Times Past

World War II meant everyone was enlisted

"Camp San Luis was in full swing, and the explosions from the practice there with big guns was often loud enough to cause our house on Phillips Lane to shake lightly.

“My mother striped the windows in a checkered pattern with adhesive tape to help keep the glass from flying in on us if we were bombed. She tried to get the school to do the same, as the windows almost reached the ceiling. I don’t remember if this was done, but they did have us practice diving under our desks and covering our heads.”

These recollections of Eunice Fish Pierce come from when she was 9 years old. That year, America entered the second World War.

The sleepy coastal towns in the area had been transformed in less than two years with the construction of three of the largest military training bases in the United States: Camp Cooke, now Vandenberg Air Force Base, Camp San Luis in the Chorro Valley and Camp Roberts north of Paso Robles.

All Americans were aware of the fact that the Pacific Fleet had been crippled at Pearl Harbor. The bad news of the fall of the Philippine Islands was still to come.

For the moment, people were just trying to make do.

“Everyone had to install blackout shades, and when ‘Ferdinand,’ the fire horn on the City Hall tower, bellowed an air raid drill, all the shades were drawn and all lights were turned out. A volunteer team of block wardens went from house to house to make sure that this was done.

“One night, my sister and I were alone during an air raid drill (we never knew if it was real), and we were frightened and lit a small candle. Only a few minutes went by when there was a knock on the door, and instructions were given to douse the candle. We were impressed that the candlelight would show at all.

“We started our Victory Garden, and we kids were included in the gardening tasks. A cannery was set up in the San Luis High School cafeteria. One week would be designated for the canning of peaches, another for string beans and so on.

“Families would take their produce there and work their way through an assembly line, first washing and paring, then cooking in very large pots and finally canning.

“This was a mechanized system complete with metal cans that were sealed properly. Mothers and children worked side by side.

“Everyone became involved in civil defense. My mother worked as a volunteer plane spotter, standing watch at night, scanning the skies for enemy planes.

“We made all sizes of bandages at the Red Cross center. We also collected silk hose for the making of parachutes along with tin cans, aluminum, bacon grease, scrap rubber and odds and ends of metal.

“Because of the shortage of silk hose, some of the older girls would paint their legs and draw lines down the back of them with mascara pencils to make it look as though they were wearing hose.

“It was a scary time, but there was a strong feeling of unity as everyone seemed involved in the war effort and the need for mutual support.”

Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, the real fear of war still had not fully struck home.

On Dec. 21, a 350-foot-long type B-1 Japanese fleet submarine approached the Central Coast.

To be continued.

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association.