War on Their Minds
1940s   Bonita M. Bryant
Age in 1941: ?

Interview Team: Chris Bryant

I'm Chris Bryant and I'm interviewing my Grandmother about World War II.

Q: Where were you born and raised?

Mrs. Bryant: I was born in Middletown Springs, Vermont. That's where I was raised. I lived there till I was 6 years old then I moved to Rutland and that's where I went to High School.

Q: How old were you during the Great Depression?

Mrs. Bryant: I was a teenager. It started when I was 12 and went right up through my college years.

Q: What was the Great Depression like?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, it meant that a lot of people had to do with less income, less money. My father was an insurance agent which meant that he had a great many expenses and not much income. So we had to live mostly from our garden, our chickens that we raised and milk we bought from neighbors.

Q: Were there things that you didn't have?

Mrs. Bryant: Oh a great many things. We had to cut back on our clothes. We used to make over clothes and swap with relatives. We couldn't take any vacations because we didn't have any gasoline so we pretty much stayed at home.

Q: Did you know about the war in Europe?

Mrs. Bryant: Yes, yes we had a radio and that was our main... We had a daily newspaper. Rutland had a morning newspaper so we read the newspaper and we listened to the radio.

Q: How did you get the news?

Mrs. Bryant: The news? Either through the newspaper which was delivered before we had breakfast. It came very early in the morning. Then we listened to the radio at night after dinner.

Q: What did you think about Hitler?

Mrs. Bryant: Hitler, well, we'd hear news of him and thought he was a strong, crazy leader and not to be trusted.

Q: Did you think that Germany was coming to the United States?

Mrs. Bryant: No, we didn't think they'd come to the United States. We just thought they wanted more territory in Europe. We didn't expect them to come to the United States.

Q: Were you afraid?

Mrs. Bryant: Not really; we were pretty confident of our defenses and our reserves. I had been in a University where there was Reserve Officers Training Corps — that's R.O.T.C. — and my brothers were in the same thing in their colleges.

Q: What were you doing on December 7, 1941?

Mrs. Bryant: I'll never forget that day. Papa Ralph and I were walking back from church. We had gone to a Methodist church in Wilmington, Delaware and we were walking back to our apartment and people came running out of their houses talking to their neighbors and we heard them and stopped to see what they were excited about and they said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. So we hurried home and listened to the radio.

Q: How did you hear about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, we heard it first of all from just strangers on the street who came running out of their houses to tell any body who was in the vicinity what it was like and then we listened to the news on the radio for the rest of the day because there was nothing else to listen to that day.

Q: Did you listen to the radio or read the newspapers?

Mrs. Bryant: Yes, both. We listened to the radio and read the newspaper. We didn't have a regular newspaper but we bought the extra editions.

Q: Did you think that Franklin Roosevelt was a great president?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, at the time when he was first elected I wasn't very much in favor of him because I was a Vermonter and Vermonters were usually staunch Republicans and we opposed his make-work programs thinking it was going to make people dependant on the government and not work. So I wasn't very sympathetic with Roosevelt. But during the war he certainly was a strong leader and we all respected him and his decisions.

Q: Did you know anyone who was a soldier who went to war?

Mrs. Bryant: Yes, I had three brothers who were in the war. I only have 3 brothers so they were all in the war and Papa Ralph's brother was in the war. Papa Ralph had his number called up but he was excused because his work was essential for the war production.

Q: Did women go to war?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, they went into the service. There were many women who went in as nurses and as recreational leaders and as stenographers. There were a great many women who joined. As a matter of fact, some of my friends in Wilmington joined the service.

Q: Were women soldiers?

Mrs. Bryant: They weren't combat soldiers but they wore uniforms and were trained in army vocations and camps and so on. They had rank and had levels of service so they were trained not to use weapons but trained to serve in the background as nurses, technicians, all kinds of work.

Q: Where did you live during the war?

Mrs. Bryant: I lived in Wilmington, Delaware. Wilmington is a big city and many of the people in Wilmington were involved in war production activity.

Q: Did you have a job during the war?

Mrs. Bryant: Yes, I was working at an insurance company.

Q: What did Papa Ralph's company make during the war?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, they were confined to making material that was important for the war effort and mostly it was material that was used for insulation for the war equipment. That meant signal equipment and communications equipment. His company produced the raw material that went into that equipment. He made many trips regularly to Washington, D.C. to what they called the War Production Board where he had to submit proposals and really had to justify the amount of material the company needed for production.

Q: What did children do during the war?

Mrs. Bryant: Well let me see…Of course we had small children at the time. Betsey and Susan were both born during the war and life was pretty much normal for them. The older children may have…the teenagers. I really didn't know many of them. Most of my friends had small children like us.

Q: Did they have any jobs to do?

Mrs. Bryant: I don't really know what the older children did. I know that many of them collected material to be recycled. That was a big important job of the children to make the collection. We even used to save the tin foil that gum was wrapped in. You peeled the paper off the tin foil and rolled it into a little ball and that was collected by the children.

Q: Did you have a Victory Garden?

Mrs. Bryant: Yes. We did have a Victory Garden. It was down on the Main Street. It was about eight blocks from our apartment. It was a communal garden. There were about six of us that had victory gardens there. But I think we had the best of all. It was quite a competition to see who could grow the most. Wilmington, Delaware had a very good climate for growing vegetables and we had wonderful beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra…we raised everything in that garden.

Q: What things didn't you have enough of?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, we didn't have enough sugar, we didn't have enough butter, we didn't have enough gas. In fact we had to sell our car because we couldn't get enough gas to run it. We couldn't pay the garage rent and not be able to use it so we sold our car. We didn't have enough meat - it was rationed.

Q: Did you have to use ration coupons?

Mrs. Bryant: Yes, we had to use ration coupons. We had separate ones for meat and sugar for instance butter. There were red coupons and blue coupons. We managed very well. We never ran out of coupons.

Q: How did they work?

Mrs. Bryant: Every time you bought some meat it was marked as to how much the price was and how many coupons you'd need per pound so you'd tear them out. They were in a book so you could tear out as many as you needed so you paid at the check out counter the amount of money and the amount of coupons.

Q: How many gallons of gas did you get each week?

Mrs. Bryant: I really don't remember but it was a very small amount. We had a small car with a small engine that was very economical. I think it was something like five gallons a week. It was based on a month but I think it averaged out to five gallons a week.

Q: Were you ever in an air raid drill?

Mrs. Bryant: Oh yes. There were frequent air raid drills. Papa Ralph was an air raid warden. He had to go to one of the tall buildings in Wilmington about once a week and stand watch. That was usually from about eleven o'clock at night until seven o'clock in the morning.

Q: What did blue and gold stars in people's windows mean?

Mrs. Bryant: Oh, my Mother had stars in the window in Rutland. My Mother and Father were living in Rutland and because they had three sons in the service they had three blue stars hanging. And the little flag had the stars vertically…one, two, three vertically… and if it was a gold star that meant that their son or daughter had been killed. If it was a blue star it meant that they were living. And fortunately, we had all the blue stars.

Q: How did you find out that the war was over? What were you doing?

Mrs. Bryant: I think it was probably over the radio because that was our main source and that was when we were in Wilmington. Of course the end of the war in Europe occurred first and that was most important to me because one of my brothers was in the European Theater. And then I went up to Rutland during the summer and it was there that I heard the war was over in Japan.

Q: What did you do when you heard that the war was over?

Mrs. Bryant: Well, it was a tremendous celebration of course. I had two little girls so I pretty much stayed with them. I didn't join in any big celebrations. We just celebrated at home.