Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

Memorial Day 2007 - a time proper for remembering the great sacrifices of American veterans who served in battle and, in the opinion of this writer, remembering the massive efforts in Belleville on the home front during WWII. While generalizing about servicemen from all times is a legitimate way to commemorate the day, I believe that narrowing the focus to specific events helps to make it more real. In this essay I want to put you on the streets of town in the early days of WWII to let you look about and see what is going on . . .

It is June 6, 1942. It has been barely 6 months since Pearl Harbor. The nation is at war, New Jersey is at war, Belleville is at war. The war has just become more personal here. The first war casualty from Belleville in an enemy attack had occurred two weeks earlier and was announced in this week’s paper. Harry Fredricks, Jr., 26-year-old naval gunnery crew chief was lost when his ship was sunk by a German U-Boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Another member of his crew, a 17-year-old gunner, was lost when he refused to abandon ship, but stayed at his gun, firing back at the submarine. It was said to be the first time one of our ships was able to return fire on a U-Boat prowling in the gulf.

The Jensen family of Continental Avenue held a picnic – hot dog roast as a send-off party for their son who was leaving to enter the Army Air Corp. The Gimbel family of Joralemon Street were bidding farewell to their son, a BHS graduate, who was returning to the Air Corp after a ten day furlough. The Kants family of Cortlandt Street have just returned from visiting their son, an Army Sargent stationed at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. The DiLeo family of William Street has a son attending Air Corp Officer Training school where the professional abilities of young men were being re-directed to the war effort. The young man had been an attorney for the past 13 years. Spencer Jones, son of the famed Belleville architect, has enlisted in the Army and is now at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.

The Belleville Defense Council Committee Meetings schedule was just announced. There were 16 sub-committees covering every aspect of the town’s defense and home front contribution including; Defense Council, Police Reserves, Fire Reserves, Vulnerability, Public Relations and Education, Transportation and Evacuation, Health and First Aid, Supplies, Demolition – Rescue and Repairs, Communications, Air Raid Precautions, Decontamination, Consumer Interest, Fair Rents, General Commodities, Salvage

Belleville’s Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, already much involved in the war effort, had collected thousands of tin cans from town households for which they were commended by the Belleville Defense Council salvage committee. It was noted that the material contained in 800 cans is enough to provide soldering for an entire bomber.

The Food Fair grocery store at 524 Washington Avenue was, in its weekly ad, encouraging patrons to shop together to save on gas rationing coupons. The Peoples National Bank of 237 Washington Avenue – opposite the Post Office (that’s the old Post Office) is encouraging patrons to pay bills by check to cut down on using gas ration points used in driving to offices where bills are customarily paid in person. New Jersey Bell Telephone was announcing that by order of the War Production Board, manufacturing of telephone equipment was suspended in favor of production of war materials

There were those whose advertising seemed a bit more self serving in what appeared to be attempts to cash-in on the enormous outpouring of patriotism and the general fears about war. A lumber company on Cortlandt street advertised “durability for the crisis”, home remodeling “to strengthen your home for national defense. Call us for estimates”
Acme Supermarket is encouraging customers to “help win the war” by using their own shopping bags to conserve paper. Materials for extinguishing incendiary bombs and fires were being sold at a local store at 60 cents for a five-pound bag.

The U. S. Navy was advertising for enlistments of men, ages 17 to 50, with construction experience. Enlistment period was for the duration of the war.

The Belleville Defense Council was seeking nurses aides to relieve registered nurses from mundane duties and place them at the disposal of the Defense Council.

Seven students from Belleville have just completed Defense Engineering courses at Newark College of Engineering.

The consolidation of Belleville’s and Nutley’s Rationing Boards, disapproved by both towns, would go forward in the interest of co-operation with the Federal government.

The meeting of the American Legion Post at the recreation house was cancelled due to a surprise blackout.

Citizens were asked to keep noise levels down during the day so that defense workers on late night shifts could sleep during the day.

Everyone, absolutely everyone was on a war footing. It has not happened this way, with this level of total involvement since then. Isn’t it nice that our kids didn’t have to grow up in such a threatening environment? Perhaps we should thank American war veterans for that.


For additional information on Harry Fredricks, Jr., first of Belleville's sons to be killed in the war, visit the page dedicated to him at the BELLEVILLE SONS HONOR ROLL site: