Part 2 of World War II

By Barbara F. Dyer | Jul 11, 2019
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer Families waited for letters from their friends and family members overseas.

Because it was difficult to get coal to New England, President Roosevelt saw a tug towing a string of barges in the Hudson River and said, “That is the answer.” He wrote to wooden shipbuilders in Maine, and Camden needed a contract to keep their crew. So they said, ”We can build them.” They really didn't know how, but a naval architect found a half-model, made to scale during the Civil War, and drew up plans. One of the biggest days for Camden came Feb. 8, 1943, when the first barge was completed and Eleanor Roosevelt came to christen it. Gov. Sumner Sewall was there also for another launching. The Penobscot Native Americans came in full dress and did a dance, as they had made the tenders for the barge. They also made the First Lady an honorary member of their tribe and placed a band of wampum on her head. Along with the shipyard's 1,500 workers, thousands of people came to witness the event. We did not have a police force, so the firemen came in dress uniform for crowd control.

People were asked to have a victory garden and preserve vegetables, so there would not be a food shortage. There was a place for us, in our backyard, to have a large garden. My reading material became mostly gardening books, after making a large area sod-, root- and rock-free. With a yardstick in hand, seeds were planted with the space they needed. It produced vegetables so plentiful that my mother and sister preserved hundreds of jars.

Camden was hearing of casualties and every home was waiting to get letters from their friends, loved ones, family members, just hoping they were ok. Everyone kept the mail going to servicemen and women, as well as “care packages.” A new withholding tax went into effect in July of 1943, with 3 percent applied to the Victory Tax and 17 percent to Income Tax. Workers also had money withheld each week towards War Bonds. A wooden Honor Roll went up on the Village Green and Chief Allen Payson did the lettering for every name as they went into the service. If one was killed in action, he put a gold star after their name. He had to paint one after his son's name and also his nephew’s. This Honor Roll was dedicated on Sept. 19, 1943, while 1,000 people watched the ceremony. The Camden High School Band played and they were followed by parents, the American Legion and Fire Department. “Stars and Stripes” was played and Rev. Henry Beukelman addressed the crowd. The cord was pulled removing the orange shroud and revealing the Honor Roll. The American Flag was raised.

Headlines in the papers were that: “Allies Capture Rome” and “Allies Invade France” in June of 1944. All coupons had expiration dates and no one traveled. It was June 6 of that year, known ever after as “D Day,” when the long-awaited invasion of Europe began at sunrise. Our soldiers stormed the beaches of the northern coast of France. In July, headlines were: ”Tojo and War Cabinet Resign;” “Russians Cross Border;” “Montgomery's Troops Overrun 11 Towns;” and “Allied Armies Thrust Eight Miles Toward Paris.” The Camden Shipyard received the Army Navy E Award and had an impressive record of building 28 ships. Only 35 of industrial plants in the entire country qualified for the honor. In August, the headline was, “General Patton's Troops were 55 Miles from Belgium.”

Franklin Roosevelt won his fourth term in office as President. In Jan. 1945, headlines were: “Yanks Invade Luzon;” “Last German Lifeline Under Fire.” The last ship at Camden Shipbuilding & Marine Railway was commissioned by the United States Navy and The Camden Herald read: “That was the scene of the greatest pageant of wooden shipbuilding in the history of Maine.” Some unused food stamps were canceled because the supply was too low to permit spending a large backlog of stamps.

In February, headlines were ”Americans Enter Manila” and in March of 1945, “Allies Storm Five Miles, Rip Rhine River Line.” A local committee shipped four tons of clothing for the War Relief, and paper collection was still going strong.

On April 13, 1945, the nation was shocked; ”President Franklin D. Roosevelt Dead; Cerebral Hemorrhage Strikes Down Nation's Wartime Leader at Warm Springs Retreat; Harry S. Truman Sworn As President in Solemn Ceremony.” He did not live to see the end of the war. Funeral music was heard on every radio all over the United States. It was a month later in Europe that Benito Mussolini had been executed and rumor had it that Hitler had committed suicide.

Sunday evening, at the Camden Opera House nearly 500 people gathered to attend the memorial service to honor our dead, sponsored by the American Legion, with all churches represented. The National Anthem was played and the choir sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” They opened the front curtain on the stage revealing in the middle of the black curtain, a white cross. The American flag was on the left of the stage and the Maine flag on the right.

On May 25, 1945, my brother wrote me a letter from Germany saying the war was over and now he could answer all my questions of the past few years. He told where he had been and was there at the end of the war. The First Army had crossed the Rhine River and they were sent to protect the pontoon bridge. The Germans were rushing away from the Russian Army, headed to the American side. There were thousands of men, women and children surrounded in a field and his small group were to guard them. They gave them their K rations (that were small cans of food). One woman wanted to know if he had 12 spoons. Another asked for chewing gum. They spent the day directing traffic and getting the children back to their mothers. He was to move the next day, and he hoped it would be to the United States. That was our wish also and it came true.

On July 25, 1945, the headline read “Allies Demand Japanese Empire Surrender.” August 5, headline stated “B12s drop new 'Evacuate or Die' Warnings;” August 7, “U. S. Open Surrender Assault On Japan With New Atomic Bomb;” August 12, 1945, ”Japs Accept Terms.”

The Camden Herald reported on August 16, 1945, ”Church Bells and Whistles Announce Defeat of Japan.” Camden people, 2,000 strong, turned out to celebrate with a parade, dancing and bonfires. A program for Victory Day said ”At the sound of mill and fire whistles and church bells, gather at the Village Green for a brief prayer and address. Form a parade to be followed by street dancing in the Post Office Square and bring noise makers.”

It was known as “VJ Day.”

World War II was finally over!

 

Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.

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