In Part One of this series about Perkasie and World War II, Perkasie finally saw the Great Depression’s end as America pondered its role in a global conflict. Events at Pearl Harbor changed life in the Borough forever.
Three realities dominated 1942, the first full year of World War II as it affected Perkasie residents: voluntary enlistment and the military draft; home-defense preparations; and rationed goods.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, led to a truly global conflict with the United States getting ready to fight battles on two fronts in early 1942. The daunting task required the full mobilization of all local economies, along with the national economy. The nation also needed 15 million people to join the military in service of their country, with two-thirds of those people inducted via the draft.
On the home front, domestic labor shortages; restrictions on household goods and raw material purchases; and constant appeals for donations to the war effort were daily facts of life.
In Perkasie (and Bucks County), tires were the first items to be rationed to the general population, and motor vehicle registration became required to track who had tires. Shortly after, tin cans were banned in the use of consumer products such as beans, condiments, and beer. Perkasie also started practicing blackouts as part of a national exercise on January 19, 1942; people not cooperating in the Borough between 9:00 p.m. and 9:25 p.m. faced possible arrest for 30 days or a $100 fine.
In February 1942, the federal government required mandatory draft registration for men between 20 and 45 years of age. Local schoolteachers were enlisted to register the draft applicants. Rationing expanded to sugar, the most basic of products in a 1940s kitchen. Gasoline rationing went into effect in May. Locals started Victory Gardens to provide their own fresh vegetables for their tables and for canning. And in a sign of the times, Spielman’s Garage at Third and Walnut trained 27 new auto mechanics for the civil preparedness effort, all of whom were women.
One of the new mechanics, Eva Young, also made silk for parachutes at the Perkasie Silk Mill. Perkasie’s attention had turned to the fate of her husband, Private Henry Levi Young, who had been serving in the Philippines at the Battle of Bataan and was missing in action. Just seven months earlier, the couple’s wedding picture appeared on the Perkasie Central News front page.
The summer of 1942 saw more rationing and stories of sacrifice in Perkasie. The draft board began to register 18-year-olds in June, and permanent gasoline rationing began in July. Blackout and air raid drills became common. Perkasie Borough saw its first resident war casualty when Lieutenant Charles Terry died in a Jeep accident in North Carolina. And the Royal Pants Company received a special flag for exceeding war-production goals. It also became the first private manufacturer to make pants for the U.S. Navy, and “the Royal” added an extra 100 employees to make parachutes.
The public, including school children, were asked to take part in scrap and salvage drives to collect and donate any metal materials to the war effort. In September 1942, the Plaza Theater had special showings of John Ford’s “Battle of Midway,” a documentary shot by the legendary director on location, to inspire the local population. Ford’s footage included battle action he experienced during Midway’s bombing and gave Perkasie residents a first-hand look at war’s reality.
In October 1942, the Central News started publishing mailing addresses for “the boys and girls who are fighting,” if the public wanted to write to them, and it also began to print more soldiers’ letters as it did during World War I. The newspaper also was sending free newspaper copies to men and women in the service. In one letter, a local couple in the civil service, Lynn and Ted Groff, wrote from Hawaii where they worked for the Navy seven days a week. “Hawaii is known as the ‘Paradise of the Pacific,’ but we sure miss the “the Paradise of the World’ – Perkasie,” they said.
Efforts continued in Perkasie to raise money through the public purchase of war bonds and war stamps. Film actress Gloria Stuart came to town on November 12 to honor the Royal Pants Company, Beidler Clothing, and the U.S. Gauge plant for its employee purchases of war stamps. However, as 1942 came to a close, coffee was now subject to rationing (one pound every five weeks per person), and each car owner was limited to five tires. November ended with news of the second local military death in 1942; Lieutenant Webster G. Moyer died in a plane crash in the Panama Canal Zone.
The annual Christmas Tree lighting and children’s program were a little dimmer in 1942 when outdoor lights weren’t placed on the community tree. The year ended on the home front with news that most food would be rationed starting in February 1943. Also in December, Kathryn Hartzell, another Perkasie Silk Mill employee, became the first member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (or WAACs) from the Borough. Sergeant Hartzell joined 50 fellow members of her congregation from Trinity Lutheran who were in active military service in 1942.
On New Year’s Eve, the Central News’ editors told readers that the past year’s sacrifices and the greater sacrifices to come in 1943 were worth it for the greater good. “Our courage, strength, ambition, ingenuity and our ability to take reverses is sufficient to carry us through the dark hours and that beyond will be a better and brighter existence not only for us but for all of mankind.”
Indeed, 1943 would be a challenging year.
Next, Part Three: A Local Food Rationing Frenzy, Overseas Fighting Intensifies in 1943