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Story ID:9567
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Period Piece
Location:Osaka Japan
Person:Fred and Tae
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By Fred Wickert

With the recent passing of my wife, Tae I was reminded of memories of WWII and the stark difference between her memories and mine.

I was a boy on a farm a half mile outside of Syracuse, New York. I remember well the Sunday morning near Christmas when it came over the radio the bombing by the Japanese of Pearl Harbor. I remember the massive buildup of troops and the rapid conversion of peace time factories into factories building war material.

I remember the government giving my Dad a choice. He could accept a Majors commission and go to Alabama in the Army as an instructor, or he could work in a war factory but he must do one or the other. Mom wanted him to take the factory job. He first worked at Easy Washing Machine Company as an inspector. There he was appalled at the waste. Only three out of every 100 machine gun barrels were passing inspection. He came up with an idea the company adopted which reversed it so that only three out of 100 barrels failed to pass inspection.

After some time he was told to leave Easy Washer to become night superintendent of the factory at Doyle manufacturing Co. There the workers on the midnight shift fondly called him the Slave Driver. No goofing off was permitted on his shift. Full efficiency and work capacity was achieved under him. While working there, there was a problem with air dropped torpedoes. Two out of three were failing to explode when they hit their target. Dad came up with an idea that improved them so much they achieved an almost 100% efficiency. The fuses in the nose were defective and he made them work.

Dad had an engineer that worked closely with him and they discussed many problems together and came up with many solutions. They were making starter motors for bombers. I donít recall which bomber it was but the motors were burning up after starting the engines from one to three times. The engineer that worked with him, a man named Jim Moran, came up with a solution. The motors had to be very light weight. He came up with an idea to make the motors out of a lighter alloy with far more strength and heat resistance which resulted in the starter motors for the bombers being able to start the engines up to 100 times without being replaced.

I remember for the war effort going from door to door collecting old keys to be melted down to make brass for shell casings and collecting milkweed pods to make kapok for life preservers and life jackets. We also collected aluminum foil because aluminum had a high demand for aircraft bodies.

Butter, tires, gasoline, cigarettes, soap and many other items were rationed. There were ration books and ration stamps and there were air raids in which a warden came around to chastise you if any light crept out from behind your window shades for air raids required blackouts. No one was to allow light to show.

My wife Tae had different kinds of memories. She was Japanese and lived in the city of Osaka, Japan. Her mother was somewhat well off as she owned three or four houses and a couple of small stores that sold a variety of goods. She operated one of the stores herself and hired people to run the other store. During bomb raids they lost the houses one by one and they lost one of the stores.

Tae was 13 or 14 years of age. There was an old woman who lived in the house next door that Tae spent a lot of time with. The old woman was like a grandmother to her. Standard procedure was that when an air raid was coming a loud siren went off. There were underground air raid shelters. People packed suit cases with clothes and precious keep sakes. When there was an air raid they grabbed the suit cases and ran for the shelters. The reason for the suit cases was that when the raid was over, no one knew for sure if they would have a home left to return to, but they would at least have some clothes.

On one occasion the woman next door that was like a grandmother to Tae was running towards the shelter and carrying two suit cases with her. She had one in each hand and was calling to Tae to hurry. Tae was running about 30 feet behind her and trying to catch up. A dive bomber swooped down low and was strafing as it went. The old woman was hit and fell dead right in front of Tae but Tae was not hit. There was nothing she could do so she left the woman and ran on to the shelter.

Food was scarce and there were shortages of everything. Day after day trucks arrived at a central area carrying whatever food was available. Sometimes it was rice, sometimes beans, sometimes bread, sometimes potatoís and sometimes turnips. People stood in long lines with pans or bowls to get a share of whatever was available. Food was doled out to each person an equal amount as far as was possible. Whoever were the last half dozen people in line, went away empty handed as the food ran out before the line of people did. Tae remembered many times that her parents went hungry so that Tae and her baby sister could have enough to eat.

Taeís school education was abruptly stopped and she had to go to work, first in a medicine factory and shortly before the end of the war, in an envelope factory. Her job in both factories was to make announcements over the PA system and to run errands, or make deliveries.

Finally, having lost their last house to live in from one of the last bomb raids of the war, her mother took her to visit an aunt near Hokaido by train where she stayed for a few months until new housing could be arranged. While on that train trip Tae had vivid memories of the train passing through the outer edge of what had been Hiroshima and seeing the devastation resulting from the atomic bomb that fell there.

I am quite happy to have my memories of World War two rather than hers and I would not want to trade my memories for hers for anything in the world. How lucky I was not to have to endure what she did.

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