Dec 20, 2012

Sun, Dec 20, 1942: Stille Nacht

"I wonder if a person dares to say 'Fröhliche Weihnachten' or sing 'Stille Nacht, Heilege Nacht' this year. 
"I hope I may get to see you during your vacation. Ours is a very brief one.  May your Christmas be a happy one.  - Fräulein Larner.”
-- Christmas card from Ella Larner, Augusta, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, December 20, 1942.  (“'Fröhliche Weihnachten” means “Merry Christmas.” “Stille Nacht, Heilege Nacht” means “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  Ella Larner was my father’s high school Latin teacher at Augusta High School.  Madelyn Payne (Barack Obama’s grandmother) happened to have been my father’s classmate in Ella Larner’s Latin I class in 1937-38.  Ella Larner, as well as my father, are mentioned in David Maraniss’s new biography of Barack Obama’s childhood and youth Barack Obama: The Making of the Man.)
German Americans suffered nothing like the prejudice and discrimination directed at Japanese Americans in World War II.  Yet, as this quote suggests, the wartime climate led to suspicion of German culture, of Germans and German Americans.  During 1942, the United States was engaged in a naval war with Germany in the Atlantic.  German submarines were torpedoing American vessels within sight of the Virginia and Florida shore.  Some suspected the German military was aided by Germans within the United States, although there is no evidence of such aid.  These concerns led to the internment of many Germans and German Americans (although a tiny percentage of their total U.S. population).  In all, the United States detained 11,507 Germans and German Americans, including immigrants to the United States and travellers stranded by the war.
Unlike with Japanese Americans, there was no internment of all people of German ancestry (or all people of Italian ancestry) in specific areas of the country.  Nor was there even internment of all German or Italian nationals without U.S. citizenship from specific areas.  Rather, specific persons deemed dangerous, sometimes based on membership in suspect organizations, were interned.  Detainees had only limited due process and no access to lawyers; but many were able to appeal their internment and be released.   Both German citizens and a small number of German Americans were interned.  German Americans had suffered much more in World War I (although again nothing on the scale of Japanese Americans in World War II).  During that war, in some place, icons of German culture like Bach and Beethoven were banned, German books were burned, and Germans changed their names to hide their ancestry.
The public’s and officials’ racial atittudes, as well as population numbers, were important in determining the very different fates of Germans, Italians, and Japanese within the United States.  Few Americans perceived a threat from Italians.  There was greater suspicion of Germans.  However, despite some consideration of mass incarcerations, Congress, the Justice Department, and the president never supported such efforts.   The size of the German population also made mass incarceration unlikely (as it precluded the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry in Hawai’i).  In 1940, 1.2 million people born in Germany lived in the United States.  If one includes the number of people with at least one parent born in Germany, the number of Germans in the United States came to 6 million.
Japanese and Japanese Americans suffered a very different fate from Germans and German Americans, because of their race.  Facing unfounded rumors of sabotage efforts by Japanese Americans and racist outcries against them, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed Executive Order No. 9066 on February 19, 1942.  The order lead to the incarceration of all persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast (whether U.S. citizens or not).  In all, 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in ten concentration camps, far from their homes.
Source: Tetsuden Kashima, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 284-87, 291; Ronald Takaki, Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II (Boston: Little, Brown, 2000), 131-36; David Maraniss, Barack Obama: The Making of the Man, (Simon & Schuster, 2012), 27.

Dec 17, 2012

Thu, Dec 10, 1942: badly disgusted

"...They had a teacher's meeting at Augusta and decided to give the school just two days vacation Dec. 24 and 25.  Barbara felt pretty badly disgusted so did Louise M.  Lee Lenz said he was rather glad.  The idea was to give the boys and girls a chance to help with the spring work a week earlier than otherwise...."
--Letter from my grandmother, on the farm at Bloomington, Kans., to my father, a college sophomore at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Thursday, December 10,1942.  
       The high school that my aunt Barbara, like my father before her, attended was in the town of Augusta (population 3,821 in 1940).  The high school drew students from farmlands surrounding the city, including my family’s community of Bloomington 13 miles to the southeast.  It set its schedule in part to accommodate farmwork by children.  My aunt Barbara (age 14) and her friend Louise Myers (also 14) were “pretty badly disgusted” at the idea.  For some reason, my father’s good friend, Lee Lenz, 18, was “rather glad” he’d have a short vacation and the chance to help on the farm in the spring.  (Source: 1940 census population schedule and published statistics).

Dec 10, 2012

Thu, Dec 10, 1942: enough gas

"...Daddy is still intending to go down after you on Dec. 18th and will probably be there so you can get started home fairly early as that is the night of the program at Bloomington. 
seem to be having enough gas so far but don't know whether or not we will run out toward the end of the period for which the stamps are issued...."

-- Letter from my grandmother, on the farm at Bloomington, Kans., to my father, a college sophomore at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Thursday, December 10, 1942.  On December 1, the government had put in place gasoline rationing, a ban on pleasure driving, and a nationwide 35-mile-an-hour speed limit.  (On rationing, see my earlier post “Thu, May 7, 1942: Ration Book”).

Dec 3, 2012

Thu, Dec 10, 1942: couldn’t wait

"...We were so glad to get your letter this week.  In fact, Barbara wasn't coming home the evening we received it and I couldn't wait until she came so read it anyhow......I am still counting on you to sing and play at my Christmas program which will be Dec. 24th. Also Ella was asking for you to sing at the church program on Sun. eve. Dec 20th." 
--Letter from my grandmother, Jessie Maybelle (Berger) Brown,on the farm at Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Sidney DeVere Brown, a college sophomore at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Thursday, December 10, 1942.

Nov 16, 2012

Tue, Nov 16, 1942: exemplary character

“...Mr. Brown is a young man of excellent appearance, apparently sound physical health, pleasing manners, fine personality, exemplary character, and the highest ideals of loyalty, patriotism, and devotion to duty.
“Mr. Brown is an excellent student, keenly intellectual, a very hard worker, practical, efficient, and capable in all that he undertakes to do.  He is never satisfied with ‘good enough’, but always aims and plans to do his best in whatever he undertakes....”

--Letter of recommendation from Leroy Allen, professor of religion, Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., dated Tuesday, November 16, 1942, in reference to my father’s application to enlist in the U.S. Navy.
          My father chose to enlist in the Navy, knowing that he would soon be drafted in any case.  He enlisted on November 17, 1942, and would begin his military service in July 1943.  He would later write, “More than high patriotism, my youthful signing was a maneuver to avoid being drafted into the infantry when I turned eighteen.”  I obtained this letter by ordering my father’s military service records from the National Archives (  You can order military records of a deceased veteran, if you are immediate kin.  If the veteran separated from the service more than 62 years ago, anyone can order their military record.  (Source: Letter from my father to Elliott Nickell, March 18, 2001).

Nov 10, 2012

Tues, Nov 10, 1942: inspection

"...We had a 'shake-down' inspection Monday morning.  It was quite an ordeal for we had to lay all our equiptment on our bunks for a check up. An officer checked every item that we were issued.  If we were short any thing it was charged against us and too if there was too much, we either had to hide it or turn it back to the supply room....”
--Letter from Dale Sooter, my Dad's cousin, an Army private, Wilmington, Calif., to my father, a college sophomore at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Tuesday, November 10, 1942.

Nov 8, 2012

Sun, Nov 8, 1942: new pony

“...Lois and Billy Mitchell are married.
"Billy Alley has a new pony.  It is sorrel and has a white strip down its head.
"I hope you get good grades.  Please tell me your grads.
"Yours truly,
--Letter from my uncle Stanley, age 9, on the farm, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, 17, a sophomore at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, November 8,1942.

Sun, Nov 8, 1942: Homecoming (complete letter)

                          Nov. 8, 1942
                          Winfield, Kans.
Dear Barbara:
     I've finally got around to writing you folks to let you know that Joyce and I arrived in Winfield safely last Sunday Evening.  I didn't get time last week, because it was about the busiest we've had since school began.  Besides having mid-semester examinations, I had to get some papers in for Social and Economic Problems, prepare a debate, and it was Homecoming Week.
     I think I did fairly well on some of the examinations, I got all of the problems right in Algebra for a perfect paper.  Our grades will come out next week, but I already know that I got an A - in Health Education (3 hours).
     You may have noticed in the papers that Southwestern was beaten 20-7 by St. Benedict's in the Homecoming Football Game.  Our team started off good, made the first touchdown, and didn't let St. Benedict's make a single first down until near the end of the third quarter, but after that our boys played out or something and they won.  The night before the game, I went to the Campus Player's Homecoming Play 'Out of the Frying Pan,' and then to a big pep rally and bonfire.  After that we went down and worked on the Kappa Rho float for the Parade the next morning.  For the float, we had a great big 1923 Buick all painted up with inscriptions, and a bunch of boys dressed like Arkansawyers chasing with shotgun's Bud Helm dressed up like a Raven (St. Benedict's Ravens).  After that we got our quartet together to serenade some of the girl's dormitories, and finally we studied Health Education for our regular Saturday morning test before going to bed.
     I suppose you heard that Joyce was rejected by the army.  It looks like he may get to be a college graduate yet.
     Be sure to write and tell me what's going on around Augusta and home.  I hope this gasoline rationing coming up November 22 won't interfere with your schooling.
     I'll see you all next Sunday up at Augusta.  Joyce and I plan to see the Wichita U. game on Saturday, stay all night and came over the next day with King's.  Tell Dad that I may be available for a day's work on Monday, is he's got anything to do out on the farm.  I suppose Stanley's mighty busy, and tell him we'll have another aeroplane ride, the next chance we get.  How does Mom like schoolteaching by this time.
                        Sincerely Yours,
P.S.- Please have the folks bring my birth certificate into Augusta Sunday.
--Complete letter from my father, a sophomore at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., to his sister, Barbara, on the farm in Bloomington, Kans., Sunday, November 8,1942.
      This portrait of my father’s lifestyle as a 17-year-old college sophomore provides quite a contrast with the lives of his friends and relatives that were going off to the military.  For a change, I thought I would post an entire letter, to give you some sense of the documents from which I extract the brief quotes I've been posting.  This three-page letter is a pretty typical length. When my father was in college, most of the letters he and his family sent were about two to five pages.  They also occasionally sent each other postcards.  As with this letter, they typically wrote on Sunday or midweek (Tuesday to Thursday).

Nov 1, 2012

Sun, Nov 8, 1942: married

"...We were over at Katherine's for dinner to-day.  Papa, Mamma, and Robert rode over with us.  Flo and Everett and Lois were there too.  We had a lovely dinner.  Lois Arlene and Billy are just announcing that they were married last Feb. 7th.  Guess Flo was the only one who knew it.  Lois intends to finish school this year.  LaVerne cried when she found it out...."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, November 8, 1942.  Katherine, Robert, and Flo were my grandmother’s siblings.  Lois Arlene and LaVerne were the children of Flo and her husband Everett.  I'm not sure why Lois and Billy waited nine months to announce their marriage.  The wedding took place two months after the U.S. went to war and was part of a nationwide surge in marriages in the early months of the war (on marriage rates in World War II, see my earlier post “July 15, 1942: married”).

Oct 25, 2012

Sun, Oct 11, 1942: plenty of work

"...I plan to start 'spring-toothing' the wheat ground on King tomorrow, I was over there this afternoon and I think the ground is about dry enough.
“Augusta won their football game Friday night, I guess I'll have to quit betting with Lee Lenz.  I see Southwestern won their game Friday night.
"If you want to to [sic] come home next Saturday and stay till Tues, it will be O.K. there is always plenty of work to be done...."
--Letter from my grandfather, Leonard Reeves Brown, on the farm in Bloomington, Kans., Sunday, October 11, 1942 to my father, Sidney DeVere Brown, at college in Winfield, Kans. 
          That Monday, my grandfather was planning to use a spring-tooth harrow to prepare the ground for planting.  (There are youtube videos of spring-toothing, if you're interested).  Farmers in my grandfather’s community planted winter wheat in late October.  It sprouted soon after and then turned brown and dormant with the first frost.  It came back to life in the spring, was golden by late May and the harvest began in June. Wheat helped my grandparents pay for my father's college education and as a college student, my father occasionally took long weekends at home to help with farm work on wheat and other crops.  
          In planting wheat in the ground of his Bloomington farm, my grandfather was relying on the work of two peoples, without whose work there would have been no “wheat ground” in Kansas, at least not in the form it took.  He was relying on the efforts of the people of the Middle East who first domesticated wheat millennia ago.  And he was relying on the efforts of the Osage people and other indigenous people who had maintained the tallgrass prairie free from trees for centuries using fire.  Like all of us, he was indebted to distant people and not-so-distant people in order to make his livelihood in the world -- people who likely rarely crossed his mind.
Transforming Kansas prairies to wheat fields cultivated by whites was only possible, because whites had taken that land from the Osage people in the late nineteenth century.  On their lands in a large region where Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma meet today, Osage cultivated corn, beans, and squash.  They also hunted deer and buffalo.  Like other indigenous groups on the plains, the Osage burned the prairies for a variety of reasons: to create environments that attracted herbivores, to drive animals, to signal other groups, to prepare land for planting.  Thereby, they helped to create and maintain the tallgrass prairies, altering the prevalence of grass species and preventing the encroachment of trees.  In the 1860s, just a few decades before my great-grandfather arrived in Bloomington with my grandfather, his older sister, and younger brother (in 1906), whites had dispossessed Osage people and confined them to a much smaller reservation in Oklahoma, some 45 miles south of my grandparents’ farm.
 People in the Middle East began eating wheat they collected from the wild long before domesticating it and transforming its genome through human selection.  Early archeological evidence of gathering Triticum turgidum (durum wheat) exists near the Sea of Galilee around 17,000 B.C.E.  Early evidence of domesticating these plants comes from near Damascus, around 7800 B.C.E.  Triticum aestivuna (bread wheat) -- the species of wheat making up 90% of wheat cultivated today including the winter wheat my grandfather grew -- evolved from the already domesticated durum wheat.  There is evidence of bread wheat as early as 7,000 B.C.E. near the Caspian Sea.
            As people chose to plant seeds with certain traits, the size of wheat seeds increased.  It also developed a rachis that held its seeds once they were ripe, allowing humans to harvest the grains, rather than having them scatter on the ground.  One factor that made wheat especially suited to domestication is that, unlike most flowering plants, it is self-pollinating.  This allowed farmers to keep their crops genetically separated from their wild cousins and maintain changes in its DNA.  In plants cross-pollinated by bees or other animals, there is no way to keep genes from moving from wild plants to nearby domesticated plants.  The properties of wheat helped shape Middle Eastern and European cooking practices: gluten proteins in wheat allow it to rise when leavened, allowing baking of the leavened bread that is central to Middle Eastern and European diets.
            Spreading from the Middle East into Europe, wheat came to dominate the diet of the Europeans.  Europeans, in turn, brought it with them when they resettled the lands of North America (already settled by American Indians) in the seventeenth century.  Wheat was introduced in Kansas as early as 1839.  Winter wheat specifically was brought there in the 1870s.  It proved to be especially suited to that state, since it could take advantage of the months when Kansas receives most of its precipitation, winter and early spring.
Relying on the work of Middle Easterners and Osage, and their own hard work most days of the year, farmers transformed a fifth of Kansas into wheat fields.   Kansas soon became one of the nation’s leading producers of wheat, as it remains today.  Its license plates proudly proclaimed it the “Wheat State” in the 1940s and 1950s.  More recently, the plates have prominently featured a stalk of wheat.  Kansas land in wheat went from 68,000 acres in 1866, to 4.2 million acres in 1900 to 10.3 million in 1942 – the year described in this letter.  That means that in 1942 about 20% of all the land in the state was planted in wheat, a plant had never grown there before the 1830s.
            (Sources: Sidney DeVere Brown, Kansas Farmboy: A Memoir of Boyhood and Youth [2008], 104-5; Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in West Asia, Europe and the Nile Valley (Oxford University Press, 2000); Julie Courtwright, Prairie Fire: A Great Plains History (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011), 20-31; Garrick A. Bailey, "Osage," in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 13, Part I, Plains, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie, 476-96; USDA, "Kansas Wheat History," 2011, available at; Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, 1922; "Wheat" in Kansapedia, available at

Oct 18, 2012

Sun, Oct 11, 1942: to the pastures

"...Mother & I went to the pastures this afternoon, the pasture season is about up, so will have to take the cattle out of the Fox pasture this week.  I think I will feed the steers this fall. I took hogs to Wichita on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, got $14.60 on Tues., $15.05 on Thurs. and don't know yet what the ones brought on Friday as I didn't stay to see them sell.  I took six hogs each trip.
"I haven't bought you a cow yet.  I'll try and watch out for one between now and spring...."
--Letter from my grandfather, on the farm in Bloomington, Kans., Sunday, October 11, 1942 to my father, a college student in Winfield, Kans.  (These hog prices were per hundred pounds of live weight.  Steers are castrated male cattle.) 
Hardly any of the plants and animals that provided my grandparents’ livelihood on the Kansas prairies were indigenous to that place.  Some of the prairie grasses in the pastures and meadow were likely the only exceptions.  Osage (and earlier Caddoan) farmers and hunters had maintained those prairie grasses for centuries by burning them, while most of the other farm plants and animals had a long history of coevolution and domestication by humans far from the Great Plains.
Cattle were the largest animals that newcomers brought with them to Kansas in the nineteenth century.  Millions of bison had once inhabited those prairies.  Bison populations were affected by the development of bison-hunting cultures among Plains Indians after Europeans introduced horses, by competition with those horses that grazed wild, and by increased pressures on Plains Indians as whites forced Eastern Indians off their land and toward the Plains.  Whites then pushed bison to the brink of extinction through hunting in the late nineteenth century.  Cattle, like those of my grandfather,
took the ecological niche that bison had held just a few decades earlier, both as consumers of grass and as a source of meat for the ecosystem’s top predator, humans.
According to archeologists and biologists, most of the world’s domestic cattle (Bos taurus) descend from the now-extinct wild ox or aurochs (Bos primigenius) that once lived throughout Eurasia and Africa north of the equator. It was these aurochs that artists painted on the walls of Lascaux Cave in France some seventeen millennia ago.  Humans began to tame these fierce creatures at least as early as the seventh millennium B.C.E., as evidence from Turkey attests.  They began to use cows for milk production by the fourth millennium B.C.E. in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Ultimately, cattle fared much better than their wild cousins. By most accounts, the last aurochs died in Poland in 1627.  Thus, cattle -- an animal that had once roamed Europe wild and been replaced by its domestic cousins there -- had an unwitting role in displacing bison from the Plains and nearly leading to their extinction. 
(Source: Dan Flores, "Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850" Journal of American History 78:2 (1991): 465-85; Frederick L. Brown, “Cows in the Commons, Dogs on the Lawn: A History of Animals in Seattle,” [Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, 2010], 71-72).

Oct 11, 2012

Sun, Oct 11, 1942: pitch fork

“...Stanley is nursing a sore knee this evening.  Keith & Kenneth came home with him & they were in the hay loft and he stuck it with a pitch fork....”
--Letter from my grandfather, Leonard Reeves Brown, on the farm in Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Sidney DeVere Brown, at college in Winfield, Kans., Sunday, October 11, 1942.  Stanley was my father’s 9-year-old brother.

Oct 7, 2012

Wed, Oct 7, 1942: Leavenworth

“Aunt Edith has heard from Wayne and he seems to think he is going to be moved to Florida right away.
“To-morrow is Max's last day as a civilian. He leaves for Leavenworth to-morrow evening at 5:00."
-- Excerpt of a letter from my grandmother on the farm in Bloomington, Kans., to my father, at college in Winfield, Kans., Wednesday, October 7, 1942.  Max, my Dad’s cousin, was 20 years old.  Wayne, another cousin, was 27.  My father, by contrast, was only 17 and settling into his sophomore year of college.  Fort Leavenworth, Kans., 180 miles northeast of Bloomington, near Kansas City, served as a reception center and training post for soldiers during World War II.  (Source: Kenneth M. LaMaster, Fort Leavenworth [Arcadia Publishing, 2010], 121).

Oct 6, 2012

Wed, Oct 7, 1942: 6 hogs

“Daddy took 6 hogs to Wichita Tues and plans to take six more to-morrow.  He got $14.60 for those he took over.  Don't know what the market did to-day.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Wednesday, October 7,1942.  My grandfather slaughtered some hogs on the farm for the family’s consumption, but sold others on the market.  The price ($14.60) is per hundred pounds of weight.  The closest stockyards was at Wichita, 33 miles northwest of their farm.  (On the stockyards, see my earlier post “Tues, Jul 21, 1942: new suit.”)

Oct 5, 2012

Wed, Oct 7, 1942: busy as can be

“We missed you last week-end.  Kept thinking I would hear you come in but never did.  How are you getting along this week?
“As usual I'm busy as can be and hardly have time enough to sleep.  Last Friday finished my first month of school.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Jessie Maybelle (Berger) Brown, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Sidney DeVere Brown, Winfield, Kans., Wednesday, October 7, 1942.  Both my grandmother and my father were starting back to school in the fall of 1942, he as a college student, she as a schoolteacher.  My father was starting his sophomore year of college at Southwestern College, a Methodist school thirty miles south of my grandparents’ farm.  My grandmother was teaching grade school in Bloomington, near the farm.  Before marrying, my grandmother had been a schoolteacher for nine years, starting at age 17.   She married my grandfather in 1923 at age 26, and quit teaching to help with farmwork and raise their three children: my father born in 1925, my aunt in 1928, and my uncle in 1933.  My grandmother began teaching again in 1940. 

Aug 24, 2012

Mon, Aug 24, 1942: eyes pop

“We arrived in Phoenix with a big bang.  Every one knew Mother was coming but didn't have any idea that I was along.  When we were getting off the train my Aunt Bill came down to meet mother so while they were going through all the motions I came up from behind her and layed my arm over her shoulder and you should have seen her eyes pop.  We didn't tell the Brown family either and that night you should have seen the eye pop.  Orville thought he was seeing things.  Well keep everything at home alive for another week and will see you then.”
-- Postcard from Joyce Sooter, Phoenix, Ariz., to my father, Bloomington, Kans., Monday, August 24, 1942. Joyce was my Dad’s cousin and had travelled to see relatives in Arizona.  He was 21 years old and would soon join the military.  Orville was my grandfather’s younger brother.  My grandfather and Orville were only 16 months apart in age, attended the same grade in school, and formed a farming partnership in Kansas when they were both young bachelors.  However, Orville moved to Arizona after my grandfather married, in part because he was believed to have tuberculosis and he thought the air there would be better for his health. 

Jul 30, 2012

Tues, Jul 21, 1942: lassoing

"Stanley spends most of his spare time lassoing a little calf.  He helps with the work some but you'd know he doesn't hurt himself."
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Salina, Kans., Tuesday, July 21, 1942.  Stanley was my father’s 9-year-old brother.

Jul 29, 2012

Tues, Jul 21, 1942: school of army cooks

“Wayne writes that he has been attending school of army cooks and thinks it probable that he will change camps soon but believes he will remain in the U.S. for some time.” 
 -- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Salina, Kans., Tuesday, July 21, 1942.  My dad’s cousin, Wayne, was 27.

Jul 28, 2012

Tues, Jul 21, 1942: to the army

“Did you know Eleanor Anne was operated on for appendicitis in June and was home just about a week before Mildred's operation?  She is getting along O.K.  I read one of her letters at Aunt Edith's to-day.  She said Byron was just deferred until July 1st but has heard nothing in regard to his going to the army.  Harold has changed jobs.  He is a fireman at a defense plant of some kind near Decatur.  Richard is still in Wisconsin, Carroll was transferred to Decatur and Ira still works at his job of delivering milk to nearby towns.  Betty is in school at Bloomington Ill. Don't know what she plans to do.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Salina, Kans., Tuesday, July 21, 1942. 
This letter, written six months after the U.S. entered World War II, provides a rundown on my fathers’ many cousins living near Decatur, Illinois.  All the men mentioned were in their twenties and of draft age.  As this letter shows, the majority of men of military age were not in combat.  Germany had invaded Poland in September of 1939 and France in May 1940.  In response to these events, the United States began to consider military conscription.  Roosevelt finally endorsed such a proposal in August 1940, in the midst of his second re-election campaign.  Ultimately, his Republican opponent, Wendell Willkie, came out for a draft as well.  Roosevelt signed a selective service bill into law on September 16, 1940 – the country’s first-ever peacetime draft.  The September 1940 Selective Service Act required all men ages 21 to 35 to register for twelve months of military service.  By the fall of 1941, the military had gone from 250,000 men to 1.5 million.  With the declaration of war against Japan in December 1941, the term of service was extended through the duration of the conflict.  In November 1942, the draft pool was increased to all men ages 18 to 45.   A variety of professions including ministers, farmers, miners, commercial sailors, railroad workers, and milk deliverers were exempt from conscription.  In all, sixteen million Americans served in the military during World War II.  However, only one third of the men between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five ever joined the military. And, a fourth of those military men (including my father) never left the United States.  (Source: "Selective Training and Service Act of 1940" in William H. Young and Nancy K. Young, World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia, Vol. 2. [Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010] pp. 617-621; John W. Jeffries, Wartime America: The World War II Home Front [Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996], 171.)

Jul 27, 2012

Tues, Jul 21, 1942: new suit

“We went to Wichita to-day took over a cow and two calves and I persuaded Daddy to buy himself a new suit.  It is surely good-looking sort of a grayish blue.  Am returning the one we ordered from Ward's.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Salina, Kans., Tuesday, July 21, 1942.  My grandparents had to drive about 33 miles to Wichita (pop. 114,996 in 1940) to sell livestock at the stockyards.   Montgomery Ward's company presented a useful option for rural people far from any stores by allowing consumers to have products from their catalog delivered by mail.  The company operated its catalog business from 1872-2001, and operated brick-and-mortar stores part of that time.  (After bankruptcy and liquidation in 2001, it sold its name and brand which are still used by a separate company, Direct Marketing Services Inc.)
       My father wrote the following about visiting the stockyards in his memoir: “In my childhood taking cattle to the stockyards in Wichita for sale was a pleasant break from the farm routine.  Leonard usually took me with him on days that seemed right according to the farm report of Bruce Behymer.  Behymer delivered his radio program in a nasal twang, which many tried unsuccessfully to imitate, from his office at the stockyards over Station KFH, keeping us up to date on prices.  One or two animals we loaded into our own trailer to be pulled behind the car, but, if a half a dozen were slated for sale we hired a neighbor’s truck, sometimes Charlie “Slim” Myers’s new 1936 Chevrolet.  We pushed the uncooperative, bawling cattle, up a loading chute one by one into the bed of the truck.  They were justifiably alarmed at the change in their routine.  Once the truck was underway, we followed by car.
      “At the stockyards we made our way through the bustling crowd in to the offices of Rieff-King Commission Company, where Jeff King greeted Leonard warmly as an old friend, and sometimes walked with us on the catwalk above the pens.  There we found the cattle that we had unloaded for sale.  Jeff, dressed in a stylish ten-gallon hat and boots essential in the muck of the pens, descended among the bellowing, circling cattle, brandishing his whip at recalcitrant animals.  When Dad returned to the office for the check, Jeff was cordial, and talked about all kinds of things.  We believed that he had gotten the best possible price from Jeff, and we learned about all kinds of confidential business arrangements.  Rieff and King had an agreement that in the event of the death of either, their widows would share in the business profits.  Then Jeff handed me small pencil which could be put back into the tubing with the Rieff-King name on a red background.  A valuable memento it was to a small boy, and Leonard was doubtless glad to have the check to keep us going.  He could sell his steers as money was needed.”
          (Sources: Sidney DeVere Brown, Kansas Farmboy: A Memoir of Boyhood and Youth [2008], 112-13; Montgomery Ward in Wikipedia)

Jul 21, 2012

Tue, Jul 21, 1942: quiet and lonesome

“Woodrow came after Carol & Philip Sun. evening.  It seems rather quiet and lonesome since they left. Up until he came both the children said they were going to stay here but after he came they decided to go home.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Salina, Kans., Tuesday, July 21, 1942.  Woodrow was my grandmother’s brother.  His young children (ages and 4) had been staying with my grandparents, while he and his wife were separated.

Jul 15, 2012

Wed, Jul 15, 1942: chiggers

"Ada & Mary Ruth were over this afternoon to see Philip & Carol.  Philip was pretty cross to-day; he has chiggers all over him."
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Salina, Kans., July 15, 1942.   Philip and Carol, ages 4 and 2½  were my grandparents’ nephew and niece, staying with them while their parents were separated.  Ada Lenz lived on a neighboring farm; and Mary Ruth McNeil was the wife of the Methodist preacher in Bloomington.  Chiggers are the larval stage of trombiculid mites. Their bites are familiar to anyone who's walked through tall grass in the part of the country where I grew up.  (Sources: “Chiggers” at PubMed Health; “Trombiculidae” at Wikipedia.)