My Dad was a Dr at the hospital 1943-1944.
This is an excerpt from my "Musings". I was 11 when my Dad went to Sampson in 1943.
Some of it does not apply to Sampson, but it reflects my memories as a young boy.
by Joe Witt Colfax. NC
THE WAR YEARS
December 7th, 1941, was a most eventful day. I was at Bobby Holmes' house and around 6pm or so his brother, John, came into the bedroom and asked how we would like to be at war with the Japs. We said, sure. I was 9 years old at the time.
As kids, we did not really know what to expect except that we knew that the Germans and Japs were the bad guys and we could understand that.
Oneida Street was a main street and I remember there would be occasional movements of military vehicles and soldiers on their way to an army camp (Camp Drum?) north of Utica. I knew where I was going to hide in my attic in case there were any Germans around. Dad was an air raid warden for our block. He had an arm band with a round "CD" [civil defense] on it. When air raid sirens sounded everyone had to put out all their light and pull their drapes shut. This was called a "blackout". No cigarette smoking was allowed because the lights might be seen by enemy aircraft.
Rationing of many things went into effect. Gas was rationed and you had to have a sticker on your car which indicated how much gas you were entitled to. Dad, because he was a doctor, had an "A" sticker. Gas was about 5 gallons for $1.00.
Meat was rationed, too. We had stamps and tokens made from pressed wood. I used to go to the meat counter at Loblaw's grocery and look for tokens which ladies had dropped carelessly into the sawdust at the foot of the counter. Various foods were assigned points, so, if you had the money and not enough points - too bad. We used Karo syrup on our cereal instead of sugar. We used white oleomargarine as a substitute for butter. It came with a little package of yellow coloring agent. You mixed it with the oleo to make it look like butter. Nylon stockings were quite scarce. Men's underwear was scarce; some wives bought oversize panties for their husbands. There were shoe coupons if you were lucky. We heard many stories of the "black market" where people cheated and sold ill-gotten goods at very high prices.
We had a very bad winter in 1944. Coal could not be shipped in by railroad. Consequently we had "brownouts" where almost all outdoor lighting was forbidden.
When we speak of war breaking out, we really refer to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However, WWII had already begun in 1939 in Europe with Germany invading many of its neighboring countries. The US was an ally at that time.
Anyway, young men rushed to enlist in the various services. USO [United Service Organization] canteens sprung up everywhere to furnish a place of entertainment for our men. Movie stars often volunteered their services. The Draft began and you had to register when you became 18 years old. Dad, [Dr. Joseph J. Witt] being very patriotic, at the age of 37, decided he would volunteer and he went into the Navy as a doctor [Lieutenant Commander] in the Medical Corps.
He left his family in June, 1943, and reported to Sampson Naval Base on Seneca Lake, NY. I went to Syracuse with him to get his uniform. He bought me a baseball bat.
In 1943 and 1944 we were able to join him at a rented cottage right on the lake and it was 2 miles from the North Gate. We had tied my bike to the running board with rope. I often pedaled to the gate and chatted with the sailors. One day I was not looking at the road very carefully and I ran over a big water moccasin snake. I still feel the shivers that ran through me.
There was a farmer nearby and Dad bought a chicken. Mom had to take the feathers off before cooking it. What a smell.
Next door was Dr. Thurston's family. His son, Fred, and I played together. I learned that he lost an eye fooling around with fireworks. I think they were from Syracuse.
Sampson had a football and baseball team. Johnny Vander Meer was there and so was Willie Pep the boxer. I got their autographs. Johnny was the only major league pitcher to throw two perfect games back to back.
Speaking of autographs, I was on an autograph "kick". I bought an autograph book and I tried to get as many as I could. I got a lot from the Sailors at the naval station. I even got the commanding officer's autograph. Then, I would write to people. Walt Disney sent me his on a nice little white card. Thomas E. Dewey, Governor of New York, sent me a nice letter. One of the best was from General Douglas MacArthur who was in charge of the Pacific was against Japan. He autographed my letter and sent it back to me. Edward Stetinnius, our first ambassador to the UN sent one; but President Truman did not. Dad sent me autographs of the officers on his ship. Also, General "IKE" Eisenhower sent me his.
One sailor wrote on the inside back cover "By hook or by crook, I'll be the last in your book". Dad wrote me a quote from the bible [I Corinthians, I think] "Every man should try to be a better father to his children than his father was to him".
One day the family took a tour of the base. There was a huge gym-like area which was used for anti-aircraft gun practice. There was a very large screen which showed different pictures of a sky. You were supposed to look at it and detect an enemy aircraft. Then, you sat at the aircraft gun [20mm] and fired away at it [blanks]. They could tell whether or not you were hitting it. Mom did the best of anyone.
That fall, I won a PTA essay contest on how I spent my summer vacation. Most of it had to do with my experiences at the camp we rented and at the base while Dad was at Sampson.
I joined the Boy Scouts in 1944. I belonged to troop 24 at Plymouth Congregational Church on Oneida Square - about ½ mile from our house. They had a gym and a bowling alley where I learned to bowl.
We had scrap drives and paper drives. At specified times we would go around in trucks collecting the materials and taking them to the scrap yard. Paper drives ere more fun because you could sit on the piles of paper during the truck ride. I often walked along street gutters looking for cigarette packages. They were lined with tin foil to keep them fresh. I stripped the paper away and rolled all the foil into a ball which I would take to school to contribute to the war effort.
We also had war bond drives. I would go from house to house as did other members of my troop persuading people to buy a bond. Did pretty well. At school we had War Stamps books. A stamp cost 25 cents. When we got a full book, $18.75, we got a $25 War Bond.
Once in a while Mom would join other volunteer ladies and roll bandages at Rhoads hospital in Utica. I think the bandages were sent overseas.
The music on the radio then was full of patriotic songs. [Ven der Fuhrer, i.e.Hitler, said ve is der master race, we would heil, heil right in der Fuhrer's face] There were war films and every time you went to the movies there was a newsreel showing real pictures from the war zones. Of course, we were always winning everything. Wallace Beery and John Wayne won the Pacific war all by themselves. There was no TV; only radio.
The railroad station was a very busy spot with soldiers and sailors coming and going. Many times troop trains would pull through Utica. The windows were down and the troops were waving. People would go down to cheer them on.
In the summer of 1944 Dad got his orders. He left a tearful family on July 21. He took a train to San Francisco and then boarded the USS Rochambeau AP 63, a troop transport ship. It was built by the French in 1933 as a passenger ship!