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Memories of Birmingham During World War II

By: Dr. Frank M. Cauthen, Jr.

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, I was in the living room of our home at 1009 Greenwood Terrace, Homewood, Alabama listening to the radio when the announcement came that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father and I did not know the location of Pearl Harbor, so we consulted the encyclopedia to find out. The whole neighborhood gathered in groups all that day and the next few days discussing the shock and horror of the attack and being at war.

I was nine years old, my father was forty-five, mother was forty-four, and my brother was six. We had moved into our new house on Greenwood Terrace in 1939. Dad worked for Moore-Handley hardware and Bechtel-McCone where airplanes were modified and sent off to war. Mother was a homemaker, younger brother David was in kindergarten and I was just starting at Edgewood grammar school. Susie B. Carlisle was the school principal.

During the war years our school joined in the war effort by having paper drives, war bond drives, knitting wool squares which would be used to make blankets for our fighting men and cooperating with the practice blackouts. The movies showed many patriotic films depicting our fighting forces as superior to the Japanese and my fellow students and I spent school lunch hours reliving those movies. Ronald Reagan played in several of the films. I was present at the opening of our beloved Homewood Theater. The first movie there was "The Mark of Zorro" starring Tyrone Power.

As a part of the war effort, we all had rationing including sugar, meat and butter. I remember with loathing trying to eat cereal sweetened with saccharine! Mother was able to make fudge with Junket fudge mix, which seemed to be made with sugar and it really was good!

During those years we watched the motion picture serials including Rin Tin Tin on Saturdays. Once Tommy Dix, a Birmingham native came to our school to speak to us on a patriotic theme, and sang "Buckle Down Winsocki", a song he sang in the movie "The Spirit of West Point." He made only that one movie, and then he left California because he did not like the Hollywood scene. We were so blessed that we did not have the deprivations of war suffered by the civilians in theater.

In our little neighborhood we had a ragtag army and played war games in the woods when the weather was good. Of course we went to the movies and played YMCA baseball and basketball. At war’s end Edgewood school had a football team, and our coach was Allan Baker. Our baseball coaches were Piggy Mitchell and later Gordon Beene.

I spent many a summer day at the Club Rex (later Hollywood Country Club) swimming with people from all over Shades Valley. I remember the pool was managed by Mrs. Rox, the mother of Jimmy Rox. Sometimes she let me in free because I was occasionally short of cash. I got to the pool on my bicycle by riding down to Edgewood Lake, and then along Lakeshore Drive. I remember vividly discovering a boy caught under the ledge at the pool who had drowned. We never knew whether he was injured in diving from the tower, or had been injured another way.

Boys I remember during the war years were Don Durham, Ed Gardien, Clarence Andrews, Fletcher Allen, Allan Baker, Jimmy Smiley, Jim Ivey, Bob Beers, Harold Lassen, Tommy Longshore, Ed Corley, Fred McCauley, Bob Montgomery, Jim Kidd, Ed Duncan, Thomas and Paul Howard, Jim Ivy, Billy Hanes, Dick Bullock, Bob Jennings, Joe Champion and the Wingo brothers.

By J. Donald Carmichael, MD..

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, my father, John L. Carmichael, Sr., who usually left the home for work at about 6:00 a.m. was "sleeping in" while listening to the radio when the news announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred. I was five years old and I recall my brother, John, who was 10 years old, asking my father "are we going to war?" The seriousness of his comments carried his concerns over to me.

During the war, at which time we were living in the Forest Park neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama, our street was organized by having some of the men act as civilian wardens to prepare for possible air raid bombing attacks. Several of the men were issued water sprayers consisting of an upright cylinder with a hand operated "stirrup" pump. I recall us children enjoying spraying water on each other with these pumps in the summertime.

Also, there were practice night black-outs in which street lights would be turned off and all residences secured from visible light that might be seen by an outside observer. This would require either the extinguishing of inside lights or hiding such light by black-out shades or curtains over the windows. It was understood by us children that the Air Raid Wardens had the authority to "shoot out" with pellet guns any light bulb that was not properly "blacked out."

Also, I remember one of the Air Raid Wardens making a visit to our home and instructing my parents as to how to extinguish a phosphorus bomb dropped by an enemy war plane. It was expected that such a bomb would penetrate the roof and come to rest in the attic where it would ignite. Water was incapable of extinguishing the bomb such that we were instructed to keep a container of sand with a shovel in the attic that could be used to suffocate the burning phosphorus. I have a vivid memory of this oval pan with sand and a small shovel that was in common use for fireplaces sitting on the joists within our attic.

There were frequent drives for scrap metal, usually organized through the schools or neighborhood organizations. We were asked to cut out the tops and bottoms of our "tin cans" to allow these to be flattened and deposited for recycling for war materials. We would also strip the tinfoil away from chewing gum wrappers which would then be rolled into a small ball and also placed in containers to be used for war materials.

Gasoline, as well as many other commodities, was rationed. My father, being a physician, received more ration coupons for gasoline than most other men in the neighborhood. Many drivers during the war would cut off their engines and coast down hills in order to conserve gasoline. Rubber tires were almost completely unavailable for the civilian population such that the tires would be worn down until there were no treads left. At that time, one might be fortunate enough to have his tires retreaded. Coupons were also required to buy sugar, butter, meats, and shoes.

There were drives directed to school children to buy War Bonds stamps in denominations of 10, 25, and 50 cent denominations. These would be placed in special booklets that would hold about $25.00 worth of stamps. After a certain period of time, which I believe was several years, they could be redeemed for cash.

I vaguely remember nights in which sirens would sound notifying the imposition of "black-out" conditions. Search lights could be seen searching the skies for possible enemy planes. As a substitute for butter, one could buy "oleo". To distinguish it from butter it was sold in its uncolored form which was white. Within the malleable packaging in which it was sold there was a small button of yellow food coloring that could be broken open and massaged into the white oleo to give it the appearance of butter.

Bus transportation was very popular and usually available throughout the city because of the gas rationing. We school children on Linwood Road were very fond of our bus driver, Mr. Fricke, who would kindly give us a ride and not charge us the nickel which we could ill afford, to save us from walking to school.

I remember one of the young boys in our neighborhood appearing in uniform. Uniformed soldiers during those years would also be picked up by hitch-hiking without any concern of misbehavior.

During the war my uncle Joseph M. Donald, Sr. spent most of the war years as a Surgeon in the U. S. Army in the European Theater. A number of years later in Birmingham, Alabama, one of his male patients in discussing the war made a comment similar to "while we boys were fighting in Europe you d----- doctors here back home were probably playing golf and enjoying your country clubs." It so happened that Dr. Donald was examining this patient and noted on his abdomen a unique surgical scar. Dr. Donald was the only surgeon who used such an incision. Dr. Donald asked the man as to whether he had been wounded and treated in a certain Army hospital in France. He acknowledged that he had been there. Dr. Donald then replied, “I was that d----- doctor who saved your life!"


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