Theodore Van Kirk, the navigator for the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died in July.
His death is a benchmark in the cycle of war that began in August 1914.
The onset of World War II, like the war that began in 1914, brought considerable prosperity to our region. The construction of Camps Roberts, San Luis Obispo and Cooke (now Vandenberg AFB) transformed a Depression-ridden farm and ranch economy.
By December 1941, many county residents enjoyed full pay envelopes for a change. War bonds offered an opportunity to painlessly put away some of that pay at a decent rate of interest backed by the security of the federal government.
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But then the real war came home with a bang. The sinking of the Union Oil tanker S.S. Montebello off Cambria in the wee hours of Dec. 23, 1941 escalated fears over the vulnerability of West Coast defenses.
A thousand America-loving people of Japanese descent were forced to move from this county.
There was a more stringent imposition of rationing. San Luis Obispo’s families had money, but not a whole lot that they could spend it on.
There was the never-ending geography lesson: North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and the Liri Valley; a whole series of Pacific operations from Adak and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians to the Coral Sea, Midway and Gen. MacArthur’s seemingly perpetual island hopping; D-Day, the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge.
There were the bitter sweet farewells to lovers, friends and family members in the military at bus and railroad stations.
There was the sense of foreboding as the telegraph delivery boy rode his bicycle toward your home. And the compassion of neighbors as you read the message from the Secretary of War: Your son, husband, brother or sister was missing in action.
When would the war finally end?
The Nazi surrender, VE Day, in May 1945 marked the beginning of the end. But the war was getting old fast. Throughout the month of July 1945 the Telegram-Tribune was predicting that county restaurants would have to close because of shortages of staples like coffee.
Since mid-1944, ice cream had no longer been available to civilians at the Golden State Dairy where the Creamery is now on Higuera.
You could get by with delicious lime sherbet. Real ice cream was reserved for the men and women in uniform.
Readers of Times Past who are my age or older may recall how Clifford Clinton, the owner of Los Angeles’ famed and much missed Clifton Cafeterias, gave free little paper cups of lime sherbet. The practice continued into the 1950s. Mr. Clinton told my grandfather it was a tribute to the public that made do with rationing in the last years of the Second World War.
By Aug. 2, the paper reported that all of the public restaurants in the Sierra town of Auburn were forced to close.
There was “Not a cup of coffee for 40 miles around.” Auburn residents had restored a Depression-era type soup line to meet the nutritional needs of travelers and workers away from home.
The Tribune warned that “‘Filet of Red Kidney Beans’ and ‘Sirloin of Macaroni’ may be the nearest resemblance to meat that local restaurant goers will find here . . .”
The reason for the shortage was the buildup for “Operation Olympic,” the planned invasion of the southern Japanese home island of Kyushu scheduled for November 1945. The United State War Department estimated that invasion might involve as many as 250,000 American casualties.
To be continued.