WWII: SACRIFICE, SWEAT, SERVICE

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Women riveting a turret at the Navy Yard's aircraft factory in 1943. Workers saw more cash than ever before, but rationing meant fewer ways to spend it.

It was a slow news day at The Inquirer's tall white building on North Broad Street. The banner headline that morning had said, "Roosevelt Sends Personal Note to Emperor in 'Final Effort' to Avert War With Japan." But the only thing going on was the Eagles' game against the Redskins, and that was in Washington.

At 2:22 p.m., the Associated Press clacked out: "Flash! White House says Japs attack Pearl Harbor."

America suddenly was thrust into World War II.

For Philadelphia, the nation's third-largest city with a population of 1.9 million, the war would mean an industrial revival - a temporary return to its claim of being the "Workshop of the World."

A manufacturing base that had languished through the Depression with acres of tired, dead factories would be resurrected by millions of dollars in defense spending.

Philadelphia would turn out light tanks and bazookas, radio equipment and gun turrets, and bullets by the billions. Seven shipyards on both sides of the Delaware would labor overtime. So many workers would be needed, boardinghouses would rent rooms by the shift.

Philadelphians would also fight and die abroad.

When the war was over, Mayor Bernard Samuel would speak of the work and sacrifice in these terms:

"The city of Philadelphia has paid a heavy price for victory. More than 5,000 of our servicemen and women have given their all in defense of American ideals. Nearly 30,000 have suffered wounds on the battlefield. Homes have been broken up and family life disrupted. Great financial sacrifices have been made."

All that was yet to unfold on the war's first afternoon, when The Inquirer dispatched reporters to do man-on-the-street interviews.

Cab driver Herman Einhorn, 31, of Porter Street, spoke for many when he said: "Japan got in the first blow. Now we should make every effort to defeat them quickly."

 

Al Schmid's heroism

Eight months after Pearl Harbor, Marine Corps Pvt. Al Schmid, of Tulip and Hellerman Streets, was squatting in a machine-gun pit on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal.

American troops had surrendered in the Philippines. German subs were sinking merchant ships off New Jersey. The Marines on Guadalcanal were the first U.S. troops to have invaded any foreign shore during the war.

America desperately needed heroes, and Schmid was soon to become one.

The former factory worker was 21 and had never been far from Philadelphia before.

Now, on Aug. 20, 1942, Schmid was waiting for the Japanese to begin an assault across the Tenaru River.

When the Japanese opened their attack, the two men with Schmid were hit. He took over the machine gun and kept on firing, alone, for hours, until a Japanese hand grenade exploded in his face.

Schmid was blinded. But he had stopped the assault in his sector. The Marines counted about 200 dead Japanese in front of his gun.

Word of Schmid's efforts filtered through the Marine Corps as he was promoted to corporal, then to sergeant, while hospitalized. His exploits came out in Life magazine on March 22, 1943.

The story was then jumped on, big time, by Schmid's hometown papers. On April 10, The Inquirer sponsored a "hero parade" for Schmid, and thousands of cheering Philadelphians turned out.

The newspaper presented Schmid with a gold medal and a $1,000 check. It called the event "one of the most heartfelt tributes ever paid a man for extraordinary service to his country."

 

Anxious crowds

On the home front, the reborn factories and shipyards were going nonstop.

The bustling wartime economy was good for most local businesses, including the city's four daily newspapers: the Evening Bulletin, the Record, the Daily News, and The Inquirer.

The Inquirer, by war's end, was selling 1.1 million Sunday papers (at 12 cents apiece), and 547,000 papers (at 3 cents each) on weekdays.

With overtime and six-day weeks, workers saw more cash than ever before - with fewer ways to spend it. Gasoline and tires were rationed. So were coffee, sugar, and many other foodstuffs. Women could not find stockings to buy.

Philadelphians put up with the small sacrifices the war required. Only when red meat was to be rationed did people lose their patience.

On March 26, 1943, a few days before meat rationing was to go into effect, 1,000 people crowded outside the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Germantown an hour before it opened. Police had to keep order as customers jostled for the last scraps of beef and pork.

Come March 29, the start of actual rationing, the fridge was already bare. An Inquirer headline read: "Meat Ration Opened With No Meat Here."

One pleasure that persisted was going to a ball game. But even that experience was not immune from war jitters.

On June 23, 1943, as 8,000 fans sat in Shibe Park watching the Athletics play the Boston Red Sox, the dull roar of heavy bombing planes could be heard approaching from the south.

Air sirens went off, and the entire city quickly turned out the lights, plunging the stadium into darkness.

After a little while, the fans learned that it was an air-raid drill - the biggest civil defense exercise of the war, according to The Inquirer.

 

A strike at home

By midsummer 1944, Rome had been captured. Since the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, almost one million men had landed in France. U.S. forces were advancing in the Pacific.

More than ever, industry needed to work at top speed.

Then came Philadelphia's great embarrassment of the war, a stain still remembered in the history of civil rights. On Aug. 1, the city's all-white transit operators walked off the job to protest the hiring of eight black men as trolley drivers.

Within hours, plants and shipyards felt the impact of absent workers.

There was fear of violence. At 3 p.m., Samuel ordered bars closed. The Phillies game was canceled, "to avoid the dangers incident to the assembly of any large crowd," as The Inquirer reported it.

Maj. Gen. Philip Hayes of the Army's Third Service Command appealed to the strikers to go back to work.

"Production of radar equipment, heavy artillery, heavy trucks, incendiary bombs, flamethrowers, and many other critical items needed by our fighting men is being held up because of the inability of Philadelphia war workers to get to their factories and workbenches," he said in a statement published in the papers.

But the strikers wouldn't budge. The Inquirer excoriated their action, not so much for its racism as for its lack of patriotism.

On the third night of the walkout, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Army to take control of the Philadelphia Transportation Co.'s 1,932 streetcars, 564 buses, and 59 trackless trolleys, plus the Broad Street Subway and Market-Frankford El.

Five thousand troops on their way to France were rerouted to Philadelphia. Three thousand others from Camp Pickett, Va., were called in.

Fifty years later, in 1994, William Barber of Southwest Philadelphia, one of the eight black drivers, could still remember his astonishment at what had happened.

The transit workers had been striking, Barber recalled, "because of me."

 

Roosevelt mourned

In 1945, Roosevelt was in his fourth term and had been in the White House for more than 12 years, guiding his country through the Depression and to within 31/2 weeks of German surrender.

Reporting his death from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, fell to William C. Murphy Jr., of The Inquirer's Washington Bureau.

"President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died today and Vice President Harry S. Truman succeeded to the office of Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Nation at war," he wrote.

FDR had been president since 1933. His had been the confident, jaunty voice in radio "fireside chats" that had lifted American spirits during the Depression. He had voiced his country's anger after Pearl Harbor and had prayed with the nation on D-Day. And now, so close to victory, he was gone.

The anguish, here and nationally, almost pushed the war out of the newspapers.

At 2 a.m. April 15, when Roosevelt's funeral train passed through Philadelphia en route to his family home in Hyde Park, N.Y., tens of thousands of mourners lined the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks along the way.

At 30th Street, 5,000 people waited to glimpse the train as it rolled through. For safety, police closed the stairway to the platform.

"But still they came," The Inquirer wrote, "tumbling off trolley cars which halted in front of the Market Street entrance, alighting from automobile after automobile in the driveway to the west, and converging upon the terminal on foot."

Like Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt seemed a martyr. The war, which had broken so many, had broken him, too.

 

Tolls large, and small

For more than three years, one of the biggest stories of World War II had been taking place in complete secret.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the White House announced that the United States had exploded an atomic bomb. Inquirer reporter John C. O'Brien in Washington struggled to make sense of the little information given to the press.

"Called the greatest achievement of organized science," O'Brien wrote, "the explosive crashed with annihilating force Sunday on Hiroshima, Japan."

Three days later would come word that a second atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki.

The war was almost, almost, over. But the suffering would go on for a while.

The day it reported the Hiroshima attack, The Inquirer carried the news that two more local sailors had been killed in the fighting and that 18 others had been wounded.

The dead were Ira Bertram Malaby Jr., a radarman second class from Ruscom Street, and Jake Albert Vahey, a fire controlman third class from South Wilton Street. Each was given three lines on Page One.

After so much war, death was almost routine.

 

'Triumphant crescendo'

At 7 p.m., after a day of rumors, Truman made the announcement. Japan had quit.

It was Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945. William C. Farson, a rewrite man for The Inquirer, pulled together a rather florid lead local story for the morning paper.

"Philadelphia gave vent to its elation over Japan's surrender last night with the wildest, noisiest, most joyous celebration this old city has ever seen," he wrote.

"Around City Hall, the tumult was terrifying in its intensity, women and girls clutched at their throats, as if in fright, as the voices of countless thousands rose in a great, triumphant crescendo and echoed in what seemed still greater volume from the walls of the tall mid-city structures. Girls and servicemen hugged and kissed each other - and danced."

The Inquirer itself fired off round after round from several small cannons anchored on its clock tower.

"The blast reverberated throughout mid-town Philadelphia," the newspaper seemed to boast. "The accompanying bright flashes from the guns' muzzles lent a pyrotechnic note to the tumultuous N. Broad st. scene."

Peace, as well as war, had its casualties.

In Montgomery County, Abington Fire Marshal Walter Cox collapsed and died while shooting off a pistol at his house, The Inquirer reported.

And in Delaware County, John A. Ferges, 69, of Media, was accidentally shot and killed during an impromptu parade outside the State Street armory.

If the celebration could not be contained, neither could the change coming in Philadelphia and in America.

Newspapers, The Inquirer included, were accustomed to breaking news that came from the police beat or City Hall. In years ahead, the papers would have to learn to cover bigger, more complex stories that, as an Inquirer editor one day would put it, did not break but oozed.

These would include the resuming decline for old industries, but also the growth of a new pharmaceutical industry; the death of shipyards, but also the birth of Boeing helicopters; the deterioration of old neighborhoods, but the spreading of vast suburbs.

For two days after the surrender, with government offices and department stores closed, Philadelphia partied.

That Friday came the hangover. Said The Inquirer: "Weary and worn after its victory celebration, Philadelphia goes back to work today."

 


Contact staff writer Tom Infield

at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.