I was five years old, a Kindergarten student, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Naturally, at that age, I had no idea what that meant. As the days, weeks, and months went past, young and old received lessons every day in the meaning of war and the obscene way the young men of our town were called up and then sometimes returned home in caskets to their broken-hearted parents and friends and neighbors. We all learned about the rationing of food and gasoline and bubble gum and about War Bonds and rallies and restrictions of many kinds. As the men went off to war, the women took their places in the factories, war plants, and farms and churned out the goods we needed to support our servicemen and our country.
We all wanted to contribute to the war effort in any way we could and one of the most interesting ways for a kid to do that was to watch out for enemy aircraft. This may sound strange, considering that we lived in Kansas which is located right in the middle of our country. The Japanese flew in and bombed Pearl Harbor and the Germans were shooting rockets and buzz bombs at England so we didn’t know what they would be capable of doing next. Our enemies could possibly build secret air bases in Mexico or Canada or could launch carrier strikes from the Atlantic or Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico. We all had black curtains temporarily installed over each window in the house so that when the Civil Defense people conducted black-out drills as part of practice air raid drills we could take cover in our homes and be sure that no lights would give away the location of our town.
We kids were all excited about learning to identify all the aircraft in the skies so that we could sound the alarm in case of attack. The greatest aid in this endeavor was the pack of Aircraft Spotter Cards which were manufactured by the people who make Bicycle Playing Cards. These cards could be used as playing cards but their other purpose, and most important to our point of view, was to help identify the military aircraft of friend and foe. We learned to identify the P-40, the P-38 Lightning, the B-25, and the P-51 Mustang as well as the Jap Zero and the German Messerschmitt. It was comforting as well as fun to know these airplanes. As I said, we lived in Kansas but we were only 15 miles from Wichita, the location of an air base and the Boeing, Cessna, and Beech aircraft plants. For all we knew the enemy was liable to make a bombing run on those places at any time. We didn’t go around wringing our hands and crying out of fear but our resolve to be alert and prepared was great.
November 27, 2008