War on Their Minds
  Norma L. Brightman
Age in 1941: 25

Interview Team: Valene Yorston, Holly Carmody

Q: What is your name?

Mrs. Brightman: Norma Brightman.

Q: What was your approximate age in 1941?

Mrs. Brightman: I was in my late 20's.

Q: What is you place of birth and where were you raised?

Mrs. Brightman: I was born in Chelsea and I was raised mostly in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy and Germany during the 1930's?

Mrs. Brightman: Very. We remembered when they bombed out west - in the islands - that was on December 7, I think. We never forgot it, we were sitting home listening to symphony on the radio and it came over and we knew that that was big trouble.

Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe(Hitler) and
Asia(Emp.Hirohito/War Minister Tojo).

Mrs. Brightman: We knew what was going on. I remember I was in the hospital. I had just had a baby, and one early morning I heard all the nurses outside crying and I called in to say "what's wrong?" and about five of those nurses had husbands who went into Italy on a terrible charge, and they were crying thinking they might have been killed. So we were very, very aware of a lot of it.

Q: Was it the media that kept you more aware or was it the letters?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh the letters. Well, I mean my my brother was in the service, my husband was in the service and it was me who worked for the government. When they made the first blood bank I was a gray lady in those days. That was done by the Red Cross and one morning I was working in a hospital and got a call. They asked me to come over to the office and they said we'd like it if you and a several other people be there when they started the blood bank. So I was there for years until I was pregnant. And that was a very amazing thing because we had to get twenty two (hundred) pints a day and of course you couldn't get those off the street, so they took a bus and they went to all the war factories to get the people who worked there, and gave them no excuse and piled them into the busses and they had to come and give the blood. And that's how we got it. Of course there were a lot of people like you know parents and friends who gave blood too, but it could never add up to more than 2000 a day.

Q: When you worked for the Red Cross did they separate the black people's blood from the white people's blood?

Mrs. Brightman: I have never heard that, and I don't think it was possible. I think that would have been a step that would have been unnecessary.

Q: Do you recall FDR's fireside chats?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh, of course, you never missed them. He was a real wonder to most of us, and some of the people hated him too.

Q: How did you personally feel about him?

Mrs. Brightman: We loved him. He was just wonderful, very bright, and he really got us into knowing what to do in the war and to think of a man who had such a illness and was able to handle all these big jobs. He was a wonderful man. He really was.

Q: What were your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh, we remember that!

Q: Did you know anyone who had died?

Mrs. Brightman: No, I knew nobody in that area at all, but it was a horror. We knew that that was a big beginning of what was going to be a terrible war.

Q: Did it anger people around you?

Mrs. Brightman: Well, we certainly weren't happy. We knew that this was going to be a long and difficult time. But it did make the country come together. I mean this was a time when war made everybody a friend. It was amazing. I mean you had friends who were shipmates, you had friends who were digging ditches, everybody was doing what he could to make this country live.

Q: What were your feelings about the American involvement in the war after Pearl Harbor? Were you happy that America decided to get involved in the war?

Mrs. Brightman: Well yes, I mean they had to. Then of course there were a lot of people who were against it, but eventually I think that most of he people were for it. There were some people here who liked what the Nazis were doing, and of course they didn't like what we were doing. That was part of the negative, but we knew what we were doing.

Q: Did you ever feel that America shouldn't have entered the war?

Mrs. Brightman: No, I always felt they should have.

Q: Did you remember the mood of the country during wartime?

Mrs. Brightman: We were all together, which was very important. You heard very few people who were against it. Except the real over-conservative, and some people liked the happenings in Germany in this country and they still do and they still talk about it. And they still say it never happened. Oh yes, and right now there's a group on the West coast that says that it was all a joke.

Q: How were your needs for basic food, clothing and shelter affected by the war?

Mrs. Brightman: Well, we did what we were told. You know there were a lot of things that were rationed. As far as clothing was concerned, come to think about it, I wore my uniform all the time. I had a couple of skirts. I mean we didn't think about buying clothes or anything like that if we were involved. There were a lot of people who weren't. But buying clothes wasn't something I thought of, as with most of my friends.

Q: So the whole country was expected to ration what they had?

Mrs. Brightman: Yes, and it did. I give most of that credit to Roosevelt.

Q: Do you happen to remember the Victory Gardens know what they were like?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh sure, they were a lot of them around. There was a little piece of earth in the town and people were allowed to use it, and they would grow all types of vegetables, and every once and a while a sunflower would sprout up.

Q: Do you remember war bonds?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh of course. Yes, that was very important. Most of the people I knew bought them, I don't know how many, but I'm sure that there were a lot of people.

Q: Do you remember having to recycle a lot of the goods in your home?

Mrs. Brightman: Not really that many, not that I recall. Of course when my husband went into the service I had to move back with my parents. I had no children at that time, so I would go to the blood bank from their house and not my own.

Q: Did your social life change in any notable way, besides having to move?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh of course. So many of our friends were far away, and family. People who were friends were very friendly, you had something to begin with and it became very important to keep you together. Especially the wives, I know my mother did a lot of knitting with a group of her friends making things.

Q: What was saying goodbye like to the people who went off overseas like your husband?

Mrs. Brightman: Well my husband wasn't sent overseas to fight. He was given some very interesting jobs here. He was working with the newly blind at one point, and he got a call from somebody in the government who said that he had the requirements to go over to Germany and work in the D.P. camps. That was a tough goodbye, and the ship that he went in was a little thing, and he said that it was bumping up and down, (laughter) and he said everyone was seasick, but they got there. He worked at Dacau which was one of the biggest camps, probably the second biggest. He tried to get people to re-live. Most of the people that he saw in those camps, men would weigh 65 lbs., women would weigh 55 lbs., and of course they couldn't do anything physically, it was a tremendous job just to have them sit up, and stand. He had to use an interpreter for some of the people who could not speak English, and he would tell them that things were getting much better, and that they were going to be cared for, and they'd have a new life. It was a wonderful thing that he did, and he did it for over two years and then he was sent back. He was a tall man, about 6 foot 2, and he weighed about 120 lbs. when he came home, and I hardly recognized him, and I said to him "What happened to you?? and he said "I couldn't eat, how could I eat when I was looking at these people who were skin and bones?? so they were actually starving themselves. But we took care of that when he came home. (laughter).

Q: Did you know any men who were killed or wounded in the war?

Mrs. Brightman: No. Well yes, but not close family.

Q: When you heard the news about people who were dying in the war how did you feel?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh terrible. Just terrible. It was a very unnecessary death which was necessary at that time. It was just awful.

Q: Do any of the battles clearly stand out in your mind?

Mrs. Brightman: Well, one of the battles in the east - the Amertenty (?) Islands. My brother was a sailor officer and he had been on deck doing something on his time out and he was going to his bunk to take a rest and one of his friends came along and said "Oh, come on have a cup of coffee with me? And I can remember the words my brother said "Oh well you know I'm kind of tired my eyes are hurting.? And the man convinced him. And this is a true story. He went with his friend to the kitchen. And his bunk was shot out. He owned nothing so nothing was lost but the bomb went across that part of the boat so he would have been gone.

Q: Did you perceive the media's coverage of the war as truthful, as propaganda, or as a bit of both?

Mrs. Brightman: We were very interested. We would sit at the radio for hours, and I never felt anything anti - maybe there was something negative but I never knew that there was.

Q: What was your attitude towards people of draft age who didn't enter the war?

Mrs. Brightman: It was up to them. I didn't say whether they should do it or not. I mean I didn't know what their reasoning was. You can't get angry about everything.

Q: Was the role of women changed in any way that you could tell?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh yes, I had friends in the factories who had never known what a factory was like and worked very hard. And of course, I had never worked like that. I worked in the hospital helping people to get better, that was a real pleasant thing for me. I went five days a week and spent all day there. I didn't have a social life, but I didn't need one.

Q: What was your attitude towards the Japanese or Germans on a personal level? Did you hate them?

Mrs. Brightman: Well of course I hated what was going on, but I felt very badly for the people who lived in the countries and had no control. It was sort of an up and down feeling, that anyone would do this, and make people go through this, it was terrible.

Q: What was your reaction to the Japanese that were put into internment camps?

Mrs. Brightman: I felt that was terrible, I mean they were Americans, and they were made to live in a terrible way. I can remember all the stories and seeing them on trains moving away from their homes. That was a bad thing that we did, very bad.

Q: Did you know any Japanese personally that had to go?

Mrs. Brightman: No, I didn't. They were mostly on the West coast.

Q: What was your reaction to the German atrocities towards the Jewish?

Mrs. Brightman: Well I'm Jewish. It was something you can't believe. You can't believe that a person will go over and kill a person and take their skin off and mutilate them. That was a terrible thing.

Q: As you said that you were Jewish, did you ever feel scared for your own safety?

Mrs. Brightman: Well I wasn't a very religious Jew, I mean I had friends of every religion. My friends, who weren't Jewish were just as upset as I was because they knew that human beings were being killed. It was a terrible time, it really was.

Q: How did you react to the news of FDR's death?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh my goodness we cried our eyes out! I can remember where we were. My mother and I and my mother-in-law were sitting having tea at my mother's house. Everybody I know can tell you where he was when he died, I mean nobody would ever forget that.

Q: Did his death bring down the morale of the country?

Mrs. Brightman: You know it didn't bring down the morale because we all knew how sick he was, and how wonderful he was, and that he was finally going to get some rest. His life was so difficult because he didn't want to show that he was crippled. You never saw him stand up unless he had been pushed up. That was a difficult life that he had. It was a shame that he never saw the train that went by. There was a train that went through the whole East coast, and I even get goose bumps now, there were people on the side- crying and waving, they had American flags, children were clapping. It was such a tremendous tribute, it really was wonderful.

Q: What was your opinion of president Truman and his wartime leadership?

Mrs. Brightman: I thought he was wonderful. He was a good guy. He was very different than FDR, he was a little rougher in his habit. He wasn't quite as dignified, but he had a wonderful brain. A lot of people hated him. He started the Marshall Plan that was so important, and really did a very good job in my view.

Q: What was your reaction to Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Mrs. Brightman: That was not easy, in fact my husband had gone overseas by then and I was visiting my aunt out of town. It was really terrible, I mean you couldn't believe that this could happen, that human beings could do this. That was a bad one. And yet we were wondering because we didn't know what was actually going on. The people running the war did, and if they felt this would stop it then it would be worthwhile.

Q: Where you happy that it ended the war despite the fact that people died?

Mrs. Brightman: Yes, of course. And I remember I was visiting my aunt in the country place and we had a parade on that day. We had sticks we were waving and pots and pans we were banging and it was a great joy. This was the day they stopped the war and everybody was out of his mind with joy.

Q: Did you participate in a welcoming home ceremony after the war?

Mrs. Brightman: Well we had a very important one. I told you my husband was working with the blind when he was here and the chaplain who worked with him became forever friends, and after the war he happened to live near us which was wonderful. He and Julian my husband got together with a few people and said that there should be a school for newly blind people - those were the ones that he was working with during the war. But he felt that a lot of young people with that awful disease are blinded and so they started what was called a catholic school for all the blind in Newton and it is now called the Carroll school. That was his name, Tom Carroll and they named it after him when he died. And my children always say they have two fathers. He was definitely like another father to them. And they had parades and I remember there was a big dinner at the Copley plaza for some of these newly blinded people trying to make them feel well. And my husband said I'm going to ask something very difficult for you, I would like you to sit next to someone who is very sad. We can't quite make him feel well and maybe you could talk to him, and so I did. Three weeks afterwards he committed suicide. They said that they could just not get him out of that terrible depression. He had lost and arm and of course he had lost his eyes and he just didn't want to live. It was very sad.

Q: Was there a lot of people depressed after the war when they came home?

Mrs. Brightman: Well a lot of people with injuries, especially the blind. To go out and know what you're looking at and come back and not to see anything was just terrible.

Q: How did you view the veterans upon coming home?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh they were wonderful. They were heroes to everyone, well I mean to us. I was living in the Boston area and my golly everyone was thrilled when they came home. We had parades and downtowns had parades. Oh it was great.

Q: At the end of the war did you anticipate any future wars or did it seem that the country would find other means of conflict?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh we hoped, because it was such a devastating war. And unfortunately the peace didn't last forever.

Q: Do you have any lessons that you would like to share that you have from World War Two?

Mrs. Brightman: Well I realized that people could do a lot of things with giving their lives, and I'm sure when they went out they didn't think that they were going to die. All the people who came back wounded, it was terribly sad because they had to recoup and get their minds back to trying to do something that they could no longer do. It was up and down, there were lovely things and there were sad things.

Q: Do you think that today's younger generation is any different from your younger generation at all?

Mrs. Brightman: Well I'm thinking of my children's generation and I feel that the people that I know are doing very nicely. My son is a psychologist and he is now working with people who are having difficult times living. This is a program that he has started. And my daughter is working for a company that is testing new drugs, and stuff like that. And my daughter-in-law has been working with people overseas by giving them ways not to having babies. She has been doing this for years and years, and has just gone overseas again. So we been a pretty active group, we have stayed interested in what's going on.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth today?

Mrs. Brightman: Don't let anybody make a war. I mean I can't think of anything that would be better than that.

Q: Have you ever experienced anything as awful as you did during the war, with how everyone had to go away to the war and how everyone participated.

Mrs. Brightman: Oh yes. Every time a friend or a relative had to go overseas it was just awful. I have always felt so bad for my parents because they had a son, a son-in-law, cousins and nephews and worried about all of them. We all had stars, gold stars of people who had children in the war, and if you had two children you would have two stars. Oh but some houses would have five or six stars.

Q: Is there any thing else that you would like to add about the war or that time frame?

Mrs. Brightman: Well I know that it was very difficult when my husband came home because there was no housing, and we were very fortunate that he knew someone who owned a company where they would build apartment houses in the country, and we were lucky to get into one. But a lot of people went for a year or so trying to find a place to live. And in Framingham there was a man who built lovely little houses for war veterans, and I think he built some in Newton too but they were lovely homes but that was only for a few people. But that was a hard time, especially if you had children.

Q: Do you have any special memories that you take from that time in your life?

Mrs. Brightman: Well knowing that my husband was away, even when he was in this country I mean all the wives were not very happy.

Q: Did the wives stick together a lot?

Mrs. Brightman: Yes, I mean everyone that had somebody in the service was a friend. And of course I wasn't able to be a knitter because I didn't know how to do it. But there was a lot of groups that would get together that would sit and have coffee and knit together and that was nice. But I think they called it a good war because the country was pretty well bonded. Not like the Vietnam war.

Q: With these women groups was all they talked about was the war?

Mrs. Brightman: Oh yes, but also their children and what they were going to do when the war was over. They tried to keep their concentration on peace. They wouldn't sit there and cry, you know they would try to keep one another on an up beat. They did a lot of good. People made bandages, there was a lot of help here back home.

Q: We talked in history class about how the women of your time were not supposed to cry when the men went off to war.

Mrs. Brightman: Right, you were not to cry in public, and you felt that it would make you hurt more if you cried. You would have to go through the crying and then come out of it. I knew very few people that cried you just took it and hoped that it was going to end. And finally it did.

Q: Was there memorabilia that you saved from the war?

Mrs. Brightman: Well I remember one time when my husband was in Virginia and I had to meet him at a drug store in the country and there was one bus that went to there and I noticed that when the bus came in there was a horde of people, and I was not a big woman and I was being pushed. And all of a sudden on either side of my arms there were two sailors and they said "lets go?and they pushed me right onto the bus with them. Otherwise I didn't know what I would have done because I didn't know where I would stop or anything. And when I saw my husband standing there it was pretty exciting, and I will never forget those two sailors.

Q: Did it come out later how the Jewish people were being treated in the death camps or did you know all along?

Mrs. Brightman: Well of course I was, and of course my husband was there and he saw the results. And he never got over it, had nightmares every time that he was thinking of it. He said that you couldn't help it. He saw piles of bodies lying in the dirt naked. Things like that you can never forget.

Q: Was your husband Jewish as well?

Mrs. Brightman: Yes.

Q: When he went over to Germany how was he treated?

Mrs. Brightman: It was an American route so they where very well treated because they were doing good work. He met a lot of good people, he met a lot of Poles, Germans, French, and English. They were all a group doing something that was important so they could all rest at night. I still have his papers and my son said if he could get some time he would like to write a book. My husband wanted to do it but every time he tried I could see that it upset him so much he would say he would do it another time. But I think my son Baird will do it because he talked to me about it this morning asking about the papers, and if he could read them. And that would be wonderful.


Mrs. Brightman recounts her feelings upon hearing of FDR's death. (Quicktime)