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Rebecca Yerger, Memory Lane: Life during World War II
Memory Lane

Rebecca Yerger, Memory Lane: Life during World War II

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During times of strife and conflict, more than the soldier has answered this nation’s call to action. These countless individuals have stepped up to serve this country on its home front during its various hours of need. This phenomenon was especially evident during the World War II War effort campaign waged throughout America, including Napa County.

With the Japanese bombing of Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American way of life changed abruptly as well as profoundly. In order for the U.S. to wage and win in both the Pacific and European theaters of war many sacrifices had to be made by Americans. For example, the lion’s share of raw materials, goods and manpower and womanpower had to be devoted to the creation of the desired level of military might.

As a result of this demand, almost every commodity became restricted commercial goods. They could be purchased only with a specific and official government issued rationing coupon. These coupons designated what type of good could be purchased, when it could be bought and in what quantity. Each week, newspapers including the Napa Daily Journal and Napa Register printed rationing coupon information boxes detailing which coupons could be used, when and for what items. For example, a 1942 Napa Register issue announced, “Coupon G can be used to purchase one pair of shoes from Oct. 1 -31. Coupon C for five pounds of flour, five pounds of sugar, two pounds of beef or one pound of butter is valid from Sept. 29—Oct. 15.”

To offset the significant reduction in fresh produce caused by the needs of the military, the federal government strongly recommended the private citizen grow their own fruits and vegetables. These grocery patches were called “Victory Gardens.” To help champion and facilitate this home farming campaign, the federal government enlisted the help of organizations such as the Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa County Ag Commissioner’s office, Napa Valley newspapers and “War Effort” industries including Basalt Shipyard—once located south of Napa. These “Victory Garden” advocates either promoted the concept or tutored the would-be farmer with gardening advice.

Basalt Shipyard and its employee newspaper, the “Basalt Beacon,” helped to promote the home farm. In one of its 1943 issues, the Beacon lauded one of its part-time employees, Mildred Pearch, for her home-based farm as well as her War Effort work ethic.

It said, “Miss Mildred Pearch is to be commended for her prize winning ‘Victory Garden.’ In addition to growing an overabundance of vegetables and fruits within her Napa garden, Miss Pearch breeds and raises top quality meat and pelt rabbits.”

Pearch, who was a local teacher, dedicated her school vacations and breaks to working at Basalt Shipyard. The Beacon added, “We also commend Miss Pearch on her selfless contribution of all her vacation time to America’s campaign for victory.”

Many other Napa County residents fueled the war effort machine with their labors at another regional work site, Mare Island. Both Basalt and Mare Island operated nonstop, requiring large crews to work either day, swing and graveyard shifts. For those who lived in Napa County and worked at Vallejo’s Mare Island, they commuted by a bus transportation provided by the Island. But even though the war effort goals were paramount importance, it was not always a case of “all work and no play!”

It was recognized by “the powers that be,” in order to maintain production goals, the workers needed time for recreation. To aid in this effort, the local movie theaters offered several show times throughout each day to accommodate the various work shifts. A lifelong Napan, the late Madeline Ontis, said, “Every week a few of my fellow Mare Island co-workers and I would go to the Uptown (Theater) for the morning showtime. Afterwards, we’d eat our brown bag lunches somewhere outside in downtown Napa and chatted about the movies. We’d continue our reviews as we rode the bus to Mare Island.” She added, “It was a pleasant distraction from the harsh realities of that time!”

Another highly popular diversion was live music. But it wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill music or performers. Big- name headliners including Tommy Dorsey and his lead singer, Frank Sinatra, thrilled their Napa, Sonoma, Fairfield and Vallejo fans. Dorsey and Sinatra were only two of the numerous prominent musicians to perform at the Dream Bowl located along North Kelly Road and east of Highway 29.

In addition to this south-county venue, Napa County was home to other live entertainment venue hot spots, including Paradise Park, now Bothe State Park. It was said to have the longest bar in California. Another venue, secluded in the redwoods of Mt. Veeder, was the Lokoya Lodge. Its idyllic setting also enticed big-name performers to perform at this rustic resort.

However, enjoying these performances was not without some peril. In 1945, the government lifted the ban on disclosing “sensitive” military information allowing local newspapers to report the discovery of Japanese Air Balloon bombs. According to the Register, there were at least six of these unmanned weapons discovered within the local hills. The newspaper also warned people to stay clear of the devices as they still had their explosives. Shortly thereafter, teams of experts deactivated and moved those bombs to nearby military installations.

These are just a few of the many sacrifices U.S. residents dealt with during World War II as they carried on for the cause on the home front.

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