Wartime Memories – life as a teen during World War II

In 1945, students at Maine High School successfully undertook an amazing initiative: selling $500,000 in war bonds to finance a World War II C-54 Skymaster Transport airplane. The aircraft, which still exists today, was made by Douglas Aircraft Company, located on Manheim Road, just west of our city limits.

This effort was the catalyst for our oral history project “Wartime Memories – life as a teen during World War II”. Today’s Maine Township students from Maine East and South interviewed over a dozen Wartime graduates of Maine High School to document their unique experiences.

Check out the documentary today’s students produced, and peruse any of these wonderful individual’s stories. This exhibit was produced by John Murphy, Wartime Memories Coordinator, Vice President Park Ridge Historical Society Laurie Pegler, Past Trustee Park Ridge Historical Society

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Ralph’s dad worked at Post office, Perkins Express Moving, working long hours until the 40 hour week was enacted. During the war he worked at the Douglas plant – he managed the tool section. His father also had a contract for Postal Express. Shipments would come in by rail to the Park Ridge Train station and his dad would deliver individual items to residents and businesses.

Prior to the war his family had hard times. They couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage so the mortgage holder, Hardware store owner Mr. Rollof, allowed them to just pay the interest. Once the war started they…

paid again.

His mom did not work during the war.

He grew up in neighborhood on south part of park ridge. As a kid he played outside most of the time because there was no TV. Played kick the can, baby in the hole.

When his brother went into the war Ralph inherited his car and it needed a great deal of work. For fun they would go to Riverview. They would walk to Edison Park, take a bus down to Belmont in Chicago and then take a street cars to Riverview. They would go on 2 cent rides day. He worked for Downtown Shopping News delivering flyers and they’d have free days at Riverview for the delivery boys. He started work at age 14 or 15.

Ralph heard about the war on the radio. News video was only in newsreels in the movie theaters.

His brother was drafted soon after in ‘42 and received 5 battle stars in New Guinea. His brother worked in supply and had a terrible time with the swampy environment. They hadt 55 gallon drums would sink like quicksand in the earth.

The war impacted in many ways even small. His father had a 1928 LaSalle. The government allowed only one spare tire. His father had his excess tires confiscated. The war severely affected everything. There were blackouts and there were several simulated bombings where Park Ridge was “bombed” with paper bombs to measure accuracy.

His father had an A ration card – which was the lowest allocation card. Eventually he received more since he was a volunteer fireman and they were allocated some gas so they could get to fires. Very little gas was provided. Ralph eventually had a B card because he worked at a defense plant on Meacham – the Busse/Buick garage. ½ of the the dealer was for auto repair, ½ was for the defense plant. He made $.35-$.40 per hour. They packed tool kits for the Army Signal Corps or Navy. They packed 320 lb crates and had to load them onto railroad cars at the Hines lumber yard.

Mr Bredeman Sr. owned it and Ralph was friends with Joe Bredeman Junior who also worked assembling kits.They worked long days and that interfered with any other outside activities. One time he was supposed to play in a softball game at night. Mr. Bredemenan wouldn’t let them leave – they had to load a boxcar by the next morning so they worked through the night loading it.

There was a second defense plant American Totalizer on Touhy that many girls worked at.

Food rationing – meat, grease was rationed. Also shoes were rationed. Shoes had to be pretty worn out before they were eligible to get new ones. They had gardens on the side of the house and also had gardens on across the street North of Stewart. 100 feet by 100 feet garden. Had beets carrots parsley corn. His Mom had vegetabale gardens. Most vacant property was made into victory gardens.

Ralph would hunt where today’s Washington school is. He bagged his first pheasant where the principals office is today. Most of area west of Western ave to Home was Praire. He also shot one rabbit but his Mother had no idea of how to cook it so he didn;t hunt them again. He hunted many squirrels.

Ralph wasn’t allowed to dance. His mother didn’t believe in dancing. He did have a girlfriend from Edison Park. Dating was going to the movies and going to Bangs Lake to the beach on the weekend as well as Riverview and hang out. He double dated a lot.

He had a lot of fun with cars. He had a 33 Graham and rigged it so that it would shock anyone who touched it. He tested it by turning it on and then he touched the chrome bumper. The shock threw him across the floor. He visited his friend Fred Halberg who touched his the door handle and went “yeow” He also put a smoke screen device on his car. He put a kerosene can underneath his seat that led to the engine. He would turn the switch and the kerosene would make a huge cloud. One day at the parking lot at high school and he showed his friend the device. His friend turned it on and a big cloud of smoke started. They drove off onto Dempster and couldn’t turn off the device. The smoke was so bad traffic was stopped. Finally the pulled over and managed to turn it off.

He remembers the German POW camp which was a former CCW camp in the forest preserve. He did not see any of the prisoners. His friend Frank Pesces family had numerous prisoners working for him.

He remembered an assembly at High School for Paul Fleisher who died in the war and was either in class of ‘43 or ‘44. He had played ball with him.

War bonds. The principal at Maine High School challenged the class to raise $300,000 to “buy” a C54. If they raised more than $400,000 the plane could be named. He said that the sale was not hard because people were making good money but there was nothing to spend it on.

He was not able to sell them. because he had to work long hours at the defense plant. His days were long. He went to school at 8AM and left school. Gym, woodshop 2, metalshop 3, Mechanical drawing 1. In woodshop he made a bed, chest of drawers, gun rack. After school he went directly to work and worked until 7PM. He later switched to working at Contour Saw. He made band saws. During shifts they insisted on people taking vitamins. They would stop the production line and hand out vitamins and watch you as you swallowed them.

On VE day he went to celebrate, he and a friend went to lake Wauconda to go fishing.

He tried to enlist in May 1945 but was turned down. He was subsequently drafted in October 1945.

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Anita Stewart’s recollection of growing up in the 1940s provides a detailed description of the large victory garden she and her father cultivated. It was located on farmland at Harlem and Higgins, across from her house at 5246 Harlem Avenue in Chicago. In addition to the usual items one would expect in a garden, Anita’s father was well known for the cantaloupe he grew.

By 1944, her family moved to Des Plaines at which time she transferred from Taft to Maine High School. During the mid 1940s, her dad, a WWI veteran, worked at the Douglas Aircraft Company and her mother…

worked at a savings and loan. While attending Maine High School, Anita’s social life was busy with roller skating, working at an ice cream parlor, and traveling to Lake Wauconda, Lake Zurich and Lake Geneva.

Although she was very young at the time, Anita recalls her family sitting in front of the radio when Roosevelt announced the country was at war. Her cousins soon enlisted in the service. Before leaving for the Army, her teenage cousins hitchhiked from Eugene, Oregon to see their relatives in Des Plaines. Closer to home, Anita’s high school classmates helped farmers harvest crops that would have been harvested by men who enlisted in the service. Although food and gas were rationed, the ample fruits and vegetables grown at the family’s victory garden produced more than enough food for the family. Anita’s vivid recollection of a “calamity” at Prince Castle in Des Plaines paints a hilarious picture of teenagers operating a malt machine.

Upon returning from the service, Anita’s cousins and friends went on with their lives, many of them going to college. Anita remains in contact with friends she made while at Maine High School.