WWII Christmases Were Combination of Seasonal Joy and War Reality
While my father was serving his country overseas during WWII, he received a black and white Christmas card from his employer, Eastman Kodak Company in Kingsport, with these expectant words:
“The lights are still burning at Tennessee Eastman this Christmas – lights of hope and good cheer – lights of welcome awaiting your safe return. With best wishes from your company - P.J. Wilcox and James C. White.” Also enclosed was one of 11,000 $50 war bonds sent to servicemen and women stateside and abroad.
An examination of several Johnson City Press-Chronicle newspapers from December 1942 to 1944 denotes what many families are experiencing today – balancing the joy of the season with the harsh reality of a war. One ominous front-page article contained unwanted news: “American troops engaged in trying to stem the German breakthrough are suffering a big battle price in men and material, but are making the enemy also pay a fearful cost in blood and munitions for his great Western Front counteroffensive.”
Late Dec. 1944 found the city with temperatures in the low 20s and a heavy, slick blanket of snow and ice covering the region. School superintendent C.E. Rogers announced that city buses were running and that street forces were busy keeping the steps at Science Hill and Junior High free of the white stuff. Westbound trains at Southern Railway were running late; the Streamliner had arrived into the city six hours past due and No. 41 passenger train was 3.5 hours behind schedule.
Sixteen women’s organizations and eight Girl Scout troops were actively promoting bond sales that, to date, had yielded $47,156.50. The names of 497 servicemen to whom the bonds were dedicated were posted in the Main Street window of Sterchi Brothers. The newspaper counted down the 25 days of Christmas with a message at the bottom left on the front page, such as “23 Shopping Days to Christmas, Give War Bonds, Stamps.”
One edition noted that 17 men from Selective Service Board #1 and 45 from Board #2 were en route to an Army induction center. A “Daily Holiday Bible Reading” section was posted each day on page 4 with one displaying the first six verses of Psalms 37. Needy families were reminded to register at the Salvation Army office for Christmas dinner baskets to be distributed at a “family party” being held at the First Presbyterian Church. Ration dates for meats and fats, processed foods, sugar, shoes and gasoline were listed: “Sugar: Book 4, stamps 30 through 34, valid indefinitely for five pounds each. Gasoline: No. 12 coupons in ‘A’ books good for four gallons through Dec. 21.”
Five East Tennessee Seabees - Henry Tippett, Ray Britt, Glenn Poarch, William Cawood and John Laws - sent V-Mail letters to the Press-Chronicle from the Pacific theater as part of a state proclamation designating Dec. 28 as Seabee Day in Tennessee.
Holiday ads populated the newspapers: Fields: “Dress Shirts, $1.49-$1.98; Coplan Ties, $.50-$1; and Suspender sets, $.69-$1.”
Sears Roebuck: “Walnut Veneer End Table, $7.98; Chenille Rugs, $2.98; Hunting Pants, $1.98; and Christmas Tree Stands, $.69.”
Kings: “Black Chesterfield Coats, $35 to $59.95; Topflight Topper-Fashion of the Year.”
Sam’s Haberdashery (Samuel E. Miller): “Buy Him a Hat, $2.95-$9.95.”
The Little Stores: Coffee, $.30 lb.; Pork Chops, $.37 lb.; Flour $1.45, 25-lb. Bag; and Shrimp, No. 1 Tin, $.35 with 3-points of ration stamps.”
This Christmas, let’s adopt the same message on the 1940s Kodak card and offer lights of hope for today’s service personnel and await their safe return home.