Musing from the Hill, June 18, 2015
Memories of World War II remain vividly in my mind. My last column recounted recollections of WW I.
Few of us are left who remember those days of yore. I thought perhaps while WWII is still fresh in my mind, I should recount odds and ends I well remember. Perhaps my column readers should write down their stories before they too disappear in the mists of time.
The first faint flickers of the approaching war were elaborate. No thoughts were given for survival (food, water, etc.) when one emerged from a bomb shelter to a destroyed environment. We discussed a neighbor’s elaborate efforts to erect a bomb shelter and most ignored his project. It seemed unreal to us. When England was heavily bombed, people took shelter in subways and other structures. Many children were sent into the countryside for safety. The United States largely ignored these events. I believe the royal family did not flee to the country but remained in residence as a symbol for the people. Many young men went overseas to join foreign air forces. One of the first young flyers shot down was from my hometown, Woodbury N.J. Gradually the coming holocaust seemed to become a reality. It first hit home to us when air raid sirens blasted warnings. Was it submarines off the coast or bombers approaching? Off went all lights and down came the blackout curtains. My 16-year-old brother dashed to his post as an airplane spotter in the steeple of the Methodist church tower. My Mother ran to the first aid station. My two younger sisters were under my supervision. My oldest brother often was on the train on his way home from college in Philly (as we commonly referred to Philadelphia) to our small town in Woodbury across the Delaware River from the Naval station in Philadelphia. It was a busy port and a prime enemy target. Huge carriers came and went frequently. My future husband, Gale Kincaid Jewett, from Niagara Falls, N.Y., was at that time in the Coastal Artillery guarding the port of Philadelphia. He was stationed in the exact spot we had barricaded against the English in the Revolution. Now it was thankfully chanted by the British “The Yanks are coming, The Yanks are coming, and they won’t be back until it’s over there!" The strange fortunes of war!
Trenches dug in the Revolution were still in place. When I was a child, the site was still known as “the Battle of Red Bank.” The well-maintained two-story farmhouse still stood proudly.The farmer’s wife, so the story goes, refused to leave her spinning while the house was fired upon. A cannon ball rolled across the floor and she continued her spinning. Our forebears were determined to never “bend the knee” or be under the heel of anyone. Their belief was that a man (or woman’s) word was their bond, not wealth or family name or fortune. Our country was founded upon this premise.
I am excited because I just had my first call of WWI memories. The Rev. David Olmstead called to tell me of a WWI childhood memory of his father singing “Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France. Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullet holes in his pants.” Rosie Olmstead told me a slightly different version of “you’re in the army now, you’re not behind the plow. You will never get rich by digging a ditch, you’re in the army now.” Keep those memories coming, or they will be lost forever. Does anyone remember this ditty?