Editor’s Note: The following is the fifth in a series of articles that have been written for the Kennydale News by long-time resident, Pauline Kirkman
When my grandson, for a college class, asked me to be interviewed on the subjects of the Great Depression and World War II, my response was "yes" on the time of poverty and "very little" on the war. I still do not want to remember one thing about it. In fact, my response to him was in the event of war, lives are simply put on hold until it ends. However, I can make some attempt. It is probably obvious that I more than share my expertise on everything, but this may be short.
When I was a senior in Renton High, on Sunday December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Unbelievable! So we declared war on Japan, their ally Germany declared war on us, and we found ourselves with two major conflicts. Some boys in our class did not even graduate with us. I went on to the "U" that Fall, having a half-time job to pay my tuition and expenses, but living at home. Why send girls to college? They'll just get married and never work again. Hah! That history has also changed. When it was announced that the salary of working wives would be included in making buyers eligible for home loans, my husband's response was "Now women will always have to work."
We were reminded we were at war by gas rationing and food stamps. Here on the West Coast we even had a few blackouts by not allowing any light to show in darkness. In my scrapbook is a U.S. Treasury check for $.20 in payment for something to do with tire retreads—they glued some more rubber on tires for longer use. That scrapbook also has programs for many events, indicating we were not entirely in pain except our young men were gone or going. My brother was allowed to finish his engineering degree at the University of Washington, and he even pitched on the Husky baseball team several seasons. First he was on a mine-sweeper in the South Pacific and spent 4 hours in the water when they hit a mine. Then he was around Hawaii and Alaska before landing in Seattle for repairs. On their way out they ran into the locks, requiring more repairs on the boat AND the locks. Their full speed astern had been mistakenly full speed ahead. All war-time work was apparently not perfect, but we learned quickly. Instead of cars, Ford made planes. Instead of railroad cars and logging equipment, Renton's Pacific Car & Foundry made army tanks. Boeing of course continued with airplanes, and the Brits say our B-17's won the war, probably by bombing the daylights out of Germany.
My brother's last arrival here was after peace had been declared, when he sailed his mine-sweeper into Lake Washington to be decommissioned. Where else?---- at a dock in Kennydale. Those relatively small boats (not ships) were popular purchases, John Wayne being one buyer.
Meanwhile, having fulfilled his duty to raise his children, in 1943 my Dad parted company with Bethlehem Steel in Seattle, where he was locked into a mediocre position, to make his 'fortune' in places like Portland, Vancouver BC. California, and Edmonton, Alberta. We visited them everywhere. Some special education and his experience gave him the ability not only to operate steel rolling mills but to design them also. Young mechanical engineers subsequently spent time with him, as that was a special field not included in their training. The whole process is mechanically handled today.
With the war winding down, I decided my upcoming marriage could use more financing, and was hired at Renton's Pacific Car & Foundry in the Terminations Department, where they were closing out government wartime contracts. When finished, all were terminated except me, the reason being my two years of college and secretarial training they had not enjoyed previously. During the war, employers took what they could get and made do. I was also trained there to operate the switchboard, a big wall of holes that accept phone plugs. I am sure they do not exist any longer either.
Becoming the Chief Engineer's secretary, I learned a lot of the engineers' wartime experience. They actually spent a great deal of time with the shop mechanics putting tanks together. I'll never forget they had to cross Sunset to get to a proving ground somewhere near the Greenwood Cemetery, and they didn't have to pay any attention to cars using the street. We became adept at avoiding them, or I wouldn't be here.
One answer to our ultimate victory must have been we could out-produce the world and the war did end. Although many men sadly did not, many came home. My high-school best friend and I were married on June 29, 1946, and enjoyed over 50 years together. The first little house he built, learning as he went along, with a lot of help from See's Lumber Market and McLendon Hardware, is still there on 35th Street, in Kennydale, MY HOMETOWN.
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