Perkasie and World War II: Fights at Home and Abroad in 1943

Editor’s Note: After the shock of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and a year of preparedness in 1942, World War II’s reality becomes a part of daily life in Perkasie.

By January 1943, Perkasie residents and their neighbors were fully vested in the fight for victory in World War II, making daily sacrifices on the home front. At the same time, local troops overseas hit the battlefront in Europe and Asia.

Indeed, even with two years of war preparations, the global war deeply affected the Borough at a local level that is hard for us to understand in modern times. But some measures taken by the government to conserve resources seem familiar today.

canning posterFor example, in January 1943 the federal government limited all forms of pleasure driving after gasoline was rationed. Officials ordered police to impound any cars parked in front of the Plaza Theater in Perkasie; people were expected to walk or take mass transportation to town. Mass vaccinations were put in place against smallpox to ensure workers could remain on the job in war-related industries.

Initially, there were long lines for rationed food products, but consumers adjusted their buying habits and learned how to make do with what products were available. However, unlike World War I — when public facemask wearing was encouraged during part of the 1918-1919 Flu epidemic — public health was not a big issue, aside from an increase in drunken-driving arrests.

According to the Community Service Group, at least 250 Perkasie-area residents were in the active military by early 1943. Perkasie saw its first two WAVES, Abbie Freed and Mary Heverly, leave their jobs at local clothing factories to enlist. (Both women had brothers in the active military.) This was part of a trend that saw multiple family members join the service. The draft continued, with larger groups of men inducted as the war continued on.

Mary Heverly

However, the big news in April 1943 was the beginning of harsh meat-rationing rules. Each person was restricted to two pounds per week of meat and butter. In late March, there was a “meat panic” at the Lewis Brothers store on Perkasie’s Seventh Street, caused in part by people from Philadelphia and Trenton trying to buy out the meat supply before rationing started. The economic boom that began in 1940 was also officially over, as the available labor supply fell and the government placed price controls on products. Perkasie Borough council was forced to stop any road repairs until after the war because of labor shortages.

The news became more sobering in May 1943. The Red Cross confirmed Private Henry L. Young, who had been reported missing in the Philippines, was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. Also, Henry Harr, a former Royal Pants employee, was reported as “seriously wounded” while fighting in North Africa in March. Private Harr later returned home, and the reports were out of context; Harr had a broken elbow caused by shrapnel and was expected to recover quickly. He also received a Purple Heart for his actions.

Local businessman H. Irwin Moyer’s death in September 1943 led to the closing of the family business, J.G. Moyer & Sons, which had been in Perkasie since 1874, in January 1944. Shelly and Fenstermacher would acquire the business and reopen it later in May 1944. And in October 1943, the Perkasie Central News and the Sellersville Herald merged. The newspapers cited “war measures” as driving the move due to the scarcity of material such as newsprint paper and press parts.


PFC Paul Pennypacker

In November 1943, residents learned of the first soldier from Perkasie Borough to die in action during the war. Private Paul Pennypacker was killed while fighting in the invasion of Italy. He had only been in the Army for six months after being drafted out of Beidler’s clothing factory.

Christmas 1943 in Perkasie Borough was again quieter than previous years. Borough officials suspended the annual tree lighting and children’s event at the Plaza Theater, but food and gift baskets were still distributed as always for needy families. Postmaster Lester Trauger reported record volumes of holiday mail. The News-Herald observed that “despite shortages, restrictions, and vacant chairs in most homes, the observation will not be lacking the essential elements that go to make Christmas an outstanding event.”

The newspaper also warned readers that battlefield victories in East Asia and Italy should not lead people to become overconfident. “There is every reason to suppose the war will continue for a long time yet,” it said. “We must continue to fight the war at home just as hard as our boys are fighting it on the battlefield.”

The men and women in service were still sending back letters to the News-Herald, with letters redacted by censors.

John Henry Nyce, a sailor about to start a two-year deployment overseas in the South Pacific, wrote to the News-Herald and said he was surprised by the newspapers’ merger, but he also expressed his happiness that Sell-Perk High School beat Quakertown in their 14th football clash on Thanksgiving Day. “As long as we fellows know Sellersville and Perkasie are fighting to make a bigger and better town, so will we adhere together and make good,” Nyce wrote. “I am about to make my first trip into action, and it makes a guy feel much stronger with folks at home backing him up. Keep up the good work.”

Next, in 1944 hope grows the war will end, but the cost will be steep

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