of jobs and careers.-------------------------------Nancy replied with:
The purchase of gasoline was controlled according to proven need. Auto windshields displayed an A, B, or C, as I recall. Ministers and doctors were among those with C cards, entitled to unlimited gasoline purchases. Other professionals who could prove need for their car in their businesses were entitled to B cards. Everyone else had an A card, which enabled a very limited supply. Joy riding became history. We learned to use the city bus system to get to and from school, to go shopping, to visit friends. I remember standing in the dark of pre-dawn Easter morning as my mother and I waited for a bus to take us to the Sunrise Service in Old Salem, quite a trip from Buena Vista. Folks bought bikes, preferably with gears, for transportation. And these were called “victory bikes” as tribute to the war effort.
Rationed foods included sugar, butter, and meats. Each family received a certain number of ration stamps to use for purchases. Our family always needed more meat than our allowance, but because of limited baking we didn’t need our allowance of butter and sugar. I can recall my mother gleefully returning from City Market where she had met up with ladies who came into town from neighboring farms. They had been happy to exchange some of their meat coupons (surplus because of homegrown cattle and chickens) for our butter and sugar coupons.
Candy bars were scarce, and it was not unusual for friends to bring coveted candy bars to school, offering to sell to the highest bidder. I remember how astonished we were when a classmate at Wiley School paid 50 cents for a Mars bar. The retail was probably 5 cents at the time.
We all participated in collections of aluminum cans, scrap metal, and newspapers as part of the war effort. As part of morale boosting, we wrote letters to servicemen who were neighbors or relatives. Through the USO my family participated in a program to have traveling servicemen come eat dinner in our home. At school we sang patriotic songs, some from World War I, some new for WW II. We felt such pride in our country---the rituals of the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the solemnity, the respect for our President, our nation.
In remembering the era, I can’t help but think of Mrs. McDermott, long-time Latin teacher at RJR, as she quoted Vergil’s Aeneid: “Some day it will be pleasing to remember even these things!”------------------------------Tommye replied back with:Like most of my fellow ‘49 RJR graduates, I spent my 10th through 14th years under the heavy clouds of World War II. Though in the “home front,” as it was called, and far away from the bombs and mass destruction of the war’s two main fronts in Europe and the Pacific, children and adults in Winston-Salem had their daily lives shifted in new directions on December 7, 1941, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. And our lives after that “Day of Infamy” were never the same.
Winston-Salem during the World War II years:
* From the beginning, supplies we were accustomed to “had gone to war” and became hard to get. Some, like nylon hosiery and chocolate candy bars seemed to disappear overnight. My older sisters mourned the loss of the nylons. My friends and I sorely missed the Milky Ways and Hershey Bars. My sisters went bare-legged in the summers, painstakingly painting straight “seams” up the back of their legs. In the winters, they put up with the heavy, dull rayon stockings. For us kids, on rare occasions, we would learn that Walgreen’s or one of the five-and-dime stores on Main Street had chocolate bars on sale. We’d take a bus downtown and wait in line for most of an afternoon and, for a nickel, be rewarded with one candy bar. One-to-a-person, is my memory. The candy bars were bigger in those days, and maybe because they had become rare, the candy had never tasted so wonderful. We could make one Hershey Bar last for three days, if we were careful.
* Many kitchen staples were rationed. Sugar, flour and coffee are the ones I remember. Maybe salt? I’m not sure. Each household received monthly ration books for each of the rationed items, with coupons for a limited number of pounds, probably depending on number of residents in the home. Rationing books were issued per month for each residence with a prescribed number of coupons. Coupons were handed over at the time of purchase. It was enough to “get by,” but below what many households might have used pre-war.
* Gas was rationed. The majority of automobiles were issued a sticker with a capital “A.” That “A” allowed the smallest amount of gasoline per month. I don’t remember the amount, but it was not enough to allow “joy rides.” The sticker was placed on the right front of the windshield.Rationing books with coupons were issued along with the stickers. (Two-car homes were scarce in those days. I don’t know how stickers were allotted in cases of more than one auto per residence.) People with a job or profession requiring use of a car (a salesman, for example) received a “B” sticker and coupon book allowing additional gallons each month. There may have been a “C” sticker for certain circumstances.
* Young men disappeared, too. Between the Draft and hordes of enlistments, young men became a scarcity in town after Pearl Harbor. Some already in college received deferments until graduation, but, for the most part, the male population between 17 and upper 30’s became few and far between in Winston-Salem. My older sisters were at the dating age, but “pickin’s were slim,” they’d sigh. Worse, though, we saw two of our first cousins whisked away—one to the Army Air Force, one to the Navy. Every family had dear ones in harm’s way. Gold Stars (for killed-in-action) and Blue Stars (for missing-in-action) began appearing in neighborhood windows. Both of our cousins returned home unscathed after the War.
* We had air-raid drills and blackouts! Though I don’t think Winston-Salem was ever in danger of an air attack, the North Carolina coast did have ongoing threats from German submarines. We in Winston-Salem felt important enough to bomb because we did have hush-hush companies that had sprung up that “did important work for the government.” (They had names, but I’m blank on any of them right now. Maybe a classmate can remember?) And, so, we were encouraged to put “blackout” shades or curtains on our windows. They weren’t mandatory. But, when we had an air-raid siren start its scary wailing at night, all lights in the house were extinguished immediately. Even cigarettes were snuffed out. The light on the top of the Reynolds Building (the tallest building on our skyline in those days) was doused until the reassuring “All’s Clear” siren sounded. Some blackout drills were announced beforehand. Those were the evenings that a group of neighborhood kids would plan to gather in one of our houses before the sirens started. We giggled and snorted throughout the blackness, hiding from each other, bumping our heads and knees on furniture, and otherwise being a huge nuisance to the unlucky family hosting us.
* We became Junior Commandos. We toured our neighborhood, pulling old wagons behind us, and collected scrap metal for the war effort. There were vacant lots in most Winston-Salem neighborhoods in those years, so on our two or three blocks, we would get sufficient quantities (weight) of cans and rusted pipes to take to the collection depots downtown to become full-fledged Junior Commandos. Little Orphan Annie, in the comic strip, was leader of the Junior Commandos. The collection depot would sign our “tonnage” slips; we sent the slips to Annie, and she sent us Junior Commando arm bands. She wore the arm band herself, of course. You can be sure we wore ours, too.
* POWs were held at Forsyth County Fairgrounds! For a short while, German Prisoners of War were housed at the Fairgrounds. We drove by one day and saw several of them behind the fence. They had black and white POW signs on the back of their white prison garb. They were young and blond and didn’t look fearsome at all. (We didn’t have the traditional autumn County Fairs during the war. No circuses came to town either.)
* We built model airplanes and learned the silhouettes of our Air Force favorites. Even some of us girls liked the airplane kits with balsa wood and smelly glue and learned to identify the different planes. Those planes would fly over Winston-Salem skies some days. Our bombers, like the B-17’s and the Flying Fortresses, made a deafening roar that reassured us that we were going to WIN that war. (I don’t think any of us on that “homefront” ever had a doubt.) The super-fast (to us) fighters were a huge thrill. My favorite was the P-38 Lightning. The double fuselage made it the easiest to identify. I think the boys in the neighborhood liked the faster P-51 Mustang the best.
* The military and their loved ones had V-Mail. Midway during the War, the government came up with a wonderful, easy way to ensure more frequent mail calls at the fronts and increased deliveries of mail from the fronts to home. V-Mail was a standard one-sheet form with lines for address and a set number of lines for message. The form was free, and the mailing was free. The small letters were photographed and censored (always). When received, the mail was folded and sealed in its self-envelope, and the letter itself looked like a negative—white letters on a black background. The V in V-Mail stood for “Victory.”
* Everyone kept their radios on all day long. We didn’t want to miss an important bulletin. And there were frequent bulletins. Battles were won; battles were lost (more earlier in the war); good news; not-so-good news. We listened to the assuring voices of Robert R. Murrow and Walter Conkrite. At the movies, we had newsreels. No TV back then, but we saw a lot of the war, belatedly and in black and white at the Carolina theater. Newspaper headlines and stories kept us informed, too. Ernie Pyle and others like him reported from the fronts.
RJR High School before and during the WWII years:
Though not yet in high school during most the war years--the war ended during the summer between my 8th and 9th grades-- I have memories of the buildings that go back to even pre-war days. I had three older sisters who attended RJR, with the younger of the three graduating in the class of 1940. The majesty of the buildings atop “Hawthorne Hill” strongly impressed me from the time I was a tyke.
-- The first floor of the school (with its entrance in what always seemed to me to be the “back of the building” because it was opposite of The Landing where students entered most of the time), had a row of spooky stuffed animal heads on the wall near the Principal’s office. They were still there during my high school years.
-- The auditorium was Winston-Salem’s grandest and only concert hall. I saw a performance there by Sigmund Romberg, composer of light opera (“The Student Prince”) and movie musicals (“The Indian Love Song”) when I was six or seven years old. An impressive event! I thought the marble “Roman statues” in the lobby of the auditorium were the grandest things I’d ever seen.
--The gymnasium’s indoor swimming pool was open to the public during the summers. My big sisters took me there and taught me to swim. I still remember the heavy smell of chlorine, the dark green water, and the eerie echoes in the enclosed space.
--Moving from 11 grades to 12: Early on, Reynolds had two graduating classes every year. In early January, I think; and in June. And there were only 11 grades in Winston-Salem public schools back then. The 12th grade was added in Sept.1943, in the middle of the War. After the addition of the 12th grade, the incoming 8th grade students, primarily from Ardmore and Wiley elementary schools and the nearby Children’s Home, attended classes at RJR. The class, called “Sub-Freshmen,” was separated from the high school students (grades 9 through 12), but they did attend assembly in the auditorium with the “upper grades.” Establishment of the middle-schoolsystem comprising, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades occurred a few years after my graduation in ‘49. We ‘49ers were the second class of Sub-Freshmen to attend RJR.
My Strongest Memories Still:
* Sunday, December 7, ‘41: Hearing the first radio bulletin about the Pearl Harbor attack. I was at a neighboring home with two of my closest playmates –a girl, 11, and her brother, 9. It was Sunday, after church, about 1 p.m, and we were making cheese toast for our lunch. (Their parents were in the living room reading the paper. Why was I there? I think the three of us often floated back and forth between homes for lunches and snacks.) The kitchen radio was on. Radios stayed on all the time in those days. Bulletins about the “war in Europe” had become frequent, and the adults (if not the children, perhaps) liked to keep up to date. But this new bulletin had a more urgent sound. Even our ears perked up. Something bigger had happened. "What was Pearl Harbor?" we asked each other, and finished our cheese toast. My friends’ parents came into the kitchen. They had serious adult expressions on their faces. They shooed me home, saying my family would want me with them. And I knew to leave in a hurry. Something awful had happened. I wanted to be with my family.
* Monday, December 8, ‘41: A radio was in the classroom! A big Philco floor model radio was magically up in the front corner of my 5th-grade homeroom at Ardmore Elementary School. I don’t know if all homerooms in the school had radios that day. But mine did. And we soon foundout why. That morning, from that radio, we heard the familiar voice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt declare war on Japan and on Germany and Italy. It was in that short but all-important speech that we heard him call the day before “a day that will live in infamy...” In that classroom, we learned a new word, infamy. And we learned that the United States was at war—on two fronts.
* Tuesday, June 6, ‘44: D-Day! It was a quiet, beautiful day, around noon.
School had ended for the summer. I was in the kitchen making sandwiches for lunch, and my mother was in the backyard tending to a flowerbed. I heard her greeting a neighbor and then, just as the radio in the living room began blasting a bulletin, mama yelled “It’s happening!” I ran to the back porch, wondering what on earth was going on that had my mama sounding her own bulletin, and just as I opened the back door, the church bells started ringing. It was the big Allied invasion of Nazi-held Europe we had been waiting for. It was D-Day! We heard all of the church bells in Ardmore. I think nearly every church in Winston-Salem rang that afternoon.
* Thursday, April 12, ‘45: A day to mourn. It was after school, late afternoon on a sunny, warm spring day. My mother was out in the backyard again, and I was in the kitchen. (That scenario must have happened a lot, I reckon.) This time, though, mama screamed, startling me. I ran out the back door, and mama was standing stock still, her hands at her cheeks. “The president is dead,” she said, her voice quivering. “President Roosevelt is dead.” He was the only president I’d ever had. "Can we win the war without President Roosevelt?" was my first thought. My second thought, also a question, I asked my mother: “What’s the name of the Vice President, again?” Mama knew. “Truman,” she said, pulling me into her arms.
* May 8, ‘45: VE Day. The War ends in Europe! Oddly, I don’t have one vivid memory of that wonderful day. The school year was a month away from ending. And I was in the 8th grade, a “sub-freshman” at RJR. I’m sure that I was as delighted as the rest of the country. And my family. My sister Nancy’s husband would be coming home to her at last! Nancy had married a G.I. from Ohio that she met early in the war. He had “shipped” soon after their honeymoon, and he was at war first in Africa and then in Italy for more than three years.
* August 6, ‘45: A single bomb destroys a city in Japan named Hiroshima. A lazy summer day at home, three months after VE Day. Some friends were with me on my front porch. The radio was on, as always, and a bulletin came on describing a single bomb, an “atomic bomb,” that a U.S. bomber had dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. It had caused tremendous damage. Details were sketchy. My friends and I conjectured what this could mean. “What does ‘atomic' mean?” one of them asked. I knew only that an atom was the smallest piece of matter. “It must be a “small bomb,” I offered.
* August 15, ‘45: VJ Day. Victory over Japan! World War II ends! Japan surrenders, and I’m at a Moravian Church Camp out in the mountains. We are called to gather around the flagpole. We are told Japan has surrendered and the war is over. And then we bow our heads and listen to a long prayer of gratitude. Our hearts are bursting with joy. We want to dance with joy. I know the whole country is shooting fireworks and banging drums and shouting and screaming. Later, I see the celebrations in the newsreels at the movie theater. But on VJ Day, I’m at a church camp in the mountains. Joy abounds, and the clouds, at last, have lifted.
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