The ‘greatest generation’ at home topic of Sunday program

More than 130 persons, one of the largest audiences in recent years, heard how Greene County residents coped with World War Two at a Sunday afternoon hosted by the Greene County Historical Society.

Denise O'Brien Van
Denise O’Brien Van

Presenters were Mikki Schwarzkopf and Denise O’Brien Van. The two spent many months pouring over every issue of The Bee and the Jefferson Herald from the war years. “Our local papers were the epitome of good old-fashioned journalism, running stories that mattered. It was community journalism for the community,” Van said.

Their task was made greater by the quantity of news that was published at a time with fewer photos, smaller type and larger pages. Van said The Herald typically had as many as 20 stories on the front page. She and Scharzkopf didn’t look only at front pages, but at every page, to include pages of stories covering every town in the county, social events, the comings and goings of townsfolk, and “the boys,” the term used to refer to Greene County men serving in the armed forces. There were many references to Greene County women who served as nurses in the military, but “the boys” was the common collective reference.

Janet Durlam, secretary of the Historical Society, opened the program. She asked for a display of hands in the audience from people who remember World War Two; about 20 raised their hands.

Mikki Schwarzkopf
Mikki Schwarzkopf

Van and Schwarzkopf augmented their research with memories shared by Mary Lynch and Don Goodrich. Lynch recalls the entire school gathering to listen on a radio to President Roosevelt’s declaration of war against Japan Dec. 8, 1941. A poll of Herald readers a year earlier had shown that Greene County residents favored supporting the Allies financially, but not with troops.

The presenters spent two hours providing a condensed compilation of all they had learned about the Home Front, drawing a picture of how the war affected virtually every part of daily life. Although Greene County residents were separated from battle by thousands of miles, every resident, from the youngest to the oldest, was part of the war effort.

They spoke of the shortages of consumer goods, including ordinary items like alarm clocks, of rationing, of volunteer efforts wrapping bandages or knitting garments, of children collecting copper and bronze to pay their way into special matinees, of town dwellers and business men helping increase agricultural production despite a labor shortage created by the need for soldiers, of increased opportunities and responsibilities for women, and of Greene County residents investing in War Bonds to finance the war. County residents bought millions of dollars’ worth of War Bonds, and in 1945, Greene County was recognized for meeting its quota in all eight bond drives held.

By the numbers, 1,500 Greene County residents – 10 percent of the county’s total population – served in World War Two. Seventy percent of the young men served. Another 886 county residents registered for the draft but were not called up.

According to an Honor Roll at the Greene County courthouse, 93 Greene County residents died in World War Two.

The local papers published letters sent home by “the boys,” and some of those were shared. Included was a letter written by Cpl Dean Plumer after being part of the liberation of Dachau.

Not all stories were grim. The audience laughed of the story of Jefferson high school boys in January of 1943 protesting the girls’ new freedom to wear pants by wearing skirts and make-up to school. The protestors went as far as to wear skirts and serve a cheerleaders at a basketball game.

Van pointed out that the stories of Greene County were replicated all over the country. She referred to “a magnificent story of Greene County’s own “Greatest Generation” doing what needed to be done.”

Homefront uniformsVan and Schwarzkopf were assisted by Durlam, who prepared visuals for the program, and by Dianne Piepel of the Historical Society’s artifact committee helped assemble displays of World War Two. Those displays will remain in place and the museum will be open this Wednesday, Veterans Day, from 1 to 4 pm for those who haven’t yet seen them.

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