Monday, June 15, 2015

Girls on the Home-Front

June 9th 2015, 137 North Queen Street

Mackie Dutton and Jane 'Geri' Bristol, who are cousins were in their early teens during WWII.  The two of them recall a simpler time, where Chestertown was far more condensed, and infinitely more interconnected.  Ms. Dutton and Mrs. Bristol both have impeccable memories, and were able to recall names of people in there classes during middle school.  Even more impressive than that is there continued ties to those people today.  Ms. Dutton explained that almost every social function was tied to the church, and that their generation continues to convene at the same Episcopal church even today.  It is also curious to note that the College was much more integrated into Chestertown.  Today any student will tell you that Chestertown and Washington College are two very separate entities.  Back then Professors lived in town and everybody knew them.  "Townies" would often frequent college sports games and performances.  This still happens today, but the town no longer gathers together for a Sunday Football game in the stadium.  Part of this is because of the expansion of the town.  Before most of the town was on high Street.  Stam's was the biggest drug store in town, and the Garfield used to be the movie theater.  People went out of their homes to do things more, Ms. Dutton recalls.  During the winter she would go out ice skating with other Chestertonians, and watch U.S. bombers deploy for Europe, and would go to the theater to get news about the war.

Not everything was quaint and droll in Chestertown during the war.  In particular Mrs. Bristol's family was impacted by the death of Mrs. Bristol's older brother.  Her brother was a fighter pilot and was shot down on the European front right after his leave during Normandy.  The family was never the same afterwards.  Mrs. Bristol lost her beloved role model.  She would listen to his war stories and hang on to every word.  Perhaps the most devastated was her father, who she claims lost some of himself after his son's death.  Year's later she asked a friend who new him what kind of man her brother really was.  He replied "He was an all American boy.  A good athlete, and a good student.  You wanted to be like him."  Although this knowledge of her brother brought her a sense of pride, it also made the loss that much greater for her and her family.  Mrs. Bristol's tale is not an isolated incident.  According to both Ms. Dutton and Mrs. Bristol every family was impacted during the war.  Everyone either lost a son or relative, or knew someone who did.  The holes left in the community were devastatingly apparent.

Unlike the adults at the time Ms. Dutton and Mrs. Bristol don't recall being impacted by the War on a daily basis.  Rationing was not as extreme as others recall, with the exception of Ms. Dutton's experience with Squibb's toothpaste, which she detested.  They did not have to give up many luxuries exactly, but many things they had were replaced by a cheaper variant.  Another example is the replacement of sugar with Saccharine.  Some of the adults during the time went into "hardcore ration mode".  Ms. Dutton recalls neighbors buying barrels of flour and sugar in preparation.  Other's detested this neighbor for it, accusing her of hoarding resources.  There were other's like her that would siphon gas, or find ways to get more ration tickets.

The newspaper was one of the most prominent ways that Ms. Dutton's family got news of the war.  Her father would get three papers a day, all of which contained news about the war.  From this many, including Ms. Dutton were fed information about the brutality of the Japanese imperial nation.  The Japanese were feared far more than the German's, whose atrocities during the Holocaust were not fully reported on.  If any news was released about it, Ms. Dutton and others did not believe it.  Due to the news reports, most American citizens according to Ms. Dutton were perfectly fine with American Japanese citizens being relocated into internment camps.  According to Ms. Dutton "it was war"  We had to protect ourselves".  It was only until much later that both women learned just how callous the Germans were.  Despite this lack of disdain for the Germans, most people were more concerned about the European front.  Ms. Dutton and Mrs. Bristol never gave a definitive reason, but I suspect that the Western front was more familiar, and therefore much more accessible for the American audience to understand.
By the end of the war Ms. Dutton was in boarding school.  When she got news of V-E Day and V-J Day she was happy, but she was not overwhelmed with relief like some of the people who were around during WWI.  It reminded me of when I was 8 years old on September 11th.  I personally had no connection to the terrorist attack, and did not really care or understand at the time.  the only thing that changed was that I wore a helmet to "protect" myself from incoming planes.  Even during the mid 2000's I remained uninterested in operation Iraqi freedom, because it had no direct impact on my daily life.  Although the implications of both wars are monumental, young people in both seem to be relatively ambivalent.  Much of this was probably due to parents and the government hiding statistics and particularly gruesome knowledge, but most of it was probably because children cannot fully grasp the truth of war.


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