JCHA NEWSLETTER –APRIL 2011

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Jefferson County Historical Association Seal

JEFFERSON COUNTY HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
NEWSLETTER

Send your memories to:
Robert R. Kracke
2204 Lakeshore Drive, Suite 206
Birmingham, AL 35209
Or
rkracke@ktlegal.com

Remembering Fred Jackson

One of our most treasured members, Fred Mitchell Jackson III, passed away at age 89 on February 5, 2011. Fred was our treasurer for many years and served multiple terms as president.

Fred was a very special guy who loved history and loved this organization. Fred had a knack for use of the microphone and his treasurer’s reports were always a treat and he really knew how to thank each and every person who had done something helpful. With non-profits you get non-salaries and thanking volunteers is extremely important. Fred knew how to do it and he set an example for others to follow.

Fred hailed from one of Birmingham’s most important pioneer families who were involved in banking, savings and loan, mortgages, hotels, insurance, real estate development and Fred’s personal area which was heading up a large mattress manufacturing facility in West Homewood.

In another event our Historical Association played cupid! Fred did not know Madge Barefield well until she was elected to our Board and that event evolved into their marriage. Fred as president and author Madge were a match made in heaven and Fred would say that his time with Madge was the happiest time of his life. Madge unfortunately predeceased Fred.

We shall all miss Fred Jackson. His commitment to our Jefferson County Historical Association will be long remembered.

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Memories of 1941-1945 From a Young Child of That Era

The writer for this little sketch is Mary Alice Beatty Carmichael. These are some of my recollections, as a child, of the Second World War, "WW II", written in March 2011.

As an introductory note, during this entire period of World War II that I recall, it seemed as though every 6 months or so our family returned to Birmingham where both sets of my grandparents lived. Usually it was Mother with "the children" ... my sister Madelyn, me, and my brother Don Beatty, Jr. My memories, as a child, sometimes confuse exactly where these events occurred.

I was born in Colón, Republic of Panama at the end of 1936. By June 1939 our family had moved from Panama to California when Dad (Donald Croom Beatty, Sr.) was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be Senior Air Safety Investigator of the recently formed three member Board of the Air Safety Board of the Civil Aeronautics Authority. He had been issued Certificate No. 52. I do not remember the move, but I remember that we settled for brief spells first in the Santa Monica area and then in the San Diego area. It was in Santa Monica that my earliest memories began with earthquakes, my third birthday, playmates, and becoming caught in quicksand on Santa Monica Beach. It was before the US had entered the war.

In San Diego, Dad was Manager of Consolidated Aircraft where they were building planes to be sent to Australia. I suspect this was part of the "Lend Lease" program where the United States was contributing war materiel to Great Britain. Dad himself developed the air routes the planes flew to Australia then piloted a number of them. He was considered the "father" of the Ferry Command for those planes and Consairway, the airline pioneered by him for Consolidated. I learned this information after his death in 1980. Most of what Dad did in both Santa Monica and San Diego was confidential and required the highest government security clearances. It was most likely that not even Mother knew the details of his work, where he was going, or when he would be back.

Between 1940 and 1941 we moved to Elizabeth City, North Carolina when Dad was transferred by Consolidated Aircraft from the west coast to the east coast to build and ferry planes to the European Theater. I do remember that he allowed me the "privilege" of getting in the small trainer "plane" that was used to train pilots, a construction that I recall appeared to have been made of painted plywood and was just large enough to hold a man, spin him around in all directions, bouncing up, down, to see if he could handled the problems inherent in flying a plane. On a recent (2011) visit to the Southern Museum of Flight, I saw one identical to the one I had been in. It brought back a flood of other memories of that time.

Dad was a good story teller of his non-top-secret-clearance escapades and it becomes difficult to separate what I remember myself and what was occasionally told me by him. This episode was told me years after the war was over (1945) but it relates to his ferrying planes from the US to Europe, the planes Consolidated was building there near Elizabeth City. He was leading a squadron of new planes from the US to Bermuda, trying to get the planes to Europe as fast as possible to help the British in their war struggles. All flights had to be conducted in "radio silence." Not a sound, or as it was told me, "not a peep" could be heard. ("Not a peep" was a phrase used during that time indicating that not as much sound as a peeping downy chick could be made). If anyone broke "radio silence" it was possible that the enemy would learn where one was and shoot them out of the sky. The same problem held true for the islands dotting the coast lines: a lapse in radio silence could bring the German U-boats to their shores. These planes that were being ferried to Europe had to refuel in Bermuda. To planes flying over the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda was a tiny speck. Cloud cover, wind currents, or poor navigation could send the flying planes off course to miss the island completely. And without refueling, the planes would go down in the Atlantic. He was having difficulty locating Bermuda. He broke radio silence, asking Bermuda to respond so he could locate the island. He called several times but the Brits would NOT respond. In frustration he told them he was leading a squadron of new aircraft to the European theater to try to save Britain’s tail and if they did not break radio silence and respond to him, he was going to turn the entire squadron around and head to back to the U. S. mainland. Almost instantly, radio silence was broken by Bermuda. Dad got the heading he needed and he and the other pilots of the new planes headed to Bermuda where they landed, refueled, and were on their way again across the Atlantic.

At this time our first home was within the city limits of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It was while we were living there that I became very ill during a polio epidemic. Mother and Dad both thought I had contracted polio but survived it with no serious manifestations of ever having had it. The vaccines that today protect the world from this scourge had not been developed and polio was a frequent and dreaded epidemic with paralysis or deadly results for so many of the (generally) youth of the world. It was not until over two decades later, in 1962, that the Salk or Sabin poliomyelitis vaccine was available that has saved untold numbers of lives.

Our second home near Elizabeth City was in the country. We actually lived in two different homes during the time we were in the country. One was rural, the other was coastal. I have no idea where either one was, but it was before I was old enough to attend school. However, the next school term, I did attend school there—for one day, only. It was a country, one-room school house where children from first grade, probably, up to or through high school were educated. My mother laughed about my reaction to school. She said that the next day when she was getting ready to take me to school, I would not go. She told me that I said, firmly, that I had BEEN to school and did not need to go back. Because I had a November birthday and would have been the youngest in my class, she laughed and let me remain at home.

One night, probably about 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. when I was about 4 or 5 years old and we were living in the "country" rural home, I awakened when I heard the "air raid sirens" go off. No one else in the house evidently heard the sound. I went to Mother and Dad's bedroom and said, "Daddy, the air-raid sirens are going off!" Both jumped out of bed quickly. Dad got dressed and left the house in a bolt, jumped into his car and rapidly drove off into the night.

Mother had the rest of us remaining at home get out of the house quickly and stand a good distance from it as a precaution against our being seriously injured if the German enemy shelled or bombed our home. In my innocent childish lack of understanding, the potential seriousness escaped me. I only remember non-consequential, frivolous things. It was the first time I ever recalled seeing night turn to dawn and then to daylight. While it was still dark, I entertained myself and my kitten by throwing bits of gravel as hard as I could onto the gravel drive. It was the first time I recall ever seeing rocks make a spark and it delighted the kitten who chased each pebble and spark. Years later, we learned that German submarines had indeed been sighted at that very time very close to where we were living. Those particular air raid sirens had not been false alarms. German submarines were almost at our beaches.

Besides the air raid sirens, I recall one night that Madelyn and I were visiting in our bedroom. Madelyn is my sister who is 10 1/2 years older than I. She was home from boarding school. We had the black-out air-raid window shades drawn and thought there was no light coming from the house. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. It was a "Black-Out Warden" who told us that light could be seen from outside. This was frightful. If light could be seen, our home could become a target for the enemy. It could bring on a bombing raid or shooting into the house or even an enemy invasion of it. It was a very scary time.

I recall that both Madelyn and Mother did what they could at the USO (United Service Organization) to help lift the morale of our troops. Mother, a classical concert pianist, gave piano concerts to sell U.S. War Bonds to raise money for the War Effort. Madelyn and Mother would both go to the USO and play the piano (Mother) or the guitar or accordion (Madelyn) to help entertain "our boys" who were going to war.

While we were living in the coastal home in North Carolina, also near Elizabeth City, I remember playing in the yard and coming back into the home where both Mother and Dad were obviously terribly upset over something. They kept talking about something and the words "Pearl Harbor" were mentioned time and again. I did not know what it was but I knew that if it upset both Mother and Dad it had to be bad.

Dad soon transferred from Consolidated in North Caroline to Platt LePage whose manufacturing plant was in New Jersey. The family lived in Media and Wallingford, Pennsylvania while he commuted. Dad was evidently the chief test pilot on the super-secret project for the development of the first helicopter in an attempt to win the Naval military contract. Their chief competition was Grumman. In spite of all the hard work in the research, the development, and the testing of the Platt LePage helicopter, Platt LePage did not win that contract. As an aside, now located in the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham is the "joy stick" of the original "XR-1" super secret Platt LePage Helicopter. Dad had brought it back as a memento, after the war, when our family returned to Birmingham.

There were many fascinating stories that were told by Dad long after the end of World War II regarding the development of the helicopter.

One of these stories told by Dad was that he, with all of his highly acclaimed aviation skills and abilities, including his work at Platt LePage, had failed to impress Mother. He commented to her, "Sweetheart, you say you won't be impressed until I can fly backwards?!". One day after a delayed return to the house, he walked in and said, "Well, Sweetheart, you should really be impressed! Today I flew backwards!" It had happened that day while he was testing the secret XR-1.

Other miscellaneous and random memories come to mind as I think of those years:

PATRIOTISM: Patriotism was at a very high level during all of my childhood and especially so during the War years. Even little children, such as I, found "Red, White and Blue" our favorite colors. We girls colored our paper dolls in these colors and even the paper bride dolls, at least mine, were treated to and proudly carried their red, white, and blue wedding bouquets. Our favorite childhood songs reflected the branches of the military: "Off We Go, Into The Wild Blue Yonder" for the Army Air Corps (the Air force had not yet become a reality); "Anchors Away" for the Navy, "Over Hill, Over Dale, We Will Hit the Dusty Trail As The Caissons Go Rolling Along" for the Army; and "From the Halls of Montezuma To The Shores of Tripoli" for the Marines. This deep feeling of patriotism has stayed with most of my generation for our lifetimes. Our brothers, fathers, uncles, and cousins were "over there" fighting. Many came home but almost a half million of "our boys" never came home. The memory of them and what they did still makes us incredibly thankful and patriotic because they kept the Axis, the countries led by Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, at bay and defeated them. Thanks to them, our nation was not forced to speak German as our first language.

UNCERTAINTY: Every man, woman, and child knew there was nothing certain about the outcome of the war, whether we would be victorious or defeated. There was no guarantee we would be victorious. And if we were defeated ... well no one wanted to think about what might happen under those circumstances.

THE RADIO NEWS: Every night families gathered around a huge piece of furniture, the family radio, to listen to Walter Winchell, H. C. Kaltenborn, or Edward R. Murrow, to hear what they would report of the results of the international negotiations or the day’s fighting "over there." If I misquoted the name or spelling of those most popular commentators during those years, time has made them a bit uncertain in my memory.

MOVIE-TONE NEWS (or perhaps it had a different name): Saturday was the day a child could go to the movies for the afternoon for a dime. As part of every viewing, there would be a clip from what I recall as "Movie-Tone-News" with a few minutes of war news that would show scenes from one or more aspects of the actions of the world leaders or of our military that week or earlier, but always of relatively recent vintage. These clips might show ships at sea; huge squadrons of planes overhead; hundreds of "our boys" jumping out of planes and filling the skies with large numbers of planes above them and hundreds of men in parachutes, floating and swinging slowly toward earth; men charging up hills, struggling against oncoming enemy fire; bombed out buildings; burning cities; masses of tanks lumbering and rolling toward some objective; young radio-men running, then getting down on their knees with their bulky radios, cranking away, speaking toward the bottom of the box, listening with an ear piece they held against their ear, repeating and reporting to a nearby officer what was being transmitted. And every time anyone "at home" (in the U. S.) saw these clips, they eagerly scanned the faces shown, each searching each face to see if it was their husband, son, father, uncle, fiancé, or best friend. If they recognized one face, they knew that particular loved one was still alive as recently as when that movie clip had been made. That was a tremendous relief.

RATIONING: Everything was rationed. Absolutely nothing was easily nor readily available during those war years. Each family was allotted a limited number of tokens or coupons, I suspect, on a monthly basis for red meat, bacon, etc. one used. Even the women’s silk stockings were rationed, for the silk was needed for parachutes. Nylon had not yet been invented. Sugar, shoes, automobile tires, gasoline, etc. were all rationed. The allotted amount of all rationed items was extremely restrictive. I recall Dad always turning off the car engine for any downward slope or hill and coasting, trying to conserve gas. I remember in Birmingham how heavily utilized the bus system was, and even the buses would accept bus tokens. Going into town was almost always by bus, even by the city’s top executives. My maternal grandfather, who was the Treasurer of Alabama Fuel and Iron, took the bus daily, leaving home in the morning and returning home at night by the "51" or "51A bus" which I think was also called the "Canterbury and Overhill" bus. The bus stop was directly across Canterbury Road from the end of his driveway. Also, people walked places more than they do today because gasoline was only available with either tokens or coupons and when your allotment was gone there would not be any more until the next time they were issued.

BUTTER ... well it was not available at any price. We had "oleo" that came in small blocks. It was white and certainly did not look like nor taste like butter but it was the butter substitute that all had to use during the war, and it was available only by limited coupons.

SUGAR: Coupons were required, and not enough were provided for more than limited, scant use. If one were going to bake a cake for a birthday ... well, it was almost impossible. The family would restrict their use of sugar for weeks so enough might be saved to flavor a cake. Coffee was drunk black instead of sweetened.

SHOES: These were rationed and only a few coupons were given to each member of each family. Many a person not only had the shoes resoled but even newspaper and other things were used as inner soles to help patch the holes and make the shoes last longer.

VICTORY GARDENS: The populace of the US was encouraged to make use of any land they had, even if it was between the sidewalk and the road, to grow vegetables. These were called "Victory Gardens". If one had a flower bed one interspersed vegetables in it, doing all you could to help provide for your family's food needs and to help make more food available for "our boys" who were fighting in Europe, Africa, or the Pacific.

CHEWING GUM: Americans at that time were a nation of gum chewers but no one threw away their gum when they finished chewing it. It went into a glass of water where it would be available the next day or later in the day. Most of us kept a small glass of water by the bed so we could stash our gum there overnight. The gum did not dry out or get hard if it was stored in water.

HITCH HIKING: The war years were an innocent if dreadful time. Anyone who was in uniform could stick out his thumb and "hitch" a ride to get where they needed to be. Any civilian who saw a person in uniform who was hitch hiking would always stop and pick them up, generally going out of their way to help any of "our boys in uniform" get where they needed to be. This was before the advent of the deranged hitch-hikers of the 1960’s and 1970’s who murdered those people who were kind enough to stop and give them a lift.

GOLD STAR FAMILIES: Many homes and apartments all over the United States would display in a front window of their home a small white banner, bordered with gold fringe, and with a gold star in the center. This designated the home of one of "our boys" who would never return. It was always terrible to see and terribly poignant.

PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO’S DEATH. As a first or second grader, I only knew that Roosevelt was our President. I remember his death probably because of hearing the conversations from my parents about it. A new man whose name was Harry S. Truman, a haberdasher, became President and no one really knew how that was going to work out.

MUSIC OF WW II: As these memories are written, it is amazing how many things that have not been thought of in decades begin to flood back into the consciousness of memory. Even some of the music of that time begins to come back into focus. Some of the songs that I remember were love songs that spoke of the love, loneliness, and longing of two people in love, separated, living on two different continents, divided by an ocean with the factual uncertainty with a high probability that the one "overseas" might never return. These were some of those songs: "I’m Making Believe That You’re In My Arms", "Waiting For The Train To Come In", "Sentimental Journey". Some of the songs had reference to the actions and lives of "our boys" who were "over there". Some of those songs were: "A Slip Of A Lip Can Sink A Ship", "Straighten Up And Fly Right", and "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition". Some of them were funny. My personal favorite funny song and the favorite of many youngsters was one by the music-comedian-satirist "Spike Jones and his City Slickers" singing "When Der Fuehrer Says, We Are The Master Race, We’ll Heil! (spit) Heil! (spit) Right In The Fuehrer’s Face."

In today’s world (2011) all one has to do to know the words, meanings, and melodies of these songs, and to learn lessons from them by reading their words, is for one to "Google" each song by name. Each song has a lesson for us, to learn what was endured in the 1941–1945 era when it was NOT a certainty that "our boys" would be victorious in the fight against Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese Empire.

THE END OF THE WAR: We were still living in the area of Wallingford or Media, Pennsylvania, a suburb very close to the heart of Philadelphia. As a family, we caught the commuter train into downtown Philadelphia, to Independence Square, to be part of what we all knew would be the largest and most exuberant celebration of our lifetimes. I remember the American flags, of all sizes, waving from buildings, from lamp posts, from hands of tall men, shorter women, and tiny children, the joyous crowds, the happiness, hugs and embraces everywhere. And where there were no flags there was red, white, and blue bunting. I’m not certain that I had any real understanding of the significance of it, except to know it was important enough that I was supposed to remember it the rest of my life. And I have remembered. I also at this point think some of my memories are melded into and confused with some of the published accounts that took place in New York City.

These memories are jumbled and juxtaposed, as one would expect of a young child, too young to fully understand all she was living through at a momentous time but refined through later decades of thought and comprehension.

Mary Alice (Beatty) Carmichael, March 6, 2011
(Mrs. James Donald Carmichael)

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